Ken’s Movie Diary 2017 – Week 26

Weekly Update: This week my movie marathon focus was war movies, with a few random others in between.

Curious what else I’ve seen this year? -Click here to read the full list of movies viewed year to date-

213. All Quiet on the Western Front (1979)

This made for TV remake of the 1930 film and the novel of the same name tells the story of WWI through the eyes of a young German enlistee.  He watches as his fellow classmates die off one by one, and witnesses horrors of war ranging from gas attacks, constant artillery shelling, rats, and the horror of killing someone in self defense, and then having to watch them die slowly. Co-starring the incomparable Ernest Borgnine, this version of the story is equally adept at traversing the challenging novel’s themes, and doesn’t pull any punches. The result is this film is on roughly equal grounds artistically to the Oscar-winning original film version.

214. Go Tell the Spartans (1978)

This dark satire tells the story of a small group of American advisors in Vietnam who are ordered to establish an outpost in a valueless and indefensible village. Burt Lancaster plays Major Barker, an aging officer who has been condemned to his junior rank in perpetuity owing to youthful indiscretions. He immediately sees the imbecility of his orders, but to satisfy his superiors is obliged to follow them anyway. This is a darkly comical film about how ridiculously underprepared the American military was for the kind of war Vietnam turned out to be, and while the film is sometimes as subtle as a thrown brick, it is a solid statement about the war, and war in general.

215. Big Jake (1971)

When “Little Jake” is kidnapped and held for ransom, his grandmother calls for her ex-spouse Big Jake (John Wayne) to help deliver the ransom money to the perpetrators.  Meanwhile the rest of the family attempts their own style of hostage rescue, which goes about as well as you’d expect when John Wayne is the star of the movie and is the one who is supposed to win the day. This is a middling late-career Wayne Western, with some good scenes and action, but not a lot of substance.

216. La Grande Illusion (1937)

One of the strongest anti-war statements ever made, La Grand Illusion tells the story of a group of French soldiers during WWI who are captured by the Germans and send to a POW camp. While there, the lines of friend and foe blur as soldiers from either side share moments of bonding. The bigger divides are those of class, and even those are quickly changing, with the aristocracy being replaced in favor of businessmen. Strictly anti-war, this film doesn’t show any scenes of warfare, and the few moments of violence are so distasteful and heartbreaking that there is no possibility of the film being misinterpreted.

217. The Train (1964)

This thriller is set just before Paris is re-taken by the Allies during WWII.  An officer attempts to pilfer the city of its most famous works of art, and stows them on a train bound for Germany. The French Resistance catches wind of the operation and conduct a sabotage mission.  While not on the highest level of director John Frankenheimer’s best, this taut suspense film keeps the tension flowing throughout and Burt Lancaster gives a bravura performance as the Resistance leader in charge of the operation.

218. Hamburger Hill (1987)

This Vietnam-era film tells the story of a company of men who are charged with taking a heavily defended hill. Whereas most Vietnam films deal with politics, this concentrates more on the experiences of the grunts on the ground. The film also explores racial tensions, personality clashes, and the stigma of replacement troops on the front lines.  The film is unflinchingly violent, but well-paced and tense. Not the highest level of Vietnam war films, but a solid entry.

219. Betting on Zero (2017)

This documentary tells the story of Bill Ackman, a stock investor who claims his research determined the company “Herbalife” is a pyramid scheme and should be run out of business.  To back this up, he put more than a billion dollars into a “short” investment which effectively bets on the company’s failure.  The film looks into Ackman’s claims about Herbalife and seems to draw similar conclusions to Ackman about the company, though it questions the morality of short investments, which allow traders to profit on other’s financial failures.  The film does a great job stating both sides of the issue, only time will tell if Ackman’s prediction comes true.

220. The Odd Angry Shot (1979)

Like Hamburger HillThe Odd Angry Shot doesn’t concern itself with making any big statements about politics. Instead it explores the life of a group of soldiers (this time Australian) as they live and shed blood in Vietnam.  The movie makes a good companion to Robert Altman’s M*A*S*H, in that it contrasts the good humor of the soldiers and silly antics at base camp with the confusion and fear that results when the bombs and bullets fly. This is a supremely entertaining slice of life at war story, and since few films about Vietnam talk about the experience of allied countries other than the USA, it is a unique viewpoint to explore.

221. Born on the 4th of July (1989)

Ron Kovic served his country in Vietnam as a Marine Sergeant, that is until he was paralyzed from the chest down. After a horrifying stay in the horribly underfunded and unsanitary Veteran’s hospital, Kovic came home facing a bitterly divided nation. After years of soul searching, he began to see the absurdity of the Vietnam War and became an active anti-war activist. While Born on the Forth of July features many of Oliver Stone’s trademark over-the-top elements, the real soul of the movie belongs to Tom Cruise. This is without a doubt Cruise’s all time best performance, completely disappearing into Kovic’s character. The film also has some of Stone’s most gripping visual moments, thanks to the cinematography of Robert Richardson.

222. The Boys in Company C (1978)

After viewing this darkly satirical war film, you might be left wondering whether Stanley Kubrick got sued for Full Metal Jacket. Indeed this film came out 9 years earlier and bears more than a striking resemblance. Like Jacket, the film opens with a group of new recruits entering Marine training during the Vietnam War, and we are introduced to foul-mouthed Drill Sergeants, one of whom played by none other than R. Lee Ermey. The film then moves to Vietnam where the recruits discover the grim and disturbing life of soldiering is even worse than they expected.

223. Hearts and Minds (1974)

This documentary about the Vietnam War was a huge deal when it came out, with unprecedented and unvarnished interviews and footage of the war and the people involved in the war. This was one of the first significant anti-Vietnam documentaries to see popular notice. This film makes the strongest case against the War in Vietnam that you’re bound to see. The film’s chief flaw, though, is it pushes the envelope a bit past pure documentary into propaganda. Some of the interviews and footage shown feels carefully edited or placed into a context to convey the filmmaker’s point of view. While it is important that a documentary has something to say, and even though I personally tend to agree with this filmmaker’s stance on the war, there wasn’t a need to manipulate things as far as was done here, it feels disingenuous. The movie is nevertheless extraordinarily powerful, and the footage that speaks for itself is evidence enough to support the filmmaker’s case.

About Oberst von Berauscht

Oberst Von Berauscht once retained the services of a Gypsy to imbue in him the ability to accurately describe the artistic qualities of a film up to seven decimal points. To maintain this unique skill, he must feast on the blood of a virgin every Harvest Moon, or failing that (and he usually does), he can also make a dog do that thing they do where they twist their heads slightly (you know, when they're confused about something) at least a few times a week. I've gotten way off track here... The point is, Oberst is one of the website's founders, so... yeah

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