Friday, December 27, 2019

WAR SHORT: Firebase (2017)

                        “Firebase” is a short film from Oats Studios.  Oats Studios is the brainchild of South African filmmaker Neill Blomkamp who was nominated for an Oscar for “District 9”.  His idea is to make experimental short films and provide them free via YouTube and Steam.  If there is enough interest and financing becomes available, the films might be expanded into feature films.  The start-up is a gamble as, based on “Firebase”, production costs are clearly way above whatever revenue they bring in.  Good luck, Neill.  Until his business model proves a failure, let’s enjoy the free content.

                        “Firebase” starts with a viewer discretion warning.  It is definitely not for children.  A title card informs us:  “This world is not our permanent home;  we are looking forward to a home yet to come.”  Sci-fi vibe established.  Immediately followed with a horror vibe via a mutilated corpse tied to a post.  But it’s also a war movie because it is set in Vietnam in 1970.  Footage establishes that Vietnam was hell.  Blomkamp imagines it as literally hellish.  The plot is so gonzo it is hard to summarize.  There is a River God who is wreaking havoc on American soldiers, transforming them into zombielike creatures.  A CIA operative enigmatically calls the monster “a mistake”.  He needs Sgt. Hines to liquidate the anomaly.  Hines is basically an anti-virus.  He is not only a kick-ass warrior, but he seemingly is invulnerable to the River God’s godlike powers.

                        I tend to think of short films as being low budget and thus low in production values.  This film does not fit that stereotype.   Blomkamp filmed in the jungles of South Africa with a snake wrangler to protect the cast and crew from black mombas.  So the jungle looks legit, but it’s the special effects and makeup that wow.  The reanimated corpses are shown in all their anatomical creepiness.  The River God is scary as hell.  It’s not a film you want to see alone on a stormy night.  Or if you are eating anything.  As hard as it is to believe, the movie is clearly a war movie.  Besides the footage, there is a fire-fight and Hines goes down into a tunnel.  There is a nifty recreation of a base camp and the film uses several Hueys.  It is also a sci-fi movie as there is some space-time continuum thrown in to make heads spin.  And there’s this electromagnetic coil gun (think BFG, Doom fans) and a relativity capsule to provide a force-field around the demon-slayer Hines.  The only weakness in the film is we don’t get to see that bad boy in action as the movie leaves the YouTube watchers screaming for more.

                        If it is transformed into a feature length film, it will have to have a big budget to follow through with what Blomkamp was able to do in 27 minutes.  He’ll probably look for big-name actors, but the cast here is good.  And they don’t have to spout ridiculous dialogue.  On paper, it might read as ridiculous, however.  Don’t think too much when you are watching it.  Let me know what you think in the comment section.


You can watch it here:  Firebase

a short teaser


Thursday, December 26, 2019

CONSENSUS # 52. The Killing Fields

SYNOPSIS:  “The Killing Fields” is a war journalism movie.  It is a tragic buddy film.  A New York Times journalist (Sam Waterson) is covering the situation in Cambodia when the Khmer Rouge is taking over.  He is aided by his Cambodian interpreter (Haing Ngor).  When the foreign journalists are evacuated, the interpreter is captured by the Khmer Rouge and put in an indoctrination camp.
BACK-STORY:    The movie was Roland Joffe’s directorial debut.  The screenplay was based on Schanberg’s article in the NY Times entitled “The Death and Life of Dith Pran”.  The movie was a critical and box office success.  A British film, it did very well at the BAFTAs winning Best Picture and Actor (Ngor) among other awards.  Amazingly, Ngor also won the award for Beat Newcomer.  It was nominated for Academy Awards for Picture, Director, Actor (Waterston), and Adapted Screenplay.  It won for Supporting Actor (Ngor), Film Editing, and Cinematography.  It is #30 on AFIs list of “Most Inspiring Movies”.  It is #100 on BFIs list of greatest British films of the 20th Century.
TRIVIA:  Wikipedia, imdb
1.  Ngor was in the labor camps.  His wife died in childbirth because she refused to call for his help because she knew the Khmer Rouge was murdering doctors.  After four years, he escaped to Thailand.  He was discovered by the casting director at a Cambodian wedding in Los Angeles.  He became the first Southeast Asian to win an acting Oscar.  He was the second non-professional actor to win one.  (First was Harold Russell for “Best Years of Our Lives”.)  He was murdered in his garage by a thief interested in his gold locket (which had a picture of his wife).  When his Oscar was found in his home, all the gold had been rubbed off it indicating that he had clutched it a lot.
2.  It has a 93% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
3.  The score is by Mike Oldfield of “Exorcist” fame.

