trust (n): a firm belief in the reliability, truth, ability, or strength of someone or something
I have been thinking a lot about the word “trust” recently. Its dictionary definition reads as follows: “a firm belief in the reliability, truth, ability, or strength of someone or something.” The nominal form of the word has roots in Old English, Old Norse, and Proto-German. The words from which it has evolved are all unsurprisingly similar in meaning, beginning in the 13th century with roots in religion, and progressing into an umbrella term for all kinds of faith.
Of course, I think the subject of trust—either directly or indirectly—has been on the mind of many recently. Last month, Christine Blasey Ford, a professor and researcher in psychology at Palo Alto University and at Stanford University School of Medicine, testified during the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing regarding the appointment of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court. She alleged that Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her when they were in high school; she described her experience in detail, provided thoughtful and articulate answers to questions asked, and—true to her profession—accessibly and effectively dove into psychological and neuroscientific explanations of trauma, telling Senator Diane Feinstein that traumatic events can occlude “basic memory functions,” resulting in “the trauma-related experience [getting] locked in there whereas other details [can] kind of drift.” Blasey Ford, much like Anita Hill before her, was compliant and forthcoming, claiming simply that she was doing her civic duty and informing the American people of an unfit candidate for the United States Supreme Court.
Brett Kavanaugh, much like Clarence Thomas before him, was confirmed shortly after this testimony.
Trust calls for a belief in the “reliability, truth, ability, or strength” of someone or something. But what does it mean to really trust, and how does it manifest? Objectively speaking, Christine Blasey Ford checks all the boxes here: her testimony was reliable, she told the truth to the best of her ability (and had enough self-awareness and scientific understanding to account for moments when she was unable to do so), and she showed incredible strength. Brett Kavanaugh, by the dictionary definition, did not live up to Blasey Ford’s example. He was unreliable both in his temperament and his testimony: he lied under oath and also had what was essentially a tantrum on the senate floor. His ability has been questioned not only by the American people, but also by organizations such as the National Council of Churches, former friends and colleagues from Yale University (his alma mater), and several thousand law professors. Kavanaugh has not earned the country’s trust, yet he has it. He is not fit to be trusted (much less to serve on the United States Supreme Court), yet he is. It is disappointing, but not altogether surprising, that those in power are willing to put their trust in a man who does not deserve it, and revoke trust from a woman who does.
Throughout the whole confirmation process, our Senators (and our country’s system of justice) did not warrant trust. However, Christine Blasey Ford warranted trust, respect, and—above all—belief.
Ecco/HarperCollins, October 9, 2018
What if the speed of light was 25 miles per hour? What if we lived in “Flatland”, a world of two dimensions? What if you fell into a black hole? There is a whole genre of books dedicated to probing these mind-bending ideas about the nature of space and time—books written to bring complex mathematical concepts to eye level in terms of “what ifs.” However, what is harder to find, is the “how do” book. How do we know planets curve space-time? How do we measure the size of the black hole at the center of our galaxy? In fact, how do we even know there is a black hole at the center of our galaxy? Untangling the intricacies of designing experiments, taking measurements, and seeing a signal in the noise is more complicated and messy than a theoretical model. In Einstein’s Shadow, Seth Fletcher manages to weave these threads into a compelling narrative.
Einstein’s Shadow follows Shep Doeleman in his intrepid journey to build an earth-sized telescope to image the black hole at the center of the galaxy. The reader quickly finds out that this does not, in fact, involve building a Death Star-like outer-space contraption. Instead, this massive telescope requires the synchronization of radiotelescopes all over the world to get a view of that black hole from many points at once, creating a virtual telescope with a dish diameter equal to the distance between the observatories.
The undertaking of such a project is not as simple as asking for money and collecting data. Telescopes around the globe must be upgraded with state-of-the-art equipment and never before tested methods of data collection must be written. Time on the telescopes must be coordinated and the weather must cooperate in three to four different locations thousands of miles apart. Massive international consortiums of scientists must be organized and managed—by scientists with no formalized training in organizational management. Fletcher is attuned to the small absurdities that arise in this situation. “The minutes from their discussions convey the good-natured cluelessness of kids trying to start a rock band,” he writes of an early organizational meeting. “‘Perhaps we should keep a list of action items and take turns with writing minutes,’ concludes the first installment.”
Fletcher’s narrative ability shines as he describes the installation of an atomic clock in one of the many telescopes needed for this project. On its face, the process of moving a hulking piece of equipment from the first to the second floor of a telescope base seems so trivial as to not be worth a mention. However, Fletcher heightens the scene to an emotionally charged peak, laying out the nail biting process and the dire consequences of one misstep. From the slow-moving caravan up the side of the mountain to the lifting of the atomic clock by a slew of workers using rappelling harnesses and roping ladders together “as if to cross chasms in the Khumbu icefall” and swinging the atomic clock “Tarzan-style… cable to cable, across the open stairwell,” the reader is thrown in with the scientists, looking on with a bit of terror and a silent prayer. This is one of a thousand steps that must go right to create the earth-sized telescope, and in these moments the reader feels how precarious the scientific endeavor is.
The wonders of the day-to-day, mechanical work of getting a project of this scale off the ground were sometimes overshadowed by the people and politics involved. Fletcher’s focus on Shep casts the astronomer as the necessary hero of the story, the man shepherding a wily and complex idea towards execution—which wouldn’t be a problem if I didn’t find the man so unlikeable. Throughout the book, Shep seems in turn difficult, smug, and paranoid. These character failings are not totally lost on Fletcher, who describes Shep as “tightly coiled and intense”; but the broader view casts Shep as a difficult genius, whose larger than life personality is a necessary quirk of his innate intellect. As a scientist I’ve met enough smart, capable, communicative, and cooperative people that I have little infatuation with this pernicious trope.
Part of the draw of this work is its importance; these scientists are trying to get a look at the structure of our galaxy, and in the process see the inner mechanics of our universe. If that’s not grand, I don’t know what is. By focusing on the nitty gritty work of engineering and organization for this ambitious astronomical project, Fletcher brings a massive undertaking down to earth, in more ways than one.
This month, the Natural Selections Editorial Board bids farewell to Chew-Li Soh and Stephanie Marcus. We would like to thank both for their dedication and for helping Natural Selections to become what it is today.
Chew-Li joined Natural Selections in May 2016 as a Copy Editor and served as Associate Editor beginning in December 2016 where she has left a permanent mark on the Editorial Board. She leaves us this month to begin a job at BlueRock Therapeutics as a Senior Scientist studying stem cell therapies for regenerative medicine.
Stephanie joined Natural Selections in October of last year as a Copy Editor and served as Associate Editor from March to October 2018. She leaves us to focus her attentions on Women in Science at Rockefeller (WISeR) where she serves as the group’s president. She is looking forward to future collaborations between WISeR and Natural Selections.
We wish Chew-Li and Stephanie all the best. They will be greatly missed!
As the sun finally sets on summer heretofore possibly known as “the rainy season”, it’s time for the second of a three-part series, which examines the roles that are likely to feature in the Best Actor race. In recent years, the eventual Best Picture winner had its big reveal at the Telluride Film Festival. The films of that festival (August 31 – September 3, 2018), along with the Venice International Film Festival (August 29 – September 8, 2018), the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF, September 6 – 16, 2018) and, to a lesser degree, the New York Film Festival (September 28 – October 14, 2018), provide the majority of awards season fodder, and so begins the Oscar race. In fact, by this time last year, four out of five eventual Best Actor nominees were on the table following film festival premieres: Gary Oldman had become the frontrunner for Darkest Hour thanks to Telluride, the Sundance Film Festival gave us Timothée Chalamet (Call Me by Your Name) and Daniel Kaluuya (Get Out), and TIFF
gave us Denzel Washington (Roman J. Israel, Esq.).
Daniel Day-Lewis (Phantom Thread) would follow in December after his film’s premiere in New York.
