Saturday, December 30, 2006

My new favorite example of digital retouching


U2, "Window in the Skies"

Saturday morning chain letter

It's been a lonely week since Boxing Day, so why not reply over the ether to a chain letter from Jaime? (I guess I'm the someone she knows a little.) It involves books. And really with interweb chain letters, there's not even the pain of postage involved, so here are the rules:

Find the nearest book
Name the title and author
Turn to p. 123
Post sentences 6-8
Tag 3 more people

The Dissident by Nell Freudenberger (a Christmas present that I'm excited to read after I finish The Emperor's Children, another gift)

"Gordon agreed with her, but somehow he'd managed to show his distaste for it without actually offering an alternative. / She figured that Max had slipped out around eleven, just after she'd said good night and before they turned on the alarm. Gordon had already been in bed, wearing his Brooks Brothers pajamas and reading the AJP."

I like those last details. I guess I'll have to actually read the book to find out which American Journal ... that means.

So I tag: Fake Mustache. Caren. Kottke.

(I've met Meg, but can't remember meeting the man himself.)

Friday, December 29, 2006

HIMYM Blooper Reel!


Almost as fun as actually being there.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Barnes and Noble author appearances I may or may not get around to seeing

-Tom Perrotta, author of Little Children, with Todd Field, director of the recent movie: Jan. 8, Lincoln Triangle
-David Lynch, weirdo director: Jan. 11, Union Square
-Adam Rapp, playwright of Red Night Winter: Jan. 22, Lincoln Triangle
-Norman Mailer, literary legend: Jan. 25, Union Square

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Unsilent Spring

Hearing a commercial on WQXR for the Broadway transfer just before I left for Christmas with the family convinced me to buy the soundtrack to Spring Awakening, and I haven't been disappointed. It's the kind of album I can listen to, when I'm in the mood, from beginning to end without the desire to ever reach for the skip button. The music (Duncan Sheik) and lyrics (Steven Sater) are that good. They're catchy and rich and deliver extra appeal upon repeat listening. And apparently, I'm not the only one who appreciates it: It's No. 11 on iTunes' top listing of soundtrack albums, and had been higher recently.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Graded on a curve, a decent Holiday

The Holiday, which I can't help figuring was crafted to imitate the trans-Atlantic appeal and cast of Love Actually, isn't as funny as it ought to be, and you can never really forget you're watching perfectly made-up movie stars in drop-dead-gorgeous settings and perfectly calculated shots, yet I was willing to forgive it these faults for being downright sweet and charming by turns. I am of course more easily swayed by British actors swooning over Americans and also by little British girls in pinafores saying the cutest of things in the cutest of ways. But still, I think the movie deserves credit for creating some fun natural-feeling moments amid the more predictable and contrived ones: those moments when one thinks, "I do that. I'm like that sometimes. Even when I'm not imagining a movie camera hidden behind the teakettle in the reality show that is my life." Directed by Nancy Meyers, it includes a great performance by Eli Wallach as an old screenwriter from the studio-system days, whom I've known more from evenings of Selected Shorts at Symphony Space than from the big screen (this being my deficiency, not his). All the lead characters get to be wonderfully successful commercial artists of some kind (the Brits get the words, the Yanks get the moving pictures), and there is something fun about having the Cameron Diaz character randomly burst into mental trailer-mode, where her life is boiled down by the famous announcer guy. And Hans Zimmer, who wrote the lush score, had to love that Jack Black's character is a movie-score composer (Jack Black a music nut? Never!) who tells his girlfriend not to mess with the Morricone on the convertible's CD player. There were other small jokes that you'd be more likely to find in a novel than a Hollywood rom-com that made me want to cheer for the piece a little more. And I thought it ended just right, the way a lot of old movies did, before overdoing and without overly implying any happily-ever-afters.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

