Archive | March, 2015

Muck

28 Mar
By Tom Meek (Paste Magazine)
March 26, 2015  |  10:20pm
<i>Muck</i>

Cannibalistic humanoids and butyraceous posteriors abound in Steve Wolsh’s slack horror mash-up that borrows much from Neil Marshall’s genuinely bone-chillingThe Descent. In 2005’s The Descent, blind albino cannibals who live in subterranean enclaves assail an all-female spelunking detachment. Here the C.H.U.D.s du jour hang out in a marsh on Cape Cod and have at it with a batch of comely coeds and their buff beaus who have holed up in a stately manse. The “what” and “why” never come into conversation—as the bodies begin to amass, the lithe twentysomethings don’t begin to consider how a tribe of primal alabaster “creepers” suddenly came to be in the middle of America’s most venerated vacation seaboard. Nothing, not even a good ol’ “What the fuck?”

Somewhere in the middle, I half expected a rewind to an experiment gone wrong or some form of contamination like The Hills Have Eyes, but it didn’t happen. Wolsh dives straight into the murk of carnage and undulating breasts and never comes up to catch his breath. As a result, the gonzo assault becomes an uneven straddle ofEvil Dead camp and rote splatter, leaving Muck to hobble along disjointedly like Jamie Lee Curtis’ battered heroine as she tries to escape Michael Myers in Halloween. Continue reading

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The Gunman

21 Mar

‘The Gunman’: Penn is almost mightier than weaknesses of misfiring action film

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Sean Penn jumps into the action genre – or that’s the tag everyone’s layering onto his involvement in “The Gunman.” In concept the film, a thinking person’s espionage thriller with a serious thespian at the fore and an international slant, has the bones of “A Most Wanted Man,” “The Constant Gardener” and even the Bourne films, but that’s as far the genetic similarities go. In the bigger kinetic rendering, the uneven pacing and seemingly smart twists that suddenly nosedive into cliché confine the film much the same way its uninspired title does: The obvious is floated as a banner that implies something more and deeper to come, but it never does.

032015i The GunmanPenn’s up for the role as a gun for hire, employed by a Blackwater type org that pulls the strings behind the soldiers of fortune in movies such as “Dogs of War.” His Jack Terrier (I kept thinking dog too) is buff, physically well oiled and ready for action at the drop of a pin. His only weaknesses are that he smokes and, while on assignment in the Congo, falls for an idealistic aid worker, Annie (a fetching Jasmine Trinca).

Given the film is directed by Pierre Morel, who steered Liam Neeson through much mayhem in “Taken,” you’d think Annie’s safety would be that catalyst for the gloves to come off, but the film (based on the 1981 novel by Jean-Patrick Manchette) is more concerned with corporations deploying operatives in third world hell-holes to tip the balance of power for profit. Annie serves mostly as a raw point between Jack and his handler Felix (a misused Javier Bardem) after an assassination of the Congo’s mining minister ripples across the years and continents. Continue reading

An Honest Liar

21 Mar

‘An Honest Liar’: Exposer of magical lies arrives at 80 with some secrets of his own

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A sweet rambling appreciation of the once-renowned magician known as “The Amazing Randi” gets dressed up in the robes of a “serious” documentary in “An Honest Liar.” Filmmakers Tyler Measom, of the breaking Mormon documentary “Sons of Perdition,” and Justin Weinstein  take a straight-ahead approach, employing archival footage to show Randi (born Randall James Hamilton Zwinge in Toronto in the 1920s) back in the day, escaping from bank vaults and straitjackets while hanging upside down from a helicopter. Randi aspired to recreate the masterworks of Houdini out of admiration and later – after he cracked his spine during a test run before a TV appearance – became a debunker of psychics and charlatans who claim to have experienced the touch of god or paranormal powers in their fleecing of the public for profit.

032015i An Honest Liar bRandi’s most notable targets were Stanford-backed telekinetic Uri Geller and dramatic “omniscient” evangelist Peter Popoff, whose scam of his wife feeding him information through an earpiece inspired the 1993 Steve Martin movie “Leap of Faith.” Randi’s exploits before and after the injury landed him on “The Tonight Show” with Johnny Carson several times, and he assisted Alice Cooper with some onstage chicanery (the rock star’s staged beheading). Hoodwinking all-stars Penn and Teller and Jamy Ian Swiss chime in to attest Randi’s “amazingness.”

