Saturday, January 30, 2010

Why You Should Make 'It' Your Own


Michael Jackson's "This Is It" is one for the music library.

WHEN I attended a special IMAX screening of “This is It” the day it opened in October, I cried the first half hour of its 111 minutes. Seeing Michael Jackson, the undisputed King of Pop, alive and swell, but knowing he was dead and gone (but not forgotten) was too much for Yours Truly to bear with dry eyes. “TII” is now available on Blu-ray, DVD and PSP (PlayStation Portable).

After his deathday, I disengaged from the swirl because rampant was the speculation/conjecture/falsehoods to which I alluded in the appreciation I wrote later that evening. (http://vevlynspen.blogspot.com/2009/06/king-and-i.html). I re-engaged for the moving ceremony at the Staples Center. And went underground again until “TII” was released in theaters.

To those who may have been under a rock for the last several months, “TII” is the film that chronicles two months – from April to June – of MJ’s Spring 2009 rehearsal for his sold-out, world concert tour that was to kick off in the summer from London’s O2 Arena. My emotions as I watched this magnificent/massive/momentous talent on that gi-normous screen toggled between anger and joy.

I remembered with disdain and disgust how most elements in the U.S. media mercilessly denigrated MJ for his difficulties, quirks and peccadilloes to the virtual exclusion of his humanitarian efforts and his enormous gifts. It still grates and irks to all get out when I recall how ad-nauseam these dolts referred to him as the “the so-called King of Pop,” not the King of Pop. If not Michael Jackson, who? Who? Who?!

Please note that I am not suggesting that MJ was perfect and above reproach. Clearly, he was not. When one has that much talent, it logically follows that one will also have a few eccentricities. And MJ had more than his fair share. But they did not invalidate The Talent.

On a happy note, I marveled at MJ’s boundless energy and perfectionism. I was reminded of his myriad good deeds revealed during the Staples Center ceremony. Many I had no idea about. Incidentally, the highlight of the Staples Center program was not his daughter, Paris’, plaintive declaration near the end. They were the anecdotes from Brooke Shields and the Rev. Al Sharpton, for they provided true insights into the man’s character, personality and humanity.

My joy was further informed by the knowledge of how beloved MJ was – and is – the world over. A woman of a certain age (at least 60-something) sat one seat over from me in the theater. To say she was enjoying herself does not to begin to convey her brio. She was singing. She was swaying. She was bobbing her head. She was popping her fingers. She was tapping her feet. She was dancing in her seat. At any moment, it seemed that she was simply going to jump up and start moonwalking. Ditto for many at the screening. It was a celebratory atmosphere. That’s part of the MJ effect.

Paris (France) was my home for more than five years, and it is the home of people from around the world. It was almost impossible to have a conversation about American music without a worshipful reference to MJ. He influenced countless individuals to become dancers and singers. Witness the number and variety of people – regular folk and stars – who’ve credited him for their career choices. They’ve spoken with nothing but great admiration and deep sadness.

“This Is It,” the No. 1 grossing concert film in world box office history, was unleashed Tuesday (26 January), but I decided to hang back until the crowds – actual and virtual – got their copy of the Blu Ray/DVD/PCP. They are not IMAX, which made everything bolder, bigger, brighter, clearer, more immediate. But they are a piece of history to buy into. If you need any further convincing, listed below in descending order are the top 10 reasons to own “TII”:

Reason No. 10:
More than 90 minutes (not on PSP) of footage not in the film, including the audition process during which many (more than 5,000) were called but only a few (11) were chosen; the reminisces of MJ from “This Is It” director Kenny Ortega&crew and, for fashionistas, a presentation by costume designer, Zaldy, of the get-ups MJ was going to wear on tour.

Reason No. 9:
The Blu-ray feature that allows viewers to bookmark/customize favorite songs from the “TII” playlist;

Reason No. 8:
MJ’s rehearsal is exponentially superior to and more entertaining than the actual shows of many performers;

Reason No. 7:
It’s a master class for modern dance students (and professionals);

Reason No. 6:
It’s a master class for recording artists (amateur and professional);

Reason No. 5:
It will make you cry;

Reason No. 4:
It will make you laugh;

Reason No. 3:
It will make you cheer:

Reason No. 2:
It will make you sing along;

Reason No. 1:
And the No. 1 reason to own “This Is It”: It is a video love letter to the world from the King of Pop. There will not be another. This, is It.

Suggested prices for “This Is It” are Blu-ray, $39.95; DVD, $28.96, and PSP, $24.94. At this writing they are available at Amazon new or used as low as $23.97 for Blu-ray; $12.86 for DVD and $19.74 for PSP. Visit http://www.amazon.com/Michael-Jackson-This-Blu-ray/dp/B002UD56I6/ref=sr_1_3?ie=UTF8&s=dvd&qid=12595

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

A Massive Outpouring of Help for Haiti

Photos courtesy of The Global Syndicate.


IN the new testament, the Apostle Paul admonishes the Thessalonians (and anyone reading his words these many years later) not to grow weary of well-doing. At the moment the world seems to be heeding his words, especially as it relates to Haiti.

There is an abundance of fundraisers to help the long-beleaguered Caribbean nation recover from the devastation caused by that earthquake earlier this month. And aware of how often in such circumstances aid meant for the needy can be gobbled up by “administrative costs,” donors are pointedly indicating that all proceeds will go to relief.

In the United States alone, many efforts: traditional (telethons, bake sales) and inspired (Students at Dartmouth for Haiti Relief [SDHR]) and heartbreakingly touching (the boy who sent his allowance to President Barack Obama) and gimmicky (Sunday’s 40 in 4 Haiti Relief Fundraiser in Long Beach California).

During Sunday’s 52nd Annual Grammy Awards on CBS, a segment dedicated to Haiti relief will feature Mary J. Blige and Andrea Bocelli performing Simon and Garfunkel's "Bridge Over Troubled Water." The duet will be available for download at iTunes.com/Target following the show. Proceeds will go to the American Red Cross relief program.

With the second largest Haitian population in the States (Miami is first), New York is doing its part, of course. One of the latest efforts is tomorrow’s (28 January, 6 p.m. cocktails/ 7 p.m. program) ANSWERING THE CALL: A Fundraising Initiative Benefiting Earthquake Victims in Haiti, presented by The Global Syndicate & partners at the nightspot, M2 Ultra Lounge. Tickets start at $25.

Answering the Call won’t attract the galaxy of stars that the $60 million and counting “Hope for Haiti” telethon did last week, but it has marquee names in the form of Matt Dillon, Gloria Reuben and Eddie George. New York Gov. David Patterson and newly elected City Comptroller John Liu are listed as “honorary elected hosts.”

Details are sketchy, but organizers have indicated that there will be performances. Proceeds from the evening will benefit the Clinton Bush Haiti Fund, Project Medishare, Haiti Support Project and Wyclef Jean’s Yele Haiti.

Learn more about The Global Syndicate and "Answering the Call" at www.theglobalsyndicate.org, including ticket prices/purchases and how to donate to Haiti relief. M2 Ultra Lounge is located at 530 W. 28th St.

Monday, January 25, 2010

During Eat Week, Truck Stop Dining

The NYC Restaurant Week Truck will serve soup at three locations around the city through 5 Feb. Photo courtesy of NYC & Company.

SOUP’s on! – the truck. One soup du jour is tomato and fennel from Tribeca Grill; Industria Argentina’s lentil stew is one of Wednesday’s sensations; Friday brings with it goodness and Jean-Claude's lobster bisque from Chez Josephine.

The truck is the newest dish on the menu during the latest iteration of the delectable misnomer, “NYC Restaurant Week Winter 2010. It opens today (25 Jan.) and shutters on 7 Feb.

"NYC Restaurant Week continues to evolve with consumer-engaging components," said Jane Reiss, Chief Marketing Office of NYC & Company, which produces restaurant week. "The NYC Restaurant Week Truck is a fun new way for diners to experience the program; we are excited to offer the value of New York City's culinary celebration in more ways than one."

