Matthias Habich

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Nowhere In Africa Review


Very Good
The latest film from director Caroline Link follows a young Jewish family from Germany to Kenya as they flee the Nazi regime at the onset of World War II. Far from being yet another war epic, this adaptation of Stefanie Zweig's autobiographical novel deals primarily with the trials and triumphs of starting a new life in a foreign land. As young Regina (played by Lea Kurka and Karoline Eckertz) grows up in the company of the Pokot tribe, her parents Jettel (Juliane Köhler) and Walter (Merab Ninidze) must learn to cope with their waning love for one another and the fact that they may never see their families again.

That the movie focuses mainly on the characters rather than the war gives this story its strength. Kurka and Eckertz both give skillful performances as Regina in her respective stages of adolescence. The character comes off as being not only blissfully innocent but fiercely intelligent. When the Pokot children teach her how to warm her feet in cow dung, or when she gathers everyone around for a story about angels, you can't help but wonder whether the tribe still talks about Stefanie Zweig so many years later. Likewise, when she debates with her tribal boyfriend about whether she should remove her blouse in order to more freely climb a tree (the way any Pokot teenager might do), we're presented with a clever example of culture clash.

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Enemy At The Gates Review


OK
It's Stalingrad, late 1942. A young Russian sharpshooter is picking off Germans at will, bringing a much-needed lift to a demoralized Soviet army. The impatient Nazis send their top sniper to kill the man. A World War diminishes in scope to a battle of two. With such a promising plot, absolutely ripe for gutsy drama and emotion, why does Enemy at the Gates ultimately fail?

First, and foremost, because of its screenplay. Director Jean-Jacques Annaud (Seven Years in Tibet, The Bear) and partner Alain Godard take a horrific true tale and sap it of its energy, irony, and tension. It starts off impressively enough: Russian soliders are immediately gunned down as they arrive in Stalingrad -- if not by the enemy, then by their own officers, who kill the boys when they retreat in terror. Vassily Zaitsev (Jude Law) becomes an instant hero when he plays dead, and in sniper fashion, shoots a number of unsuspecting Nazis.

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Downfall Review


OK
Is it possible to make a film about Hitler and his regime's final days without humanizing the Nazis? Oliver Hirschbiegel's Downfall (Der Untergang) proves to be a harrowing recreation of the Nazi elite's last stand trapped underground by the encroaching Red Army, but on the issue of depicting its notorious cast of characters - and the gangs all here, from Hitler and the Goebbells family to Himmler, Eva Braun, Albert Speer, and Hermann Fegelein - the film is unable to avoid sentimentalizing what is, for most of the modern world, a distinctly unsentimental moment in 20th century history. One can recognize the dramatic necessity of attempting to portray such monsters with more than a blunt brushstroke, and often, Hirschbiegel's impressively expansive drama (adapted by Bernd Eichinger from both Joachim Fest's Inside Hitler's Bunker and Traudl Junge and Melissa Müller's Until the Final Hour) eerily captures the hysterical, delusional fanaticism that gripped the Nazis - and Hitler in particular - up until the very end of April 1945. But if the sight of crying Nazis and "brave" SS soldiers is the price to be paid for such a riveting portrait, one must wonder if this well-intentioned enterprise - the first German-produced film to directly confront Hitler in nearly 50 years - doesn't sabotage its own portrait of the appalling empire's collapse.

After a brief prologue that finds Hitler (Bruno Ganz) choosing Traudl Junge (Alexandra Maria Lara) - the woman who would later become the subject of the 2002 documentary Blind Spot: Hitler's Secretary - as his secretary, Hirschbiegel's film whisks us away to 1945 Berlin, where der Fuhrer and company are vainly attempting to keep the Aryan dream alive from a concrete bunker deep underneath the battle-ravaged city. Hitler remains convinced, against overwhelming evidence to the contrary, that the war remains winnable, and Ganz - an actor whose strength is usually found in contemplative silence - superbly brings the horrific fascist to maniacal life, balancing an exhausted, stooped posture and twitching left hand (always held behind his back) with sudden delusional tirades of mouth-frothing madness. Surrounded by increasingly cynical military officers, an unrepentant Hitler is agitated, desperate, and unable to relinquish the belief that his Nazi army will re-mobilize for a final, fatal strike against the Russians. Meanwhile, absurd and surreal last-gasp mini-dramas play out throughout the bunker, from Junge and her fellow secretary's attempts to remain optimistic and Albert Speer (Heino Ferch) and Heinrich Himmler's (Ulrich Noethen) eventual desertions to, most chillingly, Magda (Corinna Harfouch) and Joseph Goebbels' (Ulrich Matthes) plans to exterminate their six children should National Socialism crumble.

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Downfall Review


OK

For those not already versed in the lore of Adolf Hitler'sfinal days, the intimacy, immediacy and bunker-mentality minutia of "Downfall"may make for truly engrossing cinema. A detailed, historically accurateaccount that bears witness as the psychotic dreams of a 1,000-year ThirdReich slip away from its increasingly paranoid Fuehrer, this bravely matter-of-factGerman epic features uniformly powerful performances and is an eerie, vividrealization of gray-walled claustrophobia and the terror of saturationbombing. (The camera shakes in a uniquely unsettling, knock-you-off-your-bearingsway with each mortar shell.)

The fantastic Bruno Ganz (best known in the US for "Wingsof Desire") plays Hitler with a broken kind of humanity that makeshis evil subtler than expected, but by extension all the more chilling.His senior staff is accounted for nearly every moment of the detailed film,but none of them stands out except Ulrich Matthes as psychotically loyalpropaganda minister Joseph Goebbels, and Corinna Harfouch as his wife.She has the film's most disturbing scene, poisoning her children to "save"them from growing up in a world without National Socialism.

But while director Oliver Hirschbiegel ("DasExperiment") very effectively takes youdeep inside Nazi Germany's crumbling heart and brings many infamous momentsacutely to life, his film doesn't offer much in the way of new insight.The script is more of a textbook play-by-play than an examination of impulsesand psyches, and while the Hirschbiegel and his cast add those dimensionsthrough their fine work, it seems the only way he could invest the audiencein these events was by seeking out a sympathetic minor character -- inthe person of Hitler's young secretary, Traudl Junge (Alexandra Maria Lara)-- and beef up her significance.

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Enemy At The Gates Review


OK

The first half-hour of "Enemy at the Gates" is a cinematically stunning, hyper-realistic battlefield nightmare that transports the viewer right into the heart of the Nazis' yearlong siege of Stalingrad during World War II.

"Autumn, 1942," deplores the period-style voiceover as a shadow creeps across an illustrative map in an updated homage to old-timey war pictures. "Europe lies crushed under the Nazi jackboot..."

German planes dive-bomb troop transports in an incredible attack sequence. Sweeping shots the color of mud and blood take in the scale of the besieged city's cold, yet smoldering ruins while Red Army officers recite threatening propaganda to masses of soldiers who would rather flee.

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Matthias Habich Movies

Nowhere in Africa Movie Review

Nowhere in Africa Movie Review

The latest film from director Caroline Link follows a young Jewish family from Germany to...

Enemy At The Gates Movie Review

Enemy At The Gates Movie Review

It's Stalingrad, late 1942. A young Russian sharpshooter is picking off Germans at will,...

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Downfall Movie Review

Downfall Movie Review

For those not already versed in the lore of Adolf Hitler'sfinal days, the intimacy, immediacy...

Enemy At The Gates Movie Review

Enemy At The Gates Movie Review

The first half-hour of "Enemy at the Gates" is a cinematically stunning, hyper-realistic battlefield nightmare...

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