Friday, October 29, 2010

Shake Hands With the Devil, The Magician & Eichmann: It's a Regent Releasing festival-- this week in L.A., and soon in New York!

OK. I fibbed. It's not really a full-fledged film festival. But when three (count 'em!) movies from the same small distributor open on the same day at the same theater, come on -- you've got at least a mini-fest on your hands.  Regent Releasing, you may be aware, is the little company that managed a couple of years back to pick up the Japanese film Departures, which went on to cop that year's Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. Since then, the company has given us some wonderful, surprising and original films from great claymation ($9.99) to the richly comedic (The Blue Tooth Virgin), from the bizarre and wholly original (Taxidermia) to the best gay-themed film since Brokeback Mountain (Patrick Age 1.5).

This week -- starting Friday, October 29,at Laemmle's Sunset 5 complex in West Hollywood, and two weeks later, November 12, at New York City's Quad Cinemas -- will debut three new Regent releases that I would rank as perhaps second-tier for this company (one of them even third- or fourth-tier). They include the third or fourth major film to tackle the Rwandan massacres; yet another mockumentary (but at least one that is noticeably edgy); and the umpteenth Holocaust movie, offering an interesting bit of history handled poorly. Still, second-tier Regent is better than first-tier at certain other stops, and so (as Linda Loman noted, regarding Willy), "Attention must be paid."

SHAKE HANDS WITH THE DEVIL has been the title of several motion pictures at this point in time: a 1959 black-and-white James Cagney film about the Irish troubles; a 2004 documentary on Roméo Dallaire, commander of the United Nations peacekeeping mission to Rwanda during that country's 1994 genocide; and now the narrative version of that Dallaire/UN mission -- starring Canadian actor Roy Dupris, (shown at center, below) who bears a truly striking resemblance to Mr. Dallaire and has a very believable way with roles that require the taciturn and macho. Unlike the better-known Hotel Rwanda that used a single, though important, incident with a happier ending to reach its feel-good finale, or the under-seen Beyond the Gates, which tackled (among other things) the rarely-seen subject of cowardice under pressure, this new film sits us down in the middle of the Rwanda powder keg and lets us watch the country explode.  Bloodily.

Made in 2007 and only now seeing a US release, the film was directed, and very well, by Roger Spottiswoode, who, from the first, brings a grueling sense of impending doom that hangs over the movie like a horrible shroud.  We know of course what is going to happen, but Spottiswoode and his cast and crew make it seem new again -- and twice as awful. Considering the nature of the massacres, the movie is bloody and horrible but not nearly as bad as it might have been. Yet what we see is awful enough. And the disgusting sense of the rest of the western world -- and worst, the U.N. itself -- dragging its heels on doing anything about this (pretending it was not genocide until pretense was no longer an option, rescuing its own while leaving all others to certain death) is simply appalling. You will sit through this film steaming in anger -- which fits precisely with the "never again" point that the movie-makers and Dallaire intend to make.

THE MAGICIAN is a  faux documentary about a filmmaker filming a documentary about a hit man.  If this strikes you as ridiculous, it must have struck the filmmakers that way, too, for they go out of their way to tamp down the unbelievability quotient as much as possible. While the movie is, of course, a kind of satire about the current population's need to be seen on film or TV so as to prove its worth, maybe even its own existence, the movie slowly evolves into something other. Exactly what, I'm not certain, but the more we see of hit man Ray, played by Scott Ryan (above and below), the more enraptured and creeped out we grow.

As well as starring in The Magician, Mr. Ryan also wrote and directed the film, and co-produced and co-edited it.  I suspect a lot of on-the-job learning went into the experience, and the opening scenes, with their hand-held-camera intensity and homemade-ness threaten to turn us off, early on. Yet we stay with this film because it's so alternately weird and stupid, initially, and then weird and scary, and then weird and funny and finally just really weird. Ryan, as seen here at least, is compulsively watchable; the rest of the cast can do no more than react to him. By the time naughty Ray explains to us (after shooting a friend in the back of the head) how his pal never suffered because he didn't know it was coming, and we find ourselves agreeing with him, we realize the kind of magician filmmaker Mr. Ryan really is. He made this movie in 2005 but only now is it having a limited release in the U.S. Yet, according to the IMDB, Ryan has done nothing movie-wise since then. How can this be? The guy's a natural -- at least as a hit man. Hmmmm... Maybe this documentary isn't so faux, after all.

The clinker in this threesome is the film that might seem, at first glance, to have the most going for it: EICHMANN, about, yes, WWII Nazi honcho Adolf Eichmann and his prison time in Israel, prior to his execution for war crimes and crimes against humanity -- especially the Jews. Rather than overly excite us by offering any suspense leading up to his capture, the film generally dispenses with everything except exposition regarding the Israeli police officer (played by Troy Garity) assigned to question the war criminal and get the "truth" out of him.

Directed by the very spotty filmmaker, Robert Young (from a screenplay by Snoo Wilson), the movie's pacing is -- to put in kindly -- languid, and so the music rushes in to amp things up.  Flashbacks are many and typical, and there's even an ultra-sleazy sex scene with a nasty anti-semetic Hungarian countess (Eichmann calls her a baroness) who shames our non-hero into baby-killing. The screenplay and dialog are so-so at best, and the cast, to a man and woman, have been better anywhere and everywhere else. The very good German actor Thomas Kretschmann (on poster, above left and below -- with a slightly more famous Adolf) plays the title character as well as possible, given the limitations forced upon him. I have never seen Mr. Garity (above, right) give a bad performance -- until now. He is either miscast (his accent is terrible) or has been told to underplay to catatonic proportions. Franka Potente is saddled with the role of nudge wife, who is deathly ill, to boot, and Stephen Fry, while fine (when isn't he?), is utterly wasted in the "nothing" role of Garity's superior.

Everything here supposedly hinges on the policeman's managing to get Eichmann to reveal the truth and/or confess in a very limited amount of time. The suspense is non-existent and when the "gotcha" moment arrives, it's a big shrug. I suppose the movie-makers wanted to concentrate on the state of Israel in the early 60s (not that long after its founding) and how important it was to bring the escaped Nazis to justice. But the film never comes to life; its concerns seem so many and varied that all tension dissipates. I think this may be one of the worst -- and certainly among the least necessary -- Holocaust movies in memory. Sure, we must keep that memory alive, but -- please -- can't we do it with more talent, caring and class?

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