Though most of us tend to think of evil as the dark flashes of disaster that seem to be visited on us from time to time, true evil is often much more subtle than a terrorist strapping on a bomb or a high schooler pulling out a gun. Behind those symptoms usually lurk the doughy, ill-made devils of poverty, anger, fear, or despair. And while these can’t be slain with bullets or Holy Water, they can often be rendered powerless with simply an outstretched hand.
A chronicle of just such an attempt is on screen this week at Market Street Cinema, in the form of the Academy Award-winning documentary “Born Into Brothels.” The story of a group of children born to prostitutes in the Sonagachi red-light district in Calcutta, India — and a photographer’s quest to help break the cycle of ignorance and poverty that has held their families there for generations — it is a beautiful and often heartbreaking look into the abyss where some of this world’s children happen to have been born and are fated to live.
“Brothels” is largely about Zana Briski, a photographer who met a group of special children while living and working in Sonagachi. Seeking to bring a bit of light into their lives, Briski started a small photography class and handed out cheap cameras to the children so they could document their lives. Collections of their pictures are featured throughout “Brothels” — haunting, gorgeously composed images that turn a life of poverty, desperation and violence into a kind of visual poem about hope.
After she comes to love these children, Briski takes on a goal of saving them from Sonagachi: selling their photographs at shows around the world, with the money going toward helping each of them enroll in boarding school. Raising the money turns out to be the easy part. Soon, she’s in a war with many fronts: the children’s suspicious and often greedy relatives, who’d rather see their girls “on the line” so they can start earning money; administrators at Calcutta’s boarding schools, who look on the children of prostitutes with disgust; workers in India’s notorious government bureaucracy, who bury Briski in triplicate forms and red tape. After awhile, she becomes a modern Sisyphus, pushing her boulder up the hill, only to see it come rolling back down. Meanwhile, she spends her days trying to keep the children’s spirits up, trying to convince them that there is a better life out there.
Even more intricate, suspenseful and interesting than the best fictional cinema, “Brothels” is everything a good documentary should be. Not only does it put us into the shoes of the people it depicts, it gives us a glimpse into their hearts. In this case, what we glimpse are souls on the cusp of destruction; children with one last chance at salvation before their belief that there can be hope and justice in the world goes cold forever. In the end, it is both terrible and beautiful to watch.
— By David Koon
Though I feared for rapper-turned-movie star Ice Cube’s iciness (or should that be “cubeness”?) earlier this year when I saw him on Nickelodeon in a pink polo shirt, promoting his family-friendly road movie “Are We There Yet?” I now know that I had nothing to worry about.
With “XXX: State of the Union,” Mr. Cube goes back to his sneering, straight-outta-Compton roots. Grand cinema it ain’t (it’s not even close, for instance, to the excellent “Three Kings,” which saw IC turn in his best role to date). But with plenty of super trick cars, stunts, explosions and gunplay, it’s a film that’s sure to hang around at the top of the box office charts for at least a few weeks.
Senor Cube plays Darius Stone, a former Navy SEAL and sniper who was sent up the river some years before for not following an order to burn down a building full of civilians in Kosovo.
After his super-secret Honeycomb Hideout is destroyed by agents unknown, XXX-corps leader Augustus Gibbons (Samuel L. Jackson, who also starred in the first “XXX” along with Vin Diesel), comes looking for Stone, offering to wipe his slate clean if he will help him find out who wrecked the XXX bunker. Soon, the trail leads back to Secretary of Defense George Deckert (Willem Dafoe), who happens to be the man who once gave Stone the order to burn down that building in … well, you get the idea. Come to find out, Deckert has a plan. I’ll give you a few hints: a.) The president’s State of the Union speech is coming up; b.) Deckert hates the president, who is obviously a liberal Democrat (why can we elect a Democratic president in the 555 area code, but not in real life?), and, c.) if Deckert can kill the five people above him in presidential succession, he will become president.
Put it this way: Expect to see a whole lot of marble reduced to marble chips.
Fast, loud and angry (not to mention PG-13), “XXX: State of the Union,” is likely to rack up some big numbers. In short, it’s exactly what fans of the action genre are looking for: fast cars, fast women, a good bit of humor and a hero who looks great staring down the barrel of a machine gun. Sure, Cube’s acting leaves a bit to be desired, and the plot is laughably stupid in places, but the people who made this one aren’t looking for any statuettes come Oscar season. In the end, it’s simple: If you like to see stuff getting blown to smithereens, “XXX: State of the Union” will probably give you a hell of a ride. If not, you might want to go to Blockbuster and rent “Meet the Fockers” instead.
— By David Koon
Open to interpretation
In the wake of decades of international terrorism and controversial foreign policy, the United Nations has been ripe territory for quite a while, only now to be invaded by Sydney Pollack’s “The Interpreter.” A recipe of part thriller, part political criticism, laced nicely with the polished acting of Nicole Kidman and Sean Penn, this film will most likely ignite plenty of notice in the box office.
Its release is seemingly premature — perhaps fitting in better with the blockbuster summer line-up — but its untimely premiere should raise some cues as to what kind of crowd this film is intended to market. Of course, it will draw in those looking for a good popcorn flick, and they will undoubtedly walk away satisfied, but this film is seeking much more interrogation than the typical weekend crowd will inquire.
Written in part by action auteurs Scott Frank and Steven Zaillian, “The Interpreter” shouts its political agenda for pro-U.N. support and, echoing the voice of Clarence Darrow, a cry to extend justice to foreign nations by means of compassion, instead of perpetual violence. Silvia Broome (Kidman) is an interpreter for the United Nations, who by peculiar coincidence overhears an after-hours conversation spoken in a little-known dialect, Ku, concerning the assassination of an African head of state, Zuwanie, a benevolent revolutionary turned tyrannical dictator.
Herself an African native and former renegade against Zuwanie, Silvia now attempts to live a quiet life whose slow-but-sure revolution involves a keen ear for hearing the voice of the people instead of the deafening clamor of a machine-gun. The plot twists around Silvia’s dark past and Tobin Keller (Penn), a Secret Service agent sent to investigate the supposed assassination.
Penn, a known Hollywood gadfly of foreign relations, seems appropriate casting for the role, but nevertheless comes off as a star playboy for the silver screen instead of an actor suited to the task — with all the movie industry’s vocal liberals, it’s hard to imagine there are such slim pickings.
Kidman, however, is not only a perfect match for the role because of her ability to morph into any dialect given to her (originally an Australian), she’s also an actress of superb talent and haunting beauty. Unlike Penn, whose acting seems forced too often, Kidman is almost always believable even in the most fabricated moments of the script.
Like anyone expects, a thriller is meant to be over-the-top, so the convoluted plot and whodunit story is more easily forgivable. And, with that suspension of disbelief, the film does manage, where many others have fallen short (see Pollack’s own “The Firm”), to blend social criticism with conventional thriller formula.
The film’s climax is set up so that it could easily slide in burdening polemic, but avoids it for a more palatable resolution about the triumph of one woman over her own need for vengeance, which she says is “a lazy form of grief.” Either way, the film becomes slightly bland in its resolution, but it is at least a bit easier for popular audiences to enjoy.
— By Dustin Allen
Also, Red Octopus at the Public Theater, Alcee Chriss III at First Presbyterian Church, Harvestfest in Hillcrest, the Arkansas Times Hog Roast, Wildflower Revue at South on Main and Made By Few in Bentonville.