Museum of the Moving Image, Astoria

I have emerged from my freelance cocoon! And despite the snowflakes I saw this morning, I think spring is about to land in New York City. I’m not making any promises but I’m optimistic – it’s supposed to be sixty degrees on Friday.

I took a long weekend last week because my best friend came to visit for four days. She lives out in San Diego and was gratifyingly charmed to arrive early Saturday morning to Christmas-like snow. It melted quickly, and while it wasn’t exactly warm while she was here, it was pleasant enough that we managed to run around the city without worrying too much about the temperature.

So what did we do? Well, considering we’ve spent much of our friendship geeking out over musical theater together, we went to see three different musicals. I plan to tell you all about them in good time, because all three were great and worth seeing, but that’s for later.

For now, let me tell you about our outing to the Museum of the Moving Image in Astoria. I’d been to the museum once before, with my family, when a video game exhibition was on view, but I don’t get to Queens often so I hadn’t been back. We decided to head over around lunchtime on Saturday, and after a lunch at the nearby Arepas Café, we got in line for the museum.


Note to self: Saturday is a busy day at the Museum of the Moving Image! We arrived around 2 and it took maybe fifteen minutes for us to get inside. Once inside, we headed straight for the Mad Men exhibit, which had just opened. It, too, had a line, but once we were inside we got a look at papers outlining the planning process for the show, going back years to when it was just an idea Matthew Weiner had. We saw a re-creation of the writers’ room, character sketches, and finally a number of costumes and props from the show, including even a few sets. I’ve only seen an episode or two of the show, but my friend is a fan, and I’m always fascinated by the creative process and the formation of stories, so I liked it a lot too. The exhibit runs through June 14, 2015.

We explored the rest of the museum – it’s small enough that you can see everything in a few hours. Some highlights: a wall of portraits of celebrities, memorabilia from TV shows and films, special props, even a small movie theater.


There’s a whole section devoted to the history of animation, and you can make these neat stop motion animations. My animation skills are… amateur, but still fun.

I loved seeing my childhood favorites, Charlie Horse, LAMB CHOP, and Hush Puppy!


The museum is open Wednesday through Sunday and stays open till 8 p.m. on Fridays. Admission is $12 for adults, $9 for students and seniors, and $6 for kids 3 to 12. I’ve yet to see a movie there, but it’s worth checking out what’s playing!


Have you been to the Museum of the Moving Image? What was your favorite part?


“The Last Five Years”, the movie

The Last Five Years

I think I’ve more than established my love of musical theater on this blog by now, so it will surprise no one when I say that I watched the new “The Last Five Years” movie, starring Anna Kendrick and Jeremy Jordan, on its opening night last Friday. My friend and I did not go to see it in the theater as planned (Village East Cinema is the only place in NYC showing it this week) because the showing we wanted to see sold out before I managed to buy a ticket. It was a bummer as Jason Robert Brown, the composer, was doing a Q&A, but it may have worked out for the best that we ended it up buying it on iTunes and watching it at my friend’s apartment.

Why? Because it meant that when we got to one of the few line changes in the musical and it turned out to be the kind of moment where we both started laughing and couldn’t stop, we were able to pause until we could breathe, and then we rewound and watched that bit again. (For fans, I’ll say it was the change to the line “These are the people who cast Linda Blair in a musical” that cracked us up – you’ll know why when you hear it.)

If you haven’t heard of this movie, let me try to sell it to you. First of all, it’s the new Anna Kendrick movie! Didn’t you love her in “Pitch Perfect”? My mom tells me “Up in the Air” was phenomenal, too, and she got an Oscar nom for that one! She’s a great actress and singer and she really gives a wonderful performance here, so if you’re a fan of hers, it’s worth a look.

Anna Kendrick as Cathy

And since this IS a blog about life in NYC, I can’t neglect to mention that the movie is set (and filmed!) in NYC. Cathy (Anna Kendrick) lives originally in an apartment in Red Hook; we see Jamie (Jeremy Jordan, from the musical “Newsies” and the TV show “SMASH”) hanging out near the water on a boardwalk and it quickly becomes clear he’s right near the Fairway supermarket in Red Hook. The couple end up sharing an apartment (unrealistically, in my opinion!) on 73rd street in Manhattan, and they get engaged and married in Central Park. Jamie even hangs out in Madison Square Park before visiting his publisher, Random House, which is implied to be in the Flatiron Building, where Macmillan actually is. There are other moments that show snippets of NYC, and together they really ground the story here in the city, in a way that the stage show, which usually has a pretty simple set, doesn’t.

Jeremy Jordan as Jamie

Jeremy Jordan as Jamie

So for the uninitiated, what is this even about? “The Last Five Years” is the story of a five year relationship between two twenty-somethings, Jamie and Cathy. Jamie is an aspiring novelist who finds enormous success very quickly, while Cathy is a struggling actress whose career never quite takes off. It’s told through alternating songs between the two characters. Cathy’s first song opens the movie, showing the end of their relationship after Jamie has left her, and her numbers work their way back to the beginning of their time together. Jamie’s first song tells of the start of their relationship and continues on until he leaves her. In both the show and the movie, their voices only come together in song twice: once, in the middle, when their timelines meet and they get engaged and married, and again at the end as Cathy sings about saying goodbye until the next time they meet and Jamie sings about saying goodbye forever as he leaves her.

It’s a bit of a complicated conceit, but it works. In the stage show, the actors only connect with each other during the proposal/wedding song, but in the movie the two are in almost every scene together, reacting to the other person’s words and speaking occasional dialogue. It adds a depth to each character that I found fascinating, and my friend and I made new connections between lyrics and events that we hadn’t before, despite the fact that we’ve both been obsessed with this show for about a decade. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve listened to the cast recording with Norbert Leo Butz and Sherie Rene Scott, and I was thrilled to see a production when I was in college and another one here in NYC two years ago at Second Stage, directed by the composer.

lfy 3

I’ve been reading reviews in an effort to understand what non-fans might think about this movie, and they’re mixed. If you’re not a musical fan at all, you probably won’t like it, since it’s basically sung through. If you like your narratives to have a traditional narrative structure, you might not like it, since Cathy’s story is told backwards. And if somewhat selfish characters turn you off, as many reviewers seem to have been turned off, you may not like it.

But here’s the thing. It’s a movie about two people in their twenties striving for something they love and falling in and out of love. Yes, they’re selfish, and yes, you come to understand very clearly that these two were not meant for each other. It’s about ambition and jealousy and misunderstanding and being young and moving too quickly. Jamie and Cathy can both be pretty terrible to each other, but their pain is real, and the show paints a picture of why each acts the way they do. Different viewers will come away thinking one or the other is to blame for their relationship falling apart, and that’s okay. I think my opinion changes each time I listen or watch, and that’s what makes it such a great show.

As a teenager I listened to it, loving the hyperbolic outsized emotions of the long songs and dreaming a bit about falling in love. As a twenty-something I see myself and my friends in it as we struggle with careers and love lives and how to fit ourselves into them, or fit them into us. I bet my perspective will change when I’m in my thirties, and I know I’ll be revisiting the movie for years to come. I already half watched, half listened to it again the other night.

The change from stage to movie is a difficult one, as “Into the Woods” made clear. My friends and I have talked recently about how moving to film should add something to the show, something which can’t be achieved in the theater. As good as “Into the Woods” was, nothing exciting was added in translation. But with “The Last Five Years”, the vibrancy of the NYC backdrop made a huge difference, and seeing the characters react to each other made the fact that they weren’t really listening to each other even clearer. My friend pointed out how little true eye contact the two make, despite being together throughout the film, and how much emphasis is placed on the physical aspect of their relationship – there’s just as much lust as love to these two, and that’s something that isn’t clear in the stage show.

There are in jokes for fans, like the fact that the two women who played Cathy Off-Broadway, Sherie Rene Scott and Betsy Wolfe, both make cameo appearances, and that the composer, Jason Robert Brown, has a cameo as the audition pianist who “hates” Cathy and screws up her accompaniment. These are grace notes for obsessed people like me and my friend, but the quality of the music, the acting, and the cinematography stands for itself. The story may be a bit confusing for new audiences, but it’s the kind of complex that is ultimately rewarding.

