Oct 182016
 

Tuskegee Airmen Movie PosterDuring the Second World War, a special project is begun by the US Army Air Corps to integrate African-American pilots into the Fighter Pilot Program. Known as the “Tuskegee Airman” for the name of the airbase at which they were trained, these men were forced to constantly endure harassment, prejudice, and much behind the scenes politics until at last they were able to prove themselves in combat.

Director: Robert Markowitz
Writer: Paris Qualles (teleplay), Trey Ellis (teleplay), Ron Hutchinson (teleplay), Robert Williams (story), T.S. Cook (story)
Stars: Laurence Fishburne, Allen Payne, Malcolm-Jamal Warner, Courtney B. Vance
Runtime: 106 min; Rated: PG-13; Genre: Drama, History, War; Released: 26 Aug 1995

We watched this movie Sunday night. I know it’s been out forever, and we’d intended to watch it back when released, but just never did. It was on Amazon Prime, so I pulled it up. Continue reading »

Beasts of No Nation-A Movie Review

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Dec 152015
 

BeastsofnonationFollows the journey of a young boy, Agu, who is forced to join a group of soldiers in an unnamed West African country. While Agu fears his commander and many of the men around him, his fledgling childhood has been brutally shattered by the war raging through his country, and he is at first torn between conflicting revulsion and fascination Depicts the mechanics of war and does not shy away from explicit, visceral detail, and paints a complex, difficult picture of Agu as a child soldier.

Director: Cary Joji Fukunaga
Writer: Cary Joji Fukunaga (screenplay), Uzodinma Iweala (based on the novel by)
Stars: Abraham Attah, Emmanuel Affadzi, Ricky Adelayitor, Andrew Adote

Runtime: 137 min; Rated: NOT RATED; Genre: Drama, War; Released: 16 Oct 2015

We heard about this movie being on Netflix after hearing an interview with Cary Fukunaga on NPR’s Fresh Air. We started a little late last evening, and I didn’t expect to finish watching it before going to bed, but I couldn’t stop watching. While based on a novel, it was, from all I’ve read, a realistic portrayal of the life of child soldiers, and it is a sad life. Continue reading »

Fury – A Movie Review

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Feb 212015
 

Fury Movie PosterApril, 1945. As the Allies make their final push in the European Theatre, a battle-hardened army sergeant named Wardaddy commands a Sherman tank and his five-man crew on a deadly mission behind enemy lines. Out-numbered, out-gunned, and with a rookie soldier thrust into their platoon, Wardaddy and his men face overwhelming odds in their heroic attempts to strike at the heart of Nazi Germany.

Director: David Ayer
Writer: David Ayer
Stars: Brad Pitt, Shia LaBeouf, Logan Lerman, Michael Peña
Runtime: 134 min; Rated: R; Genre: Action, Drama, War; Released: 17 Oct 2014

I watched this on my day off for President’s Day at home. Continue reading »

Movie Review – Conspiracy

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Oct 212014
 

Conspiracy Movie PosterThe historical recreation of the 1942 Wannsee Conference, in which Nazi and SS leaders gathered in a Berlin suburb to discuss the “Final Solution to the Jewish Question”. Lead by SS-General Reinhard Heydrich, this group of high ranking German officials came to the historic and far reaching decision that the Jews of Europe were to be exterminated in what would come to be known as the Holocaust.

Rating: 7.9/10 (10,326 votes)
Director: Frank Pierson
Writer: Loring Mandel
Stars: Kenneth Branagh, Clare Bullus, Stanley Tucci, Simon Markey
Runtime: 96 min
Rated: R
Genre: Drama, History, War
Released: 19 May 2001

We watched this movie via Amazon Prime Saturday night. We were just surfing, and gave it a try, and it turned out to be a pretty decent movie, and well worth a thoughtful watching.

This movie could have been entitled, “how to chair a board meeting” or “how not to chair a board meeting” – given that the outcome of the meeting was the “final solution”. Gen. Heidrich with consummate skill and care manipulated the gathered Nazi hierarchy to the pre-arranged and pre-destined solution to the Jewish question. Continue reading »

The Monuments Men-A Movie Review

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Jun 042014
 

[imdb id=tt2177771]

We watched this from Redbox on May 24.

Yet another movie I was really looking forward to seeing, but was disappointed. It wasn’t terrible, but it was like an attempt at a noble documentary. I think it would have been better as a documentary.

As far as the storyline, I had no idea that Hitler amassed such a monumental collection of the world’s masterpieces while conquering Europe. When I initially saw the trailer for the movie, I thought it would be an interesting flick of war intrigue. To my horror, about half way through I kept fiddling with the stop button on my TV wanting to escape.

I cannot put my finger on any one thing as to why this movie doesn’t work. Since George Clooney and Matt Damon star in the film, maybe I was hoping for a WWII version of Oceans 11 where the gang steals back valuable artwork from the bad guys. All the actors are people who’s work I enjoy. These are great actors, but mediocre performances, likely because the screenplay just didn’t give anyone any great scenes. But that could be cause the work itself, while vitally important, just wasn’t that exciting. Continue reading »

Sep 112011
 

I seem to be called on often to give the prayer at the end of our Sunday School class. We just started a study of the Beatitudes, and of course the 9/11 commemoration services were all over the TV and radio this morning. Just before going into Church I heard President Obama at the Memorial in New York read Psalm 46. I try to make the prayer topical with current events and the lesson, so this is most of what I recall saying:

Father God, at this time of remembrance you are our refuge and strength, but we confess our sin of fear…rational fear and irrational fear which has caused us the mistrust and suspicion of our neighbors and brothers and sisters around the world…a fear that has driven us to war. You are the God who bends the bough, breaks the spear, and burns the chariot in the fire. You are also the God who has called “blessed” the peacemakers. Send us out in peace as peacemakers. Amen

Everyone is writing something about 9/11. Plenty will write words more fitting of the occasion, so I’ll leave my discussion to this prayer.

Green Zone – A Movie Review

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Mar 222010
 

During the U.S.-led occupation of Baghdad in 2003, Chief Warrant Officer Roy Miller and his team of Army inspectors were dispatched to find weapons of mass destruction believed to be stockpiled in the Iraqi desert. Rocketing from one bobby-trapped and treacherous site to the next, the men search for deadly chemical agents but stumble instead upon an elaborate cover-up that inverts the purpose of their mission. Spun by operatives with intersection agendas, Miller must hunt through covert and faulty intelligence hidden on foreign soil for answers that will either clear a rogue regime or escalate a war in an unstable region. And at this blistering time and in this combustible place, he will find the most elusive weapon of all is the truth.

Genres: Drama, Thriller, Adaptation and War; Running Time: 1 hr. 55 min.; Release Date: March 12th, 2010 (wide); MPAA Rating: R for violence and language.

Starring: Matt Damon, Amy Ryan, Greg Kinnear, Antoni Corone, Nicoye Banks

Directed by: Paul Greengrass

Green Zone is the latest Iraq War inspired motion picture. The film is based on the 2006 non-fiction book ‘Imperial Life in the Emerald City’ by Rajiv Chandrasekaran, a journalist for The Washington Post. I haven’t read the book so I can’t comment on how closely the film follows it.

I enjoyed the Bourne movies, so I was expecting a decent movie, and got it. Green Zone is fast paced, and never takes the time to get sappy. The war being fought in the film is more between the Pentagon and the CIA than the US v Iraq which makes it all the more interesting and finally allows you to see a hint of things from Iraq’s perspective for a change.

The premise set up in the film about the ‘Intelligence’ surrounding Weapons of Mass Destruction used to justify the invasion is entirely believable. Matt Damon is well suited to his part as a unit leader Roy Miller, as is Brendan Gleeson as the CIA man and Greg Kinnear is appropriately nasty as Poundstone from the Pentagon – all turn in good performances. Shot on location in Morocco, Spain and in England I could have sworn we were in Bagdad the whole time. The settings are completely believable. Greengrass uses a lot of handheld camera work to build suspense. It may be a little too much for some people, but I thought it worked as a style element for this film.

There is no denying the fact that there are political viewpoints in the movie. By now everyone should know the intelligence was manufactured, and the US knew months before the invasion there were no weapons. It’s also clear that installing a government there has been a disaster, and this film begins to show some of why that is, and how we “screwed the pooch” in the earliest part of the war. The best scenes in the movie involve the meetings among the Iraqi factions trying to keep the country from collapsing into further chaos. They’re too brief, but they crackle with what’s going on now. I especially waiting on the film that shows even more of this perspective.

All-in-all, a very good movie, and well worth the time and money.

