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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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…

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…

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 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…

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 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…

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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May 302013
 
A Hill in Korea

Rating: ★★★½☆
During the Korean War, a small British patrol, a mixture of regular soldiers and National Servicemen, is sent to check if a village is occupied by the Chinese. However, they find themselves trapped in a temple, surrounded by a powerful Chinese force. The story of a small patrol on its own, disconnected from the main army, is not especially original, but its gritty realism makes the movie worth watching. At first glance, the story seems to have been copied from numerous WWII films but this is definitely a Korean War film because the men know that everyone back home thinks the war is unimportant, the Chinese use mass attacks, and friendly fire incidents are far too common. A tribute to the national servicemen, it is one of the better movies on the Korean War.
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Mar 212013
 
Major Dundee

Rating: ★★★½☆
Near the end of the American Civil War, the commander of a Union prison recruits a mix of civilians, Confederate prisoners and Union troops to hunt down a band of Apache, pursuing them into Mexico, which was occupied by a French army struggling to place an Austrian prince on the throne. As the search extends into weeks and then months, the men gradually shed all traces of civilization.
Described as Moby Dick on horseback, the film became famous for director Sam Peckinpah’s mix of self-destructive behavior and brilliance. Clashing with the executives who ran the studio, the film was taken away from Peckinpah in the editing stage and a drastically shorter version was released, which was ridiculed by critics and ignored by movie-goers. Although no one knew it at the time, it was a dress rehearsal for The Wild Bunch, but it is still an impressive accomplishment on its own. Major Dundee is one of those movies where a film of the behind-the-scenes action would probably be as interesting as the final result. A restored version, based on a cut made by producer Jerry Bresler, was made in 2005, which provides a more coherent story, while revealing the movie’s flaws. Despite the flaws, it bursts with passion and brilliance. 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…

Nov 292012
 
Hell's Angels

Rating: ★★★½☆
Set in WWI, it is a surprisingly dark story, where the love interest is a bad girl who has no interest in becoming a good girl, and the never-do-well brother can not be redeemed. The superb technical accomplishments more than compensate for the unbearable overacting, including a minute-long death scene for one of the brothers. The mix of directors and the haphazard transfer from silent to sound resulted in a strange movie, but a very good strange movie that is worth watching.
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Nov 012012
 
Juarez

Rating: ★★★½☆
A solid introduction to the French Intervention in Mexico, a relatively unknown episode in history when France tried to turn Mexico into a puppet state, Juarez presents the basic chronology, but is limited by the decision to have Paul Muni’s Juarez single-handedly evict the invaders. 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 142008
 
The Last of the Mohicans (1992)

Rating: ★★★½☆
Although The Last of the Mohicans (1992) provides little background to the Seven Years’ War, it does show that the American Revolution was largely caused by British arrogance, as well as presents the savage and terrifying nature of Indian-fighting. Read More…