Here I will regularly update a list of things I’ve seen, heard, read and experienced with links and brief commentary (when so inspired). Kind of a doppleganger to the blog.
Bar 82 (cocktail lounge on 2nd Ave. at St. Marks Pl.). Only in the East Village could a former Ukrainian speakeasy be combined with a blue collar hang out (Bar 81) to form an entirely new animal, Bar 82: a low-key yet comfortably chic space with a pool table in the back. Drinks are relatively inexpensive, but you can’t beat the “pony express”– a pony bottle of Rolling Rock with a shot of whiskey on the side for $5. Dan makes a mean Manhattan, too. (Photo by Bank-the-Nine, click to enlarge.)
Robert Moses and the Modern City (exhibit at the Museum of the City of New York). The exhibit is as good as the reviews suggest, and it does exactly what it’s supposed to; by revisiting the legacy of Moses with a more objective eye, a fuller picture emerges. Don’t miss the model for a cafe designed by Edward Durell Stone that was never built in Central Park.
And Then We Came to the End (book by Joshua Ferris). This much-hyped book is funny and uses the collective “we” voice to nice effect. But about mid-way through, the characters start to feel as cold and unsatisfying as on the TV show, “The Office.”
Mary Poppins (Broadway musical by Richard and Robert Sherman). I never would have seen this if I weren’t a Teak mentor. But the staging was nothing short of spectacular and the cast was top notch, with a special mention for Gavin Lee as Bert, the chimney sweep. The story was, of course, completely irritating and retrograde. But one has to marvel at the professionalism that goes into entertaining an audience for two hours.
The Sublet Experiment (play by Ethan Youngerman), a romantic comedy about mis-taken identity that is staged in apartments around New York. The play cleverly incorporates reality TV, Craigslist and other uber-contemporary cultural phenomena into the story, but it’s ultimately the narrative that doesn’t quite hang together. Making it worthwhile, however, is not only the clever staging (come early and play ping-pong and foosball), but Christian Maurice steals the show with a Jack Black-like breakthrough performance, a la High Fidelity.
Where We Live (The Getty Center). The Berman collection of photography currently on display at The Getty in Los Angeles is spectacular. Of course, “where we live” is skewed toward places most unlike New York and Los Angeles (where a whole lot of people live) as if there’s more authenticity in middle America. But setting that criticism aside, the photos (arranged around themes) are well curated.
Mudspot (East Village cafe). This neighborhood hang recently enclosed the back garden with a translucent/colored glass roof. The effect is spectacular, even on a cold day, and of course the food and coffee are always fabulous (click to enlarge photos).
Imperial Life in the Emerald City (book by Rajiv Chandrasekaran). There’s an entire library waiting to be built that will house all the investigative books tearing apart the Bush’s administration’s run-up, execution and spinning of the war, but if there’s one book that should not be missed, it’s this one.
Barcelona and Modernity: Picasso, Gaudi, Miro, Dali (art exhibit organized by the Cleveland Museum of Art and the Metropolitan Museum, opens in New York in March). This show of artists, architects, and designers in the years between the Barcelona Universal Exposition of 1888 and the fascist regime of Francisco Franco in 1939 is an in-depth exploration of the relationships between the visual arts, broader cultural activity, and political events during the city’s quest for modernity. While big names dominate the title of the exhibit, most impressive are paintings by two Catalan artists, Ramon Casas (1866-1932) and Santiago Rusiñol (1861-1931), whose work reflected the new reality of urban life and greatly influenced Picasso.
Blood Diamond (movie directed by Edward Zwick). It got mixed reviews, but don’t believe the cynical critics. Compelling story, hair-raising action, and Leonardo DiCaprio is fantastic.
GOOD Magazine (published by Ben Goldhirsh). This new magazine seeks “to create entertaining media that attracts broad audiences to content that matters.” The mag and website succeed on all levels — graphically, editorially, conceptually — and the best part is, the $20 subscription is donated entirely to a charity of choice.
Running With Scissors (movie directed by Ryan Murphy). There are three, maybe four truly funny moments in this adaptation of Augusten Burrough’s memoir, and all of them are in the preview. The rest of the film is dysfunctional hell — well done dysfunctional hell, but not exactly enjoyable. And in this era of global dysfunction — with consequences that go well beyond mere personality disorders — the movie seemed superfluously depressing.
Come On In (album by R.L. Burnside). It’s not new, but new to me, the 1998 album remixes Burnside’s traditional blues tunes with funky grooves.
Picasso and American Art (exhibit at the Whitney). Art snobs will likely say, “Picasso influenced American art? Duh,” but the juxtaposition of works is nothing short of brilliant.
Starshine Burlesque (live show every Thursday at Rafifi). Brilliant little burly-q skits that tell old fashioned allegorical tales through sexual expression.
Salt Bar (bar and restaurant on the Lower East Side). The cozy, rustic atmosphere is great, but it was the dj that kept us there till 2:00 a.m. Not a bad song was heard all night.
In Persuasion Nation (collection of short stories by George Saunders). Recent winner of the MacArthur genius grant, Saunders writes surreal tales of life in a media-saturated world.
Ecotopia (photography and video at the International Center for Photography). Thirty-nine international artists consider nature in the broadest sense. A must-see exhibit.
Understanding Me: Lectures and Interviews by Marshall McLuhan (book edited by Stephanie McLuhan and David Staines). A collection of previously unpublished works by this astonishingly prescient communications theorist and pop culture analyst, whose ideas are a little more accessible in these interviews and lectures.
The Ground Truth (documentary directed by Patricia Foulkrod). Disillusioned young soldiers (including Paul Rieckhoff, see Chasing Ghosts below) tell compelling stories about returning from Iraq to deal with the horrors of injury, guilt and rage (making up for appallingly bad cinematography).
The Burg (web-only tv series). This totally freaking hilarious show is written, directed, produced and acted by hipsters in Williamsburg that makes fun of, you guessed it, Williamsburg hipsters. Not to be missed.
Broken Boy Soldier (album by The Raconteurs). Jack White’s latest creation is currently in high rotation.
There Goes the ‘Hood: Views of Gentrification from the Ground Up (book by Lance Freeman). Columbia Prof. presents a nuanced picture of how people living in Harlem and Clinton Hill have been affected by neighborhood revitalization.
Factotum (movie directed by Bent Hamer). Based on an autobiographical novel by Charles Bukowski, Matt Dillon plays a (believable) drunken writer fixated on the underside of life in LA. Good but can wait for DVD.
Chasing Ghosts: A Soldier’s Fight for America from Baghdad to Washington (book by Paul Rieckhoff). Amherst grad enlists to fight in the Iraq War, and returns to speak out as a disillusioned patriot, and founds Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA).
Little Miss Sunshine (movie directed by Jonathan Dayton, Valerie Faris). Putting the fun in dysfunctional, a family goes through hell and high water to get their little girl to a beauty pageant. Not to be missed.
Food For Fish (play written by Adam Syzmkowicz). Three wacky sisters — a stalker, an agoraphobe, and a scientist with a secret plan to isolate and eliminate the gene for love — are brought together by a kissing bandit.
Seemed Like A Good Idea at the Time: A Memoir (by David Goodwillie). Struggling to make it as a fiction writer in the big city when everyone else is getting fat on dot.com riches. Readable and entertaining, even when it’s annoying.
Traces (group sculpture exhibit at the Whitney Gallery at Altria). From the Times review: “quasi-architectural, environmental sculptures evoking historical, psychological and mythic associations.” An artists in the show, Karlis Rekevics (image at right), was recenty described by Art Review magazine as “one of the most talented sculptors working today.”