‘New Year’s Eve’: Yet Another Star-Studded Holiday-Themed Rom Com

If the trailer is any indication, Garry Marshall’s newest film, New Year’s Eve, is almost exactly the same as his last film, Valentine’s Day, except with a different over-hyped holiday. Despite – or perhaps because of – its long list of incredibly famous actors and numerous romantic story lines, it’s stacking up to be yet another trite, cliched, and ultimately uninspiring smorgasbord of self-regard disguised as self-deprecation. How did the man responsible for The Odd Couple and Happy Days get to this point? Let’s take a trip down celluloid memory lane.

First came Love Actually, the film filled with some famous people and some-not-so famous people, all of whom shared universal love stories that intertwined in subtle yet real ways. It was about sex, love, romance, and best of all, Christmas. Bonus points for all the British accents. We loved it.

Then came Valentine’s Day, the wanna-be Love Actually filled with even more famous people and intertwining love stories. Too many, in fact – it made us a bit dizzy. And because it was centered around one of the most cliched days of the year, it was just too much mush, gush, and teen tonsil honkey. No thanks.

Now comes New Year’s Eve, following directly in the footsteps of Valentine’s Day. New Year’s Eve boasts an impressive cast of everyone who’s anyone in Hollywood. We’ve got Lea Michele, Jon Bon Jovi, Hilary Swank, Jessica Biel, and about a million more. How Marshall locked down Robert De Niro for such a silly movie is a mystery for the ages, but I guess De Niro gave up around the time Analyze That came out.

This film celebrates that one magical night every year when the entire world gets together to celebrate new beginnings, the wonders of alcohol, and the hopes of getting a little midnight action. With Ashton Kutcher’s “I’m depressed and I only wear sweatpants” mood, a random romance between Ludacris and Hilary Swank, and Zac Efron making dreams come true for Michelle Pfeiffer, I just might gouge my eyes out. There is nothing about this film that makes me curious, and I definitely plan on spending my New Year’s Eve doing other things besides watching Sarah Jessica Parker pretend to not have any opportunities to wear pretty dresses.

But who knows? Marshall may well surprise us with a well-crafted tale of love in the city of big dreams. But it’s looking like he’d prefer to squeeze a few more bucks out of a once-endearing idea, and that’s hardly in the spirit of “out with the old, in with the new.”

Amazon Hastens the Death of Print With Kindle Textbook Rentals

The death of print? Still happening. Last Monday, Amazon.com, which was once a twee (if monolithic) online bookstore, launched the Kindle Textbook Rental program, an innovative e-book program that permits students to rent textbooks at a discounted price, customize their rental period, and permanently archive their notes. But can digital textbooks really compare to the musty tradition of fiendishly heavy hard-copy textbooks? They’re about to give it the old college try.

With tens of thousands of textbooks to choose from, anyone renting from Kindle Textbook can choose the length of the rental period (anywhere from 30 to 360 days). After the rental period is over, students can check out the next batch, or, if they flunked the course (or just love Organic Chemistry so much), purchase it or rent it all over again. Rented textbooks can be read on all Kindle devices, Macs, and PCs, plus smart phones and tablets with Kindle apps. Kindle textbooks are never out of print, since they’re not printed. And they’re sold at up to 80% off the original list price of the dead-tree version. For the college kids who sell Adderall their souls to pay for textbooks, this is certainly welcome news.

One big advantage of Amazon’s new program is its Whispersync technology, which lets Kindle readers take notes as they read. In addition to being able to highlight specific passages and jot down observations in the margins, Whispersync allows readers to hang on to all their notes, even after rental expires. Convenient? Very.

Perhaps best of all, students can escape the big end-of-semester money massacres known as the textbook buyback program. Every student can tell you about waiting hopefully in line with a big stack of returnable textbooks, only to leave with a crinkled twenty and the bitter realization that they just got felt up by the system.

The benefits of renting digital books are obvious. Save money, reduce waste, and avoid getting scoliosis from lugging around three five-pound textbooks. For the many students who still believe in the beauty of the printed page, actual textbooks are still available – for now, anyway. After all, some folks still enjoy doodling in class. So fear not, Gutenberg; your efforts are appreciated by the analog among us. For the rest, E-Ink will do just fine.

‘Everything I Do Is Wrong’ Milk Ads Pissing Off Women Everywhere

The California Milk Processor Board (responsible for the popular ‘Got Milk?’ ads) has launched a new series of pro-milk advertisements geared towards women with raging hormonal issues. Introducing “Everything I Do Is Wrong,” a slightly offensive new ad campaign meant to encourage milk consumption. Instead of slapping sexy milk mustaches on our favorite celebs, the ads show nervous men hoarding cartons of milk, hinting at their supposed crippling fear during womankind’s “that time of the month.” The tagline: “Milk can help reduce the symptoms of PMS.”

In addition to the already rankling ads, the interactive Everything I Do Is Wrong website provides more material for further humiliation. Complete with a marquis of “Pending Apologies,” a Mistake Verification System, and a Key PMS Indicators Index, the site greatly exaggerates the effects of PMS, as if men have to suffer the most from menstruation. I’ll admit, some of those pending apologies merited a small chuckle, but for the most part, it’s excessive.

Women everywhere are speaking out against these ads, labeling them “sexist” and “extra offensive.” Here’s a quick outline of my thought process while browsing the new ads:

First Thought: “Wow these are pretty offensive. Reducing us to hormonal female psychopaths is no way to get us to drink milk. In fact, that makes me want to rip the milk out of your hands and shove it up your hole.”

Second Thought: “Maybe I am a raging maniac with unwieldy emotional issues. I mean, the ads aren’t that bad. They’re kind of funny. And people should have a sense of humor about things that are meant to be a bit insulting. That’s why people like Family Guy and racist jokes, right?”

Third Thought: “Still, it’s incredibly insulting to target the female population by poking fun at an issue that’s already touchy for women. Every month, for one week, I already feel uncomfortable for biological reasons beyond my control. You’re really going to try to sell me your product by making fun of me for that? And then to paint men as helpless victims of my emotional outbursts—it’s just disrespectful to everyone.”

So yes, I concluded, these campaign ads are pretty offensive. The California Milk Processor Board should try a new approach to reach their target audience. Be smart, be funny, but don’t be sexist, or else I might unleash my crazy female hormones on you.

The Six Quirkiest Sites for Lovers of the Printed Page

In this technological age, where attention spans are short and work days are long, it’s nearly impossible to find the time and energy to enjoy a good book. It’s not that nobody reads anymore, but once we’ve scrolled through the daily posts on our favorite blogs and the occasional newspaper article (online of course), the idea of opening up a weighty tome, tuning out the noise in our heads, and actually focusing is about as foreign as government-sponsored health care. But instead of helping the internet kill print media, why not use the digital world to rediscover the musty pleasures of good, old fashioned books?

Through a handful of quirky and fun websites for (real) readers, you might just find the motivation to finish the last hundred pages of that potboiler you’ve been lugging around in your satchel since Boxing Day.

1. Book Lovers Never Go To Bed Alone is an archive of photographs of thousands of beautiful books in bookstores, in homes, in bathtubs, and pretty much anywhere you can place a book. Some of these photographs are uncomfortable to look at because of the sheer number of unorganized books tottering precariously on rickety shelves. Obsessive compulsive organizational freaks should probably avoid this site as well. Regardless, it shows just how beautiful books can be, even in their wildest states.

2. Bookshelf Porn is like Book Lovers, but rather than focusing on the books themselves, it’s more of a celebration of the many types of shelves on which you can put your books. Lesson learned: it’s unfair how beautiful some people’s home libraries can be.

3. Project Gutenberg runs an inventory of over 36,000 free e-books that aren’t attached to copyright laws. Think old classics and ancient texts. Books are downloadable to your Kindle, iPad, iPhone, or whatever other device you may be using instead of carrying an actual book.

4. Good Reads is a social network for book lovers. Use it to keep track of books you’re reading, get recommendations from other readers, and create communities and conversations based on your favorite reads. Like any other social networking sites, you can add other people as friends, update your progress in current reads, and add books to your to-do list. Good Reads is intellectual activity gone digital.

5. What Should I Read Next? is a great source of inspiration for your next book based on your past favorites. Simply type in a favorite book, and the site will generate a list of similar books that you may also like. So easy! And, much like Pandora, more than a little bit addictive.

6. Hot Guys Reading Books is pretty self explanatory. If you ever need motivation to read, take a browse. Some of these guys aren’t all that and a bag of chips, but intelligence is attractive, so boy readers automatically get two extra hotness credits. Unfortunately, there is no Hot Girls Reading Books blog, but these dudes will work for now.

Reunified Two-Piece Chinese Painting Eases Diplomatic Tensions

Chinese media outlets (and The New York Times) are blowing up with the big news about the reunification of the historical Chinese painting Dwelling in the Fuchun Mountains. While at first glance it may appear to be your run-of-the-mill 14th-century Chinese ink landscape, it’s actually much more.

The reunification of the two-piece painting, which was originally just one unbelievably long scroll, is another stepping stone in easing decades-old tensions between China and Taiwan.

Painted by Yuan dynasty artist Huang Gongwang (yes, that Huang Gongwang), the piece was officially completed in 1350 and became a favorite of (the rather selfish) art collector Wu Hong-yu, who asked that the painting be burned right before his death. Fortunately for art nerds everywhere, Wu’s nephew rescued the painting before it was completely destroyed. Nice save. Unfortunately for the art nerds, the flames had already sundered the painting in twain. After traveling through the hands of a number of collectors, the smaller part of the painting, approximately 20 inches long, eventually landed in a museum in Hangzhou, China. The second piece, about 21 feet long, was stored at the National Palace Museum in Taipei, Taiwan.

Then, about a month ago, both pieces were brought together in Taipei in an exhibit called “Landscape Reunited.” This highly anticipated exhibition is now the talk of the Chinese art world for reasons beyond artistic value.

China and Taiwan’s decades of political and cultural conflicts have restricted travel, commerce, and communication between the two nations. However, with the 2008 election of current Taiwanese president Ma Ying-jeou, the two governments have been working harder to bridge their gaps. Following President Ma’s inauguration, China gave two very cuddly pandas to the Taipei City Zoo. In a culture where pandas are highly valued, this grand gesture was very political and very significant. People actually call it “panda diplomacy.” Catchy.

Obviously, it takes more than a burnt painting and two pandas to ease tensions between Taiwan and China. But if these simple objects are capable of inspiring and facilitating cooperation between two nations, then bring on the simple objects. I’d take a free panda any day.

Chic Geeks Discuss Steven Heller’s Book About Propaganda

Last night, art lovers and history nerds alike gathered at the Phaidon bookstore in Soho to celebrate the release of Steven Heller’s Iron Fists: Branding the 20th-Century Totalitarian State. In honor of his book, Phaidon and Esopus Magazine hosted a panel discussion with Heller, Shepard Fairey, and Paul Miller (aka DJ Spooky) to discuss propaganda, modern advertising, and oppressive political regimes. Thank god for the open bar.

Heller’s book is a study of propaganda and political advertising during four 20th century totalitarian regimes: Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy, the Soviet Union, and Communist China. In his presentation, he emphasized the power of facial characteristics (think Hitler’s mustache), the importance of symbols made synonymous with each of these regimes (the sickle and hammer), and the “cult of hate” that perpetuated racist ideologies. Makes for a lighthearted conversation.

Bringing Heller’s discussion to modern times, Shepard Fairey discussed his work on the Obama poster. He likened Obama’s campaign images to totalitarian propaganda, stating that the effectiveness of both campaign posters are based in similar design ideas — bold colors, minimal wording, and a single strong visual image. Just to be super clear, this in no way means that our president is a dictator. Fairey just lifted some simple advertising techniques from certain dictators.

