Dad’s Army

Director: Oliver Parker (2016)

Don’t panic! Fans of the veteran TV series can stand at ease and enjoy this big screen adaption of the second world war sitcom.

It generally succeeds in it’s mild ambitions of providing charming entertainment and gentle laughs.

The director describes it as a celebration of the long running show and in respectful fashion the semi-skimmed sauce of the picture postcard humour is never crude or cruel.

Set in early 1944, the Daily Telegraph reading Nazi high rank send a spy codenamed Cobra, into Blighty.

Meanwhile the Walmington-on-Sea Home Guard, led by the pompous Captain Mainwaring and the diffident Sergeant Wilson, are thoroughly unprepared.

Toby Jones and Bill Nighy step into the boots of beloved actors Arthur Lowe and John Le Mesurier to breathe new life into the roles.

The top rank cast are hummed into action by the familiar theme tune alongside Tom Courtenay and Michael Gambon as Lance Corporal Jones and Private Godfrey.

Privates Pike, Walker and Frazer are also present and correct.

Catherine Zeta-Jones appears as glamorous journalist Rose Winters, who wants to write a story about the platoon.

Rose captivates the men which upsets their wives, resulting a fresh outbreak of hostilities in the battle of the sexes.

Action is always just out of reach for the men, who’s sense of masculinity has already been blitzed by being unable to fight overseas with the real troops.

But as chaos predictably ensues, the opportunity arises to earn their spurs in combat.

This is as much a celebration of British nature as anything else. So there’s snobbery, curtain twitching gossips and men acting like schoolboys.

But there’s also loyalty, bravery, friendship, good humoured amateurism and a determination to does one’s bit for the greater good.

Dad’s Army is such a peculiarly British institution it would be unpatriotic not to salute as it marches on.

 

13 hours: The Secret Soldiers Of Benghazi

 

Director: Michael Bay (2016)

No guns are too big in this crunching and confusing action story.

It’s a typically glossy, macho and bombastic encounter from director Michael Bay, the man who unleashed four Transformers movies on the world.

This real story is set in 2012 in Benghazi, Libya, after the fall of Colonel Gaddafi.

Lead by the James Badge Dale as former Navy SEAL Tyrone Woods, six CIA employed mercenaries defend a US compound against a vastly superior force, in Benghazi, Libya.

With sweat, blood, tears and ammo they must hold out until reinforcements arrive.

But local allies can’t be trusted and the US military are held up by diplomacy.

In a weak attempt at humanising the men, we see them posing in cool blue shades and suits, working out and face-timing their families back home.

Presumably because the director can’t abide not having an attractive in his movies, Alexia Barlier is thrust into non-scenes in a non-role as an undercover CIA operative.

Despite the battles being staged on an impressively large scale, it’s a glossy, video game vision of war.

The kinetic camerawork aspires to make the land seem as alien and threatening as possible.

The use of strong colour recalls the work of Tony Scott and the subject matter the superior war film Black Hawk Down (2001) by his brother Ridley. But nothing here is as good as their best work.

Written to sound good in the  trailers, the jargon heavy dialogue is barked between bursts of gunfire.

An anti intellectual script abandons global politics and blames the resourceful men’s predicament firmly on military cutbacks and weak willed pencil pushers.

Not afraid to make comparisons to the famous defence of the Alamo, it’s a hymn to the second amendment right to bear arms and could be interpreted as a call for the US to adopt an isolationist international policy.

As hordes of nameless militia are gunned down with pin point blood splattering accuracy, I often had no idea which of our heroes was whom, making it hard to care who makes it out alive.

 

A War

Director: Tobias Lindholm (2016)

Guns, grenades and gavels will shred your nerves in this riveting courtroom drama set in the Afghan war.

An army commander is looking down the barrel of a long prison sentence for killing civilians in the act of saving his men.

A smart script gives meaning to the intense battle scenes and the film is always sympathetic to the soldiers.

We fear for the soldiers, worry for the dirt-poor locals and agonise for the families back home.

Danish duo Tobias Lindholm and Pilou Asbaek team up for the second time as director and star respectively.

They previously collaborated on the gripping A Hijacking (2013) where Asbaek played a ship’s captain held hostage by Somali pirates.

A Hijacking was followed into cinemas by Paul Greengrass’ similar though not superior Captain Philips (2013) which starred Tom Hanks.

As well as directing, Lindholm also writes his own scripts and was responsible for writing the Mads Mikkelson drama The Hunt (2012).

All three scripts feature men under intense pressure stemming from decisions made under stress at work.

Asbaek plays Company Commander Claus Pedersen. He is brave and devoted leader of his team, accompanying them on patrol to restore moral after the loss of one of his men to an IED.

