Tag Archives: Nazi

The Ghost of Peter Sellers

25 May

‘The Ghost of Peter Sellers’: Failed film haunts, so director does retake on a cruel comic genius

 

GHPS

“The Ghost of Peter Sellers” is something of a therapy session for director Peter Medak, who worked with Sellers on the abysmal 1973 pirate comedy “Ghost in the Noonday Sun.” Medak was an up-and-comer hot off the 1972 hit “The Ruling Class” and chanced into Sellers – the world’s most revered comic actor of the time – and at the “Pink Panther” star’s behest, agreed to helm the film conceived by Sellers’ comedic running mate, Spike Milligan. Medak, 35 at the time, said yes (“How could I not?”) and the film went on to be an unmitigated disaster. It ran well over budget, and has still never fully been released.

What we get from Medak’s unique point of view – which is kind of meta, as he’s a filmmaker making a documentary about the making of a film he made – is rue, remiss and a tang of anger. Sellers, after all, pretty much quit the film early on and, as Medak has it, did plenty to undermine the young director and upend a once-promising career. The film is not a hit piece on Sellers, though, and ultimately embraces the troubled star as it delves into his several messy relationships, cardiovascular issues and, as Medak frames with care, mental health issues. Medak’s assessment of his star is backed by Sellers’ daughter, who provides earnest and thoughtful insights.

What’s also amazing to glean from Medak’s rewind is his own journey as a survivor of the Nazi occupation of Hungary during World War II and the Communist iron glove that took hold during the formation of the Soviet Union. But nothing looms as large as Sellers to Medak; it’s the thing that has consumed him for years, and the use of “ghost” is the title is more than apt. The dissection of the production, the filmmaking process and the shenanigans of Sellers and Milligan provide for jaw drops, be it Sellers leveraging his heart condition via a doctor’s note so he could go party in a pub, or the magical transformation of a Chinese junk into the pirate ship only to have it crash on its maiden voyage. Similar films about the making of great films (from the clips of “Noon” that you see here, you know that is not the case), “Burden of Dreams” (1982, about “Fitzcarraldo”) and “Hearts of Darkness” (1991, about “Apocalypse Now”) are more distant and observant; “Ghost of Peter Sellers” to me felt like a somber “The Other Side of the Wind” (2018), Orson Welles’ last, unfinished film framed inside of a documentary. There’s loose narrative play in that film, but Medak here stays close to his heart. In the end he brings it all home while shedding light on careers and films worth remembering … even if the one he’s focused on is not one of them.

Resistance

31 Mar

‘Resistance’: You know mime Marcel Marceau, but this is when clowning stopped to kill Nazis

 

Resistance

Many know Marcel Marceau as one of the greatest mimes who lived, but he also was also part of the French Resistance during the Nazi occupation of France, helping hundreds of orphaned, mostly Jewish children escape to Switzerland. His father was Jewish and as the film “Resistance” has it, none too keen of his son wanting to be like Charlie Chaplin, calling him “a useless bum who wants to be a clown but has the muscles of a ghost.” His father, a butcher, would end up being put to death in a concentration camp, and Marcel would change his last name as he and his brother joined the fight.

Jonathan Jakubowicz’s self-important film is framed with Gen. George S. Patton (Ed Harris) citing Marcel (Jesse Eisenberg) for his heroics to a crowd of U.S. soldiers after the liberation of France. It’s an awkward, out-of-place device – as is much of the film awkward. Harris, normally dead-on in his male bravado, is a mouse stepping into George C. Scott’s shoes, and Eisenberg, while game, struggles with the subtlety of mime and the nuance of an actor feigning composure under the masochistic boot of Klaus Barbie (a scene-chewing Matthias Schweighöfer, a pleasing, malevolent distraction) trying to shake down an escape plot. The film’s told with a Holocaust thriller edge, yet it never quite thrills nor enlightens, especially given the rich historical material at hand.

Just what drives Marcel – or Jakubowicz’s plot – is hard to say. He’s so enamored with Chaplin and breaking out as a performer, it’s hard to know if protecting children or a way of life is more important. Then there’s the sullen but determined Emma (French actress Clémence Poésy), who’s in on the cause and a romantic interest; many of these seeds never fully sprout, leaving the realization of Marceau and his legacy as something of a muddled miss.

Jakubowicz’s choice of title is austere but irrelevant. Yes, Marceau served in the Resistance, but the movement and his time in it are not the film’s major thrust, making it another aspect of the film that raises more questions than it ever answers. One of the very best films (if I may suggest) about the French Resistance is Jean-Pierre Melville’s dark and daunting “Army of Shadows” (1968). Due to the famous May 1968 civil rebellion against the presidency of Charles de Gaulle, the film, with its favorable portrayal of de Gaulle, was not widely embraced; it didn’t get a theatrical release in the United States until 2007. It’s well worth seeking out.

Overlord

10 Nov

‘Overlord’: Remember, Greatest Generation also had Nazi zombies to deal with in WWII

 

Image result for overlord

You can think of “Overlord” as “The Dirty Dozen” by way of “28 Days Later” – that’s right, the WWII zombie apocalypse. The film starts with an imaginative bang and keeps its nose above the average even while dipping into genre tropes.

We catch up with a platoon of lads soaring above the D-Day armada heading for Omaha Beach. Their mission: Drop behind enemy lines and take out a radio tower in a medieval church or the U.S. air cover will get picked apart and the assault will fail. There’s a lot on the line. I’m not sure why there’s a few dozen planes on this mission, because stealth would make more sense, but it makes for the film’s best scene as German forces light up the approaching aircraft. The choreography, both in CGI manipulation and the goings-on with the boys inside as large-caliber bullets rip through the fuselage, amazes; cut frenetically with deafening ambient sound, it feels ripped right out of “Dunkirk.” Few make it to the ground alive (you could call it “The Dirty Half-Dozen”). After a few skirmishes with Nazi forces, the lads Boyce (Jovan Adepo); the squinty, badass explosives expert Ford (Wyatt Russell); wisecracking New York tough guy (think Joe Pesci) Tibbet (John Magaro); and a couple of other Star Trek red shirts get into the small village with the help of a comely village girl (Mathilde Ollivier). She takes them in, but what’s up with auntie’s reptilian rasping from behind closed doors?

Boyce ultimately makes it into a church basement, which is pretty much Mengele’s little shop of horrors if he was trying to engineer a zombie army of grotesque berserkers. The whole thing feels like a game of “Wolfenstein” gone 3D, but more grim. It’s here too that the film starts to sag, though there is tension added by the fact Boyce is black – no way to blend in among white supremacists (though otherwise, pretty much nothing is made of race). “Overlord” is largely Adepo’s film, and he carries it well, with both wide-eyed terror and heroic resolve. Magaro and Ollivier are also quite good in their limited stints, but Russell, filling a role akin to his father Kurt’s badass John Carpenter roles in “The Thing” and “Escape from New York,” doesn’t quite seal the deal. The part begs for more swagger. It works, but just barely, and is something of a missed opportunity for all.

The film, directed by Julius Avery, is a product of J.J. Abrams’s Bad Robot company, though Abrams has stipulated adamantly that it’s not a “Cloverfield” film. The connection between those entries is arcane at best anyhow, and something of a distraction. In construct, “Overlord” is more ambitious than those films, and its production values noticeably higher; but, then again, it’s about the fate of the democratic world hanging on the resolve of a bag of mixed nuts caught up in zombie-land.