Movie #104: Good Morning, Vietnam (1987)

As I’m sure you’re well aware, Robin Williams died Monday at the age of 63.  He is certainly a one-of-a-kind actor and a comedic genius.  Dead Poet’s Society is simply brilliant in large part because of Williams’ performance, and it’s one of my favorite movies.  Though he’s primarily a comedic actor, he balances that out with genuine dramatic performances.  I’ve been more surprised at how many stories are now coming out about how caring of a person he was.  It makes me appreciate him even more knowing how he lifted other people’s spirits and didn’t do it for the attention or accolades.  He will be missed.

Director: Barry Levinson

Starring: Robin Williams, Forest Whitaker, Tung Thanh Tran, J.T. Walsh, Robert Wuhl, and Bruno Kirby

Academy Award Nominations (1988):

Best Actor in a Leading Role: Robin Williams

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“What’s the demilitarized zone? It sounds like something from the Wizard of Oz “Oh no don’t go in there!” “Ohhh wee ohh. Ho Chi Minh.” “Oh look you’ve landed in Saigon. You’re amongst the little people now.” “We represent the ARVN army, the ARVN army. Oh no! Follow the Ho Chi Minh trail! Follow the Ho Chi Minh trail!”

“An unorthodox and irreverent DJ begins to shake up things when he is assigned to the US Armed Services Radio station in Vietnam.” from IMDB.com

Good Morning, Vietnam, a film loosely based on DJ Adrian Cronauer, was originally pitched by Cronauer in 1979 as a TV series.  M*A*S*H*, another war-based comedy, was one of the highest rated shows at the time, but Cronauer’s show was rejected.  Eight years and probably a few rewrites later, we got Good Morning, Vietnam.  Though it’s considered a war movie, I think of it more as a comedy set during a war.

Though primarily a comedy, this film was also one of the first to really humanize the Vietnamese on the big screen.  As Adrian pursues a relationship with a local Vietnamese girl, and befriends her brother in the process, there’s a tension and fine line of figuring out who is friend and who is foe.  The Vietnam War is unique for America because it was the first war where the enemy could have been anyone.  In prior conventional wars, there would be one army on one side and the other on the other side and they’d know who the enemy is.  With Vietnam, a kid could set a basket down that has a bomb in it.  Including Adrian’s interactions with the locals adds depth and makes this movie about more than just Williams’ comedic performance.

It goes without saying that Robin Williams’ comedy really makes this film enjoyable.  Most of his radio broadcasts in the film were improvised and frankly, Williams is the only person who could have pulled that off.  This film really showcases his comedic talents.  He balances the comedy out with the more dramatic scenes, though, and it makes his performance so much better.  He can switch the emotions seamlessly and does both sides of the character in a believable, genuine way.

good-morning-vietnam-1987-12-gThere is a great supporting cast in Good Morning, Vietnam.  A young Forest Whitaker holds his own as his character Edward Garlick assists Adrian.  Robert Wuhl, who I usually find insufferable, was actually pretty good in this movie.  He didn’t get on my nerves.

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J.T. Walsh and Bruno Kirby make great adversaries to Adrian.   Kirby’s Lt. Steven Hauk, thinks he’s funny but has horrible comedic timing.  It’s so bad that it’s great when he’s trying to be funny.  Walsh just has that look and feel of the straight-laced, by-the-book hard head.  Dickerson gets his comeuppance in the end though.

Williams lost the Academy Award for Best Actor to Michael Douglas.  That’s a shame.

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I enjoyed Good Morning, Vietnam.  It has a lot of comedy and a good balance of drama and tension.  Robin Williams makes this film great with his brilliant improvisational abilities and helped bring out a lighter side to the Vietnam War.  He is complemented by a great supporting cast, but ultimately Williams is the star.  I’d definitely recommend seeing this one, it’s simply one of Williams’ best.

My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars.

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Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2014)

Director: Jonathan Liebesman

Starring: William Fichtner, Megan Fox, Will Arnett, Johnny Knoxville, Tony Shalhoub, Alan Ritchson, Noel Fisher, Pete Ploszek, Jeremy Howard, Danny Woodburn, Whoopi Goldberg, and Minae Noji

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“Darkness has settled over New York City as Shredder and his evil Foot Clan have an iron grip on everything from the police to the politicians. The future is grim until four unlikely outcast brothers rise from the sewers and discover their destiny as Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. The Turtles must work with fearless reporter April O’Neil and her cameraman Vern Fenwick to save the city and unravel Shredder’s diabolical plan.” From IMDB, Written by Paramount Pictures

The wait is over, the new version of the turtles is here.  I’ve been incredibly skeptical about this film, and though I was pleasantly surprised that it wasn’t a total disaster, at the same time it was, sad to say, less than impressive.

