Tag Archives: WWII

IMDB Top 250: Downfall (2004)

Released in 2004, “Downfall” is a daring film by German director Oliver Hirschbiegel that offers a view of the last days of Nazi Germany inside Hitler’s bunker in Berlin.

It is the first and only film I have had the chance to watch that dared to portray Hitler and his inner circle with great care and detail, never compromising its version of reality to avoid the criticism of those who quickly jumped at it to condemn its supposedly sympathetic portrayal of the Fuhrer.

Continue reading IMDB Top 250: Downfall (2004)

The truth about Roberto Benigni (hint: he might be a genius)

Roberto Benigni, Italian artist of unique charisma, will be turning 59 next week (born October 27th, 1952). In his home country, he is the unapologetic king of slapstick comedy, who is exceedingly vocal and even unapologetic about his opinions. More than a comedian, Benigni is a film-maker, a successful and respected poet and singer-songwriter.

Continue reading The truth about Roberto Benigni (hint: he might be a genius)

IMDB Top 250: Letters from Iwo Jima (2006)

I continue my IMDB challenge with another Clint Eastwood film, the third I review after Unforgiven and Gran Torino. Having already watched other masterworks like Mystic River (4 out of 5) and Million Dollar Baby (4 out of 5) before I started the challenge, I will close my analysis of the great Clint with what is the highest-rated of all his films: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly in an upcoming post. Today though, it is time for his underrated Letters from Iwo Jima.

There are two sides to every story. For Clint Eastwood “Iwo Jima” was a chance to tell the Japanese story during WWII. The film was to stand in direct contrast to his other motion-picture release in 2006: “Flag of Our Fathers” which elegantly portrayed the American side of the conflict.

A great deal of credit should go to Mr. Eastwood for crafting a movie that delicately meanders through sensitive material that attempts to show us that war is as equally tragic and raw for both sides of a conflict. It is a testament to Eastwood’s sensibility that such a movie got the go-ahead from a Hollywood establishment that knew, as do we, that if a movie that is sensitive to the Japanese during the war was ever to be made, there could have hardly found anyone better that the detailed-oriented and mild-mannered Clint Eastwood to direct it.

Having said that, no one could expect “Letters from Iwo Jima” to be a factual representation of the events that transpired on the island. In fact, most of the artistic licenses taken probably made the film more effective as it help show that it was not a movie about the specifics of the war, but about the tragic human conflict that transpired on the ground. Once again, Eastwood makes a film that is elegantly embedded with layers of meaning that try to tackle the complexities of the human spirit in the midst of extraordinary circumstances. Eastwood does not take sides. His statement is to simply show that war is a calamity no matter what side you are on and that most of the soldiers are simply victims of higher powers.

There are aspects within “Iwo Jima” that are rather commonplace in a film touching upon WWII. There are the cowards, the fanatics of war, the patriots, the courageous leaders of men and, of course, the followers. In fact, the film suffers a bit when it relies on these typologies a bit too much. However, Iwo Jima has a dramatic power that comes from its realist feel of the struggle. Some of the merit for the effectiveness of this film should go to the casting director who assembled a very talented group of Japanese actors led by Ken Watanabe as General Kuribayashi.

The manner of the direction immerses us as one of the soldiers. The proximity to the men in the caves and their struggle to survive speaks about a film that is more interested in exploring the battered spirit of the Japanese soldiers, many of whom knew they had come to the island to die, leaving their families and lives behind, away from the mainland. In this context, the harshness and austere quality of the terrain where the movie was shot helps to bring out the sense of solitude and helplessness that the Japanese soldier must have felt while patiently waiting inside make-shift caves, as the grand fleet of American forces was deployed on the shores.

Overall, Iwo Jima deserves some praise, but when compared to other war-time films like Saving Private Ryan or Schindler List, Iwo Jima appears to be a bit too modest and a bit too careful to equal some of the modern masterpieces that tried to capture the tragedy of WWII.

Rating: 4 out of 5 (very good)


IMDB Top 250: Patton (1970)

My challenge to watch the TOP 250 films in the IMDB site continues. This is my 5th review, 121 films remain.

Today, it is my pleasure to review yet another movie that greatly deserves to be ranked among the best films of all time.

The movie is “Patton” and it follows a man: the famous general George S. Patton during the allied offensive of WWII.
Unlike other contemporary war films that concentrate on the human drama on the ground, this movie is a character study of the famous General Patton who found, in war, his natural habitat.

