Thought I’d do a little catch up as I’ve been busy with the 365 over on the Universe Blog and I just know y’all are missing my Movie Monday reviews. We are still watching movies, so I’m going to do quick dash through what I thought about them.
Dead Presidents 1995 and Phil’s choice as he had it on DVD and I hadn’t seen it. Starring Larenz Tate, Keith David, Chris Tucker, Freddy Rodrigues, N’Bushe Wright and Bokeem Woodbine. It’s based partly on the real-life experiences of Haywood T. Kirkland (aka Ari S. Merretazon), whose true story was detailed in the book Bloods: An Oral History of the Vietnam War by Black Veterans by Wallace Terry, it chronicles the life of Anthony Curtis (Tate) and covers him from high school to the vietnam war and then home again to where he and his pals rob a bank. A well made film focussing on the experences of black veterans, well acted and paced, co-written, produced, and directed by Allan and Albert Hughes with skill and obvious passion. I imagine Spike Lee watched this and made notes for his Da 5 Bloods movie. I enjoyed this one much more. Fraggle Rating: underated and well worth seeing.
The Mule 2018. Clint Eastwood produces and directs from a script by Nick Schenk. Also based on the true story of a New York times article by Sam Dolnick “The Sinaloa Cartel’s 90-Year-Old Drug Mule” about a WW2 veteran called Leo Sharp who became a drug courier for the cartel in his 80’s. Well this was fun, Clint has still got it and commands the screen even though he’s in his dotage now. Not sure how but he looks good even with that many wrinkles. Anyway it’s his movie though he’s ably assisted by Bradly Cooper on his tail as Colin Bates a D.E.A agent, Michael Pêna as Bates sidekick Trevino, Dianne Wiest as Clint’s estranged wife and a fairly small part for Lawrence Fishburn as Bates’s supervisor. Fraggle rating: Top Notch, especially for Eastwood fans.
The Alamo 2004. I’m sure someone out there will say this isn’t as good as the original Alamo movie made in 1960 starring John Wayne as Davy Crockett (perleeze 🙄🥴 blerk, I do NOT like John Wayne one bit) but Phil wanted the 2004 version as he really liked it so that’s what we did. No need to explain the plot I think, but just in case. In the 1830’s Texas had a revolution, small groups of Texians (that’s what they were called back then) gathered at a little town on the Mexican border called San Antonio where the Alamo compound is, and the Mexican army under the President Santa Anna came and killed them all. Dennis Quade plays Sam Houston, Billy Bob Thornton ~ Davy Crockett, Jason Patrick ~Jim Bowie and Patrick Wilson as William B Travis. I enjoyed this, the characters are well drawn and acted, and John Lee Hancock directs with a steady hand, giving the main characters room to breath. It’s a good history lesson too as we are ‘doing’ American History documentaries at the minute and it all ties in. Fraggle Rating: Good +++
Aquaman 2018. A D.C superhero movie that I hadn’t got round to. Well I have now and it wasn’t totally great, however it does have good points. Firstly it is stunningly beautiful to look at. The CGI under sea world building is easily as good as Avatar which sprang to mind straight away. Jason Momoa who plays him is well, how to put it, built like a brick s**t house as my Mum used to say, has a twinkle in his eye and gave a committed performance, as did Amber Heard as Princess Mera of Atlantis who wants to stop her brother King Orm (Patrick Wilson again) from going to war with humans and needs Aquaman (named Arthur Curry of all things) to step up, return to Atlantis and save the world. William Dafoe is phoning in a performance as the Vizier of Atlantis, and Nicole Kidman looks entirely out of place as a renegade queen who escapes atlantis, washes up at a lighthouse where the keeper Thomas Curry (Temuera Morrison) rescues her, falls in love with her, impregnates her and then shortly after has to be a single parent after Atlantian soldiers come to take her back to marry whoever she ran away from. Also Dolph Lundgren is in the mix as an ally King to King Orm. There’s plot holes, a daft script and some dodgy dialogue, BUT this is one of D.C’s more light hearted movies after the darkness of Batman et al, and it was a blast from start to brilliant finish. Fraggle Rating: A mixed bag but well worth seeing.
That’s it for movies!
As most of you who follow this blog also follow the Universe blog, you already know I’m doing a 365 weekly post over there, but other life still goes on of course, and I take photo’s of that along the way. Last Sunday was Mother’s Day here, and Phil’s lovely daughter popped over with an afternoon tea for Phil and I to enjoy for the day. So nice of her to do this.
We still have Sophie’s cats! It’s been over 3 months now and Sophie isn’t back until at least the end of May/beginning of June so we have a ways to go yet. They are a pain in the arse and a total joy depending on what mood they are in, and I can’t resist taking pictures of them.
I’ve been enjoying having a few non rainy days and getting out to take photo’s for the 365, and also found other things along the way.
I found these fragments on the coast. I think it’s a letter of heartbreak, or castigation, I can’t make it all out, but it’s on a broken plate or something. Strange.
The hedgehogs have woken up and are visiting every night now, but we’ve also had a little one that visits during the day, so managed to get a couple of shots.
Hedgehogs are not usually out during the day, and this one is quite small, but she appears to be well, eating, drinking and running about well, so we are not too worried.
And finally, Spring is happening, at last, and soon the Happy Eater tree will do it’s glorious display, I can’t wait for warmer times!
Our first offering this week comes from Phil, who wanted to re-visit Hacksaw Ridge (2016). It’s a biographical war movie and tells the true story of Desmond Doss, an American 7th day adventist who signs up to join the US Army and ends up being the first conscientious objector to be awarded the Medal of Honour for deeds above and beyond the call of duty as a medic during the Battle of Okinawa.
The plot starts out showing the family circumstances of the Doss family. We briefly go back in time to 1925 in Virginia where they live, and Desmond (Andrew Garfield) nearly kills his younger brother during a rough play fight. His Mom Bertha (Rachel Griffiths) is supportive and loving, but his father Tom (Hugo Weaving) rules with a whip, and is suffering from PTSD from the 1st WW as he lost all his pals he went to war with. 15 years later and Desmond takes an injured man to hospital where he meets his future wife, Dorothy (Teresa Palmer), a nurse, and he becomes interested in medical matters. They get engaged to be married just before he signs up for the army after the attack on Pearl Harbour to serve as an army medic. He arrives in Fort Jackson to undergo basic training, and at first all goes well as he excels physically, but then it comes to weapon training and he refuses to have anything to do with a gun, and also refuses to train on Saturdays as that’s his religious thing to do. Sergeant Howell (Vince Vaughan) Doss’s platoon commander, and Captain Glover (Sam Worthington) try to have him discharged for psychiatric reasons but after seeing a shrink it’s determined that his religious beliefs don’t amount to a mental illness. Doss carries on with his training but has become a pariah to the rest of the trainees. Howell and Glover give him onerous extra duties and the trainees beat him up badly one night trying to get him to leave of his own accord, but he refuses to name his attackers and carries on regardless.
