November 30, 2011

In Oscar Race, Two Actors With No Lines

As the Oscar race gets into gear in December, studios are positioning their films and talent for the  little gold statuettes.  In the Best Actor race, there are two performances that are being pushed for consideration in which the actors don't speak.  They are Andy Serkis, who played the lead Cesar in RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES and Jean Dujardin who plays a silent movie star in THE ARTIST. Currently, the odds are in favor of Dujardin getting a nod as critical reaction to his charming movie has been through the roof.  Also, Dujardin won Best Actor at Canne's earlier this year when the film debut.  Even though he speaks barely a line of dialogue, his performance is what keeps the film together.

In the case of APES, Fox is pushing hard for Serkis' work in digital performance capture to be nominated for an award.  (There is story about their efforts in the Hollywood Reporter this week.)  Though their line is that dialogue doesn't matter, one thing that does matter is faces.  And Serkis's face is not in the movie at all.  And even though they are trying to get him a Best Supporting Actor nod, it seems like a long shot. Actors vote for the actor awards and I can't imagine there is a lot of enthusiasm in that camp for turning over the awards to digital creations when so much of Hollywood's films are already highly digitized.  Also, they tried this strategy with AVATAR a few years back and failed.  But then again, it was a few years ago and one can't deny that Cesar was one of the more memorable scene stealers of the year.  

November 29, 2011

Rethinking The Grounds Of The Washington Monument

When I was in Washington for the holiday weekend, I checked out a fascinating exhibit at the National Building Museum called "Unbuilt Washington".  It is a 200 year plus retrospective of plans for the nation's captial that never reached fruition, like a Versailles-esque White House on Meridian Hill, a Smithsonian Gallery of Art with a shockingly modern design that would have replaced the Castle, a 200 foot tall water fountain for a Teddy Roosevelt Memorial (where the Jefferson now stands), and, the strangest by far, an elevated freeway around the perimeter of the national Mall.  It's an amazing and often shocking look at what could have been and, for the most part, fortunately never was.

Part of the exhibit was dedicated to the tortured history of one memorial that has become so iconic, it's hard to imagine it never having been built.  The Washington Monument was problematic from the start because President Washington had explicitly asked that no memorials be built in his name, wishing to avoid the godly hero-worship which had caused Europe so much trouble. But his wish was ignored and and, after many grand designs came and went, eventually a simple obelisk was built...over the course of 50 years, with the project stalling a third-built for 30 of those.

Now there is a plan afoot to rethink the design of the Washington Monument's plain, open field grounds.  There is a public competition entering the final phase where you can vote on your favorite design.  Some imagine a national amphitheater in marble that would hold 3,000 people, others a landscaped and wooded forest.  You can see the entires here and vote on the site as well.  Winners will be featured in the exhibit and their ideas presented to the National Park Service as they consider what to do with the grounds...after they fix the actual monument, still closed due to earthquake damage.

November 28, 2011

New Catholic Mass Debuts In The U.S.

If you are Catholic, yesterday was not only the beginning of a new liturgical year (with the first Sunday of Advent) but also the start of a new liturgy too.  I was home for the holiday and actually went to the first new mass with the first new "script" since the Vatican II changed the mass to English almost 40 years ago.  The revisions, which are meant to track closer to the original Latin, are not as extensive as I was led to believe though some of them are certainly strange.

The biggest change is that the response to "the Lord be with you" has been changed from "and also with you" to "and with your spirit".  Which means...what exactly?  As I recall from taking Latin in high school, some Latin just does not translate very well.  Also, words like "begotten" and "consubstantial" are tossed into the mix just to confuse everyone.  It seems odd to make this big revision when the previous mass was so clear. Now they're just muddying things up again.  My theory is that the real reason the church is doing this to remind everyone who is in charge....The Vatican!

Hundreds of American priests are in a bit of revolt over the new mass, according to a piece in today's TIMES. I can report that the priest at my old parish in Maryland was clearly not happy about the change and said as much during his homily. He even related that other priests in the diocese were also not pleased by the change up.  But, he wearily said they will change anyway and that everyone will get used to mass 2.0 eventually.  As they say, when in the Roman Catholic church...

November 25, 2011

The World's Fastest Coaster Is In Dubai

As most people know, the world's tallest building is now located in Dubai...the Burj Khalifa. (You can see it prominently featured in the current trailers and commercials for the new MISSION IMPOSSIBLE movie.) But with a little less fanfare, the world's fastest roller coaster recently opened in Dubai as well.  With a top speed of 150mph, it displaces the terrifying Kingda Ka at New Jersey's Six Flags' Great Adventure as the fastest roller coaster in the world.

The Formula Rossa is shaped like a Ferrari race car and is so fast that the riders need to wear protective eyewear to protect them from bugs.  (Gross!)  But despite the top speed, which occurs when the car is shot of out the gate by hydraulic technology similar to that which launches jet fighters, the coaster seems pretty tame actually (as you can see in the smooth ride below). No crazy loops, inversions twists or even drops; the whole ride has the feel of going around a race track. Which even at fast speeds, seems a little....dull.

Anyway, the Formula Rossa is part of a massive new amusement pavilion called "Ferrari World".  Yes, it's a big promo-tisement for all things Ferrari in the guise of a tourist attraction.  Or, what my father used to call, a tourist trap.

November 24, 2011

Have A Happy Thanksgiving & Some Pumple Cake

In honor of Thanksgiving, that uniquely American holiday which is supposed to celebrate gratitude for our blessings but, in its current form, has become a day of overindulgence, I give you the Pumple Cake.  The Flying Monkey Bakery in Philadelphia had the crazy idea to bake a whole apple pie and a whole pumkin pie into a massive two layer chocolate and vanilla cake with. It's sort of a Turducken for the dessert course!

It looks delicious but beware; one slice of this dangerous dessert is a whopping 1800 calories.  Insane or insanely delicious?  I haven't tried it yet myself but I would like to....with maybe four of my closest friends.  Happy Thanksgiving y'all!  :)

November 22, 2011

Pressing The NYPD On Their Treatment Of Press

When the Occupy Wall Street-ers were evicted in the middle of the night from Zucotti Park last week, the most shocking thing to me about the operation was the fact that the police forbid the media from covering it.  They said that they did it out of concern for their safety but it doesn't take a genius to figure out the real reason was that the mayor did not want pictures of it all over the morning papers/TV/blogs.  And there weren't. There were only reports that the protestors had been evicted.

Well today, the press is fighting back against this egregious violation of the First Amendment. The TIMES media blog today reports that 13 news organizations along with 10 journalistic unions have filed complaints with the NYPD and have asked for a full investigation into the events of November 15th.  In addition to the enforced media blackout, there were also 10 journalists who were arrested that day and multiple reporters who were roughed up and impeded from covering a major news story.

This is beyond shocking in a democratic society.  The police and the mayor's tactics on that day are more reminiscent of what goes on in China than in the United States.  Let's hope a full investigation is launched into police misconduct and that the city takes responsibility for violating the rights of citizens that it is supposed to be upholding.

November 21, 2011

Police Tactics At UC-Davis Cause A Firestorm

Over the weekend, a firestorm erupted over a viral video of a UC-Davis campus policeman casually pepper-spraying non-violent student protesters sitting on a campus walkway.  It's one of the strangest and most shocking videos of police misconduct to come out of all the "Occupy" protests these fall and it is causing a massive reaction, with calls for the chancellor of the school to resign.  (This AM she said she will not leave her post.)

There is a very thoughtful article in this morning's Washington Post on the question of who police are protecting and how they are being viewed very differently these days by those they are supposed to protect.  Simply put, police used to be people you were told as a child to ask for help but now they are a force to be avoided at all costs.  I would have to agree with this assessment, especially here in NYC where the police have become a self-acknowledged para-military force, larger than the standing army of some countries in South America.  I find myself often crossing the street to avoid police officers, knowing that saying the wrong thing or often looking at them the wrong way can lead to trouble. 

This video popularity and the massive response to it seems to hit on an issue central to life in the post-9/11 era.  We have ceded so much power to police and other authorities to protect us from terrorism yet more and more it appears we have also handed over our basic human rights as well.  Maybe this and other videos circulating the web these days can serve as a turning point in returning the balance of power in this country to where it rightfully and constitutionally belongs; with the people.

November 18, 2011

Occupy Wall Street vs. The Empire

Yesterday, the Occupy Wall Street movement celebrated their 2-month anniversary with a massive action in lower Manhattan.  One unofficial estimate heard on a NYPD radio scanner put the crowd size near 30,000.  However, the day was not without incident.  More than 200 people were arrested as protestors, now without a home in Zuccotti Park after being evicted Tuesday night, took to Foley Park, the subways and the Brooklyn Bridge to educate the 99% about the financial inequities in the country today.

While there is nothing funny about the often extreme tactics of NYPD, someone has found a way to infuse a touch of humor into the situation.  There has been much comment about how police here and in other cities resemble storm troopers in the STAR WARS films. Well, now an internet genius has morphed the police batons into light sabres to make the point. Now we just need someone to Photoshop Bloomberg's face onto that of the Emperor...that would be awesome!

November 17, 2011

Is This Photo Worth 4.3 Million Dollars?

The answer is yes.  That's how much it went for at auction last week at Christie's, according to a story on NPR.  The photographer is Andreas Gursky and the photo is of the Rhine River in his native Germany.  On the surface it's not an extraordinary image. But the actual print that was sold is very large, 6 x11 feet.  But I think I'd want something 60 x 111 feet for that price!  

Of course, art experts have a lot to say in the NPR piece about the photographer's German background, his famous mentors and the significance of the Rhine in Western art.  But I would not have guessed it was the Rhine, more or less a river, when I first saw it.  It almost looks like a painting of horizontal stripes of green and grey. But all that adds up to major cha-ching in the somewhat loopy world of contemporary art valuation these days.

And what was the photo Gursky beat out that was the previous record holder?  That would be 3.3 million for Cindy Sherman's "Unititled".

November 16, 2011

Fonuts Are Hot In L.A.

I'm always on the lookout for the latest in donuts news and/or trends.  Recently, it has come to my attention that something called fonuts (as in faux donuts) has created a feeding frenzy in Los Angeles, especially among skinny celebrities.  Fonuts are basically fake donuts without all the unhealthy fat, sugar, calories and stuff.  Oh yeah, and they are gluten-free of course.

I haven't tasted them but I will say I am a little skeptical of the concept of faux donuts.  The basic idea of a donut is that of total, unadulterated indulgence so what's the point if it's actually healthy?  Maybe in L.A. everything fun has to be made healthy (see Pinkberry and soft ice cream).  I will definitely do a taste test next time I'm out on the Left Coast.

November 15, 2011

BREAKING NEWS--Fire on Fire Island Destroys the Pavilion

A fire broke out at the Pavilion complex in the Fire Island Pines community last night, destroying  a dance club, a real estate office, a grocery/gift store, the Sip'N'Twirl bar and a number of other small businesses.

It was apparently a fast moving blaze that started around 9:15pm on Monday night. More than 100 firefighters from Long Island and other Fire Island communities worked hard to bring it under control. Fortunately, the fire did not spread to the other buildings like the Canteen, the hotel and the Blue Whale and no one was injured.

Towleroad has all the details, including this photo of the interior of the destroyed Pavilion.  This is where we shot part of the TV pilot "Half-Share" last season and we had our wrap party for that shoot at the Sip'N'Twirl.  It's sad to see this place that is a central part of the Pines community now in ruins.  The remains of the building will likely be razed according to a statement from the owners.  Here's an excerpt below:

Tomorrow morning, Seth, Matt and I will begin the process of renewing this beautiful property and making it even more spectacular than it was before. Our hearts go out to Nicole LaFountaine, Patrick, PJ, Bob Howard and others in the LaFountaine building, and we will help one another get the commercial district ready for summer 2012. There is a lot of hard work ahead for all of us.

