Neil Jordan’s Michael Collins (1996) The Irish Fight For Independence

Neil Jordan’s Michael Collins is a UK/US/Ireland co-production. International productions guarantee an international cast which can be nice but in this case, I would say, it did prevent the movie from being great. There is no drama teacher in the world who will achieve to make Julia Roberts or Aidan Quinn sound Irish. Liam Neeson as Michael Collins, Alan Rickman as De Valera and a very young Johnathan Rhys Meyers, striking the fatal blow, are well-chosen.

Michael Collins was probably one of the most controversial and tragic figures of Irish history. A charismatic man who knew how to convince those who followed him. A man who wouldn’t shy away from killing yet didn’t take it lightly.

The movie starts with the Easter Rising in 1916 with Michael Collins rallying the masses against the British occupation. It would take another three years until this initial movement lead to the Irish war of Independence. It is a fierce and bloody war. A the end of the war stands the treaty, something that was unthinkable for 700 years. The British government allowed the Irish Free State but kept the Northern Provinces and wanted the Free State to swear allegiance to the king. Michael Collins considered this to be the best he could achieve and wanted to sign the treaty but the men around the future president de Valera wanted a completely free Ireland and this is where the movement for Independence split into two sections who would fight each other fiercly.

The movie shows us a Michael Collins who is tired of fighting and bloodshed and longs for peace. He is sure, if the treaty isn’t signed the bloodshed will be endless.

An important part of the movie is dedicated to the friendship between Michael Collins and his best friend Harry Boland (Aidan Quinn). For four years they are also caught up in some sort of love triangle as both men love Kitty (Julia Roberts). It takes a while until she confesses that she loves Collins. Her confession is not the only thing that drives the men apart. Politically they are not on the same page anymore. Best friends become enemies.

Michael Collins is shot in 1922 by one of de Valera’s men. This is the beginning of the Irish Civil War.

I liked the movie despite its flaws, one being, as already stated, the choice of American actors, the other being quite a few historical inaccuracies. Apparently Neil Jordan had good reasons for altering the facts. I am not sufficiently familiar with the details to point out what is correct or not. There is one particularly awful scene in which a British tank opens fire on a the players in a sports game. In reality this was much more horrible.

Michael Collins is a fascinating character and I could very well see myself read a biography in the future. He was a leader and an adept fighter. His fighting tactics seem to have inspired quite a few future struggles. The group around him was constantly hunted by British secret agents and policemen. Michael Collins’ tactic was to know more about the agents than they knew about them and then to hunt them down. There are a lot of executions to be seen as they operated according to the dictum “who is not with me is against me”. At times the movie reminded me of movies about the resistance. Torture, execution, changing of sleeping quarters etc.

A while back I reviewed another movie on the Irish War of Independence and the subsequent Civil War, The Wind that Shakes the Barely. Michael Collins is never seen but constantly spoken of in the movie so I was really curious to see this. Comparing the two movies I’m afraid I must say, The Wind that Shakes the Barley feels more authentic, it is a truly outstanding movie.

Despite its flaws Michael Collins being a Neil Jordan film offers a lot and is beautifully filmed. It is as much a character portrait, as the story of a friendship and a romance. I enjoyed it and would recommend it.

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The Blue Max (1966) Is it the Best WWI Air Combat Movie?

Some people argue that The Blue Max is the best WWI air combat movie there is. What is certainly interesting is that we see a movie from a German point of view. What is also quite obvious is the fact that it is better than The Flyboys. But does this really make it the best WWI air combat movie?

The Blue Max is an interesting movie because it is more than just an air combat movie. It provides a fascinating character study and shows us what can become of a talented but overambitious person like the main character Bruno Stachel (George Peppard).

At the beginning of the movie Stachel is an infantry man but he gets promoted and becomes a pilot. This is actually an interesting bit and I was wondering how often this really happened in reality. Usually the fighter pilots were hardly aware of what was going on in the trenches. Their idea of war was very often equal to an elegant if deadly pastime. Not unlike hunting only including the two sides of being the hunter and the hunted at the same time.

Pilots during WWI were mostly aristocrats like the famous Baron von Richthofen aka The Red Baron (who can also be seen in a short sequence). From day one the other pilots let Stachel feel that he isn’t one of them. What he doesn’t have in social status he tries to make up for in ambition. It is his one and only goal to earn the medal called the Blue Max that is awarded only after 20 kills. He believes this will earn him the respect of the other pilots.

Stachel is absolutely not a nice guy. He is as unlikable as can be but still there is a certain tragedy in his fate as he unfortunately falls in love with the wrong woman (Ursula Andress), yes, the first Bond Girl).

The way he tries to achieve his goal, The Blue Max, is totally reckless and more than once he endangers himself and his comrades alike.

The movie got a lot of praise for the story which is quite interesting however, I think, it would have benefitted if it hadn’t been that long. Some shortening would have been really good.

What the movie is truly famous for, and for good reasons, is the aviation part. The air combat scenes are very well filmed. Without CGI they achieved to show quite something.

I was not totally convinced by George Peppard. I think the movie would have been better with another lead. On the other hand I thought that Ursula Andress wasn’t all that bad and James Mason was decidedly very good.

I have no idea how I would rate this but I guess 4/5 should do it justice. For the aviation and air combat parts it would deserve 5 points, for the length and the main actor only 3.5.

Even though The Battle of Britain is not a WWI movie, it is the movie The Blue Max has been compared to most often. Look at it any which way you want and you will have to admit that The Battle of Britain is the better movie.

Still it is one of the best WWI air combat movies.

Should you be interested here’s my Favourite Air Combat Movies List.

Historically Misleading War Movies as Seen by the TIME Magazine

I discovered an article today in TIME magazine in which they made a list of 10 historically misleading movies. As was to be expected quite a few of the movies are war movies. The whole article was spurred by the movie The King’s Speech which is also among the 10.

I will only concentrate on the war movies they name and give a brief summary why they chose to include them.

The Patriot (2000)

They critizied that The Patriot portrays British soldiers as evil. Another point was the fact that Benjamin Martin whose character was a mix of different real charcters, was shown as a family man while  Swamp Fox who was one of the real characters was no family man and actively persecuted Cherokee Indians. Further more the movie showed a total ignorance of slavery and whitewashing of history. They consider it to be pure American propaganda.

Robin Hood (2010)

Robin Hood tried to transform myth into history. Although it was correct to transform Richard Lionheart into a bloodthirsty monarch, the accuracy ended there.

Braveheart (1995)

This movie has, according to the TIME Magazine, too many inaccuracies to be named. How about the kilts? Scotsmen in the 13th century didn’t wear belted plaid. Gibson’s Wallace is born poor, the real Wallace was a nobleman. And why is he wielding a Chinese weapon? Wallace never met Princess Isabella and certainly did not impregnate her. At the time the movie took place she was only 9 years old anyway.

300 (2006)

Sparta was not a free city-state at all but on the contrary  known for mistreatment and exploitation of its slaves. The Persians were not as debauched as they are shown and their monarch wasn’t a circus freak.

Pearl Harbor (2001)

Pearl Harbor was mostly criticized for the rearranging of chronological events and its sappy simplistic nationalism.

Yeah well, not so surprising after all. At least I didn’t have the feeling any of the ones mentioned were very accurate or at least not in every element.

What strikes me is the title of the post and its explanation. They actually imply that people learn their history through the watching of movies.

For those of you who are curious about the other movies, here are the non-war movie ones: The Far Horizon, 10 000 BC, JFK, The King’s Speech, Shakespeare in Love.

Shooting Dogs aka Beyond the Gates (2005) An Unspairing Look at the Genocide in Rwanda



What a shocking movie. Incredibly good but so sad. I have seen the outstanding Hotel Rwanda a few years back but Shooting Dogs, that is less flawless from a cinematographic point of view, is even better. It is a UK/German co-production starring German, British and African actors.

The story, that is based on true events, takes place in a school compound in 1994. A young British teacher (Hugh Dancy) and an elderly British priest, father Christopher, (John Hurt), are responsible for the school. It is a school to which as well Hutu as Tutsi children come. Early on arrives a troop of UN soldiers who also stay inside the school gates while outside the world as they know it falls apart.

The beginning of the movie is slow and shows with great detail the almost idyllic, if somewhat chaotic life in the city of Kigali, in Rwanda. The moment the Hutu president is killed, the situation changes drastically. The Hutu majority fears that the Tutsi minority wants to overthrow their government and be in charge of Rwanda again. Out of fear and wanting to control a situation that gets out of hands they start what can only be called a genocide. They systematically kill every Tutsi that they can find. To say they “kill” them is an understatement and gives the wrong impressions of the atrocities that happened in Rwanda. The people are not only killed, they are butchered with machetes. Old people, young people, men, women, children and even babies are literally chopped up.

The courageous priest opens up the gate and lets a few thousand Tutsi find refuge inside of the school gates. They are guarded by the UN who are only spectators in what becomes more and more atrocious. They have a very strict mandate which states that they are not allowed to intervene. They watch the butchery without doing anything. Only if they were shot at, would they be allowed to act. The commanding officer (Dominique Horwitz who has an outstanding role in Stalingrad) is helpless and ashamed but there is nothing he can do. The irony is, if the events would be called “genocide”, he would be free of his mandate and could intervene. But no one officially calls it a genocide.

In the beginning we do not see many of the horrible acts but towards the end the movie gets more and more graphic and I could feel the fear that these hordes must have instilled in those threatened by them. They seem so mindless. A mass of violent men, slaughtering, raping and butchering innocent people. And no one helped the Tutsi.

There is a scene that I found particularly profound in which a journalist, talking to the teacher, compares her reaction to the horrors in Bosnia with her reaction to those she sees here. She explains that she cried all the time in Bosnia when she saw dead people but that she was somewhat unfazed by the dead in Rwanda. The young teacher argues that she is probably numbed but she admits that it is more awful than that. “No,” she says. ” It is worse than that. I constantly think, they are only dead Africans.” This is such a shocking confession but how true. I wonder how often Europeans and Americans did think like that during the war. “It’s only Africans”.

When things get worse, the French Army sends soldiers to get the Europeans out of the compound and to the airport. The priest and the young teacher stay until the UN troops get the order to leave as well. At that moment the teacher leaves but father Christopher stays.

This movie is really highly watchable. It is sad and moving and the most touching is that the people who took part in the making, the people in charge of costumes and the settings, the electricians and carpenters, were all Rwandans who lost most of their familiy members in this genocide in which far over 800 000 people were killed.

This is one of the saddest chapters in the history of the 20th century. It should not be forgotten. There is no such thing as “only Africans”.

This movie saddened me a great deal and left me speechless for a long while.

300 (2006) This is Sparta!

Whether you like 300 or not, the least you can say is that it is quite original. I can’t think of any other war movie relying so heavily on CGI and adding so many fantastic elements.

This is a Rock’n Roll retelling of the Battle of Thermopylae. Part fact, part highly fictionalized story, it is a romp no less starring some of today’s best-loved stars like Gerard Butler (Good-bye Frankie, P.S. I Love You, Beowulf & Grendel), Lena Headey (The Broken, Terminator series) , Michael Fassbender (Centurion, Fish Tank, Inglorious Basterds) and Dominic West (The Wire, The Devil’s Whore, Centurion).

At the beginning of the movie we are introduced to the Spartans and their ways. They are warriors and already trained to become warriors at a very early age. They don’t like deficiencies or disabilities. A child that shows sings of weakness will be discarded. Discipline, endurance and self-control are the key words. At school we were taught the story of a Spartan boy who hid a fox under his coat. The fox started to eat him alive but the boy wouldn’t flinch. Every thing that we see about the Spartans in the movie is factual. Also the role of the women. Unlike in Athens, women were highly educated and treated like equals.

The war started because the Spartans did not, as demanded by the King of the Persians, Xerxes, kneel down and subdue. No way. On the contrary. Why would they, after all, this was Sparta. They were not even impressed by Xerxes huge Army against which a little number of 300 Spartan soldiers looked almost ludicrous and would probably not stand a chance. Surprisingly as this may seem, they defended themselves incredibly well. The Persians really got their asses kicked.

If you want to know what the outcome of the battle was you will have to watch the movie.

300 is quite impressive and, although it isn’t one of my favourites, it is entertaining and, despite some fantastic elements, historically accurate. I always found the Spartans highly fascinating. Somewhat crazy but interesting.

The King of Sparta and his wife are very attached to each other which gives the opportunity for a bit of romance as well.

Is this movie purely a guilty pleasure or is it more? I think it is a mix.

War Movies Set During the Roman Empire: A List

 Rome

It’s time once more for a little list. This time it’s a topic that I’m not only quite familiar with but also a topic that I enjoy a lot.

From  a purist point of view the movies on this list are not strictly speaking war movies but I have decided a while back that there is not much fun in being a purist. The only movie on the list that I have reviewed so far is Centurion. But reviews for Rome, Gladiator and King Arthur are upcoming. King Arthur is one of my favourite movies of all time although it is not on my Top 10 War Movies list because, despite what I just said, the list is reserved for “proper” war movies. I equally like Gladiator a great deal but I wasn’t impressed with Centurion. Not at all. I haven’t seen The Last Legion but have a feeling it it is the weakest movie on this list.

