Movies »The White Ribbon

directed by Michael Haneke (2009)

The White Ribbon very much reminds me of a classic “man’s inhumanity towards man” novel taught in high schools and is far more interesting than all the bratty kids reading it will give it credit for. It questions whether man is inherently evil and if you’ve ever seen a Michael Haneke movie, you’ll not be surprised that his answer is yes.

I can even envision the reading comprehension questions at the back of the non existent text book:

1. Who do you think committed all the crimes? And what was their motive?

2. Is the narrator correct in his accusations?

3. What do you think happened to the midwife and her son? What about the Doctor and his family?

All questions I’ve been pondering and frankly wish I had a classroom of people who’ve seen it to discuss.

Several disturbing acts of violence erupt in a small German village before the break out of World War I. From torture to arson, the crimes are as heinous as they are confounding and Haneke, once again proving he’s one the most compelling and daring film makers working today, isn’t as forthcoming as he seems. These troubling times are told through the eyes of a kind school teacher as he falls in love with a local governess, lending a small glimmer of benevolence among the cruelty.

The film is absolutely beautiful, not only is the cinematography stunning and sweeping, but the details of costume and set are superb. This is a cold, severe, yet elegant take on the themes we love so well in Nick Cave’s “The Curse of Millhaven”, Village of the Damned and Lord of the Flies. The children are impeccably cast.

It is available on netflix instant and I hope that will allow it to find a wider audience despite it’s deliberate pace.

Click here for the rest of The White Ribbon

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Posted on May 8, 2011

TV Shows »Downton Abbey

Masterpiece Classic

It’s been a while since PBS had a hit on their hands. Not because of the programs, but the programming. Will they air a new series without any advertisements? Sure! How about playing programs out of order or incomplete? Absolutely! And if you missed a new show (like I did the recent Sherlock Holmes) will they refuse to re-air them, but opt for decades old reruns of Keeping Up Appearances instead? Of course!

Sorry, just had to air my grievences.

While I am sure nothing scares Masterpiece Theater (now called Masterpiece Classics) more than being called old fashioned -they would do better with younger audiences by making their shows easy to find and watch instead of dangling Alan Cumming at us.

Shocked I was, then to find Downton Abbey (which I had failed to DVR the first two) was available on Netflix instant. Bravo Masterpiece! It was a brilliant move for an absolutely brilliant show.

While the Upstairs Downstairs genre is well worn, any fan of Gosford Park ( and I can’t imagine anyone who’s seen it not being a fan) will be utterly enchanted with Downton. It’s no surprise that the charming Julian Fellowes, who wrote Gosford, is behind this one. Sets and costumes are great but there’s much more to this one than that. The characters are interesting, the plot sometimes scandalous and the cast is perfection: From a prim, wealthy Maggie Smith to a spiteful, devilish lady’s maid played by Siobhan Finneran.

Set just before the war when families were still constrained by the rigid rules of society, Downton tells the story of the Crawley family, who when losing an heir on the Titanic, are threatened to lose their whole way of living unless Mary, the eldest daughter finds a suitable husband.

If it sounds boring and familiar, fear not. This is vibrant, funny, smart and truly one of the best of the genre. I was so unhappy to reach the end of the series and thrilled to find that its popularity has prompted shooting for a second series.


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Posted on March 4, 2011

Books »The Fig Eater

by Jody Shields (2000)

The Fig Eater, set in Vienna in early 1900’s, is less about the hideous crime at its center and more about creating a moody atmosphere, revealing the subtle relationships between friends and husband and wife while delving into the detective practices as well as the Gypsy superstitions of the time.

The historic detective novel is a genre made most famous by the Alienist and in the Fig Eater it works well as a framework for quite a brooding portrait of a time and place. The crime it follows is the murder of Dora, a victim based on a famous patient of Dr. Freud, who had unusual relationships with the older men in her life.

Both the unnamed Investigator and his Hungarian wife, Erzibet finds themselves desperate to unlock the mysteries of the girl’s death. He through the latest in criminalist technology and a devotion to the Enzyclopddie der Kriminalistik, the first psychological approach to crime while Erzibet follows and discovers clues through Gypsy rituals and intuitions.

In the right hands, this could be a beautiful and haunting film that in some ways could be even more effective than the book which, while nicely written and interesting, feels a tad distant.

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Posted on April 4, 2010