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11 settembre 1683 (2012)
The Day The Poles Saved The West
Contrary to other reviewers I found The Day of The Siege to be an excellent film well grounded in history. The Mouslem Turks in 1683 advanced from Constantinople to Vienna for a second attempt at unlocking the door to Western Europe. The push on Vienna led a century earlier by the intrepid Turkish Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent had been repulsed.
The Mouslem general The Vizier Mustafa leads a mighty horde of Turks and their allies and invests the City. True to Mouslem principles, Mustafa offers the inhabitants an opportunity to surrender peacefully. Though abandoned by the Emperor, the scratch force making up the garrison agrees to fight on.
It is at this juncture that Mustafa makes the critical mistake. An ally suggests a cover force to protect the besieging forces from an attack from the North. Convinced that the terrain is too difficult, Mustafa ignores the recommendation and concentrates his forces on the siege with a great deal of initial success: The Turks break the wall. Fatefully Mustafa hesitates. Historians speculate that he wanted to swallow the city whole so that marauding Jannisaries didn't loot and destroy an important commercial center and base of operations for a further push into Germany badly divided by civil war between Christian factions.
Mustafa's delay gives the Polish King Jan III just enough time to drag his canon through hostile terrain to attack the Turks and relieve the outnumbered garrison.
I think the film was an excellent portrayal of Mustafa as an honorable warrior who made two strategic blunders, of Jan III who appreciated the first rule of strategy: attack where the enemy never expects to find you and of the Holy Roman Emperor who prefigured The Bush's flight on a different 9-11 when he abandoned his wife, his capital and his country to run away.
The Eagle (2011)
The Eagle is an impressive vista on Roman Briton. It gives fair airing to Roman and Brythonic points of view.
Like Gaul, Eagle can be neatly divided into three parts: garrison life, life in the Roman colony and adventure north of the wall.
As the curtain opens we meet Marcus Flavius Aquilla (Channing Tatum) a newly minted commander on his way to a frontier outpost where Druids are rousing the restive Celts to action against the occupying Roman Army. Seasoned veterans at the officer's mess are skeptical of the new commander. "He's probably unpacking his rule-book," quips Galba (Paul Ritter).
Marcus surprises the officers and men with detecting an attack on the fort early enough to interdict it. There is quite a long wait in the dark of damp northern England during which Galba's stare tells it all. However Lutorious (Denis O'Hare) stands by the commander seemingly with bemused detachment. To the experienced legionnaire's surprise, Marcus was right. The Keltoi attack just as Marcus appears ready to call off the alert. New to the post, he isn't used to all the nocturnal noise that conceals the approach of Celtic warriors.
Injured in combat Marcus is sent to his uncle's villa in Southern Britain where Lutorious delivers news of the battle streamer awarded the unit, Marcus' medal and an honorable discharge.
Donald Sutherland plays Uncle Aurelius to perfection. As the most experienced actor in the cast he refrains from overpowering the stars Jaime Bell and Channing Tatum. But I think that Sutherland's genius in this film was that he was playing himself: the elderly urbane white liberal, a man of bearing, sophistication, distinction, culture and refinement.
Inviting a notable to the dinner table, Uncle Aurelius chides the guests about his vegetarian fare: "fish and eggs; lets not all rush at once."
Uncle believes that slaves should serve voluntarily or be left to their own devices. Uncle buys Esca (Jaime Bell) a slave to tend to Marcus but doesn't care if the slave runs away.
This Keltoi slave had been rescued by Marcus from a blood thirsty crowd in the arena because Esca had faced death unafraid. Reduced to personal servitude, Esca tells Marcus he hates everything Roman but will serve out of personal obligation, gratitude for being spared.
When the fully recovered Marcus decides on the adventure north of the wall to recover the lost Eagle of the 9th Legion Uncle with utter hypocrisy bluntly tells Marcus that one can not trust the word of a slave. "He says what he says and does what he does because he has to."
This sets the scene for the third act, the adventure north of the wall.
North of the wall there's a roll reversal, Marcus becomes Esca's slave. Yet true to his word, Esca helps Marcus recover the Eagle and defend it from re-capture.
The film is exceptional, partially because the lines of the Keltoi are scripted in the once outlawed Gaelic language with subtitles. When the Romans speak, they speak in English.
Witness Protection (1999)
The Mobster Who Came Out of The Cold
Meet the Battons, living comfortably in an upper middle class lifestyle in suburban Boston. The truth is Bobby Batton (Tom Sizemore) is a mobster. Unbeknownst to him, Batton's boss has decided to terminate Bobby. Batton is tipped to the plot against him when he foils a kidnap attempt on Batton's daughter Suzie.
His only way out is Witness Protection and a new identity. We see the pressure cooker turned up when Bratton and his family confronts the limitations of the work-a-day world and have to learn their cover stories. Bob Batton is particularly peeved that he must get a job. He holds the working class in especial contempt.
Forest Whitaker plays Steve Beck the FBI coach with great aplumb when he must tell Batton how to get a job. Why do you care? Batton exasperated with Beck's tenacity asks . Because it's my job, comes the smug reply.
Cindy Batton is played by Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, Agent Beck tells her she's worth maybe $35 G on the labor market if she finishes her paralegal degree and returns to work in a law firm. How are we going to live on that?
I won't agree that Witness Protection really does all that this US government propaganda movie says it does to trap real criminals. I do find the concept of adjusting to a completely new life interesting.
Class of '61 (1993)
Class of 61: A Movie Glorifying The Southron Cause of Slavery
Recent history has produced several made-for-TV movies which have glorified the southron cause of slavery and secession even more than DW Griffith's film Birth of A Nation. In this film Slaves obey their masters in conformance with Holy Writ (Colossians 3:22) and regard the plantation as home.
This is a generous reading of the sands of time. Even as early as the 1950s with a real right wing star John Wayne in HORSE SOLDIERS, Hollywood showed how Black Southerners warmly greeted US Army troops. The answer to the writers of this film comes from Mr Lincoln himself: "Anyone who thinks slavery is a good idea ought to try it out." On the other hand the costuming was excellent and the scenery was well done.
The Making of a Lady (2012)
I was surprised to see the number of negative commentary on this made for TV film. Much of it I think fails to understand the limitations of the genre of the story book Victorian Romance.
A client once told me, "Middle class marriages of that era were all arranged; that is why they were more enduring!"
Of course in MAKING OF A LADY, we're dealing with the upper crust. In England, that's the landed aristocracy, enjoying its last hurrah in the time of the Queen-regnant Victoria.
In reality making of the Lady is two stories in one. The first story is how Emily is selected to become the Lady of the Manor.
Meet Emily Fox-Seton (Lydia Wilson) good-natured, tall, with a respected family name but no money. Boarding with the Cupps, mother and daughter, Emily acts as a as a secretary to Lady Maria Byrne. (Joanna Lumley). At Lady Marie's country home, Emily meets Maria's cousin Lord James Walderhurst, a retired 50 year old colonel.
Lord James is widower who needs to get marry and quickly produce an heir to his fortune. It's a set up and Emily elected. Notwithstanding a little hesitation, Emily trots off in white to wed Lord James in an impressive church service which concludes with the arch of swords.
Now, James for all his hurry proves to be a bit of a shy breeder, until he shows Emily the "priest hole," a secret passage that connects their rooms. Mission accomplished. Had the story ended there, this would be a cute Victorian Romantic comedy with the cheery assurance that life goes on.
Enter Part II: The struggle for the Family Estate. A critical facet of the Victorian Romance was the struggle for the family estate and wealth.
By the time James is recalled to service in India, Emily is pregnant. Against the advice of Jame's loyal servants who are abit frosty to Emily, Emily admits two of Jame's relatives: Captain Alec Osborn (James D'Arcy) and Alec's Anglo-Indian wife dark complexioned Hester Osborn (Hasina Haque) to the Estate. They stand to inherit the entire Estate if James and Emily are unsuccessful in producing a new generation of Walderhursts. There's an interesting play on words at work in Walder (forest) Hurst (treed hill) suggesting Emily is riding a slippery slope.
Naturally, Captain Alec, his Anglo-Indian wife and her Indian servant with the frightfully sounding name Ameerah though syrupy friendly to Emily at least initially hatch plot after plot against the pregnant Emily. James returns from India in the nick-of-time to keep Emily from being suffocated by the powerful servant Ameerah.
The art form is the Victorian romance: the conflict is preserving the family line. Told in the version adapted by MAKING OF A LADY, the forces of evil are the fallen cousin who is wasteful and profligate and has moved from the protection of the caste structure by marrying beneath his station.
There are variations on the basic structure of the Victorian Romance where the wife of the lord of the manor and a servant are plotting against order and stability of the realm. This sometimes takes the form of the Butler did it. A more modern version of this yarn might daringly make the Anglo-Indian wife of the spent-thrift poorer relative the heroine of the story.
633 Squadron (1964)
Great Score: Credible Acting
I saw the film 633 squadron when it was first released in '64. The film follows in the tradition of many great Air War Stories including DAWN PATROL. The score for the film is the finest musical adaptation or imitation of the revving aircraft engine.
Cliff Robertson who was a good American actor played a credible leading role as wing commander. We did deem it odd that the British would make an American a Major in the Royal Air Force and appoint him wing commander. That could be the work of studios trying to sell the story here in the US.
The perception of the colonial audience was that the mission portrayed was an attack on German Heavy Water experiments and that the attack took place earlier in the war.
The scene of bombing the GESTAPO HQs came right out of an earlier film, 13 Rue Madeleine (1947)starring Jimmy Carney.
Pre-Star Wars films like the live stage required a measure of "willing suspension of disbelief." I try to adjust myself to that before watching old films.
The Experiment (2010)
Doctor's mistakes are buried
This film is based loosely on (a) US sponsored psychological experiment in which a prominent psychiatrist ran amok creating a prison in the basement of a noted liberal University. It follows in the steps of a German film Das Experiment (2001), highlighting lack of originality in the US theatre.
Very different from from the real life experiment in which the participants, recruited from students between semesters received rather chincy emoluments, the movie version claims that the test subjects, were offered stupendous incentives for their collaboration.
The film correctly states that volunteers were assigned roles and that as the experiment went on the participants fell into the roles that were given them. Like the German film, the experiment devolves into ever increasing dosages of violence.
In the US version, the feel good ending is even better than the German version. Travis (Adrien Brody) one of the prisoners has such a will to resist the torture and degradation that he busts out. Everyone follows him and they all receive their handsome checks.
In real life, there was no busting out but there was some busting back in. Some who had under intimidation quit the experiment returned and applied to be re-instated. They had formed a camaraderie with the others in the project and wanted to see it through.
In the film version the consequences for the authors of this fiendish experiment was severe. In an investigation that follows, the mad scientist, a rather small and squat gnomish sort behind the experiment, is indicted.
In real life nothing of the kind occurred. Jocularly speaking of the escapade a quarter century later, the real life psychiatrist hosted a US sponsored college course on psychology.
Das Experiment (2001)
Doctor's mistakes are buried with ....
I was impressed with this German made film which I found to be superior to its American copy starring Sean Penn later produced.
This film is based loosely on a US sponsored experiment in which a prominent psychiatrist ran amok creating a prison in the basement of a noted liberal University. However differing from the real life experiment in which the participants, recruited from students between semesters received rather small emoluments, the movie version claims that the test subjects, recruited from newspaper ads were offered stupendous incentives for their collaboration.
The film correctly states that volunteers were assigned roles and that as the experiment went on the participants fell into the roles that were given them. Indeed at one point the 'guards' kidnap one of the staff and throw her behind bars.
In this version, a MI undercover agent has been inserted in the scenario in the role of a prisoner to act as a controller. He knows an escape route and can break up the experiment if he has to.
There is a feel-good ending in which the mad scientist behind the experiment comes down on charges.
In real life that never happened. Jocularly speaking of it a quarter century later, the real life psychiatrist hosted a US sponsored college course on psychology.
