Tag Archives: Carice van Houten

Black Book (2006, Paul Verhoeven)

Black Book is a film of convenience; whether it’s a negative to further the plot or a simple positive like there being a nonsensical chute to allow easy entry into a basement, the film keeps oiling its gears. It’s not predictable—in fact, it hinges on being unpredictable (Black Book owes a lot to the heist genre)—but it is smooth. It’s so smooth, it doesn’t feel much like a Paul Verhoeven film. But maybe that lack of identity was his point. He wanted to show he was capable of being a journeyman.

Part of that journeyman approach is shooting the film in Panavision, but framing his shots for TV. Black Book would have played great as a three or four part television mini-series. While the film eventually turns into a conspiracy thriller (one or two questions go unanswered), some back story on the non-suspect characters would have been great.

Verhoeven has bookends, making Book another member of this odd new Holocaust genre. He sets up the film as an object of great importance and it isn’t. It’s a mildly boring, competent World War II thriller with some decent surprises and great performances. The surprises aren’t just narrative twists; Verhoeven makes some great observations about the winners of wars being no better than the losers.

Carice van Houten is a good lead, not great. Sebastian Koch is excellent as her lover; costars Thom Hoffman and Derek de Lint have their moments too.

It’s okay, just way too long.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Paul Verhoeven; screenplay by Gerard Soeteman and Verhoeven, based on a story by Soeteman; director of photography, Karl Walter Lindenlaub; edited by Job ter Burg and James Herbert; music by Anne Dudley; production designer, Wilbert Van Dorp; produced by Jeroen Beker, Teun Hilte, San Fu Maltha, Jens Meurer, Jos van der Linden and Frans van Gestel; released by A-Film Distribution.

Starring Carice van Houten (Rachel Stein), Sebastian Koch (Ludwig Müntze), Thom Hoffman (Hans Akkermans), Halina Reijn (Ronnie), Waldemar Kobus (Günther Franken) and Derek de Lint (Gerben Kuipers).


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Valkyrie (2008, Bryan Singer)

For Valkyrie to work, Bryan Singer needs to get–give or take–five minutes when the viewer isn’t entirely sure Adolf Hitler wasn’t assassinated. The entire premise of watching a film, a historically-based film, where the conclusion is well-known and suspending disbelief… he needs five minutes. Maybe the trick is casting Tom Cruise as a German. By the time the story gets around to needing the viewer to question whether or not Hitler is dead, he or she has already accepted Cruise. The biggest hurdle is over (who knows what Welles could have gotten away with in Touch of Evil, after everyone is buying Charlton Heston as a Mexican).

Valkyrie arrives following months of internet-fueled derision–from Singer as director to Cruise as German–and it does away with both concerns in the first scene. The language transition from German to English isn’t the best ever, but it’s fine. It acknowledges the situation of having an English language film about a bunch of German speakers. Cruise is solid from the open. As for Singer–he keeps out of the way. Singer’s direction is unobtrusive and perfectly measured–when he needs to emphasize an actor, he emphasizes the actor, same thing when he needs to emphasize a story development. At its core, both story-wise and star-wise, Valkyrie is one of those 1970s pictures with a lot of recognizable, good actors and a lead who maybe has seen better days. Charting Cruise’s career, it’s either a good sign or a bad sign in terms of his bankability, but it shows he’s still capable of doing a fine movie star turn.

The script–from Singer’s Usual Suspects writer McQuarrie and some other guy–does have a lot of twists and turns. It’s kind of like watching a chess game and knowing who’s going to win in advance. At some point, knowing the winner isn’t as interesting as seeing how the game is played. Valkyrie‘s not one of the best World War II films, but it gets a lot of mileage out of emulating them–I half expected an end credits actor showcase like The Great Escape. The only thing I couldn’t figure out about the script was the presence of Carice von Houten as Cruise’s wife. Sure, it’s historically accurate, but Cruise is the protagonist because of his role in the conspiracy, not because he’s necessarily the most interesting character.

It doesn’t hurt the film’s technically superior. Singer’s usual crew, cinematographer Newton Thomas Sigel, editor and composer John Ottman, these guys usually turn in good work.

Similarly, the all-star cast is excellent, particularly Bill Nighy, Tom Wilkinson and Terence Stamp. Kenneth Branagh and Eddie Izzard are fine in glorified cameos. Jamie Parker’s good as Cruise’s sidekick. All of the aforementioned anti-Hitler conspirators are played by Brits. The hero’s American. Given a point of Valkyrie is to identify some Germans as different from Hitler following stooges–the reality of a postwar Germany, excellently discussed in Tony Judt’s Postwar for example, reveals a far more depressing truth than a Hollywood movie would ever want to present–it’s kind of strange Singer casts a very German guy as a very big Nazi. You’d think he’d at least go for one major good guy. There’s one good guy played by a German, but he doesn’t come into the movie until real late.

Valkyrie‘s a solid, watchable thriller. Maybe even a little bit better than it should be. Singer has a couple excellent moments as a director, maybe the best stuff he’s done since The Usual Suspects. He actually gets sublime.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Bryan Singer; written by Christopher McQuarrie and Nathan Alexander; director of photography, Newton Thomas Sigel; edited by John Ottman; music by Ottman; production designers, Lilly Kilvert, Patrick Lumb and Tom Meyer; produced by Singer, McQuarrie and Gilbert Adler; released by United Artists.

Starring Tom Cruise (Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg), Kenneth Branagh (Major-General Henning von Tresckow), Bill Nighy (General Friedrich Olbricht), Tom Wilkinson (General Friedrich Fromm), Carice van Houten (Nina von Stauffenberg), Thomas Kretschmann (Major Otto Ernst Remer), Terence Stamp (Ludwig Beck), Eddie Izzard (General Erich Fellgiebel), Kevin McNally (Dr. Carl Goerdeler), Christian Berkel (Colonel Mertz von Quirnheim) and Jamie Parker (Lieutenant Werner von Haeften).


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Minoes (2001, Vincent Bal)

After we finished watching Minoes, my fiancée turned and asked me if it was a children’s film or if the Dutch just made weird films. While it appears to be assigned to the children’s film genre in festivals, the film won best picture and best actress at the Netherlands Film Festival. Still, I wouldn’t just say it isn’t an odd film. I think it’s my first Dutch film, actually.

While Minoes is good, I did watch it dubbed, so it’s possible I got something or lost something or neither. Again, it’s intended for young audience–lot of mild swearing, actually… those naughty Canadian dubbers–and maybe that level of storytelling depth made dubbing less offensive. Minoes is an enjoyable experience, though probably not for people who don’t like cats (it’s a cat who turns into a young woman). The film doesn’t ask any questions about the transformation, sticking to expected child-level of acceptance. Since the questions are never raised, there’s no expectation of an answer, which might only be nice at the end, but Minoes establishes early there won’t be any questions… It establishes its setting, its conflicts, then sticks with them.

The director, Bal, has a great sense of composition and the film’s rooftop sets are wonderful–both functional and imaginative, while never unrealistic. I’m not sure how the special effects were done, if there were any (the cats mouths appeared to be moving to words, but since it was dubbed, I don’t know for sure), but they were excellent as well. The talking cats fell immediately into the film’s agreement with itself and the audience so there was never an issue. None of the special effects looked CG (but well could have been) and there was no gee whiz factor to the film. All the cats just happened to talk in Minoes.

Since I did see it dubbed, I can’t really can’t say anything about the acting, though the lead, Carice van Houten, seems like she did a good job….

The film seems to agree with Mel Stuart's excellent observation: make a movie for adults and kids will be smart enough to figure it out.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Vincent Bal; screenplay by Bal, Burny Bos and Tamara Bos, based on the novel by Annie M.G. Schmidt; director of photography, Walther van den Ende; edited by Peter Alderliesten; music by Peter Vermeersch; production designer, Vincent de Pater; produced by Burny Bos; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Carice van Houten (Minoes), Theo Maassen (Tibbe), Sarah Bannier (Bibi), Hans Kesting (Harrie de Haringman), Olga Zuiderhoek (Mevrouw van Dam), Jack Wouterse (Burgermeester van Weezel) and Pierre Bokma (Meneer Ellemeet).