Tag Archives: nazis

The Big Red One – Review

30 Jun

Samuel Fuller has gone down in film history as being a very eccentric and often times controversial film maker. Wether it’s a story about the disturbing nature of racism that was explored in White Dog, or a callous look at the state of mental institutions and journalism in Shock Corridor, Fuller has shown that he has the ability to take a well known topic and turn it on its head to show you darker elements you may not have thought of before. One of his loudest and most memorable cinematic statements was with his semi-autobiographical war film, The Big Red One. Having served in the American army in World War II, this might be the most personal war movies I have ever seen, and it captures some of the oddest and strangely disturbing sides of war that only people who have been there understand.

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This movie tells the story of the soldiers serving in the 1st Infantry Division, which was nicknamed “The Big Red One” due to the red number stitched on their sleeves, in World War II. The division is led by the gruff and experienced Sergeant (Lee Marvin), who has was introduced to the horrors of war in 1918 when he killed a German soldier four hours after World War I officially ended. The core soldiers in his squad consist of Pvt. Griff (Mark Hamill), Pvt. Zab (Robert Carradine), Pvt. Vinci (Bobby Di Cicco), and Pvt. Johnson (Kelly Ward). As the squad moves from the conflict in North Africa to the final battles in Germany, the close knit group sees other soldiers come and go, but their team work and love for each other keeps them together until the very end of the bloody days of the Second World War.

I think it’s worth noting the interesting production history The Big Red One was subject to. Fuller obviously had a lot to say with this movie, and it’s been available as completely “reconstructed” movie since 2004. This sort of director’s cut, which was based more on the shooting script than the original released in 1980, runs two hours and forty minutes, which is about forty five minutes longer than the original version. I’m looking at the reconstructed version since I feel like it’s the full story that Samuel Fuller was trying to tell. I honestly can’t even imagine another, shorter version since this one feels so organic and real the way it is. With a movie as long as this, it’s easy to say that it goes on a bit too long, but that just isn’t the case here. The Big Red One shows the absurd, disturbingly strange, and sometimes comedic aspects of war and what being a soldier is seven years before Kubrick made his magnificently odd Full Metal Jacket. While I definitely love Full Metal Jacket, I have to say The Big Red One feels much more personal and real.

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I really can’t seem to stress enough how unique this movie is, and how war through the eyes of a whacked out mind like Samuel Fuller’s is unlike any other depiction of war. Some of my favorite war movies like Saving Private Ryan and Fury deal with camaraderie and idea of brotherhood among soldiers, and The Big Red One does that as well. On the flip side, the aforementioned Full Metal Jacket deals more with the psychology of war and in many ways the absurd mindset of it all. What Fuller does with The Big Red One is he puts a strong focus on the setting, and I don’t mean how some of it takes place in North Africa and some in France. What I mean is the things people said, did, and saw during their time in the war. Some of the scenes in this movie are now permanently seared in my brain forever, and some of them are clearly taken right from Fuller’s own experiences or things that were told to him by his fellow soldiers. There’s one scene where the squad has to hide behind a pile of rocks while a German soldier relieves himself not ten feet away. There’s another exceptional moment where a young boy agrees to help take the squad to a gun placement in return for a coffin to bury his recently deceased parents. These are some really incredible moments and capture the other worldly setting a war torn country can employ.

War movies really don’t work if the characters aren’t any good because we want to see these people survive. It’s important to feel a connection with them, and the characters in The Big Red One are handled very interestingly. There’s a very strong central performance by Lee Marvin, and the four soldiers in his squad have very distinct personalities brought to life both by Fuller and by the actors playing them. It’s said that each soldier in the squad represents a side of Fuller, which is really cool but I see his personality the most in Robert Carradine’s character, Zab, who is full of wise cracks, writes books, and has a seemingly endless supply of cigars. The other characters that go in and out of the platoon are referred to as “replacements,” and the characters are treated as such. This shows the core strength of the Sergeant and his main four soldiers, while also showing how disposable human life can seem in those extreme situations.

Plain and simple, The Big Red One is one of the best war movies I’ve ever seen, and I can’t imagine how much it lacked before the reconstructed version. Most war movies seem to be very much anti-war, and while this movie certainly doesn’t endorse any kind of violence and also shows the horror that is seen on a daily basis, there’s a sense of pride that the soldiers have throughout the film. This is most certainly a reflection of Fuller’s. It’s a brutally honest look at the lives and relationships of soldiers in a group, and also an examination of what this level of violence does to a setting. This is an amazing film, and watching the reconstructed version is mandatory.

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Green Room – Review

17 May

I’m not saying that the horror genre is completely saved, but what I will say is that there has been a major step up in the genre thanks to indie film makers. Within the past year we’ve had some excellent independent horror films like It Follows and The Witch grace theaters with the intelligence and originality that I love seeing movies like this. Now we have Jeremy Saulnier’s newest film, Green Room, which can be added to this new echelon of horror. This is a bloody, suspenseful, and exhausting movie that puts new faith in no holds barred horror film making and made me jealous that I didn’t make this movie myself.

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Pat (Anton Yelchin), who is in a punk band with his friends called The Ain’t Rights, is in the middle of a pretty unsuccessful west coast tour. After a show in Seaside, Oregon that is a complete bust, they are hired to do a gig in the backwoods of Portland in a club that is owned by a group of neo-Nazis. While the show itself goes fine, things take a turn for the worst when Pat stumbles upon a murder that took place in the green room backstage. Now Pat and his friends are being held by the skin heads and their leader, Darcy (Patrick Stewart). Darcy and his crew have no desire to let the band leave alive, which means the group of inept punks have to band together, strategize, and fight their way to freedom.

I love movies that take place in one location because I feel like it adds something more immediate to the story. While there are a couple places the band goes to in Green Room, the central story focuses on Anton Yelchin and his friends just trying to get out of the small skinhead club. This makes for plenty of claustrophobic scenes laced with paranoia and close quarters fighting. That being said, this is a very intense, gritty, and gruesome movie and Jeremy Saulnier really makes it a point not to shy away from any of the brutality. If you get sick looking at blood or absolutely abhor violence, this is certainly not the movie for you. If you’re looking for that grindhouse thrill, Green Room certainly has your back.

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This isn’t to say that Green Room is just some cheap grind house movie, because it’s so far from that. This is a very well executed, shot, and acted movie that has the balls to the wall attitude of ’70s exploitation and shock cinema. The true horror behind this movie that allows it to really stand tall and be more than just a shocking movie is the almost unbearable suspense and the down to earth characters that you’re almost certain to run into the likes of at some point. The scenes when it’s the punks against the skinheads during an escape attempt, it gets a little hard to breathe. There was a point in the movie where I realized that anything could happen to these characters and it was best to stop thinking like I knew what was going to happen next. This isn’t fleeting fear. This is fear that gets under your skin and makes you feel like you need a power shower.

One of the main reasons I was so interested in this movie was to see the great Patrick Stewart not only play a villain, but a villainous backwater neo-Nazi. Captain Picard as a Nazi. How does that not make anyone interested? It came as no surprise to see Stewart completely own his role and not go the over the top route that could have been gone. Like I said, the characters are pretty grounded in reality and that include Darcy. When Stewart first read the script, he said he really wanted the role because of how scary he found Darcy, and he does a great job with the character.

Green Room can join the ranking os one of my favorite movies of 2016 so far. There’s still a lot of movies ahead, so anything can happen, but right now I just can’t get it out of my head. This film is a brutal reminder that the world is full of heinous people, but never does it forget to be entertaining. It’s filled with an almost unbearable amount of suspense, an excellent performance by Patrick Stewart, and plenty of terrifying scenes that you can not unsee. Thank you Jeremy Saulnier and Green Room for helping breathe new life in a stale genre.

A Bridge Too Far – Review

18 Nov

It’s easy to make a war film that celebrates victory, but I can’t say the same about making a film that tells the story of an overwhelming defeat. Film history is sort of lacking in movie that tell the story of missions or operations that have gone terribly wrong. Arguably, one of the most notorious failures was Operation Market Garden, which happened after D-Day as World War II was coming to a close. Director Richard Attenborough and screenwriter William Goldman took Cornelius Ryan’s in depth book examining the loss and turned it into the grand World War II epic, A Bridge Too Far.

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On September 17, 1944, Operation Market Garden was put into effect by Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery. The plan was to drop 35,000 men behind enemy lines and secure a series of bridges so that ground forces could cross them on the way to liberate Arnhem. After only a few days of preparation, the mission began and things soon begin to go very wrong. This film follows different people through different locations and problems, among them being Staff Sgt. Eddie Dohun (James Caan), Maj. Gen. Roy Urquhart (Sean Connery), and Lt. Col. John Frost (Anthony Hopkins). As the mission drags on a lot longer than it should have, supplies begin to run low and more soldiers fall victim to the desperate Nazi soldiers.

This films may be one of the most “star studded” movies I’ve ever seen. I almost can’t believe how many people they got to sign on this project. I’ve already mentioned James Caan, Sean Connery, and Anthony Hopkins but the list doesn’t end there. A Bridge Too Far also features Gene Hackman, Robert Redford, Elliot Gould, Ryan O’Neal, Michael Caine, Maximilian Schell, and Laurence Olivier. With a cast like this, you would expect a lot of really emotional and hard hitting performances, but in this case you would be wrong. Sure, the acting is great, but A Bridge Too Far is far from being an emotional powerhouse. In fact, save for a few scenes, this is a pretty cold and objective look at Market Garden.

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With this huge amount of actors, it’s pretty obvious that there’s also a huge cast of characters. There’s British soldiers, American soldiers, and Polish soldiers to keep track of along with a couple of scenes of important Nazi soldiers. There came a point in the movie where someone was asking about how others were doing, and I didn’t know who they were talking about. I still have a hard time remembering who was who. I don’t think that’s really my fault either because so much is crammed into this movie. Even at 3 hours long, I felt like it could have gone on for even longer since some of the characters never really got their story arc fully realized. That’s part of the reason why I say this is a very cold war movie rather than an emotionally intense one.

Now while this is a pretty detached move doesn’t mean it doesn’t get pretty wild. There are scenes in this movie that are some of the coolest I’ve seen in a war movie because they feel huge and are executed with perfection. One scene in particular shows the thousands of men being dropped out of gliders, with some of them being show from a first person perspective. There’s also no music playing during this part which makes it extra effective. Some other great scenes include the air force bombing Nazi forces entrenched in a forested area and the nail biting assault on Nijmegen Bridge. There is unfortunately a lot of down time between some of the other better scenes, which often makes everything feel uneven at times.

A Bridge Too Far certainly can’t be called the best World War II film ever made due to some of its glaring issues with character and pacing. There’s so much stuffed into this movie, there really was no way to give every event or character a chance to develop fully without making this some sort of miniseries. Still, there are plenty of scenes that stand out as something truly special. The scale of this movie is large enough to fit the shoes of such a military blunder as Market Garden. If anything, this movie should still be viewed to get an interesting look at history and also for its extraordinary cast.