Music Video Of The Day: More Than A Feeling by Boston (1977, directed by ????)


An instant hit when it was first released in 1976, More Than A Feeling was a song that spent several years in the making.  The founder of Boston, MIT graduate Tom Scholz, spent five years working on the song, recording and re-recording it in his basement while working his day job at Polaroid.

When Boston finally signed with CBS Records, More Than A Feeling was the first single released off of their debut album and it has since remained a classic rock mainstay, with the chorus riff becoming one of the most familiar sounds in the history of rock.  Scholz has said that he was inspired to write More Than A Feeling by the Left Bank’s song, Walk Away Renée.  “I see my Marianne walk away” was a reference to an older cousin whom Tom Scholz had a crush on when he was nine years old.

For me, though, More Than A Feeling will always be the song that I used to listen to whenever I was driving a stolen car around San Andreas, looking for hot coffee and trying to avoid the police.

 

RIP in Blues Heaven, J. Geils


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Appropriately, I was just leaving Fenway Park in Boston with my friends when we heard the news that guitarist J. Geils had died. The J. Geils Band were legendary here in Massachusetts, a gritty, down-to-earth blues rock band who had a string of hits in the 70’s, then reemerged again in the 80’s at the height of MTV’s heyday. The band, fronted by charismatic lead singer Peter Wolf and propelled by the bluesy harmonic licks of Magic Dick, released their first album in 1970, and hit the road to tour the country incessantly. They became known as one of the hardest working (and hardest rocking) bands in America, and hit it big on FM radio with their 1972 LP “LIVE! FULL HOUSE”, featuring the single “Lookin’ for a Love”:

The first time I caught them was in ’73, touring in support of their album “BLOODSHOT”, with the hit “Give It to Me”…

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Film Review: Whitey: The United States of America vs. James J. Bulger (dir by Joe Berlinger)


When I was younger, my family used to frequently visit relatives in Arkansas.  (Except, of course, when we were actually living in Arkansas but that’s another story…)  Any time that we were driving to Arkansas for a visit, we would always stop at this little park in Oklahoma.  We’d eat lunch and then I’d run into the rest stop and I’d look at this big aquarium that was full of gold fish.  And then after looking at the aquarium, I’d run over to the corner where they had all of the latest wanted posters and I’d look at who the FBI was searching for that year.

What always fascinated me was that, while there were always new faces posted in that corner, there were also posters that stayed up there for years.  And, in my own weird little way, seeing those posters became something of a ritual that I always looked forward to.  What fascinated me was reading about how each of these dangerous fugitives could be identified.  One guy, for instance, was described as being a fancy dresser and a big tipper and, since I had heard horror stories about being a waitress from several of my relatives, I wondered how bad the guy could be if he was a big tipper.  I was always interested to see who was thought to be in Mexico and who may have escaped up to Canada and I’ll admit that there was a part of me that always wondered if maybe they could be in Oklahoma, eating at that very park!

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From the first time I saw James J. Bulger’s poster in the corner, it made an impression on me.  First off, there was his picture, which made him look like an assistant principal.  Then there was his long list of aliases.  (Even back then, I was obsessed with lists and names.)

And finally, there were all of his identifying details.

For instance, the poster told me that he was fluent in several languages.  The poster said that he had recently been sighted in Europe, which I often fantasized about visiting.  It said that he was traveling with his girlfriend and that both of them loved animals….

Loved animals!?

I loved animals!

And, of course, then I would notice that this cultured and multilingual animal lover was wanted for 19 counts of murder, drug trafficking, extortion, and a whole lot of other things.  The list of crimes told me that this James “Whitey” Bulger was not a good man but the identifying traits suggested something else.

(Another reason that Whitey made an impression on me is that he looked a lot less scary than Osama Bin Laden, who — the last few times we stopped at that rest stop — had invaded the corner…)

So, that was my first impression of Whitey Bulger.

My second impression came about a few years later when I read that the demonic gangster played by Jack Nicholson in The Departed was reportedly based on Bulger.  I’m not sure if the real life Bulger used to carry around someone else’s severed hand but still…

And finally, my third impression came from the documentary that I watched last night on Netflix, Whitey: The United States of America vs. James J. Bulger.  After spending 12 years in that corner, Bulger was eventually arrested in Florida and returned to his hometown of Boston, where he was put on trial for all of the crimes that had been listed at the top of that wanted poster.  Veteran documentarian Joe Berlinger was in Boston for the trial, interviewing Bulger’s defense attorneys, a guy who calmly talked about a number of murders that he committed with Bulger, and the relatives of several of Bulger’s victims.  Bulger himself even got a few words in, calling up his defense attorneys from jail and doing his best to present himself as being a gangster with a code of honor.

Indeed, from the start of the trial, Bulger’s main concern seems to be with convincing people that he had a code of honor.  He has no hesitation about admitting to being guilty of most of the charges against him.  What upsets him is that people are saying that he was a FBI informant and that’s why, for so long, he was able to avoid going to jail despite committing crimes in broad daylight.  Bulger’s argument is that the Boston FBI fabricated evidence of him being an informant in order to cover up the fact that he was paying all of them off.

(Bulger also suggests that he was given blanket immunity by a special prosecutor in return for saving the prosecutor’s life.)

It’s an interesting suggestion.  (Since the FBI refused to interviewed for the documentary, we only get Bulger’s side of the story.)  However, regardless of whether or not you believe Bulger’s claims, the documentary makes clear that — whether they were on his payroll or using him as an informant — the FBI essentially allowed Bulger to spend several years doing anything and killing anyone that he wanted.  By the end of the film, you can understand why the families of Bulger’s victims are often just as angry at law enforcement as they are at Bulger.

Whitey is a good documentary and it’s currently available on Netflix.  If you’re into true crime, like I am, you’ll enjoy it.  At the very least, I’m thankful that this documentary shined a little bit of light on that corner.

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Congratulations to the Boston Red Sox: 2013 World Series Champions!


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I never thought I’d be rooting for the Boston Red Sox to win the World Series. I love my Texas Rangers, even though they’ve broken my heart twice now by falling apart in September.  When the Rangers lost the wild card spot to the Rays, I thought I might be done with baseball for the year.

However, as I watched the World Series, the Red Sox won me over.  It helped that former Ranger Mike Napoli is on the team.  It also helped that they were playing the St. Louis Cardinals, a team that showed themselves to have absolutely no class when they beat the Rangers in the 2011 World Series.

The Cardinals managed to win two games but the outcome of the World Series was never in doubt.  Everyone watching knew that this was Boston’s year and the Red Sox easily dominated the Cardinals.  The team earned this victory by playing outstanding baseball.  Even more importantly, the city of Boston earned this victory by showing everyone in America what being strong truly means.

Tonight, when Koji Uehara got that final out, we were all Boston Strong.

Quickie Review: The Town (dir. by Ben Affleck)


If someone just five years ago told me that Ben Affleck would turn out to be a director whose work has been some of the better crime drama/thrillers of the past decade then I would declare shenanigans on that individual. Ben Affleck might have won an Oscar for helping write the screenplay for Good Will Hunting, but his career since could be labeled as being one of a joke (Gigli) interspersed with huge paycheck projects (Armageddon) that showed his range as an actor.

This is not to say that Affleck has no talent in front of the camera. I just believe that early in his career after winning his Oscar he got fooled into thinking that everything else since would be Easy Street paved in gold (financially and critically). To say that it hasn’t turned out to be that way (though he did make a ton of money) would be an understatement. But one thing happened while Affleck’s acting career was heading nowhere but down. He got behind the camera as a director and his very first time directing a feature-length film he would make one of 2007’s best films. I speak of his film adaptation of the Dennis Lehane crime drama, Gone Baby Gone. He didn’t just direct the life out of that film, but he also the screenplay with the help of Aaron Stockard.

The two of the them would collaborate once again on Affleck’s latest Boston-based crime drama, The Town. He wrote the screenplay and directed the film and pulled in some wonderful performances from an ensemble cast which included Jeremy Renner, Jon Hamm, Rebecca Hall, Blake Lively, Titus Welliver and Pete Postlethwaite. Fellow site writer Lisa Marie already reviewed the film in detail and her review pretty much put down into words exactly what I thought of the film. I will say that I would swerve slightly away from what she considered some of the flaws in the film.

The Town was adapted from Chuck Hogan’s novel, Prince of Thieves. I would consider the screenplay and dialogue as a major strength of the film. While at times it did seemed to follow the step-by-step and by-the-numbers heist thriller story the screenplay itself didn’t ring false. I liken this film to another heist film which shared some themes and similarities. Michael Mann’s Heat also dealt with the cops-and-robbers foundation. Where Mann’s film had a much larger and epic scope to its storytelling it still boiled down to two groups of determined men playing a dangerous game of cat-and-mouse. The women in both film were written just enough that they had distinct personalities, but in the end they were motivations for the men in the film.

Affleck shows that he doesn’t just know how to direct, but continues is reputation as being one very good screenwriter. One just has to be reminded that he is now 3-for-3 when it comes to screenplays he has written which have turned out to be great ones. While he doesn’t have the same flair for words as Tarantino or Mamet when it comes to the screenplay. What he does well was to create an efficient script which flowed from scene to scene. Tarantino’s screenplays are great, but at times he does allow himself to overindulge his inner-film geek and create dialogue that might be Sorkin-like in execution. What I mean is that as great as the dialogue sound there’s no way people really spoke like this to each other. Affleck’s screenplay for The Town felt very natural and even with Jon Hamm’s less than great performance the film had a natural and genuine sound to it’s dialogue.

That’s one flaw pointed out by Lisa Marie that I would disagree with her on. The other two I can see her point, but it bothered me none. Though if I ever took on a life of crime I would hope I find someone just like Rebecca Hall’s Claire. Now there’s a woman who stands by her man no matter what.

I think in the long run this film might just be seen as one of the best of 2010 and some critics have already dubbed it so. While it’s prospects come awards season time is still up in the air I wouldn’t be surprised if it ends up nabbing one of the ten Best Picture nominations when the Oscar nominations get announced. It would be well-deserved and would just prove that Affleck’s career in the film industry might just be hitting its stride. Who would’ve thought it would be as a writer-director and not as an actor.

Film Review: The Town (dir. by Ben Affleck)


Before I get to my review, you should understand that I nearly didn’t see The Town last night.  Earlier, on Friday morning, I had to leave work early because I was so sick and nauseous that I was on the verge of passing out.  Once I got home, I had to 1) convince my aunt that I wasn’t pregnant (“Are you sure?” she said after I reassured her) and 2) had to convince myself that my appendix wasn’t about to burst (and it’s not so don’t worry).  After all that, there was a part of me that said, “The Town can wait.  I’ll go on Saturday or maybe even later in the week.”

But I ignored that part of me and I went and saw the movie anyway.  Why?  Well, I wanted to review it for this site.  (That’s dedication for you!)  Plus, I knew my friend Jeff wanted to see it with me and I wanted to see it with him and since when has a little thing like a ruptured appendix ever been an excuse not to have a good time?  Last but not least, The Town is Ben Affleck’s second movie as a director.  His first was 2007’s Gone, Baby, Gone.  Personally, I think Gone, Baby, Gone is one of the best crime films ever made.  It’s certainly one of my favorite.  I was curious to see if The Town would be a worthy follow-up or would it just prove Gone, Baby, Gone to have been a fluke.

The Town takes place in the Charlestown section of Boston.  At the opening of the film, we’re told that Charlestown apparently produces more professional armed robbers than any other place in the entire world.  It’s a practice that is handed down from father-to-son.  (Or, in the case of this movie, from Chris Cooper to Ben Affleck.)

Affleck plays Doug, a former hockey player who is now the head of a gang of Charlestown bank robbers.  His second-in-command is Jem (played by Jeremy Renner).  Over the course of the film, we learn Doug’s father (Chris Cooper) is a career criminal who is currently serving a life sentence in prison.  When his father went to prison, Doug was taken in by Jem’s family.  Doug even ended up dating Jem’s sister (Blake Lively) and might be the father of Lively’s daughter.  For this reason, Doug and Jem are fiercely loyal to each other despite the fact that Doug is essentially a nice guy and Jem is not.

(As a sidenote, why is it in the crime films that people are always shocked when the psychotic supporting character ends up doing psychotic?  I mean, have these people never gone to the movies before?  Have they never checked out Goodfellas from Netflix?  Did they miss the whole Joe Pesci “How am I funny?” thing?)

At the start of the film, Doug, Jem, and the gang rob a bank.  Doug is a model of professionalism.  Jem goes a little bit crazy and beats one bank employee nearly to death.  This gives the bank manager, Clare (Rebecca Hall), just enough time to set off a silent alarm.  Realizing that the police are on the way, Jem responds by taking Clare hostage as the gang flees.  Clare is later released on a desolate beach.

However, there’s a problem.  Before releasing her, Jem stole Clare’s ID.  Looking at it after the robbery, he discovers that Clare lives in Charlestown and, as a result, there’s now a risk that she might simply see one of the gang on the street and identify him.  Jem wants to kill her but Doug says that he’ll take care of her himself.

By “taking care of,” Doug means that he’ll follow her around town, eventually strike up a conversation with her, and then end up pursuing a romance with her (while declining, of course, to mention that he already knows her).  Jem, however, was under the impression that “taking care of” meant to kill.  So, needless to say, he’s a little bit miffed when he stumbles across Doug and Clare having a lunch date.

Soon, Doug finds himself trapped in the life he’s created for himself.  In love with Clare but torn by his loyalty to the increasingly unstable Jem, Doug agrees to one more big job.  All the while, he is pursued by two relentless FBI agents (Jon Hamm and Titus Welliver) and he has to deal with an Irish mob boss (Pete Postlewaite) who has an agenda of his own.

The Town works largely because Ben Affleck has, unexpectedly, turned out to be an intelligent, no-nonsense director.  The movie features three robbery scenes and, in each one of them, Affleck creates genuine tension and excitement without ever once resorting to outlandish stunts or random slow motion.  Unlike a lot of (bad) actors turned director, Affleck never seems to feel the need to toss in any showy (but ultimately empty) tricks to try to convince us that he’s a director.  This is a confident movie that shows that Gone, Baby, Gone wasn’t a fluke.  (That said, Gone, Baby, Gone remains the superior film for reasons that I’m getting to.)

Also, as with Gone, Baby, Gone, The Town benefits from Affleck’s obvious love for the city and people of Boston.  Shot on location and featuring a number of local actors, The Town has a wonderful sense of place to it.  By the end of it, you feel as if you know Charlestown even if, like me, you’re just a country girl from Texas.

Ben Affleck the director also manages to do something truly surprising — he gets a good performance out of Ben Affleck the actor.  In the past, I’ve always enjoyed looking at Ben Affleck on-screen but I never really wanted to hear him talk.  Because as soon as he would open his mouth, whatever appeal that Affleck possessed would immediately dissolve.  In the past, as an actor, Affleck often epitomized that whole concept of “there’s no there there.”  However, in this film, he gives a low-key, subtle performance that really helps to hold the entire film together.  I still wouldn’t call Affleck a good actor.  Instead, he’s one of those rare directors who (like fellow bad actor Quentin Tarantino) knows how to get good performances even from the most unlikely of performers.

