Walking with the Enemy (a movie review)

I usually reserve films from my library, so I can watch them in the comfort of my home. When I came back from my vacation in Central Europe (Czechia, Slovakia, and Hungary), I received notice that a couple of movies were ready for pick-up. One of them was Walking with the Enemy, which is based on true events, although the characters themselves are fictional. The hero is a young Hungarian Jewish man, Elek Cohen, who joins the Labor Force during World War II, thinking it would be a way to help serve his country even though the Force has only Jewish people serving. He soon realizes the work he and his fellow countrymen are providing is met with harsh punishment if they show any signs of physical weakness. He eventually escapes with a friend. When they go back to their village, they find their families gone and their non-Jewish countrymen living in the houses where their Jewish friends resided. Elek is determined to find his family, which soon leads him to Budapest. There he witnesses the terrible fate unfold on those of Jewish heritage that happened toward the end of the War and Hitler’s rule.

He soon goes underground with the help of an acquaintance, Hannah Schoen, with whom he had flirted at a social club many weeks before and has come across again while in Budapest. Hannah’s uncle turns out to be working for the Swiss Council, which agrees to give passports to a fixed number of Jewish people to emigrate legally to Switzerland. However, by making more than the allotted amount, the Council hopes to save even more Jews by secretly delivering them to the Hungarian Jewish citizens. In the middle of all this, the Nazi presence continues to dominate and a Hungarian fascist group, the Arrow Cross Party, allies with Hitler. Together they round up the Jewish people to get them out of the country and into a concentration camp.

One night, Elek ends up killing two drunk German SS soldiers, as they try to molest Hannah. He and his friends bury the dead soldiers in an unmarked grave. Later, the death of those two soldiers turns out to be fortuitous for Elek and his friends because of their uniforms. When one of Elek’s good friends gets captured by the Nazis, he decides to save him by digging up the dead Nazi soldiers and taking their uniforms. He disguises himself as a Nazi SS soldier and pretends to have orders to take into custody his friend. With the successful rescue, Elek wears the uniform again and again, successfully executing similar types of rescues, often saving many of his countrymen at a time. Tragically though, as history later tallied, from Hungary alone, 500,000 Jews were exterminated.

The film has suspense, romance, and historical highlights. It was good timing that I was able to see this movie after learning so much about Hungary’s history during pre- and post-Hitler times. The pictures below are some taken from my trip in Budapest. They depict how the Hungarian Jews had to flee immediately because of the evil that fell on their country, and the world.

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Jackie (a movie blurt)

Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, aka “Jackie,”has always fascinated me. She’s enigmatic.  This recent film portrays the young widow’s perspective following the assassination of her husband on Nov. 22, 1963. The contrast of the shocking violence that unfolded against Jackie’s quiet demeanor reinforces the feeling of how painful it must be to endure such an unbelievable and unfair fate. For example, the charismatic and popular President John F. Kennedy’s brain matter splattered over Jackie’s lap is just one of the harrowing images showed in the film. The film’s focus on Jackie’s private moments in the first few days following the assassination gives us a new understanding that there was more behind her character than just a stylishly dressed woman, who appears stoic on TV. Natalie Portman plays Jackie’s character admirably, revealing the former first lady’s strength, intelligence, grace, and appreciation for history.

Orphan X by Gregg Hurwitz (a book blurt)

This book is the first of a series about an orphan who is raised and trained to be a lethal agent to handle covert missions for the U.S. government. After years of stealthily assassinating so-called dangerous people, our hero, Evan Smoak, starts to question if he’s really killing “the bad guys” and decides to leave the program. By doing so, he puts his handler, Jack Johns, into a precarious situation. An older man, turns out Johns is more than Smoak’s handler; he’s also the one who raised Smoak since childhood, growing fond of him along the way.

Smoak successfully escapes anyway and transforms himself into an undercover “fairy-tale godmother” by helping one desperate individual a year. Usually, the help involves ridding the bad forces that have made the individual’s life impossible. A bigger-than-life hero is what makes a thriller thrilling, and this story delivers such a character in spades. Prepare for all kinds of action and twists. The second book in the series is now available, The Nowhere Man, and I’m on it! (I just finished reading The Nowhere Man and it is even more action-packed than ever. Our hero finds himself close to being “no more man.”)

I must mention another book similar to this in many ways, and just as thrilling: Kill the Father by Sandrone Dazieri. For a full book review, read Bookidote. (This book is also the first of a new series.)

4/23/17: Subsequently, I’ve gone on to read more of Hurwitz’s books, as listed below.
The Tower
Minutes to Burn
Don’t Look Back
The Nowhere Man (2nd of Orphan X series)
The Crime Writer
Trust No One
Don’t Look Back
They’re Watching
Hell Bent (3rd of Orphan X series)
You’re Next

The Hollars (a movie blurt)

A movie about a family with dreams that somehow didn’t take off as they wished. John Krasinski directed this movie, as well as starred in it as a son who returns from New York to his Midwestern home due to a family illness. While visiting with his parents and brother, we soon learn about the family strains bubbling beneath the surface, not too different from many families experiencing hurt and feelings of inadequacy. Krasinski’s character himself is also wrestling with disappointment. He doesn’t quite know how he feels about his relationship with his live-in girlfriend, played by Anna Kendrick. She’s pregnant and ready to give birth at any time. In the midst of this angst comes the eventual realization of self-worth, gratitude and stronger family bonds. Overall, the movie is heartwarming and well-acted with a surprise twist in the end. Other stars include Charlie Day, Richard Jenkins, Margo Martindale, and Sharlto Copley.

The Yellow Handkerchief (a movie blurt)

At once a mystery and a love story, this road trip movie shows how three unlikely people come together to eventually trust and help one another in more ways than one. The three travelers are played by William Hurt, a newly released, middle-aged ex-convict; Kristen Stewart, a lonely young woman with insight beyond her years; and Eddie Redmayne, an awkward but earnest young man wanting to see more of the country in his big old American car. Together they travel the backroads of the southern bayou, unloading their emotional baggage and gradually finding hope. Prepare for a tear or two at the end.

I Am a Sidewalk by Matt MacGregor (a book review)

December is a month of multicultural holiday celebrations. If you’re considering exchanging gifts when celebrating holidays such as Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, or Three Kings Day, then how about a book for that young, budding engineer?

Written by Matt MacGregor, a Dallas-based civil engineer and father of three, I Am a Sidewalk is about the lifespan of a neighborhood sidewalk winding its way through a quintessential American town. Over a period of years, from the initial pouring of cement until the very end, the sidewalk’s neighborhood undergoes gradual yet profound change.

On one level, children learn about the basics of road and sidewalk construction. At the same time, they learn that change is good and nothing in life stays the same.

An uplifting read for both kids and adults alike.

Illustrated by Don Huff

Illustrated by Don Huff

http://www.iamasidewalk.net/book/

Urge (a movie blurt)

A horror thriller movie with an interesting twist to it. The movie title is the name of a designer drug that makes the user feel uninhibited. The catch is this “ideal” drug can only be taken one time ever, or there are consequences. The man with everything buys this drug for himself and his friends to rewind for the weekend. But, you guessed it, the spoiled brats just don’t know the meaning of self-control. Pierce Brosnan stars as the Man, who introduces this dangerous pharmaceutical.