Critics and public welcome 'Avalon' with open arms

October 08, 1990

AVALON," BARRY Levinson's valentine to Baltimore families and tradition, opened over the weekend, and Baltimore responded with sellout crowds at the Senator Theatre.

More than 6,500 tickets were sold over the weekend at the 50-year-old theater on York Road, where the film had a benefit showing a week ago.

Tom Kiefaber, owner of the Senator, said "Avalon" opened "on the level of an 'Indiana Jones' or a 'Hunt for Red October.' We have been very busy." "Avalon" chronicles the experiences of an immigrant family, the Krichinskys, in Baltimore. The film was written and directed by Levinson, who was born and raised here. His grandfather was Sam Krichinsky.

The film is playing in only six cities currently in what is called a "platform release." The movie will open throughout the country Oct. 19.

But not only Baltimore film-goers liked the movie. Critics at many of the major newspapers found much about the film to enjoy and to praise.

The Evening Sun's Lou Cedrone gave the movie the maximum four stars, saying that you can't help but like the film. Stephen Hunter, critic for The Sun, rated it three and a half stars.

Here's a sample of what other critics around the country thought:

From the New York Times:

"Avalon," which spans five decades and takes its title from a rosy vision of Sam's first Balti-more neighborhood, is Levinson's attempt to paint on a much broader canvas than that of "Diner" or "Tin Men," his two other gently nostalgic films set in Baltimore.

Nonetheless, he again works on an intimate scale. It results in a generous and touching film that is essentially smaller than its own sweeping ambitions, a crowded and skillfully drawn landscape from which no oversize figures emerge. Affection and memory are the forces that give "Avalon" its vibrancy, but they are also its limitations.

As is often the case with autobiographical fiction, some occurrences are assumed to have dramatic value simply because they occurred. So the Krichinsky story will chiefly speak to those who have family experiences akin to those that "Avalon" examines. To them, though, it will speak loud and clear.

Levinson's storytelling, which is heavily anecdotal, captures the wishful and changeable nature of family lore.

From USA Today:

Barry Levinson's wondrous "Avalon" is many things -- all of which will have even sequel loathers savoring it forever . . . It's a Jewish immigrant saga, one of the best. It's an ensemble acting exercise, one of the best. It's a marvelous production designer's re-creation of the early 1950s -- possibly the best. And it's an accurate portrayal of how TV and suburbia transformed the lifestyles of most U.S. families. On this last count, "Avalon" is definitely the best -- ever . . . "Rain Man" won Levinson an Oscar, but this is his quantum leap . . . Prediction: six to eight nominations.

From the Washington Post:

Barry Levinson's "Avalon" is a rich, graceful work of lulling sentiment. Sprung from Levinson's memories of his grandfather and the immigrant culture he knew as a child, it is a love story.

But in this case the love object is the past, and in the larger sense the American past as reflected in the eyes of the people who came here and encountered the country in its innocence as the realization of their dreams of freedom and enterprise.

"Avalon" is made with a master's confidence. Levinson . . . has never worked with anything like the assurance he shows here. Perhaps the transforming element is his ability to tap into his love for the material.

Levinson has always assembled strong ensembles for his Baltimore films, and "Avalon" is no exception.

From the Los Angeles Times:

(Levinson) has also put to use everything he has learned about film making since his "Diner" debut. "Avalon" is impressively scaled, with picture-perfect camera work, a soaring Randy Newman score, glittering period re-creations. It is a superbly well-turned out film, but something is missing from the presentation -- a respect, perhaps, for the audience's ability to be moved without coercion. There are some deeply felt passages in "Avalon," but to get to them you have to sort through bales of overblown sequences in which our responses are as built-in as they are in a Norman Rockwell painting.

There are pleasures in this approach. Sometimes it is a relief to sit through a movie that does all the work for you. . . .

. . . The Krichinsky saga, for all its built-in heartbreak, is deeply conventional; it offers up an America built upon a bedrock of patriotic sentiment. It's America as the hard-knocks Land of Opportunity, and Levinson pushes a musty, antiquated tone throughout. He singles out television and suburbia for the breakdown of the American family.

Despite the highly individual cast of characters, the film has an uncomfortably generic quality; Levinson seems so intent on making the Krichinskys representative of the Immigrant Experience that he neglects to particularize that experience. This is especially frustrating because, until now, virtually all of the Eastern European immigrant sagas have been specific to New York's Lower East Side.

For example, it's never even pointed up whether the Krichinskys are Jewish, although clearly they are meant to be.

From Knight-Ridder Newspapers:

Nostalgia remains boffo at the box office, but peering back wistfully doesn't always bring the intended goose bumps and tears. Sometimes, in fact, screen reminiscences are greeted with loud yawns, especially if you don't have anything memorable to remember.

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