Talking Movies

December 20, 2020

Miscellaneous Movie Musings: Part XXXVIII

As the title suggests, so forth.

Stripey Heartbreak

Well, well, well… this was unusual. Watching two 1980s US army movies back to back it suddenly became clear there was a bit too much crossover for a fully sane mind to handle. A hard-bitten old sergeant has to whip some layabouts led by disruptive jokers into proper soldiering shape before an absurdist war in the final reel because you can’t have a movie about the army without there being a war goddamnit. And the one that didn’t get official approval from the military in the end was the Clint Eastwood action flick not the rambling Bill Murray comedy. Clint swore too much for the Marine Corps endorsement. Even though it’s based on real life, even though people die on both sides, the culminating action of Heartbreak Ridge in Grenada somehow feels no more real than the bloodless baloney in Czechoslovakia that ends Stripes, before both sets of characters return home to a heroes’ welcome as they tumble off the plane onto the tarmac. Thinking about this paradox suddenly made me recall the complaint of an officer to George Orwell in Homage to Catalonia: he griped that their Spanish Civil War experience was not truly one of war – this was merely a comic opera, with the occasional death.

Whither Nolan, whither the WB?

Another WB stalwart has been in the wars with his superior officers… Christopher Nolan has been actively biting the hand that feeds him over Warner Bros’ shock announcement that their 2021 slate of films (many of which were their 2020 slate of films) would now be released to stream on HBO Max to get around the collapse of cinemas in America because of the catastrophic response to the coronavirus. Nolan loudly decried this use of the work of the brightest and the best as a mere loss-leader, as people who thought they were working for the best studio ended up working for the worst streaming service. A trenchant statement, that will not have been appreciated by the beancounters, marketers, and management gurus all playing catch-up with Disney’s monopoly status. Where exactly this leave Nolan’s previously untouchable standing with the top brass at the WB is unclear. Tenet failed to entice Americans back to cinemagoing during a pandemic that ‘incompetence exacerbated by malevolence’ perpetuated, but that was hardly a surprise. But Tenet despite being the third biggest film of the year worldwide at $361 million did not make enough money overseas to compensate for only making $57 million of that figure in America. Doing it Nolan’s way has left the studio out of pocket for roughly half its expected takings. If they try it the other way and that doesn’t work either maybe he’ll be forgiven. If not… is it the end for Nolan after two decades working for the WB?

September 8, 2016

Anthropoid

Cillian Murphy and Jamie Dornan star in a brutally compelling take on the cost of assassinating the Butcher of Prague at the height of WWII.

unnamed

Josef Gabcik (Cillian Murphy) and Jan Kubis (Jamie Dornan) parachute into Czechoslovakia after years in exile. They quickly discover how deep the occupying Nazis’ regime of fear and infiltration has gone in their attempts to make contact with the Resistance. But with the help of Uncle Hajsky (Toby Jones) and Marie Moravec (Alena Mihulova) they begin a life of deep cover in Prague. Fake girlfriends Marie Kovarnikova (Charlotte Le Bon) and Lenka Fafkova (Anna Geislerova) help to deflect suspicion at these two loitering unemployed men, but it also raises the question of the nature of their mission. Josef is at peace that he has signed up for suicide, but Jan is eager for an escape plan after the assassination. And the assassination attempt itself raises moral questions; articulated by Resistance chief and Doubting Thomas Ladislav Vanek (Marcin Dorocinski).

If killing Reinhard Heydrich, Hitler’s third-in-command after Himmler and a chief architect of the Final Solution, would lead to the reprisal execution of 30,000 Czechs, is it morally justifiable to do so? At what point does informing on a handful of men to save thousands of men become morally defensible, or is it ever so when faced against an evil like the Nazis? Sean Ellis and co-writer Anthony Frewin don’t have any answers to these knotty questions, but allowing the characters to raise them elevate this film from gung-ho heroics. The deepening attachments between Josef and Lenka and Jan and Marie could become stock, but that the philosophical divide between the two men is amplified by the women; Lenka in particular is a breakout performance by Anna Geislerova as a soldier in the shadows of formidable steeliness who, like Josef, regards their death warrants as signed.

Ellis acts as his own cinematographer with a noticeably grainy aesthetic, almost a homage to Zapruder’s JFK footage. This is not a sumptuous recreation of occupied Prague, it is focused on the details of espionage, weapons manufacture, and assassination, and invites comparison with Jason Bourne for extended wordless sequences of practical spy-craft. Oddly enough the timing of the assassination places this structurally beside The Dark Knight, but building towards a climax of historically accurate honourable heroism that is as alien to Hollywood storytelling tropes as (the previously fantastical) 47 Ronin‘s finale. If there is one quibble it is that Bill Milner’s At’a Moravec is so ostentatiously introduced as a violinist, at which point your stomach knots that the ability to play will be taken from him; because sadistic cruelty is the modus vivendi of the Gestapo.

Anthropoid is not a tale of derring-do, but a muted study in suicidal bravery, which will leave an audience saddened beyond measure but glad to have seen such heroism.

3.5/5

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.