Last week's lineup of VOD releases lead me to 'Ghosts of War', as quite honestly, nothing else particularly interested me. But on top of that, I was sold on the concept of a supernatural World War II movie, and the fact that it comes from writer/director Erc Bress, who also did 'The Butterfly Effect' (which I love) and 'The Final Destination' (perhaps my favorite of the series).
Taking place in 1944, Nazi occupied France, Five American soldiers; Chris (Brenton Thwaites), Kirk (Theo Rossi), Tappert (Kyle Gallner), Eugene (Skylar Astin) and Butchie (Alan Ritchson), get assigned to hold a French Chateau, formerly occupied by the Nazi high command. Upon their arrival as a relief squad, the relieved soldiers have fear in their eyes for unknown reasons. The reasons present themselves within the first night, in the form of supernatural entities, providing some pretty disturbing imagery.
Soon, what's real and what isn't starts to become twisted, and these five battle-experienced soldiers find themselves facing something, the likes of which they can't imagine. Will these guys reluctantly accept their place and hold the fort down, despite these haunting images? Or will they take the easy way out, and risk getting court marshaled for abandoning their post? I'm not gonna say, but I will hint that this is one of those twist ending movies where the twist will either make or break the film for you.
Personally speaking, consider the film broken for yours truly, through said twist. The film kinda takes this leap and changes completely, and it just makes you ask what the hell just happened. Up until that particular point, I was rather with it. It was an interesting idea they had going - a spookhouse horror movie that was ballsy enough to show the ghostly, vengeful victims of a French family the Nazis tortured and murdered. It does play with a lot of the tropes we know so well nowadays, but it's also a DirectTV Original, so one can't be too harsh on tropes. It's honestly just the ending that kills it for me. But one might alternatively find it an interesting idea... even if it does feel like a cop out.
While I think the ending is something that more or less ruins an otherwise perfectly enjoyable horror movie, there's still a lot to like if you enjoy a good haunting flick. A lot of the imagery is pretty creepy, and while there's the odd jump scare, it doesn't overdo it. The movie's real feature is that it provides a great, ghostly, haunting, dreamy atmosphere for its setting. The mood for this is just right, and for a while, it's pretty much what you'd expect - not great, but passable for what it's trying to do. For a while, I was considering it for a decent Halloween watch... but that ending.
Check it out for yourself if you have access to it, and judge for yourself though. As I mentioned, some may think the ending is something cool. For me, though, it's not something at the top of my recommendation list, even if you're a horror fan. Aside from the atmosphere, there's nothing much that stands out here, but being a DirectTV Original, I'm not gonna dig into it too hard for being unoriginal. It's a minor curiosity, at best, and even then, basically forgettable.
Director Taika Waititi has definitely become someone to keep an eye on in his continuing career. In the near future, he'll be regarded as one of the best modern filmmakers of this age, with such titles as 'Thor: Ragnarok', which single-handedly revamped the 'Thor' series to something much better, and 'What We Do in the Shadows', which is seriously one of the funniest vampire movies in existence. This one is his answer to an adaptation film, basing it on the book 'Caging Skies' by Christine Leunens.
We meet a young German kid named Jojo (Roman Griffin Davis) who has an imaginary friend in Adolf Hitler (Waititi, himself), and allows him to guide his decisions, wanting more than anything to serve the real Hitler, and do everything a "good little Nazi" is supposed to do, without going into specific detail. Here we see a great example of kids being brainwashed, telling the German youth about the "horrors" of the Jewish race, in order to make them easier targets, painting them as actual monsters.
During his time at a young Nazi training camp ran by Captain Klenendorf (Sam Rockwell), an accident befalls Jojo, and he's brought back home to heal up, with his mother, Rosie (Scarlett Johansson). Returning to the camp, he's allowed to do more light duty things like handing out fliers and such. It's here that Jojo sees some of the first horrors of Nazi Germany, even though he's still very much a Nazi boy, and we start to see what the film wants to do as part of its unfolding.
While at home one day, however, Jojo hears a sound, goes to investigate, and finds a secret passage he never knew about. This leads him to a Jewish girl named Elsa (Thomasin McKenzie), and Jojo suddenly finds himself trapped about what to do, leading him to have to leave her be. During this time, he asks her to educate her on Jewish people, and she exaggerates everything to great comedic detail, which he takes seriously. Eventually, Jojo starts questioning the bigger things in life, and we realize that this is a movie that balances drama and comedy extremely well.
The film is overall supremely acted, being one of the best roles I've ever seen Scarlett Johansson play, another great role for Sam Rockwell, and both Roman Griffin Davis and Thomasin McKenzie are completely believable in their overall awkward relationship they develop. Somehow, this is a movie that profiles a German kid in World War II, wanting to be a Nazi more than anything, and it makes you empathize with him. It's a whole untouched area when it comes to war movies, and in that sense sort of reminds me of 'Grave of the Fireflies', where the movie says "but wait, look what happened over here through all of this."
Depicting a Nazi wannabe child's point of view seems a risky move, especially when he's lead by Hitler as his imaginary friend. But it also serves a purpose, and in a 'Breakfast Club' sort of way, we get to see just how much Jojo, a German, and Elsa, a Jew, have in common. It's hilarious, but also deeply profound, and will have you laughing just as much as tearing up. On a personal level, so far, this is my favorite movie of 2019!
So, I had an option between a mainstream movie and a limited movie. The mainstream movie was 'Miss Bala'. The limited movie, a documentary on World War I, directed by Peter Jackson, made from old, real, World War I footage that has been painstakingly restored as far as it could, and with voice-overs and sound effects over the old footage, provided by experts, bringing the old footage to life. I picked the latter.
According to Jackson, this was a documentary done for non-historians (guilty), and to be perfectly frank, there's really not much more to tell about its execution other than the fact that the narration is entirely made up of the voices of British No Man's Land survivors.
In truth, history was easily one of my worst subjects. For whatever reason, I was ignorant to its importance, and thought the future was far more interesting. So in all honesty, this was probably the best history lesson that I've ever received on the subject. There really is nothing like hearing it straight from the mouths of the people who have been there.
One thing I will say about this title is that I would HEAVILY encourage it to be shown in history classrooms upon whenever it gets a home release. I can vouch for it in that it held my attention, I found it fascinating, and I'd even say that it's officially raised the bar on how historical documentaries are done.
In case you manage to see this without its behind the scenes doc after its credits, I think it's important to note that Peter Jackson wants the viewers of this movie to get curious about their pasts, and check out some of their family history to see who in their bloodline may have served.
This film really was a case of "history coming alive", and I honestly hope that word spreads about it, and it gets the recognition it deserves. Remember guys, this is the take of the guy who gave us 'Lord of the Rings'.
Here we have something I consider to be a bit of a hidden gem within this Fall's releases. This is a decent combination of war movie and zombie movie, with a solid cast of relative newcomers, plenty of gruesome violence, and some edge-of-your-seat action and suspense. So yeah, one could say I quite enjoyed it.
The film opens up on the Eve of D-Day, as a group of paratroopers is preparing to head out on a mission to destroy a radio tower. The plane is shot down, and the squad is forced to bail out early, providing us with one of the coolest, most intense falling scenes I've seen in recent history.
For the most part, we follow a young man named Boyce (Jovan Adepo), who eventually ends up finding his Corporal, Ford (Wyatt Russell) among a few others. With these few remaining paratroopers, they continue on their mission. However, Boyce soon ends up discovering, quite by accident, some of the Nazi's more intense experimentation which, yes, leads to basically the creation of zombies - but not really your typical zombies, either, which is nice, because let's face it, the zombie Nazi idea is pretty played out.
This one plays out a bit more like (dare I say it?) an 'Indiana Jones' film, in that the Nazis are showing their more occult side. They're really trying to make powerful, biological weapons that are seemingly invulnerable; a little something to add to their already powerful army. This is a film that sort of lets us peek behind the curtain and get a horrific fantasy idea of what Nazis may have been up to back then with some of their darker experimentation, which indeed WAS a reality.
I think what I admired most about this one, however, is that it reaches this incredible balance. Between the horrors of war that everyone experienced back then, and some fantasy horror aspects, the film manages to pose the question of what's more terrifying in such a situation, the war everyone experienced, or whatever behind the scenes human experimentation that the Nazis really did. It's effective in allowing your imagination to explore the possibilities of death back then, and in the end, it was all very horrific and there was no real way around it.
If you happen to be a horror fan, this is a title worth exploring. I'd even recommend trying to catch it on the big screen before it leaves, because it hasn't exactly been doing gangbusters at the box office. Yeah, a lot of the film is pretty out there at times, but all in all, it was something sort of right up my alley for when I'm looking for a good, solid horror flick. It MIGHT even make my Year-End Top 10.
Nothing like Oscar season to catch up on some of the better titles of the year. This one has seemingly been floating under the radar a bit, until only recently, when it was nominated for several Oscars.
The story here, in question, is about Winston Churchill's (Gary Oldman) new appointment as Prime Minister of Britain, and his decision whether the country struck a deal with Hitler, or fight against all odds. The central focus is actually, once again, Dunkirk, and the effort to get the allied troops out of there.
Although this has six nominations under it's belt, no two awards stand out quite as much as Gary Oldman for Best Actor, and Best Hair/Makeup, which is admittedly a bit of a strange one for me to get excited about. The thing is, the two go hand in hand. The brilliantly done makeup is zoomed in on several times, and you'd swear you were looking at real skin. The makeup lends itself to Oldman's brilliant performance here as well. He's really quite convincing here when all is considered. When you look at his eyes, you see Oldman, but that's about the extent of what's recognizable... or perhaps the mouth? For me, it was the eyes, anyway.
It's also up for Best Picture, Cinematography, Production Design and Costume Design, all of which were very well done, but have slightly more serious contenders on the list. But don't get me wrong, this movie is pretty rock solid. The musical score keeps you well-engaged, along with a sense of humor that seems to come from Oldman's performance as a rather crotchety old man. His character here is as equally likable as he is unlikable, and it was very interesting to see how he may have been behind the scenes of everything that went on.
One could probably watch this and 'Dunkirk' back to back, and it would almost be like watching one long movie from two different perspectives. It was interesting to me that the two major war movies of the year contained the same subject matter. That's as in Dunkirk, not World War II.
Anyway, if nothing else, one should approach this wanting to see Oldman's performance, as it's one of the best of the year (if not the best). The overall story is really quite basic, which there's absolutely nothing wrong with, but it IS Gary Oldman who carries this movie on his shoulders. It may very well be his best performance to date.
Every now and then, a movie comes along that caters to an audience based more on an "experience" than an actual story with well-developed characters. Trust me, it sounds more negative than it really is. It is my belief that if a movie manages to entertain, it does it's job on some level. This can be done with great stories and great characters, which is what usually happens. However, I think one can be just as taken in with technical aspects of the film if they're done in a unique and beautiful way. 'Dunkirk', for me, is one of these movies.
Codenamed "Operation Dynamo", the Dunkirk evacuation took place between May 26 and June 4, 1940, during the Battle of France. Approximately 400,000 British, French and Belgian troops were cut off and surrounded by Germans, as they advance into France. Under cover from ground and air, the allied troops were methodically evacuated from the beaches of Dunkirk using serviceable naval and civilian vessels.
The movie shows the story from three different perspectives; in short - "The Mole" shows us Tommy's (Fionn Whitehead) story on land, as he tries like hell to get off the beach; "The Sea" follows Mr. Dawson (Mark Rylance) and his two sons, as they act as part of the civilian rescue team; finally, "The Air" follows three Spitfire pilots who are providing air cover, namely Farrier (Tom Hardy) and Collins (Jack Lowden).
Getting back to my original point about this being more of an "experience" movie, that lies in a couple of things. The first of those being that, for the most part, I didn't get terribly emotionally invested in any of the characters. Some may disagree, but just know that in my mind, that sort of thing IS passable here. The effect Nolan was going for here, speaking from a technical standpoint, seems to be an immersive experience above all else. He wanted to make a movie, without the need for 3D, that still makes you feel like you're a part of the action.
This movie was filmed using REAL Spitfires with IMAX cams strapped onto the side of them. This makes a lot of the aerial shots look beautiful. You even get the sound of the plane's engines surrounding you; a subtle detail that seems to get left out of a lot of war movies when bringing us to a cockpit's perspective. Above that, the sound mixing and editing is absolutely Oscar-worthy. It's probably one of the best technical movies I've ever seen, and certainly the best overall I've seen yet this year. This gives me a great admiration for someone like Christopher Nolan in that he still hasn't caved when it comes to 3D technology. He probably won't, either, because he's STILL able to give us a hell of an experience without it. 'The Dark Knight', 'Inception', and 'Interstellar' were all still visually pleasing without the need.
The only true criticism I had with this was some of the dialogue. I dunno if I'm alone on it, but I didn't understand what was being said a lot of the time due to a combination of thick accents and mumbling. This may have helped me get more emotionally invested as well, and I think comprehensible speech is often one of Nolan's faults. For this, I plan to see it again. He is, otherwise, a brilliant director. This wasn't extremely story-driven so much as tension-driven, but I think he was going for something a bit different this time around. He clearly needs no extra practice in story-telling with his past projects, and remains one of my favorite directors.