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)
A Pittsburgh police officer who has been the subject of citizen complaints, and who was acquitted of criminal charges, should get his job back with some restrictions, an arbitration panel ruled today.
Garrett Brown, 42, will be reinstated unless the city appeals the arbitration panel's ruling, according to Assistant Solicitor Wendy Kobee. Kobee said she didn't know whether the city would do so. Precise details of Brown's reinstatement are not yet clear, but Kobee says they include a one-year probationary period with a "last-chance" agreement, under which Brown could be terminated if he faces further discipline.
Brown was fired in February 2011, just a few months after Blaine Johnston and Matthew Mazzie say Brown slammed into their delivery truck, threw coins at the window and punched their mirror when they were on their way to Children's Hospital to make a delivery. The police report tells a different story, claiming that Brown was rear-ended and tried to get the drivers to stop to exchange insurance information. That incident, which was first recounted by City Paper, is now the subject of a civil suit in federal court. Brown was charged with insurance fraud and reckless endangerment connected to the incident, but was later acquitted.
After the acquittal, Brown's effort to reverse his termination went to arbitration.
There’s a light in the east — and it’s the glow of a new movie theater! Nearly a decade after the Showcase East shut its doors, a new theater complex opens today at the Monroeville Mall.
Officially called “Cinemark Monroeville Mall and XD,” the new cineplex has 12 screens. Half the theaters will be RealD 3D-capable, and for maximum “D,” there is an “Extreme Digital Cinema” auditorium.
Plus the standard amenities of 21st-century movie-going: floor-to-ceiling screens, digital surroundsound, plush stadium seating and a well-stocked concession stand.
The theater is showing current releases, plus one special treat through the weekend: Midnight screenings Thursday, Friday and Saturday of George Romero’s 1978 zombie classic, Dawn of the Dead, shot at the Monroeville Mall. See complete theater schedule here.
The August Wilson Center for African American Culture has until Nov. 18 to appoint a conservator to oversee their operations and help them avoid foreclosure. But according to AWC attorney, Stanley Levine, the center is having trouble coming up with enough money to pay a conservator.
Several AWC donors have been holding back funding in light of the center’s insolvency, and Levine says it could take time to regain their trust.
“We need to restore confidence within the community so people have the comfort of knowing their philanthropic dollars are being put to a purpose that will serve the community and not simply go down the drain,” Levine says.
At a hearing today with Allegheny County Common Pleas Judge Lawrence O'Toole, Levine met with representatives from Dollar Bank who initiated foreclosure proceedings on the center in September. AWC is in default of a $7 million dollar mortgage with Dollar Bank and hasn’t made payments since January.
“They’re willing to work with us,” Levine says. “They have to protect their loan but they’ve been patient and understanding with us and I think the action (to foreclose) they’ve taken now is understandable.”
Also present were representatives from the Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane’s office. Kane has called for an audit of AWC’s financial records and believes it is in the best interest of the community to repair the center.
Despite financial barriers, Levine says the center is in talks with potential conservators and believes they will find a suitable candidate soon.
“First we need to find funding to restore some balance and stability to the organization as it exists right now and then we need a broader plan to assure people we’re able to pay our obligations,” Levine said. “We’re not really that far behind. We have to restore our confidence, restore our financing.”
Mayor-elect Bill Peduto has announced his leadership team online this morning, and it's a mix of familiar faces and Grant Street newcomers.
Peduto will be holding a press conference to discuss his picks this afternoon, but he's already sent a clear statement: Taken together, the team is racially and philosophically diverse, or as Peduto put it in a statement, "I feel very fortunate to have assembled the most talented and diverse Mayoral cabinet in Pittsburgh's history, and perhaps the entire country." And some of the picks seem to have been made with an eye toward poetic justice.
Take Debbie Lestitian. She formally served, with Peduto, on the city's Stadium Authority, which controls land being developed on the North Shore. But she ran afoul of Mayor Luke Ravenstahl, and along with Peduto became a poster child for a mayor's ability to reshape authorities according to his will. Among Lestitian's tasks in the new administration will be ... overseeing "Mayoral appointments to all Boards, Authorities and Commissions."
Another notable Peduto pick is his choice for solicitor: Lourdes Sanchez Ridge. She's notable not just for being a Spanish-speaking Cuban, but for a trait that is even rarer in city government ... being Republican. Though she lives in Upper St. Clair, I'm told she's already purchased a home in the city.
Not all Peduto's picks are so surprising: Valerie McDonald Roberts, who backed his campaign, will be Peduto's "chief urban affairs officer." That strikes me as a somewhat amorphous title -- isn't the mayor the ultimate "urban affairs officer? -- but Roberts' responsibilities will, we're told, include "all housing, non-profit and faith based initiatives of city government, with responsibilities over the Housing Authority, the Commission on Human Relations, and with a particular focus on underserved neighborhoods."
The other familiar name on the list, of course, is that of Guy Costa, who headed up Peduto's campaign, and who Peduto is picking as his director of operations. That will put Costa back in charge of Public Works, where he once served as director, among other functions.
That move will come as something less than a total surprise to anonymous blog commenters and others predisposed to prove the new boss will be the same as the old boss. But all in all -- and I haven't even noted two of the appointees here -- this team strikes me as an intriguing mix of old and new. And Peduto's team may actually be MORE diverse than the city it hopes to lead.
According to speakers at an Oct. 29 public hearing, victims of domestic violence are among those hurt most by funding cuts to legal aid programs for low-income individuals and families. The local hearing, held by the Pennsylvania Senate Judiciary Committee, was the third and final hearing examining the civil justice gap.
Among the speakers was Shirl Regan, president and CEO of the Women’s Center and Shelter of Greater Pittsburgh, who says victims of domestic violence are having a harder time obtaining “protection from abuse” orders because of cuts to resources like Neighborhood Legal Services, a Pittsburgh nonprofit law firm that provides civil legal services to “poor and vulnerable residents.”
“It’s been ongoing cuts over the years,” Regan says. “It used to be that Neighborhood Legal Services could work with every woman. Over the years the cuts have been so that they don’t have the attorneys to do that.”
Even when a victim is able to receive help obtaining a PFA order, attorneys are often not available to assist them long-term. As a result, they have difficulty handling the legal challenges that arise later in the form of a custody battle, if there are children involved, or if the order is violated.
“There are always violations of these orders,” Regan says. “We as a society are expecting these women, who have been traumatized, to stand up by themselves when the opposing party challenges them and these are people who are terrified by the opposing party. So many women are afraid to go forward because they know what can happen to them.”
The local Neighborhood Legal Services is funded through the federal Legal Services Corporation, which was founded by the U.S. Congress to ensure all Americans have equal access to justice. Funding for LSC was drastically cut in 1995 from $400 million to $278 million, and has never quite recovered. As of 2013, LSC’s budget is estimated at $350 million.
“We need to be saying no more cuts,” Regan says. “We are putting not only the immediate victims of domestic violence in jeopardy; we are putting the children of victims in jeopardy. What we know about stopping the violence is it takes others and the justice system to stand up and say no you cannot do this.”
Under a cloud of abysmal approval ratings and news cycles repeating his analogy of gay marriage to incest, Gov. Tom Corbett announced his re-election campaign by arguing he has kept his promises and never intended to govern by the polls.
If you're looking for someone who "allows the latest poll to drive decisions, I'm not your candidate," Corbett told a crowd of supporters at the John Heinz History Center Wednesday morning.
Making the state more business friendly to spur job growth (especially in the natural gas industry), keeping taxes down and reducing state spending were all on the agenda in the first campaign: "More jobs, less taxes," Corbett echoed as his message from his first term. "Today, we're adding one more line: promises kept."
And while everyone from his wife to his lieutenant governor talked about his political consistency, he's facing an unhappy electorate.
Amazing Books, which succeeded Awesome Books as Downtown’s only independent bookseller, holds its official opening party tomorrow evening.
The celebration, hosted by the Pittsburgh Downtown Community Development Corp., includes refreshments and readings by local authors.
Amazing Books is owned and operated by Eric Ackland, who in March bought the stock of Awesome Books. Ackland, then a recent transplant to Pittsburgh, is a free-lance writer with a background in book sales. He changed the storefront's name and has been running the place since.
Announcements for the grand opening asked that attendees RSVP by Nov. 1 at 412-235-7263, but we’re guessing it’ll still be OK if you RSVP ASAP.
Amazing Books, featuring both new and used volumes, is located by 929 Liberty Ave.
A local social-justice group yesterday announced its push to get local institutions to stop investing in fossil fuels. And it had company: the world’s best-known proponent of such disinvestment.
At an afternoon press conference at Station Square, McKibben touted the rapid growth of the disinvestment movement. It began only about a year ago, but McKibben says it is now active on the campuses of 380 colleges and universities. “Eight or nine” colleges have agreed to stop investing in fossil-fuel companies, and cities including Seattle, Portland, San Francisco and Providence, R.I., have taken the pledge, he said. So has at least onemainline church.
As he spoke, McKibben was surrounded by local activistsholding up banners for the Sierra Club and anti-fracking groups including marcellusprotest.org.
“There is no issue more critical than climate change,” said Wanda Guthrie, chair of the Thomas Merton Center Environmental Justice Committee, in a statement. “The state of our planet’s climate affects every other issue, including peace, justice, economic development, civil rights and more. Divestment from fossil fuels, although a little late, is a good way to begin to address this critical issue.”
Dressed in Halloween costumes, organizers with advocacy groups Working America and One Pittsburgh stood outside of Gov. Tom Corbett’s Pittsburgh office today to call for the expansion of Medicaid.
“I think everyone in America is entitled to healthcare,” said Penny Barrett, a One Pittsburgh volunteer from Troy Hill. "I think healthcare needs to stop being about business. It’s a human right."
As part of the Affordable Care Act Pennsylvania could receive federal funding to expand Medicaid coverage to a larger number of low-income uninsured individuals, but Gov. Corbett has denied the expansion.
Starting in 2014, the expansion would extend Medicaid to individuals making up to $15,900 and families of four with income up to $32,400. According to the Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center, this would benefit an estimated 700,000 Pennsylvanians.
Among the protestors was Georgeanne Koehler, who says her brother died at 57 because he was denied health insurance due to a pre-existing condition and could not receive the necessary healthcare.
“Without Medicaid, he couldn’t get insurance with a pre-existing condition, but he made too much to qualify for Medicaid,” said Georgeanne Koehler. “Our health should never be a matter of politics. It’s a matter of life and death.”
Gov. Corbett is looking into an alternative approach that would use the federal funding to provide subsidies for individuals who want to purchase private insurance plans.
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Love this episode. I'm already looking forward to visit. :)