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Wednesday, August 31, 2016

NY Historic Soc "Collectors' Choice" - Not My Top Choice for Viewing

The NY Historic Society on CPW is one of my favorite museums in the city (which is saying quite a lot.)  This only caused greater disappointment with this exhibit.  I felt the selections from the collection lot were not so hot.  The exhibit was culled from the museum's permanent collection.  The show featured mostly paintings & those from American painters of the 19thC.  The exhibit claimed to contain both Amer/European artists from the 14th-21st C.  This is a broad spectrum to select from yet I didn't discern the scope to be varied. An entire wall had maritime paintings from the 19th C which didn't float my boat nor did the early Amer portraits of the same epoch.  There were 2 macabre paintings that caught my eye.  One was George Flagg's (b. Amer 1816)  "Murder of Princes" (1834) where 2 angelic, young boys appear to be sleeping but the painting depicts the murdered princes from Shakespeare's "Richard III."  The other bizarre painting is a family portrait by Charles Peale (b. Amer 1741) in which he paints himself overlooking the gathering around the table of his entire family.  No one in the painting shows any sign of life. Their eyes appear blank, only the painter's pet dog seems animated.  I was interested in the paintings & mixed media works showing the NYC skyline prior to 9/11; especially the glowing painting by Yvonne Jacquette (b Amer 1934) painted in 1998 from inside the Wolrd Trade Center.  The other NYC landscapes made towards the end of the 20thC depicted the then open views to both the East River & to the Hudson which are now blocked from view by the egregious over building in reccent years on 10th Ave and the skyscrappers on CPS that are hideous & dwarf the surroundings.  I did like the Picasso sketches for costumes that were made for the commissioned backdrop Le Tricorne now on display at the Historic Soc. as it gave some insight into Picasso's masterpiece and regard for the avante gard Paris Ballet.  The paintings in this gallery are staked one on top of each other which I found distracting.  But, it you look way, next to Le Tricorne on its left, there is an exquisite oil painting by Martin Heade (b Amer  1819) "Study or an Orchid" (1872.)  The "Collectors' Choice" exhibit was too homogenous and lacking in informative curation.  I was curiuous as why these choices were made for the show and even more interested in what didn't make the cut.  In conclusion, The "Collectors' Choice" didn't cut it for me.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

NY Historic Soc "Campaigning for the Presidency 1960-72"-Doesn't Get My Vote

Being a national election year, a flashback exhibit for politcal campaign paraphenalia from 1960-72 would seem like a good idea to do.  But, compared to the shenanigans, rhetoric and historic candidates: the 1st female candidate and a candidate that has never held a political post makes this exhibit so tame as to seem merely ho-hum.  If souvenirs such as political buttons, paper dresses, promotions, photos and charactures are enticing this exhibit may offer some appeal.  Although, I found very little on display to seal the deal.  A small room on the 2nd floor contains all the items that serve as reminders of Camelot days and candidates of shame: namely Gov Wallace and of course, VP Agnew & Pres Nixon; the only VP/Pres in our history who resigned from office in disgrace (or resigned period.)  What was Nixon thinking of with Watergate?  His previous presidential win was with 97% of the popular vote - what was he doing?  I'm thinking there is plenty of deceit, corruption, insanity & lascivious behaviors (Kennedy) and now look at NYC weasel Weiner & duh, Donald.  They're so much more compelling matters with this election year it hardly matters if you come out to see this show.  (I vote a no go.)

The Film "Hell or High Water" with Jeff Bridges & Chris Pines Get High Marks

"Hell or High Water" is a contemporary western bank heist movie.  Brothers Toby (Chris Pines) and Tanner (Ben Foster) are the robber band of brothers and the sheriff (Jeff Bridges) & his Depty. play the local law enforcement for the dried out dying TX towns being robbed.  The movie is armed with surprising shots that make for a clean getaway of a good time.  The Scottish film director seems to know the Amer. west - best.  The depictions of gun totting, hard shelled men & women are all tough crackers you don't want to tussle with or underestimate.  Bridges is the wizened Police Chief who is days away from retirement (& dreading it.)  Bridge is the gruff & duly regarded officiando who relishes  insulting his sidekick ruthlessly with understood affection.  The outlaw brother duo & police pardners parrallel each other in their protectiveness of the other and their true grit.  Pines (Toby) is the gentler brother with an ex-wife & 2 sons.   Toby is the mastermind who conspired the armed robberies of small banks altho Foster is the volatile ex-con whose spent hard time in the pen.  Bridges is one of our finest  actors.  It's no surprise he carries off his role as the plodding police chief & he should be rewarded with another Oscar nod.  Pines (the commander of the Enterprise) is a tad too pretty for the part.  Still, his earnest performance is hard to resist.  Ben Foster as Pines' brother Tanner is phenomenal.  Foster ("The Messenger" & "Lone Survivor") is such a skilled actor he morphs into the character and hasn't received the notoriety he so richly deserves.  This car chasing, shoot em up western is a savvy commentary on our gun totting society and its oppressive economic restraints.  The sheriff asks "How does anyone make a living here?"  Tanner tells his bro "Nobody gets away with anything, ever."  "Hell or High Water" made off with a stealthy crowd pleaser.  I give it high marks for cinematography and clever casting .

Monday, August 29, 2016

"INDIGNATION" from Philip Roth's Novel is Adapted to Film with Excellence

Philip Roth (b. Amer 1933) is one of the most prolific and highly honored living writers.  He's won the Pulitzer ("American Pastoral" '97) and receivied the Nat'l Bk Award twice for ("Goodbye Colombus" '59) & ("Everyman" '06.)  His laurels are immense but his subject matter tends to a more narrow focus on Jewish assimilation, aging and anti-semitism.  It's unjust to encapsulate Roth's immeasurable genius, but "Indignation" is about a young Jewish college student finding his way amidst a mid-west Univ where the Jewish student body is both minimal & put uopn to conform to Christian proseltyzing as a pre-requisite to graduate.  Set in 1951 during the Korean War when our young men were being drafted & killed overseas (1950-53) unless, given a 4-F or collegiate deferment.  Marcus, our protagonist, has been granted a college scholarship by his synagogue and matriculates in 1951.  He is the only child of a NJ couple whose livelihood stems from a kosher butcher shop. Their aspirations are cut out for a better life (& protection from the draft.) The pressure is piled heavily on their son.  Marcus is a gifted student, hardworking and a little coddled from the real world.  He gets a real awakening at the OH Univ where he is assigned 2 other Jewish roommates, a mandatory job and a hard case of lust for the beautiful, blonde Olivia.  Besides not being like any of the other girls in NJ (and being gentile) Olivia is bumptious in her sexual advances towards Marcus.  The moral dilemmas Roth wants his hero to grapple with are rather tame as is Marcus' polite, demure demeanor.  Until he is provoked to anger at what he (rightly) perceives as unfair treatment by the dean of the college.  The dean is played with perverse perfection by Pulitz Prize winning playwright ("Osage County" '08) and Tony winning actor Tracy Letts.  The confrontational scenes between Letts & Marcus, (Logan Lerman "Perks of Being a Wallflower" '12) are reason alone to see this arousing film.  Letts will be adding an Oscar nom. to his honors for his role.  Roth should be ecstatic with this adaption of his novel bringing it to the big screen with incredible skill, intelligence and excellent casting.   All the little decisions that went into making "INDIGNATION" add up to an exceptionally smart film.  

Sunday, August 28, 2016

The film "The Hollars" is Nothing to Shout About-Dir/Starring John Krasinski

The comedy/family drama surrounding an implacable matriarch (the always astounding Margo Martindale) whose brain tumor diagnosis brings her younger son John (John Krasinski) back from NYC to his small hometown & family.  The family consists of an inept older brother & fumbling father.  Kraskinski both stars & directs this movie meant to rent but he manages to lasso a motley A list cast that elevates the film to a guilty pleasure despite its plethora of platitudes.  Richard Jenkins, an Acad Award wining actor plays the dad with over the top bumbling & still manages to pull it off with warmth & charm.  John's older brother is played by S African actor Sharlto Copley whose crazy antics are somehow ingratiating.  Anna Kendrick (Pitch Perfect) is the sensible baby momma to John's soon to be born twins & serves as the pillar of pragmatism and generosity.  Most of the humor comes from Charlie Day ("Always Sunny in Philadelphia) who plays the nurse to John's mother and antogonist to him out of jealousy because his wife still pines for John.  Wait, Josh Groban whose singing I hate may have a career in acting.  He plays a clergyman who is the love interest to Ron's ex-wife.  I call out the cast because it's their winning combination that makes a fluffy film of family love & dysfunction function on the front burner.

