Alexander Skarsgard aka Sgt. Brad “Iceman” Colbert in Generation Kill

Alexander Skarsgard, the Swedish actor nowadays better known as Eric the Vampire, had a life before True Blood. And quite an interesting one, I dare say.

I am not the world’s most patient person and when I started to watch HBO´s Generation Kill this lack of patience almost cost me a great viewing experience. I was really tempted to give up after episode 1 since I found it a bit boring. But since I am also a curious person I did hang on. I watched the whole series until the final episode and when I realised it was over I  thought: I am actually going to miss the series and its characters. It is a great show and if I can belive the many comments I have read on it coming from Marines, it seems to be truly authentic and captures the feel of the real thing. It is not always about combat and action. A lot is pure boredom and killing time. (And don´t forget, those guys cannot fast forward when it gets too slow).

Part of the series´ success is certainly founded in Alexanders Skarsgard´s impersonation of Sgt. Brad “Iceman” Colbert. The guy is so composed and calm, any cooler than him and you´re probably a glacier.

Today I found this really great video post on YouTube in which Alexander, the real Iceman and the Rolling Stone reporter Evan Wright on whose book the series is based all get their say.

More on Generation Kill and Alexander Skarsgard will follow soon.

The Army of Shadows aka L´armée des ombres (1969): The Classic Movie on French Resistance

Bad memories, I welcome you nevertheless,  you are my distant youth.

If you are really interested in the topic of French Resistance there is no escaping this movie.  If you are truly interested in film there is no escaping this movie either. Especially not since there has been a recent wave of Resistance movies (Les femmes de l´ombre (Female Agents), L´armée du Crime ( The Army of Crime), Flame and Citron, Black Book, Winter in Wartime, Max Manus) and it is always good to see where they come from, what influences they had.

Jean-Pierre Melvilles´s L´armée des ombres aka The Army of Shadows (or in the Shadows) is a classic and a work of art.

It is beautiful like a foggy autumn evening, like the solitary cawing of a crow, like bare branches of a tree in winter, like the bluish colour of an early nightfall, like bitter sweet music and coffee drunk at midnight in an empty bar. (Would I  have to compare it to a contemporary movie, I think I would choose Shutter Island.  The movie as a whole and particularly the sad song during the end credits, Dinah Washington´s Bitter Earth blended with Max Richter´s On the Nature of Daylight, has a similar dense atmospheric quality.)

Gerbier (Lino Ventura) is captured by the Gestapo early in the movie. He manages to escape but knows he has been betrayed. Only one of his own could have told the Gestapo where this overly careful man was hiding.

Gerbier is head of a Resistance cell that operates between Paris, London, Lyon and Marseille. They always on the look out for people they can trust. They must always be careful, they could be betrayed anytime. They are hunted and on the run continuously. When they are caught by the Germans or the collaborators, they will be tortured mercilessly as the film shows drastically. But the group will risk everything to save one of their own.

The cell kills traitors as well  as people who become too risky. No matter how much they helped them in the past, no matter how much they like them. The group ultimately lives and dies for the cause.

Lino Ventura and Simone Signoret are fabulous in this movie. It is a pleasure to watch such assured actors.

A feeling of abandonment and utter loneliness pervades the whole film. It seems to illustrate the existentialist angst of the times. Melancholy in its purest form.

What impressed me most was the sound. No effects like we know them nowadays but so artfully and sparingly used noises and sounds and just a little bit of music. The rain in the beginning, echoing footsteps in empty streets, the ticking of a pendulum in a room, the distant cry of birds.

It is quite a sad movie and I would not recommend you watch it should you feel very blue. It would not cheer you up. But on days when you feel balanced enough you will admire these brave people and suffer with them when they find out one of them is being tortured but won´t speak, not even when he knows he is going to die.

And, please remember, this is a true story.

Quote from Joseph Kessel´s Account of the French Resistance L´armée des ombres aka The Army of Shadows

The following short quotes are taken from the introduction to Joseph Kessel´s book on the French Resistance L´armée des ombres aka The Army of Shadows. The  introduction written by the author himself in 1943 is a testimony to the difficulty of writing this book. He wanted to stay true to the facts which he had experienced himself during his years in the Resistance and also protect those who appear in these pages.

Jean-Pierre Melville based his beautiful movie L´armée des ombres aka Army of Shadows on Kessel´s account. Seldom has a movie been so true to the haunting atmosphere created by a book.

This book contains no propaganda and it is no work of fiction either. No detail has been forced and none has been invented. (…)

France has no more bread, no more wine, no more fire. But above all she has no more laws. Civil disobedience, individual or organised rebellion have become duties towards the home country. (…)

Never has France been engaged in a more noble or beautiful war than in the one that is fought in cellars where her free newspapers are printed, in the nocturnal terrains and secret rocky coves where she receives her free friends and from where her free children swarm out, in the torture chambers where despite the pliers, the needles reddened by fire and the broken bones, the French die as free men.

Everything you may read in this account has been experienced by French people.

(Translated from the original French by allaboutwarmovies)

Film review and trailer will follow tomorrow.

All The King´s Men (1999): The Company That Was Said To Have Been Swallowed by a Cloud

Whatever happened to Sandringham company at Gallipoli in 1915?

Were they really swallowed up by a giant cloud? Was there really a mist so dense that they could have disappeared in it? Did angels lead them to more heavenly grounds? Many tales like these are reported from many a battle field. Angels descending, mists forming, whatever not.

This is a true story. The Sandringham company did disappear. One of the versions that is  told in  All The King´s Men of the vanishing of over a hundred men is quite spooky. It has been for a very long time the preferred version and was definitely the one that the king was meant to believe. I really do not want to spoil this movie for you and will therefore not even hint at the true explanation. It should suffice to say that it was far more tragic than miraculous.

Sandringahm was one of the residences the Royal Family liked to stay at in summer. The 150 men that formed the company were headed by the king´s  Estate Manager Capt. Beck. They were servants, grooms and gardeners. The idyllic setting of Sandringham was referred to as paradise. What a stark contrast to the burning hot plains of Turkey.

The moment the company sets foot on Turkish ground it is obvious what an ill-fated campaign this is. The maps are wrong, the terrain is too hard to handle, the enemy has been totally underestimated. With hindsight historians say that Gallipoli was one of the most futile battles of WWI that was full of senseless battles.

WWI cost over 1 million of British and Commonwealth soldier´s lives. Half of them never got a proper grave. Compared to that the disappearance of some 150 men seems little. But to the estate and the little village who lost all their young men in one moment this was a catastrophe.

The BBC has done a good job with this movie. The actors, in particular David Jason and Maggie Smith, are excellent. The first parts achieve to create a very spooky atmosphere that only vanishes when the true reasons are revealed.

Ice Cold in Alex (1958) or When did Beer ever Taste this Good?

Picture this: It is a hot summer day. 45°/113° in the shade. The sun is blaring. Water is scarce. You are more than just thirsty. You have to overcome a lot of obstacles to get out of the sweltering heat. But at the end of the day the coldest lager in the Middle East is waiting for you.

What are you going to say: “Worth waiting for”.

Now this is exactly what John Mills´ character Captain Anson says after they finally arrive at Alex. Ice Cold in Alex tells how they get there.

In 1942 a little group of people, two nurses, two British officers and a suspicious South African officer attempt to cross the desert from Tobruk to Alexandria, crossing minefields and enemy territory. They have to fight more than the heat, flat tires and  German attacks. Captain Mills must try and come to terms with his alcohol problem. After his drinking leads to a disaster he swears he will not drink anymore until they are in Alex.

Ice Cold in Alex is a real classic. The black and white makes the actors look twice as expressive as they would have been anyway. It is an adventure story in front of a WWII background.

It is not your ordinary action-driven, combat-flick but a fine piece of British cinema. And the end-scene, when they finally make it to the bar and get their lager is memorable.

Apparently they had to shoot the scene so often that John Mills was really drunk at the end of it.

Another interesting observation: this is probably one of the earliest examples of product placement in a movie.

Brothers (2009): Post-traumatic Stress Unrealistically Embedded

I am in two minds about Brothers. In parts I liked it in parts it made me frown at the amount of implausible details. Escapism built on a serious topic.

A young Captain, Sam (Tobey Maguire), married to a lovely wife (Natalie Portman), is sent back to Afghanistan where he was stationed many times before. Just before he leaves his delinquent older brother (Jake Gyllenhaal) is released from prison. Shortly after arriving back in Afghanistan Sam´s helicopter is shot down. Two officers are sent to inform his wife, Grace, of Sam´s death.

From that moment on Tommy changes a great deal and  assists the young woman and her two little daughters wherever he can. Soon they become close friends. Tommy and Grace discover that they have quite a lot in common despite not having liked each other in the beginning.

What none of them knows, Sam is a POW. During the months of his captivity he has to endure torture and cruelties. In the end he is even forced to do something he won´t be able to forgive himself. When he is finally freed he is not the man he used to be. He is withdrawn and doesn’t talk. He seems to suffer a great deal and accuses his wife and his brother of having had an affair. The situation grows more and more acute until it escalates in the end.
I do not deny that I liked watching this movie since it is a well done production. The score is nice, Jake Gyllenhaal is convincing (but then I have been his fan ever since I watched Donnie Darko), the pictures are appealing, individual scenes are captivating. Nevertheless this is not a good movie. Many details are highly unrealistic. The way the soldiers get captured is not convincing nor is the fact that Sam is reported to be dead and not just MIA. His wife never even questions this although nothing has been found of him or his belongings. His return is also very abrupt. No questions are asked and he seems to not be getting proper treatment even though he shows signs of severe post-traumatic stress.

All these elements are quite anachronistic. Relics of another time, a time when there was hardly any psychological treatment available and the awareness of PTSD was very low. You might expect this in a Vietnam movie, but not in one dealing with a contemporary conflict.
The dynamics of a dysfunctional family are shown convincingly. The father, a  Vietnam vet with an alcohol problem, plays the two brothers off against each other. Obviously he favours the one who opted for the same career. The development of Tommy´s character is also very well done. He becomes more and more endearing towards the end of the movie.
Tobey Maguire playing a  Captain is not credible at all. I just did not buy it. He should have played a lower rank. He seems far too young to be a captain.
This movie is for Jake Gyllenhaal Fans, people, who go for dysfunctional family stories and all those who would like to see a movie where the key message is: You will be healed as soon as you can talk about the shit you have done and been through.

All those who would like to see a realistic coming-home story of a war veteran should not go for it. The aim of this movie was to be dramatic, not realistic.

Since this movie seems to be an American remake of a Danish movie I might try to see the other one. It would be interesting to see how that was handled.

Bloody Sunday (2002) or The Day Innocence Died

Maybe it is debatable whether this is a real war movie in the strict sense of the term (but then, what is that anyway?) but I believe whenever there is armed conflict executed by an army or large group of people, even though not on a global scale we have to speak of war.

On January 30 1972 the British army opened fire on a peaceful Civil Rights March in the city of Londonderry in Northern Ireland. On this day 27 people were shot and 13 of them lost their lives. A further victim died a few months later. This day was from then on called  Bloody Sunday. It was a huge blow to the Civil Rights Movement and ended in countless young men entering the IRA. What followed is a history of bloodshed and terrorism that would not end until the 90´s.

On June 15 2010, after an investigation of 12 years had been conducted and found that the British army had opened fire without  a reason, the British Prime Minister Cameron apologized for this crime.

The so-called Saville Report has cost 230 million Euro. It proved without any doubt  that  the soldiers were at no time shot at. They opened fire on people who tried to flee, take refuge or wanted to help others. Two thirds of the victims were only 17 years old.

When this movie was shot, although largely known, there was no actual evidence as to the truth of these facts. We know them now and thus the movie unfurls vividly before the spectators eyes the whole extent of this tragedy.

Bloody Sunday is not easy to watch and the first two thirds were so annoying that I was tempted to stop it. This is solely due to the technique. It is filmed documentary style with a shaky hand-held camera. We see three complementary points of view. The Civil Rights Movement´s, the Police Headquarter´s and The Army Company´s stationed in the street. The camera fades to black for every scene. During the bits at the Police Headquarters there is a constant ringing of telephones that drove me almost mad. Also at the Civil Rights Movement´s Head Quarters, just before they assemble on the street, phones keep on ringing. The movie basically shows the whole day from early morning until its bloody end. We see the people prepare for the march, the police debating at what point they should stop the march and the soldiers on the street taking position.

It is worthwhile to sit through these annoyances though. The last third, when the march turns into a tragedy, is extremely powerful and the documentary style filming adds to the realism to an almost unbearable extent. What we watch is such a tragedy that we can barely believe it. To shoot at people who shout for help or try to help others looks like an execution.

Saying all this I think the movie shows nevertheless, no matter how misguided the army was or how brutal their reaction, that  they were also under a lot of stress. Some of their own had been killed a few days before, they were constantly attacked, bottles thrown at them.

As so very often it is shown that those on the street (very much like those on the battle field) depend on their command in the Head Quarters who failed them completely. They misjudged everything, thought that sheer force would end it all and boy were they wrong. And, as always, they never pay a price in lives.

At the end of the movie there is a scene when every single victim is named. Every individual anonymous victim seems to become a face.

When watching the end I was surprised at how much this movie got to me.