Saving Private Ryan (2017)

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Synopsis:

Amidst the chaos of the first few days after D-Day, a small team is assembled and sent on a mission to find a certain private Ryan.

Historical Context:

The story begins on the 6th of June 1944 (aka D-Day), the day the Normandy Landings took place. The events that follow span over the course of one week in several locations across Normandy, north France.

Codenamed operation Overlord, the battle of Normandy was one of the biggest operations in WWII. France had been under German occupation since the summer of 1940. Between 1942 and 1944, the Germans built a series of fortifications in the coastlines of all the Atlantic countries they had occupied. These fortifications became known as the Atlantic Wall and they spanned over hundreds of kilometres from northern Norway to south-western France. Their intention was to prevent an invasion of France or indeed any other country that would allow the ground forces of the Allies to be deployed in continental Europe. The Germans boasted that this wall was impregnable and indeed the Allies’ first attempt to invade France was a disaster. In 1942, Allied forces assaulted Dieppe with the objective to capture and hold its port. Unable to break the German defenses they finally retreated after losing more than 50% of their troops.

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In 1943, for the first time things started to look bad for the Axis Powers. They had lost a terrible battle in Stalingrad, a turning point in the war, as well as being on retreat in North Africa. This is when the Allies started planning for a second invasion of France. Although the decision for this operation was taken in May 1943, it wasn’t until a year later that it finally took place. In the meantime, the Soviet army was driving the Germans further and further towards the west and the Allied forces in North Africa (mainly British and American) had captured Italy.

After several delays due to weather conditions, operation Overlord was initiated on the 6th of June 1944. Preceded by heavy bombardment from the RAF and an airborne assault (private Ryan was part of this assault in the movie), the Allied soldiers landed in five different beaches across the coastline of Normandy. These five beaches were codenamed Utah, Omaha (the landing location depicted in the movie), Gold, Juno and Sword. The Americans would land in Utah and Omaha while the British and Canadians would take the other three. After 6 days and heavy losses from both sides, the five beaches were linked establishing a foothold for the deployment of more troops. The first major objectives were the port of Cherbourg for the Americans and the city of Caen for the British. Although it took more time than expected, the Allies managed to capture these objectives by 26th of June and 21st of July respectively. From there on the Germans were unable to hold them back as they liberated the whole of France and went on to advance towards Germany.

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Review:

Saving Private Ryan is without a doubt one of the best WWII films ever made. Steven Spielberg surpassed himself doing this movie and that’s saying something for a director who had already given us Jaws, E.T, Jurassic park and Schindler’s List. The film manages to capture the true feeling of a WWII battlefield like very few others do. It starts with a scene that depicts one of the actual D-Day landings and it does so in such a masterful way that it can get you shell-shocked. It hardly slows down after that, mind you. As the team led by Captain Miller (Tom Hanks) go deeper and deeper through North France trying to locate a soldier who could really be anywhere, the real magnitude of this horrifying war is unraveled in front of the audience’s eyes. In fact, watching it made me think that the whole story about Ryan was just a McGuffin, an excuse the creators needed in order to show us what they really wanted, D-Day. After all, this is one of the most famous, deadly and at the same time important battles in history. Saving Private Ryan has been a huge influence on the genre and it reportedly caused a sensation in the US where a resurgence of WWII interest was observed. Spielberg’s masterpiece has cemented its status as an absolute classic and it would not be an understatement to say that it set a new standard for the war movies that followed.

 

Historical Accuracy:

While Saving Private Ryan has its fair share of Hollywood dramatisation, it also has some moments that are incredibly accurate and are some of the best among war films. Let’s start with the film’s most shocking and arguably greatest scene, the Omaha beach landing. Here, the creators really pulled off something amazing. The scene depicts the landing as brutally and as accurately as possible, without doing any favours. Soldiers falling to the sea to escape fire only to end up drowned, soldiers shot in the head before they even had the chance to set foot on land, soldiers being so shellshocked from the enemy fire that they could hardly move. All this was a reality on 6th June 1944, aptly dubbed “The Longest Day”. Even those soldiers vomiting just before they landed is not as far-fetched as some people would think. There are several reports from participants about the extreme seasickness among the crowded vessels crossing the English Channel that day. One officer said in an interview that “The soldiers were so glad to get off the landing craft to escape the seasickness, that they were just ready to go anywhere by that time.” It must also be noted that among the five beaches where the Allies landed on D-Day, Omaha beach suffered the worst casualties and the movie does a great job depicting what a massacre had taken place there. The scene is consistently ranked among the greatest war film scenes ever.

Moving on from Omaha beach, the film gets less and less factual. While the events are inspired by a true story about a soldier who lost his brothers and was sent home, there is no account of a rescue mission for him and to be fair, such a mission would never have taken place. The idea that the army would send eight men to find one soldier that could really be anywhere and who might even be dead is dubious at best. Furthermore, the events that happen during the mission are all fictional, although the overall situation in northern France is quite accurately presented. It can be argued that the film only aims to capture the overall feeling of these days rather than accurately following historical events and this I believe it does very well. Still there are some significant inaccuracies. One of the greatest is that soldiers in the movie move in daylight and rest during the night which in reality would go down the other way around because of the many dangers. Furthermore, there is too much drama between the soldiers who in real life wouldn’t be able to disregard orders or yell at their superiors like that without being punished. This means that private Ryan wouldn’t have been given the option to stay in the battlefield even if he wanted to and this is what happened to the real soldier whose story inspired the events of the film. The movie also received some criticism for its failure to recognize the contribution of the other nations that participated in the Normandy landings, most notably British and Canadians. It’s an American film of course so this should be expected.

The unplausibility of the whole mission and the historical inaccuracies are the reasons I’m not giving the film a perfect 10. Nevertheless, it does a remarkable job in bringing WWII in the big screen and this after all was the main goal of the creators.

 

Grade: 9/10

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The greatest moments from the 89th Academy Awards

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The 89th Academy Awards ceremony was definitely a fascinating one. There were surprises, mistakes, lots of fun and of course lots of stars. Here’s a list with the most memorable moments from last night’s ceremony.

Suicide Squad won an Oscar

As one member of the studio pointed out last night, we can now refer to Suicide Squad  as “the Oscar-winning movie”, joking that it had more awards than The Shawshank Redemption. Yes, the superhero (or I should say supervillain) film has gone against the odds to win the Academy Award for “Best Achievement in Makeup and Hairstyling”, becoming one of the lowest rated films to do so. I’m an ignorant when it comes to hairstyling, so I’m not going to judge the decision although we have to give it to the Academy for recognizing a good aspect in an otherwise bad film.

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Jimmy Kimmel’s bullying at Matt Damon

Matt Damon had predicted that his presence in a ceremony hosted by Jimmy Kimmel was “going to probably be ugly”. He was right. Jimmy Kimmel did everything to hit on Damon reigniting their infamous feud. Kimmel called him fat, selfish, a jerk, joked about his acting, he even took over as conductor to play him off while he was trying to announce the “Best Original Screenplay” nominees.

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Casey Affleck’s win

Casey Affleck did not only beat Denzel Washington to win the Oscar for “Best Actor in a Leading Role”, he also beat his brother and childhood friend Matt Damon, the latter’s first nomination dating back in 1998. Affleck was among the favourites, especially after winning both the Golden Globe and the BAFTA for his performance in Kenneth Lonergan’s Manchester by the Sea. However, even if his performance was widely acclaimed, many felt that he should have never been nominated after the controversial sexual harassment lawsuits against him in 2010. The incidents resurfaced a few months ago when Manchester by the sea  started gaining the public’s attention, but  apparently they weren’t enough to persuade the Academy

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Viola Davis’ acceptance speech

Davis was the frontrunner for the “Best Actress in a Supporting Role” category, so her win was not a surprise at all. A powerful and emotional speech was also expected by most and the acclaimed actress didn’t disappoint. Her acceptance speech left everyone speechless with many in the audience crying and Jimmy Kimmel joking that her speech had earned her an Emmy.

Exhume those stories — the stories of the people who dreamed big and never saw those dreams to fruition. People who fell in love and lost. I became an artist, and thank God I did because we are the only profession that celebrates what it means to live a life. So here’s to August Wilson, who exhumed and exalted the ordinary people.” – part of the speech.

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The records that were broken

It was a night filled with records. Damien Chazelle became the youngest person to win the “Best Director” award at 32 years. OJ: Made in America won the statuette for best documentary becoming the longest film ever to win an Oscar with a running time of 7 hours and 47 minutes. Redemption came at last for Kevin O’Connell who won an Oscar after being nominated for 20 different films in the past with not a single win. This was the biggest losing streak in the Oscars’ history. Finally, even though it sounds surprising, Mahershala Ali became the first Muslim ever to win an Oscar for an acting category.

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Asghar Farhadi’s message

Iran won its second “Best Foreign Language Film” Oscar last night for The Salesman, but sadly, the director of the film, Asghar Farhadi, didn’t attend the ceremony. The reason was Donald Trump’s ban that denies entry to the US to citizens of 7 countries including Iran. Iranian-American engineer Anousheh Ansari accepted the award on his behalf and read a message written by him for the occasion. Farhadi’s expressed his frustration over the controversial ban calling it disrespectful and inhumane.

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La La Land won best picture, oh wait…

The night was almost over. There was only one award remaining: “Best Motion Picture of the Year”. Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway were summonned to announce the winner with La La Land  being the favourite. Warren Beatty opened the envelope, paused and after a puzzling look, he passed it over to Dunaway who announced La La Land as the winner. The winners (Jordan Horowitz, Marc Platt and Fred Berger) began their speech and the ceremony was reaching its end. But no, it couldn’t end like this. The night had a plot twist worthy of a Hitchcockian thriller. Horowitz announced that the real winner was Moonlight. Among disbelief from pretty much everyone, the content of the winner’s envelope was revealed. It was plain: “Best Picture – Moonlight”. I was trying to figure out if a mistake did happen or if it was another of Kimmel’s jokes, when Beatty said that he was given the wrong envelope and specifically the one for “Best Actress in a Leading Role”. Now Emma Stone had won the award for that category. That explained Beatty’s puzzling look. However, the envelope was passed to Faye Dunaway who just said “La La Land”. This might well be the biggest mistake in the history of the awards and it is definitely one of the main reasons we will remember this year’s ceremony.

