DID YOU READ

6 Movies That Are Secretly About Vietnam

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By Kevin Maher

Movies are just one way America deals with the stuff it can’t quite deal with. The Vietnam war is one of the most difficult periods in America’s history. You can tell because it has been touched upon in so many different kinds of movies: historic drama (Platoon), revenge fantasy (Missing in Action), family-friendly revisionism (Disney’s Operation Dumbo Drop), and exploitation films about the “troubled Vietnam vet” (Billy Jack).

Those examples address the war explicitly, while other movies deal with the scars of war through subtext. (The same way the 2014 Godzilla isn’t about 9/11 but it’s TOTALLY about 9/11.)

Here are six movies that address the Vietnam war in their own subtle (and not-so-subtle) ways.

6. The Bad News Bears (1976)

Paramount Pictures

Paramount Pictures

At the risk of sounding like a paranoid college professor: The Bad News Bears is about Vietnam. This sports comedy doesn’t end with the rag-tag misfits winning the big game; nope, they lose. The movie is about coming to terms with defeat.

After the Bears blow the championship, Coach Buttermaker hands out beers to the kids, saying, “You should be damn proud of yourselves.”

During the closing ceremony even the obnoxious winning team admits that the Bears “got guts, all of ya.”

Our heroes defiantly reject pity, throwing their trophy into the dirt – just like the Vietnam Vets who discarded their medals when they came home. Angry shortstop Tanner Boyle tells the Yankees they can take their apology and their trophy and shove it “straight up yer ass!” Scrawny right fielder Timmy Lupus shouts, “Just wait ’til next year!”

Paramount Pictures

Paramount Pictures

Opera music swells as a dramatic closing shot of the American flag dissolves into a black-and-white photo of the Bears standing together like a platoon (and they’re just a few years younger than the boys who’d been sent to Vietnam).

The moral for the Bears (and for 1976 America) is: there’s no shame in coming in 2nd. Also, apparently in 1976 it was okay for a grown man to give kids beer.


5. Predator (1987)

20th Century Fox

20th Century Fox

Set in the fictional country Val Verde (and devoid of any real-world political baggage) Predator sends a group of men into the jungle to fight an invisible enemy. Sound familiar? How about that photo of Jesse Ventura holding a machine gun in an exploding rain forest – what does that remind you of? (Sorry to sound like Walter from The Big Lebowski, but Predator is about Vietnam.)

Arnold Schwarzenegger’s science-fiction film was released the same summer as Full Metal Jacket and Hamburger Hill, a big year for Vietnam movies.

In Predator, the soldiers quickly discover that they were dispatched on false pretenses—echoing the sentiment that Americans were lied to by the government. (See also: the mayor who won’t close the beaches in Jaws.)

When the mission becomes hopeless, all the heroes want is to “get to da choppa” (i.e. the last helicopter out of Saigon).

In one scene, Dutch (Arnold) tells Dillon (Carl Weathers), “You can’t win this.” (Um, yeah, you might even call it an “unwinnable war.”) Dillon replies, “Maybe I can get even”—thereby making Predator another ’80s war-revenge movie where America gets a do-over. This go-back-and-win fantasy is seen in Missing in Action (1984), Rambo: First Blood Part II (1985) and even a two-part episode of Magnum, P.I. (1985).

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TriStar/Cannon/MGM

By sending movie heroes back to Vietnam (or Val Verde standing in as Vietnam) America gets a second chance; an opportunity to “win this time,” without being held back by two-faced bureaucrats and shady politicians.

When Arnold defeats the Predator and boards the chopper, er, choppa to go home, his victory provides some closure for the 1987 American audiences.

Bonus points: When Arnold goes into battle with the Predator, his mud-caked face looks just like Martin Sheen’s in Apocalypse Now.

United Artists/20th Century Fox

United Artists/20th Century Fox


4. King Kong (1976)

Paramount Pictures

Paramount Pictures

Stay with me on this.

The ’76 King Kong remake has little to do with war, until its grand finale. Just like in the original, Kong stands on the roof of a skyscraper – but instead of fighting 1930s bi-planes, he’s met by flamethrowers and helicopters (two of the most iconic symbols of the Vietnam war).

A Gatling gun fires off the fatal rounds, while long-haired beardo Jeff Bridges screams in protest (as 1960s long-haired beardos were known to do).

Rumor has it, the last line of the film was originally, “Twas the military industrial complex and anti-Communism that killed the beast…” (I’m kidding, I’m kidding!)

But seriously, you have to admit it’s a pretty Nam’-ish ending.

3. Rocky (1976)

United Artists

United Artists

The Rambo movies famously show Stallone returning to Vietnam to win the war on his own terms, but Rocky is closer to the spirit of The Bad News Bears.

The film’s down-and-out protagonist reflects the so-called “malaise” in 1970s America, something President Jimmy Carter would later call a “crisis of confidence.”

Rocky Balboa’s most inspiring dialogue seems to address more than boxing:

Life’s not about how hard of a hit you can give..it’s about how many you can take, and still keep moving forward.

Whoa. It’s as if he’s describing America overcoming a 19-year military conflict in Southeast Asia!

