Friday, August 5, 2016

'Zero Dark Thirty' movie review

(C) 2012 Columbia Pictures



Zero Dark Thirty, director Kathryn Bigelow’s controversial 2012 thriller, is a riveting account of the 10-year hunt for Osama bin Laden and the May 1, 2011 raid that killed him. Because the outcome of SEAL Team Six’s mission is well-known, Zero Dark Thirty isn’t a typical spy tale where the ending is kept under wraps. Instead, it’s a tribute to the intelligence agents and military personnel who spent a decade tracking Al Qaeda’s elusive leader.    

Zero Dark Thirty is also a good example of what happens when a script begins to tell one story and, by twists of fate, ends up telling a different one. In the case of Zero Dark Thirty, screenwriter/producer Mark Boal was working on a script about bin Laden’s escape from U.S. and allied forces after the Battle of Tora Bora. Boal and Bigelow (who had collaborated on 2009’s The Hurt Locker) intended to make a movie about the CIA’s failure to find bin Laden. Boal was halfway done with this project when news came that the SEALs had raided a compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan and killed America’s Number One enemy. 

Boal quickly shifted gears and rewrote his screenplay. The new script focused on a CIA analyst (Jessica Chastain) whose single-minded determination to find bin Laden led her and her CIA colleagues on a frustrating decade-long hunt. Known under the pseudonym “Maya,” this still-active covert operative follows a series of clues that she believes will reveal bin Laden’s network of couriers. Find the couriers that carry messages back and forth between Al Qaeda and its leader, Maya reasons, and we will find the man who authorized the 9/11 attacks. 
  
Maya: I'm going to smoke everyone involved in this op and then I'm going to kill bin Laden. 

Zero Dark Thirty’s plot is essentially a “how they done it” espionage procedural, with 35 minutes of military action during the climactic raid sequence. We don’t know anything about Maya’s life before 9/11, nor does Zero Dark Thirty delve into her off-the-job personality. As played by the ethereally beautiful Chastain, Maya is an enigmatic heroine. From her first moment onscreen when she’s watching her CIA mentor Dan (Jason Clarke) interrogate an Al Qaeda “errand boy” to the end of the movie, we only see her ferocious zeal to find and kill bin Laden. 
  
Dan: Can I be honest with you? I am bad f--king news. I'm not your friend. I'm not gonna help you. I'm gonna break you. Any questions? 

There are, of course, other CIA personnel involved in “the world’s greatest manhunt.” Some, like Dan and CIA analyst “Jessica” (Jennifer Ehle), support Maya’s theory that bin Laden can be found if his couriers can be identified. However, most of her Agency colleagues think Maya is diverting time and resources on a wild goose chase. 

The film covers a 10-year period of the War on Terror, so its story focuses on a handful of incidents and personalities. Zero Dark Thirty can’t cram every detail about the 9/11 attacks – which are depicted briefly by snippets of actual cell phone messages recorded that tragic day – or America’s response to them. Instead, it focuses on pivotal moments of the search for bin Laden starting with the 2003 hunt for “the Saudi group,” a shadowy network of Al Qaeda supporters based in Saudi Arabia. 

Other events mentioned in the movie are the 2005 terrorist attacks in London, Maya’s assignment to the CIA station in Pakistan, and a deadly Taliban attack on Camp Chapman in Afghanistan. 
  
Some key players, including Joseph Bradley (Kyle Chandler), the CIA station chief in Pakistan, and then-CIA Director Leon Panetta (James Gandolfini) are portrayed using their real names. Others in the Agency, including Jessica and a Muslim convert nicknamed “the Wolf,” are not identified to protect them or their relatives from revenge attacks. 


My Take: Zero Dark Thirty is a well-made, gripping, conversation-starting, and controversial movie. It’s not a typical Hollywood action epic where the CIA agents play by the rules and treat the Al Qaeda terrorists as enemy combatantsHere, the terrorists are subjected to interrogation methods that fall under anyone’s definition of torture. To their credit, Boal and Bigelow don’t whitewash any of this for the audience’s sake. 

First time viewers who want to see the military aspects of Zero Dark Thirty may be disappointed in the film’s narrative focus. The movie sticks mostly to the intelligence-gathering side of the hunt for Osama bin Laden; there are no scenes that show the December 2001 Battle of Tora Bora, nor does it show Al Qaeda’s leader until the SEAL raid on his compound in Abbottabad late in the film’s third act. 

Indeed, the military aspects of the bin Laden pursuit take a back seat to Maya’s nearly obsessive hunt for bin Laden’s hideout. Zero Dark Thirty barely hints at the debate within the Obama Administration about bombing the Abbottabad compound or sending special forces operatives. Also, SEAL Team Six’s preparations for Operation Neptune Spear are not mentioned, perhaps due to running time issues. 

Bigelow shows the raid itself in a way that gives viewers a you-are-there-in-real-time feeling. She shows Operation Neptune Spear from the SEALs' perspective, so much of what we see is shrouded in darkness or viewed through the lenses of night vision equipment. Some of the details about the top secret stealth helicopters are speculative. The filmmakers based Zero Dark Thirty's modified Black Hawks on Pakistani media images of the chopper that crashed during the mission.  Other details, such as the type of night vision goggles the SEALs used, are authentic and add realism to Zero Dark Thirty. 

Like most movies based on historical events, Zero Dark Thirty takes lots of artistic license to tell a dramatic story. The CIA’s acting director at the time of the movie’s release said its agents didn’t get information related to bin Laden’s hideout through “enhanced interrogation techniques” and that the film is not historically accurate. This, of course, is a matter of debate. The filmmakers don’t take a clear political stance on the issues of torture or even if killing bin Laden was a matter of revenge or justice.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

'A Bridge Too Far' book review


(C) 1974 Simon & Schuster


Fifty miles south, in towns and villages close to the Belgian border, the Dutch were jubilant. They watched incredulously as the shattered remnants of Hitler's armies in norther France and Belgium streamed past their windows. The collapse seemed infectious; besides military units, thousands of German civilians and Dutch Nazis were pulling out. And for these fleeing forces all roads seemed to lead to the German border.

Because the withdrawal began so slowly -- a trickle of staff cars and vehicles crossing the Belgian frontier -- few Dutch could tell exactly when it had started. Some believed the retreat began on September 2; others, the third. But by the fourth, the movement of the Germans and their followers had assumed the characteristics of a rout, a frenzied exodus that reached its peak on September 5, a day later to be known in Dutch history as Dolle Dinsdag, "Mad Tuesday."

Panic and disorganization seemed to characterize the German flight. Every kind of conveyance was in use. Thronging the roads from the Belgian border north to Arnhem and beyond were tracks, buses, staff cars, half-track vehicles, armored cars, horse-drawn farm carts and civilian automobiles running on charcoal or wood. Everywhere throughout the disorderly convoys were swarms of tired, dusty soldiers on hastily commandeered bicycles.
– Cornelius Ryan, A Bridge Too Far

On the morning of Sept. 17, 1944, taking off from 24 airfields in southeast England in what was "the greatest armada of troop-carrying aircraft ever assembled for a single battle," the leading elements of three Allied airborne divisions roared aloft.  The massive aerial fleet set a course for their designated drop zones in Nazi-occupied Holland. 

Aboard this first of three lifts, men from two U.S. airborne divisions, the  82nd and 101st, along with the British First Airborne Division, anxiously waited for the order to step out into the Dutch sky in a daring and unprecedented daylight parachute and glider landing. Their mission, to capture ("with thunderclap surprise”) a series of bridges that spanned the Albert Canal, the Waal River, and the last river between the advancing Allied forces and Germany: the mighty Rhine. 

On the Belgian-Dutch border, the tankers, soldiers, artillerymen, engineers, and vehicle drivers of Gen. Brian Horrocks’ British XXX Corps anxiously awaited the appearance of the southern group of airborne "skytrains" and the scheduled H-Hour of 2:35 PM. Then an artillery barrage would precede the start of an armored dash along a single highway leading from the Dutch border to the city of Arnhem on the Lower Rhine – 64 miles behind enemy lines.

The ground forces had a single objective: to link up with the airborne divisions and secure the bridges, thereby allowing the British Second Army to outflank the Germans' fixed defenses along the so-called West Wall and end the war before Christmas

Surprisingly, Operation Market-Garden (Market being the airborne element, Garden designating XXX Corps) was conceived by one of the Allies' most cautious generals: Field Marshal Bernard Law Montgomery, the commander of the 21st Army Group.  Popular with the British public and his troops, "Monty" was a skilled organizer and a master of the "set-piece battle." But he was also meticulous in his preparations for campaigns, single-minded, ambitious, and overconfident to the point of arrogance.

Above all, Montgomery wanted to be in operational command of the entire Allied ground force, including the predominant American armies. If Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, the Allies’ Supreme Commander, gave him free rein, Montgomery had a scheme to win the European war: he would form a powerful mass of troops and vehicles to make a "single thrust" intended to pierce the German front lines and drive across the Rhine, capture the industrial cities of the Ruhr valley, and march to Berlin.

Eisenhower and the Allied Combined Chiefs of Staff knew this was politically unfeasible and refused to give Montgomery command of the Allied ground armies. However, the Supreme Commander, eager to use the airborne forces in a strategically important operation, approved Monty’s plan for Operation Market-Garden. 

A Bridge Too Far, first published in 1974, Cornelius Ryan's third and final major book on the final battles of World War II, chronicles the nine-day long Battle of Arnhem through the stories of the soldiers and civilians caught up in the chaos and horror of battle. Of the three books in "the World War II Trilogy (which includes 1959's The Longest Day and 1966's The Last Battle), it's the most complex and, in some ways, the most fascinating book. 

The complexity of A Bridge Too Far mirrors its topic. Even though on the map the plan looks childishly simple, it was fiendishly complex. Ideally, the 35,000 parachutists and glider-borne infantry should all have dropped on the first day.  However, there were not enough transport aircraft available, so the drop of the Market forces was divided into three lifts over three consecutive days. Most of the gliders and troop transports had to arrive safely. Even more critically, the weather had to be good enough for the delicate and complicated time schedule of reinforcement and resupply drops to hold.

On the ground, there were more variables. All the bridges had to be taken intact. The advance of the ground forces had to be fast; XXX Corps had to reach Arnhem, Market-Garden's ultimate objective less than four days to relieve the airborne troops before the Germans reorganized and counterattacked. Finally, German forces in Holland had to be taken by total surprise. 

Readers who have seen Richard Attenborough's 1977 film adaptation of A Bridge Too Far narrative are aware that Market-Garden was a military operation jinxed by Murphy's Law; everything that could go wrong went wrong.

Gliders slipped out of their tow lines or broke apart in mid-flight. Planes aborted due to engine failure or ran into flak. German defenders on the front facing XXX Corps proved to be tougher than expected. The bridge at Son, in the 101st Airborne's sector, was blown up by its defenders. The British paratroopers' radios did not work properly, and most of the gliders lost in transit were Arnhem-bound.

Worse, British intelligence, ignoring reports from the Dutch underground, failed to note the presence of vast German reinforcements in the Market-Garden area, including the two battered armored divisions of the II SS Panzer Corps.

Though hardly amounting to even a full armored division's worth of tanks and supporting infantry, the presence of the 9th and 10th SS Panzer Divisions would spell certain doom for the lightly armed British and Polish paratroopers in the critical Arnhem bridge area. 

I have read this book several times over the past 40 years. I have also seen the movie based on it often.  Yet I’m still amazed at how Ryan, who battled a deadly strain of cancer when he wrote A Bridge Too Far, captures all the emotions and drama of one of World War II's fiercest battles. While I believe that the cover blurb ("The Classic History of the Greatest Battle of World War II") is marketing hyperbole, the Battle of Arnhem was a decisive engagement.  It gave the Germans a significant victory at a time when they were recovering from the battles for France and Belgium and dashing the Allies' hopes for an early victory before winter set in.

Beginning with Part One: The Retreat and concluding with Part Five: Der Hexenkessel (The Witches' Cauldron), A Bridge Too Far is a gripping, well-written account that leaves the reader breathless as the largest airborne operation ever mounted, launched with so much optimism on a fall Sunday morning, comes to a sobering conclusion.

Publication Details
  • Paperback: 672 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster; Reprint edition (May 1, 1995)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 8171676367
  • ISBN-13: 978-8171676361


'Close Encounters of the Third Kind' movie review




(C) 1977 Columbia Pictures
“Close Encounters of the Third Kind,” Steven Spielberg’s 1977 UFO classic, is the thematic antitheses to 1996’s “Independence Day.” While Roland Emmerich’s retelling of “War of the Worlds” is a throwback to 1950s “invaders from space” flicks, Spielberg’s vision of a “close encounter” between humanity and extraterrestrials is more mysterious and, in the end, more hopeful and awe-inspiring. Instead of exchanging bullets and “heat rays,” humans and aliens communicate by using musical notes. 

Spielberg’s screenplay divides “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” roughly into three acts, basically corresponding to each of the three kinds of “encounters.” 

In the first category, sightings of a UFO, we first see a very strange sight in the Mexican desert: an international team of researchers led by French UFO expert Lacombe (the late Francois Truffaut) and guided by several Mexican “federales” finds five World War II vintage Grumman TBM Avengers. The planes are abandoned but strangely intact, as though they were brand new. “Who flies this kind of plane?” asks Laughlin, Lacombe’s bewildered cartographer/interpreter (Bob Balaban). 

“No one,” replies another astonished researcher. “This is Flight 19.” 

Flight 19, of course, is a reference to a Navy training flight which took off from Ft. Lauderdale one morning in December 1945 and vanished, along with a Martin Mariner search plane sent up to look for the missing planes and crews. Flight 19 is now famous in the lore of unsolved mysteries related to the Bermuda triangle. 

Laughlin is baffled by something else, as well. A Mexican villager, old, sunburned, and seemingly delirious, keeps repeating, “El sol salio anoche y me canto. El sol salio anoche y me canto.” When Laughlin asks what the phrase means, a Spanish-speaking researcher who is fluent in Spanish says, “He says the sun came out last night. He says it sang to him.” 

Later, in the Indianapolis Air Traffic Control Center, a more dramatic “close encounter of the first kind” plays out on the radar scopes as airliner pilots call in reports of bright lights in the sky and unknown contacts make their presence known. For a few tense minutes it look as though tragedy is imminent, but within moments the contacts vanish into the night sky. Torn between reporting a UFO sighting or just letting the incident slide by, pilots and air traffic controllers alike opt to keep quiet, mainly to avoid having to fill out tons of bureaucratic paperwork. 

As important as these sequences are, the focus of Spielberg’s story is on Roy Neary (Richard Dreyfuss), a line repairman for a Midwestern power company. Neary’s life on Earth is ordinary, hectic, and somewhat unfulfilling. Sent out to investigate a section of power lines in rural Indiana (caused, of course, by the UFOs’ passage), Neary has a close encounter of the first kind and impulsively goes on a truck-borne pursuit of two small “flying saucers.”


This sequence, which ends with a Keystone Kops-like police chase of the same UFOs, triggers an obsession within Neary that neither his wife Ronnie (Teri Garr) nor his children will understand, much less accept. Neary, along with several hundred other people from different towns and states, will soon be haunted by both a visual image and a simple five-note musical phrase. The traces of the UFO flights that leave traces behind (sunburn on people who, like Neary, were exposed to bright light at night) are known as “close encounters of the second kind.” 

Spielberg weaves Neary’s “everyman faces an extraordinary situation” plot with the official investigations being carried out by the UN-sponsored Lacombe team and a more secretive U.S. government “first contact” program. These plot threads will all lead to a climactic and awe-inspiring “close encounter of the third kind” – actual documented contact between humanity and another space-faring civilization. 

