December 8th, 2016 — 5:14am
Land Of Mine
We just had the opportunity to see Denmark’s entry for the Academy Award for best foreign film this year and we met the writer/director, Martin Zandvliet and one of the producers, Mikael Rieks. This is a very well-done movie, but what stands out about the film is learning a previously little-known aspect concerning World War II and the unique ethical dilemma which the film spotlights.
Towards the end of World War II, the Germans anticipated an Allied invasion of their occupation of Europe and thought it would likely occur on the shores of Denmark which would give the Allies the shortest distance to Berlin. The Germans planted hundreds of thousands of explosive mines on the beaches of Denmark. Of course, instead, the Allies successfully invaded at Normandy. Once the war was over, the Danes were faced with a dilemma of how to go about the dangerous task of removing these deadly explosive mines. They chose to use thousands of German prisoners of war, many of whom were young teenage soldiers who had beenconscripted into the German army towards the end of the war in a desperate attempt to fight off the Allies.
So now the Danes were forcing these mostly young prisoners of war to learn how to do the dangerous task of defusing the enormous number of mines on the coastline. You also may want to consider if there is a valid question whether such forced life-threatening labor is against the treaties signed at the Geneva Convention.
So if this movie accomplished nothing else but to highlight this fascinating ethical dilemma, it would deserve to be seen. However, the production did this in a very personal and dramatic fashion. Most of the movie focused on a group of about a dozen German prisoners of war, most of whom appear to be young teenagers, perhaps as young as 15 or 16 who are under the command of a Danish soldier Sergeant Rasmussen (Roland Moller). Most viewers who appreciate the inhumane treatment to millions of people by the Nazi invaders of course might understand the initial harsh treatment by the sergeant of his captors as he trained and forced them to undertake the mine-clearing task.
However, the added dimension of this drama being played out on the screen was the viewers’ empathy for these young prisoners of war who shared dreams and aspirations of returning home to their families. Not surprising, the Danish sergeant himself, begins to understand his young prisoners and even care about them.
So our emotions are stirred up as we appreciate a great conflict and we can identify with the characters on the screen. There is drama, tension, and excellent photography by Camilla Hjelm Knudsen who is the wife of the director/screenwriter. We come away with a little more insight into history and human nature which adds up to a very good film. (2016)
Comment » | 4 Stars, Drama, Foreign, War
January 4th, 2015 — 1:45am
Unbroken- sp This movie is about the true story of Louis Zamperini, an Italian –American who grew up in a poor family in Torrance, California and became a champion track star and member of the US 1936 Olympic team in Berlin. He subsequently signed up with the US Air Force and became a bombardier during World war II. He and another crewmember survived a crash at sea and drifted in the Pacific Ocean for 2000 miles in 47 days dealing with starvation, dehydration, shark attacks and strafing from Japanese planes. He was then captured and spent most of the war as POW where he was brutally treated in part because he was recognized as a US Olympic runner. Most of the movie is spent recounting this experience. It is based a book by Laura Hillenbrand, a screen play by the Coen brothers and a few others. Angelina Jolie directed this film. Jack O’Connell, a 24 year old British actor plays Zamperini and he certainly does a adequate job although a more riveting actor such as a young Sean Penn might have helped to give this film some depth and that something special that seemed to be missing in our opinion. It didn’t help that we were struck by how the main characters mustache and goatee was fairly well groomed throughout the 47 days at sea and that he was pretty well clean shaven during prison time and also how most of the prisoners had clean military caps or hats. (It may have been that they were issued razors during imprisonment instead of decent nourishment, which they were surely not given.) We got the message that his brother gave him early on in his life that he should not give up but there was not much more in depth understanding of this important heroic person- other then he could stare his captors in the eye and was able to take a beating. Having read the book by Hildenbrand, (click here to see book review) one of us was disappointed that Zamperini’s bout with PTSD and alcoholism after he was freed was not shown nor was the story of his recovery with the help of the evangelist Billy Graham depicted. Some of the drifting and beatings could have traded for some more story with better insight into his psychological make up.. Another character that had great potential for a supporting role was Zamperini’s main nemesis among his captors and that was the Prison Commander known as “the Bird.” He is played in a somewhat bland manner by Miyavi (who is actually known best as a Japanese singer, writer, guitarist). He is supposed to be quite a mean cruel prison commandant but there is no attempt to show something about his character, which was developed in more depth in the book. Nevertheless the movie certainly stands as a tribute to Louis Zamperini, American hero who died at age 98 a few weeks before the release of the film, although he apparently saw the final version before he died. We don’t recommend that you do so. (2014)
2 comments » | 2 Stars, Biography, War
November 14th, 2014 — 6:00am
The Imitation Game- sp The Turing Test is a method that is supposed to help determine if artificial intelligence built into a modern computer is indistinguishable from the human mind. There was only an indirect subtle reference to this test in this movie, which however, was all about the complicated yet very human mind of Alan Turing. This is a Bio-Pic with a screenplay by Graham Moore adapted from a biography by Andrew Hughes as well as other books written about this man. It is produced by Graham Moore, Nina Grossman and Teddy Schwarzman who shepherded it through a few incarnations where it was almost made by a major studio but ultimately ended up as an independent production in the hands of the Norwegian film director Morten Tyldum (known for The Headhunters) starring Benedict Cumberbatch who plays Alan Turing. The movie dramatically reminds us of horrendous threat of Nazi Germany to the world during WWII and introduces us to the team led by Turing that is working in Bletchley Park in England trying to break the German Enigma code which could give the allies the edge to win the war. One of the team members is a woman by the name of Joan Clarke (Keira Knightley) whose great intelligence stands out and gets the attention of the leader who becomes very close to her. Alan Turing is shown to us as a brilliant young man with a personality often shown to be associated with Asperger’s Syndrome. It turns out Turing also is homosexual which he had to keep as a deep secret as during those times because it was a crime itself punished at best with chemicals (hormonal castration). Mixed into the film is a touch of espionage where you least expected it to be. Breaking the Nazi code would mean the saving of millions of lives and the defeat of Germany. Yet it must be a gigantic secret because if it were known, the Germans might change the code. Recounting how all of this done was a great cinematic accomplishment led by a sensitive, nuanced and multilayered performance by Cumberbatch who is certain to receive an Oscar nomination for best actor. In addition to Knightley there are excellent supporting performances by Mathew Goode (who may be recognized as recently playing The Good Wife’s opposing attorney in that TV series), Mark Strong, Rory Kinnear and Charles Dance. In the end this is the story of a tragic hero who saved many millions of lives and who is probably the father or the grandfather of the modern day computer but yet was never truly appreciated during his life. This movie, which was made by a dedicated team that wanted to rectify this situation, deserves to be credited as one of the outstanding movies of the year (2014)
2 comments » | 5 Stars, Biography, Drama, History
April 24th, 2014 — 7:16pm
Ida – sp We are pleased to report that for some unknown reason there are a number of readers of this blog who are from Poland. So we hope we will get some comments at the end of this review from them. This movie won The Eagle, which is the Polish equivalent of the American Oscar. It is in Polish with English subtitles. We understand it is also dubbed with the local language rather than using subtitles in many European countries, as it was in France, where is was a big hit. The setting is Poland in the 1960s. A young woman who is studying to be Nun in a convent is told by the Mother Superior that before she takes her vows she must go and meet her aunt, her only known family member (previously unknown to her) since she was brought to the convent as a baby during the war. She travels to the city where her aunt is located and finds out that she is Jewish. The two of them set off on a haunting road trip to find out what happened to her parents and where they are buried. The aunt, played by veteran Polish actress Aguta Lulesza, is tough as nails on the outside but has her own secret pain which is ripping her apart. Ida the novitiate, also known as Sister Anna Ida, and now with a last name Lebenstein, is played by a first time actress who was discovered in a coffee shop by the director. Her name is Agata Trzebuchowska. She is beautiful, and now burdened with a dilemma of what to do with her new insight into her origin. She also has to decide whether to go forward and take her vows, which of course includes chastity. It should be mentioned that on her road trip she does meet a handsome musician (David Ogrodnik) and we do detect some chemistry between them. The ambience of this film befits the subject matter. It is in black and white using a 4×3 format (almost square) with many close-ups. The locations are old bleak buildings, churches, a cemetery, and old roads with a lot of snow. The dialogue, although in Polish with subs, is sparse. There is a Polish 60s musical background that is mostly ambient rather than with a soundtrack. There are reminders of the role of communist rule in post war Poland. Everything is not spelled out for the viewer but there is little doubt about the story and the internal pain that our characters are feeling. It will awaken feelings about atrocities in WW II, which are still not far from the surface in many people, some now two generations removed from it. Although director and screenwriter Pawel Pawlikowski in a post film discussion said he had no doubt about how this 80 minutes film should end, there is another point of view on this subject. Finally, this movie is one of many films that have a theme which shows the immense struggle that people have to connect with a biological parent or vice versa. A discussion and summary of this issue can be found at http://www.psychiatrytalk.com/2014/04/the-search-for-a-persons-biological-identity/ (2014)
Comment » | 3 Stars, Drama, Foreign
April 5th, 2014 — 6:25am
The Grand Budapest Hotel- rm– This movie is a mixture of a fairytale, a romp with the keystone cops and a sophisticated mystery. We are introduced to the Grand Budapest Hotel somewhere in Europe in modern times during an off-season. It is clear that the hotel has an interesting history, as does the one of main characters who we meet. That is an older Mr. Mustafa (F. Murray Abraham) now the owner of this Grand Lady of a Hotel that still is magnificent. He takes us back to what are probably the 1930;s when he was a young lobby boy of the hotel known as Zero (Tony Revolori). He became a protégé of Mr. Gustave (Ralph Fiennes) the legendary concierge of the hotel with whom he is about embark upon a great adventure. Gustave is the perfect gentleman who befriends the wealthy men and women who come to hotel. One in particular Madame D. (Tilda Swinton) leaves a valuable painting to him, which he discovers when he travels to pay his respects after she is murdered. His young faithful companion accompanies him. Their adventure leads to confrontation with police, soldiers, and time in jail with an escape, a bad villain and a fanciful tale. It all probably should viewed as an allegory for the good times of pre World War II in Europe that were turned into death and destruction with precious memories by those who survived. The director and screen writer Wes Anderson is known for bringing imaginative story lines to the screen such as Moonrise Kingdom, The Royal Tenenbaums, Rushmore and many others. In this case he based the story on writings of Stephen Zweig. The dialogue is fitting the upper crust that is being served by the likes of Gustave and his lobby boy but then periodically breaks down into paradoxical comments that bring out a good laugh and reminds you that there is satire going on here. The setting is old Europe and it was filmed in Germany where Anderson and his crew found or created not only the Grand Hotel but also magnificent castle like mansions, prisons and even escape tunnels. The cast was excellent which included Jude Law, Bill Murray, Ed Norton, Jeff Goldblum, Owen Wilson, Jason Swartzman, William DeFoe, Adrian Brody, Bob Balahan and others. Some had very small parts but all were on the mark to give a realistic performance in a fantasy movie. (2014)
Comment » | 3 Stars, Comedy, Drama, Mystery
June 3rd, 2013 — 5:52pm
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)
Comment » | 3 Stars, Drama, War
April 8th, 2013 — 6:56am
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
September 7th, 2010 — 1:33am
* * * * *
Inglourious Basterds – sp – The fact that this movie is written and directed by Quentin Tarantino probably best defines it. There are hints of great movies of the past in it and there is even a key plot theme of a movie being shown within this movie. It is two and a half hours but time flies and the unusual story is sure to hold your attention. The setting is World War II and the character played by Brad Pitt is leading a special group of US soldiers to kill Nazi soldiers. The film is filled with unpredictable twists and turns and you will not figure out who is going to live or die. Each character is well developed and the acting is outstanding by an ensemble of well chosen actors and actresses with a truly great performance by Christophe Waltz as an SS officer.There is a touch of gory violence but even the fiery special effects are quite beautiful. The fact that prior to the preview screening that we attended, we were searched for cameras by men in black suits suggests that Tarantino and company hopes that this film will make a surprise explosion on the summer movie scene. It deserves your attention. To be released mid August. (2009)
Comment » | 5 Stars, Action, Drama, Thriller, War