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…

Mar 132014
 
Dishonored

Rating: ★★★½☆
A widow recruited to spy for the Austro-Hungarian Empire against the Russians during WWI proves to be a skilled secret agent but her mission is complicated when she falls in love with a Russian spy. Dishonored is not the most historically accurate movie but it is worth watching. Aside from Marlene Dietrich basically being Marlene Dietrich, director Josef Von Stemberg lets scenes move at their own pace. Given the recent wave of modern blockbusters that seem to be composed of a relentless barrage of action set-pieces apparently modelled on rollercoaster rides, it is a nice change of pace to just relax and soak up the atmosphere. Read More…

Mar 062014
 
Attack

Rating: ★★★½☆
As the Allies drive the Germans back to Germany in late 1944, morale is low in Fragile Fox Company because an entire squad was slaughtered when Captain Cooney, the company commander, was too scared to lead the rest of the company to support them. When the Germans launch a surprise offensive, Cooney leaves Lt. Costa’s men dangerously exposed, and the death of each soldier sends Costa further over the edge. Although set during the Battle of the Bulge, viewers will learn little about the battle. Director Robert Aldrich had a lifelong hatred of traditional authority, and the enemies in the film are the American authority figures who repeatedly fail the men. While Jack Palance’s vengeance-driven Lt. Costa is suitably intimidating, the standouts are Lee Marvin as a manipulative, corrupt battalion commander and Eddie Albert as the cowardly, bullying company commander. Read More…

Feb 202014
 
Run Silent, Run Deep

Rating: ★★★☆☆
The story of the captain of an American submarine who disobeys orders to take revenge against the Japanese destroyer that sunk his previous submarine, it is a good movie with a remarkably tight script and very tense action scenes. Written by an ex-submariner, Run Silent, Run Deep’s greatest strength is its amazing technical detail and cramped interiors which were actually filmed on a sub loaned by the Navy. Read More…

Feb 062014
 
Bonnie and Clyde

Inspired by the success of its miniseries Hatfields and McCoys (2012), the History Channel teamed up with Lifetime (both are part of the A & E network) to produce a two-part miniseries on Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow, who robbed banks and grocery stores during the Public Enemy Era (1933-1935). Unfortunately, the miniseries is boring, inaccurate crap. While many movies treat historical facts as items in a supermarket that can be put back on the shelves if they are inconvenient, Bonnie and Clyde sinks to new depths. The script is a Bizarro-world version of the real outlaws that leaves out most of the members of the Barrow gang, makes Bonnie the mastermind, scrambles the real events beyond recognition, and has a demented, glory-hungry Bonnie mail pictures of themselves to the newspapers because she would rather be famous than live. Oh, and Clyde has visions of the future. It is actually worse than the 1967 version with Warren Beatty, and I hate that movie. Do not watch this. Read More…

Jan 162014
 
The Scarlet Coat

Rating: ★★½☆☆
In 1780, the war between the British and the American rebels is five-years-old, and has reached a stalemate. The chief intelligence officer for George Washington and the head of the Culper Spy Ring, searches for the agent who is sending the British vital military information, but learns too late that it is the famous hero, Major General Benedict Arnold. While the balanced treatment of both sides is praiseworthy, and the examination of the early intelligence service is worthwhile, it is not director John Sturges’ best film. In fact, everyone is too stiff, aside from Michael Wilding, who plays Major John Andre, a British army officer and Arnold’s contact, who was hung as a spy. Although the movie is worth watching for Wilding’s performance, it is regrettable that the script focuses on the tragic death of Andre, not the vanity and character flaws that drove Benedict Arnold to betray his country. Read More…

Dec 192013
 
Forty Thousand Horsemen

Rating: ★★½☆☆
Forty Thousand Horsemen, the story of the Australia Light Horse during the Sinai and Palestine Campaign in WWI is wartime propaganda, but even so, it is excessive. The movie consists of fun-loving Australians taking advantage of local natives who are not too bright, and riding across endless stretches of desert to fight Turks who are actually decent but are ruled by tyrannical German warlords, while Waltzing Matilda is played repeatedly. Told through the viewpoint of the soldiers, the viewer will learn little about the war itself. The climatic charge is adequate, but does not compare to the charge in The Lighthorsemen (1987). In fact, there is no reason to watch this movie, unless you are a completist like me. Everyone else should spare themselves the boredom and watch The Lighthorsemen. Read More…

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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…

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Nov 142013
 
71: Into the Fire

Rating: ★★★☆☆
The movie is based on an actual battle that took place early during the Korean War, where 71 students defended a high school against a much larger for North Korean force, but it seems extremely likely that the events have been slightly exaggerated. The battle scenes are psycho, but there are far too many slow-motion death scenes, which unfortunately seem to be a staple in Korean war films. The movie’s main weakness is that it spends far too much time on the leader of the students, who writes letters to his mother, deals with guilt from an earlier battle and has a personality conflict with the swaggering leader of a group of toughs, therefore the other students receive superficial treatment. Despite the over-abundance of melodrama, it is a good film, just don’t expect The Front Line or Tae Guk Gi. Read More…

Nov 072013
 
Lafayette Escadrille

Rating: ★½☆☆☆
Thad Walker (Tab Hunter), a troubled young American enlists in the Lafayette Escadrile, a squadron of volunteer American fighter pilots who fought for France during WWI. Director William Wellman had been given a smaller budget than he had wanted, so the only aerial combat takes place in the last five minutes. Instead, the movie focuses on the depressingly dull romance between Walker, a fugitive from justice with a boulder-sized chip on his shoulder, and Renee Beaulieu (Etchika Choureau), a reformed prostitute. A weird mash-up of Rebel Without a Cause (1955) and the Andy Hardy movies, I kept expecting Mickey Rooney to show up and say “hey guys, let’s put on a show.” The dream project of Wellman, who had actually flown with the Lafayette Corps during the war, studio interference ruined the film. Incensed by the changes forced onto the final version, Wellman had his name removed as producer. Read More…

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 102013
 
All the Young Men

Rating: ★★☆☆☆
Shortly before the Chinese intervention in the Korean War, inexperienced Sergeant Towler (Sidney Poitier), an African-American, ends up in command of a Marine platoon that has been separated from its battalion, and must deal with both the enemy and the racism of the veteran Private Kincaid (Alan Ladd). Made during the period between the end of Jim Crow laws in the southern states and the race riots in the early 1960s, the film was a radical look at racism in the American army. Unfortunately, aside from the theme of desegregation in the military, it is an average film. The action is good, the dynamic between Towler and Kincaid is good, but the scenes of the soldiers griping fall flat, the writing is tepid, and the secondary characters are mediocre. All the Young Men is a boring film that should be avoided by everyone except for Sidney Poitier and Alan Ladd fans. 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 292013
 
A Walk in the Sun

Rating: ★★★½☆
During the Allied invasion of Italy in WWII, an American platoon is ordered to land on the coast of Italy and march six miles inland to capture a farmhouse and destroy a nearby bridge. Most of the movie consists of the men complaining and arguing among themselves, punctuated by brief moments of terror that produce more casualties, but it soon becomes clear that the soldiers adjust to the pressure by griping, otherwise they would all crack.
Made near the end of the war, and based on a novel written in 1943, A Walk in the Sun is a dramatic shift away from the whitewashed propaganda films that were churned out by the dozens during the war. The film did not strain the limits set by the Production Code, there is no swearing or gory wounds, just a clear-eyed depiction of life on the front for a platoon. An excellent movie, there is no fake heroism, no personality conflicts, just tired men trying to do a dangerous job they don’t want to do. Read More…

Aug 222013
 
MASH

Rating: ★½☆☆☆
An important part of New Hollywood, MASH may have been radical at the time, but it does not hold up well today. The story of three hell-raising doctors in a Mobile Army Surgical Hospital during the Korean War, it spawned the long-running television show M*A*S*H (1972-1983). Unfortunately, viewers will not even learn about the Korean War since director Robert Altman ensured that there were no references to the Korean War because he wanted viewers to think of the then-current Vietnam War. Famous at its release as a daring anti-war comedy, it has not aged well, since it is simply an annoying, homophobic, misogynist film where a football game is all that matters. 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…

Jul 252013
 
Retreat, Hell!

Rating: ★★★½☆
Retreat, Hell! tells the story of the First Marine Division, including its participation in the amphibious landing at Inchon, the bloody fight for Seoul, and the retreat from the Chosin Reservoir following the Chinese intervention in the Korean War. Made on a Marine base with the full cooperation of the Marine Corps and when MacArthur was still worshipped as an iconic general, the script avoids any criticism of the controversial general. This is not a movie for people who value richly developed characters; while the characters are made from cardboard, it is sturdy cardboard. It is not a great movie, and there are a couple more stirring speeches than are required but Retreat, Hell! is a no-nonsense look at the successful breakout from a carefully planned Chinese trap. Read More…

Jul 182013
 
Battle Circus

Rating: ★★½☆☆
The movie’s title Battle Circus refers to the hospital’s ability to pack up and move like a circus. Intended as a tribute to the doctors and nurses who staffed the MASH hospitals, the movie presents the rough conditions they faced, including rain that turns the roads into mud, near-typhoon winds that threaten to blow down the tents and the constant need for more blood, as well as snipers outside the perimeter. There are people in the world who enjoy a performance by June Allyson. I am not one of them. The impressive detail ensures that the film is better than expected, even though tepid would be the kindest description of the romance between the characters played by Humphrey Bogart and June Allyson. Read More…

Jul 112013
 
Battle Hymn

Rating: ★★½☆☆
Major Dean Hess (Rock Hudson), an ordained minister, volunteers to train South Korean pilots at the beginning of the Korean War. When his airfield is overrun by orphans, he persuades two Koreans to help him build an orphanage. Romance develops between Hess and one of the Koreans, but he is already married. When the enemy suddenly breaks through and the airfield is abandoned, Hess evacuates the 400 orphans on foot, and it seems that they will be trapped. Col. Dean Hess, the model for the film, was the technical adviser, but he clearly did not have script approval or did not look carefully at the script, since there are significant differences between him and the screen version. A forgettable film, it is not John Sturges’ best work, although it does sidestep the morass of saccharine melodrama, and is surprisingly color-blind for the period. In fact, the movie shows more about Korean culture than other movies on the Korean War. 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.
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