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September 10, 2009 Edition
Monika Hertwig never knew her father: she was born just before he was hanged as a war criminal. In fact, until she was eleven, she didn’t know he was Amon Goeth, a prominent Nazi leader and commandant of the Plaszow concentration camp. This documentary follows her meeting with Helen Jonas, who lived in Goeth’s villa overlooking the camp for two years as a slave. Sixty years after Goeth’s death, the two women compare stories in an effort to lay ghosts to rest. Though slickly produced with a sometimes overwrought score, this is at heart a deeply personal film that will touch viewers hearts and minds.
It’s been just over 25 years since Philippe Petit electrified the world by dancing on a cable stretched between the Twin Towers, but his feat still has the power to astound. It was the culmination of years of personal training, obsessive observation of the Towers and the schedules of those who passed through the doors, and careful selection of 2 crews to help him string the 450 pound cable. James Marsh, the director, has integrated clips from Philippe’s early career (walks on Paris’ Notre Dame Cathedral and Sydney’s Harbor Bridge, for instance) with interviews of crew, bystanders, official responders, and Philippe himself, in a way that brings viewers to the edge of their seats in suspense. This fantastic film has won over 20 film awards, including the Best Documentary Oscar in 2008, but is not for those inclined to vertigo.
When Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans, Ms. Pearl and her husband, Upper 9th Ward residents, openheartedly offer their backyard to displaced refugees. Over the course of the next few months, she acts as bouncer, counselor, mother figure, and housing advocate for her motley band of refugees, who include an alcoholic husband and his pregnant, drug-using wife (and eventually, their baby), and a religious zealot who regularly speaks with Joan of Arc. As the months drag on, everyone’s “best behavior” starts to slip, even as various residents find new housing, and the situation deteriorates. But Ms. Pearl remains optimistic and ready to continue to help others in need. Though it touches on political issues such as city regulations and official stances on Good Samaritans, this mostly confines itself to the struggle to continue living amidst chaos.
Pick this up not just for a good laugh, but to marvel at the variety, breadth, and quality of comedy that Americans have enjoyed through decades of movies and television. Go behind the jokes and find out who influenced whom, and even some of the secrets behind the gags. Each episode has its own theme: from nerds to homemakers, slapstick, bad guys, wise guys, and satire and parody, there’s something here for everyone. A word of warning: despite the over 100 comedians here, you’re sure to be upset by the omission of a favorite, but keep watching and be delighted by all the funny people that have been shoehorned in. Narrated by Billy Crystal and Amy Sedaris, this packs a wallop.
When even Stanley Njootli, Jr.’s partying friends start worrying about the twenty-something year old, he decides it’s time for a change. His father, Stanley Senior, who lives in the Canadian Yukon village of Old Crow, invites him to come and stay. It’s a dry village, so he’ll be far from any drugs or alcohol, and he’ll have a chance to get to know his father, who decades before, found the larger world too much and retreated back to a simpler life. This is a quiet film, filled with the small daily events that shape lives. As Stan Jr. learns to live in a world where a successfully-laid snare means dinner, memories of alcoholic stupors recede and his artistic ambitions resurface. By the end, although Stan Jr. returns to Washington, he finds he’s bored by his former lifestyle and ready to move on.