AMERICAN TRAITOR: THE TRIAL OF AXIS SALLY (2021)

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

WATCH THE TRAILER


AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON (2015)

May 17, 2015

Avengers Ultron Greetings again from the darkness. Joss Whedon returns as writer/director for the sequel to his 2012 blockbuster The Avengers, and this time he juggles an exceptionally large, diverse and talented group of characters and actors who are not only involved in good versus evil, but also in the battle for screen time.

There is no shortage of write-ups from film critics and fanboys who have analyzed every aspect of the movie from every possible angle, and while I admit to taking that same approach to most movies, there is something about the Marvel franchise that cause me to flip off the film critic part of my brain and just sit back and enjoy. And enjoy I do. The characters are fun and interesting and the action is at times breath-taking.

Since there are, by my count, at least 23 actors who deserve mention, it makes little sense for me to list them here. It is worth noting that the key actors all reprise their roles as Avengers, and many of those in supporting roles are back as well. This time there are also many significant newcomers, and those include “The Twins” – Aaron Taylor-Johnson as Quicksilver and Elizabeth Olsen as Scarlet Witch. Other newbies include Linda Cardellini (“Mad Men”,” Bloodline”) as Hawkeye’s wife, Claudia Kim as Dr Helen Cho, Thomas Kretschmann as Strucker, and Andy Serkis as Ulysses Klaue. Though each is a nice addition, it’s the stellar voice work of James Spader as Ultron that really makes this movie click. Somehow Mr. Spader manages to convey a powerful presence despite maintaining a (mostly) even keel throughout. It’s masterful voice acting.

Missing this time out are Pepper Potts and Loki, though we hardly notice thanks to the first look at Vision (Paul Bettany) and Thanos (Josh Brolin) … plus the unveiling of Iron Man’s Hulkbuster armor. If you thought the first Avengers movie made it difficult to keep up with the characters, this one will have your head spinning. It’s probably the only quibble I have with it … character overload at the expense of character development. The Hawkeye family farm represents a meager attempt to have this group of superheroes set in a “normal” environment, but it just doesn’t quite work. The Avengers are at their best while snipping at each other or saving the planet … fortunately the movie offers plenty of the latter.

watch the trailer: