Friday, May 24, 2019

CONSENSUS 72. Colonel Redl (1985)



SYNOPSIS: Col. Redl (Klaus Maria Brandauer) is a closet Jew and homosexual who rises through the Austrian army pre-WWI by ratting out any comrades who are less than enthusiastic with the monarchy and the army. He is appointed head of military intelligence where his ambitious ferreting can flower. Ironically, he gets ensnared in his own game.

BACK-STORY: Colonel Redl is a Hungarian film directed by Istvan Szabo. It was the second in a trilogy and came after the acclaimed Mephisto. It is based on a British play by John Osborne entitled A Patriot For Me. The movie won the Jury Prize at Cannes, was chosen Best Foreign Film at the BAFTAs, and was nominated for Best Foreign Film at the Oscars. The movie was hardly shown in America and made just $2,357 in one week at one theater.

Belle and Blade  =  N/A
Brassey’s              =  4.0
Video Hound       =  N/A
War Movies         =  N/A
Military History  =  #50
Channel 4             =  not on list
Film Site                =  yes
101 War Movies  =  no

OPINION:  Colonel Redl is overrated at #72. It is interesting, but not special.  It is an interesting movie, but predictable. The themes that power corrupts and ambition is bad have been explored ad infinitum. There is little that is outstanding about the film.  The strength of the movie is the acting. Brandauer is excellent as Redl. His portrayal of a tormented man is mesmerizing. His performance is the main reason to watch the movie.

Saturday, May 18, 2019

PICTURE, QUOTE, MOVIE QUIZ #59


1.  What movie is the picture from?

2.  What movie is this quote from?

Everybody does his duty at Zinderneuf, dead or alive! We'll make those Arabs think we've got a thousand men. 

3. What movie is this? 


 It was directed by Lewis Milestone of “All Quiet…” fame.  He also directed another “Forgotten War” film entitled “Steel Helmet”.  It was his last war movie.  It was released in 1959.  The screenplay is based on the nonfiction by the famous war author S.L.A. Marshall (SLAM).  The main character, Joe Clemons, acted as technical adviser.  Clemons was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for the battle.  The movie is populated by many familiar actors from the 1960s and includes a small role by Barry McGuire of future “Eve of Destruction” one hit wonder fame.

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

CONSENSUS #73 - Ministry of Fear (1944)



SYNOPSIS: The movie is set in Britain during the Blitz.  A Brit (Ray Milland) straight out of an insane asylum (for the murder of his wife) gets caught up in intrigue in WWII England when he accidentally acquires an item of value to spies.  Going from pursued to pursuer, he tracks down a Nazi spy ring and finds love in the process.

BACK-STORY: Ministry of Fear is a classic film noir by the acclaimed Fritz Lang. It was based on the novel of Graham Greene which is noirier than the screenplay. The movie was released in 1944 and is black and white. It is partly Langs reaction to Nazis dominance of Europe. Lang, a German, had been offered a job in the Ministry of Propaganda by Josef Goebbels and immediately fled from Germany.

TRIVIA:  imdb

1.  Lang was disappointed with film because he felt the script differed too much from Greene’s book (see #3), but he was not allowed to tamper with it.  This was because the screenwriter was also the producer.
2.  The McGuffin is a cake.
3.  The main character in the book is much more tormented with guilt over his wife’s death and it is more clearly murder.  The romance is also less idyllic.  She is a spy and he is a murderer.

Belle and Blade  =  N/A
Brassey’s              =  4.0
Video Hound       =  N/A
War Movies         =  N/A
Military History   =  #53
Channel 4             =  not on list
Film Site                =  yes
101 War Movies  =  no

OPINION: Sadly, Ministry of Fear is nothing special. It is not a great war movie and it is not even great film noir. The acting is satisfactory, but not up to the great film noir classics.  The plot has holes and bizarre aspects, but you expect that from film noir.   It does not belong on this list.

Sunday, May 12, 2019

CATCH-22 Private Screening


Recently, I and my wife went to the WWII Museum in New Orleans to see a private screening of the first episode of the new Hulu miniseries. It is co-produced by George Clooney and he directed two of the six episodes. He also plays a minor character - Scheisskopf. Scheisskopf, as well as several other characters, did not appear in the movie. Since the miniseries is three times as long, it clearly will cover more of the book. For those of you who were put off by the nonlinear structure of the movie and the book, the miniseries is in chronological order. Probably a decision aimed at the comfort of the masses. Based on the first episode, it appears the project is well done. The cast is mostly unknowns, with the exceptions of Clooney, Kyle Chandler as Cathcart, and Hugh Laurie as de Coverley (another character that does not appear in the movie). I am sure the young cast is competent, but they will have to go a long way to match the movie. The episode evidenced realistic depiction of the missions, something that CGI allows over the original. They only had access to two B-25's, but the formation scenes are seamless. If you enjoyed the book, or don't want to have to read it, it looks like it will do the trick. It should be a boon to the summer reading students. Just be aware that the book is partly chosen by your English teacher because of Heller's style as well as his satire.

After the screening there was a panel discussion featuring a co-writer (Luke Davies) and three actors - Rafi Gavron (Arfy), Graham Patrick Martin (Orr), and John Rudnitsky (McWatt). Considering they were at the WWII Museum and there were veterans in the crowd, it was nice that the lads made it clear that their experience of making a movie at an Italian resort was not comparable to that of the B-25 crews.


I'll try to watch the series soon and post on it.  Stay tuned.

Here is my review of the book and the movie.




Wednesday, May 8, 2019

CONSENSUS #74 - Scipio Africanus



SYNOPSIS: "Scipio Africanus" is an epic that covers the last campaign of the Second Punic War between Rome and Carthage. It covers the events leading up to and including the Battle of Zama. The main character is the famous Roman general who won that battle. Hannibal is his foe.

BACK-STORY: Scipione LAfricano (Scipio Africanus) was a propaganda extravaganza commissioned by Benito Mussolini to fire up Italians for the upcoming conquest of the new Roman Empire. It was produced by his twenty-one year old son Vittorio, but we can assume daddy was very hands-on. It was the most expensive Italian movie up to then as Benito spared no expense. It paid off as the movie won the Mussolini Cup at the Venice Film Festival. That must have been a shocker! Mussolini convinced the army to provide a division of extras. But more infamously, numerous elephants were used and some did not survive (the ones with poor agents). The soldiers were soon sent to Ethiopia after production ended. Hopefully the ones who wore wristwatches in their scenes were put in the front lines.

TRIVIA:  Wikipedia, imdb, ihffilm.com

1.  Mussolini “persuaded” the Italian army to donate a division of soldiers as extras.  The division was subsequently sent to participate in the Spanish Civil War.
2.  Up to 50 elephants were used in the production.  Some of the elephants were killed in the shooting.  One of them took a spear in the eye.
3.  It had one of the earliest uses of zoom lenses.
4.  It was the most expensive Italian film up till then.
5.  If you look closely, you can see some of the legionaries wearing wristwatches.

Belle and Blade  =  N/A
Brassey’s              =  4.0
Video Hound       =  N/A
War Movies         =  N/A
Military History  =  #56
Channel 4             =  not on list
Film Site                =  yes
101 War Movies  =  no


OPINION: Scipio Africanus is not well known and is hard to find. Its worth the trouble if you can find it. It is definitely a spectacle. For a silent movie, it holds up well. It is probably seeded properly at #74.  I can assure you it is better than some movies ahead of it. The key strength is the historical accuracy. As a huge Scipio fan, I can attest to the movie getting the highlights of the Battle of Zama correct. I did not expect it to be worthy of the man, but I was wrong.

Sunday, May 5, 2019

PICTURE, QUOTE, MOVIE #58


1.  What movie is the picture from?

2.  What movie is this quote from?

Tough monkey. Guys like you end up in the stockade sooner or later. Some day you'll walk in; I'll be waiting. I'll show you a couple of things. 

3.  What movie is this?


It is one of the most beloved movies of its time.  It was directed by the acclaimed William Wyler and released in 1946.  Wyler had earlier done the famous documentary “Memphis Belle”.  Producer Samuel Goldwyn wanted to make a movie about returning veterans so it is set in the period immediately after WWII.  It is based on a blank verse novel by MacKinley Kantor and was adapted into the screenplay by Robert Sherwood – two heavyweights.  The movie was a box office smash in America and was actually even more popular in England.  It won seven Oscars:  Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor (Frederic March), Best Supporting Actor (Harold Russell), Editing, Adapted Screenplay, and Original Score.  AFI ranked it as the 37th best motion picture of all time.  Russell had lost his hands from a faulty fuse setting off some explosives during a training session.  He is the only actor ever to win two Oscars for the same performance.  The Academy felt he would lose for Best Supporting Actor so they gave him an honorary Oscar.  Wyler insisted on the crew being veterans.

Thursday, May 2, 2019

CONSENSUS #75. The Tin Drum (1979)



SYNOPSIS: "The Tin Drum" is an extremely bizarre movie about a young Polish boy who does not age. He is uncommunicative other than playing his tin drum. He and his family live in Nazi-occupied Danzig. He and his dysfunctional family go through some incidents with the war as the back drop. (I strongly suggest you go to my blog and read the summary so you can see what I am talking about.)

BACK-STORY: The Tin Drum is a 1979 German war movie based on the novel by Gunter Grass. The movie is set in WWII Danzig. It was directed by Volker Schlandorff. It is one of the most critically acclaimed war films of the 1970s. It shared the Palme dOr with Apocalypse Now at Cannes and won the Best Foreign Language Film at the Academy Awards.

TRIVIA:  Wikipedia, imdb

1.  The movie was filmed mostly in West Germany.  The Soviets allowed only brief filming in Gdansk, Poland because the book was banned in the Eastern Bloc.
2.  It was the first German film to win the Best Foreign Film Oscar.
3.  There is a controversial underage sex scene that caused an Oklahoma County District Judge to rule the movie contained child pornography.  Without search warrants or a court order, Oklahoma City police raided libraries and rental outlets to confiscate copies of the VHS.  They got addresses of customers and went to their houses to get the copies.  The District Attorney threatened to arrest anyone with a copy.  The ACLU got involved and federal courts ended the censorship. 
4.  The movie was also banned in parts of Canada.
5.  David Bennent had a condition that caused him to age slowly.  He was an 11 year old playing a 16 year old.  The sex scene was with Katharina Thalbach, who was 24 at the time.

Belle and Blade  =  N/A
Brassey’s              =  4.0
Video Hound       =  N/A
War Movies         =  N/A
Military History  =  #60
Channel 4             =  not on list
Film Site                =  yes
101 War Movies  =  no

OPINION:  I am glad to report that The Tin Drum is not a bad war movie because it is not a war movie. It is an odd tale set in a war.  I hate this movie.  I can’t even see how generic critics like it, much less war movie critics.   In my opinion, it belongs nowhere near this list.

Monday, April 29, 2019

CHINESE SPECIAL FORCES: Operation Red Sea (2018)




                “Operation Red Sea” is a Chinese war movie loosely base on the rescue of 225 foreign nationals and 600 Chinese civilians during the 2015 Yemeni Civil War.  Chinese special forces participated in the operation.  The movie was timed to the 90th Anniversary of the Peoples’ Liberation Army.  It was directed by Dante Lam, who had been an assistant director under action icon John Woo.  The apprenticeship shows in this movie.  It has been described as China’s “first modern naval film”.

                The movie begins in the Gulf of Aden in 2015.  Somali pirates capture a Chinese cargo ship and hold the crew for ransom.  Their leader wears an eye patch, but he does not have a parrot on his shoulder.  The Jiaolong Assault Team (basically the equivalent of Navy SEALs) is sent in.  The movie does not bother with the negotiation or planning stages.  Who cares?  We’re here for the action.  And that action includes super slo-mo.  So slow that we see the entire trip of bullets.  Now that the aperitif is downed, it’s time for the main meal and it will have several courses.  There is an ISIS type terrorist group called Zaka that will have to be dealt with.  They are trying to get yellow cake to build a dirty bomb.  A female reporter named Xia is hot on the trail.  She will link up with the eight-person (one of them is a woman) commando unit, but first they have to rescue the Chinese embassy staff from an ambush.  Then survive their own ambush.  Then rescue a Chinese diplomat from a village full of Zaka.  Not subtly.  Then stop the acquisition of the yellow cake by Zaka’s Bin Laden.  There’s a little talking in between the set pieces.

                “Operation Red Sea” is combat porn, but it is done with flair and a big budget.  There are breathers shoe-horned in, but the movie is basically a series of gonzo action scenes.  There is a very high percentage of action in this film.  Although supposedly based on actual events, it jumps the reality fence early and never looks back.  In some ways it copies from American special forces movies, but adds the Asian action that John Woo is famous for.  And where an American SEAL movie might have two missions, this movie has four.  More is better, right.  There are two ambushes.  There are two sniper duels.  The violence is graphic and unrelenting.  So unrelenting that no one has time to reload.  Which is good, because they don’t seem to carry any extra ammo.  As is required in movies like this, each action scene has to top the last.  Before the audience can limp out of the theater, they got a tank chase/duel!  They also got to marvel at the technology the Chinese military has for battling terrorism.  For instance, they have a mini-drone that can be maneuvered over bad guys to explode onto them.  Twice.

