FlixChatter Review: Anthropoid (2016)

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I love historical-based films that really made you want to read more about the actual events. Anthropoid, based on the true story of Operation Anthropoid to assassinate SS General Reinhard Heydrich, is one such film. WWII history buffs would surely know about the ‘Butcher of Prague’ monster that was Heydrich. He’s known as the main architect behind the Final Solution, the Nazi’s plan to exterminate all the Jews in Europe. “It’s assassination, not murder,” one main character said about Heydrich early in the film, “murder implies he’s got a life worth living.” 

To say this is a dangerous operation is putting it mildly. Now it would be appropriate to call this select group of Czech commandos ‘Suicide Squad’ because none of them have special powers and there’s no rescue mission after they carry out their operation. The film center on Jozef Gabčík (Cillian Murphy) and Jan Kubiš (Jamie Dornan), a pair of Czech paratroopers who were dropped in Czechoslovakia. Right from the start, this film was suspenseful and intense. As Gabčík’s foot was injured when he landed, they had to find shelter and medication, as well as face traitors who threaten to expose them.

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The two Irish actors gave a compelling and very human portrayal of the two main paratroopers. I can’t say if their Czech accent was spot on, but at least it wasn’t distracting. I was most impressed with Cillian Murphy who always gives an understated but captivating performance. Gabčík is the more experienced of the two, and I learned later that Kubiš actually replaced the original soldier who was injured in training. I’m not as familiar with Jamie Dornan (nope I don’t care to watch that Fifty Shades movie), and at first I thought he’s too much of a pretty boy for the role. But I think he acquits himself well, showing the inner struggle and anxiety of carrying out the mission. Kubiš’ hand tremble as he tried to shoot a traitor, but later on he fought valiantly just like the rest of the resistance group.

Anthropoid is appropriately gripping and intense, but not overly somber. The two men, despite knowing it’s a suicide mission, did fall for two women whom they met during the operation, portrayed by Charlotte Le Bon as Marie and Anna Geislerová as Lenka. I was more drawn to the more restraint relationship of Gabčík and Lenka, but I’m glad the romance never overshadowed the real story or took the focus away from the main mission. Toby Jones and Harry Lloyd particularly stood out from the resistance group. It seems that Jones’ become a top choice for WWII-related roles with accents.

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There are two main parts to the story, the events leading up to the assassination event and the aftermath. Filmmaker Sean Ellis (who co-wrote the film with Anthony Frewin) stayed true to the historical event, which some critics call boring and by-the-numbers. Now, the filmmaker might lack narrative ambition, but I have no problem with the decision to stay close to the real story. I do think there’s enough drama and stylistic elements that separates this from a documentary. I find myself on the edge of my seat practically the entire time, as even the slower moments of just people talking and planning the operation itself is brimming with suspense that they could get caught at any moment. There’s also an apparent conflict within the Czech resistance group, as some fear (reasonably so) that the Nazi would destroy their country in retaliation.
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The actual assassination itself was pretty well-staged. I already knew what happened from reading about it, but seeing it portrayed on screen was still quite thrilling. I guess one lesson from this is they ought to get a proper weapon from America instead of using the British Sten gun that’s apparently prone to jamming. The group originally thought they had failed this mission, it wasn’t until a week later that they found out Heydrich’s fate. Some historians wonder if this covert operation was worth it, considering the huge cost Czechoslovakia paid in its aftermath.

Two Czech villages are leveled to the ground and over 5000 Czech people were brutally killed following Heydrich’s death. But as the famous quote says ‘All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing,’ it’s no doubt these men were true heroes. They fought bravely for their country at the cost of their own (as well as their families) lives. Even if that mission made the Nazi top officers (even Heydrich’s bosses Hitler & Himmler) think they’re not so invincible after all, who’s to say it wasn’t worth it? The sheer brutality of Germany’s reprisal also led to the Allies to dissolve the Munich Agreement.

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I wouldn’t say this is an enjoyable film given the harrowing subject matter, but I was engrossed in the story throughout. There’s a particularly brutal torture scene that warrants its R-rating but overall it’s not loaded with violence or gore. The group’s last stand at the crypt of a Czech Orthodox church is especially intense but still grounded, not resorting to typical Hollywood bombast. The sepia-toned film is beautifully-shot on location in Prague and the music adds a haunting atmosphere to the whole operation.  The 1940s costumes and vintage set pieces adds authenticity to the period. I’d say this is a pretty stylish film despite its small budget of $9 million.

