“Operation Finale”

The film “Operation Finale” ( a horrid title, in my opinion ) leads us to Adolf Eichmann and his “Final Solution” rather circuitously. The film, based on the  real life event, shows a Mossad special unit planning and executing the abduction of the Nazi fugitive. Tension is well-maintained even when the Zionist team must live with the safely harbored Eichmann for ten days.  The Argentinians will not let Eichmann leave Argentina without his signed personal release. International law is upheld, even under these unjust circumstances.

Many of the scenes show Eichmann not in hiding, but in spewing his hate at white table-clothed assemblages with rabid Jew-haters, one of them being his twenty-something son, Claus. One depressing scene has Claus hanging a red SS flag above a German Club door. War is never really over is the sub-text.

Once we see Eichmann goggled and restrained, the mind games begin. This to me is the most interesting part of the film. Ben Kingsley has the hauteur to pull Eichmann’s ego off , and Kingsley’s portraiture of evil  is frightening. Right when one  thinks one sees some human trait, it is eclipsed by a crazy nationalism that shakes one’s soul. Yet, Kingsley’s work is nuanced. Will Eichmann provoke his captors to murder? Will he attest to crimes against humanity to see his wife and two sons again? What was this strategically intelligent man thinking as he sat in a bullet-proofed box during his trial? Are all ideologues delusional?

Fifteen years after World War II, I was twelve. But why wasn’t I more aware of this Mossad success and the Israeli trial itself  three years later, for I had just read Leon Uris’ “Mila 18” and was moved to tears. I read “Newsweek” weekly, but Peter Malkin ’s name was unknown to me even decades later.

In 1989,  Malkin’s legendary work was cited in the Israeli newspaper, “ Maariv” as being one of the greatest figures in the history of Mossad. No wonder Oscar Issac wanted to produce and star in “Operation Finale” as Malkin.

Based on the autobiography, “Eichmann In My Hands”, “Operation Finale” is not the first movie made of this event. “The Man Who Captured Eichmann” ( 1996) starred  Robert Duvall as Eichmann and Arliss Howard as Peter Z. Malkin. The 1979 “ House On Garibaldi Street”, likewise.

“Operation Finale” written by Matthew Orton and directed by Chris Weisz is worth seeing, though the lack of editing causes the suspense to lag in some places. Facts like Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion, then Prime Minister of Israel, giving his assent to the Mossad extradition attempt are hard to ferret out. The romantic relationship between the doctor, Hanna, ( Melanie Laurent) and Malkin is  thinly developed and resolved.

The acting is good, though heart-throb Issac’s 1950 hair style and karate chops look a tad silly. His intensity still rivets. Kingsley as Ricardo Klement, Eichmann’s alias in South America, commands the screen just boarding a bus. Lior Raz, of undercover commando fame in the tv thriller “Fauda”, is also perfectly cast.

Real footage from the Holocaust serves to remind us that Eichmann had six million accusers. Flashbacks of horrific rememberences and imaginings are balanced with themes of justice and toasts to life. A needed pause in the grief comes from one of the shorter operatives after the trial. “History only remembers the tall people.”  Malkin counters,” What about Napoleon?” To be rebuffed humorously with, “ What about who?”

Through jostling Jeep rides and paper trails of planning to scenes of impulsive, straight-edge shaving and catch and extract avowals, the narrative keeps us on edge even though we know the outcome. If Eichmann was a “human  metronome” in his patterns and habits, Malkin is a not a revenge seeker, here. He worries that the future will look like the past. And Eichmann worries that the Jews will come back like “mushrooms after the rain”. A sobering tale that needed to be told again.


“The Ottoman Lieutenant”

This Turkish funded American film with a 1960 vibe is still full of follow-your-dream, woman power and on-the-same-page sexuality. The romance of the film suffers with this modern touch. Our idealistic heroine seems a tad  bratty and our handsome Ottoman lieutenant seems to miss a thrust when he asks if she is certain that intimacy is what she wants. But, I get ahead of our somewhat silly tale.

1914 is our setting. First, we are in Philadelphia, which is portrayed as anything but the city of brotherly love. Our young American, Lillie Rowe ( Hera Hilmar ) has  informed her wealthy parents that she is sickened by the injustice heaped on Black Americans , and she is going to follow a young doctor ( Josh Hartnett ) to Turkey to give the mission where he practices nursing services and medical supplies , including her dead brother’s motorized truck. Why Lillie is adamant about crossing seas and ministering in a foreign clime is unclear. “Mother, I will sail to Istanbul! I have booked the passage.” is all the detail we get. Certainly, it is not just because of Dr. Jude, who will soon be thrown over for Ismail, the dashing Ottoman lieutenant, who will escort her through the dangerous terrain.

A fast two months of boats, trains, horses, the motorized truck, and walking gets Lillie to Anatolia, on the Eastern Front, right before the start of WWI. Her military escort in Turkey is our lieutenant. He tells her that she can not be in the men’s section of the train car. There are customs that need to be observed.

As a period piece there are lots of flaws, but the action keeps coming and they escape when bandits steal the supplies and resurface to sell them at the twenty-four bed mission hospital. Here, we meet Dr. Woodruff ( Ben Kingsley) and see the jealousy between Jude and Ismail. Jude warns Lillie, ” He is not your friend. He is here to gather information.” Jude has been hiding guns in the chapel for the Christian Armenians.

Music by Geof Zanelli pushes our emotions Dr. Zivago style, though there is no Lara’s theme to identify. Lillie’s protector is our handsome soldier ( Michael Huisman ) who provides the love triangle, pitting doctor against warrior.

The cinematography is wide-angle lush and, at times, stirring. Horseback rides through waving wheat fields, mountain surrounded  lakes, and sweeping clouds fill many scenes. Istanbul’s mosques, markets and harbors are equally emotionally drawing.

The battles are not large, but more like small bands of Christian Armenian villagers against a few Imperial Ottoman soldiers. The picture has been criticized for down-playing what became one of the first studied genocides of the modern world. Here, our Muslim officer metes out fair release instead of certain death.

Ben Kingsley, as Dr. Woodruff, provides the father figure for the young clinic workers. He had set up the foreign hospital with his wife, and he  has lost her to the cause. He uses ether to drug himself to sleep. He understands love and loss, and recognizes that Lillie has fallen deeply in love with the Ottoman lieutenant.  Neither does he miss the fact that Jude has fallen in love with Lillie.

“The Ottoman Lieutenant” seems like a throwback to the past while trying to change our knowledge of it. Note the ironic Christian doctor Jude’s fight scene, but don’t expect to get a true history from this film. American Director Joseph Ruben and writer Jeff Stockwell had their focus elsewhere. The flashback narration only tells us how Lillie was changed by the world she so heartily wished to change.

“The Jungle Book”

Rudyard Kipling wrote the rhythmic and balanced line : “for the strength of the pack is the wolf, and the strength of the wolf is the pack”. Why scriptwriter Justin Marks had the trusted bear Baloo call this chant “propaganda” neglects the revolutionary theme of diverse creatures working together.

In fact, all “The  Jungle” ‘s  creatures could be grouped according to those with primarily self-interest and revenge on their minds ( take Kaa, King Louis and  Shere Khan,as examples) and those with aid and support of others foremost in mind ( like Bagherra, Akela, Raksha and Baloo) The Peace Rock scenes mirror nirvana for a time, where all hierarchies are put aside.

I was very pleased that my six-year-old grandniece selected the little group of tumbling, squealing wolf cubs, especially Grey Brother, as her favorite animal of “The Jungle”. Practicing their howls, having fun and cooperating seem like  values consistent with a kindergarten graduate.

Jon Faureau directs some scary scenes. The natural laws of the forest primeval are here. (Warning to those considering taking a two,three, or four-year-old) Learning how to run is highly sanctioned.  Neel Sethi, as Mowgli, practices with the panther, Bagheera, at the film’s start. Ben Kingsley’s voice is mellow and fatherly in his admonitions.

In fact, for me,  it is the voices that have prominence in this film. Christopher Walken’s orangutan, King Louis, is terrifying , as are his monkey hoards. His ” I want to be you” just may be problemed-solved by swallowing Mowgli up whole. And Scarlet Johannson’s hypnotic and sensuously-voiced Python lulls us into danger with its warmth.

One of my favorite scenes is of Baloo ( Bill Murray, sounding like Seth Rogen ) becoming Mowgli’s river raft as they both sing “The Bare Necessities”. Mowgli, the man- cub of Kipling’s imagination, demonstrates his tricks (  his problem-solving ) by constructing all kinds of pulleys and crane-like devices to help the lazy Baloo retrieve his  beloved honeycombs.

Mother and father wolves score high points for sacrifice and love. Another reason why I loved my charge’s favorite animal choice.  Akela ( Giancarlo Esposito) and Raksha  ( Lupita Nyong’o) soar above the Bengal tiger Shere Khan ( Idris Elba) in  nurturing warm fuzzies.

According to “The Guardian”, ” The Jungle Book”  2016 has garnered 684 million dollars worldwide so far. I don’t know exactly why 1893 original magazine stories and their moral tales draw such attention, but teaching younger viewers to stay in their seats until the final credits roll is a laudable goal. Teach them to watch the scroll of first names and scout for their own.  My grandniece found no ” Lydias”, but she did count eight “James’, her little brother’s name. Teach the young that    “going  to the movies” supports the creative work of many. “The Jungle Book” ‘s theme of cooperation will be even further enhanced.