Nov 082018
 
Journey's End (2017)

Rating: ★★★★☆
A British company commences a six-day rotation at the front in March 1918. The company’s section of the line has not seen any action for a year, but an attack is expected in the next few days, and a sense of dread builds among the officers and soldiers as they hear the German troop trains every night. Based on a play and filmed shortly after the introduction of sound, the original version was extremely talky, and focused almost entirely on the efforts of the company commander to cope with terror through copious consumption of whiskey. While keeping the basic story, this version has benefited greatly from the addition of many new scenes, making it one of the better movies on WWI. Read More…

Sep 062018
 
Journey's End (1930)

Rating: ★★½☆☆
Focusing on the officers of a single British company on the front line line near the end of WWI, the script makes no effort to explain the overall strategic situation, choosing instead to present the officers’ struggle to remain sane. Based on a play, over-talkiness is to be expected, especially since sound was a recent addition to films, even so the actors’ delivery was hard to take. Although the film is noteworthy as an early look at the grinding effect that the nightmarish experience in the trenches had on soldiers, it is hard to watch, and suitable only for fans of early sound films and WWI buffs. Read More…

May 312018
 
Dunkirk

Rating: ★★½☆☆
The portrayal of the evacuation of more than three hundred thousand British soldiers from Dunkirk, France across the Channel back to England, Dunkirk is a disappointment, despite an excellent start. Essentially forty minutes of story shown three times from different perspectives, the film’s main weakness is that it takes a script suitable for a television episode and transforms it into a movie by simply showing the same scenes over and over. Director Christopher Nolan had a vision of a waking nightmare, a mix of terror and confusion. Since he wrote the screenplay and directed the film, he succeeded in transferring his vision from his mind to the screen. As a work of art, that is an admirable achievement. As a portrayal of a key moment in WWII, it is less successful. Read More…

May 172018
 
Godfather Mendoza

Rating: ★★½☆☆
Don Rosalio Mendoza prospers during the Mexican Revolution by remaining friends with both the Zapatistas and the federal forces. Although he has no interest in either side, and is determined to ensure the continued existence of his hacienda by lavishly entertaining both sides, he becomes close friends with a Zapatista general, who serves as his son’s godfather. As the fighting continues, Mendoza fears for the safety of his wife and son, and plans to move to Mexico City, but finds himself faced with a horrible choice. Read More…

May 102018
 
Prisoner 13

Rating: ★★☆☆☆
A film about a corrupt military officer, who accepts a bribe to release a revolutionary, but unknowingly arranges for his long-lost son to to take the prisoner’s place, Prisoner 13 is essentially a morality play due to the twist ending. While the film does not say much about the Mexican Revolution, it is interesting and must have been quite daring for the time. Given the grim atmosphere, it is recommended for fans of Pre-code film and film buffs but not the average viewer. Read More…

Apr 192018
 
The Torch

Rating: ★★½☆☆
Maria Dolores, a wealthy young woman, is preparing for her wedding when the town is occupied by rebels. A chance encounter with Maria Dolores causes the rebel general to fall in love with her, attracted equally by her beauty and her temper. A mix between Shakespeare’s play The Taming of the Shrew and Morocco, viewers won’t learn much about the Mexican Revolution but it is entertaining. Read More…

Apr 122018
 
And Starring Pancho Villa As Himself

Rating: ★★★½☆
Forced to buy weapons on the black market by President Woodrow Wilson’s embargo, Pancho Villa (Antonio Banderas) sells exclusive rights to film his battles against President Victoriano Huerta to Mutual Studios. Although the movie may seem the feverish idea of a screenwriter who is a fan of both early Hollywood and the Mexican Revolution, and tried to jam two unrelated scripts together, it is based on real events. As a loving tribute to the silent film era, it is a success. While the portrayal of Pancho Villa at the height of his power is effective, the film limits itself to Villa, ignoring the rest of the Mexican Revolution.
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Nov 232017
 
Men of the Fighting Lady

Rating: ★★☆☆☆
Set on an American aircraft carrier during the Korean War, a squadron of bomber pilots question the value of their mission. Similar to The Bridges at Toko-ri (1954), the two films share much in common including the respectful presentation of the dangers of air rescue and the frustration of married veterans of WWII called back into service, but Men of the Fighting Lady is filmed like a documentary, and appears to be intentionally boring. To be fair, it is an effective documentary. The planes are beautiful, and the bombing scenes use stock footage from the Korean War, which gives the film an authentic feel. Read More…

Nov 022017
 
Pancho Villa

Rating: ★★☆☆☆
Pancho Villa’s raid on Columbus, New Mexico, which led to the American Intervention in Mexico, is presented as a comedy. To be honest, the screenwriter seems to have done little research, focusing instead on the comedic elements of the script with uneven success. Every scene with Telly Savalas is fun to watch, but it is unlikely that viewers will learn anything about the Mexican Revolution. The action sequences are imaginative if low-budget. In fact, the director seems fascinated with trains, since most of the action involves various scenarios of train collisions. Read More…

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…

Sep 142017
 
Dragonfly Squadron

Rating: ★½☆☆☆
In 1950, an American officer is assigned to train South Korean pilots as war with North Korea seems increasingly likely. If ever there was a film that is a waste of time and money, this is it. For a movie about aviation, there is little air combat. Or entertainment.
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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…

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Mar 092017
 
Bloody Mama

Rating: ★★½☆☆
Determined to escape grinding poverty, Katherine Barker leads her four sons on a crime wave. The movie is a strange experience. Even by today’s standards, it is pretty weird. Despite the large number of good character actors, it is a nasty, disturbing film. Read More…

Mar 022017
 
Legends of the Fall

Rating: ★½☆☆☆
Legends of the Fall was a passion project for director Edward Zwick, since he loved the book and even gave it as a gift to friends. Sadly, none of that passion made it onto the screen, instead it is painful and boring. Zwick has made many good films, but this is not one of them. Set during WWI and Prohibition, the film is primarily a romance, so the two battle scenes on the Western Front are brief. 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…

Dec 012016
 
Baby Face Nelson

Rating: ★½☆☆☆
Baby Face Nelson (Mickey Rooney) becomes a bank robber after he is released from prison but gradually becomes a trigger happy maniac. The role was ideal for Mickey Rooney, who had spent over a decade playing the relentlessly optimistic teenager Andy Hardy, whose response to every crisis was “Hey gang, let’s put on a show!” However, he had came home from WWII to find that there were few roles for a 5’2” adult with a baby face. Aside from several key events, the rest of the movie seems to have been made up. Read More…

Nov 102016
 
Machine Gun Kelly

Rating: ★½☆☆☆
Playing Machine Gun Kelly, a famous bank robber and kidnapper during the Public Enemies Era, Charles Bronson has his first leading role. Aside from the title character, all of the other characters are fictional. As is almost the entire movie. An incredibly anti-crime movie, every single one of the criminals is repulsive. Populated by nasty characters, it is simply an unpleasant movie. Read More…

Nov 032016
 
Paths of Glory

Rating: ★★★★☆
Following a failed attack on a German position, three French soldiers are chosen by lot to be executed for cowardice and are defended by their commanding officer in a court-martial. Although the film is famous for the court trial, the chilling attack on the German trenches is one of the best I have seen in a WWI film. Director Stanley Kubrick was a photographer, so he carefully researched photos from WWI to ensure that the battlefield and trenches appeared realistic. In fact, many scenes look like an old photo coming to life. A harsh portrayal of the cost of scheming among the high command on ordinary soldiers, Paths of Glory is one of the best movies on WWI. Read More…

Oct 272016
 
Ma Barker's Killer Brood

Rating: ★★½☆☆
Although the script states that Ma Barker was so cunning that she was never arrested in two decades of crime, the real J. Edgar Hoover, director of the FBI, had labeled Ma the brains of the Barker-Kasrpis Gang in order to avoid the blame for killing an unarmed grandmother. While the script transforms Ma Barker into a criminal mastermind who makes Walter White look like an indecisive bumbler, the overall story is relatively accurate. Emphasis on relatively. Despite the complete disconnect from historical reality, it is a fun movie. 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…

Apr 282016
 
G-Men

Rating: ★★☆☆☆
Attorney James “Brick” Davis (James Cagney) joins the Department of Justice after his friend is shot from behind while arresting a counterfeiter, and becomes involved in the FBI’s campaign against a gang that has committed a wave of bank robberies. The film presents several key events of the Public Enemies Era but does not include any of the actual Public Enemies. Intended to reassure the public, a single gang is responsible for the entire crime wave. G-Men was clearly designed as an apology for Warner Brothers’ previous gangster films, which had caused it to be known as the gangster studio. While the intent is laudable, the film lacks energy, and is only for Cagney fans. Read More…

Sep 032015
 
Gallipoli

Rating: ★★★★☆
Gallipoli is actually two movies: a buddy movie that takes place in Australia during the early months of WWI, and the Gallipoli Offensive, which was too complex to be explained in the last third of the film. Examining the loss of innocence in Australia during WWI, Gallipoli is not a movie with beautifully choreographed battles or gritty action scenes, just a brutal look at men sent to die far from their homes in a pointless campaign. Read More…

Jul 172014
 
Beneath Hill 60

Rating: ★★★★☆
Beneath Hill 60 examines the war under No Man’s Land, which was fought by thousands of German and Allied (mostly British, Canadian and Australian) miners, who had only received a few weeks of military training. This is not a film for claustrophobes. The director understands that battling face-to-face in the dark, far under the ground, is a primal fear, therefore it is always hot, sweaty and badly lit in the labyrinth of tunnels. In fact, the miners’ war was a struggle to stay sane, not to win the war. An excellent film that examines a little-known part of WWI, Beneath Hill 60 deserves to be seen by more people. Read More…

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Jul 102014
 
Aces High

Rating: ★★★½☆
Late in WWI, a burnt-out squadron commander in the Royal Flying Corps finds out that his newest pilot is his girlfriend’s brother. The new recruit soon discovers that the reality of aerial combat is far from the chivalry he had imagined, and the odds of his survival are almost non-existent. The pilots drink every night to cope with their fears, and the commander can not get into his plane unless he has had several drinks first. The portrayal of burnt-out pilots hiding their terror beneath endless carousing is not new, but it is all put together brilliantly with stunning aerial scenes. Read More…

Jun 262014
 
Flyboys

Rating: ★★½☆☆
Flyboys gets most of the facts right, so viewers will actually learn a little about the war. However, the movie is not about the real Lafayette Escadrille, it is just a generic WWI aviation film that happens to feature Americans fighting for France. The film is gorgeous, and the producers clearly loved flying, but the amazing aerial footage is not matched by the cliché-ridden screenplay. 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…

Apr 172014
 
Battleground

Rating: ★★★½☆
A young recruit is assigned to a platoon in the 101st Airborne Division the night before the division is rushed to Bastogne to block the German surprise offensive during the Battle of the Bulge. Unlike the patriotic war movies produced en masse by Hollywood during WWII, the film is an honest look at WWII, portraying the soldiers as human beings with faults. Battling fever and frostbite, the men constantly grumble and dream of wounds that would send them home, but they endure and continue to fight. In particular, the script captures the perspective and confusion of the soldiers. Throughout the film, the men have no idea what is going on. Read More…