A few rare stories are so astonishing that it would be difficult, if not impossible, to believe them were they not absolutely true. This is the case with Austrian co-writer/director Stefan Ruzowitzky's The Counterfeiters which chronicles the World War II account of Operation Bernhard, the largest counterfeiting operation ever undertaken. 

Begun in 1936, it was run by the Nazi SS with Jews from concentration camps as the expert forgers. Led by the best, he was a Russian Jew, Salomon Sorowitsch, called Sally, arrested first in prewar Berlin and later plucked from Mauthausen. Squared off against cooperative Sally is Adolf Burger, endangering everyone by antagonistically refusing to collaborate. The film begins in Monte Carlo and flashes back to the late 30s as Nazis plan to ruin the Allies' economies by flooding the market with fake British pounds and American dollars. Under duress from a tyrannical commandant, the prisoners race to create accepted fakes or their lives are over. Death is always near, within earshot. Meantime Adolf sabotages the counterfeiting efforts. 

Palpable suspense holds sway as events unfold while, on another heady level, the ethics of cooperating is brilliantly challenged with compelling arguments by Sally and Adolf, for survival and for idealism. The color palette is appropriately, metaphorically dominated by grays and dark, claustrophobic scenes.  

At Telluride, director Ruzowitzky said his family's Nazi connections and sympathy prompted him to make this powerful statement, especially needed now with Neo-Nazi activity. Every factual detail was carefully researched. Unexpected, powerful tango music, on a CD given to the director, adds the right mix of sadness, energy and passion, suggesting all Sally stands for. The breathtaking performances and superb style earned The Counterfeiters the 2008 Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film. In German and some Russian with English subtitles. 

It screens at Webster University's Winifred Moore auditorium one night only, Tuesday, September 13 at 7:30. For more information, you may call 314-968-7487 or visit the Webster Film Series website

 

 

Upon its 1981 release, director Steven Spielberg's Raiders of the Lost Ark absolutely captivated three eleven-year-old boys growing up in Ocean Springs, Mississippi. Not long after, in 1982, surrendering to their obsession, Eric Zala, Chris Strompolos and Jayson Lamb began a shot-by-shot remake of Raiders with a passionate and resourceful determination they pursued for the next seven years. 

The trio recreated and adapted every scene except the last one in which the airplane explodes. That defied their resources and cooperation. Now in their 40s, these three shoulder the Sisyphean task of finally, 35 years later, completing their Raiders of the Lost Ark: The Adaptation. This mind-boggling, challenging endeavor provides the anchor for directors Jeremy Coon and Tim Skousen's documentary Raiders!:The Story of the Greatest Fan Film Ever Made

As Eric, Chris and Jayson reminisce on their daunting undertaking, we see outtakes and 1980s footage, including some nearly disastrous accidents. We also hear details regarding the serious estrangement of Eric and Chris, the various families' divorces and domestic issues, and creative differences. The mothers weigh in along with many others, among them, John Rhys-Davies (Sallah in Spielberg's Raiders), producer/director Eli Roth, and Harry Jay Knowles, Founder of Ain't It Cool News. All comment at several junctures, expressing their astonishment at this herculean endeavor as weather intervenes and the shoot gets days behind. 

This is a remarkable story, certainly most entertaining for Raiders fans. Still, it's fascinating to watch the side-by-side shots from Spielberg's film and these boys' remake. They're not kidding when they boast that this is "The Story of the Greatest Fan Film Ever Made." It plus Raiders of the Lost Ark: The Adaptation, running 100 minutes, screen at Webster University's Winifred Moore auditorium Friday, August 26 through Sunday, August 28 and Friday, September 2 through Sunday, September 4 at 7:30 p.m. For more information, you may call 314-968-7487 or visit the Webster Film Series website

 

Two pairs of men on opposite sides of the law exhibit a fixation on their goals that sets them on a collision course. Brothers Toby and Tanner Howard resolve to save the family farm for which a West Texas bank has hoodwinked their now deceased mother into negotiating a reverse mortgage. Their plan: rob banks, small ones, dead easy takings. 

Their adversaries, Texas Ranger Marcus and his Native American/Mexican deputy Alberto are equally determined to stop them, tooling around dusty, small towns that the Howard brothers' target. It's that simple and it's brilliant. Credit for this magnificent tour de force goes to Taylor Sheridan's screenplay that wastes no time or energy on trivial matters. Every exchange comes with the feel of real life captured like lightning in a bottle. And all the actors--those in central or supporting roles--sink their teeth into the nuances, bringing vitality to every interaction.

Anchoring the cast is Jeff Bridges as Marcus, a lawman who has seen and experienced the depth and breadth of human foibles. His deputy Alberto, a flawless Gil Birmingham, responds to a string of insulting jabs about Mexicans and Indians, though it's clear Marcus values him. As the hot-headed brother Tanner, who's spent ten of his 39 years in jail, Ben Foster spirals out of control. As Toby, Chris Pine articulates the more thoughtful approach to this robbery business. He's done three tours in Iraq but, as he says, "There's no bailout for people like us." Dale Dickey delivers a fine performance as Toby's ex-wife Elsie, appropriately exhausted with coping. Graffiti on walls, signs on roadsides, a stop at a casino--Hell or High Water repeatedly connects with today's inequitable world. 

Director David Mackenzie and cinematographer Giles Nuttgens shot with Albuquerque and Clovis, New Mexico standing in for Texas. This month's American Cinematographer describes their decision to establish the brothers with energetic camera work and fast-paced editing contrasted with the lawmen's more sedate scenes. Nuttgens slightly overexposed images to communicate the heat and cadaverous farms that prompted desperate actions. Nick Cave's music is evocative, and watch for the great, short scene at the T-Bone Cafe that will become every bit as iconic as the one in Five Easy Pieces. Hell or High Water hits a very high water mark for filmmaking. It's already among the best films of the year. At several cinemas; check local listings.

 

Ben serves his family as father, teacher, tutor, surrogate mother, chauffeur, sergeant, guide, and cheerleader. His family comprises six bright children, whom he home schools while his wife, their mother, is away. They live in the wild, learn many languages, learn to survive and to have each other's backs.

They also learn Ben's motto: "Stick it to the man." They learn there's not a cavalry to come in to save them when they hurt. They should stick to their principles and have evidence to back up their thoughts. Regurgitation is not prized; original thought is. Ben is making his children philosopher kings.

He is not doing this with the support of his family or his wife. He is doing this because he thinks it's right, and he thinks that right up until the time he is challenged by evidence, by his children, by his wife's family. 

Captain Fantastic stands out as a film about being honest -- about mental illness, about religion and education, about politics and sex. The film continues this line: Ben stands fully frontally nude as he professes that all men have penises, that they're not a big deal. They are to most movie-makers, but Captain Fantastic does not back down on this point or many of the others, and the movie because a story of contrasts and compromises. It's brilliant.

So is Viggo Mortensen as Ben. He's firm whether leading or grieving; he's an exemplar. He is supported by a fine cast of young people, including George MacKay and Samantha Isler. Kathryn Hahn and Steve Zahn play aunt and uncle and Frank Langella and Ann Dowd play grandparents, standard-bearers of the monied and old-fashioned. Matt Ross, known for American Psycho, wrote and directed Captain Fantastic. He served as pater familias of this family story -- unlike many others in its cunning complexity.

 

 

Based on Philip Roth's 2008 novel, Indignation revisits the repressive, early 1950s milieu at fictional Winesburg College, Ohio, through the experiences of 19-year-old Marcus Messner. A thoughtful young atheist, Marcus rejects his kosher butcher father's more conservative plans and fears in this Korean War era. He flees from Newark to the Midwest.

One of the few Jews at Winesburg, Marcus is immediately assigned to a dorm with other Jewish students, but Marcus asks for a transfer. Similarly, he rejects the Jewish fraternity courting him as he becomes enamored of and involved with the emotionally troubled Olivia, a more sexually adventurous person than Marcus. Over the next semester, issues of sexuality and ethnicity dominate this authoritarian college culture that stereotypes from the classroom to an administration that requires chapel attendance. Indignation is a story of Marcus fighting for his beliefs as he realizes his own faults and strengths through a troubled relationship. 

First-time director James Schamus, who also wrote the screenplay, makes solid explicit and implicit statements about this oppressive, enervating environment, but the dramatic arc often lacks energy as the story bogs down. With the exception of a razor-sharp debate between Marcus and the college's Dean Caudwell, scene after scene drags on well after the interpersonal conflict or especially a sexual issue has been established and peaked. This may capture an authentic 50s' world, but at almost two hours running time, it results in sluggish momentum. More heavy handed in anchoring the story in this decade, the film opens and closes with an encounter from the Korean War, but its potentially rich resonance remains suggested and unexplored, making its inclusion feel more gratuitous than expansive. 

The performances by Logan Lerman as Marcus and Sarah Gadon as Olivia, while competent, fail to electrify or excite, more a result of Roth's approach to storytelling but a weakness that Schamus hasn't circumvented. Christopher Blauvelt's cinematography does exquisitely invite nostalgic associations for the 50s, as does Jay Wadley's judicious choice of music. Indignation offers a meditative immersion more than a nimble reminder of the struggles to find and define ourselves in terms of religion, sexism and ethnic prejudice. At a Landmark Theatre's Plaza Frontenac Cinema

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