EOne’s Angel of the Skies Is An Underrated WWII Story

Courtesy:  Entertainment One

Courtesy: Entertainment One

World War II was the most devastating military conflict that the world has ever seen.  The interesting thing about this war is that it led to the creation of some of the film industry’s most iconic movies.  Movies like Tora Tora Tora, Patton, and The Longest Day became cornerstones of the biggest titles linked to WWII.  Since the days of those classics, countless other movies centered on WWII have been churned out.  Some of them have been not so bad, while others have been not so memorable.  Entertainment One’s new WWII era movie Angel of the Skies is one of those movies that while it is an indie flick, is still one that is not so bad.  Sure, there are some historical inaccuracies depicted in the movie.  But the general story behind the movie is what makes it worth at least one watch.  The acting on the part of the cast helps to make the movie worth at least one watch, too.  And the same can be said of the early flight scenes and backdrops.  All of it taken into account, Angel of the Skies is not as bad as some have already made it out to be.

Angel of the Skies has received mixed reviews by some critics.  The biggest criticism of the movie has been its historical accuracy.  There are some issues with said accuracy.  But one must also take into account that no movie ever based on historical events was one hundred percent accurate in itself.  That being taken into account, it really is not that bad of a movie within its genre.  The story itself is worth a watch first and foremost for the themes tied into the overall story.  Writer/director Christopher-Lee dos Santos ties into his story, the themes of brotherhood, determination, and dedication.  He does so in a way that none of the themes overpower themselves through the course of the movie.  They actually work together to give the story an emotional depth that will keep viewers engaged through the movie’s near two-hour run time.  The story’s theme of dedication works quite well in a dual role here.  On one hand, the theme of dedication works as it is linked to the sub-story between Flight Officer Earl Kirk and his girlfriend, Deborah Caldwell (Lillie Claire—Supernatural, Suing The Devil) and to the dedication of the flight crew to one another after  their plane is shot down.  That theme of dedication among the flight crew directly compliments the script’s theme of brotherhood, too.  Even in the greatest of odds, the men refuse to leave one another behind if at all possible, and will do whatever it takes to save one of their own from Nazi officers.  In turn, that theme of brotherhood is directly linked to the theme of determination.  The men were determined to survive and survive together at all costs.  Each of these themes work together seamlessly to make a story that is worth at least one watch by any history buff and film buff.

The interweaving themes that make up the script behind Angel of the Skies are central to the movie’s ability to keep viewers engaged.  They collectively aren’t all to be considered.  The acting of the cast helps to move the story along, too.  The actors that make up the movie’s cast are largely unknowns.  Despite that, they put on a believable performance.  This is the case both by themselves and together.  The men that make up the flight crew do quite the job in their roles.  As enjoyable as it is to watch them take on their roles, it’s the vile SS officer Stutze that truly stands out in this movie.  Stutze (David James) is truly ruthless in his attempts to locate the South African airmen and carry out his duties.  Not to reveal too much, but he is so vile that he goes so far as to have his men kill a German milkmaid that had protected the airmen after they were shot down.  This after he told her that everything would be okay.  He even gunned down a defenseless American soldier early on as part of his character’s setup.  The ability of an actor or actress to make his or her character that despicable means that said individual is more than doing his or her job in said role.  If the combined themes aren’t enough to keep audiences engaged through the story, then that juxtaposition of character types and roles will definitely do its part to keep viewers engaged.

The general writing and acting that comprise Angel of the Skies combine to make it a movie that is well worth at least one watch.  They don’t work by themselves, though.  The movie’s special effects and backdrops play their own role in making this movie worth at least one watch.  Unlike so many other WWII based movies, this movie mixes CG with live action.  The flight scenes are largely computer generated.  It’s obvious where the computer elements were used, too.  But at least they weren’t as cheesy as those used in the 2006 James Franco WWI flop, Flyboys.  One almost couldn’t tell the difference as the bombers were flying into German airspace.  The only times that one could tell for certain that computer graphics were used were when the bombers came under fire from the Messerschmitts and when the flight crew’s bomber crashed.  The rest of the movie’s story was set against a live action backdrop.  What’s interesting about the live action backdrop is that it didn’t feel as over the top as those used in some other WWII era dramas.  It felt more real for lack of better wording.  That is an area in which far too many movie makers get things wrong.  Too many movie makers look for settings that will enhance their movies.  And it only serves to lessen the movies in question to a certain extent.  That isn’t the case here, though.  That realistic feel combines with the movie’s writing and the cast’s acting to make it a movie that despite being an indie flick is still one worth watching at least once by any history buff and movie buff.  It will be available next Tuesday, December 31st on DVD.  It can be ordered direct from the Entertainment One website at http://us.eonefilms.com/films/angel-of-the-skies?lang=en-US.  More information on this and other releases from EOne is available online at http://www.entertainmentone.com.  To keep up with the latest sports and entertainment reviews and news, go online to http://www.facebook.com/philspicks and “Like” it.  Fans can always keep up with the latest sports and entertainment reviews and news in the Phil’s Picks blog at http://philspicks.wordpress.com.

Nazi Mega Weapons A Rare Must See WWII Documentary

Courtesy:  PBS

Courtesy: PBS

Television today has become increasingly dumbed down day after day. “Reality TV” (for those that really want to believe that moniker) seems to be increasingly dominate the airwaves. Even History Channel, Discovery Channel, and The Learning Channel are but pale shadows of what they once were. Enter PBS. PBS has shown time and again throughout 2013 why it has remained a shining beacon of worthwhile television with its documentaries, and dramas. That reputation has been maintained even more with the release of its new WWII based documentary, Nazi Mega Weapons. This six-part “mini-series” of sorts looks at some of the greatest achievements of the Nazi military and how despite their greatness, they in essence led to the downfall of the German forces. This documentary is a must see first and foremost in that it is aimed at no fewer than four distinct audience groups. It is just as worth seeing because of the stories told through each of its three segments. Just as noteworthy in this collection of episodes is the ratio of each segment’s run time to its content. Each segment is so well balanced that whether one is watching these segments in the classroom or the living room. The amount of content and its arrangement over the course of the segments’ run time is the finishing touch to what is one of PBS’ best WWII based documentaries of this year.

Nazi Mega Weapons is easily one of PBS’ most intriguing WWII based documentaries to have been presented by the network in 2013. The first thing that has been done right with this documentary is the fact that it has been separated into six distinct segments. Those segments are separated over two discs and a total of roughly six hours, or one hour each. Nothing is left out of this documentary. From the well-known V-2 rocket program to Hitler’s “Atlantic Wall” and the lesser discussed Nazi sub base on the coast of France, every aspect of Nazi technology is discussed throughout each segment. Whether one is a history buff, a military history buff, or even an engineering specialist or WWII historian, this documentary is so successful first and foremost because it reaches so many audiences across the spectrum. One can’t but be amazed at the technological and engineering feats achieved by the German forces as shown over the course of Nazi Mega Weapons. Just as amazing is the fact that despite those advances and feats, it was all for naught. As viewers will see, also portrayed here are how those same advances and feats also led to the eventual downfall of the Nazi forces.

The stories shared about the advances and feats achieved by the Nazi forces in WWII are absolutely amazing, considering where the world was at that point technologically and in terms of what had been in the world of engineering. Just as amazing to note is how those same advances that made Nazi forces so dangerous also led to their downfall and the downfall of the entire Nazi force. A prime example is shared in the mini-series’ opening segment on D-Day. It explains that for all of the preparations made on Omaha Beach, little preparation was made to ensure it was actually defended against Allied forces. Everyone knows that Allied forces took Omaha Beach. But how many knew that Omaha Beach was taken in roughly a little over three hours because German forces had only enough ammunition to last them three hours? That’s just one of the many stories shared that will amaze many viewers. Another equally noteworthy story lies in the segment on the well-known V-2 rocket program. Some might be interested to discover that so much time was spent perfecting the V-2 rockets that by the time Nazi leaders were ready to use them, it was too late. While the rockets had done substantial damage to Britain, it wasn’t enough to turn the tide of the war in Germany’s favor.  These are just a small handful of the stories shared throughout all six segments across the documentary.  They are also just minor pieces of the overall material used to expertly illustrate each segment’s overall story.

The overall material used to illustrate each segment is expansive to say the least.  Individuals that specialize in given fields are brought along to the “Atlantic Wall”, the infamous Nazi U-boat base in France, and even the places where Werhner Von Braun’s V-2 rockets were developed.  Rather than just seeing these places in vintage footage, audiences get to see them as they are now.  This allows viewers a close up look at what the Nazis had achieved both technologically and in terms of engineering.  It is a highly effective visual aid, as is the original wartime footage included alongside those historical “visits.”  The re-enactment segments are just as effective to the overall presentation.  And the fact that each of these elements was so well balanced with the other within the context of each segment’s near hour-long run time makes the overall presentation that much more enjoyable for viewers.  This internal balance works hand in hand with the back story of each segment and the general separation of the segments to put Nazi Mega Weapons over the top.  All things considered, it becomes one more of PBS’ best documentaries of 2013, and potentially another of the year’s best documentaries overall.  It will be available Tuesday, November 5th and can be ordered direct from PBS’ online store at http://www.shoppbs.org/product/index.jsp?productId=22850906.  More information on this and other PBS programming is available online at http://www.pbs.org and http://www.facebook.com/pbs.  To keep up with the latest sports and entertainment reviews and news, go online to http://www.facebook.com/philspicks and “Like” it.  Fans can always keep up with the latest sports and entertainment reviews and news in the Phil’s Picks blog at http://philspicks.wordpress.com.

PBS’ Superhero Docu-Series Will Impress Any Fan Boy Or Girl

Courtesy:  PBS

Courtesy: PBS

PBS is the last true bastion of worthwhile programming on television today.  That includes both cable and non-cable networks.  The once powerhouse networks that are History, Discovery, and TLC have been almost completely polluted by reality television in recent years.  This has left them nonfactors to anyone looking for programming with any substance.  And while it may not be the first network to present a special on the comic book industry, PBS has still proven with its new special, Superheroes: A Never-Ending Battle, why it remains the last true bastion of quality programming.  The special takes a look at the formative years of the comic book industry, and how some of the most beloved characters in the comic book industry went from the pages of newspapers to being their very own entity.  It examines the impact of comic books on the war effort during World War II and vice versa, and the effect of television on the future of comic book characters, among so many other topics.  Perhaps the only downside to the entire presentation would be the DVD’s box art.  It’s pretty obvious that this is only the first of an ongoing series of specials on the comic industry.  Keeping that in mind, it is a good start for anyone that has ever had any interest in the history of the comic book industry but didn’t know where to begin.

Superheroes: A Never-Ending Battle is a good starting point for anyone that has ever had any interest in the comic book industry, but did not know where to begin with their research.  The first of what looks to be three hour long installments, it covers the comic book industry’s first twenty years, beginning with the advent of comic strips in newspapers.  Audiences will be interested to discover that Superman creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster didn’t gain immediate success with their Superman comic strip.  Rather, it took five years before the pair’s strip was finally picked up by any newspaper.  Because this first installment is painted with a broad brush, the controversy that would follow is largely omitted.  There is a passing reference to it.  But it is at least made.  Perhaps that will be included in the second installment.  The advent of Batman and Wonder Woman were just as interesting subjects about which to learn.  Even the most well-rounded comic enthusiasts probably never gave much thought to how different Batman and Superman were both in terms of their characters and their how they rose to fame.  And the controversy surrounding Wonder Woman (and the role of women in comic books) is just as intriguing.  The discussion is raised on the presentation of Wonder Woman as a symbol of a strong woman in a very male dominated society versus that of a standard damsel in distress because she was always being caught and handcuffed, tied up, etc.  The term “fetishy” is even thrown out in the discussion on her negative presentation to readers.  It definitely makes for quite the discussion point for anyone regardless of whether one is a comic book fan or not.

The creation and controversy surrounding Wonder Woman is just one of the points in which audiences will take an interest during the first portion of this documentary.  Also discussed is how the outbreak of WWII led to the creation of one Captain America, and even got Superman almost involved in the war.  Those that might be novices in the world and history of comic books will take interest by connection just how popular comic books were among America’s armed forces during the days of the war.  And that is likely thanks to the fact that both Marvel and DC offered Americans of every calling someone for whom they could cheer in the war against the Nazis.  By direct contrast, it is even more interesting to note how the popularity of comic books actually declined after the war, and how the industry even came under fire thanks to the rise of the “Red Scare” brought on by Joseph McCarthy.  That is one that even the most devout comic book enthusiasts might not know.  Of course, it was the “Red Scare” that eventually led to the “comics code” that many readers know of today.  The first of this three-part series ends up discussing not just the censorship that followed McCarthyism, but the rise of television as a new outlet to regain audiences that had been lost by that movement.  It will be interesting to see where PBS takes viewers in the second and third installments of its comic book based documentary.  The entire series will be released on DVD October 15th.  It can be ordered direct from PBS’ online store at http://www.shoppbs.org/product/index.jsp?productId=23148246&cp=&sr=1&kw=superheroes&origkw=Superheroes&parentPage=search.  More information on this and other PBS programs is available online at http://www.pbs.org and http://www.facebook.com/pbs.  To keep up with the latest sports and entertainment reviews and news, go online to http://www.facebook.com/philspicks and “Like” it.  Fans can always keep up with the latest sports and entertainment reviews and news in the Phil’s Picks blog at http://philspicks.wordpress.com.

Defiant Requiem One Of The Most Powerful, Deeply Moving WWII Stories Ever Told

Courtesy:  PBS

Courtesy: PBS

Defiant Requiem is one of PBS’ best documentaries of 2013 and one of the best documentaries of 2013, period.  If ever there was a work that proved the importance of supporting PBS, this documentary is it.  The near ninety-minute program tells the story of a group of Jewish captives that used music as a means to tell the world of their mistreatment at the hands of the Nazis.  It is a piece that will appeal not only to those with a love and respect for classical music, but also for anyone that has ever had or has any interest in the history of World War II.  It is so deeply moving that it must be seen to understand and appreciate this.

As a bit of background for viewers, Verdi’s Requiem is one of the most beautiful yet intense works in the history of classical music.  What makes this musical masterpiece by itself so interesting is that it was considered sacred music, despite the fact that Verdi himself was supposedly an agnostic.  Its ten-part “Dies irae (Day of Wrath)” segment incorporates themes of mortality and judgment.  These themes definitely are in contrast to Verdi’s own alleged beliefs.  Put into the context used by the Jewish prisoners of the Terezin concentration camp, these themes take on a whole new meaning as they were sung towards the very individuals who treated them as less than humans.  This was absolutely brilliant of fellow prisoner and composer Rafael Schachter to do.  As audiences will learn through the course of the program, it was because of Schachter’s efforts that the Jewish prisoners at the camp were able to use their rehearsals and performance of the music as a source of strength both personally and as a people.  It allowed the prisoners to confront their captors in the presence of the Red Cross without fear of retribution.  This alone is deeply emotional.  Whether one is an expert in music history, war history, or history in general, it will still leave any viewer deeply moved on a number of levels.

The music of Verdi’s Requiem is itself extremely moving and powerful.  Once one understands the extent of its emotional influence, it makes the story told by the Terezin survivors that much more moving.  The program features interviews with the survivors, and shows their reactions to the Requiem being performed for them and their families’ decades later at the very sight of the pain that took so many lives.  The symbolism of the performance left barely a dry eye in the house during the performance.  The sight of the survivors’ emotions will bring about certain emotions among viewers at home, too.  The inclusion of archived pictures ties directly into the stories shared by the survivors.  It brings everything into crystal clear view, expertly illustrating the horrors experienced by Jewish prisoners at Terezin.

Along with stories from the survivors of Terezin, Defiant Requiem also features re-enactments by professional actors.  The re-enactments on the part of the actors in Defiant Requiem are on par with another of PBS’ major documentaries from earlier in 2013, The Abolitionists.  It’s something that is being seen less and less frequently on certain other networks by comparison, making this documentary that much more impressive and necessary both inside and outside the classroom.  It also makes PBS that much more important for those searching for educational programming, and that much more worth financially supporting with viewer contributions.  If the archived pictures from Terezin made the story crystal clear, the re-enactments made them crystal clear at an Ultra High Def level, for lack of better comparison.  As painful as it is to learn of what happened, these re-enactments, archived pictures, and performance of the Requiem help bring history alive.  They help viewers of any age understand what happened within the walls of Terezin.  All assembled together, everything included in this new documentary makes it one that crosses interests and in turn makes it one of the best documentaries of 2013.  It will be available Tuesday, July 23rd and can be ordered online from PBS’ online store at http://www.shoppbs.org/product/index.jsp?productId=20427106&cp=&kw=defiant+requiem&origkw=Defiant+Requiem&sr=1.

To keep up with the latest sports and entertainment reviews and news, go online to http://www.facebook.com/philspicks and “Like” it.  Fans can always keep up with the latest sports and entertainment reviews and news in the Phil’s Picks blog at http://philspicks.wordpress.com.

Storming Juno Another Important Story Of WWII

Courtesy:  Entertainment One

Courtesy: Entertainment One

Stories of WWII told from the American and British vantage points are quite plentiful in the world of television and movies.  Stories from those in other Allied forces are far less.  That is they are far less prominent in the United States.  Now finally, another lesser told piece of WWII history has finally been added to the whole.  One part historical drama and one part documentary, Entertainment One’s brand new WWII story, Storming Juno is an impressive work.  The hour and a half presentation tells the story of the events of June 6th, 1944 from the perspective not of the American or British forces, but from the Canadian military.  It is centered on three young soldiers that were actually there on the day that marked the beginning of the end of the war in Europe. 

It is difficult to know where exactly to begin in the discussion of Storming Juno.  It would be very easy to compare this movie to the likes of bigger blockbuster films such as Saving Private Ryan and Flags of our Fathers.  By comparison, Storming Juno is just as good as those war epics if not better than them.  That might be a bold statement to some.  But it is a true statement.  That’s not to say that the aforementioned films were bad.  It just means that for an indie war film, Storming Juno definitely holds its own.  And it does so quite well at that.  So what enabled Storming Juno to hold its own so well against much bigger, more epic war movies?  For starters, the movie itself runs just over an hour.  The remaining half an hour of the entire feature’s ninety minute run time is taken by a documentary of sorts.  Another factor in the success of this movie is tied directly to its run time.  That factor is the story’s writing.  Script writer Christopher Gagosz managed in his script, to balance the intertwining stories of the three men on which it focuses.  Along with its balance, there are two more factors that make Storming Juno a success and a must see for any history buff and lover of war films. Those factors tie in to make this a complete story that any history buff and war movie fan will enjoy just as much as any war movie released by Hollywood’s major studios.  The factors in question are the incorporation of actual footage taken on D-Day by Canadian forces and the general historical accuracies portrayed in the movie itself.  These tie back into the writing and in turn the story length and overall enjoyment of the movie.  It all works together to make Storming Juno not just an enjoyable war story, but also one of 2013’s best independent movies.

Storming Juno holds its own against other bigger name war movies first and foremost because of its run time.  Paramount’s Saving Private Ryan clocked in at a massive one hundred sixty-nine minutes long.  That is roughly two hours and forty-nine minutes, or in simple terms, nearly three hours long.  Paramount’s other major war epic, Flags of our Fathers, came in at roughly two hours and twelve minutes.  Storming Juno on the other hand comes in at only ninety-minutes.  The primary story itself (not counting the semi-documentary that follows the main story) comes in at just over sixty minutes.  This puts the actual story at less than half the time of both previously mentioned movies.  If one were to count the full ninety-minutes, then it would still be just over half the time of said movies.  Thanks to the writing of Christopher Gagosz though, it doesn’t feel that ninety-minutes at all.  It keeps viewers engaged through every action filled moment.

Script writer Christopher Gagosz’s writing is largely to thanks for the movie’s ability to keep viewers engaged throughout its full ninety minutes.  He does this because instead of focusing on melodrama, as Saving Private Ryan and Flags of our Fathers do, he instead balances the personal emotions of his subjects with the story’s action.  While Juno Beach might not have been nearly as fraught with danger as Utah Beach, it was still dangerous.  The body language of the soldiers as they waited to take the beach said so much without saying anything.  It served to set the mood of tension, thus keeping viewers engaged.  The action that ensued from the moment that the troop transports landed and the tanks were launched (and subsequently sunk) plays into that tension and does even more to keep viewers’ attention. Right to the battle’s final moments.  As those final moments close, audiences are introduced to some of the men that were there at Juno Beach.  Their interviews serve to cement the story presented and tie into the final factor of the movie’s success.  That factor is its accuracy. 

