The Aftermath

Posted on March 21, 2019 at 5:29 pm

B-
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating: Rated R for sexual content/nudity, and violence including some disturbing images
Profanity: Some strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking and drunkenness
Violence/ Scariness: Military violence with some disturbing images, brief Holocaust images, characters injured and killed, sad deaths
Diversity Issues: Post-war ethnic hostilities, Holocaust references
Date Released to Theaters: March 22, 2019

Copyright Fox Searchlight 2019
“The Aftermath” is the sort of soapy wartime melodrama people often think of when they complain that they don’t make movies like they did in the old days, except that it has more sex and, if you look past the steamy romance, a disturbing whiff of both sides-ism. The focus of the film is grief and the honorable work of rebuilding — literally, politically, diplomatically, personally after the tragic necessities of war, including demonization of the other side and the inevitable atrocities of country leaders sending young people to kill each other.

It takes place in Hamburg, Germany, five months after the end of World War II. The British are occupying the all-but-destroyed city. As residents comb through the rubble, still seeking thousands of missing people, and we are reminded that the Allies dropped more bombs in a week on the city than Germany dropped on the UK for the entire war, creating an uncomfortable parity. An elegant mansion is requisitioned by the occupying forces for its military leader, Lewis Morgan (Jason Clarke) and his wife, Rachel (Keira Knightley).

They allow the former owner of the home, architect Stefan Lubert (Alexander Skarsgård) to live in the attic with his teenage daughter, Freda. Lewis is gone most of the time, trying to maintain order while many Germans are still loyal to Hitler and furious with the Allies and the occupation. Some have burned 88 on their arms (for Heil Hitler, because H is the 8th letter of the alphabet). Rachael spends some time with other Brits stationed there, but she is lonely and still grief-stricken over the death of her young son in a German bombing attack on England.

And then, she begins to see Stefan not as an enemy but as a human, a father, a man of culture, a man mourning his own losses, and also a man who looks very appealing as he chops wood wearing a blue sweater. They are drawn to each other because they are lonely and because each represents for the other a complete break with the past, almost a way to obliterate it.

Author Rhidian Brook based the story on the experiences of his grandfather, which he first sold as a screenplay idea, and then made into a novel while he worked on the script. The issues of transitioning from war to peace, with awkward, useless official inquiries to try to make impossible assignments of guilt, basically asking, “Just how much of a Nazi were you?” are intriguingly raised but not very thoughtfully explored. Lewis is an exemplar of decency and yet cannot comfort his wife. He admits that he has seen and done unspeakable things but cannot talk to his wife about that, either.

There is so much potential here for tying together the issues of the broken city and the broken world and the broken marriage, but instead the focus is on the forbidden romance. As enticing as the steamy love story may be (did I mention the log-chopping scene?), its failure to recognize and address the issues it passes through leave the film, like the home at the center of the story, pretty but empty.

Parents should know that this film includes military and rioter/protest peril and violence with characters injured and killed, some grisly and disturbing images, brief Holocaust photos, some strong language, explicit sexual situations, nudity, non-explicit teen sex, and drinking and drunkenness.

Family discussion: What is the right way to treat citizens of a conquered country? How did Stefan, Lewis, Freda, and Rachael handle grief differently?

If you like this, try: “The Exception” and “Operation Finale”

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A Private War

Posted on February 3, 2019 at 4:33 pm

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating: Rated R for disturbing violent images, language throughout, and brief sexuality/nudity
Profanity: Very strong and crude language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking and smoking, drugs
Violence/ Scariness: Brutal wartime violence, characters injured and killed
Diversity Issues: A theme of the movie
Date Released to Theaters: November 16, 2018
Date Released to DVD: February 4, 2019

Copyright 2018 Aviron Pictures
I reviewed A Private War for rogerebert.com. An excerpt:

The dramatic, personal story of Colvin herself is absorbingly told here, largely because of Pike’s dynamic performance, showing us a woman who was courageous enough to risk her life for a story on a daily basis but remained vulnerable enough to make the stories viscerally compelling. That combination took a terrible toll. She used sex and booze to numb her feelings but they could not stop the nightmares. “You’re not going to get anywhere if you acknowledge fear,” she says, but she admits that after the danger is over, she feels it. It is surreal to see her back in London at an elegant gala event, picking up another journalism award in between trips to war zones where she has to maintain enough distance from the carnage all around her to write about it – and keep from becoming part of it. The contrast in perspective and priorities between Colvin and her editor (an excellent Tom Hollander) makes a deeper point about the uneasy and sometimes conflicted relationship between editors trying to sell papers and reporters trying to get the story read.

