Sunday, October 4, 2009


Ten years ago at the first Woodstock Film Festival, Jonathan Demme screened his Talking Heads performance film STOP MAKING SENSE, so it makes perfect sense to screen his latest film, NEIL YOUNG'S TRUNK SHOW, at this year's Woodstock Film Festival tenth anniversary. Demme's enthusiasm is contagious, spreading over the audience like wildfire during the introduction, saying he wanted to capture the "energy of the rock and roll show" starting from scratch in making art and putting it on film that would create a satisfying emotional experience. And that's exactly what happens watching Neil Young rock away on tour through his direction.

Demme's earlier film with Neil Young was HEART OF GOLD, a tightly coordinated collaboration with Young providing his own creative insights into the filmmaking process. This time around, the directorial undertaking unfolds with Demme focusing on all aspects of the staging during a tour stop at the Tower Theatre in Upper Darby, PA. Built in 1927, the theater was a vaudeville house one of the area's first movie houses and since the 1970s has been a venue for music concerts. It is known for its natural acoustic properties and used in the past for recording live albums. Neil Young booked many theaters like this on his tour paying homage to the spirits of past performers and theatrical performances that linger among the collection of equipment and items that sometimes have no meaning other than they come out of Neil Young's trunk. It feels like a painting, a still life set up with appropriate lighting, elements making up the scene, an artist ready to capture it all on canvas. And then the music explodes.

As part of the intro, Demme warned the audience that if they don't like Neil Young, electric guitars, a 22-minute electric guitar rendition or very loud rock music, they should leave the theater before the start of the film. And then it begins, rocking hard and loud, later the acoustic guitar is brought in, harmonic sounds as Neil Young communes with the past and the present. His music is an emotional journey through the epic, long distance, hard core blaring electric guitar, then back down into the acoustics all along resonating that satisfying, draining, emotional experience.

NEIL YOUNG'S TRUNK SHOW embodies the musician heart, mind and soul with an astute filmmaker's eye that mixes sight and sound with a combination of cameras, digital and stock footage into a blend- some grainy, hi def, full of lighting and shadow design adding to the performance itself and highlighting rarely-heard selections from Neil Young's proverbial "trunk". Great stuff. Long live rock!

film review: 2B: THE ERA OF FLESH IS OVER

Even the logline is a statement that cannot be dismissed merely as exaggerated fiction: New York, soon. Technology's exponential growth is fast and furious. Human life is in the process of being transformed. Mia 2.0, the world's first "Transbeman" and her creator, "father" Dr. Tom Mortlake make a shocking, global political statement "designed to prove that human reliance on the fragile, human body is over and eternal life is at hand". It sends a spine tingling chill down my own fragile, flesh body.

The story is not a new one with well known science fiction authors as well as Mary Shelley's foreboding message in Frankenstein - that we ought not to dabble with Nature by playing God. There are consequences. And there are scientific and medical advances that humans are accepting into their lives at a remarkable level of technological expansion despite expressing discomfort at the pace and what is predicted as what will be.

The setting in a gritty New York is familiar with the lights and huge screens in Times Square streaming breaking news from around the world. James Remar (THE WARRIORS, COTTON CLUB, 48 HOURS) plays Dr. Tom Mortlake (mort=death, lake=water,birth), an eccentric technology inventor and billionaire who lives in a cavernous mansion echoing medieval great halls and labyrinths and is surrounded by and immersed in media that plays throughout the environs. His genius/madness brought into being Mia, played by Jane Kim (WEST 32ND STREET, FEEL), a beautiful, naive creation, who is summoned to participate in Mortlake's showdown with leaders of the "Fleshists" movement. The Fleshists are the political power ready to take Mortlake down before MINDFILE (a software that downloads human consciousness) becomes available to the public. During a news blast, the entire world, including down and out journalist Clay Konroy, played by Kevin Corrigan (THE DEPARTED, GOODFELLAS), as Mia executes Mortlake, shooting him in the head in cold blood. She leaves the scene with Mortlake's cerebral/soul essence in a box, escaping human homicide detective, Vicky Borano's (Florencia Lozano) hot pursuit. Following Mortlake's direction, Mia finds Clay and asks for his help in uploading the first MINDFILE, thus resurrecting Mortlake back for his eternal life. The white light spreads all over. All are welcome.

Visual effects and production design with technological graphics delivers a synthesis between the digitized and filmic styles. Everything could be going on either now or the very near right now, especially the gritty neighborhoods that camouflage the ultra cool tech bar where the fugitive Mia meets with Clay for her side of the story. But it's the music that gives it the human touch and composer Michael Galasso's score is beautifully poignant throughout this film adding sentiment into an otherwise biotecho engrossing and a seriously palatable course in science fiction entertainment.

