Friday, August 18, 2017

A history lesson on Dunkirk

Imagine yourself standing on the shores of what under normal circumstances would be a beautiful beach hoping it’s not your time to die as enemy planes fly overhead. That is how the World War II drama film Dunkirk begins. Over  400,000 men in uniform taking cover in a place where none is to be found. Men who just want to make it across an ocean and see home again. Is Dunkirk a film about a little known event in British military history, yes. Is it a film worth watching? Yes and let me tell you why.

Directed and written by Christopher Nolan, from opening shot to ending cridits Dunkirk is a thrilling and beautiful film. A true story taken from World War II about the British and allied evacuation from Dunkirk, France. A story about what it means to be a soldier and a human. A story about what it takes to survive a battle. With the beach being the prime location Nolan also takes us to the skies and on the water. It is difficult to write about a film when most of the cast is unknown to me and they wear the same uniform and have accents making it especially challenging to learn the names of the characters but that’s not going to stop me.

Dunkirk opens on Alex, played by Harry Styles (yes from the boy band One Direction but stay with me because while it is always nerve wrecking when a teen singing idol takes a stab at dramatic acting sometimes things work out, look at Justin Timberlake) he is running through the streets of the city and from there the viewer is with him as his story unfolds. A single soldier without a regiment or commander he finds others along the way who just want to make it through the battle. In one anxious scene he and his fellow soldiers are in the hull of a capsized ship trying to keep still with the enemy nearby.

Then we are in the skies as British pilots try to stay in the air as they protect those on the ground.

The other piece of the story isn’t about soldiers at all but the civialns who were called upon by the miltary to help for their own ships cannot make it. This is where having a large population of citizens who own a boat and being an island nation comes in handy . One of these regular folks is a man named Mr. Dawson played by Mark Rylance, he along with his son Peter, played by Tom Glynn-Carney and Peter’s friend George played by Barry Keoghan. The three of them brave the fight to save as many men as they can.

Although there is very little dialouge Christopher Nolan has made a film that leaves a lasting impact for days afterwards. Every scene, every fight was from the point of view of those involved. Although at times loud (after all it is war) Dunkirk is a tense film putting you on the edge of your seat. I felt claustrophobic during scenes that took place in tight spaces, and I cried a few time-from joy and sadness. And I felt as Commander Bolton, played by Kenneth Branagh felt throughout the film.    

A great job by all those who had a part in making this film.

I have watched a few World War II movies, some like Pearl Harbor over and over until I had it memorized and some that were critically acclaimed like Saving Private Ryan. With Dunkirk I have learned something new about this time in history and will watch it again.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Turn: Washington’s Spies (2014-2017)

In order to say a fond farewell to Turn: Washington’s Spies a have to go character by character.

Let me start with Abraham Woodhull portrayed by Jamie Bell. Abe was younger brother to Thomas who was killed in an uprising before the war. He married his brother’s girl Mary, portrayed by Meegan Warner and they had a son named after his brother. Before the Revaluation Abe was a cabbage farmer in Setauket New York. When the opportunity to fight, as a spy not a soldier, came to his doorstep he knew he had no choice. So without his father a judge and loyalist portrayed by Kevin McNally  knowledge and in honor of his brother he became a key member of the spy ring. Under the name Culper, Abe would go on to fight the British from the inside. Abraham Woodhull was a good man who loved his family, even when they were against him and along with others knew that a new nation was worth fighting for.    

Then there was Maj. Ben Talmadge portrayed by Seth Numrich who if I am being honest was my favorite character. Ben was the one who brought Abe and others into the spy ring. Throughout most of the war he was the one within Washington’s camp working with him as they planned each new mission for the spies. Friends with Abe and Lt. Caleb Brewster, portrayed by Daniel Henshall, since they were kids he always had their back and wanted them to stay safe and come home.

Yes there were women who believe in the cause and there was none more ready to be part of the war than Anna Strong, portrayed by Heather Lind, married to another man but in love with Abe, Anna quickly joined the fight and worked alongside Abe and Ben since the beginning. She was as strong as her name suggested and never let down the men or herself.

On the side of the spies and working with them were a couple of recurring characters-

Abigail, played by Idara Victor a black woman who served in the household of Andre and Arnold, she was able to work both sides and passed on important information about the British tactics to Anna. Her son Cicero, played by Darren Alford would join her in the effort. A man named Akinbode played by Aldis Hodge would come to help the cause and love her.

And finally fighting for America’s freedom we had Robert Townsend, portrayed by Nick Westrate. Townsend a Quaker by religion and a Tavern keeper in life was in a prime situation to become known as Culper jr. because of his religion he tried to stay neutral but working behind a bar everyone, even a redcoat, will talk to you and after a few drinks will tell you anything. With the local newspapers printing press in his tavern’s basement he was able to pass on information in plain sight.  

SIMCOE, portrayed by Samuel Roukin, what can I say about Lt.Col. John Graves Simcoe?  1) He is not the 1st British officer I love to hate on TV or in film. 2) Simcoe was pure evil from day one. He and Abe were enemies almost from their first meeting when Simcoe was walking around Setauket like he owned the place. He was one of those guys who thought they knew everything and believed he was better than anyone. All he cared about was power which was evident when it came to his relationship to Major Edmund Hewlett, played by Torchwood’s own Burn Gorman (Hewlett was in command at Setauket and for most of the series Abe used him and played him like a fiddle to get him to do what was best in order to mover along each mission and gain information for Ben and Washington). When Simcoe got some real power in the command of the Queen’s Rangers he used them to try and kill his enemies. Abe and Simcoe were the definition of good vs evil. Every time they met the friction that came across the screen was electric. Bell and Roukin made these two men come (back) to life and every second was a joy to watch, a week after it and I still got goosebumps after watching their final fight. SIMCOE

And then there is the one “character” in this series that I knew a thing or two about before but now feel I have better insight of- General Benedict Arnold portrayed by Owain Yeoman (I don’t know what is worst portraying a traitor or being an undercover Brit, where was that accent during The Mentalist?) History nerd alert-If you visit the Historical National Park and Battlefield in Saratoga NY you can see a statue of Gen. Arnold’s boot and this series picked up shortly after he was shot in the leg during that battle. Where Simcoe was evil, Arnold was an opportunist. When he didn’t receive a promotion and raise from the continental congress he and his knowledge of Washington’s tactics joined the British. Arnold would go on to marry Peggy Shippen, played by Ksenia Solo who never really loved him but grew up with money and believed Arnold was key to keeping her social status. It seemed Benedict never loved Peggy even as she became a spy in her own right as it was Major John Andre portrayed by JJ Field who was in love with her. When it became clear Andre couldn’t be with her he had an actress dress as Peggy. As creepy and out of line as that sounds John Andre may have been on the wrong side of the war but he still had a heart and Spoiler Alert while assisting in a plot devised by Arnold he was quickly hanged and I did shed a tear or two while the scene played out.

Last but certainly not least there was the man himself- General George Washington and really there isn’t anything I can say that the history books haven’t said although like with those mentioned above and the rest of the cast Ian Kahn who played the prodigious General and 1st president was superb and made this series a treasure to watch.   

When Turn: Washington’s Spies (based on a book of the same name written by Alexander Rose) premiered it moved slowly and I was unable to follow the plot and characters but by the beginning of the second season I was hooked and involved in this real yet little known story from US history. These men and women to whom I never heard of before came alive in a TV show that stayed under the radar. I enjoyed learning about this time in our history and those on both sides. Although it was one of those shows that never got recognized by The Emmys, the storytelling was on par the best I’ve seen (and as a TV fan and amateur historian that is saying a lot) and the acting by even those in small supporting roles (they added Alexander Hamilton only after Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Musical was a hit) was excellent. Every actor knew their role and every role was important.

When a season ended I didn’t know if the show would return but Turn: Washington’s Spies had 4 good years and I for one will never forget it, in fact I may watch it in its entirely again once the finale airs. I raise a pint to the cast and crew of this one of a kind show. Thank you for teaching and entertaining me every step of the way. RIP