March 2015 AV Reviews


All that I am, or hope to be, I owe to my angel mother.   -Abraham Lincoln
The Better Angels is a monumental film presented in the most serene terms possible. 
Gently, gently, and layer by layer, it wraps viewers in the essence of the physical, emotional and spiritual environment of Abraham Lincoln's childhood.  Watching it is like an immersion in the spirit of the American frontier. 
                To partially explain my endorsement of The Better Angels, let me state up front:  I love my country, I love America.  I am fascinated by this place and by my countrymen and women.  I love it when artists can represent the American character in their work.  American character is revealed in every facet of the Arts through the works of Aaron Copeland or Miles Davis, John Updike or James Baldwin, Edward Hopper or Georgia O'Keeffe, and more. Terence Malick has this talent. I have admired his work since first watching his film, Badlands, many years ago and, more recently, Tree of Life.  A.J. Edwards is the writer/director of The Better Angels while Malick is credited as a producer.  I can't help but see Malick's influence; it seems pervasive and idiosyncratic.

                The story is introduced by Lincoln's cousin and is told as reminiscence. Lincoln was blessed with two angel mothers whose influence on a boy shaped the destiny of a nation. The simple, sparse narration and dialogue often leaves to the viewer the interpretation of events and people in young Lincoln's life.  The words that pass between characters are almost unimportant; there is nearly a mumble core quality to the dialogue.  But listen closely anyway, writers and actors have scattered gems throughout the movie.

                The cinematography carries the impact of this film. It is shot in the style of Ansel Adams' photographs, magnificent images in black and white and the million greys in the photographer's spectrum. Scenes of rushing streams, impossibly tall trees and vistas illuminated by bright sunshine seem to join as cinematic homage to that iconic American photographer.

                To set the aural atmosphere, the film's soundtrack carries a romantically pastoral tint.  Several bars of music from Bruckner's Symphony No. 8 precede the first frames of film. With a gentle and swelling convergence of strings, the music sets the scene.  The soundtrack is an exquisite complement to the entire film, a combination of classical masterworks and compositions created for this film by Hanan Townshend, a New Zealander with a keen ear for American Roots themes.

                Lincoln lived a difficult and isolated childhood in the Indiana of the early 1800's.   Viewers are offered a clear and quiet look at the backbreaking work expected of every member of the family. Survival required it. No one is asking for or expecting sympathy, not the characters, nor the filmmakers on their behalf.  We witness that adversity is taken for granted, or even considered God-given.  We have the advantage of knowing that this boy would overcome poverty, ignorance and tragedy thanks to the insight and grace imparted by his better angels.

DVD UPC:  013132626864   SLP: $22.98  Anchor Bay (not released on Blu-ray format)

Gwen Meade

Margate (NJ) Public Library


IMMIGRANT (Weinstein Company) 

   If you are a fan of the richly-produced Weinstein dramas – the films that can transport the viewer to another place and time – then be sure to check out the Immigrant.  Although this film was only
released in limited markets theatrically, it has all of the hallmarks of a classic Weinstein film – lots of drama, top-notch acting, and pain-staking detail to scenery, settings, and costumes. 

   This film stars Marion Cotillard (La Vie En Rose) as Ewa, a woman who, along with her sister Magda, sails to New York from her native Poland, in search of the American dream.  When they reach Ellis Island, the sisters are immediately separated – Magda is quarantined for tuberculosis, and Ewa is falsely accused of “low morals” while on the voyage (the accusations are explained in greater detail later in the film).  Desperate to stay in America with her sister, Ewa accepts an offer from a man named Bruno (portrayed by the always intriguing Joaquin Phoenix) for a job and a place to stay.  Soon enough, Ewa discovers that Bruno’s motives are not pure, and, because she has nowhere else to go, Ewa is forced into work at a nightclub/brothel.  While working at the club, she eventually meets a charming magician named Orlando (Jeremy Renner), who falls for the beautiful Ewa.  Orlando soon learns the details of Ewa’s plight and hatches a plan to help her escape her present circumstances.  However, Bruno has also become infatuated with Ewa, and escaping Bruno’s hold may not be so simple.

     I would highly recommend this film for anyone seeking a “hidden gem” kind of film – something apart from the typical big budget, special-effects laden fare.    Although the plot can be a bit predictable at times, the production, acting, and directing are all as good as one could expect from a large budget drama.  Both Marion Cotillard and Jeremy Renner are excellent – most of the written reviews point out Marion Cotillard’s performance as being the “heart and soul” of the film - but my personal favorite performance in the film is from Joaquin Phoenix.  As always, his performance seems to be a demonstration of someone who could become completely unhinged at any moment, yet you feel sympathy toward his character.  As I said, if you are a fan of the Weinstein-produced dramas, you should definitely see this film.

DVD UPC:  013132629629 $29.98 Anchor Bay

BD  UPC: 013132629636 $34.99
Heidi Metro

AV Inside Sales


Terraplane – Steve Earle

In the liner notes to Steve Earle’s latest release Terraplane he states "...Hell, everybody's sick of all my f---ing happy songs anyway...."  Of the 16 albums that he released (of which I own 14) I can only think of one, 2003’s Sidetracks that has a specifically happy track, Some Dreams which was used in a Disney movie.  I don’t listen to Steve Earle for happy songs.  I listen to him for powerful lyrics, and musical artistry and his latest release, Terreplane, does not disappoint.  In the course of his career Earle can be considered accomplished in many categories including, singer-songwriter, country, or, rock.  Just when listeners are ready to lock him in to a category one gets the sense that the artist feels compelled to move on.  Terraplane is a blues album, a very good blues album.  My first straight-through listen was through the near mono speakers of a lap top PC and this actually added to the experience almost like hearing an artist that could have shared a performance with Robert Johnson.  The track Baby Baby Baby exploits the rougher primal elements of Earle’s voice and there is some excellent complimentary harmonica work.  I expect to hear the track You’re the Best Lover I Ever Had, in a movie with dark themes; it would have been perfect in HBO’s True Detective series.  My favorite track on Terraplane is Acquainted With the Wind, a piece that crosses the bridge from blues to early rock; think the Big Mama Thornton version of Hound Dog mashed up with the Carl Perkins and Elvis Presley versions of the same tune.   

A caveat that must be expressed is that listeners who are stuck on Copperhead Road through The Low Highway, may not enjoy this album as much as those that enjoy artists creatively reaching beyond previous accomplishments.  Terraplane is an essential addition to blues collections, and collections that comprehensively collect Earle’s works
Music CD UPC: 00607396632824 $15.98 Label:  New West/Ada

M Warzala
Director of Collection Development


 Hand in Hand – Richie Furay

As an original and founding member of two ground-breaking country rock bands back in the 1960s, Buffalo Springfield and the often imitated POCO, Richie Furay has been a true originator and pioneer of that musical hybrid style.   In 1966, he and Neil Young, Stephen Stills, Bruce Palmer, and Dewey Martin formed the legendary band Buffalo Springfield. Furay was the one with the most mellifluous voice in the line-up of future superstars and was called upon to sing lead on a number of classic Buffalo Springfield tracks, some his own compositions and some written by Young or Stills.  Furay's own tunes for that iconic band include "A Child's Claim to Fame" and "Kind Woman."  After Young and Stills left to pursue other music projects (CSN, solo careers, CSNY), Furay formed the band Poco with Rusty Young, Jim Messina (former Buffalo Springfield bassist and occasional producer), Randy Meisner (future Eagle), and George Grantham,  a band that further emphasized the country side of country rock.

And now, Mr Furay returns with his new album, Hand in Hand, and brings us back to the early days of his sound and the genre we love so much while showing the experience of time and optimism despite the challenges of “modern” times.  His first release since 2003’s Heartbeat of Love, Hand in Hand again has him taking a break from his Denver CO pastor duties and his back with strong, full voice.  Hand in Hand opens with We Were the Dreamers and with it he brings us full force back 40 years to the Troubador nightclub in L.A., Laurel Canyon and Sunset Blvd when Furay and friends ruled the L.A. country rock scene and influenced Ricky Nelson, future superstars, The Eagles and others.  In this lively tune, he takes us the full ride to modern Nashville and the important bind of music! As he signs;  Rednecks, hippies all on stage together; “nothing less, nothing more”.  The title track Hand in Hand is pure Furay love song.  Touching, hoping and full of heart, honesty and trust.

The more somber, gentle Don’t Lose Heart, expels the importance of hangin’ in there and reminds us that we’re not alone in this journey (called life?). 

The Trilogy-like of Don’t Tread on Me/ Wind of Change/Some Day (feat Keb Mo) reflects on the struggles America and its people have faced and are still contending with. The finisher, celebratory and hard driving Some Day upbeat and Poco-like with fun guitar work and give us all hope.   Love at First Sight, Let It Slide gently while Still Fine brings in the funk and wraps up the set on an encouraging note.  This great new album shows that Mr Furay is in a good place and in great form.  He has the touch and relishes the moment.  Pick up this release and catch him live, in concert as Spring is Richie Furay (and Poco) time of year.

The new CD also contains bonus tracks; Kind Woman with Neil Young and Kenny Loggins helping out on vocals, a live version of Poco standard A Good Feelin’ to Know (recording last year in So Orange, NJ) and Love at First Sight featuring his daughter, Jesse Furay Lynch on lead vocals.

FULL Hand in Hand Track list-

1 We Were the Dreamers

2 Hand in Hand

3 Don't Lose Heart

4 Don't Tread on Me

5 Word of Change

6 Someday - feat Keb Mo

7 Love at First Sight

8 Let it Slide

9 Still Fine

Bonus Tracks-

1 Kind Woman - feat Neil Young / Kenny Loggins

2 Good Feelin' to Know (Live)

3 Love at First Sight - feat lead vocals by Jesse Furay Lynch

UPC: 00099923946427 SLP : $17.98 Music CD Label: eOne

RA Erdmann

Director of AV Sales/Marketing


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