J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker at the Mariinsky


We often overlook the Russianness of one of our most beloved Christmas traditions.  It is Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker, after all.  Almost one hundred twenty years ago, to the day, The Nutcracker premiered at the Mariinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg (known as the Kirov during darker Soviet days).  At the time, reviews were rather mixed, but it caught on eventually.  The Mariinsky Theatre Ballet Company and the Mariinsky Theatre Symphony Orchestra, under the direction of Valery Gergiev, once again perform the holiday favorite where it all began.  The Sugar Plum Fairy will indeed dance when The Nutcracker screens in 3D nationwide, for one day and one day only, this coming Monday, via Fathom Events (trailer here).

As everyone should know, young Masha’s eccentric godfather, Councilor Drosselmeyer, brings some remarkable toys to her family’s Christmas Eve festivities.  However, only she has eyes for his wooden Nutcracker.  Waking just before midnight, Masha witnesses an epic clash between the Mouse King’s rodent army and the gingerbread soldiers led by the Nutcracker.  Thanks to her intervention, the Nutcracker prevails.  Shortly thereafter, they are transformed into fully grown lead dancers and whisked off to a fantasy land.  Much dancing ensues.

Directed for the screen by Andreas Morrell, the Mariinsky Nutcracker does not skimp on pageantry.  The sets and costumes are as lavish and elegant as viewers would expect, except the mice soldiers, who are deliberately cartoony enough not to upset even the most sensitive of young viewers.  Of course, the dancers are world class, particularly the striking Alina Somova as Princess Masha.  Evidently though, Mariinsky patrons are tough audience.  They do not show much love until the principles reach the Land of Sweets.  That must be a Russian thing.

Incorporating Vasily Vainonen’s acclaimed choreography, the Mariinsky Nutcracker should satisfy experienced ballet connoisseurs and first-time viewers.  While only available in 2D for review attention, it should lend itself quite nicely to 3D, especially the whirling dances in the Land of Sweets, performed in long, flowing exotic garb.  Indeed, Wim Wenders’ Pina proved the utility of 3D cinematography in conveying the spatial dynamics of dance.

There is a reason The Nutcracker has become a Christmas tradition.  Tchaikovsky’s music and the fantastically bittersweet story, sort of adapted from E.T.A. Hoffman’s story, just always seem to work.  With dancers of the Mariinsky’s caliber performing in such a storied venue, it can’t miss.  Recommended for festive families and the cultured elite alike, the Mariinsky’s Nutcracker screens twice this coming Monday (12/3) at theaters throughout the country, including the AMC Empire and Regal Union Square here in New York.

Labels: , , , ,

Parked: Not a Traveler


Fred Daly’s car is nothing special, but it is still bigger than some Manhattan studios.  Still, it has to be death on his back to sleep there.  Unfortunately, the man has no choice.  Yet, the arrival of an irresponsible new neighbor in his car-park might spur him to make some changes in Darragh Byrne’s Parked (trailer here), which opens today in New York.

Daly is not a bad guy, but he is reserved and stand-offish.  In contrast, Cathal O’Regan is a friendly, outgoing junkie.  Before long, he has Daly attending water aerobics at the local sports center and stepping up his efforts to get relief (he has no permanent address, which is a major hang-up for Irish welfare agencies).  He is also haltingly pursuing Jules, a middle-aged Finnish expat music teacher and choir director.  Both shy and proud, Daly is a bit reluctant to admit to her he lives in a car-park (as they call them in the UK).  However, efforts to publicize his predicament may force his hand.  Meanwhile, happy-go-lucky O’Regan is self-destructing like the heroin addict he is.

A triumph-over-adversity film about a man trying to get on the dole would have to be an Irish-Scandinavian co-production, which indeed Parked is.  Still, it is an appealingly straight forward and understated portrayal of redemption, without a lot of phony sentiment gumming up the works.  In fact, it is a great star vehicle for Colm Meaney.  While he has made a career out of playing grouchy Irishmen, Daly’s dignity and vulnerability elevates him well beyond a traditional stock character.  Shrewdly, Parked implies much about his history but reveals little.

Meaney is nicely complimented by a small but effective ensemble.  As O’Regan, Colin Morgan is tragically convincing both turning on the charm and depicting the twitchy reality of addiction.  Stuart Graham also wisely resists false theatrics as O’Regan’s exhausted father in his limited but memorable scenes.  However, Milka Ahlroth is a bit underwhelming as Daly’s potential love interest.

Parked is a modest film with a straight-off-the-shelf consumer digital camera look.  Nevertheless, it features an impressive lead performance from Meaney and even presents religion in a positive light.  Balancing heart and street smarts, Parked is recommended for fans of Irish cinema when it opens today (11/30) in New York at the Cinema Village.

Labels: ,

Killing Them Softly: Beating Them Over the Head with “the Message”


Sometimes even criminals need a bailout.  Of course, they can always help themselves to an involuntary one.  That is what crime and government are all about.  Yet, somehow Andrew Dominik turns a modest heist caper into a didactic statement on political economy in the frustrating lost opportunity titled Killing Them Softly (trailer here), which opens today nationwide.

Killing reminds viewers how annoying it is to have to listen to CNN in an airport concourse.  Say what you will about Tarantino, but at least his gangsters listen to vintage soul music.  It is news radio all the way for Dominik’s low life thugs.  At almost every point of Killing news reports of the 2007 financial crisis and Obama’s campaign speeches blare down on viewers like Big Brother in Oceania.  The economy was bad.  We get it, thank you.  Here’s a newsflash—it’s still stalled.

Against this omnipresent backdrop, Frankie recruits his dog-napping buddy Russell to pull off a risky score.  They are going to hold-up the mob-protected card game run by Markie Trattman.  Ordinarily, knocking over a connected game is a losing proposition, but in this case someone else will automatically be blamed: Trattman.  A while back, he conspired to take down his own game and blabbed about it afterward.  Everyone likes Trattman, so they let it slide, once, but if it happens again things are sure to get ugly.

At first, everything seems to be going according to plan.  Then fixer Jackie Cogan is called in to investigate.  He intuitively knows Trattman has been set-up, but he does not have much sympathy for the man.  Frankly, sentiment really is not his thing, not even for an old past-his-prime hitman chum he mistakenly brings in to help clean up the job.

You can see why Brad Pitt is a movie star in Killing.  Even when chewing on over-the-top “America is a corporation not a community” dialogue that would make The Simpsons’ Mr. Burns snicker, he is an electric presence.  For the most part, his scenes with Richard Jenkins’ Driver, the exasperated counselor to the mob’s corporate governing committee, are smartly written and bitingly witty.  However, Dominik plays out his crime as a metaphor for capitalism well past the breaking point.

Yet, when you strip away Killing’s layers of ostensive “relevance,” one is left with a fairly routine crime drama.  A score goes down and several people involved, one way or another, are subsequently dispatched, but it is difficult to care much about their fates.  After all Dominik scrupulously establishes the lack of innocence in this world.  Still, Ray Liotta has his moments as the tragic Trattman, a self-defeating figure like so many of Killing’s characters.

There is no meaningful takeaway from Killing, because its premise is faulty.  The mob is not like a corporation, it is like a government that can take what it wants and change the rules at its convenience.  Dominik’s adaptation of George V. Higgins’ novel gives viewers a few clever lines and a couple of colorful scenes, but that is about the extent of it.  A real disappointment, Killing Them Softly is not recommended when it opens today (11/30) in New York at the AMC Kips Bay and Regal Union Square.

Labels: , ,

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Back to 1942: War and Famine in Henan Province


Over the centuries, it has been tough to be a Chinese peasant.  Famines have been a fact of life, but because they have been traditionally interpreted as a sign of heavenly displeasure with the ruling authorities, those in power have been more inclined towards denials than an activist response.  Such was the case during the Great Leap Forward and such was the case during the Republican era, at least according to Feng Xiaogang’s latest historical epic, Back to 1942 (trailer here), which opens tomorrow in New York.

The war is not going well for the Nationalist forces, but Chiang Kai-shek is trying to keep up appearances with the Allies.  He is looking to Henan’s granaries to support his beleaguered troops and his local administers do not have the guts to explain the boots-on-the-ground reality to him.  Faced with high taxes, drought, locusts, and the Imperial Japanese military, the peasants of Henan do what they have traditionally done: take flight to Shanxi.

It turns out the drought is a great leveler.  Amongst the refugee contingent is Landlord Fan and his family, accompanied by their sort of faithful servant and their formerly resentful tenants.  As they trudge towards an unwelcoming Shanxi, they are victimized by deserters and strafed by the Japanese, losing what little they had left.  While the Nationalist government turns a blind eye, American journalist Theodore H. White sets out to shame them into action.  Yet, even when relief is authorized, it is held up by graft and incompetence.  So pervasive are the horrors, they might even cause the ardent Father Sim to lose his faith.

Back is a tough film to take.  Based on Liu Zhenyun’s memoir (adapted by the author), Feng’s film puts his characters through the ringer for precious little pay-off.  Granted, it was a bleak period of history, but viewers are still left with the feeling of “all that for this?”  As one would expect from Feng (whose jingoistic Assembly happens to be a ripping good war film), Chiang rather takes it in the shins.  However, the film arguably has a soft spot for trouble-making Americans, like White (indeed, defying authority is what we’re best at, or at least it used to be).

Like the converse of Ironman 3 casting Andy Lau, Back to 1942 recruited some name actors to appeal to the American market, including a not half bad Adrien Brody as White.   Unfortunately, Tim Robbins looks completely out of place as Father Thomas Morgan.  Almost as if by design, the refugee characters largely blend together into a throng of downtrodden humanity, but Assembly star Zhang Hanyu stands out as the humbled Father Sim.  For shell-shocked angst, he is the man to get.  Likewise, Ziwen “Fiona” Wang has her moments as Xingxing, the disillusioned former daughter of privilege.

Although Feng is remarkably adept at staging big warfighting scenes, there is little of the spectacle of battle in Back.  Instead, he concentrates on the overflowing transports and teeming masses of refugees.  It is all quite a big, impressive production, but after a while it becomes exhausting overkill.  For hardy war movie enthusiasts, it opens tomorrow (11/30) at the AMC Empire and Village VII and in San Francisco at the AMC Mercado, courtesy of China Lion Entertainment.

Labels: , , ,

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Scott Adkins Enlists with the Unisols: Universal Soldier—Day of Reckoning


How did Luc Deveraux go from being the hero of the original Universal Soldier to the messianic villain of the latest installment?  One can hardly tell from the five previous of films.  While only two or possibly three are considered “canonical,” none bear much narrative relationship to each, besides some shared names and unreconstructed 1980’s style action.  At least 1999’s The Return had Kianna Tom and the latest outing recruits Scott Adkins.  Somewhat fittingly, the action star of the future is out for revenge against an action star of the past in John Hyams’ Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning (trailer here), which opens this Friday in New York.

One night, Luc Deveraux broke into innocent citizen John’s home, killing his wife and daughter and leaving the man in a coma.  When John comes to, he is interviewed by an FBI agent, who conveniently points him in Deveraux’s direction.  Of course, the audience can immediately tell it is all an implanted memory designed to turn John’s into a vengeful tool of the government.  Nonetheless, the opening segment’s violent cruelty is a definite buzz kill.

As John proceeds on his manipulated mission, Deveraux and his band of rogue Unisols try to stop him with a series of hallucinatory messages and some straight forward muscle provided by Magnus, one of the most recently “awakened” Unisols enlisted into Deveraux’s doomsday cult.  While Deveraux and his apparently immortal former nemesis Andrew Scott have developed a serum to counteract the Unisol programming, it appears its net effect merely switches their blind obedience to Deveraux, himself.  Frankly, there seems to be plenty good reason for the Feds to be hunting Deveraux, regardless of their methods.

For some reason, a number of critics have embraced Reckoning even though it merely revisits the same sort of terrain John Frankenheimer’s infinitely superior Manchurian Candidate first staked out decades ago.  At this point, the film’s moral ambiguity and government paranoia are so old hat, they are just plain boring. 

Still, bringing in Adkins helps.  He will be making action films long after his above-the-title Expendables 2 co-stars.  Playing to his strengths, there are a few nifty fight sequences, including a particularly well choreographed melee in a sporting goods store.  As Adkins’ baseball bat wielding opponent, former UFC Champ Andrei “The Pitbull” Arlovski nicely steps into the Randall “Tex”Cobb-ish role of Magnus.

