Tuesday, March 19, 2019

PICTURE, QUOTE, MOVIE #53


1.  What movie is the picture from?

2.  What movie is the quote from?

Now listen to me you beknighted muckers. We're going to teach you soldiering. The world's noblest profession. When we're done with you, you'll be able to slaughter your enemies like civilized men.  

3.  What movie is this?

It was released in 1945 and is based on the columns of war correspondent Ernie Pyle.  It was directed by William Wellman who had been a pilot in the Lafayette Escadrille in WWI and at first refused  to do a movie about the despised infantry until he met Pyle and saw the adoration the infantry had for him.  Once on board, Wellman insisted on realism and convinced the Army to loan him 150 soldiers training near the production.  The movie also used several actual war correspondents.  So the actors would not look foolish alongside real soldiers, Wellman put them through the first actors’ boot camp.  Sadly, Pyle was killed before the opening of the movie and many of the real soldiers were killed on Okinawa.  For this reason, Wellman never watched the movie after its release.  The movie was a hit and is considered one of the most realistic war films.  It was nominated for four Oscars (Supporting Actor - Mitchum, Song, Score, and Screenplay).

Sunday, March 17, 2019

CONSENSUS #82. Empire of the Sun (1987)





SYNOPSIS:  When the International Settlement in Shanghai is occupied by the Japanese in 1941, spoiled rich kid Jamie Graham is separated from his parents.  He finds a surrogate father in the Fagin-like black marketeer Basie (John Malkovich).  When they are captured by the Japanese and placed in a camp, Jamie is torn between the part of the camp that has families in it and the part that is single white males run by the King Rat-like Basie.  Jamie treats his life as something of a bizarre summer camp.
BACK-STORY:  “Empire” was based on a biography by J.G. Ballard.  It was published in 1984.  Originally, Warner Brothers tapped Harold Becker to direct and when he dropped out, David Lean took over with Spielberg as producer.  Lean decided the source material was too much like a diary, so he turned directing over to Spielberg who was much more enamored with the book than he was.  Spielberg jumped at the chance because of his admiration for Lean’s films (especially “Bridge on the River Kwai” which it resembles).  Spielberg also loved WWII topics.  This was his third WWII movie after “1941” and “Raiders of the Lost Ark”.  It incorporated common Spielberg themes like separation of a child from his parents (Spielberg was deeply affected by his parents’ divorce when he was 14) and coming of age.  Loss of innocence is also a theme of the movie.  The movie was filmed at a studio in the United Kingdom and on location in Spain and Shanghai (the Chinese government allowed the first movie filming there since the 1940s).  5,000 Chinese extras were used.  The movie was not a box office success.

TRIVIA:  Wikipedia, imdb
1.  Three authentic P-51s were used.   They dropped plaster-filled mock 500 pound bombs in the movie.
2.  Spielberg’s father had been a radio operator on a B-25 Mitchell in the China-Burma Theater.
3.  Christian Bale was cast over 4,000 auditionees partly because author J.G. Ballard felt he resembled him at that age.  Bale was suggested by Amy Irving (Spielberg’s wife at that time) who had co-starred with him in “Anastasia:  The Mystery of Anna”.
4.  Academy   Award nominations for:  Art Direction, Cinematography, Editing, Original Music Score, Costume Design, and Sound.
5.   One of the Zeros (which were actually modified Harvard SJN trainers) was flown by Tom Danaher, a Marine night fighter pilot from WWII who shot down the last Japanese bomber in the war. 
6.  The scene where Jim is tucked in by his parents was modelled after the Norman Rockwell painting for FDR’s “Freedom from Fear”.  The painting is on the wall in the prison camp.
7.  Ballard appears as an extra in the party scene.

Belle and Blade  =  2.5
Brassey’s              =  4.0
Video Hound       =  3.8
War Movies         =  N/A
Military History  =  not on list
Channel 4             =  #43
Film Site                =  no
101 War Movies  =  yes

OPINION:  “Empire of the Sun” is a fine coming of age tale set in wartime.  It features a career-boosting performance by child actor Christian Bale and has an indelible performance by Malkovich.  It’s audience is not really war movie fans.  It is a typical Spielberg movie in that it does not dare to show the real horrors that the foreign civilians must have gone through.  This is not “Schindler’s List”.  On the other hand, it avoids some of the schmaltzy elements of most of Spielberg’s films.  It is not as good as the similar “Hope and Glory” and is overrated at #82.  I would not have it in the top 100.

Saturday, March 16, 2019

CRACKER? Empire of the Sun (1987)



                “Empire” was based on a biography by J.G. Ballard.  It was published in 1984.  Originally, Warner Brothers tapped Harold Becker to direct and when he dropped out, David Lean took over with Spielberg as producer.  Lean decided the source material was too much like a diary, so he turned directing over to Spielberg who was much more enamored with the book than he was.  Spielberg jumped at the chance because of his admiration for Lean’s films (especially “Bridge on the River Kwai”, which it resembles).  Spielberg also loved WWII topics.  This was his third WWII movie after “1941” and “Raiders of the Lost Ark”.  The movie was filmed at a studio in the United Kingdom and on location in Spain and Shanghai (the Chinese government allowed the first movie filming there since the 1940s).  5,000 Chinese extras were used.  The movie was not a box office success. 
                The movie opens in 1941.  Foreigners are living safely in the International Settlement in Shanghai.  Their lives are fairly unchanged even though the Japanese army occupies the rest of the city.  Jamie Graham (Christian Bale) is a spoiled rich kid living in a mansion where he is waited on by Chinese servants.  His family lives a Rolls Royce life in a rickshaw city.  After Pearl Harbor, the Japanese decide to occupy the International Settlement.  This catches the naïve and clueless foreigners by surprise.  In the chaos of trying to escape the city, Jamie is separated from his parents.  He returns home to a well-deserved slap and lack of concern from his former servants.  When he runs out of food, he hooks up with a pair of grifters.  Basie (John Malkovich) dominates his partner Frank (Joe Pantoliano), but he takes a liking to Jamie.  He becomes a Fagin-like figure in Jamie’s life.  He continues to mentor Jamie after they are captured and put in an internment camp.  Jamie is torn between the part of the camp where the families live and the part where Basie and the other single males bunk.  Basie runs his barracks like a King Rat figure.  The camp is like a summer camp to the crafty Jamie.  It is especially enjoyable because it is adjacent to a Japanese fighter base.  Jamie is obsessed with air craft and finds a kindred spirit in a young Japanese pilot wannabe.
                “Empire” incorporates common Spielberg themes.  Jamie is separated from his parents and has to survive through his wits.  Jamie will have to come of age in the years covered by the movie.  (This theme is a bit diluted as the movie makes a massive three-year jump while he is in the camp.)  Another theme is loss of innocence.  This is punctuated by the atomic bombing of Nagasaki which also serves as a loss of innocence for humanity.  The movie does not explore the theme of “war is hell” much.  This is not “Schindler’s List”.  The Japanese are not demonized and the life in the camp is not hellacious.  This lack of realism is troubling.  I’m sure Spielberg would argue that the events are being seen from the wide-eyes of a child.  Thankfully, the themes are explored without the usual Spielbergian excesses.  It is not a schmaltzy movie, like “War Horse”, for instance.
                The movie is most watchable for the performance by Christian Bale.  It’s a star-making turn.  He gets the wild-eyed innocence right.  Jamie is not a cherub.  In fact, he’s something of a little privileged asshole until the shit hits the fan.  He then becomes a survivor, but he doesn’t lose his sense of adventure even as he matures into a mini-Basie.  Speaking of whom, Basie is a fascinating character.  Malkovich is perfect in the role.  He is not quite an anti-hero and the closest equivalent would be Corporal King from “King Rat”.  (This would make Jamie the equivalent of Marlowe.) 
                Is it one of the 100 best war movies ever made?  No.  It could have been if it had been more realistic.  The three-year jump is problematical because it shifts the movie from a tale of survival against all odds to one of a child’s evolution in adversity.  That is still an entertaining arc and Spielberg is great at that sort of plot.  Plus, the movie is a true story, so it deserves credit for not enhancing the tale too much.  It just seems like Spielberg has sugar-coated it too much.  It’s well worth the watch, however.
GRADE  =  B-


Monday, March 11, 2019

MEMPHIS BELLE (1990) vs. MEMPHIS BELLE (1943)



VS.  


 
“Memphis Belle” is a war movie directed by Michael Caton-Jones loosely based on the WWII war documentary by William Wyler.  How loosely based will soon be apparent.  The movie was co-produced by Wyler’s daughter Catherine.  It cost $23 million and made $27 million.  That’s one million dollars per historical error.

The movie is set in the summer of 1943 at an air base in England.  An Army public relations officer, Lt. Col. Derringer (John Lithgow), is there to inspire the home front with a story about the first B-17 crew to complete the  25 missions tour.  He introduces us to the men via voiceover.  They are a melting pot of American warriors.  A heterogeneous unit – imagine that.  The enlisted consist of a virgin, a reform school graduate, a Catholic boy, a ladies’ man, a farm boy, and a poet.  The Captain is a clean-cut and by the book.  His co-pilot is the opposite.  The bombardier had four years of medical school, or so he says.  The navigator is morose and cowardly.   According to Derringer, the American public is questioning the idea of daylight bombing.  Since the Memphis Belle is undergoing repairs, the crew has a front row seat for a crash landing that ends up in disaster.  Could this be a portent?

The next scene is a big dance in a hangar which is a pretty good period piece with 1940s clothing and British birds.  There is a chanteuse crooning Swing music and lots of jitterbugging.  In an homage to 1940s Hollywood, Clay (Harry Connick, Jr.) gets on stage to sing “Danny Boy”.  This reminded me of Ricky Nelson in “Rio Bravo”.  The morning briefing explains that the target is Bremen.  It is emphasized that the factory is surrounded by a hospital, school, residential area, and petting zoo (I added that last one).  Thank God we had precision bombing which if applied properly would avoid hitting anything but the factory.

Montage of preparation – arming, fueling, etc.  There is a delay in take-off so Danny (Eric Stolz) can recite one of his poems ( actually “An Irish Airman Foresees His Death” by W.B. Yeats ).  Nice touch, Danny Downer.  The take-off is majestic with appropriate music.  Cinematic magic turns the five available bombers into at least eight and CGI into more for the formation shots.  The mission is the kitchen sink of anything that could possibly happen to a bomber in WWII Europe plus a few that could only happen in a Hollywood film.  Perhaps a list would make this clear.

1.        The Memphis Belle almost collides with another B-17 in a cloud.  This movie would have sucked if the collision would have occurred!
2.       A small number of German fighters (actually Spanish Ha-1112’s masquerading as Me-109’s) attack and then run away so we can move on to the next problem.
3.       The lead bomber is shot down so the MB has to take the lead.  How cinematically convenient!
4.       There is a hole in the wing which causes them to lose a lot of fuel.  Start the clock.
5.       The target is obscured and Capt. Deerborn makes the decision to bring the entire squadron back around to avoid hitting the petting zoo.
6.       Rascal’s (Sean Astin) ball turret gets shot out from under him and he is left dangling.
7.       There is a fire on board.
8.       Danny is wounded and only med school volunteer Val (Billy Zane) can save him.
9.       A fire in an engine forces Deerborn to crash dive to put it out.
10.    One wheel won’t come down (hey, isn’t that what happened to the crash-landing bomber from the opening?)
11.    The fuel runs out so they are down to one engine.
12.    Virge almost falls through the bomb bay.

Here is another list – clichés in “Memphis Belle”.
1.        There are command issues between Deerborn and his co-pilot Luke (Tate Donovan).
2.       Virge talks about his future plans of opening a chain of hamburger joints.
3.       Virge has sex in the plane.
4.       The crew rags some rookies from “Mother and Country” – can I have your stuff when you get shot down?  Ha! Ha!
5.       Phil (D.B. Sweeney) thinks his number is up.
6.       The ground crews wait for the bombers to return and count them as they do.

This is one of the corniest war movies ever made.  At one point, Deerborn talks to the “Memphis Belle” in a  schmaltzy and wooden way.  Wooden would be the best description of Modine’s performance.  The rest of the cast reminds of “Platoon” in its potential, but does not stand up to the comparison well.  The script does not help them.  The dialogue is sappy and the performances are too sincere.  After bombing the target (perfectly), Deerborn says “Okay boys, we’ve done our job for Uncle Sam, now we’re flying for ourselves.”  Modern actors dropped into a cliché-ridden 1940s war movie plot.  They did buy into it and I bet some of them are embarrassed by their participation.  I imagine they had fun filming it and it sure was more pleasant for them than the “Platoon” cast.  No boot camp for these pretty boys.

The effects are a mixed bag.  The five B-17s add a lot of authenticity (one of them was destroyed in a take-off when it clipped a tree and burned completely).  The interior of the bomber looks like the real deal and the routines are proper.  The air combat is fine with decent radio chatter (unlike “Red Tails”, to name but one).  There’s lots of action which fits the goal of mindless entertainment.  Unfortunately, the CGI is inferior and jarring.  The word “fake” comes to mind.  One bit of corn that works effectively is narration of some letters from relatives of lost men over actual footage of bombers going down.

In conclusion, “Memphis Belle” is the “U-571” of air combat movies.  Corny.  Cliché-ridden.  Predictable.  Tactically farcical.  More importantly, I would describe both of them as obstacle porn.  A continuous string of problems to be overcome by the heroes.  If you are into that kind of entertainment and could care less about accuracy and realism, break out the pop corn and turn off your brain.

“Memphis Belle:  A Story of a Flying Fortress” is the celebrated documentary about the first bomber to complete 25 missions in the 8th Air Force.  It was directed by William Wyler (“The Best Years of Our Lives”) who at the time was a major in the U.S. Army Air Forces.  He bravely flew on several missions and ended up losing hearing in one ear.  One of his cinematographers was killed in action.  Wyler won best documentary for “The Fighting Lady” which was about an aircraft carrier.

His “Memphis Belle” is in Technicolor which must have enhanced the message intended by Wyler.  The purpose of the documentary was to bring the air crew experience home to the home front and inspire the public at a time when support for the bombing campaign was waning.  The narration is very propagandistic and anti-German.  Where the movie is dedicated to all the airmen who fought in the skies over Europe, Wyler dedicates his film to only the 8th Air Force. 

