Das Boot (1981, Wolfgang Petersen), the uncut version

Das Boot probably has–of serious films–the most number of alternate cuts released. Besides the two and a half hour theatrical version, there was a three and a half hour director’s cut (which I saw theatrically, so I suppose I only saw the original version on VHS), and finally, now, there’s the five hour “uncut version,” which is actually just the original German miniseries. Das Boot‘s such an immersive experience, whether two and a half or four and a half, the added footage isn’t particularly perceptible. When the film started, there were a few things I noticed new, but I stopped bothering to look after the first fifteen minutes. For such a long film, it moves really fast. Quite a bit happens and the viewer is expected to keep track of a large number of characters (one of the visible changes in the longest version is the attention paid to the supporting cast).

Starting Das Boot–maybe even from the opening shot–I remembered it was an excellent film, excellent to an almost mythical degree. I’d forgotten, taken it for granted maybe. The first fifteen minutes, establishing the primary characters at an officer’s party, I also realized something tragic happened to Wolfgang Petersen. He went from making Das Boot to some of the most unwatchable–without music video editing–mainstream films of the 1990s and, presumably (since I certainly don’t see them anymore), 2000s. Fortunately, Das Boot‘s so good, I didn’t dwell for long.

Much of the film’s success is Jürgen Prochnow as the captain. There are some other excellent performances, like Otto Sander’s cameo at the beginning, and Klaus Wennemann as the chief engineer and Martin Semmelrogge as the comedy relief. The entire cast is good, but it all revolves around Prochnow and he has to be good, because it’s five hours. Even if it’s two and a half hours, not a lot happens. Das Boot chronicles the minutiae, not just of boring days at sea or of battle scenes, but also of being bored at sea. Not much else is quite as immersive.

I haven’t seen Das Boot in about nine years, since the director’s cut came out on laserdisc. I always waited for DVD, because the SuperBit version of it was supposed to be better than the regular disc (then I guess wasn’t), but finally the miniseries version came out… and I took a couple years to watch it. I’m hoping next time I won’t wait so long again.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Wolfgang Petersen; screenplay by Petersen, based on a novel by Lothar-Gunther Buchheim; director of photography, Jost Vacano; edited by Hannes Nikel; music by Klaus Doldinger; produced by Gunter Rohrbach; released by Columbia Pictures.

Starring Jurgen Prochnow (Captain), Herbert Gronemeyer (Lieutenant Werner-Correspondent), Klaus Wennemann (Chief Engineer), Hubertus Bengsch (First Lieutenant-No. 1), Martin Semmelrogge (Second Lieutenant), Bernd Tauber (Chief Quartermaster), Erwin Leder (Johann), Martin May (Ullmann), Heinz Honig (Hinrich), U.A. Ochsen (Chief Bosun), Claude-Oliver Rudolph (Ario), Jan Fedder (Pilgrim), Ralph Richter (Frenssen), Joachim Bernhard (Preacher), Oliver Stritzel (Schwalle), Konrad Becker (Bockstiegel), Lutz Schnell (Dufte) and Martin Hemme (Bruckenwilli).


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The Dream Team (1989, Howard Zieff)

I’d forgotten how loud comedies could get. Maybe I haven’t seen enough eighties comedies lately, because watching The Dream Team, I kept wondering how I’d never noticed the music in the film before. I saw The Dream Team back on video, probably in 1990–Michael Keaton as Batman might not have been box office dollars, but I’m sure I wasn’t the only kid who rented his movies thanks to the role. I probably haven’t seen it in ten plus years, but I’ve always had a soft spot for the film.

It’s hard not to have one, however, since The Dream Team is so nice. Even the dirty, murderous cops are kind of nice (to a point). The Dream Team takes place in a pseudo-reality but isn’t set there, which makes for an odd experience at times. So much of the film is effortless, I don’t think–besides that tone–I ever noticed the direction once, or even the writing, past some issues with the story structure. It’s a benign experience–one with audible laughs, but it’s so mild an exercise, I almost think there should be a genre called the “Imagine Entertainment Comedy.” They could get a trademark for it and everything.

The comedic acting from Michael Keaton, Peter Boyle, Stephen Furst, and even Christopher Lloyd is all great. I was most surprised at Lloyd, only because I’m used to him being so bad. Boyle’s absolutely fantastic and has most of the film’s best lines. Dennis Boutsikaris leaves an impression because he seems like he should have done more–high profile roles–but has not. Lorraine Bracco’s in it too and it was funny I had to think about her original Hollywood film career and how it disappeared so quickly. On the other hand, it reminded me how good at comedy Keaton is….

The Dream Team is actually something of a relic–not just of when comedies used to not be so bad, but when studios still somehow made uninteresting projects interesting, either through casting or production. It’s just worth seeing for the performances.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Howard Zieff; written by Jon Connolly and David Loucka; director of photography, Adam Holender; edited by C. Timothy O’Meara; music by David McHugh; production designer, Todd Hallowell; produced by Christopher W. Knight; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Michael Keaton (Billy Caulfield), Christopher Lloyd (Henry Sikorsky), Peter Boyle (Jack McDermott), Stephen Furst (Albert Ianuzzi), Dennis Boutsikaris (Dr. Weitzman), Lorraine Bracco (Riley), Milo O’Shea (Dr. Newald), Philip Bosco (O’Malley) and James Remar (Gianelli).


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Alien: Resurrection (1997, Jean-Pierre Jeunet), the special edition

Joss Whedon has never met a cheap, cheesy one liner he didn’t like. He also feels the need to revise future technology based on modern developments (androids with wireless modems, which they would have had in the first Alien movies… except the lack of that technological possibility when said films were made). The first problem is an exceptional one (especially since he can’t go two minutes without one of those awful one liners), while the second one is just stupid. Alien: Resurrection is the first fanboy-written film. Its failure means it isn’t responsible for what came next (the utter eradication of quality science fiction or “genre” films from Hollywood), but it’s perfect foreshadowing. Even when it’s really bad, it’s no worse than the crap coming out today. With the exception of the bad CG, it’s probably even better.

The film–I watched the 2003 special edition–is actually all right for a bit at the beginning. Accepting the idea such an extraordinarily useless, artistically-soulless commercial venture can be all right, anyway. Then Winona Ryder and the crew of “Firefly” show up. Whedon essentially turned an Alien sequel into a pilot movie for his characters. Fine, whatever, it’s 115 minutes and there are some occasionally interesting moments… but I don’t like watching movies and pitying the actors. Watching Alien: Resurrection, one just has to pity Sigourney Weaver. It’s just terrible in parts. The other interesting thing about the pre-Ryder moments is Jeunet’s direction. Most of the film just looks dirty and green, but the beginning has some real Jeunet flourishes–which the new opening credits sequence illustrate well, even if the CG is cheap. While Brad Dourif’s got terrible dialogue, he, J.E. Freeman and Dan Hedaya really look like they belong in the film.

Alien: Resurrection being an acceptable waste of a couple hours comes mostly from the cast (there’s some effective scoring too, I suppose). Weaver does have some good moments–though it wasn’t until I watched the film this time, my fourth time in ten years, I realized Weaver and Ryder’s relationship was supposed to mirror the Ripley and Newt relationship from Aliens or something (yes, Joss Whedon is that incompetent). By the end, the good ones even outweigh the bad and embarrassing ones. Dourif’s not good, but Freeman and Hedaya are both excellent. Ron Perlman and Gary Dourdan are both saddled with terrible lines, but they’re fine. Michael Wincott and Kim Flowers are both really good (Flowers’s death scene is fantastic, the only effective death scene in a film with a dozen or more).

Alien³ is a film incapable of supporting a sequel, certainly one with Weaver anyway, but Resurrection isn’t as terrible as it could be, I suppose. It’d be much worse if it were made today. I remember when it bombed–after Fox spent a fortune making it–I realized no one had been really asking for another Alien movie. Fox was just trying to jump-start the franchise, a slur I’d never use against the Alien films. But there were comic books and toys and–really, Whedon seems like he learned how to write off of comic books, with no real understanding of how dialogue plays out off the page.

It’s an interesting film in parts, the way it’s made, some of what Jeunet does, but it’s so idiotically written–and I think that aspect is what makes it most like Hollywood films today, the absurdity of the writing being acceptable to someone who… can read–it doesn’t really matter. Even if it’s interesting, it’s still a stinky pile of crap.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet; written by Joss Whedon, based on characters created by Dan O’Bannon and Ronald Shusett; director of photography, Darius Khondji; edited by Herve Schneid; music by John Frizzell; production designer, Nigel Phelps; produced by Bill Badolato, Walter Hill, David Giler and Gordon Carroll; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Sigourney Weaver (Ripley), Winona Ryder (Annalee Call), Dominique Pinon (Vriess), Ron Perlman (Johner), Gary Dourdan (Christie), Michael Wincott (Elgyn), Kim Flowers (Hillard), Dan Hedaya (General Perez), J.E. Freeman (Wren), Brad Dourif (Gediman), Raymond Cruz (Distephano) and Leland Orser (Purvis).


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Letters from Iwo Jima (2006, Clint Eastwood)

It’d be absurdly obvious to point out Letters from Iwo Jima is an anomaly in Clint Eastwood’s body of work. Outside, well, some Japanese directors in the 1950s and 1960s, it’d probably be an anomaly in anyone’s oeuvre. It reminds me of a dream movie–some movie I watch in a dream and wake up and it’s not real. Even a day later, thinking about the film, I keep expecting it not to be real. Certainly not to get to see it again.

Though it’s a definite companion to Flags of Our Fathers, it really makes no sense to talk about the two films in relation to each other. Besides the obvious comparison (Das Boot), Iwo Jima reminds most of The Big Red One–there’s a relentless futility essayed in the three films, but Iwo Jima is by far the bleakest portrayal of war I’ve ever seen. It may have something to do with being from the Japanese perspective, but even of the Japanese war films I’ve seen… Iwo Jima is something more. The bleakness somehow never manages to depress though. Letters from Iwo Jima tells its story in a finite arena and, even though it has a slight modern-day frame, never really makes any comment on its subjects. There are a lot of beautiful moments in the film, usually involving the main character, played by Ninomiya Kazunari, and his friends and his experiences. But while the film spends its time with both he and Ken Watanabe’s general, neither are really the main focus of the film. Clint encapsulates the entire experience through these two, which lead me to The Big Red One comparison, but there are also comparison’s to Sam Fuller’s other war films, which were also incredibly bleak (The Big Red One is probably the most cheery, in fact).

In many ways, Letters from Iwo Jima is an indescribable film. Seeing it soon after Flags of Our Fathers makes a technical comparison possible, maybe even interesting, but the two films are completely different. Iwo Jima is a film… well, it’s completely unique, both in the experience of seeing it and its place in big-f Film (which is separately thrilling, that a film could still make a place for itself in the medium). It’s a startling achievement from Clint Eastwood and I pretty much figured he could do anything, but here he manages to top any conceivable expectations.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Clint Eastwood; screenplay by Iris Yamashita, based on a story by Yamashita and Paul Haggis; director of photography, Tom Stern; edited by Joel Cox and Gary D. Roach; music by Kyle Eastwood and Michael Stevens; production designers, Henry Bumstead and James J. Murakami; produced by Eastwood, Steven Spielberg and Robert Lorenz; released by Warner Bros. and DreamWorks Pictures.

Starring Ken Watanabe (Lt. Gen. Tadamichi Kuribayashi), Ninomiya Kazunari (Saigo), Ihara Tsuyoshi (Baron Nishi), Kase Ryo (Shimizu), Nakamura Shidou (Lieutenant Ito) and Nae (Hanako).


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