The film’s pervading premise – that Randi’s a purist and lover and champion of the truth – gets thrown in the mixer when it’s revealed (the great reveal) that Randi may have had a hand in a long-running cover-up involving his longtime partner, José Alvarez. Also telling is the careful balance Randi places on the context of his father’s rejection, the origin of his love of magic  (seeing Harry Blackstone levitate a woman) and his reticence to come out until he hit the big eight-oh. In the end, when all the shells have been shuffled and it’s time to pull back the curtain, “An Honest Liar” is less about amazing you than it is about touching you.  Continue reading

Casting Doubt

21 Mar

The documentary “Merchants of Doubt,” based on the 2010 book by Naomi Oreskes and Erik M. Conway, targets the naysayers of climate change, shining a light on the corporations that employ scientists denying climate change to misdirect and obfuscate in order to protect the bottom line. The book’s authors argue that this practice started with Big Tobacco. When the health risks of smoking became widely documented by the medical and scientific communities, tobacco responded by conducting their own studies, putting scientists in their pocket, conjuring up counter-evidence and most importantly, casting doubt.

“It’s easy to poke holes,” Oreskes, a professor of history of science at Harvard said in an interview. “Real science is hard.” And it seems especially arcane when it comes to the state of our environment’s health. “Global warming and climate change are very complex,” she explains. “There’s a lot of science behind it, so it’s not so easy to explain, and scientists are not the best at explaining. That’s why it’s easy for a ‘merchant of doubt’ to hold up a snowball in Congress.” (Oreskes will take part in a Q&A at the Kendall Square Cinema after the 7:10 p.m. shows Friday and Saturday.)

Naomi Oreskes, author of the book "Merchants of Doubt." (Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics)

The reference to Sen. Jim Inhofe’s now-infamous gimmick of tossing a snowball at his fellow lawmakers to “prove” that global warming’s a myth is one of the many face-palming gems in “Merchants of Doubt.” The documentary is directed by Richard Kenner, best known for turning a few people vegan with“Food, Inc,” the raw and edgy examination of the mass livestock and meatpacking industries, which was Oscar-nominated for Best Documentary in 2010. Oreskes and Conway’s book singles out the squad of well-paid scientist and academics, referred to contemptuously as the “gang of four,” who have been doing the bidding of big business since the cigarette lobby of the 1960s. The movie focuses in on one of the four, the aging physicist Fred Singer, as well as on the Koch brothers and Marc Morano, a mouthpiece for conservative interests, who, while lacking discernible academic cred (his CV lists ties to Rush Limbaugh and Inhofe), compels with the kind of winning charisma and unshakable confidence that would make Ronald Reagan smile.

Kenner’s environmental illumination isn’t quite as biting or tightly tied as “Food, Inc,” and while, comparisons to “An Inconvenient Truth,” 2007’s Oscar winner,  and “The 11th Hour” are inevitable, “Merchants of Doubt” walks its own path and confidently so. It’s less about trying to convince us that global warming is happening, more about showing that there are people out there trying to actively deny it for monetary gain. Kenner punctures the decade-spanning narrative with interludes of a wry magician (Jamy Ian Swiss who is also in “An Honest Lair” also opening in Boston at the same time) wowing a small crown with deft sleight-of-hand. The cutaways from the “merchants” to the acts of chicanery draw a barbed parallel to the work Morano and Co. do as they spin and deflect for “deep carbonized” special interests.

Marc Morano, a leading climate change skeptic, featured in "Merchants of Doubt" (Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics)

And to Inhofe’s point, Oreskes understands the lazy logic employed there and points to the shifting jet stream as the polar ice caps melt. The pummeling that Boston took this winter and our current all-time snowfall record helps underscore the point. “People finally are starting to get it,” Oreskes says, perking up on the Boston subject, “that it’s not just a singular freak occurrence and that these weather pattern disruptions are the result of climate change and global warming.”

Well before the movie, Oreskes’s work researching scientific consensus on climate change and advocacy had been a touchstone for many, especially those who had embraced the notion of “going green” as something more than just a lifestyle choice. “Scientific debates are settled by evidence, not arguments,” says Quinton Zondervan, president of Green Cambridge and a fan of Oreskes’s book. “At the end of the day,” he poses in a vein akin to Oreskes, “people need to ask themselves a simple question: Am I making the world a better place, or am I contributing to its destruction?”   Continue reading

The Hunting Ground

14 Mar

‘The Hunting Ground’: Quest to defeat sex assault becomes more of an odyssey

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Documentary filmmaker Kirby Dick again navigates the grim, dark terrain of sex offense, this time delving into the pervasive culture of rape on college campuses. The result in “The Hunting Ground” may be somewhat less effective than his sharp, Oscar-nominated depiction of sexual assault and the subsequent cover-ups within the military in “The Invisible War,” but no less poignant. The timing of the film couldn’t be more apt or ironic either, as trending frat house SAE (Sigma Alpha Epsilon, or “sexual assault expected” as the film has it) makes national headlines this week for its racist rites and gets tagged here for rampant drink, drug and bag tactics. It seems that where there’s smoke there’s fire.

