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WWII

Darkest Hour (2017)

DIRECTOR: Joe Wright

CAST: Gary Oldman, Lily James, Kristin Scott-Thomas, Ben Mendelsohn, Stephen Dillane, Ronald Pickup

REVIEW:

2017 has been a good year for the Dunkirk evacuation, a pivotal event in WWII but an incident which had previously received little Hollywood attention.  Combined with Christopher Nolan’s “you are there” docudrama Dunkirk, which took us to the beaches, onboard the ships, and into the sky, and Lone Scherfig’s Their Finest, about a British propaganda film made about the event, Darkest Hour takes us to the vantage point of 10 Downing Street and centers around Winston Churchill himself.  To this end, Darkest Hour features no real battle scenes—apart from fleeting glimpses—and its stodgy, talky tone will limit its primary audience to history buffs, especially those with a particular interest in Churchill, but for those who consider themselves in that category, Darkest Hour is an engaging docudrama about the first two weeks in office of perhaps Britain’s most famous Prime Minister, and how he almost lost the position no sooner than he’d been offered it. Continue reading

Dunkirk (2017)

DIRECTOR: Christopher Nolan

CAST: Fionn Whitehead, Aneurin Barnard, Harry Styles, Mark Rylance, Cillian Murphy, Tom Hardy, Kenneth Branagh, James D’Arcy, Jack Lowden, Tom Glynn-Carney, Barry Keoghan

REVIEW:

With Dunkirk, Christopher Nolan has switched gears into a genre he’s never explored before, the war film, with a docudrama depiction of the Dunkirk evacuation (named after the French town where it took place), where 300,000 British soldiers with their backs against the sea were rescued by an armada of civilian volunteers, including fishing boats and private yachts, in what became known as “the miracle of Dunkirk” (despite being a retreat, the mass rescue was so unlikely that Winston Churchill himself cautioned the celebratory mood by stating that “wars are not won by evacuations”).   Perhaps partly because it focuses on an Allied retreat, perhaps partly because no Americans were involved (Dunkirk took place over a year before the United States entered the war), the Dunkirk evacuation hasn’t gotten much Hollywood attention; the only high-profile film I can recall even touching on it is Atonement, and that only in one sequence.  For the venerable writer-director, Dunkirk showcases his often-cited greatest strengths and weaknesses perhaps more starkly than ever before; a technically virtuoso filmmaking accomplishment but emotionally cold.  Dunkirk may strongly appeal to WWII buffs, but its appeal to mainstream audiences is in doubt. Continue reading

Allied (2016)

allied2DIRECTOR: Robert Zemeckis

CAST: Brad Pitt, Marion Cotillard

REVIEW:

Robert Zemeckis is no stranger to period films (Forrest Gump travels through decades of historical events), and now he’s turned his attention to crafting an old-fashioned wartime romance and potboiler of the like that Hollywood churned out in the 1940s.  Unsurprisingly for someone of his much-lauded technical craftsmanship, Zemeckis has succeeded on a superficial level, but while engaging enough to be worth a look for a fan of this sort of thing, Allied, a bit like Steven Soderbergh’s The Good Germanfocuses more on pretty pictures and capturing a certain style than on its pedestrian and undistinguished narrative.  It’s not a bad film, but while it pays homage to them, it’s not likely to become an enduring classic. Continue reading

Hacksaw Ridge (2016)

hacksawDIRECTOR: Mel Gibson

CAST: Andrew Garfield, Teresa Palmer, Vince Vaughn, Sam Worthington, Hugo Weaving, Rachel Griffiths, Luke Bracey

REVIEW:

The true story of Desmond Doss, the first Conscientious Objector to receive the Congressional Medal of Honor for saving seventy-five men without firing a shot during the bloody Battle of Okinawa in WWII, Mel Gibson’s Hacksaw Ridge (called the troubled actor-director’s “comeback project” in some circles) is a curious but overall effective blend of sappy cliches and graphic war violence, a film which initially threatens to come across like a generic “uplifting” story but—mostly when our pacifist protagonist finally goes to war around the halfway point—ultimately takes a turn to something far less sanitized but ultimately powerful and inspirational.   Continue reading

Anthropoid (2016)

anthroDIRECTOR: Sean Ellis

CAST: Cillian Murphy, Jamie Dornan, Charlotte Le Bon, Toby Jones

REVIEW:

WARNING: THIS REVIEW WILL REVEAL “SPOILERS”

Anthropoid is a spare, gritty historical thriller chronicling in unvarnished fashion the true story of the operation (code-named “Anthropoid”) to assassinate high-ranking Nazi Reinhard Heydrich.  To that end, it’s not necessarily the definitive film adaptation of the event (1975’s Operation Daybreak provides a more comprehensive overview), but it’s a tense and unromanticized docudrama illuminating one of the less famous stories from WWII.   Continue reading

The Imitation Game (2014)

DIRECTOR: Morten Tyldum

imitation gameCAST: Benedict Cumberbatch, Keira Knightley, Matthew Goode, Rory Kinnear, Mark Strong, Charles Dance

REVIEW:

Does the name Alan Turing mean anything to you?  Chances are it doesn’t, despite him being credited with shortening WWII by as much as two years, saving an estimated 14 million lives, as well as giving birth to the prototype of the computer.  Director Morten Tyldum and screenwriter Graham Moore, working off Andrew Hodges’ Turing biography, is a belated attempt to bring some deserved recognition both to Alan Turing’s accomplishments and the disgrace of what eventually happened to one of the most unsung war heroes of WWII. Continue reading

Fury (2014)

1D434B26DIRECTOR: David Ayer

CAST: Brad Pitt, Logan Lerman, Shia LaBeouf, Jon Bernthal, Michael Pena

REVIEW:

One of the most intense, gritty, and brutal WWII films since Saving Private Ryan (possibly even surpassing it for graphic bloodshed), and one of the best war films to come along in years, Fury dispels the notion that the Allies’ post D-Day race toward Berlin (a race they lost to the Russians) was any kind of cakewalk.  Leave it to the likes of Patton to show montages of Allied columns roaring triumphantly down roadways as rousing music plays; Fury takes us down to the ground, spending much of the action inside one tank with one small crew slogging their way through Germany.  Of course, that is no criticism of Patton, just that the two films show the war from complete opposite perspectives.  Those who enjoyed (if “enjoyed” is an appropriate word) Saving Private Ryan should appreciate Fury.  In fact, Fury goes even further than Steven Spielberg’s epic in being completely devoid of any flag-waving patriotism or idealism.  This is a war movie that lives up to the saying “war is hell”.   Continue reading

Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)

DIRECTOR: Joe Johnston

CAST:

Chris Evans, Hayley Atwell, Tommy Lee Jones, Hugo Weaving, Stanley Tucci, Toby Jones, Dominic Cooper, Sebastian Stan

REVIEW:

Captain America is an adequate, serviceable comic book superhero origin movie that doesn’t merit any scorn but also doesn’t generate overwhelming enthusiasm.  Continue reading

Valkyrie (2008)

valkyrie-cast-cruiseDIRECTOR: Bryan Singer

CAST:

Tom Cruise, Kenneth Branagh, Bill Nighy, Terence Stamp, Tom Wilkinson, Carice van Houten, Kevin McNally, David Schofield, Eddie Izzard, Jamie Parker, Thomas Kretschmann, Christian Berkel, Tom Hollander, David Bamber

REVIEW:

During his twelve-year reign, Adolf Hitler survived over forty known assassination attempts, at least fifteen of which were made by Germans. But the most hated man of the 20th century was also one of the most extraordinarily lucky. Something always managed to go wrong; Hitler would cut speeches or conferences short, avoiding timed bomb blasts, the explosives themselves would fail to detonate, and the forces arrayed against him often proved to be unfortunately uncoordinated and indecisive. The final, most famous, and most nearly successful attempt on Hitler’s life came on July 20, 1944, orchestrated by a group of rebel German military officers and politicians spearheaded by decorated injured war hero Colonel Count Claus von Stauffenberg. Continue reading

Australia (2008)

DIRECTOR: Baz Luhrmann

CAST: Nicole Kidman, Hugh Jackman, Brandon Walters, David Wenham, Jack Thompson, Bryan Brown, David Ngoombujarra, Ben Mendelsohn, David Gulpilil

REVIEW:

Baz Luhrmann is an unabashed romantic and an equally unapologetic fan of big, grandiose, old-fashioned melodramas, and while Australia, Luhrmann’s simply-titled ode to his homeland, is a little more restrained (relatively speaking) than Moulin Rouge, it contains many of his hallmarks.  It’s big, bold, and brash, painted on a sweeping canvas and recalling old 1950s romantic melodramas.  Alas, a meandering overlong narrative and uneven tone leave it not having the sweeping effect it strives so hard for.  Australia looks great and is not without entertainment value, but an inability to settle into a consistent groove leaves it weighed down by its own grandiose melodrama into a rather campy sudsy romance/adventure that’s as likely to induce eye-rolling as swooning. Continue reading

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