Not so long ago, for about two or three years I taught creative writing to girls and young women who were wards of the state at the Germaine Lawrence School in Arlington. These were women who had had lived hard lives, suffering drug addiction, rape, multiple pregnancies by the age of 16 and abuse. A friend of mine who worked at the school and knew I wrote had grants and was looking for artists to help the girls shape their stories and find their inner voice. I was apprehensive at first, but agreed to do so and found it one of the most rewarding and eye-opening experiences of my life. I’m certain the girls did more for me than I did for them.
But there would be times when a girl would not show up for class, and when I would ask why, I was told routinely it was because they had gone “on the run” and was likely using or worse. There were also times one would have a fit during our sessions and need to be restrained by the ready staff members in the room. It was violent and shocking to me. The girls were raw, sweet and tough, yet highly vulnerable. “Fragile fierceness” is what I called it. Continue reading
‘Closed Circuit’: Twists, turns, tension and peril as trial becomes law vs. government
This is a deft, thinking person’s thriller from the team of producers behind 2011’s “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy.” Clearly they know intrigue, though “Closed Circuit” is less of a brain boggle than the Cold War chess game based on the John le Carré novel. Based on real events, it’s never a street brawl either, though plenty of blood is spilt – mostly offscreen. London is rocked by a massive terrorist attack that kills more than 100 innocents. The means of mayhem is nothing special: a truck full of explosives is parked in front of an open market and triggered, suicide style. What is special is the fact that the mastermind is so easily caught.
The rub comes during the staging of the trial. The Crown, for security reasons, wants a closed hearing due to sensitive “secret evidence” that could put the public safety at risk – or so that’s the line being toed by the attorney general, played by a slimmed-down James Broadbent as an avuncular and creepy puppet master. As the trial gears up, a nosy defense attorney (James Lowe) commits suicide by jumping from a tall building. His replacements don’t buy the unhappy-gay story circulating in the rumor mill and begin to poke around too, but they have other challenges to contend with. Martin (Eric Bana) and Claudia (Rebecca Hall) have been romantically involved. It wrecked his marriage, and if a trace of their involvement is evident they will be booted from the trial. To complicate matters even more, the two can’t communicate during the closed-session segment of the trial and only Claudia, as the special advocate with classified clearance, can look at the secret evidence. Continue reading
A bunch of well-to-do yuppies head off to a remote manse for a family reunion of sorts. Dad’s recently retired and made millions as the head of marketing for a defense contractor (isn’t the market the government?). The renovation of the aging structure is supposed to be his golden years’ project, but things in the woods aren’t so idyllic. His eldest sons, the uber-yup (Joe Swanberg, whose upcoming directorial effort, “Drinking Buddies” is an indie must-see) and the doughy academic (A.J. Bowen), are continuously, and ideologically, at each other’s throats. Along too are the younger sister and brother, and all have wives or SOs, but they mostly don’t matter – they’re all primarily fodder for a group of animal-masked marauders who mysteriously show up and pick apart the family one by one, starting with the opening salvo of crossbow bolts.
Cellphones naturally don’t work (though the reason why is solid) and each swing of a creaky door yields either a booby trap, knife-wielding psychopath or false alarm gasp from the audience.
As boilerplate as the plot is, the sense of dread and the motive why drives the film. The production values are low and the acting flat with the exception of Swanberg and Sharni Vinson as the prof’s demurring tag-along who grew up in a survivalist compound in Australia. She’s a can-doer and the wrench that puts a grind in the killers’ grand scheme. The script by Simon Barrett (of the cult-horror collaborative “V/H/S”) offers some dark and funny barbs, both at the dinner table as siblings feud over trite matters and at the moments of macabre demise. The direction too by Adam Wingard (another “V/H/S” alum, along with Swanberg) is competent and boosts some adroit twists, but as with most slasher fare, there are plenty of WTF moments.
“Next” isn’t on par with the original 1972 “The Last House on the Left,” which is still the gold standard in home-invasion thrill-kill rides, but a cut above most. Sometimes DIY love on the low trumps a studio hack, especially when it’s a film about hacks.
Cambridge Day, Charleston City Paper and Here and Sphere
‘The Butler’: He serves eight presidents, and as a tale of black experience in U.S.
In the wake of the George Zimmerman trial, you couldn’t ask for a better movie – or I should say movies – to help carve out a common understanding in the middle of the racial divide. No matter how you took the Zimmerman decision, Ryan Coogler’s “Fruitvale Station” delivered an air-tight version of the same story with the same tragic end, the main difference being that the shooting took place before an audience of cellphone cameras, leaving no wiggle room for conjecture as to what happened between two men in the dark. But also, and more to the point, the “based on real events” docudrama tapped eloquently into the plight of the young black man struggling to succeed in a society reticent to give him a fair shake based on the color of his skin.
To underscore that, and for anyone who’s of the mindset that we’re beyond the Civil Rights era and affirmative action and that opportunity is out there for all to take on equal terms, sit through “Lee Daniels’ The Butler” and see if you still feel that way. Perhaps the best way to describe “The Butler” is as a short, painful history of the black man in America. The film centers on one, who grew up basically a slave in the early 1900s and went on to serve eight presidents as a staff server in the White House. Continue reading
For fans of blockbusters out there still hungry for a real summer hit to carry you into the fall, I’m sorry to inform you that “Elysium,” Neill Blomkamp’s follow-up to “District 9,” isn’t the answer – or it’s about as worthy an answer as “Pacific Rim” was. What the South African wunderkind, who wowed audiences with his stark and inventive first film (which garnered several Oscar nods, including a Best Picture bid) has conjured is not so much a new, grim re-envisioning of the not-so-distant future (it’s 2154), but a retooling of the film that made him an A-list name and, unfortunately, something addled by everything bloated and boxed-up that Hollywood brings to such a project when it gets its hooks deep into an upcoming auteur.
The plot moves like whiplash. L.A. is now a wasteland reminiscent of the South African ghettos that the wayward aliens in “District 9” inhabited and the rich reside on the lush, luxury ring-world (thank you Larry Niven!) of the title that’s just a 20-minute shuttle ride up into the sky. Up there, universal health care is a reality, they have medi-pods that can heal anything from cancer to the clap. They can even rebuild your face should it get shot off – if your brain still works. But to get a medi-pod to heal, you must be a barcoded citizen of Elysium; if you live on Earth, you’re living in the new third world and there’s no grand social program to cover your ass. Continue reading
I remember back in college (and no, I was not in college when “Deep Throat” was released in 1972) my dorm neighbor had a poster on his door of an old man with a shit-eating grin on his face and a T-shirt saying “I choked Linda Lovelace to death.” At the time, I found the image devilish and perverse; now I find the notion sad and somewhat misogynistic – sentiments reinforced by the biopic “Lovelace,” which details the infamous porn star’s story from the POV of her controversial 1980 memoir, “Ordeal.”
For those not in the know, Linda Lovelace (born Linda Boreman) was the first adult performer to become a household name and regular punchline for Johnny Carson and other late-night talk show hosts as the free-love ’60s melted into the commercialism of the ’70s. Part of that was because she was simply the star of one of the first adult films with high-quality production values and (ahem) a plot – one in which Lovelace’s ingénue can’t find her clitoris because it’s in the back of her throat. The film caught fire (it would make $600 million, and all Lovelace got was $1,250). Hugh Hefner (played with avuncular smarm by James Franco) was a fan, Lovelace got the red carpet treatment and some even embraced the film as an anthem of female sexual liberation. But behind closed doors was a different story – one of abuse at the hands of Lovelace’s husband, Chuck Traynor. Continue reading