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BLIND SHAFT Adapted from a novel by Liu Qingbang, “Blind Shaft” is a gritty fable of morality and murder. Set against the backdrop of China’s illegal mining and the nation’s deteriorating economy, the film is disturbingly simple yet rife with social critique. The first seven minutes of the film give viewers a gritty glimpse of China’s illegal mining industry, which has claimed thousands of lives over the years. Song Jinming (Li Yixiang) and Tang Zhaoyang (Wang Shuangbao) are miners and two-bit con men who make their living by profitably scamming the mining company. The duo scout and recruit desperate migrant workers in search of work. Once they are acclimated in the camp and have passed a requisite trial period, the scam begins. “Blind Shaft” avoids the let down and finishes with a mildly surprising twist. The director possesses an admirable visual sense. His use of metaphor is refreshing for a film this size. Combined with a strong plot that drives the story, as well as the film’s unpredictable ending, “Blind Shaft” is a must see. Film Forum. (J. Carsey)

CALENDAR GIRLS The film opens with a montage of boring lectures at the local WI meant to illustrate how dull life there is. Particularly bored are Chris (Helen Mirren) and her best friend Annie (Julie Walters). Early in the film, Annie’s husband John struggles with leukemia and dies. The comedy ensues naturally from the uphill battle Chris and Annie have convincing friends to pose, and then convincing the local, and finally the national WI to allow it. Essential to the comedy is the women’s challenge to the notion that this endeavor is inappropriate for respectable, upper middle class ladies such as themselves. Equally strong is the bias they face against women older than 50 presenting themselves as beautiful. Playing citywide. (S. Bookey)

THE COMPANY “The Company” represents Robert Altman at his kindest and most gentle. Even when in a genial mood, as in “Cookie’s Fortune,” he’s been known to thrown in a few misanthropic touches. They’re missing entirely from his latest film. It deals with characters Altman seems to like and respect, but resembles “Kansas City,” one of his worst and nastiest films, in its structure. In both cases, thin narratives are broken up with performances: jazz there, ballet here. The storyline of “The Company” is so simple that the press kit for the film foregoes describing the plot entirely. It’s set at Chicago’s famous Joffrey Ballet. Neve Campbell, who co-wrote the story with screenwriter Barbara Turner and trained a ballerina before appearing in “Party of Five” and “Scream,” plays Ry, a dancer who also works as a part-time waitress. Antonelli (Malcolm McDowell), who leads the troupe, clearly thinks of himself as a larger-than-life artiste, loudly urging his young dancers to avoid prettiness and, for one number, bring back the rebellious spirit of the 60s. “The Company” often feels like a cinema vérité documentary about the Joffrey, although the camerawork and editing are too slick to pass for one. It’s a ballet lover’s delight. Altman hasn’t suddenly become a humanist. In fact, some of his crueler films showed more interest in people than does “The Company.” Through much of the film, he treats the cast more as bodies than characters. This doesn’t mean that he glamorizes everyone or glosses over their hard work––some dancers’ feet are covered with blisters and bandages. A brief glimpse of breasts isn’t eroticized or dwelled upon. Still, a sensual, fetishistic veneer pervades the whole film, down to even a cooking scene. Without telling a conventional story, “The Company” generates plenty of drama. There are egos to be bruised, tendons to be broken. One of the film’s early performances happens at an outdoor stage in Grant Park, on Chicago’s lakefront. . . .All the same, “The Company” might have worked better as a real documentary about the Joffrey. Paris Theater, UA Union Square (S. Erickson)

CRIMSON GOLD Directed by Jafir Panahi and written by acclaimed Iranian filmmaker Abbas Kiarostami, “Crimson Gold” is a riveting character study of a broken man that is utterly relentless and absolutely remarkable. A jewelry heist is in progress and Hussein (Hussein Emadeddin) is threatening the people inside the store with his gun. The scene ends with a close up of Hussein who points the gun to his head and takes his own life. The movie then reveals Hussein’s daily life up to this horrific moment, explaining the motives behind both the robbery and suicide. The filmmakers repeatedly show, without tedium, how this man—an overweight pizza delivery guy—suffers at the hands of a society that pays him no respect. Quad Cinemas. (G. Kramer)

House of Sand and Fog Based on Andre Dubus III’s novel, “House of Sand and Fog” dramatizes the engrossing and turbulent power struggle between recovering drug and alcohol addict Kathy Nicolo (Jennifer Connelly) and a refugee Iranian colonel Massoud Amir Behrani (Ben Kingsley) for possession of a San Francisco bungalow. “House of Sand and Fog” is a great character study of these very determined and desperate individuals, but the real story of this film is a commentary on how America is a land of opportunity for immigrants, but also a place where people, particularly addicts, can waste their promise. Playing citywide. (G. Kramer)

MADE-UP Beauty is only skin-deep. Oh yeah? Not to teenaged Sara Tivey, who looks on college as a waste of time and money, whose mind is instead set on becoming a cosmetolog­ist––in plainer language, a beautician. As Sara sees it, Beauty is All. Well, maybe not all, but it helps, and it could certainly help her mother. “I was prepared for everything,” says Elizabeth James Tivey, the brisk, intelligent woman who gave up an acting career to become Duncan Tivey’s wife and Sara’s mother. “A heroine addict, a nymphomaniac––but a cosmetolog­ist?” Sara wants to give mama a makeover––to re-beautify the basically handsome Elizabeth (stunningly handsome Brooke Adams) who let her hair and her expectations go gray after Duncan (Gary Sinise), long into the marriage, ditched Liz for a bosomy blonde young cupcake. This is the premise, the starting point, of “Made-Up,” a subtle, many-layered motion picture that marks the directing debut of actor Tony Shalhoub and has a screenplay by actress Lynne Adams, Brooke Adams’ sister. Village East Cinemas. (J. Tallmer)

MONSTER Between December 1989 and January 1991, six naked dead men were found in back roads off of the Interstate in and around Daytona Beach, Florida. On January 9, 1991, Aileen Wuornos was arrested and charged with murder and robbery. An exit-to-exit, hitchhiking prostitute, Wuornos was 33 and looked as worn out as anyone would who boasted of turning more than 25,000 tricks and living on the road since she was 13. She had been ratted out by her female lover of four years, Tyria J. Moore, during her first police interrogation after being arrested. Wuornos became neither a poster girl for the lesbian movement nor a feminist icon. She had no rhetoric to defend herself other than repeating over and over, “I killed in self-defense.” Leading feminists were split. Writer Susan Brownmiller, a founding member of the women’s movement’s second wave, warned feminists not to be blind sighted by this murdering hooker. But, psychology professor Phyllis Chesler took up her case as a woman who let rage build up during years of sexual and physical abuse from all the men in her life until it exploded when she found what she called love with a woman. The tabloids rags and TV shows loved her and splashed their pages and screens with images of a wild eyed, bottle-blond with raging madness in her eyes––she was America’s man-hating lesbian prostitute. In 1992, Nick Broomfield attempted to take honest look at Aileen Wuornos, but soon after starting his film documentary realized he had stepped into a sinkhole of cynical opportunism this woman’s notoriety had attracted from the strange lot of folks she chose to surround herself. In “Aileen Wuornos: The Selling of a Serial Killer,” Broomfield focused on two: Arlene Pralle, a 44-year-old born-again horse raiser, and her husband who legally adopted Wuornos because “God told her to.” Pralle pleaded with her to “get straight with the Lord and ‘fess up so the Lord would set her free.” In 2001, after nearly a decade on death row and enduring failed appeals initiated by anti-death penalty advocates and social justice attorneys, Wuornos decide she had had it. She said she would not get justice because nobody could believe a prostitute could be physically abused and raped to the point of killing as an act of self-preservation. Against the advice of her attorney, Wuornos petitioned the court to stop all appeals and set the date for the execution, changing her story to say she killed and robbed for money. Though her attorney made one last appeal, based on the claim that Wuornos was criminally insane, Florida Gov. Jeb Bush set a date for her execution, which took place October 9, 2002. . . Finally Hollywood called. On the eve of Wuornos’ execution, Patty Jenkins, a first time, but well connected director, announced production of “Monster,” a feature film. “Monster” is playing citywide, “Aileen” at Landmark Sunshine. (J. Fourrats)

OSAMA We heard tales of life under the Taliban, how the social repression of woman in an impoverished Afghanistan made it one of the world’s most misogynistic societies. Now, with the release of “Osama,” the first Afghan film made since the Taliban’s fall, these former daily miseries are vividly, unsparingly depicted on film. In “Osama,” we witness the institutionalized misogyny through the eyes of a 12-year-old girl whose mother, a doctor, can only earn money if the male relatives of her patients are willing to escort her through the dangerous streets, pretending to be her husband or another male relative. As earning opportunities for the mother dwindle, the grandmother suggests that the girl be disguised as a boy. Her hair is cut and her clothes tailored. An old friend of her father’s is pressed into taking on the “boy,” as his shop assistant. Now named Osama, she nervously navigates her daily life, terrified of exposure. United Artists Union Square, Lincoln Plaza. (S. Bookey)

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Updated 5:17 pm, July 20, 2018
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