Posts Tagged ‘WWII Movies’

Unbroken: Powerful Salute to a Real Man—Movie

January 4, 2015

Fierce, dark, heroic…”Unbroken” is all this and much more. This brilliant film pays tribute to its hero, Louis Zamperini, by presenting a luminous look into the life of an extraordinary man. Masterfully directed by Angelina Jolie with primary screenplay by Joel and Ethan Coen, based on Laura Hillenbrand’s best-selling book, “Unbroken” takes us from Zamperini’s boyhood to his life as a bombardier to the endless days he spent on his raft, to his imprisonment and torture and, finally, to his eventual release. It’s all mesmerizing and although there are times you want to look away, you can’t.

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Jolie begins the film with mind-boggling scenes of one of Zamperini’s (Jack O’Connell) bombardier missions during WWII. The shots inside the plane are absolutely phenomenal. We feel like we are right there beside the crew. In the midst of the action, we flash-back to a young Louis (C.J. Valleroy) living in Torrance, CA. A child of Italian immigrants, Louis is frequently bullied for his heritage and is well on his way to becoming a juvenile delinquent. Fortunately when his older brother, Pete (first played by John D’Leo and then Alex Russell ), sees how fast Louis can run when trying to escape from some crime he’s just committed, he decides Louis has it in him to run track. It’s Pete who sets him on the straight and narrow with the words that remain with Louis for the rest of his life, “If you can take it, you can make it.” Pete’s influence is a success and Louis turns into a track phenom. He becomes part of the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, coming in 8th in his event and sets a record for speed in the final lap in the 5000-meter run.

“Unbroken” then picks up where the war action left off. We now know that after the Olympics Louis enlisted (off-screen) where he became part of a bombardier squad. The squad is in the middle of a search and rescue mission in the Pacific when their plane fails them and crashes into the ocean. He and initially two members of the squad survive the crash and endure 47 days on a raft in the Pacific before being captured by the Japanese. They are taken to a Japanese prison camp where, for most of their remaining time in capture, they suffer some absolutely harrowing days under the sadistic watch of Mutsuhiro “Bird” Watanabe (Takamasa Ishihara). Watanabe knows of Louis’ Olympic status and, thus, he is singled out for special torture.

Jolie has done a fantastic job in casting “Unbroken.” C.J. Valleroy as the young Zamperini is terrific and his transformation into the adult Zamperini (O’Connell) is spot-on. O’Connell, so fabulous in “Starred Up” is even better in “Unbroken.” He captures Louis’ spirit…his will to survive perfectly. He gives a truly amazing performance. Also very good is Ishihara as Watanabe, his primary tormentor. His portrayal is never over-the-top. It’s more of an understated malevolence, which is very unsettling.

It’s impossible to exaggerate how affecting “Unbroken” is. The battle scenes are extremely realistic. The days spent on the raft and the conversations between the men feel very real. And, finally, the time in the prison camps is just horrific as we watch the men shrink physically, but never emotionally, before our very eyes. Adding to the film’s ferocity is the powerful score by Alexandre Desplat and the realistic cinematography of Roger Deakins.

Angelina Jolie, the Coen Brothers and Jack O’ Connell…all have given us a film that is truly worthy of its subject, Louis Zamperini. Although you may have to sit in your seat for a while to regain your composure when the film is over, “Unbroken” is not to be missed.

4 nuggets out of 4

 

Fury: Must–See Look at the Wrath of War—Movie

October 23, 2014

Fury,” written and directed by David Ayer, may be one of the best war movies …ever. A visceral, raw look at the last days of WWII in Germany, we get a close, upfront view at what it’s like to be on the front lines of war from inside a tank, something rarely seen. “Fury” is based on a collection of true stories from real-life army veterans who spent their time during World War II in tanks. ‘Fury’ is the name given to the film’s M4A3E8 Sherman tank and the film centers on its five-man crew led by U.S. Army Sgt. Don ‘Wardaddy’ Collier (Brad Pitt). The men, who have been together since the campaign in North Africa, are joined by a young newcomer, Norman Ellison (Logan Lerman), when one of their crew is killed. Norman, fresh out of the typing pool and onto the battlefield, is not exactly what the group is looking for in their fight against the Germans. Therein lies much of the narrative and conflict…personally and professionally.

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The story of the men’s push through Germany is told primarily through Norman’s eyes. While that might seem like a cliché, it’s necessary and it works because, like him, the audience is seeing everything for the first time, just like this rookie. When he’s frightened, we are as well. And when he’s toughened up by ‘Wardaddy’, we also feel bucked up.

Brad Pitt is exceedingly good as the world-weary group leader. Most of the time his character is encased in dirt and blood, but even without makeup you know he’s someone who by 1945 has seen it all—through his voice and eyes. Pitt is able to make his character seem like someone who is comfortable leading men…be they veterans or rookies. The entire supporting cast…the rest of tank crew and the German characters we meet are all outstanding, particularly fellow tank-mates Shia LaBeouf as Boyd ‘Bible’ Swan and Michael Peña as Trini ‘Gordo’ Garcia.

