Review


“Every Man Dies Alone” or “Alone in Berlin” (German: Jeder stirbt für sich allein) is a 1947 novel by German author Hans Fallada. It is based on the true story of a working class husband and wife who, acting alone, became part of the German Resistance. Fallada’s book was one of the first anti-Nazi novels to be published by a German after World War II.

The story takes place during World War II in 1940 in Berlin. The book conveys the omnipresent fear and suspicion engulfing Germany at the time caused by the constant threat of arrest, imprisonment, torture and death. Even those not at risk of any of those punishments could be ostracized and unable to find work. Escherich, a Gestapo inspector, must find the source of hundreds of postcards encouraging Germans to resist Adolf Hitler and the Nazis with personal messages such as “Mother! The Führer has murdered my son. Mother! The Führer will murder your sons too, he will not stop till he has brought sorrow to every home in the world.” Escherich is under pressure from Obergruppenführer Prall to arrest the source or find himself in dire straits. Nearly all those who find the cards turn them in to the Gestapo immediately, terrified they themselves will be discovered having them. Eventually, Escherich finds the postcard writer and his wife, who turn out to be a quiet, working class couple, Otto and Anna Quangel. The Quangels’ acts of civil disobedience were prompted by the loss of their only son, who has been killed in action. They are arrested and brought to trial at the Volksgerichtshof, the Nazi “People’s Court”, where the infamous Roland Freisler presides. The Quangels are sentenced to death; Otto is soon executed, but Anna dies during an Allied bombing raid, while still on death row. (via Wikipedia)

I red this book some months ago, and it´s hard to not get engaged in the storyline about the Quangels’ and their action towards the Nazis as a result due to the loss of their son. However, despite having a great story based on a true story, I still felt something didn´t strike me full on and left me longing to pick the book up and read and also feeling sad when the book was finished. Not sure why I felt that way. Nevertheless, it´s has a strong illustration of German resistance against the Nazis. In the autumn of 1946 Fallada wrote “Alone in Berlin” in just 24 days and died a few months later, weeks before the book was published. Sad that he didn´t get to see the success of the book years later.

Alone

An unnamed gunslinger, referred to as The Lady (Sharon Stone), enters the Old West town of Redemption circa 1881 where she enters a single elimination gunfighting contest held by Redemption’s ruthless leader, John Herod (Gene Hackman), a former outlaw. She meets Cort (Russell Crowe), a former Herod henchman turned reverend, whom Herod captures and forces to enter the contest; and Fee (Leonardo DiCaprio), also known as “The Kid,” a brash young gun shop owner who hopes to impress Herod, whom he believes to be his father, by winning the contest. Though now a preacher, Cort is an amazingly fast and talented gunfighter, and the only man that Herod truly respects and fears. Herod covers this by treating Cort cruelly, denying him water, beating him and keeping him chained to an old fountain. In the first round of duels, The Kid defeats a Swedish quick-draw champion, while Herod kills braggart Ace Hanlon (Lance Henriksen), who had taken credit for some of Herod’s own accomplishments. The Lady defeats an old enemy she left shackled to a wagon, while Cort defeats one of Herod’s men who thought he was getting an easy kill. Herod later learns that the townspeople have secretly hired a bounty hunter, Clay Cantrell (Keith David), to enter the contest and kill him. The next day, Herod declares that all remaining duels must be to the death, then kills Cantrell when the two face off against one another. Herod angrily informs the townspeople that since they had enough money to hire Cantrell, he will raise their taxes. Flashbacks reveal that The Lady’s true name is Ellen, and she had grown up in Redemption, where her father was the town’s Marshal. One day Herod and his men invaded the town, killed all the deputies and tied her father to the gallows. Herod gave Ellen a gun and offered to let her shoot the rope and free him. However, she missed and killed her father instead. Seeking revenge, she has come to Redemption with the intent of killing Herod. However, an uncomfortable dinner date with Herod leaves Ellen unsure about whether or not she can go through with it and she attempts to flee. She then reunites with the town’s local doctor, Wallace, who was also her father’s best friend. The old man convinces her to return to Redemption and free the town from Herod…

