Did you know …

 Ryan Seacrest  ABC/LOU ROCCO Ryan Seacrest ABC/LOU ROCCO Global super-group One Direction returns to headline the Billboard Hollywood Party on “Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve with Ryan Seacrest 2016” beginning Thursday, Dec. 31, at 8 p.m. on ABC and broadcasting non-stop until 2:13 a.m.. One Direction will perform three songs throughout the show during a bi-coastal celebration. They join Carrie Underwood, who will be performing for over 1 million fans in Times Square moments before the ball drops. With over 38 performances and 5 ½ hours of music, this is America’s biggest celebration of the year.

Author Michael Pollan’s global journey to rediscover the pleasures of healthy food will be shared with us when PBS premieres “In Defense of Food” on Wednesday, Dec. 30, from 9 to 11 p.m. (check your local listings). Busting myths and misconceptions, “In Defense of Food” reveals how common sense and

old-fashioned wisdom can help rediscover the pleasures of eating and at the same time reduce our risks of falling victim to diet-related diseases.

In January 2016, ABC Family will be renamed Freeform. On Tuesday, Jan. 12, the network will premiere its new series “Shadowhunters” at 9 p.m. One young woman realizes how dark the city can really be when she learns the truth about her past in the first episode. “Shadowhunters” is based on the bestselling young adult fantasy book series “The Mortal Instruments” by Cassandra Clare, and follows Clary Fray, who comes from a long line of Shadowhunters — humanangel hybrids who hunt down demons.

Dateline NBC correspondent Keith Morrison joins Investigation Discovery as new host of “Dateline on ID,” beginning January 2016, along with “Front Page” specials throughout next year.

Local college student organizes global event in one month

By JENNIFER AMATO
Staff Writer

NORTH BRUNSWICK — A young man from North Brunswick organized a competition that has a global impact.

Umair Masood, a sophomore at Rutgers University, served as campus director for the seventh annual Hult Prize competition at Rutgers on Dec. 5, when 10 teams competed to solve former President Bill Clinton’s challenge for 2015: How to end poverty in urban spaces and encourage students to build sustainable, scalable and fast-growing social enterprises that double the income of 10 million people resided in crowded urban spaces by better connecting people, goods, services and capital.

“This creates a community platform for social entrepreneurs on campus who are trying to get their name out there,” Masood said.

“The one thing I learned as director is that there is a huge entrepreneurial community at Rutgers and there is a new wave of social entrepreneurship [that is] creating an idea or a project that is profitable while solving the world’s problems at the same time, which is very powerful.”

Masood was able to pull the event together in just a month’s time, having to find teams and judges, obtain sponsors and partners and secure prize money.

His experience was rooted in a fiveyear internship at the American Muslim Consumer Consortium, founded by his parents, Faisal Masood and Sabiha Ansari, to understand and address the needs of American Muslim consumers and to empower companies developing products for the market.

“I’ve seen them run an event, build a network and brand themselves,” he said.

The winning team members from Rutgers University were Daniel Reji of Holmdel, David Shah of Edison, Chisa Egbelu of Louisiana and Myles Jackson of Pennsylvania. They were awarded $500 and will represent Rutgers at Regionals in Boston in March.

Following the regional finals, one winning team from each host city will move into a summer business accelerator program, where participants will receive mentorship, advisory and strategic planning as they create prototypes and set-up to launch their new social business.

The final round of competition will be hosted at the Clinton Global Initiative Annual Meeting in September, when one team will be selected as the Hult Prize recipient. Clinton himself will award the $1,000,000 prize to the winning team.

“The Hult Prize is a wonderful example of the creative cooperation needed to build a world with shared opportunity, shared responsibility, and shared prosperity, and each year I look forward to seeing the many outstanding ideas the competition produces,” Clinton said in a statement.

For more information on the event, visit hultprizeat.com/rutgers.

Contact Jennifer Amato at jamato@gmnews.com.

Mariah Carey directs and stars with Lacey Chabert in ‘A Christmas Melody’

By Kellie Freeze, www.channelguidemag.com

 Lacey Chabert Lacey Chabert Mariah Carey’s music is an integral part of the holiday season, and now the Christmas chanteuse is gifting her talents to Hallmark’s most musical holiday film. The singer/actress is directing her first film, the aptly named A Christmas Melody, premiering Dec. 19 on Hallmark Channel.

The film stars Lacey Chabert as Kristin, a young fashion designer who shutters her big-city boutique and moves back to her hometown with her daughter (singing sensation Fina Strazza, of Broadway’s Matilda) in tow. The duo face a tumultuous adjustment to small-town life, further complicated by Kristin’s high school nemesis (Carey). But the plucky family braves each challenge with the help of Kristin’s aunt — a local coffee shop owner (Kathy Najimy) — and the hunky local music teacher (Brennan Elliott).

Chabert reveals that one thing she and Carey bonded over was their mutual love of the holiday season. “I never thought anyone could love Christmas as much as I do until I met Mariah Carey,” she says. “She absolutely adores Christmas!” The pair also chatted about their love of holiday tunes, and Chabert admits that she has Carey’s holiday CDs on a near-constant loop.

Chabert also delights in the scenes she shot with her director, where Carey gets to flex her comedy chops as a mean girl. “She was excellent at those scenes,” says Chabert. “I really enjoyed those scenes with her so much, because they are really funny and of course, because it is Hallmark, you know that nothing’s too mean spirited.” The repartee in the duo’s scenes is the film’s funniest.

The film, part of Hallmark’s “Countdown to Christmas,” has all of the family friendly trappings we would expect from the network’s popular holiday programming block. And, of course, Carey adds her impeccable taste to the film’s visual design. “She is Miss Christmas,” laughs Chabert. “She has such a great eye for aesthetics and knowing what looks best, and what looks flattering and beautiful. She really wanted to capture the Christmas spirit and I feel like the movie did that. She really is a fantastic director.”

In addition to directing and starring in the festive flick, Carey also lends one of her most charming holiday hits to the film’s soundtrack. Carey isn’t the one singing “Oh Santa!” — but the upbeat and cheerful Christmas tune is pure perfection when sung by young phenom Strazza.

When we spoke, Chabert gushed about her young costar. “She is amazing. Fina is remarkably talented and so smart for her age. I mean … I shouldn’t even say ‘for her age.’ She is so smart in general. Just a wonderfully talented child and it was funny all that we have in common. I was actually on Broadway in Les Misérables at the same exact age. and she has been doing Broadway’s Matilda.” She adds, “I looked at her and she is just so tiny and young and it was hard to imagine myself ever being that tiny and young and handling your responsibility of performing in front of thousands of people live every night. It was just kind of cool to walk down memory lane with her.”

Chabert also shares high praise for her other cast mates, saying Najimy “is a doll,” and considering Elliot — with whom she recently costarred in Hallmark’s All of My Heart — “a good friend.” The actress adds, “It is really nice to work with people who you get along with so well.”

The cast’s chemistry is palpable, their talent divine, and with Carey’s attention to directorial detail and discerning eye, this Christmas charmer may enjoy the same longevity as her other holiday classics.

In theaters now

Tom Hardy delivers a master class

Director Brian Helgeland (L.A. Confidential) introduces viewers to the Kray twins in his new film, Legend. The identical twin gangsters, Reggie and Ronnie, were two of the most notorious criminals in British history. Their empire rose in London’s East End during the 1960s and they dominated much of the illegal activity there. Helgeland’s film is a close examination of the twins, both portrayed by Tom Hardy.

Reggie Kray was the quiet but merciless twin — feared and revered at the same time, as many gangsters have been throughout history. He fashioned himself into a club owner, and though that wasn’t his primary source of income, it had a more legitimate ring to it. Frances Shea (Emily Browning) caught his eye and he was willing to do anything for her, though the one thing he could never seem to do was to become a truly legitimate businessman.

Ronnie Kray had been in a mental institution due to his instability. Quick to snap, Ronnie was the less rational of the two, and after his brother had him declared sane — through threats, of course — he worked with Reggie in their rise to dominance.

Despite disagreements between the two, they were brothers so devoted to each other that, to solve matters, each looked past the other’s shortcomings. While Reggie often looked out for Ronnie, Ronnie also had his own way of looking out for Reggie. Together their rise was impressive and, yes, legendary.

Brutal, yet orchestrated like a carefully crafted symphony, Legend tells us a story with visually striking images that are disconcerting but necessary — necessary to relay the otherwise indescribable violence that took place during the Krays’ rise to prominence. Helgeland, in both writing and directing the film, is deeply invested in the portrayal and walks a fine line with Legend’s violence. It’s harsh but not gratuitous.

