The Man Who Killed Hitler and Then The Bigfoot


Sam Elliott has the ultimate American face.

(2018) Drama (RLJESam Elliott, Aidan Turner, Caitlin Fitzgerald, Ron Livingston, Sean Bridgers, Larry Miller, Ellar Coltrane, Rizwan Manji, Mark Steger, Anastasia Tsikhanava, Kristin Anne Ferraro, Kelley Curran, Nikolai Tsankov, Alton Fitzgerald White, David Armstrong, Rob Levesque, Rocco Gioffre, Harold Rudolph, Joe Lucas, Mark Lund, Melissa Jalali. Directed by Robert D. Kryzkowski

 

Sometimes a movie title will give you one expectation and the film deliver a totally different experience, one that’s unexpected and maybe even welcome. Sometimes, you have to be receptive to a curveball in this business.

The Man Who Killed Hitler and Then the Bigfoot is such a movie. From the oddball title, one might expect a quirky action film with comedic elements a la Tarantino. And there is some of that in here, make no mistake, but the film isn’t played for laughs at all. The tone is bittersweet, which caught me by surprise and then, delight.

Sam Elliott, he of America’s most iconic moustache, plays Cavin Barr, a haunted man living alone in a small town with his dog, propping a bar from time to time. Nobody really knows him, except for maybe his brother Ed (Miller). He hides a secret; as a young man (Turner) during the War, he was a special forces operative who assassinated Hitler. However the war continued on as the Nazis put a look-alike in charge and their ideology survived. Elliott’s risky assignment accomplished nothing, and cost him the girl he wanted to marry (Fitzgerald).

He is sought out by a government agent (Livingston) who asks him to take one last assignment; to kill the Bigfoot (Steger) who is carrying a deadly plague that could conceivably wipe out mankind. Calvin himself is apparently immune. Calvin at first is uninterested; “I am done with killing, man or beast,” he proclaims laconically. However, the chance to finally matter, to put the ghosts of his past to rest prove to be too much so to the Pacific Northwest he goes.

Much of the movie is about Calvin’s regrets and in that sense, Elliott is perfectly cast; he has a naturally world-weary face and that gravelly drawl reinforces it. Elliott gives one of his finest performances ever here which is saying something, but matching it is Miler as his brother Ed, which is saying something quite different.

The Pacific Northwest cinematography is lovely as you might expect, although the Bigfoot make-up is decidedly unconvincing. The last third of the film is almost a survivalist thriller as Bigfoot and Calvin go mano a mano in the woods. The title is a bit of a spoiler though, although the ending has a note of grace that I admired. Director and writer Kryzkowski has quite a bit of talent, although he might want to have someone else come up with a title in the future. Still, this is a solid picture and any opportunity to see Sam Elliott at work is a worthwhile endeavor, in my book.

REASONS TO SEE: Elliott and Miller are both perfectly cast. I liked the melancholy tone.
REASONS TO AVOID: The Bigfoot makeup is pretty lame.
FAMILY VALUES: There’s some profanity and violence.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Turner and Fitzgerald’s onscreen romance led to an offscreen romance after filming was completed.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, AppleTV, Fandango Now, Google Play, Hoopla, Hulu, Microsoft, Redbox, Vudu, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 7/1/20: Rotten Tomatoes: 71% positive reviews, Metacritic: 51/100
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Inglorious Basterds
FINAL RATING: 7/10
NEXT:
Disclosure (2020)

Return to Hardwick


How we learned to stop worrying and love the bomb.

(2019) Documentary (Gravitas) Michael Cudlitz (narrator), John Marx, Sherman Alpert (voice), George Jung, Raymond Eck, Leland Spencer, Gail Mailloux, Reed Phillips, Libby Morgan, Glenn Martin, Colin Mann, Roger Barker, Sheralee Barker, Floyd L. Carpenter, Laura Mesrobian (voice), Christopher Rice, James Root, Vernon Swaim, Karyn Senatore. Directed by Michael Sellers

 

They are called the Greatest Generation for a reason. They sacrificed, putting their lives and their comfort on the line to fight true evil. And they triumphed.

Now, they are old and slowly fading away and their memories of the Second World War with them. Daytime Emmy Award nominee Michael Sellers’ grandfather fought with the 93rd Bomber Group of the 8th Air Force, mainly based at Hardwick Air Base near Norwich in East Anglia, Great Britain. What had once been an air base is now mainly a potato farm. The few buildings that remain are in surprisingly good shape, although they too are beginning to crumble.