Sam Raimi´s “The Quick And The Dead” was declared as a box office bomb when it came out, but I do like this classic and simple western tale with a twist being that the gunslinger after revenge is a woman. And that gunslinger is a truly stunning Sharon Stone in great form and the same goes for Hackman being as evil as only he can be. I think Stone manages to both be the hardened gunslinger she pretends to be, but at the same time being a woman terrified of her mission and her own feelings after true revenge. Yes, there´s some scenes that might not work 100% in building up her character, but that doesn´t really interfere with the movie and neither does the fact that “The Quick And The Dead” is cliché ridden and stereotypical in many ways. I love that Raimi has managed to gather a nice ensemble with great actors such as Stone, Hackman, Crowe, Sinise, Henriksen, Hingle, DiCaprio, David etc. A lot of solid names. And a job well done by the casting team. Raimi directs the movie with the feeling and style of a classic western, but with a cartoony backdrop and his classic zoom in shots appears once in a while. And the bloody violence is partly cartoony as well, but that works due to the general vibe created by Raimi. The only death I felt was way over the top ridiculous was Herod´s death. Fun fact is that Sam Raimi’s original ending didn’t work, so he went to Sony Pictures to ask for a writer to fix it. The studio suggested Joss Whedon, who saw the movie and fixed the ending for Raimi in one afternoon. All of the actors on the set in the gunfight scenes were instructed in the art of the quick draw by a stunt coordinator. Due to his limited screen time, Gene Hackman had the most opportunity to prepare his quick draw and as a result was the fastest actor on the set. And Sharon Stone hand-picked Russell Crowe to be in this film. The studio was initially unsure about this choice because Crowe was a complete unknown to the American audience. “The Quick And The Dead” is a western treat on the prairie in my eyes and I can´t really understand why it became a box office bomb. (4 out of 5)

Quick

The Norwegian resistance sabotage the Vemork Norsk Hydro plant in the town of Rjukan in the county of Telemark, Norway, which the Nazis are using to produce heavy water, which could be used in the manufacture of an Atomic bomb. Rolf Pedersen (Kirk Douglas), a Norwegian physics professor, who, though originally content to wait out the war, is soon pulled into the struggle by local resistance leader Knut Straud (Richard Harris). They are both smuggled to England to have microfilmed plans of the hydroelectric plant examined, and then return to Norway to plan a commando raid. When a force of Royal Engineers, who were to carry it out, are all killed, Pedersen and Straud lead a small force of saboteurs into the plant. The raid is successful, but the Germans quickly repair the equipment. The Germans then plan to ship steel drums of heavy water to Germany. Pedersen and Straud needs to stop the ship before is reaches Germany…

Anthony Mann´s “The Heroes of Telemark” is a visually stunning war epic movie based on real events that quite probably allowed the allies to win World War II. Kirk Douglas and specifically Richard Harris are in great form and the latter show such intensity and power in his role as Knut which adds so much to the film. I love the breathtaking snowy outdoor sequences filmed in Norway that gives authenticity to the film and also creates a great vibe and general feeling to the whole movie. I love as well how intense the acting is in general and how “evil” the germans are portrayed which in return engage you in the heroes mission even more. The film is very nicely shot and many sequences are well made and greatly choreographed. On the minus side is that the characters are not really presented properly and they become a bit as backdrops in all the marvellous scenery and action. I reckon the main characters could´ve been fleshed out a bit. And yes, it does maybe feel a bit silly that these Norwegian heroes speaks british english and american english while we do hear some german every once in a while during the screen time. Then again, what could you expect from a Hollywood war movie made in 1965. But, all in all I really liked this WW II movie which I have wanted to see for a long time. (4 out of 5)

Heroes

Carly Norris (Sharon Stone), a book editor, moves into an exclusive New York residential building, not long after the previous tenant, Naomi Singer, falls to her death from her balcony. In the apartment building, Carly meets two of her new neighbours, author Jack Lansford (Tom Berenger) who writes thriller novels and Zeke Hawkins (William Baldwin), a handsome and mysterious computer game developer, but also the secret owner of the apartment building. Carly and Zeke soon enough start meeting and subsequently they begin a sexual relationship. Carly is also being romantically pursued by Jack, whom she is a bit more unsure on. Two of Carly’s neighbours suddenly die under suspicious circumstances and the police suspect that there is a serial killer in the apartment building. Carly is unaware that Zeke has secretly wired the apartment building with hidden cameras and he has been watching the lives of each tenant living in the apartment building including Carly. Carly begins to suspect that Zeke or Jack may be the serial killer responsible for the murders and she may be the killer’s next victim…

