Black Book

Finally, a movie to write home about.

Yes, I’ve seen some good movies this year, but none that have lit my fire, so to speak. But along comes “Black Book,” a Dutch film by Paul Verhoeven set in The Netherlands during the last year of World War II.

After some time spent in 1950s Israel, “Black Book” kicks into gear with a Jewish woman (Carice van Houten) hiding on a farm. Somewhat haphazardly, the farm is bombed and her cover is blown; she runs off with a sailor, but a man from the Resistance tells her the Gestapo knows where she is, and he can get her and her sailor to Belgium ( and safety) on a boat.

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Rocket Science

Indie comedies have been taking quite a beating lately. Look no further than the backlash at the once-darling “Juno” after the Oscar nominations came out; sure, most critics loved that movie, but when it start posing some challenges to the big boys of “No Country for Old Men” and “There Will Be Blood,” out comes the hate.

I noticed a similar thing last year with “Little Miss Sunshine,” one of my favorite films from 2006. And while I don’t necessarily agree with the haters, I see their point: they, as in the movies, are just too clever, too hip, too quirky for their own good. In to what is I’m sure going to be an unending debate, comes “Rocket Science,” written and directed by Jeffrey Blitz.

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Oscar fallout

Wow, that was fun. I haven’t felt that way about the Oscars in years. True, I watched most of it with the sound off (my day job takes priority), but still, there were some good surprises in the show.

Congratulations, Oscar winners! May your night be merry and drenched in the alcohol of victory. Now that the pleasantries are out of the way, let’s look back at my month-old predictions.

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The Pawnbroker

Human evil, what a phrase. The Holocaust is the prime example of evil, of just how far we humans can go, and will go, to destroy each other. But what happens to the ones left from the battle, the ones who stared at human evil daily?

“The Pawnbroker,” directed by Sidney Lumet, stars Rod Steiger as a Holocaust survivor, Sol Nazerman, who runs a pawn shop in Harlem. Day in and day out, he gives pittances for the treasures of others, is surly with his assistant/student Ortiz (Jaime Sanchez) and has empty sex with the widow, Tessie (Marketa Kimbrell), of a friend simply to pass the time.

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Heavenly Creatures on DVD: A warning

So, much to my delight, my “Heavenly Creatures” DVD, one of my all-time favorite movies, arrived today; unfortunately, it’s not the version I wanted.

I’ve had the VHS tape for eight years or so and after a recent viewing with a movie buddy (Hi Jim!), I decided that yes, it is time to upgrade. But what a minefield I’ve stepped in to; the theatrical version was released on DVD in May 2002, followed up with the uncut “New Zealand” theatrical version released in September 2002. The latter restored 10 minutes of cut scenes, along with a modified ending.

Being me, the movie purist, I want both DVDs, but first I want the version that I’ve loved since I was teenager. But since that one is hard to find at the moment, I decided to give the ‘upgraded’ version a shot, judging it solely on the ‘new and improved’ ending sequence.

It’s not bad. Essentially, the new ending amounts to an extra final shot of Pauline’s blood-soaked face (along with her haunting scream) before the epilogue text appears. It doesn’t diminish the ending’s power like I initially thought it would, but I don’t think it’s entirely necessary. Jackson was right to end the film with a fadeout from the fantasy sequence to her scream over a black screen, a subtle and devastating ending versus a bloody, over-the-top ending. I’m not sure is this is totally accurate, but I read somewhere that he preferred the shorter, U.S. release to the uncut version.

Smart man, that one.

So, as I continue to scour the Internet for the ‘cut’ version, I now know this hunt is worth it. Just a warning to fans out there; be sure of which version you’re getting BEFORE you press the ‘buy’ button.

Northfork

What a ****ing letdown.

“Northfork,” directed by Michael Polish, is a slow burn of a movie that took me a long time to get into. But I did get into it, so much so that when the first DVD I was watching died on me (small crack in the disc), I waited a day, rented it again just to watch the last half hour and see where all these characters ended up. I don’t necessarily regret that, but it turned out to not be worth the effort.

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Fitzcarraldo

Oh, the genius in madness. Such a statement can be said about “Fitzcarraldo” the movie, Fitzcarraldo (Klaus Kinski) the character, or the director, Werner Herzog, himself.

“Fitzcarraldo” is about a man with an obsessive love of opera, specially the tenor Enrico Caruso; here is a man who traveled 1,200 miles through the jungle in two days just to hear the Great Caruso sing for five minutes. And out of this obsession comes a need to share, to educate the plebeians, to make them love as he loves. His plan: Build an opera palace in the heart of the jungle, a setting so perfect that Caruso will have to attend.

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Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner

One of the reasons I started watching, really intensely watching, movies was to see the world, so to speak. As a teenager living in rural Arizona, I didn’t have any way out of my desert hell, but I did have a satellite, and once I decided to look beyond Hollywood’s offerings, I got to see the world in my living room.

And so began my love affair with foreign films; in that vein, I watched “Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner,” Zacharias Kunuck’s 2001 feature-film debut and the first film to be shot entirely in Inuit.

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Smogdance Winners

Just a shorty this time, but I was poking about online for news from Smogdance, and the only place I could find the winners was on another blog. Weird.

But, to my delight, I discovered that “Vanished Acres” not only won an audience award in the Open/Experimental category, but also won the Best Student Open/Experimental award.

My other favorite of the night, “Deleted Scenes” also got an honorary mention for Best Nonstudent Open/Experimental, which is somewhat odd as I remember that being in the comedy section. Oh well. But “Deleted Scenes” lost out on the audience award, which instead went to “20Q,” the Christopher Guest-ish mockumentary. Can’t win them all, but “Deleted Scenes” definitely had my vote.

“Simulacra” won the audience award for Best Animated Short, as well as an honorable mention for Student Animation.  While I didn’t go for it, the animation was stunning, so no hard feelings here.