Los Angeles Times

'Klezmer on Fish Street', 'The Mudge Boy', 'Off the Lip'

In Krakow, music can surprise

A revival of Jewish culture in Poland coinciding with a '90s tourism boom centered on the Holocaust has resulted in an odd phenomenon: a thriving Jewish life without Jewish lives at its center. Is this even possible?

That is the question at the heart of Yale Strom's documentary, "Klezmer on Fish Street."

There is no doubt that there is renewed interest in Jewish culture both from outside and from within Poland. Tourists stream into Krakow, staying in the Jewish quarter of Kazimiercz, and a typical day ends with an evening klezmer concert featuring the traditional Jewish folk music played by musicians who often are not Jews.

But does it matter that many of the people involved are not Jewish?

Strom uses klezmer to examine the resurgence, question its validity and determine whether the pulse extends to Polish Jews themselves. The filmmaker, also a scholar and author on Jewish culture, follows a klezmer band made up of young people from the U.S. on a goodwill tour, seeing Poland from their perspective.

Interviews with tourists, both Jewish and non-Jewish, as well as Polish Jews who have returned and some who never left, uncover mixed emotions about the renewal. There are those who feel that the people are the culture and the revival does nothing to change the fact the Jewish population in Poland remains very small. Others, in light of the horrors that nearly extinguished the culture in the first place, are happy to have the spirit upheld in any form.

Individual narratives are intercut with a fracas that develops between Jewish tourists and Jewish and non-Jewish Poles at a klezmer concert. The confrontation illustrates the underlying tensions involved, but the structure of going back and forth between the deeply personal accounts and the disturbance undermines the emotional power of Strom's story.

Still, there is a something positive about a Poland in which a middle-age psychologist reclaims her grandmother's house in Kazimiercz — after discovering at age 18 that her father was a Jew. The future also bodes well for a 10-year-old girl for whom the most difficult aspect of growing up Jewish in Poland today is not always knowing whether the meat is kosher.

"Klezmer on Fish Street." MPAA rating: Unrated. Running time: 1 hour, 25 minutes. Exclusively at Laemmle's Music Hall, 9036 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills, (310) 274-6869.

Bullies compound teen's troubles

An after-school special with a dark, dark heart, writer-director Michael Burke's "The Mudge Boy" is a deadly earnest drama tripped up by clumsy plotting and unintentional bursts of humor.

Emile Hirsch, an up-and-comer having already starred in "The Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys," "The Emperor's Club" and "The Girl Next Door," plays Duncan Mudge, a 14-year-old farm boy dealing with the recent death of his mother. Duncan's fixation with her — wearing her clothes, speaking in her voice and carrying around her favorite chicken — recalls Norman Bates, and not in a good way.

Unlike Norman, Duncan wouldn't hurt a flea. In fact, he's far more of a threat to himself than anyone else with his increasingly bizarre behavior proving to be a magnet for the sadistic bullies he seeks as friends.

Among the caricatured townies who harass Duncan, only Perry (Thomas Guiry) shows him any kindness. The two share an awkward friendship as Duncan searches for the love missing since he lost his mother.

Richard Jenkins is solid as Duncan's stoic, distant father, upon whom the film seems to place an unconscionable amount of blame for his son's torment.

Duncan is an odd little guy and Hirsch gives a sensitive performance, making it even harder to watch him suffer at the hands of such underwritten villains.

The film telegraphs so many of the terrible things to come it feels morbid to wait for them. The story continually tosses Duncan into obvious peril and it's always only a matter of time before bad things happen.

"The Mudge Boy." MPAA rating: R for strong sexual content including graphic dialogue, a rape and language. Running time: 1 hour, 33 minutes. Exclusively at Landmark's Nuart Theatre, 11272 Santa Monica Blvd., West Los Angeles, (310) 281-8223.

In search of waves and the Monk

Billed as "a kozmik surf adventure," the film "Off the Lip" is another example of the subgenre of dot-com movies that didn't quite make it to theaters before the bubble burst. That they continue to wash ashore at this late juncture only serves to emphasize the symbiotic connection that making movies has with other risk-intensive ventures.

The film bears a 2000 copyright date, and that lag time has allowed its leading lady, Marguerite Moreau, a chance to become a more familiar face with roles in "Queen of the Damned" and "Runaway Jury," as well as earn good notices at Sundance this year for her performance in the film "Easy."

In "Off the Lip," Moreau plays Kat, a recent college grad who lands a dream job as a reporter for a Web-based surf zine (at $3,000 a week no less). Her assignment: to find the mysterious, legendary surfer known only as the Monk.

Happy to be independent from her dad (David Rasche), but annoyed that her filmmaker boyfriend Brad (Mackenzie Astin) has tagged along with a two-man crew intent on documenting their love, Kat proceeds to Hawaii in search of her prey.

Director Robert Mickelson uses Kat's webcam, Brad's documentary footage and stuff shot by Kat's guide/surfer/cameraman Lenser (Mark Fite) to create a mock documentary hosted by the website's nerdy tech head Dave (Adam Scott). There's some technical dexterity in melding the various formats and capturing some impressive surf footage, but the shaggy dog nature of the story proves exhausting.

Despite Moreau's attractive enthusiasm in her pursuit of the Monk, the film's aim for some type of tubular metaphysical depth and its devotion to the holy order of big-wave surfing is a wipeout.

"Off the Lip." MPAA rating: R for language, some drug use and sexual content. Running time: 1 hour, 43 minutes. In limited release.

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