Monthly Archives: January 2014

MEEK AT THE MOVIES ( 2 stars )

1 Labor day Jason Brolin

 

^ a good meal but not much movie, despite the best acting efforts of Kate Winslet, Gattlin Griffith, and Jason Brolin in Jason Reitman’s “Labor day”

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A good meal can solve a lot of things, and the leftovers too, mixed with canned goods from the pantry can sate as well, but not so much in Jason Reitman’s uneven romantic hash that’s chockfull of disparate parts, stock elements and daubs of cliche.

Reitman, who once served notice as a quirky indie director along the lines of Wes Anderson, with his acerbically big tobacco satire “Thank You for Smoking” (2005), held the line steadfast with “Juno” (2007) and “Up in the Air” (2009). Even “Young Adult” (2011) bore his droll punchy fingerprint, which is why “Labor Day” is such a puzzler, a change-up royale and by-the-numbers affair that lacks air, style or wit.
All of Reitman’s previous works were carefully hung on the framework of a situational dark comedy infused with varying degrees of romance. “Labor Day,” of all things, is a dark romance with a deep vein of crime drama to propel it. Perhaps Reitman saw the project as something new to challenge his skills, or maybe he simply couldn’t pass up the opportunity to work with Kate Winslet and Josh Brolin, two of film’s most complete and capable thespians of the moment.

Those two performers become the film’s saving grace. Brolin recently clocked a yeoman effort that gave legs to Spike Lee’s remake of Chan-wook Park’s “Old Boy.” He delivers this time as well, assuredly with simmer, compassion and just the right amount of intimidation as Frank, an escaped con who, at a thrift store in a deep New Hampshire enclave, takes a woman and her son captive. It’s the mid 80s, so Frank doesn’t have to contend with a texting adolescent to give him away or a viral internet trend to alert folks of his wanted status.

TV news flashes do provide a bit of an obstacle, but they’re also a means to inform viewers that Frank is serving eighteen years for murder–the details and complicated nuance of which are meted out sparsely by intermingled flashbacks that infuriate as much as they enlighten. Frank gains his freedom by jumping out a second story window of a hospital following an appendectomy. As a result he’s got a weeping wound in his side, while Adele (Winslet), the woman he takes captive, has a hole in her heart, lazing around her house, too inert to do anything. Her twelve-year-old son Henry (an effective Gattlin Griffith) pretty much sees after himself, but the sleepy old Victorian they share, as evidenced by the overgrown lawn and general state of disrepair, isn’t so lucky.

So there you have it, Frank’s physically damaged and Adele’s emotionally scarred (she had several miscarriages after Henry, became depressed and her marriage dissolved) and in that, the one can heal the other if the lurking police don’t intercede first. Following the carjacking, Frank ends up back at Adele’s house where holing up becomes hanging out. Besides fixing the front porch and dry wall, he proves pretty good in the kitchen, whipping up a tangy chili out of nothing, and pie? Boy can he bake a pie.

The film’s peach pie scene is one for the ages. Never before, not since “Ghost,” have hands on hands taken center stage with such inflamed hyperbole. In “Ghost,” it played to the texture of the film. Here, with such fine actors so debased, it feels soft-core cheesy and wrong. “Let’s put a roof on this house,” Frank growls as a trembling Adele fumbles with a pancake of thick dough. Reitman, who penned the script from Joyce Maynard’s novel, must have thought the scene smart and leaven with innuendo and metaphor, but as is, it has the sensory effect of chocolate mousse made from a package of stale Hersey Kisses.

Food becomes a reoccurring yet unbridled motif, and a point of bonding for Frank and Henry. Frank even teaches the boy to throw a baseball, and there’s a touching scene with the handicap kid from around the corner who’s allowed to play third base, but of course, the police loom and the film, as the title tells us, is limited to a long weekend.

The good news is that as the film sails into its final chapter, the pace, as well as Reitman’s directorial skills, pick up. Winslet too, who is so shell shocked and unkempt for so long, seizes the opportunity to blossom and fills the screen with her fully ripe, yet restrained sexuality. She and Brolin, like Frank in the kitchen, take what’s there, and with sweat, integrity and resolve, make the best of meager makings that have been dealt to them.
— Tom Meek / Meek at the Movies

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LETTER FROM CHUCK TURNER : WE NEED AN ECONOMIC STRATEGY TO BENEFIT ALL OF US

Editor’s Note : Roxbury Here columnist Rodney Singleton, who writes “Seen From the Hill,” received this e-mail from former District 7 City Councillor Chuck Turner, who in addition to serving as a District Councillor has been an activist in Roxbury since the late 1960s. We have known Turner since back then and have always found his views enlightening, though we disagree with a lot of how he sees things. That said, we enthusiastically reprint in its entirety, unedited, the letter that he sent to our columnist. Read it now :

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In my ongoing efforts to share my views on confronting the issue of economic gentrification facing our community, I am sharing my response to a public email discussion regarding the issues of economic empowerment and the role of affordable housing.

I agree with your perspective in your December 23rd article “Building a Sustainable Economy”: that building affordable housing in Roxbury or elsewhere is not a solution to the problem of those with low incomes, living in a city with an economy geared to the income of the affluent.

Your statement “So why don’t we just figure out how to make the poor richer in a sustainable way” focuses our attention on what I believe is our major problem as a county. The reality is that this country is operated in a way that diminishes the opportunity for a majority of black people, people of color, and working class whites in this country to benefit economically.

The problem that plagues us now and has plagued black people during our four hundred year experience in this country is that the objective of those in control has been to keep us in a situation of servitude that served and serves their needs.

History demonstrates that people of color and working class whites have been in a similar situation. For a brief period in the middle of the last century, this was not as clear for working class whites but it certainly in clear now. Obviously, the strategy applied to Native Americans was to wall them off. However, while we need to learn from the past, we must use this knowledge to deal with the present.

Professor Michelle Alexander in her book The New Jim Crow argues persuasively that the War on Drugs was not developed to deal with the problem of drugs and crime but rather to develop a new strategy to maintain the caste system that has kept us impoverished as a people during our four hundred years here. She also argues that the success of the ruling oligarchy relies on convincing working class whites that we are the source of their economic difficulties.

If as a people we are to escape from this trap, it is essential that we acknowledge that as a people we are poor by design Therefore, we must develop a collective as well as personal strategy to break the chains that have bound us for 400 years. I believe that our struggle of economic freedom from the 21st century plantation requires a multi prong approach.

Developing an educational system that can provide the foundation that our children need is obviously essential. In addition, we need to overcome the psychological; brainwashing that has taken place systematically over our four hundred year incarceration in America. Internalized racism is the most pernicious racism of all.

However, there also must be an economic strategy that deals with our present situation. Otherwise we will continue to exist as a people driven from one city to another as the ruling class,, the 1%, decide to reclaim the land that we live on. This strategy historically has driven the majority of us from one community to another as our more affluent stay to reap the benefits, along with the 1%, of gentrification.

At a December Boston City Council hearing on poverty and unemployment, on an order on poverty and unemployment filed by Councilors Yancey and Jackson and presided over by Councilor Pressley in her role as chair of the Committee on Women and Healthy Communities, I urged that the City Council use its voice and power to pressure those controlling the economic life of the City to integrate Boston’s economy.

Such integration would have three primary and two secondary targets. The first target would focus the Boston jobs sector, particularly those controlled by the major corporations. Every corporation in Boston should be called on to agree to a ten year plan for the integration of Boston workers into all levels of their operations.

This would mean that fifty percent of the new positions each year on every level would be filled with Boston workers, based on the racial demographics of the city. In order to meet those objectives at the higher levels, there would need to be training and development programs instituted. However, since the corporations in Boston are among the richest in the country they can afford to finance such programs

The second target would be the construction unions. While there is a weakly enforced ordinance requiring 50% Boston workers on all city financed and aided sites, it is time that the unions face up to their responsibility to integrate their own ranks with Boston workers. We can no longer allow the unions to maintain their existence as private clubs deciding which racial groups to include and which to exclude.

If the unions are to be allowed to control the labor force on the vast majority of major projects in Boston, then it is time for them to accept the responsibility to integrate. Each of Boston’s construction trade unions should agree to a ten year plan to have fifty percent of the entrants to their apprenticeship program be Boston workers reflecting the racial demographics of the city.

The third target for economic integration should be the raising of the Boston minimum wage to a level that is necessary for a person to meet their expenses in Boston. While there is progress being made on increasing the state minimum wage if it does not meet the level necessary for Boston workers, we need a minimum “living” wage campaign. This would significantly effect the quality of life for Boston workers, since the majority of workers in Boston’s low wage jobs live in Boston.

There are two secondary but equally important targets. The first is to have the foundations that focus their resources on the Boston area agree that over the next ten years, fifty percent of their resources will be devoted to raising the quality of life for people of color and working class whites in the region that they serve and that fifty percent of these resources be focused on Boston.

The second secondary target is an agreement with the corporations of Boston that they will work with the city and state to assure that every child living in Boston, between the ages of 14 and 18, who wants a summer job will receive one.  The children of our city are not blind. They see the wealth that is being paraded before them. It is an insult to their intelligence and humanity to say that there is not the financial capability of providing a job that can pay $10 an hour to every child in Boston who desires a summer job.

The corporations who cannot provide significant summer opportunities within their organizations should contribute to a fund for the provision of jobs by our city’s nonprofit agencies. Obviously, there is the wealth in our City’s corporate sector to provide such jobs working in alliance with the City and State to fund such a program.

While what I am proposing will not solve the problems of unemployment and poverty within Boston but they will provide significant progress toward your goal of developing a sustainable strategy for improving the quality of life for people in our community as well as throughout the city. I will let you and your allies know how you can help on achieving our shared goal of economic inclusion as we move forward with the development of such a campaign.

Before ending let me share the concerns that were raised by your December 23rd email regarding affordable housing. While I agree that affordable housing needs to be located throughout the city, I do not agree that a 50% plus level for affordable housing as a concern. This issue must be viewed within the framework of the fifty to sixty year struggle to build Greater Roxbury as the bass of a strong predominated black and Latino community

When you look at the reality that the median annual income of black families in Boston is $33,000 plus and Latino families is $28,000 plus, over fifty percent of the units being affordable is reasonable and just. If we did not have the affordability rate of 50%, residency in the community’s new housing would be automatically denied to more than fifty percent of our families. Are the benefits that the struggle of our community to improve the quality of life to be only shared with the well to do.

This question must be faced not only by the people of Roxbury but also the people of Boston, Massachusetts, and the nation.  Are the benefits of development only to be accessible to those with upper income levels?  If so, then let us admit that as truthful Americans we must admit that we don’t have the right to call America a democracy.

A democracy is supposed to be a governmental system where the power to make decisions is in the hands of all the people. It seems logical that if power is vested in the hands of all the people, the economic benefits should not only go to those with high incomes. This is particularly important in a country where the wealth of the country was developed from the slave labor on the plantations and in the factories.

Peace and Love,

Chuck Turner

WHITTIER STREET : DESIGN GOES ASTRAY; DELAY KNOWS THE WAY

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^ fortress forbidding : concept = The Pentagon

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On Monday night I attended the monthly “Working Session” of a group named, in exquisite bureaucreat-speak, the “Roxbury Strategic Master Plan Oversight Committee.” We met at the Central Boston Elders Services offices, 2315 Washington Street — scene of many many Roxbury planning meetings over the years, some intense, some sleepy.

The members of this committee — we’ll call it RSMPOC if you please — have been tasked, as they would say, with guiding a reconstruction of the Whittier Street Housing Project. They take their brief seriously. Grave expressions adorn the faces of all. There isn’t a “youth’ among them. The RSMPOC has experience; look upon it as a Board Of Wise Folk.

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^ the Board of Wise Folk waits…

Before these Wise Folk came several representatives from the Boston housing Authority (BHA), which operates the current Whittier Street. Among the team was an architect. He offered up a picture show of artist’s renderings, of what the repackaged Whittier Street might look like. To my eyes, it wasn’t pretty. Whittier Street fronts on Tremont Street, a throughway kind of avenue along which, long ago, comfy buildings — some brick, others of wood — leathered up like well-broken in baseball gloves. Though the avenue was broad, the dwellings and shops along it had a day-in-the-park kind of look; They were neighborly, their doorways a handshake, their windows a wink of the eye. But that was then. Today the slice of Tremont Street onto which Whittier Street fronts is hemmed in by obese buildings as overweening as a Green giant — if the Green giant were made of glass and steel. These giants look like FBI offices and smell like interrogation rooms, conferences, offices whose staff always say “oh you want the office next door’ instead of ‘can i help ?” In short, the architecture lined along Tremont Street has no soul, no face, no name. It isn’t people.

This already being the case, a case that needs be stopped before it spreads, imagine my dislike as I watched the BHA architect — a slender man with a slender grin and slim eyes behind eyelid spectacles — display a Whittier Street fronted by yet more steel and glass giants and backed by densely confrontational low-rise row housing. This could just as well have been — more likely should have been — a Pentagon annex than anybody’s housing. But there it was. The look of a project, shiny and new and as function-minimal as a box cutter.

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^ are we not people ? are we box cutters ? — a Whittier Street function-minimal

I suppose that to the residents of Whittier Street public housing, any new residence to which they give you a key accords better than a shelter or a doorway; but for not much extra cost, the new Whittier Street could offer those who will be slated to reside there something more than a  cargo room of walls painted hospital bathroom green.

And who will be offered a place in the new project — if it actually gets built ? Clearly, current Whittier Streeters should get first call; just as clearly, a mix of income levels and cultures should be invited. That’s what the new Roxbury might just achieve, if it’s lucky.

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District Councillor Tito Jackson ^ sat in the audience — maybe 25 people in all — and engaged both the BHA people and the Oversight Committee in discussion of what, when, how, and what for. Sitting next to him, but not asking questions,  was Whittier Street’s State Senator, Sonia Chang-Diaz (^). Also in attendance was the grand old lady of Whittier Street push-back, State Representative Gloria Fox. She talked on her cell phone sometimes, berated the Committee at others. Her basic message has always been “get it done, we are people too.” Good luck with that.

The RSMPOC meetings go on. We were handed a schedule of meetings for the full 2014 year, monthly, of “Working sessions” and, on different dates, of Public Meetings. Nothing in this schedule indicates that the new Whittier Street will likely be sent happily on Approval Highway at any time soon.

After all, these plans have long since passed their sell-by date.

Future residents of Whittier Street surely are tired of waiting. Present residents too. My own view is, “better to wait for the right dwelling than rush to a mistake. The project-like concept pictured to us by the BHA architect misses every mark. Is there some reason why the land upon which the current Whittier Street sits can’t now host the kind of neighborly, three story homeyness found right next door in Madison Park and all along Washington Street from Guild Street to Egleston square ? The BHA project does envision some row-house townhouses, especially along next-block Ruggles Street. Why not build the same along Tremont Street ? If Green giant buildings are needed — apartments above retail and restaurants, as one finds a-building along Boylston Street in the Fenway — then fine: but add some design to their facings, some curvature and filigree so that Tremont Street doesn’t look like a pathway of lilliputians walled in by Yahoos.

We are building for people, after all. People have souls as well as jaws and torsos.

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citizen discussion was lively and pointed. was the RSMPOC listening ?

Of course the designs being hawked at Monday’s meeting arose during the Tom M mayor decades. we now have a new Mayor with a very different persona and an almost informal way about him. Of construction, he first of all cares about his Building Trades “sisters and brothers.” On that, he is solid rock. Flexible, however, may be his  toward design. He professes to care deeply about actual people. Perhaps before 2014 ends we will see that sort of “Walsh effect” at work on the shape and feel of a new Whittier Street. And maybe not.

—- Mike Freedberg / Roxbury Here

SEEN FROM THE HILL : CAN WE PLEASE HAVE LESS PATRONAGE AND MORE HOUSING !

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^ The “repurposed” Ferdinand Building, icon of Dudley Square : nice at night — but not being done by a contractor of color despite promises made

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“We don’t have a gang, guns, drug problem. We have a nepotism, cronyism and patronage problem!”

This quote is from a man giving testimony at a Chicago own hall meeting, organized by Al Sharpton, to address gun violence. His words capture the outrage of living a marginalized and blighted life of poverty and despair in a land of plenty 
(http://www.breitbart.com/Big-Government/2013/12/21/Al-Sharpton-s-Chicago-Town-Hall-Erupts-into-Revolt-against-Machine-Politics).

Chicago’s struggles are all too familiar to the underserved neighborhoods of Boston. No truer words were spoken in Chicago, and so goes Boston: gangs, guns and drugs are not the blight, rather, nepotism, cronyism and patronage are the blight!

That blight, in the form of machine politics, ensured that a white-owned company, based outside Boston, was awarded work on the Ferdinand building, and developers claimed minority business (MBE) utilization for the project, giving them street cred as “do-gooders” in Dudley Square where roughly 85% of the population are people of color.

But S&F Concrete, a white firm out of Hudson Massachusetts, despite being a state registered MBE, is not a firm of color (http://www.s-f-concrete.com/pages/26/48).

The purpose of the Supplier Diversity Office (SDO) and the MBE website directory operated by our State (https://www.somwba.state.ma.us/businessdirectory/businessdirectory.aspx) is to register firms of color and firms headed by women that have been historically disenfranchised from participating in work opportunities across our state. How would state officials allow the integrity of this certification process to be gamed to benefit the largest concrete contractor in New England and the 16th largest concrete contractor in the US run by white males (the Frias brothers)?

How is the largest concrete contractor in New England, a firm that the city of Boston would never recognize as an MBE or a member of the disenfranchised, now deserving of work at Ferdinand as a business of color? S &F Concrete should never have been awarded work as an MBE! The impact of this policy has been devastating to our community and is unconscionable! Shame on city and state officials !

That devastation becomes painfully obvious if one considers only disenfranchised firms of color in Boston. MBE utilization at Ferdinand’s was less than 1% on $90 million dollars of construction work, not the reported 15%! Not to be taken as an outlier, similar projects such as 225 Centre Street in Jackson Square also claimed higher MBE utilization but came in at less than 1% 
(on a $53 million dollar project, with a goal of 25% MBE utilization). But then again, if our focus is gangs, guns and drugs, fundamentally the byproducts of the real blight of nepotism, cronyism and patronage, giving rise to a loss of millions that could help build struggling communities, how do we ever address the root cause of our pain and suffering?

The blight of nepotism, cronyism and patronage was evident in Menino’s administration with the appointment of Mike Monahan, union business manager of IEBW local 103, to the BRA board. Sadly, the practice continues in the Walsh administration’s selection of Mark Fortune, union business agent of Sprinkler Fitters Local 550, to the housing transition team. Why would these union leaders need to be part of development and housing initiatives for the city of Boston, other than to make sure such initiatives provided work for their members?

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^ patronage : Local 550 Sprinkler Fitters move onto the Mayor Walsh housing transition team, via their leader Mark Fortune.

The plague of nepotism, cronyism and patronage is not just a Boston problem, it’s a notional problem, as noted by the National Black Chamber of Commerce in a recent Banner article, highlighting the frustrations with trade unions in communities of color. (http://baystatebanner.com/news/2013/dec/04/massachusetts-building-trades-face-long-diversity-/?page=1).

– Despite their professed commitment to diversifying their ranks, none of the union or non-union building trades organizations will disclose the demographics of their workers – it’s impossible to manage what you don’t measure or have no metric for.
– Building trades are 99 percent male, 76 percent white and 67 percent suburban residents.
– Elected officials as well as civil rights organizations have too cordial a relationship with construction unions, making it harder to demand inclusiveness.
– Construction unions have consistently discriminated against black workers and contractors.
– Ninety-eight percent of all black construction firms are nonunion.
– Construction unions are a prime contributor to black unemployment.

The hypocrisy of inclusiveness in the trades is clear: we’re mostly white, male and avoid the hot mess of urban life. But that hot mess of urban life happens to be a place where a lot of good people call home and carve an existence in pursuit of the American dream.

If we think we’ll realize the American dream with more housing and development, where our advocacy and demand for accountability, gets silenced and reduced to soapbox rants and rabble-rousing (http://www.bizjournals.com/boston/real_estate/2013/11/bra-tries-to-keep-out-rabble-rousers.html?page=2
http://www.bizjournals.com/boston/real_estate/2013/11/menino-tell-boston-properties-compromise.html?page=all)
by a Menino-cultivated culture at the BRA that puts developer interests ahead of the community being served by development, that dream will never fulfill.

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^ Bartlett bus yard “repurposed” : renters yes, home buyers, not so much

To add insult to injury, community development corporation developers such as Nuestra Comunidad would have us believe they are partners in pursuit of that dream. However, their project at Bartlett Yard/Place, with all rental in the first phase of construction is in conflict with that dream. The data are very clear: more than 90% of all housing units in Roxbury are rental. We don’t need more rental housing. We need more opportunities for folks to buy and build wealth.

Yet the conversation is always more about rental housing and very often housing that’s steeply affordable because it’s subsidized, or market rate which completely obliterates folks in the middle. That’s not to say we don’t need both, we do. But we also need balance to our housing initiatives to stabilize our communities and come to grips with the elephant in the room: the high cost to build housing in Boston and a stubborn income gap that proves difficult to bridge buyers and sellers.

An example of this is the first phase of construction at Bartlett. Nuestra Comunidad will build 60 units of housing and retail space for a grocery store at a cost of $28 million dollars (
http://baystatebanner.com/news/2013/aug/14/demolition-set-begin-bartlett-yard/).
Adjusting out the space for the grocery store at about 15% of the project, 60 units of housing will cost roughly $397,000 each.

Using a monthly housing budget of 25% of family income, it’s pretty clear based on Census data that only 20% of Roxbury households can afford the nearly $ 400,000 price tag Nuestra has proposed, leaving 80% of Roxbury residents with an American dream unfulfilled.

When we random sample a six month period of home sales in Roxbury for 2013, we find a median price of $275,000. Market forces offered more affordability than Nuestra is offering, boosting the number of households that could afford to buy based on income from 20 % to 33%.Clearly Nuestra sees an opportunity in “Roxbury’s changing face” to develop the old bus yard at Bartlett (http://www.bizjournals.com/boston/print-edition/2013/11/15/roxburys-changing-face.html).

When will we end short term fixes that add more and more affordable housing projects (how much affordable housing can one community shoulder, and is the responsibility shared?) that destabilize, rather than sustain, a neighborhood, in the interests of real estate deals for corporations whose employees safely tuck in at night in their own communities when the gangs, guns and drug problems go, in full force, through our neighborhoods ?

It seems easy enough to invest in corporations, including community-development corporations that reap more that 85% of the funding for housing in Boston, often at the expense of nascent local businesses, firms of color, and firms headed by women. We rarely invest in our people; if we did, we’d realize that the moral course of action is to bridge the income gap to the American dream by means of : better schools and training; a more inclusive working class; and a vision of our future that doesn’t assume we’ll fail to educate all and fail to be inclusive.

Standing in the doorway of our progress is a political machine fueled by nepotism, cronyism and patronage. It’s big machine. It needs to be fed. And it’s always hungry for more!

Regards,

– Rodney / Seen from the Hill

MEEK AT THE MOVIES : AUGUST : OSAGE COUNTRY ( 2.5 stars

1 skeletons in the closet in Osage Country

^ skeletons in the dark deep closet of the Westons of Osage Country

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There’s plenty of thespian timber and uncorked rage in this austere melodrama about familial dysfunction and reckoning out on the plains of Oklahoma. The emotional turbulence in “August: Osage County” is devastating, so much so, you could think of it as an angry twister wrecking havoc across the sleepy farm land, or as the evil step-sister to “Steel Magnolias,” appropriately shamed and exiled to the prairie for bad behavior.

If there’s any calm in the film, it’s the one that comes before the storm, and even that’s not so pretty. It all begins serenely enough as Beverly (Sam Shepherd) delivers an introspect confessional to Johnna (Misty Upham as the newly hired house help, who is Native American and has to, by job description, endure the oncoming onslaught passively) that he drinks too much — but that, at this later stage, it’s now tolerated by his wife because he puts up with her incessant pill popping. Beverly’s a dapper guy with a slight twang and a love for books. No sooner has he presented Johnna with a personal selection (TS Eliot) for her to read, that his wife, Violet (Meryl Streep) lopes through the door, red-eyed, in a bathrobe and hopped-up on something. Her hair’s short, matted and falling out. She looks like an extra from a film exposing Nazi atrocities.