I’m glad I saw this film on the big screen. It’s an important subject matter that is worth learning about and it certainly made me want to learn more about the actual events. It may not be flashy or spectacular but Anthropoid is a solid and fascinating film. Apparently Ellis started working on this film in early 2000s after seeing a documentary and his passion on this topic showed on screen. This film also made me itch to go to Prague and I definitely would visit the historical locations featured in this film.

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What are your thoughts on Anthropoid?

January 2016 BLIND SPOT: Marie Antoinette (2006)

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I have to confess that since I visited Paris a couple of years ago, I’ve become slightly obsessed with French history. Sofia Coppola‘s retelling of France’s iconic but ill-fated queen promises a character study of the title role instead of a historical account that led to the fall of Versailles. I have no problem with that, after all I’m not expecting a documentary of the subject. If one actually wants to learn more in depth about French history that’s also visually stunning, there’s a good three-part docs called The Rise & Fall of Versailles on Hulu.

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It’s loosely based on the Marie Antoinette biography by Lady Antonia Fraser which reveal the humanity of the French icon. The film opened with the archduchess of Austria at 14, being betrothed to Louis Auguste by her mother Empress Maria Theresa to secure the fragile allegiance between France and Austria. I can only imagine what it must’ve been like for a teenage girl like her to have to part with her family, and her beloved pug, and enter a strange new world on her own. I think the film captured that sense of alienation perfectly, as well as the intense loneliness, not to mention utter bewilderment, of all the new traditions she must quickly become accustomed to. Some of the most amusing scenes pertain to the mystifying traditions at Versailles.

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There’s one where the young queen had to be dressed in front of dozens of courtiers. Given that the most important courtier had to dress her, she literally had to stand shivering in the cold room waiting for someone to finally put clothes on her!

Kirsten Dunst was quite mesmerizing in the title role and being that she was Austrian, I thought she looked the part physically. There’s a playfulness as well as fragility in her performance, and despite being in her early 20s at the time, she looked quite believable as a teen. Jason Schwartzman on the other hand, seems miscast here as Louix XVI. He wasn’t given much to do here either, perhaps that’s purposely done to further the sense of estranged marriage between the two.

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Some critics have said the film is style over substance and there’s certainly style in abundance. The film is lavish and absolutely gorgeous to look at. I have to admit that the first half hour or so I was marveling at the spectacular set pieces and colorful costumes, but the film grew rather tedious and repetitive that it threatened to grind it to a halt. Coppola seems obsessed with the unconsummated marriage that the scenes of Marie being frustrated in bed is played over and over again. I understand Coppola intended to create an unconventional biopic, and that’s to be commended, but it feels overly indulgent. The young queen might’ve been giddy and frivolous, but it doesn’t mean the film depicting her has to be done in the same way.

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“Qu’ils mangent de la brioche,” (Let them eat cake)

As a character study, I feel that Coppola didn’t really go deep enough into the titular heroine. Marie Antoinette is depicted as a friendly, vivacious and sweet, though like most teen, she has a penchant for gossip and spectacular parties. ‘The Party That Started A Revolution’ one of the film tagline says, and well, the queen sure gave some ridiculously opulent parties in a time where the French citizens were starving. Whether she actually uttered the heartless remark ‘let them eat cake’ had been largely disputed, but she did say that line in this film. There’s perhaps a good five minutes or so devoted to the Revolution, there’s not even a mention of the Guillotine anywhere in the film. By the time the crowds had seized Versailles and the royal family escorted to Paris to await their doomed fate, I felt a tremendous sympathy for the characters, but more because of what I’ve learned in history about them, not necessarily due to their depictions here.

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The supporting cast was filled with actors who’ve become quite famous of late, especially Tom Hardy who had basically a cameo here as one of the French aristocrats. The other pretty boy was Jamie Dornan as a French soldier who became Marie Antoinette’s lover Count Axel Fersen. There’s also Rose Byrne as Duchesse de Polignac, the queen’s best friend. Rip Torn played Louis XV here, a role which was apparently offered to French actor Alain Delon, which I think would’ve been perfect. According to IMDb trivia, it has been speculated that Delon did not have confidence in the young American director to do justice to a film on this period of French history.


In any case, the star of this film is definitely Dunst, who carried the film with her charisma. She’s able to convey a variety of emotions throughout and make me sympathize with her despite her obvious flaws. The feeling of total isolation and tremendous pressure of having to produce an heir seemed so unbearable and she conveyed those emotions convincingly.

