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Secret Agent Selection: WW2 (2018)
Many facts are doubtful in this series
Historian Max Hastings as very critical in his judgement of the effectiveness of the SOE in a couple of his books. There is a lot of romantic garbage surrounding various accounts of both SOE and the various resistance movements they fostered. Going beyond that, the men and women recruited for the Strategic Operations Executive were brave souls and deserved to be honored.
This series attempts to show the selection and training process they went through before being sent to likely torture and death in the field. No joke hen one of the instructors says that the life expectancy of wireless operators was six weeks.
I rapidly became enamored (if that is the proper term) with several of the candidates (Copsey and Jeffries in particular). Yes it is reality television and much of the ground covered in the documentary segments (operation Anthropoid and the attack on the heavy water plant in Telemark) are well known and well covered stories to the point of nausea. HOWEVER, it is fascinating to see the SOE syllabus brought back to life in some form and to get the impressions of the participants going through the training process.
In one exercise it is easy to shrug off these 21st century people as they scale rock surfaces with their cushy safety lines preventing them from falling, while their historical counterparts would have been in real danger of falling to their deaths.Some of them really do suffer from fear of heights and no matter how well they are harnessed they are ascending 80 feet of vertical rock surface and surmounting their phobias.
The series illustrates the desperate measures in wartime that out grand parents or great grandparents resorted to to deliver us from the fascist regimes that much of the world succumbed to.
La Grande Traversée (2017)
half historical re-enactment and half reality tv
As an amateur genealogist I was riveted. These 10 young people signed up for quite an adventure in wanting to cross the Atlantic to retrace the steps of their ancestors from he 17th century.
Their living conditions, though drastic from a 21st century stand point, were not nearly as awful as those of the actual colonists heading for New France. To compensate for this the producers gave them the extra duty of acting as members of the ship's crew, taking on sailing, rigging and maintenance of the three masted vessel under the guidance of an almost exclusively English speaking crew.
I found myself quickly rooting for the ten colonists. They were quite a sympathetic lot. As they discovered the difficulties of feeding themselves on board using only 17th century technology as well as improvising clothing, hammocks, etc. Suffering sleep deprivation and constant hunger, the group learns to pull together and offer each other moral support.
Well worth checking out if you can.
Albert's Memorial (2009)
Slightly disapointing road movie
The first twenty minutes have great promise as the dying Albert asks his two wartime buddies for a huge favor. Darkly humorous. Once the show goes on the road however the movie starts to lose its charm and the character of Vicki makes no sense at all. I cannot write more without spoiling the twist such as it is. The ending is too obvious and overstated. I was perhaps hoping for too much from the great David Warner.
One of Canada's best and longest running
Marketplace has been a staple of Canadian television watching for nearly fifty years. From it's early days when "Stompin' Tom Connors" sang the opening theme song "...You save a lot of money spendin' money you ain't got!" through a string of hosts, many of whom went on to be national news anchors. "Marketplace" was a show we turned to for the low down on publicity trends, product safety and confidence men praying on unwary consumers. Many people turned to the "Marketplace" team for justice or to expose crooked business men and women. Often large corporations would settle out of court with victims of fraud rather than be exposed publicly on the show. Terrific television.
White washing history (Spoilers)
In the early 1990s director Jean Beaudin was involved in several high profile television mini-series projects in Quebec. Starting with Émilie (Les Filles de Caleb)in 1990, based on the best selling novel by Arlette Cousture and its sequel Blanche. In the mix was Ces Enfants d'Ailleurs and Shehaweh.
The last one is about a young Iroquois girl captured in a french raid on her village. She is brought back to Ville Marie (Montreal) and repeated attempts to "civilize" and "Christianize" her fail. She is shipped to France as a curiosity to be presented at court. Eventually she is forced to convert and is sent to a convent where she is mistreated. Again she reverts to her "savage" ways and becomes almost feral.
I won't reveal the ending, but her whole journey is quite fascinating. The production values were very good. The first native culture is treated with respect.