The Play "OSLO" by J.T. Rogers Oustanading Insight into 1993 Israeli/PLO Peace Process

I have high praise for this brilliant play that acts as a reminder of courageous & historic events all too soon forgotten.  Playwright J.T. Rogers' (b. Amer '68) powerful production sheds light on the arduous, tenuous & clandestine negotitations leading to the 1st ever Peace Deal agreed to between Israel & the PLO.  The iconic image of Pres Clinton standing with Prime Minister Rabin & Chairman Arafat in the White House Rose Garden in 1993 has become a fading memory along with fading hope to a meaningful & lasting peace accord between them.  Rogers previous play "Madagascar"('05)  earned him a Pinter Prize for Drama.  Rogers has been commissioned by Linc Ctr Theater to writer plays.  Rogers uses historic events in many of his works. "Oslo" is an engrossing play despite its 3 hours + running time because the backstory of how the Oslo Peace Accords were orchestrated is fascinating.  Furthermore, the relevant history & ongoing violent relationship Israel & Palestine is encapsalated in a cogent & informative manner all the more edifying by this entertaining production.  The ensemble cast is exceptional.  The actors all assume multiple roles, accents and present both impassable obdurance and human frailty.  This significant expose argues positions arduously between diametrically opposed people, but at the heart of the play is the humanity that resides in all of us (and egos.)   The enmity between warring factions wears down when people meet face to face.  Sadly, the human race rushes headlong into violent retaliations which render peaceful negotiations negligible.   I urge everyone to see this illuminating drama.  I recommend the play for a Pulitzer Peace Prize.  During strategic mediation,  Perez says "What is a lie but a dream that could come true."

Saturday, August 27, 2016

The Animated "Kubo and the Two Strings" is too Beautiful for Words

The new animated movie "Kubo and the Two Strings" is visually stunning from beginning to end.  It raises animation to another plane as the Chinese film "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" ('01) did for Samurai action odyssey films.  Travis Knight (b. Amer '73) is an award winning animator making his directorial debut with this animated work of art set in Japanese folklore.  Knight can come out from under his father's shadow, Phil Knight (Chairman, Nike, Inc. Founder.)  Travis' use of origami, stop action puppetry & animation is very appealing.  It makes a sappy "Circle of Life" story with campy comic relief into a film that will win the hearts of young & old alike.  (And, an Oscar nom for best animated feature.)  Parents be warned, some scenes may be to frightening for young children.  The opening tempest is harrowing.  The tzunami hurls a lone woman against boulders leaving her marooned onshore.  She is alerted to an infant's wailing & desperately crawls towards a bundled baby.  The story picks years later, Kubo is now a young boy with an eye patch,  He loving tends to his catatonic mother.  Kubo has magical skills for creating oragami figures and a garrulous gift for gab.  He's a revered raconteur for the local villagers.  It appears there is magical powers found in other sources.  Evil also lurks in the lecherous hands of his eery aunts and evil grandfather determined to take Kubo's remaining eye.  When they find Kubo he flees on a mystifying odyssesey that is fraught with both magnificient & frightening images.   Matthew McConaughey & Charlize Theron voice Kubo's faithful traveling companions.  Both actors are off-key & the heavy handed moralizing towards the end weighs down visual feats of the feature.  "Kubo and the Two Strings" imagery left me speechless.  Perhaps the movie would be better served, viewed without words.

