Saints and Soldiers (2003) War Movie With A Religious Theme

Saints and Soldiers is loosely based on a true story, the Malmedy massacre. During The Battle of the Bulge, in 1944, a group of American soldiers got captured and subsequently massacred by Germans near Malmédy. The movie starts with the massacre and follows four of the men who manage to escape and are now deep behind enemy lines.

It’s a group of four very different men, one of them very religious. On their way back to their lines they save a British pilot who says that he has important information for the high command.

It is the middle of winter, the snow is high, the forest swarming with German troops and they are constantly in great danger. One of them, Deacon, the religious one, cannot sleep anymore. He has accidentally killed civilians, women and children and cannot forgive himself. He will have plenty of possibilities to atone, don’t worry, or the movie wouldn’t be called Saints and Soldiers.

Now if there is one thing that needs to be handled with care it is the blending of war and religion or let’s say war and Christian faith. There are religious or rather very spiritual undertones in The Thin Red Line but they are not Christian. Platoon got away with it but let’s face it, Platoon is one of a kind. A Midnight Clear, that is very similar to Saints and Soldiers, overdid it and this movie overdid it too.

Something I found insufferable was the pseudo-Brit. They really couldn’t find a British actor for that role? They had to take an American one who is supposedly good at accents? Well, he is not, he sucks.

This is too bad because from a purely cinematographic point of view this movie is beautiful. There are a few haunting images of the snow-covered forest and the story had, despite many clichés (a beautiful and helpful French woman, a German who is good although they are all monsters, some Germans that are monsters, many more Germans who are monsters) a lot of potential. I have a special interest in the Battle of the Bulge and the Battle of Bastogne (brilliantly shown in Band of Brothers) but we don’t see much of this. This is really only the adventurous story of a few men who had to cross enemy territory and find back to their line.

Despite all this I think it does deserve 3/5.

Why I Did Not Like The Alamo (1960)

I was convinced that I had read somewhere that The Alamo, produced and directed by and starring John Wayne,  was a great movie. Well… It isn’t. It is bordering the ridiculous. There is dialogue in this movie that would fill me with shame if I had written it, I’d probably even be tempted to shoot myself. No, seriously… Horrible. Corny and just plain insufferable. It’s always great when you laugh during 50% of a movie that isn’t meant to be funny (I mean, just look at the picture).

The story? Texas fighting for its independence from Mexico… A minority against a majority. A hopeless battle. You won’t shed one tear but be annoyed those gits  didn’t die any earlier.

It doesn’t even deserve a proper review. Or maybe I’m just lazy. No, honestly, this was BAD.

Remember the Alamo! I will….

Why Saving Private Ryan (1998) is not in my Top 10 of Favourite War Movies but in my Top 5 of most Influential War Movies

I have seen Saving Private Ryan for the first time in cinema when in came out. At the time it was like a fist in the gut. The Omaha Beach landing was nothing I had ever seen before and this was very probably the beginning of my fascination with war movies. Since then I have seen many more but when I ended up doing my Top 10 it wasn’t in it. I watched it again, like it a lot but didn’t want to add it to the list. Still it is important to say in advance, no matter what my personal reasons are,  the genre has been marked by Saving Private Ryan to a very large extent. There really is a time before and a time after Saving Private Ryan. Especially when it comes to WWII movies. The depiction of war has fundamentally changed with and through Saving Private Ryan. Never before did those who watched get the feeling they were in the battle like in Saving Private Ryan. Therefore, if I should make a Top 10 of most influential War Films, Saving Private Ryan would even be among the top 5.

I guess the second viewing was a distracted so I felt I had to re-watch it. I am sorry to say but this third viewing has made it clear to me. Saving Private Ryan is never going to be among my top ten unless I would have to choose movie scenes. It has some of the very best scenes that you can find in any war movie but unfortunately it has way too many really corny moments. As a matter of fact I hadn’t even remembered such a lot of corny moments. Maybe that is why I love Band of Brothers which is certainly the closest you can get to Saving Private Ryan. To me this is like a purified version of it. But still, it is excellent.

For those who have never watched it I’ll summarize the story. An old man stands at the grave of someone and looks back on his life. Rewind some 50 years. D-Day. We are in the middle of the Omaha Beach landing. Horrible scenes are shown. All filmed with a shaky hand-held camera to heighten the authentic feel. People’s guts spilling out. Bodies ripped apart. Heads blown off. Arms ripped out. Men crying, screaming and praying until the worst is over, the noise dies down and the only thing that stays is a beach full of dead bodies and body parts. After this horror Capt. Miller gets a new assignment. We will follow him and his group well into France and behind enemy lines. He has to look for one James Francis Ryan. All three of his brothers were killed in action so people in Washington decided to get him out and back to the States. The group around Capt. Miller are reluctant to go on such a seemingly futile mission. They don’t understand why they have to endanger their lives for the sake of one soldier. This is a very tight-knit group of soldiers and that is part of the appeal of this movie. The sense of camaraderie and friendship has rarely been depicted this touchingly. There are very moving moments especially between Miller and Horvath. There is one in which they talk to each other in an empty church at night. Their closeness is palpable. Strangely it almost makes you want to be there. There are much more tragic moments however. One after the other of the men gets killed until they find James Ryan. When finally discovering him they face the biggest problem. He doesn’t want to leave. He feels he owes it to his comrades to stay. His highly decimated group must defend a bridge against a majority of Germans. This is one of the many famous bridge scenes that we encounter in war movies. Bridges being strategically as relevant as hills, it is a frequent theme. As I don’t know if every reader knows the story I will stop here.

Saving Private Ryan has some of the most memorable war movie characters. I like Capt. Miller as much as Sgt. Horvath, the Privates Reiben, Jackson, Caparzo and Mellish and of course the Medic Wade. As we follow the little group for a long time we get to know them very well. It has also one of the most annoying war movie characters in it. Upham is a revolting person. And there is of course a very mean German. In any case, kudos to the actors. Tom Hanks, Tom Sizemore, Edward Burns, Matt Damon.

Saving Private Ryan is infantry combat at its best. A lot of intense fighting. Incredible settings. Unfortunately it has moments that are way too sentimental for my taste. I will always prefer Band of Brothers.

Now it’s your turn to rank it. 1. In your Top Favourite List 2. In a Best of List and  3. Most Influential ones.

Another of my posts on Saving Private Ryan: Mean Old Private Ryan

Pork Chop Hill (1959) or The Best Korean War B-Movie?

Lewis Milestone’s Pork Chop Hill is based on the eponymous book by military historian S. L. A. Marshall and depicts the fierce Battle of Pork Chop Hill. Towards the end of the Korean War the U.S. Army’s 7th Infantry Division and Chinese and Korean Communist forces fought for this strategically unimportant hill.

The year is 1953, while the Panmunjeom cease-fire negotiations continue, a company of American infantry was to recapture Pork Chop Hill from a larger Communist Chinese army force. Successful but highly decimated, they were ready for the large-scale Chinese counter-attack which they knew would overwhelm and kill them in hand-to-hand fighting.

This movie is bothering me quite a lot for many reasons. I can’t say I did not like watching it as that is not true. (Maybe I am secretly an infantry combat war movie buff. At least no questions about whether this is a war movie or not. That seems settled.)  Unfortunately there are a lot of questionable elements in it. I can still hardly believe that the very same man, Lewis Milestone, who did All Quiet on the Western Front did this thing too.

This was my first US movie on the war in Korea. I read articles and list and it seemed as if there are not so many great ones. Gray Freitas terms Pork Chop Hill the best B-Movie. Aha. Others call this one of the better ones…

I hated the end. This was not the battle that finished the war. I hated that we have no clue what it is all about. And I hated that they had to choose an African-American soldier to play the part of the treacherous coward.

I did appreciate the battle scenes. They way it was shown how battle takes its toll. Those soldiers were so tired… It captured nonsensical high command orders very well. I also like the relationship between Gregory Peck and the Japanese-American officer. And I think Gregory Peck is very good in this movie.

I will post another, more general post on the war movies depicting the Korean war. And I will certainly need to review Tae Gu Ki aka Brotherhood.

I must honestly say, after watching Pork Chop Hill and reading a few things about US movies on this war, I am not extremely keen on watching any other ones. Maybe M.A.S.H.

Feel free to share your opinions and ideas on the topic.

The trailer will tell you that the DVD cover is misleading as Pork Chop Hill is a black-and-white movie.

Antwone Fisher (2002) or How One Man Was Saved by the Navy

Some movies don’t work for some people. This one did not work for me. If I hadn’t been so tired yesterday, I would never have promised a post. Maybe no one cares if I keep my promise. I don’t know, but I care. Just one little thing about the statement on the DVD cover “This is a film that can change people’s lives”. I agree. I slept incredibly well afterwards.

I am a bit sorry for being this sarcastic. Antwone Fisher tackles a topic we need to talk about, namely child abuse. If this movie manages to raise awareness, then I am sorry for my comments, but for me this was done in such an over-sentimental way… Insufferable.

Antwone Fisher is based on a true story. Antwone wrote the script himself.

Antwone (Derek Luke) was born in prison, shortly after his father had been shot dead by one of his girl-friends. The boy was taken away and given in foster care. A hellish place. He was beaten and abused. Sexually and psychologically. At 16 he is sent to a men’s shelter but he does not stay. He flees and joins the Navy. He likes it there a great deal but he has problems fitting in. He has what we term today “an Anger Management problem”. Lucky Antwone has a very kind superior officer and is sent to a Navy psychologist (Denzel Washington) with issues of his own. At first he won’t talk but then he opens up and has a real chance to heal. The psychologist urges him to find his family and in the end he does. During the sessions with the psychologist we hear the truly awful story.

There is also a love story involved. It is ok. I did not mind it as much as all the other corny details.

What is actually more interesting than the movie  – which is frankly a total failure what might explain why I hadn’t heard of it – is the extras on the disc. The real Antwone tells that the Navy was his first real home. It gave him a chance and opportunities to build up self-esteem and confidence. This is a picture of the Navy that we seldom get to see. At least over here in Europe where we are highly suspicious whenever anything to do with the American military is mentioned. It is still widely believed that the military is a place for those who have no other choice and where they might get worse than they already are. The film director is also interviewed and says that all the officers they met on the ships were kind and intelligent people and nothing like the abusive bastards we often get to see in movies.

All in all, thanks to the extras, this soppy movie has broadened my horizon a little bit.

One last element I would like to mention before finishing this post. Antwone is an African-American kid. His foster family is African-American and so is the psychologist. What the psychologist actually tells Antwone in the beginning is that the abusive behavior (the beating, not the sex) is an inheritance from the slavery days. It is passed on from one generation to the next. Rightly Antwone protests, saying that this sounded like an easy excuse. I believe, this is giving the wrong message. Child abuse is universal. Sadly it is extremely common everywhere.

I am glad for Antwone that he survived his childhood and became a very gentle and creative person. He writes poems, draws and, as already said, wrote the script himself.

Antwone Fisher

The Messenger (2009) or Fighting, Dying, Notifying

Some people say that The Messenger should have won the Academy Award instead of  The Hurt Locker. It is very possible that they are right.

As long as there are wars there will be fighting. As long as there is fighting there will be dying. And as long as people die in combat someone will have to notify the families. This difficult duty is the job of the Casualty Notification Officer. The Messenger explores this difficult task. To notify people is difficult for many reasons. Some are devastated and the their grief is unbearably raw. Others can´t even accept it. Some turn against the messenger, some are openly aggressive. Some are kind and caring.

Staff Sergeant Will Montgomery (Ben Foster) comes back from a tour in Iraq badly injured. He is said to be a hero even though he can’t accept this. He gets appointed to assist Captain Tony Stone (Woody Harrelson) who has done the job as Casualty Notification Officer for a very long time. He tells Will to strictly follow procedures. Don´t touch the relatives. Inform them directly. Be clear and precise and leave again.

The first job they get is already a harrowing one and Will realises that it might be even more difficult than he thought it would be. After their job is done, they go for a drink. Tony is a AA, so all he drinks is hot water with lemon. He asks Will very direct questions about everything. At first Will is reluctant to answer but he has no choice.

One day the two have to inform a young woman of the death of her husband. Will is very touched by her and her reaction and contacts her again later and they start to form a bond.

There are many different stories and storylines that are interwoven which is the strength of this movie. In it´s essence I would say, yes, this is a movie about war, but it is even more a movie about relationships. Deep relationships. Each and every single person in this movie carries a deep wound, either physical or psychological. Injuries, heartbreak, loss, betrayal. They have endured a lot and try to cope and heal by opening up to each other.

Ben Foster and Woody Harrelson are remarkable. Remarkable is actually and understatement.

I think The Messenger achieves a very rare thing. It gives us real people. Courageous and open people. And it says a lot of profound things about war and its consequences. Ultimately when there is a war, there will be death and dying. No one should forget this.