We learn quickly enough that Violet has mouth cancer, which is both a touch poetic and ironic because what comes out of her mouth is nothing but cancerous. Point and case when she judgmentally asks Johnna if she’s an ‘Injun’ and what kind, and then proceeds to tear into Beverly for being a boozing philanderer and a do-nothing. Is it the pills or something more deep-seated? For a woman on death’s door and flying high, Violet has all the reserves of a Navy SEAL Team.
Soon, two of the three Weston daughters descend on the house, Iris (Julianne Nicholson) and Barbra (Julian Roberts) with her estranged husband (Ewan McGregor) and their precocious daughter, Jean (Abigail Breslin changing it up impressively from her turn in “Little Miss Sunshine”). But Bev is missing, and oddly, no one seems too concerned. He’s subsequently found drunk and drowned, and it’s the funeral that summons in the third daughter, Karen (Juliet Lewis) and her Ferrari revving beau (Dermot Mulroney), as well as Violet’s controlling sister, Mattie Fae (Margo Martindale) and her introspective husband, Charles (Chris Cooper).

If the reveal about Bev’s demise seems a spoiler, just know that it comes in the opening few moments, and serves as the plot’s lynchpin for the potpourri of combative personalities to assemble and take off the gloves–if they were ever even on. I’ve been told that Tacy Letts’s Tony Award and Pulitzer Prize winning play that the film’s based on, runs well beyond three hours on stage and that it’s also a touch more subtle and nuanced than John Wells’s screen adaptation. Letts’s works in general are angry and often violent compositions. If you need a reference, just check out the 2011 screen rendering of Letts’s “Killer Joe,” and you’ll know what I mean hook, line and grim sinker.

The cast of “Osage” features no less than five best acting Oscars among them (three of which are Streep’s), and Wells, either by design or timid admiration, throws open the barn door and lets the actors loose to steer themselves. The result is both impressive and muddled. Each hits notes with aplomb, but few seem to bounce off each other with any heartfelt synergy. Wells, who has worked well with a diverse and ranging ensemble before (including Cooper) in “Company Men,” tries to condense too much meanness into the lean two-hour time-frame; and, perhaps, the more grounded medium of the screen alleviates the inherent suspension of disbelief that comes with the stage.

It’s not until the post-funeral feast that the Westons’ deep, dark closet of skeletons, hinted at for so long, finally gets opened. Incest, childhood abuse, tough times and infidelity get trotted out with vitriolic accusation. Cancer and the recently passed loved one seem to be the furthest thing from anyone’s mind, and the men sit by emasculated and soak it all up silently like cornbread in curdled gravy. Barbra, as tart tongued as she is, garners some degree of sympathy; she’s trying to be a good mother and repair her marriage after her husband has stepped out with a coed under his tutelage. The most endearing of the Weston clan, however, are Nicholson’s Iris, a branded spinster who’s never left the Dust Bowl, and Mattie Fae’s meek son, Little Charles (Benedict Cumberbatch in an intriguing juxtaposition from his recent turns as Khan and Julian Assange), who’s constantly berated a halfwit by his own mother. Only they harbor any hope or optimism despite their limited possibilities–a notion that becomes even more isolated and embossed by the hate and vitriol raging around them.

With a less competent ensemble “Osage” might have been just a disturbing, forgettable go. Even with A-listers, the pecking and picking rages on far too long with scant few moments of reflection or atonement. It’s the somber quiet ones like Charles Sr., and Iris and Charles Jr. who give life to the Weston’s big house of pain on the prairie.

— Tom Meek / Meek at the Movies

THE DUDLEY FILES : WE ARE STILL TALKING HOUSING ?

1 thomas Dudley

Reading the first writing by Rodney Singleton published in this paper, as is my duty, I was struck by the persistence, in our settlement on the tidal flats and hills south of Boston Neck, of housing for our people. I well remember that we were talking housing 45 years ago when I first came to the town we named Roxbury in honor of the England home of our ministers, Theodore Weld and John Eliot. In my time, a man was hardly expected to live 45 years, much less to recall participating in debates that took floor that long ago and to be here, now, at his desk, writing to the same topic. But so it be.

45 years ago, there was, in the Massachusetts-bay, an “issues convention” — i use modern terms for the convenience of the reader — sponsored by the Massachusetts Republican Party, then still true to Governor Winthrop’s vision; indeed, I myself was appointed by the Governor’s descendant, John Winthrop Sears, to the Issues Convention’s “urban affairs” committee, upon which, I, as a young Dudley recently immigrated from Yardley in Northamptonshire, served alongside the lady Melnea Cass, who was then Roxbury town’s Republican State Committeewoman — she was the eyes and ears of United States Senator Edward Brooke, a Roxbury citizen. On our committee sat housing advocates, the keeper of a homeless shelter, reverend clergy, Republican Party chairman Josiah Spaulding, and a Member of the General Court. Our committee took testimony of many; chiefest of the petitions presented was a proposal that our Massachusetts government regulate housing as a utility — as in our 1634 New England School Law the General Court had already enacted with respect to common schools. We the committee put many questions to the petitoners — an assembly of clergy and citizens inspired by our ministers of the Gospel — as to how the condition of regulated utility would be managed; whence the funds would arise to enable it; where and when such regulated housing would be built.

