Movies are outstanding. They allow for a short break from reality and fill us with hope and pride as we watch protagonists followthrough on their journeys, but suspension of belief is a fickle thing.
If a film explains the rules of its universe or, at the very least, remains consistent, then the viewer can stay in the story. When these rules are egregiously broken, it’s hard for the audience to remain engaged through the gawking and scoffing.
The Matrix is a perfect example of a film that explains why characters survive outrageous situations. However, not all films are The Matrix. Some movies stay grounded in reality until the very moment the protagonist needs to accomplish something fantastic, then all bets are off — and so is our attention.
The following four characters are guilty of convenient miracles.
Windtalkers is a beautiful idea for a film; immortalizing the very real heroism of World War II Marine Navajo code talkers is absolutely a worthy idea. However, John Woo directing Nick Cage in the lead role is a recipe for some over-the-top scenes. In film’s opening, Corporal Joe Enders (Nick Cage) sustains a blast from an enemy grenade while holding a position somewhere in the Solomon Islands. There’s no way he survives that in real life.
The real cause of death? A grenade to the everything.
2. Specialist John Grimes – Black Hawk Down
Black Hawk Down is another military biopic, but it takes way less creative license. At one point, John Grimes (Ewan McGregor) steps out from cover to successfully take out a mounted .50 cal, but the celebration is short-lived when an RPG is accurately fired at him. Instead of being blown to bits, we discover Grimes covered in dirt, ears ringing.
The real cause of death? RPG to the body.
3. Major William Cage – Edge of Tomorrow
This one is particularly hard to forgive since the entire film centers around showing this character die unceremoniously at every potentially lethal moment. However, when Cage (Tom Cruise) can no longer restart his day after death, he suddenly becomes a superhuman.
Our hero crashes a huge aircraft into a fortified area packed with all kinds of explosions all while under heavy enemy pursuit — and he gets nothing more than a small bruise to show for it.
Platoon is a masterclass in war movies, and it’s written and directed by a veteran with informed combat experience. At one point in the movie, Sgt. Elias (Willem Dafoe) goes off on his own to disrupt the enemy and, on his way back, is met by his fellow, Sergeant Barnes.
Elias is happy to see a friendly face until he realizes Barnes intends to kill him. Elias takes three rounds to the chest but is later seen running out of the jungle, away from the North Vietnamese.
The real cause of death? Three sunken chest wounds.
On July 18, 2019, after a 33-year wait, the trailer for ” Top Gun: Maverick” finally debuted. While Tom Cruise’s Maverick may have aged, TOPGUN recruits are still singing in bars, playing beach volleyball, and performing exhilarating feats in F/A-18 Super Hornets. While the original “Top Gun” was a glamorized, Hollywood version of the real TOPGUN naval aviation training, there are many parts of the original film — and the new trailer — that ring true.
“As an institution, we don’t focus on the Hollywood glamour of the job,” Guy Snodgrass, a former TOPGUN instructor and the author of the forthcoming book “Holding the Line: Inside Trump’s Pentagon with Secretary Mattis,” told INSIDER via email. “That being said, there’s an undeniable truth that when the first movie came out, in the mid-1980s, it fueled a lot of interest, both in TOPGUN and in naval aviation as a whole.”
Snodgrass said he was 10 when he saw the original, and it fueled his desire to become a naval aviator. During his days as a fighter pilot and TOPGUN instructor, Snodgrass performed all the maneuvers new trailer shows, and then some.
The “Top Gun: Maverick” trailer shows an F/A-18 pilot perform a high-g nose maneuver.
In the trailer, Capt. Pete “Maverick” Mitchell performs a feat called a high-G high nose maneuver that’s usually executed to avoid shrapnel from bombs in a war zone. Snodgrass told INSIDER he could still remember what it feels like to do it, too.
“It’s easy to lose the sense of speed when flying at high altitude, as in an airliner, but when you’re flying at more than 600 miles per hour, 200 feet off the ground, the speed rush is exhilarating.”
“When the first movie came out, Paramount Pictures made it a priority to work with the TOPGUN staff to bring as much realism into this project as they could, whether it’s the radio calls, or maneuvering the aircraft. It’s reassuring to know that they’re taking the exact same approach with this movie,” he told INSIDER.
Tom Cruise’s Capt. Pete “Maverick” Mitchell is confronted by an admiral.
Besides the thrill of breaking sound barriers, the original film, and the new trailer, do a great job of capturing “the swagger of naval aviation,” Snodgrass said. In the trailer, an admiral played by Ed Harris asks Maverick why, after all his accomplishments as an aviator, he hasn’t advanced beyond the rank of captain. “You should be at least a two-star admiral by now. Yet here you are…captain. Why is that?” Harris’ character asks.
“It’s one of life’s mysteries, sir,” Maverick replies immediately.
Top Gun: Maverick – Official Trailer (2020) – Paramount Pictures
Joanna Mendez, former Central Intelligence Agency Chief of Disguise, watched spy scenes from a variety of films and television shows in order to break down how accurate they really are. From Jason Bourne finding his cache of passports and foreign currency to Carrie Mathison’s (Homeland) half-assed “disguise” through airport security, Mendez doesn’t hold back in her opinions and expertise.
During her 27-year career, her position in the CIA’s Office of Technical Service involved providing operational disguises and alias training in hostile theaters of the Cold War from Moscow to Havana. Her duties included clandestine photography and preparing CIA assets with the use of intelligence-collecting equipment like spy cameras, as well as processing the information brought in.
Think “Q” — James Bond Q, not Star Trek…
Now retired, Mendez continues to consult with the U.S. Intelligence community as well as lecture with her husband Antonio Mendez, also a retired intelligence officer, with whom she has published several books about their covert experience including Spy Dust, which reveals “the tools and operations that helped win the Cold War,” and Argo, which would become an Academy Award-winning film of the same name that told the story of “the most audacious rescue in history.”
In the video below, Mendez lets her critiques fly. Check it out:
Former CIA Chief of Disguise Breaks Down 30 Spy Scenes From Film & TV | WIRED
“Carrie’s disguise, which basically consisted of dying her hair…was absolutely ineffective. She’s still Carrie…but with dark hair. She could have cut her hair and restyled it. She could have changed her makeup. She could have put on sunglasses to hide that crazy-eyed look she has…” claps Mendez.
She then jumped to a scene from Alias where Jennifer Garner nails her disguise. “She didn’t just dye her hair — she dyed it outrageously red and then adopted the whole persona to go with it. We could have used that as a training film!” she laughed.
Mendez moves on to Matthew Rhys’ character in The Americans. “He was never trying to look good. He came really close to projecting ‘the little gray man’ that we would talk about at the CIA. You wanted to be forgettable,” she commended.
Mendez then moves on to a “quick change,” the name for a move where an agent clandestinely changes his appearance in 37 seconds. She commented on Mission Impossible III, and in particular discusses why Tom Cruise’s “priest” would have been ethically off-limits.
From Megan Fox in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, to Ansel Elgort in Baby Driver, Mendez breaks down the “quick change” further — and also warns against stealing.
The video covers blending in with the crowd in James Bond — and CIA inventions that helps its agents remain discrete; being assigned a new identity in Spy; cultural customs in Inglorious Bastards; and life-like masks that cover the entire face in order to give the appearance of a completely different face.
The video is highly entertaining, not just because it grabs clips from iconic pop culture favorites (Austin Powers and Sherlock Holmes make appearances) but also because Joanna Mendez has a great, wry humor (“we never tried to disguise ourselves as furniture at the CIA…”).
Watch the full video above and find out what the CIA really thinks about black cat suits and seducing the enemy!
Before you laugh it off and remind us all that Black Panther and Avengers: Infinity War are just movies (and/or comics) and should not be taken seriously, let me remind you there are numerous examples of sci-fi and fantasy leading to the development of real-world technology. Video calling, holographic projections, tablets, Bluetooth devices, and even tractor beams were all inventions of fiction that later became reality. Not to put too fine a point on it, but the U.S. is currently building the TALOS suit, an Iron Man-inspired suit of mechanical armor.
So, it’s not all that surprising that a CIA scientist would break down Wakanda’s advanced, fantastic tech to see what’s possible — and to see what could become a real threat.
Inching toward being the first supervillain, one day at a time.
Vibranium is the rare metal that Wakanda has in abundance, deposited there by an asteroid 10,000 years ago. The metal can absorb vibrations from all kinetic energy, which includes both conventional and energy weapons. The ability of the metal to absorb vibration also means it absorbs sounds. This material is what makes Captain America’s shield indestructible.
A real-world metal with these comic-book properties doesn’t exist, but there are a few substances that come close, according to “Rebecca,” the CIA’s scientist.
Tungsten Carbide – This chemical compound can compress materials and store energy to be released later.
Diamond nanothreads – Carbon atoms bonded together the way they are seen in diamonds can hold a lot of energy when woven into fabric.
Vibranium – Elon Musk’s Hyperloop is developing a material they call “Vibranium” (because of course Elon Musk is), a woven carbon alloy that is eight times stronger than steel and five times lighter. The threads can also store and send data about its condition.
2. Tactical Sand
Vibranium-infused sand forms real-time depictions of tactical situations — it’s data visualization using sound waves to form shapes in the sand. The technology may be fictional, but the theory behind it is very much a reality. Rebecca says it’s based on Chladni’s law, which states that different sound frequencies cause sand to form different patterns.
But a pattern isn’t a tactical display. What about the actual data coming in, can that be represented in sand? The answer is yes, and MIT is doing it right now. Researchers can make sand respond to real-time movements, using it as they would pixels, allowing people who are in a remote area to interact with data in real time.
3. Kimoyo Beads
Tiny beads of vibranium that can hold personal data or perform specific functions, all triggered by touch, are a feature of every Wakandan.
Devices that can be engaged via touch clearly exist (most of you are reading this on a touchscreen device, after all) as does remote control technology. The problem, at the moment, is in the holographic communication. The physics of light waves and the space required for holographic projections restricts this technological function.
What excited “Rebecca” most about Kimoyo beads is the use of blockchain technology in storing personal information. Blockchain technology means data is not stored in a central server and is therefore much less vulnerable to hacking and theft than traditional databases.
Unfortunately the nanomachines just shred whatever clothing you’re wearing.
4. The Panther Habit
T’Challa’s Black Panther suit is comprised of woven Vibranium nanoparticles, tiny machines that emanate from his necklace, swarming over his skin and forming a protective suit that can absorb energy, regenerate, and self-replicate.
Rebecca notes that nanotechnology is primarily being developed in the medical field right now, but swarm intelligence like the kind used by the Panther Habit is being developed for use with drones. As for lightweight cloth that can absorb vibrations and shocks, there are a few companies who are working on similar technologies that have a lot of interest from national sports leagues, the U.S. military, and law enforcement.
5. Invisibility Cloaks
Using lens technology to bend light around objects, like the tech being developed at the University of Rochester, gives researchers the ability to hide objects. Right now, this technology only works on human vision, and must be seen through the lens, but the evidence below is pretty amazing.
Nanotechnology opens the door to real invisibility cloaking, and is already being done on a very, very small scale. But the CIA’s scientist points out that hiding a whole country from satellites that have radiation and heat detection is still going to be very unlikely, even if it can’t be seen with the human eye.
6. Basotho Blankets
Basotho blankets are the amazing tribal blankets worn by the border tribe that just happen to double as deflector shields. Unfortunately, even if we consider vibranium to have near-magical properties, light will never be able to stop a physical object or other light, as Rebecca points out.
She does point to another way to create an energy shield:
“In Physics of the Impossible, physicist Michio Kaku says that you’d need a “plasma window,” a frame in which gas could be heated to 12,000°F, to vaporize metals (even vibranium?) Alternately you might use high-energy laser beams that crisscrossed each other, to vaporize objects, but both of these require more rigid structure than a cloak. Back to carbon nanotubes! If you could weave those into a lattice (or a cloak), they could create a screen of enormous strength, capable of repelling most objects. The screen would be invisible, since each carbon nanotube is atomic in size, but the carbon nanotube lattice would be stronger than any ordinary material. Add in some cool hologram effects, and you could have a pretty nifty shield that would be the envy of any intelligence service operating in a warzone.”
Avengers: Endgame stars are sharing never-before-seen footage from the filming of Tony Stark’s funeral scene. As revealed by Twitter posts from Mark Ruffalo and Chris Evans, none of the actors (including Tom Holland and Chris Hemsworth) knew exactly what was in store for them that day.
In Ruffalo’s Twitter post, he shared that the actors were told they’d be shooting a wedding scene. “We’re filming a wedding scene, they said. #TBT,” he wrote, along with several photos of his castmates on set by the lakefront. In the video, Ruffalo pans to his fellow actors, some of whom are also recording their own videos, while Chris Hemsworth jokingly warns, “Guys, no phones allowed. No cameras.”
Due to the top-secret nature of the film, actors were only given partial scripts of certain key scenes. Directors Joe and Anthony Russo have even said that only Chris Evans and Robert Downey, Jr. were given the script in its entirety.
Avengers: Endgame is the 22nd film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and is still killing it at the box office, raking in over .7 billion dollars so far. As its success plays out, Endgame filmmakers continue to reveal behind-the-scenes factoids, like that Tony Stark almost traveled back to the most poorly rated Avengers film, Thor: Dark World. Writers also recently set the record straight regarding that crazy moment when Captain America proved worthy enough to lift Thor’s hammer.
Remember the days of old when fandoms couldn’t immediately get juicy, behind-the-scenes answers from social media? Hard to even imagine.
This article originally appeared on Fatherly. Follow @FatherlyHQ on Twitter.
Joker was always going to be a different kind of Batman movie. It might not even to be fair to call it a Batman movie, centered as it is on Gotham’s most infamous criminal and not its most famous orphan. But besides a narrative focus beyond good vs. evil, what sets this movie apart is its relationship with its source material.
“We didn’t follow anything from the comic books, which people are gonna be mad about,” writer-director Todd Phillips said in an upcoming interview with Empire. You read that right: instead of basing the script on a graphic novel or cobbling it together from different comic books, Phillips wrote an original story.
“We just wrote our own version of where a guy like Joker might come from. That’s what was interesting to me. We’re not even doing Joker, but the story of becoming Joker. It’s about this man,” Phillips added.
Instead of pitting the character, be it zoot suited Jack Nicholson in a zoot suit or a shirtless Jared Leto, against Batman, the Joker script is about Arthur Blank’s descent into Travis Bickle-like madness. If it sounds like a role designed for Phoenix, a notoriously intense actor, that’s because it is.
“We had a photo of him above our computer while we were writing,” he told the magazine. We constantly thought, ‘God, imagine if Joaquin actually does this.'”
Well, he actually did it, but you’ll have to wait until Oct. 4, 2019, to see exactly where on the “inspired by” to “based on” spectrum Phillips’s film falls.
This article originally appeared on Fatherly. Follow @FatherlyHQ on Twitter.
If 2020’s stay-at-home order told us one thing, it’s how much we rely on entertainers to keep us sane. Music, movies and online entertainment have been our lifeline to the outside world. Many of the celebrities who have kept us amused have also spoken out about the importance of recognizing the achievements of Black Americans — and that includes veterans!
Over 160,000 Black people are currently in the United States military, serving a critical role in keeping our country safe, and they’ve been doing so for a long, long time. In fact, many of the Black celebrities you know and love are veterans! Keep reading to learn about 10 of the most famous Black veterans…you might be surprised!
Born in 1956, Montel Brian Anthony Williams is best known for his work as a TV host and motivational speaker. His show, The Montel Williams Show, ran for 17 years, but that’s not his only claim to fame. Williams served in both the U.S. Marine Corps and the U.S. Navy. After enlisting in 1974, he attended a four-year officer training program, graduating with a degree in general engineering and a minor in international security affairs.
After completing Naval Cryptologic Officer training, he spent 18 months as a cryptologic officer in Guam. He later became supervising cryptologic officer at Fort Meade, eventually leaving the navy after achieving the rank of Lieutenant Commander.
He earned several awards including the Meritorious Service Medal, the Navy Commendation Medal and the Navy Achievement Medal.
Food Network personality Sunny Anderson grew up as an Army brat. Her family’s ongoing travels and her parents’ love of food gave her a chance to explore international cuisines, inspiring her future career. After graduating high school in 1993, she joined the United States Air Force, where she earned the rank of Senior Airman. She also worked as a military radio host in Seoul, South Korea, going on to work for the Air Force News Agency radio and television in San Antonio from 1993 to 1997.
Stanley Kirk Burrell, better known as MC Hammer, is one of the most well known American rappers of the late 80s. He rose to fame quickly both as a rapper, dancer and record producer, coming out with hits like “U Can’t Touch This” and “2 Legit 2 Quit.” In addition to creating the famous “Hammer pants” and his successful entertainment career, Burrell served in the Navy for three years as a Petty Officer Third Class Aviation Store Keeper until his honorable discharge.
Tracy Lauren Marrow, AKA Ice-T, is a multi-talented entertainer with a tumultuous background. He had more than one run-in with the law in his youth, but after his daughter was born he decided to join the Army. Marrow served a two year and two month tour in the 25th Infantry Division.
Military life wasn’t for him, however, and he used his status as a single father to leave the Army and begin his career as an underground rapper. Since then, he has made a name for himself as a musician, songwriter, actor, record producer and actor, starring as a detective on Law Order SVU and hosting a true-crime documentary on Oxygen.
Jamaican-American singer, songwriter, activist and actor, Harold George Bellanfanti Jr is no stranger to hard work. He enlisted in the Navy at the start of World War II while he was still finishing high school. After an honorable discharge two years later, he focused on his music career, bringing Caribbean-style music to the US. One of his first albums, “Calypso,” was the first million-selling LP by a single artist.
He was also a passionate supporter of the civil rights movement, going on to advocate for humanitarian causes throughout his life. Since 1987, he has been a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador and currently acts as the American Civil Liberties Union celebrity ambassador for juvenile justice issues.
Ever heard of Orville Richard Burrell? Don’t worry, I hadn’t either, but you probably know his stage name: Shaggy. Burrell was born in Kingston, Jamaica, in 1968. He began taking voice lessons in the early 80s, filling the streets with music. His talent was apparent early on, but in 1988 he joined the Marine Corps, serving with the Field Artillery Battery in the 10th Marine Regiment during the Persian Gulf War. He achieved the rank of lance corporal, and continued to sing while he did it. He went on to earn seven Grammy nominations, winning twice for Best Reggae Album.
James, better known as Jimi, Hendrix, began playing guitar in his hometown of Seattle at just 15 years of age. After enlisting for a short time in the Army and training as a paratrooper in the 101st Airborne Division, he continued his music career to become one of the most renowned guitarists of all time. His music career, much like his military career, was brief, but powerful. He earned a spot in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, which describes him as “the greatest instrumentalist in the history of rock music.”
Berry Gordy Jr
American record, film, and tv producer and songwriter Berry Gordy Jr didn’t get his start in the music industry. He dropped out of high school to become a professional boxer, which he excelled at until he was drafted by the U.S. Army in 1950. He was first assigned to the 58th Field Artillery Bn., 3rd Inf. Div. in the Korean War, later playing the organ and driving a jeep as a chaplain’s assistant. When his tour was over in 1953, his music career took off.
He founded the Motown record label, which was the highest-earning African American business for several decades. Several of his songs topped the charts, and he’s known for helping budding artists like Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder and the Supremes achieve greatness.
2016 Invictus Opening Ceremony
Actor and film narrator Morgan Freeman is yet another famous veteran. He earned a partial drama scholarship from Jackson State University, but he turned it down to enlist in the U.S. Air Force. There, he served as an Automatic Tracking Radar Repairman, rising to the rank of Airman 1st Class.
After being discharged four years later, he moved to Los Angeles and studied theatrical arts at the Pasadena Playhouse. Considering he has since won an Academy Award, a Golden Globe, a Screen Actors Guild Award and many Oscar nominations, it looks like his hard work paid off!
James Earl Jones
Few voices are as iconic and recognizable as that of American actor James Earl Jones. Before launching his acting career, Jones served in the military, receiving his Ranger tab and helping to establish a cold-weather training command at the former Camp Hale. During his time in the military, he was promoted to first lieutenant. Following his discharge, he served his country in a different way, with over seven decades of theatrical excellence. In addition to winning numerous Tonys, two Emmys and a Grammy, he was presented with the National Medal of the Arts by President George H.W. Bush in 1992. Nearly two decades later, President Barack Obama invited him to perform Shakespeare at the White House. Wow!
These Black veterans aren’t the only ones we should care about.
The history of African American military personnel is as old as our country itself. Countless Black Americans have made their mark on U.S. Military history, and they continue to do so today. Click here to explore the firsthand experiences of Black vets, or learn more about how to support them here.
The sinking of the USS Indianapolis was the greatest single loss of American lives in the history of the U.S. Navy. The story of how it ended up at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean started with the Manhattan Project and wouldn’t end until her captain, Charles B. McVay III, was exonerated in a court-marital.
In the first official trailer for “USS Indianapolis: Men of Courage,” (directed by Mario Van Peebles!) we see Nicolas Cage as the skipper of the Indianapolis, given a highly classified mission and then surviving the sinking of his ship. We also see his court-martial, which, as mentioned, is part of the ship’s real world story. In fact, much of what we see in this trailer really did happen to the ship’s crew.
