PopMatters Year-End Lists: The Best Films of 2013

Always happy to contribute to the year-end round-up features.

The Best Films of 2013

No. 25
The Bling Ring
Sofia Coppola has a way with lost young adults. The characters in The Bling Ring, based on real-life teenage burglars who targeted celebrities (as depicted in a Vanity Fair article), are certainly lost, being either home schooled or in the “dropout school” for past bad behavior. But instead of wallowing in their unsatisfactory home lives, Coppola shows how they’re swept up in everything they don’t have: designer clothes, huge mansions, access to the VIP celebrity lifestyle, and attention from the press. Coppola is able to dramatize this excess—shots of sprawling houses and overstuffed closets (including Paris Hilton’s actual residence)—and use it as both a critique of celebrity-obsessed consumerism and as a way of understanding why a gang of high schoolers would want to break in at all costs to steal of piece of it. She also makes the best use of the a slo-mo walking shot since Reservoir Dogs, only instead of identical black suits her characters wear pilfered couture.

No. 33
Prince Avalanche
With Prince Avalanche, you get the best of director David Gordon Green's two worlds: the lyrical prettiness and gorgeous compositions of his early indie movies (like All the Real Girls), plus the playfulness and humor of his bigger studio comedies (like The Pineapple Express). The film follows two lonely workers painting lines on a remote, fire-damaged road in the forests of Texas, and Green’s at his best when he’s working in this intimate scale. He’s a keen observer of human behavior, and he knows exactly what to slightly exaggerate for maximum comedic effect. Then again, there are parts of the story that are profoundly touching, especially when the main characters come across a woman who lost everything in one of the big fires. In this way, Prince Avalanche shows that you can do so much—evoke a whole range of emotions—with so very little—just two really strong performers (Emile Hirsch and Paul Rudd), the bounty of nature, and a keen sense of the human condition.

No. 34
The Conjuring
Leave it to director James Wan, who kicked off the “torture porn” craze when he directed the first Saw movie, to be the one to lead the genre away from gristle and gore again. His two 2013 horror movies, Insidious Chapter 2 and The Conjuring, rely more on mood and atmosphere to ratchet up the tension and deliver their haunted-house scares. Of these, The Conjuring is more traditional, and more successful. It uses scares we’ve all seen before—from a menacing music box to a creeptastic twist on hide-and-seek—but uses them effectively; muscles will start to tense the minute you someone winds the gears of that music box or starts counting for that game of hide-and-seek. Wan elevates these tropes with a some visual flourishes, including an excellent tracking shot that follows multiple characters as they zig-zag through the haunted house on move-in day. There’s also an unexpected emotional core to the story, since The Conjuring portrays the interaction between two families: The Perrons, a boisterous family of seven that moved into the cursed Rhode Island farmhouse, and the Warrens, the demon-fighting couple that pledges to help them. (The Warrens are based on real-life demonologists Ed and Lorraine Warren.) It’s rare to see loving families depicted in horror movies—let alone two of them in one movie—which give stakes that are higher than every-teen-for-himself slasher movies since the characters have something important that they can lose (other than quarts of blood). Wan proves that you don’t have to be grotesque or shock to scare, so long as you have real people, not stock types, living in that haunted house.

Click through to see the full list at PopMatters.


DVD Review: The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones


...To watch The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones without having read the book is to always feel like you’re missing some crucial piece of information that would make everything click into place and make sense. Unfortunately, a Rosetta Stone for the movie never arrives. Instead, you’re left to guess at everything that goes unsaid.

“This is as far as I go,” Jace tells Clary as they wander through the subterranean City of Bones, a catacomb of expired Shadowhunters, toward a great circular room where a ritual is to take place. Why won’t he go any farther? He doesn’t say. He enters the room, just keeps to the edge of it. Is he not allowed into the center? Is he afraid of the ritual? Does he think it’d make Clary stronger to go on alone? It’s not explained—and, ultimately, not important—which makes you wonder why it was such a big freaking deal for him not to go any farther in the first place.

The entire movie is a string of such head-scratching moments. Characters jump from location to location, and it’s not always clear why they’re headed where they’re headed. (Ostensibly, they’re on the search for the Great MacGuffin, but it feels like the quest takes them in circles.) Some objects and people are invisible to mundanes, until they’re not anymore. Sometimes the Shadowhunters use runes to conjure magic, sometimes they use wands, and sometimes the magic is innate. One character is bitten by a vampire, and it isn’t brought up again for the rest of the movie. When Clary is taken to the Shadowhunter HQ, she’s shown a greenhouse with magical plants. Why would the plants be different? It’s still New York City, right? The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones is proof that rule-making isn’t the same as world-building, and the rules that govern the movie are so thick and arbitrary that it sucks out any of the pleasure of being immersed in a new fantasy environment...

Click through to read the full review on PopMatters.

The Daily Traveler New York: NYC's Flatiron Building Becomes a Monument to Math

The Museum of Mathematics in New York City got New Yorkers armed with glowsticks to prove that the Flatiron building is really a right triangle.

NYC's Flatiron Building Becomes a Monument to Math

..."We wanted to show that math is all around us, even in places we wouldn't expect," says Cindy Lawrence, MoMath's co-executive director. It was also a chance for math fans—yes, they're out there—to show off their stripes. Approximately 2,000 people attended, sporting right-triangle-themed T-shirts, hats, face paint, and even tattoos. "There's a social barrier out there that tells people it's not okay to like math," says co-executive director Glen Whitney. "We want to get over that barrier."

Click through to see the full story on the website of the Condé Nast Traveler.

2014 Weddings Issue



Westchester/Hudson Valley Weddings' 2014 issue has arrived! I am the executive editor of this publication and work on every page of it. This year's issue features:

-Spotlight-worthy gowns shot on location at the Capitol Theatre in Port Chester (as seen in the cover image above).

-Four event designers and two cake bakers who demonstrate how to incorporate patterns into reception decor without overdoing it (written by me—see PDF below).

-Repurposed local venues that had former lives, as factories, warehouses, and mills.

-Hair, makeup, and jewelry that make for the perfect finishing touches.

-Six real weddings: a DIY summer wedding, a "lovebird"-themed summer wedding, a farm-inspired fall wedding, an edgy tattoo- and graffiti-inspired wedding, an eclectic winery wedding, and a traditional winter wedding.    

-Photographers' advice on how to make the most of the engagement session—plus their favorite shots (written by me—see PDF below).

-Florists' recommendations for out-of-the-box bouquet ideas.

-Great Gatsby-inspired fashion ideas for him and for her.

-A round-up of fun bits of wedding-day inspiration, from wooden bow ties to embroidery hoops.


The Daily Traveler: The Queens Museum



Is This New York's Most Underrated Museum?

For years, the Queens Museum has been one of New York City's most underrated institutions. But thanks to a huge renovation that showcases its fascinating history, it's about to get noticed. Brush up on its secrets before all the tourists rush the place.

You can buy a (mini) piece of New York City real estate here.

And it's affordable, too. The Queens Museum is known for its Panorama of the City of New York, a 9,935-square-foot architectural model that recreates the city in a scale of 1:1200. (Tiny, two-inch airplanes even take off and land at the mini LaGuardia.) But did you know that, through the Adopt-a-Building program, which started in 2009, you can actually own one of the buildings in the panorama? You even get the deed. Buildings can be purchased for as little as $50—and you can't say that's true anywhere else in the city.

It's lit by a 70,000-pound "lantern."

There's one heck of a skylight in the entryway. The "lantern," the centerpiece of the new addition, is made up of 264 individual sheets of frosted glass anchored into a 50,000-pound steel beam that keeps it from swaying. But it's not just there as an adornment: The glass filters natural light into the new wing, decreasing the need for artificial illumination, and keeps sunlight from hitting the artwork directly, preventing sun damage.

Click through to read the full article at the Condé Nast Traveler.

Photo: Collection of the Queens Museum.





PopMatters Year-End Lists: The 75 Best Songs of 2013

I love participating in the year-end pop-culture round-up that PopMatters puts together every year. I contributed two blurbs to the list of best songs—albums should be next.

The 75 Best Songs of 2013

No. 16
Vampire Weekend - “Diane Young”
“Diane Young” is Vampire Weekend by way of Buddy Holly, albeit if an amped-up Buddy Holly had a bunch of sonic tricks to enhance his singing of “baby, baby, baby”. Holly may have been an influence on the lyrics as well as the sound, since “Diane Young” is about, well, dying young—the wordplay showing that the band has no intention of giving up the brainier aspects of their songwriting—only done in a catchy, upbeat way that steers clear of the usual moroseness that results when contemplating mortality. “Diane Young” almost conceals its inventiveness. It feels like a straight-ahead rock track and, coming in one, sub-three-minute burst. It cements Vampire Weekend’s status as creators of songs you can listen to four times in a row before you even realize it.

No. 24
Haim - “Days Are Gone”
Haim sisters Este, Danielle, and Alana packed the first half of Days Are Gone with quite a few top-10-worthy songs, but it’s the title track that shows that they’re not afraid to make pop music that prizes '70s Fleetwood Mac songwriting, '80s electronic drums and keyboards, and early '90s R&B over the typical trademarks of today’s pop songs. The result is simultaneously familiar and refreshing. The quietly chanted, repeated refrain of “Days Are Gone” offers an antidote to the current pop radio ballads that can’t help themselves from leaning too often and too hard on big, belted choruses. In that way, it’s almost hard to tell that the song was co-written with the UK’s Jessie Ware and Kid Harpoon (and recorded in London), especially since it’s still imbued with the L.A.-chic vibe that made us notice Haim in the first place.

Click through to read the full list at PopMatters.



The Daily Traveler: Botanical Garden Holiday Displays

From synchronized light displays to intricate botanical sculptures, these gardens are decked for the holidays

ATLANTA BOTANICAL GARDEN
Garden Lights
November 16 to January 4
The Atlanta Botanical Garden brings in 1.5 million energy-efficient LEDs to create its illuminated holiday display. Many of the lights are used to transform the Garden's most famous landmarks into holiday-appropriate characters; Earth Goddess, a giant topiary sculpture in the shape of a woman, is given strands of wintry blue hair, turning her into Ice Goddess, and a pair of 15-foot-tall snakes are don red and white stripes to make them the Candy Cane Cobras. Powering the 52 miles of light strings is Georgia Power, which uses green energy produced from renewable resources like solar power and biomass.

Photograph by Chris Kozarich

The Daily Traveler: Life-Saving Travel Tech

These Travel Gadgets Will Save Your Life

Travel can be filled with danger. From shark attacks to heart attacks, these devices can keep your journey safe.

Danger: Collisions
Why should skiiers and mountain-climbers have all the fun? Bikers can get their own protective airbags, courtesy of Sweden's Hövding. The bag is worn deflated around the neck, like a big collar. Sensors can tell when the biker's involved in a collision, inflating the airbag around the head in a tenth of a second. And, because it zips around the neck, bikers don't have to worry about helmet hair, either.

Click through to see the full slideshow at The Condé Nast Traveler.

The Daily Traveler: The World's Smallest Attractions



Tiny Tourism: 10 of the World's Smallest Attractions

Bigger isn't always better. These record-holding tiny tourist attractions prove that small things shouldn't be overlooked.

Mill Ends Park, Portland, Oregon

Size: 2 feet in diameter

If there were a park smaller than Portland's Mill Ends Park, it'd have to be a single blade of grass. The park is the creation of Oregon Journal reporter Dick Fagan, who decided to plant flowers in a hole that was originally intended for a light pole that never arrived. He dedicated the park on St. Patrick's Day in 1948, and claimed it was home to "only leprechaun colony west of Ireland."

Not everyone is in agreement about Mill Ends' title, though. Earlier this year, event organizers of "the shortest fun run" in the UK called it a "glorified flower pot" and said the site of their event—Prince's Park in Burntwood—should claim the record instead. At 34 square meters, it's at least big enough for three trees (named Faith, Hope, and Charity) and a bench, making it a little more park-like. Portlanders needn't worry too much: According to John Smith, Greens & Open Spaces Strategic Manager of the Lichfield District Council, "The council has no ambition to challenge the title of the World’s Smallest Park and is pleased to be the record holder of Britain’s Smallest Park."

Click through to see the full slideshow on the website of the Condé Nast Traveler.

Photo of Mill Ends Park courtesy of Portland Parks & Recreation, Portland, OR






DVD Review: Byzantium

Just in time for Halloween, a review of a movie about female vampires.

'Byzantium' Has New Vampires That Play by New Rules

...[Neil] Jordan also moves beyond the stage’s confines by putting together some strikingly composed images: a black beetle crawling across Eleanor’s pale face, a line of rich red blood dripping across white fingers, neon carnival rides glowing against a dark night. If there’s one good thing about a vampires that aren’t sensitive to the sun, it’s that they can walk around in the light, so you can actually see all of the art direction—from painstaking period details of the past to the dingy nuances of the run-down hotel where the characters hole up in the present...

Click through to read the full review at PopMatters.