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military

Valkyrie (2008)

valkyrie-cast-cruiseDIRECTOR: Bryan Singer

CAST:

Tom Cruise, Kenneth Branagh, Bill Nighy, Terence Stamp, Tom Wilkinson, Carice van Houten, Kevin McNally, David Schofield, Eddie Izzard, Jamie Parker, Thomas Kretschmann, Christian Berkel, Tom Hollander, David Bamber

REVIEW:

During his twelve-year reign, Adolf Hitler survived over forty known assassination attempts, at least fifteen of which were made by Germans. But the most hated man of the 20th century was also one of the most extraordinarily lucky. Something always managed to go wrong; Hitler would cut speeches or conferences short, avoiding timed bomb blasts, the explosives themselves would fail to detonate, and the forces arrayed against him often proved to be unfortunately uncoordinated and indecisive. The final, most famous, and most nearly successful attempt on Hitler’s life came on July 20, 1944, orchestrated by a group of rebel German military officers and politicians spearheaded by decorated injured war hero Colonel Count Claus von Stauffenberg. Continue reading

Der Untergang/The Downfall (2004)

Downfall_lDIRECTOR: Oliver Hirschbiegel

CAST:

Bruno Ganz, Alexandra Maria Lara, Corinna Harfouch, Juliane Köhler, Ulrich Matthes, Thomas Kretschmann, Christian Berkel, Matthias Habich, Heino Ferch, Michael Mendl, André Hennicke, Ulrich Noethen, Doneven Gunia, Thomas Thieme

REVIEW:

The third major film depiction of the last days of Adolf Hitler (following 1973’s Hitler: The Last Ten Days, starring Alec Guinness, and 1981’s The Bunker, starring Anthony Hopkins) but the first internationally-released German production to feature Hitler as a main character, Downfall is director Oliver Hirschbiegel and screenwriter Bernd Eichinger’s frank confrontation of a man and legacy that has stigmatized and haunted Germany for sixty years.   Continue reading

Alexander (2004)

 

DIRECTOR: Oliver Stone

CAST:

Colin Farrell, Angelina Jolie, Val Kilmer, Jared Leto, Rosario Dawson, Anthony Hopkins, Christopher Plummer, Jonathan Rhys-Meyers, John Kavanagh, Brian Blessed

REVIEW:

Best-known for controversial, politically-charged fare like Natural Born Killers, JFK, and Nixon, Oliver Stone’s latest venture, the epically-mounted but narratively disjointed historical drama Alexander, is more cinematically straightforward than his previous efforts but unfortunately lacks the focus and drive to maintain consistent interest throughout its three-hour running time. Continue reading

Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World (2003)

master-and-commanderDIRECTOR: Peter Weir

CAST: Russell Crowe, Paul Bettany, Billy Boyd, James D’Arcy, Robert Pugh, Richard McCabe, Lee Ingleby, Max Pirkis, Max Benitz

REVIEW:

An adaptation of the exploits of characters created by Patrick O’Brian, who wrote twenty novels in the Master and Commander series, The Far Side of the World (which takes its name from one of O’Brian’s books but includes plot elements from several) differs from lighter entertainment centered around high-seas derring-do such as the Pirates of the Caribbean trilogy in the rigorous pains it takes to be technically and historically accurate. The specific adventure portrayed is not a true story, but it is set in the historical backdrop of the Napoleonic Wars, and the filmmakers did extensive research into warships of the time period. Australian director Peter Weir (Picnic At Hanging Rock, Witness, Dead Poets Society, The Truman Show) filmed an actual typhoon and blended the authentic footage into a scene in which the crew battles a storm at sea. What little special effects there are are blended into the real thing with indistinguishable versimilitude. Continue reading

Gladiator (2000)

DIRECTOR: Ridley Scott

CAST:

Russell Crowe, Joaquin Phoenix, Connie Nielsen, Djimon Hounsou, Oliver Reed, Richard Harris, Derek Jacobi, Tomas Arana, Tommy Flanagan, Ralf Moeller, David Schofield, Spencer Treat Clark, Sven-Ole Thorsen

REVIEW:

Gladiator is the first sword-and-sandals epic in four decades, and harkens back to epic spectacle on a scale seldom mounted while updating the Roman epic with modern effects (and modern violence). Gladiator is a ferocious epic of sand and blood that might attract both fans of Spartacus and those who appreciated Rob Roy, The Last of the Mohicans, or Braveheart, but in some ways is on a more epic scale than all of them, and combines spectacle, red-blooded action, and narrative prowess into a rousing and dynamic film.

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Ride With The Devil (1999)

DIRECTOR: Ang Lee

CAST:

Tobey Maguire, Skeet Ulrich, Jewel, Jeffrey Wright, Jonathan Rhys-Meyers, Jim Caviezel, Simon Baker, Tom Wilkinson, Zach Grenier, Jonathan Brandis, Mark Ruffalo

REVIEW:

At first glance, Taiwan native Ang Lee seems a director who defies any discernible genre or common thread linking his films; he has directed everything from the Jane Austen romance Sense and Sensibility to the searing ’70s drama The Ice Storm (also featuring Tobey Maguire) to the martial arts extravaganza Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, to the comic-book flick The Hulk, to the ‘gay cowboy’ drama Brokeback Mountain. Continue reading

Glory (1989)

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Patton (1970)

DIRECTOR: Franklin J. Schaffner

CAST:

George C. Scott, Karl Malden, Ed Binns, Michael Bates, Karl Michael Vogler, Siegfried Rauch, Richard Münch, Paul Stevens, Tim Considine, Clint Ritchie

REVIEW:

Equally effective as a war film or a character study, Patton still holds up today chiefly due to the towering lead performance by George C. Scott.  Rod Steiger, Lee Marvin, John Wayne, Robert Mitchum, and Burt Lancaster were all offered the title role, but after watching the film it is impossible to imagine anyone else but Scott. Patton can be enjoyed simply as one of the great film performances of all time. Scott does not simply play Patton; he has become so synonymous with the character that the real George Patton of WWII archive footage seems like an imposter. Credit is also due the capable direction by Franklin J. Schaffner, producer Frank McCarthy (a retired brigadier general who had worked for twenty years to make a movie about Patton), the intelligent, even-handed screenplay by Francis Ford Coppola and Edmund H. North, and the cinematography by Fred Kroenkamp, who enhances the film with his sweeping shots of Tunisia, France, and Germany. John Huston, Henry Hathaway, and Fred Zinnemann had declined to direct. William Wyler agreed but later left over script disagreements with Scott. Whatever difficulties they may have had during filming, the efforts of the cast and crew paid off, as Patton went on to win eight Oscars, including Best Actor for Scott (which he famously refused, calling the Oscars a ‘self-serving meat parade’), Best Picture, Best Director, Best Screenplay, Best Editing, and Best Production Design.

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La Battaglia di El Alamein/The Battle of El Alamein (1969)

DIRECTOR: Giorgio Ferroni

CAST:

Frederick Stafford, Enrico Maria Salerno, Robert Hossein, Michael Rennie, George Hilton, Gerard Herter, Marco Guglielmi

REVIEW:

We don’t usually hear much about the Italians in WWII; the Germans and Japanese were considered the big guns on the Axis side, with the Italians kind of tagging along. The main reason for this is that there simply isn’t much to say. Continue reading

The Desert Fox: The Story of Rommel (1951)

DIRECTOR: Henry Hathaway

CAST:

James Mason, Jessica Tandy, Cedric Hardwicke, Leo G. Carroll, Luther Adler, Everett Sloane, William Reynolds, Richard Boone

REVIEW:

Field Marshal Erwin Rommel was undoubtedly Germany’s most famous General of WWII and continues to be regarded as one of history’s great military commanders. Gaining fame in North Africa, where his outnumbered Afrika Korps divisions pushed the British back for two years and nearly drove them off the continent, the Desert Fox was held in awe even by those fighting against him, both for his battle prowess and for his famously strict adherence to the rules of war. Recalled back to Germany before the end in Africa, he did not share the fate of his captured men, although he would have been more fortunate if he had. His star never again reaching its former heights after the African campaign, he tried and failed to defend Normandy against the Allied invasion and died a few months later, officially of injuries suffered when his staff car was strafed by Allied planes little over a month after D-Day. Only after the war did both the Allies and the German people learn the more complex and dramatic truth: Hitler had forced his once favorite General to commit suicide when information regarding his involvement in or at least knowledge of the conspiracy to overthrow him reached his ears. While Rommel has been portrayed onscreen in a number of war films, by far the best-known and most extensive depiction came in 1951, only seven years after his death, in the form of Henry Hathaway’s The Desert Fox: The Story of Rommel. That such a sympathetic—indeed, practically sanctified–portrayal of Rommel could be made so soon after the end of the war is telling of the high regard in which Rommel was held even by his enemies. Unfortunately, a disjointed and episodic narrative structure, stilted dialogue and performances, and an interminable amount of WWII stock footage results in a mediocre production that doesn’t really do its subject justice. Continue reading

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