Birdsong (2012) BBC Adaptation of Sebastian Faulk’s Masterful WWI Novel

Finally the long-awaited BBC TV adaptation of Sebastian Faulk’s WWI novel Birdsong is shown on British TV. It’s a two-part adaptation that got a lot of rave preview reviews.

I’m sure all those who loved the novel, would want to watch this and all those who are interested in WWI as well.

I missed part I but they will air it again shortly. As soon as I’ve seen part I and II will post my review.

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War Movies Set in Ancient Greece: A List

While I was compiling this list I realized that I have seen more war movies set in Roman times than movies set in Ancient Greece. Maybe it isn’t surprising as there has not been a proper “Ancient Greece Wave” yet. Most of the movies I found depict the story of Helen of Troy. Surprising. The most famous one is certainly Troy, closely followed by 300. I don’t mind them but they are not among my favourites either. In any case I prefer 300, I must say it is quite special and I included it on my List of 15 Most Original War Movies. My problem with Troy is the fact that I don’t like some of the actors (Who? Guess!).

  • Helen of Troy (US 1956) directed by Robert Wise, starring  Rossana Podesta, Jacques Sernas, Cedric Hardwicke
  • Esther and the King  (IT/US 1960) directed by Raoul Walsh, starring Joan Collins, Richard Egan, Denis O’Dea
  • The 300 Spartans (US 1960) directed by Rudolph Maté, starring Richard Egan, Ralph Richardson. Persian wars.
  • The Trojan Horse aka La guerra di Troia (IT/FR1961) directed by Giorgio Ferroni, starring Steve Reeves, Juliette Mayniel, Edy Vessel, Lidia Alfonsi, John Drew Barrymore
  • The Trojan Women (GB/ US/GRC 1971) directed by Mihalis Kakogiannis, starring Katharine Hepburn, Vanessa Redgrave
  • Helen of Troy (US 2003, TV series ) directed by John Kent Harrison, starring  Sienna Guillory, Matthew Marsden, Rufus Sewell, John Rhys-Davies
  • Troy (US/MLT/GB 2004) directed by Wolfgang Petersen, starring Brad Pitt, Eric Bana, Orlando Bloom, Diane Kruger
  • 300  (US 2007) directed by Zack Snyder, starring Gerard Butler, Lena Headey. Persian wars. (see my review)

Have you seen any of these movies? Which ones do you like? And which are others that need to be included?

Game of Thrones – A Song of Ice and Fire (2011) Epic Fantasy Starring Sean Bean

“Winter is coming. There is a war coming.”

I’m not going to bore you with any justification why I included Game of Thrones in my war movie blog. There are a few good explanations other than that I LOVE this series. I’m a sucker for epic fantasy, it’s my favourite guilty pleasure. Although compared to Lord of the Rings, this series has elements of Braveheart, King Arthur, 300, RomeCenturion and Gladiator. Game of Thrones is a large-scale genre blend that is like nothing I have ever seen on TV before.

I have just watched the first episodes and really love it. I haven’t read the books by George R. R. Martin yet (we are talking 3000+ pages) but I’m seriously tempted before watching more of the series.

The series starts with a scene in a snow-covered forest. A small group of men, the Night Watch,  encounters something unspeakable. Most of them will not survive the encounter. The only survivor is brought before Lord Stark (Sean Bean). The explanation he gives for what spurred his cowardly escape is strange, he says to have seen an ancient evil that hasn’t been lurking in the forest for 2000 years. Since he is not believed, he is sentenced.

Lord Stark is the master of Winterfell. The Starks are only one influential family in the divided world of Westeros. Intrigues and fights for the throne are constant, no family can trust an other one and even inside of one family there may be traitors. Winterfell lies in the North, King’s Landing, where King Baratheos reigns, lies in the South. Border between the North and the wild that outstretches far beyond the horizon is the Wall, a barrier made out of pure ice. The Night Watch is in charge of guarding the Wall. Being sent to the Wall is a questionable honor. The most able fighters are dispatched together with convicts, orphans and other outcasts.

In the first series we are introduced to four different families and the story moves between them. This is all quite fascinating and there are some interesting and complex characters to be discovered. What makes for an especially intense atmosphere is the threat of war and winter. This is a world in which seasons follow another rhythm than in ours. Winter can last longer than three years or not come at all for decades. It can be intense or light but it always brings unspeakable things, unrest and war. At the beginning of the series all the wise old men and women whisper to one another, they say that winter is coming and that it will be long and awful.

Do you like Lord of the Rings? Did you like Rome, King Arthur, 300 and Centurion? Are you a Sean Bean fan? Do you consider epic fantasy and action movies to be worthy of your attention? If so, I guess that you have to watch this stunning new HBO series.

Last but not least, this isn’t a series for prudish people. The episodes showing the Dothraki people and their wild ways and interactions with their women includes quite a bit of nudity.

Tom Cruise’s War Movies

This post could also have been a quiz. How many war movies or/and war related movies starring Tom Cruise do you know? I have counted 9. That seems quite a lot. Although I’m not exactly a Tom Cruise fan but he is very good in some of the movies below.

Valkyrie (2008) This is a must-see movie based on a true event. Cruise plays von Stauffenberg, the man who attempted to assassinate Hitler. Too bad it didn’t work. It’s suspenseful despite that we know the outcome, interesting and tragic.

Tropic Thunder (2008) Bad taste and hilarious, in this movie nothing is sacred. A parody of war movies (especially Vietnam/Platoon), the film industry and a few other things. Cruise is extremely funny in this. He’s the ruthless greedy producer who is willing to send a film crew to certain death if success is guaranteed. (Here is my review)

Lions for Lambs (2007) Tom Cruise, Meryl Streep and Robert Redford in a movie that has been called great by many. I have seen it but remember zero. I think because it didn’t have a good story line, just a fairly good idea. Here is the IMdB blurb: “Injuries sustained by two Army ranger behind enemy lines in Afghanistan set off a sequence of events involving a congressman, a journalist and a professor.”

War of the Worlds (US 2005) Yes, this is stretching the genre a little bit and I haven’t seen it. No clue whether it is any good. It’s not my type of movie. Here’s another IMdB blurb: “As Earth is invaded by alien tripod fighting machines, one family fights for survival.”

Last Samurai (2003) I just watched this, so the review is upcoming. Very beautiful movie starring Tom Cruise as hardened Civil War veteran who is hired to teach combat techniques to Japanese soldiers. (See my review)

A Few Good Men (1992) This is one of my favourite guilty pleasures. A gripping court-room drama with a great cast: Tom Cruise, Demi Moore, Kevin Bacon, Kiefer Sutherland and Jack Nicholson.

Born on the 4th of July (1989) Based on Ron Kovic’s memoir. Cruise gives an outstanding performance of Kovic who volunteered to go to Vietnam, came home as a cripple and joins the Anti-Vietnam movement.

Top Gun (1986) Action and romance about aspiring fighter pilots in an elite US flying school.  A really corny movie but the favourite guilty pleasure of many.

Taps (1981) Story of some military cadets who want to save their academy at any price.

My favourite Tom Cruise movie regardless of the genre is Magnolia but my favourite Tom Cruise war movie is Valkyrie. I really liked the movie and his performance in it a great deal. And I liked him in A Few Good Men.

Which one is your favourite?

All About War Movies is One Year Old or A Best of War Movie List

What started as a simple experiment to fight procrastination and get me back into a daily writing routine has become sort of an institution. Another aim of this blog was to explore the topic of war movies systematically. It ended up being less systematic than intended. For the time being that is. I still have a project in the back of my mind and should I find more time I will pursue it. I have lost a few friends and won a few on the way. What does that mean you wonder, well, I had some funny reactions from people I know in real life. Seems as if my interest in war movies didn’t match the picture they had of me… Do I care? A little bit but not too much.

