New Releases 4/7/15

Top Hits
A Most Violent Year (thriller, Oscar Isaac. Rotten Tomatoes: 90%. Metacritic: 79. A New York Times Critic’s Pick. From A.O. Scott’s Times review: “J.C. Chandor, the writer and director of this pulpy, meaty, altogether terrific new film, and Bradford Young, its supremely talented director of photography, succeed in giving this beat-up version of the city both historical credibility and expressive power. The light is harsh, the shadows are dense, and forces of chaos seem to gather just outside the frame, their presence signaled by Alex Ebert’s anxious musical score. In the course of ‘A Most Violent Year,’ there is an occasional gunshot, and some blood is shed, but the violence alluded to in the film’s title is largely a matter of mood rather than action — of whispers, not noise.” Read more…)

The Immigrant (period drama, Marion Cotillard. Rotten Tomatoes: 87%. Metacritic: 77. A New York Times Critic’s Pick. From A.O. Scott’s Times review: “In American popular culture, and in the private lore of millions of American families, the immigrant experience of the late-19th and early 20th centuries is often presented as a chronicle of struggle and triumph, a parable of dreams come true. In ‘The Immigrant,’ James Gray [who directed the film and wrote it with Richard Menello] tries to push through this rosy nostalgia and recapture some of the terror and strangeness of the journey from the Old World to the New. The first shot is of the Statue of Liberty shrouded in harbor mist, and the film unfolds in the gap between the promise that lady embodies and the harsh realities a newcomer encounters once she gets off the boat.” Read more…)

The Voices (comedy/crime, Ryan Reynolds. Rotten Tomatoes: 73%. Metacritic: 58. From A.O. Scott’s New York Times review: “Is Jerry, who works in the shipping department of a small-town bathtub factory and who is played by Ryan Reynolds, a quirky misfit or something more dangerous? This question hovers for a little while over ‘The Voices’ but resolves itself even before Jerry starts filling his refrigerator with severed heads of women.” Read more…)

New Blu-Ray
A Most Violent Year

New Documentaries
Happy Valley (Penn State scandal, college sports, child sex abuse. Rotten Tomatoes: 88%. Metacritic: 76. From A.O. Scott’s New York Times review: “From A.O. Scott’s New York Times review: “The people on screen in ‘Happy Valley,’ Amir Bar-Lev’s powerful new documentary, frequently describe Penn State football as a religion. This is almost not a metaphor. The film pays periodic visits to a large outdoor mural in State College, Pa., where Nittany Lion luminaries are depicted as if they were figures in an Italian Renaissance tableau of biblical luminaries. At one point, a halo is painted in over the head of Joe Paterno, the former Penn State head football coach who died in 2012, a few months after being fired from the position he had held for 46 seasons. Mr. Bar-Lev’s interview subjects sometimes describe Paterno as a god or a saint, and he is almost universally recalled as a beloved and benevolent patriarch.” Read more…)

Monk with a Camera: The Life and Journey of Nicholas Vreeland (spirituality, photography, art. Rotten Tomatoes: 82%. Metacritic: 56. From Ben Kenigsberg’s New York Times review: “Becoming a Buddhist monk and “renouncing worldly ways” apparently don’t preclude starring in a documentary about your life. In ‘Monk With a Camera: The Life and Journey of Nicholas Vreeland,’ the conceit is that the subject, known to his friends as Nicky, went from a lifestyle of privilege to one of asceticism and simplicity. Mr. Vreeland, a photographer who worked with Irving Penn and Richard Avedon and a grandson of the legendary fashion editor Diana Vreeland, is now an abbot at a monastery in India.” Read more…)

Rob Harmon’s Picks 4/7/15

Rob_photo_031715_Web“MEET ME AT BEST VIDEO”

Do you ever have an experience that should seem utterly familiar but, instead, suddenly feels foreign, sort of like déjà vu-in-reverse?

Recently I had to drive a good distance for an appointment and I was returning home. I was winding my way across the highways and roads of the state – you know, take interstate X to exit Y and merge onto rte. Z going south – and I felt my brain zoning out. It all seemed so routine, so commonplace, and yet…

My morning caffeine buzz quickly ebbing away, I began to see the twisting roads about me as the arteries and veins of some vast, unidentifiable body, while my car and the others whizzing around were the white and red blood cells, darting in and out, maybe pooling up here for a moment before gushing out over there. Looking at the highway entrance and exit ramps I imagined great muscles and tendons, the grass and trees were like skin and hair.

I was fascinated by the image of this humongous and complex, living, self-contained network, of which we all form only a tiny part, and I understood, albeit briefly, why some people contemptuously see our state simply as a highway connecting New York to Boston, or equate/confuse Connecticut with the Turnpike that bears its name. In short, I sensed for a moment how large the world actually is, with Connecticut merely a blip.

Eventually, I began to get closer to home and I read off the town names on signs as I got nearer: “Meriden, Wallingford, North Haven…” With this heightened perspective I was struck with how Hamden is just one town among many: to borrow my previous analogy, think of Hamden as just a single cell within this enormous body, with all of these blood cells rushing past it, day-in and day-out.

My point here is not to say that Hamden is insignificant — because it clearly is not — but to underline just how amazing it is that it contains one of the last and — aptly named — best video stores on the planet. Think back to the cells in the body and imagine that, at one time, each contained one or more specialized structures — a mitochondrion or a ribosome, say — but that now this specialized structure has been whittled away, dwindling down to only a few trace elements here and there. Think of all of the video stores that once dotted the face of the land, like little points of light seen from above at night, but now darkness has settled in as those lights go out, one by one.

Rob_Harmon_Open_letter_040715_pull_quoteSuch is the sad fate of the video store in our society, at least up ‘til this point. Once a mighty presence in the land, but now receded, practically to extinction. Blockbuster? Gone. Tommy K’s? Gone. Mom & Pop stores? (Almost all) gone.

Really, with all of the changes in media in recent years and the different entertainment “options” (if you can rightly call them that) available to the consumer, how would a blood cell — er, car — whizzing down the highway know that that little town over there contained a place like Best Video, a veritable Garden of Eden for movie-lovers, a place where everything from ALPHA DOG to THE OMEGA MAN is available to rent?

We should all marvel — we should all be deeply proud of what we have here — right here in our own backyard. I have worked at Best Video for almost five years and, surrounded by movies all day long, it can be easy to forget how good we have it sometimes. Owner Hank Paper has fought against the odds to keep the store open and gambled by adding the coffee shop and movie screenings. Managers Richard Brown and Hank Hoffman brought live music to our performance space. And – myself and my co-workers? – well, we put away the movies, we wait on customers, and we recommend films, day after day after day. We’re here in the snow, we’re here in the rain, we’re here in the morning and at night (within business hours, naturally!).

Best Video is a crossroads and a pillar in our community. If Hank opened the store in 1985 (30 years ago next month!) to be the best around, then we now have a new mandate: to simply be around. Our role in the neighborhood has changed and evolved over the years and we want to continue doing so, adding more music, film screenings, and other cultural events in the future. The Board of Best Video Film & Cultural Center, a new organization planning to take over — and save — the store, has a plan to reconfigure our business as a non-profit arts organization, which could, hypothetically, keep us around from here… to eternity. (Sorry, I couldn’t resist!)

The little guy — the underdog — rarely wins in real life, but in movies, as I’m sure you’ve noticed, they often do. With our fundraiser event coming up on Saturday, Apr. 25, at the Outer Space’s Ballroom here in Hamden, please consider what Best Video means to you.

We want to stay here and we want to keep turning the lights on. We should not take Best Video for granted. We should not forget to be amazed by it.

Think about it: a weary traveler — perhaps imagining the world as arteries, veins, and cells, perhaps just wanting to rent a movie — may be pulling off of the highway right now, may be making their way down Whitney Ave., past the Sleeping Giant, past the university, and… there… off in the distance… Best Video…

Yup, the lights are still on!

MEET ME IN ST. LOUIS (1944), final scene:

Mrs. Smith (marveling at the World’s Fair): There’s never been anything like it in the world.
Rose: We don’t have to come here on a train or stay in a hotel, its right here in our own hometown.
“Tootie”: Grandpa, they’ll never tear it down, will they?
Grandpa: Well, they better not!
Esther: I can’t believe it. Right here where we live – right here in St. Louis!