Tag Archives: war

John Woo’s Windtalkers

John Woo’s Windtalkers is a brutal, somber, joyless affair, a muddy and hopeless war picture that contains little of the ethereal poise of stuff like The Thin Red Line or heroic muscle such as Saving Private Ryan. As long as you can adjust and tune into it’s frequency it’s a well made, sorrowful look at the American effort against Japan, particularly a mission involving a regiment whose task is to protect Native Navajo code breakers that can detect messages fired off by the enemy. A mopey Nicolas Cage is their shell shocked leader, pressing his men onward into territory that no doubt contains the same horrors he witnessed before the film begins. We find him in a trauma ward initially, cared for by a kindly nurse (Frances O’Connor), until Jason Isaacs cameos as the recruitment officer who spurs him back into action. His troupe is composed solely of excellent, distinct acting talent and they help the film considerably. The Navajo are played by Adam Beach and Roger Willie, giving grace and nobility to two men who are out of their depth and terrified. Peter Stormare, Christian Slater, Noah Emmerich, Mark Ruffalo, Brian Van Holt and a standout Martin Henderson are the rest of the troops, each getting their moment to shine within the unit’s cohesive arc. Woo is an odd choice for a war picture, and his stylized flair for bullet ridden action is nowhere to be found in these bleak, bloodied trenches, trading in suits and duel wielded glocks for faded camo and muted rifle fire. The action is neither cathartic nor poetic, simply a concussive cacophony of combat that offers little aesthetic pleasure, forcing you to find the value in empathy towards these men, and as long as you can do that, you’ll get something out of it. 

-Nate Hill


B Movie Glory: The Last Drop

Before The Monuments Men, there was a dopey little WWII art heist flick called The Last Drop. Alright, it’s a tenuous connection but they’re centred around the same idea: what better time for a heist than the fog of war? Well, chaos is indeed the name of the game with this scrappy, obviously low budget barrel of fun, both in terms of setting and the film itself. The cast is the main draw, as is always the case with B movies.. without a few names, some veteran charisma, pieces like this would just be bereft of any value. Well they got Michael Madsen, because every movie needs a Michael Madsen, getting more screen-time than usual here as an American military honcho on the hunt for some priceless works of art that have gone missing from Berlin. It’s pretty much just a European wartime Rat Race, with various factions scrambling to find the loot and not get killed along the way. A platoon of Brits blunders across Holland, led by Sean Pertwee and including Tommy ‘Chibs’ Flanagan, Nick Moran, Rafe Spall, Alexander Skarsgard and more. A volatile German double agent (intense Karel Roden) pursues them all. Oh yeah, and Billy Zane calmly and deliberately poses for the camera as a Yankee operative with a fetish for wistful wartime romance, being as weird as Zane ever was. It all doesn’t make a ton of sense or add up to anything much at all, but it’s B movie bliss, and honestly I’d willingly watch this cast install drywall for ninety minutes, so one can’t complain about a silly little war flick that’s a bit rough around the edges. Good times. 

-Nate Hill


UNDER THE SHADOW, the eerie slow-burn chiller that marks the directorial debut of Babak Anvari, indulges in a particularly dangerous dance. It’s a dance of many genres, many aspirations, and many roadblocks, and to be fair, Anvari almost gets us to a point where everything comes together to initiate a satisfying whole. In this sense, he’s already ahead of the game, even if the Iranian-born filmmaker doesn’t always seem content to be playing the field.

Set in post-revolution Tehran during the 1980’s, this macabre tale begins as former medical student Shideh (Narges Rashidi) is denied the opportunity to continue her studies as a result of being involved with Leftist activists in the past. At home, Shideh has plenty to worry about as it is – her husband Iraj (Bobby Naderi), a doctor, tends to openly undermine his wife’s achievements and their daughter, Dorsa (Avin Manshadi), often retreats to a fantasy world that she believes in a bit too much – while the war rages on outside.


Iraj’s medical assistance is needed in the heart of the combat zone and he must leave his family in the city for an extended period of time. Soon after his departure, a missile lands on the apartment directly above theirs, resulting in the death of one of its elderly tenants. Following the incident, Dorsa’s behavior becomes slightly erratic. She loses her favorite doll and constantly searches for it inside and outside of the apartment, believing that its disappearance is linked to a malicious spirit known as a “Djinn”, which may have possessed their home.

Shideh’s initial reaction is to chalk it up to an over-active imagination, but then terrifying visions begin to plague her fragile psyche during both night and day alike, and she finds herself, much like her child, no longer able to discern reality from fantasy. Anvari handles her struggle to reclaim individual strength and identity with grace, crafting an at times clever and never less than engaging feminist parable. In terms of social-political context, it uses its monster as an obvious metaphor for the ramifications of war, and it’s in this realm of lingering, impactful terror that UNDER THE SHADOW exceeds.


It’s also here that it tends to stumble. The film is at its brooding best when embracing the power of implication, patience, and silence all at once, but its alternating concepts of fear seem, at times, contradictory. On one hand, it makes a conscious effort to be intelligent genre fare, seldom resorting to cheap shock tactics and utilizing the widescreen compositions to their maximum, anxiety-ridden potential; but there are also far too many instances in which initially effective sequences amount to little more than underwhelming jump scares. It’s as if whenever Anvari has something beautiful he feels the need to destroy it. This unfortunately also goes for the (thankfully few) glimpses the viewer is granted of the “Djinn” itself, which – mostly due to some pretty lame CG effects – are more ridiculous than blood-curdling, save for a genuinely ominous moment involving an old man and the colossal cracks in the apartment ceiling.

This isn’t a bad film, in fact it’s mostly a pretty good one, but it clearly wants to be so much more than that and there’s absolutely no reason why it shouldn’t be. It’s well made, performed, conceived, overall well-intentioned but one can’t shake the feeling that it’s the work of a director caught up in certain contemporary genre trappings, the kind that tend to obscure a poignant message. Anvari wants to have his cake and eat it too, which doesn’t always have to be a bad thing. It’s a sign of clear ambition and, especially in his case, talent. But next time he’d be best to count his blessings and roll with them rather than drive himself into such a dark, discouraged corner as this.

David Ayer’s Fury: A Review by Nate Hill


David Ayer’s Fury is the most fearsome, unrelenting war film of the decade and quite the experience to sit through. One stumbles out of the theatre as shell shocked as the brave soldiers we’ve just witnessed onscreen, needing time to wind down from the horror, after which we realize that among the thunderous bravura and non stop, head shattering combat are moments of tender humanity and ponderous reflection, just enough to contrast the madness. Logan Lerman has the pretty boy look, which is quickly stripped away and replaced by frenzied terror and confusion, playing a young army clerk who hasn’t seen one second of combat, suddenly tasked with joining the ranks of a tank warfare crew. They are each hardened in their own way by what they’ve seen and done. Brad Pitt is Wardaddy, their iron jawed commander in a gritty, unstable and altogether brilliant performance. Jon Bernthal is the obligatory redneck Neanderthal, a big lug whose brutish ways mask a childlike yearning beneath. Shia Leboeuf is the restrained one, a bible reader and thinker whose resentment of the war radiates from his eyes like sad and sick beams of sympathy. Michael Pena, reliably excellent, is the closest to neutral of the group. Ayer airdrops us right into the action without pretext, warning or proclaimed intention. This isn’t a ‘men on a mission’ war flick, this is a single harrowing day in the lives of men at the end of the world as well as their ropes, an intimate study of the horror inflicted on both body and soul, both soldier and civilian, the collective horrific impact of the war refracted through the prism of a small period of time. Such a tactic has huge potential, and here it works wonders in brining us closer to these characters, as well as anyone they meet along their way. Pitt leads this ragtag band with the indifferent sentiment of a hardened, brittle man who has been in one too many a tight spot and seen one too many a comrade fall under his care to waste time with compassion for the enemy. Time and tide have turned killing into a purely instinctual, second nature business for him, and we see this unfold in a kicker of a scene where he forces Lerman to murder an unarmed German private who begs for his life. Such is war, and such is Ayer’s film, free from Hallmark moments and structured escapism. Midway through, the film stops dead in its tracks for a beautiful, tension filled sequence in which the band finds temporary refuge in crumbling abode with two German girls. The culture shock is numbed out by the extremity of the war, and these two groups are forced to coexist, if only for an hour or so. The youngest of the girls (Alicia Von Rittberg) is stunning, a baleful example of the corrupts of innocence, her character arc a testament to the senselessness of war. The combat scenes within the tank clank with clammy, claustrophobic dread and desperation, helped by the fact that for the most part they filmed inside real replicas. Jason Isaacs shows up in yet another war movie role as a grizzled commander who briefly assists them, and (of course) steals his two quick scenes in the process. War films often struggle to find humanity amongst the ugliness by trying a little too hard, and by being a little too obvious. This one is frank, unrelenting and assaults you with a deafening roar of chaos, with a few extremely subtle moments of introspect and emotion. It may just have cracked the formula for finding the comfort in such turmoil: less is more. One of the best war movies I’ve ever seen.