Pathfinders: In the Company of Strangers (2011) or The Movie That Doesn’t Deserve My Attention!

Untold and lost history. A true story of the American Pathfinders, the volunteer paratroopers whose deadly mission was to land 30 minutes before the Normandy invasion, locate and mark strategic “drop zones” and set up the top-secret navigation equipment needed to guide the main airborne assault on D-Day. Written by Charlie Armstrong (from IMdB)

Pathfinders:In the Company of Strangers is one of the very rare movies I had to stop watching after 15 minutes knowing that I would not give it a second try. No way! I was at first not sure whether I had a problem with my TV or BluRay Player or both or with my eyes even. Surely no one would shoot a movie like this, would they? Like this meaning cutting half of the head off in every single take, varying only as much as occasionally the left half was missing, in other instances the top, sometimes the bottom or the right half. What the heck? At other moments the whole picture was moving so weirdly that I started to assume the camera man was not entirely sober. The acting was painfully unconvincing from the first moment on as well. Amateur does not need to equal wooden doll who speaks as if reading the text while talking…

Reading the blurb, I’m sure I’m not the only one who did/would assume it could be an interesting movie. Well, it isn’t. It’s dodgy and badly filmed.

Here’s another “enthusiastic” take

The War Movie Buff

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War Movies Set in Ancient Greece: A List

While I was compiling this list I realized that I have seen more war movies set in Roman times than movies set in Ancient Greece. Maybe it isn’t surprising as there has not been a proper “Ancient Greece Wave” yet. Most of the movies I found depict the story of Helen of Troy. Surprising. The most famous one is certainly Troy, closely followed by 300. I don’t mind them but they are not among my favourites either. In any case I prefer 300, I must say it is quite special and I included it on my List of 15 Most Original War Movies. My problem with Troy is the fact that I don’t like some of the actors (Who? Guess!).

  • Helen of Troy (US 1956) directed by Robert Wise, starring  Rossana Podesta, Jacques Sernas, Cedric Hardwicke
  • Esther and the King  (IT/US 1960) directed by Raoul Walsh, starring Joan Collins, Richard Egan, Denis O’Dea
  • The 300 Spartans (US 1960) directed by Rudolph Maté, starring Richard Egan, Ralph Richardson. Persian wars.
  • The Trojan Horse aka La guerra di Troia (IT/FR1961) directed by Giorgio Ferroni, starring Steve Reeves, Juliette Mayniel, Edy Vessel, Lidia Alfonsi, John Drew Barrymore
  • The Trojan Women (GB/ US/GRC 1971) directed by Mihalis Kakogiannis, starring Katharine Hepburn, Vanessa Redgrave
  • Helen of Troy (US 2003, TV series ) directed by John Kent Harrison, starring  Sienna Guillory, Matthew Marsden, Rufus Sewell, John Rhys-Davies
  • Troy (US/MLT/GB 2004) directed by Wolfgang Petersen, starring Brad Pitt, Eric Bana, Orlando Bloom, Diane Kruger
  • 300  (US 2007) directed by Zack Snyder, starring Gerard Butler, Lena Headey. Persian wars. (see my review)

Have you seen any of these movies? Which ones do you like? And which are others that need to be included?

Is The Fallen (2004) The Final Sacrifice or Letters from the Dead?

It does happen quite often that I like movies less than most people but not in this case. People either like or hate The Fallen but there seem to be much more who do not like it. I don’t really understand why but I’m not sure I have seen The Fallen. I have watched The Final Sacrifce which can’t even be found on IMDb. An amazon reviewer states that The Final Sacrifice is a remake of The Fallen by the same director with the same actors??? I seem to remember having seen the beginning of the movie a few years back but something stopped me and when I started watching the other day it took quite a while until I got that I was watching The Fallen. Meanwhile I found out that Ari Traub directed and earlier version called Letters from the Dead (2003). Very confusing. Be it as it may, I hope one of my readers knows more. In any case, the movie I have seen, called The Final Sacrifice, was not a bad movie at all. On the very contrary.

It is almost the end of WWII. We are in Northern Italy, in the Alps, in some outpost guarded by Italian and German troops who do not get along well. The movie is trilingual (which might have been a reason for the lack of appreciation) and for once the actors are of the “correct nationality”. No silly American flavored Italian.

The Germans try to defend their line against the attacking Americans. The Italians who should help, are, apart from an aristocratic officer, not that keen on assisting. The people and villages around them are their people, their families. More and more they think it is unjustified that they have been dragged into this war by their government. Many of the farmers around are selling goods on the black market, others join the Resistance.

When the Italian army and Italian Resistance meet, it’s a sad affair. Usually no one shoots and a few soldiers desert but as soon as the Germans turn up, there will be severe punishment for every one.

The Americans seem to be enjoying their stay in Italy. It isn’t as rough as Africa, nor as bloody as France or Belgium. At least not at this point in time. And they know they are winning which helps as well.

