Sunday, March 29, 2020

PICTURE, QUOTE, MOVIE QUIZ #80


1.  What movie is the picture from?

2.  What movie is this quote from?

Shapiro:  Hey Schultz, sprechen Sie Deutsches?
Shapiro: Then droppen Sie dead!

3.  What movie is this?

The film is based on the acclaimed novel of the same name by Kenneth Roberts which was published in 1937.  The movie came out in 1940 and was one of the first big Technicolar movies.  It was nominated for an Oscar for cinematography.  Director King Vidor was one of the best directors of the time and star Spencer Tracy was as big as they got.  The movie was meant to be the first of two parts with the sequel covering the actual attempt to locate the titled path.  The movie depicts the St. Francis Raid.

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

TV SERIES: Das Boot (2018)




                        “Das Boot” is a miniseries that appeared on German TV.  It was eight episodes of about one hour each.  It was a sequel to the movie and is set about nine months later, in 1942.  The plot was based on Lothar-Gunther Buchheim’s novel and its sequel Die Festung.  It used the same non-diving replica used in “U-571”.

                        The series opens with a nifty visual of a dolphins swimming alongside a surfaced sub.  Suddenly a plane attacks, forcing a dive (“alarm!”) that leaves Capt. Wrangel (Stefan Konarske) on deck.  An American destroyer drops depth charges and the clich├ęs click in.  The U-113 goes below crush depth, rivets pop and leaks cause flooding.  Close-ups show tension.  The series has hit the sea silent running.  It turns out that the U-113 is not the u-boat that will be the star.  That will be the U-612 which is a new boat that will be captained by a green Capt. Hoffman (Rick Okon).  He has daddy issues because his dad was a famous u-boat ace from WWI.  He wrote a book about it.  Hoffman has some big shoes to fill.  He won’t get any help from his exec Lt. Tennstedt (August Wittgenstein).  Naturally, they do not get along.  There is a “Run Silent, Run Deep” vibe.  Does any cinematic captain get along with his exec?

                        The other plot line involves the French Resistance.  An interpreter named Simone (Vicky Krieps) has arrived in La Rochelle and goes to work for the Gestapo.  Herr Forster (Tom Wlaschiha) takes a lust to her which will get complicated when Simone finds out her brother Frank (Leonard Schleicher) is working for the Resistance.  He happens to be a radio operator on board the U-612.  The local Resistance unit is led by Spanish Civil War veteran named Carla Monroe (Lizzy Caplan) who is a chain-smoking, morphine addicted fanatic.  Simone goes to work for her making for some tense moments in her romance with Forster.  There is some thought provocation with Simone and Carla representing different views on whether civilians are expendable for the greater cause.

                        If you’re going to do eight episodes, you can’t spend them all on a sub, apparently.  Plus, its hard to get a lesbian love scene.  The two arc approach works fairly well.  Surprisingly, the land-bound espionage plot is the better one.  With spy stories, we expect to suspend reality to get the close calls characteristic of the genre.  This arc is aided by the charismatic Wlaschiha (from “Game of Thrones”) and Caplan (from “Castle Rock”).  Overall, the cast of the series is fine, with Okon effective as untraditionally cautious Hoffman and Konarske malevolent and unhinged as Wrangel.  The triangle between Simone, Monroe, and Forster is unpredictable with the characters being intriguing.  It helps a lot that the subtitling is way above average, so their dialogue comes through accurately.  
  
                        The effort that went into the production is impressive.  It does not equal the movie, but its not a cheap knock-off.  The interior of the sub gets you right back on Das Boot.  The camera follows the crew through the interior.  The lighting is excellent.  And you also get the aural motif from that movie.  This nicely connects the two boats, although there is no connection in the narrative.  The sub plot is much more complicated than a typical tour.  And here is the main problem.  Where the movie “Das Boot” was a realistic depiction of a u-boat voyage, the series fills its extra running time with some outlandish plot developments.  The clicheish command dysfunction is poorly handled. Hoffman does not get off to the rocky start you would expect.  In fact, he is a good leader from the start.  Tennstedt may be pissed about not getting command, but he really has no justification for fomenting mutiny.  Hoffman does the stereotypical constant drilling, but it is warranted due to the crew being mostly green too.  He has orders to avoid contact, so the crew might grumble, but would hardly be insubordinate about it.  The show jumps the shark with the reintroduction of the Wrangel character.  What happens after is dramatic, but ludicrous given the nature of the u-boat service.