Before we peel back the layers of this year, let’s revisit the last one. Of the seven roles that were discussed here, four landed Best Actor nominations: Oldman, Chalamet, Washington, and Day-Lewis. From the outset, there was no stopping Oldman who after a 36-year career in the industry had not yet won an Oscar. The only person who gave him any chase was Chalamet who was never going to win because of his age and newbie status. And so, the veteran handily defeated the newbie.
As for the other performances discussed here, Christian Bale (Hostiles) was the only one left out in the cold, with Kaluuya taking the fifth slot. But Bale returns this year (see below). As for the others, the ship sailed on Hugh Jackman’s chances for a nomination when The Greatest Showman failed to deliver and Jake Gyllenhaal’s Stronger did not have enough support to make it a contender.
This year, we have someone I would refer to as a frontrunner but its early and I am not willing to cash that check just yet.
THE ROCKSTAR: Bradley Cooper – A Star Is Born (director: Bradley Cooper)
FYC: You have no doubt heard about the latest rendition of this timeless tale of love and stardom in which a musician (Cooper) helps a young songstress (Lady Gaga) rise to the top as his own career descends into darkness through his addiction.
With a current Metacritic Score of 88, it seems the fourth time is the charm for this version of the film. For a full summary of the other films’ brushes with Oscar, see last month’s column. Suffice to say that only the original (1937) had a Best Picture nomination, and the last time the film earned nominations for its stars was in 1954 (Judy Garland and James Mason). Cooper is mesmerizing as Jackson Maine—a man who spent most of his life on the road running away from his demons. The last time Cooper featured in the column was in November 2012 when the actor was first nominated for Best Actor for Silver Linings Playbook—the same film that would nab Jennifer Lawrence her best actress trophy. Back then, Cooper was mostly known for his work in The Hangover film series, and that film marked the point where Hollywood began to take him seriously as an actor. The following year Cooper was nominated as Best Supporting Actor for American Hustle and the year after that he earned his second Best Actor nomination for American Sniper, which also netted him an Oscar as producer. As for his Oscar chances this year, Cooper has the trifecta: he is overdue for a win, the film is playing like gangbusters, and he’s great in the film. The only thing going against him is that a Best Actor nominee has only won twice for a film that he directed himself: in 1949 when Laurence Olivier won for Hamlet and most recently in 1999 when Roberto Benigni won for Life is Beautiful. In fact, it is far more common in such a case for the nominee to win for directing the film: five out of 10 times. The remaining three instances, the nominee didn’t win either award.
THE VEEP: Christian Bale – Vice (director: Adam McKay):
FYC: This biographical film stars Bale as Dick Cheney who rose from a bureaucratic Washington insider to the most powerful Vice President in America’s history, forever reshaping the country and the globe under president to George W. Bush. Bale won the first time he was nominated for his supporting role in The Fighter in 2011. He has since been nominated for Best Actor in 2014 for American Hustle and Best Supporting Actor for The Big Short in 2016. Based on the trailer, Bale appears to give a transformative performance something he did for The Fighter, where he lost 60 lbs. In Vice, he has packed on more than 40 lbs. But in a time when many are in dismay over the political climate, is anyone interested in revisiting another dark time in this country’s history?
THE SPACEMAN: Ryan Gosling – First Man (director: Damien Chazelle):
FYC: Chazelle’s much anticipated follow-up to La La Land is a biographical drama based on James R. Hansen’s book First Man: The Life of Neil A. Armstrong and centers on the legendary Apollo 11 mission that led Armstrong (Gosling) to become the first man to walk on the Moon in 1969. Gosling was nominated for Best Actor in 2007 for Half Nelson and again just last year for La La Land—the same role netted him the Golden Globe award for Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy from the Hollywood Foreign Press Association (HFPA). This win followed four other Golden Globe nominations, including two in the same category: Lars and the Real Girl (2008) and Crazy, Stupid, Love (2012), and two in Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture – Drama: Blue Valentine (2011) and The Ides of March (also in 2012). Although Gosling will likely be nominated for his performance as the famous astronaut, the role is not showy. What’s more, if Leonardo DiCaprio’s long history of being overlooked by the Academy for a win is any indication, Gosling likely faces the same difficulty due to his own pretty boy status.
THE PHILANDERER: Hugh Jackman – The Frontrunner (director: Jason Reitman):
FYC: This biographical drama based on Matt Bai’s book All the Truth Is Out: The Week Politics Went Tabloid chronicles the rise and fall of American Senator Gary Hart’s 1988 presidential campaign when he is caught in a love affair. Although Jackman was nominated for Best Actor in 2013 for Les Misérables, most of his awards recognition has come from the HFPA who first nominated him for Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture – Comedy or Musical in 2002 for Kate & Leopold. He won that Golden Globe award for Les Misérables and earned a third nomination in the category this year for The Greatest Showman. The film faces the same uphill climb as Vice but additionally, Jackman’s role here is a departure from the others he has been recognized for because it is neither comedic nor musical in nature.
THE CONVERT: Lucas Hedges – Boy Erased (director: Joel Edgerton):
FYC: The coming-of-age drama based on Garrard Conley’s 2016 memoir of the same name follows the son of Baptist parents (Hedges) who is forced to participate in a gay conversion therapy program. At 21, Hedges star has only begun to rise but he already has a Best Supporting Actor nomination under his belt for 2016’s Manchester by the Sea. In 2016, the same performance earned him recognition across several precursor awards as he earned nominations from the Broadcast Film Critics Association (BFCA) and Screen Actors Guild (SAG), and won the Breakthrough Performance – Male from the National Board of Review (NBR). He was also nominated for the British Academy of Film and Television Arts EE Rising Star Award. Landing a spot in the top five may prove difficult for Hedges though because he has a second performance in contention for Ben is Back, which could work against him.
THE DRIVER: Viggo Mortensen – Green Book (director: Peter Farrelly):
FYC: In this film, a New York bouncer named Tony Lip (Mortensen) drives a Jamaican-American classical pianist (Mahershala Ali) on a tour through the 1960s American South. Mortensen has earned two Best Actor nominations, the first in 2008 for Eastern Promises and the second just last year for Captain Fantastic. He also has Golden Globe, BFCA, and SAG nominations for those films. Mortenson has a Supporting Actor Golden Globe nomination for 2011’s A Dangerous Method and a third BFCA Best Actor nomination for 2009’s The Road. Green Book’s status as the People’s Choice Award winner at TIFF makes the film a serious Best Picture contender, which only helps Mortensen’s bid for Best Actor. The last six films to win the award went on to be nominated for Best Picture.
THE SINGER: Rami Malek – Bohemian Rhapsody (director: Bryan Singer):
FYC: This biographical film is focused on front man Freddie Mercury (Malek) and chronicles the years leading up to Queen’s legendary appearance at the Live Aid concert in 1985. Malek is best known for his work on television’s Mr. Robot for which he has two Golden Globe nominations for Best Performance by an Actor in a Television Series – Drama and two SAG nominations for Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Drama Series, both in 2016 and 2017, respectively. Bohemian Rhapsody marks Malek’s first leading role in a major film, and regardless of its mixed critics reviews, notably for historical inaccuracies, there has been unanimous praise for his performance. It is important to note that unlike Gosling in La La Land, Malek lip-synchs throughout the film, which could impact his chances for a nomination as the awards season progresses.
THE POLICE OFFICER: John David Washington – BlacKkKlansman (director: Spike Lee):
FYC: This biographical dramedy, based on Ron Stallworth’s memoir Black Klansman, follows Stallworth (Washington), an African American police officer from Colorado Springs who sets out to infiltrate and expose the local Ku Klux Klan branch. Washington is the son of Oscar winner Denzel Washington and he only has eight acting credits to his name. Still, he is brilliant in this film as he deftly walks a tightrope between comedy and drama—all under the umbrella of a topic that carries as much relevance in America today as ever before: racism. This is to say nothing of the how Lee has used past events to amplify those in recent history, thereby delivering one hell of a powerful impact, which will likely be recognized in awards season and pull newcomer Washington along for the ride. But regardless of what happens in the awards race, Washington’s career is just beginning, and this film will forever mark a dark time in this nation’s history.
