My Favourite War Movie All-star Cast: The Thin Red Line (1998)

Due to its nature the war movie genre is rich in movies with all-star casts. There are many that I like. I was looking through the casts of quite a few and in the end I was not sure if I did prefer the cast of Black Hawk Down or the one of  The Thin Red Line. Finally, making a very thorough comparison, including also minor roles, my winner  is The Thin Red Line. There is only one actor I am not keen one and he may very well be the reason why some people do not appreciate The Thin Red Line. I am talking about the fanatic pro-lifer James Caviezel.  But look at all the others and then tell me that you do not think this is an astonishing group of actors that has come together in one movie.

James Caviezel (The Passion of the Christ)

Nick Nolte (The Prince of Tides, Cape Fear)

Sean Penn (Dead Man Walking, Mystic River)

John Cusack (High Fidelity, 2012)

Elias Koteas (Shooter, Shutter Island)

Adrien Brody (The Pianist, King Kong)

Nick Stahl (Sin City, In the Bedroom)

John. C. Reilly (Gangs of New York, Magnolia)

Woody Harrelson (Natural Born  Killers, The Messenger)

John Travolta (Pulp Fiction,Love Song for Bobby Long)

Ben Chaplin (Murder by Numbers, The Remains of the Day)

George Clooney (Oceans Eleven, O Brother, Where Art Thou?)

Jared Leto (Requiem for a Dream, Alexander, The Fight Club)

Miranda Otto (Lord of The Rings, War of the Worlds)

and many , many more.

Which is your favourite all-star cast? The Longest Day? A Bridge Too Far? The Great Escape or The Dirty Dozen?

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The Red Baron aka Der rote Baron (2008) The Guilty Pleasure of an Enjoyable Air Combat Movie

The Red Baron a German/UK production with an international cast (two famous German actors, Matthias Schweighöfer (Schiller, Valkyrie) and Til Schweiger (King Arthur), and two British ones Lena Headey (300) and Joseph Fiennes (Shakespeare in Love, Enemy at the Gates) is a real guilty pleasure. I am aware that it took a lot of liberties with the historical facts. Especially in Germany it was highly criticized for being too glorifying. The Red Baron exists in two versions, an English and a German one, that are quite different. In the English version this sporting hunter mentality of the Baron is much more accentuated while it is toned done in the German version. This might explain why the reception in the UK was far better. This and the German´s obsession with historical accuracy when it comes to their own history. And, last but not least, it is more appealing to hear the German actors speak English than German. It takes the edge out of their voices.

I am neither British nor German and just enjoyed this movie a great deal. A lot of gripping air combat scenes, an appealing cast, stunning cinematography and a great story.

The movie depicts Baron von Richthofen as a tragic hero. And a very noble man. Maybe that is not what he was… I don’t know. He was certainly not as good-looking as the actor Matthias Schweighöfer.

We see Baron von Richhofen´s early fascination with planes and flying. He is a rich aristocrat and once war breaks out it is only natural he should join the German airforce. To him the war is at first only a game, a sport. May the better one win. He is also capable of admiring others´, even British pilots´, exploits.

It is only after quite a long time, and through the beautiful nurse Käte (Lena Headey), he falls in love with, that he realises that the war in the air and the war in the trenches fought by the common man are two completely different things.

He also  realises that he is mainly used for propaganda purposes. He is the most succesful German fighter pilot and a national hero. Germany facing defeat needs someone like him to look up to. His superiors want him for propaganda only; he should not fly anymore as this is much too dangerous.

But The Red Baron loves nothing more than flying. And he does not want to be used.

Defying everything he flys again…

If your historical conscience will allow it, this movie is just something to enjoy. I truly like it and watched it more than once. We dont have many good air combat movies and even less that depict WWI.

Der Stellvertreter aka Amen (2002) The Disillusioning Reaction of the Catholic Church to the Holocaust

In the beginning of Costa Gavras´ Der Stellvertreter aka Amen we see how a group of children with special needs is transported to an extermination camp and gassed. When this is being found out people are shocked and taken aback and, together with the Catholic Church, they fight these practices that are ultimately stopped.

This noble reaction of the Church is not repeated however when they are asked for assistance in stopping the extermination of Jews. Nor do the alerted Allies help. Der Stellvertreter explores the shameful failure of the Catholic church and the rest of the world.

The SS officer Kurt Gerstein (Ulrich Tukur), head of the Institute of Hygiene, is a chemist and the developer of the lethal gas Zyklone-B. He thinks that this deadly gas is used to free the concentration camps from vermin and must find out that it is actually used for exterminating Jews. He witnesses this with his own eyes and his outrage and revulsion are so intense that he decides to alarm the Catholic Church. Only one young priest, whose family is of great influence in the Vatican, Riccardo Fontana (Mathieu Kassovitz), feels the urge to support Gerstein, travels to the Vatican and informs the Pope. To no avail. The Church won’t act.

The Church fears many things. They are afraid that communism might spread and are grateful to the Nazis who stopped it. They are afraid that they might not be spared by the Nazis if they oppose too openly. And, as the movie seems to say, they ultimately don’t care too much about the Jews.

Gerstein and Fontana will go on fighting and trying to inform people, to make at least the Allies act. The Allies however don’t want to act as they don’t want to negotiate with criminals. Every time Gerstein and Fontana inform someone about the extent of the atrocities the numbers have risen. From an initial hundred thousand they are soon in the millions. These numbers are symbolized in the numerous takes of riding trains we see during the movie.

As an ultimate sacrifice and because he thinks it is his Christian duty the young priest joins a transport of Italian Jews to one of the concentrations camps.

Kurt Gerstein is a historical figure. After the war all the important figures of Nazi Germany were incarcerate. Gerstein, facing trial and before killing himself, writes a report on everything he has seen. Years later he is found not guilty and rehabilitated.

As interesting as the theme of this movie is I did not find it completely compelling. Maybe because it is based on a theater play (Rolf Hochhut’s Der Stellvertreter aka The Deputy)? I don’t know. I think you will have to find out for yourself. 4/5 stars but still valuable.

Filmgenres Kriegsfilm (2006) A Very Good German Book on War Movies

I know this is not of great importance to the majority of my readers who might not read German, still I feel it is important for those few who do to inform them about this book that is one of the best books on war movies that I have.

Each chapter is written by another author and most of them are very good. The authors  review and analyse in chronological order some 65 war movies.  As just said, the book does not only contain reviews like you find them in many other books but an in-depth analysis of every movie is provided as well.

What I appreciate most is that it includes movies from many different countries.

The choice is very convincing as well. Sure, there are some movies missing that I would have liked to see included but that is always the case. Be it books or lists.

A further asset is the introduction in which the editors (Klein, Stiglegger, Traber) try to define the genre and name topics and themes.

Highly recommended reading.

Filmgenres Kriegsfilm bei amazon.de

Pork Chop Hill (1959) or The Best Korean War B-Movie?

Lewis Milestone’s Pork Chop Hill is based on the eponymous book by military historian S. L. A. Marshall and depicts the fierce Battle of Pork Chop Hill. Towards the end of the Korean War the U.S. Army’s 7th Infantry Division and Chinese and Korean Communist forces fought for this strategically unimportant hill.

The year is 1953, while the Panmunjeom cease-fire negotiations continue, a company of American infantry was to recapture Pork Chop Hill from a larger Communist Chinese army force. Successful but highly decimated, they were ready for the large-scale Chinese counter-attack which they knew would overwhelm and kill them in hand-to-hand fighting.

This movie is bothering me quite a lot for many reasons. I can’t say I did not like watching it as that is not true. (Maybe I am secretly an infantry combat war movie buff. At least no questions about whether this is a war movie or not. That seems settled.)  Unfortunately there are a lot of questionable elements in it. I can still hardly believe that the very same man, Lewis Milestone, who did All Quiet on the Western Front did this thing too.

