Movie Review: The Out of Towners (1970)


Title: The Out of Towners 
Release Date: May 28, 1970
Director: Arthur Hiller
Production Company: Jalem Productions
Summary/Review:

I don’t know where I got the idea that The Out-of-Towners was a comedy classic, but I guess I figured the combination of Jack Lemmon and Neil Simon would be good for a few laughs.  It turns out the movie offers very few laughs indeed.  Lemmon plays George Kellerman, a businessman from Ohio who travels to New York City with his much put-upon wife Gwen (Sandy Dennis) in order to conduct an interview for a prestigious job. Naturally, every thing that can go wrong goes wrong including a delayed flight that is rerouted to Boston, a crowded train to New York, the inability to get a meal anywhere, losing their hotel room, being robbed, and then abducted, and even getting caught up in an anti-Cuban protest.

There are a few good moments. I particularly like when Gwen and George celebrate finding half-a-box of Cracker Jack to eat for breakfast. The topical references – sanitation and transit strikes, Cuban hijackings – make it a good time capsule for 1970. The movie was also filmed on location in a lot of places in New York and Boston, so I really enjoyed seeing what places looked like 50 years ago.

The main problem with this movie is that George and Gwen aren’t very likable.  Lemmon and Dennis are so talented that I was never totally able to hate them, but I also wasn’t really on their side.  The running gag with George creating an Arya Stark-like list of people he is going to sue is just one of the many things that are plain not funny.  My sense is the New Yorker Neil Simon created his stereotypes of what an awful pair of out-of-towners from the midwest are like without considering that the protagonists are someone you should actually want to root for.  This movie, like the latter-day comedy Quick Change, falls into the “New York is Awful” genre, but I couldn’t help thinking that at the end of the movie when George and Gwen decide to (spoiler) stay in Ohio, that it is New York City that dodged a bullet.

Rating: **

Podcasts of the Two Weeks Ending August 15


I subscribe to too many podcasts while simultaneously having less time to listen to them. Forgive the interlude as I catch you up on two weeks of podcasts.

Brattle Film Podcast :: Behind the Scenes on Boston Movies

The Brattle Theatre in Cambridge had a great series on Boston Movies and all four podcasts are worth listening to, but I particularly liked this final podcast where they interview on-set dresser Adam Roffman about the behind-the-scenes production of movies in Boston and how they’ve changed over time.

Fresh Air :: Jeffrey Toobin On The ‘Tragedy’ Of The Mueller Report

How the Democrats were out-maneuvered by the Trump administration allowing him to get away with obstruction of justice.

Radiolab :: Uncounted

An episode on voting rights focuses on the District of Columbia’s non-voting delegate to Congress and the movement to lower the voting age to 16.

This American Life :: Nice White Parents

A public middle school in Brooklyn with a predominately non-white student body deals with an unexpected influx of white students and the effects that of white parents involvement in the school operations.  This is the first episode of Chana Joffe-Walt’s series called Nice White Parents that is both fascinating in its exploration of the changes at one school over time and cringe-inducing by the careless and clueless behavior of white parents (and the school districts who cater to their interests).  I particularly like that Joffe-Walt asks tough questions and doesn’t let people get away without answering them.

Have You Heard :: Pandemics Pods: Parents, Privilege, Power, and Politics

Speaking of Nice White Parents, you may have heard of the latest trend of “pandemic pods” where parents pool together funds to hire a teacher or tutor to educate a small group of students at home instead of returning to school during the Covid-19 pandemic. This podcast explains the devastating effects this latest form of “white flight” will have and how it opens the doors to the worst offerings of disaster capitalists.

99% Invisible :: Policing the Open Road

A century ago, the rise of the automobile as a predominant form of transportation led to an increase of policing to enforce road rules. The changes lead to a vast increase in ordinary peoples’ interaction with the police, increased police power and professionalization, and even the loss of Constitutional protections against unreasonable search and seizures.

Throughline :: Reframing History: The Litter Myth

In the 1950s, industry leaders organized to create Keep America Beautiful that produced public service announcements against littering. The seemingly benign ads had the effect of transferring responsibility for the environment from industries that made disposable single-use packaging to the personal responsibility of consumers. This conflict in how to deal with environmental issues persists to this day, and corporations still rely on “greenwashing” to make them look environmentally responsible.

Code Switch :: Kamala, Joe, And The Fissures In The Base

If you listen to pundits, and the Democrats 2020 presidential candidate, you might come to believe that Black Americans are a monolithic voting bloc.  This myth is dispelled in Code Switch where the diversity of opinions and conflicts even within Black families over politics are strong.

Decoder Ring :: Mystery of the Mullet

The mullet hairstyle, short in front and long in back, is worn by a diversity of people ranging from macho men in rural communities to lesbian women, from hockey players to heavy metal heads. But the Oxford English Dictionary traces the use of the term “mullet” only to 1994, surprisingly late for a hairstyle identified with the 1980s.  Willa Paskin investigates this linguistic mystery.  Personally, I never heard the term mullet until the late 1990s and had heard them called short-longs prior to mullet gaining popularity.


RUNNING TALLY OF PODCAST OF THE WEEK APPEARANCES

Podcasts of the Week Ending July 18


Afropop Worldwide :: Africa and the Blues

In this podcast, we learn about how African music is more than just “the roots” and the ties between Africa and American blues traditions.

Brattle Film Podcast :: Boston on Film, Part 1

Boston is the setting for many movies, and the crime movie – also known as the Three Decker Movie or Boston No-r – is one of the most common genres.  Here’s a discussion of some of the best.

Decoder Ring :: The Karen

The history of how an archetype of the entitled, middle-class white women became known as The Karen.

The Last Archive :: Tomorrowland

The final episode of the series on “Who Killed Truth” travels from time capsules to Disneyland to Mark Zuckerberg’s dorm room to find answers.

Twenty Thousand Hertz :: Hamilton Remix

A breakdown of the remarkable sound design that goes into the stage production of Hamilton: An American Musical.

What Next :: The First Federal Execution in 17 Years

The United States takes another step into a neo-fascist state by resuming capital punishment at the federal level.

   :: Sweden Screwed Up

While we may be focused on how the United States totally bungled the response to the COVID-19 pandemic, we can learn from Sweden of a complete different way to mess things up.

 

 


Movie Review: Birth of a Movement (2017)


TitleBirth of a Movement
Release Date: February 6, 2017
Director: Susan Gray and Bestor Cram
Production Company: Northern Light Productions
Summary/Review:

This documentary is about William Monroe Trotter, a civil rights leader and newspaper editor in Boston in the early 20th century.  Raised in a well-to-do family and Harvard educated, Trotter advocated for more radical civil rights activism than his peers such as Booker T. Washington.  He participated in founding the NAACP, but ultimately did not find it radical enough.

The documentary is also about D.W. Griffith, the groundbreaking filmmaker, who made the first Hollywood blockbuster in 1915.  Released 50 years after the end of the Civil War and based on a novel  called The Clansman, the film was eventually re-titled Birth of Nation. The movie depicts the Civil War through a sympathetic portrayal of the insurgent Southerners.  The post-war Reconstruction is depicted as a time when bestial, sexually-aggressive Black men (portrayed by white actors in blackface) ran rampant until the Ku Klux Klan restores order.

The movie gained widespread acclaim and opposition as Griffith opened it in cities across the country, and even held the first ever film screening in the White House for President Woodrow Wilson.  Knowing that Boston had a history of supporting abolition and Black civil rights, Griffith targeted the city for an opening knowing that success there would lead to widespread distribution of the film.  Trotter organized massive protests against the film’s opening at Tremont Theatre across from Boston Common.  While the protests failed to stop the screening, Trotter’s protests did invigorate a new direction for Black civil rights activism.

Rating: ****

Album Review: Unlovely by The Ballroom Thieves


Album: Unlovely
Artist: The Ballroom Thieves 
Release Date: February 12, 2020
Label: Nettwerk Records
Favorite Tracks:

  • Unlovely
  • Tenebrist
  • Homme Run
  • Begin Again
  • Pendulum

Thoughts:

I first learned of Boston-based trio The Ballroom Thieves a few years ago when they were the standout performers at a festival I attended.  Their new album speaks to our times with lyrics that address personal relationship and social movements, and often both at the same time.  The band is described as folk rock and Americana, but I don’t think those genres quite capture the infectious pop sound of the songs that also draw upon classic rock, soul, and even a touch of metal.

Calin “Callie” Peters (vocals, cello, bass), Martin Earley (vocals, guitar), and Devin Mauch (vocals, percussion) are all excellent instrumentalists and the recording captures their performances as well as their tight harmonies.  I tend to get lost in music at the expense of the lyrics, but I was drawn into the chorus of my favorite track “Tenebrist” which is both inspirational and sarcastic:

We all muddy the water
To make it seem less shallow
And if our grief grows like a shadow
In the morning that’s alright
We need the dark to know the light

The music hides anger, frustration, and exhaustion with our political present in the lyrics, so it’s worth a deep listen.

Rating: ****

This performance from WGBH leads off with “Tenebrist” and some older tracks.

The Paste Studio performance includes “Homme Run,” “Love is Easy,” and “Pendulum.”

 

Classic Movie Review: The Friends of Eddie Coyle (1973)


Title: The Friends of Eddie Coyle
Release Date: June 26, 1973
Director: Peter Yates
Production Company: Paramount Pictures
Summary/Review:

Long before The Departed and several adaptations of Denis Lehane novels made the Boston Crime Movie a cliche, there was The Friends of Eddie Coyle. Unlike most of the movies that I watched for this classic movie project this is not one that’s considered one of the great movies of all time, but I put it on my list because it’s considered one of the great Boston movies of all time.  Having watched it, I think it deserves much wider recognition because it is a powerful, well-acted, well-paced, and well-scripted film.

Unlike more recent Boston Crime Movies, The Friends of Eddie Coyle emphasizes the mundanity of life in the mob.  Doing mob work is work and for Eddie Coyle (Robert Mitchum) it is  – literally and figuratively – a dead end job.  Sorry for the spoiler, but it’s clear from the beginning that Eddie is not much longer for this world, although you do pull for him to some how get out his situation.

Eddie’s job is to get guns for a gang of bank robbers who need fresh weapons for each heist.  He buys them from gun runner Jackie Brown (Steven Keats).  Coyle is also facing a prison sentence for getting caught in New Hampshire with a truck full of stolen liquor and refusing to squeal on who he was working for, the bartender/mob boss Dillon (Peter Boyle).  He asks ATF agent Dave Foley (Richard Jordan) for help with a recommendation to the judge, but Foley expects him to turn informer in return.

At first the movie seems disjointed, with scenes of Eddie, Jackie, Dillon, and Dave going about their business intercut with bank robberies.  But it all comes together brilliantly in the end. As I noted above, this movie emphasizes the mundane, everyday aspects of organized crime.  There’s no glamour here, and there’s actually only a handful of scenes of violence.  But the movie does offer terrific acting, especially Mitchum, who pretty much lives in his role as Eddie.

For Boston lovers, there are a lot of great location shots including familiar spots like City Hall Plaza and the old Boston Garden, where Eddie waxes poetically over Bobby Orr in the most Boston scene ever caught on film.  There are also scenes shot in a no longer extant Back Bay bar that is a platonic ideal of the men’s bars that no longer exist.  And although I can’t confirm, I’m almost certain there’s a scene in the late, lamented Doyle’s Cafe.  Much of the film is set in the suburbs at places like Houghton’s Pond and shopping centers with parking lots filled with big cars and flashy signs.

Bostonian or not, this is a film worth watching.

