“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.
"A Letter to Three Wives" (1949) is a terrific triplicate of a melodrama. It won Joe L. Mankiewicz Academy Awards for writing and directing one year before he gave the audiences one bumpy ride in "All About Eve" by suggesting that - at least when it comes to love, sex and ambition - fastening one's seat belts is for sissies only. The earlier film is tamer than "Eve"'s non-stop repartee-fest, and its focus is not as pointed. Still, it remains one of my favorite movies ever made: not only for all its brilliant rejoinders (of which Thelma Ritter gets to utter the most hilarious), but for its portrayal of what it means to be anxious about one's relationship and then to receive reassurance from the person we love. It's a story of three women envisioning the end of their marriages in the morning and feeling them strengthened by the end of the day. It goes down like an anxiety-glazed donut with a filling of hope.
When I first started watching "Dynasty", I didn't know what the word 'dynasty' meant. Aaron Spelling's oil-and-soap opera first aired in Poland in July 1990, nine years after its American premiere and a mere year after the fall of the Berlin wall. It was the latter event that had exposed my native land to the consumerist ravishment we all secretly craved. I was eight, the world became new, and even though McDonald's was still stalling, "Dynasty" was here already: airing every Wednesday and gluing the entire nation to its old-type tube screens.
Terrence Malick's return to movie-making in 1998, preceded by a twenty-year period of largely mysterious retreat, was a tremendous event, the result of which - "The Thin Red Line" - exceeded any expectations one might have had at the time. I can still recall four consecutive evenings in early 1999, when I watched the movie repeatedly at the local cinema in my Polish hometown of Tarnowskie Góry. The first screening was so moving, I felt entranced and compelled to come back the next evening - and the next, and the one after that.
A quiet story of incestuous desire told with deadpan precision and a fair share of subliminal humor, "The Unspeakable Act" marks its writer-director's long-awaited cinematic breakthrough. Even though New York-based Dan Sallitt (born 1955) has been making movies from the mid-1980s on (he had three under his belt before this one), his media presence has been unduly under-the-radar throughout that period. With the new movie scooping The Independent Visions Prize at the 2012 Sarasota Film Festival, and then being picked up by Edinburgh, Karlovy Vary and - most notably - BAMcinemaFest (where it plays 24 June at 9:30 PM), it's high time to put Sallitt on the map of highly original independent American filmmakers, which is where he'd belonged right from the start.
This complete film is on YouTube in eight parts, Russian with English subtitles, starting here.
The opening shot of Jerzy Kawalerowicz's "Night Train" (1959) is an overhead one: we see the human swarm of the Polish city of Łódź, presented as an unruly collection of points moving up and down a vast staircase. They all seem pitted against one another by some unseen pinball player - and yet never quite collide. The perspective we are forced to assume is almost cruelly impersonal in its design: if one squints one's eyes, one could see it all as a whirring bacteria colony under a microscope. Had it been not for Wanda Warska's moody jazz hum (a variation on Artie Shaw's "Moon Ray"), the shot would seem unbearably cold and detached. As it is, with the wistful music trickled all over the image, it's just very, very sad.
It may seem an odd choice for a personal classic, but you need to bear in mind under what circumstances this writer had first encountered Joe Johnston's less-than-pint-sized family adventure flick, "Honey, I Shrunk the Kids." The year was 1990, the Berlin Wall has just fallen, and the eight-year-old me was eager to lay his mitts onto any chunk of Hollywood fun that wandered into the emaciated landscape of post-Communist Poland. At the time, me and my friends would inhale anything that smacked of American affluence and unbridled pop energy. Most of us didn't own a pair of jeans, but we still craved movies showing people casually sipping Coke and having pizza slices when they pleased. (Hence the "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" craze, among others.)
To call it overwrought would be an understatement. Andrzej Żuławski's 1981 masterpiece, butchered upon its original American release and relegated to spurious video-nasty circulation, is now returning in all its hysterical glory, as a part of Brooklyn's BAMcinématek complete Żuławski retro, which will then move to Cinefamily in Los Angeles. Featuring what is arguably the bravest female performance ever put on film - namely, Isabelle Adjani's Cannes-winning turn of shamanistic intensity - the film dares its viewer to enter a trance-like state, in which genres blur and mate to yield a new level of cinematic expression.
Some tricky music rights issues finally got resolved, and so Jerzy Skolimowski's "Deep End" is back on the map, and with a recent run at Brooklyn's BAMcinématek under its belt to prove it. A legendary specter for years - lusted after but near-impossible to track down and watch - it now arrives as part of the adventurous BFI Flipside series in a lush DVD/Blu-ray edition that will have you gasping equally at Jane Asher's copper-red coiffure and John Moulder-Brown's baby blue eyes (the latter firmly fixed on the former throughout the movie).