Movie Reviews: A Woman in Berlin, A Perfect Getaway, Paper Heart 

Also, Fragments, 12 in a Box and more

Wednesday, Aug 5 2009

GO  A WOMAN IN BERLIN One of the best of a new breed of indigenous movies prying open the Pandora’s Box of German suffering in World War II, A Woman in Berlin takes on the mass rape of German women by victorious Russian soldiers entering the country in 1945. Skillfully adapted and directed by Max Färberböck (who made the terrific 2000 drama Aimée & Jaguar) from the anonymously published diaries of a Berlin rape victim, the film is a properly twisted love story between two enemies, each clinging to a deluded and destructive patriotism. Played by the scorching Nina Hoss, last seen in Christian Petzold’s Yella and Jerichow, the unnamed woman is a cultivated and cunning sophisticate determined to seize control over who gets to ravish her; her protector (Yevgeni Sidikhin) is a Russian officer whose innate decency is muddled by his unquestioning loyalty to Stalin. Their impossible bond plays out against a fragile collusion — forever breaking out into naked hatred — between German women and Russian soldiers with nothing in common but the fact that they have all survived the war. Graphic but never exploitative, A Woman in Berlin is a bracing inquiry into the limits of morality in extreme situations, which avoids lapses into lazy relativism. Twice in the movie, Hoss’ Anonyma is asked if she’s a fascist; twice, she refuses to respond. Her answer lies in the haunting question she poses to her lover and foe: How do we go on living? (Sunset 5; Town Center 5) (Ella Taylor)

ALIENS IN THE ATTIC Despite the great promise of its title and creative team (from the director of Like Mike! and starring not one, but two SNL alums!), Aliens in the Attic is cheap, shoddy, crass and depressing fun for the whole family — by which I mean 8-year-old boys. The jokes are pitched firmly at their frame of reference: Dirty socks, mucus and kicks to the crotch abound. The Pearson family retreats from a carefully unnamed city to an equally unspecific rural American location (actually New Zealand, but who’s checking?). Dad (Kevin Nealon) worries about son Tom’s (Carter Jenkins) declining grades and bad attitude; Tom is intentionally doing badly to shed his nerdy mathlete skin. To defeat those perky Mucinex commercial–looking things in the attic, he’ll need both brawn and mathematic formulas! The most notable other lesson learned is that portable technology doesn’t drive families apart; it actually gives kids valuable key-mashing skills, useful in defending against space invaders. Also noted: not judging people by their appearance, being respectful to your parents, the value of abstinence — as learned by Ashley Tisdale, 23, and already a shrieking harpy, in a creepy subplot where Tom obsesses over keeping her virginal — and, oddly, that enhanced interrogation techniques are unacceptable. Good to teach that young. (Citywide) (Vadim Rizov)

THE COLLECTOR In this gore-heavy, logic-free thriller, the talented Josh Stewart stars as Arkin, an ex-con turned handyman who breaks into the remote Victorian home of his latest clients, only to discover that the family isn’t on vacation, as planned, but are instead locked in the basement, where a masked serial killer (Juan Fernández) is slowly torturing them to death. Having penned the last three Saw films, screenwriters Patrick Melton and Marcus Dunstan are now certified experts in traps and torture, and so it is that the killer, for reasons that don’t make much sense, has rigged the house with sharp-edged booby traps, with a heavy emphasis on knives, nails and fishhooks, all of which Arkin must sidestep while trying to locate the family’s 8-year-old daughter. Making his directorial debut, Dunstan displays a knack for building suspense. And yet, weirdly, amidst all the requisite blood spray, one senses a reluctance on the filmmaker’s part to linger lovingly over the pierced skins and protruding entrails of the killer’s various victims — a reticence that may prevent Dunstan from helming a Saw flick of his own someday but which earns him here an infinitesimal bit of respect. (Citywide) (Chuck Wilson)

click to enlarge YEVGENI SIDIKHIN - German-Soviet relations
  • Yevgeni Sidikhin
  • German-Soviet relations

EL TINTE DE LA FAMA (THE COLOR OF FAME) Intended by director and co-writer Alejandro Bellame Palacios as a commentary on Venezuela’s cultural identity — or, more precisely, the fragility and malleability of said identity — The Color of Fame is crippled by heavy-handed symbolism and reheated social commentary. It’s also just about redeemed by the uniformly fine acting of its cast. When failed-singer-turned-failed–entertainment manager Arturo (Alberto Alifa) loses his biggest chance at a payday (his talented but tormented brother) he turns his attentions to his wife, Magaly (Elaiza Gil), whom he persuades to enter a Marilyn Monroe look-alike competition. As Magaly slowly transforms into the Hollywood icon (with the help of an aged, jaded, flaming drag queen), she starts losing own identity and her life begins to eerily parallel Monroe’s. Palacios lays it on thick: An abandoned dog is bricked behind a wall and wails to be set free; a replica of Magaly’s communion dress floats through the night air; dialogue repeatedly mentions the spiritual cost of pretending to be someone you are not. Luckily, Alifa and Gil are not only eye candy but talented actors as well. Gil, as the reluctant reincarnation of Monroe, is especially captivating, and never more Monroelike than when Magaly is swallowed by despair. (Music Hall) (Ernest Hardy)

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