“BAND OF BROTHERS” (2001) – Episode Eight “The Last Patrol” Commentary

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“BAND OF BROTHERS” (2001) – Episode Eight “The Last Patrol” Commentary

Episode Eight of ”BAND OF BROTHERS””The Last Patrol” saw the return of paratrooper David Webster (Eion Bailey). Last seen in “Crossroads”, hobbling away from a battlefield in Holland, after being wounded; Webster returns from the hospital to find his old company recovering from the traumas suffered during the campaign in Belgium. With the Allies on the verge of victory, Easy Company begins to eye any chance of a return to combat with great wariness, during its stay in Haguenau, a town located in the Alsace region. Unfortunately, their luck fails to hold when Winters orders Spiers to select a group of men to carry out a dangerous scouting mission within the German lines. 

Recently, one of my relatives read an autobiography of one of the Easy Company veterans still living (I will not reveal his name). I was surprised to discover that he harbored some ill will toward the miniseries for allowing a major showcase of another character, David Webster. Why? Webster had never participated in the campaign in Belgium. He never bothered to leave the hospital to rejoin Easy Company in time for that harrowing experience. Many people might find that hard to believe. Yet, this autobiography had been recently published – perhaps in the last two years. This veteran continued harbor resentment toward Webster for missing the Belgium campaign after sixty odd years. Sixty years strikes me as a hell of a long time to be angry at someone for something like this.

Screenwriters Erik Bork and Bruce C. McKenna certainly included this resentment toward Webster in ”The Last Patrol”. In fact, I would probably say that they were a bit heavy-handed on this topic, especially in the episode’s first five to ten minutes. This was certainly apparent when Bork, McKenna and director Tony To insisted upon actor Eion Bailey wearing a silly grin on his face, when his character is informed about those Easy Company men that were killed, seriously wounded or otherwise in Belgium. The episode was also heavy-handed in its portrayal of Easy Company’s reluctance to engage in more combat, whether it was a major battle or a patrol. The first half of the episode seemed to saturate with some of the veterans either commenting on their reluctance to fight or their resentment toward newcomers like the recent West Point graduate, Second Lieutenant Jones (Colin Hanks) or returnees like Webster, who missed the Belgian campaign. And I never understood why Winters and not Spiers had chosen the fifteen men to partake in the patrol. Winters was the 2nd battalion’s executive officer around this time, not Easy Company’s commander.

Although the episode eventually improved, it still had another major flaw. The major flaw turned out to be Webster’s narration. Unlike Carwood Lipton’s narration featured in ”The Breaking Point”, Webster’s narration not only struck me as heavy-handed as the episode’s handling of his return, but also ineffective. The main problem with this episode’s narration is that it had a bad habit of repeating what was already shown. Some have blamed Eion Bailey’s performance for the flawed narration. However, I blame the screenwriters for writing it, and the producers for allowing it to remain in the episode. The material, in my opinion, seemed unworthy of a talented actor like Bailey.

Fortunately, ”The Last Patrol” was not a disaster. To, Bork and McKenna – along with most of the cast – did an excellent job of capturing the weariness suffered by Easy Company, following the ordeals of Bastogne and Foy; despite some of the heavy-handedness. This was especially apparent in Scott Grimes’ performance, whose portrayal of Sergeant Donald Malarkey seemed to reek of despair and grief over the deaths of “Skip” Muck and Alex Penkala in the last episode. The episode also benefitted from a humorous scene that centered on Frank Piconte’s (James Madio) return from hospital, after being wounded during the assault upon Foy. It allowed audiences to see how the men of Easy Company (both the Toccoa men and the replacements) had bonded – especially after the Belgium campaign. This scene provided a bittersweet moment for Webster (which was apparent on Bailey’s face), who began to realize how much his lack of experience in Belgium may have cost him. However, the episode’s centerpiece turned out to be the first rate action sequence that featured the patrol crossing the Rue de Triangle (Triangle River) and infiltrating German lines to snatch some prisoners. Although brief and filmed at night, the sequence was also fierce, brutal and a painful reminder that escaping the horrors of war might prove to be a bit difficult, despite the paratroopers and the Germans’ reluctance to engage in more combat.

Aside from Scott Grimes, other first-rate performances came from both Matthew Settle (Spiers) and Donnie Walhberg (Lipton), who seemed to have developed some kind of brotherly bond; Colin Hanks, who gave a nice, subtle performance as Easy Company’s newest addition, Lieutenant Henry Jones; Damian Lewis, whose finest moment as Winters came when the latter prevented the men from participating in a second patrol; Craig Heaney, whose portrayal of the embittered and caustic Roy Cobb seemed a lot more effective than in previous episodes; and Dexter Fletcher, who has been a favorite of mine for years. Not only was his portrayal of 1st Platoon sergeant John Martin was as deliciously sardonic as ever, but he provided a strong presence in the episode’s only combat sequence.

