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Shiva baby and bagels
Horse Girl, Old Boyfriends, The Green Knight
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Overcoming the trials and temptations of adulthood in THE GREEN KNIGHT just means saying goodbye to mommy dearest.
The fish-eye lens in NO SUDDEN MOVE vex so many people, yet they consciously read entire novels on 3inch screens or sit through the superfluous HDification of 90s sitcoms.
I mistook this movie about a Polish fitfluencer for a documentary.
Dir. Jeff Baena, 2020
Alison Brie plays a craft store employee obsessed with a horse and a schlocky crime procedural. The socially awkward shop girl prefers 1940s house dresses, the company of fictional men (Jonathan Gray Gubler of Criminal Minds, a genius touch) to real ones, and her matronly colleague (Molly Shannon) to her age-appropriate roommate. But her maladroit inelegance may speak to something larger when she starts to sleepwalk, fixates on water circling down the drain, and tracks down strangers from her dreams.
Festooned with beads and fabrics, Horse Girl is visually inventive and ultimately succeeds on the grounds of Alison Brie’s unwavering and longtail commitment to playing more than just the pretty girl. She ropes us into the character’s conspiratorial orbit, even as she speculates from the X-Files handbook.
Jeff Baena conveys mental illness through the lens of a horror mystery—who am I? what is happening to me?—without a larger thesis. The same can be said of Joshy (2016), his previous feature where abrupt and traumatic grief skunked up Thomas Middleditch’s bachelor party without neat resolve. Rather than ticket the director for skimping on these darker themes, I gauge the underdevelopment as intentional. In his films, the psychological condition is a banality, something that simply exists and must be dealt with, like fetching toilet paper from the grocery store. Casting comedic actors only furthers this conceit: normal people, even funny ones, are beset by maladies and inner demons of all kinds.
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Dir. Joan Tewkesbury, 1979
Old Boyfriends similarly wraps itself in dramatic mystery, disguising itself as something to be solved. It opens on a woman driving a car beset by a dramatic string orchestration that screams “scheming ahead” like Janet Leigh in Psycho, but the film’s lackadaisical direction and shaggy plot machinations reveal a much less thrilling and accomplished feature. Diane Cruise (Talia Shire) mopes around the screen whilst road-tripping to her past exes—including one from ELEMENTARY SCHOOL—and roaming the edges of their workplace like a detective or, you know, a stalker. Unlike John Cusack in High Fidelity who summoned ghosts of girlfriends past to understand what clinked up his love/sex life, Diane, unfortunately, believes her old beaus must hold the skeleton key to her identity, worth, and self-esteem. None of them do (thank God), but she does get quick and spicy revenge ditching Jim Belushi in the nude at a lovers lane hilltop.
The film treads too softly and ignores pointed observation by sweeping Shire’s character’s major depression under the proverbial rug, and unlike Horse Girl, the performances and mise en scene in this movie don’t exactly enthrall. I watched this only recently restored/rediscovered film with the same excitement of stepping into a thrift store, hoping to strike vintage gold— but all I got was a modest effort, far from grail-worthy.
After I sent out the last newsletter about Pio Pio, my multi-hyphenate friend Conrado (who’s had me on his podcasts, plural), informed me that a chicken joint in Peru would not, traditionally, serve either tostones or rice and beans—the preferred sides being fries and salad. Neither would the aji sauce be green (but rather yellow), although similarly delicious and essential.
He also says that when KFC first opened in Peru it was a big failure... until they started offering aji sauce of their own! You check out his many talents here.
Notable chickens of the week:
Monstrous plate chicken at Dunhuang, sprouting locations throughout nyc and proving rival to Spicy Village
Korean fried chicken at Chic-hen in Fort Greene, which replaced the Pelicana and perhaps pocketed some trade secrets in the process—the wings were sufficiently crisped
Dir. Emma Seligman, 2021
This debut feature faithfully approximates a mood—social claustrophobia and the incendiary horrors of a small space gathering. At a (pre-Covid) funeral gathering, a women's studies major (Danielle, played by Rachel Sennott) runs into her sugar daddy played by an actor named Danny Deferarri, who looks a bit like LLewyn Davis or the third Duplass brother. Caught in the mix is also an ex-best friend of sorts, whose backstory will soon reveal itself. On the soundtrack rowdy violins pluck into your psyche, while on screen a litany of relatives and family friends harangue the protagonist, and you feel like you’re right there with her being pinched, stretched, prodded—like you’re dough, a doll, a baby. (An newborn is also in attendance fueling the ruckus with its shrieks.)
The movie falters on storytelling, clearing away characters and their motivations to leave us with the general chaos and confusion of impending adulthood—first feature material if ever there was one. The final scene, where Danielle’s father offers too many people a ride, is the last gasp of anxiety that breathes a sigh of relief: friends, lovers, enemies, and all, get to where we need to go in unison, begrudgingly, reluctantly, together in an old van.
If you’ve ever attempted to avoid people at parties, not just crackpot paramours, then you know the only certain exit is to assist the host—or stuff your face. Our protagonist implements both irrefutable maneuvers, so committed that she winds up scrubbing puke off the floor.
On the consumption-front, there is of course the spread, a central set-piece, which she circles like a hawk—not because she wants it but because it’s there. You can, after all, only eat so many bagels. Food is significant to this movie, drawing cultural connections between mourning and eating, but it also relays Dani’s unravelling amid the escalated noshing. She fixes a plate of pastries only to return them to the platter. She eventually schmears a bagel with anxious intensity. There’s a solid chance her appetitive second-guessing stems from the fact that nary a guest will stop fussing about her figure, newly slim, while chiding her to eat something—as if the two ideas weren’t yoked—nodding to the very real body image conundrum faced by many women still.
For catering a celebration, a mourning, or rewarding yourself for getting out of bed, consider EDITH’S which sells what is definitively NYC’s bagel of the moment or at least the never-ending pandemic year. Very worthwhile, their bacon-egg-and-cheese conceals a bulging latke, and it’s best eaten on an everything bagel showered with red pepper flakes (the “Chicago”). These hand-twisted creations are slim, which make for a better, though still messy, sandwich.
After leasing the wood-fired oven at Paulie Gee’s pizzeria, which did not let anyone use the bathroom, the proprietors of Edith’s set up their own shop in Williamsburg with an extended menu that highlights Jewish-adjacent food, in addition to smoked fish, with more far-reaching Middle Eastern flavors. They are closed on Mondays and Tuesdays and include a general store component. I am unsure if you can use the restroom.
NYMag: On Shiva Baby and how food reminds you you’re alive in the face of death
The Melt: An interview with Willie Zabar of the eponymous appetizing store (by Jason Diamond, who also wrote the above)