Bert Stern, Original Madman
⋆⋆⋆ out of four stars
Unrated but includes photographic nudity, mature themes, drug references.
Event: Stern and director Shannah Laumeister will appear for a Q&A after the 7 p.m. show Friday, and introduce the 9:45 p.m. show. Laumeister also will host Saturday’s 7 and 9:45 p.m. shows.
Photographer Bert Stern danced the high wire between richly rewarding commercial work and art, then slipped. Like legendary lensmen Irving Penn and Richard Avedon, Stern became a star and brand name in his own right. His innovative ad campaigns changed the way Madison Avenue wooed America. “He invented vodka,” said an admiring ad man of Stern’s eye-popping photo spreads for Smirnoff. His fashion photography and celebrity portraits of Marilyn Monroe, Barbra Streisand, Liz Taylor, “Lolita” actress Sue Lyon and Twiggy were some of the most iconic images of the go-go ’60s. Possessed of Napoleonic drive and an ego and libido to match, he pushed himself to the breaking point and beyond.
Filmmaker Shannah Laumeister, his latest model-turned-partner, presents a portrait that is almost embarrassingly intimate. Stern candidly admits that during his famous sittings with Marilyn he “just wanted to make out with her,” while his ex-wife, ballerina Allegra Kent, shrugs that their marriage was a fleeting fancy: “I started creating a family with Bert as sperm donor.” Now in his 80s, Stern recalls his rise, fall and reinvention without evasion or apology. “I shouldn’t have been so happy so young,” he concludes. “I should have saved it for now. Now I should be happy. When I need it.”
No Place on Earth
⋆⋆⋆ out of four stars
Rated: PG-13 for thematic elements, brief violent images.
Spelunking in western Ukraine in 1993, New Yorker Chris Nicola discovered puzzling artifacts deep in a vast horizontal cave. A mineral-encrusted antique house key, a vintage shoe, a comb, buttons and old medicine bottles all suggested that people spent time in the forbidding caverns decades before. No information was forthcoming from the locals until one ventured, “maybe some Jews hid there.” After nine years of research, Nicola unearthed an amazing chapter in WWII history.
Beginning in 1942, three dozen Jews, from grandparents to toddlers, hid literally underground from the occupying German army. They didn’t emerge until Russian liberators arrived 511 days later. It was the longest subterranean habitation in recorded history. In “No Place on Earth,” director Janet Tobias records the recollections of survivors who relocated to Canada and the United States, restaging their gripping, claustrophobic experiences with actors. They share astonishing stories of collecting drinking water from dripping stalactites and close brushes with death when the cave mouth was sealed. As one survivor says, the survivors kept their stories to themselves until now because “nobody would have believed us.”
The Reluctant Fundamentalist
⋆⋆½ out of four stars
Rated: R for language, some brief violence and sexuality. In English and subtitled Urdu.
Mohsin Hamid’s 2007 bestseller “The Reluctant Fundamentalist” charted a successful Pakistani immigrant’s ill-fated love affair with an American woman and post-9/11 America. In director Mira Nair’s drama, we track the story through a long interview conducted by an American journalist, and possible CIA agent (Liev Schreiber). He questions Changez Kahn (Riz Ahmed), a radical Pakistani professor, about his involvement in the kidnapping of an American academic.
Kahn leads his interrogator, and us, through his days as a bright-eyed striver at Princeton and his meteoric rise as a Wall Street star (mentored by a slick, chilling Kiefer Sutherland). He even woos the boss’ niece (Kate Hudson, dramatically out of her depth). After the Twin Towers attacks, he’s singled out for humiliating rounds of racial profiling, street-corner taunting and cavity searches by airport cops who snap their rubber gloves with relish. Even his lover reveals a wide streak of thoughtless racism. Nair’s film draws a clear parallel between violent Islamic fundamentalism and job-destroying capitalist economic fundamentalism, and firmly rejects both. If only good intentions made up for heavy-handed dramatics.