These Amazing Shadows

Monday, December 24, 2012
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Six Winning 48-Hour Films

By Edgar B. Herwick III   |   Thursday, July 12, 2012
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July 12, 2012 

What have you accomplished in the past 48 hours? WARNING: The following sentence may make you feel a tad lazy. Recently, Michael McVey and a five-person team made an entire film — wrote, shot, edited and scored — from scratch in just 2 days. It was part of the Boston 48-Hour Film Project. And his short, "Manna," cleaned up at the awards ceremony. As we prepare for the project to descend on Providence, R.I. the weekend of July 13, McVey sent along five of his favorites from Boston's fest along with his comments. (Note he limited himself to films that have been posted online.)

McVey and the man behind the Providence 48-Hour Film Project talk with Edgar Herwick on Boston Public Radio at noon.

SILENT FILM: "Bitter Sweet" by Movie Magic Media

One of the more professional entries into the competition, "Bitter Sweet" features a standout musical score by composer Jason Jordan.

BUDDY FILM: "Tristan & Arabella" by the Brownie Theater

Made by a team of four young siblings: writer/director/editor Caitlin (17), Zac (14), Brittany (11) and Aidan (9), and a golden retriever named Ancho. Features my favorite line in the entire competition: "Not while the smell of chocolate lingers on the breeze. Classic.

MOCKUMENTARY: "Slyder Fishpuss' Wondrous Marvels of the Ancient World" by Pica Films

Bizarre and funny, this film plays like an aside to "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy." Catchy theme music, costumes, makeup and clever writing make for an entertaining 7 minutes.

DRAMA: "Quitting" by Wax Idiotical

Wax Idiotical has made over 15 48-Hour Film Projects in less than 4 years(!), making it one of the most prolific teams competing. This film takes place almost entirely in one elevator, yet constantly evolves its story and characters.

DARK COMEDY (Age Restricted): "Miss You, Mom" by Pass the Porridge Productions

It's sick, twisted and disgusting, to be sure. But taste aside, this tidy, one-joke film is well-made and atmospheric. You've been warned.

And here's McVey's own film, which won the award for Best Film this year — and a documentary he made about making a 48-hour film while he was making his 48-hour film (got that?).

"Manna" by Skiffleboom Productions

"Making of 'Manna'" by Skiffleboom Productions

Sharing Small Moments While Waiting For A Big Bang

By NPR's Jeannette Catsoulis   |   Monday, June 25, 2012
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In Seeking a Friend for the End of the World, Penny (Keira Knightley) and Dodge (Steve Carell) help each other reconnect with distant family and an old love before an asteroid destroys life on Earth. (Darren Michaels/Focus Features)

Like the romance it portrays, Seeking a Friend for the End of the World is brief, sweet, funny and sad. It's also tonally uncertain and occasionally foolish, but somehow these flaws never derail the story's wistful pleasures, not the least of which — if we ignore an unpleasant speech by Patton Oswalt — is its pleasing lack of the frat-boy vulgarity that has come to define so much of the genre.

Even when wobbling dangerously between tragedy and comedy, Lorene Scafaria's screenplay (she also directed) resists the lifeline of cheap-and-cheesy: She'd rather end a scene with a question mark than a dirty laugh.

Brevity is the film's mantra and driving force — specifically, if an asteroid were scheduled to pulverize your planet in exactly 21 days, how would you spend your time?

It's a fascinating question that Scafaria never fully explores, mainly because she's not that kind of filmmaker.

Hers is a microview: Like her 2008 script for the charming Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist, which unspooled over the course of one tune-filled night, Seeking a Friend filters big themes through the lens of a single, tentative relationship.

On one side we have Dodge (Steve Carell at his most crestfallen), an insurance-company drone whose wife has fled to the arms of her secret lover.

On the other floats Penny (Keira Knightley), a flappable pixie with a wrong-for-her boyfriend and a fanatical attachment to her vinyl record collection. Penny, it seems, bonds best with people — and objects — that require a lot of nurturing.

Thrown together during a riot (riots and raves appear to be humanity's top two end-of-days choices), Dodge and Penny make a rather uneven deal: She will help him locate his first love if he will help her reach her family in England.

As title cards and TV news mark the apocalyptic countdown, the movie becomes a quirky travelogue peppered with offbeat, episodic encounters.

While some are more successful than others — a stopover with Penny's survivalist ex-boyfriend subtly nails the way past loves prepare us for their successors — together these segments create an emotionally off-kilter atmosphere that feels appropriately precarious. One hinges on such a shocking development that, for a second, laughter and horror are one and the same.

Stumbling occasionally but never completely falling, Seeking a Friend faces the fear of death not with images of widescreen digital destruction but with small moments that sidle up when we least expect them.

In this the film is helped immensely by the casting of Carell, an actor who carries an inner wound into every role. Dodge looks like a man who has lived with knowledge of the apocalypse all his life, and Carell uses that terror to isolate his characters. Watching a scene where Dodge is expected to participate in a suburban orgy, I couldn't imagine another performer of his generation so clearly embodying socially awkward alienation.

Filled with poignant nudges toward human connection — including the final sign off of an emotional news anchor — this uneven disaster comedy has no need of the couple's unconvincing declarations of love. Their friendship is miracle enough.

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit

In 'Brave,' A Pixar Princess At Odds With Her Place

By NPR's Jeannette Catsoulis   |   Monday, June 25, 2012
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Merida, the heroine in Pixar's Brave, causes much family drama by refusing to get married — and acting more like her father, King Fergus, than a "proper princess."(Disney/Pixar)

Not since Walt Disney's heyday has an animation company enjoyed a creative — and technically innovative — run like Pixar, now on a two-decade stretch that started with Toy Story in 1995 and continued with modern classics like Finding Nemo, Monsters Inc., The Incredibles, WALL-E, Ratatouille and two Toy Story sequels that took on improbable depth and complexity. Over the years, the only persistent knock against Pixar is its lack of one thing Disney movies had in spades: female heroines.

With the vibrant Scottish adventure Brave, the company sets about solving that political problem by offering a distinctly 21st-century princess — strong and rebellious, swift with a bow and uncompromising in her quest for self-determination. Yet they've also solved the problem the Pixar way, which means family comes first, whether it's the surrogate bonds of Cars and Toy Story or the close-knit units of Finding Nemo and The Incredibles. Everything that's good about Brave — beyond the expected eye candy, anyway — stems from the push and pull between the princess' ambition and the demands of family tradition. Pixar may specialize in reinventing genres and creating new worlds, but this theme draws from a vast emotional reserve.

But there's a lot that isn't good about Brave, too, or at least that's woefully conventional by Pixar standards. Beyond the strong core relationship between Merida (voiced by Kelly Macdonald), the film's frisky Celtic princess, and her equally iron-willed mother, Elinor (voiced by Emma Thompson), Brave creates a universe that's beautifully rendered yet thinly imagined, with rote mythology and a wealth of lowbrow gags. At its worst, it would be tempting to say that Pixar is playing on rival DreamWorks' turf — all one-liners and blocky character designs — if DreamWorks hadn't stepped up its game recently with Kung Fu Panda and How to Train Your Dragon.

With an unruly shock of red hair that makes a statement well before she opens her mouth, Merida has more in common with her father, King Fergus (voiced by Billy Connolly), a man of lusty appetites, than her mother, who asserts a quieter power that's rooted more in wisdom than in brute force. When Merida comes of age, Elinor surprises her with the news that suitors from three different clans will compete for her hand in marriage, an arrangement Merida rejects as thoroughly as her mother's lessons on proper etiquette.

Like many a fairy tale princess, Merida flees to an enchanted forest and comes upon a witch, but the spell she hopes will change her mother's mind has unintended consequences. Viewers are better off discovering what happens to Elinor for themselves; suffice it to say that Merida's mother will finally be forced to listen to her for once.

The mother-daughter scenes in Brave have a marvelous tension that turns from dramatic to deftly comic when the spell takes effect and transforms Elinor completely. And the issues between them are not trivial: Granting her daughter the freedom she craves — freedom from all men, not just princes — isn't a simple case of Elinor getting hip to changing times, but a threat to the tenuous peace between clans. For Merida, part of growing up is understanding that personal fulfillment isn't the only consideration, but something that has to be reconciled with the needs of those closest to you.

Brave hits on this powerful message eventually, but it gets there by way of run-of-the-mill plotting and strained attempts at comic relief, from the shenanigans of Merida's three trouble-making little brothers to the bungling oafs in the other clans. The future of Merida's kingdom depends on her family's sustaining a fragile relationship with their neighbors; turning the latter into lovable half-wits and blowhards lowers the stakes a little. While the character of Merida answers Pixar's cultural critics emphatically — and offers young girls a spirited wild card to add to their gallery of satin-gowned Disney princesses — the studio hasn't imagined a vehicle worthy of her.

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit

Jared Bowen's Arts Ahead: Shoes, Sex and Marriage

By Jared Bowen   |   Thursday, April 26, 2012
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April 26, 2012


Cast of The Inspector. Photo:Wolf Trap Opera.

BOSTON — Don't wait another minute to get tickets to these performances. A new spin on Russian satire and a unique look at Nigeria's recent history offer audiences fun ways in to an otherwise serious topic.

The Inspector
Presented by the Boston Lyric Opera
At the Citi Shubert Theatre through April 29th

Loosely Based on Nikolai Gogol’s 19th century Russian satire, The Government Inspector, the opera is set in Mussolini-era Sicily, and tells the story of a domineering Mayor and his town who are thrown into upheaval due to a rumored visit from a government inspector, traveling from Rome in disguise. The Inspector is filled with Italian brio as reflected in the musical markings in Musto’s score: “tarantella,” “mysterioso,” “alla barcarolla” and “breezily.” The production premiered in The Barns at Wolf Trap in 2011; Boston Lyric Opera premieres its latest revisions by the composer and librettist in a new adaptation built specifically for the Shubert Theatre stage. The Inspector is the fourth collaboration of composer John Musto and librettist Mark Campbell.

Presented in Association with ArtsEmerson
At the Cutler Majestic Theatre through May 6th

Olivier and Tony Award-nominated actor Sahr Ngaujah leads the cast of FELA! He is joined by Melanie Marshall and Paulette Ivory, who co-starred with Ngaujah in the Olivier-nominated Royal National Theatre production.  This touring production is a once in a lifetime experience, a triumphant tale of courage, passion and love. FELA! is the true story of Kuti, who created a type of music, Afrobeat, a bit of jazz, funk and African rhythm and harmony, and combined it with incendiary lyrics that openly attacked the corrupt and oppressive military dictatorships that rule Nigeria and much of Africa.  Featuring many of Fela Kuti’s most captivating songs, FELA! reveals Kuti's controversial life as an artist and political activist and celebrates his pioneering music.

Visit the couple's Wedding Blog
The Five-Year Engagement
Opens in theaters on Friday

The director and writer/star of Forgetting Sarah Marshall return for the irreverent comedy The Five-Year Engagement. Beginning where most romantic comedies end, the new film looks at what happens when an engaged couple, Jason Segel and Emily Blunt, keep getting tripped up on the long walk down the aisle. The film was written by Segel and the director, Nicholas Stoller.

Jared Bowen's Arts Ahead: Lows and Highs

By Jared Bowen   |   Thursday, April 12, 2012
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April 12, 2012


Will Lyman, Nicholas Dillenburg and Karen MacDonald In Long Day's Journey Into Night. Photo by Andrew Brilliant / Brilliant Pictures.

BOSTON — Theater-goers won't want to miss this long-awaited performance of Eugene O'Neill's powerful examination of family, and families won't want to miss a night of delight under the Big Top.

Long Day's Journey Into Night
At the New Repertory Theatre through April 22nd

Eugene O’Neill's 1957 Pulitzer Prize-winning classic, a semi-autobiographical drama, intimately examines the addictions, regrets, and deceits of the tormented Tyrone family. Through the course of a single heart-wrenching day, the members of the family confront one another as their blame, resentment, and animosity explodes.

Documentary Film
Opens in theaters this Friday

Directed by Sundance and Emmy-award winning filmmaker, Lee Hirsch, BULLY explores stories that represent a different facet of America’s bullying crisis. The filmmakers follow five kids and families over the course of a school year. Stories include two families who have lost children to suicide and a mother awaiting the fate of her 14-year-old daughter who has been incarcerated after bringing a gun on her school bus. With an intimate glimpse into homes, classrooms, cafeterias and principals’ offices, the film offers insight into the often cruel world of the lives of bullied children.

The film rating for BULLY recently changed from "R" to "PG-13".
US Int'l Clown Hall of Fame inductee Barry Lubin as "Grandma" Photo: Bertrand Guay/ Big Apple Circus

Big Apple Circus: Dream Big
Under the Big Top on City Hall Plaza through May 13

Complete with a juggler, a mechanical doll who comes alive, spirited horses, frolicsome dogs, and a capybara and porcupine to perk up the sawdust party, families will enjoy a new season of acrobatics, comedy and magic. A singing Ringmistress and the Big Apple Circus Band share ringing melodies and Grandma, apogee of comical aspiration and mirthful joy, is back.

About the Authors
Jared Bowen Jared Bowen
Jared Bowen is WGBH’s Emmy Award-winning Executive Editor and Host for Arts. 


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