Now in Cinemas: Reviews for May 31, 2007

Premonition and Verhoeven's Black Book

Reviews by Jason Pirodsky

A potentially intriguing premise is completely and irrevocably mishandled in director Mennan Yapo´s Premonition, a misguided thriller that often seems at odds with itself. Sandra Bullock stars as Linda Hanson, a housewife with two children living a conventional existence until a police officer arrives at her doorstep, informing her that husband Jim (Julian McMahon) has been killed in a car accident. The next day, however, she wakes up and discovers Jim alive and well; passing it off as a bad dream, she continues her daily routine. But the following morning hubby is dead again; Linda soon realizes (with unlikely precision) that she is living the days of the week out of order. Can she change the future? Does she want to?

Directed by Mennan Yapo. Starring Sandra Bullock, Julian McMahon, Shyann McClure, Courtney Taylor Burness, Nia Long, Irene Ziegler, Peter Stormare, Jude Ciccolella. Written by Bill Kelly
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The biggest problem here is the passiveness of the leading character. Linda doesn´t even try to do anything out of the ordinary until the final reel: in the past, even knowing of her husband´s impending demise, she takes the kids to school and does laundry (a hilariously melodramatic scene focuses on rushing to get the sheets inside before it rains) and in the future she makes funeral arrangements. Husband is already dead, yes, but wouldn´t you at least check the lottery numbers knowing you´ll wake up in the past? Director Yapo is mostly to blame, as he mostly ignores the time-travel premise and focuses on bland melodrama: Linda discovers her husband was thinking (just thinking) of having an affair, and thus deems it might be OK to let him die. Ending is one of those unbelievably bad ones that a writer might find ironic or interesting but works in no other way with the rest of the film. Unintentional comedy is played to the hilt during a scene in which bumbling caretakers fumble a casket, jolting it open and spilling a severed head which rolls around on the pavement. Such a scene would likely never work in a drama, but the straighter it´s played here, complete with overbearing music and a hysterical Bullock, the funnier it gets. Scenes like this, and the general premise, make the film perversely watchable but by no means good.


Black Book (Zwartboek)
Directed by Paul Verhoeven. Starring Carice van Houten, Sebastian Koch, Thom Hoffman, Halina Reijn, Waldemar Kobus, Derek de Lint, Christian Berkel, Dolf de Vries, Peter Blok. Written by Verhoeven and Gerard Soeteman.
IMDb link

Paul Verhoeven is back in grand fashion with Black Book, a wonderful film that combines the Dutch roots of his gritty early work with a refined Hollywood style. Carice van Houten (in a star-making, tour-de-force performance) stars as Rachel Stein, a young Jewish girl hiding out in a rural farmhouse during German occupation of The Netherlands in WWII. After her cover is blown, she attempts to flee the country; a Nazi ambush leaves her the sole survivor, and soon she finds herself working alongside Dutch resistance fighters. But this is only the beginning of her story, which Verhoeven paints in an array of colors, showing us a sympathetic Nazi and atrocities committed after German forces have been expelled. Entire cast is excellent, production flawless. A memorable, magnetic, exhilarating near-masterpiece that effortlessly plays with our emotions, continually surprising us at every turn. But it´s only depressing to think that we may have lost one of our great talents to the Hollywood machine for years, to Hollow Man, Starship Troopers, and (shudder) Showgirls. Also see Bertrand Tavernier´s unfortunately overlooked Safe Conduct, a similar true-story epic about French filmmakers fighting for the resistance during WWII.

Note: film is playing only in a Dutch/German version with Czech subtitles in Prague cinemas.

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Also opening: Jiří Vejdělek´s comedy ROMing (showtimes | IMDb ), starring Bolek Polívka and Marián Labuda. The Czech/Slovak/Romanian co-production doesn´t have an English-subtitled print making the rounds (yet).

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