The Beguiled

20 Jun

Nicole Kidman turns in a commanding performance as the matron of a Southern estate undone by the arrival of a wounded soldier

Focus Features

Nicole Kidman turns in a commanding performance as the matron of a Southern estate undone by the arrival of a wounded soldier.

 

Given Sofia Coppola’s penchant for strong female characters and repressed sexuality, be it the pairing of Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson in Lost in Translation (2003) or the alluringly perverse texture of The Virgin Suicides (1999), it somewhat makes sense that she set her sights on remaking Civil War Gothic The Beguiled, which starred Clint Eastwood and Geraldine Page. That 1971 film, based on Thomas P. Cullinan’s novel The Painted Devil was directed by Don Siegel — who would later that year pair with Eastwood for the maverick cop avenger fantasy Dirty Harry — who mined Eastwood for all his macho virility as a Yank soldier, wounded behind enemy lines and brought to an all-woman seminary to recuperate. Given the prim nature of the house, the sheer presence of male pheromones wreaks havoc on the females’ sensibilities as Eastwood’s Corporal John McBurney proves to be a feral manipulator, having his way with several of the women and even pitting them against one another. Coppola’s version throws a dash of saltpeter on the role here undertaken by Colin Farrell who turns the good corporal into a more humane, less lurid incarnation.

You’d think a softer touch might educe a deeper plumbing of the complex emotions that get brought to the surface by war, strictly imposed Christian values, and a member of the enemy — and the opposite sex — lying in the very next room, but that doesn’t necessarily prove to be the case. Coppola chases authenticity in small, subtle strokes. Siegel took a far different approach, creating something of a psychological thriller, inserting gauzy fantasy sequences and quick intercuts of the lean Eastwood in bed with one of the lasses as horror etches across the faces of the estate’s matrons attuned to the meaning of the giggles and bumps echoing from the far reaches of the house. The film, a box office disappointment that was to prove Eastwood’s range beyond revenge westerns, bordered on near spectacle, but it possessed an edgy energy that never flagged.  Continue reading

Watch Dogging the Historic Charm of Harvard Square

12 Jun

Harvard Square isn’t losing Defense Fund, it’s just gaining Neighborhood Association

Longtime thorn in side of developers morphs with new generation

Gladys “Pebble” Gifford, Caroline James, Marilee Meyer and Abra Berkowitz amid work on Harvard Square issues. (Photo: Carole Perrault)

The Harvard Square Defense Fund is back – rebranded.

The citizens group had some powerhouse years after its founding in 1979 by Gladys “Pebble” Gifford – blocking fast food franchises, sending the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum off to Boston and reshaping Harvard’s Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts – but has been dormant for years, even as people griped that the quaint square was losing its charm amid an infestation of banks and chain retailers. Believing the fund dissolved as far back as 2008, when Gifford gave testimony against the coming of The Sinclair nightclub in 2011, she did so as just a neighbor.

“The directors all got elderly or died. We thought we’d officially put it to bed,” Gifford said of her organization.

But when the city announced a $4.6 million plan to revamp the square’s 89-year-old Out of Town News kiosk and surrounding plaza, activists worried the alterations would nullify its classic charm and iconic features.

Members of the group Our Harvard Square, which includes Suzanne Blier, a Harvard architectural historian, and Susan Labandibar, president of Tech Networks of Boston, began calling for the structure – already on the list of the National Register of Historic Places – to be designated as a landmark by the Cambridge Historic Commission in hopes it would further ensure its preservation.  Continue reading

Wonder Woman

3 Jun

The beleaguered “Justice League” franchise, barely off the ground with the turgid “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” beatdown last summer, gets a much-needed shot in the arm from the feminine side side of the tracks. Fans can breathe a sigh of relief with the release of “Wonder Woman,” which proves far sharper and more fun than any of its DC predecessors. The big question will be whether a woman win over the fanboys who – if we use box office as an indicator – like their super beginnings beefy, cut and baritone.

A peek into the Magic 8 Ball says yes.

The film may be long for what it is (nearly two and a half hours) but it’s also lithe and imbued with deft nuggets of humor, and it keeps moving. The opening scene, in which we meet Wonder Woman/Diana Prince (Gal Gadot) in the present, proves to be a Justice League tie-in. It’s an odd, disjointed bit, but we don’t linger before getting whisked back to a young Diana on the island of Themyscira, which for all intents and purposes is the DC reimagining of the Isle of Lesbos as it’s occupied solely by female Amazon warriors led by Queen Hippolyta (Connie Nelson) and General Antiope (Robin Wright). Besides being beguiled by Nelson and Wright, who speak with a weird accent and have fine, sculpted physiques that folks half their age would be lucky to have, we get mumbo jumbo about the rivalry between Zeus and Ares and the circumstances that produced Diana – the only child born on an island void of men. (A page from Amazon literature informs us they’re good for reproduction, but not pleasure.) Continue reading

Alien: Covenant

19 May

Almost 40 Years Since ‘Alien’ Brought Sci-Fi To Pop Culture, ‘Covenant’ Goes Back To Basics

"Alien: Covenant." (Courtesy Mark Rogers/Twentieth Century Fox)

It’s hard to believe it has been nearly 40 years since that little wiggle of a vorpal worm ripped its way out of John Hurt’s abdomen in “Alien,” the sci-fi movie experience that took the fun and fantasy of “Star Wars” and flipped it on its head.

That film’s helmer Ridley Scott, a genius by some accounts, a hack by others and now almost 80 years of age, has shown great commitment to the franchise returning again for “Alien: Covenant.” The film is the sequel to “Prometheus” (2012), which is the first chapter of a prequel series to Scott’s 1979 space chiller that kept audiences up at night, fearful of mutant xenomorph with cascading sets of jaws.

“Alien: Covenant” takes place 10 years after “Prometheus” and approximately two decades before Ripley and her salvage crew discover that wrecked ship loaded with leathery undulating egg casings that we now know better than to peer down into. Bolstered by an impressively eclectic cast, “Prometheus” was a quirky reboot and something of a meta contemplation on creationism and origins that didn’t resonate with a wide fan base — not enough aliens and too many hidden agendas.

The good news with “Alien: Covenant,” especially for loyalists, is that Scott goes back to the basics. But because he has to build off the groundwork laid by his 2012 effort, there’s also plenty of ideologue about man, his creations superseding him and his viability in the universe over time. Scott and his screenwriters — John Logan and Dante Harper — do a nice job getting the plot points to line up seamlessly, though pacing and character development are sacrificed as a result.  Continue reading

Inman Square Redesign

4 May
Plans for Inman Square add a plaza on Hampshire Street that bends it to the west where it meets Cambridge Street.

Just in time for National Bike Month – and almost a year after bicyclist Amanda Phillips was struck and killed – the city announced its redesign plans for Inman Square.

The chosen design revealed Tuesday is the “signaled” solution, also referred to as the “Northside Bend,” which splits one complex intersection into two, putting a bumpout (and public plaza) in front of where the Punjabi Dhaba restaurant is situated. That results in bending Hampshire Street to the west as it meets Cambridge Street.

The solution was met with mixed reactions, but most everyone was happy something was being done, city councilor Marc McGovern said.

Cambridge officials have felt pressure to make a safer, more bikeable city sooner, rather than later, since the death of Phillips and a fellow bicyclist only months later. Activist groups such as Cambridge Bicycle Safety and the Boston Cyclists Union have been among the most vocal in pushing for solutions – most hoping for a peanut-shaped “roundabout” solution considered to offer more safety benefits, said Michael Davidson of Cambridge Bicycle Safety, pointing to its “15 mph rated speeds and raised crosswalks.”  Continue reading

Make Way for the Bike Lane

27 Apr
Members of the Cambridge Bicycle Committee listen to Dutch transportation planner Jan Nederveen on Sunday on Cambridge Street, which is getting a protected bike lanes. (Photo: Michael Davidson‎ via Facebook)

The first public meeting on a Cambridge Street separated bike lane project drew some 150 cyclists, street residents and concerned business proprietors and others Tuesday, and the design – shifting the bike lane between parked cars and the curb – and summer timeline were received with overwhelming support.

The proposed lane passes by major city waypoints including Cambridge Rindge and Latin School, where high schoolers have been advocating for a safer way to bike to campus, Cambridge Hospital and the Cambridge Main Library. The meeting was held at the school.

“As the mom of a CRLS student who bikes to school, and as a bike commuter myself, I can’t wait for a comprehensive network that will allow us to get around the city safely and without polluting,” said Ruthann Rudel, a Rindge Avenue resident and Cambridge Bicycle Committee member.  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