An Unpleasant Close-up – Documentary explores how a painting caused an international incident

'Portrait of Wally/Egon Schiele Seventh Art Releasing photo
‘Portrait of Wally/Egon Schiele
Seventh Art Releasing photo

Portrait of Wally” is less about the man who painted it — Viennese wunderkind Egon Schiele — than it is about the trail of the work’s owners. The fascinating tale is one of betrayal, ownership, and the clash between public cultural institutions and private collections.

Schiele’s sometimes graphic portraits — of mistresses, models and wives — embody the decadence of 1920s Vienna, with plenty of nudity. They embody a battle between voluptuousness and brittleness, indulgent in sexuality but keenly aware of the constantly dying frame carrying this flesh around. It’s the kind of progressive fun upended so easily by the evil of the Nazis.

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Notes from Underground – ‘No Place on Earth’ a surprising Holocaust doc

Magnolia Pictures photos
Magnolia Pictures photos

What a mother!” says one of the survivors in the Holocaust documentary “No Place on Earth.” Part of a two-family group that survived underground for a year and a half until the Russians defeated the Nazis, this mother, along with uncles and brothers, were extraordinarily resilient. Pure chance also plays its part, which is one of the still scary musings to take from the history of the Holocaust.

Moving at a swift 80 minutes, “No Place on Earth” begins in modern times with Chris Nicola, an amateur spelunker and New Yorker, traveling to the Ukraine to search for his Eastern Orthodox heritage and take in some of the world’s largest gypsum caves. Inside these deep, deep caves accessible through tiny crevices and crawl spaces he finds traces of human habitation from decades, but not centuries, past: pieces of metal, shoes, names written on walls. Nobody in these backwater villages wants to talk, but he soon hears rumors of the “Jews in the cave” from World War II.

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DRINK OF THE WEEK: Blush’s Barrel-Aged Manhattan


Roll out the barrel! We’ll have a barrel of fun! Or at least a barrel of bourbon!

Aging your own bourbon is all the rage these days, as we’ve seen at least three barrels in various locations around town. But as we were stopping by Blush Restaurant & Lounge, we got the scoop from them first.

Bar manager Chris Jow (pronounced “Joe,” but as he explained, the guy at Ellis Island all those generations ago couldn’t spell “Joh”) told us all about it. Their supplier buys the barrels, but you can also buy them on sites like The idea is to build a cocktail inside the barrel, let it sit for two weeks, then bottle the results, which are oaky and peculiar in a good, woody way. Trouble is, Blush can barely keep the stuff on the shelf. When we turned up, there was only about one glass left and we had it.

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Now that “The Artist” demonstrated that audiences could not only sit still for a silent movie, but could also entertain and win Oscars, getting another silent film funded, shot and distributed got that much easier. And by “that much,” I mean better than zero percent. Fortunately, the Spanish feature “Blancanieves” makes for a worthy addition to this sub-genre of retrofilm, in some ways a response to the death of celluloid and the dominance of the digital image. In several shots in Pablo Berger’s film, there was a hair in the gate, down in the left hand corner, a shocking reminder that this feature is indeed shot of the preferred medium of the 20th century.

The story, however, is straight out of the Brothers Grimm, as it is a Seville-based retelling of “Snow White,” with nods to Disney’s classic retelling. But it is also modern, feminist, and decidedly Spanish tale.

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‘Crash’ — with iPads – ‘Disconnect’ is much ado about texting

Henry Alex Rubin’s “Disconnect” opened this year’s Santa Barbara International Film Festival, a screening that seems so very far away from the film now returning to theaters. Admittedly, it was one of the better opening movies in the year of the fest, boasting recognizable names and a contemporary setting. And it was definitely a step up from “Darling Companion,” the previous year’s film about a couple searching for a dog. But outside the context of the evening, with the excitement hanging in the air like ozone over a beach, “Disconnect” is all a bit much of a muchness.

A woe-is-us worryfest about the evils of technology, Andrew Stern’s script gives us three stories and interweaves them later in the film. With its po-faced moralizing, it’s reminiscent of Paul Haggis’ drippy “Crash,” but with iPads, which itself was an attempt to reinvent Paul Thomas Anderson’s “Magnolia” (which took its inspiration from Robert Altman’s “Short Cuts”).

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Hitting the Road – ‘Becky’s New Car’ opens at SBCC’s Jurkowitz

 Leslie Gangl Howe, left, as Becky and Martin Bell as Walter Leslie Gangl Howe as Becky Bec Crop photos

Leslie Gangl Howe, left, as Becky and Martin Bell as Walter
Leslie Gangl Howe as Becky
Bec Crop photos

Actors break the fourth wall when they talk to the audience. But what is it called when a character not only talks, but invites audience members up on stage to help them pack a suitcase or pick out an outfit? Director Katie Laris calls it her new play at the Jurkowitz Theatre on the SBCC campus, a warm comedy called “Becky’s New Car”, which opens in previews this coming Wednesday.

Steven Dietz’s 2009 comedy borrows from the familiar mid-life crisis trope and presents it with a rare female perspective.

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Head to Head – Freud and Lewis face off in DIJO’s new production

Up until his death from jaw cancer, Sigmund Freud continued to see patients in his Hampstead, London home, having moved there from Vienna as the Nazis closed in. There is no reason to believe that he had ever heard of C.S. Lewis, author of the “Chronicles of Narnia” book series and atheist-turned-Christian convert, let alone invite him for a chat. But in the form of a what-if, Mark St. Germain’s “Freud’s Last Session” has these two influential writers and thinkers of the 20th century and chew the God-existing cud. Winner of the Off Broadway Alliance Award for best play in 2011, it has now be picked up and produced by DIJO Productions, and opens Saturday at Carpinteria’s Plaza Theater.

Behind the cigar and convincing beard stands actor Ed Giron, DIJO’s resident lead and go-to historical character actor. On the other side of the desk, playing C.S. Lewis, is Justin Stark. The actors haven’t sparred one-on-one since DIJO’s production of “Frost/Nixon,” and they’re loving it.

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Present and Accounted For – Marina Abramovic doc kicks off four film series at UCSB

Marina Abramovic Show ofForce photo
Marina Abramovic
Show ofForce photo

Lautner broke from the Frank Lloyd Wright school of architecture and created some of the 20th century’s most dramatic spaces: from L.A.’s Chemosphere to the Elrod House in Palm Springs. This doc follows his history and vision.

UCSB’s Art/Architecture series was such a hit last year that it has returned for another mini-season of documentaries. There’s a shorter timeline (this Sunday through May 19) and only four films but plenty to mull over this year. Full reviews will continue throughout the series.

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DRINK OF THE WEEK: Seven Bar & Kitchen’s My bee’s keeper

We here at Drink of the Week always get excited when a new bar opens in town, even when it replaces a place we loved. We can’t do anything about rent, landlords, business models or whatever. We can just sidle up to the bar. So when The Pub closed its doors last year, we were bummed. (The “OMG Salad” was truly OMG.)

But Seven Bar & Kitchen has taken its place, keeping the same layout, the same red brick walls and a similar vibe. But instead of the split between wine bar and gay bar, Seven is just … all bar. And Ben Agnini, who started his bartending career in Boulder, is dedicating his time to delivering classic cocktails with a twist … the twist being this: If you have a favorite cocktail, and the bartenders can make it, it goes into Seven’s Little Black Book. And from then on, everybody can try it, like the first entry, the Afternoon in Berlin, a spin on the Kir Royale, with elderflower, ruby red grapefruit, bitters, Hangar 1 Mandarin Blossom Vodka and sparkling wine. Make your own wine at home and experiment what it would be like.

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Same Room, Many Years – Circle Bar B kicks off season with ‘Return Engagements’

Mike Wondolowski photo
Mike Wondolowski photo

Actor Brian Harwell has gone from strength to strength, from bit parts in SBCC productions when he first started acting to comfortably playing leads at the Ensemble Theater and elsewhere. He’s even earned a few awards. But now he’s taking on his first big directing job, opening Circle Bar B’s new season with “Return Engagements,” a tale of three couples, which premieres tonight.

“Every once in a while the opportunity comes along to direct,” he says. “It’s good to see the other side of the equation. And when I come out of it I feel that I’ve re-armed my own acting chops.”

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