New Releases 12/31/13

Top Hits
Don Jon (drama/comedy/romance, Joseph Gordon-Levitt. Rotten Tomatoes: 81%. Metacritic: 66. From Manohla Dargis’ New York Times review: “Once upon a time Don Jon had the unhappy title Don Jon’s Addiction. That was in January at the Sundance Film Festival, where the movie had its premiere. But addiction, which conjures up drunks, druggies and roads to recovery taken 12 steps at a time, felt at odds with the skittering, upbeat cadences and feel of Don Jon, an often exuberant movie about a man hooked on pornography who can’t deal with the breathing, desiring women who end up in his bed. ” Read more…)

CBGB (music/drama, Alan Rickman. Rotten Tomatoes: 8%. Metacritic: 30. From A.O. Scott’s New York Times review: “Because of the cruel accidents of age and geography, I never set foot in CBGB during its 1970s punk heyday. So I can’t look at CBGB — Randall Miller’s sweet and nostalgic elegy to that defunct club and its owner and presiding spirit, Hillel Kristal, known to all, whether they actually knew him or not, as Hilly — and say, with the authority of experience, “It wasn’t like that.” I will leave it to others to point out the film’s lapses of chronology, taste and historical detail. But on the other hand, I would swear on a stack of Dead Boys T-shirts and a first pressing of Richard Hell and the Voidoids’ ‘Blank Generation’ that it could not possibly have been like that: so silly, so trivial, so boring.” Read more…)

Ain’t Them Bodies Saints (crime/drama, Casey Affleck. Rotten Tomatoes: 81%. Metacritic: 74. From A.O. Scott’s New York Times review: “The period setting of this moody, western-ish crime drama, written and directed by David Lowery, is a bit harder to place, though the shape of the cars and a briefly glimpsed television set suggest the late 1960s or early 1970s. Not that it matters much. We could just as easily be in the 1870s or the 1930s, since the themes of violence, honor and sacrifice are as unchanging as the big, cloud-swept sky. This is a landscape of archetypes, where individual stories take on a mythic, even metaphysical resonance.” Read more…)

Last Love (comedy/drama, Michael Caine. Rotten Tomatoes: 35%. Metacritic: 37. From Stephen Holden’s New York Times review: “Psychological verisimilitude: If that were all it took to make a powerful movie about family strife and impending mortality, the German filmmaker Sandra Nettelbeck’s Last Love would join Michael Haneke’s Amour on the short list of touching late-life dramas. But despite its scattered insights and moments when you think to yourself, ‘Yes, that’s it,’ Last Love has as many coy evasions and refuses to address its real subjects: decrepitude and depression. This dull, dawdling film, adapted from Françoise Dorner’s novel La Douceur Assassine, eventually succumbs to sentimentality.” Read more…)

New Foreign
Sister (France, drama, Léa Seydoux. Rotten Tomatoes: 95%. Metacritic: 81. From Manohla Dargis’ New York Times review: “The mountains loom so very large and the child looks so very small in Sister, a cool yet compassionate look at two people bound by love and shared struggles in a world of haves and have-nots. Directed by Ursula Meier, it turns on a 12-year-old, Simon [Kacey Mottet Klein, a heartbreaker], a cunning survivalist hustling to fill his belly and that of his lovely, troubled, perennially underemployed older sister, Louise [Léa Seydoux]. These are the world’s invisible, forgotten ones, slipping through the shadows and moving along the margins.” Read more…)

Either Way (Iceland, comedy, Hilmar Guojonsson)

New Releases 12/24/13

Top Hits
Insidious: Chapter 2 (horror, Rose Byrne. Rotten Tomatoes: 37%. Metacritic: 40. From Jeannette Catsoulis’ New York Times review: “A mess from start to finish — though, judging by the ending, this story won’t be over any time soon — Insidious: Chapter 2 is the kind of lazy, halfhearted product that gives scary movies a bad name. From its robotic acting to its generic props [enough already with the self-motivated children’s toys], this shoddy sequel, tacked together with the cynicism of a carnival barker, suggests that the director, James Wan, is long overdue for a vacation.” Read more…)

Europa Report (sci-fi, Christian Camargo. Rotten Tomatoes: 79%. Metacritic: 68. A New York Times Critic’s Pick. From Jeannette Catsoulis’ Times review: “Banishing showy effects and cheap scares, the Ecuadorean director Sebastián Cordero has meticulously shaped a number of sci-fi clichés — from the botched spacewalk to the communications breakdown — into a wondering contemplation of our place in the universe. Taking the high road throughout, he presents curious, idealistic explorers whose motives are as pure as the film’s compositions. [The production designer Eugenio Caballero and Enrique Chediak, the director of photography, are clearly a match made in heaven.]” Read more…)

New Blu-Ray
Insidious: Chapter 2

New Foreign
Caesar Must Die (Italy, drama, Salvatore Striano. Rotten Tomatoes: 91%. Metacritic: 77. From Manohla Dargis’ New York Times review: “It’s easy to imagine that the performers in Caesar Must Die, a riff on Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, are cut from coarser, more authentic material than that found in most productions. The movie, after all, is set in an Italian prison and cast almost entirely with real inmates. The prisoners’ rough faces and darting eyes, the crooked arc of one man’s nose and the unnervingly sly line of another’s smile, suggest so much [murder most foul, to borrow a line], as do the occasional shivery biographical asides, particularly about the mafia, that jostle alongside the play’s poetry. These men, surely, know about betrayal, vengeance and power, a knife in the gut and hands washed in blood.” Read more…)

Una Noche (Cuba, drama, Dariel Arrechaga. Rotten Tomatoes: 81%. Metacritic: 68. A New York Times Critic’s Pick. From Stephen Holden’s Times review: “The feature directorial debut of Lucy Mulloy, a New York documentarian, Una Noche surges with vitality so palpable that, for its duration, you feel as if you were living in the skins of characters often photographed in such extreme close-up that they seem to be breathing in your face. You feel the sun on their bodies and get goose bumps when they shiver from the cold.” Read more…)

New Documentaries
More Than Honey (bees, environment. Rotten Tomatoes: 100%. Metacritic: 70. From Stephen Holden’s New York Times review: “If bees were to disappear from the globe, mankind would have four years left to live. That assertion, attributed to Albert Einstein but perhaps apocryphal, is voiced in More Than Honey, a fascinating but rambling documentary about the decimation of the world’s bee population through the phenomenon known as colony collapse disorder. Directed and written by Markus Imhoof, a Swiss filmmaker, the movie is a tutorial on the biology and social behavior of bees and their exploitation in the age of industrial agriculture. Mr. Imhoof is descended from a long line of beekeepers whose cultivation of bees and harvesting of their honey are still carried out in more or less traditional ways. The film approvingly contrasts Mr. Imhoof’s family tradition with the techniques of modern agribusiness in which bee colonies are trucked from place to place to pollinate enormous orchards.” Read more…)

Rob Harmon’s Recommendations 12/17/13

Rob_Harmon_image_for_picksROB HARMON’S PICKS 12/17/13

A 110th Birthday Tribute to Yasujiro Ozu

“Life’s tragedy begins with the bond between parent and child.”
-Title card (a quote from Ryunosuke Akutagawa) at the opening of The Only Son (1936)

There was a time—long before his films were lauded internationally by critics and audiences alike, before movies like FLOATING WEEDS, LATE SPRING and TOKYO STORY regularly appeared on lists of the best ever made—when Yasujiro Ozu was virtually unheard of outside of his native Japan. The reason for his anonymity? Distributors, in the wake of massive international successes like RASHOMON, UGETSU and THE SEVEN SAMURAI, were afraid to promote his films because they felt that they were “too Japanese.” As a result we Yanks caught on to him very late, with his films not even being distributed here until right before his death in 1963.

Yasujiro Ozu was born on December 12th, 1903 (the same date as his death: he lived to exactly 60) in Tokyo and grew up both there and in the provincial city of Matsuzaka, where, with his father working far away in Tokyo for long periods, he apparently was a rather spoiled child. Ironically, the director who would later be dubbed “too Japanese” for export, was an avid viewer of foreign films in his teens and 20s and particularly the comedies of Ernst Lubitsch and Harold Lloyd. In fact, it is said that when Ozu interviewed for his first job at the nascent Shochiku Studios he claimed that he could remember having seen only three Japanese films in his entire life to that point! The 1920s were a moment of wild change in Japanese society and Shochiku turned out to be the perfect place for a Hollywood-o-phile like Ozu to land as it was a studio founded on progressive principles and committed mainly to the production of gendaigeki (or “stories of contemporary life,” as opposed to jidaigeki, or “period films”).

At Shochiku, Ozu first met Kogo Noda, the screenwriter with whom he would later collaborate on the majority of his films—and virtually all of the major ones—and who is ultimately almost as responsible for “the Ozu style” as Ozu himself. Like the “salaryman” character common to Japanese film, Ozu became a lifer at Shochiku Studios, getting his start as an assistant cameraman in 1923 (his job being purely physical: to lug the camera from place to place on the set, but affording the avid young film lover the opportunity to learn first-hand through observation) and working his way up quickly, reaching the director’s chair by 1927.

Ozu’s output during the silent period (in Japan talkies were much to slower to develop, not becoming common until the mid-1930s) is widely disparate, but mainly consists of heart-warming comedies and dramas about salarymen, families, and lazy college students. Even during this early period it is apparent that, while Ozu is certainly channeling his interests and affections for the cake of Hollywood cinema and light and nonsensical gags, he is also pursuing a purer structure for storytelling, developing a new and different syntax which is uniquely his own. By late silent masterworks like I WAS BORN BUT… (1932) and THE STORY OF FLOATING WEEDS (1934) the mature Ozu style is essentially in place, really needing only sound for its completion.

With his first talkie, the heartbreaking THE ONLY SON (1936), about the strong bond between a single mother and the son who cannot seem to live up to her expectations, Ozu finally settled upon the “home-drama” genre, or story of family life, which he would make virtually his own over the next thirty years. He, like many other directors, continued production in the teeth of the war, making for example the beloved drama THERE WAS A FATHER (1942) about a schoolteacher and widower (Ozu regular Chishu Ryu) and his selfless commitment to his son’s future throughout the years, as well as the son’s efforts to live up to his father’s memory after his death.

Immediately after the war Ozu made a pair of searing dramas about the harshness of family life in the rubble of Japan’s cities before he made Late Spring (1949), the story of a father (Ryu) and daughter (Setsuko Hara, another Ozu regular) who are so inseparable that she refuses to marry. Eventually, the father must a fake an engagement of his own in order to force her hand. The final scene, where the father arrives home to a quiet, empty house after the wedding ceremony, is possibly one of the most heartbreaking in the history of movies.

With Late Spring Ozu really began to hit his stride and continued apace with EARLY SUMMER (1951) and then Tokyo Story (1953, a loose reworking of Leo McCarey’s marvelous 1937 tearjerker MAKE WAY FOR TOMORROW), about an elderly man and a woman (Ryu, Chieko Higashiyama) who head off to the big city to visit their grown children and grandchildren but instead of welcome find themselves being shunted from one household to the next. Ironically, the only real warmth that they experience seems to come from Noriko (Hara), the widow of their son who died during the war, and who would seem to have the least connection to them of anyone. The film moves steadily and resolutely towards its beautiful, devastating conclusion with the scene towards the end where Noriko breaks down at the receipt of an unexpected gift nothing short of heartrending. From there Ozu continued on with EARLY SPRING (1956), TOKYO TWILIGHT (1957), EQUINOX FLOWER (1958), GOOD MORNING (1959, a remake of I Was Born But… wherein a couple of spoiled, rascally boys stop speaking when their parents refuse to buy them a TV!), Floating Weeds (also 1959, a sensational remake of his The Story of Floating Weeds), LATE AUTUMN (1960), THE END OF SUMMER (1961), and AN AUTUMN AFTERNOON (1962).

Much has been written about Ozu’s style: the static, non-moving camera set-ups just above the floor, as though from the point-of-view of someone seated in traditional Japanese style on tatami mats on the floor; his famous “ellipses” or edited sequences of smokestacks, rooftops, hanging laundry luffing in the breeze, trains moving in the distance and train platforms, children walking to school, etc. which open and close films and provide moments of contemplation between scenes of dialogue and action; and the seeming influence of Zen Buddhism on this perhaps the most ritualistic of all filmmakers, who found meaning (and perhaps bliss) in repetition, who seemingly remade the same kind of movie over and over again until his death. I will not add much here but to say that Ozu’s body of work is a treasure that should not be overlooked. If you have never before delved into the work of this master perhaps now is the time.

New Releases 12/17/13

Top Hits
Elysium (sci-fi action, Matt Damon. Rotten Tomatoes: 69%. Metacritic: 61. From Manohla Dargis’ New York Times review: “Not since Charlton Heston struggled to save humanity from itself have movies looked this grimly, resolutely fatalistic. The man who was Moses began fighting the fantasy good fight in 1968, battling damn dirty apes in Planet of the Apes, before going on to face zombie hordes in Omega Man and an overpopulated nightmare in Soylent Green. [Psst: It’s people!] Heston may be gone, but the zombie hordes have kept coming, along with other new and unusual annihilating threats, and now it’s back to the dystopian future with Elysium, a cautionary shocker from the director Neill Blomkamp about a Hobbesian war of all against all from which only Matt Damon can save us.” Read more…)

Kick-Ass 2 (comic book action, Aaron Taylor-Johnson. Rotten Tomatoes: 29%. Metacritic: 41. From Manohla Dargis’ New York Times review: “There isn’t anything good to say about Kick-Ass 2, the even more witless, mirthless follow-up to Kick-Ass. Like the first movie, this one involves nerds who dress up as superheroes to fight crime. This setup once could have been read as an allegory for the tribulations endured by the presumptive audience for the comic-book series from which the movies sprang.” Read more…)

Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters (fantasy, Logan Lerman. Rotten Tomatoes: 39%. Metacritic: 39. From Andy Webster’s New York Times review: “Regrettably absent here is Catherine Keener [as Percy’s mother], though Nathan Fillion [another ‘Buffy’ alum], as Hermes, has amusing moments. Sea of Monsters is diverting enough — the director, Thor Freudenthal [Diary of a Wimpy Kid], is savvy with effects and keeps his young cast on point — but it doesn’t begin to approach the biting adolescent tension of the Harry Potter movies.” Read more…)

The Lone Ranger (Disney western, Johnny Depp. Rotten Tomatoes: 31%. Metacritic: 37. From A.O. Scott’s New York Times review: “Someone in the Disney-Jerry Bruckheimer corporate suites has decided that today’s kids need their own version of the white-hat western hero with his laconic Indian sidekick, and so now we have The Lone Ranger, a very long, very busy movie that will unite the generations in bafflement, stupefaction and occasional delight. Directed by Gore Verbinski from a script credited to Justin Haythe, Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio, the movie tries to do for the post-Civil-War frontier what the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise did for the high seas in the Age of Sail, turning history [including the history of movies] into a hyperactive, multipurpose amusement machine.” Read more…)

The Family (action comedy, Robert De Niro. Rotten Tomatoes: 29%. Metacritic: 44. From Stephen Holden’s New York Times review: “The style of the movie — directed by [Luc] Besson from a screenplay he wrote with Michael Caleo and adapted from Tonino Benacquista’s novel, Malavita — might be described as screwball noir. If there aren’t a lot of belly laughs, The Family stirs up an appalled amusement at its gleeful amorality.” Read more…)

Angels Sing (holiday drama, Harry Connick Jr. Rotten Tomatoes: 20%. Metacritic: 41. From Neil Genzlinger’s New York Times review: “Angels Sing is a music video disguised as a holiday movie, populated by musicians disguised as actors. It’s as thinly written and unoriginal as made-for-television seasonal filler, and why it isn’t on the Hallmark Channel or Lifetime is a mystery, but fans of the singers in it might get a kick out of seeing them.” Read more…)

Drinking Buddies (rom-com, Anna Kendrick. Rotten Tomatoes: 82%. Metacritic: 71. A New York Times Critic’s Pick. From A.O. Scott’s Times review: “In a different kind of movie — or rather, in the same old kind of movie the Hollywood studios have been churning out, usually in February, for the past decade or so — the Michigan high jinks would commence a crescendo of complications leading to a predictable happy ending. But Drinking Buddies, Joe Swanberg’s nimble, knowing and altogether excellent new film, refuses to dance to the usual tune. Drinking Buddies is funny and sweet enough to qualify as a romantic comedy, except that the phrase implies a structure as well as an attitude. The genre depends on tidy mathematics, a calculus of desire that produces the same result every time. Mr. Swanberg, a prolific investigator of the makeshift mores of the young, prefers a kind of fractal geometry, leaving room for contingency, confusion and randomness in his search for emotional and behavioral truth.” Read more…)

Prisoners (thriller, Jake Gyllenhaal. Rotten Tomatoes: 81%. Metacritic: 74. From A.O. Scott’s New York Times review: “But if Prisoners, written by Aaron Guzikowski, upholds some of the conventions of the angry-dad revenge drama, it also subverts them in surprising, at times devastating ways. The easy catharsis of righteous payback is complicated at every turn, and pain and uncertainty spread like spilled oil on an asphalt road.” Read more…)

Sightseers (comedy, Alice Lowe. Rotten Tomatoes: 85%. Metacritic: 69. From Manohla Dargis’ New York Times review: “Nasty, brutish and mercifully short, the woozy comedy Sightseers tells the tale of two ordinary British eccentrics who initially bring to mind the gargoyles, both amusing and alarming, that populate Mike Leigh movies. A droopy, passive-aggressive frowner, Tina [Alice Lowe], lives with her hectoring mother, Carol [Eileen Davies], in a house crammed with kitsch and collectibles, many dog-themed and portraying a beloved, recently deceased terrier. It’s the kind of domestic horror show that certain British filmmakers either mock or sentimentalize, and which the British director Ben Wheatley [Down Terrace] takes to with a very heavy, very unforgiving ax.” Read more…)

Man of Tai Chi (martial arts action, Keanu Reeves. Rotten Tomatoes: 71%. Metacritic: 53.)
Night Train to Lisbon (thriller, Jeremy Irons. Rotten Tomatoes: 33%. Metacritic: 30.)
The Secret Village (horror/thriller, Jonathan Bennett)

New Blu-Ray
The Lone Ranger
Elysium
Kick-Ass 2
Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters
The Family
Prisoners

New Foreign
Chicken with Plums (France, comedy/drama, Mathieu Amalric. Rotten Tomatoes: 73%. Metacritic: 70. From A.O. Scott’s New York Times review: “Graphic novels, at their best, do whatever they want; movies, all too often, do what they think they are supposed to do. No artist is freer than one with a good story and a sufficient supply of paper and ink, and the graphic-novel form, as it has evolved over the last two decades — to encompass memoir, history and eyewitness journalism — is bracingly unconstrained by visual or narrative convention. It is not surprising that some of the most interesting films in recent years have tried to capture that freedom. Persepolis, Marjane Satrapi and Vincent Paronnaud’s brilliant 2007 adaptation of Ms. Satrapi’s two-volume autobiographical work, certainly fits into that category. And so does their new movie, Chicken With Plums, based on Ms. Satrapi’s book of the same title.” Read more…)

New Television
Shameless: Season 3
Justified: Season 4

New Documentaries
Red Obsession (wine market, economics, Russell Crowe. Rotten Tomatoes: 95%. Metacritic: 68. From Nicole Herrington’s New York Times review: “With the fierce purchasing power of its elite class, China has become the biggest importer of wines from the Bordeaux region of France. The tension generated by these new kids on the clubby French wine scene — who were driving up prices and clearing out cellars just a few years ago — is the subject of Warwick Ross and David Roach’s fast-paced, ripped-from-the-headlines documentary, Red Obsession.” Read more…)

Music: Stark Raving Lulu on Thurs., Dec. 19, at 8 PM

Stark_Raving_Lulu_WebStark Raving Lulu play the Best Video Performance Space on Thursday, Dec. 19. The cover is $5 and the music starts at 8 PM.

What do you get when you combine The Shangri-Las (“Leader of the Pack,” “Give Him a Great Big Kiss”) with The Ramones? One answer might be Stark Raving Lulu. Based in Central Connecticut, the group’s “Welcome to the Fun-O-Sphere!” CD is available through iTunes and CD Baby.  On Facebook, the “grrrl rockers” list their influences as “punk, 60’s, garage rock, girl groups, rock and roll, PBR and Skinny Girl Margaritas” and their interests as “nonsense and shenanigans.” Band members are LaLa Lulu (vocals), Bella Lulu (guitar), LowEnd Lulu (bass) and BoomBoom Lulu (drums).

Check out Stark Raving Lulu playing their song “All Hail to the Sucker Queen”:

UPCOMING PERFORMANCE SPACE  EVENTS:

• Thursday, Dec. 12. JAZZ: DAVID CHEVAN

• Wednesday, Dec. 18. JAZZ: THE KITCHEN SINK with NICK Di MARIA

• Thursday, Dec. 19. PUNK ROCK: STARK RAVING LULU

• Thursday, Jan. 2. SINGER/SONGWRITER: KEVIN MF KING (Just announced!)

• Thursday, Jan. 9. SINGER-SONGWRITER: SOLIN

• Thursday, Jan. 23. SINGER-SONGWRITER: ILANA ZSIGMOND

• Thursday, Feb. 6. ROCK: THE DRESS-UPS (Just announced!)

• Thursday, Feb. 20. BLUEGRASS: 5 IN THE CHAMBER

• Wednesday, Apr. 2. CLASSICAL: HAVEN STRING QUARTET (Just announced!)

Music: Nick Di Maria, Kitchen Sink to play “electric era” Miles Davis jazz Wed., Dec. 18, at 8 PM

Nick_Di_Maria_BV_081413_WebThe Kitchen Sink, led by trumpeter Nick Di Maria, play the Best Video Performance Space on Wed., Dec. 18. The music starts at 8 PM and the cover is $5.

Nick Di Maria has been performing his original music for the last 6 years all over the northeast. His music can be described as electro-acoustic, combining acoustic swing with modern back beats and moods. After the release of his 3rd album, Di Maria wanted to create a side project that played the music of jazz’s subculture. The result was adding an extra keyboardist and reed player to his normal quartet, “everything but the kitchen sink.”

The Kitchen Sink is comprised of some of the hardest working jazz musicians in Connecticut. Under the direction of Trumpeter Nick Di Maria, The Kitchen Sink plays the music of electric era jazz such as Miles Davis’s “Bitches Brew” and Herbie Hancock’s “Mwandishi” and “Head Hunters” albums. The band creates sublime grooves and improvisations over a full stereo effect with the use of two keyboardists, joined by the unusual frontline of bass clarinet and trumpet.

UPCOMING EVENTS:

• Wednesday, Dec. 11. WORLD MUSIC/FOLK: DR. CATERWAUL’S CADRE OF CLAIRVOYANT CLAPTRAPS

• Thursday, Dec. 12. JAZZ: DAVID CHEVAN

• Wednesday, Dec. 18. JAZZ: THE KITCHEN SINK with NICK Di MARIA

• Thursday, Dec. 19. PUNK ROCK: STARK RAVING LULU

• Thursday, Jan. 9. SINGER-SONGWRITER: SOLIN

• Thursday, Jan. 23. SINGER-SONGWRITER: ILANA ZSIGMOND

• Thursday, Feb. 20. BLUEGRASS: 5 IN THE CHAMBER

Hank (and Rob Harmon’s) recommendations 12/3/13

hank_paperHANK’S PICKS 12/3/13

WHAT I LIKED LATELY

For those of you who can’t wait for the next installment of DOWNTON ABBEY, there’s HBO’s PARADE’S END, an adaptation of Ford Madox Ford’s pre-and-post World War I trilogy of novels. This 5-part series, absorbingly written by Tom Stoppard, focuses on a principled aristocrat who feels honor-bound to suffer a tumultuous marriage along with the slings and arrows of a cruelly censorious society. Until the War changes everything. One of the ideas of Downton Abbey was produce a Masterpiece Theater series with HBO production values in mind; but HBO remains king.

THE WORLD’S END is another British film that brings us up to date and a little beyond in its hilarious depiction of a nostalgic pub-crawl that turns into an entirely different kind of movie where everything suddenly changes except the jokes. This sliding into a different genre is a tour-de-force, reminding one (though in no other regard) of Stephen Soderbergh’s self-proclaimed last movie, SIDE EFFECTS, wherein a drama seamlessly slips into a gripping mystery thriller. But rather than being a relevant contemporary puzzle, The World’s End is simply an unending joke-crawl full of wit and parodic fun.

THE BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES remains one of the best films of our lives, winner of 8 major Oscars including Best Picture. Four GI’s fulfill their ultimate dream of returning home from the War only to find the dream has turned into a nightmare. What each discovers, how he copes and attempts to change is a theme that resonates today in – as they say, though with nothing here less than the truth – this timeless masterpiece. Its arrival in Blu-ray is nothing less than it deserves. (We also have the DVD.)

In THE RELUCTANT FUNDAMENTALIST, a young Pakistani professor, who may or may not also be a terrorist with the ability to free a kidnapped American professor, tells his story about his life in America and Pakistan. His conversational partner is a CIA operative (Lev Schreiber) who, while he listens and attempts to persuade, also tries to stave off a Special Operations assault on the radical Palistani redoubt in which he is ensconced – an attack that would doom the kidnapped American. Fascinatingly ambivalent characters lime the complexity of our murky post-9/11 world in this tense drama.

In THE ATTACK, a character-driven Israeli drama, a highly lauded Israeli Palestinian surgeon fully assimilated in Tel Aviv is confronted with evidence that his wife was the recent suicide bomber responsible for nineteen deaths. With his life turned upside down, he abandons all he thought was secure to him in order to return to Palestine to uncover the source of the plot that involved his wife’s unimaginable complicity. Strong characters propel a plot that, while initially and inarguably horrific, is also insightful and balanced in presenting Israeli and Palestinian points of view.

In THE CONJURING, based on a case file of the Warrens, famous Connecticut-based paranormal investigators, the couple (Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson) help a family rid their farm house of a life-threatening presence. The first of a series of planned films based on the Warren case files (another is the source of THE AMITYVILLE HORROR), this film actually delivers the thrills and chills one hopes for in such movies but almost never receives. This film will make you want to check into a motel (hopefully not the Bates Motel).

Finally, we end where we began: HBO, which produced BEHIND THE CANDELABRA, the true story that Liberace had successfully suppressed during his long and successful career: his five year love affair with Scott Thorson, whom he also adopted. Matt Damon is fine as Thorson but in the plumb leading role as Liberace the film reveals the depths of Michael Douglas’s acting chops. His performance alone, along with HBO’s set designs and production details (actual recreations of Liberace’s flamboyant life style) is well worth the price of admission to any front seat at a Las Vegas event.  It’s also worth mentioning that the film is directed by Steven Soderbergh, beginning his commitment to abandon Hollywood movies for the relative freedom of TV production.

Rob_Harmon_image_for_picksROB HARMON’S PICKS 12/3/13

A NEW LEAF (dir. Elaine May, 1971)

I have noticed recently that I rarely review comedies, partly due to my belief that comedy is one of the hardest things to do well. So I would like to try and correct that, as well as the perception that I am only interested in serious, dark, and morbid fare. How is this for a comedic plot:

Snooty, friendless, and rich Henry Graham (Walter Matthau) tears through money without a thought until the day that he is notified by his attorney (William Redfield) that he has none left to spend. Eschewing suicide as a suitable escape from a life of poverty Henry—encouraged by his long-time butler Harold (George Rose), who loathes the idea of having to seek another employer—decides on the next best alternative: marrying into money, in spite of his revulsion of the opposite sex! However, to aid him in his quest for a suitably wealthy bride, he first must secure a loan from his supercilious cad of an uncle (James Coco) which he has six weeks to repay and absolutely no hope of earning back on his own. Finally, after some hilariously and predictably inopportune adventures in the dating world and with his time running out, Henry meets Henrietta Lowell (writer and director May), an impossibly wealthy woman and professor of botany, whose clumsiness poses an ever-present threat to all people and property around her, and who is possibly the most neurotic, shambling wallflower that the screen has ever seen! Soon, with the knot tied and Henrietta’s thieving lawyer (Jack Weston) and other parasitical servants out of the way, Henry is dreaming about far more than merely repaying the loan and instead has murder on the mind, especially with Henrietta’s plan for a remote botanical excursion together to the Adirondacks.

Cheery, right? Make no mistake about it: A New Leaf is gallows humor at its finest, a lethal and hilarious spin through the underbelly of upper crust society in America. Yet May was reportedly so upset with Paramount’s butchery of an editing job on this, her directorial debut, that she disowned the film and, while there are some ponderous segments (particularly towards the beginning) and an overall uneven flow (the original cut of the film was reportedly much longer), what remains is still masterful, a flawed but fascinating work.

This is necessarily a performance-centered movie, which should come as no surprise from a theater vet like May, with the film at times resembling a series of drawn-out set pieces where the actors and their studied characterizations firmly hold center stage, and everything else revolving around them. The acting of all is superb with Matthau delightful, as always, as a fastidious and spineless heel who manages to find his inner-mensch. But it is May’s impeccable performance as the nasal-voiced Henrietta who leaves the most lasting impression: she is a vision of frumpiness, a one-woman disaster scene—somehow both gauche and sincere, pathetic and lovable—an all-around nerdy and disheveled send-up of American femininity!

Much of the scenario and set-ups of A New Leaf are delightfully old-school, echoing romantic comedies of the 1930s and 40s. Yet the societal upheaval of the early 70s boils up everywhere and is particularly evident in the satirical portrayals of the life of the vampiric upper classes—a sort of scathing and cynical mirror image of the way in which wealth is portrayed in films of the Depression, say—and of a nightmare marriage which forms an endless Möebius strip: a woman who would be in dire peril save for her extreme neediness, forcing her tormentor instead to become her keeper!

When these misfit seeds finally take root in A New Leaf they form an unexpected, believable, and, yes, organic love chemistry, a sort of screwball scenario turned on its silly head, with the woman playing the part of the abject and sniveling lovesick fool and the man the predator, whose instincts for self-preservation ultimately reveal hidden talents—and a beating heart—of which he was completely unaware. A New Leaf may have struggled to find its audience in its day, but today feels as fresh as ever.

For juxtaposition compare A New Leaf with 1971’s other great odd couple romance: Hal Ashby’s superlative HAROLD AND MAUDE!

Music: David Chevan & Bassology on Thurs., Dec. 12, at 8 PM

Bassology_72dpiDavid Chevan’s band Bassology will play the Best Video Performance Space on Thursday, Dec. 12. The music starts at 8 PM and the cover is $5.

David Chevan is a rare individual in the music world. An active bassist and composer, he is involved in some of the most dynamic and musically exciting jazz projects in Southern Connecticut. In addition to his busy performance schedule, Chevan also holds a Ph.D. in jazz history and is a full-time professor of music at Southern Connecticut State University.

Chevan’s artistic career has continued to blossom. He leads two of his own ensembles, Bassology and The Afro-Semitic Experience, performs in two critically acclaimed duos, and is a free-lance bassist in the New Haven area.

Chevan’s band, Bassology, performs his original compositions along with arrangements of classic jazz compositions and favorite pieces from a number of traditions. The band has been featured in a number of local New Haven venues and continues to perform at special events. The band has participated in a number of festivals including New Haven’s Art on theEdge Festival, the New Haven Streetfest and the New Haven Harborfest, Norwalk’s SoNo Arts Festival and a variety of children’s concerts, and has released two CDs.

The combo will be playing a mix of , originals, blues and standards with an emphasis on tunes that drummer Ron Bragg sings. Bragg, according to Chevan, sounds like a cross between Johnny Hartman and Lou Rawls. The band for the evening will consist of Ron Braggs on drums and vocals, Will Bartlett on reeds, Warren Byrd on piano and Chevan on bass.

