Monday, March 18, 2013

The Blahblahblah Family DVD Guide: Part 4 War Movies

The Blahblahblah Family DVD Guide is a sporadic, long running feature here on the blog, with three chapters so far completed: Science Fiction, Westerns and Horror. A full explanation can be found on the Guide Contents Page but it is essentially a response to an Australian DVD guide filled with terrible recommendations.

I was watching the reconstructed version of Samuel Fuller's The Big Red One when the urge to write another chapter of the DVD guide overtook me. It turns out that the original guide that I am mocking didn't even have a chapter dedicated to one of the most popular and prevalent styles of film making. Instead there is a brief subsection of the classics chapter featuring 9 movies and 7 quick picks that include 5 of the main 9 movies. It makes no sense.

The few rules I have placed on this feature:
1. Movies that have become a part of the public consciousness will not be included. If you need a guide to tell you whether to watch these movies then you've been living under a rock.
2. Movies that are primarily another genre such as comedy or romance will not be included. If you flip to this section chances are you aren't looking for a comedy or a romance.
3. Must have been released at the cinema longer than 2 years ago, otherwise you'd just hit up the new release section of your local video store. I shall use 1 June 2009 as the cutoff date.
4. Animation and films not in English will be discounted for pretty much the same reason as other genre. And they have their own chapter.
5. Anything with less than a 4 star rating isn't good enough to be in a guide to the best movies available and will be cut.

In deciding that War movies warranted a full chapter I replaced the superfluous "When You Can't Rent Indiana Jones" chapter and boosted the quota to 20 films to make it comparable to other chapter. Rob Lowing's selections were all 4 or 5 stars for once but equally unusual for Rob Lowing he included a non-English film (Battle of Algiers) in his chapter, which if I remove so as to be within my own rules leaves me a nice healthy 12 films to recommend.

The original 9:
All Quiet on the Western Front ****
Coming Home ****
Dr Strangelove *****
Gallipoli *****
Platoon *****
Saving Private Ryan ****
The Battle of Algiers *****
The Longest Day ****
The Red Badge of Courage ****

I'm not typically a man who heads to the War section of Starland, my local video store, but I can appreciate that the best ones are not about the violence but about the frailties of men and the absurdity of it all. In recent times there have been some truly great pieces of cinema, almost the complete opposite of the epic movie filled with explosions and gun fire that you might typically expect from a Hollywood war picture.

Starland Video Beaconsfield Without Stopping The Car

The Hurt Locker and Beneath Hill 60 are good English language examples of that, released too late to be included under the rules set out almost 2 years ago. Downfall, The Counterfeiters and Black Book are three powerful pieces of cinema from outside of Hollywood that should be considered 'must watch' classics, whilst Clint Eastwood made Letters From Iwo Jima, a fine WWII picture, entirely in Japanese and was a much better film than its companion Flags of our Fathers.

Other films not included primarily for rule number 1 (public consciousness) are Apocalypse Now, Lawrence of Arabia and The Great Escape, whilst I was initially going to include the post-WWII movie The Good German as I love any excuse to include a Steven Soderbergh movie on a list of recommendations, but left it out as it felt like cheating.

The first three were quite easy choices considering one of them was the inspiration behind the post and the other two also feature Lee Marvin, star of the recent BBBG book review Lee by Crime Factory Publishing. Samuel Fuller's The Big Red One was flawed due to studio cutting upon original release but was reconstructed in to an R-rated semi-autobiographical meditation on the horrors of war which also features Lee Marvin re-enacting the moment he was wounded during WWII. The Dirty Dozen plays like a WWII version of The Expendables whilst Hell in the Pacific is a fascinating drama featuring Toshiro Mifune.

Stanley Kubrick is next, his Kirk Douglas starring Paths of Glory is a powerful retelling of events in France during WWI that stands as a statement on the absurdity of war. Another of the great yet reclusive directors, Terence Malick made a fine war movie the same year as the bearded hack Spielberg released his own award hogging film and subsequently got overlooked I feel. The Thin Red Line has been called a hauntingly realistic view of military and moral chaos in the Pacific during World War II. Who am I to argue with that?

I thought I should at least include one film each from the UK and Australia, the country I was born in and the country I live in. Went The Day Well? was filmed during WWII and was based on a Graham Greene story that doubles as propaganda, a tiny English village is invaded by German troops posing as Royal Engineers. Kokoda is an Australian film from 2006 about the battle between Australian and Japanese soldiers on New Guinea during WWII.

David Lean made more than one movie featuring war; The Bridge on the River Kwai, adapted from the Pierre Boulle novel, is the multiple Oscar winning story of some British PoW's in Japan during WWII. A Bridge Too Far, directed by Richard Attenborough and featuring an all star cast is one of those tales of failure that the British can do so much better than America and captures perfectly the futility of war. Make of that what you will. Yet another master director, Billy Wilder, also turned their hand to the genre, his Five Graves To Cairo was only his second directorial effort but demonstrates his talent throughout, unfairly criticised on release it still managed to earn three Oscar nominations.

The last two choices offer slightly different views of war. David O. Russell's Three Kings set during the first Gulf War is filled with great performances, humour and action. Robert Altman's M*A*S*H is very nearly discounted for being part of the social consciousness but I have a feeling that this is owed to the TV series more than anything else. Personally I think Donald Sutherland and Elliot Gould in this Korean War comedy doubling as a critique of the pointlessness of the Vietnam War is one the best films about war that I've ever seen.

12 war films of differing styles and content, it doesn't capture the entire history of film but it's a fairly great overview of War pictures in the English language. It's not all viscera and American heroics but if you like that kind of thing there's still hundreds more to choose from.

Here's the final chapter recommendations:
All Quiet on the Western Front (****)
Coming Home (****)
Dr Strangelove (*****)
Gallipoli (*****)
Platoon (*****)
Saving Private Ryan (****)
The Longest Day (****)
The Red Badge of Courage (****)
The Big Red One (****)
The Dirty Dozen (*****)
Hell in the Pacific (****)
Paths of Glory (*****)
The Thin Red Line (*****)
Went The Day Well? (****)
Kokoda (****)
The Bridge On the River Kwai (*****)
A Bridge Too Far (*****)
Five Graves To Cairo (****)
Three Kings (****)
M*A*S*H (*****)

Agree or disagree with the choices I've made? Which, if any, of the original nine would you get rid of? Any preferences for war movies hat I haven't mentioned? Leave me a comment, let me know.


  1. Great recommendations! Love that you included The Big Red One, which is one of my favorite war films. I recently watched Five Graves to Cairo and loved it, so it's nice to see that make the cut. Also, I'm actually planning to watch A Bridge Too Far and The Longest Day soon.

    What about The Guns of Navarone? Of course, you might've given it less than 4 stars, or it could be in the public consciousness, since it's a Best Picture nominee.

    1. Guns of Navarone. I've not seen it. I know QT has referenced it a bit and sort of assumed it was a western/in the same field as Rio Bravo that other film he references a lot. Ooops.

    2. Well, I only thought of it because I watched it last week, so it's probably not a major omission.

    3. I really enjoyed it. It's comparable to films like Von Ryan's Express and The Great Escape, but I wouldn't rank it above them. Still, 4.5/5 for me.

  2. Great list. well written,
    one more to watch.
    although not actually set in a war zone is pretty good.
    vietnam antihero sort of film.

    head zombie

    1. Thanks for the tip. I certainly have my doubts over it however, Colin Farrell as a Texan? Joel Schumacher directing? It's never screamed quality to me but it does have a very high imdb rating.

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