film review: THE OTHER SIDE OF THE MIRROR — BOB DYLAN LIVE AT THE NEWPORT FOLK FESTIVAL, 1963-65

Directed by Murray Lerner

[Article originally appeared: http://www.rabbireport.com/archives/2007/10/nyff-07-review-4.htm]

Us hipsters living in such edgy NYC neighborhoods as the Lower East Side or Williamsburg have sunk a lot of dough into our music collections over the years and while we periodically weed through our CDs and LPs, tossing out the odd Terence Trent D’Arby or Linda Rondstat album, you’d be hard pressed to find anyone who has loosened their grips on their copy of Sgt. Pepper’s or Back in Black. And then there’s the ubiquitous Dylan collection which necessarily includes Bringing it All Back Home, Highway 61 Revisited and Blonde on Blonde. [My personal favorite is Nashville Skyline but that’s getting off topic.] It’s no coincidence that any serious Dylan collection includes those particular three works for it was during that seminal period when Bob Dylan folkie, became ‘DYLAN, Spokesman of a Generation’. Nowhere is that transformation more vivid than in the new documentary, Murray Lerner’s “The Other Side of the Mirror: Bob Dylan Live at The Newport Folk Festival, 1963-1965″. All the footage –70% of which has never been seen before– is lovingly pieced together from those three summers and Lerner, wisely, allows the footage to speak for itself. There are no talking heads, no aging rockers’ waxing philosophical, mostly just Bob Dylan playing Bob Dylan songs. Oh, there are some terrific moments with Joan Baez, Johnny Cash, Pete Seeger and Peter, Paul & Mary, but mostly it’s just Bobby Dylan, singing into the microphone while strumming away on his guitar.

Dylan had emerged from the NYC folk scene in the early 60′s and had already caused quite a stir but not many of us aforementioned hipsters were around back in those days, or at least not old enough to remember just what a sensation this punk folk singer caused back in the day. Folk music was such a huge phenomenon at the time, its fans such die hard purists, that any modifications to their songs were often met with outrage and while Dylan was initially met with a certain amount of skepticism and even derision, it was impossible for anyone with a mind of their own to ignore the obvious: this skinny Jewish kid was the shit. As portrayed in the new Todd Haynes biopic, “I’m Not There”, Dylan was all about persona and his particular brand of shape shifting left everyone enthralled. Over the course of “The Other Side of The Mirror”, we get to witness one of these morphings right before our eyes; that of a shy self-conscious folkie into a cocky rock star. It’s worth the price of admission, I can assure you.

film review: GONE BABY GONE

Written & directed by Ben Affleck
Produced by Alan Ladd, Jr., Dan Rissner & Sean Bailey
Written by Affleck & Aaron Stockard, based on the novel by Dennis Lehane
Director of Photography John Toll
Edited by William C. Goldenberg
Released by Miramax
USA. 115 min. Rated R
Cast:  Casey Affleck, Michelle Monaghan, Morgan Freeman, Ed Harris, John Ashton, Amy Madigan & Amy Ryan

[Article originally appeared:  http://www.film-forward.com/gonebaby.html]

There oughta be a law that all future Boston-based movies have to take place in Pittsburgh or Cleveland. In recent years, we’ve seen our share of the genre – perhaps we’ll refer to them as chowder flicks – among them “The Departed” and “Mystic River”, the latter which, like “Gone Baby Gone”, was adapted from a novel by Dennis Lehane. In case you don’t recognize the Boston patois, it hasn’t come all that far along since I pahcked my cah in Hahvad Yahd.   In fact, it’s one of many clichés, among the red herrings, in Ben Affleck’s overwrought directorial debut.

As private investigator Patrick Kenzie, Casey Affleck (a fine actor to be sure — see “The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford” if you can) is about 10 years too young for the role. But that’s okay; the screenplay smooths over that logistical problem by having several of its characters tell Patrick that he looks too green, but his partner and girlfriend Angie Gennaro (Michelle Monaghan) is just as fresh faced as he.

When a four-year-old girl is kidnapped from her drug-addicted single mother/monster (a convincing Amy Ryan), the little girl’s aunt (Amy Madigan) and her husband, both disenchanted with the police’s investigation of the kidnapping, hire the local investigators, who specialize in missing persons. Madigan, slipping seamlessly into hausfrau mode, is just one of many fine actors obviously doing the director an enormous turn. Read more

film review: THE AXE IN THE ATTIC

Directed by Ed Pincus & Lucia Small

Article originally appeared: http://www.rabbireport.com/archives/2007/10/the-axe-in-the.htm

After the New Orleans flood of 1965, many of those who survived would keep an axe in their attic so that, in the event the water should ever again rise to the top of their homes, they would have a way out. Interestingly, some of the survivors of Hurricane Katrina, forever immortalized in TV and still images, standing on their roofs hoping for rescue owe their lives to this practice.  Now documentary makers Lucia Small and Ed Pincus bring us “The Axe in the Attic”, a fine contribution to the 45th New York Film Festival and one that pulls no punches. Where’s the outrage you may ask; this remarkable documentary gives its subjects – both victims as well as its creators – a platform for expressing it. The results are moving.

