Saturday, March 17, 2018


1.  What movie is the picture from?

2.  What movie is this quote from?
  "I fear all we have done is to awaken a sleeping giant and fill him with a terrible resolve."

3.  What movie is this?
The star did not want to act in the movie (he felt he was too old for the part), but the studio refused to finance it without the superstar appearing.  He also directed the movie.  It was a critical and box office success.  It won the Best Picture Oscar and Gibson was awarded Best Director.  It captured a total of five Oscars.  The movie was filmed in Scotland, although most of the extras for the battle scenes were from the Irish territorial army.  The screenplay was written by Randall Wallace who also did the “We Were Soldiers” script.  He based the story on a medieval poem by Blind Henry.  

Monday, March 12, 2018

CRACKER? Alone in Berlin (2016)

         “Alone in Berlin” is a movie about resistance to the Nazis.  It was directed by Vincent Perez.  The movie is based on the novel Every Man Dies Alone by Hans Fallada.  Fallada was inspired by the story of Otto and Elise Hampel which he learned of through their Gestapo file.  The book was published posthumously in 1947.  It has been made into a West German movie in 1962, an East German miniseries in 1970, a movie in 1975, and a Czech miniseries in 2004.

                Otto (Brendan Gleeson) and Anna Quangel (Emma Thompson) are a working class couple living in Berlin.  Their lives change when they receive word of their son’s death fighting in France.  Otto takes it stoically and resumes his factory work seemingly unaffected by the death.  However, he decides to channel his anguish into an act of civil disobedience against the Nazis, who he blames for his son’s death.  He starts writing post cards with messages denouncing the war effort.  His first says “Hitler murdered my son.  He will murder your’s, too.”  He leaves the post cards around town for strangers to pick up.  Anna joins in and their moribund marriage is rekindled.  A police detective named Escherich (Daniel Bruhl) takes on the case which he calls “Operation Hobgoblin”.  He is a professional who appreciates the challenge, but soon he comes under pressure from the Gestapo to catch the traitors.
                “Alone in Berlin” is based on a story that needed to be told.  We have so many Holocaust movies, but so few movies covering the brave Germans who resisted against the Nazi regime.  The Quangels exemplify the resisters.  Their story is well told here and is not as enhanced as you often see with most resistance films.  Although this is commendable, the movie ends up being a bit slight and predictable.  It follows the usual template for this type of cat and mouse plot.  Unfortunately, there is a lack of suspense as the mouse has no truly close calls.  It is not a movie that will have you on the edge of your seat. 

                The characters are stereotypical.  Otto is the stoical average Joe who fights the system.  Anna is his partner in a dull marriage, who insists on sharing his derring-do.  A shared cause restores their love for each other.  The leads are what separates the movie from a made for TV movie.  Gleeson and Thompson are perfect as the pair, but their unemotional characters leave little opportunity for emoting.  Gleeson, in particular, never seems to change emotions.  This may be appropriate for a factory worker, but it reduces the suspense of the movie.  The movie comes off as stolid as he is. It does not jerk tears as it clearly could have. Escherich is the most fascinating character as he goes from pride in his profession to disillusionment with law enforcement in the Third Reich.   He is not the villain, the movie adds a loathsome SS officer for us to hiss at.  The movie also feels it is necessary to throw in a Holocaust subplot involving an elderly Jewish neighbor of the Quangels.  It seems the screenwriter felt it was not enough that some Germans risked their lives against the Nazis because they launched a war that killed thousands of young German men.  However, the subplot is entertaining and the movie would have been too short without it.  Then again, the movie could have been longer if it had covered the home front.  We really get no impression of how the war is affecting other German common people. We also are unaware of the effects of the post cards until the end.

                “Alone in Berlin” is worth the watch and informative.  It is historically accurate, in general.  The liberties that are taken with the original Gestapo file are acceptable to flesh out the story and bring it to the screen. 

GRADE  =  B-

HISTORICAL ACCURACY:   Otto Hampel was a factory worker.  His wife Elise was a domestic servant who was a member of the National Socialist Women’s League.  It was her brother who was killed in the war and motivated them to leave the post cards.  The movie made a good decision to change the dead relative to their son.  This allowed for the marital dynamic which is surely not accurate.  There were over 200 post cards from September, 1940 to the autumn of 1942.  The statements on each card covered ideas like don’t donate money to the Nazi regime, refuse military service, avoid cooperation with the government, and overthrow Hitler.  The Jewish subplot is probably fictional, but certainly could have happened.  In reality, the Hampels were caught when they were turned in by a neighbor.  The movie version is more entertaining.  They were found guilty of treason and beheaded.

Saturday, March 3, 2018

CRACKER? 13 Assassins (2010)

                The Japanese created their own unique war movie subgenre when they invented the samurai film.  Although many of these movies have been made, most Westerners are only familiar with one -  “Seven Samurai”.  For many war movie fans, it may be the only subtitled movie they have seen.  Before I got serious about reviewing war movies, it was the only foreign war movie I had seen.  It took me a while to see a better samurai film, but now I have seen “13 Assassins”.  This 2010 release attempts to bring the samurai film into the 21st Century.  In fact, it is a remake of an Old School 1963 movie.  It was directed by Takashi Mike.  He is known for graphic violence.  You can see it on Netflix streaming.

                The movie is set in feudal Japan in 1844.  This was the Edo Period and toward the end of the Tokugawa Shogunate.  The shogun’s younger brother is a sadistic psychopath who could hasten the end of the shogunate.  The movie opens with a sepukku by a noble to protest mistreatment by the supervillain Matsudaira Naritsugu (Goro Inagaki).  A flashback depicts the mistreatment as the rape of his daughter-in-law and murder of his son by Naritsugu.  Sir Doi, the shogun’s adviser, visits an old samurai acquaintance named Shimada Shinzaemon (Koji Yakusho).  Shimada is in retirement, but dreams of a samurai-worthy death.  Doi has a proposal that will allow him to go out in glory.  But Shimada is no ronin, he has a conscience and decides to sign on to Doi’s scheme when Doi introduces him to a limbless and tongueless woman who would like to be avenged.  This scene will stick with you, as will the next one where Naritsugu kills a family.  Supervillain established.  Shimada gathers his dozen samurai that run the gamut of samurai stereotypes, except that this being the 21st Century, we get two that are explosives experts.  The thirteenth assassin is a hunter they rescue in the woods who comes along as their guide.  He’s also along to provide comic relief.  The plan is to ambush Naritsugu and his private army at a village that they will fortify and boobytrap.  We are headed for “who will survive?” territory.

                This one takes the samurai template and updates it.  Although it is not a remake of “Seven Samurai”, it does have similar characters.  There is the leading duo of veterans, the nutcase (Kiga is the equivalent of Mishune’s Kikuchiyo), the master swordsman, the youngster, etc.  More is better, so we get almost twice as many samurai.  That way we can have more deaths and a longer fight scene.  Unfortunately, more means less character development.  Some of the thirteen are indistinct.  The big improvement is the villain.  Naritsugu is so hate-worthy that any other ending would have led to riots in the theater.  Inagaki’s portrayal is in the slime-ball hall of fame.  The rest of the cast is up to the action.  The acting is first-rate even though it doesn’t need to be.  Acting can’t overshadow the incredible kick-ass melee that takes up the last quarter of the movie.  Everything, including the kitchen sink, shows up in that scene. Check out the burning cows! You’ll be sated by the end of the flick.  Surprisingly, the action is gory, but not too graphic.  Mike must have listened to his critics.

                “13 Assassins” updates the “Seven Samurai” plot as well.  The thirteen are not defending the village, they are using it for a higher purpose.  The purpose is to keep a madman off the throne.  At one point, in the middle of the melee, Naritsugu remarks that he wants to bring back warfare like this.  Set in feudal Japan, the film is interested in commenting on the blind loyalty to one’s lord that the period was noted for.  One of the most intriguing characters is Naritsugu’s top retainer Hanbei.  Hanbei knows his master is evil, but he insists on remaining loyal.  He also is an old rival of Shimada, so you can see where this is heading, climax-wise.

