Category Archives: Films

“Amigo” – A Review

Written and Directed: John Sayles
Producer: Maggie Renzi
Starring: Chris Cooper, Garrett Dillahunt, Joel Torre
Opening in select cities nationwide: August 19. 2011
Distributed by: Variance Films (

There’s a scene early in John Sayles’ outstanding new film, Amigo, the story of the U.S invasion and occupation of the Philippines during the oft-forgotten Philippine-American War (which lasted officially from 1899 to 1902), in which Colonel Hardacre (played with wry detachment and bemusement by a grizzled Chris Cooper) sits astride his horse barking orders at a group of U.S. soldiers.

“…And get these people out of the dirt, for God’s sakes,” Colonel Hardacre orders, “we’re supposed to be winning their hearts and their minds.”

That expression reminds the viewer, of course, of the failed U.S. involvement in Vietnam, as well as any number of U.S. invasions and subsequently disastrous occupations right up to the present quagmires in Iraq and Afghanistan.
That may very well be the intention in John Sayles’ latest film project, which brings to light a forgotten chapter of both U.S and Filipino history, as well as the beginning of U.S. Imperialism around the world.

Amigo comes on the heels of the publication of John Sayles’ new novel, the nearly 1,000-page, A Moment In The Sun (McSweeeneys Books). I spent a few hours with John Sayles and his longtime partner/producer Maggie Renzi in Chicago earlier this summer( It was the second-to-last stop of a book tour in which Sayles and Renzi crisscrossed America by automobile, stopping in basically any independent bookstore they could find to promote the novel.

Sayles told me the book, broader in scope than the film, had its genesis in a screenplay, Some Time In The Sun, written five years ago but not considered viable at that time. Both the book and film mark the beginning of American intervention well beyond our own borders. Sayles has long felt the Philippine-American War was a story that had been hidden in the dark recesses of U.S. and Philippine history for far took long and that the time had come to tell at least a part of the story.

In short, it was a tale dying to be told.

When Amigo begins, all appears to be well in the baryo. Rafael (played with understated emotion by Joel Torre) displays his role as the head Amigo of the village, resolving a minor crisis involving a garden that has been torn apart by a pig, which come to think of it is not a bad metaphor to begin with. Soon all hell breaks loose in the baryo as U.S troops, poorly trained and under the supervision of Lieutenant Compton (the versatile and hugely talented Garrett Dillahunt) move in and assert their power. We soon find that Rafael is not only the head Amigo, but he also has a brother, who leads the local band of guerrillas hiding out and determined to fight the Americans. It’s the type of set-up destined to end badly.

In fact, the baryo in which most of Amigo takes place seems to be a microcosm for what is happening all over the Philippines. When the Americans arrive, the Filipinos are forced to release the Spanish village priest from where he is being held captive. Padre Hidalgo (played with outstanding deception and guile by Yul Vazquez) is caught in the crossfire and torn between protecting the baryo and his obligation to his homeland. The Padre quickly becomes the interpreter for the U.S. platoon, surreptitiously editing and changing the translations of the words he interprets. Crafty Padre.

Like all Sayles films, one recognizes immediately the complexity of life in the baryo and that this tale will be told, like all Sayles films, from many different perspectives. Sayles has a knack for being able to convey the complexities of any situation in an understandable way and this film is no exception. He has great respect and expectations for us, the audience to follow what can be a complicated script, but he also knows the tricks by now (this is Sayles’ 17th feature film) to help us along. Sayles’ style is different, indeed, from many other American filmmakers who present the world only in black and white.

Despite attempts by the U.S. troops to assimilate into the baryo they now occupy, these young soldiers are met by persistent resistance from the guerrillas hiding throughout the tropical island. When they’re not cutting down telegraph wires, they’re killing Chinos or “coolies,” (Chinese immigrants to the Philippines who work for the highest bidder) or attacking the poorly-trained U.S. “greenhorns.” This enrages the Colonel who believes that force and might are the only means to victory in the Philippines. He orders the screws to be tightened. Under his direction, the movement of the Filipinos is restricted by guards and barbed wire and slowly the process of starving the enemy into submission and surrender is employed.

Finally, in an attempt to find the whereabouts of the guerrillas, the Amigo is tortured by a process then called “the water cure” (now called “water boarding” and frequently used with the same unsuccessful result against Iraqi and Afghan prisoners). The Amigo nearly drowns, but agrees to lead the U.S. forces to the guerrilla hideout.

