The Part-Time Critic

Sunday, November 28, 2021

A Quick Visit to Sewanee - The University of the South

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A Quick Visit to Sewanee - The University of the South

 


I recently traveled to Chattanooga, Tennessee and I noticed that Sewanee - The University of the South was along the way. This is one of those private universities not many people know about, but have been around for a long time and consistently top lists of "Most Beautiful College Campuses" online. The university was established in 1858 as a private university of the Episcopal Church. I thought I'd give it a quick visit and share the video with you.


Chattanooga Thanksgiving Trip

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Chattanooga Thanksgiving Trip

 

I live in Louisville, Kentucky and my parents live on the eastern coast of Florida. For Thanksgiving this year we met together in Chattanooga, Tennessee to celebrate the holiday and tour the area. I recently posted a a collection of fly on the wall snapshots of my recent family Thanksgiving trip to the Chattanooga area to YouTube and wanted to share it with you here. We head to Lookout Mountain, take the Incline Rail, visit Point Park, walk the Sunset Rock trail, see Ruby Falls, wander in Rock City, stroll along the Chattanooga riverfront, and relax in our cabin.


Sunday, November 21, 2021

WWII Film Guide: Ten Essential Films

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WWII Film Guide: Ten Essential Films

 

*This post is part of a film guide on World War II. Click here for the main page
*For more context on the process behind this guide, click here for an introduction


Over the last six months I watched over 175 World War II films, classified each one into 12 distinct categories, rated them, and wrote a commentary on each one. I called it my Film Guide to World War II. It was a lot of work, I discovered a lot of hidden gems, and learned a lot of the about subject matter. I also learned that a 12-part film guide to World War II films isn't exactly a topic that brings a lot of casual clicks from social media or from google. So what do the people want? Obviously, a top ten list! It's an impossible assignment, trying to condense all the great stuff I watched into some kind of top ten list, but I think it's a worthwhile task as an entryway into the rest of the list.

What I've compiled below is a list of ten films I feel are essential to understanding the sweep of World War II. Think of it as an entire education on the war in ten viewings. The goal here was to give you the best broad overview of (admittedly American-centric) the diverse experiences found in that conflict. The list pained me to make because it omits so many worthy films; but I hope this narrow focus becomes a helpful guide for those wanting "simple." That said, let's get into it.

10. Tora! Tora! Tora! (1970) IMDB Trailer

Reason It's On the List: You need to watch at least one mega-budget World War II battle recreation from the pre-CGI era of film. As good as special effects have become (and 2019's Midway might be the WWII peak) there's still nothing that can compare to practical airplanes, ships, and explosions done right and you can't get any better than this epic that covers the attack on Pearl Harbor from both the Japanese and the American perspectives. 
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Commentary: "Tora! Tora! Tora!" was the call sign the Japanese pilots were to send back to their officers if they were able to achieve the surprise they so desperately wanted and regrettably were able to achieve. The surprise attack by the Japanese on Pearl Harbor is one of the major turning points in American and world history - bringing the United States fully into World War II. It's not a surprise then that the event has been covered many times in several films. No film has covered it better than Tora! Tora! Tora! and it is easily the best of the mega-budget large scale event recreations to come out of the 60s-70s. The leadup to the attack takes up the first half of the film and sets the stage perfectly; introducing the key figures and mindsets on the American and Japanese sides. The second half of the film pays off in a sequence that is allowed to build and feature multiple facets of the attack. Being before the age of CGI, there’s a commitment to doing things practical that payoff in ways that films today just can’t pull off. Sweeping aerial shots have a different feel when we know the planes in them are real and the damage being done is practical. There’s some jaw dropping stunt work and large-scale explosions here as well. Mixed in with the real location work is some hit and miss miniature and rear screen projection work. Despite some distracting miniature and rear projection work and the lack of the more dynamic CGI shots of Michael Bay’s 2001 Pearl Harbor sequence, this one remains a cut above. I might like a couple of the eye-popping CGI shots, but it completely lacks the cheesy Hollywoodization that Bay’s “let’s get revenge on them Japs” version lets run throughout the sequence. This 1970 version is the single richest recreation in terms of scale and it is immensely benefited by allowing the sequence to speak for itself without filling it with cheesy glamorous supporting roles that only serve to distract. Most action films need it, but war recreations like this one certainly don’t. This is one of the gems of not just World War II cinema, but war cinema in general. 

If You Liked This One: If large-scale recreations are your thing (let's be honest, why wouldn't they be?), than seek out 1977's A Bridge Too Far and 1962's The Longest Day which cover two of the biggest operations in the European campaign - Operation Market Garden and D-Day. You can also check out more films from the Pacific campaign here


9. The Pacific (2010) IMDB Trailer

Reason It's On the List:
So did the American's just have one glorious streak of victories after the sneak attack on Pearl Harbor? Picking up not long after the events in Tora! Tora! Tora! - this 2010 miniseries ticks off two important slots on my imaginary "WWII education checklist": an overview of the Pacific war campaign and a visceral "war is hell" anti-war experience. Watch this and learn, not only about the battles, but about how they steal the souls of even the best men.

Commentary: Without a doubt, this is the most miserable war film I’ve ever seen. Since it is a mini series instead of a 2 hour film, the experience lasts nearly ten hours. To be fair, a miserable experience does not equal a bad film and as you can tell by my rating, this is not a bad film at all. After the success of Band of Brothers in 2001, most of the same creatives came together to make another miniseries covering the Pacific side of World War II. In doing so, they had a small problem to address, Band of Brothers was iconic and already cemented great tales of leadership, courage, and heroism in the popular imagination. Heck, "Band of Brothers" men's groups became popular in many churches I was part of. Was this new miniseries just going to be another Band of Brothers but with palm trees instead of European hedgerows? How could The Pacific differentiate itself? 

The one area that Band of Brothers covered but did not dwell upon fully and certainly did not make its goal, is the "War is Hell" aspect of battle. It seems clear to me that the producers and writers purposefully wanted to counterbalance the public reverence of Band of Brothers by stripping the battle scenes of tactical stories, conventional shows of heroism, and comradery. In its place, The Pacific crafted sequences that drove home to the viewer that this campaign was a nasty business that changed its participants forever. Even the musical theme is more somber and doesn’t have the nostalgic heroism of the Band of Brothers. The series covers Guadalcanal, a layover for restoration in Australia, then back to many key island battlefields including Peleliu, Iwo Jima, and Okinawa. We do grow to know the characters, but the episodes are tougher to watch for a couple of reasons: the characters and issues they have chosen to highlight, mostly the ugly side of war, aren’t as compelling, rousing, and redeeming as the viewer expects. The entire thing is educational, but it feels like having to eat your vegetables without a lot of dessert or meat to balance it out. In the depiction of the Battle of Peleliu, Iwo Jima, and Okinawa, the high production standards are still there, but the framing is more claustrophic, with epic scenery almost always in blur behind our characters. It feels like the directors had two goals: to educate the viewer on the basic geography of the battle and to make you sick to the stomach at the violence of it. There is little comradery (in fact they seem to focus more on combative relationships), there is no conventional heroism (outside of John Basilone on Iwo Jima), there is little technical prowess or tactical excellence, there is only suffering and death. 

By the time the Battle for Okinawa has completed, the war action becomes overwhelming - there's no comic relief or typical redemption. This kind of war film is harder to view because it's not as entertaining or fun as others, but it does provide a necessary pendulum swing. The creators likely would not deny that conventional heroism existed in these battles and that tactical brilliance could have easily have been shown. What they have done instead is fill in the blanks on our World War II experience maps that are only lightly sketched - the intense dehumanization of war. It's a bear, but it's greatly appreciated. We need to be reminded that war is hell and that it ends up taking from everyone involved.

If You Liked This One: There are a number of excellent films who make it their job to try and understand the evil and violence of war. I'd recommend you seek out 1998's The Thin Red Line from Terrence Malick about a battle on Guadalcanal, 2016's Hacksaw Ridge from Mel Gibson that covers a key battle and character in the battle of Okinawa, and 2014's Fury by David Ayer about a tank unit in the European campaign. 

8. 5 Fingers (1952) IMDB Trailer

Reason It's On the List: Moving from front line battles to the work of those behind the lines in intelligence is no less trying on the soul. This spy film realistically dramatizes a true story about a spy in Turkey that nearly compromised the plans for D-Day and features all of the subterfuge, double-turns, and cynicism you expect of people in the business of deception.  

Commentary: This is the most underrated and forgotten spy gem I've come across. I'd venture to say it's a better spy film than any spy film Hitchcock ever made. Set in Ankara, Turkey this espionage story takes place from 1943-1944. The plot gets kick-started when a valet to the British ambassador to neutral Turkey arrives at night to the home of a German foreign officer named Moyzisch (a real life individual whom wrote the book this film is based on) looking to sell photographs of the top secret documents that pass the British ambassador's desk. The Germans begin a back and forth where they want to trust the information, but also not get duped in case the valet is a British double agent. They dub the spy "Cicero" for his high class and sophistication. If this all sounds familiar, it is because it is based on the real life "Cicero Affair", but has been embellished and adapted in a way that makes it both an essentially true recounting of the affair, but also a comprehensive spy story that hits on the themes of the dangers, rewards, and folly of espionage. This film came out a full 11 years before any Bond film and thank goodness it's not obsessed with making it more action oriented or broad for the audience. This is a nuts and bolts, "I've got secret information to sell" spywork and this film is an excellent education in the basics of the running a spy. I think Le Carre would have loved this story, but I can't find any comments he's made on it.

Two examples that I think highlight the inherent tradeoffs of the spy game that get emphasized so perfectly here: Since the documents that Cicero are passing to the Germans are of such top secret nature and of such high quality, they struggle to believe it's genuine. In other words, because it's so genuine, that's good reason to doubt it is genuine! Additional circumstances lead the Germans to question whether or not he is a British agent. Even to this day, it is hotly debated among intelligence historians whether or not "Cicero" was really a British double agent or not. A second example is that Cicero was paid off in forged bank notes - a different secret German operation that you can see play out in the film The Counterfeiters. Just when Cicero believes he has gotten away with everything, fulfilled his dream, and sits down to a meal to enjoy it, everything falls out from under him. It's a classic moment.

5 Fingers is well written, directed, and acted. The writing bears out meticulous work on the details with little moments of surprising knowledge, like inside jokes about German Foreign Secretary von Ribbentrop and a keen understanding of class resentments and trappings in British society. It also bears out in some surprisingly suspenseful sequences, including a wonderful scene where through a series of escalating events, Cicero is finally revealed by the simple diligence of a cleaning lady. James Mason, who plays Cicero, does a grand job here - I think more iconic than his Rommel performances. The final act features some nice twists and turns but it is always clear and easy to follow - you really don't know how it is going to turn out. This might not be a high octane spy film, but it's likely one of the most insightful and educational about what real spy work looked like in World War II than any other film in the category.

If You Liked This One: You'll enjoy the clockwork like precision of Billy Wilder's plot and dialogue in Five Graves to Cairo (1943), the methodical focus on tradecraft in 1956's The Man Who Never Was or the more recent 2014 film The Imitation Game which focuses on the work to decode Nazi signals. 

7. Downfall (2005) IMDB Trailer

Reason It's On the List: How did World War II get so out of hand? We too often look back at fascist figures like Adolph Hitler and Joseph Stalin as caricatures, but that's not how their followers viewed them. I think it's essential that someone understands the dynamics that surrounded such leaders and caused people to give them dying devotion - even in the face of obvious lies. No other film gives better insight into this dynamic than Downfall.  

Commentary: Almost everyone has seen the famous clip from this video of Hitler yelling at his staff set to a variety of funny captioned messages. I hope that the viral clip led more people to give this film a chance because the full 2.5 hours is a wonderful history lesson and insight not just into the fall of Berlin and downfall of Hitler, but into the power dynamics and fanaticism among his inner circle during those final days. The war is essentially over, Germany has lost, this film is about how Hitler and his inner circle deal with that truth. 

The film begins in 1942 with Hitler getting a new secretary. In truth, much of the film is based on the account of this secretary and her time spent in the bunker with the inner circle in those fateful last days. A real interview with the aged secretary Traudl Junge opened the film with haunting words, "I've got the feeling that I should be angry with this child, this young and oblivious girl. Or that I'm not allowed to forgive her for not seeing the nature of that monster. That she didn't realise what she was doing. And mostly because I've gone so obliviously. Because I wasn't a fanatic Nazi." The film then enters into the bunkers under Berlin where the German high command spend the final weeks of the war in 1945. 

I won't recount the full events here because that's not the point of these commentaries. I'll say this though, for the casual history fan and those deep into history, a film like this one gets better and better with each viewing. It is so handsomely produced and acted (with an iconic performance from Bruno Ganz) that it feels we are intruding on the actual history and with each view gaining more and more insight into the mind and spirit of that group. Yes, this film could likely be trimmed a bit to make the story better paced, but there's too much great history here to be lost. I'm okay with a bloated runtime when the insight is this strong. Paired with a film like 2001's Conspiracy and you have great insight into how the Nazi leadership worked - with fear, ambition, and fanaticism always infusing their actions. 

A final quote from Traudl Junge closes the film, "All these horrors I've heard of during the Nurnberg process, these six million Jews, other thinking people or people of another race, who perished. That shocked me deeply. But I hadn't made the connection with my past. I assured myself with the thought of not being personally guilty. And that I didn't know anything about the enormous scale of it. But one day I walked by a memorial plate of Sophie Scholl in the Franz-Joseph-Strasse. I saw that she was about my age and she was executed in the same year I came to Hitler. And at that moment I actually realized that a young age isn't an excuse. And that it might have been possible to get to know things." Get beyond the meme and watch this whole film. 

If You Liked This One: There's a number of films I'd point you to here. I recommend watching 2001's Conspiracy covering the secret Wannsee Conference (to determine the final solution for the Jews) headed by Reinhard Heydrich who is able to bully an entire room of alpha leaders using charisma and power. A companion to that film would be the masterpiece Judgment at Nuremberg from 1961 that offers the best look into the reasoning, mindset, and procedures behind trying key Germans for war crimes. Also check out 2019's Jojo Rabbit which uses some clever narrative framing, like viewing Hitler and the Nazi movement primarily through the eyes of a 10 year old German boy, to walk the thin line between finding the humor in the Nazi movement while also portraying the gravity of its horrors.


6. Sophie Scholl: The Final Days (2005) IMDB Trailer

Reason It's On The List: Aa lean two hour film that details the final days of Sophie Scholl, a young woman part of an anti-Nazi resistance (non-violent) within Germany. It's World War II's A Man for All Seasons, but simplified and streamlined. The film nobly captures the courage and conscience behind Sophie's resistance and how when done righteously, those who have compromised look away in shame, but are condemned in soul. It's the perfect counter to the secretary from Downfall who wondered, "that it might have been possible to get to know things." It was and this film is proof of the simple but profound ways ordinary Germans did stand against Hitler. It's a specific story of a real person, but a universal tale all will recognize.

Commentary: Did the entire country of Germany join in the Nazi party or look the other way? We know that the targets of German occupation and persecution fought back, but did the ordinary German? This film tells the story of the last days of 21 year old Sophie Scholl, a German citizen who decided to resist. Sophie, along with her brother Hans and a few other members, formed the non-violent resistance group known as the White Rose. Comprised of well-educated members, the White Rose wrote pamphlets and fliers looking to expose the German governments war crimes and counter their propaganda.

In a bold move, Sophie and her brother Hans go to Munich University to secretly distribute their most recent pamphlet. In an excruciatingly suspenseful sequence, the two place the pamphlets around the school while class is in session. Unfortunately, a maintenance man observes the two as they finish. They are taken into custody and questioned by the Gestapo. The strength and moral resistance during their questioning is not displayed heroically or as some kind of superhuman feat. What makes these sequences and the whole film really, so special to me, is the simple moral righteousness that underlies their commitment. Much of the film takes place in these interrogations and they were wise to set it here. In the end, Sophie and her brother are charged and stand trial for treason. The trial, rushed into court, is a sham and rather than giving us a courtroom triumph, the film gives us grace under fire. Sophie and her brother are condemned, but always remain courageous and confident in their goodness. The moral goodness isn't braggadocios or arrogant - it's a grace that sees the moral situation clearly and has given up caring what happens to their destiny. You can sense this in two particular quotes from Sophie and Hans respectively, "[to the court] You will soon be standing where we stand now." and "[to the court] If you and Hitler weren't afraid of our opinion, we wouldn't be here."

Coming from a Lutheran background, the film does well to imagine Sophie in the vein of Martin Luther - driven by her religious convictions against a system that demands she deny them. In a revealing moment her police interrogator asks, "Why do you risk so much for false ideas, young as you are?" Sophie responds, "Because of my conscience." This film swims in the same vein as A Man For All Seasons and while not being as good as that film, illustrates well the soul that refuses to "go along" - that refuses to not say what her conscience demands. At the heart of "resistance" films is the conflict - will you compromise your conscience and go along with the others for the sake of your life, or will you fight back? This is one of my favorite stories of a German who decided to fight back.

If You Liked This One: Check out 2015's 13 Minutes that, like Sophie, tells the true story of an ordinary German upset by the fascist changes in his country and he becomes determined to resist. The more stories of the French resistance in 1969's Army of Shadows and 2009's Army of Crime are educational and impactful. Finally, check out 2008's Valkyrie and 2016's Anthropoid for stories of resistance through organized assassinations.

5. The Hill (1965) IMDB Trailer

Reason It's On the List: For many soldiers, World War II was spent in prison camps - whether on the side of the enemy or on their own side. The Hill tells the story of overbearing leadership in a prison camp for "criminals" on their own side - like soldiers who refused to fight. What makes this story stand out is the searing psychological and sociological insight into how men justify and rationalize the dehumanizing aspects of war, authority structures, and warfront justice.

Commentary: Leave it to Sidney Lumet to bring the sobering reality! In a twist on the typical POW film, this film (based on a play) takes place in a British military prison (for soldiers charged with crimes) in North Africa. The camp is run with brutal order and severe discipline. Right in the middle of the camp is the titular hill that prisoners are forced to run up and down for punishment. The film begins with the arrival of five new prisoners with Joe Roberts, played by Sean Connery, among them. The prisoner introduction sequence is effective and brutal: it introduces us to the prison geographically, our five new prisoners, and a few of the staff guards who can run the spectrum of fair, tough, and sadistic. They days go by and a sadistic guard named Williams (played incredibly well by Ian Hendry) pushes a prisoner too far. The prisoner dies in the night and the camp guards and doctors begin looking to shift the blame and angle for an accidental death. What works so well, and Lumet and the screenplay capitalize on this, is the brutally honest/insightful psychology at work. You can see all the contradictory instincts of how each prisoner and guards wants to help each other, do what's right, look out for themselves, do their duty, justify their own actions, and find some little comfort in these horrible circumstances. It all comes to head on a crazy day that begins with a near riot settled down with great delicacy and ingenuity by the Sergeant Major. The ends with a showdown in a prison cell where hierarchies of power, order following, and self-protection all come to clash in an intense and insightful sequence. I guess this film is close enough to being a "seventies film" that if has to offer one last bitter note near the end as well. There are lots of good POW films - this is the best.

If You Liked This One: A lot of great POW films were produced about World War II. If you are looking for a more grounded and insightful film, check out 2001's To End All Wars. If you're interested in the classic "escape" style POW film than check out 1955's Colditz Story and 1961's The Great Escape.

4. Grave of the Fireflies (1988) IMDB Trailer

Reason It's On the List: One cannot endeavor to watch and learn about a historical event like World War II that directly led to the world we live in today without being challenged to remember the sufferings and sacrifices that hundreds of millions of civilians made. Grave of the Fireflies is a simple but challenging work of art calling the viewer to remember those who have come before us. We owe them at least their memory and dignity and beyond that, our stewardship of the world we have received on their backs. Watch this one and be prepared to live differently after.

Commentary: What do we owe the generations that came before us? Are we bound to them in any direct way? I've never felt that question hit as hard as it does in this film - which is odd because the film never directly asks the question but only indirectly applies it. This is a film that is equally built for the atrocity and aftermath sub-categories and it might very well be the greatest anti-war film I've ever come across. The film opens with a broken down teenage boy named Seita dying in the subways of postwar Kobe, Japan. As he dies we see his spirit join with his young sister, Setsuko, as they ride a subway train together. For an animated film, this is easily the saddest and bleakest opening I've ever seen. From that opening we flash back a year or so to Seita and Setsuko escaping their home during an American fire-bombing raid. Their mother is badly injured (and eventually dies) from the bombing and their father is off to war. The rest of the film tells the story of their attempt to survive the aftermath of the bombings, as they pass hands through relatives, come into conflict with others, struggle to find water and food, and eventually strike out on their own.

Most of the runtime is filled with the mundane tasks of trying to survive with little food or water. It's often very depressing stuff - to watch young children struggle in hunger and thirst and watch community members often not care. However, there is always a search for goodness and beauty interspersed throughout the trials. Whether it's taking the moment to enjoy freshening up from a busted water pipe, a hot bath, the sweet taste of a fruit drop, or the wonderful sight of fireflies - this movie juxtaposes all the suffering with wonder and goodness of life. This makes sense as we are really getting the perspective of what its like to endure a war from the perspective of the youth. 

After the death of Saito and Setsuko (which we know from the beginning of the film) their spirits travel along the journey of the film, observing the main events. As we come to the end of the film their spirits sit atop a hill and overlook modern and prosperous Japan. Even typing these words I struggle to not cry while thinking about their implications. 

If You Liked This One: You need to begin with 1946's The Best Years of Our Lives covering the lives of American serviceman as they return back to civilian lives. 

3. Casablanca (1942) IMDB Trailer

Reason It's On the List: I'm shocked to find this masterpiece on another one of my lists! Let me be up front with you, I am biased; this is one of my favorite films of all-time, I watch it about once a year, and it's only gotten better with each viewing. Watch this because it encapsulates a classic Hollywood take on World War II featuring classic Hollywood actors (too many to name!), that nearly perfectly sums up the country went pre-war "I stick my neck out for nobody" to finally answering the noble call to do what's right. On top of that, I think it's the best WWII romance and comedy as well! 

Commentary: I love this film. It's my second favorite film of all-time. It's one of the masterpieces everyone talks about that still holds up when you get to it. I tell you this so that you'll understand that my bias is up front in this commentary. This classic film is set in the titular town of Vichy occupied town of Casablanca in 1942. Morocco is the final destination for many immigrants and refugees looking to flee Europe and get a plane to Lisbon and then America. Since the town is controlled by the Vichy government, approved travel papers are required to get out and these can be secured from Capt. Renault played by Claude Rains. It just so happens that two blank transit papers were stolen off German couriers and were to be traded in the popular cafe "Rick's" owned by the American Rick Blaine, played by Humphrey Bogart. The papers went missing in the cafe just as the infamous French resistance leader Victor Laszlo and his wife Illsa Lund (Ingrid Bergman) show up in the cafe. The rest of the story revolves around Laszlo trying to secure those transit papers and leave occupied territory - but the Vichy and German authorities as well as Rick Blaine all figure into the story as different kinds of obstacles.

This film straddles many of my WWII subcategories and so you'll find it in the special ops/spy/resistance category as it's primary story is about a French resistance leader escaping the authorities and the primary theme sees the main character learning that there's some things important enough to stick your neck out for (a not so subtle dig at isolationists). However, the film would be just as comfortable in the comedy section. In fact, I think it has more famous jokes and laugh lines than any comedy I've put in that category. It also finds a place in this category. Yes, this film is about resistance but at its center is the romance between Rick and Ilsa. I couldn't bring myself to keeping it in just one category.

I tend to watch Casablanca at least once a year and like all the great films, Casablanca is so rich and layered that it rewards multiple viewings & seems to change the older I get. In my teens, I was surprised by the film's wit and humor. It was the first time I found myself laughing out loud & quoting a B&W film. In my twenties, I was taken in by the love stories: Rick-Ilsa, Ilsa-Laszlo, and even the near tragic sub-plot of the two Bulgarians cleverly weaved throughout the film. Now I'm moved by the film's cynical atmosphere, Rick's idealism broken into scrupulous pragmatism ultimately redeemed by a noble forgiveness and self-sacrifice, and finally Laszlo's inspiring and dogged patriotism. The performances are iconic and spot-on, especially the delightful Claude Rains who gets most of the films funniest lines. Few films boast a roster of characters this memorable, this enjoyable, and this heartbreaking. The writing, which at first can seem convoluted, deftly introduces a large cast of well-drawn characters who each play their own important role in telling the story. Everything leads up to that famous third act, which features a few quickly paced twists that continue to feel fresh to this day and remain enjoyable even after seeing the film well over ten times.

If You Liked This One: Check out either edition of To Be Or Not To Be, the original 1942 film with Jack Benny or the Mel Brooks remake - both are  a riot that are not afraid to lampoon the Nazi state. Although it can be tough for modern audiences, I'll also recommend a viewing of Charlie Chaplin's The Great Dictator from 1940. He was one of the first artists to truly risk his reputation to call out the effects of fascism on Europe and try to get the world to see and make note of the terror of Hitler & Mussolini. 

2. Schindler's List (1993) IMDB - Trailer

Reason It's On the List:  It is likely a cliché pick, but there's a good reason that Schindler's List has earned the reputation as THE holocaust film. It is a masterpiece. I believe it's one of the finest pieces of art any human has ever made. If you can only watch one film about the horrors of the holocaust make it this one. To paraphrase a character from the film, "This movie is an absolute good. This movie...is life. All around its reels lies the gulf."

Commentary: There's a scene near the final act of the lengthy Schindler's List where Oskar Schindler, a German factory owner, and his Jewish accountant Itzhak Stern are creating a list of names - the titular "Schindler's List." The list of names are the Jews that Schindler is paying Amon Goeth, the commander of the Plaszow concentration camp, enormous sums of money to bring over to his factory instead of shipping to their deaths at Auschwitz. After finalizing the list, Stern removes it from the typewriter and says to Oskar, "This list... is an absolute good. The list is life. All around its margins lies the gulf." It's a beautiful and moving sequence showing the journey Schindler has made so far in the film. I think it's one of the best sequences in all of cinema. To understand why, we have to start at the beginning of this film. 

Schindler's List begins its narrative with Jews departing from a train and walking up to attendants who are making lists of their names as they enter the Jewish ghetto of Krakow. In this case, to be on the list is to be inferior and controlled by the state - less than human. This sequence is contrasted with Schindler's introduction at a German dinner club where he pays large sums to wine and dine Nazi top brass. He's doing it to network and get approval to start factories and get military contracts. In this sense, names on a list, signatures, are everything to Oskar because they are just a means to an ends - his wealth. Schindler arrives in the Jewish ghetto looking to take advantage of the situation, using Jewish cash as capital to fund his factories and using the Jews as workers because they cost less.
Stern: “. . . The Jews themselves receive nothing. Poles you pay wages. Generally they get a little more. Are you listening? . . . The Jewish worker’s salary, you pay it directly to the SS, not to the worker. He gets nothing.”
Schindler: “But it’s less. It’s less than what I would pay a Pole. . . . Poles cost more. Why should I hire Poles?”
What's the value of a Jew to Schindler? Very little - they are just a quicker way of achieving his personal goals. As the story progresses and Schindler encounters Jews and observes their treatment at the hands of the Nazi authorities, he undergoes a slow change. It happens in subtle ways at first, but then it becomes more and more obvious until he arrives at the moment I described at the beginning of this commentary. You may be asking, how is the story of a German factory owner a good "holocaust" story? I think the key here is that Schindler's character journey both hyper focuses and personalizes the journey the viewer makes and allows us to observe a broader holocaust story than is often presented. 

By primarily following Schindler and the development of his factories, it allows us to take the journey of his Jewish workers from their quarantining in the Krakow ghettos, to the liquidation of the ghetto, and to their lives in the Plaszow concentration camp; while also observing the German view point of a businessman, and the commander of the concentration camp itself. The director, Steven Spielberg, masterfully portrays these events - with a directness, verisimilitude, and perspective that still has the power to stun me on repeated viewings. I often feel like an observer thrusted into real life events. The liquidation of the ghetto, the cruelty and random violence of life under Amon Goeth (a chilling Ralph Fiennes) in the camps, and the horrors of Auschwitz are now forever embedded in my mind. 

Like Schindler who observes the treatment of the Jews mostly from a distance, the viewer watches people on a screen. We too must grow to care for them. We have been told about the holocaust in our schools (hopefully!), but they are just words on the paper, maybe a few pictures. Schindler's character arc mirrors the arc this story is attempting to give to the viewer as well. After we view what Schindler views, know what he now knows, will we grow to see these people as humans with value or will they just remain names on a list in history? There's a reason the movie goes out of its way to repeatedly find situations where they can say the names of as many of the Jewish workers as possible. The creation of the list of names to be saved I described at the beginning is the moment that demonstrates Schindler has given up his previous views: to use the Jews as a means to his end - riches. The list demonstrates that Schindler has grown to know that a human life, each one, is sacred and not a means to an end. That he must sacrifice the thing that meant the most to him, his riches, to demonstrate this is poetic. This isn't the last time Spielberg has used the conceit of a list of names to depict whether we find value in a human life - think about it: in Catch Me If You Can Frank's ever-changing name showed his lack of integrity and peace with his self-worth, in Minority Report the pre-cogs produced a ball with a name of a victim and a perpetrator, in The Terminal Victor Navorski seeks to get his name on a list so he can enter the country, in an inversion of the list of life Munich starts with a list of names Avner must assassinate and he comes to realize it is dehumanizing, and in Lincoln the President demands the right amount of names to vote on a bill to end the de-humanizing practice of slavery. 

I could write much more and I fear that what I've already written is nowhere near worthy of this film. It's one of the greatest films of all-time and one you definitely should not miss. To paraphrase Stern's comment to Schindler in the film, "The movie is an absolute good. This movie is life... all around its reels lies the gulf."

If You Liked This One: There are a number of good films you can seek out about the holocaust. I think 2002's The Pianist is the best film you can watch about the experience in the ghetto's.  I think to get a handle on the concentration camps then you are best trying to come at it from different perspectives. I recommend starting with 2015's Son of Saul for its harrowing "in the moment" perspective of the sheer evil of gas chambers. Then leave the "horror" behind for the holocaust told from the perspective of a "clown" (I mean that more philosophically than literally) by watching 1998's Life is Beautiful. Finish off from a different angle, that of the child of a death camp commander in 2008's The Boy in the Striped Pajamas.

1. Band of Brothers (2001) IMDB - Trailer

Reason It's On the List: Simply put, 2001's HBO miniseries Band of Brothers is the best thing ever made about World War II combat (in any theater). I've seen no other work that is as diverse in character, plot, action, and theme while retaining richness in a single narrative and maintaining consistently high production values. War is complex and while it is horrifying and evil, it also contains moments of nobility, courage, and good. Most great films about WWII are lucky to capture one of these aspects. Band of Brothers ably captures the complexities unlike anything else on the list. That's why it's essential viewing for anyone seeking to learn more about the war.

Commentary: Coming back to this venerated series so many years later and after running through war film after war film, I wondered if the quality of this series would hold up on re-inspection. Similar to the The Pacific miniseries that came a decade later – Band of Brothers gives a kind of overview of a major theater of war. In this case, the miniseries follows Easy Company of the 101st Airborne division from boot camp, to England, to D-Day, to French hedgerows and towns, to Operation Market Garden, to the Battle of the Bulge, to concentration camps, and all the way to VE-Day. The miniseries format gives the ability to tell multiple stories, chronicle a range of characters, and portray a full spectrum of war experiences. Because they are focusing on one company, the narrative always feels focused and cohesive, a trait that The Pacific lacked, despite its grander ambitions. The action in the series follows in the style of Saving Private Ryan with an emphasis on three things: intensity, violence, and tactics. The stand out feature here, and what separates this from its sister series The Pacific, is the series’ clear view that there really are some redeemable aspects to be found in the hell of war. The series identifies three in particular: The camaraderie and relationships built among the soldiers, the power of good leadership, and courage/bravery/perseverance in the face of great suffering and fear. This is why the characters of Band of Brothers, like Dick Winters, Lipton, Compton, Guarnere, Malarkey and Doc Roe, are revered by its fans and not more faceless soldiers forgotten as soon the screen goes black. The creators laid out the scope of the episodes perfectly, allowing a quick pace, constantly changing scenery that brings fresh settings, new characters getting focused on or old characters getting spotlighted for the first time.

The emotional climax of the series is the two-part episode covering the events surrounding the Battle of the Bulge in Bastogne. In a genius move, as the men hit their lowest point of suffering, the series puts us in the shoes of the company medic, Doc Roe. We get to experience his day to day as he seeks to serve, despite harboring clear worries about if it all matters. The series finds time to validate another heroic role – giving comfort in the middle of suffering. Likewise, as they conclude their time in Bastogne, the focus centers on Lipton for the first time as he takes the leadership role and sees man after man go down. Particularly affective is the mental breakdown of Compton, a once steadfast leader of the men. After the men take the town of Foy we are given one of the most haunting and striking images of all war cinema: Easy company sitting in a church, listening to the beauty of an angelic sounding choir, as we visually see the casualties of Easy company slow fade from existence. It's haunting. The film wraps up in its last few episodes by focusing on the rundown of the war. In my opinion, this is the single best primer on the American experience of the European theater in World War II - and more than that- one of the best pieces of art on war in general. 

If You Liked This One: If you don't have the time for a ten-part miniseries, then watch 1998's Saving Private Ryan which plays like a condensed version of Band of Brothers that miraculously sacrifices little in its briefer runtime. To my mind, these two films are the best this category (or all of war cinema to be honest) has to offer and it killed me to leave it off of this list. For more like this, I'd recommend 1943's Sahara with Humphrey Bogart, 1953's The Desert Rats with Richard Burton, 1953's The Cruel Sea with Jack Hawkins, and finally 2020's Greyhound with Tom Hanks.


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Sunday, October 31, 2021

WWII Film Guide: Comedy

7:18 PM 0
WWII Film Guide: Comedy

 *This post is part of a film guide on World War II. Click here for the main page
*For more context on the process behind this guide, click here for an introduction


Introduction: 
How do you laugh about war? Even more so, how do you find humor in the most destructive war of all-time? In an odd quirk of human nature, it seems that one of our essential ways in dealing with horrifying realities is by identifying their ironies, contradictions, pretensions, and absurdities. How do you get your mind around the incomprehensible evil of a figure like Hitler or the dehumanization of the military machine? This category claims one vital way of doing so is by popping their pompous and self-important balloon through satire, irony, and insult. There are a few films I missed in this category (mostly due their only availability being to purchase on DVD or VHS), but it seems this category wouldn't quite fully mature until television and the Vietnam War. In general, it seems that Americans liked World War II to retain a certain serious nobility to it, but Korea and Vietnam were not so sacred. Perhaps one could argue that the greater the disconnect between the perceived righteousness of the conflict and the actual approval of the conflict the greater the need for humor to deal with it?

In order to get you to the thing most of you came for, "What's the best in this genre? I've put my recommendations for you below. Following that, if you'd like to learn more about the 10 films in this section, then you can find each film in this category organized by release date (oldest to newest) with a brief commentary, a link to its IMDB page, and my grade.


Recommendations
The Top Shelf: Films like 1942's Casablanca and 1998's Life is Beautiful are great comedies that I have primarily located in other WWII categories: War backdrop and Holocaust respectively. In their absence, there is no true standout, just a lot of solid comedies. If pushed, I'd likely recommend 2019's Jojo Rabbit.  Through some clever narrative framing, like viewing Hitler and the Nazi movement primarily through the eyes of a 10 year old German boy, the film is able to walk the thin line between finding the humor in the Nazi movement while also portraying the gravity of its horrors. It's easily the best WWII comedy of the last century.

The Deep Dive: For those wanting a broader and richer journey...
  • The Great Dictator (1940): Charlie Chaplin's courageous and mostly excellent satire of Hitler, Mussolini, and Fascism. 
  • To Be Or Not To Be (1942) / (1983): Whether you are watching the original starring Jack Benny or the remake by Mel Brooks, it just plain works. The original is the better overall film, but Brook's take is much funnier.

Individual Film Commentary (Oldest to Newest)
  • A+ = All-time Classic
  • A   = Excellent Film
  • A-  = Excellent Film, but some minor faults
  • B+ = Very Good film
  • B   = Good Film
  • B-  = Good Film, but some key faults
  • C+ = Average with some redeeming qualities, but major faults
  • C   = Mediocre Film
  • C-  = Poor Film
  • D+ = Bad Film
  • I don't usually rate anything lower
Individual Film Commentary (Oldest to Newest)

1. The Great Dictator (1940) IMDB
- The similar physical appearances between Charlie Chaplin and Adolf Hitler, two of the most popular figures in the world during the 1930's, was not lost on Chaplin who used the opportunity to satirize the dictator and bring a personal message to the world. That message came in the film The Great Dictator. It is Chaplin's first "talkie" film coming a few years after Chaplin's final silent "Tramp" film - 1936's Modern Times. Chaplin plays the role of a Jewish barber who has a striking resemblance to the country's dictator Hynckel (a stand-in for Hitler also being played by Chaplin). He lives in Tomania (a stand-in for Germany) just before the beginning of war as persecution against Jews begins to ramp up. The barber is captured and taken to camp as his friends and girlfriend make their way to live in Osterlich (stand-in for Austria I believe). Through a series of events, the Jewish barber is mistaken for the dictator and ultimately ends up giving a climactic speech about peace to end the film.
 
Chaplin handles the transition to "talkies" splendidly- mixing his physical silent comedy style with music, sound effects, and verbal jokes. A great example here is the classic sequence where the dictator Hynkel dances with the world globe. It's one of my favorite comedic sequences of all-time and one that that could have played in any silent era film and still stood out. However, the sequence is made better for the delicate musical score, the Hynkel cackle that begins it and the balloon pop sound that ends it. There's some great comedy little jokes sprinkled throughout the film, but the key satire themes here is the over-developed pride and ego of fascism. It's successful. 

The film was ahead of its time and was a courageous effort from Chaplin and mostly succeeds as a satire of fascism, Hitler, and Nazism. The ending monologue is certainly engaging and uplifting, but it also bears a dated hope in the potential of some kind of universal secular humanism - the film equivalent of John Lennon's idealistic and philosophically naïve "Imagine". Still, it's a good comedy and a wonderful time piece to study. Give it a view. GRADE: B+

2. You Natzy Spy! (1940) IMDB
- This short 18 minute production featuring the 3 Stooges is the first major Hollywood production to make fun of the Nazi regime (it came out about 9 months before The Great Dictator). The stooges begin as wallpaper hangers and are enlisted by a few wealthy men to overthrow their monarchy and become the dictators of the country. The stooges end up leading the country with Moe as a kind of Hitler stand-in, Curly as Goering, and Larry as Goebbels. What follows is their usual slapstick and verbal sparring schtick with a couple little jokes hitting here and there. There's nothing really here that stands out as true comedic punches landed at the Nazi's and there's no jokes/sequences worth seeking this short out for. This is just a sub-par Stooges short that so happens to feature similarities to world leaders for topicality. GRADE: D+

3. To Be or Not To Be (1942) IMDB
- A group of Polish soldiers accidentally trust a German secret agent named Siletsky with the names and locations of their family members in the Polish underground. Polish soldier Sobinksi, played by Robert Stack, is charged with jumping into occupied Poland to stop Siletsky before he's able to get the list of names to the Gestapo. Sobinski entangles a Polish theatrical troupe headed by Maria and Joseph Tura, played by Jack Benny and Carole Lombard respectively. Benny provides the traditional comedy (I've always had a soft spot for Benny's humor) and Lombard plays things a bit more straight with a stinging humor that punches up nearly every scene she's in. This is my first time seeing Lombard and she's a fantastic - I think stealing every scene she is in. This was her last performance, she died in a plane crash the same year this film came out. 

In order to trick Siletsky into handing over the list, the theatrical troupe pretends to be the Gestapo and meet with him.  This is where much of the comedy comes from with Benny getting a chance to ham it up a bit with the "So they call me Concentration Camp Ehrhardt?" sequence being a standout in the film. There's more back and forth between the troupe and the Gestapo and it ultimately all ends with a trip from Hitler to the theater. While this is billed as a comedy, I'm surprised at how dramatic and suspenseful it gets. This is a good comedy that manages, like Casablanca, to float between drama, broad comedy, and a biting wit. It successfully satirizes the Nazi, especially the SS/Gestapo, without losing sight of their atrocities. A nice surprise find. GRADE: B+

4. Mister Roberts (1955) IMDB
- Thirty minutes into this two hour comedy and the only thing that has happened is we've been introduced to a bunch of bored sailors who remain behind the lines on a supply ship far away from any action. It's been dull and humorless. The lead officer is played by Henry Fonda, who is, god bless him, just not that funny. The ensign is played by Jack Lemmon in an over the top comedic role as the lazy but resourceful officer. The Captain, played by James Cagney, is played as crazy and out of touch. The comedy is supposed to come from how these sailors all try and keep their sanity on a boring supply ship with a crazy captain, but it all feels so forced, lifeless, and lacking moral sense. It isn't until about an hour in that the film moves locations and the men get to a port. I want to be kind to this film, but it's dated portrayals of natives, Animal House-lite portrayal of horny sailors, non-sensical Captain written to just be a nuisance, and humorless Fonda just doesn't work. It's a shame this all-star cast is working with material that just doesn't translate for me. GRADE: D+

5. Operation Petticoat (1959) IMDB
- It's December 1941 and Commander Sherman, played by Cary Grant, wants to get his submarine into the Pacific war. Unfortunately, his submarine is strafed by the Japanese forcing makeshift repairs, manned with an unusual officer, played by Tony Curtis, and saddled with five U.S. nurses who were left stranded on a Pacific island. Grant's Commander is the straight man here trying to manage all of these obstacles while getting his boat into the war. It's an interesting premise, but it doesn't just pay off like it should. For example, how could women and men coexist on a submarine? I mean in one scene when they are looking to take out a ship a nurse comes up to give the Commander his daily pill and accidentally hits the fire button! Other moments see men and women trying to use the shower at the same time or some necking happening or women putting their drying clothes in the engine room. Despite good direction and a strong effort from Grant, this just doesn't quite click like it should. GRADE: C

6. Catch-22 (1970) IMDB
- Hollywood has tried a couple of times to adapt Joseph Heller's famous novel - none have been all that successful in my opinion. The novel is a hilarious and insightful satire into the contradictions, ironies, and incompetents that the bomber pilot Yosarrian encounters during World War II. Bomber crews were required to fly a certain number of missions before they were allowed to leave the front lines. The catch is that if you knew the casualty rate of a mission was 10% or more, than doing 20-25 missions means you likely don't have a chance of ever returning. Crew never knew when their aircraft would get it and this led to lots of anxiety and breakdowns. To get out of missions, crew would claim all sorts of issues. A key example of the comedy and irony identified by the novel is that if a crew complained to the doctor that they were insane with nervousness and anxiety and couldn't go on a mission, this was actually a sign that they were sane (who wouldn't be nervous) and were cleared to go on a mission. 

Anyways, the movie is anchored by Alan Arkin's Yosarrian and it's...okay. There are nice moments, but many of the best moments and characters from the novel just don't hit with the same humor or insight in the film. If you'll never read the book, then this film is a poor substitute. I might even recommend just staying away from it at all unless you are really curious. GRADE: C+

7. 1941 (1979) IMDB
- After the Japanese surprise attack at Pearl Harbor, California is gripped by hysterics and fear about possible Japanese attacks. Steven Spielberg made this comedy as his follow-up to Jaws and Close Encounters of the Third Kind and its clearly a step down in quality. I appreciate the desire to really commit to the madcap comedy, but it’s all so hit and miss – with a lot more misses than hits. A lot of the comedy is just characters turned up to 11, yelling, screaming, laughing, or whatever – just do it loudly and its funny and zany right? This is less about World War II, or about the interesting paranoia of California post Pearl Harbor, or about any kind of comedy based on the silliness/irony of war – it’s much more an artifact of its time in 1979. GRADE: D+

8. To Be or Not To Be (1983) IMDB
- An adaptation (made much more straight up comedic) of the 1942 classic that appears earlier on this list and Mel Brooks knocks a solid homerun here. The German invasion of Poland brings the Nazi's into Warsaw and a game of cat and mouse between the Gestapo and Polish underground ensures. Caught between them is a troupe of Polish actors, headed by the couple of Mel Brooks and Anne Bancroft, allowing for lots of madcap back and forth with disguises and subterfuge aplenty. There's a kind of Marx brothers feeling to some of the scenes here, but the humor is unmistakably of Brooks' oeuvre. A solid comedy that moves fast while flinging lots of jokes and comedic situations at the screen. It doesn't match the heights of Brooks' Young Frankenstein for me, but I'd say this is probably his second best overall comedy. This is straight up funnier than the original, but the original is a better overall film. GRADE: B+ 

9. Biloxi Blues (1988) IMDB
- Based on Neil Simon's play, Biloxi Blues tells the story of young recruits from New Jersey going through WWII basic training in Biloxi, Mississippi. It's a leisurely film, taking its time to introduce characters like Matthew Broderick's Eugene, the intelligent but young and naïve writer. The young platoon runs struggles through basic training under the watchful eye of Christopher Walken's drill Sgt. Toomey. Walken is able to take the stock "tough" Sgt. and give it his own spin - mixing a kind of wit in his punishments that set him apart from the more yell and scream type. 

It's based on a play so the film comes down to a handful of mostly self-contained sequences. The whole thing is pretty uneven, some pretty funny stuff and some dramatic stuff that doesn't quite work. There's a sequence when all the men are in the barracks and they are sharing fantasies about their last week alive and the personalities all shine and come through. For a couple of minutes, every character is likable, interesting, and well - just human beings enjoying each other in the midst a crappy basic training experience. It's a lovely moment. However, there's also an odd dramatic ending with a drunken drill Sgt. that doesn't ever work like the film wants it to. In the end, it has some moments, but the whole never quite gels together as a story. GRADE: C+

10. Jojo Rabbit (2019) IMDB
- The interesting conceit of this film (what makes it a comedy with social commentary) is to view Hitler and the Nazi movement through the eyes of a 10 year old boy. Through the eyes of ten-year old Jojo, there is no one cooler than Adolf Hitler, and being part of the Hitler youth is like being part of the cool kids club. This idea is hilariously introduced in the beginning of the film as Jojo is given a pep talk on how to Heil by an imaginary Hitler (who visits him) - it gets him so amped up he runs around the town heiling everyone to the tunes of "I Want to Hold Your Hand" by the Beatles. This conceit allows us to see how easily youths could be swept up into such a fervor. In particular, the film takes aim at how hatred and fear of Jews could take hold in our minds.

At a Hitler Youth weekend, Jojo sits and listens to a presentation of how evil the Jews are as the kids suggest more evil ways to depict them, "...with a serpent's tongue!" To a child, why not trust the adults telling them this. Later, when a Jewish girl finds a hiding place in Jojo's house, Jojo is forced to confront his view of Jewish people (and build up his courage) and the fact his mother is complicit in hiding the Jews. Essentially, this film is an examination of the massive influence father and mother figures play in our development. In striving to be more than just a comedy, the film sets a pretty tough balancing act with tone - too comedic and the meaningful stuff doesn't work, too serious and the comedic stuff doesn't work. Thankfully it mostly pulls off that balance well and becomes quite an effective piece of dramedy. GRADE: B+


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Monday, October 11, 2021

WWII Film Guide: The Aftermath

7:45 PM 0
WWII Film Guide: The Aftermath

 

*This post is part of a film guide on World War II. Click here for the main page
*For more context on the process behind this guide, click here for an introduction


Introduction:
What strings does the past have on our present? To what do we owe today what happened some 80 years ago now? The second world war created giant historical political, economic, and social waves that are still being felt today. In that sense, almost every post-war historical story is in some big or small way directly or indirectly part of the fallout of the war. The films on this list deal with the psychological burdens of war (The Best Years of Our Lives), the final moments of the German and Japanese militaries (Downfall, Emperor), the physical and social mines leftover (Ten Seconds to Hell, Land of Mine) the burgeoning cold war (The Good German), the humanitarian crisis (Grave of the Fireflies), and the search for justice against war criminals (Judgment at Nuremberg, Labyrinth of Lies, Operation Finale). This is a category stacked with excellent films folks.

One of my favorite film quotes comes from Frodo Baggins in Return of the King after he's gone through the entire ordeal of the ring and he's dealing with the trauma, "How do you go on, when in your heart you begin to understand... there is no going back? There are some things that time cannot mend. Some hurts that go too deep, that have taken hold." After the evil and upheaval that occurred in the second world war, how do you pick up the pieces? How is it possible to try and make things right again? These films struggle to show just how we tried. 

In order to get you to the thing most of you came for, "What's the best in this genre? I've put my recommendations for you below. Following that, if you'd like to learn more about the 16 films in this section, then you can find each film in this category organized by release date (oldest to newest) with a brief commentary, a link to its IMDB page, and my grade.


Recommendations
The Top Shelf: Best in this category belongs to...
  • Grave of the Fireflies (1987): A simple but challenging work of art. This war film for me, more than any other I've ever seen, is a direct challenge to those alive to remember the sufferings and sacrifices of those who have come before us. We owe them at least their memory and dignity and beyond that, our stewardship of the world we have received on their backs. Watch this one and be prepared to live differently after.

The Deep Dive: For those wanting a broader and richer journey...
  • Dealing with the End - Downfall (2005): After so many lives have been sacrificed in the bloodiest war of all-time and the Allies are closing in on Berlin, how does Hitler and his inner circle deal with the truth that the end is near? A fascinating and educational look into history of when fanatical leaders finally must face reality.
  • Seeking Justice - Judgment at Nuremberg (1961) & Labyrinth of Lies (2014): The best look into the reasoning, mindset, and procedures behind trying key Germans for war crimes. 
  • Domestic Aftermath - The Best Years of Our Lives (1946): The success William Wellman had in depicting British domestic life at the onset of World War II with Mrs. Miniver he is able to duplicate in his depiction of three American servicemen adjusting to life after the war. Grounded, incredibly well-written, and ultimately hopeful.
  • Telling the Story - Denial (2016): How can later generations tell the story of the war? Are they allowed to deny clear historical events like the Holocaust? This film demonstrates that the fight for truth is not a once and for all battle. It's a fight that every generation, every human brings up anew. 

Individual Film Commentary (Oldest to Newest)
  • A+ = All-time Classic
  • A   = Excellent Film
  • A-  = Excellent Film, but some minor faults
  • B+ = Very Good film
  • B   = Good Film
  • B-  = Good Film, but some key faults
  • C+ = Average with some redeeming qualities, but major faults
  • C   = Mediocre Film
  • C-  = Poor Film
  • D+ = Bad Film
  • I don't usually rate anything lower

1. The Best Years of Our Lives (1946) IMDB
-  There's a strange silence that surrounds certain issues of war. After a lengthy quiet on war crimes, atrocities, and the holocaust, it has now become quite regular to see films tackle that issue. Still to this day, the issue of re-adjusting to life after war and overcoming issues like disabilities and post-traumatic stress disorder are not depicted very often. I think it's because it's a topic with no easy answers. Like dealing with depression or drug abuse - it's not like the normal character arc where a hero just makes a decision to change to confront evil. Learning to live with a disability or deal with PTSD is much more difficult, much more nuanced, often includes bouts with alcoholism, and is often filled with small and incremental steps.

The Best Years of Our Lives was brave to tackle these issues in 1946 so soon after the war and it was handsomely rewarded at the box office and Oscars for its quality. The film follows the return of three different servicemen to the city of Boone. Harold Russell plays Homer Parrish, a Navy serviceman dealing with the loss of his hands and the reaction his family and girlfriend have to his disability. Frederic March plays Al Stephenson trying to tackle the changes in domestic life his family has gone through during the war. Finally, Dana Andrews plays Fred Derry who became a Captain dropping bombs from a bomber and finds it hard to get work he feels worthy of and going back to his wife who can't imagine him as a civilian.

The film takes its time following these men, giving the viewer (especially decades later) a nice window into a spectrum of what society looked like after the war. Director William Wyler (who also directed the war film Mrs. Miniver and was a veteran himself) has done a great job trying to be honest and grounded in his depictions here. He is not afraid to get dark, though I'm sure there were some realities the time period wouldn't allow him to depict to audiences. In the end, one of the most underrated and moving aspects about William Wellman's WWII films about domestic life, Mrs. Miniver and The Best Years of Our Lives, are the imperfect but loving families and marriages at the center. Films today so often feature broken families it has been moving experiencing that simple goodness on screen. There's something to be said that when faced with the greatest crisis in history and in the lives of the characters enduring it - Wellman's films suggest that a family, open to each other, accepting and forgiving and enduring together is the best response to navigate it. It's beautiful and refreshing. GRADE: A-

2. Ten Seconds to Hell (1959) IMDB
- It is the end of the war and six men who worked on bomb disposal with the German army are employed by the Allies to defuse bombs throughout Berlin. It's a daunting task that has a very short life span, so the down on their luck men make a deal with each other to put away half their earnings and if they die in the next three months their earnings will go to the surviving men. As the weeks go by, the men get organized, defuse bombs, but mistakes, accidents, and tricky bombs begin diminishing the group. As the band of men narrows, there thoughts turn to their morbid bet and if anyone will survive it.

Jack Palance plays the lead character here and is the moral backbone of the film. When the film focuses on the dynamic between the bomb defusers and their difficult job it is pretty darn good and thrilling. However, when the film turns to romance and love relationships, it all gets pretty sentimental and dated. Check this one out for the bomb disposal scenes and Palance's performance alone. GRADE: C+ 

3. Judgment at Nuremberg (1961) IMDB
- Responsibility...who is responsible for war and the things that happen under its auspices? That's the question at the heart of this film. It has been a few years since the biggest Nazi leaders were tried. It's now 1948 and a tribunal has been called to hold try key German judges during the Nazi regime. This lengthy prestige film (roughly based on a number of real trials) was a passion project for Stanley Kramer and he has made an incredible film - a film full of righteous indignation. Providing the anchor for that indignation is the calm, measured, and steady performance of Spencer Tracy as the head American judge. He oversees the trial and it's clear he wants justice and won't be swayed by any attempt to stack the deck and get a pre-ordained judgment as some kind of revenge or retribution.

"A judge does not make the law, he carries them out" says Maximillian Schell in his Oscar winning performance as the lead defense attorney. This is the key defense - how can you hold someone responsible who was just following orders, doing their duty, and was not necessarily responsible for the original orders. I like to see this as the natural sequel to 2001's Conspiracy and 2005's Sophie Scholl: The Final Days - films that depict civil lawyers and judges being unsure of but still abusing their profession in order to carry the water for the government's central policies. This battle largely plays out in the courtroom with the prosecutor and defense dueling with witnesses and Spencer Tracy playing referee. 

There are a few things that stand out in the courtroom back and forth. First, the film's willingness to call out American double standards. While exploring the issue of judges recommending the use of sterilization as punishment the defense reads a favorable opinion on sterilization from popular American jurist Oliver Wendell Holmes. In this sense, the film is at least willing to broaden "responsibility" beyond just the Germans to American law trends as well. This kind of nuance, without still losing sight of Nazi guilt, is rare in films and much appreciated . Second, Judy Garland's Hoffman and Montgomery Clift's Peterson provide two of the most memorable sequences of the entire film. Clift's plea for justice of what happened to him and his mentally ill mother in particular is a sequence I frequently return to. It's devastating. One of the finest pieces of acting I've ever seen.

Finally, the character who hangs over the entire film, but says little until the end, is Burt Lancaster's Ernst Janning. It is clear from his mostly silent performance and the way the camera films him there is an internal tempest going on inside him. When he finally breaks and lets his emotions out in the final act of the film - it's a dramatic catharsis and moral acknowledgement felt well beyond the confines of the film. There's a moral lesson that speaks to and educates the viewer: there is no depth to the evil men can do if they allow their fear of others and love for country to overtake their principles. GRADE: A-

4. Grave of the Fireflies (1988) IMDB
- What do we owe the generations that came before us? Are we bound to them in any direct way? I've never felt that question hit as hard as it does in this film - which is odd because the film never directly asks the question but only indirectly applies it. This is a film that is equally built for the atrocity and aftermath sub-categories and it might very well be the greatest anti-war film I've ever come across. The film opens with a broken down teenage boy named Seita dying in the subways of postwar Kobe, Japan. As he dies we see his spirit join with his young sister, Setsuko, as they ride a subway train together. For an animated film, this is easily the saddest and bleakest opening I've ever seen. From that opening we flash back a year or so to Seita and Setsuko escaping their home during an American fire-bombing raid. Their mother is badly injured (and eventually dies) from the bombing and their father is off to war. The rest of the film tells the story of their attempt to survive the aftermath of the bombings, as they pass hands through relatives, come into conflict with others, struggle to find water and food, and eventually strike out on their own. 

Most of the runtime is filled with the mundane tasks of trying to survive with little food or water. It's often very depressing stuff - to watch young children struggle in hunger and thirst and watch community members often not care. However, there is always a search for goodness and beauty interspersed throughout the trials. Whether it's taking the moment to enjoy freshening up from a busted water pipe, a hot bath, the sweet taste of a fruit drop, or the wonderful sight of fireflies - this movie juxtaposes all the suffering with wonder and goodness of life. This makes sense as we are really getting the perspective of what its like to endure a war from the perspective of the youth. 

In this sense, the film should fall in the "holocaust/subcategory" right? I'd agree if it wasn't for the framing of the film that I think more firmly places this film in the "aftermath" category. After the death of Saito and Setsuko (which we know from the beginning of the film) their spirits travel along the journey of the film, observing the main events. As we come to the end of the film their spirits sit atop a hill and overlook modern and prosperous Japan. Even typing these words I struggle to not cry while thinking about their implications. To return back to the opening question, "What do we owe the generations that came before us?" This film for me, more than any other I've ever seen, is a direct challenge for us to remember the sufferings and sacrifices of those who have come before us. We owe them at least their memory and dignity and beyond that, our stewardship of the world we have received on their backs. GRADE: A+

5. Downfall (2005) IMDB
-  Almost everyone has seen the famous clip from this video of Hitler yelling at his staff set to a variety of funny captioned messages. I hope that the viral clip led more people to give this film a chance because the full 2.5 hours is a wonderful history lesson and insight not just into the fall of Berlin and downfall of Hitler, but into the power dynamics and fanaticism among his inner circle during those final days. The war is essentially over, Germany has lost, this film is about how Hitler and his inner circle deal with that truth.

The film begins in 1942 with Hitler getting a new secretary. In truth, much of the film is based on the account of this secretary and her time spent in the bunker with the inner circle in those fateful last days. A real interview with the aged secretary Traudl Junge opened the film with haunting words, "I've got the feeling that I should be angry with this child, this young and oblivious girl. Or that I'm not allowed to forgive her for not seeing the nature of that monster. That she didn't realise what she was doing. And mostly because I've gone so obliviously. Because I wasn't a fanatic Nazi." The film then enters into the bunkers under Berlin where the German high command spend the final weeks of the war in 1945. 

I won't recount the full events here because that's not the point of these commentaries. I'll say this though, for the casual history fan and those deep into history, a film like this one gets better and better with each viewing. It is so handsomely produced and acted (with an iconic performance from Bruno Ganz) that it feels we are intruding on the actual history and with each view gaining more and more insight into the mind and spirit of that group. Yes, this film could likely be trimmed a bit to make the story better paced, but there's too much great history here to be lost. I'm okay with a bloated runtime when the insight is this strong. Paired with a film like 2001's Conspiracy and you have great insight into how the Nazi leadership worked - with fear, ambition, and fanaticism always infusing their actions. 

A final quote from Traudl Junge closes the film, "All these horrors I've heard of during the Nurnberg process, these six million Jews, other thinking people or people of another race, who perished. That shocked me deeply. But I hadn't made the connection with my past. I assured myself with the thought of not being personally guilty. And that I didn't know anything about the enormous scale of it. But one day I walked by a memorial plate of Sophie Scholl in the Franz-Joseph-Strasse. I saw that she was about my age and she was executed in the same year I came to Hitler. And at that moment I actually realized that a young age isn't an excuse. And that it might have been possible to get to know things." Get beyond the meme and watch this whole film. GRADE: A-

6. The Good German (2006) IMDB
-  The thought of Steven Soderbergh, George Clooney, and Cate Blanchett shooting a black and white thriller taking place in Berlin after World War II in the style of old 1940's films (think Casablanca mixed with film noir) is really exciting. Were they able to execute the concept? Well, on the level of craft, the execution is great. Clooney is well suited for the role and it's fun to see a contemporary crime mystery filtered this way. On the level of a World War II film, there's a lot of interesting threads here: the Potsdam Conference, US vs. Russia, tracking down war criminals, and Operation Paperclip. I like that the film swirls these all together and asks the basic question, "Are any Germans clean?" or put another way, "Are there any good Germans?" left after the war? Unfortunately, the story crafted to mix all these threads just never quite engages and gels. Thankfully it's on the shorter end, but this feels like one of the films you can praise individual parts but never quite find yourself complimenting the actual story - which is unfortunately the most important part of the film. GRADE: C+

7. The Reader (2008) IMDB
- In postwar West Germany, a young fifteen year old boy named Michael encounters a middle-aged German woman named Hanna and played by Kate Winslet. The curious, and hormone driven young boy returns to Winslet's apartment where they begin a love relationship. During their encounters, Michael begins to read to Hanna, who we later learn can't read on her own. Eventually, Hanna ups and mysteriously leaves. The catch to this postwar story is that it twists into an aftermath story where Hanna turns out to have been a prison guard at a concentration camp during World War II and Michael, now a young adult and student studying to be a lawyer encounters her again at a war crimes trial. This revelation sends Michael into a tailspin that distances him from his college roommates.

The premise is interesting, but the execution, while professional, is morally offensive to me. It's one thing to tell a story about a young boy's first infatuation with an older woman, but it's another to show their sexual encounters in vivid detail. While the actor is likely above 18 at the time of shooting (I read that they waited to film those scenes until just after his 18th birthday), I don't think there's any excuse to show sexualized nudity of a character who is meant to be 15-16 years old. The sequences are unnecessary and offensive in my opinion. Additionally, the movie completely fails in giving us any worthwhile insight into Winslet's Hanna. I don't quite understand how a woman who did the vile things she is accused of at Auschwitz, then essentially seduces and beds an underage boy over and over, can be countered by an empathetic performance, the sad fact she is illiterate, and her sad "we were just doing our job" defense. By the end of the film, I just don't know what we are supposed to feel and think. If anything it seems the film is committed to wanting us to side with Hanna as a victim. I don't get it. Despite the kind gesture from Michael at the end of the film. I think that of all the films that explore the question of what we do with those who partook of the atrocities during the war, this one seems to bring more confusion and do so in a painfully slow way. One of the more overrated Oscar nominated films ever. GRADE: C-

8. The Debt (2011) IMDB
- A fictionalized account of a trio of Israeli Mossad agents slipping into East Berlin in 1965 to kidnap and smuggle out an infamous Nazi war criminal. The story of Israeli groups working to bring justice to Nazi war criminals who escaped trials is a classic WWII aftermath story. What seems like a straightforward story (see 2018's Operation Finale for something more like that) is subverted with a major plot twist about halfway through. While this probably seemed like a great idea on paper (and it is) the actual finished film is hodgepodge of tones and a plot that starts and stops in fits. The 1965 kidnapping story starts out well,  moving quickly, and providing some suspenseful sequences. After the kidnapping and failed border crossing the group must settle down in their hideout and the film becomes stagnant and boring. These agents are supposed to be quiet and in hiding, but they are yelling and fighting and turn into an unlikeable group of actors. In particular is Sam Worthington, who was in every major film around this time, and is just kinda there on the screen lacking any serious emotion. Another issue here is the attempt to turn the Nazi war criminal into some kind of Hannibal Lecter - working psychological games on the group. It's all so...obviously written...that it just feels so false. Once the twist of the film comes about halfway, the film primarily moves to 1997 when the trio of agents must continue to deal with the aftermath of their actions in 1965. This section of the film feels like it belongs in another movie to me. Despite what I've said, there's a decent thread about telling the truth and the toll that keeping lies takes - I just wish the storytelling here did a better job at getting that across. GRADE: C

9. Emperor (2013) IMDB
- Japan has just surrendered and the Americans have the task of seeking out war criminals and administering a peaceful transfer to peace. Tommy Lee Jones plays General Douglas MacArthur who is in charge of this process, but it is Matthew Fox's General Bonner Fellers who gets the lead task of investigating whether or not the Japanese Emperor should be tried. This task allows the movie to explore the complicated system that led Japan to war and for Fellers to seek out his old Japanese flame from when he used to be stationed there. 

The premise is engaging to me as the Japanese surrender and transfer of power is not well depicted in film or taught in history. Unfortunately, this film does little to shine a strong light on it. Told partly as a straight historical narrative, partly as a noir like investigation, partly as a political thriller, and partly as a tragic romance - the film feels uneven and never quite hits a groove. Matthew Fox, who can be a good actor, doesn't feel quite right for the role here. When he gets angry and threatens Japanese generals to cooperate, he just isn't believable. When the film flashes back to his previous romance it essentially just stops all momentum. It's just not well tied together. At least, by its conclusion, the film captures the consequential meeting between MacArthur and Hirohito in dramatic fashion. GRADE: C

10. The Railway Man (2013) IMDB
- This film mixes several categories for its story - the prisoner of war, atrocity, and aftermath. It is based on the true story of Eric Lomax who was a prisoner of war in Southeast Asia during World War II. Like the films Bridge on the River Kwai and To End All Wars, Eric was forced to work on the Japanese railway. In his time as a POW he was tortured and beaten. After the war, Eric retained his interest in railways but struggled, like many soldiers, with what he experienced. With the introduction of a new wife and the unique challenge of a friend, Eric returns to Southeast Asia to confront the man behind his torture. Will he take revenge? Will he forgive? Will he find any closure? It's a bit slow, but this well-acted story with a difficult but challenging ending is worth a watch. GRADE: B 

11. Labyrinth of Lies (2014) IMDB
- How far should the officers of German death and concentration camps be prosecuted after the war? What about those who've burned their uniforms and become upstanding citizens? The film begins in 1958 as a survivor from the Auschwitz concentration camp recognizes that the teacher at an elementary school is an SS officers from the camp. When a journalist brings this to the attention of the local attorney general's office, he is essentially laughed out of the room...except by one young prosecutor who finds the claim curious. He doesn't understand why everyone seems so quick to dismiss it. He does some research, finds it to be true, but finds resistance in his own ranks. The more resistance he meets, the more he pushes and wonders, "What happened at Auschwitz and won't people address it?" In his naiveite, he and many others think that Auschwitz is just another camp like all countries had during the war and the more outlandish stories are just victor propaganda. The young prosecutor Radmann operates as the audiences perspective, so as he learns that the horrors of Auschwitz extend beyond the normal prison camp, beyond a couple of bad apple officers, and was in fact systematic genocide, we learn it as well. He wants to push for more and thankfully he finds support for it from the attorney general. 

