Archive | May, 2021

Wrath of Man

9 May

‘Wrath of Man’: Ritchie and Statham reunited, heist with their own petard and angry about it

By Tom MeekFriday, May 7, 2021

Guy Ritchie launched a lot of careers back in 1998 when he churned out the quirky crime drama “Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels,” one being his own as an auteur of hyper-stylized violence in 3D slo-mo – something the Wachowskis would seize upon and elevate to an art form the following year with “The Matrix.” Menacing footballer turned actor Vinnie Jones is another; taciturn can-do strongman Jason Statham may have cut the biggest swath. Ritchie and Statham haven’t worked together since 2005’s “Revolver”: In between Statham had his hit “Transporter” series and joined the “Fast & Furious” franchise, while Ritchie made the live-action “Aladdin” (2019) and the tepid Sherlock films with Robert Downey Jr. Last year’s release of “The Gentlemen” signaled something of a return to form for Ritchie, even if the film couldn’t rise above its own self-aggrandizing cheekiness.

The pair’s latest collaboration is more of a straight-ahead Statham revenge flick like “Parker” or “Homefront” (both 2013) than an amped-up Guy Ritchie production – and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Here in “Wrath of Man,” Statham plays H, a mysterious sort who barely shoots or drives well enough to make it as a guard with an armored car company that’s been targeted by a ring of thieves. What Ritchie and his phalanx of writers have cooked up is something like Steven Soderbergh’s “The Underneath” or Michael Mann’s indelibly furious “Heat,” both made in 1995 and about armored car heists.

To be certain, “Wrath of Man” is not on par with either. It’s not even close. But it does have its merits. The back-and-forth narrative between a heist in the recent past and one about to go down deepens the intrigue, as does a “Rashomon,” multi-angle view of a singular event, and there’s a score by Christopher Benstead that bristles with a sense of foreboding and goes far in defining the atmosphere and driving the action. The main reason to see “Wrath of Man,” however, is to see Statham’s enigmatic antihero with a hidden agenda do what he does best, and that’s pick apart those evading justice with cold, calculating efficiency. If you’re here for anything else, that’s on you. Also in the vast cast we get Holt McCallany, so good in David Fincher’s “Mindhunter” series, as Bullet, H’s higher-up; Josh Hartnett in an odd turn as Boy Sweat Dave, the armored car company’s big mouth who shuts down under fire; Ritchie regular Eddie Marsan as the company bean counter; and Scott Eastwood and Jeffrey Donovan as well-organized jarheads on the opposite side of the bulletproof glass from H.

“Wrath of Man” gets better as it goes on, something that can’t be said for “Tom Clancy’s Without Remorse,” a similarly straight-up revenge flick released last week. It’s doesn’t have the big production values of that Michael B. Jordan vehicle, but it does have Statham’s no-nonsense avenger, and that’s good enough to make it the better choice to waste two hours of your day on.

Gunda

9 May

‘Gunda’: Intimate portrait of a pig on a farm, lingering images you’ll never want to leave

By Tom MeekFriday, May 7, 2021

Viktor Kosakovskiy might be one of the most engrossing filmmakers you’ve never heard of. Part of that’s likely because he’s a documentary filmmaker – and those documentaries are about unassuming subjects such as water, or a sow on a Norwegian farm. That 2018 work about humans’ dance with water, “Aquarela,” was a stunning achievement in “how did they get those shots” videography, made even more compelling by deft editing and a driving score. His latest, about the pig named in the title “Gunda,” is equally captivating, even if the perilous power of Mother Nature’s wrath doesn’t loom in every scene.

Shot in deeply layered black and white, “Gunda” follows the seasonal cycle of a sow on a farm, birthing a liter of piglets and rearing them from pink (I know it’s black and white, but bear with me) and squirming, endlessly suckling little oinkers. Throughout the film, shot in long, lingering takes that turn the mundane into a riveting, can’t-turn-away event, we never see a farmer – or any human, for that matter. We see the wheels of a tractor, but for the most part it’s just Gunda and her brood, who seem to have free range of the farm and surrounding forest; we occasionally meet some barnyard friends in Mr. Duck, Mrs. Moo, her bestie, and a one-legged chicken, among the many. It’s “Charlotte’s Web” or “Babe” (1995) sans the anthropomorphic cuteness.

How Kosakovskiy gets at the heart of his subject and makes us feel – and we do feel, if not take on Gunda’s maternal instincts as if we were there caring for her cute brood – clearly has much to do with patience and composition. No one would equate the Russian-born auteur to the great Frederick Wiseman, whose hands-off, fly-on-the-wall style is pretty much the definition of cinéma vérité; but the long takes and observation of rhythms and beats of life, drunk in and deeply felt, are poetically similar, even though the filmmakers’ subjects and effect remain vastly different. “Gunda,” like “Aquarela,” is best seen on the big screen for its masterful cinematography’s attention to framing, depth of field and shadows.

How “Gunda” moves in the final act will come as no surprise, but should give you a bit more pause the next time you’re debating soy or pork bacon for your BLT.

Turkeys take over Harvard Square

1 May

Turkeys take over Harvard Square traffic island, prime real estate amid top shopping and dining

By Tom MeekThursday, April 29, 2021

The turkeys that have made themselves at home on a traffic island in Harvard Square. (Photo: Tom Meek)

There are fewer students hanging out in Harvard Square, but in their stead is a trio known on social media as Larry, Moe and Curley Joe – or as Dewey, Cheatem & Howe, or Tom Sr., Tom Jr. and Tom III: Three turkeys now at home for three weeks on the traffic island at Massachusetts Avenue and Harvard Street, across from the Hong Kong and Grafton Street eateries.

The trio looks to be two toms (mature males) and a perhaps very young jake (immature male) or hen. Toms are easy to tell by their size and majestic splay of tail feathers, as well as the telltale blue-white head coloring, turkey beard – the tuft of a hair jutting from the breast – and big red wattle dangling from the chin, which is both a display piece to attract mates and a sweat gland because turkeys, like dogs, don’t sweat.

The birds seem happy to just hang out on the 30-foot triangle mid-triangle. (Photo: Tom Meek)

The birds seem happy to just hang out on the 30-foot triangle, with the dominant male puffing to make a threatening display as he swaggers over to any gawker who gets too close to his mates. April is the middle of turkey mating season, and males can get aggressive. Last year in Somerville, a turkey known as Mayor Turkatone was euthanized after too many attacks on humans, called the fault of people who kept feeding him. The city and state Division of Fisheries and Wildlife implore residents not to, but also to not let them intimidate you – while staying aware that their claws are sharp and strong.

Besides digging in gardens and gobbling ghoulishly from roosts that are often overhead – they can fly but not very well – turkeys’ biggest impact on city dwellers is blocking traffic with their too-leisurely saunters across streets. Folks snapping pictures just add to the spectacle and delay. (Though one of those might be Brookline photographer Aynsley Floyd, who’s working on a “Turkey Town” documentary about the challenges of living with wild turkeys.)

Turkeys, seen as a symbol of old New England, were largely extinct here 50 years ago, when conservationists decided to capture some of the birds from upstate New York and rewild them here in the 1970s. The demise of small farms and deep eradication of apex predators (catamounts and wolves, coyotes and foxes – now making a comeback as well) helped their resurgence, with between between 30,000 and 35,000 estimated statewide; in recent years they’ve been all but ubiquitous, though neither Animal Control nor state wildlife experts would guess how many turkeys live in Cambridge.

“Anyone who says they know how many turkeys there are in any town in Massachusetts, let alone Cambridge, is selling you a story,” said biologist David Scarpitti, of MassWildlife. “The number is really not important. What is important is how the density and abundance of turkeys affects residents and their position relative to what we call ‘cultural carrying capacity.’ What this means is how many turkeys are people willing to deal with before it becomes a nuisance and undesirable.”

Limbo

1 May

‘Limbo’: Waiting for their new lives to start, immigrants to a land drenched in the droll

By Tom MeekFriday, April 30, 2021

Before he got behind the lens of a camera, Ben Sharrock was a humanitarian aide in an Afghan refugee camp and also in Syria, which gives the writer/director plenty of real-life knowledge to put behind the story of refugees desperately seeking asylum from western counties. That in-between – the not knowing if you’re going back to a war-torn hellhole or about to begin a promising new life – is the situational sweet spot that Sharrock’s film embraces.

For such a serious subject matter, “Limbo” is remarkably droll and witty. The drama unfolds on a fictional Scottish island where young men from Afghanistan, Syria and several African nations attend acclimation classes in a one-room schoolhouse. The adult education leaders (Kenneth Collard as Boris and Sidse Babett Knudsen as Helga) have the devilishly pleasing tang of Benny Hill to them. The main protagonist, Omar (Amir El-Masry), newly arrived from Syria with little but his grandfather’s oud – a zither-like Middle Eastern string instrument – has dreams of making it as a performer. In fact, the whole mini-community is a colony of dreamers; several state  their goal to become star futbol players, as Boris and Helga nod politely and continue on with trainings on how to conduct a phone query for cleaning jobs. 

The island itself plays a pivotal role: There’s no cellphone reception (old school pay phones substitute) and the rock is so remote it’s often sealed off by gales and sleet storms – the framing of which by Nick Cooke gives the island a fairy tale wonderment. It’s a more rapturous capturing of Mother Nature and wide vistas than Joshua James Richards’ impressive work in “Nomadland.”

Overall, “Limbo” bristles with an existential posturing that never quite goes deep enough for it to pay off. Omar’s airy dreams and past situation (the flashbacks to Syria pull you out some) are counterbalanced with absurdist black comedy. It doesn’t always gel, but it does intrigue, and Sharrock and crew are best when pushing tropes. Omar’s flatmate Farhad (Vikash Bhai), an Afghan expat and lover of all things Freddie Mercury, sports the telltale mustache of his musical idol. They even name chicken after the Queen frontman, and for entertainment watch episode of “Friends” off DVDs. They live a mashup of cultural cross threading, with unknown futures.