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The Deadly Tower (1975)
Compelling, but not history
I first saw this film on TV (late-night) about 8 years ago. It intrigued me to do some research. I found Gary Lagergne's book "A Sniper in the Tower" and read it. Whitman (Russell) was much the brooding silent tortured man as portrayed, but had a very violent streak and seemed to be amused by other peoples' pain. The film does seem to support the 'brain tumor' theory, but it doesn't touch any of Whitman's life. He was raised by a very rich and dominating, physically abusive father who loved guns and demanded obedience and success from his sons. Charles never knew what compassion and love were, but for achievement and abuse. He had to be the best at everything. He was the youngest EVER to become an Eagle scout, at age 12. He joined the Marines as a way of escaping his father's abuse and control. The Corps did, for a time, keep him in line, but when he attempted to get a degree at UT Austin in 1964 he was out of their control and failed to reach the standard they demanded. Then came his marriage and more problems. He was ambitious but not able to achieve anything. Failed jobs, a court-martial, getting out of the Corps he now hated, and a failed attempt at an engineering degree again at UT Austin caused him great anguish and depression. Above all, he was financially dependent on a father he hated. This couldn't have helped his self-respect. When Whitman killed his wife, mother and dog, and went into the University Tower on August 1, 1966, he was plagued with headaches, anger and severe depression. The film, with the never-happened 'airplane' sequence, and the compassionate detective (Forsythe) who tries to find out his name is overly dramatic and complicated. The 90-minute siege on the tower, finally ended by Martinez, Crumm and Foss was dramatic enough. Technically, it's accurate enough, despite being filmed in Baton Rouge LA since Austin didn't want to let the UT tower be used. But the amount of gunfire Whitman is loosing from the tower is beyond belief. He's using, early on, a bolt-action rifle. Time between shots as he pulls and cycles the bolt is at least 2 seconds. Yet as people below are running for cover, you hear shots like from a semi-automatic rifle. It hurts what needed to be simple, more stark and horrible, not a hail of bullets raining down from above. So as in my other comments, Hollywood doesn't always get it right, even though they can tell the authentic story and do it well, if they trusted the intelligence of their viewers. But when was that ever the case?
St. Helens (1981)
Carney at his best, but...
This film is pretty good for emotion and drama. I've been to St. Helens and love the region. It's largely grown back and is green and fertile again, dominated by the stark gray gutted monolith of the mountain. In a way, it's a tombstone of granite and pumice, still steaming and hot despite more than two decades of slumber. Very somber and impressive sight. I liked the movie the first time I saw it probably about 20 years ago on TV. It was cut a bit for commercials so I probably saw about 75 minutes so there were a few plot holes, but nothing to worry about. After all, it's a fictionalized docudrama. The only real characters? Harry Truman (Carney in a real departure from Ed Norton), the crusty old soldier who won't do what he don't want to. He's earned the right to die on his own land. And David Jackson (Huffman) who is based on the late David Johnston who died on the mountain in the eruption. He's portrayed as the antithesis of Truman, a calm dreamer who hates stupidity and bureaucracy (one and the same) in the local businessmen and NGS officials. He and Harry hit it off despite their differences and find common ground in the love of the mountain about to destroy everything. I rather liked Tim Thomerson, the sheriff, who's out of his usual stand-up routine but a 'stand up guy' in the local community, as he tries to keep peace as the drama unfolds. The Huffman/Yates love interest? Probably untrue, and in my opinion, unnecessary in the film. A bit of country-western 'local yokels' in the bar, getting to know one another is a decent way of helping us like the town and the folks, but one wonder something. For instance, why does Cassie Yates and her son, who have a car, get a helicopter ride out of danger? And when the news report of the eruption comes on, the first thing they say is that Harry Truman was at his lodge and David Jackson, the 'Young Geologist' was on the face of the mountain when it erupted. Fast work. The end theme, "Here's to You, Harry Truman," is a pretty good ballad, and catchy, even if old Harry himself would probably have scoffed at the overly maudlin lyrics. "Sounds like pigs being murdered." The film of the eruption and the later destruction are impressive and gut-wrenching. It was a huge disaster which flattened thousands of acres of forest and wilderness. Yet, if you go up to St. Helens, the thing you'll be most surprised by is the roadside attractions. "ST. HELENS: FEEL THE ERUPTION! EXPERIENCE THE DESTRUCTION, THE QUAKE, THE POWER, from the comfort of a chair. All over the place, you can see movies, buy lava chunks and explore houses buried under ash. What a country.
Birdman of Alcatraz (1962)
Not true, but compelling
I've always loved this film. It's moving, emotional, stirring, and poetic. It's even capable of generating great empathy with a man who we'd all prefer not to marry our daughters. Stroud, portrayed by Lancaster, is slowly pulled from a life of solitude, misery, hatred and violence by his love of birds. He becomes someone we can identify with, to care about, to wish he was free.
But...and I'm sorry to be the one to tell you this, but Hollywood doesn't always get it right. Yeah, really. The movie is fiction from start to finish. Tom Gaddis' book was wonderful I actually bought a copy at the Alcatraz gift shop years ago and read it eagerly. I believed I had the true story of Stroud. And believed it for years. Until I read 'Birdman: The Many Faces of Robert Stroud' by Jolene Babyak. What a change. When I confirmed the book's accounts from other sources. I was stunned that we'd been so duped by the book and movie.
So there's a lot more to Stroud than Lancaster's gentle giant. He was a vicious psychopath who had killed twice, and wanted to kill more. He wasn't in solitary because of some misprint in his execution order. He was kept in solitary because he was too dangerous to keep with the regular prison population. He was also a savage homosexual rapist who wrote child pornography and had absolutely no regrets about it. When he was up for parole, he openly stated he wanted to get out before he was too old, because 'there were some people who needed killing.' His birdwork, too, was a fabrication. it's been proved now that most of Stroud's writings were plagiarized from other bird books, and even his remedies were nearly as dangerous as they were healing. He got lucky on some, that's all. No reputable bird breeder uses his remedies today. Stroud was alive when the movie was made. He'd smuggled bits and pieces of his 'autobiography,' heavily slanted in his favor, to Tom Gaddis, his own little gullible ghostwriter. And then it hit the big screen. The story generated piles of mail pleading for Stroud's release. He must have smiled at that, if he knew. The U.S. Bureau of Prisons knew what it was doing keeping Stroud in captivity. He was dangerous and would have probably killed even as an old man. He died the day before JFK was shot. I have an old San Jose Mercury News, from November 23, 1963 which on the fhird page has a small article entitled: "Autopsy Performed on Birdman Stroud.' His death in Springfield would have been front-page news but for the JFK Assassination. Actually, a tiny blurb is all he deserved. Have I seen the movie since I read the truth? Sure, but now I watch it for the acting, the cinematography, the drama, not the fiction. It is a great movie, and even Academy Award material. Frankenheimer's direction is superb, with a wonderful score and high accuracy in what life in prison was like in the early half of the last century. Lancaster, Malden, Brand, even a young Telly Savalas did a masterful job. The only thing I'd add is I wonder what the producers who decided to tell this story in such a favorable light, including the writers would have thought if Stroud had been paroled, and then started killing again. I wonder.
For the film, I give it an 8/10. For a work of fiction, a 10/10.
Tora! Tora! Tora! (1970)
Still the best and not challenged by "Pearl Harbor"
I've been watching this film since I was ten years old and it had just come out. I was fascinated then, and not even a military history buff as I am now. but over the years, I've come to appreciate an effort well-done. On the scaled of this film, to have built full-scale mockups of Nagato and Akagi and huge models of Arizona, Nevada, West Virginia, and all the rest is stupendous work and it really shows in the finished film. My comment, based on having seen that turkey "Pearl Harbor" which from this point on I shall refer to as PHew, one can really understand the difference between full scale models and CGI for special effects. Sure CGI can give filmmakers incredible abilities to create anything they want and make it do everything, but it's so obvious that CGI is used, it's very transparent and forgettable. The blowing up of USS Arizona in TTT was far and away more stunning and realistic than a computer-generated one in PHew. Remember 'Titanic?' A real, full-scale ship is what did the trick and made it come to life. PHew was a waste of film and money, and an insult to the men and women show survived and died that December day. As for the few shots of 'John Finn' the intrepid lone machine gunner who shot down a Zero and damaged others at Kaneohe Bay NAS, the depiction is a bit off. Finn wasn't behind a sandbag revetment, and he wasn't bandaged up during the fight. How do I know? John Finn is my neighbor, here in East County San Diego and I've talked with this fascinating old veteran many times. Even at over 96 years of age, he's sharp and interesting to talk to. He too, prefers TTT to PHew. BIG surprise. This film also shows a cautious, reluctant Admiral Kimmel (Martin Balsam) and acerbic General Walter Short (Jason Robards) as being unable to save their commands in the weeks prior to the attack. They had tried to be prepared, but failed to take the right action, despite their correct intentions. Washington's diplomats, politicians and senior military are depicted as being complacent and not taking the threat of Japanese aggression in the Pacific seriously. This is partially true, and FDR is said in some accounts to have been holding back on critical information which could have warned of the impending attack. History is still debating this. But the truth is, Kimmel and Short were made the scapegoats for the attack. They didn't deserve that fate, and I see them as casualties, just as the more than 1,200 other men and women killed that day. Soh Yamamura, who portrayed Isoroku Yamamoto, does a credible job of handling the role of a man who was targeted by US forces during the war as the leading villain in the attack. Yet he wasn't totally in favor of such action. He was forced by the General staff, particularly Hideki Tojo, to hit the American fleet and keep the US out of Japanese aims in the Western Pacific. Yamamura's brooding scenes give the admiral emotional weight. BTW, did anyone notice not one of the P-40 fighters flown by Lt. Welsh or Lt. Taylor flew in the streets of Honolulu? And they didn't bring down the entire Japanese Naval Air Service? Funny thing, even though it's not as visually exciting as PHew, it's far better and more believable. My feelings about this film are this: It's not perfect, but no one has ever done better since. Nine out of Ten.
Night at the Museum (2006)
I love the Idea, but...
Well, I think Robin Williams makes ALMOST as good a TR as Tom Berenger in Rough Riders. I"m not a great Ben Stiller fan, but he's great as an inept night guard. Good action, nice interplay. But I have one comment which should go in the 'Goofs' Section.
The uniform TR is wearing, is of the US Volunteer Cavalry. The color is Khaki, a dark tan. The trim is supposed to be deep gold or yellow the traditional color for cavalry. But I can say for sure the filmmakers didn't do their research on this one. Perhaps they felt it wasn't important enough to get Dale Dye or R. Lee Ermey in on this. A famous photo of TR at the time of his triumph at San Juan Heights shows him from the chest up, in a three-quarter view. He's wearing a dark tan, beat up slouch hat with the crossed cavalry sabers, the tunic with the same sabers and 'USV' on the stiff collar.
The photo was taken by an old type of camera which used an emulsion sensitive to certain wavelengths of light, such as yellow. So in the photo, the yellow shows as being dark, almost black. It's an illusion. And Robin Williams is wearing a uniform perfect in every detail BUT for the dark blue collar, epaulettes and cuffs. Rough Riders got it right. It was obvious they found that pic, and copied it perfectly without checking.
As a military history buff, it kind of ruined the film for me. I was very impressed with Williams' semi-serious TR and wanted to believe he was Teddy. But the glaring uniform mistake was a sign of very sloppy 'assumption' film-making. I couldn't get past that. Yeah, I Kvetch a lot. Sue me. Otherwise, a lot fun.
