John Wick: Chapter 2: What guys imagine they’re doing when they shoot IDPA.
Coming off of Netflix this week is a Norwegian TV mini-series, The Heavy Water War (originally Kampen om tungtvannet). The six episode series is a dramatization of the Nazi nuclear program, the Norwegian Deuterium Oxide factory that supplied it, and the British operation to disable the program. It is in the appropriate language for the scene and characters which means, variously, English, Norwegian, German, and Danish.
Once again, this is a series pushed onto me by Netflix (using their old rating system), which I ignored until they threatened to remove it from streaming (and it is not available from them on DVD). Once again, I am pleased that I was pushed over the edge. This series was well worth the time.
The story starts before the war and gives the background of the German atomic program and the use of heavy water, which they purchased from Norway’s Norsk Hydro. A single production facility, at the Vemork Hydro-electric plant, was responsible for all the world’s heavy water. As war began, the Allies were aware of Germany’s use of it in their program and, via the French, secured all of the Norwegian stock to prevent delivery. Once Germany took Norway by invasion, they had direct and unimpeded access to the production.
The heart of the story, and most of the episodes, covers the commando raids run out of Scotland to disable the production through sabotage. After an initial failure to insert British commandos, a second successful raid was conducted by entirely Norwegians.
What I really appreciate about this series is the production value. The props and costumes seem well researched, and the quality is excellent – particularly for made-for-television. The actors match (at least for the most part, I didn’t look them up one-by-one), in language and nationality, the characters that they portray. This adds another level of fidelity. When an American begins shouting about bombing the factory, I know they’re using a real American by the accent. Similarly the Norwegian who “grew up in America” has the right accent.
I wasn’t watching every aspect of the firearms usage, but they appeared to make some extra effort in that regard as well. When the commandos prepare to use their pistols, the hammer is actually back – a detail neglected in many Hollywood usages of single-action pistols. Firearms run out of ammo and otherwise seems realistic when used. The range of weapons used also seems to have been researched. In actuality, the use of Thompson submachine guns by the successful raid was an important part of the plan. The saboteurs left a Tommy gun behind to demonstrate that it was a British-executed attack, not the work of locals – thus attempting to avoid reprisals.
Similarly, those characters that are living through depredation genuinely look pretty haggard. I don’t think the actors actually starved themselves for the roll, but a little bit of beard and makeup can go a long way. There have been too many series where the lead characters can be in the wilderness for weeks or months, and still have perfect hair and makeup.
Oddly enough, the scenes sneaking into the factory gave me some Medal of Honor flashback moments. I guess its the combination of the German guard houses and their unique paint schemes, which I only recall from within the video game. It may also have something to do with the similarity of the mission to the final Medal of Honor:Allied Assault mission. I also had a nice James Bond flashback. A dramatic scene has one of the Norwegians fleeing the site of their hideout on skis, at which point he is pursued by a squad of skiing Germans. Where James Bond did (and many a production would be tempted to do) have active shootouts and stunt jumps punctuating the chases, this one is portrayed in what to me seems like a very realistic manner. For the shootout portion, the German and the Norwegian actually stop, struggle to dislodge their pistols from their winter overclothes, and then somewhat-awkwardly exchange fire.
As nearly always is the case with a historical drama, details have been changed to serve the story. In several cases non-historical characters play a major role and details of the events have been tweaked. Fortunately or unfortunately, depending on where you stand, I don’t know enough about these historical events to realize what I was missing. I was able to enjoy the story and accept it as it was told.
The story set viewing records when it was aired on Norwegian television in 2015. Sadly, it will never get that level of viewing in this country. I’m glad I managed to catch it as I could.
Counter-intuitively, to be a worthwhile historical drama, a film can actually be significantly lacking in historical accuracy. Much like in gaming, one occasionally is reminded that we are talking about a “drama” not a “documentary.” In order to be successful, it must have a good story, good execution, etc. A successful historical drama that happens to get the details wrong often serves as a springboard to get people interested in the “real story.”
Coming of Netflix just in time for the holiday weekend is The Last Samurai (2003), staring Tom Cruise as an ancient Japanese warrior. No, that’s not right is it? But I recall reading reviews at the time the movie came out that seemed to take offense at just that – why does it have to be an American, played by Cruise, that stars in a story of Japan?
It is a familiar structure in film an story to introduce the situation via an outside who, like the reader, must learn the “lay of the land” as the story progresses. That character may be the central one of the story, the person the audience identifies with, or it may just be a minor edition to whom the main characters are forced to explain the situation that everyone but the outside (and the reader/viewer) understands. Particular in Western writings about foreign cultures, this provides an excellent means to introduce new ways of life through a work of fiction.
In The Last Samurai, Tom Cruise plays an American army veteran who is hired by the Japanese Emperor Meiji to aid in modernizing the Japanese military. He quickly learns that Japan is in the midst of a revolt by one of the the emperor’s advisor and prominent Samurai (the titular last one, presumably) who is resisting the rush towards modernization. After having the imperial forces rushed into battle, unprepared, Cruise is captured by said Samurai and, while captive, comes to appreciate the culture of his erstwhile enemy.
