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Posts Tagged ‘World War I’

“THEY SHALL NOT GROW OLD” My rating: B+

99 minutes | MPAA rating: R

Time travel may be just a theory, but something like it is at work at theaters where Peter Jackson’s “They Shall Not Grow Old”  is playing.

Jackson, the director of the “Lord of the Rings” and “Hobbit” franchises, has taken hundreds of  hours of World War I movie footage owned by Britain’s National War Museum and from it fashioned a feature film that practically jumps off the screen and into our laps (and that’s even if you pass on the 3-D version).

The story he tells is that of common English men — boys, really — who signed up to go to defend their country and found themselves in the ghastly trench war of the Western Front in France.  The film relies on snippets of audio interviews the BBC conducted with veterans of the Great War back in the ’60s and ’70s;  now long gone, these men reveal their experiences and innermost feelings about what they went through.

But what makes “They Shall Not Grow Old” absolutely mind-churning is the way Jackson and hundreds of technicians restored the old footage, cleaning up the dust motes and cracked emulsion, colorizing the images and providing an immersive stereo soundtrack.

The film’s first 30 minutes are basically the story of recruitment and training in  black-and-white; then, with the troops’ arrival in France, the screen blossoms with color as we are, in effect, dropped into the meat grinder.

The transition from black-and-white to Technicolor is as poetically jarring as it was in “The Wizard of Oz.”

There’s stuff here that even hard-core World War I junkies haven’t seen. Like what a trench latrine looked like (a thick pole stretched across a pool of muck; we see four bare bottoms simultaneously making use of the facilities). Like a bad case of trenchfoot, a ghastly condition born of wearing wet boots and socks for days on end (in effect, it’s gangrene).

There are piles of dead rats, the result of a housecleaning in one trench. There are bodies hanging on the barbed wire; some stayed so long their living neighbors could watch the slow process of decomposition over weeks. (One old gent describes war as “a fantastic exhibition of anatomy.”)

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theeb“THEEB” My rating: B

100 minutes |No MPAA rating 

On a purely visual level the Oscar-nominated “Theeb” (for foreign language film)  is a knockout, capturing a Middle Eastern desert landscape with an eye to vast spaces and intimate detail in a style clearly meant to evoke memories of “Lawrence of Arabia.”

The setting — the Bedouin fight against the Turks during World War I — is the same as in David Lean’s great epic.

But this accomplished  directing debut from English/Jordanian filmmaker  Naji Abu Nowar is unusual in that it approaches the material from the viewpoint of an 11-year-old boy.

“Theeb” (Jacir Eid Al-Hwietat) — his name is Arabic for “wolf” — is the third son a recently deceased sheik. His closest companion is his older brother Hasseim (Hussein Salaamed Al-Sweilhiyeen), who is teaching the boy in the ways of the desert.

The film’s opening scenes have a timeless quality — it’s hard to pin down if the action is taking place today or a century ago.  It’s not until the arrival of a British officer (Jack Fox) in the nomads’ camp that we realize there’s a war going on. (In fact, Theeb and his family seem not to even be aware of the conflict.)

The Brit, evidently on a secret mission,  asks Hasseim to guide him to a distant watering hole where he is to meet up with some Arab fighters. Disobeying his sibling, Theeb follows at a distance until he’s so far from home that Hasseim has no choice but to bring the boy along on the journey.

The desert is always dangerous. In this case the perils are multiplied by bandits who prey on travelers.

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Russell Crowe in

Russell Crowe in “The Water Diviner”…the war goes on

“THE WATER DIVINER” My rating: C 

 111 minutes | MPAA rating: R

Russell Crowe’s acting is marked by fierce physicality and an equally intense  intelligence.

The Australian icon once again embraces those qualities in his feature directing debut, “The Water Diviner.” But the results are at best desultory.

Maybe Crowe bit off more than he could chew in tackling this  convoluted World War I yarn with epic ambitions.

He certainly should have been more discerning when it came to the muddled screenplay by Andrew Knight and Andrew Anastasios, which throws together big themes, cheesy romance and an approach heavy on flashbacks.

The film begins with the 1915 attack on the Gallipoli Peninsula in Turkey by British and Australian forces.  After months of savage fighting and thousands of casualties, the invaders are repelled and retreat across the sea.

Cut to Australia several years later where farmer Joshua Connor (Crowe) battles drought by using dowsing rods to detect underground water. He appears to have a real talent — possible psychic — for knowing where to dig.

Joshua and his emotionally devastated wife (Jacqueline McKenzie) lost their three sons in one day of fighting on Gallipoli. With the death of his spouse, Joshua decides to honor her last wish — that her boys’ bodies be recovered and buried beside her.

It’s a tall order. It means traveling to Turkey, navigating (or defying) the red tape of the British occupation, getting to the battlefield (from which civilians are banned because of the live ordinance still littering the landscape) and somehow finding three skeletons among the thousands buried in mass graves.

If you think Joshua’s dowsing abilities will come in handy, you’re right.

But there’s a lot more to this overly-busy yarn.

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