War Pigeons

Valiant is one of the most forgotten computer animated movies ever distributed by Disney. I can’t believe I ever mistook it for a Pixar movie. At the time my brother and I were determined to see every computer animated movie regardless of who made it. My dad actually took us to the theater to see Valiant when I was 10 years old. I never had any desire to see it again and it doesn’t hold up well after a rewatch. Valiant is only 1 hour & 15 minutes long with amateur animation done exclusively in the UK. Though Disney was the American distributor, Valiant was the first film from the British studio Vanguard Animation.

The respectable British cast is about the only impressive thing about the movie. Ewan McGregor, Ricky Gervais, John Cleese, Olivia Williams, John Hurt, Jim Broadbent, Hugh Laurie, and Tim Curry all put forth minimal effort. It’s a shame, because the stories heart is in the right place. Valiant is technically a war picture set in World War II from the perspective of homing pigeons. The titular Valiant is a small pigeon with big dreams of joining the Royal air force. You know the drill, he’s an underdog that no one believes in until he proves himself in the end.

The rest of his squad is forgettable, but his wacky sidekick Bugsy is hard to ignore. Let’s just say war and fart jokes don’t really go together. All the animals wear clothing including French beret wearing mice, a fully clothed nurse that Valiant has a crush on, and the falcon villain wearing a not so subtle eyepatch. At least there’s no overt Nazi imagery in this kids movie. It’s nice to learn about the real life animals who were awarded in WWII, but Valiant is too boring to make it interesting.


Royal Homing Pigeon Service Squad F

What is a Soldier without War?

All Quiet on the Western Front (2022) is the most authentic adaptation of the 1929 novel. Unlike the 1930 original or 1979 TV movie, the 2022 Netflix film was actually made in Germany with a German cast speaking German. Since most war movies are from an American perspective, you’re forgiven for thinking All Quiet on the Western Front is one of them. I’m always willing to watch a foreign language film, but Netflix does have an automatic English dub that I refused to watch. If any German film was going to make an impact internationally, I’m glad it was something familiar that they could make their own. All Quiet on the Western Front (2022) keeps the emotionally affective theme of young soldiers facing the harsh reality of World War I, but this is more reimagining than remake.

Paul is still the soldier we follow from the frontline and into the trenches, but his entire homelife is left out. German newcomer Felix Kammerer shows a wide range of emotion as the world crumbles around him. We learn a lot more about older comrade Kat and Paul’s enlisted classmates who have different fates compared to the original. We see the trenches, mustard gas, giant rats, flamethrowers, flooding, and other terrible situations that the soldiers had to deal with. Singing and cooking a goose are the biggest moments of levity in the film. The French women are included, but it’s mostly off-screen. Although many scenes are taken out, I’m glad they included Paul trying to save the young French soldier that he stabs. Of course the biggest change was showing the behind the scenes signing of the Armistice that ended the war.

German representative Matthias Erzberger is likely played by Daniel Brühl in order to appeal to a wider audience. The war ending at a precise time makes Paul’s fate even more tragic in a full circle sort of way. All Quiet on the Western Front (2022) truly comes full circle with 9 Academy Award nominations including Best Picture, Adapted Screenplay, Makeup and Hairstyling, Sound, and Visual Effects. Best International Feature Film was the most obvious win, along with Original Score, Production Design, and Cinematography. WWI is flawlessly recreated through various means and the intense bass score sticks with you. All Quiet on the Western Front (2022) is violent and gritty, but there is beauty in its production.

All Quiet on the Western Front 2022

The 2nd Company in the trenches

They Left for War as Boys, Never to Return as Men

All Quiet on the Western Front (1979) matches the harsh reality of the Best Picture winning original. The difference was choosing to make it a made-for-TV movie. A decision that earned the adaptation a Golden Globe for Best Motion Picture Made for Television. All Quiet on the Western Front (1979) is as intense as the book, but there was only so much CBS could show on Network TV. While I watched the 1930 original in school, my brother brought this version to my attention after he saw it in school. The 1979 version is just as authentic to World War I, but the cast is still primarily English or American.

Marty director Delbert Mann brought several big names including former collaborator Ernest Borgnine, Donald Pleasence, Ian Holm, and Patricia Neal. I was only familiar with Richard Thomas thanks to his role in It. He plays the primary young soldier Paul who joins out of school just like the original. The difference was taking a nonlinear approach to the first act. Pleasence plays the propaganda spouting recruitment professor, but the response from his class is more subtle. Holm plays the overly strict drill instructor who gets no respect from the 2nd Company. I can buy Pleasence and Holm in the cast, but Borgnine is far too American to play a man named Stanislaus Katczinsky.

Although he is the best supporting character for his frank discussions about the meaning of war. Paul uses narration to describe everything bad about the war. Including trench warfare, giant rats, mustard gas, and flamethrowers. The tragic fate of each member in Paul’s company also plays out the same. As does the moment where Paul takes pity on a French enemy soldier. The scene with the lovely French women is longer, but just as tame. Neal makes a brief impact as Paul’s sick mother when he returns home, only to realize the front is his real home. Since a butterfly was original to the 1930 film, it’s a bird that inevitably ends the war. All Quiet on the Western Front (1979) proves just as relevant no matter what decade it is.

All Quiet on the Western Front 1979

The 2nd Company on the frontline

Chick Flick

The Women (2008) should’ve been an easy sell. Although the 1930’s play and film are a product of their time, it was ahead of its time for its female perspective. Which is why the first attempt at a remake didn’t work. Including men in The Opposite Sex was misguided enough, but MGM very nearly considered making a gender swapped remake in 1960 called Gentlemen’s Club. A modern day remake of The Women was a passion project of Murphy Brown creator Diane English since the early 90’s. Several high profile actresses expressed interest in the project and James L. Brooks was considered as director. Even in the late 2000’s major studios still didn’t believe in a movie with an all-female cast. English ended up writing, producing, and directing herself with the remake being shelved until Sex in the City proved successful in theaters. Hollywood may have underestimated The Women (2008), but it’s still not as good as it should’ve been.

The Women (2008) is basically Sex in the City right down to the frequent sexual discussions and New York setting. The PG-13 rating meant less creative innuendos, but they still use the “kennel” insult at the very beginning. Only a few good lines and modern female perspectives follow it. Though The Women (2008) is modernized, it comes across shallow and less believable. The dedication to an all-female cast deserves admiration, but the lack of men makes less sense the more locations we visit. There is one boy in the cast, but I can give the scene a pass. Not even the cast of stars I was more familiar with was enough to win me over. It sounds overly harsh, but Meg Ryan, Annette Bening, Eva Mendes, Debra Messing and Jada Pinkett Smith were all nominated for Worst Actress at the same time. Ryan was kind of past her prime when she played Mary Haines who is now a fashion designer. Bening does her best as the renamed Sylvie Fowler who is now a magazine editor.

Sylvie betrays Mary like the original, but she remains her best friend since women aren’t allowed to be catty in this version. In fact, Sylvie ends up helping Mary’s daughter when she starts acting out. Messing is also friendly throughout as the pregnant Edie who already has several daughters. Pinkett Smith plays an original character named Alex who was only added to be a lesbian in the group. Mendes is perfectly sexy and uncaring as Crystal Allen, but Mary only confronts her once, then never seeks revenge. The climax is at a fashion show where the only goal is self improvement. It doesn’t help that they call attention to the plot feeling like a 1930’s movie. Things like the divorce ranch in Reno are replaced by a woman’s retreat. Candice Bergen, Cloris Leachman, Debi Mazar, Bette Midler, and Carrie Fisher all play repurposed characters from the original. The Women (2008) is too reliant on an already perfect story.

The Women 2008

The women in the perfume department

Remake of: The Women (1939)

Now with Men!

The Opposite Sex is The Women with men. The play and original movie adaptation were both unique for featuring a cast of only women. The Opposite Sex is a 1956 remake that completely undermines the original by showing every previously unseen male character. The ridiculous excuse of the studio was thinking audiences wouldn’t accept a world without men or a romance without a partner. Even though it worked perfectly fine in 1939. The Opposite Sex feels lazy by comparison. Although it is a competently made musical that earned a Golden Globe nomination for Best Musical or Comedy. The songs would be fine on their own, but they’re kind of pointless in the context of the story.

The difference was changing Mary Haines into a former singer named Kay Hilliard. June Allyson was a singer, but one of her songs was dubbed by Jo Ann Greer. A young Leslie Nielsen shows his face as Kay’s husband Steven who is now a producer. Joan Collins is just as conniving as the man stealing Crystal Allen who is now a showgirl. Dolores Gray is also good as the troublemaking Sylvia, but this time she’s the one with cowboy Buck Winston played by Seven Brides for Seven Brothers star Jeff Richards.

Since Joan Blondell’s Edith is the pregnant woman, Agnes Moorehead as the Countess and Ann Miller as a renamed Gloria Dell are Kay’s only friends from the ranch. Charlotte Greenwood was also well cast as the motherly rancher Lucy from Reno. Barbara Jo Allen is the only actress who plays a part in both adaptations. For some reason Kay’s wise mother is replaced by a playwright friend named Amanda played well enough by Ann Sheridan. Kay’s daughter now named Debbie doesn’t have much time to shine, but she does play a crucial role in her mother getting back together with her father. The Opposite Sex may miss the point of the source material, but the story is still there.

The Opposite Sex

The women in their dressing room

Remake of: The Women

There’s a Name for You Ladies

The Women is all about men even though there’s not a single man in the picture. Based on a play written by Clare Boothe Luce, The Women is a rare production with an all-female cast. 1939 was a big year for classic films, but that was my biggest reason for watching it. Since The Women was also screenwritten by women, director George Cukor was the only man who stood between an all-star cast of ladies of all ages. Though I only recognized Joan Crawford and Joan Fontaine, Norma Shearer and Rosalind Russell were just as big at the time. The attention to detail was so good that every background extra, portrait, or animal was sure to be female. The Women passes the Bechdel Test many times, but men are a frequent topic of conversation.

The film focuses on mostly married women from upper-class Manhattan. Though black & white, there is an out of nowhere fashion show shot in technicolor. Shearer goes through many emotions as the married Mary Haines who suspects her husband is cheating. Lucile Watson offers a wise older perspective as Mary’s mother and the young Virginia Weidler is wise beyond her years as Mary’s daughter Little Mary. I didn’t think it was possible to show marital dysfunction without ever seeing the husband, but they found a way. Despite The Women not receiving a single Oscar nomination, Crawford deserved recognition for her delightfully villainous role as Crystal Allen. Crystal takes joy in stealing Mary’s husband and she’s the one who says the film’s most iconic line.

Due to the Hays Code, Hollywood had to get creative with profanity. Referring to ladies as a word used only in a kennel is a perfectly classy insult. Russell is just as rotten as Mary’s manipulative cousin Sylvia Fowler. Along with Phyllis Povah as their gossiping friend Edith. Though there are plenty of positive female friends who help Mary through her divorce. Fontaine is the more innocent Peggy, Mary Boland is an eccentric older divorced Countess, and Paulette Goddard is the younger no-nonsense Miriam Aarons. Fun fact: my mom once played the role of Miriam in a production of the play. Marjorie Main rounds out the cast by taking on her usual role as a strong-willed rancher in Reno. The Women can be funny, but it’s also a classic drama that really takes time to understand what women go through.

The Women 1939

The women gather ’round

What Happens if the Engine Stops?

