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Thursday, April 23, 2009

GERMANY 09: 13 SHORT FILMS ABOUT THE STATE OF THE NATION

By: D.E.Levine

Producers: Dirk Wilutzky, Verena Rahmig and Eric Friedler
Country of Origin: Germany
Language: German with English subtitles
A selection of Kino! at Thirty: New Cinema from Germany at the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) in New York City
First showing outside of Germany: April 22, 2009 Check www.moma.org for schedule
Running Time: 151 Minutes

This film is a rare treat as it looks at the existing, creative and artistic side of Germany from 13 different perspectives. Although the directors readily admit that the film was inspired by the 1978 picture "Germany in Autumn", they also acknowledge that it differs because it does not have one central political theme.

Instead, 13 different directors have produced 13 totally separate short films running the gamut from amusing to artistic that give us insight not only into German life but also into the current state of filmmaking in Germany today.

Obviously, because of the diversity, different films will appeal to different viewers and viewers may not be equally enthusiastic about each film. Still, the microcosm of Germany and German thought and culture that are expected is fascinating and appealing. Films vary as far as formats and screen rations.

FIRST DAY (ERSTER TAG)
Directed and written by Angela Schanelee
Cast: Nina Monka

JOSHUA
Directed and written by Dani Levy
Cast: Dani Levy, Joshua Levy, Hans Hollmann

BEING MURAT KURNAZ (Der Name Murat Kurnaz)
Directed and written by Faith Aiken
Cast: Denis Moschitto, Kai Strittmatter

THE UNFINISHED (Die Unvollendete)
Directed and written by Nicolette Krebitz
Cast: Helene Hegemann, Sandra Hueller, Jasmin Tabatabai

BIAS (Schieflage)
Directed and written by Sylke Enders
Cast: Dennis Grawe, Karl Markovics, Anneke Kim Sarnau, Winnie Boewe, Bernd Birkhan

THE ROAD WE DON'T WALK TOGETHER ( Der Weg, Den Wir Nicht Zusammen Gehen)
Directed and written by Dominik Graf
Voices: Dominik Graf, Jeanette Hain, Florian Krueger-Shantin, Klaus Sakelarides, Reynold Reynolds

FRAKTUR
Directed and written by Hans Steinbichler
Cast: Josef Bierbichler, Tim Seyfi, Adriana Altaras

A DEMOCRATIC DISCUSSION AT DESIGNATED TIMES (Eine Demikratische Gespraechsrunde Zu Festgelegten Zeiten)
Directed and written by Isabelle Stever
Cast: Johanna Nagel

PREVENTIVE ACTION (Gefaehrder)
Directed and written by Hans Weingartner
Cast: Christoph Jacobi, Claudia Geisler, Justus Carriere, Uwe Bohm, Helene Grass

FEIERLICH TRAVELS (Feierlichreist)
Directed and written by Tom Tykwer
Cast: Benno Fuermann, Eva Habermann

RAMSES
Directed and written by Romuald Karmakar
Cast: Malmoud Rahimzadiany

SICK HOUSE (Krankes Haus)
Director: Wolfgang Becker
Screenplay: Wolfgang Becker and Jan-Ole Gerster
Cast: Peter Jordan, Andrea Hofer, Andreja Schneider, Alexander Khuon, Arnd Klawitter, Edeltraud Schubert, Susanne Wuest

SEANCE
Directed and written by Christoph Hochhaeusler
Voice: Hans-Michael Rehberg

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

FLOW: FOR LOVE OF WATER

By: D.E.Levine

Director: Irena Salina
Producer: Steven Starr
CoProducers: Gil Holland, Yvette Tomlinson
Executive Producers: Caroleen Feeney, Augusta Brown Holland, Lee Jaffee, Brent Meikle, Cornalia Meikle, Hadley Meikle, Stephen Nemeth, Matthew Parker
Original Music: Christophe Julien
Genre: Documentary
Running Time: 93 Minutes

Some years back I took a survival course and learned that in the hot, sunny, desert, it is possible to survive without sunscreen, clothes, even shoes, but the absolute "must have" in order to survive is water. The human body cannot survive without water and constant hydration.

At that time I would never have believed that water would become such a large and important topic by 2009. But with global warming, human restructuring of land masses, diversions of streams and rivers, and man's pollution of the Earth, water is a prevalent topic of conversation throughout the world.

Cinefilms' Earth day selection, nominated for the Grand Jury Documentary prize at Sundance 2008 and winner of the Festival Documentary Award at the Vail Film Festival 2008, "Flow: For Love of Water" accomplishes what French filmmaker Irena Salinas set out to do.

By combining interviews and cinematography (done over a five year period) addressing the problems faced by indigenous peoples around the world, and the exploitation by big business as they pump and market water that local people can't afford, Salinas raises awareness of the problems worldwide with the ownership and distribution of the limited resource.

The film deals with the issues of who owns water and who controls it in different parts of the world. The primary question raised is whether water, like oil, should be publicly held and distributed freely to everyone, or privately held and available only to people who can afford to pay the prices charged.

An aged follower of Gandhi quotes movingly from the ancient writings of an American Indian Chief regarding the inability to put a value and ownership on the air, the color of the grass, the water, and nature in general. An Asian farmer shows that the local community, by banding together and building water reservoirs, can cause nature and people to co-exist in harmony.

While it's easy to see the problems in underdeveloped rural communities, other facts that Salinas and her experts make us aware of, such as the fish in the Seine in France turning female, and frogs being castrated in populated bodies of water because of the presence of the weed killer atrazine, are hard to dispute and equally hard to ignore.

The analogy of blood circulating through the veins and arteries of the body just as water circulates through the rivers and oceans of the earth makes a visually stunning and relatable mental picture. Additionally, one comment about how showering can produce a large percentage of transdermal transference of pollution into the human body, is simultaneously horrifying and truthful.

Salinas and a long list of her local interviewees believe that water is and should be public domain. Taking the viewer to India, Latin American and African countries, Salinas and her seemingly endless cast of local residents and experts, explain that lack of water and lack of uncontaminated water results in as many as 10 percent of children dying in some places in the world.

There is no doubt that pollution and contamination of water contribute to the spread of diseases and death in some areas of the world. But the point is made that as big business moves into areas to make a profit from pumping and bottling water, the bottled water is not as closely inspected as the tap water is. Subsequently, the pumped water, which frequently depletes the local area, is not necessarily better or safer but the underlying motivation is profit.

Essentially, Salinas portrays corporate bank and bottling executives as evil, including interviews with people like James Wolfensohn who has left his post and retired since giving the interview. Over a five-year period things change, and hopefully, there is more awareness and willingness on the part of big business to work with local residents to resolve differences and reach acceptable solutions.

But, the film brings home the facts that as great dams are built in China, South Africa, India and other third world countries, farmlands and cities are flooded, people are uprooted and displaced after centuries in their local area, and the relocation locales provided are inadequate and don't allow the people to sustain themselves. Relocated farmers in Lesotho and China are left with dry, arid land that will not permit them to plant and grow produce with which to sustain themselves.

People who earn less than a dollar a day don't have the funds necessary to pay for water that is now government owned and available only after payment. This results in them drinking the polluted river water, becoming very ill, and in some instances, dying. We see this first hand as raw sewage is diverted in Bolivia and goes straight into Lake Titicaca.

While local residents in Michigan successfully battle the pumping and bottling of a water plant run by Coca Cola, other Michigan citizens fight a losing battle against Nestle, as their brief court victory is overturned and the Michigan Supreme Court allow Nestle to continue and even increase operation pumping water for Poland Spring bottled water. The result is depletion of underground reservoirs and rivers, plus the need for local residents to buy back their own water.

In one ironic, funny and simultaneously pathetic scene comic Penn Jillette makes up a phony "water" menu consisting of fancy labelled bottles at outrageous prices from the "water bar" in a high class restaurant, and then interviews the water purchasers and imbibers about their opinions regarding the water. People were willing to pay more, and even claimed the water tasted much better, yet Penn shows us that the "Water Somelier" filled all the bottles from a garden hose on the back patio.

It's obvious that water is now big business. One of the interviewees is T. Boone Pickens, the famous oil man who is now developing wind farms to produce an energy alternative. When he was interviewed some years ago, Pickens outlined his ownership of large tracts of land containing water rights. Obviously, Pickens sees water as a commodity from which he will reap a monetary profit. This is the philosophy of big business.

Salinas' world inhabitants, on the other hand, see water as necessary for survival, and in many instances, a substance they simply cannot afford.

REVERSE SHOT: REBELLION OF THE FILMMAKERS

By: D.E. Levine

Directors: Laurens Straub and Dominik Wessely
Producer: Raimefr Koelmel
Cast: Contains interviews and archival footage with Rudol Augstein, Heinz Badewitz, Hark Bohm, Uwe Brandner, Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Michael Fengler, Veith von Furstenberg, Hans W. Geissendoerfer, Peter Handke, Irm Hermann, Werner Herzog, Alexander Kluge, Peter Lilienthal, Tom Luddy, Margaret Menegoz, Lynda Myles, Hans Noever, Thomas Schamon, Peter Sickert, Laurens Straub, Dan Talbot, Luggi Waldleitner, Wim Wenders
Country of Origin: Germany
Genre: Documentary
Running Time: 127 Minutes
Language: German, English and French with English subtitles

Shown at the Berlin, Melbourne and Montreal Film Festivals in 2008 this film is a selection being shown at the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) Kino! at Thirty: New Cinema From Germany. Check listings at www.moma.org for screenings.

This is a fascinating film that looks at the co-operative artists collective Filmverlag der Autoren, a 1970s film production and distribution group whose members included some of the most famous modern German directors and producers in history.

The Collective began as an idea in mid-1960s Munich, went hand in hand with the development of the New German Cinema movement of the 1970s, and finally closed in 1977. By combining archive footage of Wim Wenders with film specific interviews with Rainer Werner Fassbinder and Werner Herzog, the viewer gets a realistic idea of how the idea grew into an actual organization. According to the interviewees there was a hard and fast rule that for every film produced and distributed by the Filmvertag, the director automatically got 50% and the remaining 50% was split among the other members. It was a simple formula, but in the end, it failed to make them financially successful.

Numerous interviews focus on the co-op's development, it's peak in 1971-1977 and kits denouement. New Yorker Films purveyor Dan Talbot is interviewed regarding the impact the Filmverlag releases had on him when he first viewed them and remembers he was so astonished by them that he bought them "like they were rugs", buying 11 instead of the 1 he had planned.

Amazingly, all the members of the Filmverlag became produced important films although some became more famous than others. Hans W. Geissendoerfer is interviewed recently wondering why he never achieved the career success that some of the others enjoyed. Werner Herzog, who has become a household word, claims "The entirety of what I am is my films."

It's interesting and amusing to see these well-known and respected "old men" in 1970s interviews where they were young, thin, and dressed in flashy outfits. They also received numerous awards, for their technical cinematic look that was unique to New German Cinema. In one clip Fassbinder, Wenders and Herzog were on stage together receiving awards and making history.

Twenty films are sampled in film clips including Fleischmann's "Herbst der Gammler", Geissendoerfer's "The Magic Mountain", "Stroszek", "Ali: Fear Eats the Soul", and "The Goalie's Anxiety at the Penalty Kick".

Also interspersed is rare and priceless amateur footage of the Filmverlag members, relaxing, fooling around, giving early interviews, and reminiscing about their youthful experiences.

The film is a serious feast for fans and followers of the New German Cinema.

NOVEMBER CHILD

By: D.E.Levine

Director: Christian Schwochow
Producers: Jochen Laube and Matthias Adler
Co-Producers: Frank Evers and Joerg Schulze
Screenplay: Heide Schwochow and Christian Schwochow
Cast: Anna Maria Muehe, Ulrich Matthes, Christine Schorn, Hermann Beyer, Thorsten Merte, Adrian Topol, Christina Drechsler, Steffi Kuehnert, Juliane Koehler
Country of Origin: Germany
Genre: Drama
Running Time: 98 Minutes
Language: German with English subtitles

November Child is a fascinating debut by writer-director Christian Schwochow. Originally shown in Berlin in 2008 it's a selection of the Museum of Modern Art's Kino! at Thirty: New Cinema from Germany. Listings may be found at www.moma.org.

The action moves constantly over a 20 year span between the former East Germany and the same area today as a young German woman, Inga Kaden, searches for her roots. Inga, a librarian and member of her church choir in Malchow, was raised by her traditional grandparents to believe that her mother died by drowning when she was an infant.

Never knowing the identity of her father, she has led a fairly drab East German life until Robert, a creative writing professor from Konstanz, arrives in Malchow and tells her the story of his former student, a young woman named Anne, who escaped to the west with her Russian lover 20 years before, leaving her infant daughter behind.

Initially opening with a brief sequence in 1980 Malchow, north of Berlin, viewers meet Annalise Kaden, an East German woman in her 20s shown holding her infant daughter, Inga. Anna Maria Muehe plays the part of both the young mother Annalise and the present day Inga, with flashbacks from the present to 20 years before.

Inga, who after hearing Robert's story, confronts her grandparents, finds that they lied to her. The truth is they cut off all contact with their daughter and never showed her letters that were sent to them from the west. Angry over the 20-year deception that deprived her of her mother, Inga leaves with Robert to track down the mother she's never known.

As the story unfolds, via flashbacks, of how Annalise reluctantly left her child and was never able to retrieve her from her parents we follow Inga and Robert as they follow a trail that leads them to the Russian soldier Yuri with whom Annelise fled and to the identity of Inga's father.

Along the way we see how Robert is exploiting Inga. Eager to write a novel, he deliberately sought her out and is helping her while recording their search on the sly.

The main story is set in November and catches the chill of the cities, especially the bleakness of the former eastern territory. The story is tense as the mystery regarding Annalise, her love affairs and her daughter's story unfolds in the manner of a mystery captured largely by handheld photography and closeups that give the viewer the feeling of being an eavesdropper on the life of the two women.

Beautifully cast and played, the film is believable and emotionally touching hitting home with the message of how families were torn apart by the division between east and west.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

STATE OF PLAY

By D.E.Levine

Director: Kevin Macdonald
Producers: Andrew Hauptman, Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner
Executive Producers: Paul Abbott, Liza Chasin, Debra Hayward, E.Bennett Walsh
Co-producer: Eric Hayes
Associate Producer: Kwame L. Parker
Screenplay: Matthew Michael Carnahan, Tony Gilroy, Billy Ray
Story: Paul Abbott created a successful BBC television series
Cast: Russell Crowe, Ben Affleck, Rachel McAdams, Helen Mirren, Robin Wright Penn, Jason Bateman, Jeff Daniels, Maria Thayer
Country of Origin: U.S.-U.K.
Genre: Action, Thriller, Drama, Mystery
Running Time: 128 Minutes

This action packed thriller, which deals with a seasoned print journalist working for the Washington Globe, a Washington D.C. newspaper, is an intriguing attention getter raising memories of previous great newspaper stories that impacted American history, at a time when print news is on the decline.

Starting with a scene that viewers could interpret as a robbery/murder stemming from drug crimes or racial violence, the plot is full of twists and surprises as it unwinds while the excellent cast makes the plot believable even when the story slows in places.

Russell Crowe turns in a strong performance as the tenacious scruffy veteran D.C. reporter, Cal McAffrey, who sees the connection between seemingly unrelated crimes and uncovers a conspiracy involving murder and collusion between some of the country's most influential political and corporate figures.