If the series has one major fault, it's in Beaudin's casting of Marina Orsini, a french Canadian woman of Italian descent as the title character. With the success of Les Filles de Caleb she was probably part of the packaging that got the financing for the project. It's a shame. There are many good native actors who could have done the part justice, and chiselled ex-fashion model Orsini, quite frankly, takes you out of the story. Her casting is all the more glaring as time goes by and people become acutely aware of white washing in films and television.
Le crime d'Ovide Plouffe (1984)
Sequel to the popular Plouffe movie
Arcand's direction is in many ways more polished than Gilles Carle's from "Les Plouffe" but the smaller budget shows.
We are shown the post World War Two years in Quebec. The changing morals and fashions. Ovide is still as uptight as he was in the first film. His marriage to the good time girl Rita Toulouse has not brought him the happiness he desired. He is still the Charlie Brown character of the piece.
Lemelin and Arcand try hard to make this into an exciting thriller but fail. There's just not very much to care about. Ovide is not that compelling a character. Gabriel Arcand is a mesmerizing stage actor, but on screen he lacked the charisma to carry the movie to its climax. By the end I really didn't care if he killed his wife or not. Today I don't even remember if he did it or what his fate ultimately was. Lemelin might have done better to follow up with the story of one of the other brothers. Maybe Guillaume.
Les Plouffe (1981)
Populist french Canadian film made during the tax credit period
Based on the novel by Roger Lemelin written in 1948. Les Plouffe tells the story of a roman catholic french Canadian family from Quebec city circa 1930 to 1945. It was adapted as a long running live television series from 1953 to 1959 under the title "La Famille Plouffe" on the french Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (Radio Canada) network.
In 1980 film maker Gilles Carle set out to make a feature length motion picture with producers husband and wife Justine and Denis Heroux and John Kemeny. As many of those tax credit deals worked, they needed a signed broadcast deal to get the financing together and Radio Canada stepped. The film was released in 1981 to great acclaim and a longer two part version was later broadcast on CBC television and on Radio Canada television.
While the longer version has more depth of character and takes its time to give further context to its action, the theatrical film moves along and has the virtue of being punchier and more energetic. It is a populist story that shows the social and political context of french Canada between the wars very well. We see the shackles of the Catholic Church and the growing strain the population felt under its restrictions. We see the sentiment in French Canada against the British monarchy and the fear of conscription in the upcoming war. We are shown the unrelieved poverty many french Canadian families lived in during the depression. All four of the Plouffe children live with their parents and work to contribute to the family earnings. Each in his or her own way yearns to get out on their own.
Following the success of "Les Plouffe" Lemelin wrote a sequel book under the title "Le Crime d'Ovide Plouffe" which became an immediate best seller in Quebec. It was quickly adapted into a two part television miniseries directed by Denis Arcand of "The Decline Of The American Empire" fame.
The DVD for "Les Plouffe" would have to wait for release until the 21st century.
Akcja pod Arsenalem (1978)
Remake is better
One of the few movies where the "remake" was better. The movie "Stones For The Ramparts" 2014 (also released as Warsaw 1944) is based on the same subject. The real life story of a Polish group of underground resistance fighters called the Gray Army. The major beats are the same in both films but the second version is more involving. The cinematography in this earlier version is murky. The DVD transfer on the version I saw was horrible. Still, this version is watchable if you can't find the other one.
Pezzo, capopezzo e capitano (1958)
Movie is simpatico but hasn't aged well... (spoiler warning)
This is one of those films that you really want to like.
The actors are good overall, the setting of the coastal town in Italy is beautiful. There is a nugget of a comedic idea that is pregnant with possibility.
The story is in the "Mouse that roared" variety. There is a little ship that is loved by its crew beyond all reason. The commander is an incompetent and anonymous little man, but he has the virtue of being nice. Then destiny arrives in the form of a little cannon. The German navy requires him to install this offending piece of artillery on his boat's fore deck. "That's all right, We'll pretend it isn't there" he tells an apologetic German officer.
Then the little boat encounters a British submarine three miles of the coast. When they return to port after the encounter the little man goes to the naval authorities and says off a major hunt for the submarine. Now the man craves to make an impression on the world, to become a hero. In his own mind he is involved in the hunt for the enemy ship and he and his little cannon will make all the difference.