At the end of basic training the platoon are given leave, and Des is supposed to be going home to marry Dorothy, but instead he is arrested for insubordination for not doing the weapons training and put in a cell. Glover and Howell try and convince him to plead guilty so he can leave the army without charge, but he refuses to compromise his beliefs. During the subsequent court marshall, his Dad bursts in with a letter to the court from a Brigadier General who was Dad’s commanding officer in WW1. The letter informs the court that Desmonds pacifism is defended by the US constitution, so the charges are dropped, Desmond and Dorothy get married, then he’s shipped off to the Pacific theatre with the 77th Infantry Division. His unit ends up on the Maeda Escarpment otherwise known as Hacksaw Ridge, where, during the initial fighting, he saves the life of one of the guys he trained with, Smitty (Luke Bracier). The next morning the Japanese launch a huge counter-attack and the Americans have to fall back. Smitty is killed and many of the platoon are injured on the battlefield including Sergeant Howell. The rest of them make it down the cliffs but Desmond stays behind and rescues the injured giys one at a time, lowering them down by rope and praying to save ‘just one more’ each time he returns to find another injured soldier. All in all he rescues 75 men. The unit below are amazed at how many are being sent down. The next day Desmond rescues Howell and they both escape from the Ridge. Captain Glover apologises to Desmond for thinking him a coward, and tells him that the men won’t go back up there unless Desmond goes with them, of course he agrees, but not until he’s finished his Sabbath prayers. With reinforcements they return to the ridge and they push the Japanese back. Some of them pretend to surrender but it’s an ambush and Desmond deflects grenades away from Glover but is hit by shrapnel himself, and then lowered back to base. At the end the movie shows photo’s of Desmond receiving the Medal of Honour from President Truman.
This was an amazing movie and I didn’t mention at the start that this was directed by Mel Gibson. What a tour de force by him. He used minimal visual effects preferring to keep things as real as possible. Andrew Garfield (arguably the worst spiderman ever) put his heart and soul into this and wonderfully conveyed the essence of Desmond. There’s an interview with Desmond on the bluray extras and he seemed such a lovely guy, but we already know that from watching Garfield’s performance. Teresa Palmer is becoming one of my favourite actresses, recently saw her in Cut Bank and Message from the King and she always aces the part, here she is feisty, sweet and luminous. Vaughan and Worthington don’t put a foot wrong. I think actors tend to rise to the occasion in true war stories, they certainly did here. Weaving and Griffiths only had small parts, but owned them well.
Our first movie this week is Phil’s choice. The Angel (2018) an Israeli/American spy thriller. Directed by Ariel Vroman. It’s based on a non-fiction book telling the true story of Israeli spy Ashraf Marwan, an Egyptian Official of very high rank.
The background to the movie, is the 6 day war of 1967 when Israel conquered large areas of land including the previously Egyptian land of the Sinai dessert.
Our movie starts in 1973, when we see Ashraf (Marwan Kenzari) fly into Rome airport with suitcases that can’t be searched as he has diplomatic immunity. Outside the airport. he meets a couple of Arab terrorists and delivers to them the suitcases and we see they contain a couple of RPG’s. We leave that scene just as the terrorists are about to fire the rockets at a commercial airliner leaving for Israel. We then go back to 1970 when Ashraf is living and studying at a university in London. He is married to Mona (Maisa Abd Elhadi), the daughter of President Nasser (Waleed F. Zuaiter) , (who doesn’t like Ashraf one bit) and they have a son. At a family dinner Ashraf and Nasser disagree on how to proceed with the Israeli conflict, with Ashraf advocating diplomacy with the help of America as peace-brokers, and Nasser believing that would upset the Russians who support them. Ashraf overhears Nasser telling Mona she should divorce her husband. He is angry and humiliated and it gets worse when he finds out that Nasser, who pays for the couple to live in London, is having him followed when photo’s of him on a night out drinking and dancing with an actress, Diana Ellis (Hannah Ware) are sent to Mona. In a fit of pique he decides to telephone the Israeli embassy and give information to the ambassador, Michael Comey, but whoever answers the phone won’t put him through unless he gives his name. He reluctantly does so, but then still is given the bums rush, so he hangs up. Ashraf and his family are recalled to Cairo when Nasser dies, and Anwar Sadat (Sasson Gabai) becomes president. Ashraf works his way up the political ladder to become his right hand man.
The Israelis have not forgotten about him though, and back in London reach out to him. He’s given a Mossad handler, Alex (Toby Kebbell) and that’s where I’ll stop for spoiler sakes. The rest of the movie is about his relationship with Mossad, and the informations that he gives to them regarding Egypts plans to reclaim the Sinai.
This was a fascinating movie. Very well done, very well acted by all concerned, and they didn’t mess about with history, though the double-agent part is unsubstantiated. Not shown in the movie, the real Ashraf died in a fall from his 5th floor appartment in London, and was at least the third Egyptian living in London to die under similar circumstances, all of whom had ties with the Egyptian security services. He is the only man to be recognized as a national hero in both Israel and Egypt.
Fraggle rating: Very good and fascinating spy thriller based on real events.
My choice this week has been brought about by our recent spate of lady action heroines. In ‘Ava’ a couple of weeks ago we saw Geena Davis as the Mother of Jessica Chastain’s Ava, and was reminded of a greatly enjoyable movie she starred in back in the day, ‘The Long Kiss Goodnight’ (1996). Released 25 years ago and also starring Samuel L Jackson it was directed by Renny Harlin who knew a thing or two about action having done Die hard 2 in 1990 and Cliffhanger in ’93. The plot revolves around Davis’ character Samantha Caine, who suffers from amnesia having been washed ashore 2 months pregnant 8 years prior. She has a chap and a little girl and is a schoolteacher in a small town. Although she’s paid P.I’s to try and find her old self, nothing has turned up so far, and she’s now down to the cheapest one she can afford Mitch Hennesy (SLJ). Then she is spotted on TV as part of a Christmas parade, and recognised by some bad guys, at the same time as Hennesy’s assistant comes up with some information that can help find out who Samantha Caine really is. Hennesy and the bad guys turn up to Sam’s house at the same time and off we go with lots of action and derring-do. No spoilers for this one, in spite of it’s age it’s much more fun to go in blind. This is a cracking action movie, and has held up as well as if not better than some of todays offerings. They didn’t have as much CGI back then so a lot of the explosions and stunts are done for real. The cast obviously had a blast making it, with Brian Cox, Patrick Malahide, David Morse and Craig Bierko having substantial parts, but are they good guys or are they bad guys? Mostly though it’s Davis and Jackson who you keep your eyes on. There’s a great chemistry between them and the dialogue is snappy, cool and funny. The 2nd half movie is set in Niagara Falls so some pretty cool scenes of them along the way. All in all a good way to spend a couple of hours. Don’t just take my word though, SLJ has stated that The Long Kiss Goodnight is his favorite movie to watch which he has been in!
Our first movie this week, is the last of the Civil War movies, at least for now, and this week we did Gettysburg (1993) as the follow on from Gods and Generals a couple of weeks ago. Written and directed by Robert F Maxwell and based on the book The Killer Angels by Michael Sharra, this movie was a lot better I have to say. No silly women or dying kids, and no-one praying every two minutes. Martin Sheen plays Robert E Lee this time, and has a bigger part than Duvall did in G&G’s. I think Duvall would have been a better choice for this one as well, but it doesn’t really matter, this is a history lesson of a movie and it’s done very well by all concerned. Jeff Daniels again plays Colonel Joshua Chamberlain, the hero of Little Round Top, Tom Berenger plays General James Longstreet, reluctant to send men to their deaths unecessarily. Stephen Lang is back this time as the gung-ho Major General George Pickett, a big change from his god-bothering Stonewall Jackson in G&G’s and Sam Shepherd has a short appearance as Brigadier General Buford. All in all the acting was better, and the battle scenes were just phenomenal. It’s said that the barrage laid down by the confederates on the 3rd day of the battle was the largest ever in history, I reckon it must have been the largest in movie making history too. They must have gathered up all the old canon in the USA to do the scenes. Some of the action was allowed to be filmed on the actual Gettysburg Battlefield, including the scenes at Devil’s Den and Little Round Top and thousands of Civil War re-enactors volunteered their time to get to Gettysburg and take part in the battle. The organisation and choreography of those scenes is staggering. They must have had a blast! The cinematography by Kees Van Oostrum is amazing, and the soundtrack by Randy Edelman adds much to the atmosphere throughout the movie. Again we did this over 2 nights as the extended version is 4 hrs long, but I got through it a lot easier than Gods and Generals, and thoroughly enjoyed it. My only quibble is the false facial hair! Berenger sported a beard and sideburns that Larry the Lion would be proud of and Jeff Daniels had a fair old Wally Walrus moustach going on 🤣
Fraggle Rating ~ Top notch history lesson.
