Tag: World War II

MOVIE REVIEW | Run Silent Run Deep (1958)

In a nutshell, Bored & Dangerous says: “I’m not saying that Run Silent Run Deep is the best submarine picture out there, but I am saying that it’s the one that made me realise what a unique and great part of cinema history the submarine picture is.”

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“Mr. Cartwright, with all due respect to your rank, may I say I think you’re an ass?”

I used to make fun of my dad for once walking into a video shop and asking where the “submarine pictures” were.  The idea of him thinking they were their own genre seemed so goofy to me.  But the more I watch, the more I realise the “submarine picture” isn’t far from being its own genre.  Separate from war movies, and even from navy specific war movies, they have their own filmic language, they have their own devices, rules and even clichés.  And I started to really notice this while watching Run Silent Run Deep.

We’re balls’ deep in WWII, and an area known as the Bungo Straights has seen many a US ship and sub sunk by the enemy Japanese.  At home in Pearl Harbour, Lt. Jim Bledsoe (Burt Lancaster) is on the verge of getting command of his own boat. Until an old seadog, Commander BJ ‘Rich’ Richardson (Clark Gable) decides he’d like a sub to command.  Now he’s in charge, Bledsoe is his number two, and they’re shipping out with a disgruntled crew, heading towards the Bungo Straights. (more…)

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

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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

 

MOVIE REVIEW | Das Boot (1981)

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At this stage, I must have seen World War II depicted in close to a hundred different movies and TV shows.  And until now, all but one had been clearly told from the allied perspective.  And they almost always come down to the Americana and British as the goodies and the Germans and Japanese as the baddies.  Even with Downfall, the ‘all but one’ referred to earlier, all about Germans, told from a German perspective, you still get the comfortable familiarity of Hitler being the ultimate evil.  But now I have a whole new view of World War II from a German angle with Das Boot.

Lt. Werner (Herbert Grönemeyer) boards U-96, a German submarine, as a war correspondent.  Early on, he acts as the audience surrogate.  As the outsider, he can react to the extreme conditions these sailors seem to have somehow grown accustomed to.  None more so than the U-boat’s captain, played by Jürgen Prochnow.

Das Boot follows U-96 through a series of obstacles across months and months at sea.  As the times passes, the crew members’ frustrations grow as much their beards.  The obstacles range from boredom, to avoiding detection, to out and out naval battles.  Sometimes they’re the hunter, sometimes they’re the hunted.  Even after all that, the climax manages to top everything when the real enemy is the sea itself.

Beyond claustrophobic, a solid 95% takes place in the sub, under water where the already intrusive walls seem to close in even more every time they face a threat.  As I was amazed by how the actors managed to race from one end of the ship to the other, zipping through narrow hatches, I realised there’s a cameraman somehow doing all of that too.  The choreography between the actors and camera, and what they managed to capture in these tiny spaces, really is amazing.

Getting back to the German perspective of Das Boot, it really does show how effective great story telling can be.  Because the characters I got to know and sympathise with were part of the Axis, I actually found myself hoping for their victory in their skirmishes with the Allies.

The version I saw was director Wolfgang Petersen’s 3.5 hour cut, and even at that length, it never dragged.  The original theatrical release in 1981 was about an hour shorter and I can’t imagine it’s any better at that trimmed down length.  Every altercation, every little character moment, every instance of nail biting tension as the boat sinks deeper, or the enemy destroyers get closer.  I don’t want see a version of this movie with a single second of any of that taken out.

And here’s a bit of weird trivia.  After making Das Boot, Wolfang Petersen’s next move was The NeverEnding Story.  Now that is some crazy shit right there.

Das Boot
Directed By – Wolfgang Petersen
Written By – Wolfgang Petersen

MOVIE REVIEW | Paul Williams Still Alive (2011)

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You might not have ever heard of Paul Williams.  Even if you saw a photo of him, that might not spark any recognition either.  But you have heard his songs.  And he has a lot of really great songs.  In the 70s, his songs were everywhere, turned into hits by himself and every other chart topping artist or band at the time.  He also became a regular talk show guest on American TV, appearing on Johnny Carson’s  Tonight Show more than fifty times.  Williams even acted in a few movies, including where I know him from best, as Little Enis in the Smokey and the Bandit franchise.  Then, he disappeared from the limelight.

In the late 60s and for all of the 70s, he pumped out countless hits for himself and others.  Songs like “We’ve Only Just Begun” by The Carpenters, “An Old Fashioned Love Song” by Three Dog Night, the theme song to “The Love Boat” and “The Rainbow Connection” (the biggest hit by a frog with a hand up its freckle who wasn’t Edith Piaf).  But like all people who were successful in the 70s, Williams did a whole shit tonne of cocaine, bottomed out and found sobriety while losing all notoriety.

In the opening minutes of Paul Williams Still Alive, director Steven Kessler tells his own story about how much Williams meant to him as a child.  Williams was short, fat, kind of funny looking.  The fact that he could still be a star on TV and hang out with the beautiful people of show biz made Kessler feel better about himself as an awkward child.  Obviously, with any movie, especially a documentary, you want the film maker to be invested and passionate about their subject matter.  But in Paul Williams Still Alive, Kessler’s own personal history with his subject might be its biggest weakness.

Too often, Kessler resorts to making the film about his relationship with Williams.  Which I’m sure is fine, if you’re audience is interested in Kessler.  Me personally, I don’t really care too much about how the life of the director of National Lampoon’s Vegas Vacation changes when he gets to spend a couple of years hanging out with his childhood idol.  I care about the idol, what he did in the past to become one, what has happened to him since as a result of that idolatry, how he’s adapted to life after all that attention goes away.

Like anyone who used to have huge main stream success, Williams is still a massive draw somewhere wacky.  In his case, the Philippines.  When Kessler follows Williams there for a tour, it’s one of the most interesting present day sequences in Paul Williams Still Alive.  It also highlights one of the least successful aspects of the film as a whole.  Before leaving, we see some really shaky footage shot with Williams on a golf course.  Kessler’s voiceover explains he thought he should learn how to use the camera and sound equipment since he would have to shoot it all himself once they’re in the Philippines.  The only problem, the movie already looked pretty ugly, poorly shot and visually boring up until this point.   Assuming Kessler had been his own one man crew all along was the only reason I cut it any slack for its technical short comings.

Paul Williams Still Alive has its interesting sequences.  Anything involving archival footage from his 70s peak is great.  Everything about Steven Kessler’s relationship with Williams while they shot the doc, not so great.  At least I’ll always have Smokey and the Bandit 2, where Williams flies a World War II era fighter plane and drops a load of horse crap on someone.  You can never take that away from me, Steven Kessler.

Paul Williams Still Alive
Directed By – Steven Kessler
Written By – Steven Kessler

MOVIE REVIEW | Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired (2008)

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During World War II, Roman Polanksi’s mother was killed while a prisoner at Auscwhich.  In 1968, Roman Polanski directed the modern classic Rosemary’s Baby.  In 1969, Roman Polanksi’s pregnant wife, Sharon Tate, was murdered by Charles Manson’s followers.  In 1974, Roman Polanski directed the modern classic Chinatown.  In 1977, Roman Polanski was arrested for the sexual assault of a thirteen year old girl.  In 1978, Romani Polanksi fled to France to avoid imprisonment for the sexual assault.  In 2002, Roman Polanski won the Best Director Academy Award for The Pianist.  Yep, all that happened in real life, to one dude.

Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired is an impressively dense and thorough documentary that manages to cover a lot of this stranger than fiction life with surprising detail in its economical 99 minute running time.   While around half of it is devoted to the sexual abuse trial, the other half really does give an in depth overview of what came before, with a brief prologue of what has happened since.

With a story so divisive, Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired manages the tough job of never seeming to really take a side.  At no stage did I get the impression that director Marina Zonvich sees Polanksi as a persecuted, artistic genius, or as a sickening paedophile who escaped justice to live the good life in France.  It couldn’t have been easy to not take a side and show even a little bias in a story this polarising.

Having said all of that, it did make me feel a little more sympathy for Polanski.  Not for what he did that night to a 13 year old girl in Jack Nicolson’s house, but for his decision to flee to Europe.  Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired intricately lays out the trial, piece by piece, including interviews with lawyers from both sides, and exposes the judge as being more interested in the fame he might achieve, than he was in the case itself.

Unfortunately, this documentary was made before Polanksi’s 2009 arrest in Switzerland and the US prosecutor’s unsuccessful attempt at extradition.  So that major, recent addition to the bonkers story of Polanski’s life doesn’t get a mention, but that might be for the best.  I can’t see how Zenovich could have found room for such a huge new chapter in this story.  Maybe that’s a topic covered in 2011’s Roman Polanksi: A Film Memoir (although based on the trailer, it looks like a bit of a puff piece, wank job).

If you know anything at all about Polanski and the sexual assault case, you probably already have a firm opinion on the matter and I don’t think Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired will change that, no matter which side of the fence you fall on.  What I do think it will do, is make you understand Polanski’s actions after the trial a little better.  Has he been adequately punished for his crimes?  This documentary isn’t interested in answering that question.  And it’s that kind objectivity that makes it so interesting and effective.

Roman Polanksi: Wanted and Desired
Directed By – Marina Zenovich
Written By – Marina Zenovich, Joe Bini, P.G Morgan