To the extent we need to know why she had this compulsion and whether she missed having a home and family, those elements are present without being reductive or simplistic.

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11/11/1918-11/11/2018 — Movies about WWI for Veterans Day

Posted on November 11, 2018 at 12:03 am

As we commemorate the 100th anniversary of the end of The Great War, later dubbed World War I, it is time to remember the heroes, the sacrifices, the world-changing geopolitics that resulted.

Some of the best movies about or set in WWI.

Copyright Warner Brothers 1941

Sergeant York Gary Cooper won an Oscar for his portrayal of WWI hero Alvin York, the pacifist from the hills of Tennessee who carried out one of the most extraordinary missions in military history using lessons from his life on a farm. He captured 132 men by himself, still a record for a single soldier. In addition to the exciting story of his heroism in war, this is also the thoughtful story of his spiritual journey. He is a pacifist, opposed to fighting of any kind. By thinking of what he is doing as saving lives, he is able to find the inspiration and resolve for this historic achievement.

Wonder Woman Gal Gadot and Chris Pine star in this DC superhero origin story set during WWI. Yes, it is fiction and fantasy, but the plot line about poison gas is based in reality.

War Horse A horse named Joey goes him back and forth between the British and the German forces and, for a short idyllic time, a respite with a frail but brave little French girl and her affectionate Grandfather. The horse can switch sides in a way that a human cannot, and the movie makes clear the difference between the soldiers who are taken prisoner and shot and the animals who are inherently neutral and thus commoditized. The brutality of war affects the human characters differently as we see in their responses to the animal.

Copyright 1951 United Artists

Paths of Glory Stanley Kubrick’s anti-war film is the story of a French general who orders his troops on a suicide mission. General Mireau (George MacReady) is willing to sacrifice his men to enhance his own reputation. Against his better judgment, Colonel Dax (Kirk Douglas) leads the charge. After the defeat, Mireau blames the men and demands that three soldiers be randomly selected to be executed as an example to rest of the troops. This powerful, fact-based absurdity-of-war film was banned outright in France for several years.

Oh What a Lovely War John Lennon stars in this WWI-set musical satire that was a commentary on all wars, especially the Vietnam conflict.

Flyboys Airplanes and movies were brand new technology and there have been more WWI air battles on film than there were in real life. This is the story of Americans who became the first American fighter pilots, volunteering in France before the US entered the war.

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For Your Netflix Queue Holidays War

Memorial Day 2018: Movies About Military Sacrifice and Valor

Posted on May 24, 2018 at 1:52 pm

For Memorial Day, take a look at these documentaries about our military:

War of 1812

The History Channel Presents The War of 1812 The young country proved its commitment to independence with this war against Britain that gave us a President (Andrew Jackson), and our national anthem.

Civil War

The Civil War Ken Burns’ series for PBS is meticulously researched and compellingly presented.

WWI

The Last Voices of WWI – A Generation Lost The veterans of “the war to end all wars” tell their stories.

WWII

The World at War This classic is considered the definitive history and a landmark of television reporting.  It was created long enough after the war ended to have perspective but close enough in time to have access to the participants, with eyewitness accounts by civilians, enlisted men, officers, and politicians as well as historians.  The 30th anniversary DVD set issued in 2004 has three hours of new material and additional documentaries.

GI Jews  Fifty thousand Jewish American fought in WWII, often struggling with anti-Semitism in the military.  They look back on their experiences and how it affected their lives.

In Their Own Words: The Tuskegee Airmen The first African-American pilots of the US military faced bigotry at home and in the military, but fought with extraordinary skill and dedication.

