Any remembrance of Holocaust victims is, of course, a worthy endeavor and a historical priority. Thus, "As Seen Through These Eyes," Hilary Helstein's brief documentary, serves as another critical reminder of one of the world's most horrific periods, even if, cinematically, it's an affecting collection of stories and images in search of an actual center.
Over the last decade, Helstein interviewed various Holocaust survivors (some of whom have since died) who recounted how they created art and music as a form of expression, control and diversion. The movie presents a vast array of sketches and paintings by the featured survivors that are remarkable not only because they're so adept and evocative but also because art supplies were so scarce in the camps. These works are often stirringly presented along with archival photos and footage of the real-life places and events they depict.
Interviewed artists include famed "Nazi hunter" Simon Wiesenthal; Ela Weissberger, who survived Terezin, the Nazis' deceptive "model ghetto," by performing in a children's opera; Dina Gottliebova-Babbitt, who, at Auschwitz, painted portraits of Gypsies for Dr. Josef Mengele; and Henry Rosmarin, whose harmonica playing for the SS kept him alive.
Maya Angelou's sporadic narration is a bit florid but otherwise consistent with this dignified project.
Gary Goldstein --
"As Seen Through These Eyes." MPAA rating: Unrated. Running time: 1 hour, 10 minutes. At Laemmle's Music Hall, Beverly Hills; and Laemmle's Town Center 5, Encino.
Roughing it in the Grand Canyon
If well-meaning people didn't make stupid choices -- and if cellphones worked everywhere -- way fewer vacation-from-hell thrillers would probably be made. That would include "The Canyon," a middling tale of survival about a honeymooning couple whose impulse to follow an eccentric guide into the Grand Canyon has dreadful consequences. And since, true to form, it's tough to get cell service in the depths of the gaping canyon, that's where the just-eloped Nick (Eion Bailey) and Lori (Yvonne Strahovski) end up stranded for days after guide Henry (Will Patton, reliable as always) succumbs to a deadly snake bite.
The film, directed by Richard Harrah, becomes an often-meandering two-hander as the newlyweds creep across the canyon (strikingly shot by Nelson Cragg), battling the elements and struggling to stay alive without food or water. Their crisis is compounded by a nasty climbing accident that befalls Nick, forcing Lori to do something wildly unlikely -- and thoroughly unwatchable. The increasingly resourceful Lori becomes quite handy with a hunting knife, which, in the movie's tensest moments, she also uses to fend off the canyon's hungry wolves.
Movie-star handsome Bailey and Strahovski, a pretty Aussie in the Naomi Watts mold, work hard here and are generally convincing despite scripter Steve Allrich's thin characterizations and improbable scenario.
Gary Goldstein --
"The Canyon." MPAA rating: R for brief disturbing content. Running time: 1 hour, 42 minutes. At Laemmle's Sunset 5, West Hollywood.
Lovers divided against their will
"Hannah Free" affords a terrific role for Sharon Gless, who runs with it gloriously, playing a salty, blunt elderly lesbian confined to a wheelchair in a convalescent home but still possessed of a hearty spirit that in her need for "life to surprise her" led her to roam the world. Hannah, however, always returned to her small Midwest town, eventually settling down with Rachel, the woman who had been her lifelong lover.
It took years for the two women to come to terms with their mutual grand passion, with Rachel as traditional a woman as Hannah has always been unconventional. Rachel even married for appearance's sake, becoming a young widow with twins, but now Rachel (Maureen Gallagher), having suffered a severe stroke, lies in a coma in a room not far from Hannah's. Rachel's daughter Marge (Taylor Miller), a dim, homophobic, religious conservative, refuses to let Hannah visit her mother on the grounds that it would upset Rachel -- nevermind that she is unconscious.
Then Rachel's great-granddaughter Greta (Jacqui Jackson) pays a visit, setting in motion Hannah and Rachel's love story, which unfolds in flashbacks. It is a story, beautifully told, of love enduring the obstacles that have always challenged gay people -- and still do. Now Hannah faces her greatest challenge -- simply in getting to bid her lover goodbye.