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My father took me to The Eagle Has Landed in 1976, and I of course loved it.   John Sturges (The Great Escape) can make a solid  war picture and this one was smart, cynical, compelling and the last one he directed.

As I watched it again last weekend, I imagined this script landing on some hotshot Hollywood moguls’ desk today.

First pages, not so bad.  The war is going poorly for the Nazis and they are looking into a plan to kidnap Churchill. 

Okay, so far so good.

The plan is dropped on an armless  Nazi with an eye patch.  No, not Tom, Cruise as Von Stauffenberg in Valkyrie.  That film is 30 years and a Bryan Singer sex scandal away.

This armless, eyeless Nazi is played by Robert Duvall.  And whoa!  In what he thought was a moment of whim on the part of Hitler, it turns out that the plan is feasible and the game is afoot.

So feasible that Duvall scours the records for the perfect German unit to take on the task of posing as a Polish outfit in a northern English town until Churchill arrives, when he can be snatched.  Who does he find?

Michael Caine, and his close-knit commandos, who have been kicking ass and becoming more and more embittered on the Eastern front.

But Duvall needs more; he needs two boots on the ground in the little town before the “Polish” troops arrive.  Enter . . . Donald Sutherland, an Irishman who hates the English so much he’s in league with the Nazis.

Okay.  It seems like a lot of money to be throwing at the bad guys. 

Who is the hero?

Larry Hagman?  J.R EWING?

Well, no, but Hagman does play the American commander on the ground in the quaint English town.  He’s no hero.  He’s more like John Larroquette in Stripes, a martinet wannabe who craves combat badly.  Hagman is incompetent, Caine’s men repel his frontal assault with ease, and he dies in such an ignominious manner, it’s almost comic.

Oh good.  There’s a young Treat Williams and Jeff Conaway.  Good looking American GIs who . . . . hmmmmmm, these guys have no lines!  They barely even register!!

Wait, are you telling me . . . . the leads are all Nazis!!???

Yup.

In 1976, this is how Hollywood got past this inconvenient cast.  First, they made Duvall erudite and resigned, as well as armless and eyeless, and they had him present the opportunity to grab Churchill as an opportunity to sue for peace.

As for Caine, as he and his men are shipped back from the Eastern Front, they meet an SS unit rounding  up Jews at a railroad junction.  Out of sheer frustration, Caine assaults the SS commander, assists in the escape attempt of a Jewish woman, and for his troubles his men are all cashiered and consigned to tasks that will eventually result in all their deaths.  Did Caine revolt because he was torn over the Holocaust?  Well, no.  In his own words, “I have nothing for or against Jews, personally. But I’ve seen too many men die for cause, to watch a young girl be killed for sport!”

Okay.  Good enough for the Bicentennial.

And Sutherland?  Well, he’s humanized because his beef is about Ireland, not that icky master race stuff, and he’s quick with a drink and the brogue and he’s so charming, Jenny Agutter falls in love with him instantly (really, the weakest part of the picture because he’s too old for her, it’s too immediate, and what she does for her “love” is so extreme it just doesn’t pass the smell test).

Solid flick, clearly of its time.  Triggerocity at about an 8 out of 10. On Amazon.

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The first half is a blast. Following the model of Across the Universe, director Dexter Fletcher incorporates Elton John’s music into boffo biographical song and dance numbers (the movie takes the current model and reverses it; it is ready made for Broadway), and Taron Egerton is winning as our shy, brilliant, budding rock star. The depiction of his rise is light, whimsical and fun.

But the second half of the movie, much like the middle third of John’s life, is a bummer. The choreographed song and dance numbers give way to trippy, psychedelics that are not only a drag, but repetitive and tiring.  John drinks, drugs, orgies, wears more and more ridiculous outfits and goes lower and lower, much like your eyelids.

It ends precocious, as John confronts his annoyingly minor demons (overbearing mother, distant father, not-as-advertised first lover)  in a rehab group therapy.

Not quite where a film-goer wants to end up, even if it worked out for John.

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First time feature writer/director Bart Layton’s true story of four Kentucky college kids who decide to steal rare books from the archives of Transylvania University is a gem.  At root, it’s a heist picture, but this is no Oceans 4.  Layton hilariously juxtaposes the theft in the minds of the boys with the much less smooth, cool and seamless aborted and actual boosts.  Layton also captures the ennui and disassociation of the kids, which has them yearning not so much for the money but for an authentic experience, a stamp.  He does not sugarcoat their selfishness, or make “woe to the disaffected suburban affluent” excuses.  Instead, he makes what seems rather incredible understandable, if perplexing.

Layton’s approach is phlegmatic and innovative without being showy.  His vision of the inertia and isolation of the boys melds perfectly with their amenability to the caper.  He films their surroundings darkly, sparsely and uninviting.  While everyone else seems to be communing just fine, they are off-kilter, uncomfortable.

I can’t believe Layton doesn’t have a promising future in Hollywood.  I only hope he isn’t immediately jammed into The Avengers: Super Mega-Explosion.  My only nit is the failure to properly account for the motivations of two of the four conspirators, most egregiously, with the last addition to the group.  The short-shrift given the characters was noticeable and a little distracting.

The film owes a debt to Richard Linklater’s Bernie in its use of interviews of the actual participants, but rather than high comic recollections from the would-be thieves and gentle reproaches from their family and friends, he captures the criminals as reflective, remorseful and even grasping to explain how they got to their deed.  As for the families, they are disheartened and confused, not enamored of their band of merry kids now that time has passed.

Layton saves his best interview for last, that of the librarian who is most directly and viscerally affected by the robbery.  You can interpret her state of mind in many ways, but she has been affected by the experience, and in what is the film’s best message, her pain seems permanently etched on the faces of the quartet.

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Another sweeping war epic from my past, along with Waterloo and Zulu, this one introduced me to the “stiff upper lip” Brit.  Unlike those films, this picture just doesn’t hold up at all.  Directed by Guy Hamilton (who had a much better time of it with four Bond films), the film is overly reliant on air battles that perhaps seemed impressive at the time, but now, are flat, difficult to comprehend (you rarely know which character is in which plane) and without drama.   Worse, what happens on the ground is remarkably staid and uninvolving.

It is, however, loaded with the cream of British actors (Michael Caine, Michael Redgrave, Ralph Richardson, Trevor Howard, Laurence Olivier, Christopher Plummer, Edward Fox and Robert Shaw, to name a few), and of particular note, it features a strikingly handsome Ian McShane, who aged into the craggy, rough Al Swearengen of Deadwood.  You can see what Emmanuelle’s Sylvia Kristal saw in him.

 

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Chris Weitz’s (About a Boy) largely faithful recreation of the capture of Adolph Eichmann is sober, competent and a little dull.  Peter Malkin (Oscar Isaac) is the focus of a several member Israeli infiltration team sent to grab Eichmann (Ben Kingsley) from Argentina and covertly spirit him away to Israel for trial.  All well and good, even if the film drags until they actually get to South America.  When on the ground, the film picks up, but there really isn’t much to the operation.  They jump Eichmann at night as he gets off his bus and keep him in a safe house, where his removal is delayed for several days, thus allowing Isaac (whose sister, niece and nephew were killed in the Holocaust, which we see in flashback) to engage the monster in an effort to get his signed consent to extradition.  The best part of the picture is Kingsley, who conveys Eichmann’s urbane precision and amorality in equal parts.  But there isn’t much to the exchange.   Isaac seems too much the professional to be flustered by the engagement, and Weitz is too cautious in the opportunity.

Perhaps sensing the film’s lethargy, Weitz adds a fictional Argo-like race to the airport, but it lacks any real punch.

A perfectly inoffensive picture.  Wait until it’s free and you have little in the way of alternative entertainment options

 

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I had the misfortune of catching half of Cate Blanchett’s fun, sumptuous and engaging Elizabeth recently. The comparison makes this turdfest even more unbearable.

Sairose Ronan is one note – fiery, wild eyed indignance – as Mary Queen of Scots.  Margot Robbie is way out of her depth as Elizabeth. She acts like she’s in a high school production.  But the performances are the least of this picture’s woes.

The script is charmless and dull. Intrigue has no deftness. People just argue briefly, declare and then act.

The lone battle scene is so badly handled, you don’t know what the hell is happening.  It presents like kids playing war in the backyard.

The script is also obsessed with its feminist hot take, particularly with Mary, who is put-upon by a man’s world and way ahead of the curve.  Mary’s ladies in waiting are a regular Fox Force Five!  When she has her first sexual encounter with her soon to be husband, who turns out to be gay and who she later has to rape (very unconvincingly) to have an heir, he performs cunnilingus on her.  John Knox hates Mary, not because she was a Catholic, but because she was a damnable woman who enjoyed sins of the flesh (he calls her “whore of Babylon”, “strumpet” and “harlot” in one speech).  We even get to see Mary menstruate.

Elizabeth gets in on the act as well, hectoring her male advisors with “we could do well worse” than Mary as queen and bemoaning Mary’s fate with “How cruel men are.”

Girl power, apparently, trumps Power power. Indeed, when they eventually meet, there is no enmity. Just a couple of gals dishing on inequity, the glass ceiling and the unfairness of it all. Until Mary gets wild-eyed and entitled and the girl power card loses its oomph.

Then, bitches get stitches and Mary is locked away, eventually to be beheaded.

The writer secures revenge in the post-script, however, lording Mary’s fertility over Elizabeth’s mere 44 year reign.

Modernity infects this dog in many other ways. When Mary’s gay attendant stops just short of breaking into a show tune, and pulls himself up short, the modern and reformed Catholic soothes him with a “be whoever you wish to be with us” (when he sleeps with her husband, kneels before her and begs for forgiveness, she soothes him again – “you have not betrayed your nature”).  Before battle, she assures one of her Protestant soldiers that should they die, they will all see the same God.

Best line. “I will not become a lady Henry VIII dispensing husbands as he did wives.“

A massive bag of crap. And no fun!

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Finally got a chance to see this. It’s bad. Green Book bad.

It starts as a mildly amusing, slick sit-comish comedy structured on a ridiculous premise – in the 1970s, black Colorado cop Ron Stallworth (John David Washington) calls the KKK to join up, and they are eager to have him, so after first contact, he has to use his white partner (Adam Driver) for face-to-face meetings, which creates unnecessarily close shaves.

Why not have Driver simply make the calls and handle the meets?

The answer is – wacky hijinx!  And there’s plenty of that.

Eventually, the funny gets less funny and the picture lapses into an absurdist procedural punctuated by overt, earnest philosophical discussions that would make kids in an Oberlin coffee house roll their eyes.  

Perhaps sensing the lightness of the fare and his own elapsing clock, Lee goes heavy at the end, utilizing actual footage from the Nazi rally in Charlottesville.  It’s like appending pictures of James Meredith’s shooting at the end of a poignant Different Strokes.

It’s a cheap ploy that seeks to elevate the zany caper that preceded it to serious statement.  Worse, as pointed out by Boots Riley, director of the infinitely better Sorry to Bother You, Lee’s film is based on a true story, and a less convenient aspect of that story might be that the real Stallworth was infiltrating black organizations to their detriment.

Ah well.  

You gotta’ give it to Lee, though. He knows his audience and he oversauced this goose good. Heck, he almost pulled it off. 

Alas, Oscar found another cheesy race fable to take home the gold. 

Curses!