  • Ben Hur (US 1959) directed by William Wyler, starring Charlton Heston, Stephen Boyd, Haya Harareet, Martha Scott
  • Spartacus (US 1960) directed by Stanley Kubrick, starring Kirk Douglas, Laurence Olivier, Jean Simmons, Charles Laughton
  • Cleopatra (US 1963) directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz, starring Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton, Rex Harrison, George Cole
  • The Fall of the Roman Empire (US 1964) directed by Anthony Mann, starring Alec Guinness, Sophia Loren, Stephen Boyd, Christopher Plummer, Omar Sharif
  • Caligula (US/IT 1979) directed by Tinto Brass, starring Malcolm McDowellPeter O’TooleHelen Mirren
  • Gladiator (GBR/ USA 2000) directed by Ridley Scott, starring Russell Crowe, Joaquin Phoenix, Connie Nielsen, Oliver Reed (see my review)
  • Imperium: Augustus (GE/ITA/ FRA/ ESP/ AUT/ GBR 2003 TV) dirceted by Roger Young, starring Peter O’Toole, Charlotte Rampling, Vittoria Belvedere, Benjamin Sadler
  • King Arthur (USA/UK/Ireland 2004) directed by Antoine Fuqua, starring Clive Owen, Keira Knightley, Til Schweiger, Ioan Gruffudd, Ray Winstone, Ray Stevenson,Mads Mikkelsen
  • Rome (US/ GBR 2005, TV series) directed by Carl Franklin, John Maybury and others, starring Kevin McKidd, Ray Stevenson
  • Empire (US 2005, TV Mini series) directed by John Gray, Kim Manners and Greg Yaitanes, starring Satiago Cabrera, Vincent Regan, James Frain and Emily Blunt
  • The Last Legion (US/ GBR/ FRA 2007) directed by Doug Lefler, starring Colin Firth, Ben Kingsley, Thomas Sangster (my review)
  • Centurion (GBR 2010) diercted by Neil Marshal, starring Michael Fassbender, Andreas Wisniewski, Dave Legeno, JJ Feild (here is my review of Centurion)
  • The Eagle (UK/US 2011) directed by Kevin Macdonald, starring Channing Tatum, Jamie Bell, Donald Sutherland (here is my review)

Beaufort (2007) The First Israeli War Movie

The Israeli movie Beaufort is an extremely strange movie. I guess it is by far one of the strangest movies I have ever seen. I can whether say if it was good or bad I just found it interesting but hard to watch as it is unfortunately a bit boring. The movie is based on Ron Leshem’s eponymous novel Beaufort. Both are based on true events. I have a feeling that the book is much better. It won Israel’s top literary award and a prize for military literature. The movie was an Academy Award Nominee for Best Foreign Language Picture in 2008 and won a prize in Berlin as well.

The Fortress Beaufort was occupied since the last war between Israel and Lebanon in 1982. In 2000 it is still an outpost of the Israeli Army. They want to abandon it but constant shelling by the Hezbollah makes this very difficult. A handful of soldiers is still defending this outpost, waiting for orders to withdraw. The Hezbollah hope to kill as many of the soldiers still posted on the fortress in order to make it look as if the Israeli Army was forced to retreat and was actually fleeing.

The tensions are pretty high. Insubordination, fits of anger and sheer helplessness make the situation hard to handle. The men start to cry easily or get annoyed for no reason. When a guy from the bomb squad gets blown up, the morale sinks below zero.

All this doesn’t make this a strange movie. What is strange is how slow it is. The slowness does make you feel how claustrophobic it must have been in this bunker to which they added layers and layers of concrete ever year. It’s like a labyrinth.

The music which is almost nonexistent and very sparse contributes to this claustrophobic ambience.

The strangest however is that this movie rather feels like a theater play. There are so many indoor scenes in which one or two characters slowly discuss things that they could easily make a play out of it.

At moments I was reminded of Dino Buzzati’s Il deserto dei tartari aka The Tartar Steppe (which I love) or even Waiting for Godot. There is a senselessness and futility in the endeavor to guard a meaningless fortress that gives this movie an existential feel.

I found a trailer but the music has nothing to do with the movie. Most scenes are totally silent or featuring a somewhat horror movie like soundtrack. Still it gives you an idea. As said, it is absolutely not bad, just not my cup of tea.