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Posts Tagged ‘World War II’

The Complete Maus” (2011©) — book review
This review is for the comic book style graphic novel “The Complete Maus” by Art Spiegelman.  The version I read was published as the 25th anniversary edition.  The “complete” portion of the title comes from the fact that the work was actually originally published as: “Maus – A survivor’s Tale“, which included Book I: “My Father Bleeds History” and Book II: “And Here My Troubles Began“.
The basis of both books is a son’s attempt to understand a father he doesn’t get along with by getting his father to tell him about the father’s World War II experience in Poland.  Specifically, how the father came to and ultimately survived his time in a concentration camp (mainly Auschwitz).  The story is related via a series of flashbacks.
My first reaction on picking up the book was the primitiveness of the artwork.  It is black and white and initially crude.  On closer review as I was reading the story, I came to realize, this is only appearance.  In fact there is an incredible amount of detail depicted in the “simple” drawings and there is also extensive use of grey-shading used to convey visual depth and emotional content.
The author uses animal “heads / faces” to characterize the various groups in the story: Jews are mice (hence the title); Germans are cats; French are frogs; non-Jewish Polish are pigs and Americans are dogs (with African-Americans being black dogs).  To clarify a bit, the body forms are humanoid (mostly).  It is only the face and head which is “animalized” (reverse anthropromorphism).  This isn’t “zoomorphism” (as I understand the term), like the Peter Rabbit stories, because the rest of the body (as mentioned above) is humanoid.  The one exception is when a cat’s hand (normally) is depicted as a cat’s claw.  But, this is an exception which makes it noticeable.
As to the story…  Well, it is horrifying and completely captivating.  If you haven’t seen the films made at the end of WWII by the U.S. military to document the Holocaust and release of the Jewish prisoners from the camps, you might not believe the factual basis for this story was actually possible.  I viewed the films back in high school, in a history class, and there were portions where you could feel nothing pure emotional hatred for the Nazis and any Germans who could participate in the atrocities.  You have to understand, our instructor repeatedly pointed out this was not “only” six-million Jews, it was also, millions of others (Slavs, Gypsies, Communists and Catholics) whom the Reich felt were inferior / sub-human and therefore subject to “the Final Solution”.
So, the survival story is the bulk of the book.  The “binding” story – the family relationship – is actually every bit as interesting.  The father is notoriously “thrifty” (cheap) for items he is paying for and yet oblivious to the societal costs of things he isn’t paying directly for.  He doesn’t want his son to use wooden matches because the father pays for those, yet he doesn’t care how many paper matches are used because the father gets those for “free”.  The father insists the son does not know the value of anything, because his life has been too easy.
Curiously, there is no resolution to this portion of the book.  The son never does gain an insight into his father.  He (the father) simply is who he is and the son loves him, but never comes around to liking him.  Throughout the book, the son (author) expresses his insecurity and on the last page we finally get the “Citizen Kane” “Rosebud” moment.  As the father lays in bed falling asleep, he addresses the son using his first son’s name.  The first son died in the camps during the war.
Is this book good?  Is it great?  Is it satisfying?  Yes!  YES!  And, ultimately no…
Final recommendation:  Highly recommended!  This book is an extremely fast read.  Duh, it’s a comic book!  It’s almost three hundred pages, but I read it in two quick spurts.  It enthralled and then horrified.  I felt like I was back in high school watching the films again.  There were moments where I had to pause and just breathe because there was no other emotional release.  And that makes it a great book in my opinion.
But, it was also troubling for (at least) three reasons: the author goes to a shrink to understand his own need to get this story.  The side-story is brief and unfulfilling, but it does indicate there is some “story” there left to be told.  Second, the father never explains why he destroys the wife’s diaries.  The wife commits suicide when the author is mostly grown up.  It’s not clear to me from the book when this happens or why she does it.  There is no note.  The father is so distraught he destroys a great deal of their background information (nothing of monetary value).  Third, and I found this hinted at, but never developed.  The father’s second wife is a substantial character throughout the present day portion of the story.  She was also a survivor of the camps, but the son never asks her for her history / story.  It’s not clear if she was in the same camp(s) as the mother, but it’s never asked.  Yes, she’s not the author’s biological mother, but there is still a significant missed opportunity.
In conclusion, this is a powerfully emotional story which moved me.  I would caution that despite it’s format (comic book / graphic novel), it is far to difficult for any readers below senior high school level (young adults, but NOT young teens).
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2012 American Sign Language
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2010 Book Review – Managing Your Government Career

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Fury” (2014) — movie review
Today’s review is for the World War II action / drama “Fury” starring Brad Pitt as Staff Sergeant Don “Wardaddy” Collier, Shia LaBeouf as Boyd “Bible” Swan, Logan Lerman as Norman “Machine” Swan, Michael Peña as Trini “Gordo” Garcia and Jon Bernthal as Grady “Coon-Ass” Travis.  The movie gives the impression that it is all happening in a single day, but that seems improbable (if not impossible), but whatever.  It is late in the war, the Germans are on the verge of defeat, and four of the five main characters have been together for three years fighting and surviving.  The exception is Lerman’s character Norman / “Machine” who is a raw recruit brought up as a last minute replacement.  He was supposed to be a clerk / typist and knows nothing about fighting a war or manning a tank.
“Fury” refers to the nick-name the crew has painted on the barrel of the the tank’s main gun.
The movie follows the tank through a day of “war-is-hell”.  There are several battles, multiple random deaths, lots of gore, violence, and cursing and two implied sexual relations.  And then we have the main battle, where the tank doesn’t actually fight against another tank.  The tank is disabled at a critical road intersection and the men have an option to abandon the vehicle or stay and risk their lives in defeat in an upcoming battle against a several companies of SS-troops.  Pitt’s character chooses to stay and fight, but he gives his permission to the others to leave.  They also choose to stay / fight / die.
So, a movie which starts out as a morality play about the horrors of war and its debasing of the human spirit then reverts into a heroic / mythic journey with the “hero” leader (Pitt) staying behind to struggle against impossible odds to make a difference in the war (and to defend his emotional home).
Is this movie any good?  Is it an accurate depiction of combat?  Is it at least entertaining?  I found this movie to be very good as an action / war movie.  Yes, it is gory and some of the violence is random, but both of these things are by design / intent.  Real war IS hell and it can be heart-breakingly random.  If you thought the opening beach scene was “good” movie making, then you’ll almost certainly enjoy most (if not all) of this movie, because that’s pretty much what you get for almost two hours.
Final recommendation:  Strong to highly recommended movie.  If you can get past the gore and the profanity – it’s “R” rated and obviously not for folks with a weak stomach – I think you’ll find a lot of pretty good to very good acting.  And, by that I mean ALL five of the main actors do a great job in these roles.  There are telling glances, flinches and all out emotional confrontations. Heroes don’t always have a happy ending to their story, but that doesn’t detract from their effort to do their duty.  I would add one qualification:  the movie stands on its own, but to “really” understand it you will need to watch the deleted scenes.  They provide a lot of character background info which I hope will someday in the future be integrated into a “Director’s Cut”.
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On This Day In:
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2013 Make Heroes
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Goodbye, Mr. Chips”  (1969)  —  movie review
This movie is a musical adaptation of the novel about the life of a schoolteacher, Mr. Chipping, written by the James Hilton.  The book was first adapted into movie form back in 1939 (also a great movie).  This version is a modification of both the novel and the original version.  It’s placed later in history – around World War II instead of WWI; Chipping is married longer; meets his wife differently; and, it’s a musical (instead of a “normal” drama / romance movie).  I have not read the novel, but I have seen the 1939 version several times before.  Hopefully, I’ll be able to find it somewhere and watch it again so I can do a review from a fresh viewing.  This was my first viewing of this movie!
Mr. Chipping is a staid and stern housemaster at an English public school.  (That’s a “private” school to those of us in the U.S.)  The boarding school is where the upper crust of society send their boys to learn to be proper British gentlemen.  Chipping teaches Latin and Greek.  He gets talked into going to a play to see the future bride of a friend.  The lady doesn’t realize this is the “arrangement”.  Chipping unknowingly embarrasses himself and his friend.   Chipping goes on his holiday (vacation) to Pompeii, where he coincidentally meets the lady again.  As he is an expert on Greece, she asks him to be her tour guide for the day – which he does.  They hit it off and she falls in love with him (and he her).  Blah, blah, blah.   Mild comedy and laughter ensues.  They marry and she returns to school with him.  They become popular at the school.  She dies during the war.  He spends the remaining years of his life at the school.
The movie stars Peter O’Toole as Arthur Chipping (“Mr. Chips”), Petula Clark as Katherine Bridges / Chipping, Michael Redgrave as The Headmaster, George Baker as Lord Sutterwick (the wealthy donor who is at odds with Chipping due to his own previously sordid background), Siân Phillips as Ursula Mossbank (a famous actress who has a “background” with Lord Sutterwick), and Michael Bryant as Max Staefel (a German teacher who “must” return to Germany).  Phillips is “simply marvelous” in her take on being a famous actress.  Bryant is also impressive in his subtle expressions.  In fact, I repeated several scenes just to re-watch his facial reactions.
So, is this movie any good?  Does it work as a musical?  And, did I enjoy a rom-com musical?  Yes.  Mostly yes.  Emphatically yes!  I know I’ve seen Peter O’Toole in other roles (obviously “Lawrence of Arabia” and “Becket“), but I really think this is my new favorite role for him.  He was nominated for the Oscar and a Golden Glove for Best Actor for this role.  One of his eight Oscar nominations for Best Actor.  (He holds the lifetime record for nominations without a win.)  Interestingly, his wife (Siân Phillips) at the time was also nominated for a Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actress for her role (Mossbank).  He won the Golden Glove.  She did not.
As a musical, the movie is not “great” – in my opinion.  With the exception of “Fill the World With Love” (see videos below) only a couple of the other songs were entertaining, let alone memorable.  This is partly why the movie was panned by the critics on its release.  In fact, I understand several of the songs were removed from the theatrical release because initial audience reviews were so poor.  The songs have been re-added for the “TCM” version which I watched.  The result is the movie is a “classic” movie with an introduction, intermission and exit production which add almost 15 minutes to the viewing time.  The total run time I watched was over the 2hrs 35min of the “official” run time.  But, it is worth it!!
Final recommendation:  VERY highly recommended.  While at one level, this is the story of one man’s struggle with the apparent mediocrity of his life, at a more profound level it is a love story – personal (husband and wife) and general (Chippings love for knowledge, teaching, manners and character).  I am sure some will find this a bit of a “chic flick” and a tear-jerker.  I did not find it the former.  I did find it the latter.  But then, I often find movies about character and integrity (and love stories) to be tear-jerkers.  So, get the Kleenex ready.
As a “bonus” for this review I am including two videos.  The first two verses of this song are performed by: Petula Clark (from the 1969 musical: “Goodbye, Mr. Chips”).  The last verse is performed by Peter O’Toole and is slightly different from the “actual” lyrics as he is singing to his deceased wife at the end of the film.  (Listen for the “Shhsh” and watch for Bryant / Staefel’s expression during Clark’s singing.  Priceless!!)
[I noted today (3 Feb 2020) that the original 2nd video is no longer available on YouTube, so I have replaced it with Peter O’Toole singing – but not “appearing” in the movie.  If I ever purchase this movie, I will consider uploading the excerpt from my copy to YouTube.  We’ll see…  —  KMAB]
I sang this song many times back in my senior year of high school.  It was the first year of our high school choir – and they were taking anyone who was willing to volunteer to sing in public.  LOL.  I did not know the song was only a few years old.  Nor did I know it came from a movie / musical.  But then, I had not seen either version of this movie – 1939 or 1969.  I think I’m better for now having seen both.  If you can find them, I highly recommend them!
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Hacksaw Ridge (2016)  —  movie review
WAAAYYY back in August 2016, I wrote a post about a documentary, a movie preview (“trailer”), and a few comments on something I’d discovered on YouTube which I then called “trailer reviews”.  Here is a link to that post for anyone who would like to read my earlier post:  https://kmabarrett.wordpress.com/2016/08/12/conscientious-courage/
At any rate, the movie came out and, for whatever reason, I never have reviewed it.  This post corrects that mistake.  (My earlier post was about the documentary / subject of the movie and not on the actual movie.)
