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Film and the Arts

Actor Turned Director Diego Luna Celebrates "Cesar Chavez"

Photo by B. Balfour

Born on December 29, 1979 in Mexico City, Diego Luna Alexander lost his mother in a car accident when he was only two. So Luna became immersed in his father's passion for entertainment as Mexico’s most acclaimed living theatre, cinema and opera set designer. From an early age Luna began acting in television, movies and theater. Once he achieved international recognition, he expanded his resume to include writing, producing and directing as well.

This producer-actor-director’s full bio includes such highlights as big budget sci-fi thriller Elysium (2013),  the Oscar-nominated Milk (2008), Tom Hanks starrer The Terminal (2004), and provocative Y Tu Mamá También (2001). But his most recent directorial effort Cesar Chavez not outlines a slice of the famed civil rights leader and labor organizer’s life (powerfully played by Michael Pena) but also chronicles the birth of a modern American labor movement. The film also tells the story of a man torn between family duties as a husband and father and his commitment to the fight for a living wage for farm workers. 

Passionate but soft-spoken, Chavez embraced non-violence as he battled greed and prejudice in this struggle to bring dignity to his community and disenfranchised people in general. Chavez inspired millions of Americans who hadn’t worked on a farm or been to California to fight for social justice. His journey is a remarkable testament to the power of one person’s ability to change the world.

Buttressed by two incredibly strong women — wife Helen (America Ferrara) and Dolores Huerta (Rosario Dawson) — Chavez presciently foresaw the impact the Latino American community would have on this country as he drew attention to this long disenfranchised sector.

chavez posterQ: Once you got this idea, how long did it take you to do this film? 

DL: At the beginning I didn’t know I had to do it; I would’ve quit had I been told this was going take four years and a half of my life. When I started I thought, “Wow, it’s amazing that there’s no film about Cesar Chavez. But this is so powerful and comes in time for many reasons, and  since this community’s growing, everyone’s going to want to do this film.” 

I went out and started shopping as is done with films. You go to studios and sit down with executives and everyone gave us a chance to sit down which sounded like, “Okay it’s happening,” then they said, “Wow, this is great, we love that you’re doing this, we’re not going to join but once you have a film, come and show it to us and probably we’ll be part of it,” and we’re like, “No! We need the money to do it!” 

It’s not like I’m just going out and doing it. I heard things like, “Can you make it more sexy?” and I was like, “How can I make it more sexy? If it was sexier, farm workers would probably be living a different reality today.” 

They said, “What about A-List actors? Can you have Antonio Banderas and Javier Bardem in it?” And I’m thinking, the man existed, there are pictures, there’s murals! You cannot just say, “Well now it’s just going to look like something else…” This is about a Mexican-American, a guy who was born in Arizona. Anyway, we found no support in this country. But by that point, I promised the family that I was going to deliver a film.

I promised that it was happening and then invested a year of my life into it at that point. We were working on the script with Keir Pearson, so I said to my partner Pablo Cruz, “Let’s go to Mexico and finance it the way we do in film.” 

We went to Mexico and in a week and a half we found the money. At least 70% that allows the comeback for the other 30%. Then we came back and found the perfect partners, Participant Media and Pantelion Films, two different kind of film [studios], but they’re both doing films that would be perfect for this market — one that we’re trying to prove exists. That’s how everything started in terms of putting it together. 

We wanted to come to the States and open a company and office here, so we said that we have to do a film that mattered on both sides of the border. It would allow us to work here but still do stories that connect us with where we come from and the community we belong to, to the point that my son who was born here, in the States, so he’s knows he’s a Mexican-American. In fact, he had an American passport before the Mexican one.

In a way, this was an attempt to tell a story that he would be able to use to find out where he comes from and what needed to happen for him to be where he is at the moment. That’s how everything started.

Q: Do you hope this film will change society’s perception of Latinos and the issues that concerns this community?