It is unfortunate that the execution doesn't match the potential. Many of the comedic moments are telegraphed, or the setups for the gags take up too much screen time, so that the punch lines become anti-climactic.
Take for example the gag where the captain, a true landlubber, decides to start wearing a seaman's cap. The film shows him pulling out a cardboard box, discarding his hat and putting on the cap, then walking out. We then see the reaction of his first mate and a few passers by. We then see him inspecting the local "Gelato" ice cream vendor's white tunic. This is followed by several people reacting to his new "uniform" as he comes aboard ship. The director tries to be clever by not showing the captain in full until the very end, but he has already spoiled the gag by showing us everyone's reaction, plus bits and pieces of the tunic in various shots.
Most disappointing of all is the end. After facing ignominious disaster, the captain breaks down in tears and is rowed ashore in disgrace. The whole town is there to see him coming back. There is no closure or catharsis. The character is not shown to have learned anything and his life is in ruins. That is when the narrator informs us that he has come out better for the experience.
I agree with the one other commentator and would complain that the DVD transfer of this movie sucks, but that would be like the Woody Allen joke about the two elder women at the restaurant. One says "The food here is terrible" to which the other replies "Yes, and such small portions".
The King Chronicle (1988)
Superb TV miniseries in need of release
This three part television miniseries is in dire need of being released on DVD. This is a co-production by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and the National Film Board of Canada and written, produced and directed by one of the best film makers this country has ever given birth to.
It stars one of our really interesting character actors from the 1960s- 70s-80s Sean McCann. As a child remember seeing Mr.McCann in many TV series and movies. A steady, familiar performer in every role he has ever played.
I saw one of the three episodes (the first one, I believe)on TV when it was originally broadcast and loved every minute of it. I never caught the other two. Sadly, the original series languishes (like many other fine productions) in vaults at the Cinémathèque, or at the National Film Board or at the CBC and is not made available for us to see and learn from. This is our history, and a very interesting one indeed.
If you want to see snippets of this production you can view them online at the national film board web site in a thirty one minute docudrama by Ema Buffie called "Mackenzie King And The Conscription Crisis".
But really, there was so much more to this production. When will the NFB and CBC make this series available to Canadians? Stream it or release it on DVD and Blue Ray.
D-Day to Victory (2011)
Ducumentary that tries to add new perspective to epic story
This documentary uses some "new" approaches to showing combat in Europe during the second world war. In addition to the usual black and white footage of soldiers in the field, they use contemporary technology and graphics to illustrate how the weapons of world war two worked and inflicted damage and wounds to combatants.
I was particularly impressed with the sequence where they prepared and used real ordnance to show what being shelled in a fox hole in the Ardennes must have been like.
No Hollywood precut trees, squibs and special effects. The real thing is shocking. How anyone could survive such an ordeal is beyond me.
The interviews are touching. Overall a good but not outstanding documentary about the fighting in Europe after D-Day.
The Last Laugh...
I just borrowed "Death by Moonlight" from the library to refresh my memory as to its contents.
I have just recently read Donald L. Miller's majestic "Masters of the Air" in which he backs up many of the "Death by Moonlight" affirmations about "Bomber" Harris and the whole culture of denial experienced by both American and Allied bomber crews.
Although Miller principally describes American strategic daylight bombing - itself a tragic miscalculation - he also covers the efforts of the RAF to demoralize German civilian populations by carpet bombing their cities with incendiaries.
Canadian and Commonwealth crews could not possibly have had any illusions about what they were doing, knowing they were carrying this kind of ordinance. The innocence and lack of complicity of the fliers is one point the film tries to push that doesn't jibe. On the other hand, one expects that a scared 20 year old whose life expectancy was counted in months (remember only one in three crews survived their tour of duty) had other priorities than to question the overall strategy of bomber command.
In 1993 I was a film student in Montreal and read all about the controversy "The Valour and the Horror" elicited in its original broadcast. The whole story of this film and its two companion pieces brings into question the role documantarians play in the way we see ourselves over time.
This question becomes even more relevant with the manipulation of the media in the war on terror, the invasion of Iraq, weapons of mass destruction, 9-11 and various nations jumping onto the American band waggon to war.
This film is too important a document (in Canadian media history) to be dismissed in a cavalier manner. Please take note that I do not refer to it as a "documentary", but nor do I think of it as a work of fiction or "theater" as tombaginski describes it. It is worth seeing as part of the corpus of historical work on Canada's part in World War Two as well as for its controversial role in our media history.
The brothers McKenna brought into question the competence and motives of Canadian and British military leaders during World War Two in their three episode series. They thought they were doing so from the safe platform of a 50 year distance. Veterans living at that time rallied and savagely questioned the validity of the series and the right of both public broadcaster (CBC) and film makers to dare suggest they were anything like war criminals. The McKennas found their credentials and integrity were severely brought into question - very publicly so.
Here is an overview of the controversy:
I was thinking of how we think about historical events and where we get background information when writing about history. How are myths created? I was going to quote journalist Philip Graham, who in 1963 said:
"So let us today drudge on about our inescapably impossible task of providing every week a first rough draft of history that will never be completed about a world we can never really understand."
The key phrase is "the first rough draft of history" - one that becomes all but impossible to erase over time once it sets into the public mind, like concrete. Ironically, as I sought out the originator of the quote I discovered that it's attribution has also been called into question
In a 1943 book review in the New Republic journalist Alan Barth wrote, "News is only the first rough draft of history." It has also been attributed to Douglass Cater.
I hope this film does not sink into obscurity. It should be seen. It deserves to be studied and discussed. Its strengths and flaws should be analyzed.
Week-end à Zuydcoote (1964)
A Gem of a movie
There are only three films to my knowledge that attempt to tell the story of this pivotal event of World War Two. A segment in the very bleak "Atonement", the 1950S Black and White British movie "Dunkirk" and this 1964 french movie.
Several years ago I caught about fifteen minutes of this Belmondo film on a cable channel while I was travelling on business. I made it a point to track it down and get a copy on DVD, only to find that the copy I ordered online was an awful English dub.
Despite this, I find this movie riveting. As the simple story progresses, Belmondo's character tries to find his way off the beach at Dunkirk and over to England. Director Verneuil keeps the focus on Belmondo's Picaresque adventures, so we have someone to root for.
There is a refreshing naiveté to Belmondo's Julien Maillat when compared to some of his later hard boiled characters. He drifts from one twisted adventure to another and as he sees a lot of death and destruction one senses an emotional cocoon forming around him layer by layer. The varied people he meets and their stories are vivid and touching.
The "sets", a small coastal town, a ship and the beaches, are appropriately open and huge. The number of extras needed to fill the canvas is stunning and the "battle" scenes are as spectacular as any of those from war movies of this period (excpting The Longest Day).
This isn't a deep psychological character study or anything. Julien simply does what most people would do in his situation. He lends a hand here or there or hangs out and philosophizes with his buddies, one of which is a catholic army chaplain slash priest. This of course opens up a discussion of what God is doing about all this.
Julien strikes up a relationship with a girl from the town which takes a strange and sinister turn towards the end.
I didn't love the story's resolution. I haven't read the book and do not know If the film follows it faithfully. It just struck me as unsatisfying.
But despite this the rest of the movie was well worth seeking out. If you can, see it in french with subtitles rather than in its dubbed version.
Important man in Canadian history
I saw this when it was originally broadcast on CBC but was not paying enough attention. I have since read more about this very important Canadian. The production values of this series are excellent and the cast are superb.
King was in power for 22 years, the longest run of any democratically elected man in the free world. He nursed a politically volatile country through most of the great depression and world war two.
The fact that he was a complete lunatic makes this achievement all the more noteworthy. His deep belief in spirit ism led him to commune with Leonardo DA Vinci, Sir Wilfrid Laurier, his dead mother, and several of his Irish Terrier dogs and President Roosevelt. A lifelong bachelor, he frequently consorted with prostitutes and was possibly an unacknowledged homosexual.
Donald Brittain was one of our best documentary film makers. This docudrama is worthy of released on DVD or blue-ray. (though it is available for streaming on the internet).
Dieppe 1942 (1979)
As a teen age boy I watched this on memorial day when it was originally broadcast. As a Canadian I was deeply moved by the waste of young lives. It haunted me for years. Memories of this documentary fuelled be later to read every book I could find on the subject.
I especially recommend James Leasor's "Green Beach" "Unauthorized Action" by Brian Loring Villa, Lucien Dumais' "Un Canadien Français à Dieppe", "the Shame and the Glory" by Terence Robertson, "Tragedy to Triumph" by Denis Whittaker.
The film makers combine interviews with veterans with archival footage and beautiful and evocative paintings depicting the events. I was especially impressed with the art work. A superb overview.
Race for the Bomb (1987)
Who let this copyright lapse?
Just wanted to put it out there that the Canadian Broadcasting corporation has no idea how to commercialize its product. Many great titles were shown once
This wonderful miniseries, probably the best on the subject is not available on either VHS or DVD. Someone uploaded a really crappy home VHS copy onto You Tube that is unwatchable.
After its original broadcast the copyright was allowed to lapse. It is now in the public domain for commercial exploitation by anybody who wants to hunt down a good quality print and transfer and distribute it.
Rare War Films has made a copy available for purchase from a print with Danish subtitles. It can be ordered online. The quality is doubtful and it comes without packaging.
I just wish one of the original producers would get their act together and put together a proper DVD release.
Mussolini and I (1985)
Is this how it was?
The shame of this production is that it treats one of history's most successful mass murderers with downright affection. It comes across as a black shirt recruitment film.
I have no problem with biographies that treat historical figures as complex human beings. In fact I think it is important to treat history with respect. I do think we need to be shown the complete story, however. Mussolini and I never shows us the brutality of the fascist regime. We are not really shown the torture chambers, the concentration camps or the complete collaboration the Italians gave the Germans in putting together their FINAL SOLUTION.
The series builds empathy for the mussolini clan. Hoskins delivers a portrayal of Benito ("Benny") as a man of conscience and morality. The other poles of sympathy are Hopkins as the spineless administrator who helped keep Mussolini in power for 22 god awful years.
If this were a series made today about Saddam Hussein viewers and reviewers would be in an uproar. The producers would be crucified for their fascist leanings.
Sur la piste du Marsupilami (2012)
You have to expect a Chabat film
Chabat is mostly an acquired taste. He is a goofy light comedian. His movies are in line with the Zucker-Zucker-Abrahams movies. His humour is brave and absurd on a performance level, but ultimately it does not probe or bring any new meaning concerning the human condition. It's just fun.
Frankin is a great and original french artist. His world is inhabited by very quirky misfits (Gaston Lagaffe), sometimes by heroic characters (Spirou and Fantasio). In interviews, Chabat has said he has wanted to do something based on Frankin for many years, but the rights to Spirou are all tied up. Then he found a loop hole. Don't go in expecting a straight up adaptation of one of the books, though parts of "Le Nid Du Marsupilami" are in there for sure, including the babies at the end.
Chabat brings his own tone and spin on the subject, which probably won't please all the fans. He had the same trouble with Gosciny when he adapted "Asterix Chez Cleopatre". Despite that film's popularity and success, the creator of Asterix hated the Chabat touches and insisted on other film makers for the next instalments (all inferior).
Marsupilami has some of the veneer of Frankin's world, through the art design, mostly. Much of Chabat's quirky humour is overlapped on the story. I got a great kick out of the South American dictator who is Celine Dion's #1 fan. The musical number towards the end is right up there for absurd comedy.
The CGI is okay for what it is. Marsu is adorable. Some of the other effects are borderline for a film of its budget. The animatronic creatures are very good.
Chabat's and DeBouze's performances are excellent. But Lambert Wilson really steals the show.
My sons loved it. We are all fans of Didier, Asterix and Cleopatra, RRRrr and City of the Dead.
Hatfields & McCoys (2012)
Reynolds and Costner - Someone PLEASE write a book!
As a Canadian I have a somewhat different take on the American western. In film school we studied it as a genre, rather than as history. Director Reynolds, with the same deep interest most Texans hold in their hearts for the genre, gives us a wonderful, poignant entry to this genre. Costner pursues his abiding love of Westerns, after two marvellous directorial efforts in the genre and even more forays as an actor.
