Monday, March 17, 2014


It's been a while since I've been out to the West Newton Cinema; in fact, it's quite possible I haven't been there since that one time the Sci-Fi marathon ran there a little under a decade ago. I haven't been avoiding it so much as it's a tough trip for those of us without cars: It may be located right next to both a bus stop and a Commuter Rail station, but those are both focused on getting Newtonians into Boston for work and back at the end of the day. You're not getting there on Sunday, and you're not getting back in the evening without a pretty serious hike down Washington Street to Newton Corner, where you can catch the 57 bus to Kenmore.

That was the route I took getting back to the city, although I took the 553 between the two sections of Newton. It meant that I could not quite make it to Kendall Square in time to catch Bethlehem, which would have made a heck of a double feature with Omar, a real shame (Omar is a Palestinian movie about an Arab turned informant trying to avoid serving his friends up to the Israelis; Bethlehem comes from Israel and has a case-worker finding himself sympathizing with the Palestinian youth he's recruited to spy on his brother). Maybe it's better that way, though, so that the two don't merge too much in my mind.

The getting there was kind of surreal, though, as the first leg on the 70[A] bus is the route I used to take to work every day, so I was constantly noting what had changed and what had not in the ensuing couple of years. It kind of saddens me to see The Construction Site's storefront sitting empty but still having its distinctive facade; it was a great little toy store with lots of building toys and train sets, and my nieces are the right age to dig its wares. Of course, I'd also forgotten that the schedule for the 70 &70A was occasionally optimistic, and that sometimes the two buses on the same route until they diverge in Waltham Center will often pass each other, despite starting out with tween minutes between them. Almost made me miss my connection to the 553!

It was, however, fun to visit the West Newton again. It's one of the most unusual theaters in the general area from the black marquee with white lettering to the cash-only policy at the box office. Unlike a lot of the neighborhood theaters in the Boston area, they don't focus on first-run studio films at all, instead focusing almost all six of their screens on boutique films that on some occasions don't even play Cambridge or Brookline, although it's rate that they only have six movies playing, with kids' movies hanging around for extra weekend matinees and senior-targeted films playing afternoons. Movies aimed at a Jewish audience also seem to do especially well there. In many ways, it seems to be the very model of the sort of theater that should have died in the last few years, crippled by megalopolises and the conversion to digital, but the surprisingly robust crowd for a Saturday matinee of a foreign film that couldn't find big-city screens says otherwise. I suspect that this is the result of the building being owned free and clear and the owners knowing their area and its tastes much better than the guy booking for a whole chain from hundreds of miles away.

Of course, some part of that survival likely comes from not doing a whole lot to modernize the place beyond the digital projectors that are likely there. The architecture betrays that this was one a palace that has been cut into smaller screens (there's a tell-tale asymmetry to the room I was in downstairs, and I suspect that at least some of the four upstairs were once balcony seating. The general open feel of the lobby, more designed to hold people than sell them popcorn, speaks to this. So doors the design of some of the fixtures as well. It is likely not nearly as efficient as many newer - or contemporary-but-remodeled - theaters, but it gets the job done.

I like it. Not enough to make my way out there when something is playing elsewhere in the Boston area - it is still a best-case 70 minutes each way on the bus and using MoviePass is obviously right out - but I will stop discounting it as an option when a film only opens there or hands around the place longer than anywhere else.


* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 15 March 2014 in West Newton Cinema #2 (first-run, DCP)

Omar starts with its title character scaling a wall to travel between two Palestinian areas of Jerusalem, and while I don't know the exact rationale for that arrangement, a spy movie can do a heck of a lot with a wall like that. In fact, it might be tempted to do everything it can, crushing the story under more symbolism that it can really handle. This one, fortunately, knows the story it wants to tell and doesn't miss a beat with it.

Omar (Adam Bakri) is climbing that wall to meet with Tarek (Iyad Hoorani), a lifelong friend who is active in the Jerusalem brigades, with Omar and their other friend Amjad (Samer Bisharat) under his command; a chance to see Tarek's cute sister Nadia (Leem Lubany) is just a bonus. And while their operation is something of a success, it doesn't take the Israelis long to track them down and capture Omar. An agent by the name of Rami (Waleed Zuaiter) offers him freedom for delivering Tarek, but Omar is not about to simply roll over and do what Rami demands.

The basic plot of Omar is that of a spy movie, but because of the way geography and politics are set up in the West Bank, it in many ways has the feel of cops trying to develop sources inside the mob, and I suppose that from inside, which type of situation is the proper analogy depends on which side one is on. Writer/director Hany Abu-Assad takes how close walls are in this situation and takes great advantage of it, highlighting how, to a certain extent, cloak-and-dagger is part of everyday life in Palestine, from the dead-serious but almost comical amount of feelers Omar receives from various groups when his in prison to the way that courting involves sneaking over walls and exchanging notes like they were state secrets. This is how he finds new and exciting ways of tightening the screws toward the end, when many other filmmakers might have settled for the solution to the mystery that the movie is pointing to or just acknowledge that, in a city claimed by two groups, there's never any getting out.

Full review at EFC

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