Sunday, 29 January 2012

Jackass 3 D

I was tempted to say nothing about the worst film ever Jackass 3 D which I kept one eye on its entirety just to ensure that it was bad really bad. However given the huge financial success of film and series allegedly turning $20 million into $170 million I must comment on what it says about some of the present generation. The film comprises a crew of stunt men of various sizes and ages who engage in a series of happenings which they find extremely funny. They hit each other painfully hard, they jump or try to fly with various devices which fail and hurt and there is lots of farting, eating shit and making crude jokes about their genitalia finally ending the film with various forms of blowing themselves and each other up, The audience is warned not to try and imitate the stunts back home. The film is suitable for a squaddies night out without the girls.

Saturday, 28 January 2012

Romeo is bleeding

I can just about keep myself awake the early hours of Sunday with the briefest mentions of Romeo is Bleeding The plot can be summer as the story of another Jack, Jack Grimaldi a corrupt cop with a loving wife and mistress and steady extra income from the Mafia. He loses everything when coming across a sociopath Russian mob assassin called Mona Demarkov. Despite being found out and arrested he is commended and starts a new life running a road house in the middle of nowhere way out west with few customers where he remembers and imagines his wife will one day return to him.

The character is played by Garry Oldfield who ought to have known better. The film is said to have been made in the UK in 1993 for £10 million making less than a third of this at the box office. I am not surprised. What was he thinking

Pirates of the Caribbean IV On Stranger Tides

In some respects Pirates of the Carribbean On Stranger Tides is a similar kind of film also shown in 3D but again without helping to overcome the limitations of the basic formula. However whereas the Last Airbender was a moderate financial success grossing double its substantial expenditure the Pirates series had made fortunes in this instance taking over $1 billion at the box office costing between $150 million to £250 million. I think Johnny Depp is a fine actor but I cannot stand his approach as Captain Jack Sparrow.

The interest of young people in Treasure hunting and pirates was created by Treasure Island written by Robert Louis Stevenson, the Victorian author of Kidnapped, the Master of Ballantrae and the Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. There is also the story of Peter Pan J M Barrie with both books being made into the earliest of Pirate films in the 1920’s. Sea Hawk, Black Swan, The Spanish Main and Captain Kidd were released in the 1940’s and were part of my childhood. The genre came to the fore in the 1950’s with Treasure Island, The return to Treasure Island and Long John Silver, together with Hornblower, Moonfleet. The Crimson Pirate 1952 and Blackbeard the Pirate remembered.

1960’s saw the return of Blackbeard(Ghost) and the arrival of Captain Morgan and also of Captain Blood. Jules Verne’s Mysterious Island was made into a film and spawned various films and TV series. The Swiss Family Robinson was great hit and High Wind in Jamaica from one of the great books about the inner thoughts of child, There was another version of Treasure Island and with a major version again in the 1970’s when the genre seemed to go out of fashion. There were three versions of Treasure Island in the 1980’s and Yellow Beard. Peter Pan was Shipwrecked in the 90’s along with the Muppets who went too Treasure Island where there was also a made for TV series, Cuttroat Island was also notable.

The first three Pirates of the Caribbean appeared in the naughties along with Pirates 1 and Pirates 2 and Pirate Planet and as well Space Pirates although I cannot remember what year the film or the concept was born, There was also a contemporary version of Peter Pan and Master and Commander was a serious look at exploring the New worlds in the southern waters. So given this pedigree of adventuring the Caribbean series can be said to be high on visual trickery and with a 12 year certificate appears aimed at families who enjoy pantomimes where there is little genuine humour but shouting at the screen is to be commended.

The main story of the last epic which lasts 2 hours and 16 minutes is a search for the island location of the Fountain of Youth with three separate parties. The first is the Spanish with the aim of destroying the magical idolatry after a fisherman turns up in a net a man still alive carrying a notebook locating the Fountain. The second party is Captain Hector Barbossa Geoffrey Rush with the Kings Commission (Richard Griffiths) but whose aim is not the Fountain but his long term conflict with Blackbeared who on their last encounter took part of his leg. They have access to the shipmate of Captain Sparrow who steals his map in a complicated opening which follows the James Bond formula of a great action sequence to begin the proceedings. Hector is now a privateer and not a Pirate having lost the Black Peal. Jack’s beloved ship.

Jack is captured in London on behalf of the King after impersonating high court judge he has kidnapped to get his shipmate friend released. Judy Dench as a few seconds appearance in the opening. The King summons Jack on learning he is seeking a crew to go in search of the Fountain which the King does not want to fall into the hand sof the Spanish,

In fact Jacks not attempting to get a crew which he discovers is someone impersonating him who is none other than the gorgeous Penélope Cruz as the daughter of Blackbeard played by Ian McShane. She has a love hate relationship with Jack after he seduced from a convent she was to enter. Jack learns of her activities and whereabouts from his father played by Keith Richards no less who provides him a map and warns of the perils in store.

The story is that to benefit from the Fountain you have to put the water into one of two chalices together with tear from a Mermaid. In the films there are always computer generated creatures. In this instance bare back Mermaids who are a kind of sea vampire seducing sailors to their deaths within the ocean depths when it is alleged they provide food.

Jack is press ganged into service on Blackbeard’s vessel where Cruz is the first Mate and her father practices a kind of voodoo black magic which enables him to counter a successful mutiny take over led by Jack by converting ship’s ropes into snake like capturers. He also has a dangerous sword with powers of its own. On board there is a religious zealot who has been strung up by the yard arm because of his preaching and it he who manages to capture a mermaid alive and it is she who provides a tear( of Joy) when she finds he is alive after a fake throat cut to achieve the desire outcome.

There are many adventures, the finding of the Fountain and its destruction with at the end Jack admitting he loves Crux as she admits she loves him but he still leaves her castaway on a tiny atoll while he goes off to further adventuring. The young bible quoting Christian appears to live happy ever after in the depth with the rescued mermaid. Blackbeard has sacrificed himself after being poisoned by Barbossa and Cruz is also life threatened by removing the sword from the body of her father. Jack uses one chalice to save the life of Crux while Blackbeard is freed from the curse of physical being and turned instantly into a skeleton drinking from the other. Barbossa abandons the Kings Commission after the Spanish destroy the Fountain of Youth site to become a privateer.

Bluebeard has a collection of special ship‘s in bottles in a kind of safe on his ship. One of these is the Black Pearl. These are minaturized originals which can be brought back to life with the whole fleet of ships taken into Jack‘s custody at one point, just as well as the ship nd its crew is destroyed by a bevy of mermaids.

The money making will continue until Mr Depp gets bored.

The Last Air Bender

The Last Air Bender should have been a better film given the subject marrying ancient mysticism and folklore with the latest computer generated use of 3 D. The concept is that of an earth populated by human beings with the capacity to bend (make use) of the air, water, fire and earth in superhuman magical ways. These uses can be for positive or negative purposes and in order to ensure the abilities are in balance there is a being called the Avatar who is able to command all four elements. Unfortunately the Avatar abandoned the world and those in command of Fire waged war in everyone else subjugating or destroying all those who stood in the way of world domination.

When an adolescent girl who is a secret water bender and her young brother are hunting food among the ice of the South Pole that come across a phenomenon which leads to the emergence of a young boy and a flying bison.

Immediately unbeknown to the adolescents 112 years before the boy had been identified within the people of who bend Air that this young man was destined to become the Avatar after training in all four arts. It is explained to him after the discovery that as the chosen one he must remain single and devote himself to the duties of the role. This frightens and devastates the young man who runs way rather than takes the oath of loyalty from and to the air bending subjects. He had become trapped by the water spirits and is unaware for how long.

Because he exhibits banned abilities by the people who can bend the earth his presence becomes known to the son of the Fire Nation who is on a quest to gain control over the Avatar and re-establish good relations with his father who regards him as a failure. His father’s senior Commander General Hao is also out to locate the Avatar which he hopes will end once and for all the relationship with the son who he is working at replacing in the affections and patronage of the Fire Lord Ozai.

The trio are captured when taking sanctuary with earth bending people are have been forbidden to use their arts and where anyone who shows abilities has been killed or imprisoned. They incite the people to use their latent powers to rebel from their conquerors.

They journey to the land where the Air benders used to reside and from the training centre from where he had run away.

He discovers that as a direct consequence of running away all the Air benders have been destroyed by the Fire Nation. He finds it even more difficult to live with himself than before. The problem is that apart from becoming a successful Air bender he was yet to learn the other three skills before he had run away.

He is taken to an isolated city of Water people able to teach and practice their art because they are protected by their isolation, their art and protecting spirits.

On their journey they experience various adventures and dangers including a betrayal, At one point they are rescued by the son of the Fire Lord and in return they save his life.

On arrival at the Water bending Kingdom they adjust to their new situation and the Avatar still appears unable to progress because of the continuing guilt he feels about his failure to accept his role as when boy and because of what has happened to the world since then. Here also the brother of Katara “ falls“ for the Water Princess and Katara and the Avatar bond closer in their commitment to the task of saving the world.

What they do not know is that the full army and fleet of the Fire Lord has set sail because they have learned of the whereabouts of the spirits protecting and giving to the water people The Aviator is able to enter a trance communicating with the spirit world for guidance and he does this as the fleet of the Fire Lord arrive and imperils the city with their fire machines and then with their destruction of the water spirits. The son of the Fire Lord has captured the Aviator when in a trance but Katara manages to rescue him by placing the son in\water freeze. However the people appear unable to use their power because of the killing of the Moon spirit when their powers are at their height. It is at his point that the Princes realises that her destiny is to pass from her mortal life to join the spirit world replacing the Moon and water spirits. She is afraid to make the transition but is helped through her friendship with Katara’s brother. Released from the control of the son of the Fire Lord, the Avatar has created a great wall of the sea protecting the fleet. The consequence is that the force for the Fire Lord within the walls of the city makes peace recognising the role of the Avatar as do the Water people. The rest of the fleet make tracks home.

Thus the Avatar and his companions are able to move onto the next stage of his question to gain master of the Earth bending and then of Fire. Learning of he Defeat the Fire Lord appoints his daughter to capture the Avatar.

There is some similarity with The Lion Witch and Wardrobe, Harry Potter etc where the main characters are children/teenagers.

Two graphic novels have been written The Last Airbender Zuko’s Story a Prequel and the Last Airbender drawn in the manga style. The film failed to impress the critics and audiences alike given that the production cost $150 million. It will be interesting to see if what appears to be trailed as at least one sequel, possibility two are made and released.

Killing Bono

Now to a group of films in varying awfulness although I maintained interest in Killing Bono, because the film is based loosely on a true Story against the background of the success of the greatest rock band in the world. Neil McCormick went to school with Bono and the Edge from U2 but beyond this fact I have no idea how much of his autobiography memoir of the same title sub headed I was Bono‘s doppelganger bears to the truth. Apart from the US appearance at the original I was there Live Aid concert, the closest I have got to see the band performing live is a tribute band who played at the Custom’s House one evening and who I encountered in their van searching for their lodging house which I was able to show them the way after their Sat Nav went awry. They were and I assume are still the loudest band I have ever experienced, so much so that some of the audience could not cope and left at the interval.

The story is how McCormick decided to form a band which would rival U2 when working an entertainment journalist for a weekly a magazine. He was so determined his young brother from joining the group bit telling him of the offer. In order to gain experience he arranges a gig at a stripper drinks club run by a notorious criminal who he persuades to provide £10000 to sponsor the duo make it big in London. They take up accommodation in a large dilapidated factory office type of building run by the outstanding actor Pete Postlethwaite in his last film. He plays a gay landlord who is under the impression the brothers are a couple. There is a gay party at which they get know their neighbour who has been involved in the music industry but has become an actor.

They also appear to strike it lucky with a Tin Pan Alley entrepreneur who asks them to creates another demo as the one submitted is about rape and therefore not commercial. He is enthusiastic enough to promise a contract however when they return they find that he has left the firm and the man who has taken over rejects them because they were to be signed by the man he has replaced.

The core theme of the film is the way the writer keeps stuffing up. For example he arranges a concert coinciding with the visit of the Pope to Ireland. He returns to Ireland to persuade the backer to put up even more money to hold a concert as a promoter is interested but wants to see them perform. He arranges the concert on the same day as Live Aid. They arrange the concert which is a great success. The girl living in the next door loft agrees to become their manager. They meet up with the Music entrepreneur who had promised a contract. They eventually get a record contract and a tour however out hero stuffs up again by having sex with the wife of their sponsor although she had doing the leading and as a consequence the rest of the ban including his brother send him packing.

He returns to Ireland and reforms the original group less his brother. The film charts the world wide success of U2 and without knowing they have split up Bob contacts to offer them a gig opening their Irish concert dates. He fails to disclose this to his brother and as per the title in the film he seriously considers killing Bono in London when he arrives on the promotion of their latest Album the Joshua Tree. Fortunately the younger brother is also at the promotion and is able to intervene. They make up and plan to attend the gig however they end up being dumped in the country side by their sponsor and attempt to make a local bus which might get them in time to perform. They fail and the film explaining that he became a professional writer which I was able to check that he writes show business pieces for the Daily Telegraph. What made the film enjoyable is the musical background of U 2.hits

True Grit 2010

I do not understand why I had not previously added a review of the remake of True Grit alongside the original with John Wayne as I saw in theatre at the time it was released at the end of 2010 just before Christmas. The film was made by the splendid Coen brothers whose work is always interesting although not always enjoyable and satisfying.

The story is an engaging one with a fourteen year old girl taking it upon herself to arrange for the return of the body of her father who has been killed when intervening in a conflict involving one of his hired hands while in town Fort Smith Arkansas purchasing two animals. The man Tom Cheney has headed into Indian country with two of her fathers special gold coin pieces. She comes to town just for the day with another hired hand as escort although she sends him home with the body staying in town to undertake unfinished business. Her first task is to cancel the purchase and claim compensation for the loss of her father’s horse which she negotiates hard. She sees the local Justices who have no interest in pursuing the murderer so she seeks advice as to who might be willing to undertake the task offering to pay $50 over the state terms. This is then raised to an additional $50 on success of the mission. She is given three names and approaches the old timer Rooster Coburn played by Jeff Bridges in the remake. While John Wayne remained distinctly John Wayne in the original Mr Bridges has become famed for his characterisation where you would not know who the actor is without being informed. This is to his credit although both performances are outstanding.

Roster Cockburn is not anti social as such but prefers to follow his business without encumbrances so the idea of being accompanied let alone commissioned by a fourteen year girl is understandably not something he is prepared to countenance. She begins to have misgivings about him after finding him a drunken state and wishes she had first approached Texas Ranger LaBoeuf played by Matt Damon who is also after the same man for the murder a Texan senator, especially as he knows the territory involved. While she is staying at the same boarding house where her father lodged The Texan and Rooster make an early start without her, telling the ferry man that she is a runaway and not to let her cross. She crosses the river anyway with the horse swimming.

The two men first fall out over the treatment of the girl and allowing her to go with them. Mattie Ross is played by Oscar nominated Hailee Steinfield who had to compete with 15000 applicants for the role(She is to play Juliet in a remake film of Shakespeare’s play.

With the onset of winter and snow falling the two make for a an overnight lodge on the advice of a medicine man they encounter but find that outlaws have taken up residence. They smoke them out and plan to stay overnight after a fight before finding out that a well known gang is to arrive accompanied by the man they are after. The two wait in ambush on a hill overlooking the cabin. The plan misfires when the Texas Ranger arrives before the outlaw gang. Rooster is able to his aid at a distance although the man is injured. Some of the outlaws escape to join the rest of the gang.

Unfortunately the two men argue again this time over the Civil War and La Beuof again goes off and Mattie is then caught by the gang when she is getting water from the river and confronts Chaney. Fortunately La Boeuf comes to the rescue just before Chaney is about to the kill Mattie. who has been taken hostage. They devise a plan to take on the gang which involves Rooster taking on four men a kind of jousting conflict. After killing three, Rooster falls and is trapped by his horse. LaBoeuf makes an amazing shot of 400 yards to down the fourth man. Having also killed Chaney the mission is over. Unfortunately Mattie falls down into a cave full of snakes and is bitten and Rooster rides in desperation to where he knows she will get appropriate help. She recovers but loses an arm.

Twenty five years later Mattie gets a note from Rooster with a hand bill saying that he is performing in a Wild West Show nearby. She visits only to find that he died a few days before her arrival. She arranges for the coffin to be moved to the family plot on the family farm. She reflects on their adventure together.

Although the film was nominated for 10 awards at the Oscars and 8 at the Bafta’s it only won the Cinematic Bafta. This is one of the rare situations where both films can be enjoy and stand alongside each other.


The news that Ralph Fiennes was directing Coriolanus for the cinema was greeted by me with enthusiasm until I realised I had confused this Shakespearean tragedy with Titus Androdonicus which I had seen at Stratford as well as when the RSC visited Newcastle. Coriolanus the character is in fact a fascist soldier with aristocratic contempt for the people, the plebeians, and for the concept of democracy. He is a tragic figure because he is the product of an ambition warmongering dominating mother who is also in control of his wife and son,

Mr Fiennes is best known for his performances in the English Patient, the Constant Gardener and the Duke of Devonshire in the Duchess once more on BBC on Saturday evening. He is also to appear in a remake film of Great Expectations as Magwitch.

He is faithful to the story and to much of the Text and to the setting of the play in Rome and Italy, but here is where the liberty is taken because the period is not the Latin era of the Consuls but the twentieth century and filmed in a grim war torn Serbia. He also brings the fore the role of his mother and of his wife. An aspect where performances were understandably limited with boys playing female figures at the time the works were written.

As with the text and various examples throughout history there are food shortages to an extent that the people do not have sufficient grain to make bread and what exists is controlled with priority given to the military and the patricians. The mob has been stirred by political agitators with their personal as well as civic agenda, written in an era within fifty years of the British Civil War.

Their anger has been directed on the military hero and deputy commander Caius Marcius who has already made known his contempt for the masses while distinguishing him repeatedly in battles. The agitation is led by Senators Brutus and Scinius played by Paul Jesson as the behind the scenes manipulator and James Nesbitt as the front man.

His wife is anxious for his welfare but his mother chides her for being soft hearted declaring she would rather have a dozen sons killed in battle that one living who puts his wife and personal welfare before the honour of combat and the acquisition of the scars of battle which should then be shown to the people to maintain their adoration and continuing support. Her main ally and supporter of Caius is Menenius Agrippa a kind of Speaker in the House, who with the support of the present Consul, a combined state head and Prime Minister rolled into one, are keen for Caius to be appointed when circumstances are propitious. To become Consul one must have the voice of the Senate and of the people at the Forum. While Menenius controls the body of the Senate, Nesbitt and co know the minds and the emotions of the people, and more importantly how to press the right buttons to get the people worked up and taking their lead.

When news comes that the leader of the Volscians, Tullus Aufidius, has launched a new campaign to right the grievances against the Roman state Caius concentrates on what interests him best, the business of fighting and in the film we are treated to an exposition of contemporary warfare with high powered rapid firing weapons and hand delivered rockets. When ordered you advance whatever the personal cost is likely to be and I was remind of this continuing principle of military authority with a Blackadder episode in which the men were told to go over the top and die in combat rather than retreat in cowardly dishonour.

The Volscians are defeated but Tullus escapes after a direct confrontation with Caius who returns to the acclaim of the Senate and the honour of being renamed Coriolanus after the place of the victory. Menenius and the mother of Coriolanus determine this is the moment for the warrior to become the state leader. The appearance before the Senate goes according to although Coriolanus refuses to listen to the acclamation speech on his behalf and he is reluctant to respond other than to accept the honour.

He agrees to attend the Forum (market place in the film) with reluctance and refuses to show his war wounds which is the required custom. He returns to the senate for confirmation and inauguration but makes the mistake of wanting to first change his clothing. This provides the opportunity for the conspirators to psyche the crowd into changing their minds and demand the impeachment of Coriolanus.

Coriolanus then resists the counselling of Menenius, his mother and other supporters including the existing Consul, to moderate his approach and say what is needed to convince the people. The device which the film uses is a modern day Television appearance after he agrees to do what is necessary. The conspirators have a few placed supporters in the audience to respond to the signal of Nesbitt to demand the trial and sentencing of Coriolanus for his contempt of the people. He does his best to cooperate with the wishes of his supporters but is quickly goaded into exposing his real feelings. Nesbitt calls for banishment which is quickly taken up by the studio audience. The conspirators are elated and keep the political status quo.

Coriolanus is bitter and determines on revenge and makes his way to the Volscians capital and demands to be presented to Tullus where he offers his life as a means of humiliating Rome. However his aim is to offer his services to help Tullus and his countryman wage war again on Rome and they seize on this with enthusiasm. The problem is that Coriolanus is too successful and the men begin to support him rather than Tullus and his leadership. They begin to try and look like their idol, shaving their heads like him and Tullus and his advisers begin to worry about their position.

As the invaders advance on the capital there is growing panic among the leadership and the citizenry and against his better judgement Menenius is commissioned to go and seek a peaceful settlement. When the mission fails he is sent away with a flea in his ear and commits suicide.

This leaves the mother, wife and son who previously attempted to get the conspirators to reverse the banishment, to now plead for the city, humiliating themselves, prepared to say and do whatever he asks of them. When it appears he is so wedded to his need for revenge that he will yield nothing, he relents, consults Tullus who agrees that to a peace deal. In the play it is only when The Volscians returns to their capital that they turn of Coriolanus and kill him. In the film Tullus and his men wait outside of Rome for the Peace deal to be signed during which time he becomes concerned about the reaction of the Volscians given that they had Rome at their mercy and fearing the response make a scapegoat of Coriolanus.

Both play and film make the point that Generals should stick to their profession and not enter politics and that in a democracy the masses can be manipulated one way or their other by demagogues. It is also a statement about the power that some parents can exert over their children. It is also clear that the play will be used by those on the extreme right as a statement in favour of fascism and dictatorships.

Wednesday, 25 January 2012


Yesterday I wrote of a film The Aryan Couple made for television which added the survival of two young ordinary Jewish individuals from the holocaust in a story to mark the handful of Hungarian wealthy and powerful men who managed to buy their and their family’s freedom. The film was a good reminder to more recent generations why Israel and the Jewish people in general have cause for continuing concern about their future in a world which has been largely hostile since their history was first put to paper. One reason for this hostility appears to be that they have not engaged in the wholesale slaughter of their own kind as have the Christians, the Muslims and the Communists have engaged for generation upon generation. It is therefore their overall sense of being one as a people which others find threatening although within that there is a spectrum of religious and political perspectives and differences over individual subjects and issues.

It was coincidental that that late last night, after an unsuccessful day and feeling tired, I decided to watch Katyn, the film by Andrzej Wajda, one of the great directors alongside Ingmar Bergman and Frederico Fellini. The film is his reminder to present and future generations of the most significant atrocity committed by the Russian Communists against the Polish People, second, albeit by a long way to the industrial slaughter of the Polish Jews by Germany.

I say it was coincidental although on refection given the mood I was in and the choice of a number of new films on available on the Sky Premier channel, together with seven DVD’s of Le Carré books made into films waiting with ten books to be read, I decided it was time to face an event which continues to upset and anger whenever I read to see references. The mood commenced yesterday when as I commented the reality involved in the purchasing of freedom of wealthy and powerful Jewish people in Hungry was a more relevant subject than the chosen vehicle of the film. The genocide actions of the Nazi Himmler, Eichmann and the controversial role of Becher along with those of Kastner who was responsible for the train which took over 1850 Jews to freedom merit continual examination by each new generation of young adults. For the Polish people Katyn remains a painful reality which has significance beyond its horror and the impact on the relatives of the government officials, the police the intellectuals and creative artists as well as about half the officers of the army, because everyone was forced for decades to confirm in public the lie perpetrated by the Russians that it was the German Nazi’s who had committed the atrocity, when it was them, and not their allies at the time. They were birds of a feather on the extreme right and left and which should serve as a reminder that those on the extremes of the right and left of politics who embrace the use of violence are always to be feared and opposed.

The DVD contains a long thoughtful interview with Wajda whose films produced as the height of the Communist rule in Poland- A Generation 1954, Kanal 1956 and Ashes and Diamonds 1958 brought him international recognition followed by Man of Iron which won the Palme d’Ot at Cannes in 1981 and which together with The Promised Land 1974, Maids of Wilko 1979 and Katyn(2007) were nominated for best foreign language film Oscars. He is also one of the few to be honoured by an Honary Oscar, awarded in 2000. Wadja explained that there was mo question of producing a film on the subject during the Russian occupation for reason which he makes evident in the film.

Nor was the subject one just a shared national horror because his father was one of the officers murdered and he witnessed the impact on his mother when his father failed to return home. He reached the conclusion that it was important to portray the cover up as much as the event itself and also to present the impact on the mothers, the wives, sisters and girl friends of those who executed.

The known facts are that the massacres took place in April and May 1940 and involved at least 21768 individuals including about 8000 military officers, 6000 police officers and others describes at the time as intelligence agents, gendarmes, landowners, saboteurs, factory owners, lawyers, officials and priests but who covered the middle and upper classes who the communists decided to eliminate.

The Russians did this on a grander scale to their own people as did the Germans and later the Chinese. Although a large part of the shooting in the back of the head took place in the Katyn Forest there were simultaneous executions elsewhere in Poland and Russia where the prisoners were taken after the 1939 invasion succeeded. The Russian Government denied responsibility and blamed the Germans until 1990 and a decade later Stalin and others were officially blamed. Documentation has been released from time to time but remains far from complete.

Wajda tells the story through the wife and mother of one of the captured officers. When the film opens she and her daughter have travelled across Poland from German occupied zone to the Russian to find the captured husband and plead with him to come home. He is a man of honour who had sworn allegiance in the service of his country and feels bound to accept the conditions of his captivity. At least in this instance the couple and their daughter have the opportunity to say what proves to be a final goodbye. She is then prevented from returning across the new border between the divided nation and told to stay to await the return of her husband. She lodges with a sympathetic Russian officer who knowing what is going to happen advises her to marry him. Understandably she rejects this but is grateful when shortly afterwards he hides the couple when the authorities come for her and a neighbour. The Russians are said to have moved hundreds of thousands of civilians from Poland into Russia for various purposes of whom many never returned. Following her narrow escape she is advised to try and make her way to the capital where her father and mother in law live. The film does not cover her journey except that she had to bribe her way across the border using her wedding rings.

On arrival she finds that her father in law, a University Professor, has been sent to a Labour Camp and the University closed. Again his wife had pleaded with him not to go to the meeting between the university Head and a Nazi leader. He wanted to support the proposed request that the university should remain an independent body. Instead they are met with tirade of complaint at having continued to operate without seeking permission and having shown anti occupation sentiments and anti occupation activities. The are immediately bundled in vehicles for the Labour camp. The husband is a later reported to have died from untreated heart problems.

Following the break up of alliance between Germany and Russia and the German occupation of the whole of Poland and move into Russian territory, the Katyn graves- many open site- are revealed, and the German command makes as much capital as possible. They excavated the site and carried out post mortems which they filmed together with placing in large envelopes any personal effects found on the bodies together with lists of names of those where identification was possible. Mother in law, wife and child are relieved when their loved one is not on the list, but her husband’s closest friend in the service is.

At the end of the war they are shocked when the friend arrives wearing the uniform of the Polish army under the control of the Russians. He brings tinned meat for the family but the main reason is to explain that her husband had been wearing a tagged pieces of clothing of his. He is therefore a Katyn victim. Later under pressure because he is working for the Russians and colluding in the state myth that the atrocity was a German one he commits suicide. Not before he has pleaded with those holding the personal effects and other recovered documentation to return anything belonging to the husband to his widow.

After the war the widow works at or manages a photography business and one day she encounters a young relative who proposes to enrol at a local teaching institution. He states on the application form that his father died at the Soviet Katyn atrocity and refuses to revise the application. The official in charge of the institution tells a colleague that she will find a way to admit the young man without the state offending declaration. Later full of anger about the situation he has found in the capital destroying a government poster in view of the military who give chase and he is helped by a young woman to hide on a roof. When the coast is clear they leave and she agrees to meet him for a date at a nearby cinema the following evening. He then is seen by the military who were looking for him and in the effort to get away he is knocked down and killed by a passing motorist,

The educational institution female head is one of two sisters whose brother is another Katyn victim, a man who is not religious but is given a rosary, a rosary found on his person when he is killed. It is passed by a priest who was part of the filmed Russian revision of the discovery of the atrocity blaming the Germans, to another sister who has become a Polish activist trying to free the country from the Russians. She later sells her long hair to a theatrical company to make up a wig for an actress who has lost all her hair in a concentration camp, using the payment to have to have a memorial slab created in memory of her brother which the priest. When she arrives with the stone plaque she finds that the priest has been removed by the authorities and the replacement priest is unwilling to have the monument in the church. The sister takes the memorial to family cemetery and is joined by the other sister who tries to persuade her to desist from the action. This other sister makes the point that resistance is futile and the country will never be free from the Russians and other occupiers. The activist is picked up by the authorities and offered the opportunity to recant and when she refuses she is taken away with the implication that she is to be executed.

The film also covers the experience of the wife of one of the Generals who takes time to digest and accept that her husband will not return. After the war she and her adult daughter are visited by their former maid who now appears to be a well dressed woman with a chauffer car. Her husband has been appointed a local mayor. The purpose is to bring the General’s ceremonial sword which she had been asked to keep for him. She asks for the trunk of her possession which the family had kept to be given to the poor people as she no longer has need.

During the war the General’s widow had been asked by the German authorities to make a recording of her condemnation of the massacre. She declined and was taken next door leaving her child in distress thinking the worse when in fact she was being shown a film of the discovered Katyn graves. Years later she cannot accept the same film with a new commentary placing responsibility for the atrocity on the Germans. Her fate also becomes in question.

The final sequence is when someone brings the envelope of belongings to the wife of the central character. This contains his diary notebook in which he attempted to record the main events of what happened since their capture and the names of those with whom he was captured and imprisoned. Reading this enables the film to show what happened when her husband and a substantial numbers of fellow officers are taken from one camp on a journey which leads to an execution centre near the forest and to the forest graveyard. In both instances the film shows the execution of characters which we have come to know, The diary ends with his arrival at the Forest. The films ends with a blank screen and then a sung liturgy and them credits rolled in silence.

Tuesday, 24 January 2012

The Aryan Couple

Last night I saw a compelling film about someone I had not heard previously of but who with his wife, children and extended family bought their way from a journey to a German Nazi extermination camp by signing over his substantial and significant industrial empire and family holdings of property. As with all such films where the film announces that it is based on a true story, however loosely, my first action after viewing the film was to attempt to find the facts.

The man was Manfred Weiss but I could only find one reference of value which I shall come to later because of the what I discovered about the man who took over the huge industrial holdings with 30000 employees and who went on to become one of the most wealthy men in Western Germany after the War.

Kurt Becher was a member of the Nazi S S who from his experience in Poland and Russia was responsible for the techniques of the genocide of the Jewish people and was then appointed Chief of Economic Development of the SS Command in Hungary by Heinrich Himmler in 1944.

It is sometimes forgotten by the media especially the entertainment media that Eichmann worked directly to Himmler on the extermination of the Jewish people in the German occupied territories and Himmler was head of the Gestapo as Minister for the Interior as well as responsible for the security and policing of all occupied countries. In this respect he was more powerful that Hitler in terms of his power over the German civilian population as well as the occupied territories.

Belcher responsible for extracting the maximum financial profit from all those exterminated, not just their possessions but everything from their body, including teeth, hair and using body fat for soap as well as enabling some wealthy Jews to officially buy their way out of the country. He was therefore by definition in terms of his role a monster of a human being yet he survived the Nuremberg War Crimes Trials where although arrested he was not charged and was used as witness.

Yet on arrival in the Hungarian capital in March 1944 his first task was to “ negotiate” the taking over of the most important Jewish businesses which were still owned and managed and he did this for the benefit of himself contrary to Himmler’s approach, a fact which the film deplorably stands on its head as the film argues Himmler coveted the art collection of the central characters which was housed in a provincial and rural located Palace, which because of the removal of Jews was looked after by a couple who posed as Aryans who were not only Jews but in touch with those monitoring and helping Jews to escape the Terror. Himmler is shown to attend the Palace for a meal with the Industrialist and his wife, plus the Hungarian Commander, presumably intended to be Becher and other local senior officers with Eichmann being invited for coffee to witness the signing of the agreement.

The films begins with a moving and challenging portrayal of the Terror in terms of the way Jews of all ages and backgrounds were herded into cattle trucks together with pictures of an extermination centre as it remains to day. Becher only remained in Hungary for the rest of that year in which he negotiated with another figure of controversy over the transport of 1685 Jews out of the country to places of safety for money, negotiating first with Eichmann and then through Becher with Himmler.

By the beginning of 1945 Becher was promoted by Himmler and Hitler in charge of all concentration camps until his arrest by the allies in May and by which time it is alleged that he had personally acquired in objects and money to the value of 10 million Swiss francs in the six large suitcases accompanying him on his travels.

He was protected at Nuremberg by Rudolf Kastner. Kastner was a Hungarian Jew who led an organisation which purchased from Himmler the safe departure from Hungary of the documented 1685 Jews for substantial payments but at a time when an estimated 12000 a day where being transported to the extermination centres. After the war Kastner moved to Israel where he came to hold a position in the Ministry of Trade and Industry in 1952.

However shortly after this he was subject to accusation that he had in fact been a profiteer not just failing warn others of what was in store for them but encouraging them to comply with the authorities, reassuring that they would be safe. Although a court found that the case against him was not proven this was after a judge had criticised his role and led to his assassination in in 1957 and the judgement had a lasting and damaging effect on his family. My understanding is that Mr Kastner undertook work prior to the War helping Jewish refugees to resettle in Romania before moving to Budapest.

It was in 1944 that Kastner negotiated direct with Eichmann for the passage of a number of Jews by train to Switzerland and onward out of German control and with the details being agreed with Kurt Becher acting with the authority of Himmler and who required 50 of seats on the train for those he personally sponsored. In fact at first Eichmann broke the agreement and routed the train to Belsen however the agreement was then kept with those involved including artists, scientists, religious leaders and political activist being allowed to leave in two contingents via Switzerland.

Part of the subsequent campaign against Kastner was his support for Becher at the Nuremberg trials although again the view has been expressed that Kastner did this with the approval of Jewish leaders because of the wish to find and prosecute Eichmann and to recover property that Becher had removed for himself and for the Reich.

The real story was to have a twist because in what many regarded as an extraordinary move, after the capture of Eichmann Becher was called as a witness for the Defence at re Eichmann trial in 1961. He provided testimony from Germany unwilling to travel to Jerusalem where the trial was held, possibly sensing this was a trap. His testimony was not allowed because he was provided with questions in advance of the relay to the court. He was regarded as one of the wealthiest men in Western Germany at the time.

