Tag Archives: homage

The Good German – Review

10 Mar

Steven Soderbergh is one of my absolute favorite directors of all time. I’ve already talked about a few of his movies on here, with the most recent being for his debut film sex, lies, and videotape. Of course, not all of Soderbergh’s movies get much attention, and some of them seem to just fade away into the deepest recesses of his filmography. That’s exactly what happened to his 2006 box office flop, The Good German. After having watched it, I can definitely appreciate it for what it is. Much like the Coen Brothers’ The Man Who Wasn’t ThereThe Good German is a faithful recreation of how movies were made during the Golden Age of Hollywood. Unfortunately, that’s where the success of this movie pretty much ends.

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The year is 1945 and World War II has been ended on the European Front. American war correspondant Jacob Geismar (George Clooney) is sent to Berlin to cover the peace talks at the Potsdam negotiations. Geismar is assigned a young American soldier named Tully (Tobey Maguire) to be his driver, but there are a lot of things about Tully that Jacob has no idea about. For one thing, he’s highly involved in black marketeering and has a strange relationship with Jacob’s ex-lover, a German named Lena Brandt (Cate Blanchett). After a brutal murder and robbery happens in Potsdam, supposedly right outside where the peace talks are meant to take place, Jacob begins investigating what actually got this person killed, even if it means going against his American superiors and also creating more tension than there already is with the Soviets occupying Berlin.

So right off the bat, The Good German not only looks convincing in terms of how movies were made in the 1940s, it also just looks beautiful in general. I love the look of noir films with the pitch black shadows and the high contrast light. It really just makes for great dramatic scenes, and this movie had that kind of look to it. It’s clear that Soderbergh was way more concerned with making this movie feel like a classic film in almost obsessive ways. This entire movie was shot on back lots in Los Angeles, only lenses of the time were used on the cameras, and the lighting was all incandescent. There wasn’t even any ADR during the sound editing. Soderbergh really succeeded at making this feel very authentic, and for film lovers that reason alone is enough to check this movie out, but there’s still more I have to say.

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The setting of this movie also really grabbed my attention. It was cool seeing all of these different countries who really don’t trust each other in one city under the weak promise that the war is officially over. Just because the war is technically over didn’t mean that there still wasn’t a lot of shady stuff going down, and this movie plays on that perfectly. It adds a layer of paranoia to the proceedings. So we have a cool setting, but the way things happen is super not cool. The entire time I was watching this movie I felt like I was just moving from one scene to the next because we have to in order for the story to be told and the movie to be over. This is actually a pretty common flaw in some movies, and this one is a prime example. It’s no fun watching a narrative move with such little motivation.

Let’s talk about the acting in this movie because it’s all very surprising. It’s almost like George Clooney and Cate Blanchett only did this as a favor to Steven Soderbergh. It was weird watching these actors just read the lines that were given to them without any sort of emotion backing them up. I get that they’re supposed to be touch talking noir characters, but it really didn’t work. The only thing Blanchett did was an accent, so obviously she’s German but what else. The only person who really put forth any kind of effort was Tobey Maguire. He was great and really seemed to be enjoying himself in the slimy role that was given to him.

The Good German is certainly a minor entry in Soderbergh’s body of work and for good reason. This is film is an exercise of style over substance that would really only appeal to people who are fans of classic cinema and can appreciate everything Soderbergh did to create an authentic feeling movie. The story has potential but ultimately falls flat due to a lack of strong motivation and performances that are very unmemorable. All in all, The Good German works as an experiment but not so much as a strong piece of storytelling.

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Roadracers – Review

5 Mar

I don’t think that I’ve talked about Robert Rodriguez on this blog yet, which is strange because he is one of the biggest inspirations to my style of writing and, hopefully, directing. He enjoys all things over the top, as you can see in his films such as DesperadoPlanet Terror, and Machete. Before all of this insanity was El Mariachi, the little indie film that put him on the map. What I’m sure many people don’t know about was a little TV movie he made for Showtime, Roadracers, which was made right before Desperado.

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Dude (David Arquette) is a 1950s greaser who spends his days cruising through town with his girlfriend Donna (Salma Hayek), getting into fights with his rival Teddy (Jason Wiles), and making trouble for the local sheriff (William Sadler). His entire life has been spent this way: moving fast but going nowhere. Now that Dude is beginning to grow up, he’s beginning to realize that he needs to get his act together and possibly follow up on a very possible music career, or get left in the dust and remain in the town. The pulling between the two factors pull Dude harder than he can handle, leading to a violent climax that will decide where Dude’s life will take him.

The first thing I noticed about this movie was the use of the character name “Dude.” Does that ring a bell for anyone? The Big Lebowski anyone? Funny thing is that Roadracers came first. I think that’s pretty interesting since The Dude from Lebowski is thought of as such a goofy and original character name. I mean no disrespect to the Coen Brothers, I enjoy their work and consider them two heroes of mine, but Rodriguez was first! This isn’t what I want to talk about though. After El Mariachi, Rodriguez made this film for Showtime which was doing a series of made for TV movies called Rebel Highway, that were homages to 1950s B-movies. The series featured big name directors like William Friedkin, but Rodriguez was, at the time, unknown.

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Like Quentin Tarantino, Rodriguez has made his career off of making films that hearken back to the days of video stores and all of the strange genres that lurk in their darkest corners. In that respect, Rodriguez is the perfect choice to be a part of this series. Strangely enough, this was before he made his stylistic mark. It seems like he was born for this style of film making. Still, this was before he really found his niche, and it shows. The plot begins to jumble and ramble in the second act leaving me thinking that it could’ve have realistically been an hour long or maybe a little over. And hour and a half felt like a stretch.

I will say that the movie was better than I expected, but I wasn’t really expecting much. I laughed a lot in the beginning and I really liked how cheesy all of the ’50s style is played. It’s all over the top and romanticized while being satirized at the same time. Let’s compare it to one of my favorite films, Rebel Without a Cause. James Dean plays a character who is also beginning to grow up and learn that he needs to start making adult decisions without relying on adults. This is played very seriously, and almost tragically. Dude in Roadracers also needs to make these decisions, but they are played so over the top and comedically. Rebel Without a Cause  and Roadracers both critique the society of the time and the fact that cliques and classes are so separated, it made life for these young people difficult.

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Roadracers is an alright attempt by Rodriguez, although it is nowhere near as great as his next film, Desperado. By that point, he’s found his style and locked onto his ability and made a great film. This one, however, is pretty sloppy and got pretty boring by the midway point. It’s pretty silly, made me laugh, and the ending is abrupt, yet awesome. It still could’ve been a lot shorter and the narrative much cleaner. Unless you’re really a die hard fan of Rodriguez, skip this one. If you’re a huge fan and interested in all of his work, lower your standards and give it a quick watch. It’s very mediocre.