|The filmmaker’s mother, Alice Michalowski,
reading from Maryla’s memoir, as seen in “Nana,”
a First Run Features release.
Serena Dykman’s documentary “Nana” is a eulogy, not
only for her grandmother, Maryla Michalowski-Dyamant, who died when Serena
was 11, but for all victims of the Holocaust. “I remember a lot
of people attending her funeral,” Ms. Dykman recalls. “I remember
that she was a very important person, a public person.” And she
remembers hearing the vocabulary of her grandmother’s mission –
words like “Auschwitz,” “Birkenau,” “ghetto,”
“Mengele,” “gas chambers” – “and not
understanding them, but knowing they were bad words.” “Nana”
is also a film of three generations of women, and the dynamic between
Ms. Dykman and her mother Alice Michalowski, Maryla’s daughter,
does much to propel the arc of the documentary narrative and imbue it
with love and hope. By Nancy Kempf.
Dofat, Blessin Giraldo, Cori Grainger as The Lethal Ladies.
Lethal Ladies Step Out and Step Up in New Documentary
If there are antidotes to Charlottesville, one may be "Step,"
the new documentary from Amanda Lipitz that won the U.S. Documentary Special
Jury Award for Inspirational Filmmaking at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival
and the Audience Award for Best Feature at the 2017 AFI Docs festival.
The film tells the remarkable story of the step team at the Baltimore
Leadership School for Young Women (BLSYW). "Step" focuses on
Blessin Giraldo, whose mother suffers almost crippling depression; Cori
Grainger, the class valedictorian whose mother has recently remarried;
and Tayla Solomon, who struggles with her grades even as her demanding
corrections officer mother acts not only as her daughter's booster, but
the entire step team's. By Nancy Kempf.
Affleck as C. Photo by Bret Curry. Courtesy of A24.
“A Ghost Story”:
A Meditation on Time, Remembrance and Loss
What is time but loss? Loss of youth, of companionship. The process of
becoming and of declining. David Lowery’s “A Ghost Story”
is about time and loss and opens with an epigram, the first line of Virginia
Woolf’s story “A Haunted House”: “Whatever hour
you woke up there was another door shutting.” The piece is ultimately
a love story. By Nancy Kempf.
Jim Jarmusch’s new film
“Paterson” – about a poet named Paterson who drives
a bus for a living in Paterson, New Jersey – is concerned not simply
with poetry and the craft of prosody, but with the very nature of language
itself. Not only do other poets inhabit “Paterson” –
a rap artist who composes in a laundromat, a 10-year-old girl, a Japanese
poet on a pilgrimage to Paterson, home of William Carlos Williams –
but the film is teeming with myriad varieties of linguistic rhythm and
style: in street talk; in conversations on the bus (guy talk, kid talk,
would-be anarchist talk, old lady talk); in conversations in the neighborhood
watering hole (bar stories, lovers’ quarrels, wifely scolds) –
each is a kind of quotidian poetry in itself. Reviewed by Nancy S. Kempf
A MAN CALLED OVE:
THE GRACE OF COMMUNITY.
Swedish director Hannes Holm’s "A Man Called Ove" is a
variation on this theme of community. What is community and how do we
create it and then maintain it over time? How is the intimate community
of marriage interwoven with the community of neighbors and friends? How
do the interactions of the workplace sustain or betray community? Reviewed
by Nancy S. Kempf
|Daniel Radcliffe and Paul Dano in “Swiss Army
Quirky little subversive
films made for a delightful summer.
If you’re not into superheroes (“Captain America,” “X-Men”)
and super villains (“Suicide Squad”); if thriller (“Jason
Bourne,” “Independence Day,” “Now You See Me”)
and sci-fi (“Star Trek”) and horror (“The Conjuring,”
“The Purge”) and animation (“Angry Birds,” “Teenage
Mutant Ninja Turtles,” “Ice Age”) franchises and franchises-to-be
(“Warcraft”) aren’t your thing; if just plain stupid
makes you just plain sick (“Neighbors,” “Bad Moms,”
“Mike & Dave Need Wedding Dates”), you're going to love
these movies. Reviewed by Nancy S. Kempf
DiCaprio as Hugh Glass in “The Revenant.”
Survival in extremis:
"The Revenant" and "Son of Saul"
Two of the most highly acclaimed films of this awards season have been
Alejandro González Iñárritu's "The Revenant"
and László Nemes’s "Son of Saul." Oscars
went to Iñárritu for Directing, Leonardo DiCaprio for Best
Actor and Emmanuel Lubezki for Cinematography. Nemes’s "Son
of Saul" won the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar. Both
films center on a protagonist in unimaginable torment. One survives
through an obsession with vengeance, the other through an obsession with
atonement. Reviewed by Nancy Kempf.
Binoche and Kristen Stewart in "The Clouds of Sils Maria."
Remember the Ladies:
Stellar Performances from 2015
A roundup of remarkably talented actresses who gave us a cornucopia
of praiseworthy performances. An overview by Nancy Kempf.
Story of Land Art." Michael Heizer, Circular Surface, Planar
Displacement Drawing, El Mirage Dry Lake, 1969. Photo by Gianfranco
Where time meets space:
James Crump's "Troublemakers: The Story of Land Art"
Into our intellectually constricted era of cynicism and self-absorption
comes a timely antidote in "Troublemakers: The Story of Land Art,"
James Crump’s definitive documentary on the Land Art of Michael
Heizer, Robert Smithson, Walter De Maria, Nancy Holt, and Dennis Oppenheim,
opening January 8th at the IFC Center in New York City. For our world
of narrow narcissism and trivialized themes, "Troublemakers..."
serves as a valuable reminder of a particular cohort of artists who were
existentially committed to ideas and ideals greater than themselves. Reviewed
by Nancy S. Kempf.
Bikel. Photo by Kate Hess.
Lifetime achievement award and the screening of a new play"
Glenda Frank attended the NY premiere of the film, "In the Shoes
of Sholom Aleichem," which stars and features stage icon Theodore
Bikel. "In the Shoes of Sholom Aleichem" illuminates Bikel's
experiences with immigration to the new world, Civil Rights and anti-war
activism. And Alan Alda, who narrates the film, presented a lifetime achievement
award to Theodore Bikel on behalf of the now Century-old National Yiddish
Chittenden as Jim.
Canopy: Sounds of Silence, World
War II Style
Director/writer Aaron Wilson's "Canopy" begins in stillness,
ends in muteness, and in between seldom a word will be uttered. There
are be bird tweets though, and the reverberations of bombings, the segments
of a tune or two, the thrashing of crickets in heat, plus a few gasps
of human pain. All in all, the screenplay offers up two perfect roles
for actors with poor memory recall. By Brandon Judell.
Boston's Odd Man Out
|The oldest of
the Boston bombers, Tamerlan Tsarnaev.
of the 1947 movie "Odd Man Out," directed by Carol Reed.
On the night that Dzhokhar A. Tsarnaev, 19, marathon bomber on the run,
was found bloodied and half dead in a boat in the back yard of a house in
Watertown, Massachusetts, Jerry Tallmer suddenly realized he had seen this
movie before. It was Carol Reed's "Odd Man Out" (1947), a film
that offers provocative insights on the forces of history that act on radical
Cat of Otama Pond"
"Ghost Cat of Otama Pond:"
Puss in Cahoots with the God of Retribution
It’s certainly nice to have a cultural institution within our midst
that’s not afraid of a little fun. So with high spirits in mind,
the Japan Society has initiated a fitting tribute to a Roger-Corman-like
studio, Shintoho. No doubt one of the highlights of the festival is the
gloriously silly “Ghost Cat of Otama Pond” (“Kaibyo
Otama-ga-ike”) from 1960. By Brandon Judell.
|Poster of "Les Misérables"
by Tom Hooper.
does not rise above the musical
The filmmaker Tom Hooper had a chance to recapture the
historical details of Victor Hugo's novel. Unfortunately, in retaining
the approach of a feel-good musical, a good opportunity was lost. By Adele
Perry: Part of Me" in 3-D
Katy Perry: Part of
The closer you are to puberty, the more you’ll be blown away by
“Katy Perry: Part of Me.” Just imagine Madonna’s “Truth
or Dare” (1991), but without the sexual innuendo, glamour, wit,
and Warren Beatty. By Brandon Judell.
Lesbian and Incredibly Butch
Dee Rees' debut feature, "Pariah," an extension of her prize-winning
short film, begins with an Audre Lorde quote: " Wherever the bird
with no feet flew, she found trees with no limbs." Well, with the
given title and that opening allusion, you might assume you're going to
be bathed in an hour and a half of unending despair. WRONG! Instead, get
ready for some tender moxie. By Brandon Judell.
STUPID LOVE--Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone.
Love"--A Convincing Argument for Monogamy
With numerous familial subplots, sort of like three hyper-episodes
of "Modern Family," "Crazy, Stupid, Love" explores
love between the generations with aplomb, from preteen to teen to young
singles to almost-over-the-hill. With a uniformly excellent cast, this
large-spirited film is a continually entertaining adult comedy, at least
for a major studio release. By Brandon Judell.
Hunt and Liev Schreiber.
Ordinary People Redux?
Get out the hankies? Sorry, not for this one. Richard Levine,
who comes from a TV background and is possibly best known for writing,
directing, and producing the delightfully cynical ode to plastic surgery,
"Nip/Tuck," has a tendency to undermine "Every Day,"
his beautifully-acted-and-written family drama, with a tasteless, unfunny
parody of what it is like to work on a cable series that deems to shock
its audience weekly. By Brandon Judell.
Next Three Days"
Eating Crowe: "The Next Three
Paul Haggis who stole the Oscar for Best Picture from "Brokeback
Mountain" with "Crash," his celluloid collage on L.A. racism,
gets into a bit of a car wreck himself with "The Next Three Days."Russell
Crowe stars as John Berman, an affable English professor lecturing on
"Don Quixote," who goes a bit bonkers when his wife Lara (Elizabeth
Banks) gets convicted of murdering her boss by banging a fire extinguisher
on her head. By Brandon Judell.
AND MADONA--MADONA (Igor Cotrim) AND ELVIS (Simone Spoladore). Photo
by Alisson Prodlik.
Elvis and Madona
With the grace of a sledgehammer, Brazilian Marcelo Laffitte ventures
into Almodóvar territory in his very first feature. This semi-comic
romance opens with Madona (Igor Cotrim), a pre-op transsexual, ordering
a hearts of palm pizza. After snapping her cellular shut, the ultra-blonde
femme fatale immediately gets punched out and robbed of her life savings
by her co-star in porn films, the drug-dealing Tripod Joe. What's a girl
to do? This "moolah" that she earned from hairdressing, a little
oral sex, and the aforementioned porn, was to pay for her big drag show,
which was to make her a star. By Brandon Judell.
36" A Tale of Olympic Drag.
Berlin 36: A Tale
of Olympic Drag
It's that glorious time of year again when the annual New York Jewish
Film Festival screens it latest treasures at Lincoln Center. All of the
wondrous, humorous — and, at times, tragic — complexities
of life are captured here on celluloid, those revelatory intricacies of
existence as seen through the eyes of Jews and their neighbors, their
friends and their foes. By Brandon Judell.
Harry Potter Needs a Shave
As for the film version of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, the
sixth in the series to reach the screen, the film is a total delight,
the most mature in the series, and a dream come true for Potter-ites.
However, for those of you who have never read any of Rowling’s hefty
output or a seen a prior celluloid adaptation, stay away. You’ll
be totally addled. By Brandon Judell.
Will Romeo Get Circumcized for Love?
"Irangeles," billed with a bit too much bravado as “a
Michael Keller film,” takes on the Romeo and Juliet trope yet again,
but with a fascinating little twist. Yes, this 2003 movie, which is newly
released on DVD as a “2008” production, has transformed Romeo
into Kip, a beer-gurgling Kansan frat boy who moves to Los Angeles to
become an actor. As for Juliet, she’s now Sherry Azizi (Carla Golian),
the daughter of strictly kosher Persian-American Jews. By Brandon Judell.
the Devil Back to the Hell.Original artwork by Olaf Hajek, poster
designed by PrettyCo.
"Pray the Devil Back to Hell":
An Interview with Director Virginia Reticker
In 2003, a group of Catholic and Muslim women in Liberia got together
to stop a civil war that was destroying their country, and they succeeded.
Last November, a startling film, Pray the Devil Back to Hell, documenting
their story opened in Manhattan. Emmy-Award wining director Gini Reticker's
remarkable effort clearly works on every cinematic level at once: it educates,
it astounds, and it convinces you that you can make a difference. By Brandon
"The Caller", You Don't
Necessarily Have to Hang Up
Very few actors have the ability to make a silk purse out of a sow's ear
and almost have you completely forget you're interacting with pork product.
Frank Langella is one of these.
Throughout Richard Ledes' The Caller, a little film optimistically billed
as a "psychological thriller," Langella's grace and gravity
keep you convinced that at any moment this at-times disjointed piece of
celluloid will become worthy of its star. That never happens. By Brandon
Les Films 13
Roman de Gare : A
Man, A Woman, and Too Much Plot
Who is the unshaven stranger (Dominique Pinon) driving down the highway
in Claude Lelouch's latest celluloid mystery, "Roman de Gare"?
Is he a pedophilic prison escapee who plies his victims with magic tricks?
Or an unhappy professor running away from a sterile home life just before
his tenth wedding anniversary? Or is this bedraggled soul a ghostwriter
of bestselling murder mysteries for the highly adulated and extremely
wealthy Judith Ralitzer (Fanny Ardant)? By Brandon Judell.
Burkhardt as a bat-wielding hotel clerk; Royston Scott as the detective,
Spade Slade, in "Tomorrow Always Comes" (2006), directed
Surreal Moving Images
and Satirical Films of Jacob Burckhardt
A moving picture in the mind of an artist can take many forms. Think of
Jacob Burckhardt's mind as the recorder of his life journey and the teller
of satiric tales. Both are Burckhardt working to create a visual mood
that captures our attention with wit and sophistication. By Larry Litt.
Jews of Lebanon
The Jews of Lebanon
Yves Turquier dedicates his 77-minute documentary, "The Jews of Lebanon,"
to those Lebanese Jews who immigrated to Mexico, Israel, the United States,
Canada, France, England, Switzerland, Brazil, and Italy to make new lives
for their families.
By Brandon Judell.
Fraser and Sarah Michelle Gellar in " The Air That I Breathe."
The Air that I Breathe
Jieho Lee's film "The Air That I Breathe," is highly entertaining
and a lavishly acted drama. The critics are giving reviews on the production
notes; and the director is ever-so-intense on spiritual pronouncements
in the film. The storylines are interconnected; it is part of the joy
of "The Air That I Breathe." Furthermore the acting is impeccable,
the cinematography by Walt Lloyd is riveting, Marcelo Zarvos' score works
beautifully, and the direction laudable, especially for a debut feature.
By Brandon Judell.
A Tree Grows in Israel:
Joseph Cedar and his Beaufort
Winner of 4 Israeli Oscars, the Silver Berlin Bear for Best Director, and
a highlight of both the Palm Springs International and The 17th Annual New
York Jewish Film Festivals, Joseph Cedar's Beaufort is a powerful, trenchant,
beautifully shot war drama about the supposed last days of Israel's presence
in Lebanon.Cedar has noted: "What intrigued me most in the story of
Beaufort is that it deals with how wars end. There is an abrupt, definitive
moment in every war when the mission, or purpose, for which soldiers gave
their lives until that moment, ceases to exist. With Beaufort this moment
comes with a great horrific explosion, destroying one of the bloodiest mountains
in the Middle East - an unforgettable, adrenaline-saturated moment, but
also an image that crystallizes the inconceivable waste of human life."
By Brandon Judell.
Liberti in "Beaufort" by Joseph Cedar
Jodie Foster and Mary Steenburgen
The Brave One: Or
Why The Nice Vigilante Shot Up the Big Apple
Director Neil Jordan, enjoin father/son team of Roderick and Bruce A.
in this dreary, cockamamie Valentine to New York City haters, a good argument
for the government sterilization of a certain family's genes when radio
personality Erica Bain (Foster) is confronting a bad day. By Brandon Judell.
Broken English: Parker
Posey is Unloved
Director/ writer Zoe Cassavetes, the daughter of actor John and actress
Gena, captures the desperate need for love unequivocally in "Broken
English." Parker Posey's performance is beautifully nuanced and finally
bereft of the slight comic cynicism so many of her characterizations are
slightly edged with. Posey's admirers will experience a sensual intoxication
that fans always experience when their film goddesses are at their very
best. By Brandon Judell.
White (Amanda Bynes) and admiring frat boy Tyler Prince (Matt Long)
in "Sydney White." (Photo: Universal Studios)
Sydney White: "I
Used to be Snow White But I Drifted." Sydneu?
"Being a progressive nerd is better than being a conservative
princess," or so preaches "Sydney White," an almost-delicious
spoof on Snow White and the Seven Dwarves. (That's if you like poisoned
apples.) There's just a change of character names and locale. Now all
the action takes place on a college campus, cum predictable plot and stereotypes.
By Brandon Judell.
"Splinter," a not-bad actioner directed by Edward James
Olmos' s little boy, Michael D., features Tom Sizemore as Detective Cunningham,
a seedy, alcoholic L.A. cop who's corrupt to the gills. Luckily for him,
where he's situated, he almost doesn't stand out. By Brandon Judell.
Rebecca Gibney, Brenda Blethyn in "Introducing the Dwights."
Photo by Daniel Smith © 2007 Goalpost Film Ltd.
