Good Time

25 Aug

It’s “Rain Man” meets “Eddie Coyle” in this up-in-your-chest New York City heist flick. The film, by Boston University grads Benny and Josh Safdie, is imbued with the type of on-the-street grit that made Martin Scorsese’s “Mean Streets” so indelible, and the riveting electric score by Daniel Lopatin notches up the emotional disarray in every frame. If there’s one thing “Good Time” is not, is short on mood. The setup bookends the central narrative with scenes of a baby-faced young man by the name of Nick (played convincingly by Benny Safdie, doing double duty) under duress while in therapy sessions with a wild-haired psychiatrist (Peter Verby, whose face is a cinematic wonder in its own right). In the opener, Nick’s asked to give free association responses to random terms. His answers to “scissors and a cooking pan” (“You can hurt yourself with both”) and “salt and water” (“The beach”) are telling – not in the actual response, but how he responds. He clearly has some form of developmental handicap.

The scene smolders in tight closeups, but before the grim gravity of Nick’s prospects can take root fully – or the psychiatrist can dig any deeper – Nick’s brother Connie (Robert Pattinson) bursts through the door and extracts his sibling. Has Nick been saved? For the moment, yes, but not in the bigger scheme of things. The two are incredibly tight (the Safdies are clearly drawing on their own sibling bond) but pretty much have only each other to draw on and limited financial resources; to keep the pack together, Connie cooks up a plan to rob a bank in the middle of the day, the execution and choreography of which is so hauntingly reminiscent of “Dog Day Afternoon” you half expect Al Pacino to pop out with chants of “Attica.” The lads do make off with the cash, but matters with ride sharing, dye packs and Nick’s emotional instability provide steep obstacles. It’s a riveting game of cat and mouse as the brothers dash down littered alleyways and into a mall atrium with the police a hot breath away. Just as they look to be in the clear, Nick crashes through a glass pane and is taken into custody. Where the story goes next is as unpredictable as its protagonist. Continue reading

Advertisements

Logan Lucky

22 Aug

It’s only been four years, but feels much longer, since director Steven Soderbergh last treated filmgoing audiences to one of his quirky, deconstructive gems. Granted, “Side Effects” (2013) was something of a disappointment, but the director’s HBO biopic of flamboyant performer Liberace that same year generated plenty of heat, as did his previous feature, “Magic Mike” (2012). Soderbergh, an against-the-grain filmmaker, has always been one to toss the dice, be it his casting of a martial arts expert or a porn star in character-driven lead roles (“Haywire” and “The Girlfriend Experience”) or being one of the first to deliver a film simultaneously into theaters and on-demand (“Bubble” in 2005). For his latest, the American auteur taps into the skin of some of his more commercial fare – “Ocean’s Eleven” and “Out of Sight” – while farming fresh territory.

So it’s no surprise “Logan Lucky” is a heist caper – though not nearly as hip as the “Ocean” films. It’s set at a massive Nascar speedway in North Carolina, with the bulk of its protagonists down-on-their-luck West Virginians. Glitz and glamour are scarce, but arrive in the form of Riley Keough (so wickedly good in “American Honey” and adding to her stock here) as one of the Logan clan in on a plot to drain the speedway’s vault, and Katie Holmes as the ex-wife who’s traded up in social class and occupies a sprawling McMansion. At the center looms lovable Jimmy Logan (Channing Tatum, who’s been in several of Soderbergh’s more recent projects, including the Mike in “Magic Mike”) a golden-armed QB who never made good his promise to play at the collegiate or professional level because of a bum knee; as a result he toils as a second-string laborer, and a prideful one at that, refusing financial help from the ex who’s constantly offering to buy him a cellphone so they can better coordinate handoffs of their beauty pageant-obsessed daughter. Continue reading

Staying local to protest the Free Speech rally

22 Aug
James Selvitella and Declan Haley run a peace-themed lemonade stand Saturday in front of the Cambridge Main Library. (Photos: Haley family)

As up to 40,000 Bay Staters made ready to descend Saturday on the Boston Common to protest a “Free Speech Rally” linked to white supremacists, many parents – fearful of the same type of fatal violence that broke out at a Charlottesville, Va., white supremacy march the previous weekend – struggled with whether to bring their children. Even though the organizers of the rally insisted they were not affiliated with Charlottesville rally organizers, the slate boasted some of the same speakers with ties to hate groups, and the City of Boston and Boston Police Department were on high alert.

Children make art at the lemonade stand Saturday – an alternative to marching in potential danger in Boston.

For one Cambridge family that wanted to spread the word of peace and inclusion – and be part of the movement without risking getting caught in the fray – the reasonable option took the form of a lemonade stand outside the Cambridge Main Library, with the proceeds going to Black Lives Matter Cambridge and the recently vandalized New England Holocaust Memorial.

Elizabeth Haley, a resident of Inman Square, didn’t feel comfortable taking her 8-year-old son to the rally, and sought other ways to engage the community and support the movement. “It was my son, Declan, who came up with the idea,” Haley said. The stand, prominent on Broadway with the banner “Lemonade for Peace,” wasn’t your typical impromptu corner stand; the Haleys had come wth a large folding table, colorful signs and art supplies to engage thirsty passers-by.

The art angle was the brainchild of Haley’s friend, Julie Selvitella, a Cambridge resident who teaches art in Andover, and her son James, who felt a communal art project would enrich the effort and bring unity. People getting drinks or just stopping by could write a message of acceptance and hope on a heart, with those hearts then hung on pinwheel structures hanging from the great willow tree sheltering the stand.

Hearts with messages left by lemonade buyers became decorations for the kids’ stand.

“The day worked out so well because it was so last-minute and we didn’t complicate things by overthinking it,” Haley said. “We met a lot of people who were on their way to the rally. Also,. there were many families with small children who felt the same way we did, so they were happy to make a donation and work on the art installation.”

The stand raised a few hundred dollars in just three hours, Haley said.

Wind River

14 Aug

Taylor Sheridan, the screenwriter behind “Sicario” who garnered an Oscar nod for “Hell or High Water” last year, gets back in the director’s seat (he helmed a “Saw”-esque flick in 2011 called “Vile” that you might have missed) for “Wind River,” a crime thriller set high in the Wyoming wild. Much like “High Water,” the landscape and desolate character of the setting becomes a central player in the action – and there’s oil to be had as well.

Jeremy Renner stars as Fish and Wildlife officer Cory Lambert, who gets enlisted by FBI agent Jane Banner (Elizabeth Olsen) to help solve the murder of a young Native American woman (Kelsey Asbille) on an Indian reservation. They’re assisted by the local sheriff (Graham Greene), who has ties to the native community. From Florida and unfamiliar with Native American traditions, Banner couldn’t be more of a fish out of water, and she’s also got that wet-behind-the-ears, can-do gene that made Clarice Starling so indelible in “The Silence of the Lambs.”

What drives “Wind River” isn’t so much the present action but the heavy backstories the characters carry, which burn with real, raw emotional palpability. Lambert, married to a Native American, lost a daughter due to negligence – he’s haunted by not knowing the full details – and saw his marriage dissolve because of it. The weight of that resonates in the tired creases of Renner’s face and becomes Lambert’s unenviable yet natural bond with the victim’s father (Gil Birmingham, whose rendering of parental despair is heartbreaking). Then there’s the plight of the native population ground down by alcoholism, drug addiction and broken dreams, an ensnaring downward cycle on sharp display.

Bodies pile up, and the narrative cuts back on itself smartly and seamlessly as Lambert and Banner get closer to the truth. The scenes of rape and murder are brutally graphic, yet serve to illustrate the depths of disregard when humans get blinded by rage, desire and pack mentality. The issue of racism gets explored as well as in the deep, snow-covered heart of the reservation and oil-drilling site, which is guarded by imported security forces; as the screw turns, the sense of law and order there become a wispy notion. “Wind River,” like “Hell or High Water,” ultimately becomes a Western in construct, with Renner’s reluctant Lambert something of a “Shane”-like last barrier. The combination of character, setting and weave makes well-known tropes fresh and new.

Atomic Blonde

2 Aug
Charlize Theron is a literal knockout in this fast-paced spy thriller

Action and intrigue abound in this hyper-stylized spy thriller that takes the former quite seriously, boasting some of the best fight choreography on screen in recent years and a car chase worthy of Baby Driver. It’s also violent as hell and makes no apologies as it punches its way through end-of-the-Cold War Berlin — on the eve of the Wall coming down — where a crucial “list” of British intel assets is up for grabs with the KGB, MI6, and other interested middlemen locked in a bloody game of chess to procure it.

The driving fear at British HQ is that if the list falls into Russian hands, it could extend the Cold War by decades, and while that might have factored mightily in Antony Johnston and Sam Hart’s 2012 graphic novel that the film’s based on, The Coldest City, it’s nothing more than a McGuffin here and a catalyst for Charlize Theron’s MI6 operative, Lorraine Broughton, to drop from one gonzo battle royale to the next — even a same-sex hookup in a night club bathroom ends at the barrel of a gun.

The film begins inauspiciously enough as a British agent with the list on his person is stalked through the streets of Berlin and taken out smash-bang style. We then catch up with Lorraine 10 days later in London rising naked out of a tub of ice and covered in bruises. The connection between the two events and the framework for the film becomes a jigsaw puzzle of slow reveals fed to us in flashback snippets as Lorraine’s debriefed by her MI6 higher up (Toby Jones, who seems made for the part) and a curmudgeonly CIA handler (John Goodman). Part of the fun here is drinking in Lorraine’s sultry resistance to their inquiry, which bears a certain familiarity to Sharon Stone’s Catherine Tramell — another can-do blonde under the thumb of authority — in Paul Verhoeven’s Basic Instinct. Continue reading

The B-Side

14 Jul

‘The B-Side’ Brings Pioneer Cambridge Photographer Elsa Dorfman Out From Behind The Camera

A portrait of Elsa Dorfman from July 2007. (Courtesy Neon) 

The latest documentary from revered local filmmaker Errol Morris is essentially a love letter to his longtime friend and fellow Cantabrigian, Elsa Dorfman.

“The B-Side: Elsa Dorfman’s Portrait Photography” profiles the life of the woman who spent more than 30 years profiling others in her studio. She was a pioneer of photography, best known for her 20×24 inch Polaroid portraits. Given that Morris’ lens has been trained on such diverse and idiosyncratic subjects as pet cemeteriesrenown cosmologist Stephen Hawking and an off-kilter Holocaust denier, “The B-Side” may seem something of a whimsy by comparison, but it’s Morris’ most intimate and warmest output to date.

Elsa Dorfman. (Courtesy Neon)
Elsa Dorfman. (Courtesy Neon)

Morris first met Dorfman when she photographed his son — then 5, now 30 years old — and has had the urge to make this film for some time.

“I’ve known Elsa a long, long time,” Morris says in a conversation with Dorfman on her back patio just outside Harvard Square. “I had the idea for this movie for a while, and when I told Elsa she was skeptical.” Continue reading

War for the Planet of the Apes

14 Jul

Since the CGI resurrection of the “Planet of the Apes” franchise (can we all agree to forget the ill-conceived 2001 Mark Wahlberg-Tim Burton version?), the films – “Rise” (2011) and “Dawn” (2014) – have been working their way slowly up to the events that frame the classic 1968 film penned by “Twilight Zone” host Rod Serling and starring Charleston Heston. With “War for the Planet of the Apes” we get more breadcrumbs leading from here to there.

The plot picks up two years after “Dawn” ended with Caesar (Andy Serkis, the action-capture actor who so viscerally brought Gollum to life in “The Lord of the Rings” films) and fellow simians holed up in the woods trying to find a peaceful foothold as man employs military might to hunt down and eradicate them. We learn too that the simian flu that has decimated humankind makes apes smarter while it mutes humans and dims their mental capacity. (There’s your first breadcrumb).

The script by director Matt Reeves (“Let Me In” and “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes”) and Mark Bomback, who worked with Reeves on “Dawn,” adds some smart wrinkles with the apes trying to disengage from war, setting off to find an ape Eden out of human reach, while Caesar, having incurred deep personal loss, ventures off on a revenge mission. To stir the pot we get Woody Harrelson as a Col. Kurtz type – fittingly titled “The Colonel” – hellbent on preserving humankind via extreme methodologies and, as a result, coming into conflict with other military heads. Like Kurtz he’s gone off the reservation and has a legion of special force-trained believers to back his madness. He also has a few apes that have become turncoats, labeled “donkeys” and regarded slightly above slaves; only prisoner apes have it worse. Continue reading