The Thain Family Forest At NY Botanical Garden

I recently made my annual trek up to the Bronx to do some leaf-peeping in the largest remaining wild forest in New York City.  I was surprised not only by the gorgeous colors of the leaves but also that this 50 acre thatch of unspoiled woods with trees 200-300 years old has been recently renamed The Thain Family Forest.

Thain is a former head of CIT and large donor to the Bronx Botanical Garden, which has a long history of naming things for it's donors like the landmarked Edith Haupfman Conservatory.  But naming a forest seemed a little over the top (and the NY Times City Room blog agrees).  Still a forest by any other name is still a thing of beauty come the first week of November.  So here's some of my photos below....enjoy!

November 14, 2011

Swords & Sandals Big Return With IMMORTALS

I went to see the Greek gods and ferocious warriors of antiquity battle it out this weekend in IMMORTALS, which topped the weekend box office with a healthy $32M in tickets.  I am a sucker when it comes to a good "sword and sandal" epic, a old film genre that has been resurgent lately.  Also, seeing it in the 3D made me think I had taken a time warp back to the 1950's when this genre, and 3D, had its original heyday.

The phrase "sword and sandal" refers directly to films made in Italy from the '50s-60s that feature gladiators, Hercules and Jason (not to mention the argonauts).  The genre also ended up covering the ancient epics that were coming out of Hollywood at the time with bigger budgets, stars, and much wider screens.  This was the studios way to get people to leave their boxy, black and white TV sets at home and come to the movies, which were experiencing a precipitous drop in attendance.

Cut to 50 years later and it seems like it's a little bit of cultural history repeating itself.  Now the studios are trying to yank viewers from your Netflix stream and get them to watch muscley guys in togas with graphic visual effects (exploding head of blood anyone?) in newfangled 3D.  The 3D is cool but, especially in this film, it had the feel of watching a live action ViewMaster movie.  It's cute (see Henry Cavill above) but hardly realistic. It will be interesting to see if there are more scantily clads Greeks and Romans to come.

November 11, 2011

11/11/11, aka National Corduroy Day

There's been a lot of buzz today on Twitter, Facebook, et al about today's date being 11/11/11.  It's a day on which you are supposed to make a wish and it will come true. Or to simply wonder at the alignment of the universe as your clock hits 11:11:11 on 11/11/11.

But all numerology and superstition aside, this date is actually been serving at National Corduroy Day for the last few years.  Why?  Because 11/11 is the day of the year that most resembles the paralell lines of corduroy fabric.

The New Yorker wrote about this unofficial fashion holiday in 2005 in a Talk of the Town piece. Today on the magazine's website, they recall that original piece and how this unique date is being celebrated this year by its founder Miles Rohan.  You can also check out the official website for the Corduroy Club for more on this beloved fall/wintry fabric.  Happy Corduory!

November 10, 2011

Jimmy Kimmel's Halloween Trick Goes Viral

Last week, Jimmy Kimmel aired a Halloween video that has gone super-viral.  More than 16 million hits in the last eight days!  I thought it was one of the funniest segments he's done.  Actually, it's something he only suggested...America did all the work.

On the night of his Halloween show, Kimmel told parents across the country to tell their kids they had eaten all their Halloween candy and film their reactions.  Needless to say, the reactions were intense!  Describing them does not do them justice other than to say that there are some serious sugar-withdrawal meltdowns.

My favorite though is the two brothers at the end.  They are so hysterical (and from NYC, natch!) that they will be on the Kimmel show tonight as guests. Tune in tonight for more...

November 9, 2011

C'mon....It's The '90s!

Back in the '90s, it seems that it was very popular in films and TV shows to say this phrase as a way of accenting a joke or making a point.  Of course, when you string all of these lines together 20 years later, it becomes a whole lot funnier.  And that's what someone did over at one of my favorite sites for pop cultural flotsam/jetsam,  I actually remember using this line a lot when I was younger, saying it in this overly mature and somewhat over-it tone of voice but with a change of decade;  "c''s the 80s!"  Oh how times have changed....

November 8, 2011

A Groundbreaking GLEE Goes All The Way

Tonight's episode of GLEE, titled "The First Time" is going to break a major network TV taboo when Chris Colfer's openly gay character has his first sexual experience with his boyfriend, played by breakout star Darren Criss.  There has already been a lot of pre-show hype that this is one of the best episodes of the season.  And in an interview with EW, Colfer talks candidly about expecting some major flack from the the usual TV watchdogs, like the Parents Council, about going all the way.

Personally, I have a feeling it's not going to be as raunchy or even risque as people expect.  I think the show's handling of the gay romance between these two characters has been so sweet and incredibly well done, to the point where their relationship has truly become the heart and soul of the show.

Also having their first time on tonight's episode will be Finn and Rachel, played by Cory Monteith and  Lea Michele .  I think it's smart to have both of these first occurring at the same time because it really sends home the message that love is love, no matter what the gender combo.  In fact, it's so smart that I employed the same device in my own teen novel, TALE OF TWO SUMMERS (now available as an eBook).   How's that for a plug!  Anyway, if the prom episode from last season is any indication, I think tonight's very special episode of GLEE is going to be a winner.

November 7, 2011

DOWNTON ABBEY Spoof Video Stars Jennifer Saunders

DOWNTON ABBEY is one of my new fave TV shows, having caught it all on Netflix streaming back in the Spring.  As I eagerly await "Series 2" (as they say across the pond), I found a brilliantly produced spoof-video of the show that was done earlier this year.  It stars none other than Jennifer Saunders as the literal old maid of the servants and also features Kim Cattrall doing a great imitation of Elizabeth McGovern.  Good stuff, I say! At least, that is, until the new episodes reach the states via PBS this January.

November 4, 2011

A New York Gay Wedding On Conan O'Brien

Conan O'Brien brought his Team Coco to NYC this week for tapings at Beacon Theatre.  I'm not a huge Conan fan, more partial to Jimmy Kimmel lately (as my previous posts indicate).  But last night, Conan did something truly wonderful on his program; he officiated the wedding of one of his staff members, Scott Cronick, to his longtime partner David Gorshein. I think this may be a TV talkshow first even. And it wasn't done all for laughs either. It is a beautiful and moving little ceremony and I dare you not to cry by the end of it.  Well done, Conan!

November 3, 2011

Michael Bay's Movies Get Buck For Bang

I found a nifty graphics chart today via Videogum which shows the direct correlation between the number of explosions in Michael Bay's films (he did the TRANSFORMERS blockbusters, amongst of summer movies) and the amount of money his films take in.  It was done by a graphic designer named Jeffrey Frankenhauser and you can see the chart on his own site (nicknamed Bayhem!).  There are also some additional graphics and figures on the body counts of Bay's films too, which reached an incredible 206 in the last TRANSFORMERS film.

Honestly, I don't know how you could actually count the on-screen deaths as there was so much general mayhem going on during that film. But someone did.  That someone is named Kyle, a freelance writer in Sioux Falls who provided the cold, hard data for Frankenhauser's chart.  It's a remarkable feat in that I have trouble sitting through a Michael Bay movie once whereas as he had to go back and forth to count all these things.  Anyway, not surprisingly, the higher the body count/explosions the bigger the box office.  Not really news but nice to see someone has taken the time to prove an old Hollywood adage.

November 1, 2011

Billy Eichner Has A New Show On Fuse TV

NYC comedian and on-the-street interviewer Billy Eichner has a new show coming to Fuse TV!   He's doing a game show where he asks folks on the street pop trivia questions for money.  But to win big in  the final round he asks a question about whether you share his taste in pop culture (i.e. "What's the best Christmas movie of all time?" You'll be surprised by the answer).

Anyway, I've posted a few of Billy's videos and spoofs here before and I just think his stuff is hysterical.  I'm so glad to see his uniquely crazy brand of humor will now have a regular outlet. The trailer for the show is below and I LOL'd more than once.  Make sure you watch til the end for some insight into Nicole Kidman's career.  Only in New York, kids...