Archive | July, 2014

Of Boys, Beer and Young Women

26 Jul

I was mostly irate at the school for its purported mishandling of the sexual assault case (the article, with its point being that colleges are ill-prepared to handle such complaints, took the administration to task for a poor investigation, dismissing the complaint and accordingly, discouraging the victim from filing criminal charges), an ire that was further inflamed by President Mark D. Gearan’s perfunct and seemingly insensitive letter to alumni and parents, that coldly stated that the school had followed procedure and does not condone sexual assault. Upon receiving that email and a Boston area alumni “Happy Hour” notice within the same hour, I swore I’d never give another dime to the school (not that I gave a lot, but I contributed a small tithe annually). My long held pride in having attended the school had given way to shame.   Continue reading

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And So It Goes

26 Jul


July 24, 2014

<i>And So It Goes</i>

 

Rob Reiner, a.k.a. “Meathead” and creative force behind such quirky classics, This is Spinal Tap, When Harry Met Sally and The Princess Bride, gets back to his roots with this bag of mixed nuts about an embittered widower hit with some life-altering events that threaten to melt his icy heart and make him feel again. It’s a clichéd premise no doubt, but thankfully Reiner and cast play up the comedic angle and make what could have been a flat, Lifetime weepy something springy and possessed of an intermittent joy.

Set in the coddled community of Fairfield Connecticut, realtor Oren Little (Michael Douglas) is trying to get over the loss of his wife and sell his palatial estate (for a cool 8 mill), but because of a professional slump and the personal setbacks, he slums it in a four-unit rooming house on the Long Island Sound and grouses about his neighbors with three-olive rancor. The script written by Mark Andrus who pennedAs Good as it Gets (you’ve gotta love these inspired titles) employs some pretty frilly shenanigans—and not all of them stick. Take the fact Oren’s son (Scott Shepherd) is a recovering addict and heading to jail for insider trading. It’s never explained how he got from shooting up to shorting shares, but so it goes. He’s also got a ten-year-old daughter, Sarah (Sterling Jerins), who needs a custodian as mom’s whereabouts are unknown. When asked to take on Sarah, Oren pushes back, declaring he was a lousy dad. That’s the kind of prick we’re dealing with, at least initially.   Continue reading

A Most Wanted Man

25 Jul
Philip Seymour Hoffman commands attention in A Most Wanted Mman, one of his last performances

Philip Seymour Hoffman commands attention in A Most Wanted Mman, one of his last performances

Sadly, 2014 has become the year of goodbye performances from Philip Seymour Hoffman. Earlier this year the talented actor who tragically left us far too early appeared in John Slattery’s directorial debut God’s Pocket, and now the release of A Most Wanted Manadds to Hoffman’s posthumous big-screen farewell. (He’ll still appear in the final two films of The Hunger Games series.)

It’s somewhat fitting too, as Hoffman’s role of Günther Bachmann, the head of a spare German intelligence unit charged in the wake of 9/11 to suss out radical Islamic terror cells, requires range, nuance, and an accent — which by many accords, you could see a lesser actor botching to a campy awful degree. The film, based on spymaster John Le Carré’s 21st novel, takes place in Hamburg, where Mohammed Atta set up the 9/11 attacks allegedly because intelligence was weak or nonexistence. Bachmann and his ragtag team take to their task very seriously and are dogged in their pursuit of new assets. Like most characters in Le Carré novels, Bachmann harbors a troubled past (an oversight in Beruit gets some unfortunates killed) and has little time for anything but work, except good scotch of which he consumes plenty. Continue reading

They Came Together

17 Jul
Paul Rudd and Amy Poehler parody the meet-cutes of rom-coms in  They Came Together


Satire and send ups are sharp, dangerous implements in the toolbox of cinematic comedy. Wield them right and you get cherished chucklers like Airplane!There’s Something About Mary, and even Scary Movie, but when held in slack, sloppy hands and rushed to the screen, the result winds up on the other side of funny — just take Date MovieMeet the Spartans, or anything else by the splice ’em and spoof ’em team of Seltzer-Friedberg. Most unfortunately — or perhaps I should say, most unfunnily — They Came Together lands in the latter camp. The micro-budgeted flick was shot in 20-something days and could have used a bit of camp (pun intended). That’s not to say They Came Together doesn’t have its rewards, but there’s just not enough of them to hold the muddled mass together.

The film, co-written and directed by David Wain, marks a reunion of sorts for Wain and writer Michael Showalter. Back in 2001 the pair churned out the American Pie meets Meatballs cult hit Wet Hot American Summer. In between, Wain made good on his comedic promise with solid efforts like Role Models (2008) and Wanderlust(2012) — but sometimes it’s not wise to go back to the well.   Continue reading

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

17 Jul

‘Dawn of the Planet of the Apes’: Primates can’t win when hawks lurk in their ranks

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The one thing that always struck me about the “Planet of the Apes” franchise – old and new – is the obvious, but not often discussed, allegory for slavery in which the master becomes the slave fighting for freedom. Sure, you can take it as a straight-up sci-fi thriller, but most post-apocalyptic, post-civilization flicks are about man losing control and trying to regain that control or at least a safe foothold where the seeds of civilization can be nurtured back. It’s less intimidating when zombies rule the land, but when those once incarcerated and mistreated are freed and look for a little payback, the nightmare becomes palpable and pulls on our collective social guilt.

071414i Dawn of the Planet of the ApesMuch of this percolates up in the “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes,” the newest chapter in the series reboot that has swapped top-shelf makeup and costume craftsmanship for CGI wizardry and crash bang FX (the old-school costuming is still a wonderment, and more impressive than its computerized successor, especially given the test of time). It’s 10 years after the last episode that left Caesar (Andy Serkis, who as Gollum in “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy elevated animation acting to an art form) and his ape posse living in the woods outside San Francisco. In those years a simian virus has wiped out most of the human population, but pockets persist, including one on the other side of the Golden Gate Bridge in the burned-out bowels of the bay city. The humans wanting to get a dam flowing to get power back on infringe upon the apes’ territory (neither really knew the other existed) and so a rub for resources and rights ensues.

On both sides there’s hawks: Gary Oldman as the shoot-first Dreyfus, leader of the San Fran mob and Koba (Toby Kebbell), the ape scarred in human captivity, who wants a war at all costs and subverts Caesar’s efforts at diplomacy and peace. In the middle looms Malcolm (Jason Clarke, the clear-eyed water torturer in “Zero Dark Thirty”), an engineer, the other voice of reason and a lieutenant to Dreyfus. They’re all idealist, but all that they do is a match in fuel-soaked tinder.  Continue reading

Underwater Dreams

13 Jul

July 12, 2014

 

<i>Underwater Dreams</i>

Mary Mazzio’s brief but touching pic about five Latin high school boys from an impoverished, landlocked town in Arizona who enter a NASA/Navy sponsored underwater robotics competition, taking on titans like MIT with Exxon sponsorship behind them, percolates with keen social insight that otherwise might have gotten lost in a rote, can-do underdog story. The two high school teachers who sought the opportunity decided to compete on the collegiate level because the disappointment of finishing far back would be mollified by the daunting impressiveness of the field. Had this been a Hollywood “based on” adaptation or a Hallmark fantasy, the Davey vs. Goliath drama would seem trumped up, maudlin and implausible, but as a straight-up documentary with talking heads from both sides of the engineering contest (the Arizona five and the vast MIT squad), it’s head-on, unadulterated and far more affecting than anything that could have been hatched in a studio lab.  Continue reading

Life Itself

4 Jul

‘Life Itself’: Roger Ebert gets his movie, and it’s a romance with film, Chaz, Siskel

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Roger Ebert (loosely paraphrased) felt movies were “machines” for examining life, an extension of dreams, fears, aspirations and so on, places a person might not otherwise venture. The film “Life Itself,” a documentary about Ebert and his final days, is such a poetic reflection, challenging the viewer to take stock of what a life well-lived should look like and what it might be like to confront death.

070214i Life ItselfEbert, who grew up of modest means in Illinois, was obsessed at a very young age with newspapers and telling stories. At the University of Illinois he relished being the school paper’s editor and making critical editorial and ethical decisions on matters of world-shaping importance, most notably the assassination of John F. Kennedy. He would later stumble into the post of film critic at the Chicago Sun-Times when being a film critic was not a coveted or much respected job. Along with Pauline Kael, Andrew Sarris and Gene Siskel, he helped redefine the role of the critic and transform it into an art form.  Continue reading