In 1970, Edwin Starr’s anti-war opus “War” hit the number-one spot on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. While the message of the track was painfully clear (it was against the conflict that was going on at the time in Vietnam), it nevertheless sparked a heated debate between parties from every aspect of the political scale. Forty years on, the Vietnam War is no longer a concern to the general public (with the exception of a few interesting fellows you tend to encounter out in front of coffee shops and Laundromats). Edwin’s song, on the other hand — not to mention its meaning — has gone on to become less of a statement, but more of a pop-culture reference — particularly in the motion picture and television industry.
In short, the question remains: “What is it good for?” Well, if the entertainment industry’s many productions that come out each and every year, focusing their attention on the multifaceted aspects of war are any evidence as to what the official — if slightly sarcastic — answer to Edwin’s query might be, I suppose that the well-sanctioned riposte would be something along the lines of “Hey, it’s good for making movies and TV shows, of course.” And, with that in mind, I present you with six titles now available on home video that explore the versatility that only a straightforward scuffle can supply, aptly titled: “War. What is it Good For? Why, Entertainment, Of Course!” Good God, y’all!
· 20th Century With Mike Wallace: America At War (1995) (Athena)
The Short Version: A fascination collection of early History Channel fodder.
The Slightly-Elongated Version: Acorn Media’s educational/historical label Athena brings us another collection of episodes from 20th Century With Mike Wallace from the mid-‘90s, and which originally aired on The History Channel. Ever the astonishingly-adept anchor, the one and only Mike Wallace (of 60 Minutes fame) takes on into the dusty old archives of stock footage to present us with a look on the aforementioned Vietnam War (cue the Edwin Starr, kids), the (first) Gulf War and what the Korean War was like without Alan Alda. The three-disc series also examines some of the country’s alternative forms of armed forces (e.g. the Green Berets, Navy SEALs, women), takes a peek at the advancements in weaponry following the Cold War, and even touches on some of the great gaffes in military history (such as the Bay of Pigs Invasion and that wonderful Iran hostage rescue). While the Cable TV programming of 1995 wasn’t quite as in-depth or as compelling as it is today, 20th Century With Mike Wallace: America At War is nevertheless an educational piece (especially for those of you who didn’t see it the first time ‘round).
· Attack On Darfur (2009) (Phase 4 Films)
The Short Version: Uwe Boll brings us serious movie for a change.
The Slightly-Elongated Version: The very mention of his name causes some people to flee in terror, while others have honestly considered waging a war of their own against Germany for unleashing him upon the world. His name is Uwe Boll, and he is often considered to be one of the worst filmmakers in the industry. Obviously, the people who make such preposterous claims probably enjoy films by Michael Bay, Jerry Bruckheimer, Will Smith and Akiva Goldsman — and thusly, have no such right to accuse anyone of anything. Truth be told, Boll’s usual tongue-in-cheek style of filmmaking is right up my alley; but with Darfur, Uwe has brought us a very unusual, solemnly-stern and extremely gritty look at the genocide in Sudan. The story centers on several American journalists who are faced with either venturing back to the States so that they can report what they‘ve seen, or staying to help the locals whose lives have been forever and tragically altered by the grotesque goings-on. Billy Zane (who has really and unfairly earned a bad rep over the years) leads the mostly-formidable cast, which also includes Hakeem Kae-Kazim, Kristanna Loken, and (unfortunately) Edward Furlong.
· A Film Unfinished (2010) (Oscilloscope Laboratories)
The Short Version: The real-life Nazi equivalent of Cannibal Holocaust and The Blair Witch Project.
