Archive | April, 2016

Midnight Special

28 Apr
We're pretty sure this kid has the power to kill a yak from 200 yards away ... with mind bullets

Jeff Nichols, the budding auteur from Arkansas behind Take Shelter and Mud, gets a tad heavy-footed in his latest Midnight Special, a further contemplation on the Rapture, sanity, and the supernatural. Like his prior efforts, Nichols employs a fly-on-the-wall POV that offers an intimate look into the lives of his protagonists. In Shelter and Mud that technique allowed viewers inside the complex internal struggle of his characters, but in the plot-driven Midnight Special, the conflict is nearly all external. Although Nichols’ latest is more ambitious than his previous efforts, he very nearly hits the mark.

The film begins in a boarded-up hotel room. Inside, there are two armed men and a boy who sits under a blanket reading a comic book with a flashlight. The men are edgy — this is clearly some sort of last stand event, or is it? Without resistance they flee the room and climb into a classic muscle car in the lot and take off under cover of the night; the man behind the wheel even dons night-vision goggles so he can drive without headlights. As the viewers soon learn, these men have a higher calling: trying to save mankind. Unfortunately for them, the rest of the world hasn’t gotten the memo.

In small, teasing strokes, including news clips and an immersion into a doomsday cult, Nichols slowly reveals the bigger picture. Roy Tomlin (played by Nichols’ onscreen alter-ego Michael Shannon) and his able driver, Lucas (Joel Edgerton) have abducted an 8-year-old boy named Alton (Jaeden Lieberher, St. Vincent) from the aforementioned cult. The authorities are after the two men for kidnapping the boy, and the cult, led by the venerable Sam Shepard, sporting a too small sports coat and a bad Flowbee cut, has dispatched a goon squad as well. Alton happens to be Roy’s biological progeny, but Shepard’s cult leader is the child’s legal guardian. Their differences aren’t so much about Alton’s theological upbringing so much as the kid has certainly super-human talents, one of which is the ability to shoot beams of light out of his eye. As a result, the Feds (led by Adam Driver’s nerdy greenhorn) want him too. Alton’s clearly a gifted kid, but is he even human? Continue reading

Everybody Wants Some!!

15 Apr
The bad boys of Everybody Wants Some have more than baseball on their minds


If there’s one thing about Richard Linklater, it’s that he’s true to his Austin, Texas roots — he’s a keep-Austin-weird independent. He served notice with Slacker back in 1991, and while that movie looked to be a one-hit Sundance wonder, Linklater came back with the uproarious Dazed and Confused, which gave the world Matthew McConaughey and Ben Affleck, and Before Sunrise, the latter spawning two more chapters with the same actors. More recently, he delivered the wildly acclaimed dissertation on growing up, Boyhood, which was filmed over the course of 12 years.

And that brings us to what’s tagged as a spiritual sequel to  Dazed and Confused, Everybody Wants Some. While that connection may seem a stretch given the fact that Linklater’s latest centers on a collegiate frat house of baseball players at a fictitious Texas university in the 1980s, in temperament and scope and a healthy dose of humorous, cutting snark, Everybodyis right in the strike zone.  Continue reading

A Small Good Thing

15 Apr

What makes a good life? Health, love, money, career success? Turns out it’s happiness, which encapsulates elements of those others, and the balance of which that equates to equanimity – or so that’s the basis for Pamela Tanner Boll’s documentary “A Small Good Thing,” which gets a screening Monday at the Cambridge Friends School.

Boll, who lived in Winchester for most of her adult life and collected an Academy Award as executive producer on the 2004 documentary “Born into Brothels: Calcutta’s Red Light Kids,” came up with the concept to explore the meaning of a life well lived after looking inward at her own existence. “I felt like I had so many great things in my life,” she said in interview. “I had a good family, great sons, a nice home and I had been able to find work that was meaningful, but I also felt I was, however, getting too stressed out and busy. I felt like I was becoming one of those people who says, ‘I’m so busy with work, I don’t have time’” to socialize.

Surely championing documentary voices for more than a decade has contributed. “I come across so many amazing stories and I help them get to the screen,” she says. But it’s a tough business to make a go at. “Born into Brothels” cost less than $500,000 to make and made $8 million at the box office – most eaten up in distribution and marketing. Her own film cost a bit more than “Brothel” to make and is clearly a labor of passion, as is true with most documentaries.  Continue reading

Karen Aqua’s Films at the HFA

6 Apr
An image from Karen Aqua's animated film "Kakania." (Courtesy Harvard Film Archive)


In the broad sense, an archive is a place to preserve and retain history. In the case of art, it becomes a means to ensure the ongoing resonance of an artist’s vision.

To that end, the Harvard Film Archive has recently acquired the films of animator Karen Aqua, who died after a prolonged battle with ovarian cancer in 2011. Some of the newly collected works will be presented on April 9 with the retrospective program “Sacred Ground & Perpetual Motion — The Animated Cosmos of Karen Aqua.” Karen’s husband, musician Ken Field, will be on hand to introduce her work.

The late Karen Aqua. (Courtesy Ken Field)

If Aqua’s name doesn’t trigger any immediate bells, she had lived in and around Cambridge since the 1970s after graduating from Rhode Island School of Design, where she and her husband were intimately ingrained in the artistic community. She produced a multitude of short, ethereal works that deal more in emotional experience than traditional narrative. What’s truly most impressive is how Aqua painstakingly created her works by hand, illustrating the action at 24 frames per second.

Of the 15 films on the slate for the April 9 program — each of which runs between two and 12 minutes — Aqua’s most defining work may be “Vis-á-Vis.” An evocative contemplation of the life of the artist, the film depicts an animator diligently working while the outer world — the source of inspiration — beckons teasingly. The pull between the commitment to create and to experience life is rendered poignantly as the artist begins to split into two halves that tug on the each other, each trying to move in its own direction. Continue reading


6 Apr

Davis Mitchell (Jake Gyllenhaal) pays a demolition crew to let him join in on the destruction

Courtesy of Fox Searchlight

Davis Mitchell (Jake Gyllenhaal) pays a demolition crew to let him join in on the destruction

Film-going audiences love a good story about a person whose life has gone askew, who has taken a beating, and who begins the painful yet cathartic process of clawing one’s way back to the top. The tried-and-true trope has appeared in wildly diverse cinematic incarnations over years. There are obligatory sports stories (Rocky, The Natural), but this standard plot is also clearly imbued in Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life and the bum-beats-bond trader comedy Trading Places. Enter Jake Gyllenhaal’s latest, Demolition.

Like Life‘s George Bailey, Davis Mitchell (Gyllenhaal) has had his challenges. He’s been up and down so many times it’s hard to keep track of where he’s been and where he’s going. Demolitionbegins with Davis and his wife Julia (Heather Lind) in the middle of a heated conversation as they drive down the avenue. What can we tell? They’re an attractive pair, she’s fiery, and they’ve got a plush luxury ride. And then just like that, boom, out of nowhere another car rips through the passenger side and she’s gone.

In the fractured aftermath we learn that Davis came from the wrong side of the tracks, but married well in Julia; her father (a somber Chris Cooper) runs a successful investment firm and gives his son-in-law a nepotistic roost that he helms well. For all the money and success however, Davis is unanchored, unhappy, and numb. Inside he’s quickly reaching the boiling point. Clearly, he’s a man in need of a therapist. Continue reading