Hangmen Also Die Review

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Live by the gun Die by the gun

 

Hangmen Also Die

Director: Fritz Lang

Stars: Brian Donlevy/Walter Brennan/Anna Lee

Year Released: 1943

Genre: Thriller/Noir

Spoilers Will Be Used

       Could you do the right thing even if meant hundreds of other people would pay for it? This is what’s faced by our hero in this dark and complex film that manages to simultaneously be a grim film noir and a patriotic World War 2 thriller. In 1942 Czechoslovakia the country is being ruled by the utterly ruthless Nazi commander Reinhard Heydrich A.K.A the hangman, who more than lives up to his nickname. After executing a careful trap, Czech resistance fighter Karel Vanek (Brian Donlevy) shoots and kills the brutal tyrant. Unfortunately, the getaway driver is forced to flee early and Vanek is forced to run for his life. With the Gestapo closing in and no other options left, Vanek hides at the home of Masha Novotny (Anna Lee) who he saw throw the Nazis off his trail. While both Masha and Karel are afraid of possible harm coming to Masha’s family, her father the patriotic Prof. Stephen Novotny will not give up a man who has done such good for their country. Tragically the professor pays for his Patriotism when he and hundreds of others are taken as hostages who will be executed one after the other until the assassin gives himself up. From there on it’s a race of double crosses and traps as Vanek and Maha attempt to fool the Gestapo while trying to decide whether to save Vanek’s life or the lives of all the hostages.

“Hangmen also die” was the brainchild of three massive talents that all had one thing in common, they all fled from Germany once the Nazis took control. The Director is legendary cinematic master Fritz Lang. For those not in the know, Fritz Lang helped create the film genres of both Sci-Fi and Film Noir. He was also an eccentric, eye patch wearing maniac that constantly got in fights with actors, agents, and producers. Regardless of that, Langs talent was so impressive that Josef Goebbels himself asked him to be the head of the new Nazi film studio. When Lang asked how he could do this when he had Jewish ancestry, Goebbels reportedly said, “Herr Lang, we and we alone will determine who is a Jew”, Lang fled to Paris that same day. If Langs talent wasn’t enough the move also has a credit from legendary German writer Bertolt Brecht and music from his close friend, composer Hanns Eisler. “Hangmen also Die” is a fascinating film, not only because of its content but the authentic passion that the three German expatriates. Despite the patriotism that drips from every scene, none of it feels forced or phony and this helps immensely.

Fortunately, it’s not just the trio’s beliefs that are strong but their talents. Lang shoots scenes with an artist’s eye, which makes almost every frame of this movie either beautiful, informative or both. If these any complaints to be made about Langs directing, it’s that he can be heavy-handed, in the way old movies sometimes are. Fortunately, even when being heavy handed the film is gorgeous so it’s not much of a problem. Brecht’s script kept me interested until the very last scene and has one of the best climaxes I’ve ever seen. For once I’m not going to spoil it because it’s just that good. Eisler’s score compliments the movie perfectly and never feels like it’s drowning out the scene. For anyone interested in film-noir, World War 2 movies or just German cinema in general“Hangmen also die” is required viewing.

 

 

 

 

F.A.Q’s

Did I like the movie: Yes

Would I watch it again: Yes

Would I buy it: Yes

Good name for an Indiana Jones based kids show: Fedora the Explorer

 

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One against Many

 

Desktop and Phone

Something different this time folks, a comparison piece. I’d like to talk about the differences when something is read off an actual computer and when it’s read off a Smartphone. The article I’ll be using is the Rolling Stones article “How We Lost Iraq” which’s an excerpt from the book “We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People” by Peter Van Buren. It’s a fascinating story about Foreign Service Officer Peter Van Buren’s’ time in Iraq and the tragic farce of a reconstruction effort that he was part off. It’s a tremendous story and I’d encourage anyone whose interest to read it.

Here’s the link

The primary difference in reading something on a phone and on a computer is the size. Obviously, the phone is much smaller, but I’ve never had trouble reading off of it. If necessary you can just turn the phone from horizontal to vertical and make the text bigger. More distracting than the text size were the advertisements. On a full sized computer, the articles text is in the middle while the sides are taken up by ads. My phone doesn’t have this problem so for me it’s easier to use. While it may seem strange to some, I’ve always found reading off a Smartphone to be easier and even preferable to reading off a computer.

