Category Archives: Book and Film Reviews

Saturday Matinee 2016 41: The Third World War (TV, 1998)

Imagine one counterfactual: the resistance Mikhail Gorbachev met turned into a coup and overthrow of him, rather than only ramping up in time to make an inept attempt to overthrow his successor Boris Yeltsin.

From that follows that his successor, rather than the reform-focused Yeltsin, might have been a belligerent military man — and might have started the world down a path that led to nuclear war. That was the premise of a 1998 German-made TV movie that is a “documentary” of this chilling alternate history.

As this video is not available in the usual places, here is the video for you to watch:

Acting and Production

The video is produced documentary-style by, mostly, clever intercuts of actual period footage and actors portraying the talking-heads who are so essential to the documentarist’s craft.  The “war” footage comes from training exercises, weapons tests, and such recent wars as the Falklands and Desert Storm; the political crisis footage comes, mostly, from real footage of the many crises and demonstrations attending the collapse of European Communism. Actual press conferences and leaders’ statements from other diplomatic meetings and crises are cleverly edited in to the flow of the documentary, so you get the sense that Gorbachev, Erich Honecker, Helmut Kohl, Margaret Thatcher and George HW Bush are all actually playing parts, when the director is really using found footage. The only people who actually did play themselves, reading scripted lines, were a couple of now-forgotten TV newsmen, like CBS’s Daniel Schorr. (Considering that all Schorr ever did at CBS was read scripted lines, he seems uncommonly stiff in his performance here).

The actors are fairly good. Mostly they are in talking head scenes; one German officer’s English is so colloquially American that he loses some believability (we think the actor is a German who just happens to have near-native fluency in American English, and paradoxically, choosing an actor with worse English might have made the character more convincing). There are some small-scale, low-budget action scenes where they’re absolutely necessary to advance the plot.

But because the show doesn’t aim high, production-wise, it hits its spot. It does seem like a documentary telling the tale of how a nuclear war broke out would be made.

Accuracy and Weapons

Except for a couple of the live-action scenes with troops engaging demonstrators, all of the scenes with weapons use found footage from military archives. So there are few accuracy problems. (Sometimes the uniforms, arms and equipment are a little out of date).

The accuracy problem we had with the movie was more in the verisimilitude, or absence thereof, of the film’s scenario. In the 1980s, the novel about The Big One between NATO and the Soviet and Satellite Bloc became a cottage industry, and in, for example, General Sir John Hackett’s The Third World War: August 1985 (from 1978) and Tom Clancy’s Red Storm Rising (from a few years after that), nuclear strikes are considered (and in The Third World War, a single nuke strike is carried out by each side). But here, they seem to go to war, first, and to nukes, second, with very little consideration.

Particular accuracy beefs:

  1. The Soviet leader appears irrational, even incompetent at times. He is bellicose to the extent of risking national suicide. Look at Russian and Soviet history and consider how unlikely this really is.
  2. Far too much credit is given to the Soviet submarine force.
  3. Far too little credit is given to NATO’s qualitative edge, especially in air power.
  4. The psychological warfare / propaganda / IO efforts and effects are not portrayed.

On the other hand, some things were extremely accurate, including the internal fault lines in NATO, the Soviet use of demonstrations in the West, the devastation of the war zone, and the relative readiness of East German and Soviet forces.

The bottom line

The Third World War is a movie you’re glad isn’t actually a documentary, but as mocumentaries go, it’s a lot less fun than This is Spinal Tap. It might be a good thing for Cold War veterans to show to their younger family members, to try to explain the tensions of the times.

For more information

These sites relate to this particular film. (All N/A)

  • DVD page:
  • IMDB page:
  • IMFDB page:
  • Rotten Tomatoes review page:
  • Wikipedia  page:

Saturday Matinee 2016 39: Striking Distance (1993)

striking-distanceBruce Willis has been in some good movies. He’s also been in Striking Distance. You can say the same about Sarah Jessica Parker, who plays his police partner (with a secret) / love interest. (Not to mention some of the other actors, including Tom Sizemore as a scenery-chewing goofy cop and Dennis Farina, improbably, as Sizemore’s character’s and the murderer’s father). One gets the impression this was a midsummer-released actioner (IMDB says mid-September, actually) and nobody (except Willis and Parker, who do as well as they can with the script they’ve got) was really knocking themselves out on this one.

You get the impression the producer’s instruction to the director (Rowdy Herrington) was: do not miss a cop-film cliché. He seems to have hit them:

  • The maverick cop, who gets busted out of Homicide;
  • The cop is from a family where everybody else is a cop, and most of them are legendary;
  • The case the maverick cop won’t give up;
  • The boss who disciplines the maverick;
  • The gun that keeps clicking when you run it dry (hot tip to screenwriters: revolvers do this. Auto pistols and long guns generally don’t);
  • Sneaking onto the boat being hijacked by bad guys (no one ever explains why bad guys would hijack a river towboat pushing two barges full of coal);
  • Sneaking onto the bad guys’ boat with an empty shotgun so that you can load it portentously;
  • The Mexican Standoff with good and bad guys;
  • The bad guy turns out to be, as the maverick cop always suspected, a bad cop (if you ever wondered why presumably intelligent people buy into Black Criminals’ Lives Matter false stories of shootings, fifty years of this formula is one reason. Culture is upstream from politics).
  • The maverick cop who wants to beat the truth out of a suspect, and the better rookie cop who won’t let him;
  • The suspect who is so obvious that anyone who’s seen a cop movie knows it’s not him. (In real murders, the suspect often is obvious, and the obvious suspect seldom is not guilty).
  • The serial killer whose master stroke, of course, involves kidnapping the hero’s girl;
  • The killer who must explain himself at length, like a Shakespearean soliloquy, only written at sixth grade level;
  • The car chase;
  • The boat chase;
  • The foot chase;
  • Reprises of the various chases;
  • Escape from being chained up by the bad guys;
  • Sacrifice of a good guy — arrgggggh. We’re sick of listing them.

It’s basically a TV movie of the week, with some more graphic violence (not very) and foul language.

