Cartel Land

Cartel Land is a documentary about the effect the Mexican drug cartels have on communities and two “vigilante” groups who try to fight against them. The first is a group called the Autodefensas, a group led by Dr Jose Mireles (aka “El Doctor”). The Autodefensas are a group of locals sick of the violence and torture committed by the Knights Templar drug cartel. We gain incredible access to the victims of these crimes as well as front-line  footage of the Autodefensas fighting back against the cartel.

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National Geographic: Nazi Megastructures 2

Nazi-MegastructuresWorld War II is probably the most fascinating historical event to me. I always seem to uncover some new aspect to it and it feels like a never ending story.  You’ve got  the Japanese doing experiments on the Chinese, saboteurs, the extreme Russian casualties, the mass rapes of German women, the Holocaust, the experiments, the Nazi Hunters, the American Heroes. So much stuff, so little time to devour it all.

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Nazi Hunters

Nazi-Hunters

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Nazi Hunters is an eight episode documentary series that focuses on Nazi war criminals and the various Nazi Hunters who brought them to justice and/or executed revenge. The Mossad, French couple Serge and Beate Klarsfeld and Simon Wiesenthal are just some of the Nazi Hunters featured.

The Episodes:

Herberts Cukurs – aka the the Hangman of Riga, Cukurs was a Latvian aviator and member of the Arajs Kommando, a unit within the Latvian police who were loyal to the Gestapo SD. He is thought to be responsible for the death of 30,000 Jews. Mossad agents track him down in São Paulo and executed him in 1965.

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Hamburger Hill

HamburgerHill‘War at it’s worst. Men at their best.’

While the 1970s produced a number of classic Vietnam War films, such as Who’ll Stop the Rain (1978), The Deer Hunter (1978), Apocalypse Now (1979) and the Australian production The Odd Angry Shot (1979), it really wasn’t until the 1980’s that the subject became more acceptable as popular entertainment. In the seventies, it was no doubt still a bit too recent and painful for most Americans to confront, while by the early-eighties the country was beginning to accept its failure and started honouring their people who served in the conflict.

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Kill Team

KillteamThese days, especially when I review things, I go out of my way to avoid reading anything about the film or in this case documentary. This can have its downsides as I was kind of hyped to see this film thinking it would be along the lines of other documentaries that I’ve enjoyed such as Restrepo and Armadillo. I assumed Kill Team would be another embedded journalist in Iraq/Afghanistan and we’d be seeing close-range fighting action and interesting characters in chaotic scenarios. I don’t want to discuss the case at length, so let’s just say it’s not an embedded journalist documentary but an expose/legal case more along the lines of Standard Operating Procedure.

 Kill Team’s focus is on a soldier (Adamn Winfield) who finds himself in a moral dilemma: to be a whistle-blower and stop some bad shit from happening at a cost to his personal safety and also forever be known as a snitch, or to let it go on.  The film challenges the complexity of such moral choices, it is never as simple as you think and every action has a shitty outcome.  Kill Team looks at cultures within the marines but mostly deals with morality and injustice.  It’s a film that should divide its audience but I have a feeling most will side with Winfield’s family and how the whole thing is an injustice. That’s ok, but y’know the Nazi’s were just “following orders” too.

We are told the story after the fact though interviews with those involved, alongside, very mundane footage of their time abroad. There’s some really worrying admissions from some of the soldiers about the culture of being a “bad ass” and killing for fun. Of course I have seen this in movies and TV shows such as Generation Kill‘s Trombley character, but to see and hear it straight from the horse’s mouth was kinda stunning and makes it so real that these are just immature babies doing stupid shit that they’ll have to live with forever.

The blurb on the cover says “one of the best anti-war films I’ve ever seen” but what’s the point in being anti-war? Is it even an anti-war film? I didn’t read that into it, to me it felt more of a “life-is-unfair-during-war-film”. There was certainly no deep or philosophical discussions about the pros and cons of war. To be honest the film is a bit of a whinge-fest and I think Winfield’s decision not to act on the information he had and report crimes was the wrong choice. Spc Justin Stoner blew the whistle on his fellow soldiers (first for smoking drugs), and is thoroughly ashamed of snitching but he is an amazingly strong character who deserves his own documentary. Stoner is a by-the-book kind of guy and it would be awesome if every soldier could be more like him.

War’s an evil we have to live with and I for one appreciate the journalists and documentarians who embed with units and give us insight into that world without telling us whether to be pro or anti-war. Although this was a decent watch I just couldn’t look past the film’s agenda of making Winfield out to be a martyr.

A must see for fans of such fare but in all honesty I think you’d be better checking out Madman’s releases of Restrepo and Armadillo before this if you haven’t seen those films.

Kill Team is available on R4 DVD from Madman Entertainment

Nazi Collaborators

Nazi-DVD-Review

I’ve studied the Holocaust and representation of trauma in media at University so whenever there’s an opportunity to review Nazi related films and documentaries I am the first to put my hand up. It’s a subject I never seem to tire of, but History Channel documentaries are tedious with their reliance on talking heads, repetition and only focusing on Jewish stories.

So when a set like this comes along which tells stories about the involvement of people from places like Norway, Greece, Holland, Latvia, Poland, France, Croatia, Palestine, Finland, Ireland (specifically the IRA?!?!?!) and it’s not a History Channel production, I’m excited.

Nazi Collaborators is a 13 episode, four disc box-set. It focuses on the men and women who conspired with the Nazis out of greed, a hatred of communism/Jews, and fear. Although I knew of some of them from various films and documentaries I have seen previously there were some surprising (the IRA connection) and very interesting stories here. So onto the collection.

Disc One

Chaim Rumkowski – Was a Polish Jew who was a Nazi appointed head of the Ältestenrat (council of elders) and ran the Łódź Ghetto. He believed that by making the Jews productive and helping the Germans by making shoes, uniforms, ammunitions and backpacks that he would be a valuable asset and save Jewish lives. Lesson? Never trust a Nazi.

Pierre LavalA French Politician and former Prime Minister, he collaborated with the Nazis to try and ensure loss of life and destruction if France but was later convicted of high treason.

The Arajs Kommando – Were a unit of Latvian Auxiliary Police led by Viktors Arājs and known for some of the most notorious killings of Jews in the Balkans. It is thought they killed 26,000 Jews, most from the Riga ghetto.

The Belgian Collaborator – Léon Degrelle, founder of Rexism and Hitler Wannabe who, later in life became a Holocaust denier.

Disc Two

The Croatian Collaborator – Dinko Sakic was the commandant of Jasenovac concentration camp, also known as “the Auschwitz of the Balkans”. Sakic and his men were particularly fond of a crude weapon called the Serb Cutter. He was later caught after 50 years in Argentinia.

Vidkun Quisling – Another anti-Communist Politician who created a new government after the Nazi’s invaded. Got royally screwed by Hitler but maintained he did everything for the betterment of Norway.

IRA – One of the more interesting stories, a rather strategic plan for the Nazis to deal with the IRA to gain strategic advantage over England but it all turned out to be a bit of a comical mess and never really worked out.

Disc Three

The Grand Mufti – The Mufti met with Hitler and was set to be the leader of Palestine after the extermination of Jews.

Jews in Germany Who Fought Hitler and Supported Him – Focuses on “Mischling” or crossbreeds (half/quarter Jew and German) who fought along with the Nazis.

Dutch Collaborator – Anton Mussert was a founder of the National Socialist Movement in the Netherlands. He was declared by Hitler to be the Fuhrer of the Dutch people and was put in charge of establishing the Dutch SS.

Disc Four

The Greek Collaborator – Ioannis Rallis was used by the Nazis to form a puppet government to prevent Greece succumbing to a Communist regime. He created security battalions that acted against resistance groups

The Good Collaborators? – This episode focuses on Finland and their choice to be co-belligerents with the Nazis as they were fighting a common enemy: Communism and Russia.

Hitler’s Killer Police – The last episode focuses on auxiliary police battalions of the Eastern Occupied countries. Ranging from Poles, Belarusians to Lithuanians, the SS death squads were responsible for the round up and murder of Jews.

A well-researched show with a lot of archive footage I have never seen and it is only repeated minimally. It’s hard for me to find the subject matter shocking anymore, I am just numb to it as I have seen so many images of the Holocaust repeated and used in different contexts. I remain to this day absolutely horrified by what the Nazis did to the Jews but it is the stories of individuals that resonate with me more than images of destruction and death. There’s both on display here and the personal insights into what survivors went through and saw is utterly horrific.

A must buy for those interested in World War II and a must see for anyone with a fleeting interested in WWII and the Nazis.

Extras

There’s a selection of two-part clips from other titles that are available: Apocalypse The Second World War, The Noise and the Fury, and Nazi Hunters.

Nazi Collaborators is a 657 minute, 4 disc box-set available on DVD from Madman Entertainment.

Armadillo

Restrepo was the war documentary that everyone was buzzing about in 2010, but in the same year another film was released: Armadillo. Restrepo (read review here followed a group of American soldiers in the Korengal Valley (Afghanistan), the film also has a book counterpart by Director Sebastian Junger called War. Restrepo received a lot of attention and acclaim, it won Grand Jury Prize and best documentary at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival. Armadillo played at Cannes and won the The International Critics’ Week (La Semaine Internationale de la Critique) but is better known for a controversy the film generated.

Armadillo was initially meant to be a six part documentary series for Danish public television called “Our War”. The intent of the series was to “bring the war home” to the people of Denmark. The Danish public were largely unaware of the role their troops played in the war and I am sure this documentary more than achieved what it set out to do.

Armadillo follows 170 British and Danish International Security Assistance Force soldiers based at the Armadillo military base in Helmand province, Afghanistan over a six month period. In the first scenes of the film we see troops getting ready to leave and saying their goodbyes to their families before they have a blow out night of drinking and partying with strippers. Once in Afghanistan they go on patrols, encounter locals, engage the enemy and various other combat scenarios.

The aforementioned controversy occurred during a firefight when some soldiers pretty much liquidated three or four Taliban. The bodies were shredded to bits (shown graphically) and the soldiers boasted about their kill. A concerned soldier phoned home and told his mother what happened and this soldier (culprit is unknown) was later branded a snitch by command. It is not clear if they broke the rules of engagement and to this day I assume it is still unknown.

The majority of Danes in this film are not portrayed in a heroic or likeable light. They watch porn, play violent video games and are very macho. American’s have a reputation for being psycho/wacko/killing machines but Restrepo didn’t portray that stereotype whereas the soldiers in Armadillo are the stereotype we’ve all come to know of the “psycho American soldier”. Restrepo got into the souls of the soldiers and is a really visceral film, Armadillo didn’t quite have the same effect on me. Although It is unfair to compare them as they are two different films, compared to Restrepo, Armadillo is very polished and slick, almost clinical, it’s as if they are at war on a stage and it is rarely is gut-wrenching. There’s one scene where a soldier slays a bunch of Taliban and the Taliban are so close you can hear them scream Allah Akbhar. There’s some intriguing moments of the Danes dealing with the locals who want compensation for damage to crops and livestock, perhaps the funniest scene is when a Danish-Asian soldier is ridiculed by little boys for having “slant eyes”.

Still, Armadillo is well worth viewing. For me it seemed a bit too glossy and we rarely see the frustration, anguish and boredom that is prevalent during wartime. A must see for those who enjoy war documentaries. A great release from Madman that is packed with extras and well worth the purchase price.

Extras:

Prior to Departure: 13 minutes of interviews and training clips, First Days in Afghanistan: 5 minutes – clips of troops talking about mine threats and IEDS, Afghan National Army: 6 minutes – footage of Afghan National Army and a troop member who stood on a mine, Civilian Afghans: 7 minutes – footage of villagers receiving compensation and discussing damages and concerns about IEDS,The Death of a Little Girl: 7 minute clip – a fight results in a girl dying and one soldier can’t handle the threat of IEDS and goes home, At the End of the Road: 5 minute clip where some of the troops discuss going home and what they miss, Director Comments: a 6 minute clip with the director and finally a selection of Madman trailers.

Armadillo is available on DVD and Blu-Ray from Madman Entertainment.

Restrepo

Restrepo takes its name from a fallen soldier (who was killed in the Korengal Valley) and focuses on Second Platoon, B Company, 2nd Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment (airborne) who were deployed to the notorious Korengal Valley in 2007 for a fifteen month tour. The men are not interested in or bothered by the reputation the valley has and have no idea what they are in for. The Korengal Valley was known as “the most deadliest place on earth” and within a few days of arriving the guys are made aware of this. America pulled out of the Korengal in 2010 with a casualty total of 50 men.

Being the fierce warriors that American soldiers are, the men were not concerned about getting killed or hurt, but were instantly met with intensive resistance resulting in deaths and wounding of soldiers, some of which are captured on film. The most intense parts of the film are not necessarily the combat scenes (which are very intense) but the interviews with the men. Accounts of “Rock Avalanche” were pretty awkward to watch. One soldier smiles nervously while being interviewed and you just feel so uncomfortable watching him keep it together while recalling a pretty horrible time. Rock Avalanche was a mission that dropped men on a hilltop (by a noisy-ass helicopter) and had them roaming around and vulnerable to near on face to face Taliban attacks. There’s some footage of this, it blacks out and when it comes back there’s been a casualty and you’re confronted with watching men cope all in very different ways. It doesn’t get more close-up and voyeruistic than this. You always hear how the biggest and toughest guy can break down in moments like these but seeing it is totally surreal.

A pretty intensive look at the conditions, action, consequences and day to day life of being in a war. We get to see men in the middle of combat, conduct weekly shuras (meetings with elders) and some pretty intense situations unfold. The timing of few recent war documentaries seems quite odd seeing as no one really has an interest in the war anymore, and most of the Iraq docos that exist are heavily critical of the war and of American soldiers. Restrepo simply tells of a platoon doing their job, what leanings you get from the film will vary with the viewer. I simply wanted to know more about the men and their stories.

As mentioned, there’s been a couple of war documentaries of late – Armadillo which focuses on a Danish outfit and HBO’s The Battle for Marjah. I’ve watched all three and there’s no doubt that Restrepo is the most memorable of them. What helps to set it apart is that there’s so many likable guys, the main being Misha Pemble-Belkin a soldier who was raised by a “fuckin’ hippy mother” and wasn’t even allowed to have a toy turtle squirt-gun as a child. He appears drunk at the start of the film in footage shot by Restrepo himself and drunkenly blurts out a line about saddling a miniature zebra. The camera whips around to Restrepo who states “Tune in next time, when we’re gonna still be lovin’ life and gettin’ ready to go to war”.

Highly recommended for those who like such material, I would also recommend the book War by Sebastian Junger who was embedded with this platoon – and also has a directing credit for the film. The men don’t come across as charismatic in the book compared to the film and ultimately to me this is what puts the film up above others of its kind. Compare the dudes in Armadillo to Restrepo and any stereotype about American soldiers being psychos goes straight out the window.

Extras

There’s a bunch of worthwhile special features including 44 minutes worth of deleted scenes, additional interviews and text updates on the soldiers. An excellent release.

  • Deleted scenes
  • Additional interviews
  • Where are they now?
  • Restrepo trailer

Restrepo is available on DVD and Blu-Ray from Madman Entertainment.

Paper Dolls – Australian Pinups of World War 2

Paper-DollsThe evolution of the girly pinup took an enormous leap forward during the World War 2 years of 1939-1945. From the stunning and often lurid ‘good girl’ art that would grace the noses of American bomber planes, to the saucy 8 x 10s of Hollywood starlets like Rita Hayworth, Lana Turner and Betty Grable, which hung tattered and ogled on the walls of barracks and tents from Iwo Jima to Normandy, pinup girls gave servicemen – particularly those on the frontlines – a connection to back home, a reminder of what they were fighting for, and perhaps an added incentive to want to try and stay alive for.

While it may have appeared to be a largely American phenomena, the wartime pinup was also integral to boosting the morale of men serving in other armies as well. In Paper Dolls, a short (52 min) documentary narrated by Claudia Karvan and produced for the SBS network, the role of Australian pinups during the Second World War is examined in a way that is nostalgic and entertaining, informative and on occasion moving, without being overly-sentimental.

Via old newsreel footage, magazine clippings and interviews with three of the surviving models of the day, we see how the outbreak of war with Germany – and later, Japan – encouraged popular magazines like Man and Pix to run model competitions within their pages, posting the winners on their covers as a cheer-up for the enlisted men. The presence of the pinup girls helped the two magazines to almost double their sales (to 400,000 copies) by the end of the war, and amazingly in those more seemingly innocent times, they actually published the home addresses of most of the models, which resulted in an influx of letters from soldiers, usually requesting photos, or a letter, or even the promise of something more. Some of the surviving letters, narrated in voice-over, have a tone that often dance on the verge of stalking, but perhaps say more of the desperation of combat troops to create a portal of fantasy, no matter how minute, to try and escape through.

As the war progressed and more Australian women enlisted or took jobs in wartime factories, Pix began to feature military and working women more prominently than bikini-clad young cheesecake dames, and some of the models either retired back to family life or, in the case of Adelie Hurley, moved her career behind the camera (Hurley, one of the pinups interviewed, worked with one-eyed photographer Ivan Ive, and went on to work as a wartime press photographer before shooting nude pin-ups for post-war issues of Man). Perhaps the most poignant story is told by Lois Traill, who recollects her correspondences with a company of men who used her photo as their ‘mascot’ and were eventually wiped-out in a jungle confrontation with the Japanese.

One minor quibble I have with Paper Dolls, aside from Carvan’s rather bland narration, is that none of the wonderful archival footage included is given any dates or sources, particularly frustrating when they show some gems like an old newsreel story on pinup gal June Myers. But it covers a long period in a short time, and does it in a way that doesn’t feel rushed, making it a mostly satisfactory introduction and overview of the subject.

EXTRAS:

Madman’s DVD release contains two nice little supplementary featurettes – Violet’s Story (an interview with another Australian wartime model, Violet Carroll) and War Comes to Australia (which looks at the bombing of Darwin in 1942 and the sneak attack on Sydney Harbour by a Japanese midget submarine the same year).

Paper Dolls – Australian Pinups of World War 2 is available on DVD from Madman Entertainment.