Category: History


Last Days in Viet Nam

August 21st, 2014 — 7:00pm

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Last Days in Vietnam-sp- Even if you were around in 1975 during the U.S pullout from South Vietnam, the true story of how it went down is probably not the way you remember it. Even that iconic photograph of people climbing up a ladder into a helicopter from what you thought was the U.S Embassy was not the U.S. Embassy. Rory Kennedy, youngest daughter of the late Robert Kennedy is a documentary filmmaker who realized that there was an interesting story here to be told. Together with her co-producer Keven McAlester and their team she researched the subject, dug out archive documents and film footage, followed leads, set up interviews with former CIA agents, American soldiers, as well as Vietnamese who got out and some that didn’t. She also was able to interview one of the key surviving players who surrounded and advised President Ford during those final days. That was none other than Henry Kissinger who had been Secretary of State for both Ford and President Nixon. Nixon actually looks quite good in the view of the historical circumstances, which are presented here. It was under his watch that the peace accord of !973 was signed which was followed by the withdrawal of US Troops. We are then shown in 1975 shortly after Nixon resigned from office that the North Vietnam troops began the march towards Saigon. The implication was clearly stated that they would have been afraid to do so if Nixon were in office. We then see how President Ford was not able to get Congress to raise money to support any effort to stop this new aggression.

The real story here was the denial by U.S. Ambassador Graham Martin of the threatening attack that was underway, spilling down towards Saigon with the ultimate evacuation of all the Americans and the desperate attempt to get out bythe South Vietnamese who were connected to the Americans. Rather than use an authoritative narrator, the filmmakers chose to use the faces and the voices of the Americans and Vietnamese who lived through those harrowing days who told their own stories. The latter group knew that if they did not get out, they stood a good chance of being killed or severely punished. In fact in the final credits we learn that some of these narrators subsequently spent years in “ reeducation camps” before making their way to the United States. We learn that the final dramatic evacuation was not only by helicopter but also by sea. The helicopters flew out thousands of evacuees to a flotilla of ships led by the USS Kirk.

A good documentary often relies on some fresh views of the historical event. In this case, that was not only provided by American and Vietnamese survivors of this unusual evacuation telling their tales but also by the discovery of a box full of 8mm movie film taken by one of the sailors aboard the USS Kirk almost 40 years ago. These movies provided a vivid picture of the thousands of civilians packed aboard these ships as they attempted to get to Manila. They also showed a never to be forgotten sequence of movie scenes of a gigantic Chinook helicopter that was too large and heavy to land on the US ship. Instead the Vietnamese pilot who was trying to save his family and others had to do a remarkable maneuver where he hovered so his young children could be dropped and caught by the sailors below. He then did what experts feel was an extremely difficult task of climbing out of his pilot gear, ditching his gigantic helicopter into the sea with its spinning blades disintegrating, while he jumped out into the water and swam to safety of the nearby vessel. This amazing accomplishment was narrated by his now grown son who had been seen as one of the young children being dropped out of the Chinook.

There were several moral questions raised by this film. The big question was did the U.S. have a commitment to its ally, South Vietnam when the North Vietnamese broke the Paris Peace Accord and invaded South Vietnam. What was the meaning of the refusal of Congress to provide funds and the failure of the President to send troops back there? Did the U.S have a commitment to the many civilians and their families who had worked for the US and would be targets if they were not evacuated? Were several U.S. officers within the embassy wrong when they disobeyed orders and organized secret “ black opps” plans for evacuating civilians when the Ambassador had not authorized this to be done.? There also was a promise to all those Vietnamese who were allowed to enter the U.S. Embassy grounds for evacuation, that they would definitely be rescued. However once the Ambassador left, after most of the people were evacuated, there were 420 Vietnamese left behind who had been promised evacuation. Finally, is there any lesson here that we can glean that can be applied to the current situation in Iraq and Afghanistan where the U.S. has left and now the situation is deteriorating?