Acting and Production

Parker, before she got old and sinewy.

Parker, before she got old and sinewy.Is this what Capt. Mike’s boat partner looks like?

Willis is good here, not his best, but good. Parker is surprisingly good, in a pre-Sex-in-the-City role, and much prettier and fresher looking than people think of her as being (after all, she was a youthful 27, not a  worked-on Hollywood-youthful 37).

The supporting cast are mostly experienced Hollywood journeymen. The script and direction mean that they’re just going through the motions. The late Robert Pastorelli is a case for the Royal Hospital for Overacting as the bad guy. Why is he a bad guy? Because he’s nuts. Why is he nuts? Because he’s jealous, and anyway everybody’s always pickin’ on him.

Depth of Sharacter, Hollywood style.

A few more words on Pastorelli… this role may have been the high point of his career. He does manage to look like Tom Sizemore’s brother, and like Sizemore, he did a number on his career with drug abuse. However, Pastorelli wrapped up his career by shooting his girlfriend (and almost getting away with it), and killing himself with a heroin OD when the cops reopened the case.

Family Values, Hollywood style.

Robert Pastorelli goes crazy as a crazy guy, before he went crazy IRL.

Robert Pastorelli goes crazy as a crazy guy, before he went crazy IRL.

Production was frequently careless. In a car chase, we see the same bumpers and hubcaps fly off more times than we felt like counting.  If you care about such things, there’s probably some site on the net somewhere, where some benighted aspie stays up late counting these things.

Weapons and Accuracy

Bruce Willis about to ventilate somebody with a SIG. Yes, he's left-handed.

Bruce Willis about to ventilate somebody with a SIG. Yes, he’s left-handed.

The weapons are plausible, but their employment is pure Hollywood, and that’s not praise. We’ve already mentioned the scene where Willis (demoted to maritime patrol for his obsession with a case his boss considers closed) leaps aboard a criminal-occupied tugboat with an empty shotgun, and two rounds between his teeth, so that he can load it as he sneaks toward the bad guy. He then shoots three bad guys (one with his pistol, after throwing away the empty shotgun, at least), and then, unlike every real cop, doesn’t get put on paid admin suspension for the duration of the investigation.

willis-shotgun-striking-distanceThe score must have been a good job, as we don’t recall hearing it.

One good thing about the movie, though, is the exteriors, shot on location in Pittsburgh. By 1992-93 a director had to work harder to find gritty streets in PGH than he did in, say, 1973, but Herrington, a native, finds them (sometimes in nearby satellite cities) and uses the rivers that have been key to Pittsburgh’s character always (and to its post-industrial revival, now). Indeed, the city’s three rivers are almost a character in the film, and the working title was reportedly Three Rivers. (Which at least has a connection to the movie. Striking Distance makes no sense as the title). This leads to some dynamic boat-chase scenes involving police Boston Whalers and up-engined wooden Chris-Craft classic runabouts. There’s some interesting background on filming the chases online.

The bottom line

This is not a movie to seek out for the entertainment value. It’s an endurable way to spend an hour and a half in a recliner, if you really don’t feel like waking the Small Dog.

For more information

These sites relate to this particular film.

  • Official Page (none):
  • DVD page ($14… too much)

Somewhat amazing to us: Amazon reviewers give it 4½ stars.

  • Alternative DVD (with three other B-movie actioners for $9, the best deal)

  • Amazon Video ($3.99 to rent, $12,99 to buy, the DVD above is more cost-effective):

  • IMDB page:

  • IMFDB page:

  • Rotten Tomatoes review page (rotten, 14%)

  • Wikipedia  page:

  • History vs. Hollywood Page (n/a).



Saturday Matinee 2016 38: Taking Fire (TV Documentary Miniseries, 2016)

The idea seemed to be this: a very green Army infantry platoon was going to be spending a year at a miserable position in Afghanistan, Combat Outpost (COP, pronounced like slang for policeman) Michigan, located at the junction of the Pech and Korangal valleys in southeastern Afghanistan. Why not just GoPro the living daylights out of their tour?


And so they did. And they got more than they bargained for.

  • One of their MCAVs was blown up by an IED, leaving two men dead and one with a broken spine, needing urgent medevac;
  • Their competent (and respected, and loved) medic was shot by a sniper, with a round entering his neck and exiting between his shoulder blades, and a man with combat lifesaver training only had to step up and keep him alive while the unit pursued tactical superiority and brought in a medevac Black Hawk;taking-fire-copter
  • They all would have difficulties of some kind with reintegration; the medic who thought he might be an Army career man had to reorient his life; the combat lifesaver who stepped up decided to become a paramedic and firefighter; the platoon sergeant whose men saw him as solid as a bear would struggle with survivors’ guilt over the loss of each man.

There have been some excellent documentaries based on embeds, like Restrepo and Outside the Wire, but this is the first one based almost entirely on video shot by the soldiers themselves. After seeing one soldier’s video, a producer put the whole thing together.

Acting and Production

There’s no acting, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t “characters.”

One annoying detail of the production is that salty language is bleeped — always. That may have been required to get it on Discovery. Likewise, some images are blurred. One hopes that some of this is rectified before these things see DVD.

The video is fast-paced when in country, but drags in the postwar home scenes.

A documentary like this is at the mercy of the power of the events that occur while the cameras are rolling. Fortunately for the producers and viewers — and sometimes, at some heartbreaking moments, unfortunately for the soldiers of this platoon — this was an eventful tour.

This video may not be available forever, but it is supposed to be the complete video of Episode 1, posted by “Taking Fire“. We found it to be a weird screen-in-screen thing, with pitch-shifted audio, but it may be available to those of you who can’t see it on your cable:

Accuracy and Weapons

The weapons are the typical US weapons in use at the time. One thing that viewers may appreciate is the occasional discussion of weapons and explanation of their capabilities and roles. A high point is definitely the platoon sergeant’s irritation at a private who’s forgotten the oil bottle to maintain his Mk 48 LMG (basically, a SAW scaled up to 7.62, an easy trick for FN to pull off as the original Minimi was scaled down from a 7.62 mm prototype). Sure enough, the Mk 48 falls down on the job, in combat.

