Friday, March 30, 2018


1.  What movie is the above picture from?
2.  What movie is this quote from?
 "Anyone of you sons of *****es calls me grandpa, I'll kill ya." 
3.  What movie is this?

 It is based on a fantasy novel by William Eastlake.  The movie was released in the middle of the Vietnam War in 1969.  It was Sidney Pollack’s fourth film and his second straight collaboration with Burt Lancaster (the first was “The Scalphunters”).  Lancaster was the one who suggested filming the book.  A styrofoam mock-up of a 19th Century Belgian castle was built for the movie.  It cost $1 million and caught flame prematurely causing Pollack to scramble to get some film of it going up.  the footage was used in the movie.  The castle was then rebuilt because there were two more scenes requiring it.  The movie was shot in Yugoslavia.

Saturday, March 24, 2018

CRACKER? Hotel Rwanda (2004)

                “Hotel Rwanda” is the true story of Paul Rusesabagina who ran a hotel in Rwanda during the Rwandan Genocide.  It was directed by Terry George (“A Bright Shining Lie”) who also co-wrote the screenplay.  The movie was shot in Rwanda and South Africa.  It was critically acclaimed and was nominated for three Academy Awards including Best Original Screenplay. George’s goal was to bring the events of the genocide to Western audiences to shame them.

                The movie is set in 1994.  Paul Rusesabagina (Don Cheadle) runs a hotel.  He is a Hutu and his wife is a Tutsi.  This is not an issue as Paul is not interested in politics.  All he cares about is running his hotel efficiently.  His family life is idyllic, but that is about to change.  Tensions between the majority Hutus and the minority Tutsi’s are heating up and explode when the Hutu President is assassinated and its blamed on the Tutsis.  This results in the government giving free rein to the Interahamwe militia to attack Tutsi civilians.  The United Nations peacekeeping force is unable to stop the massacre.  Paul evacuates his family to the hotel and soon other refugees begin arriving.   At one point the UN rides to the rescue – to rescue the Europeans staying at the hotel.  Sorry, Africans.  Paul (who has a knack for wheeling and dealing) has to really up his game to keep the militia forces out of the hotel grounds.

                “Hotel Rwanda” is an important film.  Although it came along too late to stop the genocide, it might prevent the next one.  The Rwanda Genocide was underreported in the Western media and what news coverage there was did not result in public pressure on governments to intervene.  The movie is clearly an indictment of this.  It personalizes the event through the actions of Rusesabagina, but it also does a great job as a tutorial on the historical massacre.  Unfortunately, much of the audience in America was learning about the Rwanda Genocide for the first time.  The movie is not meant simply as a guilt trip although that theme is hammered.  The West and the UN are depicted as spineless.  It also tackles the political corruption typical in African countries and the racial tensions between ethnic groups within them.  I have to admit that I did feel ashamed after watching it, but I also wondered if it would have been a good idea to be stuck between crazy people trying to kill each other.

                The movie is very well made.  The acting is stellar, especially by the always reliable Cheadle.  He was nominated for Best Actor.  He is ably matched by Sophie Okonedo as his wife.  She was nominated for Best Supporting Actress.   There is a despicable staff member played by Tony Kgoroge.  Nick Nolte brings his crusty persona to that of UN Colonel Oliver.  There is an appropriately depressing score.  What keeps the movie from being great is it is a bit cliché at times.  Rusesabagina reminds a lot of Schindler.  The hotel dynamics are similar to “The Killing Fields”.  Because the movie is PG-13, it is unable to show the true horrors of the massacre.  That was an understandable decision by George considering he was trying to reach a bigger audience.

                How accurate is the movie?  It is hard for me to say.  The movie has become controversial over the years.  The Rwandan government and some people in the hotel have questioned Rusesabagina’s account.  The film totally relies on his recollections and he was a technical adviser.  It is possible that he lied.  Some claim that he extorted from his “guests”, charged them for food provided by relief agencies, and threatened to turn over anyone who stood up to him.  In this case, the truth is probably not somewhere in between, but I am not prepared to tell you which side is wrong.  I am prepared to say that the Nolte character is bull shit.  Oliver was based on Gen. Romeo Dellaire, who although he regrets not being able to do more, still sincerely helped as much as he could.  But that does not fit Hollywood’s stereotype.

                Is “Hotel Rwanda” going to make my 100 Best War Movies?  I think not.  It is a very good movie and it informs on a subject that needed a major motion picture.  But since I cannot definitively confirm that its hero was not a villain, I can’t justify putting it on a list where historical accuracy is going to be important.

GRADE  =  B+

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.