Friday, August 29, 2014

Zulu Dawn (1979)

Synopsis: The British Army has one of those really shitty days (Yorktown, Cartegena de las Indias, Singapore, etc…) it doesn’t like to talk about. 

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “… 1939 GONE WITH THE WIND … 1962 HOW THE WEST WAS WON And now a Rip-Roaring BLOOD AND THUNDER EPIC!” [Seriously? Leaving aside the all-caps text, is it really a good idea to compare this film to two of the greatest movies ever made?]

What Did I Learn?: 1) “Difficulty never deterred a Zulu commander.” 2) “A good commander never willingly splits his force, especially in an enemy's country, before knowing their dispositions.” 3) There is no British Army medal for modesty. 

Really?: So wait – did the local colonial Governor, Sir Henry Bartle Frere really say: “Let us hope, General, that this will be the final solution to the Zulu problem”? If he didn’t, that’s some extremely heavy-handed dialogue. 

Rating: Zulu Dawn is essentially a prequel to Zulu, as it deals with the massive defeat of the British Army’s main column of 1500 men at the battle of Islandlhwana. While Zulu works because it has a tight storyline, Zulu Dawn is a sprawling film with a few too many characters (only Burt Lancaster’s Colonel Durnford and Simon Ward’s Lt Vereker are at all likeable). Still, Zulu Dawn’s production values are top-notch, and it boasts an impressive cast. 7/10 stars.

Zulu (1964)

Synopsis: Aristocratic infantry officer battles by-the-book engineer for control of military garrison that’s about to receive the ass-whuppin’ of the 19th Century.  

Blurb From the VHS Jacket:  “The year 1879. The place: Natal, Africa. This is the exciting true story of Rorke’s Drift, an isolated British outpost where a handful of soldiers withstood a day-long attack of the mighty Zulu nation – 4,000 fierce warriors strong.” 

What Did I Learn?: 1) The army doesn’t like more than one disaster in a day. 2) A zulu regiment could run 50 miles and fight a battle at the end of it. 3) Brandy is for heroes. 

Really?: 1) Hmm….I’m surprised somebody in the British camp didn’t punch the Rev. Witt’s lights out after he: a) convinced the colonial troops to flee, b) attempted to convince a scared private to desert his post, and c) screamed: “you’re all going to die!!” 2) You know, I can understand Zulu warriors being unafraid to fight, or even die in battle, but I have to wonder: did any of them really volunteer to be cannon fodder so the tribal elders could count the number of British guns? 

Rating: Zulu is a compelling re-enactment of a Welsh regiment’s heroic stand at a tiny outpost against overwhelming odds; in some ways, it’s reminiscent of another siege movie, Assault on Precinct 13. The Zulus are treated respectfully, but there’s something other-worldly about their portrayal since the film doesn't include subtitles or any prominent Zulu characters. The real conflict comes down to a power struggle between Lt. Chard (Stanley Baker) and Lt. Bromhead (Michael Caine) for control of the outpost, and the best scenes focus on the two leads. 7.5/10 stars

Thursday, August 28, 2014

The China Syndrome (1979)

Jack Lemmon Film Fest Movie #6

Synopsis: Ambitious TV news hacks descend on dangerous nuclear power plant like flies on an old banana. 

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “A modern nightmare nearly becomes reality in this timely, tension-filled story about an ‘incident’ at a nuclear power plant.” 

What Did I Learn?: If you work in a nuclear facility and stumble upon massive corruption that could lead to a meltdown, your best course of action is to drop a dime to the authorities and sing like a canary. It’s not such a hot idea to confront the guilty parties and threaten to do so. 

Really?: 1) So, Jack decides to whip out a revolver and take over the plant  in a completely spur-of-the-moment decision? Gee…. I dunno… that seems a little contrived.  2) See: “What Did I Learn?”

Rating: While the China Syndrome is very much a product of the conspiracy-minded 1970s, it still works, both as a slow-burning thriller and as a character-driven drama; Lemmon, Jane Fonda and Michael Douglas work well together, but Wilford Brimley nearly steals the movie right at the end when his character decides to speak truth to power. It's a moving and memorable moment. 8/10 stars.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Tuesdays With Morrie (1999)

Jack Lemmon Film Fest Movie #5

Synopsis: Jack Lemmon portrays an enlightened-but-dying older gentleman who convinces an unhappy-but-fortunate younger man that life is worth living, and…. Hey waitaminute – this movie is basically Dad with an introduction from Oprah!! 

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “Mitch Albom (Hank Azaria) seems to have everything a man could want: a syndicated sports column in the newspaper and his own TV talk show… he’s at the top of his profession. Everything, that is, but a meaningful personal life…. One night while watching television, Mitch catches an interview of one of his former university professors, his favourite one in fact, Morrie Schwartz (Jack Lemmon). Morrie is now dying and wants to spread a message to the world about the importance of living life to the fullest.” 

What Did I Learn?: 1) “When you learn how to die, you learn how to live.” 2) “The most important thing in life is to learn how to give out love, and to let it come in.” 3) “Death ends a life, not a relationship.” 4) “Sometimes you cannot believe what you see, you have to believe what you feel. And if you are ever going to have other people trust you, you must feel that you can trust them, too - even when you're in the dark. Even when you're falling.” 5) “If we accept the fact that we can die at any time we lead our lives differently.” 6) “We must love one another or die.” 7) “Dying is just one thing to be sad about. Living unhappily, that's another matter.” 8) “When you're in bed, you're dead.” 9) “When you know how to die, you know to live.” [Ok, enough….enough!!]
Really?: 1) So, has anyone ever noticed there really isn’t any conflict in this movie? Sure, Mitch argues with his boss, but that’s pretty incidental to the plot, and yeah, he and Janine are having issues, but it’s pretty obvious they’re going to patch things up. 2) Funny how Morrie is a retired sociology professor, yet he never once discusses sociology, or academic issues. 3) So, Mitch was such a hot-shot sportswriter that he could basically blow off his job for days or weeks at a time? 

Rating: I wanted to like Tuesdays with Morrie more than I did. Lemmon and Azaria work well together, and the title character has some important things to say about enjoying life, providing and accepting love, and letting go of guilt, but damn, this movie gets sickly sweet and treacly. I’ve never read Albom’s best-seller – it has a lot of fans, and maybe it works as a book, but most of the movie consists of Albom receiving Morrie’s wisdom and sharing golden moments together. 7/10 stars.

Dad (1989)

Jack Lemmon Film Fest Movie #4

Synopsis: Worst episode of Cheers, ever. 

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “Superlative performances from Jack Lemmon and an all-star cast highlight this heartwarming, critically acclaimed drama from writer/director Gary David Goldberg and Amblin Entertainment. Work-obsessed stockbroker John Tremont (Ted Danson) flies home when his mother Bette (Olympia Dukakis) is unexpectedly hospitalized. Not having seen his father Jake (Lemmon) for over two years, John is shocked to discover how Jake has deteriorated under the overprotective eye of his mother.” 

What Did I Learn?: 1) “Dying is not a sin. Not living is”.2) “A good driver knows when he's not a good driver anymore.”  3) “In America, anything is possible if you show up for work.” 


Really?: 1) You know… I was really enjoying this film up until the point when John (Danson) picks up his father – who just underwent major cancer-related surgery  -  and carries him out of the hospital. Holy shit, what was Gary David Goldberg thinking when he wrote that scene? I’m not a doctor, but I’m pretty sure Jake would experience a massive internal hemorrhage, or at the very least a whole lot of horrible pain. 2) A spur-of-the-moment men’s fashion show? Oh, come on…  3) So, Jake has been a “successful schizophrenic” for the past 20-30 years? Is this an important sub-plot? 

Rating: I have to give Dad a decidedly mixed review, as some of it works and some of it really doesn’t. I liked the interactions between Lemmon, Danson and Dukakis – they’re all fine actors (Kevin Spacey also has a small role), and they generate some genuinely moving moments. The biggest problem with Dad, however, is its writer/director, Gary David Goldberg – the man who gave us Family Ties. All too often, the dialogue sounds "written" (see: "What Did I Learn?"), and the film itself veers uneasily from serious melodrama to sit-com-style humour (see: “Really?”), so the audience is never entirely sure how to perceive it. Dad is an ok movie that could have been a lot better with a re-write or two. 6.5/10 stars.