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History's Screen Savers?

December 18, 2008 By:
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A patch-eyed Tom Cruise sets his sight on Hitler in "Valkyrie."

Are the studios of Hollywood about to drop the dreidel on us?

No spin zone, here. Latkes and lollapaloozas are in store for moviegoers at menorah time with three big features featured as Jewish gelt -- a guilt-load of riches -- at year's end and at next year's beginning.

Paging "The Reader," a chilling chapter-and-verse adaptation of the best-selling Bernhard Schlink book, in which a young German boy's illicit sexual liaison with a much-older woman is merely preface to the precarious secrets she has held back from him about her role in the Holocaust.

Kate Winslet's nubile/nimble portrayal is one of the year's best performances, already gaining a Golden Globe nod. Opening next Thursday, "The Reader" is the screen version of a page-turner, its complex plot turning on a dime and proving that history and hate have no final page.

Ride on to "Valkyrie," the h-m-m-m of a movie, which has Tom Cruise jumping from sofas into the heat of action, as the lead player in a real-reel life piece about German Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg and his plot to assassinate Hitler.

Mission -- impossible? Probably, since history and Hitler had a longer run at it, way beyond when this plot was planned.

One of the key concerns about this film has been the oft-reported newspaper reports of conspiracy, Tinseltown-style -- of keeping the film out of theaters for as long as possible, due to the studio's disappointment that the film would do risky business.

It's been talked of opening this year, then moved back to next and, now, is scheduled for Dec. 25, just in time for Jews to get their last presents at Chanukah.

Will this be one of them? War of the worlds and words: Early reports indicated shooting problems and political dustups in Germany, where residents claimed that Cruise has his filmmaking down to a Scientology -- viewed not as a religion, but as a dangerous cult there, where they should know about such things.

It was all settled, if not with peace and harmony, at least with no harm done, and the film -- also starring Kenneth Branagh and Bill Nighy -- pulled off a coup of completion on time.

The fact that "Valkyrie" has ridden back into a prime time for movies has Oscar consideration consolidating the notion that "Valkyrie" may vindicate the studio, after all. An advance peek at the pic does just that.

Don't worry about January -- it has its own promises and surprises. But does it include a snow job?

'Defiant' Stand

"Defiance" deftly fights the bad storms -- weather-wise and wonk-wise -- to open Jan. 16. Starring Daniel Craig in a defiant die-another-day mode, as one of three partisans -- brothers battling the Nazis in 1941 Europe -- this, too, has had some controversy, stemming from the true image of Craig's character, Tuvia Bielski: Gazeta Wyborcza, a prominent Polish newspaper, questions the heroics of Bielski, a character retooled, it claims, as a hero rather than a mass murderer.

The Polish paper cites Bielski as the leader of a band that terrorized and laid waste to the town of Naliboki, polishing off its people.

Flake off, say the defenders of the January release, rightfully offering hosannas of bravura to the band of brothers who were heroes, not hellions, of the Holocaust.

Nail-biting factual or nebulous factoid? Factions of both sides are lining up for a fractious face-off when the film opens Jan. 16.

Are these three movies about the Holocaust destined to heal or raise hell? World War II shots in the dark or illuminations of the era? History or histrionics?

Screen savers or saboteurs of history: Grab your popcorn -- and the edge of your seat -- for what promises to be a rigorous ride with "Valkyrie," "The Reader,"and a truthful thumb-of-the-nose gainsay of deriders in "Defiance." 

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