Young though I was, I too had questions : why could not private citizens do what, after all, we had all come to these shores to do ? And was told that for many Roxbury citizens the toil of everyday survival and the keeping of family ceded no time nor funds; that most of our citizens lived in homes, built by themselves or taken to, homes open to the weather, or unhealthy of air, into which all manner of insects, rodents, and such like unstoppably swarmed, given the small means and large toil burdening our common people. I knew whereof to be true. And as our General Court had already determined that schooling should be a public charge for the literate improvement of all, I could find no reason not to extend the same purpose to the housing of all.

Yet our proposal did not proceed. It was made and forgotten; the Election of 1970 was debated on other matters — conservation of lands and whether or not to build a road we called “I 95.” (Our citizens, myself included, said “no,” and the road was not built.) No wonder, I suppose, that housing for all the citizens of Roxbury continues to be a living issue. Such is the testimony of Mr. Singleton. Thus grievously has our mission in this New land attrited !

Mr. Singleton complains, not that there is no new housing on offer, but of the plans presented by the current proposers. To me this represents improvement. The Roxbury whose roads I travel today has much, much new housing. Look along washington Street, in the flats we called Lower Roxbury, on Alpine Hill, and in the lands we once called Orchard park. Rows of dwellings, of a style much consistent with Roxbury precedent (homes reminiscent of the London I once lived in) line both avenue and street, court and alley. Truly Roxbury has not failed to provide.

Yet as Mr. Singleton attends, almost all of the homes built in Roxbury these past 20 years are for rent to tenants; whereas our settlement intended for every citizen to own his land and home. This, our new undertakings appear not to honor. What a mistake. Though we surely accord an honest profit to those who would build homes for others, it cannot be a boon to Roxbury to bulk the number of our tenancies and defer the freeholding. It is well established that the owners of freeholds maintain them more diligently than do most tenants, who come and go; and that freeholders commit to a community more actively than those who merely pay a monthly sum to occupy. (Which is not to disparage those who tenant, for most of whom finance will not accomodate purchase.)

Mr. Singleton speaks to this point, and as he does so, he speaks for me.

Let the builders of Bartlett Street and the Atkins Building offer them for sale, first and second. For sale as freeholds as we are a free people.

But housing should no longer be the first mind of our Roxbury settlement. Commerce calls us.  As Boston beyond the Neck is as much a commercial venture as residential, so should Roxbury now be. Merchants and craftsmen, developers of a device my young successors call “the internet,” inventors of devices for better use thereof — Roxbury citizens should be talking of these, and not merely talking. It is time to be doing. Doing not by travel to Boston  but in our Roxbury itself. Are we merely an appendage ? i think not.

True, we may require that Massachusetts as a polity, by our common Legislature, help and succor us, for our means be often unequal to the task; and we may with good cause seek such succor, for it is to the interest of all that our Roxbury experiment succeed, situated, as we are, in the very center of the urbanity that we call “Greater Boston.”

Roxbury cannot be only a collection of residences, tenanted or freeheld. To succeed, we must plant commerce and harvest it. In the Square named after myself there is much construction at present of space commercial or thereof intended. More is needed. I make list of many : Venturers, merchants, devisers, printers, banking & clearing houses, theaters, meeting halls, inns and places of food and drink. When I look around me at Roxbury people, I see a diversity of looks, languages conditions, costumes, and sports as varied as what I see every time that I am in London, Paris, or Venice. Far smaller we may be than these great cities, but no less in situation.

We have done well, it is clear, to have attracted to us such a variety of men, women, and children. It is clear, too, that many more, from Boston will soon be moving outward, across the Neck, into our yet incomplete settlement. Our duty is to assure them a community in which commerce is not merely a fundless proposal, freeholding not set aside for some future century.

—- Your obedient servant, Thomas Dudley / the Dudley Files

ROXBURY HERE : OUR MISSION

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There is a new Roxbury unfolding in the bosom of the old Roxbury; before our eyes it is blossoming. We see it, and we welcome it.

This story is the stream upon which our new online journal sails. Roxbury Here is exactly what our name says : the voice of Roxbury spoken, written, argued, and opined direct from the hills of Roxbury; from our college; from our restaurants and real estate officers; from our schools and churches; from our immigrant communities; and from our residents both long-time and new, diverse and more so every day.

From Mission Hill to Mount Pleasant, from Fort Hill to Humboldt/Townsend, from Lower Roxbury to Shirley Street and the Prairie, we are many, many Roxburys all for one community conversation.

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Roxbury Here also sees the City of Boston as a whole, as City hall administers it and develops it. We embrace the politics of neighborhood and City, of the state and Federal Government, too, when these affect us. We will not settle only for being affected. We demand to affect ourselves as well !

So say our columnists and our reporters, whose work we urge you to read regularly.

One word more, of caution as well as innovation. The new Roxbury cannot be allowed just to push out the old. the arts projects, restaurants, innovation businesses, bureaucracies coming into Roxbury must welcome into their work and social connection those who already live in Roxbury’s many corners. Too finally has the South End, the neighborhood immediately to our north, and whence many new Roxbury-ites come, transformed entirely to expensive living. We must see to it that Roxbury life stays as income diverse as the lifestyles and origins of its people.

Isn’t this diversity of income, fashions, skin colors, and faiths exactly what makes Roxbury so intellectually and culturally vital right now ? It’s a Roxbury worth fighting to maintain — to develop on our own lines, not the plans of others upon us.

We pledge to you, our readers, that Roxbury Here will be the voice of diversity reform and of innovation in many directions. There is no turning back now. The time is at hand to put a voice to the soul of the Roxbury community moving forward.

—- the Editors and Staff of Roxbury Here

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SEEN FROM THE HILL : WILL THE WALSH BRA HONOR COMMUNITY INPUT ?

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Folks,

Recent revelations, in the Boston Globe,of BRA dealings that benefit developers at the expense of a process that serves the community is nothing new!

As if we need reminding, Bartlett Yard/Place (the old MBTA bus garage in Roxbury) recently got BRA zoning commission approval.

The zoning commission process differs from zoning board of appeal (ZBA) approval. There, the principal community notification happens on the BRA web site, where community rebuttal to developer plans seemed dismissed (petition signed by nearly 90 community members to stop development because home ownership was not included in the first phase of development) in an effort to clear the way for developers to move forward.

Having that process move forward, without a clear community input on shaping the outcome of a project, is what we’ve been dealing with since not long after the ink had dried on the Bartlett RFP (request for proposal). Given that community input has been woefully marginalized, our only remaining recourse is to sue.

And now, a quick word to :Undersecretary Gornstein of Housing and Community Development for the State of Massachusetts: Mr. Gornstein, Nuestra does not have the required community support to move forward, but they’ll move forward anyway under this system and continue to destroy our community. Please continue to deny them funding!

The Bartlett RFP has very clear guidelines fora mix of housing affordability. the developer, Nuestra, is violating these in the very first phase of development, putting at risk the entire economic sustainability not only of the project, but also of the entire Roxbury neighborhood. Exactly three years ago, I wrote to the Bay state Banner a “letter to the editor” that I quote below. Home ownership was taken off the table at Atkins apartments too, a development done by Nuestra. Should we be surprised that Nuestra is delaying home ownership at Bartlett? Home ownership has yet to be incorporated at Atkins. What assurance do we have for Bartlett?

Putting economic sustainability at risk in neighborhoods in dire need of it is nothing new either. The community input that helped craft the Bartlett RFP understood this need for sustainability and insisted on income balanced housing — including an element of home ownership. The home ownership requirement spelled out in the RFP has been delayed because the developer cannot find funding — despite having the required community input.

What should trouble members of our community and what this latest Globe BRA article shines a light on: how continued abuse of power — Tom Menino’s legacy to Boston’s neighborhoods struggling for economic equality — impacts our community.
It’s no mystery that developers are eager to meet on January 2 of 2014, to the chagrin of the Walsh administration. With a BRA culture that spurns and mocks the very community input required to make development successful, and as bias and collusion continue, unchecked by oversight, it’s no wonder an envelope need never be passed. Or perhaps the envelop has morphed into a hefty campaign contribution. It’s time to put an end to the BRA and its culture.

The damage in Menino’s legacy has been tragic and devastating. The data cannot be refuted. As the Globe article states, the city, through the BRA, has and is prepared to put down millions on affordable housing projects in Roxbury, while in more affluent neighborhoods in Boston, developers are allowed to opt out of providing affordable housing (i.e. Back Bay/Beacon Hill, Central in the table below).

Menino’s own neighborhood of Hyde Park is next to the bottom for affordable housing options (7.3%). Not setting a very good example for affordable housing Mr. Mayor. Affordable housing should be regionally shared, it shouldn’t be concentrated in one community or neighborhood. Affordable housing units all but dominate all housing units in Roxbury at nearly 45%. If you include section 8 certificates, affordable units comprise well more than half of Roxbury housing — and that’s unsustainable!

Add to Menino’s legacy: a quadrupled wealth gap between whites and people of color in Boston under his tenure; failed schools; a diversity record, at city hall and on local construction sites, that’s far from inclusive.

Leadership for our community that doesn’t support a vision of development in which our struggle for economic mobility and parity will not change for the better, and we will remain poor !

Does the incoming Walsh administration’s vision of our future make similar assumptions ? Will Walsh make good on BRA reform?
Accountability is key! It’s time to dig in!

— Rodney Singleton / Seen From the Hill