Archive for the ‘History’ Category

Lee Daniels’ The Butler

Movie Review No. 721


Directed by Lee Daniels. Written by Danny Strong. Article: “A Butler Well Served by This Election” by Wil Haygood. Produced by Lee Daniels, Cassian Elwes, Buddy Patrick, Pamela Oas Williams, and Laura Ziskin for Follow Through Productions, Salamander Pictures, Laura Ziskin Productions, Lee Daniels Entertainment, Pam Williams Productions, and Windy Hill Pictures. Starring Forest Whitaker, Michael Rainey Jr., Mariah Carey, Alex Pettyfer, Vanessa Redgrave, Aml Ameen, Clarence Williams III, Oprah Winfrey, and David Oyelowo. Premiered in New York City, New York on August 5, 2013. Distributed by The Weinstein Company in wide release on August 16, 2013. Rated PG-13: some violence, disturbing images, sexual content, thematic material and smoking. Runs 132 minutes.

In the opening scenes, “Lee Daniels’ The Butler” wreaks of a movie that we’d much rather call “12 Years a Slave”-lite. Then we realize, this sort of cruelty isn’t in a movie set in the 1800′s. It’s 1926! Now let’s fast-forward to 1957, when Cecil Gaines (Forest Whitaker) was no longer a man growing up under an avalanche of powerful racists in the Jazz Age. He was now a butler for the President of the United States.

In getting to this, the movie sets up too quickly, almost unconvincingly, but even so, “The Butler” makes itself clear in delivering its message about racism. Which does seem obvious at first, but an elaboration on the subject matter doesn’t hurt, especially when the message is delivered through the right individual. At the beginning of Gaines’s career, he served the Eisenhower Administration. He retired under the Reagan Administration. That’s seven Presidents this butler worked for. He learned something valuable from each one of them, or maybe that’s just my catching eye of movie formula.

“The Butler” is a very superficial movie, but it does get to a certain spot in our hearts that finds compassion and familiarity to the issues dealt with. Certain protest scenes and a particularly disturbing KKK scene had me surprised that what I was watching was PG-13. Maybe we have faith in a small part of it, because it so reverently and honestly tells of a cultural issue we’re all aware of.

There’s no telling why none (I repeat: none) of these performers look like the figures they’re portraying, but they do so well at it. James Marsden may not look a thing at all like Kennedy, and Alan Rickman may have required a lot of makeup to appear as Reagan, but their personas fit. What I feared of “The Butler” was that it would be cheesy. As I’ve said, it’s superficial. But not cheesy. Superficial, and I’m not really sure whether I can say I’m disappointed or pleased with its outcome. As is the definition of an acceptable movie, “The Butler” met every last one of my expectations. But with a fair bit of woodshed on the project, all my expectations could have been well exceeded.

Tomorrow’s Review

Son of God


Hello all! Today, I introduce a new feature entitled Short Film Smorgasbord. Each time one of these posts goes up, it’s three short film reviews for three short films.

The entire smorgasbord will count as one (1) review, and this time, they also happen to be (especially important) silents.

Oh and I’ll have a witty title for each smorgasbord (thanks a bunch to Committed to Celluloid for that inspiration).


Sherlock Holmes, Baffled that the Kelly Gang Made It into the Sealed Room

Movie Review #712

“Sherlock Holmes, Baffled”

American Mutoscope & Biograph. Distributor: American Mutoscope & Biograph. Country: USA. Directed by Arthur Marvin. Character by Arthur Conan Doyle. Runs 1 minute. Wide release in the USA in May 1900. Starring Anonymous as Sherlock Holmes.

“Sherlock Holmes Baffled” is a simple but clever little short. The premise: Sherlock walks into a room to find a burglar. There seems to be a fantasy element to this movie—a humorous surprise that I dare not spoil—and as far as special effects, this 1900 motion picture is waaay ahead of its time. An effort that cracked a smile on my face, a reaction many modern comedies can only wish for. For the first movie to actually feature Holmes, this is quite a nice effort.

“The Sealed Room”

Biograph Company. Distributor: Biograph Company – Reel Media International – American Mutoscope & Biograph. Country: USA. Languages: English intertitles. Directed by D.W. Griffith. Writer: Frank E. Woods. Based on the novel “The Cask of Amontillado” by Edgar Allan Poe and the story “La Grande Breteche” by Honoré de Balzac. Runs 11 minutes. Wide release in the USA on September 2, 1909. Starring Arthur V. Johnson as the Count, Marion Leonard as the Countess, and Henry B. Walthall as the Minstrel. Also starring Linda Arvidson, William J. Butler, Verner Clarges, Owen Moore, George Nichols, Anthony O’Sullivan, Mary Pickford, Gertrude, Mack Sennett, and George Siegmann.

It’s interesting to think that while epics of the last half-century emphasize hope in their respective stories, the epic film actually began with overwhelming tragedy. At eleven minutes, “The Sealed Room” isn’t long enough to stand as a part of this genre, but elongate it and it most certainly is. This isn’t as good as D.W. Griffith can get, but it feels like a considerable (and adequately gripping) precursor to his two best-known epics: “The Birth of a Nation” (1915) and “Intolerance” (1916).

“The Story of the Kelly Gang”

J. & N. Tait. Johnson and Gibson. Country: Australia. Directed by Charles Tait. Produced by W.A. Gibson, Millard Johnson, John Tait, and Nevin Tait. Writer: Charles Tait. Runs 70 minutes (remaining footage runs 21 minutes). Wide release in Australia on December 26, 1906. Starring Elizabeth Tait and John Tait. Also starring Frank Mills, Norman Campbell, Will Coyne, Sam Crewes, Jack Ennis, John Forde, Mr. Marshall, Mr. McKenzie, Bella Cola, Vera Linden, and Ollie Wilson. With uncredited cameo appearances from E.J. Tait and Frank Tait.

Fun fact: 70% of all silent footage that was ever produced, has been lost. Technically, “The Story of the Kelly Gang” was the first feature film. Reports vacillate between time lengths of 60 and 70 minutes; the established minimum for a feature film is 40 minutes. 21 minutes of the movie remain, and not a bit of story can be discerned from it. It’s just violence, violence, and more violence. None of it’s graphic, morbid, or off-putting in anyway other than that it’s pointless. If I had to guess, I’d say this is a “Bonnie and Clyde” precursor, but what good does guessing do? What good is it when the movie forces you to guess? Perhaps there was an actual plot when this film (which ironically has “Story” in its title) was issued at feature length. But if I were to watch any random 21 minutes of a decent movie, I’m sure I would be able to make out at least half the plot.

Tomorrow’s Review

The English Patient


Dallas Buyers Club

Movie Review #678

Click here to listen to the review


Studio: Voltage Pictures — True Entertainment
Distributor: Focus Features
Country: USA
Spoken Languages: English

Directed by Jean-Marc Vallée.  Produced by Robbie Brenner and Rachel Winter.  Screenplay by Craig Borten and Melisa Wallack.

Rated R by the MPAA – frequent profanity, infrequent and strong sexual content, nudity, drug material.  1 hour, 57 minutes.  Premiered at Toronto International Film Festival on September 7, 2013; at Donostia-San Sebastián International Film Festival on September 25, 2013; and at Mill Valley Film Festival on October 10, 2013.  Limited release in Los Angeles, California and in New York City, New York on November 1, 2013.  Wide release in the USA on November 22, 2013.

Starring Matthew McConaughey, Jared Leto, Jennifer Garner, and Dallas Roberts.  Also starring Carl Palmer, Sean Boyd, and Tre Tureaud.  With an uncredited cameo appearance by Catherine Kim Poon.

Cinemaniac Reviews three stars

If there’s one thing I have to say overall about “Dallas Buyers Club”, it’s that it’s a very lifelike approach to the subject matter.  It’s a very candid approach to its story: that of a man who suffers from the HIV virus, and then AIDS.  All because of intravenous drugs, which he continues to use even after he is diagnosed.  He doesn’t think he even has the disease for the longest time, because he believes that only homosexuals can contract it.  But he starts to realize that it’s serious.  And his largest problem arguably isn’t with his health, at this point; it’s with the U.S. government.  He has found medicines that would allow him to survive for another seven years, rather than the predicted thirty days. It just isn’t FDA approved, so he has to market it to desperate AIDS victims in secret.

“Dallas Buyers Club” is a thought-provoking movie, delving into whether cheating the system to save lives is just as depraved as any kind of drug dealing, no matter how magnanimous.  Matthew McConaughey plays in the lead role, and he mostly carries the film as the central AIDS victim, Ron Woodroof.  Years ago, he was the star of “Failure to Launch” and similar throwaway romcoms.  Just this year, he’s transformed himself as leads in “Mud” and “Dallas Buyers Club”.  The man’s remarkable talent shows in every mark of his performance.  Only better is Jared Leto.  Never until now have I seen an actor fully transform into the role as a transgender, but I say with full confidence that Leto’s role is a shoo-in for the Supporting Actor Oscar.

This is a movie all about acting, rarely about script.  Everything plays out episodically, and for the entire opening, we get a tight “day by day” look at the supposed last thirty days of Woodroof’s life.  I had a few unanswered questions as well.  Nothing here explains or rationalizes the inclusion of Woodroof’s extreme homophobia, and only to beg for reason is that this makes agreeing with him ten times more uncomfortable.  But when the two characters interact, god does it appeal to the viewers’ emotions.

Tomorrow’s Review

Don Jon

Movie Review #665


2.4.7 Films present…

…in association with Celluloid Dreams, Sony Pictures Classics, Sofica Soficinéma, and Sofica Europacorp…

Co-production: France 3 Cinéma – The Kennedy/Marshall Company – French Connection Animations – Diaphana Distribution
Participation: Centre National de la Cinématographie (CNC) – La Région Île-de-France – Fondation Groupama GAN pour le Cinéma – La Procirep – L’Angoa
Distributor: Sony Pictures Classics
Country: France – USA
Spoken Languages: French – English – Persian – German

Directed by Vincent Paronnaud and Marjane Satrapi.  Produced by Xavier Rigault and Marc-Antoine Robert.  Comic by Marjane Satrapi.  Scenario by Vincent Paronnaud.

Rated PG-13 by the MPAA – mature themes, violence, mild sexual content, profanity, drug material.  Runs 1 hour, 36 minutes.  Premiered at Cannes Film Festival on May 23, 2007.  Limited release in the USA on December 25, 2007.  Wide release in France on June 27, 2007.

Featuring the voices of Chiara Mastroianni, Danielle Darrieux, and Gabrielle Lopes Benites.

Cinemaniac Reviews one and a half stars

I don’t have a problem with a depressing animated movie.  In fact, I honor any such movie for not believing that animated movies are automatically “for kids.”  But I have a real hard time bestowing any honor unto “Persepolis”.  The movie deals with the horrors of living in the Middle East through the eyes of a young French girl.  Yes, it’s depressing, but at the same time, it’s made into a near-comedy by the kind of humor you’d find on the Cartoon Network.  Expect obnoxious voice acting and much more.

I won’t deny that “Persepolis” is stylish.  Its black and white stop animation—complemented with occasional color—is beautiful.  The simplicity of it, I’m sure, is exactly what we’d find in its comic book source.  Of course, I’ll never know, if I have my way.  The movie hasn’t piqued my interest in the comic book (let alone its own story) in the least bit.  The worst part about this is that while Marjane Satrapi is inexcusably an uninteresting protagonist in this true story, the actual Marjane Satrapi co-wrote and co-directed the movie.  Is she mocking her past or embracing it lightheartedly?  The movie blurs that line.

Especially near the end, when we’re exposed to one of the very worst covers of Survivor’s “Eye of the Tiger”.

The flaws pile up, and that mountain all comes down to the movie’s insipid, lackluster overlooking of the obvious: that war and corruption just aren’t things you make a kiddish movie about.  There’s not a head that gives a somber nod in this depiction of the years between 1978 and 1992.  They’re all shallow nods.

Postscript: Seemingly, it’s pretty hard to get the much hated product placement into animated movies, but they’ve nailed it here.  Nike shoes and Michael Jackson’s Thriller make their way into the movie during the same breath.

Tomorrow’s Review

Exorcist: The Beginning


Note: Persepolis was a France-USA co-production. There is a widely available English dubbing (which I watched, by pure mistake), but since the movie was originally recorded in French, my review has been written that way, as well. If you need an English translation, stay put for two days.

Movie Review #665


2.4.7 Films présente…

…en collaboration avec Celluloid Dreams, Sony Pictures Classics, Sofica Soficinéma, et Sofica Europacorp…

Co-production: France 3 Cinéma – The Kennedy/Marshall Company – French Connection Animations – Diaphana Distribution
Participation: Centre National de la Cinématographie (CNC) – La Région Île-de-France – Fondation Groupama GAN pour le Cinéma – La Procirep – L’Angoa
Distributeur: Sony Pictures Classics
Pays d’origine: France – États-Unis
Langues: français – anglais – persienne – allemande

Realisé par Vincent Paronnaud et Marjane Satrapi. Produit par Xavier Rigault et Marc-Antoine Robert. De comique par Marjane Satrapi. De scenario par Vincent Paronnaud.

Classé PG-13 par l’MPAA, pour du matériau thématique maturité y compris des images violentes, des références sexuelles, d’impiété, et le contenu bref de drogue. Passé 1 heure, 36 minutes. Première disclosure au Festival de Film de Cannes le 23 mai 2007. Distribution limité aux États-Unis le 25 décembre 2007. Distribution complète à la France le 27 juin 2007.

Avec les voix de Chiara Mastroianni, Danielle Darrieux, et Gabrielle Lopes Benites.

Cinemaniac Reviews one and a half stars

Je n’ai pas de problème d’une animation déprimée. En fait, j’honore de film qui ne croit pas que les animations sont “pour les enfants.” Alors, c’est difficile pour moi que donner d’honneur à «Persepolis». L’histoire est des horreurs de la vie d’un fille française en Moyen-Est. Oui, c’est déprimé, mais aux même temps, le film s’est fait entre une chose qui est près de comèdie par la type d’humeur on peut trouve en Cartoon Network. On besoin d’attendre les voix ennuyeux et beaucoup de plus.

Je ne vais pas nie que «Persepolis» est stylisé. Son animation monochrome–complété par du couleur occasional–est beau. Le simplicité de ça, je suis positif, est exactement qu’on peut trouve en le livre comique d’origine. Bien sûr, je ne vais savoir jamais, si je peut l’assiste. Le film ne m’ai capturé; pourquoi fait le livre comique? Le plus mauvais facteur de ça, c’est que Marjane Satrapi est inexcusablement une protagoniste ennuie–et elle est le co-auteur et le co-réalisateur. Est-ce qu’elle rigolait de son histoire, ou elle l’embrasse avec trop de levité? On n’a discuté pas.

Particularement près du fin, quand on s’est exposé à un d’une rendition terrible d’«Eye of the Tiger» par Survivor.

Les défauts s’ajoute, et ce mont finit à un défaut fatal: le film ne savait pas que de guerre et de corruption simplement n’est pas des choses pour qu’on produit un film pueril. Il n’y a pas d’un tête qui faire oui que d’attitude sombre en cette depiction des ans entre 1978 et 1992. Tous les faits ouis sont superficials.

Tomorrow’s Review

Persepolis (in English)

Battleship Potemkin

Movie Review #652


Studio: Goskino
Distributor: Amkino Corporation – FilmAnnex – Kino International – Reel Media International
Country: Soviet Union
Intertitles: Russian

Directed by S.M. Eisenstein. No producers credited. Script by N.F. Agadzhanova-Shutko. Intertitles by Nikolai Aseyev and Sergei Tretyakov (uncredited). Also written by Sergei M. Eisenstein (uncredited).

Released unrated by the MPAA. Runs 1 hour, 15 minutes (USA cut runs 1 hour, 6 minutes). Limited release in New York City, New York on December 5, 1926. Wide release in the Soviet Union on December 24, 1925.

Starring Aleksandr Antonov, Vladimir Barsky, Grigori Aleksandrov, I. Bobrov, Mikhail Gomorov, Aleksandr Levshin, N. Poltavtseva, Konstantin Feldman, Prokopenko, A. Glauberman, and Beatric Vitoldi. Also starring Brodsky, Julia Eisenstein, Sergei M. Eisenstein, A. Fait, Korobei, Marusov, Protopopov, Repnikova, Vladimir Uralsky, Zerenin. With an uncredited appearance by Aleksanteri Ahola-Valo.

Cinemaniac Reviews four stars

“We’ve had enough rotten meat!”

That’s where it all begins, with rotten meat. Soldiers complaining about the quality of their food (and I don’t blame ‘em) on the famous battleship. Built in 1898, named after Grigory Aleksandrovich Potemkin-Tavricheski (Prince of the Russian Empire), decommissioned in 1918, and scrapped in 1924. You can’t not believe it from what depicted. It’s soon after the “rotten meat” that “Battleship Potemkin” escalates into something ultradynamic: a tale that serves as a historical drama as well as a precursor to the Orwellian parable. The film is neatly separated into five different segments: “People and worms,” “Drama on deck,” “The dead man calls out,” “The Odessa staircase,” and “Rendezvous with the squadron.” There’s no way to make a 70-minute movie into an epic, but if there’s anyway to come close, director Sergei M. Eisenstein does so by starting from that piecing. Hell, our inability to keep track of all the characters is settled in an instant, because there’s virtually only three characters in the movie: the deck men, the soldiers aboard, and the townspeople. The townspeople don’t appear until the soldiers have protested…and made a deadly mistake. (Though certainly they weren’t the first to mess up in this tale.) The best in all of this is, the movie holds up, eighty-eight years later. The cinematography, in particular, was outstanding back then, and its audacity still impresses today; as with many silents (i.e. “Nosferatu”, “The Birth of a Nation”, “A Trip to the Moon”), this is famous today if only for just one awe-inspiring shot. The camerawork can really make the movie exciting, namely when it prolongs the climactic scene. Even in handpainted scenes, everything up to then (and afterward) is absolutely beautiful.

“One for all…one against all.”

12 Years a Slave

Movie Review #650


Regency Enterprises presents a film by Steve McQueen…

…River Road Entertainment presents…

…in association with Film4…

Studio: Plan B – New Regency – Film4 – Regency Enterprises
Distributor: Fox Searchlight Pictures – Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation
Country: USA – UK
Spoken Languages: English

Directed by Steve McQueen. Produced by Dede Gardner, Anthony Katagas, Jeremy Kleiner, Steve McQueen, Arnon Milchan, Brad Pitt, and Bill Pohlad. Screenplay by John Ridley. Based on the memoir “Twelve Years a Slave” by Solomon Northup.

Rated R by the MPAA, for violence/cruelty, some nudity and brief sexuality. Runs 2 hours, 14 minutes. Premiered at Telluride Film Festival on August 30, 2013; at Toronto International Film Festival on September 6, 2013; at New York Film Festival on October 8, 2013; at New Orleans Film Festival on October 10, 2013; at Mill Valley Film Festival on October 11, 2013; at Chicago International Film Festival on October 13, 2013; at Hamptons International Film Festival on October 14, 2013; and at BFI London Film Festival on October 18, 2013. Limited release in the USA on October 18, 2013. Wide release in the USA on November 8, 2013, and in the UK on January 24, 2014.

Starring Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Fassbender, Benedict Cumberbatch, Paul Dano, Paul Giamatti, Lupita Nyong’o, Sarah Paulson, Brad Pitt, and Alfre Woodard. Also starring Adepero Oduye, Garret Dillahunt, Scoot McNairy, Taran Killam, Chris Chalk, Michael K. Williams, Kelsey Scott, Quvenzhané Wallis, Devyn A. Tyler, Cameron Zeigler, Rob Steinberg, Jay Huguley, Christopher Berry, Bryan Batt, Bill Camp, Dwight Henry, and Ruth Negga.

Cinemaniac Reviews four stars

There’s two kinds of movies. Type A: you like it or you dislike it. Type B: a movie defined by quality, where “enjoyment” is irrelevant. “12 Years a Slave” is most certainly Type B, an unflinching masterpiece that has moments to cherish and moments to detest, but it holds the viewer’s attention the entire time.

The biggest compliment I can give it is that it succeeds through its explicit presentation of slavery.  Director Steve McQueen spends one scene after another stripping the human heart of its every layer.  The entirety of it is a two-hour catharsis, with John Ridley’s screenplay providing a most uncomfortable display of these unjustifiable acts. The characters are not complex human beings. They’re defined by either their strengths endurances, or by their weaknesses and cruelties. The brutality is excruciating in dialogue, but it’s far worse seen than heard. For what seems like three full minutes, we watch our protagonist try and save himself as he hangs on a noose. Meanwhile, white folk walk around the plantation nonchalantly. It goes without saying that “12 Years a Slave” gets worse than that, though. Not since “The Passion of the Christ” has a film presented such repellent flaying scenes.

“12 Years a Slave” is a tale we can only wish not to believe. The reality is immense but so tasteless, it’s almost inconceivable. The epic is based on a memoir by Solomon Northup.  Its full title is the story in a nutshell: Twelve Years a Slave: Narrative of Solomon Northup, citizen of New-York, kidnapped in Washington city in 1841, and rescued in 1853, from a cotton plantation near the Red River in Louisiana.  The account brings us back to the depicted period in everything: script, music, costume, and most of all, acting. Solomon Northup is well portrayed by Chiwetel Ejiofor, a lesser known actor in the cast, but as worthy of an award for his performance as any given performer here.  His performance highlights the determination, opportunism, and bravery in his character. The height of the tragedy is when the slaveowners try to convince Solomon that he’s been a slave his whole life.  Yet he knows the truth, because he doesn’t desire anything at all except to get back to his wife and kids again.  He doesn’t want to work on a plantation, where he’s no longer seen as an educated, respectable human being.

Or, as he put it himself, “I don’t want to survive. I want to live.”


Movie Review #643


Studio: Warner Bros. – Le Studio Canal+ – Regency Enterprises – Alcor Films – Ixtlan – Camelot
Distributor: Warner Bros.
Country: USA – France
Spoken Languages: English – Spanish

Directed by Oliver Stone. Produced by Oliver Stone, Arnon Milchan, and A. Kitman Ho. Screenplay by Oliver Stone & Zachary Sklar. Based on the book “On the Trail of the Assassins” by Jim Garrison and the book “Crossfire: The Plot That Killed Kennedy” by Jim Garrs.

Rated R by the MPAA, for language. Runs 3 hours, 9 minutes; director’s cut runs 3 hours, 26 minutes. Wide release in the USA on December 20, 1991; and in France on January 29, 1992.

Narrated by Martin Sheen. Starring Kevin Costner, Kevin Bacon, Tommy Lee Jones, Joe Pesci, Laurie Metcalf, Gary Oldman, Michael Rooker, Jay O. Sanders, and Sissy Spacek. Also starring Jack Lemmon, Walter Matthau, Donald Sutherland, Edward Asner, Brian Doyle-Murray, John Candy, Wayne Knight, and Vincent D’Onofrio.

Cinemaniac Reviews three stars

“To sin by silence, when we should protest,
Makes cowards out of men.”
– Ella Wheeler Wilcox, “Protest”

The day before the semicentennial of JFK’s assassination, I watched a documentary about President John F. Kennedy’s assassination, from the CNN series The Sixties.  Upon revisiting Oliver Stone’s “JFK” the next day, I’d easily decided that the Hollywood approach is the favorable one.  It’s because Stone doesn’t chronicle all the events after Kennedy’s assassination, and this is in turn because looking afterward doesn’t dig up any answers.  Countless aspects of JFK’s political involvement is looked at, and questioned for possible involvement with the assassination.

Jim Garrison (Kevin Costner), District Attorney of New Orleans, spends every day between 1966 and 1969 obsessed with the Kennedy assassination.  He knows that if he can come to facts, then he can probably come to a conclusion, and it’ll probably be accurate.  He just has to be sure that when he believes he’s found JFK’s assassin, there’s no loophole in his explanation.

What makes this so interesting is that all this is after Lee Harvey Oswald has been captured and (unexpectedly) killed.  Garrison is a determined character; between that and the number of people he goes through to get to the end of his journey, he’s practically an epic hero.  He knows that Oswald is believed to have shot Kennedy, but he notices a fault in this, even before the Zapruder footage is made public.

It’s best not to spoil the entire investigation (which is based on two separate nonfiction books, one by Garrison himself), but I will note one thing.  It does begin with the question as to whether Oswald was a complete lunatic or a scapegoat.  That Garrison convincingly delivers more information to support the latter, is outstanding.  In the movie’s final scenes, Costner takes the case the court.  He gets thirty uninterrupted minutes to talk, which is rather unusual to watch, but his support of a conspiracy theory is fantastic.

Alongside its newsreel opening, and the photographs edited for the Ken Burns effect, the movie’s in-depth analysis earns the kudos in convincing us that it’s an actual documentary.  That’s amid the cast, which Hollywood has rarely offered in such large, well performed stock.  Kevin Costner, Kevin Bacon, Tommy Lee Jones, Joe Pesci, Gary Oldman, Sissy Spacek, Jack Lemmon, Walter Matthau, Donald Sutherland, Edward Asner, Brian Doyle-Murray.  Even the additional John Candy fits his role!

Though I could probably end up complaining about that cast.  The screenplay has some forced lines, and even in one of his first lines, Costner makes one die even harder: “God, am I ashamed to be an American…” he says to himself, sitting against the wall of a crowded bar.  On the other hand, I have no complaints for the technical department.  The color shifting was reprised in Stone’s “Natural Born Killers”.  Though with that heightened reality in mind, it’s hard to imagine how well photographed this less heightened reality is.  Perhaps its constant shifting between B&W and color, home video and Hollywood, only adds to the intense curiosity of the film.  As for John Williams’s score, it’s as loud and hard-hitting as anything he’s ever written.  It gets overwhelming in the final third of “JFK”, but again, it strengthens the documentary tone established in the beginning.

I was taken aback when I realized on my second viewing that “JFK” really isn’t about President John F. Kennedy.  It’s about Jim Garrison, and his quest to prove what was true.  It’s indeed possible that JFK’s assassination was just an object in the story.  This could be about Lincoln’s assassination, and it’d still work fine, because it wouldn’t be about the assassination, nor the President himself.  It’d be about Garrison.  Yes, he’s naïve, and yes, he argues with his wife a lot because of his over-involvement with the case.  (Apparently, the arguments don’t come to his mind at work, either.)

And yes, it’s taking on a plot that’s been used several times.  Hard worker that’s just so egocentrically obsessed with work.  You could argue the premise’s appearance in so many movies, with more recent films including “Shakespeare in Love” (1998), “American Psycho” (2000) “Erin Brockovich” (2000), “Adaptation.” (2002), “Bruce Almighty” (2003), “The Aviator” (2004), “The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou” (2004), “The Number 23” (2007), “Zodiac” (2007), “Julie & Julia” (2009), “Nine” (2009), “Somewhere” (2010), “The Campaign” (2012), “Hitchcock” (2012) “Zero Dark Thirty” (2012), “Before Midnight” (2013), et al.

I’d say there’s no way in hell “JFK” has that much formula.

Postscript: I have seen the director’s cut, though this review is after a viewing of the theatrical cut. My one further complaint with the director’s cut is that it wears out its pacing and loses our interest.

Additional note: Enjoy a few bonus reviews!  (This being the first, of course.)

Der Untergang

Review No. 615

“Der Untergang” ist gut, sehr gut.



Bruno Ganz Adolf Hitler
Alexandra Maria Lara Traudl Junge
Corinna Harfouch Magda Goebbels
Ulrich Matthes Joseph Goebbels
Juliane Köhler Eva Braun
Heino Ferch Albert Speer
Christian Berkel Ernst-Günther Schenck
Director Oliver Hirschbiegel
Producer Bernd Eichinger
Screenplay Bernd Eichinger
Historical Account “Downfall: Hitler and the End of the Third Reich” (Der Untergang: Hitler und das Ende des Dritten Reiches) by Joachim Fest
Based on “Until the Final Hour” (Bis zur letzten Stunde), memoirs by Traudl Junge, co-written by Melissa Müller
With the Contributions of
“Inside the Third Reich” by Albert Speer
“Hitler’s Last Days: An Eye-Witness Account” by Gerhardt Bolt
“Das Notlazarett Unter Der Reichskanzlei” by Doctor Ernst-Günther Schenck
“Soldat: Reflections of a German Soldier, 1936-1949″ by Siegfried Knappe
Distributor Constantin Film (Germany)
Premieres 8 September 2004 (Munich) – 10 September 2004 (Vienna)
Film Festivals 14 September 2004 (Toronto International) – 27 November 2004 (Bucharest International)
Limited Releases 18 February 2005 (NYC) – 25 February 2005 (LA)
Wide Releases 16 September 2004 (Germany) – 17 September 2004 (Austria) – 29 April 2005 (Italy)
Studio(s) Newmarket Capital Group
Language German – Russian – Hungarian
Country Germany – Austria – Italy
Running Time 136 minutes (extended version runs 22 mins. longer)
MPAA Rated R
MPAA Reason strong violence, disturbing images and some nudity



Oliver Hirschbiegel is as fascinated with Adolf Hitler as Woody Allen is with Ingmar Bergman.  It’s possible that the director hates the “Führer”; it’s just as possible he hates him.  All we see is his approach: to view Hitler from several angles and, ultimately, fascinate the audience.  Berndt Eichinger produced and wrote the screenplay for Der Untergang.  His main scope is applaudably not what we’d imagine of Hitler.  He hires Eva Braun because she’s caught his eye.  We get the notion that if anyone else was unable to type his speeches, they’d have nerve to come to him.  He yells orders at his soldiers as if he were of higher rank in a large business, not in a military.  We, of course, know what these men and women have been brainwashed into, but they call themselves Nazis with infinite respect toward their Führer; he’s become an honorable hero to them.  Somehow, Hirschbiegel and Eichinger achieve what seems impossible: to make everything in the historical approach seem understandable to anyone who watches.  (I don’t doubt that 90% of the audience hears Hitler mentioned by name, and it’s an immediate stimulus for the thought of the most unforgivable, inhuman act of the 20th century.)

The opening and closing segments of Der Untergang (in English, that’s Downfall) are pure cinéma vérité, focusing on Traudl Junge, Hitler’s private secretary.*  She reveals that she didn’t even know of the Holocaust, and she wouldn’t have imagined it.  This is the only mention of the Holocaust, save for an end title: statistically, only 12% of World War II was during the Holocaust.  We look at the other 88% of World War II, but rarely do we look at Hitler beyond his offense to humanity.  There’s nothing else he did that was so jaw-dropping, but there’s quite a lot else he did.  There’s no doubt that Der Untergang convinces us of a Hitler that would do anything to achieve his dream of a Third Reich, following the Holy Roman Empire and the German Empire.

But before Machiavellianism is even suggested, there’s a suspicious advantage in the screenplay from what little most of us know about Hitler’s final days.  During these days, Hitler is as much a mystery as he could have ever been.  Even with what’s revealed, we still feel obligated to know more: He’s depicted as a failure, but not a poltroon.  He’s a rather loyal failure.  He remained determined with national socialism.  1933 saw the inception of Nazi Germany and the Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei (the Nazi party).  Twelve years later, he went down with the concept.  By the time he and Eva Braun commit suicide, over a half hour remains.  Ernest Hemingway’s death caused the same sort of grief among his family, but let’s consider the enormity when Hitler did it: his family was a country with powers and struggles.  The last half hour is insgesamt Depression among the nation.  Actually, it’s untergang.

There’s a good bit of psychology in the movie when dealing with Hitler’s motives.  Though if you’re looking specifically for a biopic relating to psychology, you go south of Germany for Sigmund Freud.  Der Untergang is made for appreciation on a historical level.  It’s hit and miss in this area, but much closer to the former, thanks to its basis on several memoirs, as well as a historian’s textual gathering.  The approach is otherwise likable, but über typical as a costume drama.  The set decoration and art direction makes this something of a Julian Fellowes medium.  It feels like a precursor to Downton Abbey, and the pacing begins to suffer when we realize that this would fare so much better, had it been made for television.  It feels like something off a Deutsch history channel, but I’m led to believe that anyone already fascinated by Hitler’s mentality would better appreciate a full-fledged TV series.  Neither is applicable, let alone strictly necessary, so I digress:

The pacing is one of two errors in an otherwise phenomenal script.  The latter error has an effect on Hitler as a character.  Does he actually love Eva Braun?  Or has he been a womanizer for years, and decided that this would be the woman to die at his side?  His James Bond-like charisma contradicts the sincerity of the rest of the film.  Again, that’s a script error.  It certainly isn’t an acting error.  Bruno Ganz is a believable Hitler.  He doesn’t make Hitler intriguing, but he does show how and why he is intriguing.  I haven’t seen any Hitlers on film that are more authentic.

Scratch that.  I have, actually.  But let’s just suppose that stock footage is illegal.  There’s still some competition for the top ten portrayal, but it isn’t exactly difficult competition for Herr Ganz.

*This is archived stock footage, as Junge passed away in 2002.

United 93

Review No. 596

Required viewing every 9/11.


Director — Paul Greengrass
Producer — Mr. Greengrass, Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner & Lloyd Levin
Screenplay — Mr. Greengrass

Khalid Abdalla — Ziad Jarrah
Christian Clemenson — Tom Burnett
Cheyenne Jackson — Mark Bingham
J.J. Johnson — Captain Jason Dahl
Sarmed al-Samarrai — Saeed al-Ghamdi
David Alan Basche — Todd Beamer
Omar Berdouni — Ahmed al-Haznawi
Jamie Harding — Ahmed al-Nami
Gary Commock — First Officer LeRoy Homer Jr.
Nancy McDoniel — Lorraine G. Bay
Trish Gates — Sandra Bradshaw
Starla Benford — Wanda Anita Green
Opal Alladin — CeeCee Lyles
Polly Adams — Deborah Welsh
Erich Redman — Christian Adams
Simon Poland — Alan Anthony Beaven

Distributor — Universal Pictures, United International Pictures & Buena Vista International
Release Date — April 28, 2006
Language — English, Arabic & German
Country — USA, United Kingdom & France
Running Time — 1 hour, 51 minutes


September 11, 2001 was a tragedy for all Americans.  Between nineteen terrorists, a plot had been formed to hijack four separate planes: American 11, to crash into the North tower of the World Trade Center; United 175, to crash into the South tower; American 77 to crash into the Pentagon; and United 93 to crash into Washington, D.C.  Nobody expected any of these attacks to happen, save for the extremists who’d planned this attack.  It didn’t take many hours to realize this as a tragedy, but we still try and understand who would ever think to offer such casualties, which amounted to nearly 3,000 deaths and over 6,000 injuries.

That much can make a movie like United 93 difficult to watch, if it’s done right.  United 93 is undeniable proof that “love conquers all” is not just a theme you can pick up in novels, and writer-producer-director Paul Greengrass (who is, to immense surprise, British!) makes that ever so clear.  The most saddening moments here begin once the passengers along the aircraft have said their final “I love you”s to those back at home.  But we can almost feel heroism as they turn “I love you” into “I love you, and I honor America.”  It lasts for moments, but extensive moments: the men and women aboard take over the hijacked craft, crash landing in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, instead of Washington, D.C.  Moments later, it’s even more saddening to think that we have to see such brave men and women go.

The entire climax is what the film leads up to in its infallible screenplay, and it’s the story we know most of the United 93 hijacking.  The inevitable ending is rendered as suddenly as it happened; we know it’s coming, but we don’t want it to.  Greengrass heightens the realism here, but what sets it full-force is the cast.  There isn’t a single Hollywood actor here, not one name you’d remotely recognize, and this works dynamically, especially in the likenesses of passengers.  They probably have a profession, spouses, kids, and friends back at home, but they share the commonality as people.  Not all are American, but what they did was so immensely selfless, regardless of nationality.  To any American viewer, it’s more than sympathy felt for the passengers.  Though I can’t quite say it’s so universal for empathy, as it’s so much easier to remain in a state of panic during such danger.  I certainly couldn’t imagine doing otherwise, but Paul Greengrass sold the baffling feat to me without a single scratch.

United 93 feels authentic any which way it’s assessed.  Barry Ackroyd’s cinematography has a style that compliments the rest of the film.  The results are visceral, in away that’s not of a documentary feel, nor of a cinéma vérité, but of vicariously experiencing the tragedy.  Even knowing what happens, it’s equal parts tense, shocking, and heartbreaking seeing the four attacks take place over four hours.  Everybody’s trying to keep calm, which makes the account rather unassuming.  Yes, even the extremists struggle to keep calm, as they worry that they’ll fail, therefore betraying their God.  Those manning air traffic control try to stay focused, despite the sight of the World Trade Center crash just outside the office window; the radar showing two other planes out of control; etc.  Those aboard the flight try and prepare for unexpected death, trying to keep themselves and their families calm over a distance of god-only-knows-how-many miles.  And the audience tries to keep calm as we hold our breath and prepare for the events that we know have already occurred.  United 93 presents leads up to one terrible tragedy with three others.  I did say there wasn’t a scratch in the delivery, but I never said anything about a tear.  If there every was a dry eye in sight during the midpoint, that’s guaranteed to change quickly.


The Accused

Enjoy my review? Please share it using one of the buttons below!

  • Welcome!

  • ★★★★ = classic
    ★★★½ = excellent
    ★★★ = good
    ★★½ = acceptable
    ★★ = fair
    ★½ = poor
    ★ = pathetic
    ½ = trash
    0 = worthless


    All Is Lost
    August: Osage County
    Deconstructing Harry
    Everything You Always Wanted to Know about Sex * but Were Afraid to Ask
    The Fountain
    Husbands and Wives
    Inside Llewyn Davis
    The Longest Day
    ...and more

  • Quick Recommendations

    No film is recommendable to everyone, because if it strongly appeals to many audiences, it's going to be poorly received by at least one audience. These 25 classics, however, I would recommend to eight and a half, if not nine in every ten people.

























  • Don't like coming here all the time? Not a problem: we can come to you. Enter your email address to follow the blog and receive notifications of new reviews by email.

    Join 1,186 other followers

  • Blog Stats

    • 65,396 hits


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,186 other followers

%d bloggers like this: