Movie Reviews: Between the Lines (1977)


Title: Between the Lines
Release Date: April 27, 1977
Director: Joan Micklin Silver
Production Company: Midwest Films
Summary/Review:

This ensemble film broadly tells the story of an alternative newspaper in Boston as the deal with evaporation of the idealism of 60s counterculture and the threat of takeover by a corporate publisher.  More specifically it is a group of character studies and an examination of gender dynamics in relationships.  The film feels a lot like a television “dramedy,” maybe even a pilot to an ongoing series.  This isn’t criticism, but more of an observation that they just don’t make movies like this anymore.  Nowadays this would probably be made as a limited streaming series.

The cast includes John Heard, Lindsay Crouse (who appeared in Slap Shot the same year), Gwen Welles (following up on her work in Nashville), Jeff Goldblum (another Nashville veteran appearing in this Altman-esque film), Stephen Collins (as a controlling character that seems to match his later real life sexual misconduct), Bruno Kirby (following up on The Godfather, Part II, Jill Eikenberry, and Michael J. Pollard (most famous for Bonnie and Clyde). The running plots in this movies, as they are, include:

  • The on-again/off-again relationship of disillusioned writer Harry (Heard) and photographer Abbie (Crouse)
  • Another relationship between writers Laura (Welles) and Michael (Collins) where Michael has used his success in writing a book to run roughshod over Laura’s hopes and dreams
  • Rock critic Max (Goldblum) just trying to get a raise
  • Idealistic young reporter David (Kirby) trying to report on a scandal in local government
  • Also, the filmmakers got Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes to perform in this film and really felt good about that get

Overall, the men in this film are narcissistic and a bit creepy.  The women seem eager to enjoy the sexual revolution but questioning why they have to do it with these men.  Since this is the 1970s the movie features a lot of gratuitous nudity.  But one of the better scenes is when Harry and Abbie go to interview an exotic dancer (Marilu Henner) and Abbie is able to strike up a genuine rapport when Harry just relies on the same stereotypical questions of sex workers.  It’s a nice touch that I think benefits from having a woman director.

This movie is set in Boston but doesn’t have any of the usual Hollywood stereotypes of Boston. The characters generally grumble about their lives and are snarky in their conversations, which is on point for Boston.  And we get to have fun with movies and their convoluted geography.  The newspaper is supposed to be based in Back Bay, but their office (in a converted house) is decidedly not in Back Bay.  I think it’s actually shot in Cambridgeport.  There’s also a scene where Goldblum and Kirby exit the office and suddenly are in Harvard Square.  Over all though, they make good use of the city as a set.  I particularly like the overhead shot of Copley Square before it was renovated and before the construction of Copley Place Mall, as well as a scene on the platform at Charles/MGH when the Red Line trains weren’t Red.

Should you be curious, watching this prompted me to make a list of every Boston film I could find on Letterboxd.

Rating: ***1/2

Book Review: Black Jacks: African American Seamen in the Age of Sail by W. Jeffrey. Bolster


Author: W. Jeffrey. Bolster
Title: Black Jacks: African American Seamen in the Age of Sail
Publication Info: Harvard University Press (2009)
Summary/Review:

I read this book with my co-workers to see if we can better reflect the experience of Black sailors in the archival records of ships and merchant mariners.  It’s a broad overview of Black sailors in America in the 18th and 19th centuries. It traces the sailing traditions of Black Americans to their African roots.   In some cases, enslaved Black men served as sailors and ship’s pilots at the behest of their enslavers.  Free Black men found a greater level of freedom and equality in the maritime trades than in other areas of work available to them, although the practices of ship discipline were contradictorily some of the most restrictive to liberty. A great percentage of New England and New York Black men found work in the maritime trades in the 1800s although at the cost of separation of families and loss of community leadership.

There are numerous fascinating stories in this book about people I’d like to learn more about.  These include Richard “King Dick Crafus who lead the Black US Navy sailors held prisoner at Dartmoor during and after the War of 1812, and who remained a revered member of Boston’s Black community decades later.  Robert Smalls was a pilot who escaped from slavery in Charleston during the Civil War and turned a gunboat over to the Union Navy.  David Walker distributed the abolitionist tract “Appeal to the Colored Citizens of the World” while working at a second-hand clothing shop near the wharves of Boston.  Honestly, these stories should be made into movies.


Favorite Passages:

“Whereas white seamen were among the most marginalized men in white society, black seamen found access to privileges, worldliness, and wealth denied to most slaves.” – p. 36

Recommended books:
Rating: ****

Movie Review: Children of Heaven (1997)


Title: Children of Heaven
Release Date: February 1997
Director: Majid Majidi
Production Company:The Institute for the Intellectual Development of Children & Young Adults
Summary/Review:

Ali (Amir Farrokh Hashemian) and Zahra (Bahare Seddiqi) are a brother and sister in a poor family of Tehran.  Ali picks up Zahra’s shoes from the cobbler but misplaces them on the way home.  Knowing that their father (Reza Naji) won’t have money to buy new shoes, they come up with a plan to share Ali’s canvas sneakers.  Apparently, Zahra only goes to school in the morning and Ali in the afternoon but the time they have to change the shoes cuts things close.

The movie is sweet in following the adventures of ordinary children sharing a pair of shoes, but something heartbreaking happens every few minutes. It’s a good reminder of the little ways that poverty can interfere with a child’s education contrary to the “No Excuses Charter School” ideology that places all the burden on the child to have the “grit” to learn.  But I digress.  This movie reminds me a lot of Bicycle Thieves although not quite to that level of tragedy.  Ali and Zahra are also absolutely adorable.

Rating:  ****

Album of the Week: Wet Leg by Wet Leg


Album: Wet Leg
Artist: Wet Leg
Release Date: April 8, 2022
Label: Domino Recording Co Ltd
Favorite Tracks:

  • Being in Love
  • Chaise Longue
  • Wet Leg
  • Ur Mum
  • Supermarket
  • Too Late Now

Thoughts: Wet Leg feels more like a compilation than a debut album since the British indie rock duo of Rhian Teasdale and Hester Chambers have been releasing a string of infectious singles since spring of 2021.  The lyrics are brazen, sometimes bratty, and the hooks are infectious.

Rating: ***1/2

Album of the Week 2022

January

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May

Song of the Week: “This Hell” by Rina Sawayama


Rina Sawayama – “This Hell”

Rina Sawayama, a Japanese-British singer-songwriter, released the first single from her upcoming sophomore album Hold the Girl. “This Hell” is a celebratory 80s-style dance pop track with a country twang.  Despite the upbeat mood of the song, the lyrics deal with important topical issues.  Sawayama states:

It’s an important song for me given the human rights that are being taken away from minorities at a rapid rate in the name of traditional religious beliefs, more specifically I was thinking about the rights being taken away from the LGBTQ community when I wrote this song. When the world tells us we don’t deserve love and protection, we have no choice but to give love and protection to each other. This Hell is better with you. – The A.V. Club

 

Song of the Week 2022

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Movie Review: Say Anything… (1989)


TitleSay Anything…
Release Date: April 14, 1989
Director: Cameron Crowe
Production Company: Gracie Films
Summary/Review:

Lloyd Dobler (John Cusack) is a well-liked teenager with a lot of nervous energy and a passion for kickboxing, who lives with his older sister (Joan Cusack) and young nephew. Diane Court (Ione Skye) is a academic high achiever who feels she’s missed out on the social connections of high school.  At the time of their high school graduation, Lloyd decides he wants to ask Diane out although his friends Corey (Lili Taylor) and D.C. (Amy Brooks) say she’s out of his league. Nevertheless, with persistence, Lloyd and Diane form a bond and begin a whirlwind romance in the summer before she leaves for a fellowship in England.  Things hit a snag when Diane’s close relationship with her divorced father Jim (John Mahoney, soon to remain in Seattle and be Fraser’s father) is shaken by an IRS investigation into his embezzling funds from the residents of the retirement home he operates.

That’s the basic plot of the movie, but it really doesn’t say anything  (ha!) about why this movie is so special.  More than any other teen movie of the period, the characters feel like real human beings with natural behaviors and motivations.  Cameron Crowe’s script is sharp with lots of memorable dialogue.  And the editing is interesting, really showing the development of a relationship over a period of time without excessive exposition.  Then there’s the iconic soundtrack featuring songs by Fishbone, The Replacements, and, of course, “In Your Eyes” by Peter Gabriel.  But seriously, this movie is sooooo much more than that boombox scene.

Rating: ****1/2

Favorite Movies of All Time: 150-141


Over the past few years I’ve made a concerted effort to watch lots of movies considered to be among the best of all time.  Now, for the first time, I’ve made my own list of favorite movies of all time.  Every other Wednesday throughout 2022, I will be revealing ten movies in my list of 250 Favorite Movies of All Time.

250-241 200-190
240-231 190-181
230-221 180-171
220-211 170-161
210-201 160-151

150

Title: Cléo from 5 to 7
Director: Agnès Varda
Cast: Corinne Marchand, Antoine Bourseiller, Dominique Davray, Dorothée Blanc, Michel Legrand
Year: 1962
When did I first watch this movie?: February 2020
Why is this one of my all time favorites?:  The New Wave style reaches its apotheosis when a female director uses its techniques to tell a story about women and their relationships. Varda demonstrates that she’s a director deeply in touch with what it means to be human.


149

Title: Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan 
Director: Nicholas Meyer
Cast: William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelley, James Doohan, Walter Koenig, George Takei, Nichelle Nichols, Bibi Besch, Merritt Butrick, Paul Winfield, Kirstie Alley, Ricardo Montalbán
Year: 1982
When did I first watch this movie?: 1984
Why is this one of my all time favorites?: I’d watched a few episodes of Star Trek in reruns but this movie was essentially my introduction to Star Trek when I saw it on cable as a child.  And what a great introduction since this is Star Trek at its peak!


148

Title: Dead Poets Society
Director: Peter Weir
Cast: Robin Williams, Robert Sean Leonard, Ethan Hawke, Josh Charles, Gale Hansen, Norman Lloyd
Year: 1989
When did I first watch this movie?: 1989
Why is this one of my all time favorites?: Robin Williams plays a teacher who inspires wealthy white boys to embrace life and somehow it’s brilliant.  One of Williams’ top performances.


147

Title: Next Stop Wonderland 
Director: Brad Anderson
Cast: Hope Davis, Alan Gelfant, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Cara Buono, José Zúñiga
Year: 1998
When did I first watch this movie?: 1998
Why is this one of my all time favorites?: Hollywood sees Boston as the endless source for uber-violent Irish mobster crime stories, but this independent film sees the possibilities of Boston for romantic comedy.  The clever plot tells the parallels stories of two young adults seeking an honest companionship.


146

Title: Stand by Me
Director: Rob Reiner
Cast: Wil Wheaton, River Phoenix, Corey Feldman, Jerry O’Connell, Kiefer Sutherland
Year: 1986
When did I first watch this movie?: 1986
Why is this one of my all time favorites?: Maybe one of the best movies about childhood friendship and probably the best adaptation of a Stephen King story to film.


145

Title: Rocky 
Director: John G. Avildsen
Cast: Sylvester Stallone, Talia Shire, Burt Young, Carl Weathers, Burgess Meredith
Year: 1976
When did I first watch this movie?: 1991
Why is this one of my all time favorites?: Not a movie about boxing, but a very human story about a boxer.  This movie is also personal for me in that it reminds me of my father.


144

Title: Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory
Director: Mel Stuart
Cast: Gene Wilder, Jack Albertson, Peter Ostrum, Roy Kinnear, Denise Nickerson, Leonard Stone, Julie Dawn Cole, Paris Themmen, Dodo Denney
Year: 1971
When did I first watch this movie?: 1985
Why is this one of my all time favorites?: A creepy capitalist allows children to die in his OSHA-noncompliant factory and then has his employees perform moralistic song and dance numbers about them.  What’s not to love?


143

Title: When Harry Met Sally… 
Director: Rob Reiner
Cast: Billy Crystal, Meg Ryan, Carrie Fisher, Bruno Kirby
Year: 1989
When did I first watch this movie?: 1990
Why is this one of my all time favorites?: A genre-defining romcom with quotable dialogue and topnotch performances from its four lead actors.


142

Title: Some Like It Hot
Director: Billy Wilder
Cast: Marilyn Monroe, Tony Curtis, Jack Lemmon, George Raft, Joe E. Brown, Pat O’Brien
Year: 1959
When did I first watch this movie?: mid-80s
Why is this one of my all time favorites?: Classic cornball comedy with Monroe, Curtis, and Lemmon in their most memorable roles.


141

Title: The Madness of King George
Director: Nicholas Hytner
Cast: Nigel Hawthorne, Helen Mirren, Ian Holm, Amanda Donohoe, Rupert Graves, Rupert Everett
Year:  1994
When did I first watch this movie?: 1995
Why is this one of my all time favorites?: This movie takes the piss out of the monarchy and British history but nevertheless allows its protagonist to retain his dignity.

Movie Review: Song of the Sea


Title: Song of the Sea
Release Date: 10 December 2014
Director:  Tomm Moore
Production Company: Cartoon Saloon | Melusine Productions | Big Farm | Super Productions | Noerlum Studios
Summary/Review:

This movie has been on my list since I loved the other productions from Cartoon Saloon, The Secret of Kells and Wolfwalkers. Song of the Sea is a worthy member of this trilogy.  Like the other films, Song of the Sea is built on Irish folklore, incorporating traditional art styles into the animation.  In this case, the story deals with the legend of the selkie, magical beings who can transform from human to seal.

Two children, 10-year-old Ben (David Rawle) and 6-year-old Saoirse (Lucy O’Connell) grow up on a remote island off present-day Ireland where their father Conor (Brendan Gleeson) is the lighthouse keeper.  Their mother Bronagh (Lisa Hannigan) disappeared at the time of Saoirse’s birth, and the family grieve her absence.  On Halloween, Saoirse follows fairy lights to the sea and is revealed as a selkie.  Unfortunately,  her Granny (Fionnula Flanagan) finds her on the shore and convinces Conor that the children need to move with her to the city.

Ben and Saoirse thus must make a journey across Ireland to return to their island home and save the Faeries. Along the way they meet Faeries who live in a roundabout, a holy well that is home to The Great Seanachaí (Jon Kenny), and the giant Mac Lir (Gleeson).  Their main antagonist is Macha (Flanagan), the Owl Witch, who traps the emotions of Faeries in jars and turns them into stone (Is there nothing more Irish than literally bottling up emotions?).

It’s a beautiful movie with a touching and inspiring story.  And Saoirse is the cutest thing ever.

Rating: ****1/2

Book Review: Triangle The Fire That Changed America by David Von Drehle


Author: David Von Drehle
Title: Triangle:The Fire That Changed America
Narrator: Barrett Whitener
Publication Info: New York : Atlantic Monthly Press, [2003]
Summary/Review:

At closing time on Saturday, March 25, 1911, a fire started at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory on the 8th, 9th, and 10th floors of the Asch Building in New York’s Greenwich Village.  146 people – mostly young women and girls – died as result of the fire, many of them jumping to their deaths because locked doorways prevented their exit.  The fire proved pivotal in leading to legislation for factory safety and the growth of the International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union (ILGWU), a union that lives on today in UNITE HERE.

Von Drehle provides a thorough but concise history of the fire, with all the grim details, and the ensuing trial which failed to find the company owners guilty of manslaughter. There’s also a lot of background before the fire.  This includes the history of the factory owners, themselves immigrant strivers who rose to wealth and prominence.  The stories of many of the garment workers are also included, most of them immigrants from Eastern Europe and Italy, who had survived pogroms in Poland and volcanic eruptions in Italy before seemingly finding stability in New York.  A massive strike lead by the ILGWU in 1909 is also covered in some detail.

If there’s any flaw in this book it is that it doesn’t quite live up to it’s subtitle “The Fire That Changed America.”  For the aftereffects of the fire, Von Drehle emphasizes the rise of progressive Tammany Hall politicians Alfred E. Smith and Robert F. Wagner, and how they brought about an urban liberalism that lead to the New Deal.  I wouldn’t say this is a stretch but I think it’s a more high-level approach to history than it would be to detail what women and immigrant communities did in response to the fire.  Nevertheless, I did find the book to be very interesting and informative.  The building that housed the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory still stands and I paid my respects to the workers killed in the fire on a visit to New York in 2007.

Recommended books:

Rating: ****

Movie Review: Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000)


Title: Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
Release Date: 7 July 2000
Director: Ang Lee
Production Company: Columbia Pictures Film Production Asia | Good Machine International | Edko Films | Zoom Hunt Productions | China Film Co-Production Corp. | Asian Union Film & Entertainment Ltd.
Summary/Review: I last watched Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon when it was released in US theaters 21 years ago and it turns out I remembered very little of the movie.  The one thing that stuck with me was the duel fought on the tops of a forest of bamboo which remains an awe-inspiring image in this rewatch.

The film centers on Jen Yu (Zhang Ziyi), the daughter of a governor who is promised in marriage but yearns for a life free to determine on her own terms.  She learns Wudang skills from a bandit named Jade Fox (Cheng Pei-pei) who is disguised as her governess and steals a famed sword named Green Destiny from the renowned swordsman Li Mu Bai (Chow Yun-fat).  Mu Bai and his friend Yu Shu Lien (Michelle Yeoh) investigate the theft of the sword and attempt to aid Jen who resists any interference.

The movie features several wuxia fight setpieces, and in addition to being amazing action sequences also are all rooted in relationships and plot points.  I’m impressed at how central women are in almost all the roles of this film especially since in just the last decade it’s been “controversial” for women to be centered in Hollywood action films.  I also was really touched by the unspoken romance between Mu Bai and Shu Lien which is paid off in the film’s denouement.  Chow and Yeoh are really terrific actors and express a lot of emotion with very little external display.

Rating: ****