Wednesday, October 21, 2009

I and Love and You and 700 Friends and The Avett Brothers

Well, The Avett Brothers lived up to my expectations.

Exceeded them, actually, with one of my favorite shows I've seen at the Englert. Alright, I'll admit I'm biased because I'm a big fan. Still, it's been quite awhile since I've seen a crowd so energized by a show in here, and with good reason - The Avett Brothers brought it.

With a style that was loose without being sloppy, forging elements of bluegrass, rock and pop music, and a stage presence that oozes confidence, the two brothers, a friend, and a guest cellist had the crowd on their feet for much of the night. Nicole Atkins and The Black Sea were perfect openers.

Check out the pictures here.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Sunday Night Pictures: The French Connection (1971), 10/4 @ 7 p.m.

First off, thanks to the Englert for bringing movies back! And, of course, for giving me the space to talk about some of my favorite movies. I hope these posts get you to come out each Sunday night to catch some old, and new, classics on the big screen, where they're meant to be enjoyed.

It's a privilege to kick off these introductions with William Friedkin's 1971 Best-Picture (and Actor, Screenplay, Editing, and Directing!) Oscar winner, The French Connection. To really appreciate this, we have to forget everything we've seen over the last 30 or 40 years or at least use this film to recognize where so many of today's cop-and-robber archetypes came from. TV shows like The Wire, Homicide, and even Law & Order (and its numerous spawn) have solidified the ground that The French Connection broke. Guys like Dirty Harry or films like Lethal Weapon couldn't have existed were it not for Gene Hackman's portrayal of real-life detective "Popeye" Doyle.

Police procedurals until The French Connection were much starker contrasts between the good guys and the bad guys. Doyle was the first cop who'd stop at nothing to collar the crook, including going outside the law, thus complicating our traditional notions of heroic behavior. "He isn't after the smugglers because they're breaking the law," Roger Ebert says, "he's after them because his job consumes him." Try not to think of Al Pacino's character in Heat. Doyle, all the way.

Again, all this is old hat now to 21st-century audiences. But Doyle isn't just the tough-on-crooks type. He's cruel to the innocent as well as those he's convinced are guilty. He's a racist bully who, at least when it comes to the heroin smugglers he eventually (and literally) brings down, is on the side of the angels. And we still haven't seen his like since.

Of course, no mention of the film can be made without the two-and-a-half minute nailbiter of a car chase under New York's West End, B-line train. (Check out the Trivia link at IMDb for some of the story behind this sequence.) It perfectly encapsulates Hackman's portrayal of Doyle's unstoppable nature.

(Un)fortunately, this YouTube clip is grainy and dark. You're just going to have to see the real thing on the big screen this Sunday night.