After The Story of Three Loves, the second movie I watched for a Rosenbaum lecture. So soon (for me and for him) after Run For Cover I’m feeling shaky about Ray, but at least he made the great Bigger Than Life in between. Turned out pretty well for a big-ego war adventure story.

Looks more like a Bob Hope movie at this point:

Major Curd Jürgens (he played the Emil Jannings role in the Blue Angel remake) is supposed to lead a desert rescue operation, then Captain Richard Burton is put in charge instead. Rivalry ensues – Curd chokes when he’s supposed to knife a guard, and his wife used to date Burton, so they try to get each other killed until Burton finally dies in a sandstorm.

“Wilkies, wonderwall” – whoa, this was a real term… is it a britishization of the German wunderbar? I’m not gonna research this. It’s also the most times I’ve heard the name Benghazi in a movie. Sgt. Christopher Lee doesn’t make a strong impression – this was the same year he played Frankenstein’s monster, the year before his Dracula. Safecracker Wilkins is Nigel Green of Masque of the Red Death, sort of a low-rent Timothy Carey.

JR: “They’re both assholes… they become prisoners of their own macho self-images,” JR pulling no punches. “I see it as an attack on macho.” “The desire to have war sometimes exceeds any justification.” This was Ray’s attempt to go indie and break from Hollywood, though he didn’t have much control – the novelist retained script approval, the producers controlled casting.

Movie opens with “uncle” yelling at unseen hole diggers, then a boy with a (comically? horribly? we don’t know yet) hoarse voice comes out and curses into the camera. For maybe a decade I’ve been half-meaning to watch this movie because it’s supposed to be great, then avoiding it since it’s a horrors-of-war through eyes-of-a-child story. Turns out it’s not the depressing slog I imagined, but has big Emir Kusturica energy, hardly ever stops being amazing even when it starts being completely brutal. Let’s keep avoiding Son of Saul for the time being, though.

Our boy Fliora finds a gun, so is allowed to leave his family and join the Belorussian soldiers in WWII – then he’s ordered to swap his good boots for an older soldier’s, and gets left behind. No fighting yet, already a good amount of crying. He soon teams up with older Glasha and they dodge bombings and forge minefields and swamps, as Fliora and Glasha become ever-more traumatized by their experiences. We get the post-bombing tinnitus sound – I didn’t think they were doing that in the 1980’s. The explosions in this movie look unlike normal war-movie explosions – they look dangerous! It’s an angry movie, also bringing to mind Hard To Be a God, and gets extremely brutal as it goes on.

Bird Content: Fliora stomps on a nest full of eggs (boo), but later a beautiful stork looks in on our heroes (yay).

Mark Le Fanu for Criterion:

The film’s working title, before it turned into the biblical exhortation Come and See, was Kill Hitler. Klimov was always careful to explain in interviews that this was not to be taken in its literal meaning but rather as referring to a sort of universal moral imperative: “Kill the Hitler that lurks potentially in all of us!”

Klimov was married to Larisa Shepitko, whose films I’d very much like to see. Cinematographer Aleksey Rodionov would later work with Sally Potter. Lead kid Aleksey Kravchenko kept acting, was recently in The Painted Bird. Filmed in Belarus, which was in the news for arresting dissidents the morning after I watched this.

Haven’t seen this in a long time – it’s the snowy one about the guys left behind when the larger army moves out, ordered to act as if they’re the entire army to fool the enemy into staying put as long as possible. Our dudes get picked off until paranoid Richard Basehart is the highest rank. The whole drama of whether Basehart will be able to lead effectively if he’s in charge is overblown, because he’s only in charge for the last ten minutes and he leads just fine. For me the real drama was the nighttime conversation between him and Gene Evans. Evans is a gruff, down-to-earth character actor and Basehart a tormented over-enunciating drama-school type, and it’s a relief that they manage to inhabit the same scene without it seeming ridiculous.

“There were atrocities on both sides.” Let’s see if I have this straight… American gold intended to pay Vietnamese allies fighting vietcong was found by Chadwick Boseman’s squad… CB wants to distribute it to Black countrymen, but is killed by accident by Delroy Lindo, who then hides the gold along with surviving buddies Isiah Whitlock, Clarke Peters and Norm Lewis.

The four return to Vietnam in present-day with Delroy’s son Jonathan Majors (Monty in The Last Black Man) and tour guide Vinh, locating the gold and the remains of their commander. This is where I thought they’d turn on each other out of paranoid greed, per the Sierra Madre comparisons I’d read, but it’s the already unstable MAGA-hat Delroy who holds the others hostage, and their smuggler middleman Jean Reno leading the fight against them. Only Peters and Majors make it out alive, and about a sixth of the gold is donated to Black Lives Matter, which ain’t bad. Whoever said this movie has more aspect-ratio clowning than The Grand Budapest Hotel was right, and I hadn’t heard about all the injections of historical photos. The only part I didn’t buy is an anti-landmine organization happening to walk by moments after someone steps on a mine.

The award-candidate docs returned to the Landmark, and we caught up with this and Honeyland, and watched American Factory at home – and all three got oscar nominations a week later. I was in a terrible mood after watching the reporter/activist filmmaker and her doctor husband try to raise a baby and run a hospital in an Aleppo warzone while losing all their friends and neighbors to bombings, and so didn’t properly appreciate the playful carnage of John Wick 3 when watching it some hours later.

War becoming commodity… following the money (but not very specifically)… skims from a few Adam Curtis movie topics. Rough camerawork making it look like interviews were stolen, when they seem to be interviewing for this very movie. A Michael Hardt sighting. A way to pass the time on a Thanksgiving weekend afternoon, my sleepy viewing companion wanting more new information about the global arms trade, while I’m wanting more Double Take-ry.

I’d like to say I sought out an Israeli movie in New York during Hanukkah, but really I watched this because of the dance scene in David Ehrich’s top 25 video.

Neatly divided into three sections. In the first, an Israeli father (Lior Ashkenazi of Late Marriage and Footnote) and mother (Sarah Adler of Notre Musique and Jellyfish) are visited by military flunkies and told their only son has died during his military duty. This turns out to be a mistake, and the enraged dad insists the military immediately bring his son home to visit. In the second part, their son Jonathan is on assignment with a handful of others at a remote roadblock. We observe their bored routine, stopping and humiliating drivers before letting them through the little gate, then the morning after a horrible accident that kills four innocents, Jon is taken away to visit his family. In the final part some months later we learn the son died in a crash that morning, the parents have been separated, and they’re together for a few minutes hashing some things out.

Shot with such flair, artfully designed without being quirky or showoffy. The tension and despair on display is absolutely wrecking, but the film compensates with an abundance of humor (light and dark). Maoz’s second film after the acclaimed Lebanon, which I guess I need to check out. Played Venice this year with Human Flow, Ex Libris, Three Billboards and champion The Shape of Water.

“Why don’t you pass the time by playing a little solitaire?”

Brilliant visual display of espionage, duplicity, politics and memory (real and false), with at least five perfect performances, but the one who towers above them all is Angela Lansbury as a power-hungry politician’s-wife.

A group of Americans is captured with help from their traitor translator Henry Silva, then Laurence Harvey (Darling, Room at the Top) is brainwashed by the Enemy and sent back to the States, but his fellow soldier Frank Sinatra starts to remember their capture and realize something is amiss. Meanwhile Sinatra falls for Vivian Leigh, Harvey kills his girlfriend (Leslie Parrish of Li’l Abner), and Harvey is being controlled by his evil mother to put his weak-willed stepfather in power, but he turns on them at the last minute.

Sinatra and his girl:

Harvey and his mother:

A movie featuring a wannabe-president supported by a foreign power who puts ketchup on his steaks. I originally planned to double-feature this with A Face in the Crowd, but maybe The Dead Zone would be more appropriate. Frankenheimer made this the same year as Birdman of Alcatraz, a couple years before the similarly paranoid Seconds.

