Desert Dancer

Relativity Media

Rated PG-13 for mature themes, violence and drug use

Dancer Pursues His Passion At Risk Of Persecution In Inspirational Iranian Drama

Afshin Ghaffarian (Reece Ritchie) had the great misfortune of being born in Iran in the wake of the Islamist coup d’etat of 1979 which meant he was reared under a repressive religious regime which banned all the arts, from painting to poetry to playing music. So, when little Afshin began to exhibit an insatiable interest in dance as a youngster, he was warned by his mother (Nazanin Boniadi) that the activity was banned in accordance with the dictates of the nation’s authoritarian Ayotollah.

Nevertheless, she enrolled her son in the Saba Arts Academy, a fledgling studio secretly operating in the shadows. Under the tutelage of Mr. Mehdi (Makram Khoury), Afshin exhibited early promise while enjoying the freedom to express himself creatively, at least until the fateful day the place was trashed by morality police enforcing of Sharia law.

Fast-forward a decade or so and we find the promising prodigy now attending the University of Teheran but still holding fast to the impractical pipe dream of becoming a professional dancer. Along with a few curious classmates, he forms an underground company which proceeds to practice regularly in an abandoned factory loft.

Elaheh (Freida Pinto) is the only member of the modern dance club with any formal training, having been surreptitiously schooled in technique and choreography by a mother who’d been a prima ballerina prior to the fall of the Shah. Against the ominous backdrop of the burgeoning, student-led Green Revolution of 2009, Elaheh gradually forges the motley crew into a concert-quality troupe.

But between the tense political climate and the official state sanction against public performances, it looks like the idea staging a concert for an audience is out of the question. Thus unfolds Desert Dancer, an uplifting, overcoming-the-odds drama, recounting the real-life dilemma of defiant Afshin Ghaffarian and his equally-rebellious comrades.

The movie marks the absolutely splendid directorial debut of Richard Raymond who has crafted a visually-engaging spectacular with a compelling plotline leading to satisfying resolution. The story seamlessly interweaves inspired dance sequences, organized resistance and a little old-fashioned romance while touching on a litany of themes like love, loyalty, friendship and betrayal.

A must-see biopic poignantly illustrating the indomitability of the human spirit, even in the most oppressive of circumstances.

 

Excellent (4 stars)

Running time: 98 minutes

 

The Hand That Feeds

Jubilee Films

Unrated

Undocumented Workers Strike For Minimum Wage In Inspirational Documentary

In spite of the existence of a law setting the minimum wage at $7.25 per hour, Manhattan’s Hot & Crusty (H&C) bakery only compensated its Latino staff members a measly $5 per hour. That’s because most were undocumented workers who risked deportation if discovered by the authorities.

The owners of H&C were well aware of their employees’ predicament, so they would routinely threaten to turn in any who dared complain about the ongoing exploitation. Besides being underpaid, the apprehensive immigrants were denied vacation and overtime pay by a sadistic boss who took delight in reminding them how worthless they were. Truth be told, however, their services were critical to the survival of the New York City restaurant in a very competitive industry dependent upon steady access to a source of cheap labor.

This became increasingly apparent to mild-mannered Mahoma Lopez, a short order cook working the counter at H&C. Eventually the soft-spoken chef got fed up with his predicament, especially with the lack of basic human dignity he was being afforded.

So, he decided to organize his similarly-situated colleagues, regardless of the risk of arrest. And with the assistance of an employment discrimination attorney as well as veteran activists from the Occupy Movement, they proceeded to picket the place and unionize.

Co-directed by Rachel Lears and Robin Blotnick, The Hand That Feeds is an inspirational documentary chronicling an intrepid band of working-class heroes’ demand that their rights be respected by greedy fat cats who’d rather close down the business than raise salaries to just the minimum wage.

So, guess what the disgruntled strikers did? Before they could be locked out, they defiantly occupied the store and ran it on their own until an equitable settlement could be reached. Ultimately, it reopened under new management willing to sign a fair contract with Mahoma and company.

How do you say Norma Rae in Spanish?

 

Excellent (4 stars)

In Spanish and English with subtitles

Running time: 88 minutes

 

 

Very Good (3 stars)

Running time: 91 minutes

 

 

OPENING THIS WEEK

Kam’s Kapsules:

For movies opening April 10, 2015

 

Beyond The Mask (PG for action, violence and mature themes) Faith-based historical drama about a former mercenary (Andrew Cheney) for the British East India Company who attempts to redeem himself by thwarting a plot against the American Revolution. With Alan Madlane as Ben Frankiln, and John Arden McClure as George Washington.

