Tuesday, April 12, 2005

From Away: Downfall, Wilby Wonderful, and Dot the I

So, three more reviews. Only 14 behind now.

Downfall (Der Untergang)

* * * * (out of four)
Seen 9 March 2005 at Landmark Kendall Square #2 (Preview)

Hitler's a cliché. Less than a year ago, I saw a short film in which Udo Keir played Hitler hiding out in London after the war, in drag. I mention this because the scenes which opened that short are strikingly similar to ones near the end of Downfall, and because it's an example of what the man has become in the past sixty years: A subject of black humor. Indeed, when Bruno Ganz made his first appearance as Adolf Hitler in Downfall, laughs escaped from a few members of the audience because he's Hitler, with the silly mustache and tics and crazy ideas. It takes a moment for the audience to realize that, yes, Hitler is absurd, but the frightening kind of absurd, the type where the inconceivable is happening around you.

We see him interviewing new secretaries at first, choosing Traudl Junge (Alexadra Maria Lara), a pretty 22-year-old girl whose accent he fancies. She'll be our perspective character, a relative innocent who within three years will find herself in a Berlin bunker as the Russians close in and the Nazi leadership at first defiantly acts as though victory is still possible. Soon, though the focus becomes making the Allies' victory hollow while avoiding justice and personal humiliation.

Read the rest at HBS.

Wilby Wonderful

* * * (out of four)
Seen 19 March 2005 at the Brattle Theater (Special Engagement)

There are small towns, and there are Movie Small Towns. Real small towns have three-or-four-digit populations, share a high school with a neighboring town, and the restaurant is open from five in the morning until two in the afternoon. Movie Small Towns have small populations, but also have the residents entangled in a soap-opera-like web of deception and intrigue, and nobody seems to have a job that prevents him or her from being in everyone else's business all day long.

Wilby, Nova Scotia, is clearly a Movie Small Town. Happily, it is populated by a who's who of Canadian film and television, including folks even those of us in the States will recognize. Right now, the most well-known is probably Sandra Oh; she plays Carol French, a tightly-wound real estate agent who is also helping to organize the island town's annual fair. Paul Gross plays her husband Buddy, the senior member of Wilby's two or three person police force; he's a native while she's what we New Englanders call "From Away". Buddy occasionally sneaks off with Sandra Anderson (Rebecca Jenkins), who earned her easy reputation in high school but has been away, but recently moved back to her home town to take over the less-popular café. He daughter Emily (Ellen Page) is best friends with MacKenzie Fisher (Marcella Grimaux), whose father Brent (Maury Chaykin) is the mayor. Also lurking around are Dan (James Allodi), selling his house after his wife left him, and Duck (Callum Keith Rennie), the local handyman.

Read the rest at HBS.

Dot The I

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 28 March 2005 at Landmark Kendall Square #1 (Preview)

I ask in jest - is there a good-looking person shortage in the United Kingdom that required the makers of Dot the I to import all their sex appeal? It's a somewhat strange thing, seeing two Latin American actors starring in an English thriller. You start to wonder why they didn't just set the movie in Buenos Aires or Madrid, aside from the small matter of writer/director Matthew Parkhill being British.

I'm not complaining; I don't need the lady who is far too smart to be my girlfriend to tell me that Gael Garcia Bernal brings the hotness to his role of Kit, and the home movies of Natalia Verbeke's Carmen that open the movie are pretty darn sexy if you like the whole beautiful, curvy girl with a fantastic smile thing. The characters meet when Carmen's hen party (she's just gotten engaged) and Kit's night out with friends wind up seated at opposite ends of the same table in a French restaurant. The maitre d' announces that there is a French tradition about one last kiss, and Kit's the best-looking guy there. The kiss lasts longer than is probably polite, and she runs off, but a smitten Kit tracks Carmen down at her job to apologize.

Read the rest at HBS.

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