Tag Archives: Boston

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

Spotlight

7 Nov

Michael Keaton leads an ensemble cast in the riveting investigative drama Spotlight

Shine a Light

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Spotlight is rare journey into journalism that gets at the heart of its investigators’ subject without grandstanding the personalities or personal lives of those doing the poking around. Like the classic All the President’s Men and David Fincher’s Zodiac, Spotlight rides the rails of well-known history — in this case, the Catholic pedophilia scandal in Boston — but despite the anticlimactic nature of knowing how it ends, the film unfurls with intrigue, putting the viewer in the seat of those unearthing the unseemly truths, learning in the moment as the moment unfolds. The simple and earnest approach casts a sympathetic, but never maudlin, light on the victims of child sexual abuse during the 1980s and 1990s with a subtle poignancy that ultimately builds to a roar.

At the center of Spotlight looms the tribal, nepotistic nature of Boston, where hushing up crimes is easily accomplished with money and strong-arm tactics. It’s a world where the powerful prey upon the weak, in this case pedophilic priests targeting boys and girls from the city’s vanishing blue-collar neighborhoods. Many of these children were from broken homes without a stable male figure and riddled with substance abuse.

Spotlight takes its name from the Boston Globe investigative team that ultimately uncovered the massive church cover-up. At the center of the film is team editor Walter Robby Robinson (Michael Keaton). Like many Bostonians he was raised Catholic and went to a Catholic high school across the street from the Globe. And it’s not until the arrival of new managing editor Marty Baron (Liev Schreiber), a solemn Jew up from Miami, that Robby and the Spotlight crew begin looking at the link between the abuse cases. Although you get the sense that Robby only reluctantly pursues the case at first, he and his team ultimately become dogged pursuers of the truth who are more than willing to go up against the iconic institution of their rearing, an institution protected by money, reach, and power.

Director and co-writer Todd McCarthy, who’s had great success plumbing the heart of everyday human drama with The Station Agent and The Visitor, succeeds again with Spotlight, thanks in part to his ensemble cast, including Rachel McAdams, Mark Ruffalo, Stanley Tucci, John Slattery, and Billy Crudup. In the end, McCarthy’s film is about truth and reckoning and the prospect of giving a modicum of vindication to those broken and tormented souls who suffered at the hands of those they most trusted.

Black Mass

17 Sep