The Three Rivers Film Festival runs through Sat., Nov. 23. Below are reviews for films screening this weekend. For the complete schedule and more info, see www.3rff.com.
EVOCATEUR: THE MORTON DOWNEY JR. MOVIE
I was surprised to find myself having to explain who the late Morton Downey Jr. was to a couple of twentysomethings. I had forgotten that his outrageous TV talk show was on more than 25 years ago, and, like a bottle rocket, flared hotly but briefly. It’s just that his style of shout-y, confrontational, you’re-wrong-and-I’m-right-so-shut-up has seeped into nearly all of the issue-oriented shows on TV.
This bio-doc from directors Daniel A. Miller, Seth Kramer and Jeremy Newberger charts the life and career of Downey, from his youthful days as an aspiring pop crooner through the explosive rise and fall of his late-80s talk show. Former colleagues and friends weigh in, and there are ample clips of the show. Notable guests shown here include Ron Paul on legalizing drugs and Rev. Al Sharpton, who, along with Downey, made extensive PR hay out of the Tawana Brawley mess.
A smattering of pop psychology casts Downey has a dude with plenty of unresolved issues — a troubled relationship with his dad, womanizing and a self-destructive streak — and such figures always fascinate, at least temporarily, when their ids spill over into the public sphere.
More interesting is the filmmakers’ attempts to contextualize Downey’s success, and to draw a line from Downey’s showy “outraged populist” shtick to his obvious descendents working the airwaves today. There are some notable gaps in the story (where’s Geraldo?), but this is an entertaining ride down memory lane for us oldsters, and a critical piece of history for the younger set interested in how parts of our media culture got where it did. [Al Hoff]
1:30 p.m. Sat., Nov. 9; also 7:30 p.m. Sun., Nov. 10 (Waterworks)
This film is writer/director Tate Bunker’s modern retelling of the classic fable “Little Red Riding Hood.” Instead of going to grandma’s house 11-year-old Red — played with outstandingly innocent by newcomer Hannah Obst — runs away from her home in Milwaukee. She goes to Daytona Beach, and eventually to Cumberland Island, Ga. to see wild horses running on the beach.
The Big Bad Wolf in this story is replaced by quite possibly the creepiest pedophile shown on screen since Dylan Baker in Happiness. Mark Metcalfe (Neidermeyer, in Animal House) is Lou, a middle-aged lone traveler who meets Red in the Milwaukee airport and begins stalking her as she makes friends and travels through Florida. Metcalfe’s performance is stomach-turning and head-flinching which translates into really good: You will hate Lou; be disgusted by Lou; pray for Lou to be hit by a bus, whatever it takes to get him off Red’s trail.
Not only is Lou a metaphorical stand-in for the Wolf, but almost every one of Metcalfe’s creepy actions and movements is more and more wolf-like. There’s a scene where Lou crouches over and sniffs a sleeping Red that almost made me stop watching the film. Almost, and that’s the hook. Bunker’s well-made, well-acted indie film isn’t enjoyable to watch by any means, but that doesn’t mean you can or will stop watching.
Obst is really good and her best scene comes in the first act while she tries to overcome the panic of getting on the plane and leaving her home for an adventure that thrills and terrifies her at the same time. It’s Obst’s innocence that drives this film. The movie will make you uncomfortable and you will probably squirm in your seat the entire time. But I’m guessing when he set out to make this film, that’s exactly the reaction Bunker was going for. [Charlie Deitch]
2 p.m. Sat., Nov. 9; also 4:30 p.m. Sat., Nov. 16 (Melwood)
JAMEL SHABAZZ: STREET PHOTOGRAPHER
As Teenie Harris did in Pittsburgh, Jamel Shabazz spent of lot of time simply taking photographs of people in his Brooklyn neighborhood in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Being a young man, he frequently took photos of other young people, posed in their new clothes, in social groups, outside neighborhood joints. Shabazz felt it was important simply to document what he knew — to find the beauty in his streets. Only later did the significance of his oeuvre become clear.
As Charlie Ahearn’s profile of the photographer establishes, Shabazz was documenting several key movements: the burgeoning hip-hop scene, with all its attendant fashions; the work of community-based Islamic groups; and, most poignantly, the vibrancy of working-class neighborhoods before they were ravaged by the crack-cocaine epidemic and related gang violence.
The doc is a bit meandering: Shabazz, who is interviewed extensively, jumps around in his recollections. But the photos he took — now collected in a book (Back in the Days) and revered worldwide — are fantastic to see, and his continued commitment to documenting his community is inspiring. [Al Hoff]
6 p.m. Sat., Nov. 9; also 4 p.m. Sat., Nov. 16 (Harris)
THE TRUTH ABOUT EMMANUEL
This rather slow drama from Francesca Gregorini charts the relationshuip between a troubled teenage girl and a new neighbor, a single mom who needs a babysitter. From the start, the film is fraught, with everybody playing slightly off-kilter. The neighbor looks a lot like the girl’s dead mother (with whom she is obsessed) and the baby looks … well, suffice to say, there’s something not quite right with the baby, either. Unfortunately, this gothic melodrama never quite finds its groove, and winds up on an expected course of baroque tropes. [Al Hoff]
4:30 p.m. Sun., Nov. 10; also 9:30 pm. Wed., Nov. 13. (Waterworks)
SOBRE LAS OLAS
Local filmmaker Carolina Loyola-Garcia’s documentary looks at the history of flamenco — the music and dance — in America, especially through the lens of New York-born dancer Jose Greco. Plenty of performances are peppered in between segments on the art form’s culture and history. Sometimes it feels like Garcia could have focused just on Greco, or else minimized his segments in order to focus more on other artists, but Greco’s widow is a show-stealer as a talking head, and overall, there’s plenty to be learned here. Only a few of the artist interviewed have a Spanish background, illustrating the wide appeal of the style. [Andy Mulkerin]
7 p.m. Sun., Nov. 10; also 9 p.m. Tue., Nov. 12 (Melwood)