‘Inglourious Basterds’ is a World War II Movie Done The Tarantino Way

Inglorious Basterds movie poster

WRITER’S NOTE: This review was originally written in 2009.

 “Nazis, I hate these guys!”

                        -Harrison Ford from “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade”

 “You know somethin’, Utivich? I think this might just be my masterpiece.”

                                                                                    -Brad Pitt as Lt. Aldo Raine

 Could this truly be Tarantino’s masterpiece? Hard to say, but it is indeed his most ambitious movie to date. “Inglourious Basterds” is another brilliant love letter to all things cinema from Quentin Tarantino, and it ends the rather crappy 2009 summer movie season on a high note. With this film, Tarantino has created his own version of World War II and has given it an ending many of us would have preferred to have seen happen. It is also his tribute to movies like “The Dirty Dozen” and other war movies of its ilk. It is not a remake of the film of the same name, but it uses the same title out of respect.

“Inglourious Basterds” is told in a series of chapters, and it features several different threads of story which eventually intersect at the film’s fiery climax. We meet our chief Nazi villain, Col. Hans Landa (Christoph Waltz) as he questions a family as to whether or not they are hiding any Jews, but we soon realize he is asking questions he already knows the answers to. Then we are introduced to the Basterds themselves, and they are led by Lt. Aldo Raine (Brad Pitt) who announces that they are being dropped into Nazi occupied France to do one thing and one thing only, kill Nazis. Not only that, they plan to take souvenirs to show the Nazis they mean business. Then we meet Shosanna Dreyfus (Melanie Laurent), the only Jew to escape Col. Landa’s deadly grasp, and she has since found a safe hiding place as the owner of a German cinema which will soon host the most powerful members of the Nazi party for a film opening gala. Little do they know of the act of brutal vengeance which will eventually greet them…

At a running time of 153 minutes, “Inglourious Basterds” is one of those rare movies which really takes its time. There’s no big rush to get from one big action set piece to the next which is usually case with just about every summer movie released from one year to the next. Even while The Weinstein Company had to work with Universal Pictures to get this film made, Tarantino still gets full creative control which is a blessing for those of us who love his films. We also get the great dialogue we have come to expect from him, and there are moments where words speak louder than actions. There are many verbal duels between characters as each one tries to outdo the other, and what is implied by them ends up generating an amazing amount of tension.

Tarantino also retains a keen eye for casting, and he has said one of the actors he chose did in fact give him back his movie. That actor would be Christoph Waltz who plays the intelligent but deadly Col. Hans Landa. Waltz won the Best Actor award at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, and the way I see it, they should just hand him the Oscar come next March. Brilliant seems too subtle a description to describe his performance. His role is an extremely difficult one to pull off because he has to come off a certain way while allowing us to see in his eyes what he already knows. Waltz comes off with simple gestures which leave us deeply unnerved, and there is a key moment where he deals with a character that serves as a great cat and mouse moment as he tries to figure out the person he sees before him while she tries to remain calm and hide who she really is from him. Waltz’s opening scene with the French farmer is remarkable in how he psychologically tears him down to where he finally admits he has no choice and reveals what Landa already knows.

I’m not sure if I have seen Waltz in other movies before this one, but I look forward to seeing more of his work in the future. Seriously, his character is to “Inglourious Basterds” as Heath Ledger’s Joker was to “The Dark Knight.”

Then we have Brad Pitt who I am glad to see get down and dirty after being all cute and cuddly in “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.” As Lt. Aldo Raine, he starts off by giving a speech to his men which makes him come off like George C. Scott in “Patton.” It is clear Pitt is having a ball playing this character and saying the dialogue Tarantino has written, and he looks to have saved some of the manic energy he had in “Burn After Reading” for this role. While performance at times comes close to caricature, he has us rooting for Aldo throughout.

Tarantino also continues to be great at writing strong roles for women. Mélanie Laurent does great work here as Shosanna Dreyfus, the Jewish woman who is the only survivor of Landa’s murderous rampage. Throughout the movie, she goes from playing it cool around the Nazis to being terrified as she comes under close examination from them. She has managed to maintain her cover as a German while running her own cinema, and she also has to fend off the advances of Pvt. Fredrick Zoller (Daniel Brühl) who is something of a pop star in the Nazi party when he meets her. She also has a strong relationship with her boyfriend projectionist, Marcel (Jacky Ido), which allows her to show compassion she would otherwise have to keep hidden from the prying eyes of those out to eliminate Jews. Laurent gets to portray many different facets of her character throughout the movie’s running time, and her performance is every bit as memorable to me as Waltz’s was.

I also got a big kick out of Diane Kruger’s highly entertaining performance as film star Bridget von Hammersmark, a Marlene Dietrich type. Kruger is a wonderful presence as she goes from being an outgoing actress who always seems to enjoy the company of others to a tough woman who shares in the Basterds passion of doing in the Nazis, most especially Hitler. Best known for her work in “National Treasure” and “Troy,” she really comes into her own here.

“Inglourious Basterds” has a great cast overall with other memorable turns from actors like Michael Fassbender as a British spy posing as a German officer, and Sylvester Groth who portrays the irrepressibly snooty Joseph Goebbels. It’s also a hoot to see Mike Meyers here in a “guest starring” role as a British general, and it almost fully makes up for the mess he inflicted on us with “The Love Guru.” Eli Roth, the so-called “torture porn” director, is also on board as Sgt. Donny Donowitz, aka “The Bear Jew.” Although this role was originally intended for Adam Sandler, it almost makes sense the “Hostel” director would play a soldier who beats Nazis to death with a baseball bat.

Many of Tarantino’s favorite movie devices are on display here including the “Mexican standoff” and endless talk about movies, but here they feel much fresher and exhilarating to watch. The scene in the German bar where a Nazi soldier is celebrating the birth of his son may seem a bit too long, but Tarantino builds the scene to a fever pitch of tension as everyone has their gun on the other, and you watch in terrifying anticipation as to who will shoot first. With the character of Shosanna, he takes the time to express his love of foreign cinema. In his other movies, especially the “Death Proof” portion of “Grindhouse,” he mostly speaks of his affection for American movies and pop culture, but his love of cinema never stops there.

Tarantino also gives us another great soundtrack which is a collection of film scores from other movies, and of songs capturing the essence of his characters to the letter. Interestingly enough, much of the music is not from the WWII period, and he even uses David Bowie’s theme song from Paul Schrader’s 1980’s “Cat People” remake to perfectly capture Shosanna in her final preparations for her much deserved revenge. As with the “Kill Bill” movies, he makes effective use of the film scores of Ennio Morricone who remains a big influence on his own work. It didn’t take me long after seeing the movie to buy the soundtrack, but I do wish it was on sale.

Many will complain of how inaccurate this film is to the historical facts of WWII, but they are just wasting their time. We should all know by the time we head into the theater that Tarantino is not out to be anymore as historically accurate as Michael Mann was with “Public Enemies.” Every once in a while, you need a movie which breaks the rules, and it is such infectious fun to see “Inglourious Basterds” break down the normal conventions of the typical WWII movie. So many of them over the past couple of years tend to be depressing affairs which deal with the humanity lost, but Tarantino is out to do the exact opposite. “Inglorious Basterds” is a fantastic genre movie which borrows from many movies, and he is still genius at taking elements from them all and making them his own.

2009 has been a bad year for movies thus far, but “Inglourious Basterds” is one of the best and is yet another cinematic triumph for Tarantino as it shows he is no one trick pony. I just hope we don’t have to wait another 6 years for his next film.

* * * * out of * * * *

 

 

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Dinesh D’Souza’s ‘Death of a Nation’ is Political and Historical Garbage

Death of a Nation movie poster

I couldn’t wait to see this movie. That’s right, I called it a movie, not a documentary. Dinesh D’Souza wants you to believe he’s giving you the god’s honest truth, but when it comes to his movies, he instead gives you a distorted vision of reality which he has put together by cherry-picking facts and presenting a thesis statement which any rational human being can easily disprove. As a result, I have come to enjoy D’Souza’s movies for reasons he did not intend as they prove to be both hilarious and infuriating, and whenever I am not bored to death by the ridiculous cases he lays out for us, the experience of watching them proves to be quite visceral.

D’Souza’s latest political screed is “Death of a Nation,” and it comes with the strange subtitle of, “Can We Save America a Second Time?” From the poster, I assumed the recently pardoned conservative political commentator was going to show us how Donald Trump is the contemporary equivalent of Abraham Lincoln, but he instead veers from this to show us in an ill-fated attempt how Nazis and Democrats were very similar in their economic and social policies. Along with co-director Bruce Schooley and producer Gerald R. Molen, D’Souza employs his usual tactics which include poorly acted and directed historical reenactments as well as scenes of him walking around and visiting locations which played a role in history. And yes, there are scenes of people (in particular, his wife Debbie) singing patriotic songs to an infinitely nauseating effect. What results is a veritable shit sandwich as D’Souza invites us to see history through his eyes as he begs the audience to see how Democrats are the real fascists, not the Republicans.