On to the next movie and this is Netflix’s Outside the Wire (2021) directed by Mikael Häfström and starring Anthony Mackie and Damson Idris. It’s labelled sci-fi as it’s set in 2036 and involves robots a bit. I’ll try not to do spoilers as it’s so new. Eastern Europe is having a bit of a war and some Ukranian fanatics are trying to bring the Ukraine back into Russia, à la Soviet Union. The Ukranians are called Krasnys, led by Victor Koval (Pilou Asbæk) and are backed by Russia. There is a resistance force of led by Sofiya (Emily Beecham) who runs an orphanage. The US Army is deployed as a peacekeeping force, and consists of regular soldiers as well as ‘gumps’ robotic soldiers. A team of them is ambushed by the Krasnys, and Lt.Thomas Harp, (Idris) a drone operator back in the US disobeys orders and fires a Hellfire missile in a drone strike against a suspected enemy launcher, killing two of the Marines but saving the remaining 38. As punishment he’s deployed to Camp Nathaniel in the same area as he’s never been in combat. He is assigned to Captain Leo, who reveals himself to be a cyborg, a highly advanced and experimental android soldier, with the capacity for feeling pain, and emotions. Leo is going to take Harp outside the confines of the camp to deliver vaccines to a refugee camp, but really he is looking for Kovak who is trying to get control of cold war nuclear silo’s.
I had thought that this would be another reverse buddy movie, where 2 guys don’t like each other but end up besties, but that didn’t happen. There are a few twists along the way which is why I don’t want to do spoilers. It’s a well made movie, and tries to make itself more than just action, by having the two main characters wrestling with some big questions about the future of modern warfare. Anthony Mackie is coming out from under The Avengers cabal, and does well enough here as an eccentric wanna-be human, though his script is a little off in places. His physicality from being the Falcon Avenger stands him in very good stead. Damson Idris takes his character from an up-his-own-arse arrogant knob to a chastened more decent human being and they play off each other very well.
Fraggle Rating: Thoughtful action movie, worth a watch.
We managed to squeeze in a third movie this week. What Happened To Monday (2017) is another action sci-fi, this time directed by Tommy Wirkola and starring Noomi Rapace, Glen Close and Willem Dafoe. It’s a somewhat bonkers plot, with more than a couple of holes in it, but great fun to watch. Noomi plays 7 identical sisters in a future where people are only allowed one child, because the world is well over populated and running out of food and resources. Siblings get sent ostensibly for cryofreezing until such time as the population thins out when they can be woken up again. Glen Close plays the politician and leader who thought of this solution. Dafoe is the grandfather who raises the girls and gives each of them the names of weekdays, Monday to Sunday. Each child is allowed out on the same day as her name, and when she returns must share all the info (which is recorded on a special bracelet) so the next girl is equipped to take over for her turn outside. They all share the same DNA and persona of one girl named Karen Settman so when they are scanned at security points it doesn’t matter which one of them it is. The movie covers a bit of the sisters childhood, and then we get to see the 7 Noomi’s living in their apartment, running a company which Grandad helped them set up. They all have different hairdo’s and colours and different personalities and after the initial set up, one day Monday goes out to work at the company and doesn’t come back home. The other 6 have to find out what’s going on. That’s it for spoilers. Noomi does so well at action and yet again ends up in some rather outlandish fights, having to do 7 of them at once must have been fun! Glen Close doesn’t have a huge part but she’s competant when she’s on screen, this isn’t Oscar fodder by any stretch. Marwan Kenzari adds the love interest Adrian Knowles, a security guard Monday has been seeing and keeping quiet about. The futuristic tech is cool, mirrors that flag up your skin’s dehydration levels or blemishes, and bracelets that hold all your details (like a cross between Apple watch and a fitbit). WIlliam Dafoe disappears a third of the way into the movie and we never find out why or what happened to him, and you do wonder how he managed to keep 7 babies fed and nappied without anyone noticing but that’s a couple of holes you can easily skip over.
We had a break from wars this week and decided to go with action movies.
Although I’d read lukewarm reviews of the action movie Ava (2020) it had some good names attached to it, and we were up for some silliness, so decided to give it a go. It seems that all actresses have to now be an action hero at some point in their careers, Charlize Theron, Alicia Vikander, Noomi Rapace, Scarlett Johanson et al doing it for the girls, and now Jessica Chastain enters the genre as Ava. Unfortunately the lukewarm reviews hit the mark, and in spite of big names, Colin Farrell, John Malkovich, the story is hackneyed and the script clichéd.
I won’t do spoilers but the plot is nothing we haven’t seen before, a black ops operative (Chastain) has a dodgy past of drugs and alcoholism after being in the Special Forces, and the head honcho of the black ops she works for (Farrell) organises to have her killed off. The movie is about how they try, and how she foils them. In fairness, Chastain holds you to the movie, that girl can act, and she does well with the kick-assery too. Farrell and Malkovich look like they’re having fun anyway so all is not lost. There’s a family side issue involving Ava’s ex-boyfriend Michael (played by the oddly named Common) who is now dating and impregnating her sister Judy (Jess Weixler). Ava’s mother is played by Geena Davis, herself a kick~ass assassin in the far better ‘Long Kiss Goodnight’. The movie was written by Matthew Newton, who I think might have watched too many Jason Bourn movies, and directed by Tate Taylor who at least managed to make everything look good.
Fraggle Rating: Left a lot to be desired, but it was OK.
Our second movie this week was Phil’s choice from the Netflix catalogue, and he went for A Message from The King (2016) a revenge action thriller starring Chadwick Boseman. Directed by Fabrice du Welz from a screenplay by Stephen Cornwell and Oliver Butcher.
Again no spoilers but the basic plot is that Boseman playing Jacob King, travels to Los Angeles after receiving a cryptic phone message from his sister Bianca, who lives there, asking for help as she’s in trouble. When he gets there he can’t find her, and in trying to do so infiltrates a seedy cabal of underground and elite members.
Boseman is intense here, moody, mean when necessary, and employs a bicycle chain to good effect when dealing with the hoodlums he comes across. Teresa Palmer plays Kelly a care worn single mother who lives in the next cheap-motel room to King, working in a supermarket and turning tricks at the motel to make ends meet, and brings pathos and strength to what could have been a clichéd character but is elevated by Palmer’s ministrations. Luke Evans plays Paul Wentworth a well heeled dentist, with the right amount of smarminess and superiority and Alfred Molina takes the part of Mike Preston, a gay movie producer with a penchant for young boys, but that did seem a bit of a cariacture.
There’s a fair amount of violence and a bit of gore, they’re not going for a John Wicks feel here. The story does become a bit befuddled and required a few pauses for us to discuss what was going on. The relationship that develops between Kelly and King is the only bright spark in an otherwise dark, seedy yet stylish neo-noir movie. And it is beautifully filmed, Monica Lenczewska in charge of the cinematography with Beatrice Sisul editing, as a photographer I thought the colour grading was quite stunning.
Our first movie this week, is a biopic from 2018 that turned up on Netflix, A Private War, directed by Matthew Heineman, and staring Rosamund Pike, Jamie Dornan, Tom Hollander and Stanley Tucci.
Marie Colvin was an American journalist who worked at The Sunday Times newspaper, where she travelled to dangerous countries, reporting on civil wars. This is recent history, as Colvin was killed in an artillery strike on Homs in Syria. I know that’s a spoiler but it only happeneed in 2012 so surely most people know about that, and her interview on TV with CNN’s Anderson Cooper a few hours beforehand.
The movie tells part of her extraordinary time as a war correspondant, showing her homelife, her fear, her bravery, her compassion, as well as the PTSD that resulted, but didn’t stop her from doing her job. It covers how she lost her eye in Sri Lanka’s civil war with the Tamil Tigers in 2001 and wore an eyepatch ever after, and her interview with Gaddafi in Libya in 2011, and her final work in Syria.
This is Heineman’s first feature movie but he is well respected for his documentary work, which stood him in good stead for this kind of movie. The film was well structured, and the camera work very well done. The opening and closing shots of battle torn Homs are amazing as the camera rises out of the rubble of the city, rising slowly upwards encompassing more and more of the devastation Assad’s forces have wrought. Rosamund Pike, the quintessential English Rose who has a cut glass accent, throws herself into this rôle, acquiring the whisky laden, cigarette stained New York drawl you can hear in interviews with the real Marie, and nails the essence of this lady, a brilliant, committed performance. Along the way she joins up with a photographer, Paul Conroy played by Jamie Dornan, who does much better with a Liverpool accent than he ever did with his attempts to be Irish ~ his native tongue!) They work together really well, and you can feel the bond that must occur in this type of situation. Conroy survives the blast that kills Marie but was seriously injured, he’s back working as a photographer again now. Tom Hollander plays Sean Ryan, who was the foreign editor at The Sunday Times and Colvin’s boss. Hollander shows us the kindness and patience he had when dealing with Colvin, not surprised he’s now working for Save the Children. The only niggle I have is that the script is a bit clunky in places, but it really doesn’t detract from the story
Her friends have noted the irony of Marie being a feature as she was intent on reporting the story, not being the story, and there are books and articles and a documentary about her so I don’t suppose she’d be best pleased.
Fraggle rating: mostly excellent.
Our second movie begins Phil’s foray into the American civil war, and his first choice is Ride With The Devil, which he actually had on DVD and forgot about. Released in 1999 it is directed by Ang Lee and stars Tobey Maguire, Skeet Ulrich, Jeffery Wright and Jewel.
The movie follows Jake Roedel (Maguire) a German immigrant and Jack Bull Chiles (Ulrich), his rich friend who join the First Missouri Irregulars, a guerilla militia known as Bushwhackers, after Chiles Dad is murdered by Kansas pro-union Jayhawkers. The group they join includes George Clyde (Simon Baker) Daniel Holt (Jeffery Wright) a slave who grew up with Clyde and has been freed by him, Pitt Mackeson (Jonathon Rhys Myers) who looks like he wouldn’t be out of place in a girly rock band but has a predeliction for visciousness and murder and who steadily grows jealous of Roedell, and is led by Black John Ambroze (Jim Caviezel).
A lot goes on in this movie and Lee gives you troughs and peaks all the way through. Quiet times like in winter when the Bushwackers live in a dug-out on a sympathetic farmer’s land, and where Chiles falls in love with the widowed daughter Sue Lee Shelley (Jewel) and gets her pregnant, before succumbing to a gunshot wound after a skirmish with Union patrols. Then horrific scenes as when the Bushwhackers conglomerate under the leadership of William Quantrill (John Ales) and attack Lawrence in Kansas, wiping out a small force of Union soldiers on the outskirts before piling in to the town and killing anyone they deem to be favouring the Union. Holt and Roedell don’t take part in the killing of civilians, but get wounded anyway as they are escaping the troops that come to rescue the town, because Mackeson shoots Roedel in the leg, and Holt gets shot in the ribs.
Lee treats his characters sympathetically, and Roedel in particular suffers from the death of Clyde, but finds a new tolerance with his friendship with Holt. He and Sue Lee form a bond while he’s recovering at the farm, and eventually they marry. He comes to realise that what he’s fighting for has already gone, and decides to up sticks and move to California wiithhis new family. Lee doesn’t neglect the women’s roles in the movie, and is also adept at showing the bonds the men form from living as they do.
This is not so much a historical movie as a delving into the hearts and minds of the people who couldn’t understand why the Union wanted to interfere in their way of life. Slavery is addressed through the character of Holt, who in spite of being a ‘free’ man, is still beholden to Clyde and considered as ‘Clyde’s nigger’ by the others in the group. After Clyde dies during the Kansas attacks he becomes more his own person, and eventually strikes out on his own to track down his Mother who was sold in Texas. Lee is masterful at showing the dichotomies that arise in Civil War, for example when Roedel engineers the release of a captive Union man Alf Bowden (Mark Ruffalo) who he knows from living near him before the war, and we later find out Alf rides straight to Roedel’s home and kills his father. Lee also covers the anti-German sentiment of Southerners at that time, with Roedel sometimes being subjected to that prejudice, but at that time most of the German immigrants in Missouri are sympathetic to the Union, which we discover through Roedel senior.
The cinematography deserves a mention, long-time collaborator Frederick Elmes gets right in amongst the action and steers us through the Missouri landscape throughout the seasons. The costumes designed by Marit Allen and the firearms look authentic, and a goodly amount of horse riding stuntmen were employed to good effect.
I wasn’t expecting Toby Maguire to be so good, in spite of him being my favourite iteration of Spiderman, he brings a pathos and growing maturity to his character and holds the movie together, but I can’t find fault with any of the other actors either. Even Rhys Myers, who can be a bit flaky and OTT, transcends his girly looks and is a man you want to punch the lights out of. Jewel plays her steely backed Southern Belle well though it’s not a huge part.
I was expecting something along the lines of the big Union v Confederates battles such as Gettysburg, but Lee gives us a less black and white picture, in an area where things are less clearly defined. I hadn’t known about Bushwhackers and Jayhawkers until I watched this, so clearly I too will be learning Civil War history along with Phil 🙂
Phil has decided to delve into American History, inspired by our ongoing watching of the Amazon TV series Hell on Wheels, which, incidentally, is brilliant. So when he was searching for a Thursday night movie he came across The Trial of the Chicago 7 (2020) written and directed by Aaron Sorkin. It is a historical legal drama, and as it’s history you can have some spoilers 🙂
The plot regards a group of anti-Vietnam war protesters who are charged with conspiracy by crossing state lines with the intent to ferment rioting outside the Democratic National Convention that took place in Chicago in 1968. The seven defendants come from different protest groups, Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin (Sacha Baron Cohen and Jeremy Strong) founding members of the Youth International Party known as yippies, Rennie Davis and David Dellinger (Alex Sharp and John Caroll Lynch) of the National Mobilization Committee to End The War in Vietnam known as MOBE, Tom Hayden (Eddie Redmayne) leader of the Students for a Democratic Society, known as SDS, Lee Weiner (Noah Robbins) a teaching assistant at North Western University, and John Froines, a chemistry teacher from Vermont. Also in the dock as the 8th defendant was Bobby Seale (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) national chairman of the Black Panthers.
The movie starts with showing the defendants preparing to go to Chicago for the protest, introducing the characters and setting the scene for what’s to come. We then move on 5 months to the arrests and trial of the guys. We start out in the office of John N Mitchell, who becomes the 67th Attorney General of the USA (and is in real life subsequently banged up in jail for criminal activity during Watergate) who appoints the prosecution lawyers for the trial. Tom Foran (J.C.MacKenzie) Chief Federal Prosecutor and Richard Schultz (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) assistant federal prosecutor . The defendants, apart from Bobby Seale are represented by William Kunstler (Mark Rylance) co-founder of the Center for Constitutional Rights and active member of the National Lawyers Guild and Leonard Weinglass (Ben Shenkman) a defense council. The cast is topped off by Frank Langhella as Judge Julius Hoffman and it is patently obvious throughout the trial that he is favouring the prosecution and hindering the defense at every opportunity. Bobby Seale’s attorney Charles Garry is in hospital and can’t attend, and the judge tries to make Kunstler do the job, which neither Kunstler or Seale want.
