Friday, January 29, 2016
Northwood has steadily transformed from another depressed bit of urban blight to rows of creative bistros and art galleries. Places like Cafe Centro and Relish have been around for a few years. Others have come and gone; such is the nature of business. But Jeffery Thompson (owner of O-BO, a very good restaurant next door) has created a sure fire win, a place that has been an immediate hit since its opening last year.
The Grilled Cheese Gallery assumed a small spot formerly occupied by a Jamaican grill in a small strip plaza midway down Northwood Road. My wife and I went a few weeks back and had a hugely satisfying meal. The menu includes several decadent versions of the classic as seen above. I had the "Mondial": mozzerella and prosciutto on ciabatta with a side of fig jam. Excellent. My wife, who's had to cool it with carbs and spicy ingredients of late, had the "Disco", which has vegan cheese and tofu on wheat bread. Other sandwiches add meats and oyster mushrooms. Some folks dining next to us tried "A Night in Amsterdam", which is a heavenly sounding concoction of swiss, gouda, guyere, and cheddar.
I also tried the tomato basil soup. Nice blend of spices.
The menu even includes a few varieties of the Canadian favorite poutine! Next time.
The Grilled Cheese Gallery
30 Northwood Road, Suite 1
Tuesday, January 26, 2016
- Oscar Wilde
Alright, I'm not saying 2015's SPOTLIGHT is bad. Not at all. But it is not art. Aside from one pull away shot from a desk and a few moody night scenes I found nothing for the movie to earn that description. This highly acclaimed, based on a true story Oscar contender seeks to be an ALL THE PRESIDENT'S MEN for the twenty first century. Writer/director Tom McCarthy also explains his efforts to emulate the 1982 film THE VERDICT. Both of the earlier movies were straightforward, spare dramas that relied on words and silences to tell their stories. Perhaps nothing much "happened". But they were finely crafted, riveting films not merely because of their subjects, important as they may have been.
SPOTLIGHT is all about its subject. A very important precedent was set in Boston in the early oughts of this century. A quartet of Globe investigative reporters known as "Spotlight" break not only the local story of the Archibishop of Boston's cover-up of a pedophile priest's heinous activities, but likewise of dozens more Roman Catholic priests across the city. The story grows and grows. Walter Robinson (Michael Keaton) is the Spotlight head who guides his team (Mark Ruffalo, Brian d'Arcy James, and Rachel McAdams), all based on real reporters, to keep thinking bigger. All are working for Ben Bradlee Jr. (James Slattery, playing the son of the Washington Post ed.) and new editor Marty Baron (Liev Schrieber), who recognizes the story in the first place.
As in PRESIDENT'S MEN, the actors portray driven, sometimes compulsive workaholics whose family lives may or may not suffer for their quest. Stanley Tucci (who steals the film) plays an attorney for the victims and sums it up: "Never got married. Too busy. What I'm doing is too important". Ruffalo plays Michael Rezendes as what appears to be a slightly crazed, possibly undiagnosed Asperger patient. D'Arcy James (Matt Carroll) is a family man who discovers one of the pedophiles lives a block away. McAdams is all business but we do glimpse her home life with her nana, who still goes to Mass three times a week.
The film can't help but involve us in its story. We are there to discover each new shred of evidence, mostly to be found in public records, or at least those the church hasn't suppressed (one dramatic scene involves a plea to a judge to quash this). A sense of justice hits us when we read the end titles, alerting us that many cases of child rape at the hands of priests have occurred around the world, and been vindicated. You will definitely look to see if your town is on that list.
The church is generally painted as a malevolent, incestuous organization, though, hey, they do a lot of good for the community saith the defense attorneys who were only doing their jobs when they defended these monsters. McCarthy's efforts to explore the main characters' lapsed faith is also a bit clumsy and obvious, more elements of a T.V. movie level script.
And while I realize I have used this criticism many, many times, it is just oh so true of SPOTLIGHT. It is a fairly well written and acted drama, but only to the level of an HBO or Netflix series. Now, when you consider programs like The Wire and House of Cards, that's high praise. But they're still just television. Although, they're more cinematic than many movies. They explore themes to levels far more advanced than anything in SPOTLIGHT.
And the artistry is just not there. But people love what-you-see-is-what-you-get entertainment. Formulaic things like Law & Order. I crave something more. Too many movies are now resembling television. There is so much to explore about the subject of the Catholic church and its terrible secret, which of course never was one. Alan J. Pakula took dry facts and made magic in PRESIDENT'S MEN. Sidney Lumet took an age-old (though masterfully written by David Mamet) comeback story of a drunken attorney and made it elegant and thoughtful.
But no one can argue that SPOTLIGHT is not sincere.
Friday, January 22, 2016
1970's EL TOPO is without question one of the strangest movies I've ever seen. It was released during an era of great cinematic experimentation, when even Hollywood was green lighting all sorts of anti-Establishment tracts. Films distinguished by brutal lampoons and way out fantasy sequences. EL TOPO is two solid hours of surreality, of unchecked artistic freedom. I kept wanting to applaud it for its audaciousness, but enjoying it was another matter. I might save you the trouble of watching this film (you're welcome) by merely attempting to describe it - no easy task. It is absolutely only for those with open minds and adventurous tastes. A one-of-a-kind experience that follows up each unusual scene with something even more unusual. Some moments are unbelievably silly, as when a trio of bandidos drop a balloon on the ground in front of their rival and watch (and listen to) it deflate. Others are just plain weird, sometimes graphic.
Many artists - from John Lennon to Roger Waters - have sung their praises of EL TOPO. It is obvious that directors like Terry Gilliam and David Lynch have been influenced by it. I have no reservations in stating that Alejandro Jodorowsky is a talent with which to reckon, a man with a very particular vision. I have not seen his other films, but I did catch the documentary JODOROWSKY'S DUNE which recalled the director's failed efforts in the 1970s to mount an adaptation of Frank Herbert's celebrated novel. Before that, there was a large gap in my film knowledge; I had not even heard of Jodorowsky, though I was aware of one his later movies, SANTA SANGRE.
The writer/director, who also plays the title character has fashioned a tale that begins promisingly and intriguingly, then gets lost. He has much on his mind, concerns about religious hypocrisy, mainly. His targets are not merely Christians but Buddhists and maybe even Zoroastrians. Students of theology in fact may get the most out of this movie, though it's highly unlikely to be screened in any formal settings where they may congregate. Many will be appalled and grossed out by the plethora of gore and odd sexual elements. An example: a woman with a man's voice offers another woman a part of a cactus that has been split open, resembling a vagina. They proceed to lick it.
Jodorowsky will, of course, explain the necessity of such a scene. How even the most seemingly indefensible moments have a purpose and some Meaning. If I watched the film a dozen times I'm sure I could begin to make connections and "see" things I hadn't before, even if I hadn't eaten the brown acid.
Thankfully, when a man castrates himself we're spared a close up. But there is a pile of stones that resembles a penis, with a fountain of water spurting upwards. There is mutilation of humans and animals. A club specializing in orgies where a man and his dwarf girlfriend are invited to participate in a mock "wedding night". Many, many people are shot throughout the movie. There are several instances of sustained weird and annoying sounds (chants, the baaaing of sheep). The violence erupts every few minutes.
EL TOPO begins with the mysterious titular character as he roams the desert with his naked young son, Hijo. On a quest for something. El Topo tells the kid to bury a picture of his mother, to transition into manhood. They journey into a river of blood, that of the unlucky inhabitants of a Mexican town ruled by a corpulent, evil Colonel. After the despot is slaughtered, El Topo will ride off with the Colonel's slave woman who he dubs, "Mara". The boy is left behind. Mara will convince her savior to go to kill four famous gun masters, each of whom represents a particular philosophy. The movie itself has chapters like "Psalms" and "Armegeddon".
Later, after El Topo is doubled crossed and left for dead, the Western gives way to something that kinda resembles a romance, though the disturbing imagery gets even worse. The central character awakens to find he is being revered as a a type of god. From this point, EL TOPO's perversity becomes uncontained, over the top. Some scenes work, particularly the Russian roulette during a church service; your points are loud and clear, Alejandro. But other scenes are far more oblique, especially when the narrative brings El Topo's grown son (now a monk) into the fold
EL TOPO, for all of its faults and excesses, is too bold and thoughtful to dismiss, but also too messy to recommend. I guess the film can be taken as "weird for weird's sake", the way some do with Lynch movies. But the digging required to unearth Jodorowsky's points is truly up to you, as is whether the energy to do so may be better spent elsewhere.
Wednesday, January 20, 2016
A few years ago, the group began to splinter. The vivacious septuagenarian Harry (well documented on this blog) passed away in his home in 2012. Some time later my in-laws' next door neighbors literally left in the middle of the night; it seems that the husband was involved in some sort of scam and someone caught wind of him (crazy story). Another lady, we'll call her Ava, refreshingly sophisticated in her speech, became unable to drive. My MIL had a fight (culminating in tossed red wine on a white shirt) with a particularly cranky Italian guy in the group and they were estranged for awhile, though reconciliation followed within a year. You also learned that my step father in law died from pancreatic cancer last April.
The gatherings continued, albeit far from regularly. The departed were greatly missed, but the others - including a former fashion model and her younger, loud, good ol' boy beau - kept things lively. The cranky Italian guy's health continues to decline, but he still kept a daily work out routine in his garage. His behavior had always been iffy - swore like a sailor, drank too much (not unrelated, of course) - but last year he seemed to mellow, especially with my step FIL's passing. Many of us were/are surprised he's still with us.
So when MIL decided on New Year's Day that she would "get the old gang back together" it seemed like a good idea. I picked up the vehicle-less lady (also a former model, BTW) and met the rest back at the house. Everyone was chatty and things were fine for a little while. While there weren't as many hors d'ouevres as in the past (Italian guy and his wife used to bring a tasty antipasto), the snackies were hitting the spot. A traditional good luck meal of ham and beans was complimented by all. Meanwhile, Italian guy, we'll call him Tony, had been downing the vino steadily but without incident.
Tony wanted another glass. My MIL denied him. Tony got angry and started using four letter words. But to back up a bit, apparently some of the other guests brought a wine bottle that was filled with some fruity non-alcoholic beverage intended for Tony. They assumed he wouldn't know the difference, hoping it would work like a placebo or something. My MIL poured for him, thinking she was giving him the innocuous stuff, but apparently there was a mix-up. Like in a bad sitcom. Tony started throwing tantrums, complaining that everyone else "was allowed to drink what they wanted". Things got so bad that the good ol' boy, we'll call him Steve, had to drive he and his wife back home (he had also brought them).
After this, our party was down to four. Ava was lamenting what had become of her life. Estranged son. Ruined credit. Stories of FBI investigations of her. Wild stories. It was depressing. And what to believe? Is she delusional? What had happened to this lovely, erudite lady? She was still as articulate as ever, but reduced to singing the blues. I pray for her often.
The entire thing was depressing, honestly. Recalling the soirees of the past, a group of active, fun loving souls. You want it to last forever, or at least a while longer. Not meant to be, I reckon. And I guess my patients are correct when they repeatedly tell me, "Old age ain't for sissies". I think you should pray for them too.
Sunday, January 17, 2016
1953's THE BIG HEAT is one jewel of a movie. A tough, seemingly straightforward photo play of good versus evil that merits serious post viewing analysis. All of the elements were there for me: classic noir, Fritz Lang as director, an early role for Lee Marvin. I watched it late one night expecting just a good ol' programmer set within a cinematic landscape I love. I'm always down for a noir. When it was over, it was impossible to succumb to heavy eyelids right away. This was a complex, searing drama that even Euripides might've imagined.
Tom Duncan commits suicide. He was a cop who, according to his widow Bertha (Jeannette Nolan), was very ill. Sergeant Dave Bannion (Glenn Ford) is not so eager to close the case, even if everyone else, including his superior, Lieutenant Wilks (Willis Bouchey), are. Too many variables. Then Bannion meets a woman named Lucy (Dorothy Green) who says she was Duncan's mistress. She too disagrees with the open and shut verdict. Then she turns up dead.
