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Bombs and Basketballs

Freedom Festival highlights include 'Sky Hook,' a tale of hope amid 1999's bombings of Belgrade.

February 22, 2001|KEVIN THOMAS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The American Cinema Foundation's annual Freedom Film Festival opens tonight at 8 with an invitation-only premiere of "Sky Hook," a story of civilians enduring the 1999 NATO bombings of Belgrade. The festival takes place at the Monica 4-Plex, 1332 2nd St., Santa Monica, through Sunday, with three Sunday afternoon and evening screenings also at Sony Pictures Studios in Culver City in the Tri-Star Building at the corner of Washington Boulevard and Overland Avenue (entrance on Overland).

Directed by Ljubisa Samardzic, "Sky Hook" (which screens for the public Sunday at Tri-Star at 7 p.m.) is a potent, though scarcely subtle, heart-tugger set primarily in a large apartment building across the street from a bombed-out factory. The film focuses on a group of men thrown into limbo amid continuing air raids and the specter of the draft. To ward off boredom and despair, they decide to clear away rubble at the factory to set up a basketball court. Their spirits do rise, especially for the film's central figure, Kaja (Nebosa Glogovac), once a basketball star, who is faced with the prospect of permanently losing his estranged wife Tijana (Ana Sofrenovic) and their traumatized small son.

There is a certain sentimentality in the movie's gruff male camaraderie, but at the same time "Sky Hook" pulls no punches.

*

"Farewell" (Saturday at 7 p.m., Monica 4-Plex) is a persuasively imagined depiction of the final days in the life of Bertolt Brecht (Josef Bierbichler, markedly better-looking than the playwright ever was) as he prepares to leave his lakeside villa north of Berlin to begin the 1956 season at his famed Berliner Ensemble.

In a contemplative mood, Brecht, not yet 60 but beset by a weak heart, is overcome by a sense of not belonging anywhere, driven from wartime exile in America by the McCarthy-era witch hunts but resenting the constant surveillance of life in East Germany. He is surrounded by a virtual harem of lovers past and present, while his wife and star actress, the formidable Helene Weigel (Monica Bleibtreu), runs his household with a firm hand, having long accepted his infidelity as the price of his self-absorbed genius. "Farewell" is a crisp, trenchant work, perceptively written by Klaus Pohl and directed by Jan Schutte. Monica 4-Plex: (310) 394-9741.

*

Based on a story by columnist Walter Winchell, "Broadway Thru a Keyhole" (UCLA's James Bridges Theater, Melnitz Hall, tonight at 7:30) promises the lowdown on denizens of the Great White Way. But it delivers a tedious and sentimental contrivance about an aspiring entertainer (Constance Cummings) torn between the gangster (Paul Kelly) who has given her her big break and her true love, a crooner-bandleader (singer Russ Columbo, wooden as an actor). (An irate Al Jolson and Ruby Keeler insisted the 1934 film was based on their romance.)

Even though skilled actor-director Lowell Sherman couldn't do much with such material, "Broadway Thru a Keyhole" is fascinating, not only for its pre-Code uninhibitedness but also for the presence of such legendary show-business figures as Texas Guinan, the brassy speak-easy hostess--for whom Keeler had been a chorus girl--who in effect plays herself, and Blossom Seeley, the veteran vaudeville star, who plays Cummings' earthy chaperon. (Look for Lucille Ball in a bit part.)

While nothing in this release could hope to match a contemporary Hollywood film in sexual candor, Seeley's double-entendres are zingers worthy of Mae West. Not so amusing are the crude and derisive stereotyping of a gay interior decorator and Seeley's ultra-racist line about her hotel key. (310) 206-FILM.

*

Tony Barbieri made a deep impression with his debut feature, "one," about how two very different young men, friends since childhood, deal with adult life. With "The Magic of Marciano," which the American Cinematheque screens tonight at 7:30 at the Egyptian, Barbieri has created what are arguably the most challenging roles ever for Nastassja Kinski and Robert Forster. The most demanding part, however, is reserved for the pivotal figure, a boy named James, played with conviction by Cody Morgan.

Kinski's Katie is a small-town waitress, a loving but unstable single mother who has an intermittent affair with a no-good stud (Jason Cairns, the co-star and co-writer of "one"). James wants to play Cupid for his mother and his new friend Henry (Forster), a widower and retired psychologist and businessman preparing for a long voyage on his yacht. Katie comes on too strong for the perceptive and wary Henry, and James faces a tremendous test of spirit as his mother begins to disintegrate.

*

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