Archive | October, 2018

Bus/Bike lane lands as pilot

30 Oct

Bus priority lane is opened on Mount Auburn, speeding mass transit and allowing in bicycles

 

A bus takes advantage of a priority lane last week on Mount Auburn Street. (Photo: State Sen. Will Brownsberger via Facebook)

The first dedicated bus lane this side of the Charles launched Friday, a pilot program in collaboration with Watertown designed to give MBTA buses and local business shuttles priority over cars along the normally sluggish Mount Auburn Street corridor.

A project study revealed that cars represented 97 percent of road traffic and buses just 3 percent – yet those public vehicles carry nearly 60 percent of all commuters along the corridor. Now those bus riders get an austere, red-striped lane that cars are barred from using, though like for bus lanes used by the Silver Line in Chinatown, bicycles are allowed, neatly increasing bike infrastructure in the most bike-unfriendly stretch of Mount Auburn Street.

Because it’s a pilot, the one-mile stretch between the Fresh Pond fork by Mount Auburn Hospital and Cottage Street in Watertown (just beyond Greg’s Restaurant, 821 Mount Auburn St.) had to use low structural impact materials such as paint and signs, but also tweaked traffic light timing so approaching buses would get a longer green than private cars.

City councillor Jan Devereux speaks Friday at the official launch of the bus priority lane. (Photo: The Barr Foundation via Twitter)

The project was made possible through a community grant from the Barr Foundation, working with the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy. Tegin Teich, a transportation planner at Cambridge’s Community Development Department and project manager for the bus priority lane, noted the “impressive coordination across agencies and two municipalities” that included not just the MBTA, but the state’s Department of Conservation and Recreation.

The next steps will be collecting data to review; more bus rapid transit red lanes might follow – something “essential,” Teich said, as the city expands.

“We are watching the new bus lane rollout closely,” said state Sen. Will Brownsberger on Facebook. His Second Suffolk and Middlesex District includes Watertown as well as Belmont, Brighton, the Fenway and Boston’s Back Bay. “The Mount Auburn buses are reporting great improvements. Auto drivers are not as happy. We are working to improve the overall throughput for drivers too. We are in a shakeout period.”

Similar transit and safety improvements, including a separated bike lane, are planned for the lower end of Massachusetts Avenue by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology this month. A daytime bus priority lane is also planned for the redesigned Inman Square; the idea has been explored by city councillors for Pearl Street at Central Square and requested by bicyclists for Porter Square.

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Art on the Square

27 Oct

 

David Buckley Borden’s “Warning Warming,” on Harvard’s Science Center Plaza. (Photo: Tom Meek)

Harvard Square is home to two new large art installations, strikingly placed at the Charles Hotel and as a centerpiece at Harvard’s Science Center Plaza: One’s a multilayer interactive experience meant to absorb and regurgitate our urban surroundings; the other is an ominous summation of our ever-changing climate. Both have strong Harvard roots.

In the Science Center Plaza is David Buckley Borden’s “Warning Warming,” a striking, multi-hued A-frame structure, informing us of unhappy environmental prospects. The white, then sunny tint transmutes into a fiery orange-red, representing rising temperatures, while the other side of the segmented 3D exhibit forecasts a concerning map of CO2 levels. Borden is a fellow at the Harvard Forest – a research department and actual forest on Route 2, managed and cultivated by the university – and a self-proclaimed “recovering landscape architect” who says the project is a something of a spinoff from the “Hemlock Hospice” project out at the Harvard Forest, where the titular trees will become “functionally extinct by 2025” due to an invasive, aphid-like insect from Japan. 

“Warning Warning,” like “Hemlock Hospice,” was collaborative. “These are science communications,” he said in conversation, “and I’m like the creative director.” According to Borden, who studied at Harvard’s Graduate School of Design, it took a team of about 10 to design and assemble the 25-foot structure. It will remain on the plaza until early December. (“Hemlock Hospice” comes down Nov. 18, and Borden a side project called “Triple Decker Ecology” is on display at the Somerville Museum until Dec. 9.)

Allen Sayegh’s “Pulsus” has been installed at The Charles Hotel. (Photo: Tom Meek)

Over at the Charles Hotel is “Pulsus,” a 30-foot casting extending into the hotel’s lower courtyard by GSD associate professor in practice Allen Sayegh and Invivia Design, where Sayegh is a partner. Invivia and the school’s Responsive Environments and Artifacts Lab, which Sayegh oversees, focus on the intersection of technology, human environmental factors and architecture. 

Most folk who see “Pulsus” wonder if Han Solo might not be frozen in there. Indeed, it is made up of seven “negative and positive” human body imprints and designed to be reflective of human activity by absorbing the cityscape sounds and reverberating them in a “pulsating, communicative” fashion. As Sayegh describes it, the work “gathers data from different sources – real-time police conversations, tweets from around the community, among others – and then translates these into different types of tonal sounds, producing the buzzing that you can hear and feel when you’re close to it.” The installation at Charles Square is currently inert, but a video about the structure shows “Pulsus” in its full interactive glory at its inaugural installation in New York City in 2017, when it cooled and misted (commissioned by the New York City Department of Transportation) and just outside the school’s Gund Hall on Quincy Street. Construction at Gund meant Pulsus had to move. It’s new location is in part because of Sayegh’s relationship with Michael Pagliarini, the chef and owner of Benedetto at The Charles Hotel; Invivia’s office abuts Pagliarini‘s other revered eatery, Giulia. Sayegh said he hoped to have “Pulsus” fully interactive again and plans some type of reintroductory event in the spring. According to The Charles, the installation will remain for the foreseeable future. 

When fully interactive, “Pulsus” should again collect the “anxiety and vibrancy” of the city through publicly available data sources and code written for the project that converts it into harmonious sounds. Some of the information is preserved – you can actually make out police transmissions, Sayegh said.

Reactions to the current installation vary, but mostly reflect awe. “Han, are you in there?” one observer jokes as he knocks on one of the body bubbles. “More like something from ‘Alien,’” his friend adds, “but I really dig it.” One woman first thought the undulating construct might be some form of industrial wrap left over from the Head of the Charles, but was motivated to learn more even though she found placement of the work – at the bottom of the stairs connecting the hotel’s upper and lower courtyards – “odd.” Another observer wondered if it could be a hazard for the elderly who rely on the center railing ending at the structure’s base.

Other recent design projects by Invivia include “Ora” (2016), an enormous, pulsating orb that occupied Harvard Yard and “The Draem”(2015), a Copenhagen installation marking the the Armenian Genocide in Denmark.

 

Stella’s Last Weekend

26 Oct

‘Stella’s Last Weekend’: Home for a dog’s day, but brothers’ love triangle is more interesting

 

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Opening this week exclusively at “bargain deal” Apple Cinemas in Fresh Pond is “Stella’s Last Weekend,” a curio of a movie that, while not exactly fully formed for the big screen, keeps the viewer involved throughout. The “Stella” of the title isn’t anyone as rich as Tennessee Williams’ delusional grand dame, but a furry four-legged beast and perhaps the most regal and kind entity drawing oxygen in the film. Stella’s a squat, salt-and-pepper pit bull mix with a tumor large enough to ensure she won’t make it through the weekend. The growth’s been known about for some time and Stella, as we’re told over and over, has been such an integral part of the family that there’s going to be a weekend passing party for her. That’s why Jack (Nat Wolff) returns home from college. On the way back to Queens he spies a comely young woman across the subway platform (Paulina Singer). They make brief yet intense eye contact – and that’s it, neither acts; only regrets. Until Violet shows up at Jack’s door for a date with his younger brother Oliver (Nat’s real-life bro, Alex).

A love triangle blooms, with Violet seeming attracted to both and conflicted, but that’s the least intriguing aspect of “Stella’s Last Weekend.” What’s more interesting, in a sadistic, train wreck sort of a way, is the lads’ antagonistic relationship with their mom’s live-in beau, Ron (Nick Sandow) making fun of his combover and asking pointed questions about their mom in the “sack.” These testosterone-propelled puppies when in pack mode are hyenas, soliciting random senior women on the street for sex advice and so bold as to drop the B-word at a formal affair. They’re loose, shaggy-headed dudes, and you get their pent-up sexual energy, but in motion they’re class clowns. Thankfully, the script – written and directed by ubiquitous TV actress Polly Draper (“Thirtysomething” and “The Good Wife”), who plays mom and is the Wolff brothers’ mom in real life – imbues the boys with vulnerabilities and injects moments of doubt and reflection. It’s in these moments that the film finds a pulse and Draper, as the slightly progressive, neo-hippie Sally, brings a matronly gel to the all-too male homestead.

Draper and her sons were also all part of Nickelodeon TV show “The Naked Brothers Band” back when Nat and Alex Wolff were tweens. Since then, Alex played Boston bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev in “Patriots Day” and an incarnation of the dark prince in “Hereditary.” He’s not given as much to work with emotionally as his brother, but the actors find a nice, brotherly balance when the film’s not playing for sitcom-esque laughs. Singer’s fine too, but like Alex Wolff, her performance feels less finely tuned. Smartly, the film makes nothing of the fact that Violet’s black (and the boys are white). It’s there on the screen, but it’s not. Throughout it all Stella breathes heavily and looks occasionally sad. The five-second cutaways to her heavy weariness carry the most weight, but no one on screen seems to notice. Like Stella, we observe and shake our head at the silly human folly unfolding before our eyes.

Rally for Bike Lanes

19 Oct

Bike safety advocates rally for protected lanes as city points to lack of rollout specifics in plan

 

Bike safety advocates rally Wednesday in front City Hall. (Photos: Tom Meek)

The Cambridge Bicycle Safety Group organized a bike rally Wednesday on the steps of City Hall to urge faster progress in the installation of protected bike lanes – asking the city to follow its own 2015 Bike Plan, which it interprets as calling for a 20-mile bike network by 2023 with just around five miles of lanes in place and only a half-mile more planned for the fall.

The plan is not on track, said one of group’s organizers, Nathanael Fillmore.

The city, though, differs with the group’s interpretation.

“The 2015 plan details an aspirational concept [but] does not indicate a specific numerical goal for the amount of miles of protected bike lanes across the city. It is intended to be a guide and reference for long-, medium- and short-term infrastructure projects,” said Bridget Martin, communications manager for the Community Development Department, in a Wednesday email.  

“We are planning to start an update to the Bicycle Plan this fiscal year to include a more detailed implementation plan, taking into account recent experience with quick-build projects, input from community stakeholders and available funding,” Martin said.

Those experiences have been mixed. Lanes in Harvard Square and on Cambridge Street have drawn loud opposition from some businesses and residents. On Monday, while appropriating $5 million to redesign traffic flow in Inman Square, where cyclist Amanda Phillips died in 2016, city councillors were still hearing objections from people who thought the changes were about Phillips. Mayor Marc McGovern felt it necessary to send a tweet clarifying that she was killed after the redesign process began.

Reaction to the push for bike lanes after the death of Phillips and others included complaints of “bicycle bullies” and even its own term: “bikelash.”

Bikes were laid on the lawn to help illustrate the average 160 collisions involving bicycles seen annually in Cambridge.

