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TOUCHSTONE

MOVIE INFO

Director:
Barry Levinson
Cast:
Robin Williams, Forest Whitaker, Tung Thanh Tran, Chintara Sukapatana, Bruno Kirby, Robert Wuhl, J.T. Walsh, Noble Willingham, Richard Edson, Juney Smith, Richard Portnow
Writing Credits:
Mitch Markowitz

Tagline:
The wrong man. In the wrong place. At the right time.

Synopsis:
In Good Morning Vietnam, which is based on a true story, Cronauer (Robin Williams) is a nonconformist with a wicked sense of humor who is transferred from Crete to Saigon. Outrageous and over the top, Cronauer speaks in accents, creates characters, pokes fun at everyone - including the President - and spins banned rock and roll tunes. While his antics amuse the masses, they also put him in hot water with his superior officers, particularly Lt. Steven Hauk (Bruno Kirby), who would prefer that the radio show be censored, sanitized, and completely noncontroversial. Cronauer takes his show outside the radio station when he starts to teach Vietnamese locals English in an effort to meet pretty, demure Trinh (Chintara Sukapatana). He befriends Trinh's brother, Tuan (Tung Thanh Tran), who becomes an unlikely comrade in uncertain times. Directed by Barry Levinson, the film features a tour-de-force performance from Williams, who improvised much of the comedy used in the radio shows, earning an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor.

Box Office:
Budget
$13 million.
Opening Weekend
$194.308 thousand on 4 screens.
Domestic Gross
$123.922 million.

MPAA:
Rated R

DVD DETAILS
Presentation:
Widescreen 1.85:1/16x9
Audio:
English Dolby Digital 5.1
French Dolby Digital 5.1
Subtitles:
English
Closed-captioned

Runtime: 121 min.
Price: $19.99
Release Date: 1/10/2006

Bonus:
• Production Diary
• Raw Monologues
• Trailers
• Sneak Peeks


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RELATED REVIEWS


Good Morning Vietnam: Special Edition (1988)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (January 4, 2006)

Although Robin Williams maintained his reputation as a comedian and little more for many years, if we look at his film work, we can see that he embraced more dramatic roles almost immediately. After his debut in 1980’s disastrous Popeye, Williams next showed up in 1982’s comedy/drama The World According to Garp. That flick earned good notices and showed that Williams could do more than act like a cartoon character or a manic alien from Ork.

Although Williams occasionally went with purely comic roles after that, most of his parts fell into that merger of comedy and drama. This led Williams more and more into critical respect, a trend that eventually earned him his first Oscar nomination for 1987’s Good Morning Vietnam.

Set in Saigon circa 1965, Vietnam casts Williams as Airman Adrian Cronauer. Transferred from Crete to Vietnam, he receives an assignment to be a DJ for Armed Forces Radio. There he serves under Sergeant Major Philip “Dick” Dickerson (JT Walsh) and 2nd Lt. Steven Hauk (Bruno Kirby). Cronauer quickly establishes himself as a wacky, irreverent alternative to the sedate programming normally heard on the station. Although the GIs love him – and he has the support of CO Brigadier General Taylor (Noble Willingham) – Dickerson and Hauk loathe Cronauer’s style and do what they can to tame him.

In the meantime, Cronauer falls for local girl Trinh (Chintara Sukapatana). He tries to hit on her, but custom dictates that he must go through her family. Cronauer buddies up to her brother Tuan (Tung Thanh Tran) and becomes close to him and the rest of her clan while he also gets to know her better. The film follows their attempted romance along with his antics on the air.

Sometimes I find it very tough to view a movie on its own merits. I’d love to be able to watch Vietnam on its own terms circa its release of 1987. That would mean I’d have to ignore my impressions of Williams and director Barry Levinson that I’ve formed over the last 18 years.

Unfortunately, I can’t do it. Granted, I’m not sure if Vietnam would play any better without that hindsight, but my view of both Levinson and Williams makes it awfully tough for me to see them with open eyes. I think both are smug moralizers who condescend to audiences. Taken separately, either is bad enough, but when paired, the result becomes nearly unwatchable.

It’s a terrible overstatement to call Vietnam “unwatchable”, but I can’t help but think it would’ve been much better with a different director and another star. In this case, I might blame Williams more than Levinson. The movie’s only quality moments occur without Williams onscreen. A splendid supporting cast bolsters the flick, and when we don’t have to see Robin, it can be reasonably good. Kirby’s pathetic attempt to fill the DJ slot is easily the film’s most amusing moment.

Unfortunately, Williams rarely departs the screen. He has two modes: rapid-fire shtick and sappy emotion. He does neither well. Again, I may not be able to judge Williams’ comedic chops well anymore because I got sick of his style so long ago. If you like his work, you’ll undoubtedly enjoy his patter here much more than I did.

