Apr. 16, 2008 - Issue #652: Taste of Chaos
Directed by Stefan Ruzowitzky
Written by Adolf Burger, Ruzowitzky
Starring Karl Markovics, August Diehl
BRIAN GIBSON / firstname.lastname@example.org
The opening moments of Stefan Ruzowitzky’s The Counterfeiters show a man in early morning, moving from the water’s edge to the Monte Carlo streets, then into a plush hotel. There’s an odd stillness but a slight unsteadiness, too.
This is Europe in the dawning days of 1946, lurching slowly back to life after the devastation of the Second World War. This survivor, making his way back from the brink of death, is “Sally” Sorowitsch, the nickname a convenient cover for Salomon, which gives away his Jewishness in 1936 Germany. But what sends Sally (Karl Markovics) to the camps that year is his profession—the master forger is arrested in his workshop-home by police investigator Herzog (Devid Striesow).
The scenes of viciousness, abuse and murder that follow are sharp, brutal and short. That’s because Sally escapes the worst of the camps, and certain death, thanks to his artful dodging. His sketch of a German guard leads to portraits and murals until, suddenly in 1939, reassignment to a top-secret counterfeiting department where Herzog, now an SS superior, is overseeing a plan to flood English and American banks with fake money, financially crippling the Allies.
This is a film of economy, a single look etching out a scene, a few words stamping out a character’s psychology, the brutal ironies rolling out. Sally believes he must “adapt or die,” his Darwinian instinct battling the Nazis’ corrupted, social Darwinism. When co-worker Adolf Burger (August Diehl) starts sabotaging their efforts to copy the dollar, Sally finds his self-preservation impossible—does he risk all their lives in an effort to undermine the cause of their sadistic guardians, who may still murder them all, or does he sell out Burger’s life before the idealistic rebel gets them all killed?
While the Nazis massacre the fated many as part of an industrialized Holocaust, these lucky few use machines to forge their survival. Moments when SS officers keep blaming the Jews reveal the crazed extent of Nazi self-deception—only people desperate to convince themselves of their fanatical righteousness assert their superiority by verbally degrading those they’ve been caging and beating.
The shift of focus to Markovics, a flawed, canny anti-hero in an unheroic time, is a deft twist considering that The Counterfeiters (winner of the Oscar for Best Foreign Film) is an adaptation of Burger’s memoir. Markovics’ look alone—the dapper rogue of 1936 Berlin becomes a stone-faced, narrow-eyed survivalist—smolders. The film’s look is shadows, sepia and the faded black-and-white of the striped camp uniforms. The moral shades criss-cross along the workshop’s floor. Is Burger’s sabotage the only sensible act of madness in this world gone completely crazy? Or is he on a hopeless suicide mission in this place of mass homicide?
Rarely has a film set the starkest of basic moral questions in such sharp-edged yet subtle relief. From first scene to last, when Markovics throws it all away because he knows what it means to hold onto the one thing that matters, The Counterfeiters is like one of the master forger’s brazenly passed-off copies—so bold, unflinching and brilliant that, to any eye, it’s flawless.
A Funkadelic Evening with Celebrity Revue
Co-hosted by Senator Tommy Banks, Harry Pinchin
Fri, Apr 18 (7:30, 9 pm)
Metro Cinema, (9828 - 101A Ave), $8 - $10
PAUL BLINOV / email@example.com
It was made in Vancouver, but through the efforts of an all-Edmonton production company, it starred celebrities of all talents and styles, and it managed to last 120 episodes—yet you’ve probably never heard of the Celebrity Revue, which is presumably the reason why the Provincial Archives of Alberta’s 23rd annual film night is putting the televised variety program back into the limelight for an evening. Well, that reason, and one other: that the three segments they’ve managed to assemble give an immensely enjoyable peek back to the then funky-fresh styles and sounds of the ’70s.
A Funkadelic Evening With Celebrity Revue begins with a brief but charming tribute to the recently deceased Robert Goulet, who was a frequent guest of the show. It’s a lovely send-off, but its placement in the program is a little strange: presumably, the reason that Celebrity Revue is being shown is to introduce a new generation to the show, and having the tribute head the evening off is giving a salute to one of Revue’s favourite friends without giving us Revue beforehand.
But the following centerpiece is a fantastic collection of highlight appearances and performances culled from all over Celebrity Revue’s lengthy run. Budding, one-hit, now-deceased and still-legendary stars alike graced the Revue stage, from the comedic standup of a young, afro-sporting Leno and a surprisingly funny David Letterman, to an impressive crop of talented musical stars each accompanied by the in-house Tommy Banks Band. (Banks, now a Senator, will co-host the event with Harry Pinchin.)
Witnessing Tina Turner belt out the Beatles’ “Something” is a highlight among highlights, as is hearing a young Tom Waits’ alternative to having a glass half-full or half-empty mindset. But even the lesser-known performers are enticing, like Shields and Yarnell’s impressive mime act; with 120 shows to choose performances from, the moments selected to show here are all spectacular.
By the third reel of clips—a nine-minute look at what Celebrity Revue’s fashionable guests wore—there’s no denying the show’s dated charm. There’s no clip that isn’t at least interesting, which makes me wonder which excellent other appearances didn’t fit onto the program.
In the end, A Funkadelic Evening with Celebrity Revue managed to make me a little nostalgic for a time I never actually lived through—which is probably exactly what the Provincial Archives hoped to achieve. With its impressive history of celebrity appearances, Celebrity Revue deserves a second round of applause, 30 years down the road.
Directed by Nelson McCormick
Written by JS Cardone
Starring Brittany Snow, Johnathan Schaech
JONATHAN BUSCH / firstname.lastname@example.org
Some might argue that a PG-13 slasher movie is like a porno without any hardcore sex, and that’s because, quite frankly, in both cases the phallic intruder is granted only limited access to his audience. His (or her) violent threats are hence minimized by the film’s inability to exhibit a gushing stab wound or include scenes where the girls are changing.
Those of you laughing in the back, cut it out or I’m sending you to the hall.
Nelson McCormick and JS Cardone’s remake of 1980 B-gorefest Prom Night is only cheating itself, in a series of rich locations and intriguing scenarios that result in a half-assed stalker tale reminscent of Are You Afraid of the Dark? Brittany Snow (Hairspray) stars as Donna, the sole survivor of a love-murderer’s massacre on her suburban family, who after relocating to the home of her aunt and uncle, continues to have nightmares of the incident. It’s only a sign that her beloved stalker Richard (Johnathan Schaech, resembling Vincent Gallo in his first scene) has escaped from maximum security prison and planned to wreak havoc on the most important night in the life of a blonde princess.
At a hotel called the Pacific Grand (in reality, the historic Biltmore Hotel, seen in dozens of films from Vertigo to Chinatown), Donna and her friends attend the glitziest, nightclub-style prom on this side of excessive West Coast living. Meanwhile, Richard scores a haircut and a room upstairs, eventually sneaking his way around the building to ice a number of Donna’s friends. Even though the police monitor the building, Richard’s a man with a plan to get his hands on his ultimate victim.
As traditional as the plot of Prom Night might sound, it rolls out a similar tension to the original despite its lack of Jamie Lee Curtis’s eternal jawline. It’s really more so that nothing much happens by way of horrifying spectacle. Not one murder scene induces more than a weak-willed wince, as though the editors had a stop-watch timing how long each teenager could be chased down a corridor. The most interesting plotline is rich girl Crissy’s desperate attempt to end up prom queen, and the film literally forgets about it after a predictable building evacuation.
Prom Night has one chaperone too many, leaving out the forbidden element of scary movies that as children, we only got to see when we slept over at the houses of our friends with really ignorant parents. If you really want a scary movie to watch with the kids, rent Jesus Camp.
Directed by Noam Murro
Written by Mark Poirier
Starring Dennis Quaid, Ellen Page,
Thomas Haden Church, Sarah Jessica Parker
DAVID BERRY / email@example.com
Last week, Greg Burgett at the New York Press did a nice little job of deflating indie rock, noting the distinct similarities between some of the movement’s softer exemplars (Feist and Sufjan Stevens, specifically) and adult contemporary music. If indie rock is slowly going the way of easy listening, though, indie film isn’t too far behind the movie equivalent: Smart People does a pretty great job of dressing itself up in indie tropes while still boring itself into the bland malaise of a second-rate Julia Roberts rom-com.
The central character is Dennis Quaid’s Lawrence Wetherhold, embodying the dissatisfied academic indie archetype, in this case as a misanthropic professor of Victorian literature attempting to get his book on the failings of English lit criticism published; imagine Jeff Daniels’ arrogantly misguided professor/father from The Squid and the Whale vanillad into a minor character on a Law and Order episode—which, the whole solving-a-crime thing aside, is actually not a bad description of Smart People as a whole—and you’re pretty much dead on. He’s surrounded by a suitably quirky cast, including his Anne Coulter-in-training daughter (Ellen Page, who will be playing precocious teenagers until her face starts to sag), his ne’er do well adopted brother (Thomas Haden Church) and a former student cum doctor who used to have a crush on him and is still inexplicably drawn to his gruff countenance (Sarah Jessica Parker).
A major contributor to the film’s blandness is precisely that none of these characters ever rise much beyond even those descriptions. We’re basically never allowed to see a side of the characters that suggests they’re anything more than almost-overused stereotypes, and not even particularly interesting ones at that.
Quaid especially has all the screen presence of a cardboard cut-out: for someone who supposedly hates people as much as he does, he’s got virtually nothing in the way of snarl, and his chemistry with Parker wouldn’t last them through elevator small talk, never mind a full-on relationship. Church and Page manage to build an enjoyable, if not necessarily believable, relationship as he attempts to loosen her up a bit, but even that can’t really overcome the fact it’s a mind-numbingly obvious cliché played out by two stereotypes.
This is probably what two consecutive Oscar nominations for superficially indie films has wrought, and if it’s any indication of what’s to come, our society might want to get on finding a new dominant subculture tout suite.
Directed by David Ayer
Written by James Ellroy, Kurt Wimmer, Jamie Moss
Starring Keanu Reeves, Forrest Whitaker,
OMAR MOUALLEM / firstname.lastname@example.org
It seems that filmmaker David Ayer is making a new genre out of corrupt LAPD movies. After the success of his screenplay Training Day, he scripted three more LA cop flicks centred on drugs trafficking, including his directorial debut, the malevolent Harsh Times. Now that his keyboard has been pushed aside, he’s selected a screenplay that would appear to be fan fiction, if it wasn’t for the fact that it’s adapted from a novel by James Ellroy (LA Confidential).
In Street Kings, Keanu Reeves plays Detective Ludlow, a hardened LAPD officer who busts crime his own psychotic way, repeatedly setting himself up for controversy. His tactics are despised by drug traffickers and officers alike, but he’s protected and groomed by the head of his unit, Captain Wander (Forrest Whitaker in a role so flat and perpetually pissed off that it would strip him of his 2007 Oscar if only his performance wasn’t on par with the rest of the casts’).
After Ludlow botches yet another sting, one in which a fellow officer (and his personal nemesis) is killed, he becomes the target of internal affairs Captain Biggs (Hugh Laurie). The investigation marks a schism in the LAPD, and Ludlow teams up with one of two good cops in the movie, Detective Diskant (Chris Evans) in a rush to extinguish the clues. Only Diskant is so saintly that he doesn’t realize he’s involved in a cover up.
The secrets and surprises in Street Kings are supposed to be just that, only it’s obvious early on where the corruption stems from. Viewers must only follow their gut feelings and ignore the many MacGuffins and red herrings to solve this for themselves. Why the characters never thought to do the same is the real unsolved mystery.
Mr Ayer has a talent for directing action and violence, just like Peter North has a talent for making porn. Ayer knows what will get his predominantly male audience off, at least when it comes to their aggressions. What is odd, however, is how blatantly asexual this movie is.
One would think that a movie made with 100 per cent real machismo would have some sexual additives—strip bars, hookers, hot sex and the rest. Instead, the couple of girlfriends that do exist are worn by the cops like the holsters on their hips: stationary and empty. The cool, black steel sliding down the back of these men’s pants, whipped out on each other for a game of penis swords, is about all the love these gay-ngsters got to give. V
New comments for this entry have been turned off and any existing ones are hidden. We apologize for any inconvenience.