The film is a typically formatted two-part military tale focusing on the World War II training (pre-military life / boot camp), and then, (actual) combat experiences of Desmond Doss, a combat medic who was a pacifist / Seventh-day Adventist Christian, who refused to touch, carry or use a firearm or weapon of any kind. Doss became the first conscientious objector to be awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor.  The medal was for service above and beyond the call of duty during the Battle of Okinawa (April to June 1945).  It should be mentioned, the movie implies the battle shown was a few days / nights long.  In fact, it (the battle shown) lasted a couple of weeks and the battle for the island several months.  Also, Doss received medals for two acts of courage in combat (on two other islands) which preceded this battle on Okinawa, so his courage was already known by his fellow soldiers before the events depicted in this movie.
Andrew Garfield stars as Doss, and Hugo Weaving (Mr. Smith from the Matrix movies) as his father, with Sam Worthington (the blue guy in “Avatar”) as Doss’ company commander and Vince Vaughn as his drill instructor and platoon sergeant.  The film received six Oscar nominations including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor for Garfield and Best Sound Editing, and winning the awards for Best Sound Mixing and Best Film Editing.
First we are introduced to Doss as a child and learn about his desire to be a doctor.  We also meet his girlfriend and future wife.  (Normally, I would describe all of this as “Blah, blah, blah…”, but in this movie, the background really is important to the story – imagine that!)  Doss joins the Army and is placed under the training of Sergeant Howell (Vince Vaughn, who is surprisingly good in this wise-cracking, but non-comedic role).  Despite being skinny, Doss excels physically but is cast as a coward to his platoon for refusing to handle a rifle and train on Saturdays.  Howell and Captain Glover (Worthington, who looks surprisingly old in this role) attempt to discharge Doss for psychiatric reasons but are overruled, as Doss’ religious beliefs do not qualify as a mental illness.  So, instead, they try to make life hard on Doss.  One night, Doss is beaten by some of the members of his own platoon, but Doss refuses to identify his attackers and completes his training.
Doss intends to marry Dorothy (his girlfriend played by Teresa Palmer), but his refusal to carry a firearm leads to an arrest for failing to follow a direct order by a commanding officer.  At his trial, Doss pleads not guilty, but before he is sentenced, his father barges into the tribunal with a letter from a former commanding officer (of the father) stating that his son’s pacifism is protected by an Act of Congress.  The charges against Doss are dropped, and he and Dorothy are married.
Doss’ unit is deployed to the Pacific theater, and during the Battle of Okinawa, Doss’ unit is told that they have to climb and secure the Maeda Escarpment (“Hacksaw Ridge”).  In the initial fight, Doss saves several wounded soldiers.  The platoon camps for the night, which Doss spends in a foxhole with Smitty (played by Luke Bracey), who was the first squad-mate to call Doss a coward back in his training platoon days.  Doss tells Smitty his refusal to carry a rifle comes from nearly shooting his drunken father, who threatened his mother with a pistol.  Smitty apologizes for doubting his courage and the two reconcile.  This last is definitely meant to create a “heart-felt” moment and my immediate reaction was: this guy is either going to be a friend for life or he’s going to be a “redshirt” (LOL – StarTrek TOS reference for you nerds out there).
The next day, the Japanese launch a massive counterattack and drive the Americans off the escarpment.  Smitty is killed (ha! a redshirt), while Howell and several of Doss’ squad mates are left injured on the battlefield.  Doss hears the cries of the wounded and dying soldiers and goes back to save them, carrying the wounded to the cliff’s edge and belaying them each down the cliff face by rope, each time praying to save just one more.  The arrival of dozens of wounded once presumed dead comes as a shock to the rest of the unit below.  When day breaks, Doss rescues Sergeant Howell and the two escape over the cliff while under enemy fire. Just a historical note on the escarpment / cliff face.  The escarpment is actually about a 300-400 foot “overall” rise which is topped by the last 30 to 40 feet of sheer cliff.  This last bit – the cliff face – is given a bit of dramatic enhancement by the film’s director (Mel Gibson) who makes the last bit seem like the whole thing.
Captain Glover tells Doss that the men have been inspired by his courage and faith, and that they will not launch the next attack without him.  With new reinforcements, they win the battle.  When some Japanese soldiers fake surrender, Doss saves Captain Glover and others by slapping and then kicking (nice Spidey move) enemy grenades.  Doss is wounded in the leg by the kicked grenades blast, and Doss descends the cliff, holding the Bible his wife gave him.
The film switches to archival photos and footage from the documentary to show Doss receiving his Congressional Medal of Honor from President Harry S. Truman for rescuing the 75 soldiers at Hacksaw Ridge.  The notes state Doss stayed married to Dorothy until her death in 1991, and, that he died on March 23, 2006, at the age of 87.  As I mentioned in my earlier post, his fellow soldiers reported Doss saved over 100 men.  Doss estimated he “helped” 50.  His CMoH split the difference an said “75”!!!
So, what did I think? You gotta be kiddin’ me! I loved the documentary; I cried during the preview (okay, maybe I just welled up a bit); and, I loved the movie (and, yes, I did cry)!!  This is not a movie about war – which is what I originally thought it was going to be about.  This is a movie about the human spirit, faith and courage.  Needless to say – final recommendation: very highly recommended.  One note of caution: like several of Gibson’s movies, this one is graphic in the display of violence and in the horrors of war.  As such, it is not appropriate for the very young or the squeamish.
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We’ve used up a lot of bullets.  And we talk about stimulus.  But the truth is, we’re running a federal deficit that’s 9 percent of GDP.  That is stimulative as all get out.  It’s more stimulative than any policy we’ve followed since World War II.
     —  Warren Buffett
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The Republican Party, which had presided over America’s rise to manufacturing preeminence, has acquiesced in the deindustrialization of the nation to gratify transnational corporations whose oligarchs are the party financiers.  U.S. corporations are shutting factories here, opening them in China, “outsourcing” back-office work to India, importing Asians to take white-collar jobs from Americans, and hiring illegal aliens for their service jobs.  The Republican Party has signed off on economic treason.
  —  Patrick J. Buchanan
From his book: “Where The Right Went Wrong
[While I agree with Pat that the Republican party has committed the equivalent of economic treason, I must disagree with the statement Republicans “presided over America’s rise to manufacturing preeminence“.
America rose to manufacturing preeminence during and because of World War II while FDR was President and the Democrats controlled both houses in Congress.  The economy stalled under Eisenhower and was revived by the Kennedy / Johnson period.  We started to falter at the end of Johnson and began our descent under Nixon, mostly because of the gas crisis (72-73) and the long term effects of government spending from Vietnam (Johnson and Nixon).  Both Reagan and Bush (the first) had recessions and it was Clinton’s Administration which brought growth.  Reagan, a “true” conservative, proposed there was no damage to the economy by going into debt (mostly to increase government spending on big ticket military purchases “star-wars” and new aircraft carriers) and then signed off on the largest tax increases in history (actually mostly closing business loopholes) to reduce the debt he had sponsored – although he was NEVER able to come up with a balanced budget let alone get Congress to pass one.  Bush II practically drove the whole planet into bankruptcy and global depression with a combination of deregulation and unpaid for wars.  Granted not all of the deregulation was actually passed into law during “W’s” administration.  His administration merely encouraged the abuses inherent in an unregulated market.
No, Pat.  Sorry.  The Republican Party has not presided over an America’s rise to manufacturing preeminence since the Civil War, and again, the manufacturing increase was because a war effort stimulated the economy and government spending – not because Republican political or economic theories are correct.
It just so happens I DO believe in small government which stays out of the way of the people and in capitalism.  But government must be big enough to defend us from modern day threats: foreign and domestic, terrorist and corporate.  At the moment, the U.S. has more to fear from multinational and “too big to fail” domestic corporations than it does from 200 to 500 Al Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
It used to be said the two biggest threats to democracy are an overly efficient tax system and an overly efficient military.  It seems we should now recognize the BIGGEST threat to democracy is an unregulated capitalist economy.  And on this, at least, we can agree – the Republican Party are economic traitors!   —  KMAB]
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