On the Rumba River
First Run Features
It's rare for a documentary centered in central Africa to be uplifting, but the story in On the Rumba River is so positive it's joyful. While director Jacques Sarasin doesn't shy away from the political, social and economic turmoil that defines the past and present state of the Democratic Republic of Congo, the tale here about musician Antoine "Papa Wendo" Kolosoy is indeed heartwarming.
The recently deceased Wendo was a larger-than-life figure in Congolese cultural history, with a musical influence spanning seven decades. As the mightiest of all purveyors of Congolese rumba (a musical style that still weaves its way into contemporary African hip hop), Wendo was a beloved figure, yet also an exceedingly humble and generous man. But he wouldn't debase himself to writing glory-filled paeans to dictator Mobutu Sese Seko, which meant that for the 30-plus years that Seko was in power, Wendo was without work. In the '90s, though, after outlasting Mobutu, Wendo staged a well-deserved comeback, dishing out that gently rollicking rumba for which he'd always been known. Rumba River is, admittedly, a hagiographic piece of work that won't do much to inform Wendo's fans. But it tells such a thoroughly triumphant story of a principled and talented man that its gushy tendencies are easily forgiven. —Jason Ferguson
What's perhaps most notable about Michael Moore's latest election-year cinematic salvo is how little controversy it's generating. Perhaps it's due to the distribution scheme — it was originally made available as a free download, and then released as a super-cheap DVD — but more likely it's because there's very little of Moore's typical bomb-throwing to be found. Sure, Slacker Uprising is deeply partisan, existing mainly as a document of Moore's effort to encourage young (and presumably lefty) Americans to register and vote during the 2004 elections. But that Michael Moore finally dispensed with all pretense and simply went ahead and made a movie about how awesome Michael Moore is, combined with the reality of the results of the 2004 election ... well, that just doesn't leave a whole lot of room for debate. Those young voters Moore was attempting to mobilize didn't turn out for John Kerry, despite the palpable electricity surging through the voluminous crowds shown at these events. Ergo, Michael Moore failed. Yet Slacker Uprising is also a documentary of the man at the peak of his powers, when his populist, partisan name-calling was one of the very few ways to get like-minded liberals motivated. Now, one can look at this approach as truly quaint, particularly because Obama won. Quaint or not, Moore shunted the film out using such a "novel" distribution approach. Or maybe nobody's making a fuss about Slacker Uprising because not even the most self-flagellating liberal or gloating neocon wants to revisit the election that led to the four worst years in American political history.
The New World
New Line Home Video
If there were an American director most susceptible to the opportunistic whims of an ADD-addled editor, it would be Terrence Malick. In Malick's films, atmosphere defines story and not the other way around, and this must frustrate studio backers looking to cut out the fat. Days of Heaven is more concerned with billowing wheat fields than it is Richard Gere, and the impressionistic Thin Red Line is an unconventional war movie told in oblique fragments.
How ironic, then, that an auteur known for his Kubrickian exaction and million-feet-of-film shoots would have preferred the more compact, two-and-a-half-hour version of The New World to the 174-minute Extended Cut Warner Home Video has now given us. It's hard to imagine why. There's not a boring frame in the movie, a thinking person's IMAX wet dream and the last word on the oft-told saga of John Smith (Colin Farrell) and Pocahontas (Q'Orianka Kilcher). What was so stunning about the picture in 2005 remains so: It's like a visual symphony led by a mysterious virtuoso — and this time, the added title cards signal new movements in the ever-shifting textural landscape. It's also a profound rebuttal to the hegemonic, imperialist stance taken by so many other readings of the Smith-Pocahontas relationship, which focus so little on the Native Americans.
The extra 20 minutes re-edited into this version may yield a product that is, ultimately, no better than the piece of perfection that topped many critics' best lists three years ago. But it's certainly no worse, and it provides further enrichment into the characters' lives in Jamestown, mostly on the blossoming and forbidden love between the two leads. But any way you look at it, there's never been a film like it. —John Thomason