Mental_Floss: Unseen TV Characters

This is my first assignment from mental_floss, based on an idea I pitched.

11 Television Characters You've Never Seen

Tino on My So-Called Life

What they're saying: "We have to go! With Sharon, to the hospital. I'll get Tino to drive us, he loves hospitals."

The lowdown: It's possible My So-Called Life heartthrob Jordan Catalano never got anywhere with his band, the Frozen Embryos, because Tino, its front man, wasn't very present. Then again, maybe he didn't have to be: possibly the most-referenced unseen character on this list, Tino is mentioned in a majority of the series' episodes, by almost every major teenage character. He can get a fake ID. He can get into an exclusive club, loft, or empty, for-sale house. He is, like, Mr. Halloween. When he quits the band, Jordan laments that "There's gonna be, like, this big empty hole where Tino used to be," but, for the audience, that's all he ever was.

Click through to see the full list at mental_floss.

Image credit: ThinkStock

The Daily Traveler: The Scariest Drives in the World

Extreme Drives: The 10 Scariest Highways for White-Knuckle Road Trips

Buckle up for a tour of highways with hairpin turns, steep cliffs, narrow lanes, extreme weather, and dizzying heights.

North Yungas Road
Bolivia

Risk Factor: This route's nickname really says it all — sometimes, it's simply called "Death Road." And, with no guardrails along the 12-foot-wide roadway protecting drivers from a 2,000-foot plunge off a cliff, it's easy to see why. (To make matters more confusing, drivers drive on the left to better see the cliff's edge.) "Death Road" isn't just a nickname, either: It's estimated that the highway is a site of 200 to 300 deaths per year.

Why you might be tempted to drive it anyway:
No one says you have to do it in a car. Cyclists have found it easier to manage the narrow lanes and steep curves, and the road often hosts tours of adventurous bike enthusiasts.

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

Photo: LOOK Die Bildagentur der Fotografen GmbH / Alamy


PopMatters Year-End Lists: The Best TV of 2013 (and the Worst Movies)

The Best Television of 2013

No. 11
Girls
“One Man’s Trash”, a second-season episode of Girls, may have been polarizing even to the most strident fans of the show, but it proves why the series deserves a spot on any Top TV list. The episode finds Hannah Horvath (series creator Lena Dunham) spending a lost couple of days with a Brooklyn doctor (played by Patrick Wilson). The episode exists in a bubble; Hannah barely talks to any series regulars, and she and the doctor never venture outside of his brownstone together. It was so removed from the rest of the series, people speculated it was a dream. “One Man’s Trash” proves Girls’ originality and fearlessness. In a TV-watching culture that prizes serialized storytelling and binge-watchability above all else, Dunham isn’t afraid to take her show on a different tack and do a stand-alone episode. She’s also not afraid to go broad when other shows are trying to be grounded, or to show female characters spiraling out of control or refusing to grow up (normally the domain of male characters). It’s this willingness to take risks—some of which, admittedly, turn out to be more successful than others—that make Girls one of the most exciting shows on television.

No. 33
Sleepy Hollow
Sleepy Hollow throws everything at its audience. A time-traveling protagonist transported two centuries in the future? Yes. A menagerie of monsters? Why not. A secret, alternate history of the United States and Revolutionary War? Sure. Why not add in the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (the famed Headless Horseman is one) and other Biblical catastrophes, too? It all works together, mostly because Sleepy Hollow moves along at such a pace that don’t have time to pick apart how any of it is stitched together. The mix of supernatural elements also gives the show a balance between monster-of-the-week episodes (which usually come with cool creature designs) and episodes that lay out the mythology for the oncoming war between good and evil. But what really sells it is the charm of Ichabod Crane (Tom Mison), who sounds equally authoritative talking about 18th-century Freemasons as he does decrying the 21st-century “ten percent levy on baked goods”—aka the sales tax at Dunkin Donuts. Washington Irving would be tickled.


Click through to read the full list at PopMatters. I also had a few blurbs in The Worst Films of 2013 (#12, #16, and #23), but let's not dwell on the negative, shall we?

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