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Movie, Movie, Movie, Movie (Movie)

Well, here’s a switch: I saw three movies yesterday (five in total all weekend), and one of them hasn’t been released anywhere in North America yet, including LA and NY, where it opens on Dec 27. John Cusack is one of my favorite actors (the other is Robert Duvall). Cusack has made smart choices in his career (exceptions include Con Air, but everyone needs a payday, right?), the results being a set of films that are mostly interesting, challenging and rewarding to the viewer. Plus, we share the same birthday, June 28.

Max is his latest film, a movie already being protested by the Jewish Defense League. The movie takes place in 1918 Munich, just as Germany begins to recover from having lost WWI. Ostensibly, the picture is about Max Rothman (Cusack), having returned from fighting less his right arm, but of a wealthy family and the owner of an avant garde art gallery. Having lost his arm, he has also lost his ability to paint. He has a beautiful wife and mistress, children, and the best living conditions. One day he meets a corporal in the German army, who has come in hopes of showing Rothman his artwork. When asked his name, he replies, “Hitler…Adolph Hitler.” It is a numbing scene just for hearing those words.

The film explores the relationship between Hitler and Rothman, suggesting that the cultural and political milieu of Munich contributed to his decision to move his abilities and talents from art to politics, or perhaps to meld the two. The JDL is objecting to the movie on the grounds that it humanizes Hitler. I believe it does, but does it without prejudice and with no favours. We see how Hitler began his orating, and how he struggled with his burgeoning hatred of Jews and his grudging respect for Rothman, not only because of his art gallery, but because Rothman continually challenged him to improve his art.

Noah Taylor, robbed of an Oscar nomination for the movie Shine, plays Hitler convincingly. Small, wirey, and often filthy and poorly dressed, he is the opposite of Rothman in every way, yet they are attracted to each other intellectually. The scenes of Hitler learning to become on orator are chilling. Cusack, meanwhile, gives his best performance in years. Recommended.

Later that evening…

…I saw Little Otik, and a 20 minute confusing wash of colour, animation and camera movement called In Absentia, by The Brothers Quay. The best I can do is supply a quote from the official website:

“Shot in black and white and color and projected in CinemaScope, IN ABSENTIA combines live action and animation with dazzling use of light to convey the mindscape of a woman alone in a room repeatedly writing a letter with broken off pieces of pencil lead, while outside her window vistas of ever changing light register her every emotion. The film is dedicated to ‘E.H. who lived and wrote to her husband from an asylum.'”

Knowing that in advance might allow the viewer to, er, enjoy this a bit, but overall it’s a tough 20 minutes of your life to lose. The music is overpowering and an assault on the senses.

It was no surprise to learn that the Quays are fans of Jan Svankmajer, who wrote and directed Little Otik, the feature film shown after In Absentia. First of all, I’ve seen none of his other films, so I have no frame of reference to them. Little Otik is the story of a childless couple, unable to conceive. The husband, working at their cottage, cuts down a tree, then removes the stump and roots. To cheer up his wife, he trims and cuts the stump to make it appear like a baby. She immediately begins to dress, feed, talk to, and treat it like their new son. The film is in Czech with English subtitles.

Eventually the stump transforms into a living creature with an enormous appetite that can’t be met with a few bottles of milk and some baby food.

This is one of the most bizarre films I’ve seen in a long time. I am still trying to wrap my head around it. The stop-action animation is jarring and hard on the eyes. There is no time to process each image before it changes. The characters are wacky to say the least: the wife creates nine pillows, each numbered and bigger that the previous, to fake a pregnancy.

I enjoyed this film up to a point, and then my enjoyment started to wane. Svankmajer repeatedly shows closeups of food, people eating food, people preparing food, often together with disgusting slurping and glorping noises. OK, so Otik gets bigger and likes to eat, I get the point. The film combines humour with surreal horror: Otik takes on a frightening form and behavior, and begins to eat the locals. In the midst of this, the little (really annoying) girl who lives next to the couple discovers a fairy tale that tells the story of Otik, shown to us in cartoon animation – it’s not a fairy tale I’d read to any child I know.

I think I would have enjoyed this more if 30 minutes had been trimmed. One brilliant quote I read called it “a Czech “Eraserhead” featuring “Twin Peaks” Log Lady.”

Oh, and I saw Hollywood Ending on Friday night, and Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets on Sunday.

3 Responses to “Movie, Movie, Movie, Movie (Movie)”

  1. sharon Says:

    the cusack film sounds very interesting. I will look out for it (i like cusack alot). Thanks for posting! 🙂

  2. kelly Says:

    3 movies in one day? Wow…

  3. kelly Says:

    oh. And the pictures are very good. One of my favorites is the display of dishes. I love art in merchandising.

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