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A classic of its subgenre
That subgenre being the war movie about a small group of specialist soldiers - "commandos" - who pull off a daring raid, with lots of drama and personality conflicts - these days they're called "special operators." And it's the sort of war picture they sure don't make any more. Pity, in a way. In this screenplay it's the Long Range Desert Group, based on a legendary North Africa force, plus a bunch of German Jews out to confound the Nazis and use their contribution as leverage to achieve nationhood in Palestine -no, Israel!, as George Peppard brusquely corrects Rock Hudson. Which is what gives this movie a very interesting historical dimensions, bringing in as it does, along with Rommel and the Desert War, or course, the meddling of the Grand Mufti, Arab affinities for Nazism, and the struggle for Israel as the Holocaust goes on in Europe. Note the movie was made in '67 - Six-Day War anyone? The premise of the commandos masquerading as Afrika Korps I found a bit much, though. Also much mirth garnered by the use of all-American trucks and tanks (a lot of them post- WWII) for German, Italian, British - I noticed the California National Guard got a big credit at the end. The Grumman Goose was a cute touch, too. At least they got most of the guns right - but the P-40 was good, the right type for the time and place. Also a nice touch to have Rock Hudson play as a Canadian, not an American. And get a load of Dean Stockwell. And there was some pretty good camera work and some clever crane and dolly shots, too. For all its flaws and preposterous elements, and for being a bit of a period piece, it is a most entertaining picture, and lots of stuff blows up.
Doomsday Gun (1994)
An Inconvenient Canadian
Just a quibble to correct Jonathan from Hoboken's identification of Gerry Bull as an America. He was Canadian (you can even see him brandishing his Canadian passport in the final airport scene with Price (Spacey) near the end.) Gerry Bull was an inconvenient Canadian, in that he thought too big for a Canadian, and, like many other Canadians of talent and vision, eventually had to leave the country to achieve what he wanted. He was a brilliant supersonic aerodynamics engineer, who had contributed to the Avro Arrow program, and had run HARP (High Altitude Research Program) which had been, ahem, aimed at achieving spaceflight using guns, a la Jules Verne. It had operated the original 'supergun' in the Caribbean, with battleship guns put end to end. Bull gave up on Canada when Canada gave up on him, and that's when he became the international long-range artillery guy, selling his expertise to whoever paid - Israel, South Africa, Iraq. I figure if Israel could knock out Saddam's Osirak nuclear plant with an air strike, it wouldn't be past them to knock off the guy about to give Saddam a supergun with which to shell Tel Aviv.
The movie, though heavy on the CIA-is-the-root-of-all-evil conspiracy theories, was entertaining and not that bad, especially as a made-for-TV job, with, I thought, pretty good casting (I always like Michael Kitchen).
A Bridge Too Far (1977)
Rewards repeated viewing
Some of the naff comments posted here make me wonder if people were watching the same movie, or what they were smoking or drinking when they did. Warts and all, this movie rewards repeated viewing. I just watched it again only to check on the presence of a certain military vehicle, which appears near the beginning (long story), and I ended up watching the whole thing again - and then reviewing certain scenes and shots. What I really appreciated this time around were classic cinematic techniques of visual storytelling, many of them noted in other comments. And it is without question, one of the best war movies made. Yes, it suffers dramatically because it stays close to the facts. Yes, it is confusing, and reading up on the story of Op Market Garden can help ease the confusion - but it is true to the larger facts and issues. On the cast: most of the Americans they got wrong - I have never, ever understood Ryan O'Neil's presence in the movies. Redford was Redford, same as he is in every picture. Gould - feh. Hackman, great actor, but wrong here. Caan I actually thought was fine (his Capt. Glass was actually a Canadian actor, Nicholas Campbell, latterly best known as coroner Dominic DaVinci on DaVinci's Inquest).
Most of the British they got right, some note-perfect others were OK, albeit some in a rather clichéd way, but better than most of the Yanks. And for the guy who said that John (Cliff Claven) Ratzenberger was uncredited as an American officer, well, he is credited. And for the guy who was commenting on the PIAT - the correct term is Projector, Infantry, Antitank - and while a seemingly odd weapon, what with the spring and spigot arrangement, when used as designed it could be quite effective. A Canadian called Smokey Smith was awarded the VC for using it quite lethally against German panzers in Italy. True, the panzerfaust and bazooka and their descendants (like the RPG-7) are more powerful and effective, but the PIAT had its day. Details of weapons and equipment were as good as it gets, given the limitations of movie making - no obvious clangers among the vehicles (OK, rollbars on Kubelwagens,and a lot of fudged German kit) - I'm sure there are purist quibbles. Sure nice to see the Bren carriers among the Shermans, Jeeps, M3 halftracks, QLs, etc., and the scout cars, Caine's Humber and the Dingo are spiffy. Those fighter bombers, yeh, they sure weren't Typhoons, so I guess we were supposed to pretend those Harvards were P-47s - they made me think more of Brewsters or pre-war Severskys.
The Auster was a nice touch (I grew up with RCAF DC-3s overhead all the time, so they weren't such big novelty to see - I miss them now. There was one at the airport recently - I heard its engines and knew right away what it was.) And yeh, it would been nice to see more of the Horsa gliders - especially since they were done so well (with models) in The Longest Day - but a little matte work is a much as Attenborough was going for in fudging the aviation stuff. Oh, and I like Addison's score, too, bombast and all.
The 7th Dawn (1964)
A story worth telling
Odd, that I don't recall the word 'communist' being uttered throughout this picture. Anyone notice if it was? It was pretty clear from the references and the red stars the Ng and his guerrillas were communists. This is an entertaining film from a jungle war that has been largely forgotten in the shadow of Vietnam. The British spent 12 years eradicating the elements they called "communist terrorists" before Malaysia became independent. Most of their enemies weren't conveniently
uniformed like Ng's forces, but were more like the grenade-tossing chauffeur. The SAS played a key role in suppressing the communists, and the British pretty much wrote the book on how to deal with these sort of insurgencies, lessons the
Americans too often seem to forget (though they slowly seem to be figuring it out in Iraq and Afghanistan). Saw this movie years ago and liked it, liked it more in a recent viewing, in spite of its flaws. Always liked Holden, have a real soft spot for Susannah York - and Capucine was splendid. Some great cars in this movie, too (and a Gloster Meteor, too, I think). And yes, superbly photographed.
Good Will Hunting (1997)
Flashdance with calculus
This showed up on TV last night, and I was interested to see a movie that had so much "buzz." It was very watchable, entertaining, but a movie wish-fulfilment fantasy - hence the quip "Flashdance with calculus." I won't enumerate my quibbles here, nor the things I did like about the picture. Nonetheless, I did enjoy it, and I *do* like Minnie Driver.
633 Squadron (1964)
Mossie's last hurrah
I was really excited as a 13-year-old air cadet-to-be when this movie came out - I even got my mom to take to me to it (OK, so I led a sheltered life). I watched it for the planes A friend my parents had been a Mosquito pilot and had told some great war stories, so I already knew about what a great plane it was. Many Mosquitoes were built in Canada by DeHavilland during the war. One of my airplane magazines (Air Classics) did a photo story on how the producers had scratched together the planes for 633 Squadron - apparently they found 8 or so around the world, one, I believe mouldering away in Mexico or Central America. It looks like they only got two or three actually airworthy for the shoot - and I suspect the un-airworthy ones were used for the fiery crash scenes. Seen again recently, the movie has high production values, reasonable technical authenticity (except for that Land Rover hiding in the shrubs in one shot) but is encumbered by the all the Hollywood tripe. And, while I can excuse Me-108s playing 109s, the model work is indeed pretty crappy most of the time. The real pleasure of the movie is the precious few shots of the real Mosquitoes in action, which makes the rest of the nonsense tolerable. Why they couldnt have done a real Mossie story - such as the real precision
breaching of a Gestapo prison wall - I don't know.
Ice Cold in Alex (1958)
My favourite war movie
Ice Cold in Alex used to show up on the late show on CBC years ago, and it has also been on some of the cable channels. It gets better with each viewing. When the subject of war movies comes up, I always tell people this is my favourite war movie, and, in my opinion, one of the best - and usually get a blank look. They recognize the cast when I list them, though. And it is a great cast - Mills, Andrews, Quayle. And I am totally in love with Sylvia Sims in this. (I guess I must have a thing for beautiful women, with no makeup, sweating in khakis. I loved Juliette Binoche in Canadian battledress in The English Patient, too - but I digress).
This is simply good storytelling and great character drama in a setting that tests character, with an authentic look and feel and superb B&W photography of the kind that distinguished so many post-war 'neo-realist' films. There are so many great moments such as van der Poel lifting the ambulance, the 'surprise' encounter with the SAS (?) man, the Blimpish officer's encounter with an 88-mm shell in his Humber staff car, Mill's moments of crisis, stunning closeups of Sylvia Sims, and and especially that moment in the bar which makes you want to run out for a tall frosty one. Next time I view it, I will indeed have a cold Carlsberg waiting in the fridge. Years ago, I was sailing across Lake Winnipeg to Gimli on a slow, hot July day, with little wind, I promised we would enjoy beer and pizza when we finally made it to harbour, and I was thinking of this movie.
I am also a bit of a military vehicle buff, and I like this movie for that, too - for me, the ambulance - I think it's an Morris-Commecial CS11/30F, or maybe a Ford WOT2, but I'd have to see the movie again to be sure - is also one of the stars. Cranking-up-the-sand-dune is probably my favourite scene with it. The Wages of Fear /Scorcerer comes to mind as a comparable vehicle-as-character movie.
Vehicle buffs will also enjoy the anachronism of seeing a Land Rover parked on the street in the background of the final shot - the car wasn't in production until 1947.
Lara Croft: Tomb Raider (2001)
If only ...
First thing, I am a big Tomb Raider fan, so a lot of the movie was acceptable to me as a reflection of scenes and situations that occur in the game. Next, if I were going to make a Tomb Raider movie, it would be computer animated (a no-brainer, from my point-of-view). But, they decided to do a live action picture. So, for live actor to play Lara Croft, my first choice was always Elisabeth Hurley - but Angelina Jolie was just fine, she looks great as Lara, and she puts across Lara's ruthless, menacing manner in a way I doubt Hurley could have. So the casting of Jolie was an inspired choice after all. But the story is a muddle, it's true, and there is a clutter of flat and superfluous characters (like, was that Pimms guy there for the product placement, or what?), and some really, really bad plot and character motivation holes - some of which have been detailed by other users, and others I won't go into details about. Any discerning viewer will be more than aware of them. Yes, the action sequences did seem a bit disjointed (no editing Oscars here), the special effects were not what would be called "groundbreaking," but they were fine, and appropriate to the plot - I liked the orrery (even with nine planets - you might figure if the ancient ones could do that time-control thing, maybe they looked ahead and saw Pluto.) So while I was more than prepared for the picture to be complete crap, I was also prepared to enjoy it as much as possible. It's not complete crap, but it is no action-adventure masterpiece either. Buy a biiiiig thing of popcorn when you go. Everything bad and good you might have so far heard about it is true. BTW, as a once and future Land Rover owner, I thought Lara's was pretty cool, too (another gratuitous but acceptable product placement - unlike that can of Pepsi-Cola that gets shot in a closeup).
Dancer in the Dark (2000)
Props to Dennis Potter
Caution: Some spoiler content:
I watched this movie for two reasons: Bjork, and a desire to experience von Trier's 'dogma' filmmaking. When I started to describe this back-to-simplicity approach to my wisely-innocent girlfriend, she said, oh yeah, like those Canadian movies from the '60s. Indeed. As for the musical stagings - others here have made reference to Dennis Potter's work: Singing Detective, Lipstick on Your Collar, for two. Someone even called Dancer a remake of the Steve Martin vehicle Pennies from Heaven, which in fact, was a flat-out remake of Potter's TV movie. Yes, indeed props must be given to the late Dennis Potter. And someone here also mentioned Terry Gilliam's Brazil. Indeed. Oh, and All That Jazz, now that I'm thinking about it. As for the 'dogma' approach, I was reminded on many Euro-films and art-house conceits I've seen over the years - I'm old enough to have been around in the '60s and '70s. I liked the naturalness of the acting, the "verite" touches, though I did find the handheld work a little too self-conscious and gimmicky for its own sake at times, yet at other moments used very effectively as a narrative device. But not much new under the sun, really. Simply said, Von Trier can neither claim nor be credited with innovation in either respect. That said, I liked the movie, chiefly for Bjork, despite the maddeningly contrived plot points, but without them, you don't have any drama, after all. Hey, it's a tragedy, and in classical tragedy, you know that coming in the door - people are supposed to screw up and succumb to nemesis, in spite of knowledge and common sense. Bruce Willis is *not* going blast his way into the death house, toss off a quip, and rescue Julia Roberts (cf. The Player). By contrast, I watched What Women Want the night before, no less preposterous a plot, but an entertaining comedy nonetheless. Dancer makes you work, makes you think, does spark differences of opinion, and that is what makes it less like entertainment and more like art. So, as tragedy, DITD was very moving- but nonetheless a movie, and emotionally manipulative, because that's what movies/videos/TV shows/commercials do.
(BTW, Someone here complained about "a piece about the penal system, without including blacks." In fact, during Selma's musical fantasy during her walk to the gallows, most of the death-row prisoners she meets and hugs are black. The setting is in a small the Pacific Northwest town, where I suspect the ratio of the black population in the early '60s is relatively small compared to the 12-or-so per cent, as I seem to recall it was the U.S. national *average.* And from someone else: "By the way, The Sound of Music opened on Broadway in November of 1959. Amateur rights were not released until several years later. It did not become an icon of mainstream culture until after the release of the 1965 film version." Thanks, I was wondering about that myself. If Von Trier intends the film to be a polemic against capital punishment and for public health care, fine. Point taken. And Selma could have emigrated to Canada instead, but you'd have no story. And hey, is Zjelko Ivanec ever going to stop playing prosecutors?
Doctor Zhivago (1965)
A flawed masterpiece
I finally saw Dr. Zhivago complete on television (letterboxed, but with some commercial* interruptions), and was engrossed by the world it created, but left wanting by plot lapses and characterization. As with so many movies adapted from novels I have seen, it leaves me wanting to read the book, to find out what it was 'really' about, to fill in the gaps. I've read my fair share of Russian literature, so I guess it is time to read Dr. Zhivago. Some viewers' comments about the settings and people not looking 'Russian' enough are simply bemusing: Given they could not film in Russia, Lean and company I feel did a magnificent job of finding suitable, convincing landscapes - I live in a region that has similarities of climate, terrain and vegetation to the Russian Steppes (in fact, I suspect they cheated with some second-unit shots of the Canadian Rockies standing in for the wintry Urals - just a hunch) - and I felt the landscape looked right - even if some of the snow and frost effects might have been a bit overdone for dramatic effect - believe, me - I *know* snow and frost - it was 31C here last night. As for the 'inauthentic' looking Russians - nonsense! Russia and the CIS states(now and as part of and the Soviet Union) - like Canada, and especially Western Canada (our own Siberia) is a multilingual, multiethnic nation, and one would be hard-pressed to find a 'typical' - looking Russian. Just look at any Russian, or Ukrainian or Belarussian or Georgian and tell me who is typical. Enough on that. As for the characters - well, that's the movies: Sharif and Christie were "it" in 1965 - I would have much preferred to see other actors cast in the key roles - I didn't find the two leads as convincing as I might have with others cast - but who? You could play that game all night. Chaplin as Tanya was vacuous enough, which suited. Steiger was OK, but who might have given even more depth to the role, ditto for Courtenay and so on. What I didn't get from Sharif (or Bolt's script/Lean's direction, to be fair, was a sense of Russian who loved his country so much he wouldn't flee to France to be with his wife an child, or to be with Lara, despite the self-evident horrors of Bolshevism from which he seemed to believe he could stay aloof, even after what he had been through. Again, I had not depth of motivation of conflict in Lara - except for her one dramatic act - which rather than horrify Zhivago, is what seems to excite his desire for her. Too often the characters just seemed to be walking through the scenes without giving off a sense of what was driving them. Nonetheless, it is a magnificent historical spectacle, beautifully photographed, rich in period details, and touches, such as streetcars, trains, costumes, architecture - and the snow!. One little bit of business which I really enjoyed (and I expect I will find in the novel), was the background detail of some of the freezing train passengers hugging the steamchest of the locomotive at a stop to warm up - I can relate to being that sort of cold. Lean's apprenticeship and brilliance and as an editor is evident in how, despite the jumps of time and place and plot development, he managed to make the complex, sweeping story mostly logical and coherent, with the help of the narrator, and some effective stage business (such mimed scenes with Pasha and Lara, and another with Lara and Kondravsky which are most effective, and a necessary exposition scene between Yuri and his brother which combines narration and dialogue very cleverly). Despite all its aspirations to greatness, I guess what left me most disappointed with the movie was that I was left mostly unmoved by any feelings of a great love between Yuri and Larysia - Jarre's score seemed to be intended to be the vehicle for that, but I have never cared for 'Lara's Theme' and its one repetitious motif - as with his repetitious motif in Lawrence of Arabia - is something I find annoying after a while, and a device best left to Wagner, not film score composers. I must be near my word limit by now, so that's all I'll say.
* 'Commercials' on the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. being endlessly repeated promotions for other CBC programs.