- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 11, 2016


As summer starts winding down, with its DC heroes and villains and its aliens still extending their tentacles for your moviegoing bucks, here are three smaller films of quality to look for this weekend.


“Emily and Tim” applies a unique device to the trope of the lifelong romance story by having the titular couple played by different actors at various stages of their lives. Zosia Mamet (daughter of David) and Thomas Mann are the young lovers in the first segment, the “meet-cute,” and it’s one of the strongest not only for the fine acting but also its evocation of midcentury America. The elderly version of Tim and Emily are portrayed by Olympia Dukakis and Louis Zorich, spouses in real life, and who bring a knowing sense of lengthy marital relations to their nuanced, humorous performances.

There are six iterations of the couple in all, and the middle four include African-American actors playing the couple. There are even two men doing so in another episode. It’s less a narrative device than a gimmick, and is frequently jarring with each metamorphosis. Just when we are growing accustomed to the chemistry between Emily and Tim 2.0, 3.0 takes center stage without warning.

“Gimmick films,” as I like to call them, require that the strength of the screenplay make up for any necessary suspension of audience disbelief needed to swallow the absurdity of the central premise. (This is why “Back to the Future” works whereas “Inception” does not.) Eric Weber, who directs from a screenplay he co-wrote with Sean Devaney, has a strong enough tale to tell in the lengthy, half-century romance of Emily and Tim — with all the ups and downs, warts and blemishes, doubts and insecurities that any marriage experiences as its spouses grow and change, either together or apart. It’s good enough, in my opinion, for it to go ahead without six different pairs of actors.

I see what the filmmakers were going for, I guess, but ask yourself this: Would this film be as enjoyable, if not more so, without the constantly rotating cast? Personally, I found the answer to be yes.

Opening Friday at the AMC Loews Lexington Park 6 in Lexington Park, Maryland.

It is amazing that there remain still-untold stories about World War II seven decades since its conclusion. And it’s incumbent upon filmmakers to get them told before those who lived them pass.

“Anthropoid,” from director Sean Ellis, tells of an operation among Czechoslovak resistance to Nazi occupation. A prologue informs us that Italy, Germany and — gasp — England gave Hitler the right to march into Czechoslovakia unopposed in 1938, partly as a measure of appeasement. It didn’t work, and the following year Hitler invaded Poland, and the bloodiest war in human history was on.

Operation Anthropoid was an underground conspiracy by Czechoslovak operatives to assassinate SS General Reinhard Heydrich, Hitler’s third-in-command and the so-called architect of the vile Final Solution. Heydrich not only treated Czechoslovakia as his personal duchy, but brutalized and murdered its citizens unchecked during Nazi occupation.

The familiar tropes of an assassination conspiracy are followed, and some of the early segments of the film are bogged down by minutiae, but the attempt on Heydrich (Detlef Bothe), when it does come, is well staged and filled with tension. It’s only the beginning for the Czechs, led by Josef Gabcik (Irish actor Cillian Murphy, known primarily on this side of the Atlantic for his work in the films of Christopher Nolan, including his Batman trilogy and “Inception”), and with the whole of Europe within Nazi grasp, little surprise that any attempt to upset that stranglehold would be met with reprisal.

The film really gets going in its second half, with action scenes well staged by Mr. Ellis, who co-wrote the script with Anthony Frewin, with the stakes for the characters increasing painfully minute by minute.

A drawback is that Mr. Cillian and the other actors portraying the rebels are, of course, not in fact Slavic, yet Mr. Ellis has them accent their English dialogue accordingly. Another strange choice was to have the Nazi characters speak in German, which only added to this disjunction.

“Anthropoid” is a well-staged enterprise, but one can’t help but compare it to “Valkyrie,” Brian Singer’s Tom Cruise-starrer about the German generals’ conspiracy to kill Hitler and, they believe, end a war that they know Der Fuhrer cannot win. What that film had that “Anthropoid” lacks was the complicated moral calculus of knowing that Claus Von Stauffenberg and his confederates would be shot for treason if caught — which they ultimately were — but nonetheless still acting as loyal to the Reich in the open until the moment the plot was put into motion. Gabcik and his confederates have no such luxury, and, as an occupied people, do not have to walk a double-faced life, allowing for rather little in the way of character development.

No matter, I suppose, as the film executes its plot well, and Mr. Ellis easily wins our sympathies for his heroes — as if there were any doubt about not rooting for those vile goose-steppers.

Facing almost certain death if they got away, and absolutely certain death if caught, these real-life soldiers took a chance to take back a country the Germans decreed was no longer their own (it is perhaps a cruel irony of history that Czechoslovakia has since dissolved into several independent republics).

In perhaps a small way, it was the beginning — however minute — of the end for the Nazi murder machine.

Opens Friday at District theaters.

Cancer will simply not stop the titular documentary subject of “Miss Sharon Jones!” from documentarian Barbara Kopple. Miss Jones, a career singer who never quite made it to superstardom, puts her entire soul into her music, until that horrid day in 2013 when she is diagnosed with stage II pancreatic cancer. She presses on, performing even as chemo takes away her energy, and holding on to her dignity by performing without hair during her treatments — not that her appreciative audiences care as to what’s on her head or not.

Miss Jones is a fine subject for a documentary, and Ms. Kopple does a dandy job at coaxing her subject not only to wax on life, music and mortality, but also to open up about the openly racist South of her youth with its officially sanctioned prejudices. It’s a swell effort all around, even if the film could have used some trimming here and there.

But still, the indomitability of Miss Jones’ spirit, and the crucible of her music as both therapy for herself as well as soothing audiences, is a testament to the power of art to overcome all.

Opens Friday at Landmark E Street Cinema.

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