Special Forces aka Forces Spéciales (2011) French Special Forces on a Rescue Mission in Afghanistan

Forces Spéciales aka Special Forces is an exciting although controversial new French movie with an exciting cast. Apart from the lovely Diane Kruger (Joyeux Noël, Troy) there are Djimon Hounsou (Gladiator), Benoît Magimel (Intimate Enemies), Denis Ménochet (Inglourious Basterds, Robin Hood), Raphaël Personnaz (The Princess of Montpensier), Alain Figlarz (Bourne Identity, 36), Mehdi Nebbou (Body of Lies) and Tchéky Karyo (Bad Boys, The Patriot). I am excited because I didn’t expect an action movie like this to come from France and on this type of topic. There have been a few recent French movies which were outstanding but they focused on WWI, WWII or Algeria, hardly ever are they dedicated to modern-warfare and the special forces.

This is contemporary, fast-paced, action-driven, kick-ass and very authentic. Think The Hurt Locker meets Bravo Two Zero and you get Forces Spéciales. The movie is dedicated to soldiers fallen in Afghanistan and to the journalists who risk their lives in war zones. The support from the French military is obvious, the gear that is displayed is amazing. Due to this the movie is extremely authentic. I’m not into weapons but I like authenticity and this is as authentic as it can get regarding the equipment.

The story is pretty simple. The French war reporter Elsa Casanova (Diane Kruger) gets caught by the Taliban leader Ahmed Zaief in Afghanistan. She has been conducting interviews with women and called the leader “the butcher of Kabul” in her articles. The last of the women she tries to interview warns her. They are both in great danger. Too late. Zaief captures her informant first and then lures Elsa into an ambush. He threatens to kill her and films the execution of one of her assistants and sends it to France. The French president and his advisors are informed of her captivity and decide to send Special Forces to save her.

The group of men manage to free her but when they arrive at the pick up place, the helicopter doesn’t arrive. Similar like in Bravo Two Zero, they cannot get in contact with anyone as their radio equipment has been destroyed. Time was a crucial factor in the escape and now that the helicopter won’t come, the Taliban leader and his men close in on them. They have no other choice and try to escape over the mountains. This is a catastrophe. Not only are they not equipped for high altitudes and snow but they are hunted by a large group of men.

They have to stop and fight more than once. They also need to decide at some point whether to defend villagers who have helped them against the Taliban  or try to save themselves first. Each of the men is trained in another specialty. The scenes in which the sniper is center stage are, as is usual, the most exciting ones.

The group is very likable and because these are men who have undergone an amazing training, there is a bit of superhero flavour. And they have managed to squeeze in a love story.

The strength of this movie, apart from the suspense, action and the amazing gear that is displayed, is the cast. This is one of the most appealing casts I have seen in a long time.

I also liked the score a lot but it’s not original. It’s heavily influenced by other movies. Gladiator among others.

All in all, this is a highly watchable, action-packed movie with a solid story and great actors and certainly a movie fans of The Hurt Locker and Bravo Two Zero should not miss.

I mentioned initially that this is a controversial movie but didn’t say why. As authentic as the gear and the initial scenes look, there are a few instances which are not logical later on. Agreed. The movie hasn’t received a lot of positive reviews by the French press because it was felt to be too propagandist. I’m not sure if any movie that displays army equipment and is supported by the military has to be called propagandist. Maybe it is because more than an anti-war message it carries an anti-Taliban message? In any case, it’s more of an action than a war movie, this should have become obvious by now. I suggest you watch it and let me know how you feel.

Here are two very different trailers which will give you a good idea.

My Best Enemy – Mein bester Feind (2011)

The central theme of the Austrian movie My Best Enemy – Mein bester Feind is art robbery and expropriation of Jews during WWII. It starts in 1943 with a plane crash. Two SS officers and a Jew are on board of that plane. They must be found. Especially the Jew. We don’t know why but the movie rewinds to the year 1938 and the back story will be told.

Vienna, 1938. The rich Jewish gallery owner Jakob Kaufmann just recently arrived with his family in Vienna. They have left Germany, fearing Hitler’s rise may bring difficulties. The Kaufmann’s have only one child, Victor (Moritz Bleibtreu), who grew up together with Rudi (Georg Friedrich), the son of their housekeeper. For the Kaufmann’s Rudi is like a son and the two young men are close friends. At least that’s how Victor sees it. Rudi’s point of view is slightly different. He is bitter and jealous and resents all the good things the Kaufmann’s did for him. Fact is, they are rich and he is poor. Victor will be a rich heir, while he will have to work hard. On top of that Lena, the girl Rudi fancies, is in love with Victor.

When the SS give him the opportunity to lead a better life, he takes it and joins them. He doesn’t even care that the price is high. He will have to spy on his former friends and benefactors and find out where one of Michelangelo’s original drawings is hidden. The drawing which has been stolen centuries ago from the Pope, is meant for the Führer Adolf Hitler who wants to offer it to his ally Mussolini.

It is easy for Rudi to find out where the painting is as Victor trusts his friend. Not long after he showed him where it is hidden, the villa is stormed, the drawing confiscated and the Kaufmann’s sent to labour camps.

If the drawing they have confiscated had been the original, the movie would have ended here but as it is a fake, this is just the beginning. Rudi is threatened and has to try to find the original at any cost. He goes and fetches Victor in the labour camp and together they fly to Berlin. On their way their plane crashes.

What follows is more humorous than dramatic and the roles of the parties involved are reversed more than once. Hunter becomes hunted and vice versa. Every time when we think: that’s it, this is the end, something happens and the hunt and qui pro quo starts again.

I didn’t know anything about this movie but I like Moritz Bleibtreu and Marthe Keller (she plays Victor’s mother)  and I knew the producers of The Counterfeiters have produced this movie too. I expected something more tragic so was slightly puzzled at first. This isn’t a drama, it’s much more a comedy. While it isn’t hilarious, it is amusing and I enjoyed watching it, especially the end. This is surprising as from a purely psychological point of view it isn’t very believable. Rudi’s change from friend to foe is more than abrupt. And as much as I like Bleibtreu, he is rather on the chubby side and most certainly doesn’t look like someone who spent years in a labour camp.

I’m not sure how Jewish people feel about a movie like this. Is it OK for them to see their trials and tribulations – in this case expropriation and art robbery by the Nazis – told in form of a comedy? I cannot answer this question. There were a few moments at the beginning of the movie when I felt uneasy but on the other hand, using this lighthearted tone, the movie gets our full attention and it is still explicit about the horrible things that happened.

I have a hard time to put into words why I liked My Best Enemy but I really did. It’s well done, glossy, entertaining, with a nice pace and a really appealing energy. If they had told this story like all the other similar movies it would have been just one more Holocaust movie. Like this it’s a movie that will stay in your mind.

The Front Line aka Go-ji-jeon (2011) A Stunning Korean Movie

The Front Line aka Go-ji-jeon is a stunning movie. I wasn’t all that lucky with Korean war movies before. Something was always off. Either the acting was over dramatic or they were too intense, or lacking a story and appealing characters. But this movie get’s everything right.

The story about the final battle of the Korean war is heartbreaking. One of those utterly pointless we-fight-to-the-last-man battles which didn’t serve anyone. What is more harrowing here even than in other instances is the fact, that the battle took place after the armistice had been signed. For absurd reasons the cease-fire was only to be implemented 12 hours after the signature.

But I’m starting with the end. The final battle takes up less than half an hour. Until we get there the movie has plenty of time to tell back story, side stories and to develop many arresting characters. Some will die, some make it but it’s painful every time, one of them is killed.

In 1953, just before the end of the war, Lt Kang Eun-Pyo (Ha-kyun Shin) is ordered to the Eastern front line to investigate the murder of an officer who has been shot by someone of his own company. The front line lies in the Aerok Hills. The border between the enemies is constantly changing. Some days the border lies more to the north, some days it’s more to the south. Some of the trenches and dugouts are changing occupants every other day. The fighting is intense, the morale is low.

When Kang Eun-Pyo arrives he is surprised and happy to find his old friend Kim Soo-Hyeok (Soo Go). He thought his friend had been killed a long time ago but it seems he isn’t only alive but in charge of things. The commanding officer is a very young guy showing signs of severe trauma and a serious morphine addiction. It’s obvious the heavy fighting has taken its toll. The men have had enough. They don’t even know what they are fighting for anymore. They show signs of insubordination and there are even rumours of contact between the enemy parties.

“Two Seconds”, as they call an enemy sniper, is giving them a particularly hard time. They stand no chance against this incredible and cunning shot. Every time they are on patrol or attacking, “Two Seconds” gets some of them.

The group Kang Eun-Pyo has joined is very composite. There are young recruits who have never fought and battle-hardened older men who already saw combat in WWII. This is quite traditional for war movies but the characters are likable and well-developed.

There is conflict due to the fact that the men are so battle weary and a crime has been committed which needs to be solved. Kang Eun-Pyo is very strict in the beginning, he wants to find the culprit but after a few days and some heavy combat he has to understand that the officer may have been shot as a result of bad leadership. The situation in these hills is so precarious any wrong decision is fatal. On top of that, everybody knows the war is about to end and the men do not understand why they are sacrificed for nothing.

There is another secret to uncover which has nothing to do with the murdered officer. The company which is called “Alligator company”, because they are so great at surviving, has gone through something very horrible in the past. More than one man shows sign of PTSD but nobody tells Kang Eun-Pyo what has happened. He will find out eventually but only after a long time.

The movie combines a great story line with a succession of amazing and surprising scenes. Some of the scenes are quite drastic, there is even one reminiscent of the Omaha Beach landing in Saving Private Ryan. Still, the movie manages to do without the usual Korean gore. It only gets gruesome at the very end.

What I really liked is the fact that this is an intense combat movie that combines action, suspense and emotion, something that you don’t find all that often. The actors are very good, the music is well-chosen and the cinematography is great.

I’m really happy that Show Box Media offered me a review copy of this movie. The Front Line is an exceptionally good movie. A real must-see.

Some Thoughts on The Lord of the Rings (2001 – 2003)

I don’t think I need to do a proper review of the The Lord of the Rings. Too much has been written about it already and I assume the story is well-known but I’m still in the mood to write about a few of the aspects.

The Blu-Ray version

Never has Blu-Ray made more sense than with this movie. I’ve seen it before but watching it on Blu-Ray is really something. It has an amazing 3D effect that stunned me. The colors are amazingly intensive and all the creatures come to life much better. It’s like another movie almost. I’m not sure that if I ever watch it again I will always watch it in Blu-Ray as it’s occasionally almost too impressive and very surreal. The Blu-Ray I watched was the extended version.

The three parts

The way this movie is constructed is pure genius. While all the main characters get together in part I The Fellowship of the Ring, they are going different ways in part II The Return of the King and three The Two Towers and we have up to 4 parallel story lines. If you are like me, and have your favourite bits, then every time the story moves away from them, you eagerly await until it returns to you favourite characters.

The characters

The Lord of the Rings is action-driven but without those great characters and the “Band of Brothers” feel, it would never have been the success it is. I always liked the idea that the fellowship included not only humans but also Hobbits, Dwarves, Elves and a magician. It’s typical that of the initial group only the second human dies.

While Orcs and Uruk Hai are creatures of the dark forces, hobbits, elves and dwarves are good, only humans can choose and their decisions can be fatal for the world or – as can be seen in Gollum’s case – for themselves.

I’m not sure which was my favourite character the first time I watched it but I think – the elves in general. This time the four characters I liked best were Aragorn, Boromir, Haldir and Legolas. I’m not saying they are the most important, they are the ones I like best.

Pairing Legolas, the elf, with Gimli, the dwarf was another strike of genius and adds humour to the movie, just like the pair of silly hobbits Pippin and Merry. Pippin is particularly important as his foolish actions are the motor behind many important scenes. He triggers more than one major fight or battle.

