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the film criticism aspect of cyber | by maryann johanson

5 reasons I’m psyched for ‘Valkyrie’

All this weekend! 5 movies I’m psyched for in December and 5 reasons why. No. 3: Valkyrie [opens in the U.S. on December 25, and in the U.K. on January 23, 2009].
1. Bryan Singer. He’s one of the great filmmakers of Generation X — The Usual Suspects, X-Men, Superman Returns — and I’m highly intrigued by the prospect of his spin on one of the great stories of World War II that Hollywood has yet to give much attention to. Screenwriter Christopher McQuarrie (who also wrote Usual Suspects) is an Xer, too. In my dreams, I see this 65-year-old story connecting in a particular way that speaks to Xers today.

2. That great almost-untold story. “Good” Nazis who plotted to kill Hitler? Excellent.

3. That roving release date. The first bounces saw the release date moving around Summer 2008, but then production delays pushed it back to February 2009, the kind of date that is the kiss of death, at least as an indication of quality (studio films that get released in the first few months of the year are almost entirely crap). But then test screenings convinced United Artists to move the film back to Christmas Day, which probably indicates UA thinks it has the potential to attract the interest of awards voters in the 2008 awards season.

4. That cast! Kenneth Branagh, Bill Nighy, Tom Wilkinson, Carice van Houten (who previously kicked Nazi ass in Black Book), Thomas Kretschmann (who was so cute in King Kong), Terence Stamp, and utterly worshippable Eddie Izzard. I’m swooning at the prospect of all this talent onscreen all at once.

5. Tom Cruise. Yeah, I know. But every time I think the same thing you’re thinking, I then think, But Collateral Cruise was amazing in Collateral… which means he could be amazing again. I’d love to be surprised like that again.



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  • Arch

    ” UA thinks it has the potential to attract the interest of awards voters ”

    Appreciate the enthusiasm, but how could that be true if UA isn’t holding screenings for those who vote for the awards? That fact has been well-reported.

  • Clint

    “UA isn’t holding screenings for those who vote for the awards? That fact has been well-reported”.

    That’s actually not true at all. This is another case of media brainwashing. The ONLY awards that the Valkyrie screenings come too late for is the New York Film Critics Circle Awards. Big deal! But the film will be screened in PLENTY of time for Golden Globe, BAFTA and Academy Award consideration.

  • Gulag

    I can’t wait to see the movie myself, I’ll be taking my momma, that’ll be her gift, cause I don’t have time to wrap anything this year. At the end of the day, I will feel good, because this is a story that needs to be told, and if it breaks bank, then the world will know and this little story will be put in the U.S. history books, and future generations will know that all those nazis were not pure evil, but had a conscience, and some acted on it.

  • Arch

    Clint: it’s not a matter of “media brainwashing” it’s common sense and public knowledge. You don’t just skip the early ballots and then show up late and say “Hey guys, won’t you give me that Oscar?”

    Other studios are spending millions trying to get award voters to see their movies. MGM is throwing preview screenings around the country but somehow can’t just show the movie for the voters?

    Even more directly, multiple mainstream critics/reporters have said that the MGM folks have insisted that this is not an Oscar movie but instead a solid movie with great commercial potential (as if, unfortunately, one precluded the other). So if your bainwashing is indeed present, it’s worked on the people running the movie as well.

    Now please, read the originial post, read what’s available and then tell me “That’s actually not true at all.”

  • Clint

    Arch: Here is a link to the original article where it was claimed Valkyrie won’t screen in time for Awards consideration:
    http://www.nj.com/entertainment/tv/index.ssf/2008/11/valkyrie_surrenders.html

    And it is as I say – The ONLY Awards that it is ‘bypassing’ (so to speak) is the NY Film Critics Circle Awards. But somehow, the media spin machine has turned it into “MGM won’t screen Valkyrie for ANY Awards”!
    But here is the point: MGM have been having heaps of preview screenings for Valkyrie across the country for weeks (as you pointed out). There just isn’t going to be an “official” NY Film Critics Circle screening. But if any members of the NY Film Critics Circle want to see it before voting, then nothing is stopping them from doing so. Because MGM rep Mike Vollman has stated plain as day that Valkyrie WILL be listed on the ballot for those Awards, and indeed any other guild awards, and MGM WILL accomodate any critic who needs a screening arranged. Vollman says MGM WANTS Valkyrie to be honored at awards, stating: “We hope they do as the work is excellent and deserves recognition”. You can’t get much more of an endorsement than that.
    I personally believe it is just another “angle” that the media have latched onto to try and orchestrate Valkyrie as being thought of as a disaster before it’s even opened.

  • Jan Willem

    This WWII film with English-speaking actors as Nazis and good Germans seems specifically designed to disorient me. I’m a Dutchman living in Holland. That means German-speaking folks across the Eastern borders and anglophones in the West, across the North Sea and the Atlantic. The bad guys speaking the language of the good guys? I can’t get my mind around it, it’s linguistically too confusing and also smacks a little of ‘Allo ‘Allo. I guess it will be different for people in other places.
    Curious detail: During the making of Verhoeven’s Zwartboek (Black Book) actress Carice van Houten hitched up with Sebastian Koch, who had played Von Stauffenberg in a 2004 German TV movie.

