Six Minutes to Midnight


Class dismissed.

(2020) Thriller (IFC) Eddie Izzard, Judi Dench, James D’Arcy, Jim Broadbent, David Schofield, Carla Juri, Kevin Eldon, Nigel Lindsay, Rupert Holliday-Evans, Bianca Nawrath, Maria Dragus, Celyn Jones, Tijan Marei, Franziska Brandmeier, Richard Elfyn, Nicola Kelleher, Maude Druine, Andrew Byron, Luisa-Céline Gaffron, Toby Hadoke, Harley Broomfield, Evangeline Ward-Drummond. Directed by Andy Goddard

 

In Sussex on the southwestern English coast there was a girl’s finishing school called Augustus Victoria College, named for the last German empress. It existed in the 1930s, and the daughters of high ranking Nazi officials attend there to learn English manners. The school closed down when Nazi Germany invaded Poland, but the idea that such a school existed leads to some interesting theories.

It is the summer of 1939, mere weeks before Europe will erupt into a devastating war. When one of the teachers at Augusta Victoria mysteriously disappears, the ramrod-straight headmistress Miss Rocholl (Dench) needs to replace him in a hurry. She settles on journeyman teacher Thomas Miller (Izzard).

But Izzard isn’t just a teacher – in fact, he’s no teacher at all. He’s a spy, there to investigate the disappearance of the other teacher, who was also a spy. There is some thought that the school might be used to transmit sensitive information back to the Fatherland. Certainly, Miss Rocholl, an apologist for the Nazis (based mainly on her protective instincts for the young girls) allows the girls to listen to speeches from Hitler on the wireless, prompting the young girls to rise and give a good “Sieg, Heil!” in response. Also, one of the teachers – the lovely near-Olympic athlete Ilse Keller (Juri) – is absolutely on board with the Nazi party line.

He overhears a conversation that the girls are about to be smuggled out of England, a sure sign that Germany is getting ready to do something war-like. As he informs his handler, a shot rings out and his handler is dropped. Suddenly Miller has to run – not only from the assassin but from the local police who are convinced he did it and is the German spy. Now it is a race against time to inform his superiors, evade the police, evade the spies, avoid being double crossed by double agents, and protect the girls who may or may not be innocent pawns.

It sounds like that could be a fascinating movie, particularly for those who like spy thrillers set during the Second World War, but this is curiously colorless. Considering the caliber of the cast involved, that is especially surprising. Izzard is best-known for his biting social comedy, but as an action star he makes a fine comedian. But Dench is given a part that left me conflicted; clearly Miss Rocholl is very wrong about the Nazis, but in all other respects she seems to be forceful and forthright, but when it coes to politics she seems almost wishy washy. It’s the most un-Judi Dench-like performance I think I’ve ever seen Dench give, but she still manages to keep the audience attention because, well, she’s Judi Dench. So, too, for Eddie Izzard.

Part of the problem is that the writing here is a bit washed out. The character development is iffy, and the plot points seem culled from movies that have less to do with suspense and more to do with period accuracy. Think Dead Poet’s Society with a distaff student body and a Robert Ludlum bent. Unfortunately, it would have benefitted from Ludlum’s ability to build suspense because that is what is sorely lacking here.

REASONS TO SEE: Dench and Izzard do good work in roles that are less defined than they should be.
REASONS TO AVOID: A little bit on the bland side, never reaching the level of suspense needed.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some violence and anti-Semitic dialogue.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Goddard is best known for directing several episodes of Downton Abbey.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, DirecTV, Google Play, Vudu, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 3/26/21: Rotten Tomatoes: 34% positive reviews; Metacritic: 48/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Eagle Has Landed
FINAL RATING: 6/10
NEXT:
Senior Moment

Atomic Blonde


This is what a femme fatale looks like.

(2017) Action (Focus) Charlize Theron, James McAvoy, Eddie Marsan, John Goodman, Toby Jones, James Faulkner, Roland Møller, Sofia Boutella, Bill Skarsgård, Sam Hargrave, Jóhannes Haukur Jóhannesson, Til Schweiger, Barbara Sukowa, Attila Arpa, Martin Angerbauer, Lili Gessler, Declan Hannigan, Daniel Bernhardt, Sara Natasa Szonda. Directed by David Leitch

 

Hitchcock famously had a thing about icy blondes; along comes a film that may have the best one yet. For one thing, Charlize Theron isn’t just a master manipulator – she can kick quantum ass. Here, set to a pulsing and throbbing soundtrack and a cornucopia of mayhem she becomes the coolest and sexiest assassin of them all – drinking, smoking and seducing her way to Bond’s title.

Theron plays Lorraine Broughton, an MI-6 agent in Berlin days before the Wall fell in November 1989 to retrieve a list of double agents that, should the Soviets get their hands on it, would mean the end of a goodly number of high-value assets, to use spy film terminology. Broughton, who also has an agenda of her own, is assisted by the none-too-trustworthy station chief who in the dry words of her MI-6 handler (Jones) “has gone native.” Basically she goes looking for the list and every step of the way she gets attacked by goons and beats the snot out of them while getting her share of lumps as well.

There are some amazing action sequences here, particularly one set in an abandoned apartment building that is as brutal and as realistic a fight as you’re ever going to see. Lorraine dishes out the pain but gets her own share of it as well and even though this is set up in many ways as a distaff Bond film, this feels more in tune with the real world. The soundtrack of mainly Euro-New Wave (heavy on the Depeche Mode, Nena and Siouxsie and the Banshees) will bring a smile to the face of anyone who was young during that era i.e. people my age.

The film, based on the graphic novel The Coldest City gets more convoluted as the film wears on but the pace is always frenetic and you’re never more than two or three minutes away from another breathtaking action scene. 2017 has been the year of the renaissance of action movies (and of horror movies as well but that’s for another review) and this one is right up there among the best of a year that brought us Baby Driver, Logan Lucky and The Hitman’s Bodyguard among others. That’s some fine company to be included in.

REASONS TO GO: The action sequences are stunning. The 80s soundtrack is perfectly matched to the action. Theron takes an unforgettable character and runs with it. As spy films go, this one is much more realistic.
REASONS TO STAY: The plot gets a bit convoluted and the ending is not unexpected.
FAMILY VALUES: There is plenty of profanity and violence as well as some graphic sexuality and brief nudity.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Charlize Theron cracked two teeth during the course of filming the action sequences for this film.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, Fandango Now, Frontier, Google Play, iTunes, Microsoft, Movies Anywhere, Verizon, Vudu, Xfinity, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 12/23/17: Rotten Tomatoes: 77% positive reviews. Metacritic: 63/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Knight and Day
FINAL RATING: 8/10
NEXT:
The Shape of Water

Flame & Citron (Flammen & Citronen)


Flame and Citron

It's a game of cat and mouse, but who is the cat and who is the mouse?

(IFC) Thure Lindhart, Mads Mikkelsen, Stine Stengade, Peter Mygind, Mille Hoffmeyer Lehfeldt, Christian Berkel, Hanns Zischler, Claus Riis Ostergaard, Flemming Enevold. Directed by Ole Christian Madsen

In German occupied territories during World War II, life was much more different than it was in Allied territories. There were those who co-operated with the invaders, and others who wanted nothing more than to have their country back.

Flame (Lindhart) – so named because of his red hair made more striking after a botched dye job – and Citron (Mikkelsen), who got his nickname because he had previously sabotaged German vehicles while working at the Citron motorcar factory, are Danish resistance fighters. Well, perhaps “fighter” is a bit of a stretch; a better description would be “assassin of Nazi sympathizers.”

Flame is a young man, a little bit cocksure and passionate in his hatred of Nazis and their collaborators. He takes insane chances; the Germans are well aware of his activities, they even have a description of him and yet he boldly enters a bar where Nazi officers hang out and orders a drink.

Citron is ten years older, a family man, a bundle of nerves, popping pills to keep himself going. Perpetually unshaven and sweaty, he has the look of a man who is slowly falling apart. Looks in this case aren’t deceiving.

They report to Aksel Winther (Mygind), a somewhat bureaucratic kind of man who issues the pair their orders, the source of which is never clear. There is increasing tension between the pair and their handler; they have mostly been given collaborators and all men, but the list is starting to change. First, they are asked to murder women, which even Flame balks at. Finally, they are called upon to assassinate German officers, but when they encounter Gilbert (Zischler), he raises disturbing points that cause them to question the justness of their cause.

Further complicating matters is Flame’s attraction to Ketty (Stengade), a courier for the resistance who may be working for the Germans, or may be working the Germans for the resistance. With the Nazis closing in on the pair and caught between conflicting resistance groups with a growing suspicion that they are being used for purposes that are for personal gain rather than for the good of Denmark, the two who have sacrificed nearly everything for their cause determine that there is only one thing they can do – try to take down the chief Nazi Hoffman (Berkel), even though the attempt will almost certainly cost them their lives.

This movie is admittedly influenced heavily by the 1969 French classic Army of Shadows which chronicled the French resistance through director Jean-Pierre Melville, who was actually a member of the French resistance during the war. Madsen is far too young to have taken part personally, but he displays a flair for capturing the tension experienced by the two men, the growing unease with the deeds they’re forced to do.

Lindhart and Mikkelsen do some admirable work here. Lindhart has a great deal of screen charisma, and he gives a sense of the bravado and dangerous skills of the assassin, giving him a human side to balance it out. He yearns for something that he can’t have, and it produces a certain amount of rage and despair in the man.

It is Mikkelsen who steals the show for me, charismatic as Lindhart is. Citron is tortured by the deeds he and his partner do, and the resulting stress is wiping out his marriage and impacting his relationship with his children. Twitchy as Citron is, Mikkelsen is really the emotional core of the movie.

The tension is palpable throughout as the Nazis search for the elusive assassins and the politics within the resistance further muddy the waters. Some of the assassinations depicted here are brutal, and those who are sensitive about such things would do well to take that into account when deciding whether or not to see this.

Americans who watch this might be a bit put off by the pacing, which keeping in line with European sensibilities is far more deliberate than what they are used to. Madsen prefers to allow the tension to build and build during the course of the film until the viewer is nearly ready to leap out of their own skin. I have to admit, being unfamiliar with the exploits of the real-life Flame and Citron amplified that tension, so Danish audiences, more likely to know at least something about these natural heroes, might get a different sense from the movie.

While Flame and Citron are based on actual resistance fighters from the war, this is a fictionalized version of their exploits, although most of the salient facts are here. The movie received some criticism for its depiction of corruption in the Danish resistance, and I can understand the point. However, this was never meant to be a documentary – it is more about the morality of murder, and the increasing murkiness of its depths the more you do it, no matter how just the cause.

WHY RENT THIS: An account of a little-seen side of World War II. Lindhart and Mikkelsen give strong performances, and Madsen ratchets up the tension to a very high degree.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: The pacing is very deliberate for a movie of this nature.

FAMILY VALUES: Some of the assassination sequences are most definitely not for the squeamish. There is also a fair amount of bad language as well as some sexuality.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: With a budget of 46 million Danish kroner, this is one of the most expensive movies ever made in Denmark.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: None listed.

FINAL RATING: 7/10

TOMORROW: The Other Guys