Category Archives: WWII in the Movies

Movie Review: Sony Pictures “Fury” Starring Brad Pitt


Official Sony Pictures movie poster

Movie Review: Fury
(Note: No spoilers here)

“Ideals are peaceful. History is violent.” The dramatic quote from Staff Sergeant Don ‘Wardaddy’ Collier (played by Brad Pitt), becomes a harbinger of subsequent events in Sony Pictures new World War II movie Fury. Pitt’s line lets the audience know this isn’t ‘your father’s’ World War II movie. Fury reveals cruelty and meanness absent from other fictional movies depicting the war in Western Europe.

There is no ‘glorification of war’ from Writer-Director David Ayer. Fury’s success is born from a strong storyline, great acting, and top-notch special effects. Ayer’s fictional yet historically accurate work tells a story of one tank crew as it struggles to survive the desperate last weeks (April 1945) of the Second World War. The sub-plot which differentiates and elevates Fury is the relationship-under-stress between Collier (Pitt) and Norman Ellison played by young actor Logan Lerman. As the tank’s leader, Collier has little time to expose and numb replacement Ellison to the horrors of war if they are to survive. Ellison’s battle-hardened crew has been together since the North African campaign and must now rely on the misplaced clerk typist to replace their fallen comrade.

Unlike similar films of the genre, Ayers’ Fury reveals the fear and duress Germany’s citizens experienced at the hands of its own military as well as the Allies. In the war’s final weeks, Hitler’s Wehrmacht desperately pursued the aid of Germany’s citizens to take up arms to repel the Allied onslaught into Berlin from the West and East. Ayers effectively writes this essential history into his script.

The cast features Logan Lerman (Noah, 3:10 to Yuma) as Ellison, Brad Pitt (World War Z, Inglourious Basterds) as Collier, Shia LaBeouf (Distrubia, Transformers) as Boyd Swan, Michael Pena (World Trade Center, Shooter, Caesar Chavez) as Trini Garcia, and John Bernthal (The Pacific, The Walking Dead) as Grady Travis. Recognizable supporting cast members include Jason Isaacs (Black Hawk Down, The Patriot, Windtalkers) and Scott Eastwood (Gran Torino, Flags of our Fathers).

Fury is both refreshing and an exceptional addition to the vast assemblage of World War II films. As noted previously, both acting and story are strong. It was refreshing to see Pitt in the role. His character has greater range from that of his constrained role in Inglourious Basterds. Shia LeBeouf and Michael Pena show emotional range not exhibited in earlier work … both are excellent. Viewers may recognize the Walking Dead character Shane in John Bernthal’s role as Travis.

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Posted by on October 30, 2014 in WWII in the Movies


HBO’s Band of Brothers Miniseries: A Look Back at One of the Top War Films of All Time


Cast Members from Band of Brothers, HBO Miniseries

Can it be possible that we’re getting closer to fifteen years since HBO’s successful Band of Brothers miniseries debuted in 2001? Following the creative successes of their Oscar-winning Saving Private Ryan (1998), Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks’ landmark Band of Brothers helped accelerate the rejuvenated interest in history of the Second World War, and more specifically, 1944’s Allied landings at Normandy and the subsequent push eastward to Berlin. The miniseries, based on Stephen Ambrose’s 1992 best-selling book of the same title, was filmed in England and Switzerland.

Watching Band of Brothers now for the umpteenth time, the miniseries remains as fresh and engrossing as it was in 2001. I had forgotten how truly remarkable this work really is. During “Points,” the final episode of the series, I was again sad to see the miniseries conclude. The camaraderie and caring the Toccoa men showed one another throughout the war and beyond was refreshing to witness. Go back and re-watch “The Breaking Point,” episode 7, and Neal McDonough’s reaction as Buck Compton to the wounding of Bill Guarnere (played by Frank John Hughes) and Joe Toye (played by Kirk Acevedo). Emotional and moving.

Bolstered by a strong cast and historically accurate storyline, the miniseries has become one of the best-selling DVD sets of all time. Damian Lewis’ portrayal of Major Dick Winters was superb and easily Emmy worthy; although Lewis did not win that top honor, the actor was nominated by the Golden Globes for Best Performance by an Actor in a Mini-Series or a Motion Picture Made for Television. Ron Livingston’s portrayal of Captain Lewis Nixon earned the actor a Golden Globe nomination for Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role in a Series, Mini-Series or Motion Picture Made for Television. The complete list of nominations and awards earned by Band of Brothers can be found here.

Band of Brothers did win the Emmy for Outstanding Casting for a Miniseries, Movie or a Special in 2002–along with numerous other Emmy awards. It’s easy to understand why. The cast that portrayed the men of Easy Company was remarkable in its characterizations. Shooting the series took close to ten months to film, and the actors deftly portrayed the unbreakable bond shared by men who had fought in war–bonds that took longer to establish in real life, as exhibited by the real paratroopers of Easy Company.

