Great Movie Scenes #004

It's not often you get much reaction from the audience in a UK cinema. Okay, so you might get the odd laugh at something funny, or the odd squeak at a sudden surprise...but rarely do you get a full-on, in-the-moment reaction. There is one film, however, that I clearly remember breaking that rule: Aliens.

Aliens is the sequel to the sci-fi shocker Alien. In that first film, the crew of a spaceship respond to a distress signal and go down onto a planet to the site of a crashed spaceship. Without giving too much away, one of the crew gets...infected, shall we say, with an alien being that rapidly wipes everyone out except for Ripley, played by Sigourney Weavers. The film ends with Ripley defeating the xenomorph and putting herself into cold sleep whilst her ship sails on to its destination.

Aliens begins with Ripley's ship being found drifting in space, way off course. Ripley is revived to find that she has slept for an entire generation (in the extended edition, there's a sub-plot about her now-grown-up daughter). No-one will believe her story of a lethal, crew-killing alien, so she is forced to spend her days as a lowly, exo-skeleton-wearing cargo loader.

Then she receives a visitor - the slimy company man, Burke. A distant colony reported finding something similar to what Ripley and her crew discovered, but has now dropped out of all communication. A team of Marines (hence the strapline Aliens: this time it's war!) is being sent to investigate, would Ripley like to go along too as an advisor.

Ripley would not, but eventually agrees to go, and the film now turns into an absolutely cracking "elite force into danger" movie. 

The Marines are introduced (they are v. cool), they go down onto the planet, they investigate, and then all hell breaks loose as hordes of aliens attack.

To cut a long story short, during the investigation, Ripley and the Marines find a young girl, Newt, sole survivor of the colonists. Ripley and her bond. All sorts of action takes place (just watch the movie: it's cracking) and eventually just Ripley and Newt return to the Marines' ship in orbit.

Unbeknownst to them, however, the alien Queen has also got on board and, to put it mildly, she is not a happy bunny.

Newt flees under the deck plating, Ripley disappears off screen.

The alien Queen starts ripping up the deck plating, she corners Newt and reaches out for her when...

When I saw this in one of the big Leicester Square cinemas, almost the entire audience literally leapt to their feet to cheer Ripley on. That's why this is Great Movie Scenes #004.

Great Movie Scenes #003

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"I've seen things you people wouldn't believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched c-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhäuser Gate. All those moments will be lost in time...like tears in rain. Time to die."

No list of great movie scenes could ignore Roy Batty's final soliloquy in 1982's Blade Runner. The final version of the speech was apparently written by Rutger Hauer (who played Batty) himself.

For those of you who don't know the context, Batty is a replicant, an artificial human with a limited life span used for jobs deemed too dangerous or unpleasant for people to do, who has escaped his bonds and fled to Earth to find his maker and ask for more life. Deckard, played by Harrison Ford, is a Blade Runner, a sort of policeman who specialises in hunting replicants. In this final sequence, the hunter becomes the hunted as Batty chases an unarmed Deckard across the rooftops. Deckard attempts to jump to another building, but misses the jump, and is about to fall to his death when Batty saves him. As Deckard lies on the roof gasping for breath, Batty feels his death upon him...

Great Movie Scenes #002

Just to show that the last one wasn't a one off, and to commemorate the sad death of Lois Lane actress Margot Kidder last week, here's Great Movie Scenes #002.

It's 1978, I was twelve year's old, and one of THE film's to see that year was Superman, with Christopher Reeve in the leading role.

So far you've seen Superman as a child, as a young man and, very briefly and unspectacularly, as adult Superman in costume. Clark Kent has come to New York, awkwardly met Lois Lane...who now climbs into a helicopter to take her to a news event somewhere.

Excuse the 70's fashions, but you will believe a man can fly:

Great Movie Scenes #001

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At lunch today a friend and I were discussing not our favourite movies of all time but our favourite movie scenes of all time.

So, as I've got nothing particularly Lardy or wargame-y to post today, I thought I'd start an occasional series of my favourite movie clips of all time.

These won't be in order (i.e. today's isn't my number one movie scene of all time) but numbered just so I can keep track of them.

Today's clip, number one, is from the classic film Casablanca. If you haven't seen it, see it. It is a timeless masterpiece of a film with so many quotable lines that to list them all would almost be to list the dialogue as a whole.

In keeping with a military theme, the film is set in Casablanca some time after the fall of France. The Germans have occupied the territory, and some of them are in Rick's, a nightclub...

Recommendation: "The Attackers" aka "Istrebiteli"

Those of you who have Amazon Prime and are looking for something to watch could do worse than try "The Attackers": a Russian TV series of 12 episodes centering on the adventures (both in the air and on the ground) of a squadron of Soviet pilots in 1943.

Yes, the series is full of stereotypes (the nasty political officer, the ex-nobleman, the cold-hearted female pilot, the innocent novice etc) but it's also well written, exciting and, as far as I can see, reasonably historically accurate.

The aerial sequences are well shot, even if the CGI are sometimes a little clunky, and I love the way everything from the uniforms to the 'planes themselves just look so battered. A good proportion of the main cast is female, and they seem to spend half the time fighting the Germans and half the time fighting off the unwelcome attentions of their male colleagues.

I also like listening to the Russian (it's sub-titled) and am rapidly learning how to say the equivalent of "sir, yes, sir" in that language.

I've certainly been interested enough to get to episode 10, and will have finished the series before the end of the bank holiday.

Here's the title sequence to whet your collective whistles:

The Darkest Hour: A Must-See Film

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A lot of my time at the moment is being spent on the Battle for France: the period between 10th May and mid-June 1940.

Being a wargamer, I've obviously been concentrating on the military side of things but, as ever, you really also need to know what was happening with the governments of the day in order to fully comprehend what was going on. As Clausewitz said: warfare is an extension of politics...and you only have to look at Calais, or the tragedy of the 51st (Highland) Division, to understand how true that statement was in May 1940.

Given all of the above, it was with great interest that I took myself off to the cinema this weekend to see The Darkest Hour: Joe Wright's biopic of Churchill covering that very same period, with Gary Oldman in the lead role. 

I'd heard good things about the film, very good things, including audiences actually standing up and applauding at the end, so was looking forward to it, whilst wondering, however, whether it would be as good as Dunkirk, another film that I thought was very good.

So, is The Darkest Hour any good?

Well, I'll tell you:  it's brilliant.

Now whilst the audience didn't stand up and applaud at my local (I don't think we do that sort of thing in the Home Counties), there was definitely a straightening of backs and a few "dust in eye" dabbings going on throughout the cinema as Oldman-as-Churchill delivers the final "We shall fight them..." speech. Some of that is down to Churchill's words, some of that is down to Oldman's delivery:  honours even as to which, but it's powerful stuff.

For those who don't know, the film covers the period 9th May to 29th May, focussing on how Churchill became PM in the wake of the disastrous Norway campaign and what then happened behind the scenes in government over that time. It looks at how Halifax, Chamberlain and others faltered in their commitment to war (somewhat understandable when you consider that the First World War had only ended 22 years before, leaving the field of Flanders "stained in the blood of a whole generation") and especially when the Italians offered to mediate a peace between Britain and Germany, and all against a background of terrible news from the front. I won't tell you what happens (!) but suffice to say that Churchill stayed true to his convictions that Hitler had to be stopped.

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So why is the film so good? First up, hat's off to the cast.

Oldman is sensational as Churchill, portraying him warts and all. This is not some House of Cards used car salesman, but a hard-drinking, often rude and intolerant, often warm-hearted, often insecure man who knows what needs to happen but is regularly faced with nothing but mountains in his path. Oldman manages to portray Churchill's humanity more than anything else, which makes the fact of his greatness even greater. Yes, I know he was a man wedded to past times, some of whose views could now be considered racist or politically incorrect, but he was the man to take us through our darkest hour...and Oldman shows us that. He's won awards for the performance already: he deserves the Oscar as well.

The supporting cast is terrific as well. Halifax and Chamberlain (Stephen Delaine and Ronald Pickup respectively) are the bad guys without being bad guys: you can understand why they wanted peace even if you disagree with them. Kristen Scott Thomas excels as Clemmie, and Lily James does so also as Churchill's somewhat anachronistic secretary, and Ben Mendelson as King George VI. There's not a duff performance out there.

The film gets the atmosphere right as well. It's all very dark and gloomy. The War Rooms are positively claustrophobic, even on the big screen. The House of Commons looks tiny when packed with MPs. It's all good stuff. 

The music also helps: soaring chords to match Churchill's oratory, tenser passages to match the stress of what you are watching on screen...and stressful it is. Perhaps not quite as stressful in places as Dunkirk, but still very tense.

So go see this movie before all the Oscars hype. You won't be disappointed.

 

 

The Sharp End of War

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Those of you who listened to the first Lardy Oddcast will have heard Nick Skinner mention that one of the key influences on "I Ain't Been Shot, Mum" was the book "The Sharp End of War" by John Ellis. Inspired by Nick's words, I quickly Googled the book and managed to buy an 'as new' hardback copy for just 1p, plus £2.80 p&p.

I'm now three quarters of the way through it, and can understand exactly where Nick is coming from:  it's an excellent examination of the experience of the fighting man in World War II. It's not about strategy, tactics or weapons but only about what the soldiers had to go through, what they had to endure.

The chapter headings give you the book's contents:  the physical setting; combat/infantry; combat/artillery and armour; casualties; discipline & morale; relaxation; and attitudes. 

I've just finished the section on the rations that the troops had to put up with and, having enjoyed a day of fine wines and dining, can only sympathise absolutely. I don't think I've ever eaten 'bully beef' and I don't think I ever want to:

Such was the case in Eritrea, where bully beef was the staple item. During the day the tins often became too hot to handle and when opened they spewed out their contents, a revolting oily liquid containing a few strings of gut-like meat.

This book is thoroughly recommended. My only real criticism is that it only covers the Allied troops' war experience, saying nothing about troops from the Axis forces or Soviet Union. Information on them would have been nice as a comparison, but then the book would have had to be three times the size!

I'd advise anyone interested in WW2 history to get a copy as soon as possible.

Go And See Dunkirk: go and see it now!

If there’s a must-see film for wargamers this year, then that film has to be Christopher Nolan’s latest epic, Dunkirk. I’ve seen it twice now, and am seriously considering a third viewing this weekend!

Let’s start by getting the elephant in the room out of the way. The film covers only the events around the evacuation from the beaches: it makes only passing reference to the ‘collapsing the pocket’ campaign that allowed Operation Dynamo to take place. Now whilst this is disappointing, it is what it is, and shouldn’t stop anyone going to see the film just because they are a bit piqued that their favourite bit of WW2 military history isn’t covered!

What the film does do is look at the events between 26th May and 4th June from three different perspectives and on three different time lines. Yes: three different timelines. As with his previous works Inception and Interstellar, Nolan twists and loops the threads of his story around the fourth dimension, only bringing it all together in the final reel.

So what does that mean? It means that you watch the same events from three points of view (land, sea and air) on three different timelines (a week, a day, an hour respectively). So early on in Tom Hardy’s fighter pilot’s hour-long timeline and therefore the film you see him flying over the Moonstone, Mark Rylance’s ‘small boat’…but much later in the film, at the equivalent point in Rylance’s day-long timeline, you see Rylance watching Hardy’s Spitfire flying over his boat.

Confused? You won’t be. Believe it or not, it all makes perfect sense as you’re watching the film and works brilliantly as a dramatic device: what you think you’re seeing in the first view of an event, for example, might not match what is actually happening, with what is actually happening only becoming obvious at the later, different perspective, viewing.

The second “big tick” of the film is its cinematography. See it on the biggest screen possible. The sheer vista and scope of what you’re watching is incredible. The various palettes used for the land, sea and air elements are beautiful. In particular, the soaring yet somehow shakily claustrophobic aerial battle scenes are worth the price of the ticket alone.

Although the storyline is simple, the elements above make the film incredibly tense to watch, particularly as, on first watching, you don’t know who is going to make it and who isn’t. This is war, after all, and lots of people die. Add to this Hans Zimmer’s “ticking clock” score (apparently based on the sound of the director’s watch) and you will be on the edge of your seat throughout. I’m glad the film is Nolan’s shortest yet: much more and I would have needed evacuation myself!