Watching Adkins and Van Damme have another go at each other is certainly entertaining, but Reckoning lacks both the slickness and the self-awareness of a quality B-movie beatdown like the old school Assassination Games. Hyams (son of Peter) seems to want to do Universal Soldier as adapted by Philip K. Dick, but most fans would rather see the Golan-Globus version.  Not nearly as original as believes it is, Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning (or UniSol 3½) is only recommended for hardcore Adkins and franchise die-hards when it opens this Friday (11/30) in New York at the Village East.

Labels: , , ,

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Dragon (or Wu Xia): Whatever it’s Called, Donnie Yen Will Kick Some


China is a big country.  In 1917, a man could get lost there if he had a reason to.  A court investigator suspects an unassuming paper-mill worker is such a person in Peter Ho-sun Chan’s martial arts historical-procedural Dragon (a.k.a. Wu Xia, trailer here), which opens this Friday in New York.

One day, Liu Jin-xi wandered into town, catching the eye of Ayu, a single mother deserted by her husband.  Liu married her, adopting her clan name and providing the sort of stability she yearned for.  Then one day, two escaped convicts start terrorizing the community.  Liu dispatches them with a series of “lucky shots” in an unlikely melee that could have been choreographed by one of the great silent film comedians.  Or perhaps not.

Xu Bai-jiu is not buying it.  Highly skilled in arcane knowledge, the investigator can practically see Liu radiating chi.  Putting two and two together, Xu deduces Liu is actually Tang Long, the presumptive heir of the ruthless 72 Demons criminal clan.  Unfortunately, Xu’s efforts with the corrupt judiciary attract the attention of the 72 Demons, who come reclaim their turncoat brother, one way or another.

Considering Wu Xia (as it was then known) broke Michael Jackson’s record for largest public billboard, one might expect it to be a big sprawling epic.  Yet, Dragon is a moody character driven piece, dominated by the cat-and-mouse game played by Donnie Yen’s Liu and Takeshi Kaneshiro’s Xu.  Of course, action director Yen does his thing when the Demons show up, including late 1970’s Shaw Brothers superstar Kara Hui, appearing as the Demon Master’s lethal wife.  Fans will be happy to hear he stages some great smack-down action, including a super finale smartly incorporating the film’s holistic themes.

Yen has the right mix of affability and earnestness for Tang-trying-to-be-Liu.  Yet, it is Xu who emerges as the film’s truly tragic figure.  Cerebral and intense to the point of snapping, Kaneshiro makes a great movie anti-hero.  A man who uses acupuncture to deaden his emotions and holds regular dialogues with his subconscious, Xu’s unyielding fealty to the letter of the law bears bitter fruit for everyone, most definitely including himself.  Tang Wei is also right on the money as the sensitive Ayu, still struggling with abandonment issues.

Chan knows his way around the set of a large scale action film, having helmed The Warlords and produced Teddy Chen’s high octane Bodyguards and Assassins.  He certainly delivers the martial arts goods, but it is his early scenes establishing Liu as a family man, filmed with a pastoral beauty by Jake Pollock or Lai Yiu-fai, that set-up the film’s dramatic essence so effectively.  It is a life viewers will agree is worth fighting for.  Smarter and more emotionally engaging than most wuxia period action films, Dragon (or Wu Xia) is highly recommended for genre fans when it opens this Friday (11/30) in New York at the Village East.

Labels: , , , ,

Monday, November 26, 2012

Polo, Drugs, and Rock & Roll: Beware of Mr. Baker


Notorious British Rock and Jazz drummer Ginger Baker is the sort of difficult individual people often call a “character” to be polite.  There is plenty of “character” talk going on throughout a new warts and all documentary profile of the former Cream musician.  However, some of his very former colleagues choose not to mince their words in Jay Bulger’s Beware of Mr. Baker (trailer here), which opens this Wednesday at Film Forum.

Baker is the king of widely acclaimed but short-lived bands, like Cream, Blind Faith, Ginger Baker’s Airforce, Masters of Reality, and a dynamite legit jazz band Baker formed during his Colorado residency.  He is a major reason why each outfit struck a chord with listeners and critics alike, and also the primary cause of their premature demise.  Just ask Eric Clapton, Baker’s colleague from Cream and Blind Faith.  Bulger does exactly that.  While the timeless guitarist tries to be diplomatic, it is clear Baker the Wildman scared the holy heck out of him—and probably still does.

It is mind-blowing to watch Baker’s repeating pattern of career comebacks cut short by self-sabotage.  A case in point would be his African sojourn, partly documented in Tony Palmer’s rather engaging Ginger Baker in Africa.  Arguably at the height of his fame, Baker went off the grid, traveling to a decidedly unstable Nigeria to explore traditional forms of music.  Yet, somehow he managed to fall in with Fela Kuti, who was not particularly inclined towards Europeans appropriators, only to alienate the musician-activist by joining the Nigerian ruling class’s Polo Club (that part Palmer misses out on).

In fact, polo has often been the downfall of Mr. Baker.  Those ponies are expensive and they draw the attention of tax inspectors like a magnet.  Still, the polo club Baker founded in Colorado and the jazz concerts his group gave after matches emerges in Bulger’s account as a brief high point in the drummer’s chaotic life.

While not Bulger’s uppermost concern, Beware makes a compelling case on behalf of Colorado’s local jazz talent.  If you can satisfy Ginger Baker, than you can play with anyone.  In fact, he had a great ear, recruiting excellent musicians like Fred Hess and trumpeter Ron Miles, who also appears as an interview subject.  Of course, most of the film’s potential audience will be more interested in the likes of Clapton, Steve Winwood, Stones drummer Charlie Watts, Cream bassist Jack Bruce, Johnny Rotten, Lars Ulrich, Stewart Copeland, Femi Kuti, and various ex-wives.  If there is anyone Bulger couldn’t get, they aren’t missed.

There is something perversely inspiring about Baker’s resiliency. He keeps doing it his way, regardless of the consequences.  Beware captures all the madness of the Ginger Baker experience, but Bulger tries his best not to let it overshadow the music.  Naturally, Baker is often his own worst enemy in this respect.  Yet, somehow viewers will want to listen to Baker’s classic tracks after witnessing his spectacularly anti-social behavior.  That is a neat trick Bulger deserves mucho credit for pulling off.  A thoroughly entertaining documentary chocked full of unforgettable headshaking, face-palming moments, Beware of Mr. Baker is recommended for fans of rock, jazz, world music, and all around excess when it opens this Wednesday (11/28) at New York’s Film Forum.

