Kingdom of Heaven (2005)

This is the second time I have watched Kingdom of Heaven. The first time I watched it on a tiny TV and thought that may have been the reason why it didn’t work for me. A few years later and with a big screen and a good sound system it still didn’t work. And this despite the fact that it is a Ridley Scott movie, the cinematography is stunning, the music – Hans Zimmer  Harry Gregson-Williams – is good and…. That’s it. … There is nothing else I can add to the plus side. OK, maybe the battle scene towards the end which seems to be one of the Top 10 battle scenes of all time. It’s good, yes, but after 2 straight hours of utter boredom, it’s hard to redevelop some sort of enthusiasm.

Balian (Orlando Bloom), a blacksmith, travels to Jerusalem with his father, Godfrey de Ibelin (Liam Neeson). Ibelin dies on the way but Balian travels on. The movie is set during the reign of Baldwin IV, the so-called leper king (Edward Norton behind a mask). During his reign, Jerusalem is a Kingdom of Heaven in which Christians and Muslims live together in peace. After Baldwin’s death,  the husband of Baldwin’s sister becomes king. He wants Jerusalem to be Christian. He attacks Saladin’s army but loses the battle and Saladin marches towards Jerusalem where Balian heads the army that stayed behind. After the final epic battle is lost, Balian leads the people out of the city while Saladin and his people take over.  This is more or less the core of the story.

It’s ironic really as it is precisely this boring movie, or rather what it stands for, which was the source of the only really controversial and heated discussion on this blog. A while ago I wrote a post on Movies on the Crusades: A List. It is the only post on which people still comment frequently, calling each other names and being extremely emotional. I know I could close the comments section but I don’t want to do that. I’m not a fan of censorship. I usually reply to every comment but I do not do it on that post anymore as the discussion is turning in circles and answering seems pointless. What fuelled the anger is one person’s comment that Kingdom of Heaven wasn’t historically accurate. Whatever. None of this will make me change my mind – I don’t like the Kingdom of Heaven. Here are some reasons why:

  • The story. Why do we need the side story of someone going back to get his illegitimate son and fight along with him? This story part adds at least half an hour to a movie that would have needed some serious cutting plus a main character who totally lacks charisma.
  • The length. It is way too long. I was bored after the first 25 minutes, yet had to suffer through another 2hrs.
  • The actors. Orlando Bloom is not a good actor. No amount of make-up will ever make him one. Eva Green is one of those actresses you see and forget the moment the camera isn’t on her anymore. Not exactly a fascinating couple. While some of the other actors are very good, their combinations makes the choices look very random.
  • The cinematography. It’s stunning, as I said in the beginning, but if that’s the only thing a movie has to offer it becomes annoying. “One more bluish picture and I scream”, was what I was thinking.
  •  The characters. Even if the main character had been played by someone else, it would still have been a very boring character. In his only strong moment, when he frees the slaves and decides to defend the city against all odds, he sounds like a parakeet and mimics his late father. As Orlando Bloom is a bad actor, it sounds as if he was reciting a badly learned text.
  • The history. It isn’t accurate or rather it seems a hodgepodge of historical elements.

All in all it is too bad as the movie had potential. If you would like to see a really great movie on the Crusades, watch Arn – The Knight Templar instead.

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Ridley Scott’s Gladiator (2000)

On the weekend I finally watched Gladiator again and on BluRay. I’m still sometimes reluctant to buy BluRays but in this case it was really worth it. It was almost another movie. The sound was great, the colors intense. Quite amazing.

Is Gladiator a war movie? I don’t think so, I don’t think King Arthur or Last of the Mohicans are war movies, but they are certainly war themed. If I did consider them to be real war movies… My Top 10 would look slightly different. Although I don’t like Gladiator as much as King Arthur, I still like it a lot.

I have a feeling however that this is a movie that is so widely known that reviewing it in detail makes no sense.

Just let me tell you that it starts with an intense battle in Germania. The Roman Empire is hungry for land and advancing greedily and brutally. After the battle is won the old emperor has a heart to heart with his General Maximus (Russell Crowe). He doesn’t want his own son Commodus (Joaquin Phoenix) to become emperor after his death, he wants to re-establish the Senate, give Rome back to the people. If Maximus was in charge it could be done.

Things don’t quite turn out that way. Commodus speeds up his father’s passing and wants Maximus killed. Maximus wouldn’t be the hero he already is, if he couldn’t overcome the men in charge of killing him. He escapes and returns to Italy to find his family slaughtered. Badly wounded he faints, is picked up by a slave merchant and sold to become a gladiator.

That’s the beginning. Fight upon fight follows, until the gladiators  finally arrive at the place of their destination, the Colosseum in Rome. The new motto of the new emperorCommodus  is “Bread and Games” and the best of the best of the Gladiators have to fight in the huge arena.

What happens when Commodus finds out Maximus isn’t dead… is for you to find out. If you haven’t done so already, watch it.

Gladiator is the tale of a hero, a man larger-than life. It’s beautifully filmed with a stunning score by Lisa Gerrard and Hans Zimmer.

It’s also a tale of friendship, greed, ambition, loyalty and courage. I’m not sure if this movie would be so great without Russell Crowe but I know that he was one hell of a great choice. And so are the other actors, among them Joaquin PhoenixConnie Nielsen, Oliver Reed and Djimon Hounsu.  The same that can be said about the actors can be said about the score. Not one of those large scale Hollywood prodcutions would work as well as they do without the music.