Friday, August 26, 2016

HELD a Musical Fantasy part of the NY Int'l Fringe Festival

The NY Int'l Fringe Festival will wind down this Sunday, August 28th.  Now in it's 20th year, the Festival began on August 5th.  It will present 200 emerging theater & dance companies in various venues throughout the city.  Fringe is under the direction of Elena Holy, a past Tony nominator & inductee to the Indie Theater Hall of Fame ('15.)  Past alumni include Bradley Coopery & Mindy Kalin.  Last night, HELD, was held at the Drom, an attractive & accessible, brick walled  nightclub. The cast of 3 actors were all strikingly handsome & delivered earnest performances.  All are alumni of my alma mater UW-Madison.  Meghan Rose, the composer/producer & pianist also hails from UW-Madison. Her songwriting & arranging for pinao/cello & bass showed great promise as a rising composer for musical theater.  The standout in the for her exceptional singing voice and credible portrayal of a female warrior wa Katie Bakalars as Mera.  Mera amply portrayed the battle ready, protector of their  flourishing land. The standout numbers were "Waking & Dreaming" sung in 3 part harmony along with lovely port a bras that added an ephemeral elegance and "Time to Think; Mera's solo.  The cello & bass music underscoring the lyrics was outstanding.  The minimal set and effective lighting served to impart a fantasy world.  However,   the phantasmal storyline was problematic.  The 3 actors; undying friends since childhood grow into a love triangle that rang awry.  Trapped in a mystifying purgatory, they fervently endeavor to seek their escape. The 1 act cleverly travels back in time revealing their interwoven bonds leading back to their shackled predicament & fugue state.   HELD reached too far in its simple premise.  The plot was a moldy mix of playdoh combing fragments of  "Hunger Games," Plato, Disney Princess and the long running off-Bwy "Fantastixs."  Perhaps, the play would play to an intended young audience if pared down.  But, HELD should prove a launching pad for its talented cast and most assuredly for its composer.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Werner Herzog's Doc "Lo and Behold" on the Internet Was Not a Major Gain

Dir/screenwriter of doc & feature films, Werner Herzog (b. Germany 1943) is considered amongst the greatest figures of "New German Cinema."  He's received numerous honors and accolades.  Francois Truffaut called him "the most important living director" and Time Mag ('09) named him 1 of the 100 most important people in the world.  His recent doc"Lo and Behold" about the origins, present & future of the internet received its title from the 1st internet transmission.  It was L O (oops G didn't make it) for  Login & voila, Lo and Behold the internet was established. (Did you get that Watson?) The opening of the movie takes us through the sacred halls of UCLA "ground zero" where in 1969 the biggest revolution in human evolution was born.  Scientists sent a transmission to Standford Univ while on the phone - just to insure the message was received.  The date which most have forgotten (or never knew) was 10/29/69 at 10:30PM.  Scientist/engineers Robert Kahn & Vint Cerf are the co-creators of what  is known as the internet & it will be known to infinity and beyond; beyond all imagination. (Both men received the Medal of Freedom '015.)  The subject matter for this doc is exceptionally fascinating, at least to those born before the 1980's.  It's unfathomable to have conceived the omnipotent powers that now impact our daily lives in countless ways.  In fact, there is no way our society could function with a malfunction of the internet.  Yet, we have become utterly vulnerable.  The internet is a double edged sword of ubiquitous service and utter cruelty & destruction.  The internet has become essential in our lives in such a short time frame as individuals and as a functioning society.  The passion & good humor of the scientists interviewed was infectious.  Although there were a few whose lectures with formulaic equations put me to sleep.  In fact, Herzog broke the film into 10 parts.  I slept through 4-8 - so the movie couldn't have been all that great.  There were wackos who want us to know that sickness from all the radiation emanating is not psychosymatic and that addiction to gaming is a disease.  Most captivating were the conjectures by these erudite people of science as to the future.  It's probable that artificial intelligence will permit us to tweet our thoughts.  The universality of human thought crosses language and research into the brain may uncover methods of untapped telepathy.  One astrophysicist conjectured that the companionship of robots over humans, which seems horrific may be considered the norm.  Herzog's "Log and Behold" was enlightening but still felt old.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

