Posts Tagged ‘film’

On the set of China’s booming war film industry, in pictures

August 17th, 2015
Filming of 'The Last Prince' television series at Hengdian World Studios

Seventy years after the end of World War II, there is still widespread resentment across China toward Japan and its wartime misdeeds. It is estimated that hundreds of films depicting China’s victory over Japan in 1945 are produced on the mainland every year and the genre remains one of the country’s most popular entertainment draws.

Picture: Kevin Frayer/Getty Images


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A man unbroken: the hero of Angelina Jolie’s new film

December 14th, 2014

Unbroken’s saviour has been Laura Hillenbrand, who wrote the 2010 biography on which the film is based. Hillenbrand had written Seabiscuit, which became a screen success. Her book persuaded the studio that the film was likely to be popular. The search was on again for a director. Jolie scored the job.

Cynthia and Luke knew the outline of their father’s life, but it wasn’t until Hillenbrand’s book that they realised quite what he endured. “We knew what he went through,” says Cynthia, “but not the graphic or extreme nature of it. My father did not share every detail of his suffering with us because he wasn’t that kind of a man. He lived a positive life. I only discovered the true depths to which he was pushed – the degradation, the dehumanisation – in Laura’s book.”

Reading about her father changed the way Cynthia saw him. “I fell in love with him. It was a very strange feeling. I saw this beautiful, tragic, heroic, capable young man being tormented and suffering. Had I been at the camp, I would have died for him.”

Jolie’s film has intensified Cynthia’s feelings. “I knew I would cry when I saw it,” she says. “I was hoping I would be deeply moved.”

As children, Cynthia and Luke found their father’s tales fantastical. “They were my bedtime stories,” says Luke. “Dad would tell me about wrestling the sharks or his plane going down. He had no problem talking about it; he just didn’t obsess over it.”

Louie Zamperini in the US air force during the Second World War

But it took Louie several years to get to this point. After returning from the war, he suffered post-traumatic stress disorder. Every night, he dreamt of strangling the most sadistic guard, Mutsuhiro Watanabe (“the Bird”), once almost strangling his pregnant wife. He drank excessively and fixated on returning to Japan to kill the prison officer. His wife threatened divorce.

Then, in 1949, she dragged him to a rally led by an evangelist preacher, Billy Graham. Hearing the sermon, Louie, a lapsed Roman Catholic, remembered the prayers he’d said on the raft and in the camp, forgave his captors instantly and never had another nightmare.

Over the following years, he returned to Japan to forgive the guards in person, and was fond of telling his children, “Hating someone is like drinking poison and expecting them to die.”

Louie’s transformation, say Luke and Cynthia, was typical of his character. Until his late teenage years, Louie was always fighting and stealing in Torrance, California, where he grew up. It was Pete, his older brother, who changed his life, by encouraging him to run.

Louie was the fastest high-school runner in the US, and in 1936 competed in the Olympics in Berlin. He finished eighth in the 5,000 metres, but he caught the attention of Hitler by running the final lap in 56 seconds. The Führer commented, “Ah, you’re the boy with the fast finish.” Once Louie committed to something, that was it. He just had to get to that point.

Louie was known as the Torrance Tornado for his speed

It was Louie’s rebelliousness and defiance, they say, that got him through the war. He refused to surrender to his torturers; he refused to die. After his religious conversion, it was the same defiance that led him to pursue such an active life, the life his captors would have taken away.

Louie went mountain climbing and white-water rafting, and ran a camp for delinquent boys to improve their ways. In 1998, he carried the Olympic torch in the relay for the Winter Olympics in Nagano, Japan, and ran a mile uphill every day in his 80s. He credited and celebrated his faith, but didn’t force it upon his children. “It was a religious household, but a very happy and joyous one,” says Cynthia. “We were taken to Sunday school, but we were free to believe what we wanted. It was not his style to force it down people’s throats.”

Luke and Cynthia remember their father as attentive – he once stayed up all night nursing Luke’s pet rats back to health – and resourceful. “He had every tool you could imagine in his workshop,” says Cynthia. “He fixed everything.”

“We’ve both inherited his mechanical mind,” says Luke. “If we see a problem, we find a way to fix it – whether it’s a broken car, a watch or a person.”

Neither sibling, however, has inherited Louie’s passion and talent for running. Cynthia was more into ballet. “I was Dad’s little athlete,” she says. “Mum would bring me home from class and Dad would have an athlete’s dinner waiting on the table for me: steak, potatoes and a glass of milk.”

Meanwhile, when Luke’s coaches at school asked whether he was going out for track, he’d be devising a way to have a cigarette. Louie would be proud of the defiance.

It was only as adults that Cynthia and Luke glimpsed times when their father’s more harrowing memories returned.

Cynthia once visited Louie in hospital, where he was being treated for an irregular heartbeat. “I walked in and he had this haunted look on his face. He was facing his mortality for the first time since the war. He told me, ‘I was just thinking about being in the prison camp.’ It was the first time in my life that my father said, ‘How could someone do that to another human being?’

“He had travelled back emotionally. He was thinking, ‘This could be the end.’” Louie went on to live for several years.

Jack O’Connell as Louis Zamperini in ‘Unbroken’

Luke had a similar experience with his father when Louie was reading Hillenbrand’s book. “The descriptions were so detailed that when my father read it, he had a very difficult time. He had to stop and look out of the window to make sure he was still in California. Laura put him right back into prison camp; it was that realistic.”

Neither sibling worried too much, however, about the impact on Louie of making a film. The more his story was told, the more it helped him – and his children – process his experiences.

And they are sure that Jolie was right for the job. “She bought all this feminine passion to the film,” says Cynthia. “Louie became a father figure to her because she hadn’t really had her own father in her life.”

Angelina Jolie watches footage of ‘Unbroken’

Unbroken, of course, can’t show everything, and the Zamperinis would have liked it to include more of Louie’s pranks and his love of music (the Andrews Sisters and Glenn Miller). But ultimately, it’s a record of a Louie they loved. The Louie on screen, says Cynthia, is “someone with flaws who becomes a heroic survivor. We all make mistakes and we all want to be able to conquer our fears and our anger. Louie’s an inspiration.”

‘Unbroken’ is out on Boxing Day


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Japan’s nationalists attack Angelina Jolie war film

December 8th, 2014

Watanabe once forced the malnourished and weak Zamperini to hold a heavy length of wood over his head for 37 minutes before punching him in the stomach.

Japan’s naitonalists are particularly incensed at descriptions in the book of POWs being “beaten, burned, stabbed or clubbed to death, shot, beheaded, killed during medical experiments or eaten alive in ritual acts of cannibalism”.

“It’s pure fabrication,” Hiromichi Moteki, secretary general of the Society for the Dissemination of Historical Fact, a nationalist pressure group, told The Telegraph.

“If there is no verification of the things he said, then anyone can make such claims,” he added. “This movie has no credibility and is immoral.”

In comments on social media, posters have accused director Angelina Jolie of “racial discrimination” and of defaming Japan, while others are calling for her to be denied entry to Japan in the future and for protests at cinemas that decide to show the film.

A petition on Change.org has attracted more than 8,000 signatures and demands that Ms Jolie – whom it describes as a “demon” – halt distribution of the film on the grounds that it is “contradictory to the facts.”

However, activists attempting to encourage Japan to face up to its brutal imperial past say criticising “Unbroken” is taking “denier-history to a new level”.

“It is one thing to question the memories of illiterate women who were forced into sexual slavery for the Japanese military,” said Mindy Kotler, director of Asia Policy Point. “It is quite another to question the memory of a white male Olympian who was a disciple of Billy Graham.

“Further, there is plenty of documentation on the abuse and tortures inflicted upon POWs,” she told The Telegraph. “There is also plenty of eyewitness and forensic evidence of Japanese cannibalism of prisoners as well of fellow soldiers.

“With the majority of war crimes trials and much of the Tokyo War Crimes Tribunal focused on atrocities against POWs, discrediting POW testimony is an important step toward discrediting the war crimes trials,” she added. “This is the objective of it all.

“It is outrageous and reprehensible to deny what happened to Louis Zamperini.

“It will not be something that the US government will be able to ignore,” she added. “Both the San Francisco Peace Treaty, which is predicated on acceptance of the Tokyo War Crimes Tribunal, and the honour of American veterans need to be defended.”


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Cumberbatch Enigma film unlocks code to a family secret

December 8th, 2014

Mr Harrison, who died in 2012, was head-hunted to join the codebreaking team while he was an economics student at Cambridge University.

At the time, in the early 1940s, Britain was losing the Battle of the Atlantic and faced the prospect of a German invasion. Outstanding intellects were needed to crack the cryptic code used by the Germans to communicate with their U-boat submarines.

Mr Harrison was among a team recruited to work with Alan Turing at Bletchley Park HQ in Buckinghamshire. They were bound by the Official Secrets Act and forbidden to utter a word of their mission. After the war he enjoyed a career as an accountant in London before retiring to St Andrews.

True to his word, Mr Harrison kept most of his work secret until his death at the age of 90. He revealed brief details only when Mrs Smith asked if he would speak about his war work to her class.

“I was teaching the children how to gather impartial evidence from people who had lived or witnessed historical events,” she said.

“However, dad told me he wouldn’t have had much to say about the war except he went to work at Bletchley Park in a suit and carried a briefcase every day and he’d been drafted into it after

solving a crossword. The talk to pupils never happened.”

Mrs Smith did not recognise the significance of his words until she went to see the The Imitation Game, starring Benedict Cumberbatch.

“It was only when I watched the film with my husband, Blair, last week that the final pieces of the jigsaw fell into place and we truly realised dad’s contribution to the war,” she said. “No one would ever have known or guessed his part in the Alan Turing story because dad was never one to boast or push himself forward.

“This was so typical of him and his loyalty to his country.

“Now the story is unfolding, we are prouder than ever of his contribution.”

She added: “His love of puzzles lasted till a few months before his death and dad was as sharp as a tack to the end.”


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Fury: a Second World War film that takes no prisoners

October 21st, 2014

More than 15 years on, most people still believe Saving Private Ryan to be an accurate portrayal of D-Day. In fact, there are many inaccuracies. The anti-invasion obstacles, known as “Rommel’s asparagus”, are the wrong way round. The beach is far too narrow – Omaha is vast at low tide, which was when the slaughter depicted took place. Tom Hanks and his platoon are in the Rangers, but in reality, these men didn’t land at Vierville at 6.30am, with the first wave, but nearly an hour later, at 7.27am, and only Company C suffered significant casualties.

Furthermore, the focus on the Americans reinforced the impression that D-Day was predominantly a US show, when nothing could have been further from the truth.

The British and Canadians lost similar numbers of men; Omaha, it was true, was the bloodiest landing beach, but the airborne troops suffered even more casualties than depicted.

But does it matter that film and TV offer an exaggerated version of events? On one level, no, if it ensures there is continued interest in the subject and reminds us of the astonishing sacrifice made. However, it is important to distinguish between fact and fiction.

So what of Fury, the latest Hollywood contribution to the genre? David Ayer, the writer and director, has made it clear that he wanted to portray the closing weeks of the war with a new sense of realism. To a historian, that is a challenge and a half.

Before the opening shot, writing appears on the screen telling us that the Americans were equipped with tanks that had inferior guns and armour to those of the Germans. This is a breathtaking generalisation, and conforms to a ridiculous myth, still widely accepted, that the Germans had better kit than the Allies. Most German tanks were still Panzer Mk IVs, which were not at all superior. The 76mm gun used by the M4A3E8 Sherman, as featured in the film, had a velocity equal to that of the legendary 88mm German gun with which Tigers were equipped. The British 17-pounder was even more lethal. What’s more, by April 1945, the British had the Comet and the Americans the Pershing, both superior to those much-feared German beasts.

Generally, the tank commanders are too old, not least Brad Pitt, at 50; and also Jason Isaacs (51), who plays an infantry captain; the average age of a US company commander by then was 21.

Yet despite these quibbles, the film is a reassuring return to old Hollywood form and ticks many of the established pre-Ryan rules. Pitt is one of the world’s biggest stars and that’s what war films need. The final scene is utterly gripping, brilliantly recreated and the kind of shoot-out that almost certainly would never have happened – why would a lone tank stick its neck out in such a way when the entire Allied armies were just a mile or so behind? But this scenario, again, sits well with the genre.

Fury takes gritty violent realism to new levels, while the detail is absolutely spot on, right down to Isaacs’s captured Luftwaffe coat – a nice touch. The claustrophobia of the tank is brilliantly conveyed, as are all the action sequences, including an effective recreation of a combined armour and infantry attack, and a sensational shoot-out with a Tiger. Certainly, war is violent and hell in Ayer’s film, and those who felt squeamish watching Saving Private Ryan might find some of the graphic violence hard to stomach.

But it is a terrific portrayal of a horrific time. It conforms to all the age-old rules of war films, yet is groundbreaking in its action. These scenes symbolise the terrible sacrifice of the greatest generation. And most importantly of all, it reminds us, vividly, gut-wrenchingly, that the Second World War was a truly catastrophic event that took place not long ago, right here on our doorstep.

Films such as Fury ensure that is a fact we will never forget.


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Fury: the making of Brad Pitt’s WW2 tank film

October 7th, 2014

Fury is the new Second World War drama from writer-director David Ayer (End of Watch), and this new behind-the-scenes preview offers a glimpse at the emotional side of the film.

The action-packed thriller follows Brad Pitt’s battle-hardened US army sergeant Wardaddy as he leads a five man tank crew on a deadly mission behind enemy lines in Germany, 1945. This new featurette, Heart and Soul, highlights the paternal relationship that develops between Pitt’s character and his young gunner Norman, played by Logan Lerman (Noah).

Pitt’s co-stars also include Shia LaBeouf, Michael Peña, and former Walking Dead actor Jon Bernthal, all playing members of his tank unit.

Ayer – who wrote and directed the Oscar-winning Training Day – says he set out to make “the ultimate tank movie”, helped by Dorset Tank Museum’s loan of the last working Tiger tank to the production. The tank was the first to be captured by the Allies, with Ayer deeming the Museum’s loan as a “special asset” to the authenticity of Fury.

It was recently announced that Fury will close this year’s BFI London Film Festival with its European premiere on October 19. Both Pitt and Ayer will be in attendance, the director explaining that the London premiere will be “something of a homecoming” as shooting of the film took place in both Hertfordshire and Oxfordshire.

Fury will be released in the UK on October 22. You can watch the trailer here.

WATCH: Fury: behind the scenes of ‘the ultimate tank movie’, starring Brad Pitt


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Alan Turing biopic takes top prize at Toronto film festival

September 15th, 2014

Cumberbatch, one of the most sought-after actors in film and television, gave an immediate “yes” to playing Turing, he told Reuters last week.

“There is a huge burden, an onus of responsibility,” the 38-year-old Englishman said. “This was an extraordinary man and sadly, bizarrely not that well known a man of his achievements.”

The runner-up for the prize was “Learning to Drive,” a film about a Manhattan writer, played by Patricia Clarkson, who finds comfort in her lessons with a Sikh driving instructor, played by Ben Kingsley.

St. Vincent, starring Bill Murray, took second runner-up.

The People’s Choice award for top film in the Midnight Madness programme, which often showcases horror and offbeat films, went to “What We Do in the Shadows,” a mockumentary about vampires living in a New Zealand suburb.

“I’d like to use this forum to bring attention to a more serious matter: the disgusting sport of vampire hunting,” said co-director and co-star Jemaine Clement.

The People’s Choice award for top documentary went to Beats of the Antonov, which follows refugees from the Blue Nile and Nuba Mountains in Sudan.

Started in 1976, the Toronto festival now ranks with Cannes and Sundance as one of the world’s top movie gatherings. The festival often serves as a launching point for films and performances that go on to win Academy Awards, as well as international films seeking distribution deals.

This year saw the festival’s highest film sales after a bidding war ended with Paramount buying Chris Rock’s Top Five for a reported $ 12.5 million, organisers said. Forty-one film sales have been announced so far, including 24 major sales to US distributors.

- 100 jokes by 100 top comedians


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The grief that inspired Jennifer Lawrence’s upcoming film

March 30th, 2014

My father and I were sitting in a bar in the Czech city of Olomouc, drinking beer and trading stories, when the room suddenly tilted. I look back at this moment and I’m never quite sure what it was exactly: the light, the air, the glass in my hand. Whatever it was caused everything to fall away, like curtains parting on a stage, and suddenly there was my father, this man whom I had known my entire life, but somehow never seen before.

It was my mother to whom I’d gravitated all my life. Her beauty, her messy adventures and unpredictable mood swings. She was magnetic and enchanting, the planet around which my father and I orbited. My father had been absorbed into the background, existing to help with maths homework or to teach me to drive, his stories about the war always paling in comparison to my mother’s whimsical reminiscences about love and New York.

But suddenly there we were, sitting across from each other in the living-room in the weeks after she died. Slowly we began to get to know each other. When I woke up crying in the middle of the night, missing my mother more than I’d ever imagined, I would tip-toe into his bedroom and he would turn on the light, blinking his eyes and rubbing my back. He would tell me stories about her until I was sleepy again.

Eventually we started moving forward with our lives. I moved to New York, a half-hearted attempt to find both my mother and myself. He moved to California. We talked on the phone every night and little by little I began to hear him in a way I never had, see him, perhaps for the first time.

When I was 20 we took a trip to the Czech Republic. With the advent of the internet my father had rediscovered his Second World War history, connecting with men who had flown in his same squadron, and uncovered a wealth of newly documented research about the fatal air wars in 1944 that had resulted in his time as a POW in Germany. He wanted to visit the place where he’d been shot down, pay homage to that time in his life, and I went with him.

So there we were, sitting in a bar in Olomouc, drinking beer and discussing our day walking the very ground upon which he had landed after he parachuted out of his burning B-24 Liberator in his early twenties – and suddenly I saw him, really saw my father. I saw him, not as my father, not as the man who had been at the dinner table all those years, or the man who taught me how to ride a bike, but as the incredibly brave and loving man he had been in this lifetime.

And in that moment I realised that had my mother not died, I might never have known him, my brilliant and impossibly grand father. He would die a few years after that trip, and even though my mother’s death still haunts me, I have nothing but gratitude for the time I was allotted with my father as a result.

“The Rules of Inheritance” (Headline), by Claire Bidwell Smith, is available from Telegraph Books


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