Archive | September, 2014

Boston Crime Scenes

30 Sep

BOSTON — Bostonians, how we love our town. And as the years have gone by, Hollywood has loved the Hub too. Why the love?

Some of it has to do with the scenic, historical richness our city has to offer, some of it has to do with (the controversial) tax break incentives to use Boston as a backlot, some of it has to do with the waning power the unions hold and much of it has to do with Boston’s deep and storied criminal past that has become a romantic obsession in Tinseltown.

So used it is, that Dennis Lehane, who’s penned many crime novels set here that have become successful film adaptations also shot here (“Mystic River,” “Gone Baby Gone” and “Shutter Island”), flipped the setting for the script of “The Drop” from Dorchester to Brooklyn.

The latest Hollywood product to call the Hub home, “The Equalizer,” opened this weekend. While it’s not likely to be a Boston-branded movie, it does make excellent use of the city, balancing the dark criminal past and peripheral pockets that still persist today with the sweeping gentrification.

It’s a neat and true testament to see the unpretentious working class streets of East Boston (where Denzel Washington’s equalizer lives in a humble apartment) coupled with an Edward Hopper-esque diner in Chelsea offset by the wide shots of the Zakim Bridge and a high-rise criminal perch with panoramic views of the Financial District and the Seaport. The film also boasts the single best use of a Boston Herald delivery truck as a plot device.  Continue reading

Don’t Look Back

28 Sep

Published in Paste Magazine


<i>Don’t Look Back</i>

“You’re such a trope,” a vengeful young woman in William Dickerson’s cagey psycho-thriller shouts at an interfering interloper. The barb’s recipient responds with a blank look, to which the issuer drives home her point, angrily stamping, “A cliché!” which, and sans intent, borders on camp as Dickerson’s low-budget/high-ambition effort brims blissfully with said overused motifs. A quick autopsy of Don’t Look Back (an overused maxim in its own right) yields elements from such “bad seed” staples as The Dark Half, Misery and Single White Female—all, already formulaic genre, boosted above mainly by talents of those involved.

On the plus side, Don’t Look Back begins so wobbly—at a near soft-core level—that the budding confidence and moody acumen it generates midway through almost bristles with a sense of auteur bravado. The house of psychological cards builds around a young writer (Lucy Griffiths of TV’s True Blood) who’s made a name for herself with a beloved YA series based on her troubled childhood—some sort of a blend of The Hunger Games and fairytale archetypes. From inside the claustrophobic office of her shrink (Kate Burton), we learn that Nora’s grandmother (who raised her) has just passed. To deal with the estate and find a new slice of inspiration for the next volume in the series, Nora decides to returns to the snow-capped mountain high near Palm Springs where she grew up.  Continue reading

The Equalizer

26 Sep

<i>The Equalizer</i>


Here’s a zany idea, take a moderately successful 1980s TV crime drama staring a British actor (Edward Woodward. the compelling condemned lieutenant in Breaker Morant) as a retired “C.I.A.” agent living in New York City who “fixes” peoples’ problems, drop in Denzel Washington and transpose the setting to Boston. The result would seem likely to be pretty weak tea that, without Washington, might be something heading for the vast realm of VOD obscurity without a theatrical release. And still, even with the Oscar-winning actor, is a payoff possible?

The good news for this iteration of The Equalizer, however, is that moody stylist Antoine Fuqua has the helm. He and Washington blew audiences’ minds back in 2001 with the bad cop fable Training Day. There, the synergy of their collaboration shone through brightly, and here, it goes a long way, too. The bad news, or not so good, is that the script is penned by Richard Wenk, a guy who’s made his jam by doing Expendables films and The Mechanic remake. It’s within his milieu, sure, but those testosterone-infused retreats were never going to make members of the Screenwriters Guild take pause during awards season. Continue reading


23 Sep

September 22, 2014  |  8:20pm



The latest from Kevin Smith signals something of a return to form and a bit of a surprise. After all this was the man who felt so dejected by the film biz that he pretty much checked out after his mixed, “self-published” effort, Red State (2011), and retreated into various cultish, fan-adoring safe havens—podcasts and AMC’s tediousComic Book Men. Of course, Smith’s sloppy commercial outings preceding Red StateCop Out and Zack and Miri Make a Porno—probably had something to do with it, too. That all said, the one thing about Smith that’s always been consistent beyond his whiny mewling, has been his snarky resilience—and that’s a good thing, because Tusk, despite being the WTF film event of the year, pays dividends for those with acquired tastes.

The film, a hefty slab of comedy atop a serial killer thread, alleges to be based on “actual events.” Those being that Smith got his hands on a posting by a lonely older seafarer in Canada who was offering free room and board for anyone willing to hang out and wear a walrus suit for a few hours a day. On-air, the quirky post got spun into a plot brainstorming session which in turn launched the social media campaign, #WalrusYes. The response not only birthed Tusk, but, purportedly, a whole True North trilogy to go with—or offset—Smith’s breezy Jersey assemblage (Clerks, Mallrats and Chasing Amy).  Continue reading

The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Them

18 Sep
Jessica Chastain stars as the titular Eleanor Rigby

The notion of there being two sides to every story isn’t a new one. And Ned Benson’s The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Them isn’t the first film to explore the two perspectives of a couple, even more so if the duo is in turmoil. Right from the start The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Them sets the table as the titular Eleanor (Jessica Chastain) and her husband, Conor (James McAvoy), appear to be a perfect couple doing the casual fine-dining thing in a swank New York eatery when they decide to up and split on the bill. It’s not that they can’t afford din-din, it’s just their united expression of freedom, frolic, and a strange sense of foreplay. The scene is short and sweet, then in the next scene, and at some future time, we catch Eleanor (so named affectionately after the Beatles’ song) walking her bike across a bridge. She’s despondent and troubled, and, in a flash, she’s over the rail. It’s a strong visual juxtaposition of how relationships can change, almost seemingly at the drop of a hat.   Continue reading

The Drop

12 Sep

First we lost Pierce and Garnett to Brooklyn and now we’ve lost the setting for “The Drop” to that city as well. Revered Boston crime novelist Dennis Lehane’s screenplay for “The Drop” (his first endeavor as a cinematic scribe) was based on “Animal Rescue,” a short story he wrote ten years ago and set in Boston. For “The Drop,” which opens today, he transposed the locale to Brooklyn, purportedly because the author wanted to stretch his wings and try out some new turf. In addition, Lehane just turned “The Drop’s” screenplay into a similarly titled novel.

So, just to make sure that we’re all on the same page, it’s a book, based on a screenplay, based on a short story. Got it?

Lehane himself, on the heels of the successful screen adaptations of his crime novels, “Mystic River,” “Gone Baby Gone” and “Shutter Island,” has departed Boston for L.A. to be closer to the biz. It’s an understandable move, but not free of the ironic shadows of “Beat L.A.”(which Pierce and Garnett did) and the same migratory path of ignominious Boston crime boss, Whitey Bulger.

James Gandolfini as "Cousin Marv" in "The Drop" (Courtesy, Fox Searchlight)

Brooklyn, as “The Drop” has it, is a dark, dingy place where hard-working people and shady mobsters intersect with plenty of crossover. One such middler is the affable, yet gruff Marv (played by the late James Gandolfini), who runs a bar, tagged Cousin Marv’s. Marv used to own the bar, but the Chechen mob took over to create a cash drop. A quick montage depicts illicit greenbacks on the move, slipping through a secret slot in the bar top during business hours and later, after closing, then getting sealed into a Trojan keg of sorts and shipped off to be laundered—or something like that.    Continue reading

Last Days in Vietnam

8 Sep

published in Paste Magazine


<i>Last Days in Vietnam</i>

Beyond slavery (and Cvil Rights), the mistreatment of Native Americans and a woman’s right to vote, the Vietnam War might be the most ignominious stain on American history. Sure, the ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, same-sex equality and wealth disparity might make that list, too, in time, but Vietnam—a.k.a. the living-room war—fervently consumed the American conscience for over a decade. It was something new, too. The two Great Wars had us justly battling tyranny, championing the oppressed and righting wrongs on the road to freedom. Korea was something else, something more complex, something that appeared to be in the same arena of righteous and yet, it was really a Cold War bellwether delineating the fractious ideological divide between democracy and communism. Tough lessons were learned from that war, but Vietnam, in an era of burgeoning liberalism, free love and racial integration in the wake of Ozzie and Harrietidealism—and further inflamed by the mandatory enlistment for the draft—touched off a cascade of social unrest and activism that caused the United States to reconsider its foreign policy, something that has rippled forward to the wars that confront the U.S. currently.   Continue reading

5 Sep

Summer — ‘tis the season of the blockbuster, or so Hollywood hopes, right? But who knew a blockbuster would sweep through the beloved Boston-area art house, the Brattle Theatre?

