Music: The Shellye Valauskas Experience returns Wed., July 17, at 8 PM

SVE_at_Best_Video_080712The Shellye Valauskas Experience will perform in the Best Video Performance Space on Wednesday, July 17. The cover charge is $5 and the music starts at 8 PM.

Shellye Valauskas is a sweet songwriter who cares for catchy rhythms and hooks. Her CD “Box It Up,” recorded with her band The Shellye Valauskas Experience, is a box of secrets, surprises and delights. By the time she formed the band, vocalist/guitarist Shellye Valauskas was an established solo performer, winning the New Haven Advocate’s Grand Band Slam readers’ poll and rating a slot in New York’s CMJ Marathon.

As her songwriting collaborator and bandmate, she enlisted ace guitarist Dean Falcone, who’s served the Connecticut music scene since the early ’80s with Jon Brion in The Excerpts, his own Dean and the Dragsters, and a host of others. Valauskas and Falcone’s shared love for the intelligent, heartwarming yet punchy pop of Crowded House, The Posies and Aimee Mann, as well as the burgeoning Americana movement, helped them nail a distinctive yet accessible radio-friendly sound from the start.

Check out The Shellye Valauskas Experience performing their song “Box It Up” at Best Video last August, courtesy of Rev. Dave Kelsey of Golden Microphone Productions:

UPCOMING PERFORMANCE SPACE EVENTS:

• Wednesday, July 10. ACOUSTIC FOLK: SHELDON CAMPBELL

• Thursday, July 11. ACOUSTIC ROCK: JAMES VELVET & THE LONESOME SPARROWS

• Wednesday, July 17. INDIE POP: THE SHELLYE VALAUSKAS EXPERIENCE

• Wednesday, July 18. CLASSICAL GUITAR: ORPHÉE RUSSELL

• Monday, July 22. FILM SCREENING: “ARRANGED”

• Wednesday, July 24. SINGER-SONGWRITER/INDIE: SAMUEL BASS

• Thursday, July 25. AVANT-GARDE_IMPROVISATION: FUCHSPRELLEN, COLORGUARD

• Monday, July 29. FILM SCREENING: “INTRUDER IN THE DUST”

• Thursday, Aug. 1. IMPROVISATION/WORLD MUSIC: SUPER TRANCE

• Monday, Aug. 5. FILM SCREENING: “ONLY HUMAN”

• Wednesday, Aug. 7. BRAZILIAN MUSIC: SAMBELEZA

• Thursday, Aug. 8. SINGER-SONGWRITER: ILANA ZSIGMOND

• Monday, Aug. 12. FILM SCREENING: “CRASH”

• Wednesday, Aug. 14. GARAGE ROCK/PUNK: THE ESTROGEN HIGHS

• Thursday, Aug. 15. JAZZ: THE NICK Di MARIA QUARTET

• Monday, Aug. 19. FILM SCREENING: “THE WAR WITHIN”

• Monday, Aug. 26. FILM SCREENING: “THE OTHER SON”

Rob Harmon’s and (the other) Hank’s Recommendations 07/09/13

Rob_Harmon_image_for_picksROB HARMON’s PICS

THE LIFE OF OHARU (dir. Kenji Mizoguchi, 1952)

If you are a devoted movie-goer like me you probably gauge your opinion of a film as you are watching it and—whether bad, good, or okay—it can oscillate, during and after viewing.

Yet, once in a while I stumble upon that rarest of treats: a film that I know little or nothing about but whose excellence is apparent right from the get-go.

I had one such experience with The Life of Oharu, Kenji Mizoguchi’s epic tale of a fallen woman in Tokugawa era Japan. I was living in New York City in my early-20s and MoMA was doing a small series of Mizoguchi films during the summertime. I knew very little about Mizoguchi but knew enough that I should investigate. I had heard of movies like UGETSU, THE 47 RONIN, and SANSHO, THE BAILIFF (all wonderful, by the way) but absolutely nothing about Oharu. I settled into my seat.

The opening sequence of The Life of Oharu told me that I was watching a great movie: a woman, with face veiled and diverted, awkwardly shuffles down the dimly-lit, twilight street of a chintzy Edo period red-light district. The camera dollies behind, tracking her—floating almost—as she passes the sights and sounds of late-night debauchery which surround her: Who is she and what is her story? The shot is so achingly-beautiful that it instantly succeeds in grabbing the attention, in eliciting sympathy for this mysterious character. We soon find out that this is Oharu, played by the great leading lady of the Japanese screen Kinuyo Tanaka, a middle-aged prostitute who is heading home empty-handed after a night of tiresome street-walking, of trying to talk and act as though she is thirty years younger than she actually is. After stopping to warm herself by a fire she wanders into a Buddhist temple where the memories of her difficult life begin to unravel in flashback.

Life_of_Oharu_DVDOnce the high-born Lady Oharu, a pretty and desired lady-in-waiting of the court at Kyoto, she makes the mistake of falling for an earnest young retainer (played by the estimable Toshiro Mifune) after he gallingly declares his love for her. Once caught together she is exiled and her inexorable fall from grace begins. Oharu passes from one station of tragedy to the next: from lady-in-waiting to noble concubine to geisha; she gains favor with men, she loses favor; she finds a good job, she loses it when her notorious past catches up to her; she has a child, she marries… well, you get the idea. The film—epic in scope—amounts to a master class in heart-break, a sort of object lesson in the Buddhist idea of life-as-suffering, with Oharu subjected to enough melodramatic misfortune for five movies.

Holding it all together is Tanaka, whose gargantuan performance is dignified and sustained, vulnerable and moving: to call it a tour-de-force is almost insufficient. Mizoguchi, here towards the end of his career, was at the top of his game. He was famed for his interest in the limited rights and roles of women in Japanese society and this may be his strongest statement on the subject. In 1952 women in Japan were still living in the grim economic aftermath of World War II and it is not difficult to imagine the applicability of Oharu’s plight—a woman with once-grand ambitions, now cut-down in the twilight of her life and forced into drudgery—to many who watched the film. As another prostitute says late in the film, “It’s a pitiful life we lead, but no one’s going to help us out.”

Mizoguchi was also renowned for his daring, ornate camera movements and for his long, patient takes, which serve this film particularly well. This quiet, restrained, and observational approach—as in the memorable opening—simply shows the audience without grandstanding and lets the material speak for itself, making the drama all the more penetrating because of it. Mizoguchi first stepped into the director’s chair in the mid-1920’s and directed numerous silent films, developing a strong visual flair, before becoming instrumental in his country’s transition to sound, making many of the most effective early talkies there.

The Life of Oharu, never before available on DVD, has gotten its long over-due release thanks to the Criterion Collection (now, if only they would release Mizoguchi’s THE STORY OF THE LAST CHRYSANTHEMUM!), meaning that this great film can finally reach a new audience.

The 47 Ronin, SISTERS OF THE GION, Ugetsu, Sansho the Bailiff, STREET OF SHAME, and other fine films are available for rental in our Kenji Mizoguchi section.

NEIGHBORING SOUNDS (dir. Kleber Mendonҫa Filho, 2012)

Neighboring Sounds is the enigmatic feature film debut of Brazilian director Kleber Mendonҫa Filho. Set in the coastal town of Recife and on a single city block the story follows a number of different characters: a real-estate agent for the shiny-new condo high-rise (carved right out of the slums) and his girlfriend; his father, who owns most of the street, and his nephew, a young member of the bourgeoisie who occasionally takes to stealing car stereos; a woman and mother who struggles with getting the very best for her young family, even if that means keeping the barking dog next-door quiet; and a mysterious security firm that shows up in the neighborhood in the wake of a series of unexplained crimes.

The film’s gauzy, nebulous subject is the geography of urban displacement, or gentrification, and, though the scene is peaceful, class tensions are everywhere.  The “sounds” of the title are auditory throbs, squeaks, and hums which occasionally take over the spare soundtrack, assaulting the building’s inhabitants during their uneasy encounters with the “other side.”

Surreal ideas and imagery abound: a night-watchman with only one eye and another who mainly sleeps; an army of burglar-intruders endlessly swarming over the building’s protective walls as seen by a young girl; a mother exhaling marijuana smoke into the hose of a vacuum cleaner; and a couple exploring an abandoned countryside cinema, filmed as though it were an archeological ruin—no doubt a snarky comment by Filho on the bleak future of the medium. The film cultivates a mysterious air, spending great amounts of time on seemingly inconsequential events while weighty matters are casually elided, only to be brought up in passing in later scenes.

The film is admirably-discomforting to watch, with echoes of Michael Haneke, particularly CACHÉ, as the grimy forces of the favela keep pressing at the walls of the ivory tower and the psyches of its inhabitants. The film begins with faded black-and-white photos of traditional Brazilian folk-life and ends with the neighborhood’s violent past—thought dead—boiling to the surface. The Neighboring Sounds of this haunted block are the howls of a population which refuses to be ignored or kept out.

Hank_Hoffman_Picks_Image_sketch_Web(THE OTHER) HANK’S PICS 07/09/13:

A diverse program of three quickie recommendations from me, Hank Hoffman, Best Video’s “other Hank.”

In SPRING BREAKERS, cult film director Harmony Korine drunkenly walks the line separating exploitation cinema and serious filmmaking. Four college girls (including two played by former fresh-cheeked Disney ingenues Selena Gomez and Vanessa Hudgens) pull a caper in order to garner enough money to attend the annual spring break bacchanal. Once there—amid the overflowing  pulchritude, oceans of beer and motel rooms besmogged with pot smoke—they get mixed up with gangsta-wannabe and white rapper Alien, played by James Franco. It’s a walk on the dark and dangerous Day-Glo wild side, the atmosphere thick with sex and violence. It is almost worth it for Franco’s bravura performance alone.

If your head is still spinning from a Spring Breakers contact high, then THE GATEKEEPERS, an Israeli documentary, will sober you up. Director Dror Moreh interviewed six former heads of the Shin Bet, Israel’s Secret Service. Interspersed with their surprisingly candid reflections is extensive archival footage and—where such footage is unavailable—some reenactments. Moreh was inspired by the work of American documentarian Errol Morris and, particularly, Morris’ THE FOG OF WAR, which focused on former U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara and his role in the Vietnam War. To a man—and they are all men—if to varying degrees, they all have come to the conclusion that Israel’s hardline approach to unrest in the occupied territories is counter-productive. Some of the issues they consider—the efficacy and morality of torture, targeted assassinations—are also issues relevant to the ongoing conflicts in which our country is engaged.

If the seemingly intractable Mideast conflict leaves you pessimistic—as it does the former Shin Bet heads in The Gatekeepers—perhaps some laughter is in order. The Criterion Collection has just released a beautiful remastered version of SAFETY LAST, silent film comedian Harold Lloyd’s masterpiece. From 1922, Safety Last is built on a wonderful visual metaphor for the “climb for success.” A romance, an action movie, a comedy—Safety Last is a hilarious and oft-times white-knuckled classic.

New Releases 07/09/13

Top Hits
Spring Breakers (crime/drama, James Franco. Rotten Tomatoes: 65%. Metacritic: 63. A New York Times Critic’s Pick. From Manohla Dargis’ Times review: “Welcome to the party, dude, [director Harmony] Korine seems to be saying [or is he snickering?], now sit back, relax and enjoy the show. He proves an excellent ringmaster and a crafty one too. In Spring Breakers he bores into a contested, deeply American topic — the pursuit of happiness taken to nihilistic extremes — but turns his exploration into such a gonzo, outrageously funny party that it takes a while to appreciate that this is more of a horror film than a comedy.” Read more…)

Dead Man Down (action, Colin Farrell. Rotten Tomatoes: 37%. Metacritic: 39. From Manohla Dargis’ New York Times review: “Such is Dead Man Down, a thriller that piles on its absurdities so fast and with such apparent obliviousness that you hope (pray) you’ll soon be watching either a diverting art-film intervention, like Werner Herzog’s remake of Bad Lieutenant, or joy riding with one of those rarest of screen delights: the demented howler. Dead Man Down, unfortunately, turns out to be too innocuous to qualify as either actually good or delectably bad. Yet while Colin Farrell and his sensitive, hardworking eyebrows help keep it from becoming a full-bore lampoon, the gangland clichés, nutty plot and seemingly random casting choices [F. Murray Abraham, Armand Assante, Isabelle Huppert] stoke your hopes that true movie madness may rise out of the darkening shadows and pessimism.” Read more…)

Boy (New Zealand, drama, James Rollesten. Rotten Tomatoes: 88%. Metacritic: 70. A New York Times Critic’s Pick. From David DeWitt’s Times review: “Next year’s Oscars, if they were to include the just-for-fun idea of outstanding performance by a setting, should have a nominee in Boy. This movie from New Zealand, filmed in a Maori village near the Bay of Plenty, belongs in the pantheon of quaint and quirky locales that make for memorable films. At least I hope so, for Boy explores the area’s rugged natural beauty without ignoring its poverty — and, more important, without expecting place to do all the work of the movie. This unpretentious comic tale of a youngster’s growing relationship with a long-absent father has a surprising rhythmic genius: joy juxtaposed with humiliation, silliness with sadness, fantasy with reality, and none of it formulaic. The editing feels fresh, as does the film.” Read more…)

Admission (comedy, Tina Fey. Rotten Tomatoes: 38%. Metacritic: 48. From A.O. Scott’s New York Times review: “I must confess that I don’t know whether to be relieved or disappointed that Admission, which had the potential to be a sharp, satirical jab at the soft belly of middle-class anxiety, chose instead to be a warm and wacky fable of wish fulfillment. [director Paul] Weitz lines up a target placed at the explosive intersection of class, race, region and every other source of societal anguish, and then does not so much miss as aim in another direction — or several — letting fly a volley of darts that land as lightly as badminton birdies.” Read more…)

The Gatekeepers (Israel/Palestinian conflict. Rotten Tomatoes: 93%. Metacritic: 91. A New York Times Critic’s Pick. From A.O. Scott’s New York Times review: “The Gatekeepers, a new documentary by the Israeli director Dror Moreh, consists of interviews with six men, all of them retired, most of them bald, one of them a grandfatherly type, well into his 80s, in suspenders and a plaid shirt. They reminisce about past triumphs and frustrations, but Mr. Moreh’s amazing, upsetting film, which opens Monday for a weeklong awards-qualifying run in advance of a wider release next year, is the opposite of nostalgic. It is hard to imagine a movie about the Middle East that could be more timely, more painfully urgent, more challenging to conventional wisdom on all sides of the conflict.” Read more…)

The Haves and the Have Nots (comedy, Palmer Williams Jr.)
The Power of Few (thriller, Christopher Walken. Rotten Tomatoes: 57%.)
Tyler Perry’s Temptation: Confessions of a Marriage Counselor (drama, Vanessa Williams. Rotten Tomatoes: 16%. Metacritic: 27.)

New Foreign
The Life of Oharu (Japan, 1952, historical drama, Toshiro Mifune. Rotten Tomatoes: 100%. From A.H. Weiler’s 1964 New York Times review [requires log-in]: “Kenji Mizoguchi, one of Japan’s most respected directors, who is known here principally for his highly poetic period drama Ugetsu, is again involved in the stylized past in Life of Oharu, which was shown here for the first time yesterday at the Toho Cinema. As an evocation of a noble-ridden society that took unheeding toll of its lower castes, the film makes a sharp, if obvious, point. But the basic story, slowly unfolded with the majestic solemnity of vignettes on silk screens, is as obvious and lachrymose as a soap opera.” Read more…)

Boy (New Zealand, drama, James Rollesten, in Top Hits. Rotten Tomatoes: 88%. Metacritic: 70.A New York Times Critic’s Pick. From David DeWitt’s Times review: “Next year’s Oscars, if they were to include the just-for-fun idea of outstanding performance by a setting, should have a nominee in Boy. This movie from New Zealand, filmed in a Maori village near the Bay of Plenty, belongs in the pantheon of quaint and quirky locales that make for memorable films. At least I hope so, for Boy explores the area’s rugged natural beauty without ignoring its poverty — and, more important, without expecting place to do all the work of the movie. This unpretentious comic tale of a youngster’s growing relationship with a long-absent father has a surprising rhythmic genius: joy juxtaposed with humiliation, silliness with sadness, fantasy with reality, and none of it formulaic. The editing feels fresh, as does the film.” Read more…)

New TV
Portlandia: Season 3

New Docs
The Gatekeepers (Israel/Palestinian conflict, in Top Hits. Rotten Tomatoes: 93%. Metacritic: 91. A New York Times Critic’s Pick. From A.O. Scott’s New York Times review: “The Gatekeepers, a new documentary by the Israeli director Dror Moreh, consists of interviews with six men, all of them retired, most of them bald, one of them a grandfatherly type, well into his 80s, in suspenders and a plaid shirt. They reminisce about past triumphs and frustrations, but Mr. Moreh’s amazing, upsetting film, which opens Monday for a weeklong awards-qualifying run in advance of a wider release next year, is the opposite of nostalgic. It is hard to imagine a movie about the Middle East that could be more timely, more painfully urgent, more challenging to conventional wisdom on all sides of the conflict.” Read more…)

New film series to begin on July 22: “Can We All Get Along? Culture Clash in Great Films”

Following on the success of “What Would You Do? Ethical Dilemmas in Great Films,” Best Video and Temple Beth Sholom have teamed up again to present “Can We All Get Along?* Culture Clash in Great Films.” Unlike the first series, which unfolded in monthly screenings, “Can We All Get Along?” will present films every Monday evening from July 22 through August 26. Rabbi Benjamin Scolnic will be the presenter of the first film, ARRANGED, on Monday, July 22. Rabbi Scolnic will present and lead the discussions for three of the six films. Best Video staffers Rob Harmon and Michael Wheatley will split the presenting honors for the other three movies.

Reservations are strongly suggested. Many of the screenings in the original series were sold out. The cost is $25 for the entire series or $5 per film. All the events begin at 7 PM.

This is the schedule:

• July 22: ARRANGED (2007, USA) Presenter: Rabbi Benjamin Scolnic

This independent film made in 2007, centers on the relationship between an Orthodox Jewish woman and a Muslim woman. Both are first time teachers at a public school in Brooklyn. They form an unlikely friendship that changes their lives. The film is in English.

• July 29: INTRUDER IN THE DUST (1949, USA) Presenter: Rob Harmon

In a small Mississippi town a proud black landowner is accused of shooting a white man in the back and brought to the town jail, where the lynch mob begins to gather.  Unrepentant about his actions Lucas Beauchamp’s (Juano Hernandez) only chance of survival may lie in the hands of two teenage boys and an elderly woman – seemingly the only people in town capable of seeing the situation clearly!  Ably adapted from the William Faulkner novel by Ben Maddow (The Asphalt Jungle, Men in War) and directed in a socially-conscious manner by Hollywood stalwart Clarence Brown (Flesh and the Devil, The Human Comedy, National Velvet, The Yearling).  The film also stars David Brian, Claude Jarman Jr., Elizabeth Patterson, Porter Hall, and Will Geer.

• August 5: ONLY HUMAN (2004, Spain) Presenter: Rabbi Benjamin Scolnic

In this madcap farce set in Madrid, a Jewish girl, Leni, bring home her boyfriend to meet her family. There is just one problem: She hasn’t told them Rafi is a Palestinian. In Spanish with English subtitles, the movie mines comedic gold from the culture clashes provoked by Leni’s interfaith relationship, a disappearing body and an amorous, belly-dancing sister.

• August 12: CRASH (2004, USA) Presenter: Michael Wheatley

Diving headlong into the diverse melting pot of post-9/11 LA, this compelling urban drama—and Oscar winner—tracks the volatile intersections of a multi-ethnic cast, examining fear and bigotry from multiple perspectives as characters careen in and out of one another’s lives. No one is safe in the battle zones of racial strife. And no one is immune to the simmering rage that sparks violence – and changes lives.

• August 19: THE WAR WITHIN (2005, USA) Presenter: Rob Harmon

While traveling anyone can feel like a fish-out-of-water and that goes especially so for Hassan (Ayad Akhtar), a recently-radicalized Muslim from Pakistan, who arrives in America—the Land of Consumption—and unexpectedly appears on the doorstep of his childhood friend, Sayeed (Firdous Bamji), now living in New Jersey.  Unbeknownst to Sayeed and his family, Hassan harbors a terrifying secret: he is there, not for a job interview but as a suicide bomber.  His target: Grand Central Terminal!  But, as his terrorist compatriots go down, one-by-one, will this stranger-in-a-strange-land still be able to carry out his unthinkable mission?  This provocative indie hit was directed by Joseph Castelo and also starred Nandana Sen and Sarita Choudhury.

• August 26: THE OTHER SON (2012, France) Presenter: Rabbi Benjamin Scolnic

A fascinating movie about the meaning of identity, The Other Son is a French drama about two young men—one a Palestinian and the other Israeli—who were accidentally switched at birth. When this truth is revealed, how do the families cope with the news?

* Quote from Rodney King during the 1992 Los Angeles riots

Rob Harmon’s Recommendation 07/02/13

Rob_Harmon_image_for_picksThis time of year is a good occasion for Americans to take stock of their country, and, in most cases, we should feel a patriotic appreciation for the freedoms which we enjoy and rely upon.  But, at other times, such introspection can reveal darker sides to our country.

Take KILLING THEM SOFTLY, a gritty and downbeat, quirky and idiosyncratic trip through the underbelly of America, directed and adapted (from the novel Cogan’s Trade by George V. Higgins) by Andrew Dominik and starring Brad Pitt, which was released late last year to general indifference at the box office. Here was a noir-ish gangster film with more talk than action, more subtext about the economy and politics than violence, and an ending startlingly anticlimactic: sins of the genre sufficient to send the devotees of Don Corleone running for the exits. The terrain here may look familiar but this is clearly no ordinary gangster movie.

The action, taking place in and around a barren and scarred Boston landscape—though, in a bit of cognitive dissonance, actually filmed in New Orleans!—begins when a pair of low-level hoods, Frankie (Scoot McNairy) and Russell (Ben Mendelsohn), are employed by Johnny the “Squirrel” (Vincent Curatola) to rip off a high-stakes card game run by Markie Trattman (Ray Liotta).  By framing Markie, who had robbed his own game some years before, they relax, believing that they have gotten away scot-free. Meanwhile, however, a shadowy representative of the Mafia named Driver (Richard Jenkins) meets with a hit man named Jackie Cogan (Pitt)—whose preference for dispatching targets quickly and quietly lends the film its title—as they begin to search for those responsible.  They, in turn, call in Mickey Fallon (James Gandolfini), another hit man from New York who happens to have an unending appetite for women and booze. It does not take them long to find the culprits but they move slowly, more concerned as they are with restoring order to the criminal economy and regaining the confidence of their associates, even as the events of the 2008 financial crisis and presidential election play out ominously in the background.

This is the sort of film that was destined to be under-appreciated: Though it features a rich soundtrack throughout and a taut, beautifully-edited heist sequence early on there is little action and much talk afterwards.  What violence there is is of a slightly shocking nature, similar to that of the films of Paul Verhoeven: it turns your stomach a little bit, both drawing attention to and de-glamorizing the actions themselves.

But the satire is cogent and the dialogue, though heavy at times, pays handsome dividends, partly because the cast is so extraordinary. Pitt is excellent, cast against type as the merciless Jackie, the stone-cold  heart of this fable, whose methods of dealing with his victims are as succinct as his stark observations on the American condition. Liotta is good, also a little against-type, playing a pathetic, low-rung hanger-on. Mendelsohn is wonderful playing a deranged, disheveled dog-napper and heroin addict (he is also good in the recent PLACE BEYOND THE PINES). And, of course, the late, great Gandolfini as the fatalistic Mickey, sparring with Jackie—a sort of Old America vs. New—forced to defend a way of life even as it quickly slips away. Mickey is a man who has outlived his moment and is seemingly out-of-place with the strange tenor of the present, a dinosaur headed for certain extinction.

The cinematography, by Greig Fraser (responsible for the recent ZERO DARK THIRTY), is beautifully lensed, depicting a stark, faded American landscape. The film begins with a dissonant collage of sounds and images and ends with a fantastic monologue by Pitt’s Jackie—alone worth the price of admission—culminating in some of the most stunningly cynical lines in recent movie history: you have to hear it to believe it! Lost in the clutter, Killing Them Softly proves itself to be a remarkably cold and assured slice of American noir with a lot to say about the times that we are living in.

Dominik’s writing and directing debut was CHOPPER (2000), an audacious and stylish crime comedy/drama starring a hulking and hilarious Eric Bana playing the real-life title character, a convict and author famed in his native Australia for his books detailing his own criminal exploits. In 2007, Dominik directed THE ASSASSINATION OF JESSE JAMES BY THE COWARD ROBERT FORD, an epic imagining of the myth-making process which lies at the heart of the Old West and, in this case, one of its core figures. The film was partly notable for eliciting excellent performances from Brad Pitt, as Jesse James, and, especially, Casey Affleck as the moody and neurotic, desperate-for-fame-and-attention Robert Ford. Dominik, a New Zealand native, seems to be intent, for the time being, on reconfiguring classic American genres (for more on the “foreign perspective’ in Hollywood see last week’s review of STOKER): by all early indications he seems to be the right man for the job.

Chopper and The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford are both available in our Best-of-the-Best section.  For another film adapted from the work of the Beantown-Noir specialist George V. Higgins check out the classic THE FRIENDS OF EDDIE COYLE (1973), directed by Peter Yates and starring Robert Mitchum, available in Best Crime and Gangster!

New Releases 07/02/13

Top Hits
56 Up (British documentary series, social history. Rotten Tomatoes: 98%. Metacritic: 83. A New York Times Critic’s Pick. From Manohla Dargis’ Times review: “Life rushes by so fast, it flickers today and is gone tomorrow. In 56 Up — the latest installment in Michael Apted’s remarkable documentary project that has followed a group of Britons since 1964, starting when they were 7 — entire lifetimes race by with a few edits. One minute, a boy is merrily bobbing along. The next, he is 56 years old, with a wife or an ex, a few children or none, a career, a job or just dim prospects. Rolls of fat girdle his middle and thicken his jowls. He has regrets, but their sting has usually softened, along with everything else.” Read more…)

Supporting Characters (comedy/romance, Alex Karpovsky. Rotten Tomatoes: 86%. Metacritic: 62. From Stephen Holden’s New York Times review: “There are many rueful chuckles to be harvested from Supporting Characters, Daniel Schechter’s small, minutely observed portrait of fragile egos colliding inside the pressure cooker of New York’s indie filmmaking world. The main characters, Nick [Alex Karpovsky] and Darryl [Tarik Lowe, who wrote the screenplay with Mr. Schechter], are a film-editing team busy polishing a shaky comedy.” Read more…)

Upside Down (sci-fi/romance, Kirsten Dunst. Rotten Tomatoes: 28%. Metacritic: 43. From Stephen Holden’s New York Times review: “Eden [Kirsten Dunst] and Adam [Jim Sturgess], the star-crossed lovers in the murky science-fiction romance Upside Down, occupy different worlds. Eden lives Up Top on a planet of cold corporate affluence. Adam’s planet, Down Below, is a grungy wasteland that suggests Union Square after an earthquake. The planets are practically within spitting distance, yet despite that proximity, it is almost impossible to get from one to the other. The political implications of Upside Down, written and directed by the Argentine filmmaker Juan Solanas, may be obvious, but the movie is not a dystopian satire about the haves and the have-nots. If it were, it might have some bite.” Read more…)

New Foreign
Comment Ça Va? (France, 1978, dir. by Jean-Luc Godard, polemical drama. From Vincent Canby’s 1982 New York Times review [requires log-in]: “The Agee Room at the Bleecker Street Cinema, currently sponsoring a Jean-Luc Godard retrospective, opens today with his Comment ,Ca Va? [How’s It Going?]. It was made in 1976 with Anne-Marie Mieville when Mr. Godard was living in Grenoble, France, and after his Maoist period. It’s a comparatively short [78 minutes], technically complex, typically Godardian inquiry into the nature of things, this time into mass communications and the truth or falsity of the information communicated.” Read more…)

New Brit
56 Up (British documentary series, social history, in Top Hits. Rotten Tomatoes: 98%. Metacritic: 83.A New York Times Critic’s Pick. From Manohla Dargis’ Times review: “Life rushes by so fast, it flickers today and is gone tomorrow. In 56 Up — the latest installment in Michael Apted’s remarkable documentary project that has followed a group of Britons since 1964, starting when they were 7 — entire lifetimes race by with a few edits. One minute, a boy is merrily bobbing along. The next, he is 56 years old, with a wife or an ex, a few children or none, a career, a job or just dim prospects. Rolls of fat girdle his middle and thicken his jowls. He has regrets, but their sting has usually softened, along with everything else.” Read more…)

New Docs
56 Up (British documentary series, social history, in Top Hits. Rotten Tomatoes: 98%. Metacritic: 83. A New York Times Critic’s Pick. From Manohla Dargis’ Times review: “Life rushes by so fast, it flickers today and is gone tomorrow. In 56 Up — the latest installment in Michael Apted’s remarkable documentary project that has followed a group of Britons since 1964, starting when they were 7 — entire lifetimes race by with a few edits. One minute, a boy is merrily bobbing along. The next, he is 56 years old, with a wife or an ex, a few children or none, a career, a job or just dim prospects. Rolls of fat girdle his middle and thicken his jowls. He has regrets, but their sting has usually softened, along with everything else.” Read more…)

The Autobiography of Nicolae Ceausescu (history, biography, Communism. Rotten Tomatoes: 85%. Metacritic: 87. A New York Times Critic’s Pick. From Manohla Dargis’ Times review: “It’s impossible that The Autobiography of Nicolae Ceausescu is the monument that the former Romanian dictator would have produced in his own honor. Among other things, it has an unhappy ending, at least for him and his wife, Elena, who were executed on Christmas Day, 1989. Yet in many respects Ceausescu turns out to be as much the author of this brilliant documentary as the director, Andrei Ujica, who waded through more than 1,000 hours of filmed state propaganda, official news reports and home movies to create a cinematic tour de force that tracks the rise, reign and grim fall of its subject.” Read more…)

New Children’s DVDs
American Girl: Saige Paints the Sky

Music: James Velvet & the Lonesome Sparrows on Thurs., July 11, at 8 PM

the_lonesome_sparrows_WebJames Velvet brings his band the Lonesome Sparrows back to the Best Video Performance Space on Thursday, July 11. The music starts at 8 PM and the cover is $5. (Because of the July 4 holiday, there will be no events on July 3 and 4.)

Original acoustic rootsy rock ‘n’ roll. Songwriter extraordinaire James Velvet fronts the Lonesome Sparrows. The band includes Johnny Memphis on guitar, fiddle and harmony vocals. Memphis and Velvet have been playing together since 1985. He’s also a long-standing member of Washboard Slim and The Blue Lights. Velvet and Memphis are joined on dobro, mandolin and banjo by DickNeal, well-known in Southern CT for his bluegrass band, Hoe. Johnny Java plays electric bass and percussion.

Johnny Java and James Velvet played original roots R&R in The MockingBirds for a dozen years (buttressed for many of those years by DickNeal’s guitar playing). The Sparrows are happiest at Coffee House/Gallery concerts (Never Ending Bookstore, John Slade Ely House, The Buttonwood Tree) or, in the warm weather, at  CT’s  many tasty Farm Markets. In April, 2010, the group released their 13-track CD “Black Velvet Royalty.”

The Lonesome Sparrows at the Huntington Street Cafe in Shelton in 2010, videotaped by Dave Kelsey:

UPCOMING PERFORMANCE SPACE EVENTS:

• Wednesday & Thursday, July 3 & 4. NO EVENT: HAPPY JULY 4th!

• Wednesday, July 10. ACOUSTIC FOLK: SHELDON CAMPBELL

• Thursday, July 11. ACOUSTIC ROCK: JAMES VELVET & THE LONESOME SPARROWS

• Wednesday, July 17. INDIE POP: THE SHELLYE VALAUSKAS EXPERIENCE

• Wednesday, July 18. CLASSICAL GUITAR: ORPHÉE RUSSELL

• Thursday, July 25. AVANT-GARDE_IMPROVISATION: FUCHSPRELLEN, COLORGUARD

• Thursday, Aug. 1. IMPROVISATION/WORLD MUSIC: SUPER TRANCE

• Wednesday, Aug. 7. BRAZILIAN MUSIC: SAMBELEZA

• Thursday, Aug. 8. SINGER-SONGWRITER: ILANA ZSIGMOND

• Wednesday, Aug. 14. GARAGE ROCK/PUNK: THE ESTROGEN HIGHS

• Thursday, Aug. 15. JAZZ: THE NICK Di MARIA QUARTET

Music: Sheldon Campbell to play acoustic folk music, originals Wed., July 10, at 8 PM

Sheldon_Campbell_Best_Video_promo_WebSheldon Campbell will perform in the Best Video Performance Space on Wednesday, July 10. The music starts at 8 PM and the cover charge is $5. (Because of the July 4 holiday, there will be no events on July 3 and 4.)

Sheldon Campbell performs a mix of traditional and original folk music.  A student of Robert Messore for guitar and Martha King for voice for over 10 years, Sheldon has performed at St. John’s coffee house in New Haven, on WSHU’s Profiles in Folk, in classes at the Yale School of Medicine (where he’s an award-winning teacher) and at national scientific meetings.

He writes original songs about history, fatherhood, and microbial disease—but he’ll keep the latter to a minimum for this venue. Look forward to an infectious evening of song from the silly to the dramatic, with plenty of opportunities to sing along.

UPCOMING PERFORMANCE SPACE EVENTS:

• Wednesday, June 26. INDIE ROCK: THE JELLYSHIRTS

• Thursday, June 27. SINGER-SONGWRITERS: FRANK CRITELLI, MARK MIRANDO

• Wednesday & Thursday, July 3 & 4. NO EVENT: HAPPY JULY 4th!

• Wednesday, July 10. ACOUSTIC FOLK: SHELDON CAMPBELL

• Thursday, July 11. ACOUSTIC ROCK: JAMES VELVET & THE LONESOME SPARROWS

• Wednesday, July 17. INDIE POP: THE SHELLYE VALAUSKAS EXPERIENCE

• Wednesday, July 18. CLASSICAL GUITAR: ORPHÉE RUSSELL

• Thursday, July 25. AVANT-GARDE_IMPROVISATION: FUCHSPRELLEN, COLORGUARD

• Thursday, Aug. 1. IMPROVISATION/WORLD MUSIC: SUPER TRANCE

• Wednesday, Aug. 7. BRAZILIAN MUSIC: SAMBELEZA

• Thursday, Aug. 8. SINGER-SONGWRITER: ILANA ZSIGMOND

• Wednesday, Aug. 14. GARAGE ROCK/PUNK: THE ESTROGEN HIGHS

• Thursday, Aug. 15. JAZZ: THE NICK Di MARIA QUARTET