Category Archives: War
(1980, Samuel Fuller)
“By now we’d come to look at all replacements as dead men who temporarily had the use of the arms and legs. They came and went so fast and so regularly that sometimes we didn’t even learn their names”
If you’ve read through my blog by now, you probably are aware that one subject I’m sick of seeing in movies is World War II. Name a battle in that war and chances are there are at least five movies that examine it in great detail from multiple angles. We have movies from the perspective of innocent civilians caught up in horrendous circumstances. And now, apparently, we have a movie set entirely around a specific squad.
The Big Red One is focused on a band of American soldiers in the 1st Infantry Division, aka The Big Red One. During the events of the movie they fight in battles in North Africa, Sicily and Normandy. And…uh…that’s it. That’s the movie. Read the rest of this entry
(1943, The Archers)
“Can’t imagine anything more awful than to be a prisoner of war in England”
In 1930s Britain, a cartoon character emerged in one of the major papers, openly criticising the British establishment by being blundering, preposterous and full of hot air. Colonel Blimp was designed to be a satirical representation of British military officers who spoke with a great deal of authority on topics they didn’t understand and expressed very jingoistic views. In 1943, production team The Archers decided to develop this character further in a movie, exploring his life and expanding him into more than just a stereotype. And thus, The Life And Death of Colonel Blimp.
The Life And Death of Colonel Blimp focuses on Major-General Wynne-Candy (Roger Livesey), exploring his life through a series of lengthy flashbacks. Starting with his escapades in the Boer War in the early 20th century and leading through the World Wars, we witness his attempts to maintain a stiff upper lip in the face of complicated diplomatic incidents and his growing affection for a woman named Edith Hunter (Deborah Kerr), and how this affects his decisions. Read the rest of this entry
(2004, Michael Moore)
“George Orwell once wrote that, “It’s not a matter of whether the war is not real, or if it is, Victory is not possible. The war is not meant to be won, it is meant to be continuous.”
It’s September the 11th today, which means that it’s the anniversary of the terrorist actions on the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon in Washington D.C. A tragic day for sure, but also one shrouded in conspiracy theories and some questionable exploitative actions by politicians. In reaction to this, today we’ll be taking a look at Michael Moore’s infamous documentary about former president George W. Bush’s actions on and around that day in 2001, Fahrenheit 9/11.
Fahrenheit 9/11 is the account of Bush’s political career up to the point of the film’s release, from his election to the invasion of Iraq. It follows events in chronological order and raises questions about Bush’s actions as well as those of those close to him. It’s a political documentary. What more do you want?
This is a difficult film to review because it’s a divisive political piece that you either agree with or you don’t. Reviewing it on an objective basis is difficult because those who were opposed to the War On Terror are likely to enjoy the movie, while those who were supportive of Bush are likely to view the film as terrible propaganda. There is literally no middle ground in this issue. However, while trying to look at it on a technical level is difficult, it is not impossible. Let’s take a look at what Moore has done right here.
The movie does have some great presentation throughout. The movie flows well and explains its points fairly well. It covers a surprisingly broad spectrum of topics surrounding 9/11 and the War On Terror, from stock footage of Bush speeches down to personal accounts of those closer to the events. The movie is paced properly, and never drags or feels rushed for the majority of its running time. And Moore has added plenty of humour to certain parts of the movie, especially when the topics he’s discussing are particularly absurd.
However, Fahrenheit 9/11 isn’t perfect. There is an inherent bias running throughout the movie that sometimes makes it hard to fully enjoy the movie. Some of his claims feel a little shaky and I would have liked to have seen more evidence backing them up (such as claims the Saudi embassy receives preferential treatment from the US government), while sometimes I felt that his snide remarks were going to do little to sway those with opposing views.
I also felt that Moore was guilty of emotional manipulation throughout the movie. When he reached the 9/11 attacks themselves, he seemed to linger on shots of the shocked crowd, along with the sound of screams and cries. Admittedly, at the time of the film’s release (ten years ago!), the wounds from the day were far from healed, but this felt somewhat exploitative.
