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Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2: Awesome Remix, by Tyler Smith

2 May

I was not a big fan of the first Guardians of the Galaxy. While many people praised its offbeat tone and crazy characters, the whole thing seemed surprisingly conventional to me, especially when one considers director James Gunn’s previous work. The film certainly had the distinction of changing the way superhero movies would be marketed, using classic rock and witty banter to show that these films could have a sense of humor about themselves, but that hardly redeems it (in fact, it might actually condemn it all the more). So, as I walked into Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, I was trepidatious. It seemed to me that Marvel would have a hard time not doubling down on the successful elements of the first film and simply serving up more of the same. Thankfully, the studio seemed to see the success of the first film as license to allow James Gunn to cut loose and tell a truly unique story, realized with some genuinely gorgeous visuals and several exciting action (and comedy) sequences.

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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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Home Video Hovel: Never Too Young to Die, by Mat Bradley-Tschirgi

1 May

Never Too Young to Die pits John Stamos and Vanity against Gene Simmons in a tale of action, lust, and revenge. This is both as bland and entertaining as you might suspect for a low-budget 1980s actioner. Actors playing the heroes take this nonsense without a drop of with, while actors playing the villains camp it up to the rafters. If you enjoy a bit of nonsense with your explosions, Never Too Young to Die fits the bill as a fun addition to your home video library; a droll audio commentary by playwright Russell Dyball seals the deal.

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Home Video Hovel: The Handmaid’s Tale, by Scott Nye

28 Apr

No, sorry, this isn’t the new prestige show with Elizabeth Moss and some fetching bonnets. Instead, let me take you back to 1990, when an acclaimed director, writer, composer, and cast made a very uninteresting movie. You see Volker Schlöndorff working from a screenplay by Harold Pinter, based on a major novel by Margaret Atwood, with an acclaimed cast (Faye Dunaway, Robert Duvall, Aidan Quinn) headed by one of the most viable young actresses on the scene (Natasha Richardson) and a score by one of the screen’s most interesting composers (Ryuichi Sakamoto) and you think…oh wait a minute, there’s probably a reason this doesn’t get talked about much anymore. There is indeed.

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Citizen Jane: Battle for the City: Feet on the Ground, by David Bax

28 Apr

As a topic for a movie, “city planning” sounds almost comically dry and uninteresting. When faced with what it really means, though, especially at a time when humanity as a species is increasingly urbanized, almost nothing could be more vital. Citizen Jane: Battle for the City, Matt Tyrnauer’s crackling, vivacious new documentary, brings that vitality forward through most of twentieth century history, finally arriving at the doorstep of our present day.

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Czech That Film Tour 2017: The Noonday Witch, by Dayne Linford

21 Apr

At their weakest, horror movies can be boiled down to one or two “gotcha” elements, thematic or environmental springboards which carry the weight of the vulnerabilities and anxieties supposedly expressed in the piece. TVs in The Ring, showers in Psycho; at their strongest, however, theme and environment are one and the same – the shower in Psycho is not scary because showers are vulnerable and scary, though they are. The shower in Psycho is scary because Norman Bates is scary, and Norman Bates has a key, and a peephole, to that shower. He has a way into our intimate places, and can expose and exploit our secret vulnerabilities. Unfortunately, The Noonday Witch is not one of these movies, and it hopes that the terror of a heat-induced mental breakdown will be enough. If it’s not enough for Psycho, it’s not enough for anybody.

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