Queen to Cutoff (Weekly Links)

Mel Gibson and puppet

Links to reviews I wrote for the Herald this week.

The Beaver. “There’s something potent about a cuddly plush toy operated by a man who looks and sounds as though he might rip someone’s head off.”

Cave of Forgotten Dreams. “Dream your way in.”

Meek’s Cutoff. “This journey has become metaphysical, not geographical.”

Queen to Play. “Not the most popular of sports-movie options.”

The Robber. (dead link; review below)

By Robert Horton

To read about the true story of Austrian bank robber Johann Kastenberger is to immediately think, “Now there’s a subject for a movie.”

This troubled individual excelled at two pursuits in the 1980s: he robbed banks, and he ran marathons. He even set a record winning the Vienna marathon one year, while at the same time planning his next violent bank heist. The press called him “Pump-gun Ronnie,” because he wore a Ronald Reagan mask while plying his illegal trade.

A fictionalized version of Kastenberger’s crazy existence has indeed been made, by German filmmaker Benjamin Heisenberg. It’s a somewhat arty take on the story, made with a great deal of technical flash but lacking an element that would tie it all together. The main character, called Johann Rettenberger here, is played by Andreas Lust, an actor who made a strong impression in the riveting “Revanche.” Rettenberger is released from prison at the beginning of the film, and he doesn’t waste a beat getting right into his hobbies again.

Very little energy is spent on trying to explain this character or provide psychological background. He trains, he lives with his girlfriend (Franziska Weisz), and simply moves on to his next project. The simplicity of the actual plot recalls last year’s “The American,” with George Clooney, except that that movie was slowed-down and muted where “The Robber” is quick and flashy.

Heisenberg concentrates on showing us the figure of Rettenberger running, whether it’s for a race or from a robbery. You begin to wonder whether the goals—winning the race or grabbing the loot—are the point of Rettenberger’s compulsion, or just his excuse to get himself moving along. The chase scenes have undeniable pizzazz, although I got a little tired of the music-video-ready look of the whole thing. And one can’t help thinking there should be so much more to this story.

A Hollywood version has been announced, with “Social Network” star Andrew Garfield rumored for the lead. Usually these remakes are cause for alarm—but this is one case where another take on the subject could go places the original chose not to explore.

On KUOW’s “Weekday,” I talk with Steve Scher about movies that formed your ideas of travel, or gave you a pilgrimage destination. Lots of callers in this show, including someone who most awesomely moved to Greece because of the Randall Kleiser classic Summer Lovers. That made my day. It’s archived here; the movie bit kicks in at 14:30, with a snippet of the theme song from If It’s Tuesday, This Must be Belgium.

And if you’re anywhere near Walla Walla WA next Tuesday night, drop by Walla Walla University at 7 p.m. and catch my talk for Humanities Washington Speakers Bureau program. Info on the talk here.