Category: War


No Place on Earth

April 11th, 2013 — 6:30pm

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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

1 comment » | 4 Stars, Documentary, Drama, History, War

The Train

April 8th, 2013 — 6:56am

The Train****

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)

Comment » | 4 Stars, Action, Drama, Thriller, War

Emperor

March 1st, 2013 — 2:18am

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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)

Comment » | 4 Stars, History, Romance, War

War Witch

February 22nd, 2013 — 1:41am

itunes_warwitch***

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)

Comment » | 3 Stars, Foreign, History, Romance, War

In the Land of Blood and Honey

July 24th, 2012 — 9:37pm

***

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)

1 comment » | 3 Stars, Drama, History, Romance, War

Restrepo

July 18th, 2012 — 7:21am

 

***

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)

Comment » | 3 Stars, Documentary, War

The Invisible War

June 21st, 2012 — 6:30am

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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)

Comment » | 4 Stars, Crime, Documentary, History, Uncategorized, War

War Horse

December 9th, 2011 — 9:25pm

****

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)

Comment » | 4 Stars, Drama, Family / Kids, War

Incendies

May 29th, 2011 — 9:27pm

***

Incendies –rm It would help if from the beginning, you were aware that this movie is mostly involved with the vicious  Lebanon civil war between the Moslems and the Christians. It make take a bit to become completely oriented as the movie does consist of alternating stories in different time. It also doesn’t help that it is mostly  in French with English subtitles. But eventually we got the hang of it and the very unusual plot which we are introduced to at the beginning as twins  Jeanne and Simon are being read their mother’s will and realize she has asked them to carry out her final wishes and deliver two letters on her behalf.  Their task seems almost as difficult as finding a needle in a haystack. If you don’t mind fiction being stranger than the really terrible things that happen to people in these type of wars, the movie provides a gripping story. It is horrifying at times with what should be an unexpected ending. It provides lessons of persistence, forgiveness, motherly love  and an appreciation that any one of us if we were switched at birth, could be quite the opposite of the person we turned out to be. The movie, which was co-written and directed by Denis Villeneuve, received recognition with several film festival awards and was nominated for an Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film.(2011)

Comment » | 3 Stars, Drama, Foreign, War

A Very Long Engagement

September 9th, 2010 — 3:25am

A Very Long Engagement* * * *
A Very Long Engagement
– nf – One of the advantages and pleasures of Netflix is that we have the opportunity to see very good movies that we probably otherwise would never have seen. In this case, this French 2004 film was nominated for Oscars for Art Direction and Cinematography and won several Cesars ( the French Oscar awards ) and was nominated for best picture , director and several acting awards in France. The setting for the film is France during World War I and shortly thereafter. There are many realistic brutal scenes in the trenches and on the battlefield . I was reminded of the classic film All is Quiet on the Western Front as the story begins with a court-martial of five soldiers but in this movie they are sentenced to being sent out to no man’s land and an almost certain death. The film focuses on Mathilde a young partially disabled Frenchwoman, played by Amelie Tautou, who is determined to find all the details about what happened to these men with the hope that maybe her fiancé has survived. Flashback techniques are used so we are able to have an insight into the development of their relationship since childhood as well as an understanding of many of the other characters. The movie is in French with subtitles. At times it appears that something is lost in the translation as we lose track of a small part of some of the storylines but that really doesn’t detract from the overall impact of this moving film. While we did not know most of the actors, the performances were all of a very high quality as emotions and nuances came across very clearly. Although not in the starring role, American actress Jodie Foster who speaks fluent French has a substantial part with a range of feelings from an empathic wife to being in a passionate bedroom scene. The cinematography is absolutely magnificent as it captured the grit of the battlefield, the beauty of the French countryside, the bustle of Paris in 1920s and the facial expressions of the superb actors and actresses in this film. There is an option on the DVD to hear the comments of Director Jean-Pierre Jeunet as he explains his thinking about the movie and many of the behind the scenes explanations of various details of the film. The cast was carefully chosen by him and includes very experienced actors and actresses even for some very small parts. Although the movie is an adaptation of Sebastiaen Japrisot’s novel, there are added scenes or images based on actual photographs or historical vignettes about World War I. He explains decisions that he made and a homage to some classic movies, such as Saving Private Ryan or his own earlier films which he has weaved into this movie. He discusses the effective use of digitalization to achieve certain effects such as writing on a wall of a cafe, the addition of buildings and vehicles, or the appearance of a busy 1920s Paris scene. He has also changed the coloring at times to bring about a certain hue or to emphasize various objects. The net result is a beautiful, haunting movie, which is gripping and quite memorable for the images and the characters. 2004

Comment » | 4 Stars, Drama, Foreign, Mystery, Romance, War

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