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

Photopost: Serenity at the Gardner


I paid a visit to the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum for the first time since before the pandemic began.  It was nice to get there early on a relatively uncrowded day and have some of the galleries to myself.  The Gardner Museum used to be strict about prohibiting photography but in these Instagramable days they now allowed picture-taking without a flash.  So I tried to make my own art through photography.  I also enjoyed the audio tours that are now available through smartphones.

Here’s my full album of photos from the day: https://www.othemts.com/IsabellaStewartGardnerMuseum/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Related Posts:

 

 

Movie Review: Free Guy (2021)


Title: Free Guy
Release Date: August 13, 2021
Director: Shawn Levy
Production Company: Berlanti Productions | 21 Laps Entertainment | Maximum Effort | Lit Entertainment Group | TSG Entertainment
Summary/Review:

Guy (Ryan Reynolds) doesn’t know that he lives in a video game as a non-playing character (NPC), and seems content with living in a city where violent crime is routine.  The game, Free City, is a product from the company of melomaniac Antwan (Taika Waititi).  Game developer Millie (Jodie Comer) enters the game to seek out her source code that she believes Antwan stole from her, sometimes with the help of her former partner Keys (Joe Keery of Stranger Things fame). Meeting Millie prompts Guy to become more self-aware and evolve as an artificial life form, prompting a revolution among the NPCs.

I won’t go too much more into the plot as it’s one of those plots that gets too convoluted and doesn’t make much sense if you think of it too much.  The premise of this movie reminds me of The LEGO Movie and The Truman Show, but not so much that it doesn’t stand on its own. The real point of this movie is to see the charming Ryan Reynolds do action, comedy, and romance which he does well, and it features enough fun gags to make it worth the watch.   I was also interested in seeing Free Guy because I remember when it was being filmed in Boston.  Boston looks good as a video game setting and it was especially unnerving to see familiar Boston landscapes disintegrating in one scene.

Rating:***

Movie Review: The Brink’s Job


Title: The Brink’s Job
Release Date: December 8, 1978
Director: William Friedkin
Production Company: Universal Pictures
Summary/Review:

This is a movie I’ve been meaning to watch for some time because it’s set in Boston and based on the true-life “Crime of the Century” Brink’s Robbery in 1950.  The movie is directed by William Friedkin, shortly after his back-to-back hits with The French Connection and The Exorcist. I’d say The Brink’s Job is stylistically different for Friedkin, however since these are the only three Friedkin movies I’ve watched I can’t make that assertion.  What I do know is that for a cantankerous guy, this was a rare occasion when Friedkin attempted to make a comedy.  While there are some funny aspects to the Brink’s Robbery, the films attempt to make the robbers a bumbling gang when they really weren’t doesn’t quite work.

Where this film does work is a period piece.  I’m particularly impressed by the location shooting in Boston that makes the city in 1978 look like the city in the 1940s and 1950s.  The cast is also strong, lead by Peter Falk as the lockpick Tony Pino.  Peter Boyle plays the shady fence Joe McGinnis and Warren Oates is great as the unstable Specs O’Keefe (although for some reason he’s never wearing the glasses the real life figure was known for).  Allen Garfield and Paul Sorvino fill out the gang.

I’d say that everything up to the heist (about 3/4’s of the film) is really well done with some great moments of real tension.  After the robbery, the film blows through about 6 years of loose threads without any real narrative focus, until the gang is finally rounded up days before the statute of limitations expired.  The finale is good, though.

There are a lot of books about the Brinks Robbery, and one that I enjoyed was The Crime of the Century by Stephanie Schorow.

Rating:

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: