Dog Soldiers (2002)

(R) 105 mins

(R) 105 mins

Plot Summary: A routine military exercise turns into a nightmare in the Scotland wilderness.

Director & Writer: Neil Marshall

Stars: Sean Pertwee, Kevin McKidd, Emma Cleasby

Serious Jest: animated beer mug 25% (transparent bkgrd)animated beer mug 25% (transparent bkgrd) (Don’t Bother)  Think Predator, but with worse dialogue and much worse special effects (ironically, 15 years later). The “dog soldiers” were laughable.

It’s a shame because the plot and its twists had some real potential. Some of the actors, such as McKidd and Cleasby, were also pretty competent. Finally, it appears that the military technical advisors were pretty good, as well.

Band of Brothers (2001)

(TV-MA)

(TV-MA)

Plot Summary: The story of Easy Company of the US Army 101st Airborne division and their mission in WWII Europe from Operation Overlord through V-J Day.

Stars: Scott Grimes, Matthew Leitch, Damian Lewis

Serious Jest: animated beer mug 25% (transparent bkgrd)animated beer mug 25% (transparent bkgrd)animated beer mug 25% (transparent bkgrd)animated beer mug 25% (transparent bkgrd)animated beer mug 25% (transparent bkgrd) (Watch It Live)  As a former Marine who deployed to Iraq, this ten-episode mini-series is a must for my personal collection.  In fact, I think it’s safe to say all military personnel should have it in their collections.  Even if you have little to no interest in military affairs, however, you should take the time at some point in your life to watch this series all the way through.

Beautifully scripted, masterfully acted, and filmed amongst breathtaking (in many different ways) cinematography, this production, which significantly contributed to HBO‘s fast rise as the gold standard in series quality, is an amazing portrayal of the sacrifices made by troops and of the horrors of war.  A healthy dose of clips from this series was played by my instructors during training ops to drive home points about all kinds of important subjects germane to war.

A few random thoughts I had while watching the project:

  • Everyone did such a great job acting, and the character development was top-notch.  Even amongst this wonderful cast, Damian Lewis stood out, followed closely by Neal McDonough.

  • It was pretty awesome to see David Schwimmer play such a different role.

  • There are countless useful lessons to be learned from this series, especially by those who hope to lead troops someday.

  • Why is there so much hip firing throughout the series?  Isn’t it a bit unrealistic to make some of these shots without looking down your sights?

  • I watched one of the most squared-away officers in the 101st return a salute sitting on his ass.  This would not happen in the Marines.  Is it different in the Army?

  • I understand very well the transition that one may go through in terms of how he/she thinks of the enemy during war.  When you first get out there, you dehumanize them in your head in order to justify some of the things that you may have to do.  After a while, however, there comes a point when you realize that your enemies are human beings, much like you, fighting out of a sense of duty, and just trying to make it out of this thing alive like you are.  At least, I went through a transition like that, and this series did a good job of illustrating such a transition.  Still, despite the respect that our soldiers may have gained for the Germans as a formidable fighting force made up of dedicated human soldiers, they were still Nazis.  They were supporting some pretty foul principles.  I’m not saying that our troops were wrong for regarding Nazi troops with the respect that they did during the conflict, but I wonder if my attitude toward Nazi soldiers would have softened even after we defeated them.

  • It would be great to have a beer with one of the living members of the 101st who fought in WWII.

  • After you finish watching this production, watch The Pacific. It’s even better!  Then again, I’m biased. 🙂

Marco Polo (2014-Present)

(TV-MA)

(TV-MA)

Plot Summary: In a world replete with greed, betrayal, sexual intrigue and rivalry, “Marco Polo” is based on the famed explorer’s adventures in Kublai Khan’s court in 13th century China.

Stars: Lorenzo Richelmy, Benedict Wong, Joan Chen

Serious Jest: animated beer mug 25% (transparent bkgrd)animated beer mug 25% (transparent bkgrd)animated beer mug 25% (transparent bkgrd)animated beer mug 25% (transparent bkgrd)animated beer mug 25% (transparent bkgrd) (Watch it Live)  Martial arts, political maneuvering, military strategy, philosophy, sex, romance, culture clashes, and issues of family, dynasty, and pride…amongst more.  This series has it all.  Wonderfully acted and masterfully directed.  Storytelling at its top level.  This show makes me want to research history to learn how close to the real events this series depicted…but not until after the show is over.  Wouldn’t want to spoil any future episodes for myself!

Kill List (2012)

(NR) 96 mins

(NR) 96 mins

Plot Summary: When a scarred ex-soldier turned contract killer is pressured into taking a new job, his world begins to unravel until fear and paranoia sending him reeling towards a horrifying point of no return.

Starring: Neil Maskell, MyAnna Buring

Serious Jest: animated beer mug 25% (transparent bkgrd)animated beer mug 25% (transparent bkgrd)animated beer mug 25% (transparent bkgrd) (Worth Watching)  This movie is suspenseful, well-acted, and interesting in a wide range of ways, including an insightful look at the aftermath of the sacrifices that soldiers make in war.  It has a realistic feel, even with the injection of the occult.  I thoroughly enjoyed this flick…until the end.

The ending may leave you needing more of an explanation…in my case, it did.  I had a better understanding after reading the explanation on Holy Moly, and additional reflection yielded my own interpretation.  Still, I felt that the jump to the final “twist” needed much more development to get there.  Ironically, so many of the characters and relationships in this film were extremely well developed, but this ending left me with theatrical blueballs.

After further reflection, however, I drew my own conclusions as to the meaning of the movie, based on my military background.  Maybe a deeper understanding of the occult and its symbolism would have allowed me to better catch the intended meaning of the film, but, all in all, this film was worth watching for me because it inspired deeper thought hours after watching it.  I’d be glad to discuss any reader’s take on the meaning in the comments, but please remember to adequately mark SPOILERS.

Tirofijo Ha Muerto (2010)

51 mins

Watch it for free at Hulu.

Studio: Imagina US

Plot Summary: Tirofijo was a legend…he was said to have died hundreds of times.  In 1964, his Revolutionary Armed Forces of Columbia (FARC) was born amidst attempts by the Columbian government to crush his rural army.  Since then, politicians and the military alike have hunted him.  With every “death,” Tirofijo got stronger.  Others tried to negotiate peace, but war kept recurring.  Influenced by Marxism and justified by rampant inequality in Columbia, Tirofijo survived 14 presidents.  Along the way, his army, financed by extortion and the drug trade, grew to 20,000 combatants.  In May 2008, without having consummated his revolution, he died of old age.

Serious Jest:  (Worth Watching)  In case you haven’t read my reviews of El Rescate Perfecto and Operacion Sodoma: La Caida del Mono Jojoy, I am fascinated by the Columbian government’s conflict with FARC.  This documentary traces FARC’s roots, rise, and recent losses, with a focus on its infamous co-founder.  Unfortunately for my non-Spanish speakers, this film is completely in Spanish, with no subtitles.  For my Spanish speakers, this documentary contains an overwhelming amount of information, but it covers ground fast, and remains interesting throughout.

The Eagle (2011)

(PG-13) 113 mins

Plot Summary: In Roman-ruled Britain, a young Roman soldier endeavors to honor his father’s memory by finding his lost legion’s golden emblem.

Director: Kevin Macdonald

Writers: Jeremy Brock (screenplay), Rosemary Sutcliff (novel)

Stars: Channing TatumJamie Bell and Donald Sutherland

Serious Jest:  (Must See)  In Episode Beta of the Podcast, I wondered why so many American movies & shows in English about non-English-speaking characters, like Spartacus: Blood and Sand, chose to assign a British accent to those characters.  CraigMakk & Chewie responded that it would be totally weird to have ancient Romans speaking in an American accent.  I disagreed.  Consider this film Exhibit A in my favor.  The audience was not forced to listen to Tatum and Sutherland attempt to fake a British accent while playing Romans (I imagine that, because they were playing Romans in Britain, contrast in accent was key), and they were not any less convincing for speaking in American accents.

In fact, I continue to be increasingly impressed with Tatum.  Much like Brad Pitt and Leonardo DiCaprio did, Tatum is bucking a potential pretty-boy typecast by undertaking different, exciting roles that don’t rely on good looks, whether they’re an emotionally unstable drug dealer in The Dilemma, or the gritty, battered & bruised soldier in The Eagle…and he totally commits to those roles, obviously not worried about whether his goo-goo-eyed female fans see him looking whacked out or beat up.  As a result, I think he’s gaining respect among a wider range of fans, including guys like me.

The story in this film is also pretty original, and has several twists throughout.  The fight scenes are awesome, as well, although a few times I question why the British characters decided to abandon positional advantages to fight Romans with shields head-on (there is a particular forest scene that left me puzzled in that respect).

The movie also takes a serious chance by dispelling the notion of true good and evil in war, despite the main plot being about a soldier trying to regain his family’s honor by rescuing a military symbol.  The film openly acknowledges that both sides commit atrocities against the other, and that good and evil really depend on what side of the fence on which you’re standing.  This makes it harder to root for Tatum’s character to recover the Eagle, which is arguably a symbol of military conquest over people who were trying to defend their homelands.  It also makes Bell’s character potentially less likable, as he is arguably a traitor.

Personally, I feel that taking that chance was brave, and that it paid off, because it will inspire conversations and deeper thinking among those who watch the movie.  However, I wish that the film would have gone farther, and had the characters resolve some of those dilemmas, instead of just acknowledging them and moving on with the same plans.

The General (1926)


(UR) 107 mins

Watch it for free at IMDB via Hulu.

Synopsis: When Union spies steal an engineer’s beloved locomotive, he pursues it single-handedly and straight through enemy lines.

Directors: Clyde BruckmanBuster Keaton

Writers: Buster Keaton (written by), Clyde Bruckman (written by), Al Boasberg (adaptation), Charles Henry Smith (adaptation) (as Charles Smith), William Pittenger (book “Daring and Suffering: a History of the Great Railroad Adventure”; memoir “The Great Locomotive Chase”) (uncredited), Paul Girard Smith (uncredited)

Stars: Buster KeatonMarion Mack and Glen Cavender

Serious Jest:  (Worth Watching)  I almost gave this one 2 mugs because I thought it ran a little longer than it needed to, it is a black-and-white silent film, and the protagonist was fighting for the Confederacy.  However, as a military man, I had to appreciate the military humor.  Plus, Keaton was a hell of an athlete, the story is unique, and I have to admit that the movie was entertaining.  This one is worth the time to watch, if you’re bored; since it’s silent, you can even listen to the Live from the ManCave podcast while watching…then it’d be awesome.