Ok, now, so this little blogging project is one year old. I have written 220 posts, at first three per week and then, during last summer, almost daily. If I wasn’t writing two other blogs, maybe I would have gone on at that pace.

I could tell you a lot of different things looking back on this year, a lot of things about myself but let’s not go there. In lieu of all that let me give you a best of list. A very personal best of list that takes into consideration what I like, nothing else.

Best movie on the Napoleonic wars

Waterloo

Best Civil War Movie

Glory

Best WWI movie

Gallipoli

Best WWII movie

When Trumpets Fade

Best Vietnam

Platoon

Best Vietnam Vet

Jacknife

Best Korea

Gotta pass, haven’t seen enough

Best Gulf War

Three Kings

Best Iraq

Battle for Haditha

Best other American war movies

Black Hawk Down

Best Resistance

L’armée du crime aka The Army of Crime

Best German war movie

Stalingrad

Best Submarine movie

Das Boot

Best Sniper movie

Enemy at the Gates

Best War Romance

Casablanca

Best least known war movie

When Trumpets Fade

Best female actress in a war movie

Madeleine Stowe in Last of the Mohicans

Best war movie score

Black Hawk Down

Most watched war movie

Black Hawk Down

Best Irish Civil War

The Wind that Shakes the Barley

Best Hitler Movie

Der Untergang aka The Downfall

Best Holocaust movie

The Pianist

Best Remake

Are you joking?

Best epic war movie

King Arthur

Most surprising war movie

My Boy Jack

Best Infantry combat

Saving Private Ryan

Best Cavalry Combat

The Lighthorsemen

Best Air Combat

The Dam Busters

Best Naval Combat

Master and Commander

Funniest war movie

The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp

Best Children and War

Voces Inocentes aka Innocent Voices

Best War and Journalism

Welcome to Sarajevo

Best POW

Merry Christmas, Mr Lawrence

Best Legal Drama

Judgement at Nuremberg

Best war movie poster

Platoon

Most dreaded war movie (obviously not watched yet)

Tha Battle of Algiers

Yeah well, I could go on but that’s it and since it’s my blog’s birthday, I’m lazy and will not link the movies. Or just not today…

The 15 Most Original War Movies

The question you might ask yourself right away is probably: What is an original war movie? Is Stalingrad original or Black Hawk Down? I would argue, no, they are not. They are great, they are absolute must-sees but they are not original. They consist pretty much of linear story telling. Well filmed but nothing out of the ordinary. What about Enemy at the Gates? Admittedly according to my definition this  almost made it into the list, as it is originally beautiful, but so are others.

Original is about something more than beautiful cinematography, it is something beyond the well-trodden path. Either a different way of telling an old story, a new look at something we saw before, a different way of filming, a genre-blend, an original story etc. After thinking for a very long time about it, I came up with the following fifteen movies that are far from the ordinary. I guess that all these fifteen films are movies that mostly also appeal to cinema lovers in general.

Three Kings (USA, 1999): Taking place during the first Iraq war it is definitely one of the most original movies I have ever seen. The way certain things are filmed is pretty unusual. When someone gets hit by a bullet we follow the bullet on its way inside the body, see how it affects the system and causes gangrene. Quite astonishing. On top of that it is a crazy, fast-paced story. Like a filmed version of a rock song.

Pan’s Labyrinth aka El laberinto del fauno (Spain, 2006): Set during WWII in Franco’s Spain. A genre blend, half fantasy, half war movie. Uses lots of fantastic elements, striking colors. Absolutely different.

