The Man Who Killed Hitler and Then the Bigfoot

hit1During the end credits of this movie, when I saw the names Douglas Trumbull and Richard Yuricich come up on screen, I had such a strange sensation of nostalgia, of seeing old familiar friends after a long, long time. Which it has been, really- I don’t think I’ve seen both their names on a film’s credits since Brainstorm back in 1984. But it was such a surprise, as I had no idea either of them were connected with this film, especially as the film is such a low-key, odd little film that it seems the unlikeliest thing. But hey, life is full of surprises, and this was one of them. As far as film geeks go, it was like seeing the names of heroes onscreen, gave me something of a buzz. But hey, life is strange and film geeks stranger.

Its perhaps just as well that I really, really liked this film. I have since seen some really negative reviews and commentary about the film, but the hell with all that. We just like certain movies, and certain films click with certain people I guess. The title The Man Who Killed Hitler and Then The Bigfoot may be its own problem, because I think that title suggests a certain kind of film; something trendy, funny, from left-field, like a Tarantino movie maybe, and this film is nothing at all like that. Instead The Man Who Killed Hitler and Then The Bigfoot is a rather sad, melancholy fable, a story of an old man near the end of his life reflecting on his life, and his regrets.

It is also, oddly enough, something of a superhero film. Maybe an alternative superhero film, if there is such a thing. Because certainly the main character of this film, Calvin Barr (Sam Elliott) is a  man with superpowers. Its a film that approaches superheroes in a similar way that Watchmen did, asking ‘what would it be like if Superman existed in the Real World?’, and posits that he’d decide to live a quiet life away from any action, perhaps even regretting the heroic deeds he’d once done.Hmm, a Tarantino film it isn’t.

hit2So anyway, that’s pretty much what the film is about. Calvin is an old man, a recluse who unknown to anyone in his town was once a legendary assassin who killed Hitler, a success which failed to really change the course of WWII (turned out Germany used ‘fake’ Hitlers to continue a pretence that Hitler was alive in an attempt to maintain its war effort). So in the present-day, some MIB-type agents pull Calvin out of retirement for one final secret mission – to track down and kill a Bigfoot that is infected with a deadly disease that will likely infect and wipe out humanity if the creature remains on the loose much longer.

Its during these present-day sequences that Calvin reminisces about his past before the war, and his mission to kill Hitler during the war that changed everything for him. These flashbacks are intended to inform the present and why Calvin is the way he is- basically a bitter old man tired of living.  There is a bittersweet but doomed romance that suggests a life of happiness denied him- his price, perhaps, of his powers. Regards these powers, they are fairly mundane- he can’t fly or anything- instead he is very strong, deadly in combat, adept at any languages (hence a useful talent undercover during the war in occupied territory) and immune to any disease (its likely, for instance, he’s never had a cold in all his life). Likely he has other talents/powers the film doesn’t show. During flashbacks to the war, we see him witness Jews being put on trains to the concentration camps, and I think his powerlessness to stop it -and his later assassination of Hitler failing to really alter anything- makes him feel a failure, as if he wasted his talents.

Its as if being born a comparative Superman, but then failing to really achieve anything, made him feel he has had a wasted life. Perhaps his life of anonymity was the price for maintaining some normality, avoiding the circus of notoriety in the public eye. I guess you either buy into that or not, but its an interesting premise.

hit4Sam Elliott as the grizzled, weary old Calvin is perfect for the role- its like it was written for him, and Aidan Turner (yeah that Poldark fella) does pretty fine as the young Calvin. I thought it was a really interesting, and quite affecting film, graced with a notable score from Joe Kraemer that evokes all kinds of John Williams textures. Indeed in many ways it feels a film from some other time- a film very of the 1970s, with its slow pace and gentle feel. Even the Bigfoot sequences (man in a suit! man in a suit!) brings to mind guilty pleasures like Kolchak: The Night Stalker. Okay, Bigfoot is really a little more sophisticated than that really sounds, but you know, its certainly no modern CGI extravaganza, and that’s part of the films charm.

