Friday, November 11, 2016

If Not Great Cinema, Upbeat 'Almost Christmas' Can Offer a Great Escape for Those Down in the Doldrums

Cheryl (Kimberly Elise), Aunt May (Mo'Nique), Rachel (Gabrielle Union) and Sonya (Nicole Ari Parker) get down on it in a scene from "Almost Christmas." Quantrell D. Colbert photos for Universal Studios.


Meyers (Danny Glover) will be celebrating his first Christmas  without his beloved late wife, by all accounts, a paragon of all things.

His children and their families, as well as his sister in-law, May (Mo'Nique), descend on the Alabama homestead during the five days leading up to the holiday. Walter's most fervent wish is that they all get along during this brief period.

This is the premise of "Almost Christmas." Directed by David E. Talbert from his script and produced by white-hot Will Packer, the film opens in U. S. theaters today.

Of course, family members bring with them all the hurts and slights - real and imagined - dating to their first memories particularly the two sisters, dentist Cheryl and law student Rachel (Kimberly Elise and executive producer Gabrielle Union, respectively.)

Walter (Danny Glover) is working on a masterpiece.

It's a familiar story. To that end, empathy will abound. A notable difference is that the mainly winning "Almost Christmas" cast is not virtually all-white, rather all-black. There is a token nonblack (white) character in the form of Brooks (John Michael Higgins) as the smarmy campaign manager of fledgling politician and oldest son, Christian (Romany Malco).

Like so many films of its ilk, "Almost Christmas" is lighthearted with hardly a serious bone in its body. As expected, too, all's well that ends well.

There are a few funny and tender moments, namely the scenes between Rachel and next-door neighbor, Malachi (Omar Epps). They have unfinished high-school prom business marked by misunderstandings. Laugh-worthy, too, are the lightning-fast text exchanges between the two older grandchildren, Niya (Nadej Bailey) and Cameron (Alkoya Brunson), during contretemps at Christmas dinner.

Aunt May (Mo’Nique, right) takes the family on a world tour of her cuisine.

Tender and funny are Walter’s attempts to replicate his late wife’s sweet potato pie recipe. Also toggling between these poles is the tag football scene, one of the few that is unself-conscious in a film that is too aware of its consequence.

In the main, though, DET’s script is forced, contrived and hackneyed (prescription drug-addicted football star son, Evan [Jessie Usher]; Christian’s ethical dilemma; the enmity between Cheryl and Rachel).

Malachi (Omar Epps) and Rachel (Gabrielle Union) have been laboring under a misapprehension for years.

Meanwhile, kids in films can be too cute for their own good. It is the case with Dee (Marley Taylor),) the youngest of the grandchildren. On occasion, incidentally, her upper middle class accent deserts her. Speaking of accents, the Southern variety is absent in this Alabama family, though DG retains one that can be applied to the black, blue-collar everyman done good.

In “Almost Christmas,” some scenes are embarrassingly uncomfortable and simply not funny, though the latter is clearly the intent. All with J.B. Smoove as Lonnie, Cheryl’s journeyman pro basketball player husband, fit into this category. Silly is an apt characterization.

Dee (Marley Taylor), Niya (Nadej Bailey) and Cameron (Alkoya Brunson) are excited about a big fall.

Ditto for those with Mo’Nique’s Mary, who has sung backup for everybody from Chaka Khan to Stevie Wonder. She gets to play the stereotypical coarse, vulgar, large, loud black woman role. In her best scene, she recounts the backstory for each dish she has prepared on the first night that the family gathers. It is almost uproarious.

But would it not have been far more interesting for KE or Nicole Ari Parker (Sonya) to play this role and for Mo’Nique to portray the successful dentist or perfect housewife/loving mother? Here is a place an actor can show off her chops, no? Clearly, JBS and Mo’Nique are the comic relief. Alas, their efforts are manifested as so much buffoonery.

Evan (Jessie Usher) confronts Walter (Danny Glover) about something that has been bothering him.

If these significant shortcomings can be overlooked, "Almost Christmas" will be rather enjoyable. Because it is a bit of nonsense with sufficient laughs to chase away the blue devils, it can be an antidote for holiday blues.

