Saturday, May 28, 2011

Kelly's Heroes

Year 3, Day 148 - 5/28/11 - Movie #875

BEFORE: Telly Savalas carries over again (who knew he made so many WW2 movies?).

THE PLOT: A group of U.S. soldiers sneaks across enemy lines to get their hands on a secret stash of Nazi treasure.

AFTER: This is a sort of hybrid film, half war movie and half heist movie, as a ragtag bunch of U.S. soldiers use their furlough time to execute an unauthorized mission after learning of a bank containing $16 million in gold bars.

Telly Savalas' character may be the highest-ranking in the bunch, but it's Kelly (Clint Eastwood, last seen in "A Perfect World") who comes up with the plan, recruits the team and figures out the best way to get things done when obstacles get in their way.

The film may not be 100% accurate, and it requires you to regard U.S. soldiers as heroes and privateers at the same time, but it was action-packed and very entertaining. Like "Dirty Dozen" it was a bit long in the set-up, taking the first 90 minutes to get to the town where the gold was stored.

And the U.S. tank commander, played by Donald Sutherland (last seen in "The Dirty Dozen") was an odd "hippie" character, a cultural anachronism that was distracting, but also provided comic relief - so that's a bit of a wash.

Also starring Don Rickles, Carroll O'Connor (later Archie Bunker on "All in the Family"), Gavin MacLeod (later Capt. Stubing on "The Love Boat"), Stuart Margolin (later Jim Rockford's brother on "The Rockford Files"), Harry Dean Stanton, and Len Lesser (later Jerry's uncle Leo on "Seinfeld")

RATING: 7 out of 10 bayonets

Friday, May 27, 2011

The Dirty Dozen: The Fatal Mission

Year 3, Day 147 - 5/27/11 - Movie #874

BEFORE: There were three sequels to "The Dirty Dozen", which were made-for-TV movies, and while I don't have copies of the first two, the Encore War channel's been running the final (Fatal) one, so I added it to my DVD of the original classic film. Ernest Borgnine and Telly Savalas carry over from last night - but Savalas is playing a different character, since his Maggott character was one of the fatalities in the original Dirty Dozen mission.

THE PLOT: A team of renegade soldiers of World War II try to avoid the constitution of the IV Reich.

AFTER: I'm OK with a TV movie appearing in the countdown, and I'm (mostly) OK with the recruitment of a lot of 70's TV stars to fill the ranks of the Dirty Dozen (presumably a lot of the Dozen died in movies #2 and #3, also).

I'm even OK with the plot - 12 of Hitler's best and brightest young officers are sent by train to the Middle East, to form Germany's Fourth Reich (if needed) - it's sort of a reversal of the plot seen in "Valkyrie". I sort of doubt that Hitler would name his successor in 1943, but I'm willing to entertain the notion.

But I can't abide sloppy storytelling. Things are pretty by-the-numbers as the Dozen are recruited and trained (at least the film moves a lot faster than last night's), and the inclusion of a possible traitor among the ranks is an interesting twist. Then the Dozen parachute into enemy territory, and take the train. I'm down with that...

But then the Germans try to block the train's progress with a rail car full of gasoline, and while the train is able to stop in time, it's the plot that runs off the rails. Leading to the following:

NITPICK POINT #1: The Germans obviously put the gasoline car there to blow up the train, or at least to block it. Then the Nazis disappear. Why don't they wait around to witness the explosion, or if the explosion never comes, why not take the opportunity to attack the blocked train?

NITPICK POINT #2: Major Wright (Savalas) has his men push the gasoline car BY HAND away from their train (to where, exactly? 30 feet ahead of the train?), and then changes his mind, determining that the gas car has some value (he knows the train runs on coal, right?) so he has them push it back, again BY HAND. (he knows that the train moves forward on the track, right?)

NITPICK POINT #3: The train, with the gas car coupled in front of the engine (because THAT'S safe...) keeps moving down the track, to where the Nazis have blocked the track with trucks and such. Great news for the Americans, they're driving a train with an impromptu gas bomb in front. The Nazis throw mortars at the gas car, and they HIT IT, but it fails to explode. But one touch against a Nazi truck, and it blows sky-high. It's one of those Hollywood explosions, that takes place just when the heroes need it to.

NITPICK POINT #4: The Nazi commander, seeing the train with the improvised bomb approaching, decides the best course of action (and I swear this is true) is to try and stop it by shooting it with a machine gun. Yeah, good luck with that.

Also starring Jeff Conaway (RIP, as of earlier today), Erik Estrada (last seen in "Airport 1975"), Ernie Hudson (last seen in "Going Berserk"), Heather Thomas, John Matuszak, and Ray "Boom Boom" Mancini. Is this a war movie or an episode of "Love Boat"?

RATING: 3 out of 10 parachutes

The Dirty Dozen

Year 3, Day 146 - 5/26/11 - Movie #873

BEFORE: Kicking off Memorial Day Weekend a little early with the first in a chain of WW2 films. Linking from last night, Steve Buscemi was in "Armageddon" with Bruce Willis, who was in "Red" with Ernest Borgnine (last seen in "Escape From New York"), who appears here as a general.

THE PLOT: A US Army Major is assigned a dozen convicted murderers to train and lead them into a mass assassination mission of German officers in World War II.

AFTER: It's a classic film, no doubt - but it took a long time to get to the main action. Once the plan was set in motion to recruit team members from a military prison, there was a lengthy "interview" process, and then special ops training for those selected. Plus building a camp, parachute training, and even a round of wargames to prove to the generals that the Dirty Dozen squad had what it takes.

There's almost a full two hours of movie before the squad goes on the mission they were selected for. You'd never expect a modern audience to put up with that - not with today's shorter attention spans.

The mission, when it comes, seemed a bit familiar - but that's probably because parts of it were ripped off by Tarantino in "Inglourious Basterds" - with a ragtag covert team disguised as Germans, infiltrating Nazi society, and then torching it from within.

They did take pains to make the members of the Dozen different types of characters - you've got the loose cannon, the quiet psycho, the religious nut, and the (mostly) gentle giant. That's something, anyway. And it's a cool idea to have a squad of men who would rather serve on a dangerous mission than rot in jail or be executed.

Starring Lee Marvin, Charles Bronson, Telly Savalas (last seen in "Capricorn One"), Donald Sutherland (last heard in "Astro Boy"), Jim Brown (last seen in "Any Given Sunday"), John Cassavetes (last seen in "Rosemary's Baby"), George Kennedy (last seen in "The Eiger Sanction"), Trini Lopez, Clint Walker, Robert Ryan (last seen in "The Wild Bunch").

RATING: 5 out of 10 grenades

Thursday, May 26, 2011

The Messenger

Year 3, Day 145 - 5/25/11 - Movie #872

BEFORE: I forgot that it's also Fleet Week here in NYC, but I've already touched on that with "Crimson Tide". Tonight it's another Iraq-related film before I jump back into WW2 films. I suppose I could save this one for Monday, but I've got something else scheduled. Linking from last night, Matt Damon was in "The Departed" with Jack Nicholson, who was in "Anger Management" with Woody Harrelson.

THE PLOT: An American soldier struggles with an ethical dilemma when he becomes involved with a widow of a fallen officer.

AFTER: While not directly depicting war in the Middle East (damn, I just realized "The Kingdom" is on PPV for $1.99, I should have picked that up), this film does show the aftermath, which in its own way is just as important. It follows two members of the Notification Squad, who deliver the bad news to soldiers' next of kin - where in the old days the army used to just send a telegram.

This has sort of the feel of a Sundance-type film (looks like it won a bunch of film festival awards and was nominated for several Independent Spirit Awards) because of the pacing, and the introspective subject matter, and thus it's not your typical war film. We hear stories of combat action, but instead we see the struggle as a young veteran re-adjusts to life at home.

And he's paired with an older veteran, played by Harrelson, who's become an old hand at delivering the bad news, and they form an uneasy working relationship, and possible friendship, as they go about their terrible task. Things take a bit of a weird turn when they start drinking heavily together, but that could happen to anyone, not just veterans.