DL: There’s something that’s happened here before which is that all us Latinos, we have to learn from these guys that if we organize, if we’re united, we have the strength to change the world. That’s definitely a reality, because I don’t think we’ve been so well organized since then. Yes, there’s a lot of complaints that we have to this country, as a community, but I would start looking at ourselves in the mirror and [ask] why we haven’t done [anything]? 

We have a chance to send that message on the opening week, March 28th, which is, “We want these films to be out. We want our stories to be represented. We want our heroes to celebrated in film.” 

There’s two things that matter here. As Cesar said and showed us, one is that our strength is in our numbers, and they’re growing. So I don’t know why we, as a community, haven’t experienced that feeling of power [that] we actually have in hand. The other is that the film confronts you, not just us Latinos, but everyone in this country, with a reality that’s very uncomfortable, that today in the fields, the conditions still aren’t great. 

The struggle continues and consumers have also not been aware of what they’re part of when they buy a product since then. The amazing thing they did as a community, is that they connected with consumers, the rest of America, a community they didn’t think they had a connection with. They found a way to say, “Our story matters to you.” 

When you buy a grape, you’re supporting child labor. Moms listened to that, when a mother was in a store in Chicago, she found a farm worker saying, “When you’re buying that product, you have to remember that behind that product is the work of my six year-old. ” 

Mothers stopped buying grapes. So it’s about connecting, finding out what connects us, not what separates us. I think that’s a beautiful message about the film, and that applies not just for America, but for the world. It’s a nonviolent movement that said it’s about the responsibility of knowing we’re not here alone. The work of many has to happen so we can experience the life we have. It’s just being aware of that — that’s what matters. 

Q: Was it tough for actor Michael Peña to have this on his shoulders?

DL: I was walking coming with Rosario from having lunch, and she told me, ”It’s unbelievable how much Michael changed for this role. He’s just nothing close to what he portrayed here.” 

I always told him, “Michael, we have to be aware. We cannot do the Hollywood way, you know? We cannot say suddenly that Cesar was a great speaker, and the Martin Luther King kind of leader.” 

But he wasn’t. He was very humble and timid. As a result of the amount of urge he had for change to happen, he had to become the leader. If he would’ve had a chance to stand back and stay behind, he would have done it. He was a great listener. 

That’s why he could organize these people, because he came and took the time to listen to everyone’s story. This is a community that has been ignored for so long, that suddenly someone arrived that cared about their story and said, “Your story matters.” 

In fact, Mark Grossman, who traveled a lot through rallies and was Cesar’s PR person — he wrote the speeches for him — was very close to him and we worked a lot with him. He told me [that] the rallies were painful because he would stay until nine, 10 pm, and people left, and he was still talking to a woman in the back. He had time, he nothing else to do but this, and everyone realized he was giving his life. We have to remember, this is a man that got out of living in the city. He changed his life, he was wearing a suit, he had a job. But he said, “No, we have to go back to the fields, we have to change things from the inside. It’s not going to come from the outside.” 

He went back and sacrificed not just his reality but the reality of his family. I love when Fernando asks, “Who plays in Delano? You’re not taking me to a place that doesn’t have a major league baseball team, right?” And [Cesar] goes, “Yeah, we’re all going to sacrifice here, and we’re all going to go back to where we come from.” 

Q: You showed how he sacrificed his relationship with his older son. You spent more than four years working on this movie. How much did it affect your relationship with your own children?

DL: It does, it does. I’ve never had to go so far as he did. I was in Chicago on Friday, took the red eye, spent Saturday and Sunday with my kids, and I’m here on Monday. I would never give away the weekend, and stay for another interview. I think that’s what makes him heroic. I don’t know if I would be able to go that far. 

Q: How old are your kids now?

DL: Five and three. I don’t know if I would be able to go that far. These guys left for months. Besides everything we’ve talked about, the film is about a father and a son. To me, the reflection I’m making here is [that] there’s a sacrifice we fathers do. I did not understand until I had a baby. It changed the way I looked to my father. When I had a baby, I went back and said, “Damn, dad. You’ve done all of this?” 

My mother died when I was two, so my father had to play both roles and work and it’s that very unfair part of life where you know you have to do it. I do film because of my kids, I think about them every moment of my life. Every decision I make, they’re involved. Probably, they won’t know this until they have their own. 

That’s the gap that sometimes... Hopefully in life you have the time to bring it back together, but not many times it happens. For these characters, it took a long a long time. They had eight kids. Dolores Huerta had 11 kids. Imagine that and they managed to do all this as well. 

Q: Was it a conscious choice that you avoided his childhood? 

DL: The first script I got, [went] from the day he was born until the day he died. You can do that in a fictional film, it doesn’t matter, but with the life of someone I think that’s very unfair. It’s impossible in an hour and 45 minutes to tell of someone’s 64-year journey. I thought, “I’m going to concentrate in one achievement.” 

That’s the boycott was to me. I said, “If I can explain how the boycott happened, and why the boycott happened, and what [it brought] to the community, I’ll be sending the right message.” 

I didn’t want to do a film just about this community. I wanted to do a film about how this community managed to connect with the rest of the country. Because to me, the powerful message here is that if change ever comes, it’s because we get involved and we people connect with others. 

We find those who are out there and what connects us with them. So to me, that was the thing I wanted to focus on -- the personal struggle of a father. It’s the first film done about Cesar and the movement, so it’s unfair to ask one film to fill the gap of so many years where there was no film talking about it. Because if I was here, and there were another three films, I could focus in on a specific thing that none of the other films [did], but you cannot ask a film to tell everything that hasn’t been told. Hopefully this will [stimulate] curiosity and awareness so that people will go and investigate a little more about who they are and what’s behind them. 

Q: Why was the movie shot in Mexico instead of where the events happened? Did that have to do with where you found the money? Being a movie about a syndicated movement, with the actors’ unions very strong here, don’t know how it is in Mexico, but how much of the actors and the crew were unionized?

DL: We shot in Mexico because of two reasons. One, the film was financed in Mexico, so a lot of the financing came as support. We first went to California, but even if we would have shot in the States, we would not have shot in California, because the actual places have changed dramatically since the ’60s. So you cannot shoot there, you’d have to recreate the [conditions]. 

We found in Sonora that the fields there have that immensity. Sonora is the state that produces 80% of the table grape of Mexico. Mexico is a huge country, so the feeling when you’re there, it’s the same feeling you have in the valley in California. You really are a dot in the middle of nowhere. There’s this immensity, the feeling that those fields are feeding a world, 

In terms of the union, there’s no way to do a film this big non-union in Mexico. Every actor was paid through SAG; we also have a union in Mexico of actors and technicians. It would be very stupid to do a film about a union without the support of unions [laughs]. But you know what happened…? There was a whole debate on the extras. 

The extras are farm workers. That doesn’t mean they didn’t get paid. The point is, I wanted to work with real farm workers. You know those faces? There’s no way to put makeup on a face and make it look like they’ve been under the sun for so many years, under that condition of dust and wind. Those faces tell you the story. Just by looking at the face, you get many things that can’t be said in dialogue. 

Q: Were these farm workers from the area where you shot?

DL: Many farm workers joined. By the third day they realized that film isn’t glamorous and that the experience was as miserable as working in the fields [laughs]. Because we were in the fields, we put every penny we had in front of the camera, so the conditions we were shooting under were rough compared to the cliché of how Hollywood filmmaking is. 

Q: Did the workers themselves teach you anything, something that you never knew?

DL: The only thing is that they reminded me every day of why the film needed to be done. It just still makes no sense to me that those who are feeding this country can barely feed their families. And by listening to their stories, I got the necessary energy to keep going. No matter what our issues were, they don’t matter. I am lucky to be able to choose where I work, who I’m around, what I do, what stories I tell, I can’t complain. It was a great reminder on why this needs to be out. 

Q: The film deals with social issues. Is that also part of the marketing?

DL: Definitely, and we’re focusing a lot in kids. Before the proper promotion started, we did two weeks of going to high schools and universities. We went to Harvard, Berkeley, Irvine, UCLA, then we did a screening in the RFK High School. It was like a system. We did a screening where they taped it and then that’s going to be shown to kids around California. 

We’re pushing to do tons of little videos in social media and everything to raise awareness about Cesar Chavez and what the movement [stood] for. That’s where Participant comes in. They have an amazing reach in terms of a call-to-action. 

As part of our film, we are also making a petition to President Obama about making a Cesar Chavez National Day of Service. As the campaign goes, if you guys participate, it’d be great. There’s a page called takepart.com/cesarchavez and you can sign. If you sign the petition, we need a hundred thousand signatures to go to Obama. 

Film should be the beginning of something bigger. This film should trigger, hopefully, the curiosity of people to find out exactly what this movement was about. It’s difficult to inform in an hour and 45 minutes about everything they did and still entertain but it is pertinent to talk about this because the issues today in the field are even more complicated [than ever]. 

We thought also about a day of celebration... A few states today celebrate Cesar Chavez day, but we thought that a national day of service would be the way he would like to be remembered, a day where you work and give something back to your community, which is what they did from beginning to end. 

There [are] so many things happening at the same time, and there are so many things happening in Latin America. Because if few people know here the story of Cesar Chavez, you’ll go to Latin America and everyone thinks he’s a boxer. No one knows, and it’s something that hopefully the film, and everything happening around the film, might be able to change. Also, the foundation is working really close. 

Dolores Huerta has been promoting the film with us, and every time she grabs the microphone, she talks about it and the 10 other things that matter to her. If film can work for that to happen, if film can bring attention to the work of those that are still in the struggle, still out there, I’ll be very proud. But it’s definitely about kids.

You know an amazing thing that has been happening is that today there’s many Latinos in key positions and many have the chance to actually choose what they want to do in life. They have businesses and so many of these people are buying out theaters and giving them away to schools. 

For the first weekend, someone said, “I would like to share this film with every high school kid of the community I come from” which is an amazing thing. The distribution company Pantelion is getting these calls and managing to actually make it happen, where you basically buy out a theater and fill it with kids that normally wouldn’t go watch it, or will probably watch it two years later on their phone while doing another 20 things, which is how kids now watch films... so that’s also happening. People like Henry Moreno — he was the first one. 

Q: Is he one of the producers?

DL: No, no, no! He’s just a guy that cares about this. I was at an event in Washington, and Moreno talked about this, he was doing a show and he told me, “I’m buying out theaters to share with the kids, and this is happening, people are starting to react.” 

That’s fantastic. I did this film because I think I have some distance to the story. Generationally, I wasn’t around when this happened, so also that gives me some objectivity, I guess. But the angle which I’m telling this, it’s the perfect angle for people who don’t know the story, to listen [to] it for the first time.

Q: What did it teach you about yourself as a father, as a director, as an actor? 

DL: You know, I found a connection. It was through telling personal stories that they managed to bring the attention to something bigger. It was about a mother going out, as I said, a mother going out of a grocery store and telling another mother, “Behind that grape, there’s the work of my kid. Are you sure you want to be part of that?” 

Then that mother got hit so badly and so profoundly, that she’s gonna turn into an advocate for the movement. But it’s by telling personal stories that you can trigger that, and I think film has that power. Today, if I was sitting in a board meeting of this movement, I would say, “Let’s do short documentaries about each other’s experiences and get them out, because that’s the way to get people’s attention.” 

We do the same thing, in a way. At least film is capable of doing what these guys did. That was a connection that I found on the way. When I was out and everyone was like, “Oh, you’re doing the film about Cesar Chavez! I gotta tell you something. My grandfather, one day, he grew up and blah blah blah…” 

If I do a documentary where I tell you, “More than a 100,000 have been killed in the last eight years in my country because of the war on drugs that our president started, our former president started…” You’re going to go, “Oh, that’s a big number.” 

But if I tell you the story of a kid who lost his father and now has to work and had to get out of school to support his mother, and how the life these four people changed dramatically, not just his but his brother and his sister... The next day you’re going to care about the war we’re living there. So by telling personal stories you can trigger that attention and that’s something they were doing that was way ahead of us. 

 

"The Girls in the Band" Honors Music's Unsung Heroines

How many female jazz musicians can you name? Judy Chaikin's new documentary The Girls in the Band can help. By the time the credits roll, you will have met three generations of distaff players, composers, arrangers and GreatDayinHarlemconductors reaching back to the 1920s. Names like saxophonists Roz Cron and Peggy Gilbert, trumpeters Clora Bryant and Billie Rogers and drummer Viola Smith will roll off the tongue as readily as those of Thelonious Monk and Dizzy Gillespie.

Read more: "The Girls in the Band" Honors...

The Film “Twisters” Whips the Summer Season into a Climatic Frenzy Of Life and Death


Film: Twisters

Director: Lee Isaac Chung 
Cast: Daisy Edgar-Jones, Glen Powell, Anthony Ramos, Brandon Perea, Maura Tierney, Sasha Lane 
 
With this summer season of intense weather and a vast array of tornadoes touching down in state after state, there’s no better timing than now to release this film, “Twisters.” It’s a sort of sequel to its 28-year-old predecessor, “Twister” — directed by Jan De Bont. The now 80-year old Dutchman is a retired cinematographer, director and film producer. He’s best known for directing 1994’s “Speed” and then “Twister” which were part of the rise of blockbusters such as “Die Hard," “The Hunt for Red October” and “Lethal Weapon.” He was the cinematographer of "Die Hard" and "Lethal Weapon 3." He also was cinematographer of "Red October," the first of the Jack Ryan series.
 
twister posterChock full of dramatic moments we can all relate to, both films are terrifying. The various scenes of destruction are blood curdling. And given that a twister is far more fearsome than any creature fabrication like Frankenstein's Monster— since storms are far less easy to reason with — the film resonates. As innovative as the original was, this edition explores all the investment in special effects to give audiences a truly close up look at what people have actually experienced when this weather phenomena destroys homes and sweeps people away into deathly oblivion.
 
But these films, especially the latest as directed by Lee Isaac Chung, aren’t merely fictionalized documentaries. There is a rich and fully rounded narrative of love lost and gained here. Most of that’s thanks to the fine casting of Daisy Edgar-Jones and Glen Powell —  who now seem to be the go-to guy for actors who display naturalistic grit and charisma.
 
As weather scientist Kate, Britisher Edgar-Jones provides a reasonable facsimile of a midwesterner obsessed with coming up with a Tornado-killer solution. The film opens as she is working with fellow students and friends to test a chemical solution to contain tornadoes. All goes awry and three of her team are swept away to their deaths.
 
Five years later, the other survivor, Javi (Anthony Ramos), comes to NYC to ask Kate to help him with a new project, a 3D tornado mapping system which has — as audiences realize later — insidious implications. They head to Oklahoma where they clash, at first, with tornado wrangler Tyler Owens (Powell), a high-energy social media sensation. Initially, the two teams compete but Kate eventually bonds with him and discovers that he has the scientific acumen to help her along the way. 
 
As they wend their way to the film’s conclusion — repeatedly surviving death-dealing twisters — both find love and scientific solutions to quell the impact of these mega-death machines. It also opens the door to possible sequels, ones to be produced in a shorter time than nearly three decades.
 
In addition to the sheer drama of the various set pieces constructed here, “Twisters” is also loaded with trenchant political, scientific and sociological notions. The ecological implications are obvious. There have been so many hyper-powerful tornadoes happening now in our real world. Are they due to authorities ignoring the cause of the surge?

For various reasons too complicated to go into here, greed and irrational climate deniers have made it harder to address the long term solutions necessary to make life in tornado alley more bearable. This film may have a touch of fanciful science built into it but it also provokes audiences to think of the implications of weather change and man-made global warming. “Twisters” may not make your summer more soothing but it does provoke more than just sheer terror.     

July '24 Digital Week II

4K/UHD Releases of the Week 
The Boy and the Heron 
(GKids/Studio Ghibli)
After the sublime 2013 memory piece The Wind Rises, the great animator Hayao Miyazaki announced his retirement; but 10 years later, along comes this often inscrutable, heavily symbolic but tremendously affecting feature—don’t hold its Oscar for best animated feature against it! During WWII, young Mahito’s mother, a nurse, dies in a hospital fire—after his father marries her sister and they move to her country estate, Mahito’s grief and guilt are embodied in a talking heron, who takes him to an anthropomorphic world where he must fight for survival—and for closure with his mother.
 
 
Only Miyazaki could make something so sentimental and borderline risible and make it funny, touching and trenchant simultaneously. Needless to say, the animation looks amazing in 4K; the accompanying Blu-ray’s extras comprise storyboards, music video for the song “Spinning Globe” and interviews with composer Joe Hisaishi, producer Toshio Suzuki and supervising animator Takeshi Honda. There’s also an English-dubbed version with the voices of Robert Pattinson, Christian Bale, Florence Pugh, Willem Dafoe and Mark Hamill; stick with the original Japanese for authenticity.
 
 
 
Twister 
(Warner Bros)
This silly but watchable 1996 disaster thriller pits tornado chasers vs. Mother Nature—and, more often than not, nature wins: director Jan de Bont and writers Michael Crichton and Anne-Marie Martin (Crichton’s then wife) for the most part lose, especially when it comes to such howlers in the dialogue as, when a twister barrels down toward them, one character yells out, “Let’s run for it!” Well, duh. The $100 million budget obviously went to the vast array of technical effects, well-done but not overwhelmingly impressive (especially now, where some seams show in 30-year old technology). Actors like Helen Hunt, Bill Paxton, Jami Gertz, Todd Field, Cary Elwes, Lois Smith and Philip Seymour Hoffman try their best but are defeated by ridiculous plotting and the twisty effects.
 
 
The 4K image looks quite detailed; extras include a new retrospective featurette and bonuses from earlier releases: three on-set featurettes, music video for Van Halen’s song “Humans Being” (Eddie and Alex also contribute a moody instrumental, “Respect the Wind”) and a commentary by du Bont and effects supervisor Stefen Fangmeier.
 
 
 
Blu-ray Releases of the Week 
Challengers 
(Warner Bros)
If a menage a trois among a female tennis player turned coach and the male tennis pros in her life, each on opposing career trajectories, sounds like fun, director Luca Guadagnino and writer Justin Kuritzkes make sure to scuttle that possibility. This impossibly cutesy rom-com is crammed with flashbacks within flashbacks to try and present some variety, but even Guadagnino knows it doesn’t help, since he uses a surfeit of camera tricks and ridiculous angles to keep things bouncing. Then there’s the awful use of Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross’ pounding electronic score, always beginning or ending at the wrong time, as if the music cues are slightly off.
 
 
The threesome enacted by Zendaya, Josh O’Connor and Mike Faist is more authentic on the court (they all look and move like tennis players) than off, where the trio is saddled with stilted dialogue and must deal with desperate symbolism like a windstorm of Biblical proportions that actually happens twice. It’s all about as sexy as a celebrity doubles match. The hi-def image looks excellent but, as with so many new releases, there are no extras.
 
 
 
Kidnapped—The Abduction Of Edgardo Mortara
(Cohen Media)
The latest film by the world’s greatest living director, 84-year-old Italian master Marco Bellocchio, is yet another of his gripping and operatic dissections of historical subjects that touch on politics and religion—this time he tells the horrific but true story of a six-year-old Jewish boy torn from his parents’ grasp because a former housekeeper said she baptized him when she thought he was dying as an infant. With his usual sweeping flair and acute observation, Bellocchio fills the screen with indelible images that not only cast a wide net on anti-Semitic mid-19th century Italian (read: Catholic) society but also the excruciating pain and loss felt by the Mortara family as their beloved son and brother remains forever out of their reach.
 
 
Bellocchio builds his film on two towering performances—by Barbara Ronchi as the boy’s mother and Enea Sala as the young Edgardo, one of the strongest child performances I’ve ever seen. Supremely well-chosen music by Rachmaninoff and Pärt complement a superb original score by Fabio Massimo Capogrosso. The haunting but gorgeous final shot of mother and son is as unforgettable as the rest of this masterpiece; Francesco Di Giacomo’s glistening cinematography is accentuated beautifully on Blu-ray. Extras are a short Bellocchio intro and 20-minute director interview.
 
 
 
The Last Stop in Yuma County 
(Well Go USA)
I’ve never been a fan of the real Coen brothers’ films, so warmed-over Coens—which is what this aggressively, even nonsensically nihilistic drama about a bunch of nonentities who end up offing one another (along with several unfortunate bystanders) at a rate even the brothers wouldn’t countenance—comes off even more contrived.
 
 
Too bad writer-director Francis Galluppi is more concerned with getting these people together and letting bad luck take care of them until it doesn’t matter who’s standing at the end. The film looks fine on Blu; lone extra is a making-of featurette.
 
 
 
In-Theater/Streaming Releases of the Week
Eno 
(Film First)
In his eminently watchable documentary about legendary music producer Brian Eno, Gary Hustwit borrows Eno’s own way of creating for the film’s structure, as certain ideas, visuals or bits of music lead to other, sometimes not entirely successful tangents. Eno talks quite engagingly and candidly about his life, career and thoughts about the importance of art to nourish the human brain, both in new footage as well as vintage interviews.
 
 
There’s also priceless footage of Eno at work, both alone doing his ambient music (like the original Windows 95 “jingle”) and with some of his biggest collaborators, from Roxy Music and David Bowie to U2 and the Talking Heads. One gimmick is that the film—at least in its first run at Film Forum in NYC—will never be the same twice, rearranged and completely different footage making a “new” film each time, a fitting metaphor for its enigmatic, endlessly fascinating subject.   
 
 
 
The Blue Rose 
(Dark Sky)
Anyone with fond—or not so fond—memories of David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive, in which two women sleepwalk through a surreal Hollywood, will relive that film during every minute of George Baron’s unabashed copy, which the director makes no bones about, even referencing Lynch in his discussions of his own film.
 
 
The difference is that Lynch’s fully developed visual sense can make such dicey material work at times, whereas the best Baron can do is emerge as an instant epigone aping the Lynchian style without any substance. 
 
Janet Planet 
(A24)
Annie Baker, who has won awards for her (overrated) plays, makes her screen writing and directing debut with this at times insightful but mainly insufferable exploration of the relationship between Janet, a hippie-ish single mom, and Lacy, her restless 12-year-old daughter. As in her plays, Baker writes clever dialogue that’s not as meaningful as she intends; her assiduously oddish characters often claw at stretches of meaninglessness, whether in their words or silence.
 
 
As a director, she alternates establishing shots and glaring closeups to snippets of music from Laurie Anderson to Bach that populate her eclectic soundtrack. Her distaff cast, comprising Julianne Nicholson, Zoe Ziegler and Sophie Okenedo, performs sensitively, while the men, embodied by Bill Paxton and Elias Koteas, are pretty much ciphers.
 
 
 
CD Release of the Week 
Czech Songs—Magdalena Kožená 
(Pentatone)
Czech mezzo-soprano Magdalena Kožená, who has this music in her very bones, beautifully sings a smartly programmed recital disc of vocal works composed by her compatriots. As usual, she sounds natural and focused while performing cycles by the great but underappreciated Bohuslav Martinů and the great but more appreciated Antonin Dvořák, alongside a welcome taste of the unjustly obscure Hans Krása and Gideon Klein (who were both murdered in Nazi camps).
 
 
Tastefully accompanying the always elegant Kožená is the Czech Philharmonic, under the baton of her husband, Simon Rattle.

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