Although some are inclined to criticized Eion Bailey’s performance in ”The Last Patrol”, I am not inclined to do so. Yes, I was not impressed by his early scenes that featured Webster’s return to Easy Company. But I blame the screenwriters, not the actor. Thankfully, the episode moved past that awful beginning and Bailey proved he could give a subtle and well-rounded performance as the cynical Webster, who has to struggle to deal with the possibility that the men he had fought with in two major campaigns now consider him as an outsider.

”The Last Patrol” might not be one of the better episodes of ”BAND OF BROTHERS”. But for some reason, I have always liked it. I suspect that despite its flaws, I liked how the screenwriters and director Tony To gave it a world weary aura that matched both the situation and emotions that the men of Easy Company were experiencing, after eight months of combat.

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“THE MIRROR CRACK’D” (1980) Review

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“THE MIRROR CRACK’D” (1980) Review

As far as I know, Guy Hamilton is the only director who has helmed two movie adaptations of Agatha Christie novels. The 1982 movie, “EVIL UNDER THE SUN” was the second adaptation. The first was his 1980 adaptation of Christie’s 1962 novel, “The Mirror Crack’d From Side to Side”

A big Hollywood production has arrived at St. Mary’s Mead, the home of Miss Jane Marple, to film a costume movie about Mary, Queen of Scots and Queen Elizabeth I of England, starring two Hollywood stars – Marina Gregg and Lola Brewster. The two actresses are rivals who despise each other. Marina and her husband, director Jason Rudd, have taken residence at Gossington Hall, where Colonel Arthur Bantry and his wife Dolly used to live. Due to Colonel Bantry’s death, Mrs. Bantry – who is one of Miss Marple’s closest friends – has moved to a smaller home.

Excitement runs high in the village as the locals have been invited to a reception held by the movie company in a manor house, Gossington Hall, to meet the celebrities. Lola and Marina come face to face at the reception and exchange some potent and comical insults, nasty one-liners, as they smile and pose for the cameras. The two square off in a series of clever cat-fights throughout the movie.

Marina, however, has been receiving anonymous death threats. After her initial exchange with Lola at the reception, she is cornered by a gushing, devoted fan, Heather Badcock (played by Maureen Bennett), who bores her with a long and detailed story about having actually met Marina in person during World War II. After recounting the meeting they had all those years ago, when she arose from her sickbed to go and meet the glamorous star, Babcock drinks a cocktail that was made for Marina and quickly dies from poisoning. It is up to Miss Marple and her nephew, Detective-Inspector Dermot Craddock of Scotland Yard to discover the killer.

I surprised to learn that Guy Hamilton was the director of “THE MIRROR CRACK’D”. This movie was the first of two times in which he directed an Agatha Christie adaptation that placed murder in the world of show business. Frankly? I am beginning to suspect that he was more suited for this particular genre that he was for the James Bond franchise. Like the 1982 film, “EVIL UNDER THE SUN”, I enjoyed it very much. I am not a big fan of Christie’s 1962 novel. I understand that the origin of its plot came from Hollywood history, which gives it a touch of pathos. Along with the quaint portrayal of English village life and the delicious bitch fest that surrounded the rivalry between Marina Gregg and Lola Brewster, I believe that Hamilton and screenwriters Jonathan Hales and Barry Sandler in exploring that pathos in the end. There is one aspect of Christie’s story that the screenwriters left out – namely the connection between Marina and the photographer Margot Bence. Honestly, I do not mind. I never cared for it in the first place. I found this connection between Marina and Ms. Bence a little too coincidental for my tastes.

I did not mind the little touches of English village life featured in “THE MIRROR CRACK’D”. Although I must admit that I found them occasionally boring. Only when the citizens of St. Mary’s Mead interacted with the Hollywood visitors did I find them interesting. On the other hand, the rivalry between Marina Gregg and Lola Brewster was a joy to watch. And I feel that Hamilton and the two screenwriters handled it a lot better than Christie’s novel or the 1992 television movie. And to be honest, I have to give Elizabeth Taylor and Kim Novak most of the credit for the venomous and hilarious manner in which their characters’ rivalry played out on screen.

The behind-the-scene productions for “THE MIRROR CRACK’D” certainly seemed top-notch. Christopher Challis’ photography struck me as colorful and beautiful. However, there were moments when he seemed to indulge in that old habit of hazy photography to indicate a period film. Only a few moments. Production designer Michael Stringer did a solid job of re-creating the English countryside circa early-to-mid 1950s. His work was ably supported by John Roberts’ art direction and Peter Howitt’s set decorations. Phyllis Dalton did a very good job of re-creating the fashions of the movie’s 1950s setting. I especially enjoyed the costumes she created for the fête sequence. The only aspect of the production that seemed less than impressive was John Cameron’s score. Personally, I found it wishy-washy. His score for the St. Mary’s Mead setting struck me as simple and uninspiring. Then he went to another extreme for the scenes featuring the Hollywood characters – especially Marina Gregg – with a score that seemed to be a bad imitation of some of Jerry Goldsmith’s work.

