Author Archives: izaydenberg

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A Great Big Pile of Nothing

I should’ve expected the worst when a fellow reviewer and I got lost on our way to the venue — an ugly-looking, white-washed building perched between austere apartment buildings and factories perhaps not in use since the child labor laws have been lifted sometime in the early 1900’s. It also didn’t help that it was right next door (and I mean that literally, right next door) to a Western Beef — a supermarket I associate with neighborhoods that are more notorious for their crime rate rather than good choice in music and cuisine. Perhaps I expected too much from Highline Ballroom — hey, maybe the “ballroom” part got to me — but from the outside, the music venue is anything but top of the line.

After a two-flight walk up on rickety stairs wide enough to only accommodate one person at a time, we were met by two Australians — a man and a woman, both dressed in black to match the walls — that appeared to work here. The man scanned our tickets, and the woman politely offered us a table — which, to our horror, came with a $10 per person price tag. Having come from a full day of class and work, we inquired about some sort of coat check. At first, they appeared puzzled, but then informed us that we’re on our own. Strike one against Highline.

The area itself was large and fairly spacious, with two bars on parallel walls and a dining area adjacent to both. The room was well air-conditioned and quite airy — definitely important when packed with hundreds of sweaty, gyrating people. However, packed it was not. Frankly, until the first act, it appeared that there were no more than perhaps 30 or 40 people total on the floor.

Two Lights: Hey, at least the singer's cute.

The first act practically reeked of bubblegum pop and Hollister anthem — a Jonas brothers-y type of band called Two Lights in which the lead singer was cute, the songs were all about summer and breaking up, and the crowd was as enthused as one would be for a root canal.

However, that all changed once A Great Big Pile of Leaves got on stage and began setting up. A mob of tortoise-shell-wearing hipsters rushed forward, pushing to the foot of the stage. Cheers erupted from the pluck of the first guitar string.

They reeked of cliche and unprofessionalism — no introduction to the members (although I was led to assume that one of them was Tyler, due to the yelling from one of the members in the audience), no sound check, no building of a relationship with the members of the audience that weren’t already fans. The songs themselves weren’t catchy in any way, and the melodies were virtually indistinguishable from one another. It was the same breakup, lazy-day crap that Two Lights pulled — just in a scruffier outfit, though I could appreciate the occasional swear or two.

All in all, it was ultimately very forgettable — from the lack of interest to connect to the audience, to the half-assed songs that frankly seemed like a ten year old wrote them (“no time to sleep, no time to eat, trying to make money!” Really?!), a Great Big Pile of Leaves is an act that deserves as little recognition as the effort that they give.


Posted in music reviews | 2 Comments

A Separation of Fashion and Music, Please?

It started off innocently enough.

First, there were baby tees — you know, the kinds with Beatles song lyrics imprinted on the front next to photographs of Abbey Road or of John Lennon’s somber stare. Then, the revolution started — t-shirt makers (and hoodie, sweatpant, and bag) makers across the world cashed in on making merchandise with popular bands as a selling tool. The Strokes, the Smiths…heck, I can get Lady Gaga’s (hopefully, sans the prosthetic horns) on an otherwise plain shirt from Zara for under $25 bucks.

Okay, so it's KIND OF cute.

Don’t get me wrong, I always thought fashion and music worked off one another for inspiration (anyone remember that scene from Clueless where Cher got dressed to David Bowie’s Fashion? No? Well, I do!) but when does music become fashion and fashion become music? When the two combine, it’s hard to make the distinction, yet there should be some sort of line…right?


Case in point: one of my dearest friends, who I shall call Jelly Bean for the sake of her identity, and I decided to go shopping. While on our quest to find a pair of espadrilles that didn’t look like grandma shoes, we somehow ended up in Hot Topic (purely for the laugh factor, I assure you). While browsing the dimly-lit and somewhat dingy store (if you’ve been to the one in Staten Island Mall, you know what I’m talking about), I heard an over-excited shriek that sounded far too inhuman to be emitting itself from an all-too-human body. I immediately flounced over to examine the cause for such alarm to myself, and then she held up a shirt that, frankly, I don’t have the words to describe accurately: black, save for the neon imprint of a face that looked like a cross between a kitty and an alien, with the words “KE$HA” in metallic blue scrawled over the cat/alien/person’s eyes. The shirt itself was shapeless and made of a thick fabric.

In all meanings of the word, it was hideous.

“So, do you like it? Isn’t it awesome?” Jelly Bean exclaimed, holding the shirt up proudly.

“Um, do you even like Ke$ha?” I refrained from stating the obvious — that I’d rather wear a plastic bag than get near that thing.

