February 2020
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Australia (2008)

DIRECTOR: Baz Luhrmann

CAST: Nicole Kidman, Hugh Jackman, Brandon Walters, David Wenham, Jack Thompson, Bryan Brown, David Ngoombujarra, Ben Mendelsohn, David Gulpilil


Baz Luhrmann is an unabashed romantic and an equally unapologetic fan of big, grandiose, old-fashioned melodramas, and while Australia, Luhrmann’s simply-titled ode to his homeland, is a little more restrained (relatively speaking) than Moulin Rouge, it contains many of his hallmarks.  It’s big, bold, and brash, painted on a sweeping canvas and recalling old 1950s romantic melodramas.  Alas, a meandering overlong narrative and uneven tone leave it not having the sweeping effect it strives so hard for.  Australia looks great and is not without entertainment value, but an inability to settle into a consistent groove leaves it weighed down by its own grandiose melodrama into a rather campy sudsy romance/adventure that’s as likely to induce eye-rolling as swooning. Continue reading

The Good German (2006)

DIRECTOR: Steven Soderbergh


George Clooney, Cate Blanchett, Tobey Maguire, Beau Bridges, Jack Thompson,Ravil Isyanov, Tony Curran, Christian Oliver, Leland Orser


The Good German is director Steven Soderbergh’s (Traffic, Ocean’s Eleven) adaptation of Joseph Kanon’s 2001 novel, but Soderbergh chose not to simply do a straightforward filming of Kanon’s book, but used it as his chance to attempt a film experiment of his own- making the movie, set in 1945, as if it had actually been made in the 1940s. Continue reading

Der Untergang/The Downfall (2004)

Downfall_lDIRECTOR: Oliver Hirschbiegel


Bruno Ganz, Alexandra Maria Lara, Corinna Harfouch, Juliane Köhler, Ulrich Matthes, Thomas Kretschmann, Christian Berkel, Matthias Habich, Heino Ferch, Michael Mendl, André Hennicke, Ulrich Noethen, Doneven Gunia, Thomas Thieme


The third major film depiction of the last days of Adolf Hitler (following 1973’s Hitler: The Last Ten Days, starring Alec Guinness, and 1981’s The Bunker, starring Anthony Hopkins) but the first internationally-released German production to feature Hitler as a main character, Downfall is director Oliver Hirschbiegel and screenwriter Bernd Eichinger’s frank confrontation of a man and legacy that has stigmatized and haunted Germany for sixty years.   Continue reading

Conspiracy (2001)

DIRECTOR: Frank Pierson

CAST: Kenneth Branagh, Stanley Tucci, Colin Firth, Ian McNeice, Kevin McNally, David Threlfall, Ewan Stewart, Brian Pettifer, Nicholas Woodeson, Jonathan Coy, Brendan Coyle, Ben Daniels, Barnaby Kay, Owen Teale, Peter Sullivan


This Made-For-TV HBO original movie, based on the sole surviving copy of the transcript of the infamous Wannsee Conference, will likely be found “boring” by those without an interest in the historical subject matter—after all, at least on the surface, it consists of nothing but fifteen men sitting around a table talking—but for those with an interest, Conspiracy is a disturbing docudrama that embodies the phrase “the banality of evil”. Continue reading

Enemy at the Gates (2001)

DIRECTOR: Jean-Jacques Annaud


Jude Law, Joseph Fiennes, Rachel Weisz, Ed Harris, Bob Hoskins, Ron Perlman, Eva Mattes, Gabriel Thomson, Matthias Habich


The Russian front in WWII hasn’t gotten much attention in a big-budget war film, so French director Jean-Jacques Annaud deserves some credit for giving us a rarely-shown viewpoint. However, the result is a mixed bag. Continue reading

Schindler’s List (1993)

DIRECTOR: Steven Spielberg


Liam Neeson, Ben Kingsley, Ralph Fiennes, Embeth Davidtz, Caroline Goodall


Oskar Schindler was an unlikely hero. German businessman and war profiteer, womanizer, slave laborer, and a member of the Nazi Party with prominent friends within the SS, he happily moved in on the heels of the conquering German Army and set up an enamelware factory in occupied Krakow, taking advantage of cheap Polish-Jewish labor in the service of the Third Reich. Yet coming into such close contact with Jews at a time when his own government was implementing plans for their total annihilation seems to have lit a spark of humanity within the opportunistic Schindler, and by the Nazis’ downfall in 1945, he had bankrupted himself and his factory and endured repeated arrests by the Gestapo to bring nearly 1,200 Polish Jews safely through the war and the simultaneously blazing Holocaust. This German war profiteer and nominal Nazi had saved more Jews than any other individual. And yet, for decades afterward, his story, and theirs, remained largely untold. Continue reading

Inside The Third Reich (1982)

DIRECTOR: Marvin J. Chomsky


Rutger Hauer, Blythe Danner, Sir Derek Jacobi, Sir John Gielgud, Sir Ian Holm, Maria Schell, Trevor Howard, Elke Sommer, Stephen Collins, Renée Soutendijk, Randy Quaid, Robert Vaughn, Michael Gough, Maurice Roëves, Derek Newark, David Shawyer, George Murcell, Viveca Lindfors, Zoë Wanamaker


Inside The Third Reich, a lengthy, critically acclaimed TV miniseries from two-time Emmy winner Marvin J. Chomsky, is a film adaptation of the same-named memoirs by Albert Speer, a bright, cultured German architect who became Adolf Hitler’s personal designer and later Minister of Armaments and War Production, ultimately spending twenty years in Spandau Prison for his use of slave labor to keep the German war effort going, during which time he ostensibly reflected on his errors in judgment and began to write his memoirs. Although forbidden to do so in prison, Speer smuggled them out through a sympathetic guard and formed them into an autobiography upon his release. As one of the few surviving individuals to have had such intimate contact with Hitler, Speer lived well off of book sales until his death shortly before its film adaptation. While many believe Speer to have downplayed his own role in the Third Reich, and criticize the miniseries for not questioning his account, its historical value is undeniable. Inside The Third Reich was filmed on a low budget over a few months of winter in Munich, which is made apparent by the presence of snow in nearly every outdoors scene throughout the miniseries. While the vast scope and detail of Speer’s writings require numerous events to be skipped over, it serves to give the viewer the basics of the workings of the Third Reich. Continue reading

A Bridge Too Far (1977)

DIRECTOR: Richard Attenborough

CAST: Dirk Bogarde, James Caan, Michael Caine, Sean Connery, Edward Fox, Elliott Gould, Gene Hackman, Anthony Hopkins, Hardy Kruger, Laurence Olivier, Ryan O’Neal, Robert Redford, Maximilian Schell, Liv Ullmann


From producer Joseph E. Levine and director Richard Attenborough comes this unwieldy but sporadically impressive “war epic” making the strange choice to throw up a boatload of money and effort portraying in grandiose, The Longest Daystyle one of the Allies’ biggest fiascoes of WWII, the ill-conceived Operation Market Garden.  Adapted from Cornelius Ryan’s 1974 best-selling book chronicling the operation in comprehensive detail from compiled interviews with both Allied and German participants and Dutch civilians (The Longest Day was also based on Ryan’s book covering the D-Day invasion), A Bridge Too Far was self-importantly touted as “one of the most expensive war movies ever made!” (costing $26 million, an impressive sum in 1977) but was only a modest box office success and received mixed critical reviews.  Perhaps this is partly because watching a big, lavish, star-studded movie about an Allied defeat is too much of a downer for audiences expecting some “rah rah” flag-waving, but also the movie lacks the drive and focus to maintain consistent interest over its formidable three hour runtime.  It’s overlong, muddled, ponderous, and overbaked, though not without scattered impressive moments.  For WWII buffs, it’s worth watching as the kind of epic “classic” they don’t make this way anymore, but for anyone without a strong interest in the subject matter, it’s likely to be a slog. Continue reading

The Eagle Has Landed (1976)

DIRECTOR: John Sturges


Michael Caine,  Donald Sutherland, Robert Duvall, Jenny Agutter, Donald Pleasence, Larry Hagman, Treat Williams, Jean Marsh, Anthony Quayle, John Standing, Sven Bertil-Taube, Siegfried Rauch, Michael Byrne, Joachim Hansen, Maurice Roeves, Wolf Kahler


The Eagle Has Landed is not your typical war movie. Those looking for a more serious meditation on the costs of war should look elsewhere. Based on the book by espionage and international intrigue writer Jack Higgins, The Eagle Has Landed is intended as suspense-thriller escapism, but, while mildly entertaining in a goofy sort of way and with some bright spots, isn’t quite the twisty-turny potboiler it aspires to be. Continue reading

Patton (1970)

DIRECTOR: Franklin J. Schaffner


George C. Scott, Karl Malden, Ed Binns, Michael Bates, Karl Michael Vogler, Siegfried Rauch, Richard Münch, Paul Stevens, Tim Considine, Clint Ritchie


Equally effective as a war film or a character study, Patton still holds up today chiefly due to the towering lead performance by George C. Scott.  Rod Steiger, Lee Marvin, John Wayne, Robert Mitchum, and Burt Lancaster were all offered the title role, but after watching the film it is impossible to imagine anyone else but Scott. Patton can be enjoyed simply as one of the great film performances of all time. Scott does not simply play Patton; he has become so synonymous with the character that the real George Patton of WWII archive footage seems like an imposter. Credit is also due the capable direction by Franklin J. Schaffner, producer Frank McCarthy (a retired brigadier general who had worked for twenty years to make a movie about Patton), the intelligent, even-handed screenplay by Francis Ford Coppola and Edmund H. North, and the cinematography by Fred Kroenkamp, who enhances the film with his sweeping shots of Tunisia, France, and Germany. John Huston, Henry Hathaway, and Fred Zinnemann had declined to direct. William Wyler agreed but later left over script disagreements with Scott. Whatever difficulties they may have had during filming, the efforts of the cast and crew paid off, as Patton went on to win eight Oscars, including Best Actor for Scott (which he famously refused, calling the Oscars a ‘self-serving meat parade’), Best Picture, Best Director, Best Screenplay, Best Editing, and Best Production Design.

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