Mission of Honor (Hurricane)

Release: Friday, March 15, 2019 

→Netflix

Written by: Robert Ryan; Alastair Galbraith

Directed by: David Blair

David Blair’s World War II film arrived on American shores earlier this year as Mission of Honor. It was originally titled Hurricane. Just to be clear this is not an account of violent weather but instead one of heroic actions taken by a cadre of mostly Polish and a handful of Czechoslovakian fighter pilots who joined the British RAF in August of 1940, united in the cause to stop Hitler and specifically motivated by their love of their own country.

Mission of Honor isn’t exactly destined for the Library of Congress for its contributions to cinema or society as a whole, but it’s too well made to ignore and the story it tells is equal parts inspiring and devastating. Director David Blair is a patriot but he isn’t afraid of exposing some uglier truths. He’s made a suitably grim movie about an utterly thankless assignment. He directs a story loosely based on real events by Robert Ryan and Alastair Galbraith.

Mission of Honor follows the exploits of a group of hardened fighter pilots led by the stoic Jan Zumbach, played by Iwan Rheon (you might recognize him as the psychopathic Ramsey Bolton in Game of Thrones), who escape the oppression in Poland and enlist with the British RAF. They want to do whatever they can to help. They are to be overseen by Canadian RAF pilot John Kent (Milo Gibson). The sixth son of Mel Gibson is graciously provided one of the few moments of levity the film can muster, shown having an amusingly difficult time corralling the troops. It gets a bit silly through here, but trust me — you’re going to want to stuff some of that comic relief into a flask and take it with you from here. Impassioned, steely-nerved and at times combative, these are well-qualified, highly skilled pilots who, as time progresses, become increasingly distressed by the reality of what’s happening back home.

The drama depicts multiple battles being waged. The dogfights between the Hawker Hurricanes (hence the film’s original title) and the enemy Messerschmitts comprise most of the action. These sequences are fairly engaging but are somewhat undermined by poor computer renderings and some awkward tight zooms that insist we really notice the actors “in” the cockpit. When it comes to demonstrating skill, emphasis is placed upon ace pilot Witold Urbanowicz (Marcin Dorociński), who was single-handedly responsible for 17 confirmed kills, while in stark contrast to that deeply religious Gabriel Horodyszcz (Adrien Zareba) is shown grappling with the philosophical ramifications of killing.

On the ground at the Northolt Base we have the internal clashing of culture and personality, the Poles often at odds with the refinement of the British RAF. Language barriers and emotionality generate a lot of tension within the ranks. The actors bring an everyman-like quality to proceedings, though these good-old-boys are ultimately overshadowed by the quietly raging Zumbach, the striking Welsh actor using his piercing green eyes to convey something about war that words cannot. Meanwhile battles for common decency are being waged as women fight their way into positions previously occupied by men. Blair examines the working lives and social environment for women at the time, using Stefanie Martini’s (fictitious) Phyllis Lambert and her uncomfortable interplay with Marc Hughes’ boorish CO Ellis as a less-than-subtle nod to #metoo.

During the Battle of Britain, No. 303 Squadron RAF had more success than any of the other 16 Hurricane squadrons, downing as many as 126 Messerschmitts. They were officially operational August 2, 1940 and disbanded December 11. Of course, the movie cuts off before we can actually get there (although it offers an acknowledgement at the end with some text) but fate — and the Western Betrayal — looms large on the horizon and is constantly foreshadowed by the way the British characters in this movie routinely wrinkle their right honorable noses up at the scrappy underdogs trying to make a difference.

But it wasn’t just governments failing to uphold their military, diplomatic and moral obligation to their besieged Eastern/Central European neighbors. An opinion poll showed that 56% of the British public wanted the Poles and Czechs to be repatriated. Their efforts are considered significant factors in turning the Battle of Britain in Churchill’s favor. And yet they returned home, many to face persecution, imprisonment or their own death. It’s this darkness toward which Blair’s war film treads a weary path. It’s not an uplifting picture, and he’s pretty brave in the way he candidly describes his fellow countrymen in what history tells us is their finest hour.

Checkmate.

Recommendation: Mission of Honor gets a firm recommendation on the basis of the true-life story it depicts (with an apparent loose interpretation of events), and some solid if far from awards-worthy acting and a suitably bleak milieu. 

Rated: PG-13

Running Time: 107 mins.

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited. 

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com 

Month in Review: August ’17

To encourage a bit more variety in my blogging posts and to help distance this site from the one of old, I’m installing this monthly post where I summarize the previous month’s activity in a wraparound that will hopefully give people the chance to go back and find stuff they might have missed, as well as keep them apprised of any changes or news that happened that month.

First of all, I’d like to give an acknowledgement to the victims of the ridiculous storm that slammed not once but twice into the Texas-Louisiana coast over the last week, almost 12 years from the day since the costliest natural disaster in American history gutted New Orleans. The images coming out of Houston and the surrounding areas are going to be difficult to shake, harrowing reminders of our increasingly tenuous relationship with Mother Nature. Those images, like the ones below, only serve to heighten the urgency in documentaries like An Inconvenient Truth and its sequel, which was recently released into theaters this past month to a chorus of crickets.

