Wednesday, December 30, 2015

QUEUE CLEANSING: Flight World War II (2015)



                “Flight World War II” is another direct to DVD feature from the folks at The Asylum studio.  The Asylum is noted for churning out low budget movies that feed the market for bad entertainment.  Netflix Instant has been a logical landing spot for many of its products.  Especially since we don’t have very many drive-in movie theaters any more. The Asylum movies need to be watched with a copious amount of alcohol and/or a suspension of normal brain functions.  If you do that, they can be enjoyable.

                “Flight World War II” has a sci-fi tinge to it.  A passenger plane passes through an electromagnetic storm and is transported back to 1940.  They arrive in the middle of a German bombing raid on St. Nazaire.  How do they figure this out?  There are two nerdy historians on board.  A movie that has heroic historians, spoiler alert: my grade will be prejudiced.  The two determine it is the famous raid on St. Nazaire which was in June, 1940.  (The Germans actually were bombing St. Nazaire at that time as it was part of the Dunkirk evacuation effort.)   This is despite the fact that those are clearly Me 262 jet fighters that are buzzing them. If you have even a rudimentary knowledge of WWII aerial warfare, you know that 1940 is too soon for jets, so what is going on here?  Is it the typical insulting the intelligence of the audience that you get with these types of flicks?  Actually my theory is the screenwriters are weaving a more tangled web.  They have to be jets in order to keep up with a passenger jet.  (Plus they look way cooler than propeller planes.)  But in order to justify jets in 1940 they have to transform the plot into an alternative history tale.  This is confirmed when the plane makes contact with Nigel the radio operator who informs them that Dunkirk was a disaster.  It looks like the Allies are going to lose the war.  Unless the plane can change history!
another movie where a historian is the hero -
how cliche!

                A passenger suggests they kill Hitler.  This would have made a better movie, but two soldiers on board point out that they could end up screwing up history.  Party poopers!  Meanwhile the plane undergoes a series of attacks by jets.  Luckily, the German pilots are unable to bring down the sitting duck.  They do manage to damage the landing gear so we can watch Hector the handyman fix it with a hammer.  The historians put their heads together and realize that the key to turning the war around is giving radar to the radarless British.  Nigel suggests they drop their radar set to a British patrol behind enemy lines in Germany.  Having no parachute, they use a poncho.  Nigel has it up and running in five minutes.  (If you are not on your fifth beer by now, I warned you.)  He is able to steer them to another vortex.
there's a sexy stewardess, of course

                Even heavy drinking does not make “Flight World War II” tolerable.  It is laughably ridiculous throughout.  This is sad because the movie lacks any planned humor.  It also lacks any real suspense.    I guess you have to admire the sincerity.  This does not help with the acting.  You never want to pair bad actors with sincerity.  The cast is less than stellar, as you would expect from a movie like this. Most of the passengers are on board as turbulence fodder (drink every time the plane is buffeted). Fortunately, the captain played by Fasan Tahur brings some gravitas to a stock role.  Like the acting, everything else is average.  This includes the CGI which consists primarily of faux Me 262s firing tracers. I have to give some credit for the twist of the alternative history.  Instead of having to worry about changing actual history, they have to find a way to change the history they are dealt.  However, by dangling an attempt to kill Hitler and then switching to simply dropping a radar set, the movie disappoints.  Imagine the laughs that the attempt on Hitler’s life would have produced!  When you are making a movie like this, go big!  You would think that would be the slogan of The Asylum.
 

GRADE  =  D

P.S.  Check out the poster.  Hilarious!  "Based on a true story" - yes, there was a World War II.  And why not Me 262s?

