Polanski’s The Pianist (2002)

Of all the Holocaust movies I have seen so far The Pianist is my favourite. It doesn’t concentrate on life in the camps but, based on a true account, it depicts the survival story of a famous Polish Jewish pianist and focuses on life in the Warsaw ghetto.

The movie begins before the Jews of Warsaw are sent to the ghetto. The situation for them gets worse daily. They are forbidden to enter certain restaurants, to sit on park benches, to keep their money or their shops. They receive far less food than the other Poles. They already struggle hard before they are all compressed into a confined area in the Warsaw ghetto. Wladyslaw Szpilman (Adrien Brody) who was a successful musician before the war, sees himself degraded, like so many others. Together with his parents, his brother and sisters they move from their nice roomy apartment into an old shabby one-bedroom place in the ghetto. To make a living they sell their books or smuggle stuff. They refuse to join the Polish police even though one of their friends has joined them and would help them to be accepted as well. Both brothers are of high moral integrity and nothing would make them betray their convictions.

When the day arrives and the people of the ghetto are sent to Treblinka, Wladyslaw escapes and remains on his own in the empty ghetto. If it wasn’t for the help of some courageous Poles he would be dead within a week or two. Either because they would have caught him or because he would have starved.

What follows until the end of the war is an unspeakable ordeal. He has to change his hiding place often, he watches the uprising from a window on the German side and when Warsaw is finally bombed he goes on living in the ruins until the day he is found by a German officer. This part is the best in the movie. It balances the image of the evil German. The officer Wladyslaw meets (played by Thomas Kretschmann) is not only fond of music but war-weary to the extreme. He clearly fought for a cause he didn’t believe in.

Another tragic element in this movie is how hope is crushed. When the Allies declare war on Germany, the Poles and Polish Jews are happy and think that the worst is over when in fact the worst was still to come.

I couldn’t think of a better choice for the pianist than Adrien Brody. He is excellent in this movie. If you haven’t seen The Pianist, I’d say it is high time.

Which Holocaust movies do you like?

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War Movie Event – Anyone In For a War Movie Watchalong?

We’ve been discussing this with my friend, The War Movie Buff, for a while now and the idea of doing what is done very often on book blogs, struck us as something that was worth trying on a movie blog as well.

The idea is to choose a movie and to post on the same day. December is upcoming and so are the holidays, I thought chances might be higher that we manage to find a few like-minded people who will join.

First step is to choose a movie. The second step will be posting questions. You can then either choose to answer the questions or go freestyle, meaning either just comment on our blogs or post an independent review.

I would propose to choose from the below list. I will post the choice on Saturday 3 December. The questions will be posted on Saturday 17 December Friday 16 and Saturday 17 and the Watchalong reviews/posts will be due on Watchalong Wednesday 28 December Tuesday 27 and Thursday 29. Please check newer post for details. Change is due to the fact that 2 movies have been chosen. 

Here are the IMDB links – Jarhead, Master & Commander, Waterloo, The Winter War, A Very Long Engagement.

Do I have a preference? Yes, I do. No 1 – 3 or 4. But it’s up to you as well.

I hope there will be some interest. If not, it was at least worth a try.

Uprising (2001) TV Movie on the Rebellion in the Warsaw Ghetto in 1943

Uprising is a made for TV movie based on the true account of the rebellion in the Warsaw Ghetto in 1943. A group of young and very determined Jewish people managed to do what some of the biggest armies weren’t capable of doing, namely fighting back the Nazi’s for a few weeks. It’s not a flawless production, some of the dialogue is  a bit “What-the-Heck”, including the fact that all the actors talk with a heavy accent, but apart from that I found it very interesting. The actors are mostly good and it focuses on a few historical facts I hadn’t known too much about and that I found very interesting. I can only hope it’s accurate. At least it felt so.

The movie begins with the Germans entering Poland and Warsaw and forcing all the Jews to live in the ghetto. They endure famine, illness, daily abuse. The conditions in the ghetto are harrowing. The most controversial role is played by Donald Sutherland as Adam Czerniakow, head of the Jewish council. He thought that by collaborating with the Germans he could save the Jews from being deported. When he realized his error and the daily transports to Treblinka started, he committed suicide.