Rating: ****1/2

Classic Movie Review: The Thomas Crown Affair (1968)


Title: The Thomas Crown Affair
Release Date: June 19, 1968
Director: Norman Jewison
Production Company: The Mirisch Corporation | Simkoe | Solar Productions
Summary/Review:

The Thomas Crown Affair is probably less regarded as a classic film than as a classic Boston film, and is discussed in Ryan Walsh’s book on Boston in 1968, Astral Weeks.  And like at least 90% of movies set in Boston, it is a crime movie, but instead of mobbed-up guys from Southie, the criminal is a bored millionaire from Beacon Hill.  The movie starts out great with Thomas Crown (Steve McQueen) organizing a bank heist of five men who don’t meet until the robbery begins and who never see his face.  The film uses extensive split screens to depict the action, which reminds me of a 1970s historic site visitors center introductory movie, but it does add a flair to the action occurring simultaneously.

After the successful heist, the bank brings in the Vicki Anderson (Faye Dunaway). Initially, Anderson and Crown play a flirty game of cat and mouse.  But the movie fizzles out about halfway through.  We’re supposed to believe that they actually fall in love, on their many trips to ride a dune buggy around Crane Beach, but the romance is not convincing at all. Anderson’s belief that their love will make Crown confess seems especially pathetic.

I’ve never liked Dunaway as an actor, but in this case, I think both leads were miscast.  They needed something like a Cary Grant/Grace Kelly level of talent, but they weren’t up to the task.  I did like seeing all of the on-location scenery shot in 1968 Boston (and the one scene where Dulles Airport is made to appear as if it’s in Boston).  Mt. Vernon Street on Beacon Hill, seen in a scene where Crown douchely crashes a detectives car into a tree, looks virtually the same 50 years ago as it does today.

Rating: **

Massachusetts Primary Elections – VOTE EARLY! VOTE NOW! JUST VOTE!


Hey there fellow Bay Staters!  It’s Primary Election time in Massachusetts.  You can vote early NOW and every day until Friday, February 28.  Details for the City of Boston are below and or you can check on the Commonwealth of Massachusetts website for Early Voting opportunities in your community: https://www.sec.state.ma.us/EarlyVotingWeb/EarlyVotingSearch.aspx.

Keep in mind that Early Voting is available for all voters at specified locations  in your community that will not necessarily be your designated polling location.

If you’re not able to participate in Early Voting, or you’re a traditionalist, make your way to your local polling location to vote on Super Tuesday: March 3, 2020!

This excellent tool on the Commonwealth of Massachusetts’ website will help you 1) Find out where you can vote on the Primary Election Day on March 3, 2020 and 2) Show you who is on the ballots for your district.  Registered voters may chose to vote on ONE of the four party ballots: Democratic Party, Republican Party, Green-Rainbow Party, or Libertarian Party.

https://www.sec.state.ma.us/wheredoivotema/bal/MyElectionInfo.aspx

Make a plan to vote! Bring your family, friends, and co-workers! Let’s make this election reflect the will of the people!

Learn to Curl 🥌


Last night I attended a Learn to Curl event sponsored by the North End Curling Club at Steriti Memorial Rink in Boston. I’ve long been curious about trying curling but until this year I was only aware of curling clubs in the distant Boston suburbs that seemed to much a hassle to get to, so I was pleased to find an opportunity accessible by the MBTA.

Curling is a sport that originated five centuries ago in Scotland but is most popular as a pastime and a competitive sport in Canada.  Americans like myself are most familiar with curling from the Winter Olympics, especially after the USA Men’s team took the gold medal in 2018.

The North End Curling Club volunteers were friendly and split us into groups of 4 to learn the basics.  The most important rules we learned off the bat are 1) do not run on the ice (even if you’re sweeping, because if you need to run the stone is going fast enough), and 2) do not walk backward.  Being very protective of my noggin, I took these rules to heart.

The joke about curling is that it is not a very athletic pursuit, but it is more strenuous than it looks, or so my leg muscles are telling me today.  Basically, the process of throwing a stone is not unlike doing a bunch of lunges.  On ice.  While pushing a ~40 pound weight.

I found throwing challenging because each part of the body is doing something different all at the same time and I struggled to make sure I could remember all of them!

  • the dominant foot (in my case, the right foot)is seated in the hack which is used to give something solid to push of from.  Once you push off you drag that leg behind while trying to avoid letting your knee hit the ice which causes you to slow down and (ouch!) hurts
  • the other leg (my left) is bent at a 90 degree angle with the foot placed on top of a slider.  You have to be careful not to step on the slider while fully upright lest you slip and crack your skull. Competitive curlers actually have the slider built into the sole of their shoe.
  • the dominant hand holds the handle of the stone and the skip will instruct you whether to turn it toward 2 o’clock or 10 o’clock position depending on which direction they want the stone to curl.  Right before your release the stone you turn the handle to 12 o’clock to initiate the curl.
  • the other hand holds a stabilizer.  Competitive curlers hold their broom sticks but at our lesson we had a device made of pvc pipes.
  • your body is positioned to align itself directly toward the skip at the other end of the sheet.
  • your head is up and looking toward the skip and where you are aiming the stone even if you want to look at all your other body parts because you want to make sure they’re in the right place.

Throwing the stone was the most challenging part for me as I never got to a point where I threw with very good weight, or velocity.  To be in play, the stone must cross the hog line at the far end of the sheet which seems a long way away! I did get better over time although I’m pretty sure I’m the only one in my group who fell over while doing it.

Luckily, everyone on the team rotates through responsibilities so I only had to throw two stones each end (an end is when each team takes turns throwing all 8 of their stones akin to an inning in baseball).  If you’re not throwing, you are likely to be sweeping and sweeping is as simple and obvious as it looks.  The purpose of sweeping is to heat the ice in front of the stone to reduce friction and allow it to travel further.  The skip calls out instructions such as “sweep!,” “hard!” (to make you sweep more vigorously), and “off” (to stop sweeping).

The part I enjoyed most was taking a turn as the skip.  The skip stands by the house, the bullseye target the thrower is aiming towards, and gives instruction to their teammates. As skip I set a target for the thrower, marking it with my broom, and raise my right or left hand to indicate which direction to curl the stone. I also tell them whether the thrower should try to set up a guard stone that will block the opponent on their next turn, or a take-out stone to knock away the opponents stone already in the house.  The skip gives instructions to the sweepers and can join in sweeping once the stone crosses the hog line closest to the house.  I could also sweep to try to make the opponent’s stone go past the house once it passed the center line of the house which was deviously fun. The skip also has the responsibility of throwing the last two stones which are generally expected to be knock-out throws, which as I’ve noted was a challenge for me since I had trouble getting my stones to even cross the entire sheet, but I think my best two throws of the night were when I was the skip.

After learning the basics, we played 4 ends.  The other team won the first two ends narrowly by scores of 1-0 and 2-0.  We finally won on the 3rd end rather dramatically when one of my teammates threw the last stone (known as the hammer) and knocked several of the opponent’s stones out of the house leaving only one of our own.  We also won the final end 1-0, and thus the final score for the entire game was 3-2 to our opponents.

Curling is a lot of fun and I would like to do it again.  The big challenge is that membership in the North End Curling Club is cost prohibitive.  It makes sense since it’s expensive to rent ice time and rent the curling stones.  I think I will have to try to save up and see if I can do it next year.

Podcasts of the Week Ending October 26


Best of the Left :: Why Prison Abolition is not Nearly as Scary as it Sounds

Twenty Thousand Hertz :: Virtual Choir

Radiolab :: Birdie in the Cage

WBUR :: Anthony Martignetti And That Famous Prince Spaghetti Ad, 50 Years Later

Dolly Parton’s America :: I Will Always Leave You

You Must Remember This :: Disney’s Most Controversial Film

The Memory Palace :: Late One Night


Running tally of 2019 Podcast of the Week appearances: