Archive for the ‘War’ Category

Stepping into a shift managing a drone over Kenya, pilots Steve Watts and Carrie Gershon get tied up in a mission to monitor terrorist activity. Colonel Katherine Powell gets intel that the #2, #4, and #5 people on the East African terrorist list have been spotted and are meeting in a small village in Kenya. While the mission starts off as an attempt to capture their suspects, the problem escalates when they find that the meeting involves suiting up two suicide bombers. As they prepare to transition from a capture to kill objective, they struggle with the efficacy of releasing the hellfire missile from the drone compared to the potential collateral damage to the village.

New Stage of Combat: While the mission took place in Kenya, the majority of the operatives were safely away from danger. The pilots of the drone were sitting in a trailer in Las Vegas. The commanding officer and lieutenant general were operating from two different locations in England. The one operative inside the village was in danger of being found out at any moment. Combat in a new age means that massive damage and loss of life can happen from great distances, but the ethics of whether to engage or not is called into question.

Collateral Damage: One of the most important elements of the ethical dilemma in this film was related to the loss of one life to save hundreds. As the mission changes from a capture to a kill objective, the decision to push the button hinged on Watts noticing a young girl selling bread outside of the meeting compound. While the colonel was ready to release the missile regardless of approval from above, Watts and the other military officials involved engaged in the debate to ensure the safety of the child while following through on their desired mission.

Intensity Away from the Battlefield: Considering the nature of this story, the drama exists as much in the war rooms as on the streets in Kenya. Helen Mirren was icy but exact in her role as the colonel. As she navigated the pressures of collateral damage, she also stayed focused on the goal. Aaron Paul typically plays the brash, out of control protagonist, but he stepped back in this role to be the voice of reason, even challenging superiors to help save the life of the little girl. Alan Rickman presented a stalwart demeanor as he mediated between the military forces in one of his final roles.

Final Verdict: While the action is limited, the story is intense. The horrors of war were told from both a battlefield on the ground and in the war room, making from a dramatic debate of life and safety. This is definitely worth the watch.

Dan’s Rating: 4.0/5


Fury (2014): War Never Ends Quietly

Posted: April 12, 2015 in Action, Drama, War

fury_ver6_xxlgThe Second World War is coming to a close and a squad of American troops continues its assault through the European theatre. Having survived a long string of battles and losing only one of his tank operators, Sergeant Don ‘Wardaddy’ Collier readies his troops for the next leg of their journey. While still at base camp, Don is informed that he must take on a new member to his team, a young typing clerk named Norman. While not initially welcomed into the team, Norman ends up operating one of the front machine guns and serving as a lookout from his post. While they end up in a tank battle, Norman freezes under pressure and gets punished for it. Following the fight, they press forward to a nearby town to take refuge before finding out that a US supply base is in trouble.

Review: With a flurry of different war movies out there projecting the drama and tragedy of World War II, Fury focused more directly on a single storyline of conflict with the conclusion being surrounded by insurmountable odds and no way out. The cast was led by Brad Pitt (Don Collier), Shia LaBeouf (Boyd Swan), Logan Lerman (Norman Ellison), Michael Pena (Trini Garcia), and Jon Bernthal (Grady Travis). For Pitt, it was clear that he had his time with Inglorious Basterds to help him prepare for additional war films, but this was a bit of a grittier role. The characters seemed to be a strange fluctuation between wartime focus, unnecessary aggression, and odd acceptance. The overall tone and the character dynamics made it tougher to connect with the cast in these roles.

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The story itself was a rather remarkable one. While the actual storytelling was a bit imbalanced, the survival for Norman was captivating. Ending up with a unit after having only minimal combat training, he found himself in the mix of several firefights, including the final battle against nearly 300 opposing Nazi soldiers. Sergeant Collier forced Norman to grow stronger through each experience of war, even forcing him to kill a Nazi soldier to finally break through that barrier. This prepared Norman for the final conflict and brought him just enough of the confidence needed to try to survive.

While the film has some interesting moments of conflict and personal growth, David Ayer fell a little short on being able to create a connection with the characters.

Dan’s Rating: 3.0/5

In the city of Casablanca, Rick Blaine has been exiled as a former American freedom fighter during World War II. As the owner of a popular nightclub, his hotspot attracts a number of transient people coming out of Nazi-occupied Europe. Rick, a celebrity among the populous, is a man who is out only for himself. With the arrival of some Nazi officers, Captain Louis Renault is attempting to give the best impression possible and gain some credit with his guests. At the same time as the arrival of the Nazis, Victor Laszlo and Ilsa Lund walk into Rick’s and create a challenge for the owner. With a tryst in Paris connecting Ilsa and Rick, old memories are stirred and create a challenge for the seemingly nonchalant owner. After falling into possession of two blank letters of transit, Rick has the tough decision to make regarding who gets to receive the opportunity to get out of Casablanca and what he will do about the reappearance of his former love.

Starring: Humphrey Bogart (Rick Blaine), Ingrid Bergman (Ilsa Lund), Paul Henreid (Victor Laszlo), Claude Rains (Capt. Louis Renault), Conrad Veidt (Major Heinrich Strasser), Sydney Greenstreet (Signor Ferrari), Peter Lorre (Ugrate), Dooley Wilson (Sam), Joy Page (Annina Brandel), Madeleine Lebeau (Yvonne), SZ Sakall (Carl)

Nominated for the best actor award of the 1944, Humphrey Bogart leads the way as the stalwart club owner. His strong personality helps hides so much of his history and his discomfort with the Nazi presence. In the flashback to Paris, he shows a slightly different side of himself, one that includes his open love for Ilsa and compassion of others. Ingrid Bergman played Ilsa and gave her character a great femininity with an edge. Though she mostly follows the direction of her husband and her heart, she also has a moment of strength and desperation that serves to challenge Bogart’s character’s stoic nature. Paul Henreid is a mostly one-dimensional actor in this film but his character is not as important to the character development other than to serve as a catalyst for Ilsa and Rick’s reunion. Also nominated for his performance, Claude Rains plays his character to the tune of the tides. With the Nazi presence, he searches for people attempting to flee for America. When around Rick, he serves as a friend and protector. Dooley Wilson plays the important role of adding significant musical interludes to express the emotion of the film.

Michael Curtiz’s classic film represents the challenges of living within the Nazi range during World War II. Casablanca was a city that served as a transition point for people trying to escape the growing threats in Europe and travel to America. While the opportunity was there, it was not easy to get papers to approve one’s transport. When a courier’s letters are stolen and find their way to Rick, he became a man with more power than he initially realized. While suspicion existed for Rick’s past, he maintained a consistent neutrality that took away most of the attention for his activities. Ilsa served as an instant shakeup of his world. Even though he seemingly had no intentions of using the papers for anything, the stirred-up emotions created a new challenge for his future. Regardless of his decision of whether to reestablish his relationship with Ilsa, a spark was rekindled in his heart for combating the oppressive and abusive powers plaguing the world.

There is a lot of controversy about the value of this film. While many of the major critics and organizations actually rate this as one of the best films of all time (the American Film Institute listed it as #2 and the Writers Guild of America rated the screenplay as the #1 of film history), the average viewer has struggled with choosing the same ratings. Many of the concerns include the acting styles of both Bogart and Bergman as over-emoted, the slow start to the storyline and the extra scene after the plane takes off. In reality, many of these reviews ignore the disconnect of time between the original release of the film and the evolution of film over the past 100 years. Casablanca was a fantastic film for its time and has influenced American culture more than people realize. Significant quotes (like “here’s looking at you, kid” and “of all the gin joints, in all the towns, in all the world, she walks into mine”) have weaved their way into other films’ and media’s scripts. Scenes like the airport and the songs like When Time Goes By have inspired other writers in the developing their stories.

Casablanca is truly one of the greats and should be on everyone’s must watch list for greatest films of all time.

Dan’s Rating: 5.0/5

The Hurt Locker: War is a Drug (2008)

Posted: February 29, 2012 in Drama, Thriller, War

In 2004, an elite bomb squad in Baghdad travels throughout the city where everyone appears to be dangerous. Using protective suits and disarming robots, the squad is well protected but loses its leader when a mission turns awry. To replace the lost soldier, Sergeant First Class William James becomes the new leader of a squad. Sergeants JT Sanborn and Owen Eldridge are surprised to learn of their leader’s apparent recklessness as they experience the leadership of a man obsessed with the experience of war. The squad enters into several missions to scout out and disarm possible IEDs and enemy combatants. With each mission, there seems to be greater danger awaiting them, drawing out their fear, anger and true characters of each of the soldiers.

Starring: Jeremy Renner (Sergeant First Class William James), Anthony Mackie (Sergeant JT Sanborn), Brian Geraghty (Specialist Owen Eldridge), Guy Pearce (Staff Sergeant Matt Thompson), Ralph Fiennes (Contractor Team Leader), David Morse (Col. Reed), Evangeline Lilly (Connie James), Christian Camargo (Col. John Cambridge)

In this representation of the wartime experience, each of the actors brings an intensity and development of their military personas. Jeremy Renner solidified himself for a much larger career through this role. As the Sergeant First Class, Renner shows what the experience of war can do to a man, enhancing one’s obsession with the completion of the mission and engrossing themselves with the violence and combat. He shows little remorse for the actions he takes and the decisions that put his men in harm’s way. Anthony Mackie as Sanborn shows a little more temperament in his instructive manner during the missions and shows an immediate clash with Renner’s character. While he is certainly willing to serve his country, he is also a bit more level-headed. Brian Geraghty as Eldridge is initially okay with his character’s involvement in the war effort but is shaken up by the death of his former squad leader. Guy Pearce serves as the initial squad leader and has a combination of bravery and confidence in his one major scene.

Kathryn Bigelow put together a film that would try to capture the intensity and experience of going through a war zone. Throughout the film, the Army’s Bravo Company finds themselves called on for multiple bomb threats which do not just represent the challenge of defusing the devices but managing the drama of the team. Staff Sergeant Matt Thompson’s death leaves both Sanborn and Eldridge at a lost. For Sanborn, he feels remorse for his lost comrade, but Eldridge is challenged at his core after feeling at fault for the accident. Eldridge’s visit with the staff psychologist highlights the stress and distress many of America’s soldiers experience during and after the horrors of war. William James poses a different problem. Showing a complete lack of respect for the lost soldier, he takes over the squad with little regard for the experience and intelligence of the two men. This creates a rift for power that also exists in the competitive environment of the military. While they are supposed to be working together as a squad, James fails to recognize his own obsession and negligence.

This film put up a fight with Avatar and won in the overall battle for Oscar gold. Snagging the sound categories, film editing, directing and best picture, The Hurt Locker did more than simply show a human war drama, but it presented the harshness of the terrain and the deafening silence of a bomb disarmament and standoff. As the different soldiers made their way toward the several bombs in the film, the wind, rustling of the bomb suit and occasional discussion of the soldiers provided the soundtrack of each intense moment. Bigelow provides significant detail in every scene that even heightened the attention to the films visual effects and cinematography. She also helped to direct the acting performances of Renner, Mackie and Geraghty in a way that helped to maintain the sense of humanity in what could have appeared to be an emotionless environment.

While the film may not be the best war film in cinema history, The Hurt Locker took a very real, current experience of war in Iraq and brought the experience back to the American public. Some may be challenged by the amount of action or variability in one’s ability to connect with the characters, but the challenges that Renner’s character experiences toward the end of the film serves as an excellent discussion point regarding one’s feelings about war.

Dan’s Rating: 4.0/5

War Horse: Bound by Friendship (2011)

Posted: January 2, 2012 in Drama, War

Albert Narracott and his family live on a farm on the outskirts of Devon, England. Though they are struggling to make ends meat and keep the farm, his father, Ted, buys a young, energetic horse for more than they can afford, with a hope that they can train it to help plow the fields. Though much to the dismay of his mother Rose, Albert takes on the task and works alongside the newly named Joey to help plow the field and save the farm. Working hard to train Joey, they develop a strong friendship and trust. As the war starts to advance and after a disaster at the farm, Ted sells Joey to the English military, splitting the two friends apart from each other. Though unable to join the war, Albert receives a promise from Captain Nicholls that he will take care of Joey and reunite the two of them at the end of the battle. Though he develops a trust with the captain, a series of events cause Joey to travel through the war and meet a number of people on different sides of the war effort.

Starring: Jeremy Irvine (Albert Narracott), Peter Mullan (Ted Narracott), Emily Watson (Rose Narracott), Niels Arestrup (Grandfather), Tom Hiddleston (Capt. James Nicholls), Benedict Cumberbatch (Major Jamie Stewart), Celine Buckens (Emilie), Patrick Kennedy (Lt. Charlie Waverly), David Kross (Gunther), Leonard Carow (Michael), Matt Milne (Andrew Easton), Robert Emms (David Lyons), Eddie Marsan (Sgt. Fry)

Although it would be easy to highlight the emotions somehow portrayed by the horses as Oscar worthy, there were actually fourteen different horses that represented the lead character. As far as the human counterparts, the relatively unknown Jeremy Irvine played the lead person, Albert Narracott. Though young and limited in experience, he displays an excellent connection with the horses and serves as an excellent foundation for the emotional story of Joey. Peter Mullan serves as Ted, the troubled veteran with the bum leg. There is a clear sadness in his character that helps to support the challenging past he would rather forget. In contrast, Emily Watson is the strength of the family and lives more in reality than the two men. Throughout the rest of the film, the additional characters each get their screen time with the horses and each have their story to tell. Tom Hiddleston carries on the compassion of Irvine as the captain tending to Joey, which is then continued in the duo of Niels Arestrup and Celine Buckens as the French family trying to survive in their peaceful existence.

Spielberg is no stranger to epic Oscar-worthy films and this one is no exception. He is somehow able to breathe life into a tale about a horse’s survival through WWI. Starting from birth, Joey is noticed by Albert, who is hopeful to build a relationship with the horse. Through a stroke of luck, Albert gets his chance. From then on, Joey is highlighted as a horse which is well aware of his surroundings and has the ability to learn, love and protect. Though seeming a little supernatural at times, the actions of Joey help to save both people and another horse from certain death. Though not able to save everyone, he is aware enough to do the right thing at the right time to change people’s actions and decisions. He is also very self-aware and has a sense of his limitations, such as during training sessions with both Albert and Emilie (Buckens). With both trainers, he stops himself short of injury and perceived ability.

Though the story is intriguing and the cinematography is gorgeous, the character development falls just a bit short. This is a story about a horse more so than the people in his life, but there are a number of shorter stories that are highlighted to help frame the journey of Joey. For Albert, his is the most developed story. While he has an instant connection with the horse, he also maintains his determination to be reunited one day. Ted, on the other hand, does not change throughout the entire film. While Rose helps to frame some of his issues, they never get explained, leaving a hole in what seems like a great plot point to connection with Albert’s eventual entry into the war. Though the captain did not have a long role in the story, he serves more as an extension of Albert’s caring personality. Moving forward to Emilie and her grandfather, there is a great back and forth relationship, but Emilie’s condition is never really explained and neither is the actual fate of her parents. The story about carrier pigeons helps to hint toward their outcome but never truly identify it. The acting is enjoyable but the development falls just slightly short.

War Horse truly is a story about the life of a horse nearly from the horse’s perspective. The story is compelling, the music is enthralling and the horses will surprise viewers with their ability to express emotion worthy of a best actor Oscar nod, if it could be awarded to multiple actors playing one character and to a horse.

Dan’s Rating: 4.0/5

While World War II certainly took its toll on Europe, Bruno and his family lived a rather sheltered and comfortable life. When his father gets relocated to the countryside, Bruno has to leave his friends behind and adapt to a new environment. As an SS Commander, Bruno’s father is able to provide him with plenty of amenities and private education. During his spare time, the inquisitive boy tends to wander around the yard and, one day, took a trip that went much further than the house’s perimeter. Finding a fence with a small village on the other side, he comes across a young boy with a shaved head in white and grey striped clothes. Neither of the children truly understand what is going on, but Shmuel clearly has a bit more awareness that there are disparities between him and his new friend. As Bruno continues to visit Shmuel on his trips away from the house, their friendship grows but they both start to get tangled in the drama of their fathers and fall in danger to the growing threats of the Nazi regime.

Starring: Asa Butterfield (Bruno), Jack Scanlon (Shmuel), David Thewlis (SS Officer Ralf), Vera Farmiga (Elsa), David Hayman (Pavel), Rupert Friend (Obersturmfuhrer Kotler), Jim Norton (Herr Liszt), Cara Hogan (Maria), Amber Beattie (Gretel)

This film includes one well-known Ukrainian-American actress but the cast as a whole does a phenomenal job with telling this story. Asa Butterfield is the inquisitive, innocent young boy who serves as the central character for the film. With the story focused on innocence, you truly believe in his naive exploration of his surroundings. Opposite of Butterfield is Jack Scanlon, who played the young Shmuel. While his character has certainly been affected by the incarceration, he still maintains a childlike element to his performance. He understands that he has less and serves his captors but interacts no differently to his new, young friend. Vera Farmiga serves as the mother and gives a strong supporting performance as one of Bruno’s escapes from the Nazi influence.

This Holocaust film by Mark Herman is one of the most heart-wrenching films I have watched. While initially taking the angle of the “glamorous” side of the Nazi regime, the move to the countryside seems like a quaint relocation rather than a devious new responsibility for Bruno’s father. The innocence of Bruno from the day they reached their new home was fantastic. While he participated in the educational lessons for a Nazi tutor, he still played make-believe and explored his surroundings. Without his friends or anyone around his age to be around, his expeditions finally led him to fence. He never feared for his life but his naivete allowed his tutor and his father’s influence to affect him, though only truly in his distancing from his mother.

The end of the film is one of the most intense scenes I have ever watched. *SPOILER* When Shmuel tells Bruno that his father is missing and Bruno climbs under the fence to help search for him, there is a sense of what is coming. Understanding the realities of concentration camps, there is always a feeling that the extermination chamber was going to occur at some point. Even when you understand that you are watching a movie, the images will immediately cause a gut reaction fearing for the safety of the boys. The film shows the the event in excruciating detail, all until the very end. These scenes may be extremely difficult for the general audience to watch.

This is a film I heard a lot about and was curious to discover it for myself. The story and characters are well developed and its emotional pull is extremely strong. Definitely worth a viewing.

Dan’s Rating: 4.5/5

Once upon a time in Nazi occupied France, a villainous Colonel of the Nazi regime was rounding up Jews from across the country. No one was safe from his trickery or the fear he brought with him. His reign seemed unstoppable but two forces were about to rise to challenge his power and take down the Nazi threat. On one hand, a young girl who’s family was killed in front of her eyes has become a proprietor of a movie theater and winds up with an opportunity to do some major damage against the Nazi party. On the other, a group of Jewish rebels have banded together to take out the Nazi’s one at a time until they can find their way to take out Hitler. As the story unfolds, the two plans begin to intertwine and promise to change the course of human history.

Starring: Brad Pitt (Lt. Aldo Raine), Christoph Waltz (Col. Hans Landa), Melanie Laurent (Shosanna Dreyfus), Eli Roth (Sgt. Donny Donowitz), Michael Fassbender (Lt. Archie Hicox), Diane Kruger (Bridget von Hammersmark), Daniel Bruhl (Fredrick Zoller), Jacky Ido (Marcel), Til Schweiger (Sgt. Hugo Stiglitz), Gedeon Burkhard (Cpl. Wilhelm Wicki)

The top-billed actor Brad Pitt plays the leader of the Basterds, Lt. Aldo Raine. He has a hilarious accent to be the leader of the Jewish-American guerilla soldiers but his presence helps to bring a little levity to some of the more serious action and dramatic sequences. Christoph Waltz truly steals the screen as the Col. Hans Landa, aka the Jew Hunter. The entire first scene of the film shows the intensity of his character and the strength of his will. His calm brings a false sense of security and he suddenly breaks expectations, dramatically increasing the tension and affecting the viewer. While Melanie Laurent reminds me of Scarlett Johansson, Laurent has a powerful combination of grace and fire as her character plots to serve a major blow to the Nazi effort.

Tarantino is well known for his unusual and sometimes controversial storytelling style. In the case of Inglourious Basterds, the combination of acting and intense moments turn an altered version of World War II into a masterpiece of violence. When the Basterds captured the group of Nazis in the forest, the Bear Jew brought an unlikely brutish element to the rebel faction, wielding a large bat and bashing the Nazis into the ground. With a plan to destroy the Nazi menace in the movie theater, Shosanna strives to execute her scheme to burn everyone alive but also ends up facing off a gunpoint against the Nazi hero whose crush on her drives him to obsession. The film has number of great lines, moments and characters that weave together into a violent but witty war drama.

I definitely appreciated the work of Christoph Waltz and would say that his was the best performance of 2009. The rest of the cast comes together to make one great Tarantino film.

Dan’s Rating: 4.5/5