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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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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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Finding Oscar: Know Your Enemy, by David Bax

20 Apr

Despite the generic title of Ryan Suffern’s Finding Oscar, this documentary is far from anodyne. That much is made clear very early on, as we see multiple skeletons, some still wearing children’s clothing, exhumed from an unmarked mass grave while relatives stand around crying, 30 years of their worst fears being realized with every inch of bone that emerges from the dirt. This is a dark and visceral tale that Suffern is telling. It also turns out to be one jaw-dropping hell of a yarn.

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A Quiet Passion: Without Feathers, by Aaron Pinkston

20 Apr

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A Quiet Passion could be the title of most Terence Davies films, so it is particularly fun that the film called A Quiet Passion is, at least at times, an outlier for the filmmaker. Chronicling the adult life of poet Emily Dickinson (from what I can tell, the first film to take on her life), A Quiet Passion is a surprising blend of subject and filmmaker. Primarily known for deep and silently emotional dramas that tell the stories of simple people and British communities, Davies has been on a recent role with The Deep Blue Sea and Sunset Song (released last year). Emily Dickinson is a fantastic subject for Davies as a strong, independent and opinionated woman. A Quiet Passion’s comedic sensibility, however, seems like new territory.

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Jeremiah Tower: The Last Magnificent: No Reservations, by David Bax

20 Apr

No small number of comparisons have been made between food and sex. Usually, though, these extend only as far as the sensual properties of both. In Lydia Tenaglia’s uneven but occasionally revelatory new documentary, Jeremiah Tower: The Last Magnificent, the two things become connected at a pathological level, at least for the film’s subject, the renowned and mysterious chef of the title. In one of the earliest stories Tower shares, a formative experience with food—the delicate and meticulous cleaning, preparing and cooking of a freshly caught barracuda—is inextricably linked with his having been sexually molested at the age of six. Tower’s life is a bizarre and often compelling one but Tenaglia is ultimately undone by a desire to make it a more conventional, palatable one and to overlook Tower’s bullheaded egocentrism.

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Born in China: Lame Animals, by David Bax

20 Apr

Every year (or nearly every year), Disney releases a documentary about animals under their Disneynature imprint. These always hit theaters in April, timed to coincide with Earth Day. As an effort to raise and maintain global awareness of conservation issues and general interest in the natural world, it’s a commendable project. It’s just too bad these movies tend to stink. Lu Chuan’s Born in China is no exception.

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Free Fire: You Fill Up My Senses, by David Bax

19 Apr

Ben Wheatley’s Free Fire gets off to an unpromising start. Two 1970s Boston tough guys, Bernie and Stevo (Enzo Cilenti and Control’s Sam Riley), sit in a van trading 1970s Boston tough guy dialogue that sounds like it’s from a movie far below the eccentrically fun standard set by Wheatley’s previous work. “I see him again, he’s fucking dead.” That sort of thing. Eventually, though, a method to the mundanity reveals itself. Free Fire, though in every noticeable way a conventional crime film narrative, is actually a sort of experiment. Wheatley wants to see if he can take ten larger-than-life character archetypes, throw them into a large room and, starting at the end of the first act, tell a whole story that consists of little more than everyone shooting at each other. Like the gunmen and gunwoman in the movie, he doesn’t always hit his mark. But, by the end of it all, he’s made a lot of entertaining noise.

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