Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Toy Fair 2010 Drives This Hoarder Crazy for New Toy Trends

For a guy with an apartment cluttered with classic metal toys, quirky objects and offbeat street finds, the annual Toy Fair held at The Jacob K. Javits Convention Center (this year from February 14th - 17th) is both a celebration and a torture. With over 1200 exhibitors filling 345,000 square feet of exhibit space, and 100,000 products will be displayed (with over 7,000 never before seen in the world), the 30,000 attendees expected will find it nearly impossible to check out, let alone try and hopefully acquire, a decent portion of the goodies available. At least I know I won't -- though I will try.

Within these four days, toy manufacturers, buyers, retailers and sundry other related professionals, under the Toy Industry Association (TIA) auspices, will try to do an entire year’s worth of business under one roof. Meanwhile, a stalwart toy aficionado can not only find the classics -- such as Monogram Models or metal cars and classic Gund Teddy Bears but also the quirky; and for one who is also a professional trend seeker, the latest innovations in technology, geek cutting edge and geo-political subject matter that inspires deep-minded board games can be found as well. Over the years, I've seen robotic dolls introduced, ebola-infected teddy bears unveiled and economic collapse simulated and replayed in virtual reality at the annual Toy Fair gaming section.

So, that's why I make it my mission every year to spend at least a two full days at Toy Fair. I discovered the Ugly Dolls there, met co-creator David Horvath and got him to sign the doll he gave me. I became a fan of the new crop of alterna-toys -- things like Emily Strange or the StrangeCo aliens or the ScareBears and the Bloody Goths from Bleeding Edge Toys. In the last 10 years, these collectibles have emerged as part of the overall expanding adult collectible market. But that's hardly all that new in toy trends.

Over at the Chelsea Piers Saturday night John Lasseter, Chief Creative Officer Walt Disney/Pixar Animation Studios and Sam Walton, Founder, Walmart
 will be inducted into the Toy Industry Hall of Fame. Established in 1984, the Hall of Fame has an impressive roster of 55 individuals who have been previously honored for their significant contributions to the growth and success of the toy industry. They are nominated by the industry at large and selected based on votes received from Toy Industry Association's membership.

And during the four days that the 107th Fair is held at the Javits there will a series of special events such as the “cast of characters” parade and ribbon cutting ceremony in the Crystal Palace at 10 am on Sunday – a whimsical start to the high-powered business opportunities at this show. There will be a Growing Green: A Toy Industry Update on Environmental Sustainability and Bottom Line Growth session taking place at 3:00 pm on Monday. And on the closing day, The Toy Bank will collect donations to be given to critically ill, abused and abandoned children through various partner organizations such as The My Stuff Bags Foundation, The Boys and Girls Clubs and Ronald MacDonald House.

For more info go to: http://www.toyassociation.org

Toy Fair 2010
February 14 - 17, 2010
Jacob K. Javits Convention Center
655 West 34th Street
New York, NY 10001

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Former Oscar Nom Ethan Hawke Survives A Vampire Film To Direct A Sam Shepard Play

Feature Story by Brad Balfour

From vampire hematologist in the recently released Daybreakers to inspired director grappling with the first revival of a Sam Shepard play, the 39-year-old Ethan Hawke has a life full of artistic endeavors that would make several careers. An Oscar-nominated actor, a film and theater director, a successful fiction writer, and a family man (with ex-wife Uma Thurman), he's a well-respected personality who is relatively unassuming and gracious in person.

In Daybreakers, Hawke plays scientist Edward Dalton, who directs the effort to find a substitute for the blood that vampires must consume, since most of the planetary population has become infected with a vampirism and is consuming humans at a rate faster than humans can be reproduced or the blood supply be replenished.

Now in previews, the Texan-born, East Coast-raised Hawke directs a revival of A Lie of the Mind, Shepard's Drama Desk Award-winning 1985 play about emotionally scarred young men and the damaged women in their lives set in the West. Opening February 18th, 2010, at the Acorn Theater [410 West 42nd Street; 212-279-4200; www.thenewgroup.org], this production by The New Group stars Marin Ireland, Keith Carradine, Frank Whaley, Laurie Metcalf and Josh Hamilton. In a recent roundtable interview, Hawke talks about both his science-fiction/horror film and this new Off-Broadway work.

