“Gray State is less a movie than it is a warning,” David Crowley said about a fiction film he was making about a second American Revolution, this time completely from within. “We do not live in a dictatorship, but we do live in a police state. . . . Americans believe that they can’t do anything, and day by day they’re becoming correct.” While crowdfunding the film, tragedy struck, and Crowley and his wife and daughter were dead. Director Erik Nelson delves into the story, which is filled with mystery, intrigue, and, perhaps, conspiracy, in A Gray State, which opens today at Cinema Village.
WAIT FOR YOUR LAUGH (Jason Wise, 2017)
Angelika Film Center, 18 West Houston St. at Mercer St., 212-995-2570
Landmark at 57 West, 657 West 57th St. at 12th Ave.
Opens Friday, November 3
To follow up his two Somm documentaries and Uncorked reality series, director Jason Wise decided his next film would be about how entertainment has changed over the last hundred years. But then he found “the kindest, toughest, hardest working, and most inspiring person I’ve ever met in my life” and was able to tell that same story from the point of view of one extraordinary figure. Wait for Your Laugh is the captivating, bittersweet tale of Rose Marie, who began her career at the age of three in 1926 and is still as feisty as ever at ninety-four. “Believe me when I tell you, she’s the history of show business,” longtime friend Peter Marshall, who is ninety-one himself, says of the actress, comedian, and singer, who was born Rose Marie Mazetta in New York City in 1923. She started out as Baby Rose Marie, having with her own radio show at the age of four; she went into vaudeville and performed on the cabaret circuit, appeared on Broadway, and was the first woman to host a TV game show. She fell in love with Bobby Guy, a trumpeter for Kay Kyser and Bing Crosby; was beloved and supported by Al Capone and Bugsy Siegel; opened the Flamingo in Vegas with Jimmy Durante; costarred in such television series as The Dick Van Dyke Show and The Doris Day Show and was a long-running favorite on The Hollywood Squares; and developed the successful touring show 4 Girls 4 with Margaret Whiting, Helen O’Connell, and Rosemary Clooney. All along the way, she fought fiercely for her independence, constantly expanding her repertoire, determined to always be working, preferably her way.
“She had great respect for an audience, which is something that you don’t see anymore,” her childhood friend Ruthie Shapiro explains. “Because I loved to work for an audience, and I loved to hold them in the palm of my hand, which I do. That’s a secret,” Rose Marie adds with a sly look at the camera, and she does indeed have us in the palm of her hand. Wise and cinematographer Jackson Myers shoot Rose Marie close-up, her bright face shining over a dark interior, her enthusiasm for life and all it brings, the good and the bad, pouring through the screen. Wise, who edited the film with Bryan Rodner Carr and produced and wrote it with his wife, Christina Wise, also speaks with Carl Reiner, who is ninety-five, Dick Van Dyke, ninety-one, Tim Conway, eighty-three, and Community creator Dan Harmon, the kid at forty-four. The archival and behind-the-scenes footage of Rose Marie through the years, from singing as a little girl to traveling with her husband to appearing on television shows to doing voice-overs for animated films, is sensational; however, the reenactments of various moments from her life, particularly involving her connections with the mob, detract from what is otherwise a life-affirming film about one tough, talented lady. “I loved every bit of it. In fact, I still love it today,” she says. Wait for Your Laugh is now playing at the Angelika, where there will be Q&As all weekend long with such participants as Peter Marshall, Bebe Neuwirth, Jason & Christina Wise, Dick Van Dyke Show writer-producer Bill Persky, Dick Van Dyke Show expert David Van Deusen, Joe and Sal Scognamillo of Patsy’s, Georgiana “Noopy” Rodrigues (Rose Marie’s daughter), and Debbi Whiting (Margaret Whiting’s daughter).
In A River Below, director Mark Grieco set out to document the plight of the Amazon pink river dolphin, but the film soon became about so much more, including the very nature of truth on celluloid. A River Below follows two men as they try to bring international awareness to the potential extinction of the extraordinary pink river dolphin, which is no mere unicorn-like fantasy. Also known as the boto, the largest freshwater dolphin in the world is under attack in the Amazon, where fishermen capture and cut up the mammal to use it for bait to catch piracatinga, a type of bottom-feeding catfish that exists in huge numbers and is a popular food fish. Dr. Fernando Trujillo is a marine biologist and environmental scientist from Colombia who founded the Omacha Foundation, an NGO dedicated to research and conservation. He’s spent more than twenty-five years working with indigenous communities along the Amazon, educating them about subsistent consumption and focusing on the boto, which he calls “one of the most clever, intelligent, and charismatic mammals in the world; even for the indigenous people, they are a kind of sacred animal. They are people like us, but underwater.” In fact, some locals believe Dr. Trujillo “was a dolphin that became a human to protect the dolphin.” Richard Rasmussen is a Brazilian television star, an animal rights activist, and a biologist who has hosted such popular NatGeo programs as Wild to the Extreme. “I don’t know any natural interaction with wild animals that are so profound and so beautiful. They just come to you” he says as he feeds and swims with a boto. “I would say that anyone that has had this experience will turn into a better person, will understand better what we’re talking about, you know? We don’t want to save the dolphin because the dolphin is part of the chain; we want to save the dolphin because the dolphin is us.” When a Brazilian show airs controversial footage of a boto being butchered on the river, the ensuing outrage seems destined to save the dolphins — but perhaps sink Rasmussen.
The documentary takes a radical turn when truth goes on public trial as an angry Rasmussen defends his actions while the fishermen claim he is a manipulative, heartless liar. Grieco himself becomes part of the story when he returns to the village, which has been banned from hunting dolphins, severely impacting their economy, to find that many members of the community have their smartphones out and are filming him and Rasmussen to make sure they cannot edit out important information and twist the facts. It’s an extremely powerful moment, no matter where you stand on the central issue of whether the fishermen are entitled to use the dolphin as bait. “Just by chance, I had stumbled upon a story that dovetailed perfectly with my own concerns with the truth in images, media influence and distortion, performance for the camera, and my role in all of this as a documentary filmmaker,” Grieco (Marmato) explains in his director’s statement. “The question begs to be answered: If the film is asking what is the truth behind the camera, shouldn’t the filmmakers themselves be suspect?” Gorgeously photographed by Helkin René Díaz with numerous shots of the winding yellow-brown river snaking through the lush green rainforest, accompanied by an often ominous score by Tyler Strickland, A River Below might be specifically about the boto in the Amazon, but it also raises more general issues about the future of the planet.
200 Eastern Parkway at Washington St.
Saturday, November 4, free, 5:00 - 11:00
The Brooklyn Museum celebrates the world’s preeminent borough in its monthly free First Saturday program in November with “Best of the Borough.” There will be live music by Alsarah & the Nubatones, Phony Ppl, and DJ Ian Friday; a curator tour of “Arts of Korea” with Joan Cummins; a hands-on art workshop inspired by Mickalene Thomas’s extraordinary “A Little Taste Outside of Love”; a scholar talk and book signing with Chip Colwell, author of Plundered Skulls and Stolen Spirits: Inside the Fight to Reclaim Native America’s Culture; a Brooklyn Dance Festival showcase with by the D.R.E.A.M. Ring, FLEXN, Kristin Sudeikis Dance, SynthesisDANCE, Concepts in Choreography, and the Francesca Harper Project; a pop-up gallery talk on Ancient Egyptian art; a book club reading with poet Tommy Pico from his latest book, Nature Poem; and a special screening of Sergei Eisenstein’s 1925 classic, Strike! with a live score conducted by Hisham Akira Bharoocha and featuring Angel Deradoorian, Jeremy Hyman, Nicos Kennedy, and Joe Williams. In addition, the galleries will be open late so you can check out “Roots of ‘The Dinner Party’: History in the Making,” “Soulful Creatures: Animal Mummies in Ancient Egypt,” “Robert Longo: Untitled (Raft at Sea),” “Proof: Francisco Goya, Sergei Eisenstein, Robert Longo,” “Arts of Asia and the Middle East, “Infinite Blue,” “A Woman’s Afterlife: Gender Transformation in Ancient Egypt,” and more.
DJ Spooky That Subliminal Kid’s Rebirth of a Nation is a unique multimedia deconstruction and live remix of D. W. Griffith’s controversial 1915 silent film, Birth of a Nation, interweaving music, film, and art to create a wholly new work that the multidisciplinary artist keeps on tweaking. First performed in New York at the 2004 Lincoln Center Festival,
the show has toured around the world; we caught it back in 2007 at the Tribeca Film Festival, during the Bush administration, so it should be fascinating to see the state of the piece now when Spooky brings it to the Skirball Center on November 4, with America in the midst of a crisis over immigration, racism, white supremacy, historical statues, and other sociopolitical issues and the presidency has shifted from Barack Obama to Donald J. Trump. Spooky mixes both the Kronos Quartet’s trip-hop score and the visuals live, beginning with an overview of racism and an interview in which film pioneer Griffith discusses the importance of his so-called masterpiece. He then intercuts different scenes of the film, following the narrative, with Griffith’s original interstitial titles along with new ones credited to Paul D. Miller, DJ Spooky’s real name. He avoids being overly didactic and does not hit the audience over the head with Griffith’s unrelenting racism and support of the KKK, instead letting the film speak for itself. And it has a whole lot to say, as, of course, does DJ Spooky.
DAYS OF HEAVEN (Terrence Malick, 1978)
BAMcinématek, BAM Rose Cinemas
30 Lafayette Ave. between Ashland Pl. & St. Felix St.
Friday, November 3, 4:30, 7:00, 9:30
Series runs November 3-9
BAMcinématek wishes Sam Shepard, who passed away in July at the age of seventy-three, a happy birthday with the ten-movie tribute “True West: Sam Shepard on Film,” running November 3-9. The Pulitzer Prize-winning, Oscar- and Emmy-nominated, Tony-winning actor, writer, director, and playwright was born Samuel Shepard Rogers IV in Illinois on November 5, 1943. His legacy includes such work as Steel Magnolias, Crimes of the Heart, Snow Falling on Cedars, and Black Hawk Down and such plays as Buried Child, Fool for Love, and Curse of the Starving Class. Ruggedly handsome and fiercely independent, Shepard leaves behind a vast legacy that ranged from the American West to Hollywood to downtown New York and beyond.
Justifiably recognized as one of the most beautiful films ever made, writer-director Terrence Malick’s sophomore effort, Days of Heaven, is a visually breathtaking tale of love, desperation, and survival in WWI-era America. After accidentally killing his boss (Stuart Margolin) in a Chicago steel mill, Bill (Richard Gere) immediately flees to the Texas Panhandle with his girlfriend, Abby (Brooke Adams), and his much younger sister, Linda (Linda Manz). Because they are unmarried, Bill and Abby pretend to be brother and sister — evoking the biblical story of Abraham introducing his wife Sarah as his sibling — and get a job working in the wheat fields owned by a reserved, possibly ill farmer (Sam Shepard) who is instantly smitten with Abby. Soon a complex love triangle develops in which money, class, and power play a key role. As beautiful as the main characters are — Gere and Shepard particularly are shot in ways that emphasize their tender but rugged good looks — they are outshone by the gorgeous landscapes and sunsets photographed by Nestor Almendros (who won an Oscar for Best Cinematography) and Haskell Wexler, as well as Jack Fisk’s stunning art direction, all of which were directly inspired by Edward Hopper’s “House by the Railroad” and Andrew Wyeth’s “Christina’s World,” among other paintings. Like Stanley Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon, freezing nearly any frame will produce an image that could hang in a museum.
The soundtrack is epic as well, composed by Ennio Morricone along with songs by Leo Kottke and Doug Kershaw (who plays the fiddler). It took two years for Malick and editor Bill Weber to assemble the vast amount of footage they shot into a comprehensible story, helped by the late addition of Manz’s character’s voice-over narration, but the results were well worth all of the time and effort. Days of Heaven came five years after Malick’s breakthrough debut, Badlands, and it would be another twenty years before his next film, The Big Red One, then seven more until 2005’s The New World. Days of Heaven kicks off the BAMcinématek series “True West: Sam Shepard on Film,” which runs November 3-9 and includes such other Shepard films that he either wrote and/or appeared in as Philip Kaufman’s The Right Stuff, Robert Altman’s Fool for Love, and Graeme Clifford’s Frances.