There are films about monstrously overbearing moms, often played by Shelley
Winters, and there are those "heartwarming" coming-of-age/losing-one's-virginity
cinematic treats. Australia's entry into this field, ''Introducing the
Dwights," consolidates the best elements of both genres to create
a whacky, touching, sexy, biting comedy. By Brandon Judell.
of "The Bubble."
Eytan Fox's "The
Although the head-shaved, sprightly Eytan Fox might just be the prince
of the Kosher New Wave emanating out of Israel for the past decade, he's
definitely the king of the faygala division of the same movement. Fox's
"Yossi & Jagger" (2002) and "Walk on Water" (2004)
have brilliantly showcased the dilemma of being homosexual in a society
where machismo was once considered a treasured Zionist trait necessary
for national survival. In "The Bubble," Fox has explored gay
love within the military and homophobia within the Israeli intelligence
agency with warmth, wit, and applaudable plotting, dynamic acting, and
sterling technique. By Brandon Judell.
Poster for Waitress 2007. Photo Courtesy of movies.yahoo.com.
written and directed by Adrienne Shelly
If you recall the long-running TV series "Alice," you'll pretty
much be revisiting familiar territory with ''Waitress.'' The plot is quite
simple. Will Jenna ditch her husband and run off with her married obstetrician
(Nathan Fillion)? Will Dawn find a boyfriend? And will Becky ever reveal
her secret that just might have do with having sex? By Brandon Judell.
Hot Fuzz: The Good,
The Bad, and the Inane
Brandon Judell wrote: ''Brilliantly directed by Wright from a gleefully
acerbic script by both Wright and Simon, and masterfully shot and edited
by Jess Hall and Chris Dickens respectively, one can't overlook the inspired
casting. The best of both old and new Brit talent has been gathered here,
including Anne Reid ("The Mother"), Billie Whitelaw ("The
Omen"), Bill Nighy ("Notes on a Scandal"), Edward Woodward
("The Equalizer"), and Timothy Dalton (James Bond).'' Read his
whole review by clicking the link.
''Rome Rather Than
"Rome Rather than You" is explained this way: "It's about
politics as it is about girls, cigarettes and terrorism, false papers
and water cutoffs. All in a disorderly fashion to better understand what
the social situation must refuse the characters." Seen and reviewed
by Brandon Judell.
A Voice Without a
Face: His Dad Was a Singing Spy
The 11th NY Sephardic Jewish Film Festival, one of the more delightful,
narrowly focused annual events in the Big Apple, offered "A Voice
Without a Face," directed by Assaf Basson. By Brandon Judell.
In recent writing about her, the phallic bravado of Josephine Baker seems
mostly ignored or avoided. Yet to an unprejudiced eye, the sleek vertical
aplomb might appear patent. A curiously poignant scene in Annette von
Wangenheim's documentary, "Josephine Baker: Black Diva in a White
Man's World," unveiled on January 3rd and 12th in the Dance on Camera
Festival at New York's Walter Reade Theatre, shows Baker's smile, dancing.
By Brandon Judell.
by Jean-François Baumard.
Gorgeous (Comme T'y
"Gorgeous," a huge box office hit in France, is a comedy about
four attractive women of varying ages in rather varied relationships:
divorced, separated, married, and the fourth obviously single. The first
three have children. Some more than one. The ladies all also have family
members whom we meet and lovers, too. They additionally have jobs, one
with numerous co-workers. Consequently, at times, the screen seems to
be populated with a lively cast huger in number than that of "Birth
of a Nation." By Brandon Judell.
Swain from Alpha Dog. She is in the photo with Justin Timberlake,
Charity Shea and Christopher Marquette.
Dominique Swain: Lolita
Has a Tattoo
At the sweet age of 15, when other girls were getting their
braces tightened or dressing up as Spice Girls, Dominique Swain was "sitting"
on Jeremy Iron's lap, portraying Nabokov's infamous nymphet in HBO's "Lolita."
For her efforts, she was nominated for the Most Promising Actress award
by the Chicago Film Critics Association, and both she and Jeremy garnered
an MTV "Best Kiss" nomination. There's nothing like a little
intergenerational hoopla to get folks going. By Brandon Judell.
Black Dahlia. Mia Kirshner. Picture by Rolf Konow/ Universal Pictures.
The Black Dahlia:
The Bloom is Off
Brian De Palma, who scared the bejesus out of us with his Hitchcock
paeans "Carrie," "Dressed to Kill," and the underrated
"Blow Out," has also directed some spectacular flops over the
last four decades such as "The Bonfire of the Vanities," "Snake
Eyes," and "Casualties of War.""The Black Dahlia"
fits neatly into the latter category, but not without a few moments to
truly relish. By Brandon Judell.
