Carmine Street Guitars

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42 Carmine Street is the humble storefront home—blink and you’ll miss it—of Carmine Street Guitars, established by Rick Kelly in the 1970s, and in its current West Village location since 1990. If you didn’t know better, you’d think it was a mom-and-pop hardware store, instead of a pilgrimage destination for the greatest guitar players in the world. There’s a workshop in the back where Kelly builds custom guitars, using wood salvaged from all over New York City. Ron Mann’s new documentary, “Carmine Street Guitars,” is a “week in the life” of the store, with a parade of famous legends “stopping by” to chat, play guitars, talk with Kelly about music, about his process. The setup is somewhat contrived, and there’s a stilted quality to some of the conversations, clearly urged on by off-camera prompts that we don’t hear. But “Carmine Street Guitars” has its intense pleasures too, and those come mainly from being in the presence of such a devoted craftsman, and watching how he works. The rhythm is slow. You really get the sense that when you walk through the doors of Carmine Street Guitars, you step outside of time.

Carmine Street Guitars has just three employees: Kelly, his mother Dorothy who answers the phones and does the books, and Cindy Hulej, Kelly’s young apprentice, who burns beautiful custom designs into the guitars built by Kelly. In the workshop in the back of the store, Kelly and Hulej sit at opposite tables, silently consumed in carving, shellacking, burning. Quiet absorption is probably the norm for these two. “Talking heads” are a cliche in documentaries, but a little outside perspective might have helped “Carmine Street Guitars,” since Kelly and Hulej are too busy working to explain their processes.

One by one, legends show up, to try out guitars. These sequences have their awkward moments, where you can feel the self-conscious “set up” of it all, but the subject is so interesting, and the music played by these people is so gorgeous, it’s forgivable. There are many gems dropped along the way. Kelly talks with Patti Smith’s guitarist Lenny Kaye about coming to New York when he was a teenager to see Jimi Hendrix play, before Jimi was even “Jimi Hendrix,” and Kelly and Bill Frisell have a fascinating conversation about Leo Fender (one of Kelly’s inspirations.) Each guest who visits plays a song on a Kelly-made guitar, and in these beautiful meditative sequences time stands still. There’s almost an exhale in such moments, where nothing is required of you but relax and enjoy the music. Kirk Douglas from The Roots asks Kelly about the different tools he uses, and Kelly shows off some of them, a small tutorial (the film could have used more of this. Kelly’s process is mostly shown, but not explained). Jim Jarmusch shows up with a guitar for repair, and he and Kelly have a long conversation about catalpa wood, ash trees, redwood trees. These people know their wood! There’s a beautiful shot of all of the guitars Kelly made for Lou Reed, lying on the floor, back to back, beautiful historic instruments. 

One of the strong impressions left by “Carmine Street Guitars,” and this may be more palpable to those who live in New York, is the sense of how much the world—and New York—has changed. The changes have not been good. Carmine Street Guitars is a “relic,” in a way, of a West Village that no longer exists. New York is now so much a city for the rich that the West Village has been decimated by ballooning rents and brand-name stores cutting a swath through independent ownership. (There’s an extremely awkward “scene” where a realtor stops by to ask Kelly questions about the building.) Carmine Street Guitars is an oasis, a quiet place devoted to one specific thing, and one thing only, an artist and craftsman who has been doing it for decades, and will continue until he drops. The sense of the past flows through the film. Honoring the past is seen as reactionary in some quarters. Not here. These guitars, made from wood pre-dating the Civil War in some cases, are a living legacy to the past, “the bones of old New York” as Kelly calls it. Kelly explains how old wood is better for guitars, the scars and imperfections help the sound, the vibrations. These are one-of-a-kind items. Assembly lines can’t create them. Creating a space for Kelly, his work, the slow vibe of life in his store, its devotion to one thing, is a beautiful act of tribute in and of itself.

There’s a moment where Charlie Sexton, from Bob Dylan’s band, stops by and plays the guitar we have watched Kelly create throughout the “week.” The wood comes from McSorley’s Old Ale House, on East 7th Street, one of the oldest Irish taverns in New York. Kelly wanted to make a guitar from McSorley’s wood for a long time. The finished product is a doozy, with graffiti scratched into the wood by McSorley’s customers left intact. Sexton loves the guitar, and plays the old Sophie Tucker song “Some of These Days,” with its opening lines, “Some of these days / You’ll miss your honey …” One of these days, Carmine Street Guitars might be gone. That eagle-eyed realtor is ominous, he is the bane of West Village existence. In this precarious context, Cindy Hulej takes on enormous importance. Kelly is passing on his craft to a younger generation, just like artisans did in the old days. There’s hope.

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New Netflix Horror Series Chambers Should Have Just Been a Movie

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Netflix’s “Chambers” feels like the offspring of their hit shows “13 Reasons Why” and “The Haunting of Hill House.” It has the young adult mystery of the former and the creepy supernatural vibe of the latter. I suppose the teen target audience may be more patient with it than I was, but I bailed after four very long hours in which I took a variation on the note “This should have just been a movie” about a dozen times. The abundance of programming on Netflix and other streaming services has clearly a reached a point when pitches that could have made solid 100-minute movies are being stretched out to entire TV seasons. Not only does this allow you to see the flaws in something derivative like “Chambers” but it kills the sense of atmosphere and pacing that a show like this needs to survive. There’s nothing less scary than utter boredom.

Sasha (Sivan Alyra Rose) has a heart attack on the stormy night that she’s losing her virginity. She awakens to find that she has someone else’s ticker in her chest, which brings her into the life of the girl who died to keep Sasha alive. Not only does she meet the late Becky’s parents (Tony Goldwyn and Uma Thurman), but she increasingly seems to be taking her place, moving into Becky’s spot at a private school, and hanging with her friends and brother. Of course, it’s not long before Sasha seems to be “channeling” Becky, tying a knot she didn’t know how to tie and hearing the Stone Roses song that Becky listened to in her head. She not only starts to convince herself that she is at least partially possessed by Becky, but that there’s something suspicious about her death.

There’s a lot to unpack here. When Sasha first gets to her new private school, the camera lingers over a pretty offensive use of Native American imagery for a school pride banner, and one hopes that “Chambers” is going to become a commentary on appropriation. After all, Sasha literally takes someone else’s heart and then sort of becomes her. It’s fertile ground for a look at privilege and the impact of environment on young people. Is Sasha becoming more like Becky because of something supernatural/biological or because she’s driving around in her car and attending her fancy school?

Sadly, “Chambers” isn’t smart enough to dig into the material in an interesting way. It’s too concerned with jump scares and long scenes about what might have happened to Becky. The success of a show like this comes in how it balances character development with meting out new twists to the narrative – look to “Hill House” for how to do that perfectly. The pacing is off here in every single episode. Sasha isn’t an interesting character and poor Uma Thurman seems like she signed up for a much more interesting show about grief. She’s doing a lot with very little. And it would have been a fascinating supporting turn in the movie that “Chambers” should have been, one that pumps instead of suffering from the television version of low blood pressure.

Four episodes screened for review

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Ebertfest 2019: A Photo Journal

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Roger’s presence was alive and well in the Virginia Theatre at our 21st Ebertfest! Festival Director Nate Kohn and I presented the Roger Ebert‘s Film Festival in collaboration with Roger’s alma mater, the College of Media at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. We were assisted by Festival Coordinator, Andrew Michael Hall (“Andy”). The following photo diary offers snapshots of our cherished memories that took place April 10th through April 13th in Champaign and Urbana, Illinois.

Photos courtesy of Timothy Hiatt.


The Opening Night Gala for Ebertfest was hosted graciously by University President Timothy Kileen and his wife Dr. Roberta Johnson. Opening speeches were also given by Chancellor Robert Jones and College of Media Dean Tracy Sulkin. 

During my speech at the gala, I was joined at the podium by two of the festival’s special guests, Gina Gershon and Jennifer Tilly. Coincidentally, Gina Gerson’s cousin, Alan Elliott, preserved, restored and presented our opening night selection, “Amazing Grace,” the amazing documentary about Aretha Franklin recording the best selling gospel album in history over two nights in a church in Watts, Los Angeles in 1972.

