Friday, 31 January 2020

The Best WWI Films

WWI Films: Six of the Best
Having watched and been disappointed by the Golden Globe winning / Oscar contending movie 1917, I was led to consider other World War One movies: Is there such a thing as a great one about the Great War? Rummaging through my collection (and looking at what others think...well, a little bit anyway), I have come up with the following list. Foreign language films and documentaries have been excluded, as well as films where The War is only a side-issue to the main focus of the story (The African QueenFor Me and My GalThe Life and Death of Colonel Blimp). And, of course, they must all be virulently anti-war; as I see it, anything that even slightly resembles pro is not much better than a snuff film.

#01  King and Country (1964  dir. Joseph Losey)
          [for showing how war is designed to make living insignificant]
#02  Oh! What a Lovely War (1969  dir. Richard Attenborough)
          [for showing how ultimately ludicrous this war in particular was]
#03  Paths of Glory (1957  dir. Stanley Kubrick)
          [for the best depiction of inhumanity in leadership]
#04  All Quiet on the Western Front (1930  dir. Lewis Milestone)
          [for its historical achievements in pacifism...and the butterfly]
#05  The Trench (1999  dir. William Boyd)
          [for its depiction of how claustrophobic trench-life was all about waiting for horror]
#06  The Dawn Patrol (1930  dir. Howard Hawks)
          [for the dogfights and showing how they killed eager boys as quick as breath]

Movies Watched:  January 2020      
A+ = Adored Masterwork   A = Excellent   A- = Very Good   B+ = Good   B = Nice Try   B- = Just Scrapes By 
C = Significantly Flawed   D = Pretty Bad   E = Truly Dreadful: Looking Into the Void   F = Absolutely Vile: The Void

d: Guy Ritchie
CAST: Matthew McConaughey; Charlie Hunnam; Hugh Grant; Michelle Dockery; Jeremy Strong
>  pure entertainment (if you can handle bloodshed & the c-word & drugs & perversion & pathological greed...all in good fun, of course); essentially a long anecdote, fortunately told by Hugh Grant in an is-that-really-him performance; big time crims vie for dominance in the UK for the marijuana market, with one event demanding retribution which demands another and another (y'know, like bad movie-guys do), until there are so many things going on you're glad you've got a narrator to explain it; the star of the show is the dialogue: fast, full of cool one-liners (some of which are bound to become classic quotes) and bloody funny if you can keep up
Award-Worthy Performance
Hugh Grant

d: Noah Baumbach
CAST: Adam Driver; Scarlett Johansson; Laura Dern; Alan Alda; Ray Liotta; Julie Hagerty
> primarily an actors' showcase, this is the least-soapie marital breakdown film since 1982's Shoot the Moon (which was also primarily an actors' showcase); this has the asset of occasional humour so it's not all relentless gloom 'n' yelling...but that's still there though, and at 136 minutes, it overstays its welcome; there are too many false endings (I counted three but the actual final one is admittedly perfect); Adam + Scarlett  are a totally viable married couple who know which buttons to push and their performance partnership is spot-on; supporting cast are all in the okay-to-good range and the kid isn't cruelly torn asunder, which is a blessed relief
Award-Worthy Performance
Adam Driver & Scarlett Johansson

d: George Cukor; Cyril Gardner
CAST: Ina Claire; Fredric March; Mary Brian; Henrietta Crosman; Arnold Korff
> this is the ultimate test for those who aren't keen on old movies (yes, there are people who suffer from this prejudice...I have a mate who refuses to watch anything in black & white); this is stagy, talky and hammy...but that's appropriate because it's about a family of theatre actors (based on the Barrymores); four stories chop in & out of each other but basically all spin on the same theme: luxury & fame are okay, but nothing beats a normal life (yeah, crap isn't it?); if you can apply a little patience, this is a creaky entertainment that has its comedic moments, most of which are supplied by Fredric doing a sensational John Barrymore send-up  
Award-Worthy Performance
Fredric March

