Film Screening: Video Store Day screening of “Psychos In Love” with Gorman Bechard, Carmine Capobianco Sat., Oct. 21, 8 PM

Best Video Film & Cultural Center is pleased to present a International Independent Video Store Day screening of the 1986 cult classic horror comedy “Psychos In Love” on Saturday, Oct. 21, 2017, at 8 PM. Writer/director Gorman Bechard and lead actor and co-writer Carmine Capobianco will be on hand to discuss the film and take questions. Tickets are $10.

The movie was filmed in Waterbury and other locations in Connecticut. Bloody and hilarious, Gorman Bechard’s “Psychos In Love” is an absurd, home grown horror-comedy, which alternates between gratuitous killing scenes and self-aware parody of romantic comedies.

Bridgeport-based Vinegar Syndrome presents this lurid classic in a fresh 2k restoration from its 16mm original camera negative. Vinegar Syndrome specializes in the masterful restoration and distribution of cult, horror, and erotic films from the 1960s-90s.

Joe (Carmine Capobianco) runs a strip club and Kate (Debi Thibeault) is an attractive young manicurist. After bonding over their mutual dislike of grapes, they discover another commonality: both of them are bloodthirsty serial killers. As they begin to balance their obsession with murder and each other, they meet Herman (Frank Stewart), a cannibal who, upon discovering their bloodlust, attempts to lure them into killing as a means to satisfy his craving for human flesh!

From Brian Orndorf’s review on Blu-Ray.com:

1986’s “Psychos in Love” certainly has the external appearance of a horror extravaganza, with an eye-catching title and marketing materials that emphasize a ghoulish viewing experience to come. But the feature isn’t a nightmare machine, it merely wants to tell a plethora of corny jokes and showcase freshly chopped limbs. And if you happen to hate grapes, here’s a cinematic experience tailored directly to that phobia. Co-writer/director Gorman Bechard arranges a massacre with ‘Psychos in Love,’ but his heart belongs to comedy, pinching from the Marx Brothers and Monty Python as he sets up shop in Tromaville for this unexpectedly goofball take on “Annie Hall,” diluting the direct Woody Allen lifts with bloodshed and multiple maniacs. It’s a strange picture, but that’s the point.

“Psychos in Love” is a film obsessed with bad jokes. There are a lot of visceral things that happen in the movie, but Bechard always returns to his love of comedy, and not even the dark stuff, keeping the feature fairly silly for most of its run time. Sure, the effort opens with a montage of Joe’s daily habit, watching the creep chop and strangle his victims, and Kate eventually gets in on the action, displaying her abilities to murder doofy guys. But Bechard is more concerned with his tributes, setting up the tale as an ‘Annie Hall’-style riff on relationships, offering Joe and Kate interviews where they share their thoughts on the craziness of fate. Their meet cute is a mutual disdain for grapes, which part of the feature’s charm, going to extreme hatred of a fruit to help secure everlasting love, albeit warmth that’s challenged by daily cohabitational pressures and a dimming love for causing bodily harm. Their temporary replacement? The thrill of renting VHS tapes.

The AVC encoded image (1.33:1 aspect ratio) presentation is “Newly scanned and restored in 2K from the 16mm original camera negative.” It’s a BD upgrade for a crudely shot movie, but it works superbly, coming through with a bright, filmic handle on the feature’s limited visual needs. Clarity is strong during the viewing experience, delivering textures on skin and sets, and the picture’s appetite for violence is vivid, offering squishy gore zone visits that add to the gross-out factor. Colors are vibrant and secure, with more aggressive reds on blood balanced well with pink and blue costuming. Greenery is also appealing. Delineation is satisfactory. Source is in fine shape, lacking any major issues with damage.

Gorman Bechard, who lives in Hamden, is a director, screenwriter and novelist. Besides “Psychos In Love,” Bechard has directed other narrative films such as “Friends (With Benefits)” and a host of documentary films, including “A Dog Named Gucci,” “Color Me Obsessed” (about the rock band The Replacements), and “Every Everything” (about the late Husker Du drummer Grant Hart). In 2014, Bechard co-founded NHDocs: The New Haven Documentary Film Festival.

Carmine Capobianco’s film career began upon meeting Gorman Bechard and they raised money to shoot their first low-budget feature, “Disconnected” (1983). Shortly after making a video feature, Carmine and Gorman co-wrote the script and filmed “Psychos in Love” (1987). Charles Band, now of Full Moon Entertainment, purchased the rights and signed their film production company, Generic Films, to a four picture deal. They made two more before Charlie’s company went under and Generic Films disbanded: “Galactic Gigolo” (1987) and “Cemetery High” (1988). Carmine went off on his own and dabbled for the next few years with small parts working on or in One Life to Live, an MTV video, a Hallmark Hall of Fame TV movie, commercials (ESPN), award-winning host of his own cable show and some small independent films such as “Everything Moves Alone” (2001) and “The White Car.”

Don’t miss this rare opportunity to see a beautifully restored cult classic and glean insights into the making of a B-movie classic from two of the principals.

UPCOMING EVENTS (Music events start at 8 PM unless otherwise noted; screenings start at 7 PM unless otherwise noted):

• Wednesday, Oct. 18. ANNIE LISA: PSYCH-K

• Thursday, Oct. 19. AFRO-FUNK FUSION: THE LOST TRIBE

• Friday, Oct. 20, 7:30 PM. BLUEGRASS: MISSY RAINES & THE NEW HIP (GUITARTOWNCT PRODUCTIONS)

• Saturday, Oct. 21, 8 PM. VIDEO STORE DAY SCREENING OF “PSYCHOS IN LOVE” WITH WRITER/DIRECTOR GORMAN BECHARD & WRITER/LEAD ACTOR CARMINE CAPOBIANCO

• Monday, Oct. 23, 7:15 PM. FILM SCREENING: “THE VISITOR” (PART OF “WHITHER THOU GOEST—GREAT FILMS ON IMMIGRATION & REFUGEES” FILM SERIES)

• Wednesday, Oct. 25. NEW ORLEANS-STYLE FUNK: BAND OF DRUTHERS

• Thursday, Oct. 26. INDIE ROCK: SEAN HENRY, RYXNO

• Friday, Oct. 27. BRAZILIAN MUSIC: THE BOSSA NOVA PROJECT

• Saturday, Oct. 28. LIGHT UPON BLIGHT HALLOWEEN SHOW: “CARNIVAL OF SOULS” with LIVE IMPROVISED MUSICAL SCORE

• Monday, Oct. 30, 7:15 PM. FILM SCREENING: “A BETTER LIFE” (PART OF “WHITHER THOU GOEST—GREAT FILMS ON IMMIGRATION & REFUGEES” FILM SERIES)

• Wednesday, Nov. 1. OLD-TIMEY/BLUES: THE ZuZAZZ STRING ORKESTRA

• Thursday, Nov. 2. ROCK ‘N’ ROLL: JOE MILLER

• Friday, Nov. 3. AMERICANA: FYFE AND STONE

• Saturday, Nov. 4. SOLO MODERN PRIMITIVE GUITAR: SHAWN PERSINGER

• Sunday, Nov. 5, 2-5 PM. GUITARTOWNCT FREE SUNDAY AFTERNOON BLUEGRASS JAM

• Monday, Nov. 6, 7:15 PM. FILM SCREENING: “INTO THE ARMS OF STRANGERS” (PART OF “WHITHER THOU GOEST—GREAT FILMS ON IMMIGRATION & REFUGEES” FILM SERIES)

• Wednesday, Nov. 8, 7 PM. SECOND WEDNESDAY BEST VIDEO OPEN MIC

• Thursday, Nov. 9. GREAT AMERICAN SONGBOOK: RICH MORAN

• Friday, Nov. 10. MODERN ROCK: NALANI & SARINA, CHASER EIGHT NAKED (PRESENTED BY AIM PRODUCTIONS)

• Saturday, Nov. 11, 7-10 PM (at ORDINARY tavern in New Haven): ART OPENING: “CREEPSHOW”—A BENEFIT FOR BEST VIDEO FILM & CULTURAL CENTER with art by AUDREY NEFORES & NICK HURWITZ-GOODMAN

• Sunday, Nov. 12, 7 PM. FOLK: MINK, SOCK & LUTIE

• Monday, Nov. 13, 7:15 PM. FILM SCREENING: “WHAT’S COOKING” (PART OF “WHITHER THOU GOEST—GREAT FILMS ON IMMIGRATION & REFUGEES” FILM SERIES)

• Wednesday, Nov. 15, 7 PM. BLUEGRASS: TIM O’BRIEN

• Thursday, Nov. 16, 7 PM. BLUEGRASS: TIM O’BRIEN (SOLD OUT!)

• Friday, Nov. 17. ROCK: HAPPY ENDING

• Saturday, Nov. 18. BVFCC ANNIVERSARY GALA AT THE BALLROOM AT THE OUTER SPACE: 5 IN THE CHAMBER, OLIVE TIGER, NU HAVEN KAPELYE, THE TET OFFENSIVE

• Sunday, Nov. 19, 3 PM. JAZZ: TRIO 149

• Monday, Nov. 20, 7 PM. FILM SCREENING: “SON OF SAUL” (WITH TALK BY PROF. CHRISTOPHER SHARRETT)

• Thursday, Nov. 30. BLUEGRASS: EAST ROCK RAMBLERS

• Friday, Dec. 1. JAZZ: JEFF FULLER & TONY PURRONE

• Sunday, Dec. 3, 2-5 PM. GUITARTOWNCT FREE SUNDAY AFTERNOON BLUEGRASS JAM

• Thursday, Dec. 7.ART SONG/SINGER-SONGWRITERS: OLIVE TIGER (SOLO), AN HISTORIC

• Friday, Dec. 8. BLUEGRASS: TWISTED PINE (A GUITARTOWNCT CONCERT)

• Wednesday, Dec. 13, 7 PM. SECOND WEDNESDAY BEST VIDEO OPEN MIC

• Thursday, Dec. 14, 8 PM. JAZZ: PAUL SHANLEY

• Friday, Dec. 22. HOLIDAY ROCK ‘N’ ROLL SHOW: DUST HAT, BRONSON ROCK

• Friday, Jan. 12, 7:30 PM. BLUEGRASS: BEPPE GAMBETTA (A GUITARTOWNCT CONCERT)

• Friday, Feb. 9. BLUEGRASS: JOE WALSH & SWEET LOAM

• Friday, Mar. 16. BLUEGRASS: ZOE & CLOYD (A GUITARTOWNCT CONCERT)

 

Music, Poetry, Comedy, & More: Second Wednesday Open Mic Wed., Oct. 11, at 7 PM

Guest host Karen Ponzio. (Photo by Daniel Eugene)

Musicians! Comedians! Poets! Magicians! Spoken word artists!

By public demand, we have commenced a monthly Open Mic at Best Video Performance Space.

The (second) Second Wednesday Open Mic takes place Wednesday, Oct. 11, starting at 7 PM. Admission is a Suggested Donation of $3-5 to support BVFCC.

Poet Karen Ponzio — who writes for the New Haven Independent (read her article on our first open mic here) and has a show on Cygnus RADIO — will be the guest host for this show! Yay!

We put out a sign-up sheet for designated slots at 6:30 PM and performers can choose their slot on a first-come, first-serve basis.

Each slot is 10 minutes or two songs (whichever is shorter) with a 5-minute break between each performer. We have a total of 10 slots from 7-9:30 PM if people use their maximum time.

We will play it by ear after that with any “extra” performers getting time as available in order of signing the sheet. While 9:30 PM is the official cut-off time, we may at our discretion continue with performers up to 10 PM.

UPCOMING EVENTS (Music events start at 8 PM unless otherwise noted; screenings start at 7 PM unless otherwise noted):

• Saturday, Sept. 30. SINGER-SONGWRITER: JOHN GORKA (FERNANDO PINTO PRESENTS) SOLD OUT!

• Sunday, Oct. 1, 2-5 PM. GUITARTOWNCT FREE SUNDAY AFTERNOON BLUEGRASS JAM

• Friday, Oct. 6. INDIE ROCK/SINGER-SONGWRITER: THE SHELLYE VALAUSKAS EXPERIENCE; POWER POP: TEMPEST O’BRIEN (DEBUT!)

• Wednesday, Oct. 11, 7 PM. SECOND WEDNESDAY BEST VIDEO OPEN MIC

• Thursday, Oct. 12. INDIE ROCK: BONG WISH, DOUGIE POOLE, LEOR MILLER (PRESENTED BY TINY BOX BOOKING)

• Friday, Oct. 13. LITERARY READING—FLASH FICTION: TOM HAZUKA, APRIL BRADLEY, DOUG MATHEWSON, PAUL BECKMAN

• Saturday, Oct. 14. ROCK ‘N” ROLL COVERS: THE DENZ

• Sunday, Oct. 15. POWER POP: JON HARRISON & THE HARRISONICS

• Wednesday, Oct. 18. ANNIE LISA: PSYCH-K

• Thursday, Oct. 19. AFRO-FUNK FUSION: THE LOST TRIBE

• Friday, Oct. 20. BLUEGRASS: MISSY RAINES & THE NEW HIP (GUITARTOWNCT PRODUCTIONS)

• Saturday, Oct. 21, 7:30 PM. VIDEO STORE DAY SCREENING OF “PSYCHOS IN LOVE” WITH WRITER/DIRECTOR GORMAN BECHARD & WRITER/LEAD ACTOR CARMINE CAPOBIANCO

• Wednesday, Oct. 25. NEW ORLEANS-STYLE FUNK: BAND OF DRUTHERS

• Thursday, Oct. 26. INDIE ROCK: SEAN HENRY, RYXNO

• Friday, Oct. 27. BRAZILIAN MUSIC: THE BOSSA NOVA PROJECT

• Saturday, Oct. 28. LIGHT UPON BLIGHT HALLOWEEN SHOW: “CARNIVAL OF SOULS” with LIVE IMPROVISED MUSICAL SCORE

• Wednesday, Nov. 1. OLD-TIMEY/BLUES: THE ZuZAZZ STRING ORKESTRA

• Thursday, Nov. 2. ROCK ‘N’ ROLL: JOE MILLER

• Friday, Nov. 3. AMERICANA: FYFE AND STONE

• Saturday, Nov. 4. SOLO MODERN PRIMITIVE GUITAR: SHAWN PERSINGER

• Sunday, Nov. 5, 2-5 PM. GUITARTOWNCT FREE SUNDAY AFTERNOON BLUEGRASS JAM

• Wednesday, Nov. 8, 7 PM. SECOND WEDNESDAY BEST VIDEO OPEN MIC

• Thursday, Nov. 9. GREAT AMERICAN SONGBOOK: RICH MORAN

• Friday, Nov. 10. MODERN ROCK: NALANI & SARINA, CHASER EIGHT NAKED (PRESENTED BY AIM PRODUCTIONS)

• Sunday, Nov. 12, 7 PM. FOLK: MINK, SOCK & LUTIE

• Wednesday, Nov. 15, 7 PM. BLUEGRASS: TIM O’BRIEN

• Thursday, Nov. 16, 7 PM. BLUEGRASS: TIM O’BRIEN (SOLD OUT!)

• Friday, Nov. 17. ROCK: HAPPY ENDING

• Saturday, Nov. 18. BVFCC ANNIVERSARY GALA AT THE BALLROOM AT THE OUTER SPACE: 5 IN THE CHAMBER, OLIVE TIGER, NU HAVEN KAPELYE, THE TET OFFENSIVE

• Sunday, Nov. 19, 3 PM. JAZZ: TRIO 149

• Monday, Nov. 20, 7 PM. FILM SCREENING: “SON OF SAUL” (WITH TALK BY PROF. CHRISTOPHER SHARRETT)

• Thursday, Nov. 30. BLUEGRASS: EAST ROCK RAMBLERS

• Friday, Dec. 1. JAZZ: JEFF FULLER & TONY PURRONE

• Sunday, Dec. 3, 2-5 PM. GUITARTOWNCT FREE SUNDAY AFTERNOON BLUEGRASS JAM

• Thursday, Dec. 7.ART SONG/SINGER-SONGWRITERS: OLIVE TIGER (SOLO), AN HISTORIC

• Friday, Dec. 8. BLUEGRASS: TWISTED PINE (A GUITARTOWNCT CONCERT)

• Wednesday, Dec. 13, 7 PM. SECOND WEDNESDAY BEST VIDEO OPEN MIC

• Friday, Dec. 22. HOLIDAY ROCK ‘N’ ROLL SHOW: DUST HAT, BRONSON ROCK

• Friday, Jan. 12, 7:30 PM. BLUEGRASS: BEPPE GAMBETTA (A GUITARTOWNCT CONCERT)

• Friday, Feb. 9. BLUEGRASS: JOE WALSH & SWEET LOAM

• Friday, Mar. 16. BLUEGRASS: ZOE & CLOYD (A GUITARTOWNCT CONCERT)

 

Comedy: Open Mic hosted by Jake Nietopski on Wed., Sept. 9, at 8 PM

Jake Nietopski

Jake Nietopski

Standup comic Jake Nietopski hosts a comedy open mic at Best Video Performance space on Wednesday, Sept. 9. The show starts at 8 PM and the cover is $5.

