Wednesday, December 6, 2017

PICTURE, QUOTE, MOVIE #27


2.  What movie is this quote from?  "The thing that's always worried me about being one of the few is the way we keep on getting fewer."

3.  What movie is this?   It was released in 1944 and is a black and white classic directed by Preston Sturges.  It is considered by many to be his best movie.  He was nominated for the Oscar for Best Screenplay.  Fans of Sturges will recognize several familiar faces from his “stock company” including William Demarest who made ten movies with Sturges.  The movie came out a year after another Sturges home front satire, “The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek” (which also starred Demarest and Bracken).

Sunday, December 3, 2017

WAR ROMANCE: In Love and War (1996)



            “In Love and War” is the true story of Ernest Hemingway and his romance with a nurse in WWI Italy.  The movie is based on the book “Hemingway in Love and War” by Henry Villard and James Nagel.  Villard was in the hospital with Hemingway and is a character in the movie.  The film covers a relationship that would strongly affect his personality and writing.  He wrote ten short stories with references to his romance with Agnes von Kurowsky and she is a character in his famous novel “A Farewell to Arms”.  The movie was directed by Richard Attenborough. Sandra Bullock worked for a paltry $11 million.  That apparently left little for the rest of the cast.

            The movie is set in Italy on the war front with Austria from July, 1918 until Hemingway’s return to America.  A title card tells us that President Wilson sent the American Red Cross to Europe.  One volunteer was Ernie Hemingway who was a newspaper reporter at the time.  But first we are introduced to a nurse named Agnes.  The head nurse tells her “no fraternization allowed”.  Do you think that rule might come up?  A brief taste of combat depicts some graphic wounds to set up the hospital scenes.  Agnes meets a cocky American named Ernie.  He runs off to the front to get wounded so he can see her again.  Mission accomplished.  Agnes is seven years older than Ernie, but he is persistent.  The usual “he knows she’s in love with him before she does” trope is used.  Also typical of the genre is the love triangle complicating matters.  Actually, in this case it’s a quadrangle.  Ernie’s buddy Henry (Mackenzie Astin) is interested in Agnes in a competitive sort of way and the Italian doctor who agrees to avert amputation takes a shine to her as well.  Even though this is not a romantic comedy, it still insists on the break-up scene.  Have no fear – Ernie is persistent.  Queue the romantic music swelling.  Watch for Sandy’s butt.  Ernie returns home assured that Agnes will be joining him for wedded bliss.  Keep in mind that this is a romance, not a romantic comedy.

            “In Love and War” is about Ernest Hemingway, but it is not written by him.  I’m not sure he would have been impressed with it.  The dialogue is decidedly unHemingwayesque.  It is an average movie and if it was not something of a history lesson about a great writer, it would not be worth the watch.  The production values are those of a made-for-TV movie and the acting is mediocre.  O’Donnell is amateurish, but Bullocks is fine as the jaded nurse.  She is certainly not her usual bubbly screen persona.  She does seem uncomfortable playing the older woman.  There is little chemistry between the leads.

            The movie is not really a war movie.  I would classify it as a romance set in a war.  There is a very brief combat scene and some coverage of military medicine.  Some scenes in the MASH unit resemble the famous comedy without the laughs.  The hospital scenes are stock and include the amputee that takes his own life.

            SPOILER ALERT:  Ernest Hemingway did volunteer for the ambulance corps from his journalism job.  He was swayed by patriotic pleas.  He did get sent to Italy and was wounded early on when he was visiting the front line.  The wound was actually from shrapnel from a mortar.  He did meet Henry Villard and Agnes von Kurowsky in the hospital.  Villard was not a romantic rival and in fact was unaware of the heat.   A romance did develop and marriage was planned when they were reunited in America, according to Hemingway.  Von Kurowsky insisted later that it was a flirtation and never consummated.  Agnes wrote to Hemingway informing him that he was being jilted for an Italian doctor.  That relationship fell through and Agnes returned to the United States, but she and Ernie never met again.  Ernie never forgot her as she influenced his writing career (Catherine Barkley in “A Farewell to Arms” is based on her)  and his personal life.  Hemingway married four times and abandoned each wife before they could abandon him.  Or so psychologists analyze it.


