Theater with a difference at St Francis

December 6th, 2009 by Vineeth Thomas

The Communication Arts Department of St Francis College teamed up with the Theater Production Workshop to perform The Antigone Project on Dec. 3. There were two showings of the unique theatrical offering at 4 p.m. and 7 p.m at the Maroney Forum for Arts, Culture & Education in Brooklyn Heights.
The play was commissioned by the Women’s Project as a forum to discourse on the idea of Antigone, the archetypal symbol of female protest. The idea was spun off in different settings from contemporary rural Africa to a netherworld totalitarian regime at the beach.
Director Kathryn Grant decided that the students would have the opportunity to explore different milieus and the fact that there were parts for everybody sealed the deal.
The result was a play that traverses multiple genres using comedy, pathos, satire and elements of Greek tragedy. Below is a two-minute feeler of how it felt to be there on the occasion.

The poll of the week!

December 4th, 2009 by Vineeth Thomas

Holistic remedies for veterans

November 25th, 2009 by Vineeth Thomas

Stephen Konyha looked anxious as he sat in a large room that resembled an art gallery with paintings on the walls and relaxing instrumental music wafting through it. On closer inspection, the cause of his angst became clear – the tiny needles protruding from both ears.

The elderly Konyha said he had never tried ear acupuncture before – he had heard about it but he had never seriously considered getting it done.

He was at the Brooklyn Vet Center for the ‘Healing Day’ that offered holistic stress management services to veterans. He was not alone – there were several veterans trying out body therapies like chair massage and healing hands as well as energy treatments like Reiki and chi gong exercises.

Siobhan J. Dolan, a mental health nurse and acupuncture detoxification specialist, offers the ear acupuncture wellness protocol every Wednesday at the Vet Center.

Dolan is the founder of Beyond Combat, a small organization aimed at providing holistic remedies to military personnel and their families. Post-9/11, Dolan ran a similar program at a downtown hospital and after six years, she decided to offer the services to the military community.

Konyha was a treatment first-timer and couldn’t quite describe how it felt to have needles in different parts of his earlobes. “No pain. There was a bit when she put them in,” he said.

Holistic medicine is catching on with veterans, said Konyha. He added that he knew many veterans who were taking advantage of touch and music therapy.

Konyha had been an investigation specialist in South Korea tasked with looking into the conduct of Army officers. Among other roles, he now serves as co-chairman of the VISN 3 Veterans Advisory Council for Mental Health & Behavioral Science at the Department of Veteran Affairs.

“Some guys do acupuncture,” said Konyha. “Some of them say it’s been useful. From what I’ve seen at other centers, there is a demand for it.”

“What often happens after seeing traumatic events is that a portion of the brain has a hard time verbalizing what one saw,” said Dolan. “Some people experience the stress all over again by speaking. With the nonverbal modalities like this, what we found was that it worked because it didn’t put pressure on the person to have to speak and get re-traumatized.”

Dolan’s hospital program provided around 40,000 acupuncture treatments for the downtown community. “We saw people become more relaxed – like firefighters and rescue and recovery personnel,” said Dolan. “And we saw people coming in saying that they slept better.”

The readjustment counseling services team leader at the Vet Center, Kevin O’Brien, said, “What we’re trying to do here is we’re trying to incorporate holistic things, which help people recognize that, you know, stress is something that affects everybody, not just veterans.”

O’Brien added, “It’s a way of helping to normalize veterans and to show our appreciation for everything that they do.”

And veterans seem to be responding. “I find it comforting. It puts me to sleep,” said Eric R. Fludd, 33, who joined the Army twice for two-year stints. He was in Afghanistan for two months and was discharged in 2003. Fludd has been coming to the Vet Center for close to five years. “I wish I could have a massage every day,” he said.

Dolan said providing optimal medicine meant you pulled from both traditional and holistic. “Fortunately, O’Brien thinks the same thing,” said Dolan. “We did it as a pilot project and it’s working well – so it just continued.”

Drums, fans and Bowling Green

November 24th, 2009 by Vineeth Thomas

Tons of Yankee fans thronged Bowling Green to catch the start of the Victory Parade. As the bands marched and drummed, people pushed forward and backward trying to squeeze into the best viewpoints. Every inch of walking space filled up as the morning wore on and ticker-tape filled the air. Kids grew impatient and parents quenched their Bronx Bomber thirst by lifting them up on their shoulders. Looks like a huge number of people thought Bowling Green was the place to be but as it turned out, the location did not provide the best views.

A Movie A Week: 'Smoke'

November 18th, 2009 by Vineeth Thomas

For a film reviewer, a movie memory is a life experience and many life moments have movies associated with them. Like the feeling I had when I walked out of seeing ‘Jurassic Park’ for the first time at the cinema. It was a mixture of so many emotions but I knew I had just seen something special…something that I would remember.
Films do that sometimes – they have a certain something that forces you to remember them. Last week’s entry, ‘The January Man’, was unusual but not particularly memorable. We move from that strange Harvey Keitel flick to another Keitel movie that is a real must-see. ‘Smoke’ is that rare breed of special movie that gets stowed away in your mind for posterity.
It’s what I like to call a writer’s movie – the words fly off the script with an elegance that is difficult to process. Like its title, the film is a transient tapestry of stories that link up to each other with a Brooklyn smoke shop as its haven. Written and co-directed by author Paul Auster, the strength of the film is in the dialogues – sheer poetry in motion carried by startling performances from the ensemble cast.
Augustus ‘Auggie’ Wren (Keitel) is the owner of the smoke shop. Paul Benjamin (William Hurt) is a writer who frequents the store. Harold Perrineau Jr., Forest Whitaker and Stockard Channing play characters whose lives intertwine with Auggie and Paul.
And everybody has a story to tell…oh, but the way they do…I have never seen actors grab hold of words so completely that the tales from one person’s mouth feel like unfolding bouts of reality that have an unyielding grip on your attention. Truth and fiction do not matter – like smoke it comes and goes but never stays still.
There is lot to love about this movie and a lot to think about – just the perfect ingredients that make up a classic. It is a film about stories, thoughts, fact, fiction, reaching out, dreaming and a lot of the gray in between. ‘Smoke’ works on so many levels that it’s like a discussion that has no end. Just see it and embrace the smokey conclusion that comes to you – it will be something that just stays with you.

Women Yankee fans have their say!

November 12th, 2009 by Vineeth Thomas

The New York Yankees’ Victory Parade to mark their 27th World Series championship will be one to remember. It has been nine years since New Yorkers felt that rush of pride that only the Yanks can bring. Thousands gathered to salute the team that brought joy after a long wait. And among them were quite a few outspoken women, some of them teachers. Here are some choice words heard at the parade.

Mrs Sullivan, a schoolteacher in the Bronx, talks about a connection between the Yankees and her school.

Kiera Fox, 25, dishes about her school field trip to the parade.

Inez Sacasa, 18, chats about a Yankee-lovin family.

Music, marching and more heard during the parade.

A Movie A Week: 'The January Man'

November 11th, 2009 by Vineeth Thomas

Last week I talked about ‘Outrageous Fortune’, a wonderful 80s action comedy. And staying with the time, it brings us nicely to another unique 80s action comedy, which unusually also has real elements of crime drama.
‘The January Man’ is a film as quirky as they come and it is a difficult one to review. How many serial killer comedies are out there? Definitely not enough to name a credible top five and so delving though this film in relation to other such movies is a challenge. However, it does have something that makes it click. But what is it?
It could be the cast – Kevin Kline, Susan Sarandon, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, Alan Rickman, Harvey Keitel, Danny Aiello and Rod Steiger. That’s a whole lotta thespian power that you just cant discount.
It could also be one of the most unusual screenplays you’ll ever see played out onscreen. Kline plays Nick Starkey, a cop forced to leave the force after a scandal. With an enigmatic serial killer on the prowl, Mayor Eamon Flynn (Steiger) forces Nick’s brother Police Commissioner Frank Starkey (Keitel) and Captain Vincent Alcoa (Aiello) to take him back. Nick tries to uncover the killer while trying to get back his ex (Sarandon) and bedding the Mayor’s daughter (Mastrantonio), who is involved in the case. There are many disconnected plot threads that never get resolved and that’s probably good because it’s just that kind of movie.
This may be the only serial killer movie ever made in which the identity of the murderer does not mean a single thing. Kline’s character, though, is fun to watch and plays one of those quirky detective characters you have seen a lot of since this movie came out. And Rickman, you beauty, the man seems incapable of giving a bad performance even in the small role of an artist/computer technician.
The films plays off all the usual crime cliches intelligently without betraying a sense of satire that would have ruined the experience.
All in all, I thank the guy who told me about this film as it reminds me of all those unconventional ones that exemplify the 80s and why I love that movie decade.
Tune in next week for more ‘a movie a week’ discussions.

From Picnic to Rockettes!

November 5th, 2009 by Vineeth Thomas

Here is my neighborhood story published in The Local.

When Picnic, the homey coffee-sandwich-and-smoothie spot at 185 DeKalb Avenue, opened its doors this morning, it was for the last time. The co-owner, Marlon Aitcheson, said Wednesday things had been going really slow for a while, and he, along with his wife, Camella, had been mulling the decision for about a month.
Read the full story here.

One of the photos I took at the rehearsal of the Radio CIty Rockettes was published on ISnapNY.
See that pic here.

A Movie A Week: 'Outrageous Fortune' (1987)

November 2nd, 2009 by Vineeth Thomas

Welcome back to ‘A movie A week’! As promised last week, there is a link between ‘Rachel Getting Married’ and ‘Outrageous Fortune’. In this case, the connection is pretty clear-cut. Both films place women as their central characters and the actresses in both do amazing jobs of it.

The 80s had some truly great comedies – I still remember seeing ‘Nine to Five’ an extraordinary number of times and never tiring of it. ‘Outrageous Fortune’ is a lesser known film but it is definitely right up there with any of the other comedy classics. I am a sucker for comedies with female protagonists and sadly there aren’t enough of these movies around.

