Tag Archives: Boston

I Care a Lot

27 Feb

‘I Care a Lot’: Trying to scam the wrong senior? You realize, of course, that this means war

By Tom MeekFriday, February 26, 2021

“Playing fair is a joke invented by rich people to keep the rest of us poor” – a quote that might ring true if it was about racial inequality, leveling the playing field or creating opportunity for those normally denied. But in “I Care a Lot” it’s from the lips of a corporate Karen who dupes the elderly on the cusp of dementia out of their amassed wealth for her own gain. Yeah, that’s right: Taking advantage of memory challenged seniors so as to fleece your own pockets. The badass “lioness” here, Marla Grayson, is played by Rosamund Pike, who makes the unpalatable role of shameless predator semi-digestible as the caregiver with a swank office of minions who slides into any court hearing about a rich elderly person who may become a ward of the state and sweeps their care under her wing. Then she gets them locked up and drugged up she can liquidate their assets.

Happy days for the elderly and those boxed out who may care for them this is not, but writer/director J Blakeson, channeling David Fincher (who did “Gone Girl” with Pike) musically and in agile editing style, keeps the unlikeable audacity clicking and infectious. It’s something of a cinematic bag of Doritos: The universe says it’s bad for you, you know it’s bad for you and yet you’re all in. How many times has the POV of a serial killer ever worked? (“Dexter,” “Hannibal”?) 

Grayson catches a snag when she targets Jennifer Peterson (Dianne Wiest) whose son (Peter Dinklage) is Russian mob connected. You’d think that would be a big cup of no-thank-you-tea, but Grayson doubles down and, as the film wants you to have it, becomes the victim. It’s a ruse that never sticks, considering the countless seniors duped, bilked and bled, left on the shores of nowhere and certain oblivion. We never see that, and Pike’s edgy, engaging performance obscures this into a slick, twisting thriller – and it is slick – but at the heart is a victimization that goes beyond unconscionable. Sharon Stone’s Catherine Tramell in “Basic Instinct” (1992) feels like a blueprint for Pike’s Grayson, but Tramell was a lioness hunting bull rhinoceroses in their prime; Grayson is an opportunistic hyena sourcing wounded old birds. 

City Hall

5 Nov

Cambridge documentarian Frederick Wiseman turns his camera on Boston for a sprawling four-hour immersive portrait of the city.

Tom Meek for the Patriot Ledger
November 3, 20202

For his 45th documentary feature Frederick Wiseman trains his lens on his native Boston to record all things municipal unfolding in the cement encased corridors of Gerhard Kallmann’s infamous Brutalist facade. The retrospective of how we operate and function in the Hub is an engrossing four-and-half-hour watch (yes, you heard that right) that amazingly goes by in a blip and serves as something of an eerie — and taunting — time capsule. Shot during 2018 and 2019, one segment has Mayor Marty Walsh and authorities preparing for the Wold Champion Red Sox Duck Boat celebration. Later we see fans chanting “Mookie, Mookie, Mookie.” Betts famously left us in 2019 and recently performed his heroics in the 2020 World Series for that team we vanquished in 2018 (the L.A. Dodgers), and all that Wiseman’s camera captures, strangely feels from another era as the city bustles in pre-COVID normalcy — one can only imagine what a 2020-2021 version of “City Hall” might look like.

The Government Center delve unfolds in a series of chapter-esque meanders between the micro and macro with plenty of shots of Boston’s iconic skyline and landmarks to root you. The rendering should make plenty of Beantowners proud and Walsh, seemingly ever aware of the camera, comes off crisp, progressive and inclusive — a shining illumination that may pose something of an extra hurdle for upcoming challenger Michelle Wu and others. In Wiseman’s classic observant, cinema verite style (fly-on-the-wall) there are several long takes of municipal proceedings such as the budget review where presenters effusively tout the investment in infrastructure as a win-win because it not only betters the community, but also makes the city’s debt more appealing to bond investors. It’s a cut-and-dry matter that under Wiseman’s eye is more interesting and accessible than it sounds, but “City Hall’ is most affecting when following the day-to-day operations of front liners, namely the 311 help center workers trying to iron out neighborhood issues or city magistrates mitigating parking tickets — an anxious expecting father who parked in front of a hydrant and an incredulous old-schooler who didn’t know there was resident parking along Congress Street — and then there are those out in the community removing trash and providing subsidized veterinary care.