Historically, the film has a tenuous grasp on reality. Said “last Samurai” is based on the person of Saigō Takamori, who lead the Satsuma Rebellion in 1877 (probably half a year or so later then events described in the movie). Cruise’s character is based, in part, on Frenchman Jules Brunet, who had similar experiences, but a decade earlier in the Boshun War which restored the Emperor to the throne. While bits and pieces of the story are drawn from history, then, the narrative takes place in what is pretty much a fantasy world. One can either see this as a butchering of history, or as an admirable way of removing the possibility of stepping on historical toes while telling a fictional story.
While the film was criticized for being America-centric, it also draws valid criticism from the other direction. Hints of capitalism replacing feudalism are held up in the movie as obvious targets of disdain. The U.S. military is shown to be interested in helping the Japanese Imperial Army because it would result in arms contracts going forward. The government official who seems to be in charge of the purse is also the owner of a new cross-country railroad and the revolution puts his investment at risk. Thus the “war” is really for his own, personal enrichment. Bringing in the modern themes of a paradise lost to technology represents a poke in the eye to history, and seemingly for the sole purpose of preaching, rather than just the telling of a good yarn. In reality, the revolts in Japan had far more to do with political power than cultural change. In particular, the attribution to the Samurai as the guardians of traditionalism (outside the fuedal power structure) is misplaced. In the Boshun War, it was the supporters of the emperor who were resisting the influence of the West. In the Satsuma Rebellion, the “Samurai” did not restrict themselves to traditional Japanese weapons as the movie portrayed, but used muskets and cannon as their budget afforded them.
At the end of it all, I can still enjoy most of the movie despite its faults. It works fairly well as a “period drama.” The costumes and scenery are well done – and not just for the traditional Japanese attire. I also enjoyed the Imperial Japanese costumes and the portrayal of the technological revolution in Japan. I do wonder about the outfitting of the Japanese with Civil War surplus rifles; 1861 Springfields and 1853 Enfields. Are we to assume that the U.S. dumped a bunch of now-obsolete muzzle-loading rifled muskets onto the Japanese? Perhaps that is implied. When Cruise returns to Tokyo, the imperial soldiers are now armed with bolt-action Mausers – another odd choice for an American contract. Sources state the imperial army was actually armed with the British-made Snider-Enfield, which was a conversion of the 1853 Enfield to fire a cartridge. The 1853 muzzle-loading Enfield was one of the more common arms of the Samurai.
Oddly enough, a contemporary incarnation of Cruise used a Snider-Enfield at the beginning of the movie Far and Away, but that’s neither here nor there.
Perhaps tellingly, the film was more popular in Japan than in the United States, with box office receipts in Japan actually exceeding the domestic take. In Japan, the film received generally positive reviews and was praised for its use of Japanese actors and the obvious research that went into the historical detail.
TV Executive: “Let’s make a show for all those gun nuts out there. We’ll have lots of shooting and some technical details about guns. They’ll eat it up, and the advertising revenue will just roll in.”
Jr. TV Executive: “Won’t that mean we’ll have to do a lot of extra research about guns?”
TV Executive: “Naaah. Those gun nuts are stupid. They’ll never know the difference.”
I’m normally a fan of Mel Gibson’s movies. And Hacksaw Ridge is, while a bit formulaic, still largely successful as an example of the war-hero genre that has served Mr. Gibson well.
The real miracle in this film is not the real-life miracle; the survival under artillery fire of Medal-of-Honor recipient Desmond Doss while he rescued 75 wounded from behind enemy lines. To me, it is how those men fought on, through day and night, and never ran out of ammunition. In particular the “Sargent” character, played by Vince Vaughn, fights off the Japanese with his MP3 (aka Grease Gun), never running low on ammo. As a matter of fact, I don’t recall a single reload from anyone. I did notice a 1911 lock back at some point and that, sadly, resulted in its user’s quick death.
The incidents of firearms silliness are legion, but only one made me quite literally wince in pain. “Teach,” the well-read-soldier archetype, charges from his trench firing a Browning M1919 from a loose, off-hand stance, gripping the barrel to direct his fire. For you non-gun geeks, the M1919 is a tripod-mounted, belt-fed machine gun firing 30-06. The Spielberg/Hanks mini-series The Pacific actually used the consequences of grabbing a medium machine gun by the barrel as a plot point (hint, Medal of Honor winner John Basilone wrecks his hands in the process).
Looking at the overall story, part of the difficulty in making sense of the action is my “small world” problem. The battle in which Doss earned his Medal of Honor occurred over the course three weeks. In the film, it is three days. And while the commanding colonel says that “several battalions” were lost in the fighting, we focus on the action of a particular company, which is represented by roughly a platoon-sized group of men. If one imagines the battlefield solely as portrayed on screen, much of the subsequent action becomes impossible.
