Film Review : At the Capawock - Something to think about
There is something wonderfully Island-odd about the fact that the old Capawock movie house, once one of the country's oldest continually running movie houses, complete with remnants of its silent movie days, is emerging as a significant cultural resource. Its continuing opera series, a proven success, has brought brilliant operatic performances on film to the Vineyard, and its latest offering, a series of award-winning alternative films, makes it possible for Islanders to view some less commercial, but artistically provocative contemporary films. As Capawock owner Buzzy Hall says, "We're trying to offer a different and more cerebral experience than the usual Hollywood fare."
The Year My Parents Went on Vacation
(in Portuguese, Hebrew and Yiddish, with English subtitles, not rated) tells the story of 12-year-old Mauro (Michel Joelsas) as he discovers the realities of who he is and of the times in which he lives. Smartly directed by Cao Hamburger, it is set against the dangers of the military dictatorship in Brazil in the 1970s, and also, the frenzy generated by Brazil's national soccer team, led by legends like Pelé, Tostao, and Gerson, as they attempt an unprecedented third World Cup victory.
Mauro, a soccer enthusiast, is the unsuspecting child of left-wing activists who go into exile to escape arrest, but not before dropping him off at his grandfather's apartment in São Paulo for safety. But his grandfather, felled by a heart attack in his barber shop, has died unexpectedly, and a rebellious Mauro is left to the begrudging care of his grandfather's grumpy old neighbor, Shlomo (Germano Haiut), a member of the city's Orthodox Jewish community. Neither is happy with the arrangement.
Mauro, played with a remarkable natural ease by the young Joelsas, didn't even know he was Jewish. Suddenly, he is being called "Moshe," being dragged to synagogue, and surrounded by Jewish women bearing food.
Gradually, the sounds, sights, people, and routine of the neighborhood take over, and Mauro, befriended by Hanna (a cunning Daniela Piepszyk), begins to appreciate Shlomo, and becomes acclimated to the daily life in São Paulo. Sentimental, yes. Compelling, yes.
The warmth of the people and surrounding is expressed in endearing details, but the viewer is not allowed to forget that this is a place where people can be dragged off to jail without just cause.
(PG -13) directed, written and edited by John Sayles (Return Of The Secaucus Seven, Sunshine State, Matewan, Lone Star, among others), maintains that subtle edginess and subtext of social commentary typical of his films. But this one, set in Alabama in the 1950s, has a lot to do with rhythm: the rhythm necessary to pick cotton successfully; to dodge and weave between solvency and ruin; and to make the kind of music that brings people to their feet.
The story begins with two young African-American boys pretending to be bluesmen on a chalk-drawn keyboard and a string tied to a porch post. The plot centers around boogie-woogie piano man Tyrone "Pine Top" Purvis (a masterful Danny Glover) and his sidekick Maceo (Charles S. Dutton), who are stretched to the limit in their efforts to salvage Honeydripper, their failing, dilapidated roadhouse. Their mesmerizing house singer Bertha Mae (Dr. Mable John) sings to an empty room while her young consort, Slick (Vondie Curtis Hall) cheers her on.
With a little larceny, a lot of determination, and a willingness to put everything at risk - including his marriage to the church-going Delilah (Lisa Gay Hamilton), Purvis, all dignity and restraint, bets it all on a one-night appearance by the hot new rhythm and blues star, Guitar Sam. Begging, borrowing, and literally stealing, he books the big-name for a one-night gig to save the Honeydripper.
Much like the films Waiting for Guffman and The Big Night, the suspense is set on the celebrity's appearance, which puts the audience a beat or two ahead of the characters.
But no matter. Sayles creates the time and the heat and dust of Harmony, Alabama. Amid his gritty, although slightly stereotypical characters, he adds a mythical touch in the person of blind, omnipresent bluesman, Possum (Keb' Mo'). Like chapters in a well-written book, the various side plots are threaded together by a fine mix of characters, superbly portrayed: Stacy Keach as the corrupt and quietly menacing Sheriff Pugh perfectly; Mary Steenburgen,as the sad and brittle Amanda Winship, Delilah's rags to riches employer; Davenia McFadden as Nadine, the come-and-get-me flirt who's intent on bedding Maceo.
And then there's the music. In addition to the sounds of acclaimed bluesrocker Gary Clark, Jr., who plays the itinerant, hard luck Sonny Blake, filmgoers are treated to the sounds of Mr. Glover (yes, he can sing), the great Mable John, and Keb' Mo. The plot moves to its own slow and easy beat, no big surprises, just a very engrossing and pleasant trip.