“No, but I like the shirt! What does it matter if I listen to her or not?” was J.B.’s ever-so sensible reply.

Let’s assume that the shirt was, indeed, not horrendous-looking. Was it right, though, that Jelly Bean wanted to buy a so-called “band shirt” (the cashier at Hot Topic’s words, not mine) of a band that she doesn’t even listen to? Doesn’t that destroy the whole point, then, to walk around like a walking billboard? Hypothetically, if you don’t make the distinction between “good” music and “bad” music, it still shouldn’t matter — band shirts are only meant to be worn by fans of the band, not by someone that randomly decided that they like the shirt. False advertising, people.

For the record, Jelly Bean didn’t buy the shirt. The $20.50 price tag for essentially a printed Hanes undershirt deterred her.

Thank God.


Posted in Music Rant/ love song | 4 Comments

Divya Gugnani Proves the Ancient Belief That Sexy Women DO Eat.

Jars of Kusmi tea. Half-full bottles of Hypnotiq. A pipe that serves as a makeshift closet. Books with titles like “Farm Food” and “New American Table” perch atop shelves that appear ready to topple under the weight. Framed covers of the Wall Street Journal and promotional pictures sit atop a file cabinet, waiting to be hung. No, this is not the well-stocked kitchen of a Michelin-star rated restauranteur — rather, it’s the office (and bedroom, living room, and dining room) of Divya Gugnani, author of Sexy Women Eat: Secrets to Eating What You Want and Still Looking Fabulous and CEO of Behind the Burner.

CEO and acclaimed author aren’t the only two things on Gugnani’s resume. In addition, she was also an employee of Goldman Sachs, voted a 2010 Game Changer by The New York Enterprise Report, and received an award as one of the Top 50 Outstanding Asian Americans in business. She’s also on the Board of Directors for New York Entrepreneur Week — and she’s not even 35! With an MBA from Harvard and a degree from the French Culinary Institute, Gugnani has a portfolio to make any Wall Street-er jealous. However, she did find her one true calling, and it wasn’t cash-flow analysis or checks and balances — rather, it was her love for food.

“I reached this point when I couldn’t stop thinking about food,” says Gugnani, “I knew I wanted to start a business where I could share my best tips, tricks and recipes for food, wine, mixology and nutrition, and put them in bite-size videos, blogs, articles, recipes…and then, I just started doing it.”

Gugnani didn’t leave her full-time job just yet, however. Rather, while working at FirstMark Capital, she began to compose recipes and blog posts and putting them up on Behind the Burner, along with interviews with world-renowned chefs and behind-the-scenes looks of some of Manhattan’s most famous restaurants. Eventually, NBC got a whiff of Gugnani’s culinary website, and reached out to her to film a segment — and, as Gugnani proudly puts it, BTB “has been running ever since.”

It didn’t end there. In 2008, Gugnani was approached by Harper Collins, and initially, she pitched an idea for a book about her favorite recipes and tips and tricks for the kitchen. However, her editor had better plans, and instead, suggested that she write a book about her life.

“I said ‘this is crazy, I don’t want to write a book about myself!’” Gugnani exclaims with a laugh, “and then she said to try out a few sample chapters, and I just sat down at home at night and I wrote a couple chapters and my editor liked them and I sat down on my parents’ kitchen table — which was the perfect place for inspiration because snacks were nearby — and then I just wrote it, wrote it in two and a half weeks.”

The inspiration from her parent’s kitchen table was always a place dear to her heart. As a child, Gugnani fondly remembers coming from a “food-loving family” and having a grandmother that cooked day and night and two fully-stocked refrigerators that would sometimes get so filled up that the leftover food would have to be stored in the trunk of the car.

Divya herself!

“We’d wake up in the morning and at breakfast, we’d talk about lunch; at lunch we’d talk about dinner, and at night we’d marinate our minds and get up the next morning and start the process all over again.”

With a childhood that embraced a love for all things delicious, and a future that only gleams brighter, what are some tips that Gugnani can offer on living a healthy and fabulous lifestyle?

“It’s important to have a positive relationship with food, and if you have a craving and you just really want it — it’s okay to have it!”

Posted in Food | 3 Comments

Amber is Exactly Why You Should Never Judge a Book by It’s Cover.

There’s several things I have come to expect at any Japanese restaurant I have the pleasure of dining at — slightly tangy miso soup, succulent sushi, and, most importantly, attentive service. At Amber, I got none out of the three.

Amber, located on 27th and 3rd, appears promising at first — seemingly two stories tall, with a bar that takes up the vast majority of the first floor, and cozy but cramped seating on the second. Even the website seems high-end: entirely in Flash, it boasts features like an online menu and online ordering, while rotating HD quality pictures of the decor and various meals that get me salivating.

