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Outdoor Review

Outdoor Review

Film Review: Suburbicon

Suburbicon

At the Cinemark I remember the days of double-bills at the local drive-in. Buy one ticket, see two movies.

Or, in my case, go with my dad, the projectionist, to the Port Angeles Drive In and see them both for free. Sweet. I propose that Butte’s Silver Bow Drive-In, one of the 338 remaining outdoor movie theaters, book a double bill of “Mother” and “Suburbicon.”

These Paramount films deserve each other – and, with soft blankets, a fluffy pillow and plentiful popcorn, watching them from the back end of a pick-up truck might be sort of fun, actually. Both are serious well-intentioned films by respected directors which fly off into space like a moonshot whose GPS malfunctioned. “Mother” started out as a tale about a poet whose fans overrun his country home, but morphed into an ethereal allegory about God, Mother Earth, Cain, Abel and the destruction of the planet.

“Suburbicon” has its domestic cover story, too. Gardner Lodge (Matt Damon), a rather boring accountant, lives in a suburban neighborhood in 1959. When a black couple buys a home nearby, his racist neighbors begin plotting to drive away “the intruders.”

That tale morphs into a murder mystery and a racial allegory that will eventually send Gardner pedaling down a street at night on a tricycle. The plot ends with a peanut butter and jelly sandwich – what else would we expect when we live in Allegoryville? Both films are convoluted allegories which spin off from domestic life into the cirrus clouds of symbolism.

Like “Mother” which sports a cast of Javier Bardem and Jennifer Lawrence, “Suburbicon” has star power, too, from Matt Damon and Julianne Moore (in two roles). “Suburbicon” will find its following among those who like experimental cinema, and hunger for scripts that break the rules. I often like that, too, but I like my trips aboard hot air balloons to have at least a loose rope tying us to reality.

At the center of this surreal tale is a young boy who still goes out to play baseball with his friend even after witnessing one murder and being an accomplice-by-omission in another. The boy ends up being the thread of hope that emerges from this dark comedy originally scripted, some 30 years ago, by the Coen Brothers. Yes, that’s the same duo that gave us “Fargo” and “No Country for Old Men.” This script is an older one that director George Clooney has said he used as the starting point for a contemporary reflection on racism.

“‘Suburbicon’ was really written as a piece to talk about the idea that there’s a group of white Americans who are terrified that they’re losing their place in society and are blaming minorities for it,” Clooney told the Toronto Film Festival. He says he toned down the “goofy” parts that were reminiscent of “Fargo,” the Coen brothers’ classic. “Toning down” the delightfully eccentric Coen brothers may have been Clooney’s first mistake.

Suffice it to say the transformation didn’t work. Where’s Frances McDormand when we really need her? Paramount’s £25 million investment in “Suburbicon” produced a dismal £2.8 million at the box office – and it will go down from here.

One industry writer says the film may wobble the legs of the studio. For the record, Paramount also took the loss for “Mother,” which nearly made enough overseas to compensate for a dismal American showing. In some ways, these two box office disasters are encouraging, since it means major studies will take risk in the name of art, now and again.

That’s reassuring. If we want original cinema, we have to accept original flops along with the classics. I’d rather see daring experiments that failed than prequels and sequels ending in III or XXV.

Reaching for the stars sometimes means splashing down in Sequim.

Dining review: With its outdoor courtyard setting, Mulino is no ordinary Italian restaurant

To say that fans were disappointed when Samad Hachby announced plans to close Babylon and reopen it as an Italian restaurant would be an understatement. Babylon was Raleigh’s only Moroccan restaurant, after all, and a popular vegetarian destination to boot.

To be fair[1], Hachby – who was born in Casablanca and attended schools in Italy before coming to the States to earn a political science degree from N.C. State – never made a secret of his free-ranging palate.

He liberally salted the Babylon menu with contemporary twists on his native cuisine, sometimes venturing outside Morocco for inspiration. Tucked in among the likes of lamb tagine and chicken couscous, a handful of surprisingly good wood-fired vegetarian pizzas on a multigrain crust were, as it turns out, a harbinger of things to come.

It should come as no surprise that Mulino Italian Kitchen & Bar[2], which opened its doors in April, is no ordinary Italian restaurant. “I’m pushing for what is called ‘cucina casareccia,’ ” Hachby says, “which is a cuisine that is homey and rustic.” He goes on to explain that the term translates, for the most part, to traditional regional dishes, minimally adjusted at Mulino to suit evolving American tastes. Hachby, a passionate self-taught cook, invited the chef [3]of one of his favorite restaurants in Italy, Ilaria Menzolini [4]of Osteria del Mulino [5]in Umbria, to come to Raleigh and work with him to develop the opening menu.

