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Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Sholom Aleichem Director Does His Job Well; And Almost Nothing Lets 'The Guard' Down

"I loved the film but had one criticism," an audience member at the West End Cinema told director Joseph Dorman following a screening of his new film, Sholem Aleichem: Laughing in the Darkness,  "I wish you would have put more of his stories in." Dorman smiled. "You know, that's the perpetual decision: what should go in. I wanted to put him in a context and a world. But if my film sends grandparents and grandchildren back to read more of his stories, then I've done my job." The film documents the life of one of the greatest Jewish writers ever, and whose stories the musical "Fiddler on the Roof" was based. (So we get some wonderful clips of songs from the Fiddler movie.) Sholom Aleichem wrote a great deal about the little towns - the shtetls - of Eastern Europe. So we get photos of working-class people in these towns and - although it may not have been enough for that one audience member - snippets of his stories. "It took 10 years to make this," said Dorman, a winner of television's prestigious George Foster Peabody Award. "A professor of Yiddish suggested the idea to me." While the West End crowd was a tad on the older side - "Is anyone here under 40?" Dorman asked - he is trying to get the film to younger people, including school children, by developing lesson plans.

"The Guard" sort of snuck up on us this summer. It's a refreshingly original film from Ireland starring the incredibly versatile Brendan Gleeson and the busy Don Cheadle as mismatched investigators looking into a drug ring in western Ireland. The writer/director is John Michael McDonough, brother of the playwright Martin. Talk about talent in one family. The film is not afraid to show the many faults in Gleeson's character but then also shows the traits that really attract us - the way he treats his dying mother, refusing to take the payoff money that everyone else thinks is standard and drinking many Guinnesses. This is a film where the ruthless criminals ride in the car talking about Dylan Thomas and the beauty of Wales. The killer contemplates if he is a psychopath or a sociopath finally deciding that there's not much difference.  The policeman who gets killed turns out to be gay, which makes no difference except that his pretty Croatian wife can perhaps hook up with Gleeson's character in the sequel. Given the way the last Bourne film ended, I think McDonough didn't feel a need to have his character emerge from the water. I won't say any more.

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