Archive | April, 2015

Avengers: Age of Ultron

30 Apr

‘Avengers: Age of Ultron’: Jam-packed amusement park ride moves too fast to feel

Marvel’s “Avengers: Age of Ultron” is a a big noisy actioner that storms into theaters this week to kick off the blockbuster season. It’s perfect summer fare: not too deep, with plenty of action and a dash of sexy; destined to make a killing at the box office and the merchandising table. But as far as owning the opening kick, “Ultron” is a bit late to the party – the equally noisy “Furious Seven” has been cleaning up for the past three weeks, and it’s a far more genuine and heartfelt affair even if stripped of the sentimental nostalgia built around tragically deceased star Paul Walker.

043015i Avengers- Age of Ultron“Ultron” begins with a wham-bam as Captain America (Chris Evans), Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) and the whole Avenger cadre battle camouflage-veiled troops in a forest somewhere near what most recall as Transylvania. There’s a castle to storm and an “infinity stone” (six to rule the universe) to nab, but not without some resistance from an evil syndicate known as Hydra (something far less interesting and formidable than Spectre from the Bond series) in the form of a pair of embittered twins – the Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) and Quicksilver (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) – who cause the motley crew of righteousness some lingering headaches.

The siege and bloody ebb and flow is all done with nimble, dizzying CGI effects. It’s like an amusement park ride: You can’t just focus on one thing, and if you do, the whole backdrop will have changed by the time you elect to pull back. Much of the plot is like that too. Just when you think you’re making sense of who or what Ultron is, Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) lets on he’s got a wife and kids out in the cornfields of the midwest or the Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and Bruce Banner/Hulk start having life-partnering talks.

Johansson, already a star attraction with her fetching form firmly packed into snug-fitting black lycra, knocks it out of the park in this go-round with a husky, sultry coo while flirting with Banner. She’s one of the film’s few gems, along with that infinity stone that gets embedded into a synthetic uber-being played by staid and somber Paul Bettany, but that’s a whole ’nother plot thread that crops up and fades in the rear view, only to crop up again like so many things in this fate-of-mankind tempest where skilled thespians are reduced to such cerebral throwaways as “let’s do this” and tired maxims about being united as a team and righteousness. The deepest-reaching dialogue comes from Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark (Iron Man sans the iron), enumerating on a colleague’s comment about a long day, tagging it “Eugene O’Neill long.” It’s one of the few witty ah-has that sticks.   Continue reading

The 13th Annual Independent Film Festival Boston

30 Apr

The Look of Silence movie review (2015) | Roger Ebert

The tagline’s meant to underscore not only the concept of old fashion storytelling around the communal fire pit, but also the sense of community among filmmakers and filmgoers alike and the cross pollination of the two. Something the festival has had great success with in the past, bringing in such distinguished guests as Academy Award-winning actor Ben Kingsley and groundbreaking documentarian Albert Maysles. Local boy Casey Affleck has lent to the fest’s cred too, serving as its creative adviser and the popular indie actress Lili Taylor, starring in the new TV series “American Crime,” sits on the advisory board.

The festival has become something of Sundance East, with lines from the Somerville Theatre in Davis Square stemming around the block as eager moviegoers chase that elusive last ticket or hope to snag that prized center seating. But with sellout after sellout, the festival is still changing and growing.

“We want to be more,” says executive director Brian Tamm, “we want to do more with the city of Somerville and the arts community. We want to be more of resource and community for filmmakers here in Boston and Massachusetts. We also want to expand more into Boston.”

Tamm cites the UMass Boston “Works in Progress” program and award given to a promising documentary not yet completed. There are also select screenings, he says, at the Coolidge Corner Theatre, but Davis Square is the de facto hub of the fest with other regular screenings augmented at the Brattle Theatre in Harvard Square.

That’s the future, for now IFFB has proven its mettle; for 13 years IFFB has operated on a wholly volunteer structure, but things have started to change. With the departure of longtime program director Adam Roffman (who remains on as a board member) last year, Tamm took on the newly created executive director role and longtime festival organizer, Nancy Campbell took over the reigns as program director. Part of the reason for the new structure, now capping its second festival, was to give prospective sponsors a conventional front door to gain traction with easily versus the “kibbutz” style, as Tamm jokingly calls the old “by committee” structure, that may have caused confusion with past potential investors and other backing organizations.   Continue reading


30 Apr

‘Roar’: Real lions turn out real dangerous for people making grand fiasco film

It took more than a decade and $17 million and countless near fatal incidents with cast, crew and big cats to get ‘Roar’ to screen.

Roar: Tippi Hedren Reveals How Many Were Actually Hurt on Insane Movie |  IndieWire

Back in 1969, the seeds for a very dangerous obsession took hold when producer Noel Marshall and his wife, Hitchcock movie muse du jour Tippi Hedren, visited Africa and became deeply concerned about the big cat hunting trend. They wanted to do something about it, and that something was an animal sanctuary outside Los Angeles that would become the Shambala Preserve, which still exists. The number of rescues reached 150-plus big cats (mostly lions, but also pumas, tigers, leopards and so on) and became the basis for the movie “Roar,” one of the craziest spectacles ever filmed. 042315i RoarIt took more than a decade and $17 million – three times more than “Chariots of Fire,” which won the Best Picture Oscar the year “Roar” was released in Australia – to complete the project. The film, which also stars Hedren’s then-teenage daughter, Melanie Griffith, is getting its U.S. release some 34 years later thanks to Drafthouse Films, which clearly knows the historical and cult commercial value of such a time capsule curio. Ironically, Marshall, who made his reputation as a talent agent and later produced “The Exorcist,” would become so all-consumed – possessed, if you will – with the environmentally aimed endeavor that it would be pretty much the beginning and end of his acting, writing and directing career. He and Hedren would be divorced by 1982 and he would produce only one more film, “A Night in the Life of Jimmy Reardon” with River Phoenix. Continue reading

Ex Machina

18 Apr

‘Ex Machina’: Put to the test, humans, A.I. fall for each other and think about escape


The idea that machines could out-reason humans in games of manipulation, misdirection and emotional responses lies at the heart of “Ex Machina.” Movies such as “A.I. Artificial Intelligence” and “Chappie” have tackled similar turf, that of steel and silicon becoming aware, feeling consciousnesses, but sans the pervading danger underneath the Frankenstein motif that manifests in such futurescapes as “Terminator,” “2001: A Space Odyssey” and even “Blade Runner.” The reality of “Ex Machina” hangs somewhere in the middle, and in the equation of four parties isolated in the gorgeous mountain retreat of an eccentric billionaire, it’s a man who’s the most dangerous – not because of his quest for knowledge and evolution, but because of his hubris pushing boundaries in ways that would bring a satiating smile to Nietzsche’s face.

041715i Ex MachinaNathan (Oscar Isaac), the mad scientist in question, made his nugget by inventing Blue Book, a stand-in for Google. He believes he’s created the perfect AI, so he invites Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson, son of Brendan) the company’s top coder, to his hillside retreat – it requires helicopter transport to get to – to see if his AI is as human as he believes it to be. The Turing test puts the AI through the loops to see if it can interact with a human seamlessly without revealing it’s a machine. Since Ava (Alicia Vikander) is a pretty face on a shapely acrylic body with a slight whirr and sleek cables and a soft blue neon glow pervading her translucent torso, any shell game is up immediately, but as Nathan tells Caleb over beers and pleas of “please call me dude,” it takes the test to another level. Just what that level is really, given the test’s foundation (a real one formed by the “Enigma” code cracker) never really materializes as Nathan continues to drink and descend into dark philosophical tirades and Caleb and Ava engage in interview sessions neatly separated by a thick wall of impenetrable glass, like a visitation at a prison.  Continue reading

The Sisterhood of Night

16 Apr

By Tom Meek

April 11, 2015  |  8:00am
<i>The Sisterhood of Night </i>

The misunderstood lives of teenage girls, ever so enigmatic and worrisome to adults, have manifested as a form of mythos in pop culture. Just consider the snarky, revealing panoply of The Craft, Pretty Little Liars, Gossip Girl andHeathers. You could add The Sisterhood of Night to the list, but due to its inability to plumb teen angst with any introspective sincerity, it’s unlikely to resonate with any bite over time.

The premise behind Sisterhood, based on the short story by Steven Millhauser (The Illusionist), is both rich and rife with prospect. Two friends have a falling out and form divergent societies—one the late night clutch of the film’s title, while the other founds a virtual online support group for outcast and abused girls. The brassier of the two frienemies, Marry Warren (Georgie Henley from the The Chronicles of Narnia), convenes the lot of handpicked and secretly initiated girls who zealously adhere to the vow of what happens in the sisterhood, stays in the sisterhood.

What exactly they do in the middle of the night out in the woods remains unclear for much of the film. We know they’re good at dodging their parents’ watchful eyes and sneaking out to the covert spot; what transpires there becomes the subject of much speculation by the residents of the small town of Kingston, N.Y., who, with all the modern technology at their fingertips, remain powerless to gain a glimmer into the goings-ons of their beloved daughters. Continue reading

House Across the Steet

10 Apr

A scene from Arthur Luhn's "The House Across the Street." (Courtesy)

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Magician: The Astonishing Life and Work of Orson Welles

10 Apr

‘Magician’: Welles’ astonishing life, work get doc worthy of auteur’s own struggles


Chuck Workman’s elegiac ode to Orson Welles, “Magician: The Astonishing Life and Work of Orson Welles,” may be leaden with fondness and nostalgia, but it’s no hagiographic air kiss. The doc, an essential “life and times of,” unfurls with evenhanded curation, painting a poignant portrait of the notoriously plump auteur who at 25 crafted “Citizen Kane,” the film many polls and critics’ lists hail as the greatest ever made. With so much success so early in his career, one would think Welles would have had unlimited opportunity to do whatever he wanted creatively, but as Workman illuminates, that was not the case. Behind the lens of such films as “The Magnificent Ambersons” and “Touch of Evil,” Welles wrangled regularly with studios. His girth and love of food didn’t help, and limited the roles he was offered mostly to portly villains and the like. One such offer, as the morally corrupt dick in “Touch of Evil,” ultimately put Welles in the director chair of what would become tagged as the greatest B-Movie of all cinematic history.

040215i Magician - Orson WellesWorkman, an Academy Award-winning filmmaker in his own right, breaks down the genius of Welles with great care. In one example he neatly dissects the opening of “Touch of Evil” into its innovative use of variable music, lack of credits and the inlaid suspense created by a car with a bomb ticking in its trunk as it rolls though a busy pedestrian way. Fellow directing greats Martin Scorsese, Costa-Gavras and Sydney Pollack pop up as talking heads to espouse respect and admiration for the man who, like Marlon Brando, embraced his later-stage corpulence and need for a buck, shilling Paul Masson wine. Despite many feathers in his cap, Welles still had to struggle to get his visions made, and indie stalwart Richard Linklater (who made the homage “Me and Orson Welles” in 2008) underscores the point by tagging him as “the patron saint of independent filmmakers.”

The most illuminating voice on Welles, however, turns out to be Welles himself. The warm, jovial insights from broad archival footage get deep into the mind behind the ambitious and well-regarded adaptations of “Othello,” “Chimes at Midnight” and “The Trial.” Commenting on the havoc his “War of the Worlds” radio broadcast triggered in 1938,  Welles wryly snaps, “I didn’t go to jail, I went to Hollywood.” If there’s one thing evident about Welles as the film builds, it’s his keen awareness of his limits and deep passion for cinematic renderings of the human condition under duress, especially the tragedies penned by the Bard. Hollywood to Welles was a necessary evil to ensure he could make the kinds of films he wanted to make. “I didn’t want money, I wanted control,” he states boldly, adding “Man is a crazy animal” – a postscript seeming directed mostly at himself.

White God

10 Apr

‘White God’: Dogs are fighting for justice on streets (and in the subtext) of Hungary


The Hungarian-Swedish co-production “White God” begins with an absurdist slo-mo sequence of a young girl on a bike pedaling away from a sea of pursuing dogs. None of the canines is ferocious – most are quite cuddly – but still the girl rides on with urgency and fear on her face. Surly this must be a dream sequence, and it’s tucked away as such until later in the film, when it’s realized it was no subconscious imagination. What has taken place is a “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” resurrection by man’s four-legged best friend.

041015i White GodFrom the opener we wind back to a story about a preteen named Lili (Zsófia Psotta) and her dog Hagen, described as a Hungarian street dog – he’s got a German Shepherd’s body, a golden coat, a boxy face, piercing eyes and a curled tail like a Shar-Pei (played by Arizona sibs Luke and Body, trained by Teresa Ann Miller). Problem for Lili, who’s quite talented with a horn, is that her parents are divorced and she has to go stay with pa (Sándor Zsóstár or Zsótér) for an extended period. Pa’s not much for animals. He works in a meat-packing plant, and after Hagen spends the first night in his new digs barking away the night, the pooch is punished and put out. The girl never stops looking for her dog, who becomes the leader of all the city’s stray curs, eluding dogcatchers and stealing scraps here and there until ending up with a noose around his neck and in the pit, fighting other dogs Michael Vick style.

The collective dog wrangling and stunts helmed by Miller, when en masse and on the streets, are spectacular. The scenes of actual dogfights look staged and unreal. The film overall is uneven, gorgeously shot and well intentioned, but overwrought and hyperbolic. The film’s director, Kornél Mundruczó, clearly owes something to Samuel Fuller’s “White Dog,” one of the iconic director’s last works, about a white German Shepard that had been trained to attack black people. It’s not only in play in the title; there is a subtext not so subtly depicting oppression and subjugation in Hungary where Gypsies, likened to street mongrels, have been targeted as a lesser ilk.

Recognized at Cannes and submitted by Hungary as its Foreign Language Film entry for the Academy Awards, “White God” is something bold and experimental. Beautiful and brutal, and even with its shortcomings and derivative leanings, it’s a unique experience. Allegedly the street dogs used on the set were found homes afterward – a tidbit that adds to the film’s collective warmth and resonance.