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Thursday, December 28, 2017

Melinda's Top Ten Cultural Events for 2017

The following exhibits & events are listed in alphabetical order:

1.  Alvin Ailey Amer. Dance Theater premiers Jamar Roberts "Members Don't Get Weary" at City Ctr.

2.  Sebastian Barry discusses his novel "Days without End" at Irish Arts Center

3.  Matthew Bourne's "The Red Shoes" at City Center

4.  Ken Burns discusses his documentary The Viet Nam War at 92ndY

5.   David Hockney at the MET

6.  Edvard Munch:  Provocations at the MET Breuer

7.  New York City Ballet premiers Lauren Lovette's "Not Our Fate" at Koch

8.  New York Philharmonic:  Brahms Symph #2 and World Premier of Bent Sorensen's Evening

9.  New York Philharmonic conducted by Salonen performs Sibelius with Roozeman on Cello

10 Celeste Ng and Jennifer Egan in a Literary Discussion at Symphony Space


Melinda's Top Ten Theater Picks for 2017

The following Broadway & Off Broadway shows are listed in alphabetical order by title:

1.  Actually (off Broadway) by Anna Ziegler  Whats On Stage Award for best new play

2.  Building the Wall (off Broadway) by Robert Schenkkan - Tony Award & Pulitzer Prize winning      

3.  Jitney by August Wilson - two time Pulitzer Prize winning playwright

4.  Junk by Ayad Akhta - Pulitzer Prize winning playwright

5.  Pipeline by Dominique Morrisseau - Primus Prize, Jane Chambers Playwright Prize & Obie winner

6.  Sweat by Lynn Nottage - two time Pulitzer Prize winning playwright

7.  The Band's Visit by Itamar Moses

8.  The Children's Hour by Lucky Kirkwood - Critic's Circle Theater Award

9.  The Little Foxes by Lillian Hellman

10  Tiny Beautiful Things (off Broadway) by Cheryl Strayed

"LEAP" the Animated Feature of an Aspiring Ballerina with Inspiring Dance Sequences

French directors Eric Summer & Eric Warin have made a charming animated movie due to its creative & credible choreography.  The story itself is flat; two pre-teen friends raised in an orphanage outside France aspire to great heights.  The girl, Felicie (Elle Fanning) wants to be a professional ballerina (despite having any dance training) and the boy, Victor (Nat Wolf) a great inventor.  Both show promising talents while living in a quaint orphanage run by a benevolent nun and cockeyed, hunchback overseer (Mel Brooks).  Felicie & Victor manage a daring escape & hitch a ride into the city of lights. Paris is breathtakingly beautiful but unwelcoming to two ragamuffins.  No surprise that with Felicie's ingenuity, tenacity and unflappability she gains a place in the French Ballet School and the lead role in the Nutcracker Ballet.  The film is set in the late 19th C while both the Eiffel Tower & the Statue of Liberty are under construction.  Both structures are featured in the film.  It's a haven for Victor's apprenticeship and becomes hellish, ridiculous chase scene between Felicie and the mother of her ballerina nemesis, Camille (Maddie Ziegler).  Ziegler is a dancing phenomena who first garnered notice on the TV reality show "Dance Moms".  The too predictable plot pits snobby Camille who was assured of the lead against Felicie.  Felicie finds her footing and the piece de resistance for wanting to dance.  The stereotypical villainous vindictive & wealthy mother is clumsy.  The heartwarming connection between Felicie and the ex-ballerina & impoverished maid to Camille's household is ho-hum.  But, what surpasses the barre is the superlative dance sequences that were made using frame animation on Aurele Dupont & Jeremie Belingard, two principal dancers for the Paris Opera Ballet.  Dupont is the de facto choreographer for the film.  The spectacular dancing is what gives this movie its grand jete' lift.  Kate McKinnon & Mel Brooks add their voices to the assemble'.  The sole pointe for watching this film  pirouettes off the vibrant & professional looking choreography.  Otherwise the movie's story's arch is adagio. Instead, go see the French stop animation film "My Life as a  Zucchini" for the entire family.

Sunday, December 24, 2017

"Jim and Andy and the Great Beyond" A Doc. of Jim Carey Filming "Man on the Moon" - Lunacy Personified

Andy Kaufman and Jim Carey share the same birthday, January 17th.  An interesting coincidence maybe, the doc. of Jim Carey portraying the late Andy Kaufman (b 1949-1984) in the biopic "Man on the Moon," is generated lunacy genius.   Kaufman's comic genius pushed the boundaries of comedy, performance art and role playing into the outermost stratosphere.  Carey's comedic/acting talents are no less stupefying for his ferocious fearlessness performing with no safety net.  Kaufman is best known & beloved for his role of Latka on Taxi.  Andy is also known & loathed for his wrestling antics that took the public down for the count as to the reality of his antagonistic antics and physical injuries.   "Man on the Moon" directed by Acad. Award winning Dir. Milos Forman was released in 1999 earning Carey an Acad. Award for his role.  The movie was not met with great financial or critical success.  Carey's career at the time of making "Man on the Moon" was at an apex atop mega-hit film series "Dumb & Dumber" and "Ace Ventura".   "Jim and Andy and the Great Beyond" is a doc. following Carey's personification of Andy Kaufman that completely eclipses the original movie and shines a strobe light into the psyche & artistry of provocative creative genius.  The original footage of the filmmaking narrated by Carey is exhausting, exhilarating & profound.  The doc. captures two extra-terrestial beings, Carey & Kaufman, being brazen, brilliant, exasperating & beyond the constraints of conventions.  Carey, never going out of character while film also involves portraying the numerous multi-complex characters Kaufman created.  This was an astonishing feat.  Trying to discern the distinctions between the actual individuals, their characters and the characters their characters portray is like stepping through the looking glass and falling down the rabbit hole.  Carey's brilliant commentary, candor & pensive reflections keep the zaniness from over powering the intensive character studies of two unique entertainers whose talented trajectories soar to heights beyond the pull of gravity.  "I can manipulate people's reactions  But, I'm not trying to be funny.  I just want to play with their heads."  (A Kaufman)  "My focus is to forget the pain of life.  Forget the pain, mock the pock, reduce it.  And laugh." (J Carey)  Dir. Christopher Smith stunning doc. "Jim and Andy and the Great Beyond" is a hybrid of humor and human angst.

Sunday, December 17, 2017

"A Ghost Story" Starring Casey Affleck and Rooney Mara is a Hypnotic Elegy to Life's Legacy

Dir/screenwriter David Lowery (b Amer 1980) has reunited his stars Casey Affleck & Rooney Mara from his previous film "Ain't Their Bodies Saints" which received a nomination for the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance (2013).  Lowery's subdued & haunting film "A Ghost Story" received a nomination for the John Cassavetes Award (2017).   You'd think people would've learned by now from other movies such as "Ghost" (starring Patrick Swayze & Demi Moore) if you're dead, go to the light or you'll be stuck in a hellish purgatory.  Casey & Rooney are young couple in love.  You see them cuddling on the couch in their home & sleeping in bed while connected together.  It's while soundly sleeping & tightly knit they hear a loud noise that rouses them.  Casey bravely ventures first with Rooney wrapped in a sheet close behind.  Oddly, there's no evidence of an intruder or disturbance.  Casey casts one lingering look around before shutting off the light.  The two have been negotiating a  move which Casey hinders with his reluctance for change.  Casey is a musical composer with promising talent. Sequential timing in this languid movie is blurred.  He consents to the move but shortly after, he's killed in a car accident feet from his own driveway.   Rooney braces herself to identify the body in the hospital.  Her pain & incredulity are a disquieting mixture of grief and shock.  She covers Casey's face with the sheet then hurriedly walks away.  We're left in the room with Casey's covered corpse.  Only the audience can observe Casey's sheathed body with only dark slits for eyes move stealthily through the hospital.  Casey's shrouded form halts in front of a wall that opens into a brightly lit aperture.  After a few moments when Casey fails to move towards the undulating light, it quickly enfolds & disappears (big mistake!)   Casey remains shrouded and makes his way back to the home he shared with Rooney where he hovers over her.  In this surreal & stunning film we anguish for the ghost whose expressions we can't see but we know he's shackled within a world he can no longer partake.  A bumptious party goer pontificates on leaving behind a legacy while reveling with other party goers in the home from which Rooney has long since departed and to which Casey is marooned.  This eerie & sombre film is too wonderful and unique for most to realize how rare and special it is.  But, "Does anyone ever realize life while they live it…every, every minute."  (T Wilder)

Friday, December 15, 2017

The Extraordinary Elizabeth Strout "Portraits of America" Moderated by the Pompous Antonio Mondo

I'm a huge fan of Elizabeth Strout's novels.  Her brilliant novel "Olive Kitteridge was awarded the Pulitzer Prize and turned into a HBO series starring Bill Murray & Frances McDormand.  Her newest novel "Anything is Possible" was published this summer.  Is it possible that this acclaimed author's talk regarding her writings and "Portraits of America" could be waylaid in anyway?  Sadly, the answer is yes due to  the moderator's missives of questioning & obtuse commentaries.  Monda is the dir. of the Rome Film Festival and his presence should be restricted to film discussions.  But, when you have an exceptional writer & articulate guest, it's best to let them lead the conversation not highjack it.  I found him impertinent referring to her as Liz but this was the least of his crimes.  Ms. Strout came on stage looking striking with her hair up in a loose bun, large frame glasses and black blazer & white blouse.  She began by reading from her novel "Anything is Possible" establishing the unflappability of the young heroine Anna and her family's interesting dynamics.  She confessed to having her own mother issues.  The other book she read from was "My Name is Lucy Barton."  Mondo asked Strout how she would pitch this novel to a publisher today.  I sensed Strout was rankled by this question,"Thankfully, I don't have to pitch my stories.  But it's about a woman becoming herself and rising upwards in life." She shared a family photo that showed her then 2 year old daughter with her own grandmother.  Ms Strout paid tribute to Edna St. Vincent Millay (EVSM) by showing a beautiful photo of her as young girl and told us it was her work which first drew her as a  to poetry & literature.  Her initial aim was to be a poet and she mused about reciting aloud from memory many of EVSM's poems.   Mondo then proceeded to turn the discussion towards film and art asking inane & off topic questions:  her favorite film, least favorite film, favorite movie scene and favorite American artist.  The answers:  "The Sound of Music" because of Christopher Plummer, "The Wizard of Oz" because "Judy Garland creeps me out" the shower scene in "Psycho" and Edward Hopper.  "An evening covering Strout's illustrious career, from her Pulitzer Prize winning book to her latest work" was not the focus of "the intimate conversation."  I doubt Mondo has read any of Strout's works and he didn't expound on her "...renowned work which emulates the rich tapestry of America and underscores the anxieties that impact the greater national mood" as stated in the program.  He botched what should have been a literary & relevant topical discussion into a weak facsimile of James Lipton's "Inside the Actor's Studio."  I will continue to read works by Elizabeth Strout but will stoutly avoid any future talks involving Mondo.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