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Men Who Stare at Goats, The – A Movie Review

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Nov 132009
 

Men Who Stare at GoatsReporter Bob Wilton is in search of his next big story when he encounters Lyn Cassady, a shadowy figure who claims to be part of an experimental U.S. military unit. According to Cassady, the New Earth Army is changing the way wars are fought. A legion of “Warrior Monks” with unparalleled psychic powers can read the enemy’s thoughts, pass through solid walls, and even kill a goat simply by staring at it. Now, the program’s founder, Bill Django, has gone missing and Cassady’s mission is to find him. Intrigued by his new acquaintance’s far-fetched stories, Bob impulsively decides to tag along. When the pair tracks Django to a clandestine training camp run by renegade psychic Larry Hooper, the reporter is trapped in the middle of a grudge match between the forces of Django’s New Earth Army and Hooper’s personal militia of super soldiers. In order to survive this wild adventure, Bob will have to outwit an enemy he never thought possible.

Genres: Comedy, Thriller, Adaptation and War; Running Time: 1 hr. 33 min.; Release Date: November 6th, 2009 (limited); MPAA Rating: R for language, some drug content and brief nudity.

Cast: George Clooney, Ewan McGregor, Kevin Spacey, Jeff Bridges, Rebecca Mader, Stephen Lang and Robert Patrick

Directed by: Grant Heslov

Lay and I went to see this last weekend. The movie is supposed to be based on fact (from Jon Ronson’s book) but the concept is so silly that director Grant Heslov and George Clooney  really can’t help but make fun of it, and there are some good laughs here. Just no real story.

Ewan McGregor plays journalist Bob Wilton, a jilted husband who goes to find a big journalistic adventure to provide his masculinity to his backstabbing wife. But he winds up stuck in Kuwait waiting to get into Iraq. One night he meets Lyn Cassidy (George Clooney), a familiar name to him from a previous interview he did years before about psychic-spies. Lyn was the best in what was called the “New Earth Army”, started by Vietnam-Vet Bill Django (Jeff Bridges) in the 80’s to create soldiers with super-powers who could prevent conflict. The Army was later dismantled and used for evil purposes by the movie’s antagonist Hooper (Kevin Spacey) but Lyn tells Bob he’s been re-activated, and has a secret mission to do in Iraq. Bob, thinking Lyn crazy but interesting at the same time, decides to ride along with him and go where the action is. Along the way, Lyn tells him stories of others dubbed, “Jedi Warriors.”

Most of the movie is flashbacks, beginning with Iraq War 2003 and chronicling all the way back to the beginning of New Age warfare. There are weird and crazy laughs. The lines are good too. “We tried invisibility but then worked it down to just not being seen”, Lyn tells Bob during on of their discussions. Clooney is perfectly eccentric as a guy who lives by the mindfulness-over-warfare principal and McGregor is a whiny, but solid straight-man. Bridges is also terrific as this free-spirited hippie. Only the laughs and flashbacks (which feel like a series of sketches) aren’t enough to distract from the fact that “Goats” really has no compelling narrative. The forward-moving story in Iraq 2003 has very little momentum. Spacey appears later on again as the villain but the conflict is weak and the movie has more than over-stayed its welcome.

All-in-all, it’s probably worth seeing, but I’d wait to rent the DVD.

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Band of Brothers – A Mini-Series Review

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Aug 162009
 

bandofbrothersThis is the story of “E” Easy Company, 506th Regiment of the 101st Airborne Division from their initial training starting in 1942 to the end of World War II. They parachuted behind enemy lines in the early hours of D-Day in support of the landings at Utah beach, participated in the liberation of Carentan and again parachuted into action during Operation Market Garden. They also liberated a concentration camp and were the first to enter Hitler’s mountain retreat in Berchtesgarten. A fascinating tale of comradeship that is, in the end, a tale of ordinary men who did extraordinary things.

Genres: Adventure, Drama, History, War; Running Time: 10 one hour episodes with an additional special features disc – 705 minutes; Release Date: September 9, 2001; MPAA Rating: As a TV series, there was no rating, however there is strong language and graphic scenes.

Starring: Damian Lewis, Donnie Wahlberg, Ron Livingston, Scott Grimes, Shane Taylor, Peter Youngblood Hills, Rick Gomez, Michael Cudlitz, Robin Laing, Nicholas Aaron, Philip Barantini, James Madio, Dexter Fletcher, Ross McCall, George Calil, Nolan Hemmings, Neal McDonough, Rick Warden, Frank John Hughes, Dale Dye, Doug Allen, Michael Fassbender, Matthew Leitch, Tim Matthews, Rene L. Moreno,     Douglas Spain, Richard Speight Jr., Kirk Acevedo, Craig Heaney, Eion Bailey, Peter McCabe, Matthew Settle, Ben Caplan, Mark Huberman, Phil McKee…

I had watched a couple of installments of this mini-series over the past couple of years when they were on regular TV. I thought each of the single installments was excellent, but I’d never watched the complete series. Lay and I watched the entire series on a Thursday, Friday and Saturday night a couple of weeks ago.

“Band Of Brothers” tells the true and incredible odyssey of Easy Company of the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 101st “Screaming Eagles” Airborne Division, U.S. Army – from their formation in Georgia (1942), to Berlin and the end of the war in Europe (1945). The demand for, and on, elite paratroopers was unending and they were deployed as “the tip of the spear” of every major allied offensive (and many minor ones too) on the Western Front. Jumping behind enemy lines, often without critical equipment and supplies or lacking enough rest and under terrible conditions, they saw more than their share of hard combat and E Company itself took nearly 150% casualties. (Statistically at least, that’s 100% of the company – 140 men and 7 officers – and half again of their replacements, lost).

The entire production represents quality writ large: Beautifully filmed on various European locations (including the UK and Austria), the movie is noble without being the least bit pompous or austere, and it manages to humanize a large cast of essential characters with small touches of humanity and humor, all of which serves to heighten the sense of terror as they descend into the maelstrom of conflict. The first – and longest – episode is deceptively staid, featuring David Schwimmer (a long way from TV’s “Friends”) as a cowardly, bullying commanding officer whose tyrannical methods nevertheless shaped Easy Company into a fighting force which eventually cut a swathe through the heart of occupied Europe. Brit actor Damian Lewis takes the spotlight thereafter as Easy Company’s most respected platoon leader, with Ron Livingston as his right hand man. Other standout performances in a flawless cast include Matthew Settle as battle-hardened platoon leader Ronald Speirs whose wartime career was distinguished by numerous acts of bravery (fuelled by a unique – if morbid – personal philosophy), Shane Taylor as company medic Eugene Roe, Neal McDonough as 2nd lieutenant ‘Buck’ Compton (laid low by his horrific combat experiences), and Donnie Wahlberg as 1st sergeant C. Carwood Lipton, who maintained the morale of his fellow soldiers, even when the odds seemed stacked against them. Every episode has its merits, but stand-outs include David Leland’s ‘Bastogne’ (ep. 6), which recounts the horrendous circumstances surrounding Easy Company’s involvement in the Battle of the Bulge, and David Frankel’s ‘Why We Fight’ (ep. 9), in which the full horror of the Nazi regime is uncovered in a German forest. Additionally, the closing moments of chapter 10 (‘Points’, directed by Mikael Salomon) are truly heartbreaking.

It’s doubtful that a more fitting tribute to the men of Easy Company could have been devised than BAND OF BROTHERS, a truly remarkable film in every conceivable way. By turns engrossing, provocative and deeply moving, it stands as a testament to those who fought and died for our freedoms, almost a lifetime ago.

I’d have to say it’s worth every one of those 705 minutes to watch.

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Dec 292008
 

In a country in the grips of evil, in a police state where every move is being watched, in a world where justice and honor have been subverted, a group of men hidden inside the highest reaches of power decide to take action. Based on the true story of Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg and the daring and ingenious plot to eliminate one of the most evil tyrants the world has ever known.

A proud military man, Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg is a loyal officer who serves his country all the while hoping that someone will find a way to stop Hitler before Europe and Germany are destroyed. Realizing that time is running out, he decides that he must take action himself and joins the German resistance. Armed with a cunning strategy to use Hitler’s own emergency plan – known as Operation Valkyrie – these men plot to assassinate the dictator and overthrow his Nazi government from the inside.

With everything in place, with the future of the world, the fate of millions and the lives of his wife and children hanging in the balance, von Stauffenberg is thrust from being one of many who oppose Hitler to the one who must kill Hitler himself.

Genres: Action/Adventure, Drama, Thriller, Biopic and War; Running Time: 2 hrs.; Release Date: December 25th, 2008 (wide); MPAA Rating: PG-13 for violence and brief strong language.

