DT Moviehouse Review: Buffalo Soldiers

Time once more for my blog feature, DT Moviehouse Reviews, in which I make my way alphabetically through my 200+ DVD/Blu-Ray collection (you can see the list right here) and decide if each one was worth the money. Today I review Gregor Jordan’s indie flick, Buffalo Soldiers.

Directed by Gregor Jordan
Screenplay by Gregor Jordan, Eric Axel Weiss, and Nora Maccoby.
Tagline: Steal all that you can steal.
buffalo_soldiers
What It’s About:
As the Cold War winds down in West Germany, an unscrupulous and opportunistic Army supply clerk, Ray Elwood (Joaquin Phoenix), commands a booming black market trade in surplus material and home cooked heroin under the nose of his oblivious commander (Ed Harris). When a hardnosed new top sergeant (Scott Glenn) arrives and threatens Elwood’s operation in the midst of his biggest deal ever, he complicates things by getting involved with the man’s rebellious daughter (Anna Paquin).
Why I Bought It
theguysThere’s an inherent absurdity to the uniformity and philosophy of military service which the occasional work brings to light amid the admittedly more appealing fanfare and ass kicking that’s prevalent in examinations of the subject. Literature tends to get away with it a bit more. Joseph Heller’s Catch 22 comes to mind, but there are a few movies too – the adaptation of Catch 22, MASH, Jarhead, Stripes, elements of Full Metal Jacket and Apocalypse Now. Maybe in movies it’s harder to get away with because if you want a realistic portrayal of the military you usually have to involve them in the production? I don’t know. If that were true, I doubt Buffalo Soldiers would ever have been made. But then again, it too, like Full Metal Jacket and Jarhead, was a book first.
Like Jarhead, its main subject is the activities of America’s warriors in peacetime, in this case, on a secure base in Stuttgart months before the fall of the Berlin Wall (as it unfolds on the news, several of the stoned soldiers profess to not even knowing what country the Wall is in). Like Catch 22, it focuses on the black marketeering of soldiers, in this case, Elwood and his cronies (the always great Michael Pena, Michael Wright, and later, Gabriel Mann), who use their influence as supply clerks to divert surplus into the hands of dubious German buyers and make enough to keep them in Rollexes cooking heroin on base.

tanksquashbugElwood isn’t Sgt. Bilko. He’s a manipulative, mostly amoral, but highly intelligent individual who chose enlistment over a prison stint, and whose criminal leanings aren’t overly affected by his service. He plays his commanding officer, the earnest but ineffectual Colonel Berman, like a more successful Eddie Haskell, playing the part of a loyal and attentive assistant while sleeping with Berman’s wife (among all his other criminal activities). What’s appealing to me about Elwood’s character is what Anna Paquin’s Robyn calls out about him at one point – he’s bored, and he seems to be doing everything he’s doing more out relieving that boredom rather than true malice. Instead of knuckling down at the appearance of a new top sergeant obviously there to investigate rumors of his activities, he dates the man’s daughter. When, in one hilarious sequence, a seriously stoned tank crew out on maneuvers goes on an accidental rampage that results in the death of two Army truck drivers, Elwood orders his boys to confiscate and hide the trucks full of guns rather than turn them in, and sets out to make a five million dollar deal and ‘retire.’ The tank crew is never brought to justice, or even mentioned again.
The plot is intricate and replete with enough double crosses to keep your attention. Of course when Elwood goes for the big score the noose tightens, not only with Sgt. Lee (Glenn), but also with Turkish criminals, Russian interlopers, and the base’s own gang-like military police, led by the bullying, opportunistic, staunchly vegetarian (!) Sgt. Saad (Sheik Mahmud-Bey). Seeing how Elwood gets out of his predicaments is part of the fun. There are some nice surprises, and a clever bit of table turning involving the heroin cooking and Saad’s refusal to eat meat that’s pretty cool.

