Tuesday, January 29, 2008


James and I finally watched "American Gangster" last night...very well done, interesting characters but I'm not obsessed. I think after all the films I've seen this awards season, the competition is fierce. It's hard for me to compare anything to "There Will Be Blood" and especially working in this business I find myself more critical of the average film.

Nevertheless, "Gangster" is the story of Frank Lucas, the notorious drug lord in Harlem during the 70s. According to the film, which is based on true events, Lucas was a ruthless man when it came to his money but he also showed a lot of love and respect for his family. Lucas employed 30 family members through his drug business and was finally brought to justice in 1975 but his sentence was dramatically shortened due to his cooperation.

Here's a brief bio:

Frank Lucas was born September 9, 1930, in Lenoir County, North Carolina. He moved to Harlem in 1946, becoming the driver and protégé of gangster Ellsworth “Bumpy” Johnson. When Johnson died in 1968, Lucas took over his heroin empire and expanded it during the drug-fueled period of the late 1960s and early 1970s.

Lucas was particularly known for the “Cadaver Connection.” He cut out he middleman by establishing his own drug connection in the jungles of Vietnam, tipped off by U.S. soldiers then fighting in the war.

Lucas smuggled huge amounts of undiluted heroin from Thailand into the U.S. in the coffins of fallen American servicemen.

He dumped the heroin on the streets of Harlem, undercut the competition and called it Blue Magic. Lucas claims to have grossed $1 million a day.

Lucas relied on a tightly controlled crew called "The Country Boys." He preferred using relatives and men from his hometown in North Carolina because they were less likely to steal from him.

Lucas was arrested in 1975 and was soon facing up to 70 years in prison. He quickly turned into a government informant, most notably against the then-corrupt Special Investigations Unit of the NYPD. Out of 70 SIU officers, 52 were eventually either jailed or indicted.

Lucas is the subject of the biopic American Gangster, released in theaters on November 2, 2007. [source]

I'm a big Law & Order fan and I find all this criminal "goss" fascinating. Another interesting story I recently came across is that of John Dillinger. What led me to Dillinger? Johnny Depp of course!

J. Depp is slated to portray Dillinger in the 2009 film "Public Enemies". Like Lucas, Dillinger was a legendary American gangster during the 1930s. However Dillinger wasn't so interested in making his money through the drug trade. Rather, he enjoyed bank robbing and was considered a modern day 'Robbin Hood' to many during the Depression. His bio is a little more detailed. If you're interested you can check it out here.

Not that I support bank robbing, drug dealing, and cold blooded murder, but when it's presented tastefully as a true story through film, I have to admit find it intriguing.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Meet Up

Due to the fact that Allison and I have very few friends in Astoria, I decided to join an online networking community called "Meet Up". Outside of work it's extremely difficult to make new friends. In school you're constantly meeting new people whether it be in your classes, in clubs, at social events, apartment/dorm neighbors, etc. But this is no longer the case once you are thrust into the "real world". So sometimes you have to take matters into your own hands. Hence my piqued interest in "Meet Up".

Now before you go judging me, let me explain how it works. Basically this site is a venue for people to join social networks based on common interests or neighborhoods. You can browse through tons of groups ranging from politics to skiiing and so forth. Each group has a host and that host plans events for the group to attend. For instance, I am part of the Astoria Social Group. The group leader has planned multiple "meet ups" including dinner and drinks and a bar crawl. Anyone can join these groups but the group leader has the choice to be selective at the same time. My group is only open to young professionals ranging from mid-twenties to mid-thirties living in Astoria. After reading the description I thought, 'why not?'.

Since joining Allison and I have attended 2 "meet ups". They've been great events because (1) we're checking out new places in the neighborhood and (2) we're meeting new people. But there is down side to all this seemingly perfect match. After attending our first event, dinner and drinks at Indigo (which was delish by the way), we noticed that everyone in attendance was at least 8 years older than us, ie: in their 30s. Don't get me wrong -- I don't have anything against the 30 years but those lovely individuals residing in their 30s are not usually included in my inner circle of friends. We're often just at really different places in our lives and I'm sure they see Allison and I as "kids". It's been great chatting with everyone but our initial intent of making good friends in our neighborhood might not be going as planned.

Last weekend we participated in the bar crawl which, of course, took place on one of the coldest nights thus far. I'm pretty sure it was in the teens with a wind chill in the single digits. Lovely. Allison and I braved the cold for 3 of the 4 scheduled stops.

The first was Rapture Lounge. I'm not sure why they went with the name 'rapture' but they got the 'lounge' part right. It was a pretty cool place with some comfy couches and pillows. It seemed like it could easily double as a hookah lounge -- it was that type of place with lots of cool lamps and lights included. Their prices were reasonable ($7 for White Zin) and have a decent food menu which serves until 4 AM! I was impressed.

The second stop was my favorite. It's called Bar 36. I had actually passed by it before and thought it was worth a stop inside sometime. It reminded me a lot of 101 Downtown in Gainesville, also one of my favorites. The price menu was almost identical to 101, which easily rival Manhattan prices. $10 for a champagne drink which the bartender whipped up for me. They served food here as well but, of course, a much more delicate list of options with matching price tags. Honestly, just the atmosphere in there alone was enough to make me fall in love.

I found this picture so you can get an idea of what it looks like inside. Apparently they shot a few scenes here as well for the new "Sex and the City" movie.

The last stop that we made it to was Brick Cafe. From the outside, it looks like an Italian restaurant but inside was a different story. Lots of exposed bricks, a bar area, and a separate dining area. It wasn't very large in size but they used their space well. It even had a small stage area although at the time it was being used to host tables. This place served food as well of course but it felt more like Greek snacks than anything else. But I guess that's what you'll most commonly find here in Astoria!

All in all we had a great time, met some more nice people, and got to check out a little bit more of our "new" neighborhood.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

I'm Not There...

To the talented, laid-back, funny man that is Heath Ledger (1979 - 2008).

I had the privilege of meeting and working with Heath on our film "I'm Not There" and I must say he truly surprised me. He was actually early for his interviews (a rarity among actors) and was so charming and funny. He didn't care what he looked like or rather what other people thought of him. He was so comfortable with himself. He showed up for TV interviews in one of the most interesting outfits I had seen in a long time. His hair was a mess and his clothes didn't even resemble a match. He had these little gloves on which were orange and black striped and he had cut the fingers off them. At one point throughout the press day he lost one of them and my boss and I were on a mission to find it. Towards the end of the day we figured it was long gone but my boss found it dangling off the side of a housekeeping cart and proudly handed it back to Heath the next day.

I just remember so vividly sitting in the ballroom of the Regency Hotel as the film's press conference went on with the actors all sitting at the front of the room. Every answer Heath gave was fresh and light hearted. He made jokes with the press and his fellow cast-mates. Everyone enjoyed him.

Although his portrayal of Bob Dylan was flawless, it is his upcoming flick, "The Dark Knight" that really has me speechless. If you've seen even a glimpse of the trailer or poster art you know what I'm talking about. It's as if it's a whole other Heath Ledger. I remember turning to James and saying, 'Heath! Where did you come from'? I am so looking forward to his role at the Joker and truly morn the loss of such a talented individual.

I guess having met him in person makes me feel a little closer to this tragedy. I cried at work when the news broke and will certainly miss seeing Heath develop into an even stronger leading man.

To Heath. Rest in peace.

Golden Men

Everyone wants one. And why shouldn't they? Those coveted little golden men symbolize the highest achievements in film today.

I was up early for the official announcement of the Oscar nominations this morning and, overall, I'm quite pleased with the results. I've been able to see most of the nominated movies and have my own ideas as to who should win and who has the upper hand. Below is the list of actual nominations along with my personal picks (*) and my predictions (**) for the main categories. Enjoy!

Performance by an actor in a leading role
George Clooney in "Michael Clayton" (Warner Bros.)
(*,**)Daniel Day-Lewis in "There Will Be Blood" (Paramount Vantage and Miramax)
Johnny Depp in "Sweeney Todd The Demon Barber of Fleet Street" (DreamWorks and Warner Bros., Distributed by DreamWorks/Paramount)
Tommy Lee Jones in "In the Valley of Elah" (Warner Independent)
Viggo Mortensen in "Eastern Promises" (Focus Features)

Performance by an actor in a supporting role
Casey Affleck in "The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford" (Warner Bros.)
(*,**)Javier Bardem in "No Country for Old Men" (Miramax and Paramount Vantage)
Philip Seymour Hoffman in "Charlie Wilson's War" (Universal)
Hal Holbrook in "Into the Wild" (Paramount Vantage and River Road Entertainment)
Tom Wilkinson in "Michael Clayton" (Warner Bros.)

