The Atlanta Jewish Film Festival keeps getting bigger and better. Now in its 11th year, the sprawling, three-week event will screen 60 documentary and narrative features and shorts at venues all over town. The new lineup touches on some usual themes, including the latest Israeli films, a handful of fresh assessments of the Holocaust, and some lively explorations of Jewish-American culture, notably the opening night documentary Jews and Baseball: An American Love Story, screening Feb. 8.
Here are a few festival highlights, along with some extra suggestions worth checking out from the expansive program.
FIVE BROTHERS (3 out of 5 stars) Alexandre Arcady's thriller about a quintet of brothers shares the pulpy energy of John Woo's old gangster films like A Better Tomorrow, even if the action scenes don't quite measure up. A tightly knit family of Algerian Jews living in France comes together when one of the grown brothers (Vincent Elbaz) incurs the wrath of a wronged accomplice. Craggy-faced Patrick Bruel commands the film as a slow-burning restaurateur who proves surprisingly prepared to face down murderous gangsters.
Five Brothers attempts to be a sleek Euro-thriller like Daniel Craig's recent action films, but the gunshot and explosion scenes prove less memorable than the soft-spoken sequences that show how lifelong sibling rivalries evolve without ever going way. The way the four "legitimate" brothers warily take up the cause of their criminal sibling unexpectedly evokes that old Robert Frost line, "Home is the place where, when you have to go there, They have to take you in." Especially if they know where to buy some shotguns. Showtimes: Thurs., Feb. 10, 7:50 p.m., Lefont Sandy Springs; Fri., Feb. 11, 12:10 p.m., Lefont Sandy Springs; Sat., Feb. 26, 8:10 p.m., Regal Atlantic Station
MORE LIKE THIS: The French political sex comedy The Names of Love; the Israeli prison drama The Loners; the family drama Polish Bar featuring Richard Belzer, Judd Hirsch and Meat Loaf.
PEEP WORLD (3 out of 5 stars) If you miss the sitcom "Arrested Development" and believe the long-rumored film version will never happen, Barry W. Blaustein's Peep World offers just a little consolation. The dark comedy traces a similar dynamic of a responsible, put-upon son ("Dexter's" Michael C. Hall), his three self-absorbed siblings (Rainn Wilson, Sarah Silverman and Ben Schwarz) and their overbearing patriarch (Ron Rifkin). "The Daily Show's" Lewis Black even serves as an ironic narrator. Tensions explode at the father's 70th birthday dinner after Schwarz, as the youngest son, exposes the family secrets in a thinly disguised, best-selling novel.
At less than 90 minutes, Peep World doesn't build up to much. In fact, "arrested development" could describe some of its subplot. Nevertheless, the cast clearly enjoys the script's snappy one-liners, and it's a pleasure to see Hall and Wilson playing different roles than their usual TV personae Dexter Morgan and Dwight Schrute. Showtimes: Sat., Feb. 12, 8 p.m., GTC Merchants Walk; Tues., Feb. 15, 9:10 p.m., Lefont Sandy Springs; Sat., Feb. 26, 8 p.m., Regal Atlantic Station
MORE LIKE THIS: Jay Baruchel as a Trotsky-obsessed teenager in The Trotsky; the Israeli comedy The Matchmaker; the Polish comedy Yiddle With His Fiddle
THE ROUND UP (4 out os 5 stars) Anyone who tosses around words like "Nazi" to describe someone who disagrees with their political beliefs should watch writer/director Rose Bosch's account of the monstrous treatment of Jews in Paris in the summer of 1942. The Round Up stumbles with some misguided but mercifully brief scenes of historic figures, including a highly convincing Adolf Hitler. It builds to remarkable docu-dramatic power, however, as France's Vichy soldiers, in collaboration with the Germans, drive Jews from their homes and into an overcrowded, squalid, domed bicycle stadium.
Jean Reno and Inglourious Basterds' Melanie Laurent play a Jewish doctor and a protestant nurse, respectively, who try to protect the lives of the multitude. The Round Up focuses on the plight of Jewish families with children, a potentially manipulative device that nonetheless conveys the enormity of the Holocaust as a crime against humanity, and pays tribute to the ability of kids to find the positives in even the worst situations. Showtimes: Sat., Feb. 19, 7:45 p.m., Lefont Sandy Springs; Sun., Feb. 20, 7:20 p.m., Regal Medlock Crossing; Tues., Feb. 22, 11 a.m. Regal Atlantic Station
MORE LIKE THIS: The Polish political drama Little Rose; the sprawling Dutch romantic epic Bride Flight
100 VOICES: A JOURNEY HOME (2 out of 5 stars) Add at least one star if you're already a fan of the cantor's art. The best cantors not only lead Jewish congregations in sung prayers, but also reveal the vocal powers of great opera soloists. Directors Matthew Asner and Danny Gold depict an assembly of some of the world's greatest cantors performing a series of concerts in Poland in June 2009, culminating with a Jewish religious service held on the actual grounds of the Auschwitz concentration camp.
100 Voices has a lively start and finds a couple of plump, ebullient subjects in cantors Simon Spiro and Alberto Mizrachi, the latter of whom performs a swinging, scatting arrangement of the "Chad Gadya" in the film's most memorable scene. 100 Voices unquestionably presents impassioned accounts of Jewish people honoring the memories of relatives who died in the Holocaust, but the film's second half becomes a repetitious series of tours, interviews and heavy, operatic songs. The concerts must have been remarkably moving, but too often the film audience feels divorced from those emotions. Showtimes: Sun., Feb. 13, 11:20 a.m., GTC Merchants Walk; Tues., Feb. 15, 7:40 p.m., Lefont Sandy Springs; Fri., Feb. 25, 2:25 p.m., Regal Atlantic Station
MORE LIKE THIS: The documentaries inston Churchill: Walking With Destiny; Voices Unbound: The Story of the Freedom Writers; and Jews and Baseball: An American Love Story
THE "SOCALLED" MOVIE (3 out of 5 stars) Josh Dolgin, a Jewish Canadian musician/producer known as "Socalled," celebrates and samples vintage klezmer music in a way comparable to how Moby grooves to Delta blues. Typifying a generation of young artists who thrive on the borders of different cultures and media, Dolgin applies hip-hop arrangements to funk beats and Jewish musical traditions.
The "Socalled" Movie presents an inventive mosaic of a restless mind as Dolgin talks about his myriad musical influences, his homosexuality, and his hobbies such as sleight-of-hand magic tricks and short films. As if to emulate Dolgin's creativity, the film leapfrogs from one project and aspect of his personality to another: One moment he's visiting genocidal landmarks while taking a "Klezmer cruise" across Russia, and another he's performing a live accompaniment of 1950s rock to a 1970s male porn film in a former Yiddish theater. The documentary's scattershot structure diminishes its narrative urgency, but Dolgin still emerges as a fascinating character. With his horn-rimmed glasses, brown sweaters, male-pattern baldness and Jewfro, he's an aggressively nerdy figure, but Dolgin clearly also has soul to spare. Showtime: Wed., Feb. 9, 7:30 p.m., Buckhead Theatre with Dolgin and vocalist Katie Moore in attendance
MORE LIKE THIS: The Klezmatics: On Holy Ground; the poetry slam documentary Louder Than a Bomb; Gainsbourg, biopic of Jewish French singer/songwriter Serge Gainsbourg
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