Sunday

Black Book

Paul Verhoeven has has two quite separate careers as a director. In the 1970s and early 80s, he made some generally excellent films in Dutch:

  1. (7.88) - Soldaat van Oranje (1977)
  2. (7.42) - Voorbij, voorbij (1979) (TV)
  3. (7.28) - Vierde man, De (1983)
  4. (7.09) - Turks fruit (1973)
  5. (6.68) - Keetje Tippel (1975)
  6. (6.59) - Spetters (1980)
  7. (5.75) - Wat zien ik (1971)

Many of those films touched on resonant themes and/or provided typically European transgressive content but, unlike many European directors, Verhoeven did not eschew comprehensible narratives, and he always stayed mindful that film is an entertainment medium first and foremost. His ability to make high quality films with commercial potential made him attractive to Hollywood, where he worked for about a decade and created some entertaining studio pictures.

  1. (7.40) - RoboCop (1987)
  2. (7.30) - Total Recall (1990)
  3. (6.80) - Starship Troopers (1997)
  4. (6.80) - Basic Instinct (1992)
  5. (5.30) - Hollow Man (2000)
  6. (3.80) - Showgirls (1995)

With the possible exception of Hollow Man, each of those films is fun to watch. Even the much-denigrated Showgirls has some great entertainment value, sometimes in terms of unintended guffaws, but also in terms of what Verhoeven was trying to deliver. The film looks good. The nudity is gorgeous. The sleaze is sleazy, as it well should be. As for the top four on that list, I could pop any of them into my DVD player right now, and within ten minutes you would not be able to pull me away. Verhoeven is a good entertainer who tries to scope out what a film needs in order to work, then tries his best to deliver that.

In recent years he has felt that Hollywood has no more to offer him except large budgets, so he has migrated back to the Netherlands to go back to making the films he wants to make, perhaps in Dutch, and to take a larger role in choosing the projects and writing the scripts with his former collaborator Gerard Soeteman. Not surprisingly, the first major effort was themed similarly to his best film, Soldier of Orange. Both Black Book and Soldier of Orange are films about the Dutch resistance in WW2. Both films combine sex and small personal stories inside the greater theme of defeating the Nazis. In many ways Black Book is the more complicated of the two films, because it doesn't draw a solid line between Germans and Dutch, with evil ending one one side of the line.

Black Book is filled with duplicity. There are Nazis who double-cross other Nazis for wealth and power. There are Dutch resistance fighters who double-cross their colleagues for the same sorts of reasons. There is a Nazi who seems like a genuinely decent human being. There are Dutchmen who seem like total asses. All of this provides complex characterization and a rich environment for intrigue, but it also creates a tremendously intricate web of plots and counter-plots which I didn't always follow. Imagine that the Dutch always know what the Germans are planning because they have planted a microphone in the German HQ, but then imagine that the Germans know the mike is there and act disingenuously in front of it. The imagine that the traitor who told the Germans about the mike knows that they know, and knows they are providing disinformation, but uses that knowledge for his own personal post-war fortune, owing allegiance to neither side. Finally, imagine that you don't really know all of those things until they are revealed in the story, and even then you're not sure which Germans and which Dutchmen are co-operating until the last veil is removed. Even after watching the film a second time I was still unclear on some of the details.

All of those machinations provide a steady nail-biting level of suspense and mystery, and even some music and romance, but Verhoeven does not shy away from the real tragedies of the war. He just works all of that into the story. During the war there are rich Dutch Jews slaughtered for their wealth, mowed down by a combination of Dutch traitors and rogue Nazis. After the war there are collaborators bathed in shit by their own countrymen, and feckless Allied administrators who make poor decisions. Along the way there are sympathetic characters mowed down by machine gun bullets and tortured by the SS, as well as people killed by bombs dropped in error, and numerous other tragedies of war.

You should not expect this film to be part of a smooth continuum with Verhoeven's early Dutch films. It is very much a slick Hollywood-style film, except for the nudity level. The budget was $22 million, but it looks bigger. And it's not a heavy-handed or preachy film. In terms of combining romance and entertainment with tragedy and stirring themes, Black Book might be fairly called the Dutch Casablanca. And considering how much I love Casablanca, I do not make that comparison lightly. Of course, the tragedy of war is portrayed more graphically and in more accurate detail in 2006, given the new levels of film technology and the public's current level of tolerance for extreme sex and violence, so this film is more realistic, less romantic than Casablanca, but given the differences in time and place, the comparison is not unwarranted. Good characters, good story, important ideas.

I should not leave you with the impression that this film is flawless. Perhaps it should have been, with a little more effort, but Verhoeven and his co-author got some period details wrong. In terms of anachronisms, there are modern-style toilet paper dispensers, electric trains, bikes with rubber tires, and sheep in the fields, all details which don't correspond to the reality of the Netherlands in the winter of 1944 and spring of 1945. But in the context of what the film does accomplish, those are small matters.

Not everyone admired the film. The New York Post wrote, "On the one hand, Black Book has the artiness of subtitles, the dramatic weight of history, and the desperate heroics of Jews hiding from Nazis. On the other hand, it has Paul Verhoeven." The New Yorker wrote: "This is trash pretending to serve the cause of history: a Dirty Dozen knockoff with one eye on Schindlerís List."

Fair enough. Accurate statements.

Except that's what I liked about the film!

The film fails neither to honor history's heroes nor mourn its incalculable losses, but it remembers to tell a story in an entertaining, engaging way. Personally, I do not see that as a negative. There are intrigues and romances and good yarns which can lighten even the darkest of times, and we need not always dwell entirely on the darkness. (Not does Schindler's List do so.) Even if you do see the "Dirty Dozen meets Schindler's List" aspect in a negative light, you should find your distaste largely offset by the very strong female lead (one of the greatest roles ever written for a woman), and the film's stubborn unwillingness to fall into the "black vs. white" view of history.

If this film were in English I would certainly grade it a B and recommend it to everyone. Given that it is in Dutch and German (except for a few lines in English and Hebrew), I have to concede that some people just hate subtitles and would not see it under any circumstances, and that others would be offended by the sex and nudity or the unlikely combination of holocaust and entertainment.

Call it a very high C+, but a film that I watched enrapt for its two and a half hour running time.

 

Carice van Houten (film clip, all scenes combined)
 

Halina Reijn (film clip)

 

* Yellow asterisk: funny (maybe).

* White asterisk: expanded format.

* Blue asterisk: not mine.

No asterisk: it probably sucks.

OTHER CRAP:

Catch the deluxe version of Other Crap in real time, with all the bells and whistles, here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Black Roses

 (1988)

Black Roses is a horror offering based on the premise that Heavy Metal is, in fact, the work of the Devil, and part of his plan to take over the world.

A group named Black Roses is to start their first ever public appearance concert tour in a small town. The kids are excited, the parents are up in arms, and the coolest teacher tries to keep an open mind. The parents hold a town meeting to have the concert cancelled, but are over-ruled by the mayor, with some support from the hip teacher. After all, he has been dating the mayor's daughter for years. The group begins the first concert night with a tame song and wearing white, the parents decide there is nothing out of place and leave, and then all hell breaks loose, literally.

The cool teacher sees the changes in the students the next morning in class, and is the first to blame a rash of sudden deaths on the group and their influence, but can he stop them in time, or at all?

IMDb readers award it a sparkling 2.3, but this seems to be a C- on our scale, satisfactory to Heavy Metal fans and genre buffs. Headbangers seem to like the sound track, there are some pretty decent demon effects, some of the makeup is great, there is nothing wrong with the performances, and the film looks better than its budget would lead you to expect.

Robin Stapler as one of the schoolgirls plays strip gin with her girlfriend's father, and shows breasts. Karen Planden as a girl with a crush on the cool teacher, briefly shows her right breast from the side. Two different body doubles also supply additional breast exposure for her character. Note that there is little similarity among the three sets other than the fact that they all have nipples.

 

Karen Planden

Robin Stapler

 

body doubles

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


I have things going on in my life that did not give me much time to cap today, so very quickly we have:

 

Cruel Intentions 2

 Annie Sorell & Alicia Loren in a topless shower scene

 

 

What Women Want

Helen Hunt with some leg and down blouse.

 

 

 

 

 

Notes and collages

"Charmed"

Shannen Doherty and Rebecca Cross, Season 2, Episode 19

Doherty

 

Cross

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Covenant


I will let one line from the movie explain how "good" this is...


"Harry Potter can kiss my ass."


Yep, I know. Well at least the girls were hot, too bad they didn't show more.
 

Basia Jasinski

 

Jessica Lucas

 

 

 

Laura Ramsey

 

 

 

 

 

A dubbed film clip of Sharon Stone and Leonardo DeCaprio in The Quick and the Dead - Slavic style! (The sheer silliness makes it much more entertaining than it was in English.)

Johnny Moronic

The latest from the Aussie collage artist

Cameron Richardson in Rise

Lucy Liu in Rise

Anastasia Griffith in Dirty Filthy Love

 

Heather Graham in Broken

 

Some nostalgia: Barbara Caron in Blue Money
Cerina Vincent
Hayden Panettiere. No nudity, but a spectacular beauty from "Heroes." She's the next Alba in line - she seems to have nothing interesting to do or say, but keep the cameras on her, cuz she has the looks.
Natalia Woerner in Der Seerosenteich

 

 

 

 

 

Milk and Honey

We all know that independent low-budget flicks can be pretty bad, but they can also be pretty good, as is the case with this 2003 drama about a troubled marriage.

Rick, a successful stockbroker in a 10-year marriage, has severe emotional problems and is in therapy. At a cocktail party the couple is throwing, he unexpectedly re-proposes to wife Joyce (Kirsten Russell), complete with 2-carat diamond ring. Convinced he is off his medication and having an episode, she quickly shuts down the party, leaving Rick feeling humiliated and rejected.

After the fight that follows the party, Rick heads out into the night to find some meaning to his life, and Joyce follows to seek solace from a friend. While gone, they bother encounter a strange assortment of people and odd events that effect their thinking, and how they feel about their marriage.

This is a nice effort with a good story and good performances. Lovers of high-energy action stories won't care for it, but lovers of good intelligent dramas will.

Kirsten Russell