Tuesday, February 24, 2009


Two Lovers Review


By: Jenny Halper

I’d like to take a moment to thank James Gray for Two Lovers, a romance that features not one but two complex female characters and ends bravely with indecision. From the first shot when Joaquin Phoenix plunges into the waters of Brighton Beach to Gwyneth Paltrow’s portrayal of lover #2, a madly-in-love attorney’s assistant who admits she’s not one for reading and shouts across her fire escape like the irrepressible teenager she hasn’t quite grown out of, everything about this film is brave.
Gray’s previous films include Little Odessa and We Own the Night, the former a dark depiction of a history of crime. Although Lovers isn’t nearly as gritty, it has the same sense of authenticity; over the course of two hours you feel like you’re spending time with these people rather than watching a movie about them.
The movie opens with Phoenix’s Leonard moving back in with his parents after breaking up with his fiancĂ©. Now he’s sleeping in the bed he’s had since high school while working at a Laundromat his father runs and he seems poised to inherit. When business associates come over for dinner, they bring their daughter Sandra (Vinessa Shaw), who is so beautiful and sweet one senses he’d fall for her immediately if both sets of parents weren’t so keen on the match. But they are, and date number two is a lunch with their fathers that he ditches to follow new next door neighbor Michelle (Paltrow) to her job in the city. Michelle gives him her cell number so that “we can text.”
As Leonard tentatively courts Sandra, he quickly becomes close friends with Michelle, but she’s involved in a poisonous affair with a lawyer at her firm. The lawyer, married with children, has stationed her in Brighton Beach – he’s paying for the apartment – because his mother lives nearby and he can visit her without alarming his wife. Completely oblivious to Leonard’s attraction to her (and to much else) Michelle asks him to tag along on dates and ascertain the older man’s intentions.
It’s a testament to Paltrow’s performance that Michelle – who should be very, very irritating – is sympathetic; watching her unknowingly invade Leonard’s heart and his fledgling relationship with Sandra is a bit like watching a toddler spill ink all over silk: she means well, she just doesn’t know any better. It’s also easy to see why Leonard, who Phoenix plays as a charmer who masks everything, is so taken with her – she’s honest and free-spirited, or at least seems that way, whereas Sandra’s overbearing family is part of the bargain.
I should mention that the supporting cast, which includes Isabella Rossellini as Leonard’s mother, is top notch, and that the Brighton Beach setting evokes an old fashioned community that is simultaneously oppressive and comforting. Ultimately, though, what makes Two Lovers so effective is that Gray refuses to choose sides, and asks the audience to instead, which is almost impossible: if Sandra’s an anchor, Michelle is a hot air balloon.

Babylon's Future Written in Its Ruins


By: Khalid al-Ansary

After enduring harsh treatment at the hands of U.S. troops and Saddam Hussein among others, officials are hoping that the ancient Mesopotamian city of Babylon can be revived and made ready for tourism with the help from experts at the World Monuments Fund and the U.S. embassy. The Future of Babylon project are looking to restore the site, home of the Hanging Gardens, but the project has much to do after the damage done by looters and the 2003 U.S.-led invasion to overthrow Hussein. Officials say preservation is crucial as Babylon gave birth to much of current civilization's agriculture, writing, codified law and the wheel. Tourism may also help Iraq's economy. The U.S. embassy in Baghdad is contributing $700,000 the the sites restoration.

Project Care and Concern at Pilgrim Church

By: Robert Sondak

From 10 am to 4 pm five days a week, Project Care and Concern at the Pilgrim Church on Columbia Road is open to residents and provides reasonably priced new and used clothing and household items. The PCC and Nutrition Education Outreach Project also collaborate to circulate recipe flyers to the bilingual Uphams Corner community. Dorchester residents referred by the Project Bread Hunger Hotline recieve the flyers every month. The recipes highlight good nutrition and are often centered around holiday themes.

Homeless Senior Banned from Cambridge Center Seeks Answers

By: Julia Waterhous

Terrence Rothman was banned from the Cambridge Senior Center two years ago after attempting to circulate a petition to bring back a social worker who had recently been fired. He was initially asked to leave the center and later police were called and he was told that if he didn't leave he would be thrown in jail. Rothman has since been seeking answers as to why he was banned and action against the Senior Center as they renewed his ban multiple times and he has not been able to return to the Center for the past two years. Rothman has filed a complaint against the CSC and the City of Cambridge for discrimination based on his diagnosis of paranoia.

Joblessness Rises in Congo as Global Crisis Hits Mining

By: Miriam Mannak

The global economic crisis has caused the collapse of the local mining industry in the Katanga province in the Democratic Republic of Congo in central Africa. The region relies heavily on mining and since September 2008 when global demand for natural resources plummeted and prices fell to all-time lows, 300,000 people have lost jobs and another 60,000 may soon lose their jobs too. The Congolese franc, the local currency, has also lost half its value, seeing an increasing number of children and beggars on the streets. MONUC, the local UN mission has been wary of security issues surrounding the crisis, and the region has recently seen an increase in violent crime. The mining crisis is beginning to affect other businesses in Katanga as well.

Networking the Nonprofit Industry in a Recession

By: Amanda Fakhreddine

On February 11th, Rosie's Place sponsored an event hosted by the Young Nonprofit Professionals Network that featured five panelists from various local nonprofit organizations who spoke about the issues currently facing nonprofits. With the economic recession, nonprofits are facing cuts in programs and the services they are able to provide. Panelists highlighted the need for volunteers and anyone willing to help. The nonprofit organizations discussed all dealt with homelessness, and panelists also gave advice to those in attendance hoping to network, and to anyone wishing to get into the nonprofit industry. Entry- level positions are available but a certain personality allows some to be more successful than others.

Brewing for Blankets: Local Students to Raise Funds, Awareness for Homeless

By: Julia Waterhous

On March 4th at the Boston Common near the Park Street T stop, a group of students from Suffolk University, led by professor Debra Harkins with help from James Shearere and Ron Tibbets, will hand out coffee, information on homelessness and copies of Spare Change to raise awareness. They will also be asking for donations and after the event will use the donations to buy blankets to donate to local shelters.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Coraline Review


By Jenny Halper
Spare Change News

Movies have culled drama from ungrateful daughters and out-of-it mothers for as long as they've probed the divide between fantasy and reality. So if the premise of Neil Gaiman's Coraline isn't terribly new - it's about as different from The Wizard of Oz and Pans Labyrinth as the name Coraline is from Caroline – the film is nonetheless a visually inventive and wonderfully quirky adventure that manages to entertain while imparting a pretty dark message: be careful what you wish for, what looks better isn't always, and dreams can turn into nightmares.

I'm probably being too philosophical. This is, after all, a kids' movie – or a movie that brings back vivid memories of being a kid, like waking up to boring reality after a great dream, and being forced to eat food you'd rather scrub the floor with. The heroine, voiced with pluck by Dakota Fanning, has moved with her parents to an apartment building that looks like a pink version of something from a Tim Burton movie, and usually doesn't house families with kids. Not that her parents seem to want kids: mom (Teri Hatcher) types on a computer and snaps at her, dad (John Hodgeman) types on a computer and ignores her, they buy her drab school uniforms and send her off to play with the too-chatty boy next door, who is named Whyborn ("why, were you born?" Coraline groans). Whyborn gives her a doll that looks just like her, except it has buttons where its eyes should be.

Coraline, which was written by Gaiman (from his children's book of the same name) and directed by the inventive Henry Selick, benefits from amazing animation and detailed puppetry –the characters are remarkably expressive. The story is smartly told from Coraline's honest, gutsy, sometimes bratty perspective. She really is an explorer on a quest for a water hole, the grotesque actresses downstairs really are the size of cruise ships, her parents really are just that awful - until she wants something, and then they're not.
After a few amusing encounters with her new neighbors, Coraline finds a small door that, at night, opens to tunnel that leads to a house that looks just like her house, only brighter. Her dad looks like her dad, only he composes songs about her. Her mom looks just like her mom, only she cooks Coraline's favorite foods and plants exquisite gardens and sews Whyborn's mouth shut. A gravy train rolls down the dinner table, literally. The actresses, now thin, fling her around a trapeze. It's sort of like sorority rush, except everyone has buttons instead of eyes and after a few treats Coraline's newfound, “better” mother wants to sew buttons over Coraline’s eyes, too.
Disregard the metaphors you could make with this. Coraline has a dilemma, but she’s smart enough to know that lots of cake and flying actresses aren’t enough of a trade when her eyesight is concerned (or, as we’ll later find out, her soul). Without giving away the final act of the film – a quest that could be too scary for very young children – I will say that while the premise of the film isn’t new, the execution is surprisingly original, and parents will be as entertained as their offspring – who hopefully won’t be asking for new clothes or better food anytime soon.

2009 Cambridge/ Somerville Homeless Census: Putting It All Together

By: Robert Sondak

Cambridge and Somerville joined the rest of the nation on January 28th to complete their homeless census of the year. At 12:30 a.m. 40 crew member, equipped with maps, radios and led by team leaders, went out to do a count of the homeless in the city. They were told to be non- obtrusive and to approach sleeping persons in order to identify them as a man or woman but to not disturb them. The census took a count of the unsheltered homeless in the area and is a yearly requirement by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Man's Best Friend: Life on the Streets With Pets

By: Julia Waterhous

When Angelo Vespa became homeless all he cared about was the welfare of his cat Simon. He sought assistance from the MSPCA and was directed to Carmine Discenso, director of Phinney's Friends, an organization that provides services to those living below the poverty line with HIV/AIDS. Although Vespa did not meet the usual criteria for service from Phinney's Friends, Discenso took pity on him and decided to help him anyways. Simon is now in foster care and Vespa has found a room with an organization in Cambridge.

Demand for Shelter Beds Highest in Years

By: Amanda Fakhredinne

Harvard Square Shelter, a student run shelter in the basement of the University Lutheran Church that has been in operation since 1983, has had to adopt certain policies to keep up with the demand for shelter beds. There are 24 beds and the recent failing economy and cold weather have found every bed constantly occupied. The Harvard Shelter has implemented a policy where guests can stay for 14 nights but then must leave for seven to accommodate others. The Shelter does try to help everyone and will give someone an emergency bed for a night if they really need it. They also provide meals and will help people try to find other shelters if they are full.

Homes for Less: Vancouver Homeless Housing Project Finally Finds a Home

By: Amy Juschka

Last year, students at Emily Carr in Vancouver took on their first to-scale assignment. They built a series of 64 square foot homes, costing $1, 500 apiece, to help with the homeless crisis in Vancouver. The students went and talked to the homeless in order to get an idea of what was needed in the homes. The homeless emphasized their need for an address so they could apply for jobs, as well as a place to rest and keep their belongings safe. The students took this into account, providing shelving that could double as furniture. The public took longer than hoped to respond to the effort. The students and their director talked with the city governments of Vancouver, Burnaby and New Westminster, but nowhere was willing to use the houses as homeless shelters until recently. The Vancouver Aboriginal Transformative Justice Society plans to adopt the shelters and place them behind their current facilities so that occupants can have access to amenities.

A Homeless Population in Gaza

By: Saed Bannoura

Israel recently announced that the attack on Gaza will continue with the seeking out and destroying of tunnels on the border between Gaza and Egypt. This has happened in the past and usually ends with Palestinian homes being bombed or otherwise destroyed. The trend is known as razing and Israel uses the excuse that the homes are too close to the border as justification for destroying the homes. Israel claims that there are tunnels built under the houses that are used for smuggling arms into the Gaza Strip. In Rafah, a city on the southern part of the Gaza Strip, 2,000 homes were destroyed and 2,000 families were left homeless. No tunnels were discovered. Israel also destroys homes as punishment for families of Palestinians who attack Israelis. Many of the 1.5 million Palestinians living on the 40 square kilometer Gaza Strip are refugees from when Israel was created in 1948 on their land, displacing them into the tiny Gaza Strip. Since 2006, the Strip has been closed to all imports and exports and the economy is destroyed.