As always, there are more actors in the hunt for Oscar this year than I have the space to discuss. There’s Willem Dafoe’s turn as Vincent Van Gogh in At Eternity’s Gate—he has more than enough goodwill leftover following his Best Supporting Actor nomination for The Florida Project this year. Given that the film has the most Gotham Award nominations, including Best Feature and Best Actor, could Ethan Hawke breakthrough for First Reformed, which saw its release back in May? Or could the Academy swing the other way and recognize Robert Redford for his final performance in The Old Man & the Gun or Clint Eastwood for his late-breaking performance in his own film The Mule? Other performances from leading men to consider include Stephan James for If Beale Street Could Talk, John C. Reilly for Stan & Ollie, and Steve Carell for Welcome to Marwen. With the fall film festivals in the rearview, it’s time for the critic groups to weigh in and for a consensus to build. Until soon, Oscar watchers!
If you can’t wait for Thanksgiving to have a slice of pie, you can go down to the diner at the Brooks Atkinson theatre to get yourself a piece of pie in a jar. Waitress has been dishing up jars of pie and slices of musical joy since the spring of 2016. Before every show, pie is baked fresh in the lobby so that you are greeted by the intoxicating smell upon entering to prepare you for the baked goodness ahead.
This movie–turned-musical follows the empowering story of Jenna, a waitress in a small town pie diner who sees baking as a way to escape from her unhappy marriage. I love that a theme of this musical is the excitement and hope of new beginnings, and even more so, that this show has a history of giving actors a chance to make their Broadway debut. This was the first musical that Sara Bareilles wrote the music for and later starred in as Jenna. Katharine McPhee from Smash and American Idol also made her Broadway debut in this role, as well as Nicolette Robinson from The Affair. Katie Lowes from Scandal made her Broadway debut in this show as Jenna’s friend and coworker, Dawn, as did Kimiko Glenn from Orange is the New Black. In addition to giving many women their Broadway debut, Waitress also made history by having the first all-female creative team for a Broadway show. Some guys have also had their first chance to be on the Great White Way in Waitress: Jason Mraz had his Broadway debut as the doctor in this musical, and the latest celebrity addition is Al Roker in the role of Joe, an older man who owns the pie diner.
Celebrities aside, the talent runs deep in this cast and the music will bring you joy for days to come with Bareilles’ earworms. But Robinson and Roker announced that they will be extending their run at Waitress until November 18, so you still have time to see them in action and enjoy some pie in a jar before the holidays (you won’t regret getting the salted caramel chocolate).
You also won’t regret going to see Waitress this month because you will have the opportunity to help Waitress win a competition against the other shows. It’s not for a Tony, but it’s extremely valuable; twice a year an organization called Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS hosts a friendly competition between the shows to see who can inspire their audiences to donate the most, often with a brief auction for signed memorabilia held directly after the show. In the organization’s own words from their website, they help “men, women and children across the country and across the street receive lifesaving medications, health care, nutritious meals, counseling and emergency financial assistance.” They are one of my favorite places to donate money to because I have full confidence that it will be used well to support individuals in the arts community when they need it most. So enjoy some pie, help some artists, and have a great start to the holiday season!
Discount tickets available:
– $40 Day-Of Rush at the Box Office
– Day-Of TKTS booth in Times Square
– Ahead of date with code: http://www.playbill.com/discount/playbill-discount-for-waitress
Chris Marhula of the MacKinnon Laboratory and Alicia Sicangco, Clinical Research Nurse at the Rockefeller University Hospital, will both be running in this year’s New York City Marathon on Sunday, November 4! Spectators can gather along the route to cheer on participants as they run 26.2 miles through all five boroughs, beginning in the morning in Staten Island and finishing in Central Park. Miles 16 to 17 run along First Avenue near the University, making this a convenient spot to watch the race. For further information, check out https://www.tcsnycmarathon.org.
Collette Ryder announces a concert from the New York Choral Society and NY Choral Chamber Ensemble, “My Shadow and My Light” on Monday, November 12 at 8:30 p.m. at Carnegie Hall. In honor of the 100th anniversary of the end of the First World War and the 80th anniversary of Kristallnacht, this concert features the works of three early 20th century composers, two British and one American, who composed pieces expressing their deeply personal reactions to the social and political environment of their day. Tickets are $30-80 (https://www.nychoral.org/events/nychoral-presents-my-shadow-and-my-light/).
Santa Maria Pecoraro Di Vittorio brings us another concert at Carnegie Hall—the season opener for the Chamber Orchestra of New York. On Friday, November 16 at 7:30 p.m., conductor Salvatore Di Vittorio will open with Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto No. 5, followed by Di Vittorio’s own Baroque-inspired Sarabanda Antica. The evening will continue with the world premiere of the June Naxos recordings, followed by Vivaldi’s Bassoon Concerto RV477, and Marcello’s Oboe Concerto. The program will conclude with Mozart’s ever popular Serenade in G Major Eine Kleine Nachtmusik. Tickets are $40-50 (general admission online discount code: CNY29834 / students at the door: $30). Further information can be found online at https://www.carnegiehall.org/calendar/2018/11/16/chamber-orchestra-of-new-york-0730pm.
Bernie Langs shares the release of his recently recorded medley of “Just My Style” (by Al Capps, Thomas Lesslie “Snuff” Garrett, Gary Lewis, and Leon Russell) / “Do You Love Me” (by Berry Gordy) with music and singing performed by Bernie Langs and Matthew Murphy providing additional vocals. Check out this release on SoundCloud at https://soundcloud.com/bernie-langs/just-my-style-do-you-love-me-b-langs-feat-matt-murphy.
Gretchen M. Michelfeld, from Rockefeller’s Office of General Counsel, announces the online release of the feature film, As Good As You, on which she worked as screenwriter and executive producer. This film is “…a serious comedy about trying to grieve the right way…” and was the winner of the Hollywood Reel Independent Film Festival’s 2016 “Best LGBT Feature”. As Good As You is now available to stream/buy/rent at http://firstrunfeatures.com/asgoodasyouhv.html.
Email Megan E. Kelley at firstname.lastname@example.org to submit your art/music/performance/sporting/other event for next month’s “Natural Expressions” and follow @NatSelections on Twitter for more events.
Concert Review: Paul Simon at the Prudential Center (Newark, NJ), September 15, 2018
By Bernie Langs
Singer-songwriter Paul Simon completed his farewell tour with an outdoor concert in Queens, New York on September 22, 2018, close to where he and his former musical partner Art Garfunkel grew up together in the 1950s. The duo joined forces in the 1960s creating hit records as Simon & Garfunkel and acrimoniously splitting in 1970 at the height of the band’s fame. Garfunkel has a fabulous voice, hitting and sustaining high harmony and lead vocal notes that few can attain in the pop/rock genre, but Simon wrote most of the band’s hits and played a mean and creative acoustic guitar on songs such as “Mrs. Robinson” and “The Boxer.” Simon’s voice is wonderfully rich and unique and he’s a masterful composer and arranger, but in the same way that Eric Clapton had many great records after he left his Cream bandmates in the late 1960s, both he and Simon could never maintain the unique fantastic sound they had as a member of a group during that turbulent decade in musical history.
I saw Simon perform at Newark’s Prudential Center one week prior to his final bow in Queens. The artist informed the crowd that although it is well-known that he grew up in New York, he was actually born and spent the very early days of his life in Newark. Simon has always had an amiable persona and has hosted Saturday Night Live many times over the years, often appearing in self-deprecating skits and showing off his natural wit and humor (see his infamous opening bit where he is dressed as a turkey for Thanksgiving while crooning his song, “Still Crazy After All These Years”). I jumped at the opportunity to see Simon in concert after viewing video of his brief reunion tour with Garfunkel—they have yet to speak again according to many sources.
Simon played many of his solo hits as well as those from his days in Simon & Garfunkel and each song was a delight for different reasons. He had a back-up band of about fifteen musicians, featuring virtuoso guitarists Mark Stewart, who played with Simon on the prior tour with Garfunkel, newcomer Biodun Kuti, as well as Bakithi Kumalo, who is a smooth bass guitar master running complex lines that are easy on the ears, yet technical wonders. The band’s lineup included drummers and percussionists, string, woodwind, and horn players, and a bevy of back-up singers. The group performed as a miraculously tight unit amid the complex arrangements. Simon’s solo career is an homage to world music, showcasing African and Latin textures throughout his compositions. In the international mode, the band tore through crowd-pleasing renditions of “Diamonds on the Souls of Her Shoes,” “Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard,” and the grooving, reggae-inspired “Mother and Child Reunion.”
For me, the hits from the 1960s that Simon performed throughout the evening were the highpoints. The performer’s voice was unexpectedly strong for a 77-year-old man and he did not shy away from challenging vocal phrases and high notes, which he hit each time. He retains a knack for making his guitar playing stand out as both accompaniment and lead. Simon took time during the show to tell anecdotes, reminisce, and discuss the emotions surrounding his retirement from touring. He never mentioned Garfunkel by name, who flew by in only a handful of photos in the highlight film reel of his career. When Simon performed their music, the oft-times melancholy tunes took on greater significance, not just for the star himself as a farewell, but as a moment of finality for the music of the 1960s. Simon opened the show with “America,” a hit from 1968 that could have served as the thinking man’s hippie anthem. “The Boxer” was released in 1969 and it was played in Newark as a dark, yet celebratory poem on the subject of the unexpected and unending turbulence of life and love. As the emotional tone and tide rose during the lamenting chant sung by the backup singers at the end of the song, Simon’s acoustic flairs finally relieved the crowd from its grip and we were brought back to calmer waters by his instrument’s marvelous ringing, bright tone.
Near the halfway point, Simon told the audience that the next song was one he’d known immediately on composition as a more exceptional creation. He explained how he’d given it away to another artist to record and would now play his own rendition. The joke, we realized as the tune began, was that the song was “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” a huge hit for Simon & Garfunkel, sung solo on the record by an emotionally expressive Garfunkel until Simon enters later with dazzling background harmonies. At the Prudential Center, the composer reclaimed his song, and the new arrangement with Simon on lead vocals was not only the best moment of the evening, but among the top performances I’ve ever heard live. I was absolutely stunned by how “Bridge” built and towards the end I became completely overwhelmed by the music. Perhaps the Sixties and its promised utopian nonsense, which I’d bought into, were now long gone and deservedly recognized as idealistic, unrealistic dreaming? Perhaps my musical heroes were now too often appearing in the obituary section than in the arts section? Perhaps Simon, Mick Jagger and Paul McCartney were old men—not the youthful powerhouses who had had wowed us decades ago as they swept millions of people into the clouds with promises and sounds of sweet song? But as “Bridge” finished up, and later as the artist played the final song of the evening, “The Sound of Silence,” alone with his acoustic guitar, I knew that Simon’s music was as strong and powerful as ever and he had absolutely proven that the soul survives.
“What about ‘Spooktacular’?”, “I like spooky scientists!”, “What about something with CRISPR?”, “Oh! I got it ‘CRISPR Gone Wrong’!”—and that is how, in the back of yellow cab, Donovan Phua came up with the theme for this year’s Halloween party. Each year, the first year graduate student class organizes the Rockefeller University Halloween party. A group of highly qualified party planners (wink!) were chosen from the first year class to organize, plan, order, and set up for the party. Just as every other year, the party took place in the famous Faculty Club with a chill bar set on the patio outside. The party planners created fun activities for kids and adults alike, including pumpkin DNA extractions during the kids’ hour, and a costume contest for adults. Beautiful, original pumpkin carvings designed by the first years were on display during the Halloween party, which took place on October 26. Hopefully you didn’t miss it! In the words of one party planner, Mari Soula, “It [was] lit!”
Alcázar of Seville
In the middle of the capital of Andalusia is a royal palace, well protected by tall, thick walls: the Alcázar of Seville. Across centuries, more elements were added to the exterior. Getting lost in this charming maze of lovely patios will make you travel further than Spain!
Mental Illness Awareness Week (MIAW) falls on the first full week of October, meaning that this year it will occur October 7-13. MIAW was established by Congress in 1990 after the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) pushed to increase public awareness about mental health and illness and to reduce stigma in talking about mental health issues. In 2018, NAMI is promoting the theme of CureStigma to get rid of the environment of shame or fear that prevents individuals from seeking help. There are several other days in October further dedicated to the focus on mental health in our society. World Mental Health Day falls on October 10 with the emphasis this year on young people and mental health in a changing world. Recent previous themes include mental health in the workplace (2017), psychological first aid (2016), dignity in mental health (2015), and living with schizophrenia (2014). Furthermore, October 11 is National Depression Screening Day, and October 9 is National Day Without Stigma.
The goal of these October events is to increase awareness about mental illness, promote community outreach and public education, advocate for treatment and recovery, and fight stigma that prevents people from seeking help for mental illness. At the Rockefeller University, we have the chance to do that too. Rockefeller has many resources available to those struggling with mental health, if one just knows where to look. One common complaint I have heard from the campus community is that these resources may be hard to find, so I have worked with Human Resources to compile this list below:
- Dr. Nisha Mehta-Naik
Private confidential sessions on-site in OHS, HOS118.
Tuesday and Thursday, 9 a.m. – 5 p.m.
Call x8414 for an appointment.
- Weill Cornell Psychiatric Center
315 East 62nd Street, 5th Floor
Monday – Friday, 9 a.m. – 5 p.m.
$15 copay (RU Choice and RU Managed Care Plans)
20% coinsurance after deductible (Oxford Plan)
- Employee Assistance Program Consortium
409 East 60th Street, Room 3-305
Monday – Friday, 9 a.m. – 5 p.m.
On-call therapist available after hours
Occupational Health Services
OHS serves to promote a culture of physical, mental, and emotional wellness. Two nurse practitioners and an occupational health nurse are available to help with any stress you may find yourself dealing with. The office is located in HOS 118 for drop-ins, or call x8414 to schedule an appointment.
Mindfulness Practices for Stress Reduction
Tuesdays, 12pm or 12:30pm, RRB110; September – May
Stress is one of the biggest contributors to poor health. Its effects can cause physical illness, damage relationships, and negatively impact work performance. Mindfulness meditation is a means to reduce stress, boost the immune system, improve attention, and promote well-being.
To help manage stress through healthy eating habits, the University offers a nine-month lecture series and one-on-one nutrition counseling sessions. The series begins in the fall.
This is a seven-week series throughout the year designed to focus on different parts of the body. The fall series begins September 10, 2018 in the Great Hall, Welch Hall.
Beginner Class at 12 p.m.; Intermediate Class at 1 p.m.
Must register at x7788.
Tuesdays 12pm – 1pm. Meet at Security booth at 66th Street.
Step away from the stresses of your day and walk or run with a group or solo at your own pace. See Tim Blanchfield, Fitness Manager, for more information.
Exercise is also vital for maintaining mental fitness, and it can reduce stress.
Located on the 6th floor of Founders Hall, from free weights to cardio equipment and classes, the gym contains several options to fit everyone’s fitness needs. For more information and to find classes you may be interested in, click here: http://inside.rockefeller.edu/hr/aboutGym.
Stressed over childcare?
Bright Horizons offers backup daycare for when your regular arrangements are unavailable. They have center based and at-home care available. Call 877-BH-CARES for more information.
Stressed over Eldercare?
Bright Horizons offers assistance in finding a home health care provider. Call 877-BH-CARES for more information.
Retirement Planning – A TIAA representative is available on-site to discuss your personal financial situation. This includes discussions about saving for college, purchasing a home, etc. while continuing to save for retirement.
Saving for College – Applying for college can be stressful, but what about paying for college? The University offers you the option of payroll deductions for the NY State 529 plan. Find out more at www.NYsaves.org. Additionally, the University offers tuition reimbursement for fulltime staff employees.
While most of these resources are available to students, post-docs, faculty, and employees at Rockefeller, the options may differ based on your position or immediate needs, so please reach out to Human Resources if you are unsure which option would be best for you.
We do have fantastic resources available at Rockefeller, but from my experience, some students are hesitant to use them. Cost should not be a factor, as the psychiatry services available are either free or a small co-pay. Some people are afraid of their mentor or peers finding out that they are struggling, as this may affect the perception of them as a scientist. As a community, let’s break the stigma of being able to talk about mental health. Mental health is just as important as physical health and Rockefeller is working hard to foster an environment of overall well-being for its community. Academia can be a highly stressful place in which to work, especially if one lacks encouragement from a superior or peers. The university is a place where support can come from many levels that all contribute to the current and future success of its trainees. One of the most protective things that I have found for my own mental health is feeling a sense of community, both inside and outside of the lab. So look out for each other, find things to engage in that you are passionate about, and take advantage of the resources Rockefeller has to offer. This is how we will set up trainees to be successful, productive, and satisfied.
With another academic year underway and Halloween at our heels, what better time to see Harry Potter and the Cursed Child? In this two-part play, the Hogwarts students that we came to know so well through J.K. Rowling’s seven book series now have kids who are attending the same school of witchcraft and wizardry and having their own adventures.
Like many Potter fans, I picked up the script when it was published, hoping for a nostalgic hit of the magical world from my childhood. And like many fans, I was disappointed with what I read because it didn’t have the feel of J.K. Rowling’s writing, making it easier to start nitpicking at the plot and some character developments. I still knew I was going to see the show because I’ll see anything Harry Potter related, but I had reservations. Would John Tiffany and Jack Thorne’s script be translated to magic on the stage? Or would it feel like a commercial cash cow? Did it need to be two shows?
The most affordable way to see the show is by entering the Friday Forty on the TodayTix app. Every Friday from 12:01 a.m. until 1 p.m., you can put in an entry for the following week’s shows, and then they contact the winners between 1 p.m. and 5 p.m. that same Friday. New blocks of tickets are released every few months from the box office if you want to avoid paying marked-up resale prices, but you might have to wait a few months for your date. However, another Broadway secret to getting a ticket to a nearly sold out show is cancellation lines. The show’s popularity and the day’s weather usually determine how early people start forming a line at the box office for cancellation tickets. These are tickets that are returned to the box office on the day of the show; the box office will sell these tickets to the first person in the cancellation line as the tickets are returned. Most cancellation tickets aren’t sold until minutes before the show is about to start, and frequently these are center orchestra tickets at face-value. The number of returned tickets fluctuates every day (though rainy days tend to have more), and this is not a guaranteed option. You could wait all morning and go home empty-handed.
This was the option I decided to go with to see the show this summer. I always bring something to read with me to pass the time, but I’ve also had many wonderful experiences meeting new people in theatre rush or cancellation lines because everyone already shares a common interest in the show. There is also often a sense of camaraderie in waiting so you can pop out of the line to get food or coffee or find a restroom. This summer, I got in line around 9:30 a.m. and about five minutes before the show started, I was called into the box office to get a ticket that was ten rows from the stage, directly in the center of the theatre for face-value. Still a splurge, but definitely worth it.
My reservations about seeing the show quickly vanished as I watched the magic unfold on stage. The costumes are stunning and the staging is impressive. Even the carpets around the theatre are on theme; the Lyric Theatre was specifically redone for $33 million dollars for this production, and it shows. They even have a cafe inside where drinks, sandwiches, and snacks are surprisingly available for prices that may be cheaper than what you can find around Times Square otherwise. This play is promoting a #KeepTheSecrets social media campaign that encourages people who have seen the show to not reveal the visual effects and moving moments so that everyone who comes to see the play can share the same experience, even those who have read the script. I want to respect that tradition, so I will avoid sharing details. But I will say that the acting and staging dramatically change the experience of the story from just reading the script, and the visuals are some of the most impressive I’ve ever seen on stage. I found myself being more drawn into the themes of how PTSD affects parenting (because how could Harry not have PTSD) and how being raised by people of fame changes childhood more than I was when just reading the script. So if you’re coming to see the original book series or movies on stage, you might be disappointed, but if you let a new story be told in the same realm you are familiar with, you’ll get your hit of nostalgia with a great day of theatre. Does it need to be two shows to tell the story? Probably not. Does it need to be two shows to let you soak in the magic that theatre and Harry Potter can pull off in just a few hours? Probably.
Kelvin Droegemeier, November 19, 2014. Credit: Wikimedia Commons
On July 31 of this year, Trump nominated Kelvin Droegemeier, a meteorologist, for Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. This position has been vacant for 19 months since Trump took office, an unprecedented length of time. At this time, Droegeimeir will need to be confirmed by the Senate.
Droegemeier, age 60, was born and raised in Kansas, and earned a bachelor’s in meteorology from the University of Oklahoma in 1980. He received a master’s in atmospheric science in 1982 at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, and then a Ph.D. in the same field there in 1985. That same year, he joined the faculty at the University of Oklahoma and became their Vice President of Research in 2009.
Most of the work over his career has been developing ways to use computers and other technology to predict severe weather events, particularly for businesses. He has been active with the National Science Foundation (NSF), a government agency that supports scientific research and awards grants. In 1989, he started the NSF’s Center for Analysis and Prediction of Storms. He was that Center’s director from 1994 to 2006. In 2000, he started his own private company, Weather Decisions Technologies, which now has offices worldwide. He founded the Engineering Research Center for Collaborative Adaptive Sensing of the Atmosphere at the NSF in 2003. He was that center’s deputy director from 2006 to 2012. He was appointed to the National Science Board, which oversees the National Science Foundation, and acts as advisors to the president and congress, in 2004 and 2011, under both Presidents George W. Bush and Barak Obama, and was the board vice chairman from 2012 to 2016.
At the University of Oklahoma, Droegemeier created the Sasaki Institute to develop “application and knowledge, policy and advanced technology for the mutual benefit of the government, academic and private sectors.” He also established a supercomputing center there. According to his biography at the National Science Board, Droegemeier has more than 75 journal articles and book chapters, and over 200 conference publications. He has worked as a consultant to several companies, including American Airlines, Continental Airlines, Honeywell, as well as with the National Transportation and Safety Board. He is currently Oklahoma’s Secretary of Science and Technology and on a state committee to encourage the growth of private weather companies.
Last year, Droegemeier wrote an editorial to the Des Moines Register encouraging federal research funding. “Though the benefits of short-term savings in the yearly federal budgets may be appealing, they result in insidious, long-term consequences…. Our country is losing ground rapidly to other nations…Due to underfunding, we risk losing an entire generation of researchers… Balanced, predictable and stable funding, is essential for the United States to remain a world leader in research and a translator of research outcomes into practical products and services that benefit all of our citizens.”
Reactions to his nomination by his peers have been positive. John Holdren, Ph.D., a previous director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy, called Droegemeier “a solid choice.” He said that Droegemeier was a serious climate scientist and advisor. Kei Koizumi, who previously worked with Droegemeier, while working at the Office of Science and Technology Policy, said that “He is an excellent scientist, communicator, and public servant, and therefore a superb choice to be the next director of OSTP.” Roger Wakimoto is the President of the American Meteorological Society and has known Droegemeier for many years. He said that Droegemeier “has often been the voice of reason with indisputable and comprehensive facts at congressional hearings and other venues….I give him my unqualified support.”
So far, during his Senate committee hearings, Droegemeier has strongly supported keeping science free of political influence and sexual harassment. He said that having researchers from other countries is an important part of science, but should be done “with care”. He has avoided a response when asked about climate change. Droegemeier is expected to have his full Senate confirmation hearings starting the last week of September.
- The process, function, or power of perceiving sound; specifically : the special sense by which noises and tones are received as stimuli
- a : Opportunity to be heard, to present one’s side of a case, or to be generally known or appreciated
b (1): a listening to arguments (2): a preliminary examination in criminal procedure
c : a session (as of a legislative committee) in which testimony is taken from witnesses
- chiefly dialectical : a piece of news
Over the course of the past year, activism has erupted around topics that have slowly but steadily been creeping into the public consciousness. In the era of activism surrounding the #MeToo movement and Black Lives Matter, hearings—as well as the absence of them—have been permeating the news. Trials and convictions for the shooting of unarmed black men and women, as well as those for cases of sexual harassment and assault, have been both present (in frequency) and elusive (in the follow through). Notably, most recently, and what sparked my curiosity about the word “hearing,” has been the four-day Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearings for Brett Kavanaugh, the slated replacement for Justice Anthony Kennedy on the United States Supreme Court.
During these hearings, Senators questioned Kavanaugh regarding his stance on various political and legal issues that would affect his time on the bench. At a base level, this process is consistent with the second definition listed above: a hearing is the “opportunity to be heard, to present one’s side of a case, or to be generally known or appreciated.” It further defines a hearing as “a listening to arguments” or “a session (as of a legislative committee) in which testimony is taken from witnesses.”
Based on this definition, a hearing takes a conceptual step away from the simple nominal form of the word “hear” and adds on the process of listening for the purpose of making a decision. The process of explicitly connecting the simple act of listening to the law took about three hundred years, starting as early as the 1200’s. In the early 13th century, the verb “hear” was defined as “the perception of sound by ear,” or “the action of listening.” Originating from the old English heran, it also meant “to obey, to follow; to grant, accede to,” and—most interestingly—“to judge.” In the 1570s, the verbal noun used in the context of the law surfaced, defined as “a listening to evidence in a court of law.”
It is clear from these definitions that the verb “hear” is not just a general awareness of sound. It is also referring to the perception and understanding of that sound, meaning the act of listening is intentional, not passive. When thinking about this definition in the context of the law today, and specifically in the context of Kavanaugh’s hearings, one must question whether this definition is truly applicable. Listening with the intent to understand does not seem to be a skill in the wheelhouse of many of our politicians. White House officials and Republican Senators alike have withheld hundreds of thousands of documents about Kavanaugh’s record; conversely, confidential documents have been leaked anonymously. Kavanaugh is supported by conservative Republicans almost exclusively, and opposed by Democrats almost exclusively. The Republican agenda to push him through to confirmation seems to be motivated not by a willingness to truly listen to the arguments of those who may suffer with another conservative judge on the bench (due to his stance on Roe v. Wade or his definition of birth control, for example)—ironically, in this regard, these politicians have turned a deaf ear.
Following the Venice International Film Festival (August 29 – September 8, 2018) and the Telluride Film Festival (August 31 – September 3, 2018), the Oscar race is unofficially (or officially, depending on with whom you speak) underway. In many ways, the last Oscar race took place during the year of the woman. For one, people across America took part in the Women’s March—widely considered the largest single-day demonstration in the history of the U.S. But for another, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS) tied a record for nominations of women set in 2016 by nominating them across most Oscar categories, including those traditionally dominated by men such as cinematography, directing or film editing. The official Academy tally shows that forty women received nominations in competitive, non-acting categories. Brava, but if the impending confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh to the highest court in the land is any indication, sadly there is a long, long, long way to go. So, let’s keep our attention on women and begin this first of a four-part series focused on the leading ladies of the Best Actress race.
Last year, we saw #OscarsSoWhite kept at bay for a second year in a row with people of color represented in the major categories, and of course, #MeToo was front and center with many stars wearing black at the Academy Awards in solidarity. I had asked in my first column of this series whether the Academy would shy away from the state of the nation under Trump’s thumb with their nominations or look him square in the eye. I would argue the latter based on how things shaped up. The critical reception of the films that will screen over the next couple of months will tell this year’s tale. For now, let’s examine last year’s Best Actress nomination results.
The Best Actress race saw Frances McDormand leading the field with her powerhouse performance in Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri as Mildred, a mother who goes on a warpath against the complacent police department in her small town who failed to solve her daughter’s murder case. McDormand went on to win the Oscar but not without competition from Saoirse Ronan, who plays the titular teenager in the coming of age drama Lady Bird.
Of the roles that were discussed here, only two secured Best Actress nominations: the aforementioned McDormand and Meryl Streep for The Post. Mother! was too divisive for Jennifer Lawrence to get her foot in the door, and Kate Winslet’s shot with Wonder Wheel went down along with helmer Woody Allen who became embroiled in the #MeToo controversy. Meanwhile, Emma Stone was overlooked for her remarkable portrayal of Billie Jean King in Battle of the Sexes, likewise Jessica Chastain as Molly Bloom in Molly’s Game. The Academy also couldn’t find room for Dame Judi Dench in Victoria and Abdul, likely because the film itself was a bit stilted. That left only Emma Thompson, whose film The Children Act was pushed to this year and fell out of contention. Instead, the last two slots were filled by Sally Hawkins (The Shape of Water) and Margot Robbie (I, Tonya).
THE RED QUEEN: Olivia Colman – The Favourite (director: Yorgos Lanthimos):
FYC: This biographical drama focuses on the behind-the-scenes politics between two cousins who compete to be court favorites during the reign of Queen Anne (Colman) in early 18th century England.
Most of Colman’s film accolades have been for 2011’s Tyrannosaur, which won the British Independent Film Award for Best Actress and the Sundance Film Festival’s World Cinema – Dramatic Acting award (shared with co-star Peter Mullan). However, most of her overall acclaim has come from television. All told, Colman has earned two British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) awards 1) in 2013 for two separate performances in Accused (Best Supporting Actress) and Twenty Twelve (Best Female Performance in a Comedy Programme), and 2) in 2014 for Broadchurch (Best Leading Actress), three additional BAFTA nominations for Best Female Performance in a Comedy Programme (Twenty Twelve in 2013, Rev. in 2015, and Fleabag in 2017), and a Primetime Emmy nomination for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Limited Series or a Movie. That’s a pretty lengthy list, but with critics singing Colman’s praise in Venice and Telluride for her performance in The Favourite , her list of film accolades is about to get much longer. There has been a lot of chatter about whether she or either of her two co-stars (Emma Stone and Rachel Weisz) is the lead in this Golden Lion nominee of the Venice Film Festival, so Colman could end up in the Best Supporting Actress category but a nomination seems inevitable.
THE FIRST-TIMER: Glenn Close – The Wife (director: Björn Runge):
FYC: In this drama, based on Meg Wolitzer’s novel of the same name, a wife questions her life choices as she accompanies her husband to Stockholm where he will receive the Nobel Prize for Literature.
Would you believe me if I told you that Close has been nominated for six Oscars but has never won? It’s true. Beginning in 1983 for her supporting role in The World According to Garp, Close earned three consecutive nominations in the category for The Big Chill and The Natural. She then earned her first of three Best Actress nominations in 1988 for Fatal Attraction followed by Dangerous Liaisons in 1989 and Albert Nobbs in 2012. Close is already receiving rave reviews for her performance, including my own:
“Glenn Close packs a perfect punch in The Wife. Her low simmer heating to a boil has never been better, and she is headed straight for the Best Actress Oscar race!” that combined with her perpetual bridesmaid status should be more than enough to land her in the top five.
THE MUSICIAN: Lady Gaga – A Star is Born (director: Bradley Cooper):
FYC: Yes, that Bradley Cooper. The actor has stepped behind the camera for the first time to tackle one of Hollywood’s timeless tales of love and stardom in which a musician helps a young singer and actress (Lady Gaga) find fame as age and alcoholism cause his own career to spiral downward.
This is the fourth time the film has made it to the silver screen. The first, in 1937 starred Janet Gaynor and Frederic March, both of whom earned Oscar nominations (six Oscar nominations and two wins, including an Honorary Oscar for W. Howard Greene’s color photography, Metacritic Score: 77). The second, in 1954, starred Judy Garland and James Mason who were also nominated for their roles in this musical version of the classic (six Oscar nominations, Metacritic Score: 89). The last version, in 1976, starred Barbara Streisand and Kris Kristofferson, neither of whom were nominated for acting (three Oscar nominations and one win for Streisand for Best Music, Original Song, Metacritic Score: 58). Forgive the pun, but critics from Venice to the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) have been going gaga over the latest version, and Gaga’s performance in particular. She has been nominated for Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures, Original Song for the documentary The Hunting Ground in 2015, and has found success as an actress on television winning a Golden Globe for Best Performance by an Actress in a Limited Series or Motion Picture Made for Television for American Horror Story just two years ago. The film is easily one of my most anticipated of the year, and with even skeptics falling for it, it looks to be a major awards contender this season (current Metacritic Score: 87).
THE WIFE: Viola Davis – Widows (director: Steve McQueen):
FYC: Set in contemporary Chicago, this heist drama based upon the 1983 ITV series of the same name, follows four desperate women who pick up the slack after their criminal husbands were killed and conspire to forge a future on their own terms.
Davis finally won her first Oscar in 2017 for Best Supporting Actress (even though her role was really a lead) in Fences. I suspect the category fraud was to make room for her in a crowded field. Davis was previously nominated for Best Supporting Actress for 2008’s Doubt and famously lost Best Actress for The Help in 2012 to Meryl Streep. She has also been a regular in the television awards circuit, receiving back-to-back nominations for Best Performance by an Actress in a Television Series – Drama for her role in ABC’s How to Get Away with Murder. This same role netted her a Primetime Emmy in 2015. Most recently, Davis earned an Outstanding Guest Actress in a Drama Series nomination for her crossover role on Scandal. One could argue that Davis is overdue for a Best Actress Oscar and reviews out of TIFF for Widows suggest this may be the role to do it.
THE COMEDIENNE: Melissa McCarthy – Can You Ever Forgive Me? (director: Marielle Heller):
FYC: Based on Lee Israel’s memoir of the same name, this drama tells the true story of best-selling celebrity biographer Israel (McCarthy) who resorts to forgery to revitalize her failing writing career.
McCarthy was nominated for Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role for Bridesmaids in 2012, a role that also netted her BAFTA, Screen Actors Guild (SAG), and Broadcast Film Critics Association (BFCA) nominations. In 2011, she won the Primetime Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series for Mike & Molly, a role she was nominated for subsequently in 2012 and 2014—both years where she earned double nominations for Saturday Night Live as Outstanding Guest Actress in a Comedy Series. McCarthy also earned nominations for SNL in 2013, 2016, and 2017 for her hosting duties, and a Golden Globe nomination for Spy in 2016 for Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture – Comedy or Musical. Here, McCarthy steps into the dramatic arena having built a successful career as a comedian, and following the film’s premiere at Telluride, many critics consider it the best performance of her career. It could very well be her ticket to a Best Actress Oscar, but could the roles of other women in the category be considered more important?
THE DETECTIVE: Nicole Kidman – Destroyer (director: Karen Kusama):
FYC: In this crime thriller, a police detective (Kidman) reconnects with people from a previous undercover assignment to make peace with her demons.
Kidman’s 35-year career is on an upswing. Last year she was nominated for Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role for Lion and just this year she won the Golden Globe for Best Performance by an Actress in a Limited Series or a Motion Picture Made for Television for Big Little Lies. She was first nominated for Best Actress for Moulin Rouge! in 2002 and won in that category the next year for The Hours. Kidman was also nominated for Best Actress in 2011 for Rabbit Hole. Following the premiere of Destroyer at Telluride, Kidman was lauded for her performance. Although a nomination is not out of reach, a win could be a bit difficult because the film itself is said to have some issues. Kidman is also competing against herself and may instead be nominated for her supporting role in Joel Edgerton’s Boy Erased.
THE NEWCOMER: KiKi Layne – If Beale Street Could Talk (director: Barry Jenkins):
FYC: Based on James Baldwin’s novel of the same name, this drama follows an African-American woman (Layne) who scrambles to prove the innocence of her fiancé, who was wrongly-convicted of a crime, while carrying their first child.
Jenkins’ last film Moonlight, featuring a cast of relatively unknown actors, took the world by storm when it won Best Picture in 2017 following what is now known as the worst flub in Oscar history: when La La Land was mistakenly announced as Best Picture at the Academy Awards. Moonlight was nominated for seven other Oscars, two of which it won: Best Supporting Actor for Mahershala Ali and Best Adapted Screenplay for Jenkins and Tarell Alvin McCraney, and included a Best Supporting Actress nod for Naomie Harris. Given the success of the film, all eyes were on Beale Street at TIFF, and early word is that it doesn’t disappoint, announcing Layne as a star in the making. The film, Layne’s first feature film, currently boasts a Metacritic score of 86, well within the realm of a Best Picture contender. Given what Jenkins accomplished with Moonlight, which is only his second film, could lightning strike twice?
THE WHITE QUEEN: Saoirse Ronan – Mary Queen of Scots (director: Josie Rourke):
FYC: This epic historical drama, based on John Guy’s biography My Heart Is My Own: The Life of Mary Queen of Scots, chronicles the 1569 conflict between Mary Stuart (Ronan) and her cousin Elizabeth I, who had Stuart imprisoned and facing execution for plotting to overthrow the Queen of England.
Ronan first earned a Best Supporting Actress nomination for 2007’s Atonement, and she has since been nominated for Best Actress twice: last year for Lady Bird and in 2016 for Brooklyn. Those same roles earned her BAFTA nominations as did her role in The Lovely Bones in 2010. The latter, along with Lady Bird, earned her SAG nominations, and she has been nominated in three different categories: Best Young Actress (Atonement, The Lovely Bones, which she won for, and Hannah); Best Actress: (The Lovely Bones, Brooklyn, and Lady Bird); and Best Actress in a Comedy: (Lady Bird).
Unlike the other films discussed here, this one has yet to screen so we don’t really have much to go on outside of Ronan’s stature in the Oscar field. But she looks very strong in the trailer and appears to showcase a lot of range. Ronan joins Amy Adams and Jessica Chastain as an actress who is likely to win at least one Oscar for her work—she just needs the right role at the right time. Could this be it?
The leading roles discussed here are a snapshot of safe bets as the Oscar race begins. There are many others to consider, including Claire Foy in Damien Chazelle’s space biopic First Man based on James R. Hansen’s book First Man: The Life of Neil A. Armstrong, which examines the life of Neil Armstrong leading up to the Apollo 11 mission that led him to become the first man to walk on the Moon in 1969. Foy has received raves out of Venice and Telluride for her performance and with the film a likely Best Picture contender, she should figure prominently this season. It will be interesting to see if Toni Collette can hold on for a nomination following the premiere of Hereditary at the Sundance Film Festival back in January. The last time an actress was nominated for a horror film was in 2010 when Natalie Portman won for Black Swan—a film that was originally seen as not “Academy friendly”. There’s also a shot for Felicity Jones who plays Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg in On the Basis of Sex, Carey Mulligan in Wildlife, Mary Elizabeth Winstead in All About Nina, and the aforementioned Thompson for The Children Act. Oh, and if it has an Oscar-qualifying run, Taraji P. Henson in The Best of Enemies.
Stay tuned in November when I examine the Best Actor race and the leading men that drive it.
Camila Cabello’s Havana Wows Pop Music
Photo: Sony Music Entertainment
The first time I heard the pop song Havana by Cuban-American recording artist Camila Cabello was on a radio tuned to one of my 20-year-old daughter’s stations. I was immediately floored by the the great groove and the unusually complex, smooth, and melodic vocals. I’ve lamented for many years that most contemporary rock and pop songs bounce back between two or three chords and depend on singing lines that border on the monotonous. I’ve also long held the opinion that the main concern in today’s music is tilted towards the emotional state of the lead singer, too often an expressive lament over a broken relationship or other adolescent issues that have long ceased to concern, amuse, or interest me. Therefore, as an old-school rock-and-roll geezer, my attention was pleasantly caught by Havana as it played that first time for me over the airwaves. When I got home, I located the song on Spotify and found it sounded even better on good audio speakers. My daughter popped into the room as I listened, informing me that she too loved the song, and suggested I find Cabello’s version in English, rather than the Spanish one I was listening to. I had been so transfixed by the entirery of the music that it didn’t register that I hadn’t comprehended a word.
Havana was released in the summer of 2017 and was composed by Cabello and nine other writers. But the magic, along with her fantastic singing, is in the tune’s brilliant production by Frank Dukes. Much of the song is done with just a few instruments, a minimalist and smart use of piano, horns, and creative bass playing. The bass line hits many wonderful lower fret notes, and they buzz and reverberate while remaining softly cool, calm, and completely unaggressive. Cabello’s voice is stunning, displaying multi-faceted and multi-dimensional textures and emotions. The lead vocal is powerfully up front in the mix, teeming with a Latin pop feel expressing sensuality and confidence, along with a big dollop of subtle and clever humor. In the sections with just a sparse piano and bass accompaniment, her singing is bold and forceful. Each time I listen, I look forward to two of her well-produced vocal twirls in the melody, nailed by Cabello with delightfully awesome wonder and beauty. Her multi-tracked backing vocals are best listened to with good headphones with the singing “placed” and separated by producer Dukes to the far left and right sides of one’s internal listening space, making it startling, fresh, and surprising every single time.
Soon after I fell for Havana, I read an interview with Cabello in Rolling Stone magazine and learned how she has deftly handled the social media attention and drama surrounding her leaving a girl group that we rock-and-roll geezers don’t give an old man’s hoot about. But she also spoke about choices and chances and more on the art and craft of music than many of her contemporaries about whom I’ve read interviews.
Last month, I hunted down the song’s video, which is truly clever, downright funny, and does justice to the song. I’ve since learned that the video won many music industry awards and has been viewed 680 million times on YouTube. Cabello plays several roles in the short film, and there is a telenovela-in-a-video, a family sage-in-a-video, and a movie-in-a-video in Havana as well as other unexpectedly funny turns. Cabello’s Spanish-speaking grandmother in the video is played by a bearded man wearing a wig and a nightgown and his heartfelt concern about Cabello’s lonely, homebound alter-ego makes you forget it’s a young man doing the worrying. There is a short rap break in the song performed by Young Thug that is tasteful and fits in well with the groove of the recording. Once again, the production makes the transition from Cabello’s singing to the rap a seamless one, and Young Thug’s appearance in the video works nicely within the framework of its many shifting themes.
Havana is the best song I’ve heard in twenty or thirty years. The only great rock and pop songs in recent memory for me have been by Joe Strummer and The Mescleros, which were composed and recorded between 1999 and 2002. Havana delights with each listening experience. As one who records and writes his own music, I find it inspiring on many levels, from composition, performance, and in cleverness and production. I hope to hear many more songs in the coming years from this young talent expressing her good vibes and playful humor. I recall that as a teenager in 1975, I read a music review in Rolling Stone by its editor, Jann Wenner, of a concert in Los Angeles by the Rolling Stones, which he felt was the best show of their entire tour at the time. The last line read something like, “For days I talked about it to anyone who would listen.” Since hearing Havana I am doing the same, telling friends, colleagues at work, and even random strangers just how great this tune is.
Cold Spring Harbor, NY
Where the trail ended there stood a handful of trees in a field, one seemingly impaled by the fragment of another. Under the chainsawed end of fragment there was a glinting light. Upon closer inspection, the light revealed itself to be a glass hemisphere, and when viewed from the right (wrong) angle, the hemisphere displayed a warning. Maybe not all that is intriguing deserves investigation.
One of the best ways that I know how to take myself out of lab life is to see live theatre, and I’m lucky that New York City offers an overwhelming number of options to do this affordably (though Hamilton ticket prices may have you fooled about this).
One of the aspects I love most about going to the theatre is the acute feeling that I am part of a connected community. As an audience member at a live theatre performance, you’re part of the experience in a way that is different than watching a movie or reading a book (pastimes I also enjoy and support!) because your attention and energy mix with those around you. This atmosphere affects the performers and the audience’s experience, for better or worse. One of my more memorable theatre-going experiences was seeing the final performance of The Color Purple revival in 2017. The Clintons arrived. The house shook with applause that never quite died down as each song about the female protagonist, rising above the oppression of the men in her life, unfolded on stage. Not every theatre experience is as emotionally charged as that one, but they all offer a chance to see life from a different perspective and with a unique group of people. In future posts, I hope to highlight shows I’ve watched on and off Broadway, but this time I want to give you tips for seeing theatre on a budget.
If you are a full time student, teacher, or faculty member (or other qualifying category), the Theatre Development Fund is your friend — https://www.tdf.org/nyc/24/Eligibility-Requirements. For just $35 a year, you will have access to dozens of theatre experiences in the city, many of them on Broadway. You can purchase tickets in advance for multiple people, and prices range from $9-49, with only a $4 processing fee. Hamilton and Wicked won’t show up through this service, but popular shows like Carousel and Hello Dolly have. You don’t find out where your seats are until you arrive at the theatre, but I’ve often lucked out with orchestra seats! Seeing Broadway on a budget is rarely going to get better than this.
Lotteries also offer a way to see a Broadway show inexpensively, but of course, you shouldn’t rely on winning to have plans to see theatre that night. Some shows like Mean Girls, Book of Mormon, and Once On This Island offer in person lotteries every day that are usually drawn two hours before the performance. In the last couple of years, many shows have begun to offer digital lottery options. Broadway Direct (https://lottery.broadwaydirect.com/) offers digital lotteries for Lion King, Aladdin, Spongebob, and Summer. The TodayTix app (https://www.todaytix.com/) currently offers the digital lottery for the Harry Potter play on Broadway. Also, shows such as Hamilton (https://hamiltonmusical.com/lottery/), Dear Evan Hansen (https://dearevanhansenlottery.com/), and Book of Mormon (https://www.luckyseat.com/book-of-mormon/) offer their own digital lotteries on dedicated websites.
If you have patience, rush tickets are also a wonderful budget-friendly option. Some shows restrict their rush policies by age or student status, but many are open for the general public. Rush tickets are sold when the box office opens (typically 10am Tuesday-Saturday and noon on Sundays), but you’ll want to get in line at least a couple hours before to better your odds. Each show has discretion for how many rush tickets they will sell on a given day, but you can usually count on around twenty tickets sold at the rush price. If you’re one of the first ten people on line, your chances are pretty good. Some shows have also started offering a digital rush in the TodayTix app as well, including shows at The Public Theater (https://www.publictheater.org/).
Speaking of which, don’t overlook seeing shows Off-Broadway! The houses are smaller so the shows are more intimate and the tickets are often more affordable. Student discounts or age-related discounts are also usually available if you ask the box office. I’d recommend checking out The Public (https://www.publictheater.org/), 2nd Stage (https://2st.com/), New World Stages (https://newworldstages.com/), Classic Stage Company (https://www.classicstage.org/), and the Atlantic Theatre Company (https://atlantictheater.org/) for starters.
There are also four TKTS booths around the city (https://www.tdf.org/nyc/7/TKTS-ticket-booths) that offer same day Broadway and Off-Broadway tickets at a discount. The seats are usually in the orchestra section, so you might still be paying more than $50 for a ticket, but your view will be great and it’s still cheaper than buying from the box office. The TodayTix app sometimes offers tickets for a discount compared to the box office, but not all the time so be sure to double-check!
This isn’t an exhaustive list of budget-friendly ways to see theatre in the city, but it should be plenty to get you started! Always get in touch with the show’s box office for the most accurate information on rush or lottery policies. And here’s a website that keeps up with the rush and lottery options for Broadway shows (http://www.broadwayforbrokepeople.com/).
Remember to be kind to the audience members around you by turning off your phones, unwrapping your candies, and keeping fidgeting and talking to a minimum during the performance. And of course, enjoy the show!