Much of what is presented in Storming Juno was taken directly from both oral and written first-hand accounts of this battle.  As noted in the bonus “Inside Storming Juno” feature, much work went into bringing the story to life and making it accurate.  Even actual veterans from the battle were brought in to help set the scene, as was an individual with expert knowledge of the Royal Regina Rifles to make certain that the battle was portrayed as accurately as possible.  It would seem that the only questionable aspect of accuracy is that of the planes used in telling the story of the paratrooper.  They seemed to look like B-25s of some sort.  Other than that one slight inaccuracy, so much else was done right with this movie.  It ties right back in to the writing.  And along with the writing and run time, it makes Storming Juno a movie that any history buff and war movie fan will appreciate regardless if another movie based on non-American or British Allied forces is ever made.  It is available now in stores and online.

To keep up with the latest sports and entertainment reviews and news, go online to http://www.facebook.com/philspicks and “Like” it.  Fans can always keep up with the latest sports and entertainment reviews and news in the Phil’s Picks blog at http://philspicks.wordpress.com.

Ghost Army One Of The Greatest Generation’s Greatest Stories

Courtesy:  PBS

Courtesy: PBS

PBS’ latest WWII documentary, The Ghost Army is another of this year’s best documentaries.  While it will not be available until next Tuesday, June 18th, its release was still quite well timed with the recent passing of last week’s 68th anniversary of D-Day.  There are so many stories that have been told about the members of “The Greatest Generation” as they were so properly termed by former broadcaster Tom Brokaw.  Sadly, as each year passes, there are fewer and fewer members of said generation left to share the stories of WWII.  One can only wonder how many stories will never be told because of this.  Thankfully though, PBS has managed to recover what is perhaps one of the least told stories of WWII with this new release.  It is one that regardless of whether one has an interest in war history, art history, or history in general, will appeal to so many audiences. 

The Ghost Army is on the surface one more story of WWII.  What makes it so special is that while there are so many stories that have been told, the story of the Ghost Army has not been told nearly as much as others.  That is because as members of the then secret military outfit noted, their operations were kept classified for some four decades after the war ended.  So while some books have been written on the group of soldiers, little else has been created or even published about this group of men.  That being noted, the stories shared by those that served with the Ghost Army will amaze any viewer.  It’s incredible to believe that this group of soldiers was able to outsmart so many Nazi divisions with just speakers and a bunch of inflatable weaponry and vehicles.  It’s so incredible in that for decades mankind has marveled at how advanced the Nazi forces were in terms of their military technology in comparison to the United States.  The Ghost Army didn’t need all of the high tech rockets and other tech to hold off the Nazi forces.  It’s a true statement to American know-how and creativity.

Speaking of the creativity of the Ghost Army, art lovers will appreciate this program as it notes that many of the men that staffed the Ghost Army were in fact artists.  It was because of their talent as artists that the Ghost Army was able to pull such acts of deception over not just the Nazi forces, but their own forces, too.  At one point, narrator Peter Coyote notes that an airfield built by the Ghost Army was so convincing that an American recon plane landed and was summarily told to get out of there, so as to not blow their cover.  That is a tribute to the talents of all involved from brainchild to reality.  And as viewers will learn in the show’s closing minutes, many of those same men came to be some of America’s best known and respected individuals in the worlds of art and fashion.  On a side note, it should be noted here that some of the unit’s men had some real talent with a pencil and pen.  That’s revealed through drawings and etchings crafted by the men during trips to Paris.  Parents should note that these drawings in question do contain at least some slight nudity.  One drawing does reveal a woman’s breasts under a very sheer negligee.  It’s just one of a handful of drawings that some older audiences might not think appropriate for younger viewers to see.  So parents and teachers should use their discretion here.  Sure the stories connected to the drawings will have viewers laughing.  But the drawings themselves might be a bit much for some viewers. 

The stories shared by the members of the Ghost Army are quite eye opening and impressive to say the least.  Just as impressive is the understanding that the simple use of theatrics was able to hold off so much of the German army.  And to learn that certain members of the Ghost Army went on to become highly successful in their art and fashion related careers is even more incredible.  There is one more factor in The Ghost Army that makes it an impressive documentary.  That factor is the original footage taped through operations conducted by the once top secret military outfit.  The footage helps to fully illustrate what the Ghost Army did and the impact of its operations.  It helps to pass on what is perhaps one of the most incredible stories of the Greatest Generation for a whole new generation (and generations to come).   All of these stories and revelations shared in The Ghost Army prove even more, the value and importance of public broadcasting.  The program will be available next Tuesday, June 18th.  It can be ordered online direct via the PBS online store at http://www.shoppbs.org/product/index.jsp?productId=20299476&cp=&kw=the+ghost+army&origkw=The+Ghost+Army&sr=1.

 Anyone wanting more information on The Ghost Army and any other PBS program can get all the latest and more online at http://www.facebook.com/pbs and http://www.pbs.org. To keep up with the latest sports and entertainment reviews and news, go online to http://www.facebook.com/philspicks and “Like” it.  Fans can always keep up with the latest sports and entertainment reviews and news in the Phil’s Picks blog at http://philspicks.wordpress.com.

The Great Escape Is A Great War Movie

Courtesy:  20th Century Fox/MGM

Courtesy: 20th Century Fox/MGM

The world celebrated what is one of the most important dates in history last week with the remembrance of VE Day.  That was the day that the war in Europe ended.  Interestingly enough, last Tuesday, MGM and 20th Century Fox released the fiftieth anniversary edition of what is one of the most talked about films centered on the war in Europe in The Great Escape.  This is hardly the shortest movie made about events from the war.  It clocks in at nearly three hours long.  And even with certain fictionalized portions as noted in the movie’s bonus features, it still proves almost half a century later to be one of the greatest WWII themed movies to ever be crafted.

What makes The Great Escape enjoyable, despite its run time, is that while it is on the surface a story based in WWII, it is more a story about the power of teamwork and of the human spirit to survive.  Having so many P.O.W.s from so many different backgrounds in one confined area could be argued to be a microcosm of the nations of the world.  This likely wasn’t the primary intent of script writers James Clavell and W.R. Burnett.  But seeing this and the ability of the men to work together for a singular cause despite their varied backgrounds helps to illustrate the power of teamwork and the human spirit to survive.  Those messages are made even more powerful when juxtaposed against the ideologies of the Nazi party.  It shows that no matter how great the odds, even ordinary people can do extraordinary feats when they come together.

The messages of teamwork and the human spirit are integral to the enjoyment of The Great Escape.  Those same messages are illustrated even more through the movie’s main storyline and its action sequences.  The movie’s main storyline is not that difficult to follow.  A group of P.O.W.s is sent to what is supposed to be an inescapable P.O.W. camp created by the Nazis.  The allied prisoners find every way to hide their “great” escape plan from the Nazi guards manning the camp.  The ways in which the plan is covered up are funny.  From singing Christmas music to using special code, it all seems so outrageous.  But it’s that outrageousness that is so entertaining.  As soon as audiences allow themselves to be pulled into the story, and get over the fact that some of the story was in fact fictionalized, they will find themselves appreciating the story even more.

Staying on the matter of the fictionalized portions of The Great Escape, the bonus features included in the movie’s fiftieth anniversary Blu-ray edition do a lot to justify the fictionalized portions of the story.  It is noted in the bonus features that portions of the story were in fact added that didn’t happen, such as Steve McQueen’s famous motorcycle chase.  It is noted that he made the demand that unless this scene was added, he was not going to star in the movie based.  Perhaps most interesting to note in the included bonus features is that despite some changes and additions here and there, the men that actually escaped from Stalag Luft III were quite accepting of the movie and even tried to claim that this character and that was based on him.  One can’t help but laugh at the pride brought out in those men when they shared their stories and joked about being the influence behind given characters in the movie.  The pride of the men on whom the movie was based is the most important reason for the movie having been made.  And it’s the most important reason for the movie to be seen to this day.  It is a tribute to just one more group of individuals of what former newsman Tom Brokaw properly called “The Greatest Generation.”  With members of this generation passing away each day, a movie like this is increasingly necessary in order to keep the memory of that generation alive.  It’s a movie that members of every generation should see at least once.  It is available now in stores and online and can be ordered direct online via the Fox store at http://www.foxconnect.com

