New Releases 09/24/13

Top Hits
Iron Man 3 (superhero action, Robert Downey Jr. Rotten Tomatoes: 78%. Metacritic: 62. From Manohla Dargis’ New York Times review: “Right before I saw Iron Man 3, a publicist implored the several hundred attendees — professionals and civilians jammed into a multiplex box and throbbing with excitement — not to reveal any crucial information about the movie to anyone else. After the final credits rolled, and I staggered toward the exit, the booms of explosions still ringing in my ears, I wondered what I could possibly divulge that would spoil the pleasure of an innocent ticket buyer. After all, originality isn’t the point of a product like Iron Man 3, which, despite the needless addition of 3-D and negligible differences in quips, gadgets, villains and the type of stuff blown up, plays out much like the first two movies.” Read more…)

Disconnect (drama, Jason Bateman. Rotten Tomatoes: 67%. Metacritic: 64. A New York Times Critic’s Pick. From Stephen Holden’s Times review: “How [Disconnect], directed by Henry-Alex Rubin [the documentary Murderball]  from a screenplay by Andrew Stern, will be received probably depends on the age and digital sophistication of the viewer. Those proficient with Facebook, Twitter, Skype, webcams and smartphones may find Disconnect too obvious and blithely dismiss its alarmist attitude as fuddy-duddy. And moviegoers weary of the schematic everything-is-connected school of films like Crash, Babel and Short Cuts may blanch at the recycling of the convention, even though this film’s theme is connectivity and its discontents. But those struggling to keep up with changing technology may shudder at the portrayal of cruelty unleashed by bullies and thieves who blithely hide behind disguises, dig up personal information with a few keystrokes and destroy people.” Read more…)

Redemption (action, Jason Statham. Rotten Tomatoes: 49%. Metacritic: 43. From Stephen Holden’s New York Times review: “Can a saintly nun save the soul of a macho thug? Will their mutual attraction be consummated? And if it is, will we get to watch? Such questions are toyed with clumsily in Redemption, the splashy, scatterbrained directorial debut of Steven Knight, the screenwriter of David Cronenberg’s acclaimed crime thriller Eastern Promises.” Read more…)

My Brother the Devil (UK, drama, Said Taghmaoui. Rotten Tomatoes: 91%. Metacritic: 72. A New York Times Critic’s Pick. From Jeannette Catsoulis’ Times review: “Death is always hovering just out of sight in My Brother the Devil, but there’s nothing deadening about this engaging first feature from the Welsh-Egyptian filmmaker Sally El Hosaini. Quite the reverse. Invigorating and unpredictable, the story [also by Ms. Hosaini] tracks the forced maturation of two British-born Arab brothers living in an East London tower block.” Read more…)

The Story of Film: An Odyssey (5-disc history of cinema doc. From A.O. Scott’s 2012 New York Times Critic’s Notebook article: “A glance at the nominees for best picture at this year’s Oscars [The Artist, Hugo, War Horse] will confirm that the movies, a forward-looking medium tumbling headlong into a digital future, find themselves in a moment of retrospection. It is not just that a majority of the nominees take place in lovingly imagined and carefully costumed versions of the past — that in itself is hardly new — but also that several look back with affection at earlier phases in the history of cinema…. A more scholarly version of this double impulse — a history-minded cinephilia that is at once elegiac and celebratory, passionate and skeptical — informs The Story of Film: An Odyssey. Presented in eight chapters and clocking in at 900 minutes, this sprawling documentary, which takes up residence on Wednesday at the Museum of Modern Art, is notable for its epic ambition and for its conciseness. Cinema may be a relatively young art form, but its rapid evolution and global reach make its history dauntingly complex.” Read more…)

New Blu-Ray
Iron Man 3

New Foreign
In the House (France, drama, Kristin Scott Thomas. Rotten Tomatoes: 88%. Metacritic: 72.From A.O. Scott’s New York Times review: “There is no other French actor — maybe no other actor in the world — who can match Fabrice Luchini’s knack for portraying the erotic, intellectual and social neuroses of a certain type of highly civilized man. At one point in François Ozon’s new movie, In the House, Mr. Luchini’s character, a high school teacher named Germain, attends a Woody Allen movie with his wife, Jeanne, a gallerist played by Kristin Scott Thomas. Though the movie [Match Point] is one in which Mr. Allen himself does not appear, it is clear enough that Germain might be one of his lost alter egos, a character ensnared by his own desires and a willful inability to distinguish reality from fantasy.” Read more…)

Detective Montalbano Ep. 23 & 24 (Italy, mystery series, Luca Zingaretti)
Detective Montalbano Ep. 25 & 26 (Italy, mystery series, Luca Zingaretti)

New British
My Brother the Devil (UK, drama, Said Taghmaoui, in Top Hits. Rotten Tomatoes: 91%. Metacritic: 72. A New York Times Critic’s Pick. From Jeannette Catsoulis’ Times review: “Death is always hovering just out of sight in My Brother the Devil, but there’s nothing deadening about this engaging first feature from the Welsh-Egyptian filmmaker Sally El Hosaini. Quite the reverse. Invigorating and unpredictable, the story [also by Ms. Hosaini] tracks the forced maturation of two British-born Arab brothers living in an East London tower block.” Read more…)

