Tag Archives: war

One Man’s Hero


One Man’s Hero takes place during a conflict that doesn’t get all that much coverage in Hollywood, the Mexican American war. With a sweeping Patriot-esque vibe and a world weary starring turn turn from Tom Berenger, it’s an affecting tale that whether or not is based on truth, still packs an emotional whallop. Berenger is Riley, an Irish American who leads his mostly immigrant troupes through racial prejudice beset on them by their own American superiors, just one more obstacle thrown in with the already taxing war itself. Defecting from the troops, Riley is commissioned to lead his men on the opposing force, banding together with fiery, disillusioned Mexican revels leader Cortina (Joaquim De Almeida) and fight for acceptance and survival while navigating both sides of the conflict. Although there are a few impressive battle sequences staged here and there, the film is more about the private and personal wars fought amongst the ranks themselves, the notion that one army isn’t always just focused on the task and can get caught up in internal conflict, which often, including in this case, leads to unnecessary tragedy. Berenger and Almeida go at it fiercely in a love hate companionship constantly tested by the war and their mutual affection for beautiful fellow freedom fighter Marta (Daniela Romo). Underrated Patrick Bergin shows up in a severely powdered wig, Stephen Tobolowsky plays yet another one of his loathsome, letcherous roles and the late great James Gammon is the perfect embodiment of crusty yet compassionate General Zachary Taylor. Not a title that crosses many people’s vision when discussing war films, but a really solid effort despite a lower budget, a story that needed to be told and a star turn from Tom to remember. 

-Nate Hill

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Dunkirk: Christopher Nolan’s latest is an unforgettable masterpiece – A review by Josh Hains

“We shall not flag or fail. We shall go on to the end. We shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender.” – Winston Churchill

Most, of the war films I’ve seen post Saving Private Ryan have been about American soldiers and the battles they’ve fought during World War II, Vietnam, and more recent wars, save for the war sequences of Atonement. It was refreshing to see a World War II film yesterday afternoon that was shown from the perspective of British soldiers, and with the German enemy only shown for just barely a few seconds. It’s a perspective we used to encounter often decades ago that for one reason or another fell to the wayside. Hopefully this masterfully crafted piece of cinema will encourage other directors to widen their landscapes and tell more stories from the British perspective, or perhaps even the French or another allied nation.

By now you have no doubt seen many talking up a storm about this year’s undeniable “masterpiece”, and that it should be a major Oscar contender for Christopher Nolan when the season hits its stride in a few months. I dislike using the word masterpiece to encapsulate all of my positive thoughts about any given movie, and I feel it is quite often improperly attributed toward movies that aren’t actually considered masterpieces some years after they’re released. Film culture has this odd habit of using a wide assortment of colourful, hyperbolic wordage to emphasize how good a movie is during its first couple of weeks in theatres, yet the majority of movies dubbed a masterpiece during Oscar bait season seem to fade into obscurity. But the film being heralded as a masterpiece over the last week, I believe wholeheartedly, will be regarded as such decades from now and for a worthy variety of reasons, but most of all because of the way the imagery lingers within your mind like dirt under your fingernails.

There’s an image I can’t shake no matter how hard I try, of a man looking upon a fire that’s been, for lack of a better word, burned into my mind since the moment my eyes bore witness to it. If I close my eyes, or think of it in my minds eye, I can see it as clearly as if it were happening right in front of me in this very moment. To be honest, I can see nearly the entire movie that clearly, I remember much of it so well having seen it just under a day ago, but it’s images of smaller moments that seem to have been etched into my mind with a hot knife better than others. One would think the more traditionally spectacular moments, of boats exploding and planes being shot down, would stick out in one’s mind the way they always seem to with other war movies, but surprisingly, and refreshingly, that just isn’t the case here. No, I remember the man watching the fire grow as the sun sets, a trio of young men watching a fellow soldier wade suicidally into treacherous waters, a pilot running on fumes while gliding past thousands of men on the beach as they cheer.

Dunkirk is a war film comprised of small moments such as those that, when put together in the form of a complete picture, creates the sensation of a much larger war epic without ever having to actually become one. Yes, it’s a war movie that shows us Christopher Nolan’s perspective on Dunkirk, but it’s not about the war itself, but rather these small moments within the war and the collective struggle of soldiers and common folk affected by the event, and the personal toll the war takes on every soul who had the misfortune of experiencing it.

Much has been made about a lack of a single protagonist for audiences to latch onto and invest themselves in, as if the lack of such a character is a major deprivation for audiences that’ll leave you feeling cold and emotionally detached from the movie. That’s just not true. Dunkirk is about the collective experience of the soldiers and civilians who were a part of this event, and by not choosing a single person to use as our guide through this hellish experience, Nolan allows the audience to feel like they’re right there amongst the soldiers and sailors as planes swoop overhead and bombs periodically detonate with horrific results. No one character is glorified or given the special treatment by Nolan, and thanks to his wise decision to interweave three different perspectives non-linearly together, each and every act of courage or bravery that he focuses on regardless of the immense stakes surrounding them, are treated with equal importance.

I am thankful I am not one of those people who had difficulty following the non-linear presentation of the film. While watching Dunkirk I felt that the non-linear style only amplified the suspense I was feeling, making me clench my fists tighter and my knuckles turn whiter. I enjoyed the sensation of being tossed around from one situation to the next, trying to guess what direction I’d be travelling in until the three interweaving perspectives collide toward films end, and  the pieces come together perfectly like a puzzle.

The opening scene of soldiers including young Tommy (Fionn Whitehead) running down a street trying desperately to escape enemy gunfire before finding the mole of Dunkirk harbour where Commander Bolton observes the chaotic situation while soldiers like Tommy repeatedly try to escape the clutches of the beach over the course of a week, sets the tone of the movie immediately: frantic, intense, terrifying, sudden. We spend a day upon the Sea where Mr. Dawson (Mark Rylance), his son Peter ( Tom Glynn-Carney) and their young deckhand George (Barry Keoghan) pluck soldiers like the Shivering Soldier (Cillian Murphy, and yes, that’s what he’s called in the credits) and the RAF pilot Collins (Jack Lowden) from the depths of the icy waters. Then there’s an hour in the Air where Farrier (Tom Hardy) chases down German Messerschmitt planes in his Spitfire, halting most of their attempts to bomb boats.

I’m also thankful I heard every line of dialogue crystal clear, well enough to accurately identify Michael Caine as a radio communicator for the Royale Air Force. Admittedly, I heard the explosions and gunfire so loudly I jumped a few times when the overwhelming sound caught me off guard. Many continue to emphasize the need to see this film in 70mm IMAX, but I believe that regardless of what format you choose, it’s the experience of seeing Dunkirk theatrically that is necessary, and perhaps not so much the format, though it helps if the screen you’re looking at is bigger than most. As great as our surround sound has gotten for use in our homes, nothing will ever compare to seeing this film on the biggest screen you can find. When the sound of a Messerschmitt comes roaring from behind you, then almost sounds like it’s passed overhead before screaming way out in front of you, it genuinely feels like the closest thing to actually being there that any of us will ever encounter, and it’s absolutely terrifying. When soldiers are forced into the water, typically in fleeing from a sinking vessel, you can almost feel, smell, and taste the frigid waters. And when bombs are dropped and gunfire erupts, both at near deafening decibels, you can’t help but tense up as if one of the bombs or bullets might collide with you. It’s an immersive experience you really need to experience for yourself to believe and understand the full extent of.

The actual images of the film are less terrifying than the sounds of explosions and machine gun fire, in part because Nolan leaves the film devoid of blood beyond a few cuts and scrapes, a decision that had even myself second guessing how he might make this work. Once you understand that Dunkirk is a psychological war film that asks you to ponder what you’re watching rather than simply bombard you with heaps of exposition and gory carnage aplenty, you realize there really is no need for an R rating for this picture. Dunkirk is just an hour and 46 minutes long, lean and devoid of unnecessary fats comprised of character beats, long and frequent exposition dumps, and bloody war horrors, and all the better for it. This film didn’t need to be longer or shorter than it is.

I don’t have any qualms with Dunkirk at this juncture (the qualms others have encountered I don’t have), and while I love everything I saw in the film and greatly admire the ensemble cast’s performances, from Fionn Whitehead to Kenneth Branagh, Mark Rylance, and others and the scenes they all inhabit, it was the perspective titled The Air I felt the deepest investment in. That’s not a knock against the other scenes, I just found The Air more hypnotic than anything else in the film, mostly due to the truly stunning cinematography from Hoyte van Hoytema (seriously, every frame of this film is gorgeous and should be framed and hung in a museum), and Tom Hardy’s near silent performance (he has maybe 10 lines of dialogue in total). It didn’t occur to me until today that after a certain point in the film, Tom Hardy’s Farrier never speaks again. That Hardy conveys outwardly and through his eyes (because he wears yet another mask in Dunkirk) everything Farrier is thinking in the moment is in itself is quite the accomplishment, and only goes to show just how great an actor Hardy has become. That his scenes are the most riveting and awe inducing sweetens the deal.

The first thing my mind floats to when I think about Dunkirk is still the image of a man watching the fire grow on the beach, as clear as if it happened just a moment ago. The sky turning charcoal, the flames glowing against the sands and his face, his stern expression showing accomplishment and sacrifice in the same breath, the wind snapping against his skin and tossing his hair, his story coming to an end moments before the film does. I know I’ll see Dunkirk many more times, but if I only saw it just once, I’m willing to bet I’d remember that image for the rest of my life.

Once Upon A Time In Nostalgia Occupied France: Revisiting Quentin Tarantino’s Inglorious Basterds


Having rewatched Quentin Tarantino’s Inglorious Basterds the other night for the first time in years, I’d since forgotten what a fuckin rip snorting good time at the movies it is. It used to rank fairly low on my Quentin-metre, but not only has it aged quite nicely since 09′, it’s even better than I remember it being in theatres. I think that one of the reasons I didn’t hold it in such high esteem right off the bat is that I wasn’t prepared for the blunt revisionist history approach, which at the time I think felt very silly and fake. I get now what he was going for and appreciate it tenfold more than I did then. From the opening chords of a Morricone piece that signals the portentous arrival of Christoph Waltz’s terrifyingly affable Jew hunting SS nutbar Hans Landa, this film is a near perfect ballet of extended dialogue, shocking musical cues and sporadic bursts of satisfying and graphic violence. It’s an episodic roundtable outing that spins around to focus intently on specific scenarios for quite a bit of time before jarringly shunting off to the next. Young Shosanna (Melanie Laurent) runs a quaint cinema in rural France that garners the attention of a pesky German war hero (Daniel Brühl). Evil Landa and his corps doggedly hunt enemies of the state whilst preparing to act as a security force for a bigwig film premiere attended by the Fuhrur himself, et al. Elsewhere in Germany, a plucky band of double agents led by Michael Fassbender and Diane Kruger await instructions on a small tavern, commissioned by Winston Churchill and Austin Powers to carry out their mission. This sequence is a textbook example on how to whip up vice grip suspense until one can barely breathe, then cut the cord loose all of a sudden, brilliantly structured, written and acted scene all round. Brad Pitt also leads his merry band of Nazi killers all over Europe creating havoc and delivering some of the best dialogue that the Q-Man has ever penned. The sequence where Aldo Raine (Pitt) and his crew must be ‘fake Italian’ to blend in at the film premiere is the single funniest thing in a Tarantino film to date. The cast is layered with all kinds of wonderful work, standouts from August Diehl, Richard Sammel, Eli Roth, a priceless Til Schweiger, as well as quick snippets from Samuel L. Jackson and Harvey Keitel. Waltz made a name for himself with the Landa character, and is a simultaneously freaky and funny villain who steals the film each time he shows up to smarm and charm the pants off of everyone else. Funny beyond words, brutally exploitive in the best possible ways, whip smart in writing and characterization and just a hell of a good time, Basterds has held up and even improved excellently since it’s release, and will likely stand as one of Tarantino’s key films in years to come. Gorlami. 

-Nate Hill

Michael Bay’s Pearl Harbor 


As much as it pains me to say it, I’m a die hard fan of Michael Bay’s Pearl Harbour. It doesn’t pain me because of the backlash I get for praising it or anything, I could give a possum’s rectum what people think of my film taste, but the fact remains that I am well aware of how ridiculously dumb the love triangle at the centre of this film is, and yet I’m a sucker every time. Every other aspect of it is actually very well done, but it’s attempts to be a historical epic that uses a love story as its lynchpin are sorely misguided. Worse is the fact that I know all this to be true, yet I still get misty eyed as the heavy handed schoolyard fling between Ben Affleck and Kate Beckinsale plays out, and further lunge for the Kleenex box as Josh Hartnett enters the picture to drive a Bruckheimer sized wedge between them. So what’s my problem, you ask? No clue, other than being a hopeless romantic whose brain flatlines at the first hint of a soppy sideshow. Now that I’ve got that off my chest, let’s talk about the two things that make this film work really well: the deafening, thunderous recreation of the Japanese attack on Hawaii, and the jaw dropping cast of actors on display here. All wildlife was cleared from the harbour area prior to filming, and legions of period authentic boats and planes were shipped in to make this one of the most ambitious cinematic versions of a siege ever assembled. When the ambush starts, we feel every percussive blast and fiery crash as the US army/navy forces are taken completely by surprise, foxholes and sadly decimated by a cunning Japanese armada. When the fog of the first wave clears, we see the carnage left in its wake and feel the sheer desperate urgency of nurses and medics as they race to collect and treat the wounded, a well staged yet heartbreaking sequence. Hans Zimmer gives it his all to accompany all of this too, my favourite strain called ‘Tennessee’ opening the film with a prologue involving young Affleck and Hartnett, with a moving cameo from William Fichtner. Speaking of the cast, it’s unbelievable, and I’ve always considered this to be the sister film to Black Hawk Down, purely for the amount of actors who appear in both. Alec Baldwin scores grit points as a salty veteran heading up the eventual counter attack, Cuba Gooding Jr. is most excellent as a navy cook turned war hero, Tom Sizemore kicks ass as a plane mechanic who grabs a shotgun when the shit gets heavy, Jennifer Garner, Jaime King and more show resilience and compassion as nurses who step up when needed most, Jon Voight is stubborn and stoic as Teddy Roosevelt himself, Dan Akroyd brings salty wit to a military analyst, Mako is noble and reluctant as the Japanese commander, Scott Wilson is quietly diligent as infamous General George C. Marshall, and the list just goes on with vivid work from Kim Coates, Ewen Bremmer, Leland Orser, Glenn Moreshower, William Lee Scott, Michael Shannon, Cary Tagawa, Matthew Davis, Colm Feore, Sean Gunn, Graham Beckel, Tomas Arana, Sung Kang, Eric Christian Olsen, Tony Curran and more. Say what you want about this one, many loathe it (just ask Trey Parker & Matt Stone), but there’s no denying its scope, ambition and technical undertaking. Also it just has an exquisite love story to rival that of Gone With The Wind and Titanic. Haaaa… just kidding. Or am I? 😉

-Nate Hill

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 (2016) – A REVIEW BY RYAN MARSHALL

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.

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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.

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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.