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)
Sands of Iwo Jima- nf – I first saw this movie as an 11 or 12 year old boy and the memory of it has vividly stayed with me to the point where I exactly remembered the tragic ending. I could not resist watching it when it was unexpectedly offered to me as I was checking my email and I just happened to have the time to see it. It stars John Wayne who was nominated for an Academy Award for this movie. He plays the tough Marine Sergeant Styrker who has the task of whipping a bunch of recruits in shape to fight the Japanese in World War II. By now so many parts of the storyline can be considered cliché but they were very real when the movie was made and shown just four years after the end of the war. There was the soldier not getting a letter from home, or getting one, the marine who was son of the tough Colonel who had died, the recruit who tried to disguise that he was 17 and lied to get into the Marines, the USO dance when the marines were on leave, accidentally dropping a hand grenade during training and a hero intervening to throw it away, a marine being made to do extra practicing of his bayonet skills, hitting the beaches under attack, being ordered to “ lock and load “ as they got off the landing craft, marines being shot as they charged on the beach, calling for “ Medic” and a Jewish marine reciting the “Shama Yisrael” prayer before he died after being shot, which of course hit home to me. To a young kid of my generation this movie was typical of the war stories with which we identified and wondered how would we have faired if we fought in the Great War. There were no computer-generated images in this black and white movie. There was actual footage of the real assault on Iwo Jima and I read that there 2000 real marines used as extras in the movie. The actual flag raised on Iwo Jima was used in the scene which reenacted the famous raising of the flag on Mount Suribachi which was captured in the iconic photograph by Joe Rosenthal. I also read that two of the marines that were there in the photograph participated in that part of the film. So for me the visit to this film was a great piece of nostalgia and meaningful history. (1949)
No Place on Earth – sp Just as you think that you have seen every type of Holocaust film, a movie such as this one comes along. It not only tells the story of the survival of a group of Ukrainian Jews who hid for 511 days in the world’s deepest caves in the Ukraine but it will push all your buttons when several of them, including a 91 year old energetic gentleman, return with their grandchildren 67 years later to visit the their old, darkened, dingy home which in some places was over 50 feet underground. Film maker Janet Tobias, who has been a producer for 60 Minutes and Prime Time Live, learned about this story when a colleague showed her a National Geographic article that Chris Nicola, a New York State Investigator who has a serious hobby of exploring caves all over the world, had written. Nicola, during one of his vacations, explored this unusual deep gypsum cave in the Ukraine and came across some human artifacts, which included a shoe, a cup, and some buttons. He returned to the area for the next couple of years asking the local people if they knew about where they had come from. Most did not, but one person said it might have something to do with the Jews. Nicola embedded key words in his web sites meant to attract people searching for their genealogy related to the Holocaust and these specific caves.. This ultimately led him to make connections with the actual survivors, most of who were living in Canada. This included Esther Stermer who wrote a book about her experience titled “We Fight to Survive” She said she wrote this book so her grandchildren would know about what they had been through during World war II. Little did she know, thanks to Ms. Tobias and this film, she would actually accompany her grandchildren back to this hidden cave and watch her granddaughter descend into the deepest depths to visit this special place in her family history. This film is actually a modified docu-drama. Part of the film includes getting know several of the survivors as they narrate the film in an articulate at times emotional manner giving us a feel for their fortitude, determination and even their sense of humor. We see how the decision is made by the family matriarch to pack up as much of their belongings as possible and flee to avoid deportation (which would have ultimately led to their extermination). We feel the experience through the eyes of a 70-year-old woman as a 4 and 5 year old. Interspersed with this narration, we witness a reenactment by Hungarian/Ukrainian actors, adults and children as they crawl through barely lit crevices and help us understand what it was like to live there, interacting with each other and risking their lives to bring food to their hiding places. There is one close call after another along with heroism, good luck but most of all the will to live. This combination of a documentary with actual actors was quite an accomplishment to effectively pull off. We knew the people narrating the story survived, but we were still on the edge of our seats. We didn’t quite anticipate the emotional reaction we would have when we saw this band of elderly people return to these caves with their families and could show their grandchildren a place that was truly like no place on earth and their most remarkable survival experience. (2013)
Postscript: If you are interested in some of the untold stories of survivors of the Holocaust I recommend that you consider reading a remarkable book which I reviewed about a year ago in my Psychiatry Blog as well as in BookRap.net
The Train-nf We decided that were going to view this classic black and white film from 1964 directed by John Frankenheimer and starring Burt Lancaster. We believe we may have seen it at the time but we didn’t remember the details. The setting is in France just before the end of World War II and it was obviously filmed about 19 years after the war ended. Somehow that seems much closer to that war than we had felt it was at the time. The plot is relatively simple. The Germans know that the war is coming to the end and the Americans are set to liberate Paris. A high-ranking German officer wants to transport the great trove of priceless French paintings that they have captured back to Germany. The French underground, led by the character played by Burt Lancaster as a French train expert, has decided to prevent that train from getting back to Berlin. We now realize the story is much more complicated than it may have seemed to us at the time. Lancaster’s character is obviously quite ambivalent about whether it is worth risking and losing any more French lives as the war is drawing to an end. He, in fact, has never appreciated art in the first place although in the words of another character who says that this art which are boxes of Renoir, Picasso, Miro, etc etc, “is an essential part of the French people and their heritage.” This important question surfaces throughout the movie including at the dramatic conclusion when he faces down his German nemesis played magnificently by Paul Scofield who asks him among, all the death and destruction surrounding him, if he really knew what he was fighting for? In fact, we wonder what would have happened if the Germans got the art back to Berlin. Wouldn’t the allies have probably found it anyway? The movie is much more than this philosophical question; it is a classic action thriller filled with suspense, even if you think you know how it is going to work out. There seems to be plenty of what today seems to be computer generated action except there were no computers and very little special effects in the 1960s. The supporting cast are leading French actors of the time who all spoke English while playing natives of their country. This includes the famous French movie star Jeanne Moreau who gets a hug from Lancaster, which is as far as the romance, went in this movie. The screenwriters Franklin Coen and Frank Davis were nominated for an Oscar.
If you want to get double your value for the Netflix version, watch it another day with the commentary track of the director John Frankenheimer (also known for Birdman of Alcatraz and the Manchurian Candidate) who certainly deserves a good part of the credit for the success of it. He says that while the film cost about 5 million dollars to make at the time, it would cost over 75 million “today” ( meaning when he did the voice over and he died in 2002) He also reveals that Burt Lancaster did all the stunts himself ( and there were a number of them ) as well as at least one stunt of falling off a roof for another actor. He explains how they actually blew things up and how Charles de Gaulle’s son was a consultant and helped them with the movie. For any budding movie makers he sometimes calls the camera shots stating which was a dolly shot and would be a steadycam shot today or why they used this lens or that lens for good depth of field. He even gives some insight into the dialog explaining in one important scene how they were concerned that the audience wouldn’t believe it if Paul Scofield (the German colonel) who was known to be a Shakespeare talking actor could outfight Burt Lancaster who had played all these tough guy fighting roles in other films. (1964)
Emperor –sp If you are a student or a fan of WW II history or are old enough to have some memories of the first 20 or so post war years, you may have wondered why the Japanese Emperor Hirohito wasn’t punished for war crimes? Well, he wasn’t and in fact was allowed to continue to be the revered reigning monarch until his death in 1989 while his war time prime minister Tojo and other military leaders were executed by the victorious Americans. This is the main focus of this movie, directed by Peter Webber, starring Matthew Fox as Bonner Fellers the American Brigadier General tasked with deciding whether to put Hirohito on trial and perhaps hang him and Tommy Lee Jones as his boss, General Douglas Mac Arthur, along with some of today’s leading Japanese actors. The script by David Klass and Vera Blasi has taken some known historical facts and also weaved and constructed a love story between General Fellers and a young Japanese woman he met in college in the U.S. before the war, effectively using flashback techniques. The result is a fascinating if not gripping story, which might color our view of this piece of WWII history. We see a Japanese leader remind General Fellers that history is filled with terrible deeds during war including those done by the British or even the Americans although he acknowledges the Japanese “ lost their humanity in WW II. ” Through the tender love story and empathy that General Fellers has for the Japanese people we are led to consider that the Japanese at this point in history were not as bad as they have been depicted to most of us. Perhaps Hirohito didn’t really favor the war in the first place and didn’t know about all the atrocities . Also, apparently it was his request to the Japanese people, despite the resistance of his military leaders, that led to a peaceful surrender (after the dropping of the atomic bomb) which saved 100,000s of American lives which would have been lost if we had to invade the Japanese islands. We disagreed on whether this was an overtly sympathetic point of view (of a culture that still doesn’t teach the history of WW II to school children) or it was simply shinning a light on a piece of little known history. We do agree it was an outstanding film, worth seeing. (2013)
War Witch sp – We saw this Oscar nominated movie for best foreign film a few days before the Academy Award ceremony. It is the Canadian entry since that is the home country of Director Kim Nguyen who also wrote the screenplay which he told our screening audience in a post film interview that he has been writing on and off for 10 years. It is set somewhere in the African Congo where a rebel army abducts children and makes them soldiers. The movie, which was primarily filmed in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, appears to be quite authentic. It follows Komono, a 12 year old girl, for two years, starting with the point where she is captured, made to shoot her parents and become a soldier. Circumstances lead her captors to believe that she has special powers, can see things that are going to happen and therefore protect them. She is played by a first time local actress Rachel Mwanza, who actually grew up in the streets without a family and was chosen by Kim Nguyen after auditioning over 2000 young girls. She is on the screen just about all the time and expresses clearly her inner pain and emotions well as her own thoughts and images with a little help from the visual effects of the film and the voiceover in French by another actress (with English subtitles of course). It also has a great soundtrack of what appeared to be African folk music which captured the atmosphere and mood of the film. Mwanza for her first film has already won the the Silver Bear for Best Actress at the Berlin International Film Festival earlier this month and also won the award for the Best Actress in the 2012 Tribeca Film Festival. In the film she is accompanied most of the time by another child soldier who is an Albino known as the Magician, also very well played by a local actor Serge Kanyinda. This movie presents us with a glimpse at a lesser known atrocity which has occurred in modern times. It is also a simple and beautiful, if not, sad love story . It well deserves the recognition which it is receiving. (2012)
In the Land of Blood and Honey-nf –Most people probably have some understanding that there was a very bitter civil war in the former Yugoslavia, now Bosnia and Herzegovina which took place between 1992-1995. The acclaimed actress Angelina Jolie who has served as UN Goodwill Ambassador during her travels learned some the details of the horrors of this conflict which included attempts at ethnic cleansing mostly by the Bosnian Serbs against the Bosnian Croats many of whom have Moslem background. This led her to write this screenplay which she directed and co-produced. It is the story of Danijel (Goran Kostic), a Bosnian Serb soldier serving under his father’s command who encounters his pre-war girl friend, Ajla (Zana Marjonovic) when she is captured by his troops and forced to work as a sex slave. She has seen the able bodied men of her city rounded up and systematically executed while so many of the women are brutally raped and made to serve the captors. Yet she is drawn into this complex and conflicted relationship with Danijel. In a most painful 2 hours and 7 minutes the horrors of this war taking place in and around the city of Sarajevo which is in a state of siege are shown. There were many graphic and dramatic scenes. Using women as hostage shields as the Serbs approached their enemy who were firing from a building was quite unforgettable. Some of the dialog between the characters attempted to describe the history of this conflict but it is much too complex for it to be clearly appreciated . We are given the impression that the Serbs were the really bad people in this conflict, which was probably true. The romance between the two lovers is also shown to be quite complex and we are never sure of Ajla’s true feelings about her captor/lover. Both of the lead actors were born in this region of the world and there were two versions of the film made, one in English and the other in their native language. It must of have been quite an accomplishment for Jolie to pull off the latter feat. It was difficult enough for us to absorb the full meaning of this terrible period of history even in English. (2011)
Restrepo- Most boys ( and maybe some girls these days ) while growing up play soldier and war. As kids we can recall some war movies that I thought were pretty good. Now days there are the futuristic blockbuster war movies. In most of these films there is lots of action, soldiers are killed, there is a good cause and usually a hero with whom the viewers will identify. On the other hand there is this documentary film, the real story of small platoon of soldiers in Afghanistan as recorded by reporter Sebastian Junger and photographer Tim Hertherington who were embedded with this fighting unit. They were assigned to the strategic Korengal Valley and they had to establish an outpost in the midst of the Taliban. Early on in a firefight, one of their group is the first to be killed. They subsequently named this outpost after him, Restrepo. There is no glory or heroic actions (although it is fair to say that they are all heroes). You can see how the memories of their friend stays with them and lingers on as do all the effects of this experience There is constant fear, anxiety, shooting at the enemy or being shot at, having to go on frightening patrols and hanging around in their lonely little fortress which seems so vulnerable. While this gallant group seems to know what they are fighting for, the viewer is never given a very clear picture. It is somehow to let the local people build a road and be helped by the US so they won’t favor the Taliaban. We haven’t figured out if this was the right war for the US to be in and for how long and how we should have fought it. However, we do come away with the feeling that if there has to be this kind of a war, these young men were trained how to do it and were good at it. But we know, so many of them paid a heavy price by loss of life and limb as well as a continued emotional toll. One year after this movie came out and received an Oscar nomination, the co- filmmaker Tim Hertherington was killed, at 40 years of age, while covering the conflict in Libya. (2010)
The Invisible War- sp Usually by the time we see a documentary film on a particular subject , we already have a pretty good idea of the nature of the issue being covered and the film provides some interesting documentation. In the case of this film, most of the audience had no idea of the great travesty of justice that has been taking place where there are violent sexual assaults against women serving in our military services by fellow soldiers, the vast majority of whom are not punished. Female soldiers in combat zones are more likely to be raped by fellow soldiers than killed by the enemy. In 2010 there were 19,000 sex crimes committed in the military. Because of the much larger number of men in the military many of these were directed towards men but percentage wise the women have suffered the brunt of this terrible injustice In fact, 20 % of women serving in the military will experience some kind of a sexual assault .