                You won’t get much character development, but at least the names of the commandoes is flashed on the screen when they first appear.  (Nice touch for those of us who had a hard time telling them apart.)  The movie does have two strong female characters.  Xia is the feisty investigative reporter (outside China, of course) and she is capable of morphing into an action hero.  Tong Li is the female operative and she holds her own with the guys.  She’s the Vasquez (“Aliens”) of the group.  The acting is good and they are not forced to say mindless snark.  The movie may be over the top, but it is not silly.  It clearly is meant to laud the Chinese navy, but it is not overly propagandistic.

                I don’t know whether to compliment the Chinese for copying American movies.  Why should our plots be off limits when everything else isn’t?  You will recognize cribbing from “Black Hawk Down”,  “Act of Valor”, “Lone Survivor”, and “American Sniper”.  This movie might not be in a league with those movies, but it puts China in the game.  I still prefer South Korean war movies, but the Chinese have some potential.  And if their special forces are like the movie depicts, we don’t want to fight them.  By the way, the last scene has a Chinese fleet warning American ship to stay out of Chinese waters.

                “Operation Red Sea” is an entertaining action extravaganza for guys.  Even with the two female characters, it is as far from a chick-flick as you can get.  If you are not a big fan of reality and prefer ammo-expenditure, explosions, slaughter of terrorists, and tanks dueling in a sand storm, it is a movie for you.  Just don’t watch it as a documentary of how the Chinese military evacuated civilians from Yemen in 2015.

GRADE  =  B    

Saturday, April 27, 2019

CONSENSUS 76. Oh! What a Lovely War




SYNOPSIS:  Oh! What a Lovely War” is a unique war musical.  Based on a play, it was directed with flair by Richard Attenborough.  The movie intercuts between the five Smith brothers who are enthusiastic volunteers, but soon to be cannon fodder, and the generals and leader who put them in the trenches.  The script mixes a large number of period songs and actual quotes from the historical figures who were to blame for Great War being so horrendous.  The cast is filled with familiar British stars.

BACK-STORY:  “Oh! What a Lovely War” was the child of author Len Deighton.  He became enthused with the project after he saw the hit play “Oh What a Lovely War” by the esteemed Joan Littlewood.  Littlewood had adapted a radio play by Charles Chilton entitled “The Long Long Trail”.  Chilton used only period music and quotes.  Deighton wrote his screenplay along with producing.  In a fit of pique over others wanting credits for work they did not do (including Attenborough getting a producing credit he did not earn), he had his name removed from the screenwriting credit.  Attenborough was chosen over Gene Kelly to direct even though it was his debut.  Deighton insisted Attenborough agree not to make any changes in the script.  A promise he kept.  Historian A.J.P. Taylor acted as historical consultant on both the play and the movie.  Most of the movie was filmed on the West Pier in Brighton.

TRIVIA:  wikipedia, imdb
1.  Because the Beatles were interested in making an anti-war movie, Paul McCartney met with producer Len Deighton about playing the Smith boys.  It could not be arranged.
2.  The 16,000 crosses for the final scene were put in pre-dug holes.
3.  The song “La Chanson de Craonne” is about the French army mutiny of 1917.  The singing of it was deemed an act of mutiny and it was banned in France in 1974.  The French government offered a million franc reward for revealing the author of the song.
4.  No one is shown dying in the film.  There is no blood.
5.  The trench scenes were shot at Brighton Municipal Rubbish Dump, in spite of the stench.
6.  The song “The Moon Shines Bright on Charlie Chaplin” was part of a campaign in Great Britain to criticize him for not volunteering for the war.  Actually, Chaplin was turned down because he was puny.
7.  Every time a poppy appears, someone dies.  Starting with Archduke Franz Ferdinand.
8.  There are 37 songs in the movie. 
Belle and Blade  =  N/A
Brassey’s              =  3.0
Video Hound       =  N/A
War Movies         =  N/A
Military History  =  not on list
Channel 4             =  #40
Film Site                =  no
101 War Movies  =  yes

OPINION:  As you can see above, “Oh! What a Lovely War” is not a well-known war movie.  This is perplexing because it is the best in its subgenre of war musicals.  It is one of the most clearly anti-war films ever made.  If you know little of WWI, this movie will fill in some of the gaps.  It is also a great primer on WWI songs.  It belongs much higher on the list, but I am happy that it made the list at all.

Thursday, April 25, 2019

PICTURE, QUOTE, MOVIE #57


1.  What movie is the picture from?

2.  What movie is this quote from?

Labiche! Here's your prize, Labiche. Some of the greatest paintings in the world. Does it please you, Labiche? Give you a sense of excitement in just being near them? A painting means as much to you as a string of pearls to an ape. You won by sheer luck: you stopped me without knowing what you were doing, or why. You are nothing, Labiche -- a lump of flesh. The paintings are mine; they always will be; beauty belongs to the man who can appreciate it! They will always belong to me or to a man like me. Now, this minute, you couldn't tell me why you did what you did.

3.  What movie is this?

  It is based on the book by Howard Fast.  The star was fascinated by the novel and wanted to ease his disappointment over losing the starring role in “Ben Hur”.  When Fast proved unable to make the jump to screenwriter, noted commie Dalton Trumbo was brought in.  This was a daring move as Trumbo was, at that time, blacklisted as a member of the Hollywood Ten.  He had run afoul of the House Unamerican Activities Committee during McCarthyism and was writing screenplays under pseudonyms.  After completion of the film, the star insisted Trumbo be credited by his real name – a move that ended the blacklisting movement. Kudos!   The first director (Anthony Mann) did not meet the stars’ standards so he was replaced.  It was not exactly smooth sailing after the change.  The massive egos of the stars made each scene difficult.  The director looked back on the film with far from fond memories.  Based on his recollections, you would think the movie was terrible.  He wanted the movie to be more gritty and less a hagiography.  He wanted more battle scenes, but test audiences reacted negatively (boo!).  The movie was the most expensive to date ($12 million). 

Monday, April 22, 2019

2018 MOVIE - Sgt. Stubby: An American Hero



                        “Sgt. Stubby” is the rare animated film based on a true story and the rarer animated war movie and the even rarer animated war movie based on a true story.  This separates it from “Chicken Run” and “Valiant”.  Another thing that separates it is it is not a comedy.  It is the story of a dog named Stubby who went from homeless to hero in WWI.  Stubby became a newspaper celebrity after the war, but had been largely forgotten since then.  The movie attempts to bring him to a modern audience, of kids.  It is a computer animated feature.  The first major one that was based on a true story.  It was co-written and directed by Richard Lanni and produced in Montreal and Paris.  A low budget film ($25 million) with little marketing, it bombed.  The lack of box office was partly attributed to competition from the behemoth “Rampage” and the oxygen-sucking “Isle of Dogs”.  It and Stubby deserved better.  It did garner recognition at numerous film festivals.

                        The movie opens in 1917 with the U.S. preparing for war.  A homeless bull terrier is befriended by a recruit named Conroy (Logan Lerman) in a training camp.  Stubby’s first big obstacle is overcome by Conroy teaching him to salute.  This makes him a better soldier than Conroy and his mates, according to the commanding officer.  His mates are a German-American named Schroeder and a dog-hater named Olsen.  The second obstacle is solved by stowing away on the troop ship.  They end up in the trenches with a French poilu named Gaston (Gerard Depardieu) as their tutor.  He shows them the ropes.  They, and today’s four-year olds, learn about life in the trenches (there are cute rats that try to eat their food!)  They also learn that war is heck with its artillery bombardments and poison gas.  The doughboys used bolt-action rifles.  They used periscopes to look out the trench.  Stubby proves adept at locating wounded soldiers, alerting about poison gas, and capturing spies.  He even saves a whole village.  That dog is magnifique!
 
                        “Sgt. Stubby” should have a future for middle school substitute teacher days.  At least the kids would learn something.  It hits the headlines of Stubby’s bio (see Historical Accuracy section below).  The tutoring is done in a kid-friendly way, but the facts are effectively chronicled.  The movie is surprisingly accurate although hardly realistic.  No man’s land is not a particularly scary place and the trench is like you want your four-year old’s room to be.  Why can’t your room look like a WWI trench?  To its credit, the film does feature a bombed out church.

                          Stubby is rendered as cute and charming, but he is not anthropomorphic.  He does not talk and he has no special powers.  He cannot talk.  He whimpers well.  Kudos to the voice actor.  The rest of the cast is fine.  Helena Bonham Carter voices Conroy’s sister.  The framing device is her narration (which is a nice touch because you wonder if Conroy survives).  Gerard Depardieu provides the French accent for Gaston.

                         As usual with computer generated, the dog looks more life-like than the humans.  Overall, the animation is fine.  They thrown in some cool animated maps to give the audience some geographical perspective.  Did you know that the Chemins des Dames is near Soissons?  It’s not Pixar, but it matches the material.  Balto goes to the Western Front.  The animation also matches the PG depiction of the war.  The trenches are pristine (and amazingly vacant) and there are little of the aspects of the war that made it so horrific.  The movie is more about the bond of a man and his dog than it is about man’s inhumanity toward man.  It does not rain and there is little mud on this Western Front, for instance.  Your children may get the impression that WWI was pretty cool if you had your pet with you.  However, there is a death thrown in at the end to give some perspective.  And you may have to explain that poison gas is unlikely to be used in your neighborhood.

                        In conclusion, “Sgt. Stubby” is effective edutainment.  Kids will like it and parents will not feel cloyed at.  It even includes a cameo from George Patton and his tanks so war movie buffs can show off their knowledge.  Kids, you know who that is?  But you won’t have to tell them who Sgt. Stubby was, the movie will do that nicely.

HISTORICAL ACCURACY:  Stubby was the official mascot of the 102nd Infantry Regiment, 26th Infantry Division (as called in the movie – The Yankee Division).  He was either a Bull Terrier or Boston Terrier that hooked up with a training unit in Massachusetts in 1917 after America’s entry.  Robert Conroy adopted the dog and taught him to salute, which impressed the leadership enough to allow him to stick around.  He stuck around for the full 18 months and 17 battles.  He became the most decorated war dog of WWI.  The movie does not cover all seventeen battles, but it does begin at the Chemins des Dames and ends in the Argonne.  The maps are very helpful with this.

                        It manages to catch most of Stubby’s resume.  He did get wounded by grenade fragments in a raid on Seicheprey.  He did warn of poison gas attacks and was eventually given his own gas mask (but not until after being a victim).  Saving the village was an exaggeration, but he was given his chamois coat by villagers.  He did warn of artillery bombardments with his doggie senses.  He did locate wounded soldiers in no man’s land.  And he apparently did capture a German scout by biting him on the ass.  Now, keep in mind, this biography was based on newspaper accounts and there’s a good chance that the dog’s exploits were enhanced.  You can’t blame the screenwriters for this.  It was a nice touch adding Patton with his M1917 tanks (American-made French Renaults), although it smacks of pandering to fanatics like me.  Kudos for showing him afoot!
                        As a post script, Conroy smuggled Stubby home where he became a celebrity.  He attended Georgetown Law School with Conroy and became the football team mascot.  He led military parades and met Presidents Wilson, Harding, and Coolidge.  He was presented a Humane Education Society medal by Gen. Pershing.  He died in 1926 and is now on display in the Smithsonian.

GRADE = B




Friday, April 19, 2019

CONSENSUS #77 - Catch-22



77. Catch-22
SYNOPSIS: Catch-22” is a satire set in WWII.  The setting is an air base in the Mediterranean.  The main character (Alan Arkin) is suffering from PTSD and wants to be declared insane so he can stop flying the hazardous missions.  Unfortunately, the fact that he knows the situation is insanely dangerous means that he is sane enough to go on missions.  The squadron is filled with odd-balls, including incompetent, scheming commanders and a war profiteer which allows the movie to satirize command and capitalism.
BACK-STORY:    Mike Nichols (“Charlie Wilson’s War) took on one of the more difficult novels when he decided to make “Catch-22”.  Joseph Heller’s novel is nonlinear and full of bizarre characters and labyrinthian dialogue.  Buck Henry wrote the screenplay and Heller assembled an eclectic cast.  Paramount gave Nichols a big budget and he used part of it to get 17 vintage B-25 Mitchell bombers.  Six months were spent on the camerawork for the bombers alone.  This required 1,500 flight hours.  Unfortunately, little of the footage made it into the film as it is not an aerial combat movie.  It is an anti-war satire that is often compared to “M*A*S*H”, which was released the same year.  It was this coincidental release that probably contributed to the box office failure of “Catch-22”.  The increasing unpopularity of the Vietnam War seemingly left room for only one successful war satire and the public chose “M*A*S*H”.
 TRIVIA:  Wikipedia, imdb, Guts and Glory
1.  Joseph Heller was pleased with the film and praised the changes and additions by screenwriter Buck Henry.
2.  The aerial sequences took six months and 1,500 hours of flying time.  All of this resulted in ten minutes of screen time.
3.  The film used 17 flyable B-25 Mitchell bombers.
4.  The Second Unit Director John Jordan refused to use a safety harness to film from one of the bombers and fell to his death.
5.  This was the first American movie to show a character (Martin Balsam’s Col. Cathcart) on the toilet.  Balsam claims it is the greatest moment of his career.  Just kidding.
6.  This was Art Garfunkel’s first film.  Paul Simon was supposed to also appear, but his role got cut.  The film caused Garfunkel to be late for a recording session with his partner and Simon wrote a critical song about Art because of this.
7.  Heller was a bombardier on B-25s.  On one mission, a gunner was wounded and bled all over him.
Belle and Blade  =  5.0
Brassey’s              =  3.0
Video Hound       =  3.1
War Movies         =  4.4
Military History  =  not on list
Channel 4             =  #42
Film Site                =  no
101 War Movies  =  yes

OPINION:  “Catch-22” did not get a lot of love when it was released, but it’s reputation has gone up over the years.  Having read the book, it is a worthy effort to bring a complex story to the screen.  Buck Henry’s screenplay actually makes some improvements, while keeping much of the dialogue from the book.  The cast is excellent and the characters are intriguing.  It has several scenes that are iconic.  It seems well-placed at #77.

Monday, April 15, 2019

PICTURE, QUOTE, MOVIE QUIZ #56


1.  What movie is the picture from?

2.  What movie is this quote from?

We're responsible for the protection of 100,000 square miles of territory. And against us are ranged thousands of the finest light cavalry on earth. I found that out this morning. It's a big job, gentlemen... and it's gonna need a fine regiment. Our job is to make this the finest regiment that the United States ever saw. I needn't tell most of you that a regiment is something more than just six hundred disciplined fighting men. Men die. But a regiment lives on; because a regiment has an immortal soul of its own. Well, the way to begin is to find it. To find something that belongs to us alone. Something to give us that pride in ourselves that'll make men endure - and, if necessary, die... with their boots on. As for the rest it's easy: since it's no more than hard work, hard riding and hard fighting. Thank you, gentlemen, I know I can count on you.

3.  What movie is this?

It is Buster Keaton’s masterpiece, although it took a while for the critics and public to realize that.  The movie was a commercial and critical bomb when it was released in 1926.  Thankfully Keaton lived to see the revival of its reputation in the 1960s.  Recently the American Film Institute ranked it the 18th greatest film and the 18th greatest comedy (don’t ask).  This must have been heartening since he co-wrote, co-directed, and co-produced it.    He based it on The Great Locomotive Chase by William Pittenger.  Keaton used 500 Ohio National Guardsmen for the battle scene and even had them switch uniforms to give the armies more size.

Friday, April 12, 2019

STREAMING: Sword of Vengeance (2015)


                “Sword of Vengeance” is a film by the esteemed Jim Weedon.  It was released in 2015 to less than universal acclaim.  Instead of standing in the long lines at the theater, you can now stream it on Netflix.  Thank God for Netflix!  The movie is historical fiction (heavy emphasis on the fiction) set in the time after the Norman Conquest.  William the Conqueror has sent an army to northern England to carry out a campaign of “furious destruction”.  This is known as the Harrowing.  William’s most feared war lord Earl Devant is responsible for killing 100,000 Saxons.  Boy were his arms tired!  He now rules with his sons Artus (Gianni Giardinelli) and Romain (Edward Akrout).  They are both good boys.  Just kidding.

                In an ominous development, the movie goes to slo-mo in the first minute.  And an amputated hand within two minutes.  A mysterious cloaked stranger called the Shadow Walker (Stanley Weber) has an encounter with some lackeys with predictable results.  It’s very graphic, naturally.  Two men are dead before the severed hand hits the ground.  The Shadow Walker then walks (slow motion) through the woods.  There will be a lot of walking in this movie.

                Artus and Romain don’t get along.  Artus is a bully.  He sends Romain to bring back Shadow Walker’s  head.  The encounter does not go well for Romain who loses an eye.  That’s better than the heads three of his men lose.  Shadow Walker hooks up with a woman named Anna.  They have a slo-mo bonding scene.  This movie would be half as long without the slow motion.  Artus begins a scorched earth program because in the Middle Ages if someone offends you, the peasants have to pay.  A blood spraying melee ensues and Artus is captured.  Romain arrives to negotiate, but the Shadow Walker is not the talkative type.  It looks like daddy will need to get involved.  Defensive preps montage.  In slo-mo.  Bare-chested sword honing.  Flashback – it turns out Durand killed Shadow Walker’s father right in front of him (is there any other way in movies like this?)  Slo-mo sally from the fort.  Durand has brought six berserkers with him just so he can say “release Hell!”  Shadow Walker has to take on four baddies.  Lucky for him, they nicely take him on one at a time.  These prelims lead to the main bout with Durand.  Clang and woosh go the double swords and double axes.  Post script:  the village is being assaulted.  This looks like a job for Shadow Walker.  Handing out weapons and gearing up montage.  They have plenty of time because the enemy is coming in slo-mo.

                “Sword of Vengeance” is slow-moving.  Get it?  In fact, it would be better titled “The Slow Walker”.  It is poorly acted and the characters are all cliché.  The central hero is a dud and so is the main hero.  The dialogue does not help the actors.  If you took a drink every time the Shadow Walker speaks, you’d have only a slight buzz.  If you drank every time he said something intelligible, you’d be completely sober.  There is a butch chick (Anna) who adds some girl power.  It would have been nice if the director had added some color.  The film is close to being black and white.  Does it cost more to be more colorful?  There is a lot of blood splattering, but it’s drab.  All the throat cuttings don’t redden the screen much.  Speaking of which, there is not a lot of variety in the deaths.  Usually in a movie like this the director has a check list of various decapitations and amputations.  Weedon’s list was not long.  The fights are blah, including the climactic duel.  In other words, the movie should have been entertainingly bad.  Instead, it’s just bad.

GRADE  =  D

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

CONSENSUS #78. She Wore a Yellow Ribbon (1949)




SYNOPSIS: A soon to retire trooper (John Wayne) has an action-packed last few weeks as the Southern Cheyenne have left their reservation and are on the war path. Throw in a love triangle involving the commanding officer's daughter and two wooing troopers and we have one of John Ford's iconic Westerns.

BACK-STORY: She Wore a Yellow Ribbon is a western/war movie released in 1949. It was the second of John Fords cavalry trilogy and the only one in color. The other two were Fort Apache and Rio Grande. All three starred John Wayne. The movie was set in Monument Valley. Ford used the paintings of Frederick Remington for inspiration and ideas. The title is a song associated with the U.S. Cavalry and alludes to the cavalryman giving his love a yellow ribbon. One of the stars is the horse Steel ridden by Ben Johnson. This horse was popular with western stars. The movie was awarded the Oscar for Best Color Cinematography to Winton Hoch. The film was a big hit.

TRIVIA:  Wikipedia, imdb, TCM
1.  It was the second in John Ford’s cavalry trilogy coming between “Fort Apache” and “Rio Grande”.
2.  Cinematographer Winton Hoch based some of the scenes on sculptures and paintings by Frederic Remington.  This means the film links the two men most responsible for our image of the West – John Ford and Frederic Remington.  Hoch won the Academy Award for Best Cinematography, Color.  Part of the reason for his win is the iconic thunder storm scene.  Supposedly, Hoch was shutting down filming when the storm appeared on the horizon.  Ford demanded he continue shooting despite Hoch claiming the lighting was not sufficient and mentioning the threat of lightning.  Hoch filed a complaint with the American Society of Cinematographers.
3.  Ford did not want John Wayne because he was uncomfortable with Wayne playing a character twenty years older.  Wayne was 41 at the time.  Ford changed his mind after seeing Wayne in “Red River”, remarking that the SOB could actually act.
4.  Wayne felt it was one of his favorite roles and thought he should have been nominated for Brittles instead of Stryker in “Sands  of Iwo Jima”.  He was bitter due to the critics not praising him for expanding his range and claimed that the result caused him to never stretch again.  “The Searchers” seems to refute this.
5.  Ben Johnson rode the famous horse “Steel”.  “Steel” had a lot of charisma, but was easy to ride.  The horse made a lot of money for Johnson’s father-in-law who ran a horse-renting business.  If you wanted to use “Steel”, you had to rent all the other horses from him.  “Steel” had his own double for galloping scenes.  He was ridden by Wayne in “Tall in the Saddle”, Gregory Peck in “Yellow Sky”, and Randolph Scott in “The Tall T”.

Belle and Blade  =  N/A
Brassey’s              =  4.0
Video Hound       =  3.8
War Movies         =  N/A
Military History  =  #55
Channel 4             =  not on list
Film Site                =  yes
101 War Movies  =  no

OPINION:  She Wore Yellow Ribbon is an entertaining Western, but it is not a war movie and does not belong on this list. I have a problem with taking a movie that is firmly in one genre and then putting it on a list of great movies in another genre. There are few Westerns that I feel can clearly be considered war movies and Westerns. A rare example of this hybrid would be Son of the Morning Star which is specifically and accurately about a battle in the Indian Wars (the Battle of Little Big Horn).