Spielberg's compelling story (he not only directed the film, but he wrote the screenplay) takes every aspect of the familiar UFO-sighting/alien abduction genre and makes his movie a wonderfully uplifting tale that reminds the viewer why we look up at the night sky and wonder if there is life "out there." Fine performances by the entire cast, special effects that still dazzle the eye, and a beautiful (if sometimes eerie) score by John Williams add to the power of “Close Encounters of the Third Kind.

The 2001 Columbia/Tri-Star Collector’s Edition brings not only a newly re-edited version (trimming some excess material from the 1980 Special Edition) of the 1977 film, but also comes with a second disc loaded with extras such as a Laurent Bouzereau documentary on the making of “Close Encounters of the Third Kind,” a 1977 promotional featurette, and theatrical trailers.

DVD Specifications

Video
  • Codec: MPEG-2
  • Aspect ratio: 2.35:1
  • Original aspect ratio: 2.39:1


Audio
  • TBA


Subtitles
  • English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Korean


Discs
  • DVD
  • Two-disc set (2 DVDs)


Playback

  • Region 1 

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

'Star Wars: The National Public Radio Dramatization' book review





(C) 1994 Ballantine/Del Rey Books
Star Wars: The National Public Radio Dramatization

Radio Play by Brian Daley

Based on characters and situations created by George Lucas



Star Wars: If you missed the thirteen-part radio series, you haven’t heard the whole story. – Brian Daley

A long time ago (35 years ago, actually) in an efficiency apartment on the West Coast, a young novelist named Brian Daley undertook a mission worthy of a Jedi Knight – to adapt George Lucas’s original Star Wars movie into a thirteen-part radio drama for National Public Radio.

Daley was chosen to translate Lucas’s cinematic work into an audio-only dramatization by Carol Titleman, the Lucasfilm executive who oversaw the Radio Drama, because she’d liked what the author had done with Star Wars material in Han Solo at Star’s End. Daley spent three months working on the scripts for the Radio Drama, which premiered in the spring of 1981 as part of NPR Playhouse

Star Wars: The Radio Drama was a spectacular success: 750,000 listeners heard the show when it originally aired, and the network’s drama listenership grew by 135%. The series’ ratings were so good, in fact, that two follow-up series based on The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi were produced and broadcast (in 1983 and 1996, respectively).

Thirteen years later, Ballantine Books’ Del Rey imprint published Star Wars: The National Public Radio, a 352 page paperback with Daley’s complete scripts in their original form.

What you now hold in your hands are the thirteen original, uncut scripts, just as they were when we took them into the studio. Astute listeners will notice discrepancies between these and the final recordings. – Brian Daley

Star Wars: The National Public Radio Dramatization consists of an introduction by the late science fiction writer, who died of cancer in 1996, and a chapter for each of the Radio Drama’s thirteen parts:

  1. A Wind to Shake the Stars
  2. Points of Origin
  3. Black Knight, White Princess, and Pawns
  4. While Giants Mark Time
  5. Jedi That Was, Jedi to Be
  6. The Millennium Falcon Deal
  7. The Han Solo Solution
  8. Death Star's Transit
  9. Rogues, Rebels and Robots
  10. The Luke Skywalker Initiative
  11. The Jedi Nexus
  12. The Case for Rebellion
  13. Force and Counter Force



My Take

Brian Daley’s Star Wars: The National Public Radio Dramatization is one of my favorite Star Wars resource books, even though it’s now out of print and available only from used book sellers, mostly online ones. It not only presents the radio scripts in their pre-broadcast form, but its foreword also sheds some light into the creative process involved in translating Star Wars (aka Star Wars – Episode IV: A New Hope) from screen to radio.

Taping was a learn-as-you-go experience for all of us. It had been thought that the stormtroopers’ helmeted voices could be emulated by having the actors wear plastic and foam-filter painter’s masks, but the results didn’t “read” properly for the microphones. In the end the actor-troopers were isolated, as Tony Daniels was, and their voices were processed later.

Daley also explains some of the reasons why the episodes that aired on NPR differ slightly from the scripts in the book:

Between the first broadcast of the series and the second, some lines were cut to allow for a full credit roll at the end of each episode. That’s why, for example, part of Leia’s conversation with her father in Chapter 2 was trimmed. For those who’ve been wondering what they missed, the script shows the scene in its entirety.

Brian Daley’s style is clean, elegant, and witty. He not only gives reader’s an insider’s perspective into the creative process involved in making the series, but he is also generous in his praise for the Star Wars Radio Drama team. In his foreword, he explains how George Lucas sold the radio licensing rights for Star Wars to KUSC-FM in Los Angeles. The asking price? $1.00. “It was a striking act of philanthropy,” Daley writes, “but he wanted the show to be unprecedented, as his movie was something unprecedented.”

Canon Issues

When Star Wars: The National Public Radio Dramatization was published in 1994, Lucasfilm Limited considered Daley’s expansions, such as Leia’s covert mission on the planet Raltiir and some of Luke Skywalker’s backstory, to be Star Wars canon just like the films. However, since Disney’s 2012 acquisition of Lucasfilm and the Star Wars franchise, only the material derived directly from the film and its 1976 novelization are considered canon. Everything else is now considered to be part of the Star Wars Legends non-canon mythology.









Book Details

  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Del Rey; First edition (September 20, 1994)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0345391098
  • ISBN-13: 978-0345391094


Tuesday, August 2, 2016

'The Conquering Tide: War in the Pacific, 1942-1944' book review


(C) 2015 W.W. Norton


On August 7, 1942, exactly eight months after the devastating Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, elements of the First Marine Division landed on Guadalcanal and two other islands occupied by enemy forces. Two months earlier, the U.S. Navy had won a decisive engagement at the Battle of Midway and stopped Japan’s eastward offensive by sinking four aircraft carriers and a heavy cruiser and thwarting Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto’s plans to destroy the American Pacific Fleet. Now, for the first time in World War II, American forces were seizing the strategic initiative and taking offensive action against a major Axis power.

Code-named Operation WATCHTOWER, the landings on Guadalcanal, Tonombago, and Gavutu had one goal: the capture of a new Japanese airfield under construction on Guadalcanal’s north coast. If the Japanese completed it, the air base could be used to cut the lifeline between the U.S. and Australia. If this occurred, Australia could face a Japanese invasion and America would lose a vital ally and staging area for the campaigns that would lead to Tokyo – and victory  

Ian W. Toll’s “The Conquering Tide: War in the Pacific Islands, 1942-1944” (W.W. Norton, 2015) is the sequel to  2011’s “Pacific Crucible: War at Sea in the Pacific, 1941-1942.”  This second book in Toll’s trilogy about World War II in the Pacific picks up the story where “Pacific Crucible” left off. It starts two months after the Battle of Midway and covers the two-year “island-hopping” campaigns that took airmen, sailors, marines, and soldiers from the Solomon Islands in the South Pacific all the way to the Mariana Islands in the Central Pacific.


The devastation of Pearl Harbor and the American victory at Midway were prelude to a greater challenge: rolling back the vast Japanese Pacific empire, island by island.

This masterful history encompasses the heart of the Pacific War—the period between mid-1942 and mid-1944—when parallel Allied counteroffensives north and south of the equator washed over Japan's far-flung island empire like a "conquering tide," concluding with Japan's irreversible strategic defeat in the Marianas. It was the largest, bloodiest, most costly, most technically innovative and logistically complicated amphibious war in history, and it fostered bitter interservice rivalries, leaving wounds that even victory could not heal.  – From the publisher’s jacket blurb

Toll, who also wrote the acclaimed “Six Frigates: The Epic History of the Foundation of the U.S. Navy” (W.W. Norton, 2008), blends meticulous research and a novelist’s sensibility to tell the story of the struggle between America and Japan over the vast expanses of the Pacific. In its 636 pages, “The Conquering Tide” examines the rivalry between the pompous and arrogant Gen. Douglas MacArthur and his counterparts in the Navy and Marine Corps, as well as the bitter arguments that led to the “dual drive” strategy in the Pacific War.


The book covers all the major naval, air, and land battles fought over tiny coral islands and large jungle-covered islands with unfamiliar and exotic names: Guadalcanal, Bougainville, Tarawa, Kwajalein, and Saipan. It also delves into the political and social effects of the war in both Japan and the U.S.   Toll masterfully uses first-hand accounts — including letters, diaries, debriefings, and memoirs— to weave a narrative tapestry that is remarkably enlightening and incredibly riveting. 

'Pacific Crucible: War in the Pacific, 1941-1942' book review

(C) 2011 W.W. Norton

On Sunday, December 7, 1941 – “a date which will live in infamy” – a massive Japanese aerial armada swooped over Pearl Harbor and struck a devastating blow against the U.S. Pacific Fleet. 

Almost six months later, four of the six aircraft carriers – Akagi, Kaga, Soryu, and Hiryu – which had launched those planes were ambushed and sunk by American naval aviators at the Battle of Midway. In less than 180 days, the battered but determined Pacific Fleet, commanded by a soft-spoken and strategically savvy Texan named Chester W. Nimitz, halted the seemingly unstoppable string of Japanese victories and gained the initiative in the Pacific.

Ian W. Toll’s “Pacific Crucible: War at Sea in the Pacific, 1941-1942” is a vivid and searing account of the early months of the long, bloody and vicious struggle between the United States and Japan. In its 640 pages, Toll – a former Wall Street analyst, Federal Reserve financial analyst, and a political aide and speechwriter – describes “the planning, the strategies, the sacrifices and heroics – on both sides – illuminating the greatest naval war in history” with the mind of an historian and the narrative skills of a novelist.

Here, the author of the award-winning “Six Frigates: The Epic History of the Foundation of the U.S. Navy” describes the initial reaction of Oahu’s residents to the arrival of the first wave of Japanese aircraft on that fateful Sunday morning in December 1941:

For the inhabitants of Oahu, there was nothing unusual in being jerked out of sleep by guns and bombs and low-flying aircraft. The island was crowded with military bases, and live-firing drills were commonplace. In early 1941, as the danger of war had seemed to grow, the services took to conducting "simulated combat exercises" — mock battles pitting the army against the navy, the navy against the marines, the marines against the army. On these days, a colossal amount of ammunition was thrown up into the air, and the island's lightly built wood-frame houses would shake and rattle as if an earthquake had struck. So when the familiar racket started up, at a little before eight in the morning on that first Sunday in December 1941, most of the residents pulled a pillow over their heads, or turned back to their coffee and comic strips and radio programs, and tried to ignore the deep concussive thuds of distant bombs, the heavy booming of antiaircraft batteries, and the faint rat-a-tat-tat of machine guns.

“Pacific Crucible” tells the dramatic story of Japan’s blitzkrieg in Southeast Asia and across the vast expanses of the world’s largest ocean and the Allies’ struggle to recover from a series of defeats by a tough and determined enemy. Toll uses eyewitness accounts and primary sources to describe the attack on Pearl Harbor, the fall of Singapore, the loss of Britain’s proud battleships Prince of Wales and Repulse, Japan’s conquest of the Philippines and the Dutch East Indies (present day Indonesia). 

Toll also covers the early phase of the Pacific War from every perspective, including ordinary seamen and such legendary admirals as Nimitz, William Halsey, Raymond Spruance, Chuichi Nagumo, and the flamboyantly brilliant Isoroku Yamamoto, who planned the daring Pearl Harbor attack and the ill-fated campaign to capture Midway Island in June of 1942.

“Pacific Crucible: War at Sea in the Pacific, 1941-1942” is a highly readable book. Toll uses the latest information available about the early dark days of America’s entry into World War II to bust some long standing myths, especially several misconceptions about the Battle of Midway, that have been perpetuated by earlier accounts of the Pacific War. The book explains how and why Japan decided to provoke a war that many of its senior commanders – including Yamamoto – knew she could not win. Using clear and lively prose and an eye for vivid details that makes history come alive, Toll gives the reader a page-turner that is hard to put down.

Originally published in 2011, “Pacific Crucible” is the first volume of a trilogy about naval warfare in the Pacific. The second volume, “The Conquering Tide: War in the Pacific Islands, 1942-1944” was published by W.W. Norton in 2015 and covers the period between the six month-long campaign for Guadalcanal and Japan’s crucial defeat in the Marianas in the summer of 1944. The trilogy’s conclusion, “Twilight of the Gods: War in the Western Pacific, 1944-1945” will be published in 2018.
   



'Stephen King's Silver Bullet' movie review

(C) 1985 Warner Bros.
“Silver Bullet” (1985)

AKA: “Stephen King’s Silver Bullet”

Directed by Dan Attias

Written by Stephen King, based on the novella “Cycle of the Werewolf”

Starring: Gary Busey, Everett McGill, Megan Follows, Corey Haim, Terry O’Quinn

Uncle Red: I mean, uh, what the heck you gonna shoot a .44 bullet at anyway... made out of silver?
Mac: How about a werewolf?


Stephen King’s prolific nature  has earned him the dubious honor of having written the most novels or stories adapted for theatrical release. Ranging from the ridiculous (“Maximum Overdrive”) to the sublime (“The Shawshank Redemption,” “Stand By Me”), movies based on King’s fiction have attracted audiences since Brian De Palma made “Carrie” in 1976. Some King fans say, tongue in cheek, that if Hollywood ever got its hands on the best-selling author’s laundry list, it, too, will be adapted into a movie

If you ask me on which end of the quality spectrum I’d place 1985’s “Silver Bullet,” which is based on the illustrated novella “Cycle of the Werewolf,” I’d have to say it tends to lean more toward the Trashy King Adaptation side than it does to the Classic-and-Classy King crowd.
It’s not as bad as “Creepshow” or even “Maximum Overdrive” (King’s only directorial credit). Even so, it's not one of the good King-derived films, either.
Uncle Red: There are no such things as werewolves!
Part of the problem with "Silver Bullet"is that "Cycle of the Werewolf" had a particular conceit – it chronicled, month by month, a werewolf’s year-long reign of terror in the small Maine community of Tarker’s Mills. The chapters were short and concise, and minimal character development other than that of the book’s unlikely hero, a disabled boy named Marty Coslaw, and the werewolf and its human alter ego. It’s not a bad book, mind you, just a minor one that won’t be remembered as well as “The Stand”  or “’Salem’s Lot.”

When he wrote the screenplay, King,abandoned the original format of “Cycle of the Werewolf”. He still used Marty Coslaw as the hero and didn’t change the identity of the beast’s human incarnation.

However, most of the novella’s characters and subplots disappeared so “Silver Bullet” could focus on Marty (Corey Haim), his older sister Jane (Megan Follows), and their uncle Red (Gary Busey) as the werewolf terrorizes Tarker’s Mills.

My Take
To its credit, “Silver Bullet”  never pretends to be anything more than a cheesy B movie in the horror genre. It is a strictly by-the-numbers werewolf flick. From the first shot featuring a full moon, the viewer knows where the film is going to go.
“Silver Bullet”  starts with the death of a drunk rail-riding Arnie Westrum on the railroad tracks outside Tarker’s Mills.  Grisly and comical (surely a werewolf singing the Rheingold beer jingle is bizarrely funny), the opening sequence establishes the monster’s existence.

It’s a good start, but it is also reminiscent of such movies as “The Wolfman’ and “Wolfen.”  So unless you’ve  never seen a single creature-feature film about werewolves, you can expect the following clich├ęs:

1. The first death will be ruled an accident of unknown causes.
2. The sheriff (played by Lost’s Terry O’Quinn) will be baffled as the body count grows.
3. The unlikely hero will find out who the monster really is, and only his uncle and older sister can help him when the monster goes after the boy to protect its secret.

Produced by Dino De Laurentiis and directed by first-time director Dan Attias, "Silver Bullet" takes elements not just from other werewolf films but also from the 1962 classic “To Kill a Mockingbird.”
The story is told as a flashback with narration by an older Jane; in a way this is nice and gives the movie a certain amount of warmth, but it also lets viewers know that nothing bad happens to Jane at movie’s end.
The acting is decent, I suppose. The late Corey Haim, who once seemed destined to have a long acting career ahead of him, turned in a solid performance  as Marty. Busey and O’Quinn perform well if not brilliantly, and Megan Follows is luminous as Marty’s older sister Jane.
However, "Silver Bullet"is fairly unremarkable fare. We never find out how the poor guy who is cursed to be the werewolf got that way, and the script lacks the wit and energy of John Landis’ “An American Werewolf in London.”  This movie is just  a connect-the-dots exercise for King and Attias, and in the end, the viewer will quickly forget "Silver Bullet"or dismiss it as a minor film based on a minor bit of horror literature

DVD Specifications

  • Rated: R (Restricted)
  • Studio: Warner Bros.
  • DVD Release Date: May 28, 2002
  • Run Time: 97 minutes
Video
  • Codec: MPEG-2
  • Encoding format: 16:9
  • Resolution: 480i (NTSC)
  • Aspect ratio: 2.35:1
  • Original aspect ratio: 2.39:1

Audio
  • English: Dolby Digital Mono
  • French: Dolby Digital Mono

Subtitles
  • English

Discs
  • DVD-5
  • Single disc (1 DVD)

Playback

Region 1

'We Were Soldiers' movie review

(C) 2002 Paramount Pictures


“We Were Soldiers” (2002)
Directed by Randall Wallace
Written by Randall Wallace, based on the book We Were Soldiers Once...And Young, by Hal Moore and Joseph L. Galloway
Starring: Mel Gibson, Madeleine Stowe,  Sam Elliott, Greg Kinnear, Chris Klein, Keri Russell, Barry Pepper


Joe Galloway: [narrating] We who have seen war, will never stop seeing it. In the silence of the night, we will always hear the screams. So this is our story, for we were soldiers once, and young.


“We Were Soldiers,” writer-director Randall Wallace's 2002 feature film about the three-day Battle of the Ia Drang Valley in Vietnam, is one of the best movies about America's "lost crusade" in Southeast Asia.
.
Based on Lt. Gen. Harold B. Moore and Joseph Galloway's non-fiction book We Were Soldiers Once....and Young, Wallace's film version is a realistic and respectful account of the first major battle between U.S. and North Vietnamese forces in November of 1965.


[the Viet Minh look down on wounded French soldiers]Viet Minh Sergeant: [in Vietnamese; subtitled] Do we take prisoners?

Lt. Col. Nguyen Huu An: [in Vietnamese] No. Kill all they send... and they will stop coming.


Starring Mel Gibson as Lt. Col. Hal Moore, We Were Soldiers begins with the destruction of France's Mobile Group 100 by the Viet Minj in 1954, the year that Diem Bien Phu fell and French involvement in Vietnam ended, paving the way for America's ill-fated intervention. This opening scene is graphically violent, similar to those seen in “Saving Private Ryan.” But the prologue drives home its point - to show the determination of the Vietnamese to drive off any outside force, even if it means being ruthless.


Maj. General Henry Kinnard: The White House anticipates a buildup and wants a victory over cavemen in black pajamas.

General in Hallway: We wouldn't be there if they hadn't already beaten the French Army.Maj.

General Henry Kinnard: French Army? What's that?


The movie flashes forward 10 years to late 1964 and early 1965, when President Lyndon B, Johnson and the Joint Chiefs of Staff are considering expanding U.S. military operations in South Vietnam. Confounded by the failure of the corrupt and inept South Vietnamese government to defeat the Communist insurgency of the Viet Cong and its North Vietnamese allies, the Pentagon prepares to deploy more U.S. forces to Southeast Asia.


One of these units is an experimental unit, the 1st Air Cavalry Division. This unit had fought as a regular infantry unit in World War II and Korea; now the Army has re-equipped it with modern helicopters like the UH-1 Iroquois (“Huey”) transports. The Air Cavalry division is designed to give its soldiers an unprecedented combat asset called “air mobility.”


One of the division’s component units is the Seventh Cavalry Regiment, which is best known as George Armstrong Custer’s command in the late 19th Century. In command of one of its battalions: Lt Col. Hal Moore (Gibson), a charismatic and academically-minded officer chosen by the Pentagon to carry out its air mobility experiment and try the new unit in combat.  
The first act of “We Were Soldiers” serves to introduce viewers to Lt. Col Moore and his wife Julie (Madeleine Stowe), his children (Sloane Momsen, Taylor Momsen,Josh McLaurin, Devon Werkheiser, Luke Benward), as well as the officers and enlisted men under his command, including
  • Major Bruce P. Campbell (Greg Kinnear)
  • Sgt. Major Basil L. Plumley (Sam Elliott)
  • 2nd Lieut. Jack Geoghegan (Chris Klein)
  • Capt. Ed “Too Tall” Freeman (Mark McCracken)
  • Capt. Matt Dillon (Jon Hamm)
  • Capt. Tom Metsker (Clark Gregg))
  • Sgt. Ernie Savage (Ryan Hurst)


We also see some of the soldiers’ wives and sweethearts, including Barbara Geoghegan (Keri Russell), Alma Givens (Simbi Kali Williams),  and Catherine Metsker (Bellamy Young) as the men prepare for the inevitable deployment to South Vietnam.


The rest of “We Were Soldiers” focuses on the first three days of the Battle of Ia Drang in mid-November 1965. In the first major ground battle of the Vietnam War, 400 U.S. soldiers engage 4,000 regular North Vietnamese Army troops led by a wily veteran of the First Indochina War against the French, Lt. Col. Nguyen Hu Aan (Don Duong).  


My Take:


“We Were Soldiers,” unlike Francis Ford Coppola's “Apocalypse Now” or Oliver Stone's “Platoon,”  portrays its soldiers realistically. It also lacks the anti-military post-Vietnam War bitterness that permeates those two films.


Some viewers might even accuse Wallace (who wrote and directed) of having a  revisionist slant, but in the featurette on the making of the movie, he points out that he was inspired to do We Were Soldiers reading Hal Moore's comment that Hollywood has never gotten it right when it comes to making movies about the Vietnam War.

Lt. Col. Nguyen Huu An: [in Vietnamese] Such a tragedy. They will think this was their victory. So this will become an American war. And the end will be the same, except for the numbers who will die before we get there.


“We Were Soldiers” not only has respect and admiration for the U.S. soldiers, but it also depicts the bravery and sacrifice of the Vietnamese People's Army. Although most of the focus is on the American troops and, unusually for a Vietnam combat movie, their families. But I have not seen the North Vietnamese portrayed with this much respect in a movie  before.

Lt. Colonel Hal Moore: [Hal Moore speaks to his men before going into battle] Look around you. In the 7th Cavalry, we've got a captain from the Ukraine; another from Puerto Rico. We've got Japanese, Chinese, Blacks, Hispanics, Cherokee Indians. Jews and Gentiles. All Americans. Now here in the States, some of you in this unit may have experienced discrimination because of race or creed. But for you and me now, all that is gone. We're moving into the valley of the shadow of death, where you will watch the back of the man next to you, as he will watch yours. And you won't care what color he is, or by what name he calls God. They say we're leaving home. We're going to what home was always supposed to be. Now let us understand the situation. We are going into battle against a tough and determined enemy.[pauses]Lt. Colonel Hal Moore: I can't promise you that I will bring you all home alive. But this I swear, before you and before Almighty God, that when we go into battle, I will be the first to set foot on the field, and I will be the last to step off, and I will leave no one behind. Dead or alive, we will all come home together. So help me, God.


Gibson portrays Lt. Col. Moore with his usual earnestness, wit and warmth. He allows us to see the human side to this very intellectual and dedicated soldier. He is not only a very pensive officer who reads French history books about Vietnam and has various college degrees, but also a loving husband and father. His scenes with Madeleine Stowe, who plays his wife Julie, exude affection and true chemistry. Also, the scene when Moore explains the concept of war to his youngest daughter is touching and tender. Rounding out the cast are Sam Elliott, Barry Pepper, Keri Russell, Greg Kinnear, Chris Klein, and Jon Hamm..


The depiction of the battle at Landing Zone X-ray ranks among the best, if sometimes grueling, war scenes ever filmed. The sequence captures the horrible yet mesmerizing spectacle of battle, taking audiences from the roller-coaster exhilaration of nap of the earth helicopter rides to a three-day life-or-death struggle between two determined bands of fighting men.


Of course, history buffs should be aware that “We Were Soldiers” takes artistic license and adds several “Hollywood-style” touches to the narrative. For instance, the film depicts the Air Cav’s use of armed UH-1C gunship models in 1965. These helicopters were heavily armed Hueys equipped with rocket pods and Gatling miniguns and provided air support to U.S. ground troops.

However, UH-1Cs were not in service in 1965, and the UH-1As and Bs in use at the time were too underpowered to handle any unofficial modifications made on the field.   There are other factual errors about military hardware, depictions of the events, and even pop culture references. These flubs are minor or only of interest to picky viewers who like to dissect movies and point out every flaw.


“We Were Soldiers” may not be 100% historically accurate, No war movie made as popular entertainment is ever truly accurate due to the dramatic and artistic requirements of the medium. But Wallace’s aim is not to educate the audience about the politics and strategy of the Vietnam War; the writer-director doesn’t strive to change anyone’s opinion about a still-controversial war. What Wallace seeks to accomplish with “We Were Soldiers” is to pay a respectful tribute to the American and Vietnamese soldiers who fought and died in the Ia Drang Valley nearly 50 years ago.  


Blu-ray Specifications


  • Format: Multiple Formats, Blu-ray, NTSC, Widescreen
  • Language: English (Dolby Digital 5.1), English (DTS 5.1), French (Dolby Digital 5.1), Spanish (Dolby Digital 5.1)
  • Subtitles: English, French, Spanish
  • Dubbed: French, Spanish
  • Region: All Regions
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.77:1
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Rated: R (Restricted)
  • Studio: Warner Bros.
  • Blu-ray Release Date: January 1, 2013
  • Run Time: 138 minutes