Korean War

Korea, The Forgotten War It was the Cold War era, but a real war was being fought in Korea that embodied the geopolitical conflicts.  This documentary covers that story, from Inchon to Pork Chop Hill.

Vietnam War

Vietnam War: America’s Conflict Many documentaries cover the politics and the protests, and that is covered here, too, but this series focuses on the stories of the battles and the men who fought them.

Desert Storm

Hidden Wars of Desert Storm Interviews with General Norman Schwarzkopf, former US Attorney General Ramsey Clark, former UN Iraq Program Director Denis Halliday, former UNSCOM team-leader Scott Ritter and many others help tell the story of the American response to the invasion of Kuwait.

Afganistan/Iraq

Restrepo This is the award-winning story of one of the most dangerous postings in the U.S. military, covering the deployment of a platoon of U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan’s Korengal Valley. The remote 15-man outpost was named after a platoon medic who was killed in action.

The War Tapes Three National Guardsmen (“citizen soldiers”) document their time in Iraq.

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12 Strong

Posted on January 18, 2018 at 11:22 pm

B
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating: Rated R for war violence and language throughout
Profanity: Very strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Portrayal of misogynistic regime
Violence/ Scariness: Extended wartime violence, characters injured and killed, some disturbing images
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: January 19, 2018
Date Released to DVD: April 30, 2018

Copyright 2017 Warner Brothers
If it was fiction, you’d dismiss 12 Strong as too far-fetched. But this recently declassified military mission following 9/11, with a tiny Special Forces group, just twelve men, led by an officer who had never been in combat, were sent to Afghanistan to take out a Taliban outpost. They were vastly overmatched in terms of men and weapons. And, most improbable of all, they had to travel by horseback. Men trained to use the very latest of technology were riding the mode transportation used by knights and cowboys. These guys are the best of the best, nothing but courage, patriotism, skill, and determination all the way through. Think of them as The Clean or rather Sandy Dozen.

This film begins with a brief reminder of the terrorist attacks leading up to the airplanes that flew into the World Trade Center and Pentagon on September 11, 2001. And then, as in all films of men about to go into danger, we see happy families, just enough to make sure we care about these loving husbands and fathers. We know that Captain Nelson (Chris Hemsworth, back to being mortal after “Thor: Ragnarok” but no less heroic) is not going to be able to keep his promise to pick that adorable ladybug-drawing daughter after school, and pretty soon he knows it, too.

There are wives who bravely say that this is what they signed up for. One says, “Some wives cry; I clean,” as she scrubs her oven. Another looks at her husband grimly, insisting he give their son the bad news himself. Nelson has to undo his plans for a desk job to go back to his team. He also has to prove himself to his commanding officer, who selects him over five other teams because he seems to have the best understanding of the challenges, especially the weather that will make their mission impossible if they don’t complete it before winter makes the route impassable.

And then the twelve are on their way with just the briefest and sketchiest debrief from a CIA officer. There are three warlords in the area who all oppose the Taliban but otherwise are in mortal combat with each other. One of the challenges for the American team will be to keep that fragile alliance in place as they need the support of all of them to reach the outpost, liberating several locations along the way.

It is hard to follow at times. There are so many “the whole world depends on this next impossible thing” moments, so much bro talk, so much tech talk, so many reminders of how many days “in country,” so many similar-looking explosions and shoot-outs. But Hemsworth, Shannon, and Pena create real, relatable and yet heroic characters, and seeing them ride into battle on horseback against daunting odds is genuinely moving and inspiring. The most intriguing part is the developing relationship between Nelson and his local counterpart, General Dostum (Navid Negahban). The outcome revealed before the credits is appropriately both reassuring and disturbing.

Parents should know that this film includes extensive wartime peril and violence including guns and explosions with many characters injured and killed, some grisly and disturbing images, references to child abuse, strong language, and some sexual references.

Family discussion: What is the difference between a soldier, a warrior, and a warlord? How did Nelson and Dostum learn to trust one another? What can we tell about the man by the way they said goodbye to their families?

If you like this, try: the book by Doug Stanton and the movies “Act of Valor,” “Lone Survivor” and “Charlie Wilson’s War”

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