Writing after the event one important source, Hannah Arrendt, said “It was a great pity that Eichmann and Becher could not have been confronted with each other and this not merely for judicial reasons. Such a confrontation would have revealed another part of the "general picture," which, even legally, was far from irrelevant”

After describing his career she said “His relations with Himmler were excellent, he could see him whenever he wished. His "special mission" was clear enough. He was to obtain control of major Jewish business concerns behind the backs of the Hungarian government, and, in return, to give the owners free passage out of the country, plus a sizable amount of money in foreign currency.

“His most important transaction was with the Manfred Weiss steel combine, a mammoth enterprise, with thirty thousand workers, which produced everything from airplanes, trucks, and bicycles to tinned goods, pins, and needles. The result was that forty-five members of the Weiss family immigrated to Portugal while Mr. Becher became head of their business.

When Eichmann heard of this Schweinerei, he was outraged; the deal threatened to compromise his good relations with the Hungarians, who naturally expected to take possession of Jewish property confiscated on their own soil. He had some reason for his indignation, since these deals were contrary to the regular Nazi policy. Which had been quite generous.

For their help in solving the Jewish question in any country, the Germans had demanded no part of the Jews' property, only the costs of their deportation and extermination, and these costs had varied widely from country to country-the Slovaks had been supposed to pay between three hundred and five hundred Reichsmarks per Jew, the Croats only thirty, the French seven hundred, and the Belgians two hundred and fifty. (It seems that no one ever paid except the Croats.) In Hungary, at this late stage of the war, the Germans were demanding payment in goods-shipments of food to the Reich, in quantities determined by the amount of food the deported Jews would have consumed.

So how does the film deal with these issues. As I said it begins well with scenes sending thousands by train to their extermination and with a sight of a centre as it is today. The story in fact centres on the young couple who look after the Palace and where the attractive wife is pregnant and flirts with a guard at a control post which they pass on their regular visits into the nearest town where in fact they keep watch on the transport of Jewish people and appear to report to some kind of underground movement. They are suddenly contact by their employers to get the Palace ready for the visit of Himmler and three others and this poses as challenged for the young man as they are in fact also Jews and he wants to assassinate Himmler and Eichmann when he learns they are to be involved, The wife persuades him not to do this because of the implications for them and for others.( This is one of several irrational moments in the film introduced for dramatic tension. The situation for them deteriorates when the on the ground appointed security man takes a shine to the wife who he believes is Aryan hence the Title of the film The Aryan Couple, He has learned from Eichmann who appears as a kind of chief of Gestapo that the couple are to be killed once the deal has been completed and the employers leave from a local air field by plane. He asks Eichmann to arrange sound proof facility at the Gestapo HQ where he intimates he wishes to rape and then kill the young woman for amusement.

It is fact that Himmler and Eichmann did not get on as personalities and approaches. It is arranged that all the relatives of the industrialist played by Martin Landau as a Joseph Krausenberg should be held together at the Gestapo Headquarters and for Joseph to be summoned from his office to the Gestapo HQ where he is made to wait, roughly treated and told to calm his relatives nerves before going to his country home for the dinner and departure. This action is designed to ensure that he signs the papers handing over the possessions to Himmler including the art collection. This is all fabrication because as has been shown the intention was to hand over the property to Aryan Hungarians in return for their payments for the elimination of the Jewish people.

The antipathy between Himmler and Eichmann is shown when Himmler insists that Eichmann kisses the hand of Joseph’s wife. The reality of what would have been such a situation is also shown by the hesitancy of the wife to sign the document without guarantees and her scathing and dangerous in the circumstances comments about the treatment of her countrymen and women. Before the couple depart and do leave with their extended family of some 45 individuals on the plane to Switzerland the young couple disclose their truth identity and fears and ask their employers to help them.
By this time Eichmann and the aggressive would be rapist have found out the young couple are Jews and he decision taken to order the senior office left to clear up the situation and take charge of the Palace, to kill the couple and bury them in the grounds in a grave which the young control point soldier who flirted with the young wife is asked to dig and then participate in their execution.

However unbeknown to the audience the employers have provided the senior officer with gold for him to enable the couple with exit papers signed by Himmler presumably of the kind which were issued for the Becher train and indeed the couple are to leave the capital by a special train which the officer escort them from the central station. In the meantime Eichmann has ordered the execution of the couple so he can hear their deaths over the phone. The irrationality is that in order to confuse or mislead the audience there are no cries as the shots are fired which in reality would have led someone over the phone to question. In the meantime the young soldier waiting by the open grave commits suicide because the situation he is in thus absolving the young German soldiers in general from the behaviour of their seniors, the SS and the Gestapo and the political leaders.

However there is a further twist because Eichmann’s fanatical henchman goes to Palace and discovers the officer has lied who is then apprehended his gold. The henchman undertakes to go off and take the couple from the train before they reach the border. However meanwhile Himmler having learned of the situation and fearing his plans to take over the industrial empire and the Palace will be thwarted at the last moment instructs a colleague to ensure the couple depart and join their employer. This colleague has to shoot the fanatical henchman who refuses to accept the order and is about to shoot the couple before they can reboard the train as it slowly leaves the station.

The film which I presume was made for TV is well done but it is a pity there is such a gulf between fact and fiction although some of he key elements of the reality are faithfully recounted I came across one reference to the death of one the daughters who I presume travelled with her father. She had become New York based and is understood to have devoted much of her life to supporting Human Rights Charities.

Sunday, 22 January 2012


Abandoned is a 2010 released thrills and actions film which requires a considerable stretch of credulity. The films can be said to be in two parts. In the first a young woman accompanies her boyfriend to a hospital for day surgery. She accompanies him to the ward where a nurse asks him to get ready and tell the girl friend when to leave and how long the process will take. The hospital is in the processing of closing down with transfers to a new building already in hand. It is never explained why it is closing and transferring as the building is modern with modern facilities. While she waits she shares a cup of coffee with an elderly man who is spending his days at the hospital visiting his wife. When the boyfriend does not return at the time expected she makes inquiries and there is no record of him, or the nurse who she has encountered or the doctor he was supposed to be seeing and that the area where he was admitted and which she visited had been cleared and was no longer in use.

She makes various inquiries and eventually the hospital administrator is called because she making a nuisance of herself. When he is not found after extensive searching the girl calls a female friend who surprisingly appears the reinforce the hospital view that maybe the man used the visit as an excuse to break with her. She calls the police and the selected nearest officer is also sceptical but does a search of the large multifloor building without success. The direction of the film is to add to the sense that there is some great conspiracy especially when we learn that the man’s laptop has disappeared from his car. That he worked from home and other planted clues suggesting he has been kidnapped for some reason and with staff at the at the hospital colluding. When she spills her purse to reveal a bottle of anti depressants, although why should carry round such a large bottle is not explained, the suggestion is that she is making everything up and is in need of psychiatric help and with the doctor again appearing part of he conspiracy. The policeman leaves although calls at the home of the boyfriend and after breaking from the psychiatrist the girl goes on another search and gets a phone call from the boyfriend saying he is being kept prisoner within the hospital.

A key aspect of the film is that the girl works as an electronic expert for a bank and by phone she is told to transfer $10 million from the bank to an International account. She does this demanding to see her boyfriend before submitting the final transfer code.

We now come to the second part which occurs from the moment she pus through the transfer on seeing her boyfriend. Only then she realises she has been part of an elaborate hoax of which the boyfriend is the leader. His partners in crime include the man with whom she had a cup of tea, the nurse and the head security officer, with the latter responsible for erasing the CCTV record of his entering the hospital and going to the ward from which he official disappeared without ever having been there. This trio go off leaving the security chief to kill the girl and dispose of the body in a part of the hospital that is to be demolished but he wants to test out a comment from the boyfriend that she is great in bed. This provides the opportunity to escape and eventually to kill him with a piece of pipe.

Throughout the film she has been carrying a novel given to her by the boyfriend. At one point she uses the cover to do a paper trace for his National Insurance number as he used the book as a rest to complete a form. This number proves false as does the phone number of his mother he had put into her mobile. She gives the book to the policeman and when he gets home he looks at the final pages which appears to be include a story similar to what the young woman had explained happened to her boyfriend. The last part reveals that it was a scam and that the life of the victim is in danger. He calls for back up and make his way to the hospital.

Meanwhile the boyfriend, the girlfriend and the partner have made their getaway but a phone call reveals that the transfer has not in fact gone through. They arrive back as the girl is about to make her getaway so there follows a chase back through hospital during which the girl has the gun from the security guard and shoots the partner. The policeman gets back and captures the nurse girlfriend who is waiting in the car and then shoot the boyfriend just before he shoots the girl. The extent and levels of implausibility should be self evident. This is a three out of ten film with the rating shared by the the critics.

Another Tme Another Place 1958

Another film set in the 1940 and 1950 also released in 1958 is Another Time, Another Place starting a young Sean Connery as the male lead who plays an international journalist and radio broadcaster who at the start of film reports on the dismantling of a bomb. He has an affair with Lana Turner who is also a Journalist from America covering the war in Europe and engaged to her employer who travels to the UK and France to cover the allied invasion as well as the creation of the United Nations.

Sid James plays the personal assistant to the boss in Europe with whom Turner confess that she has decided to break the engagement with the boss because of her affair with Connery. However coinciding with this intention Connery who is about to leave for Paris, has decided to break with Turner because he has a wife and child in Cornwall who he also loves. Earlier in the film we see Connery declaring his eternal love for his future wife promising to be always together. We also witness him saying as much to Turner during their love affair. The wife is played by the excellent actress of my childhood and youth, Glynis Johns, who has take her son to live in a Cornish fishing port to get away from the bombings in London. Connery also has a Journalist/BBC colleague who is also a family friend and has been against his relationship with Turner persuading Connery to remain with his family.

When the boss arrives he senses relations between them has cooled and presses James to reveal what is going on. Turner admits the relationship but also the irony of the situation because she has been rejected. The following day the boss calls on Turner when she is about to listen to the next broadcast of Connery from Paris. He attempted to stop her listening but understandably she insists only to learn this way that the plane Connery travelled in had crashed and he had been killed. She is devastated, has an emotional breakdown is and admitted to a residential clinic headed by John Le Mesurier. The boss visits after about six months when she is ready to leave although still in a state of shock. The boss played by Barry Sullivan arranged for her take a cruise back to the USA from Plymouth Devon. She agrees but arranges to go for the day to Connery’s hometown on the day beforehand. Finding that with the peace the local hotel is fully booked she leaves her overnight case with the rest of the luggage sent on to the ship and goes on a walkabout until the evening train.

She visits the outside of his home where she meets his son out playing and is invited in for a cuppa and then because the boy takes to the American and wants to know all about the USA, she stays for an evening meal and then missing the train is asked to stay overnight. She is overcome by the situation and the following morning goes off a panic. I am not clear what happens next except that she is brought back in a collapsed state and is cared for by the wife until she recovers. She agrees to stay on and write a book about the life of Connery with the help of the wife much to the horror of Connery’s former colleague who survived the crash and who now also lives in the same community. He is understandably concerned that the looking back will arouse concerns which the wife had expressed to him about the fact that Connery’s letters to her shortly before his death had become brief as if something had changed or was wrong. Lana’s boss also arrives to take her back to America but too late to prevent the widow realising what had happened and then the woman was Lana. Lana is asked to immediately leave but at the station Glynis and the longstanding friend come to say goodbye with Lana leaving for the USA able to move forward.

According it a brief Wikipedia article during the making of the film the gangster boyfriend of Lana Turned arrived on set with a gun to warn Connery not to get involved with the actress. There was a struggle with the gun firing but fortunately no one was injured. The film looks as if there was some location shooting in Cornwall although it could have all been created in a studio .is is a pleasant film full of nostalgia for Cornish fishing ports. I do have a Newlyn Pottery vase bought from the pottery shop in St Ives..

Never Let Me go

I missed the publicity and the critical evaluations of the 2010 British film Never Left me Go. The film raises important issues and is the story of a group of children attending from the age of 11 an isolated special school which young people they later encounter saying they wish they had been given the opportunity to also attend. The one thing all the children have in common is that they do not have relatives who visit. They are warned against leaving the school unless supervised something about which they are obedient. In fact obedience is something which appears all the children have in common although in other respects they appear normal each having friends within the school, some rivalries and picking on someone who appears different, in this instance Tommy who is not good at sport but also at art which appears to be highly regarded with the best paintings, sculpture and other art selected to appear in the “gallery.” He is befriended by two girls who are also friends.

While the children are still at school a teacher played by Charlotte Rampling breaks the news that they are special because they are clones whose originals have paid for them to have a better life than other clones brought up in secret establishments, the different between battery hens and free range. However as with hens who all end up in the cooking pot, once they are adults they will be used for body parts, up to four organs after which their use will be completed and are terminated unless this has happened beforehand because of complications with the transplanting of body parts. The teacher disappears.

When they become adults they able to live in cottages in the area close to the school and are free go out and about and enjoy life until their time.

One of the girls played by Keira Knightly has a relationship with the now young man Tommy (Andrew Garfield) until the harvesting commences and she dies on the operating table because of complications. She has been supported by the other girl Kathy (Carey Mulligan) who becomes a carer, someone who travels the country visiting and supporting other clones when ready for transplant and the post operative experience, if it is explained why she has been selected and has not as yet been asked to donate transplant, I missed this.

Tommy and Kathy meet up and fall in love and he persuades her to go and see Madame, the former school head at her home after learning that the school has closed. The purpose of the visit is to show Madame the art work that Tommy has created since being an adult and the hope that this will enable him to have deferment similar to the position of Kathy. It is Kathy who grasps the there is no such thing as deferment and the purpose of the artwork was to establish if the clones had “souls” A twist in the tale is that the sacked teacher shares the home of the Madam. We see Kathy helping Tommy to cope with another transplant before completion.

The film as with the book by Kazuo Ishiguro in 2005 was highly regarded with the film receiving several nominations in the lesser institutions and groups with Carey Mulligan winning best actress by UK Independent film awards and Andrew Garfield also winning in others competitions. The film well acted and thought provoking and may well sit in the memory.

The film is based on an alternative reality claiming that as early as 1952 the ability to clone humans meant that we all had a life expectancy of 100 years. It not stated but presumed that some clones were used for medical experiments to eradicate diseases such as the cancers. The story is told by Kathy when she and Tommy are 28 and she looks back. Although between 1950 and 1980 the film has a feel of the 1950’s throughout, apart from the medical centres.

Those brought up at the residential school are fortunate because their originals have paid the extra to enable them to have a good childhood and free adulthood until the body parts are needed. The film does not explain why the clones accept their fate without revolt. The school is closed when originals are unwilling to pay the additional costs and society in general does not want to see the clones out and about thus raising the issue that we tend not to want know about the price paid for our way of life... The lives led by those who make the cheap food and clothing or who die because the food, water and medicines which they need and are available are not provided.

The subject of transplants is not knew and I remember the fuss which Oh Lucky Man created when it was released some 50 years ago and the hero attends a clinic when there are experiments in transplanting with one young man finding his head and brain attached to a pig. I still have the Long Play record of the excellent music composed and played by local Jarrow man Alan Price of the Animals with Eric Burden.

It could also be argued that the film is more about the choices we make as a society collectively and the implications as much as the issue of cloning. All those years ago some 50 now I decided to go to prison for six months when I was given an alternative as a statement that I could not accept the potential use of weapons of mass destruction.

J Edgar

I decided to celebrate these events by going to see the just generally released film about the life of J Edgar Hoover which is directed by Clint Eastwood and where many of his films are outstanding such as Play Misty for Me, High Plains Drifter, Pale Rider, Unforgiven, the Bridges of Madison County, Mystic River. Flags of our Fathers and Letters from Iow Jima, Invictus and now J Edgar. The other feature films which he has directed are The Eiger Sanction, Breezy, The Outlaw Josy Wales, The Gauntlet, Bronco Billy, and FireFox. Honkey Tonk Man, Sudden Impact, Heartbreak Ridge, Changeling, White Hunter Black Heart, The Rookie, A Perfect World, Absolute Power, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, True Crime, Space Cowboys, Bloodwork, Million Door Baby, Grand Torino, and Hereafter. I have seen most but not the recent Hereafter

J Edgar Hoover is a figure who many feared including several Presidents, those left of centre hated him akin to Margaret Thatcher while the majority regarded him as a heroic figure who was responsible for the creation of modern national policing methods which were exported throughout the world.

He was born in 1895 whose parents were of German, Swiss and English descent. His mother‘s uncle was a Swiss honorary consul general in Washington and she is portrayed by Dame Judy Dench in the film as a strong dominating woman conscious of family standing and with a strong moral sense which declares at one point that it would be better for a man to kill himself/be dead that become a transvestite/homosexual. His father is portrayed as a sick man who played little or no part in his upbringing and which leads to the proposition that he found relationships with men easier than with women and led to allegations of homosexuality. The film makes an important distinction between having a close relation relationship with one man akin to a brother and a physical relationship although it also suggests that the other man involved, his deputy Clyde Tolson, did hope for a more intimate relationship. For a long period they dined together every day and went on holidays and to the races.

The film suggests that Hoover considered marriage to a two years younger than him secretary, Helen Gandy and that he took her out three times including to the Library of Congress where he showed her the filing system he inaugurated which enabled a book to be located with a few minutes, but that when he was about to propose to her on this visit she explained that she did not wish to marry and that her work was her life. It is alleged that it was after this, and because of this he appointed her his personal assistant, a post which she held for 54 years until his death when she retired going on to live for another sixteen years.

While what happened is still a matter for speculation it is widely accepted that she was responsible for the destruction of secret confidential files which he used to stay in power and exercise great influence. The implication of the film is that had she not done this President Nixon would have used the file to reinforce his position.

His conflict of personal identity and sexual orientation is one of the two core themes of the film. He arranges to take his deputy for a holiday going to the races where Hoover admits he is treated like royalty and if he wins he keeps the money but if he loses the bets are cancelled. He arranged a suite with adjoining bedrooms which leads to Tolson believing the relationship is to progress however when they are together the common living room Edgar confides he has been out several times with a well known film star, unbeknown to Clyde, and that he is considering asking her to marry him. Clyde is enraged and they fight during which Clyde kisses Edgar and Edgar tells him never to do that again. The incident is portrayed as creating a strong bond between them so that when Clyde has a stroke Edgar shows him affection and similar Clyde is the first to attend to the body after being contacted by the housekeeper who notifies Miss Gandy.

The President’s men sealed Hoover’s office when in fact he had arranged for Gandy to secure the documents elsewhere so that only she and he knew their location and would enable destruction should he become no longer in charge of the bureau. It is against this background that the story of Hoover and the FBI is presented for the two were in reality interlinked and interdependent.

Edgar obtained a law degree from George Washington University in 1916 and Master of Laws in 1917. He was appointed to the Justice Department direct from University and made responsible for the Enemy Aliens Section and at the age of 24 appointed head of a new General Intelligence Division within the Bureau of Investigation, rising to Deputy head in 1924 and then Acting Director because of his dedication to work and high standards.

I am familiar with what happens when one achieves recognition and rapid advancement, there is a continuing expectation as well as resentment by some and an increasing number of those who want to end the reign, tarnish and or just control. There is also fear of the individual because of the knowledge acquired or becomes believed has been acquired.

There is no doubt that Edgar insisted and maintained high standards and possessed a clear vision of what he thought America was and should become, to a great extent influenced by his mother but also by his experience. The film begins with a set of several coordinated bombings which killed politicians and was aimed at other leading figures in Washington including the Justice Department chief organised by a fanatical communist group and that once put in charge of the aliens bureau he pressed for the expulsion of anyone and everyone who appeared to him to be working against the interests of his country, This was the first aspect of his character emphasised. Edgar had his vision which was only in part determined by the constitution of the country and quickly he came to distrust everyone except his mother in being able to maintain the standards he considered necessary.

The film also suggests that he personally decided who would work for him and who was not, suggesting that he rejected one experienced officer because he was wearing facial hair and others because of their clothes or lack of loyalty or showing him respect or because something trivial or perceived by him a slight. It is also fair comment to say that he is turned on those closest to him including Tolson and Gandy although learned to cope cesspit being wounded at times and to hit back or challenge some of his extremely risky ventures. The film is excellent in bringing out the problem that what ever one achieves remains only appreciated by those closest to one unless there has been significant recognition and even then it becomes fixed in a moment of time. The best of example in the UK is that of Winston Churchill a hero because of his leadership during World War 2 but then rejected as Prime Minister in the post war General Election and later even his greatest achievement was critical examined and placed in the perspective of his whole life. Few individuals have learned to accept what has been and is no more and move forward successfully.

There is one aspect which the films fails to communicate and this is the size of the bureau in that when he took over the Investigations it had 650 employees of which 441 were special agents. It now as 35000 and a budget of $8 billion.

Much of the film is a retrospective look back at what the scriptwriter and director have selected as the key events in the creation of the bureau which he recounts to an officer he has brought into his personal office to write a history of the FBI which would place him at the centre. There is an important scene when Tolson recites the instances in the published account where he bent the facts to improve his position.

The main individual case is that of the kidnapping from their home, the son of Charles Lindberg, the aviator and suggested in the film to have been the most well known and loved American of first part of the twentieth century. The film explains that although at the request of the President and other leading Government and national figures Hoover attempted to take charge of the investigation the offer was rejected by the local police and the Lindbergh himself. The FBI had not jurisdiction although after the baby was found dead two months later (the film only shows the skeleton which would not have been the situation after so short a time. A law was passed, allegedly at the insistence of Hoover than the FBI would have authority on the basis of interstate movement, which is also the basis for other situations when the Bureau has authority over State and County authorities which in the USA is often regarded as akin the intrusion into the rights and duties of one country by another.

However the main argument in the film is that the kidnapper was only caught because Hoover insisted that the bureau should apply the latest scientific forensic methods. The ladder used was examined and its manufacture traced although there was no record to whom. When the ransom request was met the notes were marked and their use suggested an area in the same part of the USA as the ladder manufacture and then a petrol station attendant had noted the number of car where the owner had passed one of the bills. Much use was made of the similarity between the hand writing, use of words and spelling of the owner of the vehicle a German background Hauptmann who was convicted and executed despite protesting his innocence. The film alleges that he was only responsible for making the ransom demands, collecting and using some of the money and that other were involved. The film makes the point that the kidnapping did lead to the Bureau establishing forensic science and a national fingerprinting index as well as inter state authority, Hoover’s claim to have been present at the arrest was a false one.

The films makes the point that that a Congressional committee criticised the cult of personality which had built up over the Bureau’s partially successful war on gangster crime which led to the making of G Men with James Cagney as an early version of the Sweeney which brought John Thaw and Dennis Waterman, actors to national acclaim here is the UK. They made the point that Hoover was taking personal credit for a direct involvement when in fact he was never present but overall in charge. Not only did he encourage the cult but profited financially.

Worse still he took action against anyone within the bureau who gained the limelight however justified. Special agent Melvin Purvis for example was responsible for braking up and capturing gangsters but Hoover became so jealous that he drove the man out of the service. It is my understanding that despite his campaign against gangster and violent criminal he appeared to turn a blind eye to the mafia, particularly their involvement in gambling as he himself gamble heavily on the horses placing $100 bets a time

There is no doubt that he was also responsible for the illegal surveillance of senior politicians, their wives and their relationships. The film alleges that he had a secret file on Mrs Roosevelt preventing the President from dismissing him from office and similarly that he used surveillance information on President Kennedy’s affairs to prevent his brother then Attorney General and politically responsible for the Bureau from taking control and that he was listening to a tape of the relationship between the President and Marylyn Monroe when he learned the news of the assassination. There is a comment in the film that when he went to see Nixon he was shocked by Nixon’s demand that he used his surveillance capacity to reinforce Nixon’s political position.

The other area where the evidence is that Hoover went way beyond the law and gave vent to his prejudices spreading misinformation and lies about people was his opposition to radical groups as well as extremists with the most well known case his actions to discredit Martin Luther King and his attempt to get him to refuse the Nobel Peace Prize. There is no doubt he did much of what he did for his country but he also acted for himself and in that that was also a wicked man as well as a patriot. It is accurate that he was able to hold power long after he should have been retired because of the information he possessed or was thought to have. In the UK the similarities with the power of the Murdoch family over Government, the Police and public opinion is obvious. Hoover was a prominent Freemason which I suggest also explains the power and the protection which some have in the UK.

Dr Mark Kermode on Friday argued that the film was limited because of its balance, something for which Clint Eastwood is justifiably famed for, and the performance of Caprio was similarly limited because the use of make up to make him, Tolson and Gandy appear throughout the film as their natural age as well as old. I regard the film as the best film I have seen in theatre this award season year although admittedly I have seen few in theatre. I regard the performance of di Caprio as Oscar winning and certainly do not share Mark’s continued enthusiasms for Tinker Tailor which has been listed for a raft of awards at the Bafta’s. However I did appreciate his views on War Horse which is a film aimed at young people rather than a condemnation for the wholesale industrial scale human slaughter in the first world war.

His rant against the Madonna film, as a film and as an historical travesty was the best ever as many listener also joined into congratulate. The film has been trailed dishonestly as a film about the Duchess and former when in fact half its length is devoted to a contemporary couple used to suggest the problems the couple faced are timeless in terms of being the victims of prejudice and misinformation. There is no doubt that the British Media led by government and national figures did do all they could to destroy the reputation of the Mrs Simpson and that whether she had been a whore and indulged in questionable sexual behaviour is open to question. However she nearly destroyed the British Monarchy at a time when the country needed leadership and unity. However I always thought she played an important role in getting rid of a very dangerous man who was right of centre and thought Hitler was a big cheese. The result was we got a great King and Queen and their daughter. I maybe a republican at heart but that does not prevent recognising quality and ability wherever it exists. Long may she reign for I fear what happens when she does not.

Sunday, 15 January 2012

The Devil's Brigade

It is Sunday January 15th 2012 and I have had a quiet but enjoyable day where I had enjoyed food, watch sport and undertaken some writing. I purchased some mushrooms and tomatoes last evening and used my new microwave dish holder to great effect. For lunch I had defrost a good piece of steak together with some fresh vegetables boiled. I used the microwave and dish holder again for a portion of apple (one) and custard. In the evening I used a giant pizza stone for a modest meat pizza bought yesterday frozen for £1.