Sunday, December 27, 2015

QUEUE CLEANSING: Ardennes Fury (2014)



                “Ardennes Fury” (also known as “Battle of the Ardennes: Fury”)  is a mockbuster.  If you don’t know what a “mockbuster” is, neither did I until I researched this movie.  A mockbuster is a movie that piggy-backs off a major release to either fool people into buying the wrong DVD or to offer less discerning viewers more (but vastly inferior) entertainment on the same subject.  In this case, the target was "Fury".  ”Ardennes Fury” was produced by The Asylum.  It is a studio that has a reputation for straight to DVD releases like “Titanic II”, “Transmorphers”, and another queue dust-gatherer entitled “Flight World War II”.   “Ardennes Fury” was directed, written, and co-edited by Joseph Lawson.  Don’t look for him at the Oscars anytime soon.

                We are dropped into the middle of a fire fight.  Other than the title, there is no reference to the Battle of the Bulge and there is no snow to be seen.  Although low budget, they did not spare on the blanks as the opposing sides hammer away at each other across a field.  No one shames themselves by going prone and there is a lot of firing from the hip.  It’s that kind of combat movie.  The plot centers on the crew of an M4 Sherman tank and a few infantry attached to it.  While the tank waits, a group of four led by Sgt. Lance Dawson (Tom Stedham) go off to rescue an orphanage after encountering Sister Claudette (Lauren Vera).  One of the men is black, which is another clue that the Lawson is not much of a history buff.  While the snowy Battle of the Ardennes did see the rushing of black soldiers into combat, they were still in segregated units and there is no implication that Sgt. Rose (Lawrence Garnell, Jr.) has been separated from his unit.  One of the four is a boat-rocker named C.K. (Bill Voorhies) who clashes with Sgt. Dawson about ass-risking. 
black sarge and white sarge

                The movie becomes something of a chase film as the group tangles with an evil German officer who is not above executing civilians and torturing prisoners (including a rather graphic fingernail removal).  While the men and their charges are on the run, the stationary tank is taking on a series of German tanks with never a miss and nary a scratch.  All of this is happening as the clock ticks towards Operation Ardennes Fury which is to be a massive aerial bombardment of the area.  (The moviemakers seem to have confused this massive bombardment with Operation Cobra of the Normandy Campaign).  The chase whittles down our pursued until the climactic knife fight between Sarge and the bad German.  Their charge is punctuated by a P-47 dropping a bomb between them.  C.K.s redemption arc is completed as the tank comes riding to the rescue.

                Now that I know what a mockbuster is, I will be more tolerant toward movies like “Ardennes Fury”.  I is what it is – a low budget rip-off.  But it is a war movie, it was “free” and streaming on Netflix, and it was entertaining in a low expectations sort of way.  The best c word for it is not cult, it’s cheesy.  The acting is amateurish, probably because the actors were amateurs (or should be).  Stedham does looked grizzled so he matches the sarge role, but his thespian skills are lacking.  The rest of the cast is game, but you get what you pay for.  They aren’t helped by dialogue written by someone who has watched too many 1940s B war movies.  Speaking of which, there are a number of classic clichés that the movie incorporates.  The mission changes for humanitarian reasons.  The small group caught behind enemy lines.  The redemption of the troublemaker.  The evil German pursuer.  It’s all very predictable and unrealistic.  This is tempered a bit by the fast pace.  The music also smacks of a thousand second rate war movies.  In fact, the only thing that separates it from a cheesy Old School war movie is the CGI.  Lawson uses computers to overcome his lack of resources.  Although he managed to score a WWII era tank and a few other vehicles, most of the armored combat involves CGI.  This includes the explosions.  I guess CGI does not work well for tank interiors, so Lawson films the crew as though the tank is a convertible!  A tank with a moonroof - nice option.  Where “Fury” could rightfully brag about its use of an authentic Tiger tank.  Lawson could include several using video-game like graphics.  I will not argue that the cinematography isn’t fake looking, but what do you expect from a movie with its budget.  As CGI improves, the future of war movies is bright.  The quality will improve and with companies like The Asylum so will the quantity.  I assume there will always be enough men who want to play soldier in front of a camera.
five people playing army in the woods

                With all that said, although I don’t regret I watched it and did go in expecting what I got, it still is truly a bad movie.  Watch it with a six pack and you’ll guffaw instead of giggle.

P.S.  When it comes to mockbusters, it's best not to trust the poster.  (see above)


GRADE  = D

Friday, December 25, 2015

QUEUE CLEANSING: Tomorrow, When the War Came (2010)



                So I have decided to use this Christmas vacation to clean up my Netflix instant queue.  I have quite a few war movies that have accumulated over the years.  I keep meaning to get to them, but to tell the truth I have a strong suspicion that most of them suck.  It’s time to find out.  The plan is to watch as many as I can in the next two weeks and do mini-reviews on them.  Hopefully I’ll save my readers the pain of watching them.  But who knows, there may be some gems.  Let’s start with what looks like a “Hunger Games” wannabe.

                “Tomorrow, When the War Began” is an Aussie flick based on an apparently very popular series of young adult novels.  The series of seven novels chronicle a group of teenagers conducting a guerrilla war against an occupying power.  The novels were written by John Marston.  The movie was written and directed by Stuart Beattie.  It was a big hit in Australia, but did not travel well and made nary a blip in America.  Since the American market rulz, the lack of success in the States put the kibosh on any sequels.  Hello, Ender.  Meet Ellie.

                The movie is off to a horrific start when a teenage romp in the outback is doomed by “what’s the worst that can happen?” being uttered.  Ellie (Caitlin Stasey) is joined by her BFF Corrie (Rachel Hurd-Wood) and her boyfriend Kevin (Lincoln Lewis).  Coming along for heterogeneous group reasons are bad boy Homer (Deniz Akdeniz), nerdy Asian Lee (Chris Pang), rich girl Fiona (Phoebe Tonkin), and preacher’s daughter Robyn (Ashleigh Cummings).  They do the usual teenagers on a campout stuff.  The only unusual thing is the sight of an air armada instead of a meteor shower.  Being well versed in current events, they immediately surmise that the threatening talk of the resource-challenged “Coalition Nations” has decided to rape Australia of its ample resources and its Fosters.  Just kidding, they are just as clueless as American teenagers would be.  So when they return to their empty town, they are a bit perplexed.  A trip to the local everybody-but-them internment center and the eyewitness to an execution tell them this is not Mayberry anymore.  Ellie quickly assumes the role of badass as she blows up a riding lawn mower to eliminate pursuers.  Explosion #1.  A helicopter napalms the house they are hiding in.  Explosion #2.  Ellie steals a garbage truck for a chase scene involving machine gun enhanced dune buggies.  In between explosions and chases they even out their numbers by enlisting a pot head named Chris (Andy Ryan) whose short term memory does not include the fact that his town has been occupied by Asian Stormtroopers.  Now we can ponder which of the ladies is going to get to pair off with this loser.  War is hell!
from left to right:  the dope head, the priss, the nerd, the riot girl,
the juvenile delinquent, the preacher's daughter

                The party of eight high-tails it back to the ominously named outback campsite named “Hell”.  They discuss options, but the discussion comes to a halt as Ellie proclaims “It’s time to go to war”.  They will earn their freedom by cutting the enemy supply route by blowing up a bridge.  This will involve an oil tanker truck and a herd of cattle.  Prepare for EXPLOSION #3.
 
                “Tomorrow, When the War Came” is obviously aimed at an audience that I am not a member of.  I had never heard of the series it is based on.  Since it is not in the same familiar to baby boomer sphere that “The Hunger Games” exists in and I am not enamored with that movie series, I naturally was skeptical of this Aussie product.  Plus it smacked a bit of the egregious “Red Dawn” ilk.  Like “Red Dawn”, it plays to teenage fantasies of what they would do if adults were out of the way and they had to fend for themselves.  A real life video game.  I see these movies from the pessimistic perspective of one of the powerless adults.  It’s hard to believe we would not be totally f’ed if the scenarios of these types of movies came about.  However, let the kids have their fun.  Just don’t offend my intelligence too much.  And please kill off some teenagers along the way.

                I found the characters appealing.  The movie must have wanted it that way because there is little dysfunction in the group.  He-man Homer does not question Ellie’s leadership, for instance.  The characters are stock and cover all the major teenage stereotypes.  No surprise there.  The character arcs are also comfortably predictable.  Ellie is hardened by killing and takes charge because somebody has to, damn it!  Kevin panics early on but shakes it off (unrealistically).  Robyn proclaims she “shalt not kill”, but you know that ain’t gonna stick.  Bros before hosanna.  Fi learns sometimes you have to risk breaking a nail.  And so forth.   The ensemble does well enough for a movie of this subgenre.  Nobody shames themselves.

                The plot bounces between teenage chatter and kick-ass set pieces featuring the aforementioned explosions.  The dialogue is fine and not very smirk-worthy.  Some of the plot developments could be considered ridiculous if it were not for the fact that teenagers are involved.  For instance, Ellie and Fi turn off their walkie-talkies to discuss boys, which allows the enemy to sneak up on them.  The pairings do not rise much above PG level.  No one is going to die because they had sex.  This has some elements of a horror movie, but that is not one of them.  It is noteworthy that the most interesting characters are the females.  Ellie makes a good role model for teenage girls who will take to the hills when the Orientals come. And if you don’t want a movie cluttered with adult characters, this movie is for you.

                I found “Tomorrow, When the War Began” to be an entertaining trip into teenage fantasy land.  There is nothing wrong with having this subgenre of teenagers stepping it up into adult dilemmas.  However, as a reviewer I have to point out that by catering to a specific demographic, these movies usually sacrifice elements that make movies excellent.  I am quite sure Beattie was not dreaming of a Best Picture Oscar.  I am equally sure he expected the movie to be the start of a franchise.  It’s a shame it will not be because I would have liked to have seen the sequel.  As it is, I might check out the book and do a book/movie post in the future. 


GRADE  =  C  

Monday, December 21, 2015

BOOK / MOVIE: The Dogs of War (1974/1980)




                “The Dogs of War” is a movie by John Irvin (“Hamburger Hill”, “When Trumpets Fade”) based on the novel by John Forsyth.  The movie was filmed in Belize and is set in a fictional African nation of Zangaro.  It is a story of an attempted coup by mercenaries on behalf of a British corporation that wants mineral rights in the country.  It stars Christopher Walken, two years removed from “The Deer  Hunter”.

                The movie begins with our anti-heroes fleeing from a botched rebellion in some Central American nation.  Their leader, Cat Shannon (Walken), returns to his seedy apartment in New Jersey and tries to reconcile with his ex-wife.  He wants to settle down and move to Wyoming or some such place.  She and the audience say “sure!”  Oh well, back to work.  Shannon gets a job from a shady character named Endean (Hugh Millhis).  His boss is the CEO of a large corporation which wants a crazy African dictator named Kimba overthrown because the tycoon wants to spread democracy.  Just kidding, he wants the mineral rights so he can add that next billion to his wallet.  Being a mercenary, Shannon takes the job and reunites the band.  First, he has to reconnoiter the capital of Zangaro.  Two things of significance happen on the scouting expedition.  He meets a comely African lass who turns out to be Kimba’s mistress.  The second thing is that because of the girl he gets tortured by Kimba’s lackeys.  In prison he meets a kindly doctor who lost the election to Kimba.  Upon return to America, Shannon begins preparation for the coup.  After acquiring the necessary weapons (including a bad-ass gun called a XM-18) , Shannon and his four buddies take a freighter to Africa.  They are joined by some Africans who will serve as cannon fodder.  The plan is to assault the Presidential compound with extreme prejudice and then Endean will bring in an equally repulsive African general to become the new Idi Amin.  Except this monster will be in corporation’s pocket.

                “The Dogs of War” is one of the more famous mercenary movies.  It bears closest resemblance to “The Wild Geese” and is part of a subgenre that continues with the recent “Expendables” movies.  “Dogs” is an above average entry in the soldiers of fortune milieu.  Like most of them, it is low budget.  And the cast is actors who are either going to be famous, or more likely, on the downside of their careers.  Usually these movies are ensemble pieces, but “Dogs” is really a one man show.  Walken dominates with his smoldering intensity.  He must have intimidated the editor because his second in command Tom Berenger got left mostly on the cutting room floor. The rest of the cast is blah.  And we don’t care because there is virtually no character development.  Technically the movie is average.  The cinematography is nothing special.  Irvin is not trying to stand out from typical merc flicks in his first feature film.  The action sequences are pedestrian.  The tired, but trusted trope of good guys firing randomly to create fireworks.  The one outside the box move was to include the XM-18 which is a multi-barreled assault weapon that can fire a variety of ordinance such as fragmentation, grenades, anti-tank, and anti-personnel.  It really livens up the party. 

                The plot is predictable and cliché-ridden.  Shannon is a war –weary warrior who only knows how to do one thing.  Naturally he loses his wife over his avocation.  He may not be a lover, but he is a killer with a heart of gold (or in this case, platinum). Endean represents the evil, greedy tycoon who is more powerful than any politician.  The movie includes some twists that the average mercenary movie fan will be surprised by, but the average viewer will see coming from a mile away.  (Oops, I think I just questioned the intelligence of merc movie maniacs.  Sorry.  Don’t get your panties in a bunch.  Oops.)  It would have been nice if the dialogue was a little tongue in cheek (like “Expendables”), but this is the young Walken, not the SNL Walken.  In fact, the funniest moment comes when the four mercenaries enter the compound and pose for a kick-ass movie poster with guns a blazin’.  The big action set piece is entertaining in a mindless way, but the buildup is boring.

                As  I have mentioned before, my theory is that any competently made movie based on a book should be better than the source material.  The only excuse is if the technology or budget is not capable of replicating scenes from the book.  There is no excuse for the plot to be worse than the book.  In this case, the plots differ in substantial ways.  The book is in many ways a tutorial for anyone who wants to overthrow an African dictator.  Forsyth was familiar with mercenaries, arms dealers, and African coups.  He spends the vast majority of the book showing off his insider’s knowledge.  Thankfully the movie just alludes to all the details that go into overthrowing an African government.  I found all the jetting around by the various team members to put all the pieces together to be tedious.  Maybe if I wanted to be a soldier of fortune someday, but the truth is that I could care less about an “end user” certificate.

                Where the book is superior to the movie is in the set-up and pay-off.  The novel gives the background that the movie is obtuse about.  Forsyth covers the geologist discovering the platinum at a mountain in Zangara and Marson’s subsequent efforts to get a monopoly on the site.  We also learn how Shannon finds out that the mission is wealth dominated.  Part of this knowledge comes from an affair with Marson’s sluttish daughter.  The book does not have the wife subplot.  (We get Jo Beth Williams instead of Bo Derek.)  The battle is also quite different, but ends up in basically the same place.  It is more realistic tactically than the film, but not as entertaining.  The aftermath of the coup is better in the book.

MOVIE =  C

BOOK  =  D

Sunday, December 13, 2015

SHOULD I READ IT? Stalingrad: Dogs, Do You Want To Live Forever? (1959)



                “Stalingrad: Dogs, Do You Want to Live Forever?” is a German movie made around the time German prisoners taken on the Eastern Front were returning home.  The few that survived captivity, that is.  It is noteworthy for its realistic take on the ultimate Wehrmacht disaster. 

                The movie opens with a narrator telling us that the year is 1942 and things are about to take a turn for the worst for the German army in the Soviet Union.  A Soviet counterattack is coming and this will be the story of some of the survivors of that maelstrom.  The main character is Oberleutnant Wisse (Joachim Hansen).  He has been assigned as liaison officer to a Rumanian unit.  You don’t see that role in many movies!  On the way to his posting, he helps a Soviet girl named Katya (Sonja Ziemann) avoid being deported.  When he arrives at the Rumanian camp, the officer he is replacing is in a big hurry to leave.  Oh, oh.  Another officer warns him about his superior – Major Linkmann (Wolfgang Preiss -  Rommel in “The Longest Day”).  Linkmann appears to be a kool-aid drinking Nazi.  The Rumanian general complains about the lack of everything.  The movie makes the point that the Rumanian allies were not so much incompetent as they were ill-supported. 

                On Nov. 11, they know the attack is coming.  Linkmann tells Wisse that the Hitler is using the Rumanians as cannon fodder and they will escape when the shit hits the fan.  Wisse turns action hero by blowing up a Soviet tank before they retreat.  Winter arrives.  They are trapped and Gen. Von Paulus resists advice that he needs to break out while they still can.  Wisse remains optimistic while the other officers grumble and criticize Hitler.  The rescue effort by Gen. Hoth (bizarrely subtitled “Hooth”) is chronicled.  Von Paulus remains pig-headed.  Meanwhile, Wisse is transferred to an artillery battery.  Guess who his new commanding officer is?  Linkmann.  He has morphed into Capt. Cooney from “Attack!”  In other words, he talks the talk, but is a closet coward.  He also reminds one of Capt. Stransky from “Cross of Iron”.  He stays in his bunker most of the time while he spouts about the greatness of der Fuhrer.  Until he decides he wants to take Stalin up on that surrender offer.  The movie is not just a two man show.  Wisse has his buddies Bose, Kramer, and Konowsky.  They make a likeable quartet making the best of a very bad situation.  And there is a surprise reappearance of a damsel who returns a favor.  No kiss because it’s not that kind of movie. The movie covers the entire siege of Stalingrad and ends with the German surrender.
Katya and Wisse go on a date

                This movie was a revelation for me.  It is not very well known and has been overshadowed by the other Stalingrad movies like “Enemy at the Gates” and “Stalingrad” (1993).  I could make a case that it is the best of the lot.  Once again, I am amazed that after five years and over 200 war movie reviews, I still am seeing excellent movies that I have never seen before.  And I am also stunned at how accessible war movies are now.  There is no way I could be doing this even ten years ago.  Netflix has been the Holy Grail, but You Tube is also wonderful for war movie buffs.  I found this movie on You Tube.  We have come so far since my childhood when we would wait an entire year for the next network showing of “The Great Escape”.  What an incredible world for cinephiles!

                “Stalingrad:  Do You Want to Live Forever?” gives both the macro and micro view of the most important battle of WWII.  It is by far the best Stalingrad movie for those who want to learn about the battle from the German point of view.  Hell, you get actors portraying Von Paulus and Hitler!  The movie is excellent on command decisions.  The narration does an great job with the big picture.  We have a clear idea what the strategic situation is.  For example, the narrator explains that Goering’s supply air lift was a failure.  The movie has a documentary feel to it and uses archival footage effectively although some might carp about weapons systems appearing out of chronology.  Although a German film, it is not propagandistic.  It is fair to both sides and especially fair to the woeful Rumanians.  It does not sugarcoat the mistakes the Germans made, but it does omit the atrocities by both sides.

                The big surprise is in the production values.  The cinematography is nicely done and the archival footage is fairly seamless.  An interesting touch is the fading out of the scenes.  You don’t see that very often in a war movie.  The movie does a good job depicting the effects of the wintery weather.  The rubble is well-rendered and the sound effects of battle are realistic.  The acting is a real strength.  Preiss is his usual solid self and adds some gravitas as the only recognizable actor for an American audience.  Did he make any non war movies?  The rest of the cast is good, especially Hansen.  The characters are appealing and the movie even manages to get a female character in.  Katya bookends the movie in an unrealistic, but entertaining way.  The soldiers behave naturally and the dialogue fits.   The movie is not without clichés.  Linkman is your typical odious Nazi sycophant.  Wisse is a bit too good to be true. His arc from committed to disillusioned is a stretch, but represents a basic theme of the German soldier in the winter of 1942.

                War movie lovers need to see this movie.  And it’s so easy to do now that we have it on You Tube.  Don’t let the subtitles scare you away.  It is one of the 100 Best War Movies ever made.

GRADE  =  A

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

NOW STREAMING: Beasts of No Nation (2015)



                “Beasts of No Nation” is based on the acclaimed novel by Uzodinma Iweaga (2005).  The book is about a child soldier in an unnamed west African country.  Cary Joji Fukunaga wrote the adapted screenplay and directed the film.  He spent seven years on the project.  It was filmed in Ghana and the thirty seven day shoot was fraught with problems including Fukunaga contracting malaria.  The movie was a sensation on the international awards circuit and the world distribution rights were bought by Netflix.  When Netflix decided to stream it on their service simultaneously with releasing it to theaters this caused the major theater chains to boycott the film.  Netflix was being punished for violating the traditional 90 day wait before a movie can released after its appearance in theaters.  I have to go with the theater chains on this one. 

               A narrator tells us the country is at war.  Schools are closed and children are looking for things to do.  Oh oh.  Agu (Abraham Attah) and his family are living a decent life in a buffer zone protected by Nigerian peace-keepers.  This will change when the government’s military forces enter the zone.  Agu’s mother and siblings are sent away in the mass exodus, but he has to stay behind with his older brother and father.  Agu’s father and brother do not survive the cleansing process.  Agu escapes to the jungle where he is captured by a motley crew called the National Defense Force.  The creepily charismatic, but dangerously demented leader is “the Commandant” (Idris Elba).  He sees something in Agu and adds him to his band. Training montage intercut with indoctrination from the Commandant.  Initiation via a gauntlet.  Agu has found a new family.  He strikes up a friendship with a mute soulless comrade named Strika (Emmanuel Nii Adom Quaye).  The commandant insists Agu prove he belongs by executing a captive using a machete.  In an indelible scene in slo-mo and soundless, Agu complies and then some.  He is all in now.

                The NDF attacks a bridge and the Commandant uses his charisma to fire up his boys.  This charisma goes from sinister to demonic when the Commandant’s special interest in Agu turns sexual.  Fortunately, not graphically.  A village massacre is ill-timed because the supreme commandant Dada Goodblood is in the “we’re not thugs anymore” phase of his political evolution.  The Commandant is now a political liability and is demoted.  The high fives have turned into a dagger in the back.  So to speak.  He takes his force off to carve out his own domain.  Things do not go well.  The salad days of murdering, raping, and looting are sadly over.  And charisma can only carry you so far when your men are starving, diseased, and getting their asses whipped.  How long will Agu remain loyal to his molester?  Will he ever get to have that childhood?

                “Beasts of No Nation” is the best movie about child soldiers in Africa, but I found it a bit disappointing.  I read the book a while back and was disappointed in it as well.  It is hard to say what is missing.  The acting is stellar.  Obviously the big draw is the wonderful Elba and he is worth the price of admission (or a Netflix subscription).  He is perfect for the Commandant and may get some Academy Awards consideration.  His transformation from Machiavellian to Mephistophelian is intriguing.  Attah is excellent, but Agu’s arc is problematical.  He is not a typical child soldier (like Strika) because he does not lose his humanity.  He does not become hardened and a coldblooded killer.  This does not strike me as realistic.  Strangely, the plot sets up the expectation of a conflict between Agu and Strika as Agu becomes the new pet, but does not deliver. I give the film credit for being unpredictable.  There is no losing virginity scene, for instance.  The film can’t avoid the obligatory child play scenes.  In contrast, the movie pulls its punches on atrocities.  Well, not on the one where Agu earns his stripes.  But that is the only time Agu kills anyone. 

                “Beasts of No Nation” is a very good tutorial on child soldiers.  Unfortunately, it did not have the guts to tell it like it really is.  It is an interesting movie and has some great acting and some amazing cinematography.  It is well worth the watch, especially if you have Netflix and can stream it free.  I could get used to watching new quality war movies from the comfort of my study.  It’s just that after you have seen so many war movies that accurately portray the dehumanizing effect of war on adults, it’s a bit hard to swallow a happy ending for an impressionable boy.


GRADE  =  B