Monday, February 28, 2011

FIGHTER stars take it home:

By James Verniere
The Bay State scored Oscar gold in the first hour of the 83rd annual Academy Awards. Last night Melissa Leo was named the Best Supporting Actress for her performance as matriarch Alice Ward in the blue-collar Lowell-set boxing film “The Fighter” while Christian Bale won Best Supporting Actor for his role in that film as Dicky Eklund. Aaron Sorkin picked up the Best Adapted Screenplay award for “The Social Network.”
Leo thanked Ward family members in the audience at the Kodak Theater by name as well as her co-star and the film’s producer, Dorchester’s Mark Wahlberg. Sorkin acknowledged Boston-area writer Ben Mezrich, the author of the book that was the inspiration for the film.
Going into last night’s awards ceremony at the Kodak Theater on Hollywood Boulevard, the big question among New England Oscar buffs back East was: Just how much gold would Massachusetts-set films (“The Social Network,” “The Fighter,” “The Town”) net? More than a few, was the consensus among the odds-makers.
But the British film “The King’s Speech,” a biographical tale about King George VI’s struggle to overcome a speech impediment, was expected to beat Harvard-set “The Social Network,” working-class-Lowell-based “The Fighter” and the other nominees for Best Picture and also pick up prizes for Best Actor (Colin Firth) and Best Original Screenplay (David Seidler). While critics’ groups, largely held responsible for the triumph of David (“The Hurt Locker”) over Goliath (“Avatar “) last year, overwhelmingly preferred “The Social Network” this year, “The King’s Speech” earned the most Academy Award nominations last month, with a total of 12.

“The Social Network” may crystallize a recent moment in time when a group of young, brilliant Harvard computer geeks led by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg created a worldwide revolution with an algorithm and the stroke of a keyboard. But its characters are almost uniformly unlikable.

Sunday, February 27, 2011


Best Picture
Best Actor (Jesse Eisenberg)
Best Director (David Fincher)
WINNER - Best Adapted Screenplay (Aaron Sorkin)
WINNER - Best Original Score (Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross)
Best Cinematography (Jeff Cronenweth)
WINNER - Best Editing (Angus Wall and Kirk Baxter)
Best Sound Mixing (Ren Klyce, David Parker, Michael Semanick and Mark Weingarten)
Best Picture
Best Director (David O. Russell)
WINNER - Best Supporting Actor (Christian Bale)
Best Supporting Actress (Amy Adams)
WINNER - Best Supporting Actress (Melissa Leo)
Best Editing (Pamela Martin)
Best Original Screenplay (Scott Silver, Paul Tamasy and Eric Johnson; Story by Keith Dorington, Paul Tamasy and Eric Johnson)
Best Supporting Actor (Jeremy Renner).

Hub ready for its Oscar close-up:

Boston films take center stage at Academy Awards
By Tenley Woodman

They were choosing sides at Old Sully’s on Union Street in Charlestown, and the debate grew heated. After all, the Oscars are serious business.

“I liked ‘The Fighter’ better,” said bartender Brian Feeney.

“(Jeremy) Renner (‘The Town’) was the best Townie ever,” countered a patron.

The Academy Awards are personal this year, as several locally shot films are up for trophies tonight: the Lowell-based boxer biopic, “The Fighter;” gritty Charlestown-shot crime drama, “The Town;” and Harvard-set story of Facebook, “The Social Network.”

Locals won’t be watching the red carpet for celebs — not while there are friends and family rubbing elbows with the A-listers. Take Micky Ward, the Lowell boxer whose life is depicted in “The Fighter.” He’ll be at the Kodak Theatre in Los Angeles with half-brother Dicky Eklund.

“It’s incredible. Whoever thought when the movie was being talked about that there would be any Academy Award talk or mention?” Ward told the Herald. “It’s surreal.”

Christian Bale is nominated for Best Supporting Actor for portraying Eklund. Melissa Leo and Amy Adams are also nominated in the Best Supporting Actress category for their roles as Ward’s mother Alice and girlfriend Charlene, respectively. The film is also nominated for Best Picture, Best Original Screenplay and Best Director.

The crowd at Old Sully’s has a stake in Hollywood’s big night as well. Scenes in “The Town” were shot there — just check out the photos of bar owner Joe Sullivan and director and Cambridge native Ben Affleck hanging on the wall. The film’s only nomination is in the Best Supporting Actor category for Renner, who won an Oscar last year for “The Hurt Locker.”

“A lot of people compared (‘The Fighter’ to ‘The Town’),” said patron Kieran Lennon, discussing the films over beers with friends. “You have south of 128 and north of 128. It’s a whole different world.”

Sullivan said he watched “The Town” and “The Fighter” with a critical eye.
“With ‘The Town,’ I was looking for people I knew and locations I knew,” he said. “(‘The Fighter’) was better than I thought it would be. They did a great job with the local scenes.”

Both movies put the cities in the forefront.

“In ‘The Fighter,’ it was intentionally done so the town would become a character of its own,” said Rockport resident Melissa McMeekin, who played little Alice, one of Ward’s sisters, in the film. Lowell landmarks such as the West End Gym, Buck’s Bar & Grill and East Merrimack Street featured prominently in the film. Affleck took full advantage of Boston’s iconic imagery. Fenway Park [map] and the nooks and crannies of Charlestown had starring roles.

Far from the Bay State’s grittier side is the rarefied world of Harvard, immortalized in “The Social Network.” The opening scene was shot in Somerville’s Thirsty Scholar Pub. Back Bay’s own Ben Mezrich, author of “The Accidental Billionaires,” which provided the basis for the film, will also be on the red carpet, with his socialite/designer wife, Tonya Chen Mezrich.

“The Social Network” is nominated in the Best Actor, Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Director categories, among others.

“We might lose to ‘The King’s Speech’, but it’s not because (‘The Social Network’) didn’t hit all the right chords. It’s a young versus old thing. It’s going to be tough, but it’s still fun,” Mezrich said.

Also representing Harvard are alumni Natalie Portman and Darren Aronofsky for the dark ballet drama “Black Swan.” Portman is nominated in the Best Actress category and Aronofsky for Best Director.

Back at Sully’s, having Hollywood in the Hub has been good for business.
“You see people driving by taking pictures of the outside,” said Feeney of the neighborhood haunt.

“Boston wins no matter what,” said Donnalyn Sullivan, cousin of the owner.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Local documentarians bask in Oscar spotlight:

“Killing in the Name’’ takes its place on the list of higher-profile films with Massachusetts connections up for an Oscar. “The Social Network’’ and “The Fighter,’’ both Bay State dramas, are nominated for best picture, and actors in those films, as well as “The Town,’’ are competing in several categories. In the documentary short category, “Killing in the Name’’ is up against two other films with a Massachusetts connection: “Poster Girl,’’ by Newton native Sarah Nesson, and “Sun Come Up,’’ by Norwood native and Wellesley College grad Jennifer Redfearn.

For filmmaker, telling story of terror victims is personal

Danielle Lemack (right) and her mother, Judy Larocque, who died on Flight 11 during the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. (Dominic Chavez/ Globe Staff/ File)

By Linda Matchan

When she got word her documentary was nominated for an Oscar, Framingham native Carie Lemack wanted to scream with joy. Except she couldn’t. She was at a conference in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, where public displays of emotion are discouraged.
“I was freaking out,’’ said Lemack, 35, whose thoughts immediately turned to her mother, Judy Larocque, the inspiration for the film. Larocque, founder and chief executive officer of a Framingham market research firm, was killed on American Airlines Flight 11 on Sept. 11, 2001. “Who would think that after losing my mother in such a horrible way we’d be going to the Oscars and celebrating her in such a phenomenal way?’’

Lemack is the executive producer of “Killing in the Name,’’ a 39-minute documentary about Ashraf al-Khaled, a Jordanian Muslim whose 2005 wedding in Amman was bombed by an Al Qaeda suicide terrorist. He and his wife lost 27 members of their wedding party, including three of their parents. Since then, Khaled has been on a mission to break the silence in the Muslim world about the cost of terrorism and to dissuade others from becoming terrorists.

The nomination certainly helps amplify the message, as “Killing in the Name’’ takes its place on the list of higher-profile films with Massachusetts connections up for an Oscar. “The Social Network’’ and “The Fighter,’’ both Bay State dramas, are nominated for best picture, and actors in those films, as well as “The Town,’’ are competing in several categories. (In the documentary short category, “Killing in the Name’’ is up against two other films with a Massachusetts connection: “Poster Girl,’’ by Newton native Sarah Nesson, and “Sun Come Up,’’ by Norwood native and Wellesley College grad Jennifer Redfearn.)

Lemack was only 26 when her mother died, but within a month she and her older sister, Danielle, had cofounded Families of September 11, a nonprofit organization to support families affected by the terrorist attacks and to push for policies to protect against terrorism. Lemack was the first president of the organization, which advocated for Congress and for President George W. Bush to create the 9/11 Commission and to pass the National Intelligence Reform Act.

“As we came out of the haze of 9/11, we realized people were making decisions about us without consulting us,’’ Lemack said in a telephone interview from Los Angeles. Distraught that the American Red Cross had plans to distribute money only to the families of victims killed on the ground, she pressured the Red Cross to give aid to families of victims on the hijacked plane. She also pushed back against the Walt Disney Co. after it announced it was donating $1,000 to every bereaved family, as long as they came to New York to pick up the check.

“I called up Disney and said, ‘I have a newsletter going out to 9/11 families in 10 minutes. Do you want me to tell them you’ll discriminate against families who can’t physically travel to you?’ ’’ Eight minutes later, she said, she got a call back, saying the checks would be in the mail. She also took on the Transportation Security Administration to lobby for tighter airline security. In 2005, when she learned the TSA was considering allowing passengers to carry bows and arrows in their carry-on luggage, she met with TSA administrator Kip Hawley. “I told him I’ve yet to see a deer that needs to be stalked at 30,000 feet,’’ Lemack said. It has always been her hope that no one else would have to experience the pain she and her sister experienced following 9/11.

“Danielle and I agreed that Mom’s murder had to be enough to prevent future deaths, said Lemack, who now lives in Washington, D.C., and has an MBA from Stanford University and a master’s in public adminstration from the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard.

“How could we live with ourselves if we didn’t do everything in our power to stop it from happening again?’’ Lemack said. “She always taught us to not be part of the problem, but be part of the solution.’’

Lemack got the idea for “Killing in the Name’’ in 2008, when she attended the first United Nations symposium on victims of terrorism, which brought together victims of terrorist attacks from around the world. That’s where she met Ashraf al-Khaled. They decided to form the Global Survivors Network, a collaboration of victims of terrorist attacks across the world. The idea was to provide a voice to victims, in the hope that terrorists will be listening.

“Every time Osama bin Laden or another terrorist has a message to send the world, the media lines up to listen to him,’’ Lemack said. “We deserve the opportunity to refute the terrorists’ claims, just like when the Republicans speak out and the Democrats get a chance to voice their opposition.’’

Making a film was another way to amplify the voices of victims of terrorism. Through an acquaintance, she reached out to Moxie Firecracker Films in New York, which ended up producing the film, and independent director Jed Rothstein, and also raised the money to make it. Rothstein was immediately drawn to Khaled’s story. “What attracted me to Ashraf was that he was not just wallowing in the horrors of what happened to him but is taking forward-moving steps that can either succeed or fail,’’ Rothstein said. “The fact that he is motivated not out of anger but rather out of hope is very compelling.’’

The camera follows Khaled to harrowing encounters with victims, perpetrators, and young, would-be terrorists, as he challenges their actions and assumptions. They include a recruiter for the Al Qaeda group responsible for bombing his wedding, the father of a suicide bomber who blew up more than 130 people in a crowded square in Iraq, and one of the terrorists responsible for the 2002 nightclub bombings in Bali, Indonesia.

“We know change is very slow,’’ Khaled said in a telephone interview from Amman. “But when Carie decides to do something, she will do everything until it’s accomplished.’’

This, presumably, includes getting tickets for them to Sunday’s Oscar ceremony and not just the film screenings and parties. Khaled and his wife, who is pregnant with their second child, are flying to California for the Oscar events; so is Danielle Lemack, who lives in Belmont. Tickets to the Oscars are limited, and so far they have gone to the filmmakers at Moxie Firecracker Films. Lemack is working on securing seats, but it’s a challenge, even for her.

“If it was getting a bill through Congress, I could do it,’’ she said. “But navigating Hollywood is another story.’’

Linda Matchan can be reached at

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Chris Cooper and Marianne Leone do Sam Shepard proud:

From left: Steve Maier, Marianne Leone, Jim True-Frost, and Chris Cooper 
at the Boston Center for the Arts. (Bill Brett for The Boston Globe)

Hats off to Academy Award winner Chris Cooper and his extraordinarily talented actress wife Marianne Leone who gave mesmerizing performances at the Boston Center for the Arts on Monday night for a Commonwealth Shakespeare Company-produced staged reading of the Sam Shepard play “Curse of the Starving Class.’’ Directed by Steppenwolf Theater Company veteran Jim True-Frost and hosted by CSC's artistic director Steve Maler, Cooper and Leone were joined by a talented ensemble of fellow Boston-based actors who dazzled the sold-out audience. 