I also wasn’t fond of the focus on one particular family who had lost a son in Iraq. While I have no objection to bringing a human face to the death tolls, I do have a problem in how it was approached. There is a scene where the soldier’s mother travels to D.C. to confront the government about her grievances, and there’s a long shot where she walks away from a heartless conservative woman in tears that almost seems to revel in her sadness, as it allowed Moore to prove his point.
However, the movie does do its job. While sometimes it is overly manipulative, there are points where I found myself getting angry, and not because of Moore’s filmmaking, but because of the points raised. As someone who failed to see the point of the Iraq invasion, being reminded of it wasn’t making me feel particularly pleased. Fortunately Moore avoided making much reference to the UK’s involvement in events, because I think the sight of Tony Blair would have made me want to throw my TV out of the window.
But it’s also not going to convince anyone who isn’t already convinced. Fahrenheit 9/11 is a competently made documentary with a lot going for it, but if you’re a pro-Republican, Iraq-war-supporting conservative, then you’re not going to be swayed.
Written by Michael Moore
Produced by Michael Moore, Jim Czarnecki, Kathleen Glynn, Monica Hampton, Harvey Weinstein & Bob Weinstein
Music by Jeff Gibbs
Edited by Kurt Engfehr, T. Woody Richman & Christopher Seward
Favourite Scene: I always loved seeing Bush screw up his speeches, so the “won’t get fooled again” speech was hilarious to me.
Scene That Bugged Me: The lingering shots of shock and the sounds of anguish that marked 9/11 itself felt far too emotionally manipulative for my taste.
Watch it if: You opposed the War On Terror
Avoid it if: You’re a staunch Republican who believed Bush could do no wrong
(1986, Oliver Stone)
“We did not fight the enemy, we fought ourselves”
Last time we saw a Western that managed to get me vaguely interested in places, although failed to win me over to the genre. Today we’re looking at film in another genre I kind of dislike and seeing if it manages to attract my attention in any way. Yes, this time it’s war movies, and we’re looking at Vietnam War movie Platoon.
Seen through the eyes of naïve trooper Chris Taylor (Charlie Sheen), Platoon aims to show a grim picture of the Vietnam War, based on writer/director Oliver Stone’s real-life experiences. He gains a mentor in Sergeant Elias (Willem Defoe) and a nemesis in the form of the cynical and somewhat violent Sergeant Barnes (Tom Berenger). As the movie progresses Chris has to deal with the horrors of war and realise that sometimes even the “good guys” are capable of some terrible things.
So yes, it’s yet another “war is hell” movie. So Platoon is full of exactly what you’d expect – an awful lot of scenes of soldiers and innocents caught in the crossfire breaking down and crying a lot, lots of blood and gore and death and lots of long, lingering shots of the despair and hopelessness of war, especially with a war as pointless and draining as Vietnam.
But here’s the catch. Platoon avoids a lot of the problems of other “war is hell” movies by not labouring the point. Honestly, it was a massive breath of fresh air to not have the camera linger on limbless soldiers weeping in foxholes for about an hour while a composer gets to go to town on a mournful piano. There’s plenty of lingering horror here, of course, but it never once hangs around the house. It doesn’t try and manipulate the audience. It doesn’t overdo itself. And I, for one, welcome this. Other war movies could do well to follow this example.
So instead of emotional manipulation of the audience, Platoon opts for character development. It sets up a clear protagonist and defines at least two more characters as important, and then focuses on how these three interact. We also get plenty of fleshed-out moments between squad members interacting in realistic ways, building up a comradery and generally being human beings. And I hugely appreciate that Oliver Stone chose to take this route, because it makes the film that much stronger as a whole.
Some examples? Okay, sure. Two soldiers are horribly mutilated in an explosion, and we get a few quick shots of one of them dying. It doesn’t run in slow motion or force us to feel sad, it merely shows us and lets us deal with it ourselves. Sergeant Barnes is portrayed as a bad person but it’s not played up like some pantomime villain – when he points a gun at a young Vietnamese girl, it’s a relatively quick moment but it tells us everything. We get just enough information and are allowed to consider the implications ourselves.
