Category Archives: War

Born on the Fourth of July (1989)

 People say that if you don’t love America, then get the hell out. Well, I love America.

— Ron Kovic

Memorial Day was a while ago and I wanted to see the picture that nabbed Tom Cruise his first Oscar nomination for Best Actor, Born on the Fourth of July. I saw this a while ago, but I haven’t had the chance to write the review until now. The movie did win Oliver Stone the Best Director Oscar.

Based on the true story of Ron Kovic (Cruise), a man who comes from an extremely religious background, was a wrestler in high school and wanted to be part of something greater than himself. When a Marine Corps recruiter shows up at the school, Ron almost jumps at the chance of signing up and going to fight in Vietnam.

The action cut to Ron’s second tour when his platoon shot up a Vietcong village, but they accidentally killed women and children. They realize that it was ruse for the Vietcong to have the opening salvo on the Americans. During the confusion of sand and bullets, Ron ends up shooting one of his fellow soldiers, PFC Wilson (Michael Compotaro). Ron tries to confess what happened, but his superiors brush the incident under the rug.

In another altercation, Ron is shot in the foot and then in the upper chest, paralyzing him from the mid-chest down. He resides in a VA hospital in the Bronx that looks like a slum then a place for veterans. When he returns to his childhood home, he becomes angry that people are indifferent about the war and what it represents to the country.

The main reason for this review is for the next LAMB Acting School 101, Willem Dafoe. Willem has a small part as a confidant of Ron, Charlie, when Ron lives in Villa Dulce, Mexico. A place where disabled veterans stays, get drunk and have sex with hookers. Charlie questions Ron about what really happened to him in the war and questions everything that Ron believed in.

I was expected to be blown away with Tom Cruise’s performance. I saw glimpses of it, but not that much to keep me interested in it. I have seen a lot of Vietnam movies. It’s like all of them are blurring into one. This particular story is not that intriguing to me and I found myself bored with it. It seems shallow and it doesn’t explore what happens to a person when they come back from the war.

Judgment: I wish I had some glowing words to say about this movie, but I don’t.

Rating: 6.5/10

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Doctor Zhivago (1965)

You lay life on a table and cut out all the tumors of injustice. Marvelous.

— Zhivago

The winner of five Academy Awards including Best Adapted Screenplay, Doctor Zhivago is another movie that I have never seen before. Besides, the lead male character in Must Love Dogs watched this movie every time that he is depressed. I wanted to see what the fuss with about. Let me tell you, it’s not that good.

Based on the book by Boris Pasternak, the setting is the Bolshevik Revolution when a poet Yuri (Omar Sharif) is studying to be a doctor practicing general medicine. There is a young idealistic man, Pascha (Tom Courtenay) is handing out leaflets about the upcoming revelation when he is almost arrested, but his 17-year-old fiancé, Lara (Julie Christie) intervenes. She wants to stop with his radical ways before they get married. There is a complication with the relationship. Lara has an affair with the manipulative Komarovsky (Rod Steiger).

One night, a peaceful demonstration erupts into a massacre outside of high society party that Lara and Yuri attends.Yuri watches from the balcony. He quickly rushes to the injured people to aid them, but he is urged to stay out of the conflict. Pascha is injured in the fight and has to leave the city to survive. He wants to take a job teaching.

When Lara’s mother takes ill, Lara and Yuri finally meet, but Yuri’s learns of Lara’s relationship with Komarovsky. After Victor Komarovsky wrongs Lara, she seeks revenge on him. World War I separate all the characters until Yuri and Lara meet up when he is doctor on the front line and her a volunteer nurse. They have a bond with each other even thought they are both married Lara to Pascha and Yuri to Tonya (Geraldine Chaplin).

From the first frame of this movie, I knew that I was going to hate this movie. These characters are awful. Why should I feel sympathy for any of them? Then, I was confused by Russians speaking with British accents sometimes speaking in French. What? The characters keep referring to each other by at least three different names. Besides, the movie is over three hours long. Mind you, there are three hour movies that I loved like Seven Samurai or The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, but come on. It was like torture watching. I hated this movie with a passion. I didn’t care about what happened to them whether they died or lived. Who cares?

Judgment: It was complete waste of time. Drivel.