“THE MIRROR CRACK’D” certainly featured some first-rate performances. Angela Landsbury made a very effective Jane Marple. She not only seemed born to play such a role, there were times when her portrayal of the elderly sleuth seemed like a dress rehearsal for the Jessica Fletcher role she portrayed on television. Elizabeth Taylor gave an excellent performance as the temperamental Marina Gregg. She did a great job in portraying all aspects of what must have been a complex role. Rock Hudson was equally first-rate as Marina’s husband, the sardonic and world-weary director, Jason Rudd. He did a great job in conveying the character’s struggles to keep his temperamental wife happy and the impact these struggles had on him. Edward Fox was charming and very subtle as Miss Marple’s nephew, Scotland Yard Inspector Dermot Craddock. I especially enjoyed how his Craddock used a mild-mannered persona to get the suspects and others he interrogated to open up to him.

I was never impressed by Agatha Christie’s portrayal of the Lola Brewster character . . . or of two other actresses who portrayed the role. But Kim Novak was a knockout as the somewhat crude and highly sexual Hollywood starlet. Watching the comic timing and skill she injected into the role, made me suspect that Hollywood had underestimated not only her acting talent, but comedy skills. Tony Curtis certainly got a chance to display his comedic skills as the fast-talking and somewhat crude film producer, Martin Fenn. And I rather enjoyed Geraldine Chaplin’s sardonic portrayal of Ella Zielinsky, Jason Rudd’s caustic-tongued secretary, who seemed to be in love with him. The movie also featured solid performances from Charles Gray, Wendy Morgan, Margaret Courtenay and Maureen Bennett. And if you look carefully, you just might spot a young Pierce Brosnan portraying a cast member of Marina’s movie.

Overall, I enjoyed “THE MIRROR CRACK’D”. I thought Guy Hamilton did an excellent job in creating a enjoyable murder mystery that effectively combined the vibrancy of Hollywood life and the quaintness of an English village. He was assisted by a first-rate crew, a witty script by Jonathan Hales and Barry Sandler, and a very talented cast led by Angela Landsbury.

 

“BAND OF BROTHERS” (2001) – Episode Seven “The Breaking Point” Commentary

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“BAND OF BROTHERS” (2001) – Episode Seven “The Breaking Point” Commentary

Easy Company continues its experiences in Belgium in ”The Breaking Point”, Episode Seven of HBO’s ”BAND OF BROTHERS”. Following the Bastogne campaign, the paratroopers find themselves in the Bois Jacques Forest just outside of Foy, Belgium. There, they to prepare for an assault on the town, while dealing with the competency of their commander, Lieutenant Norman Dike. 

”The Breaking Point” proved to be just as much of an epic episode as ”Bastogne” and ”Carentan”. Narrated by First Sergeant Carwood Lipton (Donnie Wahlberg), the episode depicted Easy Company’s experiences in the Bois Jacques Forest, just outside of Foy. The episode began with Corporal Don Hoobler’s (Peter McCabe) killing of a German soldier and his acquisition of a Luger. However, this minor incident proves to foreshadow a series of rather depressing incidents for Easy Company to endure. While displaying his new treasure trove to some of his fellow troopers, Hoobler accidentally shot himself in the leg and severed a major artery. He died on the way to the nearest aid station. The rest of the episode’s first half focused around the company’s discussion of Hoobler’s death, the need for a new company commander to replace the incompetent Norman Dike, Babe and Guarnere’s discussion of platoon leader “Buck” Compton’s increasingly odd behavior and more rumors about Dog Company’s Lieutenant Ronald Spiers.

Unfortunately for Easy Company, matters grow worse when German artillery in Foy begin shelling the 101st Airborne’s lines in the Bois Jacques Forest. One series of shelling results in Sergeant Joe Toye losing part of his leg. When Bill Guarnerne tries to come to his rescue, another series of shelling commences and “Wild Bill” meets with the same fate. Worse, both Lipton and Sergeant George Luz witness a moment of cowardice from Lieutenant Dike. The injuries suffered by the two sergeants leads Compton – who is still recovering from his wound in Holland and a stint in an Army hospital – to have a nervous breakdown. He is relieved of duty and Easy Company finds itself short of one of its more competent officers. Easy Company has a short respite before another round of shelling by the Germans. Poor Luz finds himself crawling through the forest, searching for a foxhole for refuge. Before he could reach Warren “Skip” Muck and Alex Penkala’s foxhole, a German shell completely obliterated it . . . and them. Lipton tries to warn battalion XO Winters that Dike might prove to be a disaster for Easy Company’s assault upon Foy. But Winters can do nothing without any cause, due to Dike’s connections. But when Dike panics in the middle of the assault, causing the needless deaths of many men, Winters finally has an excuse to get rid of him and replaces him with Ronald Spiers. His choice proves to be the correct one, as Spiers manages to extract Easy Company from disaster and lead them toward victory.

