New Show Review: Veep

'Veep' Finds Humor in Office Politics

"At an event in New York to promote the show, Louis-Dreyfus noted that most films and TV shows portray politics as noble, like The West Wing, or sinister, like Three Days of the Condor. With Veep, politics is drudgery. It’s bureaucracy and backstabbing in small, cramped spaces. They might as well be running a paper company."

Click through to read the rest of the review at PopMatters.

The Daily Traveler: National Park Views Not to Be Missed

National Park Views Not to Be Missed

This slideshow features 30 amazing images from our National Parks. I've captioned all of them, but the photos really speak for themselves. A tiny sampling is below—you really should check out the full slideshow, because each one is more incredible than the last. We have such a diversity of scenery in America. All photos here are courtesy of the National Parks Service.

DVD Review: Footloose

Shakin' It in a Pair of Red Cowboy Boots: 'Footloose'

The world didn’t need a remake of Footloose, the 1984 movie where outsider-rebel Ren McCormack (Kevin Bacon) takes on a town-wide ban against public dancing.  Even remake director Craig Brewer thought so at first, revealing in his meaty solo commentary that his first reaction upon hearing the project was, “You can’t remake Footloose! It’s Footloose!”

But this Footloose remake is pretty well done, with clever nods to the original alongside subtle improvements. Brewer is a natural fit for the material, being a self-admitted Footloose fan, a teenager of the ‘80s, a music-lover, a connoisseur of the South, and a parent, and all of which he draws upon to make the movie smarter than it needs to be.

For fans of the original, the wit becomes first becomes apparent through its references. The VW bug Kevin Bacon’s Ren McCormak drives in the 1984 version turns up in Brewer’s film, only the new Ren (Kenny Wormald) receives the car as a broken-down beater he has to fix up—a literal remake. In another scene, Brewer replaces Bonnie Tyler’s thoroughly ‘80s-sounding “Holding Out for a Hero” with a twangy, countrified version by Ella Mae Bowen, which works better in context.

But the new Footloose, thankfully, isn’t just a faithful retelling of scenes and backward-looking nods. Brewer grounds the movie in a way that would make sense even if there were no 1984 original. It starts with the central conflict. The catalyst for the dancing ban—a tragic car accident that’s only hinted at in the original movie—is heavily emphasized in the opening scenes of the remake. It calls to mind other instances where personal freedoms are sacrificed in the name of public safety, which makes it feel more contemporary.

 

Click through to read the rest of the review at PopMatters

DVD Review: Chalet Girl

 

To Watch 'Chalet Girl,' You Have to Really, Really Suspend Disbelief

 

As a pair of convenient sportscasters will helpfully explain in the first few minutes of the movie, Chalet Girl is the story of Kim Matthews (Felicity Jones), a championship skateboarder who gave up the sport after a family tragedy. Three years later, she’s retired from the world of competition and working in a fast-food restaurant to support her hapless father (Bill Bailey), until she lucks into a job at an upscale ski resort that takes her from her native England to the mountains of Austria.

Once in the Alps, Chalet Girl takes on a fairytale quality, like Cinderella with extreme sports. This is more for its improbability than its magical qualities. After all, it’s as if a fairy godmother got Kim the chalet gig, since the movie makes a point of showing how unsuited she is for the job. In her interview, she drops plates, is unable to match a wine glass to its correct purpose, and doesn’t display the grace and manners of the other people applying for the job. But, wouldn’t you know, a position needs to be filled at the last minute, and there’s no one else available for it, so off Kim goes.

Once at the chalet, she’s greeted by her two ugly stepsisters, Georgie (Tamsin Egerton), and Jules (Georgia King), frenemies for the rest of the film who keep reminding her how much of a fish-out-of-water she is. “A chalet girl who can’t ski?” remarks Georgie, and it comes across as mean even though it’s a fair point. Luckily, fairytale magic steps in once again, and Kim’s background as a skateboarder translates effortlessly into snowboarding, and Kim picks it up so quickly she decides to enter the big competition at the end of the season.

