Son of Saul is the Pick of the Week

This week brings us two movies about the Holocaust, three films from Criterion, Natalie Portman with a gun, a Christmas horror story, and more.
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The Holocaust has been milked and bilked of every possible dramatic meaning for decades on screens both big and small.  One would think you couldn’t possible find another way to tell its story.  Apparently one would be wrong.  Son of Saul tells the story of a Hungarian member of the Sonderkommando - Jewish concentration camp prisoners forced to help with disposing of their comrades' corpses or be killed themselves.  I’d heard of these people before, and imagined how horrible that experience must have been, but this is the first time I’ve heard of it being presented dramatically.  A fresh story from the Holocaust is worth checking out, I think.

It's gotten rave reviews as well.  Critics aren’t always fair with Holocaust stories either as it's difficult to crap upon events so horrifying, so deeply felt in our cultural psyche even if they aren’t told all that well.  But Son of Saul has a 96% fresh rating on the Tomatometer and that includes a lot of Internet critics, who love to crap all over everything.

I don’t know when I’ll be ready to watch a film that’s been described as “grimly intense” but it's definitely going on my list of things to watch sometime, and certainly gets my Pick of the Week.

Also out this week that looks interesting:

What?:  I’ve never heard of this 1972 film by Roman Polanski.  It's apparently an “absurd, decadent, oversexed” version of Alice in Wonderland with Marcello Mastroianni as the Mad Hatter which is more than enough for me to check it out.

Brief Encounter (Criterion Collection):  David Lean’s intimate account of a passing affair between two married people.  This has already been released by Criterion on DVD in 2000 and again on Blu-ray as part of their David Lean Directs Noel Coward set (which we reviewed here,) but this is the first time the upgrade has come out on its own.  It's well worth grabbing if you don’t have the cash for the bigger set.  My full review will come shortly.

Phoenix (Criterion Collection):  Another well-regarded Holocaust story.  This one is about a concentration camp survivor who searched postwar Berlin for the husband who may have betrayed her to the Nazis.

The Kennedy Films of Robert Drew & Associates (Criterion Collection):  In the late '50s, Life magazine correspondent Robert Drew set off to reinvigorate the documentary format and talked then-Candidate John F. Kennedy into letting him and his crew (including D.A. Pennebaker) follow him on the campaign trail (and ultimately into the Oval Office).  All four films they made about Kennedy (Primary, Adventures on the New Frontier, Crisis and Faces of November) are presented here in Criterion’s usual impeccable format.

Jane Got a Gun:  Natalie Portman stars as the wife of an outlaw who returns home one day shot up and barely alive.  She seeks the help of an ex-lover for revenge.  Expect a review of this one from me in a few days as well.

Krampus:  A self-aware Christmas horror movie from writer/director Michael Dougherty and starring Adam Scott and Toni Collette?  Yes, please.

Backtrack:  Adrien Brody and Sam Neill star in this thriller about a psychologist who suddenly finds all his patients are dead people.

The Zero Boys:  Arrow video brings the '80s back with this ridiculous (and ridiculously entertaining) action/horror mash-up. Read my review.

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