Rating: 1.5/10

Apocolypse Now (1979)

What do you call it when the assassins accuse the assassin? A lie. A lie and we have to be merciful.

— Colonel Kurtz

I have no idea what is my problem. There are so many classic movies that I have never seen. Francis Ford Coppola’s epic movie, the #36 Film of All-Time on IMDb, Apocolypse Now is one of many. I knew very little about this movie when I saw it. It was a good thing, because would not have enjoyed it more than I did. It was nominated for eight Academy Awards and won two for Best Sound and Cinematography.

A disillusioned Army Captain Benjamin L. Willard (Martin Sheen) is tired of waiting around to find action in and around Saigon. he is finally recruited by Con-Sec Intelligence for a top-secret mission in Nha Trang. Willard meets with Colonel Lucas (Harrison Ford) and General Corman (G.D. Spradlin) to talk about the mission.

There is a decorated Green Beret named Col. Walter E. Kurtz (Marlon Brando) that has played renegade with his own missions with the consent of the US government. At first, Kurtz was praised for his efforts, but soon his leadership skills are questioned when he goes rogue. The men listen to secret tapes of Kurtz talking about the possibility that he is insane and that his actions are monstrous.

They let Willard know that Kurtz has crossed into Cambodia with his Montaguard army to take over a tribe there. There is a warrant out for Kurtz’s arrest for the murder of four Vietnamese Intelligence agents that he thinks were working as double agents. His ultimate mission to follow the Kurtz’s path to Cambodia, infiltrate his team and eliminate him.

To accomplish his mission, Willard is take on a Navy patrol boat down the river.  There is the surfer, Lance B. Johnson (Sam Bottoms), Jay “Chef” Hicks (Frederic Forrest) and 17-year-old, Tyrone “Clean” Miller (Laurence Fishburne) make this ragtag group that Willard has to deal with. There is the captain of the boat, Chief Phillips (Albert Hall) that knows that Willard is not being escorted down the river just for R&R. He knows something big is about to happen.

The movie was an example of how war cam fuck you up mentally, physically, and emotionally. Sometimes when you are in a life and death situation for so long that your moral core erodes away and you don’t know the difference between right and wrong. The actions of some of the characters are awful and despicable, but their conscience is not there.

The movie is dirty and beautiful at the same time. Who knew that Wagner’s “Ride of the Valkyries” could fit perfectly with bombing of a Vietcong village?

Judgment: This movie shook me to the core.

Rating: 9.5/10

The Tuskegee Airmen (1995)

The four elements: earth, air, water, and fire. Of these, I call your attention to two: air and fire. Though it is your privilege to live in the air, you will die by fire.

— Major Sherman Joy

The Tuskegee Airmen was a made for television movie for HBO back in 1995. I never heard of the movie back then, but the film was nominated for many Emmy awards. I wanted to learn more about the historic 332nd fighter squadron when I traveled through Tuskegee, Alabama on the Greyhound.

In 1942, a young pilot trainee, Hannibal “Iowa” Lee Jr. (Laurence Fishburne) has been drafted into a special government program to let Negroes fly Army fighter planes for the US. He meets others on the train to Tuskegee, Alabama like the cocky Billy “Train” Roberts (Cuba Gooding, Jr.) and a licensed pilot Walter Peoples III (Allen Payne).

Upon arriving at the base, they are greeted by their commanding officer, Colonel Noel Rogers (Daniel Hugh Kelly), Major Sherman Joy (Christopher McDonald) and their liaison officer (Courtney B. Vance).

They are in for a rude awakening when Major Joy thinks that Negroes are not capable enough to fly a fighter jet. He wants to make them fail by any means necessary. It seems to be what is going on as 1/3 of the cadets were gone when they were halfway through the training. One particular cadet’s death rattles the spirits of Leroy Cappy (Malcolm-Jamal Warner).

Not to be deterred from the ultimate goal of graduating, the cadets exceed all expectations to be the the very first Negro pilots to serve in World War II. Their time to celebrate may be short-lived as Senator Conyers (John Lithgow) wants tp dismantle the program, because of unfounded evidence to their ability ti fly the planes.

I am glad that I watched this movie. I learned a part of history that is not taught in schools. We hear the name “Tuskegee Airmen”, but we never get the chance to see what they have done, what they accomplish. I thought the performances were stupendous across the board. I have to give a special mention to Laurence Fishburne who was nominated for a Best Actor Emmy and Andre Braugher who was nominated for his convincing role of Benjamin O. Davis in the Supporting Actor Category.

Judgment: It takes you on the journey of these men without boring you with facts and figures.

Rating: 8/10

Valkyrie (2008)

I’m a soldier, but in serving my country, I have betrayed my conscience.

— Col. Claus von Stauffenberg

Since Tom Cruise is the latest person to be in the LAMB Acting School 101 this month, I thought I would revisit a movie that was largely dismissed WWII drama, Valkyrie. There was a lot bad buzz around this movie with the numerous release date changes and even the possibly of changing the title of movie. A movie about killing Hitler, it’s a no-brainer about what the ending is. This movie is something different to offer about the SS.

The film starting in North Africa during the last years of the war where Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg (Cruise) is conflicted with serving his country and standing up to the atrocities of what Hitler has done to Jews and his people. He is tries to find somebody that would rise up against the Third Reich. Just then his unit is attacked by the Allied forces.

Losing two fingers in his left hand, left eye and right hand entirely, Stauffenburg is held up in a Munich hospital where he is visited by his wife, Nina (Carice van Houten). He has to return to Berlin to await further instruction from the Fürher (David Bamber).

Meanwhile, there have already been plots to assassinated Hitler mainly with Major-General Henning von Tresckow (Kenneth Branagh) trying to kill Hitler with a bomb that did not go off on the plane with him or Colonel Heinz Brandt (Tom Hollander) who unknowingly carried the package into the plan in the first place. After he botched attempt, Treschow returns to High Command to get it back. Tresckow’s co-conspirator, General Friedrich Olbricht (Bill Nighy) lets him know that their plan might be exposed when another defector is arrested. They would need another person to lead the uprising.

When Stauffenberg comes back to Berlin, he is recruited by Olbricht to lead the resistance. Stauffenberg is surprised that many people want to overthrow their tyrannical leader like Ludwig Beck (Terence Stamp) who tries to find a way to destroy Hitler from the inside out.

Stauffenberg suggests that somebody should infiltrate Hitler’s inner circle. He also suggests that they initiate Operation Valkyrie, which is a plan for when Hitler is dead; the reserved army would be active to help with civil unrest. They want to stage a fake coup to arrest the SS soldiers that take over the government. As Beck said in one conversation, “This is the military. Nothing ever goes according to plan.” Truer words were ever spoken.

The rest of the movie chronicles the failed attempt to kill Hitler. This is history. Everyone knows that Hitler didn’t die until 1945. Knowing the end of the movie was a bit anti-climatic. The movie is not awful. It got a bad rap for something that was the studio’s fault.

Hearing Tom Cruise in his Americanized German dialogue was very distracting to me, except for the guy, Christian Berkel playing Colonel Mertz von Quirnheim. Was he in the same movie? He did dinner theater level acting. Just god-awful. Hearing everybody’s British accents and the lone American – Cruise – made me think that these guys were playing Nazi dress up. I couldn’t buy it all the way. At least, have some slight German accents. Oh, well.

Judgment: What’s the point? Hitler doesn’t die at the end. Oh, spoiler. Sorry.

Rating: **1/2

Blood Diamond (2006)

In America, it’s bling bling. But out here it’s bling bang.

— Danny Archer

Blood Diamond was a movie that I intentionally stayed away from when it was released in 2006 ,because of the overt political message that slapping you upside the head with it. I did see the ending of the movie when I was flipping the channels one day. If I saw the ending that liked it, I should see the rest of it. The movie is an unflinching look at a war zone, but the message is heavy handed.

Taking place in Sierra Leone circa 1999, the story mainly focused on a civil war between the people over the control of diamond fields there. Many people have died, even though no one of them has actually seen a diamond. Ambassador Walker (Stephen Collins) tells a panel that the Africans have been killing themselves over precious resources for years. Now they have turned to diamonds as their next source of strife. The blood diamonds are purchased for weapons that made the civil war drag on. He wants to prohibit the purchase of conflict diamonds. The US makes up the majority of diamond sales.

A fisherman, Solomon Vandy (Djimon Honsou) walks with his only son, Dia (Kagiso Kuypers) from school, when he sees a bunch of soldiers from the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) gunning down men, women and children in their village of Shenge. Solomon tries to save his family from the ongoing massacre, but he is captured while they escape. The reason behind the shooting is that the rebels don’t the people to vote to change the way things were. Solomon is sent as labor to mine diamonds. While at the mines, Solomon finds a 100 carat light pink diamond. He buries it, but it caught when the Sierra Leone troops attack rebels and captures alike. Shoot first, ask questions later. He is taken for being rebel in their eyes.

A Rhodesian diamond smuggler, Danny Archer (Leonardo DiCaprio) pretends to be with National Geographic to cross into Liberia with the conflict diamonds placed inside the necks of goats. He is doing this assignment for Colonel Coetzee (Arnold Vosloo) that is working the large diamond exporters, Rudolf Van De Kaap (Marius Weyers) and Rupert Simmons (Michael Sheen) to supply the money for the never-ending conflict. (Getting confusing for you. I should.)

Archer is promptly arrested and taken to the same prison with Solomon is held. The person that captured Solomon, Captain Poison (David Harewood) announces to everyone including Danny that he buried the diamond. Danny is bailed out by his friend, Nabil (Jimi Mistry) to convince Coetzee, Van De Kaap and Simmons to split the cost of the pink diamond Solomon has found.

At a local bar, Danny meets a journalist Maddy Bowen (Jennifer Connelly). She tries to get information about Van De Kaap. How are the diamonds being exported from Liberia where there are not diamond mines? She wants his help to expose Van De Kaap and Simmons for their wheeling and dealing; names, dates, and number accounts of buyers of the conflict diamonds to take them down.

When Solomon is bailed out, he tries to find his family at various refugee camps. They are nowhere to be found. Still on the run, another group of rebels have taken Dia from his family. He is beaten and brainwashed into being a part of the child soldiers by Captain Poison.

Danny tracks down Solomon to find the location of the diamond that he buried. Split the cost of the diamond fifty/fifty to help get Solomon his family back and Danny enough money to pay off Colonel. They enlist the help of Maddy to ensure that they succeed in finding his family and recovering the diamond.

I have heard about the dealing with conflict diamonds prior to watching this movie. I didn’t know the extent of what was going on at the time. Here is another example as why the Western world doesn’t care about Africans. Just like what was dramatized in Hotel Rwanda and The Last King of Scotland. Massive atrocities have been happening and nobody did a damn thing to stop it. It’s still happening. I do hate it when the point is donkey-punching me every five minutes. We get it, Ed Zwick!

The movie is long for such a heavy subject. I thought some of the sequences dragged a bit too long. The romance plotline between Maddy and Danny was completely trite. Why does that need to be in there? Why is it every time that Solomon is about to get killed a militia comes in to wipe out everything moving? He survives.

This film was nominated for five Oscars including Best Actor for DiCaprio and Best Supporting Actor for Hounsou. I thought they were good, but I didn’t think it was worthy of recognition in my opinion.

Judgment: There is a good story under all the political red tape.

Rating: ****

Jarhead (2005)

Every war is different, every war is the same.

— Anthony ‘Swoff’ Swofford

During my subscription of Details magazine circa 2003, I passed by a blurb for Anthony Swofford briefly discussing his memoir about his time in the Persian Gulf War called Jarhead. Sam Mendes directed the big screen adaptation of his story. I loved that the story is not a war movie, but a movie about young soldier’s journey.

Swofford (Jake Gyllenhaal) is a Marine recruit that is trying to find himself. He thought that the military was the best decision, but he regrets it. He is introduced to his platoon, Gulf Company. His initial reception does not turn out why the way that he thought. They tried to initiate him with a mock branding of the USMC.

Pretending that he has a stomach virus, he meets Staff Sgt. Sykes (Jaime Foxx) in the crapper. Seeing that Swofford is not as dumb as he thinks he is, Sykes wants Swofford to train as a scout sniper. Swofford jumps at the opportunity. He is teamed up with Troy (Peter Sarsgaard).

As the Iraqis invaded Kuwait, Second Platoon is deployed to the battle zone. The Marines think that they would be there a maximum of two weeks, but things changed. As part of Operation Desert Shield, their orders from their battalion leader Lt. Col. Kazinski (Chris Cooper) are to guard the oil fields that are a constant target of the Iraqi militants.

The platoon has to learn is about to the harsh conditions of the desert, how to survive the insurmountable boredom of non-combat conditions. As the days turn into months, Swofford’s mind begins to unravel as he learns that his girlfriend is cheating and he is not seeing any action.

Everybody knows how much of a “Gyllenhaalic” I am. I remember taking my ex-boyfriend to see this movie in the theaters. I was engrossed in the movie and I looked over to see that he was sleeping. That’s why he became an ex-boyfriend.

Sam Mendes has a way to make a monochromic setting into a thing of beauty. You see sand blackened with soot and ash from fireballs or burning oil wells in the distance. It’s like the screen is inverted.

Judgment: If you are the kind of person that doesn’t like gory war movie, you would enjoy

Rating: ****

Full Metal Jacket (1987)

full_metal_jacket

The deadliest weapon in the world is a marine and his rifle. It is your killer instinct which must be harnessed if you expect to survive in combat. Your rifle is only a tool. It is a hard heart that kills. If your killer instincts are not clean and strong you will hesitate at the moment of truth. You will not kill. You will become dead marines and then you will be in a world of shit because marines are not allowed to die without permission. Do you maggots understand?

— Gunnery Sargent Hartman

Full Metal Jacket is my favorite of Stanley Kubrick’s films. Granted I have not seen all of his films, but this #88 movie of All Time on IMDb I have seen a couple of times over the years. I know almost all of the dialogue. That should tell that I still love it.

Based on the novel “The Short-Timers” by Gustav Hasford, the story mostly centers on smart-alecky Pvt. Joker (Matthew Modine) when he was at Marine Corps boot camp in South Carolina called Parris Island. He gets a dose of reality when Gunnery Sgt. Hartman (R. Lee Emery) tries to reel his attitude in.

The next two months are grueling for the grunts that are in training for going out to Vietnam. Joker is promoted to squad leader and has to help a portly fellow affectionately nicknamed Gomer Pyle (Vincent D’Onofrio). Pyle is a constant target for Hartman who thinks that he is a worthless piece of shit.

Joker wants to help Pyle with the daily grind of learning how to dress himself, making up his bunk, conquer the obstacle course, disassemble and reassemble his rifle. Pyle tries to do his best, but he has minor fuck ups that cause Hartman to punish the platoon for not making him better.

The 3092 platoon has been punished one time too many for Pyle’s mistakes that cause the platoon to turns against him. In one single brutal act, Pyle snaps. He seems like he became the perfect soldier like Hartman wanted, but slowly unravels from within.

On the last night of boot camp, Pyle reached his breaking point when Joker patrols the barracks and finds him in the bathroom with his rifle.

Fast forward to Joker is deployed to Vietnam as a writer for Stars and Stripes. He travels with a photographer, Rafterman (Kevyn Major-Howard). He reconnects with Cowboy (Arliss Howard), a fellow grunt that survived. Cowboy’s a part of The Lust Hawk Squad with trigger happy, Animal Mother (Adam Baldwin), Eightball (Dorian Harewood), and Doc Jay (John Stafford).

When the team is lost going to their designated checkpoint, the team have to navigate some dangerous waters.

The last sequence of the movie makes me laugh; you would never expect it for this movie. I love the haunting score by Abigail Mead. It still gets to me. I wonder, what happened to Matthew Modine? He was so good in the movie. He has been in a few movies in the past couple of years. Nothing major. It makes you wonder.

Judgment: The ultimate lesson is that war will fuck you up physically and mentally.

Rating: *****

Inglourious Basterds (2009)

inglourious_basterds_ver9You probably heard we ain’t in the prisoner-takin’ business; we in the killin’ Nazi business. And cousin, Business is a-boomin’.

— Lt. Aldo Raine

Quentin Tarantino’s latest film, Inglourious Basterds is an homage of spaghetti westerns, film noir and subversive movies about massacring a bunch of Nazis in the past couple of decades. It is currently #192 on the Top 250 of All Time on IMDb. It was a good movie, but I had some problems with it that I will discuss in the spoiler section.

Breaking from his formula of a broken narrative, letting the audience put the pieces back together. This is a tale a group of people that want to destroy the Third Reich, thus ending WWII.

It starts when Shosanna Dreyfus’s (Mélanie Laurent) family is massacred by Col. Hans Landa (Christoph Waltz) and his crew of SS soldiers. She escapes extermination through the French countryside. She assumes a different identity as Emmanuelle Mimieux, an owner of a French cinema house.

One night, she is visited by an SS soldiers named Frederich Zoller (Daniel Brühl) that is taken with her. She tries to reject his advances. She finds out that he has become a German hero by killing over 250 Allied soldiers. He has a propaganda film made about him called Nations Pride.

Frederich wants to have the premiere of the movie to be at her cinema house. Shosanna has some ulterior motives about the premiere night with her boyfriend, Marcel (Jacky Ido).

Simultaneously, the “Inglorious Basterds” headed by Lt. Aldo “The Apache” Raine (Brad Pitt) with eight other Jew vigilantes like Sgt. Donnie Donowitz (Eli Roth), Pfc. Smithson Utivich (BJ Novak), Cpl. Wilhelm Wicki (Gedeon Burkhard), Pfc. Omar Ulmer (Omar Doom) and last but not least, Sgt. Hugo Stiglitz (Til Schweiger) have struck fear to the Third Reich with killing their forces and scalping them.

British officer Lt. Archie Hicox (Micheak Fassbender) has to the team up with the basterds along with double agent, German actress Bridget von Hammersmark (Diane Kruger) to infiltrate the premiere and destroy the highest ranking officers of the Third Reich including Hitler.

This movie is made for cinema freaks. The primarily deals with people that love movies, the climax takes place in a theater. There were some obvious winks to audience.

It was more subdued than his other films. The performances were good across the board with a special mention to Christoph Waltz and Mélanie Laurent. I thought they were terrific in the film.

There were some problems with the pacing of the film. The dialogue dragged on for a long time. A few trims could have tighten up the suspense.

Judgment: It’s not a masterpiece, but a good film all around.

Rating: ****1/2

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Seven Samurai (1954)

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Find hungry samurai.

— Gisaku

The next person in the LAMB director’s chair for this month is the Japanese director Akira Kurosawa. Known for his samurai epics, most of his filmography was in the Criterion Collection as was his best known epic, Seven Samurai. It is currently ranked #14 of the Top 250 of All Time on IMDb. It was nominated two Academy Awards in 1954.

Not being familiar with Kurosawa’s work, I wanted to see the grandaddy of them all. Watching the movie, it was good film, but you really have to invest your body and soul to it.

Taking place in 16th century Japan, the movie is about a group of villagers that are besieged by a team of bandits that want to pillage their rice and wheat. Being that it was not harvest time, the bandits to come back when the rice is ripe to take it.

Scared for their safety, a couple of villagers Rikichi (Yoshio Tsuchiya), Yohei (Bokuzen Hidari) and an samurai apprentice, Katsushiro Okamoto (Isao Kimura) set out on a journey to find a samurai suggested by the village elder, Gisaku (Kokuten Kodo) to help them protect their village when the bandits come back.

On the journey, they meet an older but wiser samurai, Kambei Shimada (Takashi Shimura) that has the job to recruit six other samurai to protect the village. He recruits Gorobei Katayama (Yoshio Inaba), Kyuzo (Seiji Miyaguchi),  Heihachi Hayashida (Minoru Chiaki), Shichiroji (Daisuke Katô) and Kikuchiyo (Toshirô Mifune).

During the course of the movie, the seven samurais train the villagers to defend themselves against the rebels that will eventually come.

The performances were very good, especially Toshirô Mifune as Kikuchiyo. He is crazy and dirty. Loved him so much. When the movie got boring in parts, he makes you want to watch more. What is he going to do next?

The score by Fumio Hayasaka was so good. There was so much tension in his simplistic sounds.

This is a very simple story. Does it need to be dragged out for three and half hours? I was happy for the intermission in the middle, but when the final credits rolled. I was physically exhausted.

Judgment: A well made film that needs your undivided attention to fully enjoy it.

Rating: ****1/2

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