Thursday, October 23, 2014

Rooting for Barnes and Noble Booksellers in the Bronx

The quick turnaround in news about the Barnes & Noble Booksellers in the Bronx was an emotional roller-coaster for me -- first the sadness that the store might close by the end of the year, then the cautious joy hearing that a temporary two-year lease agreement had been reached.

I make no secret that I am a huge supporter of e-books, and my e-reader of choice is the Kindle, not the Nook.  My online book purchases are mostly through Amazon, not  Yet, I still love the big brick-and-mortar store in Bay Plaza and would hate to see it go.  I frequent my local Barnes & Noble at least once a week, and very rarely do I leave without making a purchase.  I enjoy browsing through the aisles, looking through the book shelves and the magazine racks.  They have a nice children's section where I occasionally bring my young kids, and the cafe is wonderful, (try the stuffed pretzels the next time you're there.)

Some have no sympathy for big corporate chains closing their doors, since independent booksellers have been decimated by the combination of Barnes & Noble type superstores and online competitors.  Still, the loss of Barnes & Noble would leave a huge vacuum in my fine borough, which has no other general bookstore -- yes, you read that correctly, the only general bookstore in the Bronx is this glorious Barnes & Noble in Bay Plaza.

It's been my destination for writing seminars, celebrity book signings, and a Frozen event that my daughter totally enjoyed. It's also one of my fail-safe places to go buy original gifts for anyone on my list any time of year.  I would hate to see it go.

The Bronx needs more bookshops where people can gather, skim through new bestsellers, discover older literary gems, pick up hard to find publications, and share in fresh new ideas.  Yes, by all means, support your local library where some of this can be found for free, but you might have to wait weeks or months to get your hands on the latest hot releases, and you certainly won't find all the latest niche magazines.

We need commercial booksellers.  Barnes & Noble earned its success by doing it right.  I'm thankful it won't be leaving the Bronx...for a while at least.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Some Delightful Conversations

I had the pleasure of attending another TimesTalks event this past weekend: "Culinary Conversations."  Moderated by the excellent "Media Decoder" columnist David Carr, current and former food critics for The New York Times Pete Wells, Ligaya Mishan, Frank Bruni, William H. Grimes, and Sam Sifton gathered to discuss food journalism and the art of criticism.  It was an insightful and thoroughly entertaining evening.  We only heard the voices of Wells and Mishan, their identities hidden, but it was great to see and hear the others too as they revealed the disguises they wore and pseudonyms they donned on their restaurant reviewing adventures.

The series of conversations is a terrific opportunity to view up close some fantastic personalities as they chat about issues that are near and dear to their hearts.  Upcoming programming includes:

October 21, 2014 -- Actor Hugh Jackman and Director Ian Rickson discussing their Broadway show "The River," moderated by reporter Sarah Lyall

October 31, 2014 -- Stars of the British sitcom "Vicious," Derek Jacobi and Ian McKellan speak with correspondent John F. Burns

November 4, 2014 -- Reporter Dave Itzkoff interviews actor John Cleese who also holds a booksigning for his new memoir "So Anyway"

November 10, 2014 -- Director Jon Stewart talks about his new movie "Rosewater" with journalist Maziar Bahari and book critic Janet Maslin

November 14, 2014 -- Actors Michael Cera, Kieran Culkin, and Tavi Gevinson, stars from Broadway's "This Is Our Youth," talking with reporter Dave Itzkoff

November 19, 2014 -- Actors Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones of the movie "The Theory of Everything," interviewed by reporter Cara Buckley

November 21, 2014 -- "Op: Docs -- Opinionated Documentary Filmmakers" features producer/curator Jason Spingarn-Koff conversing with independent London-based moviemakers Kris Hofman ("An Unfair Game"), Peter Middleton and James Spinney ("Notes on Blindness"), Marc Silver ("Bodies on the Border"), and Orlando von Einsiedel ("Gorillas in the Crossfire")

December 8, 2014 -- Reporter Patrick Healy moderates a conversation with actors Glenn Close, Lindsay Duncan, and John Lithgow for their upcoming Broadway show "A Delicate Balance."

Visit for more.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Is Streaming the Future of Television?

The news that both HBO and CBS will start streaming their content to paid subscribers has sent further shockwaves through the television industry that is already dealing with customers who are cutting the cable cord and viewing their entertainment and news through computer and mobile devices via services like Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu, YouTube, and others. Not only are those digital channels carrying licensed content, they are also venturing into original programming, directly competing with traditional TV.

CBS head Leslie Moonves said that Showtime will also start streaming and it's only a matter of time before other broadcast and cable networks do the same.  Customers have been crying for a la cart packages from their cable and satellite providers, this could be a variation of that wish come true.  Will it save them money or will it ironically make it more expensive to obtain their TV viewing fix?

How many (and which) channels would you pay for in exchange for dumping the rest?

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Pulp Fiction -- 20 Years Later

Twenty years ago, I was invited to see an early test screening of a movie I hadn't heard anything about.  I went with friends, our expectations were low, and we were thrilled by what we saw. That movie was Pulp Fiction and it launched an independent film wave that reignited my faith in cinema.

It would be wrong of me to say that Pulp Fiction was unlike anything I'd seen before, since writer/ director Quentin Tarantino freely admits to being inspired by and paying homage to certain movies of the past. Glimpses of 1960s and 1970s exploitation flicks can be seen in his work.  He didn't invent non-linear storytelling, and the gritty realism and ultra-violence were familiar to folks who had seen international art house cinema.

Nevertheless, Quentin did it well and Pulp Fiction struck a nerve not just with me and the early screening audience, but with millions of moviegoers afterwards.  I became a fan of Tarantino's work because of this movie that starred Bruce Willis, Uma Thurman, Ving Rhames, Tim Roth, Amanda Plummer, Rosanna Arquette, Eric Stoltz, Christopher Walken, Harvey Keitel, and Quentin himself in memorable roles. It also made Samuel L. Jackson a star and revived John Travolta's career into the stratosphere.

Beyond the violent plot, I saw a story about redemption in the character of Jules Winnfield and heroism in the tale of Butch Coolidge.  I witnessed what can only be described as a master class of storytelling and dialogue writing, as Tarantino unraveled his plot points in his own fashion, his character details and action nuances building on what we had seen before, like pieces of a puzzle, until that final scene perfectly wrapped it all together.

I gush because the movie meant a lot to me when I first saw it, inspiring me to continue trying screenwriting and playwriting myself. I enjoyed other films by Tarantino that followed, and was disappointed by others.  Still, Pulp Fiction remains a grand achievement that not only put Quentin on the map as a filmmaker to be reckoned with after his critical success with Reservoir Dogs, but also proved to Hollywood that a little film with little to no fanfare could take over the box-office and launch hundreds of imitators.

If you've never seen it, hunt it down and watch it one night.  Hopefully you'll forget everything you may have heard about it and approach it as I did back in 1994, unspoiled and unsure of what to expect, letting the characters appear fresh and new, and allowing the story's secrets to reveal themselves to you scene by scene, until those perfect last two lines: "I think we should be leaving now." "Yeah, that's probably a good idea."

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

The Growing Success of New York Comic Con

Hollywood, take notice. The figures are in and the recently concluded New York Comic Con has surpassed the much-hyped San Diego Comic Con as the biggest geek convention of them all.

As a fan myself, I'm happy to see both succeed -- SDCC on the West Coast in the summer and NYCC on the East Coast in the fall.  By extending its Thursday programming, the New York con attracted 150,000 visitors, besting the 130,000 drawn every year at San Diego.

I hope New York's success doesn't mean it will be impossible to purchase premium tickets like the one in San Diego, which sells out like a hard-to-attend rock concert.

New York's convention is still mostly a publisher's showcase, while San Diego has attracted nearby Hollywood's attention with movies and television usurping print comic books. SDCC is stretched to capacity as a huge debate rages about whether the city can handle any further growth. NYCC is in the Big Apple, which has more options for hundreds of thousands (and even millions) of fans flocking to the "City that Never Sleeps," but for it to grow even in New York, the convention will need to spread out beyond the confines of the Jacob Javitz Center (which is certainly possible as witnessed by the 10-day "New York SuperWeek" festival with more than 100 events around the Manhattan area.)

For fans of comics and pop culture, the continued success of both major Comic Cons (as well as other lesser known but still beloved conventions around the country and throughout the world) is news to cheer.

Monday, October 13, 2014

A Look at The Players' Tribune

Derek Jeter didn't waste any time starting the next chapter of his life.  Immediately after ending his final season as a ballplayer (not just any ballplayer, but one of the greatest ever to don the New York Yankee pinstripes), he launched a new Web site, The Players' Tribune.

As the founding publisher, Jeter posted an open letter, outlining his vision for what the site would become -- a channel for star athletes (and presumably others in the spotlight if Jeter ventures beyond sports) to voice their own unfiltered viewpoints.

So far the content has been minimal as the site has slowly revealed its celebrity editors -- first, Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson, addressed the hot-button issue of violence in football and also commented on being a bully when he was a kid, while announcing the formation of his charity, the "Why Not You" Foundation; then race car driver Danica Patrick wrote about her relationship with fellow racer Ricky Stenhouse, Jr.

The point is that athletes will be able to tell their stories their way, without relying on journalists to filter their words or the social media masses to lead the conversations.  Some reporters have taken offense to the implication that The Players' Tribune will somehow be better than the traditional media in bringing stories about these athletes to the public, and some have questioned how "unfiltered" the content will truly be. The few articles we've seen so far seem heartfelt and "straight from the mouths" of Derek, Russell, and Danica, but surely the site has its editorial staff and the athletes have their public relations team to make sure what goes up is properly vetted and in the best interests of the contributors.

I welcome the honest, first-hand perspective of professional athletes, and there's plenty for them to talk about in the months and years ahead.  I also hope that once the star editors have been revealed more content is provided more regularly.  I'd like to see The Players' Tribune thrive with a smorgasbord of rich content, everything from articles by-lined by famous athletes to forums where fans can engage those stars directly.

It will be difficult to judge The Players' Tribune until it reaches the full potential of what Jeter has in mind.  Right now we're only seeing a tease. Derek Jeter has seen plenty of success in his young life.  I hope this next venture is another home run.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Actors Who Played Columbus

It's Columbus Day Weekend here in the States, so here is a list of actors who have portrayed the historic explorer.

Vincenzo Denizot -- Christopher Columbus (1902 Short)

Charles Clary -- The Coming of Columbus (1912, Short)

Albert Bassermann -- Christoph Columbus (Germany, 1923)

Billy Franey -- Columbus and Isabella (Short, 1924)

Fredric March -- Christopher Columbus (1949)

Edward Sterlingson -- Captain Z-Ro "Christopher Columbus" episode (1955)

Anthony Dexter -- The Story of Mankind (1957)

Gabriel Byrne -- Christopher Columbus (1985 TV Mini-Series)

Matthew Davis -- Christopher Columbus (1991 Animated Short)

Georges Corraface -- Christopher Columbus: The Discovery (1992)

Gerard Depardieu -- 1492: Conquest of Paradise (1992)

Dom DeLuise -- The Magic Voyage (Animated, 1992)

Pierfrancesco Favino -- Night at the Museum (2006)

Olegar Fedoro -- Columbus: The Last Voyage (2007)

Which ones did I miss?