“Fury,” however, truly belongs to Logan Lerman and he carries the film masterfully on his character’s fragile shoulders. He is extremely believable as someone who’s probably never before held a gun, let alone killed anyone. Watching his Norman made me think of all the real-life WWII soldiers, like my Dad, who were drafted into the war. What must it have been like for them? My Dad, a NYC guy through and through, and unless he did some squirrel hunting in Central Park that he forgot to tell us about, never held a gun in his life before the war. Although he fought in the Pacific, Dad, like Norman, first did typing and steno work before seeing actual combat. He rarely talked about his war experience, but I believe that Norman represents all the men who were like my father—thrown into something completely alien to them on every level and having to adjust quickly. The fact that Lerman’s Norman could make me identify with him so viscerally only speaks to how wonderful Lerman is in the film and how tremendous the script is.

“Fury” is one of the few, possibly the only war movie revolving around a tank…possibly because the tank space is so cramped, there isn’t room for a lot of action, and face it, tanks don’t move at warp speed, so that precludes chase scenes. However, it’s just those circumstances that make “Fury” work so well. We actually sense how cramped the men are and that is what makes us feel like we are part of the action. Sometimes the film is so dark and the men so dirty, that it’s hard to know what is happening. That only adds to the film’s intensity and grittiness. The scenes in the small German towns are eerie in their silent moments as you hold your breath expecting for something to happen. And when the setting shifts to combat in utter darkness, you really have no idea of who has emerged victorious, just as in real life.

“Fury” works excellently on every level. When you leave the theatre, you’ll feel like you’ve been in battle, too. While a story about men and tanks, “Fury” is, in reality, a wonderful, lasting tribute to all our WWII soldiers.

4 nuggets out of 4

 

The Monuments Men: Not Monumental Enough—Movie

February 10, 2014

With a top-notch cast of leading men and woman (oh, to be her on the set), the best character actors in the business, a terrific score and a very compelling story, “The Monuments Men” can’t be a complete failure…and it’s not. But it’s not as good as one might expect. Directed by George Clooney with screenplay by Clooney and Grant Heslov based on the book by Robert M. Edsel and Bret Witter, “The Monuments Men,” is the little-known, but true story of the attempted rescue at the end of WWII, of art stolen by the Nazis during the War, with the goal of returning the art to their respective owners.The Monuments Men poster

Clooney’s character, Frank Stokes, is the driving force behind the mission, who, under the direction of FDR, assembles a team  called the Monuments Men to go to Europe and track down the stolen art. The men are art historians, architects and artists, all pretty much past their fighting prime, but happy and eager to serve. When they get to Europe they find that not only are they trying to recover the stolen art, but they are faced with what has been called  the “Nero Decree”—in which Hitler ordered that if Germany fell, among other things, “All military transport and communication facilities, industrial establishments and supply depots, as well as anything else of value within Reich territory, which could in any way be used by the enemy immediately or within the foreseeable future for the prosecution of the war, will be destroyed.” This decree included the destruction of the stolen art. In addition, Stokes’ team learns that the Russians are keeping whatever art they discover. Thus, there is a sense of urgency to find and protect as much art as they can, including art known to be housed in churches across Europe, saving them from damage during air raids.

All of this sounds like the basis for a terrific film. The problem with “The Monuments Men” is it that it suffers from a wealth of possibilities. Is it a caper/heist film…a comedy…or an action flick? “Monuments Men” really doesn’t know what it wants to be and tries to be all things to all people and ultimately falls short on all levels…save for the acting. All of the actors are very good…we just don’t get enough of each…to care very much about them.

As all the men go through basic training, your first thought is, “oh, no, will this be “Stripes” all over again?” Funny as that film was, fear, not. That doesn’t happen and the film quickly moves on. “The Monuments Men” pairs the characters and follows their stories, with the cast coming together near the film’s conclusion. Bill Murray and Bob Balaban work surprisingly well together as the film’s “odd couple” and most of the film’s humor comes from their interactions. John Goodman works with Jean Dujardin and the two have an easy-going chemistry. Hugh Bonneville’s character is a tortured soul struggling with alcoholism, who views his service as a shot at redemption.  Finally, Matt Damon spends most of his time in France, working with a museum librarian, portrayed by Cate Blanchett, who is helping the Resistance.

What Clooney does capture perfectly are the details of the era and some of those details are horrific. T’hose gruesome details remind you of the war’s horrors. Additionally, the hair, clothing and most especially Alexandre Desplat’s score, couldn’t be better and give the film a very genuine feel.

The real Monuments Men recovered over five million pieces of art as well as a fortune in gold. It’s a story worth telling, but “The Monuments Men” doesn’t do the men justice. This might be one time that the subject is just too big for a movie and might have better served as an HBO series.

2 ½ nuggets out of 4


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