Friday, July 31, 2009

WDYWFU Cinema: Valkyrie

Now, I'll admit it. I'm not the most knowledgable guy in the world, and I don't know all my history when it comes to Adolf Hitler. I'm usually content with my share of his part in our national consciousness. Every once in a while someone like Marge Schott will attempt to disrupt the gyroscope but it always tends to find its way back to the stable center. No, it seems that Hitler and the swastika will always be a part of our lives. Sure, Mao Zedong killed more of his own people, and sure, Darfur and Kosovo were also sites of unspeakable horror, but Hitler is still the gold standard. You don't see too many neo-Stalinist groups as the focus of the Southern Poverty Law Center. So Valkyrie was a bit of an education for me. I didn't realize there were 15 attempts to assassinate Hitler. And people forget! The guy really hit his stride in his fifties. Born in 1889, he was the M.C. of the 1936 Olympics, which would have made him 46 or 47. Something to think about in our youth-obsessed culture.
Anyway, as I usually do, I'll take a contrary position, if only to try and get some publicity. Because I'm not exactly on the We Hate Tom Cruise bandwagon, for some reason. I'll spare you all my thoughts on Cruise, but MGM? Dude, what were you thinking? Seriously, I think it's time to sell that studio for scrap. Warner Brothers already's got some of their back catalogue. This isn't RKO or Hal Roach we're talking about here! This is one of the seven major studios! And they're just selling off their own catalog. They used to be the buyers. They bought up all of PolyGram's films once upon a time! Now Fox Atomic is even bigger than MGM today. What, is Dino De Laurentiis still that powerful? He must be the only one hanging on to those last few strands of cinema's golden years (about 1939-1962). He and Ted Turner.
But I digress. I'm pretty sure you still want that Oscar, Tom, but you've still got time to work on that. You may have to settle for an On Golden Pond-type scenario later in life, but if I had to give you one, I'd personally give it to you for Minority Report. Or Born on the Fourth of July, whichever you'd prefer. (footnote: I could've really been cruel and gotten a still from this one scene were Tom's got Marty Feldman eyes... but I couldn't get my digital camera in time. Damn!)
Personally, I'm still numb from this perfect storm of the post-CGI era and the rise and rise of the superhero ethic, so something semi-historical with some traditional camera moves would hit the spot right about now. And I guess Bryan Singer was the right man for the job. Hot off of Superman 5, this Will Ferrell-looking wunderkind-esque director was just about ready for anything... Not quite ready for Superman 6 just yet, but anything. His producorial duties on "Dirty Sexy Money" and "House M.D." apparently were on autopilot, so his energies could go to this tale of treason and patriotism and pricey, pricey set decoration full-bore. He has dealt tangentially with World War II in the past with the likes of Apt Pupil and Magneto of X-Men fame, so Singer was all too ready. And it does look pretty great in HD, I must say. Those German medals that Stauffenberg was handing out, oh you could reach out and touch 'em, you could.
And he does his best to keep this from being a superhero movie... unless you count the opening sequence as an Origin Scene. Damn it! We open with Claus von Stauffenberg losing his eye and much more in the desert... Africa? I've already forgotten.
One of the things people were complaining about is that no one speaks German, and there are no German actors. Well, the second one I'll get to later, but c'mon! This is for the American market! Just think of it as one of those bio-pics from the 50s with white people playing Indians by putting stuff on their faces. Besides, Cruise gives you about a minute of narration in German. And there are plenty of German words on buildings 'n sh... stuff! How many of you could read any of THAT?
The casting, I'll give you that. The one guy I really liked, however, is a German: Christian Berkel. He's about to undo all of it though by appearing in the upcoming Inglorious Basterds. Oh, get a room, guys. No, it's mostly Brits otherwise here, with cast members cribbed from the Pirates of the Caribbean series and from this thing on HBO... I'll find the name of it in a second... Conspiracy! That's it. (And also Zwartboek, as I just found out) And I guess that really was Theoden in the desert after all. I thought maybe it was that guy... you know him best as the guy on the plane on Seinfeld who Jerry dog-sits for. I prefer to remember him as the crusty but benign bishop from Sister Act. And of course as the mad doctor in a little piece of crap called The Evil That Men Do. No, he died eleven years ago, so it definitely wasn't him.
Guess I'd better move on to the script. Apparently not based on Pierre Galante's or any other book, Valkyrie is part of a growing trend of movies that have successfully quashed the source material. Lord of War comes to mind. Written AND directed by Niccol, my ass! He gives credit to the book later on, during the end credits. The WGA will surely hear about this!... they approved? Well, surely the Novelist Guild will... ah, screw it. But I will concede that perhaps it should've been a longer movie. It's a lot of story to cover in two hours with a lot of characters to develop along the way, and Valkyrie does about as good a job as a two-hour theatrical release will do.
Incidentally, has there ever been a movie based on a true story that isn't still gripping and exciting up until the very end? If there has, I don't want to know about it. All the President's Men, Good Night and Good Luck... they generally still make compelling watching because we get ... an inside perspective, to say the least. So perhaps I'm the wrong person to review this. And the 'Goofs' page is pretty long. But I was nevertheless sucked in as events proceeded after the device was detonated. As with most films of the last years of Dubya's presidency, can't you just taste the modern-day parallels?

-so sayeth the Movie Hooligan

No comments: