Starship Troopers? Thanks, But No Thanks!

Some of you who follow this blog know that I’m making an attempt at covering a whole wide range of war movies, including different sub genres and movies which are not “real” war movies but movies set in times of war. One sub genre I only brushed so far is the Sci-Fi war movie. I did a post on Battlestar Galactica a while back but that’s about it. Starship Troopers is one of the movies of the sub genre which is included in many books, analyzed thoroughly and deemed worthy to be seen by many experts.

Now that I have suffered through half of it I really wonder, what the heck this movie was meant to be? A parody? A satire? An advert for dental floss – there is a lot of white teeth flashing at the camera going on in this movie, believe me – ?

I tried. I failed. I don’t think I will ever be able to finish watching this movie.

Have I learned something? Yes. I hate movies which remind me of tooth paste adverts.

For those of you who are still interested, here’s the trailer.

Maybe I’m missing something here. Feel free to enlighten me.

Stalingrad or Dogs Do Yo Want To Live Forever? – Hunde wollt ihr ewig leben (1958) The first Stalingrad

Dogs Do You Want to Live Forever? – Hunde wollt ihr ewig leben? is a German black and white movie from the 50s. Although the newer movie Stalingrad is generally seen as a remake I cannot agree with this view. Both movies focus on Stalingrad but the way they are told, the point of view is very different. While a modern movie will often appeal more to us because it’s not black and white, we know the actors and the special effects are normally superior, this first Stalingrad is an excellent movie and I would say as good as the one from 1993, if not in parts better.

The movie opens with Hitler watching a German army parade. A voice in the off which we will hear all through the movie, criticizing the decisions of Hitler and the high command, tells us that these marching soldiers will soon be dying in the Russian snow. After a while we leave the parading soldiers and the camera shows men dying in the snow. After that the story as such begins.

The movie tells of the encirclement of the 6th Army in Stalingrad from the point of view of a young, idealistic and likable first lieutenant. In 1942, just before the Russian offensive which will encircle the 6th Army, Wisse has been commandeered to an outpost, not far from Stalingrad where he is liaising with a Rumanian corps which fights along with the Germans.

When it is clear that the Russians have started the offensive, Wisse is posted in Stalingrad. The town is half-destroyed, the German soldiers are freezing as they are not equipped for the Russian winter and there is hardly any food left. In the end high command gives the order to stop feeding the wounded.

It is obvious from the beginning of the movie that Hitler miscalculated the whole campaign and that the only way the 6th Army could have been saved would have been to break out of the circle and retreat as fast as possible. The Russian army entrapped a Germany army which was lacking winter gear, ammunition and was almost starving. The generals and commanding officers pleaded with the Führer but he was adamant. Still, the German command refused to break rank and disobey Hitler to save the army.  By the time General Paulus decided to surrender, 60’000 soldiers were dead. 110’000 were left, of which only 6’000 would return to Germany after the war.

What is particularly harrowing in this dark chapter is the fact that Stalingrad had no strategic importance whatsoever. It was a purely political decision and for the same reasons Stalin decided to hold the city. What followed was probably the most infamous battle of WWII.

There are many reasons which make Dogs Do You Want to Live Forever? a great movie. In focussing on one man, first lieutenant Wisse, it exemplifies the disintegration of the whole army and illustrates the disillusionment and the realization of Hitler’s misguided megalomania. While Wisse is true to the party in the beginning, he, like all the other soldiers based in Stalingrad, becomes aware that Hitler doesn’t care what happens to them. He breaks his promises and as soon as he realizes the fight might be lost, he abandons them completely.

Wisse isn’t the only interesting character, there is the cowardly  commanding officer Linkman, the priest who speaks up and fight for justice and some secondary characters which are all well-rounded too.

While Stalingrad (1993) is a great movie, this one feels even more authentic because a lot of what we see is original footage and it’s blended in so well that we often only realize that we are back to the movie when we can make out one of the actors. I have rarely seen this type of blending done so seamlessly and well. The effect is not only realistic but chilling.

What was better in this one than in the new movie was the way the street fighting and the combat in the city was shown. That must have been so chaotic and both sides were battle weary and would have liked to stop fighting.

Stalingrad – Dogs Do You Want to Live Forever? is one of the top war movies, one nobody should miss. It’s well worth pairing the viewing with the 1993 version as they complement each other.

While finishing this post I discovered that there will be a new, Russian Stalingrad which should be released in 2013. Directed by Fedor Bondarchuk, starring August Diehl. I’m really looking forward to that.

Act of Valor and Special Forces Compared

I watched Act of Valor and Special Forces recently and reviewed them both (here and here). While I liked them both, I have a clear preference for Special Forces. I will remember it much longer and will certainly watch it again. Both movies have flaws but the sources of those flaws are very different. I thought it would be interesting to look into the details and analyse why I liked one movie so much more.

The French movie Forces Spéciales and the US movie Act of Valor are strikingly similar. Both show the special forces of the respective countries in action, displaying the amazing gear and weapons and showing some of the tactics. While the rescue mission takes the whole 2hrs of Force Spéciales, in Act of Valor it is over after the first third of the movie and the story adds other missions. The most striking  difference however is the fact that Special Forces uses famous actors while the Act of Valor cast consists mainly of real Navy Seals.

Realism

While both movies have been supported by their respective military and the gear and weapons displayed make them look authentic, the fact that the cast of Act of Valor are real Navy Seals makes it more realistic. Additionally all the missions which are said to be based on real missions came across as more realistic. After the journalist has been freed in Special Forces, the movie starts to incorporate a few elements which are a bit questionable and some reviews I read criticized them a lot.

Story

Special Forces tells one chronological story. A journalist has to be freed and after that has been achieved, the group must flee which takes up 2/3 of the movie. In Act of Valor, different missions are shown which are interlinked. The story telling is rather episodic with each part having its own climax.

Music

I’m a sucker for film music that’s why I paid special attention. The music in Act of Valor is supporting and quite discreet while in Special Forces it’s dramatic, very present and influenced by a lot of very familiar scores. It’s, to be completely honest, a tad corny.

Cinematography

Decent in Act of Valor and absolutely stunning in Special Forces.

Actors and Characters

The cast of Special Forces is the big strength of the movie. The cast and the characters. Most of them are famous and play likable characters. It’s easy to care for them and we are not indifferent to their fate. Some of the scenes are particularly dramatic and emotional because the one or the of the likable characters is wounded or dies.

The characters in Act of Valor however are flat. I couldn’t tell them apart and since the dialogue was so wooden, I didn’t care for them at all. The movie emphasizes the missions, emotions are not so important.

Emotions

While Act of Valor may be entertaining and exciting, it left me ultimately cold. I wasn’t moved while I had quite strong emotions when watching Special Forces.

It was interesting to see how important it is for me to care for characters and their fate. If a movie leaves me completely cold emotionally, I simply don’t like it that much and am bound to forget it very easily. As I said, both movies have flaws, in Act of Valor it’s the actors and the characters, in Special Forces some elements are not realistic. Overall I can forgive (minor) unrealistic elements when the characters are believable and the story triggers an emotional response.

Has anyone seen both movies? Which one did you prefer?

Act of Valor (2012) US Special Forces Against Terrorists

Not long ago I reviewed the French movie Forces Spéciales – Special Forces (here) and so it was only natural I would also watch Act of Valor sooner or later, especially since The War Movie Buff pointed out that they sounded similar. I find it particularly interesting now that I have seen them both, to compare them and that’s why I will post a comparison in a day or two.

Act of Valor tells the story of a group of Navy Seals (played by real Navy Seals) sent to rescue a CIA agent who has been abducted. She was investigating the connection between two men, a drug dealer and a known terrorist.

Contrary to what was expected at the beginning, the mission isn’t over after the agent has been freed. They realize that what is behind her abduction is far bigger than what was initially seen. As a matter of fact, a group of suicidal bombers, wearing explosives which cannot be detected by any metal detector are about to enter the US. They will be posted in every major city. The damage they will cause, will be far worse than 9/11.

At this point in time, the team splits and we follow first those who try to capture the drug-dealer and then the others trying to capture the terrorist who tries to enter the US via Mexico and the help of the drug cartel.

Maybe this sounds confusing but the story lines are told in a seamless way. The action sequences are astonishingly well done. We really get a feel for the incredible gear, techniques and tactics. More than once I was thinking “Who would want to mess with men like this?”. Not only do they have the best equipment, they are also trained for every eventuality and react amazingly quickly.

It is very important to re-emphasize the fact that the men are played by real Navy Seals. This is a great plus in the action sequences. Those men know what they are doing and it feels very realistic and is fascinating. But there are dialogue scenes as well and unfortunately they drag the movie down. They are too bad. Every time two of the main characters have one of their buddy talks it’s painful to watch. They are wooden and the way they speak sounds learned by heart and unnatural.

Despite some of the reservations mentioned before, Act of Valor is a highly watchable movie. We don’t get to see such exciting missions with so much realistic detail, different weapons and tactics very often. And it’s a valuable and interesting movie as well. It’s interesting because it shows that nowadays war doesn’t mean that one army will fight against another army, but that it is far more frequent that smaller groups of men will fight against other groups of men. A lot of the fighting takes places indoors or in smaller villages.

I can see thow many people will have a problem with a movie like this, saying it is glorifying, patriotic etc…. Maybe all of this isn’t wrong. I still think it’s not only an entertaining movie but an important movie because it offers a great basis for discussions and offers the layman a look into the job of a Navy Seal.

It seems that the individual missions in the movie are all based on real missions. There is one element that really astonished me. One act of amazingly unselfish heroism. If that is true as well…

As I said, Act of Valor has a lot in common with the French movie Special Forces. I am strongly in favour of one of the two movies and I do have my reasons for that. If you are interested to find out which one and why, make sure to read my next post.  It’s due in a day or two.

Courage Under Fire (1996)

I have seen at least six of Edward Zwick’s movies (Glory, Legends of the Fall, Last SamuraiBlood Diamond and Defiance) and was only disappointed once when I watched Defiance. Courage Under Fire may not be the best but I still liked watching and re-watching it. For one it’s one of the very rare war movies with a female main character but it also tells a suspenseful and quite complex story. It may not be anti-war as such but manages to make us understand a few things. Last but not least I tend to watch every movie with Denzel Washington. Zwick has worked with him before, notably in Glory which is one of the most outstanding war movies you can watch.

Colonel Sterling (Denzel Washington) is asked to investigate whether chopper pilot K. Walden (Meg Ryan) who was killed in action was worthy of a medal of honour. The assignment is Sterling’s second chance, an opportunity to rehabilitate himself. Ever since he came back from Iraq where he took part in Desert Storm, he has changed. He is drinking, withdrawn and slowly unraveling. He cannot forgive himself that due to his order a friendly tank was blown up. Far less can he accept that the event is not called what it was and that he had to lie to the parents of one of the crew and tell them their son died as a hero under enemy fire.

As a first step in the investigation of officer Walden’s worthiness he questions the crew her chopper came to rescue before it was shot down. The men tell what they heard, they didn’t see a lot. Walden’s huey and her crew went down between those they came to rescue and the enemy. They took all of the fire during the night and in the early morning.  The men remember having heard a M16 until just before both parties were rescued by another chopper.

At this point in time, Sterling doesn’t know that Walden is not only a heroic soldier but that Walden is a woman and would be the first woman to ever receive a medal of honour. After having questioned the rescued crew he has to interrogate Walden’s crew members one by one. Her co-pilot is in a wheel chair, he was seriously wounded and cannot remember what happened on the ground. Ilario the medic (Matt Damon), parises Karen and her decision making but Monfriez (Lou Diamond Phillips), an angry, aggressive soldier, tells him that Walden was a coward.

The whole story is revealed layer by layer and in flash backs. We see what happened from different points of view and after a while it is clear someone is lying. It will be Sterling’s duty to find out whether she was a coward as some say or a hero deserving of the highest decoration.

The movie interweaves two stories, the investigation of Karen Walden and Sterling’s fight to come to terms with what happened in Iraq.

I liked the way the movie showed how different points of view change a story, how there may be more than one truth. Despite the fact that some of her crew lied, they still all saw different aspects of how it happened. It’s not a court-room drama but it has elements of it and is quite suspenseful.

One of the main topics however is women in the military. When Sterling hears that the medal of honour is destined for a woman we see that he has a problem. The idea is so new and strange to him that he has a hard time to absorb it at first. On the other hand, because the medal is destined for a woman, his superiors hope this is an opportunity to get as much positive media coverage as possible and would give it to her whether she deserved it or not.

The actors are good but that is to a large extent due to the characters. They are all interesting, very well-developed characters. What I liked a lot is the way the movie is structured. The changing between action- and dialogue sequences and more introspective moments. It’s a very balanced movie. The message is another story. It’s not an anti-war film. It is about people who love being in the military, who find the life as a soldier or pilot the most fascinating there is. People who put duty and honor before their family but still struggle to find a balance.

I think it’s very well done, entertaining and certainly a must for all the Denzel Washington, Meg Ryan and Matt Damon fans and those who appreciate the solid work of Edward Zwick.

Here are some of my reviews of other movies by Edward Zwick

Glory

Last Samurai

Defiance

The N-Word or The Dam Busters Dilemma

A while back I reviewed one of my favourite war movies The Dam Busters, a movie based on a true story.

There has been a lot of talk about a remake. For a while it was said it would be out soon, now it doesn’t seem so sure anymore. While remakes are always topics of debate, this one is a remake which triggered quite a few, also very heated discussions.

Those of you who have seen the movie, or know the story, are aware that Wing Commander Guy Gibson had a black dog and the dog was called “nigger”. That was the dog’s name in real life as well as in the original movie The Dam Busters. It’s a fact. While it certainly sheds a weird light on the Wing Commander’s choice for a name and is not in good taste, it still is a fact. The dog was important for the Commander and it has an important role in the movie as well. This means, it will be in the remake and it will have a name.

Political correctness seems to dictate that the dog cannot or shouldn’t have his original name in a new movie. It is said it would be offensive.

For me this is an oddity. If there ever was another remake of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, I don’t think they would just not use the N***** word, or would they?

I would never use it in my personal life but to change the name of a historical figure, and if it is “only” a dog, seems very wrong to me.

Nobody calls their sons Adolf anymore. If there was a remake of an old movie, set before WWII, in which a man was called Adolf, would they have to change that name?

Such practices are, in my opinion, dangerous. The past has dark patches. We should not forget them.

What do you think? Should the dog keep his real name or should he be renamed? Should so-called political correctness win over historical accuracy? Portraying something in a historically accurate way can always also give a possibility to discuss things.

Incendies (2010)

Incendies is a Canadian French movie which has garnered a lot of prizes and nominations. It’s based on a play by Wajdi Mouawad. I found it difficult to watch. It’s disturbing and depressing.

It starts with a scene in which we see young boys being shaved. It’s somewhere in the Middle East and those boys have very obviously been recruited for a war. It’s a scene that sets the tone and makes you feel uncomfortable right away. From there the movie will constantly switch between the story of the twins Jeanne and Simon, whose mother Narwal has just died, and the story of their mother.

After Narwal has died the lawyer gives her children two letters. One is for their father, the other one for their brother. This information explodes like a bomb in the young people’s lives. They didn’t know their father was still alive or that they even had a brother. They have been living in Canada with their mother and the only thing they know is that she was born in the Middle East, somewhere where the frontiers are insecure and people fight for religious reasons.

Jeanne decides to travel to the Middle East and look for the father. It will take a long time until her brother finally follows her and starts helping her. One of the first things we learn is that Narwal was pregnant at 20, the father of the child was shot, the baby taken away and she was bannend from the village. When Jeanne arrives in the village so many years later, she is not wlecome as she is the daughter of a woman who has disgraced her familiy. What is shocking is that despite this brutal beginning, this is nothing in comparison to what Jeanne will find out about her mother’s life later.

The movie is constructed like a thriller. The two young people, with the help of the lawyer, uncover the truth very slowly. At the same time the movie tells a lot of the mother’s history in flashbacks. We know often more than the twins and they discover what we have seen, somewhat later. This may sound confusing but it’s not, it’s very well constructed and captivating.

Incendies tries to exemplify that hate can only give birth to hate and that the cycle of violence and aggression is hard to break. Some of the highly symbolical images make profound statements about war, violence and fanaticism.

This isn’t a joyful movie but a very powerful one. The truth the twins uncover is highly disturbing. The only problem I had is that it doesn’t choose a real conflict or country but sets the movie in an unspecified region in the Middle East.