Ovelord (UK, 1975): WWII, UK just before D-Day. A very short movie that alternates original footage and filmed bits. Filmed in black and white, it has a very old-fashioned feel. The story is original as well as it focuses on one individual soldier who will be shipped to France. Uses dream sequences, elements of foreboding. Still straightforward storytelling. (see my post Overlord: An Overlooked War Movies masterpiece)

The Thin Red Line (USA, 1998): WWII, The Pacific. This is the most lyrical of all  war movies. Intense pictures, haunting voices in the off meditate about death and dying. It is one of those cases –  you love it or you hate it but can’t deny it is original.

War Requiem (UK, 1989): WWI, France. Silent movie. Visual interpretation of Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem based o the life of the poet Siegfried Sassoon. Mixed with original footage that gets more and more gruesome towards the end. The most gruesome original footage that I have every seen. Heavy on symbolism, colors etc. Despite Sean Bean this is definitely not everybody’s cup of tea. (see my post War Requiem; Derek Jarman’s Impressive Interpretation of Benjamin Britten’s Eponymous Requiem)

Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (UK, 1943): Boer war, WWI, WWII. A movie that relies heavily on almost choreography like acting, loads of allusions to British culture. Extremely funny, filmed in brilliant Technicolor. Quite slapsticky at times, reminded me of one or the other Laurel and Hardy at war movies, but undeniably British humor. Two astonishing acting achievements. Deborah Kerr playing three different women and Roger Livesey playing the young, the middle-aged and the old Colonel Blimp. Amazing performances.

The Downfall aka Der Untergang (Germany, 2004). There have been such a lot of movies about Hitler but this concentrates on his very last moment, in the bunker in Berlin. Quite an unusual look. Creepy, spooky, with a fabulous Bruno Ganz in one of his best roles.

300 (USA, 2006): The last fight of the Spartans is original because of the heavy use of CGI, outstanding camera work and graphics. (see my post 300: This is Sparta! )

The Hurt Locker (USA, 2008). Iraq movie. Academy Award Winner. Different in the sense that it focuses on one special task, bomb disposal and one special man who is doing it his way. He goes about his business as if he was a player in some video game. Death-defying. Plus the movie has a thriller feel which is quite unusual for a war movie. At times it feels like Speed goes to Iraq. (see my post A War Movie Gone Thriller: The Hurt Locker)

Birdy (USA, 1984). Post-Vietnam. This is unusual in many ways. Outstanding acting, a story that is far from ordinary and a way to treat post-traumatic stress syndrome like we haven’t seen it often before. (see my post Alan Parker’s Birdy: A Tale of Frienship, War and Being Different)

The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas (USA, 2008). WWII, Holocaust. Haven’t we all seen a lot of Holocaust movies? This is one that will stay with you. The cinematography is brilliant and the story is haunting. Nobody would expect that ending. The Holocaust seen through the eyes of a child that has no clue what is going on, only sees the signs and interprets them his way, is creepy. (see my post The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas: An Unusual Look at the Holocaust)

Grave of the Fireflies aka Hotaru no Haka (Japan, 1988). Beautiful anime from the Ghibli studios. The sad and moving tale of two kids in WWII Japan, fighting for their survival after the loss of their family. (see my post Grave of the Fireflies: An Anime War Movies)

Waltz with Bashir (Israel, 2008): Israel.  Another animated movie but of an altogether very different kind. This looks more like a woodcut. Interesting take at the Lebanon war.

Apocalypse Now (USA, 1979). Considered by many to be one of the best war movies there is, it is also very original as it doesn’t show the Vietnam war as it was, instead more like a hallucinatory re-telling of The Heart of Darkness set during the Vietnam war. Using Wagner’s Valkyrie and The End by the Doors further underlines it’s aiming at being something different. Whether you like it or not, it is very original.

Full Metal Jacket (USA, 1987). This is a highly original movie as it creates images that will burn themselves into your memory. Visually one of the most powerful movies. Plus it tells two stories. Boot camp and street fight. This last element is also quite original as Vietnam movies mostly portay combat in the jungle. Plus the Vietnamese sniper…

Have I forgotten any and if so, why should they be included?

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.