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Movie: The Grey Zone (2001)
Rating: ***1/2 out of *****
Notes: A surprisingly vicious Holocaust drama that went under the radar in 2001, it nevertheless features a star-studded cast for its time. It watches interwoven experiences and arguments between various Jews imprisoned at Auschwitz, forced to manage operations for the human experiments, gas chambers and crematorium in exchange for an extra four months of life. Like "Schindler's List", it doesn't shy away from either casual or inhumanely brutal executions, but the focus is on the scheming going on amongst the various captive groups to either rebel, escape, or merely survive. Premium actors include David Arquette, Steve Buscemi, and Harvey Keitel among others. It's primary drawback is the dialogue which, while frequently heated, is almost inaudible in many scenes, and a few of the supporting cast come across stilted, as if on stage. It's also crushingly without any hope whatsoever, as if in competition for the most bleak presentation in its genre, made worse by being a true story. If the many prior Holocaust films haven't pegged your man's-inhumanity-to-man meter yet, this will top things off.

Movie: Witching & Bitching (2013)
Rating: *1/2 out of *****
Notes: A Spanish horror comedy that takes the best of "From Dusk Till Dawn" and drowns it in endless, banal dialogue. Two robbers and their kid commit a ridiculous heist and getaway, ending up lost and captured by a coven of witches intent on sacrificing them. The initial heist is silly mayhem, but the moment they steal a car, what should be a raucous chase is instead twenty minutes of hyperactive bickering over non-sequitur trivialities, like divorce, the kid's homework, and dinner plans. Culturally, this is the form of Spanish cinematic comedy, but paired with fantastical and action-packed sequences, the former sucks the life out of the latter, and it does this over and over again. The FX fluctuates between excellent prosthetic and gore FX to jarringly atrocious CG. Editing is poorly-timed and hyperactive, and huge chunks of narrative seem missing, particularly at the nonsensical end. This might play great for the intended regional audience, but its nullifying conflation of genres just doesn't cross borders well.

Movie: Venus In Fur (2013)
Rating: **** out of *****
Notes: It's a rare treat to get a new Roman Polanski film, and even better when it's a pure character drama like "Venus In Fur". Emmanuelle Seigner and Mathieu Amalric, the only two actors, play off each other brilliantly while both being wildly stuffed with character. Polanski's direction turns a dry French diatribe into a hilarious interplay of expressions and unspoken intentions. A stage director, unable to find a suitable Vanda for his adaptation of "Venus In Fur," reluctantly auditions a last-minute, unseemly arrival. What follows is a tug-of-war regarding who's directing who in this trial sadomasochistic performance, wondering will they won't they as the two loud personalities spin in paired, decaying orbits - the only question being when things are going to really derail. And derail they do, although only vaguely comprehensibly, even if conclusively, which makes the ending the only real weak point. Highly chewable, sexy, and uniquely funny chamber play.

Next: Horses Of God, Aftermath, Snowpiercer

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