Thursday, June 28, 2018

CRACKER? Savior (1998)

                “Savior” is another movie set in the Bosnian War.  In fact, it was the first movie shot in Serbia after the war ended.  Director Predrag Antonijevic, who was a political prisoner during the war, attempted to bring the dysfunctional nature of the war to Western audiences.  To gin up interest, the movie stars Dennis Quaid. 

                Quaid plays Joshua Rose.  Joshua is a State Department official stationed in Paris.  His wife (the second-billed Natassja Kinski) is killed by Islamic terrorists before Kinski’s name appears in the credits.  Joshua responds in a human way by going to a mosque and opening fire on Muslims.  Then it’s off to a new life and new name (Guy) in the French Foreign Legion.  Six years pass and he is a mercenary sniper for the Bosnian Serbs.  He lives to kill Muslims and Bosnia in 1992 is the best place in the world to do that.  He is soulless and does not shirk from shooting kids.  He would be unredeemable if this was not a movie.  In a bombed out town, he and his Bosnian partner Goran encounter a Serbian woman named Vera (Natasa Ninkovic).  She has been impregnated by a Muslim soldier which means Bosnian Serb men consider her to be dishonored.  Guy regains his humanity and starts his redemption arc when he saves Vera from being murdered by his partner.  He then delivers the baby.  At this point the movie becomes a road picture and a chase film.  Guy and Vera’s odyssey to a safe zone brings them into contact with the type of characters you find in a civil war.  They are helped at one point by an old Serbian/Croat couple.  The old  man sums up the war:  “I am Croat, my wife Serb.  Before the war – no difference.  Now… stupid”.  The chase involves Goran’s vendetta-minded relatives (assisted by Vera’s father).  Through this hellscape, Guy and Vera bond, of course.  If you think they are going to get married and live happily ever after, think again.

                “Savior” is a grim movie that informs an American audience about the mess that was the Bosnian War.  Quaid’s participation brought it some recognition, but the brutally honest take on the war was not exactly box office magic.  Quaid is excellent as the broken Joshua.  He behaves the way I could see myself behaving given what happens to his wife.  The redemption cliché is stale, but necessary.  Natasa Ninkovic holds her own.  She won several best actress awards at various festivals.  There is chemistry between the leads, but thankfully the movie is not a traditional romance.  There are some despicable villains including a Chetnik leader who carries medieval weapons in a golf bag.  There are some powerful scenes, none more gut-wrenching than when that villain massacres a group of civilians while Guy watches in hiding with the baby.  The movie is not without flaws.  It tends to get melodramatic is spots.  It is sometimes difficult to tell the Serbs from the Croats (but maybe that was intentional for a war that had no good guys).  And it has a weird and unsatisfying ending. 

                Will it crack the 100 Best War Movies?  Nope, but it is not a bad movie and deserves a watch.  Especially if you have not seen a movie about the Bosnian War.


Sunday, June 24, 2018

SHOULD I READ IT? Au Revoir, Les Enfants (1987)

                “Au Revoir, Les Enfants” (“Goodbye, Children”) is an autobiographical film by Louis Malle (“Lacombe, Lucien”) who wrote, produced, and directed the film based on his experiences as a young Frenchman in WWII.  The movie was a critical smash and was nominated for Academy Awards for Best Foreign Film and Best Original Screenplay.  It won the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival.  It was a box office success.

                The movie is set in occupied France in 1943-44.  A boy named Julien (Gaspard Manesse) is shipped off to a Catholic boarding school.  A bed-wetter, Julien is not exactly thrilled to go.  He fits in well, however, and is high on the pecking order among the boys.  Three new boys arrive, including Jean (Raphael Fejto).  At first, Julien does not get along with Jean partly because he supplants Julien as the star pupil.  The movie depicts the typical school boy hazing.  Before long, Julien discovers that Jean is a Jew who is being given refuge in the school by the headmaster Pere Jean.  Julien keeps the secret and he and Jean become friends.  And everyone lives happily ever after, not.

                I have to admit I do not get the acclaim for the movie.  To me, it was nothing special.  In fact, I found it boring and predictable.  Spoiler alert, the only thing positive I can say about it is it is based on a true story and that story is not laughably enhanced.  Louis Malle was sent to a boarding school during the war and one day the Gestapo arrived and took away three Jewish students and a Jewish teacher.  They also arrested the headmaster Pere Jacques.  Pere Jacques is a historical figure who died soon after the Mauthausen concentration camp was liberated.  He was later granted the Israeli honor of Righteous Among the Nations.


Wednesday, June 20, 2018

FORGOTTEN GEM? The Great Locomotive Chase (1956)

                “The Great Locomotive Chase” is a Disney live-action film about a famous incident in the American Civil War.  The Andrew’s Raid was meant to help the Union offensive to capture Chattanooga in 1862.  Some of Andrew’s men were the first Congressional Medal of Honor recipients.  The movie stars Fess Parker who had recently reached superstardom in Disney’s “Davy Crockett” series.  Disney was hoping the movie would tap into the mania over the TV program.  The movie was also made because Walt Disney was a huge train nut.  The Disney company was able to find some antique locomotives to stand-in for the museum bound stars of the movie.  The General was played by the William Mason which was built in 1856.  The director was Francis Lyon (“The Young and the Brave”).  Parker’s co-star Jeffrey Hunter was just reaching stardom as “The Searchers” was released three months before “The Great Locomotive Chase”.  It may be the first Disney movie with cursing.  Several times Rebels say “Damn Yankee”.

                “This true life historical adventure is based upon a real incident in the American Civil War”.  The survivors of the Andrew’s Raid are receiving the Medal of Honor.  One of them, Cpl. William Pittenger (John Upton), takes us to a flashback to the event and narrates.  It all started when Gen. Mitchell summons a civilian spy named James Andrews (Parker) to outline a plan to aid his capture of Chattanooga.  He wants Andrews to lead a group of volunteers purloin a Confederate train and do so much damage to the line from Atlanta to Chattanooga that Confederate reinforcements will not be able to reach Chattanooga.  Andrews is game and he and his men head for Marrietta, Georgia.  One of the sixteen is a hothead named Campbell (Jeff York) who has a hard time concealing his antipathy toward Rebels.  He is allowed to volunteer for cinematic purposes.  At Marrietta, the men dressed as civilians board a Northbound train called The General.  At Big Shanty, they steal the train at a breakfast stop.  They begin their mission of breaking up track and cutting telegraph lines.  They have to conform to the strictly enforced train schedule, but everything seems to be going according to plan.  However, they had not factored in one William Fuller (Hunter).  Hunter was the General’s conductor and he was not going to give up his locomotive without a fight.  He starts chasing the train on foot, then on a hand-car, then on another train.  Meanwhile, Andrews is bluffing his way through stations and encounters with southbound trains.  The final stage of the chase has Fuller racing backwards in The Texas.

                “The Great Locomotive Chase” was the first Disney live-action film that dealt with an historical event.  It must have surprised audiences who were used to fantasies (“20,000 Leagues under the Sea” -1954) or childrens’ animation (“Lady and the Tramp” -1955).  Not only is it a history lesson, but the vibe was not light.  There is no humor and there is not a single cute animal (like the seal in “20,000 Leagues”).  On the other hand, no one dies.  The acting is fine (especially by Parker and Hunter), but the real stars are the trains.  Although the movie is not just aimed at young boys, it definitely catered to them.  It’s more of an adult movie than most Disney pics of that era.   The chase is exciting and Andrews and Fuller are worthy adversaries.  Yanks and Rebs had someone to root for.  Importantly, the movie is sympathetic towards both sides.  In fact, the movie concludes with a scene that is obviously meant to symbolize reconciliation between the North and South. The music is a plus and fits the script well. It is a mixture of Yankee and Rebel favorites like “Dixie” and “Tenting on the Old Campground”. Surprisingly, the dialogue is not rife with cornpone.   The main strength is its amazing fidelity to history.  You would not think that is 2017 the best source for learning about the Andrew’s Raid would be a Disney movie.  It is certainly better than Buster Keaton’s “The General”.  It takes no major liberties with the story, but it didn’t have to.  A documentary would be entertaining, this has Davy Crockett and real trains.


HISTORICAL ACCURACY:  The movie is amazingly accurate.  Eight of the survivors were awarded the first Medals of Honor.    One was Cpl. William Pittenger who went on to write several narratives about the raid.  The plan was essentially as outlined.  Gen. Mitchell was planning an offensive to capture the key city of Chattanooga.  The scheme to hijack a train and wreak havoc on the line leading to the city was Andrews’.  Originally there were 24 men involved, but only 22 actually made it onto the train.  All of them were soldiers who volunteered, except Andrews and William Campbell.  Campbell was a civilian recruited by Andrews.  There is no reason to believe he was a jerk as depicted in the movie.  The group did rendezvous at Marrietta, Georgia and boarded the train there.  They hijacked the General in Big Shanty.  Fuller was the conductor and he (and two others) chased after his locomotive on foot, then a handcar, then two different trains.  The Raiders managed to stay just ahead of Fuller.  They pulled up tracks, cut telegraph lines, and attempted to burn bridges, but rains made the wood wet and they were not successful in flaming the structures.  They did manage to destroy some track to force Fuller back on foot.  Things turned when Fuller hooked up with the Texas at Adairsville.  He had to run the locomotive in reverse, but made good time (he got the locomotive up to 60 MPH) and gained on the General.  Although Andrews had done a masterful job of conning railway officials into believing the General was carrying high priority munitions, the military evacuation of Chattanooga created a lot of traffic going south and this slowed his progress considerably.  With the Texas in sight, the Raiders tried unhooking two boxcars but the Texas simply pushed them on ahead.  I found no evidence that the Raiders were able to set the boxcars on fire or leave a flaming boxcar on a bridge.  (Hollywood has to have its fire.)  The chase ended when the General ran out of fuel and Andrews ordered the men to separate and try to escape.  They did not make a stand and there was no cavalry arriving.  However, failure to cut one telegraph line had allowed for alerting the Confederate army in Chattanooga which sent soldiers who ended up capturing all of the Raiders.  The chase had lasted over seven hours and the Raiders had covered 87 miles.  They were only 17 miles from Chattanooga when they stopped.  Eight of the prisoners were executed – Andrews and Campbell for being civilian spies and six chosen randomly.  The prison breakout occurred later.  Ten of the survivors broke out and eight eventually made it back to the North.  Pittenger and five others were exchanged for Confederate prisoner.  All of the soldiers were awarded the Medal of Honor.  Andrews and Campbell were excluded because they were civilians.  

Saturday, June 16, 2018


1.  What movie is the picture from?

2.  What movie is this quote from?

"Generals can do anything. There's nothing so much like a god on earth as a General on a battlefield. "

3.  What movie is this?

  It is based on a non-fiction book entitled Le Front de l’Art by Rose Valland.  The film was originally helmed by Arthur Penn, but co-producer and star Burt Lancaster axed him because Penn wanted to make more of a character study and Lancaster insisted the action be revved up.  The film was shot on location in France.  No models were used.  The air bombardment of the marshalling yard was symbiotic because the French government wanted the area cleared anyway.  (That less than one minute scene required fifty men wiring TNT for six weeks.)  Lancaster (51) did all of his stunts.  This included sliding down a hillside.  When he injured his knee stepping in a hole while golfing, it was written into the script that he would be wounded while fleeing under fire.  

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

CRACKER? Mine (2016)

                “Mine” is an Italian and American production directed by Fabio Guaglione and Fabio Resinaro in their debut.  It was filmed in Spain.  The movie was low budget and had limited release in America where it did not make a splash.

                The movie is set in an unspecified North African country.  A sniper named Stevens (Armie Hammer) and his spotter named Madison (Tom Cullen) are on a mission to assassinate a high value target.  Stevens is reluctant to take the shot because the target is part of a wedding party and there are children involved.   Madison argues for doing their job and a higher-up orders it, but Stevens still refuses.  The duo are spotted and only a sand storm saves them.  Unfortunately, their trek takes them into a minefield and Stevens steps on a mine.  Uh oh!  He started in a war movie which morphed into a Western (Indians chasing cowboys) and then evolves into a psychological thriller.  He’s gonna have to stay on that mine for 52 hours before any rescue can be attempted.  Tick-tock.  Those 52 hours will give him plenty of time to flashback to daddy issues. 

                “Mine” is a showcase for Hammer and he acquits himself well.  But it’s not like he is breaking new ground.  If you watch a fair amount of war movies, you’ve seen the old “caught in a minefield” scenario before.  This trope makes much of the movie predictable, but the movie puts a new spin by pushing the psychological element.  In a sense, Stevens spends time on a mine instead of a psychiatrist’s couch.  That is certainly more entertaining for us.  Throw in some surrealism and you have the horror element.  The movie is downright freaky at times as Stevens interacts with a Berber who stands in for a shrink.  He advances the theme that a person needs to move on from a traumatic childhood.  Stepping off the mine symbolizes moving on.  The movie tries to be deep, with some success.  It is also semi-successful in being entertaining.  It does make you wonder what you would do under similar circumstances.  However, because the movie is quite unrealistic, it is unlikely anyone would ever be in the situation Stevens gets himself into.  It’s pure Hollywood.

                “Mine” is a nice time-waster.  You would kick yourself for seeing it in a theater, but at home when you’re not in a binging mood, it should keep your eyes open.  I don’t want to discourage movie-makers from making war movies and at least it’s not one of those terrible straight-to-DVD crapolas.  


Monday, June 11, 2018

R.I.P. John Wayne

John Wayne passed away on this day in 1979 at age 72.  Here are his top 5 war movies (in my opinion):






Sunday, June 10, 2018


Here's a sampler of content in my new War Movie Lovers group on Facebook.


.  “I love the smell of napalm in the morning. You know, one time we had a hill bombed, for 12 hours. When it was all over, I walked up. We didn’t find one of ‘em, not one stinkin’ dink body. The smell, you know that gasoline smell, the whole hill. Smelled like … victory. Someday this war’s gonna end.”  — Lt. Col. Bill Kilgore, “Apocalypse Now” (1979)
WAR MOVIE TRIVIA -  The Manchurian Candidate

menta     mentalfloss

1.  United Artists did not want to make the film because of the political controversy.  Frank Sinatra went to Pres. Kennedy who was a big fan of the novel.  Kennedy contacted the studio head and got him to change his mind.
2.  Angela Lansbury was only three years older than her “son” Laurence Harvey.
3.  The movie came out in the midst of the Cuban Missile Crisis.
4.  When Marco visits Raymond in his hotel room towards the end of the film, Sinatra is filmed out of focus.  Critics lauded this cinematography for showing Raymond’s distorted perspective.  Actually, the assistant cameraman screwed up the shot and director Frankenheimer was upset and wanted to reshoot it, but he could not get Sinatra to duplicate the performance.
5.  Sinatra wanted Lucille Ball for the Angela Lansbury role.
6.  Sinatra broke a finger in the fight scene with Henry Silva.  Later, when he was up for Dirty Harry, he could not grip the pistol properly and had to drop out.
7.  When Laurence Harvey jumped in the lake in Central Park it was so cold 
that ice had to be broken.
8.  The myth that the movie was pulled after the assassination of Kennedy was not true.  It was shown, but rarely because there was not a lot of interest in the film.


9.  In the novel, the relationship between Raymond and his mother is more incestuous and she even seduces him.  The movie could only go as far as a kiss on the lips.  (Surprisingly, the 2004 remake does not even have the kiss.)


10.  Mrs. Iselin is #21 on AFI’s list of 100 Heroes and Villains.

WAR MOVIE BACK-STORY -  All Quiet on the Western Front (1930)

The first great anti-war film was based on the greatest anti-war novel ever written.  Lewis Milestone took on the task of bringing Erich Remarque’s book to the screen and even considered casting Remarque as Paul Baumer.  Lew Ayres won the role and was so affected by it that he became a pacifist and jeopardized his career by claiming conscientious objector status in WWII.  His brave service as a medic helped regain much good will from the public.  Milestone had learned filmmaking in the Signal Corps during WWI.  He knew what war looked like from editing war footage.  He recreated no man’s land on a ranch in California.  Shell holes were blasted with dynamite and then filled with muddy rain water.  A French village was built on a back lot and included a canal that was dug for the swimming scene.  Twenty tons of black powder and ten tons of dynamite were used for the battle scenes.  One explosion resulted in Milestone being hit by debris and knocked unconscious.  2,000 extras were found in California by requesting help from American Legion posts.  The US Army could not provide soldiers because American doughboys could not appear in foreign uniforms on film.  The 99 day shoot was double the planned 48.  The $.9 million budget boomed to $1.4 million.  It paid off as the movie was a smashing success and won the Best Picture Oscar.  Milestone won Best Director and the film was nominated for Writing and Cinematography.  It was ranked #54 on AFIs original list of the 100 greatest movies, but did not make the revised list issued in 2007!  (See below for the list of war movies that made the list.)  It was not a smashing success in Nazi Germany, a country Remarque had been forced to flee for his life.  At its premiere, Goebbels had the Brown Shirts release mice, stink bombs, and sneezing powder to clear the theater.  The movie was pulled after a week and not shown again in Germany until 1952 ( the year Remarque returned to his homeland ).