Foyle’s War Set 7
Trial & Retribution: Set 6

New Documentaries
The Story of Film (5-disc history of cinema, in Top Hits. From A.O. Scott’s 2012 New York Times Critic’s Notebook article: “A glance at the nominees for best picture at this year’s Oscars [The Artist, Hugo, War Horse] will confirm that the movies, a forward-looking medium tumbling headlong into a digital future, find themselves in a moment of retrospection. It is not just that a majority of the nominees take place in lovingly imagined and carefully costumed versions of the past — that in itself is hardly new — but also that several look back with affection at earlier phases in the history of cinema…. A more scholarly version of this double impulse — a history-minded cinephilia that is at once elegiac and celebratory, passionate and skeptical — informs The Story of Film: An Odyssey. Presented in eight chapters and clocking in at 900 minutes, this sprawling documentary, which takes up residence on Wednesday at the Museum of Modern Art, is notable for its epic ambition and for its conciseness. Cinema may be a relatively young art form, but its rapid evolution and global reach make its history dauntingly complex.” Read more…)

Hank (and Rob Harmon’s) recommendations 09/24/13

hank_paperHANK’S PICKS 09/24/13:

FILL THE VOID — A year after her beloved older sister has died in childbirth—a family tragedy which the newborn baby survives—an 18 year old sibling, on the cusp of exploring her own ideas of matrimony, is faced with community and family pressure to “fill the void” by marrying her sister’s widower.

This film brings to mind similar good movies whose protagonists try to balance independence with a willing obedience to the strictures of sect (in this case the Satvars in Israel).

This film is situated somewhere between the intense melodramatics of A PRICE ABOVE RUBIES (a great film starring Renee Zelleger), and THE ARRANGEMENT, about the easy friendship between two young observant women, a Jew and a Muslim, who are beginning teachers, that enables problem solving regarding arranged marriages. This current film does present, in an interesting and fully sympathetic panoply of characters, the urgency of matrimony upon which the survival of this small and strict community depends. It’s a film that’s satisfying enough to fill the void of your own entertainment needs.

Rob_Harmon_image_for_picksROB HARMON’S PICKS 09/24/13

THE BLING RING (dir. Sofia Coppola, 2013)

Film noir is that quintessentially American style which emphasizes the stories of hapless individuals and losers who dream big and try to get their piece of the action, often by taking short cuts and falling flat on their faces. Many people who might otherwise be turned off by the content of Sofia Coppola’s latest effort The Bling Ring—a ripped-from-the headlines true story about a group of fashion-obsessed Los Angeles-area high schoolers, scions of various low-tier Hollywood hangers-on, who decide to pursue their version of the American Dream by stealing it from the homes of their favorite celebrities—will probably be interested to know that this nifty little film is a slice of noir in disguise, dressed as it is in Chanel, Alexander McQueen sunglasses, and carrying a Louis Vuitton bag!

The worlds of haute couture fashion, red carpet photo ops, TMZ-style gossip, selfies, social networking, celebrity culture, and shameless bling may, at first, seem like odd stuff for such a trenchant and serious character study. Upon further examination, it is perfectly appropriate given that these very domains increasingly dominate the attention spans of today’s youth. Let’s call this noir for the teen set.

The film begins, in classic noir fashion, in media res and unfolds largely through the testimony and flashbacks of the plaintiffs, who cheerfully bear their souls for the benefit of the very media outlets who initially stoked their dreams of fame.

Awkward and self-conscious Marc (Israel Broussard) arrives at his new high school in Calabanas, California after having been expelled from his last one for excessive absences and he immediately falls in with and falls for the beautiful and ballsy Rebecca (Katie Chang), who shows him the ropes and introduces him to the local party scene, populated by a wealth of jaded rich kids. The two of them form an instant bond over fashion, celebrity-gossip, and pursuit of the easy life. The bitchy and imperious Rebecca plays femme fatale to poor Marc’s hopeless dupe: She seems to have neither fear nor mitigating moral compass, gleefully opening unlocked cars on a wealthy street at night in order to relieve the inhabitants of their wallets and other assorted valuables. For thrills, the two begin monitoring the internet to find when favorite celebrities, such as Paris Hilton and Lindsay Lohan, will be out of town on publicity gigs, breaking into their homes, and making off with a few choice designer trinkets as souvenirs.

Rebecca’s daredevil-like sensibility eventually wins over the initial hesitancy of the infatuated Marc and they are soon joined by a coterie of friends and classmates: Chloe (Claire Julien), Nicki (Emma Watson), and her adopted sister Sam (Taissa Farmiga). Naturally, the crimes begin to escalate as the stakes of the robberies are raised (a gun is introduced into the plot, some goods are fenced, etc.), resulting in this group of junior-grade criminals being branded by the local media with the film’s title-moniker (as ambivalent a statement as their ever was on America’s love affair with glamor and crime!).

This could easily have descended into the purely vacuous material of a made-for-Lifetime movie (and, yes, there is another film with the same title and subject made by the Lifetime Channel in 2011) but for the sympathetic viewpoint of iconoclast Coppola, who has made a career of wringing the humanity out of individuals who can otherwise seem ice-y and remote, particularly girls and young women. Her camera manages to probe the internal worlds of youth without descending into pure voyeurism. This breezy dream of a movie has a very West Coast-like-vibe to it: so laidback and chill is the environment that even real-life celebs like Paris Hilton and Kirsten Dunst (a Coppola regular) casually appear on-screen in cameos playing themselves, in a film which otherwise subtly mocks their outré tabloid lifestyles!

In a world where intelligent films for and about teens are about as rare as a Sasquatch sighting in the Hollywood Hills, Coppola (who adapted Nancy Jo Sales’ Vanity Fair article “The Suspect Wore Louboutins”) deserves high praise for her moody depiction of a group of thrill-seeking youngsters who decide to live on the edge and end up, inevitably, getting in well over their heads. In a lean 90 minutes she manages one of the more cogent recent analyses of our contemporary society’s pathological obsessions with celebrity, money, and fame, and particularly the effects upon young people, as well as the disconnection which teens may feel between reality and our plugged-in, online culture.

The relationship between Marc and Rebecca forms the heart of the film and when things inevitably collapse the bitterness of their falling-out seems to be cut right out of a James M. Cain novel, adding a melancholy note—a next-morning-like-hangover—to their whirlwind adventures. Surprisingly, in a film where sex appeal is a constant preoccupation for the main characters there is little-to-no sex apparent anywhere, as though even this act has been emptied of meaning in the minds of the youngsters, being finally reduced to a mere teasing pose. The ensemble cast of The Bling Ring is uniformly solid, with some necessary comedic relief provided by the clueless reactions of Nicki, Sam, and especially their New Age-y, home-schooling mom Laurie (a deliciously scenery-chewing Leslie Mann) to their new-found infamy and/or fame.

Whereas traditional noir usually ends with the death or apprehension of the misled hero, the contemporary nature of The Bling Ring provides for the possibility of an ironic life-after-crime coda, in the form of today’s tabloid media and reality television hell.

Filmmaker Sofia Coppola, who was once best remembered for her widely-panned performance in her father’s THE GODFATHER: PART III, has steadily built a reputation as one of the most interesting and consistent voices in American cinema. The Bling Ring is her fifth feature, following THE VIRGIN SUICIDES (1999), LOST IN TRANSLATION (2003), MARIE ANTOINETTE (2006), and SOMEWHERE (2010).

New Releases 09/17/13

Top Hits
World War Z (action epic, Brad Pitt. Rotten Tomatoes: 67%. Metacritic: 63. From A.O. Scott’s New York Times review: “The movie, loosely adapted from Max Brooks’s 2006 novel of the same title, is under two hours long. Its action set pieces are cleverly conceived and coherently executed in ways that make them feel surprising, even exciting. Brad Pitt, playing a former United Nations troubleshooter pressed back into service to battle the undead, wears a scruffy, Redfordesque air of pained puzzlement. And, best of all, World War Z, directed by Marc Forster from a script with four credited authors, reverses the relentless can-we-top-this structure that makes even smart blockbusters feel bloated and dumb. The large-scale, city-destroying sequences come early, leading toward a climax that is intimate, intricate and genuinely suspenseful.” Read more…)

The East (thriller, Brit Marling. Rotten Tomatoes: 74%. Metacritic: 68. From A.O. Scott’s New York Times review: “The East is a neat little thriller about ends and means and ethical quandaries. The title refers to a mysterious network of anti-corporate militants whose activities — called ‘jams’ — shade from prankish agitprop toward outright terrorism. The members of the group, who live off the grid in an abandoned house in the wilderness somewhere near the Mason-Dixon line, are determined to hold the poisoners and polluters of the executive class accountable for their actions. Sometimes, as in the case of a pharmaceutical company that has peddled dangerous antibiotics, this means giving the bosses a literal taste of their own medicine.” Read more…)

The Bling Ring (crime drama, Emma Watson. Rotten Tomatoes: 59%. Metacritic: 66. From A.O. Scott’s New York Times review: “In her last two movies — the sublime Somewhere and the seductive Marie Antoinette — Sofia Coppola has focused her rigorous attention on characters living inside bubbles of privilege, fairy tale precincts where the invisible magic of wealth and power makes wishes come true. Stephen Dorff’s drifting movie star and Kirsten Dunst’s capricious young queen both lead pampered existences of a kind that make them easy objects of envy and resentment, but Ms. Coppola examines them with detached, quiet sympathy, refusing to mock or judge. She anatomizes the spiritual conditions of people who might have seemed to be case studies in shallow, carefree materialism. The Bling Ring, her new feature (and her fifth over all), continues in this vein from a somewhat different perspective. It is not about the paralysis of having more than you could possibly want, but rather about the addictive thrills of wanting what you can’t quite have and trying to get it.” Read more…)

Behind the Candelabra (Liberace biopic, Michael Douglas. Rotten Tomatoes: 94%. Metacritic: 82. From Mike Hale’s New York Times television review: “There’s something uncanny, even brilliant, about Michael Douglas’ impersonation of Liberace in Steven Soderbergh’s biographical film Behind the Candelabra. Sashaying across Las Vegas stages and epic suburban living rooms with a drum major’s puffed-up grandeur and a lounge lizard’s predatory smile, Mr. Douglas gives a performance so assured, so free of camp or cringe, that you quickly surrender any doubts you might have had about his playing a famously flamboyant, closeted-in-plain-sight gay entertainer.” Read more…)

Raising Adam Lanza (documentary, biography, social issues, violence. From Mike Hale’s New York Times‘ Critic’s Notebook on PBS’s post-Newtown documentaries on guns in America: “The focus shifts firmly to psychology in Tuesday’s ‘Frontline’ episode, ‘Raising Adam Lanza,’ which follows two reporters for The Hartford Courant as they investigate the relationship between Lanza, the Newtown gunman, and his mother, Nancy, who was the first of his 27 victims. Despite too many lame All the President’s Men-style scenes of the reporters traveling to interviews and batting around ideas with their editors — including some dangerously speculative theorizing about the Lanzas — the program has the advantage of delivering new information about the mother and son, from several acquaintances who had not spoken previously in public.” Read more…)

Cockneys Vs. Zombies (horror comedy, Michelle Ryan. Rotten Tomatoes: 69%. From Jeannette Catsoulis’ New York Times review: “There’s not much difference between regular English soccer fans and the undead variety in Cockneys vs. Zombies: Even when expired, they’re still ready to rumble with anyone wearing the colors of a rival team. And that’s pretty much the point of this spirit-of-the-Blitz comedy from Matthias Hoene. Filled with East End grit and EastEnders escapees, the ragtag story is merely an excuse to remind us, all too emphatically, that Londoners won’t lie down.” Read more…)

Greetings From Tim Buckley (musical biopic, Penn Badgley. Rotten Tomatoes: 69%. Metacritic: 57. From Manohla Dargis’ New York Times review: “Biopics come in a number of flavors, though most turn out either to be hagiographies that clean up the little and big messes of famous lives, burnishing legends for maximum nostalgia, or analytical postmortems that try to put their subjects into play with history and the world. Greetings From Tim Buckley takes a look at two musicians who died young and were largely strangers, Tim Buckley and his son Jeff Buckley, and goes right for worship: it’s sweet, sentimental, almost inevitably touching if not especially persuasive, brushing against the thorns in each man’s life without drawing blood.” Read more…)

Love Is All You Need (romcom, Pierce Brosnan. Rotten Tomatoes: 74%. Metacritic: 60. From Stephen Holden’s New York Times review: The first sign of trouble in the romantic comedy Love Is All You Need is the clichéd and incessant use of ‘That’s Amore.’ Ever since that early-’50s Dean Martin hit was used in Moonstruck in 1987, the song has been pop culture’s Pavlovian signal to wallow in the jollier side of all things Italian. Much of this movie, about a wedding that goes awry, is set in Sorrento, overlooking the Bay of Naples. But as the story progresses the tune’s insistent levity is contradicted by the awful behavior of some pigheaded characters.” Read more…)

New Blu-Ray
World War Z
The East
Behind the Candelabra
The Bling Ring

New American Back Catalog (post-1960)
Jaws: The Revenge (1987, action/horror, Michael Caine. Rotten Tomatoes: 0%.)

New TV
Vegas
Bates Motel: Season 1

New Documentaries
Radio Unnameable (community radio, WBAI, Bob Fass. Rotten Tomatoes: 100%. Metacritic: 72. From A.O. Scott’s New York Times review: “[Radio host Bob] Fass, whose sonorous baritone still can be heard on [WBAI-FM], offering provocation and comfort to insomniacs and late-shift workers, is the subject of Radio Unnameable, a new documentary by Paul Lovelace and Jessica Wolfson. Drawing on archival photographs and audiotape, the filmmakers pay tribute both to an influential voice in broadcasting and to the times whose ideals and follies he helped articulate. Robin Williams used to joke that if you remember the ’60s, you weren’t there. That may be so, but Mr. Lovelace and Ms. Wolfson assemble a motley, graying assortment of characters who seem to have forgotten nothing. Mr. Fass narrates old war [and antiwar] stories with vivid clarity and impeccable timing, and his accounts are fleshed out by a Greek chorus of friends, co-workers and fellow travelers.” Read more…)

Raising Adam Lanza (biography, social issues, violence, in Top Hits. From Mike Hale’s New York Times‘ Critic’s Notebook on PBS’s post-Newtown documentaries on guns in America: “The focus shifts firmly to psychology in Tuesday’s ‘Frontline’ episode, ‘Raising Adam Lanza,’ which follows two reporters for The Hartford Courant as they investigate the relationship between Lanza, the Newtown gunman, and his mother, Nancy, who was the first of his 27 victims. Despite too many lame All the President’s Men-style scenes of the reporters traveling to interviews and batting around ideas with their editors — including some dangerously speculative theorizing about the Lanzas — the program has the advantage of delivering new information about the mother and son, from several acquaintances who had not spoken previously in public.” Read more…)

The Hill (urban policy, racism, New Haven, local documentarian Lisa Molomot, in Top Hits)
School’s Out: Lessons From a Forest Kindergarten (education experiment in Switzerland, local documentarian Lisa Molomot, in Top Hits)

Music: Bluegrass by Ragweed on Wed., Sept. 25, at 8 PM

Ragweed_WebRagweed returns to the Best Video Performance Space on Wednesday, Sept. 25. The music starts at 8 PM and the cover is $5.

One Yale grad student, one Yale educated architect, and four contractors  with high school diplomas sounds like an unpredictable mix. Experienced  pickers all, their shared love of bluegrass and wide ranging musical tastes make for an entertaining live show.

