Sunday, 20 November 2011

This means War!

War, HUR! what is it good for? - well, apart from the economy and the attendant leaps in science and medicine, it provides us blokey types with a ripe source of unadulterated man-style entertainment in the form of... the war movie. Sadly, blowing foreign people to bits and shooting the kerrap out of stuff isn't socially acceptable (well, thats what the Magistrates told me at my preliminary hearing...)  - but you can watch actors doing it so long as they are pretending. So, before I descend to homo-erotic jokes and using words such as 'inadequate', 'repressed', 'substitute' and 'envy' lets slap on the camo-creme* and lock n'load...    (*First invented by Max-Factor no less. I'm not inferring anything. Really.)

Cross Of Iron was Sam Peckinpah's only war film - another ten wouldn't have been enough. James Coburn is Steiner, who leads a squad of characters straight out of a Sven Hassel novel - a misaligned bunch who fight only to survive in the hell of the Russian front. Demoralized and mentally defeated, the war-hating Steiner fights a losing battle for sanity and life. Add strong support from officers David Warner and James Mason and a sterling performance from Maximilian Schell as the hated and cowardly Captain Stransky to stamp this one with the seal of quality. A rare gem; an anti-war film with plenty of war for us chaps.

O.K. - you were waiting for Black Hawk Down, Schindlers List or Lawrence Of Arabia perhaps. Sorry (I'm not), but it's MY blog; me, me, me... and, while those (and many others) are worthy of a place here, I'm going for flicks that I find entertaining, fun and cool. BHD for instance - amazing film showing the bravery of elite US troops surrounded and out-gunned, a true story with real heroes. So why do I favour fictional heroics? - because it's my choice; actually, BHD left me feeling exhausted and actually rather disturbed, the relentless hammering those poor sods took made me feel guilty watching it in safety, it was that real.
Maybe you understand - either way, heres Clint Eastwood spitting bullets at the Germans and spitting the US High Command in the eye at the same time.

Kelly's Heroes is a product of the end of the sixties - a new-agey grooved-up yarn about a bunch of US soldiers who decide to make retirement comfortable with a behind-the-lines bank robbery. Telly Savalas is 'Big Joe', a Master Sergeant who specialises in supply and demand (basically a clone of his character from Battle of the Bulge), a fixer who gets Kelly the men and gear he needs after stumbling across the location of millions of dollars' worth of gold bars. 'Oddball' - Donald Sutherland steals the show as a half-crazy/half-nuts tank commander, who, with his aversion to "Negative waves" lifts the film into the realms of genius.
Normally, to get me to sit through foreign movies with subtitles they either star Jackie Chan or nubile European ladies who spend a lot of time in the altogether while the commentary pretends that the film is artistic... not so here, with Bruno Ganz smashing the pants off even Anthony Hopkin's incredible attempt at Hitler in The Bunker  (A seventies mini-series that set the bar for everything on the subject after). The film is based on Traudl Junge's testimony - and she should know her stuff, being Hitler's secretary. Mainly set in those last, forlorn days of spring in 1945, the scene is underground, deep beneath the shattered Reichs Chancellery in Berlin. Here, in the dank concrete tomb that was his bunker, Der Fuhrer acted out the part he had written for himself with the murder of a generation, the blood of german youth being drained above in the wrecked city. The madness is encapsulated in one scene, with Hitler's final public appearance, pinning the Iron Cross on children who had managed to survive attacks on soviet armour. Not a feel-good film, true, but a fascinating insight into the final days of a tyrant.

I'll break with habit - and keep it brief. Five Oscars should tell you that, if you haven't seen this one, you really should. Again, I've gone for fiction over truth - Spielberg's fact-based Schindler's List is far worthier, but this is a towering achievement in sheer entertainment. Still want facts? - check out Band of Brothers, the TV spin-off - true story, true glory.  

Based on the real events surrounding an escape from Stalag Luft III in Poland, this is actually fairly far removed from fact - no Americans escaped, for instance. However, actor Donald Pleasance was a POW (in WWII - at Stalag Luft I) and James Garner was wounded fighting in Korea, so at least some of the cast can be said to be accurate. Speaking of casting - this is one of those you-couldn't-make-it-now films, with an incredible array of stars, notably Steve McQueen. Regular Boxing Day viewing in our house.

Das Boot (also released as the inferior overdubbed The Boat) is simply the best war film ever made. I don't care - it is. Jurgen Prochnow's gaunt Kapitanleutnant has tight hold of the reins aboard a German Submarine during the Atlantic campaign. Harassed by both depth-charge attacks and the extreme weather, the crew - and the viewer - are pushed to the very edge of their limits and courage. Lothar-G√ľnther Buchheim wrote the novel, based on his experience as a marine war correspondant during WWII, but the film more closely follows the true story of U-96, commanded by Heinrich Lehmann-Willenbrock, who served as a consultant on the film.

Incidentally, I once knew an old U-boat sailor called Karl, who spent his last years in Brighton. I asked him what he had thought of the film - his reply was that it was real, apart from the knowledge that you wouldn't be killed watching it. Now, until they invent Death-O-Vision, that's the last word on the film.

Another one with a wish-list cast - Sean Connery and Gerd Froebe on opposite sides and it's not Goldfinger? - yep, and a long list of other top names propel this black and white D-day tale into the realms of the truly classic. Chronicling the events of one momentous day, this is a sweeping epic that doesn't suffer from lack of colour. Definitely worth seeking out.

Francis Ford Coppola taking this one on must rank as one of the bravest (or dumbest) decisions in Cinematic history. Sets destroyed by storms, Helicopter pilots flying off mid-shoot, Lead actor Martin Sheen suffering a heart attack, and Marlon Brando too overweight to shoot properly... one of the most remarkable things about Apocalypse is that it was ever completed.
Captain Willard, a burnt out Special Forces operator, wants a mission. He gets one; go up-river on a Navy PBR patrol boat, seek out and assassinate Colonel Kurtz, Brando's jungle-happy character, who has taken over a tribe composed of native Montagnard people and random ex-US Military types.
This is comparable to a road movie - through the experiences of Willard, we travel both up a river and along a dark path leading to the brilliant madness of Kurtz.
Supporting this fantasia we encounter the likes of Colonel Kilgore (Robert Duvall), an Airborne Cavalry officer with a passion for surfing, Mr.Clean (The 14 year-old Laurence Fishburne) as a kid from the Bronx given a uniform and a machine gun and the ever-good-value Dennis Hopper as a cracked American photographer stranded in Kurtz's realm.

As so often, I can't do this justice - may I humbly recommend Wikipedia, for detailed information about, well, everything really - but these films in particular.

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