Those who live nearby, as well as the children and grandchildren of those who flew nearly 400 missions from there (more than any other group in the 8th Air Force) had formed an association to foster reunions and trips to visit their old haunts in Norwich and Hardwick. Local townspeople feel a real sense of gratitude to the group, who helped turn the tide of the war. They have done what they can to preserve what is left and put together a museum dedicated to the 93rd.

At one of those reunions, Sellers got the idea to make a documentary but rather than capture the stories of those who actually served, he concentrates on three children of those who served there – George Jung, whose father (a navigator) died when he was young, so he never really got to hear about what his father experienced in the war; Gail Mailloux, whose mother and father (who have since passed away) met at Hardwick and got married there, and finally John Marx, whose Uncle had died in a plane crash on the air base. So little information had made it to the family about what happened that Marx has spent years trying to piece things together.

Utilizing archival footage, still photographs and interviews with the veterans, their descendants as well as those who live in the area, to make a mostly fascinating documentary that focuses not so much on the big picture of the war, but on a particular unit involved with it. This really hasn’t been done before except for maybe with the Tuskegee Airmen, but it’s a good idea and should be repeated with other units that served in the War.

The only real quibble I have is that at times the narrative is a bit disjointed and done in kind of a scattershot fashion, jumping from story to story and into different time periods of the war. There is some context so you have an idea of the major events that the group was involved with but that is a relatively minor quibble. For history buffs, particularly those enamored of military history, this is solid gold.

REASONS TO SEE: Interesting stories from the vets, as well as some wonderful archival footage.
REASONS TO AVOID: A little bit disjointed.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some brief profanity.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Produced with the aid of the 93rd Bombardment Group Association, which puts together the reunions and trips back to Hardwick for surviving veterans, promotes keeping the history of the Bomb Group alive, and gives the veterans and their families a means to keep in touch with one another.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, AppleTV, Google Play, Microsoft, Vimeo, Vudu, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 6/8/20: Rotten Tomatoes: No score yet, Metacritic: No score yet
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Memphis Belle: The Story of a Flying Fortress
FINAL RATING: 6.5/10
NEXT:
Miss Bala (2019)

Struggle: The Life and Lost Art of Szukalski


The lion in winter.

(2018) Documentary (NetflixStanislav Szukalski, Glenn Bray, Robert Williams, Ernst Fuchs, George Di Caprio, Jose Israel Fernandez, Suzanne Williams, Ben Hecht, Karen Mortillaro, Pyotr Rypsin, Lena Zwalve, Adam Jones, Gabe Bartalos, James Kagel, Timothy Snyder, Marek Hapon, Adam Jones, Charles Schneider, Sandy Decker, Natalia Fabian, Rebecca Forstadt. Directed by Ireneusz Dobrowolski

 

It would be understandable if you hadn’t heard of Stanislav Szukalski. Even within the art world, his work is largely unknown these days, which is a shame – his talent and imagination are undeniable. However, the Polish-born artist’s case is not easy to contemplate.

Much of his work was destroyed during the Second World War; all that is left is conceptual drawings that he made. Following the war, he emigrated to the United States and lived in the quiet Los Angeles suburb of Granada Hills until he passed away in 1987. Late in life, underground comic artists like Glenn Bray, Robert Williams and R. Crumb discovered him; some of Szukalski’s drawings appeared in the latter’s Weirdo.

Bray, a collector of Szukalski’s art and a close personal friend (he ended up the executor of his will), taped hundreds of hours of interviews with the artist which remain the only recorded footage of him. It gives the portrait of a man who was often maddeningly arrogant, highly opinionated and occasionally sweet.

But there’s a dark side to Szukalski, one that was unearthed during the making of this documentary and one which even his closest friends weren’t aware of. The revelations change the nature of the documentary from a straightforward biography to something with a much more urgent issue that we continue to grapple with in the age of #MeToo – is an artist separate from his work? Can we love a Woody Allen movie and deplore his actions? Can we love Chinatown and censure Roman Polanski?

That’s what his friends have to come to terms with. Some, like Bray, remain loyal to the old man they knew; Bray contends that Szukalski was a changed man when he knew him and there is evidence that Szukalski was anxious to make amends. However, others such as Di Caprio are not so sure that some of the actions of the artist can be forgiven and we also have to consider the legacy of those actions; in his native Poland, Szukalski has been adopted as a figurehead by far-right extremists, even though Szukalski himself would point out that his work was meant to illustrate the common themes of mankind through his philosophy of Zermatism, which has come down to us thanks to the Church of the Sub-Genius which purloined some of the concepts as their own.

