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Seeking laughs in Afghanistan, chasing Nazis in the U.S. and testing oneself on one difficult mountain

New films with Bill Murray, Christopher Plummer, Vin Diesel, ghosts, music fans and music makers

Have you been to the Fifth Avenue Cinemas recently? It’s changed a lot. New seats, better sound, a bigger feel to the lobby and the entrance now moved around the corner. Most importantly, it’s now off limits to minors. Nobody under 19 is allowed in because the theatre now serves alcohol. You can take your drink right to your seat. There’s also a basic food menu. It’s pricey (a wrap for $15?) but I’m told people are buying. I don’t like what they did to auditorium #5. They took out the aisles. The seats are now one wide swath. I’d be interested in what else you’ve noticed and what you think.

Meanwhile, these are the new films:

Rock the Kasbah:  2 ½ stars

Remember:   3

Meru:   4

Northern Soul:  3 ½

The Last Witch Hunter:  1 ½

Paranormal Activity The Ghost Dimension:  2 ½

Jem and the Holograms:  --


ROCK THE KASBAH: What do you get when a bunch of Hollywood show-biz types go to Afghanistan? About as much sensitivity to local ways as when the US army goes. If you can put up with that, or see it as a sly commentary on self-absorbed Americans, you’ll probably have a good time. The film is very funny thanks to Bill Murray’s performance as a washed-up rock and roll manager. He discovered Madonna, he says, and told Jimi Hendrix to play The Star Spangled Banner. His Stevie Nicks story is a corker.

Ever the promoter and told that “Kandahar rocks in May,” he and his singer-receptionist (Zooey Deschanel) go over on a USO tour. She disappears. He gets mixed up with some arms dealers (Danny McBride, Scott Caan), a mercenary (Bruce Willis) and a cheerful prostitute (Kate Hudson) and winds up singing “Smoke on the Water” to a circle of bewildered elders in a Pashtun village.


But his star-making instincts revive when he hears a young woman with an angelic voice (Leem Lubany) singing in cave. He gets her on to a TV talent contest called Afghan Star (a real show as seen in a 2009 documentary) and causes a scandal. She’s called a whore. The Taliban says she must be killed. Warlords ride in horse packs and SUV convoys. This sort of thing was OK back in Hope-Crosby days but comes off as just uninformed today. Director Barry Levinson, who led the troupe and has a stellar list of credits (Rain Man, Good Morning Vietnam, Wag the Dog, etc. etc.) needs more of a revival than this. (5th Avenue, International Village, and suburban theatres) 2 ½ out of 5  

REMEMBER: Atom Egoyan is back in good directing form with this Holocaust story and Christopher Plummer turns in a remarkable performance as a survivor seeking revenge. He plays a Jewish resident in an old age home, with come-and-go dementia, grief over his deceased wife and a task set out by a friend (Martin Landau). He’s to go find a former guard from the Auschwitz death camp and kill him. The man had been able to emigrate to North America by pretending he himself was a Jewish inmate. 


Plummer is given four possibilities, all with the same name. (One is in Canada because this is a Canadian film). We watch him travel cross-continent and visit each in turn. The most outlandish is an Idaho state trooper played by Dean Norris. His Nazi father is deceased but he’s assumed all his anti-semitic rage. He’s over the top and buffoonish but makes the strongest impression of anyone in the film. Plummer is task oriented but with shades of sadness about remembering and poignancy about old age. His encounter with the final man produces a stunning surprise. Much is improbable in this story which seems driven more by an agenda than real human personalities.  Egoyan makes it work though, as a road trip and a quest. (5th Avenue, International Village and two suburban theatres) 3 out of 5   

MERU:  I can see why some call this the best film ever about mountain climbing. It takes us right up there, digging with the snow axe, finding precarious footholds on a rock face, sleeping in a tent secured to a sheer mountain wall, eating couscous day after day. The camera takes every opportunity to look out over spectacular vistas and then down to show how far one could fall. Writer Jon Krakauer cautions every now and then that a false move could easily mean death.


More in New Movies

Disney wildlife times two, a blast at American politics and a traumatic teen drama

Also a couple of small but amiable comedies, one of them Canadian

More streaming ideas take you to Brazil, low-life China and two Jesse Eisenberg films

As well as a cleverly-plotted trip to Barcelona thanks to Netflix

Movie theatres are shut down, so what’s streaming?

Some modest recommendations and stay for the last one, an alarm about what has happened to the internet.
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