Tag Archives: Phoenix

God Grew Tired of Us

29 Mar

God Grew Tired of Us

A devastating and uplifting documentary

By TOM MEEK  |  January 17, 2007

Back in the ’80s, long before Darfur became a word linked with genocide in the Western media, the Islamic north waged a bloody campaign against the Christian farmers and tribesmen in the south, targeting young males. Known as the Lost Boys, some 27,000 youths fled more than 1000 miles to a UN refugee camp in Kenya. Along the way, many fell victim to hunger, lions, and enemy attacks. Eventually some 3600 made their way to the US. Narrated by Nicole Kidman, this documentary from Christopher Dillon Quinn and Tommy Walker follows a clutch of Lost Boys relocated to Pittsburgh and Syracuse. Their journey is telling of their culture, as well as our own. After the initial helping hand, many struggle to pay back their debt. And there’s the duress of isolation and not knowing whether family members are alive. John Dau, the film’s main subject, is an affable soul, full of wisdom and hope. After so much devastation, his grace and perseverance is an uplifting example for all.

Cannonball Launches Weapons Scare

24 Mar

Cannonball quiets Harvard quad

Time bomb

By TOM MEEK  |  November 4, 2009


It’s been awhile since we had to worry about the multi-colored national danger spectrum, but last week, the northwestern quadrant of Harvard Square was put on high alert. It turned out, though, that the deployment of bomb-squad vehicles, flanked by police cruisers and fire engines, that rolled in and cordoned off a section of Garden Street adjacent to the Harvard Quadrangle had nothing to do with a dirty bomb or even terrorist activity, but rather (appropriate for a school so immersed in ancient history) a Civil War–era cannonball.For me, the ordeal was something of a minor inconvenience, as I happen to live in the building where the relic rested. My downstairs neighbors — an amiable middle-aged married couple — set the commotion in motion: they had kept the cannonball in their apartment for 20 years as an accent piece. They declined to go on record, as they wished to remain off the grid and un-googleable. Ironically, however, it was Google that ignited the situation.

The husband had found the metallic ball “lying around” the turn-of-the-century constructed building when they moved in, and adopted it. Recently, though, a few clicks on the Internet caused the wife to become concerned that the ball might be explosive, so she contacted a Civil War authority, who told her to contact the police, who in turn, because it was military ordnance, called in the Department of Defense Disposal Unit from the naval base in Newport, Rhode Island.

Another neighbor, who also wished to remain anonymous, described the incident as surreal. “I felt like I had just stepped into an episode of the Twilight Zone when I walked outside my apartment to find the bomb squad, DOD, and Navy in the middle of what seemed like a special-ops mission to diffuse an antique cannonball that had been used as a doorstop for 20 years.”

Clearly, such a show of strength for an item so benign for so long would hardly have been deemed necessary if the exact same sequence had unfolded before 9/11. But the shroud of secrecy still remaining over the offending materiel hardly seems necessary. I contacted the Cambridge Police to find out where the cannonball had been taken and what conclusions had been drawn from its examination, but at press time, still had not heard back from them.

The Devil’s Rejects

20 Mar


Rob Zombie, Haverhill native and former White Zombie frontman, again roils in ’70s slasher gore with this sequel to House of 1000 Corpses. Serial killers Captain Spaulding (Sid Haig), Baby Firefly (Rob’s wife, Sheri Moon Zombie), and Otis Driftwood (Bill Moseley) — all variations of names in Marx Brothers films — are dislodged from their dilapidated abattoir by Sheriff Wydell (William Forsythe), whose brother was offed in Corpses. What ensues is a cop-killer grudge match with some binding, torturing, and killing of innocents along the way. Rejects is an upgrade from Corpses. For one, it’s coherent, and despite the clichés and the profanity, there are some hilariously wicked moments. The biggest snag in the gritty homage is that Zombie’s heroes are cold-blooded killers. Oliver Stone tried the same trick with Natural Born Killers and almost succeeded, but even The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and The Last House on the Left hung on the promise of victim survival and justice.


Sucker Punch

20 Mar

Review: Sucker Punch

Loud, sexy, and inane

By TOM MEEK  |  March 31, 2011

The words “loud, sexy, and inane” pretty much sum up the latest from Zack Snyder. The director of 300 and Watchmen has plenty of visual panache, but when it comes to storytelling, he’s a bombastic hack. Sucker Punch is the dark ballad of Babydoll (Emily Browning), a sulking waif committed to a mental institution by her nefarious stepfather after her sister is found dead. A lobotomy awaits, and to gain her freedom, or some semblance of justice, Babydoll drops into alternative planes of reality that involve a sweatshop bordello, where her dance skills rival those of Salome, and a fantasy landscape where she and several other scantily clad inmates battle Nazis, orcs, and dragons. The visuals, backed by a hip soundtrack, offer a ripe spectacle, but the trivial framework and insipid dialogue rupture the spell so often that no dance, no matter how titillating, can punch it up.


20 Mar

Road kill

Paul Haggis gives America the Crash test


Written and directed by Paul Haggis. With Matt Dillon, Sandra Bullock, Don Cheadle, Terrence Howard, Thandie Newton, Brendan Fraser, Ludacris, Larenz Tate, and Michael Pena. A Lions Gate Films release (107 minutes). At the Boston Common, the Fenway, the Fresh Pond, and the Circle/Chestnut Hill and in the suburbs.

YOU THINK YOU KNOW WHO YOU ARE, but it turns out you have no idea.

In Sidney Lumet’s unheralded 1990 police drama Q&A, Nick Nolte delivers a blistering portrait of hate as a racist cop who struts through a New York City precinct with Machiavellian bravado, roasting minorities with racial epithets. No one dares touch him, not the higher-ups or his peers. The film may be about dirty cops and corruption, but underneath it all, Lumet lets us know that tribalism is alive and well in the urban jungles of contemporary society.

In Crash, Matt Dillon plays a similar character roaming an equally stark landscape, yet writer/director Paul Haggis, who sailed to the top of Hollywood’s It list after penning Million Dollar Baby, isn’t concerned with departmental politics. Instead, he slices into the racism and the elitism that are rife in America today.

Continue reading

We Are Marshall

20 Mar

We are Marshall

More than a football film

By TOM MEEK  |  December 20, 2006

In 1970, a plane carrying the Marshall University football team crashed, killing all on board. Director McG (Charlie’s Angels) tenderly re-creates the rise from tragedy as the university head (David Strathairn), an injured player who missed the flight (Anthony Mackie), and an idealistic coach (Matthew McConaughey) rebuild the West Virginia team in short order. Their biggest obstacle is the school board, which thinks it’s too soon; the upshot is that the film deals more with the nature of grief than with moving the ball downfield. McConaughey combines flakiness with optimism, and Matthew Fox (Jack on Lost) delivers the details as Red Dawson, the remorseful team recruiter, who can’t get over his decision to surrender his seat on the plane to someone in a hurry.

Bike Porn

20 Mar

Bike Porn cranks your gears in Cambridge

Blown tires?

By TOM MEEK  |  April 14, 2010


The Combat Zone’s been cleaned up and paved over. The days of the porn-movie house went out with the Internet. But if you still want to view steamy cinema in a public setting, we have a festival for you. Provided, that is, that you’re okay with hot bike-on-bike action.

