Friday, April 18, 2008


This week’s movie:


World War Two was not my fault! Honest!

They tell me my ancestors came from Germany - maybe three generations before me. That’s way before WW2, isn’t it? That’s even before WW1 (which, by the way, was also not my fault). But I still have the German name and when I give it, in certain circles, some people still say, “That’s German, isn’t it? The Nazis started WW2 you know.” To which I have to remind them - my name may be German but I am not. Besides, I wasn’t in Germany during the war, and I was pretty young - too young to fight. To which they’d ask, “Really? How old were you?”, and I’d say, “Approximately ……….oh - about minus ten.”

The Holocaust notwithstanding, Germans sometimes get a bad rap for the war. I know plenty of Germans and some of them - a few of them - one or two ……, three …….. half a dozen at least - are pretty decent people. Now, I’ll admit that these are not war-era Germans - these are ‘far removed from the war’-era Germans. Still …….. I imagine that, even during WW2, there were good Nazis as well as bad, evil Nazis. I know people who will hate me for saying this stuff, but it’s true. In fact, it’s true for virtually every ethnic group you can imagine.

Having said all that, it’s still pretty hard not to villainize Nazis in WW2 related movies. It’s pretty cut and dry in films like Raiders of the Lost Ark, Schindler’s List, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, The Blues Brothers, just to name a few. Now, movies where you don’t have a clear cut bad guy tend to make you think. Quite often this is good. But films where you do have a definite villain to oppose tend to be more pure entertainment - such as the movies mentioned above - and such as this week’s movie BLACK BOOK.

BLACK BOOK is not a great film, in the same sense that a Stephen King novel is not great literature. Oh course that doesn’t stop it from spending 5 months on the best-seller list and it doesn’t stop it from being one hell of a thrill ride.

The story is not very original. I’m sure everybody’s had this happen to them. Rachel is a young Dutch woman who has the misfortune of living in Nazi occupied Netherlands during WW2 and who also has the misfortune of living in Nazi occupied Netherlands while, at the same time, being a Jew. She and her family are sheltered by a non-Jewish couple (no, her name is NOT Anne Frank!). When an opportunity comes along to escape, they take it - transport is arranged by boat - but they are double-crossed (cue the strings - Da Da Daaaaaaaaah!) which, I’ll just say this, is also not my fault. Rachel joins up with the underground and goes undercover to find out who is responsible. By chance, she encounters a German commander and becomes his mistress (cue the strings again - Da Da Daaaaaaaaaah!). It is a position that allows her great freedom of movement and access to information - and who’s going to question her? It sounds straightforward but it’s not. There are countless twists and turns before the end. What’s really happening? Who was really behind the double-cross? Who will get out alive? Can love conquer all? Where’s Waldo?

Rachel is played by the incomparable Carice van Houten. You’ve probably never hear of her but I suspect that will change now. She has had a number of smaller roles up to now, but here she has a chance to show off all her talents. I say this in the ‘male’ sense. She is very very talented. Müntze, the German officer, is played by Sebastian Koch who was terrific in The Lives of Others, one of my favorite films from last year. Will Rachel find what she’s looking for? Will she take out her revenge on Müntze or will he turn out to be a rather decent egg?

This film has a wide appeal because it’s possible to enjoy it on more than one level. If you are a normal movie-watcher, you will enjoy the suspense and the drama and the political intrigue and the mystery. You will appreciate the quick witted dialog, and the cat and mouse word play.. You will also enjoy the sudden and unexpected plot twists (Uh-oh! What’s she going to do now?????). If you enjoy movies more on a simpler level, well there is shootin’ and a fightin’ and a lovin’ and the nakedness - yes, the nakedness. But, if instead, you have higher standards in films, and demand things like character development, subtlety, and realism - I guess BLACK BOOK will just have to become a guilty pleasure. If you don’t enjoy this film, that’s not my fault either - I just make recommendations.