So anyway, I really enjoyed it and was quite surprised by the negative reviews I’ve since read. Then again, its just one of those films that perhaps defy ordinary expectations, especially with the hook that the title suggests. Its really something of a gentle fable of what a life with superpowers might be like. The fact its not a life with capes and masks and super-villains likely confounds some. I thought it refreshing. And hey, its a film with the names Douglas Trumbull and Richard Yuricich on the end credits. I’m still getting a kick out of that.

In the Shadow of the Moon

shadowThis latest Netflix acquisition is a sadly flawed sci-fi flick posing as a police procedural thriller. Its got a neat idea but suffers from an ill-judged execution and strangely utterly wastes Michael C. Hall in a supporting role that really goes nowhere.

An intriguing prologue takes place in 2024, teasing a dark future in which Philadelphia is on fire, streets littered with debris, buildings smashed and an odd-looking alternate stars and stripes flag falling in the wind. We then cut to 1988, and a night of strange deaths with victims dying of bleeding-out of their noses, eyes and ears as their brains literally turn to mush- a result, it is soon deduced, of strange puncture-wounds on their necks. Police officer Thomas Lockhart (Boyd Holbrook) pushes his way onto the case, infuriating his brother-in-law Detective Holt (Michael C. Hall), but the case is soon closed when the suspected murderer – a black woman in a blue coat- is killed evading capture, but when copycat murders occur nine years later, the mystery deepens, especially when it is discovered it seems to be the same, ‘dead’ woman committing the murders.

The film is episodic in nature, each chapter jumping nine years into the future and nights of repeated murders all matching the same method and suspect. Lockhart is a Detective by the time the second set of murders occur, and each chapter finds him increasingly unhinged and at odds with those around him as his wild theory -that the murderer is a woman from the future- forms.

shadow2I suppose one way to look at this is as an extended Black Mirror episode, or maybe something from the X-Files, but it also feels like something of the great old Kolchak: The Night Stalker, in which our unhinged hero is increasingly at odds with his common-sense peers. It has a great premise but its episodic construction, while understandable, hinders the flow of the story.

Holbrook is fine but the writing does him few favours. Strangely, I kept thinking of Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and how Richard Dreyfuss’ character became increasingly obsessed and lost his job, home and family in his pursuit of answers. Its a very similar arc to that of Holbrook’s character here but handled much more convincingly and smoothly. The problem with even a great premise such as In the Shadow of the Moon has, is that it has to be grounded in some kind of reality, and it just gets more ridiculous and far-fetched in order to maintain what is essentially a very small tale, when Holbrook learns who the murderer is. I’m sure the central conceit thrilled the writers when they came up with it, but they have a really hard time making it work.

So anyway, spoilers ahead for this last bit:

shadow3One thing did bug me- if the time travel idea of being limited to single nights on nine-year periods going backwards was a ‘thing’ then surely the antagonist going further backwards each time (first 2015, then 2006, 1997, finally 1988) surely each time she was having to also wait nine years in the future for the stars to align in order for her to go back again? So if she was 30 in 2024 and travelled back to 2015, she would be 39 when she turned up in 2006, and 48 in 1997, and 57 in 1988?  So she should have been an old woman in 1988, and getting progressively younger every nine years as Holbrook naturally got older? But of course if the killings were intended to change time and avert the disaster of 2024, as they did so how would she be able to use her Time Machine in 2033, and 2041 etc if the ‘future’ (i.e. her ‘present’ kept being revised for good or ill?).

Agh, that’s the trouble with these Time Travel movies. They are often fun but can be very silly when you think too much about them. I guess you should just go along with it, in just the same way as I had to, say, with Avengers: Endgame. In the Shadow of the Moon is well-intentioned and always rather fun, so well worth a watch, but its execution really was flawed.

Mind, it offers an intriguing prospect for a sequel- the killings were all ‘justified’ because the victims could all be linked to the terrorist movement that caused a civil war in 2024. So its all based on a point-of-view, and the film conveniently ignores the fact that the victims were innocent when murdered, only guilty of future crimes. So what if someone from the future used that same methodology of changing the future by killing ‘good guys’ in the past to ensure the bad guys got their civil war instead? Or was that the Terminator movies?