Saturday, January 31, 2009

The Fall

Is beauty a valid purpose in and of itself? If someone makes a film that's spectacularly, vividly realized, does it really matter if the story itself is made up as they went along, designed solely to connect the stunning scenery, shocking image composition, and vivid colors? If every frame is a work of art, does anything else matter?

Depending on how you answer, you'll know whether or not you'll like The Fall.

To say this is a pretty movie doesn't give it justice. It's absolutely stunning, a visual tour de force. It's about a little girl, played by Catinca Untaru, in the hospital for a broken arm, when she meets former stuntman and current paraplegic played by Lee Pace. In order to con her into getting him drugs, he invents an elaborate fantasy tale, which we view through her imagination. It's not an extremely coherent fantasy tale, as though it were filmed over several years in a multitude of locations, and the frame narrative was designed to compensate.

This isn't to say that the frame narrative doesn't have some power in the end, often due to the performance of Untaru, whose performance is filled with genuine emotion and power. Much has been made of the gimmicky way she was filmed - convincing her that Lee was actually paralyzed, filming her with a minimum of interference from the crew - but it clearly worked. She manages to keep the threadbare plot compelling, all on her own.

But honestly, no matter how good the girl is, she's not why you want to see this movie. The story isn't why you want to see it either. It's not really consistent, the characters apart from the girl and Pace's character aren't really developed or paid much attention to, and the whole thing is kind of silly. I suppose that's fair though, half of the story is created to amuse a little girl.

And all of that is completely irrelevant.

See, you don't watch this movie because of the story. You don't watch it because of the acting. You watch it for one reason, and one reason alone, it's visually amazing. From the very first frames you know that you're not going to look away again until the end. It opens with a slow motion scene on a train bridge, as someone is rescued from a river. This scene doesn't appear to make much sense initially - it ties in later - but it's amazingly beautiful.

And the movie goes on like this, each scene is stunning, each location used for full effect. It's not a movie so much as it's a moving canvas, displaying an evolving work of art at 24 frames per second. The story gains power simply because the imagery convinces you it has to be good.

If you aren't sold by the visuals, you're not going to like it. But if you aren't sold by the visuals, you should probably consult either an optometrist or a neurologist. I'm not going to pretend that it's the greatest movie ever made, it plainly isn't. That's City of God. But it is a testament to the power of great visuals. Everyone who makes ugly movies, everyone who limits themselves to ugly shots or simple framing because that's more "pure" cinema, they should be forced to watch this. And if they still don't get it, be forced to watch it again and again until they do. This is a better movie because it looks good. All movies are better if they're good looking. The greatest movies are both good looking and have a great story to back it up. Maybe this one isn't one of the greatest movies, but it's so stunning that you want to watch it anyway.

Monday, January 26, 2009


If I were in the business of making soundbites, I'd call this a non-stop action thrill ride! As I am not, I'll call it an interesting - if ultimately unsuccessful - experiment. It clearly is supposed to be some sort of American Godzilla, and like all American Godzillas, it just doesn't work like it should.

In the film, some guy named Rob has just boned some girl named Beth. And then we jump a month ahead in time to my birthday, when Rob is going away to Japan (where the real Godzilla lives!) and is having a big surprise party. Everyone's invited, including Hud, the wacky comic relief/cameraman, Jason, his brother, Lily, Jason's wife, and Marlena, some chick who Hud likes. There's some drama when Beth shows up, and there's drinking and partying, and ultimately it's all pointless because a gigantic monster shows up and blows up the Statue of Liberty. You know all of this, because it was in the famous, and well done trailer.

Now don't get me wrong, it had a good trailer. It left enough to the imagination that you wanted to know what was going to happen next. It hinted, the shaky camerawork was compelling, and you might have been tempted to have seen the film based on it. But, what works in a trailer doesn't necessarily work in a feature-length film.

Take the camera. The main gimmick is that the entire film is handheld, and shot by one of the characters. Clever, you might think, and an interesting way to make a movie. But the deliberately poor framing and jittery camerawork, which works so well in short form, gets extremely nauseating over 80 minutes. I can't imagine seeing it on a big screen, you'd get motion sickness.

You can be sure that it's very action packed, and quite unrelenting. But because of that, you stop getting attached to the characters. Here's a drinking game, take a swig every time someone says "OH MY GOD!" You'll be on the floor in 10 minutes. Instead of making characters interesting, we just listen to them shouting and reacting. It's a shame, because in the party scene the characters are actually interesting. The drama and conflict running under the surface at the party are just abandoned as everyone screams and runs away.

The aesthetic does lead to some fantastic moments - when the characters get caught in the middle of a firefight, for instance - but there are also several shots where I thought "this scene would look pretty cool with decent camerawork". It tries to provide verisimilitude, but then you notice that the camera is always conveniently filming moments important to the story. Like how they all go to a electronics store and just happen to see a news report on the incident. For me, it killed it, and it'd be a lot more interesting if you didn't know what was happening, and weren't conveniently placed for maximum exposition. There's a feeling that they didn't realize that not knowing something is just more powerful.

I admire what they did, in a way. It's a different way to make an action movie, and it does have a level of immediacy that not many films achieve and the limited perspective is a cool way to film a disaster film. I'm glad they did it, honestly, and at least they tried something different. But it's just too hard to watch, and the story just doesn't stay interesting long enough. Maybe Godzilla should be left to the Japanese?

(I have no idea what I should do with the screens. I tried random times, but I frequently ignored that until I got an image I liked better. I almost want to do deliberately bad ones, but that wouldn't be fair, especially if the movie is actually, you know, good.)

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Life of Brian

Bless you WGBH2. Bless your silly 80's styled logo that hooked highly ridiculous in the late 90's. But mostly, bless you for airing Monty Python at 4:00, about when I got home from school. Many an afternoon was spent watching various Monty Python episodes as a child, and oh how I laughed. I'd like to claim some sort of elaborate epiphany that I was blessed with while watching them, because then it'll seem important and meaningful. But no, I watched because it was quite funny and really that's all anyone cares about when one watches a comedy.

So it may seem odd that I actually haven't seen Life of Brian until, well, now. But that's not so! Because, after all, it wasn't aired on WGBH2 during after school, I lived in a rural area so video stores didn't have older films, and I grew up in the 90s, long after it was made. But I've seen it now, and now I'm going to comment on it, because that's what I do.

So, Life of Brian, which appears to be the main inspiration behind Assassin's Creed of all things (the beggar women in that are a direct lift from Michael Palin's former leper, except you would never stab Michael Palin). It's about, well, Brian, played by Graham Chapman, a man from Nazareth who had the misfortune of being born quite near Jesus. Thus, he's frequently confused for a savior, and caught up in the revolutionary spirit of the time.

What we have here is a film that has nothing but respect for Jesus, but can't help but make fun of everyone around him. It's makes fun of bureaucracy, of fragments between people for the same cause, and all the people who will blindly follow someone and not really considering why. It can be quite biting satire, but luckily never feels self congratulatory for it - something not every satire can get a handle on - and it never gets caught up in ideas. It's very smart, but it can take time for dick jokes. That's comedy.

Being a Monty Python film, a lot of it's about the scenes as opposed to the whole, an approach that doesn't always work perfectly, but when it does work it's absolutely fantastic. There are great moments, as there always are, whether it's a dispute about the various Judean people's fronts, or making fun of a lisp. Always Look on the Bright Side of Life is one of those crazy catchy songs that you just can't help humming. Even during a crucifixion.

The beauty of the film - and really, pretty much everything Monty Python does - is that it's very smart, and very well researched, but it never draws attention to that fact. Listening to the commentary track on the DVD, they talk at length about what inspired various scenes and characters, but it really doesn't matter, because they're funny whether you understand them or not. The jokes work both because they're genuinely funny, and because they fit the time and place it's supposed to be set in.

The weird thing is, there is a message to the film, but it's only there in order to derive comedy from. The misunderstanding of the message - think for yourself, don't just follow a crowd - is the entire point of introducing it. It's a refreshing change from films with a message that can't help but remind you of it, over and over and over again. The rule here, as the rule should be in all comedy, is that the laughs override all other concerns, and everything should go towards them. Why can't more people do this?

A special note should probably be made for the title sequence, with it's faux-Bond theme and amazing animation. It also gave the most noticeable credit to the first assistant director, which was kind of it. Easily the best part of the film, it's packed with energy and clever details, and sets the mood brilliantly without being anywhere close to what you might expect.

It's very hard to be original about Monty Python, they've been around so long and everyone loves them so much that you can't say much else about it. I can see why though, since this is very amusing film, from a group that made many very amusing films and TV episodes and so on. The adoration that can get grating on the Internet might be a bit much, but you can see why. Hell, the only real problem with the movie is that 70s film stock that always looks so bad to modern eyes. But that's a problem that affects many, many, many movies, all of which were made in the 70s and 80s. Maybe I'll get into it more when I come across a much less interesting film from the era.

But not here, instead I'll just send out a thank you. Thank you Monty Python, for making the movie. Thank you, the late George Harrison, for funding it. And making All Must Pass, which is a pretty great album. And the songs he did with the Beatles are pretty great too. But mostly, thank you WGBH2, for constantly airing the TV series, and providing me much joy in my childhood.

(Yes, I could have probably gone with a better screen. But this is uploaded now, so haha!)

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

The Dirty Dozen

This film begins with a hanging. Not exactly the most subtle way to begin a movie, but it does get your attention, no question about that. Unfortunately, it needs to grab your attention, because said hanging is immediately followed by what can only be described as a crapload of exposition. Turns out that Lee Marvin is a Major who plays by his own rules, and is given an impossible mission. Turns out, he needs to assemble a team of convicts sentenced to death or really long imprisonment, and blow some crap up.

Which, oddly, can wait. I'm not sure if this is the first military film that does this - there have been a lot of them - but we dive headfirst into training, which is slightly more wacky than you might expect. The whole rag tag team of soldiers starts out as not really connecting, and then they slowly gel as a team, a wacky, poorly disciplined team. For the majority of the film, it's all about the troubles in training, and having the 12 characters define themselves.

Not everyone does. Charles Bronson and Jim Brown generally appear as tough and important, Clint Walker is big and dumb, John Cassavetes is the most insubordinate but is also fairly likable, Donald Sutherland is frequently amusing and Telly Savalas is transparently evil and conniving. Oh, and there's a guy with a mustache. He has a mustache. I can see why it's the dirty dozen as opposed to the dirty six plus a mustache - alliteration rules - and really you need expendable characters anyway. As a plus, they're all generally likable, and eventually you hope for their success.

A particular highlight is a scene where Donald Sutherland pretends to be a general inspecting the troops. Initially nervous, he eventually playfully mocks various soldiers, showing off a kind of cocky charisma. Supposedly, this scene lead to him being cast in M*A*S*H, making him a star. Hell, I'd cast him after seeing that, he's a genius.

The final battle, is a sudden jolt back to being a serious movie. And it's actually fairly good, fraught with tension and quite well staged. While it seems like a dramatic shift in tone, it seems strangely appropriate. And if it wasn't for the scene at the gallows in the beginning, it might have seemed wildly out of place. However, by setting the tone with imminent death, the movie become something of a piece about gallows humor. The sense of imminent doom allows the humor and the violence to co-exist, since there's a feeling that not everyone's going to make it, and that they have to make the best of the moments they have left. The hanging is a reminder of what everyone in the crew has to lose, and it, oddly, lets everyone be loose and enjoy themselves. They kind of earn the right.

I won't say this is the best war movie ever made, but it is often entertaining, and has an obvious influence over the films to come. It's often amusing and often violent, though never at the same time, and for a film to do that and work is something of an achievement. Even for just playing a role in Donald Sutherland becoming a star, it's worthwhile.

Full disclosure time: I didn't have my usual lead time on this one, so I might be highly dissatisfied with this review later. I already don't like the last paragraph. The beauty of scheduling these things is I usually have a lead time, so I can often change lots of stuff before I put it out. This one is being hastily written the night before. Oh, and the transfer on the DVD I got was crap.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Sweeney Todd, the Demon Barber of Fleet Street

Back when Jersey Girl came out, a friend of mine tried to convince me to see it by saying "It's like a romantic comedy, but you can watch it if you're a guy!" It was a curious sales pitch, and a not entirely convincing one at that. But I watched it, I'm still not completely sure if it was what my friend pitched it as. It was a romantic comedy, but I'm not sure if a bit more sex talk than average makes it necessarily more masculine than the average.

This comes up because a sequence of that film involves a musical rendition of Sweeney Todd, as depicted by small children. The connection is appropriate, because I can't help but think Sweeney Todd was likely pitched similarly to how my friend pitched Jersey Girl to me. "It's a musical, but there's gore and death and horrible things! Guys can watch it as well as women!"

So what we have here is a film of the musical, starring Johnny Depp and his ridiculous hair starring as Sweeney Todd, a barber back from prison and out for revenge. See, Alan Rickman (whose hair is relatively sensible) plays a judge who tried to steal Depp's wife by sending him off to prison, and he plans on killing him. He stumbles upon Helena Bonham Carter and HER ridiculous hair as Mrs. Lovett, a baker known for making really awful meat pies. Somehow, the plan for revenge mutates into murdering loads of people and cooking them as pies.

This already is looking like a bleak, gory film, and then you've got Tim Burton directing at his most Tim Burton-y. Lots of strange gothic touches, weird makeup with sunken eyes, grim dirty sets, and a whole distinctively twisted look that Tim Burton does all the time. You can tell it's Tim Burton from the very first frame, when there's a blast of orchestra. And then there's the dark town, and it's raining blood, which proceeds to connect a CG interpretation of the main set. It sets the mood brilliantly, and it's a mood that's completely opposite of what one would expect from a musical.

I suppose it might be unfair to think of musicals as all fruity singing and campy costumes. But really, can you blame people for doing that? It's singing! And even the darkest, creepiest musical, directed in a dark and creepy way by a dark and creepy man, starring some of the darkest, creepiest stars in film, is still a musical. And the singing is still in a very showy, elaborate, Broadway style. The style clash is pronounced and bizarre. Why is everyone singing with all this death and murder around?

To be honest, I'm not completely sure being a musical saves this or kills it. On one hand, making such a bleak, depressing story "straight", it might be much too oppressive, the atmosphere stifling, and the story itself far more disturbing. That everyone's singing - especially in the goriest sequence of the film, which has probably the catchiest song of all - ensures that it never seems too real. Everyone singing showtunes is pretty much all that stops it from being the most depressing, bleak movie ever filmed.

But personally, I was distracted by it. It just felt so jarring, everyone singing their way through their lives. I suppose that's the way with all musicals, and maybe I'm just not made to watch them, but throughout I secretly wished that I was watching a standard movie.

But can I really let my personal hangups dictate whether or not it's a good movie? It's well directed, surprisingly well sung (considering the stars aren't known for singing), and certainly an objectively good movie. If I don't like something very much due to it's entire genre, is that really the film's fault?

It's better than Jersey Girl though.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Kiki's Delivery Service

Bringing Miyazaki Week to a close is Kiki's Delivery Service. When I first realized I was going to have a theme week, I thought that it would give me a platform to talk about animation, Japan, dubs vs. subs, Disney and all manner of other tangentially related topics. And I was tempted to try to shoehorn those things in there on multiple occasions. So it's a credit to these films that I decided that doing so would just be distracting from the matter at hand, the beautiful films that absolutely everyone should see.

Coming of age stories are common because the experience is universal. Everyone understands what it's like to be 13 and not quite popular, not quite mature, and yet wishing you were both. So that's probably why everyone and their dog has taken a crack at it. So, for a film to be a coming of age story and good besides, it's got to be special and different in some way.

Kiki's Delivery Service makes the story about a witch, going out on her own for the first time at 13, somewhat uncomfortable with being a witch and different, and like any young kid not completely confident in herself. So, a coming of age story then. But why is it so special?

It's Miyazaki, that's why it's so special! Well, that's simplifying things a lot, but the fact is that very few other directors could spin a pretty standard story like this into an absolutely beautiful and absorbing movie like this. So how does he do it?

First step, he has a gift for making likable, believable characters. Kiki is immensely charming, making it easy to identify with her and her plight. Her wisecracking cat is amusing and a nice cynical contrast to her initial optimism. The baker she meets and who becomes like a mother, her friend the painter who coaches her through a spot of angst, her enthusiastic would-be suitor, they're all beautifully captured characters. As a result, you care about what happens to these people, and get wrapped up into the storyline. The disappointment Kiki feels when a gift she and her friends worked very hard on isn't well received is felt by the viewer as well, as you've watched them work, and genuinely like them too.

Second step, he doesn't worry about having villains and obvious conflict. A lesser man would probably try to put some sort of foe that Kiki has to best in order to overcome her problems. Here, there isn't one. There's conflict sure, and a dramatic conclusion, but there's no evil. And yet, it manages to be all the more satisfying than if it did. See, Kiki succeeds to defeat her flaws, and her own lack of confidence. So when she manages to overcome those problems, you feel better about it because it's a problem every one of us has faced, and we've grown to like her and hope for her success. It would be easier to have her beat a cackling baddie, but it wouldn't be worth as much.

Third step, he makes it pretty. Like usual, the animation is absolutely stunning, the art direction is fantastic, and the music is mostly great. But really, that could describe any film from Studio Ghibli. Actually, in the pretty department contains the few flaws. Precisely, two flaws, the opening theme and the closing theme. Very cheesy, very 80s, very bad. Luckily, those are only two songs in an overall amazing soundtrack. Well, one of the songs sounds very similar to the theme used in the shops in the first Final Fantasy, a song I've grown to hate as I played that game and heard it blasting far too loudly in NES synth, but that's not the movie's fault, is it?

As a result, we get a movie that does what every movie should, it makes you happy. Watch it, and you're glad that you're watching it, maybe even thinking about watching it again in the near future. And you can go in depth all you want, but that's all you really need in a film, isn't it?

Screen taken at 55:07

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Porco Rosso.

Improbably, for a site involving movies sent at random, there's a theme week this week. It's Miyazaki week everyone! I've got two Miyazaki movies sitting here, and while I might be accused of tampering with results to get a wacky theme, that's not the case, honestly. Someone out there decided I needed a theme week, apparently, and at the very least I have a theme based on one of the best directors working in animation.

I love Hayao Miyazaki, mostly because he elevates animation to an art form. Watching one of his movies, you're often struck by the atmosphere, the detail, and the sheer beauty of the film he's made. Too often with animation, it feels cheap, or as though the production team is mostly concerned with doing something easy for the kids. With him, you know that he's making an animated movie for the love of animation and pure style he can bring to it. If someone dares suggest that cell animation is a dead art form, they just need to watch some Studio Ghibli films in order to be proven otherwise.

So from that one can assume that Porco Rosso is beautifully animated, well written, and as a whole a fantastic film that everyone should see. It was published by Disney, so it's got a lovely DVD package along with a sometimes questionable dub featuring celebrities, including half asleep Michael Keaton in the lead role. There, this is going to be the easiest week I'll ever do!

Alright, fine, I'll get more in depth. Porco Rosso is about a fantastic pilot who is also somehow a pig. He's a bounty hunter who hunts pirates, who are getting sick of being hunted down and have hired the Frenchest American ever to shoot him down. I have a feeling something was fudged in the translation, because I don't think an American would wear a french flag as part of his clothing. This whole thing is set on the backdrop of rising fascism in Italy.

The movie is something of a homage to old Hollywood, the stuff they made around the second World War. In atmosphere and style, it's a lot like movies like Casablanca. Something informed by the nearby war, but really about how people in the countries deal with the changes. Everyone smokes a lot, people hang out in classy bars and listen to french singers and the hero is surly but good and honorable at heart.

This is a love letter to movies, to Hollywood, to the great actors and directors of a bygone era. In every frame you can see the great affection Miyazaki has for film. And watching this, it become apparent that if cell animation ever dies out, it'll be the greatest loss that ever has happened in film.

Screen at 34:59

Sunday, January 4, 2009

In Bruges

Dear Martin McDonagh,

Congratulations, you've just made your first feature length movie! I bet that's pretty exciting. While I've never made a movie myself, the feeling of something you created going out into the world and making an impression must be pretty great. Plus, for your first movie, you had some pretty good talent in your corner. Not everyone gets to work with Colin Farrell, Ralph Fiennes AND Brendan Gleeson on their first movie. Most people get people like the local animal health officer who has been in a few plays for the dinner theater, or the mayor, because if you cast the mayor he'll give you all the permits you want. So getting real talent in your first go, that's a pretty major acheivement.

I can see why they went for it. You did win an Oscar for a short film, and even if you hadn't, the script for this one is mostly fantastic. You've written a funny script, there's no question of it, and I imagine every great comedic actor would want to deliver some of that dialog. It's quite sweary, but hey, there's nothing wrong with being sweary in this context. It's a movie about gangsters - Brendan Gleeson and Colin Farrell - hiding out In Bruges, the former loving the scenery and the latter hating it. Of course it's going to be sweary, not to mention a great foundation for a black comedy. And when psychopathic boss Ralph Fiennes shows up, you're not going to want to tone down the language.

But here's the thing, I think the pressure of making your first movie might have gotten to you. Most of us would think "I've made a great, funny script, got some absolutely fantastic actors and a wonderful location. This is all I need." I don't think you thought that though. I get the feeling that you wanted your first feature to mean something. It should have some serious themes going on, some drama, maybe the story should be about regret and the consequences of murder. I mean, that's a pretty good idea, in some cases, but I think by trying to make a movie that means something and a wickedly funny black comedy at the same time backfired in a bad way.

I knew something was wrong when I heard the somber piano score and saw the moody shots of gothic architecture. I had seen the trailers before, and I was expecting something a bit, well, lighthearted. It might have been more appropriate for a serious drama, and while there's nothing wrong with serious dramas, there's a reason they're often shot and edited differently from comedies. Throughout, it seemed like a movie shot like a drama, but it really wasn't one. The extended reaction shots, the moments of quiet, the scenes of people crying and regretting their mistakes. If I didn't know English, I'm not sure what I would have thought the movie was.

So, when the comedy in the script started coming through, it seemed strange and out of place. Eventually, I began to recognize your serious themes and the questions you sought to raise, and I began to wonder if you even knew what movie you wanted to make. Most of the dialog is funny, but the story really isn't, and the entire style of the movie seemed a bit better suited for something a bit more somber.

I suppose there's nothing inherently wrong about mixing comedy and drama, but the end result was a movie that I was never really sure about. I was laughing, and laughing a lot, throughout, but there were several times when I wasn't sure if the scenes were meant to be funny or not. At the very end of the film, I was laughing but feeling bad, since I knew what you were trying to achieve with the scene, and I knew that the movie as a whole was building to a discussion on morality and mortality, but at that moment I just had to laugh at the ridiculous spectacle on stage.

Maybe that was the point. Maybe I was supposed to feel bad about laughing at these people, or feel uncomfortable about finding so much humor in a situation revolving around death, especially the death of innocent people. But I yearned for a movie that was either more comfortable in its comedic strength, or one that was more fully realized as a serious drama. As it was, it was a great comedy with some drama awkwardly shoved in, and that didn't work too well. Still, even so, I did love it, and I'm very interested in seeing what you do next. Your dialog is fantastic, your visual sense is pretty good - making Bruges your location, and almost another character, was a stroke of genius - and I can't wait for your next picture. I just hope you feel more comfortable in your direction, and can make a movie that doesn't feel quite so unsure of what it wants to be.



Screen taken at 12:52

Friday, January 2, 2009


When this movie was first released, there was a fear that perhaps it might humanize Hitler, and maybe even make him a sympathetic character. I've never understood why humanizing Hitler might be a bad thing. He was, after all, human, and a charismatic and charming one at that. To forget that, and remember in him hindsight for only his evil acts, is in essence a way of protecting ourselves. We would have objected, we would have tried to stop him, a Hitler could not rise to power in our country. But that would be lying to ourselves. The German people at the time were deceived, convinced that doing things so reprehensible and evil was the right thing, so who is to say that we would be any different in a similar situation? Perhaps the benefit of hindsight might help, but we still must remind ourselves that Hitler was human as we are, the German people were human, and that we must be continually vigilant in order to ensure that we don't forget this, and believe such a thing could never happen again.

So, yes, Bruno Ganz' performance as Hitler does humanize him. It gets past the carefully planned public persona and attempts to show the more private side of him, and manages to paint a complete picture of Hitler, the man, as opposed to Hitler, history's monster. But it's important to note that it never actually makes him a sympathetic character. Yes, he's seen as tender at times, but he's also depicted as angry, selfish, and ultimately a coward. He never accepts his own failings, or that he might have been at least partially responsible for Germany losing the war. The most famous speeches in the film have him angrily lashing out at the people of the Germany for failing him, rather than the other - and more accurate - way around. He keeps himself increasingly distant from the reality at hand, commanding armies that have been destroyed and continuing to make plans long after its clear that they're going to lose. And when he realizes that it's the end, he would rather kill himself than face his mistakes.

It should be noted that the movie is mostly about how people react to failure on a grand scale. With the Nazis, you have a sense that they realize not only that they're going to lose the war, but that they can't simply go back to being another country in the world. The Holocaust is only ever mentioned in passing, but it hangs over the proceedings anyway. There is a lot of suicide when people realize that the end of the war is near, and that they're not going to win. Some of this can be explained by people just not wanting to admit to defeat, or a fear of what the enemy will do to them, but with more than a few characters you know that they also realize how they'll be regarded after the Nazis are gone.

A key sequence is how Goebbels' wife kills her children so they don't have to face a world after the Nazis are gone. She seems to regard it as an act of love, but the reaction immediately after when she sits down to play solitaire, and stares at her husband says something more. Her face seems to say "you did this to us", and he looks to be more defeated than ever. You get a sense that she knows how the children of a high ranking Nazi official will be regarded, and blames her husband for getting them involved.

The film is framed by footage of one of Hitler's secretaries - a central character and the author of one of the sources on which the film was based - in her later years, expressing her deep regret for being involved with him and not knowing better. She says she would like to blame youth and naivety, but knows better, and knows women her own age were protesting. The sequences serve to explain many of the motivations and really the entire film. It's about guilt, both of individuals and the country at large, and how people dealt with it starting when the empire fell. In the end, it's a movie that could have been only possible with a German director and a German cast, as they are the ones with the guilt running through their veins. It was also a film that had to be made, in order to come to grips with a past so horrible that it's hard to admit an association with.

It's important to learn about the Nazis not because of the great tragedy they oversaw, but because we need to see how someone could have managed to convince a country to commit acts which it had to know were wrong, and how they convinced themselves to do them anyway. We need to learn about the Holocaust not because so many people died, but because we need to see the flaws in ourselves which allowed them to. Downfall is important mostly in the piece of the puzzle which it depicts.

Screen taken at 22:50

An introduction.

This is random movie reviews, a selection of film reviews based on the movies sent to me by a local mail-based DVD thing. The great thing is, while I pick the movies I generally want to see, I don't actually have to pick the order I watch them in. As a result, I can pick all manner of different movies, and review the films sent to me. This is something I have attempted to do elsewhere before, but I've decided to start again. Maybe this time it will last! Also, I'll try to get the title screen at whatever frame is at a random time under the 60 minute mark, as chosen by a random number generator. Hopefully other people will enjoy as I try to say something interesting on the movies I watch. I'll post hopefully on Tuesdays and Thursdays, though maybe less if I get busy. Enjoy!