The bottom line

Based, we admit, on the two episodes (of five) that we’ve seen, this is some compelling TV. However, it is often emotionally raw and sometimes heartbreaking; consider that before you start watching.

For more information

These sites relate to this particular film.

  • Official Page (Discovery Network):

  • DVD page (none yet)
  • Amazon Video (available: S1E1 for free, S1E2 for purchase):

  • IMDB page:

  • IMFDB page (none)
  • Rotten Tomatoes review page (none)
  • Wikipedia  page:

  • History vs. Hollywood Page (none).



Saturday Matinee 2016 37: Sully (2016)

sully-poster02This is probably the least military-related movie we’ve ever reviewed here, even though the hero (who is, to the relief of anyone who’s been watching movies lately, actually shown as a hero) is a veteran. Indeed, he’s a man who’s worn the mantle of heroism like a hair shirt, insisting that “I was just doing my job.” He was; it’s what airline pilots do. What’s different is only the challenge that was thrown at him and his copilot, and the success with which they met it. (Today is a friend’s first revenue flight in new equipment — 787 — to Shanghai. Like all pros, he is impressed with what Captain Chesley Sullenberger and FO Jeff Skiles of US Air did, and hopes that he never faces such a tough problem, and that if he does, he handles it as well as they did).

In case you were under a rock during this January 2009 incident, Sully’s US Air Airbus 320 ingested a large quantity of geese into both engines on climbout from New York’s Kennedy Airport. Copilot Jeff Skiles was pilot flying, and Sully was pilot monitoring, but he took control of the plane after the birdstrikes. Out of power, altitude and options, he couldn’t make it back to the airfield — or to any other. He chose to make a water landing.


While there have been several jetliner water landings with survivors in the six-plus decades of jet air travel, this event was was unusual in that everyone survived. It helped that the incident happened in winter months, and the usual summer swarms of pleasure boaters were not active.

Acting and Production

The actors are all perfect in their roles, and the two men of the aircrew are made up as pretty near ringers of the two pilots, Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger, and Jeff Skiles. Tom Hanks is his usual Everyman as Sully…sully_2016_9643843…and Aaron Eckhart shows that he has acting chops beyond his usual action-hero roles as copilot Skiles.



Supporting actors in important roles such as accident investigators (one of them Anna Gunn of Breaking Bad fame), union reps, Sully’s wife, New York river boatmen (one of them a real harbor ferry captain, playing himself), and the passengers and cabin crew are all just right. The producers and director knocked themselves out to show us regular people doing regular things on a day that turned out to be extraordinary for all of them.

Director Clint Eastwood makes a complicated script with flashbacks and dream sequences flow clearly, somehow; it’s never confusing, even though he monkeys with your head: is this a flashback to an actual event that ended one way, or a nightmare that will end the event differently? After a couple of times, you lose all complacency in anticipation.


Accuracy and Weapons

There are no weapons to speak of in the movie, although there’s a brief appearance by a pair of F4 Phantoms, as Sully flashes back to a previous emergency during his Air Force days. The Phantoms are in the correct period camouflage.

The flying stuff is generally pretty accurate, both in the depiction of what went right and of what would have gone wrong with some small changes in aeronautical decision making.


CGI is, mirabile dictu, used to make extremely realistic and convincing renderings of things that would be hard or impossible to pull off with practical effects. The Airbus A320 is particularly well-rendered to include aerodynamic effects on the wings and the effects of bird ingestion on the powerplants.

The accident investigation is almost entirely misrepresented, in order to create Hollywood “conflict” between Sullenberger and the investigators. Some of the investigators have had their noses out of joint about that. Also, the NTSB’s great divide between professional investigators (who might head something like a Human Factors group, or examine wreckage, etc.) and the figurehead Board Members, who are often lawyers who owe their positions to Washington influence-peddling, is erased, and instead you see an investigation as if it were carried out by gormless lawyers. It culminates in a Perry Mason style trial scene (Hollywood scriptwriters put these in because their Jewish mothers wanted them to be lawyers) at an NTSB public Board Meeting. In actual fact, these public meetings are designed for the political appointees on the board to rubber-stamp in public, the results the professional investigators have written up for them, and there’s never any question about what will happen at the meeting — it has literally been rehearsed.

But that is a small complaint, and it does serve the story line, whereas if the conflict were entirely in Sullenberger’s head, with his very real second-guessing of his own decisions, how could they portray that in a movie that you would like to watch? So the writers externalized the conflict so it could meet the audience expectation of a good guy in a white hat and a bad guy in black.

The bottom line

Sully is a well-produced, well-directed, well-acted story with a likeable all-American hero (two, if you count Eckhart’s Jeff Skiles). It’s a good late-summer fun flick for all ages, and it’s in theaters right now. It will be ignored by the Oscars, unless they choose to pillory it for not making Sullenberger a tranny or something. But go thou, and givest thee thy money to Mr Eastwood, Mr Hanks and their associates, for making an excellent work of entertainment.

For more information

These sites relate to this particular film.

  • DVD page

It’s also available to stream for free for Amazon Prime members:

  • IMDB page:

  • IMFDB page (none)


  • Rotten Tomatoes review page (82%):

  • Wikipedia  page:

  • History vs. Hollywood Page.



Saturday Matinee 2016 31: Hyena Road (2014, Canadian)

Hyena_RoadWelcome to Afghanistan, where Afghans’ loyalties are never certain, snipers chafe under restrictive ROE, fraternization on the FOB can destroy careers, and an intelligence officer struggles to understand something about the badal revenge code that is part of Pushtunwali. 

And, holy schnikeys, it’s not a documentary, but a feature film.

Made on a tight budget ($13 million Canadian) with a lot of support from the Canadian Department of National Defense, this movie gives you a gritty you-are-there feeling as ordinary and extraordinary Canadians struggle to come to terms with their duties in Taliban-rich country outside the teeming camp of Kandahar.

