Tag Archives: Thomas Kretschmann

Painful History

American Traitor: The Trial of Axis Sally

by Hope Madden

A film about Mildred Gillars—better known as Axis Sally, American broadcaster based in Berlin during WWII—could be interesting. Gillars was an Ohioan and thwarted entertainer who found herself in Berlin just before the war. She threw her talents to Goebbels’s propaganda efforts and became one of the most popular radio announcers in the world, even in the U.S.

She was eventually tried for treason. But was it treason if she was no longer an American citizen? Was it treason if she was simply a voice talent, not the writer of the content? And even if she stood behind what she had to say, wasn’t that just free speech?

So much to dig into! And the director is Michael Polish, whose career is littered with underseen treasures like Twin Falls, Idaho, Northfork, and For Lovers Only.

Those gems were penned by Polish’s brother Mark. American Traitor: The Trial of Axis Sally was not. Michael co-wrote this script with first-time screenwriter Darryl Hicks, as well as Vance Owen, co-author of the book on which the film is based.

They do not possess Mark Polish’s poetic gifts.

They do have Al Pacino, though. As defense attorney James Laughlin, Pacino is Pacino—disheveled, fun, scrappy. He gets to deliver one of those passionate closing arguments you find only in movies. And he mines this dog meat of a script for a character.

Every moment he is off-screen is unendurable.

Meadow Williams takes the approach opposite Pacino’s, delivering an entirely superficial turn as Gillars. Part of this performance could pass for stoicism, but in flashback sequences of levity, she is painful. During her emotional breakthroughs, you may need to look away.

So, she fits right in. Aside from Pacino, the cast is uniformly awful. Some are worse than others. Thomas Kretschmann and Carsten Norgaard do not embarrass themselves as Goebbels and Gillars’s beau Max, respectively. As Laughlin’s in-court right-hand man Billy Owen, Swen Temmel does.

Pacino’s in his eighties and still makes about three films a year. Before this, it was The Irishman and Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood. Two out of three ain’t bad.

Shotgun Safari

Dragged Across Concrete

by George Wolf

Songwriter Jim Steinman, best known for baroque and dramatically verbose musical epics often belted out by Meat Loaf, has said in interviews that he would love to write 3-minute pop toe tappers, he just doesn’t know how.

Filmmaker S. Craig Zahler can probably relate. Dragged Across Concrete is his third feature as writer/director, and he’s still clearly invested in the long game. Like Bone Tomahawk and Brawl in Cell Block 99, Zahler’s latest is full of strangely indelible characters and memorable dialogue, a film anchored in creeping dramatic dread that finally explodes with wonderfully staged brutality.

Brett (Mel Gibson) and Anthony (Vince Vaughn), street-smart cops in a fictional urban jungle called Bulwark, get popped when a bystander captures one overly zealous interrogation on video. A suspension without pay is something they’re forced to accept, but it isn’t long before Brett has a plan to make up for the lapse in funds with a little “proper compensation” on the side.

But of course, they’re not the only ones looking for a score.

Henry (a terrific Tory Kittles) is fresh out of the joint and needs money for his family. His old friend Biscuit (Michael Jai White) hooks them both up as drivers for a lethal bank robber (Thomas Kretschmann), and the long fuse to a standoff is lit.

This is Zahler’s slowest burn yet, but he keeps you invested with a firm commitment to character, no matter the screen time. From a new mother with near-crippling separation anxiety (Jennifer Carpenter) to a loquacious bank manager (Fred Melamed) and a shadowy favor-granter (Udo Kier), nothing in the film’s 159 minutes feels superfluous.

In fact, quite the opposite.

As Zahler contrasts the cops with the robbers, the sharply-defined supporters orbiting the core conflict only add to its gravity, despite a few moments than seem a bit too eager for Tarantino approval.

Gibson is fantastic, drawing Brett as the real bulwark here, defending what he feels is his with a savage, unapologetic tenacity. Vaughn, re-teaming with Zahler after a standout turn in Cell Block 99, again shows how good he can be when pushed beyond his default setting of “Vince Vaughn.”

Finally, the steady march of battered souls, desperate measures and eclectic soundtrack choices comes to a bloody, pulpy head, staged with precision and matter-of-fact collateral damage.

Zahler’s command of his playbook is hard to ignore. Though the glory of Concrete‘s payoff never quite rises to the breathtaking heights he’s hit before, his confident pace and detailed observations make for completely absorbing storytelling.

And two out of three ain’t bad.




by Hope Madden

It is hard to go wrong with a story as viscerally affecting as that of Yossi Ghinsberg, an Israeli who took a year off from his life to seek adventure. He found it in the Jungle.

Beautifully portrayed by Daniel Radcliffe, Yossi heads to Bolivia where he befriends Swiss schoolteacher Marcus (Joel Jackson) and American photographer Kevin (Alex Russell).

Director Greg McLean (Wolf Creek) invests a good chunk of Jungle in letting us get to know this amiable, romantic trio—searching souls that seek some kind of connection with nature, humanity and life.

They find something that may be too good to be true when Yossi meets the mysterious jungle guide Karl (a wonderful Thomas Kretschmann). Together the foursome head into uncharted territories in search of lost tribes, rivers full of gold and other wonders not found on the typical tourist to-do list.

You know what they say about things that sound too good to be true.

Frustrations run high, mercy runs low, faith in leadership wanes, and eventually, an accident separates Ghinsberg from the group. He is on his own to survive the jungle, starvation, delirium, and one nasty, squirmy head wound.

Adapting Ghinsberg’s autobiography, screenwriter Justin Monjo sticks to highlights, which gives the film an artificiality it never fully shakes. McLean’s camera embraces both the overpowering beauty of the extreme environment as well as its shadowy, jagged, sometimes toothy menace. He just needs to learn when to leave it alone.

Speaking of alone, Radcliffe spends about 1/3 of the film on his own. For anyone still wondering whether Harry Potter can act, this film should set aside all doubt. Radcliffe is a natural fit for deeply decent characters, and his expressive face helps him communicate an enormous amount of unspoken content.

He’s great, as is the story and the balance of the cast. It’s just the writer and director who let us down from time to time.

Jungle is at its worse when McLean shows how little faith he has in his material and his audience, leaning on emotional manipulation and an almost oppressively leading score to ensure we are getting his point.

There are other questionable decisions, like the dream sequences, which offer little to the film besides the opportunity to objectify the few—all lovely, all nameless—women who grace the screen.

Jungle is, if nothing else, a powerful testament to Daniel Radcliffe’s potency as an actor. It’s also an unbelievable story, and Radcliffe’s performance ensures your keen interest regardless of McLean’s antics.