Poll Results – Is Black Hawk Down Too Combat Intense?

More than a year ago I asked the question on this blog whether  Black Hawk Down was too combat intense. Someone had made this comment and I was astonished because I thought the intensity of the combat in Black Hawk Down was one of the reasons why it was such an extremely powerful movie. I checked the poll a few times in the beginning and the forgot about it. The other day I had a look and the result is interesting.

26 people have answered the question. 50% think that it isn’t too combat intense, 13% however thought, that yes, indeed it was too intense. Another 20% thought that it should be even more intense and the remaining people didn’t care.

I’m still surprised anyone would think it is too combat intense but maybe we would have to know what they mean. Black Hawk Down depicts the Battle of Mogadishu, an army operation that went seriously wrong. The result of the operation shook everyone who knew about it or who was involved. The special units deployed got under heavy fire and faced an incredible aggression. They weren’t only fighting other soldiers but a huge, armed mob. Depicting something like this as realistically as possible requires intensity.

I would say, that from the point of view of  a soldier who was under heavy fire, I guess, it’s not intense as nothing can equal the real thing. But maybe for someone purely watching it, it could be too intense, meaning, “too intense to watch”.

In any case, I will check back on the poll from time to time and keep you posted.

A little question for you. Do you think there is any other war movie which depicts such intense combat scenes? I think some of the more recent South Korean war movies I watched do but can’t think of an older one as intense as this.

You can find the original post with the poll here. Please vote, if you haven’t done so already.

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Waltz with Bashir aka Vals Im Bashir (2008)

The Israeli animated movie Waltz with Bashir aka Vals Im Bashir is this rare thing – a really surprising movie. On top of that it’s well done, original, interesting and has a great score by Max Richter (Shutter Island).

In Waltz with Bashir Ari Folman tells his own story. He was in Lebanon in 1982, fighting with the Israeli army. At the beginning of the movie we see a pack of dogs, running in the night. It’s a very haunting, eerie image and we learn soon that it’s from a nightmare form one of Ari’s friends who was fighting in Lebanon at the same time. Although not capable of shooting people, he had to shoot the dogs who guarded the villages at night. Those dogs have come back, after far more than 20 years and haunt him in his dreams. One evening in a bar he tells Ari about it. They had never spoken about the war before and Ari had never thought of it much. To his great dismay he realizes that he doesn’t even remember anything. It’s as if it had never taken place.

After this conversation with his friend, he dreams of the war for the first time. The pictures seem to be part of a memory that he cannot really place. It looks like he is remembering a massacre in a refugee camp.

The conversation and the subsequent dream are the reason why Ari thinks, he needs to recover his memory, needs to talk to old friends, to comrades and officers. He travels to Holland and many other places, looking for people who were in Lebanon with him. He speaks to psychologists and learns a lot about the way how memory works, about dissociation and how traumatic experiences are suppressed.

It is highly fascinating to watch how he recovers his memory. Fascinating and sad as he finds out so many horrible things. It’s interesting that more than one person recovers their memory or snaps out of a state of dissociation when thinking of dying and killed animals.

What adds further complexity to the story is the fact that Ari Folman’s father was in Auschwitz. It becomes apparent after a while that the horrors his father has described to him are somehow linked to his suppressed meories and  once he recovers the memory of the war he has been in, he remembers everything else as well.

During the last five minutes the movie suddenly turns into a documentary. It is no longer an animated picture but we see original footage of the war in Lebanon.

This is the second animated war movie I have seen (the other one was Grave of the Fireflies) and both were excellent. It’s a medium that works extremely well for this topic. 

Waltz with Bashir is highly recommendable. It contains a moving and profound anti-war statement and a very interesting exploration of memory.

“Is Platoon a War Movie?”

“Is Platoon a war movie?”

No, I’m not being funny. I have been asked exactly this question a while ago by someone I told about this blog. It was a man in his late forties. He wasn’t really sure what I meant when I was saying I wrote a blog about war movies. It’s a genre he isn’t familiar with and he finds it highly dubious. He asked me this question to fully understand what it was that I was reviewing and writing about. Guess if he had been a bit younger the question would have been either “Is Saving Private Ryan a war movie?” or “Is The Hurt Locker a war movie?”.

What I’m getting at here is that there is such a ting as THE war movie. A movie that is known far beyond the borders of the genre and by an audience that will normally not watch war movies. I don’t think it is a coincidence that he chose Platoon. Platoon and Apocalypse Now used to be the exemplary movies whenever people were talking about war movies, whether they were aficionados of the genre or they belonged to those who despise the genre.   

It is hard for someone like me who has seen a lot of war movies to try to find out which is the movie that comes to mind first upon hearing the expression “war movie”. Now that I’m writing this post it’s pretty hard to think of any other war movie than Platoon. Still, for some weird reasons, the war movies which seem to be the most representative of the genre for me are Vietnam movies and that’s why, I guess, I would think of Platoon. This has nothing to do with “favourite movie”. A favourite movie could be far less typical.

How about you, which is the movie you think of first, which is the one that embodies the genre for you? 

Jakob the Liar (1999)

Movies based on books are often problematic. Even more so when the book is a masterpiece. Jurek Becker’s wonderful novel Jakob der Lügner aka Jakob the Liar is a masterpiece. It’s a touching and very unique account of life in a Polish ghetto. Becker was a German writer of Polish-Jewish origin. He was a survivor of the Lodz ghetto, Ravensbrück and Sachsenhausen. A lot of what he has experienced went into his novel. Despite telling a fictitious story, it’s a realistic account of ghetto life, never corny, free of sentimentality. I had a feeling that adopting a novel like his to the screen would be challenging.

Jakob the Liar starring Robin Williams in the role of Jacob Heym, is the second movie based on Becker’s novel. The first, called Jacob the Liar (with a c) was an Eastern German-Czechoslovakian co-production. I have only seen the American movie.

Choosing Robin Williams as main character does pretty much indicate what type of movie we can expect. Something slightly sentimental. And, yes, Jacob the Liar is quite sentimental but so is Life is beautiful aka La vita è bella. When you try to introduce humour and hope in a movie about life in a Polish ghetto or in a concentration camp, you’re bound to be sentimental as hope and humour were most certainly absent from both places. Compared to La vita è bella, Jacob the Liar is not a bad movie at all. Compared to the novel, it’s not that good but still decent. I’m not going to bore you again with my aversion to fake accents but, yes, it’s another really bad case of fake Jewish accents. Still, as I’m fond of the story of the novel, I managed to enjoy the movie.

Jakob Heym is arrested by the Gestapo on his way home one evening. It looks as if he was out after curfew. They call him into their offices and while they decide what’s going to happen to him, he gets a chance to listen to the radio in which the advance of the Russian troops is mentioned. With some imagination one could interpret this as if the war was going to end soon.

After being released Jakob tentatively tells the one or the other person what he has heard. Soon there is a rumor in the ghetto. They say that Jakob Heym managed to hide a radio and has heard that the Russians are on their way.

Radios are forbidden in the ghetto. To have one and be caught with it would mean certain death. Jakob realizes that his lie is extremely dangerous and since he is at the same time hiding an orphaned girl, he is worried and wants the others to believe that he doesn’t have a radio after all. Unfortunately nobody wants to hear the truth. The people need to believe this lie, they need to be updated with fake news. It’s the only way to prevent that more and more people commit suicide, to help them to keep going, to keep their hope alive.

I liked this story ever since I’ve read the book. It’s touching and profound and manages to say a lot about truth and hope and the power of storytelling. The movie may not be a masterpiece but it’s very watchable.  Jacob the Liar is one of those movies that is ideal if you want to introduce children to the Holocaust. Even though it shows the horror of life in the ghetto, it’s not too gruesome and the humorous parts and the ending carry a message of hope.

13 Holocaust Movies You Should See

I recently saw a list on which there were 100 Holocaust movies you need to watch. The number seemed slightly excessive. Maybe they counted each and every WWII movie in which there were Jewish people. No idea. I wouldn’t call a movie a Holocaust movie unless it focusses on Jewish life during WWII, either in ghettos, concentration camps or, like in Defiance as a Resistance group or on the run. Everything else is just a WWII movie.  I just watched Jakob the Liar which I will review soon and that gave me the idea to make a list of the 13 Holocaust movies I consider to be the best. My favourite of the movies below is The Round Up – La Rafle. If you think I missed one that is extremely good and should be added, let me know.

Holocaust (1978, TV mini-series US) The story of a Jewish family and their struggle to survive in Nazi Germany.

Sophie’s Choice (1982, UK/US) The horrible story of a Polish mother who has to make a terrible choice that will scar her for life.

Triumph of the Spirit (1989, US) The true story of box champion Salamo Arouch who survives Auschwitz. See my review

Schindler’s List (1993, US) The true story of the courageous man Schindler who saved a great number of Jews.

La vita è bella – Life is Beautiful (1997, Italy) An family of Italian Jews is deported to a concentration camp where the father pretends it’s all a game. See my review

Jakob the Liar (1999, US) Jakob Heym pretends to have a radio in the ghetto and makes up stories about the war going to end very soon. See my review

Anne Frank – The Whole Story (2001, TV mini-series US/ Czech Republic) The whole story of Anne Frank including her stay at the concentration camp.

The Grey Zone (2001, US) Story of Jews who work in the crematoria of Auschwitz.

