And a Nightingale Sang (1989) A Very Realistic British WWII TV Romance/Drama

War and Romance make often a succesful combination. WWII and Romance even more so. I think I have seen a fair share of them and although it is not my favorite genre I like it when it is well done. I don’t think I would have heard of And A Nightingale Sang (based on the book by C.P.Taylor) if it hadn’t been recommended by Gray Freitas. I finally felt like watching it and was really not disappointed. It is actually a very realistic depiction of life in the British town Newcastle from beginning of WWII to its end rather than a romance.

And a Nightingale Sang has all the charm of British TV. It is bittersweet, lighthearted and hilariously funny at the same time. At the center is the slightly dysfunctional and very eccentric Stotts family. The mother is a fervent Catholic and constantly going to church to confess. To her dismay she realises that she has a crush on the vicar. The father is tempted by communism and drives everybody crazy by playing the piano endlessly. The grandfather mourns his dead whippet and later carries his cat, Winston, everywhere, even into the air-raid shelter. The daughters both fall in love for the first time. Joyce gets married and regrets it immediately, while disabled Helen falls in love with a married man. The depiction of  wartime life in an English town is excellent. The bombings, the rushing to the shelters, the scarcity of provisions, but also the fun and the attempt to make the most of it. The people at the center of this story are all likable eccentrics.

The end is certainly the best bit in the movie. I almost wished I had been there. That must have been something, to know the war was over and Germany had been defeated. The cheer and joy are conveyed nicely. I cannot remember having seen any other movie showing it like this.

Realism and entertainment make a great combination. Plus really great acting (Joan Plowright as the mother, Phyllis Logan as Helen and Stephen Tompkinson as Eric). And what about the romance? Touching and realistic as well.

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Hitler – The Rise of Evil (2003) Hitler´s Childhood, Youth and Early Years

The only thing necessary

for evil to flourish

is for good men

to do nothing.  (Edmund Burke)

Hitler – The Rise of Evil follows Hitler´s early years. First his childhood with an abusive father, then the pursuit of his dream to become a great artist which lack of talent prevented. His participation in WWI,  his rise through the ranks of the German Worker´s Party, his imprisonment that gave him time to write Mein Kampf. Even though this movie ends around the year 1934 with Hitler becoming Reich´s President, I think it is fair to include it on a war movie blog as it permits to see what happened prior to WWII and how the Jews were persecuted long before the war

The Scottish actor Robert Carlyle gives a stunning performance starring as Hitler. The madness of Hitler is creepy and palpable. However exactly this has been criticized. When you watch this movie you can´t help thinking all the time: how did he get away with it? He was so obviously deranged, mad and psychologically disturbed that no one should have been tempted to follow him. I think that in showing Hitler exactly like this, this movie contributes to shed another light on him. Sure, we know he was sick but still we tend to see him as a deranged dictator. I would say it is high time to look at him as some sort of head of a sect. He should be paralleled with people like Charles Manson and Jim Jones. The same psychological dynamics that are at work in people who follow cult leaders were also present in many Germans at the time.

The movie also manages to show how many people just didn´t react or looked the other way. There is only one journalist (played by Matthew Modine) who points out how dangerous Hitler is. The Rise of Evil has a close look at Hitler´s relationship with women (his niece and Eva Braun) where his full-blown madness is maybe as evident as in his hatred of the Jews. A great part of the movie focuses on the American/German couple Hanfstaengel. Their importance seems not historically accurate and it might very well be that their role had been extended for the sake of US viewers. I thought it interesting to see how Helene Hanfstaengel (Julianna Margulies) who was against Hitler at the beginning, all of a sudden changed her mind and became one of his most fervent supporters. Many women fell for him, as odd as this may seem. The role played by Ernst Röhm (Peter Stormare) is also explored with great detail as is the person of Hindenburg (Peter O’ Toole)

Nobody should compare this film to Der Untergang aka The Downfall as hardly any movie is as good as that but it is thought-provoking, interesting and, as already said, Carlyle is amazingly good.

My Boy Jack (2007) or Why Daniel Radcliffe should not be starring in the Remake of All Quiet on the Western Front

This post is about two very different things. A good movie and a bad choice for a cast.

