August 02, 2010

Plus, a new book about Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor’s torrid love affair, Best Coast’s latest and greatest LP, and non-traditional vacations involving tree hotels and biking along the Nile.

Laura Linney’s The Big C
Laura Linney is of the “€œit’s the work that’s important”€ school of celebrity. The Emmy-award winning (and Oscar- and Tony-nominated) actress returns to the small screen this month with Showtime’s The Big C, a half-hour comedy that follows Cathy (Linney) a dutiful, repressed, 42-year-old teacher, mother and wife in suburban Minneapolis who has advanced, incurable cancer. She decides against treatment, and more surprising, against telling anybody. So, as her priorities and behavior change, her tongue growing sharper and a rebelliousness taking hold, the people around her don”€™t know what to make of it, and both her transformation and their bafflement are played for laughs. (Yes, it’s a half-hour comedy.) Linney—who also serves as executive producer—plays the dueling tonalities to perfection. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that the ever-sexy Wire alum Idris Elba plays her love interest—Cathy’s husband is played in contrast by the remarkable Oliver Platt—either. Cynthia Nixon and Gabourey Sidibe round out the stellar cast, but the show, and nearly every scene in the show, rises and falls with Linney—if it stands up to her previous work, we expect something very, very good.

Burning Man, Black Rock Desert, Nevada, August 30 – September 6
If you haven”€™t heard of Burning Man by now, you”€™ve probably been living under a rock or on a cloud. Every year since 1986, people have been coming together in the Nevada desert to participate in the Burning Man experience. This is not your average festival, it is a participant driven event that has grown over the years into a community of over 45,000 people. Once a year devotees gather to create Black Rock City, dedicated to community, art, self-expression, and self-reliance. One week later the participants head back to their lives having left no trace of their weeklong revelry, but taking with them the lessons and experiences of life on the playa, as the pop-up city is called. While there, the sites and sounds are marvelous enough to impress even the most sophisticated aesthetes. Art installations, art cars, theme camps, outrageous costumes, and the best part of all, no cash to carry, everything is free but the $300 entrance ticket. First timers shouldn”€™t be fooled however, and are advised to read the survival guide, or face the consequences of being ill-equipped to endure the extreme conditions on the desert floor. Choose your passion and your poison, as well as your camp, camping gear, or rec vehicle carefully, and don”€™t forget to bring a bicycle, the chosen mode of transportation in Black Rock City. Stay a week or a day, and don”€™t miss the big event, when everybody gathers to watch the Burning Man go up in flames.

Crazy For You
Bethany Cosentino of Best Coast wears whatever she thinks is comfortable (not so much fashionable) and doesn’t smoke weed when she writes (or performs). True to form, her debut album with partner Bobb Bruno—a mix of Beatles-ish drums, Ramones-ish guitars, Phil Spector-ish vocals—is simple, catchy, and pleasure-packed. So the smart-ass, lovelorn lyrics never get much deeper than “Want to kill you but then I’d miss you,” but it’s modern and classic, full of girl-group tunefulness and alt-rock snarl, sixties- and nineties-sounding all at the same time. Crazy For You is the rare LP you’ll play on repeat—and your grandparents will love too.

Furious Love: Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton, and the Marriage of the Century
There is perhaps no romance, live or fictitious, more compelling and tumultuous than that of Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor. Not that Furious Love is the first to chronicle said fascinating affair, but the new book does shed light on the lovers’ influence on our now-ubiquitous celebrity culture—and, more intriguingly, 40 of the many love letters Burton sent Taylor over the years. Authors Kashner and Schoenberger write that Italian film director Federico Fellini actually coined the term paparazzi (literally, insects) to refer to the hordes of photographers perpetually swarming around the two stars. But unlike, say, the reality stars today, Burton and Taylor weren’t so much famous for how they lived—but what they did, and how well they did it. Their love had an almost epic quality, in that it made their art better; sure enough, when they broke up, both stars were somehow diminished. Still their love lasted: In 1984 Burton—who had since remarried—wrote a final love letter to Elizabeth in Los Angeles. Home, he said, was wherever she was, and he wanted to come home. The next day Burton broke a long period of sobriety, got into a bar fight, and struck his head on the floor. He went to bed complaining of a headache, never woke up, and died of a cerebral hemorrhage. Taylor found Burton’s last love letter for her when she came home from visiting his grave; it has remained on her bedside table ever since. Say what you will, but it doesn’t get more tragically romantic than that.

Life During Wartime
A sequel of sorts to Todd Solondz’s satirically named film Happiness—that 1998 roundelay of murder, pedophilia, and obsessive masturbation—Wartime rejoins the characters a decade later to see if their lives have improved. They have not. In true Solondz form, in fact, Wartime is suburban horror at its finest. Working with an entirely new group of actors (a trick like the one he employed in 2004’s Palindromes, where he cast eight dramatically different types to play the female lead), Solondz reunites us with the magnificently screwed-up Jordan sisters, this time played by the terrific Allison Janney, Shirley Henderson, and Ally Sheedy. Like all of his films, Wartime teeters, sometimes excruciatingly, between emotional extremes. This tightrope can make audiences squirm with discomfort, but its creator is never deliberately cruel; Solondz assumes a degree of sophistication on their part that few directors dare to trust. Bleak and angry, this story has the power to slide into your psyche and be embraced or rejected according to how well it meshes with your own experiences. But rest assured: amid all the deadpan drollery and social unease, the sheer skill of the filmmaking comes as a welcome relief. Wartime was shot in Puerto Rico by the amazing Edward Lachman, who also photographed Far from Heaven and I’m Not There, and is spiked with moments of stunning beauty.

Ka-Pow! The World’s First Coffee Bar
Let it be known, Ka-Pow! The world’s first coffee bar is here, and queer, so get used to it. If you thought Starbucks had the monopoly on coffee to go, think again. Now you can get your java fix in a bar without the hassle of a cup, cup-holders, or scalding hot liquid. You can eat this puppy on a bike or a train, even a plane. This baby goes through airport security. Hell, you can munch on it all day, at the office, on a trek, or in a submarine. Gone are the days where you need to make a coffee run. Just stock up, and take it with you wherever you go. Don”€™t be fooled by its looks. This is not a chocolate bar, this is pure, single origin coffee. Made from Oregon’s finest roasters. One can choose from Stumptown Coffee Roaster’s Costa Rica Verde Alto, or Heart Roaster’s Brazil Sao Benedito, amongst a handful of others. So run out and get your Ka-Pow bar, you won”€™t be disappointed.

Egypt Bike and Sail
Curling up with a book on the beach might be one’s ideal vacation, but if you’re looking for something adventurous and unheard of, look no further—you can now bike your way down the Nile. Thanks to Doug Lofland’s determination to get through all that red tape and reverse Egypt’s antiquated rules, you can now see the nile—all of it—by bike. Fly from Cairo to Luxor International Airport, where you’ll meet up with your guide, get outfitted with a bike, and tour the sprawling Luxor Temple built in 1400 B.C., replete with Sphinxes, colossi (giant pharaoh statues), and the famous red granite obelisk. Over the next few days, you’ll hit the Valley of the Kings, Temple of Queen Hatshepsut, Colossi of Memnon, Edfu Temple, and Monastery of St. Simeon, among other unforgettable sites. Not a cyclephile or camper? Fear not. Rides are suited to your ability; groups are limited to five people per guide; and a support van stocked with food, water, and a medic (just in case) always trails along. You”€™ll rest easy every night aboard your home for the week: a gussied-up river cruiser with oversize cabins, queen-size beds, marble bathrooms, and two balconies overlooking the serene river.

Gainsbourg (Vie Héroïque)
The hype on this feature film based on the graphic novel by Joann Sfar, who also wrote and directed the film is on the rise, and well-deserved. Though Gainsbourg doesn”€™t have the following Johnny Cash or Ike Turner had, he certainly has global cult appeal, which might make this as big as Walk the Line was in 2005 for Cash. The release follows a slow posthumous (Gainsbourg died in 1991) rise in Serge Gainsbourg’s popularity in France and abroad. Starring Eric Elmosnino, Kacey Mottet Klein, and Lucy Gordon (who killed herself last year), Gainsbourg was released in France at the beginning of the year, and focuses on the much publicized relationship of the French singer songwriter with Jane Birkin.  The film can be cringe-worthy at times, but that’s what makes it so good. Of course, discovering the ordinary reality behind our icons can be a huge disappointment, but at the very least, one comes away from this film certain that Serge Gainsbourg was one of the most extraordinary artists of his time.

Blue Boy, Saint Remy de Provence, August 6
He’s been asked to make appearances in Singapore and Australia, but next week you can catch him in St Remy, France. His handle is Camden Town Blue Boy, and he attracts a crowd faster than the scene of an accident. The boy’s identity remains a mystery, and he hopes to keep it that way, though probably not for long, as the young thespian is exceptionally talented for his age. Blue boy’s routine was an accidental hit, but his appeal is gathering followers on youtube, and his dance moves are nothing short of mesmerizing. The act started when he wore his blue body suit to the newsstand, and people took notice. He then decided to take it one step further, wearing it out to his local market on a busy weekend. Whether or not we will ever learn the identity of Blue Boy remains a mystery, but this young man will certainly pop up soon in other guises on stage and screen. Stay tuned…

Tree Hotel, Sweden
What will they think of next? Now you can escape into Sweden’s new Tree Hotel next time you want to get away from it all, or simply get back to nature. Disappear into the invisible mirror cube hung from a tree trunk that only birds can see, or into one of five other hotel rooms suspended high above the forrest floor. The quirky eco-hotel launched this month with six rooms designed by five different architects, and turns your average tree house into a wholly wild experience. Not only has the Tree Hotel taken incredible measures not to impact the surrounding environment, coating the mirror room in an infrared film visible only to birds (to stop them from crashing into it), it has taken the concept of luxury design, and brought it to the natural world. Tourists eager to see the northern light or the midnight sun can take a holiday to this unique location in an untouched forrest not far from the arctic circle. Be sure to book ahead, there is already a lot of interest, and the other 20 rooms planned for the Tree Hotel have yet to be built.


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