Volume 78 - Number 34 / January 21 - 27, 2009
West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since 1933

Koch on Film

“Cadillac Records” (+)
This docudrama about the beginning and early period of rock ‘n’ roll music in America is a real gem and not to be missed.

We attribute much of rock ‘n’ roll’s success to Elvis Presley. He was certainly a talented musician and entertainer, but he simply added his voice to the rhythm and blues beat created much earlier by black musicians in the South.

The earliest creator of the blues genre introduced to us in the film is Muddy Waters (Jeffrey Wright) who began his music career in Mississippi. He later traveled to Chicago with thousands of other blacks looking for work. Muddy Waters hooks up with Chicago music producer, Leonard Chess (Adrien Brody), who enhanced the careers of a number of black musicians. Those who stood out for me in the movie were Little Walter (Columbus Short), who plays the harmonica called a harp, Etta James (Beyonce Knowles), an extraordinary singer whose songs sounded very much like jazz to me, and Chuck Berry (Mos Def). I gather from the film that Berry is the true father of rock ‘n’ roll. His music, voice and lyrics are a delight to listen to as are his brilliant commentaries on life wonderfully expressed by Mr. Def.

Every actor is exceptional in creating the mood of the country at that time. I learned a lot and shed tears that these talented musicians had to suffer so much before they were recognized. Leonard Chess would close his deals by giving his new artists a Caddy, the car of choice in those days. An extraordinary scene is depicted involving Little Walter, his car, and police brutality.

The horror of the Jim Crow era and the demeaning and brutal acts directed at America’s black citizens are laid out for all to see and feel outraged about for having allowed the abuse to continue as long as it did.

PT said: “This movie was an eye-opener for me. I never realized that rock ‘n’ roll started as what was called “race music” – the music written and played by the black performers portrayed in the film and others. Chess recorded their music and got it played on the radio – no TV in those early days – and disc jockeys all over the country helped create hit songs by playing those records. Sadly, white musicians moved in on the territory and even stole some of the tunes.”

AS said: “I thought this movie was very good with an excellent soundtrack that brought back many fond memories. “Cadillac Records” reminds the audience that black artists had to accept being exploited to gain any success outside of their communities. The movie did conclude by demonstrating the overwhelming respect by the European community, in particular England, for the black artists who were not properly credited in the U.S. as the creators of rock ‘n’ roll. I give this movie a thumbs up.

“Frost/Nixon” (+)
The film, which is about to end its run in NYC, is based on Peter Morgan’s wonderful stage play which I saw on Broadway in 2007. I delayed seeing this movie, wondering if I would derive any additional insights or pleasure from watching it. The answer is, you bet.

The picture is, of course, about the 1977 interviews David Frost (Michael Sheen) conducted of former president Richard M. Nixon (Frank Langella), three years after he was impeached. Nixon was paid $600,000 for doing the interview, most of which was apparently personally funded by Frost. Sheen and Langella, who created the roles in the London production of the play, are absolutely phenomenal in the film.

The entire cast does a marvelous job. They include three members of Frost’s team: BBC producer John Birt (Matthew Macfadyen), newsman Bob Zelnick (Oliver Platt), and author/researcher James Reston, Jr. (Sam Rockwell). Two individuals who assisted Nixon include his agent Swifty Lazar (Toby Jones) and former Marine Colonel Jack Brennan (Kevin Bacon) who greatly admires and respects the former president. Other characters include Caroline Cushing (Rebecca Hall) and Pat Nixon (Patty McCormack).

The interview settings, which include Nixon’s home in San Clemente, California, and the hotel suite in which Frost was staying, add a sense of reality not available in the stage production. Wonderful dialogue that may or may not have actually occurred is included in the film. Poetic and dramatic license would permit those conversations which in no way detract from the actual interviews during which Nixon broke down and confessed his involvement in the Watergate scandal. His admission demonstrates a human desire to tell the truth. I’ve always thought that the Miranda Warning represses the need of people to confess to crimes they have foolishly committed. Warning suspects that they have the right to remain silent, the right to an attorney, and the right to have that attorney present during questioning in my opinion prevents rather than allows justice to occur.

Be sure to see this film before it leaves the theaters.

“Just Another Love Story” (+)
A good film, which is, in fact, a very complicated love story. I honestly didn’t grasp a number of threads but fortunately HG, a member of my party and a former police detective, laid it out for us later on.

I won’t spoil the movie for you by doing that now since part of the allure is its mystery. For example, who is the fully-bandaged person sitting in a wheelchair who appears in the middle of the film? Who is the dead person in the trunk of a car? And, most importantly, who is Sebastian?

The mysterious and attention-grabbing opening scenes show a man and a woman, she holding a pistol, followed in real time by a deadly crash on a wet road. The picture then shifts to a married Danish couple. Jonas (Anders W. Berthelsen), a crime photographer for the police department, is married to the beautiful Mette (Charlotte Fich). The couple has two children. When Jonas’s decrepit car breaks down on the highway, two other vehicles collide in an effort to avoid hitting him. A woman driving one of the vehicles, Julia (Rebecka Hemse), is very seriously injured. Out of curiosity and remorse, Jonas visits Julia in the hospital and thus begins his great adventure.

Jonas is mistaken by Julia’s wealthy parents as her boyfriend, Sebastian (Nikolaj Lie Kaas), with whom she recently traveled in Asia. Her mother (Ewa Froling) and father (Bent Mejding) have never met him. Jonas allows that impression to continue in an effort to help Julia survive the terrible accident which has blinded her, at least temporarily.

That’s all I’ll tell you. The more you figure out the more intriguing the film will be for you when you think about it later on. Who would have thought the Danes of such sunny disposition would produce such a wonderful film noir. In Danish, with English subtitles.

HS said: “The title, “Just Another Love Story” reminded me of “Not Another Teen Movie” (2001), which was also a loser. It was nothing like the original “Love Story” (1970) where we met Ali MacGraw, Ryan O’Neal and Tommy Lee Jones right after he graduated from Harvard after playing offensive guard on the football team and rooming with Al Gore, who won an Oscar for “An Inconvenient Truth” (2006). Remember, this is a movie column.

“I am sorry to have to tell you that I did not like the movie at all. I don’t get off on auto crashes, rainstorms, stabbings, hit men, rapists, drug dealers or smugglers. White on white subtitles don’t help. The acting was good and the scenery was all right but nothing special. The plot was absurd, with the constant references to Sebastian reminding me of “Suddenly Last Summer” (1959). The only person in our group who understood what was going on was a retired police detective, who is an expert in unraveling complex situations. It was all too much for one movie, and the end was a real downer. The film might be helpful if you were learning Danish. And it wasn’t terrible or terrifying. It is just sad to see basically decent people messing up their own lives and the lives of others.”

“The Reader” (+)
A truly splendid film, based on a novel by Bernhard Schlink.

The movie, which contains several flashbacks, takes place in Germany. It opens with Michael Berg (Ralph Fiennes) reflecting back to 1958 when as a 15-year-old boy he met Hanna Schmitz (Kate Winslet). Michael (played as a youth by David Kross) becomes ill on a sidewalk one afternoon and is aided by Hanna, a transit conductor in her mid-30’s. She takes him home, cleans him up, and sends him on his way. Michael returns sometime later to thank her, and before long, the two become lovers. Hanna, who addresses Michael as “Kid” because of their age difference, has him read aloud to her from works of German literature before their lovemaking begins. A few months later Hanna mysteriously disappears, thus ending their brief affair.

As a law student, Michael is taken by his professor (Bruno Ganz) to a courthouse were several woman are being tried for war crimes. When he arrives, he recognizes Hanna as one of the accused. All the women receive a four-year sentence except Hanna who is sentenced to life in prison for her role as a concentration camp guard after World War II. Why the harsh difference in sentencing? You’ll have to see the film to find out. Michael is torn between a desire to assist her and his repulsion at having been intimately involved with a death camp guard.

Ralph Fiennes does a fine job portraying Michael in his adult years. Kate Winslet, who won a Golden Globe award for her performance in this film, is absolutely terrific. I’ve never seen David Kross before, but based on his charm and brilliant acting performance in this film, I predict he will soon be a Hollywood star.

“Cargo 200” (+)
This unique Russian docudrama, which covers a period in 1984 when the Soviet Union still existed, was banned for a time in Russia. Vladimir Putin eventually allowed it to be shown. “Cargo 200” refers to the caskets of soldiers being returned to their homeland from Afghanistan.

The film begins with a crawl stating that it is based on a true incident. The seamiest side of Soviet life is depicted in the small industrial city of Leninsk, named in honor of Lenin. We meet two brothers: Mikhail (Yury Stepanov), a colonel in the Soviet military forces, and Artem (Leonid Gromov), a professor of Atheism. Looking for assistance when his car breaks down, Artem wanders into the home of Aleksei (Aleksei Serebryakov), a bootlegger making vodka. His car is repaired by a Vietnamese handyman and he departs.

Shortly thereafter a young couple, Valera (Leonid Bichevin) and Angelica (Agniya Kuznetsova) arrive at the home to purchase vodka. Valera passes out and Angelica becomes an unwilling participant in a setting worthy of the American movie “Deliverance.” She is abducted by a man who turns out not only to be crazy but a captain in the local police department. The film portrays Soviet hedonism, police brutality and corruption, as well as depraved acts of sexuality. Cops kill prisoners with impunity, and the body of a Soviet hero killed in Afghanistan is desecrated. The depicted scenes appear to be incredible but are apparently realistic renderings of local behavior in the unreported hinterland.

The Times reviewer, Jeannette Catsoulis, rightfully gave the film an excellent review writing, “The cinematographer, Alexander Simonov, coaxes a savage beauty from sad skylines and the gaunt shells of silent factories. As Zhurov’s drunken mother sprawls in front of an absurd television show, steadfastly ignoring the horrors in the next room, “Cargo 200” plumbs near-comical depths of anti-Communist fury. Not many people will be laughing.”

I can’t truthfully say I enjoyed watching the film, but it is so different and shocking that it is worth seeing. I recommend that you catch it if you can. (In Russian, with English subtitles.)

HS said: “The film showed me more than I wanted to learn about alcoholism and depravity in the former Soviet Union, but there is no question that it is very well done. Making the movie at that time was an act of courage. Cargo 200 shows so many despicable people behaving badly in different situations that the viewer may be appalled. It is not a date movie or a chick flick. It should, however, make you very happy that you are living in the United States of America.”

 

 

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