Mike Lagana (Alexander Scourby) is the town's overlord, a mobster who has the police department in his pocket - they even provide security for his house parties. Bannion seems to be the only one who isn't afraid of him, confronting him in his home after threatening phone calls invade his happy domecile. It is there that Bannion has a loving wife (Joyce Brando) and daughter. The lawman truly believes he can keep domestic bliss apart from the town's corruption. Then a bomb detonates in his car, the one his wife was using for an errand. Bannion's transformation into one man vigilante is hastened by his department's lack of initiative to apprehend the murderers.
In the name of justice, many will suffer. Injustice befalls those who would seek to help Bannion on the case. I thought of the little seen HICKEY AND BOGGS, an early '70s crime drama in which death follows the policemen of the film's title like a shadow. When the departed have been avenged, how many will have joined them in that pursuit? An unavoidable by product? THE BIG HEAT poses questions like these, though as you're watching you mostly get caught up in the mission, the singlemindedness to make the slimeballs pay. This would include the character that a late 20s-ish Marvin plays, Lagana's hot headed second in command, Vince. His one-of-a-kind persona was already apparent.
Vince's much abused girlfriend is Debby (Gloria Grahame), by all accounts a "bad girl" who eventually assists Bannion in his awful quest, and not without consequence. Note the infamous coffee scene. Her character almost becomes a reverse Harvey Two-Face. I was impressed how the patented femme fatale character was rethought for this movie. Debby suffers, as do many women in this film, for both the sins and good deeds of the male characters. But also for a woman, Bertha, in whom Debby sees a similar persona: "we're the same under these minks." Sydney Boehm's adaptation of William P. McGivern's novel and a Saturday Evening Post serial makes some interesting points about a woman's place in this world designed by their other halves. Pretty heady for a film made in an era when the fairer sex were often portrayed in the media as subservients who were forever expected to have dinner on the table.
Lang orchestrates deftly. His direction is compact but beautifully composed. Thrilling, too. With every meeting among the characters the whiff of danger is about, owing to stellar performances but also to Lang's business about them. And for its time there is quite a bit of violence, though the emotional sort is even more scalding.
Wednesday, January 13, 2016
Post editor Ben Bradlee (Jason Robards) and colleagues were naturally very cautious with each article they published. Lest they be perceived as having a bias. I'm not old enough to remember the events depicted in 1976's ALL THE PRESIDENT'S MEN, so maybe readers who recall the atmosphere of the time can tell me if cries against the "liberal media" were as despairing as they've been in more recent years. Bradlee, a hotshot reporter who'd been in his share of hot water back in the day, trusted his boys, whom he eventually dubbed "Woodstein". While there was some requisite scolding over the inevitable backlash from some articles, declarations of misquotes and such, in the end the crusty old cuss would quietly instruct them to "print that baby". Well, along with an acknowledgment that this historic reporting would possibly lead to the end of the free press, etc. No pressure.
And for Woodward and Bernstein, two very different men who nonetheless shared a tireless singlemindedness, it was do or die. Be right or find another career. Associate Post editor Harry M. Rosenfeld (Jack Warden) calls them "hungry". "Remember when you were hungry?" he asks his colleague Howard Simmons (Martin Balsam). It all sounds like good fodder for a movie, and ALL THE PRESIDENT'S MEN takes the true life drama of Watergate and its fallout and, while this obviously the forms central plot, the film wisely focuses on the two reporters. Therefore, maybe a regular documentary would not have been as effective?
The reporters play detective. Piece by piece, interview by interview. Woodstein also are kind of like salesmen, trying to get their feet into your living room to get you to listen to their pitch. Then get you to reveal things. Couple of persuasive young men, they. You might even call them benignly conniving. Note their strategies and follow-up visits with Judy Hoback Miller (Jane Alexander, Oscar nominated), the bookkeeper for the Committee to Re-elect the President. But you could argue that she was just looking for the right person to which to confess.
Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman are perfect in the central roles. They sell their respective portrayals of Woodward and Bernstein so thoroughly that for stretches you may forget their Hollywood lengendry. Redford shepherded the project and didn't initially intend to star, but what a solid choice. The actors spent time with their real life counterparts and absorbed their personas: Woodward's Midwest naivete and Bernstein's slick borderline hucksterism. They do clash early on; in one interesting scene Woodward watches as Bernstein secretively edits an article the former had just turned in. After admitting his partner's version is better written and clearer, Woodward states "I don't mind that you did it. I mind the way you did it."
Redford and Hoffman memorized each others lines so that when they talk over each other it really does sound like two aggressive and increasingly desperate young bucks who have to make that big sale, er, get that story. I also called them detectives. Many scenes involve their efforts to interpret their interviewees' (in person and over the telephone) words, and what was said between the lines. The effect becomes nearly hypnotic. Director Alan J. Pakula does a masterful job of sustaining a level of suspense that is as riveting as that of any traditional thriller.
Pakula also continues his "paranoia" genre (KLUTE, THE PARALLAX VIEW), bringing it to its absolute pinnacle with ALL THE PRESIDENT'S MEN. From the opening shots of the burglary to the parking garage meetings with "Deep Throat" (Hal Holbrook) and with all those sinister and frightening sounding voices on telephone lines, there is a palpable atmosphere of anxiety that has become a genre unto itself, one of my favorites. Frightening and unnerving to the final typewriter keystrokes.
Monday, January 11, 2016
Thursday, January 7, 2016
Yuki is a young woman whose mission, and possibly fate, was sealed before she was even born. Her mother watched her husband and child slaughtered right in front of her by a quartet of criminals. Sayo, the mother, is raped and indentured to one of the four for a time before eventually slashing him with a knife. Later, while in prison, Sayo gives herself over to prison guards, hoping to conceive a child who will be bred to avenge her family.
LADY SNOWBLOOD, recently remastered by the folks at Criterion, announces its four chapters with onscreen titles, just like Quentin does. There are flashbacks of young Yuki's training with a stern but loving priest who subjects her to exercises like rolling down hills in barrels and endless sword drills. To breed a killer, an asura, but as we hear in voice over, someone who still has a heart. Yuki will, with the help of her old mentor and later, a writer who decides to tell her story, hunt down the assailants, one of which is a woman.
Norio Asada adapts the Lady Snowblood manga into a twisty, downbeat tale that mimics the character of the Buddhist god Asura - low ranking deities caught in an endless cycle of violence and conflict. Revenge stories often satisfy audience's blood lust with mere actions, rarely pausing to consider the corrosion of soul of the avenger. Yuki is more complex than that, able to grimly carry out her task but seems to possess a perspective on it all. Thankfully, director Toshiya Jujita does not overdo this notion with verbose discussions or excessively rendered inner thoughts. Having seen many such films, I expect the hero(ine) to reach the last hacked corpse with a sense of disappointment and confusion, a sudden lack of purpose after the directive has been carried out. LADY SNOWBLOOD has lots of surprises up its sleeve (even a Scooby Doo type moment!), turning that expected cliched moment into something different.
So as QT watched this arterial spray epic and its 1974 sequel, I can imagine his black little heart racing with ideas as to how to steal/pay homage to yet another grim bit of '70s cinema. With every bloody frame I thought of the future auteur not only out of deja vu (the guy unapologetically lifts entire scenes), but how a devotee's creative spirit can be fired.
Don't let your love for the KILL BILL films keep you away from LADY SNOWBLOOD, a solidly entertaining and even at times meditative journey down a familiar path that reveals more than a few side roads.
Monday, January 4, 2016
Frontier justice is also a brand, Quentin (and many others) would argue, used by the law enforcement in early 21st century America. Baseless open fire on unarmed victims. Very open interpretation of probable cause. Story after story these days. You may have read about Quentin's dust up with the cops over some statements he made months back. Police departments around the country threatened to boycott his new movie, whatever that meant. An admirably unrepentant Tarantino refused to back down, explaining that his use of the word "murderers", while intended to describe some officers, wasn't intended as a generalization of all.
If you watch THE HATEFUL EIGHT with the latter day parallel in mind, you'll see generous imagery to that effect: a defenseless woman repeatedly socked in the face and abused, racial profiling and denigration (QT does love the word "nigger", though this time even a white man, in flashback, finds himself on the wrong end of crushing humiliation of racial bullying), ambiguous behavior among those espousing the Law. I didn't catch an obvious dig at 2nd Amendment clutching but I suppose that case could be made.
As with the writer/director's most recent films, a bit of revisionist history is on display in all of its blood splattered, foul mouthed glory. Many of the themes explored in DJANGO UNCHAINED are continued in THE HATEFUL EIGHT. The most obvious take away is that race and lawman and civilian relations are the same as they ever were. I also always admire Quentin for his efforts with characterization, taking what are essentially cartoon characters and giving them complexity and verbosity. It's little wonder that this project's beginning as a live reading became a success, enough to convince the writer to make the movie after all (he was understandably quite pissed when his script was leaked online). In his new film, he may have reignited his success with deeper psychological study ala JACKIE BROWN that was sidelined by the spectacle films that followed. You may recall that the 1997 film was quite restrained, a more mature bit of storytelling among the former video clerk's resume. There was no over-the top eleventh hour carnage.
Most of the action in HATEFUL EIGHT takes place in an outpost in Wyoming during a fierce blizzard, after the Civil War. Several characters are assembled, all proving to be despicable, though some have redeeming qualities and exhibit moments that might be considered heroic. For those of you in constant need of someone to root for, you'll be mightily frustrated. I happen to find such characters far more engaging, and applaud Quentin for turning the entire good vs. evil notion on its (bloody) ear.
Kurt Russell and Sam Jackson play bounty hunters. Jennifer Jason Leigh is Russell's prisoner, a loathsome criminal destined for the hangman's gallows. RESERVOIR DOGS co-stars Tim Roth and Michael Madsen play the hangman and a mysterious cowboy. Bruce Dern is a former Confederate General. Walton Goggins is a sheriff who says he will be the one to pay the bounty on the prisoner's head. There's another mysterious character, a Mexican (Demien Bichir) left in charge of the outpost after the owner takes a trip to visit her mother. Channing Tatum is, well, you'll just have to see the movie.
Some of these folks are lying about their occupations. Some are secretly working together. There are lots of surprises in this serpentine tale, and anyone who says the movie is predictable is just as dishonest as the characters. The movie, yes, has strong evocations of QT's RESERVOIR DOGS and the 1982 remake of THE THING (which starred Russell). Some of composer Ennio Morricone's score for THE HATEFUL EIGHT even uses discarded cues for the old John Carpenter flick. Quentin's movie has been called a "mystery Western" and a "stage play on film" and neither is inaccurate. Some have complained of how talky it all is but that is a QT trademark. The dialogue, by the way, is not as hip and knowing as in the past, but there are some golden moments for each actor. Surprisingly, the use of music is not as astute this time out. Is Quentin Tarantino trying something different? Mining deeper subtext? Further commenting about the present through devices of the past?
Ah, but the violence, when it arrives, will satisfy even the most carniverous among you. That has not changed (nor has the non-linear storytelling). I thought it would be hard to outdo the squib busting climax of DJANGO but Quentin manages, with show stopping bloodletting that even gives many horror films competition. Shades of STAGECOACH will morph into THE WILD BUNCH and THE LONG RIDERS before the credits. And kudos to Leigh for braving some, uh, CARRIE-like makeup effects, and her performance is damned admirable. Fearless, even.
NOTE: I saw THE HATEFUL EIGHT during its "Roadshow" presentation, in spectacular 70mm, the first movie shot this way in fifty years. This is really the way to see Robert Richardson's gasp worthy cinematography, even when most of the time we merely see the interior of a cabin. The three hour plus showing included an overture, intermission, and nifty collectible program, just like in the old days. If you can catch these special presentations I would highly recommend it. God bless QT's devotion to celluloid and the preservation of the whole "movie experience".