Tag Archives: world war II

Dunkirk – Review

26 Jul

The Dunkirk Evacuation, which took place in late May and early June of 1940, is an event which the late Winston Churchill deemed a “military disaster.” Even with that infamous description attached to it, it has become known as The Miracle at Dunkirk because of the amount of British Allied forces that were saved despite the odds due to bravery from the British Navy, Air Force, and civilians who were all too willing to help. It’s an incredible story and it’s a story that has now been scooped up by film making master Christopher Nolan, who not only succeeds in telling stories, but also sculpting them to feel new, unique, and memorable. Listen, The Dark Knight is a fantastic movie, Inception killed it in the imagination department, and Memento completely reinvented how to tell a simple narrative. That being said, Dunkirk may be Nolan’s masterpiece.

The story of Dunkirk is split up into three separate narratives that become interweaved as the movie goes along. The first story that is introduced is that of a British private named Tommy (Fionn Whitehead). Tommy narrowly escapes Nazi forces and finds himself on the beach with thousands of other British and French soldiers waiting for evacuation. Throughout the next couple of days, Tommy must survive bombings by German planes, submarine attacks on their ships, while also navigating through an environment where everyone is fighting desperately to survive. The next story is that of Mr. Dawson (Mark Rylance), his son Peter (Tom Glynn-Carney), and family friend George (Barry Keoghan) who use their small civilian boat to sail to Dunkirk and rescue whoever they can. Along the way they find a soldier (Cillian Murphy) who’s ship was sunk by the Germans and who is also suffering from extreme post-traumatic stress. Finally, we come to the eyes in the sky. Royal Air Force pilot Farrier (Tom Hardy) and his partner take on numerous German bombers in order to protect the civilian ships and the troops on the beach. This becomes a much harder task when his fuel gauge gets destroyed and he has to rely on memory to know how much fuel he has left.

Dunkirk is almost more than a movie. It’s an experience of sight and sound that is above the norm when compared to most of my trips to the theater. It’s almost as if the movie just wrapped around me and didn’t let up until the very last frame. The first shot of the film pulled me in immediately. It feels so sudden and unnatural, but at the same time beautiful. It sets the tone perfectly for the rest of the film. The camera swoops around the skies with the planes and runs along the beaches with the soldiers all while the devastating sound effects complete the audio/visual immersion. I don’t think I’ll be getting the sound of the German planes out of my head anytime soon. Even though that horrifying whine steals the show, the other planes, gunshots, explosions, and ricochets boomed out of the sound system and made me jump a few times. Finally I have to give major credit to Hans Zimmer for his subtle yet intense score that moves with the plot perfectly.

Something that really surprised me about Dunkirk is the way the story is told. Nolan is known to tell intricate stories, and his earlier works like Following and Memento especially play around with narrative structure. While Dunkirk isn’t quite as broken up as Memento, it still has a unique flow to it. The soldiers on the beach have a story that lasts a week, the civilians in the boat span a day, and the pilots span an hour. This really enhances the story because we’ll see something happen through the eyes of one character and then later on in the movie we’ll see it again from a different perspective. This gives the viewer a fuller view of the event as it happened. It’s also just a lot of fun putting the pieces together as the movie goes along. It was a little bit confusing at first, but I got into it pretty quickly. Could the movie have been told in a linear way? Yeah, I’m sure it could have been but I’m also glad it wasn’t.

A complaint I’ve been hearing is that there isn’t enough character development. This kind of confuses me because I never really looked at this movie as being about the characters, but more so about the events that happened on those brutal days and nights in Dunkirk. The characters in this movie serve as archetypes for real soldiers. From the PTSD ridden soldiers to the heroic English civilians, these characters represent many. This doesn’t mean there aren’t some great performances, however. Kenneth Branagh, Mark Rylance, and Cillian Murphy are the real powerhouse performances in this movie, but there wasn’t a shaky actor in the bunch. I really don’t mind not seeing their backstories or what became of them or what their motivations for their actions were, and honestly there just wasn’t time in the narrative to slow down.

Dunkirk is a masterpiece of epic proportions and is quite frankly the best work I’ve seen from Christopher Nolan. This has been a pretty strong summer with the movies I’ve been seeing, but nothing can top this one. If another movie comes along this year that hits me as hard as Dunkirk did, I’d really be surprised. This is a movie that can’t be missed. It tells an incredible story of survival, but it also reworks the tropes of the war genre in ways that I haven’t seen done before. This film is outstanding and I can’t wait to see it again.

Final Grade: A+

Anthropoid – Review

5 May

In 1942, an assassination attempt on one of the Third Reich’s most despicable leaders, Reinhard Heydrich, was undertaken by a group of Czech agents working alongside operative in England. This mission was appropriately called Operation Anthropoid. The implications of this mission helped redefine the Allies’ actions in these stages of Word War II, but even with all that, this isn’t a story that I’ve seen told in a mainstream motion picture. There have been films that have told this story before, so please pardon my ignorance. Sean Ellis’ 2016 film, Anthropoid, is one of these films to tell the story of these often times forgotten Czech heroes. While this is a really solid film, there are some storytelling choices and pacing issues that hold it back from being a real war classic, but it’s certainly one that I’m really glad to have seen.

In 1941, Jozef Gabčik (Cillian Murphy) and Jan Kubiš (Jamie Dornan), two Czechoslovakian agents, are dropped into Nazi occupied Czechoslovakia. Their mission is to meet up with the underground resistance in Prague to ultimately assassinate SS-Obergruppenführer Reinhard Heydrich (Detlef Bothe). They soon meet up with the head of the resistance, Uncle Hajsky (Toby Jones), and begin planning their mission. As time goes on, the two agents begin to immerse themselves in their homeland once again, but their time is soon cut short when it is revealed that Heydrich is being reassigned to another post in France. This forces Jozef and Jan to push their plans forward, but to great risk to themselves and the people of Czechoslovakia.

Movies about World War II are everywhere, so it’s important for film makers to work hard and make their film unique from all the rest. Is Anthropoid a gleaming example of a unique WWII drama? In a sense, yes, and in another sense, no. The major pitfalls of this film happen early on, which is a good thing, but I was really worried for a good portion of the story that nothing special would really come from what I was watching. The first half of Anthropoid has the job of setting up the true to life history of the story while also creating some dramatic fiction to get the viewer more invested in the characters. The problem with that is that the true story is interesting enough, and the embellishments that the film makers added in were distracting and ultimately added to nothing. This is where the core of my worries came because these useless plot points stretched on for way too long. What I’m really trying to say is that the set up wasn’t necessarily overlong, but it was clunky and unfocused. Not every movie needs a romantic relationship… Seriously.

Where Anthropoid really hits is in its second half. With their mission moved forward, the team are forced to make some really tough decisions, which leads to some really harrowing and suspenseful scenes with explosive payoffs that left me feeling exhausted. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, it’s one of those kinds of movies. I felt like I needed to sleep until the next day once these credits started to roll. The tension in this movie is wound so tight that Hitchcock, himself, would have been proud. What helps with this is the authenticity that is clearly present throughout the entirety of this movie. Sean Ellis and his team worked really hard to recreate Prague in the 1940s, which I will get more into later. A lot of the actual locations were used in the shoots, and everything that couldn’t be filmed was meticulously recreated. This is what movies are all about, and this alone saves the movie from the rough start that plagues it.

Now, while the story has a rough start and picks up later one, the design of Anthropoid is on point for the its entirety. This is a great looking movie and that’s one of its main saviors. Like I said, there are sets that are meticulously recreated to be exact replicas of real life locations. The most impressive is a cathedral set where the climax of the film happens. It’s an enormous and very well crafted replica that looks exactly like the real thing. This film is also shot using mostly handheld cameras, but it never gets too out of control. There are movies that exist that use this style to make it seem more real, but they go overboard and move the camera so much you can’t even tell what’s going on. Ellis shows great restraint with the camera and knows exactly when to make it kinetic and when to slow the movements down.

Anthropoid is a solid World War II thriller that tells a story that I knew nothing about. It’s a very well acted and well shot film that’s full of tension, excitement, and visceral drama. The only thing holding it down is the first 35 minutes or so. It’s not that this part of the movie is terrible, but it felt like nothing was really amounting to anything. For anyone interested in the more clandestine side of World War II, I can easily recommend Anthropoid.

Final Grade: B+

Hacksaw Ridge – Review

21 Nov

I recently wrote a review of Mel Gibson’s 2006 film Apocalypto, which I think is one of the coolest and most passionately movies I’ve ever seen. Since then, Gibson has gotten into all sorts of trouble, and his career has certainly suffered for it. While I can’t get behind anything he’s said or done, I’m still a huge fan of his work and it was unfortunate to see him fall so far off the radar. After 10 years, Gibson has returned to the director’s chair with Hacksaw Ridge, an anti-war film that’s based off an incredible true story of one man’s courage and beliefs that are often at odds with the rest of his brothers in arms. All I can say is that this is a very strong return which will hopefully remind Hollywood and movie goers everywhere about an intensely strong talent that has been missing from the spotlight for the past decade.

