Boston Movie Festival: Children of Invention (2010)

Welcome to my first monthly “film festival” where I watch a bunch of movies on a theme.  This month, in honor of Patriots Day weekend I will be watching a bunch of Boston movies, also known as “Film No R.”  There are so many movies set/filmed in my hometown that I made a list on Letterboxd.  I probably will never watch all of them, but this weekend I’m going to check of some of the more prominent movies I’ve missed.

Title: Children of Invention
Release Date: March 12, 2010
Director: Tze Chun
Production Company: Syncopated Films | The Complications | Impact Partners |  Sasquatch Films

Elaine Cheng (Cindy Cheung) is a single, immigrant mother from Hong Kong who is evicted from her home along with her young children Raymond (Michael Chen) and Tina (Crystal Chiu).  A friend is able to set them up to live in a model apartment in a complex that is not yet open to residency in the suburbs of Boston.  Elaine works hard and is recruited by a multi-level marketing company which she hopes will help her earn the money to get out of their precarious situation.  Of course, it’s a scam and Elaine is arrested, fearful of her immigration status leading to her being separated from her children so she does not mention them to the police.

Raymond and Tina prove to be resourceful and resilient as well as adorable.  The make a plan to go into Boston and take money out of the bank which they will use to buy supplies to build Raymond’s inventions and sell them for a profit.  Things don’t go to plan and anyone with a nurturing instinct is going to feel a lump in their throat watching these kids on their own.  This is the type of movie that will make you hate capitalism if you don’t already.  But it’s also a gentle and beautiful naturalistic film with a good performance by it’s young leads.

Rating: ****

Boston Movie Festival: Funny Ha Ha (2002)

Welcome to my first monthly “film festival” where I watch a bunch of movies on a theme.  This month, in honor of Patriots Day weekend I will be watching a bunch of Boston movies, also known as “Film No R.”  There are so many movies set/filmed in my hometown that I made a list on Letterboxd.  I probably will never watch all of them, but this weekend I’m going to check of some of the more prominent movies I’ve missed.

Title: Funny Ha Ha
Release Date: September 2002
Director: Andrew Bujalski
Production Company: Fox Lorber | Sundance Channel | Goodbye Cruel Releasing | Wellspring Media

Filmed in Boston’s Allston neighborhood, noted for its population of college students and recent graduates, Funny Ha Ha is a movie about that time in life when twentysomethings figure out how to be an adult. There’s not much of a plot, but the movie definitely has a mood, and as someone who was in my twenties in Boston at the time this movie was made, it’s definitely relatable.

Marnie (Kate Dollenmayer) has a lot of things to figure out: getting a job (which ends up being temping), self-improvement (doing things like drinking less and spending more time outside), and finding a boyfriend.  She has a crush on her good friend Alex (Christian Rudder), but he’s politely clear that he’s not interested.  Meanwhile she’s pursued by Mitchell (director Andrew Bujalski), and spends time with him even though he’s kind of obnoxious and is clearly not interested in him.

This movie is credited with introducing the mumblecore genre.  But it’s low budget, handheld cameras, and use of non-professional actors has antecedents going back at least as far as Italian neorealism.  Besides the characters don’t mumble so much as awkwardly struggle to find words to express their thoughts.  I don’t know if this movie was scripted or improvised, but either way the verisimilitude to the way young adults talk is impressive (and probably annoying to anyone who wants them to “just say it!”)

Rating: ****

Boston Movie Festival: Shutter Island (2010)

Welcome to my first monthly “film festival” where I watch a bunch of movies on a theme.  This month, in honor of Patriots Day weekend I will be watching a bunch of Boston movies, also known as “Film No R.”  There are so many movies set/filmed in my hometown that I made a list on Letterboxd.  I probably will never watch all of them, but this weekend I’m going to check of some of the more prominent movies I’ve missed.

Title: Shutter Island
Release Date: February 19, 2010
Director: Martin Scorsese
Production Company: Phoenix Pictures | Sikelia Productions | Appian Way Productions

Adapted from a novel by Dennis Lehane, Shutter Island is set in 1954 at the fictional Ashecliffe Hospital for the criminally insane on Shutter Island in Boston Harbor.  I’m going to start off by being the pedant who points out that none of the drumlin islands in Boston Harbor has sheer rock cliffs rising from the sea (those scenes were shot in Acadia National Park and California).  However, much of the rest of the film was shot in locations throughout Eastern Massachusetts, so I’ll give it a pass.

The film begins when U.S. Marshall Teddy Daniels (Leonardo DiCaprio) meets his new partner Chuck Aule (Mark Ruffalo) on the ferry to the island.  They are investigating the disappearance of a dangerous patient. Teddy reveals to his partner that he has ulterior motives for visiting the hospital which he believes is also holding an arsonist responsible for the death of his wife and is conducting mind experiments on the patients.  The hospital, lead by Dr. John Cawley (Ben Kingsley), appear to be hiding something. A hurricane causes chaos to breakout on the island.  Meanwhile, Teddy is haunted by memories of liberating Dachau as a young soldier as well as his late wife Dolores (Michelle Williams).

The movie maintains a good sense of mystery and menace, and features a strong performance by DiCaprio.  On the down side, there are a number of twists that are just corny, although that’s typical of Lehane’s work in my experience. There’s a lot that doesn’t make sense, some of which can be chalked up to the unreality of the scenario.  But when the mystery is revealed, I also wondered why certain characters would have done what they did under those circumstances.  So, it’s a flawed but entertaining film.

Rating: ***

Boston Movie Review: Now, Voyager (1942)

Welcome to my first monthly “film festival” where I watch a bunch of movies on a theme.  This month, in honor of Patriots Day weekend I will be watching a bunch of Boston movies, also known as “Film No R.”  There are so many movies set/filmed in my hometown that I made a list on Letterboxd.  I probably will never watch all of them, but this weekend I’m going to check of some of the more prominent movies I’ve missed.

Title: Now, Voyager
Release Date: October 22, 1942
Director: Irving Rapper
Production Company: Warner Bros.

Charlotte Vale (Bette Davis) is a “late child” in a prominent Boston Brahmin family who is shy and reclusive as a result of the upbringing of her domineering mother (Gladys Cooper).  Charlotte’s sister-in-law Lisa (Ilka Chase) fears for her mental health and introduces Charlotte to the psychiatrist Dr. Jaquith (Claude Rains).  He recommends that Charlotte spend time at his sanitarium in rural Vermont, and after her stay there to take an extended cruise to South America.  This helps Charlotte develop her independence and self-confidence.

On the cruise, Charlotte meets Jerry (Paul Henreid), a married man whose wife is controlling and abusive in a way similar to Charlotte’s mother.  They have an intense, but chaste, romance before they each have to return home, vowing to never meet again. Spoiler:  they do, but not in a way that you would expect.  Back home, Charlotte begins to assert herself with her mother and surprise her family and friends with her new looks and confidence.

This movie feels radical for the time it was made in the way it focuses on mental health and particularly the problems of women.  While romance is central to the films plot, Charlotte does not find her happiness in a man.  In fact, not being able to “have” the man makes her stronger.  The relationship between Charlotte and Jerry’s daughter Tina (Janis Wilson) is very sweet although it’s unsettling that Charlotte hides her past from Tina. I feel that they have an uncomfortable conversation in their future.

This is a more classic Boston story, with it’s focus on the Brahmin elite and the city’s tradition of strong, independent women.  Allegedly, the movie featured some location filming in Boston, something that pleased Massachusetts native Bette Davis. However, I feel like all the scenes set in Boston were interiors that could’ve been on a set, so I guess I missed the location shots somehow. At any rate, I enjoyed this movie and found it surprisingly uplifting for a melodrama.

Rating: ****

Boston Movie Festival: Boondock Saints (1999)

Welcome to my first monthly “film festival” where I watch a bunch of movies on a theme.  This month, in honor of Patriots Day weekend I will be watching a bunch of Boston movies, also known as “Film No R.”  There are so many movies set/filmed in my hometown that I made a list on Letterboxd.  I probably will never watch all of them, but this weekend I’m going to check of some of the more prominent movies I’ve missed.

Title: Boondock Saints
Release Date: November 19, 1999
Director: Troy Duffy
Production Company: Franchise Pictures | Brood Syndicate | Fried Films | Lloyd Segan Company | Chris Brinker Productions

The McManus twins, Connor (Sean Patrick Flanery) and Murphy (Norman Reedus), are Irish immigrants working as butchers by day and spending the nights drinking in their South Boston local.  After a run in with Russian mobsters, they feel called by God to carry out vigilante justice, killing numerous criminals throughout Boston.  The wildly eccentric FBI agent Paul Smecker (Willem Dafoe) tries to track the brothers down while secretly admiring their ethos.  David ‘The Funny Man’ Della Rocco (David Della Rocco) is an errand boy for the Italian mafia who joins Connor and Murphy’s vigilante crew.

Boondock Saints is clearly one of the many 90s action films that took all the wrong lessons from the success of Quentin Tarantino by reveling in stylized violence and ironic detachment. I honestly can’t tell if this movie is supposed to be a comedy or is unintentionally comedic, but either way it made me laugh.  There’s a scene where Dafoe appears to be parodying his character’s death in Platoon and he’s ridiculously over-the-top throughout.  The accents – Boston, Irish, Russian, and Italian – are all so comically bad that I feel that someone consciously made the decision to play it cartoonish. That being said there are some charming performances and interesting ideas in this movie, just not enough to make a coherent whole.

As for Boston content, apart from Irish American Southie stereotypes and some wide-angle footage of scenery from the city, it doesn’t feel all too much like a Boston movie.  This is something that could happen anywhere just arbitrarily set in Boston rather than a Boston story.  It was mildly entertaining to watch once, but I won’t be watching the sequel.

Rating: **

Theater Review: Into the Woods

Into the Woods
Emerson Colonial Theatre
Boston, Massachusetts
April 2, 2023 at 3 PM

Music & Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim
Book by James Lapine
Orchestration by Jonathan Tunick
Choreographed by Lorin Latarro
Music Supervisor: Rob Berman
Music Director: John Bell
Directed by Lear DeBessonet


Witch … Montego Glover
Baker’s Wife … Ximone Rose
Baker … Jason Forbach
Cinderella’s Prince/Wolf … Gavin Creel
Jack … Cole Thompson
Little Red Ridinghood … Katy Geraghty
Cinderella … Diane Phelan
Narrator/Mysterious Man …. David Patrick Kelly
Milky White/Puppeteer … Kennedy Kanagawa

I have a strange history with the musical Into the Woods.  The previous time I saw it was a student production at the College of William & Mary.  At that time in my life I hadn’t really come to understand my problems with chronic depression or the types of things that could trigger a depressive mood.  Turns out that the second act of Into the Woods is one of those things and left me with a sour feeling toward the show.  But in retrospect I realize that was probably more due to the chemicals in my brain than anything to do with the show.

So, on Sunday, I went see Into the Woods a second time, accompanied by my younger child Kay, who, like me, is a theater kid.  This production at Emerson Colonial Theatre is part of the 2023 US Tour that follows on the 2022 Broadway revival production and features some of the same cast. The story winds together several well-known fairy tales (with the details more Grimm than Disney).  A baker (Jason Forbach) and his wife (Ximone Rose) want to have a baby, but they’ve been cursed by their neighbor, the Witch (Montego Glover). In order to life the curse, they must bring the Witch four ingredients: “the cow as white as milk, the cape as red as blood, the hair as yellow as corn, and the slipper as pure as gold.”

And so they enter the woods where they encounter other characters pursuing their own dreams.  There’s Jack (Cole Thompson) and his beloved cow Milky White (a most expressive puppet operated by Kennedy Kanagawa; Little Red Ridinghood (Katy Geraghty) visiting her Granny (Felicia Curry); the Witch’s foster daughter Rapunzel (Alysia Velez) and her prince (Sam Simahk); and Cinderella (Diane Phelan) who just wants to go to a ball but is pursued by another prince (Gavin Creel).  All of this is narrated by David Patrick Kelly (famous as Luther in The Warriors) who also plays a mysterious man who pushes the characters to interact. Their stories intertwine and working together they’re all able to achieve their dreams.  Happily every after, right?

Well, then there’s the second act, which is dark AF.  In real life there are no happily ever afters.  One will have new challenges and new dreams, and no one can escape losing the ones they love.  The play makes this point by having a body count that rivals a Shakespearean tragedy.  They even kill the narrator (which may be like killing God?) because no one has the power to know how their story is going to end. But what I may have missed in my younger is that there’s a positive message in all of this that involves coming together as a community and appreciating what you have.  There’s also the human ability to keep loved ones alive by telling their stories.

Glover and Creel are the biggest Broadway stars in the cast and appropriately had the biggest musical numbers.  But I also felt that Rose and Phelan put in really excellent and complex performances that made them stand out among the ensemble cast.  Geraghty’s part as Red felt smaller but she put a lot of humor and physicality into her memorable performance.  Kanagawa’s puppetry work made Milky White feel very emotional for a cow. I liked the minimalist staging with the orchestra on the stage.  The cast made the few decorations and props feel like a whole world of its own.

This was the last performance in Boston, but the tour continues in Philadelphia, Charlotte, Chicago, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Nashville, and Orlando.  If you have a chance to see it in any of these cities, I’d highly recommend it.


90 Movies in 90 Days: Confess, Fletch (2022)

I’m kicking off 2023 by trying to watch and review one movie every day for the first 90 days, all of which will be 90 minutes or less.

Title: Confess, Fletch
Release Date: September 16, 2022
Director: Greg Mottola
Production Company: Miramax

In college I visited a group of friends who shared a house for a movie night.  They chose their favorite movie, the 1985 Chevy Chase vehicle Fletch. While they laughed and repeated back their favorite lines all night, I sat there stone-faced because there was nothing about Fletch that was funny.  So you may be surprised that I watched the most recent installment in the series, but it got good reviews, and I like John Hamm (who is much better than the notorious asshole Chevy Chase).  But the clincher is that it is filmed in Boston, so I had to see my hometown onscreen.

Irwin M. “Fletch” Fletcher (Hamm) is a former investigative reporter turned freelance writer who is sent to Boston by his Italian girlfriend Angela (Lorenza Izzo) to retrieve her family’s stolen artwork that can be used to ransom her kidnapped father.  Upon arriving in the South End town house where he’s arranged to stay, Fletch discovers a murdered women.  Despite reporting the crime, Fletch is considered a suspect by Boston Police Sergeant Inspector Monroe (Roy Wood Jr.) and his assistant Junior Detective Griz (Ayden Mayeri).  Fletch investigates the murder and the stolen art while trying to avoid the police.

The plot of the mystery is a bit convoluted and honestly doesn’t matter, because this movie is just goofy fun.  Hamm is charming and quipy and the supporting cast get a lot of laughs out of the situation.  It’s amazing that there are so few comedies like this being made these days, although it would fit in a triple feature with fellow 2022 comedy mysteries See How They Run and Glass Onion. Boston looks good in the movie with most of the location shots in the South End and Back Bay with the characters representing the kind of vapid rich people who might live in those neighborhoods.  Someone who knows Boston must’ve worked on the script as Fletch’s lucky Lakers cap is frequently derided and there’s a funny-to-me gag about where to find fireworks.

Rating: ***1/2

90 Movies in 90 Days: How to Rob (2023)

I’m kicking off 2023 by trying to watch and review one movie every day for the first 90 days, most of which will be 90 minutes or less.

Title: How to Rob
Release Date: January 20, 2023
Director: Peter Horgan
Production Company: ???

The Boston Crime Movie (a.k.a – Film No R) has become so ubiquitous that its  the subject of multiple parodies, could we possibly need one more?  Peter Horgan makes a good case with this low-budget indie movie set in the Boston suburb of Quincy, which returns the Boston Crime Movie to it’s non-glitzy, working class roots of The Friends of Eddie Coyle. Sean Price (Chinaza Uche) and Jimmy Winters (Joshua Koopman) are lifelong friends who operate a landscaping company by day and in their free time are stick-up men who rob other criminals under instruction of bartender Ralph Judge (Kevin Nagle). It’s important to note that Sean is Black and Jimmy is white, which is unique for this type of movie.

Sean is the more responsible of the pair and wants to invest their ill-gotten gains into the landscaping company so that they can go completely legit.  Jimmy is more free and enjoys the criminal lifestyle.  Two incidents test the loyalty of their friendship. First, Sean’s girlfriend Tina (Caitlin Zoz) is moving to Chicago and wants Sean to join her, correctly observing that Jimmy is holding him back from achieving his dreams. Second, due to Jimmy’s rash behavior on one of their jobs, they are targeted by hitmen from the Italian mob.

There are some misteps in this movie, but for a low-budget film it does well on cinematography, editing, sound, and music.  Most impressive is the crisp dialogue of Horgan’s script.  I thought the acting was pretty good as well, especially Uche, who is one of those actors who can say a lot without speaking.  I hope to see him in more movies in the future.

Rating: ***1/2

Movie Review: Black Panther: Wakanda Forever (2022)

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

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





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)

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: ***