Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Pork Chop Hill (1959)

War Movie #5 (Please click the link to read my review of the Vietnam War movie, Hamburger Hill

Synopsis: Gregory Peck rouses the troops for one last bloodbath before the Korean War officially ends. 

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “Pork Chop Hill tells the truth about war.” 

What Did I Learn?: If you ever find yourself negotiating with a dude who doesn’t speak English, and he removes his translation earpiece right when you’re in the middle of a speech, you might as well take a break and grab a drink. 

Really?: I think writer James Webb could have provided a bit of back-story for Lt. Suki Ohashi, a Japanese-American infantry officer. Did he spend the previous war in an American internment camp, or did he fight in Europe? Why did he join the army? Webb establishes the character as Japanese-American, and then never develops him further. 

Rating: Released just a year after Darby’s Rangers, Pork Chop Hill is a very different – and far superior – look at the day-to-day lives of fighting men. Peck delivers a terrific performance, and the script manages to be both anti-war, and anti-communist. Oh, and watch for Norman Fell (Mr. Roper from Three’s Company), George Peppard (Hannibal Smith from The A-Team), Rip Torn (best remembered as Artie from The Larry Sanders Show), and Robert Blake (Baretta). 8/10 stars.

Darby's Rangers (1958)

War Movie #4 

Synopsis: It’s basically two hours of combat training set to an endless repetition of “You’re In the Army Now” that’s occasionally interrupted with some of the most unconvincing love scenes ever filmed. 

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “James Garner leads an elite force into valorous battle.” 

What Did I Learn?: Apparently, American Jews will make a sign of the cross when they hear upsetting news. [Who wrote this movie?]

Really?: 1) See: “What Did I Learn?” 2) Ok, those are NOT English, Scottish and Italian accents. Holy shit, who cast the actors in this movie? 3) So, what’s the deal with the slapstick barroom brawl scenes? Did some movie studio hotshot decide this film needed a bit of levity? 

Rating: Garner and Jack Warden do their best with a sub-standard script, but even Garner’s inherent likability can’t salvage one of the most incompetently-directed (and written) films I’ve ever watched (See: “What Did I Learn?”, “Synopsis” and “Really?”).  The action scenes aren’t exciting, the love scenes are treacly and unwatchable, and by the end I simply didn’t care about these characters. I cannot recommend this movie. 3/10 stars. 

Would It Work For a Bad Movie Night?: Maybe. Take a drink every time an English, Scottish or Italian woman instantly falls in love with one of the Rangers.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

The Eagle Has Landed (1976)

War Movie #3 

Synopsis: The Eagle...seems awfully contrived. 

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “'Get Winston Churchill.' That’s the order given to sixteen German paratroopers who – disguised as Free-Polish soliders – will drop down over the Norfolk coast in England, snatch the visiting leader, and bring him back to Hitler.” 

What Did I Learn?: WWII-era Soviet cigarettes were horrible, and yet strangely addictive. 

Really?: 1) Steiner (Michael Caine) and his men insist upon wearing their German uniforms underneath their disguises. Um....wouldn’t that eventually get a bit hot and uncomfortable, and look rather bulky? 2) So wait – Molly barely knows Liam (Donald Sutherland), and yet when she discovers he’s an enemy agent, she actually kills somebody in order to keep his secret? I’m not buying that one. 3) What was the point of including Larry Hagman’s incompetent Colonel Pitts character? He simply doesn’t fit the rest of the movie’s tone. 4) Hold on – the film establishes that Steiner and his men are basically honourable soldiers, and the movie is presented from their point of view right up until the point when they take control of the town. Suddenly, there's a narrative shift, and Captain Clark (Treat Williams) becomes the hero. Who is the audience supposed to root for, exactly? 

Rating: Directed by the legendary John Sturges (who at this final stage in his career was only interested in earning some fast bucks), The Eagle Has Landed is a highly entertaining, but deeply flawed thriller that starts to fall apart in the second act. 6.5/10 stars.

Monday, November 14, 2016

The Great Escape (1963)

War Movie #2 (Please click the links to read my reviews of a few other WWII POW movies: Stalag 17, The Bridge on the River Kwai, and The Great Raid) 

Synopsis: Agile Allied airmen attempt audacious adventure and anger armed Axis agents.  

Blurb From the DVD Jacket: “In 1943, the Germans opened Stalag Luft III, a maximum security prisoner-of-war camp designed to hold even the craftiest escape artists.” 

What Did I Learn?: If you ever bust out of a POW camp and find yourself alone in an enemy country, here’s some free advice: don’t ride on public transportation, stay out of urban centres, and just keep walking. 

Really?: 1) Funny how the prisoners are all captured airmen, yet nobody ever discusses flying, except in passing. 2) So, it took the prisoners what – a year to dig those tunnels and get the papers and other materials in order, and it’s somehow always summertime in the camp? 3) I realize The Great Escape is based upon a true story, so perhaps I shouldn’t throw that many darts, but I’m shocked that: a) the Germans never put the prisoners to work, so they had plenty of time and energy to dig those tunnels, and b) the Germans would allow the entire camp to get rip-roaring drunk on the Fourth of July. That’s just asking for trouble. 4) So, Hilts (Steve McQueen) keeps busting out of the prison camp, and each time after he’s re-captured, the German guards allow him to take his ball-and-glove into the Cooler. That’s awfully nice of them. 

Rating: Based upon a true story (although highly embellished for dramatic effect, especially the parts involving Steve McQueen tearing across Southern Germany in a 1960s-era British motorcycle), The Great Escape is a suspenseful, and quite enjoyable war drama. I liked James Garner's portrayal as the sneaky-yet-likeable "scrounger", yet at 172 minutes the film is far too long, and the first couple of hours should have focused a lot more energy on character development. A number of actors, such as James Coburn, Nigel Stock, and James Donald, aren't given much to do, which is a shame. 8/10 stars.