Film

Gallipoli: Putting 1917 to shame

Having watched the disappointing 1917, I noticed that Gallipoli was free to view on Amazon, so I took a gander.

I'd seen it long ago on video, and one of my hobbies these days is re-watching old war movies in light of my own military service and the changing times.

It's held up rather well, and goes through the traditional storyline of introducing characters before they begin military service and then chronicling the way military life changes them.

This is an early Mel Gibson movie, when he was still playing Australians (so much so that I thought he was one for many years). 

While the plot meanders, that works because the narrative is based on capturing the feel of adventure the ANZACs experienced when they went off to war for the Mother Country.  They were literally going to the other side of the world.

I cannot overlook that the movie shows its typical anti-British bias, something that would later become a Gibson trope.  No matter how or why, he has to slur the English in the most crude ways possible.  I wasn't at all surprised that man who can nurse such an irrational, all-consuming hate for one ethnic group, would also have it in for the Jews. 

The core tension of the film is ironically the same as that in 1917: a doomed attack is about to start and only a timely message passed by runner can stop it.  Unlike in 1917, the setup is at least plausible: the setting is the beach head at Gallipoli, where Allies forces clung tenaciously to exposed positions.

Trench warfare was new, the soil was rocky, the Turks held the high ground and tangled communications are therefore a lot more likely here than in the well-dug, well-maintained trenches shown in 1917, which positively bristle with telephone lines.

The weakest point is that Gallipoli embraces the standard trope that World War I troops mindlessly stood up and got shot again and again, even though they knew it was certain death.

In fact, people back then weren't any more stupid or suicidal than they are today.  Faced with crippling fire, they'd simply refuse to move.  This might cause a "flap" but so be it.

The reason why battles like the Somme had such horrific losses was that troops were caught out in the open with nowhere to go.  Both sides figured out that trick early on - you let the enemy advance almost to the wire and then pin them in a lethal crossfire.  If your trench is being covered by fire, you try to suppress it with fire of your own from elsewhere.

To put it another way: officers cared about their troops.  The generals pushed forward attacks based on faulty information, and in every case believed that while they were being bled white, the enemy was getting it far worse.

In any event, Gallipoli works as a war movie and while it has some tropes, it's much better than 1917,


1917: An evocative, attractive failure of a movie

When 1917 came out, I figured that I would hate it because it would be chock full of historical inaccuracies.  This is a particular bugbear of mine, and my family knows full well that asking me to watch a "war movie" is asking for trouble.

I typically pick nits as if they were precious pearls, relishing each one as I find it.

In the case of 1917, the look and feel of the film is spot-on.  Sam Mendes (or his consultants) did a great job, but in fact it's assumed that British filmmakers can knock it out of the park regarding the Great War.

The problem with the film is that its premise is stupid and its execution deeply flawed.

But other than that it's pretty to look at and has some nice scenes with cool music.

Okay, let's look at the premise.  The film centers around the need for a pair of British troops to convey urgent orders from headquarters to stop a doomed attack.  Fair enough.  A similar plot device was used in the much, much better Gallipoli nigh on 30 years ago.

The difference is that for some inexplicable reason, the messengers must cross enemy territory to convey this message to friendly troops on the other side of a salient.

To anyone who knows anything about World War I, normal command arrangements or basic logic, this is nonsense on stilts.  The "Second Devons" who need the message are not cut off or surrounded, they're simply on the other side of a wide patch of (formerly) German controlled territory. 

The problem can literally be solved with a phone call.

What's that?  The phone lines have been cut?  Well gosh, then have a messenger run down a friendly trench from the higher HQ telling them not to attack.

You see, contra the myth that the trenches were permanent, long-term dwellings of troops ala the 4077th in M*A*S*H (I mean the TV show, not the movie), in fact there was constant movement within the lines.  A battalion would rotate in, spend a couple of weeks on patrol, covering the front, and leave when new troops arrived.

Whole divisions rotated back and forth, up and down the front in this manner, and all the while the troops needed food, ammunition, water, blankets, etc.  To be sure, a heavy bombardment might wreck the connecting trenches and leave the front line troops temporarily cut off, but both sides would immediately strive to restore their lines of communication (which is why these trenches were called "communications trenches").

