Hello and welcome to the movie blog of author John DeFrank - FilmZ and Guy Sobriquet Malone - Researcher

Operation: Finale Mini-Review

Operation: Finale mini-review by FilmZ

A comment to Holocaust deniers out there: it happened.  Find any legitimate history source, and a late chapter will include Adolph Eichmann.  This fact tasks Operation: Finale with a responsibility: The burden of history is on the filmmakers to earn credibility through accuracy.  Hey, you want to throw in a love subplot, OK, but just a little; and make sure you explain why El Al balked at helping Mossad.  Yet, at the same time, a film has to, as they say, put butts in seats, so the challenge is to make it exciting and fresh, especially a story that has been filmed several times in the past.  O:F succeeds, for the most part.  It is a procedural spy/crime story that starts with a chance meeting that leads to a leak, which sparks a mission that breaks international law, some ill-timed snafus, and ends with an international trial of the century.  Great films will find a way to still bring tension and anticipation to familiar material.  That is the main problem with O:F: while we learn particulars of the mission and are reminded why it is important, we rarely get a sense of tension or urgency.

Ben Kingsley plays a soft-spoken, taciturn Eichmann--as he evidently was, in reality.  Historically correct, but not Hollywood-effect; some might prefer the "Architect of the Final Solution" to be larger than life.  Credit and blame Matthew Orton's script.  His Mossad pursuers are led by Rafi Eitan (Nick Kroll), but the focus here is on Peter Malkin (Oscar Isaac).  He carries the emotional weight of his beloved sister having been murdered by Nazis, yet he is the one who gets what he wants by connecting on a human level with Eichmann.  Other methods are considered, up to and including murder, but this is also a morality tale, with the balance of empathy and sociopathy struck in the conversations between Malkin and Eichmann.  The team also includes, among others, Dr. Hanna Elian (Melanie Laurent), and ethical anesthetist; Isser Harel (Lior Raz), a government facilitator.

The story gets rolling when Klaus Eichmann (Joe Alwyn) tries to impress young Sylvia (Haley Lu Richardson), boasting that his father was a big deal during WWII.  This comes on their first date when Klaus takes Sylvia to a Nazi rally in then-Fascist Argentina.  Frightened, the half -Jewish girl runs out and tells her father (Peter Strauss).  Word travels to post-War Germany and on to Israel.  And the game is on: how will Mossad forces spirit Eichmann out of a hostile nation and bring him to justice?  Director Chris Weitz delivers an involving if not compelling story, and, although there are action scenes this is not an action film, even the suspenseful escape at the airport pales in tension to a similar scene in Argo.  Still, an excellent cast delivers an intriguing story depicting an important page in 20th Century history.
7.5 out of 10 on an Entertainment Scale
7.0 out of 10 on an Artistic Scale


BlacKkKlansman Review by Guy S. Malone, Researcher

Because of conflicts, we weren't able to get a quorum to see Spike Lee's BlacKkKlansman until Wednesday.  This only whet our appetite even more for one of our most anticipated movies of the year so far.  Afterward, we all had the same reaction anyone who knows our gang would expect: we found it culturally relevant, a film that will be held up in the future as an accusing finger at the political leadership in 2018 America.  Possibly our favorite movie of the year, so far.  That's why we like to wait a few days after the film to let it marinate in our mind before writing a review.  Stepping back provides clarity and perspective.  Given that, and reading a little about Ron Stallworth, we do see a few blemishes that temper our enthusiasm.  To be clear, though, our gang unanimously enjoyed the film.

