The new documentary “Soul Power” opened to high praise in New York and Los Angeles and arrives in Stamford on Friday, July 31st at the Landmark 9 theater (5 Landmark Square). The film is a massive editorial project, cutting 125 hours of footage from the concert accompanying the 1974 Rumble in the Jungle down to a mere 93 minutes. Rumble in the Jungle, of course, was the Muhammad Ali v. George Foreman fight held in Zaire and profiled in the movie, “When We Were Kings.” That film made reference to the concert, but “Soul Power” digs a little deeper, featuring performances by legends like BB King, James Brown and Celia Cruz. Critics have been massively kind, giving it a Rotten Tomatoes score of 86%, and the website is filled with film festival palm leaves. If you go, let me know if you agree.
My favorite new Stamford addition, Barcelona, is planning a Wine Dinner featuring tomatoes, in honor of the famous tomato festival/fight in the Spanish city of Valencia. They’re calling the dinner “La Tomatina,” and it’s scheduled for August 26th at 7pm.
The menu includes sunny summer ingredients like shrimp, green onion, local lettuce and (perhaps unsurprisingly) bushels of tomatoes. Each course is paired with a fitting Spanish wine. The flyer says “[t]here could be an impromptu tomato fight, come dressed accordingly!” This, I would like to see. For reservations call 203-348-4800 or email Gretchen@barcelonawinebar.com.
Bridgeport’s Beardsley Zoo held an exotic animal amnesty day this past Saturday. In the wake of Stamford’s Chimpgate, Connecticut has cracked down on pets a bit outside the norm. In order to encourage owners to come forward, the state partnered with the zoo for a one-day event where folks could surrender their creatures.
NPR’s Craig LeMoult reported that residents came forward with alligators (including one who used to join the owner in the swimming pool!), lizards (whose names include Thomas, Buddha, Rex and Suzanna), a variety of birds, snakes and a Capuchin monkey. The report noted that the event was all the more appropriate given the recent discovery of two alligators (likely former house pets) hanging out in the Connecticut wild. Perhaps it’s because I live in Stamford, but those last two words barely make sense together. The most threatening animal I’ve seen locally is a shifty eyed bunny. Was very sorry to have missed Stamford’s own Noah’s Ark.
(photo from Steve Beger Photography (Beger.com Productions), flickr.com)
The Avon's July 15th screening of Under Our Skin (the documentary about Lyme Disease) was presented to a sold out crowd - and in response - they've opted to run it again this week. Remaining screenings are not ideal time slots for the working world, but include Tuesday (28th) at 5:20pm, Wednesday (29th) at 5:20pm and Thursday (30th) at 4:40pm. If you can get there, it's worth the effort.
Back from a lover-ly trip to London and feeling more confident that I won’t get run over by a bus looking down the wrong side of the street. Wonderful time but nice to be home. So, what did I miss? Looks like Blog Stamford has some good scoop on the new Indian restaurant on Summer plus some other pearls of local wisdom. Streets of Stamford gave some props to the Pizza Tour folks and their new champion, Amore Restaurant (*insert clapping*).
Perhaps most interestingly, the Stamford Downtown Events blog highlights the upcoming Stamford Downtown Street Beat. It’s a street music event that will take place at 6:30pm this Wednesday and next. Annette Einhorn, Director of Marketing and Events of Stamford Downtown Special Services District, told me that the idea was inspired by a similar series in New York City. In fact, one of the groups, Claremont Strings & Ensembles, regularly performs in the city subway. They’ll set up shop here outside Napa Restaurant. Click here for a list/map of musical acts. I plan to take a listen and offer a curbside report - looking forward to it!
The Avon’s screening of Under Our Skin on Wednesday night drew a sold out crowd. When the director, Andy Abrahams, polled the audience to see how many had been impacted directly by Lyme disease, my husband and I – who took a more academic interest – were shocked at the sea of hands.
The film profiled the disease by following some of the people most hard hit by it. For instance, Mandy Hughes, a Sea World animal trainer, suffered heartbreaking episodes of physical ticks and palsy. Dana Walsh, part of U2’s promotional crew, seemed fine to observers but experienced unyielding pain. Jordan Fisher Smith, a forest ranger, lived through such debilitating symptoms that he contemplated suicide. Mr. Abrams opened the film by explaining his intention to promote awareness of the disease and the faltering health care system. The buzz that kept us in our seats during the Q&A and that spilled onto the street afterward suggests that he accomplished his goal.
Critics characterized the film as either a nail biting horror story or a Michael Moore-esque docu-drama. What none of the reviews captured, and what was pointed out by resident expert and star, Dr. Charles Ray Jones, was that the story ended with optimism. The Connecticut Attorney General, Richard Blumenthal, is pushing successfully for a reexamination of the controversial medical standards. Researchers are approaching a better understanding of the complicated illness. In addition to pain and politics, the movie shows the viewer a lot of healing. The film has something to say that is terrifying and enlightening, but pay attention to the end. It hides a trace amount of hope.
Event photo featuring Director Andy Abrahams (left) and Dr. Charles Ray Jones (right) courtesy of Ben Gancsos,www.bengancsos.com.
It seems like his name's gotten lost in the Madoff dust, but not so very long ago, Stamford was home to one of the law offices of Dreier LLP headed by its sole partner, Marc S. Dreier. Mr. Dreier was said to have pioneered a new way of running a law firm - and in a way - it was true. Unfortunately, it was a way that the New York Times characterized as follows:
In carrying out his scheme, Mr. Dreier sold fake promissory notes to  hedge funds and other investors. He created phony financial statements and accounting documents, and paid people to impersonate others to trick prospective investors into believing the notes were genuine. Mr. Dreier’s case exploded into public view in December, when he was arrested in Toronto after trying to impersonate an employee of the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan in an attempt to sell a fake note for millions of dollars.
The Times reports that Mr. Dreier pleaded guilty to a total of eight counts, including money laundering, conspiracy, securities and wire fraud. He was sentenced to 20 years - just a bit short of the 145 years the government had recommended.
Domino Magazine folded in January, and I’m still in denial. In an effort to relive its “10 Things That Make Me Happy” section, and because I’m feeling lazy, I’ve decided to write a tribute Stamford Notes’ 10 Things That Are Swell:
- Handfuls of candy care of Bob’s Discount Furniture (flavored Tootsie Rolls…drool…).
- The Francis Bacon exhibit at The Met (As a gay man growing up as a Protestant in early 20th century Ireland surround by abusive alcoholics, it’s not shocking that Bacon’s quoted as saying “I remember looking at dog s**t on the pavement and I suddenly realized, there it is- that is what life is like.” If you can eek out something good from it nonetheless, that’s pretty awesome.)
We braved the 80% chance of rain to check out the second to last Greenwich Shakespeare on the Sound performance, and it was a good bet. We were apprehensive when the actors emerged like an ad for Banana Republic, but ten minutes into the production, we were won over by the competent acting and the fresh adaptation.
The serpentine stage did come along to Greenwich. It was a modern take on performance in the round and meant there were no truly bad seats. Another plus: the architecture of the stage allowed the actors to jump into the trees, which they did effectively to amp up mysterious or comedic scenes.
Nick Bottom (Ty Jones) made the show (you called it, Chris Preovolos). Jones is a guy with funny oozing out of every pore. When he’s transformed into an ass with gold rimmed goggles and slip-on hooves, he plays it as a mix between the naïve/egocentric Tracey Jordan and Shrek’s neurotic/charming donkey sidekick. He was magnetic, mirthful and marvelous. More than just comic relief though, Jones’ remarkable singing voice was as good in a bluesy ballad as it was in a sugary love song.
Titania/Hyppolyta (Doan Ly) was an elegant and powerful stage presence. When she proclaimed that she was a “spirit of no common rate,” I believed her. She was relatable too. What woman hasn’t had this same experience: “Me thought I was enamored of an ass.” Oberon/Theseus (Michael Solis) gave a strong performance singing the praises of flower-based narcotics. He reminded me of the mystical and evil David Bowie in Labyrinth (minus the giant hair). Helena (Gretchen Hall) mastered the embarrassing desperation of her part. The music is also worth mentioning. It kept some of the airy fairy qualities intrinsic to A Midsummer Night’s Dream but included a contemporary flare. I particularly enjoyed the 70s soft core porn music accompanying the Lysander/Helena drug induced love-at-first sight scene.
Sunday is the last performance. Bring your wine, your cheese - even your kids - and check it out before they pack it up.
I’m always trying. Sometimes (maybe often) I try too hard. There’s something refreshing about humor that barely tries at all. It dares you to find it funny. Jim’s Journal, for instance, did exactly that. Jim was a two-dimensional character – in every sense of that word – who revisited his life with the same enthusiasm and nuance you’d find in shampoo instructions.
Jim’s Journal out-Seinfelded Seinfeld by sticking faithfully to the most basic and mediocre life experiences. Jim mowed his mom’s lawn; Jim fed his roommate’s cat; Jim watched TV. The author of Jim’s Journal, Scott Dikkers, has gone onto bigger things (namely, The Onion), but the digital age has welcomed a replacement that Jim might think was pretty good.
At MyLifeIsAverage.com, contributors submit a few lines about their humdrum days, and in doing so, move the comedy ball ever so slightly forward. The site describes itself as “a place to share your everyday mediocrity. It is a place to post the mundane things in your life, and read about what makes life normal for other people.” Rather than explain why it’s funny, I’ll let a few examples do the trick (note that MLIA stands for “my life is average”):
- Today I saw a crunchy looking leaf in the street. I went substantially out of my way in order to step on it. MLIA.
