Archive | August, 2015

“Digging for Fire” and “Meru”

28 Aug

Two of the films opening at Kendall Square this week, while very different, record ordeals of perseverance, braving the unknown and strength of bonds. The first, from prolific mumblecore maestro Joe Swanberg, “Digging for Fire,” explores a couple in transition, hoping to validate their young union as well as plan for the future. Tim (Jake Johnson) and Lee (Rosemarie DeWitt) housesit a small mansion in a secluded suburban valley outside L.A. They’ve recently transplanted from Minnesota with their young son (conveniently, for plot’s sake staying with rich grammy and grandpa played by Judith Light and Sam Elliot) and are looking to begin their second lives (he’s a teacher and she’s a yoga instructor, and for ideological reasons they long eschewed economic responsibility), but something’s not quite right between them as they flounder forward, and it doesn’t help the air of tenuousness that they’re supported by her parents.

082715i Digging for FireOut of the earth rises a needed jolt when Tim discovers a gun and a bone poking out of a hillside.  Is it human or animal? Without an active case, the police aren’t all that inclined to investigate, but Tim, ignited by his imagination and his need for a tax-filing procrastination, keeps digging. Lee doesn’t share Tim’s curiosity and, despite some killer house parties and much merriment, the two drift further apart, so Lee is doing her own thing while Tim hosts digging parties with his immature, boozed-up posse. Eventually, each principal ends up with a fetching member of the opposite sex. For her, it’s the charming Orlando Bloom, who should’ve been doing more films like this long ago; for him, it’s a nubile waif (Brie Larson) hanging out at one of the house gatherings.

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Z for Zachariah

28 Aug
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Craig Zobel got under a lot of people’s skin with 2012’s taut thrillerCompliance about a fast-food employee’s horrific interrogation by her superior, and with Z for Zachariah, he continues to plumb the complex inner workings of human interaction in this post-apocalyptic drama propelled by issues of gender, race, and religion.

Set in the near future, the tomboyish Ann (the lovely Margot Robbie) lives in a rich fertile dell and forages for food with her dog. She lives a quiet, remote existence. Down the hill from the big farm house she encamps, there’s an abandoned gas station and a church and that’s about it.

While out on one such expedition to recover game from snares, Ann stumbles upon a stranger in a spacesuit-like encasing waiving a Geiger counter. It’s then that we know the world is no longer a friendly place and that these may in fact be the last two humans on the planet. The how and why isn’t exactly explained, just that radioactive contamination is definitively a part of it. Continue reading

Air

28 Aug

By Tom Meek in Paste Magazine

<i>Air</i>

Sometime in the near future, due to nuclear fallout, the object of this film’s title becomes a rare and precious commodity, one even more valuable and life essential than the scarce petrol in the first three Mad Max films. From TV news clips we get the current state of affairs: Riots and chaos break out as the breathable life force runs out and the world slides into an apocalyptic purge. Those who survive (the educated and the well-off, as everyone else is told to hold tight) get put into stasis in subterranean facilities (ironically, old missile silos) where engineers (Norman Reedus and Djimon Hounsou) breathe the last kernels of air and keep a watchful eye over the remainder of humanity.

The dark ant-tunnel sets erected by director Christian Cantamessa and his crew call to mind the camped confines of the salvage ship in Alien, as does the theme of man being vulnerable and at the mercy of a computer-controlled environ. It’s also a place where authority is nonexistent and order is a tenuous concept from across time and space, open to interpretation.  Continue reading

Ricki and the Flash

10 Aug

‘Ricki and the Flash’: Rocker mom returns in drama choreographed by top doc talent

How much fun is “Ricki and the Flash”? It’s got a little bit of everything – sentimental schmaltz, family healing, trauma, small victories and a whole host of social skewering both on the subtle and not-so-subtle side, all punctuated or punctured as may be by paradox and flip sides (including a feminist-postured mom who voted for Bush twice). The film too is a film of two halves – generally not a good thing – but the man behind the lens, Jonathan Demme, has gone big (“Silence of the Lambs” and “Philadelphia”), gone small (“Melvin and Howard”) and done the rock thing (“Stop Making Sense,” one of the top rock docs of all time) and has always been a master craftsman, always focusing on the human condition and character development. He knows how to connect with  his material and his audience, and the pairing with screenwriter Diablo Cody makes real sense, as the film is a clash of ideals within a familial unit, something she tackled and won much acclaim for with “Juno.”

080915i Ricki and the FlashIn a bold turn, Meryl Streep plays the Ricki of the film’s title, a middle-aged woman with half dreads and jingle-jangle jewelry since long ago leaving her family in middle America to become a rock star in California. She didn’t, mind you; she plays as the lead of a house band in a local roadhouse dive playing covers of classics and newer stuff such as Lady Gaga and Pink to draw in the younger set. By day she works at Total Foods, where she is reminded constantly to smile for the customers who have shopping bills bigger than her weekly salary (yes, it’s a dig on Whole Foods) and she’s just filed for Chapter 11.

The film gets lift when Ricki’s ex, Pete (Kevin Kline, in his third pairing with Streep) calls and requests her help – their daughter Julie (Mamie Gummer, in a breakout performance) is depressed after going through a divorce and Maureen (Audra McDonald), Pete’s wife who raised the kids and is no fan of Ricki, is in Seattle dealing with a an ailing pop. There’s a lot of resentment toward Ricki, but there’s nothing like a stash of weed and a chance encounter with Julie’s ex and his new love interest to get things moving toward reconciliation. The razor-sharp, wily dialogue by Diablo Cody and crisp execution by the performers bring this to life with a genuine palatability that in the hands of anyone lesser would drift into the realm of hyperbolic insincerity.  Continue reading

Mapping The Legacy Of Boxing On Celluloid With 10 Boxing Films Picks

7 Aug
Published in WBUR’s ARTery

Paul Newman in

Paul Newman in “Somebody Up There Likes Me.” (Courtesy)

The recent release of “Southpaw,” the new movie starring Jake Gyllenhaal as the ring rat of the title, again floats the paradigm of the American Dream realized in the toughest of all venues. Largely due to the primal, violent and intimate nature of pugilism, boxing has always been a storied staple of film throughout history.

“Southpaw” tries to achieve a post of solemnity and seriousness by playing against the archetype but in execution, it’s so heavily riddled with cliched jabs it never even flashes the mettle to reach the heights of any of the narratives it aches to be. One can understand the allure to Gyllenhaal, an actor who regularly seeks the challenge of off-the-beaten-path roles (take “Brokeback Mountain” or last year’s turn as a career-minded sociopath in “Nightcrawler”), as many an Oscar has been won by stepping in the ring (Robert De Niro and Hilary Swank to name two).

By definition, the sport demands blood and sweat, and total immersion by any thespian hoping to sell the gritty gut-pounding reality of the ring. It’s been a well-noted undertaking — the extremes actors go to in conditioning and preparation — and something De Niro took deeply to heart (going from a toned and ripped fighter to flabby nightclub host by tossing on 50 pounds) in immersing himself into the volatile persona of middleweight Jake LaMotta for Martin Scorsese’s heralded bio-pic, “Raging Bull” (1980). It’s one of the great fight films, if not the greatest, and while the bold choices by Scorsese — shooting in smoky black-and-white and a framed narrative arc — provided grounding and context, it was De Niro’s indelible turn, employing extreme method acting to soulfully get at the turbulent embodiment of LaMotta, that ensured the film of its mantle spot as a timeless American classic.

In looking back at the legacy of boxing on celluloid, three other Oscar winning films would likely hang at the top of anyone’s top 10, the most obvious of which, besides “Bull,” being “Rocky,” the 1976 Best Picture fairy tale and Cineplex-sweeping crowned pleaser which also capped an incredible real-life underdog story for screenwriter/actor Sylvester Stallone who had toiled thespian Palookaville before, and more recent hits about the gritty downside to ring life, “The Fighter” and Clint Eastwood’s “Million Dollar Baby.”

Below, arranged in alphabetical order, is a list composed of some other great pugilist profiles with a conscience lean to include the eclectic and the classic. Five receiving serious consideration but not making the bell: “Cinderella Man” (2005), “The Set-Up”(1947), “The Quiet Man” (1952), “The Boxer” (1997) and “The Great White Hope” (1970).  Continue reading