IT CAME FROM NETFLIX! Black Book

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This review marks the one year anniversary of ICFN's podcast component, and to celebrate this, uh, monumental occasion, this review is being written and voiced by me, Danielle, aka that wife Josh always talks about. You'll probably notice some stylistic differences between the two of us, too, so try not to get your panties in a twist when I'm not as polite as he is. Fair warning.

Anyway, I had originally wanted to do something old and loved that I haven't seen before, so I could shit all over everyone's nostalgia because, let's face it, most cult classics are pretty terrible. However, we'd already watched Black Book before Josh thought to tell me this was the one year episode so here I am, reviewing yet another fucking World War II movie. Yay.

Courtesy Fu Works

Now, I love World War II. I own a collection of books on the subject. Schindler's List is the best movie that ever has been -- and probably ever will be -- made. Reich 5 is one of my favourite of the Infinite Worlds. So when even I am so fucking sick of this shit that we put off watching this movie for like a month and a half, you know it's bad. Josh only picked this one up because MovieBob recommended it in some review or other, which made me even more skeptical, as he and I seem to either really agree or really disagree on most movies. But we'd put it off long enough and we needed to watch it for Netflix to send us anything else, so we finally bit the bullet and now, here we are.

The movie opens in '50s Israel, where we meet two women - Ronnie Nolastnamegiven, a tourist, and Rachel Stein, a schoolteacher. They happened to be friends from Holland who haven't seen each other since the war. After doing some catching up, Rachel, played by the very lovely Carice van Houten, goes off to contemplate how they met and how she ended up in Israel, and the movie starts for real this time. It's nearly the end of the war, but that hardly makes things better for Rachel, who's hiding place was just blown up and is now trying to flee the country. Needless to say, shit goes pear-shaped and after everyone she ever knew or loved is murdered by Nazis she joins the Resistance. If you're starting to think she'd make a good JRPG protagonist, you're not alone.

Courtesy Fu Works

From there on out, it's pretty much your standard World War II spy movie. Stein is a woman, so obviously she can't fight, and instead seduces a Nazi officer, but of course she falls in love with him, and someone is selling their group out but they don't know who, blah blah blah... There are more twists than you can count on one hand and only one is at all surprising, but even that takes forever to get to and forever to resolve. Having the movie go on for so long after the war ended was a mistake. At one point of hilarious self-awareness, van Houten sobs "Will it never stop?!" I was wondering that myself.

Given the pretty unoriginal premise, the film relies almost completely on the actors' performances, which are admittedly great pretty much across the board. One scene with Theo, played by Johnny de Mol, was absolutely ridiculous and just made me laugh, but I don't know if that was the actor or the retarded dialogue he was being made to spew forth. All of the characters except Stein, Müntze and Akkermans are pretty much impossible to feel any sort of empathy for because they're vehicles for World War II drama archetypes, not actual people, and even those main three aren't too interesting.

Courtesy Fu Works

So, should you put Black Book on your Netflix queue? If you're looking for a solid period drama, Schindler's List is better. If you just want to see Nazis getting killed, you'll be sorely disappointed, and should just queue up Inglorious Basterds and its loose interpretation of historical accuracy. If you want to see Carice van Houten whip her tits out with alarming frequency, you could do a lot worse than Black Book. But really, just do a Google search for screenshots. There are plenty, trust me. ... Ahem.

Josh Loomis can't always make it to the local megaplex, and thus must turn to alternative forms of cinematic entertainment. There might not be overpriced soda pop & over-buttered popcorn, and it's unclear if this week's film came in the mail or was delivered via the dark & mysterious tubes of the Internet. Only one thing is certain... IT CAME FROM NETFLIX.

And just how DO you know about the screenshots, exactly?

Onyx Oblivion:
And just how DO you know about the screenshots, exactly?

Well there are screenshots on the review, probably from google, and they also probably had safesearch off at some point. Simples!

OT: Okay..so it's an above average drama in World War Two with tits? Okay then. I'll put that in the maybe pile while I get Scott Pilgrim and Kick-ass for DVD/Blu-Ray.

Calumon: Why is that lady wearing Jack's curtains?

BlueInkAlchemist:
Snip

Your wife got quite the sailor mouth on her ;)

This is Danielle, by the by. I was sleeping when this was put up so Josh did it for me. Thanks Josh.

Onyx Oblivion:
And just how DO you know about the screenshots, exactly?

I did a Google search for "Carice van Houten boobs". I mean, isn't that what everyone else would do?

... No? No?

Jack and Calumon:

Onyx Oblivion:
And just how DO you know about the screenshots, exactly?

Well there are screenshots on the review, probably from google, and they also probably had safesearch off at some point. Simples!

Uh, sure, we'll go with that explanation instead.

Very good review, though if I may place a small criticism, you did tend to speak a tad too quickly and without evenly spaced pauses making it seem like you're just reading off a list. Small complaint, but hey, I'm a nitpicker.

Whatever, still a good review. Personally, I'm going through all the classic's I've missed out on before. I'm still sorta, kinda, thinking about doing a review series like this only with the well regarded classics, like Citizen Kane and the like, giving some new perspective on the oldies from the new generation. Could be interesting to see where that goes.

My wife did an excellent job reviewing Black Book yesterday. I can't say I disagree with anything she said. The film (called Zwartboek in its native Dutch) didn't work quite as well as it could have on a variety of levels. Danielle touched on a couple and I'd like to expand on them, mostly because I think a movie that comes close to working and doesn't is far more interesting than one that either works on all sides or fails completely.

So, why doesn't Black Book work?

As a World War 2 Movie

Neither Schindler's List or Saving Private Ryan have anything to worry about here. While Black Book is aiming more for espionage than full-on warfare, the atmosphere of hope in the face of despair is better captured in Schindler's List. There's also some elements of Black Book that try to tackle how human nature, true human nature, is revealed in armed conflict. Saving Private Ryan does that better. This isn't to say that Black Book is bad or inept in handling these things, they're just not handled as well as they are in the other two films.

As an Ass-Kickin' Jew Revenge Flick

Quite a few movies have come out recently featuring Jewish protagonists putting their kosher boots up the asses of those despicable Nazis. Munich, Defiance, Inglorious Basterds even You Don't Mess With The Zohan, though that dealt less with Nazis and more with rednecks and terrorists. Anyway, I haven't seen Munich and Defiance is similar to Black Book in that it's a moody piece centered around a little-known aspect of the war. We all know about Normandy, the Battle of the Bulge, Stalingrad and Hiroshima - the struggle for Belarus isn't as famous. Neither is the liberation of Holland, for that matter. However, the best one of these so far remains Inglorious Basterds. As both a realization of the ultimate retribution of God's chosen against the Third Reich and a sprawling espionage epic, Tarantino handles his story and actors adroitly while Verhoeven keeps his focus squarely on Carice van Houten getting her clothes off as often as possible. Which leads me into my last topic.

As a Verhoeven Film

On the whole, I like Paul Verhoeven's work. More often than not, the success of his films are directly proportional to the amount of tongue he has in the subject matter's cheek. Starship Troopers, for example, takes the piss out of militarism and the sort of ultra-nationalist sentiment towards loyalty that'd make either the Nazis or the Tea Party blush. Total Recall plays with the notion of identity and memory, keeping that element from Philip K. Dick's work if nothing else. RoboCop easily pokes holes in privatization, our obsession with the media and the nature of corporate greed while delivering some pretty powerful storytelling. But Black Book plays everything straight. While I respect Verhoeven for not making light of the plight or challenges of the resistance in Holland in the twilight of the war, it's also missing some of the elements that make quite a few of Verhoeven's films such a delight to watch. Black Book is what happens when Verhoeven is, in essence, too serious. He has gone entirely the other way before, though, if Showgirls is anything to go by.

In the end, I did enjoy Black Book but everything it does has been done before and better elsewhere. It's not bad, at all, but it's definitely not the best.

 

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