High marks for the actors, who had to strike a difficult balance between remaining composed in tough situations, and letting loose with their emotions when not on the job. But my rating is not for the actors, it reflects the overall enjoy-ability of the film.

Also starring Ben Foster (last seen in "30 Days of Night"), Samantha Morton (last seen in "Synecdoche, New York"), Jena Malone (last seen in "The Soloist"), with cameos from Eamonn Walker (last seen in "Cadillac Records") and Steve Buscemi (last seen in "Grown Ups".

RATING: 5 out of 10 folded flags

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Green Zone

Year 3, Day 144 - 5/24/11 - Movie #871

BEFORE: From Bosnia in the mid-1990's to Iraq in 2003. And fortunately, Gabriel Macht from "Behind Enemy Lines" was in "The Good Shepherd" with Matt Damon (last seen in "Chasing Amy").

THE PLOT: Discovering covert and faulty intelligence causes a U.S. Army officer to go rogue as he hunts for Weapons of Mass Destruction in an unstable region.

AFTER: This film represents something of a simpler time in our decade-long war, when we still believed that there were WMD's in Iraq that justified the U.S. invasion, and soldiers were keeping track of wanted Iraqis by assigning their pictures to playing cards.

This is not your typical Hollywood war film, since they tend to be very simple - U.S. soldiers are the good guys, and our enemies deserve to die. But there are so many different factions in U.S. occupied Iraq, in this film they're often at odds with each other. CIA vs. Pentagon, army vs. Special Forces - they've got different orders, different interests, and one faction may want a man dead, and another might need him alive.

It makes for a more complicated film, but I'm willing to believe that the Iraq situation, at that time, could easily have been so confusing. But would a ground-level soldier, even a commander, be so able to see the big picture regarding WMD's, and to be able to surmise that the U.S. had received faulty intelligence? Or is it easier to believe that a soldier would follow orders, do his job, not ruffle feathers, and be more concerned with keeping himself and his men alive?

The film has an exciting opening, an exciting climax, but it tended to drag a little bit in the middle. In the end, a message delivered by an Iraqi civilian proves that any U.S. action there, in our interest or theirs, constitutes interference. A lot to think about here.

Also starring Greg Kinnear (last seen in "Baby Mama"), Brendan Gleeson (last seen in "The Tailor of Panama"), Amy Ryan (last seen in "Changeling"), Jason Isaacs (last seen in "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix")

RATING: 7 out of 10 Humvees

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Behind Enemy Lines

Year 3, Day 143 - 5/23/11 - Movie #870

BEFORE: This time Gene Hackman carries over - and the action moves from a naval vessel attacking Chechnya to a naval vessel attacking Bosnia. This is the film I thought I was getting when I watched "Black Hawk Down", so I atone for my error tonight.

THE PLOT: A Navy navigator is shot down over enemy territory and is ruthlessly pursued by a secret police enforcer and the opposing troops. Meanwhile his commanding officer goes against orders in an attempt to rescue him.

AFTER: Another quite decent war film, and one with a fair amount of action. Last night's film was (mostly) talkie-talkie by comparison, plus we were cooped up on that submarine most of the time. Here Owen Wilson (last seen in "Shanghai Knights") gets a chance to run across the Eastern European landscape, and also prove he can do something besides light comedies.

Of course it's the jovial, subversive pilot has to overcome his personal self-doubt and prove to his commander (and himself) that he's a true soldier. And of course the hard-edged by-the-book commander has to defy orders and rescue him - so in that sense it's a little dramatically far-fetched, but it was still a good thrill-ride.

Also starring David Keith (last seen in "Firestarter"), Gabriel Macht (last seen in "Bad Company"), Joaquim de Almeida (last seen in "Clear and Present Danger")

RATING: 7 out of 10 walkie-talkies

Monday, May 23, 2011

Crimson Tide

Year 3, Day 142 - 5/22/11 - Movie #869

BEFORE: Denzel carries over again, as I get to the real war/soldier pictures - a naval nuke-ular submarine in this case.

THE PLOT: On a US nuclear missile sub, a young first officer stages a mutiny to prevent his trigger-happy captain from launching his missiles before confirming his orders to do so.

