Friday, December 26, 2014

A few thoughts on "The Interview"

Posted By on Fri, Dec 26, 2014 at 1:54 PM

In case you missed the news in between exchanging gifts, eggnog and holiday turkey, Sony Pictures decided to release its controversial film The Interview after originally pulling it over threats made against theaters showing the film.

Locally, viewers had two options to see the film: streaming online or at the South Side Works theater. In fact, of the 311 theaters showing the film nationwide, South Side Works was the only theater in the state to screen the film. 

Since things were a little slow around the City Paper offices this morning, I decided to watch the film, starring James Franco and Seth Rogen, and will have a review coming in next week's issue. But before that, I thought I'd share a few thoughts on the movie.

The plot of the film is extremely well known at this point: A television tabloid journalist (Franco) and his producer (Rogen) score an interview with Kim Jong-un. They are then enlisted by the CIA to assassinate the dictator, a task they agree to. The film and the decision to depict Kim Jong-un (hear Rogen and Franco discuss the decision with Howard Stern) has been extremely controversial in recent weeks.

The film is being cited as the reason for a massive hack on Sony, the company, which is releasing the film. While the FBI has claimed that North Korea was behind the attack, security experts are starting to disagree. In the wake of the hack and other threats, theaters began pulling out of screenings and Sony pulled the film, much to the dismay of President Obama. Sony reversed course Christmas Eve and the film made $1 million after a one-day limited release.

But at the bottom of all of this controversy sits a Seth Rogen/James Franco film that is cut from the same mold as their previous outings Pineapple Express and This is the End. If you liked those films (and I did), then you're going to like this film (which I do). But if you're of a mindset that you have to go and see this film out of some sort of patriotic duty not to let "the terrorists" win, and you've never seen, liked or heard of the duo's other films, then you're likely going to be disappointed. If that's your reason for seeing the film, you might want to instead just upload the picture of the bald eagle with a single tear and make your statement that way and save the $10 bucks.

But if you like a raunchy comedy with all of the typical cringe-worthy trimmings — like hiding a top secret projectile in the one place that not even a seasoned North Korean military man might look — this movie really is a can't miss. It's full of cheap laughs (Franco's character Dave Skylark has "stink dick" after a night of partying) to some clever moments as well that remind us that while the United States is obviously not North Korea, we still have a penchant for diplomatic stupidity of our own.

In one scene for example, Skylark is confronted with the idea that killing Kim Jong-un might not actually solve the problem. "How many times will the U.S. make the same mistakes," Skylark is asked. 

"As many times as it takes!" he bellows in return.

The Interview is not a political thriller in the vein of the Manchurian Candidate or political satire cut from the cloth of Dr. Strangelove, but it's a really funny, entertaining film. And although the ending is pretty predictable (and pretty violent), if you're a fan of this type of comedy, it really is worth a peek.

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Zine Reading

Posted By on Fri, Dec 26, 2014 at 9:11 AM

Shake off some holiday torpor this Saturday with a reading at the Carnegie Library's Oakland branch by two stars of the national zine scene.

Artist and writer LB is an educator from Chicago who publishes the acclaimed zine Truckface.  LB writes often about the working life, including her current job as a teacher at a public high school.

Also reading is K, who publishes Lake Effect, another well-loved zine from the Midwest.

The reading is from 2-3 p.m. in the library's Quiet Reading Room. Bring zines to swap and/or read at the open mic.

The event is free. The  library, which is big on zines,  is located at 4400 Forbes Ave., Oakland.

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Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Light of Life Rescue Mission serves hot holiday meals

Posted By on Tue, Dec 23, 2014 at 8:47 PM

Produced by Ashley Murray

At a table near the wall in a small dining room Jody Young ate his ham, potatoes au gratin, peas and a roll. Behind him was a cafeteria-style window, and volunteers grabbed plates from the counter.

"Having all these people here, it's joyful for me, " Young says. "I've been in this program, and we usually help ourselves [to meals]. It's a different experience for people to wait on me for a change." 

Mayor Peduto stopped by to talk with volunteers and media about poverty in Pittsburgh. - PHOTO BY ASHLEY MURRAY
  • Photo by Ashley Murray
  • Mayor Peduto stopped by to talk with volunteers and media about poverty in Pittsburgh.
For four hours, the Light of Life Rescue Mission on Pittsburgh's North Side served hot meals for its annual Christmas banquet. Several of the nearly 100 volunteers (and a small media swarm when Peduto stopped by) filled the dining hall, while others helped distributed coats, hats, blankets and bags of toiletries in a tent set up just outside the mission. Volunteers also delivered several meals to nearby high-rise apartment buildings. 

"I reside here," Young says. "This place has saved my life. I was down and out, and this place brought me back to God again.  I've lost a lot, but I'm gaining a lot since I've been here." 

The Light of Life Rescue Mission is a Christian-based organization that serves hundreds of people each year with meals and an emergency men's shelter - which can sleep up to 38 men at a time - and a homeless program for women with children in which they are housed in off-site apartments. Additionally, the organization provides long-term addiction recovery programs and case management.

"The organization is 62 years old now," says Kate Wadsworth, public relations manager. "It started as a soup kitchen, and once they saw the many other needs, it's really expanded over the years to what it is today."

The location is open 24 hours per day every single day of the year.

"Usually the men who come to our 90-day program, usually aren't there for recovery support," Wadsworth says. "They just need an address for their resume and case support. Primarily, the men and women who come to our long-term programs are homeless because of addiction."

The main cook behind the holiday banquet meal actually graduated from the program several years beforehand.
Kevin Hutchison, far right, leads grace before serving meals. Hutchison, now employed as a cook at Light of Life, is a former resident. - PHOTO BY ASHLEY MURRAY
  • Photo by Ashley Murray
  • Kevin Hutchison, far right, leads grace before serving meals. Hutchison, now employed as a cook at Light of Life, is a former resident.

"When my dad passed away in 1987, I really took it hard, and I just started medicating myself, you know, with  alcohol," says Kevin Hutchison, who talked in between preparing pans of potatoes. He said when his mother passed away in 2003, his bottom fell out and he didn't want to live anymore.  He eventually did 18 months in a the Light of Life program. In 2006, he was hired to work in the kitchen there. "Not only myself, but our residents, my co-workers here, some of us have come from brokenness.  So to see others that have been given a hope-shot, and have turned their lives around [is hopeful.]"

The mission also holds big holiday meals for Thanksgiving and Easter.

"We provide good, traditional meals and a community for those who may not have one," Wadsworth says. "We don't want anyone to be alone or not able to enjoy a good meal on days like this."

SouthSideWorks cinema will play "The Interview" on Christmas Day

Posted By on Tue, Dec 23, 2014 at 12:55 PM

  • Photo courtesy of Sony

SouthSideWorks cinema, owned and operated by Cleveland Cinemas, got the go-ahead from Sony today to release Seth Rogen and James Franco's The Interview on Christmas day.

"The studio is the one that had originally pulled it from release before we had ever come to a decision," says David Huffman, director of marketing for Cleveland Cinemas.  "Now that they are allowing us to open it again, we are back to our original plan."

Sony pulled the film — in which actors Rogen and Franco are tasked with assassinating North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un — after Sony was hacked and theaters dropped the film because of threats.

According to a Cleveland Cinemas press release, the independent cinema company had been strongly advocating for Sony to reverse their decision.

“We are happy that Sony has decided to release The Interview,” said Jonathan Forman, president of Cleveland Cinemas, in the press release. “Freedom of speech and artistic expression are core values to America and our company has never been one to shy away from a film due to its content. To not allow audiences access to this film would not have been right.”

Show times are not on the SouthSideWorks cinema website yet, but the company says tickets and times will be available by Dec. 23 at 3 p.m. on

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Monday, December 22, 2014

Volunteers needed today for emergency toy drive

Posted By on Mon, Dec 22, 2014 at 12:28 PM


After news broke last week that Toys for Tots didn't receive some local requests, leaving about 2,000 kids without toys, blogger Lindsay Patross of and Nina Sauer of Most Wanted Fine Art pulled together to compensate for the mix-up.  They are still asking for volunteers to work today and to sort and deliver toys as well as feed the volunteers.

"We have a big order for 500 kids that we are trying to process today and then also deliver the packages," says Nina Sauer, owner of Most Wanted Fine Art on Penn Avenue, the main drop-off location for donations to the emergency toy drive.

She says as of right now, ten volunteers are working, but that more are needed at the Garfield location today from 11 a.m. - 4 p.m. today. (Note: MWFA is located on a closed portion of Penn Avenue, but the gallery is still open.)  Additionally, the Most Wanted Fine Art location at the Waterfront will also be open to accept toy donations from 11 a.m. - 5 p.m. Volunteers to drive between the two locations at the end of the day are needed in addition to volunteers who are needed to sort and distribute. 

The biggest need right is for toys for more than 300 children ages 6-12.

"What ends up happening is a lot of people are going to buy for little kids," Sauer says. "So, if people want to think about an age-range to buy for, 6-12 would be the most needed age range."

Gift bags and boxes are also needed as well as hats, gloves, scarves, socks and hand warmers for homeless youth and coffee and snacks for the volunteers.

"If people don't have money are looking for ways to contribute, we need boxes.  We're asking people to ask retailers if they can donate boxes or food," Sauer says.  "We're also taking gloves, hats and handwarmers for homeless youth.  In addition to toys, we're trying to get these items that people need all winter long." 

The drive, which just began on Friday, has raised more than $10,000 and received more than 4,000 donated toys.

More information can be found at Volunteers are also using the hashtag #PGHSavesXmas on Twitter.

Full text of the Toys for Tots statement on the issue can be found here.

Addresses of locations:

Most Wanted Fine Art in Garfield: 5015 Penn Ave.

Most Wanted Fine Art at the Waterfront: 210 West Bridge St. across from Panera Bread and beside Famous Footwear

Friday, December 19, 2014

UPDATED: Local organizations scrambling for toys

Posted By on Fri, Dec 19, 2014 at 1:56 PM

Local charitable groups are rushing to gather toys for needy children after an apparent paperwork snafu at Toys for Tots has left many of them without expected gifts.

"There were about 50 families that we were anticipating receiving toys," says Will Thompkins, interim executive director at the Pittsburgh Project. "We were surprised that we didn’t receive them this year.”

Thompkins says his organization has participated in the Marines' Toys for Tots program for about seven years. This year, he says, "they said they never received our paperwork.”

Other local organizations, including East Liberty's Rodman Street Missionary Baptist Church, are telling similar stories about having submitted paperwork, but never hearing back.

Toys for Tots did not immediately respond to an email request for comment — though the Trib is reporting they plan to put out a statement later today.

Those who are interested in helping local organizations, including Sisters Helping Sisters, Neighborhood Living Project, Community Human Services and the Allegheny Traditional Academy can drop toys off at the following locations and times:

Most Wanted Fine Art: 210 West Bridge Street next to Panera Bread at The Waterfront Friday and Saturday (noon-9 p.m.); Sunday (noon-6 p.m.)

Most Wanted Fine Art: 5015 Penn Ave; anytime, call ahead to drop off toys 412-508-6782.

Monetary donations are also being solicited through iheartpgh.

UPDATE: Toys for Tots responded with a statement claiming "there is no record of any completed request having been submitted by the agencies in question."

Full statement:

19 December 2014

To whom it may concern:

This is in response to recent reports regarding this year’s Toys for Tots campaign and the inability to provide toys to some non-profit organizations. I hope with this statement to clarify both the process for non-profit organizations to apply for toys, as well as the events that have been reported in the past 24 hours.

The following is the process for which a non-profit organization can obtain toys. The first step for the organization is to log onto the toys for tots website which and register under “non-profit agency” and fill out the request. Once that is received into the system, an automatic reply is sent from the website confirming the request was properly submitted. This confirmation email contains a control number which is used to track the request through all subsequent stages. I have personally tested the system to confirm what is contained in the automatically generated email from the system. Simultaneously an email is sent to the local administrator, as well as our volunteer/warehouse managers (Pittsburgh Cares for this area). Once the local Toys for Tots administrator and warehouse managers are notified of an approved request in the system; the organization will be contacted for additional information. The additional information that is requested at that time is as follows, proof of 501c status, a list of names, ages and addresses of all children to receive toys. Once this information is provided to us at Toys for Tots we are able to begin filling the order. Due to the high number or requests there is also a strict deadline to register. This is to ensure that there is an adequate number of toys available for all organizations requiring toys. This year (2014) the deadline to register for non-profits was November 15. Orders began being filled on approximately December 1 for non-profits who met the deadline. Our policy is to always approve requests that are submitted on time and when all required documentation is provided. This system for requesting toys has been in place for the past several years.

In the past 24 hours it has been reported that some non-profits have been denied toys this year. After reviewing the Toys for Tots online system there is no record of any completed request having been submitted by the agencies in question. Agencies with incomplete online applications were notified that there was insufficient information input to the system concerning their orders and toys would be provided if available. In this same communication, agencies were urged to send their clients to the Open House, where individuals in need could access toys directly.

Unfortunately this year donations are lower than in years past and requests are up. In order for us to continue to fill all current agency requests that met the deadline and have our open house, requests that came in after the deadline may not be met on their timeline or at all.

All of this is accomplished with volunteers and donations provided by the local community to provide a happy holiday to families in need. We will continue to do so in the future. We will work to fill orders until the 23rd of December or until donations run out.


Charles Brashear
Toys for Tots Coordinator North Versailles, PA

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Thursday, December 18, 2014

Memorial this Sunday for those who died homeless

Posted By on Thu, Dec 18, 2014 at 11:47 AM

  • Wall of bronze plaques commemorating those who died while homeless - PHOTO BY CHUCK AUSTIN, COURTESY OF OPERATION SAFETY NET AND PITTSBURGH MERCY HEALTH SYSTEM
    • Photo by Chuck Austin, courtesy of Operation Safety Net and Pittsburgh Mercy Health System
    • Wall of bronze plaques commemorating those who died while homeless

Under a busy highway overpass, a wall of 138 bronze plaques is about to grow by six.

This Sunday evening, at Fort Pitt Boulevard and Grant Street, social service workers, members of the general public and homeless people will gather Downtown to mourn the six who died homeless on the county's streets this year.

The plaques, which bear the phrase "we remember", memorialize each homeless person who has died countywide since 1989.

The candlelight memorial service is organized by Operation Safety Net, an organization that helps provide medical care to the homeless through the Pittsburgh Mercy Health System.

    • Photo by Chuck Austin, courtesy of Operation Safety Net and Pittsburgh Mercy Health System

"We’ve been getting a better and better showing every year," says Stephanie Chiappini, a program manager at Operation Safety Net who organizes the service. "It always amazes me the people who show up — the people from the community who come just to pay homage."

The vigil has been an annual tradition since 1998 and coincides with National Homeless Persons Memorial Day on December 21, the longest night of the year. More than 150 other cities are expected to participate.

In the back of her mind, Chiappini is hoping for bad weather.

Being out in the elements without shelter, "You start to realize that’s every day, every moment for a lot of people. Just having a roof over your head is a major advantage in terms of staying healthy."

The memorial service, which will run from 7-7:30 p.m., will include brief remarks, a reading of the names, a musical selection and a prayer.

Members of the public are invited to attend and are encouraged to donate new men's and women's gloves, boots and thermal underwear, which will go to an emergency severe weather shelter. Donations to support the shelter and Operation Safety Net can be made here.

  • Photo by Chuck Austin, courtesy of Operation Safety Net and Pittsburgh Mercy Health System
  • Stephanie Chiappini (left) and Dr. Jim Withers (right)

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Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Photos from Pittsburgh Menorah lighting

Posted By on Wed, Dec 17, 2014 at 3:33 PM

Staff photographer Heather Mull attended the city's annual Menorah lighting Tuesday night, the first night of Hanukkah.  Photos by Heather Mull


Oral-History Projects Marks Book Release Tonight

Posted By on Wed, Dec 17, 2014 at 2:50 PM

The 2014 Crossing Fences Project holds a free event to mark the release of its multimedia booklets documenting a program that had 47 African-American boys and young men gathering the stories of 34 black men ages 21 to 78.

The program, which engaged participants from Wilkinsburg, East Liberty and Sto-Rox, was run by SLB Radio Productions, with backing from the Heinz Endowments African American Men and Boys Initiative and other supporters.

The open-house-style event tonight, at the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh, is a chance to meet with and hear the stories of the participants.

The event is free and so are the booklets.

The City-Wide Celebration of Crossing Fences runs from 6-8 p.m. at the Children’s Museum. The Museum is located at 10 Children’s Way, on the North Side.

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Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Hanukkah begins with early literacy activities at Jewish Community Center in Squirrel Hill

Posted By on Tue, Dec 16, 2014 at 5:33 PM

Bananas and pretzel sticks were all the rage at story time on Sunday morning - and not just because they're awesome snacks. Kids had the run of the Levinson room at the Jewish Community Center in Squirrel Hill, making menorahs by stabbing the little pretzel candles into banana chanukiahs...and then gladly chowing down.

"I think at this point, it's for her to have a good time and enjoy the activities that are associated with each holiday," says Michael Coblenz, who brought his toddler daughter. 

PJ Library, an organization that promotes Jewish literacy in the U.S. and Canada, sponsored the story time event. This year, the Hanukkah story was The Hanukkah Trike by Michelle Edwards.  The PJ Library began in 2006 with the Harold Grinspoon Foundation out of Western Massachusetts but relies on partnerships with local organizations, like the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh.

"It's a lot more than just books," says Lauren Bartholomae, local PJ Library coordinator. "It's really an engagement strategy to bring Jewish families out of their homes and into the community...It starts with the books, but then it really builds from there."

Pittsburgh has been involved in the program since 2008, and nearly 700 families receive free Jewish books for children ages 6 months to 5-and-a-half years old. The program plans to expand to age 8.

"The man who began the program believed that families are having very snuggly moments," says Bartholomae. "No matter how young those children are, why not make those moments Jewish moments. That's how it started."

More information can be found at

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