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War

Good German, The

dir: Steven Soderbergh
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Experiments are cool, aren’t they? I used to look forward to The Curiousity Show on the telly when I was a wee tacker, as the weird guy with the moustache and the other weird guy with the beard performed all those experiments you get to see as a kid: adding this to that to make it gush out all over the place, toothpicks in potatoes, constructing working nuclear devices out of papier mache, paper clips and mum’s pantyhose.

The interest lies, apart from the desire to watch shit blow up in beakers or on bunsen burners, and apart from the general intention to learn more about the physical world through observation, in the real sense what we want to accomplish is the viewed outcome of what happens in a controlled environment. In other words, if you put this and this in this kind of set-up, then this shit happens.

Well, if you put Steven Soderbergh, black & white cinematography, A-list actors and a script set just after World War II in Germany, it’s an experiment in film noir, and certainly a lot of shit happens.

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Flyboys

dir: Tony Bill
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I guess it seemed like prime time for a World War I war movie right about now. War flicks about WWII are a bit played out, no-one wants to watch contemporary ones to be reminded of the hell the world is presently for many people. Why not go back in time to an era where American involvement in a war was considered a good thing? Who are YOU to say no?

So it’s The Great War. 1916. The fields of Verdun, France. The Germans are warming up for the real fight in a few decades time by sending a young Hitler, amongst millions of others, to die and rot in the trenches of Europe. The English and French are fighting the good fight as the US, in the form of Woodrow Wilson, the second coolest named President the US has had so far, dithers and looks on in growing horror. Mechanical flight, having been recently invented, is applied to the battlefield because of the obvious advantages of being able to survey and travel greater distances and to be able to rain death from above. And to look like Errol Flynn whilst doing it.

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Wind that Shakes the Barley, The

dir: Ken Loach
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This is a beautifully made film about one of the most troublesome times in Irish history: the 1920s, being the start of the so-called Troubles. Made with a deft, sure hand by avowed socialist director Ken Loach, it personalises the conflict without ever degenerating into weak melodrama.

It reminds me most, especially in the bits where the IRA members are arguing, of Loach’s earlier film Land and Freedom about the Spanish Civil War. In this case the actors are professionals, and the story is more tightly scripted.

As the story begins, the Irish are chaffing under the yoke of the hated English. Their Black and Tan police bully the locals in shameful ways, not realising that there’s only so far you can push a downtrodden population before they eventually get jack of it and kill you where you sleep. The initial conflict is between the good ol’ Irish freedom fighters and the hated English. But the conflict eventually ends up being amongst themselves, to sad effect.

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Letters from Iwo Jima

dir: Clint Eastwood
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Eastwood capped off his epic filmmaking adventure about the Battle of Iwo Jima with this here sensitive, thoughtful engaging and sad portrayal of the battle from the Japanese side of things that managed to be everything Flags of Our Fathers wasn’t.

Letters from Iwo Jima follows a group of Japanese soldiers stationed on the pestilential island led by General Kuribayashi (Ken Watanabe), who know that their chance of winning is nil, and their only purpose is twofold: to delay the inevitable invasion of Japan by American forces, and to die honourably in battle (or die trying).

As such, considering the easy knowledge of the outcome, considering as well the fact that the earlier film focussed on the iconic shot of the flag raising by American forces, this isn’t a triumphant exercise in pro-war jingoism (then again, neither was Flags).

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Flags of Our Fathers

dir: Clint Eastwood
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The curious thing about Flags of our Fathers is that it isn't really a war film. I think a lot of people were expecting Clint Eastwood to give us his version of (at least) the first forty minutes of Saving Private Ryan, only this time at Iwo Jima against the Japanese in World War II. Instead, Eastwood focuses the flick on three men who played a part in the raising of a flag on Mt Suribachi, which has become one of the defining images of the war.

These three men are brought back from the Pacific theatre and sent around the United States to raise money for the war effort. The government is nearly bankrupt and needs to get money from the public in the form of war bonds to keep war production going. They don't know, like we do, that the war will end soon. So, to the men there is the real fear that not playing their part will lead to the US losing the war.

The part they are expected to play is that of war heroes in the public limelight, but, as they keep pointing out, all they did was raise a flag. Each of the men thinks long and hard about some other guy who was with them on the island more deserving of the title 'hero', who is now dead.

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Kokoda

dir: Alister Grierson
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For most countries, the most powerful and enduring myths they possess have to do with war. Australia is no different. I’m not using the term ‘myth’ in the pejorative sense, but in the sense that mythologising aspects of history is part of the formation of a nation’s identity.

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Jarhead

dir: Sam Mendes
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This is a film about war without an actual war in it. It’s akin to make a porno without having sex in it.

There are movies like that. On cable, Showtime (channel 3), on Friday nights, plays these flicks which I am guessing are American pornos. I don’t actually know for sure, because the films have most of the nudity and all of the sex cut out of them. It begs the question as to why anyone would then want to watch them, considering the main attraction is now absent. It’s not for the scripts and the acting, which are teeth-grindingly bad. You wouldn’t watch a football game on the jumping box, the pictocube, I mean the telly, if they cut all the actual football out of it. And the sex as well.

Jarhead’s point is to give us a window into the experiences of a young marine trained and amped up for war, alongside his equally hyper macho brothers in arms, prior to the first Gulf War. It starts with scenes those of us who routinely watch war films would be familiar with (boot camp, having superior officers hurl abuse at newbies, small acts of rebellion against authority), but doesn’t have the general payoff that you get from the other flicks (trial by fire in wartime conflict, personal cowardice and courage, blowing people’s heads off).

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Kingdom of Heaven

dir: Ridley Scott
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Finally, Hollywood has caught up with mobile phone technology. Now we are privy to the birth of a new age. The typewriter is dead. The clunky desktop computer is for squares and losers. Give us movies like Kingdom of Heaven. We're ready, and we're gagging for it. Just look at the way we're dressed.

Now we can watch films whose entire dialogue was compiled between two or more people sending each other text messages on their mobiles. How else does one explain the fact that no-one says more than ten words in any given sentence in this film? It's surreal. Even people in the Australian outback have longer conversations than this, laconic as they're supposed to be.

Nothing better represents this new risk-aversion to too much dialogue than Orlando Bloom's heartening equivalent of the St Crispin's Day speech from Henry the V, where he ends up yelling at the defenders of Jerusalem to "Come On! Come On!" to get them fired up. Um, isn't that what tennis player and Mensa candidate Lleyton Hewitt does to fire himself up during matches? Shakespeare, Kenneth Brannagh and Helena Bonham Carter should be rolling in their graves.

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Joyeux Noel

dir: Christian Carion
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I would not have thought a war film set during the Great War could bring me to tears. I would not have thought a war film could possess such gentle humour, genuine humanism and have such an uplifting message.

And I was right. This flick hasn’t got ANY of that shit.

Just kidding, it has some of that and more in sheer coruscating abundance.

For all my enjoyment of the film, don’t get all confused and assume it’s the flick of the year. It’s pretty simplistic, sentimental and should have been in desperate search of a better ending. But for all its faults (and unbelievable aspects), it is still a strong film saying something many of us can understand: most soldiers from different countries don’t really like killing each other that much.

They don’t get a lot out of it, and it’s murder on your laundry.

But someone benefits from war, and it’s never the guys at the front. And someone must be ‘inspiring’ these people to go to war, for whatever noble or ignoble reasons.

This is most chillingly asserted at film’s beginning, where we watch three children, one after the other, recite propaganda poems from the era in their respective languages advocating the absolute extermination of their enemy down to the women and children. And why the hell not…

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Troy

dir: Wolfgang Petersen
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I could lie and say that I went into the cinema expecting this film to be a biography of Troy. Not the city, but the animated actor from The Simpsons. Troy McClure. You might remember him from such educational films as ‘Lead Paint: Delicious But Deadly’, ‘Firecrackers: the Silent Killer’ and ‘Man versus Nature: The Road to Victory’. Alas, I was to be disappointed…

I’m positive the day Gladiator made a tonne of money, someone greenlit this flick. Hack screenwriters who’d been pushing crappy sword and sandal scripts for years to the talentless hacks that control the purse strings in Hollywood finally thought ‘Our time has come.’ I’m surprised there haven’t been more of them already. Who doesn’t want to see big beefy men whacking each other with swords and the like? It’s legitimised wrestling without the chairs or the midgets. People don’t have to feel embarrassed about liking it. Well, most people, at least.

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