Archive | January, 2019

Piercing

30 Jan

‘Piercing’: He only thinks he called in a victim, but she’s his adversary in a psychopathic game

 

Nicolas Pesce’s “Piercing” unfurls a wild psychosexual thriller rife with S&M depravity and bloody parlor games. It’ll likely be compared to the macabre works of Chan-wook Park (“Oldboy,” 2003) and Takashi Miike’s “Audition” (1999), and fairly so: Miike’s bloody mating game was based on a novel by Ryû Murakami, who is also behind the material in “Piercing,” though Pesce’s followup to his equally eerie debut, “The Eyes of My Mother” (2016), isn’t quite as visceral. “Piercing” is sleek and stylish, like its posh hotel setting, but the blood-soaked cat-and-mouse between the two mains lacks motive, and doesn’t quite resonate.

We begin with a father (Christopher Abbott) hovering over an infant with an icepick – yeah, the piercing here is not goth, but more aligned with Sharon Stone’s foxy femme fatale in “Basic Instinct.” “You know what we have to do, right?” the baby says, or at least it does in the father’s head, à la Son of Sam. Reed kisses his wife and child goodbye and sets off on a faux business trip to that swank hotel, where he arranges for a call girl and goes about the careful choreography of a murder, including the feature act with an icepick, hacking up the body and the tough task of severing the head – all with grim audio effects by Pesce as a prelude of what’s to come. Or maybe not.

The statuesque call girl, Jackie (Mia Wasikowska, from Tim Burton’s “Alice in Wonderland” and Park’s “Stoker”) has a few skeletons in her closet as well. When Reed check on her in the cavernous bathroom, she’s piercing herself with a pair of scissors – plans upended. After a trip to the hospital, after Reed readjusts on the belief Jackie might offer herself up sacrificially, things flip and Reed finds himself bound and tied. Back and forth the evening goes, drugs, oozing open wounds and visions of past victims filling the frame. There’s a haunting zoom-in of someone in a gimp mask having sex with a gagged woman who, if not Reed’s wife (Laia Costa), is a dead ringer.

Wasikowska pulls off the role of Jackie convincingly, adding some demonic spin without going over the top. Abbott is weak tea by comparison, unable to match Wasikowska’s rising intensity; a bravura performance like Christian Bale’s in “American Psycho” (2000) is demanded here, but not delivered. It’s not all on Abbott’s shoulders, however; Reed is never fleshed out – we never really understand the need to bleed others, and those calls back home to discuss how the plan is coming along befuddle when they should beguile and revile. Still, scrumptious framing and intimate intrigue carry “Piercing” boldly forward, pick in hand drawing the viewer’s wincing eye.

Korean Food Returns to Poter Square

27 Jan

 

The ok dol bibimbap with salmon, served in a sizzling hot stone bowl is a classic at Chocho’s in Porter Square. (Photo: Tom Meek)

ChoCho’s, the Korean eatery among a half-dozen Asian choices at 1815 Massachusetts Ave., reopened last month after being closed since a May electrical fire. After much remodeling and mitigation, and despite 16 years in Porter Square, the restaurant has struggled with staffing and regrowing its clientele.

In correspondence with co-owner Eunmi Cho and her son Walter, the Chos said they were greatly relieved to have their regulars back, but the costs of rebuilding and insurance process has taken its toll. Eunmi and her husband Sang also run Yotopia, the neighboring shop with bubble tea, self serve fro-yo and other treats, which stayed open during the seven months ChoCho’s was closed.

The renovated space has been enlarged some, and the menu slimmed down, but savory classics  remain, such as the ok dol bibimbap served in a sizzling hot stone bowl (rice, veggies and a choice of protein – bulgogi, chicken or salmon), the signature soondubu tofu soup that comes with banchans (little snack plates such as kimchi and seaweed salad) and marinated short ribs (kalbi) from the grill. They’ve added a popular bulgogi taco.

ChoCho’s Korean eatery has been in Porter Square for 16 years, with a seven-month gap recovering from a fire. (Photo: Tom Meek)

ChoCho’s is one of the few Korean eateries in Cambridge, even among the neighboring food court-style offerings. Coincidentally, on the day ChoCho’s caught fire, there was also a fire at Koreana, owned by Eunmi’s brother Jae Chung (who ran the Jae’s chain of restaurants in the 1990s); it reopened almost immediately, though.

The holiday timing, when students are away, may have contributed to a slow reboot at ChoCho’s. That said, Yume Ga Arukara Udon (from the owners of Yume Wo Katare, five minutes’ walk up Massachusetts Avenue) has been drawing long lines of udon seekers across the hall since its rave from Bon Appetit. ChoCho’s has udon too, as well as healthy menu offerings that could please people signing up at Planet Fitness downstairs, and whole the cold may keep some away, the stone bowl bibimbap is a perfectly delicious solution for it, with crispy cooked rice and sweet  and spicy gochujang (chili) sauce. But you can’t top the chill-eradicating delight of a boiling bowl of soondubu tofu soup (in vegetable, seafood, bulgogi and kimchi versions) that you drop a raw egg into and let cook. It comes in varying degrees of spice – best to go up if you can; it’s a great cold chaser and nose-clearing medley of flavors. 

“We are excited to be back up and running,” Eunmi said via an email. “It’s as if nothing happened, and I hope future customers who have never eaten at ChoCho’s come enjoy what we have to offer.”

Dope Comes to Town

27 Jan

 

Experts who gathered Jan. 17 to talk about the arrival of recreational marijuana included state Sen. Pat Jehlen, city planner Jeff Roberts, police Sgt. Lou Cherubino and David Lakeman of the state Cannabis Control Commission. Moderator Jeff Byrnes is at right. (Photo: Tom Meek)

A recreational marijuana dispensary is likely to open in Cambridge as early as this spring, officials said at a meeting last week in Porter Square where residents learned about the requirements to open one, and how laws about use would be enforced.

Three medical marijuana dispensaries are open and three more have been approved for opening by the Planning Board. But zoning for recreational marijuana shops hasn’t taken effect – a proposed law was ordained Dec. 17 by the City Council for discussion by its Ordinance Committee and by the Planning Board, but neither body has announced meeting dates. (Dennis Carlone, who leads the Ordinance Committee with councillor Craig Kelley, said he hoped the conversation would happen in February, but it was preferable for the Planning Board to meet first.)

There was no clear rise in crime or motor vehicle accidents in states with legal recreational use of marijuana, officials said, looking at preliminary data from Colorado, which legalized recreational marijuana in 2012 with Washington. Some data suggest that legalization of recreational marijuana correlates with a decrease in opioid use, a yearslong urban epidemic.

The Jan. 17 event, billed as “Legal Pot: The Status and Possible Effects on All of Us” was organized by the Porter Square Neighbors Association. Panelists were David Lakeman, director of government affairs for the Massachusetts Cannabis Control Commission; state Sen. Pat Jehlen, chairwoman of the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Marijuana Policy; Jeff Roberts, director of zoning and development for the City of Cambridge; and Sgt. Lou Cherubino, of the Cambridge Police Department. Jeff Byrnes, a Somerville member of the association, moderated.

There was concern from the opening of the first recreational marijuana dispensary, Cultivate in the Central Massachusetts town of Leicester, which tied up traffic Nov. 20 and caused community anxiety, making front page news. But as one of only two marijuana retailers on the East Coast at the time, it drew customers from as far away as New Jersey, Leicester Town Administrator David Genereux was quoted as saying in the Worcester Business Journal. (The two dozen residents at the meeting were told incorrectly additional traffic was generated by a Walmart Supercenter opening at the same time.)

Good for business

Since late November, Massachusetts has seen recreational marijuana sales begin in at least two more locations – NETA in Northampton and Northeast Alternatives in Fall River – suggesting there would be less traffic impact along with a decrease in novelty and rarity. Easthampton, Salem and Wareham also had approvals for sales to begin.

Lakeman outlined ways in which retail pot would be good for business, including a requirement that all marijuana sold in Massachusetts must be produced here as well. Many of the production facilities, which require ample space and real estate, are reactivating old, shutdown industrial facilities north and west of Route 128.

Elaborate application processes include a host community agreement, with a tax of 3 percent or greater paid to offset potential traffic, education and enforcement impact, and there are social equity and economic empowerment components meant to repay damage done to people of color by the war on drugs, Lakeman and Jehlen said.

Rules and restrictions

Roberts outlined marijuana zoning rules saying facilities cannot be within 1,800 feet of each other – although there is already a zoning amendment request that an exception be made in East Cambridge – and that facilities be at least 300 feet from schools and other public recreational facilities where children gather. The state recommendation is 500 feet.

Not all residents were pleased by the lesser distance, and Jehlen said her big concern for youth was the rise of vaping and the targeting of youth as users. Other big complaints, panelists said of states with recreational marijuana use, have been the smell.

Consuming recreational marijuana in public, while decriminalized, is still an offense and can bring fines, Cherubino said. Possession of more than 10 ounces of non-medicinal marijuana is a criminal offense.

Cold War

20 Jan

‘Cold War’: When Iron Curtain falls on love, you really can’t just sing your troubles away

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“Cold War,” that other gorgeous black-and-white film in a foreign language (opposite Oscar fave “Roma”), tells the tale of an improbable love made even more improbable by world-shaping events that unite and rip apart the lovers across decades, shifting borders and political ideologies. It’s heartbreaking, deep in romantic angst and propelled by sound and music.

The well-known subject of the title is the film’s driving force. We catch up after World War II with Wiktor (Tomasz Kot) an accomplished pianist and musicologist wandering the Polish countryside recording song of the region, when he encounters Zula (Joanna Kulig), a young woman of the mountains with talent – and with a very dark past. It’s love at first note, but the two are torn apart by time, totalitarianism and station. She’s whisked off to a perform in a troupe entertaining the Russian upper brass under Stalin. He defects to the west, she even takes on work as an informant as Russia’s conformist tendrils wrap around and strangle the Polish spirit. Time and coincidence bring them back together for trysts, the passion etched upon their faces. They also take on other lovers and companions, but when they meet up in their old homeland, Yugoslavia or Paris, all that exists is each other.

The film, directed by Pawel Pawlikowski (who won the 2015 Foreign Language Best Film   Oscar for his conflicted nun drama, “Ida”) wins primarily on the all-consuming performance by Kulig. Her Zula is aloof, enigmatic and sensual. It’s like looking at a young Catherine Deneuve – you can’t take your eyes off her, and you’re not exactly sure what she’ll do next. In an early 1960s Paris nightclub, when Bill Haley’s “Rock Around the Clock” comes on the jukebox and, buzzed on bourbon and freed by the rock anthem, Zula takes over the club, a whirlwind of pixie dust that ends up sashaying across the bar top. It’s as infectious as it is outrageous. As Zula’s long-burning object of desire Wiktor, Kot’s no mere garnish; he has melancholy eyes that betrays his vulnerabilities. 

For some, the jumps in time and place between reunions and the personal and global events that fill those chasms might seem like too much for a love that has never been allowed to blossom, but that’s kind of the point of “Cold War.” It’s about a love that is incapable of being squelched no matter what is thrown at it – the Iron Curtain, nuclear proliferation, insidious spy games or government-sponsored hit squads, take your choice. Of course, the stark framing in black and white serves to emboss the improbable union. It’s got fairy tale trimmings and dreamily romantic gazes, but this is about as far from Hollywood as one can get and still be in love in every frame.

Glass

17 Jan

Glass’: In face-off two decades in the making, Shyamalan reveals he’s lost his powers again

 

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Back in 2008 I just about threw in the towel on M. Night Shyamalan after the pointless “The Happening” made its way to the big screen. Never before had something so deadly but mysterious (was it the trees?) seemed so silly and inane – “Bird Box,” similar in concept, is a massive step up by comparison. “Signs” (2002) and “The Village” (2004) were big finale-twist flicks that tried too hard to emulate the skillful sleight of hand that Shyamalan’s classic “The Sixth Sense” did in 1999, but the artifice was obvious too early. “The Visit” (2015) resurrected my faith. It was something different, a horror-in-the-woods psychological thriller B movie with “American Gothic” granddad and grandma as class A homicidal nuts with warm smiles on their faces and cups of cider in their hands. “Split” (2016) seemed another quirky turn for Shyamalan akin to “The Visit,” as it focused on a disturbed young man (James McAvoy) who takes young women hostages, horrifies and fascinates them with his 20 or so personalities and ultimately mutilates them with a superhuman persona known as The Beast (both a physiological and psychological transformation). It felt like an intriguing one-off driven by a fantastic performance by McAvoy, showing range and humor you suspected he had but had yet to see – but wait, what’s that at the end? A tie back to Shyamalan’s 2000 superhero-among-us flick, “Unbreakable.”

If you missed “Split” but are a fan of “Unbreakable” I can give you the green light to proceed here and see “Glass” without hesitation. Bruce Willis is back as David, Philly’s working-class man of steel who, as the lone survivor of a massive train wreck, is somehow able to fall from great heights without a scratch. He’s still lurking on the streets in his green rain poncho, doing minor bouts of vigilante good and pissing off the police. Samuel L. Jackson, as the evil mastermind who blew up the train in “Unbreakable,” reprises his title character, Mr. Glass. It’s a nice reunion, but what do these rivals have to do with McAvoy’s Kevin Wendell Crumb? Well, Glass has been incarcerated in an asylum and drugged up for 19 years, while David, investigating a slew of cheerleader massacres, susses out the Beast & Co., nabbing him on the cusp of his next slaughter; for the effort, he and The Beast end up with Glass in the ridiculously low-security asylum. Enter Dr. Ellie Staple (Sarah Paulson) who for some reason has three days to convince the trio that their superhuman skills are delusions – and then, it’s implied, they all get to go free? Cockamamie convolution to be sure, but Glass, more obsessed with comic books and superhero history than Kevin Smith, believes his arch-villain magnum opus will be to break David and The Beast out and have them wage battle on the new Osaka skyscraper towering above the Philly skyline. (I kept thinking Nakatomi Plaza, more a lingering effect from my repeated Christmas viewings of “Die Hard” than Willis’ presence.)

There’s more to the too-long-to-get-to-the-point buildup than I care to explain, including the fact David has a son (Spencer Treat Clark) and that one of the survivors from “Split” (Anya Taylor-Joy) shows up; while they’re fine, they only add more stumbling blocks to an already clunky confluence. (I never got why Willis’ David always wore that vinyl rain poncho. To hide his identity? A thick vinyl rain jacked is a sauna, and too flimsy and vision-obstructing for real combat.) It’s not that “Glass” doesn’t entertain, but it does so mostly on the performance by McAvoy and, to a lesser extent, Jackson and Paulson, who’s not given much to work with. Willis strangely mumbles his through the film and never raises a brow above nonchalance, even when David first encounters The Beast. The most eye-catching of all is Shyamalan, who in a brief Hitchcock insertion makes Quentin Tarantino look like Peter Finch – “stilted” is the word. The film wraps with what’s supposed to be a cathartic coming together, but even that, orchestrated in a Philly train terminal with folks having a universal iPhone epiphany, makes about as much sense as the whispering trees in “The Happening.”

Mandy

17 Jan

‘Mandy’: Hunting for revenge in the woods from hell raisers that forced him to see red

 

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Barry Manilow’s timeless classic will never sound the same after you drink in this midnight cult curio that’s the bloody union of arthouse horror and a bad ’70s head trip. You can already stream it for a fee on Amazon, but the rich artistic palette of red and black (it would make a wicked, stomach-churning double feature with the recent “Suspiria” reimagining) and Nic Cage’s gurgling snarls are best suited for a full, immersive theater experience. “Mandy” is wicked mayhem that’s certainly not for all, and the unwary curious will undoubtably have to avert their eyes during the graphic scenes of ritualized sacrifice, but it’s getting served up regardless for a three-day weekend run at The Brattle Theatre starting Friday (late-night shows only).

Shot in Brussels, but ostensibly taking place in the cold, remote hills of someplace like New Hampshire in the early 1980s, “Mandy” pulls on a battery of horror-genre tropes without feeling ersatz or anemic. Much of that’s due to Cage’s overstuffed performance and director Panos Cosmatos’ relish for revenge, rage and raw imagery. Like “Last House on the Left,” Cage’s Red Miller and his gal – the subject of the inspired title – Mandy (Andrea Riseborough) are a relatively chill couple living a spare simple life out in the woods. He logs, she’s an artist. But one day the leader of a nomadic cult known as the Children of the New Dawn (Linus Roache, from TV’s “Vikings”) catches a glimmer of Mandy and decides he wants “that.” The baddie here doesn’t have a cool name like Silas (like the cult leader from recent Nicole Kidman cop drama “Destroyer”) but Jeremiah Sand – perhaps uninspired names and titles are a means to lull before the spectacular Grand Guignol to come? But he’s far more the real deal when it comes to the macabre, be it mad, prophetic pontifications or slow, bleed-out crucifixions. Needless to say, Jeremiah, his followers and a loyal pack of S&M-clad minions whipping through the woods on dirt bikes and ATVs get their hooks into Mandy, which naturally sets off Red. 

Cage is perfectly over the top as the distraught, rampaging force of nature, and Cosmatos (his late father, George, directed the neo-classic western“Tombstone”) articulates every arterial spray and flesh-piercing plunge with prolonged, agonizing effect. Cinematically, the lush, dark camera work by Benjamin Loeb and the haunting score by the late Jóhann Jóhannsson, whose CV includes “Arrival,” goes far to sell the delectably gonzo bloodbath.  Between brutal beatdowns and bind-torture tie-ups, there’s a smattering of hallucinogenic drug trips (most not taken by choice)  and plenty of death metal to underscore the backwoods mayhem. If that’s not enough, there’s sword fighting with chainsaws, with one opponent wielding a woefully undersized blade. The political or theological agenda of the Children of the New Dawn is never clear, but that’s beside the point; like “Suspiria” or “Race with the Devil” (1975), it’s all about giving it back to the occult freaks so gleefully demonic and drenched in innocent blood.

Between Red’s acumen for bloodletting and Cosmatos’ pushing of boundaries in glamour gore, “Mandy” is poised for near-instant cult classic status. Sadly, not enough time’s allotted to Riseborough, who’s in something of a breakout season with this, “Nancy” and “The Death of Stalin.” The film revolves around her, though she’s never really here. And then there’s that Manilow song; go see “Mandy” and then cue up Barry’s song and see if its texture, tone and tenor isn’t knocked off its old familiar base.

Get Luce

16 Jan

Luce prepares opening on Shepard Street, lighter without heat of wood-fired drama

 

Luce is expected to open as early as this week on Shepard Street. (Photo: Tom Meek)

After a public battle with the neighborhood and hundreds of thousands of dollars spent on air purifying exhaust systems for smoke from its wood-fired grill, Shepard – an instant culinary darling for its inventive small plates menu and whole, wood-grilled chicken – closed at the end of last year. It wasn’t so much an end as a chance to reinvent the concept around a similar menu: René Becker opened Shepard with longtime area restaurateur Susan Regis in 2015; Regis bowed out, but not before installing an Italian brick pizza oven that will be key in Becker’s new endeavor.

The new eatery, in an updated facade just off Massachusetts Avenue on Shepard Street, is called Luce, after Becker’s elementary school-aged daughter, Lucy. The menu concocted with chef Scott Jones – already online – has Shepard-esque small plates, lobster salads, fava bean purée and tuna conserva. There are pizzas (fried calamari, pancetta and mushroom) and pasta dishes, half and whole sizes, and bigger plates of New York strip and sea bass. One might argue that the pizza and pasta dishes echo too much the offerings at nearby Giulia, which has lines out the door by 5 p.m., and Temple Bar, which has long offered pizza as a staple (a pizza oven fire a few years back almost shuttered the biz) and recently added homemade pasta dishes. Still, the other culinary offerings around the edges promise something new, and the mixology concoctions and wine list at Shepard were always top flight. It’s unclear how much of the interior is being resculpted; the old Chez Henri boasted a cozy bar, while Shepard was a singular open space where the bar flowed into the restaurant.

Becker is also owner of two nearby Hi-Rise bakeries. One classic at those eat-in, grab-out spots is the sweet and salty butter – unique and luscious in so many ways – made onsite. It was served with bread and dinner crackers at Shepard. One can only hope it returns at Luce. 

Luce is slated to open as early as this week.