Gallows humour peppers the dialogue and there is an absolute lack of gung ho jingoism.

The tumult of a firefight is created with great sound editing, dust clouds and frantic camerawork.

Having the cast scream at each other in their native Danish adds to the turmoil.

The Taliban are a mostly unseen if ferocious enemy, portrayed by the chaos and death they cause. Their victims are all too easily identifiable.

There are no overt political points being made but the mere presence of Danish nationals patrolling the plains of Afghanistan is a defiantly curious phenomenon.

I spent a lot of time urging them to keep their bloody heads down – while I crouched behind the back of the chair in front.

Being in court is more stressful than the battleground for the heroic Claus. His fight on either front will keep you gripped.

13 Minutes

Director: Oliver Hirschbiegel (2015)

Cinema’s fascination with all things Der Fuehrer continues with this compelling true story about a lone assassination attempt on Hitler.

Georg Elser (Christian Friedel) is a liberty loving patriot who wants to prevent a war he believes will destroy Germany.

So on 8th November 1939 in a Munich beer hall he planted explosives timed to explode where Hitler was due to speak. High ranking Nazi’s Himmler, Heydrich and Goebbels were also present.

Due to fog changing his travel plans, Hitler avoids the bomb by thirteen minutes.

Seven people are killed and Elser is arrested. He chooses to sing rather than confess even his date of birth.

Through flashbacks we see Elser’s progress from pacifist musician to violent revolutionary.

He is a skilled musician, dancer, carpenter and clockmaker. Although a communist sympathiser not a party member, his attitudes harden when his friends are prosecuted by the Nazi’s.

The duplicitous way a political message is packaged and sold to a greedy public should act as a warning to a contemporary audience.

Explosions from the nearby quarry are a fanfare of the future, a suggestion of the horrors of war to come.

Although Chief interrogator Nebe (Burghart Klaussner) is quickly convinced Elser acted alone, he receives orders from Hitler to discover who the conspirators were.

The mute secretary typing notes is skilled at judging when to leave the room before the blood begins to flow.

After medieval torture involving straps and heated nails, Elser’s girlfriend Elsa (Katharina Schuttler) is threatened, adding emotional torment to the physical.

There’s beatings, hangings, humiliations, some photography and a fair amount of zither music.

Through a combination of editing (Alexander Dittner) and cinematography (Judith Kaufman) plus some choice screaming and vomiting from Elser, the eye-watering torture is suggested rather than shown.

The production design demonstrates excellent attention to detail for the sophisticated Nazi propaganda and the pre-war period as a whole.

Director Hirschbiegel was Oscar nominated for Downfall (2004), his masterful telling of the last days in Hitler’s bunker. His last film was the appalling biopic of the late Princess of Wales, Diana (2013).

Here he’s created a handsome, intelligent film with tremendous performances but it doesn’t reveal anything new.

Woman In Gold

Director: Simon Curtis (2015)

A young lawyer and elderly woman team up to haggle over the ownership of a valuable piece of art in this dull plod of a true story.

Half courtroom drama, half Second World War thriller and all unremarkable, an uninformative script fails to inspire two mismatched leads.

Widowed US citizen Maria (Helen Mirren) is Austrian by birth and bossy, rude and talkative by nature. She spends a lot of screen-time staring into space and listening to music. She has come into documents suggesting a valuable painting of her aunt Adele may in fact belong to her.

Painted by famous artist Gustav Klimt and known as the ‘Woman In Gold’, it’s of such great importance it’s colloquially referred to Austria’s Mona Lisa, though it’s real name is ‘Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I‘. As her aunt’s will specified it’s hanging on public display in the famous Viennese Belvedere Gallery.

Maria hires the inexperienced lawyer Randol Schoenberg (Ryan Reynolds). The grandson of a famous Viennese composer, Randol takes the case to further his career but after visiting the Holocaust Memorial it becomes a personal mission to secure for Maria the painting.

Together they scuttle off to Vienna to demand the paintings return from the gallery. She tries to shame the authorities into gifting her a painting worth over a hundred million dollars. Even to my inexpert legal mind it’s not a strategy likely to succeed.

Eventually Randol discovers a legal loophole and takes Maria’s claim to the US Supreme Court for permission to sue the Austrian State for the painting’s return.

In one scene a Ferris wheel is featured prominently in the Viennese background, prompting the mind to drift to this famous moment from cinema.

Randol’s argument rests on the exploitation of a technicality not sympathetic to the intention or spirit of her aunt’s original will. Although Maria has an emotional claim to the painting of her aunt, the legal ends seem to have been resolved correctly if not by the right means.

