Archive | April, 2020

Silent Panic

27 Apr

Don’t Open the Trunk!

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Kyle Schadt’s nicely composed thriller “Silent Panic” rolls out of the gate with some sharp teeth; there’s a dead body in the trunk of a car and none of three buddies who discover it at the end of a weekend camping trip knows how it got there. Naturally they all freak out about the what to do and because one of the trio’s a recent ex-con, they decide not go to the cops and leave the dead goth girl in the car as they banter about numerous plans to dispose of the body and hopefully rid themselves of its burden. The problem with “Silent Panic” then becomes that Schadt and crew don’t know how take it north from there and what ensures is a maddening meander of ridiculously poor decisions, and not the edgy kind that made “Uncut Gems” (2019) such a burner, but inert middling inanity that makes you want to pull your hair out.

As positioned, “Silent Panic” feels like Schadt envisioned something of a character driven film, but most of the trio lose their edge after the humorous campfire debate over who was Broadway Joe (Joe Montana or Joe Namath?) and if Genesis was better with or without Peter Gabriel. Plus the three really don’t seem like they have much in common. Eagle (Sean Nateghi), the ex-con is the snarling alpha male wannabe of the group while Bobby (Joseph Martinez), remains pretty much a wall flower until we learn he’s got some hard core drug use in his past and may be using currently, and then there’s Dominic (Jay Habre), the mealymouthed aspiring writer who occasionally gives us weak noir-ish voiceovers from his personal journal entries.

The most intriguing element of the plot besides the initial discovery, comes when the car suddenly goes missing—Eagle’s wife Robin (Constance Brenneman) has taken it for a spin and later, Bobby decides to store the corpse in his bathroom. As more and more people learn of the body—“River’s Edge” this is not—the gravity of what’s at stake for the main three begins to sag. Schadt unfortunately becomes far too focused on feeding us his character’s backstories—and they’re not all that interesting. The most unspectacular of which being Dominic’s dull dating life. When his girlfriend signs dumps him, you feel an immense sense of relief for her and barely a teabag of sympathy for him. The film finds its footing again as things come to a climax, but by that time, the macabre and edgy “Shallow Grave”-esque promise has become something slack and near comical, akin in tone to “The Trouble with Harry” or “Weekend at Bernie’s–the difference being those films set out to be dark forays of whimsy.

Restaurants in the time of Covid-19

24 Apr

Season to Taste, Pagu mix it up after Covid-19, giving to-go meals the flavor of improvisation

Robert Harris prepares a to-go meal Tuesday at Season to Taste in North Cambridge. (Photo: Tom Meek)

Before the Covid-19 crisis, we were preparing to profile two semi-finalist James Beard best chefs from Camberville: Tracy Chang of Pagu and Carl Dooley, over at Table at Season to Taste (the other locals on the list, Seizi Imura of Cafe Sushi in Harvard Square and Cassie Piuma, serving up Turkish infused plates at Ana Sortun’s Sarma in Somerville, are repeat nominees). Both shut down before Gov. Charlie Baker’s St. Patrick’s Day mandate to close restaurants. But the ovens have remained hot, reflecting where we are and where we are going.

While Table at Season to Taste remains shuttered, chef-owner Robert Harris has continued to evolve catering at umbrella company Season to Taste. “I’ve got a plan to get us back to normal,” said Harris, who was on a ski trip in Colorado when the mandate came down. He returned to Cambridge to lay off 30 employees. Part of his plan is to make Season to Taste’s traditionally “bespoke” catering for corporate events, weddings and parties – with menus dictated by the client – into a Season to Go, a food pickup service at the 2447 Massachusetts Ave., North Cambridge, storefront. Continue reading

Other Music

17 Apr

‘Other Music’: Coolest music shop in New York, capturing the moment in a corporate shadow

 

Virtual theater releases are about to become a thing. They are already happening at the Somerville and Coolidge Corner theaters, and come to the Brattle this week with “Other Music,” a cozy but somber documentary about a small alternative record shop in New York City’s East Village that shuttered in 2016. The store was so tiny, one manager says there was a height limit, because anyone too tall would hit their head; and all the record and aisle labels were handwritten by the staff, who had encyclopedic knowledge of cutting-edge music. Filmmakers Puloma Basu and Rob Hatch-Miller capture not only this quirkiness, but the social and cultural relevance of the venue, where staff was so sharp and knew their customer’s taste so well they often would get “pick ’em” requests from loyalists such as actor Benicio del Toro.

Defiantly, Other Music opened in the ’90s across from a Tower Records – and outlived its overshadowing titan. It never carried the latest from Dylan or Oasis; it was all about curating the next wave. Acts that would go on to soar nationally, including St. Vincent, Vampire Weekend and Neutral Milk Hotel (playing the classic acoustic “Two-Headed Boy”) played the store’s cramped confines, as seen in footage that is grainy and wonderful; Interpol, looking to get recognition early on, sold their handmade CDs at Other Music on consignment. Co-owner Josh Madell jokes that he and his early partners often invited dates to come in to the store to listen to music, then steered them toward tasks such as working the cash register. Testimony from myriad near-famous talking heads cites the store’s reputation for inclusivity before such notions ever became a woke battle cry.

One thing you can’t help but take from the film from a local standpoint are the parallels with beloved Stereo Jack’s Records on Massachusetts Avenue between Harvard and Porter Squares. It’s eerie, uncanny and undeniable, but also a statement about Stereo Jack’s existence and Other Music’s longevity, which speak to a culture beyond the bottom line – it’s all about the music and the community it infuses.

It’s not mentioned in the film but there was also a cousin Other Music store on Winthrop Street in Harvard Square, part of the Crimson Galeria, now a Shake Shack. That store shuttered in 2002.

Never Rarely Sometimes Always

4 Apr

‘Never Rarely Sometimes Always’: Pregnant, finding guys are manipulative jerks, Part II

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With the Covid-19 state of emergency and shutdown of movie theaters, we’re highlighting new streaming options for people stuck in their homes by social distancing.

Eliza Hittman’s short list of films have focused on teens involved in strange sexual relations with adults, be it a girl looking to blossom by hooking up with a ruffian in “It Must be Love” (2013) or a boy in “Beach Rats” (2017) seeking to discover himself by meeting up with older men he encounters online. Hittman’s latest, “Never Rarely Sometimes Always,” is something more subtle, yet equally dark in its exploration. The narrative structure here is lean and simple, buoyed by emotional depth and a pair of outstanding performances.

We meet up with teen Autumn (newcomer Sidney Flanigan), who likes to play guitar and sing and hang out with her cousin, Skylar (Talia Ryder,) in a podunk Pennsylvania burg. After a talent show we learn that tensions are high between Autumn and her stepdad (Ryan Eggold), who seemingly has it out for the eldest in his house, and that Autumn is pregnant and heading into her second term. The identity of the father is never laid out explicitly – there are a few possibilities, such as one boy who heckles her during the talent show, or another who makes a lewd, public sexual comment in a pizza shop; there are other less pleasant (relatively) prospects, as well. Besides her cousin and her clueless but caring mother (musician Sharon Van Etten) there doesn’t seem to be a lot of love for Autumn in the Mid-American strip mall of a town. When she goes to a clinic to confirm she’s pregnant, the practitioner plays a religious right anti-abortion PSA on teen pregnancies.

Autumn’s path takes her to New York City, where a minor doesn’t need parental permission to obtain an abortion. She’s got her cousin in tow and her mother in the dark, and you fear the city will eat them up – they don’t have much money, and the only person they know is a goofball by the name of Jasper (Théodore Pellerin) whom they met on the bus.

The meaning of the film’s wordy title: possible responses to a questionnaire at a clinic that give us insight into Autumn’s past. Hittman’s style here is so on-the-street and in-real-time, the film feels like a documentary, which gives “Never Rarely Sometimes Always“ a gritty, honest edge deepened by chemistry forged between Flanigan and Ryder (who will be in the upcoming Steven Spielberg “West Side Story” production) and their immersion into their respective characters. The unspoken bond of sisterhood and the weight of the world Autumn seems to bear go far behind the topographical anxiety in Bo Burnham’s satirically sharp “Eighth Grade” (2018).

Also this week I reviewed “The Other Lamb,” a curio about a cult of women led by an enigmatic Jesus figure. In that film, a young woman by the name of Selah (Raffey Cassidy) struggles with matters of sexuality and fertility under male-held reins. In countenance, and the intense pondering in her eyes, she’s Autumn’s kindred – trying to comply while trying to break out, fighting for her identify as she blossoms into womanhood.

 

The Other Lamb

4 Apr

‘The Other Lamb’: Lesson from cult life in woods is largely that guys are manipulative jerks, Part I

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With the Covid-19 state of emergency and shutdown of movie theaters, we’re highlighting new streaming options for people stuck in their homes by social distancing.

“The Other Lamb” is a twisted tale about a cult in the deep woods, dwelling in yurtlike structures adorned with pagan markings and living off the land, all female but led by a man known simply as the Shepherd (Michiel Huisman). The Shepherd lives well: His “Handmaiden” flock wash him and feed him, and the young women he selects get the can’t-say-no opportunity to “receive his grace.” The Shepherd, bearded and benevolent in countenance, evokes Jesus, but when things don’t go his way he acts like Machiavelli, relying on his divine righteousness and religiously obedient groupthink to ensure he gets what he wants. And then there’s that flock of sheep always nearby, peppered with a few anxious bull rams huffing and snorting with pent-up sexual energy, as if they want in on the fertility rites too.

In texture, the postured “Other Lamb” feels a lot like Robert Eggers’ 2015 Calvinist tale of the occult, “The Witch,” but at one point early on we get an incursion from the outside world and learn that we’re not toiling in a primitive, pre-electricity era. The main focus of the film is a young woman by the name of Selah (Raffey Cassidy, so good as Natalie Portman’s daughter in “Vox Lux” and a simmering realization here as well) whose mother had been a member of the cult and perished recently amid curious circumstance. Budding on the cusp of sexual availability, she’s eyed continually by the Shepherd, but Selah’s interested in learning what happened and stepping outside the confines of the cult. It’s such coming-of-age anxiety that gives the film a simmering tension beyond the raw sexual energy that’s heaped out there from frame one with “Wicker Man”-esque dankness.

Things meander as the group is forced to find a new Eden. The odyssey builds the character of Selah, and reveals other things at play beyond the Shepherd’s mercurial nature and the ever-present, heavy-breathing rams. Take the cult’s social order, which has the older women (Selah’s mom was one) referred to as “broken things” or “cursed wives,” both mentors and outcasts. And even though there’s the pronounced tang of Puritanism, the scene of the Shepherd baptizing young women in scanty albs would likely set the testosterone tinder of spring break bros afire once the anointed in their little-left-to-the-imagination garb are raised from the watery depths for air. It’s a weird, haunting modulation between austere religious regimentation, the Shepherd’s enigmatic id and the women’s individual freedoms offset and undercut by the power of group coercion. 

The film’s big win, besides Cassidy, is the gorgeous cinematography by Michal Englert (“The Congress”) rendering the vast Irish highlands as both foreboding and liberating. Overall, Polish director Malgorzata Szumowska delivers a confident and poised composition, crafting a spectacle of a man justifying entitlement by claims of divine right, even if feels done before.