Northmen – A Viking Saga (2014)

Northmen

So, yes, the Swiss/German/South African co-production Northmen doesn’t fare too well on IMDb and similar places. And, after the first ten minutes, I almost stopped watching because the acting wasn’t good but once the story gets going you forget that easily. And, frankly, can you resist a movie that bears a resemblance to King Arthur? I can’t and considering that most similar movies are either way too gory, or try too hard, this one does a pretty good job. It’s action-driven but not gory. There’s a love story but it’s not in your face. And it has a lot of surprising moments. If, like me, you love to cheer when a small group of men manages to fight an army thanks to their resourcefulness, then you’ll enjoy this.

The story is summarized quickly. A group of Northmen who have been outcast by their people, land behind enemy lines. They want to cross enemy territory to get to another friendly group of Northmen who might accept them. As soon as they land, they are under attack. They manage to overpower a much stronger group of soldiers. When those soldiers flee, they leave a carriage behind in which the Northmen discover a young woman who is very obviously from a rich background. They hope that in taking her along, they’ll be able to ask for a ransom and safe passages. Unfortunately she’s the king’s daughter and the king doesn’t negotiate. He would rather see his daughter dead. Helped by a monk with special fighting skills, they flee across the land.

If you like movies in the vein of King Arthur or The Last of the Mohicans – minus the history -, you might really enjoy this. Just bear in mind that the acting during the first ten minutes isn’t very good, but you’ll soon forget about it because the story and the plot work well, the characters are interesting enough for an adventure film, and the imagery is stunning. Give it a try and let me know how you liked it. I think, for  B-movie it’s pretty good.

True Blood fans will be delighted to see Ryan Kwanten starring as the monk Conall.

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Is Fury a War Movie?

Fury

Long live macho-martyrdom and let’s kill as many bad, bad Nazi’s while we can. Yikes. Fury is the kind of movie that gives the war movie genre a bad name. Bizarre is the word that came to my mind more than once while watching it. It was clear from the beginning that this isn’t an anti-war movie, but it took me until the end of the film to come to the conclusion that it’s not even a war movie. Just because someone pretends to tell us a WWII story doesn’t mean he really does. In my opinion, Fury is an action movie disguised as a war film.

Plus, it’s full of clichés, not very realistic and the plot is dragging in the middle section.

What’s it all about? I’m going to do something I never do I’ll give you the IMDb blurb here

April, 1945. As the Allies make their final push in the European Theatre, a battle-hardened Army sergeant named Wardaddy commands a Sherman tank and his five-man crew on a deadly mission behind enemy lines. Outnumbered, out-gunned, and with a rookie soldier thrust into their platoon, Wardaddy and his men face overwhelming odds in their heroic attempts to strike at the heart of Nazi Germany.

*******SPOILER*******

Did anyone else think of Platoon while watching this? We have a young, inexperienced soldier and an old, larger-than life hero who dies a rather spectacular death in the end.

What’s with the Nazi killing? Maybe the Allies shot a few German prisoners but I doubt they forced their young soldiers to shoot them to harden them.

They fall in love/lust awfully quickly in this film. While we’re not allowed to watch – we get to see a half-naked Brad Pitt aka Wardaddy.

It’s been a long time since I’ve seen a movie in which the Germans were depicted as entirely evil and stupid.

Shortly before the end, the young American soldier is hiding under a tank. A German soldier searches under that tank. He very obviously sees him but doesn’t shoot him. Or does he not see him? Both explanations are highly unrealistic.

*******SPOILER END*******

I’m really allergic to movies that try to glorify war or fetishize warfare. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t watch Fury. Just keep in mind – it’s not an anti-war, possibly not even a war movie and far from realistic. Those who love tanks and Brad Pitt might enjoy it a lot.

World War Z (2013)

World War Z

Yes, I know I’m stretching the definition of war movies big time including Marc Forster‘s latest film. World War Z is an apocalyptic zombie movie with a very strong military element. It’s based on Max Brooks’ eponymous novel.

The movie begins with an idyllic family scene. Former UN investigator Gerry Lane (Brad Pitt), his wife (Mireille Enos) and two daughters are getting ready for the day. A little later, on their way into town, they see their world turn into chaos. Cars crash into other cars, people scream and run while others turn into savage predators. Gerry and his family narrowly escape this mayhem and hide in a huge building until a UN helicopter comes and gets them out. They are flown to an aircraft carrier where they hear more about what’s happening. It seems as if there was a pandemic that rapidly infects all the inhabitants of every country and turns them into zombies. The illness broke out in Korea and the military want to send a scientist to investigate. Gerry is sent with him as he was the best UN investigator they had.

As was to be expected they can’t find anything in Korea and the next stop is Jerusalem. From Israel we follow Gerry and a female Israeli soldier (Daniella Kertesz) on their trip around the world and see how the pandemic spreads. On this frantic trip Gerry observes that some people are avoided by the zombies. If he can find out why, maybe he could find a cure?

I hated the beginning of this movie big time and almost stopped watching after ten minutes. After the initial family scene it starts with full action and, as strange as this may seem, I found that very boring. Luckily the movie slows down a bit and moves on at a steady pace, which is broken up by more intense scenes. The end is not bad at all.

I’ve seen a few zombie movies and I couldn’t help comparing this to I Am Legend for example. I love I Am Legend, it’s my favourite zombie movie and comparing World War Z to that, was to the latter’s disadvantage. I also like the zombie comedy Shaun of the Dead a lot. Looking back I think that World War Z isn’t even a zombie movie. It’s a disaster movie with a zombie theme. It’s far more like the Day After Tomorrow or Independence Day.

The biggest flaw of World War Z is that I didn’t think it was unique. I felt I’d seen each and every element before in another context. Some in horror movies like The Crazies, others in action films, or movies in which the US or the world are at large are threatened by some sort of evil or aliens. Unfortunately I don’t like Brad Pitt all that much, which didn’t help.

Most of the time when an apocalyptic or post-apocalyptic movie starts with an idyllic family scene I know I’m not going to watch anything superior. I was proven right in this case once more. It had good moments and if you want to see a fast-paced action flick, by all means, watch it, but if you’d like to see something a bit unusual, maybe even controversial, then stay away.

I’m still waiting for a movie which will look into the appeal of the zombie. Why is there such a wave of books and movies since a couple of years?

Do you have a favourite zombie movie?

My favourites are:

I Am Legend

Shaun of the Dead

28 Days Later

Clash of the Titans (2010)

I always end up watching movies in which Mads Mikkelsen is starring. So far I have never been disappointed. So far. Clash of the Titans has a weird cast but I think it says more about the cast than about the movie. While it’s a guilty pleasure with a war theme it’s not exactly a good movie with the exception of a few scenes. Despite all that, it’s fun. I liked the giant scorpions. They are really cool. Now briefly to the cast before I summarize the whole film.

Liam Neeson. There was once a time when he made good movies but recently he’s a major disappointment and since he is even in Battleship I start to have a feeling that whenever his name is on the cast list this could very well mean “avoid”. Ralph Fiennes. Yes, Ralph Fiennes. What the heck is he doing in this movie? Neeson and Fiennes both play powerful gods, while Fiennes plays the role of the bad guy – Hades, Neeson plays the role of the good one – Zeus. Both sport odd haircuts and halos that make them look like drag queen putti. Apart from these two the other actors mostly do a decent job  – or at least one that makes the movie watchable. I haven’t given up hope on Mikkelsen – he is even good in this one – but I’d advise him not to accept too many roles like this.

Perseus (Sam Worthington), a demi-god, son of Zeus is dragged into a battle between the Gods and the mortals. Hades, God of the underworld and master of the Kraken, demands the sacrifice of Princess Andromeda, the daughter of King Cepheus of Argos who won against the gods. If Andromeda isn’t sacrificed, Hades will unleash the Kraken. King Cepheus asks Perseus, the only human capable of fighting against gods due to his half-god nature, to find a way to defeat the Kraken. Perseus accepts because Hades has killed his step family and he wants revenge. The only way to win against the Kraken is by defeating the Medusa and cutting off her head.

Many people have been offended by the liberties the movie took with Greek mythology. I didn’t expect it to render the myth of Perseus and the Medusa, I thought it would be an action movie with a Greek mythology flavour. And that’s exactly what it is. Nothing more and nothing less. If you look for two hours of entertainment and haven’t seen the first one, try it. It’s quite fun.  Did I mention the scorpions? I really liked them.

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.

The African Queen (1951)

The African Queen is one of those classics that many people like. Surprisingly I’ve never even seen it on TV although Hollywood classics are regularly shown on Sunday afternoons. I didn’t expect anything because other than that it’s set in Africa during WWI I knew nothing about it. After having seen it, I know that it is rather a screwball comedy than a war movie as such. Nevertheless I enjoyed watching it. It is entertaining and the actors are excellent. Being a bit of a Humphrey Bogart fan I had to watch it sooner or later.

September 1914, German Eastern Africa. Missionary Reverend Samuel Sayer and his prudish sister Rose (Katharine Hepburn) live on a farm isolated from any other colonists. They are regularly visited by Charlie Allnut who owns a crummy boat, the “African Queen” and travels up and down the river, bringing the mail and other things. He is boorish and has very obviously an alcohol problem.

When the war in Europe breaks out, the colonies are drawn into it as well. German troops burn down the mission and the Reverend dies soon afterwards. Allnut passes by on his boat and helps Rose to bury her brother and takes her with him on the African Queen. They face a very long, difficult and dangerous journey down the river and on top of that Rose is determined to help the war effort. She suggests, Allnut should construct a torpedo and that they should then attempt to sink a German warship, the Luisa.

As is to be expected their trip down the river is more than adventurous. Torrential rains, rapids, mosquitoes and German posts make the journey very daunting. What is worse for Allnut is the fact that Rose supervises him and throws away his brandy. She wants him to behave and at first they bicker and quarrel constantly. After several days on the boat and many dangerous adventures they get closer and end up falling in love.

What an unlikely couple they make. What I liked is the fact that Rose is the inventive and courageous one. Although she doesn’t exactly look like an adventurer, in her long skirts, hat and with her prissy little manners, she is quite gutsy after all. Something else that makes this movie memorable is the fact that it reminds us that the Germans used to have a few colonies as well. One tends to forget that as they lost them all during WWI.

It’s an adventure story and a very amusing tale in which two very different people on a shabby little boat, fall in love and successfully fight a whole crew of a warship. It certainly is an early version of adventure romances like Romancing the Stone.

Where Eagles Dare (1968) War Themed Action

I’ve never seen Where Eagles Dare before and must say I was pleasantly surprised. It’s entertaining and cinematographically stunning.

It’s a fabulously scenic film with some pictures that would even look good in a vampire movie. Plus we get to see two great actors, Clint Eastwood and  Richard Burton who, teamed up, give this movie a special something that I found very appealing.

The story is the tale of a suicide mission. A group of mountaineering soldiers, led by British Major Smith (Richard Burton) and American Lt. Schaffer (Clint Eastwood) are sent to free an American officer captured by the Germans and held in a castle in the mountain, called Eagle’s Nest.

From the moment they parachute out of the plane it’s obvious that the mission they are on is a fake one. What they really need to do, is uncover double-agents.

From the moment they land in the snow-covered woods, until they climb into the castle, the action and tension is relentless and is even intensified, when they have to escape from the castle again.

It’s quite a violent movie, with loads of explosions and a great deal of merciless killings. But it is also very suspenseful, there is plenty of action reminiscent of a modern-day movie. (It seems as if this was Quentin Tarantino’s favourite war movie and that he wanted to do a remake. I hope he will not and that the similarities one can find in Inglourious Basterds is all there will be.)

It was a pleasant surprise to find a female agent who has quite a great role, and fights and shoots just like the men.

I loved the cinematography, the steep mountains, covered in snow and the castle, nested on the top of a hill, gave the movie a Gothic feel.

The fact that I always feel uneasy in cable-cars made watching this movie quite impressive as some of the most gripping scenes take place on the top of a cable-car.

Apparently the movie has been criticized for not being anti-war. I think, that there are for sure movies with a clearer anti-war statement, which is one of the reasons why I think this is more of an action movie with a war theme than a real war movie.

In any case,  I found it very entertaining and I loved Clint Eastwood in this.

I’ve heard that Where Eagles Dare is one of a pair, the other one being The Guns of Navarone. There is a certain likeness, logically, they have both been written by Alistair MacLean. I couldn’t say which one I prefer, I think they both have a lot to offer.

Which one do you prefer?