Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Reunion in France

A stylish thriller, Reunion in France takes us to the heart of Occupied Paris during World War II. Joan Crawford plays Michele de la Becque, a former member of France's elite who has lost her home and fortune to the Nazis. When she returns to Paris from the south of France, she finds a different world. Her fiance before the war, Robert Cortot, is suddenly a collaborator, and she has to find a menial job.

When a downed RAF flyer, Pat Talbot (John Wayne) enlists her help to escape to England, Michele's love of her country compels her to assist him. Surprises await her, however, when she comes face to face with the Gestapo - and her own heart.

Crawford's performance is outstanding. She flawlessly goes from spoiled socialite to ardent patriot. Philip Dorn, who plays Cortot, is masterful - you love to hate him. Although John Wayne's role isn't a large one, the chemistry between him and Crawford is wonderful.

Produced by Joseph Mankiewicz, this is a tense, suspenseful, and very well-done war drama.

Friday, December 07, 2007

December 7, 1941: Pearl Harbor

A day that will live in infamy...
66th Anniversary of Pearl Harbor.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Veterans Day 2007

It's a day for gratitude.
Thank a veteran today. Tomorrow. Every day.
They gave you your freedom.
And we can never forget.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

The Wedding Officer

In a delicious mix of love, war, and food, The Wedding Officer by Anthony Capella sweeps you into World War II Naples, Italy, and offers a delectable feast for your senses.

British Captain James Gould is posted to Naples to be the "wedding officer." This position entails that he interview all the Italian women who want to get married to Allied officers. It's not an easy job, especially when he realizes that the majority of the potential brides are prostitutes - something that they have had to do to survive.

When James meets the gorgeous Livia, a feisty widow who has a gift for cooking, he suddenly finds himself looking at the world —and food — in a completely different way.

The Wedding Officer has a lot going for it - the details of Occupied Naples are impeccable, and Capella reveals that he used Sophia Loren's memoirs to help him recreate the time period. The food analogies and descriptions will literally make your mouth water and compel you to reach for your book of Italian recipes or visit your favorite Italian restaurant.

The book slows a bit during the last 1/4, but this is a minor glitch. Livia and James are very likeable characters, and it's a joy to read about their burgeoning relationship.

Capella doesn't mince words on how hard it was for the Italians during the occupation - both under the Germans and the Allies. Although the focus of the book isn't on battles and strategies, it does center on the human cost of war in all its variances.

Highly recommended.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Historic Photos of World War II: North Africa to Germany

This new release from Turner Publishing Company delivers an honest, unflinching portrait of World War II. With many never-before-published photographs (all in black and white), Historic Photos of World War II is a terrific find.
From the destruction of London to military cemeteries overlooking Omaha Beach, historian Bob Duncan reveals a collection of photographs so powerful, so vivid, that the war ceases to become a historical event and instead becomes a human tragedy.
The last sentence of the preface states it best: "As you turn these pages, you have a through-the-lens view of things just as they were, on the seas and in the air, in thh sand and the mud and the snow where victory and liberation were won."

Monday, October 01, 2007

Black Book

World War II was so vast that it's impossible to know everything that happened in every country. That's why I love "foreign" films that give us a different perspective of the war.
Black Book is an amazing film. It's not for the faint of heart - there are graphic scenes of violence and nudity. But it doesn't detract from the film's power.
Rachel Stein, (played by Carice van Houten) a Jew in hiding in German-occupied Holland. When her family is killed, Rachel joins the Resistance and assumes the identity of the blonde Ellis de Vries. She infiltrates the Nazi headquarters and becomes the mistress of the head of the Gestapo, Ludwig Muntze (Sebastian Koch). Ellis becomes a secretary for Muntze and becomes involved in the partying lifestyle of the Germans while simultaneously working with the Resistance.
But there is a traitor in the midst of the Resistance and Ellis is determined to find out who it is. The culprit will surprise you.
Even though this is subtitled, I barely noticed because I was so caught up in the story. It's a bit Hollywood-ized, but it also shows the courage of those willing to stand up against the enemy. Ellis's fiesty personality is riveting and her curious relationship with Muntze brings out the human side of the war, the conflicting emotions between two people on opposite sides who suddenly question the definition of "enemy."
High drama, gut-wrenching emotion, and a wonderful cast make Black Book well worth your time.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Ken Burns' The War: A Documentary of World War II

This is a must-see television event. Ken Burns is a master at the art of documentary. His past works include The Civil War, JAZZ, and Baseball.

Now, he tackles one of the most important events in history: World War II.

PBS will broadcast the seven-episode special, entitled The War, beginning on September 23, 2007.

Check out PBS for more information, including an interactive Web site that will go live on the 23rd. The War will also be available to order on DVD and as a companion book. A soundtrack will also be available.

Mark your calendars! You won't want to miss this!

Sunday, August 05, 2007

World War 2 Memorial - Washington, D.C.

Photos courtesy of my father who traveled to Washington D.C. in June. If you've been to the World War II Memorial, I'd love to hear what you thought of it. It's on my list of "must see's."

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

The Kommandant's Girl

While the concept of this novel is quite good - a Polish Jew whose husband works for the Resistance dons a new identity and works as a secretary to the German Kommandant in Krakow - the writing itself falls flat.
Yes, it's simplistic. Yes, it's very easy to read. But I found that the cliches and other rather mundane details didn't quite draw me into this world of danger and intrigue. It's written in first-person and thus, offers a limited view of the world of nineteen-year-old Emma, a.k.a. Anna.
Since the author, Pam Jenoff, spent time in Poland and studied the Jewish Resistance in that country, I thought perhaps there would be a plethora of great historic detail. While there is some, I still had a hard time "picturing" the setting. Since setting is so important to a story - especially this particular one - I never quite connected with the sense of place.
That being said, this book has a great story to tell. The curious relationship between Emma and the Kommandant is riveting. Jenoff manages to keep you turning the pages to find out if Emma is going to get caught spying for the Resistance while she works at one of the most important Nazi strongholds in Krakow.
Worth a read. If you're a fan of the simplistic style of writing, you'll enjoy this novel of heroism and danger.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

June 6, 1944: Day-Day

Today is the 63rd anniversary of the Normandy Invasion.
Although no one can ever completely recreate what the experience was really like, Hollywood has produced a few movies that will give you an idea of the bloodshed that summer day in France.
And if you're anywhere near the New Orleans area, this is a must see: D-Day Museum.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007


April, 1945. Germany stands on the brink of defeat. And their leader stands on the brink of insanity.
Downfall portrays the last days of Hitler. It's gritty, realistic, stunning, and appalling to watch. Even though the Russians surrounded Berlin, Hitler refused to surrender, and in his madness believed that his armies would somehow miraculously deliver them.
Hitler's inner circle is all here in the relative safety of his bunker - Goebbels, Speer, Eva Braun, and his generals. But it is his secretary that captures our attention. She is a fervent admirer of the Fuhrer and it is not until his suicide and her escape from the bunker that she begins to see the other side.
There are scenes that are extremely difficult to watch, made even more so because they really happened - Magda Goebbels poisoning her children because she didn't want them to grow up in a world without National Socialism; Hitler's mad insinuations that the German people were to blame for their fall; the Hitler Youth bravely defending the city when there was no more hope.
This film makes you think. It makes you see the ugliness of blind fanatacism. Unwavering loyalty. The willingness to die for a lost and horrific cause. The disregard for human life.
And it makes you ask, Why? Why did this happen? Why did a western European nation, one steeped in culture, take such a path?
This, then, is why we study history, why we continue to study the roots of World War II. We have the human need to understand this atrocity, to keep it from happening again. But have we learned from history? Are we living the old saying, "Those who do not learn from history are condemned to repeat it"?
It is something we must all consider.
But we must also consider the reasoning behind the making of this film - which, by the way, is not entirely historically accurate. For an in depth review, read this fascinating article by David Cesarani and Peter Longerich.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Flags of Our Fathers by James Bradley

One word to describe this book: amazing.

Flags of Our Fathers is a stunning, gripping, and utterly realistic story of the Battle of Iwo Jima and of the six flag raisers who were forever immortalized in a photograph that captured the world's imagination.

James Bradley's father, Jack Bradley, was a naval corpsman - a medic - during the battle. Even though James knew his father participated at Iwo and was one of the flag raisers, he never knew the full story. In fact, he didn't discover that his father had earned the Navy Cross until after his death.

Bradley set out to research his father's life, as well as the lives of the five other flag raisers. The result is one of the best books on World War II. This is a story not about great generals or battle maneuvers, but about the men and women who participated in this monumental war. It is a deeply personal story, a story that reaches into your heart and grabs hold, never letting go, even after the last page has been turned.

These were ordinary men doing their jobs. But the flagraising photo elevated them to hero status, a label they were never comfortable with. Of the six who were in the photo, only three survived Iwo: Jack Bradley, Ira Hayes, and Rene Gagnon. After the war, their lives took drastically different paths. But they will always be bound by what came to be known as The Photograph.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Dear Enemy by Jack Cavanaugh

During the final German push in the Battle of the Bulge, nurse Annie Mitchell must evacuate the hospital where she works. But when she discovers that her husband, Keith, may be wounded in the Ardennes Forest only a few miles from the hospital, she and her best friend steal an ambulance and race toward the forest.

Keith is alive, but their situation is perilous. With her best friend killed from the fighting around them, Annie has no time to mourn. But things take a decided downturn when Keith exchanges fire with two patrolling German soldiers. To her utter horror, Keith is killed and Annie is taken prisoner by the one German soldier left alive. Can she escape or will this German soldier prove to be her worst nightmare?

What follows is a compelling story about compassion, forgiveness, and trust. Jack Cavanaugh blends the harsh reality of war with the beauty of the human soul in Dear Enemy.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Thanks for the Memories

"Thanks For The Memories: Love, Sex, and World War II is the true story of how the World War II generation responded to the passions of war and how their lives and the relationships between the sexes were forever changed." - From the Introduction

Jane Leder pens a truly groundbreaking work with Thanks for the Memories. While works on World War II continue to emerge each and every day, this particular title touches on a subject not often studied. Sexuality during World War II was a topic often relegated to the whispers of society and often contradicted itself. For example, even though the U.S. Army forbid soldiers to fraternize with prostitutes or loose women, they provided condoms.

Divided into nine chapters, Leder explores subjects including sexual harassment of women in the workplace, government "educational programs," illegitimate births on the home front, dating, and love.

Well-written and highly-readable, Thanks for the Memories is sure to become the definitive book on the subject of sexuality during World War II.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Coming Soon: Thanks for the Memories

Watch for a review of Thanks for the Memories: Love, Sex, and World War II by Jane Mersky Leder coming soon!

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Saving Private Ryan

Saving Private Ryan has already become a classic World War II movie. Directed by Steven Spielberg and starring Tom Hanks, Matt Damon, Tom Sizemore, and Edward Burns, this movie tells the haunting story of an eight-man patrol sent out to rescue Private Ryan whose other three brothers have been killed.

Spielberg manages to portray the gritty reality of war in a myriad of ways - the storming of the beaches at Normandy, the emotions of losing a comrade, the friendship and comraderie between soldiers. As the commanding officer, Hanks brings a very human aspect to the role. Burns is his opposite, challenging authority and wondering why they are risking the lives of eight to save one.

But it is Hanks' final words that manage to sum up the entire movie - Earn it. If you haven't watched the movie, I won't disappoint you by revealing that scene or the ending. But hopefully, it will be enough to entice you to rent the DVD and immerse yourself in the reality of war.