Sunday, January 20, 2019

CONSENSUS #87 - They Died With Their Boots On (1941)



SYNOPSIS: "They Died With Their Boots On" is the story of George Custer (Flynn) and his wife Elizabeth (de Havilland). It covers their relationship from Custer's appearance at West Point to his death. The movie is part romance, part biopic, and part Western. The climax is the Battle of Little Big Horn.

BACK-STORY: They Died With Their Boots On is an old school war movie from 1941. It was directed by Raoul Walsh (“Objective Burma!”) and was the eighth and last screen pairing of Errol Flynn and Olivia de Havilland. It was a huge box office hit.

TRIVIA:  Wikipedia, imdb, TCM

1.  Three died during the filming. One fell from his horse and broke his neck.  A stuntman died of a heart attack.  Actor Jack Budlong was thrown from his horse as he rode alongside Errol Flynn and was impaled by his sword.
2.  Only sixteen Sioux were available as extras and were used for the closeups.  The rest of the more than 1,000 extras were Filipinos.
3.  Jim Thorpe was an extra and he got into a fight with Flynn during a break.  Thorpe knocked him down with one punch while Flynn was in uniform.
4.  Louis Zamperini of “Unbroken” fame, was also an extra.
5.  Flynn collapsed from exhaustion during the shoot.
6.  One of the most historically inaccurate war movies ever made.

Belle and Blade  =  N/A
Brassey’s              =  5.0
Video Hound       =  3.1
War Movies         =  N/A
Military History  =  #68
Channel 4             =  not on list
Film Site                =  yes
101 War Movies  =  no

OPINION:  “They Died” is more of a Western than a war movie.  It is a classic and was a big hit, but when you compare it to modern war movies like “Son of the Morning Star”, it is an antique.  The ludicrous historical inaccuracies make the movie hard for history buffs to watch.  And, given the power of movies in the 1940s, it created a misshapen portrait of Custer.  It is on a par with “Braveheart” in accuracy, but at least William Wallace was a legitimate hero.  I strongly disagree with it being in the top 100.


Friday, January 18, 2019

SCI-FI WAR MOVIE: Aliens (1986)




                “Aliens” was the sequel to “Alien” (1979).  James Cameron was a young 31-year old director who had not yet released “Terminator”.  He was approached to write the screenplay and he decided to make the sequel a combat film with a mix of terror.  He envisioned it as an allegory about the Vietnam War.  The Colonial Marines exemplified the overconfident American army which had all the firepower, but was thrust into an alien environment against a primitive enemy that was relentless.  He wanted Ripley back to be a feminist hero, but contract problems with Sigourney Weaver almost led to Ripley being written out.  Cameron was given a paltry $18 million budget.  The film was shot in England, but American actors were used.  The movie was a critical and box office smash.  It won Academy Awards for Sound Effects Editing and Visual Effects.  It was nominated for Best Supporting Actress (Sigourney Weaver), Art Direction, Original Score (James Horner). and Film Editing.  At the Saturn Awards for science fiction films it won Best Film, Direction, Writing (Cameron), Supporting Actor (Bill Pullman), Supporting Actress (Jenette Goldstein), and Best Performance by a Younger Actor (Carrie Henn).  The aliens’ nest set was a decommissioned power plant. 

                “Aliens” takes place 57 years after “Alien”.  Ripley (and Jonesy the cat) are found drifting is space.  At a meeting with the evil corporation, Ripley is disbelieved (she’s a woman, after all).  She is shocked to learn that a colony has been set up on the planet where the Nostromo encountered the alien.  Communication has ceased with the colony.  A company man named Burke (Paul Reiser) convinces a very reluctant Ripley to join a squad of Colonial Marines on a rescue mission.  An android named Bishop (Lance Henriksen) is along.  Needless to say, Ripley is not enamored with him.  The squad is your typical heterogeneous unit filled with braggadocio and disdain for the potential “bugs” they may have to exterminate.  Their commander is green and will need to gain their respect.  Luckily, they have a gruff sergeant to motivate them.  You know this is a war movie when they arrive to snare drums.  The colony is located on an inhospitable planet and the settlement’s interior is cinematic prison/factory/ghost town.  They encounter one survivor, a little girl named Newt (Henn) and Ripley develops a mother/daughter relationship with her.  In a pulse-pounding and pulse-expending recon, they discover a nest of aliens.  It’s game on, as Hudson (Pullman) might say.

                “Aliens” has been called the greatest sequel ever and it is hard to argue with that assessment.  Cameron’s decision to change the sequel from horror to war was brilliant.  He did not take the lame sequel route of trying to recreate the vibe of the original.  Although more comfortably placed in the sci-fi genre, it is certainly a war movie.  It is basically a squad behind-the-lines movie.  Their tactics are realistic and the weaponry is amazing.  What sets it apart from a WWII movie is the strong female character.  Ripley is iconic and set a new standard for a woman who challenges the male-dominated world. (It is a bit depressing to think that in 2179 nothing has changed in this respect.)  in fact, the film has three strong female characters.  Ripley was ranked #8 on AFI’s list of screen heroes in 2003.  The character does not suck all the air out of the room, however.  The movie is blessed with several indelible characters – Hudson, Hicks, Newt, Vasquez, Bishop. Hell, even Paul Reiser’s slimy Burke is a great villain.  The actors are up to the characters with several doing their best work.  And I haven’t yet mentioned the aliens.  There is less left to the imagination than in “Alien” and the queen is a brilliant addition to the xenomorphs introduced in “Alien”.  Special effects wizard Stan Wilson deserves huge credit, along with Cameron.
               
                It is hard to imagine how the movie could have been better.  (Other than a cheap scene where Ripley dreams of giving birth to an alien.)  The sound track (amazingly done by Horner in just three weeks) and sound effects are amazing.  The movie takes the commando mission and last stand tropes and puts them in a futuristic monster movie in a haunted house setting.  This hybridization works because all the elements are maxed out.  The movie starts strong and builds consistently to one hell of an ending.  Ripley’s duel with the queen is incredible and includes one of the greatest lines in movie history:  “Get away from her, you bitch!”.  If that does not get you fired up, nothing will.

GRADE  =  A+

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

88. The Cruel Sea (1953)



SYNOPSIS:  “This is a story of the Battle of the Atlantic, the story of an ocean, two ships, and a handful of men. The men are the heroes; the heroines are the ships. The only villain is the sea, the cruel sea, that man has made more cruel...”  The first ship is the HMS Compass Rose, a corvette used for escort duty in the Battle of the Atlantic.  Its captain (Jack Hawkins) and crew are going to go through the realistic activities, frustrations, and hardships of convoy duty.



1.  The movie made a star out of Jack Hawkins.
2.  Hawkins saved Donald Sinden from drowning in the water tank in the sinking scene.
3.  Upon returning to port, the cinematic Compass Rose collided with the HMS Camperdown and did significant damage to it.
4.  The scene where Ericson breaks down as he thinks about the controversial depth charging was shot several times with varying amounts of tears.  The movie ended up using the first, weepiest take.

Belle and Blade  =  2.0
Brassey’s              =  4.0
Video Hound       =  N/A
War Movies         =  4.4
Military History  =  not on list
Channel 4             =  #41
Film Site                =  no
101 War Movies   =  yes


OPINION:  “The Cruel Sea” is a good movie. It is not rip-roaring, which makes it a realistic depiction of sometimes boring convoy duty. The sea does play a major role. The weather is the biggest problem the crews face. This is one of the wettest movies ever made. It is a good examination of command and command relationships. It is one of the most realistic naval combat movies ever made, which means it not all about the combat.  Its place at #88 seems about right.



Sunday, January 13, 2019

PICTURE, QUOTE, MOVIE #49


1.  What movie is the picture from?

2.  What movie is the quote from?

Worse! Kenley and Biggin are a shambles and the rest not much better. God Knows how many aircraft we'll have in the morning! All because 12 Group couldn't do their stuff. Leigh-Mallory and his big wings! Might as well stay on the ground for all the use they are!


3.  What movie is this?

It is a “war” movie based on the eponymous novel by Alan LeMay.  It was released in 1956 toward the end of the great period of black and white Westerns and is considered by many to be the best movie of that genre.  It is marked by peak performances by director John Ford and his perennial star, John Wayne.  Shockingly, although the film did well at the box office, it did not get a single Academy Award nomination.  The casting was interesting.  Natalie Wood’s sister plays the younger Debbie.  Natalie was still in high school at the time of filming and you can imagine the stir when Wayne and/or Jeffery Hunter would sometimes come to pick her up at school.  Fess Parker of “Davy Crockett” fame was set to play the Martin Pawley role, but Disney would not allow him to.  He later said it was the biggest loss of his career.  Buddy Holly got the idea for the title of his hit “That’ll Be the Day” from the oft used line in the movie.

Thursday, January 10, 2019

Top Ten for the Last Ten



Recently I read an article about the ten best military movies of the last ten years.  It was from a respected site and was a competent list.  However, it was heavily inhabited by box office successes and overlooked more obscure movies.  I had seen all of the movies and some of them are not good.  None of them are terrible, either.  You can see the article here.  It got me to thinking about what my list would look like so I  back and looked at list of all the significant war movies over the last ten years.  Here is my take on the top ten.

10. Beneath Hill 60 - The story of a mining engineer and his unit that dig a mine under the German line in WWI. It is an Australian film that is well-acted, claustrophobic and suspenseful.
9. My Way - If you have never seen a South Korean war film, you are missing the best combat porn available. This is the gonzo tale of two rivals who fight in the Japanese army against the Soviets and end up in a Soviet prison camp and eventually in the German army in Normandy in time for D-Day. You heard that right, now see it to believe it.
8. 13 Hours - Speaking of combat porn, this American true tale of the Benghazi incident has plenty of ammo expenditure. It does not have a political agenda. It depicts the FUBAR of modern war well. It is pretty accurate, but of course the body count is inflated.
7. Good Kill - This shamefully overlooked movie deals with drone warfare. Ethan Hawke is excellent as the stressed out and conflicted push button warrior who kills terrorists from the air conditioned comfort of an air base outside Las Vegas. Learn about the modern war on terror and its collateral damage.
6. Eye in the Sky - This movie is similar to Good Kill, but it looks at drone warfare from the political and command level. It stars Helen Mirren as the Pattonesque Colonel who is obsessed with getting a high value target and is willing to risk civilian casualties. The movie is eye-opening about the incredible technology available to the "good guys" and the political decision-making behind the scenes.
5. 13 Assassins - This is the best samurai movie to come out of Japan in a long time. 13 ronin are hired to assassinate a very villainous shogun. In the process they must stop his army at a village. They set the village up in an extreme update of Seven Samurai. The action is incredible and will leave you exhausted, but smiling. If you've seen Seven Samurai, see where samurai films are now.
4. Rogue One - This may be a sci-fi movie, but it also has a lot of the elements of a WWII movie. It is the best Star Wars movie since The Empire Strikes Back. It has some of the best combat scenes in recent war movies, an intriguing plot, and appealing characters. And the special effects are incredible. It is a prequel to the first Star Wars.
3. '71 - Another criminally overlooked gem. The title refers to 1971. A British soldier, played outstandingly by Jack O'Donnell, gets separated from his unit in Dublin during "the Troubles" between the IRA, the Protestants, and the British. In one night he encounters all sorts of intrigue and action. It's an edge of your seat thriller.
2. Lone Survivor - Another tastefully done combat porn film. Based on a true story, four SEAL team members are sent to take out a Taliban leader and end up with his jihadists trying to wipe them out. The cast is great, with Mark Wahlberg and Ben Foster standing out. Historically accurate, but enhanced for the viewing pleasure of anyone wanting a high body count.
1. Zero Dark Thirty - How did this movie not make the other list? Perhaps it was not considered to be a military movie, but if you consider movies about the war on terror to be military movies, this is the best. It accurately tells (to the best of our knowledge) the story of the take-down of Bin Laden. Jessica Chastain is amazing as the CIA analyst who tracks him down which leads to the raid. It is well worth the wait, but the lead-up is great, too.

