WWII

Criterion Files

First is a precarious position to be in, for in retrospect you stand in for the entire legacy (or, at least, for inaugurating the legacy) of the thing itself. It’s tough being the first, and can be burdensome. And of the first ten movies that were admitted into the Criterion Collection, there are some confounding choices. The Lady Vanishes (Spine #3), for instance, is a great film, but hardly amongst Hitchcock’s best (or even his best British work). It’s an…interesting choice for the first Hitchcock film in the DVD collection that would come to define 21st century cinephilia. But then again, way back in 1998, whose to say that the Criterion Collection had any idea the reputation it would cultivate? Criterion’s choices for its first two releases, however, are pitch-perfect. Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai, the film that defined his legacy and had a greater influence on world cinema than even his Rashomon, sits prominently at Spine #2. And Jean Renoir’s anti-war, prewar masterpiece, Grand Illusion, sits deservedly in Criterion’s #1 spot, with the weight of important classic and contemporary cinema resting comfortably on its shoulders. Grand Illusion may admittedly not have the empirical evidence of definitive influence of Seven Samurai (in other words, it has yet to be remade into a Western). But that is perhaps to its benefit. While Kurosawa made tens of samurai films, Renoir never made another movie quite like Grand Illusion, and the film still occupies a singular place in the history of war cinema – […]

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Culture Warrior

Editor’s Note: With Landon still celebrating Marcel Pagnol’s birthday, Cole was left to write this week’s entry. Please don’t riot. Every so often, The History Channel will play The Planet of the Apes, and it freaks me out. In recent years, the station has lost the meaning of its name completely, but a few years ago, I genuinely worried that someone would stumble upon the movie in progress, see the logo at the bottom, and be convinced that there was a time in Earth’s history that we were ruled by simians. There’s no proof, but considering that people have tried to rob banks with permanent marker all over their faces as a “disguise,” it seems possible that at least one person would be confused by a non-fiction station about our past playing a fictional movie where Moses pounded his fist into the sand in horror. Maybe there’s no real danger of that, but it still displays a certain power that movies have. They, like all stories, are how we share with each other. From person to person, from culture to culture, movies provide a certain shared sentience. A great story, told well, can transport and give insight into What It’s Like, especially in a world where photography and audio recording are relatively new technologies. The hitch is that there are still limitations to the art. The camera always lies, so even as we grasp toward understanding, it’s easy to be misled when it comes to experiences we have no personal […]

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On a hillside overlooking the beaches of Normandy, American soldiers surround a Korean and a Japanese man wearing Nazi uniforms. This is the second-most intriguing image of Mai-wei, the WWII epic from writer/director Je-gyu Kang. What’s even more fascinating is that the image is drawn directly from real life. How they got there (and into Hitler’s army no less) is a story told while trudging through the freezing mountains of Russia and the hot open plains of Korea. It’s an enormous movie, told through a decade as two competitive marathon runners – Jun-shik Kim (Dong-gun Jang) and Tatsuo Hasegawa (Jo Odagiri) – begin as alienated enemies and become friends through the brittle evolution of battle. Certainly its most striking achievements are the extended, highly-choreographed war scenes that steal the breath right out of your lungs. The visual style is an angrier version of Saving Private Ryan, but instead of beginning with Normandy, Mai-wei ends with it, and instead of having a few huge battles, Mai-wei has a solid half-dozen. Make no mistake; it’s a movie that slams your head into the wall without giving you a helmet.

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Why Watch? A thrilling WWII dogfight on a low budget. Writer/Director Nick Ryan‘s glorious short film is proof that with the right artistic eye, some effects equipment and a hell of a lot of time, you can create something truly jaw-dropping for a price that will drop that jaw even lower. And you can even do it with a great story and rock solid acting. Starring Toby Kebbell (RockNRolla), this short tells the story of a fighter pilot who chases down a Nazi ace who shot down his friend. Part revenge story, part morality play, it’s beauty injected with adrenaline and Spitfire fuel. Eat your heart out, Howard Hughes. Nick Ryan has a promising career waiting for him. What does it cost? Just 10 minutes of your time. Check out The German for yourself:

