April 30, 2010

St. Vincent's Isn't The Only Place Closing

Today is the last day of operation for St. Vincent's hospital in the Village.  For more than 160 years, the hospital has taken care of the neighborhood.  It has even taken care of me when I had my bike accident a couple years ago and broke my wrist.  But as of tomorrow, it will become merely an "Urgent Care Center" tending to local cuts, scrapes, and minor medical emergencies.  Anyone needing surgery will have to go uptown.

Though the closing is shocking, what I've noticed lately is somewhat more shocking; the number of local businesses shutting down in general.  As the nation's economy supposedly improves, things here have seemingly gotten worse in recent months.  There are countless "closed" or "for sale" signs in storefronts all over the Village.  Some of them are stores that have been around for decades and others just a year.  

I've been taking some photos recently of all these closing....these pics below are just in a few blocks radius of my apartment. Along with the closure of St. Vincent's, they are truly signs of the times.

April 29, 2010

Molly Ringwald Talks Gays and The Facts Of Life

There's a wide-ranging interview with Molly Ringwald in this week's Advocate.  She has a new lifestyle book out this week which she is promoting called "Getting the Pretty Back".  Our little "Sam" has grown up and now has a husband and three kids.  But she talks about many other subjects in the interview, from the Prop 8 video she did to all her gay friends in NYC (including Justin Bond and Julian Fleisher).  

She also talks about the not-so-secret gay characters in the John Hughes oeuvre and how she thinks Hughes was unaware of their sexuality in the same way gays, in the high school years, sometimes can't figure it out themselves. (Uh, yes...that would be me!)  Here's an excerpt:

But sometimes I wonder if John was even aware of that. I don’t know that he was. What made those movies so interesting and so hard for people to replicate is that for some reason John was still somehow emotionally in the mind-set of those teenagers. Usually you can hear when an adult clearly wrote something for a kid character, but John’s movies don’t sound like that because he was still emotionally in that place. So you know how some kids can be gay and not know it? Or maybe they kind of know it but aren’t facing it? I feel like maybe John was writing those characters like that.

She also talks about her brief stint on "The Facts of Life" when she was cast in the pilot only to be replaced by Nancy McKeon for the series.  She's asked what her thoughts were about the whole lesbian subplot on that pilot.  She was all of 13 at the time and doesn't seem to remember too much about it...probably because it was a job that didn't quite pan out.  Which is probably for the best because if she was stuck on "Facts" she never would have been available to become America's Teen Queen. 

April 28, 2010

Bryan Greenberg Is Kinda Cute

OK--before you say anything I know that Bryan Greenberg is more than cute.  He's, in fact, pretty damn hot.  

However, I put him in my collection of Kinda Cute guys for a couple reasons.  One, despite an expansive career that includes two network TV shows, a movie opposite Meryl Streep and an HBO series, no one really knows who he is.  Two, in utter contradiction to his serious good looks, Bryan seems to always be stuck playing guys who are only supposed to be Kinda Cute.  He's always being cast as a sensitive novelist (ABC's October Road), or a sensitive painter (PRIME w/Meryl and Umma) or a sensitive fashion designer (HBO's How To Make It In America).  Then there's the regular Joe supporting roles he used to specialize in, like on the CW's One Tree Hill. And even a quasi-nerd in The Perfect Score.  

So, memo to H'wood: Bryan Greenberg is hot. He has a body like a Greek God.  Someone needs to cast him as a hot dude, like a male supermodel, dangerous spy or a porn star or something really juicy.  No more Mr. Nice Guy for Bryan.  Once he gets that role, I guarantee that everyone will know his name.  In the meantime, I'd recommend checking out PRIME which was a very sweet/goofy love story where he falls for one of his therpaist mom's patients.   And you can see him weekly on the new HBO show How to Make It In America, which is also very good.

April 27, 2010

The Air Force Memorial

I was down in Washington last weekend and made a trip to the Air Force Memorial, which opened back in 2006. From driving around the DC area, I had seen the three stainless steel spirals arcing up over the Crystal City skyline and, initially, was not so impressed.  In fact, it seemed a little odd and random the way it's spires stuck in the air without any context or real meaning.  The first time I saw it, I thought it was a series of large construction cranes or a radio tower that had never been completed.

An actual visit to the memorial is fortunately a very different experience. Sited on a promontory that provides an expansive view of the entire city of Washington, the memorial's three 200 foot-plus spires seen up close are more impressive and quite dramatic when viewed from the ground looking up.  Each one is a different height and they are arrayed in a triangle on a large granite plaza with the Air Force star embedded in glass and marble at the center.  I took a number of pictures while there which give a sense of the drama of those structures which resemble the contrails of three F-14's in a cloud burst formation.

The only unfortunate thing about the memorial is also it's position: it overlooks the site where American Airlines Flight 77 struck the Pentagon.  Though the Air Force has a long and impressive history going back to World War II, there is no arguing 9/11 was a day of unique failure for the service branch entrusted with defending America's airspace.  The planning of the memorial began long before 9/11, back in 1994, so it's more of an unfortunate coincidence than an embarrassing planning blunder.  

But still, standing at the edge of the memorial and looking down at the reflective benches of the Pentagon memorial, it's sobering to realize you're standing in the flight path of American 77. In a way, it gives the grandiose and somewhat flashy memorial a totally unintended solemnity. And, in a way, maybe that's for the best....it tempers the glory of the wild blue yonder with the harsh realities of the human costs of war.

April 26, 2010

The Lower East River Side

Williamsburg is starting to look like Jersey City these days with it's new skyscraper themed waterfront.  Now stage two is being planned on the southern end of the 'Burg, centered around what used to be the Domino Sugar Factory (pictured above).

There is a current exhibit at the American Institute of Architects space on LaGuardia Place showing a potential future for the landmarked site.  Rafael Viñoly Architects has designed a plan to remake the 125-year-old industrial complex into an 11.2 acre, mixed-income residential and mixed-use development.  What's nice is that they've preserved the Domino Factory at the center of it all. What's not so nice is that, other than some street amenities,  it looks just as bland as the Trump West Side Railyard development.

If development continues like this, Williamsburg is soon going to resemble the Upper West Side.  Maybe that's the plan, at least for Bloomberg who likes to turn every unique neighborhood into a generic super-hi-rise, vertical version of suburbia.  But it would be a shame to see the quirkiness of the 'Burg blanded out like this.  

April 23, 2010

Taiwan's Own Susan Boyle

Earlier this month, a 24 year old Taiwanese shopkeeper with an unfortunate haircut went onstage of the TV show "One Million Star" and came back an instant internet sensation ala Susan Boyle.  He turned out the most improbably soulful and diva-like rendering of Whitney Houston's "I Will Always Love You"...a take on the popular song which honestly rival's Houston's original.  Take a look...or maybe just a listen because you won't believe your eyes.

April 22, 2010

South Park Creators Receive Death Threats

In a follow-up to yesterday's post, the creators of South Park's, which aired it's 200th epsiode last week in which the Prophet Mohammed appears dressed in a bear costume, have received death threats.  A Muslim website stated that they "probably wind up like Theo Van Gogh for airing this show" for this depiction of Mohammed in the episode.  Van Gogh was murdered for a doc that showed the treatment of Muslim women.

Last night, episode 201 aired in which Mohammed/Teddy Bear reappeared but was heavily censored by Comedy Central. There were a number of bleeps over speeches and blurred out images and boxes which read "censored" and the Teddy Bear was replaced by Santa Claus somewhat hastily. The question was if all this censoring was intentional by Trey and Matt .  The answer came in a statement they released to their website, saying it was all Comedy Central's doing and not a "meta-joke".  

Another website, Cinematical, pointed out though that South Park has actually depicted Mohammed in the past.  In an episode in 2004, he was portrayed in a somewhat positive light as a bit of a superhero, appearing alongside Jesus and Moses and shooting fire from his palms.  In other episodes, the show has toyed with the controversy of showing the prophet but using clever cutaways or having characters comment on it directly.  

Anyway, it all shows that, even after 200 episodes, the creators of South Park still do not have any sacred cows...or bears for that matter....that they will refuse to tip over.

April 21, 2010

South Park's 200th Episode

The boys of "South Park", Matt Stone and Trey Parker (pictured l-r), have been at it now for 13 years, if you can believe it. Their animated show hit the cable airwaves in 1998 and has been offending people ever since.  And last week they aired their 200th episode, one in which they brought back all the people they offended so that they could file a class action lawsuit against the town of South Park.  Genius.  

There's a great interview with both Trey and Matt in the Times ArtsBeat blog today, as they go over topics as far ranging as Muslims and Carlos Mencia (who they recently took on in a new episode). They also discuss their upcoming Broadway show, "Book of Mormon: The Musical" which I saw in a workshop production last summer and loved.  If the Mormon Church was annoyed at them before, they're really gonna be ticked off next year when this show hits Broadway. Which is exactly their plan, I'm sure.  :)

April 20, 2010

Film Editor Extraordinaire Dede Allen

The NY Times noted the passing yesterday of film editor Dede Allen.  She cut such notable films as "Bonnie and Clyde" and "Dog Day Afternoon".  I am esepcially a fan of "Dog Day" which, in and of itself, is a self-contained master class in how to edit suspense.  It is a thrilling story which remains so even after multiple viewings due to the remarkable craft of Ms. Allen.

Her obit states that she started as a sound editor way back during the studio era on films like the landmark "Citizen Kane".  She received credit for editing more than 20 films during her career and worked into the new century.  One of my favorite, recent films she did was the undrerrated screwball comedy "Wonder Boys" that came out in 2000.  It's a delightful character study, starring Robert Downey Jr. at the height of his crazy years and Michael Douglas in possibly his best and most natural performance.  

Directors often get all the credit when it comes to filmmaking...but not with Ms. Allen.  The directors she worked with universally praised her genius and her devotion to a career that made for a remarkable body of work.  Anyway, if you're looking for something to add to your Netflix queue, just type her name into IMDB and you'll find more than a few cinematic gems.  

April 19, 2010

A Broadway Star Goes Country

A few years ago, there was quite a stir on the Great White Way when country star Reba Macintyre took Broadway by tornado with her star turn in "Annie Get Your Gun".   Now the connection is running the other way as Broadway's Laura Bell Bundy ("Hairspray", Legally Blonde") is taking on Nashville.

Last night, LBB did an almost Broadway style number in the middle of the CMA awards to launch her first country album, "Achin' and Shakin'".  And she was not kidding around.  The blonde diva did some serious line dancing which certainly looked like country on the surface but, with all the high kicks and bounding leaps, felt more like a scene out of "Oklahoma".   

LBB actually grew up in the south, born and raised in Kentucky so her new act is not much of a put-on as it seemed.  But I find it  interesting how country music, which was recently invaded by rock/pop legend Bon Jovi, is now getting an attack from the world of musical theatre.  In some ways, it actually makes sense in that there has always been something very Broadway about country, with it's storytelling songs, corn-pone sentiment and classic American melodies. So it'll be interesting to see if the country world embraces LBB as she goes back to her roots.

April 17, 2010

Dog v. iPad

This video is making the viral rounds....a corgi checking out an iPad. He is interested at first when he sees his reflection.  But his relationship to the techno-beast changes over time.  Steve Jobs would not be pleased.

April 16, 2010

The Mystery of Roosevelt Island

For me, the mystery of Roosevelt Island is located not in the creepy ruins of an abandoned small pox hospital or grounds of an infamous insane asylum but in the name of the island itself. Why was this slip of land in the middle of the East River named after Franklin Roosevelt? The answer was revealed this week when the NY Times announced that a memorial to FDR is under construction on island's southern tip....a memorial that has been nearly 40 years in the making.

This two mile spit of land barely 800 feet wide was originally named Welfare Island then Blackwell's Island. However, it was not a place you'd want to visit, home to violent prisoners, the mentally insane and the mortally ill for more than 100 years. In the 1960's, plans were made to redevelop the island and make it livable, with affordable housing and a tram line to connect it to Manhattan. In 1973, the island got it's presidential moniker when plans were announced for a memorial and historical center designed by famed architect Louis Kahn. Then the city nearly went bankrupt and the project was put on indefinite hold. Until now...

Last month, ground was broken for the memorial, pictured above, which will grace the tip of the island directly across from the United Nations (an FDR legacy). The official groundbreaking will happen this summer and the first phase of the memorial along with some beautiful new parks should be open to the public by summer 2011.

April 15, 2010

Countdown In The Launch Box

As I've blogged before, New York City is currently in the midst of the biggest expansion of its mass transit network in decades. There are four projects underway tunneling beneath the city to build the new 7 line extension, the LIRR Grand Central terminal, a new Hudson tunnel for NJ Transit and the biggest project of them all, the long-delayed Second Avenue Subway.

After months of blasting, the actual tunneling far beneath 2nd avenue is set to begin later this spring. The launchbox, a large cavern where a TBM (tunnel boring machine) is assembled and set in motion, is ready to go. The TBM itself weighs roughly 485 tons, thus the big assembly launch/box. It just arrived in Newark last week.

There are some remarkable photos and videos of this machine (as well as the launch box) posted on a blog following the project called, of course, The Launchbox. The blog will be counting down the days to the start of tunneling from 96th to 63rd street.

April 14, 2010

The Next Saudi Arabian Idol?

In Saudi Arabia, there is a hit show on national television that looks just like the top US show, "American Idol". It has a flashy set, dramatic lighting, intense music. The only difference is that instead of songs, the Saudi idols recite poetry. That's right....poetry. On television.

The show is called "Millions' Poet" and is taped in Abu Dubai. Each week a new round of men stand at the center of a stage that has all the glitzy trapping's of an "Idol" set and they recite their own personally penned poetry about subjects like family life and the desert. But what's even more remarkable is that during last week's finale, one of the five finalists was a woman.

Hissa Hillal, a 43 year old mother draped in a niquab, defied convention by reciting poetry critical of consersvative Muslims. For taking such a brave and daring step, Ms. Hillal did not win the top prize which was expected. But, even in third place, she took home more than 600K....which is more than most US poets have ever made in a lifetime. However, what she really gained was worldwide recognition, including being named ABC News' Person Of The Week (I've posted the story below). It's a fascinating look at a remarkable woman and well worth watching. But I still can't get over the idea of a poetry contest on television. That's something even PBS wouldn't dare try in this country!

April 13, 2010

Sunday In The Park With Swing

I was passing through Washington Square Park on Sunday and heard a New Orleans-style jazz band whipping up some swing for a gorgeous spring day. There were also a couple dancers who were cutting some concrete with some pretty sweet moves. They were amateurs but definitely a lot more entertaining than the usual jugglers, showmen and folk singers that populate the center of the Park. A lovely diversion on an April afternoon....

April 12, 2010

My Brownie Husband

Tina Fey hosted SNL this weekend and it was one of the best shows of the season.  Not only did she bring back Sarah Palin and do a killer routine on Weekend Update about Jesse James' hookers, she also starred in and probably wrote one of the best SNL fake ads I've seen in a while.  It's for the Brownie Husband and it is hysterical.  I possibly laughed a little more than the average viewer as I had just baked some brownies earlier in the evening.  But, just for the the record, I didn't curl up to them on the sofa or bring them to bed.  OMG--that last scene is a riot!

April 9, 2010

Behind The Scenes @ GLEE

The GLEE kids were on Oprah this week, singing and dancing and being incredibly talented and totally adorkable.  Oprah put together a great little behind the scenes segment on the show, showing the cast going through their dance moves, singing and wardrobe.  They all look like they are having a blast...like they're living in some sorta cotinuous MGM-heyday flashback.  They even dropped a little spoiler in the clip....Kurt joins the Cheerios!  

Season 1.2 starts up in just 4.5 days (next Tuesday night on FOX at 9, to be exact).  My own informal GLEE club will be gathering 'round the flatscreen....no HULU or iTunes for GLEE.  You have to watch it live and preferably with a crowd of enthusiastic gay men who work in the arts. :)  Can't wait!

April 8, 2010

Chat Roulette--The Song

Well...it didn't take long for someone to do a parody song of ChatRoulette, the face-to-face networking site that has been taking the Internet by storm over the past few months.  This spot-on take on the ChatRoulette phenomenon comes from Hank Green, the brother of fellow teen author John Green and the co-creator the their site nerdfighters.com.  So enjoy this comical musical interlude....and beware the pantless. Next!

April 7, 2010

Donut of The Weak

As many of you know, I have a weakness for donuts.  And when I am really feeling the craving for warm, sugary, deep fried dough, I head to the Donut Pub.  Despite its name, the Pub does not sell beer or any other alocholic beverages.  But it does have a long bar which stretches the length of the joint, with old fashion spinning stools like you would have found at the Woolworth's lunch counter.  

A trip to the Donut Pub is something of a time warp.  It opened in the 1960s' and, despite a renovation in 2005 that brought it out of the 70's, it still has its old-timey charm.  It's open 24 hours and harbors some real New York characters.  When I first started going there in the early 90's, there was often an interesting mix of club kids and nuns on any given night (there was a convent nearby that has since relocated).  Now, like all of Manhattan, things have blanded out a bit.  But the donuts are still amazing.  

They have all the favorites from my childhood: chocolate w/sprinkles, cinnamon dusted, even crullers and the amazing creme-filled delight.  There are even some industrial sized brownies and muffins too as well as a black and white cookie that gets raves.  You can also have lunch sitting at the bar for under 10 dollars--an amazing feat on the border of Chelsea and the Village. The pub is located at 203 W. 14th Street, just west of Seventh Ave....now and hopefully forever.

April 6, 2010

Coney Island Comeback

So forget Easter...the true sign of spring happened this weekend as the world-famous Cyclone roller coaster opened for the 2010 season.  The NY Times City Critic columnist took a ride and declared it as frightening and awe inspiring as ever as the coaster enters is 83rd year of scaring the crap out of riders from around the world.  

However, this years' opening was different.  The clacking and rattling sounds of the steel and wooden coaster are now accompanied by the slam-bang and beep-beep of construction activity as the rebuilding of Coney is underway.  In less than 2 months, the new "Luna Park" will open; an entertainment complex with 19 new rides and attractions on the site of the old Astroland.  The photo above is a computer rendering of the park's new Surf Avenue entrance.  In 2011, Phase 2 of the project will unleash two brand new roller coasters on the Stilwell avenue lot which has been empty for a couple years now.  

All this is great news for Coney which was on verge of extinction just a couple years ago under the misguided condo/hotel redevelopment plans of Thor Equities.  You can read about the new Coney on the on the new Luna Park blog, which also has some pictures of the rides coming this summer. Opening day is set for May 29th.

April 5, 2010

Happy Peepster

Peeps, those sugary, quasi-marshmallowy, neon-colored treats, are slowly but surely usurping the tired old Easter Bunny as the kitschy symbol of Easter.  As you can see by this pic, spotted on Facebook over the weekend, they are trying to take even Jesus himself out of the picture.  

Though they've been around since 1953, made by a candy company based in Lancaster, PA, the popularity of Peeps has been growing in recent years, as evidenced by the growing trend of Peep-diorama contests. Even reputable newspapers like the Washington Post now hold these annual events where they get hundreds of submissions from Peeps-crazed readers.  My favorite is this one below from the Hot Dish blog of Peeps at a peep show:

Currently, the latest in Peeps-trending seems to be cooking.  The soft little birdies and bunnies are being cooked, baked, fried and even added as toppings onto pizzas.  The food blog Serious Eats did an experiment dropping some Peeps onto a NY pie. The results are hysterical and somewhat disturbing too.

They claimed that the mix of savory and sweet tasted interesting....hmmm. I'm not sure this is what I want on my pizza.  However, a melted Peep can be delicious. A couple years ago, I was at an Easter BBQ where Peeps were roasted on an open flame. However, there was a small margin of error between the perfectly roasted Peep and a runny, chemical spill.  You had to time it just right as the unnatural makeup of Peeps, which has been thoroughly documented, is quite particular.  Or should I say Peep-ticular.

April 2, 2010

New Directors/New Films 2010

The annual survey of international cinema from 1st and 2nd time directors is wrapping up this weekend.  New Directors/New Films presents some of the newest voices in indie cinema on two gorgeous screens; the MOMA's Titus theatre and the Film Society of Lincoln Center's Walter Reade.  Highlights this weekend including "Beautiful Darling", a doc on Warhol's Candy Darling, and a Russian psychological thriller which received some major awards at Berlin, "How I Ended This Summer".  The festival wraps up on Sunday with the French crie de couer "I Killed My Mother", which is a comedy about a gay boy and his mom.  French cinema with a sense of humor?  Who knew....

April 1, 2010

The Wilderness In Queens

I recently took an expedition out to far reaches of Queens for a trek through the Jamaica Wildlife Refuge. This unique 9,000 acre mix of park and coastal wetland is run by the National Park Service, which took it over in 1972 from NY City.  At the center of the Refuge, are two man-made, fresh water lakes created by none other than infamous car/bridge man Robert Moses.  There are two lengthy hiking trails that circle these lakes where you can see more than 300 species of birds, not to mention turtles and even snakes.  

Though it was a little early too see much fauna in March, there was plenty of flora and some beautiful landscapes. I've posted some pics of my adventure below.  It's amazing that this is technically New York City.  If you want to go see for yourself, it's easily accessible via the A train and bus....or a nice leisurely walk through the island town of Broad Channel.  That quirky little town will be the subject of a future post....