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

SCI-FI WAR MOVIE: Independence Day (1996)




                “Independence Day” initiated a resurgence of summer blockbusters and made a superstar of Will Smith.  It was directed by Roland Emmerich (“Midway”).  He wanted to make a movie about aliens that did not have them sneaking and hiding.  It was the highest grossing movie of 1996 and won the Academy Award for Best Visual Effects.  There are over 3,000 special effects shots, twice the previous record.  The movie also set a record for most miniatures.  Some of the effects and miniatures were necessary because the Pentagon withdrew cooperation when Emmerich refused to remove references to Area 51.  The mega-patriotic score won the Grammy.  It won the Saturn Award for Best Science Fiction Film.

                The movie opens on July 2.  The Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence unit picks up a radio signal from the moon.  The soundtrack blares REM’s “It’s the End of the World” in case you were one of the few moviegoers who were not impacted by the movies massive advertising campaign.  Genius nerd David Levinson (Jeff Goldblum) makes the huge leap to recognition that those ominous alien spacecraft hovering over key iconic landmarks are not here bringing gifts.  He drives from NYC to the White House to convince the president (Bill Pullman) that his approval ratings will go up if he leads the world in a war for survival.  The crisis will also do wonders for David’s relationship with his former wife.  The dastardly communistic aliens blow up the White House in the greatest money shot in sci-fi movie history.  What seemed extreme in 1996…  As usual in an alien invasion movie, the humans have all the pluck, but the aliens are seemingly invincible.  Their fighters are so superior that it takes Will Smith to bring one down.  Their space ships have force fields so they have nothing to worry about, even violation of the cinematic interplanetary treaty forbidding Earthlings to use nukes in our defense has no effect. It’s going to take a miracle, like in every other alien invasion movie.

                 The movie hops around following its ensemble of stereotyped characters.  There would have been a lot of fired agents if the movie had gotten the box office it deserved.  Just to mention the most egregious:  Randy Quaid steps right out of “National Lampoon’s Vacation” to play an alcoholic, alien abductee who will switch from flying a crop duster to piloting an F-18 with no training.  As usual in movies of this ilk, any average Joe can save the world.  The climactic suicide mission is led by the kick-ass President of the U.S. who happens to be an ex-fighter jock. The silliness eventually reaches an idiot-pleasing crescendo and (spoiler alert) we win against all reason.  The last ten minutes are a shitfest.

                How anyone could have left the theater without shaking their head and covering their face is beyond me.  If the goal of the film was to insult the intelligence of millions, mission accomplished.  It accomplishes this mission by cribbing its list of sci-fi war movie clichés.  Pompous patriotic score – check.  Lame humor – check.  Happy rousing ending – check.  Redemption character saves the world – check.  Vastly superior aliens defeated ludicrously – check.  Huge crowd-pleasing explosions – check.  The list goes on.  If you want to turn your brain off and allow yourself to be entertained, fine.  But don’t try to argue it is a good movie.

GRADE  =  D

Sunday, January 6, 2019

CONSENSUS #89 - Hail the Conquering Hero (1944)



SYNOPSIS: A sad sack's dream of becoming a Marine is foiled by his hay fever. He (Eddie Bracken) vows never to return to home town humiliation until a group of Marine vets (led by William Demarest) take him under their wings. They tell the townspeople that Woodrow is a hero and before he knows it, he is running for mayor.  Oh what a tangled (and humorous) web we weave when first we practice to deceive.

BACK-STORY: Hail the Conquering Hero is a comedy war movie set in home front America in World War II. It was released in 1944 and is a black and white classic directed by Preston Sturges. It is considered by many to be his best movie. He was nominated for the Oscar for Best Screenplay. Fans of Sturges will recognize several familiar faces from his stock company including William Demarest, who made ten movies with Sturges. The movie came out a year after another Sturges home front satire, The Miracle of Morgans Creek (which also starred Demarest and Bracken).

TRIVIA:  Wikipedia, imdb
1.  This was the ninth of ten films William Demarest made with director Preston Sturges.
2.  After a failed preview, the producer recut the movie, but the next preview was bad also.  Sturges was brought back and he rewrote and reshot scenes for the finished product.
3.  Sturges praised the film by saying it was “the one with the least wrong with it”.
4.  Sturges reused the sets from “The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek”.
5.  Sturges was nominated for Best Original Screenplay for both “Hail” and “Miracle”.  “Wilson” won.

Belle and Blade  =  N/A
Brassey’s              =  4.0
Video Hound       =  N/A
War Movies         =  N/A
Military History  =  #70
Channel 4             =  not on list
Film Site                =  yes
101 War Movies  =  no

OPINION:  “Hail” is a typical Sturges satire of small town life.  Since it is set in WWII, it is technically a war movie, although it only marginally comments on the home front.  It does not belong on the list because, while amusing, it is not hilarious.  Especially to a modern audience.  Perplexingly, it made the list but the superior Sturges “Miracle of Morgan’s Creek” did not.



Friday, January 4, 2019

PICTURE, MOVIE, QUOTE #48



1.  What movie is the picture from?

2.  What movie is this?


It 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.

3.  What movie is this quote from?

Shoot straight, you bastards. - Don't make a mess of it!

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

SCI-FI WAR MOVIE: The Last Starfighter




                “The Last Starfighter” is a beloved sci-fi movie from 1984.  It was directed by Nick Castle and written by Jonathan Beutel.  Beutel got the idea when he saw a boy playing a video arcade game and associated it with the King Arthur sword in the stone story.  The movie was the first feature film to use CGI instead of models.  The movie had an amazing 27 minutes of effects. 

                Alex (Lance Guest) is a whiz at a video arcade game called Starfighter.  He lives in a trailer park.  One day an alien named Centauri (Robert Preston in his last film role) arrives and takes Alex to his planet.  His high score in the game has made him a prime recruit to pilot a real starfighter to help defeat the evil Ko-Dan who are threatening the benevolent Star League.  While Alex goes through training, he is replaced by the clone Beta Alex for comic relief.  Beta Alex has to interact with Alex’s girlfriend Maggie (Catherine Mary Stewart) with humorous effect. (Additional scenes involving Beta Alex were added because of positive test audience responses.)  Meanwhile, Alex and his navigator Grig (Dan O’Herlihy) must single-handedly duel with the entire enemy armada.

                “The Last Starfighter” is a charming bit of fluff.  The premise is very creative, but the rest is standard sci-fi fare aimed at 14-yearold boys.  What stood out is the state of the art visuals and it is nostalgic to watch the movie today.  However, the effects seem cheesy now.  It’s like you are watching a video game.  The plot is full of clichés.  The reluctant warrior.  The evil villain.  A fight against all odds.  The con-man mentor.  The woe is us destruction of the base.  The screenplay plagiarizes a bit from “Star Wars”, but that is not surprising.  It many ways it is a low rent “Star Wars” knockoff.  Unfortunately, that tells you the acting is average, with the exception of Preston.  The dialogue is not campy enough.  And the movie is just not that suspenseful.  The happy ending is to be expected, but Alex’s victory is guarantee because he has the “Death Blossom”.   Seriously, how can you lose with a weapon with that name?

                As far as it being a war movie, the strategy and tactics are actually fine.  The bad guys launch a surprise attack a la Pearl Harbor.  The invasion is defeated by taking out the command ship, which is typical in sci-fi war movies.  There is a special weapon, although everything else is standard.  The enemy has nothing scary.

                If you are a nerdy gamer, this is the movie for you.  Not only does Alex’s gaming skills give him a chance to save the Universe, but he has a hot girlfriend. 

GRADE  =  C