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KFF: Fall 2006

Every year, Four Star Cinema in Kilgore presents six “high-brow” films (foreign fare, documentaries and the like) which local audiences (distanced as we are from large cultural centers) might have missed during the past year. This year’s offerings appeared throughout the month of September, and we saw them all.

The Lost City
During the tumultuous years surrounding the Cuban Revolution, Fico Fellove (Garcia), struggles to maintain his popular Havana night club while his two brothers join different revolutionary movements. As Cuba’s stability unravels, the Fellove family begins to fracture with it. With Castro’s regime growing stronger, Fico must face the fact that the Havana he knows and loves may be gone forever.

This is undoubtedly a gorgeous, lovingly-crafted film. The filmmakers have obviously put a lot of themselves into it. Every second is carefully constructed and perfectly shot. Yes, all 8,580 of them. The movie seems to go on for several eternities, and ultimately the slow pacing will probably exhaust the stamina of most movie-goers. The gorgeous set pieces, authentic costumes and skillful interweaving of historical events with cultural flavor and symbolism make for a very moving viewing experience . . . that is really only tolerable one time.

Water
Chuyia was so young when she got married that she can’t even remember the wedding. Now she is eight years old, and a widow. Societal and religious traditions in 1930s India dictate that she must shave her head, don a white sari and spend the remainder of her long life scratching out a lowly existence in a home for widows. Chuyia befriends the beautiful Kalyani, a widow allowed to keep her hair so that she can earn money through prostitution to keep them all afloat. Soon, however, an unexpected romance between Kalyani and Narayan, a passionate follower of Gandhi, threatens the delicate balance at the home for widows as well as the very heart of their religious beliefs.

Third in Mehta’s critically-acclaimed Elemental Trilogy, Water took nearly eight years to film due to disruption by religious extremists. This is no surprise, for the movie contains a very powerful message. Fanatics are not generally known for their tolerance for new ideas. Part of what makes Mehta’s message so powerful is its simplicity. “One less mouth to feed, four less saris, and a free corner in the house. Disguised as religion, it’s just about money,” as Narayan says. Fantastic performances, an unpredictable story and a quiet but meticulous attention to detail strengthen a film that will haunt viewers long after they have exited the theater.

Thank You For Smoking
Nick Naylor (Eckhart) is the chief spokesman for Big Tobacco, a man who makes a living by the principle that, if you can spin an argument correctly, you’ll always be right. Now, Vermont Senator Ortolan Finistirre (Macy) is trying to pass a law requiring all packs of cigarettes to display a prominent skull-and-crossbones logo, aggressive journalist Heather Holloway (Holmes) seems willing to go to any lengths to get a big story on Nick, and Nick’s son Joey is developing a troubling interest in his father’s job. Beset on all sides, Nick may finally have run up against a situation he can’t talk his way out of.

Reitman unloads a devastating satirical broadside aimed at government, lobbyists, the media, Hollywood and the shallow American culture that allows them to exist. Thank You For Smoking is funny, offensive, cynical and really rather educational. The disappointing thing about the movie is that if you have seen the trailer, you have already been exposed to most of the film’s surprises and major punchlines. But not, surprisingly, the heart of its message. What begins as joke at the expense of America’s manipulative elite unexpectedly turns into a strong appeal to Americans to stop having their opinions spoon-fed to them and start exercising their brains and their freedom to make their own decisions.

Wordplay
The New York Times crossword, Holy Grail of puzzles for crossword enthusiasts across America, is the focus of this intriguing and fun documentary. Director Patrick Creadon reveals the secrets behind the creation of the puzzle, the origins of the crossword in America, and the vibrant, diverse community of crossword enthusiasts and experts who gather each year for the championship tournament at the crossword convention in Stamford. Along the way, Creadon visits several past (and future) crossword champions, interviews New York Times crossword editor Will Shortz, and chats with celebrities like Jon Stewart and Bill Clinton who enjoy the puzzle every day.

Yes, okay, this does sound incredibly boring. It truly is not. The filmmakers have managed to film some of the most entertaining people in the country doing and saying all sorts of truly quirky things and pieced everything together with the best editing we have ever seen in a documentary. It’s fun, it’s informative, it’s lively, it’s off-beat and every time it seems to be slipping into a rut, it suddenly changes directions. Combined with plenty of ad-libbed humor (both intentional and not) and some genuine suspense and the result is irresistible.

Scoop
Sondra Pransky (Johansson), an inexperienced reporter for a college paper, is visiting England when she steps into small-time magician Sid Waterman’s (Allen) box as part of his act. Instead of disappearing, however, she is confronted by the ghost of a recently-departed journalist. The spirit offers her the tip of a lifetime: the identity of the Tarot Card Murderer. Enlisting Sid’s help, Sondra investigates, but the object of her investigation turns out to be Peter Lyman (Jackman), a wealthy and charismatic nobleman. Soon, Sondra is falling in love with Lyman and having her doubts about whether he has actually committed foul play.

Woody Allen turns 71 this year, and his jokes and plots aren’t getting any younger either. Scoop is occasionally clever (usually far too clever), but mostly just abhorrently cute. The actors seem painfully aware that they are merely Allen’s straight-men in a 96-minute joke, not real people at all. The situation is painfully and laboriously contrived. The one-liners are flat, and even a first-time viewer can almost recite them with the characters. The ending is chuckle-worthy, nothing more. All in all, a disappointing effort which feels like it is simply coasting on the acclaim of the director’s previous efforts.

Kinky Boots
Charlie Price (Edgerton) has just inherited a failing shoe factory that has been in his family for generations, and the cancellation of a large order is forcing him to fire people he grew up with. Inspired by Lauren (Potts), one of the employees he has just laid off, and Lola (Ejiofor, Serenity), a drag queen who performs for a devoted fan base in a London night club, Charlie decides it is time to change the factory’s product. Together with Lola, Lauren, and the reluctant but loyal factory workers, Charlie sets out to get the family business “back on its feet” . . . with a line of fetishistic female footwear designed to withstand the weight of a man. Based on a true story.

How does one make a tasteful, sensitive and eminently watchable film about transvestites and their erotic footwear? Dry, British irreverence helps, and the right casting is crucial. Ejiofor is the life of the party, turning in an incredible performance which makes his character believable, sympathetic and very fun to watch. The film’s basis in fact (however tenuous) only adds to the appeal. It seems silly to say considering the subject, but the movie’s only flaw is in being a tad too formulaic. Disguised as an edgy, slightly naughty comedy, Kinky Boots is really little more than a paint-by-numbers triumphant underdog film. But it’s still a highly-enjoyable evening’s entertainment.

  • Co-reviewed with Randy
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~ by Jared on October 2, 2006.

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