Top 5 War Movies

Everybody loves a good war movie. They have a way of connecting us with our own past as well as the universal struggles of mankind. Over the years countless great flicks have been filmed, but here are my top 5.

  1. Glory, 1989. The American Civil War was such a defining period in this nation that it's fitting to see Glory play a pivotal cultural role in understanding the past. One of the most inspirational movies ever, this classic connects us to our roots and still is able to provoke timeless questions concerning freedom, equality, and valor. Every American should see this movie.

See Glory for more info.

  1. Black Hawk Down, 2001. War has changed in the latter part of the twentieth century, and the most powerful military in the world has to learn that lesson the hard way. Black Hawk Down is a compelling story full of nonstop action that brings you right into the struggle and the heat of Mogadishu. This movie won my respect because it drew me in from the beginning and showed a side of war that we sometimes miss. Plus my military friends have testified to its accuracy, which is a big plus for me.

See Black Hawk Down for more info.

  1. The Patriot, 2000. The Patriot has a little something for everyone. You have the historical significance of the circumstances that founded our nation, the turmoil of a man's strained love for his family, and even your token romance. (The romance is done nicely) This movie does a good job of presenting the struggle and pressure involved in revolution and the fine line between freedom and treason. The emotions are real and the action keeps you on the edge of your seat.

See The Patriot for more info.

  1. Saving Private Ryan, 1998. The war that introduced the world to the "Greatest Generation" also set the stage for the second best war movie ever. Saving Private Ryan is great not because it's the one movie that accurately depicts events of WWII in an exciting way. Of course there are many movies that meet that standard. This one is the best because it walked through the reality of the tragedy through the eyes and ears of everyday men that we can relate to. The story of real people who were called on to do unreal things is what captures our attention. The fact that this movie is able to tell that story sets it apart.

See Saving Private Ryan for more info.

  1. Braveheart, 1995. Really it's hard to imagine a top five list that Braveheart wouldn't be on. It's a classic whether you're looking for action, adventure, romance, drama, even a nice dose of humor. Braveheart is an exceptional movie, and has to top my list of the best war movies, because it does such a good job of making you become William Wallace for a few hours. Think about it. I don't think anybody can watch this movie and not be emotionally drawn into the journey. This movie is able to make us laugh and cry, hope and dream, and walk away pondering themes like justice, freedom, loyalty, and inspiration. In my book it's the best war movie of all time.

See Braveheart for more info.

Laslo Kovacs Dies: seminal seventies cinematographer succumbs

It was an eye that had seen a lot.

Convoys of obtrusive Russian tanks, ordinary citizens converted to madness and fear, the suspicious stares of two-faced bureaucrats.

What a sight for that sore eye it must have been to take in America, with its vast, open landscapes, its endless highways and byways, its solitary sub-cultures where a life could be carved by home-made rules.

Small wonder that he, Hungarian born cinematographer Laslo Kovacs, made a second life-act of cultivating its poetry.

Kovacs, who passed away this month at 74, was the acclaimed cinematographer behind Easy Rider, Five Easy Pieces, Paper Moon and New York, New York – to name but a few of the 1970's gems to which he brought his signature style. Yes, the glory of that era is attributed to the auteurs – Bogdonavich, Rafelson, Scorsese, et al – but just as formative a force was the work of Kovacs and fellow Hungarian expatriate Vilmos Zsigmond, both of whom brought literal meaning to the work of filmmakers who viewed their home soil as a strange, directionless land.

Kovacs' America was painted in connotative wides and energetic traveling shots, representing both a cosmic indifference to man's petty struggles and the driving human desperation to find spiritual solace.

He was drawn to properties about the restless – outsiders trying to cope in a challenging world, a mission made even tougher by a do-or-die instinct to preserve their own identities: Fonda and Hopper in Rider, Nicholson in Pieces, DeNiro in New York, New York.

He made them look small against those big American skies, and larger than life, through memorable close-ups, whenever they writhed within the straight jackets of convention.

Even his '80s output, less complicated films like Ghostbusters and Mask, dealt with fringe characters. Unlike their seventies counterparts, however, each found what it was that they so needed: Bill Murray and company become the toast of NYC, and Cher finds spiritual comfort after the death of her troubled son. One can only hope it was a sign that by that time, Kovacs, then in middle age, had discovered an inner reconciliation with what had been instilled in him back in Hungary.

Soon to be released, his final work, a documentary he and brother-in-arms Szigmond were working on about those formative days during the Russian invasion, choc a Soviet block with footage the two of them smuggled out of the country.

Call it the nerve that once powered a remarkable eye.

Want to Be in the Movies? Be an Extra!

Want to Be in the Movies? Be an Extra!

When we think of actors we think of stars. But there are lots of other categories of performers. One is the background actor or extra. This used to mean being in huge crowds, like in Ben Hur, but more and more background actors are also doing what used to be called “bits.” This is called a “featured extra”. So whether you are an aspiring actor or a retiree who wants to get out in the sun and have some fun, you, too, can be in the movies.

What do you need to do to be an extra? In bigger markets like New York City; Orlando, Florida, Chicago and Los Angeles there are agencies who will call you with extra jobs. But they usually cost money to join if you are not in the union (SAG). Another way to to look on your local craigslist.com under “Talent” and “Gigs.” For your first time, there are always student films to work on, so you know what you are doing, and at least they will feed you. You can also contact your local film commission (every state has one) and find out who casts extras and actors in your area. You can even leave a picture with the commission. Pictures used to be a big deal, but now with digital cameras and computer editing equipment, you can probably have one taken in your backyard. Make sure it’s color, tho. And then save it in a jpeg format so you can send it off to on-line casting notices. (Keep the size small, too.)

What do you need? A good wardrobe, because you will be supplying your own. It helps to have a whole range of things to wear – from uniforms to formal wear, to jeans and beat-up clothes if you play a homeless person, as I did once. They often ask for medical scrubs, or police uniforms. And sometimes they specify sizes if they are providing the costumes, so you can fit into them – then the sizes are mostly small ones. They often specify evening clothes and business attire, so men should have suits, and a tux if possible. And women should have suits, too. And of course, the shoes, etc .that go with that. I actually got to wear a vintage hat I had and a fur stole I inherited on one very cold night shoot!

They will expect you to bring several changes besides what you are wearing. So, people often pack those clothes in a garment bag. I label everything!
Then you should also bring a drink, something to do (it can be a long time between shots) – like a book or crossword puzzle. Also bring snacks, like energy bars, because although you usually get fed, there are those times you don’t. I also like to bring energy or caffeine pills – especially when I had that night shoot of a music video and they ran out of diet soda/coffee, everything caffeinated at 1 AM and we were going till 2!!

Just a few words about etiquette on the set. You will probably want to find the Assistant Director or A.D., who is in charge of the extras. If there is anyone notable there, please be cool. Maybe you will get next to them and can talk to them, but otherwise remember that you are all there to work. Stay in your holding area until you are needed (that’s why you need stuff to do.) When you are on the set, do as YOU ARE TOLD. Obedience is an actor’s primary trait. What do you want? OK, I can do THAT. Keep quiet on the set so you do not interfere with the filming!! When they eat, the crew always goes FIRST. Wait your turn. And don’t be a pig, either! There will probably be snacks on the set for in between.

Bring a chair of some kind to sit on, as there isn’t always enough seating, and none is usually provided. Veteran extras have folding chairs they bring with them. It’s hard to stand for 8 hours! Vets also sometimes have little wheeled charts to put everything in/on, as you may have to schlepp your stuff from the car to the set area yourself.

Most of it is just showing up. Try to get as good directions as you can. Look it up on a computer map site! Bring a map with you. BE ON TIME!! BE EARLY, in fact!! Show up at least a half hour before your call time. Expect to stay 8 hours, even though it may be much less. The current rate for non-union extras in L.A. is California minimum wage – or about $60 for 8 hours. Some gigs pay more. And the rate for union work is considerably higher, and those jobs are harder to land.

That’s the bare minimum. It isn’t brain surgery. (Although, there is a book called BRAIN SURGERY FOR EXTRAS!.) I think it’s mostly common sense. Oh, try not to wear black or white. They usually prefer pastels. And avoid “busy” patterns that may cause the camera to flare.

That’s it. Really. Anything else you can learn on the job. So, go and be in a movie!!!

Want to Be in the Movies? Be an Extra!

Want to Be in the Movies? Be an Extra!