- Today, instead of emptying my cat's litterbox, I sprayed it with Febreeze. I felt like I decieved my entire family. MLIA
- Today, I realized the word bed actually looks like a bed. MLIA
- A fortnight ago I finally solved my rubiks cube. I waited two weeks to post this so that I could use the word fortnight.
- Today, I ironed my shirt that said "NO IRON" in the care instructions. It's perfectly fine. MLIA.
I loved Jim’s Journal, and I’m equally fond of the idea that in the digital age, we get to reinvent it together online. Detractors say it celebrates mediocrity, but I always try (maybe too hard) to find cause for celebration.
If you believe the big screen hype, Connecticut's biggest exports are hauntings and tick-borne terror. In addition to the cult classics, profiled by BlogStamford, and the locally staged Away We Go, profiled by Streets of Stamford, The Avon features a summer documentary series that kicks off on July 15 at 7:30pm with Under Our Skin, a frightening profile of Lyme Disease.
The local fear factor is that this horrible disease is named after the town where it was discovered, about 75 miles away from Stamford. Doctors recognized it in the 1970s, and thirty plus years is plenty of time for a tick to thumb a ride down 95. Stephen Holden of the New York Times describes the movie as "scary enough to make the faint of heart decide never to venture into the woods or to lie on the grass again without protective covering." The film's website describes it as "bring[ing] into focus a haunting picture of the health care system and a medical establishment all too willing to put profits ahead of patients."
Whether it's more dread or more med, it seems worthy of the ticket price. The director/cinematographer and a medical specialist will answer questions afterward if you make it to the end without feeling an imaginary parasite crawling up your leg.
- Parking. Ridgeway offers a lot of spots, but the traffic on Summer makes the other side of the street feel acres away. That’s especially true if you are carrying bulky home goods.
- Rent. The Dallas Morning News article (link above) indicated that at least five stores would be closed because landlords refused to modify rents. Perhaps the same is true chez nous.
- Website. We consumers are spoiled. Generally, we click and *ta da* a box shows up at home. Pier One’s website does not work that way. When you find a product on the website, you must enter your email address and add the product to a list. So even before I buy I surrender my privacy? The next options are to save, delete or print the list. So you take the printed list to a brick and mortar store? Doesn’t that defeat the purpose of on-line shopping?
- Identity. I’m hard pressed to think of a product where Pier One is the first supplier to come to mind. If anything, I associate them with colorful imports, so it’s disconcerting to find their shelves full of Fourth of July folk art. The website opens with elephants and leads me straight to stars and stripes table runners.
- Novelty. Whereas Indian, Chinese and other foreign-made products used to seem special, now Made in America is the most unique label out there. For all I know, the elaborate painted serving platter was made in the same factory as the unpainted Wal-Mart version. It’s just not sexy anymore.
Good for you, Pier One, for turning that red ink into black, but to win me over, there’s work still to do. Wish it had been done before the Summer Street sayonara.
Luckily, some other lesser part of me is a slightly more mature adult pleased to tell you that Bartlett is hosting a number of summer music events. Sunday mornings from 10-11am, the gardens feature classical soloists (free with garden admission for non-members, free for members), and Sunday evenings from 5-7pm, they’ve got some more lively fare ranging from bluegrass to jazz ($10 for non-members, $5 for members). The lineup (taken from Bartlett’s website) is below:
July 5 HOE Connecticut based bluegrass and old time string band traditions with modern pop ideas.
July 12 Charlotte Kendrick A refreshingly understated voice, she sings in the tradition of folk singers.
July 19 Big Apple'achia Traditional five-piece acoustic bluegrass band based in New York City.
July 26 Citigrass Specializes in mixing bluegrass,rock,folk,Celtic and world music to create their own style of "Urban Bluegrass."
August 2 The Away Team An eclectic mix of rock, jazz, fusion, rhythm & blues, rockabilly and country played by veteran musicians
August 9 Richard "Cookie" Thomas A versatile voice especially suited to well-known classic standards. Richard draws his inspiration from the likes of Nat King Cole, Frank Sinatra, and Johnny Hartman.
August 16 Orrin Star & the Sultans of String Orrin Star is an award-winning guitarist and mandolin player who combines hot picking, cool singing and good humor.
Do you like the symphony except for all that pesky classical music? The Stamford Symphony has coaxed the Pink Panther away from his attic insulation job long enough to entertain you with his theme song. This and other Henry Mancini pieces will be featured at the first of the 2009 Pops in the Park series at Columbus Park, July 8th, 6:30pm. Come early to stake out your picnic blanket real estate claim.
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