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At the end of the film, Rocky doesn’t win his big fight, but that’s almost beside the point. He never gave up. Rocky is a hero for going the distance. To paraphrase The Dark Knight — a movie that, had it come out in the 1970s, would’ve totally been about Vietnam — he’s not the hero America deserves but the hero we need right now. (“Now” being one year after the end of a war that devastated the country.)


2. The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974)

Bryanston Pictures

Bryanston Pictures

Most film scholars and snarky blogs will focus on the chainsaw as a metaphorical penis. That’s fine, but I’m gonna take a different angle here.

Watch almost any grindhouse horror movie from the ’70s and you can see why people attribute the graphic violence to the war in Vietnam: the cruelty, the gore, the savagery. Those early Wes Craven and Tobe Hooper movies make the shower scene in Psycho look quaint.

The Texas Chain Saw Massacre captures the terror of Vietnam in the doomed teenagers who find themselves stranded in a frightening foreign wasteland, being chased by maniacs.

At the same time, the movie is about the haves and have-nots: the middle class teenagers represent the college kids who avoided the draft, while the cannibal family are the working-class boys who were shipped across the Pacific and took part in true horror.

Actor Edwin Neal (who played The Hitchhiker) has stated that the filming conditions were so awful that filming the movie was the worst experience of his life, adding, “…and I had been in Vietnam, with people trying to kill me, so I guess that shows how bad it was.”

It’s hard to NOT see some the Vietnam influence in the movie. 12 years later, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 (1986) introduces Chop-Top, Leatherface’s brother who served in Vietnam during the events of the first film. But I’ll save that for another pseudo-academic essay blog post that some commenters are bound to hate.

Cannon Films

Cannon Films


1. Fearless Frank (1967)

Trans American Films

Trans American Films

The final entry in this list is kinda hard to find. (It’s also kinda hard to watch. But if you insist, here’s a link to stream it on Amazon.)

Philip Kaufman’s Fearless Frank is a low-budget parody of TV’s Batman – because, yeah, the 1966 Batman wasn’t campy enough.

The story unfolds like a comic-strip version of Midnight Cowboy: Jon Voight plays a country boy coming to the big city – but instead of becoming a hooker, he becomes a superhero. (Two sides, same coin – am I right?)

Trans American Films

Trans American Films

At 77 minutes long, the kitschy humor starts to run thin, which could explain the crazy-ass turn no one saw coming: Fearless Frank, the lead character(!), leaps off a Chicago skyscraper and kills himself. (This isn’t some weird dream I had, it just sounds like one.) With Fearless Frank dead, he’s replaced by his evil doppelganger “False Frank.” This brooding look-alike (who’s covered with big scars, a la Frankenstein’s Monster) leaves the city and goes back to Frank’s home in the country.

In the final scene False Frank boards a rowboat and drifts up the river, an undeniable homage to Apocalypse Now (except that, y’know, Apocalypse Now wouldn’t be filmed for another 12 years).

Trans American Films

Trans American Films

With this bizarre third act, Fearless Frank is less like Midnight Cowboy meets The Caped Crusader and more like Coming Home, a far more acclaimed Jon Voight film that tells the story of a scarred Vietnam Vet’s homecoming. The camera holds on Frank’s crying face as the narrator offers this somber conclusion:

Everyone was proud of Frank. Ma and Pa were there, too. And although they felt that he had changed, they couldn’t tell how… they just drift onward, they do not seem to know where they’re going, nor do they care. And no one will ever see them again.

Trans American Films

Trans American Films

If this superhero story were any more bleak it could be DC’s next Zack Snyder-directed blockbuster.

The heavy plot twist makes Fearless Frank more than a one-note parody, but I’m guessing the biting satire might’ve been what kept it from getting a wide release in 1967. (That and the fact that it’s not very good.)

So there you have it, six movies that are secretly about Vietnam. Did we forget any? Let us know in the comments.

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Forget Oscar

Find Your Spirit Animal

The Spirit Awards are LIVE this Saturday at 2p PT/5p ET.

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In just a few precious days, the greatest, most epic, most star-studded awards ceremony of the year comes to IFC.

And please, we’re definitely not talking about the Oscars. We’re talking about the Spirit Awards. Hosted by iconic comedy duo Nick Kroll and John Mulaney, it’s a relatively under-the-radar awards show with serious cred. And if the past is any indicator, we’re in for a wild night.

If you feel like doing your homework, you can find a full list of nominees and performance excerpts here. It reads like a who’s who of everyone that matters – those larger-than-life personalities with status that borders on mythological. Our celebrity spirit animals, if you will.

This isn’t hyperbole. Literally everyone who takes the stage at the awards show is spirit animal material. Let’s see if we can help you find yours…

Do you

Live in someone else’s shadow despite shining like the sun? Do you inexplicably vandalize your pretty-boy good looks with a sloppy-joe man bun and a repellent pubic-hair beard? Do you think sounding stoned and sounding thoughtful are kinda the same thing?

Congratulations, your spirit animal is Casey Affleck.