                        I recommend watching “Das Boot”, the series.  Just don’t expect an extended version of the movie.  You might enjoy it if you want a sub show that is not testosterone fueled.  In other words, it does not disregard the female demographic.  It’s entertaining in a binge-worthy way.

GRADE  =  B   

Friday, March 20, 2020

WAR MOVIE SHORT - White Feather (2013)




There have been many great books about the Vietnam War.  One of my favorites is Marine Sniper by Charles Henderson.  It is the story of the most famous American sniper in the war -  Carlos Hathcock.  Hathcock had 93 confirmed kills in the war.  The film is about his most famous kill.  The title comes from Hathcock’s trademark white feather.  A man of supreme confidence, he wore a white feather in spite of it being easily seen in the greenery of the jungle.  The film was directed by brothers Fernando and Vincente Cordero.  It runs about 23 minutes.

                    The movie opens with a quote from Ernest Hemingway about how the hunting of men, which is basically what snipers do.  It can become addictive.  The movie is set in Vietnam in 1966.  It covers Hathcock’s (Brett Miller) famous mission to assassinate a North Vietnamese general.  To get in position, he has to crawl hundreds of yards through vegetation that includes snakes and other critters.  He does this successfully because he is an expert in camouflage.  It has to be good because the enemy seems to be looking for him.  The film intercuts to Hathcock at home on leave with his wife (Carolyn Zanelli).  Things are tense because Hathcock is a stereotypical warrior who is more in love with his job than with his family. 

                    “White Feather” is a little gem.  It takes a true story and depicts it as well as could be expected for a small budget film.  The Cordero brothers have some game.  They use time-lapse photography of clouds to imply the passage of time. There are enough sniper films for it to almost be a subgenre, but few depict the non-addictive aspects of the job.  Most of those fictional films play up the adrenalin rush of hunting other human beings.  Although the opening quote posits that the movie is about Hathcock’s love of the kill, it is more about the dedication he had.  He was able to crawl for days with bugs and snakes with complete stoicism.  Sniping is attractive to many teenage boys.  This movie shows the less glamorous aspect of it. 
                   
                    The film does have some flaws.  The home front scenes are clicheish.  They tend to emphasize the low budget nature of the acting.  A bit perplexing is the fact that for the mission depicted in the movie, Hathcock does not wear his white feather.  And the movie makes no reference to it.  Only people familiar with Hathcock would get the title.  The movie does a good job on the mission leading up to the pow, but then there is no coverage of the aftermath.  After all, Hathcock also had to get out of the area.

                    Carlos Hathcock deserves a movie about his whole career in Vietnam.  Heck, this story is not even the one I told in class.  He had an even more amazing duel with an enemy sniper that is worth a short film as well.  Are we going to get a sequel, Cordero brothers?

GRADE  =  B




Sunday, March 15, 2020

CONSENSUS #47 - Gallipoli (1981)




SYNOPSIS:  Two Aussie buddies join the army in WWI.  Archy (Mark Lee) and Frank (Mel Gibson) are shipped to Egypt for the bonding with comrades scenes and then it’s off to Turkey for the Gallipoli campaign.  They and their mates are stuck in the trenches facing the strong Turkish lines.  The movie builds to a suicidal charge across no man’s land.

BACK-STORY:  “Gallipoli” is a war movie by Peter Weir (“Master and Commander”). It was part of the wave of Australian classics of the 1980s that included “Breaker Morant” and “The Lighthorsemen”. Weir was inspired by the story of the ANZAC (Australian - New Zealand Army Corps) contribution to the British effort in the Gallipoli campaign of WWI. Early on the project evolved from a study of the entire campaign to a more personal study set in a brief period of the campaign. It stars Mel Gibson (coming off of “Mad Max” and “Attack Force Z”) and a debuting Mark Lee.   It won the Australian equivalent of the Academy Awards for Best Film, Director, Actor (Mel Gibson), Supporting Actor (Bill Hunter), Screenplay, and Cinematography.  Mark Lee was nominated for Best Actor.

TRIVIA:  wikipedia, imdb, TCM
1.  Peter Weir (the director) got the idea from a visit to Gallipoli in 1976. 
2.  The movie was controversial for making the British command the villain for the suicidal final attack. Weir later said he regretted giving this impression, which was inaccurate.  Not only did the British not order the attack, it was actually a diversion for a New Zealand attack, not a British attack.
 3.  Due to lack of male riders, 200 of the 400 horsemen were female. 
4.  At $2.8 million, the movie was the most expensive Australian movie up until then.
5.  The final image was based on a very famous photo by Robert Capa of a soldier dying in the Spanish Civil War.

