Thursday, April 19, 2018

Lamarr pic among 10 at Jewish film festival

Who’d have thought famed Hollywood actress Hedy Lamarr (left) was an ingenious inventor and integral to the World War II war effort? But in the movie Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story (Alexandra Dean), a documentary screening next week at the Windsor Jewish Film Festival, Lamarr is portrayed not only for her wild Hollywood exploits but as inventor of wireless technology that helped guide wartime torpedoes. The movie screens Tuesday at 2 pm…... It’s the 16th year for the fest, which will screen 10 films between Monday and Thursday, all at its usual locale, Devonshire Mall’s Cineplex theatres…... The opening night screening Monday at 7.30 pm is An Act of Defiance (Jean van de Velde), an historical drama about South African’s Apartheid regime, focusing on activists Nelson Mandela and his “inner circle of Black and Jewish supporters” who face a possible death sentence for conspiracy. In other films, The Last Suit (Pablo Solarz) is a whimsical yet serious story about an aged Jewish tailor, a Holocaust survivor, who embarks on a journey across Europe in search of an old friend who, many years earlier, saved him from death…... There are five films set in or immediately after World War II. The most interesting to me is The Invisibles (Claus Räfle), about the few Jews who remained in Berlin at the height of the war. Other films are Across the Water (Nicolo Donato), about an escape from Nazi-occupied Denmark; 1945 (Ferenc Török), reconciling Nazi complicity in an Hungarian village; The Children of Chance (Malik Chibane), where unexpected circumstances allow a young Jewish boy to survive; and in The Light of Hope (Silvia Quer), based on a true story about a maternity home that gave shelter to women fleeing both the Spanish Civil War and Vichy France……Three other films round out the program. Monkey Business: The Adventures of Curious George’s Creators, a doc about the Jewish authors of the beloved children’s book, Hans and Margret Ray; Joe’s Violin (Kahane Cooperman), a short doc about an aged violinist who donates his violin to an impoverished girl in the Bronx; and, Let Yourself Go (Francesco Amato), a feel good comedy set in contemporary Rome about a stuffy psychoanalyst and his free spirited trainer......For more info go to

Sunday, April 15, 2018

LA neo-noir is a cool whodunnit

I didn’t quite finish with my reviewing and summing-up of this year’s Tampa film festival. (Alas, given the weather in Windsor-Detroit this month I long to be back in the warm caress of central Florida.) …...A standout in the festival’s lineup was Aaron Katz’s Gemini, a contemporary take on LA noir. This cool film for the social media age is marked by its constant tease, never fully resolved (and that’s a good thing) of which of the characters supposedly murdered a Hollywood starlet (Zoё Kravitz). A gumshoe (John Cho) has pinned the crime on Heather’s personal assistant Jill (Lola Kirke) (photo above left) who decides to assume a changed persona (ok, disguise, but this movie is so hip, “persona” sounds better). Not only are the characters and plot engrossing but the cinematography is super, with the scenes’ color backgrounds - for example, from neon signs - imbuing the characters' features and entire frames.  The opening scene, an inverted look at overhead palms, is stunning, setting the look and feel for the rest of the film. The taut dreamy electronica is the musical complement…...Meanwhile, Eric Stolz, he of innumerable movies and TV but perhaps best known for playing Lance in Quentin Tarantino’s 1994 Pulp Fiction, is an affable, engaging – and well-dressed – director, and was present for the screening of his latest film, Class Rank. It’s a kind of update on Alexander Payne’s 1999 Election but has a comedic freshness all its own. Socially awkward Bernard Flannigan (Skyler Gisondo), a whiz kid with a superb sense of right and wrong, is running not for student council but the oppressive local school board. His erudite granddad is played by Bruce Dern, an actor now 81 and who’s in movies everywhere it seems these days……Itzhak (Alison Chernick) is a documentary about the great Israeli violinist, one-time child prodigy – now in his 70s – Itzhak Perlman. The film melds Perlman’s professional brilliance with his otherwise down to earth personality, complaining about the lack of accessible public restrooms (he was partly parlalyzed by polio), and being a fanatical fan of his hometown New York Mets. 
This was my second year attending the Tampa festival (officially the Gasparilla International Film Festival, Gasparilla being the all-purpose central Florida nickname, harking back to a famous area pirate). The festival continues to attract numerous and impressive local sponsors and has an enthusiastic contingent of staffers and volunteers. And this year’s showcase of more than 50 features, in quality, seemed a cut above what I saw last year. But GIFF still suffers from a lack of audience, with many screenings having noticeable numbers of empty seats. The fact that this year the festival combined with Tampa’s Jewish film festival was a smart move, so it – or both fests - can build their audiences. Yet the lack of filmgoers is a puzzle. The Tampa Bay area has more than 3 million people and several universities and colleges. Contrast this to Windsor’s international film festival, serving a population one-tenth the size (it hardly draws from Detroit) and which has been in existence about the same time. Yet the Windsor fest’s screenings, many in larger theatres, are sold out or near packed. Let’s hope Gasparilla finds a wider audience, to match its spirit, in the future.

Monday, April 9, 2018

Finally, Detroit doc gets Detroit premiere

Last July I wrote about a documentary filmed in Detroit, but which had yet to get a screening here. It’s Andrew James’s Street Fighting Men. Well, after a somewhat long wait, James’s engrossing film will finally be having its Detroit debut April 14 & 15 at the Freep Film Festival, a documentary-laden and mostly Michigan-centric fest, now in its fifth year, and run by the Detroit Free Press in association with community participants (i.e., theatres)…..Street Fighting Men tells the story of three individuals in Detroit’s inner city trying to make the city and/or themselves better. James, the filmmaker, based in Utah, made the picture quite by happenstance. He happened to be crossing the border headed to Toronto’s Hot Docs festival and became intrigued with Detroit. He explored the city and later spent a year living here, meeting the three individuals and filming their stories. In the film, there’s James “Jack Rabbit” Johnson, a community watch volunteer, Deris Solomon, an adult studying, and struggling, to finish high school, and Luke Williams, who is rehabbing a house. The 1.48 - hour film offers no narration but conveys the stories through the characters. Moving back and forth among them, it comes across almost as fictionalized drama, one of James’s goals…..James will be part of a discussion after each of the screenings…..Meanwhile the Freep Film Fest, which runs April 11 - 15, this year is screening more than 25 films, at locations as varied as the Detroit Film Theatre, Fillmore Detroit, suburban Emagine theatres and for the first time, the classic Redford Theatre. A couple of these films you may have seen before, such as Brian Kaufman’s 12th and Clairmount (at last year’s WIFF), and the celebrated and hilarious Clerks (Kevin Smith, 1994) …...The festival, while doc-focused, is eclectic, with offerings for people who might not otherwise attend such an event.  For the sports fan there are three films: The Joe (Evan Neel, 2018), all about the nearly 40 year history of Joe Louis Arena and some of the greatest moments which took place inside the former epicenter of Hockeytown, and opening night film The Russian Five (Joshua Riehl, 2018), about the Detroit Red Wings iconic five Russian stars  who helped lead the team to two Stanley Cups. Going further back in history, there’s back-to-back films about legendary 1960s era “participatory” journalist George Plimpton, who trained with the Detroit Lions. Starring George Plimpton as Himself (Tom Bean & Luke Poling, 2012) screens along with Paper Lion (Alex March, 1968), a film based on Plimpton’s book of the same name…...And, for sentimentalists of daytime kids TV, there’s a documentary about Fred Rogers, Won’t You Be My Neighbor?  (Morgan Neville, 2018; Neville made 20 Feet from Stardom, shown at WIFF in 2013) …...For more information, go to