REVIEW: VALKYRIE

CAST

Tom Cruise (Mission: Impossible)
Kenneth Branagh (Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein)
Bill Nighy (Underworld)
Tom Wilkinson (Batman Begins)
Carice van Houten (Game of Thrones)
Thomas Kretschmann (Avengers: Age of Ultron)
Terence Stamp (Superman)
Eddie Izzard (Hannibal)
Kevin McNally (Pirates of The Caribbean)
David Schofield (From Hell)
Tom Hollander (Gosford Park)
Bernard Hill (Lord of The Rings)
Ian McNeice (The Black Dahlia)

During World War II, Wehrmacht Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg (Cruise) is severely wounded during an RAF air raid in Tunisia, losing his right hand, the ring and little finger on his left hand, and his left eye, and is evacuated home to Nazi Germany. Meanwhile, Major General Henning von Tresckow (Branagh) attempts to assassinate Adolf Hitler by smuggling a bomb aboard the Führer’s personal airplane. The bomb, however, is a dud and fails to detonate, and Tresckow flies to Berlin in order to safely retrieve it. After learning that the Gestapo has arrested Major General Hans Oster, he orders General Olbricht (Nighy) to find a replacement. After recruiting Stauffenberg into the German Resistance, Olbricht presents Stauffenberg at a meeting of the secret committee which has coordinated previous attempts on Hitler’s life. The members include General Ludwig Beck (Stamp), Dr. Carl Goerdeler (McNally), and Erwin von Witzleben (Schofield). Stauffenberg is stunned to learn that no plans exist on the subject of what is to be done after Hitler’s assassination.During a bombing raid on Berlin, he gets the idea of using Operation Valkyrie, which involves the deployment of the Reserve Army to maintain order in the event of a national emergency. The plotters carefully redraft the plan’s orders so that they can dismantle the Nazi régime after assassinating Hitler. Realizing that only General Friedrich Fromm (Wilkinson), the head of the Reserve Army, can initiate Valkyrie, they offer him a position as head of the Wehrmacht in a post-Nazi Germany and request his support, but Fromm declines to be directly involved, stating he will not side with them so long as Hitler is alive. With the rewritten Operation Valkyrie orders needing to be signed by Hitler (Bamber), Stauffenberg visits the Führer at his Berghof estate in Bavaria. Fromm’s influence allows Stauffenberg to bring the copy directly before Hitler, and in the presence of Joseph Goebbels, Heinrich Himmler, Hermann Göring, Wilhelm Keitel and Albert Speer, his inner circle, Hitler praises Stauffenberg’s heroism in North Africa and signs the orders without fully examining the modifications, believing Stauffenberg’s changes “are for the best”.At Goerdeler’s insistence, Stauffenberg is ordered to assassinate both Hitler and SS head Himmler at the Führer’s command bunker, the Wolf’s Lair. At a final briefing, Colonel Mertz von Quirnheim (Berkel) instructs the committee members in the use of pencil detonators. Stauffenberg also persuades General Fellgiebel (Izzard), who controls all communications at Wolf’s Lair, to cut off communications after the bomb blast. On July 15, 1944, Stauffenberg attends a strategy meeting at Wolf’s Lair with the bomb in his briefcase, but with Himmler not present at the meeting, Stauffenberg does not get the go-ahead from the committee leaders, and by the time von Quirnheim defies the others and tells him to do it anyway, the meeting is over. Meanwhile, the Reserve Army is mobilized by Olbricht, unbeknownst to Fromm, to stand by. With no action taken, Stauffenberg safely extracts himself and the bomb from the bunker, and the Reserve Army is ordered to stand down, believing that the mobilization was a drill. Back in Berlin, Olbricht and Stauffenberg are threatened by Fromm that if they try to control the reserve army again he will personally have them arrested; Stauffenberg goes to the committee to protest their indecisiveness and condemns Goerdeler, who has been selected to be chancellor after the coup. When Goerdeler demands that Stauffenberg be relieved, Beck informs him that the SS has issued a warrant for his arrest, and that he must leave the country immediately.On July 20, 1944, Stauffenberg and his adjutant Lieutenant Haeften (Parker) return to Wolf’s Lair. To Stauffenberg’s dismay, he discovers only after the timer has been activated that, due to the warm weather, the conference is being held in an open-window summer barrack, whereas the plotters had intended to detonate the bomb within the walls of the bunker for maximum damage. While his adjutant waits with the car, Stauffenberg places the briefcase with the bomb armed at the meeting as close to Hitler as possible. Stauffenberg then leaves the barrack, returning to the car. However, one of the officers at the meeting moves the bomb behind a table leg, which will inadvertently protect Hitler from most of the blast. When the bomb explodes, Stauffenberg is certain that Hitler is dead and flees Wolf’s Lair. Before shutting down communications, Fellgiebel calls Mertz about the explosion but cannot clearly convey whether or not Hitler is dead.As Stauffenberg flies back to Berlin, Olbricht refuses to mobilize the Reserve Army until he knows without a doubt that Hitler is dead (if Hitler isn’t dead, Olbricht will be arrested for having the reserve army mobilized without Fromm’s permission). Behind Olbricht’s back, Mertz forges his signature and issues the orders anyway. With Operation Valkyrie underway, Stauffenberg and his fellow plotters order the arrest of Nazi party leaders and SS officers, convincing lower officers that the Party and the SS are staging a coup. As Army soldiers begin to take control of Berlin’s government ministries, including SS headquarters, mid-level officers relaying the orders begin to wonder which side they should be fighting for. Rumors reach Berlin that Hitler survived the blast, but Stauffenberg dismisses them as SS propaganda. Meanwhile, Fromm learns from Field Marshal Keitel that Hitler is still alive. The General refuses to join the plotters, resulting in them detaining him. Major Otto Ernst Remer of the Reserve Army prepares to arrest Goebbels, but is stopped when Goebbels connects him by phone to Hitler.Immediately recognizing the voice on the other end, Remer realizes that the Reserve Army has been duped—rather than containing a coup, they have unwittingly supported it. SS officers are released and the plotters in turn are besieged inside the Bendlerblock. The headquarters staff flees, but the resistance leaders are arrested. In an ultimately vain effort to save himself, General Fromm convenes an impromptu court martial, places Beck under arrest, and sentences Von Quirnheim, Olbricht, Haeften, and Stauffenberg to death, contravening Hitler’s orders that they be kept alive. Given a pistol by Fromm, Beck commits suicide. That night, the ringleaders are then executed by firing squad one by one. Some distance away, General Von Tresckow commits suicide with a grenade. When Stauffenberg is about to be shot, in a last gesture of loyalty and defiance, Haeften places himself in the path of the bullets meant for Stauffenberg. When his turn arrives, Colonel Stauffenberg’s last act is to cry “Long live sacred Germany!”A brief epilogue informs that the conspiracy of July 20, 1944, was the last of fifteen known assassination attempts on Hitler by Germans. It also mentions Hitler’s suicide nine months later and that Countess Nina von Stauffenberg and her children survived the war. A shortened version of the dedication at the Memorial to the German Resistance is then shown onscreen.Valkyrie is a strong, enjoyable film. It is not Singer’s best but he can still pull it of.

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REVIEW: HARRY POTTER AND THE CHAMBER OF SECRETS

 

CAST

Daniel Radcliffe (Horns)
Rupert Grint (Cherrybomb)
Emma Watson (This Is The End)
Kenneth Branagh (Dead Again)
John Cleese (Rat Race)
Robbie Coltrane (Flash Gordon)
Warwick Davis (Leprechaun)
Richard Griffiths (Sleepy Hollow)
Richard Harris (Gladiator)
Alan Rickman (Alice Through The Looking Glass)
Fiona Shaw (Jane Eyre)
Maggie Smith (Clash of The Titans)
Julie Walters (Brooklyn)
Toby Jones (The Hunger Games)
Bonnie Wright (Before I Sleep)
Mark Williams (Agent Cody Banks 2)
Tom Felton (The Flash)
Jason Isaacs (Peter Pan)
Matthew Lewis (Happy Valley)
David Bradley (Game of Thrones)
Julian Glover (Game of Thrones)

Harry Potter spends the summer without receiving letters from his Hogwarts friends. In his room, Harry meets Dobby, a house-elf who warns him bad things will happen if he returns to Hogwarts, and reveals he intercepted his friends’ letters. Harry chases him downstairs, where Dobby destroys a cake. The Dursleys lock Harry up, but Ron, Fred and George Weasley rescue him in their father’s flying Ford Anglia.

While buying school supplies, Harry and the Weasley family encounter Rubeus Hagrid and Hermione Granger, and they attend a book-signing by celebrity wizard Gilderoy Lockhart, who announces he will be the new Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher. Harry also encounters Draco Malfoy and his father Lucius, who slips a book in Ginny Weasley’s belongings. When Harry and Ron are blocked from entering Platform Nine and Three-Quarters (later revealed to be Dobby’s doing), they fly to Hogwarts in the Ford Anglia and crash into the hostile Whomping Willow. Ron’s wand is damaged, and the car throws them out before driving off. They are allowed back into school but face detention.

While serving detention with Lockhart, Harry hears strange voices and later finds caretaker Argus Filch’s cat, Mrs. Norris, petrified, and a message written in blood announcing the “Chamber of Secrets has been opened, Enemies of the Heir, beware”. Professor McGonagall explains that one of Hogwarts’ founders, Salazar Slytherin, supposedly constructed a secret Chamber and placed inside it a monster that only his Heir can control, to purge the school of impure-blooded wizards and witches. More attacks occur over the course of the year. Harry and Ron suspect Malfoy is the Heir, so Hermione suggests they question him while disguised using polyjuice potion. Their makeshift laboratory is in a disused bathroom haunted by a ghost, Moaning Myrtle.

When Harry communicates with a snake (something Salazar Slytherin could do) the school suspects him as the Heir. At Christmas, Harry and Ron learn that Malfoy is not the Heir, but he mentions that a girl died when the Chamber was last opened fifty years ago. Harry finds an enchanted diary, owned by a former student named Tom Riddle, which shows him a flashback to fifty years before, where Riddle accused Hagrid, then a student, of opening the Chamber. When the diary disappears and Hermione is petrified, Harry and Ron question Hagrid. Professor Dumbledore, Cornelius Fudge, and Lucius Malfoy come to take Hagrid to Azkaban, but he discreetly tells the boys to “follow the spiders”. Lucius has Dumbledore suspended. In the Forbidden Forest, Harry and Ron find Aragog, a giant spider who reveals Hagrid’s innocence and that the dead girl was found in a bathroom. Aragog then sets his colony of Acromantula on the boys, but the now-wild Ford Anglia saves them.

A book page in Hermione’s hand identifies the monster is a basilisk, a giant serpent that instantly kills those who make direct eye contact with it; the petrified victims saw it indirectly. The school staff learn that Ginny was taken into the Chamber, and convince Lockhart to save her. Harry and Ron find Lockhart, exposed as a fraud, planning to flee; knowing Myrtle was the girl the Basilisk killed, they drag him to her bathroom and find the Chamber’s entrance. Once inside, Lockhart uses Ron’s damaged wand against them, but it backfires, wiping his memory, and causes a cave-in.

Harry enters the Chamber alone and finds Ginny unconscious and dying guarded by Tom Riddle. Harry realises Riddle is the Heir and he used the diary to manipulate Ginny and reopen the Chamber. Riddle then reveals his full name, Tom Marvolo Riddle, from which he created the anagram for his future new identity, “I am Lord Voldemort”. After Harry expresses support for Dumbledore, Dumbledore’s Fawkes flies in with the Sorting Hat, and Riddle summons the Basilisk. Fawkes blinds the Basilisk, and the Sorting Hat eventually produces a sword with which Harry battles and slays the Basilisk, but he is poisoned by its fangs.

Harry defeats Riddle and revives Ginny by stabbing the diary with a basilisk fang. Fawkes’ tears heal him, and he returns to Hogwarts with his friends and a baffled Lockhart. Dumbledore, reinstated as headmaster, praises them and orders for Hagrid’s release. Dumbledore shows Harry that the sword he wielded was Godric Gryffindor’s own sword, and says he is different from Voldemort because he chose Gryffindor House instead of Slytherin House. Harry accuses Lucius, Dobby’s master, of putting the diary in Ginny’s cauldron and tricks him into freeing Dobby. The Basilisk’s victims are healed, Hermione reunites with Harry and Ron, and Hagrid returns.

The movie sticks closely to the novel, but as in the last movie we miss some of those scenes where we start to learn a little more about the characters, especially the hate-hate relationship between Harry and Professor Snape. All in all it’s definitely worth checking out, the running time of 160 minutes may seem a little long but it doesn’t seem that long when you’re watching it.

REVIEW: MARY SHELLEY’S FRANKENSTEIN

CAST

Robert De Niro (Joy)
Kenneth Branagh (Valkyrie)
Tom Hulce (Amadeus)
Helena Bonham Carter (Alice In Wonderland)
Aidan Quinn (Legends of The Fall)
Ian Holm (Lord of The Rings)
Richard Briers (Watership Down)
John Cleese (A Fish Called Wanda)
Celia Imrie (Highlander)

In 1794, Captain Walton leads a troubled, expedition to reach the North Pole. While their ship is trapped in the ice of the Arctic Sea, the crew discovers a man, Victor Frankenstein, traveling across the Arctic on his own. Victor grows up in Geneva with his adopted sister, Elizabeth Lavenza, who will become the love of his life. Before he leaves for the university at Ingolstadt, Victor’s mother dies giving birth to his brother William. Victor vows on his mother’s grave that he will find a way to conquer death.At university, Victor’s interest in the works of alchemists make him unpopular with professors. He finds a friend in Henry Clerval and a mentor in Professor Waldman. Victor comes to believe that the only way to cheat death is to create life. Professor Waldman warns Victor not to follow through with his theory; he tested it once, but ended his experiments because they resulted in an “abomination.”  While performing vaccinations, Waldman is murdered by a patient, who is later hanged in the village square. Victor breaks into Waldman’s laboratory, takes his notes, and begins to work on a creation. Victor gives his creature dead body parts from various sources, including the body of Waldman’s murderer and Waldman’s own brain. He is so obsessed with his work that not even a cholera outbreak tears him from it. Victor finally gives his creation life, but he recoils from it in horror and renounces his experiments.Image result for mary shelley's frankensteinThe creature escapes, running off to the wilderness with Victor’s coat which contains Victor’s journal. He spends months living in a family’s barn without their knowledge, gradually learning to read and speak. He attempts to earn the family’s trust by anonymously helping them with their failing farm, and eventually converses with the patriarch, an elderly blind man, after aiding him and his grandson against violent debt collectors. But when the blind man’s family returns, they mistakenly think the creature committed the assaults against the patriarch and grandson, and chase the creature away and abandon the cottage. The creature reads Victor’s journal, learning of the circumstances of his creation. He vows revenge on his creator.Image result for mary shelley's frankensteinVictor, who believes the creature has died of cholera, returns to Geneva to marry Elizabeth. He finds his younger brother William has been murdered. Justine, a servant of the Frankenstein household, is framed for the crime by the creature and hanged by a lynch mob. Victor is approached by his creation demanding that Victor make a companion for him, promising that if Victor does, he will disappear with his mate. Victor begins gathering the tools he used to create life, but when the creature insists he use Justine’s body to make the companion, Victor breaks his promise and the creature vows revenge.Image result for mary shelley's frankensteinVictor and Elizabeth are married. Shortly after, unknown to them, the creature silently kills Baron Frankenstein in his own bedroom. Victor takes every precaution to defend his wife on their honeymoon, but the creature gains access to their bedroom and tears out Elizabeth’s heart, killing her. Maddened with grief beyond measure, Victor races home to bring Elizabeth back to life. He stitches Elizabeth’s head onto Justine’s fully intact body, and she awakes as a re-animated creature. The two are briefly and happily reunited until the creature appears. Victor and the monster fight for Elizabeth’s affections, but Elizabeth, horrified by what she has become, commits suicide by setting herself on fire, burning the mansion to the ground.Image result for mary shelley's frankensteinThe story returns to the Arctic Circle. Victor tells Walton that he has been pursuing his creation for months to kill him. Soon after relating his story, Victor dies from pneumonia. Walton discovers the creature weeping over Victor’s body. The crew prepares a funeral pyre for Victor, but the ceremony is interrupted when the ice around the ship cracks. Walton invites the creature to stay with the ship, but the creature insists on remaining with the pyre. He takes the torch and burns himself alive with Victor’s body. Walton, having seen the consequences of Victor’s obsession, puts his own obsession aside and orders the ship to return home.Image result for mary shelley's frankensteinThe ending goes beyond the scope of the original novel, and it does so in a strikingly grisly way, but the overall effect of this film is true to Shelley’s original vision. Robert De Niro gives a particularly compelling performance as Frankenstein’s monster, the look and feel of the late eighteenth-century setting is spot on, and the musical soundtrack complements the plot extraordinarily well. While I would prefer to see a movie strictly faithful to Shelley’s novel, this exemplary albeit somewhat effusive adaptation hits the core messages of the story dead on and stands, in my opinion, as a truly impressive cinematic accomplishment.