Looking slim, handsome and polished, Ben Affleck is every inch U.S. Congressman Stephen Collins, a bright young Congressman on the rise and very much the opposite in appearance of McAffrey. As an appointee overseeing the committee investigating defense spending, Collins has singled out and is playing hardball against a government defense contractor named Point Corp.

Collins appears to be the bright future of his party, in essence a rising star, until his young female research assistant, Sonia Baker, dies in the D.C.Metro. Is her death an accident, a suicide or a murder?

When it's revealed that Collins was romantically involved with Baker, his reputation and credibility are damaged and we're treated to a look at how a political party will spin a tale for damage control within the political system. Is the Congressman guilty of just adultery or of something worse? Or, is someone deliberately trying to stop the Congressman?

Complicating matters is the fact that McAffrey and Collins were college roommates and Collins' wife Anne was once romantically involved with McAffrey. There's still an attraction between the two, although viewers don't get the feeling of uncontrollable passion. How will their obvious attraction to each other, their friendship and past history, plus the friendship between Collins and McAffrey affect McAffrey?

The ongoing question, of course, is whether McAffrey can remain objective as he links together seemingly random occurrences. Reminiscent of earlier political thrillers like The Parallax View and The French Connection, State of Play races forward with more murders, suspicious individuals, high speed chases and breathtaking special effects.

The director makes good use of well known landmarks such as the Watergate complex, the Kennedy Center for Performing Arts, the Capitol and the city streets themselves to remind us of past scandals and set scenes for current ones.

The frequent heavy rainstorms that act as a backdrop for much of the film add a bleakness and chill that increases the mystery and suspense. Meanwhile, the film itself is character rather than theme driven.

While McAffrey, the journalist, searches for the truth about the incidents, their links to each other and to government corruption, Collins, the ambitious politician seeks to retain his power, salvage his career and continue his ascent in Washington.

As the bodies mount by what we now know is deliberate murder/assassination, the attempts increase to end the journalist's life and to murder/assassinate the Congressman's reputation and career. Both the journalist and the politician have become prey for the assassin.

Working with novice reporter Della Frye to uncover the truth, the tension mounts as the duo race against the clock to meet their deadline to go to press, to learn the truth, to expose the guilty parties, and to stop additional murders.

Even as the film approaches its conclusion, even when we think the mystery has been solved and the suspense has reached its climax, State of Play holds still more unexpected plot twists and turns.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

KNOWING

By: D.E.Levine

Director: Alex Proyas
Producers: Alex Proyas, Jason Blumenthal, Steve Tisch, Todd Black
CoProducer: Ryne Pearson
Executive Producers: Sean Perrone, David Bloomfield, Norm Golightly, Stephen Jones, Topher Dow
Cast: Nicolas Cage, Chandler Canterbury, Rose Byrne, D.G. Maoloney, Lara Robinson, Phil Backman
Genre: Sci-Fi, Mystery, Action, Thriller
Running Time: 121 Minutes

MIT astrophysics professor John Koestler becomes intrigued when his son Caleb brings home a 50-year old page of numbers that was placed in a time capsule by Lucinda Emery at the dedication of Caleb's school.

Noticing a pattern that appears to predicts the dates, death tolls and locations of every major disaster in the past 50 years, Prof. Koestler embarks on a quest to figure out what the last of the three sets of numbers mean.

Since his theory doesn't enthuse his colleagues, Koestler seeks help from Lucinda's daughter and granddaughter. The film focuses on the single father - son relationship with portending doom hanging above it.

Filled with pending-apocalyptic cliched lines, the film delivers another message as it covers a plot of destruction coupled with themes of faith and hope and the nature of free will versus pre-determined fate.

While the film borrows heavily on the Book of Ezekiel with the destruction/salvation theme, it becomes somewhat absurd as Prof. Koestler attempts to try to prevent the last 3 events from taking place.