The wonderful thing about both Kevin Costner and Kevin Reynolds is that they strive to make their westerns as both history and contributions to the genre.
As a French Canadian I also tend to place each film I see in a sort of continuity within an artist's evolution rather than as a singular piece of art. As such it has merits beyond itself. Its more of a European bias that allows me to love a film for its non diagetical qualities. Remnants of the "Nouvelle Vague" way of looking at film.
The Hatfields & McCoys, beyond its own merits as a western or as an historical reference point (and it has many merits) is another chapter in the collaboration and artistic exchange between Reynolds, and Costner. This one seems to be a very healing experience, after the very painful ones of Robin Hood (1991) and Waterworld (1995).
Reynolds is the director who launched Kevin Costner way back when in 1985, when he cast him in Fandango. In 1990, when Costner turned his hand at directing for the first time with another western, the very risky Dances With Wolves, he turned to his friend Reynolds for advice. He even went to far as to give him "special thanks" acknowledgement in the end credits.
After over twenty five years of ups and downs it is satisfying to see them collaborating again. It is great to have them finding success and recognition together. Hopefully there will be more to come.
Raid on Entebbe (1976)
Story in need of freshening up
After hearing about this film since my early teens, I finally decided to borrow a copy and watch it. I am very disappointed. In seeing my low rating for this film, please bear in mind I saw a horrible transfer.
The night scenes were too dark, even murky, so the whole last section (the raid) suffered for it. This is obviously where most of the TV budget for this went, aside from star salaries. The rest of the movie had washed out colours and the sound was pretty bad as well. Also the DVD extras amounted to a few sketchy cast bios and filmographies.
The film needs a good crisp transfer onto Blue Ray with some extras added, perhaps a little documentary with interviews of some of the participants, both actors and their real life counterparts. This would give the film some historical context for younger viewers. Given the importance of the event depicted, it is a shame to see this movie treated so shabbily.
Nevertheless the film is ageing badly in my opinion. The sets in the early part of the film betray the television budget. The dialogue lacks drama and the Hollywood "Jewish" accents sound cheesy, overall.
Despite its shortcomings there are two or three scenes that are very striking.
The initial reaction of the Israeli citizens when they see the hostage takers setting up tables and calling them out to separate them from the other passengers. Any lines of dialogue "Just like in the Shoah" were not only unnecessary, but insulting.
The death of Yanni was played to perfection by the ever under rated Stephen Macht.
Also his reaction to learning that one of the women passengers has been transferred to a local hospital - you can tell he knows her fate has been sealed.
This story could stand to be told again today, in light of the "war on terror" and much changed American attitudes towards Israel's place in the middle east.
Not an American approach to the subject
Tight little movie based on the real events. Other reviewers above have expressed frustration at the slow tempo, lack of story context and budget.
First: The approach is very french in that you are expected to know some of the political context in which the story takes place. I have found that most of the people from France I know actually read newspapers, magazines and books and have a good grasp of both their history and current political affairs. Sadly, many Americans get their news exclusively from Fox.
The tangled and complex relationship between France and Algiers where the story begins would seem a mystery to North Americans, but (I would surmise) makes perfect sense to a french resident. The inept, corrupt mismanagement of the french government in this affair would also come as no shock to someone brought up in France and would need very little explaining to its native audience.
Secondly: The most expensive french film ever made could never rival an American super production. To its credit this film doesn't really try. It really doesn't need MORE and BIGGER explosions (especially when there were none during the actual event) to make its point. There is a lesson here for certain American producers.
THIRDLY: The cinematography, down tempo music score and tempo are obviously meant to create a bleak, depressing atmosphere.
In one of the first sequences, the French officer (Thierry) breaks in to a hostage situation and shoots the armed suspect only to find a woman hostage dead and a boy standing near her. He has arrived too late. He and the boy exchange a long look. I think we are meant to understand that the grim reality of his job is that these situations do not often turn out well.
This early scene sets the tone for the rest of the film, but also frames the ending, where, lying in a pool of his own blood, Thierry looks over and exchanges a very long look with one of the female hostages. The moment is not overdone. She doesn't crawl over to hold his hand or mouth a thank-you or anything. It is understood. Here is a man who sacrificed himself to obtain her freedom.
The film makers deliberately stretch out Thierry's agony, not revealing whether he lived or died all through the final shootout and all the way through to just before the credits. This was very well done.
Many French film makers have a different approach to what has become just another sub genre in American action films. This is something to be applauded all the more so because American film makers are no longer allowed to make these kinds of films.
Love Hate and Propaganda (2010)
A reminder of HOW THEY DID IT
This series' focus is primarily on the propaganda angle of World War Two. Inevitably, parallels of what has been happening in the world, and particularly in the USA for the last fifteen or so years leap to mind.
The gearing up to war, the creation of scapegoats in the media to promote someone's political agenda. The cult of public image of political figures. It is sad, knowing what we know, that we are still falling for the same old shams.
The information presented by this series is not new, a lot has been written or said in different venues about how Hitler, Mussolini, Stalin, and the Togo government in Japan manipulated or controlled mass media in order to seize and then keep power.
I am into the second episode (of six) of this series. Hopefully as it goes on, the series will bring to light the Allies attempts at propaganda as well as the Axis'.
Of late we have seen a new spat of high quality documentaries and fictional movies on World War Two that, given our media culture are shifting our point of view and perspective about those terrible days.
We are witnessing the passing of living witnesses to the events and we are seeing a new, very savvy generation of documentary film makers sifting through the massive and comprehensive record they have left behind. This has produced films about war correspondents ("Shooting War") or a rumination on the images themselves ("Canada's War In Color") as well as documentaries that try to breathe new life to well known images through restoration and new digital technologies ("Apocalypse: World War Two").
Just as in fiction, "Saving Private Ryan", "Band of Brothers", "The Pacific" and other movies are stripping away the image we inherited from a heavily self-censored Hollywood to show a darker more realistic view of the "greatest generation", historians are seeing new subtext in the old records.
This is a very appropriate addition to the corpus of 21st century documentaries about the first half of the twentieth century.
Le colis (2011)
Has its moments...
A portrait of two men whose lives are going down hill fast.
One (Gildor Roy) has no personal integrity and appears at first to be a successful business man. His gambling habit is finally catching up to him. As his creditors close in he turns to a local gangster named "shotgun" for a loan he just knows he cannot repay. He builds a hard shell to protect himself as he looks down on and hurts the people around him.
The second man (Emmanuel Bilodeau) is decent, imaginative and loving. He is the kind of guy who is always living from paycheck to paycheck. He meets the same gangster, "Shotgun" and is offered an opportunity to make some easy money, but knows instinctively that he will have to do terrible things for it. Bad luck starts the gradual reversal of fortune that will inevitably lead him to a desperate act.
Contrary to conventional story telling wisdom, the film makers here do not contract the events into a short period of time. The whole story is set over a period of many months. This works both for verisimilitude, for as Michel's (Bilodeau's) luck gives out we are left to ask ourselves when will he cave in to temptation. At what point will he become desperate enough to go to "shotgun" for a job. Also the Gildor Roy character juggles more and more desperately down the self destructive hole of debt and denial.
The reward to this is that when they are finally together, they recognize something in each other and their mutual recriminations have resonance. As each accuses the other of being a loser, they are both faced with their own short comings. These latter scenes in the movie are wonderful.
Roy has always been a popular personality in Quebec through his country and western singing career and television parts. He good at playing the strong brutal type with the heart of gold. In fact he does such a good job at playing the ass hole that by the middle of the film you do not expect to find redemption for his character, and it takes some work on his part to break through the wall and show a man ready to change.
Bilodeau is nobody's idea of the handsome leading man, and the film may suffer because of that. Better at supporting parts, he does a creditable job in this particular role as a funny, well intentioned loser. There are charming, funny moments throughout with his wife and daughter. The little girl and he have a wonderful chemistry on screen. Ditto for his relationship to Gildor Roy. As they warily play off each other, the two men recognize their mutual weaknesses and surprisingly, their strengths.
Filière 13 (2010)
Surprisingly gentle humour
In many ways a follow up to "Trois P'tits Cochons", another film pairing Claude Legault and Guillaume Lemay-Thivierge.
The plot is partly stolen from the Richard Dreyfuss, Emilio Estevez buddy cop movie "Steakout". Don't expect too much originality on that front.
Director-actor Patrick Huard creates very flawed and vulnerable set of characters who only want what everyone else wants, peace love and understanding. Even the "bad guys" have gentle motivations that underline their humanity. One criminal is trying to smuggle dirty money out of the country in order to retire with his beloved wife and give her a comfortable lifestyle. Another is trying to get to his aged mother. When he finally shows up he talks about bringing her a cream for her injured arm.
The cop protagonists are going through their own ups and, mostly downs. What could have been a straight drama becomes far more endearing as we see the bond these guys form through their common misery.
Lemay-Thivierge is given a couple of brilliant comical scenes in which he gets out of tight situations by improvising and creating characters. He is well known as an energetic (even manic) performer. In recent years though, he has shown the ability to control and modulate his performances.
Legault is always an outstanding actor. I am a little disappointed to see his character is a little too reminiscent of the one he created for "Minuit le Soir".
While the film is perhaps not a must see film, it does have enough going for it that I can recommend it. Enjoyable.
The Truth About Average Guys (2009)
Lower your expectations before watching this
Most of these reviews are in the vein of "Oh what a great job you guys did for such a low budget. Way to go, little guys, hey your movie is in focus and well lit, so I give you nine stars". Sorry if I don't jump onto the band waggon. In the interest of balance I will now tear the movie apart.
While the shots are properly lit (overall a little flat, betraying it as video), there is barely ever any movement in the interior scenes. Some of it is very weak. The concert scene lit day for night (?) or possibly under lit. The framing is often pretty boring which carries over to the cutting. The editing really has no rhythm. The film (already at 83 minutes) could easily be cut down and made tighter and funnier. (In the commentary the film makers admit that they had a lot of seven pager scenes in the script which you are not supposed to do, and they cut down to four on set. "We make our own rules" one of them brags). The sound is flat and un enhanced. It has no depth with practically no effects to deepen and create ambiance. There is very little underscoring. Music is used for transitional effect or for the montage sequences.
The direction lacks inspiration from a technical standpoint. There are a lot of annoying amateurish details that jumped out at me. The actors are framed head on, which is visually uninteresting. Notice all the closed doors in the background of corridors of the office scenes. The location would have benefited being opened up and given depth. Same location too obviously re-used as a gym five minutes later when Katie and her friend are working out. The bar scene at the end is excruciating.
I guess establishing shots and reverse angles would have required more money.
The film needed a stronger director to stand up to the actors and push them further along. They obviously have potential and sometimes come up with truly inspirational moments but at least half their performances are either pedestrian or "actorish". It looks like they would do two or three takes and then say "good enough lets move on".
Some of the "guy buddy ensemble scenes" should have been trimmed in the editing and at least two of the characters cut out completely at the writing stage. They add nothing to the movie. Its educational to listen to the audio commentary. These guys think their (awfully bad) montage scene is good because the dinky little sight gags they improvised go "great with the music".
The film struggles between over the top sight gags, caricatures and more naturalistic, topical humour. It cannot make up its mind between the two and in the end should have gone for the latter.
Bad sight gags... The guy who feints when he finds out Jason is dating Katie. The introduction of the female protagonist in slow motion with wind blowing her hair back. The blah office co-workers, again too many of them get too much screen time. In the commentaries the two main actor-producers admit there was too much nepotism. The whole scene when Katie's friend introduces the two guys in the bar. And on, and on, and on...
Best stuff: Almost everything involving Jason Schaver. He comes up with little gems in almost every scene. The book end hammer scenes are wonderful.
Too bad the movie is in fact about Ken Gayton's character. He doesn't come across as the really "average guy". Meanwhile Erika Walker doesn't come across as the super hot chick. They both look good enough and at the same time ordinary enough that they look suited to each other, which doesn't fit with the theme.
You can tell they were learning as they went by comparing the ending they re-shot and added with a lot of the earlier scenes. It plays a lot better that most of the rest of the movie.
I took the time to write this very long review out of respect, not contempt. So four stars for actually getting it done and adhering to the first of Billy Wilder's ten commandments of film making. "Thou shalt not bore".