It's a lot to put the onus of improved race relations on the shoulders of one little comedy, but the zippy, well-played, Wilder-esque farce "Go for Zucker!" -- the first Jewish comedy made in Germany since World War II -- has been such a huge hit there that the laughter from theaters has been described as practically a balm on the country's postwar unease.
Ex-communist scoundrel Jakob "Jaeckie" Zuckermann (Henry Hubchen) is a nightclub-owning pool shark with massive debts, an estranged shiksa wife (Hannelore Elsner), an ignored lesbian daughter (Anja Franke), plus a bank exec son (Steffen Groth) ready to turn him in. But the real dilemma for Jaeckie emerges when a high-jackpot pool tournament begins at the same time his mother dies, her will promising inheritance only with an Orthodox send-off and a reconciliation with his pious crab of a brother (Udo Samel), with whom Jaeckie hasn't spoken since the Berlin Wall separated them physically and ideologically 40 years before.
The frenzy of a household's opportunistic adoption of Jewish custom at the same time Jaeckie is scheming to avoid shiva are merely two well-mined sources of humor for writer-director Dani Levy, who also finds room for spiritedly caustic jabs at the usual generational family divisions of sexuality, politics and emotional availability.
It's unlikely the movie's novelty as a culturally healing experience will have quite the same effect here, where Jewish humor is ubiquitous, but "Go for Zucker!" has one comic trope our capitalist society can definitely understand: the restorative power of a cash bonanza.
-- Robert Abele
"Go for Zucker!" (Unrated). Running time: 1 hour, 30 minutes. Exclusively at Laemmle's Music Hall, 9036 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills, (310) 274-6869, and Town Center, 17200 Ventura Blvd., Encino, (818) 981-9811.
OK, here is the sendup
Douglas Underdahl's "Film School Confidential" is a fictional look at film school life, realized in that archetypal film school style. If it were being workshopped in a seminar, some criticisms might include: awkward mise-en-scene, stock characters -- and did you actually repeat that reaction within 10 seconds of first using it?
Whether film students still shoot 16 millimeter cut on flatbeds, I don't know. But "Film School Confidential" intentionally (I think) evokes ye olde scratch track experience, with its jump cuts, strung-together alternate takes and title card flags reading things like "insert action sequence here."
(Needless to say, no such sequence is inserted.) If all of this is grabbing you so far, then check out what happens when bitchy, humorless Sara (Stephanie Paul), a senior with intellectual aspirations, fires her camera geek boyfriend (Stephen Heskett) from her "pretentious art movie"; druggie music video guy Mark (Ethan Aronoff) screens his stuff for a music network executive; mainstream-guy Sal (Chuck Worthington) makes a treacly short about a little girl's first day on the school bus; and cute freshman bumpkin Marta (Christi Kelsey) takes her Barbie dolls and her family trauma and pulls an early Todd Haynes.
As for where their school is located, what it's like and why all the classroom extras look like they're pushing 35, all this remains mysterious. Emanuel Kallins supplies the carnival soundtrack.
-- Carina Chocano
"Film School Confidential" (Unrated). Running Time: 1 hour, 22 minutes. Exclusively at the Fairfax Cinemas, 7907 Beverly Blvd. (at Fairfax Avenue), L.A., (323) 655-4010.
Coming of age on the lake
With "Summer Storm," German filmmaker Marco Kreuzpaintner displays a natural gift with actors and a clarity in storytelling that result in a fresh take on what otherwise might have been a familiar coming-of-age story.
Champion rowers Tobi (Robert Stadlober) and Achim (Kostja Ullmann), friends since childhood, are training for a summer regatta on a beautiful Bavarian lake. Achim is in the throes of first love with Sandra (Miriam Morgenstern), who's on a girls' team along with her friend Anke (Alicja Bachleda-Curus).
This is complicated by Anke's attraction to the shy Tobi, who has realized he's in love with his friend. The arrival of an all-gay male team has an immediately unsettling effect, not only because they represent serious competition, but they also force Tobi to confront a growing awareness that his gayness places him at odds with his strictly conventional teammates.
Stadlober captures Tobi's conflicts and his potential resilience, and the rest of the cast is equally effective. "Summer Storm" has abundant humor and high spirits to set off its emotional turbulence, and it's not surprising that Kreuzpaintner's second feature won the audience award at the 2004 Munich International Film Festival.
-- Kevin Thomas
"Summer Storm" (Rated R for sexuality, language and drug content). Running time: 1 hour, 38 minutes. Exclusively at the Regent Showcase, 614 N. La Brea Ave., (323) 934-2944, and One Colorado, 42 Miller Alley (Union at Fair Oaks), Pasadena, (626) 744-1224.
Trio of stories in America
A trisected story set in suburban Oregon, inner-city Chicago and college town Charlottesville, Va., "American Gun" attempts to comment on the omnipresence of firearms in U.S. culture. With a cast that includes Forest Whitaker, Marcia Gay Harden, Tony Goldwyn, Linda Cardellini and Donald Sutherland, the dramas are individually involving but their conclusions fail to add up to a cohesive statement.
In Oregon, Harden plays the mother of the perpetrator of a Columbine-like killing spree trying to shield her surviving son from community scorn three years later and Goldwyn is the police officer who was first on the scene and is besieged by accusations and guilt that he could have stopped it. Whitaker is a stressed-out inner-city Chicago principal bent on keeping firearms out of his school while losing touch with his own family. Cardellini plays a University of Virginia student having difficulty adjusting to a new environment and working in her grandfather's (Sutherland) gun shop.
Though director Aric Avelino and co-screenwriter Steven Bagatourian have created compelling characters and relationships, the film is haphazardly structured, undercutting its potential power.
-- Kevin Crust
"American Gun," rated R for violent content and language. Running time: 1 hour, 34 minutes. At Laemmle's Sunset 5, 8000 Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood, (323) 848-3500
Dream on, Superhero
He's got a cape, but it won't fly. "Surge of Power" is a campy, hopelessly amateurish vanity production on the part of attorney Vincent J. Roth, the film's star, writer, executive producer and production designer -- Michael Donahue's contribution as director verges on the nonexistent. Roth stars as a gay comic-book fan whose fantasy of becoming a superhero comes true through a freak accident at a research lab. Despite the film's title, it's long on inane dialogue and lousy acting, short on action.
There is a deft scene with a regal and wise Nichelle Nichols, but cameos with Lou Ferrigno and Noel Neill, the original Lois Lane, are negligible. Roth is admirably buff, but he's a nonactor who might well consider not chucking his day job.
-- Kevin Thomas
"Surge of Power" (Unrated). Running time: 1 hour, 25 minutes. Sunset 5, 8000 Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood, (323) 848-3500.