Films at the Myrna Loy Center
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Leviathan - R - 140 min - Digital


A = Auditorium
S = Screening Room

Fri. - April 24 - 6:30 pm S
Sat. - April 25 - 4:00 pmS
Sun. - April 26 - 4:30 - 7:15 pm S
Mon. - April 27 - 7:15 pm S
Tues. - April 28 - Not Showing
Wed. - April 29 - 7:15 pm S
Thurs. - April 30 - Not Showing

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SYNOPSIS: Kolia (the magnetic Alexey Serebryakov) lives in a coastal village near the Barents Sea in Northern Russia, running an auto-repair shop from the garage of his childhood home, shared with young wife Lilya (Elena Lyadova) and his teenage son from a previous marriage. The family's world is under threat: Vadim Sergeyich (Roman Madyanov), the imperious town Mayor, has slapped a compulsory acquisition order on Kolia's prime land, earmarking the site for a development of undetermined but dubious funding (and offering risible, token compensation). To Sergeyich's great surprise, Kolia enlists the help of ex-army friend Dmitri (Vladimir Vdovitchenkov), now a hotshot lawyer from Moscow. Dmitri has uncovered some highly incriminating evidence that he believes will force the Mayor to back down, even if he has secrets of his own. Soon tempers and passions are inflamed, events spiral out of control, and lives are placed at stake.

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Though it takes place in a small town and involves only a handful of characters, the Russian drama “Leviathan” has a feeling of expansiveness, even grandeur. It opens with distant, monumental views of Russia’s north shore, where huge rock formations slope down into a churning, slate-gray sea, images set to a propulsive Phillip Glass score. Soon we see the husks of abandoned sea-faring vessels along the water’s edge, where, later in the film, we’ll behold the enormous skeleton of a beached whale – a leviathan evoking both the Book of Job and Thomas Hobbes’ famous political tract.

A prize winner at Cannes and Russia’s nominee for this year’s Best Foreign-Language Film Oscar, “Leviathan” is easily the most important and imposing film to emerge from Russia in recent years. Since its story conveys a sense of pervasive political corruption, it has been read as a daring and scathing critique of conditions in Vladimir Putin’s Russia, and it is certainly fascinating to contemplate on that level. Yet there’s much more to writer-director Andrey Zvyagintsev’s singular artistic vision than simple political allegorizing, as the hypnotic opening of “Leviathan” makes clear.

In a sense, the film takes us back to the first of Zvyagintsev’s four features, “The Return” (2003), which won the Golden Lion at Venice and became an international art-house hit. Both movies feature dramatic landscapes that almost function as an additional character. Yet geographic specificity has no importance here; we never learn where either story takes place. The locales may seem vividly real, but for Zvaginstsev they’re primarily mythic – crucibles for dramas of the Russian soul.

Both movies also feature Biblical references that have oblique political connotations. In “The Return,” about a gruff father who encounters his two teenage sons after an absence of 12 years, it’s the story of Abraham and Isaac, with the suggestion that the tale concerns the re-imposition of threatening paternalistic authority 12 years after the collapse of the Soviet Union. In “Leviathan,” the Book of Job references evoke timeless human suffering as well as the metaphysical questions it entails, while also pointing toward Hobbes’ notions of the freedoms that people surrender for the security of an authoritarian regime like Putin’s – a theme that obviously has implications for many countries besides Russia.

The invocation of the mythic and the Biblical along with related historical, philosophical and political ideas should indicate that much of the “drama” in a Zvyagintsev film lies in wrestling with its multi-leveled (potential) meanings. The dramas themselves are usually fairly simple and emotionally direct, though each has a core of mystery and ambiguity that not only invites but compels our interpretative engagement.

The main character in “Leviathan,” Kolya (Alexey Serebryakov), lives and works on a small but desirable piece of waterside property that the local mayor, Vadim (Roman Madyanov), covets and has claimed for the town. The story opens when an old army buddy of Kolya’s who’s now a slick Moscow lawyer, Dmitri (Vladimir Vdovitchenkov), arrives to help him fight for his land. Though Kolya loses again in court, which seems under Vadim’s thumb, Dmitri then goes to the mayor and presents him with a sheaf of incriminating documents he’s gathered. It’s blackmail of a sort but at first it seems to work. Apoplectic, Vadim agrees to cut a deal.

