The Other Side of the Wind

11 Nov

‘The Other Side of the Wind’: Welles’ final bow is a 1960s trip, an artifact, a triumphant mess

 

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Once of the best films you can catch right now, you can’t catch in a theater. It is a new release from an American filmmaking maverick, starring a filmmaking maverick and about a filmmaking maverick. If that sounds recursive, it is, and well-intended – it’s a movie within a movie, and something of an in-your-face takedown of Hollywood, like Robert Altman’s “The Player” in 1992. It’s also got shades of 1960s psychedelic pop (think “The Trip”), gobs of over-sexualized free-love fetish petting by the camera (think “Barbarella”) and, well, the Kardashian butt decades before it became a thing.

The film might offend some, be dismissed by others as a “better left where it was” lesser effort or hailed as masterpiece by more discerning eyes. Still not with me? The late-arriving, posthumous work is Orson Welles’ “The Other Side of the Wind,” a project begun in 1970 that was finally this year pulled together, edited and released for theaters in Los Angeles and other cities and for streaming on Netflix with the not-to-be-missed companion documentary “They’ll Love Me When I’m Dead,” by “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” director Morgan Neville – a making-of film doc that’s worthy of comparison with “Burden of Dreams” (1982) and “Hearts of Darkness” (1991). 

“The Other Side of the Wind” is both the name of the (mockumentary) film about a legendary filmmaker making his last film on the last day of his life, and the film being shot, which is loosely but best described as a surreal road lust flick – more on that later. The filmmaker, J. J. Hannaford, is played by John Huston (“The Treasure of the Sierra Madre” and “The Maltese Falcon”) whose gruff voice and cagey demeanor call to mind Pa Hemingway. His film project’s in financial trouble (as was Welles’, which was financed by the Shah of Iran) and there’s myriad hangers-on including Mercedes McCambridge, Edmund O’Brien, a young Peter Bogdanovich (who would shoot“The Last Picture Show” and more during its filming) as Hannaford’s onset biographer, Geoffrey Land as a Robert Evans-style producer, and Susan Strasberg channeling Pauline Kael for her film critic role.

You can see where where Welles is going with the rambling project, which he shot willy-nilly over the years. At one point, as the documentary tells us, Welles was rooming with Bogdanovich and Cybill Shepherd’s house while shooting. The film within the film stars Welles’ latter-years love, Oja Kodar (co-writer) as simply “The Actress” and TV star Robert Random as a Jim Morrison-looking hunk named John Dale, who says little and mostly provides boy toy pleasure for Kodar’s passion seeker, more metaphorically looking for meaning and her place in the universe. For much of the surreal cutaways, Kodar, a Croatian beauty, appears naked, the camera hanging on her ample posterior. Some of the scenes are brilliantly shot, with a great psychedelic-blues score.

Probably the cheesiest is the bathroom orgy scene, which is lurid and alluring, but then there’s the sex scene in a muscle car when the driver suddenly realizes his girlfriend and a stranger are having sex as he drives. It’s done on a rain-soaked night, shot and edited with a hypnotic eroticism. It’s interesting to learn in the documentary that the car the whole time was stationary, and that the torrential rain was the result of three men with garden hoses – to think back, the scene is even more of a win than initially perceived. The documentary and film deepen each other in unsuspecting ways.

The documentary not only underscores the difficulty Welles had making the film financially (he actually created a shell corporation to game the Shah) but also the struggles the filmmaker had as an outcast from Hollywood, ever tied to his freshman effort, “Citizen Kane” (1941), hailed universally as the greatest movie ever made. 

For those familiar with the works of Welles, “The Other Side of the Wind” is more in line with “F for Fake” (1973) than his more renowned black and white efforts (“A Touch of Evil” and “Chimes at Midnight”). Given his career, it seems fitting that “The Other Side” ultimately made it to the screen. For me it’s an eye-popping wonderment steeped in incredible circumstance. Given the Hollywood history, I was just happy to hear Houston’s indelible voice shouting out direction offscreen to the buxom Kodar, standing in the far off distance of a desert with a phallic something protruding in the fore.

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Overlord

10 Nov

‘Overlord’: Remember, Greatest Generation also had Nazi zombies to deal with in WWII

 

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You can think of “Overlord” as “The Dirty Dozen” by way of “28 Days Later” – that’s right, the WWII zombie apocalypse. The film starts with an imaginative bang and keeps its nose above the average even while dipping into genre tropes.

We catch up with a platoon of lads soaring above the D-Day armada heading for Omaha Beach. Their mission: Drop behind enemy lines and take out a radio tower in a medieval church or the U.S. air cover will get picked apart and the assault will fail. There’s a lot on the line. I’m not sure why there’s a few dozen planes on this mission, because stealth would make more sense, but it makes for the film’s best scene as German forces light up the approaching aircraft. The choreography, both in CGI manipulation and the goings-on with the boys inside as large-caliber bullets rip through the fuselage, amazes; cut frenetically with deafening ambient sound, it feels ripped right out of “Dunkirk.” Few make it to the ground alive (you could call it “The Dirty Half-Dozen”). After a few skirmishes with Nazi forces, the lads Boyce (Jovan Adepo); the squinty, badass explosives expert Ford (Wyatt Russell); wisecracking New York tough guy (think Joe Pesci) Tibbet (John Magaro); and a couple of other Star Trek red shirts get into the small village with the help of a comely village girl (Mathilde Ollivier). She takes them in, but what’s up with auntie’s reptilian rasping from behind closed doors?

Boyce ultimately makes it into a church basement, which is pretty much Mengele’s little shop of horrors if he was trying to engineer a zombie army of grotesque berserkers. The whole thing feels like a game of “Wolfenstein” gone 3D, but more grim. It’s here too that the film starts to sag, though there is tension added by the fact Boyce is black – no way to blend in among white supremacists (though otherwise, pretty much nothing is made of race). “Overlord” is largely Adepo’s film, and he carries it well, with both wide-eyed terror and heroic resolve. Magaro and Ollivier are also quite good in their limited stints, but Russell, filling a role akin to his father Kurt’s badass John Carpenter roles in “The Thing” and “Escape from New York,” doesn’t quite seal the deal. The part begs for more swagger. It works, but just barely, and is something of a missed opportunity for all.

The film, directed by Julius Avery, is a product of J.J. Abrams’s Bad Robot company, though Abrams has stipulated adamantly that it’s not a “Cloverfield” film. The connection between those entries is arcane at best anyhow, and something of a distraction. In construct, “Overlord” is more ambitious than those films, and its production values noticeably higher; but, then again, it’s about the fate of the democratic world hanging on the resolve of a bag of mixed nuts caught up in zombie-land.

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.

The Girl in the Spider’s Web

8 Nov

‘The Girl in the Spider’s Web’: Spy Salander brings work home in ‘Dragon Tattoo’ film

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As in “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” (either version), female revenge fantasies reign in “The Girl in the Spider’s Web” as hacker/punker/private investigator-cum-vigilante Lisbeth Salander (Clair Foy, “The Crown” and “First Man”) takes down rich abusive husbands (emptying out their bank accounts, giving the spoils to the abused and sending that video of the miscreant shagging the boss’ wife to said employer), deals with even deeper daddy and family issues than previous cinematic installments and, well, pretty much saves the world James Bond-style. Yeah, it’s a hive (nay, a web) of activity and a lot is asked of Foy, who’s not given much of a skin to fill — though she’s every bit as fierce and feral as Noomi Rapace and Rooney Mara were in earlier incarnations.

The story, adapted from the first posthumous adaptation of Stieg Larsson’s “Millennium” trilogy by novelist David Lagercrantz, centers around a rogue black market mob called the Spiders (sans Ziggy) in possession of a encryption program called Firefall that gives them the keys to every nuke around the globe. They’ve hijacked the master switch from Lisbeth after she, at the behest of its creator, a conflicted NSA agent (Stephen Merchant), hacks it away from the NSA to destroy it. To get the keys to the doomsday device, there are big chases, cloistered struggles and improbable getaways – Swedish cops make the Keystones look adroit – and the baddies are all fetching statuesque blondes, namely Sylvia Hoeks, so cold and steely as the relentless replicant in “Blade Runner 2049” and more of the same here.

Lisbeth has to handle a package – the savant son of said NSA genius (Christopher Convery), who is the key to Firefall going live. In all the crash-bang Bond-esque thrills, the nuance and dark gothic brooding that made the Swedish series and the American remake by David Fincher so compelling never gets switched on here. Foy looks the part, but her Lisbeth is nearly as cold and aloof as Hoeks’ sadistic stalker in red. (The smackdown-in-stilettos thing, which worked for Charlize Theron in “Atomic Blonde,” does not work here.) Plus, Lisbeth’s skills are so top-notch and she’s so well known, how is it Google or Amazon haven’t hired her away? I mean this “girl” is sharp and resourceful in a way that would make McGyver look inept. She’s able to hack an airport security system with a cache of dildos, and while driving a car she uses her iPhone to take control of the vehicle she’s pursuing – while careening across a bridge at a breakneck speed in a snowstorm.

Even when it winds back to the big family estate in the cold icy hinterlands, made so iconic and visually alluring by Fincher in 2009, the film’s still all about high-tech oneupmanship and soft-core, bind-torture shenanigans. Lakeith Stanfield, so good in “Sorry to Bother You,” drops in as the U.S. agent out to recover Firefall. His Needham allegedly is one of the greatest hackers of all time, yet we never see him at a keyboard, just behind the trigger of a very big gun. The script by Steven Knight (“Locke”), Jay Basu and director Fede Alvarez tries to strap too much in. It’s sleek but overloaded. As built, this web’s a fun, passing fancy too emotionally inert to snag anything worth caring about.

Transportation Tomorrow

5 Nov

New ways of getting around don’t get around need for laws and consensus, conference finds

 

An the elevated mass transit pod proposal by TransitX drew attention at Transportation Transformation: A Conference About the New Urban Mobility, held Saturday at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. (Photo: Tom Meek)

Hoping to explore “how people get around tomorrow,” city councillor Craig Kelley, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Cambridge Innovation Center convened “Transportation Transformation: A Conference About the New Urban Mobility” on Saturday, with panel topics ranging from the future of ride-sharing to “micro-mobility” devices, the need for regulation and even whether urban gondolas seem like a good idea.

Speakers included Kent Larson, director of city science at the MIT Media Lab; Assaf Biderman, founder and chief executive of Superpedestrian, the company behind the Copenhagen Wheel device; and Joseph Barr, director of the city’s Traffic, Parking & Transportation Department.

Regulation for safety, space considerations and pricing on e-scooters, dockless bikes and similar alternative transportation rippled throughout the afternoon. Barr talked in detail about the complications of policy and enforcement and the search for a way to address all in a broad manner so they were not “reinventing the wheel” – so to speak – each time a new e-transit device hits the streets.

The conference drew around 150 people, many in the urban planning sector., (Photo: Tom Meek)

Audience asked whether the new urban mobility movement wasn’t something mainly initiated by and for a socioeconomic class that was educated, well-off, white and male (statistics showed women behind men in use of the alternative transportation), while panelists pitched the ergonomic and environmental benefits of people-powered transit and e-vehicles shared and unlocked by app. Barr cited a Portland, Oregon, study that claimed a 20 percent migration to alternative transportation as a reliable means for commutes, errands and leisure; Denmark was mentioned as reporting that 41 percent of all work and school trips were made by bicycle or alternative means, and Copenhagen officials hope to see that increase to 50 percent by 2025.

Many of the 150 conference attendees at the institute’s Walker Memorial Building were in the urban planning sector and liked the transportation innovations being touted apart from the panels, particularly the elevated transit pod concept by TransitX and an enclosed e-bike that, like driverless nuTonomy cars, can navigate bike lanes without anyone pedaling.

Officials acknowledged challenges ahead for Cambridge, with its growing population, need to address forms of transit as they arrive and population divided over finding space and funds for alternative infrastructure – whether it’s bike lanes now or monorails in the future.

The conference “underscored that the biggest challenge we face in transforming transportation is not technological or even infrastructure, but changing people’s mindsets, habits and behavior,” said vice mayor Jan Devereux, who attended.

Museo

5 Nov

‘Museo’: Robbing the museum is one thing, getting rid of the haul afterward is impossible

 

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The title in English means “museum,” where one of art pair of thirtysomething slackers works. Hard up for cash and a new lease on life, the burgling duo pull off a heist of Mexico City’s National Museum of Anthropology on Christmas Eve, absconding with priceless artifacts that include a beloved Mayan mask. Based on true events from 1985, Alonso Ruizpalacios’ “Museo” cuts an eerie parallel to the Isabella Gardner Museum heist here about five years after. As in our infamous crime, the rub becomes what to do with the booty – it’s impossible to unload due to its indelible notoriety and the efforts to secure its return.

When we meet Juan (Gael Garcia Bernal) and Benjamin (Leonardo Ortizgris), it seems highly improbable they could pull off the lifting of a 10-cent candy bar, let along priceless art under heavy security. These guys are so tethered to their boyhood base that they have to borrow Benjamin’s father’s car for the caper; afterward, sitting around with him watching the breaking news, he berates the culprits not knowing it was his son and friend.

That’s largely how Ruizpalacios’ film unfurls – in surreal wisps of comedy, gonzo happenstance and meandering circumspect. Shot in lush, wide frames by Damián García (who also shot Ruizpalacios’ debut feature,“Güeros” in 2014), “Museo” has a wide-eyed feel. These lads are in over their head and, to complicate matters, are arrogant – well, Juan is, and Benjamin would follow him off the edge of a cliff without even looking down. The best evidence is the relentless negotiation with an uninterested art dealer (Simon Russell Beale) in the middle of entertaining mucky-mucks on a posh veranda overlooking the sea.

Everything becomes a near fiasco, but the pair seem to be imbued with near unlimited luck as they head on to the next new means to pawn the art. Their relationship becomes frayed along the way, and as they fall apart so do their prospects. The two actors sell it, too, forging a chemistry that spans the gamut from mutually shared hope and camaraderie to jealousy, blame and contempt. Bernal, best known for “Y Tu Mamá También” (2001) and other crossover works, anchors the film with his commanding charisma as a man on edge who wants so desperately to be in control, while Ortizgris, who starred in Ruizpalacios’ earlier effort, serves up the vulnerable offset. They nail a character study that rewards, even if the characters don’t necessarily.

One of the beauties of “Museo” is its rambling nature. It might not fit into any traditional classification, but it is a wondrous work of art, from frame one to finish.

Viper Club

5 Nov

‘Viper Club’: ER nurse mother does all she can when her son got missing, but that isn’t much

 

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With “A Private War” on its way – about a journalist in the field abroad and the dangers she faces – “Viper Club” might just be an hors d’oeuvre for those hungry for such an unsavory endeavor. The film’s rote: A mother (Susan Sarandon) with a freelance video journalist son (Julian Morris) wrestles with uncertainty when he goes missing. Helen’s no weepy victim; she’s an ER nurse in an New York hospital who knows how to deal with trauma and hold it together inside. It’s she who tells the emotionally sputtering floor doctor how to tell parents their child didn’t make it after a school shooting – for which he receives a face slap.

At first Helen is comforted by the efforts of the FBI and NSA, but then they become aloof, evasive and want her to keep it mum. She wants an exchange like the infamous one for Bowe Bergdahl, but the agency says her son is not military. Frustration mounts and at work Helen gets her wings clipped for providing extra medicine to a comatose girl. She’s on the verge of breaking when Sam (Matt Bomer), a colleague of Andy’s, shows up and tells her how she can buy Andy back through the right channels. Sam’s so squeaky clean and certain of the process that you feel it’s all too good to be true, but Helen, desperate, goes all in.

It’s not a very uplifting film by any regard, but it does capture the frustration and isolation of such a sad and dreadful situation. The film also underscores the state of journalism, where freelancers hit the field without insurance or protection, just a loose cabal of supporters sewn together by necessity and without a net of their own. The film, directed by Maryam Keshavarz, has a made-for-TV sheen to – it is, in fact, a YouTube-backed venture, and the setting too is quite narrow: Besides a few blurry images of  war footage, most of the action takes place in Helen’s apartment or the white, bright, bustling ER ward. For the most part, we sit with Helen, tortured as she is and wishing something more would happen.