When a documentary film can prevent a fresh view of history and stir up new questions, which even pertain to our current time, we have to view it as a successful endeavor that should be seen.(2014)

Comment » | 4 Stars, Documentary, History, War

The Queen

August 1st, 2014 — 6:53pm

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The Queen-nf- As Americans we never quite understood how and why the British people hold their royal family in such esteem. Also, while being full grown adult at the time of the auto accident that claimed the life of Princess Diana, who was by then divorced from Prince Charles, we never understood why there was such a big deal about her funeral. Well, this more or less docudrama focuses on both of these subjects. Thanks to the screenplay by Peter Morgan and the direction David Frears, plus the outstanding acting by Helen Mirren as Queen Elizabeth and Michael Sheen, as newly elected Prime Minister Tony Blair, we are treated to a sophisticated exploration of inner workings of the royal court and what is purported be an accurate rendition of the complicated feeling of all the players in this drama. A fascinating story unravels, which shows the Queen and the royal family with the exception of Prince Charles, reluctant to make a big deal, a royal funeral or any public statements about the sudden tragic death of Diana. Whereas the people of Great Britain and eventually people around the world who were taken up with her life style and her many charitable good deeds were very much affected and were drawn to follow her funeral and participate in the grieving, the royal family felt that she was no longer royalty and there should be just a private funeral. Actual film clips of the large numbers of tearful people in the streets and many inundating the outside of Buckingham Palace with flowers were shown. Blair appreciates the importance to the British people to grieve this loss and realized the mistake that the Queen was making by staying in her country home, not returning to Buckingham Palace and raising the flag at half mast. At one point he even detected a growing sentiment that could lead to the British people wanting to perhaps even remove the monarchy, which they had revered for hundred of years. He tried to counsel the Queen and she responds. In another source we found information that reported that the writer Peter Morgan reconstructed the events of the week after the death of Princess Diana through extensive interviews with many unnamed sources close to the real Prime Minister and the royal family. Many of these sources were able to corroborate the accounts of others, giving Morgan enough information to imagine the intervening scenes, which were portrayed in the movie. Helen Mirren was at her best in this film and won both an Oscar and a Golden Globe for Best Actress. The film itself won the most coveted award of an Academy Award Oscar for Best Motion Picture of the Year. But perhaps the highest compliment for Ms. Mirren was the observation by the writer Mr. Morgan that, by the end of production, crewmembers who had been accustomed to slouching or relaxing when they addressed her were standing straight up and respectfully folding their hands behind their backs. She was the Queen. (2006)

 

Comment » | 4 Stars, Drama, History

Oranges and Sunshine

July 7th, 2014 — 12:08am

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Oranges and Sunshine-nf This film is a good example of how we might rate a film 3/5 and yet highly recommend it as one that should be seen by anyone who cares about social injustice. There are many better examples of dramatic films with unforgettable performances by talented actors and directors, which will win Academy Award nominations. But this Australian film directed by Jim Loach with a screenplay by Rona Munro plods along but rivets our attention because it tells the true story of a historical event that we and we are sure many other people had no idea had occurred. It is about a British social worker by the name of Margaret Humphreys who in the 1980s stumbles upon the situation that in the 1940s and 50s the British government deported to Australia young children born to troubled poor mothers who couldn’t care for their kids. The mothers were often told that the children were being adopted in England by various couples although if they did make efforts they would not be able to track them down. The truth was that they lived in various orphanages in Australia in very dire circumstances, were treated very badly and many were abused. During this blight on British history there were 130,000 children who went through this pipeline to Australia. They never had a chance to find out who their mothers were and whether they were still alive. Margaret Humphreys (played by Emily Watson) at first took on the task of trying to help some of these now adults find their mothers. She then devoted herself to exposing this great injustice in addition to reuniting these adults with their mothers when possible. We see how she set up a program in Australia where most of these orphans lived and held some reunions with each other. We also see a scene in a monastery, which may have been the site of some of the stories of abuse. There was a scary episode where an intruder who seems to be warning her to cease her efforts, threatens Ms. Humphreys at night. It is a weakness of the film that we never learn more about the nature of these threats. Ms. Humphrey made efforts to publicize the story of these mass deportations in the media and to get the government to help in her endeavors. She spent an increasing amount of time in Australia, away from her own family. Some of the horrors that the children went through are related in excellent performances by Hugo Weaving and David Wenham. We learn during the credits at the end of the film that it was not until 2010 that the British government acknowledged its mistake and the Prime Minister apologized. It was at that point that we learned of the tremendous number of children that had gone through this disruption of their lives with all its repercussions. As a sidebar we are reminded of the large number of films that we have seen as well as some true life stories that we have heard, which  in some way recount the desire to reunite with one’s biological parents. Of course in the situations recounted in this film, these people did not have parents who adopted them. Some discussion of this topic can be found in MB’s blog http://www.psychiatrytalk.com/2014/04/the-search-for-a-persons-biological-identity/  (2011)

Comment » | 3 Stars, Drama, Foreign, History

Belle

June 22nd, 2014 — 5:24am

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Belle-rm- This is a complicated film which deals with slavery, race relations in England in the latter part of the 18th century, women’s dependency on men, love, relationships, a tragic event at sea and an historic legal case. Yet in the end you come away with a sense of satisfaction, that things are working out for the best. The film is based on a true story written by Misa Sagay and Amma Asante who also directed this film and showed her sensitivity to the many issues covered in this story. The story revolves around Dido (Gugu Mbaatha-Raw), an illegitimate mixed race child of a Royal Navy admiral who brings his young daughter to be raised by his aristocratic uncle Lord Mansfield (Tom Wilkerson) and his wife Lady Mansfield (Emily Watson) while he goes off to sea. The Mansfields are also raising another child Elizabeth (Sarah Gadon) born to another member of the family who is not around. The two girls become very close as they grow to marriageable age. Great Uncle Mansfield also happens to be the Chief Justice of England who is about to rule on an important case concerned with the Zong Massacre. This involved a ship at sea that was transporting slaves from Africa and threw a number of them overboard to drown claiming they were out of drinking water and had to do this in order to survive and subsequently made a claim to their insurance company for their “lost cargo.” The story also shows the somewhat formal courtship of these now young women, the importance of the presence or absence of a dowry, and the view and treatment of women at this time and place. Of course the racial factor is also high lighted as there is this unique situation of a black girl being raised in the aristocratic home and now receiving a proposal of marriage from the men who come courting these women. There are tense moving interactions between the various characters as well a dramatic courtroom scene by Tom Wilkerson who we feel deserves special recognition among an outstanding cast. At the conclusion of the film we see a large completed oil painting of the two young women who are the centerpiece of the film and which was being painted earlier in the story. Then during the rolling of the credits we see another large painting of the actual women who are depicted in the story and are told where the real canvas is hanging. This reminder of the historical truth of all the themes shown in this film, makes it quite a memorable accomplishment.(2014)

Comment » | 4 Stars, Drama, History, Romance

The Monuments Men

February 15th, 2014 — 10:05pm

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The Monuments Men -Guest Review

This is a guest review by Ron Turco, M.D.  Dr. Turco is a psychiatrist and psychoanalyst from Portalnd, Oregon. He is Chair of the Committee on Art, Culture and Creativity of the American Academy of Psychoanalysis and Dynamic Psychiatrythe-monuments-men-poster02

I read with substantial disappointment David Denby’s shallow and un-insightful review of George Clooney’s new film “The Monuments Men.” (New Yorker – Feb. 17-24, 2014).He compares this film to the old Frankenheimer movie “The Train.”  There is no comparison, as the train was not historically accurate and barely mentioned in passing Rose Valland, Temporary Custodian at the Jeu de Paume whose influence was so important in the discovery of looted works in France, at the risk of her own life, that she received the French Legion of Honor and the Medal of Resistance becoming a Commander of the Order of Arts and Letters, making her one of the most decorated women in France. She also received a Medal of Freedom from the United States in 1948 and an Officer’s Cross of the Order of Merit from the Federal Republic of Germany. It was her book “Le Front deL’Art” that was the basis of the 1965 movie  “The Train”, a movie in which she was only briefly mentioned, although she had also received a commission in the French First Army.

