Its Veteran's Day kiddies, and for those of you lucky enough to be related to someone in the armed forces today is the day to honor their sacrifice, their bravery and their service. It is also a day to honor some of my favorite military themed films. From comedy to downright blood chilling piss your pants haunting, some of these are classics and others are as far from classics as you could possibly get. So call up a Vet, grab a Bud and pop in one of these bad boys.
1. Full Metal Jacket (1987)
Without a doubt, my favorite Kubrick film. Full Metal Jacket is a wildly entertaining and horrifying film, centered around the the training and deployment of young soldiers as they make their way into the madness that is the Vietnam War. Humor, camaraderie, madness, violence. My kind of dystopian world. My favorite part being, however, is the superb improvisational skills of the one and only R. Lee Ermey. Flash fact, for those of you not in the know, R. Lee was originally hired to coach the actor who was originally cast to play Gny. Sgt. Hartman, but he was so damned scary, being a former Drill Instructor, that he got the job. Hoorah!
2. The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957)
The Bridge on the River Kwai, is a favorite of my grandfather's and by extension, a favorite of mine. There are some serious classic heavy hitters in this flick. Alec Guinness (no, he is not a Jedi), Jack Hawkins and William Holden, to name a few. Like all of my favorite war flicks, this film deals with its fair share of bravery, pride and eventual delusion as the hero slips into a personal world of madness. The basic through line is that British POWs, captured by WWII Japanese military forces, are forced to construct a bridge that will accommodate the Burma-Siam railway. The POWs' first instinct is to sabotage the bridge for the Allies, but under the seemingly cool and collected leadership of Colonel Nicholson (Obi Wan...I mean Guinness) they agree to build the bridge as a symbol of British dignity and fortitude, all the while ignorant to the fact that the Allies are planning on sabotaging it anyway. A superb film and a favorite among vets, especially those from the Korean and WWII era.
3. Apocalypse Now (1979)
Based off of Joseph Conrad's novella, Heart of Darkness, which highlighted the horrors of European Colonialism as a backdrop to address such notions as civilization, barbarism, racism and eventual madness. Apocalypse Now, which is in my opinion one of the finest adaptations in all of film, follows Captain Willard (Martin Sheen) on his mission to find and assassinate renegade Colonel, Walter E. Kurtz. Truly, one of the finest character studies of those bred for war and those destroyed by it, Apocalypse Now hits all of the finer notes of Heart of Darkness, while managing to present a sobering modern twist. Especially in an age when American society was desperately striving to find some higher meaning behind their lives and actions. Apocalypse Now, manages to tear the thin veil of "duty" and "nationalism" and reveal the horrors of war and the insight that can be gained through blood shed and chaos.
4. Starship Troopers (1997)
Come on I had to have some lightheartedness in there, especially after the last one. Starship Troopers is one of my absolute favorite guilty pleasure Sci-Fi flicks. Michael Ironside, Clancy Brown, Dina Meyer, Jake Busey, Neil Partrick Harris and, eh, what the hell, ol' Casper. There are actually some pretty poignant aspects to this film. The notion of what makes a citizen as opposed to a civilian, the eventuality of an overly militarized/government state and the inevitability of asteroid humping insects bent on taking over the universe. I love me some Starship Troopers. Giant bugs, telepathy, bombs, boobs and space travel. The perfect mix of slightly thought evoking material mixed with all of the late 90's eye candy and CGI you could possibly want. Giddy up.
5. Saving Private Ryan (1998)
This film will always have a spot in the old ticker. My great grand father, who is still alive mind you, fought on D-Day. This film is always top of my list, specifically because it did not shy away from the true horrors and violence of war. I love FX driven films, hell I make them, but the realism and strategic placement of gore in this film would be almost over the top in most films, that always sticks with me. The story, a platoon is sent to collect the last surviving son of the Ryan family, is both noble and the performances only add to the true honor and courage these guys had. I remember when I watched it with the old man, he sat silently and, for the first time, began to share stories of his experiences on that day and throughout the war. Powerful memory, powerful film.
Well there it is my friends, I was going to throw in Patton or Platoon at number four, but I figured we could use a break from the serious stuff, Major Pain is definitely an honorable mention by the way. Do something good for a Vet today my friends. Call family that has served, stop by the local VA and spend some time or, at the very least, toss a thanks up on the old Facebook wall, they deserve it. As always, thanks for reading.