Tag Archives: Boston

Free Fire

26 Apr

With ‘Free Fire,’ Ben Wheatley Puts His Bloody Stamp On Boston Crime Comedy

Cillian Murphy and Michael Smiley in "Free Fire." (Courtesy A24)closemore

“Free Fire,” the plucky black comedy about an arms deal gone awry, just might be the most gonzo crime movie to be set in Boston — and it wasn’t even shot here.

Ben Wheatley, the hip noirish auteur who turned heads with “Kill List” and, more recently, the near-apocalyptic anthropology experiment “High Rise,” shot this battle royal in a dilapidated warehouse in England. Much of the cast too is European and thankfully, only one is tasked with attempting our infamous accent.

Early on, we get a slick nighttime glimmer across the harbor at a silhouette that looks vaguely like our stately Custom House Tower. Beyond that, nothing in the film feels remotely Boston. And to compound the foreign-familiar feeling, it’s set in the late-1970s when 8-track was king, and John Denver rules the soundtrack. Why the British director and his co-writer and wife, Amy Jump, decided to set such a caper in Boston probably had something to do with the allure of our rich criminal lore that has become boundless in its cinematic incarnations.

Armie Hammer, Brie Larson, Cillian Murphy, Sam Riley and Michael Smiley in "Free Fire." (Courtesy Kerry Brown/A24)
Armie Hammer, Brie Larson, Cillian Murphy, Sam Riley and Michael Smiley in “Free Fire.” (Courtesy Kerry Brown/A24)

The orientation doesn’t matter so much as we’re quickly inside an abandoned factory warehouse where practically all of the action takes place (the film’s only 85 minutes long and I’d say that 84 of them are in, or just outside the waterfront warehouse that you can imagine being in the now bustling Seaport back when it was a desolate industrial wasteland). What Wheatley and Jump serve up is a thick den of thieves with hidden agendas and a double dealer, a plot structure Quentin Tarantino made retro-hip with “Reservoir Dogs” in 1992 and his 2015 western redux, “The Hateful Eight.” Wheatley, a stylist of hyper violence in his own right, takes the barebones and puts his bloody stamp on it. 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

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

Patriots Day

19 Dec

Wahlberg’s Dramatized ‘Patriots Day’ Won’t Suture Any Wounds

Mark Wahlberg as fictional BPD Sergeant Tommy Saunders in "Patriots Day." (Courtesy CBS Films)

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.

Continue reading

Manchester by the Sea

23 Nov
Michelle Williams and Casey Affleck star as exes in Manchester by the Sea

 

Heartbreak and resentment fill nearly every frame of Kenneth Lonergan’s emotionally charged drama that delves into redemption and atonement in ways that are so bleakly real and to the bone, it lingers with you days later — something few movies have done so far this year with the notable exceptions of Moonlight, Loving, and The Handmaiden.

Manchester by the Sea begins with the tedious anguish of unclogging a stopped up toilet. It’s immediately apparent that the handler of the plunger, Lee Chandler (Casey Affleck), suffers from more than just the stench of the task at hand. Lee’s a quiet inward man who toils as a handyman/janitor in Boston until his brother’s weak heart beckons him back to the town of the film’s title — a 40 minute scoot north —where we learn that Lee had existed before in happier and more prosperous times. The gorgeous seaside town itself becomes a story of two sides, the well-to-do living in stately green-lawned manses while the working class fishermen nestle up in cozy, but cramped cottages along pot-hole marred lanes. Lee’s past there is a ghost he doesn’t want to confront and the cold chalky grey of winter descending poetically underscores his aching dread. Continue reading

Spotlight

7 Nov

Michael Keaton leads an ensemble cast in the riveting investigative drama Spotlight

Shine a Light

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Spotlight is rare journey into journalism that gets at the heart of its investigators’ subject without grandstanding the personalities or personal lives of those doing the poking around. Like the classic All the President’s Men and David Fincher’s Zodiac, Spotlight rides the rails of well-known history — in this case, the Catholic pedophilia scandal in Boston — but despite the anticlimactic nature of knowing how it ends, the film unfurls with intrigue, putting the viewer in the seat of those unearthing the unseemly truths, learning in the moment as the moment unfolds. The simple and earnest approach casts a sympathetic, but never maudlin, light on the victims of child sexual abuse during the 1980s and 1990s with a subtle poignancy that ultimately builds to a roar.

At the center of Spotlight looms the tribal, nepotistic nature of Boston, where hushing up crimes is easily accomplished with money and strong-arm tactics. It’s a world where the powerful prey upon the weak, in this case pedophilic priests targeting boys and girls from the city’s vanishing blue-collar neighborhoods. Many of these children were from broken homes without a stable male figure and riddled with substance abuse.

Spotlight takes its name from the Boston Globe investigative team that ultimately uncovered the massive church cover-up. At the center of the film is team editor Walter Robby Robinson (Michael Keaton). Like many Bostonians he was raised Catholic and went to a Catholic high school across the street from the Globe. And it’s not until the arrival of new managing editor Marty Baron (Liev Schreiber), a solemn Jew up from Miami, that Robby and the Spotlight crew begin looking at the link between the abuse cases. Although you get the sense that Robby only reluctantly pursues the case at first, he and his team ultimately become dogged pursuers of the truth who are more than willing to go up against the iconic institution of their rearing, an institution protected by money, reach, and power.

Director and co-writer Todd McCarthy, who’s had great success plumbing the heart of everyday human drama with The Station Agent and The Visitor, succeeds again with Spotlight, thanks in part to his ensemble cast, including Rachel McAdams, Mark Ruffalo, Stanley Tucci, John Slattery, and Billy Crudup. In the end, McCarthy’s film is about truth and reckoning and the prospect of giving a modicum of vindication to those broken and tormented souls who suffered at the hands of those they most trusted.

Black Mass

17 Sep