Monday, May 31, 2010


A list of war movies to watch for Memorial Day.


FULL METAL JACKET (1987) Matthew Modine, Vincent D’Onofrio, R. Lee Ermey. Stanley Kubrick's intense film follows a group from boot camp to Vietnam. INTENSE!

GLORY (1989) Matthew Broderick, Morgan Freeman, Denzel Washington, Cary Elwes. Best Civil War movie ever made.

THE DIRTY DOZEN (1967) Lee Marvin, John Cassavetes, Telly Savalas, Ernest Borgnine, Charles Bronson, Donald Sutherland. A major in America’s OSS trains a group of doomed convicts into an elite special missions force tasked with raiding a fortified Nazi chateau full of vacationing officers. VERY FUN!

SAVING PRIVATE RYAN (1998) Tom Hanks, Matt Damon, Tom Sizemore, Paul Giamatti, Ed Burns. When a World War II private’s three brothers are all killed in action, a platoon is dispatched to retrieve him and send him home amid the European Theater’s last major offensive.

PLATOON (1986) Charlie Sheen, Willem Dafoe, Tom Berenger, Forest Whitaker, Keith David. Oliver Stone’s autobiographical account of his experiences in Vietnam charts the change in disposition of its characters in the face of the war’s shockingly commonplace atrocities.

STALAG 17 (1953) William Holden, Otto Preminger, Peter Graves. An unscrupulous U.S. POW is suspected by fellow inmates to be spying on behalf of their German captors.

THE GREAT ESCAPE (1963) Steve McQueen, James Garner, Charles Bronson, Richard Attenborough. A mostly-true story of the Nazi's plan to isolate the most escape-prone POWs in one "escape proof" facility.

M*A*S*H (1970) Donald Sutherland, Elliot Gould, Robert Duvall. Dark, funny and harrowing.

SHENANDOAH (1965) James Stewart, Doug McClure, Denver Pyle, Patrick Wayne, Katherine Ross. A Virginia farmer's determination not involve his family in the Civil War falls apart when his youngest son is mistaken as a Rebel and taken into Union custody.

THE CAINE MUTINY (1954) Humphrey Bogart, Fred MacMurray, Lee Marvin. The new captain of the U.S. S. Caine, a mine sweeper, drives the crew to the brink of mutiny.

A MIDNIGHT CLEAR (1992) Peter Berg, Kevin Dillon, Ethan Hawk. A German platoon surrenders to an American unit during a temporary truce in the final days of WWII. Over the Christmas holidays the two sides bond, but are then forced to fight when the truce is rescended.

GALLIPOLI (1981) Mel Gibson, Mark Lee. A couple of Australian sprinters face the brutalities of war when they are sent to the front lines.

Sunday, May 30, 2010


Saw the new Robin Hood film this week and unfortunately, Hollywood has still yet to make a great (or accurate) Robin Hood flick.

1. R
OBIN AND MARIAN (1976) Sean Connery and Audrey Hepburn., Robert Shaw and Richard Harris. This is the best cast of any Robin Hood movie. This is actually an "after-the-legend" story. Robin is approaching fifty years old, and he is a captain in the army of King Richard the Lion-Heart. After the King's death, Robin and Little John return to Sherwood Forest to discover that Marian had joined a convent.

I cannot spoil the story by telling you the rest of the plot. Rest assured the story is NOT swashbuckling, it is about the enduring love between two opposite, middle-aged people. Marian's speech to Robin at the end is one of the greatest "I love you" moments in cinema. Robin and Marian is one of the most romantic movies of the 1970s, and very few people have seen it.

2. ROBIN HOOD (1973) Disney's animated version. Despite the fact that all the characters are portrayed by humanoid animals (some with hick Southern accents and others with proper English accents) this is actually one of more accurate portrayals of the Robin Hood legend.

3. WHEN THINGS WERE ROTTEN (1975) Okay technically, this is not a film, it was an ABC-TV series that ran for 13 episodes, and is still one of my all time favorite shows. Created and Produced by Mel Brooks, this was his warm-up for 1993's Robin Hood: Men In Tights

The production was run by the same team responsible for the hit Get Smart! The idea was: Robin Hood and his merry men were all idiots! One of the running plotlines was King John's attempts to establish a monopoly of the olive oil market. "Anyone who wants to make a salad will have to come to me!" Still one of the funniest sitcoms of all time!

4. ROBIN HOOD: MEN IN TIGHTS (1993) Pale theatrical version of aforementioned When Things Were Rotten.

5. ROBIN HOOD (2010) Russell Crowe, Cate Blanchett, William Hurt and Max Von Sydow. Gladiator in Sherwood Forest! If you don't care about a logical plot, or care about the Robin Hood legend, you will love this movie. Lots of fighting, treachery and derring-do! Even though it makes no sense. The main complaint though: it's a prequel! The movie ends at the point it should actually begin!

6. THE ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD (1938) Errol Flynn and Olivia de Havilland. The first big Hollywood treatment set the standard (and storyline) for the next 50 years. But these days it comes across as silly and amateurish.

HOOD: PRINCE OF THIEVES (1991) Kevin Costner, Morgan Freeman, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, Christian Slater. Awful. Boring. Depressing. Costner uses an English accent with certain words, but the rest of the time doesn't bother. What a disaster!

Saturday, May 29, 2010

TODAY IN HISTORY: Tarleton Gives "Quarter: & Fremont Heads West

On this day in 1780, the treatment of Patriot prisoners by British Colonel Banastre Tarleton and his Loyalist troops leads to the coining of a phrase that comes to define British brutality for the rest of the War for Independence: "Tarleton's Quarter."

After the surrender of Charleston on May 12, the 3rd Virginia, commanded by Colonel Abraham Buford, was virtually the only organized Patriot formation remaining in South Carolina; British Colonel Banastre Tarleton had been given the mission to destroy any colonial resistance in the state. At Waxhaws on the North Carolina border, a cavalry charge by Tarleton's men broke the 350 remaining Patriots under Buford. Tarleton and his Tories proceeded to shoot at the Patriots after their surrender, a move that spawned the term "Tarleton's Quarter," which in the eyes of the Patriots meant a brutal death at the hands of a cowardly foe. The Continentals lost 113 killed and 203 captured in the Battle of Waxhaws; British losses totaled 19 men and 31 horses killed or wounded. Although they were routed, the loss became a propaganda victory for the Continentals: wavering Carolina civilians terrified of Tarleton and their Loyalist neighbors were now prepared to rally to the Patriot cause.

Under the leadership of Thomas Sumter, the Patriot militia quickly returned the terror in kind with their own brutal raids on Carolina loyalists. Carolinians went on to fight a bloody civil war in which they killed their own with far greater efficacy than any outsider sent to assist them.


John C. Fremont again departs from St. Louis to explore the West, having only recently returned from his first western expedition.

The son of a French father and American mother, Fremont had an unstable and nomadic childhood, and money troubles often plagued his family. He was kicked out of the College of Charleston for "consorting with a mulatto wench." As a young man, he showed an aptitude for mathematics and surveying, and in 1838, he won a commission as a second lieutenant in the U.S. Corps of Topographical Engineers. In 1842, he received an assignment to make a survey of the Platte River, and set out with 24 companions, including the famous guide Kit Carson. During five months of travel, Fremont crossed the South Pass in central Wyoming and explored the Wind River Mountains.

Scarcely before he had time to recover from his first expedition, Fremont was preparing to depart on his second. On this day in 1843, Fremont left St. Louis on a much more ambitious journey to explore the Oregon country. In Colorado the party met up with Carson, who had again agreed to serve as a guide. On September 6, the Fremont caught site of the Great Salt Lake in Utah, "stretching in still and solitary grandeur far beyond the limits of our vision." By early November, they arrived at Fort Vancouver, across the Columbia River from the present-day site of Portland.

Having surveyed the Oregon country, Fremont's orders were to return east via the Oregon Trail. Fremont, however, apparently decided this would be an inadequately grand approach, and decided instead to head south and cross the Sierra Nevada in the middle of the winter. The journey was awful and nearly disastrous. Fremont and his men struggled with the deep snow and bitter cold; they often got lost and ate their horses to survive. Thanks to the skill of Carson and amazing good luck with the weather, the expedition eventually emerged from the mountains and limped into Sutter's Fort on March 6, 1844. After resting for three weeks, they returned east by a route that took them through the Wasatch and Uinta Mountains of Utah.

With the help of his wife, Jessie, Fremont wrote a detailed account of his western adventures. The report made some notable errors. Fremont foolishly identified the country around the Great Salt Lake as fertile-a mistake that contributed to the Mormons decision to migrate to the area. However, Fremont's account did provide the first comprehensive scientific survey of vast areas of the West.

Fremont went on to lead two other successful expeditions to the West. His reports of these and his earlier journeys made him a national hero and he later went into politics. He lived into his early 70s, but the four western journeys he made before he was 40 remained his greatest achievements.