The Pianist (2002, FR/PL/GE/UK) The true story of a Polish pianist who hid in the Warsaw ghetto.  See my review

Ghetto (2006, Germany/Lithuania) A sadistic Nazi commander rules over a ghetto in Lithuania.

Die Fälscher – The Counterfeiters (2007, AU/GE) True story of a famous Jewish counterfeiter who gets caught by the Nazis and sent to a concentration camp where he should help forge foreign currency. See my review

The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas (2008, UK/US) Uncanny story of a boy who befriends a Jewish boy in a concentration camp not knowing that his father is in charge of that camp or what the camp is. See my review

The Round Up – La Rafle (2010, FR/GE/HU) In the night of July 16 1942, 13000 Parisian Jewsare arrested and confined in the Vel d’Hiv before being sent to Drancy and later exterminated in Auschwitz. True story. See my review

Have you seen them? Did you like them?

Ingmar Bergman’s Shame – Skammen (1968)

Ingmar Bergman is one of those film directors I always meant to return to. I have always been impressed by his work. It’s not easy and often a bit depressing but always fascinating. Shame – Skammen is one out of three movies that form a trilogy always starring the same two actors Liv Ullmann and Max von Sydow. If you know Bergman well you know that Liv Ullmann was probably his favourite actress. The other two movies that are part of the trilogy are Vargtimmen -Hour of the Wolf and En passion – The Passion of Anna.

Shame is the only one of the three that you can call a war movie. Bergman is famous for his psychological portraits. He is far less interested in story than in character and Shame is no exception. The movie explores what happens to people during a war. How do they react? How far will they go to save themselves? Is there anything human left in them? The war depicted in Shame never took place but it is inspired by many that did.

Jan and Eva Rosenberg are two artists who live far away from anyone else on a farm. A civil war rages in the country they live in and that’s the reason why the left the city. They are completely apolitical and have no clue what is going on but are still deeply affected. Especially Jan is afraid. He is very nervous. When the war intensifies and comes closer he gets panicky. The country is threatened to be invaded by another country that will try to free the people and when it finally happens, the Rosenbergs are forced to give a fake interview that it is later used against them. They are lucky, Eva is an attractive woman and an officer takes an interest in her. If this hadn’t happened they would both have been tortured and executed. Despite this narrow escape, the war shows its effect anyway. Their relationship is getting worse every day, they fight and scream all the time.

I found the first half of Shame extremely interesting because the atmosphere and the type of war depicted didn’t seem typical for Western European countries and to see Jan and Eva entangled in it made for uncomfortable viewing. This is the type of almost dystopian setting we see in very modern movies, only stripped from any type of heroism. The people in this movie become smaller and meaner, the longer the war lasts. Nobody fights against the oppressor and most certainly nobody fights for anyone lese. It’s a very depressing depiction of humanity.

If you are interested in Bergman, it’s a must-see. If you are more used to American movies and movies with an emphasis on story over character, then it’s rather not for you. I can’t say I liked it (not like the Hour of the Wolf which I loved) because I didn’t like the two main characters but I did appreciate it.

The War Movies of Mel Gibson: A List

There are several actors who have returned more than once to the war movie genre, Mel Gibson is one of them.

While I didn’t always like his characters or had a problem to forget the obnoxious man behind them, some of them are very good. Watching them all you can go chronologically through almost every major war. That’s why I didn’t order them according to the year they were filmed in but according to the year they were set in.

Two of my favourite war movies star Mel Gibson, one is the WWI movie Gallipoli, the other one the Vietnam movie We Were Soldiers. The latter, as good as it is, is also a problematic movie but I will look into that in a future post. I haven’t seen all of those mentioned below and am afraid that some, like Attack Force Z, aren’t exactly memorable. I tried to give them a star rating which is, of course, purely personal.

Braveheart (1995) 13th century Scotland. Inspired by the true story of William Wallace a Scottish rebel. 4*****

The Patriot (2000) American Revolution. An epic drama. A farmer leads the Colonial Militia after his son has been murdered by a British officer. 3.5***

Gallipoli (1981) WWI. Story of two Australian friends who volunteer and fight in the trenches of Gallipoli. 5*****

Attack Force Z (1982) WWII. Secret mission against the Japanese. Not seen probably 2**

The Year of Living Dangerously (1982) Indonesia. Story of a reporter and a photographer. Not seen. Probably 3***

Air America (1990) Laos during the Vietnam war. A pilot is recruited by a corrupt CIA organization. Not seen. Probably 2**

We Were Soldiers (2002)  Gritty infantry combat and portrayal of home front. A bit glorifying but overall too gruesome to not be called anti-war. 5*****

Which ones have I forgotten? Which are the ones you like? Should The Bounty be included?