All of this happens in a context where there’s lots of vodka drinking, argumentation and simmering discontent of various sorts. Kolya’s moody teenage son by a previous marriage (Sergey Pokhodaev) can’t get along with his current wife, Lilya (Elena Lyadova), a pensive beauty who works in a fishery. Introducing Dmitri into the home ups the chances for both bonhomie and trouble. Meanwhile we see the almost constantly drunken Vadim consorting with a well-groomed priest, who tries to allay his political fears with religious platitudes.

The corrosive intertwining of politics and religion is a provocative theme in “Leviathan.” Thoroughly corrupt, Vadim belongs to a national hierarchy that, Zvyagintsev pointedly suggests, isn’t much different from the Communist one it replaced: indeed, while a statue of Lenin still stands in front of the courthouse, a glowering portrait of Putin looms over Vadim’s office. Yet today’s strongmen, rather than trying to eradicate religion, are bolstered by their mutually beneficial support of the Russian Orthodox Church.

Still, though he includes a brief reference to Pussy Riot, it wouldn’t be accurate to say that Zvyagintsev is anti-religious in any one-dimensional or atheistic sense. Like Andrei Tarkovsky before him, he’s a staunch anti-Communist who seeks to, in critic Oleg Sulkin’s words, “draw support from the archetypally Russian intellectual and spiritual tradition that was trampled by the Bolshevik regime.” Late in “Leviathan,” there’s scene with a humble local priest who is portrayed as a sympathetic, spiritual counterpoint to the gilded, officious prelates we see in the film’s climactic scene, where current Russia’s perverse symbiosis of church and state is anatomized to devastating effect.

Though the tone of most Zvyagintsev films might be described as brooding if not portentous, there’s also a degree of wit to his approach here. In one of the film’s most memorable scenes, Dmitri joins Kolya, two male friends and their wives and kids for an outing to the country to shoot guns and drink vodka. After one of the men destroys all of the bottles they’ve brought for target shooting with a blast of machine-gun fire, another produces an alternate set of targets – portraits of Soviet leaders from Lenin through Gorbachev. Asked if he’s got any of subsequent Russian leaders, he jokes, “It’s too early for the current ones.”

While this scene contains another of the haunting landscapes that Zvyagintsev is so adept at conjuring, it also illustrates his particular visual mastery. Indeed those portraits are a characteristic instance of symbolic iconography; the director often pauses to gaze at such ambient images, whether old photos or fading religious murals. More characteristic still is his elegant choreography of subtle camera movements, muted natural lighting (Michail Krichman’s cinematography is precise and understated throughout) and the comings and goings of several actors, all of them part of an ensemble that’s uniformly excellent.

Ultimately “Leviathan” may divide viewers between those who find its possible meanings too numerous and inchoate and others who welcome the challenges of helping create its meaning. Certainly, its prize-winning script can be faulted on a couple of levels: the motivations of Lilya, an important character, are left entirely opaque; and the attempt at a piercingly tragic conclusion doesn’t quite come off. Yet the film’s ambitions are so grand and multi-dimensional, and mostly accomplished, that Zvyagintsev’s audacity can only be applauded. His is a career that now must be counted one of the most significant in contemporary cinema.

Cut Bank - R - 93 min - Digital


A = Auditorium
S = Screening Room

Fri. - April 24 - Not Showing
Sat. - April 25 - 6:45 pmS
Sun. - April 26 - 2:00 - 6:30 pm S
Mon. - April 27 - Not Showing
Tues. - April 28 - 7:15 pm S
Wed. - April 29 - Not Showing
Thurs. - April 30 - 7:15 pm S

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SYNOPSIS: Matt Shakman's twisty small-town crime thriller Cut Bank stars Liam Hemsworth as Dwayne, a young man who has developed an elaborate plan to score a $100,000 reward for helping catch the murderer of crusty mailman Georgie Wits (Bruce Dern). The catch is that there hasn't been a murder in the first place, and the entire scam starts to unravel as Dwayne's strict boss (Billy Bob Thornton), who is also the father of Dwayne's girlfriend, looks into the matter. Also closing in is the good-hearted local Sheriff Vogel (John Malkovich). Complicating matters further, crazy local man Derby Milton (Michael Stuhlbarg) goes to extreme measures to recover a delivery that was supposed to be made to him by Georgie. Cut Bank screened at the 2014 Toronto International Film Festival.

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Look at that cast. How could that possibly go wrong? John Malkovich, Billy Bob Thornton, Michael Stuhlbarg, Bruce Dern and Oliver Platt are starring in a Coen-esque thriller about murder in a small town? Where do I get in line to buy a ticket? Sadly, “Cut Bank” is another piece of evidence that proves the case that filmmaking is not the sum of its parts. And while there’s some undeniably inherent joy in just seeing some of these great actors play off each other, the sum here is a shockingly dull affair, almost made more disappointing by the talent it wastes. It is also evidence in another film criticism case—the one that proves that the balance of crime and comedy that the Coens defined for so many copycats in films like “Fargo” and “No Country For Old Men” is significantly harder to pull off than some people think it looks.

Not a lot happens in Cut Bank, Montana, a small town with the claim to fame of being the coldest in the United States. In fact, experienced Sheriff Vogel (Malkovich) has never seen a murder. Of course, that’s about to change. Town hunk Dwayne McLaren (Liam Hemsworth) is filming his girlfriend Cassandra (Teresa Palmer) in their favorite spot in town when a car pulls up in the background and he captures a murder on tape. Town mailman Georgie Wits (Dern) has been killed. Or has he? And nothing matters more to town recluse Derby Milton (Stuhlbarg) other than the fact that a parcel he has been waiting on has gone missing with the mailman’s murder. He’ll do anything to get it back.

From the beginning, “Cut Bank” isn’t just tonally inconsistent, it doesn’t really have one. It’s flat. There’s no sense of rhythm, tension, or atmosphere. Thornton, in particular, sounds like he’s reciting lines he just learned, and Hemsworth is as flat as they come as the protagonist. He doesn’t respond to acts of violence like a normal human being would. There’s nothing organic here. And that makes for a giant vacuum in the middle of the piece since, technically, Dwayne is supposed to be the leading man, although it’s crystal clear that even director Matt Shakman and writer Roberto Patino are more interested in the rest of the colorful characters than dull Dwayne. To that end, there are scenes that work, such as Malkovich and Platt at the “best steakhouse in town” and an encounter between Stuhlbarg and an imposing Native-American that he thinks has his p-p-p-parcel.

What keeps sinking “Cut Bank” is that these moments of personality stand out against a field of gray. This film is lifeless, as if Shakman and Patino are going for deadpan comedy and only getting the dead part of it. Malkovich escapes the best, finding a bit of truth in the Tommy Lee Jones from “No Country” part as a small-town lawman depressed by the fact that he couldn’t keep violence from his life until its natural end. There’s an honest sadness in Malkovich’s performance that one doesn’t often see in thrillers, and it’s a moving, relatable human emotion on which to hold while watching “Cut Bank”. The problem is that it’s the only one.

Red Army - PG - 85 min - Digital


A = Auditorium
S = Screening Room

Fri. - April 24 - 9:15 pm S
Sat. - April 25 - 8:45 pmS
Sun. - April 26 - 2:15 - 4:15 pm A/S
Mon. - April 27 - 7:00 pm A
Tues. - April 28 - 7:00 pm A
Wed. - April 29 - 7:00 pm A
Thurs. - April 30 - 7:00 pm A

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SYNOPSIS: Gabe Polsky's documentary Red Army charts how the Soviet national hockey team dominated international competition in that sport for years. He also reveals how one of the country's most celebrated athletes, Slava Fatisov, worked for change within his country that led to losing the admiration of his countrymen.

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Emotionally charged, viscerally exciting and consistently enlightening, Gabe Polsky’s “Red Army” is a sports documentary like no other. Though it centers on an elite Soviet hockey team of the 1980s and ‘90s, it uses that lens to refract one of the most crucial geopolitical developments of the last half-century: the East-West confrontation between two powerful ideologies that led to the collapse of the Soviet Union and a subsequent world order dominated by the United States and its allies.

For viewers too young to remember the Cold War, the film offers a fascinating glimpse of a time when Americans were constantly looking over their shoulders at the massive nation on the other side of the globe that Ronald Reagan dubbed “the Evil Empire.” For those who do recall that time, “Red Army” will be a trip back to the era of bomb shelters and fears of nuclear attack, when sports and other cultural manifestations were weapons in the battle of two superpowers, each seeking to prove its superiority to the other.

For the Soviets, hockey was central to their national identity and global image, and endless resources and energy were expended on making the Red Army hockey team the best in the world. Aspiring young players trained and participated in rigorous competitions to make the team, and the fortunate few who did became national icons – a position at once glorious and implicitly perilous.

Though “Red Army” focuses on a group of five players who became a singular unit, the best of the best, its narrative centers on interview commentary by one of the five, who easily earns his pre-eminence in the film. Not just one of the greatest, most awarded hockey players of all time, Viachaslav “Slava” Fetisov is any filmmaker’s dream interview – funny, articulate, charismatic, forthright and at times disarmingly emotional.

As he recalls, the Soviet Union of his youth was still cratered with the ruins of World War II. Hockey was a way out of poverty, but it required tremendous discipline and the mentorship, in his case, of an inspiring coach, Anatoly Tarasov, who built a close-knit team of young stars. In 1978, the group made a trip to Canada accompanied by KGB agents (Polsky interviews one) assigned to make sure the Western consumer goods and easy lifestyles that dazzled the players didn’t also cause them to defect. But the real dazzling was done by the Soviets, whose superbly coordinated “weaving” style of play gave them easy victories in their five games against Canada.

Not long after, though, the team endured a blow when their beloved coach was dismissed after angering Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev. He was replaced by a KGB-affiliated apparatchik, a bland-looking man named Tikhnov whose draconian coaching methods make J.K. Simmons’ drillmaster in “Whiplash” look like Mr. Chips. Whether due to his influence or not, the team subsequently suffered a stunning defeat by the Americans at the 1980 Lake Placid Olympics, which, coinciding with the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, were redolent with Cold War tensions and rhetoric.

Thereafter the team rebounded and for several years was its zenith, the players’ simmering dislike of Tikhnov notwithstanding. Winning a gold medal at the 1984 Sarajevo Olympics was “the happiest moment of my life,” Fetisov recalls, and it was an elation that would be repeated with another gold at Calgary in 1988. Yet these and other victories eventually fell under the shadow of the Soviet Union’s gradual collapse, the collectivist idealism of yore giving way to disenchantment and economic stagnation.

One consequence was that Soviet authorities in the USSR’s final days had a financial incentive to allow players to go play in the West. Fetisov, however, was such a star, and so insistent on doing things on his own terms, that he was beaten and threatened and finally had to personally confront the USSR’s Minister of Defense, the nation’s second most powerful man, before being allowed to emigrate to the U.S. and play in the National Hockey League.

And even that passage was often not a happy one. Fetisov and other Russian players were routinely abused by the media and fans, and found their graceful style of play at odds with the cruder techniques and fist fights common in the NHL. Only after a few years, when he and four other Russians were allowed to reassemble and work together again as a seamlessly coordinated unit, did some of their old joy of play return.

Roughly a decade after the USSR’s disintegration, Fetisov and some of his fellows began returning to their homeland and were shocked at how different the new Russia was from the old Soviet Union. The freedoms were good, surely, but the rampant materialism and spiraling poverty left many dismayed. One of the few times the garrulous Fetisov is caught up short comes when Polsky asks him if he’d prefer to revert to the Soviet days, problems and all. It’s the wrong question, he replies, perplexed. In any case, many of these men elected to devote their energies to the reborn Russia. Embraced by Vladimir Putin, Fetisov served as the country’s Minister of Sport from 2002 to 2008 and currently serves in the upper house of the Federal Assembly of Russia.

That it covers such a momentous sweep of history gives “Red Army” the allure of an epic, though it’s one told in very intimate terms. The friendships of the players – and sometimes the interruptions thereof – are at the heart of the tale, as are the deep feelings each man has for his family, his homeland and fellow countrymen. Additionally, the film is mounted in a breezy, fast-paced style with lots of snazzy Soviet-esque graphics and evocative music that make it constantly engaging – a fun ride, but one with serious things to say about the relations of national sports and global politics.

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