Posts Tagged ‘world war ii’

inno“THE INNOCENTS” My rating: B+

115 minutes | MPAA rating: PG-13

Religious faith, political ideals, ignorance, charity, war, extreme human cruelty…there’s hardly a big topic that isn’t touched on in “The Innocents,” writer/director Anne Fontaine’s terribly sad and quietly riveting film set in rural Poland in the months after the end of World War II.

In the dead of night Mathilde (Lou de Laage), a French Red Cross nurse working with the survivors of German POW camps, is summoned to an ancient convent. There she discovers one of the holy sisters in labor.

The Mother Superior (Agata Kulesza) resents that an outsider has arrived to witness the order’s shame. She would prefer to have the patient die in childbirth. God’s will, and all that.

Nevertheless, Mathilde swears to keep the secret and performs a Caesarian section. Later the convent’s Number Two, Sister Maria (Agata Buzek), explains that the Mother Superior fears that the ignorant local populace would shun the nuns if word of the birth got out. It could mean the end of the convent.

One can only imagine how the locals would react if they knew that at least seven of the sisters are pregnant, and that virtually every resident — including Mother Superior — was raped repeatedly by Russian soldiers who seized the neighborhood nine months earlier.

“They should have killed us,” one of the sisters laments.

Set in a bleak winter landscape and filmed with a washed-out palette in which flesh tones provide the main source of color,  “The Innocents” uses this situation to study the various ways in which we deal with the injustices of an often-cruel world.

Mathilde, for example, is an atheist and a Communist (ironic, given that she narrowly escapes being gang raped by a squad of Soviet troops at a roadblock). But she is also a humanist and a healer, so she risks nighttime returns to the convent, which is quickly becoming a primitive maternity ward.


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Brad Pitt (foreground) and tank crew (left to right): Shia LeBouf, ** , Michael Pena, I*.

Brad Pitt (foreground) and tank crew (left to right): Shia LaBeouf, Logan Lerman, Michael Pena, Jon Bernthal.

“FURY”  My rating: B (Opens wide on Oct. 17)

134 minutes | MPAA rating: R

“Fury” is on one level one of the great war/action films, a face-first plunge into the blood, guts and terror of combat.
But writer/director David Ayer (“Training Day,” “End of Watch”) is aiming for more than just a stomach-churning visit to war’s visceral horrors. He wants to show how combat dehumanizes the individuals who must do the dirty work.
It’s impossible to watch the trailers for “Fury” — with a grimy Brad Pitt in charge of a World War II tank crew — and not be reminded of the Nazi-killing good ol’ boy Pitt portrayed in “Inglourious Basterds.”
That 2009 Quentin Tarantino film was an exaggerated, almost hallucinogenic comic fantasy of warfare. Ayer, though, plays it straight, eschewing overtly comic elements and pushing for an unflinching earnestness.
Only trouble is, he may have pushed too hard.
We are introduced to the five-man crew of Fury, a Sherman tank, on a German battlefield in the spring of 1945, during the last gasps of the war. The tank commander, Sgt. Don “Wardaddy” Collier (Pitt), makes short, silent work of a passing German officer (a knife in the eyeball does the trick nicely). He then climbs back into the tank occupied by three living crewmen and the headless corpse of a fourth.
We’re all accustomed to war movies stocked with various American “types”: a Jew, a Hispanic, a black, a college boy, a redneck. We’re meant to identify with them.
Just try identifying with the creeps who live in Fury. The mechanic Grady  Travis (“Walking Dead’s” Jon  Bernthal) seems more mumbling Neanderthal than modern man. The gunner, Boyd “Bible” Swan (a nearly unrecognizable mustachioed Shia LaBeouf), is intensely religious — he abstains from drink and women but seems to find sexual release in blowing Germans all to hell. The driver, Trini “Gordo” Garcia (Michael Pena), is a bit closer to normal — until you realize that he and Travis are most likely brothers-in-rape.
After years of fighting, whatever civilized veneer these guys had has been stripped away. No longer all-American boys, they are more of a renegade biker gang, killing prisoners and then retreating to their Sherman tank like wolves to their lair.


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The-Notebook-Hungary“THE NOTEBOOK”  My rating: B (Opening Oct. 10 at the Glenwood at Red Bridge)

112 minutes | MPAA rating: R

The varied parts of “The Notebook” don’t add up, but even taken individually some of those parts are amazing.

This Hungarian release from director Janos Szasz (it has absolutely nothing in common with the 2004 Ryan Gosling/Rachel McAdams weeper based on the Nicholas Sparks novel) falls into the children-warped-by-war genre. It is cousin to classics like the French “Forbidden Games” (1952) and the Soviet “Come and See” (1985).

The twist here is that instead of a single young protagonist through whom we experience war’s devastating effects, we are given a pair of identical twins, two young Hungarian boys who in the waning days of World War II are sent to live in the relative safety of the countryside.

In the opening moments we meet the unnamed youngsters (played by twins Laszlo Gyemant and Andras Gyemant) in their parents’ plush Budapest apartment.  Mother (Gyongyver Bognar) is beautiful and sophisticated and dotes terribly on her two little angels.  The father (Ulrich Matthes) is an officer whose access to military intelligence has convinced him that the Nazis with whom he has been collaborating for several years are on their way to defeat. When that happens he’ll be a marked man, as will his children.

Before sending his sons away, Father instructs them to keep a notebook of everything they encounter so that, when the family is finally reunited, he can see how they have educated themselves.

Mother takes the boys on a train ride to the sticks, where she deposits them at the farmhouse door of her mother (Piroska Molnar), a fat, bellicose, thoroughly unlikeable woman so antisocial she’s rumored to be a witch. We see no sign of occult activitiy, but just in her everyday life Grandmother is hell on wheels. She’s bitter have not having seen her daughter for years and contemptuously refers to the twins as “the bastards.”  She’s prepared to make them earn their keep by toiling around the farm. She parcels out food like it was gold. At night in the privacy of her room she obsesses over her small collection of jewelry and other valuables.


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Watching the new deluxe boxed set of HBO’s excellent World War II series “Band of Brothers” and “The Pacific,” I kept thinking what a great gift this would be for the fighting men of the “greatest generation.”

And then I realized that there aren’t that many of them left.

My own father, a Navy veteran in the Pacific Theater, just turned 90. I’m guessing the youngest combat veterans of the war are at least 85.

Which means that the lasting value of these two series lies not with the men who are their subjects, but with the rest of us, who will learn some moving things about love of country, sacrifice and doing the right thing.

Yeah, that’s kind of a sappy way of putting it, and it may seem incongruous coming from someone who once considered himself a pacifist.

But these monumental TV programs are like nothing we’ve ever seen before, an examination of both combat and the American character spread out on a vast canvas.


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"Winter in Wartime"

“WINTER IN WARTIME”    My rating: B

103 minutes | Rated R | Dutch with subtitles.  

A child’s simplified view of right and wrong is shattered in “Winter in Wartime,” a snowbound drama from the Netherlands.

Elsewhere in Europe WWII is still raging, but in the town where young Michiel (Martijn Lakemeier) lives the horrors are far away.

Still, Michiel hates the occupying Germans and is contemptuous of his father Johan (Raymond Thiry), the local mayor who spends much time trying to smooth over prickly relations between the Nazis and resentful residents. Johan wants only to ensure the survival of his people, but Michiel views him as a cowardly collaborator.

Far more worthy of emulation, he believes, is his Uncle Ben (more…)

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