Tag Archives: Cambridge Day

Raw

19 Mar

If you’re up on your festival buzz, you’ve likely heard about the swarm of ambulances called into the Toronto International Film Festival to extract viewers of the film “Raw” because they had passed out from the gore. A weave about a vegan who develops a taste for human flesh while away at college might do that to you, but what makes the film so visceral and utterly disturbing isn’t so much the blood-and-guts aspect but the cold realization that there’s nothing supernatural going on here (vampires, zombies and lycans, oh my) – just your average waif with an eating disorder that consumes her. And others.

The screening I attended passed out barf bags, which was clearly more of a joke/marketing gimmick than a splatter control concern. That was too bad; the film stands on its own, without such hype. Written and directed by first-timer Julia Ducournau, the arty lo-fi production brims with the creepy, slight alter-reality ambience of a Ben Wheatley film (“High Rise” and “Kill List”).

We catch up with Justine (Garance Marillier) as she’s being dropped off at veterinary college by her parents. She’s a demure ingenue who doesn’t eat meat (the whole family is vegetarian), so you can only imagine her surprise when dining at the cafeteria she bites into a chunk of sausage nestled inside her mashed potatoes. It’s a bad beginning, but the least of her problems. Before she can even settle in and meet her roommate, Adrien (a lean Rabah Nait Oufella), a hazing party blasts open the door and throws their belongings – mattresses and all – out the window. Subsequently all “rookies” are rounded up and forced to crawl up the stairs of the dorm and to a rave of sorts. For a week, we learn, the newbies are under the thumb of the older students and ritualistically doused with animal blood and forced to eat such dissection orts as rabbit livers. Continue reading

24 Feb

Jordan Peele’s “Get Out” is a devilish little bit of social commentary that takes the essence of “Guess Who’s Coming to Diner” and forces it, with vehemence but also panache, into a “Wicker Man”/“Stepford Wives” construct. The result is something clearly borrowed, incredibly fresh and nearly perfect in light of the current political climate. What’s also remarkable is that the horror flick-cum-black comedy marks Peele’s directorial debut, and a surprising one at that – not only because is it so sharp and confident, but also because Mr. Peele is better known as half of the comedy team of Key and Peele on Comedy Central.

The setup’s simple enough. Chris (Daniel Kaluuya), an aspiring photog, agrees reluctantly to meet the parents of his girlfriend, Rose (Allison Williams of “Girls”), whom he’s been dating for five months – just long enough to have to take these things seriously.

“Do they know I’m black?” Chris asks, a question that the lily-white Rose shrugs off, telling him that her dad would have voted for a Obama for a third time if he had the chance. It’s a pointed little barb, but since “Get Out” started filming long before it played at Sundance in January, I’m not certain Peele understood the whole political backdrop he’d be facing. Given the results of the election, the daggers the film throws couldn’t be any more on point. Continue reading

Paterson

30 Jan

There’s a quirky poetic flow to “Paterson” as in nearly every Jim Jarmusch film, seeping outward in languorous yet artful movements, and while “Paterson” is tightly coddled, it’s also one of the director’s more earthy and accessible efforts – something akin to the universality of a Frost poem, possessing the ability to sate on many levels while appealing to a diverse audience. And poetry is the operative word, as the film revolves around an aspiring poet by the name of Paterson (Adam Driver, finally in this film and “Silence” able to step out to the fore) who by day guides a boxy bus around the city of (you guessed it) Paterson, N.J.

The beauty of Driver’s performance is the quiet, soulful humanity imbued in the character. Paterson doesn’t drive his bus with contempt for the menial job or harbor any grand delusions of his higher mission as an artist – he’s not that arrogant douche! Quite the opposite. Poetry, we learn early on, is a passion that fills a hole in Paterson’s life, but he writes and observes quietly; Jarmusch, as the penning poet sits in his bus at the station waiting for the signal to hit the roads, superimposes the scrawlings onscreen with Driver in his purposeful drawl doing the narrative voiceovers. The poems are works by the poet Ron Padgett; the recurring “Love Poem” has a great talky line about matches: “Currently our favorite brand is the Ohio Blue Tip.” (If you’ve ever read Nicholson Baker, this will call to mind the mundane yet plumbing ditherings of “A Box of Matches.”)

Not much really happens in “Paterson,” though there is a slight, surreal crescendo toward the end, but what drives the film beyond Driver’s solid anchoring is Jarmusch’s idiosyncratic eye and the potpourri of personality that inhabits Paterson (the city). That’s especially so at Paterson’s home, where his partner and muse Laura (Golshifteh Farahani, channeling the playfully alluring foreign ingenue that Maria de Medeiros brought so vivaciously to life as Butch’s girlfriend Fabienne in “Pulp Fiction”) undertakes a different art project each day, mostly turning whatever it is she touches (curtains, cupcakes or a random wall in the small ranch home) into a black-and-white tiled mosaic, and the racially integrated bar where a pantheon of Paterson’s famous are hung as photos above the till. There’s an early mention of Rubin “Hurricane” Carter and the Bob Dylan ballad that rings a bit off-tone, but the recursive reference to doctor and poet William Carlos Williams – who practiced medicine near Paterson during the first half of the last century and wrote an anthology titled for and about the town (containing several letters of fellow New Jersey poet Allen Ginsberg) – as Paterson’s idol and inspiration is a smartly baked layer of lyric genius that subtly yields background about the man and the town of the same name. Continue reading

Hidden Figures

7 Jan

One of the best films of 2016 (yes, it opened in New York City and Los Angeles a few weeks ago as part of awards season’s annual bait-and-switch shenanigans) happens to be a sentimental crowdpleaser that, for all its potential schmaltz and didactic pitfalls, maintains an incredibly poignant balance especially when it comes to matters of race – and there’s plenty of them; “Hidden Figures” is about three African-American women employed as engineers and mathematicians by NASA during the first space launch, just as Martin Luther King Jr.’s historic push for Civil Rights was gaining its groundswell.

It’s not a widely known bit of history, but Katherine Johnson (Taraji P. Henson), Mary Jackson (singer Janelle Monáe, successfully doubling up as an actor) and Dorothy Vaughan (Oscar winner Octavia Spencer, killer good) toiled for NASA during the Mercury space program as engineers and computers – mathematicians doing the technical legwork before Big Blue dropped its first mainframe – and proved critical in getting John Glenn up and into orbit. One of the film’s most telling – and touching – moments comes when Glenn (Glen Powell) meets Johnson during a technical assembly of scientists and mucky-mucks where she’s not only the only woman or person of color in the room, but the only one able to solve complicated flight variables mathematically. Later, when there’s a snag in the mission and the reentry point needs recalculating, he asks for her aid, referring to her simply as the “the smart one.” Continue reading

19 Dec
One of Cambridge’s separated bike lane tests is along Massachusetts Avenue just north of Harvard Square. (Photo: Tom Meek)

The City of Cambridge made good last week on a City Council order from October implementing two experimental, separated bike lanes along short swaths of Massachusetts Avenue – one in Central Square, along the northbound stretch skirting Lafayette Park; the other also northbound, just north of Harvard Square along the Harvard Law School campus. The Law School installation removed parking spaces; the Central Square setup shifted parked cars outward, so the bike lane runs between the passenger side of parked vehicles and the curb. Each section is about about a football field long.

The implementations are similar to ones installed in November along Massachusetts Avenue in Boston as part of the city’s pursuit of Vision Zero – a program aimed at achieving a rate of zero traffic fatalities. The October order was one of a series of bicycle safety orders pushed by cycling advocates and groups after the death of Amanda Phillips in Inman Square in June and Joseph Lavins, struck by a truck in Porter Square, three months later.

The separation device is a zebra-striped swath painted on the road with flex posts, and the raised structures are removable pylons. More permanent flex barrier posts have been ordered and should be installed in the next two weeks, weather permitting, said Joseph Barr, director of Cambridge’s Traffic, Parking and Transportation department.

Still, there is “no set date” for how long the lanes will be left up, Barr said. The primary purpose of the temporary measures is to garner feedback on safety and the feasibility of the solution for expansion. There are plans for similar protected lanes in Inman Square in the spring, but the loss of parking spaces is typically fiercely debated in traffic changes.

“Folks will realize the loss of some parking in some areas is less important than than creating safe streets for those riding bikes,” vice mayor Marc McGovern said.

The reaction from the bike community so far has been guarded elation. “The new protected bike lanes are a great start,” said Joseph Poirier, of the Cambridge Bicycle Safety group formed in the wake of Phillips’ death, “but we know that we won’t see the huge mode shifts to biking from driving until we have a complete network of low-stress, protected bike lanes throughout the city. Isolated segments are a helpful start, but people won’t start to replace driving trips with bike trips until their entire journey is protected and low-stress. The research is pretty clear about this.”

