Category: Movie Reviews

Movie Review: Sobibor

The largest successful escape from a Nazi death camp

Sobibor is a 2018 Russian war drama film co-written, directed by and starring Konstantin Khabensky. The movie, also starring Christopher Lambert, was released in Russia in May of 2018. This film was selected as the Russian entry for the Best Foreign Language Film at the 91st Academy Awards but was not nominated.

The film is based on the true story of a 1943 uprising in the Sobibor extermination camp in German-occupied Poland. The main character of the movie is the Soviet-Jewish soldier Alexander Pechersky, a lieutenant in the Soviet army. In October 1943, Pechersky was captured by the Nazis and deported to the Sobibor death camp, where Jews were being exterminated in gas chambers. In less than a month, Alexander was able to plan an international uprising of prisoners from Poland and Western Europe. This uprising resulted in the only successful large-scale escape of prisoners from a Nazi death camp during the war.

Approximately four hundred prisoners escaped the death camp, while about one hundred died in the attempt. Of the four hundred who escaped, about one hundred and fifty were rounded up by the locals and turned back over to the Nazis. The prisoners who remained in the camp as well as those returned to the camp were shortly “liquidated” because of the advancing Soviet army. The Nazis needed to get rid of the evidence.

My thoughts …

This is not the sort of movie you really want to say, “I enjoyed.” However, it was fascinating, and it was very well done. I have seen a few Russian films in the past, including Alexander Nevsky (1938) and Ivan the Terrible (1944), and they do have a knack for creating gritty, depressing films that seem to highlight the centuries of struggle and deprivation that is life in Russia. In that regard, this film does not disappoint.

This film is in Russian with English subtitles. Not a problem for me. I’d rather that than have the movie dubbed over in English and actor’s lip movements not match the words. Just a pet peeve of mine …

I have also read a lot of non-fiction about Hitler’s Third Reich, its treatment of “non-Aryans” and other non-desirables, as well as the atrocities of the SS. I think this film very accurately portrays the callous indifference of the SS, their lack of any moral conscience, and penchant for sadistic brutality. The fact that the SS (as well as Hitler himself) was fed a diet of methamphetamine, which kept them energetic, oblivious to all but the most severe injuries or pain, and erased any sense of humanity they may have had is clearly shown.

I also liked how the film portrayed the differences in strategies of the camp’s inmates in trying to survive. Of course, you had the kapos, the inmates who turned on their own and served their Nazi masters by helping them run the camp. Then you had those who, despite all the evidence, refused to accept what was going on, clinging to the false hope that compliance would lead to survival. And finally, you had those who saw clearly what was happening, and that, short of the war ending and Germany losing, the only way to survive was to escape.

If you would not, or could not, watch Schindler’s List, this is not a movie for you. It is also not a movie for young children. However, if World War II history, Nazi Germany, the Soviet Union, heroic efforts, and the fact that real evil does exist in the world are topics that intrigue you, this may be a film for you. I tend to be one of the latter because I truly believe that people who forget history tend to repeat it.

I give this film 4.5 out of 5 stars.

The Man from Nowhere

A young girl, a lost soul, redemption, and an epic knife fight! Who could ask for more?

In this 2010 Korean film, a quiet pawnshop clerk with a secret and violent past takes on a drug-and-organ trafficking ring in hope of saving the child who is his only friend.

man from nowhere

Written and directed by Jeong-beom Lee, this film stars Won Bin as Cha Tae-shik, an ex-special agent, and Sae-ron Kim as Jeong So-mi, the unwanted daughter of a murdered erotic dancer.

The plot …

Cha Tae-shik’s only connection to the world is a little girl named Jeong So-mi, who lives next door. Her mother, Hyo-Jeong steals drugs from a drug trafficking gang and hides the drugs in Tae-shik’s pawnshop without his knowledge.

The drug smugglers discover her theft and kidnap both Hyo-jeong and So-mi. Tae-shik is suddenly yanked back into the world he has been hiding from in a frantic search to find So-mi. In order to save the girl, he makes a deal with the drug-and-organ trafficking gang, but is set up to take the fall for Hyo-jeong’s murder.

So-mi is still nowhere to be found and the clock is running out for the little girl. And to make matters worse, the police are now after Tae-shik. With both the police and the gang after him, Tae-shik’s hidden past is slowly revealed, and it is beginning to look like he may be too late to save So-mi.

My thoughts …

I love this movie and have watched it several times. It is filmed in Korean, and I watch it with subtitles. I tried watching it dubbed in English once, and well, I just hate it when the moving lips don’t match the words. But, that’s just me.

There are a few places in which this movie is a bit tricky to follow, which is why I originally watched it a second time. I guess now, I have seen it four or five times over the years.

The martial arts action scenes are extremely well done, and near its end, this film boasts one of the best cinematic knife fights to ever hit the silver screen!

man from nowhere

The film is a bit graphic and for those who don’t like realistic violence, it may be a bit hard to watch. However, it is not overdone … just real. It will also take you through an entire gambit of human emotions. And for me, at its core, I think this is a terrific film about human redemption, although perhaps in a more secular form.

I used to stream this on Netflix, but it is no longer available from them, so I ordered a DVD from I wanted to check out the epic knife fight scene again as research for a knife fight scene I am writing in my upcoming sequel to Serpents Underfoot, the sequel is titled Montagnard.

I understand The Man from Nowhere is now available to stream from Prime Video where it is Amazon’s Choice for Korean films. If you like realistic action, drama, martial arts, and foreign films, this is a movie for you!

Alita: Battle Angel

A Cyberpunk Action film!

Alita: Battle Angel, released in February of 2019 is an American adaptation of a manga series from the 90s called Gunnm which was written by Yukito Kishiro. Essentially, it is a cyberpunk action film starring Rosa Salazar as a cyborg named Alita who awakens with no memory of her past, and who sets out on a journey of self-discovery.

I saw this movie several months ago. I do have to admit that, originally, I had no real interest in seeing this film. However, a couple who are friends of mine in Cary got bored one night and so, they went to see it. They came back describing the film excitedly, impressed with its use of live actors combined with really cool CGI and martial arts.

I guess this should not be too surprising since the film was co-produced by James Cameron and directed by Robert Rodriguez. It is also the first film produced by Lightstorm Entertainment since Avatar.

Both friends stated that while Alita: Battle Angel certainly had its flaws, they really enjoyed the movie. So, what could I do at that point? I had to go see it. I recently saw the DVD of this film on a shelf in a local store, and it reminded my of how much I actually did enjoy this move. Hence, … this blog post.

The Plot

It is the year 2563, 300 years after the Earth is devastated by a catastrophic interplanetary war known as “the Fall.” Zalem is a beautiful city inhabited by an upper class ruling elite, ruled by an immortal evil scientist named Nova, who can hack into human-brains and speak through their bodies.

alita battle angel

Dr. Ido, a cyborg specialist banished fro Zalem to Iron City, is scavenging for parts amongst the trash dropped from Zalem into the massive scrapyard of Iron City. Iron City is where the “unwashed masses” live and fight to survive. Ido discovers a disembodied female cyborg with its human brain alive and intact. Dr. Ido attaches a new cyborg body he had originally built for his now deceased daughter to the brain, and names the cyborg “Alita” after his daughter. When Alita awakens, she has no memory of her past.

Alita soon meets Hugo, a young human male who quickly befriends her. Hugo’s dream is to get out of Iron City and up to Zalem. But, in order to achieve that, Hugo has developed a dark sideline job. He steals body parts from cyborgs for a man called Vector, who owns the gladiator-like Motorball games and is the defacto ruler of Iron City.

Dr. Chiren, a brilliant cyborg scientist and Ido’s estranged wife, (mother to their deceased daughter, the original Alita) now works for Vector, creating and updating cyborgs for the Motorball games. Vector, who has a connection withe Nova, has promised to reward Dr. Chiren by sending her back to Zalem in payment for working for him.

One night Alita, trying to discover her past, follows Ido who is ambushed by a gang of cyborg serial killers. Ido is injured, and Alita surprising everyone, fights to protect him using “Panzer Kunst” (German for “armor art”), a lost combat art once used by Berserkers, the deadly warriors of the United Republic of Mars. Alita kills two of the cyborgs and damages their leader, Grewishka, who retreats underground.

Ido reveals that he is a Hunter-Warrior, a bounty hunter who tracks down and eliminates criminal cyborgs and, if needed, the occasional criminal human. It becomes clear he does this to atone for past mistakes while a citizen of Zalem and to fund his clinic where he provides free medical care to cyborgs.

Alita believing that being a Hunter-Warrior might help her rediscover her past, wants to sign up. However, Ido discourages her from becoming a Hunter-Warrior. This frustrates Alita.

Then, while on an adventure with Hugo and some friends outside the walls of Iron City, Alita finds a highly advanced cyborg body in a crashed 300-year-old spaceship outside the city. The spaceship seemingly responds to her presence. Her friends tell her the space ship is a relic from “the Fall.” Ido, however, recognizing that the cyborg body belonged to a Berserker, refuses to install Alita in it.

Angry at Ido, Alita goes off by herself and registers as a Hunter-Warrior. At the Kansas Bar, a hangout for Hunter-Warriors, she and Hugo attempt to recruit others to her cause … taking down the serial killer cyborg, Grewishka. Another Hunter-Warrior, Zapan, who is very narcissistic and impressed with himself, belittles and provokes Alita, who beats him easily in a fight. Their fight, however, triggers a massive bar brawl which continues until Ido arrives on the scene and intervenes.

alita battle angel

She’s got the face of an angel but a body built for battle!

At the last minute, an upgraded Grewishka arrives and challenges Alita to a duel, revealing that he has been sent by Vector to destroy her. Despite her awesome combat skills, Alita’s body is sliced up by Grewishka’s chain-bladed fingers. Ido, Hugo and another Hunter-Warrior with cyborg dogs help Alita and force Grewishka to retreat. Ido realizes his mistake and transplants Alita into the Berserker body.

Now in love with Hugo, Alita enters a Motorball tryout race hoping to win the prize money to help Hugo pay his way into Zalem. At the same time, because of his feelings for Alita, Hugo decides to quit his secret job. He goes to confront his partners and end their association.

When Hugo meets his partners, Zapan appears. He murders Hugo’s partners but Hugo manages to escape and calls to Alita for help. Zapan frames Hugo for the killings and pursues Hugo to kill him.

Alita abandons the race to rescue Hugo and finds him just as Zapan does. Zapan mortally wounds Hugo. Dr. Chiren, who has been having second thoughts and is following in the background, saves Hugo by temporarily attaching his severed head to Alita’s life support system. Zapan sees through the ruse and attempts to stop Alita, who in the ensuing fight, seizes his weapon, a prized Damascus blade, and proceeds to slice most of his Zapan’s off.

Ido transplants Hugo’s head onto a cyborg body and tells Alita that Vector’s offer to help Hugo buy his way into Zalem was a lie. As an exiled citizen of Zalem, Ido knows that citizens of Iron City can only enter Zalem by becoming a Motorball champion.

Alita storms the Factory and confronts Vector, who reveals that Chiren has been harvested for her organs for her betrayal. Vector summons Grewishka, but Alita’s new Berserker body allows her to easily destroy him. She forces Nova to speak to her through Vector. When Nova threatens to harm her friends, Alita fatally stabs Vector.

Ido tells Alita that Hugo is attempting to get to Zalem by climbing a cargo tube attached to the city. Alita catches up to him and pleads with him to return with her. He agrees, but a serrated defensive weapon dropped by Nova shreds his body and throws him off the tube. Alita catches him but cannot pull him up. The arm she has grabbed is badly damaged and separates. Hugo thanks Alita for saving him just before falling to his death.

alita battle angel

Months later, Alita is the star of the Motorball tournament and well on her way to becoming a Motorball Champion. Cheered on by the crowd, she pledges vengeance by pointing her sword toward Zalem, where Nova watches from above, a haughty look on his face.

My thoughts …

I thoroughly enjoyed this film. While the story line might be considered less than perfect, the creation of the story with its human actors, their blending with CGI, all contribute to creating a stunning and strong visual effect. While rated PG-13, the movie contains a lot of stunning violence and for some, may even be laughably extreme; similar to Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill movies. However, the CGI and cyborg factors also tend to soften its impact.

And, in truth, in Iron City, Cybernetics isn’t just for cyborg serial killers or Motorball players. The filmmakers brilliantly integrate it into the bustling lives of Iron City’s everyday citizens. For instance, there is a simple street musician playing a double guitar with three arms. And, there’s a simple romantic beauty to the animation where Alita offers her exposed cyborg heart to Hugo, a heart that simultaneously pumps red blood to her brain and a blue fluid to her machine parts.

This move also provides a very interesting take on one’s ability to be comfortable in their own body, whatever form that body happens to take.

While this film is certainly not for everyone, it does have its attractions and successes including being nominated for Bandung File Festival for Imported Film 2019, Satellite Award for Best Visual Effects 2020, and Satellite Award for Best Motion Picture 2020.

View the Official Trailer!

Midway (2019)

The overview …

Monday night I went to see Midway at The Carolina Cinemark Asheville theater. I was slightly hesitant to do so since I have always enjoyed the 1976 Midway film staring Charleton Heston. However, it turned out to not be a problem for me. The movies are different enough that I enjoyed them both.

Like its predecessor, this new version of the centers on the historic Battle of Midway fought during World War II. This clash between the badly-mauled American fleet, which had just suffered horrific losses during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, and the Imperial Japanese Navy marked a pivotal turning point in the Pacific Theater during WWII.

midway 2019

This film is based on the real-life events of this heroic American defeat of the Japanese fleet and Admiral Yamamoto’s grand plan to quickly destroy the U.S. Navy in the Pacific. The story tells the tale of the leaders sailors, and pilots who relied on their instincts, intestinal fortitude, bravery (and a good deal of luck) to overcome incredible odds and a Navy force that had them greatly outnumbered and was better equipped.

The Japanese attack on Midway involved four aircraft carriers, seven battleships, 150 support ships, 248 carrier aircraft and 15 submarines.

The U.S. Navy, meanwhile, was down to just three aircraft carriers, 50 support ships, 233 carrier aircraft, 127 land-based aircraft on Midway, and eight submarines after the Pearl Harbor attack.

The Critics

The Bad …

Many critics seem do dislike the film. I don’t know if it is because they really thought the film was that bad, or if it was because “belittling” American history has become popular with the elite crowd. Here are a few examples:

It’s hard to imagine, if you’ve already seen a film like Pearl Harbor, why you would need to see Midway.

Amy Nicholson, FilmWeek

The digitized combat looks like something traced and transplanted from another war, one that took place in a galaxy far, far away.

Scott Marks, San Diego Reader

It has the tone, mostly, of kids’ TV. Or a poor, very poor, supplementary video for a history.

Kevin Maher, TImes (UK)

The good …

The great appeal of the film are the aerial battles, strengthened by excellent digital effects.

Marcelo Stiletano, La Nacion (Argentina)

“Midway” tells a story that’s vividly and viscerally rendered, with all the entertainment value of a big, old-fashioned war movie, cutting back and forth between the home front and front line.

Micheal O’Sullivan, Washington Post

“Midway” is a rollicking war film. History buffs need not apply.

Adam Graham, Detroit News

My thoughts …

I enjoyed the movie. For me, it was a lot like 1965 movie, The Battle of the Bulge with Henry Fonda, which was also short on historical accuracy and plot, but long on entertainment value.

Despite its obvious drawbacks, Midway is a rip-roaring military saga and a testament to the men who fought and won this battle. The Americas are portrayed as being brave and heroic during the movie, and so are the Japanese. Both sides are depicted as fighting for a cause they believed in.

I also thought the mixture of real-life and CGI did a great job in the battle scenes. If anyone has seen tracers fired, especially at night, it can indeed look a bit like a scene out of a Star Wars movie.

I thought the end of the movie was also very well done. You are shown real photos of the real heroes of the battle, along with biographies of them and any citations they received. I was struck with the idea that some of the actors were chosen because they strongly resembled the actual characters they portrayed. Woody Harrelson, in his white hair, looked a great deal like Admiral Chester W. Nimitz. I thought Dennis Quaid also looked a lot like Admiral “Bull” Halsey.

This film really stirred the patriotic blood in me. And, not just for America’s victory at Battle of Midway, but for the sacrifices all our brave fighting men and women have made for our country throughout its history. Maybe that is why some of the critics didn’t care for it.

If you like military history, or military action adventures or action thrillers, check out Serpents Underfoot, available online at, Barnes and Noble, and Books-A-Million. Click here to read more interesting blog posts and reviews!