The rest of the film recounts the building and trying of the case against the officers at Auschwitz and the obstacles and excuses for resistance  encountered all seem reasonable: It's a nonstarter; They were soldiers just doing their duty; Everyone was a Nazi; If aliens came down you'd turn alien; You'll just be digging old wounds; Hitler is gone, the Russians are the new enemy. This is all well executed stuff and it doesn't shy away from the tough questions and the brutal realities. In the end, I'm on the side of truth - and I think the best healing and moving can't move forward without as much transparency/clarity as possible. I'll remember for a while this exchange between a cynical layer and the hopeful Radmann:

Cynic: Are you aware of the consequences? Do you want every young German to ask if their father was a murderer?!"
Radmann: Yes, that's exactly what I want. I want these lies and this silence to end. 

Turns out, when Radmann investigates his own father, he finds what he does not want to. The film says it's worth knowing, even if it will be devastating to come to terms with. I agree. GRADE: A-

12. Land of Mine (2015) IMDB
- The Germans buried over 2.2 million land mines along the Danish coastline during World War II. Once the war was over, German POWS, many of them just teen boys, were used to clear the land mines. Dane actor Roland Moller plays a Danish Sergeant overseeing a squad of Germans who are assigned a stretch of the coast line to complete. Once they clear their stretch, they are free to go home, until then, they are prisoners under the harsh eye of the Sergeant. At first, the Sergeant is filled with hatred and bitterness towards the POWs. It's clear that he could care less if any POW lost their life while defusing the bombs. When one of the young soldiers is mangled by a bomb, the Sergeant only leaves his hut to administer morphine. Later when the soldiers steal some grain, they aren't being fed because food is scarce for German POWS, and get sick - the Sergeant takes pleasure in their suffering - even if you can see a little bit of a fatherly affection growing. 

As he works with the young prisoners, witnesses their suffering, sees their lack of food, and glimpses his own hatred in the behavior of other Danish officers, he begins to change. He beings to empathize with their situation and see their humanity. In scene after scene, the audience begins to see their simple humanity as well and we begin to cheer for them. This simple premise sets out the ethical dilemma at the core of cleaning up a war's aftermath - how do you stop the cycle of violence and resentment once it has begun? In many ways, it was the lingering frustration of World War I that sowed the seeds of hate that flowered into World War II. It's certain the Sergeant suffered by the Germans in the war, does his ill treatment simply beget more German resentment and their reprisals at first chance? Unless we are confronted with the humanity of our enemy and treat them with dignity and compassion in response, we will never escape the endless cycle of violence. 

The cinematography of the film balances the two sides of this cycle well - beautifully showcasing the striking beauty of the Danish beaches right alongside the grizzly sweat, popping veins, and gory violence and realism of the situation. It's like the cinematography is saying that if only we treated each other better we could enjoy this good earth together. There's a beautiful sequence when the men, including the Sergeant, are playing soccer on the beach and just enjoying each other's company. Naturally, it's interrupted with a mistake, with violence, and an explosion that threatens the goodwill earned. By the time the end draws near, the toll taken is nearly unbearable. As it draws near, naturally with a good story, it asks the Danish Sergeant to put to the test how much he has changed. I really loved this film and the way it so simply and organically challenges the viewer to go on a transformative journey with the Danish Sergeant. Don't miss out on it. GRADE: A-

13. The People vs. Fritz Bauer (2015) IMDB
- One can think of this film as the intellectual forerunner and cinematic reflection of films like Labyrinth of Lies and Operation Finale. Not in that it came out before those films, but because it depicts the higher level leadership battles over the ramifications of searching for and putting him on trial. The film recounts the efforts and trials of West German Attorney General Fritz Bauer in hunting down escaped Nazi war criminals, in particular Adolph Eichmann. Playing Bauer is Burghart Klausner and the character feels lived in, weary, and weighed down by his burden to bring justice to those profiteering Nazi's who slipped back into society. It's a slow burner, but for those wanting a bit more understanding of the political complications in the hunt for Nazi war criminals, or even want a prologue to the film Operation Finale, check this one out. GRADE: B 

14. The Woman in Gold (2015) IMDB
- Based on the true story of Maria Altmann, a Jewish refugee and daughter of a wealthy and influential Jewish family, who fled shortly Austria after the Nazi's annexed it. Maria fled, but many in her family did not make it out and paid for it with their wealth and their lives. Part of that wealth was a series of paintings made by Gustav Klimt of Maria's Aunt. These paintings made their way from the Nazi's to a Austrian museum and became world famous since. Later in life, Maria hires lawyer Randol Schoenberg, grandson of the famous Austrian Arnold Schoenberg, to sue the Austrian government to get the art back. The art restitution case allows the film to weave in the story of the Nazi takeover of Austria and Maria's backstory as dramatic flashbacks. I think this framing ends up working quite well. Randol, played well here by Ryan Reynolds, initially takes interest Maria's case because of the value of the Klimt paintings, but eventually grows to see the case as a matter of moral imperative. 

As you can tell by the other films on this list, I really like the "thorny search for justice" stories of World War II and this is another excellent entry. The film manages to navigate several time periods and genres of film while still putting the characters and performances in the lead. Remember that scene at the end of Titanic where Rose slips off to death (sleep?) and the camera goes into the depths, finds the sunken Titanic, and it's transformed into its original state, and Rose finds Jack with everyone around her cheering? There's a sequence at the end of this film that is similar and it is equally moving. There's something about characters being transported to earlier in their lives like this that connects with me. It's a better film about recovering culture/art that was lost than Monuments Men and a solid entry in dealing with the aftermath. GRADE: B+

15. Denial (2016) IMDB
- Based on a true story, this film recounts the British libel court battle between Penguin Books and and holocaust denier David Irving. Penguin Books published a book by Deborah Lipstadt calling out Irving's holocaust denials. The trial became a battleground for not just the historical case behind the holocaust, but the free speech case surrounding it as well. Further, there's the question of one should even engage with people who deny such things as the holocaust, does engaging dignify them, or does democracy and fairness mean we should? These are some of the big ideas here. Playing the holocaust writer Deborah Lipstadt is a fantastic Rachel Weisz and playing the holocaust denier is a charismatic and energetic Timothy Spall. 

I have to say, I'm fascinated by the implications of this story. One of the central aspects of dealing with the aftermath of a war is telling the story: who were the victors, who were the villains, what were the key decisions, moments, and events. The story of the German persecution and extermination of the Jewish people is a vital one to be told in the war's aftermath. Holocaust denier says it's just propaganda to get the state of Israel more funds and sympathy - it's the victors writing the story. How does a democratic society handle those, like Irving, who brashly and brutely deny such a vital and important part of the World War II story? A denial that spits on the tomb of every holocaust victim? I have to say, given our current world circumstances and the questions about election losses, these ideas are even more pressing

The trial itself is mostly a well executed affair. The dialogue is largely taken from straight from the transcripts and great care is taken to show the different legal strategies employed and the risks they all incur. One risk the film emphasizes is not bringing survivors in to testify, the thinking being that their strategy is to focus on Irving's lies, not on defending the entire Holocaust. Additionally, they don't want the spectacle of Irving trashing survivors, or their memory being incorrect, overlooked, or misremembered. It's smart and a brute reality. It's intelligent stuff that respects the viewers and engages us in the quandaries of the trial. In my holocaust category I quoted the holocaust survivor Elie Weisel, "For the survivor who chooses to testify, it is clear: his duty is to bear witness for the dead and for the living. He has no right to deprive future generations of a past that belongs to our collective memory. To forget would be not only dangerous but offensive; to forget the dead would be akin to killing them a second time." This film demonstrates that the fight for truth is not a once and for all battle. It's a fight that every generation, every human brings up anew. GRADE: A-

16. Operation Finale (2018) IMDB
-  It should be mandatory that this film is always watched in combination with 2001's Conspiracy. In that film, we witness the Jan. 1942 Wannsee Conference overseen by Adolph Eichmann where the final solution to the Jewish question was officially endorsed and headed up by Reinhard Heydrich. This is where you see the central role played by Eichmann and after viewing that film - Operation Finale takes on an entirely new context. This film covers the hunt for Eichmann undertaken by Israeli agents. Oscar Isaac plays the head Mossad agent Peter Malkin and Ben Kingsley plays Adolph Eichmann. Mossad has tracked Eichmann to Buenos Aires and much of the film covers the daring (and dramatically embellished) operation to kidnap Eichmann and secretly take him back to Israel to stand trial.

These sequences are well directed by Chris Weitz and mostly played as a special operations thriller. As is standard for films of these kind, Kingsley's Eichmann takes on the nature of a mastermind who expertly tries to manipulate his captors - their sidetalk during capture become obvious stand-ins for the moral discussions that would later surround Eichmann's trial. This is a nice thriller that walks through the basics of spycraft to capture Eichmann while throwing a bone to the reflection on why it is important bring him to justice. GRADE: B