But as you may guess, the day-long trek through the flora and fauna of the Philippines is a ruse, and a wild goose chase ensues. Instead of being taken to the guerrillas’ headquarters, the troops are led by the Amigo into the middle of a deadly ambush. Casualties are taken on both sides. A fuming Colonel Goodacre, now at the end of his rope, decides the Amigo must be die by quite another rope: The Amigo must hang or be “stretched,” to use the barbaric parlance of the day.

Sayles’ Amigo ends, much like every U.S. occupation, with little or nothing truly accomplished. I won’t give away the exact circumstances of the film’s conclusion, other than to say that this is a film that will stay with you long after you leave the theater.

It’s little wonder that this ignoble and embarrassing period of U.S. history was covered up and left out of both U.S. and Philippine textbooks, while the heroics of Teddy Roosevelt on San Juan Hill were a part of every school kid’s education. It’s said that the victors are the ones who get to write the history books, and when there are no victors, perhaps it doesn’t get written at all.

However, the real victor is John Sayles and Co. for shedding light on this little-known “moment in the sun.” George Santayana’s quote that “those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it” seems very much applicable here, and its certainly never too late for the truth to see the light of day. Amigo is clearly as good a film as John Sayles has ever directed and certainly ranks up there there with the like of Brother From Another Planet, Matewan and Lone Star. Time will tell if Sayles legion of fans and the general American public will agree.

One thing is for certain. In 2001, writer and director John Sayles has been one busy amigo!

(Four out of four stars and highly recommended viewing.)

You can get more info and also request that “Amigo” be shown in your city here: Also visit the Amigo Facebook page here: (!/AmigoTheMovie)


Filed under Films, History

“Jaws – Memories From Martha’s Vineyard”

On a recent visit to Martha’s Vineyard, I was browsing through the books inside the A Bunch Of Grapes bookstore in Vineyard Haven, when out of the corner of my eye, I spotted it. It was a large coffee-table sized book with the title, Jaws – Memories From Martha’s Vineyard. Being a longtime Jaws fanatic and knowing that much of the movie was shot on Martha’s Vineyard (and in the waters off the coast), I began poring through the pages of this gorgeous 296-page masterpiece of a book.

I was only 15 when the film was released, and looking through the pages of this exciting new Jaws book took me instantly back to those teenage years, not to mention the incredible heart-pounding suspense of Steven Spielberg’s seminal film about a Great White Shark that wreaks havoc on a busy, beach community and just won’t go away.

The book was compiled by author Matt Taylor and Jaws expert and memorabilia collector Jim Beller. For the first time ever, the two men have put together a shark-sized, treasure trove of behind the scenes photos, drawings, production notes and stories from the folks who were there during the making of the film, both Islanders and filmmakers who came to Martha’s Vineyard to make a movie of Peter Benchley’s best-selling novel Jaws. According to the Jaws: Memories From Martha’s Vineyard web site (, this is a “one of a kind collection sure to please even the most diehard Jaws aficionados.”

The pictures of the making of the film are absolutely riveting, like this one of a young Steven Spielberg filming one of the attack scenes from the front of the bow of the Orca, the boat that eventually tracks down the Great White Shark in the film.

Hundreds of locals had to be hired as actors, extras, production assistants and laborers. And the book includes eyewitness tales and tidbits along with interviews with many of the Islanders who participated, many of whom became movie actors for the first time in Jaws. Also interviewed in Jaws: Memories From Martha’s Vineyard: Jaws Production Designer Joe Alves, Screenwriter Carl Gottlieb (who also acts in the movie), Location Casting Director Shari Rhodes and many more.

The book features countless stories about Bruce, the first name of Spielberg’s attorney and the name given to the mechanical shark(s) that were used to create the special effects, back in the days when directors like Steven Speilberg insisted on shooting on location with as much authenticity as possible. When Jaws premiered, it set just about every box office record and became not just a blockbuster of a film, but a part of movie making history. Plus it made “going in the water” an unnerving endeavor for quite some time.

Now all of the memories of the making of Jaws have been compiled into one huge coffee-table book (the book’s website features the warning: You’re Gonna Need A Bigger Coffee Table. Indeed, this is being called the greatest “making of a film” books ever compiled. The book is available in two formats, a softcover version and a special signed and number “Limited Edition” hardcover copy that also includes a DVD and an actual 1″ by 1″ piece of the Orca II, used in the film.

This is truly a must-have book for any fan of the film Jaws. As temperatures continue to soar into the 90s and higher, this book is a tremendous way to revisit a time and a place long ago. All you have to do is buy the book, and then simply find yourself a nice cool spot where you can “really sink your teeth” into Jaws: Memories From Martha’s Vineyard.

For more information on how to purchase your copy, visit

(I think I might need a bigger blog!)

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When Human Lives Collide

“Half my life ago, I killed a girl.”

That’s how author Darin Strauss begins his confessional autobiography, Half A Life. In this magnificent book, Strauss, who was already a best-selling, award-winning author of three novels, including Chang and Eng about the famous conjoined twins, decides to tell his own story. It’s a tragic, yet redemptive tale in which Strauss finds a way to see the past in a different light and in doing so sheds much of the guilt and self-doubt that he’s been carrying around for more than two decades.

Half A Life is a profoundly personal story of an accident in which a teen-aged cyclist veers into traffic and is struck by the car Strauss was driving, causing a collision which takes the young woman’s life and leaves Strauss with nothing but questions, guilt and self-doubt. But what makes this book so evocative is the author’s ability to remember and recall the “tic-by-tic second” sequence of events that happened one fateful day long ago and followed Strauss for the next two decades. Strauss is not afraid to detail every horrifying, guilty-ridden, grieving moment and the myriad ways the accident continued to haunt him. Half A Life is a courageous recollection of a tragic accident, rendered in an intimate and fearless fashion by the man behind the wheel.

Half A Life begins where it must begin — at the scene of the collision, with a detailed description of every move, thought and emotion. Strauss recounts the tentative moment in which he emerged from the windshield-cracked car, walked over to the side of the road and peered into the “lifeless” eyes of Celine Zilke’s, her body twisted like a ragdoll on the street:

“The eyes were open, but her gaze seemed to extend only an inch or so. The openness that does not project out is the image I have of death: everything present, nothing there. She lay on the warm macadam in oblique angles-arms bent out and up, foot settled under the knee. In the skin between her eyebrows there was a small, imprinted purple horseshoe of blood.”

Strauss takes the reader along with him on a seemingly never ending string of events; the distraught visit to the police station, the author’s unsteady attendance at Celine’s funeral and Strauss’ awkward return to classes. Darin Strauss recalls the wildly insensitive and inappropriate comments made to him by classmates and family members in the wake of the accident. He remembers with vivid recall his interaction with the victims family and how he was told that he would now have to live not one, but two lives, in Celine’s absence. Throughout “Half A Life” Strauss’ inner voice resonates and with each mile marker he passes he remembers new doubts, questions and uncertainties.

As if his own shame and irresolution isn’t enough, Strauss also relates the endless litigation brought by the victim’s family, including mortifying court appearances in which he is asked questions like, “Were you drunk?,” or “With five other cars around, why did she swerve into your car?”, and perhaps the most incredulous, “How far did her body fly?”

Strauss writes:

“Through all this, there was the courthouse threat of financial devastation — a thief taking up ominous position outside every job, every apartment, rubbing his hands together. Everything could at any moment be taken away…to keep Celine with me forever.”

When the author goes to college he remembers not knowing who to trust or whether to tell new friends and lovers about the accident. Years later, Strauss writes of the absurd tension and embarrassment of attending his 10-year high school reunion, all of it a haze of embarrassed baldness and pot bellies. The author enters therapy (doesn’t help), gets married (helps tremendously), and has some kids (helps some more). In the end, Strauss finally takes an emotional journey during which he experiences an essential epiphany of self-knowledge.

“Half A Life” is a somber reflection by Darin Strauss into how we are all connected to one another, yet at the same time, still seperate and apart. It is a redemptive realization rendered in a series of almost poetic pondering and exquisite beauty. Half A Life demonstrates this great writer’s ability to finally make sense of an event which for so long made no sense.

But more than anything, Half A Life, is a heartfelt confession in which the author allows himself a healthy dose of long-deprived self-forgiveness.

Director Tom Shadyak

Meanwhile, in the fascinating new documentary, “I Am,” Director Tom Shadyak came himself to understand how all living things are intrinsically connected to one another, after he was involved in a near fatal cycling accident.

Shadyak, is best known for being behind the camera for nearly a half-dozen wildly successful, albeit lightweight slapstick comedies. Films like Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, Liar Liar, and The Nutty Professor. Not necessarily highbrow material. But every thing’s different in I Am. Shadyak narrates this hopeful documentary that he says he conceived while recovering from the cycling accident that almost killed him. He says that during this period he began asking himself more serious questions like, “What’s wrong with the world” and “What can I do to make it better?”

Shadyak says he realized during his convalescence that problems like poverty, hunger, and war (to name just a few) needed to be addressed soon or else our species would be doomed. So he set out to ask experts around the world, people like Desmond Tutu, the late historian and sociologist Howard Zinn and linguist, philosopher and political theorist Noam Chomsky, as well as many other scientists, physicists and big thinkers the big question: How do we leave our quest for greed and excess behind and replace them with lives spent improving the planet Earth and its inhabitants?

Shadyak quickly found, as expected, that there are no easy answers, but in I Am he takes us around the world to ponder things like, maybe there are limits to how much we need, perhaps less actually is more and perchance the whole quest for more, more, more is a giant lie. Shadyak portrays isolated, indigenous people sharing and helping each other (oh, what a concept,) as do just about every species of living things. The now enlightened Shadyak illustrates that most breeds of animals behave on a model of what is called “consensus thinking”: in other words, the majority decides. For example, if the majority of a flock of birds decide to fly in one direction, then they all fly in that direction.

Perhaps most critically I Am reveals to viewers how problems like war, hunger, and poverty are merely symptoms of a much larger endemic problem, whose solution is not competition and capatalism but cooperation. Shadyak uses his own sense of fun and humor, his curiosity, and his masterful storytelling abilities to portray the simple mystery and magic of our universe – a universe which we can either learn to work in concert with or be seperated from through extinction?

The message for all who see this remarkable film is that the answers to all of these complex questions which will define our future are within us all and it is up to us to recognize our basic connection to all living things. Shadyac shows how his own journey has transformed him into a new and better man, who has given up his expensive, wasteful and ultimately destructive lifestyle.

The films shows, in the end, that the real answer to the question is:

(For more information visit the films web site:

(Special thanks to the beautiful Janet Graham for her assistance and inspiration with this blog.)

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Filed under Books, Films, Health, movies

Win Win – Wrestling With Life

Win Win is a victorious little film that wrestles with some of life’s unexpected twists and turns. It’s a humble but lovable little lesson of how we unknowingly entangled ourselves and the difficulty of finding a way to straighten things out.

At first glance at the promotional poster, one might think that this is just another cliche high school sports stories like the formulaic and overrated The Blind Side, and dozens of others just like it. And without fine acting performances by Paul Giamatti, Amy Ryan (Holly from The Office), and nifty newcomer Alex Shaffer, this movie could easily have descended into that same mold. But instead, Director Thomas McCarthy (who also directed The Station Agent and The Visitor) has created a quirky and ultimately uplifting tale about a not-so-nuclear family simply trying to make it through the trials and tribulations of modern life. Win Win is a movie that refuses to run away from the betrayals and complications that every family must tackle. And the ultimate redemption that these characters find is won not with the typical bravura of most sports films, but with simple, straightforward solutions.

Paul Giamatti plays a middle-age attorney, husband and father of two daughters struggling to pay the bills and keep the wolf from the door. By day, he’s working various cases in court. At night, he moonlights on another kind of court as the coach a losing high school wrestling team. The problems begin when Giamatti’s character attempts a sly move. He’s presented with the opportunity to bring in some badly needed cash by caring for an elderly gentleman (played with gusto and by Burt Young of Rocky fame) who is clearly incapable of caring for himself. So the coach agrees to become his guardian, and eventually places him an assisted care home.

All seems to be fine until the appearance on his doorstep one day of a slightly strange, teen named Kyle complete with bleached white hair looking for his grandfather. The teen, played by newcomer Alex Shaffer, is adrift in the world, while his mother remains in rehab for substance abuse problems. Oh, what a tangled web the coach has weaved, especially when the mother appears, demanding her son along with custody of her father and the money that Giamatti’s character was pocketing. Meanwhile, Giamatti’s Coach Flaherty has discovered that Kyle is, among other things, an exceptionally talented wrestler, who could carry his entire team to victory.

More complications ensue when Kyle disappears, and Coach Flaherty’s elderly charge decides that there really is no place like home. Giamatti is pitch perfect as a guy who is just trying so darn hard to do the right thing and always ending up doing the wrong thing. But in the end, while Kyle leads his wresting team to victory, a solution is found and the film ends in an uplifting manner.

Win Win may not win any awards for greatness, but if you’re looking for a film that will warm and cheer you up while we wait for the long overdue Spring you could do a heck of a lot worse.


Filed under Films, Sports

The Social Network – From Harvard Prank To 25 Billion Dollars

My fiancee and I were fortunate last night to see an special advance screening of the new Facebook movie, “The Social Network,” billed as the film that Facebook doesn’t want you to see. It’s a great teaser and it’s true. Based on a book by Ben Mezrich, who also wrote “Bringing Down The House” about the bad boys and girls at Harvard who figured out how to use their brains to beat the house at the casinos of Las Vegas. That book was made into the film “21.”

This film is more about the genesis and probably tougher on the kids in Crimson who started what they called “The Facebook.”
The screenplay was written by the excellent Aaron Sorkin, who takes his fast and smart dialogue he used on “The West Wing” and turned it up to warp speed. These brilliant students like co-founder Mark Zuckerberg and his best friend and co-founder Eduardo Saverin don’t just think at a million miles a minute, they speak that way too. In the beginning they just wanted to be cool. Little did they know the hazards that lie in their respective futures. And little did they know they’d go from being best friends at Harvard to archenemies in the cut-throat business world.

The movie, which takes place frequently at Harvard, was actually filmed at Boston University (which is a victim of a quick verbal insult – talk about biting the hand that feeds you) and Wheelock College. The filmmakers begin with the birth of Facebook from a night in a dim dormroom where Mark uses Eduardo and a formula he’s familiar with. This computer hacking technique gives them access to photos of woman at every house on campus and the ability to create a tiny version of the current Facebook.

This “Mashbook” which allows all Harvard students to scrutinize and compare women catches the attention of a couple of big, rich men on campus who are trying to create a social dating site called “Harvard Connection,” which leads to a partnership with more partners, or more importantly INVESTORS!!!

And so we’re up and running. In a big way. Mark decides to expand the Harvard early-version of Facebook to other Ivy League campuses. But along with the great big ideas come also the dirty little lies. Mark lies to Eduardo about his association with some of his partners. Mark lies by not keeping the “investors” in the loop. Finally, after meeting the founder of multi-millionaire founder of Napster, Sean Parker, played with great flourish and deviousness by an ultra-confident Justin Timberlake. Mark finally yields to Sean’s suggestions to move to California, along with all of the other partners in this growing endeavor. In other words, the web is growing more and more tangled as Mark continues to take more and more initiative without the initiative or consent of his partners.

And that’s when the problems begin. As the company gets bigger and the zeros multiply, the lawsuits against a nationally flourishing Facebook stack up. The original “Harvard Connection” twin crew members and investors sue Mark Zuckerberg. And here’s where the actor playing Mark, Jesse Eisenberg really starts to show his range. The scenes during depositions with room after room after hilarious. It’s evident to everyone that Mark is the smartest person in the room, with or without the law degree. Eisenberg may play the part nerdy at times, but it’s soon clear he is a creative genius with an obsessive streak for greatness. Others who excel are Mark’s college buddy Eduardo Saverin, who as brilliant if not as crafty or zealous as his buddy Mark. And I would be remiss, if I didn’t give big kudos for Trent Resnor for his incredible soundtrack. It sets just the right tone for this tale. Smart, evocative words and music.

In the end, when all the cards come tumblin’ down and all the lawsuits (for now) settled, it almost seems like the days of the first “Wall Street” film, when the means didn’t matter, just the end. And greed is good. Everybody gets big-time settlements or payoffs and Mark Zuckerman remains still, the youngest billionaire in the world.

This is a film that raises many hard questions. For instance: When all is said at done and the billions are made, does loyalty matter in business? Does friendship and creative control matter?

Or is it just cash that is king in the hard, cold world?

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“The Town” – A Review

I was born and raised in the town of Weymouth. By car or public transit, it was a short trip into the city of Boston. So when I was growing up I spent a lot of time there. During my summers between semesters of college I’d come back home and hang out in the bars and neighborhoods of the city I still love. We’d drive all over Boston from Southie to Chinatown, and from Copley to Harvard Square. But one place we almost never went was the one square mile of cobblestone and brick called Charlestown. We kept our distance.

Charlestown, often ignored and left off maps of Boston and with a chip on it’s shoulder because of it, was the location of the Battle of Bunker Hill and also where “Old Ironsides,” the U.S. Navy’s battleship, Constitution, is docked. And even though it looks pretty in pictures, Charlestown was nothing but trouble. The guys our age were tough and liked to fight and the chances of going into a Charlestown bar and not coming out without a bloody or broken nose weren’t great. Plus, the people who call Charlestown their home town don’t exactly have a fondness for outsiders. Either you were a “townie” or you were not. And if you were not you’d be better off not crossing that bridge. It’s a small provincial, clannish neighborhood and the residents like it that way.

