“Understated” isn’t a word you’d ordinarily use to describe a Jerry Bruckheimer production, but that’s surprisingly what 12 Strong ends up being.
Michał Oleszczyk is a film critic and scholar based in Poland. In 2012, he has been named the Critic of the Year by the Polish Film Institute.
His work has appeared in numerous Polish outlets, as well as on American websites such as “Fandor”, “The House Next Door” and “Hammer to Nail."
Oleszczyk wrote the first Polish book on the films of Terence Davies and has published a translation of J. Hoberman and Jonathan Rosenbaum’s “Midnight Movies." After having defended a Ph.D. thesis on the work of Pauline Kael, he has taught film at Polish universities, as well as worked as a programmer for Off Plus Camera International Film Festival.
The Disney mystique is a secular religion so global, powerful and self-contained -- not to mention litigious -- that it practically courts desecration. Randy Moore's "Escape from Tomorrow," which just premiered at Sundance and is unlikely to come to a theater near you any time soon, is the boldest act of cinematic violation at least since the "Mickey Mouse Club" finale of Stanley Kubrick's "Full Metal Jacket" (in which scores of American soldiers in Vietnam adopted the show's anthem as a deranged battle cry).
The goodies are in! After a slow start, Sundance Film Festival 2013 has begun to offer real discoveries, even if the wait for that elusive game-changing masterpiece is by no means over. Still, there's stuff to enjoy in Park City and appetites seem pleasantly whetted.
At Sundance, going to the movies is a way of taking shelter from the surrounding snow and cold, and I find it amusing to see scores of cinephiles arguing about movies in their full winter attire. It's as if skiing wasn't enough: the real fun over here is to slide down the slopes of filmmakers' visions -- even if every now and then pain and bruises may result.
At night, the ski slopes of Park City, Utah, are lit so beautifully they look like screens awaiting a projection from the sky. A moviegoer attending Sundance Film Festival couldn't wish for a better backdrop for a long trek home after the final movie of the day is over. Even if the film happened to be lousy, those huge mid-air patches of white seem to hint that the good stuff is yet to come.
The only Polish actress ever to become a major Hollywood star, Pola Negri (née Apolonia Chałupiec), lived a life as exciting as the movies she graced with her presence. Born in a small Polish town of Lipno in 1894 (while the country was still under a triple occupation by its neighbors), she climbed her way up: first to the theatre stages of Warsaw and then to the budding movie business. After a successful crossover to the much more sophisticated German film industry -- and a happy pairing with its finest director, Ernst Lubitsch -- she starred in the international smash-hit, "Madame Dubarry" (1919). It was Lubitsch's ticket to Hollywood -- as well as Pola's.
"Lincoln," a new movie directed by Steven Spielberg, overflows with talk, large chunks of which are delivered by the titular character. It opens, however, with an instance of Lincoln listening. After a brief outburst of violence, which allows us to witness the Civil War strife in all its mud-drenched brutality, four soldiers of various ranks and differing races casually approach the sixteenth President and talk to him. Their demeanor varies, running the gamut from celebrity-struck goofiness ("Hey, how tall are you?") to brave political confrontation by a Black corporal, demanding equal opportunities for a military career. And yet, as the scene closes, the soldiers end up literally speaking in Lincoln's words. By showing they have memorized the "Gettysburg Address," they give the ultimate proof of political trust in one's leader: they allow Lincoln's mind to merge with their own.
La Luna available via VOD on YouTube.
The traditional end-of-the-year list-making craze is bound to dominate the Internet for the entire month of December (as well as stir many a Twitter feud). It's hardly a stretch to foresee that most of the upcoming Top 10 lists will be dominated by three movies featuring remarkable kids. Benh Zeitlin's "Beasts of the Southern Wild", Wes Anderson's "Moonrise Kingdom" and the Dardenne brothers' "The Kid with a Bike" all featured children as characters whose temperament, imagination and sheer physical energy couldn't be contained by the (very different) worlds which they happened to inhabit.
"The Terence Davies Trilogy" is a work of such profound sadness and despair that watching it has to result in either obliteration or catharsis (unless it provokes a walk-out). Six years in the making, the three black-and-white shorts took their time oozing from Davies' personal experience and one can see the growing assurance of their director's hand. "Children" (1976) try out things in a tentative way, "Madonna and Child" (1980) solidify them into a steady mode of expression and "Death and Transfiguration" (1983) present a mature, stunningly poetic cinematic voice. Now that the three movies are only shown spliced together (and became available on a Region 2 DVD released by British Film Institute), one can see the emergence of Davies' techniques and savor what remains his most direct and devastating work to date.
The original poster for "Ashes and Diamonds" resembles a desperate message written down in blood. Indeed, when Andrzej Wajda's film opened in Poland in March 1958, it was greeted with a sense of urgency by the nation at large. Finally (thirteen years after WW2 ended) a movie got made that acknowledged the plight of the Home Army: the true war heroes whose vision of a free Poland didn't include a communist takeover. For more than a decade, these people have been banned from collective memory and referred to only with state-approved derision. Suddenly, a Home Army officer was the focal point of a major film. And even though he died at the end, the viewers were identifying with his lost cause rather than with the winning one. They knew the latter all too well from their everyday lives to cheer it.
Judging from the overwhelmingly tepid critical reaction that "To Rome with Love" has been getting since it opened in Poland, European film critics seem to take offense at what they describe as glossy, superficial way of presenting their continent in Woody Allen's recent movies. I know a Spanish film buff who hated (hated, hated) "Vicky Cristina Barcelona," as well as a Parisian who despised "Midnight in Paris." Clearly, there's something about the way Allen shoots European cities that many of their natives object to. They hate how prettified and inane their stomping grounds look on the screen (mere sightseeing folders, they say). And yet they never minded when New York was getting the same kind of Allen treatment back in the day. It seems we're much more comfortable with mythologizing someone else's home than we are with other people sprinkling glitter on ours.