Snowpiercer is a bleak high speed adventure. In the post-apocalyptic future of 2031, a new ice age has forced all remaining survivors to occupy a never ending train. It’s a unique concept that makes a lot more sense when you read or watch it play out. Snowpiercer (or Le Transperceneige) is a French graphic novel adapted by a South Korean director and filmed in English. This was actually the English language debut of future Oscar winner Bong Joon-ho. The high concept story and all-star cast ensured Snowpiercer would be one of the most expensive South Korean films. Although The Weinstein Company nearly ruined it by making too many cuts, Snowpiercer earned Bong Joon-ho major recognition in America. The film has all of his usual trademarks like class struggle and jarring tonal shifts. The Snowpiercer is a massive train consisting of many unique sections separated by class. The tail section is an impoverished section that lives off protein bars and is oppressed by the wealthier front section.

Curtis Everett is the first man in 17 years to successfully lead a revolution hoping to kill the train’s enigmatic creator Wilford. Although this was between Captain America appearances, Chris Evans disappears into the role of the reluctant leader. His monologue about being forced to eat humans for survival is truly disturbing. Curtis is joined by Jamie Bell as his young partner, John Hurt as their respected spiritual guide, Ewen Bremner as a desperate father who faces the bitter cold, and Octavia Spencer as a desperate mother who proves herself. When they reach a prison section, they’re joined by 2 of Bong Joon-ho’s previous South Korean collaborators. Song Kang-ho plays a specialist who opens doors and Go Ah-sung plays his clairvoyant daughter who translates for him. Since guns may or may not be extinct, the best action scene involves the tail section fighting masked fishmongers in the dark with axes.

Aside from an unstoppable henchman and a ruthless eggman, most of the movie is spent taking in the unique sections of the train. The CGI on the outside isn’t the best, but the greenhouse and aquarium are impressive. Really it’s the villains that leave the strongest impression. Tilda Swinton reaches peak weirdness as Wilford’s androgynous right hand Mason who has a random Yorkshire accent and buck teeth. The biggest juxtaposition is seeing the colorless tail section in a bright classroom full of kids being brainwashed into worshiping Wilford. It’s easily the most unsettling scene, but Alison Pill makes it creepier as a pregnant teacher who sings an upbeat song about freezing to death if the engine stops. When they finally reach the front, Ed Harris is revealed to be yet another seemingly average creator. No matter how important a character might seem, don’t expect too many survivors. Snowpiercer proves the journey is just as important as the destination.


Citizens of the tail section


Red 2 didn’t age as well as its predecessor. I don’t think Warner Bros. regretted not adapting the obscure DC comic, but it was just as rare for a sequel to come out of it. Red was successful enough for Red 2 to come out 3 years later. Bruce Willis had three major action roles in 2013 including A Good Day to Die Hard and G.I. Joe: Retaliation. Frank Moses is still Retired Extremely Dangerous, but he’s forced back into the game after his friend Marvin Boggs fakes his own death. Although crazy John Malkovich appears throughout, Helen Mirren is mostly left off the team. She’s still on their side, but Victoria Winslow is one of several assassins hired to kill Frank.

You’d think Brian Cox would have a bigger role as Victoria’s lover, but he’s limited too. Red 2 is just as funny with lots of mindless action, but there’s too much going on. The main objective is stopping a catastrophic red mercury bomb. Neal McDonough plays a smug intelligence agent who first attacks Frank and David Thewlis is a deadly dealer called the Frog who also attacks. Like Retaliation, Willis makes an ally out of an enemy played by the charismatic Byung-hun Lee. Han is easily the most interesting assassin who attacks with martial arts and a gatling gun.

In one of her last movie roles, Catherine Zeta-Jones played an untrustworthy Russian agent with a passionate love for Frank. If I had to single out a performance, it would be Mary-Louise Parker returning as Frank’s girlfriend Sarah. Sarah is either overeager, overly silly, or over exaggerated in her willingness to join the action. This time the oldest actor in the cast is also the villain. Anthony Hopkins hams it up as the scientific doctor behind the bomb who pretends to lose his mind. Red 2 made the most out of a premise with so much more potential.