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURESMore than blackly humorous, I would say in parts, it’s blackly hilarious. There is a subplot in which Berman vies for promotion with a rival, Colonel Marshall (Brian Delate) and throws a dinner party celebrating the revelation that he’s related to an obscure Confederate war hero (The Iron Boar) to impress his CO, General Lancaster, played by Dean Stockwell. Of course Marshall’s own ancestor George C. Marshall turns out to be more impressive, and when Colonel Marshall disparages Hood by wondering aloud if he lost both an arm and a leg in some military disaster of his own making, Berman splutters “He didn’t lose the arm. He lost the use of it.” As Berman quickly learns that General Lancaster is unimpressed with fancy relations, Sgt. Lee assigns Elwood and Stoney (Leon Robinson) to man the punch table in Confederate uniforms in front of a Stars and Bars flag on the wall – something Stoney, who is black, is obviously not happy about. Elwood and his boys hide their illegal weapons in a nuclear facility on base, which Berman decides to use as a setting for a grand war game to pit his men (which includes Elwood and friends) against Marshall’s, ostensibly to woo Lancaster’s favor. Of course the whole thing’s going down the same day Elwood needs to move the guns under threat of death from the Turks, and Garcia (Pena) remarks, “If we’re not dead by 1700, we’re fuckin’ dead!” The interplay of Lee and Elwood as the investigation intensifies if pretty humorous. At one point Lee confiscates Elwood’s civilian automobile for a live fire exercise and orders Elwood to blow up his own vehicle with an M-60.

marchoverflagThe whole movie has a very slick, indie gangster feel, with a great classic hip hop soundtrack. There are some excellent compositions. An early one where the soldiers march across a Patton-esque US flag painted on the ground, and Elwood’s portentous dreams of falling (unlike most people, in his falling dream he always hits the ground) are beautifully filmed. I’m surprised this flick doesn’t have a better reputation. Apparently its release, too critical of the United States military, was pre-empted for two years following the September 11th Attacks, I guess because nobody wanted to speak bad about the military then.
I had forgotten how much I liked it.

Best Dialogue/Line:

In an early scene, when a soldier accidentally kills himself playing football in the barracks, Elwood drafts a letter home to the deceased kid’s parents, trying to put a spin on his foolish demise as Berman listens. The Colonel’s only critique –

“The word ‘resplendent.’ I don’t think that’s a good word to describe a soldier. What about….contained? In him were contained the virtues of honor and loyalty. That’s much better, don’t you think?”
“Oh much better, sir.”
“Scrap ‘resplendent.’ Don’t let that word leave this base.”

Best Scene:

I think the climactic threeway clash of Garcia and Elwood’s heroin cookers, Saad’s MP’s, and Sgt. Lee’s strike team in a room full of overcooking heroin as the fall of the Berlin wall plays out on an overturned TV was particularly cool. The fumes start getting all the combatants ridiculously high, yet they still push on with their fight, smiling faintly as they shoot and plunge combat knives into each other. Very chilling, and juxtaposed with Elwood battling the homicidal Lee as he narrates a Nietczhe quote and likens it to an inherent inability for men to avoid going to war, the whole thing in hindsight seems almost to condemn a war that had not yet begun, one which we’re still fighting today.
I can see why it wasn’t released.

Next In The Queue: A Bullet For The General

DT Moviehouse Review: Atlantis: The Lost Empire

Time once more for my blog feature, DT Moviehouse Reviews, in which I make my way alphabetically through my 200+ DVD/Blu-Ray collection (you can see the list right here) and decide if each one was worth the money. Today I take a look at Disney’s underrated animated film Atlantis: The Lost Empire.

(2001) Directed by Gary Trousdale and Kirk Wise

Written by Tab Murphy with Story credits including Kirk Wise, Gary Trousdale, Joss Whedon, Bryce and Jackie Zabel, and David Reynolds.

Tagline: Atlantis Is Waiting…

What it’s about:

In 1914, underappreciated scholar Milo Thatch (Michael J. Fox) seeks to carry on his deceased grandfather Thaddeus’ quest for the legendary lost city of Atlantis. He keeps getting dismissed as a fringe academician until he is contacted by an old colleague of his grandfather’s, wealthy eccentric Preston Whitmore (John Mahoney), who recruits Milo to advise a fully funded and outfitted submarine expedition to find Atlantis. The expedition is led by a motley team of mercenaries including Commander Rourke (James Garner), his femme fatale second in command Helga Sinclair (Claudia Christian), dynamite expert Vinny (Don ‘Fr. Guido Sarducci’ Novello), Doc Sweet (Phil Morris), plucky engineer Audrey Ramirez (Jacqueline Obradors), geologist Mole Molierre (Corey Burton), sardonic communications expert Wilhemina Packard (Florence Stanley), and irascible cook Cookie Farnsworth (Jim Varney, in his last major performance), as well as a virtual army of gun toting red shirts. After their sub is wrecked by a mechanical submarinal guardian, Milo and the mercs find themselves in the highly advanced society of Atlantis, led by King Nedakah (Leonard Nimoy) and his daughter Princess Kida (Cree Summer). However, when Rourke comes face to face with the priceless secret energy source that had preserved Atlantis for 8,000 years, he shows his true colors and attempts to seize it for himself. It’s up to Milo and friends to stop him.

Why I bought it:

In 2001, this was the best animated movie I had seen since 1999’s sublime The Iron Giant.

It’s a 50’s style sci-fi adventure movie in the vein of 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea and Journey To The Center Of The Earth, beautifully animated in top shelf Disney style, with fascinating, almost geometrical designs (notice the fingernails of all the characters are like diamond wedges) and conceptual work by Mike Mignola of Hellboy fame (particularly noticeable in the look of the gigantic Atlantean guardians).

While it doesn’t have the emotional impact of The Iron Giant, it’s exciting and nostalgic in the same way, and there’s not a musical number in sight (but a great evocative age of discovery score), something refreshing in animated movies at the time, and a daring if sadly unsuccessful experiment by Disney.

The voice work is all top notch too. The character animations perfectly compliment the actors’ styles, mimicking even their body mannerisms at times (particularly in the case of Milo/Michael J. Fox). Aside from the stars and the swan song performances of the always great Jim Varney and Florence Stanley, the minor characters are diverse and interesting to watch.

As a history buff, I was particularly impressed by all the cool background stuff casually dropped in the character of the African American Dr. Strongbear Sweet, who mentions growing up on an Indian reservation with a father in the famous 10th Cavalry (The original Buffalo Soldiers) and being present with the Rough Riders at the charge up San Juan Hill (the 10th was also at San Juan Hill). “I’ve got a sheepskin from Howard U and a bearskin from Old Iron Cloud.”

How cool is that?

Every frame of this movie displays an obvious love of craftsmanship and design. The movie is packed with period detail and seamlessly mixes real technology with fantastic steampunk-y inventions. Besides the Nautilus-esque submarine, I particularly liked the truck with a catapult that launched the motorized one man gliders.

In addition, the Atlantean stuff is superbly well realized, from the architecture and the retro-tech flying machines based off the sleek designs of sea creatures, right down to the invented language (there’s a neat little short on the development of that on the DVD special features).

Rourke is like Gaston’s abusive father.

I’ve heard complaints about the story and single dimensionality of the characters. I didn’t see it personally. It’s a fun movie, action packed. The good guys are likable and relatable and the bad guys (particularly James Garner, who even pitches his beautiful lieutenant off a balloon to her death to lighten the load) are suitably ruthless. There are even a number of permanent deaths (including a whole slew of gas mask wearing red shirts) which really surprised me at the time.

As in all good adventure movies, the stakes are necessarily high.

Best bit of dialogue:

Most of Jim Varney’s dialogue cracks me up. He reminds me of a John Ford stock character. The one I keep thinking of is after an attack on the camp by fireflies (literally giant flaming flies). Cookie gets singed in the backside and drops trou, declaring;

“Dang lightning-bugs done bit me on my sit-upon! Somebody’s gonna have to suck out this poison. Don’t everybody jump up at once.”

Best scene:

Actually the entire climactic sequence takes the cake for me.

After Princess Kida melds with the power source of Atlantis (alternately described as living and sentient and as the collective will of all Atlanteans, but definitely containing the spirits of members of the royal family it has previously merged with) and is transmogrified into some kind of brilliant blue water elemental being, Rourke and Helga (and an army of red shirts) decide to take her to the surface and sell her to highest bidder (the Kaiser is alluded to).