What also helps is that every single actor in this movie is fantastic. It’s pre-“Tiger Blood” Sheen, when he looked like he wanted to beat his dad at acting skill. Tom Berenger is evil and menacing without overdoing it. Willem Defoe plays his part as mentor so well that even I started looking up to him. Even the support cast, with their much smaller roles, feel like essential parts of a larger whole. It couldn’t have worked without them. Although having said that, I genuinely don’t remember Johnny Depp being in it but he’s on the cast list so who knows.
The main issue with Platoon, however, is that it doesn’t really feel like it has much of a plot, or much to drive it from one scene to another. There’s the vague “Barnes is a bad man” plot, but this feels like a subplot rather than the driving force behind the movie. There isn’t even a central conflict. It’s basically Vietnam War Stuff: The Movie, which kind of works and kind of doesn’t.
Platoon is a very good movie. Not entirely my taste as films go, but its ability to demonstrate the horrors of war without overdoing it and the uniformly brilliant acting mean that I can certainly appreciate the craft involved, and it’s definitely one of the better war movies I’ve seen.
Starring Tom Berenger, Willem Defoe & Charlie Sheen
Written by Oliver Stone
Produced by Arnold Kopelson
Music by Georges Delerue
Cinematography by Robert Richardson
Edited by Claire Simpson
Favourite Scene: The scenes in the Vietnamese village, which show the depths at which Barnes is willing to plunge, were perfectly executed.
Scene That Bugged Me: The movie feels like it loses momentum towards the end when it almost becomes a generic war movie.
Watch it if: You want a genuinely fascinating war movie
Avoid it if: You’re expecting Charlie Sheen to show about how much he’s “winning”
(2004, Oliver Hirschbiegel)
“The war is lost… But if you think that I’ll leave Berlin for that, you are sadly mistaken. I’d prefer to put a bullet in my head.”
Hitler parodies were everywhere on YouTube at one point. These were usually videos where Hitler would be ranting away in German while some wacky person added subtitles that suggested he was ranting about something mundane or anachronistic, such as getting his Xbox Live account banned. Well, did you know where that clip came from? It came from Der Untergang, aka Downfall, a movie about, well, Hitler’s downfall at the end of World War II.
It’s April 1945, in Berlin. Hitler (Bruno Ganz) is celebrating his birthday when suddenly loud blasts begin to rock the city. Demanding answers, Hitler discovers that the Soviets have breached German lines and are just outside the city. Determined to face off against the Soviets rather than surrender, we witness Hitler descend into madness as he deludes himself into thinking he can survive the onslaught and still win the war.
Now, there are naturally some reservations about this movie. The idea of humanising Hitler and setting a movie based on his perspective of the decisive Battle Of Berlin is one that not a lot of people particularly like the idea of. There are plenty that say that presenting Hitler as human is an insult to all who lost their lives in the Holocaust, and all those who fought to take him down.
However, Hitler was a real person, not some fairy tale monster made up to scare Jewish children, and a portrayal of him as human is a better lesson for humanity than acting like nobody else is capable of what he did. So here it is, a human portrayal of Hitler, showing him as a flawed human being with twisted thoughts and a complete lack of compassion and empathy. It’s a portrayal of humanity at its darkest, and we need that.
And Bruno Ganz nailed it. His performance is excellent throughout. Hitler is presented as this twitchy, uncomfortable little man with not an ounce of empathy in him. He is quick to anger, makes irrational decisions and deludes himself of his own greatness. He’s not particularly nice, and even in moments where he begins to appear rational and sensible, he’ll start to spout off some nonsense about how proud he is to have eradicated so many Jews. Essentially, he’s portrayed as someone you don’t really want to spend much time with.
The problem is, Hitler’s portrayal is pretty much the only good thing about the movie. The rest of it is a plodding mess that makes me question exactly what it’s trying to achieve. It’s a movie that shows a flawed human version of Hitler in the midst of scenes of concerned looking Germans not saying anything to each other, or at the very least debating whether or not they should leave Berlin, over and over.
The problem is, the many generals and staff under Hitler’s command (and I mean MANY), are not even remotely fleshed out in the way Hitler himself is. As such, everyone tends to bleed together as a single autonomous unit called “the people who aren’t Hitler”. Sure, you can tell them apart physically – there’s the fat one, the creepy-looking one, the stern one, the doe-eyed secretary and the other secretary (I think she was a secretary), but good luck remembering any of their names. Oh, and there’s Eva Braun, but she’s just kind of there because she was Hitler’s wife, but she’s got just as much personality as the rest of them.
The problem is, so much screen time is dedicated to these personality-free extras that the movie feels utterly pointless much of the time. And for a movie about Hitler’s downfall, it’s odd that Hitler kills himself (not a spoiler!) 40 minutes before the movie ends, leaving us with over half an hour of faceless characters running around trying not to get shot…and often getting shot. Repeatedly.
Downfall would be a great movie if it stuck to its guns and retained some level of focus. As it is, its determination to get every tiny little detail, however insignificant, into it 150-minute running time is tiresome and dull. Stick with a story about Hitler and we’ll be in a better place. And to highlight my displeasure with the movie, I’m going to make a Hitler Rants video. Bye!
Starring Bruno Ganz, Alexandra Maria Lara, Ulrich Matthes, Corinna Harfouch, Juliane Köhler & Thomas Kretschmann
Written by Joachim Fest & Bernd Eichinger
Produced by Bernd Eichinger
Music by Stephan Zacharias
Cinematography by Rainer Klausmann
Edited by Hans Funck
Favourite Scene: The famous Hitler rant is probably the best part of the movie for many reasons. Even if you don’t find it a good scene on its own merits, at least it’s easy to turn off subtitles and imagine a comedy reason for Hitler’s rants.
Scene That Bugged Me: Why does the movie just keep going after Hitler’s death? Why won’t it end?!
Watch it if: You really need to complete your collection of movies giving an account of World War II
Avoid it if: You came here for Hitler’s suicide and expect it to be over by then
(1979, Rainer Werner Fassbinder)
Die Ehe der Maria Braun
“Most happy people look indecent when one is unhappy”
Two films ago we looked at a German movie set vaguely around war but not actually about war. Well, it seems like there’s a theme developing because here’s another one! Today, we’re taking a look at influential German director Rainer Werner Fassbinder and his movie The Marriage of Maria Braun.
As you would imagine from the title, the movie is about Maria Braun (Hanna Schygulla), who gets married to Hermann, a soldier during World War II. After spending half a day and a whole night together, Hermann returns to the front, leaving the marriage unfulfilled. The film tracks the time of the marriage, during which Maria takes on a series of extramarital relationships, all for the benefit of her husband. It’s…that kind of movie.
The Marriage Of Maria Braun opens with a bang. No really, the first thing we see is an explosion as the war comes to Maria’s wedding and blows off the wall of the church. It’s certainly a way to grab attention, but sadly the rest of the movie is a bit more of a whimper than a bang.
Almost immediately after this dramatic opening, the movie slides into mundane tedium as Maria goes about her daily life, albeit without her husband present because the war has split them because war is hell, don’t you know? (More movies should cover this topic, I don’t think it’s been done enough)
That said, it’s not completely tedious. There’s a murder in there somewhere, and Maria loses her mind occasionally and has outbursts about the terribleness of her life, and lots of stuff happens, but it all just feels a bit…pointless.
Don’t get me wrong. Schygulla puts in a great performance as Maria, making her as likeable as she possibly can be, but the problem is that Maria just isn’t that great a character. She sleeps around in ways that are supposedly beneficial to her marriage while showing very little in the way of morals and generally she comes across as a bit of a bitch. Not really easy to like a protagonist like this, no matter how well she’s played.
The other performances I can’t be so positive about. American characters appear to be played by Germans affecting American accents in English and struggling to maintain them. Maria’s husband is a tad generic. And Maria’s final affair is with a corporate executive so apparently evil he may as well walk around twirling his moustache.
Plot-wise, there is plenty going on, but there’s a lot of time-skips and the movie feels a tad hyperactive as a result. What’s more, by the time the plot finishes up, we’re left with a sense that while a lot happened, it was all for nothing, and not in a way that makes us think, just in a way that makes us wonder why we weren’t doing something else for the last two hours.
I also think there’s some kind of message here, possible some kind of commentary on the struggles of being a woman, especially during a time of war. Sadly, it doesn’t come across too well and more often than not I was left wondering if I was just imagining that message.
The Marriage Of Maria Braun is ultimately one of the worst films for me to review. It’s the kind of film that leaves me feeling absolutely nothing at all by the time it ends. It’s not incredibly bad, but it’s also not particularly good either. It’s just kind of there, doing things and maybe trying to impart a message, but not communicating it very well.
Starring Hanna Schygulla, Klaus Löwitsch, Ivan Desny & Gisela Uhlen
Written by Peter Märthesheimer & Pea Fröhlich
Produced by Michael Fengler
Music by Peer Raben
Cinematography by Michael Ballhaus
Edited by Rainer Werner Fassbinder & Juliane Lorenz
Favourite Scene: Uhhh…
Scene That Bugged Me: Uhhhhh….
Watch it if: You like plodding German movies (again)
Avoid it if: You like to leave a movie with some kind of impression
(1939, Victor Fleming)
“Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn”
Gone With The Wind is one of those classic movies that inevitably ends up on Movies You Must See lists, so it was inevitable that I’d end up reviewing it one day. It was the highest-grossing movie of its time, and depicted the American Civil War from the perspective of white Southerners. But how well does it hold up today?
Gone With The Wind centres on Scarlett O’Hara (Vivien Leigh), a young Southern socialite living in Georgia on the cusp of Civil War. Romantically interested in a man named Ashley Wilkes (Leslie Howard), she tries to seduce him despite him being engaged to his cousin Melanie Hamilton (Olivia de Havilland), while she simultaneously catches the attention of Rhett Butler (Clark Gable). As civil war rages, Scarlett manipulates and deceives her way towards winning Ashley’s attentions before eventually marrying Rhett in a tortured marriage. Basically, lots of things happen here.
It’s easy to see why people love Gone With The Wind. It’s an ambitious project which covers a lot of ground story-wise, with excellent costume design and cinematography, and some really great moments that cement its place in cinema history.
Clark Gable is a fantastic example of this. The man has charm coming out of his pores, and is easily the best thing about the whole movie. Rhett Butler is an inherently awful person for the most part, but Gable makes him likeable and I don’t know how he did it. It’s a shame that for much of the first half of the movie he tends to disappear offscreen for long periods, since he’s always missed when he’s not around.
There are also some hugely effective scenes running throughout. The scenes of war are always powerful, feeling difficult to watch and sometimes being downright terrifying. I’m not someone who normally buys into “war is hell” imagery (simply because it’s so overdone it’s become cliché) but these scenes were extremely effective. But the scenes of the war’s effects hit even harder than the war itself, especially a scene where Scarlett’s father has clearly lost his mind following the loss of his wife in the hostilities, which was incredibly moving.
But Gone With The Wind is far from a perfect movie. For a start, it’s over three hours long, and me and films of that length don’t get along too well. What’s more, there are times when it definitely feels that long, especially in the second half of the movie where things like to drag on longer than they need to. There are also plenty of instances where a scene that really should be urgent simply isn’t.
There is also the fact that the movie suffers from some particularly offensive period drama floofiness early on, with Southern Belles and gentlemen wandering around chortling about their life and how the South will never be beaten. It’s a little bit tiresome, at least until Rhett comes in and tells them all how dumb they all are. Fortunately, this doesn’t last, but this combined with the movie’s tendency to drag at times, it threatens to derail the movie before it’s even begun.
