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War of the Worlds (2005)
Big-screen movie with a small-screen look
This would have been an above-average effort if it had been a made-for-TV movie, but it was not impressive as a big-screen spectacle. Everything in it looked small, as if it had been made with a limited budget on a tight schedule. The tripods looked neat enough, but they were obviously state-of-the-art CGI in most scenes. In several big, important scenes the film-makers must have been influenced by Greek tragedy, because actions that would be spectacular (and the kinds of things that audiences pay to see) are left to occur off-stage. Crowd scenes, city scenes and battle scenes were all creditably done, but there just wasn't anything that said "epic" about them. Don't dismiss this film out of hand, however. There are scenes that I'll remember forever for their eerie beauty, and one that was so jarringly out-of-character that I can't stop thinking about it, but to describe them would necessitate using the "spoiler" tag. See the movie, just don't expect to be blown away (or see things blown away, for that matter!).
I cosacchi (1960)
Background of the war in Chechnaya -- in operatic style
Considering the time and place this film was made, it is an amazingly sensitive and even-handed look at a rarely-seen period in history.
It is the mid-1800s, and Russia is expanding southeastwards into the lands of the Chechen people. Jemal, son of Shamil the Chechen leader, is sent to Saint Petersburg as a hostage and guarantee of a temporary peace treaty. While there, Jemal sees the power of Russia and falls in love with a Russian woman. When Shamil wants to make war again for the freedom of his people, his son is torn between old family loyalties and his understanding that his father's nation cannot stand against the power of a country equipped with modern arms.
This could be handled as a simple struggle-against-oppression soap opera, but it isn't. Both sides are shown with nuances of sensitivity totally unexpected in this type of film. In an especially powerful scene, the Chechen artillery bombards the Russian army's camp as the soldiers are celebrating mass. As the shells burst among the troops and bugles call them to arms, a soldier is hit and falls to the ground. In a moment that speaks for all the faceless warriors that have fallen in countless war movies, the dying soldier speaks to a priest holding him, "Father! I can't die. I have children..." A moment of humanity deeper than that shown by many more celebrated (and pretentious?) films!
This movie is also interesting for its depiction of the Russian campaigns in Central Asia in the 1850s. The Russian soldiers in their white tunics are straight out of the paintings of Vereshchagin, the famous war artist, and the Chechen warriors (the "Cossacks" of the film's title) look realistic in their long coats with bullets tucked in holders sewed to their pockets. Shamil was a real person, and is still a hero to the people of Chechnaya. He eventually made peace with the Russians when he saw that his struggle was doomed to failure.
I saw this film some twenty years ago on late-night TV, but it has stayed with me because of its rare subject and its unusual humanity and sense of fair play to the sides portrayed in the drama it shows.
Evocations of the "Lusitania"
Watching the panic that spreads on the "Titanic" after her captain announces the gravity of the ship's situation, I was struck by the fact that this resembled what happened on the "Lusitania" much more than what befell the "Titanic". The terrified, screaming crowds who milled about on deck and fought in the awful crush and press at the lifeboats were the results of the suddenness of the disaster that beset the "Lusitania" and the fact that she immediately started heeling to one side and sinking by the bow. The torpedoed liner went under in less than half an hour, and "Titanic"'s depiction of lifeboats falling from the davits to spill people into the water or swamping from being piled high with frantic swimmers once at sea again looks more like a scene from a "Lusitania" film. These scenes of terror at sea are very well realized, evoking real sympathy for the passengers struggling for their lives. I just find it ironic that, a little less than thirty years prior to this "Titanic", a German submarine had inflicted this sort of suffering on the British. Incidentally, there are similar tableaux of this sort in Thomas Ince's 1916 film "Civilization", where a liner called the "Propatria" ("For my country", a nice ironic touch!) is torpedoed and sunk by a submarine in another "Lusitania" evocation. This "Titanic", as brought out in other viewers' comments on this site, is a curious take on the well-known story. It is surprising in many ways, not the least of these being how well it is made, considering who created it and when.