Shorties: Tarantino's Jews, Giamatti's Soul-Searching, & Two Hitlers

cold_soulsA quick look at what's in the theaters:

1) Cold Souls

In the most deliciously off-beat comedy of the year, Paul Giamatti plays an actor named Paul Giamatti who has his soul removed to feel less pain when portraying Uncle Vanya. But by the time he learns that a little angst in life is necessary to be an above-average thespian and an affable human being, his essence has been lost.It's either been shipped by mistake to a New Jersey storage center or stolen for a Russian daytime soap actress who wanted Al Pacino's soul. Writer/helmer Sophie Barthes, with directorial finesse and a fine supporting cast (e.g. Dina Korzun, Emily Watson), exposes a global society that has a price for everything.

2) District 9

We'll know if District 9 has become an instant cult classic if this Halloween, children start dressing up as prawns. But whatever the verdict, it certainly deserves to be. With an original vision, a cogent screenplay, Oscar-worthy editing by Julian Clarke, and a star-making performance by Sharlto Copley, director/co-writer Neill Blomkamp has fashioned a sci-fi nightmare that belongs side by side with Blade Runner, Gattaca, and Dark City. His is a metaphor for apartheid and any society that chooses to have a underdog minority to exploit. Employing a documentary film style, District 9 makes you believe the unbelievable.

3) Inglourious Basterds

Inspired by Italian action genre films of the '70s -- and no doubt every other movie he's ever seen -- Quentin Tarantino has a created a more moving tale about the Jews and the Nazis during World War II than, for example, last year's much more reverent Defiance, which was actually based on a true story yet came off as shtick. Utilizing every trick in his stable of cinema magic, Tarantino tells of an army brigade of Ultra-Jews, led by Brad Pitt, that are out to scare the Nazis, and they succeed with excessive violence that includes carving swastikas into foreheads and clubbing German soldiers' heads with baseball bats. This story is intercut with one of Shosanna (Melanie Laurent), a Jewish girl running a movie theater in Paris who's out to revenge the death of her family. Even though most scenes are overly long, you're never bored, and there are a few great moments. Note the image of Shosanna being screened on smoke during a fire. 4) World's Greatest Dad With a title like that and a star like Robin Williams, one's first reaction is to run for the hills. But please note the director: Bob Goldthwait. Yes, this is a loud, at times obnoxious, often perceptive black comedy about a single pop raising the universe's worst son. There is no limit to this pic's tastelessness, but there's a heart here, too. And Williams, when he's not a goody-goody (Patch Adams), can turn in quite a fine performance. (He had been up to play Harvey Milk, and he would have been great.) Try it on DVD, which will no doubt be coming out quite soon.

5) The Other Man

If you are one of those who could watch Liam Neeson read a phonebook, you'll definitely be much more than satisfied with Richard (Notes on a Scandal) Eyre's adaptation of a Bernhard Schlink short story. Lisa (Laura Linney), a top-fashion shoe designer, has apparently "left" her spouse Peter (Neeson). In the midst of his mourning the loss of his great love, an abandonment he can't fathom, Peter discovers email from another man on Lisa's computer. And explicit photos. Who is this interloper? Antonio Banderas, that's who! Let the games begin. If you like being manipulated by top-notch actors, you'll have a blast here. Otherwise you might lose your patience. I didn't.

6) My Fuhrer

The second Hitler film of the month is also a black comedy, the first from Germany to deal with its most prominent personality. This Adolf (Helge Schneider) is having major problems with his voice and stage fright. What to do? Who wants a leader with no oomph? Why not drag the renowned Jewish acting teacher, Prof. Adolf Israel Grünbaum (Ulrich Mühe), from a concentration camp and have him get the Fuhrer back in shape? Here scenes of absurdity are intercut with moments reflecting the reality of Jews trying to survive another day. It works on both levels, deriding the infamous while asking the unpardonable question, "Who comes first, your people or your family?" - Brandon Judell

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Mr. Judell teaches "The Arts in New York City" at City College. He has written on film for The Village Voice, indieWire, Detour, The Advocate, and dozens of other publications.

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