Movie Review: Black Panther: Wakanda Forever (2022)


Title: Black Panther: Wakanda Forever
Release Date: November 11, 2022
Director: Ryan Coogler
Production Company: Marvel Studios
Summary/Review:

Black Panther: Wakanda Forever is a sequel that has to contend with death of it’s charismatic star and generational talent, Chadwick Boseman.  The movie begins with T’Challa dying of an incurable illness much like Boseman in real life, handling the problem with greater gravitas and respect for the deceased actor than Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker did for Carrie Fisher.  The women of Wakanda step into the void both as leaders of Wakanda and as the series’ protagonists, particularly scientist and T’Challa’s sister Princess Shuri (Letitia Wright), warrior general Okoye (Danai Gurira), Queen Ramonda (Angela Bassett), and former spy and romantic partner of T’Challa Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o).

T’Challa’s opening Wakanda and its technology to the world has the downside of world powers seeking sources of vibranium.  This in turn leads to the emergence of the Talokan, another hidden society of people descended from the Maya whose discovery of a source of vibranium and the herb that grows from gives the ability to live in a kingdom under the ocean.  Their king, Namor (Tenoch Huerta Mejía), seeks an alliance with Wakanda to destroy the rest of the world.  With Shuri unwilling to carry out mass destruction, the two kingdoms go to war. Wakanda and Talokan each offer an interesting perspective on how colonialism has hurt the non-white people of the world and the lasting trauma contributing to ongoing violence. Namor is also like Kilmonger (Michael B. Jordan) in the first film in that he’s a villain with a very good point, and the question remains how to channel that revolutionary fervor to constructive rather than destructive ends.

There’s also a sideplot with Shuri and Okoye needing to protect a scientist from Namor because she’s invented a device that can locate vibranium.  It turns out that the scientist is Riri Williams (Dominique Thorne)  a teenage prodigy who studies at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, Massachusetts.  This means that as a Bostonian we finally get to see the greater Boston area in the MCU, although they never quite make it across the bridge to Boston proper.  Riri also is able to build her own armored suit like Tony Stark and takes on the superhero name Ironheart.  I have a feeling that with Cassie Lang, Kate Bishop, America Chavez, Love, Kamala Khan, Riri, and others that we’re totally being set up for a Young Avengers team.

The original Black Panther is still the best movie in the MCU, in my opinion, and Wakanda Forever had a lot to live up to under the best conditions.  At nearly three hours in length, it is like a lot of MCU movies in being just too long.  I also feel that despite the great performances by all the stars that the movie suffers from not having a single protagonist for much of the first two acts as well as too many sideplots.  That aside, it is still an enjoyable and heartfelt film and a worth successor.

Rating: ***1/2

 

MASTER LIST OF MCU REVIEWS

 

 

Book Review: Conscience and Courage by John Hawkins


Author: John Hawkins
Title: Conscience and Courage: How Visionary CEO Henri Termeer Built a Biotech Giant and Pioneered the Rare Disease Industry
Publication Info: Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Press (2019)
Summary/Review:

This is a book I read for research at work.  It is a biography of the Dutch-born Henri Termeer who emigrated to the US to study at UVA’s Darden School of Business.  He then entered into the emerging biotech industry the blossomed in the Boston and Cambridge area in the 1980s. Termeer joined the startup Genzyme Corporation in the early 80s and soon rose to president. (Personal note: when I first moved to Boston in the late 90s I worked as a temp at Genzyme).

Termeer focused Genzyme on orphan diseases so-called because even though they are life-threatening illnesses they affect fewer than 200,000 people and thus there is not a lot of people and resources put toward treating the diseases.  Termeer’s patient-focused approach won him accolades due to the life-saving nature of Genzyme’s treatments.  But the success came with the high costs of research and development, expensive ingredients, and only a small number of patients to share the costs of some of the most expensive drugs in the world.

Recommended books:

Rating: ***

Book Review: Tuesday Mooney Talks to Ghosts by Kate Racculia


Author: Kate Racculia
Title: Tuesday Mooney Talks to Ghosts
Narrator: Lauren Fortgang
Publication Info: HMH Adult Audio, 2021
Summary/Review:

Tuesday Mooney is a researcher at a hospital in Boston who looks into the backgrounds of prospective donors.  When an eccentric millionaire, Vincent Pryce, dies at a fundraiser, it kicks off a city-wide treasure hunt for the deceased’s fortune.  Tuesday teams up with her best friend Dex, her teenage neighbor and mentee Dorry, and Arches, the charming son of another first family of Boston.

There is a lot going on in this book with the treasure hunt a fun main plot around which various subplots orbit.  For one thing, Tuesday is dealing with her best friend Abby going missing (and presumably dead) when they were teenagers.  She can still hear Abby’s voice talking with her and advising her as an adult.  Arches, meanwhile, has famously had his wealthy father go missing in a boating incident 6 years earlier, the truth of which is something he is grappling with.  And that’s just scratching the surface.

I think the many stories going on within the novel make it needlessly complicated.  But it’s still a fun mystery/adventure/paranormal/romance novel with a lot of great Boston details.

Rating: ****

Concert Review: Japanese Breakfast with Yo La Tengo


Artists: Japanese Breakfast with Yo La Tengo
Venue: Roadrunner Boston
Date: September 29, 2022

Susan and I attended our first concert since before the COVID pandemic, and it’s seems to be taking almost as long for me to write about it.  The headliner was Japanese Breakfast, the Philadelphia-based band lead by Michelle Zauner.  Opening was the veteran New Jersey indie rock band Yo La Tengo, who I’ve seen in concert three times before.  It may seem strange that a long-time act like Yo La Tengo would be the openers for a newer band like Japanese Breakfast, but it was clear that there’s a mutual admiration among the two bands and that they enjoyed sharing the ticket.

This was also our first visit to Roadrunner, a venue that opened earlier this year.  As a long time Boston resident, it felt kind of surreal that Roadrunner was among several shiny new buildings in an entire new neighborhood that was plopped on to Guest Street in Brighton while I wasn’t looking.  The venue has a large standing-room area on the floor in front of the stage with a standing-room mezzanine on three sides.  Simple and elegant.

Yo La Tengo played a nine song set, including two of my all-time favorite songs “Let’s Save Tony Orlando’s House” and “Black Flowers.”  They also played “Autumn Sweater” which may be their most famous song.  The multi-talented trio of Georgia Hubley, Ira Kaplan, and James McNew took turns on lead vocals and a variety of different instruments. They create a really big sound for just three people.  I got the sense that Kaplan would’ve enjoyed spending the night alone in a room with his guitar just as much as he would performing in front of hundreds of people.  Michelle Zauner and guest guitarist Kevin Micka joined the band for the final number “I Heard You Looking,” an extended instrumental jam.  I really admired the professionalism of the artists on stage when they went they suddenly all snapped from improvisation back into the tune.

Japanese Breakfast took the stage next, playing a set primarily made up of songs from the band’s most recent release Jubilee. They opened with “Paprika” during which Zauner struck a gong several times, the lights surrounding gone lit up exciting the audience each time. I should note here that the light design for the whole show was excellent. Susan, being on the short side, couldn’t see the gong and thought Zauner was holding a large bone.

The band followed with “Be Sweet,” my favorite song of Jubilee, so my desires were sated early. Zauner has a lot of charisma and energy so even though I’m only familiar with the most recent album, I thoroughly enjoyed their performance of songs from earlier albums as well as a couple of covers.  The band’s guitarist was also excellent, and he had several great solos, however I have not been able to locate his name.

The concert ended with Ira Kaplan returning to the stage to join Japanese Breakfast on an encore of “Diving Woman,” the opening track from the 2017 album Soft Sounds From Another Planet.  It featured another breakdown of improvisational noise from all the artists performing.  It was a great show and a good night out for all.

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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/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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: ***