UPCOMING PERFORMANCE SPACE EVENTS:

• Wednesday, Dec. 4. CONTRA DANCE MUSIC: WRY BRED

• Thursday, Dec. 5. GARAGE ROCK/POP: HAPPY ENDING featuring BEST VIDEO’S OWN RICHARD BROWN & HANK HOFFMAN

• Wednesday, Dec. 11. WORLD MUSIC/FOLK: DR. CATERWAUL’S CADRE OF CLAIRVOYANT CLAPTRAPS

• Thursday, Dec. 12. JAZZ: DAVID CHEVAN

• Wednesday, Dec. 18. JAZZ: THE KITCHEN SINK with NICK Di MARIA

• Thursday, Dec. 19. PUNK ROCK: STARK RAVING LULU

• Thursday, Jan. 9. SINGER-SONGWRITER: SOLIN

• Thursday, Jan. 23. SINGER-SONGWRITER: ILANA ZSIGMOND

• Thursday, Feb. 20. BLUEGRASS: 5 IN THE CHAMBER

Music: Dr. Caterwaul’s Cadre of Clairvoyant Claptraps on Wed., Dec. 11, at 8 PM

Dr_Caterwaul_Paolucci_Slattery_012313_72dpiDr. Caterwaul’s Cadre of Clairvoyant Claptraps play the Best Video Performance Space on Wed., Dec. 11. The music starts at 8 PM and the cover is $5.

Dr. Caterwaul’s Cadre of Clairvoyant Claptraps–composed of Michael Tepper on upright bass, Adam Matlock on accordion and vocals; Michael Paolucci on percussion; Chris Cretella on electric guitar and Brian Slattery on violin, banjo, trombone and vocals–plays as much music as it’s able to: blues and murder ballads, Eastern European folk, traditional music from North and South America, tango, swing, classical music, and the songs of contemporary songwriters (including Matlock), using the influences of the music they love to create fluid, improvised arrangements.

UPCOMING PERFORMANCE SPACE EVENTS:

• Wednesday, Dec. 4. CONTRA DANCE MUSIC: WRY BRED

• Thursday, Dec. 5. GARAGE ROCK/POP: HAPPY ENDING featuring BEST VIDEO’S OWN RICHARD BROWN & HANK HOFFMAN

• Wednesday, Dec. 11. WORLD MUSIC/FOLK: DR. CATERWAUL’S CADRE OF CLAIRVOYANT CLAPTRAPS

• Thursday, Dec. 12. JAZZ: DAVID CHEVAN

• Wednesday, Dec. 18. JAZZ: THE KITCHEN SINK with NICK Di MARIA

• Thursday, Dec. 19. PUNK ROCK: STARK RAVING LULU

• Thursday, Jan. 9. SINGER-SONGWRITER: SOLIN

• Thursday, Jan. 23. SINGER-SONGWRITER: ILANA ZSIGMOND

• Thursday, Feb. 20. BLUEGRASS: 5 IN THE CHAMBER

Music: Happy Ending Featuring Best Video’s Richard Brown & Hank Hoffman on Thurs., Dec. 5, at 8 PM

Happy_Ending_group_photo_72dpi_WebHappy Ending, featuring Best Video’s own Hank Hoffman and Richard Brown, plays the Best Video Performance Space on Thurs., Dec. 5, at 8 p.m. The cover is $5.

Happy Ending plays electric rock ‘n’ roll, mixing original compositions influenced by garage rock, folk rock and psychedelia—oftentimes with a political slant—with cover songs from the 1960’s and 1970’s.

Happy Ending has released two albums—the vinyl LP and 45 “Have A Nice Day” in 1984 and the compact disc “Smile for the Camera” in 1996. John Foster, editor of Op Magazine, described “Have A Nice Day” as a “future cult item for the collectors.” Hank Hoffman sings and plays guitar; Richard Brown plays guitar and alto saxophone. Tom Smith is on drums and Randy Stone plays bass. Check out some songs on Happy Ending’s MySpace page.

Check out Happy Ending performing the original composition “Planned Community” at Best Video Performance Space in April, 2012:

UPCOMING PERFORMANCE SPACE EVENTS:

• Thursday, Nov. 21. APOCALYPTIC POP: THE GRIMM GENERATION

• Wednesday, Dec. 4. CONTRA DANCE MUSIC: WRY BRED

• Thursday, Dec. 5. GARAGE ROCK/POP: HAPPY ENDING featuring BEST VIDEO’S OWN RICHARD BROWN & HANK HOFFMAN

• Wednesday, Dec. 11. WORLD MUSIC/FOLK: DR. CATERWAUL’S CADRE OF CLAIRVOYANT CLAPTRAPS

• Thursday, Dec. 12. JAZZ: DAVID CHEVAN

• Wednesday, Dec. 18. JAZZ: THE KITCHEN SINK with NICK Di MARIA

• Thursday, Dec. 19. PUNK ROCK: STARK RAVING LULU

• Thursday, Jan. 9. SINGER-SONGWRITER: SOLIN

• Thursday, Jan. 23. SINGER-SONGWRITER: ILANA ZSIGMOND

• Thursday, Feb. 20. BLUEGRASS: 5 IN THE CHAMBER