Szukalski used the art forms and mythologies of other cultures to help him explore Poland’s identity, and there’s no doubt that the art is powerful and expressive. But considering his state of mind when he created some of this work, can it be trusted? The filmmaker leaves it to you to answer that for yourself but I can’t help but wonder that if the art is an extension of the artist, then is the art also an extension of the darker elements of that artist? We may never adequately answer that one.

REASONS TO SEE: The artwork is incredible. Szukalski himself is fascinating although there are parts of his personality that are disturbing to say the least.
REASONS TO AVOID: Szukalski isn’t always an admirable guy.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some profanity and depictions of anti-Semitism.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Artist George di Caprio was friends with Szukalski late in his life; his son is the actor Leonardo. Both men are listed as producers on the film.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Netflix
CRITICAL MASS: As of 5/24/20: Rotten Tomatoes: No score yet, Metacritic: No score yet
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Afterimage
FINAL RATING: 7/10
NEXT:
My Hindu Friend

Bombshells and Dollies


Thank heaven for pin-up girls.

(2019) Documentary (Tri-Coast Worldwide)  Raquel Perez, Pinup Little Bit, Tom Ingram, Dita von Teese, Ivy Fox, Cherry Dollface, Brittany Jean, Miss Victory Violet, Lulu Devine, The Blue-Haired Betty, Marilia Skraba, Lisa Love, Angie Honeyburst, Ruby Red, Dixie Delight, Ginger Watson, Angelique Noire, Bo Huff, Hell Cath, Bernie Dexter, Shannon Brooke.  Directed by Daniel Halperin

 

When you think of pin-ups, you likely think of Betty Grable or Rita Hayworth; of pictures painted on the nose of bombers during World War II. You might even think of the artwork of Antonio Vargas.

]The art of the pin-up is not just for the Greatest Generation anymore. Once used as inspiration, to remind soldiers, sailors and airmen what they were fighting for back home, the art-form has undertaken a resurrection. Today, it is an expression of individuality as well as a celebration of feminine curves. They aren’t centerfolds however while undeniably sexy, it is a modest sexiness that shows enough cleavage and leg to be alluring but never tawdry. Generally in vintage fashions wearing the kind of heavy make-up that was popular in the 40s and 50s, modern pin-ups recreate the simple charm of those wholesome but undeniably sexy women. One of the best-known modern pin-up models, Dita von Teese, makes an appearance explaining how she got into the artform.

It is therefore not surprising that rockabilly culture has embraced the pin-up. Rockabilly, for those unaware of the musical form, was first popularized by Sun Records back in the 50s and counted Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis, Gene Vincent and Carl Perkins among its earliest stars. The form underwent a revival in the 80s with bands like the Stray Cats, the Blasters and the Kingpins leading the way. Today, it remains a cultural phenomenon with a thriving underground scene throughout the world.

Viva Las Vegas is the largest rockabilly festival in the world, with tens of thousands descending on the Orleans Hotel off the Vegas strip to celebrate the cars, the tattoos, the fashion and the music. A pin-up contest seemed like a natural addition and was suggested by renowned pin-up model Rockwell de Vil (real name: Raquel Perez) to festival founder Tom Ingram. It has become one of the most popular aspects of the festival since.

A panel of judges selects four finalists; a fifth is selected by the entrants. The remaining seven finalists are selected by Internet vote. The finalists are brought to the festival from all over North America and the world; in 2018, finalists represented the United States, Canada, Brazil, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand. Entrants also came from Italy, Russia, Denmark, the United Kingdom, France, Japan and many other countries.

The women who enter are nothing like you probably expect them to be. They come from all walks of life. Several are married with children; others are gay. The entrants have a variety of ethnic backgrounds and body types; many have been the victims of body shaming while others have gotten grief for their perceived anti-feminism. The truth be told, these ladies are the ultimate expressions of feminism; they choose to celebrate their beauty as well as their intellectual abilities and their competency in other fields. These ladies have causes, from the plight of veterans to support for suicide hotlines (one contestant lost two brothers to suicide), animal rights and other community causes. Many of the models donate their time and effort to charity.

The film is partially a celebration of pin-up culture, although it is given only a kind of cursory background which mainly concentrates on its beginning during the Second World War and doesn’t really trace its evolution. What the film is primarily, however, is a competition documentary and in that sense it is fairly typical for the genre; we get to know the contestants and then wait with anticipation as the winners for the 2018 contest are announced. Undoubtedly you will have your favorites – I know I did although I won’t tell you who all of them are. I will tell you that I was particularly fond of African-American model Pinup Little Bit, who is a wife and mom and who looks to mainstream model (and sometimes pinup) Angelina Noire as a role model. I think once you see this film you’ll agree that Pinup Little Bit is a role model herself.

