War Movie Watchalong – Master & Commander

This is the first time I’m doing a watchalong and I’m quite excited. The first pick was Master & Commander and we watched it before and are now posting the answers to the questions today.

How did you like the movie?

I have seen Master & Commander before and always liked it. The story is suspenseful, the characters are interesting and what is even more important to me, the cinematography is stunning. It is one of those movies you can re-watch and you will see it in a different way every time.

Is Aubrey a good Captain?

I think this depends on how you define a good Captain. He certainly is a very charismatic Captain and his people would do everything for him. He is also said to be very lucky and since seamen seem to be a very superstitious lot, it’s good for him to be considered lucky. This assures their respect. But apart from being charismatic and lucky, he is adept and very cunning.

Who is your favourite character and why?

I’d say, it’s the young boy, Blakeney who looses an arm but stays so brave and poised. The boy is very intelligent and learns a great deal as well from the Captain  as from the doctor. I liked how he is able to pick the best from every one and make the best out of every situation.

Cpt Aubrey and Dr Stephen Maturin, the surgeon are very different. How did you like their friendship?  Is it plausible?

They are perfect contrasts and they make each other’s characters shine because they are so different. I did however not always think it all that plausible. The discussions yes, I can see that you can be very different and still have a great friendship, great discussions but I would doubt a man like the Captain would enjoy to play music with the doctor.

Aubrey and Maturin disagree on the responsibilities of a ship’s captain.  Who is right?

I do belive that in general Aubrey is right. He is a very capable Captain, he knows his business but in this particular instance, he isn’t following his own principles anymore. He has become a fanatic, drive by his ego. Maturin, rightly tries to reason with him but to no avail.

What did you think of the way the French are depicted?

They are shown to be the aggressor and very sneaky too. But, as the end shows, they are also very cunning. I didn’t have too big a problem with that. The French are shown as negative but not as stupid, on the very contrary, it’s because they are so cunning that Captain Aubrey feels challenged.

The story of the Jonah is quite intriguing, What did you think of it?

Seaman are said to be superstitious and it isn’t surprising. Life on a ship is hard and you are constantly exposed, to your enemies, the weather conditions, nature… It’s a precarious life. As much as they believe in luck, they believe in bad luck. The story of the Jonah is a means to explain why they are running out of luck. They try to catalyze the tensions and pick a scapegoat. It’s very unfair and shows how easily the seamen believe in tales. I thought it was very uncanny.

What was more important – getting the enemy or collecting scientific samples?

That depends on the point of view but I would say, the mission was over and they could have dedicated their time to collecting samples. They were not told to follow the French to the end of the world.

Was it ethical to disguise the Surprise as a civilian ship?

It was a fantastic idea but I think, no, it wasn’t ethical. It served its purpose. I was wondering if something like that could have happened. Were there rules of warfare? I don’t know.

Did you think the ending was satisfying?

I have, as I said, already watched the movie before but had completely forgotten the ending. I was surprised to see that it ended like this. It was satisfying because it showed how clever the enemy was but there is no proper end to the story. I’m meanwhile surprised they didn’t make a sequel  but I’m glad they didn’t. Those sequels often water down a orginal idea. The end also showed that the French Captain was as obsessed as Aubrey himself. These are two worthy opponents.

Here are the links to the answers of others

Novroz (Polychrome Interest)

War Movie Watchalong – Master & Commander – The Questions

As many of you know, we are doing a double watch along of two movies, the first one being Master & Commander.

Here are the questions should you want to participate.

Of course you do not need to answer these questions, you can also just post a review on the movie and link to my site.

  • How did you like the movie?
  • Is Aubrey a good Captain?
  • Who is your favourite character and why?
  • Cpt Aubrey and Dr Stephen Maturin, the surgeon are very different. How did you like their friendship?  Is it plausible?
  • Aubrey and Maturin disagree on the responsibilities of a ship’s captain.  Who is right?
  • What did you think of the way the French are depicted?
  • The story of the Jonah is quite intriguing, What did you think of it?
  • What was more important – getting the enemy or collecting scientific samples?
  • Was it ethical to disguise the Surprise as a civilian ship?
  • Did you think the ending was satisfying?

Tha date for the watchalong is Tuesday 27 December 2011.

The questions for Talvisota will be published tomorrow.

10 War Mini-Series You Must See

When I wrote my post on ANZACS the other day I realized that there are quite a few great war mini-series out there. There are certainly more than 10 but out of all those I’ve seen or heard of, I would say, the 10 that I mention below are the ten you should really not miss. They all cover different wars or different aspects of the same wars. Many of them are better than most movies. My favourites are Band of Brothers, Hornblower, Sharpe and Generation Kill.

Wings (1976) WWI Air Combat. I must admit, I haven’t seen this yet but it has a great reputation among air combat fans and should be a nice companion to the WWII based series Piece of Cake.

Danger UXB (1979) WWII – Bomb disposal unit. I liked this series when I watched it quite a bit. It gives you a good feel for what a bomb disposal unit had to go through during the Blitz. All the different types of bombs. The characters are appealing and we get a good impression of civilian life during the Blitz as well. Here is my review.

Das Boot 1985 – WWII submarine. Das Boot exists in two versions. One is the cinema the other the TV version which was twice as long. I have seen the cinema version which is one of the best war movies there is. Some people prefer the longer TV version. It’s worth checking out.

ANZACS (1985) WWI. Infantry combat. I just reviewed the final episodes of this excellent mini-series that follows the ANZACS from Australia to Gallipoli and from there to the Somme and back home again. Great combat scenes and a nice “band of brothers” feel. It also contrasts British command and Australian insubordination in a funny way. Here is my review.

Piece of Cake (1988) WWII Air Combat. The series follows the men of the Hornet Squadron during the early weeks of WWII. It shows how inexperienced boys become excellent fighter pilots.

Sharpe (1993 – 2008) – Napoleonic wars. Infantry and cavalry. Based on the novels by Bernard Cornwell this is a very elaborate and suspenseful series. In its center is the character Sharpe an enlisted man who is such an excellent soldier that he is soon raised to the rank of officer. This is problematic as he isn’t an aristocrat. He faces injustice and adversity. Sean Bean stars as Sharpe. It’s one of the best roles of his career. Here is my post.

Hornblower (1998 -2003) – Napoleonic wars. Naval combat. This is another extraordinary tale of one man’s ascent. Ioan Gruffud stars as Horatio Hornblower which might explain why I hear this series mentioned quite often by women.  If you like Master & Commander, you will love this. It’s like a very long version with an appealing central character. It is based on the books by C.S. Forester. Here is my post.

Band of Brothers (2001) WWII. Infantry combat. This is one of the most amazing series. Based on the book Band of Brothers it follows the paratroopers of Easy Company from 1941 – 1945, starting in the US until the freeing of the KZ’s. The characters of this tight-knit company are very well depicted and you really care for all of them. Seeing them die or get wounded is harrowing. Some of the episodes, like the one called Bastonge, are so intense, they still overshadow most other WWWII infantry combat scenes I’ve seen before or after.

Generation Kill (2008) Iraq. Special unit. This is a series that is hard to get into, especially when you are used to others. It has a very slow build-up but after two episodes I really appreciated it. It achieves a very authentic depiction of modern warfare and shows how problematic it is to send a generation used to war games into combat. It shows how much is absolutely boring, just standing around and waiting. At the center of the unit is the “Iceman” Sgt Brad Colbert played by Alexander Skrasgard. The Iceman is an amazing character and even more so because he is based on a real person. This guy really always keeps his cool. The series is based on the account of an embedded journalist. Here’s the link to the book. And here is my post on The Iceman.

The Pacific (2010) – WWII. Infantry combat. If you do not compare this series to Band of Brothers, you will like it. It’s less the story a group of people than individual stories. The soldiers are also shown during their leaves and some love stories are incorporated. However the combat scenes are even grittier that those in Band of Brothers. Not pretty at all. My favourite episode is Rain on Cape Gloucester. Here is my Pacific short review.

Waterloo (1970) “Next to a battle lost, the saddest thing is a battle won”

Waterloo was more than just a movie for me. Watching it meant jumping head first into childhood memories.

“Waterloo, Waterloo, morne plaine…” No, this isn’t the French version of the AbbA song. I am afraid the words are not bound to tell you much. I can still hear my father’s voice drone this part of  Victor Hugo’s famous poem L’Expiation (an endless poem by the way) on Sunday mornings. I said it in my last post, I went through a bit of an obsession with Napoléon as a child and guess I deserved a little punishment and therefore frequently had to listen to the long and never-ending recitation of that poem. Sorry for this little digression… Back to my review.

I haven’t seen this movie before and I must say it was high time. It is a worthy candidate for a place among my Top 20. I loved every minute of it (with the exception of the animal stunts. Being reminded that this a Russian production and the well-being of horses might not have been high on the agenda did NOT help. It is funny how all of a sudden one likes the idea of CGI. I never thought I would ever write such a sacrilegious thing.)

As the title indicates, this is not a Napoléon biopic. It doesn’t show the great man’s life, only a fatal and tragic part of it, the battle of Waterloo. Maybe the best known of all the French battles (apart from Austerlitz) in France.

The movie starts with what has become in French the synonym for something long, endless and wearisome, namely “Les adieux de Fontainebleau” or “The Goodbyes at Fontainebleau” in which Napoléon, before being exiled to Elba,  says goodbye to his troops. He states in the movie that he deplores that he can not say goodby to each and every one of them still it is said that it took hours. After having been defeated on the battlefield he was forced to abdicate and go into exile to the island of Elba.

Rod Steiger manages masterfully to show how emotional Napoléon was. This man was driven by strong emotions and passions. And it seems that the troops loved him for this display of feelings.

He stayed at Elba some ten moths and then returned to Paris where Louis XVIII (Orson Welles) had taken back the throne. The moment when he meets the troops is another highlight in this movie. He wins them back easily and becomes emperor once more.

After this episode he heads the troops and marches towards Belgium to engage the troops of Wellington.

Before the movie takes us to the battlefield it briefly stops in a ballroom in Belgium where Wellington (Christopher Plummer) and his men are introduced.

Two thirds of this movie are dedicated to the battle of Waterloo. I think it is incredibly well done. I liked those costumes and the way we could see the battle formations. There was such a huge difference whether cavalry charged against cavalry or against infantry. The moment when the French cavalry attacks the British infantry is horrible. The horses are shot down one by one. The square battle formations of the infantry made it impossible to win for the attacking cavalry. Like this the horses could be shot down from every angle.

At moments, while I watched this and saw the tactics the two men applied, how they overlooked the battlefield, sent troops from here to there, removed them from somewhere else, I was reminded of chess.

The two great men, Napoléon and Wellington are shown as complete opposites. Naploéon goes through every possible emotional change while Wellington stays poised and self-possessed. While one is of very humble origins, the other is an aristocrat through and through.

We all know the outcome of the battle and when it is over, not even Wellington is unmoved and he says the famous words:

Next to a battle lost, the saddest thing is a battle won.

I really enjoyed Waterloo. I liked the costumes, the uniforms, the battle formations, Wellington’s poise, Napoléon’s sadness, the composition of the British regiment, the Irish troops with their rosaries and the Scottish with the bagpipes.

I would recommend this movie to every one who is interested in French and British history and the Napoleonic Wars, who likes costumes and has an interest in miltary tactics of the time.

Movies on the Napoleonic Wars (1792-1815): A List

I watched the Hornblower series last year and enjoyed it very much. I re-watched Master & Commander and thought once again that it is really a good movie. Finally I discovered the Sharpe series with Sean Bean and I like it a great deal as well (at least those I have seen so far). Considering that they are all based on the Napoleonic Wars, I thought it might be high time to see what else there is. I found quite a few movies, some I have seen a long time ago, like Abel Gance’s Napoléon, and others that I still would like to watch. I also included movies on the man himself as I figured there will not be many biopics on Napoléon leaving out the wars. When I was a child I went through a bit of a Napoléon obsession and remember contemplating his wax figure at the Musée Grévin in Paris with awe. I should have been awed that even as a ten-year old child I wasn’t that much smaller. There are quite a lot of German and French productions of the topic. I did include them although not all of them have been subtitled.

The movies that I would like to watch soon are Waterloo with Rod Steiger, the mini-series Napoléon and Ridley Scott’s The Duellists.

As ususal any comments, additions or ratings are highly welcome. The Duellists is a movie I wouldn’t have known of, if it hadn’t been for Guy Savage‘s recommendation in a comment.

Sharpe’s Rifles (1993) First of a Series of 14 British TV Movies on the Napoleonic Wars

If America only knew how good this was, it would be the highest rated Made-For-TV movie series of all time (hard to believe there are more people out there that would rather watch “The Columbo Mysteries” than Bernard Cornwell’s Sharpe Chronicles- that just goes to show the power of major network name-brand advertising. (Comment from a US IMBD reviewer)

The British TV movie Sharpe´s Rifles is the first of 14 installments focussing on the fictional character Lt.Sharpe. Bernard Cornwell’s novels are the source for this series. There are certain parallels to the Hornblower series (see Hornblower post) with the difference that Sharpe shows the Napoleonic wars on land. Unlike the Hornblower sequences these are full-length movies, each 110 minutes long.

I started to watch it on the last weekend and am really quite taken by it. This enthusiasm is certainly also due to Sean Bean´s starring as Sharpe. He is an excellent choice for this rough but likable maverick and daredevil.

In the first movie we get to know Sharpe and the motley crew of Chosen Men (snipers riflemen) that is very unwillingly under his command. Sharpe who is a sergeant is promoted to lieutenant because he saves General Wellesley´s life. Promoting someone from the ranks who is, like Sharpe, not a gentleman, proves to be somewhat problematic. The other officers don´t accept him because he is not one of them, the soldiers do not accept him because he is one of them. He really has a hard time proving himself and on top of that they are at war.

Sharpe´s Rifles takes place in 1809 in Portugal. Spain and Britain are supposedly allies against France but it seems as if Spain is not 100% decided on which side they want to fight.

Sharpe and his men, together with a company of officers and soldiers, are sent on a secret mission to find a banker that has disappeared and are attacked by a group of French soldiers. Apart from Sharpe and his men everybody gets killed.

In this movie Sharpe also meets Teresa or “El comandante Teresa” for the first time. Having survived rape and the butchering of her family by the French she holds  a bit of a grudge against the French and men in general. Even so, love at first sight strikes them both. The whole love story part did actually remind me a lot of the one in The Last of the Mohicans. Teresa is a strong woman, the leader of her men and a very capable fighter herself.

After they have met, the main story line follows Sharpe, his men and Teresa on their way to a little Spanish town where they must raise the Spanish flag. Ok, this is not a gripping idea but it is excusalbele as this was the first movie in a long series and its main goal is to introduce us to the characters.

From the reviews I read I can deduce that there are much better installments still to come. As a first part this was very, very promising and I am looking forward to watch more of it.

No worries, I am not going to review them all. I´ll probabaly do some sort of final assessment once if have seen the others. For the time being I just wanted to share my discovery.

Below you find the beginning of part I. I think this should help you decide if you want to go for it.

A Story of Naval Combat in the Vein of Master & Commander or Why You Should Watch the TV Series Hornblower (1998-2003)

The British TV series Hornblower or Horatio Hornblower is based on the books by C.S. Forester starring Ioan Gruffudd (King Arthur) as Horatio Hornblower.

It is the movie that is closest to the fabulous Master & Commander that I have seen so far. Sure, there are older movies on the Napoleonic Wars and naval combat but this is my favourite.

I think there are a total of 8 installments. They mostly have two titles, a British and an American one.

The Duel

The Fire Ship

The Duchess and the Devil

The Wrong War

Mutiny

Retribution

Loyalty

Duty

Here are 10 reasons why you should give Hornblower at least a try:

1. If you are looking for movies that resemble Master & Commander

2. If you enjoy naval combat and some gripping rapier fights

3. If you care for a likable character who has to overcome obstacles and wins in the end

4. If you are a fascinated by this period in time and interested in the Napoleonic Wars

5. If you enjoy POW stories (one whole episode shows Hornblower as a captive)

6. If you like a gripping story

7. If two-hour movies are too short for you and you like well made mini series

8. If you are a fan of Ioan Gruffud

9. If you don’t care for too much romance but like a bit on the side  to add another dimension

10. If you like a wide range of fascinating characters, some of which are cunning and evil, others kind and heroic