Sidekick: The Downside
Norman (Perry Mucci) is the ultimate office nebbish/computer geek, his
existence barely registering on anyone's awareness scale. Between keyboard
strokes, he moons over pretty secretaries, but to no avail, and at company
sports events, he's the only one relegated to videotaping the activities.
But just when his real life seems stuck on Dreary, Norman discovers that
Victor (David Ingram), one of his office mates, has superpowers. By Brandon
Pettyfer. Photographs by Liam Daniel.
Alex Rider: Operation
If in 20 or 30 years, Daniel Craig has retired from playing Ian Fleming's
stalwart secret agent, the series' producers need look no further than
Alex Pettyfer as their new man. This British youth, who essays the 14-year-old
Alex Rider here, has the charisma, the moves, and the looks to play Mr.
Bond. He also can act which is much more than several actors who were
consigned the role could do (e.g. Roger Moore). By Brandon Judell.
London and Will Oldham. Courtesy Kino International.
Old Joy: Two Hippies Go On A Car
After the screening I attended of "Old Joy," one slightly disgruntled
critic came up to me, complaining, "This isn't a film. There's no
arc. No action." "Ah!" I responded. "For stoned hippies,
this is 'Star Wars,' " But for the rest of us, this languid road
film will be almost a meditation. In fact, to be perfectly honest, I blissed
out into slumber for a short while during the film's commencement, only
to awaken refreshed and joyful, ready to embrace the world and the rest
of "Old Joy." By Brandon Judell.
Page Hamilton and Bryce Johnson stars in Sleeping Dogs Lie. Directed
by Bobcat Goldthwait.
Sleeping Dogs Lie: Once In Love
With Amy Doesn't Mean Always
John Waters meets "Sleepless in Seattle" in this sweet, at-times
"tasteless" comic concoction about romance, reputation, the
need to confess, and the yearning of society to pigeonhole everyone with
a one-dimensional label. By Brandon Judell.
Penélope Cruz. Photo by Juan Gatti / El Deseo, courtesy of
Sony Pictures Classics.
Volver: Almodóvar Calms
Someone has slipped Pedro Almodóvar a Valium. Yes, the delectable
high-pitched frenzy of his recent films such as "Talk to Her"
(2002), "Bad Education" (2004), and "Live Flesh" (1997),
with its trademark super-Almodóvar stylization and quirks suffusing
nearly every frame, has been put aside for the moment. Yes, in "Volver,"
there are no gigantic vaginas confronting miniature men, no stories within
stories within stories highlighting the travails of sexually-abused, pre-op
transsexuals, and no frenetic heterosexual copulations committed as acts
of revenge. Instead, what we have here is an at-times plaintive love letter
to women: a paean to their humor, their loyalty, and especially their
ability to survive their encounters with cheating, lying fornicators who
employ their penises as weapons of submission. By Brandon Judell.
America: Freedom to
As whacked out as it may seem at times, "America: Freedom to Fascism"
is possibly the most important American documentary to be released this
year after Al Gore's "Inconvenient Truth." After all, the latter
predicts the death of mankind, while the former just prognosticates the
demise of liberty in these United States. By Brandon Judell.
Keeping Mum: A Killer of
a Mother Figure
Just when Brandon Judell thought he'd bore himself to death, having to
tell yet another inquirer that the only must-see comedy of the moment
was "Little Miss Sunshine," an almost equally fine option arose.
"Keeping Mum" is a delicious British take on the dysfunctional
household saga. Yes, in the tiny parish of Little Wallop (population:
57), everything is not going well for yet another nuclear family, this
time a vicar's. By Brandon Judell.
The Devil Wears Prada
Miranda Priestley, as blazingly portrayed by Meryl Streep, is the divine
despot of international fashion. She decides what belts are in, what fabrics
are de rigueur, and where hems should end. And if she decides that the
trendy should be hued in Golden Rod, Crimson, or Navajo White, they will
be. Miranda is a distaff version of Donald Trump. Streep, without a doubt,
gives here one of the grand comic performances of the year. By Brandon
Michael Pitt fans can celebrate once again at this prison drama. Even
though "Jailbait" falls into that rare category of a film
in which he keeps his clothes on, the young man with the sultry lips,
Victorian pallor, and waif-like beauty still gets smacked around, emotionally
abused, raped, forced onto his knees, and, in a piece de resistance,
gets to wield a pencil as a deadly weapon. Lord knows what Pitt'd do
if his character had a Magic Marker. By Brandon Judell.