GRADE  =  C-

  

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

CRACKER? 1939 Battle of Westerplatte (2013)


       “1939 Battle of Westerplatte” is a Polish-Lithuanian movie written and directed by Pawel Chochlew.  It was originally titled “Tajemnica Westerplatte”.  The movie chronicles the “Polish Thermopylae”.  This was the heroic defense on the Westerplatte peninsula in the harbor of Danzig at the start of WWII. 

                The movie opens just prior to the German invasion of Poland.  The Polish commander on the peninsula is a Maj. Sucharski (Michal Zebrowski).  He  is informed that he will have to hold out for twelve hours instead of six.  “This is a fight for honor.”  He is upset because he has only 200 men.  The clock starts ticking when a shell hits his headquarters. The initial German assault is repulsed with excellent explosive effects and graphic wounds, but the combat is brief.  The next seven days are a series of assaults followed by lulls in the fighting.  The Germans bring in CGI Stukas, an armored train, and flamethrowers, but the defenders continue to hold out.  The stress is having an effect on the Poles, but especially on Sucharski.  He is suffering from combat fatigue which looks a lot like cowardice.  On the third day, he wants to surrender.  This leads to command dysfunction as his second in command Capt. Dabrowski (Robert Zoledziewski) wants to hold out.
 
                “1939 Battle of Westerplatte” was controversial when it was released.  Some Polish patriots were upset with the less than flattering portrayal of the defenders, especially Sucharski.  The fact that the word tajemnica means “secret” implied that it was a revisionist view of the battle.  There is some justification for this viewpoint.  The Battle of Westerplatte  was technically the defense of the Military Transit Depot on Westerplatte peninsula.  The defense was centered on the fortified barracks as depicted in the film.  The battle opened with bombardment by the battleship Schleswig-Holstein.  This was followed by an assault by elite German forces which walked into an ambush.  A Polish soldier that was killed was the first death in WWII.  The Poles used  howitzers and mortars to repulse the attack.  The second attempt was met by felled trees, barbed wire, and heavy fire.  This and a third attack were also thrown back.  The Poles were forced to withdraw to a smaller perimeter centering on the barracks, but they continued to hold out against renewed forays and intense artillery and Stuka bombardments.  An attempt to set the bridge connecting the peninsula to the mainland failed when the fire from the train set the woods afire and allowed the defenders to wreak havoc.  By this time, Sucharski was urging surrender, but Dabrowski took temporary command to prevent this.  However, Sucharski got his way on the Sept. 7.  Only 14 Poles died in the battle so it was not exactly Thermopylae or the Alamo.  Sucharski came out of the battle as the most decorated hero and the defense was an inspiration to the Polish nation.  The movie tarnishes Sucharski’s reputation, but not really the rest of the men.  If anything, the Germans come off much worse.  These are hardly elite soldiers.  They are depicted as cowardly and incompetent.  Since the Poles are far from stalwart warriors, it is hard to see why it takes the Germans a full week to defeat them.

                The logical movie to compare this movie to is “The Brest Fortress” which covers a similar Alamo-type defense by Soviet troops in the early days of Operation Barbarossa.  “1939 Battle of Westerplatte” does not come off well in this comparison.  It is poorly acted.  The dialogue is stilted and there is too much of it.  At one point, Sucharski actually tells one of the men “You won’t die – that’s an order.”  There is plenty of time for talking because there is a shortage of combat throughout the movie.  There is a lot of fizzle to the events.  You expect kick-ass moments, but you get long stretches of boring.  This is disappointing because the initial combat is fairly well staged.  Classic case of bait and switch.  The lack of combat leads you to believe that there is no good reason for Sucharski to surrender.  This is a disservice to the men who held out against incredible odds for a full week.  One thing you can say, the movie is not overly patriotic.

                The only positive thing I can say about the movie is it clued me in on an event in WWII that I was not familiar with.  I was already familiar with the Alamo and as an American I think I would be upset if a new movie came out depicting Davy Crockett as suffering from shell shock and wanting to surrender early in the siege.  For this reason I have to side with the historical critics of the movie.


GRADE  =  D-

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Wonder Woman (2017)



                It took me a while to be convinced that “Wonder Woman” is a war movie, but I finally went to see it along with the masses.  This was a chore since I am not a big fan of superhero movies and I did not watch the old “Wonder Woman” series or read the comics.  However, my wife and best friends dragged me along and I might as well get a review out of it.  Normally I take notes during the movie, but this time I just sat and enjoyed the experience.  Also, normally I do a lot of research on the movie before writing my review, but this time I am going to go just on my gut feelings.  Since I am not immersed in the DC Universe, I will probably make some assumptions that will have fans foaming at the mouth.  I’ll just have to live with that.  Spoiler alert:  the review will cover the whole plot, so if you are one of the few who have not seen the movie, proceed at your own risk.

                I teach about Greek mythology and yet I had yet to encounter the movie’s version. According to the film, Zeus created mankind and was protective of humans.  He created the Amazons to watch over them.  Ares was determined to rid Earth of humans which resulted in a battle with the other gods of Mt. Olympus. Zeus was killed, but before he died he left the Amazons with a sword called “Godkiller” that could finish off the wounded Ares.  Ares was the only god to survive.  This is obviously the comic book version of Greek mythology.  I’ve got my work cut out for me in my Western Civilization class next fall because virtually all this is bull shit.  Zeus did not create man (Prometheus did) and in fact was not happy about mankind ruining the earthly paradise he had created.  There was no battle between the Olympians, plus the gods are immortal so they cannot be killed.  The Amazons were a legendary race of warrior women who were foes of the Greeks.  They were noted for their archery skills only.  Virtually every reference to them has them losing (to Theseus and Heracles) or being on the losing side (the Trojan War).  Nowhere are they described as protectors. 

                After the godly battle, the movie has the Amazons living on an isolated island that is cut off from the outside world.  So much for protecting mankind and keeping the peace.  They constantly train - for what?  They are great archers, but equally adept at swordplay and martial arts.  They are all equivalent to Hit-Girl in “Kick-Ass”.  One of the Amazons is a girl – Princess Diana (Gal Gadot).  She alone ages (up until her twenties when the aging process stops).  Her mother Queen Hippolyta wants to shield her from her destiny like every other superhero parent, but destiny comes calling in the form of a flyboy/spy (double the sex appeal) named Steve Trevor (Chris Pine).  Trevor somehow penetrates the island’s forcefield (the first to do so in 3,000 years or so) in a WWI monoplane (not a biplane in 1918?).  His plane is being chased by a German cruiser (that’s one fast warship!) and a landing party provokes the Amazons into using their 3,000 year-old training to kick some ass.  Not that modern bullets don’t cause some losses, mind you. 

                It turns out that Steve has purloined the recipe for a new German super gas that could change the course of the war.  He needs to get the notes to the good guys pronto.  He reveals his story due to the fact that he was ensnared by the Lasso of Hestia which besides being a lasso/whip, has the power to bring out the truth.  Once Diana hears about “the war to end all wars”, she deduces this must be the work of Ares.  It seems that in carrying out their mission to protect mankind and preserve peace, the Amazons were clueless about great hits like the Hundred Years War and the American Civil War.  Not to mention all the other wars.  Diana decides to take the “Godkiller” and hunt down Ares. Plus after having seen Steve naked, she will go where the penises are.   Diana and Steve sail to London, although they have no sailing ability or navigational aids.  Insert fish out of water scenes when they get to London.  Add comic relief from Steve’s secretary.

                They arrive right at the tail end of WWI.  Politicians are negotiating the armistice.  Seems like a classic case of too little too late, except that an evil German general named Ludendorff (based on the boringly nonevil actual German commander) is working with a female chemist (known to her comic book writing friends as Doctor Poison).  She got her face mask from “Phantom of the Opera R Us”.  She is developing a type of gas that will melt gas masks.  This will force the Allied Powers to give up.  Steve reunites his crack team of agents.  Sameer is master of disguises who will be given no opportunity to show it, Charlie is a sniper who has PTSD and can’t take the shot but will work through it with no drama, and Chief is a Native American who somehow is living on the Western Front.  The unit is as heterogeneous as you can get.  And capable of accomplishing the impossible.  The impossible being crossing enemy lines and killing Ludendorff/Ares and destroying the gas.  Luckily, they are aided by a too-good-to-be-true politician named Sir Patrick Morgan (David Thewlis). 

