Archive for the ‘War’ Category

All Quiet on the Western Front

Movie Review #728


Editor’s note: Technically, this is a TV movie I’m reviewing, which is against the rules I know. But since I had to submit the following movie review anyway to my history teacher (in whose class I watched the movie), I figured I may as well let the rest of you read it, as well. Plus, it got a limited release in a few European countries, so I guess it kind of qualifies…

Directed by Delbert Mann. Screenplay by Paul Monash. (Novel: Erich Maria Remarque.) Produced by Norman Rosemont for Norman Rosemont Productions, in association with Marble Arch Productions and ITC Entertainment Group. Starring Richard Thomas, Ernest Borgine, Donald Pleasence, Ian Holm, Dai Bradley, George Winter, Mark Drewry, Colin Mayes, Ewan Stewart, and Drahomira Fialkova. Distributed by CBS in the USA on November 14, 1979. Not Rated. Runs 150 minutes. Alternate versions run 123 minutes and 131 minutes.

Cinemaniac Reviews two stars

The 1930 adaptation of Erich Maria Remarque’s revered novel All Quiet on the Western Front has long been considered a classic in its own right. It’s been considered one of the sound era’s earliest and sturdiest paragons of a motion picture. Many, for sure, would go as far as to call the film one of the founding fathers of the war genre, and to top all of that off, it won the third-ever Academy Award for Best Picture. The film had many films to stand above in its time, as filmmakers and moviegoers were still in love with World War One movies for a whole two decades after the Great War had ended. 1930′s rendition of “All Quiet on the Western Front”, therefore, follows a cinematic trend, but it is considered the absolute and unarguable best of this trend.

But this isn’t the version of the story that I’m reviewing. I am reviewing the 1979 remake, the second adaptation of Remarque’s novel, and a complete schlock. It is crucial that one remembers not to confuse the adaptations. I have yet to see the original rendition of the story, or to read the novel, but I can only imagine that, had he been alive to watch it, Remarque would have gouged his eyes out.

“All Quiet on the Western Front” was released three months after “Apocalypse Now”, which to this day remains a far better war movie. Much unlike that classic, “All Quiet on the Western Front” is as cheesy as a grilled cheese sandwich. Speaking of grilled cheese sandwiches, I’m dying to have one, and I’d rather discuss grilled cheese sandwiches than discuss this dragging, uneventful snoozer. I mean, don’t we all love a grilled cheese sandwich now and then? It’s a mighty fine culinary joy.

But I digress. There’s no calling “All Quiet on the Western Front” a mighty fine cinematic joy (and in fact, it’s utterly joyless), but it is indeed possible to look at the film as a work of art. Should one look at it for its magnificent ability to produce poor-quality acting, then it’s a wonder to behold, because even the best of the best appear here. Donald Pleasence, a year before the fact, delivered a stellar performance as the detective in “Halloween”. Now he’s the target of our laughter. And Ernest Borgnine established his career with endlessly acclaimed war movies (“From Here to Eternity”, “The Dirty Dozen”). He always seems to play the one guy we listen to and connect with. Not that he’s at his absolute worst here, but watching him as a mentoring figure to the protagonist in “All Quiet on the Western Front”, it’s quite difficult to take him seriously.

“All Quiet on the Western Front” is ambitious in its story, but that’s given a cliché screenplay and a director with absolutely no vision of the project. Come on now, these hospital scenes got so rowdy, they reminded me of “One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest”! Could the Delbert Mann listed as the film’s director even possibly be the same Delbert Mann who earned an Oscar for his directorial debut, 1955′s “Marty”? Anything that should be emotionally effective often comes off as laughable. The movie does have its moments, the strongest of which depicts euthanizing a horse. Scenes like these let us see the horrors of war through the characters’ reactions. But for the most part, “All Quiet on the Western Front” is a hopeless movie. It’s clearly positioned as an anti-war movie, and “war is hell” does come through here and there. More often than that, though, it’s “war is boring as hell.”


