"War of the Buttons" is a cloyingly sentimental exercise in button-pushing that whitewashes World War II history. Updating Louis Pergaud's classic 1912 novel to occupied France in 1944, it contrasts the large historical events occurring off-screen with the make-believe combat of rival schoolboy gangs brandishing wooden swords. The spoils of this contest are the shoelaces and buttons of the losers, who retreat in humiliating dishevelment. The clashes become more intense as the children begin to question the roles the village adults play in the local Vichy government or the underground.
The film will probably find its warmest reception among young viewers who are learning French or are comfortable with subtitles. Director Christophe Barratier (who gave us the equally nostalgic but more entertaining "Paris 36") casts his film with cute, precociously hammy kid actors, pitching the action at the level of a sunny After School Special. Not every World War II movie needs to be an exercise in nightmare realism, but grownups may sigh at a diet-lite parable that reduces the war to bullies, puppy love and hide-and-seek.
Here's a twist on the plucky underdog sports movie. "The Other Dream Team" adds rock 'n' roll and eastern European history to the rah-rah mix. And it's a documentary. Director Marius A. Markevicius tells the inspirational story of Lithuania's 1992 Olympic basketball team, whose exploits became a symbol of post-Soviet national pride.
If you watched the U.S. team take the gold in Barcelona that year, you may have notices the Lithuanians' gaudy tie-dyed uniforms and wondered: "What the heck?" The fledgling democracy was strapped for cash, and when a San Francisco newspaper carried an article about fundraising efforts to support the hoopsters, the Grateful Dead sent them a sizable donation and T-shirts with a logo of the Dead's iconic skeleton symbol dunking a basketball. The gift encouraged the players, who faced the former Soviet Union in the bronze-medal game that Olympic Games NBC Sports anchorman Jim Lampley called "one of the cosmic turning points of the 20th century." That may be a tad overstated, but the film is a solid win for all concerned.