Review # 162
Director – John Huston
Cast – Michael Caine, Sylvester Stallone, Max von Sydwo, Pele, Maurice Roëves, Tim Pigott-Smith, Julian Curry
There is a lot of cross over between sports films and POW films. Sports films invariably feature an under dog team who are disadvantaged in some way (Remember the Titans, We Are Marshall, Bad News Bears) playing the arrogant douche-bag team. And of course, POW films inevitably pit the good ol’ Allies against “The Huns” or “The Japs”. To combine the two was either a stroke of genius or an awful idea. The problem with Victory! is that it isn’t sure which of those options got decided on. It’s luke warm, and thus will be spat out, as the saying goes.
Plot-wise, a German officer (Max von Sydow) decides to challenge the prisoners under his watch to a game of soccer, POW’s vs. guards. Once the German higher-ups hear about this they decide it will be a great propaganda move, and decide to allow Colby (Michael Caine) to round up the best soccer players held as captives in Europe, and form a team to play the German national team in Paris. Meanwhile, Hatch (Sylvester Stallone) plans an escape to occur during the halftime of the game, aided by the local Resistance.
The movie is of two minds – there is the rather carefree, fun sports movie firstly. This is the movie that Michael Caine heads. It is interesting, fun, and a touch cheeky. Stallone heads the other side – the side that deals with the Resistance, escaping POW’s, and dangerous escapes. These topics (and the associated tones) don’t necessarily clash… but somehow they found a way. To make it worse the team decides halfway through the game to not even escape, rendering half of the movie pointless. Then to top it all off we have a ridiculous ending that is vague, un-earned, and that panders embarrassingly badly to Stallone. It has to be seen to be believed. My jaw literally dropped.
Plus the DVD print was awful. (Which brings to mind the famous joke “The portions were awful, and so small.)
Now that I’ve bitched about the ending, I must admit that the beginning had me along for the ride. We see Caine training his team, and Pele showing off his bicycle kick. Max von Sydow has a great role as the kindly but firm German head-of-camp, and the interplay between he and Caine is nice. Stallone has a subplot about his awful soccer skills that mostly works, but it would have worked better if Stallone had been content to let the movie be an ensemble piece, too. Really, the whole movie would have worked better. You can practically hear him off-screen, getting himself more screen time. But come on… did he really need a romantic interest here? Did he need to save the game in slow motion?
On the other hand you have to admire him though. We never saw Schwarzenegger trying to go so far out of his comfort zone. I’ve always admires Stallone for that… he knew what he did well, but didn’t mind trying out something new once in a while. Let’s see Chuck Norris lose 40 pounds to work with a director like John Huston. No siree, bob!
Victory! is a movie that more or less fails, despite a decent first half and a surprisingly kinetic soccer game at the end. There are quite a few British actors in the background who would become standby’s of UK film; people like Tim Piggot-Smith and Maurice Roëves. Julian Curry even makes an appearance, and it’s great to see the actor known mostly for the excellent Rumpole of the Bailey series get some work.
But unfortunately the movie can’t find the right tone, miscasts Stallone horribly, and hands us a ludicrous ending. So much for that!
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Twelve O’Clock High REVIEW
Director – Henry King
Cast – Gregory Peck, Hugh Marlowe, Gary Merril, Millard Mitchell, Dean Jagger
I had always thought Twelve O’Clock High was just a TV show. I’d never seen it, but I had always thought of it as Hogan’s Heroes without the punch lines. I was unaware of the movie until recently, and in one of those weird coincidences I very quickly saw it in one of those discount bins. Discount bin hunting is made for finding movies like this. It is an excellent disc too, cleaned up all nice.
Twelve O’Clock High features Gregory Peck (as General Frank Savage) to great effect as a stoic, by-the-book American Air Force general who feels compelled to take over a bomber unit after he deems its commander, a friend of his, to have become too close to his men. The men in the unit have been treated with kid gloves, and so Savage steps in to whip them into shape.
While Gregory Peck is cast perfectly as Frank Savage, it is the supporting cast (bringing a strong sense of character to their roles) that really fuse the movie together. Of special note is Dean Jagger as Major Stovall. He has a couple of scenes that bookend the movie wonderfully.
Twelve O’Clock High starts off as a character study, a story about the aviators low spirits, and about how to kick them into shape. It’s the classic underdog story really. A “team” has low morale and skills, and are whipped into shape by a tough “coach”. We enjoy seeing these airmen (who thought they were capable of nothing) triumph over their previous failures.
However, halfway through the movie it switches its focus, and starts examining what Savage’s methodology does to him. His drive, coupled with his single-mindedness, comes near to psychologically destroying him. (While this movie is also described as anti-war, we are shown Savage’s methods doing little harm to his men, so it comes across as a portrayal of what leadership can do a man, rather than combat itself.) The underdog story suddenly becomes about the coach, not the players. This last portion of the movie undermines the whole first part.
Well, not undermines… more like elaborates on. In a good way. The movie becomes about what war can do to a man, and it is when dwelling on this that the movie earns its stripes. Without such an ending, it would have been just another WWII adventure story. A good one, to be sure, but thankfully Twelve O’Clock High rises above that.
Twelve O’Clock High is a classic war movie, and one looks at the effects war actually has on people, rather than being an adventure story or a traditional biopic. Gregory Peck is at his peak here, and the addition of aerial footage actually shot by RAF and Luftwaffe adds a lot of legitimacy here.
When dealing with old movies we often find many that haven’t “aged well”. This is definitely not one of those. I can confidently recommend this to anyone who likes old movies, or indeed, movies in general.
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Rescue Dawn REVIEW
Director – Werner Herzog
Cast – Christian Bale, Steve Zahn, Jeremy Davies, Teerawat Mulvilai, Kriangsak Ming-olo
Rescue Dawn is a fairly decent little survival story from director Werner Herzog. It is based on the true story of Dieter Dengler, a US Navy pilot who crash-lands on his first mission in Laos (as a part of the Vietnam War) and is captured and put in a POW camp. The bulk of the film concerns his plans and finally an attempt to escape. Christian Bale stars as Dengler, and, despite Herzog’s best efforts, the movie comes dangerously close to becoming just another movie where Bale adopts an American accent and drops a lot of weight. The story,while told with sincerity and even some humour, frankly isn’t that different from most POW movies (The Great Escape, etc).
The character of Dengler is optimistic and quite a bit cheerful, even in the worst of circumstances. He firmly believes that he will be able to escape the POW camp and make his way through the jungle. The problem is that we believe him, and thus we feel no real sense of danger when he is in the wilderness fighting to survive or even when sneaking up on his guards after stealing their guns. For example, when Dengler and his friend are escaping on a raft they hear a waterfall. They get quite close to it, finally decide to jump off the raft, and they swim to shore. Cut to the waterfall thundering away as the camera pans down its full length. “Look what could have happened!” Yes, it could have. But we should have been saying “O my God, just think of what could happen!” before we are shown the falls. Instead we just see them doggy-paddling to the shore and congratulating themselves. The escape sequence is essentially just many little vignettes of such scenes.
What Rescue Dawn may lack in urgency and uniqueness it picks up in terms of its visual style and in its depiction of general minutiae of camp life and living in the jungle. We do believe that the characters are going through what they are depicting, mainly because in general they are. The leads all lost between 55 and 35 pounds each, and Christian Bale infamously eats live maggots in one scene.
It is good that the actors had such dedication to the story, but it is unfortunate that the story lets them down considerably. Everything seems taken from the Director’s Guidebook to POW Movies, from the plans to escape and the tension among the prisoners, to the brutal POW guard and the eventual rescue. Herzog really doesn’t do enough to spice these aspects up either, and his earnest depiction of the story can sometimes come across as pandering. Thankfully his long time cinematographer, Peter Zeitlenger, gives us a wonderful view of the jungle, and the realistic camera style helps keep the appropriate tone.
