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Friday, January 30, 2015

Happy New Year 2015 to Capricorn, Aquarius and Pisces ..

Hasta la buh bye 2014. With 2015 around the corner, it is time to look at the last few predictions for the horoscopes for next year. We have been going through the horoscope signs this month. We are now up to Capricorn, Aquarius and Pisces.
2014 was an emotional year with aspects of the planets causing a lot of negative energy for people. People around the globe faced a lot of pain and discovered a lot of unusual facts. With the beginning of October 2014, there was a bit of an easing and the planets will be more in alignment for achieving our goals for the next year.

2015 is a promising year for most of the horoscopes. The major planets' aspect will be good. These aspects will bring a lot of good opportunities to most of the astrological signs. Change is the big word in 2015. Since 2008 the horoscopes had entered into a strange astrological cycle period. Some planets cycle through the universe and the horoscope very quickly. The moon is a good example as it cycles in the horoscope calendar in approximately 29 days. Others planets move very slowly through the horoscope cycle. These are Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune and Pluto. They can be extremely slow movers to complete a cycle with cycles that can last many years. During their movements, they make different angles or aspects with the other planets in the galaxy. Because of the slow moving cycles and these negative aspects/angles, we entered a period of negative energy. This affected many folksÕ astrological signs with negativity like poverty, illness and overwhelming stress issues on many fronts. People had overwhelming changes affecting their lives, relationships and careers. They had to downshift into harder times. This changes brought many challenges and struggles on many levels. In the second half of 2014, much of that changed. Some of the slower moving planets came into alignment making things more comfortable for us. There will be some great results we expect to see in 2015. Let take a look at the last three signs. If you don't see your sign, look to the previous three weeks. December posts have centered around the forecasts for next year.


2015 is the year of liberation and divergences. The year will take you to a much better situation than you have known in the past years. A lot of positive power will support you. The work place or travel situations will open new doors in front of you. But you may have in the first few months to face some obstacles. These months are April and May will open the doors wide in front of you and bring profit and success. The events of May will occupy the center in the summer. You may go on a mission or get unexpected windfalls financially in the form of a return in the fall.
The best emotional period will fall in the months of August. Summer comes and renews love in distinctive and unusual relationships. The month of October promises sweet prospects but also fateful encounters. December is very bright on a personal level. The conditions are right for you to open a new page or to restore an old friendship. You will start a privileged relationship at the end of the year.


Astrological influences are very strong this year. You can expect to get rid of some pressures. Saturn stood in your settlement for more than two years and now will bring positive omens. With the exception of Jupiter in your orbit (which you will experience until August), you have to avoid conflicts with some of the official, political and religious authorities. Exposure to these entities will give you much struggle. Steer clear for a while. Expect a new path to emerge as some changes are coming your way starting from the middle of the month of February until the of March. With regards to work, give your best in the month of June and also in three last quarter of the year. This sows seeds for new promises and pleasant surprises in the form of rewards and recognition in the 2016.
Emotionally, you may tend to duplication in your relationships. There is a replication of patterns and emotional suffering from a disease dealing with your partner. Expect a collapse of their temper. There may be a standing of one's ground that occur that prompts or forces resolutions with issues of respect. This year may give you a contractual link with eminent persons when Venus is in place. This is most beneficial with persons who are a Leo in the summer. This may result in a great love for those born in Aquarius and maybe even marriage. Someone will trigger strong emotions on a date with you Ð this includes love or translated in a birth. Talking about the universe unconventional relationships, a romantic atmosphere is well suited in the first of January where the planet of love (Venus) is in your horoscope and its influence stays for a while in late February through mid-March. May calls for love to grow silently, but the last three months will end in a positive coup.


The year enters with great challenges and hard work. It requires you to work with sophistication and skill to overcome difficulties. This work will continue through brunt of the summer. Expect messages from the universe at the appropriate times and warn you negative periods. In other words, use your psychic nature to your best advantage and heed the intuition. Pay attention to your health and to abide by the rules in terms of safety especially starting from the month of September and into the autumn. The entry of Jupiter into the horoscope of Virgo in the month of August brings surprises as they impact you. This includes talks about contracts/agreements and commitments outside the country. In the month of July there may be opportunities for you to be noticed in a really positive and time appropriate manner. It must be pointed out that these effects are more concerned for who are born in the first circle January 19th to January 29th, while it looks very light on others.
Make some important decisions on a personal level. Do not push back things to the back burner. Your timing and involvement is import for your wishes to carry you to new directions. In the beginning of the summer and well into autumn, timing is good for recording weddings and happy occasions in your life. The timing is right to meet new people and find your dream love at first sight in February or May. The year ends in a very seductive way in December when Venus influences Scorpio. There will be new promises of peace and harmony with those Pisces that are involved with a Scorpio.

Book Review: The Extreme Centre: A Warning, by Tariq Ali

It's fitting that I read Tariq Ali's upcoming book, The Extreme Centre: A Warning, the week political blogger-public intellectual Andrew Sullivandecided to walk away from blogging for the first time in 15 years. My years of reading Sullivan's work, centered mostly on the concept of finding grace within a constantly changing, chaotic world and applying it to our public discourse with plenty of humility and self reflection, weighed heavily on me – as they always do, for I count Sullivan as one of my biggest influences in how to approach the task of thinking in general – as I read Ali's words. For all the reams of research and his desire for social progress behind them, those words rang increasingly discordant as they continued. 