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Desmond Doss (Andrew Garfield) is a young man living in Lynchburg, Virginia during World War II. Throughout the years of the war, he sees his friends and neighbors leave to enlist and often times never return. When his brother enlists, much to the anger of his WWI veteran father (Hugo Weaving), Desmond also enlists as a conscientious objector with a goal of becoming a field medic and never picking up a weapon. As Desmond leaves his family and his love of his life, Dorothy (Teresa Palmer), behind he finds that the Army isn’t quite as accepting as he thought. After jumping through legal hoops and defending himself against his platoon’s leaders, Sgt. Howell (Vince Vaughn) and Cpt. Glover (Sam Worthington), he and his brothers in arms are shipped off to Okinawa to a strike point known as Hacksaw Ridge. There, Doss is witness to the brutal horrors of war and the violence one man can inflict upon another, but his strong beliefs and courage never waver and he becomes a truly respected hero of WWII.

There’s many different ways to go about telling a story. You can jump right into the action or you can take your time and build up the characters and motivations before really getting into things. There’s no objective right or wrong way to do this, but the writers and Mel Gibson really landed how to tell the story of Hacksaw Ridge. The best way to describe it is that the story is broken up in two halves. The first half of the movie show Desmond at home with his family, his decision to enlist, and his time defending his beliefs at basic training. The second half of the movie is the battles and other heroics at Hacksaw Ridge. The second half is such a devastating experience that is guaranteed to exhaust the viewer, but it wouldn’t have had that same impact if time wasn’t spent building up Desmond’s character and his relationship with his family, peers, and superiors. When something terrible happens to a character in this movie, I felt a physical reaction because of the previous half of the movie turning a fictional character into what felt like a real person. This is a war film at its most effective.

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I’ve seen from some critics that Hacksaw Ridge glorifies extreme violence. While the violence may be extreme, it never glorifies it. There was no time during the battle sequences where I thought an act of violence was cool. That’s not what this movie is about, and by the end I felt like I couldn’t take that final trip up the cliff and face the horrors again. This is a movie about two conflicting themes being met at a place that is hell on earth. Desmond’s pacifist and religious beliefs seem to have no place on the battlefield, and you’d expect these beliefs to change once he saw what his fellow humans are capable of. Gibson shows war in a straightforward and unflinching way which is reminiscent to the violence that is seen in Saving Private Ryan. Sure, there’s really brutal incidences that receive a lot of focus, but this was for the purpose of showing a religious individual faced with a situation that can be seen as entirely godless.

I always say that the writers are nothing without the actors and the actors are nothing without the writers. It’s a symbiotic relationship that walks a fine line with the director present to make sure everyone stays on track. Here we have actors all performing at the top of their game. Andrew Garfield seems to completely become Desmond Doss and Oscar consideration has to be given to Hugo Weaving for his small but unforgettable performance. Vince Vaughn gets more respect from me as well along with Sam Worthington in a career best performance. These are the names that stick out when I think of Hacksaw Ridge, but the rest of the cast also bring their best no matter how small the part may seem. A realistic movie requires realistic and believable performances and they radiate from the screen in the movie.

Hacksaw Ridge is a confident and impressive look at the horrors of war and is among the best and most powerful war movies ever made. The performances stand high amongst the carnage and the themes tower right along with them. This isn’t a movie about religion, but more so a movie about beliefs and conviction and the sacrifice it takes to uphold them. This is a masterwork in the genre of war and quite simply one of the best movies of the entire year.

Final Grade: A+

The Big Red One – Review

30 Jun

Samuel Fuller has gone down in film history as being a very eccentric and often times controversial film maker. Wether it’s a story about the disturbing nature of racism that was explored in White Dog, or a callous look at the state of mental institutions and journalism in Shock Corridor, Fuller has shown that he has the ability to take a well known topic and turn it on its head to show you darker elements you may not have thought of before. One of his loudest and most memorable cinematic statements was with his semi-autobiographical war film, The Big Red One. Having served in the American army in World War II, this might be the most personal war movies I have ever seen, and it captures some of the oddest and strangely disturbing sides of war that only people who have been there understand.

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This movie tells the story of the soldiers serving in the 1st Infantry Division, which was nicknamed “The Big Red One” due to the red number stitched on their sleeves, in World War II. The division is led by the gruff and experienced Sergeant (Lee Marvin), who has was introduced to the horrors of war in 1918 when he killed a German soldier four hours after World War I officially ended. The core soldiers in his squad consist of Pvt. Griff (Mark Hamill), Pvt. Zab (Robert Carradine), Pvt. Vinci (Bobby Di Cicco), and Pvt. Johnson (Kelly Ward). As the squad moves from the conflict in North Africa to the final battles in Germany, the close knit group sees other soldiers come and go, but their team work and love for each other keeps them together until the very end of the bloody days of the Second World War.

I think it’s worth noting the interesting production history The Big Red One was subject to. Fuller obviously had a lot to say with this movie, and it’s been available as completely “reconstructed” movie since 2004. This sort of director’s cut, which was based more on the shooting script than the original released in 1980, runs two hours and forty minutes, which is about forty five minutes longer than the original version. I’m looking at the reconstructed version since I feel like it’s the full story that Samuel Fuller was trying to tell. I honestly can’t even imagine another, shorter version since this one feels so organic and real the way it is. With a movie as long as this, it’s easy to say that it goes on a bit too long, but that just isn’t the case here. The Big Red One shows the absurd, disturbingly strange, and sometimes comedic aspects of war and what being a soldier is seven years before Kubrick made his magnificently odd Full Metal Jacket. While I definitely love Full Metal Jacket, I have to say The Big Red One feels much more personal and real.

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I really can’t seem to stress enough how unique this movie is, and how war through the eyes of a whacked out mind like Samuel Fuller’s is unlike any other depiction of war. Some of my favorite war movies like Saving Private Ryan and Fury deal with camaraderie and idea of brotherhood among soldiers, and The Big Red One does that as well. On the flip side, the aforementioned Full Metal Jacket deals more with the psychology of war and in many ways the absurd mindset of it all. What Fuller does with The Big Red One is he puts a strong focus on the setting, and I don’t mean how some of it takes place in North Africa and some in France. What I mean is the things people said, did, and saw during their time in the war. Some of the scenes in this movie are now permanently seared in my brain forever, and some of them are clearly taken right from Fuller’s own experiences or things that were told to him by his fellow soldiers. There’s one scene where the squad has to hide behind a pile of rocks while a German soldier relieves himself not ten feet away. There’s another exceptional moment where a young boy agrees to help take the squad to a gun placement in return for a coffin to bury his recently deceased parents. These are some really incredible moments and capture the other worldly setting a war torn country can employ.

War movies really don’t work if the characters aren’t any good because we want to see these people survive. It’s important to feel a connection with them, and the characters in The Big Red One are handled very interestingly. There’s a very strong central performance by Lee Marvin, and the four soldiers in his squad have very distinct personalities brought to life both by Fuller and by the actors playing them. It’s said that each soldier in the squad represents a side of Fuller, which is really cool but I see his personality the most in Robert Carradine’s character, Zab, who is full of wise cracks, writes books, and has a seemingly endless supply of cigars. The other characters that go in and out of the platoon are referred to as “replacements,” and the characters are treated as such. This shows the core strength of the Sergeant and his main four soldiers, while also showing how disposable human life can seem in those extreme situations.

Plain and simple, The Big Red One is one of the best war movies I’ve ever seen, and I can’t imagine how much it lacked before the reconstructed version. Most war movies seem to be very much anti-war, and while this movie certainly doesn’t endorse any kind of violence and also shows the horror that is seen on a daily basis, there’s a sense of pride that the soldiers have throughout the film. This is most certainly a reflection of Fuller’s. It’s a brutally honest look at the lives and relationships of soldiers in a group, and also an examination of what this level of violence does to a setting. This is an amazing film, and watching the reconstructed version is mandatory.

The Thin Red Line – Review

12 May

Terrence Malick is a very strange Hollywood entity that’s made not that many films over the course of over 40 years. His first two films, Badlands and Days of Heaven, were met with huge success. After these two achievements, Malick disappeared off the face of the earth until 1998 when he released his World War II epic The Thin Red Line. This is around the same time that Spielberg released what I consider to be the best war movie ever made, Saving Private Ryan, but there are people who believe that Malick’s film is right up there with it. While I will say that it is one of the most memorable and well made war films to come out of Hollywood, it may also be one of the weirdest.

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After being picked up on an island in the South Pacific after going AWOL, Pvt. Robert Witt (Jim Caviezel) is chewed out by Sgt. Edward Welsh (Sean Penn) and sent to Guadalcanal to be a part of a siege to secure Henderson Field from the Japanese. While on the island, the mass of soldiers have to secure Hill 210, which causes devastating casualties for the American forces. As the battle rages on and the days begin to pass by even slower, every soldier looks death in the eye through the sights of their guns and has to come to terms with the life that he’s led, the inevitable future that lays ahead,  and the possibility that they may never return home to the world that they know and have created for themselves.

The Thin Red Line is an outstanding example of a war movie, and I’m not sure how many people would deny that. While many war films deal with the European front, this movie deals with the battle that was raging on in the Pacific, specifically on Guadalcanal. This movie takes a really long time to get started, but when the battle finally gets going it doesn’t let up for a really long time. The original cut of this movie goes on for a little over 5 hours, and this is a rare time where I’d actually love to see the full 5 hour version because the 3 hour one that we have is so enthralling I feel like I need to see more. The combat is so intense and realistic that I began feeling anxious for the soldiers onscreen, even though I knew well enough that it was a movie. Not only is this a very intense movie, but the scenes of battle are shot in the most intricate and beautiful of ways. The camera sweeps over the battlefield in such a fashion that I can’t say I ever saw before. That is where Malick’s vision truly shines, and it’s almost blinding.

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So the battle scenes are all excellent and beautifully shot, but also the quieter scenes are shot in such a way that we see all of the beauty of nature that stands idly by as men wage their wars. It’s a pretty strong antiwar message done well, but things do tend to get a little weird. There are parts throughout the movie where the characters give these long winded soliloquies about the turmoil that they face everyday and the toll it’s taking on their lives and their beliefs. Seriously, this movie would gain a lot of points if those voice overs were taken out completely. It’s melodramatic and distracting because people simply don’t talk like that, especially when it’s already been established that it’s definitely not how that character talks normally. It’s just way too over the top, but that’s really my only complaint with this movie.

The Thin Red Line has a very odd story behind the making of it that makes it something of a Frankenstein monster masterpiece. Malick is known for taking an absurd amount of time to edit his movies, and this is a clear example of how far he’ll go to ensure he gets the picture he wants. Adrian Brody’s character went from being a lead to a secondary character who barely even speaks. The opposite goes for Caviezel, who’s character became the main focus of the story. The cast of actors in this movie is huge, but a lot of them end up being only cameos. Like I said, this movie was originally 5 hours long, so a  lot of their screen time got cut. Still, Malick knew what he wanted and the final product is great.

Plain and simply, The Thin Red Line is one of the best war movies ever made. There’s been countless, both old and new, but this movie has a certain beauty to it that Terrence Malick is known for capturing. That’s what really makes it stand out. Unfortunately, the film does lose points for the weird voice overs that more than border on the pretentious side. While that is a flaw, the rest of the movie is an epic masterwork of human drama and war.

The Good German – Review

10 Mar

Steven Soderbergh is one of my absolute favorite directors of all time. I’ve already talked about a few of his movies on here, with the most recent being for his debut film sex, lies, and videotape. Of course, not all of Soderbergh’s movies get much attention, and some of them seem to just fade away into the deepest recesses of his filmography. That’s exactly what happened to his 2006 box office flop, The Good German. After having watched it, I can definitely appreciate it for what it is. Much like the Coen Brothers’ The Man Who Wasn’t ThereThe Good German is a faithful recreation of how movies were made during the Golden Age of Hollywood. Unfortunately, that’s where the success of this movie pretty much ends.

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The year is 1945 and World War II has been ended on the European Front. American war correspondant Jacob Geismar (George Clooney) is sent to Berlin to cover the peace talks at the Potsdam negotiations. Geismar is assigned a young American soldier named Tully (Tobey Maguire) to be his driver, but there are a lot of things about Tully that Jacob has no idea about. For one thing, he’s highly involved in black marketeering and has a strange relationship with Jacob’s ex-lover, a German named Lena Brandt (Cate Blanchett). After a brutal murder and robbery happens in Potsdam, supposedly right outside where the peace talks are meant to take place, Jacob begins investigating what actually got this person killed, even if it means going against his American superiors and also creating more tension than there already is with the Soviets occupying Berlin.

So right off the bat, The Good German not only looks convincing in terms of how movies were made in the 1940s, it also just looks beautiful in general. I love the look of noir films with the pitch black shadows and the high contrast light. It really just makes for great dramatic scenes, and this movie had that kind of look to it. It’s clear that Soderbergh was way more concerned with making this movie feel like a classic film in almost obsessive ways. This entire movie was shot on back lots in Los Angeles, only lenses of the time were used on the cameras, and the lighting was all incandescent. There wasn’t even any ADR during the sound editing. Soderbergh really succeeded at making this feel very authentic, and for film lovers that reason alone is enough to check this movie out, but there’s still more I have to say.

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The setting of this movie also really grabbed my attention. It was cool seeing all of these different countries who really don’t trust each other in one city under the weak promise that the war is officially over. Just because the war is technically over didn’t mean that there still wasn’t a lot of shady stuff going down, and this movie plays on that perfectly. It adds a layer of paranoia to the proceedings. So we have a cool setting, but the way things happen is super not cool. The entire time I was watching this movie I felt like I was just moving from one scene to the next because we have to in order for the story to be told and the movie to be over. This is actually a pretty common flaw in some movies, and this one is a prime example. It’s no fun watching a narrative move with such little motivation.

Let’s talk about the acting in this movie because it’s all very surprising. It’s almost like George Clooney and Cate Blanchett only did this as a favor to Steven Soderbergh. It was weird watching these actors just read the lines that were given to them without any sort of emotion backing them up. I get that they’re supposed to be touch talking noir characters, but it really didn’t work. The only thing Blanchett did was an accent, so obviously she’s German but what else. The only person who really put forth any kind of effort was Tobey Maguire. He was great and really seemed to be enjoying himself in the slimy role that was given to him.

The Good German is certainly a minor entry in Soderbergh’s body of work and for good reason. This is film is an exercise of style over substance that would really only appeal to people who are fans of classic cinema and can appreciate everything Soderbergh did to create an authentic feeling movie. The story has potential but ultimately falls flat due to a lack of strong motivation and performances that are very unmemorable. All in all, The Good German works as an experiment but not so much as a strong piece of storytelling.

A Bridge Too Far – Review

18 Nov

It’s easy to make a war film that celebrates victory, but I can’t say the same about making a film that tells the story of an overwhelming defeat. Film history is sort of lacking in movie that tell the story of missions or operations that have gone terribly wrong. Arguably, one of the most notorious failures was Operation Market Garden, which happened after D-Day as World War II was coming to a close. Director Richard Attenborough and screenwriter William Goldman took Cornelius Ryan’s in depth book examining the loss and turned it into the grand World War II epic, A Bridge Too Far.

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On September 17, 1944, Operation Market Garden was put into effect by Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery. The plan was to drop 35,000 men behind enemy lines and secure a series of bridges so that ground forces could cross them on the way to liberate Arnhem. After only a few days of preparation, the mission began and things soon begin to go very wrong. This film follows different people through different locations and problems, among them being Staff Sgt. Eddie Dohun (James Caan), Maj. Gen. Roy Urquhart (Sean Connery), and Lt. Col. John Frost (Anthony Hopkins). As the mission drags on a lot longer than it should have, supplies begin to run low and more soldiers fall victim to the desperate Nazi soldiers.

This films may be one of the most “star studded” movies I’ve ever seen. I almost can’t believe how many people they got to sign on this project. I’ve already mentioned James Caan, Sean Connery, and Anthony Hopkins but the list doesn’t end there. A Bridge Too Far also features Gene Hackman, Robert Redford, Elliot Gould, Ryan O’Neal, Michael Caine, Maximilian Schell, and Laurence Olivier. With a cast like this, you would expect a lot of really emotional and hard hitting performances, but in this case you would be wrong. Sure, the acting is great, but A Bridge Too Far is far from being an emotional powerhouse. In fact, save for a few scenes, this is a pretty cold and objective look at Market Garden.

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With this huge amount of actors, it’s pretty obvious that there’s also a huge cast of characters. There’s British soldiers, American soldiers, and Polish soldiers to keep track of along with a couple of scenes of important Nazi soldiers. There came a point in the movie where someone was asking about how others were doing, and I didn’t know who they were talking about. I still have a hard time remembering who was who. I don’t think that’s really my fault either because so much is crammed into this movie. Even at 3 hours long, I felt like it could have gone on for even longer since some of the characters never really got their story arc fully realized. That’s part of the reason why I say this is a very cold war movie rather than an emotionally intense one.

Now while this is a pretty detached move doesn’t mean it doesn’t get pretty wild. There are scenes in this movie that are some of the coolest I’ve seen in a war movie because they feel huge and are executed with perfection. One scene in particular shows the thousands of men being dropped out of gliders, with some of them being show from a first person perspective. There’s also no music playing during this part which makes it extra effective. Some other great scenes include the air force bombing Nazi forces entrenched in a forested area and the nail biting assault on Nijmegen Bridge. There is unfortunately a lot of down time between some of the other better scenes, which often makes everything feel uneven at times.

A Bridge Too Far certainly can’t be called the best World War II film ever made due to some of its glaring issues with character and pacing. There’s so much stuffed into this movie, there really was no way to give every event or character a chance to develop fully without making this some sort of miniseries. Still, there are plenty of scenes that stand out as something truly special. The scale of this movie is large enough to fit the shoes of such a military blunder as Market Garden. If anything, this movie should still be viewed to get an interesting look at history and also for its extraordinary cast.

The Great Escape – Review

18 Sep

At this point in time, I can honestly say that most people have heard of or can identify The Great Escape in some way. This 1963 World War II epic adventure film wasn’t received by critics well at all. They all said that the film lacked any kinds of artistic credit or skill, but what they failed to realize is that The Great Escape is just pure entertainment. In the 52 years since its release, the film has garnered classic status, and rightfully so. This film is an American achievement of pure fun and entertainment, while also offering plenty of suspense, character, and story telling.

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In 1943, after repeated escape attempts from British and American POWs, Nazi Germany decides to build a new camp, Stalag Luft III, which is designed to keep the most disruptive and tricky prisoners in one spot. This might’ve seemed like a good idea on paper, but it also brings all of the brilliant minds together. Some of these minds include Americans Robert Hendley (James Garner) and Virgil Hilts (Steve McQueen). When British Squadron Leader Roger Bartlett (Richard Attenborough) is admitted into the camp, a brilliant and complicated plan to escape involving multiple systems of tunnels is devised. It’s all a difficult procedure, especially keeping it hidden from the guards, but the plan soon becomes deadly when the escapees have to travel through Germany and Paris to get home.

The first time I saw this movie I was probably 11 or 12, so the grandiosity of the whole production wasn’t fully appreciated. I enjoyed the movie, but now I can truly understand it as something special. What happens when a real life story as incredible as this is turned into a movie with one of the greatest casts ever assembled to act in a story that is impeccably written? Well, you get a movie that has earned its firm and well respected spot in film history. There’s a lot of movies that kind of baffle me why they are loved so much by so many, but The Great Escape is not one of those movies. Throughout the entirety of its nearly 3 hour run time, I was completely involved and entertained.

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As I said earlier, the cast of The Great Escape is one of the best casts you or me or anyone is ever going to see. Steve McQueen, James Garner, and Richard Attenborough are always the first mentioned, but the list doesn’t stop there. There’s also James Coburn, James Donald, Donald Pleasence, David McCallum, and Charles Bronson in one of his more under appreciated roles. My personal favorite performances are McQueen’s (because of his boyish excitement towards everything happening), Donald Pleasence’s quiet and ultimately tragic role, and Charles Bronson for showing some weakness even though he’s best known for playing tough guys. While the cast is fantastic, none of this would matter if it didn’t have a screenplay to back it up.

James Clavell and W.R. Burnett took Paul Brickhill’s book of the same name and did something truly remarkable with it. This is a story of American and British POWs breaking out of a Nazi prison camp where the outcome is grim for a lot of them. Even with this heavy subject matter, this is a very light hearted adventure. There’s plenty of moments of humor and a lot of the banter between characters is very funny. Even Elmer Bernstein’s main theme for the film isn’t all that intense. This isn’t to say that there aren’t any scenes that really hits where it hurts. In fact, much of the second half of the movie loses the sense of humor for a more suspenseful and intense tone. This might have made the movie feel uneven in any other circumstances, but it works just fine here.

Simply put, The Great Escape is an achievement of American film making, and proof that an epic war film can still be a lot of fun. Even though the film boasts a three hour run time, I dare anyone to get bored watching this movie. There’s a lot of action, adventure, suspense, and humor mixed in a screenplay filled with memorable scenes played by great actors. I don’t have much more to say about this movie other than this is one of the most fun and well constructed movie you may ever see, and it would be a crime to miss out.

Frankenstein’s Army – Review

9 Jul

There are movies with crazy ideas, but then there are movies with CRAZY IDEAS. Sometimes it’s hard to imagine that certain movies get made at all with the stories that they boast, but the it’s even harder to imagine that some of those same movies are actually something worth watching. Believe it or not, this is where we find Frankenstein’s Army, a 2013 film that was made with a seriously low budget, and made up for it with a massive amount of imagination. While this film isn’t destined to be on anybody’s list of classics, it’s one that should be noted for the passion and the dedication that went into ensuring it would be completed.

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At the end of World War II, a group of Soviet soldiers are sent into Germany for a recon mission. After hearing a mysterious distress call from other Soviet soldiers, who weren’t even scheduled to be in Germany, the group decide to go the the coordinates that were sent and investigate. The coordinates lead them to an abandoned factory where they discover a horrifying secret. Instead of finding Soviets, they stumble upon a squadron of mutated, robotic zombies constructed by Viktor Frankenstein (Karel Roden), the grandson of the original Dr. Frankenstein. This begins a fight for their lives to hold off the creatures and escape becoming one of Frankenstein’s next experiments.

Without actually seeing the movie and just judging by the ludicrous story, it would be safe to assume that this movie is brainless and without point. In fact, I’ve even heard people that have seen the movie say that it is brainless and has no point. They are sorely mistaken, however, because Frankenstein’s Army is packed to the brim with imagination and excellent design, so much so, that it is impossible to call it brainless. Even the story of Nazi “zombots”created by a descendent of Dr. Frankenstein is entertaining as hell. But with a movie as much fun as this, there always seems to be one near fatal flaw, and Frankenstein’s Army has a glaring one, BUT I will get to that later.

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Since this movie had a shoestring budget and the co-writer/director Richard Raaphorst is also an illustrator, he decided to combine these two things, draw out the monsters, and have some ridiculously skilled costume artists bring them to life. I swear, the zombots are some of the coolest looking things I have seen in a movie in years, because they are really just guys in costume made with practically achieved means. One zombot actually has a fully functioning propellor sticking out of its front. Another one walks around on these blade like stilts. On top of that, the set design looks really authentic, like this is what you would actually find in a situation like this. Finally, I just want to mention the overabundance of blood and gore that is NOT CGI, and also Karel Roden’s wonderfully maniacal performance.

But like I said before, there is one thing about this movie that is just so unbelievably stupid and illogical that it almost spoils the entire thing. Ladies and gentlemen, Frankenstein’s Army may be a movie that takes place at the end of World War II, but it is also a found footage movie… Yep. Not only is it a found footage movie, but also one with excellent sound design and shot on digital. Ok, I know that part of the reason it is made like a found footage movie is because of the budget, but like it’s just so weird to be watching it and then remembering that it’s World War II and the picture quality is just so clear. I don’t even think this is nitpicking, either, because it makes so little sense.

Frankenstein’s Army is certainly a one of a kind movie depending on how you want to look at it. I completely understand if someone hates this movie or disregards its existence because of that overwhelmingly illogical fault of it being found footage, but I just don’t want to hear that the movie is brainless. I, for one, was entertained throughout the entire movie because there was so much to look at with the excellent design. That’s pretty much all I can say about the movie. It’s definitely worth checking out just for the creativity behind it all.

The Cremator – Review

4 Jul

Back when I was in college, I took a few film history courses and in one of them we watched scenes from this Czechoslovakian film The Cremator. They were pretty startling scenes, because they combined humor, horror, and mind blowing cinematography almost perfectly. I never thought I’d actually be able to track down a copy, but it was finally released to worldwide audiences just a few years ago, after almost 40 years. Thankfully, I can say that this movie didn’t disappoint me at all, and it didn’t just contain a few good scenes. The entire movie, for the most part, is solid and it is a fantastic example, if not THE example, of Eastern European surrealism.

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Karl Kopfrkingl (Rudolf Hrušínsky) is a cremator at a local crematorium in Prague. What’s unusual about Mr. Kopfrkingl is that he doesn’t look at his job as just a job, but a duty that goes beyond the physical realm. He believes that cremating those who have died releases their spirit into the ether faster than it would go if they decomposed naturally, and it is his responsibility to end the dead’s suffering as soon as possible. When the Nazis begin to make their way into the Czech government in the late 1930s, Kopfrkingl is introduced to the ideals of the party, taking his ideologies about suffering and the releasing of souls to the next level. It also allows some of his more secret and deep urges to be unleashed.

It’s difficult to put into words just how strange and unsettling this movie is, but I’m certain;y going to try. While this film is an example of surrealism, it is also a prime example of Czech New Wave, which was taking over their cinemas in the 1960s and early 1970s. One of the trademarks of this kind of film making is dark and absurd humor, which The Cremator has a lot of. While it’s a very funny film, it’s also a horrific film that deals with heavy thematic material and an awful view of history. I felt like I was being dragged across a line between laughing and cringing that lasted the entire movie, but that’s exactly the effect that was desired.

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I can’t say this about most movies, but I can sure say it about this one. You don’t have to even watch this movie with the sound on to enjoy it. This is one of the most technically proficient movies I’ve ever seen, even without it going overboard. The editing and juxtaposition of different images tells a story about the characters without them even needing to say a word. One of the most talked about scenes in the movie is the very first scene where characters’ faces are quickly cut together with the mouths and eyes of animals in the zoo. A lot of the film is also shot through fish eye and wide angle lenses to distort the faces of the characters especially in the most intense of situations. It’s a masterpiece of film making and should be taught in schools all around the world, especially in terms of editing.

Other than just how great the movie looks, it also has a haunting story to tell about someone who is already disturbed pushed to his furthest point because of the Nazi regime. Taking this movie as a character study of Karl is probably how the movie should be watched. Sure it tells a story of history, but it’s how history shapes this particular person is what’s really interesting. The so called “justified” violence going on around him justifies his own violent desires, which helps him believe he’s still doing the proper thing. This makes you feel even stranger when you start laughing at some of the things he says or does.

The Cremator works as a horror movie, a dark comedy comedy, and a brilliant character study. It’s slowly becoming more and more recognized, as it should, since it is such a startling and jarring film, but also one that is significant in Czech film history. It will be my new mission to get as many people as I can to see this movie, even though it’s one that leaves you feeling a little weird way before it’s even close to being over.