Kane Mutiny

The industry's initial reaction to Welles's masterwork should serve as a lesson to WorldFest filmmakers

A Fight to the Finish: Stories of Polio -- It's almost impossible now to understand the impact that polio had on America's psyche, but everyone over a certain age remembers when "polio season" was to be feared more than hurricane season. This disease, which now seems as remote as the Black Plague, appeared out of nowhere each summer, leaving thousands of dead and crippled young people in its wake. It couldn't be stopped, not even by wealth: Former Washington Post executive editor Ben Bradlee and historian Geoffrey Ward were among the lucky ones; though impaired, they survived. So did FDR, who'd lost the use of his lower body. Listening to Bradlee, Ward and other survivors tell their stories in A Fight to the Finish, and hearing the memories of the medical pioneers struggling to heal them, is fascinating. There were lots of false starts, promising treatments that didn't pan out and bitter scientific rivalries. We see all this, as well as archival footage of the late Dr. Jonas Salk, whose first successful vaccine made him the most famous man in the world. The war against polio was the closest thing America has ever seen to a peacetime national mobilization; that all-out effort's stellar success changed the nation forever. This excellent documentary, produced by the Texas Scottish Rite Hospital for Children, will show you why. (J.H.)

Invocation -- Federico Fellini owned tangentially connected images of dwarves, freaks, malevolent circus clowns and extras clad as Venetian carnivalgoers from the 18th century. There is little need for anyone else to "sample" his vocabulary, and there is absolutely no need for anyone to destroy an otherwise valuable documentary about Argentina's desaparecidos with unsubtle film-school metaphors done in the manner of Fellini. We get the point when the dwarf couple keeps losing each other, and the preadolescent boys try to re-create a lost Super 8 short from the 1970s dictatorship era. But whatever power the film possesses comes from the simple talking-head interviews with the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo, women whose young adult children were stolen, tortured, murdered and left in unknown graves. Many of these brave women, who demonstrated daily against a vicious dictatorship, are now grandmothers of young adults. Their stories of trying to find the babies born in torturers' cells, and their heartbreaking stoicism in the face of horror, deserve much more than what Invocation gives them. (J.H.)

The Investigation Must Go On -- From here in Houston it often seems as if every crime committed in Israel were somehow politically motivated. This hard-boiled police drama says otherwise. Shot in a documentary style, the story takes place on the mean streets of an Israel that doesn't appear on tourist posters. A daring daylight robbery of a wealthy jeweler becomes more violent than the perps had planned. From here, the plot snarls around what happens when the cops round up the usual suspects. Enter Shalom Shalom, a low-rent gangster whose bit on the side, Sylvie, has dropped a dime on him. Shalom's wife, Zohar, still loves the fool, but is fed up with his lies. It's obvious why this woman would attract more than the professional attention of detective Micha Stein. All of the cops are under a lot of pressure to clear the high-profile case quickly. Trouble is, their prime suspect refuses to cooperate. He actually thinks he can hold on and wait for the legal system to spit him out. While other, more psychopathic criminals set their own plots in motion, the charming, calculating and infuriating Shalom continues to insist on his innocence. In turn, investigators resort to tactics that, in this country, would prompt an immediate call to Johnny Cochran. Not a pretty picture, but a good one. (J.H.)

Love Inventory
Muse Productions
Love Inventory

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Is It Clear My Friend? -- If Paul Newman's classic convict Cool Hand Luke had been born in the Balkans, this would be his story. Looking at recent history, from Sarajevo all the way to Kosovo, it's clear that the former Yugoslavs have a pretty serious "failure to communicate." But this scary prison drama, based on the life of director Tatjana Acimovic's friend, an accountant who spent six years in one of the worst prisons in Yugoslavia, takes place before the communist state shattered amid ethnic chaos. The guards and prisoners are a mixture of the ethnic groups Tito had welded together through fear. What worked for the head of state works equally well for the warden and his minions. What makes this gritty, accomplished work so fascinating is the universality of certain experiences. Acimovic has done a fine job of kicking off an industry. His film is the first independent, full-length feature in the history of Croatian cinema. (J.H.)

Jericho -- There's an undeniable novelty to director Merlin Miller's unabashedly retrograde Western, a handsomely photographed sagebrush saga that neither satirizes nor transcends genre conventions. Mark Valley is modestly engaging in the lead role of an amnesiac who's dumped from a train and left for dead after a payroll robbery. The unfortunate fellow is nursed back to health by Joshua (Leon Coffee), a deeply religious ex-slave who believes in turning the other cheek, then throwing a right hook. Joshua dubs the stranger Jericho, after a nearby town, and tries to help his new friend unlock the secret of his past. As they ride together, however, they uncover clues that indicate Jericho is a fugitive outlaw who's wanted for killing a sheriff. Coming off as a throwback to Saturday matinee fare -- there's even a bunch of very non-P.C. Mexican banditos -- this filmed-in-Texas indie occasionally recalls the lesser star vehicles of Audie Murphy or Randolph Scott. But those guys usually worked with directors who knew a thing about pacing and camera placement. (J.L.)

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