Cast: Tom Cruise, Bill Nighy, Tom Wilkinson, Carice van Houten, Eddie Izzard, Thomas Kretschmann, Terence Stamp, Christian Berkel, Kenneth Branagh, Halina Reijn, David Bamber, Kevin McNally, Jamie Parker, Tom Hollander, David Schofield, Werner Daehn, Harvey Friedman, Matthias Schweighoefer, Waldemar Kobus

Director: Bryan Singer

Lay and I went to see this movie on Christmas Day at its first showing in Gastonia, NC, so the theater wasn’t packed.

A story such as this can be a very difficult story to tell. Because it is based on a true story, it only has credibility if the movie is true to the story, but that can be difficult when the topic is complex, and so much of the story known only to a few. Because the outcome is known, it can be hard to maintain the suspense and tension needed to make a good movie, and a movie about a takeover attempt like this is hard to setup, as the real action doesn’t come until the event itself.

Despite these challenges, Singer does a good job putting out the story. I’m no historian, but have read a couple of reviews by people who purport to be historians, and they seem to feel the movie was reasonably true to the actual events. Perhaps the one gripe (and this is understandable due to the time constraints of a movie), in some cases the approach to possible fellow-conspirators was rather abrupt. I would expect more caution in such situations.

Singer managed to maintain a surprising level of tension and drama throughout the movie, and I found myself rooting for the conspirators and forgetting that the plot actually failed. It was also interesting to learn of the many considerations involved in such an action that go beyond the mere killing of Hitler.

I thought all the actors did an excellent job with their parts. I’ll admit to having been a Cruise fan for a while after “Risky Business” (but then what gay man wasn’t hot for Tom Cruise after the underwear scene in that movie), but my attitude towards him has cooled. But he did a nice job playing the part. The other actors carried off their parts in a very believable fashion.

All in all, a movie well worth seeing.

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Boy In The Striped Pajamas, The – A Movie Review

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Nov 232008
 

The Boy In The Striped Pajamas Movie PosterEight year-old Bruno is the sheltered son of a Nazi officer whose promotion takes the family from their comfortable home in Berlin to a desolate area where the lonely boy finds nothing to do and no-one to play with. Crushed by boredom and compelled by curiosity, Bruno ignores his mother’s repeated instructions not to explore the back garden and heads for the “farm” he has seen in the near distance. There he meets Shmuel, a boy his own age who lives a parallel, alien existence on the other side of a barbed wire fence. Bruno’s encounter with the boy in the striped pajamas leads him from innocence to a dawning awareness of the adult world around them as his meetings with Shmuel develop into a friendship with devastating consequences.

Genres: Drama, Adaptation and War; Running Time: 1 hr. 33 min.; Release Date: November 7th, 2008 (limited); MPAA Rating: PG-13 for some mature thematic material involving the Holocaust.

Starring: Vera Farmiga, David Thewlis, Rupert Friend, Cara Horgan, David Hayman, Asa Butterfield, Jack Scanlon

Directed by: Mark Herman

I was moved beyond words by this movie. It was maybe one of the saddest and most moving stories I’ve seen. All the actors were great, but especially Asa Butterfield as Bruno, the Nazi Commandants son, and Jack Scanlon as the Jewish child Schmuel were just remarkable. The music was beautiful in its simplicity, and by the end came to sound like a hymn.

This story has so many messages that it’s hard to know where to begin. First there is the story of the innocence of childhood. It is amazing to be able to see the world through children’s eyes, and realize how really simple the world can be. We just have to find those things we have in common with one another, and friendship is easy. There is the moral story of karma. Those who foment hate and evil may have it come around to bite them in the ass.

This movie was a stunning morality play, and I hope it will be seen by millions. This movie, like Schindler’s List, is an important story with an important message applicable to how we treat one another today, and a reminder of the importance of never ever standing by for this type of evil. At the end of the movie everyone in the theater sat quietly rather than making the usual dash to the exits. I don’t know about anyone else, but I was stunned into a soul searching reflection. Even as we began to leave, with the beautiful piano solo playing the movie theme that had become more like a hymn, people could only whisper in respect for the experience.

It was also amazing to hear the language used to teach hate for other’s, and see how it can br effective for those looking to blame their problems on someone else. It was remarkably similar to the words and tactics used by those today to dehumanize gay people.

Know that the film’s resolution, though admirably restrained and unsentimental, is devastatingly sad. Parents should take this into account. This beautifully rendered film is told in a classic and old-fashioned style, in the best sense, providing poignant and powerful teachable moments.

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