THE SONG OF NAMES (2019)

January 9, 2020

 Greetings again from the darkness. The title refers to a sacred Jewish ritual where the names of the Holocaust victims are recited in a musical style. It’s a process that (sadly) covers a few days. In this film, it takes on a personal, as well as historical, significance. British cultural affairs expert Norman Lebrecht wrote the 2001 novel on which writer-director Francois Girard (THE RED VIOLIN, 1998, plus plays, operas and 2 Cirque de Soleil shows) and co-writer Jeffrey Caine based the film.

We open in 1951 London just minutes before the scheduled performance of young violin virtuoso Dovidl “David” Rapoport. He is to play Bruch and Bach in a concert sponsored by his “adoptive” father figure Gilbert Simmonds, who has sunk his entire life savings into producing the concert. Despite the assurances of Simmonds’ son Martin, who has become like a brother to David, the featured performer is a no-show … leading Martin to search for him over the next 35 years.

The film covers the story from the time Dovidl’s Polish-Jewish father (played by Jakub Kotynski) agrees to his leave 9 year old, a violin prodigy, with the non-Jewish Simmonds in an attempt to protect the boy from the German invasion of Poland in the late 1930’s. As Dovidl and Martin grow together, their bond become stronger. Martin is present when Dovidl renounces Judaism, even as becomes more proficient with his instrument and more saddened by the Holocaust that he avoided in his home country.

Both boys are played at three different ages by three different actors. Dovidl is played by Luke Doyle at ages 9-13, Jonah Hauer-King at ages 17-23, and by Clive Owen in middle age. Martin is played by Misha Handley at ages 9-13, Gerran Howell at ages 17-23, and by Tim Roth in later life. The actors do a good job of capturing Martin’s early irritation at Dovidl’s arrogance, the shock of the no-show betrayal, and the later in life man who changed everything when he found out about his family, as well as the music teacher so desperate to find his long lost friend/brother.

The film bounces between the three timelines so that we have a full picture of the impact they have had on each other’s lives, and how Dovidl’s disappearing act was quite devastating. Much of the film centers on Martin tracking down leads and talking to folks for some idea of the path taken by Dovidl. Mr. Roth is especially effective (and surprisingly understated) in his performance as a man haunted by the unexplained actions of a loved one. His wife, played by Catherine McCormack, is simultaneously understanding, patient, and emotionally affected.

Stanley Townsend plays Martin’s father. He cares for Dovidl as if her were a son, and provides what’s necessary for the prodigy to develop and be groomed for performance. Three-time Oscar winner Howard Shore delivers a score that follows the good times and bad, not an easy task for a family drama within the shadow of the Holocaust. One specific sequence stands out, and it is filmed on the hallowed grounds of Treblinka – now a memorial, where the extermination camp once stood.

There are many facets to the story, and most involve heavy emotions. We see children bearing more than they should. Parents protecting their children in times of crisis. The difference between religion and ethnicity is discussed. Broken trust proves especially damaging. Dovidl’s disappearing act could be compared to that of JD Salinger, in that he seemingly vanished for years. And maybe most of all, the idea of survivor’s guilt is a theme, as Dovidl explains, “You don’t have to be guilty to feel guilty.” The film may have some pacing issues, but it affords such a wealth of conversation topics, that any flaws are easily forgiven.

watch the trailer:

 


THE WOMAN IN BLACK (2012)

February 4, 2012

 Greetings again from the darkness. The quest for quality horror films is a never-ending project. Since low budget fright fests are the easiest way to make money in Hollywood, most take shortcuts that leave us feeling cheated. This remake of a 1989 British TV horror film actually has wonderful production design … the Gothic mansion is a sight to behold. Unfortunately, the shortcut here was a story that offers little substance, despite being based on Susan Hill‘s novel.

Daniel Radcliffe (yes, Harry Potter himself) plays a young, widowed solicitor named Arthur Kipps, who is still grief stricken, and now on the verge of losing his job. He is given one last chance to prove his mettle to the firm by going to a remote village to settle the affairs of recently deceased client. His young son (Misha Handley) and his nanny are to meet him in the village a few days later.

 The local townspeople clearly don’t want him there and are constantly trying to shoo him back to London. Of course, no one ever bothers to tell him why they are frightened and why they are so angry with him for going to the old house. This mansion is a work of art. It has the necessary creep factor to star in a real horror film. The furnishings and fixtures and decor are really the star of the movie. In fact, the DVD should include a segment on the antique mechanical toys.  It’s not giving away anything to say that every time Radcliffe sees this mysterious woman in black, something bad happens in the village.  The mystery is solved easily enough as we read along while Radcliffe organizes the letters.

The annoying thing about the film is that whenever we get a chill-inducing moment like a shadow in the background or a figure passing by a mirror, it is immediately followed up by a cheap parlor trick involving a sonic blast of music and an ear-piercing scream. It’s as if the director (James Watkins) is convinced movie goers are too ignorant to know when to be scared.  His solution: provide clues to say “Scream now!” Ciaran Hinds and Janet McTeer add a touch of class to the film as Mr.and Mrs. Daily, who recently lost their son. Mr. Daily has found solace in the bottle, while Mrs. Daily teeters on the brink of insanity. My theory that no film featuring Mr. Hinds can be all bad is tested here, and Ms. McTeer was seen recently as the best thing about the Albert Nobbs film.

 On a positive note, this is a nice transition movie for Daniel Radcliffe. He has quite a career challenge as he tries to break loose of the Harry Potter clamp. He succeeds here with quite a different physical appearance, though he really has little to do but alternate between a distantly forlorn look and peering cautiously around dark corners. A couple of interesting notes: the boy playing his son is Radcliffe’s real life godson; and the actor who played Radcliffe’s role in the 1989 original is Adrian Rawlins, who played Harry Potter’s father in those movies.

By the way, how long until Daniel Radcliffe realizes he should just steer clear of train stations?

SEE THIS MOVIE IF: you are desperately seeking a horror film that isn’t a slasher … even if it’s not very good OR you are anxious to see Daniel Radcliffe first real step towards a film career outside of “Harry Potter” OR you just want to see a beautifully creepy haunted house

SKIP THIS MOVIE IF: you are expecting a classic horror story in the vein of Poe OR you have had your fill of cheap tricks designed with no purpose other than to cause viewers to jump

watch the trailer: