Friday, April 27, 2012

On the Police Beat at Mental Health Film Festival

THE keys to being an effective CIT officer, however, cannot be taught. They are compassion, respect for human dignity and the ability to listen.

The words are from the narrator of "Georgia Crisis Intervention Team" or CIT. It is a training tool for Georgia law enforcement officials designed to help them effectively interact with individuals challenged with mental health problems. (See video above).

The film will be screened at the five-hour 8th Annual NYC Mental Health Film Festival next week (5 May) in downtown Brooklyn. It is one of three in keeping with the festival’s theme, Crisis Intervention: Interacting with the Police. The theme of this New York City-based festival is timely in light of several recent tragic incidents involving the New York Police Department (NYPD) and mentally ill residents.

Sponsored by Community Access and the New York Association of Psychiatric Rehabilitation Services (NYAPRS), the festival's mission is to heighten understanding and awareness of mental illness. During the afternoon, filmmaker Q&As and audience discussions are also scheduled.

If this festival of mainly shorts had an official centerpiece it might be “Community Access: Lives Made Possible.” Hosted by Gabourey Sidibe, the film is an account of stories of New Yorkers who are thriving despite their mental health struggles. Another overcomer is Kathryn Threlkeld. Her personal account of her struggle with a major depressive disorder morphed into a video diary and later the well-received "Burning Blossom," another entry in the series of seven films.

Visit http://www.communityaccess.org/ and http://www.nycmentalhealthfilmfestival.com to learn more about the 8th Annual NYC Mental Health Film Festival.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Earth Day: All Hands on Deck to Save Our Planet



No doubt, cleaning the residual oil from the floor of the Gulf of Mexico caused by the BP oil spill is beyond the reach of ordinary human beings.

Today, however, everybody regardless of where they live in the world can perform some simple act with an eye toward preserving our common home, Earth. Today is Earth Day.

In Bahia, Brazil a group is spending the day clearing marine litter from the beach and littering the beach with more garbage bins to discourage visitors from leaving their waste in the sand (http://www.bit.ly/I64SwK).

Americans, those who call the United States home, put more strain on the environment, per capita, than any other people on Earth. Something as simple as unplugging appliances that are not in use can make a difference; ditto for lights. Central cooling units can be kept on energy-serving settings. Companies that own electronic billboards can let them go dark. Indeed, Broadway can turn off its marquee lights. Driving smaller cars; investing in mass transit systems and so on. Starting at noon, thousands are expected to gather on the National Mall in Washington for an environmental movement pep rally. (http://www.bit.ly/I64SwK)

Today is a day to commit or recommit to performing the smallest act – to reach in the words of the song performed by Kenny Bobien in the video above from SM DPR Productions – to save our home.

To find Earth Day events in cities and countries around the world, search for “Earth Day 2012 VENUE NAME.”

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Genesis of a Syndrome in 'Peter and The Starcatcher’

Matt D'Amico, Rick Holmes, Isaiah Johnson, Adam Chanler-Berat and Christian Borle ham it up in “Peter and The Starcatcher.” Photos courtesy of O&M Co.

BY TAMARA BECK

“I
won’t grow up.”

That anthem to the freedom of childhood so resonates that there’s a syndrome named for the ever-young Peter Pan.

“Peter and The Starcatcher,” in an open run at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre, tells the backstory of the young man behind the name. In this tale, the title character starts out as a nameless orphan Boy (Adam Chanler-Berat) imprisoned in the hold of a ship called Neverland. He is to be sold into slavery along with two other boys – Prentiss (Carson Elrod) and Ted (David Rossmer). It’s the pirate Black Stache (Christian Borle) who gives the captive his now-famous name.

Written by Rick Elice and based on a novel by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson, “Peter and The Starcatcher” is a bit of a good-natured muddle.

Kevin Del Aguila and Christian Borle in "Peter and The Starcatcher."

The entire cast takes genuine pleasure in the play’s silly puns and sophomoric hijinks. CB, especially, is comically gleeful in his vamping. Another standout is Teddy Bergman as Fighting Prawn, a royal mess of a king on the island where Neverland eventually docks. Serving as a backdrop for all of the zaniness are songs, though “Peter and The Starcatcher” is definitely a play rather than a musical.

Not exactly this reviewer’s cuppa, but “Peter and The Starcatcher” has an infectious, crowd-pleasing innocence.

Visit http://www.peterandthestarcatcher.com/ to learn more about "Peter and The Starcatcher."

Friday, April 20, 2012

War of the Sexes, It's ON! in 'Think Like a Man'



ON the surface, “Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man” might appear to be a difficult book to adapt into a screenplay.

On second thought, though, not at all. It would not come as a surprise to learn that comedian-actor Steve Harvey wrote the book with an eye toward a film deal.

SH's best seller is a relationship advice book geared directly toward women. It is also a bit of an etiquette guide as it regards relationships. Further, “Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man” could be described as a love letter to women in the form of honest, no-nonsense counsel on attracting and keeping a good man. There are many dos and donts. Character breakdowns of what SH describes as the major types of men, women and behaviors are discussed and dissected.

The types, such as The Player take flesh-and-blood form as Zeke (Romany Malco) in the film, “Think Like a Man,” which opens nationwide today. (See trailer above).

Seemingly, all screenwriters Keith Merryman and David A. Newman, who are pretty faithful to the book, were tasked with was to contrive some behaviors that fit types. It’s not such a stretch to personify Strong, Independent – and Lonely – Women in the image of Lauren, Taraji P. Henson’s balls-busting media company executive or to decide that Mama’s Boy, Michael (Terrence Jenkins), would drive his parent (Jenifer Lewis) to church every Sunday. Any real difficulty might have come in which behaviors to keep and which to toss.

“Think Like a Man” opens with a humorous, narrated cartoon sequence that explains the hunter nature of men. Cleverly, it is narrated by SH who also acts as a Greek chorus, dispensing advice directly from the book. The book was published in 2009. Still, practically everywhere he goes, SH is peppered with relationship questions. He’s become a hero to women, a villain to no-good men – a turncoat who has revealed all of the gender’s secrets.

The action in “Think Like a Man” is set in present-day Los Angeles. Early sequences open on a group of male friends having beers at their regular hangout, doing what many men do when they are amongst themselves – talking shit, sometimes about women.

Mya's (Meagan Good) eyes open after she reads a certain book in "Think Like a Man."  Photos and poster from Sony Pictures Entertainment Inc.

Many of the book’s character types are represented. While they are jawing, the narrator introduces them by way of their type with an accompanying scene. "Dreamer" Dominic (Michael Ealy), for instance, is losing his girlfriend after his latest career switch. He’s had at least three or four beforehand. His buddy, Michael, loses his girlfriend when he invites his mother to their Valentine’s Day dinner. Wisely, girlfriend sees that three’s a crowd and takes her leave.

Meanwhile, SH, playing himself, is on a book tour and women are learning about his book. Mya (Meagan Good) picks up one after her latest one-night stand with a character portrayed by Chris Brown in one of several cameos. Tired of being a Sports Fish and with pretensions toward being a Keeper, Mya begins applying what she learned from the book, particularly the 90-day rule, on Zeke.

For her part, realtor Kristen (Gabrielle Union) is using her kernels of knowledge to prod longtime live-in boyfriend, Jeremy (Jerry Ferrara), into growing up. To get a grownup sofa and move into digs more befitting of their station in life.

“Think Like a Man” is engaging and has some really funny and tender moments such as when Mya serves Zeke an unexpected nightcap. It takes a little of the breath away. Another truly romantic scene unfolds when Dominic prepares Lauren a sumptuous dinner after she discovers that he is not a star-chef-in-the-making.

Dominic (Michael Ealy) doesn't always feel he is good enough for high-powered executive, Lauren (Taraji P. Henson), in "Think Like a Man.

While there are two nonblack male actors among the main characters, there are no nonblack female counterparts. Further, all of the characters are either black (or appear to be) or white (or appear to be) – nothing in between. Taking into consideration that films such as “Think Like a Man” endeavor to draw the widest possible audience, it is surprising that no overtly Latinos or Asians were cast.

Notably, none of the black men in the film are pursuing nonblack women, particularly white women. SH, an executive producer of "Think Like a Man" and a black man who loves black women, may have played a significant role in that decision. Of course, on this score SH and the other producers could be pandering to demographics, figuring (perhaps wisely) that many black women would be turned off by the film – adversely affecting box office – if the brothers were hooking up with white women. This is a movie after all – a great escape – and the sisters deserve a break from the harsh drumbeat of reality, the powers that be may have reasoned.

It should also be noted that Kristen is the only woman in the film with a white boyfriend –  in the form of Jeremy. Is this a commentary on the dearth of eligible black men? Or does it feed into the myth propagated by many black men and some black women that white men aren’t interested in marrying black women? Hmmm …

Candace (Regina Hall) has stiff competition for Michael's (Terrence Jenkins) heart in "Think Like a Man."

As engaging as “Think Like a Man” occasionally is, it is far from perfect. Too often the film is puerile; at times it borders on stupid. Just about any scene with Kevin Hart’s Cedric fits into these categories. Clearly, he is the comic relief, except the film doesn’t need it. Sometimes, the level of stupidity and coarseness is surprising. A prime example is when a buttoned-down, dignified-looking man who is half of a married couple about to buy one of Kristen’s listings uses an expletive.

Despite it shortcomings, including an ending with little basis in reality, “Think Like a Man” is a good date movie. It will be the subject of much discussion and debate over the coming weeks.

“Think Like a Man” is rated PG-13 (for sexual content, some crude humor, and brief drug use). .

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Before Glimmerglass Fest, a Delectable Amuse Bouche

Francesca Zambello, Eric Owens, Luke Frazier and Adrienne Arsht in the Great Hall of the Metropolitan Club at the GL!MMERATA gala. Photo by Karli Cadel.

NEARLY a week later the voices of Sean Panikkar and Dwayne Croft still ring in the ear. In their hands, the friendship through all adversity at the core of Verdi’s Don Carlo was heartfelt and spirited.

The duo was perfectly in sync – ebbing and flowing like the surf – their respective tenor and baritone at once expressing individuality and unity. It was rather chilling. Their longtime friends are two men who are passionately in agape love – both tender and ferocious. If only all could express their feelings so guilelessly.

The performers, in concert at GL!MMERATA in the dimly lit West Lounge of the tony and rococo Metropolitan Club, offered but a taste of what is to come at this summer’s 37th The Glimmerglass Festival nee Glimmerglass Opera. GL!MMERATA is the festival’s annual fundraising gala. Dancing, dessert and dinner also figured in the evening's merrymaking.

Haunting best describes Eric Owens’ “Lost in the Stars,” an exploration of the spiritual crisis experienced by a South African priest. It is based on the novel, “Cry, the Beloved Country,” by Alan Paton. The Metropolitan Opera star’s baritone was smooth and velvety, akin to a rich dark chocolate sauce. It hugged and embraced ever so urgently, palpably evoking a man’s anguished heart.

Aerial view of the interior of the Alice Busch Opera Theater. Photo by Peyton Lea for The Glimmerglass Festival.

For the uninitiated, Glimmerglass is an eight-week summer opera and music theater festival that is staged on scenic grounds near Cooperstown, New York along the shores of Otesgo Lake. Think of it as New York's Tanglewood. Glimmerglass, the second most prolific opera in New York behind The Met Opera, according to its new (only one season in the can) and indomitable Artistic and General Director Francesca "Cesca" Zambello, has produced some of the greatest opera talents working today. Of course, it has also brought joy to the lives of thousands of opera lovers for nearly four decades.

Anyone who is skittish about opera and thinks everyone involved is a terrible snob has clearly not heard of Glimmerglass. It is fairly democratic, not to suggest, for instance, that The Met Opera isn’t. However, that perception of the latter persists.

No so for Glimmerglass. This could explain in part why every July and August it attracts visitors from all 50 states and a number of foreign countries. This year, the 900-seat Alice Busch Opera Theater and other locations will serve as a backdrop for productions of “Aida,” "The Music Man,” “Armide” and “Lost in the Stars,” as well as numerous special programs, including Q&As, lectures, previews and a special concert by Artist in Residence EO. In “Eric Owens Sings Billy Eckstine,” the baritone pays homage to the balladeer/bandleader. Stay tuned for more on the festival in the coming weeks.

Alexandra Deshorties, center, as Medea with the Argonauts in a production of Cherubini's Medea from last year's Glimmerglass Festival. Photo by Julieta Cervantes for The Glimmerglass Festival.

Though Glimmerglass is opera-centric, it does not treat musical theater as a stepchild, though perhaps a younger sibling, since it was opera-only at the beginning. Buttressing this fact, the latter artform was recognized at the
GL!MMERATA concert in the form of the irrepressible Klea Blackhurst. Before she delivered an engaging “Taking a Chance on Love” without sound amplification, she wondered aloud and loudly about any kinship between opera and musical theater. Then concluded there existed none. However, there is a symbiotic relationship.

“We just all went to kindergarten, high school and college together and now live in the same neighborhood to keep the property values up.”

This is the essence of Glimmerglass.

Visit http://www.glimmerglass.org/ to learn more about The Glimmerglass Festival.

Transition: It’s a Car! It’s a Plane! It’s Both!

DESPITEe their best efforts, the developers of the Transition could not prevent a determined public from referring to their creation as the flying car or the car that flies.

Terrafugia’s Transition Street Legal Airplane was the single most talked about vehicle at the 2012 New York International Auto Show, which shuttered on Sunday. (See trailer above).

Indeed, it is not every year that the auto mart attracts such an innovation. From the brains of MIT rocket scientists, Transition has been in the works since 2006.

Creators refer to it as a street-legal airplane. It is the world’s first, they assert. This cannot be said of the Boeing 787 or any of its suite of airplanes. Specifically, Transitions is designed to cruise the streets in case of inclement weather, which can be the death knell for small aircraft, rather than the vehicle of choice for errands or joyriding. It is a homely, albeit interesting, hybrid with both car and plane attributes.

Unlike Transition, the Boeing 787 Dreamliner was not designed to drive on the open road. Photo courtesy of Boeing.

Transition has a rear wheel drive, a collapsible steering column and driver/passenger airbags. It get better gas mileage than SUVs – 35 mph on the highway. In the airplane category, it is equipped with a parachute, can fly 490 miles on a tank of gas, meaning, for instance, that it can easily do a roundtrip to The Glimmerglass Festival (see story above) from many points in the Tri-State area. Transition also has a cargo hold large enough to accommodate at least one set of golf clubs. At 1,430 pounds, it is small enough (6.5 x 7.5 x 19.6) to fit into a conventional home garage, eliminating the need for a hangar.

The first Transitions will roll out by year’s end. At $279,000, they are not in economy class. Yet, there is a waitlist. A range of deposits, refundable and nonrefundable, can reserve a place in the queue.

Visit http://www.terrafugia.com/ and http://www.autoshowny.com/ to learn more about Transition Street Legal Airplane and the 2012 New York International Auto Show.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Romance, Action Bookend 11th Tribeca Film Festival

Violet (Emily Blunt) and Tom (Jason Segel) face many challenges before their wedding day in "The Five-Year Engagement." Photo by Glen Wilson/Universal Studios.

THERE’S a long road between betrothal and nuptials, Violet (Emily Blunt) and Tom (Jason Segel) discover, and there exists any number of obstacles along the way.

They are explored in broad comedic outlines in “The Five-Year Engagement." From the producers of the 2011 smash, “Bridesmaids,” the film makes its world premiere as the opener of the 11th Tribeca Film Festival (TFF) at 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday (18 April) at New York’s Ziegfeld Theatre.

TFF closes on 29 April with the world premiere of “Marvel’s The Avengers.” Based on the popular comic book series, the film brings together a who's who of superheroes – The Incredible Hulk, Thor, Iron Man, Black Widow, Captain America – to rid the world of an evil, greedy, mendacious forces that threaten global safety. The star-studded cast includes Robert Downey Jr., Samuel L. Jackson and Scarlett Johansson.

In the TFF gala spot is “Benji,” part of the Tribeca/ESPN Sports Film Festival. The world-premiere documentary chronicles the too-short life of Chicago basketball uber phenom, Ben Wilson. He was killed at the tender and promising age of 17. From Coodie and Chike, who are best known for music videos, "Benji" is a portrait of not dreams deferred, but dreams destroyed.

As is customary, TFF offers a wide array of feature film and shorts, as well as an ever-growing list of nonfilm programming. The latter includes talks, panels and roundtables, featuring appearances by Michael Moore, Rob Lowe, Susan Sarandon, Meryl Streep, Elmore Leonard and festival co-founder Robert DeNiro.

Ben Wilson is the main topic of conversation in "Benji." Photo from Associated Press.

New this year at TFF is the daylong conference from the Tribeca Film Institute, Interactive Day (23 April). It will explore such matters as the future of news and interactive literacy.

Returning is the slate of family-friendly free events: Tribeca Drive-In (19-21 April), Tribeca/NYFEST Soccer Day (21 April), Family Festival Street Fair (28 April) and Tribeca/ESPN Sports Day (28 April).

Stay tuned for more from TFF in the coming days.

Visit http://www.tribecafilm.com/ to learn more about the 11th Tribeca Film Festival, including screening times, panels and ticket information.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

During Songkran Festival, an Appetite for Lucky Dishes



A recent morning in early April, sunny and wonderful, finds Yours Truly navigating the cobblestone-lined Crosby Street en route to the transportive Mondrian Soho for a media lunch hosted by officials from the New York office of the Tourism Authority of Thailand.

The occasion is a culinary celebration of the Thai New Year, which starts Friday (13 April) and officially goes through Sunday (15 April). In some parts of Thailand, however, the festivities last as long as a week. At the entrance to the dining room annex of Imperial No. Nine are young women wearing traditional Thai garments who offer greetings and an invitation to receive a blessing.

The blessing ritual involves rose-petal laced water gently poured over hands followed by the presentation of a boiled egg, “so that the blessing doesn’t escape," according to the kind lady who administered the blessing. In effect, the egg serves as a holding vessel. Next, a white string is tied around the wrist for good luck. Luck is the centerpiece of the Thai New Year rituals, as it is in many cultures. While a few days later the boiled egg completed a breakfast of scone and Chai tea, the string is still on my wrist. I am happy to report that I’ve had a string – to use a word – of good luck recently. Is it dumb luck – to use a word – or something else? … Hmm …

Not surprisingly, the good luck theme of the Thai New Year or the Songkran Festival extends to food, too. In the United States, Americans eat black-eyed peas in hopes of having prosperity; the sweet black bean, kuro-mame, is a Japanese staple. Cubans eat grapes. Not only do Thais have favorite dishes, some of them have lucky names.

Larb Gai, right, and Kaeng Kanun, bottom, are typical dishes eaten during the Songkran Festival or Thai New Year. The Larb Gai is served with sticky rice, cucumber, green beans and chicken wings. Photo courtesy of Tourism Authority of Thailand.

In its earliest days, the Songkran Festival was a time to visit loved ones. Another part of the tradition involved trips to the Buddhist monasteries to pray and give food to the monks. Yet another commemoration is the cleaning of the home and the Buddha(s) therein. Tradition has it that washing the Buddha with water and fragrance is believed to bring prosperity to the home. Before the Buddha era, the throwing of water was a spring festival practice symbolizing sufficient rain for the crops. From the washing of the Buddha came what is today known as the water wars.

Despite their name, the water wars are good, clean fun. Because the Songkran Festival falls during the hottest time of the year it is not merely hot, it is sweltering. One way to cool off is to take refuge in air conditioned structures, which don't exist on the same scale in Thailand as they do in the United States, for instance. A better, environmentally friendlier way to keep reasonably cool is to get doused with water. As a bonus, the water may be scented and powdered. Of course, one can work up an appetite with all of this dousing and spraying. So what to eat?

The first lunch course is one of the most popular New Year dishes. Minced Chicken Salad is also called Larb Gai. Larb (also laap, larp, laab) means fortune; gai means chicken. It is served with a garlic chili dressing on lettuce cups. (See video above of Larb Gai preparation).

Mango with Sticky Rice is a favorite Thai New Year dessert. File photo.

“Toong Tong” or Fried Chicken Dumplings (in a Sweet Peanut Dipping Sauce) is the second course. Toong Tong roughly translates golden basket. A favorite on the six-course menu is the Mango Salad with jalapeno, lime and cilantro. It embodies the main elements of Thai food: sweet, sour and spicy. The flavors balance nicely and are doing wonderful work on the palate. Mango is a big part of the New Year feast, particularly Mango with Sticky Rice – mangoes symbolizing prosperity and rice, fertile land. (Visit http://www.thaitable.com/thai/recipe/mango-on-sticky-rice to see a recipe from Thai Table).

Hungry yet for Thai food? One can journey to Thailand for a meal, and the tourism office officials would be eager to assist that effort. In Bangkok, two restaurants that have a reputation for good eats are Somboon Pochana http://www.somboonseafood.com/e-index.html and Secret Garden http://www.bit.ly/HBoZDc.

Closer to home in the United States, several authentic Thai restaurants are holding it down in New York and elsewhere, including
Arunee Thai http://www.bit.ly/I7kSM8
Ayada Thai http://www.bit.ly/IAHa86
Wondee Siam http://www.bit.ly/J1Xspb
Bang San Thai Halal Cuisine (San Francisco) http://www.bangsanthai.com/
Swing Thai (several locations in Denver) http://www.swingthai.com/
Sen Yai Sen Lek, (Minneapolis) http://www.senyai-senlek.com/index.htm

Photo courtesy of Tourism Authority of Thailand.

Though there is no special Songkran Festival drink a la Champagne, Thai Iced Tea is on the menu at Imperial No. Nine. Made wtih condensed evaporated milk, the tea looks remarkably like a beige Russian. Meanwhile, the Mango-Mint Lemonade with fresh basil looks, but does not taste like Tang. Rounding out the courses and served together family style are Kaeng Massaman Neur (Massaman Curry with Beef), Massaman Curry with Eggplant and Tofu, Shrimp Pad Thai, Steamed Jasmine Rice and Black Garlic Green Beans. Most are on the menu in one form or the other at the above restaurants.

Happy eating and Sawadee Pee Mai (Happy New Year)!

Visit http://www.tourismthailand.org/us and http://http://www.tourismthailand.org/ to learn more about the Songkran Festival and other things Thai.

When 'Hunger Hits Home' and Home Is Not a Faraway Land


THERE are hungry children in Africa and Asia. True.

There are also hungry children in the United States of America. Say what?!

Indeed, one in five U.S. children is food insecure, meaning that sometimes they have insufficient or no food to eat. The numbers in New York City, for instance, are one in four.

It’s the country’s dirty little secret that Food Network, partnering with Share Our Strength through the latter’s No Kid Hungry campaign, is exposing. On Saturday night (8 Eastern/7 Central), “Hunger Hits Home” (See trailer above) premieres on the Food Network. The documentary uses the stories of three families, advocates and others to shine a spotlight on childhood hunger in America. Not only is it a wakeup call, it's call to action.

Youth are recruited in the fight against childhood hunger through Save Our Strength's "No Kid Hungry 2" campaign. Photos courtesy of Save Our Strength.

Like many speaking in “Hunger Hits Home, Jim McGovern’s (D-Mass.) words resonate. “We are the richest country on the planet and not a single community is hunger free. We should be ashamed.”

We should also do what Americans always do when we really learn that there is a problem: we address it with an eye toward eradicating it. There is something to do for anyone who wants to get involved. An obvious option is to give money. As little as $1 to No Kid Hungry can help one child receive up to 10 healthy meals. (http://www.bit.ly/IWd0hw)

Visit the Share our Strength home page and not only does the donation pop-up button appear, so does a petition button. Sign it, click on “Add Your Name,” and the petition will be sent to Congress. It reads in part, “Please work to support existing nutrition safety nets and to increase access for eligible families." (http://www.strength.org/)

A chorus of voices in “Hunger Hit Home” stresses the fact that there is no shortage of healthy food in this country. Hunger is exasperated in our so-called capitalist system because food is perversely commoditized – priced out of the range of the many. In effect, only those with the means can access healthy, humanely raised food. Despite such obstacles it is still possible to get food in the bellies of children. The No Kid Hungry pledge considers such obstacles. (http://http://http//www.nokidhungry.org/learn-about-campaign) It reads:

Jeff Bridges has been working for years to end childhood hunger. He is the narrator of "Hunger Hits Home."

I believe that no child in America should go hungry. By pledging today, I add my voice to the national movement of people committed to ending childhood hunger in America.

I pledge to do more than I ever thought I could to help children gain access to the healthy food they need to grow and thrive.

I will help make the invisible hunger visible for my neighbors, my family, and our local, state, and national leaders.

By uniting my voice with thousands of others, I believe that we can make No Kid Hungry a reality.


Some recognizable names that have taken the pledge are Jeff Bridges, national spokesperson for the No Kid Hungry campaign and founder of the End Hunger Network (http://www.endhunger.com/index.html). JB also narrates “Hunger Hits Home.” Among the nearly 140,000 (at this writing) who have taken the pledge are JB’s “True Grit” costar Hailee Steinfeld, Food Network’s Guy Fieri and Kori Reed of ConAgra Foods Foundation.

"When I get hungry, it feels like I am about to pass out," says a little sad-eyed boy in "Hunger Hits Home." He live in the United States, not Africa or Asia.

Visit http://www.strength.org/ and http://www.foodnetwork.com/ to learn more about “Hunger Hits Home” and “No Kid Hungry.” Check local cable listings for Food Network channel.

Friday, April 6, 2012

NYAFF: A Good Mix of Stories Out of Africa



WHEN it was announced that Barack Obama had become the 44th president of the United States, his Kenyan family went to the grave of the president-elect’s late father to give him the news.

Nigerian-British filmmaker Branwen Okpako cited that as one of the most poignant moments in her film, “The Education of Auna Obama” (Kenya/Germany/Nigeria). The documentary is a portrait of the president’s older, activist Kenyan sister. (See trailer above).

It is one of more than 20 films and shorts, as well as live performances and talks, in the 19th New York African Film Festival (NYAFF). With a theme of “21 Century: The Homecoming,” NYAFF runs from 11-17 April at Film Society of Lincoln Center and throughout April and May at several locations, including Brooklyn Academy of Music’s BAMcinématek.

Twenty-something women feel the pressure to get married in "Playing Warriors." Photos courtesy of Film Society of Lincoln Center.

Along with topics that viewers are conditioned to expect from African films – post-colonialism, post-Apartheid South Africa, war and strife – are some refreshing ruminations that have the potential to cast the Continent in the broad light that it deserves.

The pressures of modernism and tradition get lighthearted treatment in “Playing Warriors,” the romantic comedy from first-time director Rumbi Katedza – a Zimbabwean chick flick? – when Nonto’s impending nuptials create an existential crisis for gal pals Nyarai and Maxi ... In Charlie Vundla’s “How to Steal 2 Million” (South Africa), Jack’s efforts at going straight after serving five years for a robbery he may not have committed are thwarted by a duplicitous cohort … Title character Elza in Mariette Monpierre’s drama (Guadeloupe/USA) graduates from university with honors, making her single-parent mother proud. Then Elza causes Bernadette to despair when she quits Paris for her native Guadeloupe in search of a missing part of herself.

NYAFF centerpiece “Relentless” (Nigeria/France/Spain/Germany) from Andy Amadi Okoroafor examines the after-effects of battle
"Mama Africa" examines the life and legacy of South African singer Miriam Makeba (right).

through the prism of Obi’s experiences as a peacekeeping soldier in Sierra Leone where he witnessed and participated in horrors of war. The festival opener is “Mama Africa," the critically acclaimed documentary that pays homage to the late, legendary Miriam Makeba who is credited as the first African singer to popularize music from the Continent in the United States and around the world.

NYAFF is co-presented by Film Society of Lincoln Center (FSLC) and African Film Festival, Inc. (AFF). Stay tuned for reviews of select films.

Visit http://www.filmlinc.com/films/series/19th-new-york-african-film-festival and http://www.africanfilmny.org/ to learn more about 19th New York African Film Festival.

Our Demise Seems Inevitable in 'Surviving Progress'



WHAT price success, “Surviving Progress” asserts as it ponders the degree to which humankind has suffered in its pretensions toward bettering itself.

Considering advancements technological, economic and industrial, Mathieu Roy and Harold Crook’s documentary suggests that civilization has paid and will continue to pay too high a price for success i.e., diminishing resources, global warming, poverty.

Based on Ronald Wright’s “A Short History of Progress,” “Surviving Progress” opens today in Manhattan and wider on 20 April. (See trailer above).

To strengthen their doomsday dissertation the filmmakers rely on an unassailable slate of experts and authorities, including Jane Goodall and Stephen Hawking.

All paint a bleak picture of the future. Simply put, we’re going down.

“Surviving Progress” is not rated.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Roasted Lamb from a 'Best of the Best' Chef

Daniel Boulud will bring his smile, and hopefully loose fingers, to Bernardaud Boutique on Thursday for a book signing. Photo by Medilek.

MANY home cooks around the world are beginning to seriously think about the Easter Sunday meal right about now. Lamb is on the menu, of course, but how to give it a little extra zing this year?

An idea from Daniel Boulud: Roasted Lamb Loin with Treviso Marmalade, Seared Fennel, Polenta Tuiles, and Sicilian Olive Tapenade. WARNING: This is for serious cooks only. It is a very involved dish with many moving parts. Each element has a separate recipe, requiring sous chefs, prep cooks, fetchers, carriers – a retinue of underlings!

It and its creator appear in “The James Beard Foundation's Best of the Best: A 25th Anniversary Celebration of America's Outstanding Chefs.” The book is an anthology of the 22 winners of the foundation’s “Outstanding Chef of the Year Award,” one of a number of commemorations of the foundation's creation in 1986. Taking home the medal is akin to winning a Best Actor/Actress Oscar statuette.

The cover of "The James Beard Foundation's Best of the Best: A 25th Anniversary Celebration of America's Outstanding Chefs."

“Best of the Best” was published last month, and Yours Truly is currently perusing it for a forthcoming review. Alas, copyright constraints prevent a printing of the roasted lamb recipe here. Written by Kit Wohl with photographs by Susie Cushner, the book is not unattainable, however. (Visit Amazon, for instance: http://www.amzn.to/HgG0Df).

Absorbing what's on its pages will also prove to be good fertilizer for a possible tête-à-tête with DB tomorrow. French porcelain manufacturer Bernardaud is hosting a Champagne reception and book signing for the Lyon native at its Upper East Side boutique. In Chapter 5 (pp. 55-66), dedicated to DB, is it revealed his office is equipped with a “skybox.” From his vantage point he can see what’s doing in the kitchen. He is also the owner of a pair of Shaquile O’Neal autographed sneakers. That’s good for about five minutes of conversation, no?

The medallian that is granted to the James Beard Foundation's Outstanding Chef of the Year. It bears the image of the foundation's namesake.Photo courtesy of the James Beard Foundation.

DB is the man behind several top New York restaurants, including Daniel, Bar Boulud and Café Boulud, as well as eateries in Beijing, London, Miami, Palm Beach and Singapore. He won the Outstanding Chef of the Year Award in 1995. Wolfgang Puck (Spago) won the first year it was presented in 1991; he won again in 1998 and so far is the only two-time winner. In 2010 the winner was Tom Colicchio (Craft), more famously known as a judge/mentor on BRAVO’s “Top Chef.”

Incidentally, the roasted lamb recipe is on page 63 of “The James Beard Foundation's Best of the Best: A 25th Anniversary Celebration of America's Outstanding Chefs.”

Visit http://www.jamesbeard.org/ to learn more about the James Beard Foundation; http://www.danielnyc.com/ to learn more about Daniel Boulud’s restaurant group, and http://www.bernardaud.fr/index.php?id=us1 to learn more about Bernardaud.

Making It Better With Bitters in Less Than Two Hours
WHAT
is one ingredient that can elevate that Manhattan or Baked Apples, or even Jambalaya, from simply delicious to sublime?

Bitters. Yes, bitters.

GretchinF, writing at http://www.seriouseats.com/, is totally sold: “I made a jambalaya the other night with slow braised pork shoulder, andouille sausage, tomatoes and the Cajun trinity, Old Bay, habanero and seriously more bitters than you could shake a stick at. It was so durn good, you guys. I am making it again this week for a second batch of friends.”

Bitters enhance the flavors in sweets, savory dishes and cocktails. Photo courtesy of The Meadow.

Cooks and mixologists who live near or in Portland, Oregon have an opportunity to study up on bitters if they can get registered for Build Your Own Bitters! (http://www.bit.ly/I1H4EH). The class will be in session tonight at The Meadow's flagship store.

Students will taste more than a dozen aromatic herbs, fruits, spices, barks and roots. By the end of the class they should have a solid understanding of how to use bitters such as woodruff, cloves, cherry and gentian to help balance the flavors in cocktails, desserts, sauces and some fairly saucy dishes like jambalaya.

The Meadow, which gained an East Coast presence in 2010 when a second store was opened in a charming space in New York's West Village, specializes in artisan salt, chocolate bars, bitters and other goodies for the bar and kitchen. Its Build Your Own Bitters! class description states that you, you and you will be transformed into “the master of your own personal cocktail dominion.”

Sweet deal for only $45. Hurry, space is limited.

Impressive Pedigree of Gnosis Chocolate Goose Egg
Gnosis Chocolate Goose Egg, above and below, has a golden aura. Photos courtesy of Gnosis Chocolate.

WHAT happens when you feed superfoods to a bunny that lays chocolate eggs and a goose that lays golden eggs and you put them in the same room?

You get a duck that lays chocolate golden superfood-filled eggs.

This is Gnosis Chocolate’s story and Gnosis Chocolate is sticking to it. How timely, though, just in time for Easter and fit for anyone who consumes chocolate, regardless of age.

Apparently, the Gnosis Chocolate Goose Egg (http://www.gnosischocolate.com/GOLDEN-CHOCOLATE-EGG) has the Fountain of Youth to thank for the union of the bunny-turned-duckling and the goose. Say what? Don’t overthink it, go with it. This is a fairytale after all.

What is no tale, however, is that the limited-quantity eggs with a creme filling redolent of peanut butter are full of good stuffs. Consider just one benefit of some of its parts:
Raw Cacao Beans – antidepressant
Agave – anti-inflammatory properties
Stone-Ground Cashew Butter – bone strength
Lucuma – immune-system booster
Fleur de Sel – therapeutic properties
Maca – hormone balancer
Ginseng – stress reliever
Burdock – treats acne
Schizandra – liver protector

Gnosis Chocolate Goose Egg, anyone?

