The Polka King

RATING: [C-|👎]

Netflix’s The Polka King is a look into the life of Jan Lewan (the Polka King), who is a Polish immigrant who tries to make it big in America. Lewan who is played by Jack Black, struggles and struggles in different endeavors throughout his life, but always having the dream of doing something big. He stumbles into an idea of promising people returns on their investment if they just invested in him. Unfortunately, he had no way to guarantee these promissory notes. He started racking up millions of dollars of funny money and when the FBI caught on his Polish empire came crashing down.

This movie does the same thing that Bernie (Richard Linklater) did in that it makes the audience feel for a criminal. Although not of the same caliber as Linklater’s film (TFW B+), this movie still achieves a fun-filled adventure for the whole family with plenty of life lessons. This is only Maya Forbes’ second film to direct; her first being Infinitely Polar Bear (which may be worth a look). I think she creates what she wants, and most of the “easy film go-ers” will be pleased with the result.

Unfortunately for The Film Wire, this falls short on too many levels to get into the Bs. The reader would find better luck at watching the documentary The Man Who Would Be Polka King, which is pretty good. We learn at the end of the documentary, Jan Lewan, since getting out of prison (where he learned to rap) in 2009 is trying to make a Polka comeback! He is doing concerts and staying away from the promissory notes, and plans to lead a trip in Sep. 2018 to Poland like he used to in the old days. The Film Wire may look into attending.

Below for your enjoyment, are Jack Black and Jan Lewan rapping.

Rating: C-


Here is what we’re excited to see this month

BLAME – January 5


Directorial debut* from a twenty-something year old actress Quinn Shephard involves jealous Goths causing high school drama and an English professor seemingly committed to being arrested for statutory rape. Premiering in the U.S. Narrative section of the 2017 Tribeca Film Festival, the project, according to Shephard, was inspired by a vision to “modernize [Arthur] Miller’s Salem Witch Trials-set drama.” While the films seems largely forgettable, with a few positive reviews from Top Critics at IndieWire (Michael Nordine), Hollywood Reporter (Jon Frosch), and LA Times (Noel Murray) — it may just be a debut that puts this young director on a promising path to be noticed for something truly good. To say nothing of Nadia Alexander who won the Best Actress prize at Tribeca.


* 81 Movies Directed by Women to Look Forward to in 2018. Read more at Film School Rejects:


Saturday Church

In another directorial debut (at Tribeca Film Festival), Damon Cardasis brings the story of 14-year-old Ulysses, a shy and effeminate boy, who finds himself coping with new responsibilities as “man of the house” after the death of his father. Variety’s Peter Debruge writes that Saturday Church blends Moonlight with La La Land to bring a narrative that’s sure to delight young LGBT-audiences. Hollywood Reporter’s David Rooney writes that “Cardasis threads introspective songs and dance interludes into a tender coming-of-age story of queer identity exploration.” With two impressive releases in 2017 (BPM and Call Me by Your Name) highlighting the LGBT-community, this film could showcase a break through performance from unknown actor (Luka Kain) that shines another light on issues of gender identity within the black community.


THE POST – January 12

The Post

Whatever one thinks of journalism, the importance of transparency for a well-informed citizenry cannot be overstated to the well-being of democracy. The Post may not be the next All The President’s Men and Network, or even Good Night & Good Luck, Shattered Glass, Absence of Malice, or Spotlight (to name a few), but it does have the potential to entertain and to inspire a young audience to actively seek out the information that makes up their world (my twitter @gortnacul_house is constantly providing this content) instead of obsessing every week on who Arie Luyendyk will send home or how their respective sports teams will do next week.

BUT, this will only happen if the writers of The Post make a film (Liz Hannah & Josh Singer [who also co-wrote Spotlight]) about investigative journalism and not a film about the self-importance of mainstream media. If the film can avoid media aggrandizing copulation, we may yet be changed for the better. If the film can avoid pandering to political aisles and focus on the process and the truth, we may yet learn a thing or two. If the film doesn’t use “Democracy Dies in Darkness,” I may yet sit through this one without vomiting.


VAZANTE – January 12


This Brazilian-Portuguese historical period drama released at the 67th Berlin International Film Festival from director Daniela Thomas’ solo debut tells the story of a young woman who faces physical and emotional unrest after marrying a slave trader in Brazil in the early 1800s. BFI’s Christina Newland writes how Vazante depicts the “tragic brutality of colonial-era Brazil’s chattel slavery in an elliptical epic, shot in potent black and white.” Between the perfect score (so far) on Rotten Tomato, the foreign language, and the black and white debut, the film will probably be a nightmare for most viewers.


THE POLKA KING – January 12

The Polka King

When you combine the likes of Jack Black with singing, you get some pretty great stuff. Add to that a Polish accent and Jason Schwartzman, well, hopefully that can make it even better. Even though this movie is only ringing in at 5.8 and 64% on IMDB and RT respectively, I am still excited to see it. Why you ask? Jan Lewan (Jack Blacks character he plays in the movie) is a real person who back in the 90s decided he was going to run a Ponzi scheme and start taking lots of money from a slew of people (long story short: he started issuing promissory notes to clients promising certain returns). When this started getting to the millions of dollars range, the FBI became alerted and started an investigations. He was soon arrested and sentenced to 5 years in prison (where he almost died because someone slit his throat). I have high hopes for this movie, but also the fear that those hopes will be dashed. -C.B.



Phantom Thread

Paul Thomas Anderson reunites with Daniel Day Lewis for what is said to be the latters final film as he heads into retirement having solidified his legacy as being (i think) the greatest actor of all time. The film, set in the 1950s, is based on renowned dressmaker Reynolds Woodcock and his sister Cyril, who dress members of the royal family, film stars, heiresses, socialites, debutantes, and dames with the distinctive style of The House of Woodcock. Reviews have been overwhelmingly positive (see, e.g., this, this, & this), but expect this film to suffer the fate of There Will Be Blood and be largely overlooked by the incompetence of The Academy Awards.


MOSAIC — January 22


Steven Soderbergh’s next brainchild is here, and it may be a bust. Soderbergh is trying to take a different spin on movies, where the viewer gets to pick different paths to the story. Mosaic is available now as an app, or will be available on January 22nd via HBO as a short series. When Vulture caught up with Steven and asked why he decided to make this story in this way he said,

“I guess because it fell somewhere between a movie–slash–TV show and a game. I’m not a gamer. I wanted a fixed universe. I didn’t want your choices to alter the characters’ decisions or paths. But I did want you to be able to choose whose perspective you were in at a designed ‘choice’ moment.”

The plot circles around a writer-type exentric character being murdered, and a “who dun it” ensues. It has received mixed reviews and it doesn’t seem like too many people like the app, so I will be waiting to see it on HBO. -C.B.


THE INSULT – January 26


Lebanese filmmaker Ziad Doueiri brings a courtroom drama triggered by a civilian dispute blown out of proportion between a Lebanese Christian and a Palestinian refugee. Back in September, Doueiri was released from detention in Beirut over his 2012 feature. In October, The Insult was dropped from Ramallah festival “after the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement and other activists launched a campaign against the showing, opposing the director’s previous work in Israel.” The Insult was shortlisted* by the Academy for an Oscar nomination (Best Foreign Film) after winning Best Actor (Kamel El Basha) at the 74th Venice Film Festival. With modern honor cultures and blasphemy laws, this film has a seeming and rare due process element embedded in its narrative.


* Short-listed films are: Chile’s ‘A Fantastic Woman,’ Germany’s ‘In the Fade,’ Hungary’s ‘On Body and Soul,’ Israel’s ‘Foxtrot,’ Lebanon’s ‘The Insult,‘ Russia’s ‘Loveless,‘ Senegal’s ‘Felicite,’ South Africa’s ‘The Wound’ and Sweden’s ‘The Square.’ NOTE: The entire Academy gets to vote on the final five.


Other things to keep an eye out for: Westworld Season 2, Paterno (by Barry Levinson starring Al Pacino), Sharp Objects (written by Gillian Flynn the mind of Gone Girl and starring Amy Adams).