In terms of emotions and entertainment, this is one of the  most perfect movies for me.

The Thin Red Line (1998) Part I The Review

Sometimes we watch a movie and love it. A few years later we watch it again and have no clue why we ever liked it. This happened to me a few times, fortunately it isn’t all that often.

I have seen the The Thin Red Line three times by now, the first time I liked it so much that it actually triggered my interest in war movies.

The second time, shortly after the first, I still liked it a lot. But that was 7 years ago and since then I have seen numerous other movies, excellent ones, good ones and abominable ones as well.

Watching it for a third time made me somewhat wary. What if…?

I shouldn’t have worried. After watching it for the third time I think it is the most radical, most thoughtful, most provocative and most difficult anti-war movie that has ever been made.

The Thin Red Line is truly a lyrical and poetical meditation on death and dying. It’s far more than just a war movie. It is transcending the genre.

I decided to dedicate more than one post to this stunning movie, exploring different aspects (something I would like to do for other movies as well in the future).

I will cover the following topics.

Part I. Review

Part II. On Death and Dying

Part III. Nature and Evil

Part IV. The Actors and the Characters

Part V. Saving Private Ryan versus The Thin Red Line

Part I The Review

In many war movies there is a bridge to defend, an outpost to be kept or a hill to be taken. Terrence Malick’s The Thin Red Line, based on James Jones’ eponymous novel, tells the story of the taking of a hill. It’s 1942, on the island of Guadalcanal, which is part of the Solomon Islands, in the Pacific.

The movie opens on an idyllic scene. Two soldiers, one of them Private Witt (James Caviezel) have gone AWOL. They live among the natives in a paradise-like place. They swim and play with the kids, surrounded by the beauty of tropical nature. This will not last. A patrol boat will come and get them and together with the other soldiers from C-Company they are sent on a mission to take a hill on top of which is a Japanese bunker.

This is one of those typical suicidal missions. Driven by a mad Colonel (Nick Nolte) who cares about nothing but his own glory the men are led by the gentle and courageous Cpt Staros. Staros cares for his men, unlike Colonel Tall and even risks being court-martialled for disobedience in order to save his men from certain death. Tall wants them to attack frontally despite the fact that the Japanese have all the advantages. They are well dug in, sheltered by their bunker, looking down on those crawling men. Staros wants to bypass the hill. A far better and careful decision that was made after seeing how the situation really was, while Tall decided from afar, having no clue how the situation looked closeup.

The scenes that follow the beginning are alternating between intense infantry combat, scenes of dying and death, nature shots, interior monologue in voice-over and also flashbacks of the soldiers lives before the war. Witt thinks of his childhood and the peaceful idyll in the tropical paradise, Staros is very religious and Private Bell imagines his wife and their love for each other.

The losses are high, the death scenes harrowing and gruesome. Thanks to Staros’ disobedience the attack doesn’t lead to total disaster and the men are victorious in the end. However he has to pay a prize, he will be sent away under the false pretense of suffering from malaria. No matter how many soldiers’ lives he saved, he will never ever be in command again.

The Thin Red Line draws a few interesting character portraits to which I will come in Part IV of this series.

The score of the movie has been written by Hans Zimmer and underlines the poetical versus brutal aspects of the movie.

If you already want to know more about the cast here is an earlier post: My Favourite War Movie All-star Cast

Henry of Navarre (2010) DVD Giveaway

It is the mid-16th Century and France is awash with blood, as the protestant Huguenots fight for survival against dark forces led by the treacherous Catherine De Medici. When she orchestrates the ultimate betrayal at the infamous St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre, King Henry IV will fight his life’s greatest battle to ensure her treachery does not go unanswered…

Based on the novel by Heinrich Mann, experience an epic chronicle of one man’s heroic struggle against overwhelming forces in this action-packed and spectacular “5- STAR(Cambridge Film Festival) motion picture event with RIDLEY SCOTT STYLED BATTLE SCENES(Variety).

I’m really looking forward to watch this movie. This is the type of epic period drama that I love. And since I’m a sucker for great film music and love Hans Zimmer who has written the score of Henry of Navarre, there is twice as much to look forward to. Based on Heinrich Mann’s eponymous novel, starring Julien Boisselier, this international production offers large-scale cinema.

What’s even better, I am able to give away one DVD of Henry of Navarre courtesy of Showbox Media. All you have to do is leave a comment. I will draw the winners next Saturday and announce them on the following Sunday.

The giveaway is open internationally but the DVD is REGION 2 coded.

Henry of Navarre is out to buy on Blu-ray and 2 disc-DVD on 4th July 2011, courtesy of  Showbox Media Group.

The giveaway is now closed.

War Movie Soundtrack: Black Hawk Down by Hans Zimmer

Many war movies have incredible soundtracks with haunting music that contributes to the appeal of the films themselves.

One of the most outstanding is the soundtrack to Black Hawk Down by the renowned German composer Hans Zimmer. He´s the creator of many famous film soundtracks. He did the score for  The Thin Red Line, Gladiator, The Last Samurai, King Arthur and  The Pacific, to name but a few.