In 2014, filmmaker Gabe Polsky made “Red Army,” about the Soviet Union’s famous hockey team. Viewers might assume that Polsky’s new documentary, “Red Penguins,” is a sequel to that funny and illuminating film, but they would be mistaken.
One or two “Red Army” characters pop up in cameos, but this is an entirely different — and much more improbable and wildly entertaining — story that chronicles a short-lived but jam-packed partnership between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Red Army that put a ragtag team of Americans squarely in the middle of the lawlessness, corruption and never-ending river of vodka that defined Russia in the early 1990s.
The scrappy protagonist of the story is Steven Warshaw, a promotional wunderkind who was selected to be Pittsburgh’s man in Moscow at the time.
With a shrewd eye for spectacle, Warshaw turned Moscow’s decrepit hockey arena into a showcase for American advertising, scantily clad women at intermission (and a few performing bears).
Of course, it’s all fun and games till someone gets hurt; with “Red Penguins,” Polsky does an adroit job of evoking both the hilarity and promise of the era and the deep-seated violence and gangsterism that made it so deadly for so many.
“Red Penguins” manages to be a thoroughly entertaining caper flick, concise geopolitical history and sobering cautionary tale all at once.
PG-13. Available on various streaming platforms, including jxjdc.org. Contains violence, bloody images, sexual material, nudity, some strong language and a drug reference. In English and Russian with subtitles. 80 minutes.
Adapted from Norwegian writer Per Petterson’s acclaimed 2003 novel, “Out Stealing Horses” stars Stellan Skarsgard as a 67-year-old widower looking back on his life from the threshold of the new millennium.
Opening in November 1999, the film centers on Skarsgard’s Trond Sander, jumping back and forth between that year and the summer of 1948, with short excursions to 1943 and 1956.
The film, while essentially a poem about memory, is nevertheless an eventful narrative, involving a shocking childhood shooting, Nazis and the Resistance, marital infidelity and parental separation.
The theme of twinning figures prominently, in literal twin brothers, the neighboring countries of Norway and Sweden, and two families — even the title has a double meaning. (It refers to both youthful equestrian joyriding and the code name for Resistance activities.)
Beautifully shot and acted with quiet restraint, “Out Stealing Horses” is most concerned with a dichotomy of another sort: the past and the present, and how one reconciles the two.
The timely documentary “A Thousand Cuts” tells the story of Maria Ressa, the Filipino American co-founder and editor of the news website Rappler, whose championing of press freedom in the Philippines led to her being named, along with other journalists, Time magazine’s 2018 Person of the Year. Set against the backdrop of Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte’s murderous war on drugs and persecution of those who report on it, the film plays out, at times, like a thriller. “Why should you care what goes on in the Philippines?” Ressa asks at one point, of her country’s sharp polarization — the result of Duterte constant harping on “fake news” and the weaponization of social media. She answers that herself later, comparing her country’s leader to ours: “They both use anger and fear to divide and conquer. They’ve created a politics of hate.” “A Thousand Cuts,” whose title refers to the potential death of democracy by tweet, can feel depressingly familiar, even hopeless at times. And yet it is also utterly urgent. Unrated. Available at theavalon.org, afisilver.afi.com and cinemaartstheatre.com. Contains strong language, bloody images and offensive social media posts. In English and Tagalog with subtitles. 110 minutes.
- Michael O’Sullivan
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The French professional soccer player Nicolas Anelka — now retired after a career that began at 17, playing for such teams as Arsenal, Manchester City and the French national team — looks back on his life and career in the documentary “Anelka: Misunderstood.” TV-14. Available on Netflix. In French with subtitles. 94 minutes.
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The romantic comedy “Berlin, Berlin: Lolle on the Run” is the feature sequel to a popular German TV series about the complicated love life of a young woman in Berlin (Felicitas Woll). TV-MA. Available on Netflix. In German with subtitles. 81 minutes.
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Three female college BFFs try to help one of them lose her virginity in the sex comedy “CRSHD.” IndieWire says, “The film’s sagging middle soon gives way to a zippy and very funny final act, which ties up big plot points while still hinting at more adventures to come for its charming trio.” Unrated. Available on various streaming platforms. 81 minutes.
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In “Made in Italy,” real-life father-and-son Liam Neeson and Micheál Richardson play estranged father and son who try to repair their relationship while fixing up a decrepit villa in Tuscany. The Irish Film Critic compares it to a “soothing blanket for those dreaming of escaping to the Repubblica Italiana for a few hours.” R. Available on various streaming platforms. Contains coarse language. 120 minutes.
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“Malibu Rescue: The Next Wave” is a feature sequel to the series “Malibu Rescue,” about aspiring junior lifeguards. TV-G. Available on Netflix. 70 minutes.
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Filmed in five locations entirely on Election Day 2016, the documentary “One Vote” attempts to capture the stories of diverse American voters. Unrated. Available on various streaming platforms, including iTunes, Amazon, Vudu, and Google Play. 78 minutes.
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The body of a young woman (Nicole Fancher) undergoes painful deterioration after an experiment with time travel goes awry in the horror film “Shifter.” Unrated. Available on various streaming platforms, including iTunes. 85 minutes.
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The documentary “The Stand: How One Gesture Shook the World” takes a look at the circumstances that led runners Tommie Smith and John Carlos to stand on the medal platform at the 1968 Olympics in silent protest, with heads bowed and fists raised, during “The Star Spangled Banner.” Unrated. Available on various streaming platforms. 69 minutes.
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“Star Light” is a supernatural horror film about the strange phenomena that occur after a skateboarder comes across a famous pop star who is on the run from her handlers. Unrated. Available on various streaming platforms. 89 minutes.
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The documentary “The Swamp” spotlights several Republican politicians in Washington, including Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla. TV-14. Available on HBO. 114 minutes.
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Mark Rylance, Johnny Depp and Robert Pattinson star in “Waiting for the Barbarians,” an adaptation of J.M. Coetzee’s allegorical 1980 novel set in an unidentified colonial outpost in the middle of the desert. The San Francisco Chronicle calls the film “deadly slow and uneventful, with brilliant scenes bursting to life, here and there, like roses in a wasteland.” Unrated. Available on various streaming platforms. 112 minutes.