Friday Flicks August 30: “Fiddler: A Miracle of Miracles,” “Killerman,” and “Bunuel in the Labyrinth of the Turtles”

M.V. MoorheadAugust 2019
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Opening this weekend at Harkins Shea:

Fiddler: A Miracle of Miracles—The title of this detailed documentary about the creation and ongoing legacy of Fiddler on the Roof doesn’t seem like hyperbole. Director Max Lewkowicz traces the musical’s story from its roots in the Tevye the Dairyman tales of Sholem Alechiem through the original Broadway production to subsequent productions everywhere from Japan to Thailand to Alabama during the civil rights struggles.

The talking heads include lyricist Sheldon Harnick, composer Jerry Bock, playwright Joe Stein, producer Harold Prince and many of the actors from the notable productions, or, in some cases, their kids. Portraits emerge of such complex departed figures as director Jerome Robbins and original star Zero Mostel and designer Boris Aronson, and the ups and downs of the production are compellingly recalled, as with Harnick’s account of how the brilliant, touching song “When Messiah Comes” was cut after the original Detroit try-out.

The major theme that emerges is of Fiddler’s universality; its immediate relevance and appeal to people of diverse cultures and backgrounds despite its provincial setting and storyline. Among those interviewed are such far-from-Anatevka types as film director Gurinder Chadha and Hamilton creator Lin-Manuel Miranda, who is seen performing “To Life” with his new father-in-law at his wedding reception. It applies to me, too; a Presbyterian from rural Pennsylvania, I’ve adored Fiddler since childhood, so I watched this film with great pleasure. The only downside was that I wanted to hear the numbers all the way through. When it was over, I was ready for the show to start.

Theaters Valleywide:

Killerman—One of the non-Thor Hemsworth brothers, Liam, stars in this Jacobean crime yarn from writer-director Malik Bader. If there’s one guy on the planet who doesn’t look or sound likely to be a Manhattan jeweler called Moe Diamond, this hunky Australian is it, but that’s his character. Moe does a bit of money laundering for his friend Skunk (Emory Cohen), the nervy nephew of an eastern European gangster played by Zlatko Buric, amusing as always with his indolent, growly line readings.

Moe and Skunk run afoul of some really loathsome crooked cops, and bloody violence ensues, along with a jumble of familiar noir motifs: amnesia, lost bags of money and drugs, complicated loyalties. An attack dog is loosed, a machete is wielded. Nothing is especially new here, but Hemsworth is sympathetic, oddly cast or not, and the villains are so odious in their smiling arrogance that I wanted to see them punished.

At FilmBar:

Bunuel in the Labyrinth of the Turtles—This intriguing animated feature from Spain, based on a graphic novel, is a showbiz story, surrealist division. It’s about how the young Luis Bunuel, fresh from stirring up outrage with L’Age d’Or, went with a few cronies to the remote mountainous region of Las Hurdes in the early ‘30s, to make his disturbing, ironic “documentary” Las Hurdes: Tierra Sin Pan (“Land Without Bread”). The project was financed by his friend Ramon Acin, an anarchist poet and artist who won the money in a lottery.

Like 2017’s Godard Mon Amour, this movie, directed by Salvador Simo Busom, presents an avant-garde icon in less than flattering terms. It doesn’t make Bunuel seem like quite the insufferably posturing, petulant, self-loathing jerk that the earlier film painted Godard as; but Bunuel, as depicted here, is calculating toward his impoverished subjects, and ruthlessly willing to stage the scenes he wants when reality refuses to deliver them to his camera. Worse, he shows a curiously heartless streak, particularly in his treatment of animals; the film, which includes live-action clips from Las Hurdes, isn’t recommended for those sensitive to animal sufferings.

Bunuel in the Labyrinth of the Turtles—the title refers, by the way, to the impression that the roofs of the village made on Bunuel—is beautifully animated, and the sequences dramatizing the surrealist visions that visit Bunuel in his dreams are striking. It’s the only movie you’re likely to see this weekend that includes elephants on stilts.

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