The White Ribbon (2009)
In the early 20th century, parents sometimes tied a white ribbon on a boy's arm or in a girl's hair, to remind of them of purity, innocence and most of all, obedience. It was one of the less oppressive physical acts of parenting imposed by the families eking out an existence in pre-WWI Germany's lingering feudal system. Michael Haneke's latest film explores the roots of extremism — how it festers in over-worked, envious and hungry communities that grasp at any straw within reach. The Germany, 1913 setting has obvious implications for the religiously and emotionally oppressed children in the film, who will reach adulthood by the time of Auschwitz. But the central story has been, and will be, repeated throughout cultures world wide, and currently presents itself in the Arab world, as Haneke has said in interviews. Still, the German setting adds more gravity to the events captured in stark black-and-white, as we begin to see the unintended consequences of the childrens' upbringing, and the parental denial.
The White Ribbon opens with a doctor returning home on his horse, only to be be thrown from his ride and nearly killed by a wire strung between two trees. The attempted murder is the first in several heinous and unsolved crimes, including the torture of the land baron's young son, that slowly undue the small farm town's sense of prosperity and unity. A meek yet competent school teacher is the first to sense and admit to the growing sense of horror and its true roots, but as with all unspoken truths, it's too much for the supposed leaders of the community to admit. B+
Hot Tub Time Machine (2010)
With a name as irreverent as Hot Tub Time Machine, you'd think the film makers would ditch more than just titular conventions. Instead, the 99 minutes following the title card are about as conventional as the '80s sex comedies and time travel flicks it occasionally tries to lampoon, but more often than not limply follows. You've got the ski-bum bully in the Zabka mold (just not quite as blond), and a plot that hinges on moments from the protagonists' past that set them into a lifelong pattern of loserdom, with time travel as an opportunity to change the course of their lives. And, of course, one nerdy character who insists in a responsibility to avoid the dreaded "butterfly effect." Rob Corddry is the most reliably funny as HTTM's Stifler, known here as "The Violator." Overall it's pretty funny — several '80s sight gags work as well as always, but the running jokes that get better with each reiteration are canceled out by an equal amount that don't, and the whole thing is hindered by regularly desperate grasps for hipness. B-