Big Bad Swim B-
Has its heart in the right place but its instincts are somewhat lacking. It tells the story of life in a McTown where the local adult swim instructor is having an emotional implosion, his taut jaw muscles clenching under the public pool’s neon. His students include a repressed, recently divorced, middle-aged lady and a young hottie who’s a stripper/blackjack dealer — must stripping always be shorthand for a life of compromise? Its decent attempts at emotionally charged doomed relationships is marred (more than once) by some of the most cheese-laden musical montage scenes this side of the new century.
I knew when I saw that Judd Hirsch was doing his “irascible old Jew” schtick I was in trouble. Add to that the twin brothers angle (a saintly one and nogoodnik — go ahead, take a guess which one dies leaving a beautiful wife and high-cheekboned son behind and which one’s a no-count alcoholic just getting out of jail and is shadowed by a tough-as-nails black parole officer who’ll give him just one more chance to make things right but he’s really going out on a limb this time) and you’ve got a nearly unnavigable, densely packed thicket of clichés.
Jonestown: The Life and Death of the People’s Temple
Wow. This is the kind of story that would fascinate me as a kid. The way it combined a sort of unreal horror, cartoonishly evil villain and weirdly exotic locale. The story of Jim Jones — cult leader as grade–A wacko — and how he convinced thousands of people to follow him to the South American country of Guyana and to kill and die for him on a massive scale is astounding. This picture interviews the few survivors of that fated day and tells the story with remarkable clarity — each frame is riveting.
Saint of 9/11
This is the story of the FDNY’s chaplain who perished on September 11 and is built on the foundations of mythology. Three of those pillars, The Fire Department, the Church, and American moral superiority post-9/11 have since been corrupted, buried or tainted beyond measure. The fourth pillar — New York City — emerges battered but intact. It’s hard to imagine another place that could provide the setting for the story of Mychal Judge who was both a homosexual and a recovering alcoholic. Slow in bits but pretty rewarding.
Sounds of Silence B+
This is the type of film for which festivals are made. A low-budget Iranian doc about the “underground” music scene. Underground being in this case anything not able to pass muster with the mullahs in government. This Persian-language film is homegrown and feels it. The filmmakers have a good sense of timing and know how to prompt interesting observations from their charismatic subjects. The music is pretty kickass too — it’s just a shame that they had to rely on the static images of videos on a computer screen so much.