THE WARSAW GHETTO aka THE COURAGEOUS HEART OF IRENA SENDLER. (2009) REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

sendler 1-fullTHE COURAGEOUS HEART OF IRENA SENDLER aka THE WARSAW GHETTO. (2009) DIRECTED BY JOHN KENT HARRISON. BASED ON THE BOOK ‘THE MOTHER OF THE HOLOCAUST CHILDREN’ BY ANNA MIESZKOWSKA.

STARRING ANNA PAQUIN, MARCIA GAY HARDEN, GORAN VISNJIC AND STEVE SPEIRS. REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

This is a surprisingly good made-for-television movie about one of the darkest periods in human history, the Holocaust, and one of the landscapes where the Holocaust took place, the Warsaw Ghetto. Hundreds of thousands of Jews were hounded and hunted into an area of German-occupied Poland, ie, this ghetto, that was too small for their huge numbers and where disease and starvation flourished.

It was from this infamous space that thousands of Jews were shoved onto cattle trucks and trains and sent off for so-called ‘re-settlement in the East,’ which we of course know now meant death by gassing in Treblinka or the other death camps.

This film has been likened to Steven Spielberg’s SCHINDLER’S LIST but in reality, it doesn’t come close to capturing the life of chaos, terror, deprivation and random executions that the Jews lived in this hell-hole. It does try hard, however, and I found it both entertaining and enjoyable, if one could ever be said to ‘enjoy’ a film about such a grim subject.

Anna Paquin seems to have recovered by now from the trauma of starring in a film which saw a naked Harvey Keitel being the direct cause of Paquin’s screen mother Holly Hunter having one of her fingers chopped off by an enraged and hearetbroken Sam Neill.

That’s Jane Campion’s exquisite film THE PIANO I’m referring to here, of course. Anna Paquin is now known for getting her own kit off as well in the hugely successful- and sexy!- HBO vampire drama TRUE BLOOD.

 THE COURAGEOUS HEART OF IRENA SENDLER, based on a true story, sees Anna Paquin playing a real-life Polish social worker who safely smuggled 2, 500 children out of the accursed Warsaw Ghetto during World War Two.

Her invalid mother is played in a nice understated way by Marcia Gay Harden, who once portrayed a religious nut trapped in a supermarket in the excellent film adaptation of Stephen King’s novella, THE MIST.

Anyway, Irena is appalled at the sheer scale of the suffering in the Ghetto. With several families crammed into the one room, with limited food and sanitation facilities, many Jews began to take on a gaunt and bedraggled-looking physical appearance.

This suited the Germans down to the ground, of course, as it only helped to perpetuate the myth that the Jews were dirty, lice-ridden creatures ripe with disease who should be exterminated like vermin.

In fact, typhus was one of the perils Irena had to face as she went into the Ghetto time and time again and came out with small children whom she placed with Polish families for ‘safe-keeping,’ as it were. The distress of the mothers who are having to part with their precious children in order to better ensure a future for them is shown very realistically here.

Stefan, Irena’s handsome dark-haired Jewish boyfriend and partner-in-crime, as it were, looks like Phil Dunphy from TV sitcom MODERN FAMILY. I’m just saying, haha. I loved Piotr, her big burly helper who shared the risks and the burden equally with Irena. I sure could use someone like him to muck in around the house.

I wonder if he survived the war, and how many of the children did as well? Have there ever been any reunions of the children saved by Irena Sendler, like we know there have been of the people now known as ‘Schindler’s Jews?’ It’d certainly be interesting to find out.

The bit where Irena is taken by the Gestapo and tortured is flippin’ terrifying, the tensest and scariest part of the whole film. The film is billed as a 12s, but I wouldn’t show those scenes to a twelve-year-old, especially if they’re in any way sensitive in nature.

This film, light on Nazis and concentrating mainly on Irena’s mission and the kiddies she saved, is an excellent tribute to the woman who smuggled so many children to safety right under the very noses of the leather-coated and jackbooted Gestapo.

The real-life Irena, who was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize in 2007 when she was actually still alive, appears in person for a moment at the end of the film talking about those long-ago but still relevant days, which is a lovely touch.

It might be a movie spoiler to say that our heroine went on to live a long and hopefully happy life after that terrible period in history was over, but if anyone ever deserved to, it was surely Irena Sendler. The film adds another layer, as it were, to our knowledge of what went on in German-occupied countries during the war and, for that alone if for nothing else, it’s worth watching.

AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY OF SANDRA HARRIS.
Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, film blogger and movie reviewer. She has studied Creative Writing and Film-Making. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, womens’ fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra’s books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:

http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B015GDE5RO

You can contact Sandra at:

https://www.facebook.com/SandraHarrisPureFilthPoetry

https://sandrafirstruleoffilmclubharris.wordpress.com

http://sexysandieblog.wordpress.com

http://serenaharker.wordpress.com

sandrasandraharris@gmail.com

https://twitter.com/SandraAuthor

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THE BRIDGE ON THE RIVER KWAI and ZULU: A DUO OF SUPERB WAR FILMS REVIEWED BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

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THE BRIDGE ON THE RIVER KWAI and ZULU: A DUO OF SUPERB EPIC WAR FILMS REVIEWED BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

THE BRIDGE ON THE RIVER KWAI. (1957) BASED ON THE 1952 BOOK BY PIERRE BOULLE. DIRECTED BY DAVID LEAN. STARRING ALEC GUINNESS, JACK HAWKINS, WILLIAM HOLDEN, JAMES DONALD, GEOFFREY HORNE AND SESSUE HAYAKAWA.

ZULU. (1964) DIRECTED, CO-PRODUCED AND CO-WRITTEN BY CY ENDFIELD. STARRING STANLEY BAKER, MICHAEL CAINE, JACK HAWKINS, ULLA JACOBSSON, NIGEL GREEN, PATRICK MAGEE, JAMES BOOTH AND CHIEF BUTHELEZI. NARRATION BY RICHARD BURTON.

These are undoubtedly two of the best war films that have ever been made. I’ve loved ’em both since I first clapped eyes on them and I’m thrilled to be reviewing them together like this.

Starring some of the finest actors in cinema history, they’ve won a ton of awards between them and are always featuring on lists detailing the best films of all time. There are quite a few similarities between them as well, as it happens. Let’s take a closer look at both movies, shall we, and see what we make of ’em…

THE BRIDGE ON THE RIVER KWAI tells the story (fictional, but based on some fact) of a large group of British soldiers who are taken prisoner by the Japanese during WW2. They are sent to a prisoner-of-war camp in Burma and forced to build the titular bridge which will connect Bangkok and Rangoon when it is completed.

ZULU is a dramatisation of an actual battle, the Battle of Rorke’s Drift, that took place between British soldiers and the massive Zulu army in early 1879 in Natal. It was during the Anglo-Zulu War that it happened. In the film, the same Zulus have just massacred large numbers of the British force at the Battle of Isandlwana.

Now they’re coming for the one-hundred-and-fifty of Her Majesty’s soldiers, many of them injured and in the sick bay, who currently occupy the little missionary station at Rorke’s Drift. The odds against the British soldiers are impossible. They’re dead men walking now, surely…?

Both films portray the British soldiers as courageous hard workers who keep a stiff upper lip at all times and never abandon their principles. They’re true Englishmen, after all, from a civilised country where people drink a nice cup of tea and read the morning paper unhurriedly regardless of the situation. It’s a good way to be, eh what, chaps?

Alec Guinness’s stiff upper lip as Lieutenant Colonel Nicholson in THE BRIDGE ON THE RIVER KWAI nearly gets him killed. He clashes with Colonel Saito, the man in charge of the Japanese prison camp, over a rather piddling matter of principle for which he’s (Nicholson) clearly prepared to die.

It’s almost a huge relief when eventually the equally stubborn pair put aside their differences and decide, for their mutual benefit, to build the best damn bridge they’re capable of creating between them.

Michael Caine is superb in ZULU as the posh privileged army officer with the fancy toff’s name of Lieutenant Gonville Bromhead. He comes from a family of army royalty and initially looks down on Stanley Baker’s Lieutenant Chard.

Chard is an engineer who, incidentally, is busily- and sweatily!- engaged in building a bridge when Bromhead swans up on his horse, as cool as the proverbial cucumber. What is it with army men and their little bridges…? The two men quickly learn to work together, however, when those pesky Zulus start swarming over the horizon…

Although my favourite characters from THE BRIDGE ON THE RIVER KWAI are those of Nicholson and Colonel Saito, William Holden is top-notch too as the American prisoner-of-war, Commander Shears. He daringly escapes from the impossible-to-escape-from prison camp and then is horrified when he’s asked to go back there by Jack Hawkins as the English Major Warden, who has orders to blow up the bridge that his fellow Englishman Nicholson has so lovingly created. Blow up the bridge? Jolly good show, chaps. Jolly good show…!

Actor Jack Hawkins is another feature that both films have in common. He also stars in ZULU as the rather naïve Swedish missionary Otto Witt, father to the beautiful Ulla Jacobsson’s Margareta and a man who’s partial to a bit of a tipple.

I love when that fine South African-born British character actor Nigel Green (COUNTESS DRACULA with Ingrid Pitt) as the exceptionally stiff-upper-lipped Colour Sergeant Bourne tells the drunken Otto Witt to ‘quiet down now sir, there’s a good gentleman, you’re scaring the lads…!’

Nigel Green gets another great line when a green and terrified young soldier says to him as they quietly wait to be overrun by Zulus: ‘Why us, Sarge?’ Not turning a hair, the splendidly-moustached Colour Sergeant Bourne replies: ‘Because we’re here, lad. Because we’re here…’

In a nice touch of authenticity, the real-life Chief Buthelezi plays his own great-grandfather, the Zulu King Cetshwayo, in the film. Also, a lot of singing talent is on show here as the Zulus take on the Welsh soldiers in the regiment in a sort of THE VOICE OF WALES X FACTOR MEETS ZULU’S GOT TALENT type of thing so be sure and buy the soundtrack…!

There are lots of terrific actors in minor roles in both films too, such as James Donald as the infinitely civilised and reasonable but also pragmatic Major Clipton in THE BRIDGE ON THE RIVER KWAI and another James, this time James Booth, from ZULU. He plays the malingerer Private Henry Hook, the guy with the bad attitude who rather surprisingly ends up winning an award for bravery along with no small number of his colleagues.

These are two cracking war films that’ll make great viewing if you were to watch ’em back-to-back some lazy Saturday afternoon, like I’ve just done myself. Don’t forget to maintain that stiff upper lip throughout, though, and keep a tight rein on any tears that might threaten to fall during your viewing of this truly smashing and emotional double-feature.

It’s just not the done thing to sob and sniffle like hysterical women in front of the ranks, you know. As to what exactly constitutes the done thing, well, you know what, old boy? In the words of a certain Colonel Nicholson: ‘I haven’t the foggiest…!’

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AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY OF SANDRA HARRIS.
Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, film blogger and movie reviewer. She has studied Creative Writing and Film-Making. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, womens’ fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra’s books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:

http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B015GDE5RO

You can contact Sandra at:

https://www.facebook.com/SandraHarrisPureFilthPoetry

https://sandrafirstruleoffilmclubharris.wordpress.com

http://sexysandieblog.wordpress.com

http://serenaharker.wordpress.com

sandrasandraharris@gmail.com

https://twitter.com/SandraAuthor

THE DEVIL’S ARITHMETIC. (1999) REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

devilsarithmetic-1920x1080THE DEVIL’S ARITHMETIC. (1999) BASED ON THE HOLOCAUST NOVELLA BY JANE YOLEN. DIRECTED BY DONNA DEITCH. EXECUTIVE PRODUCERS: DUSTIN HOFFMAN AND MIMI ROGERS. MUSIC BY FRÉDÉRIC TALGORN.

STARRING KIRSTEN DUNST, BRITTANY MURPHY, PAUL FREEMAN, LOUISE FLETCHER, MIMI ROGERS AND DANIEL BROCKLEBANK.

REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

This TV movie received mostly positive reviews. I have mixed feelings about it myself. The subject matter is not to blame. The Holocaust has been fascinating movie producers and the viewing public alike for over seventy years now.

I myself could never tire of watching Holocaust movies made from different perspectives and viewpoints. Like I said, it’s an endless fascinating topic. It’s undoubtedly grim and terribly sad, but it’s enthralling too.

There’s something a little off about this particular film, though. There’s nothing wrong per se with the notion of someone (a Jewish person) going back in time to the Second World War, finding themselves right-slap-bang in the middle of the greatest wave of anti-Semitism the world has ever known. That even sounds like it might be thrilling to watch, doesn’t it?

I’m going to be a bit of a bitch now (be warned!) but I think it’s the two lead actresses who bring down the film. I’ve always hated Kirsten Dunst, so I guess I just don’t find her very believable in the role of Hannah. Hannah is a young Jewish girl living in modern times- well, the late ‘Nineties- who travels back in time during a family Passover to the time of concentration camps and Adolf Hitler and his Nazi cohorts.

This happens solely so that the young and thoughtless Hannah can learn about just how traumatic the experience of being in a concentration camp was for her older relatives and her Aunty Eva in particular. ‘Forties Hannah and her cousin Rivkah, played by Brittany Murphy, are told by the Nazis that they’re going to be ‘resettled in the East.’

They don’t even need to pack anything because they’ll be ‘well looked after’ by the Germans when they get to this mythical destination. As we already know, ‘resettlement in the East’ merely meant transportation to a concentration camp and all that that entailed.

Unsurprisingly, Hannah and Rivkah are duly packed off to a camp that the film-makers modelled on Auschwitz or Oswiecim, one of the most infamous of the concentration camps. It was here that camp commandant Rudolf Hoess (not to be confused with Hitler’s chum Rudolf Hess, though I imagine that that happens a lot) perfected the method of mass-killing with the aid of a poisonous gas known as Zyklon B.

I must say, the specially constructed camp looks every bit as grim, bleak and mucky as I’ve read that Auschwitz actually was in real life. The Nazi guards and officers are a bit hammy and stereotypical with their ‘Ve haf vays of making you tock…!’ accents but I find them watchable nonetheless. The camp dormitories are realistic too, realistically horrible and miserable, that is.

I have a real problem with Brittany Murphy, though I’ve no wish to speak ill of the… Well, you know. Her acting is wooden and when she pronounces ‘the Nazis’ as ‘the Nozzies’ in her fairly dodgy Polish accent, I was just completely turned off. Her saintly smiles whenever she’s praising Hannah for keeping everyone’s spirits up with her ‘stories’ just made me want to slap her in the kisser with a wet kipper, haha.

These ‘stories’ of Hannah’s, by the way, are along the lines of: ‘I’ve come from the future, a wonderful place where we eat a marvellous food called pizza, which is basically a thin breaded base covered in tomato sauce and melted cheese…!’

That pizza story annoyed me no end. I just found it to be completely out of place, inappropriate to the subject matter and even downright silly. Telling the starving, terrified inmates of Auschwitz that you’ve come from the so-called future and want to regale them with tales of the great grub you can get there, well, it just seems wrong and silly, even if you are just trying to keep up their morale. It totally grated (Grated? Cheese? See what I did there?) on my expectations of what story-telling elements a good Holocaust movie should contain.

There are some effective and unbearably sad scenes in the film too, however. Namely, the fate of the would-be escapees, Hannah’s final scenes in the camp and what happens when the camp commandant discovers that one of the dormitories has a new little occupant. So the film’s not all bad.

The title, incidentally, refers to the obligations incumbent upon the camp commandant to ‘keep the pace with the numbers.’ That is to say, the numbers of people he was supposed to kill in any given period. It doesn’t really bear thinking about, does it…?

Anyway, don’t let my lack of fondness for the two lead actresses put you off. The film is mostly still watchable, but it can be a little silly at times. Silliness and levity have no place in a Holocaust film. Or am I just a humourless git? Who knows…? That could be it exactly, haha.

AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY OF SANDRA HARRIS.

Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, film blogger and movie reviewer. She has studied Creative Writing and Film-Making. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, womens’ fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra’s books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:

http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B015GDE5RO

You can contact Sandra at:

https://www.facebook.com/SandraHarrisPureFilthPoetry

https://sandrafirstruleoffilmclubharris.wordpress.com

http://sexysandieblog.wordpress.com

http://serenaharker.wordpress.com

sandrasandraharris@gmail.com

https://twitter.com/SandraAuthor

TORA! TORA! TORA! (1970) REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

tora01TORA! TORA! TORA! (1970) BASED ON THE BOOK ‘TORA! TORA! TORA!’ BY GORDON W. PRANGE AND ‘THE BROKEN SEAL’ BY LADISLAS FARAGO. DIRECTED BY RICHARD FLEISCHER, TOSHIO MASUDA AND KINJI FUKASAKU. MUSIC BY JERRY GOLDSMITH.

STARRING MARTIN BALSAM, JOSEPH COTTEN, JASON ROBARDS, TATSUYA MIHASHI AND TAKAHIRO TAMURA.

REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

This is an absolutely spectacular blockbuster of a movie, though its critics have termed it boring and overlong, with characters the viewers can’t sympathise with. I must say that I mostly disagree with these pronouncements. I think that this is a shocking story well told.

I love this film, which I had the pleasure of seeing on the big screen recently as part of a history festival being held in my local area. Films like this are almost certainly better seen on a big screen. You really get the benefit of all the special effects, for which this movie incidentally won an Oscar. In your face, critics! Clearly just a bunch of begrudgers, haha.

It’s certainly a long film, but you could hardly tell the story of the Japanese air attack on Pearl Harbour in 1941 in an hour or less. A film depicting such a momentous historical event was always going to be a big sprawling epic of a production. If you like old movies about World War Two and you’ve got a hundred and forty odd minutes to spare, you’ll absolutely love this powerhouse of a flick.

The action moves back and forth between America and Japan, but it’s easy enough to follow said action as every location is clearly captioned, as is the name and rank of every officer we see. There’s not much point, I feel, in naming individual Admirals and Privates as there are so many of them and it all gets a bit confusing, so let’s just say that the American officials are frantically busy trying to decode every Japanese communication they can get their hands on.

There are strong feelings on the side of the American military that the Japanese are going to launch an attack on them. The problem is trying to figure out just where and when such an attack might take place. That’s what all the frantic decoding is about.

We, the viewers, have the advantage of seeing things from both sides. We actually get to watch the Japanese aircraft pilots as they make their solemn preparations to launch the offensive that brought America into the Second World War at last.

The film seems to portray the Japanese as people who really believe in what they’re doing. They’re serious and single-minded and they’re dead-set on destroying as much of America’s air and sea defences as they possibly can. You definitely get the feeling that they’d be happy to die for their mission if that was what was required of them. That kind of intense single-mindedness always scares me a bit. Do you know what I mean?

History, of course, has shown that the Japanese mostly succeeded in their mission, though not without incurring casualties and, later on, a terrible retribution from the Americans. The scenes depicting the attack are so well done that they look real. You actually feel like you’re watching real old movie footage, that’s how good it is.

The film seems pretty accurate in its representation of the devastation wrought on the American fleet. It’d be damn near impossible to watch it without feeling some of the shock felt by the Americans, whose slow reaction to some of the Japanese coded messages meant that they were, in fact, taken almost completely by surprise.

That’s where the phrase Tora! Tora! Tora! comes into the picture. The words were the code-words used by the Japanese fighter pilots to indicate to their waiting colleagues that the desired ‘complete surprise’ had been achieved. I loved that the Japanese actors actually spoke their native language and subtitles were used to let us know what they were saying. The film, which incidentally I prefer to the more modern Ben Affleck version, feels more authentic that way.

My favourite character was Martin Balsam as the unfortunately named Admiral Husband E. Kimmel, the Commander-in-Chief of the US Pacific Fleet. While I watched him staring in horror at the sight of Pearl Harbour in flames on that terrible December morning in 1941, I couldn’t help being reminded of the time that he cautiously climbed the stairs in the Bates Motel as Milton Arbogast, private investigator, some ten years earlier. That’ll always be my favourite performance of his, but I’ve generally always liked him in everything I’ve seen him in, this film included.

Joseph Cotten as Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson is a handsome silver-haired fox in the film. A really young-looking Jason Robards is in here too, for once not playing a crooked, all-powerful billionaire businessman, which seems to be the only role I’ve ever seen him in, haha.

I love the scene where the woman (a woman pilot, if you please!) giving a flying lesson to a young American airman finds herself suddenly caught up in the air attack. Without warning, they find themselves surrounded by Japanese planes. They’re literally bang-slap in the middle of one of the most important episodes in history ever and they don’t even know it. Watch the movie to see what they do about it.

This excellent war film, which despite what the critics say manages to be both informative and entertaining, ends on a quote from the Japanese Admiral Yamamoto in his flagship after the attack. It pretty much sums up the only real ‘achievement’ of the attack on Pearl Harbour. It’s bleak, it’s portentous and it’s chilling, and it’s pithy enough that I’m going to end on it:

‘I fear all we have done is to awaken a sleeping giant and to fill him with a terrible resolve.’

You said it, mate…

AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY OF SANDRA HARRIS.

Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, film blogger and movie reviewer. She has studied Creative Writing and Film-Making. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, womens’ fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra’s books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:

http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B015GDE5RO

You can contact Sandra at:

https://www.facebook.com/SandraHarrisPureFilthPoetry

https://sandrafirstruleoffilmclubharris.wordpress.com

http://sexysandieblog.wordpress.com

http://serenaharker.wordpress.com

sandrasandraharris@gmail.com

https://twitter.com/SandraAuthor