Archive | Reviews

American Tragedy on Film

I’ve been trying to figure out why I love “Patriots Day” so much. Though I moved to New York City from Greater Boston decades ago, it’s a fact that you can take the girl out of Massachusetts, but you can’t take the Massachusetts out of a girl. And “Patriots Day,” Peter Berg’s adaptation of the book Boston Strong by Casey Sherman and Dave Wedge about the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing, is one of the most Massachusetts-proud movies ever made. But I also love this docu-drama because it has enough heart and brains to help heal its audience.

The United States always has had a hard time navigating tragedy. Perhaps this is because, in the grand scale of world civilizations, we are a very young nation. When it comes to boundless optimism, this often works to our advantage. Even today, Americans tend to believe that a good attitude and persistence can change the most direst of circumstances. It is the backbone of our founding story – how we scrappy mavericks defeated the Brits – and certainly the classic Hollywood premise. But the downside of our youthfulness is a widespread, culturally reinforced immaturity. This translates into an immunity to critical thought and an inability to process complex emotions. So when confronted with trauma, we are uniquely ill-equipped to grieve without resorting to finger-pointing or dissociation. To the degree that we address our pain, we do so through the arts – especially film and television, which, even more than sports, is our common denominator. Continue Reading →

‘Live by Night,’ Dead on Arrival

Once again awards season is rolling around, and a person named Affleck is reaping accolades. But this is 2016, the topsy-turviest year on recent record, so the Affleck who’ll likely score an Academy Award nod is not Ben Affleck but younger brother Casey. (Sexual harassment accusations notwithstanding, he is unreasonably good in “Manchester-by-the-Sea.”) The irony, of course, is that the older Affleck is also releasing a film this season: “Live by Night,” an adaptation of the 2012 eponymous Dennis Lehane novel. That Big Ben’s first directorial effort since 2012’s Oscar-winning “Argo” is receiving very little publicity is surprising – at least, unless you’ve seen it.

To be fair, this Prohibition-era drama is not exactly bad. Set in a crime underbelly of Massachusetts, it’s tried-and-true territory for the native Bostonian, who in 2007 adapted Lehane’s Gone Baby Gone and has set two other films in the region. But the whole endeavor feels disappointingly by the numbers, perhaps because Ben (Casey is not associated with the film) seems intent on creating an instant classic, a period picture with “Scarface” grit and golden Hollywood glamour, complete with speakeasies, flappers, and Tommy guns. The result feels more like a facsimile of a facsimile – blurry and haplessly un-emphatic. Continue Reading →

Top Ten Everything

Today’s kind of an intersticial day, so I’m revving up by sharing all the commentating and writing I did during the 2016 holidaze.

I reviewed Fences, Denzel Washington’s adaptation of the August Wilson play; Julieta, Pedro Almodóvar’s adaptation of three Alice Munro stories; Neruda, Pablo Larraín’s film about the Chilean poet and dissident; 20th Century Women, Mike Mill’s homage to his mum; All We Had, Katie Holmes’ adaptation of Annie Weatherwax’s novel; and Silence, Martin Scorsese’s adaptation of Shusaku Endo’s novel. As well, I named my top ten films and top ten adaptations, and the most creative adaptations, and spoke with Jack Rico and Mike Sargent about 2016 film on Rico’s Highly Relevant podcast, and reviewed the end of the year’s best on Talking Pictures, the NY1 show on which I appear weekly. Perhaps the piece I’m most proud of (and was the least read) is Who’s Reading Who, about the hazards of racial identification in literature —especially YA novels.

Thank you as ever for coming along on this ride, Sirenaders. Happy happy new non-Jew year!

"All, everything I understand, I understand only because I love."
― Leo Tolstoy