At a time when movies can be ordered with the touch of a button on your TV remote, there is still something thrilling about the film festival experience.
It allows people to cut to the cinematic chase and catch a movie everyone is talking about now -- instead of three or more weeks from today. It taps into the same sort of communal coziness that Steelers fans, dance devotees or bleacher creatures at high school soccer or football playoffs feel before, during and after the event.
The 31st Three Rivers Film Festival, the oldest such event in the region, opens on Friday with three movies and receptions at three locations. They are the first of more than 50 films that will be shown at Pittsburgh Filmmakers' Melwood Screening Room, Regent Square Theater and Harris Theater. See accompanying story for details on tickets or visit 3rff.com.
A sampling of reviews for the first week:
4 stars = Outstanding
If you want to get a head start on your Oscar homework, see this French film certain to earn Marion Cotillard (a winner for 2007's "La Vie en Rose") a best actress nomination.
One minute, her character is choreographing the moves of whales at a marine park to Katy Perry's "Firework" and the next, she's plunged into the water during a dreadful accident. When she wakes up in the hospital, she looks down at the gauze where her knees used to be.
Jolted by sickening fear, panic and confusion, she tumbles out of bed. Crying and crawling along the floor, she asks, "What did you do with my legs? What did you do with my legs?"
She's only half of the equation in this film from Jacques Audiard ("A Prophet") also starring Matthias Schoenaerts as a bouncer turned bare-fisted brawler, an overgrown juvenile who nevertheless finds himself with custody of a 5-year-old son.
"Rust and Bone" is a gritty love story about animal instincts, the working poor, second chances at love, and bodies broken, battered and, just maybe, healing.
In French with English subtitles.
-- Barbara Vancheri, PG movie editor
4 stars = Outstanding
This fast-talking comedy from director David O. Russell, winner of the audience award at the Toronto International Film Festival, stars Bradley Cooper as a cuckolded Philadelphia teacher who ends up back home with his parents (Robert De Niro and Jacki Weaver). He and a young widow (Jennifer Lawrence) strike a deal that brings unexpected silver linings.
His dad is a bookie who thinks Mr. Cooper's character brings "good juju" when the Philadelphia Eagles are playing, and Sundays mean braciole, betting and sometimes a bit of dancing.
Based on the Matthew Quick novel of the same name, "Silver Linings" presents authentic Philadelphia life -- walking in neighborhoods, eating at the local diner, heading to a Downtown hotel for a special event and tailgating at Eagles games, complete with face paint and DeSean Jackson jerseys. It gives Ms. Lawrence from "The Hunger Games" and "Winter's Bone" an adult role and makes hanging with Mr. Cooper a charming, fresh and unpredictable experience.
-- Barbara Vancheri
There are basically two kinds of drummers: the sane ones and the crazy ones.
The former category, just sticking with the British Invasion, would include Charlie Watts, Ringo Starr and Dave Clark, while in the latter you have Keith Moon, Jon Bonham and Ginger Baker, who, by no coincidence, usually rank in the top 5 among all-time drummers.
Mr. Baker was the only one of the three who got out alive, and that's something of a miracle, as you see in the documentary "Beware Mr. Baker," which rightly depicts him as one of the most ornery characters in the history of rock 'n' roll. At the outset of the film, Mr. Baker is outside his compound in South Africa bludgeoning filmmaker Jay Bulger with a cane after having bullied and cursed at him numerous times during the interview.
That winning personality, perhaps related to losing his father in WWII at age 4, made it a lifelong challenge for Mr. Baker, now a feisty 73, to sustain any kind of longevity with one band. His most famous run, with Cream -- described by Rush's Neil Peart as "an atomic bomb going off" -- lasted all of two years, shorter than some of Metallica's tours, as Lars Ulrich points out.
"Ginger's bands tend to be like that," Mr. Watts says. "You hear them, you think it's fabulous, this is going to go on forever -- and they last a week."
The compelling "Beware Mr. Baker" chronicles the drummer's turbulent days with Cream (where he epically clashed with Jack Bruce), Blind Faith, Ginger Baker's Air Force and other short-lived ventures, along with his various self-exiles to Africa and reckless choices as a father and husband.
Mr. Bulger probes the cranky old man in search of some humanity, and what he finds is, he was a great drummer (the clips bear that out).
Johnny Rotten, who briefly hired him for PiL, concludes that if Ginger Baker is "an unpleasant person socially, well that's exactly what's required for the music from him to be so superb -- and I cannot question anyone with any results that perfect."
-- Scott Mervis, PG pop music critic
Standing next to his tiny, white-haired mother, Dennis looks like a figure out of a fairy tale, a shy, gentle giant -- but with Hulk-size muscles and tattoos snaking around his massive upper body.
A champion body builder, he seems a model son who, at 38, still lives with his mother. She, however, is quietly domineering, reminding him, "You do have your chores here, you know," when he announces a trip to Germany. In fact, he's actually going to Thailand, which is where his uncle met his wife and brought her to Denmark -- even if she doesn't speak Danish.
In Thailand, Dennis (super-heavyweight bodybuilder Kim Kold) could have his pick of bar girls or street walkers but he's looking for something deeper and more meaningful than a cash-driven transaction in a hotel room. Even if he could find a woman to love, what and how would he tell his mother?
Director Mads Matthiesen dramatizes relationships that appear to work but don't, and those that shouldn't work but do. Dennis is surprisingly comfortable in his body but you root for him to become comfortable in his skin and develop his heart muscles, too.
In Danish, English and Thai with English subtitles.
-- Barbara Vancheri
Eugene Jarecki's documentary advances the notion that the war on drugs has never been about drugs.
It's about sidelining immigrants and minorities, a White House initiative that seesawed from treatment to law enforcement, mandatory minimum sentences even some judges consider unfair (crack cocaine carries harsher penalties than powder cocaine), families torn asunder, the way the pursuit of drugs and drug money has changed how police officers do their jobs, and how dealers win friends and influence future sellers.
Longtime journalist David Simon, known for creating HBO's "The Wire," calls the drug war a "holocaust in slow motion" with destruction of human life that is class, not race, based. Yet he gets why people sell drugs.
"To go down to a drug corner in the inner city is the rational act of somebody going to work for the only company that exists in a company town. That is the only economy that's functioning" in some parts of the country.
Mr. Jarecki puts many faces on the war on drugs, from his family's onetime housekeeper whose addict-son died of AIDS and the chief of security at an Oklahoma corrections center to an expert on the history of drug laws and the author of "The New Jim Crow."
Whatever the reasons, Mr. Jarecki reports that since 1971, the war on drugs has cost more than a trillion dollars and produced more than 45 million arrests. And yet, illegal drug use remains unchanged.
What might have been a shrill screed is, instead, thoughtful, even-measured and a call to action although with no quick or easy fixes in immediate sight.
-- Barbara Vancheri
2 1/2 stars = Average
Sometimes when a short film is spun into a full-length feature, it feels as if it's been stretched or slightly padded and "Lucky" fits that description despite a compelling, socially relevant story.
Lucky (Sihle Dlamini) is a 10-year-old South African boy who seems anything but fortunate. His father is gone and his mother dies of AIDS; he tearfully watches her burial from a hiding place and later vows, at her grave, "I will go to school and study hard, just for you. You'll see, Mamma."
He leaves his remote Zulu village for the city of Durban where he expects an uncle to make good on a promise to send Lucky to school. But the insensitive, negligent relative reneges and the orphan lands in the quasi-care of a prejudiced, elderly Indian neighbor (Jayashree Basavaraj) who doesn't speak his language.
"This used to be such a good neighborhood. All Indian. So simple. Everyone in their place, happy," she says. "Rainbow Nation? In the rainbow, where's the black, brown and white?"
"Lucky" explores grief, greed, racial tensions, sacrifice and makeshift families forged from hope and comfort. The search for home is a primal, universal one and "Lucky" ably, emotionally dramatizes and demonstrates that.
In Zulu Hindi and English with subtitles.
-- Barbara Vancheri
First Published November 1, 2012 4:00 AM