Sunday, September 30, 2012

Leon Russell



Leon Russell turned 70 in April, has a bit of a paunch and walks with an ebony cane but he has a stevedore's forearms, undoubtedly from years of piano pounding. Russell was at the Neighborhood Theatre, a boite off of North Davidson in Charlotte, where he and his four exuberant bandmates played a respectable assortment of his more rolicking tunes for a couple hundred appreciative fans. The set included fan favorites -- Out in the Woods and Tight Rope from Carney, Delta Lady and a smattering of others from his first solo album Leon Russell, Back to the Island from Will o' the Wisp, and a blistering Rolling Stones medley. In his signature Stetson and sunglasses, Russell sat at an electronic keyboard at stage left where he intoned and howled his classic tunes with no more audible articulation than a latter-day Dylan but it didn't matter. The songs were standards delivered with fresh, driving back beats that kept much of the audience on their feet. Dylan's own A Hard Rain Is Gonna Fall was barely recognizable under the throbbing bassline and screeching guitar -- it rocked. The show was Leon's 90-minute dance party, and the Master of Space and Time was in great humor as he shared a rambling tale about George Harrison's Concert for Bangladesh that featured a cameo from inventor / visionary Buckminster Fuller and a swipe at a certain Republican presidential candidate. A new album produced by Tommy Lipuma is on its way.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

The Master

It will be interesting to see which of the male leads in The Master will be nominated for the Oscar. Nominating both Joaquin Phoenix and Philip Seymour Hoffman would assure neither wins though both deliver astounding performance in a film that is as enigmatic as any I've ever seen. What's it about? It's about truth and lies and how they're absolutely essential to human life. At least that's my reading.

I must confess I don't think it's a GREAT film. Its core puzzlement about the complex relationship between the master (Hoffman) and his not so stellar, moonshining but loyal disciple (Phoenix) seems to be a notion without solid mooring. Or it could be I'm too dense to get Paul Thomas Anderson's meaning beneath the surface of the story of one manipulative fraud trying to "save" another manipulative fraud. Singular performances -- including Amy Adams and Laura Dern -- are wonderful, and Hoffman and Phoenix's "chemistry" -- in every sense of that overtaxed word -- is truly potent.

Sunday, September 16, 2012



Nicholas Jarecki's Arbitrage builds up a great deal of momentum but ultimately falls apart. Richard Gere, who delivers a mostly fine performance, stars as Robert Miller, a venture capitalist trying to sell his cash-strapped company, which looks great on paper, to a banking concern. His scheme begins to unravel when the buyer holds up the purchase for one more audit, Miller's daughter begins to suspect book cooking, his mistress dies in a fiery car wreck from which Miller walks away, and the son of his former driver is collared by the cops after helping Miller flee the accident scene. Jarecki, who also wrote the screenplay, piles the calamities high and, for the most part credibly, but they start to tumble in the last act showdown between Miller and his devoted and boozy wife, played to unimpressive effect by the usually captivating Susan Sarandon. Arbitrage contains many fine moments but it's cynical ending doesn't deliver a satisfying pay off.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Beasts of the Southern Wild

What is this sad, hopeful and totally wonderful world director Behn Zeitlin has created in Beasts of the Southern Wild?  A young girl named Hushpuppy (an astounding and preternaturally gifted young actress Quvenzhan√© Wallis) lives with her ailing father Wink (an affecting Dwight Henry) in separate mobile homes in a backwash region of a low-lying coastal city that is threatened by winds, water and wild boar. To say this film is surprising is such an understatement that I'm a bit embarraassed to use it. But it is such a refreshing cinematic experience, totally devoid of cliche and sentiment but absorbing, heartbreaking and uplifting. It's a revelation that walks the line between stark reality and magical realism. See it at once.

Queen & Slim

In the soon to be iconic photograph from Melina Matsoukas's distressing Queen & Slim, stars Daniel Kaluuya and Jodie Turner-Smith...