Bike Porn 3: Cycle Bound, The Backlash Tour is rolling into Boston (well, Cambridge, at the Brattle Theater) on April 21, with its fusion of fetish-fueled erotica, art-house amateurism, and bikes. Not to be confused with the Boston Bike Film Fest or the Bicycle Film Festival, this freaky tour’s curator, Reverend Phil Sano, and his posse literally roll into each of the 50 cities it is visiting, as they come in on two wheels. Often that bicycle parade collects a mass of fans and other riders transmuting the tour’s arrival into an impromptu carnival on wheels.  Continue reading

Get Carter

20 Mar

R: ARCHIVE, S: MOVIES, D: 10/12/2000,

Get Carter

Sylvester Stallone trying to fill the thespian shoes of two-time Oscar winner Michael Caine? That’s what this remake of the mod 1971 British noir is all about. Caine even gives it credibility by lending his mug to a supporting role. At least Sly doesn’t try out a cockney accent — the setting has been transposed to cyber-hip Seattle, where his Jack Carter, a heavy for the Vegas mob, has returned home for the funeral of his brother. The alleged car accident doesn’t play well with Carter’s instincts; he suspects foul play and starts poking around. Caught up in the gnashing revenge mix: Miranda Richardson as the widow in mourning, Rachael Leigh Cook as her punked-out daughter, Mickey Rourke as the porn king, Alan Cumming as the flamboyant start-up geek, and Caine as the avuncular overseer with a hidden agenda. The aged Stallone, robotic and thuggish, is almost admirable, and Stephen Kay’s direction is visually slick, but the insipid dialogue and inane plot development do him in. Why would anyone attempt a straight-up remake of one of the truly great British gangster films? I just don’t get it.

— Tom Meek

Blood and Wine

20 Mar

R: ARCHIVE, S: REVIEWS, D: 02/20/1997, B: Tom Meek,



Sterile ‘sequel’

Rafelson’s Blood & Wine runs thin

by Tom Meek

BLOOD & WINE. Directed by Bob Rafelson. Written by Nick Villiers and Alison Cross, based on a story by Rafelson and Villiers. With Jack Nicholson, Judy Davis, Michael Caine, Stephen Dorff, and Jennifer Lopez. At the Nickelodeon, the Harvard Square, and the Circle and in the suburbs.

Bob Rafelson and Jack Nicholson mesmerized audiences with Five Easy Pieces in 1970; two years later they struck again with the bitter, dark The King of Marvin GardensPieces featured Nicholson as the kind of self-concerned, sardonic antihero that was so prevalent at the time (The GraduateEasy Rider). In Gardens, Rafelson took a chance and cast him as the introverted, intellectual brother opposite Bruce Dern’s pie-in-the-sky shyster — a gonzo role that seemed tailor-made for Nicholson’s on-screen persona. Now, some 25 years later, Rafelson and Nicholson have reunited to conclude an unofficial trilogy that journeys through the veins of dysfunctional bonds.

For all that Blood & Wine is a complex and engaging drama, it feels contrived.Pieces and Gardens flowed naturally; here Rafelson seems to struggle with the standards of ’90 sensationalism. Nicholson’s Alex Gates, a Miami-based wine merchant, is a one-dimensional character: he’s on the brink of financial ruin, his marriage is in shambles, but he continues to indulge in a life beyond his means with a sporty BMW and a sultry mistress.  Continue reading

Boxing Gym

20 Mar

Review: Boxing Gym

Frederick Wiseman serves up blood, sweat, and hypnotic cadences

By TOM MEEK  |  November 11, 2010

Whatever his subject matter, documentarian Frederick Wiseman has always been concerned with blood and sweat. La Danse, his 2009 look at the grueling rehearsal routine at the Paris Opera Ballet, is emblematic. Boxing Gym moves in a similar direction as he sets up his camera in a dingy Austin establishment. Owner Richard Lord, a former boxer with a Texas drawl and a rattail, treats all his patrons (pros and amateurs who span sex, age, race, and socio-economic strata) with equal care and respect. And despite the violent nature of the sport, Lord’s dogma of rhythm, footwork, and conditioning is delivered in a calm, avuncular tenor. Wiseman records the rituals of repetition (speed bag and footwork) in poetic long shots that often have two pugilists side by side, each unaware of the other. The cadence is both primal and hypnotic.