By Joe Bendel. The United Nations has long acted like one of the four horsemen of the apocalypse; in the case of Haiti, it is literally pestilence. Allegedly thanks to the UN peacekeeping force, a deadly wave of cholera has swept the dysfunctional country. Viewers witness the epidemic from the vantage point of a young ball player in David Darg & Bryn Mooser’s short documentary, Baseball in the Time of Cholera, which screens as part of the Help Wanted programming block during the 2012 Tribeca Film Festival.
Joseph Alvyns and his friends should simply be spending an innocent summer on the baseball diamond. They play as often as they can, but it is impossible to ignore the post-hurricane chaos around them. Yet when Alvyns sees the devastation of the 3/11 hurricane and tsunami in Japan, he is compelled to reach out in a spirit of solidarity. His efforts attract international attention, even earning him a VIP trip to Toronto, courtesy of the Blue Jays. Unfortunately, when he returns cholera strikes at the heart of his family.
Technically, Darg and Mooser do not conclusively establish the Nepalese “peace-keepers” are the source of the cholera outbreak. Still, the sight of raw sewage spilling from their latrine into Haiti’s central river – coupled with the Heisman pose the Nepalese commander gives their camera man – constitutes a pretty convincing circumstantial case. The film also asks a legitimate question: why are there peace-keepers stationed in a country that has not been at war for centuries? However, they largely let the successive authoritarian and socialist governments off the hook for bringing the Haitian state to the brink of complete failure.
Time boasts some unusually big names behind the camera, including executive producers Olivia Wilde and Tesla Motors entrepreneur Elon Musk (one of three POV figures in Chris Paine’s Revenge of the Electric Car, which screened at last year’s Tribeca). To its credit, the film community has rallied to Haiti’s aide, yet there has not been a similar celebrity rush on behalf of Japanese recovery efforts. Therefore, it is worth taking the time to note that those wishing to follow Alvyns’ example can also donate to the Japan Society’s relief fund (details here).
For a short documentary, Baseball in the Time of Cholera nicely balances muckraking and heartrending tragedy. It should screen at Turtle Bay, but instead it will screen again in lower Manhattan this Friday (4/27) and Sunday (4/29) as the Tribeca Film Festival continues throughout the weekend.
Posted on April 26th, 2012 at 11:39pm.
By Joe Bendel. Right now, Norway’s economy is a lot like our own. There are way more job-seekers than open positions to fill. At such times, if a recruiter sends you on an interview, you go, even though you might be leaving a few stray valuable objects d’art lying about your home unguarded. That is Roger Brown’s racket, but it turns unexpectedly deadly in Morten Tyldum’s Headhunters, which opens this Friday in New York and also screened yesterday as part of the San Francisco International Film Festival.
Brown is a man slight of stature, married to his bombshell wife, Diana. Suffering from a king-sized inferiority complex, he has allowed them to live beyond their means by burglarizing the homes of his executive search clients. With his house of cards on the brink of collapse, Brown’s prayers appear to be answered in the person of Claes Greve. Not only is the former tech CEO the perfect candidate for a plum position Brown must fill, he also owns a genuine Rubens painting of rather dodgy providence. Win-win, right?
However, when Brown starts to suspect the younger man and his wife are carrying on an affair behind his back, he sabotages Greve’s campaign for the position. At this point, Greve reacts more forcefully than Brown anticipates. Mouse, meet cat.
Headhunters is quite a nifty one-darned-thing-after-another thriller. Tyldum has a good handle on the material, constantly ratcheting-up the tension, but periodically using black comedy to release some steam. In his hands, the frequent twists are entertaining rather than forced or exhausting.
Tyldum also has a nice looking cast to focus on. Especially bankable is the presence of Game of Thrones alumnus Nikolaj Coster-Wladau, now world famous for playing Lena Headey’s brother (and other things), Ser Jaime Lannister, here perfectly cast as Greve. As Diana Brown, former model Synnøve Macody Lund certainly looks the part, but she also has some nice dramatic moments as well. In the lead, Aksell Hennie’s Brown holds the film together while coming to grief quite effectively.
Based on Norwegian mystery writer Jo Nesbø’s first book outside of his bread-and-butter series, Headhunters engages in some of the same far-fetched anti-corporate humbug undermining so many recent domestic crime dramas. However, Tyldum keeps the rollercoaster loop-de-looping at such breakneck speed, it is not so distracting. Definitely a dark but thoroughly enjoyable exercise in skullduggery, Headhunters is easily recommended and opens theatrically this Friday (4/27) in New York at the Landmark Sunshine.
Posted on April 26th, 2012 at 11:38pm.
By Joe Bendel. How did an Austrian wearing a bathrobe conquer Germany? It had something to do with a Russian bassoon player. Based on crooner Udo Jürgens’ hybrid memoir-family saga novel, Miguel Alexandre’s two-part mini-series The Man with the Bassoon (trailer here) screens in its entirety tomorrow at MoMA as part of Kino!, their annual celebration of contemporary German cinema.
After completing the expected encore in his traditional white bathrobe, modern day Jürgens (playing himself) receives word from Moscow: a long lost family retainer has a significant heirloom he wishes to return to Jürgens. It is a statue of a man playing a bassoon. Thus begins the first of many flashbacks.
Jürgens’ grandfather Heinrich Bockelmann decides to immigrate to Russia after hearing the beautiful, lamenting Russian melodies of a street musician. Amassing great wealth as the Czar’s family banker, Bockelmann credits his success to that bassoon player. For their anniversary, his wife gives him a statuette of the bassoon player, which quickly becomes the guardian of the family’s good fortune. However, dark clouds are on the horizon. With socialist revolutionaries campaigning against the German economic elite, the Czarist government dispossesses and imprisons Bockelmann and his aristocratic countrymen, soon after Russia’s entry into WWI.
Escaping Russia with their children, Bockelmann’s wife eventually re-establishes the family dynasty in Austria. As viewers know from several flashbacks, Bockelmann’s son Rudi eventually becomes a provincial burgomaster and National Socialist Party member. Yet, as the war drags on, Rudi Bockelmann runs afoul of his more zealous colleagues. We know he will survive though, because in yet another flashback story-arc, we see Rudi Bockelmann is the only member of the elite Austrian family to encourage his aimless son Udo to pursue his musical ambitions.
Spanning over one hundred years, Bassoon is definitely an epic, they-don’t-make-them-like-they-used-to miniseries. While many consider the boundary fact and fiction therein to be somewhat porous, the bassoon must be true. (Anyone making this story up would have chosen a different instrument.) Though the Bockelmann family’s dark days are mostly caused by the Nazis and the Czarists, the depiction of the xenophobic and anti-Semitic Russian revolutionary factions is also an intriguing footnote within the Bassoon. In fact, the historical episodes featuring Jürgens’ father and grandfather are considerably stronger than his own rise-to-fame story. Frankly, a lot of viewers will want to see Jürgens (as he comes to be known) suffer more for his art.
Still, Jürgens’ music may surprise some viewers. His rendition of “There Will Never Be Another You” heard several times in Bassoon swings politely enough. Starting very squarely in a jazz bag, he became something like a cross between Sinatra and Czech vocalist Karel Gott (if that name means anything to you). Although he never really caught on here, he had his admirers, including Sammy Davis, Jr., who covered a few of his tunes.
Jürgens is also sufficiently convincing playing himself, but Christian Berkel carries the heaviest load as the Bockelmann patriarch, Heinrich. Fittingly, he somewhat resembles miniseries king Richard Chamberlain, aging decades while exuding an aura of integrity.In contrast, David Rott is a rather weak screen presence as the young Jürgens on the brink of superstardom.
A large-scale, richly detailed period production, Bassoon covers quite a bit of ground. Anyone at all intrigued by Jürgens’ sweeping family story should definitely watch it at MoMA, because it is hard to imagine there will be lot of opportunities to catch up with it in the future. Both parts one and two screen back-to-back tomorrow (4/26), with Jürgens and Alexandre appearing afterward for a session of Q&A, as well as this Saturday (4/28), as part of this year’s Kino! at MoMA.
LFM GRADE: B
Posted on April 26th, 2012 at 10:20pm.