                The chief uses his tracking skills (and his ears and nose) to find the front line.  But there is a little old thing called No Man’s Land standing in the way.  When Diana finds out there is a village of humans being bullied by the Boche, she charges into the kill zone by herself.  Deathcheatingly, she has a magic shield and the German machine guns fire only at it.  For the single bullets, she has arm bracelets and the incredible reflexes that come with gods.  Her ballsiness inspires her comrades to join her and even though they are not superheroes, they have the powers to not be killed due to the script needing them around.  The village of Veld is liberated as Diana proves that although it is nice to have the shield and arm bracelets, she could not be killed even if a house fell on her.  And her hair is immune to debris.  The citizens of Veld celebrate their liberation at a party hosted by the one undamaged building in the town.  The café’s windows were apparently made of bomb proof glass.  That night Diana and Steve get intimate so in case anything happens to him, it will be very poignant.

                Chief leads them to a soiree attended by all the German bigwigs, including Ludendorff.  Steve infiltrates wearing a starched German uniform he got from a costume shop, Shameer shows off his mastery of disguises by wearing a hat, and Diana steals a ball gown with a special bra for holding a sword.  She walks into the ball in a stunning blue number that distracts everyone from the sword clearly protruding above her bra strap.  She has a very erect posture and if a dance partner had dipped her, he would have been castrated.  Nothing happens because the room is too small for an epic superhero set piece.  We’ll need an airfield for that.

                At said air field, Ludendorff is planning on using a bomber to drop the gas on London.  He figures that instead of demanding revenge, the British people will cave in to German demands.  He does not know the British very well.  Diana has her duel with Ludendorff and she wins suspiciously easily.  She kills the god Ares with “Godkiller”, but the war continues. What the hey?!  Surprise, Ares is Morgan.  Here comes the main event.  It is superhero versus supervillain epic.  How original!  That woman can take a Buffyesque pounding.  Midway through the fight, Ares sheds his twittish David Thewlis look for The Mountain in “Game of Thrones” and it is now really on.  He destroys “Godkiller” but can’t help but blab that Diana has it within herself to kill him.  But she won’t because she will join him in destroying mankind and restoring Earth to a paradise, right?  (Does this make Ares the good guy?  To animals watching the movie, yes.)  Diana goes all Firestarter on his ass and this ends all wars forever.  London is saved when Steve hijacks the bomber and sacrifices himself because Chris Pine was not available for the sequel.  Wait, Doctor Poison lives and Steve doesn’t.  War really is Hell!

                “Wonder Woman” is definitely a well-designed crowd-pleaser.  The plot grabs from the bag of superhero blocks to make its unique castle, but it’s still a castle.  What sets it apart is its female heroine.  Gal Gadot is excellent in the role.  She is sexy and athletic and humane.  And oh so naïve.  And she’s not Linda Carter.  Sorry Linda, but you had only two assets.  The rest of the cast is good.  Pine is perfect as the intrepid Trevor.  There is genuine chemistry between the leads.  I don’t recall much about the dialogue, which is a compliment.  There is some intentional humor to go along with the unintentional.  (Just remember not to laugh out loud at the silly stuff.  Most of the audience will not appreciate that.)  As far as the effects, they are the usual bludgeoning effects we have come to expect from superhero movies.  Sensory assault would be a good description.

                “Wonder Woman” is one of the better superhero movies, although not as good as it's closest equivalent - Captain America: The First Avenger.  But that is not saying much.  As you can figure, I am not a big fan of the genre.  I am a bit upset that each year we get about three war movies and thirty-three superhero movies.  I understand why this is – the public gets what it wants.  This is a sad comment on the public.  Superhero movies are anti-intellectual.  You must turn off your brain to enjoy them and check logic at the door.  Most of them, including this one, insist on plopping their fantasies into the real world.  They choose not to live in a sci-fi or fantasy world where logic can be bent.  Instead, they have creatures with special powers interacting with regular joes in a regular world.  “Wonder Woman” is a classic example of this as she leaves a fantasy world where leaping off a horse while twirling in the air and firing arrows can be believable, to go to 1918 Europe.  She carries her magic rope into the trenches of WWI.  In an act of contempt, the movie does not bother to change the name of the German commanding general.  

               If I had gotten this review out at the time of the movie's release just imagine how much box office it would have reduced.  You owe me one, Warner Brothers.

GRADE  =  C