Red 2

Frank fights Han

Preceded by: Red

Retired Extremely Dangerous

Red is an action flick for the older generation. Much like The Losers, Red was based on another obscure DC comic. Although it was originally published under the WildStorm imprint Homage Comics. I’m not sure who keeps asking for these adaptations, but Red was apparently too much for Warner Bros. Making Red a rare DC comics film not distributed by the company. Since I never heard of the 2003 comic, I completely overlooked Red. Even though it looked like another fun action vehicle for Bruce Willis and several other senior celebrities. Since his role in The Expendables was just a cameo, Red was a bigger role for Willis as retired CIA black ops agent Frank Moses. I had no idea Red was an acronym for Retired Extremely Dangerous.

The renamed Moses character was the only carryover from the comic along with the general idea of an older agent getting back in the game. The movie Red is funnier since the idea has too much comedic potential. Morgan Freeman, John Malkovich, and Helen Mirren are all given over-the-top action scenes despite their advanced age. Although their varying screen time is falsely advertised. Moses lives a boring life where his only highlight is calling a call center to talk to his attractive crush Sarah Ross played by Mary-Louise Parker. She gets involved when an attempt is made on his life. Willis’ most crazy action scenes involve walking out of a spinning car and blowing someone up. Freeman has the most limited screen time since Moses’ former mentor Joe Matheson is believed to be dead.

Malkovich is of course the more insane CIA agent Marvin Boggs who is paranoid about the government. He stops a rocket launcher with a bullet and straps a bomb to his chest. Deadly MI6 assassin Victoria Winslow is a late arrival, but nothing beats seeing Mirren casually use a mounted machine gun. Karl Urban is the much younger current CIA agent William Cooper tasked with taking them down. His actions seem villainous, but he’s not the true villain. Doctor Doom himself Julian McMahon is a corrupt Vice President, but really it’s Rebecca Pidgeon as a high ranking CIA supervisor or Richard Dreyfuss as an arms dealer. This was a rare appearance from Dreyfuss alongside fellow older actors like Ernest Borgnine, James Remar, or Brian Cox as a retired Russian agent. Red proves you’re never too old to kick ass.


Victoria and Marvin lock and load

Followed by: Red 2

The L-Team

The Losers is either generic action or dumb fun. Between The A-Team and The Expendables, 2010 was practically the year of elite special operatives. The difference is The Losers is based on a lesser known Vertigo comic book series. The 2003 storyline was also a reimagining of an even more obscure 1969 war comic of the same name. The Losers were originally a patriotic Military unit before being changed to a more diverse Special Forces team. I’m not sure who was asking for a movie, but it did nothing to boost their appeal. I didn’t go to see The Losers, because I had no idea it was in any way connected to DC comics. The Losers uses comic book visuals in the opening and has an overall light hearted feel with a fast pace.

Although PG-13, the explosive violence and sexuality might’ve worked better with an R rating. Fantastic Four director Tim Story was initially committed to The Losers, but the job went to Sylvain White instead. The Losers include the Comedian, Bloodsport, Captain America, and Gamora. Sometimes I’m surprised just how many actors continue to take comic book roles throughout their career. The Losers actually consist of: Clay, Roque, Jensen, Pooch, Cougar, and Aisha. Jeffrey Dean Morgan is the laid back leader Clay, Idris Elba is the volatile knife specialist Roque, Chris Evans is the computer hacking comic relief Jensen, Columbus Short is the vehicle driving family man Pooch, and Óscar Jaenada is the sniper who rarely talks Cougar.

When the Losers are declared dead, they seek revenge on corrupt Government arms dealer Max played by a very annoying Jason Patric. Out of all the team members, Evans stands out the most with his hit or miss jokes and moments like singing along to “Don’t Stop Believin’.” The second most stand out character is the untrustworthy Aisha played by a tough and sexy Zoe Saldaña. Aisha joins the team and has a steamy romance with Clay, but there are a surprising amount of twists and turns. Although I can appreciate the non-stop action, The Losers is more loser than winner.

The Losers

The Losers