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A Few Good Men (1992)

A-Few-Good-Men

I had never seen A Few Good Men until recently, and, even though I knew the film’s famous quote (“You can’t handle the truth!”), I did not know that it belonged to this film. When my good friend TJ, Editor-in-Chief of MovieByte.com and head host of the site’s podcast, The MovieByte Podcast, on which I am his co-host, suggested that we review this film together, I said, “why not?,” and set out to watch it – and I had a great time talking about it with TJ on Episode 69 of The MovieByte Podcast!

A Few Good Men, directed by Rob Reiner (The Princess BrideThis is Spinal Tap) and with a screenplay by Aaron Sorkin (The West WingThe Social NetworkMoneyball), is based on Sorkin’s 1989 play of the same name. When two US Marines are court-martialed for killing a fellow Marine, the young, inexperienced Navy lawyer Lt. Daniel Kaffee (Tom Cruise) is assigned to the case. After striking a deal with the prosecution, Captain Jack Ross (Kevin Bacon), Kaffee learns from the defendants that their actions were the result of an order given by Lt. Jonathan James Kendrick (Kiefer Sutherland), Kaffee drops the deal and takes the case to court. With help from Lt. Sam Weinberg (Kevin Pollak) and Lt. Commander JoAnne Galloway (Demi Moore), Kaffee sets out to prove that the two Marines were merely acting on orders, bringing him against Kendrick and his superior, hardball Col. Nathan Jessup (Jack Nicholson).

Courtroom dramas are just fun, with the prime example being the classic To Kill a Mockingbird, based on Harper Lee’s book of the same name and starring Gregory Peck. Tom Cruise is no Atticus Finch, but his inherent on-screen likability works well for him here as he works to convince the jury of his clients’ innocence. For me, it was interesting seeing Cruise outside of an action role, and I certainly wish he did more of them because he’s excellent here. Demi Moore does a decent job of showing uncertainty from a character who is usually so sure of herself, and most of the other characters do a fine job as well, though they’re nothing to speak of. Jack Nicholson, however, is obviously the shining star of the film, despite his limited screen time, which can be compared to Anthony Hopkins’ performance as Hannibal Lecter in The Silence of the Lambs, in which he was onscreen for only 12 minutes but still won the Academy Award. Though Jack Nicholson didn’t win the Academy Award for his performance here, he still does a fantastic job of portraying such a stubborn character, and his delivery of the classic line doesn’t at all feel forced or cliched. In fact, I think that that is Nicholson’s greatest strength as an actor: he is able to play crazy/angry/etc. so believably without it seeming forced.

The star behind the scenes here is Aaron Sorkin, who wrote both the screenplay and the original play that it is based on. His dialogue is sharp, and his storytelling is strong, and the relationships between characters develop nicely and provide several nice moments throughout the film. Most of the humor he writes into the script is good as well, though I must admit that there were a few jokes that seemed forced, being there simply for the purpose of being jokes rather than being a byproduct of something that actually advances the story.

On the whole, my complaints are minimal, and I was entertained throughout. A Few Good Men is a well-deserved classic that has withstood the test of time; I think that I was destined to like this film. With the combination of so many amazing talents – Rob Reiner, who directed one of my favorite films (The Princess Bride; (my review)), Aaron Sorkin, who wrote the screenplay for another of my favorite films (The Social Network), Tom Cruise, who I have only recently discovered and enjoyed in films such as Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol (my review) and Oblivion (my review), and Jack Nicholson, one of my favorite actors (The ShiningOne Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest) – what’s not to love?

-Chad

Rating: 4 (out of 5)

MPAA: R – for language

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RED 2 (2013)

NOTE: Review originally written for and posted at MovieByte.com. To see this post and check out the guys over at MovieByte, click here!
RED 2

RED, a 2010 film starring Bruce Willis, Mary-Louise Parker, John Malkovich, Morgan Freeman, and Helen Mirren, was great because it brought something new to the table: older actors, most not known for starring in action films, coming together to create an action film that works as both a good action film and as a good comedy too. However, I was slightly concerned for the sequel; could the filmmakers capture what was special about the first film without rehashing it in the second? Luckily, I think that they (mostly) pulled it off.

RED 2 picks up where the first film left off, with Frank Moses (Bruce Willis) and now-girlfriend Sarah Ross (Mary-Louise Parker) trying to live a normal life together. However, Frank’s efforts to keep Sarah safe and out of harm’s way fail when the pair are sucked into a plot to find a nuclear device that was lost in Russia several years ago. Marvin Boggs (John Malkovich) and Victoria Winslow (Helen Mirren) are back to help, with a blast from Frank’s past returning as well – Katya, played by Catherine Zeta-Jones, who is described as “Frank Moses’ kryptonite.” It’s a race against the clock as the team tries to find the weapon while trying to avoid assassination attempts by “the world’s number one contract killer,” Han J0-Bae (Lee Byung-Hun).

It’s nice to see the original cast return, although I must admit that Morgan Freeman’s character is a missed presence. Bruce Willis as Frank brings back a lot of the interesting back and forth of being a stone-cold killer and someone in love, which brings some more humor to the table. Mary-Louise Parker as Sarah is mostly great, but I did think that the character was a bit too over-the-top eccentric at times. Most of that, however, can be blamed on the presence of Catherine Zeta-Jones character, Katya, who I didn’t like at all. I didn’t like the rivalry between her and Sarah, which felt forced at times, such as in the car chase scene. I understand that there needed to be a reason to create tension between Sarah and Frank, but I thought that it had already been established pretty well by showing Frank’s worry at Sarah’s involvement and apprehension at her carrying a gun, something that resolved appropriately later in the film. Oh well. Anyway, John Malkovich as Marvin and Helen Mirren as Victoria are probably my favorite two characters of the film; Marvin is kooky in all the right ways, and seeing Helen Mirren firing guns out both windows of a car (see image above) is worth ticket price. Anthony Hopkins makes an appearance as well as Dr. Edward Bailey, a wonderfully quirky character who has a surprise or two up his sleeves. I was a little iffy on my opinion of him at first, but he certainly grew on me and became one of my favorite parts of the film.

Very little of the humor in the film feels forced, making the conversations and interactions between characters feel natural. Many of the jokes are brought about by the different worldview that these characters have compared to normal people; for example, Marvin’s negative observation at the start of the film about how Frank “[hasn’t] killed anyone in months” or Frank’s gift of a personalized handgun to Sarah being seen as a romantic gesture. Some of the humor is even pretty tongue-in-cheek, such as when Victoria infiltrates an insane asylum by eccentrically declaring herself “the Queen of England,” a reference to Helen Mirren’s arguably most famous role as Queen Elizabeth II in the 2006 film The Queen. Composer Alan Silvestri’s score is entertaining as well, despite it being completely different than anything I’ve heard from him before. He does a great job with creating music that drives the film forward without intruding on what’s happening on-screen.

I have a couple of spoiler-y dislikes that I won’t discuss here, but, in the grand scheme of things, they aren’t all that important. What IS important, though, is that, despite not being as good overall as the first film, it is still just as fun, bringing lots of laughs along the way. There is a nice twist at the end of the film that I honestly didn’t see coming, which is always nice, the stylized scene changes are well-done and appropriately comic book-esque, and it takes what was fun about the first film and does something new with it. It all boils down to this: if you liked the first film, then RED 2 is definitely worth checking out.

-Chad

Rating: 3.5 (out of 5)

MPAA: PG-13 – for pervasive action and violence including frenetic gunplay, and for some language and drug material