However, while the period drama floofiness eventually disappears, Scarlett O’Hara never stops being intensely unlikeable. She’s a manipulative, shallow, selfish, irredeemable bitch. Vivien Leigh does a great job playing her, but man is it difficult having this person as a protagonist. She’s impossible to identify with, and more often than not, you simply want her to fail at everything.
It’s also really hard to tell exactly what the attraction between her and Rhett is. Quite often, he will pursue her and attempt to seduce her, all while openly admitting she’s a terrible human being. I never found the romance particularly convincing. Perhaps this was the point, since they hardly have a perfect marriage in the second half of the movie, but it’s still really bizarre.
And then of course, the most common complaint about Gone With The Wind by modern reviewers is one that I agree with. Set in The South, the movie naturally features a number of black slave characters, all of whom are portrayed as amusingly stupid and absolutely happy to be in slavery. Their portrayal is meant to be laughed at, as if those silly brown people are an amusing sideshow, and these days it’s just uncomfortable.
And yet, despite all of these faults, Gone With The Wind somehow manages to hold together as a solid, watchable package and it’s easy to see why it’s such a classic, albeit a hugely flawed classic.
Starring Clark Gable, Vivien Leigh, Leslie Howard & Olivia de Havilland
Written by Margaret Mitchell (novel) and Sidney Howard
Produced by David O. Selznick
Music by Max Steiner
Cinematography by Ernest Haller
Edited by Hal C. Kern & James E. Newcorn
Favourite Scene: Rhett ultimately realising how tired he is of Scarlett’s crap and tells her that most famous of movie lines (see page quote).
Scene That Bugged Me: While escaping from Georgia in the midst of war and fires, they sure do take their sweet time.
Watch it if: You like sprawling period dramas with excellent acting
Avoid it if: Its absurd length is far too much for you
(1981, Wolfgang Petersen)
“You have to have good men”
This won’t be the first time I’ve mentioned this, but I have a special disdain for World War II movies. There are so many of them on the Movies You Must See list, more of them continue to be made to this day, and more of them continue to be praised despite them all being largely the same. There’s only so much that can be said about that conflict, and yet everyone feels the need to say something about it in film-making for some reason.
But hey, this is from the German perspective, and is set entirely on a U-Boat in the midst of the conflict. This one at least does try to do something different, so maybe it won’t be that bad?
Das Boot tells the story of U-96, a submarine in the German army during WWII. Its captain (Jürgen Prochnow) is a world-weary, cynical man who clashes with his mostly young and rowdy crew. U-96 travels around Europe attempting to take out British forces and faces hardships along the way.
(2005, Hany Abu-Assad)
“You cannot alter your fate. There is no other way. It’s God’s will.”
There are few political subjects as touchy as the Israeli-Palestine conflict, which has been raging for an exceptionally long time. I’m not going to sit here and pretend to know a lot about it, since much of the information about the conflict is confusing and it’s hard to know what’s what within the whole situation. So perhaps a movie from the Palestinian perspective might help. Enter Paradise Now, a movie about reluctant suicide bombers in the region.
This will be the second movie I’ve reviewed that focused on suicide bombers, and it’s probably equally as controversial as Four Lions, albeit for very different reasons. While Four Lions used suicide bombings as a framework for a modern caper comedy, Paradise Now is an attempt to show the human side of these attacks.
Since I’m not all that knowledgeable on the political situation that the film has spawned from, I’ll be focusing on the movie as a piece of drama rather than the political arguments it raises. This is going to be a tricky one.
The movie focuses on childhood friends Said (Kais Nashef) and Khaled (Ali Suliman), who have been recruited by an unnamed terrorist group to perform suicide bombings in Israel. Over the next couple of days, they prepare for the attack, while a woman named Suha (Lubna Azabal) attempts to convince them to back out.