Shelley Long and Bette Midler star as Lauren Ames and Sandy Brozinsky, two total opposites who are in an acting class together – and unknown to each other they also have a boyfriend (Peter Coyote) in common. When he goes missing under mysterious circumstances, the two women are thrust into a world of chaos and danger while trying to unearth what happened to him. Leslie Dixon pens an exceedingly smart screenplay that gives Long and Midler enough room to do what they do best. And their exchanges are absolutely brilliant – this flick has some of the best acting you’ll see in a comedy. Each actress causes the other to continuously raise her game and the result is perfect comic chemistry.

Interspersing comedy and action is tough to do without it becoming cheesy but this is one movie that does it effortlessly. The 80s just seemed to have a different brand of comedy that has an eternal appeal. Can you imagine anyone but Shelley Long delivering a line like ‘How dare you defraud the legitimate theater community of New York City!’ or a non-Midler rendition of ‘What, was I supposed to let them unhook me from life support so I could pay my bills?’

If you haven’t seen this one yet, I highly recommend it!

A Movie A Week: 'Rachel Getting Married'

October 26th, 2009 by Vineeth Thomas

I’ve decided to start a column with a twist for this blog – I will discuss movies that just pass through my train of thought in a particular week, not so much ones I see at the cinema but ones I catch on DVD, ones I find generally interesting, those I love, films I dislike with a passion, motion pictures that inspire me, revolt me, warm the cockles of my heart, bore me, entrance me, intrigue me and everything in between.

And just because it’s fun, some rules: 1. If I see a movie, I will have to write about it. (Yes, that includes films unworthy of any of type of writing like ‘The Curse of the Komodo’, which I’m sorry to say I did see) 2. Each film must have a link to the next, no matter how obscure it may appear. 3. If a film is recommended to me in a convincing way, I will make it point to see it, sooner or later, and then review it in this blog 4. Lengths of review can be extremely flexible though I will abstain from the type of review I abhor – “It blew, period”. 5. No pornography included (in case someone tries to jump me on the third rule). 6. If I am reminded of a film enough to spend time thinking about it, yes, that’s right – I have to column it. More rules as and when they occur to me!

The year 2008 had so many great films but this is definitely one of the less appreciated ones. It has been overlooked for several reasons that range from unconventional camerawork to a narrative that enjoys meandering in every possible direction while telling its tale. Rachel Getting Married is about a young woman, Kym (Anne Hathaway), who has been in and out of rehab for the past 10 years and she has now returned home for the weekend for her sister’s wedding. But that premise doesn’t really tell you anything at all about what makes this movie tick.

This film may seem to be about Kym (Hathaway was nominated for an Oscar for her performance after all) but it is really about her sister Rachel’s (Rosemarie DeWitt) wedding and how it affects all the people involved. The film is an ensemble piece that uses Kym’s addiction to showcase how events can color perceptions and how dysfunctional families struggle with making things work. The film is written by Jenny Lumet, daughter of director Sidney Lumet, who brilliantly sketches all the characters without needing to spell out histories, emotions or motivations. Kym has to confront many of her issues and finds out in doing it that the rest of the family may have to as well. That includes her divorcee mother (Debra Winger), her father (Bill Irwin), her stepmother (Anna Deavere Smith) and the brother-in-law to-be, Sidney (Tunde Adebimpe).

The Sidney character has a musical background, which allows an eclectic mix of characters and musical styles to populate the screen and it all intermingles in the melting pot of cultures that is Rachel’s wedding. I don’t know where director Jonathan Demme (‘The Silence of the Lambs’, ‘Philadelphia’) has been hiding for all these years but this is a wonderful return to form for him. The visual strategy is interesting to say the least – cinematographer Declan Quinn shoots it like a home movie of a wedding, the hand-held camera walking in and out of scenes as randomly as you please. The best part is that the style works wonderfully well for the story that is being told.

The only problem I had with the film is that it was written and shot so that it purposely slows down at unexpected points and spends an inordinate amount of time on scenes that perhaps add very little to the larger narrative. However, I also recognize that Demme was going for an Altmanesque feel where the trite scenes might actually pose some messages beyond the obvious. And it’s a clever contradiction to use because you never know what is fitting together and feels so much more like you are not watching a film at all. Hathaway is off the charts amazing in this film and the Academy Award nomination was well deserved. DeWitt is equally good and she provides the rope for Hathaway to stretch herself. Winger has a smaller role but still manages to hold her own in one particularly powerful scene with Hathaway. And while moving around so many characters, the story does manage to cover many aspects of dealing with addiction and how it can affect everyone around you.

This is definitely one of those keep-an-open-mind type of movies because you need to embrace how different it is from any form of conventional storytelling for you to be able to enjoy it. At times it may feel like a raw wound or a reckless home video but it also manages to show real people muddling through some destructive situations the best way they know how. Weird, strangely cathartic and empathetic at the same time – definitely one for the DVD collection!

That’s it for this week. Check out my next column – it’s on ‘Outrageous Fortune’. Never heard of it, you say. Well, read it to find out why you need to.