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Iron Sky A Modern Day Comedy Cult Classic B-Movie

Courtesy:  Entertainment One

Courtesy: Entertainment One

Iron Sky is hilarious.  In fact it’s so terrible that one can’t help but laugh at this triple threat of a farce.  On the surface it’s obviously a sci-fi spoof.  On another, having it be about Nazis living on the moon coming to invade Earth makes it also a spoof of the war movie genre.  And having a Sarah Palin look-alike as the President makes it a political spoof, too.  Put all of these spoofs together into one pot and this movie is sure to become a modern day cult classic.  Despite what director Timo Vuorensola notes in the director’s commentary, the spoof of all three genres is there, even if it was meant first and foremost to be nothing but a war comedy.

Iron Sky comes across as one of those movies that were it made in the heyday of science fiction, would have been one of the movies featured on the former Syfy channel series, Mystery Science Theater 3000.  The very concept of generations of Nazis living on the moon, planning an eventual attack on Earth is absolutely laughable in itself.  But then again, the very concept isn’t meant to be taken seriously.  For that matter, nothing in this movie is meant to be taken seriously.  Even Vuorensola notes in the “Making of” featurette that the movie was completed in thirty-seven days and that it wasn’t even intended to be the next movie that he made.  The first movie he made was a spoof of the Star Trek franchise.  On a side note, audiences will laugh hysterically at the short clips of that film.  But having completed this movie in such a short time and making it just as hilarious as so many classic sci-fi movies puts it right up there with the likes of B-movie master Roger Corman.

The political spoof side of Iron Sky is just as hilarious as the sci-fi and war movie spoofs thrown into this laugh-a-minute mish-mash of a movie.  The very fact that those behind the cameras would have a Sarah Palin like figure as the leader of the free world is just as funny as the concept of Nazis living on the moon, planning an Earth invasion.  The concept of a figure such as Mrs. Palin leading the country isn’t so much what’s funny.  Rather, it’s the spoof of the former Presidential candidate that is funny.  The president here is a total caricature of Palin that’s completely over the top.  Even funnier is what Vuorensola notes in the director’s commentary about her.  He notes that Palin originally wasn’t even the person that was going to be spoofed.  Rather, he says that his original plan was to use a spoof of *surprise surprise* Jenna Bush.  That comment alone is worth its share of laughs.  The randomness of her as an original choice makes both that choice and the latter that much funnier.  Again, there’s more comedy added to this movie and more proof of the value of bonus features and commentary for a movie’s home release.

The Palin caricature in this movie makes for so many laughs.  Add in the absurdity of her interactions with the world’s other leaders, and viewers can’t help but laugh at the story’s political commentary.  One glance at the news on any network today shows that while what’s shown here is a spoof, there is at least some reality in the leaders’ over the top immaturity and fighting.  During the huge space flight scenes, audience even see the President’s campaign manager on the bridge of her ship with monitors in the background flashing the word, “Vote” interchanging with images of the President.  Sure, jokes of that style are common in political movies.  But that it was so subtle is what makes it so funny.  Even before that, there is another subtlety that audiences will love if they catch it.  As the attack on Earth begins, the President and company are watching the news of the attack.  The crawl on the bottom of the screen reads something to the effect of the FDA had determined that nearly everything causes cancer.  Again, it’s that subtlety that makes this joke so funny.  Here’s this message about people’s health safety begin run against news of an attack on Earth.  It makes for so many laughs for those who manage to catch it.  Of course, there is so much more that viewers will catch and enjoy from this way over the top triple threat of a spoof. And in catching all of the other jokes and subtleties will leave any viewer agreeing that this movie is bound to become a modern comedy cult classic, albeit an underrated one.  But it’s bound to be a cult classic nonetheless for those who are open minded enough to appreciate its total absurdity.

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