Review of “Overlord”

It’s the hours before D-Day during World War II and American paratroopers, led by explosives expert Cpl. Ford (Wyatt Russell), are sent to destroy a Nazi radio tower behind enemy lines in German-controlled France. Destroying the tower will disrupt Nazi communications and allow air cover for the hundreds of thousands of allied troops coming ashore at Normandy. The plane carrying the paratroops flies into heavy anti-aircraft fire and is coming apart before everyone can jump. A few of the soldiers survive and meet up on the ground: Ford, Pvt. Boyce (Jovan Adepo), Tibbet (John Magaro), Chase (Iain De Caestecker) and Dawson (Jacob Anderson). Dawson steps on a landmine, reducing their number to four. While walking through the forest to get to town, the Americans run into Chloe (Mathilde Ollivier), a resident in the village. Unsure if she’s a Nazi sympathizer at first, Chloe quickly proves she is not and houses the Americans in her home with her ailing aunt and little brother Paul (Gianny Taufer). The radio tower is on the grounds of a church with dozens of Nazi troops stationed there. Chloe says there’s more going on at the church besides communications. Nazi doctors are conducting horrible experiments on both the living and the dead, trying to create super soldiers to ensure victory and a thousand-year Reich. Chloe’s aunt was a subject of those experiments and she’s now covered in blisters and her breathing is labored and wet. Commanding the Nazi base is Captain Wafner (Pilou Asbaek), a cruel overseer that uses threats of sending Paul to the church to force sexual favors from Chloe. Sent out to retrieve Tibbet and Chase on a recon mission, Boyce accidently gets inside the Nazi base. There he sees the radio room, but also finds the lab where the experiments are carried out and puts a syringe filled with a reddish fluid in his pocket. He also finds Rosenfeld (Dominic Applewhite), a fellow paratrooper who was captured as soon as he hit the ground. Boyce and Rosenfeld manage to get back to the house and Boyce tells everyone what he’s seen. Ford wants everyone focused on the mission and they are running out of time to bring down the tower. Boyce believes they should destroy the lab as well.

“Overlord” is a bit of revisionist history wrapped up in an exciting action/war/monster movie. It attaches a flight of fancy to an all-too-real moment in one of the darkest periods in modern world history. Quentin Tarantino did something similar with his assassination of Hitler storyline in “Inglorious Basterds.” Produced by JJ Abrams and his production company Bad Robot, “Overlord” was thought to be a third sequel to “Cloverfield,” but this proved to be just a rumor. What isn’t a rumor is that “Overlord” is a fun, gory, action-filled adventure that as a whole is better than some of its parts.

The story in “Overlord” is fanciful but the most believable thing about the movie. If a classified Defense Department document was released that proved American intelligence had discovered such a Nazi program after the war, would anyone seriously question its veracity? No, they wouldn’t, as the Nazis were an amoral group that would cross any line, defy any border of decency, to further their twisted agenda. There are documented medical experiments conducted at the concentration camps by Dr. Mengele and others that have no merit at all and are best described as atrocities and crimes against humanity. Believing these criminals would take the next steps to try to create undead super soldiers isn’t that big a leap.

The film makes the mistake of giving a mysterious reason for the experiments succeeding: There’s something in the ground of this French village that provides the spark to reanimate corpses. It is never named or explained but is referred to on a couple of occasions. Nazi evil ingenuity and lack of decency are the only reasons needed for the experiments. A magical element or chemical actually takes the Nazis off the hook a bit as any military would likely conduct similar research if they had access to a reanimation elixir.

The film also plays with historical accuracy by putting a couple of African-American soldiers amongst the paratroopers and has an African-American in command, Sgt. Eldson (Bokeem Woodbine), of the mixed-race squad. During most of American history, African-American soldiers were in segregated units. They served together under the command of African-American officers, often in support roles such as truck drivers. Their barracks, training, church attendance, canteens and even marching in parades, were segregated from white soldiers. They were subject to racial epithets and abuse from soldier and officer alike. Why anyone would put their lives at risk to fight for a country that treated them so badly is a mystery to me, but they did fight with honor and distinction. Perhaps “Overlord” would have been a better movie if the entire group of soldiers was African-American and, despite the doubts of the white commanders back in relative safety on a base, the group prevailed and wiped out the Nazis. I understand the desire to present the story in a colorblind way; however, from the moment Boyce appears on screen and doesn’t face racially-based verbal abuse, it took me out of the movie for a time. Even the Nazis don’t make a comment about Boyce. Again, I understand this isn’t a Spike Lee movie, but I think it’s something that should have been acknowledged.

Despite its shortcomings, “Overlord” is a very fun and exciting movie. Any film that kills Nazis is okay by me. I also liked the look of the lab where the experiments were carried out. It looks very medical while also looking very medieval. The overall design of the lab is a mixture of hospital and torture chamber. The monster design is a bit all over the road as we primarily see the experiments’ failures, but near the end of the film, a couple of successes show up. One transformation from dead to undead is spectacular as boils begin popping up, the veins in the arms grow and change color, the eyes turn red and the head snaps back to the point where its laying upside down on the body’s back. There are more details about this transformation that I’ll leave out, but it is an amazing bit of practical and digital special effects. There may be a bit too much chitchat between the protagonists as they debate what they are going to do next. Time seems to be slipping away as they must destroy the radio tower before the invasion begins at 6 am and don’t have a plan until they stumble into one by mistake. Once they begin the mission, the accelerator is pushed to the floor and things don’t slow down until just before the credits roll.

“Overlord” is rated R for strong bloody violence, disturbing images, language, and brief sexual content. The violence is sometimes graphic and other times mundane. There are shootings with blood spray, beatings that leave faces bloody and, in real life, would lead to broken jaws. Gunshot wounds that leave gaping holes in faces are seen a couple of times. Various bodies show damage ranging from ripped out necks and large holes in torsos. A couple of characters are blow up by explosives. There’s a great deal of gore so if that bothers you, don’t see the movie. There’s a scene where the German officer begins raping Chloe. There’s no nudity but his actions are graphic. There’s a second brief scene of an attempted rape. Foul language is common.

“Overlord” works in the end because everyone hates Nazis (well, almost everyone) and wants to see their plans for world domination fail. It also meshes well with the idea that Germany would, at this time, conduct experiments to create soldiers out of corpses as they had no decency or respect for either the living or the dead. There’s plenty of action, likable characters, a much-hated villain, a cute little kid and the fate of the free world on the line. Despite a few missteps, “Overlord” delivers an enjoyable adventure with copious amounts of core.

“Overlord” gets four stars out of five.

This week’s films run the gamut from the wizarding world to cute orphans to tough widows. I’ll review at least one of the following:

Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald—

Instant Family—


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Review of “Ghost in the Shell”

Mira Killian (Scarlett Johansson) was injured and her parents killed in a terrorist attack. Her body was so badly damaged the Hanka Robotics decides to use her in their experiments to put a person’s brain (also called the ghost) in a cybernetic body. Human enhancement with cybernetic components is commonplace in this future world but this is the first time a brain is transplanted into a synthetic body. The program, overseen by Hanka CEO Cutter (Peter Ferdinando) tells head researcher and cybernetics designer Dr. Ouelet (Juliette Binoche) Mira will be turned over to Section 9, a counter terrorism unit, to serve as a soldier. One year after the procedure, Mira, now referred to by her rank, Major, is fighting against a cyberterrorist known as Kuze (Michael Pitt) who is killing Hanka scientists and announcing those that work with Hanka will die. The Major along with fellow soldiers Batou (Pilou Asbaek), Togusa (Chin Han) and others are working to put an end to Kuze’s reign of terror; however, when Kuze captures the Major and reveals secrets of his past she begins to question her existence, her memories and who the real terrorists are.

Based on the manga and anime of the same name, “Ghost in the Shell” is supposed to be about how it doesn’t matter how much technology becomes intertwined with people, humanity will always win. This movie adaptation, with a fair amount of criticism over the casting of Scarlett Johansson as a character most fans of the source material consider Japanese, is more about looks over substance. The movie is visually impressive but it doesn’t seem to have much going for it under the surface.

The whitewashing controversy was more of a story in the western world than Asia. According to various news stories with people involved with the original manga and anime, it was assumed a Western adaptation of the story would likely involve a well-known Western actress as the budget of the film would likely require someone of a certain stature to acquire funding. While there are certainly many examples of white actors playing roles originally created as Asian or other ethnicities, I’m not sure the amount of criticism levelled at Johansson and the producers of the film is warranted. The Major is a synthetic body housing a Japanese brain. Her appearance in the movie is western and female. She could have just as easily looked African and male. If it had been a white man in the role, then there would have been something to really complain about. As it stands, the quality of the movie has far bigger problems than the casting.

Pardon the comparison but Johansson’s acting as the cyborg Major is painfully robotic. There are flashes of humanity, such as her encounter with a prostitute and feeding a stray dog, but otherwise she plays the part like one of the animatronic characters in a Disney park. Her face is generally frozen in a mild scowl with occasional flashes of confusion. Johansson is giving a whole-body performance as she moves somewhat robotically when she walks. Her head is thrust forward like her brain is in a hurry and her body is trying to catch up. Other than in fight scenes when her moves are more graceful and athletic, Johansson looks stiff in ways both physical and emotional.

The rest of the cast, given very little to do by a script that went through at least five known writers and possibly six or seven more providing notes and punch-ups, are mostly on hand to provide exposition or the occasional visual flair to a battle scene. Since almost everyone in this world has cybernetic enhancement, many supporting characters have some bit of technology glued to their faces or mechanical arms or legs. High jumps and falls are on nearly constant display in the movie with characters losing limbs without expressing any pain. All of this future-tech is supposed to be so impressive we don’t worry about how painfully dull these people are.

The most interesting character is one of the least seen: Kuze. I don’t want to give away too much of his story as it is at the heart of the movie, but I wish the film had been more about him than Scarlett Johansson’s Major. His look is interesting and he speaks with what sounds like Steven Hawking if he got a more expressive voice generator. His movements are also robotic but also more fluid. As we learn more about him he becomes the most sympathetic character in the movie. I wanted to know more of his story but we only get a little information. While I doubt there will be a sequel, if there was I would want it to be about him.

The story is a well-worn combination of corporate greed and revenge. There’s nothing terribly unique or imaginative in the plot. Aside from the setting the story of “Ghost in the Shell” has been done a thousand times and has been done better.

“Ghost in the Shell” is rated PG-13 for some disturbing images, intense sci-fi violence and suggestive content. There are numerous shootings but most show no blood. There are some fist fights and also a stabbing or two. We see the Major as her body is rebuilt after she is injured on a couple of occasions as well as when her brain is placed into her synthetic body. We also see an injection performed directly into her brain. There is a brief scene between the Major and a prostitute that is more sensual that sexual. There is very little if any foul language.

While a great deal of thought, effort and imagination was put into the look and style of “Ghost in the Shell,” the story and script appear to have been slapped together afterthoughts. From dull characters to a dull story, the only thing going for the film is impressive eye candy and in this case, that doesn’t refer to Ms. Johansson.

“Ghost in the Shell” gets two stars out of five.

Three films of faith, friendship and little blue people come to theatres this week. I’ll see and review at least one of the following:

The Case for Christ—

Going in Style—

Smurfs: The Lost Village—

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