Sunday, April 1, 2012

In 'Innocent Flesh,' Youth Stolen/Lives Torn Asunder

Jameelah Nuriddin, Angelina Prendergast, director and playwright Kenyetta Lethridge, Clara Gabrielle and Daphne Gabriel after the New York premiere of "Innocent Flesh." Photo by Edward Callaghan/Alchimia Public Relations & Marketing.

PRETTY woman, walking down the street/Pretty woman, the kind I like to meet/Pretty woman, Roy Orbison croons as Julia Roberts’ "Pretty Woman" character, Vivian Ward, shops to her heart’s delight along Rodeo Drive.

Vivian is shopping for suitable clothes to wear to the places she will be squired by billionaire businessman Edward Lewis (Richard Gere). Edward has hired her as his companion for a week; her temporary home is the presidential suite of the Regent Beverly Wilshire Hotel. Vivian is a street prostitute.

When prostitution is the main subject of an entertainment – TV, film, stage – far more often than not the world’s oldest profession is glamorized as it is in “Pretty Woman.” And “Mayflower Madame," "Secret Diary of a Call Girl," "The Client List" (both the movie and forthcoming series);” likewise for “Butterfield 8” until the bitter, tragic end.

Not so for “Innocent Flesh,” in an unlimited run off-Broadway at Actors Temple Theatre after a successful debut in Los Angeles. Writer/director Kenyetta Lethridge’s poignant, disturbing one-act play relies on poetry, dance, song and a Greek chorus format to breathe life into the stories of four girls – girls, not women; children! – who explain rather casually how they came to be in the life. According to statistics, 13 is the average age that girls in the United States enter the profession. This is the case, too, for most of the characters in “Innocent Flesh,” which is based on true stories.

A poster for Kenyetta Lethridge's "Innocent Flesh."

Josh Iacovelli’s set is a very minimalist affair, which is just as well. The audience’s attention is riveted on the actresses. It opens on them dancing around Play-Doh-like seats. One by one they disclose what they want to be when they grow up. Such a normal, innocent activity with such childlike props, symbolic of innocence not quite lost. Or a reminder that children will be children, life's hard knocks notwithstanding. One wants to be a doctor; another a model. Their dreams are so regular compared with their actual lives.

The actresses are uniformly good and gave strong opening night performances. Though in their 20s, they are utterly believable as teenagers who have been plying their trade for a few years.

The most touching of the stories is Lisa’s (Jameelah Nuriddin). Her mother was also a prostitute. In her drug-addled mind she sold her daughter's favors to any number of her suitors. It is depressing to think that prostitution is the family business for some. Lupita’s (Angelina Prendergast) story is heartbreaking, too. Her father, a former war-weary veteran, kills himself as well as Lupita's mother and siblings. She is left alone in the world until one day a pimp rolls up sporting a wide smile, fancy clothes, a bankroll and making empty promises. A heart can't help but go out to anyone who has suffered thus. But what makes this business truly heartbreaking is that these experiences are recounted with not one whit of anger or self-pity. Look into the eyes of the storyteller, though, and a hollowness is visible.

KL, also an award-winning actress, wisely and subtly makes the statement that not all girl-prostitutes are poor, urban and from single-parent homes – a common misconception. Lupita’s father and mother were married; Danna (Clara Gabrielle) is the daughter of a housewife and doctor who live in the suburbs. She once tried to leave the life but was forced back because she was an embarrassment to her family. She had nowhere else to go; she knew no other life.

Once you’re in the life it is not easy to leave, the audience learns through the girls' stories. In the real world, “Pretty Woman’s” Vivian would have as much of a chance at winning the more than half billion dollar New York Mega Millions lottery as she would hooking up on the scale she does with Edward.

Not only do these girls have nowhere to go, they often don’t know how to do anything other than turn tricks. Had they skills, they are not living in supportive environments. In fact, just about everyone and everything in their immediate surroundings tell them in no uncertain terms that they are nobody, worthless, unloved and unwanted.

The cast of "Innocent Flesh," clockwise from top left, Clara Gabrielle, understudy Crystal Boyd, Jameelah Nuriddin, Angelina Prendergast and Daphne Gabriel. Photo courtesy of "Innocent Flesh."

Of course, pimps also use coercion in the form of drugs and beatings or both to keep the girls in check. Further, bureaucratic hurdles exist such as proof of citizenship documents, work record, work references and a home address; a judgmental world and so on.

Unfortunately, most girls are not aware of places to get help such as Rachel Lloyd’s Gems Girls (http://www.gems-girls.org/). RL – who is prominently featured in the Showtime documentary “Very Young Girls” (see the trailer above), itself a spiritual sister of “Innocent Flesh" – is a former girl-prostitute who helps many get out of the life. Alas, she can’t save all who pass through her door; some leave and return to their pimps.

“Innocent Flesh” ends as it begins, with each girl disclosing what she wants to be when she grows up. There is no happy ending on the order of Vivian Ward’s. The audience is left to fill in the blanks. Will Candace (Daphne Gabriel) become a model? Maybe. First, she has to break the emotional hold her pimp has on her. She’s young and has big dreams, so it’s possible.

It won’t be easy, though.

Visit http://www.actorstempletheatre.com/ to learn more about “Innocent Flesh.”
 
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