Wings (1927) Review

Directors: William A. Wellman and Harry d’Abbadie d’Arrast

Genre(s): Action, Drama, Romance, War

Runtime: 144 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13

IMDb Page

The 1927 war-time aviation epic Wings was the first movie to win the Academy Award for Best Picture (then called “Outstanding Picture”). It’s not my favorite film of 1927 (that would be Metropolis [1927]), but this is unquestionably a solid choice for that honor. During World War I, two American pilots – Jack Powell (Charles “Buddy” Rogers) and David Armstrong (Richard Arlen) – are in love with the same woman, Sylvia Lewis (Jobyna Ralston), and have to put aside their differences to be effective servicemen. The resulting feature is one of the best of the silent era.

Extraordinarily, two of the leads, Charles “Buddy” Rogers and Richard Arlen, had to learn how to fly aircraft so that it would be the actual actors in the cockpits of the fighter planes during the flying sequences. The film’s credited director, William A. Wellman, flew an airplane for the French Foreign Legion during World War I (scoring three confirmed “kills”), so this guy knows what he’s doing (IMDb also claims that Harry d’Abbadie d’Arrast was an uncredited co-director for the project). The action scenes, both on the ground and in the air, are astounding. They’re huge in scale and feature insane stuntwork.

The flaws with Wings are few. There is a fairly lengthy scene dealing with Rogers’ character’s adventures in Paris while he’s drunk off his ass that slow the movie down. The flick also goes on for a tad too long after the war ends. However, these are just about the only things that I can think that go wrong with this action-filled picture.

This is a truly massive production with an energetic musical score by J.S. Zamecnik. It may be silent, but some of its heart-pounding spectacle still hasn’t been topped in the age of computer-generated imagery. Make sure to keep your eyes peeled for a very early appearance by Gary Cooper (as Cadet White) as a pilot who greets the main characters at flight training. He even has a Hershey’s chocolate bar, in an early piece of product placement. Don’t miss this one!

My rating is 8 outta 10.

FDR: American Badass! (2012) Review

Director: Garrett Brawith

Genre(s): Comedy, War

Runtime: 93 minutes

MPAA Rating: R

IMDb Page

Warning: If you have any dignity, taste, reverence, self-respect, integrity, class, culture, or decency, turn off your DVD/Blu Ray player right now and avoid this film like the plague. However, if you lack those traits, you’ll probably enjoy this ultra-low-brow comedy about U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt (Barry Bostwick) preventing Axis werewolves from taking over the world. Yes, there will be polio jokes.

The humor in FDR: American Badass! ranges from Airplane! (1980)-esque silliness to randy, raunchy punchlines, including a couple revolving around taking a dump in a flower vase. This comedy certainly won’t appeal to everyone, but there is a great deal of joy to be had from the anachronistic swearing and dialogue. The hammy acting and the horrible, low-budget special effects only add to the “funny factor.”

Yeah, a couple of the “sketches” that make up the movie may last a little too long, and not every joke lands (of course, there’s so many that some duds are expected). The introductory sequence is pretty cringe-inducing, but, if all you want are cheap laughs and obscenities aplenty, it’s smooth sailing after that. It’s not an action picture, despite some claims, so don’t expect the titular character’s tricked-out wheelchair to be used as much as you might hope.

FDR: American Badass! is perhaps the first film that pops into my head when I hear the phrase “dumb comedy.” It’s pretty undemanding and “politically incorrect,” and will probably end up a personal classic for those who watch it and don’t expect anything more than gags about polio, promiscuity, pot, and poop. I laugh a lot at it, despite its trashy aesthetic, so I’m going to give it a thumbs-up for certain audiences.

My rating is 8 outta 10.

Farewell to the King (1989) Review

Director: John Milius

Genre(s): Action, Adventure, Drama, War

Runtime: 117 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13

IMDb Page

One of John Milius’ more underappreciated directorial efforts is the 1989 war-time action-adventure flick Farewell to the King. During World War II, an American soldier named Learoyd (Nick Nolte) goes A.W.O.L. to become the leader of a tribe of natives deep in the jungles of Borneo. This macho, yet sensitive, war-drama is a real treat if you can get your hands on it.

Farewell to the King, of course, has very good action sequences, but the real reason to watch this obscure movie is for its human drama. Several moments, including the tearjerker ending, are bound to get an emotional reaction out of the audience. The impact of these scenes is heightened by Basil Poledouris’ musical score, which simply has to be one of the best in cinema history. There is also some grand cinematography to be found here, as the camera captures great jungle landscapes and skies.

Yeah, this motion picture might overly romanticize “underdeveloped” societies, but, hey, it’s just a movie. Being a heroic depiction of a king that doesn’t appear to have any constitutional restraints is a tad troubling, making it feel like it has monarchist sympathies. The feature also veers from bloodthirstiness to pacifism with little predictability, but, well, it’s a John Milius movie. You get what you pay for.

Farewell to the King is an underrated action-adventure gem waiting to be discovered. It works if you’re looking for high adventure with World War II as its backdrop or if you’re looking for a character-centered drama with an epic musical score to prop it up. I can’t say it’s a realistic, or even plausible, film, but it’s just too damn entertaining to miss.

My rating is 9 outta 10.

1917 (2019) Review

Director: Sam Mendes

Genre(s): Drama, Thriller, War

Runtime: 119 minutes

MPAA Rating: R

IMDb Page

Hollywood doesn’t seem to make too many World War I films these days, but, once in a while, they crank out one that gets a thumbs-up from me. My favorite movie on the First World War so far is 2019’s 1917. During that horrendous conflict, two British soldiers on the Western Front, Blake (Dean-Charles Chapman) and Schofield (George MacKay), are tasked with delivering a message across no-man’s-land to cancel a planned attack on the German lines that’s doomed to fail. It turns out that Blake’s brother, Joseph (Richard Madden), is one of the troopers who’s going to participate in the offensive, adding even more urgency to the proceedings.

1917 was shot in a way that makes it look like one, continuous take. It wasn’t actually one, big shot, but that doesn’t take away how meticul0us and detailed it all feels. So, does the one-take cinematography distract from the storytelling at all? I would say “not really,” even though such a “gimmick” could’ve easily made itself the focus of the picture. To the feature’s credit, the action moves along quite fluidly and the camerawork does not feel limiting. On a related note, the sets the filmmakers dealt with must’ve been absolutely massive.

Characterization here isn’t particularly detailed, but it’s enough to get the job done. It’s not hard to invest yourself emotionally with the situations that the main characters find themselves in on their journey across the wastelands of the Western Front (the only real flaw with 1917 is that landscape isn’t always as Hellish as it should be…there’s often too much grass). This is a film about war-time heroism that generally shies away from over-the-top displays of machismo. Of course, it’s not one-hundred-percent realistic, but it’s grounded enough to work properly.

While there certainly are action scenes and ferocious thrills to be found here, this isn’t quite the combat-heavy Saving Private Ryan (1998)-style treatment of the Great War that many expected. Still, I actually enjoyed it a tad more than that excellent motion picture, as I found 1917 to be tighter and more successful in its dealings with side characters. War movies as great as 1917 don’t come along often, so I highly recommend it. It’s more than just a director showing off his immense talent, it’s a dramatically satisfying and hair-raisingly intense experience. 1917 is simply outstanding.

My rating is 9 outta 10.

The Charge of the Light Brigade (1936) Review

Director: Michael Curtiz

Genre(s): Action, Adventure, Romance, War

Runtime: 115 minutes

MPAA Rating: Not Rated

IMDb Page

It seems to me that 1936’s The Charge of the Light Brigade set out to be the biggest, most exciting, most epic-scale war/action-adventure picture made up to that point in time. It’s about a romantic triangle set amidst the chaos of unrest in British-occupied India and, later, the Crimean War. This was one of nine movies where Errol Flynn (playing Geoffrey Vickers here) and Olivia de Havilland (as Elsa Campbell) played love interests.

First and foremost, it should be pointed out that the dazzling action scenes found here might be the best in movie history up to the point of its initial release (“Here’s your action!” Errol Flynn says as one battle breaks out, almost as if he’s addressing the audience). Well, the hyper-realistic combat scenes in All Quiet on the Western Front (1930), released six years earlier, might top it, but The Charge of the Light Brigade puts up one Hell of a fight to outdo it. However, it definitely needs to be said that about twenty-five horses were killed or had to be put down due to the trip-wires used to make them fall over when “shot” (in addition, at least one human stuntman died during filming). It also appears that an actual leopard or two were shot and killed during a hunt sequence set in India. This senseless slaughter led to the Congress of the United States passing laws to protect animals on film sets.

The music in this feature, composed by Mex Steiner, is one of its highlights. The same cannot be said of the romantic triangle that takes up a significant portion of the runtime. It’s pretty mind-numbing stuff, and there are a couple of other dialogue-heavy scenes not related to the love story that slow down the pace a tad. When it comes to historical accuracy, it’s best to just shut your brain off while watching The Charge of the Light Brigade, because this movie strays from the facts innumerable times. This doesn’t bother me as much as the animal killings, though.

It’s hard not to feel a little guilty watching this flick for that reason. The battles are stupendous, but the wanton cruelty to creatures here is impossible to ignore (supposedly, star Errol Flynn almost killed director Michael Curtiz over the treatment of the horses). I would normally call the romance in a war film like this to a subplot, but, here, it almost feels like the A-story. These flaws mean that The Charge of Light Brigade is an overall slightly above average picture. If you can stomach the carnage during the action sequences, it might be worth a watch.

My rating is 6 outta 10.

Legionnaire (1998) Review

Director: Peter MacDonald

Genre(s): Action, Adventure, Drama, War

Runtime: 99 minutes

MPAA Rating: R

IMDb Page

It may have the mandatory close-up of Jean-Claude Van Damme’s ass, but Legionnaire is not your typical movie to feature the Muscles from Brussels. I sure don’t recall seeing any roundhouse kicks. Anyway, this film is about French boxer Alain Lefevre (Jean-Claude Van Damme) joining the French Foreign Legion in the 1920s to avoid the mob. He, of course, ends up serving in the Rif War in Morocco. It’s not the most original tale, but it’s a well-told story that kept my attention.

While primarily a war/action-adventure flick, Legionnaire features a satisfactory dramatic core. Jean-Claude Van Damme has an underappreciated knack for picking projects with nifty, simple, yet effective, emotional hooks. The characters here are mostly clear and easy to root for. The musical score by John Altman works well, and there’s only a minimum of romance.

All of those components are fine and dandy…but how’s the action? If you’re just here for the combat, then you probably won’t leave disappointed. The film’s action sequences, mainly battles between the French Foreign Legion and Moroccan rebels, are truly excellent. This picture was directed by Peter MacDonald, who also helmed Rambo III (1988), and his scenes of physicality here are almost as impressive as the ones in that Rambo flick. Van Damme is definitely in action hero mode here, but he’s not really an obnoxiously unrealistic one-man army.

On the flip side, Legionnaire is home to some of the most clich├ęd dialogue in movie history. If an original script is one of the primary things you look for in a film, please skip this one. However, if all you’re looking for is a war picture with reasonable drama and spectacular action set-pieces, Legionnaire is more-than-worth looking into. It’s much more epic in scope than your average JCVD feature and feels more grounded in reality. I like it quite a bit.

My rating is 8 outta 10.

The Real Glory (1939) Review

Director: Henry Hathaway

Genre(s): Action, Adventure, War

Runtime: 96 minutes

MPAA Rating: Not Rated

IMDb Page

One of my favorite movies of Gary Cooper’s career is this now-largely-forgotten film set during the Moro Rebellion in the early 1900s. In 1906, a team of American soldiers, including Bill Canavan (Gary Cooper), Terence McCool (David Niven), and “Swede” Larsen (Broderick Crawford), is deployed to a remote Filipino village to train the locals to defend themselves from Moro marauders (the Philippines were a U.S. colony at the time). Don’t let this picture’s obscure status dissuade you…it’s thoroughly satisfying.

The Real Glory has well-defined characters and, at times, has a palpable sense of desperation as the protagonists find themselves on the ropes against their foes lurking in the Filipino jungle. Yes, there is some silly romance that reduces our heroes to children, but it’s not as distracting it is in some other films. This movie embodies the Wilsonian spirit of the United States using its might to democratize the nations of the globe and empower the downtrodden.

On the action front, most of the fireworks are saved for the grand finale, but there are some bits of action here and there prior to it. The final battle gets pretty over-the-top at times (you won’t believe what the bad guys do with the bending palm trees!), but it’s all part of the fun. People checking this flick out just for the heroic stuff probably won’t leave disappointed. The feature is also a bit more violent than your typical 1939 movie.

The hidden gem The Real Glory was rereleased in theaters after the United States entered World War II (retitled “A Yank in the Philippines“), but the War Department recommended that the film be withdrawn, since the Moros were now U.S. allies in the ongoing conflict against the Japanese. Keep your eyes peeled for Vladimir Sokoloff (who played the “Old Man” of the village in The Magnificent Seven [1960]) as the Datu, the representative to the American armed forces of the Moro community in the besieged town. So, you may not have heard of this action-adventure/war tale before, but I certainly give it a hearty recommendation.

My rating is 8 outta 10.