Wednesday, April 29, 2009

New Website: Paint Your Dream Job

I’d like to announce the official launch of my new site, Paint Your Dream Job. Please stop by and submit an image (artistic talent not required), because the site doesn’t really work without them. And tell your friends, family, or anyone you know who enjoys wasting time on the Internet.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Quest for the Best: Baked Review

Location: 359 Van Brunt Street, Brooklyn, NY (with a second location in Charleston, SC)

Website: Baked

Price: Brownies are $2.50 each, cupcakes are $1.75 each

Atmosphere: Rustic cabin meets bakery. The interior is dark wood, which makes it feel like you’re inside a log cabin. The fake deer heads on the walls and tables made of roughly cut trees with the bark still attached add to this rustic feel. There are a few comfy booths and other seats if you want to stay to enjoy your snack, and after trekking all the way out to Red Hook, you may as well stick around to gather your strength for the trip back home.

My Review: Unlike most bakeries in NYC, Baked is more well-known for its brownies rather than its cupcakes. The Brewer’s Bar, a blondie brownie made with brewer’s malt, is the most lauded treat on their menu, so naturally that’s what I sampled first. While it’s a tasty and gooey, chewy bar, I failed to see what made it so special that people make special trips out to Red Hook just to get them (no small feat, believe me). Is it the novelty of having a brownie made with brewer’s malt? If so, I’m not sure why, seeing as the bar tastes nothing like beer, but just like a regular blondie.

I also gave the Sweet & Salty Brownie a try, due to my much advertised love of the combo of sweetness and salt. But this one was even more of a letdown than the Brewer’s Bar, as I tasted no salt at all, just a regular, though rich, chocolate brownie. Looking for another attempt at a sweet and salty snack, I tried a Sweet & Salty Cupcake, which succeeded in the sweet and salty arena, but the icing left a lot to be desired. The cake is a moist, dark chocolate, but the caramel chocolate icing had a sort of mocha flavor to it, and as the lone New Yorker who doesn’t care for coffee, I wasn’t a fan. There is actual sea salt sprinkled on top, which creates the sweet and salty blend, but I couldn’t get past my dislike of the coffee-tasting icing to fully appreciate it.

Bottom Line: Baked has a wide variety of both traditional and unusual baked goods to offer, and their store is cute to visit and sit in while enjoying an afternoon snack, but their location in far away and difficult to get to Red Hook makes it unlikely that I’ll take a second trip there, especially since their desserts aren’t any more remarkable than what’s on offer at other bakeries. Apparently there are some other establishments in the city who sell Baked’s goods, and if I ever come across one, I would gladly sample some more off their menu, but for now I’ll stick with more local places that are merely one subway ride away.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Theater Review: The Philanthropist

Location: American Airlines Theatre, 227 West 42nd St., NY, NY

Website: Official The Philanthropist site

Starring: Matthew Broderick, Steven Weber, Anna Madeley

My Review: If I needed anything to convince me not to renew my annual subscription to the Roundabout Theatre, then their production of The Philanthropist would do the job nicely. The most interesting moment in the play occurs in the first 15 minutes, then the rest of the two hours plods along at a snail’s pace, with the six scenes tied together with a thread I have yet to understand the purpose of.

Set in 1970 England, The Philanthropist tells the story of a dinner party thrown by a boring and stuffy college professor (Matthew Broderick), with the guests including his slightly more engaging colleague (Steven Weber), his mismatched fiancée (Anna Madeley), and some other insipid people. Throughout the course of the play, each character finds himself matched with the wrong partner, many boring conversations are had, and I pop a blood vessel trying to figure what the point of the entire thing is.

In the lead role, Broderick stumbles over his lines and sleepwalks through the performance, much like he did in the 2005 revival of The Odd Couple that reunited him onstage with Nathan Lane, which makes me wonder why he continues to act on stage when it’s pretty clear he’s just no into it anymore. Weber, as a fellow professor, is a bit more engaging and energetic and tries desperately to keep his side of the conversations with Broderick upbeat. Madeley, as Broderick’s not-meant-to-be fiancée, is cute, but the fact that her character has an ounce of life in her makes it impossible to believe that she’d ever want to marry the cardboard cutout professor.

The Philanthropist is just the latest disappointment from Roundabout in the past two years. They certainly manage to attract the big names, having offered shows starring Mary Louis Parker, Frank Langella, Stockard Channing, and the aforementioned Broderick. But the productions they offer run the gamut from “just OK” to “mind-numbingly dull,” with The 39 Steps being the one shining exception. I wish someone would remind the Roundabout Theatre that theater is meant to be entertaining. Every production doesn’t have to be a lavish musical, filled with sparkling costumes and toe-tapping tunes, but at the end of the night, I want to feel like I’ve been enriched in some way and enjoyed myself, rather than having mentally constructed a grocery list while a half-assed attempt at theatrical greatness has gone on in front of me.

Bottom Line: Skip The Philanthropist and get tickets to see anything else Broadway has to offer (for my fellow subscribers who are stuck having to see it, my condolences). That’s not a very thorough review, but if the Roundabout Theatre isn’t going to bother to try to produce good shows, I’m not going to bother trying to produce a thoughtful reaction.

Monday, April 20, 2009

How to Not Be a Dick at the Movie Theater: A Comprehensive Guide

I’ve noticed an alarming trend in my recent trips to the movie theater: Behaving like a total dick is slowly becoming acceptable behavior. I’ve witnessed audience members talking and texting, bring babies to the theater, allowing their cell phones to ring, and other forms of douchebaggery. And perhaps even worse than all this, no one says anything. Other audience members don’t ask them to be quiet, and there are no longer ushers who will tell you to shut up or get out.

This sort of behavior needs to stop. Movies are expensive, and everyone is there to enjoy the show they paid good money for, not to silently tolerate the inconsiderate antics of the other theater patrons. Since the concept of having basic good manners doesn’t exist anymore, here is an easy guide to follow on how to not be a dick at the movie theater:

* Silence your cell phone. In theory, this should be the easiest step since a reminder to do this is played before the start of every movie, but I have yet to sit through a screening where some dick’s cell phone doesn’t go off. (Cell phones are even going off during live theater performances, which is beyond appalling.) So just silence your phone; it’s easy, and usually only requires you to press one or two buttons. If you don’t know how to silence your cell phone, you’re clearly too stupid to have a cell phone or to even leave the house to go to the movies.

* Don’t text during the movie. Just because your cell phone is silenced and you aren’t actually talking on the phone, texting can be just as distracting. When sitting in a darkened theater, the eerie glow of dozens of cell phone, iPhone, and BlackBerry screens is annoying. You’re there to watch the movie, and there is nothing that is so important that you can’t wait until afterwards to text about. Trust me. So tell your BFF you'll TTYL, and STFU.

* Don’t talk to your friend/date/whatever during the movie. Another step that should be easy to follow, but people still feel the need to chatter during a movie. No one cares what you think of the movie, or what you think the characters should do, or about anything you have to say until after the movie is over. Then you can go out for drinks and talk about it all you want where I will be far away and not have to overhear your inane observations.

* Don’t talk to the movie screen. Similar to the above step, but slightly different. The people in the actual movie can’t hear you, and even if they could, they wouldn’t care what you had to say. So don’t talk to them or try to help them figure out how to solve the dilemma in their life.

* Don’t sing along with the movie. Unless you’re at The Rocky Horror Picture Show or one of those sing-along versions of a movie musical, do not sing with the movie. This applies to both musicals, where the songs are a part of the story, or regular movies that may have a soundtrack of totally bitchin’ tunes that you want to make sure everyone knows you recognize.

* Unless you’re seeing a children’s movie, don’t bring your kids. It’s true that I don’t like children, but if I’m going to see a movie that’s geared towards a younger crowd, I can anticipate that kids will be present and deal with it. What I can’t deal with is going to see a movie that is in no way appropriate for kids and watching people drag their spawn into the theater. Case in point: When going to see Pixar movies, there are plenty of kids there, and I expect a certain amount of chatter during the movie. When going to see X-Men: The Last Stand, a family brought their toddler, who started to cry during the movie, so the dad stood in by the exit door, jangling his keys at the kid to make him stop fussing. This was not a good time for anyone.

* If you arrive after the movie has already started, take the first empty seat you find. The movie has already begun, and you arriving late is a distraction to everyone who cared enough to show up on time. So sit down in the first empty seat you find, even if that means splitting up your party, rather than walking up and down the aisles, scanning the dark theater for empty seats that are together. And do not ask people already seated to move over so you and your date can sit together. They got there in time to pick out the seats they wanted, and you are stupid and can’t tell time, so you sit where you find a seat and deal with it.

By following this guide, and by passing it on to anyone you know who violates any of these steps, going to the movie theater can be an enjoyable experience for everyone. And if you ever find yourself at the movies sitting near someone violating a step, I encourage you to tell them, “Quit being a dick, dick!”, and then bludgeon them with something heavy. Because really, how else are they going to learn?

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Quest for the Best: Tribeca Treats Review

Location: 94 Reade Street, NY, NY

Website: Tribeca Treats

Price: Cupcakes are $2 each

Atmosphere: Hallmark meets bakery. Tribeca Treats offers a selection of greeting cards and various stationary along with its cupcakes, cookies, and gourmet chocolates, so if you need to quickly pick up a card and a cake for someone whose birthday you’ve forgotten, this is your one-stop shop.

My Review: The cupcakes offered at Tribeca Treats are tasty, and while better than some (Two Little Red Hens), they pale in comparison to others (Batch). They’re smaller than the cupcakes from most other bakeries, which is sort of disappointing since they still sport a $2 a pop price tag. The Peanut Butter Cup cupcake was probably the biggest disappointment, working better as a concept than an actual cake. It’s chocolate cake topped with peanut butter icing, and which is a bit too much peanut butter and not enough icing. It’s thick and sticks to your mouth like a peanut butter sandwich would, and I wish it had been creamier and smoother like regular icing.

The Red Velvet was tasty, with the cake part being just sweet enough, and the cream cheese icing wasn’t overwhelmingly tart like some cream cheese icings can be. The traditional Black & White, chocolate cake with vanilla icing, was good, if not remarkable. The chocolate cake Tribeca Treats offers is good—it’s moist, rather than dry and crumbly—but their icing is just sort of “blah.” The Sweet & Salty cupcake was also tasty enough, but a bit of a let down since I was expecting something that was, well, sweet and salty. It consists of chocolate cake, topped with caramel icing and bits of chocolate-covered pretzels, and while the cake and icing were good, the saltiness factor was sadly missing, as the pretzel bits weren’t enough to blend in with the sweetness. I would suggest they take notice of Batch’s Carrot Salted Caramel cupcake, which has a sprinkling of actual sea salt on top, creating a delicious combination with the sweet icing.

Bottom Line: Unless you find yourself wandering the streets of Tribeca and in need of a sweet snack, Tribeca Treats doesn’t really warrant having a place on your dessert radar. There’s nothing really bad to say about what they offer, but there’s really nothing to boast about, either.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Movie Review: Every Little Step

Rated: PG-13

Website: Every Little Step official site

My Review: When it comes to musical theater, I am the gayest straight girl you’ll ever meet. I can, and will, sing show tunes from nearly every show in existence and can even be convinced to attempt the occasional dance routine, despite my dancing abilities not being much better than Elaine’s on Seinfeld. So a documentary that chronicles the audition process of the 2006 Broadway revival of A Chorus Line is like a drug fix for people like me.

A Chorus Line is a musical that goes behind the scenes of a Broadway audition and allows you to see a glimpse of what the nameless and faceless dancers go through to pursue their dream of stardom. Every Little Step is a documentary that goes behind the scenes of the casting of the recent revival of A Chorus Line, so I guess that means next year there will be a stage musical about the creation of this documentary. Every Little Step covers pretty much everything you would expect; the misty-eyed back story of a few selected cast hopefuls, the brutal cuts made by the casting directors, the talking head interviews where you’re told that the dancers need to have a certain “it” factor…it’s pretty much like the first 15 minutes of Fame extended into an hour and a half. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, especially if all you want is to see the dancers dance and the singers sing.

The best part of Every Little Step is the footage of the original 1975 production of A Chorus Line that gets interspersed with the story of casting the 2006 revival. The story of the show’s creation is a lot more interesting than the story of the good but not great revival, but obviously no one thought about seriously documenting the process back in 1975. But someone managed to get their hands on some footage from the original production and recorded interviews with the late creator and director Michael Bennett, which get worked into the story of the revival, along with some interviews with veterans of the original production, like original Cassie, Donna McKechnie, and composer Marvin Hamlisch. Original Connie, Baayork Lee, is the choreographer for the revival, and seeing the terror in the auditioners’ eyes as they try to impress her is amusing to say the least.

Where the documentary falls short is in the fact that it doesn’t really teach you anything or shed a new light on an old convention, which is sort of the point of documentaries. Is there anyone out there, even non-musical fans, who doesn’t know that the life of a professional dancer is a grueling one, filled with inflated egos and bitter disappointments? After umpteen interviews with various auditioners talking about how their unemployment benefits have run out or how they’re still waiting for their “big break,” I couldn’t help but think, “Yes, a performer’s life is tough, we get it. Next musical number, please.”

Bottom Line: Is Every Little Step one singular sensation? Not quite, but it is an enjoyable look at the recreation of a theatrical classic, and a must-see for anyone who has ever chanted, “I really need this job, please God I need this job, I’ve got to get this job!” before a job interview (which, yes, I do and will continue to do because “I can do that”).

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

My Experience at ‘The View’

Let’s just get one thing straight: I do not watch The View. I find those women to be unbelievably catty and annoying, and Elizabeth Hasselbeck is one of the most backward thinking ignorant people I’ve ever seen. But when I got an email saying they were doing a show on how to get a job, and wanted the audience to be made up of unemployed people, I figured, “Why not? It’s free to attend, and maybe they’ll give out some free stuff.” You’d be amazed the things I’d sit through if there’s potential for free stuff. I was hoping they would hand out new jobs like Oprah hands out new cars. Alas, it was not to be.

I arrived at the ABC studio bright and early to get in line, then once inside a few hours later, realized they didn’t even have enough people to fill the audience. Glad I rushed out of the apartment this morning! We were also promised juice and cookies, which were never delivered (as juvenile as that may seem, I don’t know any adults who don’t enjoy partaking in juice and cookies). Since the theme of the show was “finding a job”, I was anticipating questions being taken from the unemployed audience. Instead, we got three “experts” offering advice that (hopefully) anyone would already know. For example:

*Don’t show up late to job interviews.

*Don’t lie about your past work experience.

*Make sure your resume highlights your accomplishments, not just your responsibilities.

*Be careful what you publish about yourself online, because potential employers may see it.

Are there people out there who don’t already know these things? If so, I’m truly appalled that I’m in the unemployed pool with them, because clearly I am a genius.

At the end of the taping, we received free copies of two books written by two of the resident career experts; one will help me figure out who I am and what I should do with my life, and the other will teach me how to earn money from home while wearing fuzzy slippers. Perhaps I’ll get a jump start by posting both of these texts on eBay.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

2009 Tribeca Film Festival: What to See, What to See…

If you’re lucky enough to be a New York City resident, or are devoted enough to travel here, the 2009 Tribeca Film Festival is kicking off in a couple of weeks on April 22 and running through May 3. You can check out the film schedule online to start planning what you want to see, or you can help me plan my viewing schedule.

Being recently forced into the wonderful world of unemployment, I decided to do something constructive with my time and signed up to volunteer at the festival (not that sitting around my apartment without pants on isn’t fun, but like all fun things, it gets old after a while). For every shift I work I get a voucher to attend a screening, so attend screenings I shall! But out of all the selections, how do I choose what to see? Here’s the list of possibilities so far:

Don McKay, starring Thomas Haden Church and Elisabeth Shue. It’s a dark comedy following the theme of “you can’t go home again.” Or can you? Is it wrong to go see this just because I loved Wings and someone once told me I look like Elisabeth Shue?

Easy Virtue, starring Colin Firth, Kristin Scott Thomas, and Jessica Biel. I love British movies and I want to do filthy things with Colin Firth. That’s pretty much the extent of my thinking here.

Midgets vs. Mascots. Hello? It has midgets. And Gary Coleman. Who wouldn’t want to see this?

A Matter of Size. A group of friends run away from fat camp to pursue careers in sumo wrestling. Interesting…

Passing Strange. I missed seeing this during its Broadway run, but Spike Lee was kind enough to capture it on film. The musical nerd in me is most likely going to force me to see this one. Whenever I try to deny her, she sings the songs from Grease at me until I finally give in just to shut her up.

Tell Tale. It’s inspired by Edgar Allen Poe’s The Tell-Tale Heart. If it’s only half as chilling, it should be pretty good.

Burning Down the House: The Story of CBGB. OK, so I never went to CBGB, nor was I ever really into the sort of musicians who flocked there, but it’s such a New York landmark with such a crazy back story, this will probably be a great documentary to check out.

City Island, starring Andy Garcia, Julianna Margulies, and Alan Arkin. A dysfunctional family comedy-drama that takes place on City Island. I didn’t know anything ever happened on City Island.

I’m sure as I continue to wade through the selection of movies being screened, I’ll find even more possibilities to add to this list. Are there any to-die-for, not-to-be-missed selections you are horrified that I passed over?

Monday, April 6, 2009

Movie Trailer Review: Where the Wild Things Are

Opens: October 16, 2009

Website: Official Where the Wild Things Are site

Starring: Catherine Keener, Mark Ruffalo, Max Records, various creatures featuring the voices of James Gandolfini, Forest Whitaker, Lauren Ambrose, and Catherine O’Hara

My Review: If your parents never got you a copy of Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are as a kid, then they obviously never really loved you. The beloved children’s book is light on plot; Max, a mischievous boy in a wolf suit, is sent to bed without supper and he then enters the fantasy world of the Wild Things, who make Max their king. The book is even lighter on actual text, as it only contains around ten sentences. But for once, a book isn’t about the words, it’s about the images. Sendak illustrates a richly developed forest of the Wild Things, filled with monsters that tower over Max, yet somehow have a sweet sadness about them that keeps them from being frightening. Anyone who’s ever browsed the pages of Where the Wild Things Are wishes they could dive into this bizarrely creative fantasy.

Adapting this into a full length movie is no easy task, both due to the thin plot and the overly critical eye that nearly every audience member will bring to the theater. The trailer plays like a music video, and doesn’t give away much about how screenwriters Spike Jonze and Dave Eggers have fleshed out the plot. But visually speaking, it’s spot on. The creatures look just a friendly fearsome as they do in the book and Max is every bit the impish troublemaker he’s supposed to be. And when the trailer shows scenes of him romping through the forest with his beastly pals, just like I did with the book, I want to dive right in there with them.

Would I Pay For It?: Barring any really heinous advance reviews, I will definitely be shelling out money to see Where the Wild Things Are in the theater. Or I shall go to bed without supper.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Quest for the Best: Little Pie Company Review

Location: 424 West 43rd Street, NY, NY or in Grand Central Terminal

Website: Little Pie Company

Price: Mini 5-inch pies are $7.50

Atmosphere: Both locations are primarily grab ‘n go, though there is some seating at the 43rd Street location and a variety of seating options in Grand Central Terminal. But it’s best to get your pie to go so no one will judge you for eating the entire thing by yourself.

My Review: I love apple-based desserts, and tend to prefer my own homemade apple crisp to any other, but the Little Pie Company’s Sour Cream Apple Walnut Pie comes in an unbelievably close second. They use tart Granny Smith apples, sliced paper thin, mixed with sour cream, and while I’m not entirely sure what the sour cream accomplishes, I can’t argue with the delicious results. Rather than being covered with a traditional pie crust, a crumbly topping of brown sugar, cinnamon, and walnut is used, which results in heaven on a fork. I prefer my apple pies heated, and after a quick turn in the microwave, the sugary topping melts a bit, creating an incredible hot, gooey, tart treat that may actually surpass my own creation on days when I’m feeling humble.

Among the Little Pie Company’s other offerings is the Mississippi Mud Pie, which could put even the biggest chocoholic into a chocolate coma. It’s essentially a large brownie made with three different types of chocolate, baked into a chocolate cookie crust, and topped with a chocolate glaze. Delicious, yes, but teetering on the edge of almost being too rich; a few bites and you simply can’t eat any more…for about two days. The Little Pie Company actually suggests serving it with whipped cream, and I think I got diabetes just thinking about that.

Bottom Line: Even the most casual fan of pie could be turned into a convert after a trip to the Little Pie Company; I consider myself more of a cake person, but I make an exception for LPC. The Sour Cream Apple Walnut Pie is one of the best desserts I’ve ever had, and I’ve had many, many desserts over the years. With other menu options like Old Fashioned Apple Pie, Pumpkin Pie, and Southern Pecan Pie, there’s no need to wait until Thanksgiving to get your next pie fix (and these are probably way better than what Aunt Helen brings anyway).

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Movie Review: Adventureland

Rated: R

Website: Adventureland official site

Starring: Jesse Eisenberg, Kristen Stewart, Ryan Reynolds, Bill Hader, Kristen Wiig, Martin Starr

My Review: It’s hard to have a real opinion of a movie that tries so hard to accomplish so little. Adventureland isn’t really funny enough to be a comedy, it’s not earnest enough to be a drama, and though it’s set in the summer of 1987, it’s not kitschy enough to be a nostalgia piece (despite a running gag about the hit(?) tune “Rock Me Amadeus”). At best, it manages to be a lukewarm coming of age story where you root for the nerdy underdog hero. At worst, it’s a boring movie.

Jesse Eisenberg, channeling his inner Michael Cera, is convincingly dorky and awkward as James, a recent college grad whose summer plans of touring Europe are dashed when his parents can no longer give him the graduation money they promised. So he’s stuck at home in Pittsburgh where he takes a crappy summer job at the local amusement park Adventureland, where the games are rigged, the rides may or may not be up to code, and in the name of all that is holy, do not eat the corndogs. He becomes friends with his fellow lost soul coworkers and smitten with Em (Kristen Stewart), the cute girl he works with who is secretly having an affair with the older, and married, park handyman. You can probably figure out the rest of the plot on your own.

Adventureland seems to be trying to be the sort of meandering slice of young people’s life movie that Dazed and Confused and Empire Records are, but it falls short. None of the characters are particularly engaging; James is sweetly nerdy, but I have a hard time believing any girl would give him anything other than the “I like you like a brother” speech, and Em, while pretty, is so devoid of a personality I don’t know why James falls for her so hard and fast. Ryan Reynolds still looks way too young to play the skeevy older man who cheats on his wife, and the resident “hot girl” who is supposed to tempt James away from Em is neither hot nor tempting. Bill Hader is the best thing about the movie, as the negligent yet passionate park manager, and he steals every scene he appears in, which is precious few. Take all these thinly created characters, throw in a few scenes of binge drinking and pot smoking, and you have the latest flimsy movie about how hard and magical it is to be young.

Bottom Line: Adventureland is a completely forgettable movie that will probably be in the $5.99 DVD bin at Target in a few months. And even then I would suggest finding something more engaging to kill a Sunday afternoon with.