December 31, 2009

Happy 100th Birthday Manhattan (Bridge)

The Manhattan Bridge turns 100 today.  But there will be no fireworks, no banners, no cheering crowds like those that greeted the Brooklyn Bridge.  That's because the Manhattan Bridge gets no respect.  

Today's TIMES has an article detailing the reasons why this bridge, sandwiched between the more celebrated Brooklyn and  Williamsburg East River crossings, tends to be somewhat ignored.  It has no storied history behind it, like that of the Roeblings who built the Brooklyn Bridge against all odds. Also, the bridge was poorly constructed from the start, designed by a man who is responsible for one of most spectacular bridge failures of all time.  Personally, one reason I believe the bridge is not so beloved is that so many New Yorkers spend time stranded on this bridge on one of the four subway lines that use it to cross the river.  

However, if you step back and take a nice long look, the Manhattan Bridge is really quite stunning, especially the four globes that stand atop the two central towers.  The bridge is majestic and steely yet still has a certain turn of the century charm to it.  Maybe with time and the completion of the bridge's seemingly endless renovation more people will come to admire it.  Happy Birthday, Manhattan Bridge!

December 30, 2009

FOX's Family Guy, Version 1.0

In 1995, RISD student Seth McFarlane put together a 10-minute, animated show reel to serve as a proposal for a series called "The Life Of Larry".  The show centered around a cantankerous guy named Larry, his nasally wife Lois and a talking dog named Steve (all voiced by Seth).  Sound familiar?  The "Life of Larry" turned out to be an early prototype for McFarlane's hit animated FOX series "Family Guy".  

Watching this original show (recently posted on YouTube), you can see the origins of the "The Family Guys'" trademark rapid fire style of dialogue and absurdist humor as well as McFarlane's pop culture obsession, showcased here with a spot-on Star Trek spoof.  Required viewing for any Family Guy myself. :)

December 29, 2009

The MPAA Strikes Again

In recent years, the 40 year old MPAA has been the subject of some controversies over their increasingly bizarro ratings system.  Last week, the romantic comedy "It's Complicated" was stuck with a surprise R rating for, and I quote, "pot smoking with no bad consequences".  Unbelievably, that is a direct quote. Suddenly, the MPAA thinks it's 1934 and they have enacted the arcane rules of the Hays Code in their ratings "system".  Back in the 30's, bad guys could be really really bad, but only if they got their comeuppance.  

There is a wonderfully angry article about this latest ratings travesty in the LA TIMES which gets to the heart of the matter which is that the ratings system makes no sense.  You can blow someone to smithereens and get a PG but if you show a bare breast or, god forbid, a penis you are R.  Any kind of homosexuality used to mean an instant R but the Board has let up on that in some cases.  But this latest ruling re; the pot is absurd.  First of all, marijuana is actually legal in California so why should bad consequences be expected? 

The MPAA needs some serious recalibration of it's system and the way it operates.  Or, in the case of this movie, the way that it doesn't.  

December 28, 2009

NetPix: Tulpan

Critics are putting together their year-end lists of the best films of 2009.  One of my personal favorites has popped up on a few lists, namely topping the list by the New York TIMES' Manohla Dargis.  It is probably a movie you've never heard about as it had a very limited release here in the US.  But it is one of the most unusual, bleakly beautiful and cinematically incredible films you will ever see. There is also a scene about halfway through that is the most unbelievable 15 minutes I have ever seen in a movie.  Ever.

The movie is called "Tulpan" and it's a romantic dramedy set in the steppes of Kazakhstan.  OK--I know that one line description is likely setting off alarm bells.  But trust me...this movie takes you to a place you will likely never go in your life and makes it something of an adventure.  Basically, "Tulpan" is a love story at it's heart about a family's attempt to marry it's daughter while raising some very peculiar animals on a wind swept plain.  With a stark realism and a simply told story, this movie is almost documentary-like in its clear-eyed look at a way of life that is hard and hard to describe.  

Currently, "Avatar" is everywhere, promising to take you to a world you've never seen before.  Sure...but it's a world that doesn't exist.  Remarkably, Kazakhstan is an actual place on this planet with real people and a group of animals with more personality than a Pixar barnyard.  The only warning I need to give is that this movie is long and takes a certain amount of patience. It also helps if you have a massive TV to appreciate the film's epic landscape and  gorgeous cinematography.  But I guarantee that if you stick it out, this movie and the people in it will stay with you forever.  

December 24, 2009

Merry Christmas Video

Today's special Christmas clip is from the website EverythingIsTerrible, connoisseurs of the worst video of the 70's, 80's and 90's. They did a fun holiday compilation which even includes clips from the infamous and rarely seen Star Wars Holiday Special. Here's wishing you a great Christmas!

December 23, 2009

A Charlie Brown Christmas--Director's Cut

For a while, the only online version of "A Charlie Brown Christmas" was a 21 minute version which was less than half the original show's length.  In the spirit of the holiday, ABC has finally posted the full show to Hulu for your holiday entertainment.

It's easily my favorite Christmas special of all-time. I think I enjoy it even more now as an adult than as a kid.  And with lines like "Christmas is a commercial racket run by an Eastern syndicate", it's not hard to see why.  It's also now available on Blu-ray too....which makes me think the show itself has become a commercial racket too. 

December 22, 2009

The Physics of Space Battles

Ever since seeing Star Wars as a kid, I've been a sucker for a good space fight.  However, when I was in sophomore chemistry class, it was pointed out to me that fireballs in space were a total Hollywood creation.  Fire needs oxygen, something the chasm of intergalactic space lacks.  Not that physics ever stopped George Lucas....

This week, there is a thorough debunking of the myths of space combat perpetrated by the movies over at Gizmodo.  The writer, Joseph Shoer (who happens to be a PhD candidate in aerospace engineering) discusses how dull and slow space combat would actually be.  And that there wouldn't be colorful lasers shooting around like some disco in space.  The energy to generate laser beams would be enormous and, again, not exactly practical on board a spacecraft.  Also another big problem is getting troops to fight on a distant planet.  The energy to land a bunch of Intergalactic Marines on Mars isn't the problem...the real challenge is getting them off the planet and up through the thick, Martian atmosphere.  In fat, it's that exact problem which has been holding up a manned mission to the red planet all these years.

So for the time being, until there's some breakthrough in FTL drives or transporters, space combat is going to be strictly something for the big screen.  Which is probably for the best, given that here's enough real combat on this world already.

December 21, 2009

Krampus And The Evil Side of Christmas

In some parts of Europe, namely Austria and Bavaria, Christmas is not all jolly present giving.  There's Krampus to contend with a.k.a. the evil side of Christmas.  Krampus is a mythical, incubus-esque creature with horns who drags some rusty chains around and scares the crap out of all the bad kids.  If they're really bad, legend has it, he will even drag them to the gates of Hell and drop them into the fiery eternal furnace.  Merry Christmas!  Leave it to the Germans to turn Christmas into horror story.

Anyway, here in the US, the tradition of bad children getting coal seems to have fallen by the wayside.  It seems that today's kids get tons of gifts no matter what.  So Krampus has now landed on US soil, with his own website and everything, to get today's lazy, shiftless toddlers in line.  

A couple weeks ago, he made an appearance on the Colbert Report where her terrorized the host and smashed a plate of cookies with his chains.  Personally, I found it a little hard to be scared of the beast, knowing that underneath all that fake fur was my friend Mark Sam, who got the gig due to his fluency in Germanic cursing.  Still, I think Krampus would be a fine addition to the Macy's Thanksgiving Parade, scaring all the European tourists in midtown.  Oh what a joyous holiday scene that would be! 

December 18, 2009

Chaos 'n Candy 'n The True Meaning of Christmas

Tonight I'm attending the 8th annual incarnation of Adam Dugas' downtown Christmas pageant known as "Chaos and Candy". This celebration of the true meaning of Christmas, set to a rock beat and filled with glamour and glitter, started out in a Williamsburg warehouse in 2001 and has now moved the respectable stage of the Abron Arts Center. It is my newest and funkiest holiday tradition and one that is always truly entertaining.

If you're in the city, it's definitely worth checking out. If not, I've included a clip from the '07 CnC of Angela DiCarlo singing "Country Christmas Trolls". Yes Virginia it's true...they will put Cream of Wheat in your stocking!

December 17, 2009

Don't Stop Believin' (x5)

To deal with my GLEE-withdrawal, I was trolling around on YouTube last night when I found this popular cover (3 million plus hits!) of the GLEE version of "Don't Stop Believin'". What's unique here is that one very talented Yale junior, Sam Tsui, sings all five parts. Sam and his producing partner, Kurt Schneider, are totally adorkable, grew up on the same street together, went to high school and then Yale too. No word on whether they're an actual couple, but their creative collaborations on this and other pop songs are super cute.

December 16, 2009

Cate Blanchett IS Blanche Dubois

Last night, I went to BAM to see the new production of Tennessee Williams' "A Streetcar Named Desire". Simply put, it was stunning. I have read the play many times, seen more than a few productions and watched the movie countless times but last night I felt like I was seeing it all for the first time. And most of that is due to Cate Blanchett's remarkable performance as a character that too often becomes a caricature, Blanche Dubois. That was not the case in this production, masterfully directed by Liv Ullman. Blanche is real...almost too real. Which, in the end, makes this play the epic American tragedy it was always meant to be.
Blanche is played here as a fairly competent, cheerful and together woman (after all, she WAS a schoolteacher for all those years) who just now is beginning to teeter and fall under the weight of a lifetime of lies, disappointments and delusions, not to mention a healthy appetite for whiskey. Blanchett lives this transformation in a stunning three-hour tour plus de force of acting, as we watch her struggle with the demons and madness that slowly start to swallow Blanche whole.
However, this is not to say this "Streetcar" is a one woman show (another trap that other versions fall into). All the characters here are drawn out equally well and there are some unusual new twists to the interpretation of Mitch, Blanche's suitor, and Stanley, Blanche's pursuer. As Ben Brantley states in his eloquent review, this is not played as the battle of Stanley v.'s more Blanche against herself. And when she loses, it is truly heartbreaking.
When a buzz show like this becomes a "hot ticket", I am usually wary of the hype. In this case, I can honestly state that the hype doesn't get the half of it. Cate is truly remarkable but as another playwright once said, the play is the thing. And here Tennessee Williams' "Streetcar" is restored with its author's original intent fully realized. This is powerful stuff and, if the theatre gods (aka Equity) have any mercy, the show will hopefully end up on Broadway next year for many more to see.

December 15, 2009

Don't Let The Sun Go Down On George

This is a clip from the UK's talent show, "The X-Factor" with finalist Joe McElderry doing a duet with George Michael. Though GM has certainly had his share of troubles in recent years, he can still sing like it's 1985. And the new kid's not so bad either.

December 14, 2009

Washington Square Road

This image comes from a book currently on my nightstand, Anthony Flint's "Wrestling With Moses". In the 1950's, city planner and master builder Robert Moses wanted to extend Fifth Avenue through Washington Square Park to connect with West Broadway, creating an express route through the village that would be called Fifth Avenue South.
This planned roadway that would have surely destroyed the heart of Greenwich Village looks almost quaint in this rendering. It's notable that, for an extension of heavily trafficked Fifth Avenue, there are only three cars visible. Of course, if this terrible plan had come to fruition, the park would be filled with the sound of bumper to bumper cars honking....just like the rest of Fifth Avenue. The reason this never happened is the topic of the book.
Jane Jacobs, a writer for Architectural Digest and a longtime Village resident, organized a group of local mothers and started a movement which not only killed Fifth Avenue South but also led to the cancellation of Moses's biggest potential urban renewal disaster, the scarily-named LOMEX (Lower Manhattan Expressway). This 6-lane superhighway would have sliced through Soho and the Lower East Side on what is now Broome street, carrying traffic from the Holland Tunnel to the Manhattan Bridge.
Anthony Flint's book is a true-life David & Goliath story. Moses, who had figured out how to manipulate the political, financial and social systems of New York to completely redraw the way the city was connected, was unstoppable...or so it seemed. Until, that is, Jacobs challenged him, killing the beast before it ate the Village and Soho. Of course, we now know how this all turned out but the book is still a very compelling read given the fact that it easily could have gone the otherway, like in the faux-pastoral picture above.

December 11, 2009

The Other New York City Tree Lighting

Last night, a beautiful Douglas Fir standing about 30 feet tall was lit up in Washington Square Park. This tree lighting ceremony is a Greenwich Village tradition that actually pre-dates the hubub up in Rockefeller Center by five years (the first tree went up in 1926). And though the tree doesn't have a billion lights on it or an ice skating ring under it, the Washington Square Arch and the Park itself make a beautiful backdrop for the tree. Frankly, it's a little nicer than being surrounded by skyscrapers and tourists that's for sure.
Anyway, the tree is lit from 4pm to 1am every day from now until Christmas so go check it out. And, if you're feeling very vocal about the holidays, you can join in the annual caroling in the Park, another 83rd old tradition that happens at 5pm on Christmas Eve. Happy Holidaze!

December 10, 2009

GLEE's Midseason Finale

So the GLEE kids turned it out last night with a great midseason finale. The only thing that sucked about it was that it means there will be no new GLEE til April. Argh! So in the meantime, I found myself trolling FOX's GLEE site for new stuff and found an adorable clip of Lea Michele telling us 10 things we didn't know about her. However, one thing we did know, after last night's episode, was her FUNNY GIRL obsession; easily the highlight of the episode was her rendition of the Bab's Classic "Don't Rain On My Parade". Whoa--the girl has pipes!

You can watch the full episode I will be doing over and over again until spring 2010. In the meantime, there'a always a new season of AMERICAN IDOL.

December 9, 2009

But Do You Get Frequent Flier Miles?

Richard Branson unveiled his Virgin Galactic spaceliner this week that will soon be offering short, round trip flights to space and back. The animation below is a pretty spectacular indication of what this sort of trip maybe be like. One thing is ain't gonna be cheap. Tickets are 200K and are already available for booking at their new website. The first flights are expected in early 2011.

December 8, 2009

The Greenest City In The World?

As the Copenhagen Climate Talks continue today, there was a report issued that global warming is not slowing and that the last decade is the warmest on record in 150 years. So what can you do to keep the planet cooler? Move to New York. According to an article in City Scoops, New York City is one of the greenest cities on the planet.

Even with all those twinkling lights that are on, the city's per capita greenhouse emissions are a third of the rest of the country. If NYC was a state, it would rank 51st in per capita energy consumption. The reason is twofold; much smaller living spaces and, the most obvious one, no cars. The article also states that the city intends to lower greenhouse emissions by a third in the next twenty years.

Despite the city's green ranking and
real greenness with so many parks, there is still one little problem regarding the future--the city is at sea level. As glaciers melt and oceans rise, Manhattan is likely to find itself battling the ocean more than the sun. And suddenly, those 6 floor walk-ups will have a lot more value.

December 7, 2009

The Shocking Truth About Gay Marriage

After much debate and delay, the adult day-care center up in Albany that's also known as the New York State Senate, voted against gay marriage last week. Shocker. Much like the Democrats on Capitol Hill, these legislators can't even agree who their leader is so it's no surprise they couldn't somehow get it together take a stand on the major civil rights issue of our era.

After defeats in California last year and Maine this year, the quest for marriage equality seems troubled lately. So the New York TIMES this weekend decided the movement needed a little pick me up. The TIMES, which has been running gay wedding annoucements for 7 years now, did a lovely feature in the Style section about a couple of guys who'd been together nearly 20 years and finally tied the knot, with their 7 year old son in attendance. The story is touching and sweet and, most strikingly, kinda ordinary. They are just a couple of nice Jewish guys trying to raise their son in a place that doesn't legislate hate (i.e. Connecticut). What's not to like?

What this article shows simply and beautifully is the truth about gay marriage....which is that there's nothing that shocking about it at all. What's shocking are the claims by right wingnuts that this will somehow lead to people marrying their pets or kids being taught gay sex in the first grade. Huh? Of course, these are the only arguments they can make because there's nothing to terrible or scary or immoral about two professional guys, living with their mother even, who love each other so much they decided they wanted to raise a kid.

This week, New Jersey's state legislators may consider a marriage bill. Politicans can speechify all they want about their "personal moral dilemnas" but really, when it comes down to it, I would honestly like to know how they can vote against something as beautiful as this? The picture above says it all.

December 4, 2009

The Mercury Theatre on 41st Street

Last night, I saw the movie ME & ORSON WELLES, a fictionalized film about Welles' landmark production of "Julius Caesar" that marked the stunning debut of his company of players, The Mercury Theatre. The movie begins with the company arriving at their new home on 41st Street, a playhouse on the fringe of the Broadway theatre district. I was thinking to myself, could they be referring to what is now the Nederlander Theatre, home to RENT for nearly a decade? Surely enough, the answer is yes.

The Nederlander has a history that reaches back even further than that. It opened in 1921 as the National Theatre where it featured plays by Lillian Hellman and Tennessee Williams. Then it was the Mercury from 1937-1940. After that, it was known as the Billy Rose Theatre and was famous for being the home to Edward Albee's "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf". It became the Nederlander in 1980 and then was semi-occupied for the next 15 years til "RENT" arrived as transfer from NY Theatre Workshop. And the rest, as they say, is Broadway history.

I'm always fascinated by the history of these old Broadway houses and the shows they hosted over their many years in existence. But I never would have guessed that Orson Welles and Jonathan Larson were somehow connected by the same playhouse on the edge of Times Square.

December 2, 2009

How To Send An Anvil Flying

Here's some totally silly hump-day material. What can I say...I'm a sucker for videos where people are blowing stuff up, up and away. :)

December 1, 2009

Dubai Photos Show Highs and Lows

Dubai, that space-age city rising out of the sandy Persian Gulf coast, has been in the news lately for its troubled present--namely a huge debt crisis which shook world markets last Friday. But despite it's financial problems, this city of tomorrow still looks pretty fabulous, especially the Burj Dubai, the tallest structure in the world.
Set to be completed in spring of 2010, there was a cool photo gallery of pictures of the Burj on the Guardian UK's website recently. The building truly looks like something from a sci-fi movie-I was thinking LOGAN'S RUN for some reason. Anyway, this super-sized skyscraper will have about 160 floors when completed though it's actual height is a closely guarded secret.
Yesterday, I found another less glamourous photo gallery on Dubai over at the TIMES website, as part of their excellent LENS feature. Photographer Lauren Greenfield has a series of pictures showing the troubles Dubai is experiencing due to its growing pains. The pictures here, though, are as equally stunning as those of Burj but in a different way. My favorite and weirdest is the caravan of trucks carrying sewage out of a city that's grown so quickly, it's sewer system can't keep up with demand. It looks like a fascinating place to visit....though I may wait a few years until all that construction is finished.