Patton is a film that, for most of its running time, remains behind enemy lines, away from the front line action, but intimately close to one of the protagonists of the conflict.
The complexities and nuances of a man that was vital in the success of the Allied offensive was masterfully captured by the underrated George C. Scott. It is, without a doubt, an epic performance, almost theatrical in its grandeur. Scott’s portrayal of General Patton achieves, despite the larger-than-life scale of his character, a great believability. He played a man that did not see war as his obligation to his country or as an opportunity to test his manhood, but as his ultimate purpose, his only cause, what truly defined who he was as a man.

Patton as most other generals, spent a significant amount of time politicizing and framing inside make-shift offices the destiny of WWII. He saw it as a necessary part of war, one he was not particularly good at. In fact, while his victories on the field were impressive, politics were not his forte and often, he found himself at odds with the High Command. What is shown in the film are not so much his struggles on the field, but rather his shortcomings as an off-the-field officer. He is often stuck as a spectator to what he considers to be the chance of a lifetime due to his controversial political persona. It is in the midst of this situation that the film takes off, showing us a man ridden with a sense of helplessness and frustration that is in sharp contrast to his incredible confidence on the field.

As a character study, Patton constructs enough of an image for us to place the rest of the missing pieces of the puzzle. We get a sense of what he wants or desires, but there is always an element of surprise in his actions that make Scott’s General one of the most excitingly complex and mysterious film characters ever.

As it often happens with other great films, a rather unlikable character manages to grow fonder in our eyes as the film progresses. Patton himself admits to be the target of hate and fear among the men he commands and we can sure see why. However, we fall in love with his passion and conviction to defeat his enemies, which is portrayed, without much restraint, over the course of an unforgettable biopic.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5 (masterpiece)


IMDB Top 250: The King’s Speech (2010)

My mission to watch all of the TOP 250 films listed in the IMDB site (as of March 22nd) continues.

Since I set myself the goal, I have watched 3 of the 125 films I have yet to see, which makes me believe I need to up the tempo if I want to succeed within the 2-year time frame I’ve given myself. The 3 films include the previously reviewed Blade Runner, 2008’s Gran Torino directed and starred by Clint Eastwood (upcoming review) and the last best-picture Oscar winner: The King’s Speech.

In another post, that I published a few days after I started this blog, I gave my personal list of the top 10 movies of 2010, with the glaring omission of the Oscar winner for best-picture that I hadn’t seen at the moment. It is now my belief that my winner for 2010 continues to be Inception, but the time-piece starred by Colin Firth as the stuttering King George VI deserves to be placed in close second.

The motion picture is one, among the great contenders for Oscar gold, that excels in its simplicity and that relies, primarily, on the romanticism of the story and the craft of a very talented cast. The movie is set in England, right before the passing of King George V and in the years leading to the beginning of WWII. The story follows the ascendance of the younger son of the king of England (Colin Firth), referred to as “The Duke of Yorke” by the commonfolk, or simply as “Bertie” by friends and family. The Duke is quickly presented to us as a man with a stammer that steams from deeply rooted insecurities, none greater than the fear to public speaking.

It is apparent early on that this is also a man of good, with love and care for his family, and an honest interest to serve his father, the King, and the British people. The duchess, remarkably portrayed by Helena Bonham Carter, is in love with that man. She feels that he is in pain, trapped inside his body, unable to speak his mind and fulfill his calling. The duchess seeks for treatment time and time again and, with every unsuccessful attempt, pushes her husband closer to a helpless frustration. Happily, she eventually comes across an eccentric therapist named Lionel Rogue, played by the ever-charming and wonderful Geoffrey Rush, that quickly shows a reluctant and pessimistic Duke that it is indeed possible to overcome his stammer.

The complexity and frustration of the Duke’s inability to speak is impressively portrayed by Colin Firth, deserved Oscar winner for Best Actor, and his performance is accompanied by a cast that is as effortlessly great as its leading man, making the story work with every scene, and allowing us to fully immerse in the struggle of an intelligent young prince that rises to King despite all of his fears.

The King’s Speech is simple in that it relies on a linear time-piece type story that is more or less well known. The rise of the young Duke to the throne of England is a story of great improbability that portrays an otherwise unapproachable figure as a deeply human and flawed man. In his quest to overcome adversity, he conquers his fears, reaches his full potential and, in doing so, builds an unlikely friendship with a therapist who he would have never spoken to as his equal in any other scenario. The movie is as much of a buddy-comedy with a lot of heart as it is a romantic story about overcoming adversity.

Unlike other critically-acclaimed movies of 2010, The King’s Speech does simple things remarkably well, which is better than trying to be different but failing to do so. The director, Tom Hoopper, reminds us that there are still “real” and moving stories that treated with care and with the right cast can excel beyond its scale, and beyond Oscar-gold, to become one of the best films ever made.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5 (masterpiece)