                “13 Assassins” is an amazing movie.  If you loved “Seven Samurai”, you’ll love this movie.  In fact, it will sound like blasphemy, but it is superior to that earlier classic. (Heck, I think “The Magnificent Seven” is better – how’s that for heresy?)  I don’t fawn over the classics, although I love the Kurosawa epic.  It is possible for modern movies to top Old School movies.  It’s safe to say, it is more in tune to modern audiences than the earlier film is.


Friday, February 23, 2018


5.  Barefoot Gen  (1983)  -  I had put off watching this movie because of the subject matter – Hiroshima.  It is the tale of a Japanese family who were tragically impacted by the explosion.  It is a roller coaster ride that has gut punches and tender moments.  Gen is a great character.  The animation is grand.  It is not a kids’ movie, but it is a must-see to understand what happened to the people of Hiroshima.

4.  Their Finest  (2016)  -  This movie is a real treat.  It is a romantic comedy set in wartime Britain.  A young woman gets a job writing female dialogue for propaganda films.  She gets involved in making a film about rescuing soldiers from Dunkirk.  It’s a behind the scenes look at low budget movie making with indelible characters.  The main character is a feminist before her time.  This is definitely a date movie, but don’t hold that against it.

3.  Lincoln  (2012)    While more of a biopic than a warpic, Lincoln is grand entertainment.  The acting is fantastic.  Daniel Day-Lewis got well-deserved accolades, but the rest of the cast is amazing.  The movie covers an overlooked event in American History – the passage of the 13th Amendment.  The political wheeling and dealing is fascinating and we get a look at backstairs at the White House.  This movie is superior to the fine “Darkest Hour”.

2.  13 Assassins  (2010)  -  This is a modern samurai film.  It updates the “Seven Samurai” template.  At the risk of being branded a heretic, it is a better film.  The thirteen mercenaries are hired to assassinate a loathsome warlord.  They set up an ambush in a village that results in a very long kick-ass melee.  The movie delves deep into Japan’s feudal heritage.
1.  Duck, You Sucker! (1971)  -  In 1968, Sergio Leone made “Once Upon a Time in the West” and in 1984, he made “Once Upon a Time in America”.  Both movies are very well known.  But most people do not know that they are part of a trilogy.  In 1971, Leone directed the second in the trilogy – “Duck, You Sucker!”.  For some reason, the film is largely forgotten in the Leone canon.  It is not even available through Netflix.  Leone was inspired to do a film deromanticizing revolutions after riots broke out in Paris.  He decided to set the movie in the Mexican Revolution of the 1910s.  He leads off the movie with a quote from Mao Zedong.  “The revolution is not a social dinner, a literary event, a drawing or an embroidery; it cannot be done with… elegance and courtesy.  The revolution is an act of violence.”  And who knew cinematic violence better than Leone?  Surprisingly, Leone did not want to direct the film which he had co-written.  However, both Rod Steiger and James Coburn insisted.  Leone envisioned the movie as a spiritual successor to “Once Upon a Time in the West” and wanted Eli Wallach to reprise his Tuco character as Juan.  When Wallach was unavailable because of a prior commitment, Leone begged him to back out on it, which he did.  Unfortunately, the studio demanded Steiger because he owed them a film.  Wallach sued.  Things were tense on the set as Steiger played Juan as a more serious character than Leone wanted.  Steiger won and both agreed after the filming that the collaboration had been successful.  Coburn got the role of Sean after Jason Robards (for whom the role was written) was nixed by the studio as not being a big enough name.  Clint Eastwood turned down the role because he was done with spaghetti westerns.
                The movie is set in 1913 Mexico.  Juan Miranda (Steiger) is the head of a gang of peasant thieves that consisted mainly of his family.  Although there is a revolution going on and it is something of a class struggle, Juan is no revolutionary.  He is only interested in the class struggle with respect to the fact that the rich have the money and he wants it.  The opening scene has him robbing an extended stage coach transporting a group of the bourgeoisie.  They consider peasants like Juan to be brutes and animals, but they soon learn that Juan is no typical peasant.  Soon after, in one of the grandest entrances in cinematic history, Juan encounters an ex-Irish rebel named Sean (Coburn).  Sean is an explosives expert.  Juan envisions a partnership that will allow him to rob a bank.  Sean has more revolutionary ideas in mind.  Can an Irish revolutionary be friends with a Mexican bandit?  Could an American mercenary become friends with a Mexican bandit?  (“The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly” reference)  The answer to both questions would be “yes” – in a movie.  Juan and Sean go through a lot together, once they establish that they need each other and they are an even match in shenanigans.  In the process, Juan learns that there are certain things worth fighting a revolution for and Sean learns that even a good revolution has a dark side.  A lot of people will have to die and a lot of things get blown up before each man reaches his epiphany.

                It had been a long time since I saw “Duck, You Sucker!” in a movie theater.  It did not enter my radar screen until recently when it noticed it on some lists of war movies.  I had fond memories of it since I am also a big fan of Westerns, but did not think of it as a war movie.  For purposes of this review, we’ll consider it to be one since it is set in a revolution.  If it is a war movie, it is a very good one.  Well, if you are a guy, anyway.  It is a classic buddy film.  It has no romance.  There are no significant female characters.  This is definitely not a date movie.  But as a guy movie.  Wow.

                “Duck, You Sucker!” is an underrated movie.  Leone wanted to make an epic and he succeeded.  The backdrop of the Revolution allows for some huge set pieces like Sean and Juan’s defense of a bridge with explosives and machine guns.  One of the villains is a fascist archetype driving a tank.  Hardly subtle on the part of the Italian dictator, but effective.  The movie concludes with a grand assault on a troop train.  It reminds of the scene from “Lawrence of Arabia”, but in the Leone style of violence.  The movie is quite violent and the bloodshed is graphic, especially for the early 70s.  And, of course, there are the explosions.  It was brilliant to have a main character as a Fenian bomb maker.  I counted twenty explosions in the movie.  This is another reason why it is hard to understand why the movie did not find an audience in America.  I blame this mainly on poor marketing.  Leave it to Leone to use explosions for some of the humor in the movie.  And the movie has humor throughout.  Mainly through the Juan character.  In this way, it is similar to “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly”.

                The movie is not just mindless violence.  Leone develops his themes adeptly.  His main theme is that revolutions corrupt everything they touch.   When Juan becomes a “grand hero of the revolution”, Sean is cynically proud, but the supposedly ignorant peasant sets him straight by ranting about how the people who read the books get the people who carry the books to fight to change things and nothing changes, but the poor are dead.  “And what happens afterwards is that same fucking thing starts all over again!”  He causes Sean to throw away the copy of Bakunin’s The Patriotism that he has been reading.  Hence, the second theme – each man changes the other.  Sean learns to care about humanity again and Juan learns to support a greater cause.

                Guiseppe Ruzzolini does a great job with the cinematography.  Conforming to the epic nature of the film, he blends long takes, close-ups, slo-mo, and other tricks of the trade.  This is matched by the peerless work of long-time Leone composer Ennio Morricone.  He uses motifs for Juan, Sean, and even the bank.  The score is famous and may be the best in any Leone movie.  With all that said, the movie is most memorable for the acting of Steiger and Coburn.  They are perfect.  The chemistry is outstanding.  Steiger does a great Wallach imitation, but he surely does not come off as the second-best choice.  Juan is such a rich character.

                “Duck, You Sucker!” is a great guy movie.  It has everything – action, adventure, comedy, male bonding, explosions.  It is a must-see for all Baby Boomer men.