1917 (2019)
d: Sam Mendes
CAST: George Mackay; Dean-Charles Chapman; Mark Strong; Colin Firth; Benedict Cumberbatch
> a visually-spectacular film (which I always struggle with if it's a war movie...I mean, should they really look good?), this WWI epic recalls other WWI epics (there are direct visual & plot quotes from Paths of Glory and Gallipoli) but can't entirely step up to join them; technically clever (it pretends to be one continuous take...which, of course, can't be), the story is of two Tommies seconded into running an errand: "get this message across enemy lines to a faraway battalion...if you don't make it, many men will die"; this inevitably means it's a Perils of Pauline narrative... one close call after another until the quest is over; while rats / body parts / Hun / mud add the compulsory horror, the story itself remains an action tale as much as any James Bond popcorner; but I don't want to be excited & hopeful...I want to be disgusted &'s total war

d: Fernando Meirelles
CAST: Jonathan Pryce; Anthony Hopkins; Juan Minujin
> I was (mostly) engaged by this rather choppily-edited film which, being about losing your religion & ethics & a talkfest extraordinaire, is an achievement in itself (for me AND the movie); one Pope wants to quit the top job and hand it over to another priest whose beliefs irk (he likes ABBA & plain, comfy shoes) and whose past is a little muddy but is still the ideal choice anyway; superbly acted by the two leads in a flawless performance partnership, the major weakness of this for me was that the flashback story (to the days of the heinous Argentinian dictatorship of 1976-1983) was far more gripping than the ceaseless moral chat between the two old guys
Award-Worthy Performance
Jonathan Pryce & Anthony Hopkins

d: Leslie Norman
CAST: Ernest Borgnine; John Mills; Anne Baxter; Angela Lansbury; Vincent Ball; Ethel Gabriel
> I've had a copy of this for years but haven't been game enough to watch it: a British-made film of Australia's classic play altered to make it commercially-viable in America...uh-oh; two blokes go up north cane-cutting for 7 months every year, returning to their sheilas for 5 months of fooling around...but after 16 years of this, in one summer it all changes; my biggest fears were the attempted Aussie accents (but that's not too bad: Ernest doesn't try + Angela half-tries + John is the best of the lot + Anne tries a lot) and all of the concessions made to appease the Yanks (much of our slang is cut out + the sex is toned down + Melbourne is replaced by better-known Sydney); however, what really got to me is, I think, the fault of the play itself: not enough interesting stuff happens; graded leniently out of patriotism

d: Don Chaffey
CAST: Patrick McGoohan; Susan Hampshire; Karen Dotrice; Laurence Naismith; Matthew Garber
> a 60's Disney film, the sort of thing old people took their grandkids to see during the school holidays for a treat (no wonder we read a lot of comics in those days); this child + animal story has one main thing going for it: it is decidedly odd; cat in Scotland contracts tetanus and is euthanized by the village vet...but it's his daughter's beloved pet...the little girl now hates her father (actually considers him dead!)...the cat goes to Pussy Heaven but the local witch brings him back with memory wiped...little girl gets asks witch for gets memory back and returns & witch get married; somewhere in all of this there is a Russian circus and a punch-up...throw in a frog, a badger, regular references to God and a kid who can play the bagpipes and you've got Nan's lumpy custard & rhubarb; I'll stick to the comics

d: Terrence Malick
CAST: August Diehl; Valerie Pachner; Michael Nyqvist; Maria Simon
> beauty in a coma...yep, it's another Terrence Malick film; set in Nazi Austria, this is the story of an alpine farmer / devout Christian / conscientious objector who joins up for the war anyway but refuses to swear an oath of loyalty to Hitler...well, the jackboot boys aren't too keen on that, and neither are the folks back home; while nobody could possibly argue with the film's ethical intention (it is a true story), as usual for Terrence the focus is on texture & colour & light while the story itself dawdles along, telling us the same thing over and over (we get it! his principles hurt his family!); I caught myself hoping for an explosion or something (I briefly considered yelling out FIRE! in the theatre, such was my craving for some oomph); with travelogue camerawork and patchwork montage structure, the film lulls while it looks absolutely stunning

d: Norman Foster
CAST: Joseph Cotten; Delores del Rio; Orson Welles; Eustace Wyatt; Ruth Warrick
> dull WWII espionage movie with Orson Welles's fingerprints all over it (it was produced by his Mercury Company) but not much of his talent; written, starring and poorly-narrated by Joseph, this is about a Yank engineer on his way to Russia via Turkey who is strongarmed onto a steamer and targeted for killing by a couple of Nazis; the other passengers are an anonymous lot and add nothing at all, and Joseph's character sleepwalks through most of it (he complains about being afraid occasionally); Director Norman (although I bet Orson helped out...there's some tricky camera placement here & there and the climactic high rainy ledge scene injects a bit of late, distinctive pizzazz) made Mr Moto & Charlie Chan films and this shows similar traits: too much talk and not enough suspense...but at least the Asian guys were fun...this hero is a snooze 

d: Taika Waititi
CAST: Roman Griffin Davis; Thomasin McKenzie; Taika Waititi; Scarlett Johansson; Sam Rockwell
> I don't think this works at all; Hitler & The Holocaust...monstrous, of course, but funny?, the blend of comedy + atrocity didn't work in Life is Beautiful either; if you're going to make fun of human barbarity, stick to silly all the way through (Life of Brian > crucifixion / Duck Soup > civil war), don't swirl in reality; as soon as this film cut to lynchings, dangling feet slowly turning, I knew Taika lost me...and there were more horrors to come; To Be or Not to Be, Colonel Klink and "Springtime for Hitler" sure, but when it comes to tittering at Nazis, that's it for me; saved from total rejection by the excellence of the performances...especially the kid
Award-Worthy Performance
Roman Griffin Davis

d: Ralph Nelson
CAST: Sidney Poitier; Michael Caine; Nicol Williamson; Prunella Gee; Saeed Jaffrey
> difficult to figure out exactly what sort of film the creators had in mind for this, but surely leaden-chase-movie wasn't the original aim; set in Apartheid-years South Africa, Sidney is on the run from the police + on the hunt for some diamonds to finance a political group...Michael accidentally & reluctantly joins him...on their tail is a pair of right bastards who will stop at nothing etc etc etc; peculiar touches of humour (none of which work) suddenly stop part way through, the sex interludes have no heat or point and the villains are join-the-dots / faux-Nazis of the hardly-frightening / more-hammy kind; Prunella is one of those women who apparently is incapable of running unless a man is holding her hand; Sidney & Michael do their usual stuff and as usual are quite watchable but even they fail to stir up anything other than the dirt

HOUSE (1985)
d: Steve Miner
CAST: William Katt; George Wendt; Richard Moll; Kay Lenz; Mary Stavin
> what a stupid movie: a horror/comedy with no scares, no laughs and no sense; William is a popular author & Vietnam War vet with PTSD who inherits an old, rambling house (exactly how does a house ramble anyway?)...he is recently divorced, is struggling with mental illness, his dotty aunt hanged herself and, oh yes, his son was abducted from the backyard (complete with speeding-away car!! My God!!)...out of all these traumas, the thing uppermost on his mind is making a start on his next book (although he occasionally rings the FBI to see if they've found his kid yet)...the house is full of ghosts & monsters, just to add to his everyday burden; an absolute load of codswallop with no style and no idea of how to be a movie so, of course, there were two sequels; the only beam of pleasure is that Norm from Cheers lives next door

1930 & 1931 pages now have a Special Awards component
Movie Jukebox is temporarily down for maintenance
Monthly Post Page revamped

Got something you want to tell me?