War Movie Watchalong – Master & Commander

This is the first time I’m doing a watchalong and I’m quite excited. The first pick was Master & Commander and we watched it before and are now posting the answers to the questions today.

How did you like the movie?

I have seen Master & Commander before and always liked it. The story is suspenseful, the characters are interesting and what is even more important to me, the cinematography is stunning. It is one of those movies you can re-watch and you will see it in a different way every time.

Is Aubrey a good Captain?

I think this depends on how you define a good Captain. He certainly is a very charismatic Captain and his people would do everything for him. He is also said to be very lucky and since seamen seem to be a very superstitious lot, it’s good for him to be considered lucky. This assures their respect. But apart from being charismatic and lucky, he is adept and very cunning.

Who is your favourite character and why?

I’d say, it’s the young boy, Blakeney who looses an arm but stays so brave and poised. The boy is very intelligent and learns a great deal as well from the Captain  as from the doctor. I liked how he is able to pick the best from every one and make the best out of every situation.

Cpt Aubrey and Dr Stephen Maturin, the surgeon are very different. How did you like their friendship?  Is it plausible?

They are perfect contrasts and they make each other’s characters shine because they are so different. I did however not always think it all that plausible. The discussions yes, I can see that you can be very different and still have a great friendship, great discussions but I would doubt a man like the Captain would enjoy to play music with the doctor.

Aubrey and Maturin disagree on the responsibilities of a ship’s captain.  Who is right?

I do belive that in general Aubrey is right. He is a very capable Captain, he knows his business but in this particular instance, he isn’t following his own principles anymore. He has become a fanatic, drive by his ego. Maturin, rightly tries to reason with him but to no avail.

What did you think of the way the French are depicted?

They are shown to be the aggressor and very sneaky too. But, as the end shows, they are also very cunning. I didn’t have too big a problem with that. The French are shown as negative but not as stupid, on the very contrary, it’s because they are so cunning that Captain Aubrey feels challenged.

The story of the Jonah is quite intriguing, What did you think of it?

Seaman are said to be superstitious and it isn’t surprising. Life on a ship is hard and you are constantly exposed, to your enemies, the weather conditions, nature… It’s a precarious life. As much as they believe in luck, they believe in bad luck. The story of the Jonah is a means to explain why they are running out of luck. They try to catalyze the tensions and pick a scapegoat. It’s very unfair and shows how easily the seamen believe in tales. I thought it was very uncanny.

What was more important – getting the enemy or collecting scientific samples?

That depends on the point of view but I would say, the mission was over and they could have dedicated their time to collecting samples. They were not told to follow the French to the end of the world.

Was it ethical to disguise the Surprise as a civilian ship?

It was a fantastic idea but I think, no, it wasn’t ethical. It served its purpose. I was wondering if something like that could have happened. Were there rules of warfare? I don’t know.

Did you think the ending was satisfying?

I have, as I said, already watched the movie before but had completely forgotten the ending. I was surprised to see that it ended like this. It was satisfying because it showed how clever the enemy was but there is no proper end to the story. I’m meanwhile surprised they didn’t make a sequel  but I’m glad they didn’t. Those sequels often water down a orginal idea. The end also showed that the French Captain was as obsessed as Aubrey himself. These are two worthy opponents.

Here are the links to the answers of others

Novroz (Polychrome Interest)

War Movie Watchalong – Master & Commander – The Questions

As many of you know, we are doing a double watch along of two movies, the first one being Master & Commander.

Here are the questions should you want to participate.

Of course you do not need to answer these questions, you can also just post a review on the movie and link to my site.

  • How did you like the movie?
  • Is Aubrey a good Captain?
  • Who is your favourite character and why?
  • Cpt Aubrey and Dr Stephen Maturin, the surgeon are very different. How did you like their friendship?  Is it plausible?
  • Aubrey and Maturin disagree on the responsibilities of a ship’s captain.  Who is right?
  • What did you think of the way the French are depicted?
  • The story of the Jonah is quite intriguing, What did you think of it?
  • What was more important – getting the enemy or collecting scientific samples?
  • Was it ethical to disguise the Surprise as a civilian ship?
  • Did you think the ending was satisfying?

Tha date for the watchalong is Tuesday 27 December 2011.

The questions for Talvisota will be published tomorrow.

10 War Mini-Series You Must See

When I wrote my post on ANZACS the other day I realized that there are quite a few great war mini-series out there. There are certainly more than 10 but out of all those I’ve seen or heard of, I would say, the 10 that I mention below are the ten you should really not miss. They all cover different wars or different aspects of the same wars. Many of them are better than most movies. My favourites are Band of Brothers, Hornblower, Sharpe and Generation Kill.

Wings (1976) WWI Air Combat. I must admit, I haven’t seen this yet but it has a great reputation among air combat fans and should be a nice companion to the WWII based series Piece of Cake.

Danger UXB (1979) WWII – Bomb disposal unit. I liked this series when I watched it quite a bit. It gives you a good feel for what a bomb disposal unit had to go through during the Blitz. All the different types of bombs. The characters are appealing and we get a good impression of civilian life during the Blitz as well. Here is my review.

Das Boot 1985 – WWII submarine. Das Boot exists in two versions. One is the cinema the other the TV version which was twice as long. I have seen the cinema version which is one of the best war movies there is. Some people prefer the longer TV version. It’s worth checking out.

ANZACS (1985) WWI. Infantry combat. I just reviewed the final episodes of this excellent mini-series that follows the ANZACS from Australia to Gallipoli and from there to the Somme and back home again. Great combat scenes and a nice “band of brothers” feel. It also contrasts British command and Australian insubordination in a funny way. Here is my review.

Piece of Cake (1988) WWII Air Combat. The series follows the men of the Hornet Squadron during the early weeks of WWII. It shows how inexperienced boys become excellent fighter pilots.

Sharpe (1993 – 2008) – Napoleonic wars. Infantry and cavalry. Based on the novels by Bernard Cornwell this is a very elaborate and suspenseful series. In its center is the character Sharpe an enlisted man who is such an excellent soldier that he is soon raised to the rank of officer. This is problematic as he isn’t an aristocrat. He faces injustice and adversity. Sean Bean stars as Sharpe. It’s one of the best roles of his career. Here is my post.

Hornblower (1998 -2003) – Napoleonic wars. Naval combat. This is another extraordinary tale of one man’s ascent. Ioan Gruffud stars as Horatio Hornblower which might explain why I hear this series mentioned quite often by women.  If you like Master & Commander, you will love this. It’s like a very long version with an appealing central character. It is based on the books by C.S. Forester. Here is my post.

Band of Brothers (2001) WWII. Infantry combat. This is one of the most amazing series. Based on the book Band of Brothers it follows the paratroopers of Easy Company from 1941 – 1945, starting in the US until the freeing of the KZ’s. The characters of this tight-knit company are very well depicted and you really care for all of them. Seeing them die or get wounded is harrowing. Some of the episodes, like the one called Bastonge, are so intense, they still overshadow most other WWWII infantry combat scenes I’ve seen before or after.

Generation Kill (2008) Iraq. Special unit. This is a series that is hard to get into, especially when you are used to others. It has a very slow build-up but after two episodes I really appreciated it. It achieves a very authentic depiction of modern warfare and shows how problematic it is to send a generation used to war games into combat. It shows how much is absolutely boring, just standing around and waiting. At the center of the unit is the “Iceman” Sgt Brad Colbert played by Alexander Skrasgard. The Iceman is an amazing character and even more so because he is based on a real person. This guy really always keeps his cool. The series is based on the account of an embedded journalist. Here’s the link to the book. And here is my post on The Iceman.

The Pacific (2010) – WWII. Infantry combat. If you do not compare this series to Band of Brothers, you will like it. It’s less the story a group of people than individual stories. The soldiers are also shown during their leaves and some love stories are incorporated. However the combat scenes are even grittier that those in Band of Brothers. Not pretty at all. My favourite episode is Rain on Cape Gloucester. Here is my Pacific short review.

Sink the Bismarck! (1960) A British Movie About One of the Most Crucial Moments in British History

The British black and white movie Sink the Bismarck! tells the true account of one of the most difficult moments during WWII. The new German battleship the Bismarck was the biggest and most powerful battleship to ever cruise the sea. A frightening enemy that had to be stopped before it could break loose and reach the Atlantic. The war on the North Atlantic was at its height and so were the British losses at sea.

Sink the Bismarck! switches back and forth between scenes in the war room and scenes at sea. As a narrator states at the beginning of the movie, the war is fought at sea but the decisions are made in the war room. The scenes taking place in the war room resemble many others that are depicted in British movies but they are much more psychological. The filmmakers decided to focus closely on Captain Shepard who has been promoted and is in charge of the navy on land and on his assistant, Anne Davis, a young woman whose fiancé died at the beginning of the war. Shepard himself is grieving for his wife and one of his sons. He is shown as hard and rigid in the beginning but he changes considerably over the course of the movie. The people around him, although annoyed by his harshness, still know that he has to take some of the most difficult decisions that have to be taken during the war.

The most tragic moment in the movie is certainly when the biggest British battleship, The Hood, is sunk within minutes of attacking The Bismarck. It explodes in front of the eyes of the rest of the British fleet which is close by.

After this has happened Churchill gives one of his famous speeches and utters the memorable words “Sink the Bismarck!”.

We all know what course history has taken so it is not too much of a spoiler to say that the British navy, together with the assistance of the pilots of aircraft carrier Ark Royal, did manage to sink the huge German fortress. Quite a tragic moment even for the British. No one really cheered. There is something eerie about naval combat; many people die when a ship is finally sunk but the ships themselves are lost as well and they often look like gigantic wounded animals dying a violent death.

All this said, it’s a fine movie. The characters we see in the war room are well-developed, the tragedy of the initial defeat of the British navy is palpable, the huge burden that lasted on those who take decisions can be felt and the utter senselessness of war is symbolized in the sinking of those huge ships. I couldn’t help admire the German engineers at one point, the Bismarck was an astonishingly powerful ship. But I also admired those people in charge in the British war rooms. They worked day and night, hardly ever slept and were dedicated to the last. 4/5

In Harm’s Way (1965) or John Wayne, Pearl Harbor and Some Decent Naval Combat in the Pacific

I don’t know how many war movies John Wayne did. The only thing I know, he did a lot. I’ve seen The Longest Day but apart from that Otto Preminger‘s black and white movie  In Harm’s Way was my first. I actually quite liked it. It’s a decent movie with some interesting female leads and a love story between John Wayne and Patricia Neal’s character that resembles a real relationship and not some ridiculously soppy romance.

I already mentioned it in my post on Pearl Harbor as it starts on the night before the attack of Pearl Harbor. At the center of the movie is Admiral Torrey who is first demoted and then promoted again. The movie analyses what is going on outside of the actual battles; the planning, the men’s love and private lives. Torrey meets his son who is in the Navy for the first time after several years. Their relationship is very conflict-laden but evolves during the movie. Torry gets to know the nurse Lt. Maggie Haynes (Patricia Neal) who is probably one of the greatest nurses in any war movie. Kirk Douglas plays a real asshole, Commander Eddington. We see a few decent battle scenes but nothing too exciting.

Too cut  a long story short, In Harm’s Way is a movie for John Wayne fans, for people who want to watch something older about the war in the Pacific, for those who like a well-told story that focuses on relationships and for those who can overlook a few gender related oddities (Two things struck me. One was the “tea scene” and the other the way people react to Eddington’s crime). As a war movie I would rate it 3.5-4/5.