Scott Grimes as Donald Malarkey and Frank John Hughes as Bill Guarnere were both superb and likable in their performances–as were many others in the miniseries. We even reveled in disliking David Schwimmer as the demanding antagonist Captain Herbert Sobel and Peter O’Meara as the malingering Lt. Norman Dike–a testament to their great acting.

Saint Joseph’s College (Maine) has a webpage featuring a three-way discussion among faculty titled: “What makes great cinema?” Check it out and decide for yourself if Band of Brothers meets their criteria.

Sadly, we’ve lost more of the real heroes of Easy Company since the miniseries 2001 release: Dick Winters in January, 2011; Lynn “Buck” Compton in February, 2012; Frank Perconte in October, 2013; and Edward James “Babe” Heffron in December, 2013, to list just a few. Update: Bill Guarnere passed to heaven on March 8, 2014, joining his fellow Band of Brothers heroes. For an updated and complete Easy Company personnel roster please go here.

♠ Band of Brothers HD intro (with more clips) courtesy of YouTube

Visit HBO’s Band of Brothers website


Looking Back on HBO’s “The Pacific”


Captain Andrew “Ack Ack” Haldane, portrayed by actor Scott Gibson

After studying HBO’s “The Pacific,” and historical research on many of the Marines portrayed in this 2010 film, I’ve become an adherent to this miniseries. Let me say that I loved HBO’s “Band of Brothers.” The story behind their D-Day jump is remarkable history, as well as their push to Germany from Carentan, Operation Market Garden, and the Battle of the Bulge. Dick Winters and the other men of the 506th PIR became legends as a result of Stephen Ambrose’s book Band of Brothers and subsequent HBO series. Naturally, comparisons have been made of the two HBO miniseries–many less favorable, and unfairly so–of “The Pacific” following its premier.

Writers of “The Pacific” had to tell their war story in a different manner from “Band of Brothers.” They were challenged with intertwining the story of three main characters: John Basilone, Robert Leckie, and Eugene Sledge, all who entered and left the war at different times. All three men served in different Marine Regiments. “Band of Brothers” benefitted from a more consistent storyline; Its larger cast of characters all served together in the same unit from their time at Toccoa, Georgia through the end of the war in 1945.

Extra: For an animated tour into the history on the War in the Pacific narrated by Tom Hanks, check out HBO’s Battle Map web page from its website “The Pacific” by clicking here.

For me, “The Pacific” was deeper and more of a psychological study than “Band of Brothers.” “The Pacific” benefits from the memoirs and books written by many of its veterans and published well before the HBO miniseries 2010 debut. The miniseries’ writers based “The Pacific” on history from the book on John Basilone, I’m Staying with My Boys: The Heroic Life of Sgt. John Basilone, USMC; and memoir from Chuck Tatum’s Red Blood, Black Sand: Fighting Alongside John Basilone from Boot Camp to Iwo JimaRobert Leckie‘s Helmet for My Pillow: From Parris Island to the PacificEugene Sledge‘s With the Old Breed: At Peleliu and Okinawa, and China Marine: An Infantryman’s Life after World War IIR.V. Burgin‘s Islands of the Damned: A Marine at War in the Pacific; and Sidney PhillipsYou’ll Be Sor-ree!: A Guadalcanal Marine Remembers the Pacific War.

Fairly well-read on war in the Pacific and its land and sea battles, I can appreciate the ferocity of fighting featured in “The Pacific.” I had read Leckie’s Helmet for my Pillow and Sledge’s With the Old Breed following the series premier—writers of the miniseries having referencing both books. The final episode was one of the more emotional and dramatic of the series. It was tough to hold back tears as Sgt. R.V. Burgin, Cpl. Merriell “Snafu” Shelton, and Cpl. Eugene Sledge went their separate ways from the train in the series’ finale.


Eugene Sledge, portrayed by actor Joseph Mazzello

The concluding installment focused on the end of the War in the Pacific for Sledge, Leckie, and Basilone’s widow, Lena, and what lie ahead upon their return home.

Sledge went on to become a popular biology professor at Montevallo College in his home state of Alabama. He passed away in 2001. In what is considered by many to be the greatest memoir of battle ever written, Sledge’s With the Old Breed was published in 1981 and is still in print today—proving Sledge as wonderful and engaging a writer as he was a professor. With the Old Breed is a fantastic book, available in both hard-copy and electronic format. There are few books that I have read more than once–this is one of them.


Robert Leckie, portrayed by actor James Badge Dale

Leckie, a distinguished writer after the war, became an AP correspondent and wrote 40 books before his passing in 2001. One poignant scene from “The Pacific’s” final episode is worth mentioning: Leckie, portrayed by actor James Badge Dale, is sitting in his hospital bed—seemingly abandoned after his nurse had run off at hearing the news of Japan’s surrender. For the nurse, the war was over, but for Leckie, there was no end. According to Leckie’s wife Vera in 2009, he was haunted by memories of the fighting on Guadalcanal, Cape Gloucester and Peleliu.

U.S. Marine Sergeant Lena Basilone never remarried after her husband John’s death on Iwo Jima. She passed away in 1999.

By Scott Lyons

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