My 12 favorite live theater performances this year -- OK, it's actually 14

The Apple Tree, starring Kristin Chenoweth
Cagelove, by Christopher Denham
The Coast of Utopia (parts I + II), by Tom Stoppard
Company, directed by John Doyle
The Elixir of Love at NYC Opera
Orange Lemon Egg Canary, by Rinne Groff
Red Light Winter, by Adam Rapp
Spring Awakening, with music by Duncan Sheik (on and off Broadway)
A Stone Carver, starring Dan Lauria
Striking 12, starring Groovelily
[title of show] at the Vineyard
Well, by Lisa Kron

'Pull it into Hug Harbor'

Shopgirl

It's one of those novellas that's actually better as a movie. The book by Steve Martin's not all that bad, but it doesn't really add much if you've seen the movie, and whereas the movie knows when to end, the book goes on for about a dozen pages too long, threatening to ruin what goodwill it built up previously.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Shipwreck

Part dva of Tom Stoppard's Russian trilogy tonight at LCT. And I actually got to see the playwright himself in the lobby at intermission, along with Daniel Okrent, former public editor of the NYT (I'm pretty sure it was him). I was almost late as the friendly bartender at Bello Giardino topped up my glass of Chianti, and I had to rush over to make the curtain. On top of being slightly buzzed for the opening scenes, I was squished by my two neighbor theatergoers, who'd taken it upon themselves to totally hog the armrests before I arrived. Thus I didn't get off to a good start, and probably can't give a good accounting of the show. Jennifer Ehle and Brian F. O'Byrne as Natalie and Alexander Herzen are the stars of this installment, and they each manage to shed the problems I saw in the first one, turning in good performances that carry the show along. No one quite stands out quite like Billy Crudup did playing Belinsky in the first part, although Ehle does show her chops (and other things*) playing Natalie. For whatever reason, I didn't feel as connected to the characters this time, and more of the philosophy babble passed me by without sticking -- it stuck a little more in the second act, I admit. There's a line that Belinksy utters twice in the show (the scene's repeated in part) that goes something like, "I've had enough of utopias." I'm sad to admit that at that moment I was feeling similarly. But it wasn't all so tiring. The sets are used to even greater effect in this part, and the stage is opened up more to evoke the different settings across Europe. The serf statues that stood sentry in the back of the first part of the trilogy are gone for most of Shipwreck, but they are constantly mentioned as being one of the chief sources of Russia's backwardness. (Of course, slavery was still legal in the U.S. at this time as well.) The play highlights Herzen as a philosopher in exile who can do the most good when he is away from his homeland like an early Joyce or Hemingway.

*There's a creative scene in the play that recreates Manet's Le déjeuner sur l'herbe, reminding me of the tableau vivant scene featuring Lily Barth in The House of Mirth.

Monday, December 18, 2006

How's it gonna be?

If my memory from Curbed days serves -- I'm too exhausted to confirm -- this East Village church facade will someday be the partial front to a dormitory. I can't decide whether this is going to look really neat and post-modern, or just tacked on and sad. Are there other church-front mutant buildings I'm not thinking of right now?

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Evening's viewing

A little bit o' quality mainstream prime-time and a touch of hipster heaven: Episode 109 of TheBurg: "The 90s" and episode 10 of Friday Night Lights: "It's Different for Girls."

Springtime for Broadway

I saw Duncan Sheik's Spring Awakening again with W. on Friday night, this time on Broadway. And while I had some reservations about the show the first time around, the slightly tweaked version feels more whole and less problematic. The frenetic choreography feels like it's been toned down to just the right amount and timing, although that may just be my bad memory. Plus, they managed to recreate the intimate feeling of the original set in the former church building in Chelsea. The show offers a fun, intense, touching and very tuneful night at the theater. The house was packed, post positive reviews, mostly it seemed with people under the age of 25. The show takes some risks, and it's a little more R-rated now, but they pay off, turning that hint of uncomfortableness we and the characters feel into truth. Plus, it's great to be able to leave a theater with several of the songs in your head, while also being able to pick up on subtleties in the book. Perhaps some of the reviews were hyperbole, but this really is a refreshing addition to the Broadway line-up. It feels like art as much as it does entertainment.

Also, Brantley seems to agree with me on the idea that the best part of Apple Tree is the beginning. Oh, and in part 3, Kristin C.'s supposed to be Jayne Mansfield, not Marilyn Monroe, apparently.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Holiday tip

If you haven't been over to Grand Central Terminal at all this season, make a detour for one of the every-half-hour kaleidescopic light shows. They do some neat things with common objects around the transit system that look more beautiful than you'd expect all mixed up and turned about. Half the fun is trying to figure out what objects and scenes the creators of the artful display used to make the seemingly abstract designs. It's on 11 to 9 every day through New Year's.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Late-night Wednesday

K. and I caught up after not seeing each other for nearly a month tonight at Henry's, which has wide-open floor space, high ceilings and nice holiday decorations. We ended up talking about how we were both following in our fathers' footsteps, career-wise, and how both sets of our parents had their first real dates in New York City: dinner and a show, each time. (The shows were, as we understand, Hair and One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest.) And now here we are each of us living in the city where we kinda sorta began. (Granted, Jersey is just across the water.) After we said goodbye, and after only one glass of wine, I spotted a trio of 20-somethings carrying a spindly little Christmas tree with a pair of 2x4s for its base, and I couldn't contain myself having just watched the Christmas special on YouTube the other night (it's all there, along with lots of parodies, just do a search), and I yelled out to them, "It's a Charlie Brown tree!" (It really did fit the part, even more so than the one I bought last year.) Earlier in the evening, I helped A. pack up her truck to move north to Mass. I don't think it's quite hit me that she's leaving, but I know I'll miss her. Still, it's only two states away from here: not that far.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Juggling Apples

There really wouldn't have been any other way to arrange the three stories in The Apple Tree, opening this week at Roundabout's Studio 54, I realize that. I mean, the stories go from Adam and Eve through sometime in the middle to the '60s of Marilyn and Lennon, and how could they have done it in reverse? (Could they?) It makes sense chronologically, and I guess you'd rather leave the audience with a smile instead of a tear, but still. As much as I thought the whole performance -- each story featuring Kristin Chenoweth, her ex-fiance Marc Kudisch and Brian D'Arcy James -- was pretty decent and inviting, I got the most character development and emotion from the opening story, which is based on Mark Twain's The Diary of Adam and Eve. The other two, while amusing and filled with some fun references in book, acting and music, just kind of seem lightweight and caricaturish after you've seen the first one, which ended up being rather touching and downright human.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Crossing 59th and 5th tonight ...

I saw a guy on a Harley juggling a decidedly not-handsfree cell phone in the middle of the intersection. You can splurge for the pricey bike, but not the in-helmet Bluetooth headset? Come on!

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Fun words and phrases to say, or snapshots from the rest of my weekend

Scratch-off. Croissant. Rockefeller. Pescatore. Smithwick's. Matechino. Liturgical dance.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Austin Tobin Plaza

My personal memories of the original World Trade Center's plaza are hazy to nonexistent. I remember seeing the towers from a distance many times, but up close, all I can remember is riding an escalator up from the PATH train to the shopping concourse, and then an even fuzzier recollection of actually staring up from the street level, if not the plaza itself -- or I could be wrong, maybe it was any number of other skyscrapers. Still, I love pictures that are spooky because of what your mind connects with them. Polis has one such photo, in black and white. It's not scary or anything, but there's something about the wind-blown papers, the relative emptiness and what we know would come that adds up to a mildly chilling snapshot. What's even weirder about this photo is that it doesn't seem like one most people would take -- the composition isn't stunning, there's not much of a focal point. To me, it becomes truly beautiful only in retrospect, in the way that so many hum-drum pictures of a lost time or civilization -- the microcosm that was the WTC, say -- become things worth viewing and admiring for their innocence or perhaps obliviousness.

