Tuesday, September 30, 2014

New York Phil Gets Serious with Mahler/Chin Subscription Opener

Reviewed by Dwight Casimere  September 30, 2014

NEW YORK--Music Director Alan Gilbert unleashed the full creative forces of the New York Philharmonic with an ingenius program that best exemplifies his raison d'etre. Opening with the Subscription Concert Debut of Unsuk Chin's Clarinet Concerto with Finnish virtuoso Kari Kriikku, the program closed with an impassioned reading of Mahler's Symphony No. 1 in D Major. Forget the acoustical deficiencies of Avery Fisher Hall. Gilbert and company delivered a performance that would make even the most die-hard critic stand up and take notice.

To say that Chin's Clarinet Concerto is technically challenging is an understatement. She searches for notes and melodies in places where there are none to be had. "  there's something unique about the way she combines traditional souns and instrments to create something utterly fresh and modern. "She also has the uncanny capability to write music that creates colors," Gilbert expounded.

To demonstrate, he had soloist Kriikku take the front of the stage to demonstrate. He played passages from Chin's symphony in increasing levels of difficulty. First playing a passage that involved playing two notes at once. At one point, he had to be seated on a stool because the fingering on one passage was so difficult, he could no longer hold his instrument while standing erect.

"Her music may sound difficult, Gilbert said,  but those challenges serve a purpose. Her music always expresses something profoundly human. It may seem artificial, but it always expresses something profoundly human.

Gilbert's handling of the Mahler only served to show the deep rapport he has developed with the orchestra. Cues were given with the slightest wave of the hand or a subtle bend of an arm. The simpatico is at times almost subconscious. Houdini could not have done it better.

Mahler's Symphony No. 1 is a masterpiece of thematic development.  A simple bird call from the woodwinds is later developed into a full-blown theme for a movement.  A mere flourish by offstage brass is later the entre' to a rousing finale complete with pounding timpani, crashing cymbals and exploding trumpets. Not since Sir Georg Solti have I seen so diifiicult a piece performed with such aplomb.  The news reported some weeks ago that the Philharmonic extended Gilbert's contract. Wise move. He's a keeper.
Soloist Kari Kriikku
!Maestro Alan Gilbert

New York Philharmonic Scores "Two Base Hit" with Dual Openings

Reviewed by Dwight Casimere

NEW YORK--Credit New York Philharmonic Artistic Advisor, actor  Alec Baldwin and Music Director Alan Gilbert with creating an Opening Night Gala performance that reached out to engage the audience in an enticing way. "La Dolce Vita: The Music of Italian Cinema," was a program which explored Italian film music spanning the last half of the twentieth century from Fellini's La Dolce Vita (1950) to Michael Radford's Il Postino (1994). It was part of "The Art of the Score: Film Week at the Philharmonic," which later presented "Charlie Chaplin's Modern Times; The Tramp at 100," with the orchestra playing the director's original score.

The following week, the Philharmonic presented yet another opening, the start of its regular subscription season with a more traditional program of serious music;  Mahler's Symphony No. 1, along with the U.S. Premiere of  a Philharmonic co-commission with the Gothenburg Symphony, Unsuk Chin's Clarinet Concerto with Finnish viruoso Kari Kriikku as soloist.

Although the New York Yankees are absent from the Major League Baseball playoffs, they might have fared better if they had someone in their roster the likes of Maestro Gilbert, who scored a two-run-homer with this season's series of opening concerts.

Aided by the sumptuous playing of the orchestra and the lush orchestrations of William Ross, the concert was a satisfying, even if sometimes frothy, experience throughout. Add the beauty and crystalline vocals of a sultry Renee Fleming, in full cabaret mode, singing with mike in hand, the sylvan voice of pop vocalist Josh Groban (think Andrea Bocelli without the annoying warble), and the heartfelt searing violin of Joshua Bell, and you have a musical display that the Italians would rate as "Squisito!"

The evening began with Nino Rota's memorable music from "Amarcord," with Joshua Bell writing a musical love letter with Stelvio Cipriani's , Suite from "The Anonymous Venetian, followed by Ennio Morricone's lush theme "Your Love," from "Once Upon a Time in the West, with Renee Fleming caressing the microphone like a long lost love  and emitting some of the most beautiful vocal tones to ever reverberate in Avery Fisher Hall. 

The highlight of the program was the pensive theme by Andrea and Ennio Morricone, "Se," from Guiseppe Tornatore's "Cinema Paradiso." This is one of the most beautiful pieces of film music ever written, but until you've heard it as performed by the collective forces of Bell, Fleming and Groban with the New York Philharmonic, you have yet to realize the emotional depth and spiritual power of this haunting music.