Acting and Production

Paul Gross directs and co-stars; his character, Captain Pete Mitchell, is one of the two male leads, an intelligence officer who understands the Afghans — or thinks he does. Rossif Sutherland is Ryan Sanders, the NCO leading the task force’s sniper teams. Sanders has a secret, although it’s clearly the sort of secret everyone pretends not to know: a cross-ranks romance with battle captain Jen Bowman (played convincingly by Christine Horne).

Sutherland (l.) and Gross (r.)

Sutherland (l.) and Gross (r.)

You may remember Gross from Passchendaele, which we also need to review.  A visit to Afghanistan made him want to tell the story of Canadian Forces there. In an interview with the Calgary Herald, he said:

It was absolutely mesmerizing. I don’t know what I expected by it wasn’t what I found. I felt like, in some strange way, I had been misled or the full picture was never presented by successive governments or by the press. I mean we had some very good journalists there but, by and large, I thought the press was rather shallow in trying to explain what it was we were doing in such a complicated environment.

In essence, everything in the movie is based on something that actually happened and the characters were all roughly characters I met or composites of them. All I really did was assemble them into a narrative that I thought would make for an exciting movie. But it’s all fundamentally based on the real stuff of my trip.

Gross actually made two trips: the first, his initial “entertain the troops” visit, he found himself less busy than the singers and comics who had rehearsals and sound checks; so he spent his time wandering around, meeting average Canadian troopies — and being blown away by the experience. He came back with a camera crew (which explains why some of the exteriors look so correct. They are.) Other parts were shot in Jordan and on Canadian Forces training areas in the west of Canada.

Gross really did an incredible job here, making a big movie for small money.

Accuracy and Weapons

Weapons never do the impossible and all of them look and sound right. Care has been taken with signatures — no Hollywood fireballs.

One thing you’ll see here that is rare in modern movies is artillery firing live. The dust, the blast, the recoil, are all lost when some director calls for big guns to be CGI’d or fired with blanks.

The sniper procedures are generally not too far off, although there is of course the inevitable cranking on about 1000 mills on the scope turrets. The sniper rifles, however, are either dead-on (the McMillan .50 as used by CF) or very close (a PGW .308 standing in for the .338 that’s actually used in the field). The other Canadian weapons and optics are right, and the Taliban are armed, as in the real world, with AKs.

Some TTPs are accurate and some are not, either for opsec’s sake or for narrative reasons, take your pick. The final battle does go “Hollywood,”  but not completely out of the range of possibility.

The bottom line

Surprisingly excellent, Hyena Road is a great little movie you’ve probably never heard of. You don’t have to be Canadian to enjoy it, but we recommend it even more strongly to Canadians than to other readers.

Thanks to OTR for sending the DVD.

For more information

These sites relate to this particular film.

  • DVD page:

Amazon streaming video:


  • IMDB page:

  • IMFDB page:

  • Rotten Tomatoes review page (55%):

  • Wikipedia  page:

  • History vs. Hollywood Page.


Saturday Matinee 2016 30: Star Trek: Beyond (2016)

Star_Trek_Beyond_posterThe movie is called Star Trek: Beyond. So what, exactly, are they beyond? Well, the last two episodes of the Star Trek “reboot,” maybe. The edge of known space? The box-office reach of endless sequels? The capacity of endless CGI to entertain?

Has the Great Buggernaut inserted a gratuitous attempt to mainstream teh ghey?

Yes. Yes to all of those, to all of it.

But… it’s not all bad, particularly for fans of, or at least people familiar with, the original Star Trek TV series. There are numerous homages to the original, including: known taglines: “I”m a doctor, not a…”; the expected interplay between Bones and Spock; and, worthy of a laugh out loud, the officers of the Enterprise running through a cheesily-lighted set of even cheesier papier-maché “rocks,” just like Shatner, Nimoy and Kelley did fifty (yes, 50!) years ago.

There is at least one missing cliché: Kirk doesn’t fall for any of the women (alien or crew). But then, they’re all arrayed along the Galactic H-Line between Homely and Hideous; you won’t fall for them, either. That may be the reason for Kirk’s un-1966 chasteness, or it may just be that the imaginary century being depicted here is post-hetero or something.

So it has the entertainment value of any average 50-minute Star Trek episode, crammed tightly into over two hours of plot twists and more and more CGI. Apart from the above-mentioned cameo by the fake rocks of 1966, the entire movie seems to have been shot in front of a green screen.

Acting and Production

The actors are all competent and all have clearly studied the TV versions of their characters; for most of them, the continuity is remarkable. The exception is Zachary Quinto as Spock; he’s a perfectly logical bowl of seething emotions, whatever that is.

A vast fortune was spent on pixels that were blown hither and yon by CGI. By and large, the effects, while dominating the film, don’t fail at their role in telling the story. But the score also tries to dominate the film, and that’s worse luck. It’s jagged, distracting, and just generally “off.” A good score often goes unnoticed, but this one kneels on both armrests of your theater seat and punches you in the face — and then comes back to do it again the next time the director’s insecure about the DRAMA or TENSION (his caps, honestly) in a given scene.

The movie is available in regular and 3D; we recommend, after watching the 3D for a stinging $14 a seat, and being somewhat disoriented at times, given the 3D a miss.

The script was co-written by Simon Pegg, the talented British actor who plays Montgomery “Scotty” Scott. Pegg’s brilliant comedies are essentially a string of episodes only loosely organized by a plot or storyline, and, sad to say, this script is like that, too. On the plus side, he did write a decent part for himself, so there is that.

Idris Elba, or The Creature from the Black Lagoon?

Idris Elba, or The Creature from the Black Lagoon?

Idris Elba’s talents are utterly wasted as a mostly unexplained Starfleet-officer-turned-immortal villain, and he’s stuffed in a fake rubber Creature from the Black Lagoon suit anyway, so it could have been anybody.

As we have said in other recent reviews (John Wick, for one, although we might not have hit publish on that one), the current trend in cinematography of loading up the dark end of the histogram means that this will have a hard transition to the small screen.

Accuracy and Weapons

Space opera is not the place to quibble about accuracy, but the physics of the Star Trek movie universe is so far off plumb as to be inadvertently funny.

You know, if James T. Kirk really totaled a starship every movie, Starfleet would stop giving him the keys.

You know, if James T. Kirk really totaled a starship every movie, Starfleet would stop giving him the keys.

We could give endless examples of this, but here’s one: a spaceship reenters a planet’s atmosphere and tumbles to the surface in a jagged, mountainous area. On impact with a jagged, rocky crag, it breaks the crag off. And this doesn’t happen just once, but every time the screenwriter is stuck for a way to get Character X from space to surface, and the screenwriters seem to get stuck a lot.

In true Roddenberry, fuzzy-thinking-LA-denizen spirit, numerous saccharine platitudes about the universal and overwhelming power of peace and love are floated out by the script, before the situation is resolved by the good guys with a massive arsenal blow the living Jesus out of the bad guys and their massive arsenal.

The bottom line

Star Trek: Bryond is a must for Star Trek completists. It’s not a bad movie to take a teenager to, because it has enough cartooney violence to please the kid without the violence ever failing to be cartooney. Really, it’s basically just an overgrown (and scriptwise, unnecessarily convoluted) Lost Episode of some baby boomers’ favorite childhood TV show.

See the matinee, though, and don’t splurge on the 3D.

For more information

These sites relate to this particular film.

  • DVD page (preorder only):

You can also find Blu-Ray at that link. Amazon also has the book on which the movie is based:

(Interesting to note: most of the reviews max the book out, four stars. But there are some one-star reviews. Or are there? When you click on the one star to read them, they are mostly very positive. Apparently if you ignore the stars when reviewing, Amazon defaults to one star).

  • IMDB page:

  • IMFDB page:


  • Rotten Tomatoes review page (60%):

  • Wikipedia  page:

  • History vs. Hollywood Page.


Some $1 Kindle Military History Books


Who says a good read has to cost a fortune?

These may not be available to users outside the USA, but you can try. We’ve had good luck ordering physical books from other nations’ Amazon stores, but have never tried an e-book. Maybe one of you guys out there can let us know if the system lets you order.

The cool thing about these books? Mostly older books, they’re on Kindle for 99¢. You can read Kindle books (in the .Here are four, oldest (in terms of war covered) to newest:

Three Years with Quantrill: A True Story Told By His Scout by John McCorkle & O. S. Barton.

This 1914 memoir was reportedly dictated by the then-elderly McCorkle to Barton. The smallest taste:

We rode up to a house and found two ladies at home. One of them asked me if we were in the fight that had taken place there shortly before. I told her “Yes.” She then asked me if any of us had lost part of a pistol in that fight. Jim Younger told her that he had lost the cylinder of his pistol and the lady remarked, “Well, we found some part of a pistol out there in the road; I don’t know what you call it, but here it is,” and it was the cylinder of Jim Younger’s pistol that he had lost in the road.

Yes, that Jim Younger. Both Younger brothers, Jim and Cole, are mentioned several times, but there is only one reference to their postwar partner in crime, Jesse James. We think we’ll really enjoy this one. At the end, the unit disguises itself in Union uniforms and tries to make is way to Virginia through swarms of victorious Unionists. (We just skimmed it).

Commando: A Boer Journal of the Boer War by Deneys Reitz

This is apparently one man’s memoir of the war from the Afrikaner side. Haven’t even opened it yet. Several other Reitz memoirs (sections of a lifelong diary, perhaps?) are also available.

Q-Ships and Their Story by E. Keble-Chatterton, Lt. Cmdr,, RNVR

This is the story of the daring Q-Ship operations of World War I, originally written and published in 1922. The author observes that the submarine war was one of imagination, more than brute force. One of the surprising discoveries here is the degree to which sailing ships were commissioned as His Majesty’s warships.

Vassili Zaitsev: Secrets from a Sniper’s Notebook By Robert F. Burgess.

This is a brief overview of the famous Soviet sniper’s wartime efforts. It’s one of a series of short books by WWII veteran Burgess on snipers and sniping. Short but informative, and includes as an appendix a list of rules for snipers that Zaitsev established. There’s a newer version of this book with a different title if your budget goes to $3.

Best thing about all these books is that, any one that you pick (here, Three Years with Quantrill), Amazon suggests a umber of other 99¢ specials for you…


And there you have it. Four books, $4, and more just awaiting the discovery.

Righteous Read: Romesha, Red Platoon.

Red PlatoonWhy would you read a book about a fight that you’d already read one excellent book about? The Battle of Camp Keating, also called the Battle of Kamdesh, has been the subject of an excellent New York Times best-selling book by TV reporter Jake Tapper, and Tapper’s book, The Outpost, is as good as any military story written by a journalist can be — up there with the field’s previous standard-bearer, Mark Bowden’s Black Hawk Down. Surely any other book would be, as an incendiary Mohammedan prince said of the Library of Alexandria, either duplicative of The Outpost, and thus redundant; or contradictory, and thus heretical.

This is not the case. While it can be read in conjunction with Tapper’s account — there is little overlap between the books. Tapper tells a journalist’s story, with a great deal of framework-building “context” and with on-the-ground source and fact subordinated to a didactic Narrative (even though he is one of the most even-handed reporters working today). Clint Romesha, on the other hand, tells the story of Combat Out Post (COP) Keating as only an NCO who was deeply involved in its defense can.

The placement of COP Keating, named after Lt. Ben Keating who died in a truck mishap on the dangerous roads to the remote camp, was typical of the kinds of tactical decisions that began to be made as generals like Stanley McCrystal pursued personal celebrity and issued big-picture orders to subordinates who seemed disinclined to ask questions; none of these officers seems to have had the least regard for the men their orders sent to these modern Little Big Horns. Romesha writes that the position of COP Keating was selected, not by an experienced combat arms officer or soldier, but by tactically naive intelligence analysts. As a result, they wound up with the sort of defensive position that Bradley Manning might have chosen: Keating was surrounded 360º by high ground held by the enemy. Someone had “checked the box” by providing an OP (Observation Post) on higher ground, but so sited that the terrain between meant that neither the COP nor its OP could provide the other with observation or direct fire. (The COP was staffed by a company minus, the OP by a platoon).

While this was arguably an infantry mission, the men on the COP were from a cavalry scout unit.  Their “troop” or company-sized unit had three platoons, imaginatively labeled Red, White and Blue. Red was Clint Romesha’s platoon.

A chart showing where the 7 slain and 1 mortally wounded scouts fell. The photo is from before the attack, though.

A declassified chart showing where the 7 slain and 1 mortally wounded scouts fell. The photo is from before the attack, though. The police at the ANP station surrendered to the Taliban, and were summarily executed.

What use is an observation post that can neither observe nor be observed? Only this: it “checks the box” for some inept leader working off a checklist with no real comprehension of what he’s doing. No one from lieutenant colonel on up seemed to really grasp the weakness of the position; but the weakness was clear to two elements:

  1. The junior officers, NCOs, and soldiers of the outposts; and,
  2. The enemy.

The enemy’s presence was evident from the beginning, and attacks became a daily occurrence. What Romesha did not understand at the time, but came to realize later, was that these attacks were probes designed to tickle the Keating defenses and observe the defenders’ reactions. In the weeks before the big attack, patrols found numerous signs of enemy surveillance.

The attack launched on 3 October 2009 (yes, the anniversary of Mogadishu. Probably a coincidence — remember that the enemy here use the Moslem lunar calendar). It showed that the enemy had made great use of its surveillance logs; they first sent in a tsunami of withering fire, and followed it up with a storm surge of men.

After the withdrawal, the explosive charges failed to fire, and the remaining rubble was further destroyed by a B-1 bomber.

After the withdrawal, the explosive charges failed to fire, and the remaining rubble was further destroyed by a B-1 bomber.

By the time the wave hits, Romesha has introduced you to the key players in the defense of Keating (with a heavy dose of foreshadowing for those of his friends and platoon mates for whom this was the last battle). You also have met the supporting players, like the helicopter crews, and you’ve gotten — as, after the battle, Romesha got — a better perspective on some of the things that perplexed him as a low-ranking NCO. His even-handedness, good nature, and curiosity served him well when researching this book. This excerpt is a small example of the even-handedness that so impressed us. He is discussing how it seemed to the men at Keating that the supporting helicopter unit abandoned them; they had no way to know the choppers were being tasked to save the Afghan town of Bargi Matal from being overrun, and supporting five strikes a night on targets associated with the search for deserter Bowe Bergdahl. Sure, the war was under-resourced, but Romesha resists finger-pointing:

One could say that this boiled down to a cause-and-effect chain of lousy ideas, poor decisions, and flawed thinking. When it’s laid out that way, the logic of this argument seems to hold water. But most soldiers who have experienced combat understand that armchair quarterbacking is shallow and often misguided. It’s easy to second-guess decisions based on their ramifications, and then to assign blame. Considerably harder is excepting that in combat, things can and will often go wrong not because of bad decisions, but despite even the best decisions. That is the nature of war.

The book is frank, fair and sufficiently intense that we had to put it down from time to time and go do something else, anything else. It is an excellent corrective to those of us who read Tapper’s The Outpost and thought we understood this fight. Understanding might be one cognitive leap too far, but Red Platoon will inform you of the ends to which our young men are sometimes put, and the character with which they meet such challenges.

The very best parts of the book are the ones where Romesha shares with you clear word portraits of the other men he served with; we were especially moved by his description of Eric Snell, a soldier he’d served with — and lost to a sniper — on an earlier tour in Iraq. At the end of Red Platoon, you know the men who died, warts and all. And you mourn them and regret you never got to meet them. You also know, and you recognize the sheer guts and skill of, the survivors.

U.S. Soldiers with Bravo Troop, 3rd Squadron, 61st Cavalry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division pose for a photo after a mission in Afghanistan in 2009. Standing, Left to right: Medal of Honor recipient Staff Sgt. Clinton L. Romesha, Spc. Thomas Rasmussen, Sgt. Brad Larson, 1st Lt. Andrew Bundermann, Pfc. Christopher Jones, Spc. Kugler and Spc. Knight. Kneeling, left to right: Sgt. Armando Avalos, Jr., Spc. Zach Koppes, Spc. Gregory, Pfc. Davidson. (U.S. Army Courtesy photo/Released)

U.S. Soldiers with Bravo Troop, 3rd Squadron, 61st Cavalry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division pose for a photo after a mission in Afghanistan in 2009. Standing, Left to right: Medal of Honor recipient Staff Sgt. Clinton L. Romesha, Spc. Thomas Rasmussen, Sgt. Brad Larson, 1st Lt. Andrew Bundermann, Pfc. Christopher Jones, Spc. Kugler and Spc. Knight. Kneeling, left to right: Sgt. Armando Avalos, Jr., Spc. Zach Koppes, Spc. Gregory, Pfc. Davidson. (U.S. Army photo).

Is there anything about the book we’d change? We’d like to see better maps. The endpapers contain a commercial artist’s sketch map of COP Keating, but it really can’t show the relief, and it’s too small to show the relation of the min COP to OP Fritsche, the mutually-non-supporting Observation Post. As a soldier, these things are easy to follow from Romesha’s written description, but we worry that civilian readers might miss these aspects of just how incredibly bad, tactically, these siting decisions were. Then again, the topographical maps that make the nightmare terrain clear to a military reader may be Greek to the average civilian.

Many of those heroes of the fight who distinguished themselves, like Romesha himself and his platoon leader, Andrew Bundermann, left the Army subsequently. Bundermann, says Romesha, blames himself for the loss of eight men of his platoon. Romesha and the other survivors disagree vehemently; from the command post, Bundermann marshaled supporting fires like a great conductor animates his strings and woodwinds; without those fires, there would have been no survivors, and the post would not have been held. Still, he feels guilty that his name was not among the dead.

Every combat vet understands.

The Book

Red Platoon: A True Story of American Valor was published in May by Dutton, an imprint of one of the big New York publishers. It is available in hardcover (Amazon link) and in an overpriced Kindle e-book. Expect trade and mass-market paperbacks in due course.

Many thanks to OTR for recommending this book. -Ed.

