Archive | April, 2014

Only Lovers Left Alive

25 Apr

‘Only Lovers Left Alive’: Vampire lovers don’t come any cooler, but still need blood


In Jim Jarmusch’s quirky “Only Lovers Left Alive,” vampires Skype, take selfies and book their midnight flights through or the like – really getting at the complexities of being a vampire in the 21st century.

042514i Only Lovers Left AliveGoing back to “Stranger Than Paradise” and “Mystery Train,” Jarmusch characters have always been victims of ennui and complacency. That holds true here as Adam (Tom Hiddleston, Loki in the “Thor” and ”Avengers” movies), is a “suicidal” vampire living on a desolate street on the fringe of Detroit, composingindustrial rock operas and nipping at vials of black-market blood he gets from a compliant lab worker (Jeffrey Wright). He also has a loyal gofer in Ian (Anton Yelchin, Chekov in the new “Star Trek” series) and a far-flung wife (Tilda Swinton) biding time in Tunisia.

Adam’s weary and bored. He’s lived hundreds of years, and the implication is that he’s had his hand in most major musical movements going back to Bach and Beethoven. Eve (Swinton) is a much livelier sort, hanging out in hookah bars with Christopher Marlowe (yes, the guy who went toe-to-toe with Shakespeare, played by a gaunt and game John Hurt). Even though it’s clear their love is palpable and eternal, their interests have them in sort of an undead long-distance relationship.

The arc of the story pretty much has one paying the other a visit. Troubles arise when the supply of platelets and plasma runs dry and Ava (Mia Wasikowska), an impish succubus who doesn’t play by the rules, shows up.  Continue reading

The Sound of Silents

22 Apr

The Berklee Silent Film Orchestra learns to score films hands on in their collaboration with Sounds of Silents at the Coolidge Corner Theatre.

Cineastes and those intrepid enough to dig around in the recessed archives of the Criterion Collection may be well attuned to the silent works of Buster Keaton, Charlie Chaplin, D. W. Griffith and Fritz Lang, but most have likely never experienced the full magic of those early filmmakers’ classics as they were intended at the time of their release—with a live musical accompaniment.

Back in the early part of the last century, pitted orchestras and organists nestled in nooks fervently tapped out the scores for Sergei Eisenstein’s “The Battleship Potemkin”(1925), Raymond Longford and F. Stuart-Whyte’s “Sunrise” (1926) and Lang’s “Metropolis” (1927) to heighten the audience’s immersion and to create the perfect confluence of visual and aural arts.

It was a time when the filmgoing experience was more than a bag of popcorn and a digital hard drive. These were gala events driven by blood, sweat and synergy. And now, thanks to the efforts of two sustaining programs in the Boston area, it is possible to hear and see the silents as they were nearly a century ago.

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13 Sins

19 Apr

April 19, 2014

Published in Pate Magazine

<i>13 Sins</i>

“The devil made me do it,” might be an apt response for some of the mayhem and mischief that goes on in 13 Sins, but greed and desperation are more to the point. The film, directed by Daniel Stamm and based on the Thai film, 13 Games of Death, rides a one-trick-pony for all it’s worth. It might not be original, or superbly cut together, but it does pay dividends as it the scale of sociopathic doings becomes ever more satanic.

After a baroque opener that has an elder gentleman in a suit and tie launch into a four-letter-word fit at a podium only to perform impromptu digit surgery on a beloved one once he’s arguably calmed down, we meet Elliot (Mark Webber) who’s having the day from hell. His mentally impaired brother (Devon Graye) needs expensive meds, he’s expecting a child with his fiancée (Rutina Wesley), and with all the downward financial pressure, he gets tossed from his job by a patronizing ass of a boss, and we haven’t even gotten to his drunk, racist dad (Tom Bower) who needs to move in with them, and drops a few N-bombs on his African-American daughter-in-law-to-be just to let everyone know exactly what he’s thinking.

So it’s fortuitous, or ominous, when Elliot gets a call from a random avuncular soul who tells him, that if he kills the annoying fly buzzing about in his car, he’ll get a thousand dollars. At first, Elliot looks around to see if he’s been punked, but then complies. Boom, the money lights up in his account. (Smart phones are such great plot accelerator for rote horror films) and then he’s told, that if he then eats the squashed bug he’ll get three thousand more.

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The Railway Man

18 Apr

‘The Railway Man’: Incredible true story, even if director isn’t the best conductor


“The Railway Man” is one long therapy session revolving around one veteran’s struggle with PTSD that has plagued him for years following his incarceration in a World War II Japanese prison camp. It casts shades of “The Bridge Over the River Kwai” and “The Deer Hunter.” It’s also a true story based on Eric Lomax’s memoir of coming to terms with the demons of war that tormented him for much of his adult life.

041814i The Railway ManThe film begins tranquilly enough in a sleepy little English shore town in the 1980s, where at a men’s club meeting over beers, the somewhat reluctant Eric (Colin Firth) wistfully recounts his affection for Patti (Nicole Kidman), a women he met recently on a train. Trains and railways happen to be an obsessive hobby for Eric (thus the title). He’s also a kind and engaging soul, and soon enough he and Patti are moving toward marriage in all the most maudlin and pat ways possible. It’s here the film begins to feel dangerously like a large, sugary gobstopper, all fluff and no fire, but then the closet door opens and the skeletons start to pour out. Eric erupts in night terrors, he’s fiscally a disaster and sometimes he mutters to people who aren’t there.

It turns out that men’s club is what’s left of a battery of British soldiers taken prisoner by the Japanese during the fall of Singapore.  Continue reading

Women Who Prey

18 Apr

Film Review Under the Skin

Much will be said about the women and their use of sex as a means to an end in Lars von Trier’s two part Nymphomaniac and Jonathan Glazer’s alluring new film,Under the Skin. Sex in both endeavors is a must; an addiction in the former and a tool for sustenance in the latter. But in both cases the women are driven by something beyond their control and as a result, they prey.

Joe (played by Charlotte Gainsbourg, with Stacy Martin as the young incarnation), the insatiable protagonist in von Trier’s pandering provocation, embarks on her first hunt aboard a train wearing gleefully self-described “fuck me” garb. She’s looking to achieve a series of bathroom conquests and baits the men, packed like sardines into cramped traveling compartments, with fluttering doe-like eyes as she requests help in finding the washroom, and later, for her crowing achievement, settles on a more stately married man in first class. He is so morally affixed and committed that to break that bond will yield the greatest conquest and the most points in an ongoing game of sexual one-upmanship with a fellow train cruiser. After swaying the reluctant mark,  he passively empties himself into her mouth. The man is changed, drained, and emotionally shaken from the transgression he consciously wished no part of until mid-ejaculation. For Joe the act is simply a tally notch, a big bull buffalo on the savanna that her sleek apex feline sussed out, isolated, and brought down. How the man returns to his wife, or if his life is disrupted from the interlude, is of no concern.

In the wild, the act of predation is cold, calculating and necessary. There is nothing civil or remorseful about it. While Joe does it to feed her id or inner dysfunction, Scarlett Johansson’s intoxicating incarnation in Under the Skin, largely nameless but identified as Laura in the credits, does it out of rote need. She’s not of our world but something supernatural, a celestial traveler who has been transfigured to look like us, and on something of a farming mission to harvest human flesh for her ilk. The urgency of her assignment renders palpable and strong as she patrols the streets of Glasgow in an austere white van asking for directions (uncannily similar to Joe’s locomotive panderings).  Continue reading

Draft Day

12 Apr

‘Draft Day’: Football flick puts Costner back in play, falls short of his greatest


Here’s something new: Kevin Costner back in a sports movie. Okay, maybe not new, but this time it’s football and not baseball, and he’s traded his cleats for a front-office job. “Draft Day” is supposed to be a funny, quirky race against the clock-cum-romance like “Jerry Maguire,” but it’s not all that funny. Costner channels his signature assured nonchalance as Sonny Weaver Jr., general manager of the Cleveland Browns.

