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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Hard Out

Comedy From The Closet

Janice and Jeffrey Available Now On IFC's Comedy Crib

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She’s been referred to as “the love child of Amy Sedaris and Tracy Ullman,” and he’s a self-described “Italian who knows how to cook a great spaghetti alla carbonara.” They’re Mollie Merkel and Matteo Lane, prolific indie comedians who blended their robust creative juices to bring us the new Comedy Crib series Janice and Jeffrey. Mollie and Matteo took time to answer our probing questions about their series and themselves. Here’s a taste.

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IFC: How would you describe Janice and Jeffrey to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?

Mollie & Matteo: Janice and Jeffrey is about a married couple experiencing intimacy issues but who don’t have a clue it’s because they are gay. Their oblivion makes them even more endearing.  Their total lack of awareness provides for a buffet of comedy.

IFC: What’s your origin story? How did you two people meet and how long have you been working together?

Mollie: We met at a dive bar in Wrigley Field Chicago. It was a show called Entertaining Julie… It was a cool variety scene with lots of talented people. I was doing Janice one night and Matteo was doing an impression of Liza Minnelli. We sort of just fell in love with each other’s… ACT! Matteo made the first move and told me how much he loved Janice and I drove home feeling like I just met someone really special.

IFC: How would Janice describe Jeffrey?

Mollie: “He can paint, cook homemade Bolognese, and sing Opera. Not to mention he has a great body. He makes me feel empowered and free. He doesn’t suffocate me with attention so our love has room to breath.”

IFC: How would Jeffrey describe Janice?

Matteo: “Like a Ford. Built to last.”

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

Mollie & Matteo: Our current political world is mirroring and reflecting this belief that homosexuality is wrong. So what better time for satire. Everyone is so pro gay and equal rights, which is of course what we want, too. But no one is looking at middle America and people actually in the closet. No one is saying, hey this is really painful and tragic, and sitting with that. Having compassion but providing the desperate relief of laughter…This seemed like the healthiest, best way to “fight” the gay rights “fight”.

IFC: Hummus is hilarious. Why is it so funny?

Mollie: It just seems like something people take really seriously, which is funny to me. I started to see it in a lot of lesbians’ refrigerators at a time. It’s like observing a lesbian in a comfortable shoe. It’s a language we speak. Pass the Hummus. Turn on the Indigo Girls would ya?

See the whole season of Janice and Jeffrey right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

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Die Hard Dads

Inspiration For Die Hard Dads

Die Hard is on IFC all Father's Day Long

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Photo Credit: Everett Collection, GIPHY

Yippee ki-yay, everybody! It’s time to celebrate the those most literal of mother-effers: dads!

And just in case the title of this post left anything to the imagination, IFC is giving dads balls-to-the-wall ’80s treatment with a glorious marathon of action trailblazer Die Hard.

There are so many things we could say about Die Hard. We could talk about how it was comedian Bruce Willis’s first foray into action flicks, or Alan Rickman’s big screen debut. But dads don’t give a sh!t about that stuff.

No, dads just want to fantasize that they could be deathproof quip factory John McClane in their own mundane lives. So while you celebrate the fathers in your life, consider how John McClane would respond to these traditional “dad” moments…

Wedding Toasts

Dads always struggle to find the right words of welcome to extend to new family. John McClane, on the other hand, is the master of inclusivity.
Die Hard wedding

Using Public Restrooms

While nine out of ten dads would rather die than use a disgusting public bathroom, McClane isn’t bothered one bit. So long as he can fit a bloody foot in the sink, he’s G2G.
Die Hard restroom

Awkward Dancing

Because every dad needs a signature move.
Die Hard dance

Writing Thank You Notes

It can be hard for dads to express gratitude. Not only can McClane articulate his thanks, he makes it feel personal.
Die Hard thank you

Valentine’s Day

How would John McClane say “I heart you” in a way that ain’t cliche? The image speaks for itself.
Die Hard valentines

Shopping

The only thing most dads hate more than shopping is fielding eleventh-hour phone calls with additional items for the list. But does McClane throw a typical man-tantrum? Nope. He finds the words to express his feelings like a goddam adult.
Die Hard thank you

Last Minute Errands

John McClane knows when a fight isn’t worth fighting.
Die Hard errands

Sneaking Out Of The Office Early

What is this, high school? Make a real exit, dads.
Die Hard office

Think you or your dad could stand to be more like Bruce? Role model fodder abounds in the Die Hard marathon all Father’s Day long on IFC.

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Founding Farters

Know Your Nerd History

Revenge of the Nerds is on IFC.

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Photo Credit: Everett Collection, GIFs via Giphy

That we live in the heyday of nerds is no hot secret. Scientists are celebrities, musicians are robots and late night hosts can recite every word of the Silmarillion. It’s too easy to think that it’s always been this way. But the truth is we owe much to our nerd forebearers who toiled through the jock-filled ’80s so that we might take over the world.

geowash_flat

Our humble beginnings are perhaps best captured in iconic ’80s romp Revenge of the Nerds. Like the founding fathers of our Country, the titular nerds rose above their circumstances to culturally pave the way for every Colbert and deGrasse Tyson that we know and love today.

To make sure you’re in the know about our very important cultural roots, here’s a quick download of the vengeful nerds without whom our shameful stereotypes might never have evolved.

Lewis Skolnick

The George Washington of nerds whose unflappable optimism – even in the face of humiliating self-awareness – basically gave birth to the Geek Pride movement.

Gilbert Lowe

OK, this guy is wet blanket, but an important wet blanket. Think Aaron Burr to Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton. His glass-mostly-empty attitude is a galvanizing force for Lewis. Who knows if Lewis could have kept up his optimism without Lowe’s Debbie-Downer outlook?

Arnold Poindexter

A music nerd who, after a soft start (inside joke, you’ll get it later), came out of his shell and let his passion lead instead of his anxiety. If you played an instrument (specifically, electric violin), and you were a nerd, this was your patron saint.

Booger

A sex-loving, blunt-smoking, nose-picking guitar hero. If you don’t think he sounds like a classic nerd, you’re absolutely right. And that’s the whole point. Along with Lamar, he simultaneously expanded the definition of nerd and gave pre-existing nerds a twisted sort of cred by association.

Lamar Latrell

Black, gay, and a crazy good breakdancer. In other words, a total groundbreaker. He proved to the world that nerds don’t have a single mold, but are simply outcasts waiting for their moment.

Ogre

Exceedingly stupid, this dumbass was monumental because he (in a sequel) leaves the jocks to become a nerd. Totally unheard of back then. Now all jocks are basically nerds.

Well, there they are. Never forget that we stand on their shoulders.

Revenge of the Nerds is on IFC all month long.

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