For More Information:

Compare the Battle of Wanat, another badly sited post defended by off-the-charts valor:

The Big Lie About Wanat (COP Kahler), Part 1 of 2 (long)

A good post on the battle of COP Keating:

Keating, the Medical Story (by the deployed Physician’s Assistant; scroll to p.21 of this .pdf):

(Note that Spc Ty Carter, mentioned in this article, has also received the Medal of Honor for his conduct in the battle).

Saturday Matinee 2016 25: Soldier of Orange (Dutch, 1977)

This is the movie that made Dutch director Paul Verhoeven a “name” in Hollywood and led to his subsequent career in the American movie industry. (He continues to work in his native Netherlands, too, occasionally returning to wartime stories). It is the story of several young friends and their disparate experiences in World War II Holland, including the brief shooting war of 1940, occupation, resistance, collaboration, exile, and liberation.

Scenes set in Holland are subtitled in English. Scenes set in England are not.

Scenes set in Holland are subtitled in English. Scenes set in England are not.

As the movie opens the protagonist, Eric Lanshof (Rutger Hauer), and his friends are undergoing the horrifying experience of a fraternity hazing, unaware of the real nightmares that lie right ahead. The friendships forged here are tested in various ways.

Several of the boys join the resistance: some boldly, some timidly. One is turned by threats against a third party — throughout, the Nazi counterintelligence operation is portrayed as ruthless and competent. One is torn by his mixed Dutch/German ancestry. One will be buried in an unmarked grave in the Dutch barrier dunes; another, executed in a horrifying way in a concentration camp. One winds up in the Dutch SS and becomes, for a time, a hero of the new Europe. And one just stays in school until it, too, is forced underground by the Occupation — and manages to keep studying.

Eric himself is not looking to be a hero, which makes him all the more convincing one. At one level, this movie is a gripping (if complicated) adventure story of resistance against an implacable and evil empire. At another, it’s an exposition of the techniques and countertechniques of resistance and repression. And overall, it is a great arching human tragedy of chances, choices, circumstances and consequences.

It can be difficult to see here in North America; it was posted to YouTube in sections, but at least one has been taken down by the copyright lawyers determined to score valuable points by keeping their clients’ art unseen. (Lawyers. Is there any question but that most of them would flock to the  ranks of the collaborators, were they to face the choices of these film characters?)

Acting and Production

The movie was quite expensive for a continental European production, with the best Dutch talent in front of and behind the talent, and some talented Germans brought in just to creep the audience out — the avuncular CI chief will stick in your mind, as will his gutter-minded assistant.

Rutger Hauer is powerful as Eric. He is perfectly cast as a big Dutchman (after all, he is a good-sized Dutchman). One other actor familiar to Anglosphere audiences is Edward Fox, typecast as usual as a British officer. The other actors, mostly Dutch,

Accuracy and Weapons

Someone worked hard on accuracy for this film. The 1940 Dutch Army is painstakingly equipped with appropriate guns, like Dutch Mannlichers and Browning 1922 pistols.


Resistance guys have Stens, Webleys, and other British hardware. Dutchmen in exile train with Lee-Enfields. This is all more or less correct.

A couple of incidents involve a revolver (possibly a Webley) and a small .25. The Germans are armed appropriately, with German weapons, although they have an MG42 in 1940.


Some of the bigger stuff works, some doesn’t. The “British” floatplane that comes to pick up a courier is a postwar DeHavilland Canada product; “German” tanks are Leopards. But a Russian RGD-33 grenade, a nearly forgotten frag grenade that would be just right for the tax in which it’s employed.

A lot of small, unexpected little details are accurate; some of the Morse radio calls and prosigns are those actually used: messages begin QRA DE (“any station receiving, this is…”) and then lapse into

The security check and duress check signals that the SOE and SIS used in 1940 are simplified, but the radio procedure is close.

Explosions are, unfortunately, Hollywood fireballs (one is excusable, as it is a gasoline FOOM).

Eric’s many roles in the war — Resistance man, pilot, aide to Queen Wilhelmina — seem to make him a Dutch Forrest Gump (or Zelig, if you prefer characters crafted by famous Hollywood pervs). But the character is actually based on a real Soldier of Orange, who filled all the roles.

The bottom line

Soldier of Orange is one of the best resistance films made in the last fifty years. (Hmmm… that would be a good list to make, wouldn’t it?)

For more information

These sites relate to this particular film. We watched it on a movie channel, where it occasionally shows up.

  • DVD page (yikes. Expensive DVD).

  • IMDB page:

  • IMFDB page:

  • Rotten Tomatoes review page (a rare 100% Fresh rating):

  • Wikipedia  page:

  • History vs. Hollywood Page. (none).



How to Be a Gunwriter

patrick sweeney gun booksAt Guns and Ammo, Patrick Sweeney answers the question in the title. His books, on the right, include a couple that we paid for recently, so it’s obvious that we’re interested in what he has to say on this subject.

His key points, as we distill them, are these:

  1. Learn everything you can about guns, and keep an open mind;
  2. At some point, have a professional relationship with guns;
  3. Gain command of the English language, so that you communicate clearly and people enjoy your writing;
  4. Learn how to take photos.
  5. Write with discipline; to steal a phrase from Steven Pressfield, Do The Work.
  6. Make sure you GET PAID. (Caps in honor of all the writers’ advice Larry Correia puts out).

It’s hard choosing an excerpt from this long and useful article, but we’d recommend this one; then we’ll tell you what we think about items 1-6.

At some point, you will have to have a turn at a professional relationship with firearms. This can be in law enforcement or the military, although the risk there is ending up with a provincial attitude. You can also work at a gun shop or manufacturer. The law enforcement and military approaches are examples of the deep and narrow focus. Yes, you could end up shooting a lot, but if you do, it will be with whatever the issue firearm or firearms are. A firearms or ammunition manufacturer will be even more narrowly focused.

Working in a gun shop or gunsmithing can be narrow, but at least you have the option of branching out. Working in gun shops can be useful if you keep one thing in mind: You’re there to learn. Learn what customers want, what they like and dislike, and what they believe, true or not. You’ll get a chance to handle a wide variety of firearms, and if the shop has a gunsmith on hand, you can also learn what breaks, why and how.

A moment to mention competition: Do it. You will be a better shot for competing, and you will also be able to rub shoulders with and soak up info from those who are winning matches.

If you are going to be a gunwriter, you have to learn to write. Knowing every fact, data point and historical tidbit of every firearm or cartridge won’t do you any good if you can’t make it entertaining to read. When I started meeting other gunwriters, I was surprised at how many had degrees in journalism or English. Being a gunwriter, or planning to be one, does not excuse you from going to college. Before the Eisenhower era, a high school diploma was good enough to get you a well-paying job. Today, lacking a college degree qualifies you to be a surfer dude.

Writing styles vary, and I have to be truthful here. There is a gunwriter or two whose prose I find painful to read. (Heck, you might find my style grating.) Nevertheless, they have devoted readers, and I can find useful info in their efforts. You must find your own style, and this will probably happen with the help of a good editor. If that editor happens to be a teacher in school, you’ll have a leg up on all the other would-be gunwriters who hammer out a style once they start working as an actual gunwriter.

Hmm… are we among those guys “whose prose he finds painful to read.” Hope not, but sometimes it can’t be helped. Not everyone is going to be a fan. In any event, if you are a gunwriter, want to be a gunwriter, or want to know some details about how the sausage s made, go Read The Whole Thing™.

Now, here’s our impression of Patrick’s advice, per our numbered examples above.


  • Learn everything you can about guns, and keep an open mind;
    Honestly, we think that this is the key to how gunwriters are made. If you aren’t intensely curious about guns, you’re not going to develop a good frame of reference for thinking about them. As far as the open mind goes, even the best and most curious minds often close on a subject. Would you rather see Rifle X analyzed by a guy who’s got the t-shirt as a Company X fanboy, got the other color t-shirt as a rival Company Y fanboy, or who can put his preferences aside and see what Company X is delivering on its own terms?
    For a writer, learning about new guns (or learning new things about old guns!) doesn’t entirely feel like work, but it is. (Also, if you’re getting paid, you can buy Pat Sweeney’s books, or mine, and expense them on your Schedule C, a big benefit if you live in a tax hell like Massachusetts or Maryland).
  • At some point, have a professional relationship with guns;
    He is right to suggest that a professional relationship can be narrowing but it need not be. Yeah, a rifleman is trained in a handful of his own nation’s weapons, but he learns all about the use and employment of those weapons, especially if he makes it to, say, squad leader or so. A small arms repairman may not have the eye for terrain that an MG squad leader develops, but he sure develops a sense of what Joe breaks and how to fix it.
    SF weapons man is a relatively rare position where one gets hands-on experience with enemy, allied, and unaligned nations’ arms as well as one’s own. (Technical intelligence troops may get some of this, too). A military reserve career is a good parallel to one’s civilian work (it took us nine years to discover that SF was better pursued as a hobby than as a living), but done right it is very time consuming and it’s hard to sell missed birthdays, graduations and anniversaries for a “hobby.”
    Most of the writers we enjoy reading have had this professional relationship at some time. An important thing is to keep you eyes open and your wits about you while working in that job. Tam Keel, for one, seems to have gotten a lot more out of working in a gun shop than the average guy or gal would; she has a very wide range of gun knowledge, and shoots better than most of us. (Here’s a great example of why we always put down the Dr Pepper before opening her blog. Carbonated, acidic beverages are hell on sinuses).
  • Gain command of the English language, so that you communicate clearly and people enjoy your writing;
    Some people seem to think that this is a talent you’re either born with or not (like, say, a good singing voice), and one that you can’t improve with training and/or practice (unlike, say, a singing voice). It’s more like, say, guitar playing. Rare cases may be born with a natural gift, but anybody can get better through almost any combination of instruction and practice. (For the best results, use both). We would shy away from university writing programs, especially those aimed at technical and scientific communication. A lot of really horrible English gets broadcast in scientific papers; you’re supposed to be struggling to catch up with the new discovery, but we’re as often struggling to understand what the writer intended to say. (Native speakers are worse than immigrants, at least by the time the paper hits Science or Nature).
    We’d also add that everybody needs an editor. This typo-ridden and sometimes ill-organized blog is what you get when you turn loose a pretty good writer without an editor except for the one in the back of his brain housing group. (Which is no good; you can’t edit yourself).
  • Learn how to take photos.
    We’ll admit we’ve been lazy about this and use lots of net photos and too many cell phone photos. And yet, we’ve got decent cameras, and while we’re a bit rusty, there was a great two-week photography module in the pre-digital-camera Special Forces Operations and Intelligence course (including such obsolete tech as turning your Gore-tex jacket into a darkroom to develop the film). The key things to learn are simple though, and you can start getting the hang of it in a day: How to select a lens for a clear picture, how to focus, how to use depth of field, how to compose a picture properly.
  • Write with discipline; to steal a phrase from Steven Pressfield, Do The Work.
    Patrick notes with approval a friend who writes 1000 words a day (plus however much extra he feels like), and rewrites the previous day’s work. We have a similar goal, which is 1000 words on each of two books every day. Along with whatever goes in the blog, which is usually an average of 3k words. Insider secret: the more you write, the better you get at it, the more productive you are. Insider secret two: academics and literary critics are a lousy test of your quality. Those guys all love fellow New Hampshire writer J.D. Salinger who lived, if frugally, on having his one book assigned to generations of defenseless high school students, and they disdain our New Hampshire neighbor Dan Brown; if you ever visit Hog Manor we can take a drive past Brown’s house and see it’s not really made of gold bars. (But, he’s not hurting. And you’ll laugh when we explain why).
  • Make sure you GET PAID. (Caps in honor of all the writers’ advice Larry Correia puts out).
    Obviously we are a no-go at the get paid station, but that’s because this blog is one of an (involuntarily and early) retired guy’s avocations. We are working sy-mon-tane-EE-yussly on two books for release this year, one of which will sell in a trickle to gun geeks, and one of which may have broader appeal in the gun culture.