PARIS, TEXAS (Wim Wenders, 1984)
Saturday, November 4, 2:00 & 7:45
Winner of both the Palme d’Or and the Critics Prize at the 1984 Cannes Film Festival, Wim Wenders’s Paris, Texas is a stirring and provocative road movie about the dissolution of the American family and the death of the American dream. Written by Sam Shepard and adapted by L. M. Kit Carson, the two-and-a-half-hour film opens with a haggard man (Harry Dean Stanton) wandering through a vast, deserted landscape. A close-up of him in his red hat, seen against blue skies and white clouds, evokes the American flag. (Later shots show him looking up at a flag flapping in the breeze, as well as a graffiti depiction of the Statue of Liberty.) After he collapses in a bar in the middle of nowhere, he is soon discovered to be Travis Henderson, a husband and father who has been missing for four years. His brother, Walt (Dean Stockwell), a successful L.A. billboard designer, comes to take him home, but Travis, remaining silent, keeps walking away. He eventually reveals that he is trying to get to Paris, Texas, where he has purchased a plot of land in the desert, but he avoids discussing his past and why he walked out on his wife, Jane (Nastassja Kinski), and son, Hunter (Hunter Carson, the son of L. M. Kit Carson and Karen Black), who is being raised by Walt and his wife, Anne (Aurore Clément). An odd man who is afraid of flying (a genuine fear of Shepard’s), has a penchant for arranging shoes, and falls asleep at key moments, Travis sets out with Hunter to find Jane and make something out of his lost life.
Longtime character actor Stanton (Repo Man, Wise Blood) is brilliant as Travis, his long, craggy face and sad, puppy-dog eyes conveying his troubled soul and buried emotions, his slow, careful gait awash in loneliness and desperation. The scenes between Travis and Jane are a master class in acting and storytelling; Stanton and Kinski (Tess, Cat People) will break your heart over and over again as they face the hardest of truths. Wenders and regular cinematographer Robby Müller use a one-way mirror to absolutely stunning effect in these scenes about what is hidden and what is revealed in a relationship. Wenders had previously made the Road Movie Trilogy of Alice in the Cities, The Wrong Move, and Kings of the Road, which also dealt with difficult family issues, but Paris, Texas takes things to another level. Ry Cooder’s gorgeous slide-guitar soundtrack is like a requiem for the American dream, now a wasteland of emptiness. (Cooder would later make Buena Vista Social Club with Wenders. Another interesting connection is that Wenders’s assistant director was Allison Anders, who would go on to write and direct the indie hit Gas Food Lodging.) A uniquely told family drama, Paris, Texas is rich with deft touches and subtle details, all encapsulated in the final shot. (Don’t miss what it says on that highway billboard.) Paris, Texas is screening November 4 at 2:00 and 7:45 in the BAMcinématek series “True West: Sam Shepard on Film.”
Reteaming with Sam Shepard for the first time since the indie classic Paris, Texas more than twenty years earlier, German director Wim Wenders continued his exploration of the American psyche with this dark comedy set in the wide-open prairie. The movie begins the way many Westerns end — with the hero riding away into the distance, but in this case it is the sunrise, not the sunset, signaling a new start. Shepard stars as Howard Spence, a former big-time movie star whose career has fallen apart in a whirlwind of drugs, alcohol, and women. After a wild night in his trailer, he takes off from the set of his latest film, being made in Moab, Utah (and directed by the great George Kennedy), and decides to disappear, first going home to Elko, Nevada, to see his mother (Eva Marie Saint), whom he hasn’t spoken to in thirty years, and then heading to Butte, Montana, to find an old love (Jessica Lange, Shepard’s real-life longtime partner at the time) — and perhaps some lasting meaning to his miserable, wasted life. Meanwhile, Sutter (Tim Roth), a detective who works for the bond company that financed the film, is after him, determined to bring him back to finish the picture. Gorgeously photographed by Franz Lustig (Wenders’s Land of Plenty, Palermo Shooting) and featuring a great soundtrack by T Bone Burnett, Don’t Come Knocking is a fascinating character study and a whole lot of fun. The excellent cast also includes Gabriel Mann, Sarah Polley, and Fairuza Balk as an offbeat trio representing the next generation. Don’t Come Knocking is screening November 4 at 5:00 in the BAMcinématek series “True West: Sam Shepard on Film.”
FAR FROM HEAVEN (Todd Haynes, 2002)
MoMA Film, Museum of Modern Art
11 West 53rd St. between Fifth & Sixth Aves.
Thursday, November 2, 7:30, and Saturday, November 4, 2:00, $12
Series runs November 2-12
On November 13, Oscar-winning actress Julianne Moore will be honored at MoMA’s 2017 film benefit, and the museum is getting ready for the festivities with “Julianne Moore: A Tribute,” a six-film series running November 2-12. “Julianne Moore is a fearless champion of risk-taking cinema,” MoMA chief film curator Rajendra Roy said in a statement. “There appears to be no challenge she isn’t willing to tackle when it comes to upending expectations of what a ‘leading lady’ can or should do. She continues to inspire legions of actors around the world, and it is our honor to celebrate her phenomenal contributions to the art of film.” The festival kicks off November 2 with Todd Haynes’s wonderfully retro Far from Heaven, a film that would make Douglas Sirk and Thomas Mann proud. Oscar-nominated Moore is amazing as Cathy Whitaker, a 1950s housewife who thinks she has the perfect idyllic suburban life — until she discovers that her husband (Dennis Quaid) has a secret that dare not speak its name. Mr. & Mrs. Magnatech they are not after all. When she starts getting all chummy with the black gardener (Dennis Haysbert), people start talking, of course. Part Imitation of Life and All That Heaven Allows, part Death in Venice, and oh-so-original, Haynes’s awesome achievement — he earned an Academy Award nomination for Original Screenplay — will have you believing you’re watching a film made in the 1950s, propelled by Elmer Bernstein’s Oscar-nominated music, Edward Lachman’s Oscar-nominated photography, and Mark Friedberg’s terrific production design. Far from Heaven is being shown November 2 at 7:30 and November 4 at 2:00; the series also includes Paul Thomas Anderson’s Magnolia, Robert Altman’s Short Cuts, Lisa Cholodenko’s The Kids Are All Right, and Haynes’s Safe.
When half-siblings Joni (Mia Wasikowska) and Laser (Josh Hutcherson) decide to track down their anonymous sperm-donor father, their two moms, Jules (Julianne Moore) and Nic (Annette Bening), are justifiably concerned with how that might affect their close-knit family. And when the donor ends up being a motorcycle-riding, free-spirited hottie (Mark Ruffalo) who would like to become part of the kids’ lives, it doesn’t take long for some major dysfunction to set in. The third feature-length narrative written or cowritten and directed by Lisa Cholodenko, following 1998’s High Art and 2002’s Laurel Canyon (she directed 2004’s Cavedweller but did not write it), The Kids Are All Right is an intimate drama that explores deeply personal relationships with grace and intelligence — along with a neat little twist that resonates even more now that same-sex marriage is legal. Bening (American Beauty, The Grifters) is strong as the man of the house, overly determined to control and protect her family; Moore (Boogie Nights, Still Alice) is beguiling as the other mother, wanting to develop her own business as a landscape architect; and Australian breakout star Wasikowka (In Treatment, Alice in Wonderland), impresses yet again as the prodigal daughter preparing to go to college. (Moore and Wasikowka would later both appear in David Cronenberg’s sadly underrated Maps to the Stars.) Ruffalo (Foxcatcher, Spotlight), however, is too flat, and the film takes several missteps, including a final scene that is sadly predictable, detracting from an otherwise fresh and original story. The Kids Are All Right is screening November 3 at 7:30 and November 5 at 2:00 in the MoMA series “Julianne Moore: A Tribute.”