October 11th, 2016 — 7:09am
We are always drawn to a good movie that keeps alive the memory of the Holocaust so we will never forget this horrific world event. This film certainly did not disappoint us. It is a docudrama based on the true story of a libel suit brought by David Irving (Timothy Spall) a British “so-called” historian who claimed that the Holocaust never occurred. He was viciously attacked for his “Holocaust denial” by Deborah Lipstadt (Rachel Weisz) a professor from Emory University. She and her publisher Penguin Books had to defend themselves in a libel suit in Great Britain because of how she excoriated Irving for his denial of the truth of the Nazi extermination of millions of Jews.
In England, the law demands that the defendants in libel suits prove their affirmation which means in this case that Ms. Lipstadt’s side not only had to prove that her assertions were totally accurate but also that the Holocaust denial by Irving were purposeful lies due to his anti-Semitism. Her defense team consisted of her behind-the-scenes “Advocate” Anthony Jewels (Andrew Scott) who had actually been Princess Diana’s divorce attorney and his associates along with her “Barrister” Richard Rampton (Tom Wilkinson) who spoke for her in court. Agonizing decisions had to be made whether to allow Ms. Lipstadt to testify as well as various Holocaust survivors and whether to have a judge-only proceeding instead of a jury trial( no, no yes). This was a high-stakes courtroom drama, British style. Everyone was up to the task. The words flowed from the real Ms. Lipstadt’s book converted into a screenplay by David Hare directed by Film and TV veteran Mick Jackson.
We are given the impression that Ms. Lipstadt was passionately motivated in her teaching about the Holocaust and that Mr. Rampton was obviously devoted to making her case and proving Irving was a liar motivated by his anti-semitism. However, we are barely given a glimpse into the personal lives of these characters and what drove their passion. Nevertheless, we come away from this well done and very well acted movie with insight into another aspect of this never to be forgotten piece of history. (2016)
Comment » | 4 Stars, Drama, History
August 12th, 2016 — 7:12am
The People vs. Fritz Bauer-sp
The title of this movie is ironic since Fritz Bauer (Burghart Klaussner) was an Attorney General in the 1950s in postwar Germany whose job was to prosecute war criminals on behalf of the people of Germany. He gets wind of the fact that the most notorious war criminal, Adolf Eichmann, was hiding in Buenos Aires, Argentina. This film is the story of Bauer’s determination to bring Eichmann to justice despite the resistance of many of his countrymen who were government officials and many may have been Nazis or Nazi sympathizers.
If you have traveled to Germany in modern times you know that so many of contemporary Germans have owned up to their country’s role in attempting to destroy the Jewish people in the 1940s. During our trip to Berlin, we saw many memorials including a very moving Holocaust museum. Director and screenwriter, Lars Kraume and producer, Thomas Kufus are among the many contemporary German filmmakers who are continuing to explore this subject with their work.
This film not only told an important historical story, but also provided an in-depth look at the character and personality of the two main subjects of this film. There is great drama, tension, suspense and human interest. The cast is made up of well-known German actors and the German film community has bestowed numerous nominations and several of its highest film awards to them. The movie is distributed in the United States by Cohen Media Group, who have a history of selecting many outstanding foreign films to be shown in the US. The release date in NY and LA is August 19th. We highly recommend that you see this movie. (2016)
Comment » | 4 Stars, Drama, Foreign, History
September 23rd, 2015 — 5:31am
LABYRINTH OF LIES -sp
To us, one of the most important and memorable aspects of this outstanding film is that the current generation of German filmmakers and the people related to this industry, have decided to make this movie the 2015 entry from Germany to the Oscars for best foreign film. Doing this also reflects the monumental theme of this movie, which is the responsibility of the German people for Auschwitz and the Holocaust.
The story is based on actual events and follows a young German prosecutor (Alexander Fehling) in Frankfurt, Germany in the early 1960s as he becomes aware that identifiable people now living in Germany were responsible for murder in the Auschwitz Camp during World War II. Although the Nuremberg trials, which occurred shortly after World War II nearly 20 years previously, were monumental in the prosecution of members of the political, military, and economic leadership of Nazi Germany who participated in the Holocaust and other war crimes, those trials were carried out by the victorious allies. In the film, which depicts a true story, we see, probably for the first time ever, a government trying to prosecute its own former soldiers. The question of who was guilty and was there any family spared having a war criminal among them is raised. As one of the characters states, the only innocent people were those who weren’t born yet or who were small children when all these events happened.
It matters very little that the main focus is on Johann Radmann who is the prosecutor played magnificently by Alexander Fehling, who was in reality a composite of three prosecutors in real life. All the characters in the movie are true to life and very believable. One of them, Fritz Bauer, played by the famous German actor, Gert Voss, has a famous legal institute now named in his honor. One of the buildings where the archival records were being searched in the film is the actual location of where the well kept records of the Nazi regime are now stored for historical examination.
Director/writer Giulio Ricciarelli has been very thoughtful in his choices, so as not to make the movie a recapitulation or a reenactment of the horrors of the Holocaust. Rather, he puts the focus on the impact on the people living in post-war Germany. One interesting point that was made very clear was that most of the German people at the time, depicted in the film, did not know about Auschwitz nor did they want to know about it.
We were reminded that our recent personal observations have shown that most contemporary Germans no longer deny their history. This was very clear to us in our recent visit to Berlin, where we saw the names of displaced Jews embedded in plaques on the sidewalks in front of their former houses. We also visited the very complete and well-done Holocaust museum as well as many other points of remembrance. This film clearly created an honest reflection of German history, which was not known to most of us. It was a powerful and beautifully done work of fact, emotion and importance. (2015)
Comment » | 5 Stars, Drama, Foreign, History, Uncategorized
September 5th, 2015 — 11:53pm
Woman in Gold – nf
This is a movie about the Holocaust and it stars Helen Mirren and therefore it will get many people’s attention, which it l deserves. In our opinion, it doesn’t quite rank with Schindler’s List, Sophie’s Choice, or The Pianist but it does deal with a fascinating historical story. It begins begins in 1907 with a painting of an Austrian woman by the famed artist Gustav Klimt. It ends about 100 years later in 2006 when the niece of the subject of that painting was able to win the legal battle to wrest this painting from an Austrian museum and brings it to the United States where she now lives.
We follow this journey through the life of Maria Altmann (Helen Mirren) who grew up in a wealthy Austrian family and lived very comfortably surrounded by fine things including great works of art. She and her family were Jewish and the film dramatically shows scenes which depict the anti-semitism and the demoralizing treatment of the Austrian Jews by the Nazis in the 1940s. We see this one family, previously quite happy, torn apart overnight as a few members escape and the remainder perish in the holocaust.
Fast forward to the United States in the 1990s and an older Maria Altmann, living in Los Angeles, finds family letters which document some of the valuable works of art including the Woman in Gold now in an Austrian museum which she recalls being in her home as a child.. She connects with a young lawyer by the name of Randy Schoenberg (Ryan Reynolds), grandson of the famous Austrian composer, who joins her on this great odyssey. It involves them returning to modern day Austria and battling the government there with the help of an idealistic Austrian reporter played by Daniel Bruhl. This adventure eventually takes them all the way to the United States Supreme Court and successfully ends in a contested arbitration in Austria.
Director Curtis Simon deserves credit for an outstanding job and Helen Mirren, as usual, performs what could be an award winning role. The story is predictable and uncomplicated. Occasionally, the film is in German with subtitles but the characters speak mostly in English, including times in Austria when you expect them to be speaking their native language. Most important however, this movie allows another generation to experience the tragic story of the Holocaust so it will not be forgotten. (2015)
1 comment » | 4 Stars, Drama, History
April 24th, 2014 — 7:16pm
Ida – sp We are pleased to report that for some unknown reason there are a number of readers of this blog who are from Poland. So we hope we will get some comments at the end of this review from them. This movie won The Eagle, which is the Polish equivalent of the American Oscar. It is in Polish with English subtitles. We understand it is also dubbed with the local language rather than using subtitles in many European countries, as it was in France, where is was a big hit. The setting is Poland in the 1960s. A young woman who is studying to be Nun in a convent is told by the Mother Superior that before she takes her vows she must go and meet her aunt, her only known family member (previously unknown to her) since she was brought to the convent as a baby during the war. She travels to the city where her aunt is located and finds out that she is Jewish. The two of them set off on a haunting road trip to find out what happened to her parents and where they are buried. The aunt, played by veteran Polish actress Aguta Lulesza, is tough as nails on the outside but has her own secret pain which is ripping her apart. Ida the novitiate, also known as Sister Anna Ida, and now with a last name Lebenstein, is played by a first time actress who was discovered in a coffee shop by the director. Her name is Agata Trzebuchowska. She is beautiful, and now burdened with a dilemma of what to do with her new insight into her origin. She also has to decide whether to go forward and take her vows, which of course includes chastity. It should be mentioned that on her road trip she does meet a handsome musician (David Ogrodnik) and we do detect some chemistry between them. The ambience of this film befits the subject matter. It is in black and white using a 4×3 format (almost square) with many close-ups. The locations are old bleak buildings, churches, a cemetery, and old roads with a lot of snow. The dialogue, although in Polish with subs, is sparse. There is a Polish 60s musical background that is mostly ambient rather than with a soundtrack. There are reminders of the role of communist rule in post war Poland. Everything is not spelled out for the viewer but there is little doubt about the story and the internal pain that our characters are feeling. It will awaken feelings about atrocities in WW II, which are still not far from the surface in many people, some now two generations removed from it. Although director and screenwriter Pawel Pawlikowski in a post film discussion said he had no doubt about how this 80 minutes film should end, there is another point of view on this subject. Finally, this movie is one of many films that have a theme which shows the immense struggle that people have to connect with a biological parent or vice versa. A discussion and summary of this issue can be found at http://www.psychiatrytalk.com/2014/04/the-search-for-a-persons-biological-identity/ (2014)
Comment » | 3 Stars, Drama, Foreign
November 3rd, 2013 — 6:16pm
Freedom Writers- nf We watched this film with our 12 year old granddaughter and 10 year old grandson. We all liked it and got caught up in the inspirational theme of the movie as we saw young people asserting themselves and making a difference. The screenplay is written by Richard LaGravenese who also directed the film. It is based on a true story about a newly graduated schoolteacher who is taking her first job at Wilson High School in Long Beach California in 1993 shortly after the riots in Los Angeles the previous year. The teacher is played by Academy Award winner Hilary Swank who is surrounded by a few veteran actors but mainly a cast of unknown young people who play high school freshmen (although they look a little older than that age) who are the first teaching assignment of the novice teacher. The students are from various factions in the community, Black, White, Hispanic, Asian with some, of course from various gangs. The high school had formerly been a high achieving school but since it was integrated with students from the various groups, it has mostly lost its academic standing. The school administration had little expectation for the students but the new teacher Ms. Gruell didn’t seem to get that message. However, she does have to struggle to figure out how to reach these students. She realizes that while many of them have had similar experiences they don’t have empathy or understanding for each other. She also helps them learn about other people who have been terribly oppressed by introducing them to the facts of the Holocaust and the Civil Rights Movement. There are a few undercurrents and subplots that may not be entirely clear as well the story of the teacher’s personal life which includes a marriage falling apart as her husband (Patrick Dempsey) feels he is being neglected by his hard working wife who has to take on 3 jobs to get all the books and things for her students. Perhaps the most dramatic part of the film is the reenactment of the event where the students wrote letters to Miep Giess (Pat Carrol), the woman who hid Ann Frank and they actually raised money to bring her to the USA to meet and address them. (That scene will bring a few tears to your cheek) The teacher then had the students write about their feelings and experiences in a journal. A compilation of these writing was then put into a book, which was published as The Freedom Writers Diary. The entire story reached national prominence when it was featured on the ABC TV shows Prime Time. Now it lives on to inspire new generations of teachers and students as well as others like us as we catch up with it on NetFlix. (2007)
Comment » | 3 Stars, Drama, History
October 31st, 2013 — 7:37pm
The Book Thief- sp– This is an extremely moving film which captures still another aspect of the inhumane, cruel and evil impact of Hitler and his Nazi followers on the German people. It does this through the eyes of a young girl Liesel Meminger (Sophie Nelisse) who is 12 years old when we meet her as she is separated from her family and comes to live with a German couple in a small town just before the start of World War II. Her new mother Rosa Huberman (Emily Watson) is tough and strict on the outside but we come to see her tenderness and love as the story develops. Her new father Hans (Geoffrey Rush in what could be an Oscar nomination performance) shows his tenderness, love, pain and identification with his new daughter in many complex ways. It is their love of words and books, which they share, which brings them together and helps to convey the story that is being told. Whenever you have a child actress who is carrying the story and the emotion of a film, mainly with few words, the credit for this accomplishment has to be shared with the director, which in this case was Brian Percival. Kudos also for the birth of this film deserves to be given to Fox 2000 a major studio led by Elizabeth Gabler which also brought Life of Pi to the screen. This movie, which is narrated by the voice of death, is a fast moving two hours and five minutes and there is nothing that we would suggest should be cut from it. Although we both very much enjoyed the world wide best selling book upon which it based, one of us (MB) had some reservations about the book and the motivations of the author (see http://www.bookrap.net/?s=Book+thief) We both agreed the screen play by Michael Petroni was true to the book by Markus Zusak and the few changes were inconsequential. The music score, which captures the mood, and emotion, which exists throughout the film, was done by veteran award winning composer John Williams. When you think about it, our understanding of important historical events such as the rise of Hitler, Nazism and the Holocaust often comes from the great films on these subjects, which become imprinted in our minds. The Book Thief will be one of the films, which will play this role with the moviegoers of today. (2013)
Comment » | 5 Stars, Drama, History, War
April 11th, 2013 — 6:30pm
No Place on Earth – sp Just as you think that you have seen every type of Holocaust film, a movie such as this one comes along. It not only tells the story of the survival of a group of Ukrainian Jews who hid for 511 days in the world’s deepest caves in the Ukraine but it will push all your buttons when several of them, including a 91 year old energetic gentleman, return with their grandchildren 67 years later to visit the their old, darkened, dingy home which in some places was over 50 feet underground. Film maker Janet Tobias, who has been a producer for 60 Minutes and Prime Time Live, learned about this story when a colleague showed her a National Geographic article that Chris Nicola, a New York State Investigator who has a serious hobby of exploring caves all over the world, had written. Nicola, during one of his vacations, explored this unusual deep gypsum cave in the Ukraine and came across some human artifacts, which included a shoe, a cup, and some buttons. He returned to the area for the next couple of years asking the local people if they knew about where they had come from. Most did not, but one person said it might have something to do with the Jews. Nicola embedded key words in his web sites meant to attract people searching for their genealogy related to the Holocaust and these specific caves.. This ultimately led him to make connections with the actual survivors, most of who were living in Canada. This included Esther Stermer who wrote a book about her experience titled “We Fight to Survive” She said she wrote this book so her grandchildren would know about what they had been through during World war II. Little did she know, thanks to Ms. Tobias and this film, she would actually accompany her grandchildren back to this hidden cave and watch her granddaughter descend into the deepest depths to visit this special place in her family history. This film is actually a modified docu-drama. Part of the film includes getting know several of the survivors as they narrate the film in an articulate at times emotional manner giving us a feel for their fortitude, determination and even their sense of humor. We see how the decision is made by the family matriarch to pack up as much of their belongings as possible and flee to avoid deportation (which would have ultimately led to their extermination). We feel the experience through the eyes of a 70-year-old woman as a 4 and 5 year old. Interspersed with this narration, we witness a reenactment by Hungarian/Ukrainian actors, adults and children as they crawl through barely lit crevices and help us understand what it was like to live there, interacting with each other and risking their lives to bring food to their hiding places. There is one close call after another along with heroism, good luck but most of all the will to live. This combination of a documentary with actual actors was quite an accomplishment to effectively pull off. We knew the people narrating the story survived, but we were still on the edge of our seats. We didn’t quite anticipate the emotional reaction we would have when we saw this band of elderly people return to these caves with their families and could show their grandchildren a place that was truly like no place on earth and their most remarkable survival experience. (2013)
Postscript: If you are interested in some of the untold stories of survivors of the Holocaust I recommend that you consider reading a remarkable book which I reviewed about a year ago in my Psychiatry Blog as well as in BookRap.net
1 comment » | 4 Stars, Documentary, Drama, History, War
December 8th, 2011 — 9:13am
In Darkness- sp– ( English subtitles ) If you are ready, willing and able to handle another heavy duty holocaust movie, this one may be right for you. 80% of the film takes place in the dark sewers underneath the Polish ghetto of the city of Lvov, that is being wiped out by the Nazis. You will need to endure the pain and suffering that the men, women and children are going through for 2 hours and 25 minutes although that is nothing compared to the 14 months which was the duration for the Jews there in reality. Polish movie director and sometimes US television director ( episodes of The Wire and Treme) Agnieszka Holland who was guest at the preview screening, latched on to this true story which in total took eight years to make it to the screen from a book by one of the survivors. She was reluctant to cut the length of film because she wanted the audience to experience a sense of the prolonged hardship that these people were going through. Although gripping and suspenseful, we were aware that we were being shown all the expected episodes of starving people hiding in the sewers, rats running around, everyone hungry and thirsty, children trying to play their chidhood games, some people being claustrophobic, almost being discovered by the Nazis , trying to celebrate the Jewish holidays, and a baby being born in these circumstances. All the actors were excellent and apparently are well known stars in their own country. Of particular note is Robert Wieckiewicz who plays the man who after being not such a nice guy turns out to a “righteous gentile.” Observing the changes that he undergoes in response to the heroism of the people he is hiding is the highlight of this movie. The film is being nominated for an Oscar as the Polish entry for best foreign film. It has already won an award at the Telluride Film Festival and will open in the US in January. It is not an easy movie to watch but we came away from it being glad it was made and that it will be there to be shown to future generations. (2011)
Comment » | 3 Stars, Drama, History
August 4th, 2011 — 6:53pm
The Debt-sp – When you start with a plot that has the Israeli mossad tracking down the “Surgeon of Birkenau” who is in East Berlin working as a fertility gynecologist, you can be pretty sure that you are going to have an exciting movie. Then when you have veteran Academy Award winning actress Helen Mirren playing the lead along with Jessica Chastain, an engaging new actress who has starred in several movies which are coming out over a six month period, it becomes obvious that this is a movie which also deserves your attention. These two outstanding actresses are complimented by Tom Wilkinson, Marton Csokas, Ciaran Hinds and Sam Worthngton This is a film that will not disappoint. It is thriller with fast action, great tension along with a story that you may think you understand but it will take you for ride and challenge you in an ethical dilemma which the characters eventually face. Director John Madden expects the audience to be alert and you may miss a few fine points of the plot but in the end you come away still thinking about the story and the repercussions of it. What else can you ask for? (2011)
Comment » | 5 Stars, Action, Drama, Thriller