Affleck is well-supported by Hall, Lively, and Renner.  Hall has a difficult job because she’s not so much playing an actual human being as much as she’s playing an idealized concept.  Her character really doesn’t have any purpose beyond offering Doug a chance at redemption and (this is obvious more in retrospect than during the actual film) really doesn’t have much of an identity beyond how her life touches Doug’s.  Hall, however, is so vulnerable in the role that, while you’re watching the film, that none of this really becomes obvious until a few hours after the movie ends.  Lively (better known for her role on Gossip Girl) is only in a few scenes and, in many ways, her character is even less developed than Hall’s.  If Hall has to represent the Madonna part of the Whore/Madonna complex, guess what Lively represents.  Still, Lively brings some much needed humor to the role and to the film.  She’s having fun playing her drunken, drug-addled character and she steals almost every scene that she’s in.

However, the film is ultimately dominated by Jeremy Renner.  With his angelic voice and deceptively soft voice, Renner is the psychopath that you can’t help but love.  Movie psychos are a dime-a-dozen so when an actor comes along and actually finds something new to do with the role, it’s impossible not to be impressed.

So much works in The Town that I almost feel guilty talking about what doesn’t.  For all its strengths, it also has three rather glaring flaws.  As with all things, the final verdict on this film depends on just how willing the viewer is to overlook these flaws.

First off, Ben Affleck proves himself to be a better director than writer.  The Town’s story is well told but the majority of it will still be awfully familiar to anyone who has ever seen a heist film.  Unlike Quentin Tarantino, Martin Scorsese, or Michael Mann, Affleck doesn’t embrace the conventions in order to deconstruct them.  Instead, he uses the conventional storyline as an excuse to explore the Charlestown culture.  As a result, this flaw arguably works to the film’s advantage.  Still, those viewers who are expecting to be surprised by the film’s plot should consider themselves warned.

As well acted as the movie is, there is one big exception in the cast and that is Mad Men’s Jon Hamm.  Hamm plays the FBI agent who is determined to capture Affleck.  He’s the Javert to Affleck’s Valjean.  Unfortunately, as played by Jon Hamm, he’s also a cinematic black hole.  Hamm may be an excellent television actor but, playing a key supporting role and surrounded by actual film actors, it’s obvious that Hamm has no idea how to act for the big screen.  As a result, he never comes across as a worthy or even dangerous adversary and his pursuit of Affleck never becomes compelling nor do we ever worry that Affleck might not be able to outsmart him.  There’s a scene, towards the end of the film, where Hamm yells something like, “Drop your weapon, asshole!”  I have to admit that I stunned just about everyone in the theater when I burst into laughter at the sound of Hamm shouting “asshole” and sounding, more or less, like an overgrown kid on a playground.

(Hamm’s sidekick, by the way, is played by another tv actor, Titus Welliver.  Welliver is probably best known for playing the Man In Black on the final season of Lost.  Though he gets next to nothing to do, Welliver dominates every scene that he’s in.  Unlike Hamm, he knows how to act on a big screen.)

The most glaring flaw with The Town, however, is that the entire plot pretty much depends on the viewer accepting that Hall’s character, just days after being traumatized by being held hostage and seeing one of her co-workers nearly beaten to death because he attempted to protect her, would so easily trust and open up her life to a stranger (even if that stranger is Ben Affleck).  Never mind the fact that we are then expected to believe that she would stay loyal to Affleck even after learning the truth.  Realistically, this would seem to indicate that the character’s something of a sadomasochist but the film really doesn’t explore that (or really anything else that might make Hall’s character anything more than just an idealized Madonna figure).

I mean, I’m always open to experimentation in a relationship.  Different people enjoy different things and I’ve never been one to judge anyone else’s particular fetish.  However, just speaking for myself, the day that you stick a gun in my face, put a blindfold over my eyes, and then abandon me out on the beach is the same day that I decide that there’s probably not going to be a long-term relationship there.

So, once again, it’s all a question of whether or not you can accept these flaws.  I have to admit that, as I watched the film, I occasionally had a hard time doing so.  If you can agree to overlook the flaws, however, then The Town is an entertaining, well-acted crime thriller with an authentic sense of place.  And if you can’t overlook those flaws, than The Town is a good but imperfect movie that still indicates that Ben Affleck has got quite a future as a director.