Conspiracy Review

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Faces of Death

 

Conspiracy

Director: Frank Pierson

Stars: Kenneth Branagh/Stanly Tucci

Year Released: 2001

Genre: Drama

Spoiler Warnings for the Übermensch

 

If you’re looking for a film that shows how the worst acts in history are committed look no further. In 1942  the Wannsee Conference was held. during it, top Nazi bureaucrats led by Reich protector Reinhardt Heydrich (Kenneth Branagh) and SS senior leader Adolf Eichmann (Stanley Tucci), gathered in the Berlin suburb of Wannsee and decided the fate of six million lives in an 85-minute meeting.

“Conspiracy’s” plot is just that, a dramatic re-creation of a group of Nazi’s having a meeting and being introduced to the high commands final solution to the so-called Jewish problem. While the plot is extremely simple, this is still a fascinating movie. Everyone should understand that while this meeting was the official start of the Holocaust, the Holocaust as we know it (that is to say the organized mass killing of undesirables by the Nazi State) had been going on for quite some time before any meeting at Wannsee.

“Conspiracy” acknowledges this when Dr. Rudolf Lange (Barnaby Kay) commander of the SD in Latvia and one of the few active duty military men present at the conference, mentions that he “evacuated” 30,000 Jews in Riga by shooting them. This is all correct, as unorganized killings of anyone the Nazis deemed inferior had been going on since the invasion of Poland and organized killings were started soon after that. In fact, the early concentration camps were already up and running before any conference of any kind. The true purpose of Wannsee was to tell all the parts of the disparate Nazi bureaucracy, oh BTW we’re committing Genocide now, either get on board or get buried.

To me, the Wannsee conference was not just the confirmation of the Holocaust but also the reveal of the true face of Nazi power. Understand that while the Nazi ideology was built on antisemitism and white supremacy, that was hardly the only thing that attracted its millions of followers. Nazism was to create a Socialist democratic dictatorship that would dissolve the corruption of the old government and serve as a beacon of hope and order for all Europe. It was at Wannsee that these officials learned that it was not the state that had absolute power, only the Fuhrer, and his associates. This is best shown when Dr. Friedrich Wilhelm Kritzinger (David Threlfall) and Dr. Wilhelm Stuckart (Colin Firth) raise objections. Kritzinger wonders why the extermination of Jews is taking place despite Hitler personally denying that it wouldn’t. Stuckart, on the other hand, is more practical with his objections. He wonders how the laws separating Jew from Germans (which he created) will be maintained and how they will legally and righteously create a new Germany if they resort to Mass extermination.

Heydrich assures them both in no uncertain terms that, Hitler will continue to deny any mass extermination plots despite being aware of them from the beginning. Also, any legal or moral issues preventing the extermination of the Jews should just be ignored. It is with this simple announcement that both men learn that they are no longer living in a representative government of any kind and likely never have been. Heydrich also takes the extra step to privately let them know if they do not enthusiastically cooperate they will be dismissed (meaning killed) and replaced with someone who will. Despite the unspeakable evil being committed, I don’t know anyone who could defy a man whose had ordered the death of thousands, especially when defiance would mean certain death for you, your family and wouldn’t slow the upcoming slaughter in the least. Those at Wannsee learned that their Nazi empire was just that, a state totally controlled by Emperor Adolph the first and his knights the SS, while they were merely peasants with no voice and no choice.

“Conspiracy” would likely be as dull and formal as the real Wannsee conference if not for the superb performances of the entire cast. Especially chilling was Kenneth Branagh, who shows his Shakespearean skills as he infuses one of the worst Nazis in history with such a cold and terrifying menace, that it’s no surprise at all that he could terrify an entire room of bureaucrats into submission without even raising his voice. Amusingly Heydrich is one of the few in attendance that doesn’t operate under any illusions. While some of the others still hold to the fantasy of mealy deporting Jews from German lands, Heydrich knows that such ideas are absurd. He also considers it ridiculous that the assembled Nazis would be willing to oppress the Jews so much, but not want to take the final step and wipe them out.

Also worth mentioning is the sublimely sleazy Dr. Gerhard Klopfer (Ian McNeice) who has the dubious honor of being the most unpleasant Nazi in the room. Every word out of his mouth shows him to be a tactless assh&%$ who’s anti-Semitism is so extreme it even bothers his co-workers. Apparently, the real Klopfer was nothing like this but since Ian McNeice is so good a portraying scum bags, it’s no wonder they made the change. David Threlfall is excellent as Wilhelm Kritzinger, one of the few at the conference who seems to object to the proposed mass extermination plan but ultimately crumbles due to fear and a total lack of support from anyone else. The honor of the best speech has to go to Colin Firth whose speech on eliminating Jews according to the letter of the law is one of the best displays of the warped Nazi mindset in any film ever made. While “Conspiracy” is a grim film it is also a superbly acted recreation of one of the most important meetings ever held. For those wondering how a government could condemn millions to death, “Conspiracy” will show that it was done. That is to say, in a simple 85-minute business meeting, the banality of evil indeed.

 

 

F.A.Q’s

Did I like the movie: Yes

Would I watch it again: Yes but only with other people so we could discuss it

Would I buy it: Yes

Hidden secrets of the world: Nicki Minaj is actually a robot, created to be the ultimate pop star. She is, the Minaj-Bot

 

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129,412 lives per minute

 

 

Good Kill Review

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A Window into War

 

Good Kill

Director: Andrew Niccol

Stars: Ethan Hawke

Year Released: 2015

Genre: Drama

Running Time: 102 Minutes

You are now entering a Spoiler controlled Area

            What does it do to a man when his everyday job involves killing people he doesn’t know, for a reason that may never become clear in a position of total safety and comfort. “Good Kill” explores this in a new type of wartime drama. Major Thomas Egan (Ethan Hawke) is a soldier in an age where war has gone from, televised to digital, to fully remote. Due to the lack of pilot positions Maj. Egan is forced to give up his F-16 for an air-conditioned box in Las Vegas where he pilots drones. He hopes to get back into the pilot seat of a plane but his exceptional skill with drones leads his team to work top secret missions for the CIA. As the body count rises and the civilian casualties go from rare to commonplace, Egan’s relationship with his wife and children slowly begins to unravel.

“Good Kill” is a film where the focus is not on the plot itself but the characters, more specifically the main character. At its heart, this film is about remote warfare and how it affects the people being the controls and the nature of warfare itself. It’s no secret that soldiers coming back from warfare can feel disconnected from both their family and the world around them, but what happens when warfare and daily life become one in the same. While it would be easy to dismiss drone piloting as not being “real combat” the fact remains that despite how much of a video game it looks like when the trigger is pulled, real people die. This is the root of Egan’s breakdown, it’s not simply the stress or the drinking, or the long hours, or even the fact that his position makes him feel like a coward. But it’s the fact that killing people, whether they are terrorists or random civilian feels awful to anyone with a conscience. Even though Egan does his killing from a place of comfort and safety he has the unfortunate ability to clearly see, who he is killing and the aftermath of the attack. From the targets grieving wife and children to the funeral (which he sometimes, must also attack) the chaos of the battlefield does not protect Maj. Egan, he sees the results of every action that he takes.

Ethan Hawke gives an excellent performance in portraying a man who is suffering in silence. Hawke manages to perform the difficult task of keeping his emotions bottled up, but not so bottled up that the audience can’t see that they’re bottled up. The rest of the cast is mostly average with the exception of Bruce Greenwood as Egan’s commanding officer, who manages to be both a tough C.O and a sympathetic ear for Egan. Sadly it’s Egan’s fellow soldiers who provide the worse parts of the movie. During their lunch breaks, two of Egan’s squad debates the morality of their actions. Sadly this means yelling out the basic talking points that you’ve likely heard in any news debate. While this is sadly realistic (most people, really do just repeat what they heard on the news) it doesn’t make for interesting cinema. Despite these painful but brief interludes and the rest of the cast not being very interesting, the main focus of the story is on Ethan Hawke and he more held my interest. “Good Kill” is a moving drama that strikes at what it means to be a soldier in an age where you may not get bloody, but you still don’t feel clean.

 

  

F.A.Q’s

Did I like the movie: Yes

Would I watch it again: Yes but only with other people so we could discuss it

Would I buy it: No

What’s the most frustrating part of your day: When I go to the grocery store and try to buy one of those checkout dividers, but the lady behind the counter keeps putting them back.

 

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Welcome To The Kill Box

 

Blue Ruin Review

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A Man Must Dig Two Graves

 

Blue Ruin

Director: Jeremy Saulnier

Stars: Macon Blair

Year Released: 2014

Genre: Thriller/Drama

Running Time: 90 Minutes

This review isn’t crazy it’s just got spoilers

             How far does a man have to go before he can say that justice has been done? The fascinating new revenge thriller “Blue Ruin” asks that and many other questions as it gives us a new spin on one of the oldest stories, the story of a man seeking revenge. The man in question is Dwight Evens (Macon Blair) who appears at first to be another lost and broken homeless man, who lives out of his car on the beach. This all changes when a local police officer informs him that Wade Cleland Jr. (Sandy Barnett) has just been released from jail. At that moment a terrible change comes over Dwight, he packs up his battered blue car (one of the possible meanings of the title) and  goes to kill Wade Cleland. After a failed search for a gun, Dwight decides to just ambush Wade at his release party with nothing more than a pocket knife. Then in a twist that separates “Blue Ruin” from most revenge movies, Dwight actually kills Wade. This would be the finale of most movies, but in “Blue Ruin” it’s only the beginning, as new facts come to light and the lives of Dwight and everyone he knows spiral out of control.

“Blue Ruin” is subtly different from its first frame. Not only does it not have any opening credits but it also throws the audience into Dwight’s hobo life without any explanation of who he is. Most of the film is like that, instead of explaining things; it relies on the audience to figure things out for themselves. Some people might get confused by this, but I could follow it and I think anyone who pays attention won’t have any trouble

What’s also different is the subtle tweaks “Blue Ruin” puts on the typical revenge story. Most revenge movies go like this: main character guy’s Family/Friend’s/Second cousin twice removed gets killed/raped/kidnapped and the killers avoid punishment so main character guy must now use/learn badass commando ninja skills in order to f#$% up the lives of the poor dumb basta#$% who messed with his loved ones. These usually star someone who looks like a badass so it won’t be too much of a stretch when he slaughters a dozen people. Take the “Death Wish” the granddaddy of revenge films for example. The main character in that movie is supposed to be a simple architect, but because he’s played by Charles Bronson, the jump from grieving family man to ruthless vigilante is easy for the audience to accept because Charles Bronson could look like a badass even if he did the whole movie in a dress.

“Blue Ruin” takes every critical part of the revenge move and warps it. Dwight’s family has been hurt but the killer was caught and punished. While Dwight does go on a rampage of revenge, he begins and ends it as nothing more than an especially clever homeless guy without any combat skills. Most important is how Dwight looks. In the begging of “Blue Ruin” despite sporting tattoos and an impressive beard, Dwight never looks tough; he just looks sad, lost and confused. Then after he cleans himself up he looks like a suburban wimp who couldn’t be less threatening if he tried. All these factors help create one of the rarest things in a film, realism. I actually found myself being believing “Blue Ruin’s” story and for a guy who’s seen as many movies as me, that’s a rare occurrence.

Fortunately, “Blue Ruin” doesn’t only need to rely on just its story. The acting is good overall, but the special focus should be given to Macon Blair who manages to communicate Dwight’s broken spirit from his first scene to his last. “Blue Ruin” is shot very well and it’s clear that the cinematographer knows how to frame a shot right and present a long take without overdoing it, sadly this is a skill that’s vanishing in modern films. While “Blue Ruin” isn’t an action movie when the bloodshed does start it’s quick, brutal and fit’s the movie’s tone perfectly. “Blue Ruin” is a rare thing, a movie that provides a new spin on a classic genre without being obvious about it. That alone is a good  reason to see it, but even without that “Blue Ruin” is tense tragic and very engrossing.

 

 

F.A.Q’s

Did I like the movie: Yes

Would I watch it again: Yes

Would I buy it: Yes

Put a new twist on an old joke: A man goes to see a Psychiatrist. He tells the Psychiatrist that he’s overwhelmed with life and he doesn’t know how long before it will be before he hurts someone he knows. The Psychiatrist tells the man “you should go see Pagliacci the clown, he’ll cheer you up.” The man starts to look very embarrassed and the Psychiatrist asks him what’s wrong. The man says “well I’m really starting to regret strangling that clown I met on the way over here.”

 

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Paybacks a Bitch