Tagged Auschwitz

Apt Pupil is an Atmospheric but Watered Down King Adaptation

Apt Pupil. 1998. Directed by Bryan Singer. Screenplay by Brandon Boyce; based on the novella by Stephen King from the collection Different Seasons.
Starring Ian McKellen, Brad Renfro, Joshua Jackson, Mickey Cottrell, Michael Reid MacKay, Ann Dowd, Bruce Davison, James Karen, Marjorie Lovett, David Cooley, Blake Anthony Tibbetts, Heather McComb, Katherine Malone, Grace Sinden, & David Schwimmer. Canal+/Phoenix Pictures/Bad Hat Harry Productions.
Rated 14A. 111 minutes.
Drama/Thriller

★★★1/2
POSTER Admittedly, I’m not a huge fan of Bryan Singer’s directing. Not that he’s bad. There’s something about his style that doesn’t always attract me. I’ve not seen his feature debut, though The Usual Suspects is a great film; slightly overrated, but great nonetheless. Sometimes I feel like Singer is a bit too focused on the look of things and forgets there needs to be proper substance.
Apt Pupil suffers partly because of that disease. In a quest to get the atmosphere and the mood correctly dark, as well as unsettling, Singer works off the adapted screenplay from Brandon Boyce, which is the first problem. The original novella by Stephen King is an intense, tight little tale that unwinds into an absolute massacre, both figuratively and literally. Boyce does the source material a disservice by both watering down some of the more disturbing aspects, replacing that with weak storytelling. However, resting the weight of the movie on the shoulders of Ian McKellen and the 14-year-old Brad Renfro was a wise casting choice that ultimately transcends what mistakes were made in the writing. The film is nowhere near perfect, definitely not close to being as good the novella. Yet I dig it. With an eerie mood and a feeling of pure evil hovering around every last frame, Apt Pupil is a wonderful character study of two men at highly different points in their life: one is a former Nazi Sturmbannführer that worked in the concentration camps during World War II named Kurt Dussander (Ian McKellen), now living in California as Arthur Denker and hiding his identity nearing the end of his life; the other, a young high school student named Todd Bowden (Brad Renfro) on the verge of starting his life, ready to graduate, and harbouring a darkness within that desperately seems to want to get out.
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The juxtaposed scene of Dussander at dinner with everybody then hearing his various conversations playing through Todd’s head is perfect. First of all we see how the duality of these type of men, former Nazis, is part of their terror. Dussander moved from a life of hideous war crimes to one of a quiet neighbourhood old man, the kind who can sit with normal people and talk with them while leaving that other life somewhere behind him.
Later on, Dussander starts to fall back into his old ways. This is where we see that whereas he’s able to hide his true identity so well there’s still only a very thin skin holding it inside. It all begins when Todd makes him put the SS costume on. Immediately we see the regression into that brainwashed state of marching, saluting, and this signals a change. Not long after Dussander tries to put a cat in his oven, though isn’t successful. Literally moving back to the ways of the concentration camp. There’s also a parallel between Dussander, his past, and the sinister intent of Todd. He is a little twisted; more so in the novella. But Renfro’s Todd is shown to be sick in his own way.
One of the scenes that gets to me most is when Todd showers at school, then finds himself transported to the showers of Auschwitz, the frail and skinny bodies standing around him. There’s a very King feel here. Ripped straight from the pages of his writing almost. I also think the brief with the cat is great because it shows that lingering feeling in Dussander that wants to start killing again; the fact he attempts to put it in an oven is scarily perfect. I’m also a huge fan of that last moment set to “Das Ist Berlin” (performed by Liane Augustin & The Boheme Bar Trio) – without spoiling anything overtly there’s this powerful use of the look in Dussander’s eyes, the editing with Todd and his guidance counsellor/the basketball rim (that gives a feeling of sport; in that the young kid sees his actions as a form of play). That whole finishing scene really puts a cap on the visual elements, as one of the better executed sequences overall.
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This brings me to my biggest problem: the writing. I know the original novella is risky, it’s a touchy story to try adapting closely. But I can’t help feeling that to be honest to the prevalent themes you’ve really got to keep many of the elements King put into the plot. For instance – SPOILERS FOR BOOK READERS AHEAD! – instead of Dussander forcing Todd into the basement where the kid is in turn forced to kill the vagrant (played fabulously by Elias Koteas), in the story Todd kills homeless vagrants, and the story takes place over about four years, so there’s this really monstrous side to the kid that comes out even more than in this screenplay. Most of all it’s the brutality we’re missing. In a story already tackling the Holocaust and the obsession many develop with it, I’m not sure why Boyce didn’t try to retain a few of the more intense, savage pieces. I suppose because King doesn’t do much, first or last, to make Todd Bowden too sympathetic. The film goes too hard at trying to humanise both men, slightly, instead of showing the monster within each of them, one that grows in a symbiotic sense as Todd and Dussander go on similar yet separate paths.
This film is due for a remake by a writer and director willing to go the full way. Singer’s effort captures a fascinating atmosphere, it contains two powerful performances that are worth EVERY second and every penny. Unfortunately there’s a lot lacking in comparison to what is a pleasantly shocking story by the master of horror, Mr. King. I’m not always a stickler for screenwriters keeping dead on with a novel or other source material. In this case the whole film would have been better served by circling more closely the original intentions of the author.

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The Redemptive Horror of Son of Saul

Son of Saul. 2015. Directed by László Nemes. Screenplay by Nemes & Clara Royer.
Starring Géza Röhrig, Levente Molnár, Urs Rechn, Todd Charmont, Sándor Zsótér, Uwe Lauer, Christian Harting, Amitai Kedar, & Kamil Dobrowolski. Laokoon Filmgroup/Hungarian National Film Fund.
Rated 14A. 107 minutes.
Drama/Thriller/War

★★★★★
POSTER Stories of the Holocaust and WWII are a dime a dozen. Some of them are exploitative, such as Ilsa: She Wolf of the SS. Then there’s the exploitation films using the Nazis and their crimes in an exciting, dare I say fun way, like Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds. Also can’t forget classic Holocaust-centered films Schindler’s List and Life is Beautiful. My personal favourite is The Night Porter, which examines leftover emotions and disturbing feelings from the last few years of the Second World War.
But along comes Son of Saul. It takes a close, personal perspective and drags us alongside, witnessing the dark horrors of the concentration camps. This is one film that uses both subtlety and graphic depictions of its subject to wow the viewer. Director László Nemes brings us inside the world of the Sonderkommandos – prisoners in the German death camps made to work, often burning the corpses of their people after extermination, and other such macabre duties. Having read lots about WWII, specifically what happened in the camps, to see a film bring these events to life is emotional, gripping, and thoroughly savage. However, savage with importance. Without exploiting the experiences of those imprisoned under Nazi rule, Son of Saul manages to craft itself into a powerful drama that tows us through a road of horror to get to its conclusion.
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During the fall of 1944, Saul Ausländer (Géza Röhrig), a Hungarian Jew, is imprisoned in a German Nazi concentration camp – the infamous Auschwitz. He works as a Sonderkommando; his task is burning the dead Jews exterminated in the gas chambers. Except one day he finds the body of a boy who was meant to go for an autopsy, and takes him for his son after discovering him still breathing. He convinces the prison doctor not to do it, then decides to try burying his supposed son, also hoping to find a rabbi so they can perform a proper Jewish burial. Meanwhile, Abraham (Levente Molnár) hopes to get a rebellion going against the SS guards. Another fellow, Biedermann (Urs Rechn), proposes they photograph all the horrors of the camps and smuggle the pictures out.
But the body of the boy keeps calling for Saul’s attention, and to make up for his own past Saul continues on his mission to give the boy the burial he deserves instead of relegating him to the mass graves and the body burnings. At the same time, Saul has to make sure he can manage to survive until the terror is over.
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Immediately, one thing that’s incredibly noticeable is the almost first-person perspective we get through Saul. Over his shoulder, the camera allows us to hover around Saul’s head, to gain a look into his world, his emotions. Cinematographer Mátyás Erdély – whose excellent work can also be seen in 2011’s Miss Bala and his latest in the recent James White – immerses us into the experience of Saul, always keep us on his periphery, only ever briefly allowing small moments outside of his headspace. And so, for a highly personal, almost private story, the cinematography engages us in Saul’s emotional point of view, rarely ever relenting. This helps us feel as if we’re sitting in the midst of the camps. And though anyone outside of the Jewish people who experienced all those atrocities will never ever be able to fully comprehend the mindset, the resonance of this film’s visual style is capable of drawing out those tough, tender, raw emotions.
Furthermore, everything is very dark, almost completely lit by natural light. So the shadows and the sunset and the darkened corners of rooms, hallways, the concrete chambers of Auschwitz, they’re all rich and beautifully captured. Everything looks honest and real. Coupled with that, the fact there’s no score throughout and the images are punctuated by the sounds of voices, the noise of work and machinery, the breathing of Saul and those around him, it adds something perfectly human to the drama and the horror swirling about the camp. Some say without a score films can feel empty. I agree, only on certain accounts. Son of Saul works with no score because there’s no preying on the emotions here. The film speaks solely to the personal human drama, it doesn’t try to play with your feelings and accentuate emotional moments with strings or piano music, or whatever. Rather, the filmmakers continue to immerse us in the world of Saul because without score we’re forced to stick to the images, to the movement of our central character and his actions. Everything becomes like life, playing out right in front of our eyes as naturally as can be while simultaneously looking rich and vibrant.
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The juxtaposition of all the different things the Jewish prisoners went through is stunning. For instance, while there’s no shortage of dead corpses, piles of them at times, some of the most disturbing bits are actually less explicit. In one scene, Saul is in a doctor’s office, but finds himself interrupted by a bunch of SS guards. One of them starts to mock Saul, then breaks into a big routine on Jewish song and dance. What’s most disturbing, apart from everyone enjoying Saul being humiliated, is how the ring leader of the mocking grabs Saul, pushing him around the room, shaking him, treating him like some might treat an animal. So even with all the little graphic moments included throughout, a few of the more chilling scenes come from these subtle, quieter moments where we’re able to see how childish the heart of racism is – paralleled with all the brutality that becomes part of it, too. Similarly, the whole idea that Saul sees some beauty left in life, wanting to bury the boy and get a rabbi for him is parallel against the fact he’s ignoring a chance at escape, he’s risking his life further than he has to in order to both honour a child in death, as well as make up for his own past faults. The whole film is filled with great juxtapositions such as these, part of why there are many lingering emotions after the credits roll.
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A flawless 5-star experience. At times you’ll want to look away, but don’t. We can never turn our face from atrocity, no matter how brutal and tough to watch. This is not a film that relishes in torture or delights in any of the horror through which it frames the plot. No, Son of Saul shows us the Holocaust in all its grimness, never allowing for an overly emotional experience. It’s more of a trying one. But rightfully so. No film about such an event should ever be easy to sit through. At the same time, Nemes uses his beautiful approach to filmmaking for a purpose, and draws us through a terrifying time in 20th century history. He allows us to experience the world of Saul, to feel and see and hear its morbidity. Most of all, Son of Saul shows us a character and story not often put on film, which takes us deeper, further into the Jewish experience of the Holocaust. More so it brings up questions of morality, humanity, daring to explore some of the scariest darkness among human kind while pushing forward a semi-redemptive theme underneath all the terror. A truly fascinating, impressive bit of cinema.

American Horror Story – Asylum, Episode 4: “I Am Anne Frank: Part I”

FX’s American Horror Story
Season 2, Episode 4: “I Am Anne Frank: Part I”
Directed by Michael Uppendahl (Mad MenShamelessRay Donovan)
Written by Jessica Sharzer

* For a review of the previous episode, “Nor’easter” – click here
* For a review of the next episode, “I Am Anne Frank: Part II” – click here
screen-shot-2016-11-13-at-2-55-00-pmThe beginning of this episode begins, appropriately due to the title, as a young woman (Franka Potente) is brought to Briarcliff. Sister Jude (Jessica Lange)
Meanwhile, poor Shelley (Chloe Sevigny) is in the clutches of Dr. Arthur Arden (James Cromwell). She thinks he’s about to kill her – legs already chopped off and what not – but Arden chillingly exclaims that “after this youll probably live forever” before injecting her in the neck with some unknown serum. This is more of the mad doctor showing off his penchant for doing bad things to the patients at the asylum.
screen-shot-2016-11-13-at-2-56-10-pmKit Walker (Evan Peters) is still being smacked around and examined by Arden. After finding the strange bug-like metal implant in Kit’s neck, the Dr. Arden is determined to find out who (or what) is spying on him, or who’s been manipulating the young man.
Kit and Grace Bertrand (Lizzie Brocheré) are getting closer, as she discloses the truth of why she’s at Briarcliff. Apparently, having discovered someone murdering her father she hid away and tried to survive the massacre. Supposedly she’s been framed for it all.
So Pepper (Naomi Grossman), Shelley, and the Mexican (who was actually killed) are assumed to be gone, while it was actually Lana (Sarah Paulson), Grace, and Kit who’d tried to escape. Lucky for them, but not for the others.
Dr. Oliver Thredson (Zachary Quinto) tries his best, all he can do in his power, to help Lana. He knows there’s something more inside of her than simply an asylum patient, an inmate locked away to rot. Thredson says he can get her out if he can show Briarcliff and the bureaucracy that she’s been cured; though, she plainly tells him she’s been “this way” all her life. We’ll see how rough things get for Lana as the episodes go on. I do love how the show tries to examine some of the atrocities the LGBTQ community has faced, particularly in this case at the hands of psychiatric hospitals and religious run mental hospitals such as Briarcliff. Good way to use a horror show, to examine these types of issues and situations.
Thredson also tries his best, again, to do what he can for Kit Walker. Young Kit is still being persecuted for the crimes of Bloody Face, denying it every step of the way. Dr. Thredson thinks he merely disassociated because of what happened, the murder he committed; Kit does not agree, however, he agrees to go along with Thredson’s plans to hopefully escape the death penalty. Thredson attempts to get Kit to face his crimes, but it’s tough going for the young man to even being to believe he killed his own loving wife Alma (Britne Oldford).
It turns out the young woman (Franka Potente) who’d been admitted at the top of the episode claims her name is Anne Frank. She throws a fit in the recreation room when Dr. Arden walks in, claiming that he was in Auschwitz.
She explains about living on the streets of Germany, too sick to tell anyone who she was, and then eventually Anne supposedly met an American soldier from New Jersey. She did not want to ruin the martyrdom of her ‘story’, so remained dead to the world.
Anne then tells Jude about how Dr. Arden is not who he seems – he was in fact an S.S officer at Auschwitz, Dr. Hans Gruber. There are parallels between him and Josef Mengele immediately: the first we see of Gruber/Arden in this new context, he is being very friendly with two twin boys, twins who were not seen again. Furthermore, he began to take women away and brought them back sickly, in poor health, sworn to secrecy. So it’s obvious Arden is a sort of Mengele archetype, doing his sick experiments on the Jews.
And if the story is true, now he’s experimenting in his Nazi ways on Briarcliff inmates. All in the name of science supposedly.
Regardless, now Jude has even more of a reason to be suspicious of Arden. Though, it’s likely Anne is not Anne at all, there is still a palpable feeling to what Jude hears and we can see it has stuck in her craw, that it will not let her rest. Fun to watch where this development may head.


After a wonderful dream sequence where Lana sees herself accepting a journalism award, giving a speech while still traipsing around the asylum, she rushes to Oliver and wants to start her therapy right away. It’s very clear, if wasn’t before, Lana has become fixated on getting out, her determination may be both a good thing, as well as her downfall.
Grace and Kit move closer and closer. She doesn’t care what his crimes were, whether or not he is Bloody Face or if he’s innocent; it’s obvious Grace cares for him, on some level.
They have a brief and heated encounter in the bakery, where Frank McCann (Fredric Lehne) finds them having sex on one of the bread tables. This, naturally, lands them up in the office of Sister Jude. A little corporal punishment is sure to be doled out. The new and sassy Sister Mary Eunice (Lily Rabe) picks out her choice of rods for Jude to use, however, the older nun believes sterilization for the both of them is in order.
But after Grace is taken away, the demonic Mary leaves Grace’s file open on the desk for Kit to read. And this is the first time Kit sees, for real, what exactly happened for Grace to arrive in the asylum.
Once the both of them are back in their cells, Kit confronts Grace and she tells him the truth: it was she who killed her own father. However, Kit comes to accept her as she’d equally accepted him no matter what he’d done. A true bond forms.
Harkening back to “Tricks and Treats“, two detectives show up questioning Arden about his encounter with the prostitute at his house. She reported he roughed her up, as well as the fact there was S&M pornography in his dresser, alongside Nazi memorabilia; this last bit especially peaks Jude’s interest. Though they cannot arrest him, now Jude has more fuel to the fire.
When mentioning her worries about Arden to Monsignor Howard (Joseph Fiennes), Jude reveals to him she believes the new patient to be Anne Frank. Sadly, this makes Howard believe there is a bias she has towards Arden, that there is an obsession Jude has over the man which is slightly unhealthy. Truly all she wants to do is protect a man she cares for, and slightly loves/lusts for, but Howard is linked up slightly with Arden somehow, which taints him. Worst of all, Howard accuses her of drinking again because of the drunkenness she displayed during their screening of The Sign of the Cross, and it’s evident she feels slightly defeated by the Monsignor.
Shockingly, right after Jude leaves Howard calls Arden in his lab, warning “theyre onto you” and advises to clean up anything that may need to be cleaned up – NOW! I’m interested to see how this plays out and exactly what it is binding Howard to Arden in such a devious way.


Back to poor Lana, who is undergoing aversion/conversion therapy – a practice no longer undertaken by anyone serious in the psychological field, I’m sure it’s probably not even legal anymore; at least not in the way Thredson administers it. First, with a strong morphine drip and a bucket in front of her, Lana is exposed to pictures of women, sexy stuff, including her now dead lover (due to Bloody Face), and the morphine prompts her to throw up, hopefully meant to turn her away from the lust she feels towards women by reminding her of that disgust next time the feelings reoccur.
Worst of all, Thredson brings a male patient, Daniel (Casey Wyman) in to help in the conversion aspect of her therapy. She has to masturbate herself while touching his penis, but the sickness of the morphine comes back and ruins everything.
This stuff is SO INTENSE and highly disturbing. Again, though, I’m highly pleased Ryan Murphy and the writers are examining some of the things involved with psychiatry many experienced during the 1950s, even up until the 1980s in some cases. It’s wild that it ever went on, but great a show like this has the balls to confront these issues head-on.
Dr. Thredson comes to Lana and gives her the picture he had of her lover. He promises not to let her rot in Briarcliff. There is hope now at the end of the tunnel, a light shining, and Lana finally has something to care about, she’s not simply fighting to survive but rather there is a kind of redemption coming. At least, we hope so.
Kit Walker is also coming to an end of a tunnel, in a sense. He feels crazy and wants to try and figure out WHATEVER the truth might be in the end. While talking to Jude there’s a great moment when he says that the aliens he supposedly couldn’t have been real, and she gives him this look, signifying Oh yes they could be, as we know that during her drunken state she’d actually seen one of them briefly. So I love how there’s this weird dynamic happening now with Jude and Kit, even while she does still think he’s the killer of women for which the police have been looking.
The end of the episode is HUGE!
Dr. Arden hauls Anne Frank in to his lab, threatening her. But all of a sudden she pulls a gun, one she managed to wrestle off one of the detectives before they left Briarcliff. She shoots Arden in one of his legs. Then, right before the credits run, she opens a door: Shelley is inside, her face is deformed and hideous, bulging out with sores and puss, croaking out “Help me.”
Whoa. What a kicker.
screen-shot-2016-11-13-at-3-00-41-pmCan’t wait to review the next episode, the second half this two-parter “I Am Anne Frank: Part II.” Stay tuned!