This movie is not just about statistics. Rather it is a very painful series of personal stories told mostly by dedicated women who entered various services, intent on being the best they could be in the service of their country. Not only were they assaulted and raped by fellow soldiers, even more outrageous, if that is possible, when they complained to their superiors in the overwhelming number of cases they were brushed off and not taken seriously. Heading up the team that put this film together are Kirby Dick ( nominated for an Oscar for Twist of Faith ) who directed it and Amy Ziering who was one of the producers and sensitively did most of the interviews with the several women and two men who were featured in this movie. Each personal story almost seems worse than the one before it. The traumatic impact of these assaults and in some cases the violence of them crushes these victims physically and emotionally. They go through stages where it seems there is no way out for them and therefore it is not surprising that some of them contemplate suicide. The attempts by the military to raise consciousness of the troops to this problem are almost laughable as well as deeply insulting to women. For example one such campaign exhorts soldiers to “ wait until she is sober before you ask her”
A well thought out coalition of victims attempted to sue the government but their suit failed to gain traction as the first response of a federal court in West Virginia is to turn it down and state that this is an ”occupational hazard.”
The movie offers a glimmer of hope as one week prior to the opening of this movie, it was seen by the Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, who takes the gigantic step forward by ruling that these assault complaints will no longer handled by the unit commander but rather will go up the ladder to higher ranking officer, presumably with less prejudice. Most probably there will not be justice until these complaints can be fairly dealt with by civilian police and courts. The film does something that many investigative documentaries don’t do well, in that it clearly provides a website (http://invisiblewarmovie.com/) and an opportunity to get involved in this cause by signing petitions and doing other things. This is the power of a documentary film and there is no better cause than the one put up the screen by this movie.(2012)
War Horse sp – Steven Spielberg, producer and director along with his team may have made another classic film. The movie is based on a book by Michael Morpurgo as well as Broadway show that had puppets for the horses. The screen play is by Lee Hall and Richard Curtis. The film has very well done elements, a music score by John Williams, photography by Janusz Kaminski and features Emily Watson, David Thewlis, Peter Mullan and Tom Hiddleston and what appeared to be a cast of thousands. The storyline deals with the universal appeal of the love of an animal, father-son relationship, accomplishing something against almost impossible odds, the fascination with epic war scenes, breathtaking scenery with magnificent colors and much more. The problem with this 146 minute film is that is that it seems that Spielberg and the writers couldn’t decide if this were to be a young person’s movie where you fall in love with the horse , root for it, cry with it and identify with the young people who befriend this lovely creature. Or is it really an adult movie which gives us the best and most realisitic depiction of World War I trench warfare and the battle scenes since , All Is Quiet on the Western Front ? It obviously is a combination of both which probably made it a little difficult for us to get completely lost in it since we weren’t sure if it was our child self or adult self that was into the film. At the point where we might think that it would a great film for our 10 year old granddaughter ( it is PG-13 however) , the story progresses where we are watching a fairly violent massive battle scene although no blood is really shown. And just as we were getting into the realism of World War I we realize the German soldiers are speaking English with a German accent. ( German with subtitles may have been more realistic a la Tarrentino’s Inglorious Basterds) . We recall reading stories where during World War I, opposing sides on Christmas Day or other occasions would emerge from their trenches and socialize and then return to their respective sides and continue to try to wipe each other out. This spirit was captured so well in the highlight of the film where two soldiers from opposites sides of the battle line meet midway between their trenches because they care about a horse. No doubt the appeal of this film will be to people from both sides of the age divide and should be enjoyed by most of them.(2011)