The set-up:
It's 1972 Colorado, and Ron Stallworth (John David Washington) is sworn in as a rookie cop, the first African-American on the Colorado Springs force, fulfilling his lifelong dream.  Ron is enthusiastic and ambitious, agitating to work undercover.  His Chief (Robert John Burke) finally gives in, sending him to monitor a speech by Stokely Carmichael (Corey Hawkins), who has changed his name to Kwame Ture. Ron becomes smitten with the event organizer, Patrice Dumas (Laura Harrier), in full Angela Davis mode.  Romantic conflict: she hates cops.  Later, as the men in the operation debrief, Ron gets the support of Det. Flip Zimmerman (Adam Driver) and Jimmy Creek (Michael Buscemi), cementing their mutual trust.  Soon after that (almost seven years, actually), Ron sees a Ku Klux Klan recruitment ad.  On a whim, he calls, and to his surprise, they want to meet him.  There's only one problem: Ron's skin tone.  So, they hatch a plot to have Flip become Ron for the face-to-face meetings, leading us into a standard undercover operation, punctuated by typical Spike Lee lampooning of small-minded yet dangerous bigotry.  We meet a slew of klansmen, from affable group leader Walter (Ryan Eggold) to the psychotic Felix (Jasper Paakkonen).  But Lee saves the best ironies for phone conversations between Ron and David Duke (Topher Grace), the Grand Wizard himself.  As the investivation evolves, the investment of the force intensifies, especially Flip, Jewish by birth only, who learns to appreciate the significance of his culture.  Meanwhile, through his evolving relationship with Patrice, Ron learns more about the Black Power movement.  But the investigation also unwittingly draws the most dangerous elements of the Klan toward Patrice.

Among the many talents Spike Lee possesses is his ability to elicit a visceral response from the audience.  BlacKkKlansman has many such moments, but three stand out: during the stirring Kwame Ture speech (with content taken from actual Carmichael speeches, I am told), the camera scans the audience's faces, fading from one as it focuses in on another, closing in on the pain recalled and the victory foretold; later, Harry Belafonte, an aged activist, with a group of young people relates vividly the horrors of growing up in the Jim Crow South; and an epilogue that jumps forward to the violent 2017 Unite the Right march in Charlottesville and quotes from the President.  Rightfully, Lee portrays Klansmen on a spectrum ranging from buffoonery to vile bigotry; somewhat ideally, he shows African-Americans always in a righteous light.  We have to give him major props for sending a strong message that good cops are the rule, bad ones the exception.

The moral lessons Lee presents are, at times, heavy-handed, the soliloquys overtly inflame our passions; some characters are caricatures. Are these bad things?  They could be in the hands of a charlatan who wishes to indoctrinate through misleading propaganda; Spike Lee, is not a charlatan, nor is he misleading.  True, he is a grand story-teller who uses fictional elements to dramatic effect, but not at the price of the truth.  Ron, for example, performs a climactic heroic act that never occurred in real life, but that vignette is part of the drama that drives the suspense and the story; it's not a twisting of the history.  And if there is one person who shows true bravery in the film, it is Ron's partner, Flip, the Jewish cop who went face-to-face with the Klan, risking exposure every day.  This is in stark contrast to Lee Daniels', The Butler, which implies that a White House servant was responsible for most Civil Rights gains from Kennedy through Reagan; Nor is he Ava Du Vernay, who in Selma falsely portrayed LBJ as anti-Civil Rights.  Spike Lee's dramatic elements do not bend the truth; they provide the glue that binds the facts, driving the cohesive and compelling narrative.   He holds a 40-year old mirror up to America, and it reflects America today.
8.5 on an Entertainment Scale
8.5 on an Artistic Scale (this one will be in the hunt for many post-season awards)

September and October Movie Guide

Early Fall Movie Guide by Guy S. Malone, Researcher

The first two-thirds of the year mete out enough good movies to see us through, along with a few dry spells and a lot of mediocrity.  The last third gives us a glut of films, more than we can see, in fact, with the quality building to a crescendo, like the end of a fireworks display.

We thought about posting the fall and winter film offerings in one fell swoop, but reconsidered for several reasons:
1 - For just the first two months, we feature 30 movies, enough to boggle anyone's mind;
2 - The picture of worthwhile awards contenders (and their release dates) will become more clear by the end of October, so we will publish he Holiday Film Guide then;
3 - We aren't exactly sure what a fell swoop is, so it would be irresponsible to post a film guide in one.