Cinemaniac Reviews will have a new posting schedule, effective immediately. Until further notice, there will be only three reviews every week: a Monday review, a Thursday review, and a Saturday review.


The English Patient

Movie Review #713


Miramax Films presents…

Copyright Owners: Tiger Moth Productions

Distributor: Miramax Films
Country: USA – UK
Spoken Langues: English – German – Italian – Arabic

Directed by Anthony Minghella. Produced by Saul Zaentz. Novel by Michael Ondaatje.  Screenplay by Anthony Minghella.

Rated R by the MPAA – sexual material; infrequent violence; infrequent profanity. Runs 2 hours, 42 minutes. First shown in Italy in October 1996. Premiered in Los Angeles, California on November 6, 1996; and in New York City, New York on November 12, 1996. Limited release in the USA on November 15, 1996. Wide release in the USA on December 6, 1996; and in the UK on March 14, 1997.

Starring Ralph Fiennes, Juliette Binoche, Willem Dafoe, and Kristin Scott Thomas. Also starring Naveen Andrews, Colin Firth, Jürgen Prochnow, Kevin Whately, Torri Higginson, Raymond Coulthard, Philip Whitchurch, and Lee Ross. Featuring credited cameo appearances by Matthew Ferguson, Jason Done, Roger Morlidge, Simon Sherlock, Dominic Mafham, and Gregor Truter.

Cinemaniac Reviews three and a half stars

If “The English Patient” didn’t work for you, I can understand that. I can stand hearing that it’s “boring,” because there is a camp that finds the movie absolutely agonizing. All it means is that they weren’t the audience for which Anthony Minghella had written and directed his monument.

What I won’t stand to hear is that the movie is “bad.” The script is quixotically written, absolutely poignant; a wonder to behold, as if what became of it was anything otherwise. Everything here comes from the nonlinear context of Michael Ondaatje’s 1992 novel, but the stories told in flashbacks is so beautifully paralleled with those told in the present that the sequencing of events doesn’t seem to matter. “The English Patient” is composed of several characters and stories that aren’t exactly explained in the beginning, and by the end they’re the creators of their own catharsis. But in getting there, it doesn’t tie together. It flows together.

“The English Patient” is an exquisite composition, marked by riveting performances from Ralph Fiennes, Willem Dafoe, and Kristin Scott Thomas. I couldn’t help wanting more of Colin Firth, or the astonishing then-newcomer to American cinema, Juliette Binoche. Not unlike other epics, it deserves to be seen with theatrical treatment, or not at all. Certain scenes give the movie emotional enhancements that feel overwhelmingly three-dimensional. Cinematography, music, and sound editing just keep improving throughout, but the “Silent Night” scene is the most incredible use of all three since the parade scene in “The Godfather Part II”.

It kills me to point out mistakes here, but when it rains, it pours. In his earliest “old scenes,” a closeup of Ralph Fiennes’s hand reveals an obvious latex glove for the “wrinkles” effect.” Plane scenes are peppered throughout the movie, and each one is as fake as anything. I was even able to catch an actual “error,” actually: a man entering a cave in one scene bumps his head into the wall, and the “wall” moves as if it were a hollow set piece. Maybe this wasn’t so obvious upon the film’s release, eighteen years in the past, but in all, I can only be glad that so much of the film does stand the test of time. “The English Patient” elaborates for nearly three hours, during which there isn’t really anything that fails to entertain, or to keep it from flying by. It is the marvelous epic that results when another director envisions “Casablanca”.

Tomorrow’s Review

The Armstrong Lie


Doctor Zhivago

Movie Review #696

This review is dedicated to anyone who actually thought I purposefully reviewed a romance on Valentine’s Day. It just goes along with the words of Gump: “Life’s like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.” Sometimes, coincidence. (The mention of chocolates was intentional, though.)

NOTE: This review regards the 45th Anniversary Edition, which includes the movie as it was re-released in 1992.


Presented by Metro – Goldwyn – Mayer…

…a Carlo Ponti Production…

Distributor: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM)
Country: USA – Italy
Spoken Languages: English – Russian

Directed by David Lean. Produced by Carlo Ponti. Screenplay by Robert Bolt. From the novel by Boris Leonidovic Pasternak “Doctor Zhivago”.

Approved by the Production Code Administration (unknown certificate). Later rated GP by the MPAA. Currently rated PG-13 by the MPAA — mature themes. Act I runs 1 hour, 59 minutes with overture music, opening credits, and intermission music. Act II runs 1 hour, 21 minutes with entr’acte music and final credits. Complete production runs 3 hours, 20 minutes (originally released 3 minutes shorter; 1999 re-release runs 8 minutes shorter). Premiered in New York City, New York on December 22, 1965; and in London on April 26, 1966. Wide release in the USA on December 31, 1965; and in Italy on December 10, 1966. Re-released in the USA on September 28, 1999.

Narrated by Alec Guinness. Starring Omar Sharif, Julie Christie, Geraldine Chaplin, Rod Steiger, Tom Courtenay, Siobhan McKenna, and Ralph Richardson. Also starring Jeffrey Rockland, Tarek Sharif, Gerard Tichy, Adrienne Corri, and Lucy Westmore. Featuring an uncredited cameo appearance by Mercedes Ruiz as Tonya at 7.

Cinemaniac Reviews four stars

As is appropriate in reviewing an epic, let me start in medias res. I took a break during the designated intermission during “Doctor Zhivago” and came back during the entr’acte. As I opened the door to my basement stairs, where the speakers and Blu-ray player were running without me, I experienced something extraordinary. I was not hearing the ever famous “Lara’s Theme,” but a terrific overflow of sound that encapsulated me from the very moment I began my journey down the stairs. It wasn’t like descending into a movie theater. It was like being pulled gently, gracefully into Heaven. Mind you, what I’m describing here is nothing more than how Sir David Lean, CBE, puts things together. Specifically, a title card with a French conjunction that translates as “between acts,” with a song composed by Maurice Jarre.

And how gloriously this man did it. He anoints my heart (my head, too) with water, my cup runneth over.

I don’t want to put “Zhivago” on a pedestal. Or maybe I do. It’s simply the best epic of its time. That time, from anything I’ve seen, denoting anything that came prior to “Reds” (1981)–itself a quasi-replica of this film–way back to anything that followed “Gone with the Wind” (1939). I wouldn’t doubt that just why “Zhivago” is so spectacular is in the simplicity of how Sir Lean imagined it from the beginning. Not as an epic movie, but as an epic poem with the vast accoutrements of a silver screen epic. This tale unfolds as a long narrative from the eyes of a single character. I’ll quote Tom Hanks as saying that, with the entire rest of the cast, our narrator is a “needle in a stack of needles.” None of it’s boring by any standard, but unless watched in theaters or with the viewing atmosphere of a theater, the story isn’t told like it could (and should) be.

There’s not a moment in “Zhivago” that lacks beauty. That much of the movie was filmed on location keeps the look intact and as realistic as it could ever be. With Freddie Young returning from Sir Lean’s “Lawrence of Arabia”, the camerawork is masterful. Except where that film was pompously beautiful, “Zhivago” orchestrates a humble beauty. Our main character is a sensitive, quiet man who leads careers as both a physician and a poet. During the time between the Russian Revolution of 1905 and the Second World War, Zhivago resorts to cheating on his wife, with the wife of a political acitivist. Perhaps his character isn’t disagreeable (and much more likeable than Sir Lean’s previous character) due to the magnanimous man he is; it seems to compensate. Zhivago is portrayed by Omar Sharif, though among the extraordinary cast he leads are two real standouts: Rod Steiger and Julie Christie. They really escalate the screenplay in their supporting roles. The novel Doctor Zhivago started as a manuscript that was smuggled out of the USSR to become published in Italy. Our screenwriter, Robert Bolt, wrote the screenplay. It’s highly, highly descriptive, but exquisite and thoroughly interesting. Having transitioned from the written craft into four stages of film production, that only seems to have escalated.

Coming Reviews

Blue Jasmine
Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood
This Film Is Not Yet Rated
Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!
We’re the Millers


Hit the jump for an announcement regarding the 2nd Annual Cinemaniac Awards:

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Movie Review #683


Hemdale Film presents…

Distributor: Orion Pictures Corporation
Country: UK — USA
Spoken Languages: English — Vietnamese

Directed by Oliver Stone. Produced by Arnold Kopelson. Written by Oliver Stone.

Rated R by the MPAA — war violence, frequent profanity. Runs 2 hours. Limited release in Los Angeles, California and New York City, New York on December 19, 1986. Wide release in the USA on February 6, 1987; and in the UK on April 24, 1987.

Narrated by Charlie Sheen. Starring Tom Berenger, Willem Dafoe, and Charlie Sheen. Also starring Keith David, Forest Whitaker, Francesco Quinn, Kevin Dillon, John C. McGinley, Reggie Johnson, Mark Moses, Corey Glover, Johnny Depp, Chris Pedersen, Bob Orwig, Corkey Ford, and David Neidorf.

Cinemaniac Reviews four stars

“Rejoice O young man in thy youth…”
- Ecclesiastes

“Platoon” is Oliver Stone’s retelling of war. I don’t mean retelling as in what Francis Coppola and Stanley Kubrick offered in their renditions. This is a movie concerned so much about its story that the style is a mere sub-operation to substance. Stone was an actual veteran of the Vietnam War. He was also the first of several filmmaking veterans to make a movie about the horrors he encountered. I have to say that, while I do respect “Apocalypse Now” and “Full Metal Jacket” for their perfect dehumanizations of the Vietnam War, “Platoon” comes out on top. It’s not a movie about what happened in the Vietnam War. It’s about how one man’s reality was changed (maybe even rectified) by war.

And the movie is effective. It takes full ownership of Samuel Barber’s “Adagio for Strings”. The piece is played seemingly throughout the film in multiple variations. It builds poignancy in the story. Maybe this is a good 5% of why “Platoon” functions strictly as a drama and a reality-centric horror movie. It’s not an action movie, and it anything but desires to bloat the struggles into a triumphant epic. It doesn’t even wish to entertain, I don’t believe. It’s one focus is to explicate a perilous vision of what being in the war is like.

The narration comes in letters written home from the protagonist. That’s what brings out the film’s terrific (and terrifying) authenticity. Rarely will the movie convince us that it’s indeed a movie. It’s presentation is visceral. Beautiful contrast is suggested between this storytelling method and the actual imagery. What we are told is visceral. What we see is extremely mild for a war movie.

Charlie Sheen both portrays the protagonist and narrates the film. His delivery crafts the movie for war what “The Shawshank Redemption” was for prison life. Sheen has never played such a character since. Even his performance in Oliver Stone’s followup “Wall Street” doesn’t ask for our sympathy at all costs. This is a man who dropped out of college to voluntarily serve in the infantry. Not one soldier seems to befriend him, or each other, and enemies could be anywhere and everywhere. Just knowing that much, and how seriously it’s taken, makes did quite a horrifying movie–maybe the most horrifying I’ve ever seen. Though by the end, it’s more than just one level of emotion that’s getting whipped.

Tomorrow’s Review

Casino Royale

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)

To Be or Not to Be

Review No. 619

To watch?  Or not to watch?  That’s the question.



Mel Brooks Frederick Bronski
Anne Bancroft Anna Bronski
Charles Durning S.S. Colonel Erhardt
Narrated by Scott Beach.
Director Alan Johnson
Producer Mel Brooks
Screenplay Thomas Meehan & Ronny Graham
Story Melchior Lengyel – Ernst Lubitsch
1942 Screenplay Edwin Justus Mayer
Distributor 20th Century Fox
Limited Release 16 December 1983 (NYC)
Studio(s) unknown
Language English – Polish
Country USA
Running Time 107 minutes


“I did it.  I did it.  I gave the greatest performance of my life.  And nobody saw it.”

In the world of Mel Brooks, everything is fun and games.  Everything.  This man debuted with The Producers, a movie that mocked Adolf Hitler–as well as those Hitler looked down upon.  And oh how freely it mocked them all.  Mel would never direct or write a remake of 1942′s To Be or Not to Be, however.  It doesn’t poke fun at Hitler, let alone anything; for him, a movie about a married couple in Nazi-occupied Poland.  It’s likeness is in It Happened One NIght.  There’s where Mel makes the fatal error.  He produces and stars in this remake.  By 1983, everything from The Producers up to History of the World – Part 1 has been released with Mel Brooks on the print, so we know what to expect of a Mel Brooks film.  This isn’t his movie, though.  While I can see the humor working as a stage play, it’s lost in translation.  Yes, there are a handful of great jokes here.  My biggest compliment goes out to “Sweet Georgia Brown” in Polish; no movie, let alone one of Brooks’s, has made me laugh at a dance number unless we venture a whole nine years back to Young Frankenstein (“Puttin’ on the Ritz”).  But this is from a director whose concerns are more on theatricality than trying to redo Brooks’s comedy.  Whenever the fourth wall is broken, it feels like a cheap imitation of Brooks.

I didn’t hate To Be or Not to Be.  In fact, I far from hated it.  Let’s put aside his failure to convince in the lead role.  Mel Brooks is into this movie, as an actor.  Such enthusiasm does indeed entertain.  Anne Bancroft (his real wife) is even better, as if we’d expect her to take a bad step.  Hell, there’s an entire supporting cast that’s a joy to watch.  There’s just so much talent in the movie, and I can’t say they’re wasting it.  The script is good.  The problem is that it’s not delivered with any consideration.  More often than not, you know it’s funny, but only after you’ve taken a delay trying to process the humor.  It shouldn’t happen in Brooks’s movie.  Ditto the anti-Semitic approach to the movie.  I feel like Mel Brooks is a people person whenever I watch something of his, as if he loves all people, no matter who they are and how many times he pokes fun at them.  But the movie puts Judaism as a joking matter of its own, and there’s therefore nothing funny in these jokes.  All in all, I guess we really can’t blame the writers for not being Brooks.  We can’t blame Airplane 2 for not being Airplane!, and we can’t blame Dumb and Dumberer for insulting its similarly titled precursor.  Thankfully, this is a significantly lesser example than those two, but if Brooks wasn’t going to write it himself, then there’s no sense in writing as if he had written it.

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.

Gone with the Wind

Review No. 609

“Gone with the Wind” will make you “give a damn.”

Dedicated to my grandmother —

— she was two years old when “Gone with the Wind” was released…

…if I’m putting the movie on a pedestal —

— then I guess Webster’s needs a new idiom to describe how much she loves this movie.


Director — Victor Fleming

Uncredited Directors — George Cukor & Sam Wood
Producer — David O. Selznick
Screenplay — Sidney Howard

Uncredited Screenwriters — Oliver H.P. Garrett, Ben Hecht, Barbara Keon & Jo Swerling
Based on — Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell

Clark Gable — Rhett Butler
Vivien Leigh — Scarlett O’Hara
Leslie Howard — Ashley Wilkes
Olivia de Havilland — Melanie Hamilton

TARA PLANTATION — Thomas Mitchell, Barbara O’Neil, Evelyn Keyes, Ann Rutherford, George Reeves, Fred Crane, Hattie McDaniel, Oscar Polk, Butterfly McQueen, Victory Jory & Everett Brown.
AT TWELVE OAKS — Howard C. Hickman, Alicia Rhett, Rand Brooks & Carroll Nye.
IN ATLANTA — Laura Hope Crews, Eddie Anderson, Harry Davenport, Leona Roberts, Jane Darwell & Ona Munson.

Distributor — Loew’s, Inc.
Premiere Dates — December 15, 1939 (Atlanta); December 19, 1939 (New York); December 28, 1939 (Los Angeles); April 18, 1940 (United Kingdom); April 30, 1940 (Sydney); March 29, 1990 (Soviet Union)
Wide Release Date — January 17, 1940; March 31, 1942 (first re-release); August 21, 1947 (second re-release); June 3, 1954 (third re-release); October 14, 1967 (70mm re-release)
Standard Re-release Dates — March 10, 1961 (Atlanta, Georgia); December 29, 1961 (Finland); October 15, 1962 (Spain)
70mm Re-release Dates — March 25, 1967 (Sydney); October 10, 1967 (New York, New York); March 12, 1969 (London)
Language — English
Country — USA
Running Time — 3 hours, 40 minutes (plus 14-18 minutes of overture, intermission, entr’acte, and exit music)


A huge sucker for epics has been made of me lately.  Obviously I have a long ways to go before I’ve seen everything I need to in the genre, but I’ve found myself so utterly fascinated by how sincerely some directors want to hold their audience past three hours, if not for a larger-than-life story.  Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now.  Mel Gibson’s Braveheart.  Richard Attenborough’s Gandhi.  Ridley Scott’s Gladiator.  David Lean’s Lawrence of Arabia.  Tom Hooper’s Les Misérables.  Steven Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan and Schindler’s List.  James Cameron’s Titanic.

And as if I would need to reserve the spot when saving the best for last, Victor Fleming’s Gone with the Wind.  Let’s just adjust it for inflation before I start beating around the bush: it made over three billion in the U.S. alone, another more-than-three-billion overseas–all on a budget of about $65 million.  I’d have guessed the budget was greater, to be honest, but maybe that’s my mind emphasizing the beauty of it all.  Gone with the Wind premiered in Atlanta in mid-December of 1939.  It was shot from January 26th through July 1st (that’s over 150 days), and editing didn’t begin until November 11th.  It’s a pretty tight schedule, I’d say, for a film that chooses technicolor, 70mm cinematography, exquisite sets and direction, and a larger-than-life feel.  Should I mention that Fleming released his The Wizard of Oz that August?  He’s either hardworking or completely OCD.  Though the latter’s already reserved for Howard Hughes.

Revisiting Gone with the Wind, my one question was: “Did they ever actually love each other?”  Now let’s be honest.  That’s not a question you ask of a romance, let alone the quintessential epic romance.  Yet it’s valid, because this isn’t a love story.  It’s about characters who don’t know what love is.  They think they do, but they have miles to go before they discover they’re dead wrong.  Scarlett O’Hara (Vivien Leigh) is a brat fighting for the Confederate States of America, during the Civil War era.  Moreover, she’s fighting to get what she wants, though I guess that’s implied in “brat.”  You can’t make enough of her egocentric personality, and there’s no telling why we feel so sorry for her.

Now let’s take a careful look at Scarlett.  There truly is no telling why we would dare feel sorry for her, but we do, and that’s that.  We feel sorry for Anne Bancroft in The Graduate, even if we don’t immediately realize she is the protagonist, but guess what, everything she did actually had a motive.  Scarlett would have an affair with a college graduate just for the hell of it.  Actually she’d marry him just for the hell of it; she struggles through two marriages, which leaves her twice a widow, and she decides to marry a man she sometimes doesn’t seem to love (but says otherwise), sometimes doesn’t think she loves.  Her bipolar nature only adds on, so it’s amazing Vivien Leigh could ever deliver so well on a screenplay that sprawls out over four hours.  She’s even better with Rhett Butler (Clark Gable) around, and god, do we hate him.  Of course, we realize that she’s defined by her impulses, he by his clever (albeit possessive) nature, but we realize only in perception.

Gone with the Wind is the perfect movie.  It flies by in four hours, with the best moments being in the latter act.  The music is downright riveting, as well, so there’s no shame in sitting through the overture, the intermission, the entr’acte, and the curtain-closer.  Rarely do films hold up this well, but I can’t say that until I’ve seen it in theaters.  Something tells me that’s “the full experience.”  (Not to dishonor another completely different favorite, but what kind of trash world do we live in that plays The Rocky Horror Picture Show every Saturday at midnight, but gives no love to classics like Gone with the Wind?)  Between the story and the style, D. W. Griffith (The Birth of a Nation) may be the only director to ever top the poignancy of Victor Fleming’s in retelling Civil War era.  Even Edward Zwick (Glory) looks a bit half-baked in comparison.  That this movie’s dramatic side is still touching is almost impossible to believe.  It doesn’t feel like it was made in 1939, even if it feels like something of an “old movie,” for lack of a better word.  In other words, it’s already over seven decades old.  You gotta give Victor Fleming some credit for his achievement here.  1939 was only twelve years after we got our first sound film, and less than a decade before they became significantly popular.  Gone with the Wind takes another step–in fact, another twenty.  There’s what makes you “give a damn” about cinema when rarely anything else does.

Lawrence of Arabia

Review No. 593

It’s so…beautiful.



NOTE: This review regards the restored director’s cut.  When Lawrence of Arabia was first released in 1962, it ran at 3 hours, 36 minutes, plus the introductory and entr’acte reels.  The restoration is 3 hours, 48 minutes, plus the introductory and entr’acte reels.

Director — David Lean
Producer — Sam Spiegel
Screenplay — Robert Bolt & Michael Wilson

Peter O’Toole — Thomas Edward “T. E.” Lawrence
Alec Guinness — Prince Faisal
Anthony Quinn — Auda abu Tayi
Jack Hawkins — General Allenby
Omar Sharif — Sherif Ali ibn el Kharish

Distributor — Columbia Pictures
Release Date — December 16, 1962
Language — English, Arabic & Turkish
Country — United Kingdom & USA
Running Time — 3 hours, 48 minutes plus intro. and entr’acte music (restored director’s cutoriginal release: 3 hours, 36 minutes plus intro. and entr’acte music)
MPAA Rating — PG
Flags ( — adult situations; violence


Director David Lean is a man who treats his work with far more care than imaginable.  He doesn’t make movies–he builds shrines.  Wonders to behold.  Freddie Young’s cinematography makes so much difference in Lawrence of Arabia.  Nothing has been more grandiose since it was released over half a century ago, and furthermore, it’s impossible to resurrect the absolute grandeur, at least without bringing it back to theaters.  There’s moments that rattle the inner spirit in this movie, and in fact they encompass it in entirety.  The music is terrific, with Maurice Jarre applaudable for such riveting contrast between moments that need a thousand pins for the sound of one dropping, and others when one pin echoes across the entire room.

Don’t look so hesitant. It’s only four hours. I mean, it doesn’t feel that long.

The thrill lasts almost four hours, and not a minute is wasted.  Robert Bolt and Michael Wilson have constructed a screenplay so close to perfect, even the few mistakes are well-written.  Their title character is an interesting one.  Lawrence of Arabia is the sprawling biography of T. E. Lawrence, a British war hero and a liaison with the Arabian Peninsula during World War I.  Both countries adore and honor him for his exploits…and, as it turns out, Lawrence adores himself.  Peter O’Toole was an unknown at the time, but he made this his own stunning breakthrough role.  His acting is so impassioned in itself, but it doesn’t show immediately.  We love the man for the entire first act of this phenomenal epic.  During the second half, his character is detestable down to the core.  Amazingly enough, our attention remains on insurmountable demand with this man’s route to fame.

Lawrence of Arabia is artful and awe-inspiring.  It’s lively and fluent; there isn’t a dead moment in the film, for that matter.  I’d like to believe I’m putting the movie on a pedestal.  After all, that’s where it belongs.


Seven Samurai


The Bling Ring

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