Tag Archives: ARTery

A Sidewalk Picasso — Artist Eric Kluin Makes Newbury Street His Studio

3 Oct

Published in the WBUR ARTery

Artist Eric Kluin outside the Newbury Street restaurant Sonsie. (Tom Meek for WBUR)

If you’ve ever been by Sonsie on Newbury Street on a bright sunny day in the past 20-plus years (since the restaurant’s opening back in 1993), you’ve probably seen Eric Kluin — the surfer-esque painter with six-pack abs — busily at work on his easel perched just outside the establishment’s welcoming French windows that open out onto the sidewalk.

A shirtless fixture that’s hard to miss, Kluin’s something of a curio. Does he have a license to secure that spot? Is this some entitled ploy to pick up women? These are questions you might ask yourself as you pass by. Reasonable questions for the intrigued, but the answers might surprise you.

Kluin, a pretty laid back individual, moved to Boston in the late ’80s after working at a halfway house in Arizona where he had formerly been a resident. He’s been a recovering alcoholic for 22 years, and ironically, it was a bar that gave him his shot at a sustained recovery.

He began consuming alcohol abusively at the University of Michigan where he studied art, and didn’t stop until he was scraped off the floor of his flat in Boston by a concerned friend and tossed into rehab — twice. He admittedly describes himself as a “classic alcoholic who would drink himself to death if given the opportunity.”  Continue reading

Election Flicks

23 May
A still from the film "Weiner." (Courtesy of IFC Film)

The political season is well upon us, more vehemently and contentiously so than past presidential primaries, especially given the surprising number of upstarts, lack of usual faces and an arguably unpopular field. If either of the Democratic candidates win, history will be made with the first female commander in chief or the oldest citizen to assume the Oval Office. If Republican front-runner Donald Trump wins, his victory will cap a campaign of shock and awe, bluster and division, the likes of which seemed only possible in a movie.

That said, hitting the campaign trail has not been a particularly vast topic explored on film, but when it has, it’s been done with biting satire or a telling inward look at ourselves, our society and how we value democracy.

Most often those films stoke our fear of big corporations and power brokers seeking to influence control, as well as our fascination with scandal, the politician’s sudden fall and the tabloid train wreck that ultimately becomes a reflection of our impossible expectations, our own hypocrisies and an illumination of the intoxicating stupor of power that leads to self-destructive hubris.

Below is a list of 10 movies that bear particular relevance to the campaign as it is currently unfolding. (The last film in the list, “Weiner,” opens this weekend in select locations.)

“The Best Man” (1964)

Gore Vidal’s seminal skewering of big egos clashing for the White House pit a fictionalized version of Adlai Stevenson (played by Henry Fonda) against a JFK-like incarnation (Cliff Robertson), both vying for a former president’s approval. The shards of political courtship carry the tang of Obama having to mitigate his allegiances with Sanders and his former secretary of state Clinton. Vidal adapted his stage play, Franklin J. Schaffner (who helmed “Planet of the Apes” and “Patton”) directs and Lee Tracy was nominated for an Academy Award for best supporting actor for his turn as the ailing former president, casting an ostensible nod to Harry Truman.   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

The Witch

19 Feb

There’s plenty that beguiles in Robert Eggers’ moody film “The Witch,” the Sundance Film Festival hit that opens widely in theaters on Friday, February 19. Masterful in composition and imbued with a deep sense of intimacy, dread and gritty authenticity, it takes place in the 1600’s — sometime between the arrival of the Mayflower and the onset of the Salem witch trials — in a New England highland that is bucolic but harsh. There, a family of settlers are banished from the main plantation for vague religious reasons and then struggle to make a go of it. Their cupboards are bare and the fields are barren. Clearly the dream of a better way of life in the New World has listed for these folk.

It doesn’t help that William (Ralph Ineson), the able family head who works nonstop in a futile attempt to provide, is saddled with a wife, Katherine (Kate Dickie), who’s on the verge of dead weight. She frets incessantly and retains an unproductive desire for all things England. Their oldest child Thomasin (Anya Taylor-Joy), a blonde ingénue on the cusp of womanhood, helps out by tending to the twins (Ellie Grainger and Lucas Dawson) and the infant Samuel while her younger brother Caleb (Harvey Scrimshaw) accompanies William in his daily work on the farm. A hunting sojourn underscores the frailty of their existence, as William’s musket misfires when trained on a lone hare. That ominous rabbit and many other things from the woods come back to haunt the exiled clan.

