Tag: world war 2

MOVIE REVIEW | ***AFI WEEKEND*** #3. Casablanca (1942)

“The American Film Institute’s list of the 100 Greatest Movies was selected by AFI’s blue-ribbon panel of more than 1,500 leaders of the American movie community to commemorate 100 Years of Movies”. Every weekend(ish) during 2015, I’ll review two(ish), counting them down from 100 to 1.


“You might as well question why we breathe. If we stop breathing, we’ll die. If we stop fighting our enemies, the world will die.”

I remember the first time I saw Casablanca. All I could think was, I get it. I get why this movie is still so well known, heavily referenced and so firmly in the zeitgeist more than half a century after its release. I get why Humphrey Bogart is someone I’ve recognised my entire life, even though he died almost 30 years before I was born. I think I’d seen most of The Maltese Falcon on telly once as a kid, but Casablanca was the one that really sealed the deal in making me realise Bogart’s name in the credits was reason enough to watch absolutely anything. Watching Casablanca today for this AFI countdown, is the third time I’ve seen the movie. And none of that initial awe has worn off in those three viewings.

It’s 1941, and as Nazi occupation spreads across Europe, the African city of Casablanca becomes a heavily trafficked port for refugees trying to escape Hitler’s control and make their way to the neutral United States. This kind of passage requires knowing the right people who can help subvert official channels. People like Rick Blaine (Bogart). A former gun runner and mercenary, he now runs a nightclub in the titular city where back room deals go down. (more…)

MOVIE REVIEW | ***AFI WEEKEND*** #8. Schindler’s List (1993)

“The American Film Institute’s list of the 100 Greatest Movies was selected by AFI’s blue-ribbon panel of more than 1,500 leaders of the American movie community to commemorate 100 Years of Movies”. Every weekend(ish) during 2015, I’ll review two(ish), counting them down from 100 to 1.
Schindler 1
“I know you have received orders from our commandant, which he has received from his superiors, to dispose of the population of this camp. Now would be the time to do it.”

Whenever I see list of greatest movies of all time, or greatest albums, or greatest anything, I’m always suspect of the quality of that list if I see too many recent releases on there. When it comes to making the list of the greatest whatever, I think things shouldn’t even be eligible until their 20 years old. 10 at the very least. Not because I think older things are better by definition, but because I think we need a little time for these things to settle, to gain enough context and perspective to see how this latest thing really fits in with everything that came before it.

When The Dark Knight came out in 2008, it skyrocketed to number one on the IMDB top 250. It has since slipped to number four and I assume it will slowly but surely slide down to where it belongs over time. When I looked at the AFI Top 100 that I’ve been using for this countdown throughout 2015, with only one of its top 10 made in the last quarter of a century, it immediately had a little more credibility with me. And when the single movie made in the last 25 years is something as phenomenal as Schindler’s List, that credibility is pretty hard to question. (more…)

MOVIE REVIEW | The Dam Busters (1955)

It’s such an old man thing to say, but sometimes, a movie just makes you think, they sure don’t make ‘em like they used to.  That’s not to say everything made before a certain time is better than what’s made today.  It’s just to say that certain styles, aesthetics, methods and approaches to film making that were common place at one time, simply aren’t seen in movies made today.  And a movie that is sure to make you think, they sure don’t make ‘em like they used to, is The Dam Busters.

It’s early in the Second World War and Barns Wallis (Michael Redgrave) listens to German planes fly over his country house, on their way to bomb London.  A skilled engineer, he has determined that one way to cripple the German war machine would be to blow up three key dams, the water of which supplies all the major manufacturing plants of the Nazis.  The only problem is, they’ve been fortified against underwater attacks and there’s no way for planes to drop bombs from directly above.  Until Barns develops a new bouncing bomb, that can be launched from planes flying low enough to avoid the major antiaircraft measures of the krauts.

After convincing the British government that has plan has legs, Barns is given an elite squad of allied airmen, and the training begins.  Here’s one of the big surprises I got form The Dam Busters.  Saving all of the traditional action for the final act when the planes launch their attack, the majority of the film is built around the scientific and mathematical work of Barns, as he refines is theories and puts them into practice.  The Dam Busters does what I would have thought is impossible.  It makes trigonometry exciting, edge of your seat, compelling stuff.

Like I said, it saves the action until the final act, and if you’ve ever seen the 1977 original Star Wars, this final attack run will look more than just a little familiar.  Director Michael Anderson did such an effective job of depicting the tense thrill and danger, that George Lucas openly and admittedly ripped it off, almost shot for shot, more than 20 years later to make one of the most iconic action sequences in movie history, when Luke Skywalker takes out the Death Star.

I know it was a different time and that the writers had no idea what they were writing would become offensive or insensitive, but when you watch a movie in 2014, it’s gonna be just a bit jarring when the good guys have a dog named “Nigger”.  Not only that, the devotion of the one of the main characters to this dog is supposed to be one of the reasons the audience sees him as a top bloke.  Nothing builds audience sympathy for a character like bandying about the N-word.  Oh wait, there’s one thing that does it even more, a delightful montage of half a dozen characters all spouting the N-word as the loveable pooch wonders the base, looking for his master,.  Hilarious and heartfelt.

The Dam Busters is British.  Terribly, terribly British, old chap.  And that is one of the main things that makes this movie so watchable.  That stoic, English reserve, the old friends who, even at their most casual, talk to each other like they’re at royal engagement, addressing the Queen.  If I was watching a WWII movie and saw American soldiers in anything less than hellish, muddy, battlefield squalor, I’d think the movie was sugar coating things.  But for some reason, when I see British airmen in a well appointed, borderline luxurious dining room, sipping tea from delicate cups and saucers, it just seems right.

This is the kind of good old war picture that makes me love good old war pictures.  The characters might teeter on the edge of being on dimensional and overly idealistic.  The special effects, cutting edge at the time, look amateurish now.  And the N-word is thrown around like confetti in a parade.  But all of those things work as strengths, not weaknesses.  The simplicity of the characters is so optimistic, it’s infectious.  The dated special effects are charming, not cheesy.  And the N-word thing…  Well, there’s no way to see that glass half full.

The Dam Busters
Directed By – Michael Anderson
Written By – R.C. Sherriff

MOVIE REVIEW | ***SODERBERGH WEEK*** The Good German (2006)

Steven Soderbergh was never predictable in the stories he chose to tell. He’s also a weird combination of classic Hollywood appreciator, lover and early adopter of all things technology. He was one of the first A-list directors to really embrace filming with digital cameras, yet he has no problem going the in the exact opposite direction in making something like The Good German. Not just an old Hollywood story, but filmed using old Hollywood technology and techniques.

It’s 1945, the war in the Pacific is still going strong, but the Germans are out for the count. The Americans and Russians descend on Germany to divide the spoils of war, and while the officials go about their diplomacy, the men on the ground are quietly looting the country for everything it has to offer. Men on the ground like Toby McGuire’s Tully. Working in the army motor pool, Tully is a big customer of and supplier to the black market. As every German is accused of being a Nazi and waits for seemingly inevitable persecution, Tully tries to secure papers to help is kraut whore girlfriend, Lena (Cate Blanchett), get the hell out of there.

It just so happens that during the war, Lena was the kraut whore girlfriend of George Clooney’s Jake, back in Berlin and stuck with Tully as his driver. Early on, Jake talks about moving on from the war with the Germans that only finished a few months earlier, and preparing for war with the Russians. When Tully shows up murdered in the Russian section of town, the cover ups, twists and double dealings start to pile up.

In true noir tradition, each solving of a crime simply leads to uncovering an even bigger one, and every character is a viable suspect. The twists and turns mount up until it’s almost impossible to keep track of everyone’s allegiances, alibies and motives. But it’s the kind of convolution that works to make The Good German better and richer as each new layer of complications is added.

The Good German opens with stock footage from Germany at the time and plenty is used throughout, but Soderbergh didn’t stop there in going for his authentic, period look. He strictly only used technology from the 40s in filming the movie. Things like camera lenses, lighting and sound recording gear were all from that time and it really does work to give the movie an authentic period feel.

With its wartime backdrop, black market dealings and talks of papers to travel across borders, The Good German has a real Casablanca feel and it’s obvious that’s no coincidence. The whole movie is a perfect example of what I love about Soderbergh. He seems to approach so many of his movies as an experiment in film making. A lot of his movies feel like he did it just to see if he could. And while that approach would feel indulgent or pretentious with most other directors, Soderbergh somehow pulls it off.

The Good German
Directed By – Steven Soderbergh
Written By – Paul Attanasio