Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Rudo y Cursi at the TFF

For his first feature as director, Carlos Cuaron wanted to make a movie about a soccer player who disappears at the height of his fame. Diego Luna and Gael Garcia Bernal both wanted the lead; rather than choose, Cuaron widened the scope of the story to encompass not one but two futboleros. Then, naturally, each wanted the other's role, because "that's how they are in real life."

Luna and Garcia Bernal became close --- no pun intended --- during the filming of Y Tu Mama Tambien, written by Cuaron and directed by his brother. (As they explained during the Q&A, with "less hair and more body fat," the actors realized they couldn’t have made a sequel, even if they’d wanted to.) Here, they play brothers who both become famous. The movie flippantly chronicles their rises and falls. It’s full of sibling rivalry and hijinks and goofiness, but perhaps the best reason to see it is its truly terrible rendition, oft-repeated version of I Want You to Want Me, which has become a phenomenon in Mexico.

Photo: thanks

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Fixer: The Taking of Ajmal Naqshbandi at the TFF

Ajmal Naqshbandi, above, was beheaded by the Taliban in 2007. Fixer: The Taking of Ajmal Naqshbandi tells his story using Taliban recruitment videos, Russian music videos, clips from Italian and other countries' news programs, and footage filmmaker Ian Olds shot before Naqshbandi was kidnapped and killed.

Olds originally wanted to make a movie about fixers, people who help foreign journalists find sources and navigate the culture and territory, usually in wartime situations. But during the course of filming Naqshbandi helping Christian Parenti, journalist for The Nation, Naqshbandi was captured along with a driver and an Italian journalist. Italy was able to pressure the Afghan government into trading prisoners for the Italian captive, but Afghanistan refused to budge on the demands for Naqshbandi, letting him die at the hands of the Taliban.

The film is moving, horrifying, occasionally funny, and wholeheartedly fascinating. It reveals an aspect of the news business that is discussed in inverse proportion to its importance, and it shows how Naqshbandi's story embodies many of the complexities and compromises of contemporary life in Afghanistan. We felt privileged to see it.

Adding to that reaction was the terrific panel after the Tribeca Film Festival screening, which included Olds, Parenti, New Yorker writer George Packer, Bob Dietz of the Committe to Protect Journalists, and Naqeeb Sherzad, a former fixer and close friend of Naqshbandi's who also appears in the movie. The conversation --- which ranged from ruminations on the ethics of hostage negotiation to discussions about the inaccessibility of Afghan women to male journalists --- was thoughtful and absorbing. But as interesting as these big-picture issues were, the conversation kept pulling itself back to Ajmal (as everyone called him), which was, Olds said, exactly his point: the stories of history and the stories of individuals are always and everywhere colliding.

Photo: thanks

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Prospect Park Zoo

Though it lives in the shadow of its larger, more popular cousins in the Bronx and Central Park, the Prospect Park Zoo has its own charms. The small scale and even smaller crowds give you the chance to linger, to watch, to peer through the trees.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Don McKay at the TFF

One of us walked into Don McKay thinking it was a comedy; the other thought it was a drama. We were both wrong: it's actually a contemporary noir, set in the suburbs and starring an emotionally isolated janitor (Thomas Haden Church) who falls for gorgeous Elisabeth Shue, clad for most of the movie in nighties. During the post-screening Q&A, writer / director Jake Goldberger called it 100% autobiographical, which got a big laugh, although you probably have to see the movie --- including its deaths by frozen pot roast, heavily tattooed female blackmailer, and haunted jukebox --- to understand why.

Part of the fun of the Tribeca Film Festival is that it feels very populist, both in types of movies screened and in types of people who attend. As we walked toward the theater, we recognized a character actor whose name we didn't know chatting outside a grocery store. Then, as we took our seats, we realized we were within spitting distance of a coterie of friends of the filmmaker as well as that actor again. Ten minutes into the movie, we elbowed each other as he showed up on screen. Only in New York, kids.

Photo: thanks

Friday, April 24, 2009

Billy's Bakery

It's now a law that every neighborhood in New York must have a small, vaguely nostalgic cupcake-centric bakery. Few, however, make us as happy as Billy's in Chelsea, where we get perfect little treats like red velvet cupcakes and slices of smooth, conversation-stopping peanut butter chocolate pie. Dental health be damned.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Frankies 17

Continuing our carb-themed spring, we recently sampled the goods at charming Frankies 17, the Manhattan outpost of the beloved Brooklyn spuntino, specializing in cured meats and pastas. It's hard to believe (and sort of depressing) that such food comes out of a kitchen that's roughly the size of the one in our apartment.

We had brunch, which we generally avoid both steadfastly and categorically. Some people might say that this dislike precludes us from being true New Yorkers, given the city's propensity for weekend menus featuring all-you-can-drink mimosas and overpriced eggs. To this we say, why is a regular menu and free will on the beverage front so much to ask on days beginning with "s"?

The dense vegetable frittata, side of garlickly, olive-oily string beans, and cavatelli with spicy sausage forced us to reconsider our stance.

Good, really good stuff, and not a mimosa in sight. Whether this brunch is a harbinger of permanent change or simply a result of the starchy sugars coursing through our blood remains to be seen, however.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Chelsea Street Art (and One Ad)

Sunday, April 19, 2009

The Donut Pub

This semi-secluded carbohydrate emporium on 14th resembles an old-timey bar in almost every way, with its muttering elderly waitstaff and strange conversations about dogs' eyes. We call it our happy place. Is that so wrong?

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Streets in Bloom

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