Watch the streaming video from the Woodstock Film Festival panel Redesigning Humanity- The New Frontier on

Friday, October 2, 2009


AGAINST THE CURRENT, written and directed by Peter Callahan, premiered at the Sundance Film Festival this year. As most filmmakers already know, the audience there is an eclectic sampling of demographics representing Sudance festival lovers while the recent screening at the Woodstock Film Festival has the hometown crowd welcoming the hometown filmmaker son of the Hudson Valley.

The film's premise sets the tone where the main character, Paul (Joseph Fiennes) is still grieving after five years over the loss of his wife and unborn child. A date is marked on the calendar in memory of that fateful day and plans are set into motion to swim the length of the Hudson River starting from Troy all the way to the Verazzano Bridge where the ocean begins. He enlists his best friend, Jeff (Justin Kirk), a wisecracking actor/bartender who invites Liz (Elizabeth Reaser) to come along on the boat that will escort Paul on his mission. During the first leg of the swim, Paul reminds Jeff of his promise five years earlier and Liz gets the story from Jeff on Paul's plan to commit suicide. From that point, Liz tries to change Paul's mind and despite the stopover at her mother's (superbly played by Mary Tyler Moore) with other eccentric family members and a night together, Paul's course and destiny is apparently set.

Justin Kirk (WEEDS) and Elizabeth Reaser still have the onscreen chemistry first seen in PUCCINI FOR BEGINNERS and, as the supporting cast, their banter moves the film along with the swimmer. Mary Tyler Moore's character, an exggerated, blissfully ignorant suburbabite living in her own glossed-over bubble, is reminiscent of the mother character in ORDINARY PEOPLE who couldn't deal with her younger son's attempted suicide. Joseph Fiennes understands the tortured soul character from ELIZABETH and SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE where as a young Shakespeare, he was prodded into writing a play about pirates, clowns and "a bit with a dog" then, surrounded by actors, eager with anticipation, he describes the scene where Romeo takes the poison and Juliet, upon seeing him dead, kills herself. Unresolved grief is just as strong as true love in its purest form. At times, there are no words that can comfort.

The setting and scenery along the Hudson Valley is beautiful and these moments are skillfully interwoven by editor Michael Taylor (ORDER OF MYTHS). While not always in the order except for the beginning (Troy, New York) and the end (Atlantic Ocean), the film is deftly handled along with music composr Anton Sanko's lyrical calling to our primordial emotions, capturing the alluring mystique that the Hudson River evokes. It's one that the local population have known for a long time.

AGAINST THE CURRENT will be playing at the local theaters in and around Hudson Valley.

Thursday, October 1, 2009


The tenth annual Woodstock Film Festival Opening Night event promised and delivered a communal experience exemplified a generation ago by showing on a big screen WOODSTOCK: NOW AND THEN produced and directed by Barbara Kopple with executive producer, Michael Lang who produced the Woodstock Music and Arts Festival in 1969. The Q&A following the film was led by WFF founder and executive director Meira Baustein whose film arts community is an inviting environment for such collaborations.

While there are numerous docs and books on the now mind numbing, legendary gathering of the masses for a weekend of music and human connection, Barbara Kopple used the archival footage from early documentary filmmakers (including a young, seriously-focused Thelma Schoonmaker) intertwined with recently-discovered treasure trove of memories, personal photo stashes and artistic renditions.

It's the sights and sounds that have the most impact; however, as there were many in the audience who were participants reliving the event that so many (including myself) could only wish they could have been. Barbara Kopple goes beyond the obvious and finds elements that connect and enliven the main event presented- from a Craigslist posting, an attendee who had just arrived in the U.S. and found himself on the road to Woodstock, a new generation of student musicians from the School of Rock, framed Woodstock admission tickets numbers 1 & 2, a high school student's assignment who wrote for and received a press pass, led to amazing photographs never seen before, a couple who met at Woodstock frolick with their grandchildren forty years later, an artist from another country, who like so many, heard about the event but couldn't be there, has a comic book version highlighting the now-famous stories.

While I was on the way to Woodstock, I had the soundtrack blasting, taking me back on a long strange trip through my own turbulent adolescent years. From the opening scene, the music took me in and didn't let go. Watching the performances that the Woodstock audience themselves had missed is a wonderful experience interspersed with behind-the-scenes backstories and how things turned out through sheer willpower (NO RAIN). The final day (Monday morning) with Jimi Hendrix (scheduled to be on stage Sunday afternoon) who performed before the remaining 40,000 proving the adage that the best things come to those who don't (or can't) get up on time. True in this case and I stayed with this film until the last credits roll. Truly a fitting way to open the Woodstock Film Festival going on from Wednesday, September 30 through Sunday, October 4, 2009.