The Indianapolis served with campaigns in New Guinea, the Aleutians, and the Gilbert Islands. As the flagship for the U.S. Fifth Fleet, she not only supported the Gilbert invasions but also Tarawa, Marshall Islands, Western Carolines, Saipan, Okinawa, and fought in the famous “Marianas Turkey Shoot.”
Her most famous mission sent her from San Francisco to Hawaii, carrying the bomb components for the atomic bomb Little Boy which would be dropped on Hiroshima. The ship also left port with half the world supply of Uranium-235. It departed San Francisco on July 16, 1945, delivering the parts ten days later. Because of its top secret mission, the Indianapolis had no escort and few knew the ship’s location.
On its way to join Task Force 95 for its next assignment, it was torpedoed by a Japanese submarine and sunk in 12 minutes, with the loss of 300 of the 1,196 crewmen. The rest were adrift in the open water. The ordeal wasn’t over for the crew. For days, they fought exposure to the elements, dehydration, and extreme shark attacks – the most in human history. Only 321 of the surviving 880 were recovered alive.
In November 1945, Captain McVay was court-martialed and convicted for hazarding his ship with his failure to follow the Navy’s guidelines for avoiding submarines and torpedoes. McVay said he moved the ship in a zig-zag pattern, consistent with those guidelines. The star witness at McVay’s trial was Hashimoto Mochitsura, the commander of the submarine that sank the Indianapolis. He testified that zig-zagging would not have saved the ship, whether McVay followed the regs or not. McVay was the only captain in World War II to be court-martialed for the loss of his ship.
Some families still blamed McVay for the deaths of their sailors. McVay retired in 1949, but the guilt of losing the sailors stayed with him until the end of his life. He committed suicide in 1968 at age 70, found on his front lawn with a toy sailor in his hand.
Some vets with a tendency toward showmanship like to take their talents to YouTube or Hollywood when they hit the post-service world.
But the former F-16 fighter pilots behind Operation Encore took the old-school approach and are working to shatter some of the caricatures of veterans through music. The result is a blend of music genres from a variety of military-affiliated artists that range from folksy bluegrass to present-day pop rock — all of it relating to experiences of war that poke fun at life in the service and lament the tragedy of war.
Chris Kurek is the co-founder and partner with Viper Driver Productions. He’s better known as “Snooze,” one of the two founding members of the band Dos Gringos, a pair of F-16 pilots who released four satirical albums full of songs with titles like “I Wish I Had a Gun Just Like the A-10” to the NSFW drinking song “Jeremiah Weed” to the Willie Nelson-esque “TDY Again.”
The band kicked off when Kurek and his fellow jet jock Robert “Trip” Raymond were deployed to Kuwait for Operation Southern Watch and later Operation Iraqi Freedom.
“We were out there for six months, there was nothing else to do,” Kurek said. He and Raymond wrote some songs and performed for the rest of their squadron.
Their songs drew what Kurek described as “wonky eyes” from some, but their squadron commander was very supportive, encouraging them to record the songs on CD, even offering to put up the money.
“We were kind of writing on stuff that pointed out things that drive you crazy in the military,” he said.
Turns out Dos Gringos’ wing commander was less than pleased with their extracurricular enterprise and barred them from performing at the Cannon Air Force Base Officer’s Club.
But the band went viral in a 2003 sorta way via the enlisted maintenance personnel who particularly dug the song, “I’m a Pilot,” Kurek said. The semi-satirical ditty about a self-centered fighter jock — which evokes a sound similar to some songs from the 80s band Warrant — was passed around the flightline.
Eventually, Dos Gringos would put out three more albums —”2,” “Live at Tommy Rockers,” and “El Cuatro” — before the band had to go on hiatus due to pressure from higher ups as Raymond rose through the ranks.
They were not done with music, though. Both felt some frustration with how some caricatured vets and with what they perceived as an effort by Nashville to cash in on the veteran experience.
Kurek recounted that the war wasn’t always patriotism or sadness, pointing out there was a lot of “goofing off and laughter” because of “boredom.”
“Vets can write about anything,” Kurek said. Eventually, in a conversation with Erik Brine, a C-17 pilot who was a later addition to Dos Gringos, Kurek recounted someone asking, “I wonder if there are any other people who did what we did on deployment – bring a guitar and write songs.”
They began a search, and it was a pair of submissions from Stephen Covell, an Army medic who served with the 82nd Airborne Division, that prompted them to create Operation Encore.
“Those two alone were the best I ever heard,” Kurek said. “They conveyed a combat vet’s experience.”
Covell’s submissions pushed Kurek and Raymond to launch a Kickstarter campaign to pay for airfare, studio time, mixing and mastering.
While two albums, “Volume 1” and “Monuments,” have so far been released, Kurek notes the process has been a challenge, largely due to the way the music industry has changed. Kurek recounted that when the first Dos Gringos album came out, CDs were still king. The rise of iTunes and digital downloads were one shift which evened out – the volume increased, even as they got less per song.
With Operation Encore, though, the big challenge has been the fact that the music industry has shifted once again to streaming services, and it takes hundreds of thousands of streams to get real money. Furthermore, Kurek pointed out that Dos Gringos was a niche market, and their audience knew what they would get.
Operation Encore is different.
“Operation Encore is a compilation, not one band, sound, or genre,” he explained, pointing out some of the songs were pop rock, others country or bluegrass. Furthermore, the singers who appear are scattered all over the world. Just getting the performers together for a concert would entail airfare, hotel rooms, and equipment rental. Not to mention all the stuff that is in the riders for the artists.
Kurek, though, is still hot on his Iraq War-era band.
“I wish we could do one more Dos Gringos album,” he said.
When “Black Hawk Down” hit theatres in 2001, it was marketed as a cast of ‘no names’. The real “stars” were the elite troops depicted onscreen: the Army Rangers, Delta Force soldiers and 160th SOAR pilots who made up Task Force Ranger in the fall of 1993 in Mogadishu, Somalia. The movie chronicles their 18-hour battle with Somali militias in which 18 Americans died.
But in the 15 years since, Black Hawk Down’s cast has turned into a roster of certified Hollywood A-listers or perennial movie “That Guys.” In fact, BHD’s alumni have made more big movies than any other military ensemble cast.
BoxOfficeMojo.com is a website that tracks career box office earnings of hundreds of actors. All told, the movies featuring Black Hawk Down alumni have been in have earned a staggering $12.6 billion – more than the combined career box office for the cast of Oceans 11.
The cast falls into three military groups:
The $B-Boys – Black Hawk Down actors who crossed the billion-dollar line (in the book, though less so in the movie, Delta Force is nicknamed “D-boys”)
The Regulars – you know their faces, if not their names
Asymmetric Warriors – Two roles – a Delta Force operator and a 24th Special Tactics Squadron pararescueman – were played by actors who now have massive careers, but not as traditional movie stars. We had to measure their careers differently (leave it to JSOC to be hard to pin down).
Orlando Bloom, “PFC Todd Blackburn”
Career Box Office: $2,815,831,431
You hardly recognize him when he’s not: an elf or a pirate.
The wispy, slightly-sour-faced Brit spends just a few minutes on screen and hardly speaks. But after five installments of “Lord of the Rings” and three “Pirates of the Caribbean,” movies starring Bloom have made more money than those starring George Clooney or Brad Pitt (whom Bloom starred with in “Troy”).
Ewan McGregor, “PFC John Grimes”
Career Box Office: $2,080,785,955
You hardly recognize him when he’s not: a Jedi; lusting for life.
He was a brash talking, un-Tabbed underachiever consigned to coffee duty until pushed outside the wire, but McGregor’s John Grimes – “Grimesy” – was the closest thing to an Everyman in the movie. But by the time Black Hawk Down hit screens, McGregor had already played Obi Wan Kenobi in the “Phantom Menace,” with two other mega Star Wars prequels just ahead. Together, they pulled in $1.1 Billion.
William Fichtner, “SFC Jeff Sanderson”
Estimated Box Office*: $1,495,000,000
You hardly recognize him when he’s not: getting killed.
Fichtner, one of the all-time That Guys in movie history, might be America’s answer to Sean Bean, the oft-murdered Englishman. Fichtner dies a lot. He’s met his on-screen fate on George Clooney’s doomed fishing boat (“The Perfect Storm”) and as an outlaw in Johnnie Depp’s wild west (“The Lone Ranger”), and only barely survived Bruce Willis’ doomed space shuttle (“Armageddon”). In Black Hawk Down, Fichtner’s fiction Delta soldier Sanderson is a battlefield Svengali, coaxing a team of scared, out-gunned Rangers through the day’s fight. He grows ever cooler as the fire gets heavier, dispensing tactical hints that also serve as deep life wisdom (“stay off the walls”).
*Fichtner, like several Black Hawk Down actors, doesn’t register on BoxOfficeMojo. So we added up only the giant hits you’ve almost definitely forgotten he was in.
Tom Hardy, “Pvt. Lance Twombly”
Box Office: $1,242,535,310
Oh, it’s the guy from: “driving for his life in a desert hell hole. But with girls.”
For 12 years after the movie’s release, Hardy wasn’t even the most famous actor among his small trio of Rangers separated from the main force. One of the soldiers, Nelson, is temporarily deaf, a condition played for laughs by Ewan Bremner, a.k.a. Spud from “Trainspotting.” But in 2012, he played Bane in “The Dark Knight Rises” and stole the summer of 2015 in “Mad Max: Fury Road.”
Jason Isaacs, “Cpt. Michael Steele”
Box office: $1,952,955,239
Oh, it’s the guy who is usually: a punchable, dickish authority figure. But in a wig.
Some guy you definitely don’t know has made two billion dollars – pretty funny, hooah? As one of many roles in a classic “That Guy” career, Isaacs plays Cpt. Steele, the uptight Ranger commander who spends most of the movie not getting along with Delta’s cool kids. His most famous moment is as the butt of Eric Bana’s classic joke, “this is my safety, sir.” Steele was right on type for Isaacs, who was also a total dick to Harry Potter as Lucius Malfoy and to 18th-century churchgoers in “The Patriot.”
Ioan Gruffudd, “Lt. John Beales”
Oh, I think he was in: A total disaster, probably (“San Andreas,” “Titanic”).
A career character actor, Gruffudd has played small-to-medium roles in almost 20 films that, combined, have brought in a little over $800 million. He also played a bit part in one of the biggest hits of all time, “Titanic.” The role was so small that BoxOfficeMojo doesn’t count it, but we’re giving it to him. Grufford plays 5th Officer Harold Lowe, who in both the movie and real life, was the only officer who went back to rescue survivors in the water. It’s Grufford who rescues Kate Winslet – and what is “Black Hawk Down” at heart if not a rescue mission? We’re counting it in Gruffudd’s total.