The Slightly-Elongated Version: Since we’ve already touched upon the topic of genocide, this would be as good of a time as any to bring up Adolf Hitler. But this isn’t your typical documentary approach to the Holocaust. Following the final days of World War II, a mysterious canister of film was discovered in a concrete vault, far away from the prying eyes of the world in an East Berlin forest: a propaganda film of petrifying proportions entitled Das Ghetto. Years later, additional footage from the partial project was discovered, enabling documentarian Yael Hersonski to make this disheartening look at Nazi manipulation at its finest. A Film Unfinished investigates the origins of the original footage, recreating the events around the making of the film via documented reports and eyewitness accounts. Scenes of “upper-class” Jews in the Warsaw Ghetto circa 1942 dining and dancing while their brethren are being tortured slaughtered outside are obviously staged, and running commentaries from survivors only go to make this motion picture experience all the more devastating. It’s a thoroughly-fascinating find overall, but not if you’re on the lookout for the perfect Bar Mitzvah gift.
· Tigerland (2000) (Fox Home Entertainment)
The Short Version: Another shitty Joel Schumacher film. Now on Blu-ray!
The Slightly-Elongated Version: One of the nice things about the major video labels slowly churning out their older catalogue titles to Blu-ray is that you get the chance to revisit movies you didn’t find to be overly-impressive the first time ‘round. I remember seeing Joel Schumacher’s Tigerland in the early ‘00s when it first hit home video. Suffice to say, I didn’t care for it then, and I still don’t today. This early Colin Farrell starring vehicle brings us the harsh existence of a group of infantry trainees in Louisiana, as they prepare to ship out to Vietnam in 1971. While some (who usually turn out to be folks that were in the armed forces at one time or another, or whose family members were) see this one as a masterpiece, others find it to be rather typical war fare (read: boring) — only this time, Joel Schumacher fills up the screen with lots of pretty young men. It has its plus side: it put me to sleep both times I tried watching it (maybe the third time will be the charm, eh?). Fox Home Entertainment’s new Blu-ray of the film is a somewhat murky affair (particularly in the A/V departments) and includes a few new special features mixed with a lot of old ones. Also available on DVD.
· Demob (1993) (Acorn Media)
The Short Version: An oft-delightful British dramedy about life after WWII.
The Slightly-Elongated Version: We see a lot of stories that take place during wars. We also see a fair deal of tales that transpire many years following wars. But how often do we get to explore that odd transitionary period wherein ex-soldiers have to go back to normal, civilian life? Demob (short for “demobilized”) is an early-‘90s British comedy/drama that tells of two army buddies (played to the hilt by Doc Martin’s own Martin Clunes and Griff Rhys Jones of Alas Smith And Jones fame) that return to England immediately following the end of their stint in WWII. Life for these two former entertainers (they never entered into battle) isn’t what they grew accustomed to. One the one side, you have Ian Deasey (Jones), who has to contend with his alienated wife and son, while Dick Dobson (Clunes) prefers to avoid his family altogether — getting himself (if not the two of them) into some fairly shifty schemes in the process. Acorn Media presents this charming post-war dramedy in a two-disc set that presents us with all six episodes. James Faulkner, Samantha Womack and New Tricks star Amanda Redman co-star.
· Outrage: Born In Terror (2009) (Phase 4 Films)
The Short Version: I suppose Infuriation: Produced In Dreadfulness would have been too honest a title…
The Slightly-Elongated Version: Another, more popular type of post-war genre is the “crazy ex-military feller goes nutso” approach. While a few entries in this field have actually been extremely entertaining — some of them even being good — there are at least several kajillion other movies in this field that are utterly unbearable. One such act of cruelty is known as Outrage (aka Outrage: Born In Terror). It begins with a young lass (Katie Fountain) going on holiday with a couple of friends to an extremely remote hunting lodge way out in the deep dark woods. Their vacation becomes a nightmare — particularly after she encounters a crazy ex-military feller (played by crazy Michael Madsen; choice casting if I ever saw it) who has gone nutso. He and his pals (who are just as crazy) decide to terrorize the vacationing normal people, partially because they’re envious over how much better-looking the young travelers are, but mainly they’re not peculiar. Michael Berryman and Natasha Lyonne also star in this embarrassingly amateurish low-budget crap-fest from Ace Cruz (seriously, that’s his name), best viewed after some Gamma-Hydroxybutyric acid.
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