Don’t allow the blip of controversy about this movie get in the way of checking it out. While Spike Lee’s “When The Levees Broke”, a powerful and necessary work of documentary film making itself, is planted firmly in New Orleans interviewing survivors and celebrities alike, Pincus and Small hit the road for a 60-day tour of America’s back roads to find their subjects.  It’s no exaggeration to suggest that those displaced residents of New Orleans belong to the single largest American diaspora. They can be found in FEMA trailer parks and crashing with family, but their collective feelings of depression and hope are truly profound. The controversy – or criticism – that the film is generating has to do with the two filmmakers inserting themselves so centrally into the story. Many of said critics believe that the focus ought to be solely on the victims and that showing the film maker’s own problems just intrudes on the victims’ dignity and to be honest, at times their presence does have a taint of narcissism, but ultimately I found the decision to be a successful device. Read more

film review: REDACTED

Written & directed by Brian De Palma
Produced by Jason Kliot, Simone Urdl, Joana Vicente & Jennifer Weiss
Director of Photography Jonathon Cliff
Edited by Bill Pankow
Released by Magnolia Pictures
Country of Origin: Canada/USA. 90 min. Rated R
Cast:  Patrick Carroll, Rob Devaney, Izzy Diaz, Mike Figueroa, Ty Jones, Kel O’Neill, Daniel Stewart Sherman, Bridget Barkan & Zahra Kareem Alzubaidi

Coming out of Brian De Palma’s new film “Redacted”, I felt I had been somewhat assaulted. It was like Robert De Niro had come up from behind me with a baseball bat and just whacked the crap out my noggin. It’s not that the movie lacks impact; it’s just that there wasn’t a moment of its 90-minute running time where I wasn’t reminded how significant the film was supposed to be. Truthfully, it’s a movie with a very ambitious agenda, and I give it credit for that.

The story follows a group of soldiers on a tour of duty in Iraq. De Palma effectively conveys just how mundane, just how overwhelmingly tedious the experience of modern day soldiering can be, and how volatile that boredom can become. But what is especially unique about Redacted is the telling of its story, which is done through a series of different cameras, each an observer or witness – a soldier’s video diary, a French documentary crew, a barrack’s surveillance camera, and various video IM chat logs. Pieced together in chronological order, they tell a grizzly story indeed. Read more

film review: PARANOID PARK

Directed by Gus Van Sant
Written by Gus Van Sant & Blake Nelson
Edited by Gus Van Sant
Cinematography by Christopher Doyle
Cast: Gave Evans, Daniel Liu, Jake Miller, Taylor Momsen & Lauren McKinney
IFC Films
France/USA. 85 minutes. Rated R.

[Article originally appeared: http://thefilmlot.com/tflblogwp/?p=121]

It has already become indie lore that “Paranoid Park”, Gus Van Sant’s new film, was cast through MySpace. It’s not so outrageous when you consider that most of the actors average about 15 years old and, characteristically, Van Sant wanted as natural a cast as possible. In keeping with “Jerry” (2000), “Elephant” (2003), and “Last Days” (2005), the film has that meandering, long take vibe.

The film goes back and forth in time, a popular device these days, but one that works particularly well in a movie that is pretty much a suspense story. Each time the film’s plot is advanced forward you get fed clues to the mystery. The mystery in question is the grizzly death on a set of train tracks located very close to the skateboard park of the movie’s title. Alex (Gabe Nevins), a high school student and skateboarder is experiencing heavy duty problems at home: his parents have split and his cheerleader girlfriend (Taylor Momsen) just seems to be using him to advance her own social status. We see Alex keeping what appears to be a diary throughout and which becomes a central device. It’s also one of the things that humanizes Alex. He comes across as thoughtful and sensitive and even has something resembling a sense of humor. This is what, for me, separates this movie from Van Sant’s other more recent output. Alex’s journey over the course of the few days and the choices he makes clearly shows emotional growth. It’s refreshing in a movie where Van Sant could’ve chosen to show the similar disaffected kids who roamed through Elephant. There is one scene between Alex and his father, who has recently moved out, which is actually quite moving. The father, in spite of his brief screen time, is one of several adults who come across fully realized. Another is a police detective (Daniel Liu) who visits the high school to interview its “skateboarding community”. Read more

film review: GO GO TALES

Written & directed by Abel Ferrara
Cinematography by Fabio Cianchetti
Edited by Fabio Nunziata
Production Design by Frank DeCurtis
Cast: Willem Dafoe, Bob Hoskins, Matthew Modine, Asia Argento, Sylvia Miles & Burt Young
USA/Italy.  2008.

[Article originally appeared: http://www.rabbireport.com/archives/2007/10/nyff-07-review-1.htm]

Abel Ferrara’s new film “Go Go Tales” takes place almost entirely in a seedy New York City strip club called Ruby’s Paradise and will likely be cause for some controversy due to a scene involving a dancer who compensates for her lack of talent with an act involving her affectionate Rottweiler. While the look of Ferrara’s film is reminiscent of the Cassavettes 1976 cult classic, “The Killing of a Chinese Bookie” (both involve strip club owners who must come to terms with their gambling addictions) the comparisons end there. While the cast of misfits in both pictures have created makeshift families where they work, Bookie is far darker in both look and tone (“Go Go Tales” is apparently a comedy) and the former film is… well… better.

With a colorful cast, including Willem Dafoe as club owner Ray Ruby, Matthew Modine as his silent partner & brother Johnie, Bob Hoskins, Sylvia Miles in yet another memorable role, and various dancers, bouncers and club patrons, a mostly entertaining 96 minutes transpires but the film is far from great. “Bad Lieutenant” or “The Funeral” are two far superior Ferrara films. However, whatever the film lacks was more than made up for by the press conference which followed. Here are a few of the highlights.