Besides being an historic part of Greater Boston, that little piece of land also has the seemly distinction of producing more bank and armored car robbers than any other place in the U.S. It’s something that folks there are actually proud of though you’d never hear anybody mention it. That’s because of Charlestown’s famous “code of silence” where nobody “evah knows ‘nuthin'”. Nevah. Evah.

Ben Affleck’s new film project, “The Town” takes you to the places where my friend Tommy and I never went; straight into the bars, street corners and triple-Decker’s where the townies live and breath. Affleck directed, produced, co-wrote and stars in this tense, taught thriller. And he absolutely nails every second of this film, as he follows one such gang of thugs, which he happens to also be a member of. Affleck, who of course hails from this neck of the woods, gets every last detail right. The hard to imitate Boston accents, the look of the city at sunrise and in the evening, and especially the bad attitudes. But most importantly, Affleck’s “The Town” captures the terrible trap of crime and dead-end lives that most these young people find themselves caught up in.

I’ve seen plenty of films about Boston, including the admirable, “The Departed,” which netted an Oscar for master filmmaker Martin Scorsese. But I’ve never seen the places and the people so perfectly depicted and mimicked. Every frame of this film, from the opening bank heist to the film’s climax, where the foursome try to knock over the cash room at the “cathedral of Boston”, Fenway Park, is pitch perfect and packed with white knuckle tension. And it’s Affleck’s eye for the details that transcends this film from just another okay cops-and-robbers saga to a brilliant movie about the tragedy of lost lives.

It certainly doesn’t hurt that Affleck has such a great cast to paint his canvass with. Jeremy Renner, who we last saw in the Academy-award winning, “The Hurt Locker,” once again shows his incredible range both in the robbery scenes and when he’s faced with a partner in Affleck who wants out.

Another real standout performance comes from Affleck’s character’s incarcerated father, played with even-tempered steel eyed guilt and regret by the astonishing actor Chris Cooper. Even newcomer Claire Keesey shows a dangerous vulnerability as the bank manager taken hostage and later stalked by the thugs who think she might be their undoing. When Keesey’s character, a preppy newcomer to Charlestown’s condos Rebecca Hall is followed and subsequently unknowingly falls in love with Affleck’s, Doug MacRay, the plot thickens and the trap closes tighter.

On the other side of the law, Affleck gets a stellar performance from Jon Hamm, fresh from the set of “Mad Men,” who plays an FBI agent determined to bring this crew down. In one remarkable scene, Hamm’s FBI agent on a mission goes mano y mano with Affleck in an interrogation room, but fails to intimidate his bird of prey.

Affleck uses an unusual amount of extreme close-ups which bring you even deeper into the drama and seem to implicate you as an accomplice. And whether the location is a park bench in Harvard Square or the inside of a Charlestown skating rink, Affleck seems right at home.

All things considered, “The Town” is nothing short of a masterpiece. The film’s quite, haunting score moves it along like a train chugging along through the night. In the end the there are no easy answers. Instead the viewer is left to find his or her own sad conclusions.

And unlike the getaways that help Charlestown’s artful dodgers live to rob another day, they’ll be no getaway after viewing this movie. It’s a complex film that will stay in your consciousness for a very long time.


Filed under Boston, Films, movies, My Stories

Have You Heard The News? Springsteen Darkness Box Set Announced

Its like Chrismas morning in late August for fans of Bruce Springsteen.

After more than a year of delays, rumors, speculation and more delays, details of a Darkness On The Edge Of Town box set have finally been announced today. Springsteen and his record company, Sony, will release in November an enormous 6 CD and DVD collection containing just about everything a Springsteen fan had hoped for.

The Darkness Box Set will include (are you ready for this?): A CD featuring a digitally remastered version of the original album, PLUS two other CDs packed with outtakes from the Darkness sessions. But that’s not all. The package will also include three DVDs; one a full length documentary on the making of the album which will feature never-before-seen footage:

Plus a second DVD of the band then and now featuring various songs performed live between 1976 and 1978 along side with the modern day band performing the album start to finish at an empty Paramount Theater last fall, and a third DVD featuring a full concert from Houston in 1978. Holy Guacamole!

And to add to this embarrassment of riches, we also get pages and pages of Bruce’s notebook that he kept during the making of the album, full of lyrical re-workings, possible album and song titles and other doodling. In short this is a feast of plenty that is sure to delight both the hardcore Springsteen fan and casual fans alike.

It’s a plethora of sound, video, photos and handwriting from the Darkness On The Edge of Tour recording sessions and subsequent tour, and I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that this news has me, a self-admitted Bruce fanatic, breathless. The set won’t be available until mid-November with a price tag of about $115.00 dollars , but I believe despite the cost this box set will be a huge seller.

For one things the bright marketing folks working for Springsteen are offering the elements of this set in various incarnations. For example, one can just buy the outtakes on vinyl or CD by themselves without the DVDs. And it’s perfectly timed for the Christmas gift buying season.

Springsteen’s official web site, is already doing a fine job promoting the set with a brief video clip from the “making of documentary,” as well as an audio clip of one of the outtakes. The Darkness documentary is set to be premiered at the Toronto Film Festival in September, with Springsteen himself scheduled to appear and take part in a question and answer with actor/huge Springsteen fan Edward Norton. Try getting a ticket to that session in Toronto. Here’s a sneak peak of the documentary.

Regardless of how you look at it, unless you hate the guy, this news today is major and long awaited. As many Springsteen fans have commented, this is “the holy grail” that so many have been hoping and praying for, literally for years. As somebody who considers “Darkness On The Edge Of Town” my “coming of age” album, I couldn’t be more excited.

So save your pennies and let the countdown to November 16 begin!


Filed under Films, Music, Uncategorized

“Restrepo” – This Is A Dark Ride

After weeks of anticipation, I finally saw the film, “Restrepo,” yesterday. I walked out of the theater a different person than when I walked in, with a deeper appreciation of the sacrifices being made by U.S. soldiers on the front lines in Afghanistan. I also emerged with an even greater disgust over the futility of meaningless missions where death is around every corner and victory a seeming impossibility. For these men, it is just about getting through the next day. And the next. Alive.

“Restrepo,” is a bold, unique documentary without commentary other than the interviews with the soldiers. It takes us into the Korengal Valley in Afghanistan, dubbed “the most dangerous place of Earth.”

As the film opens, we see the men being transported into the deep, mountainous, rocky valley of death. Many of the men choose not to even look out the windows on the flight in. They know where they’re headed. They don’t need to see the danger that lies below.

We begin with a platoon, but after one soldier named Juan Restrepo is killed, we find ourselves with just 15 men in a ramshackle outpost built during the night in the heart of the Korengal and named by the men for their fallen comrade.

The men build this dangerous base high in the mountains, as one of Restrepo’s friends calls “a giant middle finger to the Afghans who populated the Korengal,” whose motives and real priorities are always in doubt and who are paid a few dollars a day to rain bullets and shells on the Americans. This is the enemy they face, whom they seldom see, but frequently hear in the near-constant barrage for which they are always on guard.

Like no other fictional war film I’ve seen, “Restrepo,” made me feel like I was right there beside these men; while they wrestle each other to ease to tedium, while they worry about the next attack and, in the film’s most terrifying section, when they go on patrol. It’s on one such patrol that this company of men is ambushed. One soldier is killed instantly and a number of others are wounded. And here we see the grunts eye level of complete fury and despair. It’s a deeply wrenching scene that I expect to stay with me for many weeks. It will surely stay with the men for the rest of their lives.

In the end the men finally leave the Korengal Valley, not in victory but in a kind of joyous relief that they have survived their descent into this real life inferno. Many of the men who are interviewed at the films end wonder aloud how they will ever truly leave this hell behind.

“Restrepo,” is a remarkable, personal film that leaves you asking hard questions like what are we really fighting for, and perhaps more importantly, how long it will be before we, as a nation, abandons this senseless, deadly conflict?


Filed under Films, Politics

Angelina Jolie Can’t Act…And I Can Prove It!

Yes, that’s right. Angelina Jolie can’t act to save her life. She also can’t sit still for more than a couple of minutes. Last night I saw living proof.

How did I come to this conclusion? Well, simple observation. Last night I unfortunately wasted two hours of my life, that I’ll never get back, watching an awfully bad new film called, “Salt.” (I chose that only because nothing else was starting when I arrived at the theater…long story.)

Anyway, I got my large coca-cola and medium popcorn (no thank you, I didn’t want to Super Size it), and found an empty seat and got ready for what I believed would be a fairly intriguing spy thriller. Big mistake.

First of all, I won’t even attempt to explain the plot which is the most contrived and convoluted manner I’ve seen in a very long time. (Note to the films writers: The Cold War ended with the Reagan Administration) Secondly, the majority of acting and plot development takes place in the first ten minutes of the movie. For the remaining hour and 20 minutes we see Angelina in all manner of movement and action. And when it comes to action, she is truly superhuman. She busts out of every sort of secured room and building every constructed in Washington, D.C and hits the road, with her A.D.D still raging.