The Bicycle Safety Group, which formed in the wake of Phillips’ death, remained focused on safety Wednesday. Bikes lay on the lawn at City Hall to represent the 160 bike collisions in Cambridge annually over the past 10 years, according to police data. The group says 40 percent of the incidents could be prevented with the installation of protected bike lanes, but just 1.2 miles of city bike lanes are in that category, mostly along Massachusetts Avenue immediately south and north of Harvard Square, and on Cambridge Street between Inman and Harvard squares.

The rally also boasted a marching band that bent popular tune lyrics into anthems about protected bike lanes, and saw about 140 bicyclists, activists and supporters gather to hear speakers including city councillor Quinton Zondervan and state Rep. Mike Connolly, who each pledged support for improved bike safety and infrastructure.

Vice mayor Jan Devereux, who could not make the rally, had a supportive statement read pointing to a Nov. 27 public hearing to discuss progress on bike infrastructure, including the next steps in creating a protected bike network and other infrastructure improvements.

A “micromobility” conference coming Nov. 3 to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology could be another source for ideas, councillor Craig Kelley said. The five-hour event, “Transportation Transformation: A Conference About the New Urban Mobility,” is co-sponsored by Kelley and includes Joseph Barr, director of the city’s Traffic, Parking & Transportation Department, among other experts.

Bad Time at the El Royale

13 Oct

‘Bad Times at the El Royale’: You can check in, then suspect no one in this noir gets out alive

 

“Bad Times at the El Royale” is a knuckleball-noir, a den of thieves stuffed with double agendas. The star of the film, besides the ripped abs of Chris Hemsworth or sexy boot-wearing waif Cailee Spaeny, is the remote resort of the title, once a grand casino straddling California and Nevada (there’s a red line down the middle of the lobby, and you can drink only on the California side). It’s seen better days, but lost its gambling license. Needless to say, few people check in; by the time the movie is over, even fewer check out.

The time is the Nixon-tainted ’70s, so cellphones are not a thing, but wiretapping and one-way mirrors are. An amiable reverend (Jeff Bridges) and a backup soul singer (Cynthia Erivo) check in first. Then there’s Jon Hamm, right out of “Mad Men” as a vacuum cleaner salesman, and Dakota Johnson, who zips in Tarantino-hip in a mod model muscle car with a bound bundle in the trunk. Not everyone’s whom they pretend to be, and the skittish hotel manager (Lewis Pullman, son of Bill, excellent in a role that seems designed for the late Anton Yelchin) bears the weight of past horrors in the hotel and has demanding owners to answer to. The inn has a few secrets as well.

As the sands shift and the mother of all storms descends, the tension rises. What’s buried under the hotel? Who is the mysterious being fled by Johnson’s Emily Summerspring and her sister Ruth (Spaeny)? Plus there’s the gruesome murder of a couple nearby that we hear about over and over on TV, with the killer still on the loose. Deep Purple and some lesser-known Motown kick up the scene – something that’s needed, because at almost two and a half hours “El Royale” is nearly an hour too long (but stylish nonetheless). And though directed by Drew Goddard, whose debut, “Cabin in the Woods” (2012) was a breath of fresh air to the horror genre, the film overplays moments. The plot, which in premise bears much in common with James Mangold’s 2003 Nevada hotel thriller “Identity,” loses its enigmatic edge a little over halfway in, and many of the more likable souls perish far too soon. But fear not, everyone gets a flashback, and certain scenes get replayed from multiple POVs. They’re neat devices, but not every character comes out feeling fully sketched. 

Hemsworth, who played beautifully against his Thor persona in “Cabin in the Woods,” isn’t given much to do here as a Cali-sun god and cult leader – Jim Morrison infused with the cocky cold-bloodedness of Charles Manson. It’s a big, hammy bone, and it gets well gnawed. The camp mostly works, while Bridges and Johnson hold the fort, Spaeny and Pullman add flourishes of manic quirk and Erivo adds soul, social context and glorious chops. The Watergate fiasco and a MacGuffin that could be tied to JFK loom at the corners, but they’re mostly distractions; the film is best when characters sit and banter over whisky, even if their hands are tied and a gun is to their head.

A Star is Born

6 Oct

‘A Star Is Born’: Palpable and often painful, this remake makes an old story new again

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After re-seeing the 1976 version of “A Star Is Born” with Kris Kristofferson and Barbara Streisand – a film that barely worked – I walked into this one thinking, “How could this possibly be any better?” I mean, Kristofferson and Streisand were musicians by trade, and Bradley Cooper, while being a likable thespian with a pleasing mug, was going to croon a tune, strum guitar and direct for the first time too? I feared a vanity project or worse, but prejudgment is best saved for Big Macs, presidential tweets and bottom-shelf tequila, not art.

Lack of chemistry pulled the Kristofferson-Streisand project down to near camp. Nothing clicked between the two charismatic leads – not on stage, not at the piano, not in the studio and not in the bedroom. Who would ever buy a prog-rock, Iggy Pop kind of growler get jazzed up about a Broadway-tunes crooning chanteuse, or vice versa? Here, Cooper coupling with pop diva Lady Gaga nails it by coming at it straight from the heart as Jackson Maine, a country superstar in the mold of Keith Urban who can play a mean guitar. He also loves the bottle – perhaps more than his music – which is what leads him to a late-night watering hole after a podunk show. It’s there at a drag revue that Gaga’s Ally, adorned with Divine-etched eyebrows, belts out “La Vie en Rose” with such poise, power and control that Edith Piaf might just give up the mic. Jackson takes notice, they go to another bar, he drinks enough to make a small village comatose and she punches out an angry fan to defend his honor. One’s clearly on the way up, the other’s wallowing in self-loathing, and the two get each other completely.

Like any good romance, the night doesn’t end between the sheets, but in a parking lot with her hand strapped to a bag of frozen peas. And yes, they do sing at each other a bit – just a tiny, perfect bit. The next day Jackson’s on a plane and onto the next city and show, but he sends for Ally, who reluctantly hops a Learjet and even more reluctantly lets him drag her out on stage to sing that little parking lot ditty – a neat country crossover. From the 1932, ’37, ’54 and ’76 versions of the success-cum-tragedy melodrama, based originally on an article by Adela Rogers St. Johns and later retooled by Dorothy Parker (the first three entries were about Hollywood aspirations, not the music biz) you know how the story goes, yet Cooper, also holding a co-writer credit, floats the prospect of redemption and a different resolution.  Continue reading

he Old Man & the Gun

5 Oct

‘The Old Man & the Gun’: Redford’s final bow is a charmer, like his gentleman bank robber

 

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It’s been almost 50 years since Robert Redford rode into cinematic history with Paul Newman as “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.” In that 1969 film, guns were drawn but seldom used, and never to take out a bank clerk or guard during a heist. Clearly these were thieves raised well and with a civilized degree of humanity … sparking the question: Could the prospect of being robbed at gunpoint be any more enjoyable? The answer, as David Lowery’s “The Old Man & the Gun” has it, is an emphatic yes. In the based-on-a-true-crime film, an 82-year-old Redford (promising his last thespian turn) plays Forrest Tucker, an avuncular gent who robs banks wearing a professorial herringbone tweed jacket and a grandfatherly fedora pulled down tight to shield his mug. He’s quite the charmer when flashing the unloaded pistol of the title, complimenting nerve-wracked tellers on their attire and bestowing friendly insights. You almost expect him to leave a tip.

We first catch up with Tucker and his AARP posse (Danny Glover and Tom Waits, both great) as they pull off a caper. All goes smoothly, except at the time there’s a police officer named John Hunt (Casey Affleck) in line with his daughter, and he takes the crime personally. The aptly zealous Hunt, digging around on police blotters, realizes that Tucker and his “Over the Hill Gang” have been operating under the radar for sometime, strategically hitting locales across state lines to keep investigators off their trail. Continue reading