Sepia-toned flashbacks to Maria’s privileged childhood in Vienna shows us a little of a somewhat cold relationship with her aunt Adele (Antje Traue). This undermines her argument her legal case is underpinned by her love for her family.

We see far more coverage of her life as a young married woman under Nazi house arrest for being a Jew, allowing for leather-slapping SS guards to inject some menace into the film. They steal the family silver as well as the Holbein from the wall, her father’s Stradivarius cello and of course, the painting at the heart of the story.

Young Maria abandons her parents to the war and as she flees to the airport, is chased on foot and fights off armed Nazis. What a gal. I didn’t believe for a moment this is how she left Austria.

There’s too much disconnect between eras and the desperate tone of the war years clash with the gentle banter between Mirren and Reynolds.

Scenes in the Supreme Court which are played for laughs. Legal arguments are easily defeated in an uninteresting way and long lapses of time of 9, 6 and 4 months interrupt what little dramatic tension there is in court.

Whenever anyone is offered opportunity to display generosity of spirit, self-interested petulance is chosen instead.

Both leads are miscast and lack chemistry. Reynolds is static wooden pole Mirren gamely gambols about him, flirting with a mannered Austrian accent.

it’s always pleasant to see Katie Holmes on the big screen but in an inconsistently written role she’s relegated to being Randol’s stay-at-home wife. Tatiana Maslany as young Maria makes a convincing young Helen Mirren.

Poor Daniel Bruhl plays journalist Bertus Czernin. He pops up to handily explain Austrian bureaucracy and their funny ways. Peculiarly for a journalist he takes no notes, writes no stories and takes no payment, Astonishingly he’s the one buying the drinks. Mostly he serves the function of providing Reynolds someone to talk to.

We lean nothing of Klimt, his life, art or why his art is so vital to Austrian culture, relegating him to the second most famous Austrian artist in this story.

Suite Francaise

Director: Saul Dibb (2015)

This World War II drama about star-crossed music lovers is handsomely orchestrated but suffers tone deaf storytelling,

When a married French woman falls for a German officer, she has to decide between the love of her life and the love of her country.

There’s some decent acting and a lovely period feel but it’s ruined by the unconvincing romance, unsympathetic characters, a pointless voice over and simplistic dialogue.

It is based on the novel written in secret during the war by Irène Némirovsky. Though she perished in Auschwitz the manuscript was recovered by her daughter and eventually published in 2004.

Filmed on location in Marville, the picturesque town is complemented by the richly authentic production design of Michael Carlin and captured by the graceful cinematography of Eduard Grau. Editor Chris Dickens brings welcome injections of energy.

Lucille (Michelle Williams) is an insipid soul who’s peeved at her sour-faced mother-in-law Madame Angellier (Kristin Scott Thomas) for locking shut her precious piano.

With Lucille’s husband Gaston missing in action, the women share a large house and occupy themselves collecting rent from tenant farmers.

Their privileged if unhappy rural existence is transformed when the German Wehrmacht roll into town.

They’re mostly a benign presence, lacking the SS Nazi zeal for shootings, beatings, floggings or rapes.

When not standing around the square flirting, the squaddies consign themselves to skinny dipping and getting drunk in a nearby chateau.

Meanwhile the locals are busy posting anonymous hate-mail about each other to the Germans in order to curry favour. The officer charged with investigating their contents is good Lieutenant Bruno von Falk (Matthias Schoenaerts).

Billeted with Lucille and Madame Angellier, not only is he a strapping young man but he plays piano beautifully. He even composes his own music. Swoon.

Bad Lieutenant Bonnet (Tom Schilling) fancies Lucille’s friend Madeleine (Ruth Wilson) and insults her husband Benoit (Sam Riley).

Bonnet quotes Nietzsche to underscore how nasty he is. It’s amazing he’s not goose-stepping to Wagner while he does it.

As soon as we see impoverished farmer’s daughter Celine (Margot Robbie) sporting silk stockings, we know how her storyline will unfold. Even before the German’s invade.

The rest of the French give cheese-eating surrender monkeys a bad name. They’re solicitous, duplicitous, hypocritical liars and collaborators; seeing the war as an opportunity to betray, cheat and exploit one another.

I was reminded of Walter Sobchak (John Goodman) in The Big Lebowski when he remarks: ‘say what you want about the tenets of National Socialism, Dude, at least it’s an ethos.’ The French portrayed here have barely a scruple between them.

Handing over an arsenal of weapons without a murmur, resistance amounts to throwing uniforms up a tree. It’s a wonder the Germans need to deploy quite so many troops.

As soon as Bruno unlocks the piano and tinkles the ivories, Lucille is all a quiver with barely concealed passion.

But other than being the nearest port in a storm it’s a wonder what he sees in her. She’s prettily vacant and is miffed by having calloused hands when forced to carry her own shopping. Doesn’t she know there’s a war on?

By the time Lucille and Bruno come to acknowledge their passion, half the town’s women have been at it with the invaders – so it doesn’t seem much of a transgression.

Plus Lucille absolves herself of guilt when an anonymous letter accuses her husband of infidelity; an accusation she’s astonishingly blase about accepting.

When they end up hiding in the hydrangeas from Madame Angellier, its too much effort not to snigger.

As townsfolk seek to exploit her blossoming relationship with the Lieutenant, half of them congratulate her for bravery, the other half condemn her as a collaborator.

Well one person does. We’re simply told by the persistent and annoying voice over what everyone thinks.

When Benoit is betrayed and goes on the run, Lucille has to decide where her loyalties lie.

Eventually the Germans start shooting but they’re so ineffectual it’s amazing they managed to blunder into Paris at all. Executing a door-to-door search they scare some nuns and frighten a few chickens.

While this is going on Bruno finds time to apologise to Lucille for breaking off their date. It’s Bridget Jones: The War Years – but without the laughs.

☆☆☆

’71

Director: Yann Demange (2014)

Collusion, coercion and violence are tied together by a compelling central performance in this tremendously tense British thriller.

With a pared-down plot it’s an action movie without a love interest, barely any humour and a great deal of pain. Assured pacing and confident editing complement a script remarkable for its sparse dialogue. It allows for Jack O’Connell to use his native accent and makes the most of his physical screen presence.

Private Gary Hook (O’Connell) is a raw recruit enduring a gruelling training programme. It’s mercifully brief and included to underline how unprepared these raw recruits are.

A deterioration of the political and social situation in Northern Ireland sees Hook’s platoon packed off in an emergency deployment. Dumped on the front-line in Belfast we’re carefully reminded this war-zone is part of the UK, not a foreign land.

With the city divided by the notorious Falls Road with the friendly Protestants to the east and hostile Catholics to the west, the squaddies are warned of the paramilitaries on both sides. It’s a monstrously messed up environment of graffiti, burnt-out cars and teenagers throwing rocks and dirty (urine and faeces) bombs.

Their fresh-faced and middle class commanding officer Lieutenant Armitage (Sam Reid) is hopelessly out of his depth.

Hook’s squad assist the brutal Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) searching Catholic houses and a rifle is stolen. As a riot breaks out Hook loses his weapon and is separated from his team.

Attempting to return to barracks he must dodge bombs and rioters. Not all locals are hostile but all face repercussions if caught helping him.

The upper ranks of either side have a shaky control of events on the streets. There are betrayals, blackmail and executions as they race to find the lost soldier.

Cinematographer Tat Radcliffe colours a dingy, damp world with an autumnal palette. An eerie and disorientating soundscape by sound mixer Rashad Omar emphasises Hook’s weak and vulnerable state and creates a general air of confusion.

Set a year prior to the infamous Bloody Sunday civilian massacre, ’71 offers an explanation but not an excuse for those events.

There’s no gung-ho flag waving but a bunch of scared working class lads trying to survive a situation they barely understand and have no control over. ’71 is a superior film to the similarly themed and lauded American Sniper. No-one survives without being affected.

Fury

Director: David Ayer (2014)

Hollywood big gun Brad Pitt rolls into action as a battle-hardened tank commander in this mud and guts war epic that takes no prisoners.

Engineered to a familiar and straight-forward narrative, US army Private Norman (Logan Lerman) is sent straight from basic training to the frontline as the Second World War draws to a bloody conclusion.

Despite being a uniformed clerk, recent losses mean he has to join a Sherman tank unit under the merciless leadership of Sergeant “Wardaddy” Collier (Pitt).

Pitt is a trusted father figure to the crew who have been with him since the North African campaign  and include mechanic Boyd ‘Bible’ Swan – a barely recognisable Shia LaBeouf, plus driver ‘Gordo’ (Michael Pena) and gunner ‘Coon-Ass’ (Jon Bernthal).

Struggling to adapt to his close-knit and de-sensitised comrades, the raw recruit is pounded as their tank – nicknamed Fury – rumbles into a series of battles as they cross the muddy fields of Nazi Germany.

Bravery is matched by savagery as soldiers are blown up, burnt, decapitated, shot and stabbed. There’s a brief and tense period of R&R in a small town where liberation comes at a very personal price for the local women.

Then Wardaddy leads a convoy that encounters a militarily superior enemy Tiger tank and only the Fury survives to continue the mission to the ferocious finale.

Riveted together with excellent acting and direction, the phenomenal fight sequences leave you battered and bruised. Macho down to its army boots, this brilliant and brutal war movie that magnificently depicts war as hell.