On a lighter note, August offered an interesting collection of theater trips for me. I visited Dunkirk (twice, once with my dad), traveled to Berlin with Charlize Theron and to the Deep South with . . . Daniel Craig (?!). I rekindled my disdain for The Circle in a belated review, while inadvertently stumbling upon one of my favorites of the entire year in Brigsby Bear. Loved, loved, loved, loved that movie. So much so, I gave it only my third HIGH FIVE of the year.

August found me once again dodging my responsibilities to my 2017 Blindspot challenge. Apologies to those who may have been anticipating a review for I Love You Philip Morris. I will make it up to you this month with a look back at QT’s Reservoir Dogs. And yes, I did just say Reservoir Dogs is on my Blindspot list.

Don’t judge.


New Posts

New Releases: Dunkirk; Atomic Blonde; Logan Lucky; The Circle; Brigsby Bear

Movie News

I’ve been pretty impressed with the number of actors and Generally Famous Faces who have contributed their own money to victims of Hurricane/Tropical Depression Harvey. I can only hope the money will be put to good use.

A bittersweet farewell to acclaimed director Tobe Hooper, whose original Texas Chainsaw Massacre inspired nightmares in everyone but me, apparently.

↓The Speculation Section It is early, yes, but Oscar buzz has returned and I for one am excited. Which movie is going to receive all the accolades, which ones are going to pull surprises and which ones are going to play the role of the unloved red-headed stepchild at the 90th Academy Awards next February? Christopher Nolan’s latest is among the most obvious of multi-Oscar heavyweights, though you also should not count out Wonder Woman or War for the Planet of the Apes either. It’s an unfair world and I know Brigsby Bear doesn’t have a shot in hell, but IMO it’s right up there as one of the year’s greatest treasures.

But what about those that we still don’t know anything about? What if I told you that not only was a movie starring Adam Sandler up for consideration this year, but that the star himself is as well? How hard would you laugh? (How much would I blame you?) The movie is called The Meyerowitz Stories (New & Selected) and will drop into theaters this October. Meanwhile, Guillermo del Toro apparently has something good cooking with his seriously cool-titled The Shape of Water, with early word pegging it as potentially the Pan’s Labyrinth director’s best work to date. Alexander Payne (Sideways; Nebraska) is due for a new release this season as well and he already has a lot of critics in his corner with Downsizing, a “social satire in which a guy realizes he would have a better life if he were to shrink himself.” Honey, I just shrunk Matt Damon.

Blogging Updates 

Recent additions to my Netflix queue that you may see reviewed sometime in the near future*: What Happened to Monday?; The Number 23; To the Bone; Okja; Oklahoma City; The Discovery; The Most Hated Woman in America; Abattoir; Chasing Coral; The Wailing; Deidra and Laney Rob a Train. 

* To make things interesting, I’ll turn this over to you guys — of those titles, I’ll take and review the top three most popular choices. But this will only work if I get enough feedback. So don’t be shy! Weigh in with your thoughts about which Netflix flick I should tackle first, second and third!

Photo credits: http://www.pbs.org; http://www.time.com; http://www.nbcnews.com; http://www.abcnews.go.com 

Hurricane

hurricane-movie-poster

Release: Wednesday, August 31, 2016 (Vimeo)

[Vimeo]

Written by: Christiano Dias

Directed by: Christiano Dias


This short film review is my latest contribution to Mr. Rumsey’s Film Related Musings. A tip of the hat to James, who runs the show over there.


Hurricane is the brand new film from Christiano Dias, an experienced short film director who has managed to fit 20 writer-director credits under his belt in the span of a decade. His latest puts a humorous spin on anti-Communist sentiments running rampant in 1950s America.

It tells a darkly comic tale of a couple, Oslo (Corey Page) and Eva Alduars (Lisa Roumain), experiencing some strange happenings during the course of dinner. A tense argument over the meal soon focuses on the radio they have playing in the background, which crackles in and out before eventually going silent. It reminds Oslo of a similar incident that apparently happened at a neighbor’s house, in which a man had discovered a wiretapping device inside his radio. Supposedly that same man had disappeared from the area not long after that. Oslo suspects the Commies got him.

Moments later, a knock at the door. A boy introduces himself as Benjamin Shaw (David Jay), and appears to be selling newspaper subscriptions. But something just doesn’t add up. Oslo begins to think the timing of these events is no coincidence. Meanwhile, a storm closes in on the house outside. Dias challenges us to consider all of the possibilities here, including what seems most unlikely.

What’s most apparent with Hurricane are the production values. Crisp colors and retro shapes and objects transport you back into the Cold War era, a physical sense of time and place conjured from wisely chosen props and set decor, not least of which is that pesky radio — virtually a character unto itself. Thick curtains drawn across large windows occupy considerable space within the frame, a not-so-subtle nod to the Red Scare.

It’s not just visual cues that tip us off, either. There’s a lot of strong eye-acting going on here, whether it’s an accusatory stare from over the top of Oslo’s glasses or the intense look of irritation, borderline anger, in Eva’s. Watch as the look turns from one of disgust to concern as she watches the man steadily come undone. The period details even is evident in the tones of voices used, the cadence with which the characters speak. Paying attention to these little nuances is more important than to the acting itself, which can be pretty shaky.

Those details add up to a unique and at times disconcerting experience that plays with notions of how paranoia and mistrust can lead us to make poor decisions and act irrationally. The set-up is simple but effective, making for a short film that I really kind of have to recommend.

Recommendation: An interesting take on the atmosphere of paranoia, fear and mistrust in the years leading up to and certainly including the Cold War. Juggles comedy with dramatic beats pretty effectively, even if the acting is at times a bit shaky. On the whole, though, these are 14 minutes very well spent. I enjoyed the strangeness of it all and this makes me really want to check out more of Dias’ work. An easy recommendation to make. 

Rated: NR

Running Time: 14 mins.

[No trailer available, sorry everyone . . .]

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.screencritix.com; http://www.vimeo.com

All is Lost

all-is-found
Release: Friday, October 18, 2013 (limited)

[Theater]

Somewhere along the way here, I swear Robert Redford was going to bump into the guys of the Andrea Gale and he’d have to hop aboard Clooney’s doomed ship in the middle of his perfect storm; then later when he comes within feet of a massive cargo ship, it looked like Captain Rich Phillips was possibly going to be the 70-something-year-old sailor’s savior.

Alas, neither actually turned out to be the case, and Redford — credited in this film simply as ‘Our Man’ — must continue to find a way to hold on, and simply wait. Wait to live. Wait to die. Wait for a resolution, that would never come. (Yes — yes that is indeed a third stranded-at-sea-themed movie reference. . . . .but what is it??)

All is Lost is a strange film. Neither a visionary achievement as I’ve seen it touted as, nor anywhere close to being boring either, this is a film trapped in Purgatory; destined forever to serve up heaping helpings of indifference to those who are seeking character development — who wouldn’t, in a movie about someone trying to survive the elements?

If there’s one element of this production that may need orienting, it’s that Redford does indeed turn in a performance to be reckoned with come the awards ceremony. Saddled with as few as perhaps five lines of dialogue throughout the course of an hour and forty-five minutes, his sailor-dude-guy is tasked with resorting to his most primitive of survival modes, a challenge Redford was apparently up for. Emoting with virtually just his facial expressions, the actor is likewise forced to turn in an economical performance, a feat that does pay off come time to sink or swim.

However, as good as Redford is at portraying Our Man as a supremely efficient, calm individual, even in the face of this kind of adversity, there’s absolutely no entry point for the audience as far as finding out who exactly he is as a human being is concerned. We will come to quickly understand how experienced of a sailor he is. But why is he out here? Where is he going. . or at least was trying to get to? If he passes away on the ocean, who will he be survived by? The drama surrounding Our Man is. . .e-hem. . .watered down by the fact that we will get no such resolution.

That’s incredibly frustrating, really, when considering the ride otherwise is quite compelling. In many ways, All is Lost provides an alternative route through the terror and isolation revealed in Alfonso Cuarón’s outer space thriller just a month or so ago. Whereas Gravity thrust us into the incoherent depths of a world beyond our atmosphere, All is Lost is intent on selling the same kind of experience safely inside of it. The oceans are some seriously large chunks of real estate, and God help you if ever you’re so lucky as to come crashing into a randomly floating cargo container in the middle of the night.

Such is the plight of Our Man, who immediately goes about fixing the ship’s damaged hull and rigging up a system to bail out the water from the cabin. After several unsuccessful attempts at sending out S.O.S. calls to the Coast Guard, he comes to the realization that all electronics have been conveniently rendered useless. Surely it can’t seem to get much worse than that, right? Unfortunately it does, and on the following evening a strong thunderstorm threatens to wipe him out completely. He manages to see through the night, but is forced to board his emergency raft after taking on enough water to sink the Virginia Jean.

The cost of not giving this man a character, a reason for being, is constantly exposed by the lack of any other flaws in the film. Such frustration is compounded by the film’s perfect pacing. There’s this obvious transitional point when Our Man abandons his yacht and enters the raft, yet most of the scenes that make up these two “halves” pass by so breezily that the ending to the film comes almost as a shock.

All is Lost can’t help but feel robbed of any meaning when the film’s sole cast member (credited or otherwise) has spent the entire time in anonymity. We gather his survival skills are sharp — most of us likely wouldn’t make it past day three under these circumstances. He makes it to number eight. Yet, if the grand take-away here is to show how truly limited our species is when it comes to habitat — clearly, we cannot survive out at sea — I feel like there are better films already reaching for this. I’m not sure this is a fair evaluation, but it’s what I have been able to surmise with such limited information.

all-is-found-again

3-0Recommendation: Robert Redford fans are likely to be impressed (again), since he commands the screen for the entire time. But with the only other character on display being his boat, he doesn’t exactly have a lot of competition. See it for his ability to convey a good range of emotions in relative silence, see it for the scenery (the cinematography is gorgeous), but do not go to this movie searching for meaning. I’m quite sure there’s none to be had.

Rated: PG-13

Running Time: 105 mins.

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com