And yes, Chalet Girl has a Prince Charming, too, in the form of Jonny (Ed Westwick), the wealthy son of the chalet owner And, like the Prince Charming in most fairytales, his character isn’t entirely formed, and it’s hard to put a finger on what’s supposed to be desirable about him except for his station in life.

When it all comes together, much is improbable about Chalet Girl. Felicity Jones doesn’t look like a gritty skateboarder, no does she look like the Ugly Duckling that Georgie and Jules insist she is. It’s hard to believe that she would secure employment at the chalet. It takes a real leap of faith to believe Kim’s rapid progress from snowboard novice to pre-professional competitor.

The love story that develops between Kim and Jonny is the hardest to take in of all. To enjoy Chalet Girl, you have to give in entirely to the fantasy, because once you start to pick at the pieces of it, it all comes apart.

Unfortunately, director Phil Traill doesn’t make it so easy to get lost in the world of Chalet Girl, mostly because much of the story feels glossed over. Every few minutes, he inserts a montage as a shortcut for storytelling. There’s a montage of Kim cooking. There’s one for her cleaning. There’s one for her being bad at snowboarding, then being okay at snowboarding, then being good at snowboarding. (There’s also one of Kim not-snowboarding when the weather is bad.)

Even Kim’s great romance with Jonny is told through a succession of scenes of them frolicking in the snow. You start to wonder if, in a warmer climate, the two would have anything to talk about. This excessive shorthand is probably because Traill is used to working with a short amount of time to get his story across; with the exception of All About Steve, his credits are all for television.

And in the end, Chalet Girl feels more made-for-TV than anything else. The DVD features, too, seem ill-suited for a feature format or one-time viewing. There’s wealth of material, including a not-so-insightful commentary with Traill and Jones that mostly talks about where the scenes were shot. (The story is all there on the surface, so there’s not really much to address there.) But there are also interviews, behind-the-scenes bits, “viral videos” and “YouTube videos” that seem to punish all-at-once viewing. The interviews, for example, are a series of one-on-one Q&As with every single member of the cast. In each case, the actor is asked to describe the plot of the film from their character’s point of view. That means, if you select the “play all” feature, you get ten plot recaps in a row—and the plot isn’t that sophisticated to begin with. It’s hard to imagine who the producers had in mind when putting these extras together.

Ignorable extra-features aside, there’s nothing too taxing or offensive about watching Chalet Girl. It works if you’re looking for the bullet-points of a sports movie, protagonist-comes-into-her-own film, and romance all thrown in together. Nothing is too nuanced, and it’s easy to figure out who the villains and heroes are—just like in a fairytale.

 

Click through to see the review at PopMatters.

The Daily Traveler: Strange Festivals

Today is Phil Collins Day, But That’s Not the Oddest Festival in the World

Today, Greenpoint, Brooklyn, holds its annual Phil Collins Day celebration. Though the former Genesis drummer has no direct connection to the neighborhood, Collins fans will still feel it in the air tonight, donning homemade masks and spilling their secrets in a confessional booth created for the occasion (video of the confessions will be sent to Collins).

The singer-songwriter may not seem like a natural peg to plan a festival around, but he's certainly not the only unusual thing to be fêted. Check out these other weird celebrations around the world…

Tunarama Festival
Port Lincoln, Australia
Held each year over the Australia Day long weekend in late January, Tunarama has people looking at the fish in a whole new light—namely as projectiles. The festival's signature event, the Tuna Toss, has competitors seeing how far they can hurl the fish across the beach. (The current world record is 37.23 meters, or a little more than 122 feet.)  If the prospect of fish-throwing doesn't excite you, there are also food and wine events, foot races, sand-castle-making, and live music.

Click through to read the rest of the article online at the Condé Nast Traveler's website.

 

Photo by Jasper Juinen/Getty Images.

The Daily Traveler: Beauty Advice

I did a round-up of travel tips from beauty experts. Each one recommended a product that works well for travel and can be taken through airport security. I'll give you the  one for free:

 Beauty Experts' Favorite 3 oz. Travel Products

"The best beauty item to take through security: Burt’s Bees Hand Sanitizer. It’s natural, it smells faintly of cinnamon, it gets rid of germs without creating antibiotic resistance—and it’s about 7 billion times cleaner and more glamorous than airplane-bathroom faucets." —Jean Godfrey-June, beauty director at Lucky

To read the rest of the story, click through to read it on the Condé Nast Traveler website, or download the PDF above.


Business Issue: How I Did It Feature Package

For the "How I Did It" cover package in our ancillary business publication, I profiled two local business owners who faced obstacles and turned their companies into unexpected successes.


How I Did It
11 Inspiring Tales of Unexpected Success


Featured on the Cover:
CHARGED UP
Lew Hoff
President, Bartizan Connects; Chairman, Addressograph Bartizan


...“If I had any brains, I would’ve said that I’m not going to compete with these other companies,” says the Yonkers resident. “I knew nothing about manufacturing. I didn’t have any money. I wasn’t bright enough to evaluate my obstacles. But not knowing anything meant anything was possible.” Armed with no knowledge and diving headlong into his company, Hoff was able to create a business that sold millions of credit-card imprinting machines and today employs more than 20 people.

After graduating with a degree in economics from UMass Amherst, Hoff did a four-year stint in the Air Force and held a couple of sales jobs when he returned. When one of the companies went under in 1970, Hoff and coworker Ed O’Reilly decided to form their own business. “He had an idea for a portable credit-card imprinting machine,” Hoff says. Though they knew nothing about manufacturing, the duo jumped into an industry that already had stiff competition; indeed, two businesses that made the same devices were Fortune 500 companies. “Out of the five companies that made these machines, we were number five,” Hoff says.

Hoff and O’Reilly manufactured the machines out of a converted stable on 76th Street in Manhattan. Hoff also lived there, illegally. A floating crew of friends, actors, and the unemployed worked at assembling the machines, and Hoff and O’Reilly got jobs waiting tables at nearby O’Brien’s Tavern to make ends meet. “I’d work at O’Brien’s until four am and get home at four-thirty,” he says. “The people who worked for us would show up at about eight am. I’d have to be up when they arrived. Then I worked with them until I had to be back at O’Brien’s.”

PICTURE PERFECT
Anthony Trama
Owner/Operator, Creator’s Media Group


...Trama’s accomplishments become all the more impressive when you consider his background. When he was 9 years old, his parents went through a rough divorce—one that was especially tough on his mother. He was sent to live at Andrus, a residential school in Yonkers. “It’s tough being so young and without your family,” he says. “It’s like going to college when you’re nine years old. I had to take on a lot of responsibilities and learn how to take care of myself. When I left, I was twelve, and I was pretty self-sufficient.”

That sense of independence led Trama to start working when he was 13, caddying at a local golf club. “It was one of the best jobs you could have at that age.” He caddied every summer while he attended Valhalla High School. Then, in 1999, when he was 19, he enrolled in night classes at The Westchester Business Institute (now The College of Westchester) so he could intern at Creators, shooting and editing videos, which almost immediately became a full-time job. “Video was the medium you could do the most with,” he says. “It tested my creative skills.”

Click through to read the rest of the cover package online, or download the PDF of Lew Hoff's profile above.


Profile: FaTye

My profile of a local resident who went from near-homelessness to starring in regional theater.

Big River, Big Journey

...Though FaTye is a natural singer and performer, he still had a lot of ground to make up in his training. Luckily, the Westchester theater community embraced him. “Ninety percent of my training happened in Westchester,” he says. FaTye worked with the Broadway Training Center in Hastings-on-Hudson, the Actors Conservatory Theatre in Yonkers, the Lighthouse Youth Theatre in Thornwood, and the Lagond Music School in Elmsford, among others. “He’s incredibly hard-working,” Mallah says. “At Children’s Village, on one snowy day, he just got up early and shoveled all the walks.”

After high school, he studied at the American Musical Dramatic Academy and the Collaborative Arts Project before attending NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts. Not wanting to give up his apartment in Elmsford, he’d wake up at 4 am to commute to his 8 am classes. “I was never late,” he says.

Now, he’s starring as Jim in Big River, a show he calls “the pinnacle of my life” because of its parallels to his personal history. “Jim tries to get away from hardship, knowing something better is out there for him,” he says. “That’s who I am. I was always looking for the light, for the freedom.”

 

Click through to read the rest of the profile online, or download the PDF above.

The Daily Traveler: Solar Flares

 

How Solar Flares Interfere with Flights

Yesterday a massive solar flare—the biggest since 2005—had irksome consequences here on Earth, including forcing airlines to divert some of their flights. But how could the sun affect our air travel—and how big is the danger? We asked scientists to break it down for us.

First off, the phenomenon is not rare. "Solar flares happen all the time," says C. Megan Urry, chair of the Department of Physics at Yale University and director of the Yale Center for Astronomy & Astrophysics. "They have a range of brightnesses and most are too small to affect the Earth very much, but, occasionally, there are super big ones, like the flare of November 4 last year."

During the solar flares, Urry explains, "Much of the energy is emitted at very short wavelengths: X-rays and ultraviolet light. The largest ones involve 'coronal mass ejections', or CME, that also send very energetic particles our way."

These particles are the source of the troubles—especially for airplane equipment. "Energetic particles from the solar flare impact on the upper atmosphere of the Earth and ionize it, or release charged particles," says Jules Halpern, professor of astronomy at Columbia University. "The more ions there are, the more difficult it is for radio waves to propagate. This is particularly a problem for communication with flights going over the North Pole."

The equipment isn't the only thing at risk, however. "Exposing flight attendants and passengers to these particles is not a good idea," Urry says. "They could cause cell damage or mutations."

On the bright—no pun intended—side, Urry notes that "these particles should also cause unusually bright Northern Lights," for those lucky enough to be in areas that can see them.

PopMatters: The 40 Best Films of 2011

I voted, then contributed two blurbs for PopMatter's list of best movies.

The 40 Best Films of 2011

No. 27: Super 8

In a year full of film nostalgia, Super 8 does double-duty, recalling the Amblin movies of the ‘80s while also touching on the joy of making homemade low-budget movies (and the never-ending quest for “production values”). While the monster-movie aspect of Super 8 is its weakest facet, its ensemble of youngsters is as strong as you can find in this year or any other. They’re plucky without being typical “movie kids”, their feelings ring emotionally true for adolescents, and director J.J. Abrams really nails the way a group of kids all talk over each other. As much as Super 8 made me think about the movies from my 1980s upbringing, what it really made me nostalgic for is hanging out with a gang of awkward-but-creative  pre-teens.

No. 13: The Descendants

Alexander Payne’s most recent movie comes with the strong script we expect from him, effortlessly weaving one family’s personal tragedy into the history of Hawaii with a laid-back, island-time pace. But what’s most remarkable about The Descendants is how Payne coaxes great performances from unlikely places. Sure, George Clooney, who carries the meat of the storyline, is as good as ever. But supporting him are career-making turns from Shailene Woodley (best known from The Secret Life of the American Teenager), Judy Greer (normally relegated to playing rom-com best friends), and Matthew Lillard (most often used for his goofball qualities). You wouldn’t expect to be able to throw a teen soap star, a perpetual best friend, and the comic relief onto an island together and get something so emotionally rich from them, but Payne did.

Click through to read the rest of the list at PopMatters