So, below please find our movie guide for September and October.  As usual, we acted out our petty prejudices, refusing to bring the movies of Nicolas Cage and Chloe Sevigny to these parts.  Still and all, there will be enough trash to sift through before you find the gems, but recognizing that one person's Adam Sandler bobble-head is another person's Oscar, we tried to be comprehensive.



07 The Nun - Horror
The Vatican thinks it's a good idea to send a priest (Demian Bechir) with a checkered past and a novice nun (Taissa Farmiga) to investigate the apparent suicide of a young nun.  In Romania.  Ah jeez, I guess the Church has made worse decisions.

07 Peppermint - Action
Jennifer Garner dips her toes in revenge-porn as a mom who loses everything and comes back to take everything away from the bad guys.  John Ortiz

14 A Simple Favor - Thriller
Paul Feig (Freaks and Geeks) directs this story of a mother and blogger (Anna Kendrick) who follows a twisty mystery of her best friend's (Blake Lively) sudden disappearance.  Linda Cardellini, Henry Golding

14 Bel Canto - Romantic Thriller
Ann Patchett's best-seller about a world renowned opera singer (Julianne Moore) invited to perform for a wealthy industrialist (Ken Watanabe) at a South American estate.  A pleasant evening becomes a nightmare when the people in the house are taken as political hostages.

14 Operation Finale - Historical Bio-Drama  
In 1960, Peter Malkin (Oscar Isaac) leads a team team of Mossad operatives to track down and arrest Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann (Ben Kingsley), a major architect of the Holocaust.

14 The Predator - Sci Fi Horror
Writer-Director Shane Black returns to his 1987 creature when a boy (Jacob Tremblay) unwittingly causes the hunter's return, and only a crew of crusty mercenaries and a science teacher (Yvonne Strahovski) can save Earth.  Sterling K. Brown, Olivia Munn

14 White Boy Rick - Crime Drama
In the 1980s, a teen (Richie Merritt) becomes an underground drug informant, assisted by a strong supporting cast. Matthew McConaughey, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Bruce Dern, Piper Laurie

21 Colette - Historical Bio-Drama
Based on the life of the French novelist (Keira Knightly), who begins writing under her husband's (Dominic West) name, and then must fight her way out from under his shadow.  Eleanor Tomlinson, Fiona Shaw

21 The House with a Clock in its Walls - Fantasy
Young, recently orphaned Lewis (Owen Vaccaro) is sent to live with his uncle (Jack Black), a warlock, in his house of magic. They, along with Mrs. Zimmerman (Cate Blanchett), must foil an evil wizard's (Kyle MacLachlan) plan to bring about the Apocalypse via a ticking-down clock.

21 Life Itself - Romantic Drama
Dan Fogelman (This is Us) wrote and directed this examination of the drama of the lives of a college romance (Olivia Wilde & Oscar Isaac) that follows through to parenthood.  Annette Bening, Antonio Banderas, Mandy Patinkin, Jean Smart

21 Love, Gilda - Documentary
Archival footage and a slew of Saturday Night Live veterans pay homage to the sweet and inspirational funny woman who died way too young.

21 Quincy - Documentary
Chronicle of the life of Quincy Jones, musical icon whose impact on popular culture has spanned 70 years.  Rashida Jones,

21 The Sisters Brothers - Western
Amid personal crises, two bounty-hunter brothers (John C. Reilly & Joaquin Phoenix) track down a prospector (Riz Ahmed) at the height of the 1850s Gold Rush.  Jake Gyllenhaal

21 Tea with the Dames - Documentary
Dames Eileen Atkins, Judy Dench, Joan Plowright, and Maggie Smith quaff tea and discuss life and films.  This might not even make it outside major cities, but it looks like eventual must-see TV.   

28 Night School - Comedy
Dysfunctional adults returning to school to attain GEDs is the backdrop of comedy for the likes of Kevin Hart, Tiffany Haddish, Mary Lynn Rajskub.

28 The Old Man and the Gun - Crime Bio/Drama/Comedy 
A 70-year old (Robert Redford) breaks out of San Quentin and goes on a crime spree that baffles the cops but enchants the public.  Sissy Spacek, Danny Glover

28 Smallfoot - Animated
A Yeti begins to believe that humans exist.  Voice talents of Zendaya, Channing Tatum, James Corden, Gina Rodriguez, Danny DeVito, Common, LeBron James


05 A Star is Born - Musical Drama
Re-re-re-make of a classic--say it all together: A famous musician (Bradley Cooper) helps a rising star (Lady Gaga), and as her career takes off, his fades.  Sam Elliott, Dave Chapelle, Cooper also directs.

05 Venom - Sci Fi/Horror
Eddie Brock (Tom Hardy) acquires the powers of a symbiote, and his alter ego threatens alternately to save and destroy him.  Michelle Williams, Woody Harrelson, Jenny Slate, Riz Ahmed

10 The Happy Prince - Bio-Drama
Rupert Everatt wrote, directed, and stars in this labor of love depicting the last days of Oscar Wilde, who fended off his sad end with wry humor.  Colin Firth, Emily Watson, Tom Wilkinson

12 Bad Times at the El Royale - Crime thriller
A group of strangers meet at the El Royale, a disreputable Tahoe hotel.  Each individual with secrets, each wanting something, but maybe not the craziness they find.  Jeff Bridges, Chris Hemsworth, John Hamm, Dakota Johnson, Cynthia Erivo, Nick Offerman

12 Beautiful Boy - Drama
Fact-based (on father-son memoirs) chronicling a young man's (Timothee Chalamet) drug addiction, his cycling recoveries and relapses, and the tests it places on his parents (Steve Carell & Maura Tierney).

12 First Man - Historical drama
A look at America's ambitious and dangerous mission to put a man on the Moon, focusing on Neil Armstrong (Ryan Gosling), the first man to set foot on the lunar surface on July 20, 1979. Claire Foy, Kyle Chandler

12 The Kindergarten Teacher - Drama
The eponymous pedagogue (Maggie Gyllenhaal) becomes obsessed with nurturing a child she deems to be a prodigy (Parker Sevak). Gael Garcia Bernal

19 Can You Ever Forgive Me - Bio/Comedy/Drama
A celebrity biographer resorts to stretches and fabrications to sell her memoirs.  Based on a memoir (are we to believe it)?  Melissa McCarthy, Richard E. Grant, Jane Curtin

19 The Hate U Give - Crime Drama
Starr (Amandla Stenberg) straddles two worlds: her poor Black neighborhood and her White prep school.  Both worlds crash down when she witnesses a White cop shoot her best friend, and she must stand up for what is right.  Anthony Mackie, Regina Hall, Common

19 Halloween - Horror
Laurie Strode's (Jamie Leigh Curtis) last (yeah, right) confrontation with Michael Myers (Nick Castle).  Judy Greer, Will Patton

19 What They Had - Drama
As a woman (Blythe Danner) fades into Alzheimer's, her son (Michael Shannon) summons his sister (Hilary Swank) to cope with grief and the determination of their father (Robert Forster) to keep his wife near.

19 Wildlife - Drama
Paul Dano directed and adapted (along with Zoe Kazan) the Richard Ford story of a boy (Ed Oxenbould) witnessing his parents' (Carey Mulligan & Jake Gyllenhaal) marriage disintegrate when his mother finds another man (Bill Camp).

31 Slaughterhouse Rulez - Comedy, Horror
Teachers at a British boarding school discover, much to their dismay, that nearby fracking near has opened a sinkhole to Hell.  Expect Simon Pegg and Nick Frost to revive their Shaun of the Dead and The World's End sensibilities.  Michael Sheen, Asa Butterfield

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