The actors

I can’t think of any movie like The Lord of the Rings in which the actors are so well-chosen. I wouldn’t change one of them. Readers of this blog know that I’m no Orlando Bloom fan but that wasn’t always the case. The first time I saw him was as Legolas and he is amazing in this role, he is cut out for it.

My two favourite actors in the movie are Viggo Mortensen and Sean Bean. I like many of their other movies as well. Sean Bean is an actor who is famous for his dying scenes. There aren’t many movies with him in which he doesn’t die. I can’t remember that any of the scenes is as dramatic as this one here.

Another incredibly great choice was Liv Tyler as Arwen.

The special effects

I’m not too fond of special effects and CGI in war movies in general but there wouldn’t be any believable fantasy or sci-fi movies without them. The Lord of the Rings raises the bar extremely high. I didn’t even notice how high in my previous viewings. What the Blu-Ray disc manages to convey particularly well are the buildings and cities. They are stunning. The two abodes of the elves as well as Minas Tirith make you sit in front of the TV like children in front of their christmas presents.

War

I have included Lord of the Rings on this blog for a few reasons. Without the topic of “war” there would be no Lord of the Rings. The movie offers so many incredible fight and battle scenes which justify including it. The most famous and longest one The Battle of Helms Deep is usually mentioned in Top 10 battle scenes, right along battles in real wars. It is an amzing scene and I found it quite scary when I saw it for the first time. And particularly one of the deaths got to me a lot (if you’ve seen it you know who).

The message of course is clear as well. War isn’t good. The dark forces bring war and it is a battle of good versus evil. I think this also is part of the appeal. In real life, in history, it’s so rare, especially in the last decades, that good and bad can been named so easily, that a war is nothing else than the good forces fighting the bad.

What I like as well is that it is a fight for the good, mankind and other positive forces but most of all also a fight for the survival of nature. This reminds me that whenever people fight for trees in our world, they are made fun of.

Book versus Movie

It’s been a long time since I’ve read the book and I loved it at the time. I even remember that I was disappointed when I saw the movie for the first time because two scenes were more impressive in my mind but by now the movie has completely eradicated the book and I’m not even sure I could read and enjoy it again without seeing the people from the movie.

I could write much more but I’m going to leave it at that as anything else would contain too many spoilers. If you haven’t seen it yet, don’t waste anymore time. You could alos re-watch it as a warm-up for the upcoming The Hobbit.

On the Tolkien Gateway  you can find more info, on the upcoming Hobbit movies as well.

How about you? Is it one of your favourites as well? Do you prefer the book?

I Once Saw a Movie…

My mother had a favourite war romance, a movie she liked more than any other. When I was a kid it was on TV once and we watched it together. I wasn’t as taken with the film as she was but thinking of her, I often thought of that movie as well. Since she passed away, I couldn’t ask her the name of the movie. All I remembered was that two people met during an air raid and that the woman was forced into prostitution later. And something about a bridge. I asked many people whether they knew the film. Nobody did. I couldn’t remember the title, nor the actors, nor the end. However I was 100% sure it was a WWII movie and pretty sure it was British.

Well, as the picture above may indicate, I’ve found it meanwhile. It was the US black and white WWI and WWII set movie Waterloo Bridge.  The prostitution element is quite important and it stayed with me. However with that alone I wouldn’t have found the movie. I did a laborious search including movies – war – bridges. Since “bridge” was part of the title, it was more or less easy to find it. Unfortunately that’s not always how it goes.

More than one movie someone is looking for will never be found. There are many reasons. The most important being that memory plays tricks. We think we saw a German movie but it was American with a German point of view. Or Russian. Very often we only remember one little scene. The scene is what stayed with us, it impressed us and has an importance in our memory that it may not even have had in the movie.

Why am I writing all this?

I get a lot of e-mails. E-mails by people who are looking for a movie. A movie they have seen. A movie someone else has seen. A movie they have heard of. They hope that I will be able to either find it or help them find it. I have to admit that I often fail. Because I like to help, it frustrates me when I’m not able to find a movie and I know that people are extremely disappointed.

