Movie Review ~ Blood & Gold

The Facts:

Synopsis: Desperate to return home to his daughter in the final days of World War II, a German deserter finds himself caught in a battle against SS troops on a mission to uncover hidden gold.
Stars: Robert Maaser, Alexander Scheer, Marie Hacke, Jördis Triebel, Stephan Grossmann, Florian Schmidtke, Petra Zieser, Gisela Aderhold, Jochen Nickel, Simon Rupp, Roy McCrerey
Director: Peter Thorwarth
Rated: NR
Running Length: 100 minutes
TMMM Score: (8/10)
Review: As summer draws near, it’s not uncommon to find movies with similar themes competing for the attention of a target audience. From Deep Impact and Armageddon to Volcano and Dante’s Peak, studios have shown they aren’t willing to blink when standing behind their features and hoping their project will emerge victorious for box office totals. Making money is one thing, but it’s sticking in the mind of viewers that counts. Plenty of people remember Armageddon over its crashing comet rival, while I’m not sure if anyone is rushing to defend with Volcano or Dante’s Peak (tough call…I give the edge to Dante’s Peak, though, for the love of Linda Hamilton). 

There’s a new face-off happening in 2023, albeit on a smaller scale, but it’s interesting to look at the similarities in subject matter between the two. After all, who could have predicted two riffs on the spaghetti western emerging from the foreign market set in the final days of WWII, pitting a gold-hungry evil Nazi SS squad against an opponent they initially underestimated? Barely a month after the gonzo glory of Finland’s Sisu zipped into theaters, another punchy action film is arriving on Netflix via Germany. While Blood & Gold may lay out a familiar mission, it goes about things in its original way.

Strung up from a tree and cruelly left for dead by a group of Nazi soldiers led by von Starnfeld (Alexander Scheer), German deserter Heinrich’s (Robert Maaser, 1917) last thoughts are of his wife and son killed in the war and the young daughter he was trying to get back to. Before the lights can completely fade, he’s saved by Elsa (Marie Hacke), who lives on her family farm close by with brother Paule (Simon Rupp) while they wait for the war to cease and her fiancé to return. 

As Elsa tends to Heinrich’s wounds, the Nazis continue toward a neighboring town they have targeted for a specific reason. They have intel that leads them to believe a significant stash of gold has been hidden, left behind by a Jewish family that the Nazi-sympathizing town leaders ousted before they were sent to the concentration camps. As the war concludes and allegiances are sketchy, amassing riches is the priority for the greedy, disfigured von Starnfeld and his wicked Sergeant (Roy McCrerey, All the Money in the World). There’s one problem; no one knows where the gold is. Or if they do (and they do), they aren’t going to give it up so easily. 

The next ninety minutes of Stefan Barth’s twist-filled script has plenty of surprises for the viewer, with the unpredictable subplot of the missing gold being the frothy icing on top of this German chocolate cake. Whereas Sisu primarily showed how one man could take on many, director Peter Thorwarth keeps numerous plates spinning simultaneously as Nazis and corrupt townsfolk get what’s coming to them in gruesomely staged battles. Even more than Sisu, Blood & Gold draws much inspiration from the tone and style of Quentin Tarantino’s Inglorious Basterds without becoming an outright copy of what that much-cited film achieved. 

A former stuntman, Maaser isn’t always the most compelling lead dramatically but does make for a solid knuckle-crunching action star, and that’s what he’s called on most to do. The dramatic heft of the movie rests with Hacke as a woman who survived the war, saw further trauma, and isn’t about to let these Nazi infiltrators make off with any reward for their crimes. Balancing hard-edged action with sensitivity keeps her performance and others around her grounded most splendidly. Several supporting characters that fill out the town are either comically arch or mustache-twirlingly evil – and both approaches work for the mood. 

Thorwarth’s last film was the deliriously good and impressively cinematic Blood Red Sky which could have quickly been released in theaters. That vampire on a plane movie kept building and building to a gnashing, gnawing frenzy, almost to the point where it was too much to take without standing up and pacing around (maybe it was good to watch it at home, after all?). Still, Blood & Gold takes a more metered approach to its suspense and lets things rise at a more natural boil. It manages to peak at the right moments, and while I thought it had one or two more endings than it needed, it’s impossible to leave unsatisfied.

Movie Review ~ Blood Red Sky


The Facts:

Synopsis: A woman with a mysterious illness is forced into action when a group of terrorists attempt to hijack a transatlantic overnight flight. In order to protect her son she will have to reveal a dark secret, and unleash the vampire within that she fought to hide.

Stars: Peri Baumeister, Carl Anton Koch, Kais Setti, Alexander Scheer, Roland Møller, Dominic Purcell, Graham McTavish

Director: Peter Thorwarth

Rated: R

Running Length: 121 minutes

TMMM Score: (8/10)

Review:  I feel like in July, Netflix is giving me everything I’ve ever wanted short of a shark attack musical starring Sharon Stone.  Really, first that glorious Fear Street trilogy which started strong, built momentum, then brought it all together in a wonderful finale, and now Blood Red Sky.  Combining two of my favorite subgenres, the vampire horror film and the airplane disaster action film, this German/UK co-production is touching down at the perfect time when there is a tiny lull in blockbuster theatrical releases.  While it has no name stars and Netflix isn’t marketing it as well as they should, they are sitting on what could be a sleeper hit for their streaming service because this is one rocker shocker of a film that delivers endlessly from takeoff to landing.

As the film opens, a large airliner is unsteadily touching down at an airport where an array of tactical teams awaits its arrival.  After landing, one passenger exits from the baggage compartment while another sits in the cockpit in a sniper’s crosshairs.  Where is the crew?  What happened to the other passengers?  There are definitely answers and both of the individuals have what we’re looking for…but first we have to find out how we got here.  To do that, screenwriters Stefan Holtz and Peter Thorwarth (who also directed) take us back several hours to before the plane took off from Germany.

Young Elias (Carl Anthon Koch) checks in for a transatlantic flight from Germany to New York for both himself and his mother Nadja (Peri Baumeister).  She’s too ill to accompany him to the airport until just before the flight takes off later that evening because she’s suffering from a rare condition that has left her bald and requires an injection at regular intervals.  The two board the flight with the other passengers, taking off with little incident and settle in for the overnight flight which crosses time zones and will land in New York under a cloak of evening darkness.  What no one knows is that hidden amongst the passengers is a large team of terrorists who plan to hijack the plane and crash it into London, hoping to create another international incident that sends the stock market into a panic.

Midway through their flight, the terrorists (several of which come from unlikely places) stage their attack and during the struggle Nadja is shot and left for dead out of view of the other passengers.  Yet Nadja isn’t dead now.  She’s been dead before…and for a while.  Further flashbacks show us the snowy night when Elias was just a baby and Nadja encountered a terrifying creature along with her husband after their car broke down.  The creature that scratched her.  The creature she now is.  The creature that has been unleashed now that she’s missed her regular dose of medicine.

There’s quite a lot of fun to be had in Blood Red Sky and it all depends on how much you are willing to kick your shoes off and enjoy yourself.  If you’re going to overanalyze the movie on the merits of reality, you should probably go watch Air Force One or Executive Decision, both excellent films.  If you are a Snakes on a Plane kind of person or don’t mind some CGI mayhem injected into the mix, by all means come on over and check this out.  The more animalistic Nadja gets, the crazier Blood Red Sky becomes and just when you think Thorwarth has taken things to their limit, he pushes the boundary again.  Surprisingly, it all goes down smoothly and though the stakes are continually raised (often exponentially) it doesn’t even approach exhausting…. it’s rather thrilling.

A lot of this is owed to Baumeister’s almost mesmerizing work as this ever-evolving creature.  Helped along with make-up, it’s the physicality that Baumeister possesses underneath it all that sells it in the end.  Like the White Spikes created for The Tomorrow War on Amazon Prime, the vampiric creature SFX in Blood Red Sky are incredibly impressive and, without spoiling anything, plentiful.  The production design was another high point, with the airline set being both believably spacious and cramped when called for. 

Along with Baumeister, Koch is handed a lot of emotional material to work, and he acquits himself nicely.  The character is inherently a bit of a handful, always getting into some kind of mess, but Koch at least doesn’t get too obnoxious in the process.  As a fellow passenger and ally, Kais Setti gets the right message across by looking past the creature features of his aisle mate and Roland Møller (Land of Mine) is bit of a big dumb fun as a terrorist who is more annoyed with his fellow team members than the gnashing monster tracking them all down.  The prize of the film is without question Alexander Scheer’s demented hijacker, first taking pride in gruesomely killing hostages before finding benefit in Nadja’s powers…. you can tell Scheer is a go-for-broke performer and it’s exactly what the role calls for.