Ragweed is a bluegrass band loosely based in New Haven County. Band members are Amanda Gregg (mandolin), Vicky Su (fiddle), Bob Boettger (bass), Chris Wuerth (guitar), Jon Wuerth (guitar) and Paul Neri (banjo). All six members sing, but usually not all at the same time. They began in 2007 as a barn band. Not happy being stuck in barns, they began performing live at venues around the state, and quickly realized they loved performing. Among their many influences are Tim O’Brien, John Hartford, Tony Rice, and Bill Monroe. Traditional bluegrass, old country, fiddle tunes, and attempts at humor, are all part of their repertoire.

UPCOMING PERFORMANCE SPACE EVENTS:

• Wednesday, Sept. 25. BLUEGRASS: RAGWEED

• Thursday, Sept. 26. CARIBBEAN MUSIC: LUKE RODNEY

• Wednesday, Oct. 9. ACOUSTIC CLASSIC ROCK: HENRY SIDLE

• Thursday, Oct. 10. GARAGE SOUL: BRONSON ROCK

• Wednesday, Oct. 16. ACOUSTIC ROCK: JAMES VELVET & THE LONESOME SPARROWS

• Thursday, Oct. 17. INDIE ROCK: ZOO FRONT

• Wednesday, Oct. 23. CLASSICAL: RAVENNA MICHALSEN & ALEXANDER SMITH

• Thursday, Oct. 24. INDIE ROCK: THE STREAMS

Wednesday, Oct. 30. NEW WAVE LEGENDS: THE FURORS

• Wednesday, Nov. 6. SINGER-SONGWRITER: ESTHER GOLTON

Rob Harmon’s recommendations 09/10/13

Rob_Harmon_image_for_picksLIFE IS SWEET (dir. Mike Leigh, 1990)

About mid-way through Mike Leigh’s 1990 breakthrough feature Life is Sweet (recently re-released on DVD by the Criterion Collection) the viewer may stop and wonder what kind of movie they are watching: a bittersweet comedy of life, with elements of the burlesque, or a drab slice of kitchen sink realism, in the vein of John Cassavetes? This sense of confusion, caused by Leigh’s rare ability to balance between extremes, is usually an indicator that he is in top form.

Mike Leigh is something of a wonder. Viewed from this side of the pond his body of filmmaking is remarkably consistent, vibrating with vitality, with breathing, lived-in characters whose penchant for train-wreck existences are only matched by their Teflon-like determination to survive in the modern-day urban environment. Though this venerable veteran of the stage, BBC teleplays, and feature film-making has achieved knighthood in his native land his contributions to British film would be better approximated—if it existed—by a distinction similar to Japan’s “living treasure” (Ken Loach is right there with him in this regard).

As its title suggests Life Is Sweet belies the austerity typical to socially conscious-filmmaking, its storyline—about a working-class family living on the outskirts of London and their orbit of friends and acquaintances—at times as light as it can be dense, often meandering like a gently-bubbling stream.

Andy (Leigh regular Jim Broadbent) is a chef whose position in a large and anonymous industrial-sized kitchen causes him to dream of the freedom he would be afforded by purchasing a snack cart that he could run on the weekends. His wife Wendy (Leigh’s then-wife Alison Steadman) helps make ends meet by working various jobs, such as a dance instructor and a sales associate in a children’s clothing store, her demeanor sociable and sprightly even in the face of adversity. Their twin daughters in their early-20s are as different from one another as they can possibly be. Natalie (Claire Skinner) is bookish and reserved, a conscientious worker, while Nicola (Ab Fab’s Jane Horrocks) carries a heavy chip on her shoulder, her seething anger at the world so complete that she seemingly wears a permanent scowl upon her face. Patsy (Stephen Rea) is a wheeler-dealer of sorts, an old chum of Andy’s; the two of them seem to melt over their beers at the local pub, giving themselves over to boozy and wistful reminiscences of the glory days of Tottenham Hotspur. Aubrey (another Leigh regular, Timothy Spall) is an overgrown man-child and aspiring restaurateur. The disastrous opening night of his The Regret Rien—a gaudy and grotesque evocation of the cuisine and culture of Paris and the music of Edith Piaf—provides the film with its most memorable and hilarious set-piece. His sous-chef Paula’s (Moya Brady) angular face is as doleful is it is doe-eyed, as she struggles to suppress wonderment and affection for her seemingly-acculturated new boss, while Nicola’s secret lover is played by a young David Thewlis, who would find his career-defining role just a few years later in Leigh’s NAKED.

Holding together this group of dreamers, losers, upstarts, and also-rans is Leigh’s compassionate sensibility: his humane, forgiving nature allows ample room for even the most hopeless of characters to work their way toward some form of resolution. Rachel Portman’s lively and unflagging chanson-influenced score, featuring oboe, accordion, and Theremin, steadily chugs throughout the movie, lightening the heavy emotional load just enough that it becomes bearable: it is the kind of airy tune that, once lodged in your head, hums along at an agreeable pace. Director of photography Dick Pope’s work is exceptional here, lensing the bleak working-class environs with a warm palette which permits traces of humanity to seep in at the edges. Singling out superior performances among this uniformly excellent cast is a difficult task but both Steadman and Horrocks are particularly deserving of praise for their strong portrayals.

This movie was an early indicator of Leigh’s mature sensibility, balancing unvarnished hardships with characters who learn to survive the slings and arrows of life, often with a giggle and a laugh. The complex and beautifully-composed opening shot of this film is perfectly indicative in this regard: Through a darkly lit foreground and a set of doors we glimpse a brightly-lit dance studio where Wendy leads a group of hesitant young girls to an upbeat bit of pop music cheerily thumping in the background. The sounds of vitality are distant, but unmistakable, as Wendy delivers sing-song encouragement and the group shyly begins to sway from side-to-side: life is (bitter) sweet, indeed!

Many of the other works by this distinguished filmmaker—Naked, the Gilbert and Sullivan biopic TOPSY-TURVY, HAPPY-GO-LUCKY, CAREER GIRLS, ALL OR NOTHING, VERA DRAKE, ANOTHER YEAR and SECRETS & LIES—are available for rental in our Mike Leigh section.

New Releases 09/10/13

Top Hits
Star Trek: Into Darkness (sci-fi/ adventure, Chris Pine. Rotten Tomatoes: 87%. Metacritic: 72. From A.O. Scott’s New York Times review: “Star Trek Into Darkness does not quite stand by itself as a satisfying movie, but then again it doesn’t need to. It is the leg of a journey that has, remarkably, lasted for nearly half a century. I hope we never tire of Kirk, Spock and the others.” Read more…)

Peeples (comedy, Craig Robinson. Rotten Tomatoes: 35%. Metacritic: 52. From Andy Webster’s New York Times review: “Tyler Perry ‘presents’ Tina Gordon Chism’s Peeples, but this pleasing ensemble comedy, while manifesting Perry trademarks, is very much Ms. Chism’s own. And that is to its benefit.” Read more…)

The Lords of Salem (horror, Sheri Moon Zombie. Rotten Tomatoes: 47%. Metacritic: 57. From Neil Genzlinger’s New York Times review: “Rob Zombie, the heavy-metal rocker turned film director, has a splattery reputation from efforts like House of 1,000 Corpses, a film defined by its body count. But his latest, The Lords of Salem, is relatively restrained as horror films go. And yes, in this genre, a film whose opening minutes include a circle of naked witches dancing around a bonfire can still be described as ‘restrained.'” Read more…)

New Blu-Ray
Star Trek: Into Darkness
Homeland: Season 2

New British
Blandings: Series 1 (comedy, Timothy Spall)

New TV
Homeland: Season 2
Elementary: Season 1
Scandal: Season 2
Revolution: Season 1

New Documentaries
Chasing Ice (documentary, ecology, climate change, James Balog. Rotten Tomatoes: 96%. Metacritic: 75. A New York Times Critic’s Pick. From Neil Genzlinger’s Times review: “The film, full of stunning images in addition to being timely, documents the work of James Balog, an environmental photographer who, spurred by an assignment from National Geographic, became determined to capture a visual representation of climate change. As he tells an audience at one point in the film, “We have a problem of perception, because not enough people get it yet.'” Read more…)

We Steal Secrets: The Story of Wikileaks (politics, secrecy, Julian Assange. Rotten Tomatoes: 95%. Metacritic: 76. From Nicolas Rapold’s New York Times review: “We Steal Secrets: The Story of WikiLeaks describes what happened when Julian Assange le the WikiLeaks project to publish sensitive documents from anonymous contributors, and when a lonely Army private, Bradley Manning, took the opportunity WikiLeaks created to air the military’s dirty laundry (and much else besides). It’s a tale of absolutist ideals that seemed somehow to curdle and of private torment in search of an outlet, with drastic results.” Read more…)

New Music DVDs
A Band Called Death (Black rock, proto-punk, underground music. Rotten Tomatoes: 96%. Metacritic: 77. From Nicolas Rapold’s New York Times review: “‘Because death is real’ is how David Hackney once explained his idea for the precociously punk band he and his brothers had formed as teenagers in 1970s Detroit. The grim reaper does rear his head in Mark Christopher Covino and Jeff Howlett’s music documentary A Band Called Death, but part of the charm and warmth of the film lies in the abiding family bonds and winning decency of the group’s surviving members. Mom set the ground rules for when they practiced at home, and years later the brothers still attribute a missed record deal to an unshakable sense of fraternal solidarity. The Hackneys [Dannis on drums, Bobby on bass, David on guitar] probably needed that unity as young black men playing hard-rocking ‘white boy music’ at an R&B moment.” Read more…)

New Releases 09/03/13

Top Hits
Now You See Me (thriller, Morgan Freeman. Rotten Tomatoes: 49%. Metacritic: 50. From Stephen Holden’s New York Times review: “It’s one thing to watch a magician pull a rabbit out of a hat. It’s quite another to watch a movie of the same thing. Movies are themselves a kind of magic, dependent on technological wizardry. That’s why, when watching a film of a humble magic trick, you feel no sense of wonder, for the stunt has already been accomplished in a medium that’s all about illusion. So what, you shrug. Now You See Me is a so-what movie on a grand scale that tries to transcend this unbreachable barrier through the sheer size and the audacity of its prestidigitation.” Read more…)

From Up On Poppy Hill (Miyazaki animated feature, Sarah Bolger [voice]. Rotten Tomatoes: 83%. Metacritic: 71. From A.O. Scott’s New York Times review: “From Up on Poppy Hill takes a gentle, nostalgic look at Japan in 1963, from the perspective of a schoolgirl who lives in the Yokohama neighborhood evoked in the title. Though it was written and ‘planned’ by Hayao Miyazaki, perhaps the greatest living fantasist in world cinema [and directed by his son Goro], this movie, based on a manga by Chizuru Takahashi and Tetsuro Sayama, is a lovely example of the strong realist tendency in Japanese animation. Its visual magic lies in painterly compositions of foliage, clouds, architecture and water, and its emotional impact comes from the way everyday life is washed in the colors of memory.” Read more…)

Arthur Newman (romance, Colin Firth. Rotten Tomatoes: 23%. Metacritic: 42. From Stephen Holden’s New York Times review: “The glum, episodic and unbelievable Arthur Newman is the film equivalent of a dysfunctional computer sloppily assembled from discarded parts of other machines. The feature directorial debut of Dante Ariola from a screenplay by Becky Johnston, it is a road movie, a romantic comedy and a speculative contemplation of identity scrambled into a bland salmagundi.” Read more…)

The English Teacher (drama/comedy, Julianne Moore. Rotten Tomatoes: 44%. Metacritic: 42. From Stephen Holden’s New York Times review: “If you eliminated its obtrusively perky soundtrack and revised its dishonest feel-good ending, The English Teacher would be a very different — and much better — movie. Instead, this would-be comedy, directed by Craig Zisk from a screenplay by the married writers Dan and Stacy Chariton, is perversely determined to make you laugh. You’re more likely to squirm, though, at what seems as incongruous as a Chekhov play staged in clown costume. At least it is not dull.” Read more…)

The Iceman (mystery, Michael Shannon. Rotten Tomatoes: 68%. Metacritic: 60. A New York Times Critic’s Pick. From Stephen Holden’s Times review: “In The Iceman Michael Shannon’s mesmerizing portrayal of Richard Kuklinski, a notorious contract killer, has the paradoxical quality, peculiar to many great screen performances, of being unreadable and transparent. You can’t really see through Richard, whose pale-blue eyes take in the world from a face as expressionless as a sphinx. But in its tiniest tremors you can sense explosive forces roiling below the mask and grasp the duality with a visceral feeling of dread. It is a performance that has the same life-or-death gravity Mr. Shannon brought to the role of a man driven half-mad by apocalyptic portents in Take Shelter.” Read more…)

Stories We Tell (documentary/drama, Michael Polley. Rotten Tomatoes: 82%. Metacritic: 90. A New York Times Critic’s Pick. From Manohla Dargis’ Times review: “For many of us, I suspect, our first sense of the past begins with the simple childhood request for a story about our families and ourselves. In her quietly moving, intelligent documentary Stories We Tell, the Canadian actress and director Sarah Polley sat down with relatives and friends and asked them to talk about her mother, Diane Polley, who died in 1990 when Ms. Polley was 11. The idea, or so it first seems, is that every fondly unearthed detail, anecdote and memory will fill in the biography of a woman whose seemingly ordinary life — of tending children, husband and home — contained multitudes and mysteries, and with tugging and shaping can be tidied into a story.” Read more…)

Sharknado (horror spoof, Tara Reid. Rotten Tomatoes: 91%.)

New Blu-Ray
Now You See Me
The Iceman

New Foreign
Blancanieves (Spain, art house drama, Maribel Verdu. Rotten Tomatoes: 94%. Metacritic: 82. From A.O Scott’s New York Times review: “Pablo Berger’s Blancanieves combines two recent movie trends: the updating of classic fairy tales and the rediscovery of silent film. Hollywood studios have lately been turning venerable children’s bedtime stories — Little Red Riding Hood, Hansel and Gretel and of course Snow White, Mr. Berger’s source — into special-effects-heavy action spectacles. Meanwhile a handful of European directors [notably Michel Hazanavicius, in The Artist, and Miguel Gomes, with Tabu] have been drawn to the archaic glamour of monochrome images, boxy frames, heightened gestures and unheard dialogue. What unites these tendencies might be a desire to find a way toward the new by means of the old, or else a more basic nostalgia, a longing for magic and wonder in a cynical time. Blancanieves deftly blends cinematic antiquarianism, period atmosphere and primal emotions.” Read more…)

New TV
Spartacus: War of the Damned
The Office: Season 9

New Documentaries
Stories We Tell (documentary/drama, Michael Polley, in Top Hits. Rotten Tomatoes: 82%. Metacritic: 90. A New York Times Critic’s Pick. From Manohla Dargis’ Times review: “For many of us, I suspect, our first sense of the past begins with the simple childhood request for a story about our families and ourselves. In her quietly moving, intelligent documentary Stories We Tell, the Canadian actress and director Sarah Polley sat down with relatives and friends and asked them to talk about her mother, Diane Polley, who died in 1990 when Ms. Polley was 11. The idea, or so it first seems, is that every fondly unearthed detail, anecdote and memory will fill in the biography of a woman whose seemingly ordinary life — of tending children, husband and home — contained multitudes and mysteries, and with tugging and shaping can be tidied into a story.” Read more…)

New Children’s DVDs
From Up On Poppy Hill (Miyazaki animated feature, Sarah Bolger [voice], in Top Hits. Rotten Tomatoes: 83%. Metacritic: 71. From A.O. Scott’s New York Times review: “From Up on Poppy Hill takes a gentle, nostalgic look at Japan in 1963, from the perspective of a schoolgirl who lives in the Yokohama neighborhood evoked in the title. Though it was written and ‘planned’ by Hayao Miyazaki, perhaps the greatest living fantasist in world cinema [and directed by his son Goro], this movie, based on a manga by Chizuru Takahashi and Tetsuro Sayama, is a lovely example of the strong realist tendency in Japanese animation. Its visual magic lies in painterly compositions of foliage, clouds, architecture and water, and its emotional impact comes from the way everyday life is washed in the colors of memory.” Read more…)

Music: Anne Marie Menta performs Thurs., Sept. 12, at 8 PM

Anne_Marie_Menta_Band_BV_010512Anne Marie Menta will bring her band to the Best Video Performance Space on Thursday, Sept. 12. The music starts at 8 PM and the cover is $5.

Anne Marie Menta hails from New Haven, CT., where she has been a long time favorite singer/songwriter. She comes from a family of three brothers, where playing and listening to music was their great passion. Her musical credits include fronting various rock & roll, folk, and country bands as a singer/guitarist, including The Wanderers, Sugar Moon, Sky Riders, and Rodeo Radio. In the mid 90s, she decided to concentrate on her own original music, and those tunes of hers that she “snuck” into her cover band repertoire now became her main focus. But, the country, folk, and pop music that she loved continued to be an influence in her writing.

Anne Marie’s first two CDs of original music, “Untried & True” and “When the Love Ran Deep” were released in 1999 and 2004 to enthusiastic reviews and gained airplay throughout New England acoustic music programs. Her third CD, “Seven Secrets,” was released in late November 2009 and continues her lyrical and melodic style of songwriting, as well as collaborations with her producer and fellow songwriter and instrumentalist, Dick Neal. She has been a featured performer at the Eli Whitney Folk Festival in New Haven, CT. and opened for artists such as Richard Shindell, The Kennedys, and Eddie from Ohio. She was a finalist in the 2004 South Florida Folk Festival Singer/Songwriter competition, and a showcase artist at NERFA (New England Regional Folk Alliance.)

UPCOMING PERFORMANCE SPACE EVENTS:

• Wednesday, Sept. 11. AMERICANA: GOODNIGHT BLUE MOON

• Thursday, Sept. 12. SINGER-SONGWRITER: ANNE MARIE MENTA

• Wednesday, Sept. 25. BLUEGRASS: RAGWEED

• Thursday, Sept. 26. CARIBBEAN MUSIC: LUKE RODNEY

• Wednesday, Oct. 23. CLASSICAL: RAVENNA MICHALSEN & ALEXANDER SMITH

• Wednesday, Nov. 6. SINGER-SONGWRITER: ESTHER GOLTON

Music: Goodnight Blue Moon to play Wed., Sept. 11, at 8 PM

Goodnight_Blue_Moon_at_Best_112912Goodnight Blue Moon will play the Best Video Performance Space on Wednesday, Sept. 11. The music starts at 8 PM and the cover is $5.

Goodnight Blue Moon is an  indie-folk band from New Haven, Connecticut that has been playing  together since 2009. Instrumentation includes cello, violin, mandolin, guitar, banjo, upright bass, trumpet, and drums, which support rich  vocal harmonies. With songs that range from americana and bluegrass-based  traditional folk to through-composed and orchestrated pop, Goodnight Blue Moon’s style is eclectic, thoughtful, and danceable at the same time.

Goodnight Blue Moon includes guitarist and singer, Erik Elligers (Pencilgrass, Mountain Movers), singer and mandolin player, Mathew Crowley (Dudley Farm String Band), Nancy Matlack Elligers on cello and banjo, Sean Elligers on trumpet and vocals, and Carl Testa (Uncertainty Music Series) on upright bass.  The group recently added Vicki Wepler on violin and Nick D’Errico on drums.  This latest rendition of the group may get a bit crowded on stage, but the new line-up is the most energetic and full sounding yet.

GNBM released How Long, their first full length record, in March, 2012.  Recorded in Lyric Hall Antiques and Restoration and their apartment, the new album includes mostly originals and also features a full string section on several songs. The group was recently featured on Connecticut Public Radio’s “Where We Live” program.

Goodnight Blue Moon playing their song “The Old Man and the Sea” at this past spring’s Daffodil Festival in Meriden:

UPCOMING PERFORMANCE SPACE EVENTS:

• Wednesday, Sept. 11. INDIE FOLK: GOODNIGHT BLUE MOON

• Thursday, Sept. 12. SINGER-SONGWRITER: ANNE MARIE MENTA

• Wednesday, Sept. 25. BLUEGRASS: RAGWEED

• Thursday, Sept. 26. CARIBBEAN MUSIC: LUKE RODNEY

• Wednesday, Oct. 23. CLASSICAL: RAVENNA MICHALSEN & ALEXANDER SMITH

• Wednesday, Nov. 6. SINGER-SONGWRITER: ESTHER GOLTON