“Sliver” was heavily panned by critics and the main criticisms were that the film provided little in the way of compelling thriller elements, that it diluted some of the plotlines of the novel, and that the actors were not on form. Many also singled out the editing and ending, calling the latter hasty and unconvincing. It was also nominated for seven Razzie Awards, including Worst Picture, Worst Director, Worst Actor (William Baldwin), Worst Actress (Sharon Stone), Worst Supporting Actor (Tom Berenger), Worst Supporting Actress (Colleen Camp) and Worst Screenplay, but failed to “win” any. When re-seeing “Sliver” it makes me think of a poor mans Brian De Palma thriller. It wants to be a De Palma film, but is nowhere near the heydays of the mentioned director. The plot is too thin (so much seems to be fillers), the dialogue campy, it lacks real suspense and the characters aren´t intriguing or for that matter interesting. Yes, the main topic of personal privacy, surveillance and the notion of someone playing Big Brother/Peeping Tom is there, but it´s just no very well handled by Phillip Noyce. The lovely Sharon Stone is ok, but she´s been in better shape while both Baldwin and Berenger (I reckon one of his worst roles) are out of shape. The sex scenes are initially ok in my mind. I think the first sex scene between Stone and Baldwin has a touch of hotness to it, but then it goes pear shaped after that. The pillar scene is just over the top ridiculous. In the original ending Sharon Stone and the killer fly over a volcano when the killer suddenly confesses his crimes. He then veers the aircraft into the volcano as the end credits roll and leaves the audience to decide whether they survive. The preview audiences disliked this ending and we got “Get a life!” as the ending instead. Well… neither of them seems satisfying in my eyes, but I haven´t red Ira Levin´s book so I don´t know if he keeps things together and the volcano ending (if that is actually the ending in the book) works or not, but the ending in the movie just feels halfassed and rushed due to the preview audience. (2 and a half out of 5)

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During the American Civil War, Captain Robert Shaw (Matthew Broderick) is injured in the Battle of Antietam and sent home to Boston on medical leave. He visits his family there, where he meets the abolitionist Frederick Douglass, a former slave. Shaw is offered a promotion to the rank of Colonel to command the first all-black regiment in the Union Army, the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry. He accepts and asks his childhood friend, 1st Lieutenant Cabot Forbes (Cary Elwes), to serve as his second in command, with the rank of major. Their first volunteer is another friend, Thomas Searles (Andre Braugher), a bookish free African American. Other recruits soon follow, including gravedigger John Rawlins (Morgan Freeman), timid freeman Jupiter Sharts and Silas Trip (Denzel Washington), an escaped slave who does not trust Shaw. Trip instantly clashes with Searles and Rawlins must keep the peace. The men learn that the Confederacy has issued an order that all black soldiers found in Union uniform will be summarily executed, as will their white officers, and are offered a chance to take a honorable discharge, but none do. The black soldiers undergo a severe training regimen under Irish Sergeant-Major Mulcahy. When Shaw confronts Mulcahy about his methods he comes to realize that Mulcahy is in fact training them fairly and is trying to prepare the men for the extreme challenges that they will face. Shaw is forced to deal with the prejudices of both the enemy and of his own fellow officers while pushing for the glory of getting the order to engage the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry into battle…

“Glory” was nominated for five Academy Awards and won three, including Denzel Washington for Best Supporting Actor for his portrayal of Private Trip. It won many other awards, including from the British Academy, the Golden Globe Awards, the Kansas City Film Critics Circle, Political Film Society, the NAACP, among others. Glory was the first major motion picture to tell the story of African Americans fighting for their freedom in the Civil War and came as a revelation to millions of Americans who had no knowledge of their participation. “Glory” is an interesting and well made period piece of a horrifying bit of US history and a war that killed more than 600 000 people. The storyline of how African Americans joined the Union army and fought under the flag is important to tell and it also becomes an homage to all the African Americans who died in that process. But, with that said “Glory” suffers as well from several problems in my eyes. Roger Ebert, writing in the Chicago Sun-Times said: “Watching “Glory,” I had one reccuring problem. I didn’t understand why it had to be told so often from the point of view of the 54th’s white commanding officer. Why did we see the black troops through his eyes – instead of seeing him through theirs? To put it another way, why does the top billing in this movie go to a white actor?” Re-watching “Glory” today several things come to my mind. Matthew Broderick is not really convincing as Colonel Shaw, he has this lightweight aura and this non-presence that makes you not believe he had that leader in him to handle the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry. And I reckon the same lightweight feeling hoovers over Cary Elwes, while Morgan Freeman and particularly Denzel Washington gives weight to the film. Washington won a well deserved Oscar for his performance in “Glory”, but today we have seen him in so many similar roles his magic has slightly worn off when seeing him as Trip today. The cinematography is quite vivid and strong, there´s storytelling drama and the characters gets space to development themselves. And the film has some strong and rememberable scenes, like when Trip is flogged, but at the same time way too many scenes border to pathetic flag waving patriotic sappiness and the good scenes sort of disappears or dies due to that. The movie feels so Hollywoodised in many ways (how they handle the story of the fighting African Americans, the general vibe/feel and the development of the characters) and set-up with “How to try to make an epic war movie A-Z” handbook and I simply can´t get past that. The story is there without no doubt, but the end result is not fully satisfying in my eyes. (3 and a half out of 5)

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Japanese middle school student Shuya Nanahara copes with life after his father’s suicide. Meanwhile, schoolmate Noriko Nakagawa is the only student attending class 3-B. Their teacher, Kitano (Takeshi Kitano), resigns after being impulsively attacked by a student. One year later, class 3-B takes a field trip, but they are gassed, fitted with electronic collars, and sent to a “briefing room” on a remote island. Kitano explains that the class has been chosen to participate in the annual Battle Royale as a result of the BR Act, which was passed after 800,000 students walked out of school. A cheerful orientation video instructs the class they have three days to kill each other until only one remains. The explosive collars will kill any uncooperative students or those within daily “danger zones”. Kitano kills two students for misbehavior during the video. Each student is provided a bag of food and water, map of the island, compass, and a weapon ranging in efficiency from firearms to a paper fan. The program’s first six hours see twelve deaths, two by suicide. Mitsuko Souma and mute transfer student Kazuo Kiriyama soon become the most dangerous players, while another transfer student, Shogo Kawada, seems somewhat more merciful. Shinji Mimura plots to hack into the military’s computer system. Amid shifting loyalties and violent confrontations, Shuya promises to keep Noriko safe, because his friend secretly loved her. Will Shuya be able to protect Noriko and survive Battle Royale?

I have never been a major fan of asian movies and I reckon it´s due to the fact the way movies are made in Asia with a very theatrical foundation in the acting and the different or sharp sort of flow/structure compared to European or American films. What we get in “Battle Royale” is a version of “The Hunger Games”, but more violent, provocative, satiric and self-destructive in my opinion. The Guardian critic Peter Bradshaw gave the film four stars in September 2001, choosing it as the best film of the week. He praised Takeshi Kitano’s performance as the teacher and some of the scenes as “a stunningly proficient piece of action film-making, plunging us into a world of delirium and fear.” He notes that, among “the hail of bullets and the queasy gouts of blood, troubling narratives of yearning and sadness are played out. It is as if the violence of Battle Royale is not a satire of society at all, but simply a metaphor for the anguish of adolescent existence.”. It´s a bleak commentary on humanity and our society and the story is there. But, yet again “Battle Royale” didn´t convince me of it´s greatness due to overdriven and theatrical acting/performances despite the fact it was most certainly the intention, the black humour doesn´t fully work, and the violent scenes are partly CGI so it seems and not convincing either in my eyes. The violence becomes too comic and I would´ve preferred something much more “realistic” to achieve what I think would be the better solution for the film. If Kinji Fukasaku had found a better balance I would have bought the whole package and the t-shirt as well. (3 out of 5)

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In the middle of the southern Pacific Ocean, a thousand feet below the surface, what is believed to be an alien spacecraft is discovered after a ship laying transoceanic cable has its cable cut and the United States Navy investigates the cause. The thickness of coral growth on the spaceship suggests that it has been there for almost 300 years. A team made up of marine biologist Dr. Beth Halperin (Sharon Stone), mathematician Dr. Harry Adams (Samuel L. Jackson), astrophysicist Dr. Ted Fielding (Liev Schreiber), psychologist Dr. Norman Goodman (Dustin Hoffman), and U.S. Navy Capt. Harold Barnes (Peter Coyote) are tasked with investigating the spaceship. The team (along with two navy technicians, Fletcher and Edmunds) are housed in a state-of-the-art underwater living environment called the Habitat during their stay on the ocean floor. Upon entering the spaceship, the team makes several discoveries. The first is that the ship is not alien, and that it is in fact an American spaceship. They assume, due to the years of coral growth and advanced technology, that the craft is from the future. The last date in the ship’s log, 06/21/43, does not indicate the specific century. The last entry in the log details an “Unknown (Entry) Event”, which depicts the ship apparently falling into a black hole, resulting in its trip through time. The ship’s mission apparently involved gathering objects from around the galaxy to bring back to Earth. An item of particular interest is a large, perfect sphere in the cargo hold. It is suspended a few feet above the ground and has an impenetrable fluid surface which reflects its surroundings but not, for some undetermined reason, people. Harry concludes from the classification of the event which sent the ship back that the Habitat crew is fated to die: it would not have been an “unknown event” if they had lived to report about it, he reasons. Harry soon sneaks back to the spaceship, and finds a way to enter the Sphere. Soon after, a series of numeric-encoded messages begins to show up on the habitat’s computer screens, and Harry and Ted are able to decipher the messages and converse with what appears to be an alien (which calls itself “Jerry”), which has been trapped in the Sphere. They soon discover that “Jerry” can hear everything they are saying aboard the Habitat. Harry’s entry into the Sphere prevents the team from evacuating before the arrival of a powerful typhoon on the surface, forcing them to stay below for almost a week. A series of tragedies then befalls the crew: Fletcher is killed by aggressive jellyfish. Later, Edmunds’ corpse is found drifting near the station, her body completely pulverized by what turns out to be a giant squid, which returns to attack the station. In the chaos that ensues, Barnes is cut in half by a computer-operated door, and Ted is burned to death. Sea snakes attack Norman, though he is not injured. Jerry is suspected to be the cause of these incidents. Eventually, only Harry, Norman, and Beth remain. At this point, they realize that they have all entered the world of the perfect Sphere. The Sphere has given them the power to manifest their thoughts into reality. As such, all of the disasters that had been plaguing them are the result of manifestations of the worst parts of their own minds…

“Sphere” was a Box office bomb in 1998 when it came out, it grossed only $37 million at the North American box office, far below its $80 million production budget. And the critical consensus was that “Sphere features an A-level cast working with B-grade material, with a story seen previously in superior science-fiction films.” In one way that criticism really hits the nail on the head, but at the same time we get this pseudo-philosophical extra terrestrial story that still asks questions that lingers in limbo and stays there after the movie is over. Is it confusing? Is it intriguing? Can our fears become real via our thoughts? Yes, yes and who knows. Dustin Hoffman didn´t feel the movie was ready to be released when it was. There were many more issues that needed to be addressed but they didn’t have the time to cover them all. They had to deliver what they had for the release date, which he felt was an incomplete film. This is something I can agree with, pieces just seem to be missing and Levinson doesn´t tie it together. All involved (Stone, Hoffman, Schreiber, Jackson and Coyote) does their best to keep up the tension, but they need a material that works full on as well. That is not the case here. In the end we know less than we did in the beginning so it seems, not that everything needs to be explained, but this is just to lose in the plot. And in terms of environment and main story, we had already seen some similar movies like “The Abyss” (1989), “Leviathan” (1989) and “DeepStar Six” (1989) with various result. “Sphere” ends up in the middle somewhere. However, I do need to mention how extremely attractive Sharon Stone is in this one. She looks absolutely stunning in her short hair. What a beaut she is. (3 out of 5)

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