Short Takes

Capsule reviews of The Good German, Raiders of the Lost Ark: The Adaptation, and other movies opneing this week.

Short Takes
Black Book
Paul Verhoeven can be a very bad boy and a very good filmmaker. Any of his movies could have been titled Basic Instinct -- not least his epic World War II thriller Black Book. The movie opens in 1956 with a busload of Holy Land tourists gawking at "what is called a kibbutz." There, a Dutch woman recognizes our attractive protagonist Rachel (Carice van Houten): "You're Jewish?!" The two exchange awkward pleasantries, the tour bus pulls out, and with indescribable sadness, Rachel sits alone to relive the movie we now watch. A dozen years earlier, she was hiding with a Dutch farm family -- forced to recite from the New Testament for her dinner. When a German bomber sheds its payload on the farmhouse, Rachel is on her own. Enlisting with the underground, she meets and vamps a handsome Gestapo officer (Sebastian Koch). But shit floats on the Day of Reckoning, and Rachel nearly drowns in it, stuck in a Dutch detention camp staffed by drunks. "I never thought I'd dread liberation," she says. That's the movie's melancholy moral. Repeatedly buried and resurrected, Rachel's a survivor. But as the final shot makes clear, resettlement in Israel hardly marks the end of her travail. She's another one of Verhoeven's non-Christian Christs. -- J. Hoberman
Rated R. Opens Friday at the Cedar Lee Theatre.

The Good German
Directed by Steven Soderbergh from Joseph Kanon's best-seller, The Good German is as much simulation as movie. Specifically, it's the simulation of a 1940s private-eye flick. Filmed in hyper black-and-white, this is an old-school urban thriller played out amid the still-smoldering ruins of postwar Berlin, rather than the back alleys of downtown L.A. Set against the backdrop of the Potsdam conference, the film imagines George Clooney as a foreign correspondent (for The New Republic, no less). In Berlin for the confab, he is immediately assigned the sleaziest driver in the U.S. Army (Tobey Maguire), a twerp who, it turns out, is pimping Cate Blanchett, the married woman Clooney had loved when last in town and for whom he still carries a major torch. It's good news for the plot when Clooney wanders over to the Russian zone in time to see the corpse of an American GI pulled out of the river. Trying to get to the bottom of the murder, he's punched out by Russians, Americans, Germans, and even Maguire. However flavorsome, though, The Good German is seriously deficient in the stars' star-power and narrative excitement. The movie is lovingly framed, carefully lit, and fatally insipid. -- Hoberman
Rated R. Opens Friday at Shaker Square Cinemas.

Nomad: The Warrior
Centuries before Sacha Baron Cohen elevated Kazakhstan to a destination on the Great Silk Road, the Eurasian territory was inhabited by nomadic tribes whose refusal to band together left them vulnerable to marauding invaders. In the early 1700s, the biggest and baddest of the plundering hordes were the Jungars. This sweeping historical drama follows the rough outlines of Kazakh history in presenting the tale of Ablai Khan, who unified the feuding societies just in time to beat back the Jungars. Widescreen cinematography captures the austere beauty of the semi-arid, windswept steppes, the costumes and horseback riding are impressively authentic looking, and the cast of B-picture, handsome Western actors -- Mexico's Kuno Becker and Americans Jay Hernandez and Jason Scott Lee -- convey appropriate stoicism, though not much real emotion. With a commendable sincerity but also an unfortunate Hollywood veneer, Nomad is a poor man's Gladiator. -- Jean Oppenheimer
Rated R. Opens Friday at AMC Loews Richmond.

Raiders of the Lost Ark: The Adaptation
For years Eric Zala, Chris Strompolos, and Jayson Lamb's legendary re-creation of Raiders of the Lost Ark existed only as an urban legend, the Loch Ness Monster of cinema. Stories circulated that there was indeed a shot-for-shot remake of Raiders, made by and starring 12-year-old kids who became men during seven years' worth of shooting in their hometown of Biloxi, Mississippi. But few ever saw the movie -- till 2003, at least, when it debuted in Texas over three days' worth of festivities. Since then it's crawled tentatively through the underground-film circuit, drawing fans and fetishists who couldn't believe what they saw: a no-budget redo of Steven Spielberg's homage to Saturday-morning cliffhangers, with Strompolos donning the famous fedora as the trio staged a startlingly authentic and almost heartbreakingly sincere version of their favorite film.

Does it look exactly like the original? Of course not; it was made by boys shooting in a basement, after all, on a lunch-money budget that forced them to use salvaged dead vehicles and other spare parts. But it was impressive enough that Spielberg himself sent the boys a mash note some years back, mazel-toving them for doing the seemingly impossible: making a backyard version of a blockbuster, with only their affection for Raiders as their guide. "I saw and appreciated the vast amounts of imagination and originality you put into your film," Spielberg wrote the raiders of Raiders, and he's absolutely right: For a film that sets out to imitate, it winds up merely inspiring. -- Robert Wilonsky
Not rated. Screens Friday and Saturday at the Cinematheque. Eric Zala and Chris Strompolos will attend both screenings; see Film Repertory for more information.

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