I know it sounds like I’m being defensive, but I get blamed for a lot of things that I didn’t have anything to do with. So …..let me get this straight once and for all time. Here are the things that are not my fault. To be fair, I will also list things that were my fault - just so that I’m not being too one-sided.

  1. Not my fault: The Great Flood. No, I really have no way of making it rain and flood the Earth, and I wouldn’t if I could, no matter what some people may think. My fault: Flooding in my basement. I should have gotten it fixed a long time ago, but didn’t.
  2. Not my fault: Extinction of the dinosaurs. As much as I would like to take credit for the event that paved the way for us mammals (at least those of us that are mammals), it had nothing at all to do with me. My fault: Extinction of ants and cutworms on my front lawn. That chemical stuff I put on my lawn kills everything. My apologies if you are an ant or cutworm aficionado.
  3. Not my fault: Destruction of the Great Library at Alexandria. I’ve never even been there. I’m betting it was someone who took out a book, and tried to read it and said, “It’s all Greek to me!” My fault: That funny smell in the refrigerator. I was supposed to toss that egg salad way in the back – but it was way in the back and I completely forgot about it.
  4. Not my fault: The presidency of George W Bush. I didn’t want to make a political statement or anything – but I often get blamed for this for some reason. But, get this, I didn’t even vote for him – so back off. My fault: Proliferation of dandelion weeds in my entire neighborhood. I’m the only one who doesn’t de-weed his lawn, and my weeds propagate all the way to the end of the street. The way I figure it, weeds are green – so little on my lawn is – and they’re hardy, and require no watering, or care. Sounds to me like Darwin’s choice.
  5. Not my fault: The Rise of the Machines. In the Terminator films (and the Matrix films for that matter), machines take over the world. Fans who are really into this are looking for a scapegoat. “Frank, don’t you make robots?” My fault: That thing that’s hanging from the ceiling in my upstairs hall. It was starting to come off so I thought if I pull it down, I could fix it and put it back up securely. But it would only come down halfway – I can’t pull it off nor can I get it back up. So now, it just sits there, half hanging down.
  6. Not my fault: Global Warming. This is a huge issue. It involves vast amounts of greenhouse gases, most industrialized nations, power plants, industrial smoke stacks, and two or three SUV’s. I don’t think I can take the rap for all that. My fault: Global Warming. I drive a car, I waste electricity, I consume more than I should, and I don’t make enough of a fuss to stop myself and everybody else from doing the same.
  7. Not my fault: The Titanic. When they interviewed the survivors afterwards, many of then claim they saw me on board, drilling holes in the hull, and opening the floodgates (floodgates were later considered to be a bad idea for a ship). This is just preposterous! I mean, who brings a drill on an ocean cruise? My fault: I reproduced the movie still (above) without the expressed written permission of Sony Pictures Classics or their representatives.
  8. Not my fault: The Bomb. When I tell people I majored in Physics, they often respond, “You people invented the Bomb! We could all die at any time because you guys built the Bomb!” I usually just apologize but really, it wasn’t me. My fault: Da Bomb! Yo, yo, check it out, suckka! Like, this sh**’s da bomb!
  9. Not my fault: Those low-waist tight jeans that make your midriff bulge out and hang over the belt. Who the hell thought that would be a good look? My fault: My midriff that bulges out and hangs over my belt - even though I’m not wearing a pair of those jeans.
  10. Not my fault: AIDS. People think it was me, but I know for a fact, that a female Macaque monkey, named Clara, was behind it all. All scientists know this but, curiously, nobody’s talking. My fault: World hunger. Yep, that was me. Sorry – my bad.

In Dutch, English, German, and Hebrew with subtitles. Common Sense Media gives BLACK BOOK a PAUSE:17+ rating saying, “Intense mature WWII drama taps into base human instinct.”

So what’s the deal with the ‘black book’? Sorry, I’m giving nothing away. You’ll just have to tune in to find out. Take out BLACK BOOK from your local library or any other video or DVD source this week.


watch the trailer


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