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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Nine Good Teeth
Nine Good Teeth
New Video // Unrated // December 28, 2004
List Price: $26.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Matthew Millheiser | posted January 11, 2005 | E-mail the Author
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The Movie

When she was a little girl, a gypsy fortune-teller told Mary Mirabito Livornese Cavaliere that she would live to be 96 years old. Cut to 1995, the year in which the Sicilian-American matriarch of her ganse mishpuche reached her 96th birthday. Grandson and filmmaker Alex Halpern decided to grab a camera and document the life of his colorful grandmother, whom he affectionately refers to as "Nana", during the year of her prophesized demise.

And what a life! Filmed in 1995, Nine Good Teeth is a vivacious and often hilarious document depicting Nana's biography, from her earliest childhood memories growing up in Brooklyn to her contemporary lifestyle as a near-centenarian with a wealth of anecdotes, stories, and wisdom. Her story plays out with equal parts laughter and sadness, but throughout the film she maintains a rock-like demeanor of cool wisdom and strength. Her "matter of fact" attitude towards life, death, and family, her fount of colorful and entertaining stories featuring a host of interesting and sometimes shady characters, as well as a rather randy admission that I won't repeat here, all present a fascinating portrait of a woman whose sheer force of attitude and character easily elevates her from "just another old woman with a bunch of stories" to an eminently fascinating person.

The documentary was shot in 1995, but features copious amounts of footage filmed throughout Nana's life as well. Using this footage alongside old photographs and interviews with other surviving family members (including sisters, nephews, and most prominently her daughter Maria Livornese Halpern), Alex Halpern delivers a compelling portrait of a woman adored, admired, and just a little bit feared by her entire family. The film presents stories of love, heartbreak, infidelity, mob violence, dalliances with Jack Kerouac, death, defiance, and the rather unsurprising yet always welcome message that the secret of life is simply pissing in death's eye. The but-gusting "fakeout" at the end of the movie (you'll know it when you see it) is worth the price of admission alone. And yes Nana, it is a beautiful dress.

The DVD

Video:

Nine Good Teeth is presented in its original full frame aspect ratio of 1.33:1. The video is culled from a variety of sources: photographs, archival film footage, videotape, and newly filmed footage. The different sources are of varying quality: obviously film from the early/mid 1900s will have its own limitations. That having been said, the film is well presented and provides a solid and pleasing delivery of the original source material.

Audio:

The audio is presented in Dolby Digital 2.0, and provides for a reasonably engaging presentation of the soundtrack. The score sounds rich and pleasing, while dialog levels are bright and demonstrate acceptable clarity. You won't find anything mind-blowing here, nor should you really be looking for it. The movie sounds just fine, thank you very much.

Extras:

Extra features include an audio commentary with filmmaker Alex Halpern, editor Angelo Corrao, composer Teese Gohl, and Nana's daughter Maria Halpern. It's a fine commentary track and well worth a listen, but it's mixed entirely too low. The commentary's volume levels are set to the same as those for the movie itself, making this track a very difficult listen. We also have seven-and-a-half minutes of deleted scenes, a short video feature of Official Nanaisms (words of wisdom straight from Nana herself), a theatrical trailer, cast biographies, crew biographies, a text page about the company Docurama, and a browsable Docurama catalog, featuring trailers for Bob Dylan: Don't Look Back, Brother's Keeper, Go Tigers!, Keep the River on Your Right, The Legend of Ron Jeremy, Lost in La Mancha, The Smashing Machine, and The Weather Underground.

Final Thoughts:

Like many enjoyable films, Nine Good Teeth resonates strongly with viewers because the characters and stories presented therein are so endearing and entertaining. Except for this time the people presented are real and the stories are supposedly true, although surely filtered throughout decades of memory and nostalgia. In any case, it all makes for a pretty entertaining documentary, and at just over 80-minutes the time spent with Nana seems altogether too short. Still, the DVD makes up for it was a fine presentation of the film and some very interesting extras. Nine Good Teeth is definitely worth your time. Recommended

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