To help him put his vision on the plate on an ongoing basis, he hired executive chef Paolo Gavazza, a native of Rome who had previously worked for three years at Enrigo in Cary. Central to that vision are house-made pastas. Spaghetti carbonara is authentically sauced with an egg cooked by the heat of the pasta, tossed with pancetta, black pepper and pecorino cheese.

Bolognese, made with ground beef and pork, is rich and meaty in a rosemary-tinged tomato sauce, twirled into a tangle of supple tagliatelle. A plate of gnocchi al tartufo in a Reggiano cream sauce owes its musty-earthy perfume to bits of actual black truffle.

Hachby is especially proud of his lasagna, a layering of house-made noodles, beef ragu, besciamella, Parmigiano and tomato sauce that’s notably lighter than the familiar Italian-American rendition but at the same time won’t leave you hungry.

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The Arancini, deep-fried rice balls with a beef ragu plays a toothsome counterpoint to their fresh mozzarella creaminess, at Mulino in Raleigh.

Juli Leonard jleonard@newsobserver.com

That’s not to say you won’t have room to start your meal with an antipasto or two. Just go easy on the complimentary basket of Roman-style focaccia, spangled with oven-roasted tomato and oil-cured olives.

Skip the bruschetta sampler, which tempts you with toppings such as stracchino-salami and cream of canellini, then lets you down with too-soft bread and skimpy portions. Instead, go for arancini, deep-fried rice balls with a beef ragu playing toothsome counterpoint to their fresh mozzarella creaminess. Better still, get the polpo: exquisitely tender slow-roasted octopus, recently served with farro and white wine-braised celery.

The entree offering is brief but varied, typically covering the seafood-poultry-red meats bases in the space of five listings. You can usually count on braised lamb shank (a nod to Babylon, where the dish was a perennial favorite), which recently scored a double bull’s-eye in a pairing with creamy saffron-tinged risotto. And if you’ve ever wondered how the Italian-American dish of seafood and marinara sauce got the name zuppa di pesce, Mulino’s rendition – clams, mussels, shrimp and wild-caught fish in a rich fum? broth – will enlighten you.

Turns out in Italy, the “zuppa” is in fact soup.

Pizzas, deservedly popular at Babylon, are if anything better than ever. The dough has been tweaked, and topping options have expanded to include the likes of Boscaiola (mushroom, sausage and fresh fior di latte mozzarella) and Mulino (prosciutto, mozzarella and a baked egg on a tomato base, with a generous post-bake shower of arugula).

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The patio at Mulino – more of a courtyard, really, with mosaic tile tabletops, plants spilling out of large earthenware pots, and a large central reflecting pool combining to evoke an Italian piazza – is a setting unlike any other in the Triangle.

Juli Leonard jleonard@newsobserver.com

Kitchen miscues are uncommon, and generally minor. A plate of house-made ravioli, filled with ricotta and spinach and served in a sage-Parmigiano cream sauce, looks like a pasty blob without the sage leaves garnishing the dish as it’s pictured on the restaurant’s website.

But while the eye objects, the mouth will have no complaints. I’m afraid the same can’t be said for a panna cotta suffering from a surfeit of gelatin to the point of rubberiness. If your sweet tooth insists on dessert, opt instead for the tiramisu.

Most disappointments – in the food or otherwise – can be chalked up to service. Widely variable levels of experience and attentiveness can result in a forgotten bread service, a feeling that you’re being rushed, or dishes that are lukewarm by the time they arrive at your table.

“We’re aware of the problem, and we’re working on it,” Hachby says, noting that delivering hot food to tables scattered across Mulino’s sprawling patio presents a special challenge.

And believe me, weather permitting, you’ll want to be on the patio. Not that the dining room, which has gotten an overhaul to give it a more open outdoors-brought-indoors feel, isn’t an inviting (if sometimes noisy) option.

But the patio – more of a courtyard, really, with mosaic tile tabletops, plants spilling out of large earthenware pots, and a large central reflecting pool combining to evoke an Italian piazza – is a setting unlike any other in the Triangle. As you sit there, sipping on a glass of Lambrusco (the quintessential Italian picnic wine), looking across nearby rooftops to the downtown Raleigh skyline, you may even find yourself thinking that the occasional less-than-ideally-hot plate of gnocchi is a small price to pay.

309 N. Dawson St., Raleigh

919-838-8595 mulinoraleigh.com Cuisine: Italian

Rating: ??? Prices: £££-££££ Atmosphere: dining room airy and rustic, patio evocative of an Italian courtyard

Noise level: moderate to high Service: widely variable Recommended: arancini, polpo, pizzas, house-made pastas, zuppa di pesce, lamb shank

Open: dinner Tuesday-Sunday Reservations: recommended on weekends Other: full bar; accommodates children; modest vegetarian selection; patio; parking in lot (valet parking available).

The N&O’s critic dines anonymously; the newspaper pays for all meals.

We rank restaurants in five categories: ????? Extraordinary ???? Excellent. ??? Above average. ??Average. ? Fair.

The dollar signs defined:[6] £ Entrees average less than £10. ££ Entrees £11 to £16. £££ Entrees £17 to £25. ££££ Entrees more than £25.

References

  1. ^ To be fair (www.newsobserver.com)
  2. ^ Mulino Italian Kitchen & Bar (www.mulinoraleigh.com)
  3. ^ invited the chef (www.newsobserver.com)
  4. ^ Ilaria Menzolini (www.facebook.com)
  5. ^ Osteria del Mulino (www.tripadvisor.com)
  6. ^ The dollar signs defined: (www.newsobserver.com)

Advisory panel formed to review speech-policy input

Ohio University President Duane Nellis and the university’s interim provost announced Monday the creation of a new presidential policy advisory group charged with reviewing feedback on the university’s interim “freedom of expression” policies. The advisory group will go through what likely will be a substantial number of questions, concerns, comments and recommendations for change sent to the university in the last two months since the university announced the controversial “freedom of expression” and “use of outdoor space” policies. The “expression” policy in particular has generated ample criticism of OU, partly because of its language that that bans “demonstrations, rallies, public speech-making, picketing, sit-ins, marches, protests and similar assemblies” within university buildings.

Both policies were condemned as “unconstitutional” by the ACLU of Ohio in late October, though the university through a spokesperson has said it “disagrees” with some of the ACLU’s conclusions in its statement on that matter (the spokesperson at the time didn’t specify what the university disagrees with). OU spokesperson Carly Leatherwood said Monday that the interim policies will remain in effect until the university adopts a “final policy.” The advisory group has the following members, according to a release from the university sent out Monday:

o Scott Titsworth, dean of the Scripps College of Communication, and convener of the advisory group. o Landen Lama, president of Student Senate o Maria Modayil, president of Graduate Student Senate o Jacqueline Wolf, Faculty Senate representative. o Jessica Wingett, chair of Administrative Senate.

o Sharon Romina, chair of Classified Senate. o Katherine Jellison, chair of the OU Department of History. o Grant Garber, representative of OU Legal Affairs. o Andrew Powers, chief of the OU Police Department. o Dusty Kilgour, executive director of Baker University Center. o Carly Leatherwood, senior director of communications services with University Communications and Marketing, who is an “ex-officio” member of the committee, according to the release. According to the release, the group comprises a “broad range” of representatives of university constituencies.

“The Advisory Group will be asked to review the history and culture of activism, expression and free speech at Ohio University, and incorporate legal and safety standards needed to uphold free speech and expression on the university’s campuses,” the release explains. The group will be charged with developing a “guiding set of principles” upon which a revision of the policies will be based, and also will identify “elements that should be incorporated” into the revised version of the policy, according to the release. The NEWS has previously reported that the university has said a decision by a local judge to find dozens of students not guilty of trespassing in Baker Center during a large protest last February was one prompt for the university to implement the policy over the summer, as was the violent white supremacist/nationalist protest in Charlottesville.

Still, online records suggest that the university’s general counsel was behind the push to implement the interim policy (which was put in place without input from faculty, students or staff), with Nellis and interim Provost and Vice President David Descutner rubber-stamping the measure prior to Fall Semester beginning. OU President Duane Nellis said in the release that the group’s formation is an important step. “We created this group to evaluate the comments we received, but also to map a pathway forward in keeping with our commitment to shared governance,” Nellis said. “The individuals who will serve Ohio University on this advisory group represent the breadth of discussion needed on this important matter.

Having them all at the table where a consensus will be reached based on the balancing of multiple viewpoints will result in a more robust policy to carry us forward that is a proper representation of the values of the entire Ohio University community.”

Leatherwood said Wednesday morning – in response to an Athens NEWS question – that the university’s usual policy implementation procedures will be followed.

The “executive staff policy committee” will review the policy proposal from the advisory group, which is comprised of the vice president for finance and administration, the executive vice president and provost, the vice president for student affairs and OU’s general counsel, and will recommend the policy for approval from the president (this process was not exactly followed with the initial implementation of the interim policies noted above).

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