"John Tucker Must Die,"
Criticizing a summer teen movie for not being high art is like yelling
at a sociopath for being a serial killer. From "Tammy" to
"Gidget" to "The Beach Blanket Bingo" flicks, films
for the acne aged are supposed to be simpleminded fare that supplies
archetypes for the inexperienced members of the audience to imitate
once they leave the theater. So Brandon holds back on "John Tucker
Must Die," sort of. By Brandon Judell.
Scoop: Woody Wields a Sledgehammer
In "Crimes and Misdemeanors" (1989), Woody Allen served up
enough plot, wit, and wisdom to nourish a dozen films. This piercing
study of morality in the modern world, especially as
an experienced by two Jewish gents, one highly ethical and one not,
bears repeated viewings to uncover all of its nuances.As for it hilarious
bon mots such as the "Last time I was inside a woman was when I
visited the Statue of Liberty," there are dozens of such sallies
scattered throughout this often brilliant effort. Seventeen years later
Mr. Allen shovels up "Scoop," third-rate shtick with about
four funny lines, an indigestible plot, and colorless performances.
Unlike last year's delicious Hitchcockian traipse, "Match Point,"
"Scoop" makes you wish that this prolific director was a little
less profuse. Maybe there's a good reason most directors don't helm
a new feature every year. By Brandon Judell.
Entertainment-wise, however, "Jargo," which was understandably
never released in theaters Stateside, has a lot less going for it. Unevenly
acted and abominably directed, this tale of two mismatched mates simply
can't make up its mind whether it's going to be an insipid teen comedy
or a despondent melodrama. It settles instead for colossal muddle. By
by Leigh Hodgkinson.
A Visit to the Brooklyn
International Film Festival
Home to the ninth annual Brooklyn International Film Festival, the Brooklyn
Museum, a cultural mecca in itself, is a perfect venue for an array of
120 short, experimental, animated, documentary and feature films from
all over the world. By Sasha Levites.
Interview with Marco Ursino,
Executive Director of the Brooklyn International Film Festival
This year, filmmaker Marco Ursino served as the executive
director of the ninth annual Brooklyn International Film Festival (BIFF).
Formerly known as Williamsburg Brooklyn Film Festival (WBFF), BIFF was
established in 1998 as the first international, competitive festival
for and by independent film makers. Ursino discusses this year's festival
and theme: "enigma 9." By Sasha Levites.
Michael Pitt fans can celebrate once again. Even though "Jailbait"
falls into that rare category of a film in which he keeps his clothes
on, the young man with the sultry lips, Victorian pallor, and waif-like
beauty still gets smacked around, emotionally abused, raped, forced
onto his knees, and, in a piece de resistance, gets to wield a pencil
as a deadly weapon. Lord knows what Pitt'd do if his character had a
Hanks stars in Columbia Pictures' suspense thriller "The Da
The Da Vinci Code
In his introduction to "Candide," Andre Maurois notes Voltaire's
stance was "if we are prepared to view the Bible as a collection
of legends compiled by barbarian tribes, then he is prepared to admit
that it is 'as captivating as Homer.' If we claim to find therein a
divine utterance and super-human thoughts, then he claims the right
to quote the prophets, and show their cruel savagery." That savagery,
the result of the unwavering righteousness of some religious folks,
resounds throughout the novel "The Da Vinci Code," and to
an only slightly lesser degree in the film version directed by Ron Howard.
In 1951, South Africa had its own cut-rate version of the Harlem Renaissance.
In Sophiatown, a black township, writers, singers, gangsters, and immigrant
shop owners all held their own. Another attraction was that folks of
every epidermal coloring could commingle there. Within this potpourri
of exuberance, fancifulness, and limited freedoms, Jim Bailey (Jason
Flemyng), heir to a British mining family, starts a magazine, "Drum,"
that employs a collection of highly talented, hard-drinking, hard-living
black writers. The most talented, and the most consequential, man on
the magazine's masthead is Henry Nxumalo (Taye Diggs), a womanizing,
often inebriated, journalist whose articles supply quality escapism
to its readers. He is so good at his job, and his byline so associated
with the magazine, that he soon becomes known as Mr. Drum. "Drum,"
the film, is the story of how Mr. Drum becomes radicalized, and places
his family's security and his own life on the line to explore the abominations
V for Vendetta
"People should not be afraid of their governments; governments
should be afraid of their people" is the pivotal statement of "V
for Vendetta." Although based on the 1989 graphic novel written
by Alan Moore and illustrated by David Lloyd, the film is every bit
as timely as that under scroll of info bombarding the lowers parts of
our sets when tuned to CNN. It will assuredly bomb its way into a thinking
man's cult film status.
for "Sophie Scholl: The Final Days".
"Sophie Scholl: The Final Days" is the latest German
film to connect with international audiences. Nominated for a Best-Foreign-Film-of-the-Year
Oscar and winner of the Best Bavarian Film award, here is yet another
of the recent slate of celluloid offerings contending that the individual
can and should make a difference in a society where the enemy might
be a Joseph McCarthy, a George W. Bush, a homophobic society, an occupation,
misogyny, or the Nazis. During World War II, in Munich, she, her brother
and their friends launched a secret organization, the White Rose, that
distributed leaflets urging others to defy the fascist state Germany
had become. On one such trek, at a university, Sophie and her brother
were caught. Brandon Judell engaged in a brief chat with the film's
director, Marc Rothemund and its star, Julia Jentsch.
Dark Night, An Israeli Student
Film Par Excellence
A highlight of the 21st Israel Film Festival (Feb. 23- March 9; http://www.israelfilmfestival.com)
and an Oscar nominee for the 2005 Honorary Foreign Film Award in the
Student Academy Awards competition, Leon (Leonid) Prudovsky's "Dark
Night" is a potent, thoroughly professional take on the current
Israeli/ Palestinian quagmire.
|"The Forgotten Refugees"
The Forgotten Refugees
In David G. Littman's 2002 National Review article, "The Forgotten
Refugees," the head of the Jewish community of Tripoli recalled
a 1945 riot: "The Arabs attacked Jews in obedience to mysterious
orders. Their outburst of bestial violence had no plausible motive.
For fifty hours they hunted men down, attacked houses and shops, killed
men, women, old and young, horribly tortured and dismembered Jews isolated
in the interior. . . . In order to carry out the slaughter, the attackers
used various weapons: knives, daggers, sticks, clubs, iron bars, revolvers,
and even hand grenades." Now director Michael Grynszpan has transformed
"The Forgotten Refugees" into an eye-opening 49-minute documentary.
The film is being screened as part of the 10th NY Sephardic Jewish Film
Festival that runs from February 2nd until the 8th.
Keep Not Silent:
Keep Not Silent:
Although lesbianism today is not such an unimaginable lifestyle choice
as it was in the beginning of the twentieth century, for many women
with gay inclinations, being an openly girl-on-girl proponent can still
be an anguished, fear-riddled option. Don't believe me? Then view Ilil
Alexander's illuminating documentary, "Keep Not Silent: Ortho-Dykes,"
which is being screened as part of The 15th Annual New York Jewish Film
Festival, the yearly must-see event presented by both The Jewish Museum
and The Film Society of Lincoln Center.
Tsotsi: a Thug with
a Heart of Gold
In "Tsotsi," South Africa's nominee for Best Foreign Language
Oscar, a heartless, baby-faced monster finds his humanity when he accidentally
kidnaps a baby. It's based upon an Athol Fugard novel, and Fugard, not
an objective observer here, has written that "Tsotsi" just
might "rank as one of the best films ever to come out of South
Africa." But he may be right.
The man who wrote: "I have always loved truth so passionately that
I have often resorted to lying as a way of introducing it into the minds
which were ignorant of its charms" and "Marriage is the tomb
of love," seems the perfect antidote to cinema's current lack of
wit. But director Lasse Hallström, whose early films were clearly
his best (e.g. "My Life as a Dog"; "What's Eating Gilbert
Grape"), has hooked up with two screenwriters, Jeffrey ("Stage
Beauty") Hatcher and Kimberly Simi, to concoct a leaden farce that
is neither sexy nor funny. (Out on DVD April 25.)
Making Nice with
Suicide Bombers: An interview with Hanu Abu-Assad
Brandon Judell writes: "Three weeks after I've seen Hanu Abu-Assad's
'Paradise Now,' I still can't shake its memory. When was the last time
you could say that about any film release, the bulk of which are so
easily disposable, that they're out of your system by the time you've
exited the Loew's exits." This coverage is followed with Mr. Judell's
the Fall (Napola).
Before the Fall
"Napola," the highlight of this year's Palm Springs Film Festival,
held in January, has turned out to be one of the best films of the year.
Think "Dead Poets' Society" meets the Hitler Youth. Now it's
rechristened "Before the Fall." If there were a god of celluloid,
and sadly there isn't, this feature would be garnering award nominations
in this country up the old gazoo.
museums by day,
theater by night
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