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Christopher Crossley "The Man from Hubei" (Wuhan, Hubei Province, China)

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Character in Action: The U.S. Coast Guard on Leadership
Character in Action: The U.S. Coast Guard on Leadership
by Donald T. Phillips
Edition: Hardcover

3.0 out of 5 stars Well-oiled machine, but what about conflict management?, 23 Aug 2004
As I read through this book, I did not encounter any case studies of conflict management between U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) personnal that required resolution, though there were the occasional references to "Coasties" who felt that they were really doing unimportant jobs (like looking after a power generator) - until a more senior man comes in and convinces them otherwise.
The USCG prides itself in recruiting talent who can do more than one job and can take command in field situations on their own initiative without waiting for orders from on-high; basically, it has an "act-first-tell-me-later" approach, which appears to have served this two-centuries-old organisation well, including during the terrible events of 9/11.
Yet, though Phillips and Loy, the co-authors, give the impression that the USCG runs like a well-oiled machine, they appear to have avoided any discussion of when it does not. Conflict resolution is part of any big organisation, yet no information appears in this book about it. Since the Coast Guard is a culturally homogeneous entity, there is nothing about any clashes of mentality or management styles or thinking.
Like the other four main branches of the U.S. armed forces, the USCG is a full-time organisation, and all five do have their Reserve units manned by part-timers who have civilian jobs. It is common practice for selected military personnel to be sent on exchanges, not just within their own country, but also to other countries. U.S. Coast Guardsmen must surely be sent on exchanges, too, yet Phillips and Loy mention nothing about this.
I would have liked to have read something about the experience of U.S. Coast Guardsmen temporarily serving in the coast guard of a foreign power, because it could say something useful about the differences in mentalities and in approaches to similar situations, and about any resolutions to disagreements or conflicts. Would the visiting USCG personnel have ideas and suggestions listened to and discussed and implemented - or would they simply be ignored?
Armed forces are not the same as civilian corporations, of course, since they are concerned with national defense and power projection rather than profit-making, yet interaction between, say, western and non-western organisations sometimes results in clashes, and I think it would have served the book better, seeing that Phillips has written books on management, had there been examples of conflict and resolution.

The Great Escape [VHS]
The Great Escape [VHS]
Offered by scrumpyjane
Price: £3.95

24 of 29 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "Rotten eggs" conjure up the greatest escape plan ever, 25 Jun 2004
This review is from: The Great Escape [VHS] (VHS Tape)
"Putting all the rotten eggs in one basket" was how the German kommandant of Stalag Luft III allegedly described to the senior British officer, Ramsay (James Donald), the task of getting the most "troublesome" escapers from the "Big X" organisation from POW camps scattered all over the embattled Third Reich to one place. Looking at the set based on the real camp, it was nothing like Colditz Castle - rather like something thrown up in haste on a patch lacking greenery but located conveniently next to a wood.
Yet, under the direction of "Big X" Bartlett (Richard Attenborough in what, for me, was his most memorable role), seething with rage at ill-treatment from the Gestapo who threatened "You will be shot" if he escaped again and was caught, these "rotten eggs" managed to conjure up one of the most daring prisoner-of-war breakouts in military history, whose story was recounted by Paul Brickhill, the author also responsible for the book which had inspired the film, "The Dam Busters" (1955).
Attenborough is joined by a cast of well-known British stars like Gordon Jackson (of ITV's "Upstairs Downstairs" fame), Angus Lennie (who memorably blows a raspberry at the kommandant for his comment that British and German people "understand" each other), David McCallum (playing the only naval officer in the movie), and Donald Pleasance (who was no mean "twit" with his understanding of birds - yes, it is a pun!), plus, of course, big-name American stars James Garner, Charles Bronson and Steve McQueen.
Garner plays Handley "The Scrounger", a volunteer with the American-crewed RAF "Eagle" fighter squadrons, Bronson plays Danny, "The Tunnel King", a Polish volunteer with the RAF, while McQueen plays Hilts, a U.S. Army Air Forces man who, for reasons never explained, is put in this camp along with the "Big X" people. This was quite clearly an attempt to sell this movie to the American public, yet it was an inspired choice, given that its popularity has endured over the past four decades.
Thankfully, the man who would go on to play "Bullitt" was not solely responsible for making the movie one of the greatest WWII movies ever made. In their respective scenes before, during and after the tension-filled escape from the camp, Bronson, whose character's claustrophobia nearly stops the escape before it even starts, Garner and Pleasance have their chances to shine, though James Coburn, who plays Sedgwick, an Australian, does not have a memorable time, since he gets all the way to Spain in a leisurely way without meeting any trouble from the Germans - unlike McQueen, who - how shall I put it succinctly - tries to escape on a motorbike. (The rest is, as they say, cinematic history.)
The camaraderie amongst the men and their success in getting 76 men out before the penny (pfennig) finally dropped are very hard to ignore, as they use their ingenuity in distracting the Germans while carrying on the mammoth task of digging three long escape tunnels.
Yet it was not as if the POWs had everything their own way - who can forget the scene of Ives (Lennie) hanging off the barbed wire fence after being shot by a German watchtower guard as he made a futile escape attempt during the prisoners' impromptu July 4th bash to celebrate U.S. Independence Day, or the scene at the railway station where Ashley-Pitt (McCallum) sacrifices his life to prevent a Gestapo officer publicly identifying Bartlett (Attenborough) and McDonald (Jackson).
"The Great Escape" has endured in popularity for many reasons. Most of all, it tells a story based on a true story. It is a story of courage where one side had weapons whereas the other had none at all. The viewer is caught up in the tension as the POWs, in disguise, use public transport and wonder if the passengers around them, including S.S. officers, are aware of who they really are. Such tension is usual in espionage movies, yet this movie succeeds in producing even more tension than those other ones, and no spying is involved. These are people who broke out of the camp for freedom and for the chance of getting back home to continue the fight for Europe's freedom.
As the film ends, the viewer learns that it is "dedicated to the fifty" real POWs who were brutally murdered by the Gestapo after their escape from Stalag Luft III. I like to think that, even without the Hollywood hype (such as it was in the 1960s), this movie did do their story justice. Kudos to all the actors for fine, memorable performances.

Mosquito Squadron [VHS] [1969]
Mosquito Squadron [VHS] [1969]
Offered by Discountdiscs-UK : Dispatched daily from the UK.
Price: £2.98

5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Underrated air war movie but still good for all that, 17 Jun 2004
This movie is not supposed to be a carbon copy of its highly successful predecessor, "633 Squadron", yet, to one's horror, one discovers that the opening footage of the V-1 launch, flight and ultimate destruction in a London street, has been lifted straight from "Operation Crossbow" - and I only discovered THAT years after watching this movie several times on television.
One can take proverbial potshots (like the Germans at the Mosquito bombers flying at zero feet) at David McCallum for what people have described as his wooden, deadpan portrayal of Squadron Leader Quint Monroe, who appears relatively unemotional when reporting the "death in action" of his previous commanding officer, "Scotty" (David Buck), to his superior officer.
However, that would be an unfair criticism of McCallum: it would be unrealistic if he were to portray Monroe in a way that suggested that he had to adopt a certain persona just to please the audience (or the studio people) by playing a given stereotype. RAF fighter pilots were, in the eyes of the public, supposed to be suave and debonair, yet, as this film and "Battle of Britain" prove, they were ordinary people doing extraordinarily stressful jobs in extraordinary times. Hence, their emotions should reflect the environment of the characters the actors portray.
The most convincing portrayal is that of Charles Gray as the air commodore who tells Monroe to "chuck a bomb" in a tunnel next to a commandered French chateau in order to destroy V-3s (as they were referred to) being constructed in an underground chamber. My favourite line in the movie was when Monroe gave his reaction to the difficulty of the mission at the briefing: "[It's] like spitting into an air commodore's eye from an express train, sir." People who watched "Crossbow" will remember that there was, indeed, a vast studio set resembling such a chamber, yet no such thing is seen in this movie, so, although there was no copying here, it is nevertheless a disappointment.
Having said that, perhaps the budget was somewhat tight, considering that it costs money to have preserved Mosquito bombers (or anything of WWII vintage) flying in movies, and so the cheapest solution for the scene, in which Monroe (McCallum) and Scotty's widow (Suzanne Neve) are in a car, is to have McCallum barely budge the steering wheel while Neve's hair is hardly ruffled while their car is in front of a screen showing a winding road probably filmed from the back of a lorry (one wonders if the camera actually fell off it!).
The most tension-filled scenes are the ones filmed in the chateau grounds where the priest, an intelligence agent, informs the RAF prisoners being used as human shields that Mosquitoes will conduct a bombing raid soon. The prisoners include the supposedly "dead" Scott, only Monroe knows he is alive because of a film "sent" by Luftwaffe fighters which shoot up the airfield (in this case, RAF Bovington) for good measure. Even so, he has orders to obey: destroy the rockets - even if it means that "Scotty" - and a great many fellow comrades - might be killed for real this time around.
Like practically all British war films of the 1960s, one can be sure that there will be certain elements: a romance that doesn't quite work well, a war mission with lots of people being killed, the mission finally succeeding and (with the exception of "633 Squadron", perhaps) most, if not all, of the heroes returning home. This film has all these elements, yet it has been knocked - perhaps unfairly - by many people for the so-called "wooden" acting. Nevertheless, it is entertaining and watchable, even if it isn't in the same league as "633 Squadron" and "Battle of Britain".

Battle Of Britain [VHS]
Battle Of Britain [VHS]
Offered by dawlishboy
Price: £4.90

10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Ordinary people fighting in extraordinary circumstances, 11 Jun 2004
This review is from: Battle Of Britain [VHS] (VHS Tape)
It was certainly no small effort technically to make this highly memorable war film just 28-29 years after the event. "Battle of Britain" sees one of the most decisive battles of history from both the British and German perspectives.
Indeed, unlike other "dual-perspective" films like "The Bridge at Remagen" (1968), where the Germans apparently speak to each other in English (which had no basis in reality), the German scenes immerse the viewer in a 100 percent German-language environment, something which pleases a linguist and military aviation enthusiast like myself. (The same applies to "Tora! Tora! Tora!" (1970), where the Japanese actors speak only Japanese.) The only thing that has always rankled with me, however, is the utterly inaccurate English subtitles which sometimes hardly reflected what the German actors (including Goering lookalike, Hein Riess, playing - who else - Goering) were saying in their dialogues. Of course, if you don't speak German, that's no worry, and won't spoil your enjoyment of this thumpingly good movie.
One may shake one's head at the fact that one has to witness a seemingly troubled marriage between Colin and Maggie Harvey (Christopher Plummer and Susannah York) as a sub-plot. Yet the thoroughly anti-Nazi attitude of a firebrand squadron leader (Robert Shaw), who angrily tells an RAF police corporal to "give [a shot-down enemy bomber pilot] a b****y shovel" to fill in a bomb crater at Duxford airfield, conveys both the hatred he feels for the Germans in attacking his country and the strain he is under for having to go up several times a day to lead his very young pilots to face a numerically superior enemy air force - kudos to Shaw for a no-holds-barred performance.
Unlike "Reach For The Sky" (1956), this film does not follow one or several particular characters throughout, though they do re-occur. This is an effective way to show that people from all social backgrounds were united in a common cause - to prevent the Luftwaffe from destroying the RAF in a prelude to an invasion of Britain - and, to the film-makers' credit, also included scenes away from the air battle, such as firemen battling against the flames, a bomb disposal squad in London, and, memorably, Maggie's total shock at seeing the dead bodies of her fellow airwomen draped in tarpaulins after the air raid on Duxford.
The film also showed that these characters were human and had things on their mind other than trying to defeat the Germans - such as the aforementioned Harvey marriage and Sergeant-Pilot Andy's (a very young Ian McShane) shock at seeing his family killed in an air raid.
Overall, Fisz and Saltzman do an excellent job in presenting a film about ordinary people battling against an enemy in extraordinary circumstances, and they manage to have the (British) lion's share of the film, with high-ranking RAF officers like Park (Trevor Howard) and Dowding (Laurence Olivier) having little, yet significant, screen time.
A classic must-see for enthusiasts of military aviation.

Aces High [VHS]
Aces High [VHS]
Offered by stephensmith_426
Price: £12.77

19 of 22 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Naivety dispelled by the shocking reality of war in the air, 18 Feb 2003
This review is from: Aces High [VHS] (VHS Tape)
"We are caning them," says a boastful Major John Gresham of the Germans when he visits his old school, of which he had been a house captain a few years earlier. It is clear that his young and hopelessly naive audience, especially Stephen Croft, approve of his words, and the smile on his face is evidence of someone who idolizes this RFC major, a symbol of Englishness in war.
Such is the opening for this World War I film, which, like "The Blue Max" (1966) before it, examines the way in which war shapes people. Malcolm McDowell is excellent as the CO of 76 Squadron, RFC, especially where the difference in personality between the "recruiter" (at his school) and the hard-bitten veteran who has seen a good many young people like Croft die like flies - and for what? A few inches of mud in no man's land?
Gresham is appalled when Croft (Peter Firth) arrives at 76 Squadron in May 1917, for he is now about to realise that his white lies about "caning" the Germans are about to be revealed. Serving as a "link" between the two men is "Uncle", ably played by Christopher Plummer, who can see only too well the gaping void in personality. Gresham effectively dismisses Croft's attitude as gross naivety and is not at all prepared to wet-nurse him.
To add to his difficulties, Crawford (Simon Ward) is cracking up and is prepared to desert. Gresham confronts the would-be deserter with the stark reality that, if he tries anything, he wouldn't hesitate to have him shot. Yet it is clear that the major sympathizes with the lieutenant - if only everyone could just pack up and go home, there wouldn't be any more war.
The fact that "Day 1" to "Day 7" go by in just under two hours shows how time goes by so quickly that one barely has time to digest what is going on. Yet what does go on is powerful and the film-makers produce some memorable images, showing graphically the hideosity of mass mechanised warfare waged just to protect the interests of politicians and generals back home.
The sudden and fiery death of Thompson, whose body is a flaming torch when it plunges to the ground, affects Gresham deeply. The death on a mission of "Uncle" affects Croft so deeply that he shuns his fellow officers, only to be criticized by Gresham for making himself look like a laughing stock in front of the mechanics. Gresham appears still to attach a great deal to social class (as does Heidemann in "The Blue Max"), yet the fact is that anyone of any social class can be killed in war.
As with other films, this one is a highly entertaining, yet disturbing film about how life is just thrown away needlessly in the pursuit of ideals, and about how those who remain are changed forever and can never look in the world in the same way. The "safe" world of the English public school and the "real" world outside are rarely more starkly conveyed than in this film.
The grotesqueness of war is evident on Gresham's face when Croft, who appeared to grow up very quickly in the latter half of his seven-day "stay" at the squadron, is shockingly killed in a mid-air collision with an enemy fighter plane, and his grief is genuine. He then finds it hard to keep a straight face when three more young second-lieutenants with barely a few flying hours between them are paraded before him - more lambs to the slaughter of the Western Front. Kudos to McDowell for a powerful performance right from beginning to end.

The Blue Max [VHS] (1966)
The Blue Max [VHS] (1966)
Offered by hessleoldbooks
Price: £8.31

20 of 21 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Driven by ambition, lust and glory-hunting, 16 Feb 2003
Filmed in Ireland (which explains the somewhat puzzling absence of trenches and mud in many of the aerial dogfighting shots, and the even more puzzling sight of the Irish parliament building in Dublin, a city masquerading as Berlin), this film is interesting in that the First World War's Western Front is merely the backdrop to a story surrounding a man who finds himself fighting not just the enemy (the British in this case), but fighting the attitudes of his fellow aviators.
Bruno Stachel (ably played by George Peppard) is a man who intends to climb not just out of the trenches but into the air, but also in terms of his social status as he does anything he believes appropriate in order to win the so-called "Blue Max", the highest medal the Germans awarded for gallantry until 1918. While his commanding officer, Otto Heidemann (Karl Michael Vogler) detests what he perceives as a low-lifer who totally disregards "how the upper class does things", the Countess von Klugermann (Ursula Andress) finds this man somewhat fascinating purely because she wants something different and wants to know what makes Stachel tick.
It is somewhat puzzling as to why her husband, the General (James Mason), and her nephew, Willi (Jeremy Kemp), do or say nothing to chase away this upstart from this upper-crust man-chaser, yet undoubtedly, in the absence of the actual fighting at the front, the sub-plots needed to work, interwoven as they are with the main plot involving Willi himself, who wins the medal after destroying 20 enemy aircraft. Stachel's ambitions are spurred when Willi is awarded the medal, though he is somewhat shaken after his rival (and, dare I say it, friend) accidentally ends up crashing into a lone chimney stack and killing himself after a reckless stunt to prove who was better at flying aeroplanes.
His commanding officer's prejudice is well maintained (kudos to Vogler) and is unremitting even when he demands that the general have Stachel court-martialled for disobeying orders, only for the latter to refuse outright - the man was now a hero to the common people, something that the general had planned once he realised Stachel's abilities. Heidemann then realises that the war did not revolve around individuals and that what had been certain and applicable before was not necessarily applicable now. He is therefore forced to back down.
Yet a white lie by Stachel, who rejects a fiery Countess's advances, landed him unknowingly in a predicament that he remains totally unaware of. Given the ending (which is different to that in Jack Hunter's original novel, but which I won't reveal here), it reveals that just as people are prepared to put them up on pedestals, so the same people are prepared to drag them down in as shocking a way as possible.
This is a well-done movie about the human psyche in time of war, not a collective psyche as seen in many American war movies like "Platoon" and "Full Metal Jacket", but of an individual who stands out and makes his mark by bucking the trend as very much a non-conformist who does things his way and doesn't care who knows it or who objects to it. Peppard does an excellent job, even though, back in 1966, he was not a star and was surrounded by star actors like Mason and Andress (who'd been in THAT bikini just a few years before when Connery popped up). Like "Battle of Britain", filmed over England in 1968, the aerial sequences are spectacular and well done but they remain strictly secondary and do not overpower the plot.
Personally, I would have liked the film to explore more of Stachel's personality - about what really drove a working-class man to reach new heights in the face of a social class whose way of thinking and acting was totally alien and anathema to him. His involvement with the Countess seemed also a bizarre sub-plot, but, as in "Zeppelin" (1971), her involvement was merely to serve as a (female) distraction in a male-dominated society that would change irretrievably after the fall of Imperial Germany in 1918.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jan 31, 2013 10:51 AM GMT

Zeppelin [VHS] [1971]
Zeppelin [VHS] [1971]
Offered by entertainment2yourdoor - posting every day until Dec 23rd
Price: £9.88

8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Mission incredible - with a distraction thrown in, 22 Jan 2003
This review is from: Zeppelin [VHS] [1971] (VHS Tape)
The Michael York character in this 1971 movie is no James Bond type, as seen in "A View to a Kill" (1985), where airships were also key to the plot, yet it is clear that he was being forced to choose between the two major warring European powers during the First World War as regards his loyalties.
The plot centres around what appears to be a "simple" task for one Lt. Geoffrey Richter-Douglas, a man with German roots yet serving in a minor role in the British Army: get back to Germany and find out all the technical details of a new Navy Zeppelin called the LZ36, the latest in a series of airships used for the strategic bombing of British cities in 1915 in order to terrify the civilian population.
Having been deliberately shot in the arm (literally) in order to convince the Germans that he was genuinely turning his back on the British, Richter-Douglas finds that the purpose of the new airship's sole mission is much more sinister than that - no bombs are on board, for a start. This mission outrages the airship's designer, Professor Altschul (Marius Goring) and worries his wife, Erika (Elke Sommer). Erika keeps her feelings for Richter-Douglas carefully neutral, and her contention that he is actually still working for the British to herself.
The Scotsman is nearly discovered, but he despatches one crewmember in a particularly brutal fight and dumps him over the side while the Zeppelin is still in flight; fortunately for him, the ruse that he was trying to save him fooled the commander of the ship (Andrew Keir) and the army colonel (Anton Diffring) leading the mission.
The mission (which I won't reveal here) ultimately fails, but without his help, though Erika's presence appears to add little to the plot except provide a distraction to the otherwise male-dominated scenario, as military missions in those days tended to be. The most exciting part is perhaps the aerial battle where British fighters try and put as many bullet holes into the airship as possible before the ship climbs out of reach when many things (including the bodies of killed crewmembers) are themselves dumped over the side.
Nonetheless, the ship is heading for a "Hindenburg"-style fiery death as (for some reason never explained) the ship loses height and crashes into the North Sea by the Dutch coast. Perhaps predictably, both Richter-Douglas and Erika are the only survivors of what was a doomed mission (from the British point of view, it could only be doomed).
As espionage stories go, this one would have been better had the action not been so plodding at times: one might even say that the mid-North Sea fuel stop was a rest-stop for the movie itself. It is really only from when the enemy airship reaches its destination that the action really does get going. For fans of airships past and present, it is memorable for the fact that the set used for the inside of the ship was remarkably detailed and that the genuine airship sheds at Cardington, which still exist, were used as a backdrop.
Overall, however, it is a good film to watch because, unlike others, it focuses mostly on the troubled psyche of the man, who is clearly being made a pawn by both sides to get what they want, and does not attempt to glorify war. The subtle anti-war message comes when Erika asks him to comment on the failure of the mission, and he says bluntly that he "didn't want any of it". For him, survival was his top priority - what anyone else wanted did not matter to him, even if he never had to take a stand against either side.

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