Billy Gray

Archive for September, 2008|Monthly archive page

Mister Foe

In Uncategorized on September 20, 2008 at 8:35 pm

Daniele Radcliffe is not the only British child star coming of age this fall. While Harry Potter grabs headlines for dropping trow in the Broadway production of Equus, Jamie Bell, star of 2000’s Billy Elliot turns up in the decidedly adult Mister Foe, giving an emotionally and physically bare performance of his own. Bell plays Hallam Foe, the type for whom the term arrested development was coined. Hallam is a sexually confused young man who mourns his mother’s death by dressing up in her clothes and makeup. The shady circumstances of his mom’s passing- this being a Scottish film, she drowned in a loch, but how?- have Hallam constantly looking where he shouldn’t. These investigatory impulses extend into the perverse when he becomes the reigning Peeping Tom of the Highlands, ogling passersby engaged in the coital bliss that evades him.

Hallam winds up homeless in Edinburgh after his exasperated stepmother Verity (whom he suspects of killing his mom) kicks him out of the family’s turreted palace. He encounters the hardships that often accompany a movie hero’s arrival in a strange city- drunk hobos, leering old men looking for a trick, overzealous cops and pounding rain- before gazing upon, Kate, a not-so-dead ringer for his mum. The stalking commences, followed by a faintly believable love affair straight out of Sophocles.

Early in their relationship, Kate tells Hallam that she “likes creepy guys,” a dubious harbinger if ever there was one. Kate’s sentiment must be shared by the viewer if he hopes to love the film, for its characters taken together could fill a new volume of the DSM. The abundant flaws on display- there are gold diggers, adulterers, stalkers and suicides, to name a few- make for narrative conflict and comic absurdity, but keep the audience just as removed from the characters as they are from each other.

Despite many luscious shots of Edinburgh, the film’s photography has a clinical grey-blue coldness about it that keeps its characters and their many quirks at arms length. For an off-putting character to be endearing, he must be placed in an off-kilter setting. Stanley Kubrick and Tim Burton movies excel at this; loathsome as A Clockwork Orange’s Alex is, he represents perfectly the dystopian environment that Kubrick’s film conjures. And would audiences sympathize with Edward Scissorhands if he did not offer a comic contrast to his Technicolor suburban nightmare? Foe’s application of war paint and animal skins is an amusing diversion, but a shallow one that feels out of place in a movie otherwise grounded in realism.

The gratuitous murder mystery at the periphery of the film also contributes to its scattershot mood. I never bought into it anymore than the cynical cops or adults of the film. Mister Foe already flirts with lazy pop psychology. Foe’s fitful investigation into his mother’s death seems like little more than a pragmatic justification of his arrested development and oedipal urges.

Like its titular Peeping Tom, Mister Foe observes some intriguing characters, many of them up to no good fun. But the audience is beset by the same limitations of the peeper, denied any intimacy with the quirky people it glances.

Bowery Hums

In Uncategorized on September 13, 2008 at 3:59 pm

Is it fair to say that Keith McNally has fallen behind the curve when the curve has ceased to exist? The restaurateur has finalized plans to open a brick oven pizzeria on the corner of Bowery and Houston. As if on cue, neighborhood preservationists got in a lather, with the jeremiads about the death of yet another New York neighborhood coming fast and furious. But the hand-wringing over the Bowery, until recently an iconic preserve of downtown derelicts, comes a day late and a dollar short. In the last year or so, the strip’s restaurant supply stores, flophouses and methadone clinics have come to stand beside a Whole Foods monstrosity, the gleaming New Museum of Contemporary Art and chic Bowery Hotel.

McNally is renowned for restaurants that open in “frontier” neighborhoods, quickly giving them a respectable polish. Tribeca, SoHo, the Lower East Side, the Meatpacking District: all once-bohemian enclaves turned into real estate, shopping or nightlife meccas. Of course, McNally alone cannot be credited (or more likely blamed) for gentrifying these hoods: the Lower East Side had already ceded much of its skuzzy charm to slumming uptowners when Schiller’s set up shop and pioneers like Florent Morellet ran Meatpacking strongholds before Pastis made the area’s cobblestone streets safe for stilettos. Whether you view a McNally opening as an expiration or certification of cool, it signals a change.

Lately though, McNally’s Midas touch has lost its luster. Morandi opened in 2006 on a firmly established stretch of 7th Avenue in Greenwich Village. Its rustic Italian menu and interiors represented a departure from his patented French bistro formula. It generated the inevitable Page Six mentions and opening week excitement. But reviews were lukewarm at best- Frank Bruni’s Times takedown of the restaurant and its chef, Jody Williams, caused a minor kerfuffle, with McNally accusing the critic of sexism- and the restaurant never became quite the destination that previous McNally entries had.

I suspect McNally will be fine. He is alone among the A-list or New York restaurateurs for claiming a roster of spots-The Odeon, Lucky Strike, Balthazar, Schiller’s Liquor Bar, Pastis- where the buzz generates itself, unmoored to celebrity designers or chefs. The spaces are handsome but restrained, the decor unlikely to induce the acid flashbacks of a Jeffrey Chodorow dinner. The chefs are competent but unfussy, serving straightforward bistro fare- burgers, steak frites, croquet monsieur’s- to customers seeking a respite from occasionally pretentious greenmarket hegemony on one end and molecular Petri dishes like deep-fried mayonnaise on the other.

McNally may not be the first member of the establishment to colonize the Bowery. But it’s tough to fault him for not putting a new neighborhood on the map when, at this point, the Manhattan map is very clearly drawn. Given McNally’s track record and the genial buzz his restaurants often produce, the imminent pizzeria will likely add to the bustle of the new Bowery, even if it doesn’t create it.