I spent three years in the Boston area (Cambridge to be precise) and got a decent feel of the city while I was there. These weren’t my favorite years, and frankly I had more fun in three months in New York City than I had in three years in Boston.
Boston is a provincial place, but you can’t deny it has character. Also, it’s such a beautiful city, and even the shitty parts have a vibe that comes across on the screen.
I recently watched “The Town” for the first time, and I wondered why we needed so many movies about Boston. Then, when listening to The Rewatchables podcast for this film, Bill Simmons asks the question about the best Boston movies. This isn’t a surprise, since Simmons loves lists almost as much as he loves Boston.
But, as usual, he comes up with pretty good lists . . . and he nailed it with his Boston list. And since I agree with it, here’s my take on those best Boston films in no particular order:
This movie made a real impression on me when I was younger. I wanted to be a lawyer, and “The Verdict” captured the drama of arguing the ultimate case . . . perhaps too well, as the law in real life is much more boring and far less dramatic. Paul Newman is brilliant in this film as the broken down lawyer who finds redemption. Meanwhile, the backdrop of Boston, with all its history and tradition, provides the perfect, romanticized setting for an epic David vs Goliath legal battle.
A Brit who’s been successfully playing Americans for decades and a charmingly laid back Canadian with a definite air of California dude-ism about him, actors Minnie Driver and Scott Speedman might seem like a somewhat random pairing. Even in the new film version of the late novelist Mordecai Richler’s tragicomic swan song, “Barney’s Version,” their characters make for some pretty strange bedfellows. On the other hand “Driver and Speedman” does sound like the title of a late seventies cop show.
Ms. Driver portrays the second Mrs. Panofsky, an otherwise unnamed Jewish Canadian princess who marries the very flawed Montreal TV producer Barney Panofsky (Paul Giamatti, who picked up a Golden Globe for the part Sunday night), only to find her new husband oddly distant, starting on the very day of their wedding. That’s because that’s also the day Barney meets – and goes completely nutso over – the woman who will eventually become Mrs. Panofsky #3 (Rosamund Pike). In Mrs. Panofsky’s corner: her outspoken ex-crooked policeman father-in-law (Dustin Hoffman), who speaks approvingly of her “nice rack.”
Speedman, for his part, is Barney’s multiple drug using novelist pal, Boogie. Best known for handsome-guy roles in the “Underworld” films opposite Kate Beckinsale and as the male lead in “Felicity” opposite Keri Russell, Speedman’s Bernard “Boogie” Moscovitch is a frequently charming rascal/jerkwad who both fails and assists his best friend in rather spectacular fashion, eventually starting a chain of events that may or may not lead to his murder by Barney.
Speedman entered the room first in typically low-key fashion, acting every bit the likable thirty-something surfer dude or ski-bum he could easily be cast as. Ms. Driver followed along, making a flirtatious joke about Speedman’s good looks and generally providing jovial company for a room full of entertainment writers one Beverly Hills winter’s day.
I’ll inevitably miss some important stuff this week, but I wanted to quickly acknowledge the passing of three interesting figures who all made their presence felt in the world of movies and who’ve all left us in the last day or so.
* Zelda Rubinstein is best known as the diminutive character actress who appeared in all three “Poltergeist” films in the 1980s as well as numerous other productions and was also known as an activist on behalf of AIDS sufferers and little people.
* Left radical historian Howard Zinn often rubbed me the wrong way in his articles but that can be a valuable service to a reader, too. In any case, there was no denying his provocative intelligence or his appeal to the leftish masses and his status as a genuine hero to innumerable activists. His most famous book, A People’s History of the United States — which I would admit to having not read yet, except I could have my progressive ID card revoked for the omission — was referred to as a great book in Matt Damon and Ben Affleck’s Oscar winning screenplay for “Good Will Hunting.” Ironically, Zinn, a World War II bombadier and afterwards something close to a pacifist, detested Damon’s next film, “Saving Private Ryan.”
* Last but definitely not least in terms of cultural impact, the most famous of all literary recluses and the creator of the biggest movie hater in history of letters, J.D. Salinger, has passed on. Holden Caulfield may have hated Hollywood and his creator may have shielded him from adaptations, but, my God, how many of the cinema’s best known young male leads have a bit of HC in them? The Hollywood Reporter obituary I linked to mentions “Rebel Without a Cause” and “The Graduate,” but it goes far beyond that. It’s kind of hard to even imagine, say, Wes Anderson’s first two films if The Catcher in the Rye had never existed.
The final irony of course, is that, without Salinger’s passing, we may finally see adaptions of “Catcher,” notes Dylan Stableford. And, what about all those books Salinger reportedly wrote but never published? Hollywood’s hunger for new properties from literary big names should never be underestimated.
Watching “Paranoid Park” and knowing that it’s made by Gus Van Sant, the
same man who gave us fare like “Good Will Hunting” and the carbon copy
remake of “Psycho,” is a disconcerting experience. It doesn’t look at all
like either of those films. Instead, it feels more like the work of a
gifted, first-time director who’s all of 20 years old. Van Sant is clearly
tuned in to the sort of malaise that can affect certain types of teenagers
in this day and age, which is a remarkable feat for a man in his mid-50s. In
this case, he uses skater subculture as the backdrop for a darker story told
as a disjointed series of journal entries written by skaterboy Alex (Gabe
Nevins), who may or may not be responsible for the tragic death of a
security guard. The kid is hounded by a detective (Daniel Liu) for
information, by his girlfriend (Taylor Momsen, “Gossip Girl”) for sex, and
by life in general. The film is structured like a sort of murder mystery,
but when the murder is “solved” about halfway through, you realize that it
was just a dramatic red herring; as a result, “Paranoid Park” is about
something else entirely, and I have to admit I’m not exactly sure what that
something is. This is the sort of fare that could probably hold different
meanings for different viewers. It’s strange and unsettling and will likely
stick with you long after the credits roll – far more so than Van Sant’s take
on “Psycho,” anyway.