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.

Old Bridge will keep Cittadino in charge of school disrict

By KATHY CHANG
Staff Writer

OLD BRIDGE — Superintendent of Schools David Cittadino will remain at the helm of the Old Bridge School District.

The Board of Education at its Dec. 15 meeting conducted the required annual summary conference with the superintendent and voted to reappoint him as superintendent beyond June 30, 2016, subject to the negotiation of a mutually acceptable contract.

Cittadino waived his privacy rights for the board to discuss its review in a public forum of his performance during 2014-15.

The board’s tardiness on the required annual summary conference and notifying Cittadino whether or not they would reappoint him caused a big uproar at the meeting. Staff members, students, alumni and parents came to the podium to praise Cittadino’s commitment to the district.

In 2013, after a lengthy interview process, Cittadino was appointed as superintendent with a three-year contract that expires in June 2016, with a salary of $170,000 for the first year, followed by $171,700 and $174,276 in the second and third years, respectively, plus a $2,500 high school stipend each year.

Cittadino has a Bachelor of Arts degree in elementary education and a Master of Arts in school administration from Kean University. He began his career as a sixth-grade teacher at Theodore Roosevelt Middle School in Elizabeth in 1997. He was promoted to school disciplinarian in 2003 and worked in that capacity for two years.

In January 2006, Cittadino joined the Old Bridge School District as vice principal of Jonas Salk Middle School. Six months later, he was promoted to principal and held that post until June 2011, when he became principal of Old Bridge High School.

In June 2012, he became assistant superintendent for human resources.

Cittadino said he was “deeply humbled” by the kind words of his peers as well as from current and former students.

He said the success of the Old Bridge School District is not due to him, but everyone in the community and the teachers of the district, whose contract was ratified at the meeting.

Board members acknowledged that they did drop the ball on the time-frame of the review and said Cittadino’s dedication to the district speaks for itself.

Board Vice President Kevin Borsilli said Cittadino deserves a fair evaluation and said the superintendent has many positive qualities including being approachable. He said he would like to see a better long-term plan for the district.

Board member Nancy Mongon, who chairs the negotiations committee, said she was voting in favor of reappointing Cittadino.

“It is not in our best interest of the committee to conduct another superintendent search,” she said, adding the pool of candidates would not come close to what Cittadino has provided for the district.

Negotiations for Cittadino’s contract will begin in February and should be completed by July 1, according to Lori Luicci, public relations coordinator for the Old Bridge School District.

Mosque, community members share respect

I was mayor of East Brunswick and a member of the Planning Board when our diverse community was honored to be chosen as the town in which to build the incredibly beautiful mosque along Dunhams Corner Road. All of East Brunswick should be proud that the new neighbors have added so much to our image as a strong, vibrant community that can share its devotion and spirituality with the other 34 different religious congregations throughout our town.

The congregants at the mosque were gracious, kind and patient throughout the entire laborious process of planning, zoning and construction. I have been honored to be part of their holidays and special events. I know of no one in East Brunswick who has ever had a negative experience with the congregation.

I wish that our good example of inclusion and hospitality would be an example about how the rest of the world should learn to live in peace.

I hope that the rhetoric and xenophobia expressed by a few high-profile political leaders in the state and the nation won’t diminish the respect we all must share among people, especially during these holidays when the oil lamps continue to glow while others will yearn to sleep in heavenly peace.

Bill Neary
East Brunswick

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.

Coats for kids

 PHOTO COURTESY OF THOMAS PETERSON PHOTO COURTESY OF THOMAS PETERSON The Association of Middlesex County College Nursing Students held its annual “Coats for Kids” coat drive, delivering 27 coats and six other items of winter apparel to the Raritan Bay Medical Center Pediatric Department. Pictured are Nursing Instructor/Association Advisor Patricia Fox of East Brunswick, left to right, Treasurer Elisabeth Martinez of South Brunswick, Vice President So Chung of Edison, Secretary Nichole O’Donnell of Woodbridge, President Tara Renter of Old Bridge and Instructor/Association Advisor Luiza Asahme of Woodbridge.

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 castmates and highmaintenance 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.

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

By Kellie Freeze,

 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 highschool 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 castmates, 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.

Tom Hardy delivers a master class

In theaters now

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