Authors Posts by Brooks Robards

Brooks Robards

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'Tomorrowland' premieres at Entertainment Cinemas and Capawock theater this weekend.

From director Brad Bird comes Tomorrowland, which plays at the newly reopened Capawock Theater and at Entertainment Cinemas in Edgartown this weekend, and addresses a future where the grim prospects of global warming, terrorism, and nuclear disaster are overcome.

This utopian tale begins with George Clooney playing the grumpy aging scientist Frank Walker. As a boy Frank (played by Thomas Robinson) goes to the 1964 World’s Fair in New York with his jet pack made of vacuum cleaner parts. After his invention is rejected by a judge named — what else but — Nix (Hugh Laurie), young Frank catches the eye of a girl named Athena (Raffey Cassidy), who gives him a magic pin. Embossed with the letter “T,” the pin has the power to send him to Tomorrowland, a world constructed of futuristic skyscrapers where robots and space vehicles abound.

Before viewers can find out what will happen to young Frank in Tomorrowland, they will find themselves jolted back to the present, where teenager Casey Newton (Britt Robertson) is waging a one-woman drone war against the closing of a NASA base in Cape Canaveral that will put her father (Tim McGraw) out of work. Like young Frank before her, Casey receives a “T” pin that has the power to send her instantly to Tomorrowland when she touches it. The catch is that she can just as rapidly be bumped back to her conventional, doom-laden life in the present. Once Athena, who unlike Frank remains a child in the present, shows up and warns Casey she’s in danger, Casey heads out in search of the older, Clooney version of Frank to find out why he was kicked out of Tomorrowland.

These are the most coherent components of a plot that too often doesn’t make sense. What does make sense is that it’s children who hold the keys to the future and can rescue our rapidly deteriorating world.

The best part of Tomorrowland is the magical gadgets that take these characters into to the future: the “T” pin with its power to overturn the present, a bathtub that turns into a rescue spaceship of sorts, a rocket that bursts out of the Eiffel Tower.

Then there’s fashion icon Iris Apfel, the subject of octogenarian Albert Maysles’ documentary Iris, playing this weekend at the Martha’s Vineyard Film Center, who doesn’t need a magic pin to transform reality. She does it through the unerring sense of style that makes her clothes and accessory choices interesting, colorful, and dramatic. Ms. Apfel describes how her mother once told her, “You’re not pretty. You have something better. You have style.”

This New Yorker took that advice and ran with it. With her devoted husband perpetually by her side carrying his triple Nikon cameras, Iris built a career based on fashion, interior design, architecture, and art. She restored museums, which later exhibited her clothes and accessories, and consulted at the White House for nine administrations. She traveled to Europe twice a year to find the latest items for fashion collections that came to take up entire rooms in her apartment.

In the 1940s Iris was one of the first woman to wear blue jeans. Now in her 90s, she has begun donating her extensive fashion collection to the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem. At her husband’s 100th birthday party, she wittily spoke for him: “A woman is as old as she looks, but a man is never old until he stops looking.” As this charming documentary illustrates, Ms. Apfel remains a moveable feast and a geriatric starlet. “I’m not pretty,” she says. “I don’t like pretty.” Her clothing and accessories say the opposite.

Iris, Sunday, June 7, 7:30 pm, Martha’s Vineyard Film Center, Tisbury Marketplace, Vineyard Haven.

Tomorrowland, Thursday, June 4, 7:30 pm, Capawock Theater, Main Street, Vineyard Haven. Tomorrowland, Saturday, June 6, 12:45 pm, Entertainment Cinemas, Main St. Edgartown.

 

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Caroll Spinney on the set of "Sesame Street." – Photo courtesy iambigbird.com

The Martha’s Vineyard Film Center brings two winners to the Island this weekend. I Am Big Bird: The Caroll Spinney Story describes the evolution of the eight-foot, yellow-feathered children’s TV puppet and the man who brought him to life. In Far from the Madding Crowd, Director Thomas Vinterberg lightens up 19th century author Thomas Hardy’s fate-laden novel into a more modern romantic story.

The brightly colored Big Bird documentary demonstrates that Sesame Street’s most iconic puppet is as much the creation of Mr. Spinney as it is of the legendary Sesame Street puppeteer Jim Henson. When Mr. Spinney saw his first puppet show as a child, he discovered his life’s ambition. With help from his artistic mother, he created his own puppets, and staged puppet shows while growing up.

