Reviews

16 ReviewsOrdered By: Date
10/10
NMB48 Entertainers! The Movie: high school comedy girls!
11 September 2016
In classic "double act" slapstick comedy duos - such as Laurel & Hardy, Abbott & Costello - there is the "gag man" who plays the comic foil to the "straight man." Similarly, in Japanese "Owarai Geinin" (Comedy Performers), the double act is called "kombi" and Owarai Geinin who do "Manzai" - or traditional Japanese slapstick comedy - were typically a comic duo with a "boke" - or gagman - and a "tsukkomi" - or straight man. (Bear with me here, b/c without understanding the underlying Japanese basis for the movie, it's difficult to get the plot in its entirety.) Enter NMB48, the third iteration of Yasushi Akimoto's aka "Aki.P" highly successful all-girls' legacy idol group, AKB48, billed as "idols you can meet" while currently holding the record as the world's largest pop group. With over 300 members encompassing five active all-girl pop groups in Japan alone, the members - ages 11-28 - endeavor to become the veritable 'triple threats' of their generation: Multi-talented performers who can sing, dance, act, and now vis-a-vis this live-action feature-length movie, do stand-up comedy. In addition, they've also become household names in reality in their native Japan over the past 10 years, garnering legions of fans all over the world.

NMB48, which is the third all-girls pop group founded in 2010 by producer Aki.P, has 98 active members and performs nightly in their performance theater at the Yes-Namba Building, in Namba (Osaka Prefecture). Osaka Prefecture is also the home base of not only this all-girls cast - 15 first-generation members drawn exclusively from the ranks of NMB48 - but is also famously the cultural capital of comedy in Japan, kind of like how Chicago is the center of comedy in the U.S. And from this cast of 15 - all between the ages of 16-21 - comes "NMB48 Geinin! The Movie: Owarai Seishun Garuzu" - i.e., NMB48 Entertainers! The Movie: high school comedy girls.

A bit more cultural explanation: Every Japanese high school has a heavy dose of extracurricular activities in addition to mandatory subjects. For many Japanese high school students, the make-believe world of their after-school activities, aka "bukatsu" or "kurabu" (clubs) becomes not only an alternate reality, but also a veritable escape from the day-to-day grind of an otherwise monotony filled existence as well as a raison d'etre.

At the fictional Namba Girls' Academy High School (Namba GAHS), which serves as the setting and backdrop for the entire movie, the world of after-school kurabu are no exception, and this being Namba, which is located in Osaka Prefecture, it cannot be helped that there is a comedy club as well, or "Owarai Seishun" ensconced within the walls of an elite, private girls' high school.

Comedy clubs, however, are somewhat looked down upon by the other elite girls at Namba GAHS, as the lead girl puts it to newly transferred Watanabe Miyuki, "Milky," during her walking orientation, "About our school, our volleyball team and wind instrument music club (Rappa Ren SchuSchu), compete in national tournaments. Our volleyball and basketball teams - even our choir - appear in regional championships. We're 'well rounded' in both sports and the arts, so to speak." That just about covers everything, except what Milky is really interested in, which is the "Owarai Seishun" - or comedy club, which not too surprisingly, is composed of the school's misfits and oddballs, namely other first-generation NMB48 members, Yamamoto Sayaka, Yamada Nana, Kotani Riho, Ogaswara Mayu, and AKB48's Yokoyama Yui.

Milky's entry into the Owarai Seishun club room is met not without some reservation, if not downright hostility, especially from club leader Yamamoto Sayaka, "Sayanee," who has her eyes set on competing in this year's annual regional stand-up comedy championships known as "JK-1 Comedy Tournament." Sayanee's indignant claim that "comedy will save the world" to those girls who laughed at her still fresh in her mind, Sayanee isn't above giving Milky the once over. To keep things on an even keel,the group decides that only a member-wide "monoboke match" or prop comedy improv competition will settle the question of whether Milky is a right fit for the group or not. Accordingly, Milky passes with flying colors - what with her demonstration of her characteristic indecisiveness and airheadedness.

Cultural differences notwithstanding, the Japanese-style "manzai" humor of the "Owarai Geinin" is not totally unappreciated or incomprehensible to a Western audience. All truth told, I didn't really get the "kombi-style" stand-up comedy acts done by these girls as it's not really stand-up comedy in the American sense. It is, however, one part physical comedy and a litany of Japanese linguistic play on words and puns that will do nothing for the non-Japanese speaker.

The real comedy, however, is in fact this goofy movie with its campy script and off-the-wall group of j-pop stars from NMB48, who are basically kids on the cusp of adulthood playing characters not too far removed from their actual identities. Therein lies the actual comedy and camp.
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Restrepo (2010)
8/10
God Help Us...
1 December 2010
Warning: Spoilers
Interesting to note how out of touch the average American is with its own military, as is expressed by the litany of repetitious back-slapping preceding comments like "awesome" and "wonderful" and "outstanding". IMO, these comments reek of incredulity and are not only naive, but are indicative of a thrill-seeking audience seeking a vicarious experience from reality-based versions of "Saving Private Ryan" or "Blackhawk Down", albeit with little or no comprehension of what is actually going on, let alone viewing our military in action with a critical eye.

That said, as a former 11B20 and civil affairs soldier, there were a few scenes that made me cringe:

1) In a country where the per capita income is less than $500 per year, and where a man's cow is a man's livelihood and transportation -- an Afghani farmer would regards his cow the same way we regard our own pick-up truck or car here -- this particular unit (2nd Platoon, B Co. 2-503rd AIR, 173rd BCT) couldn't come up with a measly $400 to compensate the farmer for the cow they had eaten, choosing instead to use the flimsy pretext that since the cow got caught in their perimeter wire, it had to be "put down". I guarantee you, this will come back to haunt us on another day, at another time, on another battlefield albeit with the same people, as it will probably be one of the reasons why this particular village and their descendants will continue to nurse a grudge against us for next 1,000 years or more. We should've nipped it in the bud when we had the chance and paid the pittance sum for something we basically stole. Bottom line: Poor leadership and lack of cultural sensitivity and empathy will be our undoing there.

2) In the regular meeting with the tribal elders -- the weekly "shuras" -- the villagers brought up the fact that innocent civilians and family members had been killed by ISAF/Coalition forces. The unit's C.O., Captain Kearney, instead of offering his condolences and apologies like a normal human being would -- in addition to doing his job like he should've done by duly compensating that family in accordance with what ISAF forces are authorized to do -- instead chose to dismissively ignore their complaint and flippantly told them to "forget about it" and that they "need to move on," as if he were telling an ex-girlfriend to f&%$ off.

Not only did he write them off completely without expressing any sympathy or attempt to show any empathy whatsoever, Captain Kearney put another nail in the coffin of the U.S./Afghani partnership in that embattled country, as it is highly likely that such insensitivity and lack of remorse by an American officer toward an Afghani villager won't be forgotten anytime soon by that family or village for at least another 1,000 years.

Again, this was just another example of another incident where we could've and should've nipped it in the bud by using common sense, human decency and blood money to win back the population. Also, this particular unit erred by big time by not having a full-time C.A. (civil affairs) officer attached to this unit to interface between the C.O. and the indigenous population. (Infantry officers, like Capt. Kearney, make poor negotiators.) Bottom line: Poor leadership and a lack of cultural sensitivity and empathy will be our undoing there.

Then, to top things off, in the behind-the-scenes footage, Captain Kearney returns to Ft. Benning and where he not only gets a promotion to Major, but is basically rewarded with a highly coveted posting with the elite Rangers. As he awaits orders, we are shown a glimpse of Kearney's family life, as he continues to play with his little boy and catch up with his wife as if nothing has happened.

So for certain, Major Kearney, with a family of his own, could imagine how the Afghanis in the Korangal felt about losing a family member -- but in fact, and incomprehensibly so, he didn't or couldn't, as he failed to show even a modicum of remorse, or even a de minimus amount of sympathy or empathy to their plight. Having said that, how are we supposed to win this war if our country is being represented by arseholes and hypocrites like that? In actuality, the futility and hopelessness of the campaign that this documentary captured should've inspired a different if not more befitting title like, "God Help Us."
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Valkyrie (2008)
9/10
Cruise isn't a one-trick pony after all!
29 July 2009
Warning: Spoilers
As someone who lived and studied in Germany, I personally have been aware of the July plot story for over 20 years now, and was concerned that while Tom Cruise may look the part, he perhaps lacked some of the gravitas and nuanced sensitivity to pull off a role of this magnitude.

That being said, I can now say that such concerns were totally unwarranted as Cruise, along with the rest of the ensemble cast, nailed it as far as I'm concerned.

To say that while watching this movie, I remained bolted to my seat, wide-eyed in a state of rapt attention, fluctuating emotionally from shock, to fear, to nail biting tension, and finally to tears when it ended, would be an understatement.

Additionally, for DVD owners, don't forget to enjoy the documentary, which provides a fascinating post-war study of these events and some of the problems Germans had in accepting that the actions of Stauffenberg, et alia, were in fact patriotic.

Also, the behind-the-scenes details regarding how both the American producers and German extras and crew approached the subject matter was fascinating. Regardless, it was reassuring to hear how the German public eventually came around to recognize their unlikely heroes.
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8 Simple Rules: Old Flame (2005)
Season 3, Episode 15
9/10
Old Flame: Married with Children redux!
21 February 2007
Warning: Spoilers
One of the advantages of combining veteran stars such as the late John Ritter, Katy Sagal and James Garner with a much younger cast, is the potential for unlimited homage pieces and retro references that hark back to different eras, and --because of Garner -- different epochs in sitcom and cinematic history.

While such cleverly deployed references will easily get a nod from the 70s-80s generation, getting even a glance from the younger generation -- including their much younger fellow co-stars -- would be a feat in and of itself.

Such references, nevertheless, including Season one's Three's Company redux starring the late John Ritter, and James Garner's famous reference to "The Rockford Files" in Season 2/Episode 9, are priceless as they can only be pulled off when a multi-generational cast is assembled representing a collective body of work as expansive and diverse as the present cast.

Insofar as that goes, episode fifteen of season three is represents precisely that timbre and variety.

Ep. 15 begins harmlessly enough with Cate Hennessy's (Katey Sagal) traipsing down memory lane one day while sitting in front of the family computer. Her reminiscing brings her back to a self-described "dangerous phase" during her younger years, which compels her to compose an email to old college flame Matt Walsh (Ed O'Neil).

C.J.'s (David Spade) inquisitiveness, however, interrupts her midstream, which triggers the collective consciousness of the family, especially Grandpa Jim (James Garner), who mostly remembers Matt as "that crazy long-haired low-life hooligan." While waffling whether to actually send the email to Matt, C.J. (David Spade), unwittingly opens Pandora's's box when he mischievously hits the "send" button on the email program -- much to Cate's consternation.

Later, after being bombarded by the family with a never-ending and non-stop litany of needs and wants (Bridget and Kerry need home-baked cookies for yet another school bake sale; Grandpa Jim needs a button sewn onto his favorite flannel to watch the lumberjack competition on TV; Rory wants her to fix a geyser science project gone awry in the living room; and C.J. wants to borrow the family car for a night out drinking with the other substitute teachers), Cate finally erupts and throws in the towel by declaring to her family: "I am not a baker, a seamstress, or a scientist! There is food in the fridge -- fend for yourselves!" With that, she retreats upstairs to her room, fed up with being taken for granted while giving herself some space and headroom to take a trip down memory -- and reality -- lane.

Soon enough and to Cate's surprise, nostalgia comes a knockin' in the form of reality -- quite literally -- when Matt Walsh (Ed O'Neil), bangs on her bedroom window -- apparently compelled by Cate's fortuitous and errant email message -- to visit her in the middle of the night. He then sweet talks Cate into taking a trip with him down memory lane -- a'la Al Bundy style -- on the back of his motorcycle.

Excited, Cate demurs and climbs out her bedroom window with Matt and hops on to the back of his motorcycle for their collective reminiscing -- unbeknownst to the rest of the family who pines away for her stabilizing presence and taken-for-granted help.

Meanwhile, the first stop on Cate's trip down memory lane is a bar from their college years where Matt and Cate (in previous world, known as "Al and Peggy") down shots of tequila while making goo-goo eyes at each other as they reminisce nostalgically.

As the night goes on, Matt discloses that he has left his wife, as he continues to talk Cate into progressively more dangerous stunts and outrageous behavior.

Next, he has her watching him trying to kiss a granite gargoyle high atop a 200-foot spire, as he instructs her to take a picture of him hanging by its beak.

Then he tries to persuade her into running away with him to Wyoming to fulfill their teenage dream of "opening a water bed store and writing bluegrass songs" while "livin' on love and free-range chickens".

Matt's bundy-esquire fantasies, however, come to a crashing halt when Cate answers his cell phone, only to find out that it's his wife, and that everything is a lie.

At that point, Cate realizes what she has in the present, warts and all, is her reality -- and a blessing -- after realizing that Matt's maniac chaos, emotional instability and seductive lies are a mess.

In effect, by paying homage to her former co-star Al Bundy in the personage of Ed O'Neil, Cate -- who in another life was known as "Peggy Bundy" -- effectively turns her back on a former period of her life -- as well as a now defunct series -- from "a thousand years ago".

After turning Matt down, Cate returns home a changed woman, realizing that despite the neediness of her family, she has taken much for granted and that the grass is not greener on the other side.

To her pleasant surprise, she finds that her family has come to the same conclusion by finding that without her, their lives have come to a grinding halt and that they too, have taken much for granted.

One of the cleverest episodes to date written, as usual, with much heart and soul -- and plenty of wit as well.
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Atenshon purîzu (2006– )
4/10
"Atenshone puriizu...for this series, airsickness bags are available in the seatback in front of you!"
11 January 2007
The flight attendant/cabin crew genre has been so done before in Hollywood -- mostly in forgettable B-rated flicks where big hair, big busts and bubble-brained blonds prevail. But that was in America -- this is Japan.

In Japan, the training of cabin/flight crew for JAL combines elements of pseudo-samurai/quasi-military indoctrination, with cram-school feverishness, with geisha-like attention to detail, wrapped in Japan Inc.'s unique brand of corporate "all for one, one for all" groupthink.

This Fuji-television produced series is enjoyable mostly because it sheds light on a method of training and mode of service that is mostly unfamiliar in the West, i.e., complete and unmitigated Zen-like devotion to an organization and one's job/duty.

Unlike most B-rated stewardess flicks, where the plot line predictably follows a bunch of likable American girl-next-door types who start out as friends, but succumb to the intrigue and strictures of flight attendant training and end up at each other's throats by graduation, for the ever cheerful and effervescent JAL trainees in "Attenshun Puriizu", it's quite the opposite.

In this series, it starts out with a few Japanese girls with little or no personality or identity in their civilian lives, who are drawn together after beating incredible odds to be chosen into one of the few elite professions open to college-educated young women in Asia: Flight Attendants/Cabin Crew.

Their training begins the day they are whisked off the streets away from their previously pointless and aimless lives, and drawn into a neo-fascist corporate environment of JAL where previous notions of themselves come under continuous assault. This is done military style --with a healthy dose of Samurai Bushido and Zen-like dedication thrown in for good measure -- through drill, routine, repetition and group brainwashing.

Memorable scenes in this series include one where the two starring characters -- both JAL flight attendant aspirants -- are caught in an elevator of a building on their first day of work, thus making them late for their first JAL orientation. No fear -- after a strict lecture by their Yoda-like training instructor -- a veteran flight attendant herself -- about the importance of punctuality and being aware of every possible emergency, the two distraught candidates are grudgingly allowed to re-enter the class and participate in orientation --but only after being properly shamed though in front of their peers about their behavior.

Other scenes worth mentioning are the endless rehearsals in the real JAL training facility cabin mock-ups and crew simulators, where we witness the trainees reciting over and over again -- like robots -- cabin evacuation procedures and other aircraft trivia and minutia in a wonderful montage sequence set to upbeat, martial music.

One of the most endearing scenes in the pilot episode though, is when the aspirants finally pass their initial phase training and are awarded their official JAL cabin crew uniforms -- replete with name tags, JAL-emblazoned silk scarves, and shrink wrapped in protective cellophane to boot -- thus allowing them to continue the rest of the cabin-crew flight training.

It's witnessing scenes like this when one realizes how much being a part of a recognized group means to the Japanese, and how negotiating such compulsions are oftentimes an "all-or-nothihg" affair for many in Japanese society.
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4/10
Marrying the Mafia 3: Formulaic mindlessness for escapist masses
1 January 2007
Warning: Spoilers
The Yeosu-based Baekhopa (White Tiger) Gang hailing from gangster country in Korea's southwestern corner, is back again in this, the third installment of the highly predictable and formula-laced albeit commercially successful "Marrying the Mafia" franchise.

Although originally entitled in Korean "Gamun-ui Buhwal: Gamunui Yeong-gwang 3", which translates to: 'The Legacy's Resurrection: The Legacy's Glory', the producers opted for the more user friendly "Marrying the Mafia III". While the first two MMs capitalized on the idea of a commoner marrying into a Korean underworld family, the third installment is nothing like the previous two. The first two were cute with a reasonably cohesive and entertaining plot. This one isn't and doesn't. In MM3, the story is all over the place, the plot line is cheesy, and the dialog, in places, is annoying beyond belief.

The saving grace of this film is its cast of familiar faces, whom you'll easily recognize if you saw MM2. The 'Joan Rivers of Korean cinema', the inimitable Sumi Kim, is back in her reprisal of Hong Deok-ja, the matriarch of the Baekhopa gang. This time, her profanity-laced mafia boss character has forsworn the family trade and decided to go legit by opening up a kimchi factory, complete with home-shopping TV ads and an IPO to boot. Her incompetent three gangster sons, however, are loath to give up their stock in trade and cannot seem to suppress their innate dime-store hood personaes -- business casual and boardrooms notwithstanding.

The story starts out compellingly enough with the upcoming release of Prosecutor Bong from prison, whom as you remember, was humiliated and disgraced by the Baekhopas in MM2 when they exposed him for fraud, bribery, conspiracy, obstruction of justice, and a host of other no-no's that landed him a lengthy prison sentence.

Now, Bong's back in MM3, and this time, he's madder than hell and stronger than ever -- what with all the spare time he's had in prison practicing one-fingered handstands, flying kicks, and other assorted whatnots. Not only is he out on a full pardon, he's out to get back at the Baekhopas big time. The first on his list is Jin-kyung Kim (played by the absolutely darling Won-hie Kim) and her fiancé, the second-in-command of the Baekhopas and now respectable Kimchi company CEO, Kyung-jae Jang, played by Hyeong-jung Im.

Bong's partner in crime, who helped him get a parole, is none other than the Baekhopa's rival gang leader, whom you'll immediately recognize from "2", especially with that cringe-inducing Busan dialect.

With Jin-kyung's return to the Seoul District Prosecutor's Office -- the position vacated by Bong at the end of MM2 -- the story flits back and forth between the family's new kimchi enterprise and the second son's philandering. The second son's extracurricular activities not only conflict with his wife's desire to conceive, it also dovetails perfectly with former-prosecutor Bong's hatchet plan to disgrace the Baekhopa Gang and get revenge on Hong family syndicate once and for all.

Along with the predictable twists and over-the-top dialog, we get the feeling that we've seen this Korean gangster movie many times before. And in fact we have.

MM3 is mindless escapism that has proved to be the opium of the masses here in Korea, although it will prove to be less so elsewhere -- at least for the time being.
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10/10
The Wedding Campaign: "Where the beginning is humble, but the end is prosperous!"
15 August 2006
Warning: Spoilers
My Wedding Campaign, or "Naui gyeolhon wonjeonggi" in Korean, is a tremendously compelling and touching story of a 38-year-old modern-day South Korean bachelor farmer named Hong Man-taek, who like many other young bachelor farmers in Korea's rapidly aging countryside today, has everything -- except a wife.

As a sheepish, bumbling and socially inept stammerer, with an impossibly shy and tongue-tied demeanor, he decides, at the urging of his grandfather to go to "Uzoo-beckist" -- Uzbekistan -- because as his best friend reminds him, "When there aren't enough, you import!"

As can be expected though, things quickly go awry for Mantaek and his buddy in Uzbekistan, especially when farmer Hong finds himself haplessly, yet steadily growing in love with his translator and facilitator, a North Korean defector fluent in Russian and Korean named Kim Lara (played by the beautiful Su Ae). The attraction between these two is essentially unspoken, yet unmistakable, and becomes steadlily more pronounced as each of Mantaek's dates with Korean-Uzbeki girls fall apart, and as Man-taek becomes more and more taken with Lara's assertive yet vulnerable personality, which reminds him of his mother.

A full 27 minutes into the movie, the story begins with Mantaek narrating in the past perfect, as he and his grandfather sit atop a Korean hill overlooking the farming valley that he and his family have worked for generations. The next scene takes Mantaek halfway across the world to the steppes of Uzbekistan, as he inauspiciously intones:"...the beginning was humble, but the end was prosperous." Oh yes, indeed.

Once in Uzbekistan, and after the first of several failed meetings with prospective Korean-Uzbeki brides, Mantaek realizes how far he is from their ideal, and yearns for someone with a similar background. Lara, who is originally from Sinuiju City in North Korea, unwittingly fits the bill. While hardly the image of a modern, cosmopolitan Uzbeki woman, which Mantaek cannot relate to anyhow, Lara is essentially a country girl, and is therefore, the ideal type for Mantak both figuratively and literally. And while Lara finds herself exasperated with Mantaek's country bumpkin mannerisms and dullness, she is drawn to his down-to-earth earnestness and simplicity, which her life is devoid of.

Although unspoken, their pairing is indicative of "Nam-Nam, Buk- Nyeo", ideal, which is an old Korean proverb meaning that the best pairings are "men from the South" (like Mantaek) and "women from the North" like Lara. It is also a metaphor for reunification between the two Koreas.

Their budding love, however, is star-crossed, as several different elements conspire to prevent it from taking off, including Lara's unscrupulous Korean-Uzbeki boss, who holds the keys to her freedom in the form of a forged South Korean passport, the jilted Korean-Uzbeki girl who was initially set up with Mantaek but whom Mantaek rejects, and the Uzbeki police with their crackdown of possible terrorists via random passport checks. (Lara is an illegal alien who has overstayed her work visa. If caught, she faces deportation back to North Korea.)

Although Mantaek is not fully aware of Lara's predicament, he remains devoted to her throughout their time together, and while she parries his initial expression of interest in her, she cannot forget his sacrificial act of throwing himself at two Uzbeki cops when she gets caught during a random passport check, thus allowing her to escape and survive another day.

In the next scene, at the airport in Uzbekistan, we see Mantaek being deported back to South Korea by Uzbeki police and South Korean embassy officials due to his assault on the police officers the night before to save Lara, who successfully eluded the police.

He is, however, surreptitiously able to catch a parting glance of Lara, who hides behind a pillar overlooking the departure terminal as she too, catches a last glimpse of the man that saved her. The only way he can reach out to her though -- without giving her away -- is by saying the only Russian expression she taught him that he remembers, which has become a kind of a code between the two: "до завтра" (Da-Zavtra), or "until tomorrow", which he butchers Korean-style to "Da japaturyu." As he repeats it over and over again behind a stream of tears in front of the bewildered Uzbekis and a sobbing Lara upstairs witnessing it all, I could barely hold back my own.

With Mantaek back in his hometown, listless and fraught with loneliness and ennui while carrying out the exhausting work and mind-numbing routine of a bachelor farmer, the story takes a twist half a world away when Lara, like many North Korean defectors in real life, jumps the gate of a friendly embassy and gets political asylum.

After having been notified in person by a NIS (National Intelligence Service) agent of Lara's arrival in Seoul, the very last scene is of Mantaek running through his orchard.

With this final scene of him freeze-framed, we hear Mantaek's voice-over declare confidently in a steady and stutter-free voice -- resolutely and full of satisfaction -- the end of his "wedding campaign."

This was -- most surprisingly and unexpectedly -- one of the most touching and profound love stories I have ever seen in my life. It literally sent my heart into my throat and had me dissolved into a blubbering mess by the end of the movie. A must see for anyone and everyone who enjoys unlikely love stories and has even a parting belief in the power of love.
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Mass Games: A metaphor for the complete subordination of the individual to the state.
21 January 2006
Warning: Spoilers
This is one of the most sophisticated and thought provoking documentaries I have ever seen on North Korea. Most anti-North Korean docus produced in the South are not very different from Dana Carvey channeling George H.W. Bush: 'North Korea bad, South Korea good'.

This documentary is completely different though, in that it presents from the mind's eye and lets you decide -- what all good docus should do. I especially loved how Daniel Gordon used a compelling soundtrack -- particularly in the final performance montage at the end -- to invoke a feeling of sympathy for the two characters -- Hyon Sun and Song Yun -- whose ardor in striving to attain perfection for "The General" is ultimately an exercise in futility and for naught.

Having to be submit to such mind-numbing discipline and undergo such a complete loss of individuality at such a tender age in order to entertain the higher-ups of the Communist Party is the metaphor Gordon uses to describe life in this repressive Stalinist state that should not be lost amongst the glitz and glamor of the so-called "Mass Games."
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10/10
Discovery Channel's "BUD/S Class 234": Unlike anything you've ever seen before"
11 February 2005
BUD/S Class 234 is not only an eye-opening experience into the six-month selection process that Navy SEAL aspirants must go through in order to sit atop the Special Operations community pyramid, but it offers insight into the type of people who want to and eventually become SEALS.

The most annoying thing about this series, however, is the female narrator. Suffice it to say that her mock-officious, ultra-snide and sterile voice belies her actual comprehension of what is going on.

This rings especially true when she makes comments like, "So-and-so is being dropped for his failure to pay attention to detail," or "so-and-so's poor attitude and lack of physical fitness have contributed to his own downfall."

Oh yeah, and let's not forget that this is after having done two hours of push-ups. Bottom line is that the narrator comments are really annoying and by the third hour, will begin to grate on your nerves.

It goes without saying that BUD/S class 234 is like nothing you've ever seen before.
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Biloxi Blues (1988)
The Hilarious Side of Basic Training!
17 September 2004
The timing for my catching of this flick couldn't have been more appropriate. I caught it with a few of my squadmates on a 72-hour pass at the post theater on Ft. Benning, in the middle of my 12-weeks of basic training and infantry school. It was the summer of 1988, "Biloxi" had just hit the screens, and it was the hottest summer on record in 25-years in the already quite sultry city of Columbus, Georgia (about two hours south of Atlanta).

Just imagine, an army base theater -- that had changed very little from its WW2 days -- filled with 200+ Army recruits in uniform, on pass, watching a movie about Army recruits on pass! It was a hilarious deja vu, although I suspect that such irony was lost on the majority of the individuals present that night.

Anyways, my favorite scenes in the movie include the following: Matthew Broderick (as Pvt. Eugene Jerome) moving through the chow line at breakfast for the first time, when the army cook slings some unmentionable godforsaken gloop on his stainless steel G.I. mess tray. The look on Eugene's face is worth its weight in gold as it was almost as if he had been insulted and violated at the same time. (This is especially funny for anyone who has ever stood in a messhall chowline and eaten army "food" before.)

My next favorite scene was when Eugene makes up a game with his bunkmates one night, about what they would do with the last 72 hours of their lives. What every man reveals about himself is not only telling, but an ominous harbinger of what is to come. Hennesey, for example, asks to be with his family. The others scoff. Little do they know, however, that soon enough, even that modest hope will seem like a pipedream to the starcrossed Hennesey.

The funniest aspects of Neil Simon's mostly autobiographically inspired play though, is his comedic depiction of the inevitable culture clash that invariably occurs when the New York quasi-intellectualism and Jewish urbane sensibility that Eugene Jerome and Arnold Epstein are products of, confronts head on the southern white-redneck military subculture that Sgt. Toomey represents.

This theme especially struck a chord with me, having come down to Georgia for boot camp from Chicago that summer. It was quite a culture shock for me upon my first visit to the south. when I stepped off the bus at Ft. Benning, as I quickly had to get myself accustomed to the almost incomprehensible southern accents, idiosyncratic differences in attitude and weird regional expressions employed by our mostly colorful, yet totally profane and predominantly redneck drill sergeants at Ft. Benning.

Another aspect about this film that touched me personally is the fact that it was filmed filmed almost entirely at Ft. Chaffee in Ft. Smith Arkansas, where I had trained extensively when I was in the U.S. Army. From WW1 to the early 1990s, Ft. Chaffee was an active U.S. Army reservation that has since been mothballed.

Being able to see scenes of Ft. Chaffee, especially the exterior and interior shots of Chaffee's vintage WW2-era barracks on my very rare DVD version which I am most fortunate to have, always brings back some rather fond -- and not so fond memories -- of the times I spent at Chaffee. This movie mostly reminds me of all those days and nights I spent training in those chigger and tick-ridden forests, doing PT around post, and living in those godforsaken WW2-era barracks.

Hats off to a great five-star WW2 coming-of-age flick!
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