The Final Sacrifice of the title is a last desperate attempt of a German officer, who was a real moron all through the movie, to fight off the enemy almost on his own. The orders are to guard the post no matter what. Knowing the order makes no sense and the end is coming, he tries to save at least his men.

Admittedly the American parts were not that perfect, the German point of view was on the sentimental side but, and that’s why this movie gets 3.5 from me, the Italian point of view is extremely well told. It shows how delicate, complicated, desperate their situation was. The movie is also in a clichéd way funny, the difference between the Germans and the Italians leads to one slapstick-like clash after the other.

As I said, I liked it, it isn’t fantastic and will not make a Top 100 but it is a worthy attempt at showing a part of history that hasn’t been explored enough, namely the role of Italy in WWII.

I suggest you watch it and come back and tell me how you liked it.

Game of Thrones – A Song of Ice and Fire (2011) Epic Fantasy Starring Sean Bean

“Winter is coming. There is a war coming.”

I’m not going to bore you with any justification why I included Game of Thrones in my war movie blog. There are a few good explanations other than that I LOVE this series. I’m a sucker for epic fantasy, it’s my favourite guilty pleasure. Although compared to Lord of the Rings, this series has elements of Braveheart, King Arthur, 300, RomeCenturion and Gladiator. Game of Thrones is a large-scale genre blend that is like nothing I have ever seen on TV before.

I have just watched the first episodes and really love it. I haven’t read the books by George R. R. Martin yet (we are talking 3000+ pages) but I’m seriously tempted before watching more of the series.

The series starts with a scene in a snow-covered forest. A small group of men, the Night Watch,  encounters something unspeakable. Most of them will not survive the encounter. The only survivor is brought before Lord Stark (Sean Bean). The explanation he gives for what spurred his cowardly escape is strange, he says to have seen an ancient evil that hasn’t been lurking in the forest for 2000 years. Since he is not believed, he is sentenced.

Lord Stark is the master of Winterfell. The Starks are only one influential family in the divided world of Westeros. Intrigues and fights for the throne are constant, no family can trust an other one and even inside of one family there may be traitors. Winterfell lies in the North, King’s Landing, where King Baratheos reigns, lies in the South. Border between the North and the wild that outstretches far beyond the horizon is the Wall, a barrier made out of pure ice. The Night Watch is in charge of guarding the Wall. Being sent to the Wall is a questionable honor. The most able fighters are dispatched together with convicts, orphans and other outcasts.

In the first series we are introduced to four different families and the story moves between them. This is all quite fascinating and there are some interesting and complex characters to be discovered. What makes for an especially intense atmosphere is the threat of war and winter. This is a world in which seasons follow another rhythm than in ours. Winter can last longer than three years or not come at all for decades. It can be intense or light but it always brings unspeakable things, unrest and war. At the beginning of the series all the wise old men and women whisper to one another, they say that winter is coming and that it will be long and awful.

Do you like Lord of the Rings? Did you like Rome, King Arthur, 300 and Centurion? Are you a Sean Bean fan? Do you consider epic fantasy and action movies to be worthy of your attention? If so, I guess that you have to watch this stunning new HBO series.

Last but not least, this isn’t a series for prudish people. The episodes showing the Dothraki people and their wild ways and interactions with their women includes quite a bit of nudity.

Casablanca (1942)

Cinema doesn’t get much better than this.  Casablanca is one of the truly outstanding movies, a movie to watch and re-watch.

It is not, in the strict sense of the term, a war movie, that’s obvious, it’s a war-time movie or, if you like, a war romance.

It is one of the movies I have seen the most. At least four times. One of the viewings was a mixed bag as it was the Technicolor version. Casablanca is the prototypical black and white movie. The Technicolor version was really outrageous and sacrilegious. So watch out, if you have never seen it, the original Casablanca must be b/w.

Casablanca tells a tragic love story but more than that it’s incredibly atmospherical, it has some of the most famous movie lines, a haunting tune and two great actors, Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman at their best.

Rick and Ilsa met years ago in Paris, at the beginning of WWII. We see their love story in flashbacks. When Rick decides to leave Paris with Ilsa, she simply doesn’t show up at the train station.

Years later they meet again in unoccupied Morocco. Rick is the hardened and cynical owner of one of the most popular bars in Casablanca. All sorts of people visit or hide in his establishment. Pretty much like all sort of people have come to Morocco for various reasons, most of them however hoping to get a visa for the US. There are also some nasty German characters swarming the premises.

When Ilsa and her husband appear in Rick’s bar, this is a shock for everyone. What happened in Paris, why did she not turn up and what does she want now? Ilsa and her husband try to get to America.
Will Rick help her or not? Will she leave her husband?

It is hard to imagine that anyone hasn’t seen this movie but, just in case, I’m not going to tell anything more.

Rick’s character is one of my favorite movie characters. I like the dialogue in Casablanca a lot. Rick is very cynical but has a point. He also illustrates that while women tend to get depressed, men tend to start drinking when life is too rough. He is one of those great monosyllabic movie characters with a “Don’t-you-dare-to come-too-close” attitude. I think it is precisely Rick’s character and Bogart’s great acting that prevent this movie of an unhappy love triangle to become mushy.

