The most accurate depiction of Nazism isn’t Schindler’s List or The Pianist, but a 1942 comedy directed by a man renowned for sophisticated palaver. Trouble in Paradise shows how decidedly unheroic people adjust to terror, always conscious that a misplaced look or wrongly interpreted gesture will send them before a firing squad. It may be the cinematic equivalent to The Winter’s Tale, whose tonal shifts from farce to tragedy — sometimes in the same scene — are a correlative to what life under Occupation must have been like.

Black Book isn’t at To Be or Not To Be‘s level, but Paul Verhoeven is almost as adept a dazzler as Ernst Lubitsch. There’s an abandon here — a willingness to court ridicule — that’s refreshing, especially the way in which Verhoeven’s manipulation of WWII movie conventions dovetails with a modern audience’s response to the dogmatic sketches of school-age history. Almost half the electorate chose George W. Bush as our president in 2004 (and 2000), and an even bigger majority will countenance torture if it keeps us safer, but we seem able to accept the moral quandaries better than the pols who court Tim Russert — at least we’re able to admit them when pressed at dinner parties or calling talk-radio shows. These quandaries are etched in every curve of Carice van Houten’s body — she’s a woman who can’t repress an impish joy in the horrible things she has to do for vengeance and country’s sake. I wish van Houten had gotten half the acclaim garnered by 2007’s other big foreign film performance, but Marion Cotillard’s Edith Piaf isn’t covered in human shit, her distastefulness following a more conventional narrative arc. Verhoeven never lets the audience off the hook; he teases reactions out of us that dare us to feel superior to his helpless characters. This is what The Origins of Totalitarianism might have looked like had Hannah Arendt been a farceur. Hiring him to direct this material was its own kind of dare; Black Book requires his vulgarity, his exploitation of the audience’s basest instincts. Hitchcock might have dared.

The most accurate depiction of Nazism isn’t Schindler’s List or The Pianist, but a 1942 comedy directed by a man renowned for sophisticated palaver. Trouble in Paradise shows how decidedly unheroic people adjust to terror, always conscious that a misplaced look or wrongly interpreted gesture will send them before a firing squad. It may be the cinematic equivalent to The Winter’s Tale, whose tonal shifts from farce to tragedy — sometimes in the same scene — are a correlative to what life under Occupation must have been like.

Black Book isn’t at To Be or Not To Be‘s level, but Paul Verhoeven is almost as adept a dazzler as Ernst Lubitsch. There’s an abandon here — a willingness to court ridicule — that’s refreshing, especially the way in which Verhoeven’s manipulation of WWII movie conventions dovetails with a modern audience’s response to the dogmatic sketches of school-age history. Almost half the electorate chose George W. Bush as our president in 2004 (and 2000), and an even bigger majority will countenance torture if it keeps us safer, but we seem able to accept the moral quandaries better than the pols who court Tim Russert — at least we’re able to admit them when pressed at dinner parties or calling talk-radio shows. These quandaries are etched in every curve of Carice van Houten’s body — she’s a woman who can’t repress an impish joy in the horrible things she has to do for vengeance and country’s sake. I wish van Houten had gotten half the acclaim garnered by 2007’s other big foreign film performance, but Marion Cotillard’s Edith Piaf isn’t covered in human shit, her distastefulness following a more conventional narrative arc. Verhoeven never lets the audience off the hook; he teases reactions out of us that dare us to feel superior to his helpless characters. This is what The Origins of Totalitarianism might have looked like had Hannah Arendt been a farceur. Hiring him to direct this material was its own kind of dare; Black Book requires his vulgarity, his exploitation of the audience’s basest instincts. Hitchcock might have dared.

The owner of Total Wine & More utters a truism about South Florida’s evolving taste:

“Wine’s a staple, like food,” he says. “People might put off building that larger kitchen, but they won’t stop buying food and beverages.”

What recession?

While shrewd, Fred Tasker’s article is content to merely allude to the resilience of wine’s patina of sophistication: ordering a glass of that merlot with the cute pink kangaroo on the label is the new what’s-your-sign-baby.

The owner of Total Wine & More utters a truism about South Florida’s evolving taste:

“Wine’s a staple, like food,” he says. “People might put off building that larger kitchen, but they won’t stop buying food and beverages.”

What recession?

While shrewd, Fred Tasker’s article is content to merely allude to the resilience of wine’s patina of sophistication: ordering a glass of that merlot with the cute pink kangaroo on the label is the new what’s-your-sign-baby.

HRC: as complex as Nixon?

Ron Rosenbaum on Nixon, Hillary Clinton, and the persistence of the Camelot myth. This story looks cobbled together out of hearsay and speculation, but this made me pause:

Having said that, I must admit something I never thought I’d say: I find Hillary Clinton more of a mystery, perhaps a more complex character in a novelistic sense, than Richard Nixon. And she’s one that, unlike Nixon, history may never completely figure out. I’d almost want to see her become president just to solve the mystery. Although a Hillary administration might actually compound it.

On the evidence of Mystic River and Gone Baby Gone, Dennis Lehane loves Sophocles. Since both adaptations of his novels include scenes in which a character describes The Evil That Men Do, I’m inclined to blame him for the hamhanded way in which Clint Eastwood and now Ben Affleck have staged them (all they need is a chorus comprised of the Wailing Women of Dorcester, rending their garments over what has befallen their city). Both are actors – do we see a pattern?

Mystic River isn’t regarded too kindly these days – lots of GBG’s favorable reviews included dismissive references to the earlier picture – but naturalism, especially the Hollywood variety, rarely gets its due. Gone Baby Gone benefits from greater geographic verisimilitude, a crisply edited trip through the familiars of police procedural drama, and a tip-top supporting cast, especially Morgan Freeman and Ed Harris (bravely sporting an appalling haircut), both clawing out of the casting doldrums. Not much talk about an excellent lead performance by Casey Affleck, unfortunately, who wrings surprising variations from his gurgly growl that unearth his character’s moral filigrees. The last third is a disaster that I blame on Lehane as much as B. Affleck, redeemed only by the alert, darting eyes of Michelle Monaghan. Apparently she and Casey Affleck are recurring characters in Lehane fiction. It wouldn’t bother me if Ben honed his chops filming another one of these, making judicious use of a black felt tip pen on the source material.

You know, it’s my loss that I haven’t thought much about “Baby Be Mine.” It’s true that the right contemporary remix — by, say, Escort — would release MJ’s pent-up aching rivers (“Won’t you stay with me until the morning sun,” yow!). I also wonder whether the song was released at the wrong time. Would it have been a better fit on Dangerous or, better, the dreary Bad? Teddy Riley would have smoked this.

Roy Scheider, R.I.P.

I saw Naked Lunch before Jaws and The French Connection, so my first acquaintance with Roy Scheider found him wearing a fuck-awful tan suit and crunching on dialogue like Kellogs cornflakes. A terrific Dr. Benway, in other words. When I finally saw All That Jazz a few months ago, I was shocked by how compelling and, well, sexy Scheider was in this otherwise drippy example of mythologizing; wearing skintight black jeans and shirt, cropped hair, and a beatnik goatee, he was a grinning satyr in search of a film with his buoyance. I said elsewhere today that Scheider had an odd, perfect talent for committing to a project yet looking preoccupied, like his mind was home in his study, reading What Maisie Knew. His work in “SeaQuest” certainly confirmed this.

After months of playing “The Opposite of Hallelujah” at least twice a week, I’m officially sorry I underrated Jens Lekman’s Night Falls Over Kortedala. Cavils about his flat, doleful voice aside, I admire how the arrangements (those strings!) consistently undercut the bathos; in a few cases, they inflate the bathos, waiting for a well-timed lyric here or backup singer there, in a thrilling reminder that, at this stage in his career, Lekman understands self-parody better than Morrissey did.

“It’s seriously not funny when reedy-voiced dorks sing about beating you up. It’s just not. And when those jokes take the form of a laundry-list of wrestling moves, some of which I’m pretty sure don’t exist, it’s somehow even more galling” — yes, yes, YES. Breihan, testifying to what makes Hot Chip so goddamn annoying. Then again, The Warning confused me when I first heard it too — this nebbish-soul is what so many friends were raving about? — before it insinuated itself without much fuss, the sort of record whose twitchy, billowy songs torment you in the bath or while buying swordfish at the local market. Made in the Dark is even twitchier and more billowy, the nebbish-soul loud and proud. The highlight for me is “One Pure Thought,” whose intro guitar upstrokes and chirpy synth interlude (with the sung “I won’t be on my way” bit) are begging to be mauled by an enterprising DJ.

I haven’t paid much attention to the Herculues & Love Affair, but I’ve carried “Blind” around on my iPod for a few weeks. Yes, it’s the only sonic setting in which I want to hear the formerly loathesome Antony, but the track still sounds fusty, tentative; this one also needs an enterprising remix (like Frankie Knuckles, wouldn’t ya know — love how the foregrounded bass echoes Me’shell Ngedeocello’s work on John Mellencamp’s “Wild Nights” cover)

A man who need never dine alone

Hugh Hewitt is a strange man. His blog advertises “exclusive sailing with Hugh Hewitt” with a picture of smilin’ Hugh that’s chilling enough to freeze a gas oven. Hewitt, one of those happy souls in whose own company he’s never bored, wrote a book last in 2007 in which he delineated the ways in which a Governor Mitt “Mittens” Romney campaign would be credible to a GOP “movement conservative” base tolerant of iconoclasm as long as the candidate eventually recants.

Day after wearisome day, Hewitt has proselytized for Romney, and in the carbuncled echo chamber of movement conservatism it produced satisfying effects; insofar as Rudy Giuliani had any competition in the heady days of 2007, it came from the Stormin’ Mormon. As Huckabee and McCain started winning early races, Hewitt’s efforts got more touching. So devoted was he to his Grinning God that there was no semantic evasion — no abasement of the language — to which he wouldn’t subject himself. If you can forgive the attempt at Freudian analysis, I’d like to think that the nascent Orwell fascination in some conservatives stems from a silent plea for approval — a breath from his nostrils would enliven the Brand X obfuscation of their prose (proud liberals should test their tolerance for heterodoxy and dip into Hewitt’s blog and The Corner more often; Ned’s the only other friend who indulges himself thusly, and he probably eats Fritos with lunch too)

But on to Hewitt, and his post today on the retirement of Mittens Romney:

Governor Romney is an incredibly gifted man –intelligent in the way very few people are, charismatic, and blessed with an amiable openness and determined, strong character.

He is a good man, and his very successful run towards the presidency is a testament to his talents. His magnificent family represents an achievement in the private sphere that he shares with Ann Romney and which was reflected in his accomplishments in business, at the Olympics and in Massachusetts.

Because he is a very good man, a great conservative and an extraordinary patriot he is standing aside to allow Senator McCain’s national campaign to commence. There were excellent reasons for Romney to stay in the hunt, including the opportunity to score some impressive victories in places like Ohio, which might have served Romney well in any future campaign.

To which Nicole of ILX posted the only possible response:

Governor Romney is an incredibly gifted man –intelligent in the way very few people are, charismatic, and blessed with an amiable openness and determined, strong character, shoulder-length, sun-streaked blond hair, sparkling blue-green eyes the color of the Caribbean, cameo skin, and a perfect size-six figure.