Ali's book is what would happen if the leftist id shouted impotently into the void. This is no policy paper, for he doesn't have policies to offer. He admits as such in the conclusion. He doesn't know where the solutions to his diagnosed problems will come from, but he's hopeful they will come from somewhere.

It is in those diagnoses where Ali is most adept. He spends large chunks of time explaining the history of the post-Thatcher United Kingdom and post-Reagan America and the political race to recapture what made those leaders palatable to their respective publics. He expresses profound disappointment in those leaders' opposition parties often moving closer to their policies than previous generations of liberal parties would have dared. This activity is what provides the book's title, wherein Ali posits that the parties of left and right meet in the middle to form a giant, amorphous ruling class blind to the needs of the lower classes while catering to the wants of the privileged. The politicians of the formerly left-leaning Labour and Democratic parties are now more concerned with amassing private fortunes than helping their constituents. A large section highlights the highly lucrative post-governmental “consultant” positions entered into by Tony Blair's Cabinet and closest political allies that could very well have been agreed to as longterm bribery for pushing policies favorable to their future employers while still in office. He provides background on the European Union, the rise of anti-immigrant fury during the Great Recession of 2008, the beginnings of NATO and related imperial adventurism of the United States, and most cogently, the increase in recent decades of wealth inequality with more and more money going to the already rich while wages stagnate or recede for the middle and lower classes.

The thing is, Ali might be correct on some of these counts, and he has done a massive amount of research to back himself up, but he proves himself incapable of convincing anyone to stop doing these things because of his rhetorical tactics and inclination toward sensationalism. Bankers are all swindlers and hustlers. The centrists and right-wingers posing as liberals are “rap[ing] the public sector” to make a buck for themselves and their money men friends at the expense of the masses. He falsely assumes at every turn that current economic conditions will continue exponentially until oblivion is reached. He loses sight of the goal of politics, convincing others to advance your preferred goals, in order to take potshots to delight those who already agree with him. He removes humanity from people in the financial sector, who have definitely done damage to the economy, but probably not (only) because of raging, unchecked greed or a planned attack on those lower down the totem pole than themselves. They made choices they thought would benefit people, of course including themselves, and those choices were the wrong ones. The choice from there is whether to work with those people to find a solution to make sure such mistakes are not made again, not to employ the (excuse my less-than-family-friendly language) “assholes and idiots” argument for anyone who disagrees with you. When you go to that rhetorical well, it leaves those on the other side in a spiteful mood, not really looking to help you – the “I'll show him!” response in which they do exactly the opposite of what you want. The “more flies with honey” approach at least gets you to the table with these bankers, or rival politicians, or defense contractors, or those against Scottish independence, or whatever disjointed target Ali is raging against on every other page.

Because, guess what, you might be wrong. Examine yourself constantly, your preferred policies even more often, test them, make them work, explain their tradeoffs and complicated uses in one-on-one meetings, win over people, examine again, create change, repeat. It's a lot harder than just being mad at people. Channel it. Do something with it. You might still get nowhere, but at least you'll get to the bargaining table, where anything can happen.

A Most Violent Year Review: Self Delusion, Dramatized

A Most Violent Year

Director: J.C. Chandor
Writer: J.C. Chandor
Starring: Oscar Isaac, Jessica Chastain, David Oyelowo, Albert Brooks
Rating: Four stars out of five

Human beings have a fascinating propensity for self delusion which also happens to be nearly impossible to portray in a visual medium like film. It's such an inner process, so much thinking, hardly any action, that would seem to be the antithesis to cinema. And yet, A Most Violent Year's Abel Morales, played by Oscar Isaac of Inside Llewyn Davis, has a knack for it, an addiction to it, and the man directing this internal activity, J.C. Chandor, makes it riveting drama.

Abel is a businessman in 1981 New York. He is trying to expand his heating and gas company during one of the most crime-ridden years of the city's existence. His drivers are constantly being robbed at gunpoint, their jaws broken, his profits eaten into by the thieves who may or may not have been hired by his competitors. He has 30 days to finalize the purchase of a property that would solidify him as the city's king of the business, and he's not quite there with the money. He and his wife, Anna (Jessica Chastain), have recently moved into a new mansion in the suburbs with their daughters, grasping at straws as to what the American dream means for them.

Despite Abel's life's goal of always being on the straight and narrow no matter what, his company's good name is being sullied by an investigation carried out by an ambitious state's attorney (David Oyelowo). He does everything right. He conducts his business in the light of day. He pays his employees a fair wage. He teaches them sales, not strong arm tactics. He is assured every step of the way that his company follows “every industry standard” by Anna, who handles the company's books.

But Anna is the daughter and sister of gangsters. Men like those with whom she shares blood also have ties to, and competition with, Abel. Not everyone shares his ideas about ethics and “follow[ing] the path that is most right.” Abel is surrounded by people who care less about scruples than power and money. He is part of that world and he thinks he can best all of them by being the most righteous. But he isn't better at living on the proper path. He is better at averting his eyes from the truth in front of him, although his body language gives away his knowledge of things he won't admit to fully grasping.

When his wife first kisses him onscreen, he pulls away and wipes his lips. But she's glamorous in that period-specific way with her obscenely long fingernails, her cleavage-baring gowns, her wine-and-cigarette accessories, and her assured confidence. Plus she truly does love him. That is not an act. She doesn't hide herself from him. He only sees in her what he wants to see to make things easier to accept.

Abel avoids violence at all costs, flinching whenever a hint of it enters his view, becoming enraged when he encounters things that may incite it. The title of the film is a clever misnomer for the most part, as it is more concerned with the reaction to a world devolving into a state of chaos, both inside and out of this insular business world – Abel is always listening to news radio reports of serial killers, rapes in the park, and other horrendous crimes when he's not listening to the company CB radio dispatcher frantically try to help the drivers as they are held up at gunpoint. Anna is more of a realist about where they are in this life and the need to protect themselves at all costs. She is more comfortable with guns and standing up to powerful people with tough talk about “disrespect.” It is a quality Abel lacks and something he desperately needs supplemented by his wife.

In that way, A Most Violent Year is a film about partnership, confederation, and the actual “legitimate business” side of the gangster coin you don't see much in films. There are bits about hiring goons to rough people up, but it's all related to maintaining clientele and territory for the heating and gas business, not for racketeering, illegal gambling and the like in most mafia movies. This is a smaller scale, a grubbier side of this world, probably more true to life in its ground level look at it. And it allows for these characters, and the actors portraying them, to paint a picture of striving, fighting for every inch of leverage.

Some Movies to See This Weekend, January 30, 2015

2015 is starting to emerge from the chasm of less-than-good as the calendar straddles January and February. For one thing, this week brings four new releases that are mostly available wherever you go, so that's a good thing from a variety standpoint. But more importantly, there's some stuff with possible thematic and cinematic meat to it reaching screens. Let's take a look at what's on tap for us at the movies this weekend.

Black or White
Director: Mike Binder
Writer: Mike Binder
Starring: Kevin Costner, Octavia Spencer, Gillian Jacobs

I'm not going to say this one excites me. I cringe every time I see something about it, in fact. Part of that is Kevin Costner's presence, because he's a guy who has always been the cinematic equivalent of a yawn. If you were to take milquetoast to trial, exhibit A would be Costner, with a couple exceptions here and there. But generally speaking, the movie looks like the worst kind of a fuzzy good time when everyone learns to accept each other because your skin color doesn't matter, punctuated by easy culture clash jokes based exclusively on the differences of skin color of the characters. You catch my drift. Octavia Spencer is great, though, so her choice of starring in this movie must be based on something worthwhile in the script or in the filmmakers. There's always hope!

Black Sea
Director: Kevin Macdonald
Writer: Dennis Kelly
Starring: Jude Law, Scoot McNairy, Ben Mendelsohn

This updates the “men on a mission” genre to take place on a submarine searching for sunken Nazi gold. Guys turn on each other, backs are stabbed, and the stress tears everyone apart, especially Jude Law, now firmly in his cool-looking tough middle-aged guy phase. There's a real claustrophobia to the trailer, and if director Macdonald can keep ratcheting up the tension, this could be a great early year thriller.

Project Almanac
Director: Dean Israelite
Writers: Andrew Deutschman, Jason Pagan
Starring: Jonny Weston, Sofia Black-D'Elia, Sam Lerner, Allen Evangelista

This is an update on Primer for the mainstream and young people. These teenagers band together once they discover one of their father's blueprints for a time machine. They start with the typical “What would I do if I could time travel?” question like winning the lottery by already knowing the winning numbers and stuff like that. But, this being a story, things can't stay rosy forever and conflict arises. Friends start being erased, ripple effects start ruining the world, and attempt after attempt to fix things only makes them worse. I'm curious to see how the movie resolves it all, with slick Final Destination-as-a-science-fiction-movie pizazz.

The Loft
Director: Erik Van Looy
Writers: Bart De Pauw, Wesley Strick
Starring: Karl Urban, James Marsden, Wentworth Miller

Another thriller about men, although this time they might be framed for doing some heinous stuff within the confines of their somewhat less heinous – though still plenty icky – secret loft of debauchery. Their wives and girlfriends don't know a thing about this place and they make it a Las Vegas-type resort for themselves before someone ends up dead and things start going to hell. Who knows where it goes from there, but with Judge Dredd (Urban) and Cyclops (Marsden) meeting in the same movie, maybe some crazy comic book action will ensue.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

A Menswear find in Andersonville

A new menswear store gets top billing in my book. Chicago is a tough place to shop for fashion if you’re a guy. Finding styles that are not so basic can be a little bit of a challenge. Fresh on the scene is Notre. Brainchild of Michael Jaworoski, the store has been selling out stock as fast as it comes in. Jaworoski, formerly of Chicago’s Haberdash, has a keen eye on what Chicago men want to wear. He knows what styles and tastes that set Chicago men apart. He knows quality and sizing so he has populated his store with some very good brands and in sizes that don’t make you walk out empty handed.

The store offers a variety of clothing, accessories, footwear, luggage and bags. He even carries a line of porcelain that is custom made and designed for the shop. The shop is located at 5202 North Clark Street — up in Andersonville. The store has a feeling of a smaller and more intimate Zara. It is modern, slightly rugged touch and smells heavenly thanks to as extensive line of candles and apothecary/grooming products. Jaworoski has tried to be as complete as possible in giving a modern man everything he needs without having to slosh around the city in the snow to find it.

Items that Catch the Eye

Many of the product lines that are carried in the store are small independent designers. Many of these designers have a fresh take on fashion and produce stunning items that make you drool. The designers with whom Jaworoski carries, he has made a personal relationship with.  Each product line is essentially made by a friend whom the quality he can trust. The brands are solid and stylish. They won’t fall apart and will last stylishly more than a season. Many of them are also made in the US — some thing which is quite rare in today’s fashion world. Because of those warm relationships that Jaworoski has developed, he is able to ask for special items to be made especially for the store or for exclusive items in limited quantities or editions. The designers love to do this too. They can try out new designs before rolling them out to a larger audience. The retail store becomes their incubator.

One item that he carries is a large stash of is 3Sixteen jeans. The jeans are made of very high quality, selvedge-woven denim from Okayama, Japan. The jeans are constructed and made in the US with gunmetal riveted construction and a traditional 5-pocket design. They have been rinsed so they are soft to the touch but will look better with age and wearing. They have not been pre-distressed so they take on the shape and feel of the wearer over time. They are jeans that are built to last to last… and if ordered online, they come with free shipping.  And yes, I said FREE.

And I also said website. Notre has a very large and extensive website. The site also has incredible sales. When they mark things down, they don’t put a sale on with measly twenty percent. They blow things out the store with an incredible discount and price them to move. And they do. This is a store that turns merchandise at an incredible rate. If you like something, you had better buy it. The merchandise runs from the designers are small, so the items tend to be on the exclusive side… but without the exclusively high markup of say… Gucci or Dior.

Time for Something Special.

Valentines is coming up. If you’re thinking about something special for the love of your life, check out the exclusive array of watches by Astor+Banks.  These lovely works of art are the finest handmade watches one can get for the price. Usually a handmade watch is a luxury that costs over a couple thousand. These lovely beauties start in the $500 range.  Astor+Banks watches are hand-made time pieces that are made here in Chicago. The cases are made of 316L Stainless Steel and come with a scratch resistant, sapphire crystal. The crystal has an anti-reflective coating on both sides so it is virtually invisible. The guts of them are Swiss chronograph quartz movements. They are perfect for a man who prefers to wear a watch that makes a statement. Let’s face it — everyone has a smart phone right? The watch is a men’s personal piece of jewelry. Get something that is truly unique and says something other than its time to bolt.

Bags are an accessory that is an essential and practical gift for Valentines. Notre carries a couple brands that will cause one to stop and stare. Both are American made and are exquisitely finished. Filson is a bag produced out of Seattle. They are known for making a variety of styles in heavyweight, water repellent Tin Cloth and Mackinaw Wool from Michigan. Filson is an old company — founded in 1897. They make rugged and dependable designs with many of their bags being well equipped with a variety of specialty pockets, snap closures and interiors that are fully lined. The bags come with a lifetime guarantee. This is sort of a WOW thing for me as I can’t tell you how many bags I have replaced… and again, they come with FREE shipping should you order them online. The other line of bags is from MAKR of Florida. A small and independent provider, these backpacks are each individually designed by the owner Jason Gregory. The bags are practical, lovingly made and sell out quickly as they are really sharply designed.
Some of the other brand Notre carries are: Robert Geller, Band of Outsiders, Chicago Candle Co. Masami Porcelain, Officine Generale, Simon Miller, Visvim and Wings+Horns. It is worth a visit to check out the store or website. You can find the site at www.notre-shop.com. The store is open nightly until 8:00 and on Sundays until 6:00. It is located just North of Foster on the West side of Clark.

United We Create: Spampinato's Come Together Shows the Power of Creating in a Collective

We’ve all heard the phrase “two heads are better than one.” How about a dozen creatives with a cause? Author and professor Francesco Spampinato showcases forty of the most influential art collectives from design studios to political performance artists and everything in between in his book, Come Together: The Rise of Cooperative Art and Design. Two groups he features have Chicago presences. 

As an artist and former member of a collective, Spampinato included the wide range of artists because there are different ways to produce art. He explained how the collectives have a do-it-yourself nature and don’t follow rules. Many groups are comprised of multidisciplinary artists.

As with any well- rounded sports team or legion of super heroes, bringing together individual talents creates a stronger whole. Spampinato found many groups had similar motivations and objectives. They’d rotate leadership roles or “embrace anonymity” as he put it, but they wanted viewers to become producers, to take action in some way. They wanted the viewers to create a meaning for what they were seeing. Spampinato feels the role of the contemporary artist is changing, stating they are closer to philosophers.

You can hear our full interview on the Halfstack Highlights Podcast below!

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Two groups, SIMPARCH and Temporary Services, have a Chicago presence. Among other things, SIMPARCH creates recreational wooden structures “intended for skateboarding, meditation or fun.” The book shows “Free Basin”, a wooden basin reminiscent of the empty pools early skateboards would seek out, as well as an exhausted Godzilla. Temporary Spaces started as an artists’ space in Chicago and grew to be “a publisher, curatorial collective, and organizer of community workshops.” Their work challenges people to assess the role, meaning and value of culture in the greater community. Come Together is a fun and fascinating book, a great introduction to all that is out there in the wild world of art collectives. Full of color pictures of the groups and their striking work, it’s a dossier on the who’s who of the art collective world. What’s different about this book is readers feel the people involved in the groups through the question and answer format of the chapters. Each section you meet someone new, feel the energy change as if you were speaking with them, all these artists in one place. More collectives popped up as he worked on the book, more he could have included. He’s impressed by the collectives from areas like Jakarta and Saigon, Vietnam, places you don’t associate with freedom of speech and expression. As recent events in Paris have shown us, some cannot tolerate expression or providing a place for onlookers to assess or challenge their feelings. While there is safety in numbers, numbers are also a demonstration. We were reminded how creation is an act of bravery. I see the book inspiring or influencing someone—this is what has been done, how would you do it differently?

Beauty Test Kitchen : Skin Care

Hello Hastackers! It's time to round up some more products to review. Today we are reviewing a couple of skin care products. I believe that taking care of your skin is the number one thing you should learn how to do before make up, so this round up is really something I am excited to share with you.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

H&M Grand Opening: Merrillville, Indiana

Struggling with the decision between buying smart or fashionable? Indiana, here’s your chance to do both! H&M is now coming to Southlake Mall in Merrillville. This is a store for the casual, yet adorable. No one is excluded from what H&M has to offer; catering to men, women, young girls and boys, a variety of clothing and accessories are available in stores.
GRAND OPENING: Pay attention shoppers! There are great deals ahead of you. For the grand opening of the Southlake Mall’s H&M on February 12th at noon, there are a few offers to look forward to: Recycle a bag of old clothing and you will receive at 15% off your next purchase, enter to win gift cards ranging from $50-$100 if you recycle before noon, and the first 100 shoppers in line are offered a H&M T-shirt and Access to Fashion Pass from $10-$300. Don’t miss out!
Get great deals on fashion-forward apparel and quality basics. Kick off your shopping with the Spring 2015 Collection at H&M. With styles for the whole family, do some of your most productive shopping!This new store will offer collections across the board; Ladies, men, young ladies and men, accessories, lingerie, maternity, sports apparel, and H&M+.
Hours: Monday-Saturday 10:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m., and Sunday 11:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. after the grand opening on Thursday, February 12th.


Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Meital's Climb to the Top

Meital Dohan, a woman of multiple talents, forges her way from television and film to the music industry. With her single "Give Us Back Love" making it's way up the Billboard charts, she is letting everyone know that's she's ready to make her mark in music.

Meital, who originally started out an actress, made her debut at an early age when she starred in many films and television shows in Israel. It wasn't long before she made her way to the big and small screens in the United States. Since then, she has gone on to writing her own screenplays and directing different projects. But her accomplishments don't stop there.

Currently, the star is making music independently. Her latest single, the song "Give Us Back Love", has been steadily making it's way to the top of the Billboard charts. Most of her songs, which have very catchy lyrics and beat, can instantly get stuck in your head for hours. Her music videos, that are equal parts bizarre and entertaining, have been accumulating millions of views online. It's no wonder her name is making it's way up the charts.

Though she is best known for portraying the character Yael Hoffman on the Showtime television show Weeds, Meital is starting to make a place for herself as a singer and performer as well. With her talent and drive, nothing will be able to stop her from getting to the top.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Sizzling & sensual. Tango Buenos Aries

For one performance only, the Argentinian Group Tango Buenos Aries steamed up the stage with a performance that packed the audience to the rafters at Auditorium Theater. If you didn't know about it, you certainly missed out. More than just dance, it was an exploration into Argentina with a dazzling mix of music and dance.

It was also a steal at the price as it was like getting two premium concert tickets for the price of one (one dance and another music). Led by Artistic Director Rosario Bauzá and Musical Director Fernando Marzán, the company brings its sensual passion to the Auditorium stage with “Song of Eva Perón,” a Tango dance and music performance inspired by the most important female figure in Argentinian history. While it was not an adaption of her work, politics or life, the show was more short vignettes of periods that paralleled her life as a means to show tango dance to it’s fullest.  The show reflected aspects of the dance halls where the tango originated and how tango is a source of pride.

An Dynamic Assortment of Talent

The music of the evening was as important as the dance. A five-member band was composed of piano, bass, violin and two bandoneon. The bandoneon is an instrument that is similar to the concertina but with a larger and fuller range of tones. The music well supported the dance with a musical score that was a mix of composers that included work by Argentinian Astor Piassolla. The highlight of this group was Fernando Marzan. An extremely fine musician and composer, Marzan has done work for the films Evita, The Imposters and Forever Tango. A child prodigy, Marzan started his piano training at age six and had achieved a great level of achievement by the time he was fourteen. At seventeen, he was Professor of Music from the National Conservatory of Music. Marzan has been artistic director for Tango Buenos Aries since 2003.  The opportunity to hear him play is worth the cost of admission alone. He is up and down the piano keys with great force.

Dancer Hector Falcón was choreographer of the show. Involved in dance from his youth, Falcón has danced and taught tango around the globe and at over 40 countries. He is considered to be one of, if not “the best tango choreographers of all time.” He enjoys rock star status in Argentina and is heavily revered internationally as an authority on tango. Falcón has been with Tango Buenos Aries since 2003.

Getting Touchy

Tango dance originated in the 1890s and comes from the latin a meaning of “touch”.  It is a partnered dance that came from the Rio de La Plata border region of Argentina and Uruguay.  It was a dance from the working class slums of the immigrants that populated the region. The immigrants were a mixture of Italian, polish and other Eastern Europeans. It incorporates a mixture of African and Spanish antecedents and can at times have underpinning that feel a bit like flamenco. But its growth in dance halls, brothels and slums made the dance more sensual and sexual in nature.
The ensemble that makes up Tango Buenos Aries is small — ten dancers. There are five women and five men. All had various ages and all with a solid command of the dance.  The range of dancers ages looked to be mid twenties to late fifties/early sixties. All were very adept at their craft and because it is a dance that is more couple centric, each couple had their own unique chemistry and passion surrounding them. Some couples were more acrobatic and high energy while others were more controlled and restrained as they glided across the floor. Tango is a dance that can be shared by all people of all ages — that is its strength. It is a dance of passion and love. This love of tango is exactly what Tango Buenos Aires brought to the stage.

Personally, I think the popularity of tango seems to come from the fact that tango seems to be universal in sensuality in that it is able to be performed by people of all ages. Typically, a dancers life is very short as the body stiffens as it ages. After a certain age, getting on point is just not going to happen. The amount of work it takes to keep a body in shape to do modern dance becomes overwhelming. With tango this is not the case. It is a means to keep in shape and enjoy a passion.  It is rare to see professional dancers past the age of 35. Tonight was a treat is seeing people enjoy their craft and also be mesmerizing in their skill of the craft.

Close Contact

The dance involves a very close contact embrace with the lead and follow dancing chest to chest. The chest-to-chest contact involves leg movements that either mimic or involving spiraling the leg around the dance partners leg or body. It makes for very sensual movements particularly when the taken to an art form as was at this evening performance.  Dance moves that seemed relatively simple to watch are in fact intensely complicated. The moves were executed flawlessly and showed why this dance was a predecessor to this generations’ twirking.

Tonight’s dance was all about romance and passion with each partner’s body locked in embrace. In one movement “Felicia”, the male lead had the female lead’s body completely spiraling around his neck, torso and then mopping up the floor in perhaps the most breath-taking moments of sensuality. The first act closed with a dance section called “Malambo” a dance that used Las Boleadoras. Las Boleadoras are two balls that are tied together by a cord. Used by gauchos for subduing animals or cattle, tonight they were used to keep the rhythm of the dance as the balls hit the floor. The acoustics of the Auditorium Theater were so phenomenal, one could hear the whizzing speed with which these balls were spinning. They can and will break a bone when hitting impact.  Mixed with flamenco like dancing, the men of Tango Buenos Aries provided some very powerful and sexy rhythms. This was a moment in the program where age was not a boundary. One of the male leads took center stage in some of the most complicated of the moves and was a master of his craft with his boleadoras. There was much to see and enjoy in this performance. Tango Buenos Aries was in Chicago for one night only. They will undoubtedly be back. Check them out online and find out there schedule for their next stop.

The Origins of Tango Buenos Aires

Tango Buenos Aires has become one of Argentina’s great cultural exports, known throughout the Americas, Europe and the Far East as the most authentic and uncompromising representative of the Tango. Tango Buenos Aires was created for the “Jazmines Festival” at the famous Buenos Aires cabaret “Michelangelo” by renowned composer and tango director Osvaldo Requena. The company met with tremendous success and was immediately added to the season of the General San Martin Municipal Theatre. Tango Buenos Aires has participated in the International Festival in Adelaide, Australia, and in the New Zealand Festival. The company has traveled to Southeast Asia, giving performances in Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, and Bangkok, Thailand. Under the patronage of the President of Argentina, the company introduced the Tango to Indonesia for the first time ever. The company has toured North America to great critical and popular acclaim, appearing in cities including Los Angeles, Houston, Dallas, Las Vegas, Phoenix, Ft. Lauderdale, West Palm Beach, Miami, Atlanta, Washington, D.C., New York, Boston, Cleveland, Louisville, Detroit, Chicago, Minneapolis, Lincoln, Toronto, Canada, and San Juan, Puerto Rico.

“This performance is an especially rare opportunity to present both a world-class dance company and world-class musicians together in the same evening,” said Auditorium Theatre Executive Director Brett Batterson.

Part of the 125th Anniversary Season of the Auditorium Theater, this year marks a high point in the history of the Auditorium Theater. When it opened in 1889, the Auditorium Theater was the largest building in the United States and the tallest in Chicago. The theater was cutting edge with 3,500 carbon filament light bulbs (only seen publicly two years before). The theater had astounding acoustics, was one of the first to have air conditioning and 26 hydraulic lifts that could raise and lower parts of the stage. Originally designed by Dankmar Adler and Louis Sullivan, the Auditorium Theater was referred to as the 8th wonder of the world when it opened.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Vertigo Sky Lounge Ice Bar

As Chicagoans, we all know how miserable winter can be.  So, why not make the best of it, right?  On the evening of January 16th, Vertigo Sky Lounge hosted an Arctic White Nights party.  This SVEDKA sponsored event featured a 15-foot ice bar, ice statues, and a snow cone bar.

A couch carved entirely out of ice made for a great photo op, but was a chilly spot to sit back and relax!  On the exposed rooftop of the Dana Hotel, Vertigo guests stayed warm with a blazing fire pit and s'mores. 

Bartenders served up exclusive SVEDKA mixtures and shots through a sculpted ice luge on the patio.  For those fair weathered fans, there was also entertainment inside.  The lounge featured DJ Sean Strange and B96 Mixmaster DJ Metro, as well as a "selfie" station for guests to take and share photos. 

Even though I was bundled up in my winter jacket, enjoying chilled cocktails, I have to say, it was a fun evening.   It was my first time at Vertigo Sky Lounge, but it definitely will not be my last!  Hopefully, next time I'll be able to enjoy a view of the city in the summer. 

Friday, January 23, 2015

Some Movies To See This Weekend, January 23, 2015

Movies released in January, aside from the Oscar season stragglers getting wide releases, tend to be pretty dreary. It's after the holidays, kids are back in school, nobody wants to leave the house, the list goes on. Studios don't have much confidence in making money during this time and thus don't put their best foot forward in what they send to theaters. There can always be surprises, like everyone's favorite “January movies aren't always bad” example, The Silence of the Lambs, but typically when you hit the cinema this time of year it's to pass the time, not to be challenged by great art. And boy oh boy can that be refreshing and fun. So, let's take a look at the fun-time trash queued up for us this weekend at the movies.

The Boy Next Door
Director: Rob Cohen
Writer: Barbara Curry
Starring: Jennifer Lopez, Ryan Guzman, Ian Nelson, John Corbett, Kristin Chenoweth

The quintessential January garbage thriller, this one stars Jennifer Lopez as a teacher who moves to a new town and sleeps with her (possibly underage, as the trailer isn't entirely clear on this point) next door neighbor, who turns out to be a psychopath who stalks and later causes mayhem in her life. It looks like low-rent Brian De Palma, and if it has even a tenth of the wacky psychosexual stuff he put in, say, Body Double, we could be in for a treat. Likely, it's awful, but there's a draw to it nonetheless.

Director: David Koepp
Writer: Eric Aronson
Starring: Johnny Depp, Gwyneth Paltrow, Paul Bettany, Ewan Mcgregor

Speaking of low-rent versions of things, here's the modern take on The Pink Panther, with Johnny Depp in the Inspector Clouseau role, who is running low on cash so he stages a heist to be paid to solve, or something. It doesn't matter. It's Depp doing another silly voice and replacing a silly hat with silly facial hair. You know the drill. However, the production design and colors indicate a Wes Anderson influence, which could be eye popping at the very least, plus it's the first deadpan comedy role in a while for Paltrow, who has had the thankless role of being Iron Man's girlfriend in the Marvel movies for years. This could be right in her wheelhouse.

Strange Magic
Director: Gary Rydstrom
Writers: David Berenbaum, George Lucas, Irene Mecchi, Gary Rydstrom
Starring: Alan Cumming, Evan Rachel Wood, Elijah Kelley, Meredith Anne Bull

“From the mind of George Lucas” comes this CGI animated feature about fairies and stuff like that doing what looks like a jukebox musical. The animation looks impressive, but based on the trailer and the fact that it didn't screen for critics, this could have a rough go of it. Before you get all, “But George Lucas did Star Wars,” he didn't do anything but write a short story one time that has been all “sequels to Shrek”-ified. He's more concerned with philanthropy and building museums than filmmaking these days, so don't expect any of that Han Solo magic this time around.

American Sniper Review: Allergic to Tension

American Sniper
Director: Clint Eastwood
Writer: Jason Hall
Starring: Bradley Cooper, Sienna Miller, Sammy Sheik
Rating: Two stars out of five

American Sniper opens with one of the most riveting setups in recent memory. Navy SEAL sniper Chris Kyle (Bradley Cooper) is in his perch overlooking an American convoy moving through a bombed out town somewhere in the Middle East – Afghanistan or Iraq, it doesn't really matter. Things move along at a snail's pace.

The soldiers know the drill. They must proceed with caution at all times. The tanks lurch forward gingerly, the soldiers knock down doors, Kyle makes nervous jokes with his lookout. Then he spots something through his scope – a man making a call on his cell phone atop a building. A woman and a boy exit from the ground floor of a building. Kyle reports the suspicious activity and is given the go ahead to take his shot if he thinks his comrades are in danger. The woman hands the boy, perhaps 10 years old, a grenade. Kyle reports his having spotted the weapon. His commanding officer tells him to fire when ready if the boy makes a move. The camera tightens on his trigger finger. His eye twitches. This is tearing him apart. The music heightens, stringed instruments making piercing, cacophonous noises as we see him prepare.

Then nothing. Or rather, nothing that needs to happen at this point of the story. Director Clint Eastwood takes the tensest of moments – I made that top paragraph long and detailed for a reason, to show how to build anticipation – a riveting piece of filmmaking that tightens the screws on the audience like the tautest thrillers Hitchcock ever made, then renders it all inert by going to a flashback of Kyle beating up a bully who in turn beat up his younger brother when they were kids. It violates every rule of tension building. There needs to be a payoff, but only after a seemingly interminable period of time. The viewers must squirm, barely be able to keep their eyes on the screen, hoping, begging for a release. A bait-and-switch is not the release they need, nor does it deepen the moment that precedes it in any way. It is only a distraction, a delaying mechanism, an unwillingness to deal with the consequences of a storytelling decision, a disregard for making a bold mission statement about what your film is and what it stands for.

This sequence of events repeats itself time and again throughout the film. Every moment that could wrestle with a theme of the physical or psychological wounds of war, which the film certainly asks its audience to consider – scenes about Kyle's sky high blood pressure, his grownup brother's shell shock as he leaves his own deployment from Iraq, Kyle's reaction to a friend's death after seemingly being saved, his confession to his wife about his mental scars – it cuts away to something not of the moment – him and his wife simply leaving the doctor's office, his brother hopping on a plane home never to be seen again in the movie, an “onto the next mission” scene after the offscreen death revelation. It is a film that always chooses the comfort of conflict avoidance instead of progressing to an answer or catharsis, be it of the peaceful or violent variety. Perhaps this is Eastwood attempting to comment on the headspace of Kyle, who persistently denies his own post-traumatic stress disorder, but the film shouldn't delve into the same denialism of its characters because those characters' flaws should already be apparent if the filmmaking has been done correctly. And in American Sniper, we are left with a confused jumble, a film that doesn't seem to want to do anything other than to, perhaps, document the treadmill nature of constant deployment during wartime.

It wants to have a villain, so it props up an enemy sniper, Mustafa (Sheik), as the anti-Kyle, an Olympic sharpshooter who guns down many of Kyle's friends in the service. But instead of building this enemy into a real character, it gives him maybe three minutes of screen time in which he is almost entirely silent and mostly aiming his rifle. We don't learn anything about him, his motivation, or really even his affiliation. He shows up in both Afghanistan and Iraq, we're told he's from Syria, and yet we don't get any explanation of why he's suddenly everywhere, killing American servicemen. He's nothing more than a glorified Stormtrooper that Eastwood somehow thinks is the main villain of the piece. If Eastwood were to embrace some schlockier, exploitative elements rather than going for the “authentic” angle. If the film is from Kyle's highly patriotic perspective, give his antagonist some mustache twirling moments. Get subjective and embrace cinema's ability to shape perception. Objective truth is rarely possible in the filmic (any?) medium, but character honesty is within a filmmaker's grasp. If Eastwood were being honest about the onscreen Kyle – the only thing I know about the controversy about the real life Kyle is that there is something of a controversy about the real life Kyle, so that is none of my concern as a moviegoer – he would depict a black and white world where the other side is bad and relishes doing bad things. If they weren't terrible, inhuman things, they wouldn't be enemies of America in Kyle's mind. And that is nothing to say of the film avoiding the real villain, Kyle's inability to reconcile his impotence at actions out of his control.

Bradley Cooper, luckily, is far more interested in being honest from Kyle's perspective. He finds some strong nuggets to grasp onto in his character, and he makes this man with a simple, although by no means easy, worldview believable. We see his pain at being unable to stop the evil of the world – we believe him when he says he is less concerned and guilty about the people he killed than the ones he was unable to save, not that his sins against humanity don't weigh on him tremendously – but unfortunately the deflated balloon of a movie surrounding him wastes his terrific performance.

Oh, and one last thing before we go. When you create the climax for a film, don't set it in a sandstorm, and don't shoot the sandstorm like it's just a cigarette-stain brown blanket being draped over the camera. When watching the final big action set piece, you cannot tell for a second what is happening. It's one of the worst shot pieces of filmmaking in a studio film in a long time. It is the nadir of the movie's laziness regarding living in the moment. And in the end, it's fitting that Eastwood would choose to not allow the audience to see the carnage this escape necessarily required, because he is more interested in coddling the audience – whether they request it or not – and letting them bask in the comfort of being told the “truth” rather than experiencing the honest, visceral nature of it.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Tween Stars Live in Chicago!

What are you doing this Saturday January 24? Have a tween at home that absolutely loves the Disney and Nickelodeon channel? Well then this event is perfect for you; Tween Stars Live.

Tween Stars Live is a 90 minute show includes the musical acts of today's hottest Disney & Nickelodeon stars such as Piper Curda (whom we are interviewing), Spencer Boldman, Calum Worthy and more! They will be doing what they are famous for; improvisation, comedy sketches, Q & A and more!!! You can event meet the stars back stage and get autographs with their VIP tickets!!

All of this is going on this Saturday January 24 at 3pm at the Patio Theater (6008 W Irving Park Rd, Chicago).  So make sure to bring your tween to this show and have a family good time! Also you can purchase VIP tickets and have a photo and meet and greet with your favorite stars! Your tween will for sure love you and love that idea! Tickets are on sale here and get them fast before they are all out (only 1 show in Chicago)!

Sarah Gayle Meech's "Tennessee Love Song": Classic Country for the Contemporary Fan

Remotely listen to country music and you’ll hear the debate what’s on country radio and the charts is not country music. YouTube comments are the musical Hatfields and McCoys. Contemporary country has its place. The fun party songs have converted many to country music.

Picture by Amanda Van Sandt 

Then there’s the country backbone with simple structure, tight rhymes, and slide guitars unleashed. While some are trying to find another rhyme for “Barcardi”, singer-songwriter Sarah Gayle Meech unapologetically holds the fort for classic country, bringing to mind Tammy Wynette and Loretta Lynn. Meech’s second album, "Tennessee Love Song", comes out March 31st.

Picture by Amanda Van Sandt 

 Looking like a vintage pin up, Meech hails from the logging town of Longview, Washington. After high school, she attended the Theatre of Arts in Los Angeles where she honed her performance skills and decided she wanted to be a singer. While her musical influences are vast, coming from all kinds of music, one of her biggest musical influences is her father. “He thought he was Hank, Elvis, and Clint Eastwood,” she laughs. This album she feels is more spontaneous. Her first album, "One Good Thing", was a couple of years of work. She started recording it in Los Angeles, moved to Nashville, and found her voice. She redid everything in Nashville. “The first one is the hardest to get out,” she said. She wrote her sophomore album in a year, taking twenty songs and narrowing it to fifteen on the album. “The ones that didn’t stick I didn’t believe in fell by the wayside,” she said. “When you write a lot you figure it out.”

Picture by Danielle Holbert 

The power is in not only what she says, but how she says it. We all know music picks up where words fail. You find yourself looking for words trying to accurately describe how you feel. Play a song and that’s it. That’s how you feel. Meech has been there and made something beautiful out of it. “As a writer that’s what I always wish,” she said. “That people can relate and it resonates with them. They say, ‘I was there’.” Meech enjoys performing the title track live. She does different arrangements to keep it interesting. It’s a song anyone who has moved to make their dream a reality will understand; this is the place you belong but that places doesn’t love you back (yet). “Watermelon and Rootbeer” is a fun one, but everyone will relate to “Somebody’s Gonna Cry”, a tale about seeing that person and knowing it will not end well.

The writing is clean and hard-hitting. There’s beauty in the simplicity. Listeners will respond to that honesty. “I don’t like to mince words,” Meech laughs. It’s a laugh of complete abandon and acceptance. This is who she is: a lady, someone you’d want to have a beer with, and someone you want on your side during a bar fight. Meech’s second album comes out March 31st. For more information about Meech and her projects visit her website.
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