One of the things I liked best about the documentary was the way that the contestants bonded. While there is a certain amount of competitiveness among them, they all realize that they are part of a subculture that is often misunderstood and many of them talk about inventing a persona of a pin-up model which they adopt once the make-up goes on. It’s actually kind of a nice thing to see. There’s also a nice little coda at the end of the film that I really appreciated, and I suspect you will too.

In fact, all of the women here are. They all have their own reasons for squeezing into the vintage dresses, putting on the lipstick and getting that Victory Wave in their hair but all of them are unforgettable. I would have preferred to see a little more context for the whole pin-up culture – it’s not just for rockabilly, kids – but the documentary is reasonably fascinating and the fact that we’re talking about some truly beautiful women doesn’t hurt either.

REASONS TO SEE: Treats the women with respect.
REASONS TO AVOID: A fairly typical contest doc.
FAMILY VALUES: There are some adult themes.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Pendleton and Ailes attended grade school together.
BEYOND THE THEATER: Amazon, FlixFling, Vudu
CRITICAL MASS: As of 5/15/20: Rotten Tomatoes: No score yet: Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Getting Naked: A Burlesque Story
FINAL RATING: 6.5/10
NEXT:
Blood and Money

Lancaster Skies


Bombers fill the night of Lancaster skies.

(2019) War (Shout! FactoryJeffrey Mundell, David Dobson, Kris Saddler, Joanne Gale, Vin Hawke, Steve Hooper, Josh Collins, Callum Burn, Steven Hooper, Tom Gordon, Henry Collie, Tony Gordon, Leila Sykes, Eric Flynn, Roger Wentworth, Oria Sanders, Fiona Kimberley, Matt Davies, Bridgette Burn, Elliott Strother, Bryony James, Robert Francis, Tina Hodgson. Directed by Callum Burn

 

I take no joy out of writing a negative review. I know that most people go into making a movie with the best intentions, but things happen – sometimes there’s studio interference, sometimes the cast and crew are inexperienced, other times things just don’t click for whatever reason. I understand that there are human beings behind every movie, some having put all their passion into a project that for whatever reason just didn’t click with me; and that’s not on them so much as it is on me.

Once in a while, though, it is clear that a filmmaker’s reach exceeded his grasp. He or she perhaps had a good story and a decent cast, but budget limitations kept him/her from making the movie they wanted to make. I suspect that’s the problem here.

Lancaster Skies is meant to be a World War II epic about an English bomber crew dealing with the loss of their skipper (Tom Gordon). They are having to cope with the death of a comrade-in-arms, but also the arrival of their new captain, Douglas Miller (Mundell), who is dealing with a tragedy of his own and has become closed-off, stand-offish and generally a bit of a pill. At first, he is oil and water with the veteran crew. Only co-pilot Georgie Williams (Dobson) seems to be friendly towards him at all – well, there’s always comely WAAF Kate Hedges (Gale) who has taken a shine to the handsome but taciturn Miller.

Miller, a former Spitfire pilot, is chomping at the bit to take the fight to the Germans. With the survival rate of bomber crews right around 50% (Williams illustrates that in a bar brawl by flipping a coin a la Harvey Dent), this would seem to be on the surface a little crazy, but slowly Douglas begins to warm up to his crew and they to him. But, at last, they’ve finally gotten a mission to fly. With a tail gunner (Saddler) prone to freezing up at the worst possible moment, and a co-pilot with a devastating secret of his own, this crew will need to pull together if they are to survive their next mission.

I don’t really know how to begin to sort this all out. It is simply poorly done on every level. On a technical level, the color fades into almost black and white but I believe is just washed out color. It does so without warning and goes from color to washed out within even the same screen. I’m not technically proficient enough to identify whether it was a camera thing, a processing thing or a digital thing, but I can say for certain that it was an annoying thing.

The only thing stiffer than the dialogue is the actors saying it; if their upper lips were any stiffer, they would have been shot up full of Novocain. There are a lot of characters in the film and I couldn’t always differentiate between them. At length, I just gave up.

I could go on, but I think that for now, that’s enough. I do give director Callum Burn props for having the moxie to try and make a movie of this scope on a budget that was right around £80,000 – a microscopic amount compared to even most independent films. The movie wasn’t completely without merit and it is a story that deserves to be told, but perhaps Burn should have waited until he could get himself a budget to tell the story properly.

REASONS TO SEE: The title is evocative.
REASONS TO AVOID: Stiff characters and even stiffer dialogue. Inexplicably drops in and out of color.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some war violence.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The film was shot in five different shooting blocks over a two-year period.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, AppleTV, Fandango Now, Google Play, Microsoft, Vudu, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 5/9/20: Rotten Tomatoes: No score yet, Metacritic: No score yet
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Memphis Belle
FINAL RATING: 3/10
NEXT:
Jinn (2018)

Capital in the 21st Century


The geometrics of poverty.

(2019) Documentary (Kino-LorberThomas Piketty, Kate Williams, Suresh Naidu, Bryce Edwards, Rana Foroohar, Joseph Stiglitz, Ian Bremmer, Francis Fukuyama, Lucas Chancel, Faiza Shaheen, Paul Mason, Simon Johnson, Paul Piff, Gabriel Zucman, Gillian Tett. Directed by Justin Pemberton

 

Okay. So it’s not exactly news that there is a massive disparity between haves and have-nots in this country, and the middle class – once the backbone of American prosperity – has been shrinking at an alarming rate until, now, it barely exists. In this country, to quote Midnight Oil, the rich get richer, the poor get the picture.

And in case they haven’t, economist Thomas Piketty presents it very clearly for them hear. Base on his bestselling book which may be the biggest selling economics book since Karl Marx wrote Das Kapital, the book and the movie it is based on explains why the rich get richer and how the deck is stacked against the rest of us. It is a moment in time where that has been displayed clearly by the coronavirus; it infects everybody regardless of the size of their bankbook, but the poor, who haven’t been able to afford decent health care, have been hit disparately harder than the wealthy.

Piketty warns that the conditions that gave rise to Marxism are returning again, with a massive concentration of wealth in the hands of the few, social mobility becoming nearly impossible and nationalism and fascism both on the rise. The baby boomers may be the last generation to reasonably expect to have a better life than their parents; it is nearly impossible to do now – unless you are part of the one percent.

Piketty leads a parade of economists, historians and sociologists in interviews that show how the privileged classes manipulated the hearts and minds of the poor, demonizing any sort of program that would actually help them – including breeding a mistrust of education – and creating a stigma over any social program, linking it with the dreaded socialism *shudder* which is, of course, anti-American, right? Welllllllll…

New Zealand-based director Pemberton laces the film with plenty of pop culture references, from a hit song by Lorde to clips from The Grapes of Wrath and Elysium. In one of the more fascinating sequences, UC Irvine professor Paul Piff details an experiment in which two students were randomly selected to play Monopoly. A roll of the dice gave one player the role of the rich player, and the other the poor player. The rich player was given hella advantages, including more cash to begin with, the ability to roll two dice at a time (the poor player could only roll one) and more income every time they passed Go ($200 to the poor player’s $100). An interesting thing happened; the rich players grew arrogant and cocky, attributing success to superior game play rather than the nearly insurmountable advantages they were given. Gordon Gekko opined that greed is good and maybe it is (although evidence says no), but it is certainly ingrained in nearly all of us.

While there are some solutions offered – many of which were put forth by Elizabeth Warren during her Presidential campaign last year – they are unlikely to be enacted by politicians who are largely in the pocket of the super-rich. I would have liked to have seen the same kind of analysis given to the solutions as there was to the problems, which aren’t exactly breaking news. For those who believe that the rich are superior to those who don’t have money, there is the specter of the French Revolution – which is what happens when people have nothing to lose. We are rapidly getting to that point not only here in America but all over the world. Those who refuse to learn from history, after all, are doomed to repeat it, often to their great regret.

The movie is currently available through Kino-Lorber’s virtual cinema program which benefits local art houses. Although the Enzian currently isn’t one of them, Floridians wishing to check out the movie and benefit local art houses have four to choose from; the Tampa Theater in Tampa, the Sun-Ray Cinema in Jacksonville, the Coral Gables Art House in Miami and the Tropic Cinema in Key West. Click on the picture for more information.

REASONS TO SEE: A fairly sober explanation of how we got to where we are.
REASONS TO AVOID: There isn’t a lot of analysis of where we go from here.
FAMILY VALUES: The content is definitely not for the young.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Based on the bestselling non-fiction book by Piketty, which has sold more than three million copies worldwide to date.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 5/4/20: Rotten Tomatoes: 96% positive reviews, Metacritic: 74/100
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Freakanomics
FINAL RATING: 6.5/10
NEXT:
My Darling Vivian

Welcome to Marwen


A bunch of living dolls.

(2018) Drama (DreamWorks/Universal) Steve Carrell, Leslie Mann, Diane Kruger, Merritt Weaver, Janelle Monáe, Elza Gonzalez, Gwendoline Christie, Leslie Zemeckis, Falk Hentschel, Matt O’Leary, Nikolai Witschl, Patrick Roccas, Alexander Lowe, Stefanie von Pfetten, Neil Jackson, Samantha Hum, Siobhan Williams, Eric Keenlyside, Clay St. Thomas, Kate Gajdosik, Veena Sood. Directed by Robert Zemeckis

 

Welcome to Marwen is a dramatic version of the acclaimed 2010 documentary Marwencol (which if you haven’t seen, stop right now and see it) which is the story of artist Mark Hogancamp, who was viciously beaten outside of a bar in 2005 by a bunch of guys who objected to the fact that he likes to wear women’s shoes. The men got off lightly; all of them had been released by the time the documentary came out.

Here, Hogancamp (Carrell) has no memory of his life before the attack (as was the case for the real Hogancamp) and used a fictional Belgian village populated by action figures, mostly modeled after women that Hogancamp knows – from his physical therapist (Monáe) to the clerk at the hobby shop where he buys his supplies (Weaver) – and Hogancamp himself (an idealized heroic version of himself he calls Captain Hogie) set during World War II. Mark’s lawyer is trying to get the reclusive artist to appear at the sentencing hearing of his attackers but Mark is very reluctant; anything that reminds him of that night sends him into severe panic attacks.

Helping matters is the appearance of a new neighbor, Nicol (Mann) who is compassionate and kind, and whom Mark develops an instant crush on. She could be his way out to normalcy or a reminder of past traumas that will send him spiraling hopelessly back into near-catatonia.

Critics tended to hate the film (see below) which I can understand; it’s not an easy story to get across and quite frankly, Zemeckis was not an awe-inspiring choice to make it. His sentimentality tends to rub critics the wrong way, but I found it affecting here, and there are some scenes when Carrell, who is absolutely wonderful at times, just breaks your heart. The romance between Marc and Nicol is absolutely realistic as well.

The movie ends on a bit of a predictable note and might turn people off – the dolls can look a little bit creepy. Some find men playing with primarily female dolls to be un-woke, but in the context of a man badly traumatized trying to deal the best way he can, I think it’s forgivable. Not the greatest movie Zemeckis has done, but it is entertaining and heartwarming enough to be enjoyable.

REASONS TO SEE: Carrell does a good job. Nice special effects.
REASONS TO AVOID: The ending is predictable. A bit creepy in places.
FAMILY VALUES: There is a fair amount of violence, some of it bloody. There are also disturbing images, some brief sexual references and some profanity.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The real life doll village Marwen is based on is called Marwencol, which is a combination of Mark, Wendy and Colleen. The Nicol character is based on Colleen, but her name was dropped from the town’s name.
BEYOND THE THEATER: Amazon, AMC On Demand, AppleTV, Fandango Now, Google Play, HBO Now, Microsoft, Movies Anywhere, Redbox, Vudu, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 4/30//20: Rotten Tomatoes: 35% positive reviews. Metacritic:  40/100
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Marwencol
FINAL RATING: 6,5/10
NEXT:
The Wretched

Maserati: A Hundred Years Against All Odds


An automotive definition of beauty and style.

(2020) Documentary (VisionNick Mason, Sterling Moss, John Surtees, Alfieri Maserati, Adolfo Orsi Jr., Giorgietto Gugiaro, Carlo Maserati, Harald J. Wester, David M. Williamson (narrator), Paolo Pininfarina, Nino Vaccorella, Alexander Fyshe, Bruco Male, Doug Magnon, Matteo Panini, Andrea Bertolini. Directed by Philip Selkirk

If you want to talk about successful branding, you have to talk about Maserati. The car company has come to symbolize sports car performance and luxurious elegance at once. Nothing quite says “you made it” like owning a Maserati…except owning a fleet of them.

This documentary feels less of a labor of love than corporate training film, something you would show to salesmen on the showroom floor on their first day of employment. It looks at the history of the company, starting out with their 1914 founding by four Italian brothers, only three of whom survived to lead the company into becoming one of auto racing’s most prestigious names. It wasn’t until industrialist Adolfo Orsi bought the company that they started manufacturing cars for consumer use.

Their early race cars were primitive affairs but gradually, the innovative Maserati brothers developed engines that would hurtle their vehicles at unheard-of speeds. An interesting fun fact; the chassis of their cars have never been designed in-house; Maserati has always relied on outsourcing design to independent car designers. It is a strategy that has served them well.

As the title implies, the company didn’t have an easy path to success. Financial woes and changing tastes put the company on the brink of bankruptcy a good half a dozen times, but they always seemed to rebound at the last moment and find an investor to lift them out of their doldrums, or a new design that takes the world by storm.