First she’s driving at breakneck speed down roads and highways. Then, just when you think they have got Salt trapped in a mess of traffic, she knocks a motorcyclist off his bike and uses that to weave her way away. When she needs to find her way down into a super-secure vault under the White House, Salt finds a way to literally climb down, chasing an elevator by jumping from wall to wall. She’s part Spider Woman and part Iron woman. (Don’t count her out for a sequel of that franchise.)

Perhaps the most ridiculous part of the film takes place in a church, which Salt destroys quite effectively – even finding a way to cut through the floor where the Russion President is standing so he goes falling into the bowels of the church. Yeah, right.

She’s also quite talented when it comes to the both martial art skills and weaponry. When she’s not imitating Jackie Chan knocking out a whole phalanx of bad guys (or are they good guys), Salt turns into a deadly assassin and the death toll escalates to record breaking numbers. She also carries with her a lethal poison taken from a spider that her husband was keeping, you know, just in case. And she uses it. But then it turns out it’s the poison was not really lethal. Tricky, tricky.

I believe there’s also a scene where she climbs to the top of the Empire State building, vaulting the skyscraper from the outside. (No, wait, I’m sorry. That was King Kong. My bad.) Anyway you get the picture. With all this running and jumping and kicking and thrashing and killing, there’s not a second for Jolie to show her acting chops. And my theory is that she doesn’t have any, so she favors roles where her acting won’t really be testing.

The last Angelina Jolie movie that I saw before “Salt” was “Wanted” and it was the same exact deal. Ditto for “Mr. and Mrs. Smith.” And the majority of her other roles. She’s a fraud as an actress.

The only real intrigue I found in the film was trying to figure out what super-human double agent was able to negotiate a multi-million dollar deal for a film in which Jolie’s body-double/stuntwoman is on screen more often than she is.

I’m not totally suprised that this film is among the top box office hits. It seems to me there was a woman named Sarah Palin who recently tried to pan herself off as a political candidate and she turned out to be another bad actress.

The fact of the matter though is that Angelina Jolie simply is unable to act. If you want more proof, just go see one of her movies. “Who Is Salt,” the billboards and bus signs around the country inquire. She’s a really terrible actress.

Or better yet, save your $10.50 and just watch a trailer. That should be all the evidence you need.


Filed under Films

Winter’s Bone – Deep In The Heart Of America

A teenage girl living in the Ozarks of Missouri on hard-scrabble land, abandoned by her dead mother and Meth-addicted father and left to take care of two younger siblings, is suddenly faced with being evicted and turned out into the unkind surroundings of nature unless she can come up with a whole boatload of money to save the farm. That’s the basic plot of a new film, “Winter’s Bone,” currently making the rounds at art houses around the country and gathering up momentum and a tsunami’s worth of positive word of mouth.

The film is based on a novel of the same name by Daniel Woodrell, a talented writer who’s been churning out books about life in the Ozarks for the last 20 years. The book is great, but the movie is sublime as young, award winning director Debra Granik paints a dark canvas of hues both black and blue. The images are haunting but what really makes this movie great is the cast, led by a protagonist named Ree played with subtle angst by Jennifer Lawrence. As Ree makes the rounds to places in the Ozarks both known and obscure she encounters an uncle named Tear Drop, played with great passion by John Hawkes who exudes both kindness and realistic ruthlessness. Ree risks her own life as she is forced to try and break the regions code of silence, asking questions that are probably better left unanswered. As one gaunt woman who lives nearby states, “Words just make for witnesses.” There’s trouble beyond the chained linked fences and dobermans, serious trouble that could get Ree killed. And Granik uses plenty of folks who actually dwell in those mountains for several key roles giving the film even more authenticity. Every single character in “Winter’s Bone” seems so true to life that at times this film feels more like a documentary than a drama.

As the plot builds the tension mounts and Ree gets closer to both the truth and to serious threats to her life. You find yourself rooting for this young woman, hoping that she will find her father while knowing that she’s in danger of being killed at any moment.

This is a film that will stay with you for weeks after you see it. It takes you into the dark underbelly of American society and introduces you to strange and brutal people who are mostly invisible and mostly that’s what they want. They are outcasts who learn to live in ways that are outdated and dark. They are people that you’d rather not meet and who have no desire to meet you.

I see a lot of films but this one hit me like a bulldozer. I highly recommend it, even if you have to drive a spell to find it. It’s without any hesitation, the best film I’ve seen this year. Hands down.

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Filed under Films