New Movies / New Restaurants

Promising Young Woman, blood oranges, Truffle Hunters, and Dr. Clark.

A few weeks ago I stood outside a new Tex-Mex joint in the East Village waiting for a taste creamy beans and cheese enveloped in a flour tortilla. It was the first time I stood on a substantial line in over a year; I did not miss it. That day the sun had warmed through layers of snow and ice, and as it melted it and kerplunked from roof to awning, it sprayed out in all directions in a manner that followed physics but was invisible to naked eye, making a sad spectacle of my newly-damp self. It was like a rain cloud was positioned exactly and only over where I stood, Linus-style, and I could not escape until the queue ticked ahead, which happened incrementally. This is what March feels like, already the most atrocious month of the year now doubly gross when you remind yourself that it’s the anniversary of quarantine. All that’s good has passed and what there is to look forward to feels much too far away. Those tacos though — genuinely cosmic as advertised.


SHORT TAKES

  • The Truffle Hunters is more than Italian travel porn sparking Old World–wanderlust — though it is certainly that, too. See my review for Eater. (Many thanks to Derek, friend/colleague/tax-slayer for looking it over before I filed.)

  • Inexplicable derangement is the m.o. in Five Corners, in which John Turturro, freshly released from prison after attempting to rape Jodie Foster, tries befriend her.

  • Untitled Pizza Movie, a seven-part pizza documentary, is actually a portrait of friendship, loss, and trying to make it in this goddamned city keenly filmed with restrained nostalgia.

  • La Dolce Vita as a song.

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CITRUS SEASON

  1. Chicken salad with blood orange and chile oil, DeVonn Francis for Healthyish

  2. Parsnip salad with cara-cara oranges, black olives, scallion, Six Seasons by Joshua McFadden

  3. Almond polenta ricotta cake with blood oranges, Apt. 2B Baking via Liz Pruitt (Tartine) via London’s River Cafe


As a child the cake I ate was dry pebbles, glued together by copy-paper white frosting that tasted like warmed plastic. Unearthing good cake as a more fully formed human being has been one of life’s great pleasures, like discovering a new favorite director, author, or genre. Turns out, I had started with the bad ones. 

I remembered this as I tucked into a hefty wedge of parsnip-coconut layer cake baked by Natasha Pickowicz. It wasn’t wasn’t much to look at, shades of faded sunshine and worn paper bisected by a wedge of cream and jam, but the assuming slice belied its sophisticated taste. 

I shouldn’t have been surprised. The pastry chef had won me over and disproved my doubts with her desserts at Flora Bar (RIP) where she was a James Beard Award finalist. The bartender cordially recommended I order the sorbet, never my first or even third choice, this fradulent flavored water. But I entrusted him with my taste buds after scouring them with various grappas. That day’s sorbet, a mango rendition, shaped like flat white disc in a pool of pale yellow liquid, hid bird’s-eye chili and a sweet creaminess, whiplashing my senses into convoluted pleasure— and an ensuing lifetime of loyalty to Pickowicz.


Promising Young Woman

Emerald Fennell
Available to rent at the usual places

The first time feature director Emerald Fennell (not a pseudonym, just the expected outcome when you’re born to too posh parents) is too caught up walloping the audience with narrative u-turns that she ruptures the social fabric of her movie and intended message about rape culture.

This movie’s been turning heads since the trailer first hit over a year ago. Cassie (Carey Mulligan) moonlights as a heavily intoxicated PYM of the title, purposefully getting scooped up by men (Seth Cohen, McLovin) and ferried back to their apartments. As they ply her with more drinks, she pulls back the curtain on her pristine sobriety in the nick of time just as they cross a boundary. No worse for wear, she tallies up who’s been naughty or worse in her little black book that lives under her bed. It’s not really hidden there in her childhood bedroom, a museum of excssive fabric marked with a suburban kitsch and anomie inspired by the dregs of indie Todds (Solondz and Haynes). Her hands-off parents (Jennifer Coolidge and Mr. Krabs, totems of performative femininity/masculinity) are furniture among the maximalist furnishings who mostly leave their daughter to her own devices. 

Cassie’s vengeance is served on behalf of her best friend Nina, not herself, who was publicly assaulted and later committed suicide during med school. The small narrative tweak sets the film apart from many others in the rape-revenge genre, softening the blow of Cassie’s vigilante justice while doubling down on her inherited trauma and poking cracks into the fault lines of her obsession.

On her excursions, Cassie dons Sephora-employee levels of full-face makeup in the film, worth noting because it caused distress to an older white male critic at Variety, a retraction from the outlet, and a letter penned by the National Society of Film Critics. (All parties acted poorly.) The reviewer, Dennis Harvey, compared Mulligan to Margot Robbie, his preferred choice of femme fatale. But I wonder if he also made the comparison specifically because he’s unfamiliar with makeup lewks and concluded Robbie hotter on the basis of playing Harley Quinn who dons her fair share of facepaint.

His exact words were: Cassie wears her pickup-bait gear like bad drag; even her long blonde hair seems a put-on.

He’s not exactly wrong, and what he describes isn’t in and of itself a bad thing. The make-up in Promising Young Woman can be a bit jarring (…maybe if you have never witnessed a lady IRL or glimpsed a fashion magazine), but Cassie’s look is just that — a choice indicative of the character’s personal style and the director’s artistic one, which the critic didn’t go on to further explain. If he did (or if his editor prompted him to explore why these elements didn’t work for him) he perhaps could’ve saved himself from this mess.

Fennel’s interplay of disguises, identity, and role-playing are all part of the underlying design schema, which hits a quick switch between the angelic and the lurid, daytime pastels and queasy clubs, a aesthetic tied together by brash pop songs like a string version of Britney Spears’s “Toxic.” Unfortunately, the stylistic choices — including the ultra feminine wardrobe comprised of ribbons and rosebud printed babydoll tees highlight Cassie’s arrested development while marking her defiance — are devoid of larger meaning or their power is dulled ultimately because of the film’s muddled narrative.

The bells and whistles of plot amusements, truly gasp-worthy, earn Fennell the right to her bloated runtime  — 1 hour 53 minutes unspooling in five chapters — but they undercut Cassie’s character. I won’t spoil the twists and turns, but one of them is a sloping character-misdirection, which begins to work through her misplaced anger and self-destructive obsession. This is undone by the next hard right turn and then another, which recalibrates the movie to something else entirely.  “Rape revenge not as dark comedy or edgy thriller or triumphant drama but as self-immolation—submission to the impossibility of wholeness without destruction, addressed and unaddressed sexual violence as annihilating force,” as Carmen Maria Machado describes it in the New Yorker.  

  • Carmen Maria Machado likes Promising Young Woman

  • Dana Stevens of Slate, not so much, better explaining how “the movie can’t have its pastel-colored cupcake and eat it, too.”


Beginning

Dea Kulumbegashvili
Streaming on MUBI

Singularity of vision outweighs incoherence, exquisite 35mm frames glinting with natural light and deep foreboding offset muddied themes. A religious conflict bait-and-switch transitions to the opaque burden of womanhood, then back again. A reluctant housewife named Yana, formerly a woman with acting aspirations, is inevitably swept by responsibility into the arms of her husband’s religious sect (Jehovah’s witnesses, inaccurately portrayed, lest their belief systems differ in Georgia, the country, where this film is set). Divine contemplation coincides with the natural world during a park visit; respite splayed across her face as her body’s supine on the grass. If a woman falls asleep on the soft forest floor as a meditative release of her society-enforced yolk, does anyone hear it? It’s like she’s playing dead, but later death plays us.

Her world is besieged by violence: upon the church; impressed upon her mind; and then finally her body. Assault is filmed from afar flanked by purple weeds confronting the (film)viewer’s passivity, their excruciating inability to help. One closed world only leads to another: visiting her mother for repose and strength, Yana finds herself in another fenced-in pen where there are only those who accept their maternal fates — predestined roles, mother or whore— and those who don’t. God plays mostly on the sidelines, called upon only when it suits her (Yana) as a last ditch effort to make a way, save someone, and herself.


A post shared by Dr. Clark (@drclarkhouse)

The warmest outdoor dining experience in New York is Dr. Clark. I say that without having feasted in the Am-ex yurt but hold fast to my beliefs. Even a capitalist feint as the small business savior won’t keep your toes warm. The electric kotatusu tables at this Hokkaido restaurant will. In this Japanese contraption/seating arrangement, a Pendleton blanket covers the table and its edges sprawl onto your lap. The idea irked the parts of my brain that cannot accept adorning myself in fabrics of unknown origin in such intimate settings, but the bitter air quelled my mostly unjustified paranoia of bedbugs and other parasites. It feels a bit like you are camping; you must doff your shoes before entering. Your feet and lower body do get comfortably toasty, while the upper half is fine fending for itself. Still no solution for frozen fingers though.

The food was mostly unremarkable. The signature jingisukan — mutton, grilled tableside — was tasty, and sizzling udon directly on the grill sullied with lamb juices afterwards provided some minor thril of DIY no-waste innovation. But, portions are rather dismal for the price. (The waiter bluntly noted as much to party behind me, college students trying to make their dollar stretch the farthest, perhaps unaware that building isn’t quite wallet-friendly as the places nearby.) Case in point: scallop risotto with sake butter, boasting a never-failing combination of butter and seafood, comes only in as a shell’s worth, hardly bigger than a child’s palm. However, Dr. Clark does not skimp on the uni, present only in spirit though, perfuming the cream sauce that’s bathes a side of fries.