Oct 262017
 
The Newton Boys

Rating: ★★½☆☆
Tired of picking cotton, an ex-convict teams up with a safecracker to rob banks at night in the early 1920s, recruiting his brothers to help. The film’s strengths are the cast, especially Matthew McConaughey, Skeet Ulrich, Ethan Hawke, and Vincent D’Onofrio, and the presentation of the mechanics of robbing a bank, in particular an explanation of how to use nitroglycerine to blow safes. The script is relatively accurate but Richard Linklater’s direction is merely adequate, resulting in a film that lacks life. Having achieved critical success with the low-budget independent films Slacker (1990), Dazed and Confused (1993) and Before Sunrise (1995), The Newton Boys was Linklater’s first Hollywood film, and he would avoid action films afterwards. Read More…

May 182017
 
Wooden Crosses

Rating: ★★★½☆
An unblinking portrayal of the lives of a unit of French infantrymen, the movie is not depressing, just grim There is little sense of how much time has passed. Instead, the soldiers try to survive an endless cycle of tours on the front, rest periods behind the lines and far too rare periods of leave. Unsurprisingly for a war film, death is a constant presence in the film, which starts with a dissolve from soldiers on parade to an endless field of wooden crosses, and ends with a scene of dead soldiers marching into the sky, each holding a wooden cross. Read More…

 Posted by at 3:00 pm  Tagged with:
Mar 302017
 
The Vikings

Rating: ★★☆☆☆
The fearsome Viking Ragnar Lothbrok kills the king of Northumbria and rapes his queen, who gives birth to a son, who is sent away because he threatens the rule of the current king, but the child is enslaved by Ragnar. The young slave’s life changes when an exiled Northumbrian noble realizes he is the rightful heir to the throne. Stunning scenery does not distract from gaping plot holes. Did someone spill coffee on the only copy of the script, it feels like parts are missing. Aside from the many enjoyable scenes of drinking and tests of strength, it is not a great movie. Read More…

Feb 092017
 
The Bonnie Parker Story

Rating: ★★☆☆☆
Yet another crime-does-not-pay film filled with endless snarling between the outlaws. Man, the late fifties sucked for this type of film. Recognizing that she is headed for a career as a prostitute since jobs are hard to get in the Depression, Bonnie Parker, a bored waitress, agrees to work with bank robber wannabee Guy Darrow. Realizing that he is a two-bit operator who prefers to rob gas stations because it is safer, she forces him to rob banks, but they are hunted by a relentless Texas Ranger. Aside from an impressive inaccuracy, the script ups the yuckiness factor when it shows that firing guns turns her on. An unpleasant film. Read More…

Sep 222016
 
The Lady in Red

Rating: ★★★★☆
Set during the Public Enemies Era, the film presents the life of Polly Hamilton, John Dillinger’s girlfriend when he was killed by FBI agents. Powered by a brilliant script, the movie moves at a breakneck pace, blasting information about the Depression until the romance between Dillinger and Polly slows things down. Despite the connection to Dillinger, it is really an examination of women in the Depression, capturing the bleak reality of life before the introduction of labor regulations, especially the limited range of career opportunities for women. Read More…

May 122016
 
The Battle of the Bulge

Rating: ★½☆☆☆
The film was publicly criticized by former President (and former supreme commander of Allied forces in Europe) Dwight Eisenhower as grossly inaccurate, which is a bad sign. Eisenhower’s anger is understandable. Viewers would think that the Battle of the Bulge was a close call, saved only by a few brave, bright men, especially Henry Fonda’s character Kiley, the hero of the film, who has to figure out the Germans’ entire plan by himself. Read More…

Mar 102016
 
The Black Swan

Rating: ★★½☆☆
Although he became famous leading raids against Spanish colonies, newly appointed governor of Jamaica Henry Morgan enforces the new peace between England and Spain, hanging any pirate he finds. unfortunately, his second-in-command Captain Jamie Waring (Tyrone Power) is more preoccupied with his pursuit of Lord Denby’s daughter Lady Margaret (Maureen O’Hara), than hunting down his former colleagues. While Tyrone Power seems perfect to play a swashbuckler, the romance is flat. One of the first movies filmed in Technicolor, The Black Swan is bursting with color, which compensates for the relatively weak story. Read More…

Mar 032016
 
The First Texan

Rating: ★½☆☆☆
Hoping to start over in Texas, Sam Houston is drawn into the movement to secede from Mexico. The general chronology of the Texan Revolution is correct, at least the dates are correct, but everything else is inaccurate. The movie is so lacking in energy, I wonder why they bothered. Read More…

Jun 122014
 
The Trench

Rating: ★½☆☆☆
In the summer of 1916, the British army prepared for the Somme Offensive, the biggest offensive of the war. While hundreds of thousands of soldiers massed in the rear, a small force was left to hold the trenches. The movie examines the experiences of one platoon over two days before the start of the offensive. The Trench shows that the Battle of the Somme was a disaster, but the script only touches on some of the reasons, as if it was more concerned with paying tribute to the soldiers than actually explaining why it was such a disaster. Filled with bland characters, I actually found myself wishing for nice stereotypes like a troublemaker, an intellectual and a ladies man, maybe an immigrant or ethnic minority. The director’s desire to create a snapshot of the period right before the Somme Offensive is laudable but the film is boring, just boring. Read More…

Dec 122013
 
The Lost Battalion

Near the end of WWI, an American battalion is cut off from the rest of the division while fighting in the Argonne Forest. Surrounded by Germans, the battalion is soon described by the press as the Lost Battalion, and no one expects it survive long enough to be relieved. Unfortunately, the movie seems to have been filmed inside a municipal park on a sunny day, even though the real battalion had literally disappeared into a dark, dense forest that was an untamed remnant of earlier times. While it is relatively accurate, The Lost Battalion transforms a story of brave soldiers struggling to survive into a morality tale where the men are sacrificed by an ambitious general, but still manage to turn the tide of the war. Read More…

 Posted by at 3:00 pm  Tagged with:
Oct 312013
 
The Eagle and the Hawk

Rating: ★★★½☆
Three Americans, Jerry Young (Fredric March), Mike ‘Slug’ Richards (Jack Oakie) and Henry Crocker (Cary Grant), join the Royal Flying Corps during WWI. Piloting a two-seater plane, Young quickly becomes an ace but loses five tail-gunners in two months. The guilt caused by the deaths of so many men causes him to gradually crack. The film is a brutal look at the consequences of turning innocent young men into killers. Although it has been described as anti-war, a better description would be that it is against the glorification of war. Unavailable until recently, few people have heard of The Eagle and the Hawk, but it is worth watching. The action scenes are excellent, it deals with complex issues that were only starting to be addressed openly, and the ending is dark, unexpectedly dark. Read More…

Oct 242013
 
The Rack

Rating: ★★☆☆☆
Returning home after spending two years in a PoW camp, Captain Edward Hall Jr. (Paul Newman) is in rough shape, both emotionally and physically, but he receives little emotional support from his family. Unknown to his family, Hall is being investigated for a court martial for collaboration with the enemy, and is charged immediately after being released from the hospital. Adopting a very sterilized view of the real situation, The Rack whitewashes the genuine problem of large-scale collaboration among American PoWs during the Korean War. Instead of shedding light on an embarrassing but real problem, the movie avoided controversy, and reassured complacent audiences that everything was all right. Read More…

Oct 172013
 
Time Limit

Rating: ★★★½☆
Several months after the end of the Korean War, an American officer is being investigated for a court-martial because he had recorded propaganda messages for the North Koreans. However, the investigator in charge of the case is suspicious, and continues to ask questions until he learns that the officer is covering up for the killing of a collaborator by his fellow PoWs. Time Limit does not fit any simple characterizations. A war movie that also appears to be a court-room drama, the movie ends before the court-martial has even begun, but there is the mandatory interrogation that causes a key witness to break down and tell the truth. However, it is worth watching because it was the first film to admit that American PoWs had collaborated with their Communist captors in exchange for better treatment. Read More…

Oct 032013
 
Tae Guk Gi

Rating: ★★★★☆
When North Korea suddenly invades South Korea, two brothers are drafted into the army. Hoping to win the medal of honor, which will ensure that his younger brother is sent home, Jin-tae, the elder brother, repeatedly volunteers for suicide missions. Band of Brothers-level scary, the battle scenes are brutal with blood and body parts flying everywhere, so they are not for the weak at heart. Since the majority of English-language books were written by Americans, they naturally focused on the American view of the war, and ignored the Korean contribution. Tae Guk Gi understandably intends to remedy the situation, and succeeds. The first big-budget movie to look at the Korean War from South Korea’s perspective, Tae Guk Gi is outstanding. The film’s greatest drawback is the relentless melodrama. There are tearful goodbyes at the train station, a scene where one of the brothers cradles his slowly dying lover, and several fights between members of the same unit. It is no exaggeration to state that aside from the tranquil interlude at the beginning, the rest of the movie is a relentless battle, either with bullets or emotions. Read More…

Sep 262013
 
The Front Line

Rating: ★★★★☆
In the third year of the Korean War, the negotiations at Panmunjon have been stalled for two years, but the fighting continues without any end in sight. An ROK officer is sent to Aerok Hill, which has repeatedly changed hands, to investigate a letter written by an NKPA soldier that was mailed in the ROK, and discovers that some of the veterans, exhausted by the endless fighting, have been communicating with the NKPA through a message box buried in a bunker in the hill. While the action scenes are astonishing, quite a few scenes are painful to watch, so the script balances the pain with humor. Although there are a few too many long death scenes, and the script focuses more than I would like on the friendship between Yang and Kim, The Front Line is definitely the best movie I have seen on the Korean War. Read More…

Sep 122013
 
Wake Island

Rating: ★★☆☆☆
The initial script for the movie was finished on December 22, 1941, before the garrison had surrendered. The screenwriters knew the basic outline of the situation but all of the participants were either dead or in Japanese captivity when the film started production, so they took a fair amount of artistic license with the story. However, there is less exaggeration than would be expected, and the script is faithful to the overall chronology of the Battle of Wake Island. The key problem is that director John Farrow is simply competent, so it is a bland film. Despite the heroic portrayal of the garrison, the actual survivors called the movie fiction and were not impressed. Read More…

Aug 152013
 
War Hunt

Rating: ★★★½☆
Essentially a B movie, the film was made in fifteen days on a miniscule budget. Exploring similar themes, War Hunt is a precursor to Platoon. A young American infantryman is sent to the front line in Korea during the last few months of the war, and encounters a psychotic soldier who appears to be a serial killer. The two men clash over a young Korean orphan. One wants to place the boy in an orphanage and the other wants to turn him into a killer. The first hour of the movie is brilliant, but the last twenty minutes are strange. Lacking the resources for large-scale battles, the production team chose to create a snapshot of life on the front, and they succeeded. The movie has a tiny budget, and it shows, but the set design is excellent, providing an accurate copy of the real bunkers on the UN lines. No other movie comes close to capturing the futility of the Korean War once it had entered the stalemate stage. Read More…

Jun 132013
 
The Bridges at Toko-ri

Rating: ★★★½☆
A naval reservist, fighter pilot Lieutenant Harry Brubaker (William Holden) resents having to give up his life and law practice when he was called up, especially since he had already fought in WWII. The movie is an adaptation of a novel by James Michener, who based the main characters on real people he had met when he stayed on the carriers Essex and Valley Forge while they were performing missions off the coast of Korea, as research for a series of articles. While the script is an unblinking support of the United States’ involvement in the Korean War, it bravely acknowledges the fear faced by pilots before dangerous missions. In a nice twist, Holden is the star of the movie, and the story revolves around him, but Mickey Rooney’s helicopter pilot Chief Mike Forney is the hero, since he rescues Holden’s character, not once but twice. Given the bleak ending, the superb realism, and the accurate view of Japan during the war, it is one of the better movies on the Korean War.
Read More…

Feb 072013
 
They Were Expendable

Rating: ★★★½☆
Having seen WWII firsthand, including the Battle of Midway and the Normandy invasion, director John Ford was determined that his first post-war film would show the stark truth of the failed defence of the Philippines in 1942. Although set in the Philippines, much of the movie takes place in shadowy interiors as the Japanese siege of Bataan gradually tightens. The movie may appear unbearably wholesome to modern viewers but it showed post-war audiences the hard choices and sacrifices that had been made early in the war. Based on the real-life exploits of Lieutenant John Bulkeley, commander of a PT squadron in the Philippines, Bulkeley himself was surprised by the authentic feel of the movie. Read More…

Jan 032013
 
The Outlaw

Rating: ★½☆☆☆
The Outlaw (1943) presents the rivalry between Billy the Kid and Doc Holliday, which was a figment of the screenwriter’s imagination. The lack of historical accuracy did not trouble producer/director Howard Hughes, since he was far more interested in co-star Jane Russell’s remarkable bosom. Hughes wanted a movie with sex and he made one. The first movie to defy the Production Code, it took two years of cuts and revisions to satisfy the censors. Even so, the film attracted so much attention that the censors banned it after a week in 1943, and it only returned to theatres three years later, where it was a huge success. For those interested in cinema history, the movie is worth watching. Read More…

Nov 222012
 
War Horse

Rating: ★★☆☆☆
Albert Narracott bonds with the thoroughbred horse bought by his father to serve as the family’s plow horse for their farm. Albert is heartbroken when his father sells the horse to a British cavalry captain at the beginning of WWI, and eventually enlists in order to be reunited with his friend. Although it is primarily a movie about a horse and his human, there are several superb battlefield scenes. Unfortunately, there is also far too much melodrama.
Read More…

Oct 112012
 
They Came to Cordura

Rating: ★★★☆☆
They Came to Cordura (1959) presents the United States’ 1916 Punitive Expedition to Mexico to find Mexican revolutionary Pancho Villa, but spends little time on the Mexican Revolution, focusing instead on the fragile bonds of discipline within an army. Read More…

Oct 042012
 
Young Mr. Lincoln

Rating: ★★★½☆
The movie presents Abraham Lincoln’s first major case as a young lawyer in Springfield, Illinois, where he defends two young strangers accused of murdering a popular deputy. Director John Ford’s first collaboration with Henry Fonda, they would work together again on Drums Along the Mohawk and Grapes of Wrath. A touching movie with excellent court-room scenes, Fonda’s Lincoln employs a simple manner and sharp wit to win the sympathy of the jury, and proves to be a formidable cross-examiner. Despite a slow start, Fonda captures the real Lincoln’s mix of self-depreciating humor and belief in people’s better nature. Read More…

Sep 202012
 
The Tall Target

Rating: ★★★★☆
Combining a great mystery with superb historical accuracy, The Tall Target (1951) uses the Baltimore Plot, a suspected conspiracy to assassinate President-elect Abraham Lincoln during a stop in Baltimore, to illustrate the tension in the United States as the nation found itself on the verge of civil war. Read More…