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Chilly Bike Lanes

9 Dec

Pack of end-of-year actions on street safety anticipates bike, pedestrian work in 2019

 

Ground was boken Wednesday for a Watertown-Cambridge bike path expected to be complete in early summer of 2020. (Photos and video: Tom Meek)

The city will have a more comprehensive schedule of bike infrastructure rollouts early next year, Community Development spokeswoman Bridget Martin said, and the state is joining in with a Dec. 18 meeting to discuss options for bike safety improvements on some of its own roadway in Cambridge.

Even before that, the Cambridge Bicycle Safety group is calling for city staff to report back by the end of January on how common speed limit violations are in Cambridge and how the city can better engineer traffic calming; a policy order written with Mayor Marc McGovern, vice mayor Jan Devereux and city councillor Quinton Zondervan will make the request official Monday.

“For example, we know that changing paving surfaces and raising crosswalks helps slow traffic in busy areas,” the group said Thursday, explaining the urgency behind the order: “Over the past 10 years, 16 vulnerable road users – either walking or biking – have been killed in our city. This is a public health crisis.”

The mayor and City Manager Louis A. DePasquale are also set to attend a community meeting next week on pedestrian safety and safer streets, planned for 6:30 p.m. Thursday at the Amigos School, 15 Upton St., Cambridgeport.

There have already been several steps taken to separate cyclists from motor vehicles and connect major destinations by bike lane since an October rallyby the bicycle safety group, including a priority bus and bike lane on Mount Auburn Street; separated lanes on Massachusetts Avenue from Central Square through the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to the Charles River, opened late last month; and Wednesday’s groundbreaking for a Watertown-Cambridge bike path.

The Watertown-Cambridge path, expected to be complete in early summer of 2020, leverages an old railway running parallel to Huron Avenue to better connect cyclists coming from Watertown and West Cambridge to Fresh Pond destinations including the pond, mall and Danehy Park, as well as the Alewife T station and Minuteman Bike Path – good for families and other cyclists unwilling to tangle with vehicles on Huron Avenue and the Fresh Pond Parkway.

The separated bike lanes (alongside a dedicated Boston-bound bus lane) south of Central Square provide more safety in a congested area notorious for its perilous intersections. The project is still undergoing tweaks, said Joseph Barr, director of the city’s Traffic, Parking & Transportation Department, though the bulk of the project was completed and opened for use just after Thanksgiving.

Data from the installations will show whether they increase public safety and get more people out of their cars, traffic officials have said.

The bicycle safety group and other advocacy groups, including Livable Streets and the Boston Cyclists Union, have been loud advocates for safer streets since the Cambridge deaths of cyclists Amanda Phillips and Joseph Lavins in 2016. In November, another cyclist was struck and killed by a dump truck at Museum Way and Monsignor O’Brien Highway, across from the Museum of Science, and state Rep. Mike Connolly called on the state to make changes.

A public hearing at 6:30 p.m. Dec. 18 at the Museum of Science – the location may change as the expected size of the audience grows – will discuss the details of Meng Jin’s death and safety improvements from infrastructure and vehicle safeguard perspectives, Connolly said.

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Roma

8 Dec

‘Roma’: Calling on the maid to be a mother when chaos strikes a family and ’70s Mexico

 

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Alfonso Cuarón, the Mexican-born director who’s made a reputation of tackling a wide variety of subjects and milieus, hopping from the depths of outer space (“Gravity”) to barren, post-apocalyptic futures (“Children of Men”) and even Harry Potter and Dickens (“Prisoner of Azkaban” and “Great Expectations”), returns to his homeland – where be crafted his signature tale of taboo sex and betrayal, “Y Tu Mamá También” – to forge the semi-autobiographical contemplation “Roma,” something of a nostalgic dream cut with historical incident and unhappy reality. Folks who could never bite into the floaty neorealism of Fellini’s “8½” or “Amarcord” will struggle with the director’s languid sense of place and time, hoping for more of the disruptive chaos of the earthquake, wildfire and class revolt that punctuate the film. The central dilemma of a pregnant housemaid abused and abandoned by her lover and trapped by her unenviable station in life might not jump off the page, but for those who give it time, there are rewards.