The Hateful Eight

24 Dec

Samuel L. Jackson in "The Hateful Eight." (Courtesy Andrew Cooper/The Weinstein Company)

What’s ultimately served up is Tarantino channeling Tarantino with men of swagger caught in a mean situation waxing about righteousness and the universe in pulpy poetic verse as tensions rise. It’s what you’d expect and hope for in a Tarantino film, but by the edgy auteur’s barometer (he’s helmed eight movies to date), it’s a lesser cut.

What holds “Eight” in check mostly is its overindulgence, lack of nuance and the fact Q.T. has been to every corner of this room before — and I don’t mean “Four Rooms.” From “Kill Bill, Volume I” onward, Tarantino’s been busy reshaping the revenge flick while paying homage the quirky genres of the ‘70s, namely the cheesy b-roll (“Kill Bill” and “Grindhouse”), the Spaghetti Western (“Django Unchained”) and the chopsocky silliness of kung fu flicks re-cut with lethal seriousness for the “Kill Bill” series.  Continue reading

In Jackson Heights

17 Nov
Still from Frederick Wiseman's "In Jackson Heights" (Courtesy Zipporah Films)Still from Frederick Wiseman’s “In Jackson Heights” (Courtesy Zipporah Films)

Cambridge has quietly become an incubator to more than just hi-tech, intellectualized liberalism and life sciences. Slowly but surely over the past few decades the left bank has become a nurturing rook for documentary filmmakers.

It’s home to such notables as Academy Award-winners Errol Morris (“Fog of War”) and Margaret Lazarus (“Defending Our Lives”). Oscar-nominated Joshua Oppenheimer (“The Act of Killing” and “The Look of Silence“) attended Harvard and longtime resident Ross McElwee made an indelible mark in 1985 with his critically acclaimed autobiographical sojourn, “Sherman’s March,” too, but predating all that undeniable talent and vision, and most prolific, looms Frederick Wiseman.

The embodiment of the cinéma vérité, Wiseman, at the spry age of 85 (call it 86) is now churning out his 40th cinematic essay, “In Jackson Heights,” which begins a special engagement at the Museum of Fine Arts starting Wednesday, Nov. 18, and runs through the end of the month.

Documentarian Frederick Wiseman, director of "In Jackson Heights" (Courtesy Zipporah Films)

Continue reading

Salo or 120 Days of Sodom

23 Oct

A scene from Pier Paolo Pasolini's "Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom." (Zebra Photofest)

“120 Days of Sodom,” the rapacious weave of sexual excess and debauchery penned by Marquis de Sade in the late 1700s, didn’t receive a commercial publishing until the 20th century, mostly in part because of its perceived depraved pornographic content.

Pier Paolo Pasolini’s cinematic rendering of de Sade’s carnal excursion gone gonzo some 200 years later has often been called the most reviled film of all time, not just because of its stark, graphic nature, but more so for its aloof dehumanized detachment. Still, much like de Sade, with such infamy credited to his name, Pasolini looms a major cultural icon bridging zeitgeists, ideologies and art forms.

Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom,” his final work, remains a hot topic of discussion, most recently rekindled after Criterion Collection’s reissue on DVD and Blu-ray in 2011, and is also part of the Harvard Film Archive‘s ongoing “Furious and Furiouser” series about maverick filmmaking outside the studio system in the ’70s. The program, inspired by the anti-Hollywood ire of Sam Peckinpah, includes such eclectic and wide ranging works as Larisa Shepitko’s “The Ascent,” Francis Ford Coppola’s “The Conversation,” Robert Bresson’s “The Devil, Probably” and even “Saturday Night Fever.”

In a historical context, it’s ironic that “Salò” was Pasolini’s film. The film (and de Sade’s underlying work) pulls heavily from Dante’s “Divine Comedy,” most notably the “Circle of S—” and “Circle of Blood” chapters that conclude the work. Leading up to those two fine portrayals of fecal feasting and slow homicidal executions (genital burning, sodomy to expiration, scalping and dismemberment) there’s a succession of bacchanal orgies where those subjugated to the whim of the ruling few, must entertain or provide services of sensual pleasuring, and should they balk or fail, the discipline is swift, cruel and even lethal.