”The Breaking Point” proved to be on such an epic scale that it could have easily been stretched into a 90 minute movie on its own. It had everything – drama, humor, action, and suspense. Screenwriter Graham Yost did a magnificent job in re-creating Easy Company’s experiences in the Bois Jacques and during the assault on Foy. I did have one quibble about this episode. I found myself slightly confused over the consequences of Don Hoobler’s death. The reaction of the men around the paratrooper seemed to indicate that he had died, while “Doc” Roe tried to revive him. Yet, according to Lipton, Hoobler had died on the way to an aid station. Despite this, the episode had some outstanding sequences. Some of the best featured “Skip” Muck’s recount of the wounds suffered by some of Easy Company’s men during their six-to-seven months in France, Holland and Belgium; Lipton’s attempt to warn Winters of Dike’s inadequacies as a company commander; and Spiers assuming command of Easy Company. I cannot decide whether the episode’s pièce de résistance were the shelling sequences that led to Toye and Guarnere’s injuries and the deaths of Muck and Penkala, or Easy Company actual assault upon Foy. Perhaps ”The Breaking Point” might prove to be that one episode with two exceptional sequences.

Director David Frankel not only put it all together with some exceptional action sequences, but also with his guidance of the cast. It did help that this episode featured some first-class performances. I found myself especially impressed by Frank John Hughes, who made his last appearances in the miniseries as the memorable William “Wild Bill” Guarnere; Peter O’Meara as the incompetent Norman Dike; Scott Grimes, who gave a poignant performance as Donald Marlarkey; Matthew Settle as the formidable Ronald Spiers, who proved to be a lot more human than Easy Company had earlier surmised; Neal McDonough, who brilliantly conveyed the strain Buck Compton suffered upon his return from an Army hospital and his eventual breakdown; and Rick Gomez, who proved to be both funny and dramatic as the company’s own comic, George Luz. Damian Lewis, Ron Livingston Richard Speight Jr. and Peter McCabe also gave solid support. But the best performance came from Donnie Walhberg in his portrayal of Easy’s dependable first sergeant, Carwood Lipton. Walhberg not only gave a subtle performance as the soft-spoken Lipton, but also had the screen presence to hold this epic episode together. He also captured Lipton’s style of speech in his narration of the episode.

In earlier articles, I had already indicated that there were at least three ”BAND OF BROTHERS” that I held above the others in terms of quality. Two of them were ”Bastogne” and ”Carentan”. The third episode turned out to be ”The Breaking Point”. In fact, I would go as far to say that David Frankel’s direction, Graham Yost’s script and Donnie Walhberg’s performance made it the best in the entire series.

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“BAND OF BROTHERS” (2001) – Episode Six “Bastogne” Commentary

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“BAND OF BROTHERS” (2001) – Episode Six “Bastogne” Commentary

This sixth episode of ”BAND OF BROTHERS” featured the experiences of Easy Company during the Battle of the Bulge and their participation in the Allies’ efforts to hold the ground near Bastogne, Belgium; while low on ammunition and supplies. The episode focused on Easy Company medic, Eugene “Doc” Roe, as he tended his fellow soldiers where he can, while also scrounging for medical supplies. 

”Bastogne” turned out to be the first of two episodes centered on Easy Company’s experiences in Belgium. Shown from Eugene Roe’s point-of-view; the audience saw Easy Company deal with many difficulties and traumas during this campaign. Aside from ammunition and supplies, Roe and the company had to deal with freezing temperatures, low morale, the encircling German Army and worst of all, an ineffectual company commander by the name of Norman Dike. The episode featured a good deal of combat sequences. But since they were shown through “Doc” Roe’s eyes, the audience’s views of these sequences were at best minimal.

One sequence had First Platoon on a reconnaissance patrol in order to probe for the German line. The patrol led to several wounded troopers and the death of a replacement trooper named Private Julian. Supporting characters like Lieutenant Harry Welsh and Wayne “Skinny” Sisk suffered serious leg wounds from occasional German artillery shelling. And Walter “Smokey” Gordon was wounded and paralyzed during a German tank assault. During this time, Roe struck up a fictionalized friendship and potential romance with a Belgian nurse named Renée LeMaire. Their relationship ended in tragedy, when Renée was killed during the German bombing of Bastogne on Christmas Eve. Replacement trooper Edward “Babe” Heffron also figured heavily in ”Bastogne”. Although the episode was mainly told from Roe’s point-of-view, it allowed one sequence told from Babe’s point-of-view. In it, Babe and another medic named Ralph Spina had a humorous encounter with German troops in a foxhole, while searching for medical supplies for Easy Company.

There are three episodes of ”BAND OF BROTHERS” that I consider to be personal favorites of mine. And one of them is ”Bastogne”. In my reviews of episodes like “Day of Days” and “Replacements”, I had complained of the lack of epic scope in episodes that featured important and historic battles. In ”Bastogne”, director David Leland and screenwriter Bruce C. McKenna gave the episode that epic scope needed for an episode about the famous siege of Bastogne. And the fact that they told the episode through the eyes of medic Eugene Roe made their efforts all the more amazing. Was this particular episode filmed inside a soundstage? It is possible. If it was, I am impressed. I wish I knew the name of the production designer for this particular episode, because he or she did a magnificent job in re-creating the Ardennes Forest during the winter. I also found the photography very impressive, especially in the scene that featured the Army Air Corps’ attempt to re-supply the division by air and the German bombing of Bastogne near the end of the episode. Once again, ”BAND OF BROTHERS” allowed viewers to get a peek into the personal interactions between the troopers of Easy Company. Most of these interactions occurred during Christmas Eve . . . right before Harry Welsh was wounded by German artillery. However, I also enjoyed the two major interactions between Roe and Heffron – especially one scene in which both Roe and Spina tried to comfort Heffron, who was distraught over Private Julian’s death.

”Bastogne” featured some excellent performances from certain members of the cast. Neal McDonough gave a subtle and convincing performance as platoon leader Lieutenant Lynn “Buck” Compton , whose emotional stability seemed to be in danger of spiraling out of control after getting shot in Holland. Another memorable performance came from actress Lucie Jeanne, who portrayed Renée Lemaire, the Belgian nurse in Bastogne that Roe befriended. Robin Laing got a chance to shine as Edward “Babe” Heffron, the replacement trooper that hailed from Bill Guarnere’s Philadelphia neighborhood. He was especially effectively poignant in a scene in which Heffron grieved over Private Julian’s death. But the star of this particular episode was Irish-born actor Shane Taylor. Recalling my complaint about the questionable American accents of some of the British cast members, I can happily say that Taylor was not one of them. He did an excellent job in recapturing the Louisiana-born Roe’s native accent. More importantly, he gave a subtle, yet superb performance as the quiet and efficient medic, struggling to perform his duty and prevent himself from getting affected by the suffering around him. In the end, Taylor not only gave one of the miniseries’ best performances, but also managed to carry a very important episode on his shoulders.

”Bastogne” is not completely perfect. Despite the strong chemistry between Taylor and Jeanne, there were moments when I found the nuance of their relationship – especially the silent exchange of glances – a bit heavy-handed. And I am somewhat confused about the fate of the wounded men that Roe escorted to one of the hospitals in Bastogne. Earlier in the episode, he had escorted Sisk and Gordon to the hospital where Renée worked. He was about to deliver Welsh to the same hospital, when he witnessed its destruction from German bombers. The episode made it clear that Bastogne had remained encircled by German forces, until the arrival of elements from General George C. Patton’s Third Army on December 26, 1944. So . . . what happened to Sisk and Gordon? They did not meet Renée’s fate. Both men survived the war. How did they get out of that hospital and Bastogne before the December 24 bombing?

Perfect or not, ”Bastogne” is one of my personal favorite episodes in ”BAND OF BROTHERS”. And thanks to director David Leland, screenwriter Bruce C. McKenna and actor Shane Taylor, the episode conveyed an epic point-of-view of the siege of Bastogne that made it one of the best (at least in my opinion) episodes in the entire miniseries.

“DEFIANCE” (2008) Review

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“DEFIANCE” (2008) Review

After watching Edward Zwick’s 2008 World War II film, “DEFIANCE”, I finally began to realize that it does not pay to make assumptions about a movie, based upon a theater trailer. I had made this mistake several times throughout my life and it irks me that I am still capable of making it. I certainly made this mistake when I saw the trailer for “DEFIANCE”, a World War II drama that told the story of the war experiences of four Polish-Jewish brothers who ended up forming a partisan resistance group against the occupying Nazis between 1941 and 1942. 

Based upon the book, “Defiance: The Bielski Partisans” by Nechama Tec, “DEFIANCE” centered around the Bielski brothers – Daniel Craig, Liev Schreiber, Jamie Bell and George MacKay – who had escaped their Nazi-occupied of Eastern Poland/West Belarus and joined the Soviet partisans to combat the Nazis. The brothers eventually rescued roughly 1,200 Jews. The film tracked their struggle to evade invading German forces, while still maintaining their mission to save Jewish lives. When I had first learned about this film ten years ago, I had assumed this would be some rousing World War II tale about a brave resistance against the Nazi horde. I really should have known better. I should have taken into account the film’s director – namely Edward Zwick.

The first Zwick film I had ever seen was the 1989 Civil War drama, “GLORY”. In that movie and other movies directed by him, most of the characters are never presented as one-dimensional, black-and-white characters. Shades of gray permeated most, if not all of his characters, including most memorably – Denzel Washington in “GLORY”, Annette Bening in “SIEGE”, Tom Cruise in ”THE LAST SAMURAI” and both Leonardo DiCaprio and Djimon Hounsou in “BLOOD DIAMONDS”.  Zwick continued his tradition of presenting ambiguous characters and morally conflicting issues in “DEFIANCE”. Moral ambiguity seemed to be the hallmark in the portrayal of at least two of the Bielski brothers. Both Tuvial and Zus Bielski (Daniel Craig and Liev Schreiber) are strong-willed and ruthless men, willing to kill anyone who crossed them. And both seemed willing to enact vengeance against anyone have harmed their loved ones. But they had their differences.

Daniel Craig had the job of portraying Tuvial Bielski, the oldest sibling who decides to create a community and a brigade with the Jewish refugees hiding from the Nazis and their Polish allies. His Tuvial seemed a little reluctant to take on this task – at least at first. And he also seemed unsure whether he could be a competent leader. Thanks to Craig’s performance, this insecurity of Tuvial’s seemed to slowly grow more apparent by the movie’s second half. Being the more-than-competent actor that he is, Craig also managed to portray other aspects of Tuvial’s nature – his ruthlessness, tenderness and sardonic sense of humor (which seemed to be apparent in the Bielski family overall). And like any good actor, he does not try to hog the limelight at the expense of his co-stars. Craig created sizzling on-screen chemistry with Schreiber, Bell and the actress who portrayed Tuvial’s future wife, Alexa Davalos.

Liev Schreiber portrayed Zus, the second oldest Bielski brother. And being the charismatic actor that he is, Schreiber did an excellent job of portraying the volatile second brother, Zus. Upon learning the deaths of his wife and child, Schreiber’s Zus seemed determined to exact revenge upon the Nazis for their deaths. Even if it meant walking away from his brothers and joining the Soviet partisans. Another aspect of Zus’ character that Schreiber made so memorable was the intense sibling rivalry he injected into his relationship with Craig’s Tuvial. Unlike his older brother, Zus’s volatile nature made him more inclined to exact revenge against the Nazis and other enemies. Also, Schreiber perfectly brought out Zus’ contempt and dislike toward those Jewish refugees who came from a higher social class than his family’s.

Portraying the third Bielski brother is Jamie Bell, who has become well known over the years, thanks to his roles in “KING KONG” (2005)“JUMPER” (2008) “JANE EYRE” (2011) and especially his starring role in the TV series “TURN: WASHINGTON’S SPIES”. Bell did an excellent job of portraying the young and slightly naïve Asael, the third Bielski brother who experiences as a partisan with Tuvial enabled him to mature as a fighter and a man. His Asael does not seem to possess his older brothers’ ruthlessness . . . on the surface. But as the refugees struggle to survive their first winter together and evade the Nazis in the movie’s last half hour, Bell brought out Asael’s toughness that had been hidden by a reserved and slightly shy nature.

“DEFIANCE” also included an additional cast that greatly supported the three leads. There were at least three that caught my interest. Alexa Davalos expertly portrayed Lilka Ticktin, an aristocratic Polish Jew, whose delicate looks and quiet personality hid a strong will and warmly supportive nature. Both Mark Feuerstein as the intellectual Isaac Malbin and Allan Corduner as a professor named Shamon Haretz humorously provided comic relief in their never-ending philosophical debates that seemed to elude the less intellectual Bielskis.  Sam Spruell gave a very effective performance as the vengeful and resentful Arkady Lubczanski, another refugee who is jealous of the Bielskis’ authority.  The rest of the cast featured supporting players and local Lithuanians portraying the refugees. Basically, they did a pretty good job in conveying the refugees’ plight. There were moments when their acting seemed like one, long running cliché. And there were moments – like the sequence featuring their fatal beating of the captured German soldier – in which they seemed very effective.

“DEFIANCE” is not perfect. As I had stated earlier, the supporting and background characters tend to drift into cliché performances sometimes. The movie’s pacing threatened to drag in two places – when the Bielskis first began to gather the refugees that followed them; and later in the film when Tuvial’s camp suffer their first “winter of discontent”. James Newton Howard’s score did not help matters. I found it slow and unoriginal and it threatened to bog down the film in certain scenes.

But the movie definitely had its moments – including the sequence featuring the lynching of the German soldier. It was one of many that accentuated the gray and complex nature of “DEFIANCE”. On one hand, the audience could not help but empathize with the refugees’ anger at what the German soldier represented – the deaths of their loved ones and the dark turn their lives had taken. On the other hand, the entire sequence struck me as ugly and dark. Mob violence at its worse. Even Asael (Bell) seemed disgusted by the refugees’ lynching of the soldier . . . and Tuvial’s failure to stop them. Another ambiguous scene centered around one of the refugees – a rogue soldier of Tuvial’s brigade named Arkady Lubczanski – who tries to lead a rebellion against an ill Tuvial during a food shortage. Arkady is portrayed as an unpleasant man who lusts after Asael’s bride and believes that he and his fellow soldiers in the brigade are entitled to more food than the refugees. Tuvial ends the rebellion by killing Arkady. Granted, Arkady had not harmed anyone – aside from giving Asael a shiner. On the other hand, his practice of hoarding the food could have ended with death by starvation for most of the refugees. Had Tuvial been right to commit murder? Apparently, the refugees did not seem so. They did not protest against his act of murder.

This is what Edward Zwick is all about. This is why I am a fan of many of his movies. Superficially, he presents his story in a black-and-white situation. The Nazis, their Polish allies, anti-Semitic Soviet troops and unpleasant refugees like Arkady are presented superficially as one-note villains. Yet, the people who oppose them – the Bielski brothers, their loved ones, their Polish and Soviet allies and the refugees – turn out not to be as “good” or perfect as many would believe. In Ed Zwick’s movies, the world is not as black and white as we might believe . . . or wish it would be.

“BAND OF BROTHERS” (2001) – Episode Five “Crossroads” Commentary

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“BAND OF BROTHERS” (2001) – Episode Five “Crossroads” Commentary

The last episode, ”Replacements” saw Easy Company reeling from the Allies’ disastrous defeat during the Operation Market Garden campaign in Holland. Directed by Tom Hanks, this latest episode depicted Richard Winters’ last combat engagement as the company’s commander, Operation Pegasus, and the company’s departure for Belguim as they prepare to participate in the Bastogne campaign. 

At the beginning of the aptly named ”Crossroads”; Winters, now the executive officer of the 2nd Battalion of 506th regiment, recounts his last combat mission as commander of Easy Company in a report for regimental headquarters that took place at a crossroads, near a dike in Holland. In the aftermath of the battle, Winters is informed that he has been promoted to Lieutenant Colonel Strayer’s executive officer, leaving Easy without a commander. However, a new man – Frederick Theodore “Moose” Heyliger – becomes Easy’s new commander and leads them in Operation Pegasus, a military mission to escort a large number of British paratroopers trapped behind enemy lines, following the failure of Market Garden. Unfortunately, about a week later, Lieutenant Heyliger is seriously wounded by an American sentry and Easy ends up with a new commander named Norman Dike. Unlike Winters and Heyliger, Easy Company has no respect for their new leader and nicknames him ”Foxhole Norman”.

Not long after Dike becomes Easy’s new commander, a reluctant Winters is ordered to spend a few days of furlough in Paris. During his furlough, Winters is haunted by a moment when he killed a teenaged German soldier during the crossroads battle. Not long after his return to the regiment, the 101st Airborne learns about the German counterattack near Bastogne and is sent to Belgium to repel it. The episode ends with Easy company marching into the Belgian forest in the middle of the night, with minimum supplies and inadequate clothing.

I have always liked ”Crossroads” . . . despite itself. I cannot put my finger on it. Perhaps my feelings about the episode have to do with how Hanks directed the battle fought at the crossroads. He injected a great deal of style into that very moment that featured Winters leading a charge against S.S. troops at the crossroads. I also enjoyed Damian Lewis’ performance during the Paris furlough scenes and Neal McDonough as the slightly stressed out “Buck” Compton, who has returned from the hospital. And I enjoyed the sequence featuring the interaction of some of the company’s men, while watching a Marlene Dietrich film. However, my favorite sequence featured Easy Company’s brief journey to another crossroad – one near the town of Bastogne, Belgium. Screenwriter Erik Jendresen certainly did his best to ensure that the episode’s title adhere to its theme. A good deal seemed to be at a crossroads in this episode – including the location of a Dutch dike, where Winters led Easy Company into combat for the last time; and the crossroads near Bastogne, where the company was sent to halt the German counterattack. Winters’ Army career was at a crossroads, as he went from company commander to battalion executive officer. And Easy Company endured a crisis of leadership following Winters’ promotion to battalion.

Yet, despite my positive feelings for ”Crossroads”, I cannot deny that it was one of the miniseries’ weaker episodes. For such a short episode, so much had occurred. Winters led Easy Company into combat for the last time. The company participated in Operations Pegasus. It lost “Moose” Heyliger as its commander after he was accidentally shot and gained Norman Dike as the new commander – a man for whom no one seemed to have much respect. This episode should have been longer than 50 minutes. More importantly, watching both ”Replacements” and ”Crossroads” made me realize that Spielberg and Hanks had limited the company’s experiences in Holland to two engagements. The miniseries could have explored a lot more, judging from what I have read in Stephen Ambrose’s book.

It seemed a pity that Spielberg and Hanks failed to take the opportunity to explore more of Easy Company’s Holland experiences. Instead, the second half of this episode focused on Winters’ furlough in Paris and the company’s preparations for the Belgium campaign. And because of this ”Crossroads” seemed unfulfilled . . . and lacking. But it did provide an excellent performance from Damian Lewis as Richard Winters. And it featured a first-rate combat sequence and some personal interactions between the men that I found interesting. It was not a complete waste of time.

 

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“BAND OF BROTHERS” (2001) – Episode Four “Replacements” Commentary

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“BAND OF BROTHERS” (2001) – Episode Four “Replacements” Commentary

In the last episode, ”Carentan”, yet-to-be-announced First Sergeant Carwood Lipton announced to Normandy veterans Easy Company that they would be returning to France. Instead, a conversation between Sergeant Bill Guarnere and a group of replacements revealed at the beginning of this new episode that Easy Company never did. Eventually Easy Company did return to the Continent when they were deployed to the Netherlands to participate in the doomed Operation Market Garden campaign. 

”Replacements” centered on Sergeant Denver “Bull” Randleman and his experiences during Operation Market Garden and with the replacements in his platoon. One of them included Edward “Babe” Heffron, who hailed from the same Philadelphia neighborhood as Guarnere (this was established at the end of Carentan”). The other three include Antonio Garcia, James Miller and Lester “Leo” Hashey. Through both his and their eyes, viewers get to experience Easy Company’s trouble-free jump into Holland, the Dutch citizens’ joyous reaction to their presence in Eindhoven and their disastrous encounter with battle-hardened S.S. troops – one of many encounters that led to the failure of Operation Market Garden. Following Easy Company’s retreat from Eindhoven, a wounded “Bull” Randleman finds himself trapped in the German-occupied town and is forced to find his way back to Easy Company and the American lines.

”Replacements” turned out to be a decent episode, but it was one that did not knock my socks off. It featured a terrifying battle in which Easy Company was forced to retreat in defeat. And it also gave viewers an interesting view in the mindsets of replacement troops like Garcia, Miller and Hashey; who seemed to regard Randleman and the other Toccoa trained men with awe. In scenes that featured Easy Company’s brief liberation of Eindhoven, the episode revealed the cruel fates inflicted by the Dutch citizens upon local women who had collaborated (had sex) with some of the occupying German troops. And viewers got to enjoy more scenes featuring some of the men engaging in small talk that revealed more of their personalities. The episode also had interesting scenes that featured Lewis Nixon’s brief brush with death (a bullet in his helmet) and Winters’ reaction, Easy Company’s brief reunion with Herbert Sobel, who had become a supply officer; and David Webster, Don Hoobler and Robert Van Klinken’s humorous encounter with a Dutch farmer and his son. However, ”Replacements” belonged to one particular character, namely Denver “Bull” Randleman. Screenwriters Graham Yost and Bruce C. McKenna did a solid job in both his characterization and the Holland experiences of the Arkansas-born sergeant. One of the episode’s more harrowing scenes featured a violent encounter between a wounded Randleman and a German soldier inside a barn, while the owner – a Dutch farmer – and his daughter look on.

But Randleman’s experiences during Operation Market Garden would have never been that effective without Michael Cudlitz’s subtle performance as the quiet and imposing Randleman. With very little dialogue, Cudlitz conveyed the veteran’s battle experiences and emotions through body language, facial expressions and the use of his eyes. He made it easy for me to see why the troopers of First Platoon and even the company’s officers held with such high regard. Cutdliz was ably supported by the likes of Dexter Fletcher’s sardonic portrayal of First Platoon’s other NCO, John Martin; Frank John Hughes’ amusing performance as the verbose Bill Guarnere; and Peter McCabe, who turned out to be one of the few British actors who perfectly captured the accent and speech patterns of an American combatant in his portrayal of the aggressive Donald Hoobler. Also, it was nice to see David Schwimmer again as Easy Company’s much reviled former commander, Herbert Sobel in a more subtle performance. Portraying the inexperienced replacement troops were James McAvoy (James Miller), Douglas Spain (Antonio C. Garcia) and Mark Huberman (Lester “Leo” Hashey). And each actor did a solid job in portraying their characters’ inexperience, awe of the veteran Toccoa men and their determination to prove themselves in combat.

However, ”Replacements” had its problems. One, the opening scene at the English pub featured Walter Gordon revealing Carwood Lipton as the company’s new first sergeant. And this moment really seemed out of place, considering that Lipton was already acting like the new first sergeant at the end of ”Carentan”. Aside from the battle scene, I must admit that this was not an exciting episode. Like ”Day of Days”, it featured a major historical event – in this case, Operation Market Garden – that had exciting moments, but lacked an epic quality that would have suited such a topic. Allowing the episode a longer running time would have been a step in the right direction. And if I must be honest, I got the feeling that not much really happened in this episode, in compare to ”Day of Days”.

But, ”Replacements” turned out to be a decent episode. Although it lacked an epic quality for a story about Easy Company’s experiences during Operation Market Garden, it did feature an exciting battle that resulted in defeat for them. And Michael Cutdliz gave a subtle and first-class performance as the episode’s central character, “Bull” Randleman.