Q: What are your favorite horror films?

EH: For me, probably the biggest reason I ended up doing this movie was that [Aussie twin brothers-directors/writers] Peter and Michael Spierig have the same passion and love for movies. When I made my first movie with Joe Dante [1985's The Explorers], he was coming out of working for [director/producer] Roger Corman, and he had directed The Howling, and Piranha, and Gremlins.

I was 13, or 14 years old being taught about movies by this guy who is a huge film fanatic and film historian. He’s got a Scorsese/Tarantino like brain for movies. He’s a terrific, amazing, passionate person, and very interested in the power of movies — you can make a movie like The Howling, where it's about werewolves, but there’s an allegory underneath it. He taught me about why [director] John Carpenter was brilliant. And these guys have the same passion and the same love for those kinds of movies, and they wrote a script that was incredibly original.

I’ve done one other movie that I would really call a genre movie, which was [2005's] Assault on Precinct 13, a remake of a [1976] Carpenter movie, and I love John Carpenter. They understand what the old school B-movie is supposed to be, and I thought that it would be really fun to be in one and to try to get into that mode.

Q: As a fan of horror films, were there any specific vampire characters that you drew on?

EH: The biggest one was actually things that I’d seen not work. In a lot of vampire movies — I can’t believe I’m talking about this — but a lot of vampires people start playing that they’re dead and they go dead behind the eyes or something. They become kind of boring.

If you're not the diabolical evil vampire that Willem [Dafoe] played so well in Shadow of the Vampire, it's difficult to give them any spark. That was more my big fear: how to have that haze of depression that you would imagine would come with one day being exactly like the next forever and ever, and not have the movie be boring.

Q: Did your theater chops help you with performing in this?

EH: I'd like to think so. I like to like that guys like Peter and Michael hire Willem and me because we have a lot of experience with storytelling and first-time directors don't really want to teach anybody about acting. It's one of the small benefits of getting older.

Q: So what's up with A Lie of the Mind?

EH: I just left rehearsal. It's going [really well]; I'm doing Sam Shepard’s A Lie of the Mind with a great company of people, The New Group. It's awesome. It hasn't been done in New York in a long time and I’ve always wanted to do it, so I'm getting a chance to now.

Q: What attracted you to directing that particular piece?

EH: It's a long story, but I got to do [the Shepard play] Buried Child with Gary Sinise [in a production by Chicago's acclaimed] Steppenwolf [Theatre Company], and I got to do [Shepard's] The Late Henry Moss, directed by Joe Chaikin [the founder of The Open Theatre, who died in 2003] here in New York.

The combination of Chaikin and Steppenwolf are two very different schools of thought on Sam Shepard and what his work is about. I was deeply affected by both of them and it made me want to try my own theories about it.

Q: Is your style of directing theater different from doing a film?

EH: Not for me. I come at all this as an actor, whether it's writing or directing, [film or theater]. I'm interested in acting and other types of directors are interested in other things; they’re interested in style or noir or horror or whatever. None of that really is, as a director, something I know enough about.

Q: Getting back to this movie, what was the best and worst thing about wearing the vamp contacts and fangs?

EH: This is going to be a serious answer. When I was younger I hated things like any kind of makeup or accents or any kind of artifice in performance. The best thing was that, as I've been getting older… The older I get, the more I’ve been enjoying it and realize there’s this whole other door[way] to performance. It’s fun; I don’t know how to explain it more than that.

The worst thing was that I loved my fangs because they were fitted to my real teeth, and I could put them on and they were really cool for parties and things like that, but my daughter borrowed them for Halloween and she took them off and she accidentally dropped them down the sink and they're gone forever. And they were pearl and they were so cool. Kids today.

Q: Did you see any parallels between Daybreakers and your 1997 science-fiction movie Gattaca?

EH: Yes, certainly. I think [the Spierigs] really liked Gattaca.The parallels really exist in the look of the film; I noticed it as we were doing it. What Gattaca did that was so smart was that there was something retro about it; it was a futuristic movie that was retro. The cars looked older, the costumes looked like they were form the past, and that seemed more realistic than spacesuits and stuff like that.

This movie has the same quality; in the beginning I imagine my character like Humphrey Bogart or something in a film noir. The combination of film noir with vampire is cool.

The [Spierigs] get the throwback of it. They didn't do the vampires with a computer; they did it with a makeup guy. I mean, they did other things with a computer but it's a little bit of a throwback. We couldn't begin to have the budget to be competitive with what people can do with visual effects today so we had to kind of embrace being a B-movie and be the best version of that.

Q: I can't imagine you had to do that scene more than once where the human explodes...

EH: It’s disgusting. I remember saying to Peter and Michael when I’m dripping in blood, "This movie better be good." When you understand the sense of humor of those old school genre movies, to be honest that’s what makes you love Peter and Michael. And I think what makes the movie really special is they have that old-school sense of humor.

Q: What would you do differently if you could live your life without fear of death?

EH: I would smoke all the time and I would ride a motorcycle everywhere. Other than that, I don't know what I'd do.

Q: You don't smoke in real life?

EH: No. But that was a part of me that I thought it would be funny if the character was always smoking until he turns into a human being. Then you want to live longer.

Q: Do you think you'd make a good vampire?

EH: Is that a come on?

Q: Your character is a scientist; did you do any research into hematology?

EH: I am a hematology expert. I went to med school for a year to play a vampire in this movie [laughs]. No. There’s something hysterical to me about playing a vampire hematologist. The character description is hysterical. But I didn't stay up for weeks and learn about all the blood.

Q: You weren't concerned about the coming vampire plague?

EH: No, no I wasn't. I could imagine that fear.

Q: You were one of the soft vampires who didn't really want to be a vampire.

EH: A peacenik vampire. It's a certain challenge in a movie, which I kind of like, which is to be in the middle of an action movie as a person who doesn't really want to fight. I thought there was something unique to that, that I enjoyed.

I always loved seeing Indiana Jones as the professor; I always loved that element of Raiders [of the Lost Ark] where you really felt like he didn't really want to be doing all these things. That was something I could play because I get bored of all this superhero stuff; it's more fun to watch a person struggle with violence than somebody who knows what the right thing to do is all the time.

Q: Did you think of your character as a vegetarian?

EH: I did. I thought of him as a person who worked for PETA who got forced into trying to help the slaughterhouse. He has a lot of really valid points; that whole part of the movie I love.

Q: What other things hit home for you personally with the metaphor the film presents?

EH: The movie operates as an allegory but if I talked too much about it it would be ridiculous. It’s not Schindler's List. it’s a vampire movie.

It just happens to also have a great undercurrent of destroying your natural resources. Everything they're saying about the humans could go for the polar ice caps or the oil industry or the meat industry; you can insert whatever you want.

How would you feel about it if it were your own daughter? That's very relevant all the time. Nobody cares about the illegal immigrants but if it's their own child. Nobody cares about the jail system until somebody [they know] is incarcerated. That's the kind of stuff I love.

Q: The dynamic between you and your brother character offered an interesting side note. Did it intrigue you or make you think about would you turn someone vampiric if you had that power?

EH: That's the most interesting element of the movie. That scene itself… It's like in the original Blade movie, what really makes that movie work is there’s this one little scene that makes you care about the relationship between Wesley Snipes and Kris Kristofferson. And because of that one scene you actually care about the characters and follow the story.

In the bad genre movies you don't care about anybody and they just try to wow you with blood or heads popping off. The heads popping off isn't cool if you don't care. So I agree with you completely in the idea that one brother would feel really guilty about turning his brother, but also know that he was going to die if he didn't get turned; that’s kind of fascinating to daydream about.

Q: Have you theorized about vampires?

EH: I know why I like vampires, and it's the same reason why all the 11-year olds like vampires. I remember the first time I spent the night over at a friend’s house, being about 11 years old, and staying up late — this is, sadly, pre-VCRs and everything like that — and on late-night TV there came on Nosferatu with Isabelle Adjani, and she was so beautiful.

What the Twilight thing has captured so completely, and Interview with the Vampire tried to do, too, is [to showcase] the sensuality [of vampires], and that there's something weirdly sexual about vampires. But what's cool about this movie is that it's not that; it's bringing it back to an old-school horror film that has somehow turned new.

Q: You loved Nosferatu because you thought Isabelle Adjani was hot?

EH: When you repeat it back to me it sounds so stupid [laughs]. I sound like such an idiot. I was hypnotized by Klaus Kinski and Isabelle Adjani; there was something so weird about watching him bite her neck that attacks her dreams, and has been for generations.

Q: Have you seen the other vampire stuff that’s out now like True Blood or Twilight?

EH: I’ve seen Twilight. My daughter is a huge fan so I've watched that several times. I like it.

Q: Did you watch it before doing this movie?

EH: No, that came out after we did our thing. What I was most impressed by were things like… I like the first two Blade films, actually, a lot; I think they're really cool. It's difficult to do a genre film well; it doesn't matter if it's vampires or Dawn of the Dead or The Thing. One of my favorites is John Carpenter’s The Thing with Kurt Russell, or Escape from New York. Kurt Russell’s a good model; he was always really good in these ridiculous movies.

Q: Have you met Carpenter? He’s a great, cranky interview. I loved talking to him.

EH: Oh, no, I never have. How so?

Q: He’s unrepentant in certain things he’ll say about the state of the business. What do you think about the remakes that have come out lately?

EH: It seems like my whole career there's a whole parallel universe where everybody's just remaking things. But I think that's just throughout history. If you do it well, if you reinvent something and make it new, it's exciting, and if you don't, then it's tedious.

Q: Does making this movie influence your next book?

EH: No. But it does interest me, I would like to write a graphic novel. I love that stuff; I have a whole other part of my brain that does that so I would love to if I could work with a graphic artist.

Q: What would that premise be?

EH: I have it in my noodle and I'm not sharing.

Q: As a former Oscar nominee, do you have Oscar picks?

EH: I haven’t even seen enough movies. I don't think I've ever voted for anything that’s been nominated.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Meryl Streep and Stanley Tucci Cook A Hell Of A Stew In "Julie & Julia"

Feature Story by Brad Balfour

Looking very Julia Child-like, actor Meryl Streep stepped up to the press conference table in a long grey dress cut to her mid-calf, wearing a string of pearls. Her ersatz partner Stanley Tucci -- who plays Child's husband, Paul, is clad in a dark sport coat and white open shirt.

At this event, timed to the original release of the film Julie & Julia, Streep was her usual effervescent self, while Tucci performed as the snarky comic counterpoint. They both seem to have enjoyed playing these characters so much so that it's no surprise that her starring role has led Streep to garner another Oscar nom.

Though Streep went on to get hosannas from her next movie It's Complicated -- another film in which the 60-year-old actress plays a vibrant woman who transcends the implication of her age -- and stop-motion The Fantastic Mr. Fox, it's the twists and turns provided by director Nora Ephron in J&J that makes the intertwined stories of seminal French chef Child and her blogger fan Julie Powell the best of the bunch.

The wife of a diplomat in 1949 Paris, Child wonders how to pass the time so she tries hat-making, bridge-playing, and cooking lessons at Cordon Bleu. Once she discovers her passion for food -- which eventually leads to her seminal book, Mastering the Art of French Cooking and a career that made her the first star televison chef during the '50s and '60s.

Then, in 2002, writer Powell (played by the endearing Amy Adams) -- about to turn 30 with an unpublished novel and working aimless jobs -- decides to cook her way through Child's book in a year and blog about it. With sympathetic, loving husbands in tow, The film undulates between these two stories of women both learning to cook and finding their own success through it.

The tireless Streep has approached her career with a similar passion that was unexpected at first. From her first film role ironically in a film titled Julia, Streep transfered her ample skills as a Yale Drama School trained actress, to film and has led her to be nominated for the Academy Award an astonishing 16 times, with two wins so far.

Q: Because Julia Child was such a character, was there the additional challenge of not doing an impersonation that might veer into parody -- Nora Ephron said that you did a Julia Child for her one night after Shakespeare in the Park...

MS: Well, I bet everybody in this room could do their version of Julia Child. To everybody that voice was so familiar and then how do we know whether we're doing her or Dan Aykroyd's version of her. Everyone can pull that "bon appetit" out of there. When Nora gave me the script, sometime over a year ago, I just thought that it was so, so beautifully written.

It was an opportunity to not impersonate Julia Child, but to do a couple of things. For me, embodying her or Julie Powell's idea of her which is what I'm doing – I'm doing an idealized version, but I was also doing an idealized version of my mother who had a similar joi de vivre -- an undeniable sense of how to enjoy her life.

Every room she walked into she made brighter. I mean, she was really something. I have a good deal of my father in me which is another kind of sensibility, but I really, all my life, wanted to be more like my mother. So this is my little homage to that spirit. That's more what I was doing than actually Julia Child.

Q: The romance between Julia and Paul is so dynamic; it's touching to see what you're doing.

ST: Well, it's pretend.

Q: How did you create tthis organic-feeling relationship; what research did you both do before stepping into their skins?

MS: Well, Stanley and I are often on opposite sides in a very famous Charades game every Christmas. We've been at each other's throats like married people for a really long time, many years [laughs].

We knew each other in that way and I just sort of am in love with him from afar anyway with the totality of the man, from his acting to directing work and in every way. So does everyone who knows him. He's just real treat to work with. It wasn't a tough job to imagine being in love with him.

ST: We have to go now. We are in a hotel after all. Thanks for coming [laughs].

For me it was easy, too. Probably most people in the world I, too, have been in love with Meryl Streep for many, many years. We'd done The Devil Wears Prada together which was really fun and we knew each other a bit socially before that so for me [doing this one] was awesome.

It was incredibly easy. You also make it easy because you're so comfortable. I'm always a little nervous when I start shooting and I was very nervous to play around with that.

MS: We're you nervous when we started?

ST: I was so nervous. I was. You made me feel so comfortable. It was nice.

MS: You know what Nora did -- she did what she called a costume test, but it was really sort of introducing us to our world. She took us up to the rooms which they built in the Paris apartment that she built in Queens, or wherever they were, and let us walk around in our clothes. In isolation, in your Winnebago, or whatever it is, you kind of have a hard time convincing yourself that you are who you say you are.

When you walk into this world and the light comes in a certain way and the landscape of Paris – a photograph but still – and here's the man of your dreams, it all came together before we had to actually [do it]. That was a big day.

ST: Yes, I remember. Those actual physical elements really helped a great deal.

Q: What would you have asked the people you played in this film if you had the chance?

ST: I'd like to ask them how they lived so long eating what they ate. I'm convinced that they both had two livers. I'd just be curious.

I can't say that I know what I would've asked them, but what I would've liked to have done is watch the interaction between the two of them in that little kitchen -- either in Paris or in Boston -- because to me that was the most interesting thing. When you see that kitchen, we recreated it in the film, it was so casual and really very intimate. I would've just liked to have watch that, watch them put together a meal. That would've been a great thing.

MS: I would agree. I would've loved to have heard Paul's voice. Julia's is so vivid and she left behind such an articulate trail of her journey in the book that she wrote with Alex [Prud'Homme] and in My Life In France and in her cook books. Her voice really comes through. I would've loved to have heard him because he was a great storyteller and his interests ranged across a wide variety of topics and I'm sure that he was sort of a really interesting person to hear.

Q: Julia Child went through so many challenges in the beginning of her career. What were some of the challenges that you both went through as you started out as actors?

MS: Well, my challenge was committing to acting, thinking that it was a serious enough thing to do with my life. What are you going to do with your one wild life? I just didn't think it was…I don't know. I thought it was sort of silly and vain, acting, even though it was the most fun that I had ever done. It remains that, ergo, it can't be good for me.

It was just deciding. I remember thinking the first time that someone said, "Well, what do you –" and I said, 'I'm a…I'm uh an actor." Then I had committed I realized, but it took a long time.

ST: I took it too seriously at first and it took me a long time to understand that you have to be serious about what you do but you mustn't take yourself seriously. That way you'll be happier and ultimately you'll be more successful. You'll be better at what you do.

I think the challenges for me at the beginning… Well, it was much easier after I lost my hair, to tell you the truth. I started to work constantly once I started to lose it. So I'm thinking about losing the hair on my whole body. That's disgusting.

MS: That's going to be repeated everywhere now and it's going to come back to haunt you [laughs].

Q: What were some of the best bonding experiences you had over food either on this movie or elsewhere.

MS: Well, we bonded. I mean, I knew Stanley, but I thought, "Well, I might as well invite him over for dinner." So he and Kate [his wife] came and I decided I'd make blanquette de veau and it was not quite done when he arrived and so he came in and completely took over in the kitchen.

ST: It's untrue.

MS: It's totally true.

ST: We tried to do it together, but we had too much wine. "Why are you doing that way?"

MS: "Is that what you're going to do?" "Seriously, I'm just asking [laughs]."

ST: "Why do you hold it that way?"

MS: "Can I just…" "It's okay." "I can show you an easier way." Boom. It was out of my hands. He's just a great chef and I'm a cook.

ST: You're very kind. It was a fun night, but we didn't eat until about 11 or so. My wife Kate came and said, "What time are we eating?" I said, "I think we'll be done cooking about eight." She goes, "We're not going to make that."

Q: What were your favorite food memories of either chefs and restaurants?

MS: Great, great tomatoes, but my mother was the I Hate To Cook cookbook by Peg Bracken. Do you remember that? No. Not in your family. I remember when I was 10 going up to a little girl's house up the street and she and her mother were sitting at the table and they were doing something to tennis balls and I said, "What are you doing?" They said, "Making mash potatoes." I said, "What do you mean? Mash potatoes come in a box."

They were potatoes. They were peeling potatoes and I had never seen a real potato. So my mother's motto was, "If it's not done in 20 minutes it's not dinner." She had a lot that she wanted to do and cooking wasn't one of those things.

My food memories, I mean I think Julia Child really did change the whole [thing]. I recently found my knitting book at the bottom of knitting bag from 1967. It wasn't a knitting book. It was a magazine that had some knitting patterns in it and it was called Women's Day from 1967. It was filled with recipes and food ads and it's all Delmonte canned peas, Delmonte canned corn, Delmonte peas and corn, green beans and all the recipes are, like, take ground meat and put artificial mashed potatoes, layer it, top it off with tomato sauce out of a jar, put it in the oven and presto it's dinner. This is how we ate. People forget. Julia changed the way that people thought about cooking. It was great.

Q: if you had the opportunity what chef would you like to have over and what would you like them to cook for you?

MS: Dan Barber [from Blue Hill].

Q: What would you have him make for you?

MS: Anything that was fresh up there.

Q: And Stanley -- you were there at The James Beard Awards -- everybody was there that night -- who would you have picked?

ST: My grandmother, but she wasn't there. She was an extraordinary cook. There that night... There were so many of them, but Mario Batali I think in a lot of ways…Yeah, Mario.

Q: Did you do your own Julia imitation?

ST: No. I never did. I would've been fired.

Q: Meryl, you said that you had a hard time committing to acting. What were some of the other things you were taking seriously at that time?

MS: Well, when I was in drama school I was obsessed with Jonathan Schell's book Fate of the Earth. I've always been interested in environmental issues and I still am. That seems to me be worthwhile work, but over time I understood, just what I think from other people's work, we need art as much as we need good works. You need it like food. You need it for inspiration to keep going on the days that your low. We need each other in that way.

So I've reconciled myself to the fact that you can make a contribution. I've even reconciled myself to the fact that even my children might choose this profession. They seem to be, and now that's okay. Really I was pushing the sciences but it's just not going to happen.

Q: Meryl, how hard or easy has it been to stay focused with all the success you've had in recent years?

MS: You know what, I didn't think about it. I really didn't think about either sustaining my career or my voice. I haven't really thought about it. I'm like every other actor, I've been unemployed more than I've been working because of the nature of what we do. We just have a lot of downtime even though it seems like you're working, working, working.

So I've never gotten used to either working or being out of work. It's a very uncertain life and there are only a few people that would sign up to be married to someone else doing that. My husband is an artist and he understands that, the vagaries of the job. I just take it as everyday is a miracle and I'm really glad that I'm still working and that people are not sick of me. Even I'm sick of me a little bit.

Q: You're now a box office star –- has that changed anything about the choices that you make now?

MS: I seem to have more choices in the last five years in the previous five years, maybe. I really don't know why that is, but part of me thinks it has to do with the fact that there are more women executives making decisions because everything starts with what gets made and where the money comes from. I'm sure that they've had more to do with that really than I have.

Q: How do you deal with all the accolades?

MS: Well, fortunately, the blogospshere supplies you with the other side of all the accolades [laughs]. Just sign on and get humble.