This is absolutely going to appeal to car enthusiasts, and for them this ought to be required viewing. The film is heavy on technical specs for the various engines and cars, and those who understand the minutiae of performance car engines will likely be sucked in. The movie is a little light on the human side of things; at one point, Maserati dropped out of auto racing because of a tragedy involving a Ferrari vehicle careening into a crowd and killing ten spectators, including four children. The incident, which deeply affected the company, is literally glossed over, mentioned in passing and the ramifications left unexplored.

It is also worth noting that of all the talking heads interviewed, not one is female which I suppose is meant to appeal to a certain audience but certainly ignores the fact that there are female auto racers, female car enthusiasts, female designers and female automotive executives. That’s a little troubling. Some of the interviewees are delightful; Formula One racing legend John Surtees and Sterling Moss, one of the greatest of all time, are entertaining storytellers; Pink Floyd drummer Nick Mason, one of the most intense Maserati lovers in Christendom, also talks lovingly about the cars and what they mean. Surprising to me, former company CEO Harald Wester is articulate and informative about the corporate aspect of the company.

This isn’t for everyone, but for those that the film is meant for it is a very rewarding experience. From the nearly century-old racing footage to the footage of the introduction of the Maserati Alfieri, one of their more recent models, there is plenty for those who delight to the sound of an engine revving to sink their teeth into.

REASONS TO SEE: Will certainly appeal to car enthusiasts.
REASONS TO AVOID: Very much a niche film.
FAMILY VALUES: Suitable for all audiences.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The filmmakers secured the cooperation of the Maserati corporation and was given extensive use of their archives.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, AppleTV, Google Play, Microsoft
CRITICAL MASS: As of 4/12/20: Rotten Tomatoes: No score yet, Metacritic: No score yet
COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Racing Scene
FINAL RATING: 6.5/10
NEXT:
The Girl in the Spider’s Web

Resistance (2020)


The path of least resistance.

(2020) Biographical Drama (IFCJesse Eisenberg, Ed Harris, Edgar Ramirez, Clémence Poésy, Matthias Schweighöfer, Bella Ramsey, Géza Röhrig, Karl Marcovics, Félix Moati, Alicia von Rittberg, Vica Kerekes, Tobias Gareth Elman, Kue Lawrence, Christian Clarke, Aurélie Bancilhon, Karina Beuthe Orr, Arndt Schwering-Sohnrey, Ryan Hadaller, Phillip Lenkowsky, Louise Morell. Directed by Jonathan Jakubowicz

 

Marcel Marceau is a name that likely many Americans under the age of 40 are unfamiliar with, other than perhaps in broad, general terms. He is considered perhaps the greatest mime who ever lived; certainly, the greatest of the 20th century. Few Americans – myself included – know much more than that. But did you know he was also a war hero?

Marcel (Eisenberg) is an aspiring actor working in a cabaret. His disapproving father (Marcovics) would prefer that his young son follow him in his trade – a Kosher butcher. However, both their plans are put into disarray with the Nazi invasion of France. Dad gets shipped off to Auschwitz while his son joins the French underground, mainly in order to protect a group of Jewish orphans but also to stay close to the comely Emma (Poésy), but also because the charismatic Georges (Röhrig) insists on it.

Opposing them will be Klaus Barbie (Schweighöfer), one of the most vicious and sadistic Nazis in history. Moving the orphans from occupied France to neutral Switzerland will take heroic measures – and the mime, who has heretofore not been too fond of children until recently and has served mainly as a forger, will find reserves of strength he didn’t know he had.

Eisenberg is kind of an odd choice to play Marceau, although his eternal boyish looks stood him in good stead when he was playing the 16-year-old Marcel. His French accent was kind of an on-again, off-again affair which was fairly annoying after a while. Still, Eisenberg manages to churn out perhaps his most likable characterization ever. He’s always played guys with a bit of a neurotic edge, but this is much more of a straightforward portrayal. Besides, I think the entire French nation would have risen up in protest had Eisenberg played him neurotic.

The last third is more in the suspense genre and Jakubowicz does a good job with maintaining a bit of an edge-of-the-seat tone, although to be honest since we know Marceau would go on to be an entertainer for another sixty years after the war, it is a bit anti-climactic – we know he’ll survive. Sadly, the movie is a good 20 minutes too long and terribly uneven; there are some good moments, as we’ve mentioned but there are nearly as many that don’t work. Jakubowicz makes some odd choices like having Ed Harris as General George S. Patton (!) show up in the beginning, and the end. While it’s true that Marceau did work as a liaison to Patton at the conclusion of the war, the insertion of the colorful general (who is subdued here) seemed a bit like name-dropping and didn’t particularly add anything to the story. Besides, even Harris would admit that nobody is ever going to equal George C. Scott’s performance as Patton.