Visually this film is pretty well done.  I saw this one in 3-D (which I would recommend), and I’m starting to get the feeling that Hollywood is figuring out how to do 3-D films right.  The comic book-esque sequences were great, and I think the 3-D really helped it.  The turtles themselves came out pretty good.  The advances in digital effects in the last 20 years definitely made the turtles appearance more far ahead of where it’s been.

They could do without the lens flares though, there were a few too many of them for me.

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Splinter, on the other hand, was a compete disaster, visually speaking.  He was creepy, and this is something the director and special effects folks should have spent more time perfecting.  I thought Tony Shalhoub did decent with Splinter’s voice.  There was just enough of his touch to tell it was him.  In contrast, I don’t think Johnny Knoxville added much to Leonardo’s character.

The writers did a decent job of distinguishing each turtles with their own personality traits.  Michelangelo was funny, though I think they could have spread the jokes around with the other turtles more.  Some of Mikey’s one liners seemed a little out-of-place.  They nailed it with Leonardo and Raphael as far as personality and the sort.  Donatello was ok, but I just think the last few incarnations of the franchise have made him too much of the geek tech guy.

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“I’m not frothy.”

The biggest disappointment for me is, no surprise, Megan Fox as April O’Neil.  She has an exchange with Will Arnett’s Vernon Fenwick within the first five minutes that pretty much sums up her role in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.  Her acting is boring most of the time, and in this film she is almost more important than the turtles themselves.  Her character drives the story forward, and though it’s good to see her as an essential part of the story, I think they made her too central to the story.

Also, she has a unique connection with the turtles that I thought wasn’t necessary.

William Fichtner left a lot to be desired as a villain.  His role in this film sets him up for future films in what could turn into another Turtles franchise.

The critics consensus from Rotten Tomatoes is: “Neither entertaining enough to recommend nor remarkably awful, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles may bear the distinction of being the dullest movie ever made about talking bipedal reptiles.”  Though I found myself enjoying this movie for the most part, there was the lingering thought that the movie was just kind of boring.  It’s not that it’s necessarily bad, because it wasn’t, but there just wasn’t enough there to make the movie pop and make me think, “Wow, that was great I have to see it again.”

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Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was entertaining to a degree.  It has some balance with the humor being suited for both kids and adults, and I’d say it’s a small improvement over the previous two Turtles movies(not that it would take much).  It wasn’t a complete disaster, however, it didn’t really pop at the same time.  The movie will make millions and likely lead to a sequel.  My hope is that the writers, producers, and directors will make a more engaging story for the audience.

My Rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars

3-D Matinee this one!

Movie #103: Airplane! (1980)

Directors: Jim Abrahams, David Zucker, Jerry Zucker

Starring: Robert Hays, Julie Hagerty, Lloyd Bridges, Leslie Nielsen, Robert Stack, Peter Graves, and Lorna Patterson

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Ted Striker (Hays) has an extreme fear of flying following his experience as a fighter pilot.  When his girlfriend Elaine (Hagerty), a flight attendant, dumps him, he follows her onto her next flight in hopes of winning her back.  Unfortunately, the fish served on the flight poisons most of the crew and many of the passengers and Striker must land the plane.  Assisted by Dr. Rumack (Neilsen), a fellow passenger, ground-controller McCroskey (Bridges) and Kramer (Stack), his commanding officer during the war, Striker is able to land the plane and save everyone.

Following a string of successful disaster movies in the 1970s, the genre had reached a point where there were very few stories left to be told.  Parodying disaster movies seemed like the next logical step, and Airplane! does a great job of poking fun at every cliché imaginable.  Additionally, it gave rise to the parody film.  Though these types of films have completely sucked for the last decade (thank you Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer), there was a time when spoof movies were actually worth watching.

airplanehaysRobert Hays does great at Ted Striker.  It’s unfortunate that he really hasn’t been in anything else that’s noteworthy, though he was in Sharknado 2:The Second One.  As with many of the performances in Airplane!, he acts completely normal throughout and the wild and crazy dialogue he has is hilarious and is funnier because he says things in a matter-of-fact way.

airplaneneilsen This film also marked a transition in Leslie Neilsen’s acting career.  He would go on to do The Naked Gun trilogy, among many others.  He became synonymous with this type of movie, and I think his acting is spot on.  In fact, the script and matter-of-fact attitude that many of the supporting cast had throughout the film made for some of the biggest laughs.  Specifically, when someone would ask, “What is that?” the reply would be an explanation having nothing to do with the story, something the person would point out at the end of the explanation.

Greatest End Credits scene. "Well, I'll give him another twenty minutes, but that's it!"

Greatest End Credits scene. “Well, I’ll give him another twenty minutes, but that’s it!”

Airplane! is the type of film that’s funny every time you watch it.  The way the jokes blend in with the story seamlessly adds to the hilarity of this movie.  Airplane! was followed up with numerous spoof movies such as The Naked Gun and Hot Shots! series.  Jim Abrahams and David and Jerry Zucker do a great job of capturing the essence of the disaster movie and poking fun at it.  Leslie Neilsen, Lloyd Bridges, and Robert Stack provide strong supporting performances along with Robert Hays and Julie Hagerty.  This is definitely a film I’d recommend seeing at least once.  This is the way a spoof movie should be done.

My Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars.

Movie #102: Easy Rider (1969)

Director: Dennis Hopper

Starring: Peter Fonda, Dennis Hopper, Antonio Mendoza, Phil Spector, Mac Mashourian, Jack Nicholson

Academy Award Nominations (1970):

Best Actor in a Supporting Role: Jack Nicholson

Best Writing, Story and Screenplay Based on Material Not Previously Published or Produced: Peter Fonda, Dennis Hopper, Terry Southern

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Following a drug deal in Los Angeles, Wyatt “Captain America” (Fonda) and Billy (Hopper) head through the American Southwest en route to New Orleans for Mardi Gras.  Along the way they encounter fellow hippies and others who don’t approve of their way of life.  They meet George Hanson (Nicholson), a lawyer who helps them get out of jail in Middle America.  Hanson is intrigued by their lifestyle and joins them for a time.

This film is a mystery for me.  I was born after the 1960s, and thus don’t have firsthand knowledge of a lot of the major themes this film addresses and works with.  I didn’t see the rise and fall of the hippie movement and things such as communal living.  I can understand how it was fresh, new, and had an appeal to the generation depicted in the film.

If you’re looking for a great road trip movie, this is probably one of the first of its kind.  In fact, I felt like half of the film was just Fonda and Hopper riding on their motorcycles while various songs played in the background.  There were lots of nice scenic shots, but I think they needed to cut those scenes back or add something else to it so it’s more than just the two main characters riding their motorcycles.  Easy Rider has a good soundtrack.  I will say I enjoyed the music selection.

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The contrasting portrayals of the two main characters was interesting.  Wyatt’s All-American stars and stripes everything and Billy’s more Native American portrayal added an interesting dynamic.  Though the two are free-spirit hippies, Wyatt seems to be the more rational of the two, while Billy is more skeptical and free-flowing.

In keeping with a countercultural theme, the cinematography in Easy Rider felt like it was cut and paste at times.  The most significant example was the LSD trip the guys and prostitutes have in New Orleans.  The film itself didn’t follow with conventional methods, per se.  Natural light was used during most of the filming, and something like that gives the film a more primitive feel to it.

easyridernicholsonJack Nicholson was great in his limited screen time.  His performance landed him the first of twelve Academy Award nominations for acting.  The quick, blunt wit was present with Nicholson even this early in his career.  Having seen a number of his films, his screen presence and entertaining performance isn’t any surprise to me.  It’s unfortunate he didn’t have more screen time.

It’s noteworthy that Toni Basil (sang the song “Mickey” in 1982) was in this film as a prostitute Wyatt and Billy meet in New Orleans.

Though it was culturally significant when it was released, Easy Rider doesn’t have the same impact it once had.  It tells the story of its time and the countercultural movement and emphasis on freedom and escapism.  Now that society is much further removed from that time period, the film itself hasn’t aged well in my opinion.  I’ve watched this movie twice now.  I don’t plan on watching it again.

My Rating: 2 out of 5 stars