In case you were sleeping or don’t believe me, it happened, lines around the block and sold-out shows, night after night.

In Tinseltown there are formulas to these things, but it’s not all that secret or complex: something old (remakes and sequels to money makers), something borrowed (TV shows, young adult hits) or something novel (let’s pair up Walter White and a lovely French actress with a giant CGI lizard). Many of these endeavors cost well over the $100 million mark and while they receive poor to tepid critical reaction, they tend to turn a buck in the long run when you factor in foreign releases and Video on Demand (VOD). But every summer there’s always a wild card, that offbeat something cooked with a modest budget (just tens of millions) that comes out of left field and hits bigger than most expect it would.

(Courtesy, Brattle Theatre)

“Lucy” is one such example. Made by French provocateur Luc Besson through a collaboration of European outlets. The gonzo sci-fi crime thriller was modestly released stateside by Paramount in first run theaters and made more in its first week in the U.S. than its entire budget (of $40 million). Of course, having the actress du jour (Scarlett Johansson) and a ready made audience (those who love Besson for his edgy, cultish works; “Le Femme Nikita,” “The Professional” and “The Fifth Element”) helps, but not always does such pedigree guarantee big box office biz or fiscal love from the mighty studio machine.

Take the case of “Snowpiercer,” the bleak futuristic depiction of the remnants of a post-apocalyptic society living on a super Acela after the battle with global warming has gone bust and Earth is little more than a giant ice cube. Directed by Joon-ho Bong, the Korean auteur behind “The Host” and “Mother,” making his first English language film with an international cast featuring Ed Harris, Tilda Swinton, Jamie Bell (“Billy Elliot”), Octavia Spencer (“The Help”), Kang-ho Song (“The Host”) and Captain America himself, Chris Evans.

Movie mogul Harvey Weinstein, who has always had a reputation for tweaking the product (his fingerprints are all over “Gangs of New York” and “Next Stop Wonderland”), wanted Bong to dumb-down the film to broaden its appeal. Bong refused and Weinstein sent “Snowpiercer” off to his Radius/TWC subsidiary for a smaller foot-print/alternative release.

What that means is, no mass marketing and a soon-after-theatrical-release, or simultaneous, VOD issuance. No big movie chain like AMC or Regal wants to touch such a film as the prospect of a looming VOD date tends to kill the box office draw (the thought being that viewers will just stay at home and stream the film for less) and that’s when the Brattle jumped in. “Snowpiercer” had already done killer business in Korea and France.

With acumen and luck, Brattle program director Ned Hinkle booked the film. The cherished Harvard Square institution got in a week scot-free as the VOD date was set for one week later. and the film wasn’t playing anywhere else in Boston.

The decision bore box office gold as fans of Bong, dystopian futurescapes and the hunky actor who happens to also play “Captain America,” lined up around the block.   Continue reading

Life of Crime

1 Sep

‘Life of Crime’: Leonard’s ‘Jackie Brown’ crew back at shenanigans, for lesser haul


Elmore Leonard, the beloved master crime and western novelist, transcended seamlessly the divide between pulp and celluloid. His career is littered with great novels that became great movies (“Get Shorty,” “Jackie Brown” and “Out of Sight” to name a few), a smattering of original screenplays (“Joe Kidd”) and even took a few turns as producer. Cormac McCarthy might be his only peer.

082914i Meek Life of CrimeLeonard passed last year. Among his last labors were executive producing this adaptation of his similarly named novel.

The prolific writer’s cinematic gems have always been imbued with quirk and the kind of dark comedy that can be found only within the hardboiled world of crime. The characters are larger than life and full of foibles and flaws, and as a result always quite accessibly human. Leonard clearly loved his darlings, and so do we, which makes “Life of Crime” a treat or a total disaster to see Robert De Niro’s floundering ex-con Louis and Samuel Jackson’s lethal Ordell Robbie played by John Hawkes and Yasiin Bey, current name of Mos Def. Hawkes carries Louis forward, but Def is no sub in for Jackson. Part of that is he lacks Jackson’s thespian firepower, and part is that the script by relative newbie Daniel Schechter (who also directs)  makes Ordell less potent.  Continue reading