 

The Longest Ride (PG-13 for battle scenes, sports action, sexuality and partial nudity) Screen adaptation of the Nicholas Sparks best-seller about a star-crossed couple (Britt Robertson and Scott Eastwood) whose path serendipitously intersects with that of a geezer (Alan Alda) given to reminiscing while waiting to be rescued from a car wreck. With Oona Chaplin, Gloria Reuben and Lolita Davidovich.

 

Below Dreams (Unrated) Millennial Generation drama highlighting the frustrating job search of three 20-somethings, an ex-con (Jamaine Johnson), a single mom (Leanne Miller), and an unemployed college grad (Elliott Ehlers), who are all looking for work in an inhospitable economic climate. Featuring Rebecca Matalon.

 

Black Souls (Unrated) Mafia saga, set in Italy, about two brothers (Marco Leonardi and Peppino Mazzotta) who run the family’s international drug trade while another sibling (Fabrizio Ferracane) herds goats in their ancestral hometown nestled in the mountains along the Ionic seacoast. With Barbara Bobulova, Anna Ferruzzo and Giuseppe Fumo. (In Italian with subtitles)

 

Clouds Of Sils Maria (R for profanity and graphic nudity) Midlife-crisis drama about an actress (Juliette Binoche) who agrees to portray an older character in the revival of the play that made her famous decades earlier in the starring role. Ensemble cast includes Chloe Grace Moretz, Kristen Stewart and Lars Eidinger. (In English, French, German and Swiss German with subtitles)

 

Dior And I (Unrated) Behind-the-scenes documentary about Raf Simons, the new artistic director at the Christian Dior fashion house. Featuring appearances by Anna Wintour, Jennifer Lawrence, Sharon Stone and Marion Cotillard. (In English, French and Italian with subtitles)

 

Ex Machina (R for profanity, violence, sexual references and graphic nudity) Sci-fi thriller about a corporate computer geek (Domhnall Gleeson) who runs away with a fetching fembot after developing a romantic attachment to the gorgeous android (Alicia Vikander) slated to have her memory banks erased. With Oscar Isaac, Corey Johnson and Sonoya Mizuno.

 

Freetown (PG-13 for mature themes involving violence) Inspirational tale of survival recounting a half-dozen missionaries’ flight from Liberia to Sierra Leone to escape the bloody civil war raging in their homeland. Starring Henry Adofo, Alphonse Menyo and Michael Attram.

 

Kill Me Three Times (R for profanity, sexuality, nudity and graphic violence) Dark comedy revolving around an assassin-for-hire (Simon Pegg) who lands in a triangulated web of intrigue involving blackmail, murder and revenge after botching a hit on a wealthy man’s (Callan Mulvey) philandering wife (Alice Braga). Cast includes Luke Hemsworth, Teresa Palmer and Bryan Brown.

 

Living In The Age Of Airplanes (Unrated) Harrison Ford narrates this anthropological examination of how the miracle of flight has altered the evolution of human life on the planet.

 

Lost River (R for profanity, sexuality and disturbing violent images) Ryan Gosling makes his writing and directorial debut with this escapist fantasy revolving around a cash-strapped single mom (Christina Hendricks) who finds herself swept into a subterranean dark world. With Ben Mendelsohn, Saoirse Ronan and Eva Mendes.

 

The Reconstruction Of William Zero (Unrated) Sci-fi thriller about a geneticist suffering from amnesia (Conal Byrne) who makes a shocking discovery while trying to relearn who he is with the help of his identical twin brother. Support cast includes Amy Seimetz, Tim Haberger and Adam Fristoe.

 

The Sisterhood Of Night (PG-13 for mature themes, suicide, sexuality and prescription drug abuse) Screen adaptation of Steven Millhauser’s short story of the same name about a teenage girl (Kara Hayward) who becomes the subject of a modern-day version of a Salem witch trial after publicly complaining about her initiation into a sinister sorority. With Kal Penn, Georgie Henley, Willa Cutthrell-Tuttleman and Olivia DeJonge.

 

Song From The Forest (Unrated) Cross-cultural documentary about Louis Sarno, an American musicologist who moved to the Central African Republic in 1985, had a child with a Pygmy, and raised his son in the rainforest.

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