Pasolini, a known homosexual and something of a libertine, didn’t live to see his film’s controversial ripple throughout the world (it was banned in many countries upon its initial release in 1975). He was murdered outside Rome, run over (repeatedly) by his own Alfa Romeo driven by a 17-year-old hustler who claimed Pasolini picked him up and made unwanted sexual advances (even with a confession there remains much conjecture as to the nature of events).

Given grim dithyrambs of debasement in “Salò,” the film’s being is ultimately more eerily prophetic than sadistically ironic. The great director Michelangelo Antonioni (“The Passenger” and “L’Avventura”), a contemporary countryman of Pasolini, remarked that the poet-turned-filmmaker, “was the victim of his own characters.”  Continue reading

Steve Jobs

16 Oct

Michael Fassbender stars as Steve Jobs in a scene from the film, "Steve Jobs." (Universal Pictures/AP)

Steve Jobs,” the new bio-pic about the iconic Apple entrepreneur, is a film in love with men (a man) who possess prescient clarity.

To underscore that notion, the film opens with a clip of Arthur C. Clarke back in the ‘70s, extolling the virtues of the computer and how it will change the lives of humans one day. H.G. Wells scored some great future picks too, but both those men were primarily writers, neither of them produced or pushed product, something, that the film, helmed by Danny Boyle and written by Aaron Sorkin, asserts Jobs did with unbridled ardor and rabid commitment.

Clearly Boyle and Sorkin have swallowed the “visionary” pill and are all in. It’s easy to get that too as they’re working with Walter Isaacson’s biography, which Jobs had a hand in before his death. As the film suggests, the digital maestro, currently in everyone’s pocket, was also a master strategist laying the roots of his stratagem and giving them years to germinate before reaping the rewards. As a result, one can’t walk away from “Steve Jobs” without a sense that maybe Jobs saw this coming, his own hagiography, and planted the seeds to brand his legacy and ensure the enduring future of Apple and all things preceded with a lowercase “i”.

Michael Fassbender appears in a scene from, "Steve Jobs." (Francois Duhamel for Universal Pictures/AP)

The film’s told uniquely in three chapters, each taking place in the moments leading up to a product launch (staged demos in velvet adorned opera houses) that Jobs, a fan of simple design and closed systems so hackers and hobbyists can’t muck with his perfection, proclaims will change the computing industry.

We launch back in 1984 with the unveiling of the Mac, but Jobs (played by Michael Fassbender) is in a mad arrogant snit because the machine crashes when it tries to say “Hello” and the fire department won’t allow him to shut off the exit signs to gain total darkness for the overall wowing effect. In the first five minutes, as Jobs runs through a gambit of nail-in-the-coffin problems, much akin to Michael Keaton’s stressed thespian in “Birdman,” but a far different bird, one drinks in an effortless multitasker, a brilliant human able to pull from both the left and right lobes, and an intolerable a—hole with small glimmers of compassion within. In all three product launches, he’s tended to by his loyal head of marketing, Joanna Hoffman (Kate Winslet bringing great nuance to a woman clearly in a thankless role and radiating with a deep care for her beloved tormentor) who’s the only one who able to push back and still have a job. Continue reading

The Martian

1 Oct

Matt Damon, Jessica Chastain, Sebastian Stan, Kate Mara and Aksel Hennie portray the crew members of the fateful mission to Mars in

The much anticipated big screen adaptation of Andy Weir’s hot-read “The Martian” finally lands in theaters this week.

For local boy Matt Damon and director Ridley Scott, it’s a respectable go, but for science and NASA, it’s an unequivocal win. Following the film’s release those chem and bio books on high schoolers’ nightstands will get a little sexier.

For those not familiar with Weir’s self-published e-book that became a New York Times bestseller, it takes place in the short near future, when manned flights to Mars are doable and entails the ordeal of an astronaut left for dead on the Red Planet, who then must survive for four years until the next mission from Earth arrives. The major must haves, air and water (no, it’s not prescient of the findings) are relatively “easy” to ascertain.

The big gotcha is food, as the pup-tent bivouac is only stocked with enough rations to feed a crew of six for 60 days. If you’re doing the math and forecasting, that’s the joyful brain bait Weir imbued throughout his novel. The book has been hailed as one of the best pure science, science fiction books in a long while (Weir, a former programmer who worked on the Warcraft video games was reared on a steady diet of Arthur C. Clarke).

Scott and screenwriter Drew Goddard (“World War Z” and “Cloverfield”) however don’t have reams of paper or time to stop and explain the not-so-basic math, chemistry and biology solutions that propel “The Martian,” but what they do have are digi-logs, so that Damon, playing left-behind spaceman Mark Watney, a biologist by trade, can speak directly into GoPro cams or any of the myriad of the recording devices sprinkled throughout the space tent known as a “hab” and the rover, an all-terrain SUV on steroids.

To explain how Watney gets marooned and rises from the dead would be doing the uninformed a disservice. It’s smart and sharply done in both mediums, as is how Watney is discovered alive on the far off planet by satellite wonks at NASA (there’s no comms that can reach that far to squawk real time). But all these golden plot nuggets come directly from from Weir’s blueprint. What’s missing is the looming sense of dread that so effectively filled other recent deep space conundrums like “Gravity” and “Interstellar,” let alone the imposing power of loneliness like Tom Hanks so convincingly evoked on a similarly remote and desolate body (an island on Earth occupied by a volleyball) in “Cast Away.”

Continue reading

Mapping The Legacy Of Boxing On Celluloid With 10 Boxing Films Picks

7 Aug
Published in WBUR’s ARTery

Paul Newman in

Paul Newman in “Somebody Up There Likes Me.” (Courtesy)

The recent release of “Southpaw,” the new movie starring Jake Gyllenhaal as the ring rat of the title, again floats the paradigm of the American Dream realized in the toughest of all venues. Largely due to the primal, violent and intimate nature of pugilism, boxing has always been a storied staple of film throughout history.

“Southpaw” tries to achieve a post of solemnity and seriousness by playing against the archetype but in execution, it’s so heavily riddled with cliched jabs it never even flashes the mettle to reach the heights of any of the narratives it aches to be. One can understand the allure to Gyllenhaal, an actor who regularly seeks the challenge of off-the-beaten-path roles (take “Brokeback Mountain” or last year’s turn as a career-minded sociopath in “Nightcrawler”), as many an Oscar has been won by stepping in the ring (Robert De Niro and Hilary Swank to name two).

By definition, the sport demands blood and sweat, and total immersion by any thespian hoping to sell the gritty gut-pounding reality of the ring. It’s been a well-noted undertaking — the extremes actors go to in conditioning and preparation — and something De Niro took deeply to heart (going from a toned and ripped fighter to flabby nightclub host by tossing on 50 pounds) in immersing himself into the volatile persona of middleweight Jake LaMotta for Martin Scorsese’s heralded bio-pic, “Raging Bull” (1980). It’s one of the great fight films, if not the greatest, and while the bold choices by Scorsese — shooting in smoky black-and-white and a framed narrative arc — provided grounding and context, it was De Niro’s indelible turn, employing extreme method acting to soulfully get at the turbulent embodiment of LaMotta, that ensured the film of its mantle spot as a timeless American classic.

In looking back at the legacy of boxing on celluloid, three other Oscar winning films would likely hang at the top of anyone’s top 10, the most obvious of which, besides “Bull,” being “Rocky,” the 1976 Best Picture fairy tale and Cineplex-sweeping crowned pleaser which also capped an incredible real-life underdog story for screenwriter/actor Sylvester Stallone who had toiled thespian Palookaville before, and more recent hits about the gritty downside to ring life, “The Fighter” and Clint Eastwood’s “Million Dollar Baby.”

Below, arranged in alphabetical order, is a list composed of some other great pugilist profiles with a conscience lean to include the eclectic and the classic. Five receiving serious consideration but not making the bell: “Cinderella Man” (2005), “The Set-Up”(1947), “The Quiet Man” (1952), “The Boxer” (1997) and “The Great White Hope” (1970).  Continue reading