Technically the movie is a marvel. The cinematography by Lance Acord is simply stunning, a *decadence porn* displaying the most extravagant aristocracy lifestyle in history. I also like the use of contemporary music, as I quite like anachronism in period films when it’s used well. I think Sofia Coppola has been known for having good soundtrack in her movies. This one called Fools Rush In is one of my favorites:


Overall I think Marie Antoinette is a pretty shallow affair, an incomplete and rather unmoving character study that could’ve been much tightly-edited. The film tends to only focus on certain aspects of the character and leave others out, for example the infamous diamond necklace affair that forever tarnished her reputation wasn’t mentioned here. I do think the second half of the film is a bit more interesting as the revolution drew near. I’d still recommend this if you’re into this genre and anything to do with French history. I’d also still applaud Coppola for taking a novel approach to the subject, even if it’s far from being a superior work.

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Check out my full 2016 lineup by clicking the graphic below

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Well, have you seen Marie Antoinette? Well, what did you think?

Weekend Roundup: Quick thoughts on BBC’s The Fall, ONCE (2006) & Blindspot Series Update

Happy Monday all! Hope you had a relaxing weekend. I didn’t go to the movies but had time for some home cinema. My co-worker and I swapped dvds, I lent him Rocknrolla and he lent me ONCE, I think I got the better end of the bargain 😉

I saw Clueless on Friday and did this writeup on it yesterday, and also managed to see one episode of BBC’s The Fall. I’ve been curious about it for some time, partly curious to see if pretty boy Jamie Dornan actually have acting chops. I’ve only seen him in Once Upon A Time and he didn’t impress me there. Well he’s nice to look and he portrayed a sociopath pretty well, I kind of see why he was chosen as Christian Grey though I have no desire whatsoever to ever see it.

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Gillian Anderson is excellent as the detective, her British accent is very convincing too. So far the first episode is a bit on the slow side, though it’s interesting that the serial killer’s already known so it’s more of a psychological thriller from both the killer & the detective’s perspectives, not a who-dun-it type of thriller. Not sure I want to keep watching this series though, I might watch a few more episodes to see if it’s worth continuing. So far it’s not as good as Broadchurch so maybe I might as well continue with season 2.

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Before I get to my mini review of ONCE, I just want to give you a quick update on my Blindspot series. At this point I still have seven films to watch before the end of the year, but given that I want to have more time devoted to my script, I’m only going to watch half of that, not sure yet which one but I really want to see A Place in the Sun and The Big Sleep. I won’t have a Blindspot review this month, but hopefully later in August.

ONCE Well, as for ONCE, I’m glad I finally saw it! I saw Begin Again which was written/directed by John Carney a few months ago and loved it, so naturally everyone recommended that I checked out ONCE. I didn’t realize it was made in 2006, I thought it was released just a few years before Begin Again for some reason. It’s a much smaller film but has similar characteristics in that they feature some great music and centered an unlikely relationship between two musically-gifted people. Both also feature recording session scenes and a ton of great music!

I LOVE the naturalistic setting in Dublin, Ireland. I hadn’t heard of either Glen Hansard nor Markéta Irglová but apparently both of them are singer/songwriter themselves. It’s as if they’re playing themselves as Glen is Irish and Markéta is Czech, exactly like in the film. From the moment they met, there’s an effortless chemistry between them and you’re immediately swept up in their journey in realizing the dream of making a record. The music is absolutely fantastic… it proves that no matter what background you have, even if you’re not speaking the same language, music has a way to connect you in such a deep emotional level.

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I’ve heard the song Falling Slowly before and it’s even more beautiful now that I’ve listened to it in context of the story. But there are a few other wonderful songs I enjoyed, like When Your Mind’s Made Up and the one Markéta sang at the piano in one particularly heartfelt moment between the two protagonists. I have to do a Music Break post on this film real soon.

It’s a small film with a big heart. Perhaps it’s on the melancholic side but the story is bittersweet and romantic. I’ve always loved an unconventional love story and this one is un-Hollywood as it gets. I was quite engrossed in it that I didn’t realize until later than neither one of the protagonists have a name. They’re simply billed as Guy and Girl! It’s amazing that they have such a genuine emotional bond… as the title says, something THIS special must only comes once in a lifetime. But the film is something I would probably enjoy watching more than once.

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Excited for Mission Impossible: ROGUE NATION tonight, woo hooo!! In case you haven’t seen it, check out this featurette w/ Tom Cruise hanging off the side of an airplane. THIS is why you go see a Mission Impossible movie!


So that’s my weekend recap folks! How ’bout you? Seen anything good?