For the next couple of weeks from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., the NYC Restaurant Week Truck will ladle the soups of 24 of the restaurant week eateries at three locations around Manhattan: through Friday (29 Jan.) at Broadway (b/w 50th and 51st streets); 1-3 Feb. at Fifth Avenue (b/w 18th and 19th streets) and 4-5 Feb. at Greenwich Street (b/w Warren and Murray streets). To help wash down the soup one restaurant week sponsor, Coca-Cola, will provide beverages on select days (please drink responsibly and in great moderation). Note to do-gooders, $1 from every $6 spent at the truck will benefit The Haiti Relief Fund at the Mayor's Fund to Advance New York City.

Who knew that back in 1992 when New York restaurant week was a mere promotion to welcome the Democratic National Convention to the city that it would morph into the juggernaut it is today! In retrospect, should anyone be surprised, for it was a boon for both restaurants and residents/visitors. The former made some dough and the latter saved some dough.

From A Voce to Ze Café, more than 260 eateries, including perennials such as 21 Club and Delmonico’s, are onboard. Nearly 20 years later, New York restaurant week is still one of the best deals in town: $24.07 three-course prix-fixe lunches and $35 three-course prix-fixe dinners (excluding Saturdays, beverage, tax and gratuity).

Learn more about NYC Restaurant Week Winter 2010, including menus and reservation policies, at http://www.nycgo.com. Learn more about The Haiti Relief Fund at nyc.gov. Learn more about the NYC Restaurant Week Truck at http://www.nycgo.com/?event=view.article&id=217227&pid=wrw_truck_right_rail.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Reconstructing Haiti Is a Worthy Pursuit

George Clooney, pictured, will host "Hope for Haiti" from Los Angeles, while Wyclef Jean will hold it down in New York. A who's who of big names is expected to participate in the telethon airing at 8 tonight on most major networks/channels. Photo courtesy of MTV News.

“WHY, God, why,” so many ask when there is a great injustice or tragedy. It’s been no different for Haiti, which was rocked 12 January by an earthquake that has wrought countless deaths/injuries, unspeakable misery and decimated the country's already dilapidated infrastructure.

On virtually every newscast, announcers, reporters and interviewees have wondered why do such natural calamities seem to occur disproportionately in places where people are the worst off. Almost without exception, they cite that very familiar and clichéd statistic about Haiti, that it is the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere.

But a few others, mainly outside of the mainstream media, suggest the statement should be recast as a question: “Why is Haiti the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere?” On tonight’s edition of the Charlie Rose Show, the Haitian Ambassador to the United States alluded to this. “Perhaps, the world will begin to recognize Haiti,” Raymond Joseph said. “Perhaps, it’s time to reflect on how Haiti became that way.”

Typically and sadly, the answer is injustice and greed. Far be it for Yours Truly to point fingers, but allow me to point the way to sources that do so unflinchingly. The first is “Haiti, A Slave Revolution: 200 Years after 1804,” by Ramsey Clark, award-winning Haitian-born novelist Edwidge Danticat et al. There is also the essay by J. Damu, “How the U.S. Impoverished Haiti.”

Another hew and cry is that Haiti needs a Marshall Plan, a makeover it could have benefited from before the quake. For those who have forgotten their grade-school civics, the MP is that massive reconstruction project that the United States undertook after World War II to rebuild Western Europe. While it may be too early to call – especially since the rescue is not fully operational and there are challenges getting basic aid supplies into the Caribbean nation, and it is the tragedy du jour – Haiti may become the beneficiary of a massive reconstruction, courtesy of the world, in the public and private sectors.

The list of nations offering assistance is a long one, including Brazil, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, France, Germany, Spain and, of course, the United States. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is scheduled to be on the ground in Haiti on Saturday for meetings and reconnaisance. And President Barack Obama has pressed former presidents Bill Clinton and George Bush II into service as goodwill ambassadors/fundraisers, hence the Clinton Bush Haiti Fund.

