Movie Review: Next Stop Wonderland (1998)


Title: Next Stop Wonderland
Release Date: August 21, 1998
Director: Brad Anderson
Production Company: Robbins Entertainment
Summary/Review:

Next Stop Wonderland was released almost simultaneously with my move to Boston in 1998.  I remember walking across the Longfellow Bridge to Kendall Square Cinemas and then seeing that same great view of the city from the bridge in the opening shot of the movie.  The movie makes great use of Boston area locales, including MBTA subway trains, the New England Aquarium, and The Burren pub in Somerville which was my local watering hole for many years.  Almost all movies set in Boston involve mobsters, fanatic sports fans, and/or academics, so it’s great to have Next Stop Wonderland as Boston’s only romantic comedy.

So, I’m predisposed to enjoy this movie for many nostalgic reasons, but rewatching it for the first time in many years I also feel that it is just a really good romantic comedy.  The movie tells the parallel stories of two characters, Erin Castleton (90s indie movie queen Hope Davis) and Alan Monteiro (Alan Gelfant).  Erin is a registered nurse who’s live in boyfriend Sean (Philip Seymour Hoffman between The Big Lebowski and Boogie Nights but not a huge star yet) leaves her at the beginning of the movie and whose mother places a personal ad in Erin’s name leading to a series of comically bad dates. Alan is a working class son of a plumber going to college to study marine biology and volunteering at the New England Aquarium in his spare time.

The movie has a slice-of-feel to it as the two leads go about their everyday lives while dealing with inappropriate relationships. Erin is briefly drawn to a Brazilian patient (José Zúñiga) while Alan is drawn in by advances of a younger student in his class (Cara Buono, looking very different than on Stranger Things).  A number of quirky, comical things happen along the way involving things ranging from kidnapped ballonfish to misattributed Ralph Waldo Emerson quotations.

SPOILER: Erin and Alan finally do meet at the end of the film, which is kind of expected.  What is an unexpected is that the ending is ambiguous.  They may fall in love, they may just be friends, or they may not ever meet again.  What I like about this movie on this watching is that it is really an introvert’s romance.  Both characters express a contentment with being alone that you don’t often see in the movies.  This could be another reason why this is one of my favorite movies of all-time.

Rating: ****

Book Review: Women and the City by Sarah Deutsch


Author:  Sarah Deutsch
Title: Women and the city : gender, space, and power in Boston, 1870-1940
Publication Info: New York : Oxford University Press, 2000. 
Summary/Review:

This is a book I read to discuss with my coworkers in archival processing.  It is a broad history of women in Boston over a period of about 80 years and how they fit in the city’s urban landscape amid Boston’s notable class and ethnic segmentation.  Deutsch draws upon many primary sources, especially the records of the Boston Women’s Trade Union League and Dennison House, a settlement house in the South End. The book covers a broad variety of topics including women in the domestic space, women as workers and entrepreneurs, women’s social, political, and labor organizations, the suffrage movement, and women’s involvement in politics after gaining the vote.  I found the book worked best when Deutsch focused on individual women or organizations as case studies for her theses.  Unfortunately some parts of this book the author attempts to provide a wider view but it ends up being scattershot and confusing, jumping among people and organizations.  It still proves to be an interesting account of women in Boston over a few generations of profound change.

Recommended books:

Rating: ***

Movie Review: Good Will Hunting (1997)


Title: Good Will Hunting
Release Date:  December 5, 1997
Director: Gus Van Sant
Production Company: Be Gentlemen
Summary/Review:

I have a soft spot for this movie because it was released shortly before I moved to Boston and served as a good orientation guide for to acclimate to the city.  Boston and Cambridge serve as great background for many of the scenes although a lot of the places no longer exist after 25 years of gentrification. (One scene was filmed in “The Tasty” in Harvard Square which went out of business before the movie was released).  The movie also set Matt Damon and Ben Affleck – who wrote and star in the movie – on the path to superstardom.

Good Will Hunting also helped kick off a decade and a half of Boston movies, although unlike many of its successors it does not focus on mobsters and violence.  Instead it is an intimate story about a troubled young man Will Hunting (Damon) who has grown up with abusive foster families.  Despite his poor background he is a prodigy who has educated himself, with a particular strength in mathematics. While working as a janitor at M.I.T. he solves an “impossible” equation on a chalkboard and attracts the attention of Professor Gerald Lambeau (Stellan Skarsgård, playing the role with equal parts arrogance and awe).  Because Will has been indicted for hitting a police officer, Lambeau arranges to have Will avoid jail time if he will work with him to solve mathematical problems and go to therapy.

After some false starts, Will begins to meet for regular therapy sessions with Dr. Sean Maguire (Robin Williams, in what is probably his greatest “serious” movie role).  At the same time, Will starts dating Skylar (Minnie Driver), a Harvard student from Britain.  Will’s best friend Chuckie (Affleck) also challenges Will to take advantage of his intellectual gifts.  Through these three relationships Will’s defense mechanisms begin breaking down.

I like this movie because it is heartfelt without being cheezy.  There’s a lot of humor in the movie but it doesn’t shy away from serious issues.  And while the plot is  predictable, the heart of the movie is in its wonderful characters which payoff in individual moments.

Rating: ****

Album Review: Really From by Really From (2021)


Album: Really From
Artist: Really From
Release Date: March 12, 2021
Label: Topshelf Records
Favorite Tracks:

  • “Quirk”
  • “Try Lingual”
  • “I’m From Here”
  • “In the Spaces”

Thoughts:

This Boston-based band gets its name from the question asked of its mixed-race members, “Where are you really from?”  The lyrics explore identity and social awareness, set to music that is virtuosic and eclectic.  In one album you can hear jazz fusion, aggressive indie rock, and acoustic singer-songwriter styles seamlessly blended.  The Pitchfork review of this album is very insistent on calling Really From’s style as emo and “math rock,” a genre I’m pretty sure they just made up.  But whatever the style, I know that I really like it.

Rating: ****

Movie Review: Zookeeper (2011)



#AtoZChallenge 2021 April Blogging from A to Z Challenge letter Z

Welcome to the Panorama of the Mountains Blogging A to Z Challenge. This year I’m watching and reviewing movies from A-to-Z based on my ongoing Classic Movie Project. Most movies will be featured on one or more of three lists: AFI’s 100 Years…100 Movies (USA), The Sight & Sound Greatest Films of All Time (UK), and Cahiers du Cinéma Greatest Films of All Time (France). In some cases, I will be very creative in assigning a Classic Movie to a letter of the alphabet, and in a few cases the movie I watch will not be Classic Movies at all.

On the final day of April, I’m playing a reverse April Fools prank on you.  After of watching a month of movies considered among the “best films of all time,” I’m finishing with one that is decidedly not. This is partially because movies with Z titles are hard to come by, and partly for reasons outlined below, but mostly because it’s fun to take a break from “Classic Film” from time to time.

TitleZookeeper
Release Date: July 8, 2011
Director: Frank Coraci
Production Company: Columbia Pictures | Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer | Broken Road Productions | Hey Eddie | Happy Madison Productions
Summary/Review:

I’ve been curious about this movie for some time because it was filmed at Franklin Park Zoo in Boston which is walking distance from my house.  I used to go the zoo more frequently when my kids were little and I remember when the center of the zoo was taken over by a massive film set.  I wondered why if they were going to film on a massive set, why didn’t they do it in a studio instead. Having watched the film, very little of the real Franklin Park Zoo is seen in this movie so I wonder this even more now. And all the animals are CGI so it’s not like they needed to be in proximity to real animals.

What I didn’t realize is that they needed proximity to Boston. I’d just assumed that the movie would be about a generic zoo, but in the film it is very much the Franklin Park Zoo in Boston.  In fact, they digitally altered the Boston skyline in some shots to make it appear like the zoo is much closer to downtown.  The protagonist lives in a three decker, there’s a bicycling scene on Boston Common and the Commonwealth Avenue Mall, and the denouement of the movie occurs on the Zakim Bridge.  So “yay Boston!,” I guess.

As for the actual story, Kevin James plays Griffin Keyes, the titular zookeeper (I know nothing about James but reading Letterboxd reviews he seems to be a hated figure).  He suffers continued heartbreak when his girlfriend Stephanie (Leslie Bibb) rejects his marriage proposal and breaks up with him because she thinks being a zookeeper is a job for losers (which really doesn’t make any sense).  Within in the first ten minutes of the movie it becomes abundantly clear that this is one of those movies where the protagonist will pursue someone who is clearly awful, when his perfect match, zoo veterinarian Kate (Rosario Dawson), is right there. Because Griffin is so hapless, the zoo animals break their code of not talking to humans and offer him advice for wooing Stephanie. Hijinks ensue.

The movie has a subplot where Griffin bonds with a depressed gorilla Bernie (Nick Nolte) and they go out partying at TGI Fridays.  Honestly that part could’ve been spun out into an entire movie and it would’ve been much better than what we got. When he’s not doing pratfalls or acting like an alpha male, James actually has some charms, and Dawson who is usually in much better movies brings some “much better movie” magic to her scenes.  Among the celebrities voicing animals are Sylvester Stallone and Cher as lions and Adam Sandler as a crude capuchin monkey. But overall for a comedy the jokes are just not, you know, funny.

Rating: **

TV Review: This Is a Robbery: The World’s Biggest Art Heist (2021)


Title: This Is a Robbery: The World’s Biggest Art Heist
Release Date: April 7, 2021
Creator : Colin Barnicle and Nick Barnicle
Director: Colin Barnicle
Episodes: 4
Production Company: TriBeCa Productions
Summary/Review:

I generally avoid True Crime media, but I am borderline obsessed with the theft of 13 works of art from Boston’s Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in 1990.  I’ve read a book about it and listened to a podcast, and now I’ve watched this 4-part Netflix documentary. The documentary does a good job of reiterating the main points of what is known about the crime.  It’s good get the visuals to go with the story, such as diagrams of the museum that show where the thieves operated. And then there’s a mix of archival news footage with present-day interviews with many key figures, from museum guards to the museums director.

While being a very entertaining documentary it’s also highly sensationalist (which naturally adds to the entertainment value).  There’s a lot of building up of potential suspects before revealing that they couldn’t possibly have commited the crime.  The same footage is played over and over again, most hilariously a “dramatic reenactment” of a couple of high school students walking piggy back down Palace Road before the crime. The creators of the film are happy to rely on the false Hollywood image of Boston as a mobster-infested playground of vice. A lot of people commenting on the documentary are loving the Boston accents and characters which really don’t exist in present day Boston. In short, it’s a fun way to spend a couple of hours, but take it with a grain of salt.

My main takeaway from this series is that it is been way too long since I’ve been inside the glorious interiors of the Gardner Museum.  I will prioritize visiting there post-pandemic.  The series also gave us this tweet, which is a work of art of its own:

 

Podcasts of the Week Ending April 24


Afropop Worldwide :: Punk in Africa

Punk is not a genre typically associated with Africa but the music of rage both personal and political has found its niche in countries dealing with imperialism, apartheid, poverty, and political corruption.

Fresh Air ::  The Social Psychologist Who Works To Reduce Harm In Policing

Regulating police behavior rather than focusing on the attitudes of individual police officers is the approach advocated by one researcher.

Radio Boston :: Former Boston City Councilor Tito Jackson Reunites With Birth Mother

A heart-warming story of Tito Jackson, one of my favorite Bostonians, meeting his birth mother for the first time.

What Next :: Fear and Paranoia in American Policing

Police officers are trained to be terrified by everything around them leading to their inscrutable violent actions.

Running Tally of Podcast of the Week Awards for 2021

Podcasts of the Two Weeks Ending March 27


Best of the Left :: Democracy Under Siege

Republicans are attacking the right to vote in order to retain power and maintain white supremacist fascism.

Code Switch :: Lonnie Bunch And The ‘Museum Of No’

An interview with the first Black Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution focusing on his work in bringing the National Museum of African American History and Culture to fruition.

Have You Heard? ::  What They’ve Lost

Boston Public Schools students talk about their experiences of the COVID-19 pandemic and not being able to attend school in person. Also includes a good discussion of why the focus on “learning loss” only adds to the trauma rather than addressing students’ real problems.

Hub History :: Disaster at Bussey Bridge

134 years ago, corporate malfeasance lead to the death and dismemberment of several railway commuters at a site not far from where I live today.

Planet Money :: The Even More Minimum Wage

The history of the tipped minimum wage and how it maintains inequality. I was particularly stunned by how tipped employment is often the first jobs for young women and that it conditions them to accept sexual harassment in order to get tips.

Seizing Freedom :: Interview: Rhiannon Giddens

For the second POTW post in a row I’ve found a fascinating podcast about the banjo in Black music, this time an interview with the contemporary folk musician Rhiannon Giddens.

This American Life :: The Campus Tour Has Been Cancelled

Many colleges and universities have suspended using the SATs and other standardized tests for admissions because of the COVID pandemic. Tests like these have a gatekeeping effect and this podcast explores how their absence can open up college opportunities for poor, BIPOC, and first-generation applicants.

Throughline :: Chaos

Stories of humanity and chaos, including the real life The Lord of the Flies.

Twenty Thousand Hertz :: 20th Century Fox

The composition and history of the deceptively simple 20th Century Fox fanfare.

The War on Cars :: Jamelle Bouie Has Seen the Future of Transportation

Journalist Jamelle Bouie talks about his experience using an electric bike in Charlottesville, VA and the future of transportation and housing in the United States.

Running Tally of Podcast of the Week Awards for 2021

Book Reviews: The Boston Massacre: A Family History by Serena Zabin


Author: Serena Zabin
Title: The Boston Massacre: A Family History
Narrator: Andrea Gallo
Publication Info: Recorded Books, 2020
Summary/Review:

The Boston Massacre is seen as a precipitating event of the American Revolution, but at the time, no one knew the revolution was coming.  People made the incident represent their political ideologies, whether it was Paul Revere depicting the British army  as butchers, or John Adams defending the troops in court.

To provide new perspectives and context to the Boston Massacre, Zabin performs a family approach to the history.  Soldiers assigned to Boston in 1768 often travelled with their family, wives and children who were derisively called “camp followers.” Other soldiers married local women.  The Massachusetts women who married into the military were criticized, but Zabin also notes that many of them were still considered upstanding members of society during the revolution.

The presence of British troops in the town’s streets caused tension as Bostonians were not used to being stopped at checkpoints. Zabin writes that using troops to quell civil disorder was common in the British empire and lead to multiple Boston Massacre-type incidents, even in London, in the previous decades. The arrival of a large number of men in a small town also created another conflict in that soldiers would take on jobs in an already tight labor market.  On the other hand, soldiers rented rooms and bought goods providing needed income for local landlords and retailers.  Some soldiers grew to have neighborly relations with the Bostonians they lived among.

Zabin concludes the family analogy with the idea that the Revolution was a divorce.  The strong family ties between Britain and her colonies were severed rather abruptly in the crises that would occur in the coming years.  This work is an excellent approach to understanding the meaning of the Boston Massacre beyond just a marker on the way to revolution.

Recommended books:

Rating: ****

Podcasts of the Week Ending February 6


Politically Re-Active :: Nikki Giovanni

An interview with the legendary poet Nikki Giovanni.  If you listen to only one podcast this week, make it this one

Hub History :: Literal Nazis

Before and during World War II, a group called the Christian Front operated in Boston and carried out anti-Semitic violence in the city.  While I’m not particularly surprised by this dark stain on Boston’s history, I nevertheless had never heard of these Nazis operating in the city..

Throughline :: What Happened After Civilization Collapsed

A history of the ancient Bronze Age and what caused those civilizations to collapse, and what we can learn from that today.

Running Tally of Podcast of the Week Awards for 2021