A Review of Paul Verhoeven’s “Black Book”

*Above: Carice Van Houten in “Zwartboek” aka “Black Book.”

Triumph of the “Performance” over the “Act.”, 23 April 2007
8/10
Author:
David H. Schleicher from New Jersey, USA

Paul Verhoeven is a strange breed. He’s responsible for three of the most gleefully violent, fascist, and wildly imaginative sci-fi thrillers of a now bygone era (“Robocop,” “Total Recall,” and “Starship Troopers”). He’s also directed the only commercially successful erotic thriller of the past twenty years (“Basic Instinct”) and what is arguably one of the worst films ever made (the highly un-erotic and campy “Showgirls”). With “Black Book” he digs back into his Dutch roots and delivers a thrilling, though flawed, WWII flick anchored by an amazing lead performance from Carice Van Houten.

The first thirty minutes play like a crackerjack version of a “surviving the Holocaust” epic. Imagine what Hitchcock might have done had he ever tackled the genre and you’ll get an idea of just how splendidly Verhoeven starts the film. He begins with the plucky and beguiling Jewish singer Rachel Stein (Carice Van Houten) hiding out in the Netherlands from the Nazis, traversing tragedy after tragedy and escaping by the skin of her teeth due to her own innate will to survive until she becomes embroiled with a terrorist Dutch resistance group plotting against the German occupation. The first third of the film is full of suggestive dark humor, crisply shot action set pieces, and a luminous Van Houten who throws her whole body into her acting and could melt (or kill) a man with her smile.

The middle portion where Rachel Stein becomes Ellis de Vries and infiltrates the Nazi regime is a stark contrast to its excellent build up. All suggestion is thrown out the door for a crass, misogynistic take on the spy genre. It’s fun to watch, but leaves a bad taste in your mouth. It’s also the type of crude sadism that is likely to offend the typical audience for this type of historical drama. Van Houten once again throws her whole body into the role, and it’s often naked and glowing in this portion of the film. She’s immensely watchable as she becomes a pawn in the games of these fascist men hell bent on mutual annihilation. Once driven by her own wits, she now must be rescued time and again by the amoral men who have fallen under her spell.

All changes when the Allied Forces march into the Netherlands triumphant, returning sovereign rule to the bitter Dutch, and striking up deals with the crumbling Nazi infrastructure. The fall out from the multiple double-crossings in the middle portion of the film turn the last third into a pulsating and memorable revenge saga.

Ultimately, justice is in the eye of the beholder, and Verhoeven seems to be saying that all men are capable of evil deeds when their freedom has been taken away and their lives threatened. In his view of war there are no heroes. The only character with any virtue and good sense is a woman, and her inherent “weakness” often leads to pain, tragedy, and humiliation. It’s a troublesome and often fractured view of the world (which leads to the film’s fracturing into three distinct parts), but it’s miraculously held together by Carice Van Houten’s galvanizing performance that emotionally and physically upstages the worst of what Verhoeven can deliver thematically and visually on any given day.

Originally Published on the Internet Movie Database:

http://imdb.com/title/tt0389557/usercomments-68

Daniel Jolley Left Awestruck by THE THIEF MAKER

Daniel Jolley, an Amazon.com Top 50 Reviewer, says of the novel, “Schleicher keeps everything real and gritty, leaving you awestruck by the depth of the misfortune that these people have had to endure.  The Thief Maker… hangs around in your mind, percolating with its pathos and all of its insights into human relationships.”

An ambitious, intricately structured novel that resonates with emotion and suspense

Reviewer: Daniel Jolley “darkgenius” 

See all my reviews

D.H. Schleicher has given us quite an intricate story of mystery and intrigue with The Thief Maker. This is not a whodunit, and it does not follow the kind of straightforward narration of your typical mystery. Actions and events are not the true focus of this novel; they merely reflect and determine the natures of the personal relationships established among all of the important characters. The author has really taken a psychological approach to telling this story, showing us different pieces of the puzzle from many different angles. Adopting a multiple viewpoints approach, Schleicher provides the reader with glimpses of the world through various eyes caught up in a series of events that seem fated to end badly.

The novel is ostensibly about William Donovan, a con man stooping so low as to rob Alzheimer’s patients inside a nursing home. With the help of his girlfriend Alice, who works at the nursing home, and the purchased silence of security guard Lucas Tolliver, it is almost as easy as stealing candy from a baby. That story is only a small part of the novel, however, and I wouldn’t even call William the main character, although the demons he has fought ever since the utter breakup of his family when he was a child prove a driving force in everything that transpires. For me, though, the heart and soul of The Thief Maker is a child named Rex Gail. In one sense, Rex represents all of the main characters, individuals trying to make sense of lives that have become far too complicated and have included more than their share of trauma. Rex was born with AIDS to a mother who gave him up after birth. He spent his earliest years with psychologist foster parents communicating through sign language instead of his own voice. Then his mother Marie cleans up her act, gets custody of Rex, and takes him to live with Felice, her new lesbian partner. When Marie dies of AIDS, she leaves Rex with Felice for all the wrong reasons. William eventually enters the boy’s life and becomes something of a foster father to him (albeit a pretty unreliable one), ultimately introducing even more chaos in to the young lad’s unfortunate life.

If you were to draw a diagram of the links between all of the major characters in this book, you might end up with something looking like modern art. These are sets of seeming strangers who have profound links to one another that gradually surface – sometimes in rather shocking fashion – as events unfold. You have, for example, a young lady who discovers, as a young adult, that her sister and mother are not what they have always claimed to be. Then there’s a family that falls apart, against the backdrop of the 9/11 attacks no less, when a deadly emotional bombshell is dropped at the feet of the mother. The husband and daughter, as it turns out, are intimately connected with William’s past, playing a crucial part in his childhood separation from the rest of his family. Mucking up the waters even more is a detective who sort of plays two sets of characters against one another and becomes a major part of one of the novel’s most shocking surprises (and this is a book full of shocking surprises). With so many links emerging among so many characters, and with the author telling the story in a nonsequential manner, you really have to pay attention to what you’re reading. I sometimes had to pause and go over the cast of characters in my head in order to truly understand the consequences of certain revelations. This may sound like a wild daytime soap opera, but rest assured that Schleicher keeps everything real and gritty, leaving you awestruck by the depth of the misfortune that these people have had to endure.

Needless to say, you won’t find the words “and they lived happily ever after” on the last page of The Thief Maker, although a measure of peace does finally prevail in the end. The conclusion is a tight and fitting one, and I think Schleicher deserves some real literary kudos for pulling that off. With most mysteries, you get the big “reveal” scene at the end, and you basically forget about what you just read as soon as you put the book down. The Thief Maker, though, hangs around in your mind, percolating with its pathos and all of its insights into human relationships.

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A Review of Lasse Hallstrom’s “The Hoax”

Enjoyable “True Crime” Farce, 15 April 2007
8/10
Author:
David H. Schleicher from New Jersey, USA

“The Hoax” is a rollicking good time at the movies. It’s a strongly written, competently directed, and well acted character study of a pathological liar, Clifford Irving. This amazing true story details the complex hoax staged by Irving, a man who in the 1970’s fooled a major publisher and LIFE magazine into thinking he was writing an authorized biography of Howard Hughes. Most of the fun emerges from the extreme lengths Irving (Richard Gere) and his best friend and partner (Alfred Molina) go to pull off the hair-brained scheme. The more outrageous the lies they concoct, the more believable they become and the more money gets thrown at them.

Richard Gere has never been that good of an actor, but he’s always had an arrogant charm that makes him oddly likable, and he uses that to its full extent in what is probably his most mature performance here as Clifford Irving, a arrogantly likable and charming liar. He’s surrounded by a fantastic supporting cast in Alfred Molina (as his sympathetic and often comical side-kick), Marcia Gay Harden (donning blonde hair and a European accent as his long-suffering but eager to con wife), and Hope Davis (playing his publishing industry connection). Davis probably gets the best line in the film when she says to a coworker who unwittingly foils a “staged” face-to-face meeting with Hughes, “Pray that you drop dead.”

The film starts slowly and plays things for “winks and laughs” and light drama. It gets slightly bogged down in the final act as the hoax crumbles under its own preposterous weight and some scenes get heavy on the melodrama. There’s also some wishy-washy “conspiracy” theories floating around about the Nixon administration and Howard Hughes that maybe somewhat true, but might be another figment of Irving’s fanciful imagination as this is based on his “memoirs” of the events.

These few flaws, however, don’t sink the ship as the playful cast and sure-handed direction from Lasse Hallstrom (in what his probably his best work since “Cider House Rules”) keep the hoax firmly afloat. What the film ultimately excels in is the connections it makes with Irving’s pathological personality (that ultimately leads to severe paranoia and delusions of grandeur), the paranoia of the Nixon administration (that mirrors nicely the modern Bush administration), and the alleged over-the-top eccentricities of the infamous Howard Hughes. In his mind Irving intertwines himself with these two powerful and tragic men. The film highlights how Irving saw himself and Hughes as smooth-talking, larcenous megalomaniacs, and truly believed he was going to be a major player in world history with the take down of Nixon even though he never had direct contact with either man and based his story on gossip, hearsay, and innuendos. It’s really not much of a stretch to imagine Hughes bribing Nixon and wielding power like the wizard behind the curtain in Oz, and it makes for a well told tale. Whether we believe the story ultimately lies in how much power we allow each of these men to have. In his image, Irving thought Hughes held power over everyone, and for Irving, his tiny part in all that was the greatest story of all.

Originally Published on the Internet Movie Database

http://imdb.com/title/tt0462338/usercomments-17

Novelist Kurt Vonnegut dies at 84

The following was taken right off the AP wire.  Vonnegut was one of the greatest American writers of the last century.  I’m currently in the midst of one of his short-stories collections.  His work and his life are an inspiration to all who strive to leave their mark by telling a story.  Here’s hoping his family uncovers some “lost” and previously unpublished work so that he can continue to have new success and be a voice for the sane in this insane world.  His words will surely live-on for decades to come.

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Associated Press – NEW YORK – In books such as “Slaughterhouse-Five,” “Cat’s Cradle,” and “Hocus Pocus,” Kurt Vonnegut mixed the bitter and funny with a touch of the profound.

Vonnegut, regarded by many critics as a key influence in shaping 20th-century American literature, died Wednesday at 84. He had suffered brain injuries after a recent fall at his Manhattan home, said his wife, photographer Jill Krementz.

In a statement, Norman Mailer hailed Vonnegut as “a marvelous writer with a style that remained undeniably and imperturbably his own. … I would salute him — our own Mark Twain.

 

“He was sort of like nobody else,” said another fellow author, Gore Vidal. “Kurt was never dull.”

Vonnegut’s works — more than a dozen novels plus short stories, essays and plays — contained elements of social commentary, science fiction and autobiography.

A self-described religious skeptic and freethinking humanist, Vonnegut used protagonists such as Billy Pilgrim (“Slaughterhouse-Five”) and Eliot Rosewater (“God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater”) as transparent vehicles for his points of view.

Vonnegut lectured regularly, exhorting audiences to think for themselves and delighting in barbed commentary against the institutions he felt were dehumanizing people.

“He was a man who combined a wicked sense of humor and sort of steady moral compass, who was always sort of looking at the big picture of the things that were most important,” said Joel Bleifuss, editor of In These Times, a liberal magazine based in Chicago that featured Vonnegut articles.

Like “Catch-22,” by Vonnegut’s friend Joseph Heller, “Slaughterhouse-Five” was a World War II novel embraced by opponents of the Vietnam War, linking a so-called “good war” to the unpopular conflict of the 1960s and ’70s.

Victim of, advocate against censorship
Some of Vonnegut’s books were banned and burned for alleged obscenity. He took on censorship as an active member of the PEN writers’ aid group and the American Civil Liberties Union.

The American Humanist Association, which promotes individual freedom, rational thought and scientific skepticism, made him its honorary president.

Vonnegut said the villains in his books were never individuals, but culture, society and history, which he said were making a mess of the planet.

“I like to say that the 51st state is the state of denial,” he told The Associated Press in 2005. “It’s as though a huge comet were heading for us and nobody wants to talk about it. We’re just about to run out of petroleum and there’s nothing to replace it.”

Despite his commercial success, Vonnegut battled depression throughout his life, and in 1984, he attempted suicide with pills and alcohol, joking later about how he botched the job.

“I will say anything to be funny, often in the most horrible situations,” Vonnegut, whose watery, heavy-lidded eyes and unruly hair made him seem to be in existential pain, once told a gathering of psychiatrists.

Vonnegut was born on Nov. 11, 1922, in Indianapolis, and studied chemistry at Cornell University before joining the Army. His mother killed herself just before he left for Germany during World War II, where he was quickly taken prisoner during the Battle of the Bulge. He was being held in Dresden when Allied bombs firebombed the German city.

“The firebombing of Dresden explains absolutely nothing about why I write what I write and am what I am,” Vonnegut wrote in “Fates Worse Than Death,” his 1991 autobiography of sorts.

But he spent 23 years struggling to write about the ordeal, which he survived by huddling with other POW’s inside an underground meat locker labeled slaughterhouse-five.

An iconoclast
The novel that emerged, in which Pvt. Pilgrim is transported from Dresden by time-traveling aliens, was published at the height of the Vietnam War, and solidified his reputation as an iconoclast.

After World War II, he reported for Chicago’s City News Bureau, then did public relations for General Electric, a job he loathed. He wrote his first novel, “Player Piano,” in 1951, followed by “The Sirens of Titan,” “Canary in a Cat House” and “Mother Night,” making ends meet by selling Saabs on Cape Cod.

Critics ignored him at first, then denigrated his deliberately bizarre stories and disjointed plots as haphazardly written science fiction. But his novels became cult classics, especially “Cat’s Cradle” in 1963, in which scientists create “ice-nine,” a crystal that turns water solid and destroys the Earth.

He retired from novel writing in his later years, but continued to publish short articles. He had a best-seller in 2005 with “A Man Without a Country,” a collection of his nonfiction, including jabs at the Bush administration (“upper-crust C-students who know no history or geography”) and the uncertain future of the planet.

He called the book’s success “a nice glass of champagne at the end of a life.”

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Kurt Vonnegut works:

— “Player Piano,” 1951

— “The Sirens of Titan,” 1959

— “Canary in a Cat House,” 1961 (short works)

— “Mother Night,” 1961

— “Cat’s Cradle,” 1963

— “God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater,” 1965

— “Welcome to the Monkey House,” 1968 (short works)

— “Slaughterhouse-Five,” 1969

— “Happy Birthday, Wanda June,” 1971 (play)

— “Between Time and Timbuktu,” 1972 (TV script)

— “Breakfast of Champions,” 1973

— “Wampeters, Foma & Granfalloons,” 1974 (opinions)

— “Slapstick,” 1976

— “Jailbird,” 1979

— “Palm Sunday: An Autobiographical Collage,” 1981 (essays)

— “Deadeye Dick,” 1982

— “Galapagos,” 1985

— “Bluebeard,” 1987

— “Hocus Pocus,” 1990

— “Fates Worse than Death: An Autobiographical Collage of the 1980s,” 1991 (essays)

— “Timequake,” 1997

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Kurt Vonnegut Quotes:

I want to stay as close to the edge as I can without going over. Out on the edge you see all kinds of things you can’t see from the center.”

“If you can do a half-assed job of anything, you’re a one-eyed man in a kingdom of the blind.”

“Beware of the man who works hard to learn something, learns it, and finds himself no wiser than before… He is full of murderous resentment of people who are ignorant without having come by their ignorance the hard way.”

“There is a tragic flaw in our precious Constitution, and I don’t know what can be done to fix it. This is it: Only nut cases want to be president.”

“Here is a lesson in creative writing. First rule: Do not use semicolons. They are transvestite hermaphrodites representing absolutely nothing. All they do is show you’ve been to college.”

“Humor is an almost physiological response to fear.”

“New knowledge is the most valuable commodity on earth. The more truth we have to work with, the richer we become.”

“Here’s what I think the truth is: We are all addicts of fossil fuels in a state of denial, about to face cold turkey.”

“We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful what we pretend to be.”

“All time is all time. It does not change. It does not lend itself to warnings or explanations. It simply is. Take it moment by moment, and you will find that we are all, as I’ve said before, bugs in amber.”

“A purpose of human life, no matter who is controlling it, is to love whoever is around to be loved.”

TWIN PEAKS (Retrospective and Drinking Game)

READER NOTE – Catch all the Latest on The 2017 Showtime Return of Twin Peaks RIGHT HERE AT THE SPIN!

When I was in kindgergarten, my mother let me stay up late on Friday nights and watch Dallas with her.  When I was ten, the entire family was glued to the TV screen on Wednesday nights wondering, “Who Killed Laura Palmer?”

April 10, 2007 marked the long delayed DVD release of the second (and final) season of Twin Peaks, the ground-breaking television series that aired on ABC from 1990-1991.  For my money, it was the greatest television series ever produced.

Combining classic soap opera elements with a centralized murder mystery, deadpan humor, dark mysticism, a labyrinthine mythology, and a style all its own, Twin Peaks was the co-creation of revolutionary film auteur David Lynch (The Elephant Man, Blue Velvet, Mulholland Drive) and TV veteran Mark Frost (Hill Street Blues). Continue reading

A Review of the “Grindhouse” Double-Feature

 

 DON’T!!!!! (But I Did), 8 April 2007
7/10
Author:
David H. Schleicher from New Jersey, USA

Like the classic double-features it pays homage to, “Grindhouse” features one half far superior to the other. The two-for-the-price-of-one deal is a mixed bag of schlocky, exploitative crap that pays off early for movie buffs.

“Planet Terror”–8/10. Like his “Sin City,” Robert Rodriguez’s zombie fest is pulpy, unapologetic over-the-top fun. He perfectly captures the spirit of the grindhouse films of old. His film is funny, violent, ridiculous, and pointless in all the right places and continually delivers the money shots of oozing flesh wounds, exploding bodies, severed limbs, decapitations, and chicks with machine guns (and one, Rose McGowan, with a machine gun leg that is every bit as spectacular as you imagined). The cast is all in on the joke and spectacularly game at every point (Marley Shelton as the lesbian anesthesiologist and Jeff Fahey as J.T. “the barbecue man” standing out). Operating at a crisp clip with no-nonsense or any attempt to parade as art, “Planet Terror” offers plenty bang for your buck and could easily stand alone. It’s the perfect example of giddy “insider-fetish” film-making where the director entertains the audience by first pleasing himself.

The “fake trailers” shown before and after “Planet Terror” are laugh-out-loud hilarious and operate brilliantly as both spoofs and homages. My personal favorite was Edgar Wright’s trailer for the searing psychological thriller “DON’T!” which in a sad bit of irony, could’ve been the tag-line for what comes next.

“Death Proof”–5/10. Quentin Tarantino’s rambling tale of an ex-stuntman stalking annoying and shallow women with his “death proof” car operates like a retarded Frankstein monster of a film made up of all the worst parts of Tarantino’s past efforts. A great performance from Kurt Russell and some fun car chase scenes aside, the rest is chock full of bad acting, worse writing and self-satisfied direction. This is the type of film where arbitrary dialogue is spouted by overly hipster actors playing non-characters we can’t wait to see die. Tarantino directs it smugly as he parades women in their undies and hot pants around and shows us some cool cars getting banged up, but it has no sense of fun to it. It’s the perfect example of banal “insider-fetish” film-making that bores its audience because the director first and foremost pleases himself.

Bottom line: Where as the “Kill Bill” films should’ve been edited down to one flick, this movie, joined at that skull like deformed twins, should’ve been severed. Oddly then the film-makers would’ve been left with a horrifying scenario. No one would want to see Tarantino’s half.

Originally Published on the Internet Movie Database

http://imdb.com/title/tt0462322/usercomments-163

Play Ball!

I am sure all of my fellow die-hard baseball fans were sweating this one out….

Truly this is an Easter/Passover miracle!  MLB Extra Innings has been resurrected for another season on cable so you can continue to enjoy all of your favorite out of market games.  And who played the biggest part perhaps in bringing this about?  You guessed it…Senator John “Ketchup-Luvin’ Horse-Face” Kerry.  Never in a million years did I think I would say, John Kerry is my hero!

So bring on those late night West Coast games…so I can listen to the legendary Vince Scully call Dodgers games and watch Greg Maddux pitch what may be his last season and continue my new love affair with the Minnesota Twins…shhh…the Braves and Phillies don’t need to know a thing.

I normally don’t post things like this…but as a true baseball fan, I can’t help but rejoice!  HOT OFF THE PRESSES from Associated Press:

Baseball Keeps ‘Extra Innings’ on Cable

By RONALD BLUM (AP Baseball Writer)

From Associated Press

April 04, 2007 9:12 PM EDT

NEW YORK – After negotiations that went into extra innings, baseball struck a deal to keep its “Extra Innings” package of out-of-market games on cable television.

Under pressure from Sen. John Kerry, baseball and iN Demand reached an agreement in principle Wednesday on a seven-year contract, a deal that likely will allow the sport’s new TV network to be available in at least 40 million homes when it launches in 2009.

“The concern expressed by our fans who would have been forced to switch to alternative carriers or were unable to switch was something we tried to be responsive to,” baseball chief operating officer Bob DuPuy said.

Kerry had asked the Federal Communications Commission to investigate the original deal, and during a hearing last week in Washington he pushed baseball to resume talks with iN Demand, owned by affiliates of Time Warner, Comcast and Cox. While baseball had set a March 31 deadline, the sides kept negotiating and announced a deal Wednesday night, an agreement that still must be finalized.

“All we ever wanted was a victory for the fans, and this outcome is a big step forward,” Kerry said in a statement. “Everyone kept talking and pressing until we had a deal that protects the rights of most fans to follow their hometown team.”

IN Demand began making games available to cable systems in progress starting at 8 p.m. EDT Wednesday, president Robert Jacobson said. The package will be available for $159 this year through a free preview period that will extend into next week, he said, but the 2007 price for those subscribing after that has not been set.

“I’m exhausted but happy,” Jacobson said. “We always needed to feel like we were treated fairly relative to the other distributor. We felt like got our fair share.”

As part of the agreement, iN Demand and DirecTV each will receive about 16 percent equity in the new network, a person familiar with the deal said, speaking on condition of anonymity because that detail wasn’t announced. Under the original agreement, DirecTV was to be a 20 percent owner.

In Demand will make the “Extra Innings” package available to other cable companies, which also would be required to carry the MLB channel. Baseball is willing to resume negotiate with Echostar’s Dish Network, baseball spokesman Rich Levin said, but DirecTV president Chase Carey said he anticipated for now that his company would be an exclusive satellite carrier.

The dispute was largely over baseball’s desire to have a deal that will allow its network to be widely available on a basic cable tier. At 40 million homes, it would be one of the largest launches in cable history.

“It provides both the financial stability and the exposure to ensure a successful launch of the channel and bring the game to as many fans as possible,” DuPuy said.

Because of the new deal, DirecTV will pay less than it would have under the original agreement.

“The economics are better for us on the `Extra Innings’ side,” Carey said. “Clearly there were benefits you had in capturing subs (subscribers). We were paying a lot of money to get it. At what price? We weighed all the positives of each.”