The Killing – Season 2 (2009)

The-Killing-Season-2

Strictly speaking The Killing 2 isn’t a war movie but since I reviewed Homeland I might as well review The Killing too. I watched season I first and because I thought it wasn’t bad at all, I went and got season 2 without knowing anything about the topic. Sarah Lund is a pretty unconventional detective that’s why she loses her job at the end of season 1 and is sent away from the capital to some frontier post.

When lawyer  Anne Dragsholm is found dead at a WWII memorial, her husband is arrested. The chief inspector has a feeling it can’t have been the husband and despite everything that has happened in series 1, he calls on Sarah Lund and asks her to come back to Copenhagen. Together with detective Strange, she is to look into the case.

At the same time Raben, an ex-soldier held at a detention facility, escapes and a young politician is made minister of justice. Soon after this, two other ex-soldiers are killed and other murders follow. The young politician is also looking into the case as it is possible that Islamic terrorists are at work.

Raben served in Afghanistan and after a few days of investigation it’s clear for Sarah Lund that he knew Anne Dragsholm and the dead soldiers. Very possibly something happened in Afghanistan which led to the killings.

If you are familiar with season 1 you know that Sarah Lund is unconventional but extremely clever and determined. She doesn’t leave any stones unturned. She even flies to Afghanistan looking for traces of a mysterious officer who is said to have killed civilians.

Like in the first series there are numerous red herrings, twists and turns, many suspects and the end is unexpected.

The season plays in a political and military environment and touches on personal and political themes. The tone is bleak and melancholic, the story gripping and the characters are all flawed and complex. This series is about more than just solving a murder, it includes sociological and political themes, portraits of dysfunctional families and a lot more.

I really liked this season. Much more than the longer season 1. I recommend it to anyone who likes thrillers and to those who like movies with military themes.

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Klemperer – Ein Leben in Deutschland – A Life in Germany (1999) German TV Mini-Series

When Klemperer was first aired on German TV, I watched the first episodes but because I was moving I had to stop after the fourth. I always meant to re-watch the beginning and finally finish the whole series which consists of 12 episodes.

I had really liked the beginning at the time and now that I have finally re-watched those first four episodes I’m glad I still like it, maybe even more and I’m keen on watching the rest. However it’s very depressing. I didn’t remember it to be this upsetting but maybe it’s just me and I’m in a funny mood.

The series is based on Viktor Klemperer’s war diaries, 8 volumes of several thousand pages (here in English Viktor Klemperer’s diaries and in German here). The diaries are a fascinating document. I’ve read the first and it’s breathtaking. Klemperer was a professor of French literature, highly intelligent and with an amazing knowledge which all goes into the diary. He was also Jewish. The amazing thing in the series and the diary is the fact that it shows a man who is incapable of seeing what is going on and that we witness an amazingly intelligent person’s blindness. I find it must have taken a lot of guts to publish this diary because while it is very human it is still such an incredible flaw to be this blind.

To watch the series is eerie. It starts in 1933, just after Hitler was elected. At first there are just a few warning signals. Klemperer isn’t allowed to test non-Jewish students anymore, later he will not be able to publish anymore, they will remove him from certain classes and finally he will be fired. While many of his friends leave Germany very early, he doesn’t want to leave, he always thinks that maybe he will be exempt from the next measures only to find out that he wasn’t. His wife is not Jewish and since he himself isn’t religious, he always thinks they will make an exception for him. They even start to build a house.

Klemperer’s wife is an amazing character as well as she is so flawed and naive. She still moans about not being able to go on holidays when he has already been fired because he is Jewish.

As I already mentioned, the series is quite long. There are 12 parts of 45 minutes each, which means they have taken a lot of time to show the whole story and include a lot of details. I already know that the Klemperers will end up being sent to a camp but survive. Because it spans such a long time, 1933 – 1945, it really feels at times like having been there, having experienced some of it.  It is one of the best TV series I’ve ever seen. It has been very carefully executed and with Matthias Habich and Dagmar Wenzel, they have chosen two of the best German actors. Habich is one of my favourites, and one of the rare I like almost as much as Bruno Ganz.

A far as I know, there is no version with English subtitles available which is a pity. At least the diary is available in English too.

Homeland (2011- ) US TV Series starring Claire Danes and Damian Lewis

I’ve finally got a chance to watch the first few episodes of The US TV series Homeland.