On this score alone, it is balm, for sometimes silliness is just the thing.

"Almost Christmas" is rated PG-13 for suggestive material, drug content and language; visit to learn more about the film.

Monday, November 7, 2016

Do this. Don't That to Get More Zs After Falling Back an Hour (and at Bedtime in General).

This time of year yawning is contagious. Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.


many of us are stifling yawns. Reason: It is the first full day of daylight saving time.

Ostensibly, we gained an hour of sleep, but it doesn't feel like it because it came over the weekend when most of us tend to sleep later. A general antidote is some form of light therapy.

If drowsiness and lethargy persist, however, you may have a sleep disorder. In such cases, Vanderbilt University Division of Sleep Disorderschief Beth Malow suggests seeking professional help.

“I encourage people to discuss symptoms with their health care provider, as sleep disorders are highly treatable and can make a big difference in our health and daytime functioning."

To get a good night's sleep, BM also recommends the following Dos and Don'ts:


Develop a bedtime routine such as taking a bath, reading or listening to calm music.
Archive photo.


Watch TVs and use computers and other devices (bright lights, stimuli).
Photo from Apple.


Make your bedroom quiet, dark and at a comfortable temperature.
Photo from


Consume caffeine, alcohol or large meals near bedtime.
Archive photo.


Nix a run on the treadmill, sit ups and other exercise.
Archive image.


Try to rise and shine and hit the sack the at the same times every day.
Photo from Earth Porm.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

ON THE TOWNS: Eating Well With Just Food and Change Food; Doing Good at Angels of East Africa and NYAWC; Looking Good at MyFaceMyBody ... Artists Have Their Function ... Apollo Remembers an Amateur Called Jimi Hendrix ...


IT'S that time of year to be seriously thinking about food. After all, the holidays are in progress, for all intents and purposes.

Two food festivals, organized by advocacy groups, Just Food and Change Food, respectively, challenge consumers to eat fresh and local where possible, and to act to ensure that their food is healthy the way God intended.

Food is one of the resources provided by the do-gooder org, Angels of East Africa. Another do-gooder org, New York Asian Women's Center, provides shelter and other resources to women who have experienced domestic abuse and human trafficking.

Elsewhere, and on lighter note, the public honors the aesthetic industry at a ceremony in Beverly Hills. A group of artists gather at the Onassis Cultural Center in New York to discuss the state of artists in society ...

1-7 November

FOOD. 7:30 p.m. 1 Nov. Let Us Eat Local 2016. Just Food gathers more than 40 of New York City's top chefs prepare seasonal dishes that showcase the best from local farmers and producers. All proceeds from the benefit support Just Food's mission to make fresh, local food a reality for all New Yorkers. Metropolitan Pavilion, 125 W. 18th St. New York.

FILM. 1-7 Nov. The 19th Indie Memphis Film Festival. The opening film is Prichard Smith’s "The Invaders"; the closer is "Kallen Esperian: Vissi D'Arte fromStephen John Ross. Other highlights include a 20th anniversary screening of Milos Forman's "The People vs. Larry Flynt," which was produced in Memphis. Under the rubric, "Pioneers of African American Cinema,” four films from some of the earliest black directors, including "The Blood of Jesus " (Spencer Williams). Also a screening of "Little Men," the latest from Ira Sachs who was raised in Memphis. Various locations. Memphis.

CULTURE. 6:30 p.m. 3 Nov. The New York Asian Women’s Center (NYAWC) 34th Phoenix Awards Benefit Gala. This year the largest Asian American domestic violence organization in the country honors Sheryl WuDunn. An author and journalist, SWD is the first Asian American reporter to win a Pulitzer Prize. Includes an online silent auction. The Essex House, 160 Central Park South. New York.

CULTURE. 7 p.m. 4 Nov. Angels of East Africa (AOEA) Gala. The first gala to benefit the organization, which is dedicated to helping with ongoing development projects in the Children’s Village in Ethiopia, South Sudan and Uganda. The gala is also organized to bring awareness to the atrocities in the aforesaid areas. Proceeds will go toward providing food, farm equipment, housing and educational facilities. Speakers include founder, Sam Childers aka “The Machine Gun Preacher,” and Seth Mock, Midwestern African Museum of Art. Special guest actor Michael Shannon will perform with his band. Includes an online silent auction. City Winery, 155 Varick St. New York.>

BEAUTY. 5 Nov. MyFaceMyBody Awards. The most innovative and popular products in the aesthetic industry as determined by consumers. Awards are also presented to plastic surgeons and dermatologists. Montage Hotel, 225 N. Canon Dr. Beverly Hills, CA. >

8-14 November

The Joneses // Clip from San Francisco Film Society on Vimeo.

ART. Through 10 Nov. 2016. From Earth to the Divine: Contemporary Mongolian Expressionism. A group show of award-winning artists whose work is being shown for the first time in New York City. Works include paintings, engravings, sculptures, Tsam masks and puppetry. Tibet House, 22 W. 15th St. New York.>

FILM. 10-17 Nov. DOC NYC. Now in its seventh year, the festival calls itself the largest in the land dedicated to documentaries exclusively. The opening film is Matt Tyrnauer’s "Citizen Jane: Battle for the City," concerning an activist and developer at odds over a proposed urban renewal plan for New York City in the ‘60s. Michel Gondry animates conversations with Noam Chomsky in “Is the Man Who Is Tall Happy?” in the closing film. Others include "The Joneses" (see video above) from Moby Longinotto about a 74-year-old, Mississippi-based transgender divorcee and family. Various locations. New York.

A living space at Scribner’s Catskill Lodge. Located at the base of Hunter Mountain, the lodge officially opens on 11 Nov. Photo by Nils Schlebush.

TRAVEL. LODGING. 11 Nov. Scribner’s Catskill Lodge. In its latest iteration, this site at the base of Hunter Mountain officially opens on 11 Nov. as a 38-room/suite “bespoke” lodge. Less than three hours from New York City, Scribner’s is an appealing getaway that offers beautiful views over it more than 20 acres, as well as several indoor and outdoor event spaces and “mountain cuisine” at the onsite restaurant, Prospect at Scribbner’s. Scribner’s Catskill Lodge, 13 Scribner Hollow Road. Hunter, NY.

FOOD. 9 a.m – 4:30 p.m., 12 Nov.; 11 a.m. – 5:30 p.m., 13 Nov. Change Food Fest 2016 "Growing the Good Food Movement." The overarching focus of the festival, sponsored by the nonprofit food advocacy group, Change Food, will be around a paradigm shift in which those who were formerly at odds are beginning to work together. Specifically, against a backdrop of sustainability and transparency, good food advocates are in the employ of Big Food purveyors and small advocacy groups are less wary of these companies. Panel discussions, breakout sessions, food tastings. Times Center, 242 W. 41st St. New York.

15-21 November

A photo by Eli Reed titled "September 11, 2001." Reed is part of the symposium, "The Role of the Artist in Society," at the Onassis Cultural Center on 15 Nov.

LIFESTYLE. 7 p.m. 15 Nov. The Role of the Artist in Society. The Onassis Cultural Center presents the second annual Onassis Symposium. Discussing the state of the arts will be practitioners from various disciplines, including food (chef Alex Atala), photography (Eli Reed), literature (Azar Nafisi) and visual arts (Nancy Spector). Free and open to the public. Reservations encouraged. Onassis Cultural Center, 645 Fifth Ave. New York. http://

DANCE. 7:30 p.m. 17 Nov. FJK Dance presents Mundo. The fledgling dance company, founded by Fadi J. Khoury and Sevin Ceviker, presents its latest works-in-progress. At FJK, fusing dance genres is the raison d'etre. In this program, the Argentine Tango meets ballet, Middle Eastern meets Latin. Live music by Frank Abernante and his NYC Latin Jazz Ensemble will be featured. Peter Norton Symphony Space, 2537 Broadway. New York. http://

22 November and beyond

MUSIC. 7 p.m. and 11 p.m. 26 Nov. Hendrix in Harlem featuring Fishbone. The tribute concert explores the early R&B experiences of Jimi Hendrix, an Apollo Theater Amateur Night winner who played with such legendary artists as the Isley Brothers and Little Richard. The concert will feature the music of Hendrix from the mid-‘60s through his last album, “First Rays of the New Rising Sun,” which was released posthumously. Among the performers are Fishbone, Ernie Isley, Nona Hendryx, Gary Lucas, Brandon Niederauer “TAZ,” Liv Warfield and Saul Williams. See video above of Hendrix’s first-known TV appearance from the Music History Channel. Apollo Theater, 253 W. 125th St. New York. event/hendrix-in-harlem/

ART. Through 2 Jan 2017. Carmen Herrera: Lines of Sight. Encompasses the 30-year period between 1948 and 1978 when the abstract artist was honing her style. The first NYC museum exhibit of her oeuvre in nearly 20 years, it features three-dimensional treatments, works on paper and paintings. Whitney Museum of American Art, 99 Gansevoort. New York. The exhibit moves to the Wexner Center for the Arts in Columbus Ohio on 4 Feb. (through 16 April).

Saya Woolfalk (b. 1979), still from Life Products by ChimaTEK, 2014. Video, color, sound, 3:15 min. Image courtesy Leslie Tonkonow Artworks + Projects, New York" is one of the works in "Afrofuturism: Black Science Fiction (3 p.m. on 3 Nov.).v"Afrofuturism" is included in the film series component the exhibit, "Dreamlands: Immersive Cinema and Art, 1905–2016." Image courtesy of Whitney Museum of American Art.

ART. Through 5 Feb. 2017. Dreamlands: Immersive Cinema and Art, 1905–2016. The title takes its name from science fiction writer H.P. Lovecraft’s alternate fictional dimension. It features the work of artists spanning a century, illustrating the numerous techniques they have used to deconstruct conventional modes of cinema to re-imagine the moving image. Includes a film series. Whitney Museum of American Art, 99 Gansevoort. New York.

Friday, October 28, 2016

Boo! Scary Movie Fans, Be Prepared to Be Frightened Out of Your Wits.

Mia Farrow is the title character with a very special infant in "Rosemary's Baby." Archive photo.


JAMES Kendrick
is a guy who knows a scary movie when he sees one.

To that end, it behooves all who have eyes that see and who like the living daylights scared out of them to heed his counsel. JK is an associate professor of film and digital media in the College of Arts & Sciences at Baylor University.

“We all know what it means to be frightened, to feel dread, to want to look away,” he says. “On some level we all fear death and are aware of our human mortality, and the best horror films engage that fear in complex and challenging ways.”

One that engages this writer is Roman Polanski's "Rosemary's Baby (1968). Mia Farrow is a young mother with a very strange baby living with her husband (John Cassavetes) in a practically haunted apartment building among weird neighbors.

And the 10 films JK believes will do the trick:

1. CAT PEOPLE,1942

WHEN your wife tells you that high passion will bring out her feline tendencies, you should take her at her word. Director: Jacques Tourneur. Stars: Simone Simon, Kent Smith, Jane Randolph.

2. HALLOWEEN, 1978

FIFTEEN years later on Halloween, Michael Myers, now an escaped convict, will continue his murderous ways in his small Illinois town. Director: John Carpenter. Stars: Jamie Lee Curtis, Donald Pleasence, Tony Moran, Nick Castle.


PERHAPS the moral of the story is to not take refuge in an abandoned house when the dead and buried leave their graves in search of fresh human meat. Director: George A. Romero. Stars: Judith O'Dea, Duane Jones, Karl Hardman, Marilyn Eastman.

4. NOSFERATU, 1922

THOMAS Hutter's employer sends him to meet new client, Count Orlok. At dinner, the Count tries to feast on Hutter's cut finger. Sound familiar? "Nosferatu" is an unauthorized adaptation of Bram Stroker's "Dracula," much to the displeasure of BS's successfully litigious heirs. A few copies of the film survived a court order calling for their destruction. Director: F.W. Murnau. Stars: Gustav von Wangenheim, Max Schreck, Greta Schröder.

5. PSYCHO, 1960

OUT of the frying pan and into the fire when a thieving beauty eludes the clutches of the law but not the ministrations of the psycho at the hotel where she stops to rest her weary bones. Director: Alfred Hitchcock. Stars: Janet Leigh, John Gavin, Anthony Perkins, Vera Miles, Martin Balsam, John McIntire.

6. SUSPIRIA, 1977

A scene from "Suspiria." Archive photo.

SUZY should have run away from that German ballet school, too, especially after a classmate was murdered. Director: Dario Argento. Stars: Jessica Harper, Eva Axen, Stefania Casino, Joan Bennett.

7. The BABADOOK, 2014

A mother learns that her son's children's book is expelling horrors. Director: Jennifer Kent. Stars: Essie Davis, Noah Wiseman, Daniel Henshall.


WHAT comes to pass when Dr. Frankenstein is beholden to Dr. Pretorius. Director: John Whale. Stars: Boris Karloff, Colin Clive, Ernest Thesiger, Elsa Lanchester.


ALL hell breaks loose when Regan starts behaving oddly, including speaking in tongues. And making incredible turns with her head. Director: William Friedkin. Stars: Linda Blair, Ellen Burstyn, Jason Miller, Max von Sydow, Lee J. Cobb.

10. THE SHINING, 1980

AT an isolated Colorado hotel in the back of beyond, Jack Torrance morphs from blocked writer into madman bent on killing his loved ones. Director: Stanley Kubrick. Stars: Jack Nicholson, Shelley Duvall, Danny Lloyd, Scatman Scrothers.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

From NYCWFF Day 3: Arian Daguin Goes Straight to the Source at Foie Gras Fete

D'Artagnan CEO Arian Daguin holds aloft a moulard foie gras duck from which she has extracted the liver. Photo by VW.


bacon is a hit. As is the slider.

However, the hit of the Foie Gras Fete is the spectacle of the butchering.

It unfolds at The Wayfarer on Day 3 of the ninth annual Food Network & Cooking Channel New York City Wine & Food Festival.

Net proceeds from NYCWFF go to No Kid Hungry and Food Bank for New York City.

Watch the videos to see
D'Artagnan CEO Arian Daguin butcher a moulard foie gras duck.

Viewer discretion is advised.

Visit the following websites to learn more:

The ninth annual Food Network & Cooking Channel New York City Wine & Food Festival

No Kid Hungry

Food Bank for New York City

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

Part 5

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

At Ninth New York City Wine and Food Festival, It's All Good Because It's for a Good Cause: Ending Hunger


have made a list and checked it thrice. And what I am most looking forward to is Foie Gras Fete, followed closely by Aperitivo!.

You don't know where this is going do you? Perhaps not. OK, dialing back.

One is ecstatic about the ninth coming of the Food Network & Cooking Channel New York City Wine & Food Festival. The "Eat. Drink. End Hunger." festival opens tomorrow and goes through Sunday (13-16 Oct.).

Indeed, NYCWFF is a gourmand's delight. Those attending the Foie Gras Fete, if they have the stomach for it, can witness D'Artagnan CEO Arian Daguin demonstrate how to butcher a moulard foie gras duck!

Are those the groans of animal rights activists? If you're also vegan or vegetarian, stop reading now and pick up toward the end of the article. At that juncture, under discussion will be something you can savor with a straight face. Thankfully, foodies won't have to wait until after the butchering ceremony for their foie gras, as canapes containing the delicacy will be served up during the event.

Alas, the v's won't find much to munch on at any of the NYCWFF most popular events: Chicken Coupe hosted by Whoopi Goldberg and Andrew Carmellini; Giada De Laurentiis’ Italian Feast; Blue Moon Burger Bash hosted byRachael Ray, and Tacos & Tequila now hosted by Aarón Sánchez. Another favorite, however, will offer some sustenance: Grand Tasting presented by ShopRite.

Elsewhere, Aperitivo! among the newbies this year - just sounds enticing. Says the pr: "Tantalize your taste buds with host and Food Network star Anne Burrell and enjoy cocktails and wines served alongside elevated hors d’oeuvres from your favorite local restaurants. Not just hors d’oeuvres, but ones that are elevated. It promises charcuterie, cheese, tapas and "a bevy of deliciously composed bites."

Speaking of elevated, hotdogs come up higher when they are paired with Champagne (or is it merely sparkling wine?). Robert Irvine hosts the new Haute Dogs & Champagne. It's billed as a twist on the all-American staple. Essentially, some of RI's chef friends will present gussied-up iterations of boudins, brats, dogs and sausages.

No doubt, some Grey Poupon-type mustard will be in play instead of French's. To wash it down "champagnes" (note, no capital C; could be a typo, though) from the portfolio of Southern Glazer's Wine & Spirits of New York.

Without a doubt, sparkling wine will be poured at the Wine Spectator wine seminar, Sparkling Wine From Around the World. The title is self-explanatory, no?

At NYCWWF, regardless of one's favorites, everything is good, if for no other reason than it is all for a good cause: ending hunger. Net proceeds go to No Kid Hungry and Food Bank for New York City.

That's another reason there won't be much scolding for the enormous number of late-night events. If it is just once or twice a year, for instance, one doesn't want to miss the Midnight Jazz Breakfast hosted by Carla Hall and Patti LaBelle. On the menu are chicken and waffles as well as D’USSÉ cocktails. This one goes down at Harlem's The Cecil, and chef Joseph"JJ" Johnson is promising decadence.

Thankfully, some of that decadence can be danced off, as the party continues at Minton's where live jazz is to be performed.

Another new edition that is also quite timely is a Kosher dinner with Elior Bilbul, Eden Grinshpan, Amitzur Mor and Yehuda Sichel. It is part of the Bank of America Dinner Series.

Another time-themed treat is Sinful Sweets and Spellbinding Spirits: A Halloween Dessert Party hosted by Duff Goldman. Here, DG and pastry chef friends dish out Halloween-inspired desserts and drinks.

Vegans and vegetarians can tune back in now for the V is for Vegetables masterclass. Essentially, Gramercy Tavern chef Michael Anthony will add vavoom to the likes of carrots and other edibles not thought to be vegetables. It sounds enticing enough to turn a carnivore.

Class-conscious types may also want to sit in on A Guide to the World of Spices. Under the tutelage of chef and spice blender, Lior Lev Sercarz, pupils will learn how to use spices to enhance the flavors of food. They will also create their own spices.

Good stuff all, so dig in, no?

Visit the following websites to learn more:

The ninth annual Food Network & Cooking Channel New York City Wine & Food Festival

No Kid Hungry

Food Bank for New York City

Monday, October 10, 2016

NYFF54 DAY 11: 'Bright Lights: Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds' Is a Transparent and Delightful Stroll Down Memory Lane


dare you - absolutely dare you - to leave "Bright Lights: Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds" without a big, ole goofy smile on your face and a passel of golden-oldie songs in your heart.

The documentary, which occasionally has the feel of a reality show along the lines of "Keeping Up With the Kardashians (except that it feels utterly authentic and features players who have real achievements to their credit), offers in real time fragments of the lives of its showbiz daughter and mother of the title.

Immediately, the viewer is drawn in, desiring to be a member of this wonderful and wonderfully flawed family. For my part, this writer wants to live with Carrie and Debbie. Such is the pull of the energy in this delightful, poignant, funny and candid snapshot.

From Alexis Bloom and Fisher Stevens, "Bright Lights: Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds" has its 54th New York Film Festivalpremiere this evening. (It premieres on HBO next year.)

Also on the bill at NYFF54 this evening is a film that is part of the Bertrand Tavernier retrospective. Henry Hathaway's "Fourteen Hours" is a 1951 film based on a true story about a man who jumps to his death from the 17th floor of what is now New York City's Peninsula Hotel. At the time it was the Gotham Hotel.

Today, the film is also noteworthy for some of the minor characters and extras who would come into fame, including John Cassavetesand Grace Kelly.

Visit to learn more about the 54th New York Film Festival, including showtimes and venues.
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