Milo uses the Atlantean power crystals to get the flying machines running and takes off in pursuit with a contingent of Atlantean warriors and the rest of the mercenaries, whose consciences get the better of them after Rourke murders King Nedakah.

What follows is a thrilling subterranean aerial battle between the Atlantean craft and Rourke’s mechanical gliders, full of plasma blasts and chattering Maxim machineguns, and ending with an explosion that immolates the paralyzed Helga and sends a crystallized Rourke (he is transformed horribly by a scratch from one of the power crystals) smashing into the fan of a crashing balloon.

The explosion also triggers a dormant underwater volcano which threatens to envelop Atlantis, until Princess Kida calls on the power source to activate a series of gigantic mystic stone automatons which rise from their 8,000 year slumber to erect a protective energy shell over the city against the avalanche of magma.

It’s a sweeping, exciting sequence in the tradition of the best kind of pulpy adventure.

Would I buy it again? Yes. Also of note, Disney intended to produce an ongoing television series involving Milo and Kida (and the good mercenaries) searching the globe for Atlantean artifacts. After the movie flopped at the box office, these plans were abandoned, and the three produced episodes were put together and released as Atlantis 2: Milo’s Return. It’s too bad the show didn’t go through, because the three episodes are enjoyable excursions to different parts of the globe and delve into different mythologies (native American and Norse). The first episode involves a seaside town that makes a bargain with a sea monster – it’s EXTREMELY Lovecraftian in tone, an obvious homage, particularly when you consider the excised end postscript scene (which is still viewable on the DVD special features), which features a woman asking her unseen baby for a hug and having a wormy tentacle emerge from the bunting!

NEXT IN THE QUEUE: Attack The Block

DT Moviehouse

I’ve decided to institute a new (ir)regular feature here on Delirium Tremens.

I watch a lot of movies. A LOT.

But I don’t take home everything I’ve seen. For me to pay for a movie again past the initial theatrical viewing or rental, that movie has really got to speak to me on some level that will induce me to not only want to revisit it at my leisure, but to send a monetary message to the creators that I appreciated their work (altough in taking stock of what I have, there are a couple titles I was given as gifts that I haven’t even watched yet!).

That said, I own something over two hundred movies, give or take. So yeah, lots of appreciation there.

In part to give me something more to do on this blog than just plug my work, and in part to justify my owning all these dang DVD’s and Blu-Rays, I’m going to go through my collection alphabetically and start revisiting and reviewing them here.

I’m no film critic. At least, no more than anybody else. I went to film school yeah, but I promise I’ll keep the mise en scene and chiaroscuro comments to a minimum. I’ve got opinions, and I’ve got memories of the movies on this list, and I’ll share them. That’s it. Oh and there’ll probably be spoilers. So I’m telling you now ‘cause I don’t intend to write it over every single review. Most of these are a couple years old anyway, or will be by the time I get to ‘em.

Here’s the list, which I’ll update if I make new purchases. I also intend to replace the reviewed titles with hyperlinks to the reviews as I write them for ease of reference (if I can figure out how to do that). This should take me a while to get through. No promises as to regularity, but eventually, one day, I’ll get to the end. Maybe it’ll even be fun.

Anyway, here’s the list of my collection. Don’t expect to see too many scathing reviews here. Like I said, I don’t buy stuff I don’t like, and anyway I don’t have the time or energy to complain about things I don’t like. Better to celebrate things I do, right? Right.

As always, feel free to comment, if you’re so inclined.

