Tag Archives: music

Judy

27 Sep

‘Judy’: She knows there’s no place like home, but can’t get any closer than stage in London

 

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“Judy,” the biopic about stage icon Judy Garland, is just right focusing on her “hot mess” last chapter as an in-residence performer at a London theater club, her better days interspersed through deft editing and seamless narrative framing. It is a tad oversentimental at times, but overall a bittersweet pill that finds its mark effectively, and three-time Oscar nominee and one-time winner Renée Zellweger knocks it out of the park as the it girl whose star has faded; she’s about as sure a bet to be in Oscar talks as Leo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt.

The script, written with purpose and verve by Tom Edge (“The Crown”), sets us up with Judy and her two youngest, Lorna and Joey (played by Bella Ramsey from “Game of Thrones” and Lewin Lloyd) circa 1969, being evicted from their hotel digs. She’s broke and broken and just wants to be a mother to her children, but there are bills to be paid, no one in the states who will give the unreliable pill-popper a role or a gig and a custody battle brewing with ex-husband Sid Luft (Rufus Sewell). Before London calls there’s a brief L.A. house party with older daughter Liza Minnelli (Gemma-Leah Devereux – stunning) and an uplifting but ultimately unfortunate encounter with a mod hipster Mickey Deans (Finn Wittrock), who would become her last husband.

The whole saga is sad, with fleeting moments of uplift: Judy is always “on” when on stage or talking to an adoring public, but her own worst enemy sodden with booze and pills after the curtain drops. In flashbacks to her younger days (Darci Shaw crushes it as the young Judy), she’s simultaneously given an avuncular embrace and manipulated malevolently by MGM head Louis B. Mayer (Richard Cordery) on the set of “The Wizard of Oz,” where studio handlers forbid her food and feed her uppers and downers instead; and men in general attach themselves and milk her throughout her life. About the most love and respect the star gets beyond her progeny comes from her stiff-upper-lip handler in London, Rosalyn (Jessie Buckley) and her young bandleader, Burt (Royce Pierreson). One of the film’s more whimsical and fun moments comes when Mickey comments in a bar about a new, experimental Beatles album – and floats the idea of Judy performing with The Rolling Stones. The crowd is nonplussed, but Judy drinks up hungrily the shot of possibility and confidence.

Director Rupert Goold, who’s mostly orchestrated stage theater, and cinematographer Ole Bratt Birkeland stage and frame the performances stunningly, especially in the use of light and closeups, and with engrossing intimacy. Of course, it all hangs on the star who’s on in every take. One telling scene comes during a TV interview, when a journalist tries to dig in on the former starlet about her “unreliability” and messy custody proceedings and gets blowback: “I’m Judy Garland for one hour on stage and then I’m a member of family just like anybody else.” Sadly, that never really became the case, and you can feel that palpably in Zellweger’s performance. 

Fictional films such as “A Star is Born” (Garland starred in the 1954 version with James Mason) and “All that Jazz” tackle the toll of stardom and its perils, but “Judy” lives it, and through it, you live it too. It breaks your heart, not from the usual distance, but deep down inside with the painful desire of someone who just wants to be loved unconditionally.

Woodstock: Three Days That Defined a Generation

15 Jun

‘Woodstock’ doc comes to Kendall big screen with too small a vision for moment it honors

 

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“Woodstock: Three Days That Defined a Generation” (2019) should never be confused with the indelible 1970 rock-doc “Woodstock: Three Days of Peace and Music” that captured the iconic concert in all its ragtag glory and raucous verve. Sure, filmmakers Barak Goodman (“Oklahoma City”) and co-director Jamila Ephron (“Far from the Tree”) are playing on the title, and the film’s about the same event, but surely they can’t be trying to outdo Michael Wadleigh and his talented crew – including a very young Martin Scorsese as an editor?

The project put together for PBS for the music festival’s 50th anniversary is a nice, light reminder of what was – a love-in postcard, if you will – and does an adequate job of capturing the political turmoil and spirit of the moment.But if you’re coming to “Three Days that Defined a Generation” for the music, you’ll likely be disappointed. Wadleigh’s doc (and I need to stop mentioning it, but it’s impossible not to) captured Jimi, The Who, Janice, Santana, the Airplane and Joe Cocker in all their sweaty, electric grandeur; “Three Days That Defined a Generation” gives you 30-second metes that look like shortened outtakes of the same footage. If that doesn’t drive you to Wadleigh’s baby, you’re not interested in these legendary acts, performances or the historical significance of the ambitious concert and should stop reading this right now and go get a ticket for “Godzilla.”

One angle that “Three Days That Defined a Generation” takes that gives some fresh perspective is dialing back to three years earlier as Woodstock co-founders John Roberts and Joel Makower borrow money from the Polident fortune to get the venture off the ground. Then there’s the quest for space. Folks from Woodstock and other neighboring townships wanted little to do with a horde of rebellious youth and hippies, but diehard GOP dairy farmer Max Yasgur stepped in and served up his vast fields, and it was on. No one knew how big it would be (a half-million people) or the logistical miscues for hosting that many people in a podunk north of New York City that included getting sets, security and food up and running. The most affecting moment comes when Yasgur addresses the sea of youth from the stage.

Most of it is in that other doc too. Goodman and Ephron do get testimony from attendees, staffers and a few of the performers, including Richie Havens, Joan Baez and Cocker. Most of it’s fine but lacking the fiery energy of the moment. The affect is mostly flat; it’s a real non-starter when someone says The Who or Jimi was “good” – that’s like what, a C or a B-minus? And you don’t have more than a few chords to see that were nothing short of explosive.

Still, “Three Days That Defined a Generation” takes us there. It’s a rock-doc by definition, but more a pat historical rewind. It’s not possible to top Wadleigh’s masterpiece, one of the five greatest rock docs of all time (with “Stop Making Sense,” the Scorsese-directed “Last Waltz,” “Gimme” and “Dig!”). You feel imbedded. It’s more than three hours long, and you never want it to end. They were stardust, it was golden … and “Three Days That Defined a Generation” does little more than remind us about Yasgur‘s garden once upon a time.

A Kendall Square screening Friday includes Susan Bellows, a senior producer for PBS’ “American Experience” and two people who were at Woodstock: Bill Hanley, a festival audio engineer, and Jon Jaboolian, a “Woodstock veteran.”

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

Bike death at the Museum of Scince

10 Nov

 

A bicyclist died Friday after being hit by a dump truck at Museum Way and Monsignor O’Brien Highway, near the Museum of Science. (Image: Google)

A ripple of rage went through the bike community Friday when it was learned a 24-year-old cyclist and Cambridge resident was struck and killed by a dump truck at Museum Way and Monsignor O’Brien Highway, near the Museum of Science.

The truck was reportedly trying to make a turn onto Museum Way shortly before 8:15 a.m., with the cyclist on the right waiting to make the same turn. “When both the truck and bicyclist began to make their right turn, the bicyclist was struck by a tire of the truck,” according to state police.

The bicyclist was taken to Massachusetts General Hospital, where he was pronounced dead from injuries from the incident, police said. The crash is under investigation and police are withholding the name of the victim until next of kin is notified. Boston student media identified the victim as Meng Jin, of Shanghai, who expected a graduate degree in economics next year.

The name of the truck driver, a 50-year-old man from Leicester, will not be released until the investigation determines if charges will be filed.

Last month dump truck driver Daniel Desroche, 54, of Methuen, was charged with negligent operation in connection with the crash that killed Cambridge’s Jie Zhao, 27, who was walking at Magazine Street and Putnam Avenue in the Cambridgeport neighborhood.

“This has to stop,” city councillor Quintin Zondervan said. “It is inexcusable that we continue to allow these dangerous trucks to operate on our city streets without requiring them to have guardrails, sensors, automatic braking, collision avoidance, backup cameras and all other technical and other safeguards to maximally reduce the chances of them running us over.” 

Heather Allen, a Cambridge mother of four children who ride, pointed to the dicey nature of the stretch of road, where cars exceed the speed limit regularly and bicyclists are intimidated from taking the full lane, despite being allowed by traffic signs. “It is unconscionable that the Charles River Dam road still lacks bicycle lanes,” Allen said. 

Bike advocate Jon Ramos of Somerville and Steve Bercu of Cambridge, who serves on the board of the Boston Cyclists Union, were more critical of state Department of Transportation oversight of the roadway, where safety improvements were promised for after the Longfellow Bridge was completed in the spring. “Where are the changes?” Ramos said, “How many deaths is it going to take to fix all of your known problem roadways?” Many in the cycling community shared that upset with the agency’s delay – one using the phrase “blood on their hands.”

The agency, through its communications department, said, “We express our sincere condolences to the family of the victim and will continue to work with key stakeholders to ensure ongoing pedestrian, cyclist and vehicular safety throughout this area and around the commonwealth.”

