Tuesday, May 25, 2010

The Kendall calendar & contest: No One Knows About Persian Cats and OSS 117: Lost in Rio


I will give this pass away. Somehow.

It's easy - send me an email or (re)tweet a link to one of my reviews of entertaining foreign movies, like this page (making sure @JaySeaver is in there somewhere so that I can see it), and you're entered. I'll select someone randomly at midnight as soon as I have a day with entries. You get a pass for two to see OSS 117: Lost in Rio Monday - Thursday at Kendall Square Cinemas in Cambridge as soon as I have your email address. Enter fast, and you can use it tomorrow!


It's Tuesday, which means you can look at Landmark's website to see what is going to stay and what is going to go at their Boston theaters come Friday. That's actually really useful if you like independent film, because a lot of these movies are in and out awfully quick. We're warned that the movies on their calendar are only booked for one week, but some of them do stick around longer - I see OSS 117: Lost in Rio is getting a second week (so you've got four more days to go see it if you claim the pass!).

The current schedule is actually a pretty good one - I'm kind of disappointed that I'll be out of town for Survival of the Dead, but happy to see that Air Doll will be waiting for me when I get back. It's also weird to see that the Cremaster cycle is on the list - I remember that bouncing around the various indie venues a few years ago (if I recall correctly, it started at the Allston Cinema Underground that Clinton McClung programmed, later played the Brattle, and then, maybe, went to the MFA). According to the program, the filmmaker has pledged that these films will never appear on home video.

Anyway, I'm kind of disappointed Persian Cats didn't get a longer run; it's a pretty darn good movie that grew on me as it played and afterward. And while I'm relatively lukewarm on Lost in Rio, it's still funny more often than not, certainly worth a look (especially if you can get in for free, right?).

Kasi az gorbehaye irani khabar nadareh (No One Knows About Persian Cats)

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 18 May 2010 at the Landmark Kendall Square #4 (first-run)

No One Knows About Persian Cats doesn't initially look remarkable; indeed, midway through it, it appears slight of frame but bloated by music videos; interesting, but trying to be two things and doing neither well. But it eventually becomes clear that those musical interludes are not nearly as extraneous as they may at first seem, and that's before director Bahman Ghobadi really drops the hammer on us.

It starts off kind of cute, with a recording engineer talking with a friend about how the man he's recording is planning to make a movie, starring local musicians. He mentions two by name, and we soon meet them: Negar (Negar Shaghaghi) is a singer and songwriter who has managed to keep her record clean. Her boyfriend Ashkan (Ashkan Koshanejad) has not; he's just spent some time in jail for the crime of playing indie rock. Negar has a chance to play in London, but that involves getting a band together and acquiring papers. The DVD/CD bootlegger who copies their demo, Nader (Hamed Behdad), flips for it, and promises to help them put a band together and stage a concert to help pay a document forger to make up passports and visas. It sounds great, but even in countries where rock & roll is not a crime, folks like Nader tend to promise more than they can deliver.

There's independent film, and then there's what Persian Cats represents: A film made with what I presume are mostly non-professional actors and shot without permits in a country where expressing some of the views espoused can get you thrown in jail or worse. I initially presumed that it was shot in some relatively safe country, like Jordan or Morocco, using stock footage to create an illusion that the characters were in Tehran. It appears to be the real deal, though, which I guess explains why one of the music video segments opts not to show the singer directly, but instead either has the camera pointed off to the side or focuses on the extreme foreground, leaving her an obstructed blur. I'm kind of amazed that other musicians didn't demand similar treatment, especially the rap group.

Full review at EFC.

OSS 117: Rio ne répond plus (OSS 117: Lost in Rio)

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 21 May 2010 at the Landmark Kendall Square #7 (first-run)

I was pretty fond of filmmaker Michel Hazanavicius's previous comedic revival of the OSS 117 franchise and character (Cairo, Nest of Spies); it did a lot of things right and did them in ways that an American audience almost certainly wouldn't expect. The followup, Lost in Rio, isn't bad; it remains amiable and funny despite stumbling into most of the traps waiting for comedy sequels.

This time around, it is 1967, and after a mission "protecting" a Chinese princess in Gstaad, France's top secret agent, OSS agent 117 Hubert Bonisseur de la Bath (Jean Dujardin), is being dispatched to Rio de Janeiro. Escaped Nazi Doktor Von Zimmel (Rudiger Vogler) is blackmailing France with a strip of microfilm that contains the name of wartime collaborators, and Hubert is being sent to pay him off. Of course, he's not the only secret agent on his way there - there's his American comrade Bill Trumendous (Ken Samuels), and beautiful Mossad agent Delores Koulechov (Louise Monot), and a whole slew of Chinese assassins, whose involvement Hubert can't quite figure. Their best lead is Heinrich Von Zimmel (Alex Lutz), the Doktor's hippie son.

Early on in the previous movie, we learned that Hubert was a bit past being a politically incorrect guy who liked the ladies; the version in this film series is casually sexist and racist, and utterly oblivious to just how insulting his off-hand comments were. It was surprising at first, but also a deviously reflexive joke, the hero of a revived franchise serving as a rebuke to nostalgia - a reminder that in the simpler times people supposedly pined for, that sort of behavior was common. It's not quite such an effective bit in a sequel, especially since Hazanavicius and co-writer Jean-François Halin are a bit more clumsy with it; rather than settling for the awkward pauses and looks, the joke is drawn out, occasionally too far.

Full review at EFC.

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