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13 out of 33 people found the following review useful:
Lazy script-writers and poor research make this "typically Canadian.", 23 February 2015

It is possible to do war fiction well in Canada - the CBC Dieppe mini-series (circa 1993) was reasonably well done with world-class actors and a mostly decent, if under-budgeted, script. But it seems X Company suffers from the same maladies as the worst of Canadian military television and film productions - a lack of advisors, or perhaps just the willingness to listen to them.

It is fashionable on the internet to pick at minor details, and military enthusiasts do it like no one else. I could forgive a few flaws as far as buttons and geegaws on uniforms, but there is very little occurring on screen that builds verisimilitude. From the officer using his Canadian Women's Army Corps signallers for advice (I get that he needs to be talking so the audience knows what he's thinking, but would an officer really be canvassing his radio operators for tactical and operational decisions?) And were SOE missions really monitored in "real time" via morse code, with wireless operators in the field in France asking for instructions from Ontario? Technically it may be possible, but the history books suggest this a fantasy, no less ridiculous than Dan Ackroyd's futuristic situation room in "Pearl Harbor", from which the Doolittle raiders - if you believe that movie - also reported back from Tokyo to the U.S. in real time.

Things were relatively more difficult to do in the 1940s. You couldn't get from Europe to Canada in the blink of an eye, it sometimes took days by plane, and usually many days by ship. Talking to people far away was always a struggle. These would be things to highlight in the show, not dismiss as inconvenient truths. We should admire agents of the SOE for their ability to operate without cell phones, instant text messaging, or constant contact with the real world. And film-makers should respect their real life stories enough to attempt to portray their actions honestly.

Always encouraging to see Canadian film-makers telling our stories, but hopefully this series improves the level of accuracy and believability.

Parkland (2013)
7 out of 10 people found the following review useful:
Excellent Depiction of Some Ancillary Characters, However Rushed, 6 October 2013

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

It was rumoured years ago that Tom Hanks wanted to do a mini-series based on the Kennedy Assassination, as a counter-point to Oliver Stone's film, "JFK", using Vincent Bugliosi's research as a guide. If anything, this film is a convincing argument for such a series - and perhaps is even a test-bed for such a project. The film seems to pack a lot of material in, and as noted by many others, the pacing feels off.

However, there is a great verisimilitude created by the inclusion of actual footage - in limited amounts - as well as the integration of the ground-breaking television coverage of the events of the day. The conclusion of the film is perhaps too subtle, but if one pays attention to what Cronkite is saying and relates it to the action on-screen, there is a very clever "conclusion" to the film that it seems some reviewers have missed. I saw this film in the same (opening) weekend as "Gravity" and ironically, the latter film is receiving rave reviews for the acting of its cast, despite not really having much of a story. In fact, "Gravity" is really not much more than a thematic notion about "rebirth" with two weakly drawn characters, while "Parkland" focuses on a group of real-life men and women who had to deal with a major historical catastrophe. I found the latter far more gripping, and compelling.

Some of the choices in "Parkland" were a bit odd, and comparing to the historical record as set out by the source material - Bugliosi - one sees some liberties taken for one presumes cinematic reasons. Other reviewers have pointed out some (i.e. Zapruder had initially locked his film in his safe, not clutched it to his bosom in Dealey Plaza). One wonders if we truly won't see an expanded version of this film, in mini-series form, with the many other characters explored. The actor chosen to portray Lee Harvey Oswald bore an uncanny resemblance and the effort seemed wasted given the tiny screen time given to that major historical figure. One could easily see some merit to an 8 or even 10 part treatment of various subjects, including Oswald's life in Russia, the assassination attempt on General Walker, the work of the Warren Commission, the rise of the conspiracy industry, Jack Ruby's last weekend of freedom, the Clay Shaw trial, etc. Many more interesting stories to tell from the perspective of the Bugliosi/Posner perspective.

Gravity (2013)
14 out of 29 people found the following review useful:
See it for the visuals, but the film is about theme rather than plot, 6 October 2013

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

One of my absolute favourite cinema experiences was seeing Magnificent Desolation in IMAX 3-D. Having had a long-time interest in Project Apollo, it was amazing to sit in the audience and feel like I was actually on the moon, or in the actual spacecraft involved with the lunar landings. Knowing that I was watching history come to life left me with a lump in my throat, a feeling I still get every time I put From The Earth To The Moon in my DVD player and replay Tom Hanks' 10-part mini-series, which I do on a regular basis.

The visuals of Gravity in 3-D are no less stunning, and other reviewers, professional and amateur, have spoken well to them, in particular the opening 17-minute shot which leaves one feeling as if they, too, are right there, on a mission over the Earth.

Unfortunately, the film quickly departs from logic. The director has admitted that science has taken a back-seat to story, and this understandable - even forgivable. I can understand a certain necessity to putting all the space stations and ships on the same orbital plane in order to tell a good story.

However, there is no story here either. The director basically has opted to provide a theme - "rebirth" - and has used a space setting in order to paint this theme for the audience in sometimes subtle, sometimes broad strokes. This may appeal to the artistically minded, it will certainly clash with those, like myself, who were drawn in by the rave reviews about the technical merits of the photography.

The characterization is minimal, and perhaps most disappointing given her usual brilliant performance, Bullock is used here as a 'damsel-in-distress'. We are led to believe she has been selected for astronaut training and employment as a mission specialist, but we don't get to see her in whatever element she was chosen for. Instead, we see her fumble through routine repairs, dropping tools, complaining about space-sickness, and ultimately screaming in fright, crying, confessing to the strains of single-parenthood, admitting she can't fly the re-entry modules, but managing to do so anyway, through blind luck. And thus she is "reborn".

And in case you don't "get it", she floats in an airlock in a fetal position, wrapped in an umbilical cord for long, pointless seconds, as Clooney's character drifts off into the void, incommunicado, as she ensures the audience buys into the "rebirth" theme, before floating down the tunnel to make contact.

It's not such a bad theme, but the actual space program is about so much more than blind luck and damsels in distress. I understand movies need to have peril and conflict - which can include inner conflict. The device here of having Clooney return was handled so abruptly, I simply assumed it was a bit of science the film-makers had simply gotten wrong, and the gasps and muttering of other audience members in the cinema suggested they felt the same way. It would have been much more satisfying to see astronauts behaving like actual astronauts, and not fretting about whether or not they had "learned how to pray" correctly.

There was nothing about any (both) of these characters that made me care about them, and the fact that Bullock's survived by pushing buttons like a chimp in a food experiment actually made me a bit angry.

Such excellent photography and visuals, and two brilliant actors, are wasted here on a non-story by a director who dwelled entirely on theme.

Avatar (2009)
8 out of 20 people found the following review useful:
Visually arresting, intellectually insulting, 22 December 2009

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

I think it is great that movies can be used to highlight current social issues, or even past ones - the plight of the Tuskegee airmen, for example, or the Holocaust. I don't even mind "heavy-handed" emotional overtones - i.e. the American flag in Saving Private Ryan used to bookend the movie. I'm a sucker for that stuff. But Avatar is not just overblown with heavy handed writing, it actually insults any number of categories of viewers.

If one listens to the commentary track of Valkyrie, for example, the writers mention that the obvious "villain" of the piece could not have been written as a villain. Hitler's public speeches were almost always about prosperity and peace, he never killed anyone personally, never signed an execution order, never visited a death camp, never witnessed a murder. And so in Valkyrie, you had a quality of which apparently Mr. Cameron is not possessed - subtlety. The only "mustachio-twirling" moment, as the writers called it, was when one of the teletype operators is told by his boss to cut off communications to the orchestrator of the coup against Hitler, and he makes a faint smile. That's it. That's the moment of villainy for the film. The rest is cloaked in ambiguity.

Avatar, of course, has scenery chewing galore, or would have if not for the excellent actors. Stephen Lang is well known to Civil War buffs is certainly no over-actor. But the writing does him no great service, ditto Giovanni Ribisi, another familiar face to war movie buffs from his service in SPR.

What is most insulting, though, is that Hollywood almost always dumps on religion out of ignorance up until the point it can serve a story in some hokey way. The only time religion is used to service a story is if some scientific grounds can be found to 'legitimize' it (in Star Wars, it was mitichlorians, whatever they are, and in this one, it is electromagnetic impulses connecting the trees). In Avatar, the people using technology are stupid and amoral ones and naturally are depicted as faithless. Catholics, Jews, Muslims all get short shrift in films because without some "scientific proof" for their religious beliefs, apparently faith alone is not enough. According to Cameron, you have to be able to literally talk to the trees and cute animals, or else religion just doesn't cut it.

But I also don't understand the movies in which we're supposed to root for cultures who reject modernization; the message was so heavy handed it just made me angry more than anything. Connect the dots - technology is bad, since evidently it ruined the Earth, and therefore we need to root for blue people who prefer to live in trees and sleep in hammocks without any of our creature comforts. Personally, I like living in a house and having a computer, and watching TV, and a spring mattress, and a gas-fired furnace, and a car with internal combustion engine to take me interesting places, and going to the movies and watching far-fetched stuff that people like Cameron dream up.

There might have been a good story in here somewhere if Cameron hadn't decided to beat us over the head with an environmental guilt-trip, with bad guys with razor thin motivations and no ambiguity whatsoever. Far more interesting themes would have been the notion that humans were there to sincerely help, or perhaps the notion that religion and faith are real and legitimate and meaningful without being able to 'prove' the existence of God through scientific means. Sometimes sworn enemies even believe in the same gods - talk about moral ambiguity. I can't buy into a notion that people who make multi-million dollar technology are always of necessity amoral idiots while people sleeping on rocks and eating raw hand-killed food are somehow geniuses with absolutely perfect moral centres. I guess that's why they call it fantasy. By the end, I was cheering for the guys in the helicopters, not because I approved of what they were doing, but because I wanted it to be over with that much more quickly. I simply wasn't buying it; I enjoyed the visual spectacle but the characterizations and motivations of the "villains" were about as compelling as Wile E. Coyote.

Dieppe (1993) (TV)
2 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
Very well done, 15 October 2004

This is a very well done TV movie; criticisms that it only features one of the units involved are not really valid. The movie chooses to focus on two levels; that of a single battalion (in this case the Royal Regiment of Canada from Toronto, not to be confused with the Royal Canadian Regiment), and also the highest levels of command. Those not familiar with the command structure of the Canadian Army in WW II may be briefly confused but will be able to pick out the chain of command by context clues.

Working within an obviously limited budget, this production goes above and beyond in presenting an interesting, and accurate if slightly fictionalized view of the politics behind Dieppe as well as the view of the Raid from the soldier's POV. Blue Beach is recreated in great detail. It is unfortunate the other parts of the raid were not recreated, but they weren't necessary for this telling.

Be sure and read Brian Loring-Villa's book in conjunction with this series.

DVD version has a fascinating 1962 documentary with interviews with many of the key players on the real raid. See also my review at regarding the DVD for additional info.

5 out of 8 people found the following review useful:
WW II through the eyes of the 1960s, 17 May 2003

A truly bad "documentary", well discussed in the book The Valour and the Horror Revisited. Suffice to say here that the McKennas have chosed to unfairly depict the Canadian Army in Normandy as criminally incompetent while at the same time painting the soldiers as unwitting victims. Such distractions as historically inaccurate uniforms on the re-enactors who are given screen time, as well as the truly ridiculous recreation of the Verrierres Ridge assault using Canadian Forces personnel circa 1990, do nothing to add to the film. Anyone wanting to gain a true understanding of the events in Normandy is better off consulting the various histories by Stacey, Copp, Roy, et al. Notice also the focus on eastern Canadian regiments; perhaps a coincidence, but then again, western regiments didn't charge themselves to extinction the way the Black Watch did at Verrierres Ridge, either.

The truth is that Canadian generalship in Normandy is a more complex issue than this so-called documentary would suggest. Canadian soldiers by and large were inexperienced, but did the best they could with what they had. While the McKennas are certainly correct about Canadian tanks being inferior to German tanks, nothing is said about the doctrinal and economic issues which led to these tanks being employed - or the fact that the Canadians were using an artillery-based doctrine to rather good effect on the Continent. The McKennas, in other words, have explored certain elements of this period in a vacuum in order to present "evidence" of some type of conspiracy. Viewers are advised strongly to do further research.

Good interviews with veterans of the campaign are the only notable highlight in this seriously disappointing offering. Even the newsreel footage often did not match the narration; sharp eyed viewers will see footage of the Calgary Highlanders on parade while the Black Watch are being discussed.