Performance by an actress in a leading role
Cate Blanchett in "Elizabeth: The Golden Age" (Universal)
(*,**)Julie Christie in "Away from Her" (Lionsgate)
Marion Cotillard in "La Vie en Rose" (Picturehouse)
Laura Linney in "The Savages" (Fox Searchlight)
Ellen Page in "Juno" (Fox Searchlight)

Performance by an actress in a supporting role
(**)Cate Blanchett in "I'm Not There" (The Weinstein Company)
Ruby Dee in "American Gangster" (Universal)
(*)Saoirse Ronan in "Atonement" (Focus Features)
Amy Ryan in "Gone Baby Gone" (Miramax)
Tilda Swinton in "Michael Clayton" (Warner Bros.)

Best animated feature film of the year
(*)"Persepolis" (Sony Pictures Classics): Marjane Satrapi and Vincent Paronnaud
(**)"Ratatouille" (Walt Disney): Brad Bird
"Surf's Up" (Sony Pictures Releasing): Ash Brannon and Chris Buck

Achievement in directing
(*)"The Diving Bell and the Butterfly" (Miramax/Pathé Renn), Julian Schnabel
"Juno" (Fox Searchlight), Jason Reitman
"Michael Clayton" (Warner Bros.), Tony Gilroy
(**)"No Country for Old Men" (Miramax and Paramount Vantage), Joel Coen and Ethan Coen
"There Will Be Blood" (Paramount Vantage and Miramax), Paul Thomas Anderson

Best documentary feature
"No End in Sight" (Magnolia Pictures) A Representational Pictures Production: Charles Ferguson and Audrey Marrs
"Operation Homecoming: Writing the Wartime Experience" (The Documentary Group) A Documentary Group Production: Richard E. Robbins
(*, **)"Sicko" (Lionsgate and The Weinstein Company) A Dog Eat Dog Films Production: Michael Moore and Meghan O'Hara
"Taxi to the Dark Side" (THINKFilm) An X-Ray Production: Alex Gibney and Eva Orner
"War/Dance" (THINKFilm) A Shine Global and Fine Films Production: Andrea Nix Fine and Sean Fine

Best motion picture of the year
"Atonement" (Focus Features) A Working Title Production: Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner and Paul Webster, Producers
"Juno" (Fox Searchlight) A Dancing Elk Pictures, LLC Production: Lianne Halfon, Mason Novick and Russell Smith, Producers
"Michael Clayton" (Warner Bros.) A Clayton Productions, LLC Production: Sydney Pollack, Jennifer Fox and Kerry Orent, Producers
(**)"No Country for Old Men" (Miramax and Paramount Vantage) A Scott Rudin/Mike Zoss Production: Scott Rudin, Ethan Coen and Joel Coen, Producers
(*)"There Will Be Blood" (Paramount Vantage and Miramax) A JoAnne Sellar/Ghoulardi Film Company Production: JoAnne Sellar, Paul Thomas Anderson and Daniel Lupi, Producers

Adapted screenplay
"Atonement" (Focus Features), Screenplay by Christopher Hampton
"Away from Her" (Lionsgate), Written by Sarah Polley
"The Diving Bell and the Butterfly" (Miramax/Pathé Renn), Screenplay by Ronald Harwood
(**)"No Country for Old Men" (Miramax and Paramount Vantage), Written for the screen by Joel Coen & Ethan Coen
(*)"There Will Be Blood" (Paramount Vantage and Miramax), Written for the screen by Paul Thomas Anderson

Original screenplay
(**)"Juno" (Fox Searchlight), Written by Diablo Cody
"Lars and the Real Girl" (MGM), Written by Nancy Oliver
(*)"Michael Clayton" (Warner Bros.), Written by Tony Gilroy
"Ratatouille" (Walt Disney), Screenplay by Brad Bird; Story by Jan Pinkava, Jim Capobianco, Brad Bird
"The Savages" (Fox Searchlight), Written by Tamara Jenkins

Thoughts: "There Will Be Blood" is ah-maz-ing! Daniel Day-Lewis is unbelievably talented and really owns the entire film. But I'm not sure it's an academy favorite. History shows that they tend to play it safe and I fear that Blood may be slightly in the shadow of "No Country For Old Men". Now, don't get me wrong, No Country is great and I totally agree with all the noms but if I had to choose, I would favor Blood.

Most of the acting categories are pretty locked up. Or at least I think so. There could always be a huge upset in any of the categories but it seems somewhat unlikely. I think the Actors categories are the strongest, and my favorites. A lot of really talented actors are nominated this year in both Best and Supporting Actor categories. But unfortunately I don't think they stand much of a chance against the favored stars. Day-Lewis puts on hands down one of the best performances I have EVER seen and Javier Bardiem is the one of the SCARIEST villains in the history of film. Between his creepy hair cut, his emotionless demeanor, the air gun, and his chilling accent and tone, he is hard to beat. I don't think I can see him in any other film and not be freaked out by him. When I see real photos of the poor guy I can hardly even believe it's him.

I wish that 3:10 to Yuma earned some more noms. It was a very impressive film -- and a western to say the least. Russell Crow is fabulous as always and who doesn't love Christian Bale? But there was also a very talented supporting actor by the name of Ben Foster who plays Russell Crows right hand man. He was great! I found myself watching him the most during scenes where he was involved.

Another extremely talented actor (again with the men, they're really something this year) is Phillip Seymour Hoffman. I loved loved loved his performance in "Charlie Wilson's War" and totally agree with his nomination. Although it may not have been everyone's favorite film, just to see him in it is well worth it.

I do wish that Will Smith had earned some recognition for his role in "I Am Legend". I realize that there are only 5 slots per category but Will did a great job as the lonely scientist left alone in NYC for 3 years. He drove most of the movie all by himself! I did read a review that said they would have liked to see more of Will's character unraveling, which I agree, but nevertheless his performance was impressive.

And then there is "Juno". I barely want to talk about this film as the more I discuss it, the more I dislike it. I really think that all the hype is mislead. It was cute, sure, but great? Hardly. The dialog was so unrealistic, there were few memorable scenes, the characters were forced, and we are left feeling somewhat obligated to love a story about a poor little 16 year old girl who decides to have sex, gets pregnant, and opts to give up her baby for adoption. Jamie Lynn Spears just announced her pregnancy and we were outraged. But yet, we'll praise a story about a promiscuous 16 year-old wannabe catch-phraser? Lame! This film is NOT the next "Little Miss Sunshine" so let's stop pretending that it is.

So there it is. Thoughts anyone?

Once Upon a Time in New York City

Now that I've officially lived in NY for 6 months, I think it's safe to acknowledge the changes that have taken place.

First of all I find myself walking even faster than I thought I ever could. If you've ever walked next to me, then you know I've always kept to a quick pace but living here has taken me to new levels. There was one night in particular where it was absolutely freezing outside in addition to rain splashing down from the sky. Of course, this was the day I decided my bag was a little too heavy and took out my umbrella. So instead, I was left with the hood of my coat to protect me from the droplets. As soon as I got off the steps of the subway I took off down the street for my 8 minute walk home. This time however, it didn't take as long because I was practically flew home. I impressed myself with my speed -- a speed I had never achieved before. And, unless the conditions are right, I'm not sure I will be able to reproduce on a moment's notice.

Another new addition to my life is cooking. I love it! It is becoming a hobby for me. I asked my family to buy me Rachael Ray cook books for Christmas because I'm very into her 30-Minute Meals right now. I keep inviting people over so I can cook for them (and to try and drag them to Astoria, as most people don't like leaving their boroughs up here) but it's usually just James and I enjoying the meals.

Along with my new cooking obsession, I think I'm becoming a foodie. Haven't heard of this? Foodies are those people who love checking out all the restaurants in town and like to make recommendations for great new places they've tried. I have become almost addicted to a few different blogs which offer restaurant suggestions, reviews, and food photos. It's pretty amazing the extent of the network of foodies. I just need to watch it so I don't become a fatty over it. ;)