Blood Red Sky could (and should) be one of those titles that hover at the top of the Top 10 list on Netflix for a long while, long enough for people to be curious enough to give it a go or for word of mouth to spread.  It’s far above average and leveled-up entertainment that would have been good enough to play in theaters but instead is available right now at home.  I’ll still be waiting for Netflix fulfill my last request of that Sharon Stone outer space shark musical but for now…Blood Red Sky will more than fit the bill for my genre wish list.

Movie Review ~ The Aftermath

The Facts

Synopsis: Post World War II, a British colonel and his wife are assigned to live in Hamburg during the post-war reconstruction, but tensions arise with the German who previously owned the house.

Stars: Alexander Skarsgård, Keira Knightley, Jason Clarke, Flora Thiemann, Kate Phillips, Alexander Scheer, Tom Bell

Director: James Kent

Rated: R

Running Length: 108 minutes

TMMM Score: (4/10)

Review: You’d be forgiven if you glanced at the poster for The Aftermath and thought it was going to be more prestigious than it actually turns out being. I mean, you have period dramas #1 go-to-gal Keira Knightly front and center looking striking flanked by the brooding stares of Jason Clarke and Alexander Skarsgård. If you did further investigation you’d find out it was a post-WWII drama adapted from a bestseller which adds a little more fuel to the thinking that this would be a decent bit of counter-programming for a discerning adult audience as we move into the spring movie season. Alas, despite some handsome production values and the presence of the aforementioned stars, The Aftermath comes up far short of being anything to get excited about. Just a few steps up from a television soapy melodrama, it’s a strikingly ordinary bit of filmmaking that doesn’t bother to uncover the rich layers suggested by the source material or the performances the actors are trying to give.

Based on Rhidian Brook’s 2013 novel of the same name, the film opens with Rachael (Knightley, The Nutcracker and the Four Realms) traveling to Hamburg to meet her husband Lewis (Clarke, All I See Is You), a colonel in the British Armed Forces. The couple lost their only child during the war as the result of a Nazi attack so Rachael traveling to the heart of Germany is anything but a welcome journey for the still-grieving mother. As she travels by train, she sees the devastating impact the war has had not just on the physical structures but on the emotions of the people that were left behind. Now, after its defeat, the country has begun the arduous process of rebuilding their cities under the watchful eye of foreign nationals.

Lewis has commandeered a sprawling mansion for his military operation in Hamburg, which displaces the owner of the house a widowed German architect Stefan (Skarsgård, The Legend of Tarzan) and his young daughter, Susan (Flora Thiemann). Surprisingly, instead of fully asking Stefan to leave, Lewis attempts to forge new lines of compassion and allows the father and daughter to stay in the attic. This drives a deeper wedge between Lewis and Rachael, who can’t believe her husband is taking pity on anyone that might have been a Nazi sympathizer, though Stefan claims he was not. Eventually, Rachael begins to soften not only to Susan but to Stefan and before you know it…there’s a love triangle afoot.

Having not read the book, I’m not sure how many liberties director James Kent and screenwriters Joe Shrapnel and Anna Waterhouse took with the source material. Certainly there’s a decent set-up for a steamy romance between Germany and Great Britain but it’s handled in such a paint-by-numbers manner that there’s no thrill to any of it. At first, Rachael can’t stand Stefan but then she gets to know him and, guess what, she starts to like him! To their credit, Knightely and Skarsgård do their darndest to drum up some sparks but their early friction fails to lead to a bonfire of passion when they get down to it. Skarsgård especially looks totally lost and unsure how to handle a character that should be more complex than the screenwriters make him out to be. Only Clarke manages to work his way toward something interesting, presenting a man trying to forget the painful memories of his past by losing himself in the present.

The Aftermath may turn out to be one of those films you make time for on a sick day when you want a starry drama but don’t feel like investing too much in anything happening on screen. You could honestly fall asleep for part of the movie and wake-up without losing much in the way of plot. Some movies are slow-burns, this one is just slow.