The rebellion is led by Mordeachai Anielewicz (Hank Azaria), Yitzhak Zuckerman (David Schwimmer),  Kazik Rotem (Stephen Moyer) Tosia Altman (Leelee Sobieski) and Mira Fruchner (Radha Mitchell). The danger to smuggle out information from the ghetto to the Polish side and weapons back in, is shown in great detail. Those people were incredibly courageous. Still they had to fight at lot of internal opposition. The Jewish Council didn’t want to support them as nobody wanted to believe that the camps were extermination camps. When they finally coudln’t doubt this anymore and Czerniakow had committed suicide, more and more people joined them. At first they planned little terror attacks until the Nazi’s seent tanks to erase them.  The Nazi leader Stroop is played by Jon Voight, accompanied by filmmaker Dr.Hippler (Cary Elwes), who was responsible for propaganda. In Goebbel’s name he films The Eternal Jew – Der Ewige Jude, a horrible piece of shit that should help make Germans hate the Jews, as – according to Goebbels  – they were not sufficiently anti-Semitic.

The movie can’t be compared to The Pianist, that’s for sure, but it’s well worth watching and quite informative too. David Schwimmer is surprisingly good in this and so are most of the other actors. Many, I’m sure,  will be delighted to see Stephen Moyer in his pre True Blood days.

It’s often been said that it was hard to understand that the Jews didn’t fight back. This movie shows why they didn’t or couldn’t and what happened when they did and how incredibly difficult it was to organize a rebellion. Most of these young people didn’t make it but some did. Their story is a testimony of how courageous people can be.

British Actor John Mills

I don’t think I know many other actors who have been in as many war movies as British actor John Mills.  Especially during the 50s and 60s he was in a large amount of British war movies. I was quite surprised when I realized how many I’ve seen.

Personally I liked him best – so far – in Ice Cold in Alex and The Colditz Story. But he is also great in many others like Above Us the WavesIn Which We Serve, The Way to the Stars and Dunkirk. I could go on and on.

Since You Went Away (1944) A Tale of the American Homefront

This is a story of the Unconquerable Fortress: the American Home…1943

I started watching this movie a few months ago but the very patriotic tone put me off. That’s why it is all the more surprising that now, that I have watched all of it, I really enjoyed it. It is patriotic, it is very religious but still, I found Since You Went Away very watchable. It’s an ideal family and Christmas movie. Some sad things happen but they are not shown, just spoken about which makes it safe to watch it even with smaller children.  By the way, the movie poster is misleading. This is a black and white movie.

I was familiar with UK and French movies about the home front during WWII but can’t remember any US films. This was made during the war which, for me at least, justifies the patriotic tone.

Claudette Colbert plays the pampered housewife Mrs Hilton whose husband decides to join the war and leaves her and their daughters (Jennifer Jones and Shirley Temple) on their own. It seems that this doesn’t only put them under an emotional strain but that their financial situation is very precarious too. The salary of an officer doesn’t cover all the expenses and Mrs Hilton doesn’t know how to make ends meet. The first thing she has to do and which breaks her heart is letting her maid, Fidelia, go. Fidelia has been part of the family and the children are very attached to her. After one of her children mentions that it would be patriotic to have an officer as lodger, they advertise and finally rent the master bedroom to an old retired grumpy Colonel.

It’s clear that this is a family in which all the members are very attached to each other. Even the family bulldog is part of it. But also, Tony (Joseph Cotten), a friend of Mr Hilton, is accepted like he was a family member and comes to stay with them before he will see action in Italy. The two girls are typical teenagers. The older one is in love with Tony. He is flattered by the young girls infatuation and at the same time he declares his eternal love to the mother. But all this is done in a nice way. It’s obvious they will not have an affair.

After Tony has left, Jane, the older daughter meets the grandson of Colonel Smollet and falls in love with him. They even think of getting married but he also leaves for Italy.

The very contrast of the decent and efficient Mrs Hilton is the somewhat loose Emily Hawkins who knows how to exploit the war effort by running a cabaret.

Despite all the lovey dovey moments some bad things happen in this movie and it gets really dramatic when they are informed that Mr Hilton is missing in action.

I think that one of the aims of the movie was to show people how to grieve and keep up the morale at the same time. It was obvious that it was very likely to lose loved ones or that they would return badly injured or as invalids. Post-traumatic stress is as much a theme as how to deal with losing a husband on the battle field.

I thought this gives an excellent idea of how hard life on the home front was and that many a housewife had to toughen up considerably to make it through those difficult times. Emotionally and economically as well. It also shows the various opportunities the women had. Becoming nurses, collecting stuff for the soldiers or even training as welders.

I found it interesting and moving at the same time and, as I said already, it would make an excellent Christmas movie choice not unlike It’s a Wonderful Life. There are a lot of cozy fireplace scenes, snow and Christmas parties.

I couldn’t find a trailer but the opening scenes introduce the score and the filming very well. A lot of the emotions and themes are shown through images of objects and photos. That’s quite a subtle way to include the past and the history of the family without relying on flashbacks.

I included the movie on my Children in War Movies List after Crooked Mick pointed out that it belonged there.

Ridley Scott’s Gladiator (2000)

On the weekend I finally watched Gladiator again and on BluRay. I’m still sometimes reluctant to buy BluRays but in this case it was really worth it. It was almost another movie. The sound was great, the colors intense. Quite amazing.

Is Gladiator a war movie? I don’t think so, I don’t think King Arthur or Last of the Mohicans are war movies, but they are certainly war themed. If I did consider them to be real war movies… My Top 10 would look slightly different. Although I don’t like Gladiator as much as King Arthur, I still like it a lot.

I have a feeling however that this is a movie that is so widely known that reviewing it in detail makes no sense.

Just let me tell you that it starts with an intense battle in Germania. The Roman Empire is hungry for land and advancing greedily and brutally. After the battle is won the old emperor has a heart to heart with his General Maximus (Russell Crowe). He doesn’t want his own son Commodus (Joaquin Phoenix) to become emperor after his death, he wants to re-establish the Senate, give Rome back to the people. If Maximus was in charge it could be done.

Things don’t quite turn out that way. Commodus speeds up his father’s passing and wants Maximus killed. Maximus wouldn’t be the hero he already is, if he couldn’t overcome the men in charge of killing him. He escapes and returns to Italy to find his family slaughtered. Badly wounded he faints, is picked up by a slave merchant and sold to become a gladiator.

That’s the beginning. Fight upon fight follows, until the gladiators  finally arrive at the place of their destination, the Colosseum in Rome. The new motto of the new emperorCommodus  is “Bread and Games” and the best of the best of the Gladiators have to fight in the huge arena.

What happens when Commodus finds out Maximus isn’t dead… is for you to find out. If you haven’t done so already, watch it.

Gladiator is the tale of a hero, a man larger-than life. It’s beautifully filmed with a stunning score by Lisa Gerrard and Hans Zimmer.

It’s also a tale of friendship, greed, ambition, loyalty and courage. I’m not sure if this movie would be so great without Russell Crowe but I know that he was one hell of a great choice. And so are the other actors, among them Joaquin PhoenixConnie Nielsen, Oliver Reed and Djimon Hounsu.  The same that can be said about the actors can be said about the score. Not one of those large scale Hollywood prodcutions would work as well as they do without the music.

In terms of emotions and entertainment, this is one of the  most perfect movies for me.

Glory (1989) A Tale of the American Civil War

When I first watched Glory it made my Top 10. Many movies later and after having seen it for the second time, it doesn’t make the Top 10 anymore but it is still one of the very best war movies ever. I would even argue it’s flawless. The acting is superior, cinematography is beautiful, score is great, themes are interesting. I suppose it’s accurate as well. It’s a 5/5 movie but… for me to really like or rather love a movie it needs to have something more than perfection, something like complexity. I decidedly have no problem with Matthew Broderick but I’m not very familiar with him. Some people criticized this choice because they saw him in other movies and thought he was too young at the time.

The movie tells the story of the 54th all black Union regiment led by Col Robert Gould Shaw (Matthew Broderick). This is the first all black regiment ever. The whole regiment is composed of volunteers who are eager to join, train and eventually fight. It’s not easy to train these men, many of them are former slaves, runaways, analphabets and all in all an unwieldy bunch. Especially Private Trip (Denzel Washington) isn’t one who easily takes no for an answer. If Shaw wasn’t such a truly humane, kind and just leader and if he hadn’t the support of his friend Major Forbes and the ever so wise older soldier Rawlins (Morgan Freeman) maybe the whole enterprise would have been a failure. Luckily it isn’t or we wouldn’t have this highly watchable movie in which people can be seen how they overcome the worst adversity.

Shaw has to fight hard to earn recognition and justice for his men. They are lacking everything, shoes, uniforms, weapons and when finally they get their equipment and have undergone a successful training they lack the opportunity to show that they are worthy soldiers.

There are a lot of infuriating scenes in this movie, after all it deals with racism. Racism has many faces but at the end of the day, whatever face it has, it’s an ugly one.

It’s uplifting to see the suppressed overcome obstacles and all the more because it’s a true story. Glory is based on the letters of Colonel Robert Gould Shaw (you can find them here Blue-Eyed Child of Fortune: The Civil War Letters of Colonel Robert Gould Shaw)

I haven’t seen many Civil War movies, I think only three so far. While I had a hard time to follow Gettysburg, I thoroughly enjoyed this one but the one I prefer is Ride with the Devil.

How about you? Any preferences?