Movies to See Right Now

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TRUMAN

Recommended movies to see in theaters this week:

  • The gentle and insightful end-of-life drama Truman. Often funny, it’s a weeper that is never maudlin. One of the best movies of the year.  Hard to find, but worth it.
  • The droll dark comedy Radio Dreams explores the ambivalence of the immigrant experience through the portrait of a flamboyant misfit, a man who rides the roller coaster of megalomania and despair. Radio Dreams opens today for a one-week-only run at the Roxie Theater in San Francisco.
  • The Lost City of Z, a thoughtful and beautifully cinematic revival of the adventure epic genre.
  • In Norman: The Moderate Rise and Tragic Fall of a New York Fixer, writer-director Joseph Cedar and his star Richard Gere combine to create the unforgettable character of Norman Oppenheimer, a Jewish Willy Loman who finally gets his chance to sits with the Movers and Shakers. This may be Gere’s best movie performance ever.
  • The Dinner is an emotional potboiler that showcases Richard Gere, Laura Linney Steve Coogan and Rebecca Hall.
  • Free Fire is a witty and fun shoot ’em up.
  • Their Finest is an appealing, middling period drama set during the London Blitz.
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TRUMAN

And movies to avoid:

  • A Quiet Passion, a miserably evocative portrait of a miserable Emily Dickinson.
  • I found the predictable Armenian Genocide drama The Promise to be a colossal waste of Oscar Isaac and Christian Bale.

My DVD/Stream of the week is the historical Feel Good Hidden Figures, which tells the hitherto generally unknown story of some African-American women whose math wizardry was key to the success of the US space program in the early 1960s. The audience at my screening burst into applause, which doesn’t happen that often. Hidden Figures is available on DVD from Netflix and to stream from Amazon, iTunes, Vudu, YouTube and Google Play.

On May 23, Turner Classic Movies will air two great, great, great Westerns: John Ford’s classic The Searchers with John Wayne and a much less famous film, Sydney Pollack’s under recognized 1972 masterpiece Jeremiah Johnson, which features a brilliantly understated but compelling performance by Robert Redford. If you want to understand why Redford is a movie star, watch this movie. Give lots of credit to Pollack – it’s only 108 minutes long, and today’s filmmakers would bloat this epic tale by 40 minutes longer.

Then on May 25, there is a real curiosity on TCM, the 1933 anti-war movie Men Must Fight, which predicts many aspects World War II with unsettling accuracy. If you haven’t seen it, it’s a trip.

Also on May 25, TCM brings us another two movies from my list of Least Convincing Movie MonstersThe Killer Shrews and The Wasp Woman.

Robert Redford in JEREMIAH JOHNSON
Robert Redford in JEREMIAH JOHNSON

RADIO DREAMS: stranger in a strange and funny land

RADIO DREAMS
RADIO DREAMS

The droll dark comedy Radio Dreams explores the ambivalence of the immigrant experience through the portrait of a flamboyant misfit, a man who rides the roller coaster of megalomania and despair. That misfit is Hamid Royani (Mohsen Namjoo), the director of programming at an Iranian radio station in the San Francisco Bay Area. Radio Dreams opens tomorrow for a one-week-only run at the Roxie Theater in San Francisco.

Hamid, an author in Iran, is a man of great certainty, with an unwavering sense of intellectual superiority He assumes that everyone should – and will – buy in to his idiosyncratic taste. This results in extremely random radio programming, and Hamid tries to sabotage everything that he finds vulgar (which is everything that might bring more listeners and revenue to the station.)

With his wild mane and indulgent programming, we first think that Hamid is simply batty. But immigrants to the US generally forge new identities, and we come to understand that Hamid has not, perhaps will not, forge that new identity. His despair is real but it’s hard to empathize with – he might be a legitimate literary figure in Iran, but he’s probably a pompous ass over there, too.

The highlight of Radio Dreams is Hamid’s reaction when he is surprised that Miss Iran USA, whom he has dismissed as a bimbo, might have literary chops that rivaling his.

Hamid has concocted a plan to have Afghanistan’s first rock band visit with the members of Metallica on air, and that’s the movie’s MacGuffin. As we wait to see if Metallica will really show up, the foibles of the radio station crew dot Radio Dreams with moments of absurdity. There are the cheesy commercials about unwanted body hair, Hamid’s obsession with hand sanitizer, a radio jungle played live on keyboards EVERY time, a new employee orientation that focuses on international time zones, along with a station intern compelled to take wrestling lessons.

Writer-director Babak Jalali is an adept storyteller. As the movie opens, we are wondering, why do these guys have musical instruments? Why are they talking about Metallica? What’s with the ON AIR sign? Much of the movie unfolds before Hamid Royani emerges as the centerpiece character.

Hamid is played by the well-known Iranian singer-songwriter Mohsen Namjoo, “Iran’s Bob Dylan”. This is only Namjoo’s second feature film as an actor. He’s a compelling figure, and this is a very fine performance.

Except for Namjoo, the cast is made up of Bay Area actors. Masters of the implacable and the stone face, all of the actors do deadpan really, really well.

As befits the mix of reality and absurdism, here’s a podcast by the characters in Radio Dreams. I saw Radio Dreams at the Camera Cinema Club, and Babak Jalali took Q&A after the screening by phone from Belgium.

Radio Dreams is the second feature for Jalali, an Iranian-born filmmaker living and working in Europe. He shot Radio Dreams with a small crew over only 24 days in San Francisco. About 60% of the dialogue was scripted and 40% improvised. The band in the movie, Kabul Dreams, really is Afghanistan’s first rock band, they did get to meet Metallica in real life and the PARS-FM were filmed at a real Iranian radio station in the Bay Area.

Babak Jalali is a promising filmmaker and Radio Dreams is a movie that we haven’t seen before.

RADIO DREAMS: stranger in a strange and funny land

RADIO DREAMS
RADIO DREAMS

The droll dark comedy Radio Dreams explores the ambivalence of the immigrant experience through the portrait of a flamboyant misfit, a man who rides the roller coaster of megalomania and despair.  That misfit is Hamid Royani (Mohsen Namjoo), the director of programming at an Iranian radio station in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Hamid, an author in Iran, is a man of great certainty, with an unwavering sense of intellectual superiority  He assumes that everyone should – and will – buy in to his idiosyncratic taste.  This results in extremely random radio programming, and Hamid tries to sabotage everything that he finds vulgar (which is everything that might bring more listeners and revenue to the station.)

With his wild mane and indulgent programming, we first think that Hamid is simply batty.  But immigrants to the US generally forge new identities, and we come to understand that Hamid has not, perhaps will not, forge that new identity.   His despair is real but it’s hard to empathize with – he might be a legitimate literary figure in Iran, but he’s probably a pompous ass over there, too.

The highlight of Radio Dreams is Hamid’s reaction when he is surprised that Miss Iran USA, whom he has dismissed as a bimbo, might have literary chops that rivaling his.

Hamid has concocted a plan to have Afghanistan’s first rock band visit with the members of Metallica on air, and that’s the movie’s MacGuffin.  As we wait to see if Metallica will really show up, the foibles of the radio station crew dot Radio Dreams with moments of absurdity.  There are the cheesy commercials about unwanted body hair, Hamid’s obsession with hand sanitizer, a radio jungle played live on keyboards EVERY time, a new employee orientation that focuses on international time zones, along with a station intern compelled to take wrestling lessons.

Writer-director Babak Jalali is an adept storyteller.  As the movie opens, we are wondering, why do these guys have musical instruments? Why are they talking about Metallica? What’s with the ON AIR sign? Much of the movie unfolds before Hamid Royani emerges as the centerpiece character.

Hamid is played by the well-known Iranian singer-songwriter Mohsen Namjoo, “Iran’s Bob Dylan”.  This is only Namjoo’s second feature film as an actor.  He’s a compelling figure, and this is a very fine performance.

Except for Namjoo, the cast is made up of Bay Area actors.  Masters of the implacable and the stone face, all of the actors do deadpan really, really well.

As befits the mix of reality and absurdism, here’s a podcast by the characters in Radio Dreams.  I saw Radio Dreams at the Camera Cinema Club, and Babak Jalali took Q&A after the screening by phone from Belgium.

Radio Dreams is the second feature for Jalali, an Iranian-born filmmaker living and working in Europe.  He shot Radio Dreams with a small crew over only 24 days in San Francisco.   About 60% of the dialogue was scripted and 40% improvised.  The band in the movie, Kabul Dreams, really is Afghanistan’s first rock band, they did get to meet Metallica in real life and the PARS-FM were filmed at a real Iranian radio station in the Bay Area.

Babak Jalali is a promising filmmaker and Radio Dreams is a movie that we haven’t seen before.