Saving Private Ryan (1998)
War Ain't fun
I've read enough of the comments on this film to know that they run the gamut from praiseworthy to apocriphal to derogatory. I'll go for the first one. I know this film isn't meant to be historically accurate, or even based on an actual event. The only truths are Normandy, the tone of the fighting, the region of the fighting, and the equipment and tactics. There was no real Pvt. James Francis Ryan with three brothers killed. But there was a Nyland family, four boys, three of whom were killed in WWII and one survivor, who was brought home. This is the basis for this movie, but since Nyland's homecoming was less than dramatic, Spielberg needed a bit more punch, And oh, Lordy, did he give it to us! I've seen hundreds of war films, from the sterling 'Gettysburg,' to the appalling 'Pearl Harbor' and all in between. But SPR is a truly realistic film. It does a splendid job of bringing the viewer into the horrible and frightening arena of modern foot combat, with the sounds, sights and fears experienced by the men who slugged it out in the fields, towns and hedgerows of Normandy in 1944. I'm not a veteran, but a lot of my friends are, and not one of them has been able to watch this movie without deep, profound emotions. One Vietnam veteran commented to me, after we walked, our eyes blinking in the bright sunlight outside the theater, "God, I never thought combat could ever be done on film the way it really was." He's right, God Rest his soul, now that he's gone to be with his buddies in Valhalla. The only thing missing in this film is the smell and taste, of mud, dirt, gunpowder, blood, sweat and tears. This movie makes you hate the cruel randomness of battle, the men who you've come to like, (Capt. Miller, Pvt. Jackson, Sgt. Horvath), and the ones you hate, (Cpl. Upham, the German who went back to fight) being killed in stunning moments and passing into memory like lightning flashes. The impact of bullets, the CRUMP! of mortars and artillery, the ear-ringing echo of near-misses, are all realistically shown. In a theater, I found myself ducking instinctively from whickering Mauser bullets whining past my head. I left the movie exhausted, emotionally drained, and deeply moved. And with even more respect for what Peter Jennings called 'The Greatest Generation.' Well, done, Spielberg, and well done, GIs.
The Great Race (1965)
Lemmon's most underrated role
Now I've read most of the comments on this film and while I might agree with some of the more specific comments regarding the looser and less plausible plot in the last third of the film and that Natalie Wood might have been more of a contribution and less of a distraction, these are moot points. The film is funny, enjoyable and a great tribute to the heyday of silent villains and heroes in a way that doesn't overdo it. Curtis' flashing smile, Wynn's turn-of-the-century mechanic character, the harried and frazzled O'Connell as Goodbody, and especially Falk's on-again, off-again sycophant/lackey/nobody's fool Max are memorable and fun. But as much as I like the main movie, my fave bits are the early scenes in which Professor Fate, always in black and macabre emblems, tries to outdo the stunts of the gleaming white, perfect and popular Great Lesile Gallant III. The stunts are fun, witty and totally unbelieveable. The plane pickup, the rocket train, the garishly painted torpedo with a mawkishly wonderful gramaphone speaker on top are priceless Victorian images of a time that we all imagine existed but never really did. Lemmon is a gem as Fate, right from the great use of his eyes under thick brows and black hat, to the spooky house in his own Munster's décor to the crème de la crème, the Hannibal Twin 8 race car. That car is a masterpiece of mechanical and artistic design. I wonder where it is now. Even the sound it generates in the film, that sinister and harmonious hum are perfect for Fate's élan.
What I've never understood is why I never heard more of Lemmon's comments on this film. It had to be fun to make and work with Curtis, but the role of Fate is so underrated. You never see it mentioned in Biography or any anthologies of Lemmon's work. I still roll in peals of laughter at his dizzy 'Let's see the Great Leslie try THAT one on for size...' as he passes out in the mud. Or when Max breaks off the moustache in the freezing storm, and all you see is Fate's astonished look of shock followed by a sideways glare that could cut glass. The last part of the film, the entire Prince Hapnik and Potsdorf sequences are less than helpful, and they really aren't needed, despite a record pie fight, but it does serve to give Lemmon another role, diametrically different from Fate. Again he uses his eyes and his voice to great effect. `Baron Rolf von SHTUPP!!'(Any relation to Lilly von Shtupp in Blazing Saddles?) With perfect timing. I mean it. Try it some time and you'll never match that unique panache which Lemmon displayed. All in all, a wonderful and fun film. No deep message, just good turn-of-the-century atmosphere, great gags and lively dialogue. Enjoy, and don't take it too seriously. After all, it's not PEARL HARBOR, is it? **** our of **** for me.