Thus Colin Firth didn't need to send two messengers across enemy territory to stop a useless attack, he simply could have his staff pick up the Fuller Phone and tell Benedict Cumberbatch not to attack.  If he was being a jerk, he'd order him back to the rear.

If the phone line was cut, it would be quickly repaired (this being a high priority thing) and in the meantime, messengers would stream forward with the latest crates of food, ammunition and water.

I hate to belabor the point here, but it is a seriously stupid premise, like one of those horror movies where the entire film would end if any of the characters had a room temperature IQ.

Okay, the premise is dumb, but what of the execution?

Mendes made a big deal of making the film look like it was one continuous take.  For some things, I think that could work, but it fails utterly here.  Perhaps it's because its a trench system, but it feels a lot like watching someone play Call of Duty: The Somme or something.  The effort to keep the action going, makes it feel contrived and labored, and even with the wildly improbable events, Mendes still had to do a fade to black and skip ahead.

I'm going to avoid the temptation to give specific spoilers, but will simply note that Flanders - where the film takes place - is not noted for the quality of its white-water rafting.

In fact, Belgium - being a flat, swampy country - has crap for waterfalls.  I actually looked it up.

This is like having a character scramble to the top of the 10,000-foot mountains of central Ohio.

Anyway, if you don't know anything about World War I, Belgian geography, or how the military actually works, you might enjoy the movie.  I didn't find it painfully stupid, but I'm not in a hurry to ever watch it again - unless I'm drunk and making fun of it.

 


Behind the curve on Bleeding Fool

The publication of Long Live Death left me a bit distracted, so I forgot to link to my two latest posts over at Bleeding Fool.

Those who remember my fondness for North and South will be amused to see that I've broached the topic over there - albeit in a shorter, funnier format.

Going back almost a month ago, I did a fun nostalgic romp on Zardoz.  Embrace the strangeness while you still can!

Apologies to anyone who missed out, now you can catch up!


Another harsh take on Star Wars

I've already written my latest Star Wars anti-review, but over at bleedingfool.com, I go a bit farther and ask the question that leaves me increasingly frustrated:  When will people stop making excuses for these terrible Star Wars movies?

There's a bonus reference to Rise of the Alliance, since the movie's title is so similar. 

Check it out!


Movie Anti-Review: The Rise of Skywalker

This is my second anti-review, which I define as an explanation of why I'm not going to see a particular movie.

The first anti-review was The Last Jedi, so I'm sure this isn't a huge surprise to my readers.

Indeed, I'm even less interesting in this film than the one before it.  It's clear to me that Disney has used Star Wars as a strip mine, extracting every bit of cash out of it and leaving nothing but desolation.

I've seen some of the reviews and once again, I'm troubled by how they keep referring to it as a "Star Wars movie."  Once, Star Wars stood in a class by itself as the ne plus ultra of popular entertainment.  Now it's been demoted to a sub-genre of space fantasy.  It's primary features are thin plots, flat characters, familiar music and lavish special effects designed to induce nostalgia for older, better movies.

One of the thing that galls me is the fact that by all accounts, Disney brought back old actors and characters and essentially did nothing with them.  Well, other than kill them.  Or bring them back from the dead.

Basically, it's a mess. 

I will go out on a limb and predict that the lukewarm reviews this month will morph into full-on hatred a few months from now as the hype and nostalgia die down and people realize just how terrible this "exciting conclusion to the Star Wars saga" really is.

 


Which version of Blade Runner is the best?

I know, it's kind of an esoteric question, but it can lead to a heated debate for fans of the 1982 classic.

I think that the original cut is clearly the best, and my latest column at bleedingfool.com explains why.

One element that I brought up in the article are the conventions of film noir, which Blade Runner clearly is.   I'm a huge fan of the genre, and after binge-watching a bunch of it, it's clear to me that Blade Runner is actually a better fit in film noir than sci-fi.


Mark Hamill and the death of fandom

My latest column is up over at Bleeding Fool.  The response has been sharply divided, which is not unexpected, but discouraging.

It seems everything in political now.  I try to keep this blog away from such things, but unless people are willing to stand up on principle - even for people they might disagree with politically - things are only going to get worse.