The Odd Angry Shot (1979)
- I’ve already noted before how good this film is as an example of Australian film making from the 1970s, and I would like to say that this is one of the best war films made anywhere in the world. Made at a time when the resurgent Australian film industry was in full flood, ‘The Odd Angry Shot’ is a classic. It not only does what only our films can (i.e. put the Australian experience and national character into the cinematic language), it has an intense realism in its depiction of the life of a common soldier that is missed by many a bigger budgeted, more famous war film (e.g. ‘The Deer Hunter’, ‘We Were Soldiers Once’).
- The lead cast with Graham Kennedy, John Jarrett, Bryan Brown and John Hargreaves are absolutely spot on with their characterisations, and for each actor this movie is one of their career highlights. Kennedy is the most surprisingly good, considering his background as a TV presenter, but there is a truth to all the lead performances that can only be understood by someone who has met or served with real Vietnam vets.
- For a small budget Australian film there is no great difficulty in seeing the realism of the combat sequences. The Australian war in Vietnam more often than not was one of small unit patrols with minor unit actions and lots of concern over death or injury through mines and other weapons. Also it was fought by a more disciplined and less divided army than the Americans. In ‘The Odd Angry Shot’ we see the SAS troop that is the central unit of the film engaged in just these kinds of activities.
- Whilst there is plenty of violence, death, cynicism and general military madness in the movie, ‘The Odd Angry Shot’ is not afraid of showing the humour of the men at war. There are moments that are piss-funny, and as has been said before by others war can be long periods of boredom broken up by moments of sheer bloody terror. Your average digger in Vietnam (if not soldier anywhere since recorded time) responded by sometimes laughing in the face of boredom and terror…this movie shows this in spades.
- The lack of a big budget is not in itself a liability, however it does mean that for its viewers who have seen ‘Apocalypse Now’ or ‘Platoon’ or ‘Hamburger Hill’, it can be said that ‘The Odd Angry Shot’ is limited in its production values. This movie doesn’t lose anything by being shown on the small screen, which is perhaps indicative of where it was at as a piece of cinema.
- The cynicism and distrust of ‘the powers that be’ who have put this group of men into battle in Vietnam is barely raised as a theme, and so for anyone looking for a wider political or social message about the war in Vietnam, ‘The Odd Angry Shot’ fails to deliver this.
4 out of 5 Bill Collins
Operation Dumbo Drop (1995)
- There is little to complain about the technical aspects of this Disney feature, in that it looks very good (thanks to the combination of the Thai filming locations and the work of director and cinematographer Simon Wincer and Russell Boyd. The use of some stereotypical Vietnam War tropes (e.g. the ‘gone native’ GI, the dense and threatening Vietnamese marketplace, the by the book American and the scheming ‘fixer’ REMF) is also a sign of the technical competency.
- There is also much to be said in favour of the performances by Ray Liotta, Danny Glover and Dennis Leary. Glover is probably the best, echoing (without the expletives or drug-soaked characterisation produced by Willem Dafoe as Sergeant Elias in ‘Platoon’). Leary reminds me a little of Don Rickles in ‘Kelly’s Heroes’ and Liotta is solid as the more conventional Green Beret at odds with his colleagues and the mission.
- The central character of the film is the elephant Bo-Tat, and it is easily the most entertaining film pachyderm since Dumbo. Of course there is not much competition…
- Producing a family friendly Disney film set in the Vietnam War seems bizarre if not historically negligent. Yes, there is violence and yes, there are moments of conflict. However unlike the searing realism of ‘Hamburger Hill’ or ‘We Were Warriors Once’ and plenty of similar movies, ‘Operation Dumbo Drop’ seems like a fable set in a sanitised Vietnam War theme park. Disney had previously shown that comedies set in Vietnam can work (i.e. ‘Good Morning Vietnam’ starring Robin Williams and produced by Disney’s Touchstone team), and that was because underlying the silliness there was some historical truth and realism. Sad to say ‘Operation Dumbo Drop’ is like some whitewashed figment of someone who wanted to create a kid’s movie with nasty men wearing NVA uniforms.
- Like many a Disney film, the biggest strength of the movie (its efficient and seamless sentimentality) is its biggest weakness. You know that when you watch this movie everything will end up fine, and all danger is cartoonish. It’s surprisingly shallow emotionally, and when contrasted with the Pixar animated films it’s problematic that depth of character is more often found in the likes of Wall-E or Ratatouille than in the personae of ‘Operation Dumbo Drop’.
2 out of 5 Bill Collins
Little Shop Of Horrors (1986)
- The musical as a film genre went through some dark days between the early seventies through to the release of ‘Chicago’ and ‘Moulin Rouge’, and one of the few (and brightest) highlights in the gloom was ‘Little Shop of Horrors’. Taking the Off-Broadway musical as its model, which in its turn had been based on one of Roger Corman’s classic low budget genre flicks, this 1986 Frank Oz directed film hits so many positive notes as a musical, as a comedy, as a special effects film and as a romance.
- As much as this is a movie with some solid (or even better) from its Hollywood stars such as Rick Moranis, Vincent Gardenia, Steve Martin and a hilarious cameo from Bill Murray, the two greatest performances of ‘Little Shop…’ are from Ellen Greene as Audrey, and Levi Stubbs’ voiced puppet plant, Audrey II. Greene is a revelation as the meek, battered and beautiful flower arranger who looks to escape skid row with Rick Moranis’ Seymour Krelborn. Thank goodness neither mooted ‘Audreys’ Cyndi Lauper nor Barbara Streisand got this role. Greene has a wonderful singing voice and in this film she combines that with some exquisite comedic timing. ‘Audrey II’ is a triumph of puppetry, not seen outside the likes of ‘Labyrinth’ and with Levi Stubbs providing the voice the monster is surprisingly likeable. Between Greene and Stubbs these two voice talents achieve some great musical moments (also attributable to Howard Ashman and Alan Mencken, the writers of ‘Little Shop..’ score and lyrics).
- The innate comedy of the film’s premise is well realised thanks to the participation of many Second City/Saturday Night Live alumni (i.e. Moranis, Murray, Martin, John Candy, Jim Belushi). Martin’s sadistic dentist is one of his best efforts from the 1980s, whilst Rick Moranis does very well as the nebbish lead and romantic hero.
- Depending upon how closely you wish a film to follow the original story/show, ‘Little Shop of Horrors’ is perhaps an example of the unfortunate reliance of studios on test audiences to make creative decisions. The recently released Blu-Ray and earlier DVD editions show the original ending, which was cut due to its negative response, and it could be said that the movie’s been changed too much from its original form. I tend to disagree with this point, however it must be cited for anyone familiar with the Corman film or Off-Broadway musical.
3 out of 5 Bill Collins