Based on the play with the same name written by the very same actor who is playing Kipling, David Haig, the movie tells us the tragic story of Kipling´s only son who went missing during WWI on the Western front in the Battle of Loos.

For reasons I will elaborate here My Boy Jack was an interesting, touching if a somewhat disappointing movie. Interesting since it showed the famous author Rudyard Kipling in another light and because it depicted the very onset of WWI and Britain’s reluctance to participate in this war at first. The tragedy of the war in the trenches with its enormous loss of lives in a very brief moment (we hear that the first day of the armed conflict cost almost 12000 British lives) is illustrated eloquently.
Kipling is shown as a dominant figure for whom the love of his country comes long before anything else. His values of manly courage and seeking of glory are really off-putting. The whole character is obnoxious. From the moment he knows the war will finally start his sole aim is to have his only 17-year-old son participate.
Unfortunately Jack is extremely short-sighted and without his glasses he is almost blind. The doctors performing the medical examinations do not want him to join the navy nor the army since it would be much too dangerous should he lose his spectacles during battle. His father being the influential and stubborn  man he is pulls every string to have  his son accepted against all better judgement.
Knowing the tragic story we sadly watch the inevitable unfold.
After his initial training and having been appointed lieutenant Jack is sent to France. He gets to know constant rain and shelling, the bleakness of the trenches and the muddy no-man’s-land around them.
After days of waiting his company is finally told they will have to attack.
The fear and anguish of the men who know  by now that most of them will face a certain death is quite touching.
It will be Jacks first and last battle. A few weeks after his departure to France his family gets notified that he’ s been reported missing in action.
What  follows is quite dramatic and good acting. Kim Cattrall (Sex and the City–yes, indeed) playing the mother is very convincing, so are the sister (Carey Mulligan) and David Haig as the father. The family wants to know what happened. Is Jack wounded but alive? Is he dead? Did he suffer? Of course Kipling constantly asks himself if he is guilty. The depiction of their grief and the father’s despair is very heartfelt. It moves you to tears. It is difficult to imagine what it was like to wait more than a year  until they finally had some hints about what had happened. So why was I disappointed? Because I found Daniel Radcliffe absolutely not good.
(To know that he will have the leading role in  the remake of All Quiet on the Western Front is hard to stomach).
He is really not a very good actor. Or maybe not yet. He should have some more qualifications for a role than his age. But actually it is not so much his acting that I criticize than the way he  looks. For me he has absolutely no charisma.
Since the movie in itself is good and knowing that many people are very fond of him as an actor and also consider him great in My Boy Jack, I still suggest you watch this movie. Even more so should you be interested in Rudyard Kipling.

For the interested reader I posted Kipling’s poem about the loss of his only son.  And who likes can also watch the video below and see David Haig render it in the movie.

“Have you news of my boy Jack?”
Not this tide.
“When d’you think that he’ll come back?”
Not with this wind blowing, and this tide.

“Has any one else had word of him?”
Not this tide.
For what is sunk will hardly swim,
Not with this wind blowing, and this tide.

“Oh, dear, what comfort can I find?”
None this tide,
Nor any tide,
Except he did not shame his kind —
Not even with that wind blowing, and that tide.

Then hold your head up all the more,
This tide,
And every tide;
Because he was the son you bore,
And gave to that wind blowing and that tide!

A Soldier´s Story (1984) or Racism in the Military

The worst thing you can do, in this part of the country, is pay too much attention to the death of a negro under mysterious circumstances. (Colonel Nivens)

Norman Jewison´s movie A Soldier´s Story (1984) shows you what great acting can be.

It is one of Denzel Washigton´s first movies. Although he is not the leading actor you can already tell what he´s capable of. What is very obvious, that´he´s not only a movie actor but one hell of a good theater actor as well. The story is based on a theater play and almost the whole cast is from the original ensemble.

The movie takes place in a base in Louisiana during WWII.

Sgt. Waters, a black sergeant, is found dead and an army attorney is sent from Washington to investigate the murder. What no one suspects, least the white commanding officers, is the fact that the attorney is also Afro-American. The base which consists to a great extent of black Americans has never seen a black decorated officer before. They are awed whereas the white officers are outraged. It´s one of the best moments in this movie.

Soon it is obvious what a contradictory character the victim was. However the investigation is hindered by uncooperative officers and fearful soldiers. Bit by bit,shown through flashbacks, the victims true character and the actual events are revealed. The shocking truth is that the killed sergeant though African-American himself was a racist at heart and punished every act that he deemed unworthy of other black people, notably singing and dancing.In his own words:

You know the damage one ignorant Negro can do? We were in France in the first war; we’d won decorations. But the white boys had told all them French gals that we had tails. Then they found this ignorant colored soldier, paid him to tie a tail to his ass and run around half-naked, making monkey sounds. Put him on the big round table in the Cafe Napoleon, put a reed in his hand, crown on his head, blanket on his shoulders, and made him eat *bananas* in front of all them Frenchies. Oh, how the white boys danced that night… passed out leaflets with that boy’s picture on it. Called him Moonshine, King of the Monkeys. And when we slit his throat, you know that fool asked us what he had done wrong?

He was cruel, unjust and unfair. He wasn´t liked by neither white nor black soldiers and officers and really had it coming.

The character portraits in this movie are all extremely convincing, the acting is outstanding, the tale is gripping and it really doesn´t leave you untouched. This is a 100% convincing anti-racism movie and one of the few movies about racism in the military. A must-see.

My Favourite War Movie Character or The Ultimate Sacrifice

To determine who is your favourite war movie character is a very, very subjective thing. At least for me. No objectivity here. It is neither linked to the fact if I do consider the movie he´s in to be outstanding or average, it doesn´t say anything about the acting in itself, I really only think of the character. And, yeah well maybe it has something to do with the fact that the role is played by one of my favourite actors.

What I loved about this character is his goodness. In all the horror that surrounds him, he stays good. Nothing compromises him, nothing turns him into an inhuman being devoid of feelings or compassion. And in the end he doesn´t shy away from sacrificing himself. He is the ultimate war movie hero, hero through his sacrifice not through his killings.

And yes, I alluded to him in another post (Christ and the War Movie Hero). My favourite character is Sgt. Elias (Willem Dafoe) in Platoon. And yes, I´m sure it´s no coincidence that he was later chosen to play Jesus Christ in The Last Temptation of Christ. He´s been my favourite for many years now and I only wavered once, after having seen When Trumpets Fade where we see another sacrificial hero.

De Niro in Jacknife (1989)Part II

Often when you ask someone  who is their favourite actor especially men tend to name Robert de Niro. Surely his merits are undisputable still he did get on my nerves in several of his films since he´s got the habit of overacting and that way tends to turn into a parody of himself. I thought I´d seen many of his movies and knew that he was at least in two Vietnam related ones, The Deer Hunter and Taxi Driver. Somehow Jacknife sneakily escaped my attention.

I saw it recently and must say, it would have been a pity not to see  it and this for several reasons. (Check out the trailer in an older post).

First, I think, it is one of de Niros´ best performances, second I think it is a very good attempt at showing the theme of the Vietnam vet. Post traumatic stress and so forth.

Megs (de Niro) and Dave (Ed Harris) served in Vietnam together. They hadn´t seen each other for a while when suddenly, out of the blue, Megs invades Dave´s home to take him on a fishing trip. Unfortunately he realises he´s less than welcome. Dave showing every sign of full-blown alcoholism still blames Megs for the death of Bobby, the third guy they went to Vietnam with.

Megs tries everything to cheer up Dave but fails completely. The fact that Megs begins a relationship with  Martha (Kathy Baker), Dave´s sister doesn´t exactly improve anything.

Even though at first it looks as things were not going well at all, Megs´ likeable character, his outgoing, eccentric ways liven up the brother and sister and ultimately transform them profoundly. The story is interwoven with flashbacks that show what went wrong in Vietnam where Megs was by far too gung-ho and shooting way too fast at everything.

Sure, these are personal stories, character studies, no analyzing of the war as such or its political and social impact.

I just adored de Niro in this and understood again why so many think he´s one of the best actors alive.