The Odessa File – Nazis Gone Wild! week

Mostly as an excuse so I can review a film I have waited a year to see (no not this one), this is Nazis Gone Wild! week. We will be featuring Nazis not in their usual setting – mainly post-World War II. The Odessa File is currently available on instant Netflix.

The Odessa File

PASS: The Odessa File (1974) – Rated PG.

“After finding the diary of a Holocaust survivor who had recently committed suicide, journalist Peter Miller (Jon Voight) begins following the trail of an SS officer who commanded a concentration camp during World War II. Miller soon finds himself involved with an organization of former SS members called Odessa as well as with the Israeli secret service. Further probing reveals a link between the officer, Odessa and Millers own family.”

“You are a parasite. You live off other peoples troubles.”

Director Ronald Neame and writers Kenneth Ross & George Markstein do a good job of squeezing as much of The Odessa File book plot as possible into the movie. This should please readers of the book.

Unfortunately if you have not read the book, many portions are just touched upon and dropped. The film opens with worries about Weapons of Mass Destruction being used on Israel. This subplot consists of one scene in the beginning, a brief mention in the middle, and a brief mention at the end and could easily have been jettisoned. It has almost nothing to do with the rest of the film.

The bulk of the film is the hunt for Eduard Roschmann that is undertaken by Miller. Eduard Roschmann is played by second-billed Maximilian Schell who is only briefly in the film. The vast bulk of the film is carried by Jon Voight as Miller and he does a very good job here.

Sadly that does not translate into a good movie. There are the all-too-common plotholes. Many of the ODESSA operatives know Miller by sight so that makes him the ideal candidate to go undercover. What?!?

It is quite clear that at least some of the authorities are in collusion with (or are members of) ODESSA so at an absolutely crucial moment of secrecy, I will call my girlfriend and tell her where I am. What?!?

Interestingly Eduard Roschmann, The Butcher of Riga, was not only real but was in hiding in Argentina at the time this film came out. Within the next few years, possibly due to publicity from the book and movie, he faced extradition and was forced to flee to Paraguay. He turned up dead there on August 8, 1977, presumably murdered though Nazi hunter Simon Wiesenthal was doubtful that it was him.

Netflix presents this movie in HD for those of you with the appropriate equipment.

I am afraid that I have to give this movie a pass. There is nothing overtly wrong with it – the acting is fine if unexceptional, the script is fine apart from a few huge plotholes, direction is fine but uninvolved.

The movie just seems flat – as if it has to hit certain plot points from the novel and string them into a whole. It is very reminiscent of the last Forsyth adaptation I reviewed, The Fourth Protocol.

People Watch: The always wonderful Derek (I, Claudius) Jacobi plays Klaus Wenzer.

Anaconda – Size Matters week

In honor of the wonderful Valentine’s/Birthday/Father’s Day/Christmas present my wife gave me, I am featuring giant things this week. Today it is a giant snake. Anaconda is currently available on instant Netflix.

Anaconda

PASS: Anaconda (1997) – Rated PG-13 for intense adventure violence, and for brief language and sensuality.

“When deranged snake hunter Paul Sarone (Jon Voight) tricks a filmmaking crew (Jennifer Lopez, Ice Cube and Eric Stoltz) into taking him on their boat so he can hunt a giant anaconda, the group soon finds itself up the Amazon River without a paddle as they become prey for the reptile. With their captain incapacitated, the crew must battle not only the fearsome snake but the equally slimy, ruthless Sarone. Great cinematography marks this thriller.”

“Unique among snakes, they are not satisfied after eating a victim. They will regurgitate their prey in order to kill and eat again.”

As with most modern horror movies, the film opens with an attack. This attack is very well shot and conceived. It manages to be suspenseful without ever showing the titular Anaconda. Sadly the film goes downhill from there.

One of the many many problems the film has is with scale. One of the rubber/animatronic Anacondas is not the same size as the same CGI Anaconda. Of course they also don’t move in even close to the same manner.

Another problem the film has is a lack of understanding of snakes and Anacondas in particular. Yes Anacondas grow really big and yes they can swallow people (cattle for that matter). Once they eat a big meal like that they just lay around practically comatose for long periods while they digest. Also snakes don’t screech.

Then there is the matter of the other wildlife. There are no wild boars in the Amazon and rigor mortis does not set in immediately upon death. Wild monkeys are also usually not found tied to tree limbs. Hint: if you are going to do that, do not show closeups.

The most hysterical scene in the movie does not even a snake in it. At the 1 hour and 11 minute mark instead of another shot involving the boat leaving the waterfall, they simply play the shot backwards. Watch the waterfall in the background and you will see all the water leaping up the cliff. Talk about lazy cinematography.

Make no mistake – in spite of the impressive cast for a horror movie, this is the Jon Voight show. Jon Voight was nominated for the Best Actor Oscar in 1970 for Midnight Cowboy and won the Oscar in 1979 for Coming Home. He has had two more Oscar nominations since – one in 1986 for Runaway Train and one in 2001 for Ali.

Unfortunately here Voight chooses to adopt a funny accent and overact outrageously. He appears at the 10 minute mark and dominates the film from that point straight through to the end. That said his performance has far more life in it than the rest of the cast.

Jennifer Lopez walks through her role here showing none of the verve or charisma she would show in the following year’s Out of Sight. Eric Stoltz is good as her love interest but is removed for much of the film. This leaves Ice Cube to play the other hero without the impediment of romantic entanglement. His performance is as bland as Lopez’s performance.

Backing them up in smaller parts are a pre-Armageddon/Zoolander Owen Wilson and, in a link to yesterday’s film, Kari Wuhrer as the expendable couple. Character actor Jonathan Hyde (Titanic) appears as a primadonna and Vincent Castellanos appears as a red shirt.

The tragic mistake this movie makes is that it isn’t scary and it isn’t funny. It’s merely mildly entertaining, mostly for Jon Voight’s performance, and I can’t really recommend it for that.

People Watch: One of my favorite character actors, Danny Trejo appears briefly as lunch, I mean a poacher.

Christmas week – Enemy of the State

Besides taking place during the holidays (thus qualifying it for Christmas week status), Enemy of the State definitely knows if you’ve been naughty or nice.

Enemy of the State

WATCH: Enemy of the State (1998) – Rated R for adult content, graphic language and violence.

“Hotshot Washington lawyer Robert Dean (Will Smith) becomes a victim of high-tech identity theft when a hacker slips an incriminating video into his pocket. Soon, a rogue National Security agent (Jon Voight) sets out to recover the tape — and destroy Dean. Tony Scott directs this breakneck political thriller that co-stars Gene Hackman as an intelligence expert who comes to Dean’s aid.”

Tony Scott directed this tense thriller shortly after Will Smith came off Independence Day. Normally I find that his fast pace and jump cuts detract from the film but in this case they serve the story well. One of the background storylines in this movie is an upcoming vote on a bill that sounds a lot like a portion of The Patriot Act even though this film predates that by many years.

Will Smith is his usual likeable everyman self and Jon Voight is appropriately sinister as a man with an agenda. Gene Hackman does a marvelous update to his character from The Conversation (a very similar film) and steals every scene he is in. The cast is filled with easily recognized character actors giving good performances, many of whom aren’t credited for some reason. Jamie Kennedy and Seth Green play a funny pair of agent/analysts. Jason Robards lends some weight with a brief role as a Senator.

The film is very good but flawed. While the breakneck pacing keeps one from questioning some of the logic holes, the initial killing seems very far-fetched (far too public). The climax comes across as lazy and contrived since it is essentially the same climax as his earlier movie True Romance. Thankfully Tony Scott doesn’t overuse his odd angleĀ  and color-shifted (or bleached) cinematography here – it only gets annoying a bit during a tunnel chase.

The theme of ubiquitous surveillance is wonderfully handled though credit should be given to the aforementioned The Conversation (1974) and The Anderson Tapes (1971) for breaking ground. Overall this is a highly enjoyable film that handles the subject matter in a fun instead of preachy manner. I also love one particular dialogue exchange.

Robert Dean: What the hell is happening?

Brill: I blew up the building.

Robert Dean: Why?

Brill: Because you made a phone call.

People Watch: Look for Tom Sizemore as a mob boss, Jack Black as an analyst, and Gabriel Byrne as an agent.