The trial shows one episode of perfidy after another. The Judge removes jurors who seem to be sympathetic to the defendants, he issues several ‘contempt of courts’ to Kunstler and to the defendants, though Abbie Hoffman openly antagonises him. Various undercover cops and FBI agents testify, not always truthfully. Seale has been getting support from Fred Hampton,(Kelvin Harrison Jr) chairman of the Illinois Black Panthers, who sits behind him and the Judge assumes he’s giving him legal advice but a few days later he is shot dead whilst asleep by a police raiding party. Seale keeps interrupting the proceedings to demand his constitutional rights, and the judge has him removed from court by the Marshalls, who beat him up, gag him and bind him to a chair before returning him to court. Both the defence and prosecution object to this so his case is declared a mistrial. In real life he ended up doing 4 years in jail for his ‘contempts of court’ issued by the judge.
Kunstler manages to get Ramsay Clark (Michael Keaton) the Attorney General at the time of the riots to testify and he explains that he had declined to initiate prosecutions after the riots because of evidence that the Chicago Police Department instigated them. The judge won’t let the jury hear this testimony. We are shown in flashback in the night of the riot how the police removed their badges and started clubbing the defendants and anyone else in the vicinity.
So that should whet your appetite for this compelling courtroom drama, interspersed with flashbacks and real footage from the events portrayed.
This was a bit of history we knew very little about and having checked up the real stuff Sorkin didn’t mess around too much with the truth of it, just some re-arranging of the timeline to make it flow better, and a little bit of dramatic licence here and there. We couldn’t believe the binding and gagging of Seale had actually happened, in the movie that only lasts a few minutes but it really did happen and he was bound and gagged for a few days! Staggering! All in all it was a fascinating piece of work, and in spite of the seriousness there are some genuinely funny moments throughout. Cohen is perfect as the flippant Abbie Hoffman, and I say that with some chagrin as I have never liked him in anything at all until now. Mark Rylance never disappoints, and Redmayne, who can be a bit hit and miss is a definite hit in this. Yahya Abdul-Mateen II does justice to Bobby Seale and Gordon-Levitt plays his part with dignity, but it’s a quiet performance for him. Frank Langhella is absolutely superb and you cannot help but be impressed with his ability to portray this partisan judge who is impossible to respect or like. There is an uplifting ending to the movie, but that’s a spoiler you can’t have because really you all should give this one a watch!
Fraggle rating: Top Notch!!
More real history for my Saturday night movie. Based on the book The Surgeon of Crowthorne by Simon Winchester, The Professor and the Madman (2019) which was mired in controversy as although it was shot in Dublin in 2016, it became part of a legal battle between Mel Gibson (producer and star), Farhad Safina (director) and Voltage Pictures, delaying its release until 2019 and resulting in the pair disowning the final product. Still none of that matters in the watching of the movie so we’ll park that there.
The plot is about the birth of the Oxford English Dictionary. Wait! What?? I hear you cry, where’s the action Fraggle?? this sound like the biggest bore ever!! Well dear reader, put aside those thoughts because this movie is quite fascinating. Again this is history so we can have a few spoilers I think.
We start out in another courtroom, this time in London in 1872, and where William Chester Minor,(Sean Penn) a retired United States Army surgeon, is on trial for the murder of George Merrett, an innocent stranger whomst he mistook for a Union soldier he once branded for desertion during the civil war, which we see in flashback. But Minor is batshit crazy so ‘sees’ this soldier at night and thinks he’s coming to get him. Although he is not found guilty, he is found insane and the judge committs him to Broadmoor, a high security psychiatric hospital, where the head doctor Dr.Richard Brayne (Stephen Dillane) is in charge. Yes, Brayne really is his name as he was a real person. 😊
Then we move to Scotland where James Murray (Mel Gibson) is a teacher who has applied for the job of editor of what will become the Oxford English Dictionary and goes to Oxford for the interview. Murray is an autodidact who left school at the age of 14 without any qualifications but has taught himself loads of ancient and modern languages. The committee who interview him at the Oxford University Press are stuffy English chaps and would rather have someone with a degree, but Freddy Furnivall (Steve Coogan) an influential philologist (the study of literary texts and of written records, the establishment of their authenticity and their original form, and the determination of their meaning) is on his side and convinces the committee that as they are getting nowhere anyway, they might as well take a chance on Murray. The committee argue over the parameters of the task at a posh dinner. Max Mûller (Lars Brygmann) insists that it capture English at its current “purest peak” and setting strict rules for correct speech. Furnivell says that “all words are valid in the language. Ancient or new, obsolete or robust on, foreign born or homegrown. The book must inventory every word, every nuance, every twist of etymology and every possible illustrated citation from every English author. All of it or nothing at all.” That of course wins out, and is a daunting task for one man to take on. Murray comes up with a solution to enlist volunteers from anywhere in the English speaking world, and has fliers printed explaining what is wanted, that are placed in every book in every bookshop, libraries and newspapers, asking them to send their contributions on slips of paper to Murray. The slips pile up.
Back in Broadmoor, Minor, tormented by flashbacks from the civil war, saves the life of a guard whose leg has been trapped by a spiked gate, by amputating it. Brayne speaks with him to thank him and Minor asks that his army pension be given to Eliza Merrit (Natalie Dormer) who, since Minor shot her husband has had to turn to prostitution to feed her 6 kids. He also asks for his rare books to be given to him and some paints and an easel, which Brayne allows. Muncie,(Eddie Marsan) one of the prison guards, takes the letter and pension to Eliza, who at first refuses it, but after Muncie turns up at her house with food for a Christmas dinner, she changes her mind and accepts Minor’s support. Muncie and the guards give Minor a book for Christmas which has one of the fliers in it, and Minor decides he can help Murray out. He mails in 1000 slips, and writes to Murray to tell him to send him his most elusive words. Though he gives his address, he doesn’t mention that he’s a patient there. When Murray goes to visit him to thank him, he finds out, but it doesn’t stop the two from becoming great friends.
Eliza and Murray each visit Minor regularly, with Minor teaching Eliza how to read and write, but after Eliza kisses him one day, he goes a bit mental as he feels he’s killed her husband twice, so he chops off his willy in atonement. He sends his library to Murray and withdraws into himself. Brayne tries out some dodgy treatments on him which Muncie isn’t happy about.
Meanwhile back in Oxford, two of the committee, Benjamin Jowett (Anthony Andrews) and Philip Gell (Laurence Fox) are trying to have Murray removed, but Furnivall has some tricks up his sleeve and gets him the Royal Seal of Approval which can’t be taken from Murray. Murray and Eliza visit Minor against the wishes of Brayne, and Minor responds to Eliza. Murray and Furnivall get a hearing to have Minor released, but it goes against them, so Murray petitions Winston Churchill (Brendan Patricks) who was Home Secretary at the time, and though he can’t release Minor, he can and does have him deported back to the States.
Well that’s the gist of it, there’s a lot more in it obviously, and in spite of the controversy a really worthwhile watch. Helps if you like books and words though, which I do! Again actors I’m not usually keen on (Coogan, Penn) managed to impress the heck out of me, especially Penn who made his character sympathetic with every look in his eyes. Mel, well, he brought his Braveheart Scottish accent to the party, but it didn’t really bother me, he was really good in this. The scenes with Gibson and Penn were so compelling, and a lot of fun when they were playing with words. Likewise when Natalie Dormer was on screen, she is such an underated actress. I’ve seen her as Ann Boleyn in The Tudors, Margery Tyrell in Game of Thrones, and in Penny Dreadful:City of Angels in multiple roles, and she is an amazing actress, beautiful to look at and can adapt to anything she sets her cap at. I am surprised no-one gives her a meaty starring role in a movie, though she had a good part in this one. I must give a shout to Jennifer Ehle too as Murray’s 2nd wife Ada, not a huge part but she does a great job when she’s on screen.
So, to conclude, this was beautifully filmed, the acting was top notch, and the story fascinating and actually historically correct, (though maybe the kiss didn’t happen 😉 )
Phil was scouting through Amazon Prime’s war movie selection and came across Saints & Soldiers ~ Battle of the Tanks (2014). Saints and Soldiers is a movie franchise, and there are three movies, starting with Saints and Soldiers (2004) S&S~Airborne Creed (2012) and S&S~Battle of the Tanks, also known as S&S~The Void. All were written and directed by Ryan Little and made on a tight budget.
(For anyone reading who is not aware of my bloke’s hobby of building scale model German Armour, please take note that he is an excellent modeller with fastidious attention to historical detail).
So the movie was chosen and the plot is as follows:-
It’s the last days of WW2 and we are in Northern Europe in the Hartz Mountains, nicknamed ‘The Void’ by the American troops stationed there. One of the crews of the M18 Hellcat tank destroyers “The Avenging Angel” fire on a German POW camp and liberate the allied inmates within, including Lieutenant Goss (Ben Urie). The next day the ex POW’s are to be transported to the rear in 2 trucks driven by African American soldiers, Sergeant Jesse Owens (K.Danor Gerald) and Private Perry (Alex Boye). It turns out Owens and Perry spent 2 years in Hellcats during the war, but some General (can’t remember his name) had pulled their unit off tanks and put them to work doing normal transport work. Some of the white soldiers treat them with disdain for being Black, especially Corporal Carey Simms (Adam Gregory) and the relationship between Simms and Gerald forms the moral centre of the story.
It becomes apparent that there is still a pocket of German resistance in the area, and that a General is on the way to visit so Captain Briton McConkie (Jeff Birk ) orders two Hellcat crews lead by Sergeant John Atwood (Timothy S. Shoemaker) in the Avenging Angel and Max Whitaker (Joel Bishop) in a second Hellcat to clear the way so the ex POW’s can be moved safely, and the General is not inconvenienced. Off they all go and along the way have to stop as there’s a dead USA soldier in the road, except it’s not, it’s a fake and a dug-in hidden German Panzer III blasts Perry’s truck killing everyone in it. The Panzer then turns on the 2nd truck and Owens and Goss are the only ones to escape. The Hellcats have to then do battle with 3 Panzers, and Owens has to work with Simms in the Angel when one of their crew is killed.
So that’s the gist of it and I’ll leave it there for spoilers sakes.
For Phil, the Panzers were the main event, and we had to stop and pause for a while several times whilst he stood with his nose a foot away from the screen checking out all the details of the tanks, and he thought they were most excellent mock-ups with all the correct details, except for the tank tracks which he thought they’d got wrong. Actually both the Hellcats and the Panzer used were the real thing, beautifully preserved, but obviously some tinkering on the wheels and tracks had happened as Phil is never wrong on these things, Panzers are his lifelong passion!
The movie is not Saving Private Ryan or anything like the big budget WW2 movies you may know and love. It has a small budget with unknown actors, but Little has become very adept at telling a convincing story in these Saints and Soldiers movies. Some of the actors were more capable than others, especially K.Danor Gerald who has a world weary likeability, and he would be the last cast member to eat lunch during filming, to better understand racism for his role of an African-American soldier, though I think just being a Black man in America would have given him enough understanding of that. His character and that of Lieutenant Goss have backstories either in the script or in flashbacks which gives some nice depth to the movie and makes it more than just a tank battle. The uniforms and other vehicles were spot on, and Little makes good use of re-enactors as extras. Although set in Europe the movie was filmed in Alpine, Utah which was a surprise, great mountain scenes!
We enjoyed it and I’d happily watch more Saints and Soldiers movies, (which I may have to as Phil’s got the others on DVD 🤣). If Little can do such as this on such a tight budget, it would be great to see what he could do with a big budget Hollywood job!
Fraggle Rating: A must for WW2 buffs.
The Saturday movie had me going through Amazon Prime for a certain movie but I came across this one on the way and chose it for the cast!
Cut Bank (2014) is a thriller in a similar vein to Fargo (I think as I haven’t seen that- too much Francis McDormand!). It’s directed by Matt Shakman who did indeed direct Fargo. Starring Liam Hemsworth, John Malkovich, Billy Bob Thornton, Bruce Dern,Teresa Palmer and Michael Stuhlbarg. I really don’t want to say much about it as if you haven’t seen it you should, and it’s best not to know. It’s labelled a ‘thriller’ but I’m not sure I’d call it that. Dwayne & Cassandra (Hemsworth and Palmer) are a young couple making plans to leave Cut Bank, and Dwayne puts a plan in motion to get them some money. Malkovich plays Sherriff Vogel, and he’s just great in this, quite understated for him and it works for the character who chucks up if he sees a dead person. Thornton Plays Cassandra’s Dad and Dwayne’s boss, Stan Steeley, a hard nosed taciturn man who doesn’t care much for Dwayne. Bruce Dern is Georgie Wits, the Postman, who is in on Dwayne’s plan. Then we have Stuhlberg playing a reclusive taxidermist with milk-bottle-bottom specs and a stammer.
Robert Patino, who wrote the script had travelled through Cut Bank, Montana as a kid, and it stayed with him as he grew up and became a script writer, so he put his heart and soul into it and really wanted it to be filmed in Cut Bank. However, they learned that they could get a film grant in Alberta in which their budget of $2.5 million would be matched through the Edmonton Film Commission, so filmed in Innisfree instead. Still, the $5 million meant they could do the script justice and hire quality actors.
And it was quality acting, Hemsworth of course doesn’t have the experience and deft touch that his veteran co-stars brought to this, but he’ll get there doing this kind of film, and he did what was necessary for the character. Nice to see that he isn’t going down the same path as his action hero brother. Palmer was a delight, her character being effervescent and sweet without being annoying, and her audition for ‘Miss Cut Bank’ at a beauty pageant was a thing of beauty 🤣. Malkovich, Dern and Thornton are the stars here though, great to see these guys working together, a trio of cool dudes, and Stuhlberg is superb.
When my son Ben was little, we saw a movie called Big Trouble in Little China, (1986) and had our own copy of it which Ben would watch happily any amount of times. We knew the script by heart I’m sure. I have such fond memories of that time that I bought the 2 disc special DVD which came out in 2001, but until Saturday night hadn’t watched it. When Michel and Cain discussed it’s merits on the Raistlin blog I thought I’d do a rewatch for my fun Saturday night movie.
The film is directed by John Carpenter and stars Kurt Russell as Jack Burton, a truck driver who gets involved in helping his friend Wang Chi (Dennis Dun) rescue his fiancée from a Chinese street gang ~ The Lords of Death who intend to sell her as a sex slave. The fiancée, Miao Yin (Suzee Pai) has green eyes, and ends up being kidnapped by The Three Storms, on behalf of their boss Lo Pan (James Hong) who needs the blood of a green eyed girl to make him corporeal and break an ancient curse. It should be pointed out that The Three Storms are magical beings, all of whomst are sporting gigantic straw hats, 🤷♀️. Carter Wong as Thunder, an elemental master who can expand his body, Peter Kwong as Rain, an elemental master and expert martial artist with a sword James Pax as Lightning, an elemental master who can shoot out bolts of lightning.
Well, I’ll leave the plot there, because it’s all just bonkers. Kim Cattrall plays a lawyer, Gracie who also has green eyes and gets captured by Lo Pan whilst she’s helping rescue the other one. Victor Wong plays Egg Shen, a sorcerer and old enemy of Lo Pan who also drives a tour bus, and helps in the final rescue.
There are special FX which are hokey to say the least, and wierd monsters which are even more hokey. The martial arts are well done, and there’s a lot of ‘flying through the air’ fighting towards the end. All the actors are hamming it up as bigly as they can, Russell does really well at playing Jack as a hero that is arrogant, but in way over his head. Cattrall is particularly awful though she said she enjoyed playing a feisty, smart woman that didn’t have to scream her way through a movie. Dennis Dun is an amazing martial artist, who saves the day and is the real hero of the film.
Poor Phil, never have I had to say ‘sorry about this’ so often during a movie. I should have left it as it was, a memory of a fun movie shared with my kid. We both couldn’t help thinking ‘what was Carpenter thinking???’ It’s got a cult following now and I don’t begrudge that. The 2nd disc of the DVD has everything a cultist needs, deleted scenes, extended ending, articles from American Cinematography and Cinefax, and interviews with Russell and Carpenter, where he possibly tells you what he was thinking.
A few critics liked it, with most of those assuming Carpenter is affectionately distilling and subverting King Fu B movies, but a lot didn’t rate it very highly and with it being released in the midst of all the hype about James Cameron’s Aliens, which landed in cinemas 2 weeks later, it didn’t do well at the box office either. The double whammy of critical and commercial failure prompted Carpenter to become an independant movie maker, “The experience [of Big Trouble] was the reason I stopped making movies for the Hollywood studios. I won’t work for them again. I think Big Trouble is a wonderful film, and I’m very proud of it. But the reception it received, and the reasons for that reception, were too much for me to deal with. I’m too old for that sort of bullshit”.
In fairness the film reversed typical roles, and was the first-ever presentation of a US wuxia (a genre of Chinese fiction or cinema featuring itinerant warriors of ancient China, often depicted as capable of superhuman feats of martial arts) with a huge Asian cast and a big Hollywood budget. Dennis Dun who really was the leading man in this had hoped that his career would take off after ~ “MaybeI’ll keep getting more interesting roles that are beyond the stereotypes of Asians. But it didn’t happen.” No, things just reverted to how they’d been before.
Fraggle Rating: Wierd and Wild and Happily Bonkers.
Only one this week as we still haven’t got through all of the 4 HR LONG!! epic grim war movie Phil decided to do on Thursday night, so a review of that at some point will turn up. Edit- it’s in the post now 🙂
My Saturday night movie however was actually a little bit grim, but not epic by any stretch. Midnight Special (2016) is a science fiction movie written and directed by Jeff Nichols with a stellar cast. Michael Shannon, Kirsten Dunst, Adam Driver, Joel Edgerton and Sam Shepard.
The plot (spoiler free ~ more or less 🙂 ) is regarding the kidnapping of an 8 year old boy, Alton (Jaeden Lieberher) by his Dad- Roy Tomlin (Shannon) who have both been living as residents of one of those cult type thingy’s Americans like to have (Waco, Jonestown etc). The cult is called The Ranch and is headed by Pastor Calvin Meyer (Shepard) who ‘adopted’ Alton. The Pastor sends two of his followers to retrieve the lad. The FBI are also on the case and arrive at The Ranch as somehow the Pastor’s sermons have included secret information only the Govt would know. The Ranch has also upped it’s purchasing of weaponry over the past 6 months and the FBI want to know why. Paul Sevier (Driver) of the N.S.A turns up and starts to put the pieces together of what’s going on.
Roy is travelling with an old friend Lucas (Edgerton) and they are on the way with Alton to his mother Sally (Dunst).
That’ll do for spoilers. Well, this was a strange one. Firstly the acting was really good, especially Dunst and Shannon. Driver was a bit lacklustre I have to say. The cinematography and music were well done, and it moved along at a good pace. There are some special FX which are nicely done too, though nothing we haven’t seen before really. It wasn’t until after the movie ended when Phil said, well that was good, but what was the point? And he had me there. Then we kept finding questions about the plot that we didn’t get answers to in the movie, and wondered if we’d missed something, but I don’t think we did. So it was good for acting and visuals, but left a fair bit to be desired regarding a satisfactory outcome.
Fraggle Rating : Not bad.
Well we got through the 4 hr movie last night, which for some weird reason was not a 4 hour movie at all, but the same 2 hr movie twice over, the difference being the first version was in black and white, and the second version in colour.
The Captain or Der Hauptman (2017) is a historical drama set 2 weeks prior to the end of WW2. It’s directed by Robert Schwentkr and tells the story of Willi Herold, a teenage German paratrooper running away from the military police who are after him for desertion. Except this is not just a ‘story’, as Herold was a real person and the things he did really happened. Herold (Max Hubacher) escapes the military police, and comes across an abandoned German car, in which he finds a suitcase and uniform of a German Captain which he puts on and then impersonates. He comes across various deserter/stragglers who he takes command of, and then travels through Germany pretending to be on a secret mission from Hitler, to assess the morale of troops behind the front line. He names his men Kampfgruppe Herold and writes on their papers that they are seconded to him. The two main characters in this band are Freytag (Milan Peschel), an aging rifleman who is a kind, nice guy and becomes Herold’s driver, and Kipinski (Frederick Lau), a sadistic drunk. They get to a camp full of German deserters waiting for execution, where Herold and his gang take over, executing prisoners (with Kipinski being the main executioner) and where bit by bit Herold loses any humanity he once had and becomes increasingly tyranical.
When the camp is (spectacularly) blown up by British bombers, Herold and his surviving group move into a village, where they loot from the population and set up a command post in an hotel after executing the mayor for treason as he has put up a ‘Welcome’ flag in the anticipation of the allies arriving. After a night of debauchery during which Herold executes Kipinski. The German military police turn up and arrest them all.
We then move to Herold’s trial, where he asserts that all he did was for the defense of the German people and to encourage them to not give up but to keep fighting. The guys judging him decide to send him to the front as a punishment, but Herold jumps out of a window and escapes. We then see him walking through a forest full of skeletons, and we are informed that Herold and his men were actually sentenced to death after the war. The real Herold, also known as “the Executioner of Emsland,” was executed at 14 November 1946 in Wolfenbuttal prison.
Of course it’s impossible to ‘enjoy’ such a movie as this, but Wow, it was so well done. The cinematography was amazing, Florian Ballhouse the chief cinematographer. The acting equally so, especially Hubacher, who develops his character with such a gentle panache. The director builds his movie with subtle bricks, although the murders of the prisoners are shown, the graphic nature of them are not in-your-face blood and gore, a lot is left to the imagination. The uniforms and vehicles and weapons are all authentic (according to Phil 🙂 ) and the bombing of the camp though brief is stunning and realistic.
We compared some of the most impressive B&W scenes to the same scenes in colour, and we both agreed the B&W versions had much more depth and impact so if watching this I strongly recommend the B&W version. Anyone with an interest in WW2 history and films about it, should see this movie.
Phil was on a late shift for the Thursday retro movie, so left to my own devices I went looking on Disney+ which I got given for 6 months when I upgraded my phone. Nothing much on there I have to admit, but I came across a little movie called Timmy Failure ~ Mistakes Were Made (2020) and decided to give it a go.
Timmy (Winslow Fegley) is an 11 year old kid living in Portland, Oregon with his single mother Patty, (Ophelia Lovibond) and runs his own detective agency in the back room of their house. After his father walked out on them, Timmy gained an imaginary friend Total, who happens to be a polar bear. The Detective agency is then known as Total Failure Inc. He has a best friend, Rollo (Kei ) a classmate who has a crush on him Molly Moskins, (Chloe Coleman) and his mother starts dating a meter maid (in the UK known as a parking attendant) Crispin Flavius (Karl Bornheimer). I had a blast watching this, Winslow Fegley carried the movie and was quite adorable. The CGI polar bear is really well done, and the movie is directed with great sympathy for the imagination of childhood. I’m not going to do spoilers at all but will leave the trailer here, it gives the general gist. If you have Disney+ it’s possibly the best thing on it 🙂
Fraggle Rating. Bloody Brilliant.
Our Saturday night movie this week is from Netflix. Close (2019) is an action thriller, written and directed by Vicky Jewson, and starring Noomi Rapace as Sam Carlson, a bodyguard, or ‘close protection officer’ if you like. We start the movie in South Sudan, where Sam is guarding a couple of members of the press. They get ambushed and Sam saves them. This is nothing to do with the rest of the movie but sets the scene and tone for what comes next.
Sam is hired to bodyguard a young heiress, Zoe Tanner (Sophie Nélisse) a troubled girl, who has just inherited her father’s mining business, much to the dismay of her stepmother Rima Hassine (Indira Varma) as she has been running the business, whereas Zoe has just been dicking about. You’ve probably guessed by now that we’re in a kidnap scenario, and you’re right. So nothing really new in terms of plot, there are plenty of similar themed movies in the world. What is different about this one is that it is mainly female lead. From the director to the main actors, the sisters are doing it for themselves, and making a pretty good fist of it. Don’t expect glamour à la Charlize Atomic Bombshell, Noomi makes Sam a gritty heroine, cold, unemotional, and exceedingly good in the kick-ass department. Although Nélisse is given the poor little rich girl rôle, she is smart, speaks arabic, and has to grow up fast in the predicament she finds herself in. That will do for spoilers, though I must mention one scene where Sam has to fight a would-be-kidnapper and does it with her hands tied behind her back, this is not choreographed chicanery à la John Wick, but hard, scary fight-for-your-life stuff and Ms.Rapace has amazing physicality to do this kind of stuff. Filmed in London, Marrakesh and Casablanca with Malte Rosenfeld in charge of cinematography, the scenery is authentic and beautiful in places.
Thoroughly enjoyed this, the plot is a bit hokey now and then, and a bit clichéd at times, but Jewson keeps everything moving at a decent pace and doesn’t over-egg the pudding with the fight scenes. The movie is 1 hr and 34 minutes long, or short by todays standards, and Rapace elevates the trope by giving us a believable action heroine that’s worth spending that hour and a half in her company.
Phil’s retro movie this week, is the 1997 movie The Peacemaker, directed by Mimi Leder.
The plot goes like this :-
A rogue Russian Spetznaz unit led by Russian General Aleksandr Kodoroff, (Aleksandr Baluev) has hi-jacked a train of 10 nuclear warheads which were on the way to being decommissioned. They crash the train into an oncoming passenger train and have rigged up a warhead to detonate just after the crash, killing herds of people and delaying any investigation.
The explosion attracts the attention of the US Govt, and Dr.Julia Kelly (Nicole Kidman) a White House Nuclear expert is given the job to investigate. She believes Chechen terrorists are to blame. As she is explaining this in a briefing to military and intelligence personel, she is interrupted by Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Devoe (George Clooney) a Special Forces soldier in the US Army, who suggests that the explosion was a diversion to hided the hi-jacking of the other warheads. He’s proved right when he has a conversation with his Rissian pal Colonel, Dimitri Vertikoff (Armin Muella-Stahl) his counterpart in the FSB (the unit that came after the KGB).
Devoe is seconded to help Kelly as her military liaison, which she’s not all that pleased about. But the pair must work together to find out what’s going on and why.
That’s it for spoilers sakes, even if it’s old, if you haven’t seen it it’s best to go in fresh.
I kept thinking oh this is a bit cliché throughout the movie, but of course it wasn’t cliché at all back in 1997 when it came out. At first I thought the pair would start out disliking each other and end up romancing all over the shop, but thankfully Mimi Leder didn’t go down that road. They work together very well to get to the end of the movie.
What did strike me is that Kelly is supposed to be Devoe’s boss, but really he takes charge and she follows his suggestion. I suppose it was too much to ask George Clooney to constantly be ordered around by a woman :D.
A well thought out action movie, with good performances from all involved, but just a tad dated by today’s standards.
A Fraggle rating of Good Enough.
On to my Saturday night movie. And I chose the Netflix commissioned movie The King (2019) set in the 15th century and designated an “epic historical romantic war drama”!! As regular readers know, of late we have been reviewing Scottish ‘history’ movies, where history has been adulterated unashamedly by the producers/directors/writers et al of The Outlaw King, Braveheart, and Rob Roy. They have outdone themselves in this case. The movie is firstly based on Shakespear’s ‘Henriad’ – several works about Kings but in this case Henry IV parts 1 & 2 and Henry V. Shakespear’s dramas themselves are ahistorical, he made up a shed load of history, non-existant characters and completely changed the characteristics of the main protagonists. The historians of the 16th Century took him to task, though I don’t suppose for one minute he was bothered! Not only have the filmakers in present day taken Shakespears inaccuracies and biases and incorporated them into this movie, they’ve also been inaccurate of the plays! A double whammy for today’s historians who must have been either weeping into their claret or laughing their tits off.
Directed by David Michôd, who co-wrote it with Joel Edgerton who is in it too, it stars Timotheé Chalamat as King Henry V of England. It covers his life prior to being King, then becoming King and his war with France, we’re talking the Siege of Harfleur, and the Battle of Agincourt. (Azincourt by Bernard Cromwell a great read BTW!) I’m not going to do spoilers, but will say I wish the revised history was the reality. It is an absolutely gorgeous film to watch. Although it’s set in the 15th century the themes it covers are still contemporary, coming of age, Daddy issues, abuse of power, Shakespear was good at disecting characters and Michôd has run well with that. The movie looks like I imagine medieval times to look like, and the costumes were very well done. Michôd employed Jane Petrie for the task, (she also did costumes for The Outlaw King) a well respected Emmy award winner for her work on The Crown costumes and very committed to getting things right.
Nick Jeffries, an actual armorer created authentic suits of arms, worn for dialogue scenes, which were also duplicated into flexible polyurethane for action sequences. The chainmail, albeit made from a lighter metal for film, is legit, too.
The cinematography by Adam Arkapaw (great name!) is wonderful. A lot of the scenes indoors looked like oil paintings, and he uses light beautifully. The Agincourt scenes were incredible, great camera work and a lot of mud.
Chalamat is only 24 years old, but already known for some excellent work, and he has no trouble carrying this movie and making Hal, as he’s nicknamed, believable. Edgerton plays Hal’s trusty friend and advisor Falstaff, another Shakespearean creation. Robert Pattison plays the Dauphin and what a performance. Here are all the stoic serious English and in comes Pattinson, a fancy French fop giggling and making jokes. His froothy French accent has been commented on but he based it on the people who dress him at Dior! Ben Mendelsohn is seedily great as the unkempt Henry IV. Lily Rose-Depp is an up and coming young actress and does well at playing Catherine of Valois, and I’m sure her accent is perfect being the daughter of Vanessa Paradis. Her Dad is Johnny Depp of course, let’s hope the bat-shit crazy gene wasn’t passed on.
All in all a spectacular movie, lovingly filmed, wonderfully acted. Forget the historical inaccuracies, forget Shakespear, this is NOT a documentary. Lose yourself in medieval England and France, and enjoy some superb craftmanship by all involved in the making of The King.