I can only imagine just how much glee D’Souza and his collaborators had in the editing room as we are shown scenes of well-known personalities like George Clooney saying out loud how there was no way in hell Donald Trump could ever be elected President of the United States. Indeed, I believed, as did many that Hillary Clinton would have an easy path to victory. So, it was a huge shock to the world at large when Trump scored one of the biggest political upsets in American history as he spent so much time giving us every reason not to vote for him. D’Souza presents videos of Americans sobbing at this victory as they believe nothing good will come from it, and you can sense him mocking them without any remorse. This whole montage really acts a porn for conservative who live to drink the tears of liberals.

D’Souza wants us to see the election of Trump as America rising up against liberal tyranny, and he smugly pats himself on the back by saying his movie “Hillary’s America” played a big role in Trump’s victory. Truth be told, Trump won the election by one of the lowest margins ever, Clinton got almost 3 million more votes in the popular election, and the day of his inauguration had one of the lowest turnouts ever. Of course, D’Souza doesn’t bring these facts up as they would easily take away from he sets out to prove and instead shows us images of Americans howling in agony over the host of “The Apprentice” making his new home at the White House instead of Trump Tower.

As for “Hillary’s America,” it simply preached to an audience who never intended to vote for Hillary in the first place, and its biggest triumph came at the Golden Raspberry Awards where it won several accolades including Worst Picture. Please note, it is the first “documentary” to receive this award.

But following this, D’Souza puts his defense of Trump to the side and instead looks at Adolf Hitler and the history of the Nazi party in a hopelessly vain attempt to compare them to Democrats. As he lays out his pathetic case, I got lost in his convoluted logic to where I gave up trying to understand much of what he was trying to get across. The audience I saw it with was small, and an older guy sitting one row ahead of me began to snore quite loudly. What does that tell you?

The actors here are badly directed to say the least, and the one playing Adolf Hitler (Pavel Kriz) barely even looks like the infamous fascist dictator. I guess Martin Wuttke, who played a far more convincing Hitler in Quentin Tarantino’s “Inglourious Basterds” was unavailable, or perhaps he looked at what D’Souza hoped to accomplish with “Death of a Nation” and told him “bitch, please.” Other actors play famous Democrats to where they stare directly into the camera as if to say they know just how evil they are, and it got to where I expected them to sing “Damn it Feels Good to Be a Gangsta” by The Geto Boys.

Some scenes end up playing like something out of a sitcom as the actors playing Nazis keep screaming out their lines in an overwrought fashion. But nothing compares to the scene where Nazis break into the apartment of a “brown shirt” Nazi and catch him in bed with another man, highlighting the party’s position against homosexuality. After he is arrested and hauled away, the Nazis look under his bed to find yet another man in the apartment. This threatened to be as hilarious as anything in “Deadpool 2,” and I could barely contain myself while watching this scene as this discovery is presented in such an inescapably absurd fashion.

D’Souza does take the time to interview people like political scientist Robert Paxton, Civil War historian Allen C. Guelzo, sociology professor Stefan Kuhl, and syndicated columnist and investigative journalist Edwin Black to name a few. The interesting thing about these interviews is how the majority of them are shot to where we never see D’Souza and his subject together in the same frame. Seeing this, I cannot help but wonder if D’Souza and his accomplices took the words of his subjects out of context in an effort to add weight to a deeply flawed thesis. This makes me want to know how his subjects thought about how they were portrayed after sat through “Death of a Nation.” There is just too much doubt in the way these interviews are presented which cannot be easily dismissed. At least Michael Moore is smart enough to not make this same mistake in his own movies.

Then there is the interview between D’Souza and white supremacist (or white nationalist if you will) Richard Spencer. As D’Souza fumbles about in his attempts to expose Spencer as a progressive, he discusses how the founders saw government as being the enemy of the people. This is one of “Death of a Nation’s” most jaw-dropping moments as anyone with knowledge of American history will be quick to point out how our founding fathers created a government of, for and by the people. We see Spencer quickly disagreeing with D’Souza over this assessment as even he believes the founding fathers did not see the government as the enemy, and it doesn’t help D’Souza when he gets owned by a White Supremacist.

As “Death of a Nation” rolls on, D’Souza comes to repeat many claims he made in his previous movies. Among them is his assertion that Democrats never switched their political views in the past, and he made this same claim in “Hillary’s America.” When he presented us with this false information originally, we could barely make out the faces of the politicians on the silver screen, and we needed the Hubble telescope to make any of them out. In “Death of a Nation,” we get a better look at those democrats D’Souza was talking about, but it doesn’t change how Democrats or Republicans are no longer the same parties they once were.

When D’Souza finally gets around to defending Trump, he does so by presenting us with scenes of President Lincoln (played by Don Taylor) speaking eloquently and then tells the audience how Trump has the same integrity Lincoln had all those years ago. But considering how Trump has been proven to be very temperamental, has broken many promises he made on the campaign trail, cheated on his wife Melania with Stormy Daniels, has a history of stiffing people he was supposed to pay and, most unforgivably, valued the word of Russian President Vladimir Putin over America’s own intelligence community, one has to wonder if D’Souza even knows the meaning of the word integrity. Once again, D’Souza does not acknowledge any of this, and it should not be hard at all to understand why.

D’Souza’s last bit of business is to show how Trump is not a racist, and he does so by showing him at a State of the Union address where he says, “African-American unemployment stands at the lowest rate ever recorded, and Hispanic-American unemployment has also reached the lowest levels in history.” To this, D’Souza replies, would a racist talk like this? Well, there is a slight problem here. While what Trump says is technically true, the fact is unemployment rates for African-Americans and Hispanics have been decreasing steadily for years, so for him to take credit for this is deliberately misleading. For D’Souza to use this as evidence of Trump not being a racist is just hilarious, and he instead falls into a trap he would have been smart not to set for himself.

Look, I have no doubt D’Souza loves America, but for him to show this love through a manipulation of history and facts is beyond deplorable. These days, it is more about who controls the narrative than it is about verifying facts, and D’Souza seizes on this national weakness in a completely shameless way. “Death of a Nation” is a failure from the get go as it is impossible to put liberalism and fascism into the same category. Just ask historians Adam Tooze and John Broich who have gone out of their way to discredit “Death of a Nation.” Broich himself pointed out how fascism is essentially “anti-leftism,” and he quotes scholar Robert Paxton who said fascism is “dictatorship against the Left amidst popular enthusiasm.” Unlike D’Souza, these guys know what they are talking about.

“Death of a Nation” still has a score of 0% on Rotten Tomatoes, and it does not look to escape this rotten rating any time soon. D’Souza has blamed this rating on “leftist” critics as he is determined to stand by his movie no matter what, and he is daring the Golden Raspberry Awards to shower it with every “Worst of” accolade possible. Look, it’s one thing to criticize the Democratic Party, and D’Souza has the right to do so, but to sell the public on comparisons to the Nazi party which are blatantly fale is truly pathetic. Explaining to D’Souza just how wrong he got history in this or any of his other movies is pointless as he will be quick to put his hands over his ears and spin around in circles saying, “There’s no place like the Ronald Reagan Library! There’s no place like the Ronald Reagan Library!”

How will D’Souza react to my review, assuming any he ever bothers to read it? I imagine he will dismiss me as another leftist critic or something along those lines. Anyone who wants an idea of where my political beliefs are can check out my Facebook page. All that matters is this movie is anti-intellectual as well as political and historical garbage. Yes, I enjoy watching D’Souza’s movies, but mainly for the opportunity to analyze everything that’s wrong with them. When I get past the unintentionally hilarity they provide me, what I am left with is pure nonsense which is truly infuriating. If you choose to see “Death of a Nation,” see it as an example of how NOT to make a documentary and of how people will go out of their way to manipulate history to their own ends.

For those of you who are still willing to believe in D’Souza’s political and historical garbage, I have a used Yugo for sale which goes from zero to 60 miles an hour in five seconds. Please message me privately if you would like to know more.

ZERO out of * * * *

Please check out the following articles in which writers lay waste to the connections D’Souza makes in this movie:

“There is Nothing Liberal about Fascism” by John Broich

“Donald Trump Jr. Compares Democrats’ Policies to Those of the Nazis” by Andrew Buncome

“The Apotheosis of Dinesh D’Souza” by 

Kevin Kruse’s Recapitualation of Dinesh D’Souza’s View of American history

‘The Reader’ Features a Brilliant and Galvanizing Performance from Kate Winslet

The Reader movie poster

WRITER’S NOTE: This review was written back in 2008.

The Reader” has been getting mixed reviews, and I can’t understand why. I was expecting a good movie with great performances when I went in to see it, but I ended up getting a lot more than that. My father was with me when I saw the movie, and he confirmed it was astonishingly faithful to the book it was based on. Indeed, “The Reader” is an emotionally devastating journey through the beginning of an affair between a young student and an older woman, and of the aftermath it lays on both of them. Every single performance here is extraordinary, particularly the one given by Kate Winslet. If she does indeed get nominated for this movie or “Revolutionary Road,” she will certainly deserve the Oscar this time around.

Winslet plays Hanna Schmitz who works as a ticket taker for the local trains going in and out of the town, and she encounters young Michael Berg (David Kross) who is sick and depressed. She takes care of him and even walks him home. Michael later returns to where she lives to thank her for what she did, and from there the two have a secret affair which involves both sex and reading. Hanna asks Michael to read to her before they make love, and he does so with tremendous enthusiasm to say the least. This deepens their relationship even while it remains a secret between the two of them, and it lasts for several months.

Part of the movie’s success in affecting you may depend on how much of yourself you see in the character of Michael Berg. Many of us would not like to remember ourselves as ever being weak, but something deep in our subconscious would certainly have entertained the idea of having an affair with an older woman, let alone Kate Winslet. As a teenager, your hormones are jumping up and down on an ever-expanding trampoline in the realm of puberty, so thinking about something other than girls will be a bit challenging. All the same, common sense might kick in somewhere which can, and should, stop us from being involved in such a relationship.

In many ways, “The Reader” is an argument against this kind of a relationship as this one elicits even more heartache, confusion, and emotional scars which can last a lifetime. They say the first love is always the hardest because of the eventual break up which hurts like a son of a bitch. Clearly, there are not many break ups or separations which can hurt as much as the one experienced by Michael and Hanna.

2008 may be remembered as the year of Batman, the late Heath Ledger, Robert Downey Jr. and many other things. I do hope it is also known as the year of Winslet. On top of “The Reader,” she also has “Revolutionary Road” coming up which is directed by her husband Sam Mendes. She needn’t have been nominated for an Oscar five times already to convince us of what a superb actress she is. Winslet manages to do many things I cannot see another actress doing as effectively, and she superbly handles the aging of her character without overdoing it or falling into some caricature of an elderly person we may have preconceptions of. Winslet immerses herself into this role ever so fearlessly, and she gives us one of the most compelling and emotionally devastating performances of the year.

Winslet also does something which at first would seem unthinkable and horrifying; she gives a human face to the SS officers who were later prosecuted for their role in the murder of millions of Jews during the Holocaust. From a distance, we would simply shout down at these people because of the horrible things they have done. Winslet wisely does not make us sympathize with what her character has been through, but she makes us see Hanna’s pain throughout the trial as she is caught up in a situation she does not entirely understand. This later leads to a revelation about her which I will not reveal as it will destroy the mystery of her character for the audience this movie deserves. But this secret is something Hanna feels much more ashamed of than her role as an SS officer.

It also brings up an interesting point worth dwelling on. These officers are being prosecuted for their role in the worst kind of atrocity, and probably rightly so. I say probably because in the end, these are just soldiers who were ordered to do their jobs by a genocidal maniac named Adolf Hitler. As history shows, the hierarchy of an evil or highly immoral regime seems to get off somewhat easier than the soldiers whom, whether we agree with their actions or not, were simply doing the job they were commanded to do. For them to simply not do their duties would have led to their deaths by a simple bullet in the head. Obviously, the atrocity of the Holocaust brought on a strong need for revenge in its aftermath, and prosecutors went after perhaps the only ones who could be easily prosecuted as Hitler killed himself before he could ever be captured. While I watched the movie, my dad leaned over to me and said, “Just remember this when they prosecute those soldiers from Abu Ghraib and not Donald Rumsfeld.”

As much as “The Reader” may seem like the Kate Winslet show, there are many other performances to admire other than hers. The one performance which might come across as the most underrated is the one given by David Kross as the young Michael Berg. Throughout all the scenes he has with Kate, he more than holds his own with her as he conveys the hell of an emotional turmoil he goes through both as a teenager, and later as an adult. In retrospect, Kross has the hardest role in the movie as he has to convey many things about his character without saying a word. We know why Michael is going through so many conflicting emotions, but the characters around him don’t know this. Furthermore, they cannot know as this would implicate Michael in a situation he will not ever be able to escape from. I have not heard of Kross before this movie, and I am interested to see how he got the role as his performance is nothing short of astonishing.

And of course, we have the great Ralph Fiennes as the adult Michael Berg, and he conveys how the character never moved on fully from the affair he had so many years ago. Fiennes portrays him as a man who knows he is more emotionally distant from people than anyone should be, and he is aided by Kross’ performance as we see why this is the case.

Director Stephen Daldry previously directed the film adaptation of “The Hours” with Nicole Kidman, Meryl Streep and Julianne Moore. Along with “The Reader,” he seems to be working with a recurring theme of women caught up in a world they are desperate to escape from. Even if such an escape lasts only a brief moment, they are caught up in a world not necessarily of their own making, and it threatens to kill their soul completely. Daldry certainly isn’t afraid to venture into emotionally charged material, or of material many will simply view as depressing.

“The Reader” is pretty certain at this point to have a place on my list of the best movies of 2008, and not just for the brilliant performance given by Kate Winslet.

* * * * out of * * * *

Das Boot

das-boot-movie-poster

With it out on Blu-ray, viewers can once again see that “Das Boot” is still the greatest submarine movie ever made. Other underwater sea adventures like “Run Silent, Run Deep,” “Crimson Tide,” and “The Hunt for Red October” may come close, but none of them can capture or match its power in unbearable claustrophobic tension. It remains Wolfgang Petersen’s crowning achievement as a director, and it has lost none of its power in sucking us into the inescapable terror people face in the deep dark sea.

“Das Boot” takes place in World War II as Commander Willenbrock leads a group of boys to sea on a U-Boat, the German version of a submarine, and covers the tedium of life at sea when no battles are fought. You feel the sweat and body odor of the crew quite vividly to where you will want to take a cold shower afterward. But it’s when they face off against destroyer ships when the intensity really goes into serious high gear.

Petersen does a brilliant job of conveying the terror and claustrophobic nature everyone on the U-Boat is forced to endure. You are right there with the crew and experiencing their frenzied emotions as the destroyers sail over them dropping depth charges which threaten to sink their boat in a heartbeat. The “ping” noises make the suspenseful tension even worse as the position of the submarine becomes easier to determine, and this becomes a film you experience far more than watch.

The director also does a really good job of getting viewers to know various crew members and the important roles they have on the ship. There is Chief Engineer Fritz Grade (the wonderful Klaus Wennemann) who finds looking at pictures of his wife too painful. Then there’s Chief Mechanic Johann (Erwin Leder) who is in love with his engines the same way Scotty loved the Enterprise in “Star Trek.” And there is also Senior Cadet Ullmann (Martin May) who is constantly worried about his fiancée who is French and pregnant. The more viewers know about the crew, the more emotionally drawn they are to their predicament.

There may some people who object to seeing “Das Boot” on the grounds the crew members were Nazis. Truth be told, not all of them are big fans of Adolf Hitler, and they are never seen wearing a Nazi insignia on their uniforms while at sea. But regardless of this, take away the politics of what’s going on and you will realize just how universal this movie is in what it portrays. Had it been the “good guys” instead, they would have endured the same crippling terror and fatigue so this crew could have been of any nationality.

It is also a powerful anti-war movie as well in showing not just the horrors and destruction of war, but also of the victories which become empty ones when soldiers see what is left behind. This is especially the case in one scene when the crew members are on the surface and surveying a freighter they successfully destroyed. They revel in their victory, but then they see survivors jumping off the ship into the ocean. They swim to the submarine pleading for help, but while the German crew members want to assist them, the Captain concedes there is no room for them onboard, and they are left to drown. It’s an emotionally devastating moment which captures the senselessness and the price of war.

“Das Boot” is based on the novel by Lothar-Günther Buchheim which was inspired by his own wartime experiences as a war correspondent onboard submarines. The character most resembling him here is Lieutenant Werner, and he is our guide through the chaos as his lack of experience aboard a submarine mirrors our own. What he discovers about life at sea, viewers discover along with him. Playing him is German singer Herbert Grönemeyer, and he does great work in conveying his naivety while covering the goings on of a German crew.

The best performance, however, comes from the great Jürgen Prochnow who plays Commander Willenbrock, the hardened sea veteran who looks like he’s seen everything war has to offer. The other officers freak out easily during an attack, but he keeps his cool because he needs everyone to do their jobs. It’s when he starts losing it, however, when things get really bad, and then the audience has a reason to freak out. Prochnow creates a multi-dimensional character which feels very much lived in, and he gives the Commander a subtle vulnerability which looks and feels effortless.

Petersen has been known best for making movies about people who are stuck in small places where there’s not much room to hide. He enthralled us when the American President’s plane was hijacked in “Air Force One,” he had Clint Eastwood chasing after John Malkovich during “In the Line of Fire,” and he has George Clooney and company trapped in the rocky sea in “The Perfect Storm.” “Das Boot” is where it all started for him, and it is a seriously intense and emotionally exhausting experience which thrills and terrifies you in equal measure. The accuracy to detail is never in doubt, and the audience will come up gasping for air once the credits roll.

There may be another submarine movie or two coming to movie theaters in the future, but after watching “Das Boot,” you can bet they won’t come close to topping it. Movies don’t get much more thrilling than this one, and it is a must see for those who are fans of Petersen’s work or war movies in general. It is also more preferable to some of the director’s more recent work like “Poseidon” and “Troy.”

* * * * out of * * * *

Note: There are currently many different versions of “Das Boot” available. The original theatrical cut lasts about two and a half hours. The director’s cut of it added an hour of footage which gave more depth to each character. And before it made its way onto Blu-ray, there was the uncut miniseries version which runs for almost five hours. You may want to start off with the director’s cut and then move on to the miniseries which perfectly captures the infinite tedium of the crew that feels endless.

Imperium

IMPERIUMfinalposter

Imperium” is being released not along after “The Infiltrator,” another movie dealing with an FBI agent going undercover and entering a vicious criminal organization in order to stop the bad guys in their tracks. Like “The Infiltrator,” “Imperium” doesn’t break any new ground in the realm of undercover cop movies, but it is a taut thriller which holds our attention as it throws a barely prepared protagonist into a den of snakes who are quicker to kill than trust.

Front and center in “Imperium” is Harry Potter himself, Daniel Radcliffe. Ever since playing the lightning-scarred wizard, the actor has taken on many challenges to prove to the world there is more to him than J.K. Rowling’s infinitely popular literary character. At first he seems out of place as FBI agent Nate Foster, but that’s kind of the point. Nate comes across as a bespectacled and bookish nerd who is more comfortable doing research than going outside of the office. It also doesn’t help he’s the butt of jokes by his fellow agents who have yet to take him the least bit seriously.

But then along comes agent Angela Zamparo (Toni Collette) who sees a strong potential in Nate for undercover work. She is also sick of her superiors devoting all their resources to foreign terrorism instead of putting just as much focus on domestic enemies. Angela brings Nate into her office, tells him what he needs to know and gives him a copy of “How to Win Friends and Influence People” by Dale Carnegie, the only book needed for undercover work. From there, Nate transforms himself into a war veteran turned skinhead and navigates his way into the dangerous underworld white supremacy.

I have to give writer and director Daniel Ragussis a lot of credit as he focuses on something I desperately want America’s politicians to focus on: domestic terrorism. When it comes to the “War on Terror,” much of the focus has been focused on international groups like ISIS or The Taliban, but the threat inside America has proven to be far greater these days. Ragussis makes this very clear as he features video footage and photos of Neo-Nazis at work, be it going on marches or committing heinous crimes against those people who are not white.

Radcliffe may still have the shadow of Harry Potter hanging over him, but this doesn’t affect his performance as Nate Parker in the slightest. He makes Nate’s transformation into an undercover agent not just believable, but at times frightening. Movies like these show their protagonists sinking so deep into their assignments to where they lose contact with who they are and develop strong friendships with criminals they are supposed to bring down. Radcliffe shows, a lot of times without words, just how desperate Nate is to get to the truth. We already know just how great an actor he is, and his performance in “Imperium” goes to show the kind of acting challenges he is willing to step up to the plate to take on.

But there’s also Toni Collette who proves to be every bit as good as Radcliffe in her portrayal of, Angela Zamparo. Collette makes Angela cool as they come, and it’s loads of fun watching her reduce her male colleagues to rubble as they can’t even begin to match her job efficiency. Collette made her big breakthrough back in 1994 with “Muriel’s Wedding,” and ever since then she has immersed herself so deeply into each role she plays to where you completely forget the ones she played previously. The scenes she shares with Radcliffe here are great as we watch a rookie and a veteran slowly start to figure one another out, and nothing is never as it seems.

“Imperium” has the requisite scenes where Nate has to think fast on his feet so his cover doesn’t get blown, and some resonate with intensity more than others. One of the best comes when Nate is going to a potential site for a party along with Andrew Blackwell who is played by “The Knick’s” Chris Sullivan. Blackwell brings his best poker face to this scene as we watch Radcliffe tremble in fear as he is made to feel death is just around the corner. Both actors succeed in creating an almost unbearably intense scene here as if they are about to make the most pivotal move in a chess game.

Now “Imperium” will not go down as one of the best undercover cop movies ever made, but it does get the job done. It also shows Radcliffe taking on a new challenge and growing even more as an actor. Both he and Collette are more than enough of a reason to check this movie out sooner than later. Writer and director Daniel Ragussis also deserves a lot of credit for focusing on domestic terrorism as it feels like a realm in today’s day and age which doesn’t get enough attention. Sometimes the greatest threat to a nation isn’t from outside of it, but from within. Seriously, look at what Donald Trump’s bizarre run for President has brought out into the open.

* * * out of * * * *

Copyright Ben Kenber 2016.

Anthropoid

Anthropoid poster

Anthropoid” is kind of like a cousin to “Valkyrie,” another movie about soldiers looking to take out a high ranking Nazi. Like “Valkyrie,” it will not go down as one of the most memorable World War II movies ever made, but it is an entertaining film which engages us with noble characters, interesting questions about the price of war and a furious climax where resistance fighters make their last stand. More importantly, it deals with a true life event (yes, it is “based on a true story”) many probably don’t know about but should.

The movie starts in 1941 with two Czechoslovak exile soldiers, Jozef Gabčík (Cillian Murphy) and Jan Kubiš (Jamie Dornan), parachuting into their occupied homeland. Upon meeting the resistance fighters and their leader, “Uncle” Jan Zelenka-Hajský (Toby Jones), in Prague, they reveal that they are here to execute Operation Anthropoid which involves the assassination of Reinhard Heydrich, a high ranking Nazi who was one of the architects of the Holocaust and whom Adolf Hitler described as “the man with the iron heart.” Do they succeed in their mission? You’ll have to watch the movie to find out.

“Anthropoid” gets off to a bit of a slow start as Jozef and Jan try to settle in and not stand out among everyone else in town. They even recruit two lovely ladies, Marie Kovárníkovasá (Charlotte Le Bon) and Lenka Fafková (Anna Geislerová), to help them carry out their mission, and they are more than willing to help. Just watch as Lenka makes clear to the men how she can handle a gun.

There’s a subplot where Jan ends up getting engaged to Marie, and it just comes out of nowhere to where this section feels rather awkward. A number of characters are not developed fully enough to where “Anthropoid” threatens to feel like a missed opportunity. But what elevates the material are the performances which are very strong.

You can never go wrong with Cillian Murphy as he has yet to give a bad performance in any film he appears in. As Jozef, Murphy’s steely eyes stare into others with an intensity which wipes the smiles off their faces as he makes clear this is no ordinary mission. He also makes Jozef a most determined soldier who is infinitely determined to carry out this operation, but even he can only take so much before he falls apart emotionally.

Jamie Dornan shows more life here than he ever could have in the dreadful “Fifty Shades of Grey.” This is especially the case when his character suffers a brutal panic attack which has Jozef desperately trying to calm him down from. It’s way too easy to look like a fool when portraying such an emotional moment as the camera never lies, and it says a lot about Dornan that he was able to make this panic attack such a genuinely anxiety ridden moment.

There are also a number of other terrific performances to be found in “Anthropoid” like the one from Toby Jones. Then again, seeing him in a World War II movie these days instantly reminds us of his “Hail Hydra” character from the “Captain America” movies.

“Anthropoid” really kicks into high gear when an assassination attempt is taken and the Nazis come down hard on a particular group of people to where sympathy isn’t much of an option. It gets to where everyone wonders if killing one Nazi will have any effect on the war. With the world closing in on the main characters, the intensity keeps building and building all the way to the very end.

The last half of “Anthropoid” has the protagonists holing up in a church, and they are discovered by the Nazis to where a violent standoff ensues. Director Sean Ellis, who helmed the Oscar nominated short film “Cashback,” stages an impressive standoff which has us completely riveted. While the first half feels routine, the last half really does keep us on the edge of our seats. With “Valkyrie” we had a very good idea of things would turn out, but with “Anthropoid” we don’t. Bullets fly all over the place and emotions are shattered to where we can’t look away, and this is aided by a pounding music score composed by Guy Farley and Robin Foster.

Parts of “Anthropoid” may not stay in the conscious mind long after you have seen it, but the parts which do make it worth the price of admission. Many made tremendous sacrifices which can no longer be swept under the rug, and this movie gives those soldiers the respect they have deserved for the longest time. It also looks at the many costs of war and of how soldiers can only keep their cool for so long until they break under the pressure. It’s a bleak movie in many ways, but it also shows just how far the resistance fighters were determined to end Hitler’s genocidal reign.

* * * out of * * * *

Copyright Ben Kenber 2016.