Although it's difficult to buy into the premise of the film, the building tension as Koestler races against doomsday and the stunning visual effects, provide a certain level of entertainment.

The end of the film, with certain "chosen" children (Caleb and Abby among them) dressed in white clothes being deposited on an Earth like planet with 2 moons and a white tree resembling the Tree of Life, is a let--down after the climactic incineration of Earth.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

TYSON

By: D.E.Levine

Producers: James Toback, Damon Bingham
Executive Producers: Mike Tyson, Harlan Werner, Nicholas Jarecki, Henry Jarecki, Bob Yari
Co-Producers: Warren Farnes, Saleem Remi, Nas
With: Mike Tyson
Music: Salaam Remi
Song: Legendary by Nas
Running Time: 90 Minutes
Category: Documentary

Mike Tyson speaks eloquently, without inhibition in this documentary composed of news clips, photographys, archival footage, and original interviews. The film gives insight into a complex human being, an international athletic icon who has had a rollercoaster ride in the world of fame and fortune.

Almost a modern day version of a Greek tragedy, Tyson is depicted as a man destroyed by his own hubris. However, as a fully rounded human being emerges, the film raises many questions about whether Tyson has been misunderstood due to bad press and youthful naivete.

Producer James Toback developed a friendship with the fighter when he appeared in the producer's 1999 film "Black and White." It's clear from this film that there's a deep connection between the producer and the fighter or he could never have gotten Tyson to open up this way.

Many have referred to Tyson as an animal, but his honest discussion of his youth where he was bullied, robbed and humiliated as a skinny child with glasses in Brooklyn, portrays him as a person of interest and empathy. Too scared to fight when he was picked on, Tyson admits that now, in his forties, he's "afraid of being that way again." Introduced to boxing while in juvee at age 12, he learned to defend himself and developed self-confidence and a related cockiness.

When legendary trainer Cus D'Amato took him under his wing, the boy had a surrogate father figure that was missing from his earlier youth. Tyson gives full credit to D'Amato for sculpting him into a fighter from a raw youth with strapping physique, which is validated by some home video footage from the early 1980's.

Above all he credits D'Amato with teaching him how to overcome his personal fears and psychologically dominate his opponents when he stepped into the ring.

Tyson was heartbroken when D'Amato died in 1985 when Tyson was only 20, and visually and audibly chokes up on film when discussing their relationship and what D'Amato meant to him in his youth and throughout his life.

A year after D'Amato's death Tyson fought Trevor Berbick and became, at age 20, the youngest man to ever win the heavyweight championship.

Tyson is brutally honest about his own immaturity in his youth, his inflated ego that made him believe he could dominate anyone he fought, and his naivete about women. Women proved to be his great weakness. When D'Amato was alive Tyson was on the fighter's regime of abstaining from sex prior to fights. After D'Amato died, with little guidance, Tyson changed completely.

Without D'Amato, and with what he describes as bad advice and supervisions by people who took advantage of his youth, Tyson admits he had gonorrhea when he fought Berbick. Added to that, he attributes his 1990s loss to Buster Douglas to his excessive womanizing in Japan combined with inadequate training.

He's frank about his eight-month marriage to actress Robin Givens commenting that "We were just kids" but still wonders why he sat mutely by without defending himself as she maligned him during a television interview with Barbara Walters. Never trained for personal appearances, Tyson claims that even now he has no idea what he should have done or how he could have done it at the time.

While open about the disastrous effects that his skills with women and detrimental public relations had on his career, Tyson adamantly denies the rape of Desiree Washington for which he was sent to prison. Still bitter against his accuser, he steadfastly denies that it ever took place. He speaks of how the incident taught him never to trust anyone, and how prison, where he became a Muslim, changed him.

Tyson also speaks about the "blackouts" that he experienced at times when he exhibited his most outrageous behavior, both in and out of the ring. This discussion raises again the possibility of brain damage as opposed to simply excuses for irresponsibility.

