Archive | August, 2011

The aftermath of Hurricane Irene on Long Beach

30 Aug

By Chris Engelhardt

Long Beach residents took to the boardwalk Monday to see Long Beach Lifeguard Headquarters, which was knocked off its foundation and slammed into the boardwalk at National Boulevard during Sunday's storm.

Hurricane Irene made its way to Long Beach, New York on Sunday morning, causing flooding, power outages and downed trees, and rocked beaches across the barrier island.

On Sunday morning, Long Beach Lifeguard Headquarters at National Boulevard beach was struck by a tremendous wave surge and slammed into the boardwalk.

On Monday morning, Long Beach lifeguard personnel, as well as beach maintenance workers, came together to attend to the 24 beaches across the barrier island, collecting and disposing debris as well as re-standing 24 lifeguard chairs—each weighing 400 pounds—which were knocked down by strong wind gusts and waves on Sunday. Beach erosion was prevalent, according to lifeguard officials–two feet of sand was lost across the entire beach.

Below are a series of photographs taken of the aftermath of Hurricane Irene on Long Beach.

Long Beach Lifeguard Headquarters (left), which was forced off its wooden foundation (right) by Hurricane Irene. Credit: Chris Engelhardt

Credit: Chris Engelhardt

The inside of the first floor of Lifeguard Headquarters, which remained intact after Hurricane Irene. Credit: Chris Engelhardt

An overturned lifeguard chair at National Boulevard beach. Credit: Chris Engelhardt

Beach maintenance workers shoveling away sand from storage hangers on National Boulevard beach. Credit: Chris Engelhardt

The Allegria Hotel was subject to flooding after Hurricane Irene hit Long Beach. Credit: Chris Engelhardt

A major tree branch stranded on National Boulevard. Credit: Chris Engelhardt

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Gearing up for Red Hot Chili Peppers’ I’m With You

29 Aug

By Chris Engelhardt

The Red Hot Chili Peppers’ latest record, I'm With You, comes out Aug. 30. Credit: Scott Penner, via Flickr

Only one day remains until the release of the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ I’m With You, the band’s first studio release since 2006. The record, out on Aug. 30, was available last week via live streaming on the band’s website, and from the sound of things, will make for an impressive return for the Chilis.

On my first listen, I’m With You is certainly a more bass-driven record. Bassist Flea takes more of a front-and-center role for a number of songs with nuanced, funk-infused bass lines. Drummer Chad Smith turns up the volume on the drums, and lead singer Anthony Kiedis showcases an impressive vocal range while remaining lyrically creative and captivating.

Most notable, the record marks the debut of new guitarist Josh Klinghoffer, who joined the band after the departure of John Frusciante.  Klinghoffer, who studied under Frusciante (the two are close friends), is arguably the best replacement. Klinghoffer doesn’t have as strong a presence as Frusciante and, for me, isn’t as much an emotionally-driven guitarist either. But Klinghoffer is technically sound, and his style—very similar to his predecessor—works just fine.

From groovy bass lines (“Ethiopia”), to cowbell bliss (“The Adventures of Rain Dance Maggie”), to perfect harmonious instrumentation and spellbinding lyrics (“Brendan’s Death Song”),  I’m With You is refreshing, as well as exhilarating.

Movie Review: Crazy Heart

26 Aug

By Chris Engelhardt

Jeff Bridges goes country in Scott Cooper’s directorial debut. Credit: djp3000, via Flickr.

Crazy Heart encompasses good performances and both meaningful and upbeat music, but it’s a tiring tune that tries too hard to tug at the heart strings.

Crazy Heart is set in Santa Fe, Texas, where 57-year-old musician Bad Blake (Jeff Bridges) plays small shows at bowling alleys and bars. He’s a man who once had fame, fortune and loads of fun playing and living in the moment. But those days have passed. Now, he’s a washed-up—though still respected—has-been who smokes like a chimney and drinks himself sick all too often.

Things are unchanging for Blake until he meets Jean Craddock (Maggie Gyllenhaal), a journalist who wants an interview for her local newspaper. Blake embraces the opportunity, and it’s from there that we learn about the man’s story: his failed marriages, how he learned to play guitar, and how his songs are reflections of his life.

Along the way, Blake crosses paths with Tommy Sweet(Colin Farrell), Blake’s popular protégé who unintentionally outshines his mentor, and Wayne (Robert Duvall), a wise friend who provides Blake with guidance during his times of difficulty.

Scott Cooper’s directorial debut is a hit and miss. Crazy Heart, based on the novel by Thomas Cobb, was filmed in 24 days. Writer and first time director Scott Cooper takes us through the ups and downs of Bad Blake’s exhausted, empty life. And Cooper’s admirable decision to have concert scenes where Blake opens for Tommy (Bridges and Farrell are great together) filmed at a Toby Keith concert in Albuquerque only adds to the authenticity of the movie.

The length and pace of the film, however, are problematic. Crazy Heart is nearly two hours, and should have been shorter had Cooper refrained from constantly revisiting Bad Blake’s unhealthy habits. The rate of the story is also bound to leave some wearisome.

In addition, Cooper’s inability to allow certain scenes to be exquisite, and his desperation to move the audience,  result in those moments being blown out of proportion.

Jeff Bridges is impressive as country star Bad Blake, soft and whiskey voice in all. He renders a strong, sympathetic performance as a broke, frail and tender man whose only ambition is to abandon his tired, unhappy path and move on to a road of redemption. Bridges, who did his own singing for this film, sings his heart out, and every note he hits rings true.

But though Bridges is effective and entertaining, and Bad Blake’s mellow music provides for moving moments, the movie fails to work as a whole. Crazy Heart is a tune one might consider skipping.

Grade: C

This article was originally published on Suite101.com: http://www.suite101.com/content/crazy-heart–movie-review-a198691

Movie Review: It’s Complicated

21 Aug

By Chris Engelhardt

Meryl Streep stars in It's Complicated. Credit: Alan Light, via Flickr

There’s no question that relationships can be extremely complicated. It’s also fair to say that it can be difficult to observe couples when they aren’t at their finest.

It’s Complicated is an adult comedy about a complex couple that’s actually amusing to watch. The film, written and directed by Nancy Meyers (The Holiday, Something’s Gotta Give), is a pleasant picture that’s both funny and genuinely touching.

Meryl Streep plays Jane Adler, a successful businesswoman, loyal friend, and mother of three children. Unfortunately, Jane has the misfortune of coming face to face with infidelity when she is cheated on by her ex-husband lawyer Jake (Alec Baldwin). The couple’s divorce, after 20 years of marriage, has devastated the family, especially the children.

For comfort, Jane resorts to nights with wine and close friends. At this point in her life, she is, for the first time in a long time, on her own. She is husbandless and her children have all moved out of her home. In Jane’s mind, it’s the perfect time to re-model her house and to do what makes her happy. She calls upon a talented architect named Adam (Steve Martin) to get the job done.

But things aren’t quite set in stone. When Jake’s new marriage with his younger wife doesn’t turn out to be what he hoped for, he begins to long for Jane to be a part of his life again. It isn’t long before Jane is seduced by Jake and they engage in an affair. Adam, however, begins to take interest in Jane, and vice versa. Sooner than later, all three become involved in a convoluted love triangle.

It’s Complicated allows for a fun time at the movies. Nancy Meyers’ smart story focuses on a conflict that every couple is bound to face at some point: the conflict between logic and emotion, which makes the film all the more relatable and real. Meyers admirably avoids the typical, cliché romantic comedy dialogue and at the same time, keeps us invested in her characters.

Meryl Streep and Alec Baldwin make for a top-notch team. Streep is effervescent, Baldwin is a riot as the charming, smooth-talking Jake, and Steve Martin is perfectly fitting as the quixotic, warm-hearted Adam. The Office’s John Krasinski is hysterical as Harley, whose every one-liner is bound to evoke laughter.