The Horse Soldiers (1959)
John Wayne's Finest Movie
Horse Soldiers ranks with Major Dundee and Twelve O'Clock High in its study of the personality of command. Colonel John Marlowe is the man with the mission: break rebel supply lines supporting besieged Vicksburgh. On one hand he must deal with a meddlesome Regular Army Surgeon Major Henry Kendall (William Holden) and on the other an ambitious, backbiting subordinate Colonel Phil Secord who expects the campaign to launch him into politics. Along the way, the raiding force is constrained to internee Miss Hannah Hunter, (Constance Towers) a Southern Belle laced with a poisonous, duplicit charm.
Miss Hannah Hunter: (bending over with a plate of chicken, revealing ample cleavage) Do you prefer the leg... or the breast? Col. John Marlowe: I've had quite enough of both, thank you.
The raid must proceed with stealth and speed until it reaches it's target. Any man who can't continue must be left to the clemency of the enemy. Deep in rebel held territory, quarter is not to be expected. With such parameters, there is a constant clash between Dr Kendall and Colonel Marlowe. Behind his back, Kendall calls Colonel Marlowe 'Old Iron Head.' To his face Kendall is generally glib but subtle:
Major Kendall: That's a pretty primitive outlook; medically speaking, that is. Col. John Marlowe: Well, doctor, war isn't exactly a civilized business.
Col. John Marlowe: (during firefight) I didn't want this. I tried to avoid a fight! Major Kendall: That's why I took up medicine.
The US Army takes the rebel supply depot at Newton Station and routs a rebel attempt to retake it. The grim work is about to be done:
Miss Hannah Hunter: You're not going to burn the town down Major? Maj. Richard Gray: No ma'am just war supplies; cotton, railroad equipment, contraband ma'am.
But Marlowe a Railroad Engineer in civilian life does not revel in the task as does the would-be politician Phil Secord. The plan is to skedaddle South to US held Baton Rouge. Along the way PVT Dunker develops an infection which Dr Kendall treats with tree moss. The photography of the scene is incredibly well done with John Wayne's standing in the shadows looking on in horror. "You're putting dirt on a wound?"
There's a powerful ending. A dramatic Cavalry charge breaks through rebel lines and brings the US Cavalry across a creek and back into US held territory.
The skill with which the movie was done cannot be under-stressed. The film accurately shows the terrifying impact of the war on the civilian population and the enthusiastic greeting US forces received from the Black Southerners.
Another Earth (2011)
A Crack in the Mirror
The film deserved all the commentary it received both pro and con. I was surprised and gratified that a film which deals with tragedy and the tragic attracted this much attention in a country which is dedicated to the patented formula Hollywood ending.
Meet Rhoda Williams (Brit Marling) she's got everything, pretty, a brilliant astronomy affectionado and on her way to MIT. Like most teens, she went out to celebrate and drove home drunk. On her way home, distracted by a strange phenomena in the sky, another earth which has come into view, she slams into John Burroughs' (William Mapother) car which was stopped at a light. John Burroughs' pregnant wife and son are killed in the collision. Burroughs goes into a coma.
Rhoda draws a four year stretch. Flash ahead 4 years, Rhoda is out of jail and Burroughs is out of a coma. Returning home to her room which was left as it was when she prepared to go out on the night of the collision, a sullen, morose Rhoda dismantles the room and sleeps on the floor. While her parole officer encourages her to return to school, she opts for a job cleaning the local high school so that she can avoid contact with other people. Wandering around in a fog, she gives up her flashy clothes and dresses as unattractively as possible, like a bum.
She has an important need to apologize to Burrows for his loss but ends up cleaning his house. Burrows might have remained in the alcohol numbed stupor into which he slid after recovering from the coma but Rhoda never cashed his checks. He therefore seeks her out and their relationship blossoms into a love interest. Burroughs returns to pursue the music he had laid aside, advising Rhoda that right before the tragic accident he had reached a state of contentment.
The implication is clear and Rhoda uses it to justify her actions to herself by believing she is making Mr Burrow's life a bit better every day. Even the distant, morose Rhoda seems to become more lively.
But Rhoda's past catches up with her when her essay wins a seat on the privately funded expedition to the alternate earth. Will her path cross over Mr Burroughs or will they collide once again? The photography nicely complements the script and imparts that distant or disconnected feeling to which a morose Rhoda is subject.
The ending has a powerful message on that subject, but see the film and come to your own conclusion.