However, my awe ends there.

The coupons on the website date back to last year — which would’ve been excusable (hey, maybe they just haven’t gotten around to updating?), but for being placed so prominently at the top of the page, it’s a mistake that’s difficult to overlook. The “About Us” page was full of typos, and the reviews from Yelp and MenuPages (which they also feature prominently on the site) are mixed at best. Not impressed, but I still decided to give this place a shot. It just looked so good in pictures.

As me and my group entered the restaurant (with a reservation made a week prior), the hostess took no time to seat us — right in front of the door, which would force one of us to constantly have to get up and move his chair with every person that chose to enter or exit the restaurant. We complained, and were then seated to a much more comfortable booth upstairs that would’ve been infinitely more uncomfortable if the restaurant was even slightly more packed. The music, which transitioned from Japanese elevator melodies to Katy Perry, did little to spice up the atmosphere. Frankly, given the options, I’d rather eat in silence.

The menu was fairly extensive, boasting dishes that weren’t exclusive to Japan, like pineapple fried rice, pad thai, and Indian pan friend noodles (all $7 on the lunch menu). The sushi menu was average, with classic favorites like California Roll and Shrimp Tempura ($9 on the lunch menu) but was far too expensive for the unnaturally small size and the mediocre taste of the roll. Unlike a vast majority of other Japanese cuisine I’ve come to sample, the rolls were not presented with a flower or some sort of food art alongside the plate — rather, they were placed on a glass plate as unceremoniously as the food I put in my cat’s dish.

Not impressed.

While until then, I could give Amber a mediocre rating at best, what really drove me wild was the service (or rather, lack thereof), at this excuse for an overpriced Japanese restaurant. We had to wait a good ten to fifteen minutes for our water glasses to be refilled, and only at our constant prodding of the waitress. Also, she completely forgot about the group’s miso soups — which would’ve been excusable if the soup didn’t taste like boiled water sitting at room temperature for the last hour. We weren’t asked on our enjoyment of the meal, or if we’d like any dessert; the only time we were treated with any enthusiasm was when we received the check.

Overall, Amber is most definitely a restaurant that deserves to be overlooked, especially with hundreds of far more worthy Japanese restaurants in close proximity to Baruch College and at a much more reasonable prices with infinitely better service. All in all, two very disappointed thumbs down for this hot mess.

Posted in restaurant reviews | 2 Comments

An Arts Engine Media Propeller

Arts Engine is a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization created to promote and distribute the works of independent media artists. Designed to foster interest in the development and consumption of independently produced films, Arts Engine works hand-in-hand with the independent filmmaking community to expose both educators and the general public to forms of small-studio media that would be otherwise unavailable or unnoticed to those not explicitly seeking it. In their words, Arts Engine seeks to assist “…independent media makers [in] fac[ing] the dauntless obstacles in their efforts to introduce new perspectives into public debates.” These obstacles, AE notes, stem from the increasingly consolidated media outlets available to the mass market — be it in film, television, or radio.

Originally, Arts Engine consisted as the creative organization of filmmaking duo Katy Chevigny and Julia Pimsleur. Independent documentary markers themselves, Chevigny and Pimsleur developed Arts Engine and its subsequent partnerships to both publish their films and provide an outlet through which other independent media makers could share their ideas and get exposure for their works. Arts Engine’s film production sister, Big Mouth, has published 7 films and has won “prestigious awards, gain[ed] national recognition, and … reached audiences in the millions.” In addition to Big Mouth, AE also conceived, a website dedicated to the promotion of social activism through indie filmmaking. MediaRights has archived over 7,000 films and has even spawned its own creation, Launchpad, a “youth-focused initiative” on developing and expressing ideas through personal media creation.

Arts Engine relies heavily on the ease-of-access that the internet and other virtual environments provide in distributing and making public materials for both the world of education and the casual, concerned consumer. For Arts Engine, the internet allows for a massive forum of discussion otherwise unavailable or impractical without the help of inexpensive communication that recent decades have produced. In addition to easy distribution, the internet has helped Arts Engine connect filmmakers with donators, via their Fiscal Sponsorship programs. Burgeoning filmmakers can make use of AE’s large audience to help find potential sponsors, and can even create their own 501(c)(3) non-profit organization in an effort to produce and distribute their films.

AE relies on both independent film distribution revenue as well as donations from a wide variety of businesses, individuals and production companies interested in the distribution of alternative media. Arts Engine’s widespread berth is immediately apparent after viewing their Funders and Supporters list: such prestigious donors as the Rockefeller Foundation, HBO, Sundance and even TimeWarner (as well as a myriad of others) have donated to the cause of independent filmmaking.  In addition to the online and brick-and-mortar distribution of films, AE has worked in conjunction with PBS’s “POV” and “Independent Lens” to show films to a television audience.

Arts Engine’s direct involvement with the independent media movement places it in an interesting and powerful position as the medium through which many social issues are spread through the art of independent documentary. In this especially turbulent and corporate-minded age, it is comforting to know that there is still a group concerned with the views of those who, due to inaccessibility of  larger publishing funds, would  be otherwise left abandoned. AE’s mission to fund, publish, distribute and discuss independent film and filmmakers sets it apart as one of the most impactful non-profits operating for the benefit of public media in existence today.


Posted in Independent Film | 4 Comments

WASP: What a Shitty Parent…right?


Wasp stings right where it hurts.

The film, set in the United Kingdom and directed by Andrea Arnold, focuses on a lower-class single mother, Zoe, that is having difficulty looking after her four children while maintaining a relationship with her former beau, David.

It’s easy to leap to the conclusion that Zoe is a failure of a mother – she considers packets of sugar an acceptable food choice, and has no problems cursing at her three daughters – but underneath her tough, no-nonsense exterior, it’s easy to forget that she is not much older than the people in the class, and still very much a young adult. What she lacks in class and parenting skills, however, she makes up for in maternal instinct; when her youngest, a chubby, delightful baby boy, is in danger, she leaps into action and goes into hysterics – as any parent I know would do.

However, while the film focuses on Zoe’s attempt to be a fitting mother, she is not the one that commands the screen. It is her oldest daughter that captures the attention and sympathy of the viewer the most, for she is the most motherly of the bunch and clearly looks out for her younger siblings before herself. The youngest daughter plays at the heartstrings as well – her baby doll in her makeshift carriage eerily echo her mother’s own attempts to take care of her youngest child – and sadly, the blonde little girl is infinitely better at it than her parent.

Interlaced with dark humor and a tale that doesn’t simply rely on sympathy for the flawed nature of it’s characters, Wasp is a film that is easily worthy of it’s Oscar title.

Posted in Independent Film | Comments Off on WASP: What a Shitty Parent…right?

To Wish Upon a…Condom?

"Just hold me."

To think of cancer as anything but a crippling and deadly disease that kills more people in the US than the entire population of Luxembourg is, well, just wrong. The life of a cancer patient is not a happy one, and cases like Michael Douglas’s triumphant defeat of the dreaded infliction are far and few. We all live in fear — and rightfully so.

All, that is, besides David, or so he would like us to think.

Wish 143, directed by Ian Barnes, stars Samuel Holland as David, a fifteen year old boy diagnosed with cancer that has a wish far less noble than one expects from a boy in his position — to lose his virginity.

The plot line is almost a mockery — if placed in the wrong hands, it can easily become a teen comedy that mocks the protagonist’s attempt to come-of-age rather than encourage it; however, Holland treats the character with a maturity that extends far beyond his years.

That’s not to say, however, that the film does not have moments of comic relief. While the film’s genie, a member of the British version of the Make a Wish Foundation, suggests that David would be better off meeting Gary Neville, or, perhaps, going to a film premiere, the boy insists on having sex with a naked woman — preferably on the hood of the car. His attempts to find a willing woman are valiant yet also hint at desperation that not only brings the laughs, but tears as well.

What sets this twenty three minute gem apart from the other Oscar contenders is that instead of using a younger protagonist to portray the fickleness of emotions at such a tender age, like rivals The Confession and The Crush, David is shown to be so sure of his actions and desires, and is every inch an adult in a situation where it is absolutely okay to be a child. He does not falter from what he believes is right — in this case, getting laid.

What ultimately won me over (and unfortunately, not the Oscar voters) was when David was finally given the choice to fulfill his wish with Maggie, a prostitute his father recommended. Instead of leaning toward the kiss and touch of actress Jodie Whittaker, David leans away from her, and in a rare moment of intimacy, he whispers:

“Just hold me.”

It was with this line that the film took a turn from being a dark comedy to the most touching and most revealing short films this reviewer has seen.

Wish 143 holds nothing back, and between each giggle and tear, formed an inseparable bond between viewer and character, one that forces us to find the David inside each one of us — flawed, chasing after unlikely goals, and, most importantly, hungry for a friend.

Posted in Independent Film, Oscar Shorts | 2 Comments

“Somewhere between Chinatown and God-knows-where…”

Short films are the biggest oxymoron ever.

How the hell is a short film decreed as “short”, anyway? By comparison to a so-called “long film”?

The mysteries of the Academy.

While short films are, for lack of a better word, short (yeah, I probably should’ve used the thesaurus on that one), they are forced to deal with elements that their two-hour-long cousins don’t have to encounter. For example, fifteen or twenty minute films have that much less time to create a bond between the character and the audience, and, well, if I learned anything in my screenplay writing class last semester, that’s damn hard. To force the viewer to feel for the character and sympathize with his or her feelings, trials, and obstacles all in less time than it takes to make it through the line at Shake Shack? If that’s not talent, I don’t know what is.

It was with this mindset that Kari Pulizzano and I ventured out from the way-too-hot hallways of Baruch and to the (gasp!) 6 train, where, being the optimistists (yeah, right) that we are, foolishly expected to end up at the theater ahead of time. We had about 45 minutes to get from 23rd Street to the Village — how hard can that possibly be?

The first leg of the trip went fine — the foul-smelling 6 took us to a stop somewhere in the deep south of Manhattan, where bums roamed and I couldn’t help but feel watched by the three cameras targeted at the tracks and all the junk and filth accumulated at the bottom.

Being the Staten Islanders and honorary Manhattanites that we are, we refused to ask anyone for directions, paranoid that we’ll be pointed toward a torture chamber or worse. Even HopStop has failed us, and deleted the directions that would lead us to safety. However, we were two Red Remington Red Riding Hood girls on a mission, and we were not about to back down in the face of potentially getting on the wrong train — which is exactly what we did.

We hopped on the next train we saw — a downtown B, and mused over our own success at outsmarting the New York City train system. Those feelings were short lived, however, as the conductor screechingly announced our demise:

The road to hell.

“Next stop, DeKalb Avenue.”

We bolted off the train as if the seats caught on fire, aghast at the thought of being in Brooklyn. Being logical (or, perhaps, missing sunlight), we ventured out of the train station and into Shanghai.

Somewhere in the back of our minds, we knew that we were in Chinatown, but with the combination of signs written in a language neither of us knew, and the fuzzy outline of City Hall (or perhaps the Great Wall of China) did little to comfort us.

I proposed walking, claiming that there’s no way we could be that far from our destination, but Kari, being infinitely smarter than I am, suggested a cab, which ultimately took us to our destination — a sex shop.

At first, we were puzzled beyond belief that this is where our professor wanted us to meet, but after a few quizzical looks, we marched on.

A beat up little theater surrounded by naughty lingerie and NYU Tisch grad students was not what I typically imagined Mecca, Nirvana, or Heaven to be like, but it sure came pretty damn close.

Moral of the story? “A journey is a fragment of Hell.” (Bruce Chatwin)

Posted in Oscar Shorts | 5 Comments

Money Does Not a Good Short Film Make


Drawing a distinction between a D.I.Y. film and a film laden with sponsors is kind of like comparing a mansion in Southhampton to a Victorian in Williamsburg – while one may have the good looks and bells and whistles of a well-oiled machine, the other has charm and plenty of silly moments intertwined with sharp dialogue and rough edges.

With D.I.Y. independent films, you can’t help but feel that you’re as much a part of the show as the actors themselves –  I could just see “The Bearded Three” cracking up after their implied fight scene behind the scenes, and something about that just feels much more personable than having  Jaime Murray spew dialogue at me – which, I must admit, she’s significantly better at than either Mina or, really, anyone in Inverted World. That’s not to say that the home video feel of Inverted World is any less, well, perfect than Good in Bed, which was sponsored by Lifetime — rather, what I felt Good in Bed’s biggest problem was that it was absolutely unrealistic (because in what sort of reality does a guy like Eddie McClintock get a woman like Jaime Murray?) and it was hard to find their situation personable and relatable. Yes, the failed marriage aspect worked, but it was difficult to like either character,  and the overabundance of downright cheesy lines (“Sometimes I miss the things I hate about you”? Really?) make it difficult to take the short film seriously. However, the acting chops of Murray and McClintock were an easy disguise for less-than-stellar dialogue and plotline for some:

“I like the Lifetime movie more, because I could sense her feelings because she portrayed them very well.” said Diana Coats, a student.

Short films, like cars and like houses, filter through two categories for me – one being the charming, home video-esque films that reek of both charm and wit, while the others, the ones that get the financial backing to be able to afford actors like Shannon Doherty and Jaime Murray tend to have lackluster appeal – frankly, I’m not charmed by a fancier set or by a better camera.

Posted in Independent Film | Comments Off on Money Does Not a Good Short Film Make