A troubled relationship with his father led the aspiring puppeteer to join the U.S. Air Force, but after four years in the military, he returned to his more favored calling, and worked on the Boston children’s TV show Bozo the Clown. Mr. Spinney next landed in New York at the Children’s Television Workshop’s Sesame Street, led by Mr. Hensen. What will entertain and interest the viewer about I Am Big Bird is its description of a career that was often fraught with obstacles and disappointments, despite the sweetness of the character and its creator. Directors Dave LaMattina and Chad Walker succeed in capturing the authentic person behind Big Bird. Mr. Spinney imbued the puppet with the imagination of an overgrown child. He had an instinct for creating a child’s point of view in both the yellow-feathered bird and his other signature Sesame Street character, Oscar the Grouch.

Far_from_madding_crowd_imdb.jpgIt’s celebration of the pastoral world of 19th century rural England, exquisitely rendered by cinematographer Charlotte Ruus Christensen, that plays a major role in the newest cinematic version of Far from the Madding Crowd. At a time when concern about the environment has reached heightened levels, it is a reminder of a more idyllic time in the natural world. Bathsheba Everdene, played by Carey Mulligan, starts as an impoverished young woman helping out at her aunt’s farm, who then inherits her own much more substantial spread.

Although the origin of her first name (her last name has been paid forward by Katniss Everdeen of The Hunger Games) is an apparent toss-away the heroine can’t explain, it’s interesting to think about the echoes of its Biblical source in the context of the film. The Biblical Bathsheba became King David’s wife after he seduced and impregnated her, then in effect arranged for the death of her first husband. Seduction plays into the romantic choices made by the cinematic Bathsheba as well.

Far from the Madding Crowd’s heroine is a radical version of womanhood by 19th century standards. Assertively independent, she makes it clear very quickly that she has no desire for a husband, although three men come forward to ask for her hand, and the thrust of the story is what she will decide about their offers. Ms. Mulligan’s version of Bathsheba turns her into a flirtatious, somewhat fickle and indecisive young woman, struggling to make her way in a man’s world, smiling one second, smirking another.

Mr. Vinterberg has kept many of the sudden, melodramatic twists of events in Bathsheba’s life, and keeps the pace moving swiftly. He soft-pedals the class issues underlying the tale as told by the novelist, and focuses instead on how, one after another, her suitors do their best to win her over. If this latest cinematic version of Far from the Madding Crowd — John Schlesinger’s 1967 version starred Julie Christie — is “Hardy light,” it remains an entertaining and plenty satisfying tale.

I Am Big Bird: The Caroll Spinney Story, Thursday, May 28, 7:30 pm; Friday, May 29, and Sunday, May 31, 4 pm.

Far from the Madding Crowd, Friday, May 29, Saturday, May 30, and Sunday, May 31, 7:30 pm; Sunday, May 31, 4 pm.

All films at the Martha’s Vineyard Film Center, Tisbury Marketplace, Vineyard Haven. For tickets and information, see mvfilmsociety.com.

 

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Imagery from the unreleased film "The Seasons." – Photo courtesy MV Film Center

The Martha’s Vineyard Film Center and the Vineyard Conservation Society have come together to create the Island’s first annual Environmental Film Festival, on the big screen this weekend at the Martha’s Vineyard Film Center. Titled “Nature as Inspiration: The Films of Jacques Perrin,” the festival will screen five of the celebrated actor and filmmaker’s nature documentaries, including A Night on Earth in its North American premiere. The Paris-based Mr. Perrin, along with members of his film staff, will attend the festival and present clips from his newest film, The Seasons, set to premiere in December 2015.

In celebration of its 50th anniversary, the Vineyard Conservation Society has organized a yearlong series of events to promote environmental awareness on the Island. In addition to the film festival, its “Connect, Reflect, Protect” series will include lectures and children’s programs. Artwork about the environment from a contest for Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School students will be on display in the Film Center’s Feldman Family Artspace all week, culminating in an awards ceremony on Sunday, May 24, to honor contestants. Following the awards ceremony, Océans will be screened for the second time during the festival. The Sunday screening is free for all filmgoers 18 years old and younger.

MV_FilmEnvironment_poster_5_COL.jpgOcéans, which was released in 2009 and won a César in 2011, will launch the festival with its initial screening on Thursday, May 21. The film follows a 6:30 pm opening reception featuring Mr. Perrin and longtime Oak Bluffs seasonal resident Jesse Ausubel. Mr. Ausubel, who worked on the film as part of its scientific team, serves as director and senior research associate of the Program for the Human Environment at Rockefeller University in New York. He also is on the faculty of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. Following both screenings of Océans, he will lead Q & A sessions.

Mr. Perrin narrates Océans, and co-directed it with Jacques Cluzaud. The film, which took seven years to make, explores the mysteries of the bodies of water that make up nearly three-quarters of the earth’s surface and are considered to be the planet’s last frontier. It is the most expensive documentary ever made, according to Mr. Ausubel. “I came to be a huge fan of Galatée [Films],” Mr. Ausubel said in a telephone interview about Mr. Perrin’s production company.

Mr. Perrin’s 2001 film, Winged Migration, will play on Friday, May 22. Nominated for a 2003 Best Documentary Oscar, this hauntingly beautiful film tracks the migration patterns of birds over all seven continents. Rob Culbert of Tisbury will lead the Q & A session following Winged Migration. An expert birder and ecological consultant, Mr. Culbert leads birding tours on-Island.

Mr. Perrin served as producer for the 1992 film Microcosmos, playing Saturday, May 23. Directed by Claude Nuridsany and Marie Pérennou, this remarkable film explores the world of insects close-up, on two square meters of French prairie. Specially designed cameras take the viewer beneath the earth’s surface, and demonstrate just how athletic tiny insects really are. Paul Z. Goldstein, who has served on the board of directors of the Sheriff’s Meadow Foundation, and in 2010 led the conservation, monitoring, and management of the Martha’s Vineyard native bee inventory for the Edey Foundation, will lead the Q & A session following the film. He serves as a research associate in the Departments of Entomology at the Smithsonian Institution and the University of Maryland.

Actor and filmmaker Jacques Perrin is being celebrated at the Film Center. – Photo courtesy MV Film Center
Actor and filmmaker Jacques Perrin is being celebrated at the Film Center. – Photo courtesy MV Film Center

A champagne reception will precede the Saturday screening of Night on Earth. Mr. Perrin will first show clips from The Seasons, which he co-directed with Mr. Cluzaud. Still in production, this work looks at the cycle of seasons through the eyes of animals in Europe over the past 10,000 years. Night on Earth, which follows, and which Mr. Perrin co-produced, uses specially developed cameras capable of recording in very low light. The film captures the nocturnal activities of animals as never seen before. Doctoral candidate Luanne Johnson will lead the Q & A session following the film. Ms. Johnson studies the influence of urbanization on biodiversity, particularly as it affects bird species, including the piping plover. She is also studying populations of northern long-eared bats on the Vineyard.

The final festival screening on Sunday, May 24, will feature Himalaya: The Boyhood of a Chief, produced by Mr. Perrin and directed by Eric Valli. This 1999 Nepalese drama, nominated for a 2000 Best Foreign Film Oscar, follows the story of a Tibetan tribal chief and his fractious relationship with a younger chief-to-be.

In addition to being a film producer and director, Mr. Perrin has had a distinguished career as an actor, starring in Costa-Gavras’ Z, which won the 1970 Best Foreign Film Oscar for Algeria, and Giuseppe Tornore’s Cinema Paradiso, which won the 1990 Best Foreign Film Oscar for Italy and played at the Martha’s Vineyard Film Center last week.

“What I love about these nature films is that they’re global,” says Mr. Ausubel. “Because of the visual power, sound and music, everyone can enjoy them. They have an incredible directness. He [Mr. Perrin] has a real genius. He gets you to fly like a bird, move like an insect.” The festival is made possible by support from the Richard Lounsbery Foundation.

 

Oceans, Thursday, May 21, 7:30 pm; Sunday, May 24, 4 pm (free screening for 18 and younger).

Winged Migration, Friday, May 22, 7:30 pm.

Microcosmos, Saturday, May 23, 4 pm.

The Seasons (clips), Saturday, May 23, 7:30 pm.

Night on Earth, Saturday, May 23, 7:30 pm.

Himalaya: The Boyhood of a Chief, Sunday, May 24, 7:30 p.m.

All screenings part of “Nature as Inspiration: The Films of Jacques Perrin” at the Martha’s Vineyard Film Center, Tisbury Marketplace, Vineyard Haven. For tickets and information, see mvfilmsociety.com.

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A hard look at an aging actress.

Juliette Binoche stars in Clouds of Sils Maria.

As Alejandro Inarritu’s Oscar-winning Birdman most recently illustrated, filmmakers never tire of the navel-gazing involved in explorations of acting, aging, and celebrity. French director Olivier Assayas takes on the task in his latest film, Clouds of Sils Maria, playing this weekend at the Martha’s Vineyard Film Center.

Juliette Binoche, celebrated for her roles in movies including The Unbearable Lightness of Being and Chocolat, plays Maria Enders, a fortysomething actress who reluctantly decides to play the older woman in a revival of Maloja Snake, an ill-fated lesbian romance that launched her career some 20 years earlier when she played Sigrid, the fickle younger woman. The title of the play is inspired by a dramatic cloud formation in the Swiss Alps that winds through the mountain valleys like a serpent.

The viewer meets Maria as she travels by train to Zurich with her personal assistant, Valentine, played compellingly by Twilight saga actress Kristen Stewart. Ms. Stewart won a French César as supporting actress for her role, the first American actress to receive a César. Valentine juggles movie offers, paparazzi, and other aspects of Maria’s life, while Maria prepares to accept an award for Klaus, the reclusive theatrical director who cast her in the first Maloja Snake.

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While en route, Valentine and Maria learn that Klaus has committed suicide. Once the two arrive in Zurich, Maria discovers to her dismay that Henryk (Hanns Zischler), an actor with whom she had an unhappy affair during the run of the original Maloja Snake, has also been invited to accept the prize for Klaus. She meets with Christopher (Johnny Flynn), the British director who plans to revive Maloja Snake on the London stage, and wants Maria to play Helena, the older woman, in the play.

While it may seem as if a lot is happening in Clouds of Sils Maria, Maria’s conversations with Valentine are what really make up the bulk of the movie. Jo-Ann (Chloe Grace Moretz), the up-and-coming and volatile starlet being tapped for Sigrid in the London production, also plays an important role.

Maria and Valentine are invited to stay at Klaus’s home in the Alps by his widow, Maria’s close friend Rosa (Angela Winkler). The actress and her assistant take frequent walks in the breathtakingly beautiful alpine meadows where Klaus committed suicide.

In addition to their hikes, Maria and Valentine spend much of their time rehearsing for the new production of Maloja Snake. They take time to watch Jo-Ann’s blockbuster sci-fi film, which Valentine likes and Maria dismisses as shallow pop-culture junk. As suspicious and potentially jealous of Jo-Ann as Maria may be, she discovers the starlet is very different from the way she is portrayed by the media.

Often it is hard to tell whether Maria’s and Valentine’s relationship parallels the roles the two are rehearsing. The mix-up of real and imaginary lives can be dizzying, but the powerful performances of Ms. Binoche and Ms. Stewart will keep the viewer engaged.

Clouds of Sils Maria, Friday, May 15, and Saturday, May 16, at 4 pm, Martha’s Vineyard Film Center, Tisbury Marketplace, Vineyard Haven. For tickets and information on all films playing at the Film Center, visit mvfilmsociety.com.

 

 

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Alex Garland, who wrote the screenplay for Danny Boyle’s multiple award-winning horror flick 28 Days Later, has produced a compelling sci-fi thriller, Ex Machina, for his directorial debut. It opens this weekend at the Martha’s Vineyard Film Center.

Don’t look for slam-bam special effects or spectacular car/spaceship chases in this one. Ex Machina depends on the interaction between CEO genius Nathan (Oscar Isaac of Inside Llewyn Davis) and Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows). A program coder, Nathan has selected to test Ava (Alicia Vikander), the artificial intelligence (A.I.) cyborg he has created. Ex Machina has a fitting title, making the allusion to the classical Greek dramatic device deus ex machina, in which the gods intervene to bring resolution to the plot of a play.

The question Nate hopes to answer through Caleb is whether or not Ava has evolved beyond machine-based artificial intelligence to experience truly human qualities. The first half of the movie focuses on intricate conversations between Nathan and Caleb, along with those Caleb has with Ava to see whether she’s evolved.

Computer geeks will have no problem following the dialogue, although the rest of us may flounder a bit. By the second half of the movie, the suspense builds, and even the most computer-illiterate viewers will find themselves hanging on every word and scene.

One of the suggestive devices the director uses is crosscuts between Nathan’s remote, futuristic “lab” home and the lushly beautiful vistas of woods and mountains where it is set. Caleb learns Ava has never been outside the building. Is this what she most longs for? A number of other puzzling elements begin to pile up.

What does it mean that Nathan lifts weights and drinks heavily? Caleb’s meetings with Ava always take place with a glass wall separating them, reminiscent of the way prison visitors are separated from inmates. Kyoko (Sonoya Mizuno) appears periodically, apparently as Nathan’s maid, but why is it she never speaks? The power frequently fails, necessitating a backup generator, and when it does, Nathan, who has cameras everywhere, can’t hear Caleb and Ava’s conversation. When Ava begins wearing dresses and wigs, does that signify she is evolving into human status? Why does Caleb slice open his arm and smear blood on the mirror in his room? Why are the cyborgs in Ex Machina women? Does that make them inferior or superior to the men in the film?

Like the pieces of an intricate puzzle, these elements slowly fit together. Then what happens to Nathan, Caleb, Ava, and even Kyoko seems both surprising and inevitable.

 

Ex Machina, Friday, May 8, and Saturday, May 9, 7:30 pm; Martha’s Vineyard Film Center, Vineyard Haven. For tickets and information on this and other film center films, see mvfilmsociety.com.

 

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Photo courtesy Rotten Tomatoes

Except when vampires and zombies parade across the screen, most modern cinematic fairy tales have happy endings. Not so with the Argentine film Wild Tales, which harks back to the primitive violence of Grimm’s or Aesop’s original fables. It is currently playing at the Martha’s Vineyard Film Center.

Screenwriter and director Damián Szifron spins a potent web of satire and violence in his six short stories of revenge run amuck, which also includes the work of celebrated Spanish director Pedro Almodóvar and his brother Agustin as producers of the film. Wild Tales earned a Best Foreign Film nomination at this year’s Oscars, as well as one last year for the Cannes Palme d’Or, with many wins elsewhere.

Unlike vampire and zombie films, Wild Tales sets its six shorts in a world of real characters and settings. Pasternak, the first, takes place almost exclusively in the cabin of a jetliner and ends up uncomfortably close to the recent plane tragedy in France. A runway model and a classical music critic in the story strike up a flirtatious, across-the-aisle conversation, and discover that they have in common an acquaintance with Pasternak, the model’s ex-boyfriend and the critic’s former student, whose work he savaged. As their chat continues, other passengers who overhear it chime in. They know Pasternak, too. And guess who has locked himself in the pilot’s cabin and taken over the controls?

The rainy set for The Rats is a roadside café, where the one customer is a rude and arrogant loan shark who inspired the suicide of the café waitress’s father. When the cook suggests lacing the man’s food with rat poison, the distressed young server resists, but the cook has fewer scruples and more of a yen for revenge. In Road to Hell, the smug, self-satisfied owner of a new Audi has no qualms about giving the finger to a bedraggled driver of a clunker and calling him a redneck before zooming by. Road rage goes postal, after Mr. Audi gets a flat tire near a conveniently precipitous bluff by a highway bridge.

A demolitions engineer in Bombita finds his car has been towed, not once, not twice, but three times. The fines he incurs rise higher and higher, and he faces an egregious lack of concern from recalcitrant city clerks. Bad goes to worse once his wife files for divorce and he loses his job. Indignant, he uses his professional skills to retaliate.

Particularly grim is The Bill, in which the son in an affluent family accidentally hits a pregnant woman while driving home. After the woman and her unborn baby die, the father persuades the family gardener to take the rap in exchange for a big chunk of change. Then it turns out the prosecutor wants his cut, as does the family lawyer, and so on. Last and best of all is Till Death Do Us Part, the story of a wedding from hell. After the bride discovers that her betrothed has not only cheated on her but invited his liaison partner to the wedding, she threatens more and more extreme revenge, until the nuptial celebration turns into the scene of threats, anarchy, and violence.

Mr. Szifron, who claims to have written most of the six stories while reclining in his bathtub, directs Wild Tales with a crispness and eye for tongue-in-cheek authenticity. We all have our fantasies of revenge when minor events go belly-up. Watching what happens when such fantasies become real makes these stories fun and satisfying, if a little uneven.

 

Wild Tales, Thursday, April 30, and Saturday, May 2, 7:30 pm; Friday, May 1, and Sunday, May 3, 4 pm, Martha’s Vineyard Film Center, Tisbury Marketplace, Vineyard Haven. For tickets and information on other films, see mvfilmsociety.com.

 

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‘While We’re Young’ comes to Island cinemas this weekend.

Ben Stiller and Naomi Watts star in "While We're Young."

Filmmaker Noah Baumbach takes over Woody Allen’s mantle as the explorer of artsy middle-class neurotics in his new film, While We’re Young, opening this weekend at the Martha’s Vineyard Film Center and Entertainment Cinemas. Too bad about the boringly flat title and the heavy-handed opening quote from Henrik Ibsen, because this is a romantic comedy that charms and amuses.

Central characters Josh (Ben Stiller) and Cornelia (Naomi Watts) are a 40-something couple experiencing an identity crisis. Childless after multiple miscarriages, they find themselves out of sync with longtime friends like Fletcher (Adam Horovitz) and Marina (Maria Dizzia), who have moved on to doting parenthood. In While We’re Young, 40-something becomes the new 20-something for Josh and Cornelia, when the millennial couple Jamie (Adam Driver) and Darby (Amanda Seyfried) happen into their lives. It seems like a perfect fit.

Like Josh, Adam is an aspiring documentary filmmaker, and he looks up to Josh as the older, more accomplished artist who produced a successful film 10 years ago. The catch is that Josh has been floundering ever since, procrastinating on his second cinematic effort, a political/philosophical morass. He’s suffering from a Gen-X midlife crisis. So is Cornelia, who works on production for her celebrated documentarist father Leslie (Charles Grodin), who hasn’t made a film in years. The green-eyed monster rules Josh, who resents his father-in-law’s success in the face of his own lack of follow through.

Hooking up with Jamie and Darby seems like the perfect solution to Josh and Cornelia’s angst. After all, Jamie seems to hero-worship Josh, and the 20-something couple enjoys youthful millennial pastimes. Josh builds his own furniture, collects vinyl records and “pukes up his demons” under the influence of a New Age guru. Darby makes boutique ice creams and attends hip-hop exercise classes, but like Cornelia, stays on the sidelines in this male-centered comedy.

As the friendship between the two couples develops, Josh starts to see another, less appealing side to Jamie. The younger, fledgling filmmaker may act like a laid-back Mr. Cool, but he’s also an ambitious one, who knows how to capitalize on all the latest trends that Josh finds questionable.

An accomplished filmmaker and occasional Vineyard visitor, Mr. Baumbach enriches the relationships among the Gen-X and millennial couples, as well as the oedipal-flavored one between Josh and his father-in-law, with finesse. His satire has a gentle and affectionate side. All the actors — from Mr. Stiller and Ms. Watts to Mr. Driver and Ms. Seyfried, along with Mr. Grodin — are well cast and give spot-on performances. In the best romantic comedy tradition, all’s well that ends swell. Also cast in minor roles are my stepson Matthew Kaplan and step-grandson Victor Kaplan, Vineyard summer residents and friends of Mr. Baumbach, which provided a special feature of the film for me.

 

While We’re Young, Friday, April 24, and Sunday, April 26, 4 pm; Saturday, April 25, 7:30 pm, at the Martha’s Vineyard Film Center; Saturday, April 25, 12:45 pm and 3:45pm; Sunday, April 26, 1 pm and 7 pm; Tuesday, April 28, 1 pm, 4 pm, and 7 pm; Thursday, April 30, 4 pm and 7 pm, at Entertainment Cinemas.

 

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Local filmmakers bring attention to Islanders who are working to develop a sustainable local environment.

In "The Hidden Life of Conch," Islander Shelley Edmundson shares groundbreaking research about the conch. – Photo courtesy MV Film Center

In celebration of the 45th anniversary of Earth Day on Wednesday, April 22, the Martha’s Vineyard Film Center will screen three short films by Vineyard filmmakers Liz Witham and Ken Wentworth of Film-Truth Productions. The shorts are part of the married couple’s documentary series, Sustainable Vineyard Episodes. The three films —The Hidden Life of Conch, The Story of Seeds, and Goatscaping — are free to the public.

The goal of the series is to promote a sense of community by profiling Islanders who are working to develop a sustainable local environment. Vineyarders active in the Island environmental movement and interviewed in the three shorts will answer questions following the film screenings. Participants include: Noli Taylor, director of Island Grown Schools; Melinda Rabbitt-DeFeo, Edgartown School garden program; Tim Boland, executive director of Polly Hill Arboretum; Tim Clark, curator of Polly Hill Arboretum; Ian Jochems, horticulturist for Polly Hill Arboretum; Kristen Fauteux, director of stewardship at Sheriff’s Meadow Foundation; Rebecca Gilbert, owner of Native Earth Teaching Farm; Shelley Edmundson, doctoral student in the department of biological sciences at the University of New Hampshire; as well as the two filmmakers.

In The Hidden Life of Conch, Ms. Edmundson describes her ongoing research on the conch, which make up the Island’s largest fishing industry, earning $6 million annually. With most information on conch dating from the 1940s, relatively little up-to-date data on this sea snail, also known as the channeled whelk, is available. Conch harvested by Vineyard fishermen travel primarily to Hong Kong, and Ms. Witham has suggested that one local project might be to persuade an Island chef to develop a menu using this marine animal.

The Story of Seeds examines the Island movement to collect local plant varieties and make them available to gardeners. By learning how to save seeds from local plants rather than destroying them, individuals can help counter the increasing corporatization of the U.S. food industry, according to Ms. Witham.

Goatscaping explores the use of goats to remove invasive foreign shrubs and woody plants. Goats also consume poison ivy, and unlike herbicides, they don’t leave behind any toxic residue. In this short, Ms. Fauteux describes how the Sheriffs Meadow Foundation has used goats at Cedar Tree Neck to eliminate bittersweet, one of the invading species at that site.

Ms. Witham and Mr. Wentworth came up with the idea for making a series of film shorts on Island sustainability in 2010, while they were working on a full-length documentary, The Greening of Eden, about the broader issue of humanity’s relationship to plant life. They received a 2014 Martha’s Vineyard Vision Fellowship and a Massachusetts Cultural Council grant to produce the series.

Ms. Witham explained Film-Truth Production’s decision to make shorts about Island sustainability rather than a full-length documentary. “With increasing use of the Internet, people are consuming media differently than they did even just a few years ago. We designed the Sustainable Vineyard series of short documentaries in a form and length that is optimal for sharing online. Our concept was to make short pieces that are easy to utilize but that can also be combined and played together to make a wonderful, longer short documentary that is optimal for film festivals and community screenings.”

They have also made Foraging in Aquinnah with Kristina Hook-Leslie and Pig Farming with Jan Buhrman. While The Story of Seeds was shown last month at the Martha’s Vineyard Film Festival, The Hidden Life of Conch and Goatscaping will receive their first public screenings on April 22. Film-Truth Productions plans to make the series available to Island schools, libraries, and sustainability organizations. The film company is also exploring broadcast opportunities.

Earth Day originated in 1970, after Wisconsin Sen. Gaylord Nelson witnessed the massive 1969 oil spill in Santa Barbara, Calif., and organized a national teach-in on the environment with California Rep. Pete McCloskey. Earth Day went global in 1990, expanding to include 141 countries, and in 2010 it emphasized the threat of global warming and the need to develop sources for clean energy. Formed in 1970, the Earth Day Network supports year-round environmental awareness and action worldwide.

 

Sustainable Vineyard Episodes, Wednesday, April 22, 7:30 pm, Martha’s Vineyard Film Center, Tisbury Marketplace, Vineyard Haven. For tickets for these and other scheduled films, see mvfilmsociety.com. For additional information on Sustainable Vineyard Episodes and Film-Truth Productions, contact Liz Witham at liz@film-truth.com or 508-693-3672.

 

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Al Pacino and Christopher Plummer star in "Danny Collins." – Photo courtesy Rotten Tomatoes.

Danny Collins, which played for one night last month at the Martha’s Vineyard Film Center as part of the New York Film Critics Series, returns this weekend. Al Pacino stars as the has-been singer who gets a new lease on life thanks to a letter from John Lennon that he receives 40 years after it was mailed. Playing next week in honor of the late author and politician Jonathan Revere, whose birthdate is April 15, is Man from Reno, a neo-noir, biracial film about a Japanese crime novelist on the lam from her promotional tour.

Currently, a popular theme in Hollywood seems to be investigations into the underside of fame. Jeff Bridges played a down-and-out country-western singer in Crazy Heart (2009), and the Coen brothers directed Oscar Isaac in Inside Llewyn Davis, a tale about the folk scene of the early ’60s in Greenwich Village. Birdman: Or the Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance — a multiple Oscar winner this year — stars Michael Keaton as a superhero film star trying for a more serious comeback on Broadway.

Danny Collins — which was not available for review — provides Mr. Pacino’s Danny with the support of a star-studded cast, including Christopher Plummer as the singer’s agent; Annette Bening as Mary, hotel manager and would-be amour; Bobby Cannavale as Tom, Danny’s estranged son from a long-ago liaison with a groupie; and Jennifer Garner as Tom’s wife Samantha. Once Danny receives the belated fan letter from Lennon, he decides to turn over a new leaf, limit his drug and alcohol use, and write new material instead relying on his repertoire of past hits. He also tries to reconnect with his out-of-wedlock son Tom. Dan Fogelman, screenwriter for the Steve Carell vehicle Crazy, Stupid, Love, and for Tangled, the animated retelling of the fairytale “Rapunzel,” wrote the script for Danny Collins. It is his debut as a director.

Dave Boyle directed and co-wrote Man from Reno with Joel Clark. Mr. Boyle has built a track record of films about Asians in America, after spending time in Australia as a Mormon missionary who hung out with Japanese surfers. In Man from Reno he changes up the usually lone male protagonist by pairing San Marco County sheriff Paul Del Moral, played by veteran character actor Pepe Serna, with Aki, a Japanese detective author played by Steven Seagal’s daughter Ayako Fujitani.

The film opens with Paul driving through a practically impenetrable fog south of the city, one of the first cues to the audience that the director will handle neo-noir conventions with a bit of tongue in cheek. After the sheriff hits the putative owner of an abandoned vehicle, the twists and turns of the narrative threads take over. A depressive who is not dealing well with her growing celebrity, Aki goes AWOL from her book tour and lands in a San Francisco boutique hotel. The viewer meets Aki as she is interviewed about her new book, Inspector Takabe. Before long, she has a one-night stand with a handsome Asian who identifies himself as Akira Suzuki. Like the sheriff’s last name, Akira’s is a pun intended. After his tryst with Aki, Akira heads out for a cigarette and doesn’t come back, so Aki dons her detective hat to hunt for him. As is so often the case in the noir genre, nobody turns out to be whom they appear to be. Although the meandering plotline grows more than a little attenuated, strong acting by Mr. Serna and Ms. Fujitani, and handsome cinematography by Richard Wong, keep Man from Reno enjoyably on track. Music and refreshments are planned before the screening.

 

Danny Collins, Friday, April 10, and Saturday, April 11, 7:30 pm; Sunday, April 12, 4 pm at the Martha’s Vineyard Film Center; Saturday April 11, 12:45 and 4 pm; Sunday April 12, 12:45 and 7 pm; Monday April 13, 4 and 7 pm; and Tuesday April 14, 1, 4 and 7 pm at Entertainment Cinemas.

Man from Reno, Wednesday, April 15, 7:30 pm at the Martha’s Vineyard Film Center.

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Canaries, those sweet little yellow songbirds, have provided fodder for a host of slang phrases, ranging from “canary in a coal mine” to synonyms for snitch, barbiturate, and a female singer. It’s hard to be sure what director Lawrence Michael Levine had in mind by titling his 30-something, mystery–romantic comedy combo Wild Canaries, opening this weekend at the Martha’s Vineyard Film Center. But that may be the ultimate joke. Other than being caged in the sense that New York City apartment dwellers are, Wild Canaries has little to do with birds except for a few random, mostly irrelevant shots seen at the start and finish of the film.

Brooklynites Barri (Sophia Takal) and Noah (Mr. Levine) are inching their way toward marriage with enough gabbing and squabbling to qualify for a nouveau mumblecore movie. They share their Cobble Hill apartment with freckle-faced Jean (Alia Shawkat), a lesbian with somewhat lustful eyes for her best friend Barri. Out of work going on six months, Barri has plenty of time on her hands, and conjures up a possible murder à la Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window or Woody Allen’s Manhattan Murder Mystery. The putative victim is the couple’s downstairs neighbor, 83-year-old Sylvia (Marylouise Burke), who drops dead of an apparent heart attack.

Noah, who is 10 years older than his fiancée and runs a fledgling film business, pooh-poohs Barri’s suspicions that Sylvia’s son Anthony (Kevin Corrigan) did in his mother in a plot to get control of her apartment. But before long, Barri has outfitted herself in a detective-style trench coat, floppy hat, and sunglasses, and sneaks into the deceased Sylvia’s apartment looking for clues. Add to the mix Damien (Jason Ritter), the shady artist/landlord who is on the outs with his ex-wife, and Noah’s lesbian ex-girlfriend-turned-business partner Eleanor (Annie Parisse), and the plot thickens.

The post–Hurricane Sandy world of these not-yet-fully-domesticated-by-children urbanites bustles with contemporary allusions. Barri dreams of renovating a Catskills resort into a music mecca. Gender identity and marriage have become fluid qualities, and sex roles, if not strictly equal, have nevertheless evened out. Barri, for instance, is by far more assertive than the often-befuddled Noah, who is unable to master the intricacies of his smartphone and worries that his sperm is going bad. Noah also ends up as a walking sight gag with a neck brace and a black eye.

The tangle of relationships, misadventures, and suspects in Wild Canaries at times overwhelms the film’s coherence, but Barri and Noah, along with Jean, Eleanor, Anthony, and Damien, make for entertaining characters, offering the viewer a goofy version of Nick and Nora Charles of the classic Thin Man film series.

Returning to the Martha’s Vineyard Film Center this weekend is Monk with a Camera, a handsome documentary about Nicholas Vreeland, grandson of Vogue editor Diana Vreeland. Mr. Vreeland left behind a life in the glamorous world of high fashion and professional photography to become a monk. After studying at a Tibetan Buddhist monastery for 14 years, he became the disciple of Khyongla Rinpoche in New Jersey, and His Holiness the Dalai Lama appointed him Abbot of the Tibetan monastery where he had studied. Mr. Vreeland became the first westerner to achieve such an honored position. He continued to take photographs, and in order to raise money to enlarge the monastery, he sold a collection of his work. Directed with an acute aesthetic sense by Tina Mascara and Guido Santi, Monk with a Camera tells the fascinating story of this unusual man, as well as providing valuable insights into Tibetan Buddhism.

 

Wild Canaries, Friday, April 3, and Saturday, April 4, 7:30 pm; Sunday, April 5, 4 pm.

Monk with a Camera, Friday, April 3, 4 pm; Sunday, April 5, 7:30 pm.