Belle and Blade  =  3.5 
Brassey’s              =  4.0
Video Hound       =  4.4
War Movies         =  4.4
Military History  =  no
Channel 4             =  #48
Film Site                =  yes
101 War Movies  =  yes
Rotten Tomatoes  = no     

OPINION:   “Gallipoli” is well done and was influential on war movies of the eighties. It is fairly accurate, but piles on the British to elicit nods from its core audience which still resents Britain’s misuse of the ANZAC.  The acting is okay, if a bit over the top. Gibson is a young Mel Gibson, ‘nuff said. Lee is a little e bland, but so is his character. It’s themes of the loss of innocence and the futility of war are commendable. It is definitely anti-war. It is a buddy picture with some hints of a bromance between Archy and Frank which I feel it’s safe to say escaped Gibson’s notice when he read the script. I do think some critics have overemphasized the homosexual angle. Although the unrealistic way the cynical Frank runs off to a war because of his friendship with Archy gives ammunition to their argument.  Not a bad movie, but not as good as "Breaker Morant" and not worthy of this high on the list.

Tuesday, March 10, 2020

MOVIE, QUOTE, PICTURE QUIZ #79


1.  What movie is the picture from?

2.  What movie is this quote from?

"Spartans! Ready your breakfast and eat hearty… For tonight, we dine in hell!"


3.  What movie is this?


 It was the first big budget feature for the director.  It was very loosely based on the novel, but actually is closer to the Randolph Scott film. The movie is set in 1757, three years into the French and Indian War.  Although the action takes place  in upstate New York, it was actually filmed mostly in North Carolina.  The production used 1,000 Native American actors and extras.  It had a 20 acre frontier farm, a Huron village,  and a replica of a British fort built.  The director’s obsessive quest for authenticity was matched by his star who completely immersed himself in his role. Part of his preparation involved a “colonial boot camp” experience in the backwoods.  The director used a respected authority named Mark Baker to vet the film.  Baker is an expert on frontier life, Indians, and weaponry.  The director provided him with a copy of the script and in most cases made changes suggested by Baker.  The movie was a box office success and critically acclaimed.  It was awarded an Oscar for Sound.

Friday, March 6, 2020

ANNIVERSARY: The Alamo (2004)




                        It is the anniversary of the fall of the Alamo in 1836.  The best movie on the subject is 2004’s “The Alamo”.  It was originally supposed to be a Ron Howard project starring Russell Crowe, but Howard insisted on a budget that was deemed too high.  He and Crowe dropped out and John Lee Hancock was chosen to direct.  Dennis Quaid replaced Crowe.  Hancock brought the film in at $107 million ($88,000 under his budget).  The movie was filmed mostly on a ranch near Austin.  It was the largest set ever build in North America up until that time.  It took a month to film the last battle.  The movie marked the debut of Patrick Wilson.  Billy Bob Thornton considers the experience to have been one of his favorites.  He learned to play the fiddle for his role.

                  The movie opens with the claim that, although a mission, the Alamo had been used as a fort over time to defend against “marauding Indians, rebels, and a succession of conquering armies.”  A bit of a stretch and unnecessary for one of the most famous buildings in American History.  Unlike the more famous 1964 version, this movie uses Sam Houston (Quaid) as the connecting arc.  He recruits Davy Crockett (Thornton) for Texas independence.  William Travis (Wilson) abandons his family to join.  When he arrives at the Alamo, he butts heads with Jim Bowie (Jason Patric).  They hate each other, but agree to share command.  Meanwhile, the pompous Santa Anna is marching north with an army to put down the rebellion.  When he arrives, the Mexican dictator raises a flag signaling no prisoners and has his band play “De Guello” to aurally back up his no quarter policy.  The siege begins with artillery bombardment and culminates with the grand assault you paid admission for.  One month of shooting for several minutes of combat porn, time well spent.  Unlike the original, this one gives us a happy ending with the Battle of San Jacinto.  You don’t need a spoiler alert for the outcome of the Alamo, but I won’t tell you what happens when Sam Houston faces Santa Anna.

                  “The Alamo” was a big box office bomb, but probably deserved better.  It will definitely be remembered less fondly than the John Wayne version.  The 1964 movie was more a reenactment of the legend, which is what most people (especially the target audience of Texans wanted).   This version, being the version for the 21st Century, has more fidelity to the truth.  The acting is more true to the characters, but this means the trio of Travis, Bowie, and Crockett have less charisma than the Harvey, Whitmark, and Wayne characters.  In this movie, Travis is realistically a jerk.  Bowie is dying from consumption and tortured by the loss of his wife.  Crockett is the celebrity who has to live up to his legend.  He’s more morose than macho.  Wilson, Patric, and Thornton give constrained, effective performances.  They leave the scene-chewing to Quaid. 

      The big budget may have been a financial mistake, but it shows on screen. The set is outstanding, including the local town. It is a more accurate recreation than in the original movie. The pageantry is impressive with a large number of extras (although the Mexicans are a bit too well-fed). No CGIs soldiers for the big battle. The movie is much more balanced than the original when it comes to giving the Mexican side. It depicts the command decisions, which highlight the overconfidence of Santa Anna.  His soldiers are shown in a sympathetic light.  Travis’ and Bowie’s slaves are prominent with one of them taking the opportunity to evacuate and the other staying with his master.  In a nod to sexism, the one major female character (Susanna Dickinson) was left mostly on the cutting room floor.  The movie underwent substantial cuts to pare it down to around two hours.  Clearly, the siege needed more time.

     The 2004 version’s big advantage is in accuracy. It is not perfect, but it definitely is closer to the truth. It is obvious the screenwriters consciously tried to avoid the myth. The climactic battle is outstanding. It is one of the best I have seen. It’s a shame few people have seen it.  Any teacher covering the siege would do well to show just that part in class. The fact that the assault takes place pre-dawn shows that often the best entertainment comes from sticking to the historical facts. I believe it also shows that modern movies have an advantage in technology. Wayne probably could not have shot the battle effectively in darkness.  (However, there is not a chance in Hell that he would have eschewed daylight anyway.) The deaths of the big three are laudably accurate with Crockett being executed as the sole survivor.  Crockett’s death may come as a surprise, but there is evidence that he was taken captive and executed (although not by himself.)

    2004 is not as entertaining as 1964. The attempts to balance the dry historical facts with Hollywood moments come across as hokum. For instance, Crockett accompanies the Mexican band playing “De Guello” on his fiddle which awes the Mexicans into not bombarding them that night. Wait, what? Also, let’s face it. Billy Bob Thornton is not John Wayne and Jason Patric is no Richard Widmark. As a history lesson it is worth the watch and it does not try to replicate the vibe of the original.  It carves its own path and would not be a bad watch on a day like this.

GRADE  =  B-

Thursday, March 5, 2020

WAR SHORT: Lancaster (2013)




                        “Lancaster” is a thirteen-minute short by Philip Stevens.  He also wrote it.  It is an homage to the crews of Bomber Command and closes with an interview with one of the veterans.  The film has a nice opening with a boy on a bike watching a formation of bombers heading for Germany.  Although a bit tropeish (future aviator admiring planes), the CGI is impressive.  The rest of the movie takes place in the cramped confines of a Lancaster bomber.  The interior seems authentic.  Don’t watch it if you are claustrophobic.  The camera jumps between the crewmen.  They spend most of the time with their oxygen masks on, so if you are expecting “Memphis Belle” with its hunky actors, sorry ladies.  The chatter is fine, but parts could use some subtitling. Partly because they are speaking British English.  The bombing run is tutorial in case you and your mates hijack an old Lancaster to bomb your exe’s house.  The plot concentrates on the radio operator who is periodically night-dreaming about his girlfriend.  He has a picture of her, so I don’t have to tell you that he has only thirteen minutes to live.

                        The film is impressive.  The quality of the cinematography is superior to most shorts.  The CGI is used sparingly, but effectively.  Besides the opening formation, we catch glimpses of bombers outside the cockpit.  None of it is distracting.  There are good sound and light effects.  The flak and subsequent jolts are well done.  There is a nifty moment when the bomber gets caught in a search light that you don’t see very often.  The acting, such as there is, fits the spare nature of the production.  While predictable, it does leave you with some appreciation for the airmen.  A post script tells us that of the 125,000 volunteers, 55,573 were lost.  The movie plays like a trailer for a good feature film (but not “Lancaster Skies” which I have not seen yet, but hear is not good.)  It needed to be longer.   There is no big picture and we do not even know what city they are bombing.  (I hope it was not Dresden, because I may have to reassess the homage stuff.)

                        Lancaster” is available on YouTube.  It is well worth the watch, especially at only 13 minutes.  It may even save your life someday by reminding you not to look at a picture of your significant other if you are flying in a plane.

GRADE  =  B