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Dances with Films 2017: The Meaning of Life, by David Bax

11 Jun

First things first. Who the hell names their movie The Meaning of Life in earnest? Even more than 30 years ago, the Monty Python crew knew that such a grandiose title could only be accompanied by absurdity. This time around, director Cat Hostick has opted instead for aggressive mediocrity.

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Independent Film Festival of Boston 2017: Chuck, by Sarah Brinks

2 May

You know subject of the film Chuck, Chuck Wepner, even if you have never heard of him. He’s the real-life inspiration for Sylvester Stallone’s Rocky. Wepner went fifteen rounds with Muhammad Ali in 1975 and is a local legend in Bayonne, New Jersey. I am on the record for not liking boxing movies… but I think I should be more accurate and simply say I don’t like boxing. The few boxing scenes in the film were certainly my least favorite but more interestingly, Chuck is the story of the rise and fall of a local sports celebrity.

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COLCOA 2017: Heaven Will Wait, by David Bax

1 May

The COLCOA (City of Lights, City of Angels) French Film Festival is a week of French film premieres in Hollywood.

In the opening scene of Marie-Castille Mention-Schaar’s Heaven Will Wait, a support group of French parents whose daughters have become radicalized Islamic jihadists discuss how they lost their children to a world they don’t understand. There were signs missed and signs ignored. The danger of dismissing a teen phase is that it’s not a phase to them. It’s an intriguing start to an exploration of an incomprehensible but all too real phenomenon. Unfortunately, Mention-Schaar isn’t interested in going much deeper.

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COLCOA 2017: A Bag of Marbles, by David Bax

1 May

The COLCOA (City of Lights, City of Angels) French Film Festival is a week of French film premieres in Hollywood.

Lately, I’ve been paying particularly rapt attention to movies about life under Nazi rule or occupation and how people reacted and survived. With the rise of white nationalists here in the United States, emboldened by a President with no qualms about courting them, I’ve taken to studying these true stories of the past, looking for clues or hints as to how to act, endure and overcome. In Christian Duguay’s impressive real life tale of survival, A Bag of Marbles, there are many lessons to be learned. One of the most important comes early on. After a Jewish barber in Paris stands up to a German soldier (in the days between the start of the occupation and the hammer coming down), someone remarks to him, “You spoke out because you still can.” May movies like this one encourage us to do the same today.

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COLCOA 2017: Everyone’s Life, by David Bax

1 May

The COLCOA (City of Lights, City of Angels) French Film Festival is a week of French film premieres in Hollywood.

Everyone’s Life, the latest from veteran French filmmaker Claude Lelouch, is a loose and sunny ensemble comedy with a bitter sense of humor. Call it optimistically cynical (or cynically optimistic) but for every bawdy joke tossed off by a doctor who makes his rounds on a hover board, there’s a scene like the violent, decidedly non-politically correct and, eventually, surreal public argument between a cheating woman and her Arabic boyfriend. Lelouch seems to be saying, “Well, pretty much everyone is cruel, selfish and corrupt but they have some good qualities too and we’ll probably figure it out in the end so don’t worry too much.”

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Independent Film Festival of Boston 2017: Street Fighting Men, by Sarah Brinks

1 May

Street Fighting Men is a documentary that takes a close-up look at three men’s lives in modern Detroit. Detroit is a city with a troubled past and a troubled present. It is a city that is struggling with poverty, drugs, and gang crime. Street Fighting Men takes a close look at how three men in modern Detroit are making it through day to day life over about a three-year period of time.

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Ebertfest 2017: Day Four, by Aaron Pinkston

27 Apr

I always have mixed emotions about Saturday at Ebertfest. It is the busiest day, with an extra matinee screening—and who would complain about more movies? But considering I’m already exhausted from the week, tired of eating garbage food for every meal and missing home, the end seems sweet. Thankfully, the festival will end with a bang for me, with two profile documentaries, a 90s fantasy well worth revisiting, and my first viewing of a Hal Ashby classic comedy.

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Czech That Film Tour 2017: I, Olga Hepnarova, by Dayne Linford

26 Apr

In July, 1973, Olga Hepnarová, then twenty-one years old, purposefully drove a truck into a crowd of pedestrians waiting for a tram. Eight were killed, and, two years later, Hepnarová was executed under the Communist government of Czechoslovakia for the crime. Though the Soviet state that she claimed to be enacting revenge upon has since passed, the bracing, random nature of her crime, and the method of its commission, ought to ring a bell to viewers remembering the slaughters in Nice in 2016 and Stockholm more recently. Her place as an isolated, queer outsider, might feel reminiscent of the Columbine shootings in Colorado in 1999. Indeed, the very fact of her mass killing stretches across the world and across our history, even, almost certainly, into the future.

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Ebertfest 2017: Day Three, by Aaron Pinkston

26 Apr

Whereas Day Two of the 2017 Roger Ebert’s Film Festival highlighted its aims to showcase the overlooked and underappreciated, Day Three showed off its diverse interests.

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Czech That Film Tour 2017: The Teacher, by Dayne Linford

26 Apr

Social systems have a tendency to self-replicate, and therefore self-reinforce, all the way down the ladder, forming a fractal pattern, a series of the same values and, often, the same abuses. Growing up in a capitalist system, children learn to be good little mini-businesspeople, trading candy at lunchtime and favors after school. Learning to exist according to class, the janitor’s kid soon knows to pay deference to his friend, the banker’s son. In fiction, it’s often these small-scale replications that are the most fruitful, the most intimate and powerful. Jan Hrebejk’s The Teacher is certainly one of these, the story of a small classroom in 1983 Czechoslovakia, dominated by a dictatorial teacher, who begins each school year by taking down the occupations of her student’s parents, a helpful guidebook for an extortion scheme revolving around petty favors rendered in exchange for good grades.

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