Describing promoter Don King as a man who would "kill his mother for a dollar" and subsequent bad press and PR about his bouts with Evander Holyfield, Tyson describes very frankly, his loss of heart regarding boxing and how he was finally taking some bouts simply to pay the bills because he was so far in debt.

He speaks warmly about his six children and how they have become the focus of his current life, and even talks with fondness about his ex-wives and his desire and efforts to remain in touch with them.

We may never know the complete truth about Mike Tyson, but Toback succeeds in producing a film that raises many questions regarding the persona we think is Tyson.

Friday, April 3, 2009

ADVENTURELAND

By D.E.Levine

Director: Greg Mottola
Producers: Anne Carey, Sidney Kimmel, Ted Hope
Executive Producers: Terry Stacey, Bruce Toll
Screenwriter: Greg Mottola
Cast: Jesse Eisenberg, Kristen Stewart, Ryan Reynolds, Martin Starr, Bill Hader, Kristen Wiig
Running Time: 107 minutes
Genre: Comedy

Word is that this sweet summer comedy was inspired by Director Greg Mottola's own experience with a "summer job from hell". Taking place in 1987, James Brennan, a recent college graduate and Pittsburgh resident is planning to spend the summer traveling around Europe with a buddy using his savings and subsidized by his parents. After Europe he plans to enroll at Columbia University's Journalism School in the Fall.

With the stock market crash of '87, James' parents tell him he'll have to find a summer job and may have to consider graduate school closer to home. A very literate guy, James takes the only job he can find. It's a minimum wage job at a summer amusement park called Adventureland and once hired he discovers that while the job is terrible his coworkers are interesting and intelligent, and none of them, want to be there.

Forming friendships with low-key Russian literature major Joel and NYU student Em, James parties at night and somehow gets through the days knowing that at the end of the summer he'll have enough money saved to start school.

The group from Adventureland parties hard at night and forms ill advised relationships during the day. Em, while dating James, a sweet and innocent virgin, is also carrying on a sexual affair with Mike, the married Adventureland handy man who is also a musician but earns his salary at the amusement park and milks his musician mystique to get girls.

Em doesn't need the job since her Dad is a well-off attorney. However, Em can't stand her step-Mom and she takes the job to get out of the house until going back to school. Her relationship with James is strange since she's obviously more mature and experienced but likes him and uses him avoid any gossip about her and Mike.

James, in his innocence, gets a date with Lisa P., the "sex kitten" that every guy in the park is trying to date, takes her to a "fancy" local restaurant and then is too shy to make a move. He blunders through his relationships telling his current girlfriends about mistakes with his former girlfriends and then has to correct his blunders.

The summer is disappointing, and in the end, his money is gone and so is hope for Columbia's J school. But the characters of James and Em are developed in a low key manner that allows the viewer to relate to the characters and believe in their actions.

From the film trailer I imagined a different film and found myself pleasantly surprised with the story and the performances. This probably won't be a blockbuster film but it is entirely believable and enjoyable.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

PARIS 36

By D.E.Levine


Director: Christophe Barratier
Producers: Jacques Perrin, Nicholas Mauvernay
Story : Frank Thomas, Jean-Michel Derenne, Reinhardt Wagner
Screenwriter: Christophe Barratier, Pierre Philippe, Julien Rappeneau
Cast: Gerard Jugnot, Clovis Cornillac, Karl Merad, Nora Arnezeder, Pierre Richard, Maxence Perrin, Bernard-Pierre Donnadieu
Music: Reinhardt Wagner
Choreography: Corrine Deveaux
Running Time: 120 minutes
Country of Origin; France
Language: French with English subtitles
Genre: Foreign Film, Musical

I was familiar with Christophe Barratier through "Les Choristes", a sweet but sentimental believable tale so I was unprepared for the enormity of Paris 36 (Faubourg 36). The film trys to accomplish too much both in the story lines and the production numbers.

