THE MAN WHO KILLED HITLER AND THEN BIGFOOT – movie revewi

From Montréal’s Fantasia International Film Festival 2018

THE MAN WHO KILLED HITLER AND THEN THE BIGFOOT

Epic Pictures
Reviewed by: Harvey Karten
Director:  Robert D. Krzykowski
Screenwriter:  Robert D. Krzykowski
Cast:  Sam Elliott, Aidan Turner, Caitlin FitzGerald, Ron Livingston, Ellar Coltraine
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 7/12/18
Opens: July 20, 2018

Featuring a revisionist view of history, an element of horror, regret at a romantic opportunity not taken, Robert D. Krzkowski’s fantasy is mostly about the loneliness and melancholy of old age.  And who better to pay the part of a quiet man who rises several times to the occasion when only violence is justified than Sam Elliott?  As Calvin Barr, this New England resident lives a quiet life with his loyal Golden Retriever Ralph, and is a subject that is in the writer-director’s métier.  Though this is Krzykowki’s freshman feature-length movie, we can anticipate the subject matter by noting that his short “Elsie” in 2016 is located in the sleepy town of Campbell Falls, wherein one Ridley Hooper awakens to discover that he must rescue his little sister has been stolen by an army of creepy Shadowmen.

What emerges is a look at Calvin Barr (Sam Elliott), who has memories of his younger days, where he is played by Aidan Turner, a World War 2 hero and American soldier with a gift for languages who dons a Nazi officer’s uniform, worms his way into Hitler’s headquarters, and shoots him in the chest and in the head.  Of course we know that Der Fuehrer ended his own life by poison and a self-inflicted gunshot wound, after which his loyal followers destroyed his corpse in limestone.  Or do we?  According to Krzykowski, the assassination was covered up and it was really Hitler’s number two man who ended his life as the Russians moved in.

Using his signature gruff voice and monotone, Elliott appears with a thick head of white hair parted in the middle, his only roommate being Ralph the dog, and for our benefit, Calvin conjures up the past.  He is a resounding success as an espionage agent who infiltrates the Nazi war machine, observing two lines of prisoners bound to a train leading to a concentration camp.  Though he knows his killing of Hitler is both justified and essential, he has mixed feelings since, after all, he had taken a man’s life.

In a more pleasant setting, he dates Maxine (Caitlin FitzGerald), and is about to offer her a diamond ring in an upscale restaurant when the couple are harassed by the parents of one of Maxine’s third-grade students.  They profess their love for each other, but nothing has come of it, though events overtake the two leading to Calvin’s loneliness.  Now in 1985 the elderly gentleman is still able to fend off an attack by three thugs demanding his wallet and car keys.  Knowing Calvin’s reputation in the war and of the way he dispatched the muggers, two agents–one from the FBI, Flag Pin (Ron Livingston), the other, Maple Leaf (Rizwan Manji), from the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, visit him in his cabin begging him to go to the Canadian wilds and destroy Bigfoot (Mark Streger), a monster who is spreading an epidemic that could lead to the end of the world.

Calvin is a man of few words and, in fact, he has not kept in communication with his younger brother Ed (Larry Miller), a small-town barber, who offers to give him solace if only he would use him to relieve the stress of Calvin’s loneliness.  Since the title of the film already gives away that Calvin kills both monsters, Hitler and Bigfoot, there is no surprise there.  Instead the real treat is in Sam Elliott’s performance, a delightfully underplayed execution that is threatened only by Joe Kraemer’s loud, intrusive music.  This is the kind of American myth which is however fantastical comes across as strangely believable.  And boy, do we need a myth to believe in now!

Unrated.  98 minutes.  © 2018 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

Story – B
Acting –  B+
Technical – B+
Overall – B+

DAMASCUS COVER – movie review

DAMASCUS COVER

Vertical Entertainment
Reviewed by: Harvey Karten
Director:  Daniel Zelik Berk
Screenwriter:  Daniel Zelik Berk, Samantha Newton, from the novel by Howard Kaplan
Cast:  Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Olivia Thirlby, John Hurt, Jürgen Prochnow, Navid Negahban
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 6/8/18
Opens: July 20, 2018

Jonathan Rhys Meyers in the role of Ari Ben-sion aka Hans Hoffmann is a stiff, his dialogue stilted, though perhaps the oversimplified
English in Howard Kaplan’s book from which the film is adapted is partly at fault.  Literary quality aside, Kaplan himself is no hunched-over author pecking away at a computer but a fellow a great deal more interesting than Ben-Sion.  Author Kaplan, a native of L.A., was sent at the age of 21 to the Soviet Union to smuggle a dissident’s manuscript on microfilm to London. He executed a similar plan on a second trip, got arrested in Ukraine and interrogated for two days there and two days in Moscow.  He has traveled through Egypt, Syria, Lebanon and Egypt, his experiences giving him lots of background for his five novels, each of which, I would guess, is more interesting than Daniel Zelik Berk’s film.

“Damascus Cover” is Berk’s freshman entry into the full length feature media, one which may have given him enough experience to turn out better stuff in the years to come, though he may have come out ahead if the characters did not all speak English.  For example, Hans Hoffmann, the principal character’s spy name, is allegedly German but he speaks English even to a group of Germans who are being hosted in Syria’s capital.  Saraj (Navid Negahban), is a brutal head of the Syrian secret police, who bears a contemptuous grin most of the time even when questioning an Israeli spy as the movie opens, then later as a guest in a home that includes Ben-Sion, who is pretending to be a German merchant in Syria to buy that country’s famous carpets.

As in the book, Ben-Sion has a weakness for women, as we see when he is virtually stalked by Kim (Olivia Thirlby) a journalist for USA Today newspaper who may be more than she appears.  There are a few standard-issue shoot-outs, a couple of fist fights that are of the usual ridiculously edited type so that you don’t know how is beating whom.  Though the Syrian authorities have become aware that Ben-Sion is an Israeli agent, sent by Miki (the late, great John Hurt), but give him a free hand in navigating Damascus because they’re sure he will lead them to a more important agent known as The Angel.

One role that’s more interesting than the others belongs to Igal Naor as General Fuad who believes that you can get more information from a captive by warmth and interest than by torture—a technique that by now some Americans, even Gina Haspel allegedly believe as well.  Faud states right out while interrogating a prisoner that he is different from Saraj, that Saraj has been “retired,” and ultimately has something to say about current relations between Syria and Israel that may seem difficult to believe but are probably on the money.

Chloë Tomson filmed this disjointed story in Casablanca, Morocco, which, with its narrow, intriguing alleyways and cobblestone sidewalks make the city a more interesting character than anyone in the picture.

Rated R.  93 minutes.  © 2018 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

Story – C+
Acting – C-
Technical – B
Overall – C

THE CATCHER WAS A SPY – movie review

THE CATCHER WAS A SPY

IFC Films
Reviewed by: Harvey Karten
Director:  Ben Lewin
Screenwriter:  Robert Rodat
Cast:  Paul Rudd, Mark Strong, Guy Pearce, Paul Giamatti, Jeff Daniels, Sienna Miller, Tom Wilkinson, Giancarlo Giannini
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 6/9/18
Opens: June 22, 2018
The Catcher Was A Spy - Movie Posters
I was about to say that there’s not a heck of a lot of major league baseball players who are Jewish but got straightened out by Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Category:Jewish_Major_League_Baseball_players. Morris (Moe) Berg was not only one of them, though not much more than a mediocre catcher.  His forte was intellectual.  He graduated from Princeton and Columbia, knew 12 languages including Latin, Turkish, Japanese, Sanskrit and Hindi, and read 10 newspapers daily.  In other words he was a Renaissance man, ideally suited, our military believed, for acting out a project as a spy during World War 2 and an assassin.  In a best-selling book by Nicholas Dawidoff “The Catcher Was a Spy: The Mysterious Life of Moe Berg,” the egghead-jock was known as the brainiest man who ever played for the Majors.  Ben Lewin, who adapts the book along with Robert Rodat give us nothing to doubt that assessment.

The biopic, which takes some liberties with truth, fashions Moe Berg (Paul Rudd) as a guy who was not being entirely self-deprecatory when he describes his baseball achievements without a shred of bravado when folks crowd around him and ask him to autograph a ball.  But ultimately he does such a fantastic job as a spy that he was granted the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest award a civilian can get for contributing to the national interests of the United States.

But something is amiss in the film.  Somehow a picture about espionage—about a plan to assassinate a German nuclear scientist—comes across as not only old-fashioned (which Lewin may have intended) but as plain dull.  There are stereotypical scenes at night during rain and fog which makes the viewer think of the hoariest of clichés “It was a dark and stormy night.”  And while Rudd successfully passes himself off as an intellectual, in part by playing a chess game without a board and with the man he is expected to kill, he is too bland for the role and is better suited for films like “Wet Hot American Summer,” “Ant Man,” and “The Perks of Being a Wallflower.”  He does have a woman friend, Estella Huni (Sienna Miller) who is itching to marry him and who participates in one sexual scene which, however innocent today, would never have been shown if the film were released in the 1940s.

Before the war began, Berg is touring Japan playing exhibition games with American baseball stars, but he shows his capacity for spying by filming military targets from the roof of a tall building.  While playing catcher for the White Sox, Red Sox, Indians and Senators he is thought to be “queer,” and in one instance he is followed down the street by a bully and comes off able to defend himself and then some.  When William J. Donovan (Jeff Daniels), a high official in the OSS (Office of Strategic Services), later to morph in the CIA, is considering sending Berg out on his assassination mission, the catcher is asked whether he is “queer” and answers “I can keep a secret”—the perfect reply in that his mission requires great secrecy.

The baseball scene is all too brief and so is the battle action. When Samuel Goudsmit (Paul Giammatti), a physicist working for the U.S. in Italy, becomes trapped in a shootout with German occupiers, Goudsmit comes off as a fish out of water but acts the part in a clownish and embarrassing way.  Ultimately Berg is smuggled from Italy across the Swiss border to Zurich where he does meet the would-be victim, Werner Heisenberg (Mark Strong). While we in the audience might be tempted to think “Shoot the guy and stop talking,” we may be missing the point.  Berg is using his intellect to ignore the order at least temporarily while he tries to calculate whether Heisenberg would defect to the Allied effort.  Germany did not develop nuclear weapons.

Though Berg would hang out in gay bars, there is little indication that he was homosexual, and in any rate, the suggestion as conjured by scripter Robert Rodat is superfluous, a possible invention that does a disservice to the hero.  Andrij Parekh filmed the action in Prague and Boston, taking full advantage of cloak and dagger proceedings on dark and foggy nights.  English is spoken throughout with an occasional injection of Italian and Japanese.

Rated R.  98 minutes.  © 2018 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

Story – B-
Acting – C+
Technical – B-
Overall – C+