Tag Archives: World War II

All-American Hero

Angelina Jolie tells Louis Zamperini’s story of survival and inspiration

Unbroken 4

Unbroken

Starring Jack O’Connell, Takamasa Ishihara & Domnhall Gleeson

Directed by Angelina Jolie

PG-13

 

As far as real-life, all-American heroes go, they don’t get any red, white and bluer than Louis Zamperini, the U.S. Olympic runner, World War II bombardier and prisoner-of-war survivor whose amazing story was told in author Laura Hillenbrand’s bestselling 2010 book, Unbroken.

Now Angelina Jolie, making her second theatrical outing behind the camera as a director, brings Hillenbrand’s book to the screen in a grandiose dramatization of Zamperini’s epic ordeal during the war, with flashbacks to his rascally boyhood in Torrence, Calif., his surprising success as a high-school track star, and his wide-eyed trip to the 1936 Olympics in Berlin.

Unbroken 5The movie begins with a bang—quite literally—as we’re taken inside the belly of a B24 bomber, alongside Zamperini (Irish actor Jack O’Connell) and his crew mates as they crack jokes, then crack down and delivering their goods, fend off a fierce attack by Japanese Zeros and finally bring their badly damaged plane in for a very rough landing. A later mission sets up the dire circumstances that put Zamperini and two of his fellow crewmen (Domnhall Gleeson and Finn Whitrock) adrift in life rafts and finally into the hands of Japanese captors.

Zamperini (who died earlier in 2014, at age 97) would spend more than two years in Pacific prison and work camps, and the heart of the movie is the torment he received from a young, terrifying prison warden called “the Bird” (Japanese singer-songwriter Takamasa Ishihara, making his acting debut), whose soft, “feminine” appearance masked a grotesque sadism.

O’Connell gives a tremendous, star-making performance, transforming his entire physicality to depict the ravages of his ever-worsening conditions. Ishihara is galvanizing in an unforgettable “bad guy” role that hints of much more complexity and ambiguity than the script gives him rein to fully explore.

The movie looks fantastic, thanks to the camera work of award-winning cinematographer Roger Deakins, who brings a prestigious, pedigreed master’s touch to every scene: the danger—and the excitement—in the air; the desolation, desperation and drama of floating for weeks the ocean;Unbroken 3 the soul-sucking abominations of the prisons, where days and months seep into years.

The script—whose unlikely collaborators include Joel and Ethan Cohen, not typically known for such un-cynical, snark-free, drama—focuses a lot (perhaps too much) on suffering, agony and endurance, and not enough on just how, exactly, Zamperini came to circle back on the words of a sermon we watch him squirming through, as a boy: “Love thy enemy.”

One sequence depicts a weakened, starved and beaten “Louie” forced by the Bird to pick up a heavy wooden beam and hold it above his head for what the movie ticks off to feel like hours. Jolie presents it like a scene from The Passion of the Christ. That incident may very well have happened, but making Zamperini look like a saint—or more—seems like unnecessary sermonizing.

He wasn’t a saint, but he certainly was a great, inspiring man. And now his legacy includes a handsome movie monument to remind even more people of his service, his sacrifice and the incredible reserves of strength and resolve he used to keep his will, his faith, his courage and his call of duty to his country “unbroken.”

—Neil Pond, Parade Magazine

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Tanked

Gutsy, grimy war flick drives home the horrors & haunts of combat

Brad Pitt;Shia LaBeouf;Logan Lerman;Michael Pena;Jon Bernthal

Fury

Starring Brad Pitt, Logan Lerman & Shia LeBeouf

Directed by David Ayer

Rated R

War is hell, and this gripping WWII battle drama brings you about as close to the angry, anguished flames as anyone would ever want to get.

Brad Pitt stars as Sherman tank commander “Wardaddy” Collier, leading his battle-weary crew across Germany to finish off Hitler’s forces in early 1945. Wardaddy’s tank is nicknamed “Fury,” with its name written in white paint along its barrel.

Brad Pitt

Brad Pitt is the commander of the Sherman tank nicknamed “Fury.”

Even though the war is almost over, the Nazis are desperate and determined to fight to the end, they greatly outnumber the Yanks, and their tanks are bigger, heavier and better fortified.

“Why don’t they just quit?” wonders an exhausted senior officer, who’s just learned of the slaughter of his men by a pocket of heavily fortified, entrenched Germans, who mowed them down in an open field. “Would you?” responds Wardaddy.

Indeed, the “would you?” question hangs heavy over much of the movie, as Wardaddy and his crew confront situations that force them to make instantaneous life-or-death, kill-or-be-killed decisions, and mounting atrocities become everyday occurrences. “This ain’t pretty,” explains grizzled Grady “Coon-Ass” Travis (Jon Bernthal) to the tank’s newest team member, wide-eyed Norman (Logan Lerman), who’d never seen combat until assigned to Wardaddy’s command. “This is what we do.”

Lerman’s character becomes the audience’s surrogate, as we share his shock, his revulsion and his reluctance to relent to what seems like madness. We wonder how much we could see before it starts to “do” something to us. We wonder what we’d do with our finger on the trigger of a turret-mounted machine gun, if we could kill other people on sight, without question, without pausing to think about who they are, what they might be planning to do, or what’s right and what’s wrong.

Michael Pena

Michael Peña plays “Gordo” Garcia.

Wardaddy’s crew also includes Mexican-American “Gordo” Garcia (Michael Peña) and Scripture-quoting “Bible” Swan (Shia LeBeouf), who sings hymns to pass time and prods his tank mates to think if “Jesus loves Hitler.”

Writer-director David Ayer, whose other work includes Training Day and End of Watch, makes us feel every cramped, claustrophobic inch of Fury’s crowded interior space, a dreary metal dome where Wardaddy’s crew barely has room to move—or breathe, or bleed. The landscapes are all mud and muck; faces are dirty and grim; violence is intense; fear is everywhere.

We’ve seen other war movies, certainly—they’ve been a Hollywood staple for decades. But I can’t remember another movie—and certainly not another contemporary one—that’s taken such a hard, gritty, gutsy look at World War II tank warfare. There’s nothing glamorous or glorious about the battles, or the war, depicted in Fury. It’s tough, rough stuff, hard going, and—indeed—it “ain’t pretty.”

But it’s raw, it’s powerful and it sticks with you, especially in a scene when the crew rolls into a German town square, where a little bit of everything occurs. That square becomes a microcosm of war itself, and how it compresses and contorts the world, like a busted telescope with a smudged, shattered lens: life, death, love, hate, past, present, future—they’re all there, and then they’re not, gone in an instant, goodbye.

You won’t be cheering when Fury ends. But you’ll be thinking.

—Neil Pond, American Profile and Parade Magazines

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WWII Crash Course

Time-Life re-intros book line, promises to make ‘instant experts’

World War II in 500 Photographs

Softcover, 272 pages / $17.95 (Time-Life)

World War 2 in 50 Photographs

Marking a re-launch of the venerable Time-Life line that churned out many a bookshelf-filling volume in the 1960s and ’70s, this photo-packed chronicle of the world’s greatest conflict promises to make its audience “instant experts” through a sweeping, comprehensive mix of information and graphics. Timed for release around the 75th anniversary of the onset of WWII—and designed for a new readers accustomed to information packaged in easily digestible bits and bytes—it’s an engrossing encyclopedia of all the major personalities, conflicts and events of the war, including Pearl Harbor, D-Day and Iwo Jima, and also includes numerous stats, timelines and other data-rich features.

 

—Neil Pond, American Profile Magazine

 

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Clooney & Co.

WWII ‘mission’ movie has a modern-day message

Monuments Men

The Monuments Men

Blu-ray $40.99, DVD $30.99 (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment)

 

Co-writer, director and star George Clooney’s tribute to the real-life men and women who put their lives on the line to recover and return the cultural treasures stolen by Nazis during World War II is a rollicking, Hollywood actor-packed mash-up of old-fashioned combat “mission” movie crossed with a modern-day message about the casualties of war that extend far beyond the battlefield. Based on a book of the same name by Robert Edsel and Bret Witter, it comes with behind-the-scenes featurettes on the making of the film, the real Monuments Men, and the cast, which also includes Bill Murray, Matt Damon, John Goodman and Cate Blanchett.

 

—Neil Pond, American Profile Magazine

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For History Buffs

Watching World War II unfold from every angle

WWII3FilmCollection

WWII 3-Film Collection

Blu-ray $29.99, DVD $24.98

(Lionsgate/A&E Consumer Products)

Here’s one DVD set that will keep armchair history buffs glued to their seats for hours—11 of them, to be exact! This five-disc collection of three History channel specials (WWII in HD, WWII in HD: The Air War and WWII From Space) offers expert examinations of the world’s most destructive conflict from three different perspectives, using combinations of first-person accounts, gripping narration, rare restored color film footage and stunning computer-graphic simulations that show what battles, troop movements and other key events would have looked like if they could have been tracked with modern-day satellite technology.

—Neil Pond, American Profile Magazine

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