I do think Williams can be funny – heck, I still dig him in Aladdin - but I find his material in Vietnam to be stale and unamusing. At least the DJ moments are better than his attempts at being serious. He makes Cronauer the worst kind of PC character.

This leads us down some story paths that don’t really make sense to me. Normally I’d support a character who battles against censorship. However, when it’s a case in which that character is a member of the military who broadcasts to his peers, I’d have to err on the side of caution. “Loose lips sink ships” and all that. Really, what positive effect would his uncensored broadcasts have – the make morale even lower?

But God forbid a character in a Levinson movie not take the road most open to condescension. This thread allows Cronauer to act superior to one-dimensional personalities like Hauk and Dickerson. The film becomes absurdly cartoony as it turns them into stock villains just to glorify the lead.

Since he also lacks dimensionality, this is a problem. Good Morning Vietnam includes many other issues, however. From its messy story to its lack of laughs, the flick goes nowhere and never engages the audience.


The DVD Grades: Picture B-/ Audio C+/ Bonus C+

Good Morning Vietnam appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Overall, the picture had some good moments, but it displayed a number of problems that made it less than terrific.

Sharpness appeared reasonably good for the most part. Usually the film remained acceptably crisp and well-defined. Interior shots demonstrated minor softness, but otherwise the flick was pretty detailed. Jagged edges and moiré effects created no concerns, but I saw little edge enhancement.

Colors displayed the muddiness typical of many Eighties flicks. Overall, the hues came across as somewhat heavy and murky. They were never truly bad, but they could appear pretty lifeless. Exteriors worked best, as they presented some bright tones, but interiors – which dominated the film – were flat. Black levels seemed reasonably deep and dense, while shadow detail was also decent but unexceptional. Again, interiors were bland.

Print flaws weren’t too problematic. The movie suffered from more grain than I’d expect, and it also occasionally demonstrated some specks and grit. These weren’t terribly distracting, though. Despite the blandness of the interiors, the rest of the transfer worked well enough to boost this one to a “B-“.

The Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack of Good Morning Vietnam also seemed erratic. Not surprisingly, the film provided a mix that remained fairly heavily anchored in the front speakers. In that realm, it showed reasonable stereo spread for the music, and the effects also provided a pretty decent sense of ambience. A few active elements emerged due to helicopters, but mostly the track stayed with general environmental audio. As for the surrounds, they kicked in with little more than vague reinforcement of the front spectrum. The rear speakers added just a smidgen of ambience to the mix.

Audio quality appeared bland. Dialogue was distinct and intelligible but without much life; the lines could be a little edgy and stiff. Effects were also clean and accurate but they somewhat thin. At least the occasional helicopter provided decent bass. Music focused on period songs, most of which appeared distant and a bit muddy. However, this was done on purpose to make the tunes sound like they’re broadcast on the radio. Given those constraints, the music was adequate. Occasional examples of score presented decent range and definition. This was a dated but acceptable track.

Moving to the set’s extras, the main attraction comes from a Production Diary. A collection of six segments, taken together, these fill a total of 34 minutes and 30 seconds. We find footage from the set, movie clips, and comments from producer Larry Brezner, screenwriter Mitch Markowitz, director Barry Levinson, the real Adrian Cronauer, producer Mark Johnson, and actors Robert Wuhl and Bruno Kirby. The show covers the project’s origins and backstory, separating fact from the movie’s fiction, the flick’s tone, Robin Williams’ monologues and the film’s humor, approaches to the characters and the Vietnamese, the songs used in the flick, the signature cry of “good morning Vietnam”, shooting challenges in Thailand, and general thoughts about the movie.

Don’t expect the “Diary” to present a smooth, coherent look at the production. It jumps from one subject to another without much logic, and it doesn’t come across as particularly concise. That said, it offers a nice general overview of the shoot. We get a good feel for the various issues and we hear plenty of interesting stories. I’d still prefer a proper documentary, but these clips work well.

Fans will enjoy the set of Raw Monologues. This 13-minute and nine-second package starts with some remarks from Levinson about Robin Williams’ working style. After that we get about 12 minutes straight of Williams’ uncut monologues. These include plenty of material not found in the final flick, and it’s especially interesting to see Williams stumble and further develop a gag.

In addition to the both teaser and theatrical trailers for Vietnam, the DVD opens with some ads. We find promos for Annapolis and Flightplan. These also appear in the Sneak Peeks domain.

How times change! I liked Good Morning Vietnam 18 years ago, but in hindsight, I can more easily see its flaws. Most of those stem from its smugness, though I’d forgive that tone if it actually delivered more than a smattering of laughs. The DVD presents fairly mediocre picture and audio along with a small but decent set of extras. If you already like the movie, this DVD’s worth a look. Otherwise I’d steer you away from it.

Viewer Film Ratings: 4 Stars Number of Votes: 16
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