Beginning as New Year's Eve of 1935 turns into 1936, the story tells the tale of a a music hall owner in the blue collar working-class neighborhood who loses control of the Chansonia to the local mobster Galapiat and commits suicide.

Stunned, four months after his death three of his staff, unable to find work, decide to occupy the music hall, put on a winning show and make enough money to buy the theater from Galapiat. The three friends have their own personal reasons for making the effort. 1936 was the year when left-wing Popular Front government of Leon Blum came to power initiating a period of intensified class struggle and all three of these men are optimistic in their belief that they can achieve their goal and rise above their current circumstances.

Pigoil, the middle-aged stage manager who worked at the Chansonia for 30 years is dealt a double blow when his performer wife runs off with another performer after the Chansonia closes. Leaving him with the couple's son JoJo, Pigoil struggles to provide a home for the boy while the son plays his accordion on the street, secretly paying the grocery bills with his earnings. When the runaway wife settles in a country village with a shop keeper and gets custody of JoJo, Pigoil cannot even find out the boy's location. The only thing he is told is that when he finds paid work he may be able to get his son back.

Unable to get paid work, Pigoil and the others perform and run the theater as volunteers, with the hope of attracting a paying audience. Times are difficult but the factory workers and performers, who are beginning to unionize remain optimistic and strive to make things work. Pigoil is appealing and believable. The viewer's heart goes out to him and is cheering him on. Viewers want him to succeed.

A pretty young singer, Douce, comes to town, auditions for the show and becomes the main attraction at the Chansonia. Amazingly, before her birth her mother had once been the main attraction at the same theater. One of the Chansonia's rescuers, Millou, an electrician and political agitator, falls in love with Douce, but the mobster Gaslapiat has befriended her and is incredibly jealous. Initially, the resurrection of the Chansonia fails. Lured away by other offers, Douce leaves town and it appears that Pigoil will never be reunited with JoJo, and Milou and Doluce will also be separated.

While watching this film I was reminded of Mrs. Henderson Presents, a British film about the reopening of a music hall in London that opened a couple of years ago. It was never boring. I can't say the same about Paris 36 since despite beautiful costumes, sets and cinematography there are unbelievable parts to the story and this has a negative impact on the film's reception.

Although their first attempt at rescuing the Chansonia fails, later the group succeeds at producing and performing extravagant production numbers. But the happy ending is tempered by a murder and more bad breaks and unhappiness for Pigoil.

What's unbelievable is that at the height of the Depression in France these performers could afford the extravagant costumes and lavish sets seen in their production numbers. And with war brewing and money stretched thin, where could people find the money to go to the music hall and make these performers wealthy? The world events, the economy and their impact on the story line are not addressed at all.

The film overlooks World War II, glosses over what's happening in Europe and indicates that the performers were successfully touring in France for many years, establishing themselves and earning a good living. Based on the tragic history of the War and the occupation in France, the story line is highly unlikely and unbelievable. When the film ends 10 years later, the countryside of France and the Faubourg appear to be unscathed and the performers unaffected by the War.

While the score is original, none of the songs are so memorable that they stay with you. Even if you speak French you don't walk out humming the music and singing the words. There are some extravagant musical numbers that look like Busby Berkley planned and executed them, with the same type of dance formations and overhead cinematography. But those raise the question of how these particular performers, without the necessary background and experience, could have produced them. While I like a happy ending, I am hard pressed to believe this story.

Pigoil, the man who has already suffered so much and so unfairly in the beginning and throughout the film, receives additional bad breaks although viewers have to wonder why the law didn't act in his favor due to existing circumstances. This is a man who unlike the mobster is a good, hard working man and yet everything goes wrong for him. We want him to succeed and it's not believable that nothing good happens for him.

In the end, after 120 minutes I felt the story was too long, not original, had unbelievable parts based on denying and ignoring real historical events, and ignored the basic premise we teach, that good people are rewarded in some fashion. Additionally, some of the story lines were not resolved and the audience is left with no knowledge of what happened to major characters whose stories were followed throughout the film.