“If you had become too involved, I think you would have probably gone mad…”


I just finished watching a new HBO documentary entitled “Night Will Fall.”

Since I read a write-up of it in The Guardian, I’ve been wanting to see this film – not because I needed a grim reminder about the horrors of the Holocaust, but because I needed a glimpse into the minds and memories of the liberators. I wanted to see what they saw. I wanted to understand and experience their reality as closely as possible when they marched through the idyllic German countryside into what one former Soldier described “the world of a nightmare.”

“Night Will Fall,” directed by André Singer (and making its television premiere on HBO on Monday), tells the story of “Factual Survey,” incorporating archival and current interviews with people involved in its making. It also fills out the story of how the British, American and Soviet cameramen documented the unbelievable scenes that the liberating troops found, and includes touching sequences in which soldiers and camp inmates who appear in the old footage describe their horrific experiences seven decades ago.

And most harrowingly, it incorporates about 12 minutes of the restored “Factual Survey.” Belying its bland, clinical title, the original film, in these excerpts, is a measured but unflinching account, with brutally explicit footage of naked, emaciated corpses lying in stacks, littering fields and being thrown and shoveled into mass graves. Nearly as hard to bear are the scenes (backed by a pointed narration, newly recorded by the actor Jasper Britton) of warehoused eyeglasses, teeth and bales of human hair.

So I sat down and watched this film that explored the horrors of what people did to one another with clinical detachment in the footage of the original “Factual Survey,” juxtaposed with the tears, the raw emotion – even 70 years later – from the Soldiers who documented the horror.

I saw the conquered SS troops being forced to clean up the aftermath of their mass murder. They dragged these emaciated, naked bodies to pits where they were to be buried – by the arms, by the legs, or merely carried like sacks of bone. The Allied troops figured since the SS was responsible for the horror, these ostensibly human men and women should be forced to deal with it.

But they weren’t human. They looked to have felt nothing as they tossed the skeletal remains of the lives they destroyed into pits like so much garbage. They were born and bred to be heartless automatons, who viewed their victims as little more than breathing sacks of meat.

When I was a freshman in college, I had the privilege and honor to sit down with one of the world’s greatest authors – Ray Bradbury. Our discussion centered around being human. I asked him, “What is it you believe makes each one of us human?” His reply remains with me to this day. He told me that being human means not murdering – NOT not killing, mind you, but not murdering. There is a difference. He told me he considered his dog human, because his best friend was kind and would never murder a human being.

These people were not human.

But the Soldiers who filmed these horrors during the spring of 1945 were.

I was reminded of the true role of military journalists and combat cameramen. They tell the military’s story. This is something even the military forgets when they’re painted as spin meisters and told they’re not real troops. They are there, and they are troops, and they see what the troops see…


…and they document it for posterity. Everything. The horror. The absolute repugnance. The abomination that was the German death camps.

And the apathy of the German villagers, who lived near those camps, who profited economically from the slave labor, who should have known what kind of horrors were being perpetuated upon their fellow men in Bergen Belsen, in Dachau, in Auschwitz…

They should have known, but they didn’t want to and didn’t care to. Because to them, these cattle… these Jews… didn’t mean anything. They weren’t human beings. They were barely worth a second thought. Their festering carcasses littered fields, were stacked in mass graves, and the stench of death permeated the air of the German countryside.

And yet, these Germans going about their lives didn’t care.

They were brought into Dachau and other camps after the prisoners were liberated. They were filmed walking lightheartedly into what one former Soldier described as “the most appalling hell possible,” as if they were taking a stroll through a museum, but some got physically sick when they were shown shrunken heads of people who were murdered there, real physical evidence of the horrors and torment that took place inside those gates.

The British, Russian and American Soldiers, still raw in their memories, recalled the starved, wasted, diseased prisoners who greeted them upon their entry. An elderly British cameraman wept openly during his interview, apologizing for his bout of emotion. Russian liberators expressed their horror at what they saw. I was struck – based on what I know of Russian culture and Russian military mindset – by how affected they were by the bags of human ashes, sacks of human hair, teeth, eyeglasses, and other remnants of the thousands upon thousands of human beings who were murdered in those camps. Russian troops are tough. They’re not unfeeling, but they’re certainly hardened and toughened in their attitudes. What they saw – and what we saw through their combat camera lens – broke even their steely shells.

Worse yet, the movie revealed, the Russians discovered these horrors during the summer of 1944, and passed the intelligence to other allies. But the British chose not to trust the Russian intel, since the Russians were infamous for falsifying their reporting.

I didn’t cry during this movie. I sat tense and grim, looking at what people are capable of – what they did to one another – appalled that this film was never released by the Brits because of political considerations…

…because they, among other reasons, recognized that the German people would be critical allies in the nascent Cold War, and didn’t want to demoralize them with yet more guilt – for not knowing, for not caring, for supporting the Nazi monsters. They wanted allies, not dejected, guilt-ridden zombies to help them battle the new Russian threat.

Some of the footage did see the light of day. It was used as evidence in the Nuremberg trials. The original haunting, restored documentary aired in two theaters in the United States.

I hope to be able to see the original – not because I need a reminder about the horrors humans heap upon one another, but as a reason to keep fighting to ensure it never happens again.

Atlas Shrugged: Who is John Galt? Who Cares?


Rob and I went to see the latest Atlas Shrugged movie last night. I wanted to give it a chance – to finish up the trilogy, despite the decidedly negative reviews that had permeated my online experience since the movie opened last week. I went in with an open mind.

Unfortunately, within literally the first three minutes of the movie, I had my first facepalm – one so hard, I think I may have bruised my face!



The acting! Oh, dear God – if you can even call it that – was so stilted and stiff, I thought I was watching two sticks of wood act out Dick and Jane books, instead of two characters who have finally discovered a revelation that the other exists in their world! It was quite close to waterboarding as far as the experience of watching it goes, but not as pleasant.

The dialogue! Whoever wrote the script for this atrocity needs to be beaten about the head and shoulders with a leather-bound volume of Shakespeare! Passion? None. Emotion? None. Wonder?  Inspiration? Fire for life? Nothing.

The writers attempted to make this a standalone movie, and spent a good portion of it in expository, dull, unneeded flashbacks. The plot was continuously interrupted by C-SPAN-type commentary.

There was some very pretty cinematography, but it didn’t make up for hideously bad acting, bad editing, horrid direction, and a lack of passion.

I’m not a Randbot by any means. I appreciate the plot in “Atlas Shrugged,” as well as the themes of the evils of socialism, crony capitalism and corruption. I found the novel overly preachy and the dialogue stilted and wooden. That didn’t stop me from enjoying the book immensely, nor did it stop me from enjoying the novel’s other aspects or being inspired by the characters.

This movie? Nothing to enjoy there. Some of the more well known actors were muzzled by the labored, dull script.

Whose idea was it to cast the talented Portuguese actor Joaquim de Almeida, who is pushing 60 years old, as a former love interest of the thirty-something Dagny Taggart? His considerable acting prowess constrained by spiritless, paralyzed script, he was no more Francisco D’Anconia than I am. And frankly, he’s old enough to be Dagny’s daddy, instead of her lover, and the classmate of John Galt and Ragnar Danneskjold.

And speaking of Ragnar Danneskjold, who is supposed to be a study in contradictions – a resplendently handsome aristocrat, a philosopher who took up piracy to battle looting Marxists… played by the same guy who played, the hairy, bear-like, homosexual dress designer/pimp in “American Wedding”??????????????

This guy. In that role. Not that he’s a bad actor, but he transformed Ragnar Danneskjold into a lumberjack from Colorado, and that just takes away the charm and mystery of the character.



Completely inappropriate casting. Laura Regan’s labored, wooden acting, if you can even call it that. Childish “Project F” prop that looked like it was made of Duplo blocks and Simon Says colored lights.


I think I would rather sip polonium-laced rail vodka than ever sit through this bit of torture again.

Instead of wondering breathlessly whether John Galt was Prometheus, a pirate, or a myth, I found myself asking, “Who cares?”


Les Mis – oh, the beauty!

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As I promised Teeny, I took her to see the Les Miserables movie last night. I didn’t realize just how insanely popular this movie would be. OK, I knew it would be packed. What I didn’t know is that the entire day would be completely sold out before morning! My good buddy managed to get us four tickets for the 10pm show last night – for me, Teeny, herself and her daughter – so we went.  The film didn’t conclude until 1am, and I had to be up five hours later to come to work.

But it was worth it.

Well worth it.

I will say this – I’m someone who knows every single note and every single word of the musical. I’ve been a fan since I was a kid, and it was a bit disconcerting for me to hear actual speech in the movie – not a whole lot, but it was there. There were also a couple of songs I didn’t recognize, and lyrics had been changed a bit, as well as the order of some musical numbers. Yes, I’m that anal retentive about it.

People like me, who are very familiar with the musical, and expect the movie to be just like the musical are in for a rude awakening. It isn’t. The movie is able to do things that the stage never will. There are close-ups, there is elaborate cinematography, the actors have the ability to whisper and add a whole new vocal and emotional range to the performance. They don’t necessarily have to be in tune. They don’t necessarily have to make every note heard. To me – this adds more passion, and less…

That sounds contradictory, but it’s not. In a movie, the actor can sing, cry, whisper and scream, if need be. That doesn’t necessarily lend power and passion to the music – but it does add emotion to the performance. On the stage, it’s all about the music. The sheer power and passion of the music are what hit the audience first. The drama is second. The voice needs to carry and needs to portray the emotion that the majority of the audience cannot see in the actor’s face, so the actor has to inject that emotion and that power into the actual singing. In the movie, it’s not always necessary. Russel Crowe – as good as he was as Javert – can’t hold the note, doesn’t have the power in his singing, and often cuts himself short. Notes I was accustomed to hearing belted with the most awesome power and held were sometimes cut off by a sob or a whisper. The scene where Jean Valjean finally dies – I was accustomed to hearing a multi-part harmony that included Fantine and Eponine (Take my hand, and lead me to salvation; take my love, for love is everlasting). It didn’t happen. Fantine is the only one Valjean “sees” on his death bed, and the Bishop, who saved Valjean’s soul for God (portrayed by the legendary Colm Wilkinson, who originated the role of Jean Valjean on Broadway as well as in Britain – something that took my breath away) led him to that path to heaven.

This is not a bad thing. Just different.

All that said, I loved it. The actors gave it their all. Hugh Jackman, whom I have loved in every film I’ve seen, was tremendous as the lead character. Not only does he have a beautiful tenor (no, he’s no Alfie Boe, whose voice makes me literally melt into little puddles of goo on the floor every time he opens his mouth), but he’s so passionate about that role, so honest, so… Valjean!

Anne Hathaway, whom I always considered a bit bubble-gum, gave the performance of a lifetime. Ugly, raw and completely filled with hatred for mankind – saved only by the kindness of Jean Valjean, who was filled with a similar raw hatred before being saved by the Bishop of Digne. First she sells her locket, which contains a lock of hair from her daughter Cosette. Then she sells her hair. Then she sells her teeth – is literally held down as her teeth are pulled out of her mouth with a dirty instrument of some sort (a part that is not in the original play), and ultimately, sells her body.

Eddie Redmayne’s portrayal of Marius was equally beautiful, intelligent, passionate and innocent. Teeny said she cried when he sang “Empty Chairs at Empty Tables.”

Sasha Baron Cohen (of Borat fame) and Helena Bonham Carter (who excels at playing weird, creepy and hideous) were absolutely stunning as the Thenardiers. Bonham Carter is no stranger to musicals, having played Mrs. Lovett in Sweeney Todd, and for those who paid attention, she did a mini-tribute to Sondheim’s creepy dark musical about the Demon Barber of Fleet Street, when a human remain was dropped into the meat grinder, along with other gross items such as a cat’s tail during the Thenardiers’ big number “Master of the House.”

The weak parts, if you can call them that? I’d say Amanda Seyfried, whose very pretty voice isn’t quite the soprano that it should be and sounds a bit squeaky at times, especially on the really high notes (that last one in “A Heart Full of Love”). And Russell Crowe, whom I love dearly, but who just doesn’t seem comfortable with this style of singing. That is not to say these two weren’t good. They were. Good, not great. And they didn’t detract. Seyfried was innocent and sweet, despite some difficulty with the vocals, and Crowe is… well… Crowe. He may not be Norm Lewis, whose effortless baritone literally brings tears to my eyes, and who was a phenomenal Javert in the 25th Anniversary Concert, but he’s so honest about that role, it’s tough not to like him!

All the crazy camera angles were sometimes a little disconcerting, especially, when you get an all-too-close close-up of the snot leaking out of Anne Hathaway’s nose during “I Dreamed a Dream,” but hey – no movie is perfect, and this one is wonderful, despite its flaws.

The munchkins and I are off to see Les Miserables in the theater tonight! Let’s see what they think of the stage production!

Atlas has shrugged


I took off an hour early on Friday to see Atlas Shrugged. For those of you unfamiliar with the book or its ideas, the movie will actually help you understand the ideas in that gargantuan tome a bit better.

Short version: America has become a society that penalizes achievement. The “rich” are taxed more and more, regulated more and more, and the overreaching government is busy redistributing what wealth is left from the producers to the looters in an age where gas is nearly $40 per gallon, infrastructure is crumbling and there are precious few producers left in the country.  They’re disappearing one-by-one.

This was a relatively low-budget flick.  At a time when producing a movie costs more than the GDPs of some small countries, Atlas Shrugged – the first of 3 parts – cost only $10 million to produce.

You will hear a lot of criticism about the crappy special effects… plenty of grousing about the transformation of a rather lengthy book into a 100 minute movie… much complaining about the lack of big names in the movie – all the actors have TV credits to their names – most of them quite limited.

And yet…

There’s something honest and dedicated about this movie. The beautiful Taylor Schilling does an admirable job as Dagny Taggart, the railroad executive who struggles to save her first love – her family’s railroad from destruction .  She plays Dagny with courage and conviction – with passion and honesty rarely seen in Hollywood.

Yes, they tailored the script and cut out a lot of what I consider to be absolutely clunky dialogue in the novel.  Ayn Rand was an idealist and somewhat of a prophet. The novel’s premises, plot and principles are as sound today as they were  more than 60 years ago.  However I have always thought the dialogue to be stiff, and the preachy lecturing with which the main characters inundate the reader a bit too much.

The movie moves.  It shows a future toward which we are barreling at top speed – a future foreseen by Ayn Rand in 1957 and apparently embraced by the politicians of today.  Increased government spending, efforts to penalize the producers – those who actually drive the economy – with higher taxes and claims that they merely don’t contribute enough. It’s an end those of us who follow such events can foresee in not to far a future.  The movie shows that future in stark detail.

So what, if the actors in it are mere unknowns?

So what if it only took $10 million to make?

So what if much of the book’s depth was cut out in order to make a film?

And so what if the critics hate it?

I enjoyed it immensely. I thought the film was a beautiful effort to bring the book to life.

No, I didn’t think Lillian Rearden was cunning enough, and I didn’t think Henry Rearden was guilty enough, and I didn’t think Francisco had enough energy or passion for anything – not Dagny, not his mission and not his own ability and work.  But overall, despite its shortcomings, the movie was a joy to watch. 

I don’t think you’ll be sorry if you spend the money on a ticket.

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