French auteur Olivier Assayas, whose kinetic style and eclectic works have enchanted cinephiles over the past 30 years, doesn’t particularly relish the term “muse.” “It’s somewhat cheesy,” he notes during an interview to discuss his latest release “Personal Shopper.” The inspiration garnered from his lead actresses, Assayas says, germinates from a more genuine and iterative process.
Past partnerings with Maggie Cheung, his wife from 1998 to 2001, yielded the deconstructive melodrama “Irma Vep” (1996) and the sobering “Clean” (2004). With fellow countrymate and longtime friend Juliette Binoche, he churned out “Summer Hours” (2008) and the top 10 list-maker “Clouds of Sils Maria” (2014).
“Personal Shopper,” which opens in Boston this Friday, marks Assayas’ second collaboration with American actress Kristen Stewart, who starred alongside Binoche in “Sils Maria” and has since become a highly sought-after talent. Stewart made the unlikely transition from the box-office bait, teen-targeted “Twilight” saga, to an art house darling collecting raves for her recent efforts in “Café Society,” “Still Alice” and “Certain Women.” And “Personal Shopper,” which scored Assayas Best Director honors at last year’s Cannes Film Festival, will likely only raise Stewart’s stock.
“I discovered Kristen when doing ‘Clouds,’” Assayas says, “and [during filming] I learned how capable she was and I was fascinated. Once that was done, I was inspired by her and wrote the part [of Maureen Cartwright in ‘Shopper’] with her in mind.” Continue reading →
On Tuesday, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences will announce their slate of Oscar nominees, a lineup that will certainly be eyed with much scrutiny for its diversity. Last year, the #OscarsSoWhite controversy exploded after people of color were noticeably left off the Academy’s ballot for the second year in a row — a move backward considering 2014’s Best Picture winner, “12 Years A Slave.” Given the films that found success in 2016, both critically and commercially, the list of nominees should successfully change the tide.
The origins of the hash-tagged tumult, which had notables like Spike Lee and Jada Pinkett Smith boycotting the ceremony last year, are two-fold. For starters, the Academy’s makeup is not diverse by any measure — a Los Angeles Times analysis in 2016 found it was 91 percent white and 76 percent male. Secondly, the industry was not producing many quality films made by, or featuring, people of color.
When the nominations came out last year, Academy President Cheryl Boone Isaacs, who is black, promised immediate action. Following a unanimous vote by the board eight days later, rule changes stipulated that members who had been dormant in the industry for over a decade would be be moved to emeritus status (effectively losing their voting rights) and the recruitment of new members would begin immediately. Though, past winners and nominees retain full membership status and voting rights. The list of 683 invitees contained a notable presence of women and people of color (Rita Wilson, American Repertory Theater stalwart Cherry Jones, Nia Long, Mahershala Ali now in “Moonlight” and “Hidden Figures,” and John Boyega).
The industry too, almost as if on cue, made an initial, responsive roar when Nate Parker’s slave uprising saga, “Birth of a Nation,” garnered a record-setting $17 million distribution deal at the Sundance Film Festival in late January of last year. Expectations for the film were high, but when it finally poured into theaters, the edgy concept of a bloody revolt against injustice, while admirable, didn’t measure up at the box office. “12 Years a Slave” it was not and Parker’s past allegations of rape (he was acquitted) didn’t help either.
In light of “Oscars So White,” “Birth of a Nation” registered something of a disappointment, but the industry, in its own organic way, was quietly on the mend. The later crop of films featuring diverse filmmakers, casts and subjects shone — from “Moonlight,” the saga of a gay black youth, bullied and growing up under the negligent eye of a crack-addicted mother, to “Loving,” the haunting recount of the interracial couple who boldly broke the anti-miscegenation law in segregated Virginia and, more recently “Hidden Figures,” another based on true events, pre-civil rights movement drama about African-American female mathematicians working at NASA during the space race. Overall, 2016 was a year the blockbuster faltered and small films about people with varying backgrounds and experiences, navigating adversity, took center stage.
So here comes the big cinematic rendering of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing that rocked the city for the better part of a week and now seems destined to be etched into our collective history just below city-defining headliners like the Boston Tea Party, busing in the ‘70s and the murderous legacy of Whitey Bulger.
The good news about “Patriots Day,” which opens Wednesday, is that it delivers a modicum of cathartic release as well as an intriguing look behind the scenes as an active crime investigation takes shape. The bad news, however, is that it knowingly injects fiction into the mix in a way that nearly subverts the project’s mission of “getting it right,” as Boston-bred star and producer Mark Wahlberg has said repeatedly. In the process, the dramatization shortchanges those that were there — the heroes and the victims — and the character of our fair city.
Three screenwriters, including the director Peter Berg, are credited with the script. The studio’s publicists informed me that the sources ranged from conversations with the Boston Police Department and other local agencies that responded to news reports and “60 Minutes.” What they’ve cooked up feels like a cobbling together of news feeds condensed and sanitized into a singular heroic narrative that regularly brims with the Boston Strong motto.
If you’ve ever been by Sonsie on Newbury Street on a bright sunny day in the past 20-plus years (since the restaurant’s opening back in 1993), you’ve probably seen Eric Kluin — the surfer-esque painter with six-pack abs — busily at work on his easel perched just outside the establishment’s welcoming French windows that open out onto the sidewalk.
A shirtless fixture that’s hard to miss, Kluin’s something of a curio. Does he have a license to secure that spot? Is this some entitled ploy to pick up women? These are questions you might ask yourself as you pass by. Reasonable questions for the intrigued, but the answers might surprise you.
Kluin, a pretty laid back individual, moved to Boston in the late ’80s after working at a halfway house in Arizona where he had formerly been a resident. He’s been a recovering alcoholic for 22 years, and ironically, it was a bar that gave him his shot at a sustained recovery.
He began consuming alcohol abusively at the University of Michigan where he studied art, and didn’t stop until he was scraped off the floor of his flat in Boston by a concerned friend and tossed into rehab — twice. He admittedly describes himself as a “classic alcoholic who would drink himself to death if given the opportunity.” Continue reading →
A still from the film “Weiner.” (Courtesy of IFC Film)
The political season is well upon us, more vehemently and contentiously so than past presidential primaries, especially given the surprising number of upstarts, lack of usual faces and an arguably unpopular field. If either of the Democratic candidates win, history will be made with the first female commander in chief or the oldest citizen to assume the Oval Office. If Republican front-runner Donald Trump wins, his victory will cap a campaign of shock and awe, bluster and division, the likes of which seemed only possible in a movie.
That said, hitting the campaign trail has not been a particularly vast topic explored on film, but when it has, it’s been done with biting satire or a telling inward look at ourselves, our society and how we value democracy.
Most often those films stoke our fear of big corporations and power brokers seeking to influence control, as well as our fascination with scandal, the politician’s sudden fall and the tabloid train wreck that ultimately becomes a reflection of our impossible expectations, our own hypocrisies and an illumination of the intoxicating stupor of power that leads to self-destructive hubris.
Below is a list of 10 movies that bear particular relevance to the campaign as it is currently unfolding. (The last film in the list, “Weiner,” opens this weekend in select locations.)
“The Best Man” (1964)
Gore Vidal’s seminal skewering of big egos clashing for the White House pit a fictionalized version of Adlai Stevenson (played by Henry Fonda) against a JFK-like incarnation (Cliff Robertson), both vying for a former president’s approval. The shards of political courtship carry the tang of Obama having to mitigate his allegiances with Sanders and his former secretary of state Clinton. Vidal adapted his stage play, Franklin J. Schaffner (who helmed “Planet of the Apes” and “Patton”) directs and Lee Tracy was nominated for an Academy Award for best supporting actor for his turn as the ailing former president, casting an ostensible nod to Harry Truman. Continue reading →
An image from Karen Aqua’s animated film “Kakania.” (Courtesy Harvard Film Archive)
In the broad sense, an archive is a place to preserve and retain history. In the case of art, it becomes a means to ensure the ongoing resonance of an artist’s vision.
To that end, the Harvard Film Archive has recently acquired the films of animator Karen Aqua, who died after a prolonged battle with ovarian cancer in 2011. Some of the newly collected works will be presented on April 9 with the retrospective program “Sacred Ground & Perpetual Motion — The Animated Cosmos of Karen Aqua.” Karen’s husband, musician Ken Field, will be on hand to introduce her work.
If Aqua’s name doesn’t trigger any immediate bells, she had lived in and around Cambridge since the 1970s after graduating from Rhode Island School of Design, where she and her husband were intimately ingrained in the artistic community. She produced a multitude of short, ethereal works that deal more in emotional experience than traditional narrative. What’s truly most impressive is how Aqua painstakingly created her works by hand, illustrating the action at 24 frames per second.
Of the 15 films on the slate for the April 9 program — each of which runs between two and 12 minutes — Aqua’s most defining work may be “Vis-á-Vis.” An evocative contemplation of the life of the artist, the film depicts an animator diligently working while the outer world — the source of inspiration — beckons teasingly. The pull between the commitment to create and to experience life is rendered poignantly as the artist begins to split into two halves that tug on the each other, each trying to move in its own direction. Continue reading →
There’s plenty that beguiles in Robert Eggers’ moody film “The Witch,” the Sundance Film Festival hit that opens widely in theaters on Friday, February 19. Masterful in composition and imbued with a deep sense of intimacy, dread and gritty authenticity, it takes place in the 1600’s — sometime between the arrival of the Mayflower and the onset of the Salem witch trials — in a New England highland that is bucolic but harsh. There, a family of settlers are banished from the main plantation for vague religious reasons and then struggle to make a go of it. Their cupboards are bare and the fields are barren. Clearly the dream of a better way of life in the New World has listed for these folk.
It doesn’t help that William (Ralph Ineson), the able family head who works nonstop in a futile attempt to provide, is saddled with a wife, Katherine (Kate Dickie), who’s on the verge of dead weight. She frets incessantly and retains an unproductive desire for all things England. Their oldest child Thomasin (Anya Taylor-Joy), a blonde ingénue on the cusp of womanhood, helps out by tending to the twins (Ellie Grainger and Lucas Dawson) and the infant Samuel while her younger brother Caleb (Harvey Scrimshaw) accompanies William in his daily work on the farm. A hunting sojourn underscores the frailty of their existence, as William’s musket misfires when trained on a lone hare. That ominous rabbit and many other things from the woods come back to haunt the exiled clan.