Gods and Generals; Max; Dreamcatcher

 (Peter is the London-based president of SIGNIS, the World Catholic Association for Communication)

Gods and Generals

During the 1990s, audiences had the opportunity of going back to the American Civil War and, in a five hour film, experiencing the details of the battle of Gettysberg. The film was entitled, simply, Gettysberg. The writer-director was Ronald F Maxwell. Now, almost ten years later, he has made the first part of what he hopes will eventually be a trilogy of films covering the whole of the war. Gods and Generals begins in early 1861 with the Lincoln government's request that General Robert E. Lee of Arlington, Virginia, take command of the American forces who would be ready to invade
the states who decided on secession from the Union, including Virginia. Lee refused. Soon after he was the Commander in Chief of the Confederate forces.

This is a four hour film. Once the background of the war is established, especially by the sitting of the Virginians state assembly, and secession is announced, battles begin. Maxwell immerses us in the battle of Manasses. However, the important section of the first part is the battle of Fredericksberg, shown in painstaking detail. He has prepared us for
more emotional involvement in this battle by introducing us to General Thomas Jackson (who was given the nickname Stonewall because of his steadfast stance at Manasses) who then becomes the central character of the film. We meet a Southern family and see their lifestyle, including a benign attitude towards their slaves. But we also go to Maine to see the family of Laurence Chamberlain, a philosophy professor, who will become one of the significant players in Gettysberg.

In the second part, there is more attention to the characters, especially Jackson, as well as pictures of how the Confederates lived in camp and regrouped after Fredericksberg. There is a long battle at Chancellorsville, but the blow to the South in the death of Jackson, with Lee regretting that he had lost his right arm (when Jackson's left had to be amputated). This is the eve of Gettysberg.

The dramatic style of the film is that of rather prim and proper 19th century manners and speaking styles, the Southerners being explicitly religious and Bible-quoting (especially the warlike books of the Old Testament). Sometimes this seems very staid and contrived, perhaps difficult for a modern audience, but representing the ways of the times.
The Northerners are more worldlywise, able to quote the Roman classics as well as voice the reasons for the Abolitionist stance on slavery. Robert Duvall is a fine embodiment of Lee and Stephen Lang brings Jackson life in a most convincing way.


A film about Hitler when he was thirty? Not likely. But, in fact, here it is. Dutch-born Menno Meyjes had written an Indiana Jones film for Steven Spielberg as well as adapting The Color Purple. Now, he has surprised audiences - and, initially, raised some hostility - by creating the story of a fictitious Jewish art dealer in Munich immediately after World War I. Max is played by John Cusack. Max encounters another returned soldier who dabbles in drawing and painting but also frequents the beer halls listening to angry speakers who resent the loss of the war and the impositions by the conquering countries, especially the money for war reparations. This moody would-be artist is Adolf Hitler, played with strange intensity by Australian Noah Taylor (Shine).

Of course, it is fascinating to watch a speculating on what Hitler might have been like in 1919. He is a loner here, easily caught up in the demagogary of the ranters on street corners and soap boxes. In fact, he discovers a talent that he can rant and rave with the best of them, nursing grievances, sublimating deep angers and espousing such causes as eugenics and antisemitism. But, there lurks the possibility that he could be an artist, much as he dislikes so much of the art emerging at this time.

Max, who comes from a wealthy background, is cavalier in accepting the loss of an arm in the war, in taking up modern artists, in having both wife and mistress. Hitler's puritanical attitudes baulk at this. However, a bond exists between the two. Menjes is obviously wondering what would have happened if Hitler had succeeded as an artist, if he had befriended a Jew, if he had tempered the hostilities and prejudices that he had absorbed. Since we know what happened, this is a psychologically tantalising film.


Writer-director Lawrence Kasdan authored Raiders of the Lost Ark and wrote westerns like Silverado and Wyatt Earp. But he is best known for a series of intelligent dramas that explored human relationships, Body Heat, Grand Canyon, Mumford. So, what is he doing in Steven King Land? Making a horror movie, scripted by one of Hollywood's best, William Goldman (Butch Cassidy, Marathon Man and many more? Is it any good? Yes and no.

For a start, there is too much plot (which may seem a strange thing for those who want all of a book being adapted for the screen to be up there on the screen). This one starts with psychic goings-on as we are introduced to four friends (who have crass mouths), one of whom we see killed but who survives... When they go on a holiday to a lodge in snow country, they encounter people who seem to be infected by monstrous viruses. So far, so eerie. And the film would have been effective in showing how they dealt with the plague and its repercussions.

Then we are suddenly in alien land, a very grim and too close encounter with really malevolent beings who are targetting the whole human race, to destroy it by poisoning a water supply, starting with Boston. Enter Morgan Freeman as a gung-ho alien hunter and we are almost in another movie. Now, we have a very complicated chase to save the world, made very difficult as the alien is trying to take possession of one of the friends and only the strange little chap that they helped when they were all young has the secret that will save us.

Production values are high. There seems to be more gore than is necessary.LONDON - 29 July 2003 - 1,052 words

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