The doc covers the last mission from briefing to kissing the ground on return.  The basic arc is used in the movie, but obviously the 1990 reenactment adds a lot of Hollywood.  The doc does take a few liberties of its own.  The MB was not the first bomber to complete 25 missions.  It was chosen early on as the potential first because Wyler felt that Capt. Robert Morgan had a reputation for competency (and survivability) and he liked the name of the bomber (Morgan’s girl-friend).  Ironically, the back-up plane in case the MB did not make it (Hell’s Angels), actually won the race to go home after 25 missions.  As far as the last mission, in the doc it is against Wilhelmshafen and is fairly hairy.  The flak and fighters variety.  Most of the footage seen in the film (parts come from at least six other missions) was shot on a B-17 named Jersey Bounce because the MB was under repair.  It was the MB crew on board, however.  Speaking of which, none of the characters in the movie match the names or backgrounds of the actual crew.  Most importantly, the last mission of the MB was a milk run (against submarine pens at Lorient, France) which would have been boring for a documentary and death to a feature film.  Wyler was a Hollywood director, after all.  It does strike me as a bit unethical for a documentarian.  The documentary is much better quality than the movie, but you have to get past the jingoistic narration.

MOVIE  =  C
DOCUMENTARY  =  B


THE DOCUMENTARY 



83. The Train (1964)




SYNOPSIS: A cultured Nazi officer (Paul Scofield) is determined to get stolen French art works out of Paris to safety in Germany by train. The French Resistance goes to great lengths to delay the train carrying the paintings.  Resistance member / railroad inspector Labiche (Burt Lancaster) engineers the elaborate plan which involves rerouting the train and even staging a spectacular collision.

BACK-STORY: The Train is a war movie directed by John Frankenheimer that was released in 1964. It is based on a non-fiction book entitled "Le Front de lArt" by Rose Valland. The film was originally helmed by Arthur Penn, but co-producer and star Burt Lancaster axed him because Penn wanted to make more of a character study and Lancaster insisted the action be revved up. The film was shot on location in France. No models were used. Those are all real trains crashing and getting blown up. The air bombardment of the marshalling yard was symbiotic because the French government wanted the area cleared anyway. (That less than one minute scene required fifty men wiring TNT for six weeks.) Lancaster (51) did all of his stunts. This included sliding down a hillside. When he injured his knee stepping in a hole while golfing, it was written into the script that he would be wounded while fleeing under fire. One scene where the train races into a tunnel to avoid a strafing Spitfire was added to have an additional action sequence. Frankenheimer was almost killed when the helicopter he was filming from came within ten feet of being hit by the Spitfire.

TRIVIA:  Wikipedia, imdb, Cinema Retro #6
1.  Burt Lancaster had original director Arthur Penn fired after three days and replaced with John Frankenheimer.  Frankenheimer envisioned the movie as a character study of the men of the Resistance, but Lancaster insisted on it being also about the trains.
2.  The marshalling yard bombardment scene involved 140 explosions, a ton of TNT, 2,000 gallons of gasoline, and 22 cameras.  It took the explosives expert six weeks to set the explosives.  The French railway allowed the destruction because they wanted to destroy the yard, but did not have the funding.
3.  Lancaster sprained his knee stepping in a hole while playing golf.  Frankenheimer dealt with it by having Labiche get wounded while crossing the pedestrian bridge.
4.  It was nominated for Best Original Screenplay.
5.  Lancaster performed all his stunts.
6.  The movie is loosely based on a saving a train full of art, but in reality the train was routed around Paris until the Allies took the city.
7.  Train Magazine chose it as the #1 train movie in its 100 Greatest Train Movies issue.
8.  No models were used in the filming.
9.  In the train derailment, the train was going too fast and wiped out almost all of the cameras.
10.  The Spitfire strafing the train before it entered the tunnel was added after the studio felt the movie needed one more action scene.  It almost ended in disaster when the Spitfire came within thirty feet of hitting the helicopter Frankenheimer was filming in.  His wife fainted.
11.  The original ending had Labiche and Von Waldheim shooting it out.
12.  Lancaster (who had been a circus performer) did all his own stunts.
13.  It is based on the book by Rose Villand who was a French art historian and member of the Resistance.  She secretly recorded Nazi plundering of art and helped save thousands of works.  She is in “The Monuments Men” as Clair Simone.
14.  This was the second time Frankenheimer took over a Lancaster film for a fired director.  The first was “Birdman of Alcatraz”.  He demanded the film be entitled “John Frankenheimer’s The Train”.   He also demanded total control over the final cut and a Ferrari.  When the last scene in “Seven Days in May” had to be reshot, it was done in Paris where “The Train” was shooting and Lancaster’s character gets into the Ferrari to drive off.
15.  The producers purchased 4 locomotives, 40 railroad cars, 7 railroad buildings, and various German weapons and vehicles.

Belle and Blade  =  4.0
Brassey’s              =  4.0
Video Hound       =  5.0
War Movies         =  4.4
Military History  =  #62
Channel 4             =  not on list
Film Site                =  yes
101 War Movies  =  no

OPINION:   “The Train” is one of the greatest guy movies and perhaps the greatest if you are a guy who loves trains.  Lancaster turns in one of his best performances and his physicality is a highlight.  It has suspense, but it is not just an action movie.  It has a provocative theme that questions whether works of art are worth human lives.  It is probably underrated at #83 and is certainly better than several of the movies that are ranked higher.  As you will see.  For the full review, go to The Train

Friday, March 8, 2019

IMPORTANT INFORMATION

1.  Thanks for following this blog.  I really appreciate it.

2.  If you go to "My Bunkies" on the right, you see some links.  The "Archive" tab will take you to all my reviews.

3.  I also administer a Facebook group called War Movie Lovers.  I post daily on various war movie topics.  It's also a place for war movie lovers to share their interest in war movies.  Please consider joining.

Thursday, March 7, 2019

BOOK / MOVIE: Catch-22 (1961 / 1970)




                Complex novels can be difficult to bring to the screen.  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”.

                The movie opens sans music over the credits.  The drone of bombers covers a conversation between Capt. Yossarian (Alan Arkin) and Col. Cathcart (Martin Balsam) and Lt. Col. Korn (Buck Henry).  We don’t know what they are discussing, but soon after Yossarian throws away his bombardier wings and is knifed by a mysterious person.  The movie then flashes back to how Yossarian got to this moment.  Yossarian is suffering from PTSD due to an incident involving a wounded gunner on his bomber.  He is also frustrated by Cathcart’s continual bumping up of the number of missions required to go home.  The standard is 25, but the colonel gradually moves it to 80.  Yossarian believes his only hope of survival is to be declared insane.  In an iconic scene, he discusses this option with Doc Daneeka (Jack Gilford).  Doc explains that Yossarian cannot be removed from combat because of Catch-22.  To be flying these dangerous missions, you would have to be insane.  But if you proclaim that you are insane, it means you are sane because you realize how dangerous things are.
 
                The movie pares down the numerous arcs of the book to a manageable few.  Yossarian’s character is the glue that holds together the arcs.  Henry has created a mostly linear plot, with intercuts of Yossarian’s wounded gunner incident playing out periodically.  While many of the scenes are vignettes fleshing out the supporting characters, there is a central arc involving Lt. Minderbinder (Jon Voight) creating a black-market syndicate with the cooperation of Cathcart.  This manages to incorporate two of the movie’s themes:  even in war, America remains a capitalist country and the higher you go in the chain of command, the more incompetence and corruption you encounter.  This is exemplified when Minderbinder arranges to have their air base bombed in order to unload surplus cotton.  In another scene, the squadron is awarded medals by Gen. Dreeble (Orson Welles) for a tight bombing pattern even though Yossarian had the bombers drop the bombs in the sea.  Cathcart convinces Dreeble that they must avoid the bad publicity by proclaiming the mission a success.  Yossarian receives his medal in the nude.  Scenes like this harken to the insanity of the Vietnam War, even though the movie is set in WWII and the squadron is based on an island in the Mediterranean.

                “Catch-22” deserved better than it got when it was released.  It has become something of a cult classic since then.  People now appreciate the game effort to bring an unfilmable book to the screen.  Henry did a good job adapting it and Heller commended the script.  Henry was faithful to the dialogue of the book and some of his own lines had Heller wishing he had thought of them.  Henry eliminated many characters and switched some of their dialogue and experiences with other characters.  Most of these changes and omissions were wise cinematically.  The ensemble cast does a fine job and the casting was spot on, with the coup being Orson Welles.  All of the main characters are familiar and appealing comedic actors.  Arkin is fine as Yosserian, but Voight shines as Milo.  The nature of the absurdity does require the actors to lay it on a bit thick at times, especially in a silly scene involving Dreeble’s WAC.
 
                Nichols brings some flair that is missing in “M*A*S*H”.  The cinematography is noteworthy with special mention going to the take-off of the bombers (followed by an awesome crash that does not cause the scheming Mindbinder and Cathcart to even flinch) and the pyrotechnical fireworks of the bombing of the base.  Cinematographer David Watkin uses a stationary camera and avoids the hyper-cutting of modern war movies.  The aerial scenes are quality over quantity and the interiors are authentic-looking. The editor did some nifty transitioning between scenes.

                  “Catch-22” is not for everyone and it is easy to see why it did not do well in 1970.  It is not a typical war comedy.  You have to bring some intellect to the table and be in the mood for satire tinged with absurdity.  It has some shock value.  Shocking for a 1970 big budget picture, there is full frontal nudity provided by Paula Prentiss - of all people!  To be fair, we also get Arkin’s ass.  You get to see Martin Balsam sitting on a toilet.  The big reveal about Snowden’s cause of death packs a punch.

THE BOOK – Spoiler alert!

                The novel is much more complicated than the movie.  Heller uses a nonlinear structure.  Although Yossarian is the main character, different characters get their own chapters.  The movie certainly is a good alternative for reluctant readers as Heller has a challenging style that requires focus on every sentence.  It is not a book you can peruse.  Some of his sentences contradict themselves purposefully, for instance.

                Henry decided to construct his screenplay in a linear format, with the exception of flash backs to handle the Snowden incident.  The scenes he chose to depict are faithful to the book and borrow much of the dialogue.  Some characters have been eliminated.  For instance, it is a different doctor that gets Yossarian to masquerade as the dying son for his visiting parents.  In the book, the room is darker which is the rare scene where the movie is more absurd than the book.  Henry was forced to remove some back-story which can lead to some head-scratching.  The movie replicates the decapitation of Hungry Joe by McWatt (Kid Sampson in the book), but leaves the impression that Doc was on board the plane and is now dead and a ghost.  Novel readers know that Doc is only officially dead because he was having his name put on flight manifests to fulfill a requirement.  Henry makes more significant changes in the last part of the film.  Dobbs wants to kill Cathcart and enlists Yossarian’s aid, but they do not carry out their plan. The bombing of the base is the same, but there is no shooting.   Nately and Dobbs are killed when their bombers collide.  The movie surprisingly does not support the tenet that the missions are dangerous and deadly.  On the other hand, Henry does a good job developing Milo into a fascist/capitalist hybrid.  He added the scene where Yossarian visits the brothel run by M&M Enterprises trying to find Nately’s whore.  This allows Henry to add the best line in the movie. 
            Milo:  Nately died a wealthy man, Yossarian. He had over sixty shares in the syndicate.
                Yossarian: What difference does that make? He's dead.
                Milo: Then his family will get it.
                Yossarian: He didn't have time to have a family.
                Milo: Then his parents will get it.
                Yossarian: They don't need it, they're rich.
                Milo: Then they'll understand.
The biggest change Henry made was with the ending. In the book, when the Chaplain informs Yossarian about Orr’s escape to Sweden, Yossarian plans to go to Rome to get Nately’s whore’s sister.  As he leaves the hospital, Nately’s whore tries to stab him and misses.  The end.  It is safe to say that Henry’s decision to have Yossarian row to Sweden in a raft was brilliant.

CONCLUSION:  There is something to be said for both the book and the movie.  The book is challenging reading, but the satire is brilliant.  Heller wrote one of the great anti-war novels and it is the rare one that is humorous.  It is not for everyone, however.  It is too long and tends to hammer its themes.  The characters are not likeable, including Yossarian.  The movie smooths the book’s edges.  It keeps the foundation, so it is a good option if you do not want to read the novel.  Seeing a crack acting ensemble personify the characters in the book is a kick.  And the movie has the B-25s.  It also has some memorable scenes and leaves you with the image of a man rowing in a raft to Sweden.  Nichols and Henry deserve more credit than they got.

BOOK  =  B

MOVIE  =  B

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

CONSENSUS #84 Casualties of War (1989)




SYNOPSIS:  It is the tale of an atrocity in the Vietnam War.  A small recon patrol is sent out to locate an enemy base camp.  For recreational purposes, the sergeant (Sean Penn) has them kidnap a Vietnamese girl.  One of the men (Michael J. Fox) is not on board for the “entertainment” and after the mission ends in a fire-fight, brings charges against his squad-mates.

BACK-STORY:  Casualties of War” is Brian De Palma’s entry into the Vietnam War movies competition.  It was based on an actual incident known as “the incident on Hill 192” which occurred in 1966.  De Palma wanted to make the movie after reading Daniel Lang’s article in The New Yorker in 1969.  Lang later turned the article into a book entitled “Casualties of War”.  The movie was filmed in Thailand where the local cuisine ravaged the cast.  The bridge used in the climactic scene was part of the Japanese Burma railway system of River Kwai fame.  The budget was $22 million and the box office was $19 million.  The movie was a hit with most critics and is considered by some to be one of the better Vietnam War films.

TRIVIA:  Making of documentary, Wikipedia, imdb

1.  Brian DePalma wanted to make the movie after reading Daniel Lang’s article in the New Yorker in 1969.  Lang wrote about the “incident on Hill 192”.  Later Lang turned it into a book entitled Casualties of War.  No studio wanted anything to do with a controversial Vietnam War movie at the time.  DePalma was only able to get financing after his successes with movies like “The Untouchables”.

2.  Screenwriter David Rabe was a playwright.  He was a veteran of Vietnam.  He wanted to end the film with Eriksson having a nightmare about the other four getting revenge.  He was not happy with DePalma’s more upbeat conclusion.

3.  DePalma was very anti-Vietnam War.  He had avoided the draft by doing several things including claiming to be homosexual.

4.  DePalma approached Michael J. Fox about doing the film.  Fox was interested in continuing to break out of light comedies.  He had already made “Light of Day” and “Bright Lights, Big City”.  Fox got very ill from the Thai food and spent some time in a hospital during the shoot.  He gave gifts to the snake-beaters who protected the sets.

5.  Sean Penn was already an established star.  He stayed away from Fox during the production and made remarks about Fox’s status as an actor.  Whether this was to enhance the tension between their characters or he was being a dick is unclear.  I think the latter.  Fox was diplomatic in describing the experience.

6.  John C. Reilly had been hired as an extra.  He had just gotten off a 24 hour flight back to Chicago when DePalma had him reboard to assume the role of Hatcher.  This was necessitated by the firing of Stephen Baldwin.  The movie was Reilly’s debut.  This was  also true for John Lejiuzamo.

7.  Thuy Thu Le answered a casting call in Paris because she wanted to meet DePalma.  It was her first and only role.  She became a schoolteacher in California.  Her voice as the girl on the train was dubbed by Amy Irving.

8.  Principal photography was done in Thailand.  The bridge in the climactic scene was part of the Burmese Railway featured in “Bridge on the River Kwai”.

Belle and Blade  =  4.5
Brassey’s              =  2.0
Video Hound       =  N/A
War Movies         =  N/A
Military History  =  not on list
Channel 4             =  #55
Film Site                =  yes
101 War Movies  =  no

OPINION:  “Casualties” is often overlooked in the Vietnam War canon.  While not in a league with the iconic films like “Platoon” and “Full Metal Jacket”, it does have the advantage of being a true story and is actually pretty accurate in covering the incident on Hill 192.  Fox does a great job as the naïve, but principled protagonist.  Unfortunately, the movie is taken down a notch by a grating performance by Penn.  The rest of the cast is fine with early roles for John Leguizamo and John C. Reilly.  It’s position at #84 shows that the experts can sometimes get things right. 

Sunday, March 3, 2019

CONSENSUS #85 - Ride With the Devil (1999)




SYNOPSIS:  It is an Ang Lee film set in Missouri during the Civil War.  Jake Roedel (Tobey McGuire) joins the Bushwhackers who are secessionists at war with the Unionists and Union army.  It is a messy guerrilla war that leads up to the infamous raid on Lawrence, Kansas.  Roedel and his buddies (one of whom is a slave fighting alongside his master) go through a lot, but he does find time to marry a feisty widow (Jewel).  Jake has to contend with a nemesis played with verve by Jonathan Rhys-Meyers.
BACK-STORY:  It is a film by Ang Lee (“Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk”) and has his typical lush colors.  It is based on the novel Woe to Live On by Daniel Woodrell.  The actors were put through a three-week boot camp.  The movie bombed at the box office.
TRIVIA:  Wikipedia, imdb

1.  Jewel made her acting debut.  She claims that director Ang Lee chose her because her crooked teeth were appropriate for a poor Southern woman.
2.  The movie used over 250 Civil War era pistols.
3.  There were over 200 reenactors involved.
4.  The movie was shot on location in Missouri.  Pattonsburg stood in for Lawrence.  Pattonsburg had been flooded in 1993 and the city was relocated leaving many empty buildings and houses.
5.  Leonardo DiCaprio and Matt Damon passed on the lead role that went to Tobey McGuire.

Belle and Blade  =  N/A
Brassey’s              =  N/A
Video Hound       =  N/A
War Movies         =  N/A
Military History  =  not on list
Channel 4             =  #73
Film Site                =  no
101 War Movies  =  yes

OPINION:  The inclusion of “Ride With the Devil” on the list is a bit of a surprise.  The movie did not make a dent at the box office and was not critically acclaimed.  However, the movie did not get the respect it deserved.  It is one of the better Civil War movies and covers an overlooked theater of the war.  The war in Missouri was like a mini civil war that was marred by the nastiness that irregular wars are typified by.  It was neighbor versus neighbor.  The movie’s strengths are the acting by a good cast and the historical accuracy (although the main characters are fictional).   Lee adds his vibrant visuals to a war movie and it makes for an original take on the Civil War.  It deserves to be on the list and seems appropriately placed.




Wednesday, February 27, 2019

PICTURE, QUOTE, MOVIE #52


1.  What movie is the picture from?

2.  What movie is this quote from?

Man, that's the first time I ever seen a Texan beat himself to the draw.

3.  What movie is this?

It began as a TV miniseries produced by Ted Turner.  The finished product pleased the millionaire so much that he decided to release it to movie theaters.  It may be the longest American movie (254 minutes) ever to appear in theaters.  It appeared in a limited number of cinemas and did not recoup its cost, but the publicity was golden and when it was first shown on Turner Broadcasting Network, it was the most viewed basic cable program up to that time.  The movie is based on the Pulitzer Prize winning novel Killer Angels by Michael Shaara.  The title was changed to the battle name after it was discovered that potential viewers thought the original title indicated a motorcycle gang movie.  The National Park Service allowed filming on site, although much of the action was lensed at a nearby farm.    The film made use of over 5,000 reenactors.  There are also cameos by Ted Turner and Ken Burns.  Turner is killed during Pickett’s Charge (rumor has it by Jane Fonda masquerading as a Union soldier).  Burns plays an aide to Hancock.

Saturday, February 23, 2019

SCI-FI WAR MOVIE: Edge of Tomorrow (2014)



                “Edge of Tomorrow” (also known as “Live. Die. Repeat”) was a Tom Cruise vehicle based on a Japanese novel entitled All You Need Is Kill by Hiroshi Sakurazaka.  The film adaptation has been described as a combination of “Groundhog Day” and “Starship Troopers”.  It was a moderate box office success, but a sequel is on the way.  It was nominated for Saturn Awards for Sci-Fi Film (losing to “Interstellar”), Director (Doug Liman), Actor (Cruise), Actress (Emily Blunt), and Writing.  It premiered on June 6, 2014 to promote comparisons to D-Day.

                The film opens with Earth in the midst of an alien invasion.  The mimics are extraterrestrials who want to exploit Earth’s resources.  They are a whirligig of tentacles and very nasty pieces of work.  As in most alien invasion movies, they are vastly superior to Earth forces.  It will take a miracle to beat them.  Cruise plays Maj. William Cage.  He is a PR expert for the United Defense Force.  When he is tasked to embed with the planned invasion of France to start the retaking of alien-occupied Europe, he points out to the commanding general (Brendan Gleeson) that he is a talker, not a fighter.  This gets him assigned to the first wave – as cannon fodder.  His new squad and Sergeant Farrell (Bill Pullman) do not welcome him as a game-changer and as all predict, he is killed almost immediately.  But in the blink of an eye, he has gone back in time 24 hours.  He repeats the day over and over with the same result, except that each of his deaths is different.  Naturally, he cannot convince his mates that he is in a time loop.  Grunts and gunnies are not noted for their cognitive imaginations.  He does end up encountering another looper, Sgt. Rita Vrataski (Blunt).  She is known as the “Angel of Verdun” for her heroics in battle there.  She is one bad-ass warrior.  The kind of female you only find in sci-fi movies.  Together they must save Earth by destroying the alien “brain”.

                “Edge of Tomorrow” is a very creative movie.  Of course, this is mostly to the credit of the novel, but the screenplay has done a good job adapting it and Liman has done an admirable job bringing it to the screen.  It is not without its clichés.  Farrell is a stereotype, although Pullman plays him with such swagger that he is the upper echelon of his type.  The squad is heterogeneous, but we don’t find out if any are from Brooklyn.  The movie is totally focused on Cage and Vrataski.  They are great characters.  Cage is a role tailored for Cruise. In other words, he is a cocky asshole.  Cruise did his own stunts and was very hands on in the script tweakings.  He insisted on added humor, which works well.  Blunt is amazing as a character that would give Ripley a run for her money.  There is absolutely nothing wrong with this trend of strong female warriors in sci-fi films.

                This is clearly a war movie.  Alien warriors face off against an army.  The aliens are reminiscent of the bugs in “Starship Troopers”.  They do not fire weapons, but they are intelligent.  They purposely lost at Verdun to lure the humans into a grand invasion.  That invasion is one of the great battle scenes.  It is amphibious, but the Higgins boats are airborne.  Cage’s craft is hit and they have to drop in chaos and into chaos.  It’s a slaughter.  The mimics are much more difficult to kill than the bugs in “Starship”.  The invasion scene is repeated with different deaths for Cage so it doesn’t get old.  This movie not only has a training montage, it has a Cage death montage.  The movie finishes with a behind the lines suicide mission to take out the command center.  This is another pulsating scene that is unfortunately marred by a sappy ending.  I did mention they are making a sequel, right?

                Visually the movie is excellent.  The CGI is top-notch.  The aliens are scary and intimidating.  Once again, as in all alien invasion movies, they are virtually unbeatable and it will take a miracle for a happy ending.  Cage and his mates are equipped with exoskeletons called Combat Jackets.  They allow the soldiers to run faster and jump higher.  They are the futuristic equivalents of PF Flyers.  Unfortunately, they provide little armored protection.  They are armed with a high caliber machine gun and a rocket launcher.  Vrataski prefers to use a sword because she’s a badass.  As usual for this type of movie, the UDF apparently has no artillery and there is no shore bombardment before the invasion.  Even more perplexing, there is no evidence that nukes have been used even though Europe has fallen and appears to be uninhabited.

                “Edge of Tomorrow” is one of the best sci-fi war movies.  Cruise and Blunt make a good team and their acting is excellent.  The role was perfect for Cruise and Blunt is a revelation as one of the great sci-fi war heroines.  The rest of the cast is supportive, if marginalized.  There is plenty of action for the war movie lover and the scenario and aliens are unique so it is not simply a WWII movie shifted to the future.

GRADE  =  A