The real star of this film is Tom Hardy, who portrays both twins; it’s a master class in acting. He transports himself from brother to brother with seeming ease, all the way down to the simple physical mannerisms of each twin. It feels as though he totally embodies each twin for who they are and what they possess. There aren’t many other actors who could be counted on to display this level of nuance in these roles.

This Legend is worth the price of admission just to see Tom Hardy; the rest is a bonus. The film is beautiful yet violent, compassionate yet abusive — all at once.

Legend Rated: R Stars: Tom Hardy, Emily Browning, Taron Egerton Director: Brian Helgeland Grade: B

Remembering The Rat Pack

By Lucie M. Winborne, ReMIND Magazine

 Peter Lawford, Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr., and Dean Martin Peter Lawford, Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr., and Dean Martin They sipped Scotch on the rocks and smoked with panache. Wore tuxedos and mohair suits. Made movies and spoke their own brand of slang. Chased women (or, as Joey Bishop said, had to chase them away!). Sold out shows at the Sands in Vegas, where audiences lined up for hours for a seat.

They were talented, they were hip, and, for a brief but golden period, they were the coolest of the cool.

They were the Rat Pack.

Five names are familiar today: Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr., Peter Lawford, Dean Martin and Joey Bishop, but their “founder” was actually Humphrey Bogart, who dubbed a group of his drinking buddies the “Holmby Hills Rat Pack” in the ’50s. Another story has it that Bogie’s wife, Lauren Bacall, upon witnessing the aftermath of her husband’s and pals’ carousing, told them they looked like “a pack of rats.” Whatever its origin, the name stuck, although Sinatra wasn’t too fond of it and referred to the group as “The Summit” or “The Clan.” Other original members included David Niven, Katharine Hepburn and Judy Garland.

After Bogart’s death in 1957, Sinatra became the group’s leader (“It’s Frank’s world; we just live in it,” Martin famously quipped), and in the early ’60s he and the boys charmed audiences at the Sands with their irreverent jokes, impressions and, of course, songs. They also made three films: Ocean’s 11, Sergeants 3 and Robin and the 7 Hoods. Noted Sinatra of these efforts: “Of course they’re not great movies! But we are not setting out to make Hamlet or Gone With the Wind. We are out to make films the people enjoy. It’s called entertainment.”

The group didn’t confine themselves solely to entertainment, though. In 1960 they publicly supported John F. Kennedy’s presidential campaign, donating publicity, photo ops and even a new version of “High Hopes” from Sinatra that Kennedy would take as his campaign song. That summer, Sinatra, Lawford, Davis and pack “mascot” Shirley MacLaine sang the national anthem at the opening of the Democratic National Convention, forging a link between politics and celebrities that continues to this day.

Those seemingly carefree times couldn’t last forever, of course. Relations between Kennedy and Sinatra cooled, then Frank’s friendship with Peter Lawford soured as well. After just a few years, the heyday of the Rat Pack was over.

In 1988 Sinatra, Martin and Sammy Davis Jr. tried to rekindle the old magic with a “Together Again” tour that Sinatra felt would be good for Martin, who had not performed for several years, but Dean was forced to drop out due to illness after just a few shows, and Sammy was diagnosed with throat cancer the following year. In 2007, Joey Bishop, the last surviving member, passed away.

By present politically correct standards, the Rat Pack might seem hopelessly outdated, but “The Rat Pack & Friends” tribute shows, featuring member impersonators and a big band, still delight fans around the globe. For a memorable 90 minutes, old-style Vegas cool lives again.

Did you know …

 Eva Longoria Eva Longoria NBC will premiere its new half-hour comedy series “Telenovela” on Monday, Jan. 4, at 8:30 p.m.

Eva Longoria (“Desperate Housewives”) stars in this big, fun and flashy comedy as Ana Sofia, the star of a popular Spanish language soap opera. One problem, she doesn’t speak any Spanish.

Other problems: Ana must manage a new boss, jealous cast mates and high maintenance friends — and that’s all before her ex-husband is hired as her new on-screen love interest. Just like a real telenovela, this comedy is full of all kinds of drama. The cast includes Jencarlos Canela, Diana Maria Riva, Jose Moreno Brooks, Alex Meneses, Amaury Nolasco. Jadyn Douglas, and Izzy Diaz.

“Christmas with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir Featuring Santino Fontana and the Sesame Street Muppets” will air Monday, Dec. 21, at 9 p.m. on PBS (check your local listings). This holiday extravaganza

includes a rendition of the classic carol from Sesame Street, “Keep Christmas with You,” “Sing a Christmas Carol” from Scrooge and much more.

Brighten up the holidays with “The Andy Griffith Show Christmas Special,” airing on CBS Friday, Dec. 25, from 8 to 9 p.m.. Featured are two newly colorized episodes of the classic TV series.

truTV will premiere its new half-hour comedy series “Almost Genius” on Tuesday, Dec. 29, at 10 p.m. This self-contained comedy celebrates the people, places and things that try so hard to succeed but come up just a bit short. Hosted by April Richardson and Chris Fairbanks, the show features comedians and performers digitally inserted into viral videos to comment on and congratulate people for their bravery and ingenuity in snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.

Avenel Middle School students enjoying Google Cardboard experience

By KATHY CHANG
Staff Writer

WOODBRIDGE — Students at Avenel Middle School got to explore the Grand Canyon and historic Philadelphia, as well as tag along on a shark adventure in the Galapagos Islands and explore the deep jungles of South America — all without leaving their desks.

Google representative Simon Fogbo visited the school on Nov. 24 with 90 Google Cardboards equipped with smart phones and Wi-Fi for the students to experience 250 various virtual reality apps that are available.

Jamie Wanko, sixth-grade social studies teacher, is one of 17 teachers at Avenel Middle School piloting an interactive Google Classroom this year.

“Instead of textbooks, we use Chromebooks,” she said. “It’s amazing and everything is in real time. The students can forward me their work and I can send them direct feedback.”

Wanko said when she came across the Google Cardboard, she told her classes about it.

“In two days some of my students brought it in,” she said. “The cardboard is available for about $10 on Amazon so it’s accessible. The apps have to be downloaded.”

A teacher with a tablet can select and control what the students see in the Google Cardboard.

“There have been a lot of “Whoas”,” Wanko said of the different expeditions.

Wanko said she bought Google Cardboards for her own children and use them in her classroom.

An educator for 15 years, Wanko said the use of technology is what her students now have grown up with.

“[Using technology is] second nature to them,” she said. “The reward that I see with a Google Classroom is fewer assignments go missing and the enthusiasm from my students.”

Another positive feature of a Google Classroom is parents are able to see what their child has learned in class.

Wanko said she was one of the first to pilot the Google Classroom and she had other teachers join her with the support of Principal Joseph Short and the Woodbridge Board of Education.

JCCMC to host new Men’s Group meetings

Jan. 6 from 10:30-11:30 a.m. will be the first meeting of the new JCC Men’s Group at the Jewish Community Center of Middlesex County (JCCMC) at 1775 Oak Tree Road in Edison.

This new group is devoted to semi-retired and retired men who are looking for a meaningful social activity for relaxation, learning and friendly interaction with men of a similar age. Topic for the first meeting:

Where Were You: When World War II ended? When JFK was shot? When Neil Armstrong walked on the moon? When the 9/11 attacks happened? Tell your stories!

Bagels and coffee will be provided.

The group is free for JCCMC members and $5 per session for nonmembers. For more information, contact Lincoln Richman at 732-494-3232, ext. 3627.

Kicking off the holidays in Metuchen


 Artist Yvonne Fasciale’s rendering of Metuchen landmarks was one of hundreds of items for sale at “Eat, Drink & Buy Art” Dec. 5 in a “pop-up” store on Main Street. The borough was abuzz with holiday activities the entire weekend, including a Christmas Tree lighting on Friday night; St. Luke’s Annual Christmas Fair on Saturday; three performances of “Duke Ellington’s Nutcracker” at the Forum Theater; a pancake breakfast, the Jingle Bell 5K run and a Hanukkah History Fair on Sunday morning, and a Holiday House Tour sponsored by the Borough Improvement League on Sunday afternoon. Artist Yvonne Fasciale’s rendering of Metuchen landmarks was one of hundreds of items for sale at “Eat, Drink & Buy Art” Dec. 5 in a “pop-up” store on Main Street. The borough was abuzz with holiday activities the entire weekend, including a Christmas Tree lighting on Friday night; St. Luke’s Annual Christmas Fair on Saturday; three performances of “Duke Ellington’s Nutcracker” at the Forum Theater; a pancake breakfast, the Jingle Bell 5K run and a Hanukkah History Fair on Sunday morning, and a Holiday House Tour sponsored by the Borough Improvement League on Sunday afternoon.