Sign-up for the show starts at 6:30 PM and the show starts at 8 PM.

Jake Nietopski, who now lives in New Haven, has been a part of the comedy scene in Buffalo for 7 years.  He has performed at every open mic in Buffalo, and has participated in Rochester, Syracuse and Buffalo’s Funniest Person Contest. Jake has both co-produced and hosted a monthly comedy showcase held at Magruder’s Bar and Restaurant in Depew, NY called the Homewrecker Comedy Series. He has appeared as a part of the No Hack Comedy Series, Night at the Evening Star, and the Top Shelf Entertainment Comedy Showcase at The Wagon Wheel. He has opened for Chad Elsner and has been seen as a regular at Helium Comedy Club Buffalo. He was the creator of an annual campground show at Three Valley Campground in Holland, NY. Jake now lives in New Haven in a small apartment dominated by the women in his life: his girlfriend and two cats.

Microsoft Word - Open Mic Flyer.docx

UPCOMING EVENTS:

• Friday, Sept. 4. JAZZ: BADSLAX

• Wednesday, Sept. 9. COMEDY OPEN MIC WITH JAKE NIETOPSKI

• Thursday, Sept. 10. INDIE ROCK: LA TUNDA

• Friday, Sept. 11. SINGER-SONGWRITER: THE ANNE MARIE MENTA BAND

• Wednesday, Sept. 16. CARIBBEAN/FOLK: LUKE RODNEY

• Friday, Sept. 18. SINGER-SONGWRITER: DAPHNE LEE MARTIN, CHRIS KILEY

Wednesday, Sept. 23. INDIE ROCK: JELLYSHIRTS

• Wednesday, Sept. 30. SINGER-SONGWRITER: ANGELA EASTERLING

• Thursday, Oct. 1. TRIP HOP: THE FOREST ROOM, HIP-HOP: CHEF THE CHEF

• Friday, Oct. 2. ROCK: HENRY SIDLE

• Thursday, Oct. 8. SINGER-SONGWRITER: FRANK CRITELLI, BEN PARENT

• Friday, Oct. 9. JAZZ: THE JOVAN ALEXANDRE TRIO

• Wednesday, Oct. 14. INDIE ROCK: CHRISTOPHER MIR

• Friday, Oct. 15. SOLO GUITAR/CD RELEASE: GLENN ROTH

• Friday, Oct. 23. ALT-COUNTRY: TANNERSVILLE

• Thursday, Oct. 29. SYNTH POP/ROCK: MISSION ZERO

• Friday, Oct. 30. HALLOWEEN SILENT FILM SCREENING WITH LIVE SCORE: LIGHT UPON BLIGHT

• Friday, Nov. 6. RAGTIME/BLUES: THE RED HOTS

• Wednesday, Nov. 18. FILM SCREENING: THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE (1962)

Comedy: “Comedy Night with Rich Cyr & Friends” on Thurs., July 16, at 8 PM

Rich_Cyr_Web

Rich “The Claw” Cyr

Best Video Performance Space expands its programming parameters on Thursday, July 16, with the show “Comedy Night with Rich “The Claw” Cyr & Friends.” The show starts at  8 PM and the cover is $5.

Headliner Rich Cyr is a comedian currently residing in Connecticut. Rich first got his start in radio, and is now bringing his unique look at the world to the stage. Whether it is a story from his childhood, or an absurd observation, his sincerity, along with his genuine likability factor, allows him to make any subject funny. His hard work and dedication has paid off. He has performed at some of the biggest venues in  7 different states. He also has run 3 monthly showcases and numerous benefits, which have featured some of the funniest comedians from CT, NYC, MA, RI, and NH. Several have appeared on the television shows ‘Last Comic Standing’ and ‘Bored To Death’. His quick wit and self-deprecating humor will have you laughing from start to finish. Rich looks forward to making people laugh for many years to come.

Joanna Rapoza hosts the show. The other comics on the bill are Dave Sheehan, Matt Heath, Kevin Dolan, Mike Briskin, Rodney Norman and  Marcellino ‘Moose’ Hill.

UPCOMING EVENTS:

• Thursday, July 9. SINGER-SONGWRITER: CHRIS PETERS & BILL MILFORD

• Friday, July 10. INDIE SINGER-SONGWRITER: DEEPER SLEEPER, NATIVE SAGE

• Wednesday, July 15. JAZZ: THE ELLIGERS BROTHERS

• Thursday, July 16. STAND-UP COMEDY: RICH CYR & FRIENDS

• Friday, July 17. PIANO POP/PAINTING: POCKET VINYL

• Tuesday, July 21. ECLECTIC ACOUSTIC MUSIC: DR. CATERWAUL’S CADRE OF CLAIRVOYANT CLAPTRAPS with SPECIAL GUESTS

• Wednesday, July 22. ACOUSTIC ROCK: THE BIRDMEN (Former members of JAMES VELVET’S groups THE LONESOME SPARROWS & THE IVORY BILLS)

• Thursday, July 23. SINGER-SONGWRITERS: SHAUN BOWEN, KEVIN MF KING

• Friday, July 24. SINGER-SONGWRITERS: ANNE MARIE MENTA, SHELLYE VALAUSKAS

• Wednesday, July 29. CARIBBEAN/FOLK: THE LUKE RODNEY BAND

• Thursday, July 30. CABARET/CROONING/SPOKEN WORD: RICH MORAN & FRANZ DOUSKEY

• Friday, July 31. SINGER-SONGWRITER: SAMUEL BASS

• Thursday, Aug. 6. INDIE ROCK: ZOO FRONT

• Friday, Aug. 7. INDIE ROCK: MERCY CHOIR

• Wednesday, Aug. 12. ELECTRONIC IMPROVISATION: DAVID ELKIN-GINNETTI & DEREK PIOTR

• Thursday, Aug. 13. INDIE FOLK: KINDRED QUEER

• Wednesday, Aug. 19. FOLK: WALKINGWOOD MANDOLIN QUARTET

• Thursday, Aug. 20. INDIE ROCK: THE LYS GUILLORN BAND

• Friday, Aug. 21. BLUEGRASS: FIDDLE FOREVER

• Tuesday, Aug. 25. BLUEGRASS: STACY PHILLIPS & HIS BLUEGRASS CHARACTERS

• Friday, Aug. 28. FILM SCREENING: “HEAD” (CT-PRODUCED LIVE PUPPET HORROR FEATURE)

• Wednesday, Sept. 16. COMEDY OPEN MIC WITH DAN CARRANO & DAN RICE

• Tuesday, Sept. 29. SINGER-SONGWRITER: HANNAH FAIR

• Wednesday, Sept. 30. SINGER-SONGWRITER: ANGELA EASTERLING

• Thursday, Oct. 8. SINGER-SONGWRITER: FRANK CRITELLI

• Friday, Oct. 23. ALT-COUNTRY: TANNERSVILLE

 

Rob Harmon’s Picks 5/6/14

Rob_Harmon_image_for_picksRuggles of Red Gap (dir. Leo McCarey, 1935)

When it comes to older films—40 or 50 or more years old—there is increasingly a gap between those generations which will view a film in context, and those who will not. Most younger viewers will approach an older film skeptically at best and ask: what relevance does this have for me?

As an employee of Best Video I witness this generational gap all the time: Families come in together, movie after movie is proposed, and all manner of eye-rolling and groaning ensues.

I am going to make a bold statement here: old movies do matter, a lot, just as much, if not more, than new movies. When I was a boy my mother insisted that I watch movies with the adults and, once I stopped squirming in my seat and paying attention to what was going on, I was hooked. Aside from becoming a life-long passion for me, I am better for it: watching a wide array of films—old and new, foreign and domestic, silly and serious—has given me context and opened me up to other ways of seeing the world. No, old movies do matter, just as history and culture matter. (By the way, thanks Mom!)

As evidence I offer a comedic gem from 1935 directed by Leo McCarey, best remembered today for GOING MY WAY and AN AFFAIR TO REMEMBER. His career stretched over a number of decades, but it began inauspiciously enough, first as an amateur boxer, and then as a lawyer; yet these early false starts seemed to have made McCarey a more patient and sympathetic—even humane—observer of the foibles of life, a trait which would come to define his work over time. McCarey, a native of Los Angeles, got his first break as an assistant to Tod Browning before moving over to Hal Roach Studios in the 1920’s as a gag writer and director of numerous one- and two-reelers for Charley Chase, Mabel Normand, and Laurel and Hardy. As McCarey transitioned into feature film work in the 30’s and afterward his style forever bore the impression of this early apprenticeship in silent comedy, as he developed an improvisatory, almost off-the-cuff style, which, at times, made his narratives feel nearly “plot-less.” Yet, in paring down the action McCarey never lost sight of the center of his film-ic universe: people.  As noted by no less a director than Jean Renoir (THE RULES OF THE GAME, GRAND ILLUSION): “Leo McCarey understood people better than any other director in Hollywood.”

RUGGLES OF RED GAP is McCarey’s first great film, and certainly one of his best, a fish-out-of-water comedy about an English butler loose in the Old West, and a demonstration of surgical-like precision in the maintenance of warmhearted tone, yet without sacrificing character. The film opens in Paris “in the spring of 1908,” where proper English valet Ruggles (Charles Laughton) is offhandedly informed one morning by his employer, the Earl of Burnstead (Roland Young), that he was on a bit of a bender the night before, an evening which ended with a game of poker and a badly-played hand… and Ruggles himself was the stake!

Before Ruggles knows it he has found himself hitched—in a manner discomfortingly similar to slavery—to nouveau riche couple Egbert and Effie Floud (Charlie Ruggles and Mary Boland) of Red Gap, Washington: he a meek and hen-pecked frontier-type, with walrus moustache to match, and she an upwardly-ambitious society matron who covetously eyes their new English butler as the coup de grâce in her quest for upper-crust respectability. As Ruggles struggles to digest this nauseating bit of news—seemingly unable to do anything but stare dimwittedly into the distance—he is soon whisked off to North America, a land of Indian attacks and wide-open opportunity, where he is mistaken for a colonel in the British Army, feted by society, falls in love, and, finally, is forced to come to terms with his identity as a human being and a free man, and not as a mere servant.

The picture blithely oscillates between the tensions of the old world and the free-spiritedness of the new, between scenes of hilariously stuffy social functions, a free-ranging and charmingly egalitarian frontier party called a “beer bust,” and a moment of tender emotion wherein the dusty patrons of a saloon are treated to the finest recitation of the Gettysburg Address in the history of movies! It is essential viewing.

Among the excellent ensemble cast the stand-outs are: Zasu Pitts, who—aside from playing a very-Zasu Pitts-like character, all quavering voice and dithery hand motions—injects the film with heart as the simple and unpretentious lady-love of Ruggles, Mrs. Prunella Judson; Young, whose mumbling patter oozes the respectability of the well-bred English Brahmin, and whose discordant accompaniment to Leila Hyams on a cheap drum set is as belly-achingly hilarious and heartfelt a moment as there is in movies; Maude Eburne, who adds sauce to the picture as Boland’s bemused mother and frontier woman “Ma” Pettingill; and Boland and (Charlie) Ruggles, both Hollywood stalwarts, here delivering career-best performances, as, respectively, a preening wind-bag and a whooping, rootin’ tootin’ cowboy, who shoots from the hip but is all boy at heart.

Finally, Laughton, in a storied career, has never been better than here: his performance is a comedic high-wire balancing act, from his stuffily pinched façade and pitched-forward gait which makes it appear as though he is permanently tiptoeing downhill, to his scenes of gleeful intoxication, his early discomfort at the side of the Flouds and in America, and his enthusiastic instructions to Prunella on the manner of properly serving English tea. Throughout we see Ruggles, the butler, develop into Ruggles, the human being. Ruggles is a man who has known only dignity in service before he finally learns how to be indignant, whose adoptive homeland opens him up to new sensations and feelings, who learns that “when people think you are someone, you begin to think you are,” and whose awakening conscience finally prompts him to ask “Am I someone, or am I not?”

Hank’s (and Rob Harmon’s) recommendations 10/01/13

hank_paperHANK’S PICKS 10/01/13:

THIS IS THE END — In many of the massively popular films (PINEAPPLE EXPRESS, KNOCKED UP, SUPERBAD, 40-YEAR-OLD VIRGIN, 21 JUMP STREET, to name a few) of Seth Rogen, Jonah Hill, James Franco, Danny McBride and Craig Robinson, everything outside of their dope-imbibing, self-centered, immature lives can go to hell, and that’s exactly—literally—what happens in this funny parody of both horror films and the celebrity life style.

With the entire cast of young recently “made” actors (including Emily Watson and Rihanna) playing themselves at a huge party at James Franco’s architecturally overstated house, Rogan and Robinson take a walk down the block for cigarettes and suddenly witness the Apocalypse arrive.

Amid the ravaged, burning ruins of LA, the six friends wind up taking refuge in Franco’s house, rationing water and foie gras, fighting demons and, above all, testing their “off screen” sybaritic friendships among hilariously dire adversity. Even Mrs. Video, who doesn’t like horror films or lame comedies, found this film funny and entertaining.

Oddly, it reminded me of an otherwise totally dissimilar movie, THE TRIP, wherein Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon, also playing themselves in a supposedly true off-screen friendship, make a tour of Britain’s Lake District to review high end B & B food for The Observer. This very funny and picturesque movie (though not, perhaps, as picturesque as LA in ruins) winds up being, through a battle of competing comedic riffs and impersonations, a parody of the stand up comedic life style.

Is Reality TV now taking over the movie theater? If so, it’s better than anything on the small tube.

Rob_Harmon_image_for_picksROB HARMON’S PICKS 10/01/13

LE QUATTRO VOLTE (dir. Michelangelo Frammartino, 2010)

It is no secret that as American moviegoers we heavily rely on a film’s plot in deciding its overall worth. There are two sins which outweigh all others in regards to film: a plot which is confusing, contains holes, or does not add up, and one which meanders or does not seem to go anywhere quickly—one which is, in other words, boring.

Unfortunately, for many American moviegoers the latter charge of “boring” is usually the death knell of a film, allowing for the marginalization of much of what might be called art house fare, and meaning that our mainstream commercial cinema is increasingly fast-paced, trivial, specious, and muscular: seemingly amped-up on steroids and out-of-control. The cultural stigmatization of “boring” movies means that many never give a chance to films which test their patience and the poetic boundaries of the medium, dismissing them out of hand.  Boredom at the movies, in other words, is the pits—nay, it is downright un-American!—and most would avoid it like the plague.

Yet, there is a style and vein of modern cinema which requires a greater attention span on the part of the viewer. Just think of the films of Ozu, Antonioni, Tarkovsky, Bresson, Bergman, and Dreyer, or, more recently, Hou Hsiao-hsien, Abbas Kiarostami, Kelly Reichardt, Bella Tarr, and Claire Denis. Through long, lingering takes and a slow and steady editing pace, these films challenge the viewer in order to reveal something more about the human condition—either beautiful or ugly—and, perhaps ultimately, something of a spiritual or ephemeral nature. Though the “cinema of patience” appears too artsy and out-of-reach for many moviegoers there are handsome dividends to be found here, and arguably some of the greatest adventures in film. (Although I will equally argue the importance of genre filmmaking, as will become apparent as we get further into October and I begin to write more on a subject near and dear to my heart: the much-maligned horror film!)

(which translates to “The Four Times”) is a gauzy and poetic evocation of the cycles of death and life which permeate a remote mountain village in the Calabria region of Italy and its immediate environs. An old man, a goat herder (Giuseppe Fuda), makes his living off of the land. He becomes sick and then dies, but his death is far from the end of the film but a beginning, of sorts, as the camera continues to follow the streams of life, not just for human beings, but for all that is around us… even in the air we breathe and under our feet.

Frammartino has the kind of unerring and unflinching eye necessary to pull this kind of material off. The cinematography, editing, and sound design are all first-rate. The film’s greatest set piece is an 8-minute wonder of a shot wherein we witness the entropy and fall-out from the goat herder’s death: as a Passion Play—complete with Roman soldiers and a Cross-bearing Jesus—marches through the town’s streets the man’s loyal herding dog yaps at passersby, ultimately and unwittingly setting off a chain of events which results in the liberation of the bleating goat herd from their pen—free, at last, to roam the streets unmolested. This amazing shot patiently pans back-and-forth to document the action, its viewpoint both placid and remote as it observes these strange goings-on from a distance high above. A similar quietness permeates many other shots in the film, such as the erecting of an enormous tree in the town’s square for a festival, seen from an immense distance, with rooftops in the foreground and mountains in the back, as though to provide a proper scale for the significance (or insignificance) of human events in nature.

At 88 minutes the movie chugs along but never races to the finish, its ending as calm and effortless as its beginning and middle, and as satisfying.

SAMSARA (dir. Ron Fricke, 2011)

Samsara is the latest effort from director Ron Fricke and his writing collaborator and producer Mark Magidson, the team responsible for 1992’s hypnotic BARAKA, a rhythmically-edited exploration of patterns of life across the planet and a film positively suffused with the textures of Buddhist philosophy. Samsara follows in the stylistic footsteps of its predecessor but may be filled with even more of a sense of wonder and dread, more of the desire to gaze at the world around us and to be overwhelmed.

Though ostensibly a documentary of the National Geographic or IMAX variety Samsara has just as much in common with the avant-garde “urban symphonies” of the 1920’s, such as Walter Ruttmann’s BERLIN: SYMPHONY OF A GREAT CITY (1927) and Dziga Vertov’s MAN WITH A MOVIE CAMERA (1929)—silent pictures which were made at a heady moment in the development of the medium, when editing practices were being pushed to the extreme.

Editing rhythms are all-important in Samsara, with no scientific claptrap or voice-over by an overpaid Oscar-winning actor to hamper the flow, the camera merely set up in such a way as to record the action. Though “recording” here hardly does credit to the lush cinematography, by Fricke himself, which was done in 70mm before being transferred to digital, resulting in a remarkably crisp and clear image. The music by Michael Stearns, Lisa Gerrard, and Marcello De Francisci is appropriately somber and cyclical, helping to drive the action forward even as it forms a fitting counterpoint to the images on screen.

There is no linear story here, as one would traditionally define it, with images and sounds simply washing over the viewer, and themes and storylines slowly and methodically emerging from the well-edited-chaos. The subjects, as with Baraka, are varied and rich, and perhaps even more so than the earlier film: female Balinese dancers, the great pyramids at Giza, Buddhist temples in the Myanmar landscape, a firearms company and a prison in the Philippines, the Ninth Ward in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, a favela in São Paulo, a martial arts academy in China, Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, and numerous factories and cityscapes the world over, just to name a few.

Few films can claim to have the scope of life itself and really mean it; Samsara is one such movie. If its sights and sounds can occasionally create sensations of unease or dizziness in the viewer, at other times it can elicit feelings of a very human type: recognition. Samsara is like a mirror.

Hank’s Recommendations 05/21/13

hank_paperSTAND UP GUYS — Val (Al Pacino), having taken the fall for his other partners, is released after 28 years in prison and is met by his good friend and former crime compadre, Doc (Christopher Walken). Val has kept his partners’ complicity from the law, but Doc has a secret, with which he’s been struggling for 28 years, in store for Val.

In one—and possibly final—night, the two renew old memories and bonds, including with their mutual good friend and former partner Hirsch (Alan Arkin), whom they rescue from a nursing home. Together they face the night’s serendipitous opportunities and dangerous events while reminiscing and reacquainting themselves with old skills.

This is not a straight-ahead action thriller. If that’s what you’re looking for, skip this film and see IRON MAN 3, or much better yet, IRON MAN 1 or 2. There are spare but thrilling moments here of action and even a proficient and amusing car chase. But what counts in this otherwise very leisurely movie is the reminiscing and patter as Val and Doc see where the night is going to take them and where it’s going to take their friendship. The dialogue is the hook, along with the pleasures of seeing these three actors still at the top of their game. Yes, it’s a slow movie, like the three characters who have to take it slow—until circumstances plus their own whimsy demand they ratchet it up a notch or two. The “iron” here is friendship and fealty, exerting its own memorable impact in a film that takes its time about time running out.

P.S. As a longtime fan of Christopher Walken, whose performances have mostly been edgy and deviant ones, it’s good to seem him taking on straight, emotionally moving dramatic roles (as in the film above). If you haven’t seen his prior DVD release (also in Top Hits) I strongly recommend LATE QUARTET, a very New York-ish movie that also stars Philip Seymour Hoffman and Catherine Keener. It’s my favorite film this year.

Hank’s Recommendations 05/14/13

hank_paperROBOT & FRANK — This simple story that’s simply produced features Frank Langella as a long retired cat burglar who has twice served time and is now living alone on the cusp of dementia in a New York state suburban house. He is given a caretaking robot by his dutiful long-distance son, which he resentfully rejects out of hand, until he starts instructing the robot about burglary, enlisting his special abilities in a caper.

Despite a couple of holes in the plot and a lameness in a couple of the characters, this quietly cautionary tale offers a Ray Bradbury-ish sweetness as well as the simple eloquence of one of that author’s enduring and prescient themes: the supplanting of our contemporary life by a virtual world that seems more real than life itself.

Hank’s recommendations 03/12/13

hank_paperHITCHCOCK — Murder is so much fun in Hitchcock!

The only suspense in this thoroughly delightful, well-written and acted, film is how the aging Hitchcock, fresh off his success in NORTH BY NORTHWEST in 1959, seeks to prove he still has what it takes to be, well, Hitchcock. The vehicle he chooses to confirm his continued worth and, in fact, be fresh and current and different, is adapted from a then-current gruesome horror novel about the serial killer Ed Gein. The bestseller is called PSYCHO, displaying graphic subject matter that cause both his agent and longtime studio to avert their eyes from supporting it, forcing the Hitchcocks to mortgage their beloved Hollywood home in order to finance the film themselves. Talk about a scarily suspenseful adventure!

This movie has all the elements that make, not a perfect “Hitchcock film,” but a perfect film about Hitchcock and the making of Psycho: the advisory phantom of Ed Gein himself, backstabbing studio politics, Hitchcock’s eccentrically brilliant directorial craft, the famous shower scene, his trademark Hitchcock TV show, his infatuation with his blonde leading ladies, his less than earnest battle with corpulence, and, above all, his longstanding marriage to Alma Revel who was his confidante, advisor, editor and supporter in every film—right through Psycho—since their early days making British silent films together. The question of whether Hitchcock’s might finally acknowledge her irreplaceable role is another fine element of suspense.

The two actors—Anthony Hopkins and Helen Mirren—are expectantly excellent, especially Hopkins. One would think no one could convincingly portray the unique, inimitable Hitchcock, but you soon forget you’re watching anyone but the famous director himself.

All the dry wit and acerbic perceptions, the sense of fun and surprise you associate with Hitchcock are in this well-written movie.

The last three lines are the perfect capstone:

“You know, Alma, I will never be able to find a Hitchcock blonde as beautiful as you.”

“I’ve waited thirty years to hear you say that.”

“And that, my dear, is why they call me…the Master of Suspense.”

THE FLAT — A 98 year old grandmother dies in Tel Aviv. Her daughter, in her 70s, and her own older children and grandchildren go to clean out the apartment.

Among the old German furniture and bric-a-brac are discovered a huge and surprising cache of letters, photo albums and mementos harkening back to a pre-war Berlin where the grandmother and her traffic judge husband led a privileged life. Among the aging relics is a prominent Nazi newspaper from the late 30s whose banner headline announces the couple’s trip abroad to Palestine in the company of a high Nazi official.

The mother claims she never knew anything about that. Her parents never talked about their past life nor did she ever ask any questions. She herself lives only for the here and now. Her own apartment in Tel Aviv is neat as a pin: no clutter, everything in its place, not a thing that’s reminiscent of the past.

But the son evinces surprise and curiosity. The video he happens to be recording of the apartment cleaning becomes the movie we are watching as he decides to pursue that curiosity. What he discovers as he travels across Israel and to Germany to uncover his grandparents’ hitherto unrevealed life defies belief, leading to personal confrontations that will dispel complacency, reveal hard truths and alter lives on both continents.

This profound and haunting family mystery raises unfathomable questions and goes to places you couldn’t expect. It will have its intended effect if you don’t first read the spoilers on the back of the DVD cover.

Hank’s Recommendations 03/05/13

hank_paperMY WIFE SAID NO BUT STAYED WITH THE SHOW

THE INTOUCHABLES — In this based-on-a-true-story, a charming, self-taken ex-con from the projects is hired to take care of a charming  but strong-willed disabled French aristocrat. What seems to start out as a formulaic French movie about two people from different worlds coming together for some life-changing experiences soon broadens into a highly humorous story wherein all the characters’ captivating stories (UPSTAIRS DOWNSTAIRS anyone?) come to the fore. Moving beyond a film about a household task the film turns into an unpredictable adventure in the streets and countryside of Paris involving the upturning of preconceptions about life as well as class distinctions. As Mrs. Video proclaimed at the end: The Intouchables is unforgettable!

THE BAY — This is an eco-horror film that Barry Levinson (DINER, THE NATURAL, TIN MEN, GOOD MORNING, VIETNAM, RAIN MAN, BUGSY, SLEEPER, WAG THE DOG) directed with the producing help of the PARANORMAL ACTIVITY franchise producers. What’s “paranormal” here, however, is not ghosts but the environment, specifically that of the Chesapeake Bay in his beloved home state of Maryland, where Levinson grew up (see his affecting drama LIBERTY HEIGHTS) and many of his films are set,

Apart from CLOVERFIELD, CATFISH and THE LAST EXORCISM, I never did much care for that BLAIR WITCH PROJECTParanormal Activity sub-genre (which is almost always horror) where the entire film is seen through shaky, hand-held video or found footage of digital devices such as cell phones, security cameras and webcams. The style is supposed to make the film seem more real; to me the reality is simply low budget and not much else. But it’s a new world we’re in and nothing should be dismissed out of hand, though I do believe it takes a certain director (and writing!) to do this sub-genre well. Barry Levinson, it turns out, is that man.

The film is a montage of found footage put together by a then highly unseasoned young reporter who had reported on the events for a local TV station of the weekend in question three years ago. Conscience ridden, stealthy and now seasoned, she has decided to expose a three-year governmental cover up of a major environmental disaster that happened back then.

The ironic occasion of that earlier footage, honoring the independence and happy times of our nation, is a July 4th celebration in the quaint bayside town of Claridge: flags, parades, families, and a crab eating contest whose participants will soon all be throwing up.

Before you can say “lobster bib” an epidemic of blisters and boils and worse strikes many of the citizens. A woman wanders hysterically across suburban lawns, bleeding from every orifice. One witness’s initial response is to “run in to get my camera.” Talk about first responder.

Both horrifying and parodic, Levinson makes his faux found footage work with canny and clever camerawork, mounting suspense, and inadvertent humor interspersed with shocking images as overwhelmed local hospitals and the Center for Disease Control race to discover the source of this sudden and unprecedented epidemic.

These elements, along with good writing rather than the mostly silent footage of the Paranormal series, proves that Levinson does this sub-genre better than his producers have done with their own Paranormal series.

He doesn’t quite know how to bring it to a conclusion. But then, it’s still going on.