October Horrorshow: Overlord

If one is looking for a realistic World War Two movie, look elsewhere. Overlord takes all of its war visuals and scenarios from Saving Private Ryan and Band of Brothers, to the point of thievery, but all that is just backdrop to the story. What this movie is really about are Nazi monster super-soldier experiments, and the small squad of American paratroopers who put a stop to it. It’s bloody, full of gore, and, somehow, works as a serious tale with no absurdity. Continue readingOctober Horrorshow: Overlord”

October Horrorshow: Ghosts of War

What a disappointing mess. There are a bunch of solid ideas in Ghosts of War, the new horror flick from writer/director Eric Bress. It’s the execution that is lacking.

The film takes place during World War Two, after the Allies have invaded France. A squad of paratroopers, led by Chris (Brenton Thwaites), is assigned to guard a French chateau that had been used by the Nazis. On the short journey to the chateau, we meet the other members of the squad. They are boilerplate WW2 movie characters. There’s the tough guy, Butchie (Alan Ritchson); the smart guy, Eugene (Skylar Astin), the tough from the city, Kirk (Theo Rossi), and the soft-spoken but lethal southerner, Tappert (Kyle Gallner). Accents and attitudes are used to establish their war flick bona fides, and then viewers see them committing a few war crimes before they arrive at the chateau. War is hell, right? Continue readingOctober Horrorshow: Ghosts of War”

Empty Balcony: Valkyrie

Sometimes big time actors put on their serious pants and play a Nazi-era German protagonist. I don’t know if ego or decades spent in a celebrity bubble deprive these actors of common sense, but these movies occasionally get made, and there’s always an A-lister out there willing to play one of the 20th century’s most notorious bad guys. In Valkyrie, the 2008 film directed by Bryan Singer, that A-lister was Tom Cruise.

Going over Cruise’s public persona is a waste of time, but I do remember hearing about this film back in the year it was released, and thinking Cruise must be delusional about the amount of leeway movie audiences are willing to give him. There is only one man in Hollywood who can play a good World War II German, and that man is Liam Neeson. With any other actor and any other character other than Oskar Schindler, a film is walking a fine line. To stumble means embarrassment, at best, and career-threatening ostracization, at worst. With a degree of difficulty that high, who in their right mind would choose to star in a film such as Valkyrie? King Mapother, that’s who. Continue readingEmpty Balcony: Valkyrie”

Stallone Month: Victory, aka Escape to Victory

The Vietnam War wreaked havoc on the United States — its sense of self-worth; its trust in leadership, both civilian and military; and its ideas of what constitute heroism. Vietnam was the first war we fought where the awful violence wasn’t hidden from us. It was also our first tick in the loss column. There are a whole host of complex emotions that war put us through. It’s no surprise, then, that war films made after the Vietnam War ended are quite different than those that came before. There were still a few holdouts, however — anachronisms from the earlier style. Continue readingStallone Month: Victory, aka Escape to Victory”

Empty Balcony: Hacksaw Ridge

Is it okay to watch a Mel Gibson film again? Has he paid enough Hollywood penance for being a drunken, anti-Semitic, Catholic fundamentalist? Because, let’s not forget, the man is an Oscar-winning filmmaker. Gibson’s personal travails matter little to this reviewer. If the idea of watching a film helmed by Mel Gibson still leaves a viewer with a bad taste in their mouth, even though Gibson spent the better part of a decade in the weeds, then just don’t watch it. Continue readingEmpty Balcony: Hacksaw Ridge”

October Horrorshow: Below

A ghost story that takes place aboard a World War II submarine. Sometimes I think there are suggestion boxes mounted next to the water cooler at movie studios and once a month the big mogul dips has fat fingers inside to root around for a new idea. That’s the only explanation I can come up with for a movie like Below being greenlit. Luckily for us viewers, just because a movie has kind of a silly idea, that doesn’t mean it’s going to be a bad movie. Continue readingOctober Horrorshow: Below”

The Empty Balcony: The Final Countdown

When I decided to watch The Final Countdown, I was expecting to get a Shitty Movie Sundays review out of it, but the movie failed to live up to expectations. It is not a shitty movie. It’s not great, but it was good enough to keep me interested. I remember seeing the film as a kid, a long time ago, and I remembered that the premise was incredibly wild. Add in the fact the film has faded into obscurity, and I thought I had a winning combination of shitty. Continue readingThe Empty Balcony: The Final Countdown”

The Empty Balcony: Cross of Iron

Cross of Iron, Sam Peckinpah’s entry into the World War II genre from 1977, is a study in two-dimensional characterizations. Well-written, well-acted, and well-directed, this perfect storm of effort on the part of all involved results in a bloody violent film whose characters barrel their way through without nuance, relying on the audience to fill in the blanks. How successful the film is, therefore, depends on a viewer’s understanding of war, or what they think they understand. Continue readingThe Empty Balcony: Cross of Iron”

The Empty Balcony: The Train

One day into filming of 1964’s The Train, director Arthur Penn was fired at the urging of star Burt Lancaster and replaced with John Frankenheimer. Penn had apparently conceived the film as largely a cerebral examination of the effect and importance of art to the French national consciousness during the Nazi occupation. A not unworthy aspiration, and one that could someday make a fine film. In hiring Frankenheimer, who had such films as Seven Days in May and The Manchurian Candidate under his belt, the decision was made that the plot of The Train should be driven by tension and action. Continue readingThe Empty Balcony: The Train”