One quick note for parents: this isn’t a gore fest, quite the opposite. I took my ten year old daughter to see it (she was the youngest in the, packed, cinema by far…and absolutely loved it) without worrying that she might be traumatised by Private Ryan-like shots of intestines and brains everywhere. Yes, as I said, lots of people die, but the director doesn’t need to use buckets of Kensington Gore to dial up the tension.

One quick note for the rivet-counters: there’s nothing too upsetting for you lot either. I know some of the ships are modern rather than contemporary; I know Tom Hardy’s Spitfire seems to have more than sixteen seconds of ammo (I didn’t time it, but it seemed like more); I even spotted a soldier in boots without hobnails…but overall it’s a pretty good effort to recreate the event. Could the beach have had a lot more detritus on it to match the contemporary photographs? Yes, of course it could…but I was happy to sacrifice a few burnt out lorries for the sense of isolation and desolation engendered by their absence.

Finally, let’s talk about the acting. One word:  superb. Fionn Whitehead and Damien Bonnard are great as the principal protagonists of the land segment, ably supported by Kenneth Branagh’s pseudo-Ramsey and an unexpectedly good Harry Stiles. Mark Rylance lives up to each and every one of his many, many awards for theatre-work as Mr. Dawson, the master of the small-boat Moonstone, ably supported by Cillian Murphy named only as “Shivering Soldier”. Last, and absolutely by no means least, Tom Hardy and Jack Lowden excel as the fighter pilots: Tom Hardy doing some superb acting with only his eyes and eyebrows as he wears a pilot’s mask for most of his scenes.

In conclusion, go and see Dunkirk now, and go and see it on the big screen rather than waiting for the DVD. It is a truly brilliant work from a director at the top of his game.

Film Review: Battle for Moscow aka Panfilov's 28

Flicking through Amazon Prime last night looking for something to watch, I came across the film Battle for Moscow aka Panfilov's 28. Worth a look, I thought, so clicked to spend my £4.99 and settled down to see what was what.

Well it's a cracking bit of military movie making. Here's the summary:

USSR, Late November, 1941. Based on the account by reporter Vasiliy Koroteev that appeared in the Red Army's newspaper, Krasnaya Zvezda, shortly after the battle, this is the story of Panifilov's Twenty-Eight, a group of twenty-eight soldiers of the Red Army's 316th Rifle Division, under the command of General Ivan Panfilov, that stopped the advance on Moscow of a column of fifty-four Nazi tanks of the 11th Panzer Division for several days. Though armed only with standard issue Mosin-Nagant infantry rifles and DP and PM-M1910 machine guns, all useless against tanks, and with wholly inadequate RPG-40 anti-tank grenades and PTRD-41 anti-tank rifles, they fought tirelessly and defiantly, with uncommon bravery and unwavering dedication, to protect Moscow and their Motherland.

The film begins with some infantry in a small village, gathered around some tables in the snow being taught how to disable German tanks. There's lots of chat about duty and the Motherland, a bit of banter as we start to identify the different soldiers, and a general sense of teeth being gritted as they prepare for battle. 

There's some interesting uniforms on display, as this is a Kasakh regiment (loving the huge and bright purple collar flashes!) and, as they start to dig in, a sense that they have a tough time ahead of them. There's some more banter about Thermopylae and the Seven Samurai, and then we're straight into the trenches to await the Nazi attack.

Not a still from the film, but a group shot of the main actors

The Germans get a pre-game stonk, and then come forward with tanks and infantry...but this first assault is beaten back fairly easily as the Soviets are under hidden Blinds and inflict double Shock when firing from ambush.

There's then a bit of a pause for more chat, and then we're on to the climactic battle as the Germans first pound the Russian trenches with off-table artillery, and then come forward again with an overwhelming number of tanks and infantry committed to the assault. I won't tell you what happens, but think Rourke's Drift!

It's stirring stuff, and the German tanks (Panzer IIIs and IVCs) look amazing , especially the shots from inside the tanks. The Russians have 45mm anti-tank guns, anti-tank rifles, and anti-tank grenades...and, presumably, balls of steel!

The cinematography is excellent, the sound very good (no mumbling actors here) and, as above, the special effects are cracking too. 

For those worried about the gore factor, it's not shot in the modern grossly graphic style (the first episode of the new season of Preacher was ten times worse!) but more akin to movies such as The Longest Day or Battle of the Bulge.

In all, it's a really good, old-fashioned war movie.

Highly recommended.

 Here come the Germans!

Here come the Germans!

Something for the Weekend? Try April 9th

I was flicking through Netflix the other night, trying to find something that I hadn't seen already, and came across the film April 9th: a Danish movie about the German invasion of Denmark on April 9th 1940.

Here's a slightly edited version of the IMDB plot summary: 

"In the early morning of April 9th 1940, the Danish army is put on full alert: the Germans have crossed the border and Denmark is now at war against Europe's strongest army. In Southern Jutland, Danish bicycle- and motorcycle troops are ordered to hold back the invaders until reinforcements can be mobilized. We follow Second Lieutenant Sand (played by Pilou Asbæk) and his bicycle company as they become the first Danish soldiers to meet the enemy in combat."

The film is rather good actually. It doesn't rush to get to the action, it doesn't judge the folly of sending men on bicycles (yes, really) to confront what others would call the blitzkrieg, and it doesn't contain Pearl Harbour-like unrealistic and fictional acts of heroism. It just portrays what happens to a platoon of bicycle troops who have to go to war, mad-looking helmets and all.

That said, the action sequences are superbly done. You can really feel the tension as the platoon waits in ambush for the German recon elements to arrive. You really get a sense that, actually, what they are doing is bloody dangerous.

The noise of the enemy bullets zipping past; the sight of LMG bullets plinking off the paintwork of an SdKfz 222 armoured car; what happens when you split your men up to cover both ends of a narrow street (a lot of running backwards and forwards to try and keep abreast of what's happening): it's all done really very well...and don't get me started on their changing-a-bicycle-tyre training drills.

Maybe not a film that's going to pack out movie theatres (not that it's on anymore: it's a 2015 film) and set the world on fire, but well worth watching, especially if you're into early war gaming

Vasily Grossman: A Writer At War

I've just finished A Writer At War: Vasily Grossman with the Red Army 1941-45, edited and translated by Anthony Beevor & Luba Vinogradova.

It's a great book: an account of the second world war from a Soviet perspective from a writer who, today, we would say was embedded with various Russian armies throughout the war.

Beevor's editing is superb: at the start of each chapter, he sets the scene to the excerpts from Grossman's writings, placing each one in its proper historical context. He then takes a back seat and lets Grossman do the talking.

As an example, I was going to pick an exert from Grossman's writing that was directly to do with matters military, but the piece below, about what had been done to the Ukraine by the Germans, is one of the most powerful I have ever read:

"There’s no one left in Kazary to complain, no one to tell, no one to cry. Silence and calm hover over the dead bodies buried under the collapsed fireplaces now overgrown by weeds. This quiet is much more frightening than tears and curses.

"Old men and women are dead, as well as craftsmen and professional people: tailors, shoemakers, tinsmiths, jewellers, house painters, ironmongers, bookbinders, workers, freight handlers, carpenters, stove-makers, jokers, cabinetmakers, water carriers, millers, bakers, and cooks; also dead are physicians, prothesists, surgeons, gynaecologists, scientists — bacteriologists, biochemists, directors of university clinics — teachers of history, algebra, trigonometry.

"Dead are professors, lecturers and doctors of science, engineers and architects. Dead are agronomists, field workers, accountants, clerks, shop assistants, supply agents, secretaries, nightwatchmen, dead are teachers, dead are babushkas who could knit stockings and make tasty buns, cook bouillon and make strudel with apples and nuts, dead are women who had been faithful to their husbands and frivolous women are dead, too, beautiful girls, and learned students and cheerful schoolgirls, dead are ugly and silly girls, women with hunches, dead are singers, dead are blind and deaf mutes, dead are violinists and pianists, dead are two-year-olds and three-year-olds, dead are eighty-year-old men and women with cataracts on hazy eyes, with cold and transparent fingers and hair that rustled quietly like white paper, dead are newly-born babies who had sucked their mothers’ breast greedily until their last minute.

"This was different from the death of people in war, with weapons in their hands, the deaths of people who had left behind their houses, families, fields, songs, traditions and stories. This was the murder of a great and ancient professional experience, passed from one generation to another in thousands of families of craftsmen and members of the intelligentsia.

"This was the murder of everyday traditions that grandfathers had passed to their grandchildren, this was the murder of memories, of a mournful song, folk poetry, of life, happy and bitter, this was the destruction of hearths and cemetries, this was the death of the nation which had been living side by side with Ukrainians over hundreds of years."

"Best Job I Ever Had!"

I went to see Fury last night: the new WW2 movie starring Brad Pitt and Shia La Boeuf that tells the story of a Sherman tank and its crew fighting in Germany in the final days of the war.

I’m not going to write a full review, as I don’t want to give away any spoilers and you can read reviews written by people paid to write them in the paper or online, but here are a few notes to justify my hearty recommendation to all Lardies to get themselves down to the cinema and watch it as soon as possible.

I was determined to do the film justice, so went to see it at the IMAX in Leicester Square: highly recommended for any big movie as the sheer size and all-encompassing nature of both screen and sound system completely envelop you in what you are watching.

The film is great. It’s about two hours long, but that went by in a flash. To give you an idea of how much I was sucked into its embrace, there’s a bit where a column of American tanks are driving along a hedge-lined track. One of the tank crews spots some movement in the foliage and the camera flashes on a German carrying a Panzerfaust. I’m embarrassed to say that I exclaimed “Faust!” in quite a loud voice before I could stop myself! I’m not sure the young lady to left of me, who jumped with surprise, appreciated my attempt to warn the tankers of the danger!

The acting is excellent, particularly where Brad Pitt and the other crew members of the eponymous Fury are concerned; and David Ayres, the writer and director, manages to inject real tension into every moment of the film. You really don’t know what is going to happen from moment to moment: who is going to live, who is going to die etc.

I must, however, warn those of you of a delicate nature that the film is visceral in the extreme: it pulls no punches on the horrors of war front.

Now, on to the real question: is it realistic? Am I dooming you to a couple of hours sat in front of a screen shouting “no, no, no” before storming off to rivet-counters-dot-com to express your disgust in a series of blisteringly excoriating posts?

Well, I would say the film is stunningly authentic, but not quite as realistic.

The tanks (including the Tiger and an Easy Eight from Bovvy), uniforms and other equipment, along with the general realisation of the movie, are brilliant. I was transported to Germany in 1945 and, despite my best efforts, couldn’t spot anything out of place. Apparently Shia La Boeuf smokes the wrong sort of cigarette at one point, but I felt that I could forgive him that. Filthy habit anyway.

But, seriously, recommended for authenticity and to see what a Tiger, Shermans and German/US infantry look like in situ on the battlefield. That was probably what I enjoyed most.

As for realism, some bits were a little far-fetched, but no more so than in any other fictional war movie and, more to the point, no more so than many real incidents that one can read about in official, regimental and personal histories. The way to fully enjoy the movie is to remember that, and not to worry too much about, for example, whether one man can run forward into machine gun fire, jump onto the parapet of the trench containing the machine gun and kick the machine gunner in the face, allowing the trench to be taken by the rest of his section. That’s not from Fury, by the way, that actually happened during the original Australian assault on Tobruk…but if you’d seen it in the film, would you have clapped or scoffed?

So, in all, my absolute recommendation to all Lardies to see the film: and at the cinema if possible.

 

Fury!

Due for release 22nd October, the trailer certainly wets my appetite!

All the more so as I know they used the Tiger I from Bovingdon Tank Museum, the only working Tiger tank in Europe IIRC, in the film and Brad (that's Mr Pitt to the rest of you) launched the film there a couple of weeks ago. 

Oooh, exciting!

"Fury" Official Trailer (2014)

Brad Pitt, Shia LaBeouf HD April, 1945. As the Allies make their final push in the European Theatre, a battle-hardened army sergeant named Wardaddy (Brad Pitt) commands a Sherman tank and her five-man crew on a deadly mission behind enemy lines.