Maestro Alan Gilbert

The music was accompanied by fragments of film clips, most notably from the great Visconti film, "The Leopard," with Burt Lancaster as Don Fabrizio, the Prince of Salina, dancing with Claudia Cardinale. The rest of the visuals, projected on a screen behind and above the orchestra featured some Monty Python-esque animation that, frankly, I found distracting. The lone exception was the rising moon effect of the great Fellini, occasionally tipping his signature Borsalino fedora. Nice touch!

Monday, September 29, 2014

Handsome and Homeless, Richard Gere Transforms Himself in Elegant Masterpiece "Time Out of Mind"

Dwight Casimere with Time Out of Mind Director Oren Moverman

Reviewed by Dwight Casimere at the New York Film Festival September 25

Story and photos by Dwight Casimere

NEW YORK--"Handsome." "Homeless." Only one of those words would be the first thing to come to mind in a word-association test in relation to the actor Richard Gere. However, in Director Oren Moverman's (The Messenger, Rampart)  observational film "Time Out of Mind," the "silver fox" of leading men (The Cotton Club, Pretty Woman, Arbitrage) manages to devolve himself to the status of a befuddled homeless man, whom it takes us almost half the film to learn is George Hammond, a man formerly of some means and a stable family life, who, as the result of an unspecified set of circumstances, finds himself homeless. I found the film troubling to watch and a bit unsettling perhaps because given today's precarious social and economic times, George could be you or me in the blink of an eye.

We meet George, who at this moment is nameless, sleeping in the bathtub of an abandoned apartment somewhere in Manhattan's East Village. The building manager, played by Steve Buscemi (Tv's "Empire Boardwalk") is trying to uproot him, because, apparently, the heretofore abandoned and dilapidated building has been sold to new owners and is in for a facelift and George, along with any other squatters, who may have occupied the premises, have to hat up and head out. George emerges from his fog long enough to protest and vaguely mumble that he's awaiting the return of someone named "Sheila," who we surmise may be his estranged wife, who we later learned has died from cancer. When George arises to stumble his way out, he eventually stands erect and we see him dressed in the remains of what was a formerly a quite nice business suits, and to click open the roller bag extension handle of one of those pieces of hard-bodied Samsonite luggage that road-warrior business store in the overhead bins on business flights. Its a brief glimpse into George's now distant past.

There's quickly another clue. On his way on the road to oblivion, in which he'll be sleeping in subway trains, hustling spare change for cheap beer and a sandwich or wondering where his next warm bed is for the night, he spots a beautiful young girl and her Reggae-looking hip black boyfriend. He follows them through the East Village's storied Tompkin's Square. It quickly becomes evident that this is his estranged daughter, Maggie (Jena Malone), a bartender in a local pub. There are several tense scenes in that pub between the two as the film unfolds and we see George at various stages of devolution. The daughter/George sparring  is sort of a plot touchstone that brings us to the films touching conclusion.

Director Moverman's style of shooting the film with his long-time collaborator, cinematographer Bobby Bukowski has the look and feel of a narrative or documentary, almost bordering on the exhaustive work of Frederick Wiseman. There's good reason for that comparison. The film itself has been in gestation for thirty years, with Gere and Moverman picking up the baton in the past decade. We see Gere looking at life through windows and screens, acting  as if he were struggling to touch the beings inside, but being blocked by an invisible barrier at every turn.

The film immerses the viewer in George's world. Shadowy figures swirl around him as New Yorkers go about their daily business, oblivious to the struggles and inner conflicts he endures. We hear snatches of conversations a the drama of other people's lives play out just outside the range of his peripheral vision. The random sounds are deliberately left in the film, according to director Moverman, in order to heighten its sense of reality. "Every director wants 'clean sound.' We decided to leave all the distracting noise in the film, because the reality is that while George is going through his troubles, other people's real-life dramas are also being played out." The sense of encroachment is everywhere. The sirens, the off-camera arguments between couples. George can't get a good night's sleep in the streets because of all the noise. Selling his good suit and overcoat, he's able to scrape up enough money for a handful of loose cans of beer, that he quaffs down at daybreak in order to drown out the pain of his misery.

The technique of shooting Gere from afar was actually a device employed by Moverman in creating the film.  In a news conference following the press screening for the New York Film Festival, Moverman shared how he got shots of Gere panhandling from afar with a hidden camera from inside a Starbucks almost a block away. The interactions between Gere and the passersby were real and palpable. Most ignored him. A few acknowledged him and some even recognized the star beneath the scruffy exterior. "It was kind of a Rorschach test for people. One was a French tourist, a woman who thought I was really a homeless guy and tried to give me some food.  The other two who recognized me were African American and when they just passed me they went, 'Hey Rich. How you doin' man!?' There was no question about what I was doing or  'Have you fallen on hard times?' and 'What happened to your career?' Just 'Rich, how you doin' man,' and they just continued on their way."

