Band of Brothers – A Mini-Series Review

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Aug 162009
 

bandofbrothersThis is the story of “E” Easy Company, 506th Regiment of the 101st Airborne Division from their initial training starting in 1942 to the end of World War II. They parachuted behind enemy lines in the early hours of D-Day in support of the landings at Utah beach, participated in the liberation of Carentan and again parachuted into action during Operation Market Garden. They also liberated a concentration camp and were the first to enter Hitler’s mountain retreat in Berchtesgarten. A fascinating tale of comradeship that is, in the end, a tale of ordinary men who did extraordinary things.

Genres: Adventure, Drama, History, War; Running Time: 10 one hour episodes with an additional special features disc – 705 minutes; Release Date: September 9, 2001; MPAA Rating: As a TV series, there was no rating, however there is strong language and graphic scenes.

Starring: Damian Lewis, Donnie Wahlberg, Ron Livingston, Scott Grimes, Shane Taylor, Peter Youngblood Hills, Rick Gomez, Michael Cudlitz, Robin Laing, Nicholas Aaron, Philip Barantini, James Madio, Dexter Fletcher, Ross McCall, George Calil, Nolan Hemmings, Neal McDonough, Rick Warden, Frank John Hughes, Dale Dye, Doug Allen, Michael Fassbender, Matthew Leitch, Tim Matthews, Rene L. Moreno,     Douglas Spain, Richard Speight Jr., Kirk Acevedo, Craig Heaney, Eion Bailey, Peter McCabe, Matthew Settle, Ben Caplan, Mark Huberman, Phil McKee…

I had watched a couple of installments of this mini-series over the past couple of years when they were on regular TV. I thought each of the single installments was excellent, but I’d never watched the complete series. Lay and I watched the entire series on a Thursday, Friday and Saturday night a couple of weeks ago.

“Band Of Brothers” tells the true and incredible odyssey of Easy Company of the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 101st “Screaming Eagles” Airborne Division, U.S. Army – from their formation in Georgia (1942), to Berlin and the end of the war in Europe (1945). The demand for, and on, elite paratroopers was unending and they were deployed as “the tip of the spear” of every major allied offensive (and many minor ones too) on the Western Front. Jumping behind enemy lines, often without critical equipment and supplies or lacking enough rest and under terrible conditions, they saw more than their share of hard combat and E Company itself took nearly 150% casualties. (Statistically at least, that’s 100% of the company – 140 men and 7 officers – and half again of their replacements, lost).

The entire production represents quality writ large: Beautifully filmed on various European locations (including the UK and Austria), the movie is noble without being the least bit pompous or austere, and it manages to humanize a large cast of essential characters with small touches of humanity and humor, all of which serves to heighten the sense of terror as they descend into the maelstrom of conflict. The first – and longest – episode is deceptively staid, featuring David Schwimmer (a long way from TV’s “Friends”) as a cowardly, bullying commanding officer whose tyrannical methods nevertheless shaped Easy Company into a fighting force which eventually cut a swathe through the heart of occupied Europe. Brit actor Damian Lewis takes the spotlight thereafter as Easy Company’s most respected platoon leader, with Ron Livingston as his right hand man. Other standout performances in a flawless cast include Matthew Settle as battle-hardened platoon leader Ronald Speirs whose wartime career was distinguished by numerous acts of bravery (fuelled by a unique – if morbid – personal philosophy), Shane Taylor as company medic Eugene Roe, Neal McDonough as 2nd lieutenant ‘Buck’ Compton (laid low by his horrific combat experiences), and Donnie Wahlberg as 1st sergeant C. Carwood Lipton, who maintained the morale of his fellow soldiers, even when the odds seemed stacked against them. Every episode has its merits, but stand-outs include David Leland’s ‘Bastogne’ (ep. 6), which recounts the horrendous circumstances surrounding Easy Company’s involvement in the Battle of the Bulge, and David Frankel’s ‘Why We Fight’ (ep. 9), in which the full horror of the Nazi regime is uncovered in a German forest. Additionally, the closing moments of chapter 10 (‘Points’, directed by Mikael Salomon) are truly heartbreaking.

It’s doubtful that a more fitting tribute to the men of Easy Company could have been devised than BAND OF BROTHERS, a truly remarkable film in every conceivable way. By turns engrossing, provocative and deeply moving, it stands as a testament to those who fought and died for our freedoms, almost a lifetime ago.

I’d have to say it’s worth every one of those 705 minutes to watch.

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Boy In The Striped Pajamas, The – A Movie Review

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Nov 232008
 

The Boy In The Striped Pajamas Movie PosterEight year-old Bruno is the sheltered son of a Nazi officer whose promotion takes the family from their comfortable home in Berlin to a desolate area where the lonely boy finds nothing to do and no-one to play with. Crushed by boredom and compelled by curiosity, Bruno ignores his mother’s repeated instructions not to explore the back garden and heads for the “farm” he has seen in the near distance. There he meets Shmuel, a boy his own age who lives a parallel, alien existence on the other side of a barbed wire fence. Bruno’s encounter with the boy in the striped pajamas leads him from innocence to a dawning awareness of the adult world around them as his meetings with Shmuel develop into a friendship with devastating consequences.

Genres: Drama, Adaptation and War; Running Time: 1 hr. 33 min.; Release Date: November 7th, 2008 (limited); MPAA Rating: PG-13 for some mature thematic material involving the Holocaust.

Starring: Vera Farmiga, David Thewlis, Rupert Friend, Cara Horgan, David Hayman, Asa Butterfield, Jack Scanlon

Directed by: Mark Herman

I was moved beyond words by this movie. It was maybe one of the saddest and most moving stories I’ve seen. All the actors were great, but especially Asa Butterfield as Bruno, the Nazi Commandants son, and Jack Scanlon as the Jewish child Schmuel were just remarkable. The music was beautiful in its simplicity, and by the end came to sound like a hymn.

This story has so many messages that it’s hard to know where to begin. First there is the story of the innocence of childhood. It is amazing to be able to see the world through children’s eyes, and realize how really simple the world can be. We just have to find those things we have in common with one another, and friendship is easy. There is the moral story of karma. Those who foment hate and evil may have it come around to bite them in the ass.

This movie was a stunning morality play, and I hope it will be seen by millions. This movie, like Schindler’s List, is an important story with an important message applicable to how we treat one another today, and a reminder of the importance of never ever standing by for this type of evil. At the end of the movie everyone in the theater sat quietly rather than making the usual dash to the exits. I don’t know about anyone else, but I was stunned into a soul searching reflection. Even as we began to leave, with the beautiful piano solo playing the movie theme that had become more like a hymn, people could only whisper in respect for the experience.

It was also amazing to hear the language used to teach hate for other’s, and see how it can br effective for those looking to blame their problems on someone else. It was remarkably similar to the words and tactics used by those today to dehumanize gay people.

Know that the film’s resolution, though admirably restrained and unsentimental, is devastatingly sad. Parents should take this into account. This beautifully rendered film is told in a classic and old-fashioned style, in the best sense, providing poignant and powerful teachable moments.

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