On the other hand it’s so great when I manage to find a movie. Funny enough, it’s hardly ever after the initial e-mail but only after I wrote back and ask a few specific questions that we are successful. Sometimes my questions even help people find the movie on their own.

And here is what is really important: You may think you have forgotten most of the movie but you haven’t. You remember far more but you don’t think it’s important. For you it’s important that someone sang a song in a sequence, while this isn’t even a side story but just a brief moment. But trust me, you do remember a lot more.

If you are looking for a movie try to think about the below questions first and include the answers in your mail.

Which war?

What language?

Was it a subtitled or a dubbed movie?

What country of origin?

Black and white?

Any idea how old?

Who was the main character?

Famous actors or not so famous actors?

Where was it set? Countryside or town?

What season and weather conditions?

Was it a “real” war movie or rather a war themed movie?

It is very rare that people look for combat movies and that makes it even more difficult because there are so many war themed movies out there. To get the (sub) genre right, can be crucial.

If you really don’t remember a lot, don’t hesitate to write anyway. It may still work.  Not long ago someone only remembered that there was a sequence in a movie in which a pair of boots was changing their owner. The very same scene had impressed me as well and the movie – All Quiet on the Western Front (the 30s original, the scene is not in the remake) – was found.

I still haven’t re-watched Waterloo Bridge but I would like to. I’m pretty sure I would enjoy it much more now than when I was a child.

Are there any movies you have been desperately looking for?

Lions for Lambs (2007)

I watched a lot of war movies before I started this blog. Unfortunately I cannot review them anymore after a while that’s why I have to re-watch a lot of them, also some that I didn’t really like the first time. Lions for Lambs is one of them. I can’t really say I didn’t like it. I watched it and forgot it the moment I turned off the TV.

I’m reading an interesting book at the moment. It hasn’t been translated but I add the full title for my German readers. The book is called “Antikriegsfilm – Zur Ästhetik, Geschichte und Theorie einer filmhistorischen Praxis” and it’s as dry as the title makes it sound. It’s an academic analysis of anti-war movies and I will write more about it soon. In any case, Lions for Lambs is mentioned as one of the typical modern – meaning post 9/11 – anti-war movies. The movie isn’t analysed as the book focusses on combat movies but it’s mentioned and since I had the DVD I watched it again.

I found it more interesting this time but still consider it to be a failed movie. It has an idea but no real story and in order to cover that up, Redford (he is the director as well) chose to tell three parallel stories. Obviously none of them on its own would have made a whole movie and together it’s a patchwork circling around the same theme: Is it justified to go to war in order to maintain peace?

The movie moves back and forth between three different stories. One focusses on cocky senator Jasper Irving (Tom Cruise) who wants to convince journalist Janine Roth (Meryl Streep) that it makes sense to send troops to Afghanistan and that this time they will win the war. He says that he has certain information that there is an entry route from Iraq, crossing Iran, into Afghanistan. Roth is a very clever journalist and has soon found out that what he wants her to write is pure propaganda. She thinks she should write an entirely different piece instead.

While these two are discussing, a Harvard professor of political science (Robert Redford) tries to motivate his most promising student. He tells him about two other students he had, two people from underprivileged families, who finally signed up to assure their university fees will get paid. Lack of money and misguided idealism made them take a hasty decision.

While they all discuss, the two former students have just been shot down over Afghanistan. They were part of the troops sent by senator Irving. They hit the ground alive but are soon surrounded by enemy troops and spend the rest of the movie not making a difference but fighting for their lives.

All the people in the three stories are trying to make up their minds about extremely important questions and decisions. The story that worked best for me and which I really enjoyed is the one between Tom Cruise’s and Meryl Streep’s character. They are such excellent actors, it’s a joy to watch them.

The biggest problem of Lions for Lambs is that its intentions are far better than its execution. Still, if you want to see a movie that shows the different arguments, pro and contra military intervention, and if you don’t mind that it is very wordy, you might like it.