In the hip Phaidon shop, trendy intellectuals gathered together to listen to these three eloquent speakers discuss their ideas, careers, and cultural findings. Who knew that history, politics, art, and design could come together over drinks? Smart is definitely the new sexy.

Kate Middleton Uses Personal Shopper for Upcoming Trip, Still Owns Her Style

In case you didn’t get the royal memo, the ever-fabulous Kate Middleton, Duchess of Cambridge, can do no wrong. As Britain’s most visible fashion icon for the foreseeable future, everyone knows that she doesn’t need (or want) a stylist. However, Middleton recently employed the services of at least two personal shoppers in preparation for her upcoming trip to Canada and California. The slender brunette has been working with personal shoppers at Harvey Nichols and Selfridges to build about 40 different outfits for the grand tour. Does this mean she’s no longer averse to accepting a little wardrobe help from the common folk?

Not really. A personal shopper is quite different from a stylist. Personal shoppers select clothes from their own stores, running and fetching different sizes and colors while their clients sip cappuccino in some private lounge most of us will never see. While they might offer the odd suggestion for shoes or accessories, they don’t provide much creative direction. So no fear, Kate fans. She’s still the driving force of her own glorious style.

She should be. After all, she styled herself all the way to the top. Remember when Will and Kate temporarily broke up in 2007? She definitely came out the victor after joining a winning rowing crew, working on her rocking bod, flitting about London town with other handsome men, getting back with Will, becoming an internationally recognized fashion icon, and locking down the role of future queen of England. That breakup couldn’t have gone any better for her.

And now Kate the Great and her wonderful wardrobe will be the center of attention during the eleven-day tour de America, while William’s greatest responsibility will be to hide his growing bald spot. Perhaps he should work with a stylist to find something a bit more exciting than his typical blue jacket/dark tie ensembles. Until then, we will be waiting in anticipation for every photo of Kate in the next It Dress. The Internet might shut down when eager buyers crash the e-commerce sites of her royal retailers.

J.K. Rowling Announces Launch of Pottermore, World Claps With Youthful Delight

Harry Potter fans, rejoice! This morning, J.K. Rowling announced the next exciting adventure in the Harry Potter series. After seven books and eight movies, enter Pottermore. In partnership with Sony, Rowling has created a space for fans to interact and, more importantly, to purchase audiobooks and e-books. She will also be publishing “additional information [she’s] been hoarding for years about the world of Harry Potter.” Cue the squeals.

The site will officially launch this October, although a few select readers will have early access in order to help shape the new project. The website, video announcement, and press release are all a bit vague in stating exactly what Pottermore will consist of. Rowling herself says “it’s the same story with a few crucial additions. The most important one is you… Pottermore will be the place where fans of any age can share, participate in, and rediscover the stories.” Interpret as you wish.

For the unfortunate souls who have not taken the opportunity to enjoy the series, this is hardly news. But avid fans who live and breathe Harry Potter (guilty as charged) may be on the brink of breakdown in anticipation of the eighth film and the website.

We’ve all heard a great number of lame excuses from people who haven’t read the books, but even they cannot deny the incredible impact of Rowling’s magical creation on the cultural landscape. For one, the Harry Potter franchise has reinvented the notion of reading for pleasure for children and adults alike. And, for the especially lucky generation of readers who have grown up with Harry, Ron, and Hermione, there is a certain magic in sharing awkward adolescent experiences with three spectacular, although fictional, characters. So addictive is the series, there’s nothing quite like the feeling of flying through 700 pages in a 24-hour period. Been there, done that.

So there’s comfort in knowing that the magical world of Harry Potter will not die with the last film. As long as there are fans willing to read and reread every book, Harry Potter and his friends will live on. And now, with Pottermore, Harry Potter will be immortalized in the digital world too. We can’t wait.