AFTER: Either I'm slowly getting back onto a regular sleeping schedule, or the movie was more exciting - because I stayed awake for the whole thing. Ah, getting up on time for work is overrated, right? I wish I could have taken the whole week off and stayed with my parents, because I know my dad enjoys a good war film. But we did watch "Spider-Man 3" with my parents (on TV, with commercials, which seemed to take forever...)

There's an interesting conundrum at the heart of this one, since the sub does receive orders to launch missiles at some rogue Russian rebels who are in charge of some Soviet nukes - but then the sub receives a partial transmission, which might be an abort command, just as the radio gives out. Since the final message is just a fragment, it contains no confirmation codes, so the protocol would be to disregard it as a message (could be a fake from the Russians, I suppose...). But before following the launch order, which could lead to a "Hole-O-Caust" (Denzel's pronounciation, not mine), the executive officer demands that the captain re-establish communication and confirm.

It's a conundrum because (as stated at the end of the film) both the captain and executive officer are right, and in a way they're both wrong. And the X.O. had earlier stated that he believed that the true enemy was not the Russians, but war itself, as is the case in a post-nuclear world. So one's ready to start a war, and the other is trying to avoid one. There is an argument for nuclear war being its own deterrent - but the captain's a bit too old-school for that.

What interested me was the subtle difference between the two - the captain wasn't portrayed as completely hawkish and power-mad, and the X.O. wasn't a glorified peace-nik or a bleeding heart liberal. The same navy produced both men, so the difference between them should be a matter of just a few degrees. But those degrees end up splitting the sub's crew into factions.

Also starring Gene Hackman (last seen in "Class Action"), Viggo Mortensen (last seen in "Young Guns II"), James Gandolfini (last seen in "The Juror"), George Dzundza (last seen in "The Deer Hunter"), with cameos from Jason Robards (last seen in "Tora! Tora! Tora!"), Steve Zahn (last seen in "The Great Buck Howard"), Rick Schroder, Danny Nucci, Lillo Brancato (last seen in "Enemy of the State"), and Daniel Von Bargen (last seen in "Before and After") as the crazy Russian.

RATING: 7 out of 10 torpedoes

Sunday, May 22, 2011

For Queen & Country

Year 3, Day 141 - 5/21/11 - Movie #868

BEFORE: Denzel Washington carries over, as I celebrate Armed Forces Day. Some of those nutjob preachers were predicting the Rapture/End of Times for today - it's good to know I could have switched over to "end of the world" movies like "The Book of Eli", also starring Denzel, if needed, and ended my project. But I'm guessing that the world won't end today, so I'll start up a chain of war films that will carry me through to Memorial Day.

THE PLOT: A retired British soldier struggles to adjust to everyday life, with increasing difficulty.

AFTER: My sleep schedule's still not back to (what passes for) normal, and I've got a cold, and we took the Amtrak up to Massachusetts today to go to my father's birthday dinner - so basically, I'm exhausted. I made it about 1/2 hour into this film before falling asleep in a comfortable chair, then I woke up, switched to my parent's couch, and watched another 1/2 before falling asleep again. The fact that the movie was hard to follow didn't help - but the rules of the project dictate that I must give a film every opportunity to make sense. So, I watched the last hour on Sunday afternoon after returning home.

I still found the film hard to follow, incoherent for the most part, so I'm not taking the full blame. It seems to be devoid of any rational plotline or logical sequence of events, and the thick British accents (including Denzel's phony one) don't help. So, when this happens, I'll just read the plot summary on IMDB or Wikipedia, and move on.

If you can take a film with Denzel Washington as an ex-paratrooper who fought in the Falkland Islands war, and then gets involved in disputes between the cops and gangs in East End of London, more power to you. I failed to see the point of it all.

EDIT: Rapture Update - the date for the Ascension of the Chosen has now been re-scheduled for October 21. Funny thing, that works out perfectly for my planned post-apocalyptic movie chain. So maybe it's for reals this time. Or not. Isn't the point of the Rapture that you're not supposed to see it coming? Isn't there a Bible verse that says you won't know the day or the hour of judgment?

RATING: 2 out of 10 sniper rifles