  • Arch

    Clint — Of course the voters for the later awards will have a chance to see it; the movie will be in the theaters by then. I said there wouldn’t be screenings for voters, which are only necessary before general release.

    But that’s just fact stuff, more interesting is the big picture — your perception that skipping the early awards was not a “big deal” and of it still being eligible for other awards as saying that it still could win at them.

    Did you read the entirety of Mike’s letter? “When did a december release date mean that a film exists first and foremost for award consideration? And when did film criticism become a competitive sport, with deadlines, rankings, winners and losers.?” “We have a great, strong, commercial movie and are quite proud of it.”

    He uses all the standard Hollywood PReese for “THIS IS NOT AN OSCAR CONTENDER.”

    Again, numerous other major outlets have reported that MGM has asked that Valkyrie not be placed in the Oscar mix (not referring to the lack of screenings but explicit reqests). What more do you need — Tom Cruise, Bryan Singer, and Mary Singer all telling you the same over a long car ride?

  • MaryAnn

    I’m not sure what to make of the kerfluffle over whether or not we’re to consider *Valkyrie* an Oscar contender, but the fact is that Christmas Day is, this year, jam-packed with releases. Four other films are opening wide on that day, including *The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,* which will arguably draw the same grownup audience that *Valkyrie* will. If the studio really thought it had a movie that was purely “a great, strong, commercial movie,” and nothing else, it would probably do much better, commercially, if it were released in February on a weekend with no serious competition.

    Or maybe this is all a matter of PR reverse psychology: like telling everyone not to think of a purple elephant. All of this “please, do not consider Bryan Singer/Tom Cruise/*Valkyrie* for an Oscar” is having precisely the opposite effect. :->

    Of course, perhaps we’ve all gotten so cynical that we see plots and schemes in everything. However, for a studio rep to ask, all shocked innocence, something like this:

    And when did film criticism become a competitive sport, with deadlines, rankings, winners and losers.?

    takes some balls. The studios engineered this environment, with its emphasis on blockbusters and opening-weekend takes, and the resulting release schedules that barely give movies room to breathe before they’re pulled from theaters in favor of the next attempt at a blockbuster. And the studios are the ones who hold what they believe are all their best films till the end of the year, and then bombard critics with so many screenings we barely get a chance to sleep in December.

    Since I have experience as a critic only within this era of the blockbuster (and of the Internet with all its competition for readers’ eyeballs), I can only guess, but I suspect it was a lot easier to be a critic in the 70s, when only a few dozen films were released every year, not every month, and a film would play for a year, not a month, and a critic might actually be able to help a great film by championing it.

    Today, however, if we critics wants to remain competitive (of readers’ eyeballs) and relevant as critics, we cannot entirely avoid this treadmill. I’m sure most of us would love to get off it and still be competetive and relevant, at least to readers.

  • Mathias

    Definitely my most anticipated movie of December.

    Most of web debating about this flick centers on the lack of german accents for the cast. I think that’s ridiculous. Nobody complained when Jude Law and Rachel Weisz spoke with english accents in Enemy at the Gates.

    Your thoughts on this MJ?

  • MaryAnn

    Anyone who is genuinely disturbed by the accents should be complaining that the movie is not in German.

  • At the end of the day, I will feel good, because this is a story that needs to be told, and if it breaks bank, then the world will know and this little story will be put in the U.S. history books, and future generations will know that all those nazis were not pure evil, but had a conscience, and some acted on it.

    Future generations need to know that there were good Nazis? Really?

    Even if that were so, what makes you think people don’t already know it?

    First of all, this isn’t that obscure a story. I’ve read about the incident that inspired this movie when I was in high school. In the 1970s (pre-Internet). While attending public school in the American South.

    Second of all, this incident isn’t all that obscure to people other than history buffs. The old TV show Hogan’s Heroes–not exactly a highbrow or intellectually obscure program–once did an episode inspired by this incident. And almost everyone I knew in high school grew up watching Hogan’s Heroes.

    As for the movie, I wish I was as psyched as MaryAnn but I’m not.

    Perhaps I’m burned out on WWII movies. Yes, the Germans of the 1940s were a lot more complex than we generally give them credit for but it still seems a bit late in the day to pretend that the notion that “Hitler was so bad even some of his own people hated him” is news to anyone who has ever read a history book.

  • MaSch

    Considering the accents …

    One of the great flaws of every Hamlet-adaption I have seen is that none of the Danes speak with a Danish accent (Hamlet, however, having been in Wittenberg for quite some time, could also have a German accent. The same goes for his pals from university.)

  • Der Bruno Stroszek

    Yeah, that’s the thing about Shakespeare. Barring the histories, almost none of his plays are set in England – Cymbeline and The Merrie Wives of Windsor are the only ones I can think of, perhaps there are others. But not many. They’ve just been absorbed into the popular imagination as English because they’re such pillars of English cultural heritage.

    Topic? Er, that Valkyrie sure does look good.

  • Gee

    I thought this event was quite well known. Isn’t there another movie that deals with it, or am I thinking of a TV mini-series?

    I would certainly complain if the Germans spoke English with *German* accents. That really would be straying into “‘Ello, ‘ello” territory! If they are speaking their own language, then they should not have a ‘foreign’ accent, but regional accents could be used where necessary. So, if the cast were speaking British English, any aristocratic Germans should have cut-glass WW2 vintage “Brief Encounter” accents and working class could be Scouse, Cockney, Brummie, Geordie or whatever, selected in the context of the German originals. For rural accents – Norfolk or Somerset, perhaps.

    If you have a mix of American and British English accents, that might be more of a problem. Perhaps the American English speakers could represent Austrians or Bavarians!

  • Gee

    To answer my own question, “I thought this event was quite well known. Isn’t there another movie that deals with it, or am I thinking of a TV mini-series?” from Wikipedia:

    Films based on the plot
    1951: The Desert Fox: The Story of Rommel, James Mason as Rommel, Hollywood movie
    1955: Es geschah am 20. Juli movie Bernhard Wicki as Stauffenberg[2](semidocumentary)
    1955: de:Der 20. Juli movie Wolfgang Preiss as StauffenbergIMDB
    1967: The Night of the Generals by Anatole Litvak
    1968: Claus Graf Stauffenberg biography [3]
    1974: The World at War [4] [5]
    1988: War and Remembrance, Part 10 (Television version of the novel by Herman Wouk)
    1989: Stauffenberg. 13 Bilder über einen Täter (East
    German documentary)
    1990: Stauffenberg—Verschwörung gegen Hitler
    1990: The Plot to Kill Hitler Brad Davis as Stauffenberg [6]
    1991: The Restless Conscience [7] (Documentary)
    2004: Offiziere gegen Hitler [8], 3-part 1 2 3 documentary by Maurice Philip Remy [9]
    2004: Die Stunde der Offiziere semi-documentary movie IMDB [10]
    2004: Stauffenberg (Film) movie by de:Jo Baier Sebastian Koch as Stauffenberg IMDB [11]
    2005: Stauffenberg (Fernsehdokumentation) TV documentary
    2008: Valkyrie – Starring Tom Cruise as Stauffenberg

    ***

    The one I remember is ‘The Desert Fox’, which is still often shown on British TV, but I think I’ve seen a made-for-TV rendition also.

  • bitchen frizzy

    There are also numerous books that cover the topic, such as the classic Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, to name one of many.

    This event is unknown to most Americans because Americans are abysmally ignorant of history, not because the information is lacking.

  • drew ryce

    This event is so imbued in popular culture that a Sgt Fury and His Howling Commandos comic from the ’60s used it as a major plot device.

    Ya’ see, Fury and his boys are on a mission to kill the Desert Fox, and are just about to nail him too, when they are called off because Allied intel has just learned that Rommel is part of a plot to kill Hitler.

    As I see it, the “there are Germans and then there are Nazis (boo hiss)” concept is well established in the US. I refer anyone that disagrees to such hugely popular low-brow films as “The Great Escape” and “The Guns of Navarone”. Both have honorable regular German officers trying to be honorable while all atrocities are attributed directly to the SS fanatics.

    For a similar conceit look no further than “The Last Samaurai”. Cruise is the ‘nice guy’ soldier during the genocide of the American Indian. He’s there but he feels really icky about it. For some reason he doesn’t feel the need to assasinate President Grant but maybe that will be in the sequel.

  • MaryAnn

    This event is unknown to most Americans because Americans are abysmally ignorant of history, not because the information is lacking.

    I did not say that this story is unknown to most Americans. I said Hollywood had never given it this big a treatment before.

    I won’t argue that Americans are abysmally ignorant of history.

  • Diane

    Ahhhh…some good old-fashioned America bashing! Such a true and proven test of intellectual eloquence. ‘Cuz that’s not taking the easy way out, huh? And I’m a third-generation German whose grandparents moved here.
    But let me ask you this–how many Europeans know about the American Revolution or Civil War? Ask the average South American about the fall of the Third Reich or a Pacific Islander about the fall of the Romanov dynasty.
    My point is, every culture and country has their own complex history that more often than not, only they alone know front to back. Just because Valkyrie isn’t on the cover of high school history books doesn’t mean Americans are ignorant across the board of history outside their own.

  • bitchen frizzy

    –“‘Cuz that’s not taking the easy way out, huh?”
    Easy way out of what?

  • Diane

    My point, b.f, is that using the excuse “Americans are ignorant of history” for the story of Valkyrie not being more widely known is a pretty easy and popular argument to take on the subject. WWII was a massive event in history, with thousands of individual stories; unless you’re a walking Wikipedia, of course you’re not going to know each and every one. I’m glad it’s being brought to a wider audience period–I’d rather take that attitude than chalk it up to our delayed knowledge of the world.

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