This was my first US movie on the war in Korea. I read articles and list and it seemed as if there are not so many great ones. Gray Freitas terms Pork Chop Hill the best B-Movie. Aha. Others call this one of the better ones…

I hated the end. This was not the battle that finished the war. I hated that we have no clue what it is all about. And I hated that they had to choose an African-American soldier to play the part of the treacherous coward.

I did appreciate the battle scenes. They way it was shown how battle takes its toll. Those soldiers were so tired… It captured nonsensical high command orders very well. I also like the relationship between Gregory Peck and the Japanese-American officer. And I think Gregory Peck is very good in this movie.

I will post another, more general post on the war movies depicting the Korean war. And I will certainly need to review Tae Gu Ki aka Brotherhood.

I must honestly say, after watching Pork Chop Hill and reading a few things about US movies on this war, I am not extremely keen on watching any other ones. Maybe M.A.S.H.

Feel free to share your opinions and ideas on the topic.

The trailer will tell you that the DVD cover is misleading as Pork Chop Hill is a black-and-white movie.

Antwone Fisher (2002) or How One Man Was Saved by the Navy

Some movies don’t work for some people. This one did not work for me. If I hadn’t been so tired yesterday, I would never have promised a post. Maybe no one cares if I keep my promise. I don’t know, but I care. Just one little thing about the statement on the DVD cover “This is a film that can change people’s lives”. I agree. I slept incredibly well afterwards.

I am a bit sorry for being this sarcastic. Antwone Fisher tackles a topic we need to talk about, namely child abuse. If this movie manages to raise awareness, then I am sorry for my comments, but for me this was done in such an over-sentimental way… Insufferable.

Antwone Fisher is based on a true story. Antwone wrote the script himself.

Antwone (Derek Luke) was born in prison, shortly after his father had been shot dead by one of his girl-friends. The boy was taken away and given in foster care. A hellish place. He was beaten and abused. Sexually and psychologically. At 16 he is sent to a men’s shelter but he does not stay. He flees and joins the Navy. He likes it there a great deal but he has problems fitting in. He has what we term today “an Anger Management problem”. Lucky Antwone has a very kind superior officer and is sent to a Navy psychologist (Denzel Washington) with issues of his own. At first he won’t talk but then he opens up and has a real chance to heal. The psychologist urges him to find his family and in the end he does. During the sessions with the psychologist we hear the truly awful story.

There is also a love story involved. It is ok. I did not mind it as much as all the other corny details.

What is actually more interesting than the movie  – which is frankly a total failure what might explain why I hadn’t heard of it – is the extras on the disc. The real Antwone tells that the Navy was his first real home. It gave him a chance and opportunities to build up self-esteem and confidence. This is a picture of the Navy that we seldom get to see. At least over here in Europe where we are highly suspicious whenever anything to do with the American military is mentioned. It is still widely believed that the military is a place for those who have no other choice and where they might get worse than they already are. The film director is also interviewed and says that all the officers they met on the ships were kind and intelligent people and nothing like the abusive bastards we often get to see in movies.

All in all, thanks to the extras, this soppy movie has broadened my horizon a little bit.

One last element I would like to mention before finishing this post. Antwone is an African-American kid. His foster family is African-American and so is the psychologist. What the psychologist actually tells Antwone in the beginning is that the abusive behavior (the beating, not the sex) is an inheritance from the slavery days. It is passed on from one generation to the next. Rightly Antwone protests, saying that this sounded like an easy excuse. I believe, this is giving the wrong message. Child abuse is universal. Sadly it is extremely common everywhere.

I am glad for Antwone that he survived his childhood and became a very gentle and creative person. He writes poems, draws and, as already said, wrote the script himself.

Antwone Fisher

Friday Night Watching: Antwone Fisher (2002)

Until last week I had never heard of this movie before.

In order to be a 100% sure if Antwone Fisher is good or not I will have to watch it. And that is what I am going to do tonight. And hopefully I will post a review tomorrow.