Labels: , , , ,

Saturday, November 24, 2012

ADIFF ’12: Re-Emerging—The Jews of Nigeria

They lack the official recognition of the Falasha Ethiopians, but a small group of Igbo Nigerians remain convinced they are part of one of the ten lost tribes of Israel.  Small would be the word to emphasize.  In a country almost entirely divided between Christian and Muslim believers, Jewish Nigerians are a distinct minority.  Nonetheless, growing numbers of Igbos are embracing Judaism as part of their heritage.  Jeff L. Lieberman documents their lives and faith in Re-Emerging: The Jews of Nigeria (trailer here), which screens as part of the 2012 African Diaspora International Film Festival in New York.

It is complicated, but many Igbo believe they are the modern day descendants of the Tribe of Gad.  It could certainly be possible, but it would have been one arduous trek.  One has to have a little faith.  Still, the Jewish Igbo point to striking ways their language and culture corresponds to Hebrew and Jewish religious practices.  Tragically, the Igbo experience during the 1967-1970 Nigerian Civil War also somewhat paralleled that of European Jewry during World War II, with an estimated three million Igbo killed due to the massacres and economic blockades perpetrated by the Muslim north.

Whether Eri, fifth son of Gad, really made it to Nigeria hardly matters to Rabbi Howard Gorin, who emerges in Re-Emerging as one of the most impassioned international advocates for the Jewish Igbos.  Like Rabbi Gorin, the Jewish scholars who have visited the Igbo community describe the experience for Lieberman as inspiring and even humbling.

Indeed, there are some surprisingly affecting moments in Re-Emerging.  Lieberman also supplies a good deal of helpful cultural-historical context without bogging down the film in anthropological minutia.  Nor does Lieberman turn a blind eye on the institutional corruption afflicting Nigeria at large.  Yet, he raises the intriguing question of what Igbo Judaism might mean for African-Americans, many of whom are descended from captured Igbo slaves, without fully exploring the implications.
 
Re-Emerging is an informative film that broadens one’s perspective on both the Jewish and African Diasporas.  Indeed, it is a laudably inclusive selection of this year’s ADIFF that ought to expand the festival’s audience.  Recommended for multicultural and multi-faith audiences, Re-Emerging: The Jews of Nigeria screens next Monday (12/3) at the Columbia Teachers College Chapel as the 2012 ADIFF continues in venues throughout New York.

Labels: , ,

Friday, November 23, 2012

Goddess: Two Stage Sisters


Only a handful of films were produced in China during the Cultural Revolution.  While cinema was generally considered another manifestation of western decadence, it is not like people had the time for them anyway while they toiled in re-education camps.  At least, one of the final films leading up to the Gang of Four’s ascendency was an ideologically charged crowd pleaser, featuring a memorable star turn from era survivor Xie Fang. Fittingly, Xie Jin’s Two Stage Sisters screens this coming Tuesday as part of the Asia Society’s continuing film series, Goddess: Chinese Women on Screen.

Life on the road with an itinerant opera company was a hard proposition in 1930’s provincial China, but it still beat the alternate for a young indentured tongyangxi widow.  Desperate to escape her in-laws, Chunhua signs on with the Yue Opera, thanks to the support of Yuehong and her father, the company’s artistic director.  Unfortunately, illness exacerbated by stress cuts short the master thespian’s life, leaving the two sworn sisters vulnerable to the schemes of the company’s oily business manager, A’Xin.

Pretending it is a great opportunity for the two stage sisters, A’Xin sells their contract to Tang, a Shanghai theater owner, who recognizes exploitable talent when he sees it.  In due course, the duo becomes a popular attraction, but they eventually grow apart.  Yuehong tries to make the best of the situation by marrying Tang, while Chunhua falls in with a revolutionary leftist clique.  While her politics cause Chunhua no end of grief in the short term, being intimately associated with Tang and his cronies turns out to be more dangerous over the long run.

Stage is a strange film, starting off much like a traditional Hollywood backstage melodrama about competing ingénues.  However, it segues into some decidedly unsubtle political propaganda.  The exploiters and the exploited are presented in no uncertain terms and we are told by Chunhua’s Marxist mentor the only remedy is revolution.  Yet, Xie Jin still found himself facing criticism for implying reconciliation can be possible between the classes.  How scandalous—and perilous.

Without question, Stage is a reflection of the times and turbulent conditions during which it was produced.  Still, it has a spark of something typical propaganda grind-em-outs lack.  Dare we call it a soul?  Indeed, the evolving relationship between Xie’s Chunhua and Cao Yindi’s Yuehong is genuinely complex and ultimately rather touching.  As Sang Shuihua, the fading diva Tang spurns, Shangguan Yunzhu also defies stereotypes, getting some of the film’s juiciest moments of tragedy.

Surprisingly for a film produced under extreme artistic restraints, Stage is rather visually stylish, boasting some impressive period sets and strikingly colored skies.  Granted, it is hard not to scoff when Chunhua pledges only to perform revolutionary operas, because let’s face it, she will not have any choice in the matter.  Yet, there is an unlikely gentleness to Two Stage Sisters that could make it a compatible pairing with Ozu’s Floating Weeds.  Recommended for China watchers and those with a fondness for sweeping morality plays, Two Stage Sisters screens this coming Wednesday (11/28) as part of the Asia Society’s wonderfully rich Goddess series.

Labels: , ,

Thursday, November 22, 2012

ADIFF ’12: Toussaint Louverture


Toussaint Louverture was a freed slave, an abolitionist, and a onetime slave-owning plantation master.  He led an epic life dramatized in all its messy glory throughout Philippe Niang’s two part French miniseries, Toussaint Louverture (trailer here), which screens in its entirety as the centerpiece selection of the 2012 African Diaspora International Film Festival in New York.

Told in flashbacks, viewers know right from the start Napoleon will eventually have his fill of Louverture, consigning him to prison, where his lackeys interrogate the Haitian general for the whereabouts of an apocryphal buried treasure.  In a way, Louverture was lucky to be there.  Having watched a cruel slaver murder his father, the young Louverture would have been next had Bayon, a more humane plantation holder, not interceded (evidently, this scene involves some dramatic license, but so be it).  Recognizing the boy’s talents, Bayon somewhat reluctantly teaches Louverture to read and even grants him his freedom as a young man.  The evolving, cliché-defying relationship between the two men is one of the strongest elements of the bio-drama.

Eventually, Louverture takes arms, but again it is complicated.  Serving as an officer first for the Spanish and then the French, Louverture fought against every European power in Haiti at one time or another.  Although he is an abolitionist, Louverture strives to maintain strategic ties to the colonial landlords.  The Louverture Niang shows the audience is not a class warrior.  He wants to keep their capital in Haiti—he just doesn’t want to be considered part of it.  However, this inevitably brings conflict with hotter heads intent on score-settling.

Indeed, the tragedy of Niang’s Louverture is the way cynical white, black, and mulatto Haitians exploit racial resentment to further their power games.  It is also fascinating to see how the chaos of the French Revolution shaped events a hemisphere away.  However, given Louverture’s reputation as one of history’s great revolutionaries, many viewers will be surprised there are no battle scenes in Niang’s production, just the anticipation and consequences of armed conflict.

Something of a throwback to the epic historical minis of the 1980’s, Louverture is sweeping, melodramatic, and ennobling in a very satisfying way.  As one might expect, Jimmy Jean-Louis’s dynamic lead performance is the key.  He is suitably intense, without allowing Louverture to degenerate into a fire-breathing revolutionary stereotype.  Likewise, Philippe Caroit genuinely humanizes the French old guard as the decidedly un-Legree-ish Bayon.

A French television veteran, Niang’s tele-movie Prohibited Love (which screened at the 2010 ADIFF) also dealt with racial themes pointedly, but without wallowing in didacticism.  Louverture is even better.  In fact, it should appeal to audiences across the ideology spectrum, aside from any odd remaining Bonapartists out there.  Appealingly old fashioned, Toussaint Louverture is a well produced period drama, recommended for history buffs and Francophone audiences when it screens next Saturday and Sunday (12/1 and 12/2) as the centerpiece of this year’s ADIFF.

Labels: , ,

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

ADIFF ’12: T’Ain’t Nobody’s Bizness


Every six or eight months or so, one of the major jazz magazines runs a story about how difficult it is for jazz artists to come out of the closet.  The usual suspects are duly interviewed and everyone bemoans the lingering uber-machismo inherited from big band era.  Yet, many of the true pioneering women of the blues, almost all of whom have significant jazz crossover appeal, were evidently either bisexuals or lesbians.  Robert Philipson explores their largely unknown but not necessarily secret sexual identities in T’Ain’t Nobody’s Bizness: Queer Blues Divas of the 1920s (trailer here), which screens as a selection of the 2012 African Diaspora International Film Festival in New York.

Ma Rainey and Bessie Smith could be bawdy yet sophisticated performers.  They were also bisexual.  As one of Philipson’s interview subjects explains, as blues singers, they were automatically marginalized by the Church-centered mainstream African American society of time.  Ironically, this was somewhat liberating in an in-for-a-penny kind of way.  As a result, Rainey and Smith carried on rather openly with lovers of all varieties, while they maintained their careers and straight public images—for the most part.  The same was true for Ethel Waters and Alberta Hunter, who were not really closeted or open lesbians, but something in between.  In contrast, patrons would have to be pretty dense to miss the significance of Gladys Bentley’s defiantly lesbian nightclub act.

If you adjust for inflation, Rainey, Smith, and Waters are among the biggest recording acts frankly ever.  It is quite extraordinary how such a significant aspect of their lives has been so widely overlooked. Yet, Philipson never overstates matters.  At one point Bizness’s narrator argues it was not their sexual identity that made Rainey and company such great artists, but it was an important part of who they were as people.

Philipson also makes some shrewd musical selections, ranging from “hmm, that’s an interesting double entendre” to “gee, how could anyone not pick up on that?”  However, viewers familiar with Waters’ long association with the Billy Graham Crusade in her later years will wonder how these two halves of her persona fit together.  Yet, Philipson never goes down this avenue.  Of course, there is only so much that can be addressed in Bizness’s thirty minute running time.

Philipson balances scandal and sensitivity quite well and features some great music.  Informative and briskly entertaining, T’Ain’t Nobody’s Bizness is highly recommended for jazz and blues fans.  It screens this coming Tuesday (11/27) as part of the Gay Theme Film Program at this year’s ADIFF.

Labels: , , , , , ,

ADIFF ’12: Hopeville


Hopeville is the sort of town that will drive you to drink.  It is probably not the place for a recovering alcoholic granted provisional custody of his estranged son, but Amos Manyoni does not have a lot of options in John Trengove’s Hopeville (trailer here), an original feature film adaptation of the popular South African miniseries, which screens as part of the 2012 African Diaspora International Film Festival in New York.

Pools play in important role in the life of Manyoni’s son Themba.  He was a champion swimmer, but his mother tragically died in an accident en route to one of his meets.  Clean and sober for over a year, Manyoni regains his parental rights, as long as he adheres to three conditions: stay away from alcohol, hold down a steady job, and provide Themba access to a pool.  Hopeville sounds perfect.  He has a gig lined up there with the municipal government and there is a pool, except not really.

Drained and in a state of disrepair, the pool now serves as a garbage dump.  The corrupt Mayor and his council cronies are planning to develop it into a booze drive through, but they are reluctant to tell Manyoni their plans forthrightly.  Instead, they do their best to secretly undermine his efforts to single-handedly fix up the pool.  Much to their frustration though, Manyoni’s work begins to inspire the depressed town.

Hopeville is the sort of film tailor-made for feel-good festival play.  There is redemption, family values, spirited old folks, and triumph over adversity.  Manyoni even develops a romance with Fikile, the mayor’s ice cream vendor mistress, but it is decidedly chaste—just an odd kiss and a bit of handholding.

Of course, you cannot spell “Hopeville” without “evil.”  That might be too strong a term, but Desmond Dube’s venal mayor is definitely a pointed portrayal of post-apartheid political opportunists.  Yet, by and large, Hopeville is about inclusion and multi-racial community.

Themba Ndada is painfully earnest but still reasonably down to earth and credible as Manyoni.  While there are all kinds of manipulation going on, viewers will still find themselves caring about his trials and tribulations.  While Dube plays the mayor like a caricature of graft, Hopeville boasts several appealingly colorful supporting turns, including Jonathan Pienaar as the Fred, the not as bad as he looks barkeep.

On one hand, Hopeville is competently produced, likable, and well-intentioned.  It is also predictable and sentimental.  Sometimes, that is all rather comforting.  Recommended for patrons in the mood for reassuringly inspirational cinema or interested in contemporary South African film, Hopeville screens this Saturday (11/24) and the following Thursday (12/6) as part of the ADIFF in New York.

Labels: ,

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

The Mystical Laws: The End is Near, Meditate Quickly


An expansionist Eastern regime is dead set on war with Japan, at a time when America’s defense capacity and influence in the UN are both at all time lows.  They say it’s the near future, but it feels only too near.  Still, there may yet be hope in Isamu Imamake’s apocalyptic anime feature The Mystical Laws, created by executive producer Ryuho Okawa (founder of the controversial Japanese religious fusion movement, Happy Science) which opens this Friday in New York (trailer here).

In an authoritarian country not identified as China, a shadowy military science officer named Tathagata Killer assumed power in a coup.  Now known as the Godom Empire, his kingdom becomes the dominant super-power, thanks to the remarkable technology provided by the beautiful but mysterious industrialist Chan Leika. 

The world slept while the demonic dictator consolidated power, except Hermes Wings.  Partly a Doctors Without Borders style NGO and partly a secret society dedicated to preserving free democratic values, Hermes Wings is considered the greatest threat to the Godom overlord, so he targets them accordingly.  Through tragic circumstances, Sho Shishimaru rises to the top of Hermes Wings.  There is a reason people have confidence in him.  According to prophecies, he might be both the savior and the second coming of Buddha, which is an awful lot for any dude to live up to.

Mystical Laws could be described as a Buddhist Left Behind, with generous helpings of Christian symbolism thrown in for good measure.  It is also anime.  In truth, just about every conception of divinity is covered in Mystical, including the embodiment of the “Spirit of Japan,” who looks rather attractive.  Some of the symbolism is impossible to miss, such as the swastikas the Godom army marches under, or the crosses on which they crucify enemies of the state.  Still, if the slightly odd film represents an attempt to proselytize, it is dashed hard to tell what for.

Okay, so subtly really isn’t Mystical’s thing.  Nonetheless, the first two acts constitute a rather intriguing end-of-the-world sci-fi conspiracy thriller.  The relationship between Shishimaru and Leika is also nicely developed and the Buddhist elements give it all a distinctive flavor.  Unfortunately, the third act is largely given over to a Harry Potter-esque clash of fireballs and god-rays.

You have to take satisfaction from a Japanese film that bemoans the lack of American military bases.  Indeed, it takes notions of faith, freedom, and sacrifice profoundly seriously.  With art and characterization well within the anime industry standard, perhaps even slightly higher, it might be the most effective end-of-days religious thriller, well maybe ever (for what that’s worth).  It certainly puts to shame impassioned but clunky Evangelical films, like Jerusalem Countdown.

Mystical probably is not your Cheetos-eating fanboy’s anime.  However, anyone interested in a film arguing religion plays an essential role in a healthy society (and also implying a need for a strong military) might just get sucked in, in spite of themselves.  Recommended for fans of challenging anime, aesthetically adventurous Evangelicals, and nontraditional Buddhists (collectively a woefully underserved market), The Mystical Laws opens this Friday (11/23) in New York at the Cinema Village.

Labels: , , , ,

ADIFF ’12: Times Like Deese


The looming liquidation of Hostess Brands represents 185,000 jobs likely lost.  That is a whole lot of blues in the Obama era.  Ever mindful of the significance of an African American president in the White House, Marteen Schmidt & Thomas Doebele take a Lomaxian journey into deep southern blues country to find out how blue the traditional bluesmen’s blues still are in Times Like Deese: You Can’t Keep a Man Down Always (trailer here), which screens during the 2012 African Diaspora International Film Festival in New York.

Rarely is heard a discouraging word about the 44th president, but L.C. Ulmer’s first blues is dedicated to James Meredith, the civil rights pioneer who integrated Ole Miss and later became a high profile staffer for Sen. Jesse Helms.  His lyrics end before that point, making it exactly the sort of song Schmidt and Doebele were hoping to record.  “Blind Mississippi” Morris Cummings seems the readiest to oblige with political material directly addressing current controversies.  Less topical but still on-point for the Dutch filmmakers, musicians like Josh “Razorblade” Stewart, Chester “Memphis Gold” Chandler, and Charlie Sayles often sing blues about their experiences serving in Viet Nam.

Times Like Deese (a problematically condescending attempt at approximating rural Southern vernacular) has some deeply felt music, but its economic analysis is rather shallow.  Regardless, it is nice to see the blues is alive and well as a form of musical statement.  Perhaps Stewart has the most memorable performance, with a decidedly ribald take on “Trouble in Mind,” but most of the old school bluesmen acquit themselves in style.  However, the occasional nods to hip hop are consistently underwhelming.

It might shock New Yorkers to learn B.B. King’s Blues Club in Memphis actually books blues artists, unlike the 42nd Street club that largely presents vaguely blues-influenced rock bands.  Indeed, it is quite cool to see Cummings play a set there.  Co-director-co-editors Schmidt and Doebele make storied Blues capitals like Clarksdale appear almost completely untouched by time or economic development.  Granted, profound change might well be due there, but there also seems to be a bit of the blues collectors’ notorious poverty fetishism going on as well.

Arguably, the blues gets less financial love and support than even jazz, so any blues doc treating the music with respect earns a recommendation for fans.  TLD would have served the music better if it were not so desperate to make political points, but Schmidt and Doebele are sure to impress plenty of festival programmers that way.  Recommended for traditional blues devotees, Times Like Deese has its American premiere this Saturday (11/24) at the Columbia Teacher’s College Chapel as part of the 2012 ADIFF in New York.

Labels: , , ,

Monday, November 19, 2012

At the Tel Aviv Opera: Gottfried Helnwein and the Dreaming Child


Austrian born artist Gottfried Helnwein hosted the wedding ceremony of Marilyn Manson and Dita Von Teese, presided over by Alejandro Jodorowsky.  That fact alone sets off plenty of alarm bells.  Nonetheless, Helnwein has produced an impressive body of work, largely informed by the horrors of the Holocaust.  It was the themes and sensitivities of his oeuvre that inspired the Israeli Opera to commission Helnwein’s designs for an ambitious new production.  Lisa Kirk Colburn documents the visual artist’s sometime dramatic collaborative process in Gottfried Helnwein and the Dreaming Child (trailer here), which opens this Friday in New York.