Eric Bana, “Sgt. 1st Class Norm ‘Hoot’ Gibson”
Box Office: $1,029,166,799
Oh, isn’t that the guy from: Tough one. You know you know Bana.
He’s definitely “a movie star.” But he’s never held top billing in a major hit. His fictionalized Delta operator Gibson – who bookends the movie with meditative soliloquies on combat and soldiering – might be Bana’s defining role. Still, Bana is a hell of a 2nd Chair, scoring 9-digit box office in “Troy,” “Star Trek,” and “Lone Survivor.” And as a sheer badass, he reached near-“Hoot” levels as an Israeli assassin in “Munich.”
Tom Sizemore, “Col. Danny McKnight”
Box Office*: $780,000,000
Oh, it’s that guy from: same character type, different war.
Sizemore’s career has been a string of grizzled combat leaders, including Sgt. Horvath in Saving Private Ryan, another NCO in Pearl Harbor and shoot-first detective Sgt. Jack Scagnetti (great name!) in Natural Born Killers. In BHD, when gunfire breaks out, he memorably orders a nervous Ranger: “shoot back.”
*Like Fichtner, we looked at Sizemore’s biggest hits and rounded up.
Josh Hartnett, “Sgt. Matt Eversmann”
Box Office: $678,425,308
Wait, was he in…: not much lately, tbh.
With all the future superstars and famous faces, it’s a little jarring to look back and realize that Hartnett was the guy featured on BHD’s original movie poster. Much of the movie tracks his trial by fire as a new Ranger team leader. But after BHD, Hartnett’s career stalled. He played the lead in Pearl Harbor, as bad a military movie as BHD is a good one, and hasn’t been in a big hit – or big poster – since.
Jeremy Piven, “CW3 Cliff ‘Elvis’ Walcott”
Box Office: $575,659,624
Hey, it’s: Ari!
Jeremy Piven has played in about 60 films but he’ll never escape being Ari Gold, the preening talent agent in HBO’s “Entourage.” Unfortunately, Piven plays his role as 160th pilot Walcott in full proto-Gold style, with cocky, hot-shot dialogue that sound more like “Top Gun” than 160th operators. Piven isn’t on BoxOfficeMojo, but he did make six movies with John Cusak, so we modified Cusak’s career box office total for Piven.
Tom Guiry, “Staff Sgt. Ed Yurek”
Box Office: $388,375*
Guiry is a chalk leader in BHD, where he’s unrecognizable from his only other well-known role, the kid-classic “The Sandlot.” I just hope that when he “fired” his weapon on set, his intended target always yelled, “You’re killing me, Smalls!”
(*the record price paid for a Babe Ruth autographed baseball)
Oh, it’s the guy who: hasn’t been funny since Season 2.
In late 1998, about when BHD came out as a book, I was a trainee at the Pararescue Indoctrination course in San Antonio – a ‘cone’ as you’re called before graduating – when Wilkinson visited. Our class knew Wilkinson as one of two Air Force PJs that fast-roped into the heart of the fighting. He gave our class a great pep talk about sticking together and, even more impressively, jumped into our training for a day. That night, our class went out for a team dinner at an Outback. Wilkinson and two of our instructors were there. After eating, we tried to sneak out but the instructors caught us and put us through several sets of feet-up pushups in the parking lot as confused diners looked on. As we knocked them out, I remember seeing Wilkinson with his arms folded, laughing his ass off.
I tell this story here to distract you from noticing that one of the most decorated PJs in history is played by the dad from “Modern Family.”
*guess-timate of Modern Family’s total ad and syndication revenue
Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, “SFC Gary Gordon”
Box Office: $560,000,000*
Oh, it’s: Cersei’s Bro With Benefits.
Waldau plays Gary Gordon, one of two Delta soldiers awarded the Medal of Honor for volunteering to be dropped on a crash site to defend an injured crew. Both were killed in the firefight. And now he’s the Kingslayer. That’s about as badass as a “That Guy” gets.
(*we used the total revenue Game of Thrones effect on HBO in subscriptions, DVD sales and rights fees).
Every year a coalition of organizations, from pro-library groups to anti-censorship associations, come together to celebrate “Banned Books Week.” It’s a celebration of the right to read and the right of access to information. At the same time, it’s a challenge to libraries and schools to re-examine the titles they try to keep off the shelves.
The list of frequently banned books is surprising, especially considering the effect some of these books had on American history, including Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harrier Beecher Stowe, The Jungle by Upton Sinclair, and Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee by Dee Brown.
We can celebrate Banned Books Week by catching these legendary titles, written by combat veterans and banned by people who wouldn’t understand them anyway.
1. A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway
Hemingway was an ambulance driver for the Allied Powers during World War I, working on the Italian Front. He tried to enlist as a regular infantry troop, but was turned down due to poor eyesight. He was wounded in action by shrapnel from an Austrian mortar round – but never stopped his front line duties.
A Farewell to Arms is the author’s book about his experiences in the Great War. The novel, first released serialized in 1929, was considered overly violent and borderline pornographic at the time. If anything, read this book because F. Scott Fitzgerald sent Hemingway 10 pages of notes on it and Hemingway told Fitzgerald to kiss his ass.
2. Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut
Then-Private First Class Vonnegut was captured by the Nazis during the WWII Battle of the Bulge. He, along with boxcars full of fellow POWs, were taken to the German city of Dresden and forced to work in the city – until it was firebombed by the Allies. Vonnegut and a few others survived the devastation, in what looked like a different, horrifying new world.
Slaughterhouse Five is named after the underground bunker in which he waited out the bombing. The book is the story of a man who became “unstuck in time,” floating back to the past at seemingly random times. It has become the PTSD flashback story and one of the most banned books of all-time.
Once called “depraved, immoral, psychotic, vulgar, and anti-Christian,” the Indianapolis-based Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library sends dozens of free copies to districts which ban the book.
3. The Naked and the Dead by Norman Mailer
Norman Mailer was from an affluent family. He was drafter after graduating from Harvard and drafted into the Army as a typist in 1943. He did many things, including communications, cooking, and even recon. He saw a lot of action doing recon patrols in the Philippines and his experience became The Naked and the Dead.
Mailer’s book follows an infantry platoon fighting the Japanese in the Philippine island of Anopopei. The book was deemed so obscene, it was banned in Canada. CANADA. Though popular, the book is really long and detailed.
4. Catch-22 by Joseph Heller
At age 19, Heller enlisted in the Army Air Corps. It was 1942 and WWII was in full swing. Heller actually enjoyed his military service as a bombardier on a B-25. He flew the required 60 missions over Europe on the Italian Front, just like John Yossarian, the main character.
Catch-22 became so popular for lampooning the bureaucracy of the military, the term stuck and is now in common parlance. It was the other language in the book that caught the ire of towns and districts in the United States for being obscene – as if fighting in WWII was supposed to be clean.
5. Animal Farm by George Orwell
Orwell didn’t just write books against Fascism, he went out and did something about it. During the Spanish Civil War, he twice traveled to Barcelona to join the fight against the Franco regime. He was shot in the throat by a sniper and barely survived. This made him unfit to fight for Britain in WWII.
Orwell, despite fighting with Communists in Spain, saw the Soviet Union as a tyrannical dictatorship and wrote Animal Farm to criticize Stalin and his regime. The book also closely follows the events of WWII and predicted the coming Cold War. Animal Farm was banned in the Eastern Bloc until 1989.
6. A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess
Of course A Clockwork Orange was written by a veteran, and of course someone tried to ban it. Burgess was a veteran of the UK’s Royal Army Medical Corps and spent much of the war in Gibraltar. Even though he disliked authority and regularly pranked his fellow orderlies and made a general mockery of the rules, he was often promoted.
His book is set in a dystopian England, and is the violent story of a teen named Alex and his gang. The book’s true focus is about free will and how much humans are born prone to destruction versus how much they’re taught. This book is violent even by today’s standards.
7. The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien
J.R.R. Tolkien served in World War I France as a member of the Lancashire Fusiliers. His experiences at the WWI Battle of the Somme would not only come to color his descriptions of combat in The Lord of the Rings, it would also come to describe the worlds he created in Middle Earth.
While the descriptions of war were from personal experience, he went out of his way to inform people that there was no real-world analogy to his work. Sauron did not represent any world leader and there was no ring to rule them all. The book was banned for being anti-Christian and anti-religious – despite the idea of a King returning being foremost in Tolkien’s mind.
8. Sophie’s Choice by William Styron
Author William Styron was once a United States Marine, serving much of World War II stateside. In 1944, he was sent to the Pacific for the planned invasion of mainland Japan – but the Atomic Bombs ended that idea. His book The Long March is reflective of his time training as a U.S. Marine, especially being called up to fight the Korean War.
Sophie’s Choice was banned in a number of countries, including Poland, the Soviet Union, South Africa, and a number of localities in the U.S. for explicit sexuality and drug use.
9. Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh
Evelyn Waugh was 36 years old at the outbreak of World War II, but used his connections to get a commission in the Royal Marines. He fought in West Africa, North Africa, and the evacuation of Crete from advancing Axis forces, among other missions, inluding escorting Winston Churchill to a meeting with Yugoslavian leader Marshal Tito.
Though set in WWII England, the book doesn’t have much to do with the war. The principal reason for it being banned is because of the matter-of-fact depiction of homosexual characters. The book makes no judgement on whether it’s right or wrong, just that it exists.
10. The Lord of the Flies by William Golding
Golding joined the Royal Navy in 1940, spending much of World War II at sea, attacking submarines and battleships, even taking part in the sinking of the German ship Bismarck.
His experience prompted him to say, “I began to see what people were capable of doing. Anyone who moved through those years without understanding that man produces evil as a bee produces honey, must have been blind or wrong in the head.”
So a book about children exposed to the worst of human nature is hardly a surprise coming from a man of such experience. The book is banned for its violence and language (even though it’s necessary for the theme of the book) – and is often accused of racism.
11. The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
Salinger joined the U.S. Army in 1942 and stayed through the end of the second world war. He was on Utah Beach in Normandy on D-Day, drank with Hemingway in Paris, was at Hürtgen Forest, and it was his unit that first encountered the Dachau Concentration Camp.
The whole time, he carried a typewriter with him. When he couldn’t type, he wrote. And what he was writing was the Catcher in the Rye, a book that saw more military action than most of the guys on this list. And like other entries on the list, it was banned or challenged for vulgar language, sexual references, blasphemy, undermining of family values and moral codes, and promotion of drinking, smoking, lying, and promiscuity.