  • 8 Mile
  • 300
  • The Adventures of Robin Hood
  • The Agony And The Ecstacy
  • Alien
  • Aliens
  • The Apostle
  • At The Circus
  • Atlantis: The Los Empire
  • Attack The Block
  • Back To The Future
  • Back To The Future II
  • Back To The Future III
  • Bad Company
  • Batman Begins
  • The Beast Must Die
  • Ben-Hur
  • Beneath The Planet Of The Apes
  • Better Off Dead
  • Big Trouble In Little China
  • The Black Swan
  • Blade
  • The Blind Swordsman: Zatoichi
  • The Blood of Heroes
  • Bonnie and Clyde
  • The Brides Of Dracula
  • Bronco Billy
  • Buffalo Soldiers
  • A Bullet For The General
  • Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid
  • Cabin In The Woods
  • The Call of Cthulhu
  • Captain America: The Winter Soldier
  • Captain Blood
  • The Car
  • Casino Royale
  • Chato’s Land
  • The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion The Witch and The WardrobeThe Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion The Witch and The Wardrobe
  • Cimarron
  • Clash Of The Titans
  • Cloverfield
  • Conan The Barbarian
  • Conquest of The Planet of The Apes
  • Constantine
  • Cool Hand Luke
  • Crank
  • Cross Of Iron
  • Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
  • Curse Of The Demon (aka Night Of The Demon)
  • Cyrano De Bergerac
  • Daimajin/Wrath of Daimajin
  • Dances With Wolves
  • The Dark Knight
  • The Dark Knight Rises
  • Daredevil
  • The Dark Crystal
  • A Day At The Races
  • Dead Man
  • The Deadpool
  • Destry Rides Again
  • Diamonds Are Forever
  • Die Another Day
  • Die Hard
  • Dillinger
  • Dirty Harry
  • Django Unchained
  • Dog Soldiers
  • Down With Love
  • Dr. No
  • Dragonslayer
  • Dungeons and Dragons
  • The Enforcer
  • Enter The Dragon
  • Escape From New York
  • Escape From The Planet Of The Apes
  • E.T. The Extraterrestrial
  • Ever After
  • The Ewok Movies (Caravan of Courage/Battle For Endor)
  • Excalibur
  • The Far Country
  • Fiend Without A Face
  • The Fighting Kentuckian
  • First Blood
  • A Fistful of Dollars
  • Flag Of Iron
  • Flight Of The Phoenix
  • For A Few Dollars More
  • Frailty
  • From Russia With Love
  • Gamera 3: Revenge Of Iris
  • Gattaca
  • Glory
  • Godzilla vs. Biollante
  • Godzilla vs Hedorah
  • Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla II
  • Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah
  • Godzilla vs. Mothra:BattleFor Earth
  • Godzilla vs. Space Godzilla
  • Godzilla vs. Destroyah
  • Godzilla 2000
  • Godzilla Mothra and King Gihodrah: Giant Monster All Out Attack
  • Godzilla Against Mechagodzilla
  • Godzilla Tokyo SOS
  • GoldenEye
  • Goldfinger
  • The Good The Bad And The Ugly
  • The Goonies
  • Go West
  • The Great Santini
  • The Great Silence
  • The Green Hornet
  • Green Lantern
  • Gremlins
  • Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan The Lord Of The Apes
  • Gunga Din
  • Gymkata
  • Halloween III
  • Hamlet (Mel Gibson)
  • Happy Accidents
  • The Haunting
  • Heat
  • Hell Is For Heroes
  • The Hidden Fortress
  • The Hired Hand
  • Hombre
  • Hondo
  • Hot Fuzz
  • Hulk
  • I Declare War
  • Indiana Jones And The Kingdom of The Crystal Skull
  • Indiana Jones And The Last Crusade
  • Indiana Jones And The Temple of Doom
  • In Harm’s Way
  • Insomnia
  • Iron Man
  • Iron Man 2
  • Iron Man 3
  • It’s Always Fair Weather
  • I Was A Teenage Frankenstein
  • I Was A Teenage Werewolf
  • Jarhead
  • Jesus Christ Superstar
  • John Carter of Mars
  • The Jungle Book (Sabu)
  • The Karate Kid
  • The Killing
  • King Arthur
  • King Kong vs. Godzilla
  • Kiss Kiss Bang Bang
  • Krull
  • Kung Fu Panda
  • Kwaidan
  • LA Confidential
  • Ladyhawke
  • Lair Of The White Worm
  • The Last Detail
  • The Last Starfighter
  • The Last Man On Earth
  • The Last Temptation Of Christ
  • Lawrence of Arabia
  • A League Of Their Own
  • Legend
  • Legend of The Drunken Master
  • Leon The Professional
  • Lethal Weapon
  • License To Kill
  • The Life And Times of Judge Roy Bean
  • Live And Let Die
  • The Living Daylights
  • Lone Wolf And Cub: Sword Of Vengeance
  • Lone Wolf And Cub: Baby Cart At The River Styx
  • Lone Wolf And Cub: Baby Cart In The Land Of Demons
  • The Long Good Friday
  • The Long Riders
  • The Lord Of The Rings (Ralph Bakshi)
  • The Lost Weekend
  • Mad Max
  • Magnum Force
  • The Manchurian Candidate
  • The Man From Earth
  • The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance
  • The Man With The Golden Gun
  • The Mark Of Zorro
  • Master And Commander: The Far Side Of The World
  • Mars Attacks
  • Miami Blues
  • The Missing
  • Monty Python And The Holy Grail
  • Monty Python’s The Meaning Of Life
  • Mystery Men
  • The Naked Prey
  • Near Dark
  • Nevada Smith
  • A Night At The Opera
  • A Night In Casablanca
  • Night of The Hunter
  • Observe And Report
  • The Offence
  • Office Space
  • Once Upon A Time In The West
  • On The Waterfront
  • Open Range
  • The Others
  • Outland
  • The Outlaw Josey Wales
  • Patton
  • Peter Pan
  • Pirates Of The Caribbean: Curse of The Black Pearl
  • Planet Of The Apes
  • Platoon
  • Popeye
  • Predator
  • The Princess Bride
  • Prometheus
  • The Proposition
  • The Punisher
  • The Quiet Man
  • Raging Bull
  • Rambo (IV)
  • Ravenous
  • Real Steel
  • Rear Window
  • The Rebirth of Mothra (1 and 2)
  • Red River
  • Reign of Fire
  • The Return of The 5 Deadly Venoms
  • Ride With The Devil
  • Rio Bravo
  • Rio Grande
  • Robin And The 7 Hoods
  • Robocop
  • The Rocketeer
  • Rocky II
  • Rocky III
  • Rocky IV
  • Room Service
  • Rope
  • Run Ronnie Run
  • Saving Private Ryan
  • Scarface (Howard Hawks)
  • The Searchers
  • Se7en
  • The Seven Ups
  • Shaft’s Big Score
  • Shaolin Soccer
  • Shaun Of The Dead
  • She Wore A Yellow Ribbon
  • The Shootist
  • Signs
  • The Sixth Sense
  • Sky Captain And The World Of Tomorrow
  • Sleeping Beauty
  • The Sound Of Music
  • Spartacus
  • Spider-Man
  • Spider-Man 2
  • The Spy Who Loved Me
  • Stander
  • Stardust
  • Star Trek The Motion Picture
  • Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
  • Star Trek III: The Search For Spock
  • Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home
  • Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country
  • Star Trek: Generations
  • Star Trek: First Contact
  • Star Trek: Insurrection
  • Star Trek: Nemesis
  • Star Wars Episode III: Revenge Of The Sith
  • Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope
  • Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back
  • Star Wars Episode VI: Return of The Jedi
  • State of Grace
  • The Sting
  • Strangers On A Train
  • Sudden Impact
  • Superman The Movie
  • Superman II
  • Sword Of Doom
  • The Ten Commandments
  • Thief
  • Thief Of Bagdad
  • The Third Man
  • The Thirteenth Warrior
  • Thunderball
  • The Time Machine
  • Touch Of Evil
  • Treasure Of The Sierra Madre
  • True Grit (original)
  • Unforgiven
  • The Untouchables
  • Wall-E
  • Warlock
  • The Warriors
  • The War Of The Worlds
  • Whale Rider
  • Where Eagles Dare
  • White Zombie
  • The Whole Wide World
  • The Wicker Man
  • The Wild Bunch
  • Winchester ’73
  • The Wizard Of Oz
  • The Wolfman
  • The Woman In Black
  • Wyatt Earp
  • X2: X-Men United
  • X3: The Last Stand
  • X-Men
  • X-Men: First Class
  • The Yakuza
  • You Only Live Twice
  • Young Guns
  • The Young Lions