Platoon (1986) Oliver Stone’s Iconic Vietnam Movie

Platoon-PosterArt

Platoon is one of those war movies I have seen quite a few times and every time I discover something new. It’s one of those which has stayed among my Top 10 after each viewing, I never even considered to remove it like I did with some of the others.

It’s a powerful anti-war and anti-Vietnam movie. There is no doubt about Oliver Stone’s position. Stone is a veteran of the Vietnam war, Platoon was the first in his Vietnam trilogy, Born on the 4th of July and Heaven and Earth were the other two.

Reviewing it seems odd as I have a feeling it’s one of the most famous war movies and almost everybody who likes war movies knows the story to some degree. I will therefore only give a very short summary.

Chris (Charlie Sheen) volunteers to go to Vietnam. He is a college student unlike most of the others who are in his company and wouldn’t have had to join up but since his father fought in WWII and his grandfather in WWI he felt it was his duty. He is the typical naive recruit, one of those who usually get killed in the first week but he survives. He learns a few things which will help him to survive and looses a lot of his illusions.

The main story is certainly Chris’ transformation only I never saw it as that before. It’s only now that I’ve watched it for the third time that I realize how important it is. Until now, the story that I was most interested in was the story between the morally good Stg Elias (Willem Dafoe) and the bad Sgt Barnes (Tom Berenger). Barnes represents everything I hate in a character while Elias is – together with Lt David Manning from When Trumpets Fade – my favourite war movie character. Barnes shows the worst aspects of the war in Vietnam while Elias shows the best. The fight and hatred between the two makes for intense viewing.

Barnes and Elias never get along and after a massacre in a village they become open enemies. Based on a true event (My Lay Massacre), the massacre is one of the most sickening scenes I have seen in any war movie.  

Elias is a saviour figure or sacrificial hero and, as I have written elsewhere (see below), it’s not surprising he was cast as Jesus in The Last Temptation of Christ, just like Caviezel was cast as Christ after having been in The Thin Red Line in a similar saviour role.

Many elements speak for the comparison of Elias and Christ. The most obvious is the iconic poster showing him with his arms outstretched. In the movie there are different instances which emphasize this further. One person says that he thinks Elias is Christ, Barnes says of him that Elias is one of those who think they can walk on water. And there are more.

What I had forgotten is the character of Chris who is at first naive and then gets swept away by the collective acts of violence. This shocks him, it shocks him to see that he is capable of such violence at all. I think that at the end, Chris is the most important character as he is neither black nor white but just an “ordinary good” guy who becomes violent under certain circumstances. What is interesting is the fact that the movie shows that he cannot go back to the state he was in before he acted brutally. This seems crucial too and is exemplified by his final actions.

Platoon is certainly a must-see war movie and will always be one of my favourites.

Platoon is a war movie to which I return frequently and I’ve written a bout it quite a few times before:

Is Platoon a War Movie?

History versus Story or Platoon versus Hamburger Hill

Obnoxious and Unlikable War Movie Characters

My Favourite War Movie Character

Christ and the War Movie Hero

Machine Gun Preacher (2011)

Machine Gun Preacher is based on a true story, the story of ex Hell’s Angel and bad boy Sam Childers.

At the beginning of the movie Sam gets out of prison. He hasn’t learned anything from that experience and wants to get back to his former life. Drugs, booze, his Harley Davidson and his stripping wife. Unfortunately for him, his wife has found Jesus, works at a mall, doesn’t strip, drink or smoke anymore and goes to church on Sundays. Sam does what he always did, gets drunk and high and ends up fighting with everyone. Then, one night, something really bad happens and wakes him up for good. He joins the church to which his wife belongs, sobers up, sells his bike, gets a decent job.

But that’s not enough for Sam. The way he used to be, lies too heavy on his conscience, he wants more, do more, do better. He builds a church and travels to Africa to see what good the missionaries do there. When he crosses the border into Sudan with a soldier from the Sudanese Liberation Army whom he met in Uganda, he sees things he has never even heard of. Mutilated people, shot women and children, cruelty and violence. He hears about the child soldiers recruited by the LRA (Lords Resistance Army), led by Joseph Kony, sees the many orphans whose parents have been slaughtered. Sam decides that this is his cause. God wants him to help and he will help.

What makes him different from all the social workers down there is that he doesn’t only help and bring money, he also fights. He doesn’t only defend his property, he attacks the aggressors and intimidates them in using the same methods they use. Ultimately he doesn’t mind killing. For him – this is obvious – this is more than just helping, this is fighting a war. A war against oppression, exploitation, violence and cruelty.

If it wasn’t for that, the movie would be average but because of this, it’s a very interesting movie because it seems to state some uncomfortable things and ask interesting questions. Can there be a level of violence which makes it impossible to fight it with non-violence? Could it be dangerous to just try to do good without being prepared to kill and shoot people for the greater good?

I’m not saying I agree with Childers (I personally think we are not meant to intervene everywhere all the time but that’s my opinion. I think if we want to do good, we can start in our own cities, our own neighbourhoods and families.) but I understand his point and found the movie quite interesting.

Machine Gun Preacher reminded me of Lord of War and Blood Diamond and some other movies which make African civil wars and warlords their main topic. While I think it’s a movie which will generate a lot of discussions and I didn’t mind watching it, I still think that movies like Lord of War, Hotel Rwanda and some others were far better. But it’s decent and for Gerard Butler fans certainly a must-see.

Help Needed – We Are Looking For a War Movie

the-war-is-over

It’s been a while since I posted the last request like this. Since we have managed to find movies before, I thought it’s worth a try.

The person who wrote me this e-mail has seen this movie as a boy on TV. Some 35 – 40 years ago. It was a black and white movie, very probably British (maybe French). The main characters name could have been something like Oresti.

Here’s the very detailed description.

The film was black and white and I can’t tell you whether it was set in WWI or WWII, but I am fairly sure it was about the Belgian Resistance.
A male member of the resistance is being pursued by the Germans and hides on the balcony of a young female who he persuades to help him.
At some point, we see the young lady with a fortune teller who is predicting her getting married.
This is a dramatic scene because the psychic becomes agitated when trying to tell her about the wedding because she sees something disturbing. She sees a wedding dress which is scarlet, or red. She then becomes too upset to continue.

The young lady falls in love with the resistance guy and joins their work.
On the day of their wedding, the church is sprayed with bullets and her beautiful white wedding dress becomes covered in blood – the scarlet dress of the psychics predictions.

They are sent on a mission, separately, but the mission of the male is a rather cruel but necessary one.
Unknown to him, he is given misinformation about a military operation and then sent into the field with the deliberate intention of being caught, tortured and revealing the wrong info.
However, he was much tougher than they had anticipated and didn’t reveal anything under torture.
He escapes.
His wife finds out about his mission and goes to find him.
She is captured and sentence to death by firing squad.
Her husband rescues her at the last moment, the whole firing squad being resistance fighters, and he dressed as a German officer.

After he rescues her, he lifts her in his arms and they celebrate.
Unfortunately, some snipers, hiding in bushes, see them.
Because he is still wearing German uniform, they believe him to be the enemy and shoot them both as they are embracing. The tumble and fall of the steps of what looks like a disused amphitheatre.
They manage to hold hands as they die.

This is one of the most detailed descriptions I have received so far and I’m pretty sure, if someone has seen it, he/she will remember even if some things might have been different.

Any ideas and suggestions are very welcome.

The Haunted Airman (2006) BBC TV Drama

The Haunted Airman, starring Julian Sands, Robert Pattison and Rachel Stirling is a 70 minutes BBC TV production based on a novel by Dennis Wheatley (The Haunting of Toby Jugg). I thought it was a great choice for this time of the year as it is quite eerie; a mix between psychological drama and horror story.

A young RAF bomber pilot is shot down. His wounds are considerable and he becomes a paraplegic in a wheel chair. His aunt Julia, a widow, decides to bring him to an asylum where the mysterious Dr. Hal Burns treats soldiers with post-traumatic stress disorder. The asylum is located in one of those huge English country houses.

Toby suffers from different symptoms of post-traumatic stress. Nightmares, hallucinations, visions, phobias. He sees burning cities and dead civilians, relives the night in which he is shot down, imagines being attacked by giant spiders.

Julia is his aunt by marriage. She is gentle and beautiful and Toby is clearly very much in love with her and dreams of marrying her. He writes to her frequently but she never replies. One day he finds out that the sinister doctor has kept back all the letters.

From then on tragic and dramatic things happen. The end is a bit weird and mysterious.

I didn’t mind watching this, it had a gothic, haunted house feel, the images were quite beautiful and Pattison and Sands act quite well. Still, I didn’t really know what to make of it all and didn’t get the end. I went to IMDb and saw that the reviews were extremely mixed. Either 8-10 or 1-2 stars.

I’d say it’s a movie you either love or hate. Being a Robert Pattison fan would certainly influence the reaction.

I don’t like rating movies this much, but in this case, I’ll try to. I’d give it 4 stars for the actors and the cinematography and 1.5 stars for the story. Whether it is OK to turn PTSD into entertainment…

On Guest Posts and A Question to My Readers

I think this was the longest I haven’t posted on this blog but life – virtual and real – was beyond hectic. I also received numerous mails from people asking for the opportunity to write a guest post. I I’m a bit peculiar when it comes to guest posts. I thought I should be the one asking, not the other way around. So far I have only asked two people, nem baj, who wrote the last post on this blog, and Kevin aka The War Movie Buff whose post is pending.

Now you wonder, does this mean you are not allowed to ask whether you can do a guest post. No, it doesn’t mean that but your chances of being accepted are minimal. Especially when it is not about war movies. People have the weirdest ideas. Why the heck would I want you to write a guest post about “home schooling” on a blog dedicated to war movies? Duh.

This week I also received a request by a man who writes for the Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance. It seems that this type of cancer is very frequent in veterans. It’s a type of cancer you can develop due to exposure to asbestos and often it is only detected 20 years later. As we all know early detection is key when it comes to cancer. I can see why he asked to have a guest post on this blog. The intention is to inform veterans of the condition and I am aware that I have a lot of veterans among my readers. To be honest, my first impulse was saying “no”. Or ask him to write it in a way that relates it to war movies. That would be tricky though. When I thought about it again, I realized that I might actually want to include this type of post. But since I’m not a 100% sure, I decided to ask you.

What do you think, should this blog include information for veterans related to health issues (physical and psychological)?

And if so, in a blog post or maybe on a separate page called “Veteran’s Health”?

The Most Terrible Weather Conditions in Infantry Combat Movies – 4 Examples

Combat is hell. We all know that. But some combat situations are made even worse because of the weather. I have seen four movies and episodes of series in which the depicted weather conditions made me think: “How utterly awful this must have been”. The terrible weather conditions are a great means for film directors to enhance how horrible combat is and how utterly futile some battles when facing not only a strong(er) opponent but the force of nature.

The first movie is Stalingrad. To watch those troops in the icy cold snow of the Eastern Front is harrowing. Countless men who survived the battle died from hunger and cold.

Horror weather example number two is also due to snow and cold. It is shown in the episode “Bastogne” from Band of Brothers.

As brutal as the winter in Europe and the Eastern Front was, the constant rain the troops had to face in The Pacific was no less demoralizing. Example number three is the episode number 4 “Cape Gloucester” from The Pacific which takes place just after the battle of Guadalcanal. Humidity and the constant noise of the torrential rain lead to stress and illness.

Another really harrowing example was shown in the Australian movie Kokoda. The mud, rain and dirt of the Kokoda trail has to be mentioned among the worst experiences any troops have undergone.

I just realized that all these are examples from WWII. Makes it look as if there hadn’t been any terrible weather conditions during other wars but that is of course not the case. I remember a few WWI movies in which the mud and rain played an important role but I’m not able to pick a perfect example. Additionally I would like to add an example in which scorching heat proved to be fatal.

Which is the worst weather you have ever seen in any war movie?

Deutschland bleiche Mutter – Germany Pale Mother (1980)

The German movie Deutschland bleiche Mutter aka Germany Pale Mother  is a heavy movie. Heavy, tragic and depressing but excellent.  Eva Mattes gives an absolutely outstanding performance.

When the movie begins we hear the deep voice of a woman recite a poem by Bertold Brecht, (you can read it here Germany – Deutschland), in which he calls Germany “a pale mother”. This sets the tone. The movie is literary and symbolic and deeply rooted in German culture. The story is to a certain extent told by Anna, Lene’s daughter. In a voiceover she narrates her beginning, how her parents met in 1939, just before the war, how they got married, how shy and awkward they were, how her father was sent off to the Eastern front and little Anna was born during an air raid.

When their house is bombed, Anna’s mother decides to leave for Berlin. We see her stand in the ruins, before she leaves, she tries to find something, anything but all has been shattered, broken, they don’t have much more than their lives and a few clothes.

In Berlin they live in the empty house of relatives. Hans is on leave and joins them but the stay is very difficult for all of them. Anna is jealous of the father she doesn’t know. Lene feels estranged and wants to be alone with her daughter and Hans is tired, very changed and disappointed.

The movie follows the lives of these three people until after the war when everything seems to be normal again but is not. Her mother contracts a very mysterious illness and a doctor advises to extract all her teeth. She becomes highly depressed and wants to die. Her husband is equally miserable and abandons her emotionally.

In the middle of the movie there is one long impressive scene in which Lene walks with Anna through the woods. She has left Berlin because she is afraid to die in an air raid. On the way she tells the little girl a story. It sounded quite familiar and I had an idea it was a fairy tale of the bothers Grimm.  I managed to find an English translation of it. The Robber Bridegroom is one of the bloodier fairy tales the Grimm’s have collected. There is a lot of symbolism attached to the forest in Germany. This started a long time before WWII but it culminated during the war. The scene of Lene walking through the woods and telling this gruesome tale to her little daughter is very oppressing. And what happens in the woods even more so.

In Germany Pale Mother director Helma Sanders-Brahms told the story of her own parents. It shows how much the life of the Germans was shattered, how they desperately tried to go back to normal which is symbolized by the coffee ritual in the sitting room. What made sense before the war has become some sort of cruel mockery. Things are changed forever.

Germany Pale Mother is German narrative cinema at its best.

I attached an excerpt of the movie. The full movie can be watched on YouTube.