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Saturday, December 28, 2013

"American Hustle" - Don't be Conned, Don't Go

The film "American Hustle" is directed by David Russell (Silver Lining Playbook.)  Russell  reassembled his Oscar nom. "Lining" cast:  Bradley Cooper (FBI Agent Richie DiMaso) Jennifer Lawrence (Rosalyn Rosenfeld) Robert DeNiro along with Oscar nom. actors:  Christian Bale (Irving Rosenfeld) Amy Adams (Sydney Prosser) and Jeremy Renner (Mayor Carmine Polilo.)  Sounds like a sure thing for a winning picture.   But, there is no sure thing and this film is assuredly no winner winner chicken dinner.  Irving is a two bit con man from L.I.  I can't buy how Irving (Bale)  a grossly over weight schlub with a bad come over could be married to Rosalyn (Lawrence) and have Sydney (Adams) as his mistress & accomplice.  Bale gained a ton of weight in real life to play the role of this repulsive giffter convincingly.  But, it's incredulous the gorgeous Rosalyn or the sexy vixen, Sydney, would even look his way.  Sydney shows all cleavage all the time. I'm just perplexed by the mucky script.  DiMaso ensnares Sydney for fraud.  Then he pits Irving & Sydney against one another.  Next thing you know, they're all cohorts and out to fry bigger fish.  They succeed in bribing Mayor Polilo to grease the way for gambling casinos along the Jersey Shore.  Soon the Mafia wants in on the action.  Who is exploiting who becomes a colossal, convoluted jumble.  The movie is set in NYC during the drug infused disco craze.  This movie should go the way of disco.  The house wins if you put your $ down expecting a good time.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Anchor Man 2-Double Your Fun

Anchor Man II is the type of absurd & silly comedy that you can't help but love even as you cringe or puzzle over the humor.    Cut yourself slack & allow your self to laugh till you cry.  Ron Burgundy (Will Ferrel) &Veronica Corningstone (Christine Applegate) reprise their roles as newscasters now married with and parents to an adorable & precocious boy.  Life is bliss until Vernoica is offered the 1st female anchor spot on the news & Ron gets fired.   Having given Veronica an ultimatum to choose between her job or marriage, Ron finds himself out of both his job & their home.  Ron's dismal future gets boosted when he get's offered an anchor job in NYC with a news network, GNN, that will be the first to broadcast 24 hours of news.  Ron gets to hire reporters for his segment (2:00-5:00AM) and  assembles his old crew of friends: Paul Rudd, Steve Carrell and David Koechuer; today's answer to the Marks Brothers.  Let the good times roll & the zaniness begin.  Set in the early 80's, the clothes, music and fads are revisited with a warm-hearted wink to the decade.   A love story of odd-balls perfect for each other, Carrell & Kristin Wig is hilarious.  Mix in a cornucopia of today's most talented comedians & actors and the laughs just keep on coming.  Anchor Man 2 is a comedy that doubles your pleasure, doubles your fun.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Alvin Ailey @ City Center - AMAZING as ALWAYS

 The Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre presents the best in modern dance from exceptionally talented dancers & choreographers.  Astoundingly, Alvin Ailey Dance continues to exceed its own excellence in dance contemporary works.  Last night's program began with Chroma, a work of great intensity & pleasure.  The dazzling choreography by Wayne McGregor spotlights the artistry of the gifted dancers.  Alicia Graf Mack utilizes her regal limbs to accentuate every musical pulse.  Linda Celeste Sims brings an athletic sensuality that is captivating.  Bill T. Jones' "D-MAN IN THE WATERS (Part I) marked it's Ailey premiere.  "D-MAN" has a lot of acrobatic movements with a militaristic theme.  The gymnastic aesthetic does a disservice to its fluidity.  The final piece, "LIFT" is choreographed by Aszure Barton and adds to Ailey's foremost repertoire.  Here the power belonged to the men.  Their mounting frenzy was tangible.  Matthew Rushing continues to amaze with his versatility and magnetism.  Both Curtis Macdonald's music and the tribal costumes by Fritz Masten enhanced the pulsating, primal movements.   The energy emanating from Ailey dancers makes it virtually impossible to remain seated.  The curtain fell to uproarious applause.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Patti Smith & Lenny Kaye Suprise MoMA Patrons with Concert

A serendipitous concert & poetry reading was given @ the MoMA yesterday by Patti Smith & Lenny Kaye.  Smith said the concert was to honor the birthday of Jean Genet (b. France 12-19-1910) a reknowned writer, poet, playwright & political activist.  Smith dedicated their performance i/m/o Lou Reed, Peter O'Toole & Joan Fontaine.  Genet's life sentence in prison following his 10th conviction of theft, & other offenses was commuted as a result of petitions to the courts made on his behalf by Sarte Cocteau & Picasso.  Smith began with a peom "Prisoner of Love," followed by a lullaby i/h/o Genet's birth mother, Camille, who gave him up for adoption at 6 months.  The "theme for the day is son, with a little bit of swagger & a little bit of sorrow," said Smith.  She recited poetry with reading glasses in her clear & raspy voice.  She disarmed the audience saying that she never performs perfectly, if she did, it would be an impostor.  Her singing an acapella "Holy Night" which she found nerve wracking was perfectly imperfect.  She & Kaye also gave a rendition of "The Night Belongs to Lovers."  I love NY with its plethora of surprises.

Ileanna Sonnanbend Art Patron & Promoter @ MoMA

Ileanna Sonnabend:  Ambassador for the New is a new concept for an exhibition.  Sonnanbend (b. Romania 1914-2007) was a driving force behind new artists & art forms.  Her keen eye & support for artists was influential in bringing postwar art in N. Amer. & Europe to the forefront.  Sonnanbend is also credited with presenting Amer. Pop art & Minimalism to Euorpe and Italian Arte Povera to Amer.  This astonishing body of works from an int'l group of  30+ artists in multitudinous mediums, showcase numerous artists who first received exposure on both continents by Sonnanbend.  In addition,  Sonnanbend was an early pioneer who promulgated noncommercial works & performance based installations during the 70's. Early on she collected works by numerous artists such as Dines, Johns, Warhol, Merz & Baldessari.  Her ingenious eye filled her galleries in Paris & NYC with works by groundbreaking artists.  Rauschenberg's large Combine painting "Canyon" at the entrance to the gallery was a recent donation to the MoMA.  He was quoted "I never finished a painting without wondering what Ileanna would think of it." I was drawn to Morris' large felt melding sculpture & Merz's rigid metal dome.  And, I was deeply moved by the large scale photo display by Boltanski that suspends his family & friends in mundane poses prior to their demise in WWII.  It is the art of discovery that is being honored through the incredibly perceptive maverick art patron, Sonnanbend.  It is a skill that enhances wonder.  Yesterday we were given a surprise concert/poetry reading by Patti Smith.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

The GLASS MENAGERIE, Needs Dusting

Tennessee Williams is one of America's most important playwrights of the 20thC.  Williams has won 2 Pulitzers for Cat on a Hot Tin Roof & for A Streetcar Named Desire."  The Glass Menagerie is also a brilliant play but that does not necessarily equate with being great on B'way.  The talented cast included Tony winning actress Cherry Jones & Zachary Quinto of "Star Trek" fame.  This play received a great deal of befuddled laughter throughout but this production did not resonate with the pathos of a life unfulfilled and diminished dreams.  Amanda (Cherry Jones) is the mother whose husband abandoned her, their son Tom (Zachary Quinto) and daughter Laura, their physically disabled & socially dysfunctional daughter.  Amanda plays a mother so deranged & manipulative she fails to evoke sympathy for her plight.  Instead, Amanda over plays the role like Norma Desmond in "Sunset Boulevard;" totally immersed in her glory days & oblivious to realities' hardships.  Furthermore, Jones dialogue is difficult to decipher.  She sounded as if she had marbles in her mouth.  It didn't help that none of the actors maintained a similar or convincing southern accent.  The one redeeming actor was Jim, the gentleman caller (Brian Smith) who plays the role of a benign but misguided counselor with assertiveness.  The pantomines & dark set only belabored the drama.  Sorely missing from the play is the flirtatiousness between Amanda and Jim and the  emotional solitude of Laura.  Tom's torment in abandoning his sister does not registar as it was apparent he needed to escape from the clutches of his overbearing mother.  The GLAS MENAGERIE will sustain its significance amongst great literary works.  However, the sparkle reflecting off this GLASS was dim.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Melinda's Top Ten Theatre Wish List for 2014

The New Year brings new opportunities to take advantage of more wonderful theatre, art, music & events.  I have compiled a wish (to do) list of the top 10 plays on or off B'wy I'm hoping to see in the New Year.   In alphabetical order:

A Gentleman's Guide to Love & Murder - Musical - B'wy
Beautiful - Musical - B'wy
Dinner with Friends - Drama - B'wy
First Date - Musical - B'wy
Intimacy - Drama - Off B'wy
King Richard the III - Drama - B'wy
Machinal - Drama - B'wy
No Man's Land -  Drama - B'wy
The Night Alive - Drama - Off B'wy
Twelfth Night - Drama - B'wy
What's it All About? Bacharach Reimbered - Off B'wy - Musical

I'm always wanting to put 26 hours in a 24 hours day & turn top 10 lists into 11.  I'll be overjoyed to receive tickets for any (or all of the above.)  Happy New Year!

Melinda's Top Ten Theatre Picks for 2013

The NYC theatre brings us the best there is in musicals & dramas.   Exceptional shows can be found off Broadway as well as on the Great White Way.  My list will combine & denote on/off Broadway as well as musical or drama in alphabetical order.  Hopefully there is still an opportunity for you to enjoy some of these remarkable shows.

After Midnight - Musical - B'wy
Forbidden B'wy - Musical - Off B'wy
I'll Eat You Last - 1 woman show about  talent agent Sue Mengers starring Bette Midler - B'wy
Love's Labours Lost - at the Shakespeare Theatre in Central Park
The Assembled Parties - Drama - B'wy
Motown - Musical - B'wy
The Last 5 Years - Musical - 2nd Stage
The Other Place - Drama - B'wy
Topdog/Underdog - Drama - Julliard School
Vanya, Sonia, Masha & Spike - Comedy - Lincoln Center
Water by the Spoonful - Drama - MTC

(ten or eleven or whatever)

Melinda's Top Movie Picks from 2013

There were a lot of great movies last year.  The good news with movies is that if you missed them in the theatre you can probably see them on video.  The year brought a lot of great films & documentaries.   The  top picks are separated into feature films and documentaries.

 10 Favorite Feature Films (in alphabetical order):

Blue is the Warmest Color - French Film
In a World
Fill the Void - Israeli Film
Fruitvale Station - based on the life of Oscar Grand (killed by an officer on the SF Bart)
It's About Time  - British Film
Short Term 12
The Angel's Share - Irish Film
The Highjacking - Norweigan Film
The Hunt - Danish Film
12 Years a Slave - British Director
Wadja - Saudi Arabian Film
(Did you count 11?)

Documentary Films (in alphabetical order):

American Promise
Black Fish
First Cousin Once Removed
Gideon's Army
Lenny Cooke
Marvin Hamlisch - What I Did for Love
The Crash Reel
The Summit - German Director
20 Feet from Stardom

Monday, December 16, 2013

PIPPIN Revival on Broadway Doesn't Rival the Original

The original broadway musical PIPPIN was created & directed by Bob Fosse with music and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz.  The story is based on the Medieval King Charlamagne & his son Pippin with little credence to its historic value.  Pippin is on a quest for the meaning of life and sojourns "free to ramble" and "to live a little."  The Tony winning lead Patina Miller was played by her understudy which tarnished the show's luster.   A travelling troupe of entertainers move the storyline.  This Broadway musical was an electric combination of  Cirque de Soleil & "magic just for you."  However, the extraordinary circus performances deterred from the original  Schwartz/Fosse vision for a dramatic surreal show that was darkly disturbing.  The spectacular display of circus feats of awe prevailed but marred the integrity at its center.  Pippin's composer's & lyricist Stephen Schwartz (Wicked, Godspell) has earned 6 Tony nominations, 3 Grammy Awards & 3 Acad. Awards.  Bob Fosse, the legendary dancer, choreographer & director earned an unprecedented 8 Tonys for choreography & 1 for directing.  Not to say the combined genius of Schwartz/Fosse is sacrosanct, but sometimes, less is more.  PIPPIN is sure to please the vast theatre crowd for its bonanza of entertainment.  I too enjoyed the show but I was searching for the show's true artistic importance.  "Dance expresses joy better than anything else." (Fosse)  Maximizing the possibilities minimized the musical's impact.  

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Dance in Prisons 92ndY MovementTalks

Dance in Prisons: Confinement vs. Freedom, What is It?  "Can Anything Good Come out of Prison?" The talk/performance @ the 92ndY last night was an emotionally powerful & indelible testament to the physical, emotional, spiritual & intellectual transformation art exudes as a catalyst for change.  Incarceration is the confinement of an individual away from society.  A prisoner retains the freedom of choice; to WANT to make changes in his life to reconnect with humanity.  Andre Noel, a former inmate, is the Dir. of Figures in Flight Released (FiFR), a dance company comprised of released prisoners.  Andre, raised in an inner city, single parent home, succumbed to the lifestyle of fast money from criminal activity.  Arrested at 17 and sentenced to 13 years, midway through his term, Noel chose to seek a means to break the cycle of criminal activity & recidivism.  He decided to enroll in Human  Service programs.  Andre also saw his 1st  ever dance performance.  The dance program is sponsored by Rehabilitation Through the Arts (RTA), taught by choreographer, Susan Slotnick and comprised of fellow inmates.  Andre was so moved by what he saw  he knew he had to become part of the group.  The dance "Figures in Flight #5" "mirrored my life," said Noel, "it gave me an outlet for my emotions."  Andre & a small company comprised of released dancers performaned with magnificent power & grace.  They maintained the freedom to express themselves through dance provided them opportunities for building life skills.  Being part of the dance group paved the way to integrate back with their family and society. "Susan taught us to be in the present, to pay attention" said Andre.  "To pay attention is to give love."  Andre, the dancers & the RTA Dir. had my attention, respect & admiration. Can anything good come out of prison?  Yes, RTA clearly attests to this.  

Friday, December 13, 2013

SUNSET BABY, a Powerful & Poetic Play @ Labyrinth Theatre

The play SUNSET BABY is being performed @ the Labyrinth Theatre, an intimate theatre tucked back on Bank Street in Chelsea.  Playwright Morisseau's SUNSET is a masterpiece melding poetry, music, choreography & suffering.  The 2 sided stage brings the audience to its edge (literally & emotionally.)  The set is a dingy, sparse apartment.  You enter listening to a mixture of rap, hip-hop, soul & jazz.  Music forms the backbone of the play, resonating philosophical, political & social issues plaguing black Americans for generations.   The 3 actors performed with intense, raw emotion and artistic majesty.  Only 2 actors were on stage at a time. The movements & dialogue reminded me of Muhamid Ali boxing with Mayou Angelou's poetry.  The lyrical, combative conversations highlight the dire cycle of repression.  The demise of the family, incarceration, drug addiction & violence glared throughout the drama.  The desire & failure to attain love is excruciatingly obvious.  Nina (named i/h/o Nina Simone) is at the heart of this ferocious play.  She recently lost her mother to drugs.  Nina struggles to survive, resorting to drug trafficking & armed robbery.  Her father, Kenyatta, had been incarcerated for "revolutionary activities."  He pays Nina an unwanted visit with hopes for redemption & access to letters written but never sent him by Nina's mother.  Damon, plays Nina's controlling, street-wise partner in life & crime.  He has a son with a contentious ex-girlfriend.  "Beauty & power comes with a price."  Nina's father struggled to give his daughter "beauty, sunsets & the world, not glass, bullets & dope." The pen is an omnipotent tool for revolution.   SUNSET BABY rings as a clarion bell for change & social justice.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Julliard Dance Prog. featuring Pina Bausch Work

Last night the Julliard dance students had a major coup in the world of dance.  The program featured 3 world premiers and the highly anticipated U.S premier of "Wind von West" by legendary German choreographer & Julliard alumnus, Pina Bausch.  The 3 eminent contemporary choreographers were: T. Ueyama of Japan, a Julliard alumnus & Paul Taylor Dancer, Brian Brooks,  who received the Guggenheim Fellowship '13 & NY City Ctr Fellowship '13 and Darrell Moultrie, recipient of a Princess Grace Fellowhsip and highly sought after American choreographer.   These 3 illustrious & talented choreographers premiered their works but they were overshadowed by the rare & coveted performance of Bausch's "Wind von West" (1975) which had its 1st debut in the U.S.  Ms. Bausch died in '09.  There is a resurgence of interest in her work with this year's 3-D film "Pina."   Considered among the world's most pivotal contemporary choreographers, her work has not had broad exposure in the States.  She was known for her reluctance to permit other companies from using her choreography as much as for her elegiac style & incorporation of dancer's improvisations.  "Wind von West" performed to Stravinsky's melancholy music & mystical dark set created a strong element for the elegance & pathos emoted by the dancers.   While the other 3 interchangeable dances got swept under the rug, "Wind von West" blew me away.  Do NOT miss the opportunity to see this powerful & elusive work.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Lenny Cooke Doc., Life Choices Debacle

Lenny Cooke was once considered the best high school basketball player.  His peers, LeBron James, Tyson Chandler & Carmello Anthony were all playing ball in high school at the same time.  In a raw & rare footage, Cooke & James are on opposing teams when James made the winning basket in under 5 seconds.  A stunned Cooke can only look on bewildered as we catch an early glimpse of the world's greatest player today.  Never heard of Lenny Cooke? Me either, but, sadly this is an all too common story of wasted opportunities by rash & immature teens.  Cooke squandered his talent & bright future.  The camera follows Cooke from his glory days as a star athlete to an unrecognizable, overweight facsimile of his former self just 6 years later.  Young people all possess great potential.  Often there are obstacles in the way.  There were multiple factors that ruined Cooke's aspirations for playing in the NBA.  There were many stumbling blocks in Cooke's path, the 1st being himself.  He showed an immaturity, poor work ethic, and a bent for too much partying.  He fathered a child while in high school, failed to graduate and chose to cash in early. Perhaps, the camera following him around from an early year factored into his misperceived expectations.  It's a pity for Cooke and all teens who lack a selfless & sage mentor.  Cooke sought the '02 NBA draft after the  2001 draft where 3 of the top 4 NBA spots went to recent high school grads.  NBA drafting regulations have changed since; 1 year of college is required before eligibility.   The overall depressive tone of this doc. resonants with what might have been.  It does offer sobering life lessons.  Cooke says, "knowing what I know now, I would have done everything differently."

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Doc. Marvin Hamlisch, What I did for Love, I LOVED This!

 This sensational doc. film about one singular man, is a loving tribute to Marvin Hamlisch.  With everything he did - he did with love.  According to Marvin's mother, she knew her son was a musical prodigy at 8 months; "he rocked in his crib in time with the music."  He was accepted into Julliard at the age of 6.  Julliard schooled Marvin with a classical discipline in music that allowed for infinite possibilities in his compositions.  He juxtaposed his musical training into a legacy of music which speaks to the heart.  Marvin maintained "all music is good and there is music in everything." The doc. scores a winning list of musical legends who pay tribute to his musical genius, integrity and his generosity when collaborating.  Marvin believed "It is not the result which is most important it is the process."  His creativity went straight from his head through his fingers to communicate great beauty, hope & joy that reaches across every line.  This doc. film is overflowing with the spirit of an exceptionally talented man with a great exuberance for life .  He was truly "the People's Composer." "So it is the laughter we will remember," for the way you were.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre A+ A+

The Alvin Ailey Amer. Dance Theatre opened its 3rd season under Artistic Director, Robert Battle.  Battle is only the 3rd Director following predecessors, Judith Jamison & founder, Alvin Ailey.   The opening night program commenced without fanfare as the curtain rose on Chroma, an Ailey premier.    Chroma was created by Wayne McGregor, resident choreographer for the Royal Ballet in '06 for its   company.   The other piece on the program was Ailey's mainstay & iconic Revelations choreographed by Mr. Ailey in 1960.  Chroma was a very contemporary dance that showcased the athletic & expressive prowess of Ailey's alluring dancers. Chroma encapsulated every articulation of the bold contemporary score by Talbot & White II of the popular rock group White Stripes.  The minimalist framed set & white  lighting intensified the sharp angles and robust lifts of the dancers donned in simple monochromatic colors.  The purity of the piece shined brightly blazing an exciting & evolving path to the future.  Chroma paired with Revelations paid homage to Ailey's legacy with an expectation for the unexpected.  With Battle at the helm, be assured of future works that will unleash the artistic talents of its dancers elevating  modern dance to new insurmountable heights.      

Knicks on a Winning Streak of 2

I was at the Knicks game last night after they just beat their cross town rival, the Brooklyn Nets.  The 2 worst teams in the league, the Knicks & the Nets, faced off.  The Knicks broke their long losing streak by beating the Nets by 30 points on their court.  Frankly, the Nets stank.   Last night @ the Garden I watched the Knicks dim the magic on Orlando by more than 30 points.  Hey, a win is a win.  Let's hope there will be more wins in store against stronger teams.  Chandler should be returning from the injured list soon.  Carmello & Smith had game.  After a slow 1st period, it was all Knicks.  But the frisbee jumping dogs got off their feet more times than Spike Lee or most of the fans at the game.