Preceding “Amazing Grace,” Alan Elliott was joined onstage for a Q&A with producer Tirrell D. Whittley and our Ebert Fellow, Whitney Spencer. Elliott told us of his musical roots and of how he was influenced by gospel music and why he was so passionate about bringing this performance of Aretha Franklin to the public. 

Tirrell Whittley’s background as a Deacon was evident in his powerful invocation. Once we saw this powerful film we understood Alan Elliott’s quest to bring it to the screen. It is being distributed by NEON and has opened in select theaters across the country. No doubt church groups and many others will line up to see this historic performance. 

The crowd-pleasing screening concluded with a performance by the Martin Luther King Jr. Community Choir of Champaign-Urbana that had the audience on its feet.

Turns out moving our musical finale of the festival to opening night was a great idea after all. It raised our spirits through the roof and held them there through the entirety of the week.


Prior to showtime at the Virginia Theatre, two inspiring academic panel discussions were held at the nearby Hyatt Hotel, the first sponsored by the Champaign County Alliance for Inclusion and Respect. 

It was entitled “Challenging Stigma Through the Arts,” and moderated by Dr. Eric Pierson. The discussion challenged whether the images of addiction in the movies helped or hindered the public’s understanding of addiction. Pierson was joined onstage by therapist Marcina Hale, film critic Matt Fagerholm, and professional representatives of the recovery community, including from the Rosencrance Rehabilitation Center. Their in-depth discussion offered suggestions on which movies and TV shows portrayed addiction accurately, but more importantly, they offered practical solutions to treating addiction and it’s aftermath as a service to the audience. 

The second panel focused on “Women in Cinema: Hollywood or Independent, Does it Make a Difference,” and featured such speakers as Alliance of Women Film Journalists president Jennifer Merin, “Bound” stars Jennifer Tilly and Gina Gershon… They too offered practical suggestions for how to increase the representation of women in cinema, both in front of and behind the camera.

… Assistant Editor Nell Minow, “Maya Angelou and Still I Rise” director Rita Coburn and “The Curvy Critic” Carla Renata (filmmaker Stephen Apkon and Sony Pictures Classics co-president Michael Barker were also present).

Alloy Orchestra members Ken Winokur and Terry Donahue chatted onstage with Michael Phillips and Todd Rendleman following their live musical accompaniment of a silent screen classic, in this case, Jean Epstein’s 1923 melodrama, “Coeur fidèle” (“The Faithful Heart”). The third member of their trio, Roger Miller, was busy selling their priceless merchandise in the festival’s boutique.

The Alloy Orchestra has performed at Ebertfest for over 16 years and are always brought back by popular demand. They compose original scores for the silent films they select, even making some of the instruments they use. What a talented group. We are fortunate to have them. 

Both of the morning panels were reflected in the second film of the day, and Sony Pictures Classics Co-President, Michael Barker, delivered an amazing homage to the late Jonathan Demme’s 2008 masterwork, “Rachel Getting Married.” It featured Anne Hathaway in what I still consider her best performance, as a struggling addict returning home for her sister’s wedding. This film is phenomenal with a cast including Rosemarie DeWitt, Bill IrwinDebra Winger, Anna Deveare Smith, Tunde Adebimpe and many others. Demme considered it one of his favorites in contributing to the understanding of human behavior. It shows how whole families become dysfunctional and act out in various ways, but how facing up to addiction, admitting wrongs, making amends, forgiveness and love can help you face the very messiness of life and come together as a family and community. Michael Barker is without a doubt one of Ebertfest’s favorite guests. 

Barker spoke onstage after the film with our critic, Nell Minow, and one of Demme’s closest friends, Stephen Apkon, a recipient of the Roger Ebert Humanitarian Award for his documentary, “Disturbing the Peace.” The screenwriter of “Rachel Getting Married,” Jenny Lumet (the granddaughter of Lena Horne and the daughter of Sidney Lumet), joined in the conversation over the satellite.

Lana and Lilly Wachowski’s hugely enjoyable debut feature, “Bound,” was the evening’s cinematic treat, and it was made ten times more entertaining by the Q&A afterward with Gina Gershon and Academy Award nominee Jennifer Tilly. Their banter with critics Chuck Koplinski and Pamela Powell was a joy to watch.


Michael Phillips introduced the audience to the 2018-19 University of Illinois College of Media Roger Ebert Fellows, Curtis Cook, Pari Apostolakos and Eunice Alpasan, who did a splendid job covering their first full Ebertfest experience. Although Phillips is the film critic for the Chicago Tribune, he is the revered mentor for the Ebert Fellowship program at the University of Illinois, and is valued for his knowledge and experience and his love of teaching. He makes the program better every year. 

One of our longtime Ebertfest guests, Sam Fragoso, was encouraged by Roger to keep doing what he loved, and he is now an accomplished critic, podcaster and filmmaker. His wonderful short film, “Sebastian,” preceded the first feature screened on Day 3 of Ebertfest, and earned him the coveted Golden Thumb.

Pawel Pawlikowski’s ravishing Polish romance, “Cold War,” was the discussion topic for Festival Director Nate Kohn, Michael Phillips and Carla Renata, following the morning screening. Carla Renata interviewed the film’s director and shared some revealing insights into the movie. It was partially based on Pawlikowski’s parents’ tempestuous love story and is an epic told over several decades. Renata is also a recurring actress on ABC’s Superstore, and just published a book for actors on marketing. 

Horace Jenkins’ newly restored 1982 gem, “Cane River,” brought out a stellar quartet of talents: producer Sandra Schulberg, actress Tommye Myrick and Jenkins’ children, Sacha and Dominique Jenkins. This film is a modern day Romeo & Juliet played out in Louisiana among descendants of African-American Creoles and slaves. It is a tale of colorism, land ownership, and a young woman’s determination to pursue her education, but above all, it a tale of love. Very romantic. Ms. Myrick hilariously told us how she had to learn to swim and ride horses because she couldn’t do either and the film required both. Schulberg told us how she preserved to get the film restored. And Dominique and Sacha told us of their remarkable father whose life itself is worthy of a film. 

The great Polish actress, Madame Maja Komorowska, traveled all the way from Warsaw to attend our Ebertfest screening of Krzysztof Zanussi’s 1984 love story, “A Year of the Quiet Sun,” which paired her with the late Scott Wilson, to whom this year’s festival was dedicated. She was joined on stage by her amusing translator, Jerzy Tyszkiewicz, who also happens to be her grandson. 

Their Q&A was moderated by Professor Todd Rendleman and Jennifer Merin. After tribute clips of Scott Wilson’s film career, his widow, Heavenly Wilson, spoke of getting this movie made in Poland and at Monument Valley in the United States.

Here Maja Komorowska and Jerzy are joined by Scott’s widow, Heavenly Wilson. Getting to spend time with them was heavenly indeed. It has become an Ebertfest tradition for guests and audiences to pose with the sculpture of Roger on the plaza of the Virginia Theater. The sculpture is by artist Rick Harney and was installed by the fundraising efforts of festival donors Donna and Scott Anderson. It was truly a gift from the heart, as Donna woke up in the hospital when she was having a heart transplant and said she wanted to do whatever it took to get a sculpture of Roger near the Virginia Theater as a gift to the community. 

Iconic “Simpsons” producer David Mirkin brought down the house with his beloved 1997 comedy, “Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion.” Festival Director Nate Kohn appears here with film critics and broadcasters Chuck Koplinski and Pamela Powell who had a ball chatting with David Mirkin onstage.The audience loved seeing Lisa Kudrow and Mira Sorvino in their screwball roles. Mirkin presented an image of high school that so many can relate to. He was a delightful guest. 


Beginning the last day of Ebertfest 2019 were two films about heroic figures who have left an indelible imprint in our culture long after their passing. The first was “Maya Angelou and Still I Rise,” directed by Rita Coburn, who spoke onstage with our Editor at Large Matt Zoller Seitz and Ebert Fellow Whitney Spencer afterward. Rita Coburn, in a surprise, was presented with the inaugural ICON award, for the scope of her film about the iconic Maya Angelou, and her contributions to humanity. This was the first ICON award ever given at Ebertfest. Rita Coburn is actually one of those phenomenal women that Angelou talks about. The film was awarded a Peabody among other awards.