In a telling historical irony, Helnwein was accepted by the art academy that famously rejected Hitler.  Coming of age at a time the Holocaust simply was not discussed in Austria, Helnwein discovered the truth on his own.  The revelation profoundly influenced his work both as a student and a mature artist.  Images of children in various states of vulnerability reappear over and over in his photo-realist paintings.  Not surprisingly, Helnwein had a deep affinity for Hanoch Levin’s allegorical play, The Dreaming Child and its Helnweinesque title character.

When Helnwein designs a stage production, he does not dash off a few set decorations and call it a day.  Essentially, he takes over the show, at least to judge by the evidence of Dreaming Child.  Director and co-librettist Omri Nitzan comes across like an evenhanded mediator, but some of the Opera’s creative crew clash repeatedly with the celebrity artist.  That’s just what you get when you bring in a design auteur.

Leading up to the premiere of Dreaming Child, Helnwein also mounts a new showing of his large scale public installation piece, Selektion.  Frankly, the story behind that piece (and its rather rocky debut in Cologne) might be even more documentary worthy than the Dreaming Child production.

Fortunately, Colburn’s film shows us more than Helnwein puttering about his studio.  In fact, he is an artist with something to say and he takes advantage of the opportunity to do so.  To her credit, Colburn does not leave any obvious questions unaddressed, showing her subject’s high-handedness as well as his passion and empathy.  Viewers should note, there is also a brief but humanizing post-credits stinger.  It looks like a cool shot Colburn fell in love with, but could not figure out any other place to put it.

An engaging art documentary comparable to recent releases like Bel Borba Aqui and Gregory Crewdson: Brief Encounters, Dreaming Child also offers additional social-historical significance by forthrightly exploring the themes of Helnwein and Levin’s work.  Recommended for Helnwein’s fans and patrons of Israeli culture, Gottfried Helnwein and the Dreaming Child opens this Friday (11/23) in New York at the Quad Cinema.

Labels: ,

ADIFF ’12: Tango Macbeth


It is like the Bewitched version of the “Scottish Play.”  Two identifiably different actors will play the murderous general, due to complicated circumstances.  It is all part of the backstage drama brought to the fore in Nadine M. Patterson’s meta-postmodern-experimental-musical-docudrama Tango Macbeth (trailer here), which screens during the 2012 AfricanDiaspora International Film Festival in New York.

Unconventional in many ways, this Macbeth will be choreographed.  Yes, there will be tango, as well as some vaguely Fosse-esque steps, but that is the least of Patterson’s gamesmanship.  While the play itself is shot in stylized music video-style black-and-white, the ostensive behind-the-scenes rehearsal will be filmed in Wiseman-like color.  There will be nearly as much fireworks going on amidst the cast and crew as in the presumptive play within the film.

Hopefully, it is all a bit of meta-meta fun, or else Macbeth #1 will be in for some indigestion when he finally screens Tango.  Yet, the Shakespeare is still in there and the cast is often quite good bringing out the flavor and dynamics of Shakespeare’s most perilous tragedy.  In fact, Brian Anthony Wilson is absolutely fantastic as Macduff (and himself as Macduff), blowing the doors off the Thane of Fife’s big scenes.  Based on his work in Tango, most viewers will probably be up for watching him tackle the title role in a more traditional production.

Alexandra Bailey also has some powerful scenes as Lady Macbeth, apparently developing some nice chemistry with both Macbeths.  If Carlo Campbell, Macbeth #1, always appears in character[s], than it is a really fearless performance.  Ironically though, Eric Suter’s best scene comes not as Macbeth #2, but when he was still a swing player, appearing as Lady Macbeth’s assassin.

It might seem hypocritical to criticize Anna Karenina for Joe Wright’s stylistic excesses, but praise Patterson’s explicitly avant-garde approach.  Yet, they are coming from two very different places.  While Wright is just tossing in a distracting bit of hipster pretension, Patterson is fundamentally deconstructing both Shakespeare and traditional notions of stage drama.

The talented ensemble makes quite a mark in Tango, yet it is likely to disappoint anyone hoping to see actors in classical costume, dancing about with roses in their teeth (perhaps bitterly so).  However, for the aesthetically adventurous it is a fascinating production.  Recommended for frequent patrons of the Anthology Film Archives, it screens Saturday (11/24) and Sunday (11/25) as part of this year’s ADIFF.

Labels: , , ,

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Goddess: Daybreak


Like Ruan Lingyu, Li Lili was a true diva of silent Chinese cinema.  If you think former diva status would not be particularly convenient during the Cultural Revolution, your suspicions are correct. Having upstaged Madame Mao in the 1930’s hardly helped either.  Yet, there should have been no complaints with the ideological content of Sun Yu’s Daybreak, which screens this Tuesday as part of the Asia Society’s current film series, Goddess: Chinese Women on Screen.

Ling Ling is a fresh faced country girl, who comes to Shanghai with her man in search of employment.  Briefly, things look promising when they find work at a yarn factory.  Unfortunately, trouble with the law forces him to ship out as a merchant seaman, leaving her vulnerable to the city’s predatory elements.

First, Ling Ling is drugged and raped by the playboy factory owner.  Later, when wondering lost through the city, she is sold into a brothel by an ostensive protector.  It might be a bad business, but Ling Ling adapts to it, reasserting command of her illicit destiny as a high-priced prostitute, but with both a heart of gold and a raised political consciousness.  Dispensing aid to her struggling neighbors while conspiring with subversive elements, Ling Ling truly becomes a new woman.

Of course, it ends tragically.  All the best propaganda does.  Although Daybreak is not as stylishly realized as Wu Yonggang’s The Goddess, the revolutionary hooker is certainly a much more attractive radicalizing agent than the clenched-fist factory worker.  The camera absolutely loves her, and just like Ruan, she knew how to milk a death scene for all its worth.

It is not hard to see why Li was such a Diva of the silent era (in fact, she was once part of a theatrical tandem known as the Four Divas).  Her Ling Ling is cute, innocent, and eventually saucy, but nobody’s dummy.  Despite all the wrongs done to Ling Ling, she is never a mere victim in Daybreak, which is a major reason why it remains such a notable work.

A product of its time, Daybreak is an interesting but imperfect film, whereas Li’s story is absolutely fascinating.  China’s last living silent film star, she led an epic life ways both great and terrifying.  Indeed, it raises a great historical “what if” question.  In the way we wonder about Hitler’s artistic frustrations, perhaps if Lan Ping (a.k.a. Jiang Qing) had been a better actress, the suffering of millions might have been avoided.  Recommended in its own right mostly for Li Lili’s luminous presence, Daybreak screens this Tuesday night (11/20) at the Asia Society, as their can’t miss Goddess series continues.

