Wednesday, November 11, 2015

The Bridge at Remagen (1969)

War Movie #4 (Hey, this would have worked for my tribute to George Segal). 

Synopsis: It’s basically two hours of: “Blow up the bridge! No, wait – DON’T blow up the bridge! Blow up the bridge! No, DON’T blow up the bridge!!....” 

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “March, 1945. The war in Europe is nearly over, but the fighting is more bitter than ever as US and German troops converge on The Bridge at Remagen.” 

What Did I Learn?: I’ve never smoked a day in my life, but damn – suddenly, I’d love to own a gold cigarette case. 

You Might Like This Movie If: You have a bit too much time on your hands.
Really?: 1) Isn’t the looting of dead soldiers a pretty big no-no in the US Army? Couldn’t Lt. Hartman (Segal) bring Sgt. Angelo (Ben Gazzara) up on charges if he wanted to do so? 2) I realize Major Krueger (Robert Vaughn) is trying to save the remnants of a German army on the wrong side of the Rhine, but gee... he witnessed the execution of a fellow officer who didn’t obey orders to the letter. If I were him, I’m not sure I’d play fast-and-loose with directives from the top, even if they are short-sighted and cold-blooded. 3) The credits list E.G. Marshall as a “Guest Star.” This is a movie. How can a movie include a “guest star?”

Rating: The Bridge at Remagen is a suspenseful action picture that includes complex characters and a noticeable anti-war message. Vaughn exchanges bullets with Segal and Gazzara, but he plays Major Krueger with world weariness and humanity, and he certainly isn’t the villain – that honour is reserved for the military brass on both sides who think nothing of sacrificing their own men without a second thought. My only complaint would be that the film should have found a way to include a face-to-face encounter between Segal and Vaughn. Highly recommended. 9/10 stars.

Memphis Belle (1990)

War Movie #4

Synopsis: Brave, British-based bombardiers battle boredom, bang beautiful babes, blitz Bremen. 

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “They’ve flown 24 missions. Only one thing keeps the flyboys of the B-17 Memphis Belle from going home: mission 25, a perilous daylight raid.” 

What Did I Learn?: 1) There’s always a religious guy in a war movie. 2) Generally speaking, it’s a bad idea to tell people you possess four years of med school training when you really don’t.  

Really?: 1) So, wait – the higher-ups in the American military really want to use the crew of the Memphis Belle for propaganda purposes back home. Why would they send the boys on a daylight attack in the heart of Germany, when a “milk run” over France would be so much safer? 2) Funny how Sgt. Daly (Eric Stoltz) gets badly hit, the crew anguishes over what to do (they believe he’ll never make the three-hour return to Britain, but he might survive if they parachute him into German hands), and then.... they keep him on board, and he survives the trip. I guess his wounds weren’t as serious as they thought? 

Rating: Memphis Belle is a technically competent war picture that features some great aerial combat scenes and an impressive cast. That said, the script doesn't include a lot of character development (honestly, I had trouble keeping track of who was who), Matthew Modine’s protagonist isn’t interesting enough to carry the picture, and  - here’s an unusual complaint for this blog – the movie seems to end rather abruptly (i.e. while I often complain when films drag on too long, this one seems a bit too short). 6.5/10 stars.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Stalag 17 (1953)

War Movie #3

Synopsis: Ever wanted to watch a two-hour episode of Hogan’s Heroes in glorious black-and-white? It’s your lucky day... [Seriously, this film and the original stage play were totally ripped-off by the creators of Hogan’s Heroes, although the case was eventually settled] 

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “During World War II, a group of GIs are thrown together in the notorious German prison camp Stalag 17. For the most part, they spend their time scheming to help each other escape. But when two prisoners are killed in an escape attempt, it becomes obvious that there is a spy among them.” 

What Did I Learn?: "Droppen sie dead!" is not proper German.  

Really?: I had trouble believing any of the scenes featuring “Animal” and Shapiro, but the capper was their infiltration and escape from the Russian women’s sector. I’m pretty sure both of them would have been shot on the spot, or rounded up and executed later.

Rating: I have to give Stalag 17 something of a mixed review. While I quite liked William Holden’s Oscar-winning performance as the cynically realistic J.J. Sefton (he plays more-or-less the same role in Bridge on the River Kwai, incidentally), Billy Wilder’s moments of screwball comedy (see: “Really?”) don’t mesh well with the serious storyline of a spy amongst prisoners of war. At times, I felt I was watching two very different films pieced together. 7/10 stars.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

The Great Raid (2005)

War Movie #2

Synopsis: It’s basically two hours of heroic Americans being horribly tortured by Japanese troops, followed by a single ten-minute-long, dimly-lit firefight. 

Blurb From the DVD Jacket: “As World War Two rages, the elite 6th Ranger Battalion is given a mission of heroic proportions: push 30 miles behind enemy lines and liberate over 500 American prisoners of war.” 

What Did I Learn?: If you’re ever arrested for belonging to a resistance/terrorist cell and then released from prison, you MIGHT want to wait awhile before you visit with your comrades-in-arms. Just sayin’... 


Really?: 1) Gee, it’s 1945, yet nobody smokes, swears, or expresses the slightest war-weariness or cynicism. 2) So wait, Major Lapham is pretty much dying of malaria, and yet he refuses a quinine tablet from the Japanese, and insists upon standing when he faces his captors? I’m calling “bullshit”.  3) Wow.... I really didn’t need to see American POWs getting burned alive. I'm sure it happened, but I certainly didn't need to actually view it.

Rating: Much like U-571, there’s something about The Great Raid that really rubbed me the wrong way; it’s a joyless, unpleasant (see: “Synopsis”), inauthentic and almost unwatchable post-9/11 American patriotic quasi-propaganda film that’s devoid of suspense and populated with simplistic, two-dimensional characters who are never really developed. The Japanese are all portrayed as inhuman monsters, while every single American (with one exception, but he was driven mad from too much time in the prison camp) are all brave, selfless, and totally committed to the war effort. Oh, and the scenes of Margaret the nurse (Connie Nielsen) in Manila seemed tacked-on, and added nothing to the story. The great raid on Cabanatuan is a true story of heroism of that deserves to be told, yet I cannot recommend this movie. 3/10 stars. 

Would it Work For a Bad Movie Night?: Not a chance, but take a drink every time somebody says something along the lines of: "we gotta get those boys out of that camp!"

The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957)

War Movie #1 (Please click the links to read my reviews from 2011, 2013, and 2014). 

Synopsis: Batshit British bureaucrat believes bunkum, benefits Bushido bullies, builds bigger, better bridge. 

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “Set in an Asian prisoner of war camp during World War II, this riveting classic combines a psychological battle of wills with high-powered military action.” 

What Did I Learn?: If you’re an enlisted soldier, impersonating a dead officer is your ticket to respect and attractive women. Oh wait, I already learned that from watching Mad Men

Really?: 1) I realize Nicholson (Alec Guinness) is  initially a hero to his men for standing up to the Japanese, but come on – his cause is simply to exempt British officers from manual labour. Wouldn’t that rub some of these guys the wrong way? Moreover, I had a bit of a hard time believing everyone would go along with his new orders, which come pretty close to outright collaboration with the enemy. I have a funny feeling a more realistic script would see Nicholson falling off a cliff, or meeting with a most unfortunate accident. 2) So, exactly how long is Nicholson actually in the hot box? I had a hard time believing he could survive more than a day or two, based upon his age and general fitness. 3) So, Saito backs off from machine-gunning the British officers because the sick prisoners threaten to serve as witnesses? Why wouldn’t he simply murder them, as well, or at least threaten to do so? And were Japanese prison camp commandants genuinely afraid of getting tried for war crimes in 1943? 

Rating: At 161 minutes, David Lean’s The Bridge on the River Kwai is a little too long for my taste, but it’s otherwise a masterpiece that richly deserved its seven Academy Awards for Best Picture, Director, Actor, Screenplay, Cinematography, Editing and Music-scoring. Guinness is magnificent as the well-meaning, but slightly loony Colonel Nicholson. I only wish Lean had included more than one scene of Guinness interacting with William Holden’s cynically-realistic Shears, but it would have been a very different movie. Highly recommended. 9/10 stars.