Saturday, August 20, 2011

Movie Reviews-Rise of the Footsoldier, Salt,Downfall and more

Rise of the Footsoldier
Rise of the Footsoldier, directed by Julian Gilbey, is a pretty gritty British gangster film that centers on the two decade evolution (devolution?) of soccer hooligan Carlton Leach and his buddies from mindless rioters into even more mindless gangsters, extortionists and drug dealers. It has more than few similarities to Goodfellas. The film is based on a true story, the Rettendon Range Murders, which also featured in another good British crime film, Essex Boys. Carlton Leach tells the story in voiceover and freezeframe, which gives it even more of a Goodfellas style. However if anything this film is even more pointed in its depiction of violence and brutality, which is unrelenting throughout. 

The only people scarier than Carlton and his friends are the Turkish Mafia, which is shown to be capable of depravities beyond your normal English thug. There are no sympathetic figures in the movie. Carlton is depicted as less violent than two of his best friends, which is not surprising as I believe the movie was based in part on Carlton's book and input. The most violent and chaotic of Carlton's friends is Pat, who is similar to Goodfellas' Tommy. Don't tell Pat what sort of pizza his girlfriend can or can't have deliveredI enjoyed the film. It was very dark, both in the actual shooting of the picture and the theme.

This film starred Angelina Jolie, Liev Schreiber, and Chiwetel Ejiofor. Andre Braugher has a brief cameo.

Originally this was to feature Tom Cruise in the lead role but he declined and the movie was rewritten for Jolie. If there's one actress who can make you believe that she has the capacity to fight men and occasionally win it's the statuesque Jolie. I think Jolie is better suited for this than Cruise would have been. I have trouble believing Cruise could win a fight with the paperboy.

Jolie is a deep cover CIA agent (Evelyn Salt) who is interrogating a Russian defector who suddenly states that Jolie is actually a deep cover Russian mole planning an assassination. Jolie refuses to be interrogated in turn and escapes. Mayhem ensues. Schreiber is Jolie's CIA supervisor, who doesn't want to believe she's gone bad. Ejiofor is a counterintelligence officer who does everything by the book even as he starts to notice some anomalies.

The movie is fun but mindless. The director realizes this and attempts to make up for it by plenty of closeups of Jolies' lush lips or pencil skirted legs. Jolie's character even uses her panties to escape lockdown. While this is... interesting,  =) I'm not sure it really balances out a script that has some very obvious logic holes and some misdirection that doesn't quite work. And although one fight scene might be believable it's a bit much to watch Evelyn Salt constantly duke it out toe to toe with men 50 lbs heavier and 6 inches taller.  In its defense though the movie is anything but ponderous and moves pretty quickly. It's just under 90 minutes. In general though I couldn't really care about any of the characters. They didn't quite come across as real.

This is a drama about Hitler's last days in the bunker in Spring of 1945 as the Russians close in from all sides.
It is in German of course with English subtitles. Usually I'm not a fan of subtitles but I can't imagine this particular film being shown any other way. German is a fascinating, if harsh sounding language to me and it does have a majestic tone to it. In some circles this film is probably best known for the many youtube parodies that it engendered of Hitler's final classic rant when he discovered that there really was no relief army coming but it should be seen on its own merits.

Bruno Ganz stars as Hitler. The resemblance is disconcerting. It's even more impressive how well the actor captured Hitler's frothing rages, his sudden switches to kindness to women or children, his paranoia and deep hatreds, his physical deterioration from drug abuse, stress and Parkinson's and his manipulative hold on the minds of millions even as the country came apart.
This film is told largely from the POV of Traudl Junge (Alexandra Maria Lara), Hitler's final secretary who was personally picked by Hitler just before everything fell apart. Junge is quite happy to get this assignment. 

Although in some respects movies like this could be accused of humanizing a monster the fact remains that Hitler was human. Humans contain the highest angels and the meanest devils within. The other thing which is factual is that up until the very end many Berliners fought the Russians from door to door, not so much to protect Hitler, who had by then made his contempt for the "weak German race" quite explicit, but to protect their lives and their women. It's not often discussed and is only obliquely mentioned in the film but a significant portion of the Russian Army committed atrocities against German civilians-primarily the rape of women-once they crossed into Germany. Such incidents were seized on by Nazi propagandists.

The paragon of Nazi propagandists was of course Goebbels (Ulrich Matthes) who along with his wife Magda (Corrina Harfouch) remained a fanatically devoted Hitler follower. Near the very end shortly before their mutual suicide, Magda commits an act that even her husband can not bring himself to do. The costs of true belief are shown in very ugly detail but they are costs which some Nazis are quite willing to pay. Because the film focuses so much on the leadership it is easy to forget that a nation of millions was paying the price for that leadership. There are some other questions raised around this which may be beyond this review but one of them is, in modern warfare is it moral for civilians to pay the price? Should we mourn for the dead of Dresden or Hiroshima or do we shrug and say they got what was coming to them?

Most of the film takes place in the bunker , which gives it a suitably cramped and desperate feel. But on the occasions that the film ventures outside things are even worse as we watch the unending procession of wounded soldiers, frantic doctors, thieves, SS fanatics, murdered civilians, and children or women pressed into combat. Ultimately this is a tremendously sad film because we see what an evil thing war is.  I really do think Americans would be much less jingoistic if war were more than a video game to so many people. Eva Braun (Juliane Kohler) is depicted as a simple-minded seductive individual who never thinks to challenge her husband (they married right before committing suicide) except when she is begging for a relative's life. This is a really really good film.

This movie's lead is The Rock, or as he now prefers to be known, Dwayne Johnson. Faster also stars Billy Bob Thornton, Carla Gugino, Maggie Grace, Oliver Jackson-Cohen, Mike Epps, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje and one very nice 1970 Chevelle SS. It is directed by George Tillman, Jr.

It is a revenge flick starring Johnson as the protagonist out on a rampage to deliver some serious hurting to people who wronged him. It's a welcome switch from the kiddy genre to which Johnson was temporarily exiled.

However the movie makes some very very critical mistakes of motivation, pacing and story. Simply put, a revenge motivation is meaningless unless you understand who the hero lost, why the loss is so devastating and you root for the hero to get his own back no matter what. This film has trouble doing that. Also Johnson's character lacks humanity-he has no girl-isn't the hero always supposed to get the girl?? And the film spends WAY too much time on supporting characters at the expense of Johnson's storyline. It feels like the film was hedging its bets. It switches up at the end and almost feels like two different screenwriters were fighting it out.

I don't want to accuse Thornton of just phoning it in but he does look kinda bored here.
The film does have a Revolvers are just Better theme and One Cool Car Those were fun but that was about the extent of it.

How to make an Oscar Winning Movie.
This is not a review I wrote but it is a send-up of what many award winning movies tend to look like these days and I thought it was funny. Hopefully you do too but as always YMMV.

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