Known primarily as a film actor, Chris Cooper has appeared on Broadway only once--back in 1980. Marianne Leone has never played the Great White Way. As I watched each of them exhibit their stage chops Monday night in this rarely performed but incredibly timely (and funny) play, I couldn't help but think that--in the not too distant future--they should both seriously consider making room for a Tony Award next to that Oscar on their mantlepiece.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011


Finally a metaphor that explains the madness:

The Monsters Are Due on Maple Streets

The power has gone out in a typical American town.  Wait—it’s not just the electricity.  The phones don’t work, either.  Portable radios are dead.  Cars won’t start. 
But then lawn mowers and cars and lights inexplicably start and stop on their own. What’s going on?  A meteor?  Sunspots?  Or are there, as Tommy’s comic book suggests, aliens among us, preparing for a takeover? Suspicion poisons the air. Neighbor turns on neighbor. A scapegoat is blamed. A shot is fired.  Panic, madness, riot.
And while the humans behave monstrously, the real monsters watch from a nearby hilltop, working a little gizmo that messes with the power on Maple Street and marveling how easy it is to manipulate these earthlings into destroying themselves.
In what is arguably the best “Twilight Zone” episode ever, “The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street,” Rod Serling wrote a suburban “Lord of the Flies,” a parable about the fragility of civilization, paranoia and the susceptibility of nice folks to manipulation. 
Watching it when it first aired, in the depths of the nuclear arms race, people thought it was meant to ward off a witch-hunt for Reds under the bed.  Today, watching what’s been going on in Madison, Wisc., as well as in Washington, D.C., I can’t help thinking that the real monsters are chortling at their success in pitting neighbor against neighbor, and I can’t help marveling at their genius for distraction and unaccountability.
The monsters aren’t Wisconsin’s public employees whose right to collective bargaining has helped their families lead middle-class lives, and who have repeatedly declared their willingness to return to the table and negotiate a shared sacrifice. The monsters are on Wall Street, where state pension funds were sunk into toxic sub-prime mortgage-backed securities.  The monsters are on K Street, where lobbyists are fighting financial industry oversight. The monsters are the politicians who are using Wisconsin’s deficit as a pretext to demonize public employees and bust their unions. 
If you look at the budget that House Republicans just passed, if you listen to the “so be it” language of their leadership, you’d think that the federal deficit is caused by the very people who who’ve been suffering the most in this recession.
But the monsters aren’t low-income pregnant women and mothers who can’t afford adequate nutrition for their families; or sick Americans who can’t find health insurance to cover them; or blue-collar workers who want to retire at an age when there’s still some life left in their bodies; or students who can’t afford college without Pell Grants; or people who think their government’s job includes preventing their air and water from poisoning them.
Sitting on the hilltop, watching Americans turn one another into bogeymen, evading scrutiny and responsibility, are the real sources of our distress.
They’re the bankers who’ve extorted trillions of public treasure, blowing up the deficit while awarding themselves inconceivably fat bonuses.
They’re the billionaires who’ve benefited from a massive transfer of wealth from the middle to the top and whose political puppets protect them from paying their fair share of taxes.
They’re the corporations whose cash has convinced Congress to deregulate industry after industry, despite all evidence that it is the enforcement of rules – not the magic of the marketplace—that protects the public’s rights.
They’re the defense contractors and pork appropriators who’ve used the cover of “national security” to shield the Pentagon’s budget and its procurement process from the cuts and reforms that even Republicans like the Secretary of Defense are advocating.
They’re the front groups and propagandists, like FreedomWorks and Fox, who use class warfare and culture wars in order to turn Americans against their own economic interests.
They’re the Supreme Court justices whose Citizens United decision, overthrowing a century of settled law, has made our campaign finance system an open sewer, and whose indifference to conflicts of interest in a coming case promises to throw sick people back onto the tender mercies of insurers and to destroy our best hope to curb Medicare costs – further ballooning the deficit and providing cover for even more draconian cuts.
The game in Washington is to use the deficit as camouflage for destroying government’s capacity to promote the general welfare.  The game in Wisconsin and other states whose new Republican governors and legislative majorities are feeling their oats is to shelter the income of the wealthiest, and to balance the budget on the backs of the middle class. 
At the end of the episode, Rod Serling says this:  “The tools of conquest do not necessarily come with bombs and explosions and fallout. There are weapons that are simply thoughts, attitudes, prejudices to be found only in the minds of men.  For the record: Prejudices can kill, and suspicion can destroy, and a thoughtless frightened search for a scapegoat has a fallout all of its own—for the children, and the children yet unborn.  And the pity of it is that these things cannot be confined to the twilight zone.”
Sometimes it’s hard to watch the news and not think that things are surreal.  The other day, when what’s been happening in Madison reminded me of what happened on “Maple Street,” I suddenly realized the theme music that goes with it.
Marty Kaplan is the Norman Lear professor of entertainment, media and society at the USC Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism.  Reach him at

Farrelly Brothers Going South with 'Three Stooges'

"Sadly, like their current comedy HALL PASS, which is set in Providence and on Cape Cod, the Farrellys will film the Stooges flick in Georgia. 'We need good weather, so we have to head south. And unfortunately for Massachusetts, Georgia has a better tax incentive and that’s huge,” said Bobby. “We save millions by going down there and you just can’t talk the studio out of it.'"         ---Boston Herald Inside Track,  February 22, 2011

The Massachusetts film tax credit (25%) is every bit as competitive as Georgia's (30%)---especially when you compare what actually qualifies for the credit in each state. For a film shooting in April and May, weather should not be an issue. HALL PASS (and all of those jobs) ended up in Georgia not because their tax incentive was better, but because of studio fears that our tax incentive was about to get worse. It did not. Unfortunately, perception has become reality. Now, with the complete elimination of the Massachusetts film office and its budget, changing that perception is an uphill slog.

Sunday, February 20, 2011


Thanks to a joint initiative of the Mass Dept. of Conservation & Recreation and the Mass Historical Commission, Peddocks Island--home to an abandoned nineteenth century fort as well as a key location in 2008 for the Martin Scorsese/Leonardo DiCaprio film “Shutter Island’’--will soon be renewed for public use. Take a look:

Saturday, February 19, 2011


Northeastern University Prof. Peter Enrich weighed in on the film tax credit with an op-ed piece in today's Boston Globe. Citing a recent Department of Revenue study he claims, "we spent more than $170,000 of our tax dollars for each $50,000 job."

But a more careful look at the DOR study shows that for the four years between 2006 and 2009 over 6,000 jobs were created at a cost to taxpayers of less than $20,000 per job---an astounding achievement during a terrible recession. The public seems to be way ahead of the professor on this issue. In a recent online survey conducted by the Boston Globe, a whopping 96% of more than two thousand respondents registered their support for the program.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Film-tax credit a blockbuster for Mass.

By Peter Lucas
You can probably credit the phenomenal success of recent films like The Fighter, The Social Network and others for saving the tax break Massachusetts gives to filmmakers making movies in Massachusetts.
You also have to credit Gov. Deval Patrick for having the flexibility to drop his plans to curtail the tax incentives in the wake of dire predictions that the filmmakers would go elsewhere and the state would lose untold millions in much-needed economic activity.
Patrick only last March talked about capping at $50 million, or cutting in half, the tax credits to the film industry because of budget restraints, even as he doled out millions more to entice other industries to hire or expand their businesses in Massachusetts.
A study by the University of Massachusetts reported that the film and television industry not only created jobs during an economic downturn, but stimulated economic activity across the state. And the jobs did not go only to highly paid actors who parachuted in from the West Coast, but to local actors and technicians, and to blue-collar workers in the construction and transportation field who have been hard hit by the recession.
The film industry estimated that it spent about $1.1 billion making films and television productions in Massachusetts since 2007, a sum that far outweighs the cost to the state in tax credits.
When movie makers come to town to make a film, like Mark Wahlberg did in Lowell to make The Fighter, his remarkable film about Micky Ward and Dicky Eklund, the local economy benefited. Wahlberg created jobs. He hired local people. Actors and production people rented condos, they rented cars and trucks, they shopped, they ate at local restaurants and drank at the bars.
To borrow a phrase from Barack Obama, Wahlberg stimulated the economy, as did people behind the other successful films made in Massachusetts, films like Ben Affleck's The Town, or The Departed, Mystic River, Shutter Island and The Company Men. It is arguable that these films would not have been made in Massachusetts were it not for the tax incentives provided by the state in addition, of course, to having good local stories and a welcoming atmosphere to shoot them in.

A side benefit to all of this is the tremendous amount of favorable buzz Massachusetts received, and continues to receive, as a result of the success of these films, especially The Fighter and The Social Network. Both have been nominated for best picture at the Academy Awards. The Fighter has been nominated for a total of seven Academy Awards, and The Social Network has been nominated for eight.

What politician would not want to be a part of this glitz?

The governor, no stranger to public relations, could not help but note that every time Mark Wahlberg or Christian Bale or Melissa Leo, as well as other actors, are interviewed on national television, they talk about Massachusetts and what a fine place it is to make a movie. It is free, positive publicity about the state, its people, and its attractiveness, from Cape Cod to the Berkshires and everything in between.

To re-emphasize the fact that Massachusetts is open for Hollywood business, the governor sent Economic Development Secretary Greg Bialecki to Los Angeles last week to meet with officials of the movie industry to persuade them to make more films here. Accompanying Bialecki were John Dukakis, son of former Gov. Michael Dukakis and a former actor who is a vice president at Hill Holliday; and union labor leaders Sean O'Brien and Chris O'Donnell. Dukakis is the newly appointed chair of an advisory committee seeking to grow the film industry in Massachusetts.

It all makes the governor look good. Picture Deval Patrick preening at a Hollywood cocktail party/fundraiser raising campaign money for himself or for Obama as he chats about what fine films are being shot in Massachusetts, thanks to him. Which is OK. He's the governor, and he deserves the credit. Maybe Patrick can even pitch his own movie proposal, one based on his soon-to-be-published memoir, A Reason to Believe, his rags-to-riches story about growing up in the South Side of Chicago and ending up in the governor's office.

Lt. Gov. Timothy Murray, who has probably traveled throughout Massachusetts more than any man alive, is well aware of the state's physical attractiveness to filmmakers as well as the lure of the tax incentives.

"This tax incentive is consistent with our beliefs that we can continue to grow the economy in Massachusetts during these difficult economic times. We are making the state an attractive place to do business. Everyone can see the benefit to making these movies in Massachusetts.

"Massachusetts has it all."

Peter Lucas' political column appears Tuesday and Friday. E-mail him at

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Massachusetts: We grow filmmakers...and Oscar nominees!

'Poster Girl' in Hollywood spotlight
Newton native's first film gets shot at Oscar

Robynn Murray (left), a former combat soldier in Iraq, is the subject of the Oscar-nominated documentary short “Poster Girl.’’ (Alan Kimmel/HBO)

By Loren King
February 13, 2011

The Oscar-nominated documentary short “Poster Girl’’ is Newton native Sara Nesson’s first film, but it was only a matter of time. After all, she’s proud to say, it was beneath her father’s editing table that she learned to crawl. Robert Nesson of Somerville, an independent producer/director whose films focus on the environment, human rights, and educational projects (he’s also an instructor at Emerson College), taught his daughter not just the nuts and bolts of filmmaking but how it can raise awareness and effect social change.

“He’s my greatest inspiration. He ingrained in me the responsibility to do something,’’ says Sara Nesson, 36, who now lives in Brooklyn, N.Y. What Sara did was spend more than a year filming Robynn Murray, a former cheerleader who enlisted in the Army at 19 and served as a combat soldier in Iraq, as she struggles to rebuild her life while suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. The 38-minute film follows Murray’s attempts to navigate the bureaucratic nightmare of the Veterans Administration, her budding antiwar activism, and her involvement with the Combat Paper Project, a community of vets who make works of art from scraps of their uniforms. “Poster Girl’’ began screening Friday as part of an Oscar-nominated shorts program at the Coolidge Corner Theatre. It will air on HBO in the fall.

Nesson met Murray during the filming of another documentary she was working on, “Iraq Paper Scissors,’’ now in post-production. Murray was among the veterans invited to an artists’ retreat in 2008 on Martha’s Vineyard, where Nesson once lived and worked (she shot weddings to finance her films). When Nesson showed footage to producer Mitchell Block, he convinced her that Murray was compelling enough to carry her own film and signed on to co-produce “Poster Girl.’’

“I wanted to tell an intimate story and show the struggle of these vets. Robynn was the only one that trusted me,’’ says Nesson. “Her voice was so powerful; I knew she could be a voice for the thousands that were struggling alone.’’

Nesson, who graduated from the Rivers School in Weston and from the University of Vermont, hopes the attention from “Poster Girl’’ will help her complete “Iraq Paper Scissors.’’ Her short film has already caught the attention of Hollywood: Producers Tony Bill (“The Sting’’) and his wife, Helen Bartlett (“North Country’’), contacted Nesson about developing a movie based on Murray and the two other gun-toting female soldiers featured on the cover of Army magazine whose postwar experiences belie the image the military apparently sought to market.

Nesson says assisting her father on film projects as the two traveled the world from Siberia to Japan played a crucial role in her development as an editor and director. After moving to New York, she was the principal editor on “Stolen Childhoods,’’ a 2005 feature documentary about global child labor. In 2006, she edited “Plastic Disasters,’’ directed by Kate Davis, for HBO. She also edited the special features and bonus content for “Born Into Brothels,’’ the 2004 Oscar-winning documentary co-directed by Ross Kauffman and Zana Briski about the children of prostitutes who work in the notorious red light district of Sonagchi in Calcutta.

Nesson jokes that she was “tearing her hair out for three months’’ after learning that “Poster Girl’’ was among eight documentaries short-listed for an Academy Award. Since shorts are not announced on television with features and acting nominees, Nesson learned the good news over the Internet. “My cats ran under the bed to hide from my screaming,’’ she says. The whirlwind since that moment has included her snagging a $6,500 designer dress marked down a whopping 90 percent at a New York City sample sale. Her mother, Penny Steinberg of Boston’s Back Bay, will be Sara’s date for the Oscars. Her entourage also will include Murray and one dozen other close friends, who are all flying to Los Angeles for the Feb. 27 ceremony. “I haven’t been married, so the Oscars are like my wedding,’’ Nesson says.

Loren King may be contacted at

Thursday, February 10, 2011


Massachusetts-made movies burst onto the national scene in a big way, garnering a record-setting sixteen Academy Award nominations last month. One of the other nominated pictures, TOY STORY 3, could not be made here in the Bay State. And yet it wasn't made in Hollywood either. This latest installment in Pixar's fabulously successful franchise has been an economic boon for more than 15 years to (of all places) the city of San Francisco. To paraphrase the Cowardly Lion, "What do they got, that we ain't got?" At least not yet. Take a look:

Monday, February 7, 2011

Melissa Leo talks about shooting "THE FIGHTER" in Lowell, MA:

By John Lopez

February 4, 2011

As Oscar season enters its homestretch, Academy voters receive their final ballots, consensus gels around the favorites—and one name you hear over and over is Melissa Leo. She’s already won a Golden Globe and a SAG award for her portrayal of Alice Ward, the tough-as-nails Massachusetts mother in The Fighter. Now her second Oscar nomination has the pundits predicting a win for both her and co-star Christian Bale (whose charismatic performance goes a long way toward rehabilitating public perceptions of crackheads everywhere). Little Gold Men caught up with Leo before the shower of accolades began, and she shared with us the process behind The Fighter’s bravura performances, how the real-life community of Lowell helped create the vibe, and the key to creating a great girl fight on-screen.
John Lopez: What’s remarkable about The Fighter is how real the characters feel. People I know from that part of Massachusetts say it’s like watching old home movies.
Melissa Leo: You know, people that have spent time in that area feel that it’s so of that area. But one of the most extraordinary things I find doing press for The Fighter is there’s a lot of places like that. You know, a town that once was gonna be something…and then, it’s just been dying off ever since.
The film really captures the energy of the community—is that David O. Russell’s direction coming through?
It is indeed David O. Russell. The man has a huge heart. You know, he’s not like Mark, who’s grown up around those people. It was a whole new world to David; he didn’t know what to expect. But he fell head-over-heels, madly in love with everyone in Lowell. He did, we all did.
How do you deal with such dramatic material while still retaining an essential lightness?
First, it has to do with the Ward-Eklunds themselves. They’ve lived complex, complicated, and extraordinary lives, a lot of rough water and some pretty high mountaintops. So the openness from the family was a big part of it. But it also goes back to David O. Russell. I’ve never met someone so non-judgmental. Looking at the portrait of the crack addict in the movie—yes, he’s a crack addict, but [David is] not making a judgment about it. It’s just a fact. And that’s a brilliant touch.
I assume you prepared by working with the family?
It was very important to me, and I’ll mention this so we don’t have to linger on it, but Alice Ward is actually very sick right now. She’s come down with pneumonia and had a heart attack, and we thought we lost her. Within 10 minutes of this occurring in the hospital, 50 people show up at the hospital! So that’s where Alice is, and talking to you, I can’t forget that. Anyway, my agents were all very excited about this role, and working with David and Mark and Christian, but then I thought, Wait a second, I’m supposed to play their mother?! Back up here! I mean, I’m 10 years older than the boys. Alice might’ve started having kids young, [but] not at 10!
Not even in Lowell.
Even in Lowell! But it was in meeting Alice that I saw in her my mother’s mother—not so much the circumstances, but a time in America growing up. A woman with a brain, a woman with a fierce love for her children, living the American dream by making a better life for her kids. You can dress somebody up, but if their internal mechanism isn’t living and breathing the character, you have only half a character. And, [from her perspective], I’ve never had the woman playing me dropping by the set and seeing how I’m doing with her kids all there, every day!
Was there a single moment, a gesture, a prop, when you knew you had her character down?
I don’t know if there was a single moment, but I did have that exact experience just recently working with Kevin Smith on Red State. Kevin saw one photograph of me, and, [he told me later,] there was something in the way I had jammed my hands in the pockets of the hoodie for the photo. It was so brilliant, too, that he shared this with me; some directors might think something like that and never share it with the actor. However, Alice was not easy.
Well, she’s a pretty complex character, and you’re right, she’s so fierce.
I’m not like Alice. I don’t feel myself as a pushy, step-to-it, take-care-of-it kind of gal at all. That was a reach for me, and I think that what got me the confidence was David’s belief in me, and the town of Lowell. I got all up in Mark Bridges’s costumes and the hair and makeup, and they were delighted to see her 20 years younger than she is today. Their belief in me was the final bridge to cross to come to the set with the confidence I needed.
It sounds like you guys really engaged the community on set.
That’s something that the big Hollywood film misses out on. It happens all the time in little independents where you’re shooting in real locations with real folks and the vibe you pick up from that. There was no doubt we were doing something important and each one of us—Amy, Mark, Christian, Jack, the sisters—we all showed up with a very serious job to do and had a good time doing it.
I bet you had a fun time shooting the girl-fight sequence where Alice and the daughters come over to take down Amy Adams.
You know, as a female, I’ve been asked to do some fighting, a punch here and a kick there, but I have yet to meet a female fight director. I know that Amy Adams, in her great wisdom, nailed the one of the sisters who had the most experience, which was Dendrie Taylor, the first one that gets shoved to the ground. Amy and Dendrie spent a long time with the male fight director and the male director getting it to be a real girl fight.
It’s one of the best, most realistic girl fights I’ve ever seen in cinema.
You even see Mark step back out of it.
We’ve all been there. As a male, you never, never get in the middle of that.
Yeah, and it’s something that I know from experience is hard to capture on film. And you get a female involved in the action…. It’s a cagey beast.
So you’ve had your share of girl fights, huh?
Along the way, indeed, I have…
So you guys pulled David aside and said, “Listen, this is how we throw down.”
Well, not that I’ve done that much throwing down in my actual life, I did a play called Cinders, and I think there were nine of us girls in a Polish reform school. And there was a fight when all the girls gang up on one of the girls. It was a man who was directing it, and he kept not being happy with it, because it was being choreographed by a guy! Finally, when us women began to take over the fight, the choreography of it, that’s when it really became this brutal moment onstage.
Maybe you should pitch your own spin-off based on Alice’s character: The Girl Fighter.
[Laughs.] Yes, The Girl Fighter!
Seriously, though, this can be a male-dominated industry, but even just creatively it’s important to get that female perspective up on-screen.
Well, Kathryn Bigelow gave us a lot of help last year. You’re just starting to hear more and more about women directors. You know, it takes a while for people to evolve.
Sometimes I feel Hollywood is secretly one of the most conservative cultures—
Yeah, it’s thought of as a trend-setting thing. But it’s sort of the opposite.

Hub is ‘Boom’ town for James:

By Gayle Fee And Laura Raposa

   Photo by Herald file

Production is scheduled to begin in Quincy this month on a new Kevin James flick, “Here Comes the Boom,” and the comedy about a teacher who tries to save his school’s music program by becoming a mixed-martial arts fighter is going to save some real-life music programs.
Columbia Pictures has contracted with the city of Quincy to lease the old Quincy High School on Coddington Street for six months and will pay a whopping $80,000 in rent. Mayor Thomas Koch has said the money will go to the school department to save music classes. Now there’s a Hollywood ending!
The old Quincy High, which has been replaced by a spanking new facility, will be typecast as a high school in the comedy about a physics teacher who decides to moonlight as a mixed-marital arts fighter to save jobs and programs.
It is the first big-budget flick to return to Massachusetts after a long drought that followed Gov. Deval Patrick’s proposed cap on the state’s generous tax credits to the film industry. Opponents of the cut argued that Hollywood brings jobs, money and very good publicity to the Bay State and the $80G to the Quincy schools should bolster their claims.
“Here Comes the Boom” is the third big-budget flick James and his producer-buddy Adam Sandler have made in the Bay State in three years. “Paul Blart: Mall Cop,” starring the former “King of Queens” as a police-academy washout who saves the day when a gang of high-tech robbers descends on his mall, made a whopping $180 million at the box office worldwide. It was shot in 2008, primarily in the Burlington Mall.
“Grown Ups,” Sandler’s made-on-the-North Shore flick starring Adam and most of his Hollywood posse, made a whopping $267 million worldwide. And “Zookeeper,” starring James as a zoo attendant who talks to the animals, is scheduled for a big summer release. No wonder the boys like making it in the Bay State!
Salma Hayek, who also starred in “Grown Ups,” reportedly is on board for “Here Comes the Boom,” and Frank Coraci, who directed “Zookeeper,” will direct. He has been in town recently to scope out locations and prep for the start of shooting.
Also slated to shoot here in the spring is “Ted,” an R-rated comedy starring Mark Wahlberg as a man who, when he was a kid, wished for his teddy bear to come to life. Twenty-five years later, the bear is a smoking, cursing delinquent voiced by “The Family Guy’s” Seth MacFarlane, who also wrote and directed the flick. Mila Kunis, hot off her buzz-making turn in “Black Swan,” will co-star. BTW, “Ted” has a $65 million budget.
File Under: Roll ’Em.