The time is the early ’70s (aptly Fellini-esque) in Mexico City, as the camera swirls around the doings of an upper-middle-class family. Dad (Fernando Grediaga), a doctor, works long hours at the hospital while mom (Marina de Tavira) and the housemaid, Cleo (Yalitza Aparicio) maintain the homestead and look after a brood of corrigible youth. Mom and Cleo care, but are not the most effective homemakers. Mom dings up the car every time she takes it out and Cleo allows mounds of canine fecal matter to amass in the driveway – cars skid and people slip on poo, it’s a running thing. The film’s driving factors are the father’s sudden and prolonged absence as well as Cleo’s pregnancy: How she gets pregnant, the father’s reaction and the end result of which provide for surprising turns.

“Roma” moves in subtle, wispy ebbs fueled by undercurrents of class and gender oppression. There’s a poignant yin and yang in every frame. Fate and circumstance factor large too as the action moves from the cloistered streets of the city to the bourgeois countryside, even a muddy hillside slum and ultimately a riot (the Corpus Christi Massacre of 1970). Throughout it all Cleo and Sofia rally frantically to keep the children safe, despite considerable setbacks. “Roma” is clearly a love letter to the women who made Cuarón the person he is today.

The film, shot by Cuarón himself in black and white – an artistic high-dive against the grain but in good company (think “Schindler’s List,” “The White Ribbon” and “The Artist”) – is a scrumptious wonderment to behold. If there’s any subversion, it’s that “Cold War,” another foreign language film in a similar format yet radically different style, could give Cuarón a run in the best-cinematography category.

Artistic merits aside, the key to “Roma” is the patiently quiet and soulful performance by Aparicio. Clea’s fleeting optimism amid repressed pain amid continual reminders of her subservient role are heartwarming and heartbreaking. You want her to break out and do something bold, but in her quiet resolve there’s a deeper dignity that transcends.“Roma” is not about good or bad, but about connecting and persevering.

Prospect

30 Nov

 

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A deep space mission to harvest something called Aurelacs – a highly valued gem that grows in slimy organic sacs that would make David Cronenberg proud – goes horribly wrong in “Prospect,” stranding a father-daughter team in a future where space travel across galaxies is relatively common. Made arty and moody by rising filmmaking duo Christopher Caldwell and Zeek Earl, expanding on their 2014 short of the same name, the themes and atmosphere echo that of “The Martian” (2016), “Interstellar” (2014) and even “2001: A Space Odyssey” (1968) – if not for the retro space suits, then at least all the heavy breathing.

Pulling from familiar tropes, the landing party (descending in a neat little capsule that looks something like a lunar module or whatever it was Matt Damon cruised in on in “The Martian”) hope to make one big “prospecting” score and move on to a better, less perilous lifestyle. Dad (Jay Duplass, co-director of the 2006 indie surprise, “The Puffy Chair”) and his teenage daughter, Cee (Sophie Thatcher, the film’s revelation) descend on a bucolic planet that’s as verdant, dank and lush as the Pacific Northwest forests were in Debra Granik’s “Leave No Trace” this year – still, as gorgeous and inviting as it is, you need to be suited and with a full tank of oxygen. 

Funny, as far out as they are and in the middle of nowhere, they barely get started on their quest when they bump into two malcontents who prove none too welcoming. Shortly enough, Cee and the one named Ezra (“Game of Thrones” actor Pedro Pascal) set out to find the the Aurelacs  mother lode (aka the “Queen’s Lair”), despite the nagging matter that Cee’s lander has malfunctioned and Ezra and his cohort have no means off the planet either. For all the riches to be had, folk seem too intently focused on it despite the looming dilemma that there’s no way to realize the spoils. 

You could think of “Prospect” as something akin to this year’s unheralded “The Sisters Brothers,” in which the gold at the center of the quest is little more than a MacGuffin and the characters sail through a lawless terrain with nothing but themselves to rely on for salvation or justice. There’s other beings, mostly human we assume, that Cee and Ezra encounter along the way, including a dominatrix who gets her charges on their knees by blasting distorted disco rhythms into their helmets. It’s a weird world to wind up not-so alone in, and given greater impact by tight, intimate camera work. 

Beyond Thatcher, who pulls the film along the way Anya Taylor-Joy did “The Witch” in 2015, the best part of Caldwell and Earl’s collaboration becomes the hellbent “Godot”-esque mission to nowhere. If you caught “Annihilation” earlier this year, you’d have a pretty good idea of the psychological fabric as the normal plunges headlong into chaos. “Prospect” also moves in bends and inflections that are largely – and pleasantly – unpredictable. Sure, it’s odd that folks amid an evergreen paradise can’t breath the air except in unseemly yurts, but “Prospect” rises on character, mood and a derivative tang that glances just off the penumbra of homage and avoids shameless lifting.

Green Book

22 Nov

‘Green Book’: Tour through segregated South drives a buddy movie that follows a true tale

 

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Peter Farrelly, best known as half of the brother tandem who made “Dumb and Dumber” (1994) and the chaotically uproarious “There’s Something About Mary” (1998), pulls something of an unexpected about face with “Green Book,” real-life saga about a white man chauffeuring a black man through the Deep South during the early 1960s.

The boss is Dr. Don Shirley (Mahershala Ali, a deserving Oscar winner for his work in “Moonlight”), a renowned jazz pianist tired of playing the Upper East Side who decides to take his talents south – in part to see the world, and also to make the world see him. His driver, a Bronx-bred Italian-American name Frank Anthony Vallelonga, aka Tony Lip (Viggo Mortensen). Tony is something akin to Robert De Niro’s fat Jake LaMotta – boy can he eat, he’s not one to take too much shit and he’s got a mouth. It’s “Driving Miss Daisy” (1989) in reverse in so many ways, with its racist backdrop still far too similar to what pervades our country now. Once difference is that the current “green book” is an app with historical insights; from 1936 to 1966, it was a vital guide to safe spots in the segregated South.

For the most part, the film’s a buddy bonding road movie, as the aloof intellectual and motor-mouthed lout with a heart of gold break down cultural and personal barriers. At its best, Tony doesn’t judge Don Shirley after bailing him out of several compromising and potentially explosive situations where the jazz pianist dips into the bottle too much and wanders outside the lines. At its worst, Tony lectures Shirley about “his people,” Motown stars the classical musician hasn’t heard (Little Richard and Aretha) and the virtues of fried chicken – a cringeworthy scene, if just for the risky proximity of grease to a neatly pressed white shirt. 

Farrelly lays it on a bit at times where films such as “Hidden Figures” (2016) “Miss Daisy” and “The Butler” (2013) respectfully observe and allow character and history to make points on their own terms. His actors, though, do a great job selling it, and forge a genuine chemistry, despite such overwrought handling – Ali welling with dignified resolve and Mortensen adding a ton of weight and tackling new emotional territory with a screwball sense of humor. Shirley has to stay in seedier hotels and can’t use the same restroom as white people, even though he’s the allegedly well-respected main attraction. Ultimately there’s the big end-of-tour performance in Birmingham at a white-glove country club (where Nat King Cole was once assaulted). The maitre’d, trying to appeal to Tony, explains that when the world champion Boston Celtics came to town, “even the big one didn’t get to eat in the club” after polite use of such phrases as “it’s a tradition” and “that’s how we do things down here.” Sign of the times, and one not to be forgotten.

Widows

17 Nov

‘Widows’: Their husbands left with a job to do, and if goes even a little wrong, it’s their funeral

film still of three characters in a sauna exchanging money

The latest from “12 Years a Slave” director Steve McQueen could have easily been called “Bastards” and worked as well. As is, “Widows” is a sweeping heist movie that plays out in alluring shards spliced together kinetically by editor Joe Walker, who’s teamed with McQueen on several projects. Early on we get loving embraces between a soft teddy bear of a man named Harry Rawlings (Liam Neeson) and his betrothed Veronica (Viola Davis). Could a couple be any more perfect? We cut to Harry pulling off a guns-blazing armored car job. The authorities are hot on his tail, but he’s got his crackpot team he tells to “stick to the plan” as bullets rain down. But things don’t go as planned, and soon we’re left with the trio of the title.

Joining Veronica are Alice (Elizabeth Debicki) and Linda (Michelle Rodriguez), all three pretty much left high and dry by their exes, and it does’t provide any solace that local gangster Jamal Manning (Brian Tyree Henry), whom Harry ripped off, comes knocking and wants his dough back. There’s nothing left to square up with, and Jamal’s sociopathic brother Jatemme (Daniel Kaluuya) lurks at every turn, so what’s a trio of ladies in mourning to do? Simple: Execute the next job detailed in Harry’s secret notebook, pay off Jamal and start anew.

Easier said than done, especially when you learn your driver can’t drive. A quick call to “Baby Driver” might have fixed that, but remember, folks, this is an all-woman affair. Add to the mix the shifting sands of Chicago politics as Jamal runs for alderman against an old-school pol by the name of Jack Mulligan (Colin Farrell) whose pa (Robert Duvall) held the post in the past and fancies himself something of a power broker.