Cambridge can be a leader in rolling out a connected, comprehensive network of protected bike lanes, group members say. “Remember that all of the great policies in the Netherlands started with a single car-free day in Utrecht,” is how Richard Fries, executive director of Mass Bike, sums it up.

The Handmaiden

6 Nov

Park Chan-wook’s sensual psychodrama “The Handmaiden” begins in the epic bowels of conflict and strife, but it’s truly a cloistered affair where nothing is as it seems, growing increasingly more constricted over its nearly two and half hours. It holds its rapturous tease over us with scrumptious visuals, artful poise and dips into kink and gore that would give the Marquis de Sade reason to smile. Most remarkable, however, is that Park, best know for the violent tale of liberation and atonement, “Oldboy” (2003), part of his infamous “Vengeance Trilogy,” transposes Sarah Waters’ “Fingersmith,” a Victorian-era feminist romance, to Japan-occupied Korea in the 1930s. It’s not the first time the Seoul-based auteur has adopted foreign-penned work – his 2009 vampire tale of self-repression, “Thirst,” was in fact based on Emile Zola’s “Therese Raquin.”

102716i-the-handmaiden-bThe term “fingersmith” refers to either a midwife or a pickpocket. Given the film’s title you might assume the former, and we start off by meeting Sook-Hee (Kim Tae-ri), a young Korean who tends to infants whose fates are more likely dictated by matters of profit than the kindness of charity. But the reality is it’s both – and fingers in general play a large part throughout. Sook-Hee’s plucked from among the nannies by the dashing Count Fujiwara (Jung-woo Ha) to become handmaiden to Lady Hideko (Min-hee Kim), who lives in a stately manse that would be a perfect fit for a Merchant-Ivory project. As quaint as this all is, we learn quickly that all is not that tidy and proper; Fujiwara isn’t Japanese, or even a nobleman – just a shrewd opportunist trying to get ahead during tumultuous times, and Sook-Hee, for all her nurturing, wholesome innocence, has a past of using her dexterously light fingers for illicit gains. Continue reading

Doctor Strange

6 Nov

What is it about superhero movies that takes top-shelf thespians and reduces them to two-dimensional ashes? Patrick Stewart was able to maintain his poise in “X-Men,” and Robert Downey Jr. formed an amiably snarky extension of himself as brash billionaire Tony Stark in “Iron Man,” but mostly actors slap on the muscle suit and spout platitudes. Don’t get me wrong – I love seeing Chris Evans square-jawed and righteous as Captain America, but what’s he like first thing in the morning? Is he a grump, does he loosen up after two beers, and does he ever have a bad hair day? Answers mortals need if they’re to relate.

110216i-doctor-strangeFor all their power and pop, these tales of the übermensch are pretty pat affairs; backstory and arch-villain, that’s how they go, a two-step do-si-do. “Doctor Strange,” sadly, is no exception, despite the more cerebral and human orientation of its protagonist and the inspired casting of Sherlock Holmes himself, Benedict Cumberbatch, as the doctor. It’s not for Cumberbatch’s lack of effort, but anytime you have a team of writers – three, in this case – tying to communally distill the tortured essence of an uber-being grappling with a newly acquired superpower, loss of former self and world annihilation by some unhinged megalomaniac with his hand on the button and a battalion of minions on call, you’re in a dark place. And we’re not talking about inner conflict.

The film begins promisingly enough, with Cumberbatch’s Dr. Stephen Strange showing off his cutting-edge skill as a neurosurgeon – grandiloquently so. He’s an arrogant can-do with a god complex, and would either bond immediately with Downey’s Tony Stark at a cocktail reception or get locked in a nasty head-to-head vying for the alpha male spot. Everything’s hunky-dory – there’s even playful banter and a spark of romance with the fetching, overworked ER doc (Rachel McAdams) – until Strange’s Lamborghini goes off the road, the result of distracted driving (looking at cranial scans while bobbing and weaving at 100 mph). In the crash, the doc’s life-saving hands are shattered, recovery is frustratingly slow and no procedure, no matter how experimental, can get him back to his scalpel jockey self. Broke and broken, Strange heads off to Kathmandu after hearing of a mystic cult where the mind heals the body. Continue reading