The agency’s plan for safety improvements – still on the books – is mostly for line striping; the Cambridge Bicycle Safety Group, citing an increasing number of fatalities since 2015, prefers protected bike lanes. Ramos said the solution that would have avoided the day’s tragedy was protected intersections.

Ricki and the Flash

10 Aug

‘Ricki and the Flash’: Rocker mom returns in drama choreographed by top doc talent

How much fun is “Ricki and the Flash”? It’s got a little bit of everything – sentimental schmaltz, family healing, trauma, small victories and a whole host of social skewering both on the subtle and not-so-subtle side, all punctuated or punctured as may be by paradox and flip sides (including a feminist-postured mom who voted for Bush twice). The film too is a film of two halves – generally not a good thing – but the man behind the lens, Jonathan Demme, has gone big (“Silence of the Lambs” and “Philadelphia”), gone small (“Melvin and Howard”) and done the rock thing (“Stop Making Sense,” one of the top rock docs of all time) and has always been a master craftsman, always focusing on the human condition and character development. He knows how to connect with  his material and his audience, and the pairing with screenwriter Diablo Cody makes real sense, as the film is a clash of ideals within a familial unit, something she tackled and won much acclaim for with “Juno.”

080915i Ricki and the FlashIn a bold turn, Meryl Streep plays the Ricki of the film’s title, a middle-aged woman with half dreads and jingle-jangle jewelry since long ago leaving her family in middle America to become a rock star in California. She didn’t, mind you; she plays as the lead of a house band in a local roadhouse dive playing covers of classics and newer stuff such as Lady Gaga and Pink to draw in the younger set. By day she works at Total Foods, where she is reminded constantly to smile for the customers who have shopping bills bigger than her weekly salary (yes, it’s a dig on Whole Foods) and she’s just filed for Chapter 11.

The film gets lift when Ricki’s ex, Pete (Kevin Kline, in his third pairing with Streep) calls and requests her help – their daughter Julie (Mamie Gummer, in a breakout performance) is depressed after going through a divorce and Maureen (Audra McDonald), Pete’s wife who raised the kids and is no fan of Ricki, is in Seattle dealing with a an ailing pop. There’s a lot of resentment toward Ricki, but there’s nothing like a stash of weed and a chance encounter with Julie’s ex and his new love interest to get things moving toward reconciliation. The razor-sharp, wily dialogue by Diablo Cody and crisp execution by the performers bring this to life with a genuine palatability that in the hands of anyone lesser would drift into the realm of hyperbolic insincerity.  Continue reading

Whiplash

22 Jan

J.K. Simmons (right) leaves behind his affable persona to play a hot-headed jazz chair who berates his musicians, most commonly Andrew (Miles Teller, left) in Whiplash

J.K. Simmons, the gummy affable bald guy who frequently crowds your TV in those semi-humorous Farmers University Insurance ads, has been a long-toiling character actor waiting for his thick slab of meat. In the interim, he has projected a similar amiable persona as the dad in the indie hit Juno and conjured up something a bit more cantankerous and angry as the news editor J. Jonah Jameson in Sam Rami’s Spider-Man trilogy. With Whiplash, Simmons finally gets his steak, and a hunk of Kobe at that.  Continue reading

Björk: Biophilia Live

13 Nov
A 50-year-old Björk gets celestial in the new concert film: Björk: Biophilia Live

Outlandish Icelandic performance artist Björk has long been a polarizing figure. When we think of the now-50-year-old musician, there are two things that cannot be denied. For one, the singer’s warbling high-pitched wails never fail to enchant. And two, she seems as youthful now as she did with the Sugarcubes nearly three decades ago.

Current generations may not remember the Cubes or even Björk’s foray into acting in Lars von Trier’s Dancer in the Dark, for which she won best actress at Cannes in 2000. Perhaps more notable is the notorious swan dress she wore to the Oscars in 2001. That dress, a bellwether of the singer’s fashion sensibility, is a benign infraction compared to the strange frock she dons in her new concert film, Björk: Biophilia Live. It looks like melted and oozing human breasts fused together. Think of the raw garishness of Lady Gaga’s meat dress, and you’d be close to imagining Björk’s latest foray into fashion freakiness. In the concert flick, she also sports a dramatic orange wig, reminiscent of Erykah Badu’s ‘do in Dave Chappelle’s Block Party. Björk is a baroque caricature, but her appearance is no longer a distraction once a song begins.  Continue reading