While the Lady Gaga superbowl party raged downstairs, I was upstairs watching one of the most emotionally upsetting war films ever made…

Americans in the Vietnam war get into a battle while De Palma lowers his camera into the tunnels where someone is creeping up on Michael J. Fox, who has fallen partway through before being rescued. So the movie opens with Fox not being a huge help to his squad, and his reputation only gets worse. The men survive, but a few (movie) minutes later, Fox rescuer Erik King gets shot at a supposedly friendly village. Back at camp, Fox’s teammates (leader Sean Penn, Sean’s violent buddy Don Harvey, John C. Reilly and timid new replacement John Leguizamo) are frustrated that the whorehouse is off limits, so on the way out to their next assignment they kidnap a village girl (Thuy Thu Le) as a sex slave. After she’s raped and tortured for a couple days, they stab and shoot her during a battle atop a train trestle (during which, if I’m not mistaken, there’s a friendly-fire disaster down below) and toss her body off a cliff.

Fox has never gone along with this, trying to free the girl and once standing up armed against his men. Later as he’s recovering from a head injury back at base, he’s told “what happens in the field stays in the field” but reports his men’s actions to Lt. Ving Rhames, who says he’ll break the men into new squads and that Fox should forget it. Fox persists and finds sympathetic Sgt. Dale Dye (a Vietnam vet and the film’s technical advisor) who helps him take the men to military court, but not before Clark attempts to assassinate Fox with a latrine grenade (with some impressive first-person camera) and Fox strikes back with a shovel. The investigators find the girl’s body, each soldier is sentenced to at least eight years in prison, then back to Framing Story Fox, who still has nightmare/daydreams.

While Fox is distracted:

Such an intense and brutal movie. De Palma seems to borrow some of the obvious war stuff from Apocalypse Now and Full Metal Jacket, but the acting and filmmaking are on point, and the bitter fury comes through loud and clear. It’s not so much an anti-war movie, more about extremes of human nature, but obviously Redacted is a companion piece. Michael (not Paul) Verhoeven shot a 1970 feature called O.K. covering the same story, which caused outrage at its Berlin Film Festival premiere.


De Palma (2015, Noah Baumbach & Jake Paltrow)

After finally catching up with Casualties (glad I waited for blu-ray) I watched the recent career-summary documentary, finding it amusing that the guy who directed the swearingest movie of the 1980’s looks like Uncle Toad and keeps saying “holy mackerel.” He’s proud that his generation of buddy filmmakers (Spielberg, Scorsese, Lucas, Coppola) were able to do great work inside the studio system “before the businessmen took over again.”

On Carrie remakes: “It’s wonderful to see what happens when somebody takes a piece of material and makes all the mistakes that you avoided.” He wrote the spy kid in Dressed To Kill as himself. “I used to follow my father around when he was cheating on my mother.” I finally got to see the alternate tidal-wave ending in Snake Eyes, and as suspected it’s cooler than the real ending.

B. Ebiri:

Paltrow and Baumbach don’t get fancy with the filmmaking. They’re smart enough to let De Palma’s own resonant images — his gorgeous compositions, his smooth camera moves — do much of the work. (After all, if you can’t make an awesome clip reel out of Brian De Palma films, then what good are you?)

Directing Dancing in the Dark:

A. Nayman, who does a good job discussing the doc itself, instead of using it as an excuse to talk about De Palma’s career:

De Palma’s pride at taking a potentially ordinary, corporately backed genre exercise and hotwiring it into a slick and enjoyable piece of craftsmanship seems tied to the fact that Mission: Impossible made a lot of money. Whatever their technical or artistic merits, the successes of Carrie, The Untouchables, and Mission: Impossible differentiates them within a body of work that’s typically been more notable — and in some corners, largely validated — on the grounds of failing to connect with audiences. For all the glee De Palma says he takes in making viewers uncomfortable, he seems to get off even more on getting big crowds into the theater in the first place.

Me, I’m using it as an excuse to talk about De Palma’s career. It’s time to rewatch them all, but I’m in the middle of a hundred other things so it’ll probably have to wait. The ones I most need to watch are Hi, Mom! and Wise Guys. And to rewatch, in order:

The Untouchables
Carlito’s Way
Scarface
Mission: Impossible
Body Double
Femme Fatale
Blow Out
Raising Cain (the new edit)
Mission to Mars
Phantom of the Paradise
Sisters