041214i Draft DayThe film starts off on the morning of the big, titular day with Sonny going back and forth with his girlfriend Ali (Jennifer Garner) about who he might pick. And of course she has some big news to tell him, but his phone keeps ringing. Cleveland has the No. 1 pick in the draft and everyone wants it because there’s a QB out there who’s the next Tom Brady – interesting timing because the team that’s after him the most, the Seattle Seahawks, have Russell Wilson and just won the Super Bowl. It’s kind of the same post-shoot conundrum that afflicted “Fever Pitch” when the Red Sox won their first World Series in 86 years and the filmmakers had to scurry to stay with the times).

Sonny, who fired his beloved dad as head coach, seems to be a front office bonehead as he trades away the team’s next three No. 1 picks and appears to be on the verge of being shown the door by the team’s owner (Frank Langella), who’s just as concerned about flash and pomp as he is winning. It doesn’t help that Ali works for the Browns as well and they’re not out as a couple, even though everyone knows.  Continue reading


12 Apr

‘Joe’: Teen’s father figure has problems aplenty in a dark, bloody backwoods


Like Jude Law’s Dom Hemingway, Nicolas Cage’s Joe is an angry, feral mess, not to be tangled with. He’s also a puppy on the inside, should you catch him when he’s sober. That’s the blessing and the curse of “Joe,” a character study in which the character is so all over the road that each time you think you’re getting to know him, something knee-jerk and nonsensical comes out and throws you.

041114i JoeDirector David Gordon Green’s been a bit all over the map himself, from the small indie gem “George Washington” (2000) to the raucous stoner mayhem in “Pineapple Express” (2008) and most recently, “Prince Avalanche” (2013). “Joe” begins on a promisingly sober note as Gary (Tye Sheridan, filling a role similar to one in “Mud”), a youth of poor means, takes up a hatchet on a brush-clearing gig for Joe, whose reputation as an explosive ex-con is known throughout the depressed Texas enclave. Gary’s amid a lot of people who look like they know Joe from his days behind bars, but they’re all hard-working now and focused.

Joe’s pretty focused too, until he drinks too much. The rub comes in Gary’s alcoholic father (Gary Poulter) who goes by the moniker G-Dawg. He’s both complex and a caricature, and perhaps the most alluring and annoying aspect of “Joe.” In one scene he’s so drunken he can’t stand up and in another he’s bashing in a vagrant’s head. It’s humorous too, to see the motley hillbilly with scraggly white beard and amoral ethic bust some rap moves, but to what end?  Continue reading

Under the Skin

11 Apr

‘Under the Skin’: Scarlett Johansson drags us to dark territory of otherworldly novel


Jonathan Glazer, whose brief cinematic résumé began with “Sexy Beast” and includes 2004’s “Birth,” purportedly spent nearly a decade trying to bring Michel Faber’s otherworldly novel to the screen. The wait is well worth it. Glazer spins rapturous scenes that will be hailed universally as Kubrickian – and rightly so – but in the process also concocts an eerie, wholly unique experience that will resonate deep within viewers’ bones.

041014i Under the SkinIf you haven’t read Faber’s novel and have no discerning of its plot, educate yourself no more; going in less educated will yield you a better viewing experience. Glazer’s arcane imagery and Mica Levi’s all-consuming score forge an indelible confluence that is not your typical cinematic fare. Sure, there are arguably three acts, but it’s more a washing over than a sum of parts with a resolution; when “Skin” does subscribe to these traditional framework devices, that’s when it starts to loose its sheen and transcendent allure.

As strange as it may sound, American starlet Scarlett Johansson plays a taciturn female entity who patrols the weary streets of Glasgow in an austere white minivan. The credits identify her as Laura, but I’m not sure she’s given a name during the film. In any case, she’s not human. What she is and how she comes to be is part of the film’s pleasurable mystery; to tell you any more or to compare and contrast elements of Faber’s novel would be to do you and the film a disservice. Continue reading

Dom Hemingway

11 Apr

‘Dom Hemingway’: 12 years in prison makes Dom due for a very good year


If you always thought Jude Law was a neat and buttoned-down lad like the square journalist he plays in “The Grand Budapest Hotel” or Watson in the “Sherlock Holmes” films, guess again. As the titular Dom Hemingway he’s something of a Cockney bull akin to Bob Hoskins in “The Long Good Friday” or Michael Caine in “Get Carter,” and even more so the Kemp brothers in “The Krays.” In short, he’s feral, unhinged and lethal, but that’s not to say Law’s daunting effort makes the film worthy of inclusion in that pantheon of great British mob dramas.

041114i Dom HemingwayThe film opens energetically enough, with Law’s Hemingway barking out poetic praise for his “cock.” Where he is and who is worshiping his manhood becomes quickly apparent. Dom’s shortly thereafter released from a 12-year prison stint and sets his sights immediately on the guy who married his ex-wife and cared for her when she became stricken with cancer and died. Dom sees it as the guy stole his wife (even though they were long divorced) and gives the unfortunate bloke the punishment an angry weightlifter would give the cable guy should he find him in bed with his wife.

Dom’s got pretty severe anger issues and likes to hit the bottle hard, which triggers some unhappy and deadly tidings when he pays a visit to the Russian kingpin he took the prison time for. Then there’s his daughter, with whom he wants to make amends but can’t sober up long enough to get the apology off his chest. Not much goes Dom’s way. He’s a yegg but can’t land a decent safecracking gig. He’s a ticking time bomb packed full of hubris. But he does have one loyal friend in Dickie (a wonderfully foppish Richard E. Grant), another petty entry in London’s criminal underworld who’s just as rudderless – and newly missing a hand.  Continue reading

Nymphomaniac: Vol. II

5 Apr

‘Nymphomaniac: Vol. II’: Sad, porny saga by von Trier wraps up better than it began


The good news is that Danish director Lars von Trier saves his best for last, at least in his two-part “Nymphomaniac” about a woman with an insatiable sexual appetite and repugnant personal conduct. If you missed Volume I, you need to go back before going forward. To dive in without would be pointless. The rest of you tormented souls all know that Joe (Charlotte Gainsbourg) sits in the apartment of Seligman (Stellan Skarsgård) after he has found her beaten and lying in the streets and she is in the midst of recounting her story of being “a terrible human being” from her childhood.

040414i Nymphomaniac- Vol. IIThe plus is that Joe’s flashbacks are closer in time to the now and Gainsbourg, an immensely talented and game actress, is able to play her younger self instead of relying on Stacy Martin, a ravishing but largely wooden prop who only seems to have a flicker in her eye when sucking cock. Gainsbourg too gets a workout – double penetration with two Africans who can’t speak English (she needs a translator to set up the sexcapade) – and goes into the loan-collecting business (for Willem Dafoe, almost as sinister as he was in “The Grand Budapest Hotel”), in which her newly learned talents in B&D extract funds quicker than a brutal bruising.

But Joe does not emerge as any more sympathetic in this expanded chapter. She’s married Jerôme (Shia LaBeouf), the young man she targeted to take her virginity, and they have a young child, yet every night she leaves her child alone to sit in the waiting room hoping to catch the eye of an S&M master (Jamie Bell, aka “Billy Elliot”). The negligence is paramount, and the addiction ephemeral at best. Truly, she may just be the “terrible human” she professes she is; and yet with such condemnation onscreen there is no discernible greater contemplation. If there was, I missed it between the beatings and front and back entries.  Continue reading