A movie like this would be unthinkable nowadays for many reasons. One can be summed up by the term “esthetic of smoking”. Not that I smoke but smoke rings look good in black and white movies, they add some mystery, just like fog.

Age of Heroes (2011) Sean Bean Starring in A Movie on the British Commando Unit in WWII

It would be very hard for me not to watch a movie starring Sean Bean and that is why I was looking forward to Age of Heroes a movie based on the true story of Ian Fleming’s Commando Unit. Lucky yesterday wasn’t one of my impatient days or I wouldn’t have finished it. It would have been too bad as the movie improves considerably after the first 15 extremely dodgy minutes are over. But, judging from the ratings on IMDb, people didn’t forgive the movie its beginning…

Age of Heroes follows a British special forces unit on a crucial mission called “Operation Grendel”. The men, being part of Ian Fleming‘s  so-called Commando unit, one of the first special forces units, have undergone a very hard training. They are led by a hard but funny training officer (William Houston) and their highly appreciated leader Major Jones (Sean Bean). Jones is one of the best leaders I’ve seen in a war movie. He is tough but just, clever, courageous and not without kindness. Part of the unit is the Norwegian born American Steinar (Axel Hennie, Max Manus). This makes a lot of sense as the mission takes place behind enemy lines in occupied Norway. The Commando unit will have to drop in Norway and get some German radars in order to analyze them. The whole operation has been planned and is closely supervised by Ian Fleming (James D’Arcy) in London. A lot of what he experienced during the war when he was an assistant of the Director of Naval Intelligence was later used in his James Bond novels.

Needless to say that this was a dangerous suicide mission and, typical for this type of endeavor, many things went wrong and people died. As we get to know the characters well before they go on their mission, we care for them. One of them is introduced early, in the unfortunately weird beginning that takes place in France, and we get to know and like the others in the British training camp.

All in all it was an entertaining movie if somewhat flawed. It is flawed because it reminded me of some recent Resistance movies and lack of originality is a flaw. But it was also flawed because the film makers seem not to have been decided whether they wanted this to be more of an action or more of a war flick. The story is a war story but the movie is told like an action film.

If you like Sean Bean and have never heard of the Commando unit, the precursor of the SAS, you will enjoy watching it and, due to the action twist it is quite gripping.

Europa Europa aka Hitlerjunge Salomon (1990) The Story of a Jewish Boy Hiding Among Nazis

Agnieszka Holland’s movie Europa, Europa is based on the true story of Salomon Perel. It is frequently mentioned as one of the top 100 war movies. It’s a harrowing and quite unbelievable story, still I have to confess that I did not like it.

The Perels are a Jewish family living in Germany at the beginning of the war. When anti-Jewish acts become more and more frequent, they are attacked and the daughter is killed. Salomon’s parents send the young boy and his brother to Poland where he should try to survive at any cost. He looses his brother early in the movie and ends in a Russian communist orphanage. Here he is given a passport and has to undergo some serious communist re-education. When the Germans invade Russia, the orphanage is attacked. They all flee and Salomon gets captured on the way by a Nazi patrol. All the Jews are shot immediately and it is only thanks to an extreme presence of mind that Salomon manages to make them belive that he is a true German and that he can be extremely useful as interpreter since he speaks Russian fluently. The soldiers take him along and he fights with them, helps them as a translator. He has to be super careful that no one sees him naked and this will stay a constant topic throughout the movie. The fact that he is circumcised would give his identity away.

A German officer hears of the young boy and that he is an orphan. He likes the bright boy and thinks of adopting him but first he sends him to one of the Nazi elite schools where he will be educated and trained. Here again, he has to be careful in order to not be found out. There are a few incredible scenes in the school. In one scene a teacher shows that one can see unmistakably, that, despite his dark hair, Salomon is of pure Aryan breed. The pupils are taught to hate the Jews and how to detect them. The absurdity of such scenes is incredible and Nazi madness made apparent.

Salomon is barely 16 years old and falls in love for the first time. Although the girl is willing “to do it”, he has to say no. The danger of being detected is too big.

It is incredible to think that he got away with it for so long. He blended in so perfectly, was such a good actor and so cold-blooded that they never even suspected him to be Jewish.

After the war Salomon finds out that his whole family died in a ghetto in Poland. He leaves Europe and settles in Palestine. At the end of the movie we catch a glimpse of the real Salomon Perel.

It took me a while to figure out why I didn’t like this movie. I didn’t like it because I didn’t like Salomon. I suspect that I found his behaviour cowardly. He isn’t much better than a collaborator. It disgusted me to see him act and talk like a Nazi. Sure, he was only a boy, he wanted to survive, he lost his family… I think sometimes it’s better to die than to sell out. Bit harsh, I know, but surviving is not everything.

I’d be really interested to know what others think of this movie.

Europa, Europa is part of the Children in War Movies List