Monday, July 15, 2019

PICTURE, QUOTE, MOVIE QUIZ #63


1.  What movie is the picture from?

2.  What movie is this quote from?

I didn't see much of the war... I was stationed in a repair shop below decks. Oh, I was in plenty of battles, but I never saw a Jap or heard a shell coming at me. When we were sunk, all I know is there was a lot of fire and explosions. And I was ordered topsides and overboard. And I was burned. When I came to, I was on a cruiser. My hands were off. After that, I had it easy... That's what I said. They took care of me fine. They trained me to use these things. I can dial telephones, I can drive a car, I can even put nickels in the jukebox. I'm all right, but... well, you see, I've got a girl.


3.  What movie is this? 


It is a German/Italian/Austrian production directed by Oliver Hirschbiegel.  It covers the last ten days of the main character's life.  It is based partly on historian Traudl Junge’s Until the Final Hour and several other memoirs.  It was nominated for Best Foreign Film.  Bruno Ganz studied Parkinson’s patients to get the main character's  twitching down.  The opening and closing interviews with Junge are from the documentary “Blind Spot”.


Tuesday, July 9, 2019

BOOK/MOVIE: Cross of Iron




                This is another in my series informing you about how war movies differ from their source material.  I also take the liberty of comparing the two.  I have a belief that a movie should be better than the novel it is based on and most war movies are.  The screenwriter has the advantage of having the book as his foundation and he can make improvements to the plot and make it more entertaining.  The disadvantage is that the movie can not go into the detail that a  book can.  I am mainly arguing that movies should be more entertaining than the novel.  If you read on, be aware that I am assuming two things.  One, you have seen the movie already.  Two, you are not planning on reading the book, so you don’t care about spoilers.  I hope what you do care about is how the book differs from the movie and which is better, in my opinion.

                Cross of Iron” is a war movie directed by Sam Peckinpah.  It is set on the Eastern Front in WWII.  A platoon led by a Sgt. Steiner (James Coburn) is part of the perimeter defense of a German salient that is threatened by superior Red Army forces.  Steiner is a great soldier, but is anti-authority and cynical about the war and the army.  His new company commander Capt. Stransky (Maximilian Schell) has been transferred to Russia so he can win an Iron Cross.  He is a martinet who realizes Steiner will be a thorn in his side and Stransky is determined to eliminate Steiner as an obstacle to his medal.  Steiner and his men have to go on a trek behind enemy lines to get back to their lines after they are left behind in the army’s withdrawal.  The movie was based on the novel The Willing Flesh by Willi Heinrich.  Heinrich served on the Eastern Front and was wounded five times.  The screenplay was written by Julius Epstein, James Hamilton, and Walter Kelley.  They changed the chronology of the book, but adapted some of the key scenes and kept most of the characters.

                The novel opens with Steiner’s platoon in the front lines of the German perimeter.  We are introduced to his men, who have pretty much the same personalities as in the movie.  For example, Schnurrbart is a mustachioed rock, Kern is a slacker jerk, Kruger is a slob, Dietz is boyish, Zoll is a troublemaker (but not the resident Nazi like in the movie).  The book has a key character named Dorn who is an intellectual that Steiner likes to discuss philosophy with.  The movie Steiner is more laconic than philosophical.  When the German army pulls back, Steiner’s group is ordered to stay by his battalion commander (unlike in the movie where the nefarious Stransky purposely leaves them behind).  In the trek back to German lines, Steiner and crew (they start with eleven men) encounter the Russian female soldiers and the scene plays out similar to the movie except that at one point Steiner decides to go off on his own.  He changes his mind and returns after an escaping Russian runs into him.  This allows Steiner to avoid the difficult decision of killing the women to protect their continued journey.  Zoll’s rape and death are essentially the same, but Dietz is not killed until a little later when he runs into a Russian patrol.  Meanwhile, Stransky gets Triebig to admit he prefers men, but Keppler is not in the room.

                When Steiner and the others reach the Russian front lines, they assault some bunkers with extreme prejudice.  They capture a Russian officer and force him to radio that they are a Russian patrol going out.  They proceed into no man’s land and Steiner goes ahead to identify them and they successfully make it in.  Nine of the eleven make it back.  Steiner meets Stansky for the first time.  He offers to promote him to Sgt., but Steiner does not react.  The conversation enrages Stransky and it doesn’t help that when he snidely asks if Steiner was an actor before the war, Steiner responds:  “Not before the war”.  (How did that line not make it into the movie?)   Brandt gives Steiner two weeks R&R.  He meets a nurse who he had an affair with when he was convalescing in a hospital thirteen months before.  It turns out that she had seduced him and when he dumped her, she framed him for robbery which resulted in his being put in a penal battalion.  At the rest area, he has an affair with another nurse named Gertrud.  Steiner is not a ladies man and the romance is awkward.  While he is gone, Dorn and Anselm are killed by a random shell. 

                When he returns, Steiner catches Triebig and Keppler in bed and beats Triebig up because he had sided with Stransky in the chewing out of Steiner earlier.  The big Russian attack featuring tanks in the movie occurs at this point.  Steiner leads the counterattack with Kruger, Hollerbach, Kern. and Faber (recruited by Steiner after their return across no man’s land).  The Russians are caught between two forces and routed.  Steiner is wounded and on the way to the evacuation station, his companion Hollerbach is run over by a tank.  Steiner is away three months and returns to Schnurrbart, Kruger, Faber, and Maag.  He finds out that Stransky is claiming to have led the counterattack and needs Steiner to sign off on his Iron Cross.  The movie covers the meeting with the skeptical Brandt, but leaves out a central section where Keisel explains that Steiner wants time to think on it because Steiner does not want to be a witness in a court-martial.  Keisel convinces Brandt to drop the matter, but threaten Stransky with consequences if he doesn’t back off of Steiner.  Steiner has guilt feelings about how he did not appreciate all that Brandt had done for him, but he did not say he hates all officers, including Brandt. 

                The big set piece in the book is an attack on a Russian factory.  This is barely recognizable in the movie in the scene where the Russian tanks break into a building the platoon had taken refuge in.  Stransky plots with Triebig to kill Steiner in the factory.  When Brandt calls to cancel the attack, Stransky does not pass the word.  Steiner and the men negotiate the maze of corridors in the dark, eliminating the defenders.  Triebig shoots Schnurrbart, mistaking him for Steiner.  Steiner then insures that Triebig is killed by the Soviets.  Upon returning, Steiner sets up an ambush for Stransky.  Brandt is aware, but does nothing to stop this.  Steiner ends up not killing Stransky and soon after Steiner is wounded by an artillery round and Faber loses his eyes.  At the end of the book, Stransky is about to be transferred.  Keisel is still with Brandt but he has told him he will be saved to help start a new Germany.  The movie ending is not even remotely connected to the book.  And since it is a poor ending to a great movie, you have to wonder what the screenwriters were thinking.

                As you can read, the book has more scenes than in the movie.  It is unclear why the screenwriters changed the order of the ones they kept.  Subtracting scenes was inevitable, but resequencing was questionable. The movie jumps immediately into the Steiner/Stransky dynamic and structures the plot around it.  The book does not really kick into this until midway through, allowing for some vignettes that develop the whole squad instead of just Steiner.  The trek is pushed all the way to the last third of the book as a way to build to the confrontation between Stransky and Steiner.  The novel is a multi-layered story of a platoon fighting a losing war whereas the movie is boiled down to a lost patrol movie with an evil brass cliché.  Steiner completely dominates the movie, but in the book he is the main character and the rest of the unit get good coverage, too.  As you would expect, the novel fleshes out the characters quite a bit more than the movie.  The movie does borrow the basic personality traits, but the novel actually puts you into the characters’ heads and Heinrich gives each member of the platoon a chance to have their moment.  Most importantly, Steiner is a multi-dimensional character, unlike the simply cynical, laconic movie Steiner.  Heinrich’s Steiner is mercurial.  He even pouts occasionally.  He is quick-tempered and unstable.  Significantly, for those of you who care about motivation, we find out why Steiner is the way he is.  He lost his fiancé in mountain climbing accident that would scar anyone.  There was also that frame-up by the nurse.  Another difference between the movie platoon and the novel platoon is that in the book the men are much more dysfunctional.  They are far from a band of brothers.  Some of them hate each other and not all are enamored with Steiner, although all recognize that without him they are doomed.

                The movie does retain the Brandt/Keisel dynamic, but obviously the book includes much more of their interesting discussions.  Keisel is one of my favorite fringe characters in war movies and Brandt is a key figure in the theme that even some of the German leaders were cynical.  It was certainly unfair when Steiner lumped him in with all officers.  At least in the book, Steiner is remorseful.  Keisel is the conscience of the book (along with Dorn).  Keisel defines courage thus:  “In 99 out of 100 cases, courage is nothing more than expression of common politeness or sense of duty.  [The other 1%] is an expression of insanity.”  Keisel gets almost as much ink as Stransky, since Stransky is a smaller character than in the movie.  However, the movie does give us the full Stransky.  By the way, there is no Russian boy-captive in the book.  I would have to give the movie that one.

                I have mentioned that in most cases I believe that war movies based on novels are better than the novel.  However, “Cross of Iron” is not one of those movies.  The main reason why the book is superior is because it is able to flesh out all the characters.  Even the main character is more multi-dimensional and less mysterious.  Clearly, a book should do this better than any movie, but the main reason why the movie is inferior is the dubious decisions on changing the sequence of events in the book’s plot.  It would have been much smarter to use the novel as an outline and then eliminate scenes due to time pressures.  The movie wisely condenses the theme to glory-hunting (Stransky) versus cynical survival (Steiner) and focuses on that aspect from the get-go.  It is pretty effective in that single-mindedness, but blows it in the end with the ridiculously unrealistic ending that sees Steiner abetting Stransky.  To have the officer-hating Steiner kill Triebig for killing his men and then have him spare the much more odious Stransky is bizarre.  Heinrich’s Steiner also spares Stransky, but in a much more believable manner.  And having Stransky get his transfer hammers Heinrich’s own cynical attitude toward the war he fought in.

BOOK = A
MOVIE  =  B+

Sunday, July 7, 2019

CONSENSUS #66. Hope and Glory (1987)




SYNOPSIS:  “Hope and Glory” is a British dramedy about a British family in London during the Blitz.  It focuses on ten year-old Billy (Sebastian Rice-Edwards) who finds having his world upside down to be fascinating.  The family home ends up getting bombed and they have to go live in the countryside with their eccentric grandpa.

BACK-STORY:   “Hope and Glory” is a war movie set in London during the Blitz of WWII. It was directed by John Boorman and was based on his own experiences as an eight year-old boy. It was a British-American endeavor that was released in 1987.  It did not do well at the box office, but was critically acclaimed.  It was nominated for Academy Awards for Best Art Direction, Cinematography, Original Screenplay (Boorman), Director, and Picture. It won the Golden Globe for Best Musical or Comedy.  It was nominated for 13 BAFTA awards including Picture, Director, and Original Screenplay.  Susan Wooldridge won for Best Supporting Actor for her performance as Molly.
 TRIVIA:  Wikipedia, imdb
1.  The title comes from a patriotic song entitled “Land of Hope and Glory”.
2.  In 2014, Boorman wrote and directed a sequel called “Queen and Country” which has Billy as a soldier in Britain during the Korean War.
3.  The newsreel footage is from the movie “Battle of Britain”.
4.  A 650 foot street was constructed with 17 houses.

Belle and Blade  =  N/A
Brassey’s              =  4.0
Video Hound       =  5.0
War Movies         =  N/A
Military History  =  not on list
Channel 4             =  #52
Film Site                =  no
101 War Movies  =  yes
Rotten Tomatoes  =  no 

OPINION:  “Hope and Glory” is one of the best movies depicting the effects of war on children. Everything Billy experiences feels real. The excitement, instead of fear, is apparent. The school and gang scenes are authentic. It also does an excellent job showing the variety of effects on different family members. The characters are vivid and human. The actors help make them so. Special kudos to Sarah Miles (the mother), Ian Bannen (grandpa), and Davis (Dawn, the loose daughter) . The child actors are strong.  This is a wonderful little movie. The best word to describe the humor is it is “droll”. Not laugh out loud. More smile out loud. There is no better movie about the Blitz from a family point of view. There are few movies about the home front in any war better than “Hope and Glory”.

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

NETFLIX STREAMING: The Wolf’s Call (2019)



                        “The Wolf’s Call” (Le Chant du Loup) is a French submarine movie.  It was written and directed by Antonin Baudry.  He seems to have read some Tom Clancey.  The film is set in the near future and fits in with  recent modern sub movies.  It is currently appearing on Netflix streaming.  Unfortunately, it is dubbed, although not badly.

                          The movie leads with: “Humans come in three types:  the living, the dead, and those who go to sea.”  If you are the first type and want to see a movie about the third, this may be the movie for you.  Or just watch “Jaws”.  The Titan is on a mission to recover some French commandoes who are doing some business in Syria.  Complications ensue when an Iranian frigate arrives and starts pinging them using a sonar boom lowered by a helicopter.  They refer to the sonar as “the wolf’s call”.  A depth charging forces them to the surface, but not to worry, they happen to carry an RPG on board.  It’s not as silly as it sounds.  It turns out the main character is the acoustics expert Chanteraide (Francois Civil).  He’s like an acoustics savant.  He can tell you if a dolphin is male or female.  He could swear he was picking up a stealthy Russian sub aiding the frigate, but no one believes him.  He’s in need of some redemption.  But first he’s in need for some romance and some skullduggery.

                        When they return to port, Capt. Grandchamp (Reda Kateb) is promoted to skipper of a new ballistic sub called Formidable.  His exec D’Orsi (Omar Si) takes command of the Titan.  This is going to get awkward as the Russians invade Finland (again) and the Formidable is sent just in case and the Titan is its escort.  Things get hairy when a Russian sub launches a nuke at France and the Formidable is ordered to retaliate.  If you’ve seen “Fail Safe”, you know where this is headed.

                        “The Wolf’s Call” avoids most of the submarine clichés.  There is a commando raid, but it is not a big part of the plot and is merely an excuse to introduce future plot elements and lead off with some action.  There’s no significant depth charging.   There’s no command dysfunction.  What it does have is the ridiculously over the top action of modern sub movies.  And this escalates in silliness to reach a blazing finale.  It’s no more ridiculous than “Hunt for Red October” and “Crimson Tide”, and much better than “Phantom”. 

                        Baudry does a competent job directing.  He must have gotten some cooperation from the French navy because those are real subs surfacing and diving.  The underwater CGI is fine and not distracting.  The interiors are realistic and operational procedures are nicely done.  The acting is adequate.  Apparently, Omar Si is a major star in France.  Civil is hunky, but you won’t mistake him for Tom Cruise.  He spends a good bit of time listening on ear phones and looking like a student who is trying hard to look like he is thinking about the correct answer.  Everyone keeps a straight face throughout the escalating mayhem.  The movie has no humor in it.  Not intentional humor, anyway.  I’m pretty sure we’re not supposed to laugh when D’Orsi approaches the Formidable using a diver propulsion device and carrying a hammer for communication purposes.

                        If you found “Fail Safe” to be too cerebral, “The Wolf’s Call” may be for you.  It has some nice twists and is not totally predictable.  It also differs from most of its ilk by not being afraid to kill off major characters.  I won’t tell you whether it kills off France.

GRADE  =  B-