Labels: , , , ,

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Submitted by Finland: Purge


Finland and the Soviet Union shared some complicated history over the last hundred years or so.  They fought at least two wars against each other, give or take, and then brought the world the term “Findlandization.”  In contrast, Estonia and the U.S.S.R.’s relations were more straight-forward.  The latter forcibly dominated the former and the Baltic Republic did not like it one little bit.  Although it tells an Estonian story, Sofi Oksanen’s novel has had great resonance for Finnish readers.  In fact, former East Carolina University basketball recruit Antti J. Jokinen’s adaptation of Oksanen’s international bestseller Purge has been selected by Finland as their official foreign language Academy Award submission (trailer here).

One fateful night, Zara, a sex slave fleeing her Russian mobster captors, seeks refuge at Aliide’s remote farm house.  The old woman is instantly suspicious, but she takes in the exploited woman nonetheless.  As it happens, Zara did not make her way there by accident.  Their tragic histories are intertwined, as the audience learns in a series of flashbacks.

Aliide was always a little strange.  While she fell head over heels for the dashing Hans Pekk, it is her sister Ingel who turns his head.  Yet, Aliide is more than willing to help Ingel shelter her former freedom fighter brother-in-law from the Soviet authorities.  Frankly, she kind of likes knowing exactly where he is at all times.  Decades later, that secret hiding space under the floor boards will come in handy again.

In a case of ironic symmetry, both women will suffer tremendously at the hands of Russians.  Even though Aliide eventually marries a true believer, she still cannot avoid seeing the inside of a Communist torture chamber.  Despite all the humiliations Zara endures as an unwilling prostitute, Aliide’s torments are probably even worse.  As a result, Purge is often a difficult film to watch, but it is never exploitative or moral ambiguous in the ways its presents such horrors.  Whether motivated by ideology or sadism, the reality of rape and assault remain the same.

Laura Birn gives an incredible performance as the mid Twentieth Century Aliide.  A twitchy young woman in an apparent state of arrested development, she is not the sort of victim figure viewers can easily embrace.  In truth, she has a bit of a Machiavellian streak, yet she still experiences more pain and degradation than anyone could possibly deserve.

Jokinen is not afraid to confront his audience with all manner atrocities.  Nonetheless, he also shows a deft touch with the quiet moments occasionally stolen by the Estonian lovers.  He clearly differentiates each time period without resorting to distracting visual gimmicks, balancing each narrative relatively evenhandedly.

Purge might be a dark horse contender, but Jokinen has Hollywood ties, having directed Hillary Swank-Kadyrov and Jeffrey Dean Morgan in The Resident, so who knows?  It is certainly a quality period production, which often counts for something with Academy voters.  It might be a bit too honest for their tastes though.  Regardless, Purge would be an enormously worthy nominee, definitely recommended for patrons who have a chance to catch it on the festival circuit.

Labels: , ,

Friday, November 16, 2012

Submitted by Poland: 80 Million


They called it a heist, but it was really withdrawal.  They were union dues in an account the Solidarity representatives were the rightful signatories for.  Yet not surprisingly, the Communist regime preferred to keep all funds under their control, so they could be immediately frozen should the need arise.  On the eve of martial law, a handful of workers-turned-activists anticipate a looming need for that money in Waldemar Krzystek’s factually based drama 80 Million (trailer here), chosen by Poland as their official submission for this year’s foreign language Academy Award, which screens as the closing night selection of the Skalny Center’s 2012 Polish Film Festival at Rochester University.

Winter 1981 will be a cold one.  Despite promises made, the Communists are not about to let Solidarity operate freely.  So far, they have waged a war of small ball provocation, desecrating Soviet war graves and the like in the guise of Solidarity activists.  However, when four real Solidarity supporters bust them in the act, in front of cameras, the stakes precipitously rise.

Perhaps too conveniently, there is a source offering government information to the Lower Silesia branch, but the dissident workers are not convinced they can trust him.  Still, his information always pans out.  Essentially warning them to expect a long siege, the quartet convinces each other high liquidity is in order.  Of course, it is never a good time to plan a major operation in a police state.  Staszek’s very pregnant wife is an obvious vulnerability.  Her high-ranking father can only protect her within limits.  While Maks does not have the same concerns when he takes up with Natalia, a French journalist of Polish heritage, she is something of a distraction.

How refreshing is it to see a film that uses the word “Commie” as a term of denigration.  It is equally appealing to see members of the Catholic Church playing a heroic role in the struggle to attain freedom and dignity for the people.  In many sad ways, 80 Million is actually a timely film, reminding viewers of the consequences of a media too closely aligned with the state.  Still, it is largely optimistic in tone, more intent on celebrating Solidarity’s triumphs than mourning those lost during the dark days of Communistic oppression.

Indeed, there is no nostalgia for the old regime.  At various times viewers see inside Communist torture chambers and eavesdrop on their ruthless scheming.  Piotr Głowacki is particularly detestable as the serpentine SB Captain Sobczak. Not to be spoilery, but the manner in which he gets his is quite satisfying.

Frankly, Krzystek’s severe docudrama style limits the time for character develop, but he sure can stage a massive protest.  The tenor of the times certainly comes through loud and clear.  Still, there are some memorable performances, most notably from Głowacki and Mariusz Benoit as “Kmicic,” the Deep Throat figure.  Emilia Komarnicka also turns up the heat in a variety of notable ways as Natalia.  Of our main co-conspirators, Wojciech Salarz’s worried father-to-be makes the strongest impression.  Unfortunately, Olga Frycz, whose earnest presence and youthful good looks helped make Jacek Borcuch’s All that I Love so special is almost criminally under-employed as Marta, an ex-girlfriend sheltering one of the fugitives.

Although Krzystek’s approach can be distancing now and then, he gives audiences more than enough to keep them emotionally invested in the not-really caper.  Marek Warszewski’s design team convincingly recreates Jaruzelski era Poland.  Again, that is nothing to be nostalgic for.  New Yorkers take note—this includes gas rationing lines.  A well crafted recreation of a fascinating historical episode, 80 Million would be a worthy Oscar nominee.  Recommended with a good deal of enthusiasm, it screens this coming Monday (11/19) as the closing night film of the Polish Film Festival at Rochester, which will also show Wojtek Smarzowski’s excellent Rose on Saturday (11/17).

Labels: , , ,