Short Takes 

This week in local theaters

This week in local theaters.

BLACK BOOK The tradition-of-quality Holocaust drama is almost a genre unto itself, but from the moment a surly Dutch farmer tells the Jewish girl he’s hiding that they wouldn’t be in this mess if her people had only listened to Jesus, this rip-roaring melodrama settles you on another patch of familiar terrain—the shifting moral quicksand of director Paul Verhoeven’s corrosive entertainments. In a tour de force Bette Davis or Greta Garbo would have chewed glass for, star-on-arrival Carice van Houten plays a Jewish singer whose family is massacred by phony resistance fighters. To avenge them and topple the corrupt network behind their deaths, she infiltrates the Dutch Gestapo and seduces the ranking officer (Sebastian Koch from The Lives of Others)—unaware that traitors are even closer than she imagines.

Every twist of the impressive clockwork script by Verhoeven and longtime collaborator Gerard Soeteman ratchets up the moral vertigo: by the end, Koch’s Nazi is more sympathetic in many regards than the opportunists and anti-Semites lurking among the Dutch resistance. The director’s characteristically cynical view of human nature (with grounding, alas, in historical record) was greeted with fury in his homeland. But as critic Jonathan Rosenbaum noted, Verhoeven’s never been interested in flattering his audience’s sense of superiority or ethical certainty, and his refusal to whitewash the good guys’ barely suppressed bigotry gives this careening thriller a grown-up complexity. Black Book is all the more accomplished for functioning as a kinky, thoroughly satisfying blockbuster entertainment, closer in spirit to Verhoeven’s Basic Instinct and Starship Troopers than his stately World War II epic Soldier of Orange—and more exciting than almost everything else in theaters. In Dutch, German and Hebrew with English subtitles. —Jim Ridley (Opens Friday at Green Hills)

AIR GUITAR NATION “My long strums are pretty fucking tight,” gushes one faux-ax-stroker in this slick, hilarious and at times even suspenseful ode to competitive mock-rock and/or the further decline of Western civ. Power-chord mimes here include Krye Tuff, Björn Türoque and the kung fu-styled C. Diddy, who handily wins stateside air-solo honors and proceeds to the world cup in Finland, whereupon nationalist air-envy takes center stage and this American Idle turns, uh, political. Director Alexandra Lipsitz plays her own instrument impeccably, not pushing too hard for humor (the material is outrageous enough on its own), nor resting on crowd-pleasing absurdity at the expense of vital journalistic investigation (e.g., she gets Türoque’s mom to pull out the kid’s old report card, which indeed explains a lot). Nary a dull lick in the entire 80 minutes—and would you believe that there’s pathos, too? (World Air Guitar Championships founder Jukka Takalo imagines nothing less than world peace—“because you can’t hold a gun and air guitar at the same time.”) Though the licensing of “classic” licks from Motörhead et al. makes the doc definitive, you just know that Paramount is prepping a Jack Black remake even as we wank. —Rob Nelson (Opens Friday at the Belcourt, with an Air Guitar Championship 9:30 p.m. Saturday; see the related item in Critics’ Picks.)


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