031315i LeviathanThe film centers on two former assault victims, Andrea Pino and Annie Clark, young women who through diligence and genuine concern for others become de facto activists and leverage Title IX to hold schools accountable. Their quest, while earnest and just, meanders at times. It’s here that Dick seems to have lost his way as well, but as the girls’ state-hopping odyssey continues onward he uses their quest to float the notion that nothing is being done at these universities because the presidents don’t want a scandal – any type of stain or negative publicity could mean the loss of funding and well-heeled applicants. “We don’t condone rape, but it never happens” seems to be the mantra from coast to coast, and god forbid if it’s a prized student athlete caught in the crosshairs.

Most moving is the testimony of Erica Kinsman, who alleged she was raped by Heisman-winning quarterback and certain NFL first-rounder Jameis Winston. The pain and anguish she endures as she’s pushed aside by authorities and administrators at Florida State is as palpable as it is frustrating. What’s telling is her composure and the deep-seeded support from her parents, who until then bled FSU red. Also picked out in the film are Harvard President Drew Gilpin Faust, who refused comment.  Continue reading

More Snow, Please

14 Mar

Please Let There Be More, One Bostonian’s Plea for Snow

Boston needs more snow. Please let it snow. This isn’t a plea, it’s an imperative, a must, a necessity, a demand.

Sure we’re all burnt out by cabin fever, parking anxiety and T shutdown woes, but we’ve come too far to have nothing to show for it. We’re at 100+, just a scant few inches from the all-time Boston snowfall record. To have arrived at such a precipice of double-cutting distinction, we’ve endured arctic cold 30 degrees below the seasonal average, fought the space saver fight in close quarters, had roofs cave in and lived through it. To not make the record now would be to run the Boston Marathon and drop out at Mass Ave and Boylston. It would be akin to the Patriots’ perfect season going up in smoke to David Tyree and the Giants in Super Bowl XLII.

There’s no two-finger, helmet pinning catch to thwart the residents of the Hub, all we need is for mother nature to finish the job, to cap off the season of our displeasure with a final dusting or two, an angry, yet liberating icing atop our high-towered, multi-layered cake of misery. The winter of 2015 has truly tried Boston’s patience, mettle and sense of neighborly civility. We’ve been so laden that the snow farms that amassed in the Seaport and Danehy Park out in Cambridge grew so tall and Brobdingnag that the ceaselessly laboring bulldozers and backhoes seeking to shift the bane of our obstructed roadways to Babel aspiring heights looked like matchbox miniatures left strewn about a playground sandpit. It didn’t help either that the T, the backbone of Boston’s commerce, came to an utter standstill, further stranding and isolating the snowbound and the weary, and to add insult to injury, the T’s helmswoman threw in the towel when it was time to roll up the sleeves and get the city moving again.  Continue reading

Chappie

7 Mar

‘Chappie’: This RoboCop is street smart, and South Africa’s better than ‘Elysium’

whitespace https://player.vimeo.com/video/117160271 Is Neill Blomkamp the next M. Night Shyamalan? Hard to tell from his latest, “Chappie,” a near-future tale in which a robo-cop gets infused with AI and falls in with the wrong crowd. The good news is that Blomkamp’s third feature is a step up from the pedantically plotted “Elysium” – but it’s nowhere near his cutting-edge debut, “District 9,” which had sci-fi fans hoping for the next coming of Ridley Scott and James Cameron (the early incarnations). 030615i Chappie b“Chappie” also takes Blomkamp back to his native South Africa and the grimy post-apocalyptic ghettos where “D9” took place, where the FX auteur clearly feels more at ease. Much of what transpires is borrowed heavily from Paul Verhoeven’s brilliantly biting satire, “RoboCop” especially “The Moose” – a clear (homage?) clone of the mega bipedal ED-209 that RoboCop has to go titanium to titanium with. It’s 2016 and Jo’Burg (Johannesburg) has remedied its rampant crime by contracting with an arms manufacturer to build and deploy humanoid droids to embed with police forces. They make great shields, hardly miss and never tire. Chappie is essentially scrap parts, put together by an engineer more interested in science than big bangs or big bucks (Dev Patel from “Slumdog Millionaire”) and injected with code that can allow him to learn, feel and essentially be human sans the flesh. Problem is, Jo’Burg is rife with thug life, mostly ripped, tatted white guys with grillz and cornrows who clearly model themselves after Gary Oldman in “True Romance.” Through a plot twist not worth going into, Chappie ends up in the hands of Die Antwoord. What, you’re probably asking? That’s the name of a South African music act (give a google and watch a few videos and be amused or horrified, as it may be) and the duo, Ninja and Yo-Landi Visser, play street punks (I’m not sure if there’s any real acting, as the pair maintain their name and smash mouth personas) who pull Chappie into their service as he begins to learn and grown his consciousness – hopefully in time for the big heist.  Continue reading