What’s truly amazing to note too is that Wiseman, at the age of 90, is still cranking out documentaries on a near annual basis and does all the editing to boot. For those not familiar with the works of the Academy Award honored documentarian, a law professor at BU and Brandeis before picking up the camera, they’re slice of life exposés that quietly drink in their subjects without question, preface or prod the way you might get from a Michael Moore (“Roger & Me,” or “Fahrenheit 9/11″) or Morgan Spurlock (“Super Size Me”). The result conjures an uncanny sense of intimacy; there’s no barrier, you are organically and viscerally part of the scene. “City Hall” in scope and focus feels like a natural addition to the the director’s unofficial community series that began with “Aspen” (1991) and includes “Belfast, Maine” (1999)” and “Jackson Heights” (2015). Must see Wiseman films in my not-so-humble opinion are “Boxing Gym” (2010) and his controversial first film, “Titicut Follies” (1967) about the Bridgewater State Hospital for the Criminally Insane, which, because of its graphic nature, was banned from being shown in Massachusetts until the early 1990s.

The most moving and telling scenes in “City Hall” are those steeped in earnest reveals and communal conflict. Talking to veterans afflicted by addiction and PTSD, Walsh shares candidly his dark days as an alcoholic. The connection both onscreen and in the room is immediate and palpable, something that doesn’t quite register as much when Walsh underscores his Irish heritage as a bridge to a Latino community. Then there’s the Thanksgiving feast for those challenged by Down syndrome and similar arresting disorders where Walsh and crew dutifully serve expectant diners and cap it all off with dancing. Wiseman never lets his lens sway you, but if you don’t have a bittersweet bump inside you, you probably didn’t flinch when Old Yeller died. The big rub in the film comes during a community outreach meeting run by a predominately Asian coalition of businessmen seeking to institute a recreational cannabis facility in a predominately Black and brown section of Dorchester. The two sides talk at each other, the rhetoric’s tinged with the annoyance of not being heard and there’s the clear fear of being taken advantage of, with the city and the Massachusetts Cannabis Control Commission — who are not in the room — taking the brunt of the shots. It’s a telling back and forth that raises the question of equitable economic development and how to earnestly empower a community in the process without gutting them.

One of the things that makes Wiseman’s films so captivating is the sense of cadence and human rhythm he imbues them with. “Boxing Gym” and his 2009 ballet troupe portrait “La danse” are driven by repetition and pursuit of form. In “City Hall” there are mesmerizing long takes of mattresses and barbecue grills being obliterated and compacted by a garbage truck’s compressor and long spindly tree limbs are methodically pulled in and consumed by a restless wood shredder — activities quite mundane and everyday, that in Wiseman’s purview magically become hypnotic wonderments. Also too, Wiseman’s longtime collaborator, cinematographer John Davey artfully finds Escher-esque motifs and reflections within reflections amid our familiar facades. His upward angled framings cut aesthetic portraits of old Scollay Square and the bland Saltonstall building in ways one might not have imagined possible. “City Hall” in the end, is a dutiful reflection of who we are, where we came from and a piquant insider look into the vast municipal neural net that keeps us humming as a community.

Honest Thief

18 Oct

‘Honest Thief’: There’s no particular set of skills on display in tale of Boston burglar done wrong

By Tom Meek
Thursday, October 15, 2020

For the past decade Liam Neeson has made nonstop B-level actioners, with the “Taken” series as the defining cornerstone; now we have “Honest Thief,” which feels like a B-minus version of a “Taken” entry. What’s more, it takes place here and adds to the string of recent Boston duds alongside “Ava” with Jessica Chastain unbelievable as a Charlize Theron-esque hitwoman, and Adam Sandler’s “Hubie’s Halloween,” set in Salem. They all make for good locale watching, but can the Hub please get a plot worthy of our time?

Here Neeson plays Tom Dolan, a debonair former military operative turned cat burglar. Despite the name and location, he’s no Thomas Crown. Dubbed “the In and Out Burglar” by Boston’s FBI bureau – a label he deeply despises – Tom has yet to tell his girlfriend Annie (Kate Walsh, “Grey’s Anatomy”) about his trade. His plan for coming clean? Confess to the authorities, cut a deal, get out early and marry his betrothed. 

What can go wrong, right? Well for starters, the FBI thinks he’s a crank caller, and a double-dealing agent (Jai Courtney, “Terminator Genisys”) and his conflicted partner (Anthony Ramos, “Hamilton”) want Tom’s stash and figure to frame him for a murder. 

Naturally things get ugly, and Annie gets caught in the middle. That’s when things get truly painful as Neeson, so far from his turns in “Schindler’s List” (1993) and even Martin Scorsese’s “Silence” (2016), uses his stately Irish baritone to mansplain violence. The dialogue feels mostly like screenwriting workshop leftovers. In one scene Annie, now aware of what Tom’s up to, reacts with, “The first surprise was ‘Let’s get a cute house in Newton’ and the second surprise is that you’re a bank robber?” Honestly?

The film disappoint too because it’s from Mark Williams, co-creator of the Emmy-winning Netflix series “Ozark.” There Williams helped cook up a genuinely dark crime drama imbued with character and nuance. If only some of that smartness had made it to Massachusetts.

WBCN and The American Revolution

25 Apr

‘WBCN and The American Revolution’ tunes IFFB into rock history at weekend screening

 

The WBCN airstaff circa 1969 included Michael Ward, Steven Segal, J.J. Jackson, Al Perry, Sam Kopper, Jim Parry and Joe Rogers, aka Mississippi Harold Wilson. (Photo: David Bieber)

It’s been 10 years since WBCN, the radio station that defined rock ’n’ roll in Boston for more than four decades, went off the air. For anyone living in Boston before the Internet boom, ’BCN was as big a part of Hub life as the Celtics and the Red Sox – and now in a documentary by Bill Lichtenstein, “WBCN and The American Revolution,” the early days of the envelope-pushing radio station get their nostalgic due. The film plays this weekend as the Centerpiece Spotlight Documentary of the Independent Film Festival Boston.

The anniversary of the station’s demise wasn’t quite the impetus for the film, Lichtenstein said. “What drew me to the project, besides my roots, was that in the mid-2000s, in wake of 9/11 and Bush, there was a lot going on and people were not speaking up. John Kerry was running for president and Bruce Springsteen did a benefit concert and he was critiqued for being too political, and the same time, Napster started to bring back old songs and Bruce’s first interview at ’BCN showed up on the Internet,” Lichtenstein said. “I thought maybe I could go back and see what there was out there on ’BCN, because ’BCN had no archival footage.”

Lichtenstein, a Cambridge resident, began as a 14-year-old intern at the station in 1970, eventually becoming a DJ and newscaster. After leaving ’BCN, he worked at ABC in New York on news shows such as “20/20” and “Nightline.” Continue reading

Stronger

21 Sep

‘Stronger’ Is Everything ‘Patriots Day’ Tried To Be

Jake Gyllenhaal as Jeff Bauman in "Stronger." (Courtesy Lionsgate and Roadside Attractions)closemore

Late last year — as if it were hoping to be an Academy Award contender — the well-intentioned, but misguided “Patriots Day” turned the Boston Marathon bombing into a vehicle for local boy Mark Wahlberg. It awkwardly tried to show a city ripped apart through a fictional cop’s heroics. Now, in David Gordon Green’s “Stronger,” the story is flipped as we register the emotional toll of a victim reluctantly pushed into the role of a hero.

We follow the quiet, painful struggle to rehabilitate for bombing survivor Jeff Bauman (played by Jake Gyllenhaal) honestly and viscerally. “Stronger” is everything “Patriots Day” swung for and missed.

The actual bombing and subsequent search for the Tsarnaev brothers never takes center stage — that all happens on the news or in brief, well-staged flashbacks. The tale here is a deeply personal one about wrestling with demons — sometimes embarrassing ones — and finding your way after being dealt a losing hand.

Tatiana Maslany as Erin and Jake Gyllenhaal as Jeff. (Courtesy Lionsgate and Roadside Attractions)
Tatiana Maslany as Erin and Jake Gyllenhaal as Jeff. (Courtesy Lionsgate and Roadside Attractions)

Based on Bauman’s memoir (co-written by Bret Witter and adapted for screen by John Pollono), “Stronger” recounts the harrowing travail after the Chelmsford native had the misfortune to be standing on Boylston Street during the 2013 marathon. Losing both his legs was a grueling ordeal for Bauman — one that comes in uneasy and uncertain strokes. And while that resonates with earnest pain, the heart and soul of the film registers most palpably through the eyes of Bauman’s on-again, off-again girlfriend, Erin (played by Tatiana Maslany). Maslany, the small screen star of “Orphan Black,” makes the most of her go on a bigger canvas. Continue reading

Free Fire

26 Apr

With ‘Free Fire,’ Ben Wheatley Puts His Bloody Stamp On Boston Crime Comedy

Cillian Murphy and Michael Smiley in "Free Fire." (Courtesy A24)closemore

“Free Fire,” the plucky black comedy about an arms deal gone awry, just might be the most gonzo crime movie to be set in Boston — and it wasn’t even shot here.

Ben Wheatley, the hip noirish auteur who turned heads with “Kill List” and, more recently, the near-apocalyptic anthropology experiment “High Rise,” shot this battle royal in a dilapidated warehouse in England. Much of the cast too is European and thankfully, only one is tasked with attempting our infamous accent.

Early on, we get a slick nighttime glimmer across the harbor at a silhouette that looks vaguely like our stately Custom House Tower. Beyond that, nothing in the film feels remotely Boston. And to compound the foreign-familiar feeling, it’s set in the late-1970s when 8-track was king, and John Denver rules the soundtrack. Why the British director and his co-writer and wife, Amy Jump, decided to set such a caper in Boston probably had something to do with the allure of our rich criminal lore that has become boundless in its cinematic incarnations.

Armie Hammer, Brie Larson, Cillian Murphy, Sam Riley and Michael Smiley in "Free Fire." (Courtesy Kerry Brown/A24)
Armie Hammer, Brie Larson, Cillian Murphy, Sam Riley and Michael Smiley in “Free Fire.” (Courtesy Kerry Brown/A24)

The orientation doesn’t matter so much as we’re quickly inside an abandoned factory warehouse where practically all of the action takes place (the film’s only 85 minutes long and I’d say that 84 of them are in, or just outside the waterfront warehouse that you can imagine being in the now bustling Seaport back when it was a desolate industrial wasteland). What Wheatley and Jump serve up is a thick den of thieves with hidden agendas and a double dealer, a plot structure Quentin Tarantino made retro-hip with “Reservoir Dogs” in 1992 and his 2015 western redux, “The Hateful Eight.” Wheatley, a stylist of hyper violence in his own right, takes the barebones and puts his bloody stamp on it. Continue reading

I Am Jane Doe

12 Feb

A Portrait Of American Avarice, ‘I Am Jane Doe’ Brings Backpage Controversy To The Screen

Jane Doe 3 and her mother in Boston during the filming of "I Am Jane Doe." (Courtesy R. Schultz/50 Eggs)closemore

For anyone with a young daughter, the testimony by victims of human trafficking and their families in the new documentary “I am Jane Doe” will come as a bone cutter. Others too will be palpably moved and more so, outraged by the willful complicity of Backpage in helping relegate underaged girls into a purgatory of prostitution, drugs and physical abuse.

If you’re unfamiliar with Backpage (owned by the revered alternative newspaper company Village Voice Media), it’s a service like Craigslist where people exchange goods and services like sofas, cars, housecleaning and sex (disguised as escort services) with great autonomy. That freedom comes as a result of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act (ironically also known as “Great Internet Sex Panic Act of 1995”), which essentially grants online providers impunity for the content posted on their sites by third parties. That said, illegal sex solicitation — minor or not — has to be reported, but Backpage instituted a policy of circumvention to knowingly sanitize posts so they would not get flagged by enforcement authorities, as noted by a former employee whose voice and identity are disguised in the film. Continue reading

Live by Night

14 Jan

Affleck Should Have Stuck To Directing For His Latest Boston-Based Film ‘Live By Night’

Ben Affleck, as Joe Coughlin, and Sienna Miller, as Emma Gould, in "Live By Night." (Courtesy Warner Bros. Pictures)

Ben Affleck, the good-looking, locally-reared actor, who from time to time has projected a wooden on-screen presence, has turned out to be a reliably decent director. His debut, “Gone Baby Gone” back in 2007, transformed Dennis Lehane’s Boston-seated crime novel into a cinematic pulp noir. That edgy effort had cinephiles anxious for more and Affleck rewarded their patience with another gritty crime drama, “The Town,” in 2010 and then “Argo” in 2012. His latest effort, “Live By Night,” brings another Lehane crime story to the screen.

It begins during the Prohibition Era in Boston, where the Irish and Italians are locked in a blood feud over the bootleg trade, and later transitions to Ybor City, the developing section of Tampa, Florida, where Italian and Latino crime coalitions govern the town and control the flow of molasses — critical for rum.

Brendan Gleeson as Officer Thomas Coughlin in "Live By Night." (Courtesy Warner Bros. Pictures)
Brendan Gleeson as Officer Thomas Coughlin in “Live By Night.” (Courtesy Warner Bros. Pictures) Continue reading

Patriots Day

19 Dec

Wahlberg’s Dramatized ‘Patriots Day’ Won’t Suture Any Wounds

Mark Wahlberg as fictional BPD Sergeant Tommy Saunders in "Patriots Day." (Courtesy CBS Films)

So here comes the big cinematic rendering of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing that rocked the city for the better part of a week and now seems destined to be etched into our collective history just below city-defining headliners like the Boston Tea Party, busing in the ‘70s and the murderous legacy of Whitey Bulger.

The good news about “Patriots Day,” which opens Wednesday, is that it delivers a modicum of cathartic release as well as an intriguing look behind the scenes as an active crime investigation takes shape. The bad news, however, is that it knowingly injects fiction into the mix in a way that nearly subverts the project’s mission of “getting it right,” as Boston-bred star and producer Mark Wahlberg has said repeatedly. In the process, the dramatization shortchanges those that were there — the heroes and the victims — and the character of our fair city.

Three screenwriters, including the director Peter Berg, are credited with the script. The studio’s publicists informed me that the sources ranged from conversations with the Boston Police Department and other local agencies that responded to news reports and “60 Minutes.” What they’ve cooked up feels like a cobbling together of news feeds condensed and sanitized into a singular heroic narrative that regularly brims with the Boston Strong motto.

Continue reading

Manchester by the Sea

23 Nov
Michelle Williams and Casey Affleck star as exes in Manchester by the Sea

 

Heartbreak and resentment fill nearly every frame of Kenneth Lonergan’s emotionally charged drama that delves into redemption and atonement in ways that are so bleakly real and to the bone, it lingers with you days later — something few movies have done so far this year with the notable exceptions of Moonlight, Loving, and The Handmaiden.

Manchester by the Sea begins with the tedious anguish of unclogging a stopped up toilet. It’s immediately apparent that the handler of the plunger, Lee Chandler (Casey Affleck), suffers from more than just the stench of the task at hand. Lee’s a quiet inward man who toils as a handyman/janitor in Boston until his brother’s weak heart beckons him back to the town of the film’s title — a 40 minute scoot north —where we learn that Lee had existed before in happier and more prosperous times. The gorgeous seaside town itself becomes a story of two sides, the well-to-do living in stately green-lawned manses while the working class fishermen nestle up in cozy, but cramped cottages along pot-hole marred lanes. Lee’s past there is a ghost he doesn’t want to confront and the cold chalky grey of winter descending poetically underscores his aching dread. Continue reading