Is Black Hawk Down Too Combat Intense?

Talking with a friend about Black Hawk Down the other day, he said he thought it was too much, the combat was too intense, too relentless. Since Black Hawk Down is my absolute favourite I did never think of it in terms of being too intense. For me it is absolutely perfect the way it is but I can see how one could feel the way he did. How about you? Any opinion on the combat intensity of Black Hawk Down?

Let’s find out what you think.

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Alan Parker’s Birdy (1984) A Tale of Friendship, War and Being Different

What took me so long to watch this astonishing movie? For odd reasons it is hardly on any war movie list, not even in Russell’s book on Vietnam movies although he included Forrest Gump. Maybe because Birdy is so much more than just a Vietnam vet movie?  I don’t know. I urge anyone who likes movies that are not ordinary to watch Birdy. Birdy has a lot to offer. A beautiful story, a powerful anti-war statement, a tale on friendship, an exploration of madness, a character sturdy of a non-conformist and two famous actors, Nicolas Cage and Matthew Modine at their very best. I truly liked every minute of it.

Birdy is based on the novel by William Wharton. It tells the story of two friends Al and Birdy who meet each other when they are still children. In flashbacks we see their teenage years in Philly and how, despite being total opposites, they become best friends. Birdy is an outsider. He hardly talks to anyone but he opens up to Al. Birdy is more interested in birds and flying than in other things, unlike Al who wants to meet girls and have fun.

They have all sorts of adventures together, from raising carrier pigeons to rescuing stray dogs and some aborted attempts at flying.

But this is the past. The present is quite a different one. Both young men did enlist when the war started. While Al comes back injured and scarred for life, Birdy is said to have gone missing for a month. When they find him he is catatonic. He is brought to a mental asylum where he mostly sits on the floor in bird-like positions. He has to be fed and hardly moves.

The psychiatrist sends for Al hoping he will get through to his friend and they will be able to heal together. Even though his scars seems to be more on the outside, it is obvious, Al is not less psychologically wounded.

The story is told in flashbacks. Step by step Al struggles to reach Birdy. He fights for his friend, their friendship and his own survival.

Of course we wonder during the movie if Birdy became that way because he was already a bit crazy to start with but Al, a seemingly healthy young man, does also come back “crazy” and we soon realize this label is by far too narrow.

Birdy reminded me a bit of Big Fish. This gentle tale of two wounded soldiers would appeal to many people who never watch war movies as well as to those who do. The score has been written by Peter Gabriel which was one of the reasons the movie was quite successful when it came out. 5/5

Movies on American Indian Wars: A List Part II

A few days ago I posted a list on movies on the American Indian Wars knowing very well that I was on slippery terrain since I am not an expert. The War Movie Buff has been kind enough to add and comment on the list and I would say it needed serious amending. Seemingly very good movies had been left out. I am glad that, thanks to his input, I can present you with a very good new list. Not in alphabetical order this time but in rated order. Thanks, Kevin.

Not yet rated (probaly good)
Custer’s Last Stand (1936, USA) by Elmer Clifton, starring Rex Lease, Lona Andre, William Farnum
Geronimo (1939, USA) by Paul Sloane,  starring Preston Foster, Gene Lockhart
Custer of the West (1967, USA) by Robert Siodmak, starring Robert Shaw, Mary Ure, Ty Hardin
Soldier Blue (1970, USA) by Ralph Nelson, starring Candice Bergen, Peter Strauss, Donald Pleasence, Dana Elcar
Good Movies
Geronimo: An American Legend (1993, USA) by Walter Hill, starring Jason Patric, Wes Studi, Gene Hackman, Matt Damon
Crazy Horse (1996, USA, TV) , by John Irvin, starring mit Michael Greyeyes, Ned Beatty, August Schellenberg
Buffalo Soldiers (1997, USA, TV) by Charles Haid, staring Lamont Bentley, Tom Bower, Danny Glover
Bury my Heart at Wounded Knee (2007, USA, TV), by Yves Simoneau, starring Anna Paquin, Aidan Quinn, August Schellenberg, Adam Beach
Very Good Movies
Fort Apache (1948, USA) by John Ford, starring John Wayne, Henry Fonda, Shirley Temple
Rio Grande (1950, USA), by John Ford, starring John Wayne, Maureen O’Hara, Ben Johnson, Victor McLaglen
Major Dundee (1965, USA) by Sam Peckinpah, starring Charlton Heston, Richard Harris, James Coburn, Senta Berger
Duel at Diablo (1966, USA) by Ralph Nelson, starring James Garner, Sidney Poitier, Bibi Andersson, Dennis Weaver
Cheyenne Autumn (1964, USA) by John Ford, starring Richard Widmark, Carol Baker, Karl Malden, Sal Mineo
I Will Fight No More Forever (1975, USA TV), by Richard T. Heffron, starring James Whitmore, Sam Elliott, Ned Romero
Great Movies
Little Big Man (1970, USA) by Arthur Penn, starring Dustin Hoffman, Martin Balsam, Faye Dunaway
Dances with Wolves (1990, USA) , by Kevin Costner, starring Kevin Costner, Mary McDonnell, Graham Greene
Son of the Morning Star (1991, USA, TV ) starring Gary Cole, Rosanna Arquette
Top 100 according to Military History Magazine
They Died with Their Boots On (1941, USA) by Raoul Walsh, starring Errol Flynn, Olivia de Havilland, Arthur Kennedy, Anthony Quinn, Gene Lockhart
She Wore a Yellow Ribbon (1949, USA) by John Ford, starring John Wayne, Joanne Dru, John Agar
The Searchers (1956, USA) by John Ford, starring John Wayne, Jeffery Hunter, Vera Miles, Natalie Wood
Ulzana’s Raid (1972, USA), by Robert Aldrich, staring Burt Lancaster, Bruce Davison, Joaquin Martine

Maybe this is still not a definite list but we are getting closer.

The first part of Son of the Morning Star is the only thing I found in lieu of a trailer. Enjoy.

Bang Rajan (2000) or Have You Ever Heard of a Thai War Movie?

Set right before the fall of Thailand’s old capital, Ayuttaya, Bang Rajan draws on the legend of a village of fighters who bravely fended off the Burmese armies. With no support from the Royal army, the villagers drives the invading Burmese away many times until their names have become legendary during the time. As each subsequent battles becomes fiercer, the villagers tries to forge a canon to battle the enemy in a final battle where everyone, women and children included, die in combat. Written by Ploy P. (IMDb)

Set in 1765 Bang Rajan tells the story of a Siamese village who has to fight invading Burmese forces. Someone called this a movie about fighting adversity. It seems to be the only movie that contains a buffalo-mounted cavalry charge. The battle scenes seem realistic as there are loads of extras and no computer enhancements.

As you may have deduced I haven’t seen it yet but thought it worthwhile to share it as I have so many movies on my to-be-watched list that it doesn’t seem likely I will watch this soon. And, who knows, maybe one of my readers is in desperate need of watching a Thai war movie about this particular conflict.

If you’d like a brush-up on the conflict itself here’s a wikipedia article to start with.

Whoever gets to watch this before me, come back and tell me how it was.

Movies on American Indian Wars: A List

I recently came across a German website that went through every possible conflict, since the days of the Roman Empire and listed some of the movies depicting these wars. I can tell you, that was a huge list. There were conflicts I had never heard of and loads of movies I had never heard of either. One chapter struck me as being of interest, namely the American Indian wars. I studied cultural anthropology with one of my  specializations being American Indians. Logically I am interested in those movies. I have seen some but not many. I remember Geronimo very well and found it very good. I also remember Dances with Wolves but I think it is by far too long. Rio Grande and Little Big Man are classics, of course. Hidalgo is the one I would like to watch and Bury my Heart at Wounded Knee is one I will watch very soon. You will find a list below. Feel free to comment and add others. I did amend and add as well. Many of those movies are probably labelled western normally.

1. Custer’s Last Stand (1936, USA) by Elmer Clifton, starring Rex Lease, Lona Andre, William Farnum
2. Geronimo (1939, USA) by Paul Sloane,  starring Preston Foster, Gene Lockhart
3. They Died with Their Boots On (1941, USA) by Raoul Walsh, starring Errol Flynn, Olivia de Havilland, Arthur Kennedy, Anthony Quinn, Gene Lockhart
4. Fort Apache (1948, USA) by John Ford, starring John Wayne, Henry Fonda, Shirley Temple
5. She Wore a Yellow Ribbon (1949, USA) by John Ford, starring John Wayne, Joanne Dru, John Agar
6. Rio Grande (1950, USA), by John Ford, starring John Wayne, Maureen O’Hara, Ben Johnson, Victor McLaglen
7. Major Dundee (1965, USA) by Sam Peckinpah, starring Charlton Heston, Richard Harris, James Coburn, Senta Berger
8. Custer of the West (1967, USA) by Robert Siodmak, starring Robert Shaw, Mary Ure, Ty Hardin
9. Little Big Man (1970, USA) by Arthur Penn, starring Dustin Hoffman, Martin Balsam, Faye Dunaway
10. Soldier Blue (1970, USA) by Ralph Nelson, starring Candice Bergen, Peter Strauss, Donald Pleasence, Dana Elcar
11. Ulzana’s Raid (1972, USA), by Robert Aldrich, staring Burt Lancaster, Bruce Davison, Joaquin Martine
12. Dances with Wolves (1990, USA) , by Kevin Costner, starring Kevin Costner, Mary McDonnell, Graham Greene
13. Son of the Morning Star (1991, USA, TV ) starring Gary Cole, Rosanna Arquette
14. Geronimo: An American Legend (1993, USA) by Walter Hill, starring Jason Patric, Wes Studi, Gene Hackman, Matt Damon
15. Crazy Horse (1996, USA, TV) , by John Irvin, starring mit Michael Greyeyes, Ned Beatty, August Schellenberg
16. Buffalo Soldiers (1997, USA, TV) by Charles Haid, staring Lamont Bentley, Tom Bower, Danny Glover
17. Hidalgo (2004, USA) by Joe Johnston  starring Viggo Mortensen, Zuleikha Robinson, Omar Sharif
18. Bury my Heart at Wounded Knee (2007, USA, TV), by Yves Simoneau, starring Anna Paquin, Aidan Quinn, August Schellenberg, Adam Beach

Is there any movie anyone can recommend? How are they to be rated?

Added on November 27: see amended list

All Quiet on the Western Front (1930) A Timeless Anti-War Movie Classic

All Quiet on the Western Front, based on Erich Maria Remarque’s novel of the same name, is THE classic war movie. One of the best, first and certainly one of the most influential there is.

However we need to bear in mind how old this movie is and that it was one of the first talkies. It was actually even filmed in two versions. The silent-movie feel can’t be denied.

It is very much a movie in scenes. The story as such is easily told. Paul Bäumer, a young student, volunteers, together with his friends, as soon as WWI breaks out. They believe it is noble, honorable and courageous to do so. The teachers and politicians all paint a picture of glory and urge them to enlist and fight for their country. As soon a they arrive in the trenches it becomes obvious that there is nothing glorious in being shelled, ripped to shreds and end as pieces dangling from barbed wire. The older soldiers seem hardened but when the younger ones start to be killed, his first friends die, Paul forms a bond with the old-timer Kat (a great character and superb contrast to the naive Paul), whom he didn’t like at first.

As stated before the movie is told in very distinct scenes that can all be seen like mini-movies themselves.

The one that impressed me most would have to be called “The story of the boots”. One of Paul’s friends is dying and another one would very much like his brand-new, expensive boots. When the friend has died the other one gets the boots. What follows is cinematographic genius. We see the boots, only the boots, from one little scene to the next and how they keep on changing their possessor.

Another memorable scene is the one showing Paul on leave. He lies to his mother and sister about the atrocities of war. This makes his stay very difficult and he is happy to go back as he doesn’t fit in anymore. He can’t stand being with people who don’t know shit about what is going on out there.

A funny scene is when the young soldiers meet a bunch of French girls and spend the night with them. It shows quite well that they were all just humans. The same can be said of the most famous scene. Paul is in a trench with a French soldier and kills him. He spends the night with the dead man. When he finds the pictures of the Frenchman’s wife and kid, he is devastated.

All Quiet on the Western Front is on almost every war movie list. Occasionally in the Top 5, often in the Top 10, always in the Top 100. I guess I will include it in my Top 20. 5/5

It is hard to compare this movie with the outstanding novel. It is probably also one of those movies that has been remade the most. There will soon be another remake starring Daniel Radcliffe (2012). I still haven’t seen the TV production that is said to be quite alright.

What I would really wish for is a German production.

See my post on Remakes and on Daniel Radcliffe.

Bravo Two Zero (1999) British SAS Patrol Behind Enemy Lines

Bravo Two Zero based on Andy McNab’s true account tells the story of a SAS mission that goes awfully wrong. The mission took place during the first Gulf war. McNab is the leader of a small special unit, mainly British and Australian SAS. They are dropped behind enemy lines where they should cut communication lines and take out scud missiles. In the event of their capture they should pretend to be part of a rescue team.

The mission goes wrong from the start as they are spotted by shepherds and their transmission system (their code word  is Bravo Two Zero) doesn’t work. The only thing they can do is try to get to the Syrian border. The way leads them through enemy territory swarming with tanks and trucks, night temperatures dropping below zero and blizzard-like weather during the day. It seems impossibly hard to achieve. The small group has to face many combat situations where they are outnumbered but being far better trained and with better equipment they are not overpowered.

They advance slowly fighting not only enemies but hypothermia and end up separated. They are captured one by one. McNab thinks at first he is the only who has been captured but two of the others are held captive in the same place, one of them is his best friend. The Iraqis think that they are Israelis and torture and beat them up to get a confession. One would presume this would subside once it is apparent that they are British but the cruelties are intensified. The three men are in extremely bad shape, loosing their teeth, bruised and batered but they survive and ultimately get to tell the tale.

The end is somewhat questionable. We hear McNab’s voice in the off making fun of those who suffer from post-traumatic stress. He states that he is a soldier and he likes to be a soldier. What happened was part of the job. There is no place for post-traumatic stress. There is nothing he wouldn’t do again and he thinks that the enemies only did their job as well, they only seemed to have liked it a bit too much.

This is a fast-paced, action-packed movie. Gripping and I think very accurate and honest. How often do we see missions that go completely wrong? But it is certainly not an anti-war statement. On the very contrary.  Sean Bean is very good in this. Some roles are just perfect for him, and this is one of them. I liked the beginning, when it is shown how they come together in England, getting ready for their tour. The music, the humour. There are also very funny scenes during the movie.

All in all, even though I have a nagging little voice in my head telling me it is not OK, I enjoyed this a great deal.

Here is the trailer from yesterday’s post.