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Chase Rocks in New Jersey; ’70s Paris; Whore’s Love: Film

A quiet high-school senior from the New Jersey suburbs joins a band and discovers his inner Dylan, as well as his outer Dylan in the form of a frizzy Afro and gray suede Cuban-heeled boots.

David Chase’s aimless “Not Fade Away,” which had its world premiere Saturday in the New York Film Festival, follows that band from the early 1960s to the end of the decade.

At its center is Douglas (John Magaro), who’s drafted, somewhat reluctantly, as drummer and backup vocalist. To everyone’s surprise, including his own, he turns out to be a better singer than Eugene (Jack Huston), the band’s frontman and hotshot guitarist.

The preening Eugene doesn’t expect nondescript little Douglas, of all people, to challenge his leadership.

(The tensions in the group parallel those that fractured the Rolling Stones, who serve as a point of reference throughout. Douglas makes his solo debut with “Time Is On My Side” -- an odd choice since, without the backup harmony, it’s practically a different song.)

Bruce Springsteen

“Not Fade Away” is a first feature, but writer and director Chase is no novice. The creator of “The Sopranos” has done more to put New Jersey on the map than anyone since Springsteen.

Local boosters probably won’t be any happier with Chase’s version of their state this time around than they were with his Mafia clan. His Jersey suburbs aren’t a place where garages nurture a thousand bands but a culturally deprived Nowheresville that sucks oxygen from the soul: Leave or perish.

Witness Douglas’s mother (Molly Price), a self-pitying harpy, and his father (James Gandolfini), an embittered bigot who glares murderously at his long-haired son. Douglas glares back, mouths off and doesn’t seem much bothered by the news that the old man has cancer.

Despite references to Vietnam, Martin Luther King and LSD and a ton of period detail and familiar music, “Not Fade Away” misses both the ebullience of the era and its paranoia. Instead it feels like now -- bland and hopeless.

Loose Fit

Maybe the need to compress everything into two hours stymied a writer-director accustomed to the expansiveness of series TV. Practically any episode of “The Sopranos” was structured more rigorously than “Not Fade Away.”

The film succumbs to anachronisms of tone (Douglas’s sister insists on “African-American” and “gay” as politically correct terms years too early), uncertain characterization (the boys in the band are never very distinctive) and a drifting plot.

Like Douglas, the movie seems to have no real idea of where it wants to go. The only reason it doesn’t fade away is that it’s pale to begin with.

“Not Fade Away,” from Paramount Vantage, is scheduled to open on Dec. 21. Rating: **1/2

Beautiful Boy

The radicalized Parisian students in Olivier Assayas’s “Something in the Air” have no idea what a paradise they’re living in -- of political debate, of creative freedom and of carefree finances.

Contemporary kids will probably find them as alien as courtiers from the age of Louis XIV.

This valentine to the early ’70s captures its era much more alertly than “Not Fade Away” does. The picture recalls a time in the director’s own life when, like Gilles (Clement Metayer), the beautiful boy it’s built around, he was being pulled one way by extremist politics and another by art.

It’s because art won that Assayas can re-create the textures of the period -- its rock and roll, its tie dye, its Maoist nuttiness -- with so much conviction and love.

“Something in the Air,” from Sundance Selects, is scheduled to open next spring. Rating: ****

Young Prostitute

A young prostitute (Rin Takanashi) is sent out to service an elderly scholar (Tadashi Okuno). He’s kind to her, but even though she’s sweet (if not terribly bright), she’s too tired to pretend she wants to be there.

Talking at cross purposes, they’re both funny and sad. When her impassioned and volatile boyfriend (Ryo Kase) appears, he adds menace to the mix.

No one would guess that in “Like Someone in Love” the renowned Iranian director Abbas Kiarostami is working in Japan for the first time.

His little tragicomedy plays out without comment. He never tells the audience what to feel, and this lack of judgment passing is wonderfully humane.

Though the movie is about a whore, a john and a brute, it’s impossible to draw a line from those crude words to these complex, fallible people.

“Like Someone in Love,” from Sundance Selects, is scheduled to open next spring. Rating: ****1/2


What the Stars Mean:

*****  Fantastic
****   Excellent
***    Good
**     So-So
*      Poor
(No stars) Avoid

(Craig Seligman is a critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)

Muse highlights include Mark Beech on London theater and Amanda Gordon on N.Y. Scene.

To contact the writer of this column: Craig Seligman at cseligman@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Manuela Hoelterhoff at mhoelterhoff@bloomberg.net.

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