Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Rescue Dawn (2006)

Starring Christian Bale and Steve Zahn, Rescue Dawn, directed by Werner Herzog, tells the true story of a US fighter pilot named Dieter Dengler who was shot down over Laos during the Vietnam War. The film depicts Dengler orchestrating a death-defying escape from a POW camp with a small band of fellow POW's.

I found the following reviews:

Ron Wilkinson wrote this review on July 5, 2007:

When acclaimed ultimate-reality film director Werner Herzog first met Dieter Dengler he saw a match made in heaven.
Outside of Herzog’s original prime collaborator, Klaus Kinski, there have been few of his stars that match the requirements of a truly unique personality. Herzog and Dengler shared a common birthplace, Germany, with Dengler growing up in the wilds of the Black Forest and Herzog the mountains of Bavaria. They both shared a knowledge of survival and a primal urge to push their physical and mental endurance to the limits.
Dengler’s story is that he fell in love with flying when he caught the eye of an American pilot bombing and strafing his neighborhood during WWII. The pilot flew within feet of the boy’s house and Dengler was in love with flight from that point on.
After making his first film about Dengler’s love of flying, “Little Dieter Needs to Fly,” Herzog waited some thirty years before making a film of the story of Dengler’s miraculous survival in the jungles of Laos during the Vietnam War. To this day he remains the only person known to have escaped from Pathet Lao captivity and returned alive to his own lines.
But Dengler never wanted to go to war, he went to war because he wanted to fly. In a cannonade of irony he was shot down on his first mission. Unfortunately for him it was a classified mission over Laos, a country whose Viet Cong sympathizers supplied the Cong with supplies and whose soldiers considered Americans to be nothing but imperialist mercenaries to be killed at every opportunity.
America never admitted to flying over Laos and Laos never admitted to having heard of the Geneva Convention. Once an American was captured in Laos, and some 500 were, that American ceased to become a person.
Christian Bale (“Batman Begins,” “American Psycho”) does a great job playing Dengler. The beauty of this work is Bale’s ability to express the childlike enthusiasm of Dengler on his first flight. He had no sense of fear. Even more important he had no sense of the deep seated hatred that the Pathet Lao had for Americans who strafed their villages and napalmed their families. This is the real surprise waiting for Dengler, for whom the entire war was an adventure. As he told his captors, he didn’t mean to hurt anyone, he only joined the service to fly.
Werner Herzog is nothing if not the world’s greatest advocate of physical special effects and old fashioned stunts and one of the last great decriers of digital flim-flam.
Dengler’s crash and his subsequent torture are handled in a well-grounded and extremely realistic manner. When Dengler is thrown into the POW camp to meet Duane (Steve Zahn—“Happy, Texas”) and Gene (Jeremy Davies—“Saving Private Ryan”) the real drama begins as newcomer Dengler, struggles to win the hearts and minds of the rest of the half dozen prisoners to escape the make-shift prison.
But escape to what? The escape from the prison camp is an escape to almost certain death in the jungle. Which is better, a life eating worms or death in the jungle by the slow torture of thirst? This is a tough sale and in the end only works half-way. The feeling of desperation pours out of the screen. There is no chance of success even worth imagining. There are only feelings and a choice of a way to die.
Herzog reunites with past collaborator cinematographer Peter Zeitlinger for some fascinating shots of the jungle, an environment that is the director’s second home. The result is some photography that is actually frightening in its scale.
The limestone cliffs and thick underbrush stifle any hope of passage at every turn. Vines reach out and strangle the escapees as they struggle with thirst, hunger and exhaustion at every step.
Herzog downplays the torture and bloodshed and never dwells on revenge. As a result his story succeeds in telling the story of one of the greatest survival epics ever.

Elizabeth Weitzman of the NY Daily News wrote on July 3, 2007:
There is a great movie in Werner Herzog's Vietnam saga, "Rescue Dawn." Unfortunately, it's about 30 minutes long. Although the rest of this based-on-truth adventure is woven with powerful moments, only toward the end will it hold you completely in its grip.
Herzog has so much admiration for former POW Dieter Dengler that he has already told his story in the documentary "Little Dieter Needs to Fly." Christian Bale steps into Dengler's uniform for the fictionalized version, which finds the young Navy pilot flying over Laos in 1965.
Gazing out across the countryside on his first mission, Dieter mutters, "Looks pretty boring." And then he's shot down, captured in the jungle and thrown in a prison.
His fellow American cellmates are burned-out hippie Gene (Jeremy Davies) and traumatized Duane (Steve Zahn). When Dieter decides to escape, they go along with varying degrees of enthusiasm. After careful planning they eventually make their break, and the audience gets the unforgettable experience it came for.
It's not that the story thus far is slow, or the drama unengaging. Far from it: Herzog builds suspense from the start, and the movie is shot spectacularly. But there is an odd emotional disconnect leading up to the climactic escape, which can be traced directly to the performances.
Most problematic is Herzog's wildly romanticized view of his protagonist. No matter what tortures he faces, Dieter never has a moment of vulnerability. All you really know about him is that he's never frightened and rarely fails. He's not a man, he's a superhero.
The other characters are no more multifaceted. Davies' affected performance demands attention but doesn't deserve it, while Zahn is so withdrawn, he finds himself overshadowed.
Everything changes, though, when he and Bale begin racing for freedom, their characters forced to use every part of themselves for survival. Bale's high-wattage charisma is dimmed, and Zahn's natural magnetism shines through. Together, they make a new movie, playing two men who alternate between courage and fear, hope and despair. And once you finally get to know them, you never want to see their story end.

I went to this movie and i thought it was a great story of Dengler's capture and escape. Have you seen it? What did you think? If you haven't, are you going to based on these reviews?

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Gettysburg (1993)

Gettysburg - Rated PG - Directed by Ronald F. Maxwell
"Same Land, Same God, Different Dream" (tagline from the film)
Starring Tom Berenger, Martin Sheen, and Jeff Daniels, Gettysburg is a depection of a battle in the Civil War at Gettysburg in 1863. The film is based on the novel Killer Angels by Michael Shaara. I'm going to give different reviews of the film from professional critics and offer my blog as a spot for others to reflect those reviews.

Steve Utley of the Austin Chronicle wrote a review on 10-15-1993:
"At four hours and eight minutes, plus intermission, Gettysburg is no date movie -- you won't have time for dinner before or energy for sex after. Originally intended as a TV mini-series, screenwriter/director Maxwell's adaptation of Michael Shaara's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, The Killer Angels, is faithful, fearless, and demands real commitment on the viewer's part. It repays with at least two Oscar-caliber performances and an epic recreation of the bloodiest battle in American history: thousands of Civil War reenactors trudge purposefully across the same rolling Pennsylvania farmland over which General George Pickett's division advanced to destruction 130 years ago. It is authentic right down to tobacco pouches and regional accents: a captured Tennesseean tells a bemused Union officer from Maine, “I'm here fightin' for my rats.” There are scenes of terrible beauty: the fight for Little Round Top, a savage melee on a gloomy wooded hillside, moved my companion, no Civil War buff, almost to tears. The overall production design by Austinite Cary White is superb. There is also, unfortunately, the Randy Edelman score, which sometimes overwhelms in its effort to make sure we know what we're watching is history come alive, or a real big movie, anyway. For all its lavish scale, however, Gettysburg is about the ideas and passions that propelled Northerners and Southerners at one another's throats. Early on, the earnest professor of rhetoric turned soldier, Colonel Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain (Daniels, one of the bravest actors around), tells mutinous Union troops why they must continue to fight. The 1860s, as Shaara noted in his book, were “a na├»ve and sentimental time, and men spoke in windy phrases” that seem quaint to the modern ear. It's a mark of Maxwell's faith in the material that he retained this potentially fidget-making speechifying, and a testament to Daniels' ability that the scene works. On the Confederate side, Robert E. Lee (Sheen, in top form) is by turns the remote, brilliant Virginia aristocrat and the all-too-human victim of his own success. His absolute belief that his men can carry out any order he gives them is shared by the unabashed romantics who surround him -- among them, Lang's exuberant Pickett and Jordan's tormented Lewis Armistead, who agonizes over the fate that has placed him directly opposite his best friend in the Union Army. Only General James Longstreet (Berenger) stands slightly apart, one of the first of the new breed of warrior who has “sense the birth of the new war of machines”; unable to speak the order that will launch Pickett's charge, he can only nod disconsolately. Whether depicting great masses of men engaged in the hot, sweaty work of making war or focused on individuals trapped by their own standards of honor, morality, and manhood, Gettysburg enthralls. See it on the big screen. It is history come alive, by God. "

Chris Hicks of Deseret News offered some downsides to this film in part of his review written on 10-08-1993:
"....But there are also some serious problems here — and most have to do with pacing. The film has a stop-and-go mentality that never manages to pick up speed. First comes a lengthy God-and-country speech, then a rousing battle. Then, another sincere monologue, then another call to arms. And so, it goes, with stories that are not artistically or even interestingly intercut and with direction that is very unimaginative. The result is simply that it's impossible not to notice the picture's unwieldy length, despite an intermission at its center. The best sequence, and it's a lengthy one, is the battle at Little Round Top, which concludes the film's first half. After that, the film itself seems to very slowly proceed downhill......"

Out of all the reviews I read, Hicks' was the only one that had the negatives about the film. For those of you who've seen Gettysburg, how valid do you find the points I've presented from Utley and Hicks? Or perhaps, if you haven't seen the film, what from these reviews makes you want to see it or not see it?

I also found a site offering a learning guide to be used in the classroom along with this film. The link is:


The site offers this as one of it's free lesson plans, but for other movies it asks for a yearly membership fee to the site.....unfortunate.