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At the Music Box: ‘Black Out,’ ‘The Last of the Unjust’

Jos (Raymond Thirty right with SimArmstrong) is target gangsters “Black Out.”  |  MUSIC BOX FILMS

Jos (Raymond Thirty, right, with Simon Armstrong) is the target of gangsters in “Black Out.” | MUSIC BOX FILMS

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Updated: March 22, 2014 6:11AM



‘Black Out’

Some bad days are worse than others, but it’s hard to imagine one that could top the 24 hours facing the retired gangster hero (of sorts) in this ultra-violent crime comedy from the Netherlands now in U.S. release by Music Box Films.

The day before his wedding, middle-aged Jos (Raymond Thiry), who’s been living the life of a model citizen for the last 10 years, wakes up in an unfamiliar room with an unfamiliar gun and an unfamiliar corpse in the bed next to him. His hangover is familiar from the old days, but he can’t remember anything about what’s happened the previous night. That is, until a couple of competing crime bosses inform him he has apparently hijacked 20 kilos of cocaine — and that he’s a dead man unless he locates and returns it. To each of them.

Oh, and he also has to prevent his fiancée from discovering he’s lost their wedding rings.

The only real problem with “Black Out,’ which plays like a cross between “The Hangover” and “Lock, Stock & Two Smoking Barrels”-era Guy Ritchie, is that it’s naggingly over-familiar, sort of like Jos’ sick headache. It has the same type of flashy visual style and briskly paced editing and the same deadpan comic dialogue (“Ten years ago I would have been more relaxed about all this”), and it erupts every so often with the same contrasting outbursts of hyperbolic violence.

It’s also stocked with a similar assortment of eccentric supporting characters: an effeminately homicidal Bolshoi Ballet dancer turned drug lord named Vlad (a.k.a. “The Gay Basher”), a poisonous octogenarian mob boss with emphysema, a wannabe armed robber who works as a dog groomer and a couple of drop-dead sexy female enforcers with a Tarantino-like movie fixation.

It’s a nicely executed imitation, though, by Dutch director Arne Toonen, with plenty of style and finesse and clever detail, such as the digital clock that displays “HELL” when Jos looks at it upside-down after his groggy awakening in the first scene. If Ritchie, who’s moved on to the likes of “Sherlock Holmes” and “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.” (coming later this year) isn’t going to do this sort of thing again, why shouldn’t someone else do it for him? Rating:★★★ —Bruce Ingram

‘The Last of the Unjust’

“The Last of the Unjust” is the fourth film Claude Lanzmann has made using outtakes from “Shoah,” his lengthy assembly of Holocaust interviews and European landscapes.

The French director oddly insisted “Shoah”— a 9-hour, 23-minute work based on 350 hours of original footage — was “not a documentary.” He used no 1940s footage. He even claimed he would destroy any celluloid depicting Jews inside a German gas chamber, if he ever found any in an archive.

Oral testimony is the technique uniting “Shoah” (1985) with Lanzmann’s later films “A Visitor From the Living” (1997), “Sobibor, October 14, 1943, 4 p.m.” (2000), “The Karski Report” (2010) and now “The Last of the Unjust” (2013). His subject is Benjamin Murmelstein (1905-1989), a Vienna rabbi working under the Nazis to transport Jews from Austria. Deported himself to Czechoslovakia, he helped beautify the notorious “model ghetto” at Theresienstadt as a tactic, he claims, to save Jews from death camps.

“How come you’re alive?” was the first question a post-war tribunal in Prague asked the imprisoned Murmelstein, suspect as the last president of the Jewish Council in Theresienstadt. The Nazis executed his two predecessors they had appointed. He was later acquitted of charges of collaborating.

Murmelstein answers his accusers in “The Last of the Unjust.” Over a compelling three hours and 38 minutes, Lanzmann draws on his 1975 interview in Rome, where Murmelstein once worked as a light bulb salesman. He alludes to Scheherezade, Josefus Flavius and righteous saviors from mystical Jewish tradition. He also counters philosopher Hannah Arendt and scholar Gershom Scholem, who wished him hanged.

Transcripts of the 11 hours Lanzmann originally recorded reveal an insistent Murmelstein citing letters, documents, articles and books to back up his recollections. The filmmaker omits most of that footnoting. He trusts this witness, even if we do not. “During the week I spent with him, I grew to love him,” Lanzmann states upfront. “He does not lie.” Rating:★★★ —Bill Stamets



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