We Were Soldiers (2002)
I good job
Okay, after reading most of the comments, I might be going off the beaten track, but I just saw this film on tape last night and I liked it. So did a couple of my buddies who are Vietnam Vets. I know that it is a movie, meant to make money using Mel Gibson, and it's supposed to be an act of patriotism to watch and learn in a film like this, but...I'll say this. It's a good job. Forget the hype, the build-up, the critics. it's a good war movie, and on a par with the new 'measuring rod' of Saving Private Ryan.
You don't have to agree with me. It's far and away better than Pearl Harbor, that's for sure! There is a stark, horrifying reality and pain in the scenes of battle and death in this film and as a jaded war film buff, that takes some doing, I can tell you. The acting is realistic, because it is not 'acted' but simply given realism by the tension of the moment. As for the ending, I know it was 'hollywoodized' but it still works. I was touched by the closing, and felt this was a good and 'sincere' effort to tell a story as well as make some serious money. I give it a 9/10.
Pearl Harbor (2001)
Makes 'They Died With Their Boots On' look like a documentary
Okay, let's divide this comment up into two sections: One: Positive comments Two: Negative comments
One.....................okay, that's enough of that. Two, Get ready, this is a long one. But first, I'll say this in all fairness. It's an exciting film, and in some ways, does manage to portray the kind of intense, chaotic atmosphere that the attack must have engendered that morning. I love war movies and I've seen hundreds, good, bad, and ugly. This is a very ugly one. Only the special effects are any good. Period. This is only Jerry Bruckheimer's lame attempt to capitalize on the Titanic scenario of putting a heartwarming love story on a stage of a major historic event. But he did Cameron one better. Three lovers, but of course, one dies in a way that makes Jack Dawson's demise look wooden. Oh, I'm sorry. IT WAS WOODEN. This movie has no business masquerading as a portrayal of one of our history's most tragic and pivotal events. I personally know six PH survivors, including John Finn, the last surviving MOH recipient for December 7. He and most of his comrades simply shake their heads when they are asked about this film. It's a damned joke, a tragedy, and a downright INSULT to them and their dead comrades. A pathetic attempt to make the Arizona's 1177 dead into the 'focal point' of the film's patriotic theme is nothing more than a 'look what a great special effect this is' showcase. Now for the nitty gritty: 1.The RAF Eagle Squadron did not use active duty USAAC pilots. They accepted American volunteers with extensive or PAST Air Corps experience. The US could not risk the Germans saying that the US was actively sending American servicemen to fight in the Battle of Britain. 2.A PT12 Stearman, the crop duster in the beginning of the film, was a current and state-of-the art aircraft in the Air Corps inventory in the late '20s. Danny's dad would have had a Curtiss Jenny or a DeHavilland DH4. 3.Correct me if I'm wrong (I'm not) but the Battle of Britain ended on September 15, 1940. Even if Rafe was shot down on that day, (and what was he doing near the French coast?) and returned three months later, it would have been in no later than January 1941, not December 5. Granted, he might have been in the RAF until much later, but that's not what the film seems to suggest. 4.Where in hell was General Walter Short? 5.As noted by another comment, there were NO green Japanese Army A6Ms (Zeros) on the PH raid. Only the Nakajima Kates were green.
6.USS Nevada's run for the sea. USS Utah sinks. USS Maryland sinks. USS California sinks...okay you get the idea. As this film says, only Arizona sinks, Oklahoma rolls over and Shaw explodes. End of raid. Nothing about Kaneohe Bay NAS or the B-17s coming in. 7.The 'heartrending' scenes of the attack are nothing more than a vehicle to get Rafe and Danny into a pair of P-40 Warhawks from a satellite field. By the way, with all that was happening, how in hell did Danny know that the Halewa Field nad not been hit? 8.No Warhawk pilot with more than 3.6 minutes of flying experience would EVER try to dogfight Zeros. Can't be done. All the Flying Tigers used the greater weight of the P40 to dive into Japanese formations, attack with one pass, and get out. They always had the advantage of altitude. Having three or four Zeros chasing you through the streets of PH at eye level would have one result: Two dead Americans. And what was that junk about 'let's play chicken?' What a load of dung! I'm sure that any surviving Air Corps fighter pilots must have walked, or stormed out of the theater at this point, thrown up or fell on the floor laughing hysterically. And getting men into the tower to shoot at the Zeros with Tommy guns. Nice touch. How'd they get the 100-round drum magazines? 9.The worst part, is that quaint bit about Doolittle saying, 'hey, let's get you into some bombers and go bomb Tokyo. Wanna come?' What a bigger load of dung. The crews of the 16 Doolittle Raiders were from a bomb group in Oregon and were all brought to Eglin in Florida for traning. NOT A FIGHTER PILOT IN SIGHT. A figher pilot going WILLINGLY to bombers is like an LeMans driver retireing to drive 18-wheelers to Cleveland. Didn't happen. Never. 10.Rafe and Danny, even BEFORE they left Pearl for the states, had the correct shoulder patch for the group that flew the raid. But how'd they get them? They were not in that bomb group. And I'm sure that the costume dept is patting themselves on the back for having the right patch. Duh. 11.I noticed that the USS Hornet went at one point from being WWII Yorktown class carrier to a modern one with an angled flight deck. USS Hornet had been painted in camoflage before the raid and DID NOT have the number '6' painted on the bow. 12.There was no last-minute frantic lightening of the bombers just before the raid. They simply loaded more gas onto them and had stripped them to a bare minimum long before they were placed on the ship. 13.Nice shooting, Danny. A bunch of mad Japanese soldiers with guns on you and you manage to pull your trusty .45 automatic and gun them all down. Nice shootin' Tex. 14.There are a ton more, but why bother? The film is an insult to the brave and traumatized men and women who were there that Sunday morning. Tora Tora Tora is a far better account, even if it does have a few flaws. I feel sorry for the people who take this to be an accurate and compelling portrayal of Pearl Harbor, but it's just a stupid, vapid love story with a predictable end, using a dark and painful episode of American history to make us think watching it is a patriotic act. It's not. I've seen patriotic films that work. Gettysburg is a good one. So is Longest Day or Band of Brothers, and Saving Private Ryan. This turkey is a joke. A cruel joke. 15.Nuff said.
The Angry Red Planet (1959)
Still fun to watch after all these years
This flick came out the year before I was born, so that makes me an old f**t who grew up with bad horror and sci-fi films. Yet, as excruciatingly painful as it may be to watch this film with a straight face, bear in mind it was made the same year as the Mercury Program's inception. What'd we know about Mars? We're still learning. The Atlas rocket with a control room the size of an office building set into the base where the engines are and the obvious reversing of the film to show a landing are almost unforgivable. But they only had a quarter-mil budget. Whaddaya want for that? I loved the spider-rat creature, and actually felt sorry for it being blinded. Talk about having a bad day. All it wanted to do was play. Did it ever actually do anything hostile? Now it has to go back to its spider-rat wife and tell how she has to go and do the shopping for spider-rat food for the spider-rat kids. The two worst ones were the ameoba with the revolving turret eye and the ten-year-old's drawing of a Martian peeping tom checking out the window without blinking. I always thought he looked like he was saying, "I hope you enjoyed trashing my planet, blinding and freezing my pets and making me look like the bad guy." The movie needed closure. The alien city glimpsed on the lake is something that they should have explored. Might have run into the Three Stooges.