Yesterday Sunderland lost by one goal at Chelsea where visiting supporters were required pay £45 or £50 for their seats. A 50000 crowd at St James Park saw the team win 1.0 in a workmanlike performance for the new arrivals from the Championship now struggling and replacing the manager who gained the team promotion, Neil Warnock, with former Manchester United forward, Mark Hughes. Newcastle is facing up to two months without their star forward and midfield players on duty in the African Cup. There was rumour in the week that Any Carroll was to return to Newcastle a year after he was sold to Liverpool for £35 million, a rumour which was denied by both clubs. The team climbed to sixth position with the win, equal point with Arsenal in 5th who then were away to Swansea another of the teams who gained promotion to the Premiership at the end of the last season. Swansea have a good record at home and have gained supporters for attempting to play attractive attacking football. They excited their home supported and neutral viewers by another outstanding performance in which they equalised after Arsenal score within minutes of the game commencing. They went to a 2.1 lead and then has the second half progressed Arsenal brought the score to 2.2 but Swansea made no attempt to settle and within what seemed a matter of seconds they had taken the lead again 3.2, a lead which the held thus creating a situation that only a minus 2 goal difference separate Newcastle from the 5th position. Swansea also consolidated their position away from the relegation contenders.

A brief TV blip interrupted the Antiques Road show which I shall attempt to view the i Player recording when available. I enjoyed Dancing on Ice where Chico the comic singer from a previous X factor amazed the audience and the critics, and most of all himself by his first performance gaining the highest marks of the sixteen performers spread over the two weeks,

Yesterday I watched what I thought was a standard training and war special force film which it is, but was intrigued to discover that the training and subsequent action was close to what happened in reality.

The Devil’s Brigade, The Black Devil’s Brigade or Freddie’s Frieghters are names given to the famous Second World War special forces American Canadian Commando Unit created in 1942 in a mountain area of Montana, originally with the intention of participating in an expedition to Norway. The Unit only functioned for two years seeing service in the Aleutian Islands, Italy and Southern France.

The idea for such a small unit to work behind enemy lines originated in the UK and was approved my Lord Mountbatten, The project was then offered to the USA at the Chequers Conference in March 1942.

The commanding officer responsible for establishing the unit had a raft of objections doubting its effectiveness and predicting high casualties but because it had been agreed with the British High Command the project went ahead. The first officer appointed to lead the unit argued with the Mountbatten and Eisenhower and was removed.

In July 1942 it was decided that given the shortage of Norwegians available half the proposed force of 1800 should be Canadians with some 700 officers and men recruited to form a parachute regiment. Technically the Canadian Unit was unofficial and part of the US Army although they were paid for by the Canadian government. They were well trained professional soldier. The USA involvement was through volunteers such as former lumberjacks, rangers, game wardens, prospectors, hunters and explorers and tended to be individualists who found it difficult to adjust to traditional military discipline.

The first structure comprised three regiments each led by a colonel, thirty two officers and 385 men. Each regiment was divided into two battalions, each with three companies and three platoons and each platoon had two sections.

It is with the bringing together of a ragbag of individualists and commencing their training that the 1968 film The Devil’s Brigade commences. The film plays up the separate Canadian and USA mixture and the rivalry that initially developed and the challenge of integrating professional soldiers with the oddball volunteers.

The film emphasises the hard physical endurance training with a route march of 30 miles with each man carrying a pack filled with fifty pounds of rocks. In fact six days a week they would rise at 4.30 and breakfast at 6.30. The obstacle course would be tackled four days a week at 8.00 am followed by full day’s training. They tackled route marches on a 60 mille 97 K course completed in 20 hours. They were trained in unarmed combat by a specialist who is also part of the film introduced in a dramatic way although in fact the men sustained many injuries some serious because of training with knives and bayonets. They were also taught to ski, not shown in the film and they were allocated several new weapons not generally available and designed for winter alpine conditions. The plan was for the force to become operational after the Christmas holiday at the end of the year.

In the film not only is the mission cancelled when the British are alleged to have decided to go ahead themselves but the unit was to disband. My understanding is that the Norway project did not go ahead. The Commanding Officer goes to Washington on Christmas Eve to plead the cause and is able to persuade that they should be used.

In reality after an aborted action in the sense that the enemy had vacated the Islands to be reclaimed, the force was sent to Italy via Casablanca arriving in Naples in 1943. In the film before the unit is fully deployed they are tested with a project to capture enemy soldiers for intelligence gathering. They capture a fortified town with the minimum of casualties which impresses the doubters about the value of this kind of unit and methods. Where the film and reality merge is in the main action which brought them lasting fame. The allies had been held up on their progress to Rome by the German command of a mountain area which they controlled through artillery emplacements and substantial forces. The allies had attempted to dislodge by frontal assault after shelling. The plan was devised to scale a sheer rock face with some overhangs within a matter of hours from the side and come upon the Germans from above while were preoccupied with the shelling from the allies anticipate more of what had happened previously.

Although the mission was successful the participating regiment suffered substantial casualties with 91 dead plus 9 missing with 313 wounded and over 100 exhausted. The film ends at this morning mentioning that the unit continued with high casualties.

The Brigade was then given an important role at Anzio penetrating behind enemy lines on reconnaissance and disruptions, A German communiqué was subsequently found which described the American Canadian force as treacherous, unmerciful and clever and that the first soldier or group capturing one of these men would be given a ten day holiday. They acquired the title- the Devils Brigade because at night the soldiers blacked their faces with boot polish. Thy carried stickers in German which read The Worst is yet to Come.

They also served in Southern France. The 1800 force were responsible for the death of 12000 German troops and captured at total of 7000 men. The members of the force were then placed in other standard combat units for the remainder of the war. Survivors have continued to meet once a year at their original training base in Montana.

William Holden and Cliff Robertson performed in the 1968 film and there have been a number of documentaries and mini series about the Brigade.

Saturday, 14 January 2012

Resident Evil IV Afterlife

However the film is significantly better than the extraordinary popular Resident Evil: After Life which possibly may frighten thrill some immature minds new to the genre. It is the fourth instalment of a series with another promised for this year The ingredients are a world devastated by a virus gone wrong experiment which turns the human population in zombies who cannot bear anyone to remain normal and in in this instance congregate in their thousands around a building in the USA where a small group of individuals immune to the virus survive.

Before this we learn that the man who created this holocaust survive in an exceptionally well fortified multi level compound which is penetrated by a minor army of clone female acrobatic martial art and multi weapons equipped female warriors. The Man escapes this and every situation sometimes involving a nuclear type explosion or being shot to shredding. The remaining female warrior and heroine of the series (men are on the whole criminal, bad, stupid, treacherous, lecherous etc while women are sensible, courageous, inventive, trustworthy and loyal etc slant) goes off in a light aircraft to Alaska where a group of surviving humans she knew from previous episodes and gone in response to a call from a group/place called arcadia. Here she finds only girl who appears to be a maniac zombie, controlled by a device clinging to her chest reminding of the parasite type entity of several previous series but which in this instances appear to be removed with a little hand pressure without detriment to the victim except for a temporary continuing memory loss.

The girl cannot explain what happened especially what happened to the others and the duo go off in search of other survivors down through Canada and the USA to Los Angeles where she crash lands the plane on top of a former state penitentiary and which later in the film one member of the group manages to take off although we do not fully see the incredulous development. The plane also appears to have an unlimited fuel supply.

The grater part of he film centres on the building and an attempt to break out and reach a large super tanker moored in the harbour called the Arcadia and which appears to have gone along the entire coast of North America trying to contact any non zombies and offering them salvation.

When the majority of the party managed to reach the vessel they find two things. The crew has disappeared and below decks the vessel has been transformed into a super space laboratory in which all those who have been picked have been transformed by the parasites and held in a form of frozen statis tubes in a sub deck but who appear to return to instant normality as soon as they are released from their captivity. Interestingly they all appear to be young and fit although this might suggest that only the young and fit survived something which is not so with the group discovered on the roof of the state prison.

As the heroine progresses horizontally with in the lower decks of the super tanker there is one area containing a fleet of the latest armoured attack helicopters and then an almost empty area with central at a control console the mastermind who escaped the nuclear destruction of his previous control centre. He has been part affected by one of the virus which on what hand has led to his having invincible super powers similarly to our heroine but also those of a special zombie who has a destructive set of embracing sucking killer tentacles coming out of the mouth. He wrestles between these two forces within his body and he assisted by two dogs which split partially open to reveal horrendous devouring razor sharp teeth. After a climax confrontation the man escapes in one of the helicopters which explodes in mid air although he escapes again by parachute.

There is then finale epilogue in which the heroine announces they will continue to original intention of the vessel to rescue other survivors as the they have unlimited food and water not disclosed and water and with the helicopter should be able to travel in land looking for other survivors. However just when they are underway a horde of other helicopters descend on the vessel led by someone from the previous series still control by a parasite on her chest.

The film is reported to have grossed five times the alleged $60 million it cost to make. The film was released and viewed in 3D. This enables the audience to be shot at and splashed with blood and gore and to see any horrors in vivid close up reality. However I found none of the effect convincing or frightening and the while lacked tension and credibility which others have been able to achieve in the past. This appears to be a successful weekend franchise also translated into video games