It was the Best of Times at the Local Copperfield Bookstore Book Discussion

Do you remember the epoch of beatnik "howling" poetry readings, parlor gatherings of intellectual repartee?  I don't - but I did enjoy the small "open" invitation book group gathering at the Copperfield's Bookstore in my local town square.  The monthly gatherings are open to anyone and all are welcome.  The book we discussed was "Circling the Sun" by Paula McLain; historic fiction about the life of Beryl Markham, the 1st woman to successful cross the Atlantic in a solo flight.  I don't necessarily recommend the book (or any others by McLain) but I strongly urge bookstores to schedule regular book group discussions and for people to attend.  We were a small group of all women and men are most welcome.  We meet at closing time in the store in comfortable chairs formed in a circle.  I enjoyed sharing thoughts, comments and information amongst our group and came away not only appreciating the book more, but delighted by the stimulating conversation.  The ladies were conscientious & considerate listeners - a valuable attribute that can always be honed.   The meetings are regularly held on the 3rd Monday of the month.  Our next book is "The Readers of Broken Wheels Recommend" by Katrina Bivald.  I recommend local book clubs to convene.  Bantering about books brings people together. "Great books help you understand, and they help you feel understood."  (J Green)

The Film "Florence Foster Jenkins" Starring Meryl Streep

Dir Stephen Frears (b. UK 1941)  received 2 Oscars nominations for "The Queen"('06)  & "The Grifters" ('90.)  He was received a Razzi for worst film "Mary Reilly" ('96) starring Julia Roberts. Frears' film "Florence Foster Jenkins" wisely casts Meryl Streep in the lead role.  Jenkins was an early 20th C heiress, notoriously known for her horrendous singing voice that regaled her with admirers (including Cole Porter) for its unintentional hilarity & authentic audacity.  Jenkins was a magnanimous philanthropic supporter of the arts; mainly in relating to music.  Hugh Grant stars as St. Clair, Jenkins doting supporter or ingratiating gigilo depending on your prelude into their long time relationship.  St. Clair was an aspiring British actor who never reached the higher octaves of acclaim.  He did score Jenkins as his biggest supporter; financially & otherwise.  Simon Helberg ("The Big Bang") rounds out this motley cast as Jenkins accompanist on the piano, Cosme.  It's through Cosme's eyes we share the unfavorable assessment of Jenkins "somewhat flat" singing voice & the trepidation of their upcoming performance at Carnegie Hall as a humiliating debacle.  This film will not garner Frears an Oscar but neither is it in contention for a Razzie.  Streep is a diva & a damn good actress who plays her part with perfect pitch.  Overall, this is a middling, likable film.  At its best tt's inspirational and a lovely aria about living with gusto.  Jenkins performance at Carnegie Hall was held during WWII.  She gave the majority of the tickets to men in the military.  "During these times music is needed more than ever."  The soldiers as well as the audience responded to her exuberance & passion.  The film is overflowing with tenderness, devotion,  and Jenkins' delightful delusion.  "Practice any art, no matter how well or badly, not to get money & fame but to experience becoming, to find out what's inside you, to make your soul grow."  (K Vonnegut)

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Redux View Danny DeVito in "Renaissance Man"(1994) with a young Mark Wahlberg

Looking for something to watch besides the Olympics in Rio?  I recommend the 1994 film "Renaissance Man" starring Danny Devito, Gregory Hines & Mark Wahlberg.  The film, directed by Penny Marshall is a revamping of a "To Sir with Love" theme.  A disgruntled man is forced into a teaching position.  Tutoring teaches the teacher that mentoring is more meaningful than a lucrative paying job.  The intangible rewards of impacting young lives in a positive, life altering way - priceless.   The symbiotic relationship between a committed, caring teacher & students is also, priceless.  Danny DeVito stars in a marvelous role as Lou Rigo, an unemployed ad exec assigned to teach the dimwit unit in the US army.  This is also a fish out of water story.  Lou, a Princeton grad & single dad - glad for any job enlists to teach a group of soldiers who fall short on the IQ scale.  This is the group's last chance to make the grade or be discharged from the army.  Don't be fooled - neither teacher or class wants to be where they're ordered to be.  Hamlet & Henry the V are similes for the power of art to inspire the human spirit.  Gregory Hines shines as the drill Sgt. who takes his job preparing young soldiers for battle seriously yet retains an open mind to motivational methods outside regimented rules.  Cliff Robertson adds his omnipotence as the Chief commander.  "Renaissance Man" is loaded with heart, intelligence & humor.  This old movie holds up as does the hunky Mark Wahlberg.  If you've never seen this winning film - check out this golden oldie.  If you saw it years ago, it's worth a redux view.