Nat King Cole stars in this 1958 biopic about the great southern composer W.C. Handy. A travesty in terms of biography, this is worth seeing only for the impressive lineup of musicians in the cast (Pearl Bailey, Eartha Kitt, Cab Calloway, Mahalia Jackson, Ella Fitzgerald). Alan Reisner directed. 93 min. (JR)
To quote the Argentinean film critic Quintin, the subject of South Korean filmmaker Hong Sang-soo (The Day a Pig Fell Into the Well, Turning Gate) is the microphysics of relations, the deconstruction of love and sex, and though Hong lacks the usual fashionable cynicism, his work is infused with a bittersweet melancholy. This calmly shaped 2004 feature begins with the reunion of two college chums, a film director just returned from the U.S. and a university art professor, which leads to their looking up an attractive painter (Sung Hyun-ah) with whom they were both involved. The regrets of both men slowly accumulate, and the lack of any melodramatic revelation is more than compensated for by the naturalness of the three leads. In Korean with subtitles. 88 min. (JR)
A triumph of affectionate and even passionate portraiture, this debut feature by cowriters Ryan Fleck and Ann Boden focuses on three complex characters: a politically radical junior high history teacher (Ryan Gosling) who’s devoted to his work but also addicted to crack, a fearless 13-year-old student (Shareeka Epps) who stumbles onto his secret and forms an emotional bond with him, and a smooth local dealer (Anthony Mackie) who employed her brother before he went to jail and now wants to take her under his wing. Their story is unpredictable, beautifully acted, and revelatory in its moral quandaries. Gosling’s character is the most believable protagonist in any American movie I’ve seen this year–an immature mess, but charismatic, multifaceted, and sincere, the sort we can’t really dismiss without dismissing some part of ourselves. Fleck directed. R, 106 min. Reviewed this week in Section 1. Century 12 and CineArts 6, Music Box.
Scripted by novelist Vladimir Sorokin, this 2004 debut feature by Russian director Ilya Khrzanovsky is puzzling, intriguing, and often compelling, apparently set in the present but magical and futuristic in tone. Three strangers–a prostitute, a meat vendor, and a piano tuner–meet in a bar and bullshit at great length about who they are and what they do before going their separate ways; like them, the film then veers off into different directions, growing increasingly strange and phantasmagorical. A highly original blend of observation and imagination, this remains as unpredictable as its characters (some of whom are stray dogs). In Russian with subtitles. 128 min. Gene Siskel Film Center.