All that aside, Doss’ son has praised the movie for its fidelity to Doss’ story, and I’ll give it the benefit of the doubt in this respect. I also like Vince Vaughn as an actor, so again, I try not to be completely negative on this production. It has its moments, but there are movies these days that are working hard to get the technical details right, and I think Mel could have risen to this occasion.
One other thing struck me while watching the portrayals of combat; the hyper-realism that is popular in war movies these days. I predict that a few years from now, this is going to be what gives today’s movies that “dated” look from the two-thousand-teens.
Continuing on with my expiration-based consumption of Netflix, I watched Elite Squad: The Enemy Within last night.
I probably wouldn’t have watched it if I had known that, in the original Portuguese, it is called Tropa de Elite 2 – O Inimigo Agora é Outro. Meaning, I was watching it without the benefit of watching Elite Squad 1. In fact, the director considers it to the be third part of a trilogy, starting with the documentary Bus 174.
The three films are critiques of the government’s actions which help to create and sustain poverty. Having not seen the first two, I’m left to take the third one on its own.Ostensibly, the film is action/crime thriller, narrated by the commander of the “Elite Squad,” a SWAT-like force called the Batalhão de Operações Policiais Especiais (BOPE). His view is from the anti-drug, pro-law-and-order perspective and the enemy, he states from the outset, is the leftist agitators and politicians who enable the drug dealers.
In many ways, I was reminded of an article about Robocop that I had just read. While the BOPE’s members and tactics are played straight, the politicians and other corrupt officials are played humorously. Elite Squad is a lot more transparent, however, and it didn’t take me too long to see that the movie’s perspective differed from that that of the narrator. It may have been even a faster transition had I already seen the original Elite Squad.
The film was immensely popular in Brazil and has been critically acclaimed here in the U.S. However, for the American (norte) viewer, without the context in Brazilian politics, it probably doesn’t have the depth and complexity that made it so popular at home. It is still and entertaining and funny action movie.
Possibly on par with Robocop.
The things you notice sometimes.
I was watching Blood Simple last night, because it was on its final days of free availability on Amazon Prime. Early on in the movie, Abby (Frances McDormand) loads her revolver. As I’m watching, I think “Hey, didn’t it just say on the box those are blanks?”
I had to look it up. But, yes, it did.
I also wondered at the end (minimal spoilers) why nobody ever bothered to count rounds once the shooting started.
So I’m finally catching up with 24. I was enthralled by the first season, and eagerly watched it as it came out. I recall reading at the time (don’t remember where) an interview with Keifer Sutherland where he speculated that the show could never run for more than two Seasons. While the second and third seasons kept me watching every week, I always felt a little less for having done so. Finally, by Season 4, it wasn’t important enough to set aside time to watch or record it, and I let it go.
Until now. It is one of the free shows available with Amazon Prime. And just like that, I’m back into the cycle of addiction. For some reason, year after year American deals with an existential terrorist threat and only one man, Agent Jack Bauer, can stop it. If you read it, I discussed what I called the “small world” problem in my Under the Dome review. Why the fate of the world so often depends on the doings of a handful of people within a 20-block radius in downtown Los Angeles is a puzzle I’ll leave to you, the reader.
Instead, I’ll comment on what is bothering me most about the series. It’s a minor thing, that has only reoccurred one or twice in each season. Each time I see it, though, it really irks me.
Now, much has been written about the silly portrayal of guns in Hollywood in general and in 24 in particular. I could go on and on about all the little mistakes in 24 that bug me. What really gets to me most, though, is the sounds made by empty guns. Especially machine guns. When a 24 machine gun runs out of ammunition, it makes this whirring and clicking noise – as if it were some kind of electric-powered minigun. Quite clearly, this was added in during the post-production sound editing. There are very obvious instances where a firearm is quite clearly empty and locked back, and yet it continues to make clicking noises that couldn’t possibly come from the real thing (or, for that matter, the blank-firing versions used to film the scene.)
So why does this happen? Why can’t the entertainment business include even a high-school level of physics research into their stories? Do they not know, or do and just not care? Maybe it is a little of both. It’s quite likely that an L.A.-based sound editor has no direct knowledge of what a machine gun does or, more importantly, doesn’t sound like. It is also possible that, knowing that it’s likely that most of the viewing public shares in this ignorance, the producers/directors decide to exercise a little artistic license. In reality, how does one tell the difference between a wielded machine gun that has stopped firing because it is out of ammunition as opposed to the shooter simply having stopped firing. Short of having the character mutter, “Damn, I’m out” in every scene, a little sound effect will do the trick. We all know that a double-action revolver will click-click-click when you pull the trigger (thanks Deer Hunter). So why not the same for any pistol? Similarly machine guns, but these also need some kind of a machine sound. They are “machine” guns, after all.
That’s what really annoys me. Yet, I keep watching so I guess, from Hollywood’s standpoint, it’s all OK.