Belle and Blade  =  N/A
Brassey’s              =  4.0
Video Hound       =  N/A
War Movies         =  5.0
Military History  =  no
Channel 4             =  #15
Film Site                =  no
101 War Movies  =  yes
Rotten Tomatoes  =   no

OPINION:   The plot is solid.  The theme of friendship is not maudlin.  The final reunion is touching and believable.  The movie does a good job of leaving doubts about Schanberg’s motives.  His guilt feelings come out and there is an element of redemption, but I felt he was something of an ass hole.  This ambiguity added to the depth of the character.  The theme of the perseverance of the human spirit as exhibited by Pran’s survival and escape is the main reason the film is rated as inspirational.  The camaraderie and competition between the journalists and their love/hate relationship with war is not ground-breaking, but well handled.  The government as cover-upper is also stereotypical, but Joffe does not rant.

                 “The Killing Fields” is an overrated movie, as are most from this subgenre.  Movie critics like to imagine that because they write for newspapers, they are kin to war journalists.  If they give one of these movies a bad review, they may have to face a collegue who will ask them if they have ever been in the shit.  Plus, those guys are fracking crazy and may bash your head with a beer bottle (or put their joint out on your face).  As far as the Academy voters are concerned, they love their screenwriter buddies who are cousins to the war journalists. 

Sunday, December 22, 2019

ANIMATION: War Game (2001)

       “War Game” is an animated war movie based on the famous Christmas Truce of 1914.  It is a faithful rendition of the story told in the children’s novel by Michael Foreman although some characters were added for the film.  The book is very popular and the movie won several awards, including the Children’s Choice Award at the British Animation Awards.  The movie was a welcome addition to the WWI movie fraternity.

                The movie opens with some British blokes playing one last football (soccer to Americans) match before enlisting for a much bigger game.  The soldiers are portrayed as puppets.  This movie is not exactly subtle.  Lord Kitchener literally comes out of the poster to encourage impressionable young men to “play the game”.  Crowds cheer and peers pressure and the main characters say “everyone else is going” to their parents.  So they’re off to the trenches with mother’s sobs ringing in their ears.  The trenches are nicely rendered, as is no man’s land.

                Months pass and it is Christmas time.  On the eve, German’s can be heard singing “Silent Night”.  On the morn a Brit comes out with a soccer ball and the fraternization kicks off, literally.  It’s more of a kickabout than a game, but fun is had by all.  Naturally, when the generals find out they are incensed with the thought that fun could coincide with hatred for the enemy and commitment to the war effort.  “There is to be no repeat of this unwarlike activity.”  And there isn’t, as the final scene emphasizes.  The Tommies go over the top following a soccer ball.  With predictable results.

                Clocking in at less than thirty minutes, “War Game” is a nice little movie and it does the service of introducing kids to a semi-famous incident in the Great War.  It is educational in that respect because it accurately renders the legend of the Christmas Truce.  I say “legend” because the incident (actually several similar incidents) is debated by historians.  The evidence for the fraternization comes mainly from letters and memoirs so there could have been some embellishment.  Evidently it did begin with Christmas caroling wafting across no man’s land on Christmas Eve.  Then the next day, some brave Christian soul dared to buck the trend and come out without belligerence.  Others followed and gifts of food, tobacco, and liquor were exchanged.  Tentative hand-shakes were followed by heartfelt hugs.  The soccer story is the cherry on top of the Christmas pudding.  This act of comradeship is referred to in a few primary sources and may have been more than one “game”.  The most heralded version had the Scots squaring off with the Germans.  According to one version, the Scots used the distraction of their kilts being blown by the wind to expose their bare bums to win the match.  Sadly, the movie does not depict this.  Maybe in the future “unrated, adult” edition.

                The animation is interesting.  However, that strength does not overcome the main flaws of the movie.  Even for a movie aimed at children, the plot is trite and very schmaltzy.  I think our current generation of kids who have been weaned on the Cartoon Network will not be impressed or entertained.  Plus the movie is pretty depressing.  The anti-war trope is better aimed at an adult audience.  Or young men approaching military age.  It is hardly ground-breaking to suggest that the youth of Britain were naïve about war and the powers that be were using them.  The movie deserves some credit for giving children an idea of trench life, but it does not give a realistic account of the Christmas Truce.  Hopefully it encourages research on the subject.


THE BOOK:  War Game by Michael Foreman is a children’s book.  The art work is watercolorish, but effective.  In the book, Freddie and his mates go to war due to peer and crowd pressure.  When they arrive in France, they go through typical soldier jobs which do not include combat until the end.  In the process of covering soldier life, Foreman throws in a lot of facts usually in the form of captions to actual pictures.  The book includes not just the drawings, but also a lot of cool propaganda posters and advertisements.  In this respect the book reads like a docudrama.  This sets it apart from most children’s books.  It also makes it a weird hybrid.  The story is aimed at children, but the facts are above their level.  Without the trivia, the book would be light-weight and frankly, boring.  You don’t really get to know the characters.  The plot is very simplistic, which is natural for a book aimed at children.  You get little of the misery the soldiers went through until the big, depressing finish.  As far as the soccer “match”, it is more of an actual game than the kick-around of the movie.


Thursday, December 19, 2019


1.  What movie is the picture from?

2.  What movie is this quote from?

Now I want you to remember that no bastard ever won a war by dying for his country. He won it by making the other poor dumb bastard die for his country. 

3.  What movie is this? 

  The movie fits into the sub-genre of old-school all-star epics with vignettes supporting the main story line.  It’s sisters are “The Longest Day” (1962) and “The Battle of the Bulge” (1965).  It was directed by Guy Hamilton of “Goldfinger” fame.  The screenplay is based on the book The Narrow Margin by Derek Wood and Derek Dempster.  During the filming, more bullets (in the form of blanks) were fired than in the actual battle.  The movie has a very impressive list of technical advisers which included Adolf Galland and Robert Stanford Tuck.  

Monday, December 16, 2019

SHOULD I READ IT? The Burmese Harp (1956)

                “The Burmese Harp” is a film by Kon Ichikawa (“Fires on the Plain”).  He also co-wrote it based on a children’s book by Michio Takeyama.  The book was more of a fantasy than the movie.  It was nominated for Best Foreign Language Film.  The movie was one of the first Japanese films with a pacifist bent.  It was remade by Ichikawa in 1985 and was a big hit.  I have not seen the remake.

                The movie opens in July, 1945 in Burma.  A Japanese company led by Capt. Inouye (Rentaro Mikuni) is retreating across mountains to try to reach Thailand.  One of the soldiers, named Mizushima (Shoji Yasui), plays a harp.  The men are anachronistically healthy, well-dressed, and not exhausted.  (And this is the director of “Fire on the Plain”?)  They stop at a village and the Burmese give them food without any coercion.  How nice of them.  Suddenly, a British column appears.  The Japanese join them in singing “Home Sweet Home” to avoid a firefight.  The Brits inform them that the war has been over for three days.  Mizushima volunteers to talk a more warlike unit into surrendering.  They are holding out in a cave.  The negotiations do not go well as this unit is more typical of the Japanese you find in war movies.  The British are not in a patient mood and Mizushima is lucky to survive in a life changing incident.  He decides to become a monk and bury dead soldier bodies.  His mates want him to return to Japan with them.  They communicate via talking parrot.  Make sure you get the DVD with parrot subtitles.

                “The Burmese Harp” is certainly different.  While not as fantastic as the source novel, it is like a fable in many ways.  If you treat it that way, you will be able to overlook the unrealistic elements of it.  Most of the plot could only have occurred in a children’s book.  I doubt many Japanese veterans recognized the Burma of this movie.  For a much more realistic view (although it is set in the Philippines), watch “Fires on the Plain”.  Ichikawa must have made that movie to balance “The Burmese Harp”.  Another fanciful theme is there is no dysfunction in Mizushima’s unit.  Everyone loves him.  It must be his harp playing.  Or his singing.  The movie has a lot of songs for a war movie.  I counted eight.  Hard core war movie lovers might want to factor that in when they decide whether to watch the movie.  If you don’t like a lot of songs, watch the movie for its creative cinematography.  It is a film school type movie.  You won’t learn about film clichés from it, however.  There is no sinister villain and it is not predictable.  The acting is fine and there is a unique character in the Burmese woman who trades with them and gives them the talking parrot.

                “The Burmese Harp” is not a must-see.  It is a nice little movie and I enjoyed it.  It depends on what you are in a mood for.  It and its evil cousin “Fires on the Plain” pretty much cover the two extremes of moods.  Fable or funereal.  Take your pick.


Saturday, December 14, 2019


                        “Bat*21” is the true story of the rescue of Lt. Col. Iceal Hambleton after he parachuted into North Vietnam.  He was an electronic warfare officer whose EB-66 was shot down during the 1972 Easter Offensive.  The planes call sign was Bat-21.  Hambleton was Bat-21 Bravo.  He survived eleven days on the run and was rescued in the longest and most costly rescue mission in the war.  His story was told by retired Air Force Colonel William Anderson in a book of the same name.  Anderson adapted his book for the screenplay.  The movie was directed by Peter Markle (“Faith of My Fathers”).  Hambleton served as the technical adviser.  It was made in Malaysia with substantial cooperation from the Malaysian government and military.

                        Hambleton (Gene Hackman) suggests a reconnaissance flight over an upcoming bombing route to ferret out enemy anti-aircraft positions.  Although he is a valuable electronic warfare expert, he hops a ride on the EB-66.  The very fake-looking plane gets hit by a SAM in a scene where you wish they had had CGI back then.  Hambleton ejects and is the only survivor.  On the ground, he comes under fire from enemy mortars, so the movie gets off to a shaky start.  Things pick up when Danny Glover shows up as “Bird Dog” Clark.  Capt. Clark is piloting a Cessna Skymaster in his role as part of search and rescue.  The two men communicate via radio and do the requisite bonding.  Since, besides us, the enemy are listening in, Hambleton devises a code using his favorite golf courses to inform Clark where he is going next.  He has to keep moving because the Commies are on his trail.  Keep in mind that this guy knows so much about our electronic warfare that if he is captured, the North Vietnamese will win the war!  The Air Force and the filmmaker are willing to do whatever it takes to rescue him.  Virtually every Vietnam War movie references “leave no man behind”.  This movie shows the efforts made to live up to that mantra.

                        “Bat*21” is the kind of movie that you wonder as you are watching it:  “how much of this is bull shit?”  It has several moments that made me face palm.  For example, Hambleton is ready to be picked up by a village.  Easy, peasy.  But it’s a trap!  A Huey drops mines between the enemy and Hambleton.  The mission is aborted, but a Jolly Green gets hit by an RPG and crashes.  The pilot and co-pilot are captured.  They shoot the co-pilot and force the pilot to tell them where Hambleton is.  Then they force him into the minefield where he steps on a mine.  Hambleton opens fire and Clark comes in to fire missiles so he can escape.  Phew!  There are some moments of truth in this scene, but most of it is for entertainment purposes only.  (See my Historical Accuracy section below) 

                        The reason to see the movie are the two leads.  Hackman and Glover are their usual reliable selves and they elevate the material.  It needs elevation because it is a pretty generic action thriller.  It may be set in the Vietnam War, but it could easily have been a Bruce Willis movie (with Samuel L. Jackson).  It does not avoid clichés.  The rear echelon MFers learn what war is really like.  Clark is disobeying orders because he knows what is right and to hell with his bosses.  There is a lot of action, in between all the talking.  It’s unrealistic as hell, but fun.  And it’s not just gunfire.  Hambleton is defended by a fleet of missile-firing and bomb-dropping aircraft.  Whoever was in charge of pyrotechnics earned their pay.  You get a lot of bang for your buck with this movie.  Much of the budget must have gone to explosives (and two salaries), leaving little for the rest of the production.  And you get to see the 58 year-old Hackman trekking through the jungle.  (Hambleton was 54.)   The cinematography is fine and we get some nice chopper-eye views.  The Malaysian jungle stands in well for the Vietnam jungle.  I hate to be a jungleist, but if you seen one, you’ve seen them all.

                        When it comes to Vietnam War, “Bat*21” is second tier.  If it wasn’t based on true story (loosely), it would be third tier.  That would put it with Hackman’s other opus – “Uncommon Valor”.  He made that movie five years earlier.  It did a lot better at the box office which reflects the public’s desire to see fantasy fiction over fantasy nonfiction.  I personally prefer “Bat*21”.  It is decent entertainment and it encouraged me to research Lt. Col. Hambleton out of curiosity about that bull shit issue I mentioned.  The real story is even more amazing.


HISTORICAL ACCURACY:  The setup is accurate.  Lt. Col. Hambleton was an electronic warfare officer assigned to Korat Air Base in Thailand.  It was his 63rd mission as a navigator aboard an EB-66 codenamed Bat-21.  It was a typical signals intelligence gathering mission to enable countering anti-aircraft efforts by the North Vietnamese.  This was in conjunction with a B-52 bombing strike as part of the Air Force’s reaction to North Vietnam’s 1972 Easter Offensive.  The EB-66 was hit by a SAM and Hambleton was the only survivor.  Hambleton did have Top Secret access to Strategic Air Command operations and was an expert of SAM countermeasures, so he was a  valuable commodity.  It is possible the North Vietnamese knew about his status and value.  This explains why both sides expended so much effort to get him. 

                        First contact with Hambleton was made by Forward Air Controllers in a Skywalker.  In fact, Hambleton made radio contact while he was still parachuting down.  They pinpointed his location in some bushes in a dry rice paddy.  They also reported that he was smack dab in the middle of the offensive.  Hundreds of soldiers were within 100 meters and the area was full of anti-aircraft assets.  Hambleton was able to direct Skyraiders and Phantoms in to harass the enemy closing in on his position.  A rescue attempt by two choppers failed as both were hit by ground fire.  One crashed with all but one of the crew killed (the one survivor was captured) and the other was severely damaged and forced to abort.  When the Air Force was informed of the identity of Hambleton, it declared a no fire zone to the standard 27 kilometers around him.  No friendly artillery or bombardment was to be done in the zone unless approved from the highest up.  The North Vietnamese, with the cooperation of the Soviets, were monitoring the situation and moved in more anti-aircraft units.  Two Jolly Greens were badly shot up.  The Air Force tried bombing around him, but the area remained very hot.  Another Jolly Green was shot down with all six killed.  All this time, Hambleton was hiding in a hole.  At one point ten Skyraiders tried to pave the way for  Search and Rescue team, but eight were damaged.  A Skywalker was shot down while directing protective fire.  One of the FACs was killed and the other was captured and died in prison.

                        It was the rescuers who suggested the golf holes code so he could avoid mine fields and get to the river.  Hambleton moved and went through the bombed out village that had shot up the two choppers earlier.  He killed a North Vietnamese soldier with a knife.  He fell off a cliff and broke an arm.  Continuing to move, but nearing the end of his rope, Hambleton managed to signal some Skyraiders.  One of the few SEALs left in Vietnam made it his mission to get to Hambleton.  Lt. Thomas Norris should have been the other hero in the movie.  This remarkable man risked his life to go behind enemy lines to rescue not only Hambleton, but another downed airman in the area.  Norris was accompanied by a South Vietnamese SEAL named Nguyen Van Kiet.  They located him and put him in a sampan and paddled down the river, sometimes under fire.  They called in air support and managed to deliver Hambleton to friendly forces.  

Thursday, December 12, 2019

Rescue Dawn (2006)

                        “Rescue Dawn” is the true story of Lt. Dieter Dengler, who was held prisoner in a Laotian prison camp until he escaped.  The film was written and directed by Werner Herzog (“Aguirre, the Wrath of God”).  It was his debut as a director of feature films.  Herzog adapted his screenplay from his documentary about Dengler entitled “Little Dieter Needs to Fly” (1997).  The documentary included extensive interviews with Dengler.  The movie is in the subgenre of survival films like “Hell in the Pacific” and “The Way Back”.  It was filmed in Thailand.

                        In February, 1965, Lt. Dengler (Christian Bale) was involved in bombing missions over Laos.  He flew off the aircraft carrier USS  Ranger in the Gulf of Tonkin.  Before his first mission, the pilots watch a jungle survival film and joke around.  Foreshadowing.  On that very first mission, Dengler’s A-1 Skyraider rolls in on the Ho Chi Minh Trail, is hit, and crashes in a rice paddy.  The CGI for this scene is poor, but the movie is not going to rely on effects.  He is quickly captured by the Pathet Lao.  Herzog does not use subtitles, so we are as confused as Dengler is.  He is interrogated by the usual English-speaking, suave enemy officer.  He is tortured and eventually taken to a camp. The camp holds only a few prisoners, two of them are Americans – Sgt. Gene DeBruin (Jeremy Davies) and Lt. Duane Martin (Steve Zahn).  Dengler immediately takes charge of the prisoners who all sleep in the same barracks with their feet in stocks.  Life in the camp is more gross than graphic.  Dengler hatches an escape plan which Debruin opposes because he feels they all will be killed.  The plan involves surprising the guards and getting their weapons.  Then all they’ll need to do is survive the jungle to reach friendly forces.

                        “Rescue Dawn” is the best Vietnam War POW movie.  Granted, the competition is weak.  Most of the movies are exploitation flicks like “Rambo II”, “Uncommon Valor”, and the “Missing in Action” series.  Hanoi Hilton” is the closest equivalent, since it is also a true story.  (Actually, the closest movie to it is the WWII drama “The Way Back”.)  “Rescue Dawn” merges the action of the escape/rescue films with the prison life of “Hanoi Hilton”.  The prison scenes accurately reflect the fact that Dengler and his mates were being held in conditions far from those of the Hanoi Hilton.  The movie is not a tutorial on Vietnam War prison camps.  And the escape accurately reflects the fact that this is not Stalag Luft III from “The Great Escape”.  The decision by Herzog to forego “enhancement” of the narrative probably explains the disappointing box office. 

                        Herzog deserves a lot of credit for adapting his documentary into a movie that would bring Dengler’s amazing tale to a broader audience.  He did well with the casting.  The acting is excellent, especially from Bale, Davies, and Zahn.  They committed totally to their roles (those are real worms Bale is eating) in what must have been a difficult shoot in the tropical Thailand climate.  No trailers were provided for the actors.  All the main actors lost weight for their roles (Bale lost 55 pounds) and in a show of solidarity, Herzog lost 30 pounds.  The film was shot in reverse chronology so they could gain back their weight during the shoot.  All three leads could have been nominated for their performances.  In many ways it is an ensemble effort as the other prisoners have their moments and the group interaction is entertaining.  There is naturally some dysfunction.

                          The decision to film in Thailand was great for verisimilitude.  It is a lush, but menacing setting.  The cinematography works well with the setting.  The camp is accurately depicted as low-rent and the guards are hardly the malevolent psychopaths we are used to seeing.  They have interesting personalities, as do the prisoners.  In fact, they are just as messed up as the prisoners.  Herzog sacrifices POW tropes for realism.  The movie is refreshingly free of clichés and implausibilities.  For instance, the escape is sloppy.  The violence is sudden, vicious, and thus, realistic.  Herzog also was not interested in taking a position on the war or being overly patriotic.  Dengler and the other prisoners do not debate whether it was all worthwhile. 

                        The plot is divided into four acts.  The opening and closing are the weakest.  The sections in the camp and the trek of Dengler and Martin are powerful.  This is mainly due to the acting.  Unfortunately, this results in the biggest problem with the movie.  When you hire Jeremy Davies, you get Jeremy Davies.  DeBruin is an excellent foil for the optimistic Dengler.  He is played as an unstable fly in the ointment.  But the truth is the real DeBruin was maligned by the film.  (See my Historical Accuracy section below)  His family was severely critical of the final product and justifiably so.  Herzog has subsequently admitted he should have known better.  He should have created a fictional character.  

                        Overall, although not perfect, “Rescue Dawn” is one of the better Vietnam War movies.  It tells a remarkable story with a commendable amount of accuracy (aside from the DeBruin portrayal).  Keep that in mind if you see it, because you are not going to get “John McCain Meets Rambo”.  It does have a lot of suspense, but it is not a pulse-pounding movie.  It is best viewed as a survival movie.


HISTORICAL ACCURACY:   Dengler entered the Air Force simply because he wanted to fly.  The Air Force would not let him, so he ended up in the Navy.  Although the movie depicts the pilots not taking the survival film seriously, Dengler had actually excelled at survival school.  He was the only one to gain weight as his poor upbringing had trained him to eat almost anything.  The movie does an excellent job showing this ability.  The flight was his first mission.  The crash is basically as it happened.  He was capture while crossing a clearing, not while drinking from a stream.  He was staked to the ground at night and marched during the day.  The movie does not show him escaping when his guards fell asleep.  He climbed to the top of a hill and tried to use a mirror to signal planes, but none appeared.  After several days, he came down to get some water and was recaptured.  The ant piles and water torture did occur.  The torture was more varied and worse than the movie showed.  He did refuse to sign a document condemning America.
                        He spent some time in a Pathet Lao camp before being transferred to the camp of the movie.  DeBruin and Martin had been in captivity for over two years.  DeBruin is very different than the character in the movie.  He taught the others English and shared his food.  He was the main author of the plan.  He used the nail to free their feet before Dengler even arrived.  It was also his idea to save their rice in the tubes.  The way the movie handles the rice situation is almost exactly the opposite of the real DeBruin!  It could be argued that the movie character assassinates DeBruin.  You cannot blame Dengler for this as he had nothing but positive things to say about DeBruin and if he had lived (he passed in 2001), he probably would have been upset with the movie.

                        The sleeping arrangement was accurately depicted.  They did supplement their food with snakes and rats.  The movie refers to the dysentery problem, but downplays it.  The plan was essentially the same, but it had been concocted before Dengler arrived.  Dengler took charge because he was in the best shape and was the most determined to escape. They did initiate the plan after overhearing that they were going to be liquidated.  The escape was close to the actual escape.  Dengler killed five as they approached him and Phisat Indradat shot another.  Two of the guards got away.  Seven prisoners escaped.  They broke into three groups with Dengler and Martin pairing up.  DeBruin apparently stayed with a prisoner who was ill.  It is unclear what happened to him.

                        The Dengler/Martin trek is accurately depicted in the movie.  They did build a raft to float to what they hoped would be the Mekong River.  They did have trouble with some rapids.  They did have a single sole that they shared.  The leaches were real.  They did manage to build a fire, but it was to signal a C-130, not a helicopter.  (After all, what would a helicopter be doing over Laos.)  The helicopter attack was a rare moment of enhancement by Herzog.  Martin’s death is pretty much how it happened.  They were trying to steal food from a village when a boy alerted the villagers.  A villager slashed Martin in the leg and then he was beheaded. Dengler escaped and went back to the abandoned village which he set afire to successfully signal a C-130, but the fire was not recognized as a plea for help.   Later after 23 days, Dengler was able to use a parachute to signal an Air Force Skyraider and got himself rescued by a helicopter.  He was taken to a hospital in Da Nang.  It was Navy SEALs who liberated him in a gurney because the Navy did not want the Air Force debriefing him.  He was greeted warmly back on the Ranger.

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

CONSENSUS #53 - The Dam Busters (1955)

SYNOPSIS:  “The Dam Busters” is an old-school British film about a bombing mission to destroy some German dams.  It covers the development of a “bouncing bomb” by a scientist named Barnes Wallis (Michael Redgrave) and the training and delivery by a squadron of Lancaster bombers led by Wing Commander Guy Gibson (Richard Todd).  The movie concludes with the iconic bombing raid.

BACK-STORY:  The studio asked Paul Brickhill to write a treatment of his book for a possible Richard Todd vehicle.  Brickhill decided to concentrate on just Operation Chastise and not include the later missions covered in the book.  Operation Chastise was the bombing of three Ruhr Valley dams using Wallis’ bouncing bombs.  R.C. Sheriff (“Journey’s End”) wrote the screenplay.  The director was Michael Anderson (“Operation Crossbow”).  It was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Special Effects.  It was nominated for BAFTA’s for Best British Film, Best Screenplay, and Best Film From Any Source.  It was voted the 68th best British film of the 20th Century.  It was the biggest box office success of 1955. 

TRIVIA:  Wikipedia, imdb
1.  It is based on “The Dam Busters” by Paul Brickhill and “Enemy Coast Ahead” by Guy Gibson. 
2.  It was the biggest box office hit in 1955 in Great Britain. 
3.  The climactic attack scene (and the one in “633 Squadron”) influenced the attack on the Death Star in “Star Wars”.
4.  The War Ministry made four Lancasters available for 130 pounds per plane per day.  This cost was 10% of the budget. 
5.  Guy Gibson’s dog was named N*****, so the movie is accurate about that.  The dog was not as beloved by the squadron as the movie implies.  The men would get him drunk and he would pee on their pants.  Unlike the movie, the driver of the car tried to avoid hitting him and several passengers were injured in the crash.  The dog used in the movie was also named N*****.  In 1999, ITV censored the name and in American versions of the movie, the name was changed to Trigger. 
6.  Before release, Gibson’s widow sued, which held the film up for months until references to her husband’s book were added to the movie.

Belle and Blade  =  3.5
Brassey’s              =  4.0
Video Hound       =  N/A
War Movies         =  3.8
Military History  =  no
Channel 4             =  #11
Film Site                =  no
101 War Movies  =  yes
Rotten Tomatoes  =  no 

OPINION:   It is historically accurate in the main points.  It is pretty realistic for its time.  It was a huge hit in England, helped by the thrilling opening theme.  It glamorizes the RAF like "Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo" recruited for the U.S. Air Force.  The two parts are both interesting and the raid itself is thrilling.  However, it is definitely old school in its quaintness and Peter Jackson's version should be much better, although unnecessary.  It may be the 53rd greatest war movie, but it is not the 53rd best war movie.

Saturday, December 7, 2019


1.  What movie is the picture from?  

2.  What movie is this quote from?

There are two people in this barracks who know I didn't do it. Me and the guy that did do it. 

3.  What movie is this?

  It is a black and white old-school war film released in 1953.  It is an unofficial sequel to the biopic “The Desert Fox” and James Mason portrayed Rommel in both.  It is set in the siege of Tobruk in 1941.  It lauds the 9th Australian Division’s role in the defense of the port.  It was directed by Robert Wise who later won Oscars for “The Sound of Music” and “West Side Story”.  It stars Richard Burton in only his seventh film.

Saturday, November 30, 2019

MINISERIES: The Dawns Here Are Quiet (2015)

                        The Soviet Union made a lot of good WWII movies like “Come and See” and “Ballad of a Soldier”.  My favorite is “The Dawns Here Are Quiet” which came out in 1972.  The movie was very popular and was nominated for Best Foreign Language Film by the Academy Awards.  It was based on a novella by Boris Vasilyev.  Vasilyev was a veteran of WWII. He volunteered in 1941 and was first in a “destruction battalion” which was a paramilitary unit under the control of the NKVD (basically the Soviet Gestapo).  Later he served in an airborne division until he was wounded in 1943.  He became a writer after the war and was noted for writing “lieutenant prose”.  This referred to novels written by lower ranking officers.  Usually the protagonist was a junior officer (like the author) and the plots involved brave acts in the face of bad conditions.  The subgenre was not overly patriotic and tended to remark on the hellish aspects of the war.  A new version of the classic was released in 2015 in theaters and then an extended version was shown on Russian TV in four 45 minute segments.

                        The movie is set in Karelia (near Finland) in probably 1942.  Sgt. Major Vaskov (Pyotr Fyodorov) is in command of an anti-aircraft unit in a small village.  He was wounded at the front and assigned this unglamorous job.  His men don’t take it seriously and do a lot of wining and wenching.  He complains to his superior and asks for replacements that don’t drink or screw around.  Be careful what you ask for.  He receives a half platoon of women.  Vaskov is thrown for a loop by his new subordinates who love pushing his buttons.  He insists on discipline, but you can’t simply treat them like they are men.  For instance, he has to build an outhouse for them.  A scene with the women in a steam bath will point out to the audience that they are definitely not males.  But they are soldiers.  When a German reconnaissance plane passes over the village, they competently shoot it down with their anti-aircraft gun.  A few days later, two German paratroopers are sighted in the forest.  Vaskov is ordered to take five of the women and track down the suspected saboteurs.  They set off and are shocked to discover that the two Germans are actually part of a sixteen man unit.  Vaskov decides their mission will be to keep the Germans from reaching their destination.  What started off as something of an adventure for the girls, becomes deadly serious.  But Vaskov is willing to teach and they are willing to learn.   The odds are very bad, however.

                        It must have been a risky idea to remake the beloved original, but Renat Davletyarov (director, producer, and co-writer) pulls it off.  He does not tamper with the plot much and most of the dialogue is retained.   Because he has more time to play with, he is able to flesh out the six characters more.  The original used flashbacks to give back-stories for the five women.  This version does more flashing back and is able to fill in information  where the original made you fill in the gaps yourself.  The original used a surreal approach to the flash-backs.  They were filmed in color and mostly on a spare sound stage.  Davletyarov wisely did not try to copy that.   Other than providing more information, this version is faithful to the point that the younger generation does not really need to see the original.  All of the deaths are very similar to the movie and just as poignant.  The strongest point of both versions are the unpredictable and memorable deaths.  I also commend the movie and miniseries for not forcing romance into the plot.  The dilemma the six are placed in develops comradeship and respect, not physical love.

                         The Soviet Union has to be third behind the U.S. and Great Britain when it comes to quality WWII movies.  That tradition seems to be continuing in Russia today.  Granted, this movie is not original, but it is technically sound.  The cinematography is good and the forest terrain is used effectively.  It is not as showy as the original, but you’ll notice it.  The acting is excellent.  Pyotr Fyodorov has some big shoes to fill in the role made famous by Andrey Martynov and I think he does an even better job as Vaskov.  The actresses playing the quintet of females are great.  The personalities of the five are well-defined and all are appealing figures.  By the end of the movie, you really care about them.  I had to fight back tears at times.  As an homage to all the women who served the Fatherland in WWII, the movie is very effective.  Even the original is not overly patriotic or propagandistic, but I would think women who see either film will be proud of their gender.

                        If you have Amazon Prime, take advantage of its nice collection of foreign war movies and series.  Don’t let the subtitles scare you away.  “The Dawns Here Are Quiet” is an outstanding movie.  It improves on the great original by expanding the story to cover the five women in more detail.  They deserved it.  Although in the tradition of the heterogeneous small unit on a suicide mission subgenre, it is not cliché-ridden.  In fact, it is a pretty unique movie. 


Monday, November 25, 2019


1.  What movie is the picture from?

2.  What movie is this quote from?

I ain't a-goin' to war. War's killin', and the book's agin' killin! So war is agin' the book! 

3.  What movie is this?

It was released in 1943 and was directed by the legendary team of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger (The Archers).  They also directed the respected “49th Parallel”.  It was the most expensive British movie made up until then.  The movie was shot in vibrant Technicolor.  It is about as British as you can get.  Although the movie is usually said to be inspired by the comic strip character, in fact the idea came from a scene cut from The Archers’ previous film (“One of Our Aircraft is Missing”).  A character says “You don’t know what it’s like to be old”.  Film editor and future great director David Lean suggested a movie be constructed around that line.