Scores of companies, charitable organizations, celebrities and individuals – with the possible exception of Rush Limbaugh and Pat Robertson – are parting with time, talent and money for the recovery. Deutsche Bank’s Global Markets Equity Group donated the $4 million it made today from trading commissions. The German bank also created a matching-funds program for U.S. employees. My favorite donation program, which I’ve availed myself of, is the text initiative of the American Red Cross. Basically, text HAITI to 90999 and $10 goes to the relief effort and the charges will appear on your mobile/cell phone.

Next Friday (22 Jan), check your local listings for “Hope for Haiti.” The star-studded telethon – airing at 8 Eastern time on ABC, BET, CBS, CMT, CNN, the CW, Fox, HBO, MTV, NBC and VH1 – will be hosted in Los Angeles by George Clooney and in New York by Wyclef Jean, who has been doing charity work in his mother country for years. Funds raised from the telethon will go to various charitable organizations, including Oxfam and WJ’s foundation, Yele Haiti. (Alas, Yele Haiti is being scrutinized by the IRS but at this writing has not been officially called out for any funny business.)

Naturally, if Haiti is returned beyond its former glory (before the interlopers, squatters, conquerors, figureheads and despots), it won't erase horrific memories of the earthquake, but it will significantly contribute to the healing of a grateful nation.

At a press conference this afternoon, where he restated the country’s financial, humanitarian and military commitment to our neighbor to the south, President Obama relayed a message from Haitian president René Préval: “From the bottom of my heart and on behalf of the people of Haiti, thank you, thank you, thank you.”

For more information about ways to help in Haiti, visit whitehouse.gov, which has the most comprehensive list and has the added advantage of being vetted by the government, for what that’s worth … Learn more about the Red Cross initiative at www.redcross.org … Learn more about Deutsche Bank’s initiative at http://www.db.com/index_e.htm … Learn more about the Clinton Bush Haiti Fund at http://clintonbushhaitifund.org ... Learn more about the Yele Haiti Foundation at http://www.yele.org ... Learn more about “Hope for Haiti” at the Web site of the respective broadcasters, or Google it ... New Yorkers can also donate by dialing 311.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Project and City Make It Work – Again



Michael Kors, Nina Garcia and Tim Gunn stand under the temporary street sign, "Project Runway Avenue," at the intersection of 39th Street and Fashion Avenue in New York City's Garment District. In addition to having a street named after it, "Project Runway" was also presented with a proclamation, pictured on a tripod below. Photos courtesy of NYC & Company.

THE fashion world experienced a minor rumble when it learned “Project Runway,” an almost instant favorite of the set and Middle America, was out at Bravo. For a few terrifyingshockingconfusing moments, Armageddon.

A collective sigh of relief went up when “PR” was in at Lifetime Television. That, relief however, was tempered in double-quick fashion on the right coast when it got wind that Season 6 would unfold in Los Angeles. Why not Mars?

My viewing last season was at best, spotty. No longer was I rushing home from parties on Thursday – the busiest party night in Gotham – to catch the first airing of each episode. I even missed several reruns. Are you ready for this: I missed the finale, though I have a good idea who won. My lack of enthusiasm can be diagnosed in two words – Los Angeles. Lovely city, angelic really, but not for “PR.” On the left coast the show didn’t pop, it was like a black dress that makes ZERO impression because it needs a smashing necklace or brooch. Or both.

I’m convinced that “PR” will have its swagger back this seventh season with the usual collection of talented designers and models, all doing their thing in New York. I like the sound of that – New York – and so does the city. Indeed, absence has made the city’s heart grow fonder, if the fanfare with which it is welcoming back its own ahead of Thursday’s debut is any gauge.

This very chilly a.m. at the “Needle Threading a Button” sculpture (39th Street and Fashion Avenue) in New York’s Garment District, Tim Gunn, Nina Garcia, Michael Kors, past contestants and models were feted with a street naming – “Project Runway Avenue” temporarily replaces Fashion (aka Seventh) Avenue. And the show also netted a proclamation from the city deeming today, 13 Jan. 2010, “Project Runway Day.”

During the speechifying, just about every speaker claimed with Atlas-strength conviction that New York City is the fashion capital of the world (FCOTW). Are you listening, Paris?

CEO and President of Lifetime Networks Andrea Wong told the crowd, including Harvey Weinstein whose Weinstein Company produces "PR," that she considered it a great pleasure to be “standing in the heart of the fashion capital of the world” to tell all who has ears that “PR” is cable’s No. 1 reality show among women. And for the first time the show will be viewed in HD, all the better to see shoddy, and superior work.

Deputy Mayor for Economic Development Robert Lieber, sounding like a contrite lover, used his time at the podium to assert the city’s strong commitment to the show and to the fashion industry. He also unfurled an impressive list of stats to support the case for Gotham as the FCOTW: More than 800 fashion companies, which is more than twice that of the next biggest competitor – Paris; more than 175,000 New Yorkers working in the fashion and retail sector; half a million visitors to the wholesale market; quarter-million attendees at Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week, and so on … “We’ve managed to stay the fashion capital because this is the place where guys like Michael Kors want to be. This is the place fashion talent want to be,” RL declared.

“Tim, Nina and Michael, again, it’s a pleasure to have you all back home, where you belong and to all the incredibly creative young designers who are here today with us. “Know that we really do want you,” said deputy mayor with bended-knee sincerity. “We really want your ideas and we want to make sure that this is the place that you can do business successfully, as well, as you go through your careers. So welcome back to you all and here’s to a great new season.”

Speaking of which, “PR” mentor TG confided without elaboration to Yours Truly, “There will be lots of sashaying” this season. He was a bit more unguarded, though, about what he missed about New York: “The energy. Being able to walk everywhere. In L.A., you have to have a car.” He did, however, like the weather. “But after a while you got tired of beautiful weather,” he said glumly.

Judge MK, who went gloveless and sockless (“Socks are for wussies.”) in 20-something degree temps, also talked up L.A.’s wonderful climate as a selling point, and his mother. “My mom lives there, so I got to see mom.” But for this New York boy, there’s no place like home. “I missed the energy of the streets, which is a big inspiration for designers, you know. And the mix of people that provide New York” with its unique vibe.

Fashion designer and bystander Gemma Rowlands concurred, echoing the sentiments of fashion stylist/personal shopper Pilar Katz and other onlookers. “I feel like New York is more gritty and L.A. is more shiny and not as fashion forward as New York. But she added, “and then again it doesn’t matter because it’s the designers that make it, not really the place.” That is clearly open to debate.

As if a street and a proclamation aren’t enough, for the last two weeks or so, NYC & Company, New York City's marketing/tourism/partnership organization, and The Westin New York at Times Square, have been offering Westin guests a complimentary customized two-hour CitySights “PR” bus tour with their reserved room on select dates.

"We are excited to welcome back “Project Runway” to New York City, which served as the vibrant backdrop for the television program for five seasons," said George Fertitta, NYC & Company CEO. "In celebration of the show's homecoming, New York City invites everyone to experience the fashion design landscape that has contributed to so many recognized talents and their creations."

The last opportunity to get on the bus is 16 January. Sights/sites include Bryant Park, home to Fashion Week; Parsons The New School for Fashion Design building, the venue for each episode’s design challenge; and Mood Designer Fabrics, the supplier of the raw materials for many of the creations. Also on the itinerary are sites from previous seasons. The Westin has further gotten into the spirit by decking its doors with custom-built “You’re In” hangers, instead of the familiar “Do not disturb” variety.

Ah, what reunion sex!

”Project Runway” has its seventh season debut at 10 p.m. on Thursday (14 January) on Lifetime Television … Learn more about NYC & Company at nycgo.com ... Visit westinny.com and enter the rate code RUNWAY to book a room.
 
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