For the most part, people barely looked at him and that is precisely the theme that recurs throughout the film. Gere makes the point several times as the character Geoge. "Nobody sees us. We're invisible," he tells a hyperactive wanderer he befriends in the Bellevue homeless shelter, played with exquisite
high-wire pirouettes by veteran stage and screen mega-star Ben Vereen. "We're cartoon characters," he says, doing robotic moves with Vereen in the middle of the street. The rest of the time, George spends his time drinking or repeating cryptic pharases absent-mindfully. His delirium speaks more to his sense self-loathing and denial  than it does to any real cognitive loss. Oh, about that handsomeness. Reference is made several times in the film and brought home in multiple utterances by a case worker who is screening him prior to admitting him to the homeless shelter. "I'll give you your pass to get a bed tonight if you'll answer my questions, 'handsome," she says, bribing him into cooperation.

George/Gere has a tryst with a homeless woman, who he mistakenly calls Sheila, played with relish by Kyra  Sedgwick. Apparently it was enough to get her attention. The two have a tete-a-tete at a picnic table overlooking the East River, then indulge in a roll in the hay in a knapsack in a back alley. Love among the ruins.

I know, it's hard to imagine Richard Gere as a disheveled homeless person, no matter how much research he does and how much he adorns himself in sack-cloth and ashes, he will always be one of this era's most potent leading men. It's to his credit as both an actor and as a human being, that he is able to immerse himself in a character and give him breath and life and make you want to reach to touch him with empathy. "I think we all have a yearning to be known and be seen," he told the news conference assemblage at Lincoln Center. "I come her and you want to hear what I want to say. But, I'm the same guy that I was on the street, and no one wanted to hear his story. I could see how quickly we can all descend into this scary territory when we're totally cut loose from all our connections to people."

The title for the film is gleaned from a Bob Dylan studio album of the same title. Moverman also cowrote the 2007 Bob Dylan curiosity "I'm Not There," on the set of which Moverman and Gere met. "There was a book, "Land of Lost Souls," by a guy named Cadillac Man, a homeless man. It was a very unschooled autobiography, but it was by someone who was able to communicate his world," Gere explained.  "I knew this was the way it should feel....that point of view.

"What I wanted to convey is the sense of the process being the movie. Going through the bureaucracy is enough plot. You don't need to pump it up. Life itself, without any dramaturgy, is enough."

Unfortunately, "Time Out of Mind," doesn't have a distributor. The film is in its U.S. Premiere at the 52nd New York Film Festival presenting Sunday, October 5 at 6pm at Alice Tully Hall, Lincoln  Center and at 8:45pm Thursday, October 9 with a Q and A with director Oren Moverman and actor Richard Gere. October 8 is "An Evening with Richard Gere" at the Elinor Brunin Munroe Film Center and Alice Tully Hall, as part of the NYFF52 Main Slate. For tickets and information, visit www.filmlinc.com.

Saturday, September 27, 2014


 Reviewed by Dwight Casimere September 26 at the
52nd New York Film Festival

News conference photos by Dwight Casimere
Gone Girl publicity photos courtesy

NEW YORK--"Gone Girl" opened the New York Film Festival's 52nd year in grand style with stars Ben Affleck, Rosamund Pike, TV's Neil Patrick Harris and Tyler Perry walking the Red Carpet at the AMC Lincoln Square Theatre, near Lincoln Center. The film, a steel coil taut suspense mystery , places its director David Flincher right up there with Alfred Hitchcock, in terms of his ability to deliver a slick plot-twister with style.

Based on Gillian Flynn's blockbuster novel, the film tells the story of Nick and Amy Dunne (Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike), two high flying New York writers who lose their jobs due to the recession. They move to North Carthage, Missouri (filmed in stunning clarity on location in Cape Girardeau, Missouri, at the southern tip of Illinois) to take care of Nick's ailing mother.

Flynn, who also wrote the screenplay,  uses the device of telling the story alternately through the voices of Nick in off screen monologue and Amy, through her diary. Every plot point in the story offers another clue, including details of their courtship and marriage. Although two-and-a-half hours long, this is a film in which you dare not take a potty break or go out for popcorn, because you just might miss something crucial.

Director Fincher ("The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo," "The Social Network"), knows his way around a mystery and displays his chops here with dramatic flourish. The performances are nuanced, with Affleck vacillating between befuddlement and fear to over-boiling rage and Pike expertly navigating the twisted path from submissive, victimized wife to diabolical schemer. Tyler Perry delivers a surprisingly strong supporting cast performance as Nick's Johnny Cochran-styled attorney.

Detectives Boney (Kim Dickens) and Gilpin (Patrick Fagan) deliver the stock skeptic (Boney) who doesn't quite buy the obvious evidence as its presented versus Gilpin, who is convinced Nick is the culprit.

The film starts with a meet cute between Nick and Amy at a Brooklyn single's party and hop-skips through their whirlwind courtship, steamy sex life and eventual marriage. The film quickly segues through to the demise of their comfy lifestyle and careers.

A dreamy sunrise and shots of deer roaming in the woods just beyond their comfy small town home  dramatizes their sudden shift from the bright lights of the big city to Main Street America.

It's then that Nick and Amy's lives truly begin to unravel. In spite of their best efforts, Nick's mother dies. He's forced to place his father in a nursing home, due to the violent onslaught of Alzheimer's. The Bar that Nick bought with his wife's trust fund money, proves to be an emotional albatross around his neck. His relationship with his twin sister, Margo, who his partner in the bar and confidant throughout, is a barometer of Nick's emotional ups and downs throughout the film.

The mystery begins to unfurl when, on the afternoon of their fifth wedding anniversary, Nick comes home from the bar to find a smashed coffee table, signs of breaking and entering and his wife, nowhere to be found. Detectives Boney and Gilpin are called to the scene and find traces of blood in the Dunn's otherwise gleaming, modern kitchen and a possible murder weapon in the fireplace. Almost right away, Gilpin is convinced its a potential murder scene. Boney isn't so sure. It all looks a little too staged.

Things immediately start to go bad. After Nick's display of hubris and his withering responses under cross-examination, the two investigators immediately set their sights on him. Media hounds and a near torch-bearing horde of townspeople add to Nick's harried demeanor. This is the only place where Fincher seemed to overplay his hand. The crowd is just a little too vigilante for today. It reminded of the Frankenstein chasing scenes from the old Karloff movies. As a former TV reporter who covered several high profile trials, including OJ, I can tell you I never once chased a moving van to nail a soundbite with a murder defendant.

Nick's plight isn't helped any further by the discovery of Amy's diary, which provides evidence of conflict in their marriage. The pages reveal that there were arguments over an unwanted pregnancy. instances of spousal abuse and suspicions of Nick's infidelity. Subsequent pages reveal her  growing fear that Nick will become more violent.

The nail in the coffin is Amy's final entry.  "He is certain to kill me."  To compound matters further, she's left a series of notes, labeled as "clues" to her disappearance, which Nick explains is part of an annual treasure hunt game that the couple  play each year as a shared joke as during their anniversary celebration. Rather than leading Nick and the police on a treasure hunt, the clues only lead to Nick's further incrimination.

There are lots of shared signals and internal telltales in their relationship. Such as the way Nick touches his chin in almost sign-language fashion, to let her know when he's being absolutely truthful.

Enter Nick's celebrity defense attorney Tanner Bolt ( Tyler Perry), who advises Nick to own up to his mistakes publicly and take the bull by the horns. He urges him to go on the attack. He begins to dig up some dirt on Amy in order to sully her goody-two-shoe reputation.  To counter the media barrage portraying her as an abused wife, he advises that Nick portray her as the conniving little rich girl with a sordid past that she apparently is.

Bolt (Perry) proves his work by starting to earn his exhorbitant $100,000 retainer fee right away. His henchmen dig up the dirt: there's a pre-Nick relationship with a fellow rich kid college sweetheart,  played by Neil Patrick Harris, who she accuses of stalking. We later meet him as a smarmy,  self indulgent multi-millionaire who still harbors an blinding lust for Amy. This proves to be his undoing in spectacular fashion. I will say no more.

There are some terrific scenes and strong performances throughout. In addition to Perry as Nick's attorney, Carrie Coon gets an honorable mention as Nick's twin sister and morale booster.

In a news conference following the press screening for Gone Girl at the New York Film Festival, which preceded the Red Carpet Opening Night, director Fincher and the rest of the cast, along with author/screenwriter Flynn, talked about the process of making the film.

Although it was shot out of sequence, as most films are, Fincher said that one of the important elements that he tried to maintain over the course of filming, was the element of surprise. He accomplished this with the gradual unraveling of the plot through the actions of the characters and the visual elements  he placed with precision throughout the film.

Fincher employs a number of effective techiques to heighten the sense suspense.  In "Gone Girl" he pulls out all the stops. "When I first read the book," he said, answering a reporter's question, "I realized that within it, there were three movies." Fincher somehow manages to take his audience through all of them in one sitting, without missing a beat. "Gone Girl" opens in theatrers everywhere October 3. Even though I've already seen it, I plan to be at my local theatre to see it again on opening day.

Ben Affleck, Rosamund Pike, Neil Patrick Harris and Tyler Perry

With Author and Screenwriter Gillian Flynn

 Tyler Perry fields a question from a reporter

 Below: Ben Affleck responds to a question

Wednesday, September 10, 2014