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Taking Another Stab

Not quite Norman Bates, the eponymous hero of The Ogre, Michel Tournier's celebrated 1970 novel, is a gentle, if gigantic, pederast, captured by the Germans during World War II, who falls in love with the magic kingdom of East Prussia and, as in a fairy tale, comes to serve the Nazis as a sort of spellbound huntsman.

Perhaps Volker Schlondorff imagined Tournier's ambitious allegory would be a companion piece to his 1979 adaptation of The Tin Drum. The result, with John Malkovich in the title role, is a high-Euro pudding mix of accents and intentions (literary, prurient, moral). Slack and stilted, the movie's first third is a typically enigmatic, smirky Malkovich show; the second, wherein his character gets a menial job at Hermann Goering's rustic-deco hunting lodge, is eccentric enough to make even the star seem normal, at least as compared to the Nazi leader, played with pop-eyed avidity by Volker Spengler.

When a local count (the inevitable Armin Mueller-Stahl) kills a great stag, Goering sends everyone to the eastern front. The ogre, however, lands at a nearby military school. Dressed like death and accompanied by a pack of hounds, he is given the job of combing the countryside for new recruits to this Riefenstahlian realm of torch-lit singing and near-nude wrestling. Schlondorff, who seems to be ignoring the situation's homoerotic kitsch, would need the medieval conviction of mid-'50s Ingmar Bergman to carry this off. The only evil the movie projects is the purity of its own liberal confusion.

I still know what you did last movie: Vaughn as Norman Bates.
Suzanne Tenner
I still know what you did last movie: Vaughn as Norman Bates.

Details

Psycho
Directed by Gus Van Sant
Written by Joseph Stephano
from the novel by Robert Bloch
A Universal release

The Ogre
Directed by Volker Schlondorff
Written by Schlondorff and Jean-Claude Carriere from the novel by Michel Tournier
At the Quad
Opens December 11

Rushmore
Directed by Wes Anderson
Written by Wes Anderson and Owen Wilson
A Touchstone release
At Sony Lincoln Square
December 11 thru 17

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One of the pleasures of the last NYFF, Wes Anderson's Rushmore, opens for its award-qualifying (and blurb-garnering) limited run before going into release next year. Nerd go-getter Max Fisher stumbles and schemes through his high school senior year, smitten with the loveliest of teachers. This friendly comedy of loss, obsession, and social class is imbued with the wacky charm of a kid's picture book and enhanced by Bill Murray's shambling walk-through as Max's sometime patron. I can't remember a teenage romance this engagingly offbeat since Lord Love a Duck.

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