If the plot and cast couldn’t get anymore crowded, why not throw in Jacki Weaver (think of her performance in “Animal Kingdom”) as Alice’s mother. She likes the good life so much, she’s willing to sign her daughter up as a high-end escort, and isn’t it a blessing that Lukas Haas (the wide-eyed kid from “Witness”) pops up as her john named David? There’s a lot of moving parts and plenty of action. Bored you will not be.

Behind the lens, McQueen, like David Fincher helming “Gone Girl,” orchestrates the noisy fray and rippling plot within a plot with artful care. It helps that he’s blessed with an embarrassment of riches in the casting. Kaluuya, so good in “Get Out,” gets squandered here, but Henry and Cynthia Erivo, seen recently in “Bad Times at the El Royale” and a scene-grabber here as a late add to the crew, score quiet knockouts. Debicki, a tall, angular blonde with a blend of gangly, goofy sensuality that calls to mind a young Laura Dern, registers the fullest character onscreen. We get knowing resignation offset by a warm smile as she accepts the next shitty hand she’s dealt. Alice can’t catch a break, and that’s how the film wants it. These women are more than survivors when their backs are against the wall, that much is clear early on, though the action often feels heavy handed. The shifting lines of race and gentrification and behind-the-scenes political jockeying and backroom deals feel like something right out of a Richard Price novel and make for the most alluring subplot of the film – made even more so by the vitriolic relationship between Farrell’s son and Duvall’s megalomaniacal father – though never fully developed. It could have been its own movie. As is, the film hangs squarely on Davis holding it all together with pursed lips, unbending posture and a laser stare. 

The story by McQueen and Gillian Flynn, whose other projects “Gone Girl” and “Sharp Objects,” were similarly steeped in webs of crime, circumstance, depraved pasts and hidden agendas, is based loosely on a British TV crime drama, and Flynn knows how to get you on the hook. She’s just yet to master the reel-in, and the wrap-up comes as something of a shrug. It’s not quite as significant or moving as you might hope, but getting there’s an electric, Windy City Slip ’N Slide full of unsavory characters in the shadows and the front office – almost all of them men.

The Other Side of the Wind

11 Nov

‘The Other Side of the Wind’: Welles’ final bow is a 1960s trip, an artifact, a triumphant mess

 

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Once of the best films you can catch right now, you can’t catch in a theater. It is a new release from an American filmmaking maverick, starring a filmmaking maverick and about a filmmaking maverick. If that sounds recursive, it is, and well-intended – it’s a movie within a movie, and something of an in-your-face takedown of Hollywood, like Robert Altman’s “The Player” in 1992. It’s also got shades of 1960s psychedelic pop (think “The Trip”), gobs of over-sexualized free-love fetish petting by the camera (think “Barbarella”) and, well, the Kardashian butt decades before it became a thing.

The film might offend some, be dismissed by others as a “better left where it was” lesser effort or hailed as masterpiece by more discerning eyes. Still not with me? The late-arriving, posthumous work is Orson Welles’ “The Other Side of the Wind,” a project begun in 1970 that was finally this year pulled together, edited and released for theaters in Los Angeles and other cities and for streaming on Netflix with the not-to-be-missed companion documentary “They’ll Love Me When I’m Dead,” by “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” director Morgan Neville – a making-of film doc that’s worthy of comparison with “Burden of Dreams” (1982) and “Hearts of Darkness” (1991). 

“The Other Side of the Wind” is both the name of the (mockumentary) film about a legendary filmmaker making his last film on the last day of his life, and the film being shot, which is loosely but best described as a surreal road lust flick – more on that later. The filmmaker, J. J. Hannaford, is played by John Huston (“The Treasure of the Sierra Madre” and “The Maltese Falcon”) whose gruff voice and cagey demeanor call to mind Pa Hemingway. His film project’s in financial trouble (as was Welles’, which was financed by the Shah of Iran) and there’s myriad hangers-on including Mercedes McCambridge, Edmund O’Brien, a young Peter Bogdanovich (who would shoot“The Last Picture Show” and more during its filming) as Hannaford’s onset biographer, Geoffrey Land as a Robert Evans-style producer, and Susan Strasberg channeling Pauline Kael for her film critic role.

You can see where where Welles is going with the rambling project, which he shot willy-nilly over the years. At one point, as the documentary tells us, Welles was rooming with Bogdanovich and Cybill Shepherd’s house while shooting. The film within the film stars Welles’ latter-years love, Oja Kodar (co-writer) as simply “The Actress” and TV star Robert Random as a Jim Morrison-looking hunk named John Dale, who says little and mostly provides boy toy pleasure for Kodar’s passion seeker, more metaphorically looking for meaning and her place in the universe. For much of the surreal cutaways, Kodar, a Croatian beauty, appears naked, the camera hanging on her ample posterior. Some of the scenes are brilliantly shot, with a great psychedelic-blues score.

Probably the cheesiest is the bathroom orgy scene, which is lurid and alluring, but then there’s the sex scene in a muscle car when the driver suddenly realizes his girlfriend and a stranger are having sex as he drives. It’s done on a rain-soaked night, shot and edited with a hypnotic eroticism. It’s interesting to learn in the documentary that the car the whole time was stationary, and that the torrential rain was the result of three men with garden hoses – to think back, the scene is even more of a win than initially perceived. The documentary and film deepen each other in unsuspecting ways.

The documentary not only underscores the difficulty Welles had making the film financially (he actually created a shell corporation to game the Shah) but also the struggles the filmmaker had as an outcast from Hollywood, ever tied to his freshman effort, “Citizen Kane” (1941), hailed universally as the greatest movie ever made. 

For those familiar with the works of Welles, “The Other Side of the Wind” is more in line with “F for Fake” (1973) than his more renowned black and white efforts (“A Touch of Evil” and “Chimes at Midnight”). Given his career, it seems fitting that “The Other Side” ultimately made it to the screen. For me it’s an eye-popping wonderment steeped in incredible circumstance. Given the Hollywood history, I was just happy to hear Houston’s indelible voice shouting out direction offscreen to the buxom Kodar, standing in the far off distance of a desert with a phallic something protruding in the fore.

Overlord

10 Nov

‘Overlord’: Remember, Greatest Generation also had Nazi zombies to deal with in WWII

 

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You can think of “Overlord” as “The Dirty Dozen” by way of “28 Days Later” – that’s right, the WWII zombie apocalypse. The film starts with an imaginative bang and keeps its nose above the average even while dipping into genre tropes.

We catch up with a platoon of lads soaring above the D-Day armada heading for Omaha Beach. Their mission: Drop behind enemy lines and take out a radio tower in a medieval church or the U.S. air cover will get picked apart and the assault will fail. There’s a lot on the line. I’m not sure why there’s a few dozen planes on this mission, because stealth would make more sense, but it makes for the film’s best scene as German forces light up the approaching aircraft. The choreography, both in CGI manipulation and the goings-on with the boys inside as large-caliber bullets rip through the fuselage, amazes; cut frenetically with deafening ambient sound, it feels ripped right out of “Dunkirk.” Few make it to the ground alive (you could call it “The Dirty Half-Dozen”). After a few skirmishes with Nazi forces, the lads Boyce (Jovan Adepo); the squinty, badass explosives expert Ford (Wyatt Russell); wisecracking New York tough guy (think Joe Pesci) Tibbet (John Magaro); and a couple of other Star Trek red shirts get into the small village with the help of a comely village girl (Mathilde Ollivier). She takes them in, but what’s up with auntie’s reptilian rasping from behind closed doors?

Boyce ultimately makes it into a church basement, which is pretty much Mengele’s little shop of horrors if he was trying to engineer a zombie army of grotesque berserkers. The whole thing feels like a game of “Wolfenstein” gone 3D, but more grim. It’s here too that the film starts to sag, though there is tension added by the fact Boyce is black – no way to blend in among white supremacists (though otherwise, pretty much nothing is made of race). “Overlord” is largely Adepo’s film, and he carries it well, with both wide-eyed terror and heroic resolve. Magaro and Ollivier are also quite good in their limited stints, but Russell, filling a role akin to his father Kurt’s badass John Carpenter roles in “The Thing” and “Escape from New York,” doesn’t quite seal the deal. The part begs for more swagger. It works, but just barely, and is something of a missed opportunity for all.

The film, directed by Julius Avery, is a product of J.J. Abrams’s Bad Robot company, though Abrams has stipulated adamantly that it’s not a “Cloverfield” film. The connection between those entries is arcane at best anyhow, and something of a distraction. In construct, “Overlord” is more ambitious than those films, and its production values noticeably higher; but, then again, it’s about the fate of the democratic world hanging on the resolve of a bag of mixed nuts caught up in zombie-land.