Spanish Painting: Time, Truth and History

One of my favorite games in looking at visual art is to find unexpected, seemingly anachronistic touches in different periods of art. I like when 17th-century art reveals a bit of the abstract, subtly foreshadows the distortion and change that would come in Modernism. And I like Modern art that looks back, paying homage to the more strictly representational work of the past. I like to remind myself that there was a broad spectrum of activity surrounding each piece in the art-history canon that you see in textbooks. I like knowing that what we think of the creative modern mind sometimes wasn't actually invented in the 20th century, that crazy and probing people have expressed themselves throughout time, regardless of their contemporary mores. The Guggenheim's latest survey of Spanish art ("From El Greco to Picasso"), on display now through March inside the cocoon that Frank Lloyd Wright's landmark building has become with all the scaffolding outside, offers a good opportunity for this kind of thinking. NYSun writer Lance Esplund noticed the same thing on one of the paintings that stood out to me for being a little different: "In Juan Carreño de Miranda's 'Inés de Zúñiga, Countess of Monterrey' (c.1660–70), the figure's broad hoopskirts and corseted, funneled waist suggest not a human form but, rather, a tiered wedding cake or a passing ocean liner." The layout of the Gugg's famous ramp allows for very transparent pairings and groupings of paintings new and old, often showing how much respect Picasso had for his forebears, or at least knowledge of and willingness to engage the older works, to update them, to recrop them and refocus them, and to make them more primitive in some ways, too. We also spent a lot of time in front of the tiny, fuzzy painting that gives the exhibit its name. Unlike many allegorical paintings, it took a while to figure out which nude figure represented which intangible. And even after we went through several permutations, the question still seemed to remain open. Oh, and last but not least, we couldn't help noticing that three of the paintings looked an awful lot like present-day celebrities. If you go, look for Julianne Moore, Peter Dinklage and Robin Williams as Osric (sort of) in Kenneth Branagh's Hamlet. Seriously!

Ah, unrequited love

That old familiar feeling returned again this evening, with a vengeance. I totally wasn't expecting to feel this strongly when I heard the fateful news of Another. Then it hit me with the kind of reaction I haven't felt in a long while. I guess it's good to know I can still feel this way, if only to assure me I haven't become totally New York jaded. But man, if it doesn't hurt right here [points to heart].

Thursday, December 07, 2006

What's the Big Le-deal-ski?

You can now officially put me in the category of people who don't absolutely adore The Big Lebowski. Maybe I just wasn't in the right mood or with the right people to watch it. I can imagine I might've laughed a few more times -- and I did laugh a few times -- if I'd been in a room with a more appreciative audience. Maybe I'm missing the point or something, but it just wasn't all that funny and the story didn't totally come together for me. I wanted to like it. I mean, I love other Coen Brothers flicks like O Brother and Hudsucker. Perhaps there's a tao of the Lebow' and I'm just not clued in. (Feel free to try to convince me of its greatness.)

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Medium High Fidelity

Sometimes it helps to have low expectations. They're more easily exceeded! From the moment the swishy musical-theater-loving bartender at Wined Up on Sunday night cringed slightly at the mention of the new High Fidelity musical at the Imperial on West 45th, I feared for my semi-full-priced commitment this evening. I was pleasantly surprised with acting that wasn't that bad, songs that were well sung, a book that wasn't that painful, cool sets and a few blockbuster moments nearly worth the bust-out-laughter they produced ("We've got a 1-8-7 in aisle 4"). The first act spins its wheels a bit too much with the on-stage top-5 exes, but the second act delivers. Amanda Green's lyrics don't quite match up to her father Adolph and Betty Comden's, now both smiling down from that Great White Way in the sky, but they're not so bad that they get in the way of an otherwise decent show that deserves to run for a fair amount longer than lead actor Will Chase's last Broadway venture (Lennon). And the guy who plays the Jack Black character, Jay Klaitz, does a great job of nodding in Black's direction without doing a total copycat performance, and doo-wops his heart out in the finale. Nice pastiche moments (Neil Young, Springsteen...) the whole way through, and L., who was sitting in her first Broadway theater this evening, said the show did a good job of faithfully mixing elements from the Nick Hornby novel and John Cusack movie. Oh, and here's Jaime's recent four-item list of pluses.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

The swinging L train


I love how, in this video, the one guy sitting down in the seat pretends to be totally oblivious to the novelty that's going on in front of him, like good New Yorkers are conditioned to do. Sure, you've seen a dozen people do flips on the subway for spare change, but how about a free portable swing, no panhandling involved? It takes someone from the opposite end of the car with enough latent innocence to join in before he breaks out his digicam to capture the moment. [Via Gothamist]

Over/still fresh for another week or two

I'm hardly one to be deeming what's over or not, but here are two totally random judgments based on recent experience.

Union Hall in the Slope: Over.

Wined Up above Punch in the land between Union Square and Flatiron: Still delightfully undiscovered ... for now.

You oughta be in blogging

Since they gave me some unexpected link love a few days ago, I guess it would be in the Christmas spirit to mention that New York magazine's homepage has gone all bloggy on us -- but don't call it a blog! -- thanks in part to the latest efforts of Gawker alum Jesse Oxfeld et al. Perhaps I'll break my quirky habit of only reading this rag (OK, it's a pretty decent pub) in a newsstand copy on my way out of NYC via plane, and start checking in more often. Still, who has the time for all these Johnny-come-latelies? Don't they know there's a finite amount of blog-reading/writing time in the day? And it all feels like they're eating outta the same trough sometimes.

Monday, December 04, 2006

The love lives of public-radio music directors

It's nothing new for shock jocks to talk about their love lives on the radio, but there's something very sweet and innocent about a classical music DJ doing the same. George Preston, music director of WNYC, is hosting tonight as the public radio station does its Must Have Festival. Just before spinning a recording from Turandot -- specifically the last pages of music Puccini wrote on this earth, which just happen to include "Nessun dorma," some of his most beautiful music ever -- Preston mentioned that he's fond of this section personally, because of one time when he was "courting" a woman, had her and some friends over to listen to some opera -- as Eddie Izzard would say: "You know, like you do" -- and their eyes met over this tune and he knew they wouldn't be in the "friend category" for very much longer. The famous aria was only one part, but here: Go woo someone with this YouTube clip of Pavarotti. No worries if it also makes you want to go play some World Cup soccer.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Striking 12 at DR1

Can it be possible? Three amazing live shows in a row, each worth recommending? I guess that's what happens when you bite the bullet and pay real money for theater once in a while (although it's still never a guarantee). Company, Utopia 1, and now ... Striking 12, the rock concert cum holiday musical, now playing at the Daryl Roth on Union Square, is a feel good show with depth and humor and self-awareness. It's like a post-modern version of A Christmas Carol set on New Year's Eve. The show features as a story within a story the tale of the Little Match Girl by Hans Christian Andersen. It moves effortlessly between faux real life (the band named Groovelily doing "a holiday show for people who don't like holiday shows"), the world of the fairy tale, and the thinly veiled modern story of an office drone who says "Bah, humbug" to what he sees as New Year's pointlessness. It's just the three band members and a stripped down set, but it manages to captivate in that way that good live musical acts so often perform with a sense of theatricality. The backdrop is a web of what could very well be miniature Times Square balls on strings. Many of the lighting and staging choices adeptly work with the themes of the story. I didn't even realize it until now, but even the title puns on the "striking" of a match. If you like your yuletide spirit served with a lot of musical energy and a good helping of self-awareness, go see this show, which is playing, appropriately, through Dec. 31. Oh, and there is some amazing electric violin playing here by Valerie Vigoda. Makes me want to see the band perform a more traditional gig after this holiday run.

How I Met Your Pair of Theater Dorks


Two of my favorite things -- "How I Met Your Mother" and Les Miz -- in one package, on the Megan Mullally Show of all places. Thanks, of course, to Jaime for uncovering this gem.

Ice skating at night

Sure, the ice gets grooved and chipped all too soon by the hordes of people twirling around (and going in all sorts of other ways), but there's something about skating outside on the big Wollman Rink in Central Park: Midtown skyline the backdrop, new and old friends the company, Christmas the season.