He’s the self-canonized patron saint of anyone who’s got the goods but doesn’t give a damn.

Do you

Have mid-length hair and exude a certain feminine masculinity that is universally appealing? Are you drawn to situations that promise little to nothing in the way of grooming or hygiene as a transparently self-conscious attempt to conceal your radiant inner glow? Does that fail miserably?

Way to go, your spirit animal is Viggo Mortensen.

He’s the yoga teacher of actors, in that what should make him super nasty only increases his curb appeal.

Do you

Get zero recognition for work that everyone knows is unrivaled? Do you inspire greatness in others yet get shortchanged when it comes to your own acclaim? Are you a goddam B-52 bomber in an industry of biplanes?

Bingo, your spirit animal is Annette Bening.

What does it take for this artist to win an Oscar? Honestly now, if her performance in 20th Century Women doesn’t earn her every award on the planet, consider it proof that the Universe truly is a cold dark void absent of reason or compassion.

Do you

Walk into a room full of strangers and walk out with a room full of friends? Have you been hiding under the radar just waiting for the right moment to leap out into the spotlight and stay there FOREVER? Do you possess the almost messianic ability to elevate Shia LaBeouf’s on-screen charisma?

You guessed it (or not), your spirit animal is 100% Sasha Lane.

If you haven’t seen American Honey, then you haven’t heard of her. She came out of the blue with a performance both subtle and powerful, and now she’s going to be in all the movies from this moment on. Or she should be, at any rate.

Don’t see your spirit animal there? Worry not. There are many more nominees to choose from, and you can see them all (yes, including Shia LaBeouf) during the Independent Spirit Awards, this Saturday at 2pm PT/5pm ET only on IFC.

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Car Notes

Portlandia Keeps Road Rage In Park

Get a lesson in parking etiquette on a new Portlandia.

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It’s the most American form of cause and effect: Park like a monster, receive a passive-aggressive note.

car notes note

This unofficial rule of the road is critical to keeping the great big wheel of car-related Karma in balance. And naturally, Portlandia’s Kath and Dave have elevated it to an awkward, awkward art form in Car Notes, the Portlandia web series presented by Subaru.

If you’ve somehow missed the memo about Car Notes until now, you can catch up on every installment online, on the IFC app, and on demand. You can even have a little taste right here:

If your interest is piqued – great news for you! A special Car Notes sketch makes an appearance in the latest episode of Portlandia, and you can catch up on it now right here.

Watch all-new Portlandia Thursdays at 10P on IFC.

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Naked and Hungry

Two New Ways to Threeway

IFC's Comedy Crib gets sensual in time for Valentine's Day.

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This week, two scandalous new digital series debut on IFC’s Comedy Crib.
Ménage à Trois invites people to participate in a real-life couple’s fantasy boudoir. And The Filling is Mutual follows two saucy chefs who invite comedians to make food inspired by their routines. Each show crosses some major boundaries in sexy and/or delicious ways, and each are impossible to describe in detail without arousing some awkward physical cravings. Which is why it’s best to hear it directly from the minds behind the madness…

Ménage à Trois

According to Diana Kolsky and Murf Meyer, the two extremely versatile constants in the ever-shifting à trois, “MàT is a sensually psychedelic late night variety show exploring matters of hearts, parts and every goddamn thing in between…PS, any nudes will be 100% tasteful.”

This sexy brainchild includes sketches, music, and props that would put Pee-wee’s Playhouse to shame. But how could this fantastical new twist on the vanilla-sex variety show format have come to be?

“We met in a UCB improv class taught by Chris Gethard. It was clear that we both humped to the beat of our own drum; our souls and tongues intermingled at the bar after class, so we dove in head first.”

Sign me up, but promise to go slow. This tricycle is going to need training wheels.

The Filling is Mutual

Comedians Jen Saunderson and Jenny Zigrino became best friends after meeting in the restroom at the Gotham Comedy Club, which explains their super-comfortable dynamic when cooking with their favorite comedians. “We talk about comedy, sex, menses, the obnoxiousness of Christina Aguilera all while eating food that most would push off their New Year’s resolution.”

The hook of cooking food based off of comedy routines is so perfect and so personal. It made us wonder about what dishes Jen & Jenny would pair with some big name comedy staples, like…

Bill Murray?
“Oh, that’s easy Meatballs with Lingonberry Space Jam it’d be great, but then we’d have to Oh, that’s easy Meatballs with Lingonberry Space Jam it’d be great, but then we’d have to… Oh, that’s easy Meatballs with Lingonberry Space Jam it’d be great, but then we’d have to avoid doing any kind of silly Groundhog Day reference.” 

Bridget Everett?
“Cream Balls… Sea Salt encrusted Chocolate Ganache Covered Ice Cream Ball that melt cream when you bite into them.” 

Nick Kroll & John Mulaney? 
“I’d make George and Gil black and white cookies from scratch and just as we open the oven to put the cookie in we’d prank ’em with an obnoxious amount of tuna!!!”

Carrie Brownstein & Fred Armisen? 
“Definitely a raw cacao “safe word” brownie. Cacao!”

Just perfect.

See both new series in their entirety on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

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