Don’t miss the trailer. I have never seen a trailer like this. I first thought it was a parody and then I realised it was just unreflected promotion. It has real historical value. Just watch it and thank God that trailers have evolved through the years.

We Dive at Dawn (1943) A Very Decent British Submarine Movie

I think Das Boot made every, but absolutely every submarine/U-Boot movie redundant. What’s there to say after a final statement? What is there to add to perfection? Das Boot is one of the best war movies and one of the best movies in general and THE best U-Boot movie there is. Why watch and review any others? Because there was a time before Das Boot. And submarines are not U-Boots, guess you get my drift.

We Dive at Dawn came out during the war so it is not surprising that it is propagandist.

The movie starts aboard the British submarine HMS Sea Tiger just before the crew swarms out on a seven-day leave that is aborted after just a few hours. They are sent on a secret mission after the German battleship Brandenburg heading for the Baltic sea. When finally encountering the battleship they are heavily attacked by the destroyers who flank the Brandenburg. We have the familiar elements like crash diving, torpedoing and being depth-charged. They seem to lose the fight and only a very shrewd trick helps them to escape. However they have no clue if their mission is accomplished and when diving up again realise that they have run out of fuel. What to do next? One of the crew suggests to land in Denmark and try to refuel there. Of course that is occupied territory and we get to see some fighting on land.

Submarine movies are interesting for many reasons. The hardware used as an arm is also the living space of the crew. There is an interesting difference in US and UK movies regarding the crew. Let me quote from Under Fire (p.181)

Whereas the American war film will often feature an ethnic and regional smorgasbord of characters, the british version involves Cockneys, Scots and Yorkshiremen like Eric Portman’s hydrophone operator, Hobson, whose marital difficulties are making him a surly chap.

John Mills who is in an incredible number of British war movies of the time stars as the captain of the Sea Tiger (e.g.Ice Cold in Alex, The Colditz Story (so far one of my favourite POWs), Above us the Waves, Dunkirk). He is a good actor. No doubt about that.

All in all this is a decent movie. Interesting characters and side stories, gripping combat (not that land bit, that is so so). We Dive at Dawn is a black and white movie which enhances the atmosphere.

I haven’t seen all that many submarine movies. Once I have had a chance to watch and review a few more I will be able to give a decent evaluation. For the time being, should you only watch one sub movie in your lifetime, then stick to Das Boot but if you like the genre, don’t miss We Dive at Dawn.

I couldn’t find a trailer but added an excerpt instead.

A Story of Naval Combat in the Vein of Master & Commander or Why You Should Watch the TV Series Hornblower (1998-2003)

The British TV series Hornblower or Horatio Hornblower is based on the books by C.S. Forester starring Ioan Gruffudd (King Arthur) as Horatio Hornblower.

It is the movie that is closest to the fabulous Master & Commander that I have seen so far. Sure, there are older movies on the Napoleonic Wars and naval combat but this is my favourite.

I think there are a total of 8 installments. They mostly have two titles, a British and an American one.

The Duel

The Fire Ship

The Duchess and the Devil

The Wrong War

Mutiny

Retribution

Loyalty

Duty

Here are 10 reasons why you should give Hornblower at least a try:

1. If you are looking for movies that resemble Master & Commander

2. If you enjoy naval combat and some gripping rapier fights

3. If you care for a likable character who has to overcome obstacles and wins in the end

4. If you are a fascinated by this period in time and interested in the Napoleonic Wars

5. If you enjoy POW stories (one whole episode shows Hornblower as a captive)

6. If you like a gripping story

7. If two-hour movies are too short for you and you like well made mini series

8. If you are a fan of Ioan Gruffud

9. If you don’t care for too much romance but like a bit on the side  to add another dimension

10. If you like a wide range of fascinating characters, some of which are cunning and evil, others kind and heroic