May 28, 2021

Greetings again from the darkness. World War II continues to provide the stories of individuals who were caught up in the horrific events surrounding the war – some folks acted heroically, some despicably, and still others simply did what they could to survive. Director Michael Polish (NORTHFORK, 2003) adapted the screenplay with Vance Owen and Darryl Hicks from the book by Mr. Owen and his father William E. Owen. It’s the nearly forgotten story of an American woman drawn into the powerful Nazi propaganda machine, and subsequently tried for treason.

Mildred Gillars is a name few will be familiar with. Portrayed well here by Meadow Williams, Ms. Gillars was known as Axis Sally by American servicemen during WWII. Her radio broadcasts of Nazi propaganda alternately entertained and enraged Americans, and this depiction of her story shines a light on the lengths to which the Nazis utilized psychological warfare in conjunction with traditional tanks and guns.

Director Polish spends most of the movie’s runtime on Gillars’ trial for treason, which provides a courtroom for Oscar winner Al Pacino (now 81 years old) to play her attorney James Laughlin and chew scenery with an enthusiasm and fervor matched by few actors. Joining Laughlin at the defense table is green-behind-the-ears attorney (and former GI soldier) Billy Owen (Swen Temmell), whose warm approach contrasts well with Laughlin’s gusto. The lead prosecutor John Kelly is played by Mitch Pileggi (“The X-Files”), and other supporting roles are covered by Lala Kent, Jasper Polish, and Carsten Norgaard.

Flashbacks are vital here, as we see Gillars “perform” her act, often in front of Joseph Goebbels, the chief propagandist of the Nazis during the war. Thomas Kretschmann (U-571, 2000) is excellent and sufficiently creepy as Goebbels, and some of the most intense scenes feature Goebbels and Gillars. Filmmaker Polish takes a sympathetic approach to Gillars, an approach surely to ruffle some patriotic feathers. The trial is not often-remembered in the aftermath of the war, but Ms. Gillars’ story makes us wonder just what we might do if our life was threatened … and just as importantly, how would our actions be judged after the fact?

 In select theaters and On Demand May 28, 2021


LOCKED IN (2021)

May 6, 2021

Greetings again from the darkness. The first feature film from writer-director Carlos V Gutierrez is a B-movie thriller with the rare cinematic setting of a self-storage facility. Now you might think corrugated metal doors on rollers and concrete walkways don’t add up to an exciting and picturesque filming location, and, well, you’d be right. However, Gutierrez uses the security cameras and maze-like corridors to generate some suspense, and he benefits from a cast that draws out every possible ounce of tension from the script.

Mena Suvari (from Best Picture winner AMERICAN BEAUTY, 1999) stars as Maggie, an employee at the storage facility, and mother to teenage daughter Tarin (Jasper Polish, THE ASTRONAUT FARMER, 2006). Mother and daughter are living in a rundown motel, and are about to be evicted due to non-payment. There is some family baggage here, as the husband/father is in prison, and Maggie is focused on finding religion to get beyond her checkered past. The last thing she needs is a night like she’s about to experience.

Bruno Bichir (younger brother of Oscar nominated Demian Bichir) plays Lee, Maggie’s boss who expertly plays the nice guy, while being a bit too obvious at keeping his own dark secrets. The film opens with the tail end of a diamond heist by two masked men, one who has an overactive trigger finger. Of course, the two thieves have a tie to Lee, and things go sideways quickly. Maggie and Tarin are trapped in a game of cat-and-mouse, and they don’t initially understand why. Multiple bad guys enter the picture, and Maggie leaps into protective-mother mode while dealing with Ross (Manny Perez) and Mel (Jeff Fahey), the masked men from the diamond heist. Fahey is always a fun bad guy to watch, and this time is no exception. Soon, a third party enters the scene – Harris (Costas Mandylor from the “Saw” franchise), creating an even more tangled web of deceit and danger.

The film leans a bit heavy on crying and tough guy posturing, but it also makes clever use of the security cameras, the stark corridors, and even candy wrappers. The movie succeeds at being what it is: a creative low-budget thriller with an entertaining cast.