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"The Harmonists," "SLC Punk!," "Election" and on video, "The Cruise"

Quick Flicks

The HarmonistsSLC Punk!ElectionNow On Video: The Cruise

"The Harmonists" This outstanding German-made film is based on the true experiences of the Comedian Harmonists, a Berlin male singing ensemble whose rise to stardom paralleled Hitler's rise to power. As fate would have it, three of the ensemble's six members were Jews.

Director Joseph Vilsmaier (of "Stalingrad" fame) conducts a marvelous human symphony of accord and dissonance. He pulls us in from the beginning, introducing us to the thoroughly endearing members of the group. Then, as the forces of evil mount against them, Vilsmaier holds our attention with the simple question of "How?" As in "How can a people who embrace the lilting whimsicality of 'The Harmonists' also embrace the inhumanity of the Nazi credo?"

"SLC Punk!" OK, there is a subversive edge to James Merendino's movie about the struggling punk scene in Salt Lake City during the Reagan years — but it isn't enough to recommend it to anyone other than wannabe rock historians. Well, perhaps a few Matthew Lillard fans will enjoy it as well because Matthew is rather engaging as the punk-student narrator in this "mockumentary." There are colorful characters galore, but in the end, it's another edge of adulthood tale where the hero must decide his future. In this case, should Matthew stay in SLC and pursue the punk life with sweet-natured Summer Phoenix or go to Harvard Law School? Right.

"Election" Just the ticket for lovers of dark sociopolitical satires, this scathing and adult look at one high school election is worth the price of admission. Reese Witherspoon is perfectly cast as the ruthless, overachiever Tracy Flick, who believes her destiny is to be president of the student council. Since she's running unopposed, her destiny looks pretty straightforward. Until, that is, popular social studies teacher Matthew Broderick throws a monkey wrench into her plans.

When he convinces Paul (Chris Klein), the school's densest, but most popular jock to run against her, the race and plot thickens. When Paul's sexually undecided sister Tammy (Jessica Campbell) enters the race as well, the satire begins to resemble its purported inspiration — the Clinton/Bush/Perot race.

Director Alexander Payne ("Citizen Ruth") sees through everyone, giving us a tough, smart and very funny satire where high school really is the real world.

Now On Video

"The Cruise" Not your typical documentary by a long shot, this look at infamous NYC tour guide Timothy "Speed" Levitch is a surreal window on the Big Apple. The movie's grainy look gives away the truth of its humble funding, but don't get stuck on that minor point. The 28-year-old Levitch, who ascribes to the belief that one should never let the facts interfere with a good story, is a true find. His knowledge of Big Apple lore and other minutiae is stunning. And the guy never seems to take a breath in this 76-minute tour of his town and life.

More a character study — of Levitch and the city — than a travelogue, director Bennett Miller's debut offers a rare chance to see a documentary that entertains and enlightens.

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