It’s Complicated is fresh and easy to enjoy. Even though it can be a bit on the feminine side at times, both Baldwin’s demeanor and Krasinski’s natural likability make this movie a treat that’s worth seeing, even if only once.

Grade: B

This article was originally published on Suite101.com: http://www.suite101.com/content/its-complicated–movie-review-a195899

Movie Review: The Lovely Bones

21 Aug

By Chris Engelhardt

Director Peter Jackson. Credit: jasminhunter_photograph y, via Flickr

There’s little to say about director Peter Jackson’s latest film, other than it’s anything but lovely.

Jackson made a name for himself a decade ago with his Lord of the Rings trilogy. The last installment of the series, The Return of the King, won critical acclaim and 11 Oscars. But since then, Jackson has followed up with disappointing projects, including his 2005 remake of King Kong and, now, The Lovely Bones.

The story is set in Pennsylvania in December of 1973 and focuses on the Salmon family, which includes accountant and father Jack (Mark Wahlberg), mother Abigail (Rachel Weisz), and their three children. Their lives change forever when the eldest child, 14-year-old Susie Salmon (Saoirse Ronan), is murdered. But although Susie dies, she lingers in the in-between (located between heaven and earth). She watches over her family coping with her death, as well as her murderer, seeking revenge against him.

The screenplay, based on the novel by Alice Sebold, was written by Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens and Peter Jackson (writers of The Lord of the Rings trilogy as well as King Kong). The issue with The Lovely Bones is that it’s quick to start but drop-dead slow to finish. As the story draws on, our eyes draw heavy, and the film turns into an intolerable tale. Jackson takes us into Susie’s picturesque world full of beautiful, mind-blowing imagery. But while delightful the first several times, Jackson’s frequent—and sometimes trivial—scenes of other-worldliness soon become displeasing. The constant shifting of the story between the two worlds, the Salmon family on earth and Susie elsewhere, becomes boring and tiresome all too quickly.

Visuals aside, the only other highlight of the movie is Stanley Tucci’s performance as the eerie, disturbed George Harvey. Tucci is sensational as a man driven by his twisted desires to indulge in the destruction of others, who sits in silent isolation in his dark basement in contemplation of how to satisfy his unnatural cravings for human life.

As exceptional as Tucci is, though, The Lovely Bones is too dull and drawn out. Not to mention that the story takes an unexpected turn that is utterly absurd and unrealistic, and will leave any viewer with the slightest bit of common sense disgruntled and enraged. If Jackson and his team of writers had remained loyal to Sebold’s novel, and had not changed many of the details and sequence of events, this would have been an altogether different movie. It’s a shame how brittle Bones is.

Grade: D

This article was originally published on Suite101.com: http://www.suite101.com/content/the-lovely-bones–movie-review-a195442

Movie Review: The Book of Eli

21 Aug

By Chris Engelhardt

Denzel Washington stars in The Book of Eli. Credit: jasminhunter_photograph y, via Flickr

There have been plenty of post-apocalyptic films based on uncontrollable circumstances and natural disasters. But what if the world changed because of religion?

That’s the topic of The Book of Eli, directed by Albert and Allen Hughes (From Hell, Menace II Society). Denzel Washington stars as Eli, one of the few survivors of the “war” and protector of the last known bible. Eli makes his way through desolate lands, shadowed by lifeless skies, moving along with his mission. In a world of wickedness, rape, robbery and no authority, Eli relies on the one thing that no one else seems to possess— faith.

Eli’s mission, however, is in jeopardy when he crosses paths with Carnegie (Gary Oldman), leader of a shelter-town for survivors of the “war” that took place 30 years ago. Those who he provides for are sent out to search for a piece of literature he craves—the last holy bible. And when Carnegie learns that Eli is carrying the book, he’ll stop at nothing to obtain the word of God in order to manipulate people into doing his bidding.

The Book of Eli works because of its story. We never find out much about the “war,” but this comes as no surprise, especially because it is the creative choice of a writer to provide or withhold explanation. Whether viewers will or will not be annoyed by this is purely subjective. Regardless, first time writer Gary Whitta creates an impressive story which pitches us the positions of two men—Eli and Carnegie—who both have goals and whose paths intertwine as a result. It’s a classic good vs. evil, protagonist vs. antagonist showdown.

It’s been done before, but never with Washington and Oldman. Both offer power-house performances, though neither actor is better than the other. Because their characters are equally matched, one will never predict which way the film will go, making for a true cinematic experience.

That’s not to say that Whitta’s story is entirely satisfying. It isn’t. There are several unnecessary instances of lazy writing and silliness (a massive bar fight over the poor treatment of a cat is rather pathetic). Another scene involving Solara (a fitting Mila Kunis) is altogether irrelevant, and a poor decision on Whitta’s part (you’ll know which one when you see it). Otherwise, the story works.

Much credit belongs to the Hughes Brothers, who let us know from the start that this will be a film about survival and the will to live. They provide entertainingly choreographed fight sequences, intense action and enough character development for viewers to understand who these people are. They allow us to believe in this story, while keeping it alive and breathing. We follow Eli without ever questioning his mission. The Hughes Brothers, it seems, were on their own mission in making this film. They faithfully fulfilled it.

Grade: B+

This article was originally published on Suite101.com: http://www.suite101.com/content/the-book-of-eli-movie-review-a192496

Movie Review: Precious

19 Aug

By Chris Engelhardt

Director Lee Daniels and Gabourey 'Gabby' Sidibe. Credit: auggie tolosa, via Flickr

Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire, is set in Harlem in 1987 and follows the disturbing life of 16-year-old Precious Jones.

Precious (Gabourey ‘Gabby’ Sidibe) is an overweight and illiterate junior high school student who has to cope with a second pregnancy, as well as her lazy, welfare-abusing mother, Mary (Mo’Nique). The young teen faces hardship at every corner—from being taunted for her obesity, to stealing food to survive and dealing with relentless negativity from her outspoken mother. The only way for Precious to escape her troubling life is to dream.

And she dreams big every chance she gets: Her intermittent fantasies of being a celebrity in music videos and photo shoots make up for her lack of happiness.

But when Precious gets the opportunity to attend an alternative school—Each One, Teach One—where she can earn her GED, along with a quality education, she takes it. It’s there that she, among a class of teenage girls, immerses herself in her studies, and learns some of the greatest life lessons under the guidance of her optimistic teacher, Ms. Rain (a delightful Paula Patton).

Newcomer Gabourey Sidibe grabs the audience’s attention from the moment she arrives onscreen – a damaged, sympathetic young woman. And while it’s noticeable that she’s a first timer—at times simply reiterating dialogue unconvincingly—she’s plausible as a courageous teen struggling to find solace while remaining steadfast in overcoming obstacles. Sidibe is near perfect as a girl of broken innocence who has to become a woman all too soon.

Mo’Nique is spellbinding as the fearless and formidable Mary, a self-centered, vehement mother who is her daughter’s worst enemy. Mo’Nique turns in a career-high performance that will be talked about for years to come. This is, undoubtedly, the role she’ll be remembered for, and the role that will win her the Golden Globe (and the Oscar) for Best Supporting Actress.

Director Lee Daniels (Shadowboxer) directs the stunning story, following a great screenplay by first time writer Geoffrey Fletcher, keeping us pinned to our seats in anticipation. Cinematographer Andrew Dunn (Hitch, The Crucible) engages us with eye-pleasing imagery that captures the harshness of Harlem and the constant struggle that Precious endures.

With the lethal combination of acting, writing, directing and photography, it’s no surprise that the potent and poignant Precious has been nominated for three Golden Globe awards, including Best Picture of the year.

Grade: B+

This article was originally published on Suite101.com: http://www.suite101.com/content/precious-movie-review-a189865