Three Rivers Film Festival serves up wide-ranging choices

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The Three Rivers Film Festival continues with movies on a wide range of subjects, from punk rockers who become dads to a look at the black power movement of the late 1960s and mid-'70s.

A sampling of reviews for the second week:

' Take Shelter'

3 1/2 stars = Very good
Ratings explained

No one does anxiety and intensity better than Michael Shannon, and by the time this movie is over, you may wish pharmacies sold anti-anxiety meds over the counter.

He plays Curtis LaForche, a working-class husband and father of a 6-year-old deaf girl who begins to have apocalyptic dreams and visions, typically involving the people in his life as victims or attackers. They're positively biblical, often starting with lightning, banks of black storm clouds and dark rain resembling droplets of motor oil.

When he tries to protect his family by building out the storm shelter in his backyard, he seemingly solves one problem and creates three more. Curtis' tower of worry is teetering, and it could buckle under the fear that he is showing signs of the same paranoid schizophrenia that devastated a parent.

"Take Shelter," being shown as a sneak preview before its eventual opening, also stars Jessica Chastain as Curtis' wife and Kathy Baker as his mother. But this movie belongs to Mr. Shannon who crawls inside a cauldron of worries and slams the door shut with us inside, leaving us with our own free-floating anxiety and strategies for coping and escaping.

Rated R for some language.

-- Barbara Vancheri, Post-Gazette movie editor

' Battle for Brooklyn'

3 stars = Good
Ratings explained

The premise of this film sounds fictional: A lone holdout, living in a Brooklyn building targeted for demolition to make way for a basketball arena, refuses to bow to the billionaires and bigwigs. He becomes the only occupant of a 32-condo building, loses his fiancee but finds love with a fellow warrior and becomes the compelling face of David battling Goliath.

If this were a Hollywood drama, instead of a documentary, the story might end differently, but what is remarkable is that filmmakers Suki Hawley and Michael Galinsky were there for every step of the way. They spent seven years and shot 500-plus hours to chart plans to gnaw away at a neighborhood so 16 skyscrapers and a New Jersey Nets arena could be built.

Eminent domain and blight were the weapons being used to kick Daniel Goldstein from his Prospect Heights apartment. A graphic designer, Mr. Goldstein spent five years looking for a place to live and another five fighting eviction.

"Battle for Brooklyn" captures the circus that typically erupts over developments that will wipe out the homes and businesses of the little people: community groups that noisily take to the streets and council chambers under red-hot TV lights, finger-pointing, lawsuits, war chests and passions running as high as the proposed skyscrapers.

The documentary fails to definitively establish if a grass-roots organization backing the project was, indeed, being funded with millions by the developer. Paperwork says yes, a spokeswoman says no.

"Battle for Brooklyn" is illuminating, inspiring, discouraging and even predictable -- funny how those promised local jobs never materialize -- and a movie for our times.

-- Vancheri

' Medianeras'

3 stars = Good
Ratings explained

"Medianeras" is the Spanish word for partitions or side walls, but the subtitle -- "Buenos Aires in Times of Virtual Love" -- tells you more about this semi-satirical little love story in the semi-Woody Allen mode.

Martin (Javier Drolas) is a webmeister and recovering multi-phobic with more neuroses than you can shake a mouse at. He sat down at his computer 10 years ago and basically hasn't gotten up since. But he's at least trying to 12-step out of his isolated one-room apartment and cyber-life.

Mariana (Pilar Lopez de Ayala) isn't even trying to recover from the recent breakup of a 4-year relationship. (The guy kept the shampoo, she kept the conditioner.) Like her apartment, she's a mess -- her own issues including a terror of elevators. She's a trained architect, currently just designing window displays and obsessed with texting, bubble-wrap and manikins. "Don't get any false hopes," she tells one of her life-size male dolls after a torrid encounter. "It was just sex."

Martin and Mariana live nearby but aren't aware of each other's loneliness and shoebox apartment-angst in a city of 3 million hostile, unpredictable people. Can the very walls that separate them perhaps bring them together?

Argentine director Gustavo Taretto is a terrific photographer, making each frame an artsy tableau from his opening montage: irregular juxtapositions of old and new buildings, young and old people, urban contradictions galore.

Bottom line of both the message the medium: "Blind dates are like Big Macs -- they always look better in the picture."

In Spanish with English subtitles.

--Barry Paris, Post-Gazette film critic emeritus

' The Other F Word'

2 1/2 stars = Average
Ratings explained

Things punk rockers did without foreseeing that one day they'd be a dad: Fat Mike of NOFX had not one, but two dominatrices tattooed on his arm. Mark Hoppus of Blink-182 said a lot of really, really bad words on stage, and now it's on video. Jim Lindberg of Pennywise roars his anthem "[Expletive] Authority" and then has to tell his kids to do their homework.

"Nothing in the punk ethos," concludes Bad Religion's Brett Gurewitz, "prepares you for being a dad."

But, of course, stuff happens.

Director Andrea Blaugrund Nevins visits a handful of punk rock icons as they make breakfast for their kids, take them to the park, to school, etc., then play violent, raucous shows at night. For starters, it's interesting just to see the nice, clean suburban homes a lot of these guys live in. For many of them, like Art Alexakis of Everclear, these healthy domestic scenes are a far cry from their own rugged upbringings.

While the subject matter is compelling, "The Other F Word" frustrates by jumping around from guy to guy -- never once talking to a wife -- without creating much dramatic tension. The only real story line is Mr. Lindberg deciding whether to quit touring to stay home with the kids (like Black Flag's second singer Ron Reyes did back in the day).

The touching consensus is that if the purpose of punk rock was to change the world, being there for your kids may be "the punkest thing of all."

-- Scott Mervis, Post-Gazette Weekend Mag editor

' Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975'

2 1/2 stars = Average
Ratings explained

What was Black Power and what was its relationship to the civil rights movement in the years between Martin Luther King Jr.'s assassination and the end of the Vietnam War? That's a question that could keep doctoral candidates busy for years, but a recently unearthed cache of forgotten Swedish documentary footage of black revolutionary figures will make the task of scratching out answers easier.

Director Goran Olsson has knitted together formerly unseen interviews and archival footage by his countrymen of such seminal figures as Stokely Carmichael, Angela Davis, Huey Newton and other black power advocates captured in their prime in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

A fiercely articulate and indignant Ms. Davis is interviewed in jail while awaiting trial for being an accessory to a judge's murder. A surprisingly self-aware Mr. Carmichael lays out the differences between his philosophy of justified black self-defense and MLK's ethic of nonviolence. Archival footage of Dr. King and Harry Belafonte laughing and relaxing behind the scenes is a poignant reminder of less cynical and more committed times.

What "Black Power Mixtape" doesn't provide is a systematic narrative laying out a central theme. There is a rolling calendar as the years click by, but no attempt to contextualize events and show how they relate to each other. The viewer has to already possess some knowledge of that tumultuous period to understand what is happening. Pop singer Erykah Badu, Roots drummer Questlove, rapper Talib Kweli and even Angela Davis narrate some sections, but the true star is the once lost footage itself. Why this footage is emerging now and not decades ago is a question that is never explored.

"Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975" is a heartbreaking, haunting, one-sided, ragged and infuriatingly incomplete look at a time many Americans have already forgotten or, worse, never knew about.

-- Tony Norman, Post-Gazette staff writer


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