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Criterion Files

One major aspect of the Nazi propaganda machine that gained their support from the German people was their promotion of nostalgia. And like any form of nostalgia (and especially in nostalgia’s frequent political function), this was a selective nostalgia, decidedly exploiting certain tropes and icons of German history and heritage. A major component of this nostalgia was the promotion of nature as the means of returning to pure German identity. Nature provided a convenient contrast to the values that the Nazi party wanted to work against, and it’s opposite – the urban center – was the focal point of all they problems they perceived Germany as having been misguided by, most explicitly centralized in the supposed decadence of 1920s Berlin. The political, aesthetic, and sexual aspirations (not to mention the diversity) of the Weimar period posed a threat to the ideals of tradition, uniformity, and the assumed hierarchy of specific social roles. This nostalgic and romantic preoccupation with nature is readily available in German cultural products of the 1920s and 30s. Anybody who has seen Inglourious Basterds (2009) is familiar with the “mountain film,” or “bergfilme” genre that had peaked by this point. This genre was popular years before the Third Reich took power, and its prevalence speaks volumes to the German peoples’ preoccupation with nature leading up to the Hitler’s rise to power. Leni Riefenstahl, perhaps the most famous of Nazi-era filmmakers, starred in mountain films and went onto make Olympia (1938) and Triumph of the Will (1935), a […]

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Why Watch? Because sentimentality never dies. This short got some attention when it won a contest created by the Phillips Corporation which had a few restraining parameters in place. The films could only have six lines of dialogue, and they had to be: What is that? It’s a unicorn. Never seen one up close before. Beautiful. Get away, Get away! I’m sorry. It’s pretty limiting, but this short is a phenomenal example of where limitations can create something truly inspired. What does it cost? Just 3 minutes of your time. Check out Porcelain Unicorn for yourself:

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Howard Hughes just pissed himself. Or maybe he pissed in a few hundred bottles and then poured them all over himself, because the trailer for Red Tails is out and the aerial work in it is phenomenal. The George Lucas-produced movie, directed by Treme producer/director Anthony Hemingway tells the story of the Tuskegee Airman (or the 322nd Fighter Group if you want to get technical) as they broke racial boundaries in WWII. It stars Terrance Howard, Bryan Cranston and Cuba Gooding Jr in a role that might launch his career back on track. Regardless, the trailer leads off with its strongest suit and follows it up with a few snippets of dramatic acting:

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Why Watch? Because Dr. Seuss wants to tell you how to behave now that the war is over. Dr. Seuss and Frank Capra teamed up for this educational film shown to military personnel stationed in Germany after the war was won. As they point out, it’s a delicate peace. There can be a comedic quality to the way this film is presented (especially in light of its treatment of German history), but it’s also important to see this in the context of when and why it was created. It was a film specifically meant to keep its audience on its guard long after they finished watching it. It was also a serious flick made by two men with strong senses of humor. Sadly, unlike Seuss’s other work, none of it rhymes. What does it cost? Just 12 minutes of your time. Check out Your Job in Germany for yourself:

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Why Watch? Because you won’t find yourself closer to joining the Marines than this. Unless you’re a Marine. This documentary is a fly-on-the-wall embed with Marines as they face a grueling battle against the Japanese in the Pacific theater. The fight on Tarawa is a furious and severe act, and this film shares a gut-curdling unease leading up to the flying bullets and bombers. It’s raw in its glory and ugliness, and stands as a reminder of a particular cost of the living in this nation (and those who pay that cost). What does it cost? Just 20 minutes of your time. Check out With the Marines at Tarawa for yourself:

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As pointed out by my favorite airman, Memorial Day is exclusively a day to remember those that died during service, but it’s almost impossible to honor their memory without being acutely aware of those that survived and those that continue to survive and fight. The Story of Stars and Stripes Honor Flight is a documentary about one last mission for the surviving veterans of WWII. With some impressive camera work and what will most likely be invaluable interviews with those that fought in the last Great War, this trailer might lead to a few tears or pride and poignancy. The main goal might be to bring as many WWII vets to the war memorial in DC, but the end result appears to be something much greater than that. Just in time for Memorial Day, check out this trailer for yourself:

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There are no war films more storied than this one. Audie Murphy starring as himself in a retelling of the real-life hell of war that he braved his way through in order to save lives and do his duty. It is the courage of one soldier, and of all soldiers, brought to vivid life through film. Most know that Murphy, a young man turned down by three military branches, became the most decorated soldier of WWII, but the movie was also a giant success. In fact, it was the highest grossing picture for Universal until the streak was beaten by Jaws twenty years later.

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Your weekly fix of great movies made before you were born that you should check out before you die. The persistent question in To Be or Not To Be is this: what use is a clown during wartime? There might not be a definitive answer, but Ernst Lubitsch‘s most dramatic work (by default) is a comedy that has to be taken seriously. It’s also startling proof that it’s harder to laugh when you’re standing too close to the fire. It’s only in stepping back that you can feel the warmth without getting hurt. That was the case when this comedy about Hitler and Hamlet premiered right smack dab in the middle of Word War II.

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Your weekly fix of great movies made before you were born that you should check out before you die. Every February, I use this column to explore some Best Picture nominees that didn’t win. In fact, it’s a rare thing that we look at Oscar winners (often times they take care of their own publicity), but few are as fascinating as The Best Years of Our Lives. After a brief period of Hoorah American jingoism that shoved WWII through a processor with the violence turned down to something civilians could swallow in pill form (which either meant comedy or straight-ahead action), Best Years marked an attempt at telling the story of men returning from war to find that life had changed and so had they. It’s an honest look at what shocking violence can do (that doesn’t need to shock with violence), and it brought heroes back to a home front that simply re-framed the type of war they were fighting.

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Why Watch? Because this is a prime example of a student short film. The challenge of short filmmaking is telling a complete story in the time it takes to microwave a Hot Pocket. Fortunately, that challenge isn’t exacerbated by having to actually eat a Hot Pocket. The key is often making the concept as simple as possible. With this short, two men show up to a house, and things are never the same. It’s as simple as that, but the framing, family, and instant ethical recognition of the situation help make it something more. In the effort of full disclosure, this film was directed by weekly contributor to the site, Matthew Patches, and there are a few flaws with it. The older man that comes to the house, for instance, acts like he’s just learned to read. As far as student shorts go, though, that only helps to point out the limitations placed on young moviemakers, and how they’re overcome by keeping things simple. What Will It Cost? Just 5 minutes of your time. Does it get better any better than that? Check out Alone for yourself:

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A&E and The History Channel produce some of the best documentary content, and, like Tom Cuny, WWII seems to be where they shine the brightest. Their newest offering is Third Reich: Rise & Fall tells the story of the Nazi regime from footage from the people that lived it. Sadly for Rob Hunter, this contest isn’t open to FSR staff. Fortunately for you, it’s open to you (if you live in the United States (sorry other countries)). So how do you win four hours of educational and entertaining Nazi goodness? I’m glad you asked:

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Chances are that you stumbled upon a video recently where Disney paraded their animated films from 1 to 50 in celebration of the release of Tangled. You might have marveled at the pristine quality of Snow White or clutched at your chest in childlike wonderment at the Lion King’s roar. You might have even had a flood of childhood memories wash over you like the sun on a cold day. There’s something to be applauded in creating their 50th animated feature film, but Disney is celebrating a little bit late because there’s one movie that’s missing from that video roster.

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One of more interesting aspects of the difficulty in getting a film off the ground is the battlefield of movies that never made it to the big screen. Some came just one shot short, some never even made it past the conceptual stage, but all are the What If children of a parallel universe where Stephen Spielberg actually made E.T. 2. Stanley Kubrick was no exception to the rule of false starts and films unmade. The man was meticulous, and the widespread nature of his interests must have kept hundreds of ideas from ever seeing the camera.

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In WWII, Dr. Seuss worked for the War Department creating educational cartoons for troops. They just happened to include some fantastic racial stereotypes, bare-breasted ladies, and dirty double entendre.

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We’re spending all week celebrating war movies. Today we revel in the story of three men from very different backgrounds, all confronting the realities of the early days of Hitler’s rise to power.

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Since no one calls it over-rated, we might as well take a look at the #2 Movie of All Time.

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