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Raw

19 Mar

If you’re up on your festival buzz, you’ve likely heard about the swarm of ambulances called into the Toronto International Film Festival to extract viewers of the film “Raw” because they had passed out from the gore. A weave about a vegan who develops a taste for human flesh while away at college might do that to you, but what makes the film so visceral and utterly disturbing isn’t so much the blood-and-guts aspect but the cold realization that there’s nothing supernatural going on here (vampires, zombies and lycans, oh my) – just your average waif with an eating disorder that consumes her. And others.

The screening I attended passed out barf bags, which was clearly more of a joke/marketing gimmick than a splatter control concern. That was too bad; the film stands on its own, without such hype. Written and directed by first-timer Julia Ducournau, the arty lo-fi production brims with the creepy, slight alter-reality ambience of a Ben Wheatley film (“High Rise” and “Kill List”).

We catch up with Justine (Garance Marillier) as she’s being dropped off at veterinary college by her parents. She’s a demure ingenue who doesn’t eat meat (the whole family is vegetarian), so you can only imagine her surprise when dining at the cafeteria she bites into a chunk of sausage nestled inside her mashed potatoes. It’s a bad beginning, but the least of her problems. Before she can even settle in and meet her roommate, Adrien (a lean Rabah Nait Oufella), a hazing party blasts open the door and throws their belongings – mattresses and all – out the window. Subsequently all “rookies” are rounded up and forced to crawl up the stairs of the dorm and to a rave of sorts. For a week, we learn, the newbies are under the thumb of the older students and ritualistically doused with animal blood and forced to eat such dissection orts as rabbit livers. Continue reading

Logan

8 Mar
Hugh Jackman grunts and grimaces through his (possibly) final outing as the Wolverine

Courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox

Hugh Jackman grunts and grimaces through his (possibly) final outing as the Wolverine

Logan, the third Wolverine spin-off from the X-Men movie empire, which has grown terribly long in the tooth (or is that claw?), does a nice job of righting the ship with this elegiac closing chapter. Part of the reason for the franchise’s demise has been its lack of innovation, but also, and more to the point, the superhero market oversaturation with the Avengers and Justice League entries out there chasing fanboy dollars as well. Besides Professor Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart) the best thing about the X-Men series has always been the tortured soul of Logan. Brought so palpably to the screen by Hugh Jackman, his badger-like sneer, tang of feral sexuality, and discernible sense of conflicted rage has always raced around inside the character’s metal-reinforced body.

The good news for fans, and even more so those losing faith, is that Xavier and Logan find themselves back together and without a cavalcade of other mutants and two-dimensional bad guys to weigh them down. It essentially allows the two classically trained thespians to dig in deep and get at the core of their characters’ beaten-down and mercurial personas. As far as acting goes, Logan may just be the grand dame of slumming it. It takes place in the not-too-distant future (2029) and finds our two uber-beings on tough times. Mutants and mutations have been culled way down, and we’re fed the factoid that there hasn’t been a mutant born in a decade or so, making Logan and Xavier perhaps the last of their line.  Continue reading

24 Feb

Jordan Peele’s “Get Out” is a devilish little bit of social commentary that takes the essence of “Guess Who’s Coming to Diner” and forces it, with vehemence but also panache, into a “Wicker Man”/“Stepford Wives” construct. The result is something clearly borrowed, incredibly fresh and nearly perfect in light of the current political climate. What’s also remarkable is that the horror flick-cum-black comedy marks Peele’s directorial debut, and a surprising one at that – not only because is it so sharp and confident, but also because Mr. Peele is better known as half of the comedy team of Key and Peele on Comedy Central.

The setup’s simple enough. Chris (Daniel Kaluuya), an aspiring photog, agrees reluctantly to meet the parents of his girlfriend, Rose (Allison Williams of “Girls”), whom he’s been dating for five months – just long enough to have to take these things seriously.

“Do they know I’m black?” Chris asks, a question that the lily-white Rose shrugs off, telling him that her dad would have voted for a Obama for a third time if he had the chance. It’s a pointed little barb, but since “Get Out” started filming long before it played at Sundance in January, I’m not certain Peele understood the whole political backdrop he’d be facing. Given the results of the election, the daggers the film throws couldn’t be any more on point. Continue reading

I Am Jane Doe

12 Feb

A Portrait Of American Avarice, ‘I Am Jane Doe’ Brings Backpage Controversy To The Screen

Jane Doe 3 and her mother in Boston during the filming of "I Am Jane Doe." (Courtesy R. Schultz/50 Eggs)closemore

For anyone with a young daughter, the testimony by victims of human trafficking and their families in the new documentary “I am Jane Doe” will come as a bone cutter. Others too will be palpably moved and more so, outraged by the willful complicity of Backpage in helping relegate underaged girls into a purgatory of prostitution, drugs and physical abuse.

If you’re unfamiliar with Backpage (owned by the revered alternative newspaper company Village Voice Media), it’s a service like Craigslist where people exchange goods and services like sofas, cars, housecleaning and sex (disguised as escort services) with great autonomy. That freedom comes as a result of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act (ironically also known as “Great Internet Sex Panic Act of 1995”), which essentially grants online providers impunity for the content posted on their sites by third parties. That said, illegal sex solicitation — minor or not — has to be reported, but Backpage instituted a policy of circumvention to knowingly sanitize posts so they would not get flagged by enforcement authorities, as noted by a former employee whose voice and identity are disguised in the film. Continue reading

Paterson

30 Jan

There’s a quirky poetic flow to “Paterson” as in nearly every Jim Jarmusch film, seeping outward in languorous yet artful movements, and while “Paterson” is tightly coddled, it’s also one of the director’s more earthy and accessible efforts – something akin to the universality of a Frost poem, possessing the ability to sate on many levels while appealing to a diverse audience. And poetry is the operative word, as the film revolves around an aspiring poet by the name of Paterson (Adam Driver, finally in this film and “Silence” able to step out to the fore) who by day guides a boxy bus around the city of (you guessed it) Paterson, N.J.

The beauty of Driver’s performance is the quiet, soulful humanity imbued in the character. Paterson doesn’t drive his bus with contempt for the menial job or harbor any grand delusions of his higher mission as an artist – he’s not that arrogant douche! Quite the opposite. Poetry, we learn early on, is a passion that fills a hole in Paterson’s life, but he writes and observes quietly; Jarmusch, as the penning poet sits in his bus at the station waiting for the signal to hit the roads, superimposes the scrawlings onscreen with Driver in his purposeful drawl doing the narrative voiceovers. The poems are works by the poet Ron Padgett; the recurring “Love Poem” has a great talky line about matches: “Currently our favorite brand is the Ohio Blue Tip.” (If you’ve ever read Nicholson Baker, this will call to mind the mundane yet plumbing ditherings of “A Box of Matches.”)

Not much really happens in “Paterson,” though there is a slight, surreal crescendo toward the end, but what drives the film beyond Driver’s solid anchoring is Jarmusch’s idiosyncratic eye and the potpourri of personality that inhabits Paterson (the city). That’s especially so at Paterson’s home, where his partner and muse Laura (Golshifteh Farahani, channeling the playfully alluring foreign ingenue that Maria de Medeiros brought so vivaciously to life as Butch’s girlfriend Fabienne in “Pulp Fiction”) undertakes a different art project each day, mostly turning whatever it is she touches (curtains, cupcakes or a random wall in the small ranch home) into a black-and-white tiled mosaic, and the racially integrated bar where a pantheon of Paterson’s famous are hung as photos above the till. There’s an early mention of Rubin “Hurricane” Carter and the Bob Dylan ballad that rings a bit off-tone, but the recursive reference to doctor and poet William Carlos Williams – who practiced medicine near Paterson during the first half of the last century and wrote an anthology titled for and about the town (containing several letters of fellow New Jersey poet Allen Ginsberg) – as Paterson’s idol and inspiration is a smartly baked layer of lyric genius that subtly yields background about the man and the town of the same name. Continue reading

Live by Night

14 Jan

Affleck Should Have Stuck To Directing For His Latest Boston-Based Film ‘Live By Night’

Ben Affleck, as Joe Coughlin, and Sienna Miller, as Emma Gould, in "Live By Night." (Courtesy Warner Bros. Pictures)

Ben Affleck, the good-looking, locally-reared actor, who from time to time has projected a wooden on-screen presence, has turned out to be a reliably decent director. His debut, “Gone Baby Gone” back in 2007, transformed Dennis Lehane’s Boston-seated crime novel into a cinematic pulp noir. That edgy effort had cinephiles anxious for more and Affleck rewarded their patience with another gritty crime drama, “The Town,” in 2010 and then “Argo” in 2012. His latest effort, “Live By Night,” brings another Lehane crime story to the screen.

It begins during the Prohibition Era in Boston, where the Irish and Italians are locked in a blood feud over the bootleg trade, and later transitions to Ybor City, the developing section of Tampa, Florida, where Italian and Latino crime coalitions govern the town and control the flow of molasses — critical for rum.

Brendan Gleeson as Officer Thomas Coughlin in "Live By Night." (Courtesy Warner Bros. Pictures)
Brendan Gleeson as Officer Thomas Coughlin in “Live By Night.” (Courtesy Warner Bros. Pictures) Continue reading

Hidden Figures

7 Jan

One of the best films of 2016 (yes, it opened in New York City and Los Angeles a few weeks ago as part of awards season’s annual bait-and-switch shenanigans) happens to be a sentimental crowdpleaser that, for all its potential schmaltz and didactic pitfalls, maintains an incredibly poignant balance especially when it comes to matters of race – and there’s plenty of them; “Hidden Figures” is about three African-American women employed as engineers and mathematicians by NASA during the first space launch, just as Martin Luther King Jr.’s historic push for Civil Rights was gaining its groundswell.

It’s not a widely known bit of history, but Katherine Johnson (Taraji P. Henson), Mary Jackson (singer Janelle Monáe, successfully doubling up as an actor) and Dorothy Vaughan (Oscar winner Octavia Spencer, killer good) toiled for NASA during the Mercury space program as engineers and computers – mathematicians doing the technical legwork before Big Blue dropped its first mainframe – and proved critical in getting John Glenn up and into orbit. One of the film’s most telling – and touching – moments comes when Glenn (Glen Powell) meets Johnson during a technical assembly of scientists and mucky-mucks where she’s not only the only woman or person of color in the room, but the only one able to solve complicated flight variables mathematically. Later, when there’s a snag in the mission and the reentry point needs recalculating, he asks for her aid, referring to her simply as the “the smart one.” Continue reading