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Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Les Miserables, Les Oscars Contenders

Victor Hugo's classic Les Miserables set at the time of the French Revolution, is one the greatest novels of all time.  I have seen the Broadway show, twice.  My expectations for the movie was set with the  highest benchmark; a formidable task. Les Miseables, starring Hugh Jackman, Anne Hathaway, Russell Crowe, Eddie Redmayne & Amanda Seyfried has now reset the bar for great movie musicals and should sweep this year's Oscar race.  I have only praise for the great story telling set to music & song.  I intended to throw Crowe under the bus for his singing but all was forgiven after he threw himself off the bridge.  I must extol 2 standout performers who made me cry, stole my heart & almost stole the movie.  Samantha Barks as Eponine sang beautifully and was the epitome of pain of unrequited love.  Gavroche, played by the young Daniel Hultelstone was awarded Javert's medal for honor but if there is justice, he will be awarded an Oscar nomination for his winning performance.  There were other pleasant surprises, Sacha Baron Cohen & Helena Bonham Carter as the thieving Thenardiers added pure comic genius.  Like the play, I will see this film again.  Rarely is there a movie of such eloguence where you feel hate turned to love, "You have warmed my heart like the sun."  I loved this movie but I'll loathe the Academy if this movie doesn't garner all the Oscar nominations it so richly deserves.

Friday, December 21, 2012

The movie, Life of Pie, Dead in the Water

Having read & loved the Man Booker Prize novel (2002,) Life of Pi, by Yan Martel, I was interested in seeing the film but was perplexed how it would transcend to film.  The story is of a 16 year old boy, Pi, the sole survivor of a shipwreck in the Pacific who manages to co-exist in a life boat with a Bengal tiger for weeks at sea.  The brilliant novel read as a swift adventure tale of survival and inner-strength with a mystifying ending.  The movie while beautifully filmed and wonderfully acted (including the computer generated tiger,) was a religious saga that stalled @ sea despite the terrifying storms and intriguing sea creatures.  More importantly, the movie's ending did not provide the poignant impact of Martel's novel by having a grown-up Pi recount his ordeal to a writer in search of a story. The power struggle between Pi & the tiger turned too soft & too much like Tom Hanks & "Wilson."  And, if I'm going to be hit over the head with religious messages, I'm going to duck for shelter.  For the Life of me, save yourself from seeing this film, it sank.  Read the novel instead.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

The Alvin Ailey Dance Theatre @ City Center

Sunday night, New York City's own, Alvin Ailey Dance Theatre, performed to a sold-out exuberant audience with standing ovations after every performance.  The Ailey Dancers are the most talented, exciting, versatile, artistic, beautiful dancers; barre none.   Artistic Director, Robert Battle, has recently taken over the helm from Ms. Judith Jamison.  He has brought in additional new choreography to his sovereign company.  "Petit Mort" was met with laughter & cheers for its humorous customing & elegant musicality.  The dancers used their graceful bodies as a clarion call, "Do not go gentle into that great night." "Strange Humors" is a captivating comedic & combative pas de duex for 2 male dancers.  "Another Night" is a piece inspired by Dizzy Gillespie's "A Night in Tunisia" which blends two of America's greatest indigienous art forms, jazz & The Alvin Ailey Dance Theatre.  The company is currently at home, in NYC @ City Center through the end of the year.  The Ailey company is revered througout the U.S. & hailed abroad for its unique artistry & American style.  Don't miss your opportunity to enjoy the jewel of crown in the world of dance in our backyard. The final piece on the program is a new piece for the company.  The dancers owned the piece with their energy, power & fluidity.  It took restraint not to join the dancers on stage but we were on our feet cheering on the dancers.  

Julliard Dance, The New Dances: Edition 2012

The Julliard Dance School under the Direction of Lawrence Rhodes, had their 2012 dance program Dec. 12-16 @ the Sharp Theatre.  All programs consisted of 4 world premiers by 4 of today's most talented choreographers created for each class.  "Stages" by Camille A. Brown & "In Pursuit of Falling" by Emery LeCrone were the first 2 pieces on the program and somewhat similar.  The dancers were all dressed in  shades of gray with dark lighting & somber music.  "Stages" evoked a tribalistic hunting atmosphere that pulsated to percussive music.  "In Pursuit of Falling" the female dancers wore  billowing dresses.  Benches were used as props.  While seated, the women's faces were turned away by the male dancers from the center stage dancers.  The benches were also used to lift a standing female by 2 male dancers.  Women fell backwards from the benches into the arms of their male partners.  The stage was backlit with flashing neon lights, the acoustics were those of an orchestral warm-up.  The dancers maintained somber expressions.   The overall impression was that of women being the submissive sex.  "Footholds" brought a ray of sunshine to the program with a brightly light stage & uniformly vivid green & silver leotards.  More balletic movements were apparent with uniform port de bras & formations in unison. The final piece "Footholds" had the dancers wearing individual jeans & T-shirts. The dance had a high energy, aggressive quality suggesting urban life-style & congestion.  All the dancers were technically strong, artistic and a joy to behold.  Raymond Pinto, a Princess Grace Awardee was a standout, with a promising career ahead in the world of dance.  I look forward to the Julliard New Dances:  Edition 2013.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Any Day Now, see this film Now

Alan Cummings stars in this poignant and relevant film as a gay drag queen, Rudy, who is trying to adopt a young Down syndrom teen with his gay atty. lover, Paul.  Paul is desperately trying to stay in the closet for fear of losing his job.  The film is set in W. Hollywd in the early 80's.  Rudy is a female impersonator in a gay bar where he first encounters Paul. They quickly develop a sexual relationship. Paul confides to Ruddy that after divorcing his wife & leaving his family's business, he moved to LA to study law thinking, "He'd change the world and fight the good fight."  The opportunity soon presents itself.   Ruddy's neighbor in his sleazy building, is arrested for drugs and he witnesses social services heartlessly come to take away her teenage son, Marco,who has Down syndrom.  Despite having a junkie for a mother, Marco escapes his foster home & returns to his mother's apartment where Ruddy takes him in.  Ruddy bonds with Marco who shouldn't "be punished anymore for stuff that's not his fault."  Ruddy turns to his lover, Paul to help him gain legal custody and provide a loving home for Marco.  Not an easy task with homophobia discriminating against them in the court of law & in Paul's workplace.  Isaac Leyva portrays Marco, a gentle soul who has been badly neglected & blossoms under the care provided by  Ruddy & Paul.  This movie never veers into melodrama, although it does portray bigotry, hatred, love & compassion in equal measure.  The performances are all deeply moving and convincing.  Despite having made great strides towards civil rights, gay marriage is still not legal in the majority of states.  This captivating film speaks to injustice and to the collateral fallout in the wake of prejudice.  We in the audience were treated to a special surprise after the film, Alan Cummings was there for a Q & A.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Stand Up Guys, A Total Crack Up Movie

The movie, Stand Up Guys, starring Al Pacino, Christopher Walken & Alan Arkins is a hybrid vigor film of Good Fellows,  In Bruges, The Bucket List, Scent of a Woman & all the best of the best buddy pics, "only ooh hah" better!  The movie begins the day Val (Al Pacino) is paroled & picked up by Doc (Christopher Walken) his long time friend.  Before geyting Val, we see Doc painting scenic sunsets, attending church & departing from his dingy apartment looking at an old black/white photo of  3 younger amigos, Val, Doc & Hirsch (Alan Arkin.)  Doc packs some heat on his way out.  The movie is directed with brutal & tender comic genius by Fisher Stevens.  Val has served 26 years for a shoot-out that went down leaving the boss' son dead from Val's "friendly fire."  There's real affection & humor between Doc & Val. Val thanks Doc for staying in touch & for sending him his paintings.  Doc makes it his mission to ensure Val checks off items from his bucket list. Being a "wise guy," Val asks Doc if the boss has taken a hit out on him & Doc confirms he is the do or die hit guy.  Along the way they "break-out" their buddy, Hirsch, (Alan Arking) their old get-away guy.  All Hell breaks loose: car chases, tough guy escapades & heart rendering moments ensue.  "Like old times," says Hirsch.  "Only better," answers Val, "Now we can appreciate it."  The other great take away line from the movie is "Are we going to chew gum or kiss ass?" ask Val.  "Kick ass cause I'm all out of gum." answers Doc.  Bring gum,  cause this is one kick ass movie!

Friday, December 14, 2012

George Bellows exhibit @ MET

George Bellows is an American artist (1882-1925) from OH.  As a student at Ohio St., Bellows was a collegiate athlete & did illustrations for the school's yearbook on sporting events.  After graduation he moved to NYC, played semi-pro baseball while studying art @ the NY School of Art under the tutelage of Robert Henri.  Henri was recognized for his oil paintings depicting urban life and for teaching other painters such as Edward Hopper & Joseph Stella.  It was Henri who steered Bellows to pursue oil paintings in lieu of illustrations.  Bellow's began painting scenes of the underbelly of NYC life; industrial squalor & urban riffraff.  Though best known for his realistic paintings the variety of colors and subject matters merged into a modernistic style.  Bellow covered a plethora of subject matters: sporting events, landscapes & portraits.  Bellows also did a series of political drawings entitled, "Law Is Too Slow," depicting lynchings & executions.  I found his portrait of a street urchins as in, "Paddy Flannigan" to be provacative while the portraits of family & friends were tame & less arresting.  Bellows was constantly experiementing with the use of color.  Some paintings were in rich dark tones while others dazzled with beautiful, vivid color schemes.  Bellows' untimely death at the age of 43 from an appendicitis ended a promising career for an artist constantly in search of inspiration.  "There is nothing I do not want to know that has to do with life or art."  This is the 1st major retrospective of Bellows work is more than 50 years.  I suggest seeing his work now rather than putting it off.    

Knicks wash out Lakers @ MSG

Last night the Knicks were unstoppable through the 1st half, leaving the floor with a 27 point lead.  Carmello Anthony was on fire until he took a bad fall in the 3rd quarter.  He never came back from the locker room.  Anthony suffered a bad sprain to his ankle.  It is not clear if he will be in the Knicks line-up on Saturday.  Things started to go downhill from there.  The 20+ point spread dwindled to less than 10 and Kobe, the Laker's one man team was unstoppable.  Too bad for the Laker's Paul Gasol was out with an injury & Dwight Howard didn't hold back the Knicks.  However, the Knicks F/T % was an embarrassment.  I bet the New York City Dancers could have shot better than 60% from the line.  Meanwhile, the Lakers F/T shooting was over 90% the entire game.  Special shout out to Patrick Ewing who got a rousing ovation in the Garden and 2 of our Giants were also in the house.  The Knicks held on to beat the Lakers 116-107.  In the Knicks locker room Coach Mike Woodson (former Laker coach) is sure to send the Knicks to overtime @ the free thrown line.  Meanwhile, Laker's coach, Mike D'Antoni, I mean Kobe Bryant, is sure to have some words for his team.

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre

I admit to being biased in my praise for The Alvin Ailey Dance Theatre.  However, I guarantee you too will become a huge fan when you see them perform @ City Center (through Dec.)  The Ailey company is an American Art form which started in 1958 by Alvin Ailey, in NYC @ the 92ndY.  Mr. Ailey formed a company of African American modern dancers, creating an entirely new & innovative art form that changed American dance forever.  The company has had only 2 artistic directors since the passing of Mr. Ailey in 1989;  Ms. Judith Jamison, an original member of Mr. Ailey's co. & most recently, Mr. Robert Battle, an accomplished dancer & talented choreographer.  The company's repetoire has evolved from Ailey's works reflecting the African American experience during his lifetime  to reflect prescient issues and contemporary dance styles.  Revelations & Home are seminal pieces that established the company for its unique style and remarkable, versatile dancers.  I am particularily fond of the dances, "Petite Mort" and "Grace" which infuse both modern dance & West African idioms.  Both pieces are incorporated from other dance companies.  Mr. Battle is to be lauded for his artistic vision which lead him to enhance the Ailey repetoire from inside & outside the company.  Of course, once the Ailey dancers perform the work, they seem to own it.  New Yorkers, we should be proud to claim The Alvin Ailey Dance Theatre as indigineous to America and to have its origin in our city. I urge you to support the Company that is revered national & internationally.  See the dancers while they're here; at home.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Poetry Slam, Staten Island High School Students

Last night concluded the competition for the 5 New York burroughs held @ the David Rubenstein Atrium.  The Poet-Linc, Poetry Slam, "I have a voice," is free & open to the public.  The students were from Staten Island & there were represented by 3 young ladies & 2 very talented young men.  Tonight is the final competition @ 7:30PM for the 10 finalists representing the 5 burroughs. The 2 finalists go on to compete against the winning high school students from, Chicago, the birthplace to poetry slam, & San Francisco, home to Alan Ginsberg, the beat poet of HOWL.  I am disappointed to miss tonights finals.  But, don't cry for me, I'll be at the Knicks/Lakers game.  Having been to 2 previous poetry slam competitions, I've loved all the student's works.  I will say that the student's from Staten Island showed  the strongest performances.  Their works were mostly memorized and the rhythm & syncopation of their poems were totally engaging.  One young lady began by singing her poem, then gave a bombastic litany and ended whispering her final verses.  Yes, this lady was one of the finalists.  Her performance and her poetry were both unique & creative.  Her poem, Marie Antoinette, I found particularily amusing & acerbic.  "I am the Queen.  I will arrest you for treason or for no reason."  Had I been the judge (which I find too difficult to do,) I would have chosen Mohamed for his heartfelt rap  & rhythm, as well as his incisive prose. "Everyone has the same dream.  Nobody cheated out of nothing."  I applaud all these amazing young poets who will not be going into the night quietly.  Go NYC!

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

The Julliard Jazz Ensembles, Just Jazz!

Last night was the finale to the fantastic Jazz Ensemble Fall Semester.  It was a great sign off for the year 2012.  The program's title was Just Jazz and it was just fantastic. Two separate ensembles performed classic jazz standards with arrangement's by the band's members.  Frank Kimbrough's Ensemble was a trio consisting of a bass player, drummer & jazz pianist phenomenon, 16 year old Beka Gochiashvili; a name to remember.  Gochiashvili did the arrangements for Coltrane's Giant Steps & Dizzy Gillespie's Groovin' High.  Matthew Jordrell's Ensemble performed the 2nd half of the program.  Jordrell's musical group consisted of a pianist, drummer, bass player & 3 spirited winds: tenor sax, trumpet & trombone.  The cool jazz classics were arranged by 5 different band members.  I particularily enjoyed the way Wayne Shorter's Lost segued way into Sonny Rollins' St. Thomas.  The Julliard Jazz Department has grown and matured under the steady guidance of Artistic Director, Carl Allen.  I'm not sure who was enjoyed the evening more, the audience or the young, talented artists performing on stage.  Tickets for the Jazz concerts are free but they are the hot ticket to get.  Be forewarned, people start to queue for tickets at the Julliard box office which opens @ 11AM by 9:30AM, lest you miss out.  

Saturday, December 8, 2012

The film, Hyde Park on the Hudson

Hyde Park on the Hudson refers to  FDR's family vacation home and sanctuary.  The movie takes place the  weekend the Royal Couple of England spent with the Pres. and his family there.  The visit was significant for several reasons.  This was the first time any British Monarch had stepped foot on American soil since 1776.  The invitation came from FDR (Bill Murray) to the Royal couple in June 1939,  just  prior to Britain going to war with Germany.  FDR's motivation was to mitigate America's  strong anti-British & isolationist attitudes.  King George VI was cognizant of the gravity of the visit.  The King hoped to garner U.S. suppot with its impending war.  Upon arriving, Queen Elizabeth wanted to know why they call it Hyde Park, "We have a Hyde Park and it is all too confusing."  I was  confused that this seminal interaction was narrated by Daisy, (Laura Linney) one of FDR's mistresses.   Daisy, a distant cousin of FDR had an intimate and complicit relationship with FDR.  I was charmed by the bond forged between the two world figures.  FDR made the droll comment "I didn't know the British people voted for their King."  The movie was at its best when the King & President were in each other's company.  I didn't care for the sister wives storyline between Daisy & Missy, FDR's secretary.  The nostaglic look back showed a time when the press could be reigned in and the only the wife & mother could yell at the President.  The film captured a folcrum in U.S. history and I was greatly entertained. Unfortunately, the camera's focus came from one of FDR's secrets best left hidden.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Anna Karenina Film is a Masterpiece Classic

The British Drama, Anna Karenina, based on Leo Tolstoy's 1877 classic novel, is sure to become the ultimate classic representation on film.  Director, Joe Wright, (Atonement, and Pride & Prejudice) is reunited with the beautiful and talented, Keira Knightly as the love besotted & disgraced, Anna Karenina.  Jude Law plays her steadfast husband, Karenin. Vronsky is played with with devilish sex appeal & self-indulgence by Aaron Taylor-Johnson.  One can only sympathize with Anna when she forsakes all for her unabashed love affair with Vronsky.  The film takes place in late 19th C Imperalistic Russia.  It is pertinent today with its themes of forgiveness, righteousness and the folly of love.  Never has a movie blended choreography, theatre and cinematography to such incredible effect & beauty.  The ball scene where Anna & Vronsky have their 1st waltz was breathtaking.  The hand movements were choreographed with elegance.  The freeze framing of the other dancers is a harbinger of the ostracism Anna will be subjected to in the future.  The costumes should go on display @ the Met's Fashion Instit.  Perhaps we've come along way from planting a scarlett letter but the double standards for men & women still persist.  Why the passage of gay marriage is not legal in all states is archaic.  For every era, there will be issues we will look back at & shake our heads.  For now, delve into 19th C Russian history, see this sumptuous and poignant film I deem a masterpiece.

Julliard Percussion Ensemble

The Julliard Percussion Ensemble, under the direction of Daniel Druckman, performed last night @ the Sharp Theatre a very contemporary and and attention grabbing program.   Percussion instruments are interesting for their tonal vibrations and ability to sustain resonance.  All the compositions explored the quality of blending different percussive sounds and the diffusion of their sounds blending & fading into one another.  Vibraphones (contemporary "riffs" on the xylophone) were featured as in Steve Reich's Mallet Quartet (2010.)  Differing styles of mallet heads were utilized to create variations in tone & harmony.  In John Luther Adam's …and bells remembered (2005) the bass bow was played on the vibraphone melding percussion & string instruments for an inventive contrast in tonal chords.  Guo Wenjing's Parade (2003)  was an explosive and energetic composition; 3 percussionists with individualized mallet sticks pounded away at "communal" canon drums.  The miusic had a very propulsive, bombastic style.  I was watching to see if there would be any actual discord in harmony amongst the musicians.  The program was never dull and was not conducive for a "restorative" meditation.   I find it exciting to attend concerts such as these, with compositions that are propelling music into the future.