 The Monuments Men were a group of men and women from thirteen nations, most of whom volunteered for service in the newly created Monuments, Fine Arts and and Archives section (MFAA) of the military, attempting to save as much of the culture of Europe and Western Civilization as possible and were willing to fight and die for something greater than themselves. Some were killed in combat.

George Clooney has done an outstanding job with his film “The Monuments Men” and in reminding us that the story of The Holocaust must be told over and over again in different ways and at different times. He masterfully and in sometimes direct or subtle ways brings out the Nazi horror and disregard for human life. Mr Denby has missed the point entirely in his understanding of these heroes and heroines and mentions that most of the works were returned to private collectors. That is not completely true. The works were returned to the countries of origin or to the Jews from whom they were stolen. In the film George Clooney also does an excellent job in presenting the value and importance of the sacrifices of the MFAA people, a job that was endorsed by Franklin D. Roosevelt and strongly supported by Dwight D. Eisenhower. Many of these people went on, after the war, to make substantial contributions to art and culture. Private First Class Lincoln Kirstein founded the legendary New York City Ballet as one of the most important cultural figures of his generation. Second Lieutenant James J. Rorimer, who worked closely with Rose Valland, was instrumental in founding the Met’s medieval collections branch, the Cloisters. “The Monuments Men” film is very close to the facts (a few minor changes, as with all films, including “Lincoln” and “The Navajo Code Talkers”). The acting is superb and I highly recommend this film, especially to young people who may not have an understanding of the broad ramifications of The Holocaust or the history of these brave people. John Edsel’s scholarly book “The Monuments Men” should be required reading in high schools throughout our country. (2014)

Comment » | 4 Stars, Drama, History, War

Savings Mr. Banks

December 21st, 2013 — 8:46pm

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Saving Mr. Banks -rm  In order to fully appreciate and analyze this movie, you should have read the book Mary Poppins and also have seen the 1964 movie with Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke. Not having immediate recall of either one we had to pay close attention to the story and sometimes felt that we were missing something. The outline of the plot for this film is clearly shown in the publicity for the movie. Walt Disney (Tom Hanks), who actually died two years after the Mary Poppins movie was released was determined to keep a 20 year-old promise to his two daughters and bring this famous book to the screen. To make his movie he needed the permission of the British author P.L. Travers (Emma Thompson) who was fearful that “disneyfying” her story would take away something very dear to her. What that something was, is the essence of this movie. After much reflection and discussion we concluded that it was her image of her father as a creative, caring and fun loving man who gave her the ability to develop a wonderful fantasy life, which is reflected in her writings. While she may have been able to paint this picture in her books, she herself was an inhibited, desiccated, uptight woman in her personal life who identified more with the father who never delivered for his family and actually died when she was a small girl. The movie directed by John Leo Hancock uses flashbacks to the author’s early childhood in Australia as we learn the full extent of the father’s life. Would an upbeat Disney musical keep alive forever the image that Travers might like to achieve? While this storyline by itself is no great shakes and most of it is obvious from the beginning, we were surprised by the emotional impact that it achieved on us. From the first breakthrough that P.L. Travers shows as she responds to a musical number by the Sherman brothers (B.J. Novak and Jason Schwartzman) who were the song writing team for the proposed Poppins movie, to the emotional response that Travers has to the movie premier which she attended, although not invited, we realized that we were identifying with her desire to preserve her loving image of her dad, Mr. Banks. Hanks and Thompson are suburb as are the rest of the cast, including Colin Farrell as the father and Paul Giamatti who plays the sympathetic limo driver who takes Travers around. Bradley Whitford does a good job as the screenwriter who is constantly arguing with Travers. There are 39 hours of audiotape of these actual heated discussions. Since the real Travers insisted that they be tape- recorded we get a sample of them as the credits roll at the end of the movie. Kudos though have to be given to the delicate screen play by Kelly Marcel along with Hancock’s direction which extracted some of the universal emotions towards beloved parents which we all can understand. The net result is a film not to be missed. (2013)

 

 

Comment » | 4 Stars, Drama, History

Dallas Buyers Club

November 17th, 2013 — 3:00am

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 Dallas Buyers Club- rm- In order to join the Dallas Buyers Club, you had to pay $400 per month. In return you get all the medicines that can be obtained by the Club available from all over the world to treat your condition of HIV/AIDS.  Needless to say, most of these medications were not yet approved by the FDA. Also it should be recognized that the gathering process is mostly illegal but the medications seem to be working and prolonging the lives of the participants in the Club. The man who is the chief person in charge of obtaining the merchandise is Ronald Woodroff (Mathew McConaughey), an electrician and sometimes rodeo bull rider. We meet him as a tough guy, who snorts cocaine and has lots of causal sex. He certainly knows how to deal in drugs. McConaughey carries the film with his riveting performance of this character. It appears that he must have lost about 50 pounds to prepare for this role as he comes across as quite thin and emaciated (although in a shirtless scene he did seem to show a little too much muscles for a man dying of AIDS no matter how thin) There is also a great acting by Jared Leto who plays Rayon, a thin young man with AIDS who is trying to be an attractive woman . There is also a fine performance by beautiful Jenifer Garner who we see as a conflicted doctor torn between wanting to conduct AIDS research the FDA way but seeing that there might be a better approach to help people. . The film was set in the 1980s at the time that this deadly disease was killing so many people without an effective treatment in sight. It is based on a true story and captures the desperation of so many people and their families with AIDS at this time . It also highlights the dilemma of the FDA to fund pharmaceutical company  double blind careful research which takes time and mandates that some patients in studies must get placebo even though that means they will stand no chance of improvement. It reflected the reality that effective forms of treatment sometimes surfaced in Mexico and other countries throughout the world that were not approved for treatment in the US . This all added up to an absorbing enlightening film with a screen play by  Craig  Borten and Melissa Wallack  which was directed by Jean-Marc Valiee. Twenty years ago Tom Hanks won an Academy Award for Best actor for his role in the motion picture Philadelphia which was one of the first mainstream Hollywood pictures to deal with HIV/AIDS. McConaughey has a   chance to be similarly recognized for this role and this film certainly will live on as an important  piece of history of the AIDS epidemic.(2013)

Comment » | 3 Stars, Drama, History

Freedom Writers

November 3rd, 2013 — 6:16pm

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Freedom Writers- nf  We watched this film with our 12 year old granddaughter and 10 year old grandson. We all liked it and got caught up in the inspirational theme of the movie as we saw young people asserting themselves and making a difference. The screenplay is written by Richard LaGravenese who also directed the film. It is based on a true story about a newly graduated schoolteacher who is taking her first job at Wilson High School in Long Beach California in 1993 shortly after the riots in Los Angeles the previous year. The teacher is played by Academy Award winner Hilary Swank who is surrounded by a few veteran actors but mainly a cast of unknown young people who play high school freshmen (although they look a little older than that age) who are the first teaching assignment of the novice teacher. The students are from various factions in the community, Black, White, Hispanic, Asian with some, of course from various gangs. The high school had formerly been a high achieving school but since it was integrated with students from the various groups, it has mostly lost its academic standing. The school administration had little expectation for the students but the new teacher Ms. Gruell didn’t seem to get that message. However, she does have to struggle to figure out how to reach these students. She realizes that while many of them have had similar experiences they don’t have empathy or understanding for each other.  She also helps them learn about other people who have been terribly oppressed by introducing them to the facts of the Holocaust and the Civil Rights Movement. There are a few undercurrents and subplots that may not be entirely clear as well the story of the teacher’s personal life which includes a marriage falling apart as her husband (Patrick Dempsey) feels he is being neglected by his hard working wife who has to take on 3 jobs to get all the books and things for her students. Perhaps the most dramatic part of the film is the reenactment of the event where the students wrote letters to Miep Giess (Pat Carrol), the woman who hid Ann Frank and they actually raised money to bring her to the USA to meet and address them. (That scene will bring a few tears to your cheek) The teacher then had the students write about their feelings and experiences in a journal.  A compilation of these writing was then put into a book, which was published as The Freedom Writers Diary. The entire story reached national prominence when it was featured on the ABC TV shows Prime Time. Now it lives on to inspire new generations of teachers and students as well as others like us as we catch up with it on NetFlix. (2007)

Comment » | 3 Stars, Drama, History

The Book Thief

October 31st, 2013 — 7:37pm

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The Book Thief- sp- This is an extremely moving film which captures still another aspect of the inhumane, cruel and evil impact of Hitler and his Nazi followers on the German people. It does this through the eyes of a young girl Liesel Meminger (Sophie Nelisse) who is 12 years old when we meet her as she is separated from her family and comes to live with a German couple in a small town just before the start of World War II. Her new mother Rosa Huberman (Emily Watson) is tough and strict on the outside but we come to see her tenderness and love as the story develops. Her new father Hans (Geoffrey Rush in what could be an Oscar nomination performance) shows his tenderness, love, pain and identification with his new daughter in many complex ways. It is their love of words and books, which they share, which  brings them together and helps to convey the story that is being told. Whenever you have a child actress who is carrying the story and the emotion of a film, mainly with few words, the credit for this accomplishment has to be shared with the director, which in this case was Brian Percival.  Kudos also for the birth of this film deserves to be given to Fox 2000 a major studio led by Elizabeth Gabler which also brought Life of Pi to the screen. This movie, which is narrated by the voice of death, is a fast moving two hours and five minutes and there is nothing that we would suggest should be cut from it. Although we both very much enjoyed the world wide best selling book upon which it based, one of us (MB) had some reservations about the book and the motivations of the author (see http://www.bookrap.net/?s=Book+thief) We both agreed the screen play by Michael Petroni was true to the book by Markus Zusak and the few changes were inconsequential. The music score, which captures the mood, and emotion, which exists throughout the film, was done by veteran award winning composer John Williams. When you think about it, our understanding of important historical events such as the rise of Hitler, Nazism and the Holocaust often comes from the great films on these subjects, which become imprinted in our minds. The Book Thief will be one of the films, which will play this role with the moviegoers of today. (2013)

Comment » | 5 Stars, Drama, History, War

12 Years A Slave

October 17th, 2013 — 7:38pm

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12 Years A Slave- sp  This is one of the most painful and difficult movies to watch that we have seen in a very long time.  The screenplay by John Ridley is based a little known book by Solomon Northrup, which was written in the mid 19th century. He is the main character of the film and is magnificently played by Chiwetel Ejiofor who is a very talented British actor who can express tormented feelings with his face and eyes. Northrup an upper class black gentlemen living a happy life with his wife and two children in Saratoga, New York happens to be a talented musician who agrees to go on a short tour and play in Washington DC. He was kidnapped and brought to New Orleans where he is sold into slavery. It is through his experience that we come to deeply appreciate in the inhumane, vicious treatment of slaves on the plantations of the south. The debasement of another human being by others because they felt they owned them and could do anything they wanted to them is shown in so many ways. You probably have studied the story of slavery in this country but any tendency to repress that knowledge is challenged as we experience the separation of mother and child, whippings, demanding forced labor, rape and hangings. All of this occurs as everyday events. If this were just a reenactment of the horrors of this sad piece of American history, the movie would have achieved a worthy accomplishment. However, since the character with whom we closely follow and identify was a free man living in the North who gets pulled into anyone’s worst nightmare, it brings an even greater sense of reality and immediacy to his plight which we believe is quite palpable. There are some very good actors who play some very bad people and those include Michael Fassbender, Benedict Cumberbatch, Paul Dano and Paul Giamatti. There was a heart wrenching performance by Luita Nyong’o born in Mexico, raised in Kenya and a recent Yale University School of Drama graduate who plays Patsy, one of the terribly treated young black women. Brad Pitt’s production company originally came up with the idea for this film and was one of the major producers of it. Pitt himself has a small but important role in this film. They brought in Steve McQueen (Hunger, Shame) as director who clearly connected with the concept and made an unforgettable film, which should not be missed. It is worth the pain that it will cause you. (2013)

Comment » | 5 Stars, Biography, Drama, History

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