This is a story that needed to be told, but it also needed to be told better. Marceau was undoubtedly a hero and few people outside of France are aware of it. The movie is sadly uneven and a bit self-indulgent but the heart is in the right place. Those willing to take a chance on it will be treated to a movie that’s worth the effort to seek out.

REASONS TO SEE: Eisenberg is at his most likable. The suspense elements work well.
REASONS TO AVOID: A bit of a slow-moving jumble.
FAMILY VALUES: There is enough violence to garner a restricted rating.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Although the film takes place in Strasbourg, France, it was largely filmed in Prague.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, AppleTV, Vudu
CRITICAL MASS: As of 3/30/20: Rotten Tomatoes: 59% positive reviews, Metacritic: 56/100
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Hotel Terminus
FINAL RATING: 7/10
NEXT:
Clover

Chichinette: The Accidental Spy


The spy who came in from the cold.

(2018) Documentary (Kino-LorberMarthe Kohl, Major Kohl. Directed by Nicola Alice Hens

 

Not every hero during the Second World War was a big strapping man with bulging biceps, three-day stubble and a cigar in the corner of his mouth. This documentary is about a French Jew from Metz in the Lorraine region, which until the First World War had been annexed by Germany; German was spoken in the house more than French. Marthe Kohl (at the time, Marthe Hofnung) relates that her parents didn’t speak any French even though they were ostensibly French citizens.

As the war clouds gathered, the French government recommended that their citizenry near the German border relocate to somewhere safer. Marthe and her older sister Stephanie helped hundreds do just that, even after the Germans occupied that part of France. Stephanie would later be caught and deported to Auschwitz. Marthe never knew exactly how she died; her leg had been broken during an escape attempt and she either died on the train to the concentration camp, or she would have been gassed immediately upon arrival since she was unable to work.

Marthe also had a sweetheart, Jacques, who hoped to become a doctor in Indochina with Marthe, training to be a nurse, at his side. He was madly in love with her and was willing to convert to Judaism, despite the inherent dangers in that at the time. However, when France was occupied, he joined the resistance, was captured, and executed. Marthe learned about his fate through a newspaper article.

Despondent over her losses, she tried to join the resistance but her small stature (she’s barely five feet tall) and her youthful looks prevented that. Finally, she joined the Free French Army as a nurse once Paris was liberated, but when the Colonel of her brigade discovered she spoke German fluently, combined with her blonde hair, he realized that she would be a huge asset in the intelligence division. Following an extensive training course, she was smuggled into Germany and there managed to discover some crucial information that would save thousands of lives.

Hens allows Marthe to tell her story at her own pace, leaving much of the revelations behind what she did in the war for the final act. Mostly we see Marthe traveling with her husband Major, an American medical researcher whom she assisted after the war, from their suburban Los Angeles home to various places important to Marthe. Marthe, who wrote a book on her exploits after retiring as a nurse, never spoke about her experiences before she wrote the book, which came as a shock to her husband although he was aware of the medals she had earned during the war.

Hens is a clever cinematographer with some wonderful camera angles, although to be honest as a director she spends far too much time on the mundane aspects of Marthe’s travels, from packing and unpacking suitcases, dealing with wi-fi passwords and doing laundry in a French laundromat. It’s kind of a shame; Marthe is an engaging storyteller and a compelling subject. She was 96 years old when the film was shot three years before this writing (she is still alive as this is written) and spry as someone half her age.

Her message – do not take orders that violate your conscience – is meant for a younger generation, and one can’t help but wonder if she had an idea that the country she spent half a century in would change as radically as it did. Certainly, that advice rings more true now than it did in 2016. However, Marthe Kohl is heroic by any standard of any age. She’s someone that any young person could look up to as a role model proudly.

The film is screening tonight at Temple Beth Shalom in Miami. It will be available on HBO and streaming on KinoNow.com as of April 14th. There may be other one-off screenings before then so keep your eyes peeled, particularly at your local Jewish Community Center – or ask them to see about booking the film for your neighborhood.

REASONS TO SEE: The cinematography is clever and blending the watercolor animations with the actual locations the events took place in is magic. Marthe is an extremely compelling subject.
REASONS TO AVOID: It takes a while to get to what earned Marthe the medals that are displayed throughout the film.
FAMILY VALUES: There are some adult themes.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Chichinette, roughly translated, means “Little pain in the neck.” Marthe received this nickname because during her intelligence training she questioned just about everything.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 1/14/20: Rotten Tomatoes: No score yet: Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Spy Behind Home Plate
FINAL RATING: 7.5/10
NEXT:
Peppermint