If “The Last Five Years” isn’t playing at a theater near you, you can find on iTunes, Amazon Instant, Google Play, or other places on demand. Watch the trailer here.

lfy 5

October scary stories and Frankenstein


October is the time for scary stories. Halloween has a lot to do with it, all the way back to its roots in the celebration of Samhain by the Celts. But even without the spirits and specters associated with October 31, October would feel like a time for scary stories, at least here in the northeast.

There’s something about cold weather and stories – people gathering close to tell tall tales around a fire. But scary stories are too much for winter, when the cold and snow outside are dangerous. Better to tell stories with happy endings then, to keep everyone warm and cozy and save the scary ones for October, when the chill in the air is just enough to send a shiver down your spine but not enough to freeze you. The days are getting shorter, the nights are getting longer, and the shadows on your window might just be from the trees… or might not be.

Last night I went to see Frankenstein, the film version of the London National Theatre’s 2011 production starring Jonny Lee Miller and Benedict Cumberbatch. It’s showing at a number of movie theaters and performance spaces in NYC this week, undoubtedly because of the holiday, and it’s showing in other places as well. My family went to see it last night, too, and my mom and I compared notes afterward. You can find more information, including venues and show times, here:

I’ve never read Frankenstein, never seen one of the movies (except Young Frankenstein, which doesn’t quite count); I only knew the basic outline of the story. I knew, for instance, that it’s not a happy story. All does not end well. Perfect, then, for October.

In this production, Jonny Lee Miller and Benedict Cumberbatch alternated the roles of Frankenstein and his Creature each night. I saw Cumberbatch as the Creature, and it was remarkable. The popular depiction of Frankenstein’s monster is of a hulking, stuttering giant of a man, and there is stuttering, and Cumberbatch was tall and threatening. But his Creature, and apparently the Creature of the novel, can speak, by the end, as well as you or me. He stutters sometimes, but he also recites lines from Milton’s Paradise Lost and talks of his feelings of love and rage. In the end he is more monstrous and yet more human than Victor Frankenstein.

The set and the staging were stunning, the acting by both leads superb, and while some moments went on a little long and some secondary characters felt a little flat, the questions the production raised about creation and morality and love were fascinating. What is our responsibility to something — or someone — we create? What does it mean to love and be loved?

I won’t tell you more specifics, except that the final scene is heart-wrenching. While I can’t quite bring myself to go see it again this week, at some point I’d like to see the version where the roles are reversed. My friend had seen it before and felt Jonny Lee Miller’s Creature had a sweetness missing from Benedict Cumberbatch’s.

If you’re looking for a frightening but thoughtful way to celebrate Halloween and October, check if there’s a screening this week near you! If you’ve already seen it, what did you think? And if you haven’t, what’s your favorite spooky movie?

Love is Strange — Love, New York

I finally saw the movie I was an extra in, “Love is Strange”, this past weekend – and found out my scene was cut. I knew it was coming up when I saw Alfred Molina wearing some great red pants, and I knew it’d been cut when John Lithgow told his niece and nephew that his husband had gone to church that day while he had gone to the movies, because my scene took place outside a church. Oh well! I’ll have to buy the DVD and check out the deleted scenes.

I took two very bad photos while I was on set. Both had John Lithgow in them, but not Alfred Molina.

I took two very bad photos while I was on set. Both had John Lithgow in them, but not Alfred Molina.

Despite me not being in it, it was a really lovely movie. John Lithgow and Alfred Molina play a couple who have been together for 39 years. When marriage equality means they can finally tie the knot, Molina is fired from his job and they have to sell their apartment. Separated and living with friends and family members, the two deal with living apart after so long together, and their situation touches and influences everyone who comes into contact with them.

It’s not a perfect film – some threads get too much time while others were clearly truncated, and the ending is a little sad and a little rushed, but through it all Molina and Lithgow are so convincing as people who not only love each other but are used to each other, who know one another’s quirks and anticipate each other’s needs.

It doesn’t hurt that it’s a beautiful picture of New York. My scene was filmed in the West Village, as much of it seems to be, in the fall of 2013, and so many shots seem touched by golden autumn light. It’s like walking through New York on a perfect fall day and getting a chance to see the lives of strangers up close. I don’t recognize every street they show, but watching it I kept thinking, “Oh, I’ve been near there before.” At one point, to signal the next scene was in Brooklyn, they had a long, gorgeous shot of Grand Army Plaza.

My friend and I saw the movie at the movie theater at BAM (Brooklyn Academy of Music), which is a great place to see a movie, but it’s playing elsewhere in the city, too. If you have a chance to see it, let me know what you think! What’s your favorite movie version of NYC? I just watched “Ghostbusters” a few weeks ago and loved seeing that vision of the city.

Here's my second bad photo. At least you can see what a lovely day it was!

Here’s my second bad photo. At least you can see what a lovely day it was!

My big screen debut: "Love is Strange"

So I’m officially a movie star.

Okay, not really. But if you go to see “Love is Strange” at the Tribeca Film Festival in a week or so, or whenever it gets a wider release, you will see yours truly on the screen in this film about a gay couple getting married after decades together — and having their lives thrown into confusion because of it. The exact number of seconds of screen time I was granted is yet to be seen, but my guess is that it’s under sixty. This is almost definitely related to the fact that I was an extra.

Being an extra was something that sounded interesting to me because of my inadequately concealed belief that all that’s standing between me and my big break is the right exposure. Clearly a director would take one look at my extensive acting stills (ignoring the immaterial info that my last theater credit was freshman year of college) and bump me up to a leading role — or at least suggest I get an agent.

This, of course, did not happen.

Instead I spent a few hours on a lovely fall afternoon standing outside a church in the West Village. The film’s leads, Alfred Molina and John Lithgow, were shooting a scene in which they walk down the sidewalk and stop outside the church. I was one of several extras and my job was to amble down the sidewalk behind the leads, alongside a guy about my age, and then pass them and go into the church.

And so I did. The guy I was ambling with told me about his budding career in background work. This gig wasn’t paid, but he didn’t have anything booked that day so he figured he might as well show up. One of the other extras was also a professional; while she had an office job, she also had done commercials, plays, and other work in the past. Most of the rest of the extras were tourists that the extras casting director had pulled off the street. This meant that their clothes weren’t always church appropriate, so Wardrobe had to find them shirts or jackets to slip on. I’d worn one of my normal work dresses, so I was fine.

I’d heard about the opportunity through Facebook, because one of the people associated with the film was an alum of my college choir and had posted on the group’s Facebook page. After the shoot I introduced myself to him and we chatted about college and choir. He did not suggest I quit my day job – but you never know. Maybe some casting director will see my twenty-seven seconds of fame and discover me.

Then again, maybe not.

At the very least, I can now say I’ve been in a movie (something I’ll definitely work into conversations at cocktail parties, because my accomplishment list is still a little sparse). And I’ll tell my kids (the ones I may have many, many years from now), “I could’ve been big! I could’ve been a star!” They’ll probably laugh at me, but they’d do that anyway.

I unfortunately have choir rehearsal the night of the Tribeca screening, so I’ll have to wait for wider release. Who wants to go with me? And has anyone else gotten to be an extra?

We Used to be Friends: The Veronica Mars movie

I was trying to decide what to write about and I looked back on Facebook to see what I was posting about at this time last year in case it could offer any inspiration. Guess what I was talking about. The Veronica Mars Kickstarter!

I got into the show after it’d already been canceled, so I was able to watch is more or less all in one go. Quirky mystery shows are one of my weaknesses (from Joan of Arcadiaand Pushing Daisies to current day Castle, Sherlock, and even Once Upon a Time, which has some mystery elements), so of course I was going to donate to the Kickstarter!

I donated, spent a Saturday at a friend’s apartment watching highlights from Season One in celebration, and then settled down for a year’s wait. I skimmed the Kickstarter emails that backers got periodically and read articles about the movie as they came up, and then last Friday the movie came out. I skipped seeing it in the theater, opting instead for a relaxing gathering with friends and pie – perfect for 3/14. We’d gotten our download codes earlier in the day, but due to issues with Flixster we ended up watching a not-quite-legal version. The next morning I downloaded Flixster – and the movie – without any problems, so I’m pleased.

There are a million movie reviews out there, so I won’t go into specifics about the film, but I will say that I enjoyed every minute of it, loved every reference to the show, and thought overall that it was a lot of fun! Was it the best mystery plot in the history of Veronica Mars? No – but the best ones had whole seasons to develop, so can you blame them?

I hope the movie does well. I’d love a sequel, or even better, a new series. But more important than the consequences for the show are the consequences for the industry as a whole. The Kickstarter model isn’t perfect, but if it allows fans to support the creation of content they love and crave more of, that’s pretty cool!

What’d you think of the film, if you’ve seen it? And what projects would you Kickstart to see on the big screen?

Movies for a happy Valentine’s Day

It’s Valentine’s Day week, and I have no real advice for you on how to find love. But I do have two movie suggestions that are solid suggestions regardless of whether you’re making plans with a significant other, friends, or going solo.

The first one is to go see the Oscar Nominated Shorts. Choose between the animated ones, the live action ones, and the documentary shorts – all will be fascinating. Added bonus: This will allow you to have scene EVERY film in an Oscar category, while paying for the price of a single ticket. As someone who has seen exactly two nominated films this year (Gravity and Frozen), this seems like a good deal. In NYC, the IFC Center, Nitehawk Cinema, and BAM Rose Cinemaare all showing the shorts. Once I went to see “Stars in Shorts” at the IFC Center and Jennifer Morrison, who was in one of the shorts, showed up with her director to do a Q&A afterward.

Your second option: “The LEGO Movie”. This is especially good for people not looking for a date movie. For those who are, there is a romance, but it’s not that important. For everyone else, this movie is laugh-out-loud funny, creative, and heartwarming. After it’s over you will have the song “Everything is Awesome!”stuck in your head for days. My only critique is that there could have been more female characters – and better use of the ones they had, since Cobie Smulders voices Wonder Woman and doesn’t get much screen time. But aside from that, I highly recommend it. And if you are going solo, this is one movie where if there are couples in the theater, you at least know they’re pretty awesome people if their idea of a romantic Valentine’s Day date is to go see “The LEGO Movie”, right?!

If you’re looking for a night-in romantic rental, try Chocolat, or Joss Whedon’s Much Ado About Nothing. Anyone have other movie suggestions for this weekend?

Also, by me for F’ed in Park Slope, what the heck is contra dancing and why you should try it at Brooklyn Contra!

Prospect Park in autumn

I feel like I’ve walked into that iconic image from “When Harry Met Sally”.* Okay, so it’s Prospect Park, not Central Park, and I’m by myself and not hanging out with a young Billy Crystal, but fall has come to New York City and it’s glorious.

It doesn’t hurt that the temperature is around sixty-five degrees.
I’ve already waxed a little too poetic about my love of fall these past few weeks, so I apologize now for all that’s to come. All I can say is that it’s my absolute favorite season and I know it will end far too soon, so it’s time to savor it.
I’m sitting on a bench next to one of the park’s paths and there are leaves everywhere on the ground. They rustled as I kicked them on my way to the bench. They’re mostly yellow and brown, but across the path I see some red mixed in. An older couple pauses to pick up some especially beautiful ones. I try to ignore the garbage mixed in to the carpet of leaves—there’s not too much of it, and the leaves smell so lovely, I can’t care.
I really should remember what kinds of trees these are. One is a maple—easy enough to distinguish—but my leaf-identifying days are too far behind me to be of any use. I crunched some acorns under my foot on my way over so there must be oak trees. One of my favorite trees when I was growing up didn’t turn pretty colors, just brown. It was the magnolia in our back yard, and I remember loving those leaves’ distinctive smell and how they felt like suede between my fingers.
Last fall at this time, Prospect Park was a sad place to visit. Superstorm Sandy had torn up trees and cracked branches and blown the leaves to the ground. It’s wonderful to see the trees getting ready for winter as they normally do, instead of the process being rushed. And it’s wonderful to see all the people out, biking, jogging, rollerblading, walking and talking, or just walking. Or just sitting, like me.
If I were eight years old, I’d find a rake and make a big pile out of all these leaves. I’d find a friend, and we’d jump into them. And then we’d stare up at the sky and talk about nothing.
Actually, that sounds pretty nice. But let’s skip the leaf pile part, because like I said, there’s trash under these leaves.
*After this outing I went home and watched “When Harry Met Sally”, because how could I not?

Some photos from the ramble I took after writing this. Enjoy, and then tell me about your favorite places to spot fall foliage, in NYC and elsewhere.