Director Morgan Neville won the Ebert Humanitarian award for his film, “Won't You Be My Neighbor?” about the television trailblazer and radical humanist Fred Rogers.  It was only the third humanitarian award given. The second was given to Norman Lear for his lifetime of work in television in highlighting the various nuances of the human condition through humor.  Neville was joined onstage by Assistant Editors Nick Allen and Matt Fagerholm, who were both great admirers of the movie. Matt movingly shared with the audience the letter he wrote to Mr Rogers when he was five years old, and also the amazingly long and very specific response Mr Rogers wrote back to five-year-old Matt in encouragement. It illustrated the respect Mr Rogers had for children and his principle of radical kindness.

Our festival culminated with a celebration of Roger’s longtime on-air “At the Movies” partner, Richard Roeper. A montage of hilarious and touching highlights from their reviews preceded my conversation with him onstage. Richard chose two films to present at Ebertfest, and both were well received: “Almost Famous,” and “Sideways.” Richard’s career includes broadcasting on radio and television and other platforms, publishing books about movies and gambling, and lecturing. He may also be working on future movie projects. Managing Editor Brian Tallerico and Editor at Large Matt Zoller Seitz chatted with Richard Roeper and Sam Fragoso about one of their favorite movies, Cameron Crowe’s “Almost Famous,” a film very close to Roger’s heart (and his own life story). Crowe provided a special video introduction to the picture that was appreciated by the whole audience. His film still plays well all these years later, with an luminous performance by Kate Hudson, and an unbelievably perfect cast, including Billy Crudup, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Jason Lee and the vulnerable newcomer Patrick Fugit.

Photo by Matt Fagerholm

Last but certainly not least, we screened one of Roeper’s most prized films he ever got to review with Roger, Alexander Payne’s “Sideways.” The film’s Oscar-nominated star, the beautiful Virginia Madsen, joined us via Skype from the set of her new TV series, “Swamp Thing,” for an emotional conversation about Roger and his championing of the film. The film starred Paul Giamatti, Thomas Haden-Church and the unforgettable Sandra Oh. Virginia shared many insights, including about drinking fabricated fake wine. Hilarious.  Richard Roeper, Matt Zoller Seitz and Nell Minow were on hand for the discussion. All in all, a perfect end to another unforgettable Ebertfest. Join us April 15th through April 18th next year for the 22nd anniversary of Roger Ebert’s Film Festival!

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Ebertfest 2019: Table of Contents

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With the conclusion of the 21st Roger Ebert‘s Film Festival (Ebertfest), we’ve gathered all of our coverage on this past week’s panels, guests and film presentations. Included is the work of Chaz Ebert, Brian Tallerico, Nick Allen, Peter Sobczynski and our three Ebert Fellows, Curtis Cook, Pari Apostolakos and Eunice Alpasan, along with two articles published elsewhere.

Ebertfest 2019 Reveals Full Line-Up Honoring Scott Wilson, Richard Roeper and Jonathan Demme by Chaz Ebert

Spotlighting Ebertfest’s Festival Director and Audience Members by Chaz Ebert

Ebertfest 2019, Day 1: The Year Opens with a Cinematic Invocation by Brian Tallerico

Ebertfest 2019, Day 2: Coeur Fidele, Rachel Getting Married, Bound by Nick Allen

Ebertfest 2019, The Panels: Challenging Stigma Through the Arts; Women in Cinema by Nick Allen

Ebertfest 2019, Day 3: Sebastian, Cold War, Cane River, A Year of the Quiet Sun, Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion by Peter Sobczynski 

Ebertfest 2019, Day 4: Maya Angelou – And Still I Rise, Won’t You Be My Neighbor?, Almost Famous, Sideways by Nick Allen

Finding New Neighbors at the Movies: The Ebert Fellows on Ebertfest 2019 by Ebert Fellows Curtis Cook, Pari Apostolakos and Eunice Alpasan

From Daily Journal:

Ebertfest 2019 wrap-up: A film festival like no other by Pam Powell

From Prospectus News:

Empathy and Love at Roger Ebert Fest 2019 by Paul R. Benson

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Nelly Kaplan Retrospective at NYC’s Quad Cinema Celebrates Ferocious Filmmaker

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Just days after I moved to New York, the Quad Cinema screened a double feature of Suki Hawley and Michael Galinsky’s “Half Cocked” and “Radiation,” two melancholic portraits of mid-to-late-’90s indie rock life that recalled films like “The Last Picture Show” and “Inside Llewyn Davis.” I had never heard of Hawley and Galinsky or their work before, and I attended the one-night-only screening basically on a whim. By the end of the night, I was converted. In the past year, I was introduced to the work of Alan Rudolph, Eduardo de Gregorio, and Joan Micklin Silver; watched such X-rated works as “Salon Kitty” and “La Grande Bouffe”; and caught up with canonized titles like “Celine and Julie Go Boating” and “Daisy Kenyon.” For this Midwesterner, it was something of a gold mine.

When Chris Wells announced his departure as Director of Programming at the Quad Cinema two weeks ago, it compelled me to reflect upon how his work has impacted me during my brief time living in New York. As a regional novice with an interest in repertory cinema, the Quad’s programming was instrumental to my assimilation into the scene, and a neat introduction to the variety of options available in the city. Series like “Crimes of Passion: The Erotic Thriller” and “Some Are Better Than Others: The Curious Case of the Anthology Film” sought to both showcase works around a common through line while also highlighting underseen works. Wells and his team routinely exhibited unheralded films within unique contexts, guiding audiences to view these texts through new lenses with appropriate context. They challenged audiences to take chances on films with offbeat sensibilities or from artists who haven’t made big impacts in the States.

Case in point: the Quad’s “Wild Things: The Ferocious Films of Nelly Kaplan,” their latest retrospective and a celebration of Nelly Kaplan, an Argentine-born filmmaker who abandoned her economics studies at the University of Buenos Aires to emigrate to France and pursue a career in cinema. In 1954, she met director Abel Gance and quickly became his professional (and personal) partner. She spent a decade in his orbit, collaborating on works like “Magirama” and “The Battle of Austerlitz,” before eventually striking out on her own. At first, she directed a series of documentary portraits, including ones on Gustave Moreau and Pablo Picasso, but soon after she moved into directing fiction features and, later, co-writing telefilms with Jean Chapot. Kaplan’s films examine the intersection of sex and the patriarchal social order, foregrounding female desire as a revolutionary act within a conservative cultural sphere.

“Abel Gance and his Napoléon”

Her breakthrough debut feature “A Very Curious Girl” (pictured at top) explores the social hypocrisy within a conservative French village after an orphaned young woman becomes a sex worker. Marie (Bernadette Lafont) toils away on a farm and mostly receives abuse and harassment for her trouble. After her mother is killed in a hit-and-run accident, she embraces self-liberation and decides to charge the men in the village for sex as payback for being treated as bait for years. The village labels her a whore and tries to run her out, but despite their public objections, none of men can resist her beguiling wiles. Every elite in the neighborhood shames her sexuality yet physically engages with it every chance they get.

Kaplan’s broad social satire mines laughs from the gap between public and private personas, as well as the inherently shallow nature of conservative values, but “A Very Curious Girl” wouldn’t make such an impact if it didn’t also have gentle reverence for Marie. She channels her bitterness into a sexual revenge plot as a survival tactic and an avenue for radical expression; she rewrites her own objectification so that she’s the hero instead of the victim. Her sweetness towards a horny mute grandfather and a film exhibitor that views her as an equal illustrates that Kaplan’s critique lies less in individuals and more in the flawed system of social propriety. If the men in the village weren’t suffering under a culture of repression, they wouldn’t be punishing women for embracing their desires. In a way, Marie liberates the village by tearing apart its social fabric, even if they refuse to heed the lesson.

“Papa, the ‘Lil Boats”

The other films in the series, playing all this week, spotlight Kaplan’s diverse range in genre and tone: “Papa, the Lil’ Boats,” a 1971 caper about a beautiful heiress (Sheila White) who uses her temptress ways to confound her kidnappers; “Néa,” an adaptation of a novel by Emmanuelle Arsan, writer of the erotic “Emmanuelle” series, about a young shoplifter (Ann Zacharias) who tries her hand at erotic fiction at the behest of an older publisher (Sami Frey); the melancholic social comedy “Charles and Lucie,” about a aging married couple who inherit a luxurious mansion and subsequently reevaluate their relationship. The series also features her 1984 documentary “Abel Gance and His Napoléon,” a tribute to her mentor that chronicles the making of his 1927 epic “Napoléon,” as well as her final feature to date, “The Pleasure of Love,” about a down-on-his-luck tutor (Pierre Arditi) who falls into sexual disarray after three women pursue him during a gig on a tropical island.

Quad owner and real estate magnate Charles S. Cohen says that the four-screen theater will still showcase “restored and classic films” despite Wells’ departure and its official designation as a Landmark theater. Whether that actually happens remains to be seen, but as of now, the Quad still programs exciting work from marginalized or overlooked voices. Look no further than its Nelly Kaplan series for proof.

Wild Things: The Ferocious Films of Nelly Kaplan runs at New York’s Quad Cinema from April 12-25. For more information on the series, click here

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Someone Great

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Netflix’s Romantic Comedy Revival continues with a new twist. Instead of another sweet, lovey-dovey move a la “Set It Up” or “To All the Boys I Loved Before,” their next release, “Someone Great” starts with a breakup. The feel-good relationship at the heart of this movie isn’t found in the arms of a new man, but in the bonds between close friends. Jenny (Gina Rodriguez) is a driven writer who just landed her dream job at a publication across the country. The news finally breaks the crumbling relationship with her longtime boyfriend, Nate (LaKeith Stanfield). They break up, and then she cries—a lot. She quickly rallies her old friends, Blair (Brittany Snow) and Erin (DeWanda Wise), to triage her emotional state with booze, drugs, and a concert. 

“Someone Great” is an impressive feature debut from writer/director Jennifer Kaytin Robinson, the creator behind MTV’s “Sweet/Vicious.” The New York City-centric day-long arc manages to cram in a lot of mischief between Manhattan and Brooklyn. Although some of the movie’s details about the media industry are more fantasy than reality, its core story of coping with heartbreak through friends and escapism holds true. There are jokes about the setting and how everyone the women knew from their NYU days has moved to Los Angeles, and there are many jabs about the uncertainty of turning 30 and feeling like they should have married or accomplished something great. These lines never bring down the movie’s lighthearted tone, which bops along to a pop music soundtrack made up of some favorite songs and new hits. There’s even a hilarious sing-a-long moment to Selena’s “I’m Dreaming of You,” which is both a great song to listen to post-breakup or during a relationship. 

Although the characters tend to lean heavily on caricature, Rodriguez, Wise, and Snow seem to have plenty of chemistry with each other. Before her break up, Jenny looked like she had it all figured out when it came to her relationship and career. Blair, on the other hand, had already settled into a loveless relationship before turning 30. Jenny’s pre-30s crisis causes her to reevaluate her situation. Unlike her two straight friends, Erin is fine staying uncommitted until her partner, Leah (Rebecca Naomi Jones), asks her to take the next step in their relationship. The group seems overly fond of Internet slang, but the trio’s connection feels heartfelt. Their dynamics shifts to help out whichever friend is in need, like when Jenny helps pry Erin out of an awkward conversation with Leah or Erin confronts Blair about her shallow relationship. Plus, there are delightful appearances by RuPaul, Jaboukie Young-White, Rosario Dawson and Questlove throughout the film to keep things lively.

Kaytin Robinson’s movie has a sleek look that gives its messy breakup story more of a polished finish, and cinematographer Autumn Eakin uses the bright pink and white of stylish apartments and the neon and jewel tones of New York nightlife to color in this freewheeling day-to-night journey. Focus plays a distinct factor as well: Jenny’s flashbacks to her relationship are in soft focus, like idealized memories of old romantic comedies, while sharp focus is used for the time she spends with friends, reflecting on the hard reality she must come to accept. 

“Someone Great” does not refer to a person. That search for the perfect partner may not be what these women really need at this moment in their lives. For now, they have each other, and the movie wants us to enjoy their company as much as we would enjoy our time with our friends. It’s a fluffy romp with a sobering truth: relationships and your twenties may end, but neither signals the end of the world. 

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Mine 9

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Eddie Mensore’s “Mine 9,” a thriller about a group of coal miners trying to survive a cave-in, is a bravura display of storytelling prowess, turning liabilities into virtues in the manner of all good low-budget films. Borrowing equally from the survival movie and the horror film, it starts out by flat-out promising that something horrible is going to happen to a group of men led by section leader Zeke (Terry Serpico), and then it delivers, in the best/worst way. 

A near-disaster in the prologue establishes that increasing methane levels are putting the workers of Mine 9 in danger, but the system is ill-equipped to do anything about it. As the miners discuss amongst themselves, whenever a mine gets shut down by safety regulators, they don’t get a paycheck, and if one of them dies on the job, at least their family will get a payout, a scenario they prefer to unemployment, grim as it sounds. On top of that, if there’s an accident that traps miners in a shaft, federal investigators won’t help them. They have a rule against sending their own people into a situation that’s been established as life-threatening. All of which means that when things go bad, these guys are really and truly on their own. And things go very bad.

Mensore seems to have carefully studied the tough-guy action films of the 1960s and ’70s. At its best, “Mine 9” feels like a movie from that era, from the documentary-like emphasis on the rituals of donning and removing uniforms and gathering equipment, to the decision to keep film score music to a bare minimum (Marucio Yazigi’s work is mostly ambient and subliminal; sometimes you initially mistake it for natural or mechanical noises), to dealing with exposition by having the newcomer, Zeke’s eighteen-year old nephew Ryan (Drew Starkey), ask questions of the veterans accompanying him on his first trip into the mine. (Anybody who’s seen a war movie will immediately fear for the new kid’s safety; at least Mensore resisted the temptation to have him show off a picture of his fiancee.)

This is not a perfect film by any means. The characterizations are thin, in the manner of a standard-issue war picture about a platoon of mismatched grunts: each of the miners is largely defined by a single trait, such as innocence, piety, alcoholism, or a sense of paternal responsibility to the rest of the group, and they only occasionally rise above that, although once all hell breaks loose, the ability to watch them in action adds depth. And even though short feature films are becoming rarer these days, and should be applauded on principle, this one feels a bit too short. By the end, you’re so invested in the well-being of these men that you may wish the story had continued a bit further, to show them dealing with the psychological and maybe legal aftermath of what happened. (It’s easy to imagine a sequel where the survivors go to court seeking justice from the company, then turn to robbery or terrorism when they realize that the system is rigged against them.) 

Still, this is an impressive piece of work that deploys low-budget filmmaking techniques with cleverness. You feel as if you’re in that crumbling mine shaft with the heroes, who’ve already survived one close call and now find themselves trapped deep beneath the earth during a rainstorm. The sound design, supervised by Michael Hardman, is nerve-jangling in the manner of a very assured horror film, especially when the men have to play doctor on the spot, using tools that were designed to split rock. Matthew Boyd’s cinematography uses darkness for atmosphere and visual flair, often creating frames-within-frames that suggest Renaissance paintings matted with torn black paper (or monster movies that deal in claustrophobia, like the original “Alien” and “The Descent“). 

Most impressive of all is the way that both the cast and the filmmaking try to root every moment in physical reality. It’s not often that you see a thriller that is, in its heart, about workplace safety, the lengths that people will go to in order to support their families, and the way that machismo and tradition combine to rationalize away the coldness of industry. These guys are well-aware that the world as it is can be brutal to workers. But it’s the only world they know, and so they do whatever they have to do to survive in it. When the closing credits play out over footage of real miners who live and work in the locations where the movie was shot, it almost unbalances the whole thing, because although the fiction you just watched was engrossing, the reality that inspired it is profound.

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