Marine Sergeant Nicholas Brody (Damian Lewis) went missing in Iraq eight years ago, one of his friends who was there with him was found dead. His return causes quite a commotion. Not only among the public, journalists and the CIA but also in his family. He left a young wife and two small children behind when he went missing. His wife is having an affair with a friend and superior, the children are almost teenagers and estranged. And then there is Carrie Mathison (Claire Danes), an intense CIA officer who thinks that he has been turned by his captors and is plotting a terrorist attack on America.

Mathison made a lot of mistakes in the past and the CIA would like to get rid of her. Nobody believes her suspicions at first, she doesn’t get funding and decides to act on her own, breaking one federal law after the other, installing surveillance cameras in Brody’s home, following his each and every move, trying to catch him making contact.

The series kicks of well, it’s gripping and suspenseful, the premise, a US soldier who may only have survived captivity because he was turned, is interesting. Still, I had a few reservations. I wonder whether it is that realistic, to free someone from an eight year captivity and to push him right away to face journalists, politicians, CIA and the masses. The other problem I had, was the character Claire Danes played. She is driven and ambitious and a bit of a lunatic. On top of that she pops pills. We learn later that it is clonazepam – in other words a benzo – a heavy antipsychotic which is often used for unspecific or atypical psychosis. Hmmm…. Not sure what to think about that. Usually I have problems with the depiction of mental illness in movies and books. But I haven’t seen enough yet, so maybe they will get it right. It’s obvious that they want to make us doubt the character. It’s not an easy role, whether it will be believable in the end or not, and I think, Claire Danes does a great job.

Carrie is also tracking one of the most important terrorists, Abu Nazir. When she interrogates Brody she asks him whether he has met him during his captivity and he lies and says no.

As said, it starts quite good, quite intense but I couldn’t tell yet where it is going or whether I will really like it or not. But it’s certainly worth trying.

Grey’s Anatomy and The Iraq Vet with PTSD

While there is a Vietnam Vet in the True Blood books who has been changed into an Iraq Vet for the TV series to make him more age appropriate, there is also the story of an Iraq vet in the US TV series  Grey’s Anatomy. I was a bit surprised when series 5 introduced Dr. Owen Hunt, trauma surgeon at the Seattle Grace hospital, and to discover the back story. It’s an interesting depiction of an Iraq vet with severe PTSD, at times a bit over the top, but still believable.

Owen is a type “Ice man”, reminiscent of Sgt Brad Colbert in Generation Kill. He can handle pain and when it comes to help others he can put himself aside completely, he even functions extremely well in the Emergency Room under stressful circumstances.

His illness becomes obvious when he falls asleep. Whenever he gets woken abruptly he goes berserk as it reminds him of things he survived “over there”. When he is at relative peace he also suffers from flash backs which trouble him a lot. Whenever he is under pressure he functions remarkably well.

There is a relationship dynamic to the whole thing (obviously, as we are talking Grey’s Anatomy here) that intensifies his symptoms.

I have the odd comment of vets on this blog, some of them have done a few tours in Iraq and I would love to hear what they have to say, should they have watched Grey’s Anatomy.  One question I have, is whether it would be even possible for someone to be a trauma surgeon while suffering from severe PTSD?

True Blood and the Vietnam Vet

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.

ANZACS Part IV and V (1985) The Battles of Amiens and Hamel

This is just a short wrap-up post. I finally watched the last two episodes of the ANZACS mini-series and I liked them as much as the first three. There were a few predictable moments and the end was a bit anti-climatic but very realistic.

I would really like to recommend the series once more. It’s excellent. It’s also an amazing story. The bravery and courage of the ANZACS was really something. I already said it in another post that one thing that struck me was the way they went to war. They took it like some sporting adventure, they were big on comradeship and good spirits. It seemed a bit stretched at first but I’ve done some research and some of my readers confirmed that this was the way they were.

What you get to understand as well, when you watch this series is the huge difference the end of the war represented for the Australians and the French. All through the series you see the ravaged landscape, the bombed villages and although some places remind the lads of home, their country remained untouched. I’m not saying the contribution wasn’t great, no, but when they were finally back home, they could really leave the war behind. That was not possible for the French soldiers who had to cope with a devastated country. The land has still not fully recovered until today. There are still places where you see craters and trenches, where they left the barbed wire and there are still bombs exploding.

While Part IV is still heavy on combat, Part V, which is a bit anti-climatic, is a quiet part. It centers on the Armistice and the ANZACS’ return home to Australia.

Here are the reviews of Part I GallipoliPart II The Somme  and Part III Passchendaele.

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.