Gardens of Stone (1987) Coppola’s Vietnam Oddity

What the hell was that? Sorry but I did not get this movie. I was so thrilled when I heard from one of my readers about this a while back and thought that would be just the movie for me. I was always fascinated by military cemeteries. Those rows and rows of crosses. Each cross a life. Each cross a story. To dedicate a movie to those who bury the dead seemed so worthwhile. But somehow Coppola‘s Gardens of Stone doesn’t keep the promise it makes. Instead of an in-depth exploration of what it means to be the one to bury those who come back in caskets we get a little bit of everything which sums up to nothing. The acting is quite good, James Caan, Anjelica Huston and James Earl Jones do a good job but the story is too predictable. The movie starts with a funeral and then rewinds so we know already what is going to happen.

Sgt Hazard (James Caan) and Sgt Goody Nelson (James Earl Jones), two  Korea veterans and close friends, are Honour Guards at Arlington military cemetery. Hazard wants nothing more than going to Vietnam and teach the young soldiers how to survive over there. When a friend asks them to look after his son Willow who joins the unit, it seems to be Hazard’s mission to keep him from harm. As the funeral of the beginning  shows us, all his endeavors are futile.

It is exactly this predictability that finishes off this movie. And then there is the relationship of Hazard with the anti-war Washington Post correspondent Samantha. Their discussions pro or contra war are so boring. And totally without any consequences as she keeps on dating him… Of course there is also the young man who want to fight for his country and who is exemplary for so many who died doing just that.

The movie intersperses actual TV footage in order to give a bit of  “real war movie” flavor.

Apparently – I am speaking as a total layman – this movie is highly appreciated by people in the military. It is said to be very accurate and true to military life and rites.

Before I give you my final statement here is what  Jamie Russell writes:

Beautifully shot, wonderfully acted (Caan and Jones’ performances offer a truly outstanding sense of military camaraderie), Gardens of Stone remains one of the most problematic films to have come out of the war – part pro-military, part peacenik, 100% pro-American. (Vietnam War Movies, p. 46)

In my own words: It’s deadly boring hotchpotch.

Here’s the trailer

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The Tuskegee Airmen (1995) or The True Story of the 332nd all Black Fighter Squadron

The Tuskegee Airmen is one of those brilliant HBO TV movies that is far too less known. How often do you watch a war movie that leaves you cheerful at its end? Well that´s what will happen should you watch The Tuskegee Airmen. It is fun. It is uplifting. It is a tale of heroism, determination, skill and overcoming the biggest obstacles that you can possible face: ridicule, racism, discrimination. Watching this movie is also infuriating like any story belittling others for their race, color, gender, social background etc. The Tuskegee Airmen is a true story that has almost a fairytale ending. I am not saying it doesn’t have its very sad moments, no true war story goes without them, but all through the movie we admire the spirit of those who do not give up, no matter how intense the adversity.  They are winners in the end.

At the beginning of the movie a group of young black Americans is boarding a train to Tuskegee, the base where future fighter pilots are trained. Some of them are already experienced pilots, others are aspiring pilots. They join because they share a passion for aircraft but also because they want to serve their country. But the moment they arrive in Tuskegee they face racial discrimination of the worst kind. They have to take the tests they already took  again because the result were too good. And when they prove that they know more than other pilots they are still not taken seriously and told that they don’t have a country, that they are not welcome. After several months of training and outstanding results they are not allowed to go overseas as there are still so many people, including politicians, who think it is unacceptable a black person should fly a highly sophisticated aircraft. Only after Mrs. Roosevelt flies with one of them, are they finally sent off to Africa. In Africa the same story repeats itself all over again. White pilots are sent on missions, while the Tuskegee Airmen  are being held back and ridiculed. Finally they are given a chance and  are told to escort a bomber squadron. They do this so well that the white bomber pilots do not believe that black pilots flew the planes. In the end the bomber squadron has to accept that the finest American pilots are black pilots and ask especially for them to escort them when they fly an attack on Berlin. It is said that in none of their missions did they lose one single bomber. An outstanding result.

I read that this movie and the story behind it filled many an African-American viewer with pride. I can sure understand this. There are so many glorious moments in this film and it really cheers you up when those brilliant pilots are finally acknowledged and rewarded with medals.

The cast was well chosen. Laurence Fishburn stars in one of his more likable roles. Cuba Gooding Jr. is in it, as well as Allan Payne, Malcolm-Jamal Warner, Courtney B. Vance and Mekhi Phifer.

I think, you can easily tell, how much I enjoyed this movie.

Should you be interested in the topic of African-American Soldiers in War Movies, please read my post.