Rescue Dawn gets past its rather average story by the strong dedication of the cast to their characters. All the characters are fully formed (except of course, the “bad guys”, the POW guards), and the cinematography is quite pretty. However the movie feels like it could have been directed by anyone and written by anyone. Werner Herzog’s involvement seems strange, as he is known for rather personal and ambitious movies. This is neither, and with almost no tension created, it is noticeably dry. It is worth a watch for the cast, but not too much else unfortunately.
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Kelly’s Heroes REVIEW
Director – Brian G. Hutton
Cast – Clint Eastwood, Telly Savalas, Don Rickles, Carroll O’Connell, Donald Sutherland, Gavin McLeod, Harry Dean Stanton, Len Lesser
Kelly’s Heroes features Clint Eastwood as an Army officer who discovers the location of a bank which contains millions of dollars in Nazi gold. With WW II in full swing around him, Kelly gathers a few men, including Donald Sutherland as a tremendously entertaining pseudo hippie tank commander, and plunges behind enemy lines toward the loot.
Kelly’s Heroes reunited Clint with his Where Eagles Dare director for a movie which is decidedly more fun and generally better than the former. It is a simple movie that uses its premise well, never really diving into the motivation of the war or its participants. This is essentially a heist film, the only difference being that in this film the heroes can kill with a clear conscience, because hey, they’re just Nazi’s. For some reason Nazi’s make great villains, as proven by the Indiana Jones franchise. This is probably because they have great uniforms, a menacing accent and their ideology is repugnant. No one need feel a thing when rows of them are gunned down, or at least that is the tone this movie takes.
The performances are key to the movie. Donald Sutherland is a wonderful standout as the possibly deranged and aptly named Sgt. Oddball. Carroll O’Connor (“All in the Family’s” Archie Baker) has a great extended cameo as a Major General who mistakenly thinks that Kelly and Co. are merely pressing forward out of pure courage, and Telly Savalas plays Kelly’s tough commander. Also, keep a look out for Harry Dean Stanton (later to appear in Alien), and a younger Len Lesser, who would go on to play Uncle Leo in “Seinfeld”.
I read on Wikipedia that this film is considered one of the movies released to cash in on the success of The Dirty Dozen, produced 3 years before. I find that interesting, as both Telly Savalas and Donald Sutherland were in The Dirty Dozen, and prove their range here by playing totally different characters.
Clint Eastwood is perhaps not as good as the rest in his role, as he takes his usual hard, tough, annoyingly quiet character and almost parodies it. I guess I have never been as fond of Eastwood’s acting as others seem to have been. It looked like he was trying to be cool and tough, rather than letting his actions speak for themselves. In A Fistful of Dollars and its sequels this style fitted the tone of the movie perfectly. Here, not so much.
Kelly’s Heroes is tough, funny, energetic, and brawny. The acting is great, except for Eastwood, and the movie never forgets to have fun. It is very much a “guy’s movie”, along the line of The Dirty Dozen, though this one has a bit more of a satirical edge. I would recommend this to most people, especially if they have a fondness for the war movies of this era, which I must admit to. With a more charismatic lead this would have been better, but it is still an admirable and fun flick.
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The Hurt Locker REVIEW
Director – Kathryn Bigelow
Cast – Jeremy Renner, Anthony Mackie, David Morse, Brian Geraghty, Guy Pearce, Ralph Fiennes
The Hurt Locker follows a hotshot American bomb defuser, William James, as he makes his way through a tour of duty in Iraq. James is played by Jeremy Renner, previously appearing in 28 Weeks Later.
First of all I would like to mention that I am fully aware of the massive critical success of this movie. 97% on Rotten Tomatoes is nothing to laugh at. Maybe I do need to watch the movie again. However, I don’t see what else I can do to try to like this movie. I was extremely excited about seeing it, went in with an open mind, etc. Nothing doing, though. After watching it I realized I did not like the movie at all. Where to start…
The major problem with the movie (in my view) is an extremely episodic and uneven story. I felt throughout that I was watching a series of TV episodes, unconnected except for the main characters and a vaguely similar tone.The most infuriating thing is that some of the individual sequences are quite good, riveting even. But there is very little story here, and what there is is heavy-handed and full of cliché. We’ve all seen the fully dressed guy go into the shower to show his inner turmoil; the rough military guys play-fighting and it gets out of control, thus showing how fragile war makes us, etc etc.
It isn’t like the movie is lacking in ideas either. There are probably half a dozen different plot points touched on in the movie that could have gone somewhere, but instead they stop dead, usually before they’ve had a chance to develop. The young boy whom James thinks dies, the private contractors they meet in the desert, etc. All of these could have been molded into a story, but were not.
I have also never seen a worse depiction of the Iraqi people. Every single one (with one exception) is shown as a jabbering, stupid, illogical savage who must be grabbed, pushed, or cordoned off if there is to be any order in the country. Is Bigelow trying to just show us how the US Army may see these people? If so, that didn’t come across, nor was there any addressing of the huge issues involved in the American involvement in the area. In fact the point of the movie (from what I gather, that war sucks and is addicting) gets buried by little ideological side roads, each one tricking the viewer into thinking that it will be an issue to be explored.
As I said, the movie seems like episodes of a show shoved together. Any story issues are “solved” by just bringing another celebrity in for a cameo, killing them off, and then giving us a meticulously shot explosion. With no story arc, no character development, and with no clear point of where we are going, how can we as an audience expect to care? While I do plan on watching it again to try and see why everyone else seems to like it, I didn’t care about anyone or anything in the movie on the first viewing.
The Hurt Locker consists of some amazing sequences, some extremely contrived ones, and no story to speak of to tie it all together. The performances are good (especially an amazing small cameo by David Morse). But HOW CAN WE CARE if there is no story or any character arcs? Search me.
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Enemy at the Gates REVIEW
Director – Jean-Jacques Annaud
Cast – Jude Law, Joseph Fiennes, Rache Weisz, Ed Harris, Bob Hoskins, Ron Perlman, Gabriel Thomson
Enemy at the Gates follows famous Russian sniper Vasily Zaytsev, played by Jude Law. It focuses on a prolonged duel with German sniper Koenig (Ed Harris), but also touches on his dealings with a political officer Danilov (played by Joseph Fiennes) and a love interest, Tania (played by Rachel Weisz).
There have been many war movies made throughout the years, and they tend to fit in one of a couple of categories. On the one hand, you have movies about war. Examples would be A Bridge Too Far and Tora, Tora, Tora. These films tend to focus on the larger war effort, and generally have ensemble casts. The other type uses war as a backdrop, while we focus on a handful of characters in the foreground; examples of this would be Pearl Harbor and Saving Private Ryan. Enemy at the Gates is of the latter, yet still branches out enough to show that the main character isn’t all there is to the story. The main criticism of the movie is that the love-triangle story between Zaytsev, Danilov, Tania feels tacked on. Personally I feel that would be a problem if the movie was of the former group that I mentioned, but as the point of this movie is to focus on a couple of people, it worked.
We are shown both sides of the conflict (at least where Vasilky’s duel is concerned), which is interesting and builds up the tension even more. But the best thing about the movie is an attention to detail that should make most other movies blush. Annaud ignores the traditional use of “setup shots”. Often we see a main character (or whoever is the focus of a scene) moving around (before the close up) in the “long shots”, shots used usually to set up a scenes environment before the lead triumphantly makes his way on-screen. It is a seemingly insignificant detail, but it really adds up to create a feeling of a bigger world.
The heart of the movie, however, is the tension involved in a snipers job. Ed Harris and Jude Law have a great ability to say much with little facial expression. Their eyes just burn through their sniper scopes, making the whole war seem to revolve around their battle, ignoring their political ideologies. Jude Law’s Zaytsev is Communist, but he seems to not know or care what regime he lives under. He’s an average Joe who was drafted into the army, and he just wants to survive the war. Ed Harris’ Koenig is also not interested in political ideology, but just wants to do the job he was brought on to do. He is a professional, and Zaytsev must bring his all to beat him. You want to see tense, you have it here.
While there are a couple of predictable moments, Enemy at the Gates more than delivers. Its combination of sincerity, an insane level of detail, and great acting makes this a firmly enjoyable movie. And… am I the only one who thinks Jude Law is very under-rated?
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Richard III REVIEW
Director – Richard Loncraine
Cast – Sir Ian McKellan, Annette Benning, Jim Broadbent, Robert Downey Jr., Nigel Hawthorne, Kristen Scott Thomas, Maggie West, Dominic West, Edward Hardwicke
Shakespeare is old, one of the oldest playwrights to still be performed fairly regularly. His work has been done over and over again, and been done in many different ways. How then to keep it interesting? The only option really is to keep trying new things. And this movie does that with relish.
Transplanting Shakespeare to the 30’s isn’t done too often, and it works here wonderfully. The period works wonderfully towards the theme of the play. After all, the 30’s were one of the most flamboyant and manipulative decades ever, and Richard III is all about intrigue and back stabbing in style. The jazz music played as the soundtrack adds perfectly to the mood, and Ian McKellen is well… Ian McKellen. He plays the role of Richard absolutely brilliantly. In fact, when compared to the other most famous Richard III, Laurence Olivier, even the great Sir Larry (im my opinion) can’t hold a candle to Sir Ian.
While I’m on the point of the cast, I should mention the supporting cast, most of whom are very good. Maggie Smith appears as Richard’s mother. She hates her son, and makes no attempt to hide it. Maggie was a perfect choice to play such a venomous woman. Many other British actors appear, such as John Hardwicke (the second Dr. Watson opposite Jeremy Brett in BBC’s “Sherlock Holmes” series), and Nigel Hawthorne (most famous for his role as Sir Humphrey Appleby in “Yes, Minister” and “Yes, Prime Minister“). Both of these actors “bring their A-game”, and are wonderful to watch.
The only actors who were not so good were, surprisingly, Robert Downey Jr. and Annette Benning. Both tended to go a bit overboard dramatically when they spoke, although Robert Downey’s body language is superb. One sequence in particular, where we are introduced to him, is particularly good. He is a tad drunk, and knows very little of royal conventions. It’s a pity he didn’t reign in his vocal performance as well.
One final word about the last scene. The final two or three shots are almost masterpieces, but the buildup to them is not so great. It’s as if the whole finale is a bit rushed. This is unfortunate, but does not in the end ruin the movie.
If you love Shakespeare and don’t mind a movie that plays a bit loose with the original script, you will love this. Even if you don’t like the Bard I would suggest you give this a try. It is a fun, dark, and energetically atmospheric movie. Highly recommended.
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Director- Joel Schumacher
Cast- Colin Farrell, Mathew Davis, Shea Whigham, Cole Hauser
Coincidentally, Tigerland is the second war movie review in a row I have reviewd that features Colin Farrell and Cole Hauser. The other one being Hart’s War, this is by far the better movie. Joel Schumacher has a strange track record, having directed crap like Batman Forever, Batman and Robin, and The Number 23; decent movies like A Time To Kill and The Phantom of the Opera; and then quite good ones like Phone Booth and Tigerland. He’s a strange director in that way. I guess he’s only as good as his material.
It is perhaps a tad misleading to call this a “war movie”, since the movie just follows the characters through training, and ends as they are being shipped off. However, the movie is about the relationships between the men themselves, and as such does not need any actual combat to up the tension.
This movie follows a young soldier, Roland Buzz (played by Colin Farrell, in his star making role), who has a perpetual chip on his shoulder, and an attitude towards war that certainly doesn’t endear him to his superiors. He also knows the Army rules and regulations inside and out, and is able to exploit loopholes to send men home if he feels they should. Predictably this makes him an enemy or two.
Now this is obviously quite a low budget affair; Saving Private Ryan it ain’t. And thank God for it too. Where Saving Private Ryan is big loud, and emotionally manipulative, Tigerland is quiet, low key, and in some places has a wickedly dark sense of humour (mainly relayed through the character of Roland Bozz). On that topic, Colin Farrell does an amazing job with the character, which so easily could have gone over the top. He plays it wonderfully, and without a hint of his Irish accent.
This is one of my favorite war-related movies, pure and simple. Colin Farrel takes the material and really elevates it higher than it would have been with most other actors. It is a tight movie, well acted and paced, and intense all the way through. Defintely recommended to anyone.
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Hart’s War REVIEW
Director – Gregory Hoblit
Cast – Colin Farrell, Bruce Willis, Cole Hauser, Terrence Howard
Hart’s War follows a young American military man in a German POW camp as he defends in a court-martial a black man accused of murdering a white soldier. All is not as it seems however, as Lieutenant Hart (Colin Farrell) digs deeper and discovers some shocking truths behind the case.
The movie follows his investigations in a passably interesting way, and all the actors do a decent job. Bruce Willis plays Hart’s mentor, and he is, well… Bruce Willis, with all the good and bad which that entails. The man on trial is played by Terence Howard, and he does a very good job as usual. The best performance of the movie however, comes from the relative unknown who plays the German Colonel in charge of the POW camp. His name is Marcel Iures, and his performance is head and shoulders above the film itself.
Now this movie tries to be original, and attempts to do things a bit differently. For example, many times while watching the movie with my brother we found ourself shouting out “Oh! They’re _____!” For example when the POW’s are being transported to the camp their train is derailed and an American P-51 starts strafing them, not realizing he is shooting his fellow Americans. So the men arrange themselves in the snow to spell ‘P O W”. The plane then flies off. In the court scenes, many times a legal point is made which we think is un-defeatable, and is promptly shot down by the prosecution.
It is a generally smart script on the small-scale. However, when it comes to the larger picture, and to the large plot points, this movie flounders and flounders hard. Military cliché’s abound, speeches about “honour” and “duty” are thrown around in all the stereotypical way. Not to belittle those attributes, but they need to be dealt with in the right way, and that isn’t done here. I found myself wishing someone had taken a few risks. War movies have been done to death, and something new is always welcome. Here it just isn’t to be found.
Hart’s War is a competent, decent movie. But unfortunately it is little else and could have been much more. Recommended ONLY if you like war/legal films and don’t mind a bit of cliché. Well, quite a bit of cliché…
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The Caine Mutiny REVIEW
Director- Edward Dmytryk
Cast- Humphrey Bogart, Jose Ferrer, Van Johnson, Fred MacMurray, Robert Francis
The Caine Mutiny was adapted from a bestselling book published a few years before this films release, 1954. Quite simply, it is an excellent movie. The casting is perfect, both the stars (Humphrey Bogart, Fred MacMurray, Jose Ferrier) and the relative newcomers (Van Johnson, Robert Francis) all hold their own. The court scenes are riveting, and the scenes aboard the actual ship, the Caine, are excellent and hold the viewers attention. The only quibbles that can be had with the movie are the romantic side-plot (which seems a bit tacked on, however not so much as to be annoying) and the quite obvious splicing in of the WWII footage (which can be forgiven given that the movie WAS made in 1954, without the advantages we have today with film restoration etc.)
What is really great about the movie is that although these and a couple other flaws do exist, the rest of it is SO good that it easily makes up for it. The tension is palpable throughout the whole film, and the cinematography is perfectly fitting. Of special mention is Humphrey Bogart’s performance, easily the best I have ever seen of his. Throughout he is nothing like the Casablanca or Maltese Falcon roles with which he made his stardom, but is quivering, nervous, and beaten down, but NEVER over the top. The scene in the courtroom where he begins to break down is Oscar-worthy. It’s a great film, with intrigue, tension, courtroom drama, and romance, recommendable to anyone.
The courtroom scene which focuses on Captain Queeg’s testimony is easily the best in the film. It is as riveting as it is tense. Humphrey makes you feel sympathy for him as well as feeling that he is indeed not fit to command a ship, which is what the movie hinges on.
This is an older movie, so some viewers may be automatically turned off by that. However, it is an excellent film, featuring excellent acting and a very well structured story. Deinitely recommended to lovers of older movies, and also to anyone looking for an intelligent, sometimes humorous story. And Bogart will blow anyone away, especially those just familiar with his mainly tough gangster type roles.
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