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You can see the results in detail on http://www.oscars.org/oscars/ceremonies/2017

Congratulations to all the winners!

Review: Interstellar (2014)

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Christopher Nolan’s most recent film is an epic adventure in space filled with science and philosophy as the characters go into an interstellar expedition in order to save humanity. It is I think the British director’s most mature work and it could have been his best picture if not for its disappointing ending. One can’t avoid drawing comparison to Stanley Kubrick’s masterpiece 2001: A Space Odyssey (one of Christopher Nolan’s favourite films). Interstellar is indeed an odyssey of its own, but it ultimately fails where 2001 succeeds.

The story is quite long and can be split into three parts. The first part (the first 40 minutes) takes place in earth at some point in the future when a kind of space dust has filled the planet eventually causing a food shortage. People are only concentrated in surviving. Most of them become farmers and as a result, technological advance is put aside. Our main character is Cooper (Matthew McConaughey), a former pilot and engineer who is struggling to adapt to his new life as a farmer while raising his son and daughter. Murph, his daughter, is a brilliant kid with a great interest in science as her father. One day she claims that a ghost is trying to send some messages to her through the books in her room. Cooper translates one of those messages (without understanding their source), and it leads him to a secret base where what is left of NASA is trying to carry out a mission to find an inhabitable planet. They mention that they also have been conducted by seemingly supernatural forces that they believe to be 5-dimension beings. Cooper is chosen to pilot the spaceship Endurance joined by the scientists Brand (Anne Hathaway), Romilly (David Gyasi) and Doyle (Wes Bentley) as well as two robots.

The second part takes place in space. The goal is to pass through a wormhole near Saturn that will lead them to another galaxy where three previous missions, each for a different planet, have reached planets that can possibly be inhabitable. The plan is to find the best of these three planets and if possible go back to earth to bring all remaining people to this new planet (Plan A). If resources do not allow for a journey back to earth, the plan is to use fertilized eggs they carry with them to create a colony and preserve the human kind (Plan B). Note that these planets are very close to a giant black hole which decelerates time which results in Cooper’s children becoming older than him. I don’t want to go into any more details. Let’s just say that the first two planets didn’t work and the resources left were very limited so Cooper manages to send what is left of Endurance into the third planet sacrificing himself in the process by falling into the black hole. Brand, the only remaining member of the crew, is supposed to follow plan B in this planet.

Before I talk about the third and last part, which is actually only the last 30 minutes, I want to comment on how good this second part was. It was amazing! Everything about it was a masterpiece: the visual effects, the score, the imagery, the story, everything. Most of all though, the dialogues. As I mentioned above the film also gets philosophical at times amidst the so well-researched scientific script. You listen to the astronauts talking about supermassive black holes and the next moment they discuss about love being a total mystery that overcomes the barriers of space and time. It was much more though-provoking than I expected. The idea alone that a time may come when earth won’t have the necessary ingredients to sustain human life is terribly frightening. The main theme of the film I think is survival and how far people are determined to go in order to survive. What would you do if you have to choose between the people you love and the preservation of the human kind? I hope we never come to face this dilemma.

And then comes the last part, the ending. This is where everything goes wrong. We discover that the ghost and these 5-dimension beings are actually future humans who have evolved into much more powerful beings and allow for Cooper to send messages in the past to help the people of his age. Then, we learn that Murph and her team managed to create a station that can travel in space and save a lot of people, Cooper somehow is transferred there from the black hole and Brand starts a new human colony in the third planet. All this carefully taken care of scientific background becomes something closer to fantasy. First of all there’s the predestination paradox we so often come across in sci-fi movies. How did future humans survive if they needed Cooper to send these messages to NASA? And even if there is an explanation for that as some people claim, why didn’t future humans make things a bit easier? They could travel through time and they supposedly created the wormhole that made the whole plan possible. Couldn’t they create a wormhole next to the earth so that everyone could be saved? Couldn’t they inform people about the best possible planet? And if NASA created a station in space that could sustain life for thousands of people, couldn’t it do the same in the Earth saving many more? Maybe Christopher Nolan just wanted a happy ending. Maybe he wanted to satisfy people who didn’t care much about science. For me, the last minutes only managed to ruin my impression of the previous 2 hours.

In any case Interstellar is a great and very engaging film and its technical aspects are amazing. The ending made the plot seem a bit faulty, but this doesn’t make it a bad film. In fact I would recommend it to everyone. You never know, maybe there is a pretty good and scientific explanation for everything and I’m completely wrong. Maybe this is why 2001 is better. Kubrick knew which answers he could answer and which he could not. So instead of coming up with some out-of-place explanations about the monolith and evolution, he just leaves everything open for interpretation letting the movie speak for itself. I wish Interstellar did the same.

8/10