British Dir Joe Wright's DARKEST HOUR - Deserves Gold Statues for Gary Oldman and Kristin Scott Thomas

This summer we saw the release of DUNKIRK, a historic re-enactment of the brave soldiers stranded on the French shores rescued with the aid of brave British civilians in their small sea vessels.  DARKEST HOUR, directed by Joe Wright (b UK 1972 "Atonement") depicts several weeks in May 1940 when Europe had fallen to the fascist dictator in Germany and Britain was facing what many believed was impending invasion.  Both superb historic WWII epics captures the worst of human brutality and the uttermost of human bravery.  Wright does a superb job in directing a cogent and emotionally stirring film by targeting Churchill during the first weeks of his appointment as Prime Minister of Britain, a time when his assurances & rallying speeches galvanized his nation from the brink of surrender to clamor for war against tyranny at all cost.  Churchill (Gary Oldman in a tour de force performance) is seen in his finest hours with astride his foibles and pants down.  This is not a mawkish upper lip cliched movie.  This is a potent articulate reiteration of some of Churchill's most famous oratorical addresses to never surrender shoring up the barricades for the UK & Western Europe from collapsing to the Nazi regime.  Churchill, is seen as a heavy drinker, & prone to outbursts of anger & humility.  He's also seen as pensive, resourceful & fully aware of the burden he carried  The scene in which Churchill rides London's underground transport & converses candidly with his fellow passengers & citizens is remarkable first of all and extremely stirring.  Churchill's wife (Kristin Scott Thomas) and his steadfast secretary, Elizabeth (Lily James "Downton Abbey") were both admirable & doe eyed in their supportive roles.  King George (Australian actor Ben Mendelsohn) played a more pivotal and poignant role providing Churchill a potent ally.  DARKEST HOUR sheds light on a period in history that wavered most terribly close to a very frightening & disastrous outcome.  (Shame on FDR & the US for deferring to the "Neutrality Acts" at a time when our British ally were relying desperately for our help.)  Churchill's great historic speeches were delivered with the utmost conviction, with utmost consideration inspiring the only tenable outcome.  "You ask what is our aim?  I can answer in a word, victory.  Victory at all cost.  Victory in spite of all terror.  Victory, however, long and hard the road may be, for without victory there is no survival".   A member of Parliament who understood Churchill considered a negotiation with Hitler through Mussolini questioned how he came to alter his stance.  'Those who never change their minds, never achieve anything."

Anselm Kiefer at the Met Breur: PROVCOATIONS

The Anselm Kiefer (b Germany 1945) exhibit PROVOCATIONS opened today at the Met Breur.  The 5th floor of the Met Breur hosts sketches, water colors & oil paintings from his expansive career. The jest of his body of work is determined to unmine the transition years in Germany post WWII that seemed to have been lost in translation & time.  Kiefer's brilliant haunting body of work emotes desolation and destruction.  There is an overall sombre melancholy but do not directly portray gruesome brutality.  The large scale multi-panel painting "Bohemia Lies by the Sea"  (1996) is the only work you see when first entering the exhibit.  This painting is reason in and of itself to come see this exhibit.  The first appearance is deceptively lighter in mood & color palette.   It is daytime and we're place along a narrow road that is surrounded by flowers in shades of pink.  Upon further reflection you will notice there are no trees, or people present and ground alongside is muddy and overrun.  Then it hits you that this is a morose landscape of decimated lands from battles and the pink florals are referencing red poppies that have become synonymous with the lives of fallen soldiers.  Drawing closer you can find facial images that are obscured from a distance.  Kiefer is looking back at WWII in Germany and finding the barren ruins upon which future generations have risen.  Still, there is a flicker of beauty in the incandescent glitter and softer color scheme.  Kiefer wrote the title of the painting at the top which he took from the title of a poem by Ingborg Bachman (b Vienna 1926-1973).   Bachman lived through WWII, Kiefer was born at the end of the war.  Both artists express a longing for what should have been if not for the war and the elusiveness to finding solace & serenity. "If Bohemia still lives by the sea, I'll believe in the sea again.  If it's me, then it's anyone for he's as worthy as me.  I want nothing more for myself.  I want to go under.  Under - that means the sea, there I'll find Bohemia again.  From my grave, I wake in peace.  From deep down I know now and I'm not lost." (I Bachmann)

Melinda's Top Ten Movie Picks for 2017

The following movies are in alphabetical order and are by American directors unless otherwise noted:

1.  Battle of the Sexes

2.  Darkest Hour (British) and Dunkirk (British)

3.  Get Out

4.  Harmonium (Japanese)

5.  Ladybird

6.  Lady McBeth (British)

7.  Loving Vincent (Polish)


9.  The Florida Project

10. The Salesman (Iranian)

Lincoln's Warning for America and Other Thoughts-WARNING It was a Bait and Switch and I'm Gonna Bitch

I'm furious with the NY Historic Society's Lecture last night "Le Conversazioni Lincoln's Warning for America and Other Thoughts".  The conversation regarding Lincoln's comments was anticipated as a prescient & sagacious discussion.  Philip Gourevitch, a staff writer for "The New Yorker" was the featured guest moderated by Antoni Monda, a pompous orator credited as being a curator at the MoMA & Guggenheim.  In fairness, they were both pompous & pointless.  But, most egregious is the deceptive derailing of a discussion detailed as..."Young Abraham Lincoln once posed a foreboding question to an assembly of his peers:  What is the greatest threat to the republic?"  The conversation pertaining to Lincoln lasted only 2 minutes.  Gourevitch began by saying Lincoln gave a speech in Springfield {capital of IL} as a young atty. lasting 2 hours which anticipated the pending Civil War.  This was made 50 years after the Amer. Revolution and Lincoln drew from the Revolution which was fading from physical memory saying men of ambition will rise.  Monda said we are now going to see a clip from one of the his favorite films ever made "Greed" an early 20th C silent picture.  How did this connect to Lincoln I wondered.  It didn't, neither did anything that followed; slides of artworks, photos, film clips that had no bearing on Lincoln.  The arrogant erudite opinions on their art selections bore no connection to the evening's topic.  Furthermore, it was a total bore.  I couldn't take it anymore and left within the 1st 1/2 hour.  I wasn't alone in leaving and feeling aggrieved.  The evening was a flagrant ruse.  I felt like a rube.  And, I'm angry and will be getting in touch with personnel at the NY Historic Soc.  A man in the lobby was voicing my same frustration. "What was that? I came to hear what should have been an interesting talk about Lincoln and it had nothing to do with it!"  I said, "I totally agree".  The program was a scam.  The people at the desk shrugged and shook their heads.  Today,  I will speak with the person running the programs and voice my outrage & seek restitution.  I'm scheduled for tomorrow night's program at the NY Historic Society "Portraits of America with Elizabeth Strout." If I don't receive satisfaction from last night's talk, it will be my last.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Italian Dir/Screenwriter Luca Guadagnino's CALL ME BY YOUR NAME - No Shame in Love

"Call Me by Your Name" is an Italian art film.  It's a lyrical expose on love, literature, music, poetry, nature, cuisine and archeological treasures.  The many bounties life offers are presented on a platter.  This scenic film discovers the treasures of finding love & the freedom to experience & express it openly.  It's multi-lingual in Italian, French, German and English that flows fluently utilizing English sub-titles.  The idyllic setting is an Italian chateau during the summer of 1983. The year is markedly shown although there is a timeless aesthetic to the film's look (albeit rotary landlines  & 80's music anachronistic to the era).  The year bears significance marking the burgeoning HIV/AIDS pandemic that took the lives of so many people; mostly gay men.  Oliver (Armie Hammer, "The Social Network") is an American grad student visiting the rural estate of his archeology prof. & patriarch of the Perlman family (Michael Stuhlberg "A Serious Man").  The Perlman's precocious 17 yr. old son, Elio (Timothee Chalamet "Ladybird") is a musical prodigy.  There's a palpable, combative sexual tension that builds languidly over this lush, unhurried film until the inevitable attraction becomes "more than a special friendship."  Guadagnino's film is more layered  than a coming of age, sexual awakening story.  This is a luxurious & sensual film accentuating a cornucopia of life's bounties.  There's ambiguities regarding individual's sexual orientations.  And, an uncertainty if Oliver's dark lesion is a bruise or indicates an AID's sarcoma.   Elio's parents are very compassionate, intelligent and open minded.  They encourage Oliver & Elio to take a short vacation before Oliver must return to the states having noted their fondness for each other.  Their short lived romance leaves Elio morose. Elio's father has a heart to heart talk with him intending to being supportive & to revel in his son's fortune having found love.  Perhaps, the father professes too much.  His son is distressed to unearth the facade of his parent's idyllic marriage.  The film's overriding theme is the loss of time by not living one's life as one's true best self without shame or recrimination.  Oliver brandishes his Jewish heritage but masks his homosexuality.  The Perlmans consider themselves "Jews of discretion".  The last scene is on Hanukah which the family is celebrating with latkes, a menorah & Hanukah gilt.  The hidden message in the homonym of gilt & guilt is somewhat slick.  There is plenty of glorious music. Poetry is read aloud & translated from various languages.  The poetry helps speak for Guadaginino's elegiac & stirring film. "As soon as you trust yourself, you will know how to live". (Goeth)  "Life belongs to the living, and those who live must be prepared to change." (Goeth)  This film is a sumptuous feast.  It lingers on like an al fresco French meal.  It may lose appeal for those lacking patience & discerning tastes.      

Celeste Ng and Jennifer Egan Literary Discussion was Enlightening , Engaging and Rewarding

Jennifer Egan, author of "Manhattan Beach" and Celeste Ng author of "Little Fires Everywhere" were in discussion with each other regarding their writing processes with insights into their latest novels.  Egan's previous novel "A Visit from the Goon Squad" received the Pulitzer Prize. Ng's debut  novel "Everything I never Told You" won the ALA's Alex Award & the Asian/Pacific American Award.  Ms. Egan, the veteran writer of the two women having published 5 novels requested Ms Ng to be the guest speaker with her.  Their mutual admiration society was earnest & well deserved.  The 2 writers  had a fascinating & frank conversation describing their techniques & tribulations.  To begin the evening, actresses read only a small portion from each new novel.  Having read both, I was impressed by the small portion selected.  Both were significant to the moral dilemma of "Little Fires..." and the main character in "Manhattan..."  Celeste began by lauding "A Visit..." for stretching the boundaries of art & storytelling and then praised Jennifer for her mastery of writing a historic epic novel set in the 1940s.   Jennifer confessed she found writing in a conventional style more difficult than "Goon..."  She writes voluminous pages illegible longhand, then types them out & then begins to draw several outlines.  Her writing & rewriting becomes  subtractive.  With "Goon..." Jennifer said it was easier to write in fragments and then return to them rather than maintaining a continuum in "Manhattan".  She is initially drawn to a time and place and then finds the characters that would fit into an epoch. She knew she wanted a strong female heroine in NY during WWII.   She noted she intended to place the heroine Anna, her severely disabled sister and Eddie, a gangster together on Manhattan Beach.  She admitted it was a stretch.  I found it a preposterous, incredulous scenario but it moved the narrative.  Celeste's writing process is a loose frame work of events and characters.  She then goes back to fill in how the characters relate to each other and how they arrived at their behaviors.  For the most part, Celeste said she has pondered her characters & plot in her head before putting words to type.  The women shared their reliance on being in long term writing groups with the same people.  Sometimes they request the group be cheerleaders and offer only praise on what is working.  Other times, they share a portion of their novel and listen to whom or what their peers become focused.  Celeste said she was directed by her group away from making one of the characters feel too strongly as the aggrieved party in a paternity litigation.  Sometimes, they ask for pressure to hold them accountable for deadlines.  Celeste admits to trying to discern from other writers the magical process that empowers the writer, to which they both resolved is doing the work:  research, writing, rewriting and garnering helpful & supportive editing.  I would very much like to volunteer to be a member of either's writing group.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

GEMINI STARS/SCORPIO STARS by Gian Marco Lo Forte - Signs of Gay Views and Vulnerabilities

Lo Forte is an NYC writer/director who represents gay perspectives, lifestyles, love & torment.  GEMINI STARS/SCORPIO STARS is musical that mixes social media & performance art as a means of bridging understanding with LGBTQ individuals.  I commend the talented ensemble cast who combined acting, storytelling, multi-media,  choreography, music and vocals.  The production was a dispersed immersion into the interconnecting lives of several friends gathered to celebrate the holidays amongst their haven of friends with whom they formed a "family".  This family doesn't share bloodlines but they share kindred experiences, a history of alienation for their homosexuality and a profound sense of freedom having found acceptance in being their true best selves.  The internet has a major role in the play.  The internet & vlog writing has helped in finding a supportive, relatable community.  The opening video is a friendly & joyous FaceTime of 2 women showing how they each transform from a "dyke to feminine" appearance.  But ubiquitous acknowledgement for the LGBQT community having reached a mass level of acceptance, of tolerance or safety are misleading.  Are gay people disposable in society?  The question poised is met by both a yes & no answer from the cast.  Feelings of self-loathing are obstacles that many gays still grapple.  Lo Forte's clever melange of musical staging & storytelling shares coming out stories & experiences.  The explicit sharing of detailed sexual encounters was off-putting. The highlight of the show was the original songs written & performed by Colombian born Ombro de Oro.  The other artistic standout production  number shared the live actors with a stunning video using the glittery, golden curtain on stage as a flowing ocean.  The choreography simultaneous on stage & in the video was a knockout.  The lesson in self-defense which ended a rather magical & delightful overall performance was exhausting.  But its powerful messaging of dehumanizing the enemy struck a blow.  Wanting to be looked at and admired hit a universal theme performed in an erotic dance by choreographer/performer Daniel Diaz.  The earnest messaging of benefitting by learning from different people was extended to the audience.  All were invited to stay and mingle with the performers after the show.  There was a lot of talent showcased in this motley medley.  I hope these fine actors weren't only singing to the choir.  

Alvin Ailey Premiers Jamar Robert's MEMBERS DON'T GET WEARY - Superb Addition to the Repertoire

Jamar Roberts has been a dancer with the Alvin Ailey Theater since 2002.  Among his many accolades as a dancer extraordinaire he was named "1 of 25 to watch" by Dance Magazine (2007) & graced their cover in 2013.  He won Outstanding Performer at the New York Dance & Performance "Bessie" Awards & was a featured guest star with London's Royal Ballet.  Roberts with his statuesque presence is a regal and versatile dancer.  His artistic skills imbibe a musicality binding movement & music.  Roberts can now add outstanding choreographer to his artistic talents with his premiere for the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater MEMBERS DON'T CRY.  This is a remarkable debut for the company destined to become a favored standard amongst its illustrious repertoire.  Roberts didn't  shy away from choreographing to the music of legendary jazz/blues artist John Coltrane.  He embraced Coltrane's "Dear Lord" & "Ole" with soulful elongated notes, complex tonal qualities & astounding syncopation.  The marvelous dancers embodied the music's plaintive sounds, its riff and accentuated expressions.  MEMBERS DON'T WEARY is a spellbinding personification of Coltrane's music.  Every note, every measure pulsated through the dancers extending a visceral sensation. Neither did Roberts shy away from prescient social issues of racial oppression.  The first movement "Dear Lord" pays homage to Alvin Ailey's iconic REVELATIONS.  The dancers are adorned with large floppy hats and move languidly and pleadingly, arms extended upward, moving in groups as a unit.  Hardships, tenacity and kinship are expressed with poignancy & grace.  Roberts is to be lauded for his costume designs.  The dancers wore shifting shades of pale blue to indigo with similar styles enhancing a seamless aesthetic to the choreography.  Brandon Baker's subtle but effecting lighting & scenic design adhere to the movements and story telling of Robert's remarkable work.  The dancing in  "Ole" resonates strong & mournful images of systemic racial strife.  Roberts quotes Ralph Ellison whose words come alive with indelible spiritedness in Roberts astounding art form combining Coltrane's music and the phenomenal Ailey dancers.  "The blues is an impulse to keep the painful details & episodes of a brutal experience alive in one's aching transcend it not by the consolation of philosophy but by squeezing from it a near-tragic, near-comic lyricism."  Applaud Ailey's artistic director Robert Battle who entrusts & supports members of the company to explore their burgeoning talents.  Mr Battle at the helm of Alvin Ailey in searching for talented artists wishing to express their heart's desire nurtured a masterpiece in his own backyard.      

Friday, December 8, 2017

Edvard Munch Has Much More Punch than a Scream - Must See Show at Met Breur

For those who have lived under a rock, Munch's painting "The Scream" is an iconic image with imitation emoijis.  If you think there's anguish in Munch's psyche you'll be convinced by the many macabre subject matters he paints.  And, you'll perceive Munch (b Norway 1863-1944) as much more than a one painting anomaly.  The dark & macabre motif paintings "Sickness and Death" include paintings of his mother who died of tuberculosis & his beloved older sister who died in her teens.  Both women died when he was a young boy.  "Diseases, insanity, and death were the angels that attended my cradle, and since then have followed me throughout my life." He was an artist full of angst and genius.  The large scale portraits are haunting and mesmerizing.  The galleries have numerous self-portraits made during different periods in his life.  "Self-Portrait With Cigarette" (1895) shows a young Munch mystically appearing out of a dark background with a baffled, uncomprehending stare.  In his later self-portrait "Between the Clock and the Bed" (1940-43) he is a rigid figure standing still in the doorway to a bedroom next to a grandfather clock as if blending in as a piece of furniture.  But, "Self-Portrait in Hell" (1903) is most telling.  Here he is poised nude, his body pale.  His figure divides the painting with mahogany shades on one side and flaming reds on the other casting a red glow on his apprehensive face.  He emotes an acceptance of pending purgatory.  Munch pays homage to Van Gogh's "Starry Night".  He painted a vivid portrait of himself lying in bed, bleeding profusely from his hand while a perplexed female is seated next to him.  He self-inflicted a gun wound after a torrid affair ended.  Still, there are rich landscapes that are serene and enchanting.  "Nature is not only all that is visible to the eye, it also includes the inner pictures of the soul." I favored the paintings where the faces are blurred and figures appear to be withdrawing from view.  As much as Munch battled his demons of depression, drinking and poor physical health, the exhibition is not oppressive.  One comes away appreciating the artist's mastery of color who doesn't shy away from agony, angst and nature's bounties.    

Juilliard Dances 2017 4 World Premieres by Bryan Arias, Gentian Doda, Roy Assaf and Gustavo Sansano

Juilliard has commissioned original works by notable choreographers for the Juilliard Dance Division  since 2002.  This allows for all the students to experience working in a professional creative process. This Fall's program featured works by 4 international choreographers: Bryan Arias (b Puerto Rico), Gentian Doda (b Albania), Roy Assaf (b Israel) and Gustavo Sansano (b Spain).  Despite 4 different nationalities, three of the works were reminiscent of each other.  Assaf's work stood out from the others.  It was an absurdist theatrical performance.  The dancers made various odd monotone sounds in their group formation & humoresque movements.  One dancer sang vocals for "Can't Help Falling in Love".  The dancers recited numerous poetic incantations "If you put anger in it, it becomes anger" "If you put love in it, it becomes love" while moving in sync with their groups.  The dancers all wore androgynous yellow/flesh tone leotards.  One dancer intermittently skipped across the stage reciting "If you put a bow on it, it becomes a bow."  There's another saying, you can put earrings on a pig but it's still a pig.  I did not dig this ludicrous facsimile of dance.  I recalled seeing a work Assaf did for The LA Dance Project "II Acts for the Blind." These works were interchangeable.  I didn't care for either but there's something to be said for the lyrical text in "Can't Help...".  The 3 other works had a common meme of minimal movement, unified formations, androgynous costumes and sombre  glazed emoting.  The most creative of these was Arias' "The Sky Seen From the Moon".  This was the 1st piece on the program and there was a pre-performance onstage before the "official" start for the evening.  I liked the costuming for the dancers in varying billowy pants & tops in a palette of pale grays to indigo.  The costumes & dim lightings cast the illusion of moon's surface.  The small roughly shaped moon suspended from above was repeatedly pointed & alluded to; too obvious.  The 2nd movement the moon was raised and ominous, futuristic lights were lowered casting an interesting oppressive mood.  The surprising juxtapositions of a classical pas de deus was a welcomed change.  And, there was a fabulous male trio who intertwined in a fluid continuum.  Otherwise, if it weren't for the student's enthusiasm, I found the mostly similar aesthetic tedium.  Nonetheless, the joist of the evening was to enhance the Juilliard dance students' opportunities to work on a highly professional level, adapt & hone their skills, collaborate as a group, transcribe the artistic directors' visions and bring their unique interpretations into the mix.  A major objective was to adhere to a uniformed company making it difficult to single out individual performers.  But, I spotted a male dancer from the class of 2018 and a female dancer from the class of 2017 who shone brightly.  

Thursday, December 7, 2017

KEN BURNS discussing his Book Tie in to PBS Series THE VIETNAM WAR at the 92ndY

Ken Burns (KB) is an award winning documentarian of our country's history.  He's an artist, historic & a genius.  His films aid us to ponder, understand, appreciate our legacies on a profound & enriching level.  KBs' PBS series THE VIETNAM WAR is a project he's collaboratively worked on for over 10 years.  He was introduced by Columbia film Prof. Annette Insdorf and an 8 minute clip shown from "Deja Vu" the1st in the 10 segment series of 18 hr. compiled doc.  The beginning establishes the ending of the Viet Nam (VN) doc.  Footage is shown in reverse, bombs rising up from the flaming carnage, soldiers marching backwards, destruction restored, helicopters rising from the ocean onto naval ships when fleeing Saigon and many disturbing iconic images of war's carnage including the killings of civilians.  The sound of a helicopter's whoosh that began in "Apocalypse Now" is heard before any visuals alerting us to what we're about to see.  The opening clip includes US veterans recounting their traumas of war which no one talked about then.  A Vietcong soldier "In war there are no winners, only destruction."  KB called the VN war the most divisive war in our nation since the Civil War.  His is to examine the cruelties & mercies of war, political deceit & integrity, patriotism and the insurmountable agonies of war.  KB used a triangulated perspective {US, north & south VN}.  The jolting interviews, photo compilations & news footage is astounding & heart wrenching. Our involvement in VN was 30 years of failing & suffering spanning 5 presidencies.  Nixon misrepresented  a promise in his inaugural address {seen in the beginning} "An honorable end to the war.  The people of VN, north & south have endured an unspeakable weight of suffering for a generation and they deserve a better fate." The devastating human toll took the lives of 58,000 Americans, & an estimated 3 million Vietnamese.  I was completely fascinated with whatever Burns said.  Unfortunately, Insdorf was in conversation with KB to promote her new film book along with Burn's new book tied to his PBS series; a detriment to hearing more from this extraordinary genius.  KB spoke about the music & sound effects intwined with the doc.  All the royalty fees were waived, including those from the Beatles which is a first.  He credited PBS & corp. sponsors for funding the 30 million expense making the film.  KB said editing is more than 50% of the process it's subtractive  cutting from more than a 1,000 interviews using only 79 Americans and 30 Vietnamese.  Numerous  scholars were used as references but didn't speak on the film.  KB also voiced his contempt for the recent event in Charlottesville.  At Q&A, a student asked him about the influence of his NH alma mater.  He delighted everyone telling her he'd be able to get her in & shared a humbling experience.  He isn't finished with the gist of material in the US.  His next projects are the history of Country Music, Ali & Hemingway.

THE PARISIAN WOMAN Written by Beau Willimon Stars Uma Thurman and Philip Soo Is Slick Political Goo

THE PARISIAN WOMAN is a prescient American political satire stuffed with countless jabs at the preposterous compass ass in the White House.  Therein lies its wit, which at times is laid on thick.  Perhaps, as a facade for the mildly entertaining soap opera of salacious manipulations to garner positions of political power.  Does this formula sound familiar?   As my clever companion noted afterwards it felt like an episode of HOUSE of CARDS.  Kudos! Playwright Beau Willimon is the creature for the original series HOUSE of CARDS.  PARISON is a pastiche of "HOUSE," "PARISIAN," "DANGEROUS LIAISONS" with added punch at political pundits.  Chloe (Uma Thurman "Dangerous Liaisons") is the glamorous socialite wife of Tom (Josh Lucas "Sweet Home Alabama") a successful, tax attorney aspiring for a seat on an appellate court.  The married couple  understand that love can become something else.  Ambition is their consummate communal goal so  anything goes so long as it propels them up the political hierarchy.   Peter (Martin Csokas) is Chloe's insanely jealous lover who loses his charms when it's clear he doesn't have the president's ear.  Tom entrusts Chloe's adroit social skills to advance his judicial aspirations.  Chloe without a career/children is still held in high regard & demand at powerful dinner party invitations.  Jeanette  (Blair Brown "Copenhagen" Tony Award) a White House insider includes Chloe & Peter to her dinners & seeks to establish a friendship with Chloe.  Jeanette introduces Chloe to her beautiful & brilliant daughter Rebecca (Philip Soo "Hamilton") who recently graduated Harvard Law School.  Sexual secrets abound in the DC town but few are completely shocking.  However, Chloe & Rebecca's video tapped sexual liaisons shock & repel Jeanette.  Chloe wields the threat of revealing these tapes which would only harm Jeanette's daughter unless she ensures the president endorses Tom as the judicial candidate.  The handsome set and clever staging worked well.  The glaring lighting & messaging between scenes highlighted the technology today that wields enormous control to connect & dissect society.   THE PARISIAN WOMAN's political satire was mildly amusing sustained by a fine ensemble cast.  The more understated quick-witted muses on love toppled the Washington play poking fun at a twit who tweets troubling idiocies.   "Jealousy is a luxury for the young."  "Arguing is for married people not lovers."  "Love can sour and hearts get broken."

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Transgender People in the Military: A Conversation with Chase Strangio & Charles Kaiser

The hot topic issue of banning transgender individuals from serving in the military was a focus of the discussion last night with Chase Strange, Staff Atty. with ACLU LGBT & AIDS Project and Charles Kaiser Assoc Dir of LBGT Soc. Science & Public Policy Ctr at Hunter College.  This past August, Trump signed a directive banning transgender individuals from serving in the military in any capacity.  Trump also banned funding for transgender reassignment for military personnel except in cases where treatments have begun & halting treatment would cause health issues. What does this mean? Does this mean transgender individuals serving in the military will be removed?  Their pensions halted?  Clearly, this means war regarding the civil rights of transgender & LGBT people in our nation.  What will occur is murky.  Def. Sec. Jim Mattis has until Feb. 21, 2018 to clarify & implement nat'l policy concerning transgender individuals now serving in the military.  Currently, there are 4 major cases pending in the courts challenging Trump's exclusionary plans which arguably violate equal rights & nondiscrimination statutes.  The history of LGBT in the armed forces has been subjugated to malignant treatment since Clinton's 1994 policy of "Don't ask, don't tell" a cowardly, noncommittal endorsement leaving the door for excluding openly gay individuals from military service.  This US policy was overturned by Pres. Obama in 2010 allowing homosexuals to serve openly.  It's illegal to discriminate against individuals serving in the military on the basis of their sexual orientation.  HOWEVER, this repeal didn't change the policy to permit transgender individuals to serve.  To clarify, Trump is re-enforcing a ban that has been in place and is ensuring transgenders don't obtain the right to be in the military.  Strangio, a transgender male, estimates 14,000 transgender individuals currently serve; the estimate is as low as 4,000.  It could be argued that the legal right to discriminate against transgender individuals may have been obscured by representing Chelsea who was convicted of leaking classified information.  She was charged with 22 counts of espionage & plead guilty to 20 charges.  She received a 35 year sentence in July 2013.  Obama commuted her sentence in Jan 2017.  She was released this past May.  Last night Strangio didn't clarify the ACLU's decision to represent her.  I found his impassioned statement from an article in May 2017 "It is a remarkable gift to the world that Chelsea will be able to grow & fight alongside us for justice...Her fight to be herself, to access the medical care that she needed, & to gain her freedom have transformed law & society for the better.  The urgency of those fights for so many in our communities will continue and Chelsea's past & future will no doubt be a critical force in moving towards a more just society for everyone."

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Liz Gerring Dance Company Performs HORIZON at the Joyce - Modern Dance to Rejoice

Artistic director Liz Gerring's HORIZON (2015) is a one hour modern dance that moves through time and space with exhilarating and dazzling choreography.  Working with her longtime musical collaborator, Michael Schumacher, they create a strong kinetic energy that is equally powerful in the subtlest movements and in the maintained staid positions.  The skillful dancers are astonishingly strong and lithe.  The original & interesting pairings all combined to create a celestial sense of boundless energy countered with a retracted pull of gravity.  The set was cleverly lit with subtle changes in hue and a constant horizontal white light at a height just above the reach of the dancers.  The costuming of varying athletic & street clothing also benefitted the multiplicity of the composition while connecting a harmonic balance.  The 7 dancers, 3 women & 4 men, are all to be commended for their athletic ability and musicality.  The tumbling gymnastics seemed a bit jarring to the fluidity of the composition.   Bravo though to a creative collaborative work of music, staging & choreography by Ms. Gerring and her Dance Company; a fervent voice in the world of modern dance.  The one hour HORIZON seemed to rise and set fleetingly.  As Ms. Gerring explains, "There is an inherent pleasure in watching bodies move.  It's the pure human spirt of just moving and to me there is something really noble about it."  Ms. Gerring has praise for her dancers, "Just the fact that these dancers have committed themselves to what they are doing, that is beautiful."

British Playwright Lucky Kirkwood's THE CHILDREN - Brilliant, Blistering and Unsettling

THE CHILDREN by Lucky Kirkwood (b UK 1984) is a play with a radioactive power that gets under your skin leaving an indelible mark.  It's both an understated & fierce play that acts as an  awakening and a reckoning.  Kirkwood's scathing writing holds us accountable for our lives and the lives we leave for the next generation.  The three character one act play is set in a cottage in the English countryside not far from a nuclear power plant.  The play opens with Rose (Francesca Annis) bleeding profusely from her nose while Hazel (Deborah Findlay) tries her best to stem the flow while apologizing for having caused the accident.  Rose inadvertently startled Hazel with her surprise visit after not being in touch for 30 some years.  The clever set of a ramshackle kitchen cottage is poisedw off kilter and framed with a dark border.  This adds to the taught feelings of constraint and mounting tension.  Rose's visit Hazel & her husband Robin (Ron Cook) is unexpected and perhaps somewhat unwelcome.  The loquacious banter billows from the mundane questioning regarding Hazel's children leaking towards the toxic underlying vitriol that has poisoned their relationships.  Rose, Hazel & Robin were all among the technical engineers that launched the nuclear power plant decades prior.  It just recently had a major meltdown.  Mayhem and destruction plagues the area from its radioactive release threatening lives & sustainability.  Over the drawn out course of tea to supper to lights out, much is revealed including the adulterous affair between Rose and Robin.  Hazel raised 4 children while working at the nuclear plant.  Hazel & Robin are also grandparents.  Rose remained childless.  Rose's inquiries after the children & grandchildren is the harkening to one's legacy and the responsibilities of leaving a viable world for the future.  Rose voluntarily returned to aid in the clean-up and is seeking other volunteers.  She is seeking those who are older or without children to replace younger workers.  The clean-up will most certainly be lethal for those involved but left unresolved, a massive fatal fallout will occur.  Kirkwood's multilayered messaging is carpe diem; dance, love, live a life that is constantly moving.  Moreover, she's sounding an alarm.  Kirkwood rings the bell loudly to take ownership of the shit we've left behind and clean up our messes before there isn't a future left for our children & our children's children.  "I am involved in mankind; and therefore never send for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee." (Donne)   THE CHILDREN is a play for all to see.

Friday, December 1, 2017

Guillermo del Toro's "The Shape of Water" Stars Sally Hawkins, Octavia Spencer and Michael Shannon

Guillermo del Toro's (b Mexico 1964 "Pan's Labyrinth") film "The Shape of Water" is a fantasy love story that shimmers with magic and shaded by prejudice & hatred.  Giles (Richard Jenkins) narrates this love story immersed in covenants & theology.  Giles is the artist neighbor & confidant to Eliza (Sally Hawkins) the heroine of this mythical movie & unlikely love story set in the US in the early 1960s.  Eliza is mute, not deaf & not "dumb" as she is pejoratively referred to by a co-worker who keeps tabs on the interracial friendship between Eliza and Zelda (Octavia Spencer).  The women work the midnight shift cleaning up at a mysterious & ominous scientific lab.  Zelda & Giles have endearing friendships with Eliza and are able to interpret sign language.  All 3 are treated as subterranean citizens; Eliza for being mute, Giles for being gay and Zelda for being black.  Director/screenwriter Guillermo del Toro (b Mexico 1964 "Pan's Labyrinth) submerges racism, homophobia, sexism and US/Russian enmity leagues beneath a fanciful, imaginative story of love & loss, tragedy & delight.  An unlikely friendship is formed between Eliza and an amphibian aqua man creature capable of understanding language, emotions and music.  Strickland (a most menacing Michael Shannon) is the ruthless, sadistic head of operations.  Strickland captured this creature from the Amazon's where he was worshiped as a god and brought him back to be studied by the military; mostly to gain an edge over the Russians who've leaped ahead of the US in the space race.  Eliza & Zelda are assigned to clean the lab where the amphibian is being held and tortured by the villainous Strickland.  Strickland's tormenting the amphibian costs him two of his fingers.  Eliza befriends this magnificent looking "ET" creature who bears all the traits that define one as human including humanity & healing powers.  When Eliza learns Strickland plans to dissect the amphibian she enlists the help of her friends and the unlikely aid of a Russian spy who has spied on their burgeoning relationship.  The look of the film has a magical, neon glow.  The acting by the incredible cast creates   a plausible credibility to this fanciful, farfetched semi-erotic fairy tale.  The actors forged sympathy for the characters and their pitiful plights.   The mores to be garnered from "The Shape of Water" leak through in droplets.  Guillermo anchors a "Splash" ending.  "The Shape of Water" resonating beauty is formed by refracted glares at hatred seen through a misty magical lens.   "Humanity is like an ocean; if a few drops of the ocean are dirty, the ocean does not become dirty."

Thursday, November 30, 2017

NYPhil Rehearsal Brahms Symphony #2 and Bent Sorensen's World Premier Evening Land

Good news - bad news:  Good news, Emanual Ax was on the program to perform Mozart's Piano Concerto #20 (1785).  Bad news, his performance was scheduled after the intermission of the 1 1/2 hour rehearsal of Brahms & Sorensen's compositions.  Unfortunately,  I didn't stay to hear what I'm sure would have been one of the highlight performances for the year.  Nonetheless, Conductor Edo de Waart (b 1941 Netherlands) lead the orchestra in a majestical performance of Brahms Symphony #2 (1877).   Johannes Brahms composed 4 symphonies. All of them are unique in mood & timbre.  Symphony #2 has a joyful and pleasing quality played at mostly fast & steady tempo.  It has a pastoral, serene quality.  Conductor Waart stopped the orchestra only a few times, but with each break, Waart had the orchestra replay the same measures repeatedly.  It sounded as if he was bringing out the string section in the Allegretto con grazioso but then, I don't know so.  I did like hearing the premiere of Bent Sorensen's (b Denmark 1958) Evening Land (2015-17).  The piece was commissioned by the NYPhilharmonic.  Someone got my memo, and the order of the program for the rehearsals was announced.  However, today was a no brainer, no piano, no Ax to grind or tinkle the ivories.  Brahms orchestral piece was played first (easy call) followed by Evening Land.  What I found interesting in addition to being privy to a premiere was the juxtaposition of Brahms' piece & Sorensen's.  Evening Land sounded somewhat as if Brahms's 2nd Symphony was restructured for the 21st C with an edgier and more expansive musical phrasing.  Sorensen's instrumentation was similar to Brahms in his use of strings and horns but he added claves, paper blocks and filled the harmonic blends with timpani, bass & log drum.  The rising crescendos evoked a richer, more ominous & mysterious sense.  Yet, Sorensen's classical construct felt built upon Brahms.  Brahms 2 later symphonies shifted towards a more exhilirating & sombre ambience.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

DAVID HOCKNEY at the MET Retrospective 1960s to the Present - A Delightful Gift on Exhibit

David Hockney (b UK 1937) is an artist whose talents & lifestyle are free of constraint.  The collection contains his iconic pool paintings, double portraits, photo-collages and lesser known sketches & watercolors and some of his most recent works.  The retrospective spans a career infused with a keen interest in conveying motion and the ideal of continuous movement in life.  Many of his abstract & illusionist paintings of the 1960s have never been exhibited.  His "Tea Painting" is constructed in pieces to resemble an actual tea box complete with directions but completely off kilter.  "The Hypnotist" has a man dressed in black directing a lighting bolt into the eyes of an abstract female form dressed in white.  There is a ghostlike image emanating from the man. The scene is poised on stage surrounded by a bright green curtain putting the viewer in the audience.  Many of Hockney's works draw the viewer in. "The Hypnotist" is bewitching & one of several in which he uses a curtain to frame the painting.  "Play within Play" shows a play on stage & a man pressed against a piece of acrylic with his nose & fingers distorted.  There is a lot of clever whimsy & sense of fun in his works. I was drawn to an abstract painting entitled "Shame" (1960).  After reading its title, I deciphered a phallic image & ejaculation.  The 2nd gallery contains landscape paintings of CO & AZ vibrantly painted which contain Native American motifs.  The vivid Aztec palette conveys strength & solitude.  Other paintings from the 1960s show domestic homosexual relationships.  Notice the several portraits of his parents.  Only his mother looks directly at the artist while the father's focus is elsewhere.  I liked the self-portrait sketch (1983) & his sketch of Warhol.  Hockney's fascination with movement is pronounced with images in and around water; the distortions of refraction creates a visceral rippling effect. This is also felt in his photo-collages.  The combined photos establish a kinetic energy.  The CA painting's palettes are cool shades of green, blue, grays lending a calming aesthetic.  Hockney travels through the US and abroad shift momentum towards vivid landscapes.  Hockney paints from his travels & his locales.  The Grand Canyon paintings are glowing & majestic.  The interior paintings from the 1980s show his influence of Picasso & cubism.  My favorite painting was "Mt Fuji and Flowers".  The painting has a 3D affect.  The Japanese vase & white flowers are placed on a window ledge looking out towards Mt Fuji. The more recent works show Hockey as an artist interested in incorporating new technologies.  The iPod works enable Hockney to create actual movements and changes.  Hockney is an artist always experimenting & representing his fascination with his ever changing surroundings.  "If you see the world as beautiful, thrilling and mysterious as I think I do, then you feel quite alive." (DH)  

Natan Sharansky in Conversation: Russia, Israel, and the World Beyond at Roosevelt House

Natan Sharansky (b Ukraine 1948) earned his degree in computer science from the Physical Technical Institute in Moscow.  After graduating he applied for a visa to emigrate to Israel which was denied for security reasons.  Sharansky became active in with the struggle to allow Soviet Jews freedom to exit Russia and simultaneously became a founding member of Moscow Helsinki Group (MHG).  The MHG was an organization joining dissidents representing various social issues.  Sharansky was charged in Russia in 1977 with collaborating with the CIA.   Despite US denials of any ties between Sharanksy & the CIA, he was convicted and sentence to 13 years in the gulag with hard labor & solitary confinements.  After serving nine years in prison Sharansky emigrated to Israel and reunited with his wife and children.  In Israel, Sharansky became an Israeli politician serving as Deputy Prime Minister.  He published his memoir of his life in prison and is now head of the Jewish Agency which facilitates Jews from all over the world to immigrate to Israel.  Sharansky has received both the US Pres. Medal of Freedom & Congressional Gold Medal.  The most notable comments made by Sharansky:
1.  The time he served in prison was the easiest part of life.  He never gave up his integrity.  Being out in the world, doing what is right and doing enough to fulfill one's obligations is what's most difficult.
2.  Israeli politics is challenging because too many politicians are unwilling to compromise.  Also, with the mass int'l immigration, language barriers are becoming an issue.
3. A peace accord would have been attained had Syrian President Assad not been so greedy.  Israel had been willing to release the Golan Heights.  In retrospect, it's fortunate for Israel not to have given up this territory.  It would have made Israel too vulnerable to a nuclear armed Iran.
4. Obama should have held firm on his threat of force against Assad should he use chemical weapons on his own Syrian people.
5. The Jewish Agency has facilitated 3.5 million Jews to move & integrate into Israel.
6. Putin is the 1st non-anti-Semitic Russian leader.  He's made it easy for the Jews in Russia to leave. (It could be argued he is anti-Semite by purging (albeit peacefully) Russia of its Jewish population.
7. There's hope in finding a peace accord with Mubarak, Gadaffi, Assad (all dictators) but Netanyahu is currently the biggest obstacle.  The major terrorist threats stem from Russia, Iran, Syria and Hezbollah.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Danish Film THE SQUARE Thinks Way Outside the Box Directed by Ruben Ostlund

THE SQUARE directed by Ruben Ostlund (b Sweden 1974) is an absurdist art & poignant social commentary that doesn't fit within the bounds of convention. It was awarded the Cannes-Palme d'Or Prize 2017.  The film is an English/Swedish & Danish speaking film that stars American actors Elizabeth Moss as an art reporter and Tery Notary (Planet of the Apes films) as a Neanderthal performance artists.  The male lead is the charismatic Christian (Danish actor Claes Bang) art director for a Danish contemporary art museum.  Ostlund's wickedly humorous exhibition of the absurdity & elitism of the contemporary art world is very biting.  But, it bites off more than it can chew by sludging through the drifts of social disregard for the omnipresent mendicants that remain invisible.  The esoteric & elite modern art world trips over itself in its pretense of cutting edge sophistication.   The gravitas of free speech with limitations becomes too heavy.  The pompous poke at Julian Schnabel made for a good joke.  Media attention at any cost earned a loner kroner.   Moss was underutilized and Notary's baboon act at a fancy art gala went overboard.  Of course, that was picture Ostlund was trying to paint, the inane clamor for contemporary art juxtaposed to the countless homeless in actual dire need.  Still, I will help you by steering you away from this overly pretentious (though not pointless) and ultimately unsatisfying waste of time.

Saturday, November 25, 2017

A Rangers' Come From Behind Win Over the Red Wings in Overtime - HENRIK! ZUCCRAELLO!

The Rangers & the Red Wings are facing off in a lot of overtime games.  The Rangers have taken 7 of 13 wins in overtime play with the Red Wings.  Last night at the Garden our NY Rangers got the overtime win coming from behind.  It was looking like the Rangers were iced in the first period by the Red Wings.  The Rangers only managed 6 shots on goal while Henrik Lundqvist staved off 17 shots.  The 2nd period the Rangers started to heat up but the Wings still had far more shots on goal.  The game remained score less in the 2nd period with both goalies playing exceptional defense.  The third period the Red Wings got the red light on within minutes to take the lead.  The Rangers skated hard scoring the tying goal halfway into the 3rd sending the game into overtime.  It only took 37 seconds for the Rangers to score the winning goal from Mats Zuccarello with an assist by Brady Skjei. Henrik Lundqvist had 40 saves on the night.  "It was a great finish by us" said Lundqvist.  Lundqvist came back onto the ice to shouts of Henrik! Henrik!  He waved his arms in triumph and tossed his hockey stick over the glass into the fans.  GO RANGERS!

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Stephen Shore's Photos at MoMA Shows the Cool Sixties and Shots of Mundane Solitude

Stephen Shore (b Amer 1947) was on the cutting edge snapping photos of Warhol and 60's celebs in raw black/white small shots.  This series has a hip feel making you feel more like an interloper than in with the in crowd.  Shore's photos in the other galleries include clear gelatin prints, off kilter angles, bright Kodachrome shots, portraits and locals.  Shore shares duo portraits of his parents both in full dress & undergarments, revealing nothing is sacrosanct along including intimate sexual acts.  Regardless, there is a sense of isolation or solitude in most of his photos.  I liked the assemblage of black/white series photos of the Pontiac shown in different proportions.  This quiet medley had a melodic sensibility.  Otherwise, there was also an overall melancholy sense of passing time in posed group photos.   William Eggleston's influence is reflected in Shore's interest with the mundane and ordinary made to appear extraordinary.  What's most impressive are the various trajectories & styles in which Shore's branches.  I was particularly drawn to the photos where a large tree subdivided the surroundings.  I'd preferred the landscape photos taken by Shore.  It's worth stopping in to see these photos through Shore's changing lens.  

Max Ernst "Beyond Painting" at MoMA Surrealist Dada Art a Bit on the Far Side

The Max Ernst "Beyond Painting" exhibit at MoMA amasses more than 100 works (all from MoMA's permanent collection) that include oil paintings, over paintings, prints, collages, illustrations & sculptures.  Ernst (b German 1891-1976) fought for in the German army during WWI.  His wartime experiences were traumatizing.  His artistic expression as a leader in the Dada & Surrealism movements are reflective of hallucinatory & bizarre imageries.  I've never gravitated towards Ernst's works.  Perhaps they are meant to be unsettling and remote.  As you enter the exhibit there is a large photo of Ernst taking while living at Peggy Guggenheim's apartment.  Ernst fled Germany for France during WWII where he was interned for periods as a German nationalist.  He immigrated to the US after WWII.  Guggenheim not only became a major patron of Ernst, she also became his third wife.  I would argue that Guggenheim's promotion of Ernst's work propelled him into the art world.  Although, he did garner attention from Pollack (one of Guggenheim's major benefactors).  I thought the overpainting were the most intriguing & unique works.  And, I appreciated his rubbings of found objects with added embellishments.  Many of the paintings & sketches reminded me of Salvador Dali or Marcel Duchamp but somewhat less compelling.   The sculptures looked similar to those of Picasso.   A large high school group came through while I was in the galleries.  They breezed through the exhibit with disinterest in the collection.  My 2 favorite pieces in the exhibit were collages "Sun & Forest" (1931) using corrugated cardboard and oil painting & "10 Children Frightened by a Nightingale" with figures carrying knives and a minuscule bird in the deep blue sky.  Max Ernst "Beyond Painting" did not stir an arousing exchange from me.  

Monday, November 20, 2017

Korean Filmmaker Hong Sang-soo's Fictional/Factual "On the Beach at Night Alone" Won't Strike Home in US

Hong Sangsoo (b S. Korea 1960) is a prolific and highly regarded screenwriter/director (In Another Country).  His filmmaking accolades have of late taken a back seat to notoriety.  Mr. Hong's professional relationship with Kim Man-hee (b S. Korea 1982) had become personal off-screen. Mr Hong has often worked with the lovely, talented Ms Kim who is a celebrity in S. Korea like Kim K here.  The press has pressed the couple into affirming an adulterous relationship that has gotten mass media attention in S. Korea.  The couple's tumultuous & titillating affair has taken a personal toll on both director and leading actress.  The film is beautifully shot in both Germany & S. Korea.  The story is divided into 2 segments.  The first is set in Germany and the later in a seaside city in S. Korea.  Young-hee (Ms. Kim) is toying with her friend the idea of remaining in Germany & living with her.  The two take long walks in the desolate park & along the cold shore discussing their desires, quagmires of the importance of honesty, companionship and experiencing everything in life before dying.  Other hot topics include eating, adultery & death with dignity set against frigid landscapes.  There is a disconnect between the two women within their friendship.  The film set in Germany ends with Young-hee being carried off from the beach at night by a stranger who had been stalking the women.  The rest of the movie is set in S. Korea where the same enigmatic male appears behind glass as if invisible to Young-hee & her friends.  Here too, she flirts with the idea of living  permanently and coy about her relationship with the director whom she often collaborates.  The two halves of the movie mirror each other in tone, oceanside views and drunken discourse.  The final dinner party ends pitting the legendary director (Mr Hong) across from Young-hee.  They both have at it in their inebriated states; his love has wrought" shame & dying regrets".  Talk about airing your dirty imitating life, life imitating art.  I found this confessing too distressing.  I'm not interested in a voyeuristic film of Kim & Kanye bickering over an affair though many here might care.  I don't think the masses here will clamor for Hong's confessional film "On the Beach at Night Alone".    

Sunday, November 19, 2017

The Whistling Girl an Irish Jazz Cabaret with Lyrics from Dorothy Parker's Writings at Irish Arts Center

The Whistling Girl was an evening of original jazz music by Trevor Knight on keyboards with vocalist Honor Heffernan.  Heffernan is an int'l jazz singer, actress & recording actress.  The title for the evening is dubbed from the poem of the same title by Dorothy Parker.  The aprapo acronym I would surely name it would be Screeching Girl.  Ms. Heffernan's vocals were strident and grating.  Her persona was a blank monotone.  She maintained a glaring glaze probably meant to emulate Parker's defiant demeanor & disdain for convention.   There was a mordant theme for the macabre.  Parker's syntax of impending death, doom & gloom overshadowed the room.  The intensity of Heffernan's vocals, her sheathing in black garb with drink & a smoke in hand created a bitter & mournful mood.  This served well for "The Siege of Madrid," Parker's postings from the Spanish Civil War with Picasso's Guernica on the screen behind her and "Salome's Dancing Lesson," though using a male's head for a prop was a flop.  Heffernan didn't engage in banter with the audience except to introduce her talented band prior to their finale.  The musicians lead by Knight included Garvan Gallagher on bass, Tom Jameson on drums and Ed Deane on guitar.  The music was a pleasing & interesting blend of jazz that at times was reminiscent of Pink Floyd.  When Knight took over on vocals he reminded me of Leonard Cohen.  The musical score laid the soundtrack for melancholy, Parker's prose its sharp wit but Heffernan's vocals were not a great fit.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

MUDBOUND - Flawless Film of Racial Hatred in 1930'40s of Shameful Past Where We're Still Stuck

The historic fictional film MUDBOUND based on the novel by Hillary Jordan is a brutal depiction of loathsome racial bigotry and the horrors of war.  The movie is set in rural MS in the late 1930s-post WWII and hones in on a black family, the Jacksons and a white family, the McAllans.   The Jacksons are dirt poor tenant farmers working the mud soaked land owned by the McAllans.  The eldest Jackson son, Ransel (Jason Mitchell) and the younger McAllan brother Jamie (Garrett Hedlund) both fought valiantly in WWII.  They return home changed men but to a hateful segregated Jim Crow south that has remained entrenched in the fabric of Southern life.  Ransel's division was segregated in the barracks, tanks, latrines and even their blood supplies are kept separate.  Of course he is resentful  by the fascist regime still in tact that he & other black soldiers fought against & died for abroad.  Jamie returns to his brother's farm suffering from PTSD.  Jamie's Pappy (Johnathan Banks "Breaking Bad") & brother are racist brutes.  Jamie finds solace in drink & in the camaraderie of fellow veteran Ransel.  Their friendship which must remain covert to avoid violent repercussions is a doomed mission.  Pappy & his cowardly KKK pals find evidence of Ransel's relationship with a white woman which they use to justify the torture & lynching of Ransel.  Jamie's forced to witness though he fights to save Ransel from being murdered by his father & hooded cronies.  The film is remarkably powerful, emotional & convincing.  The cinematography captures the rain drenched, murky terrain.  The actors are all phenomenal.  Laura McAllan (Carrie Mulligan) is married to the loutish older brother and burdened with hardships.  Her bleak circumstances cloud her sensibilities to the sufferings of Mrs. Jackson (an incredible performance by Mary J. Blige) permitting her to subjugate her to servitude.  The emotional core & historic atrocities from this oppressive, systematic persecution rested on the heartfelt performances by Ransel & his parents.  The film directed by Dee Rees deserves numerous honors.  There are other outstanding films that represent a genre of black oppression; a most shameful category.  MUDBOUND resonates the anguish & suffering systemically inflicted on African Americans during this epoch.  What's most glaring is noting current events that show lynchings still occurring.  These may appear differently than the lynchings of the past but perpetrated, senseless & unjustified killings of African Americans still persist today, the majority of which are exonerated.  I praise MUDBOUND for its clear & poignant storytelling that should move the wheels of justice to advance us to a society free of racism & inequality.

Friday, November 17, 2017

WONDER - A Film About an Ordinary but Extraordinary Boy Starring Jacob Tremblay and Julia Roberts

WONDER is a film adapted from the Y/A novel by Raquel Jaranillo that revolves around an exceptionally gifted and emotionally vulnerable young boy, Auggie (Jacob Tremblay, ROOM) born with the genetic disorder Crouzon syndrome.  Auggie tells us at the beginning of the film of the numerous surgeries to improve his breathing, hearing & plastic surgeries to mitigate his facial deformities.  Auggie does things ordinary kids do but he's not ordinary because ordinary kids don't get stared at.  Auggie loves Halloween, Star Wars and wearing a space Helmut that conceals his face.  He's about to start middle-school after years of homeschooling by his mother (Julia Roberts) and he's petrified.  Auggie is blessed with a loving family (father, Owen Wilson) and an older sister, Via (an excellent Izabela Vidovic).  Auggie's gets stared at, bullied and made an outcast. Segments are titled to insure we know from whose vantage we're looking from:  Via, a loving sister who feels (justifiably) that her family orbits around her brother leaving her adrift.  Auggie's mom, whose angst for her son is palpable and does her best (as does dad) to help their son navigate in the world.  And, Miranda, Via's friend who abandons her at the start of school for reasons of low self-esteem.  Auggie is fortunate to have a sensitive principal (Mandy Patankin) and homeroom teacher (Daveed Diggs, Hamilton).  (Unfortunately, Diggs does not have more time on screen.)  Digs provide a moral compass for the class and daily precepts that teach about the kind person we are.  Choosing kindness is the heavy handed precept.  I say choose watching the film with an audience of young adults.  I laughed as the audience jeered at the kissing scenes.  I was aghast at the cheering for the fighting scenes.  (Only the Dad said fighting was bad, after asking Auggie if he won.)  I cried while the crowd was dry eyed during the school's production of OUR TOWN.  Moreover, I was most taken by the cogent condemnation of the parents "{white parents}" whose son is disciplined by the principal for bullying.  The mother had only threats & recriminations for the principal & the school; absolving her son's behaviors.  "White parents!"  Whoa, this was a startling eye opening perspective.  Who else but white, affluent parents would condone their child's aberrant actions and blame others?  The cast & the films' relationships were racially diverse.  (You could argue the parents weren't Caucasian.)  But, what is the precept for elitist privileged entitlement?  Remorse & redemption were perceived by the youngsters.  Still, the astute observation made aloud by students in the audience is duly noted & fairly allowed.

Political Equality Conversation with Prof Danielle Allen and Prof Jeremy Waldron as Part of SSRC

Social Science Research Council (SSRC) is an int'l network whose mission is to promote public awareness, knowledge & debate for an unbiased voice for social justice & nurtures the conditions to enhance & bridge thoughtful awareness & responses worldwide.   The SSRC assembled two prestigious educators & authors to converse on the topic of Political Equality; the anxieties of maintaining a democratic republic.  Prof. Daniel Allen at Harvard & author of Education & Equality (2016) and "Cuz: the Life & Times of Michael A." (2017) spoke first followed by Prof Jeremy Waldron at NYU Law School and author of "One Another's Equals: The Basis of Human Equality." (2017)  Alondra Nelson Pres. SSRC introduced the prestigious & articulate speakers.  Before, bringing them together to address each other's comments and a Q&A from the audience Pres. Nelson said, "It is fair to say that tonight we {those present at Roosevelt House} had a corner on the market of the smartest people in America."  It's also fair to say the conversation of political equalities' in its abstraction & idealism was erudite and complicated for me to stay abreast in its entirety. Prof. Allen addressed the "blind spots" that fostered Trump's election, Brexit and issues of wealth distribution.  The evening's dialogue was a heady & intricate examination of the history, processes, obligations & fallibilities inherent in striving for & maintaining political equality.  The one underlying, vital denominator for political equality expressed by Prof Waldron was civility.  As a joint, democratic society there are demands and expectations of participation made on the individual.  There is an essential binary introspection required between the individual and the vast majority of fellow citizens to imbue our govt. a viable legal system of political equality & justice.  Our social fabric must be intwined with tolerance, reciprocal discipline and mindful respect.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Julliard School Opera Presents Mozarts La Finta Giardiniera

The Juilliard School performed Mozarts La Fanta Giardiniera accompanied by the Juilliard Orchestra.   The evening was a delight upon entering the Peter Jay Sharp Theater.  Four of the leads dressed in period costume were engaged in a playful game of croquet on a mock lawn set.  They also engaged the swarming audience in a silent banter, ladies waving their kerchiefs and men bowing in gentlemanly fashion between soft strikes with their mallets.  The story is one of Mozart's comedic love strewn operas of misdirected & unrequited love.  Darker themes of jealousy & betrayal weigh in but love's cruel fates happily align before the final curtain.  Even in the darker moments of love's angst, these are offset by melodramatic response & comedic observations.  The opera is rich with old-fashioned arias sung with charm and virtuosity by its "young" cast.  The full resonance of these young performers show future promise.  Mozart was 18 when he composed La Finta; fitting that the Juilliard School assumes this operatic marvel.  The simple & clever staging and bright lighting leant a light & airy feeling.  The cast did an admirable job particularly with the ensemble finales.  The two standout artists were soprano Kathryn Henry (Arminda) and Christine Taylor Price (Serpetta).  Opera interlaces the arts of music, vocals & acting.  The acting was persuasive rendering the translations irrelevant, if not a distraction.  (The overhead transcriptions had technical problems.  I prefer not to have text as a distraction).  Tamara Banjesevic (Sandrina) stood out in her portrayal of a woman tormented by Conte Belifore's betrayal.  Special accolades to the Juilliard orchestral performance conducted by Joseph Colaneri.  Maestro Colaneri allowed the beauty of Mozart's musical score to shine without overshadowing the vocalists.   The Juilliard School's Opera was an enchanting, euphoric musical performance.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

ZANELE MUHOLI's Imperial Self-Portraits Demand Your Attention and Admiration at Yancey Richardson

S. African born (b 1972) visual artist Zanele Muholi's self-portrait photographs are arresting and majestic representations of women bearing grace & self-assuredness.   It wasn't apparent at first that these photos were all the same individual.  They are the artists' self-portraits, mostly head shots made to appear different by the adornments on their heads.  Cindy Sherman's photographic self-portraits are heavily disguised in costume and make-up to appear as completely different characters.  The collection of Muholi's portraits share more in common.  They represent defiant, solemn expressions of resolute power that engage the viewer.  The various headwear, or hairstyles all portray a regal bearing even the one with a vise on her head.  I thought these photos startling for their reticent fierceness.  They spoke to me of dignity and omnipotence.  However, Muholi shared her intent in a recent article in The Guardian "This is about our lives, and if queer history, trans history, if politics of blackness and self-representation are so key in our lives, we just cannot sit down and not document and bring it forth."  Her photos stunned me with their aesthetic glory and inner strength.  Muholi is a strong advocate for S. African's LGBTQl community.  A community that endures harsh treatment & degradation in her native country.  I didn't view these photos as documentation of oppression rather as  impenetrable images that serve to counter subjective & derogatory exposure of the black, lesbian & transgender individuals living in S. Africa.  

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Celebrating Walter Isaacson at the Crossroads of Art and Science with Special Guests at Hunter College

Walter Isaacson has released his new biography LEONARDO de VINCI (LDV).  Isaacson is Pres. & CEO of the Apsen Institute.  Isaacson was honored last night at Hunter College by a collaboration between the Univ. and the Aspent Institute Arts Program.  The evening was hosted by Damian Woetzel, Director Aspen Institute Arts Program.  Isaacson spoke of da Vinci's inimitable curiosity with science, art and the world at large.  The largess of talented artists that paid homage to Isaacson, da Vinci & creativity was celestial.  It was a privilege to be present for such a remarkable array of artists in various fields of instrumental & vocal music, classical & contemporary dance and physics & mathematics.  A collaboration performed by dancer Lil Buck, physicist/author Brian Green and cellist Andrea Lee performing Saint Saens' THE SWAN was an experience that sparked awe, inspiration & a deeper appreciation for the abilities to create, innovate and participate.  The interrelationship between observing, questioning & being a viable contributor to the world resonated deeply.  There were stunning dance performances by principal dancers from NYC Ballet to the combined creative genius of Balanchine & music composed by Stravinsky.  Lil Buck's dancing personified sound through his innovative movements.  The poignant display of intellect & art was a powerful communique of the cumulative connection between art, science and humanity.  Don't despair for prescient lack of genius insights.  Seeing, questioning & observing are all valuable.  Characteristics not redeemable are inertia & apathy.  "I have been impressed with the urgency of doing. Knowing is not enough; we must apply.  Being willing is not enough, we must do".  (LDV)  "There are 3 classes of people, those who see, those who see when shown, and those who do not see."  (LDV)

Sunday, November 12, 2017

MICHELANGELO at the MET on Sundays is Not the way to Go Members Preview Only Please!

MICHELANGELO: DIVINE DRAFTSMAN & DESIGNER at the MET a wondrous exhibit, you bet.  But it's hard to know if you on Sundays even during Members' Preview only.  Only, that's about everyone & their uncle leaving little room to navigate and appreciate the majesty of the pure genius in Michelangelo's drawings, designs and sculptures.  This once in a lifetime show (which all should go) represents a collection upwards of 200 of his works more than half compiled of his most delicate works on paper.  Michelangelo's drawings on paper were made using chalk, ink, charcoal and brush paint.  The curation culls works from Michelangelo's studies as a student along with his mentors.  Other works combine contemporaries of the great artist, works done in collaboration with him and artworks created by his students.  It's fair to say that the draw of the show is Michelangelo and the numerous works by other artists get washed out in comparison.  While this may not be the intent of the curators, because Michelangelo work is sublime it far outshines his contemporaries.  The surplus of works by other artists from this epoch illuminate the genius of this master that sets him apart.  Since it was nearly impossible to appreciate the art amidst the cramming of people in the extensive galleries, I made the utmost of the opportunities to admire this sweeping historical tour de force collection I surmised whether a work was Michelangelo or not.  Mostly, I was able discern the unique talents that set his work apart.  Michelangelo's drawings emanate a luminosity and a virtual sense of the body substance that are imperious.  I was delighted to see Michelangelo's sculptures and the famous "Cupid Kissing Venus".  But, besides the discomfort of the crowds, the faux images of the Sistine Chapel or mock models of the dome diminish the value of such priceless, prodigious works of art.  I'll plan to revisit on a day with less traffic and I'll be able to focus on Michelangelo's works, alone.

SCHOOL GIRLS; or, the AFRICAN MEAN GIRLS PLAY - Strictly Amateur Grift at the Lucille Lortel

Playwright Jocelyn Bioh is an Amer/Ghanian playwright.  Her parents immigrated to the US in 1968.  SCHOOL GIRLS is comedy/drama that attacks an earnest social issue of racial hierarchy within  the black community and on a socially global level. Bioh sets her play in 1986 at an elite private schools for girls in Ghana.  The comedy directed at high school girl clicks ruled by the mean beauty queen teen, Paulina (Maameyaa Boafo) pushes the boundaries of credibility.  The dialogue doesn't register credit.  The 4 other school girls abjectly acquiesce to Paulina demands, insults & boasts seeking to ingratiate themselves.  Paulina reign as queen bee crumbles when a new student, Ericka arrives from America.  Ericka's good lucks & generosity lead to a mutiny of alliances. The classmates revolt against Paulina's imperious & pernicious behaviors knocking her down a few rungs.  But the battles have just begun between the charismatic & beautiful Ericka and Paulina.  A showdown of wills turns ugly as they vie for the title of Miss Ghana.   Eloise (Zainab Jah) a school alum & Miss Ghana 1966 (which she reiterate often) struts into the cafeteria to speak with former classmate Francis now the school's Headmistress (a warm & radiant Myra Lucretia Taylor).  Eloise mirrors Paulina ruthlessness.  Eloise is assigned to select a pageant contest from the school.  She's determined to select the most attractive girl to ensure the title of Miss Ghana 1986.  The win would provide Eloise a large sum which is promised to Francis's school as long as she overlooks the rules.  Ericka & Paulina's contemptuous disregard for each other erupts during the contest.  Headmistress clears the room but for the two girls to resolve their disruptive matter.  They exchange their stories & sorrows but never reach a truce.  Eloise returns with her predetermined selection of Ericka with her "high yellow" skin tone & soft brown hair.  Her fairer complexion imbues a perceived higher social hierarchy than a "darky".  Lighter skin tones among black or dark skinned have been perceived as more attractive & more privileged.  Even Paulina resorts to bleach cream to lighter her dark skin regardless of its physical harm.  The charm of the mean girls scenario is long in the tooth and bloom has fallen off the cast of girls who looked 10 years too old to be teens (a fair criticism).  Both veteran actresses Taylor & Jah gave sterling performances.  The bias & social class system related to skin tone has a long history being immorally imbedded.  Bioh's play meant as a sobering lesson on detestable racial bias misses its mark and receives a C- grade.   Note: Vanessa Williams considered of light skin tone was the 1st black Miss America in 1984.  This past may, Miss Black Univ. of TX was slammed "as not black enough."  I sense the germinations of a talented playwright.  I sense a leaning away from racial bias.  And I have a strong wish for both.    

Saturday, November 11, 2017

TINY BEAUTIFUL THINGS - a Gargantuan Guide to Living & Forgiving a MUST SEE

TINY BEAUTIFUL THINGS is a one act play at the Public which is an oration of questions submitted to an advice columnist, Sugar (Mia Vardalos "MY BIG FAT GREEK WEDDING).  Sugar is the pseudonym for the writer who offers pensive & life affirming responses.  This is not your droll Dear Abby column for the forlorn.  It's a deeply concerted connection between people entrusting the gravitas of their dilemmas & despair with someone who provides life affirming, life changing guidance emanating from her own deep soul searching & empathetic self-examination.  Sugar's sagacious, thoughtful & articulate responses are emotionally arousing.  We see Sugar as a disheveled woman working at home amidst controlled chaos as she ponders the letters she receives.  Three other actors portray multiple persons imploring her introspective counsel & correspondence.  The breadth of the inquiries span a trajectory from the more routine dilemmas of adultery/leaving a relationship to the unfathomable ability to cope with the grief of losing one's child and moving forward in life.   Sugar's responses are lyrical, heartfelt & revealing.  "Be brave enough to let your heart be broken."  "The voice inside of you telling you to go is enough".  Sugar shares her own stories of abuse which relate to help others overcome their pain or quilt.  Sugar informs her readers "We decide who we let influence us." Our experiences are what shaped us."  Sugar is beseeched to reveal her true identity by her devotees though she continuously lays bear her innermost being.  For the father who lost his son at 22 and is mired in grief & unable to obliterate the pain, Sugar is especially sensitive and supportive.  Obliterate is to erase while simultaneously constructing she replies. "Peel back the rage and feel the pure love you will always have as a father to your son, that will never be altered."  Sugar's shared experiences allude to her true identity which she willingly reveals as the writer/author Cheryl Strayed WILD, BRAVE ENOUGH and TINY BEAUTIFUL THINGS.  Strayed imparts the wisdom of acceptance, forgiveness and the power to withstand sorrow and go on.  Reach to create something real.  Life is the great unknown unfolding, allow yourself to accept the tiny beautiful things life has to offer.

HALE Film Screening Followed by Panel Discussion led by its Director Brad Bailey

Hale is a brief biopic doc. about Hale Zuckas (b 19440-) born with cerebral palsy and is a world wide advocate for persons with disabilities.   The award winning student film first shows the arduous & time consuming admonitions provided by an aide that enable Hale to function independently.  Hale & millions of individuals with severe disabilities require assistance to survive & maneuver with self-sufficiency.  Hale is a testament to throngs of individuals with disabilities when provided essential accommodations thrive and impact the world.  Dir. Brad Bailey includes archival footage of the 1977 demonstration where over 500 individuals in wheelchairs occupied the San Francisco (SF) Capital leading to reform in legislation.  The disability movement germinated on the Berkeley's Campus during the years Hale was a student. Hale was a founding member of the Center for Independent Living on the campus which became a paradigm for other assisted living facilities.  Hale was the leading activist coercing the SF BART transport system to be accessible for wheelchairs.  Hale articulates using a communication board & a pointer attached to the helmet he manipulates by moving his head.  He was also instrumental in getting the Rehabilitation Act passed in 1973 making it illegal to discriminate against individuals with disabilities.  The Amer Disability Act (ADA) was not passed until the 1990s.  Bailey's doc. & the panel discussion were a cogent reminder no matter race, gender, sexuality, ethnicity, disabilities are universal.  Hale Zuckas changed awareness and response to how we view people with disabilities.  Moreover, the legitimate concerns that out of sight, out of consciousness render complacency & failure to acknowledge, accept and provide collaborative services to assist millions of people with disabilities to integrate fully & productively into society.    

Friday, November 10, 2017

3 BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING MISSOURI-Stars Frances McDormand and Woody Harrelson Rates 5 Stars

Ebbing, a small rural town in MO is the setting for this extraordinary film that covers a broad plain of emotional territory.  Mildred Hayes (a powerhouse performance by Frances McDorman) is the mother of a murdered teenage daughter who seeks justice that has been a long time, a long time coming.   She pays for 3 large billboards that call out the town's Sheriff Willoughby (a wonderful Woody Harrelson) for failing to make progress finding her daughter's rapist & murderer.  The large billboards are blood red with large black lettering of few words. The signs spur media & focus back on this unsolved case.  The billboards ignite more than renewed interest in the case.  It codifies an alignment of good & evil, justice & injustice.  Jason Dixon (a superb Sam Rockwell) is a racist comic book reading cop who takes sadistic pleasure torturing "people of color" & pistol whipping gays.  The sheriff pays Mildred a visit after the billboards garner attention. He tries to assuage her frustrations.  Willoughby confides he has cancer.  Mildred surprises him by saying she knows. When he asks why are you calling me out she says the buck stops with him and that he won't be of help after he's dead.  However, this proves false.  Willoughby is at the core of the town's decency.  He pumps goodness posthumously through the hearts of others by leaving individuals letters offering hope, compassion & understanding.  Dixon's character metamorphoses the most peeling back layers of hatred & racism.  Mildred remains a fierce & determined mother fighting for justice for her daughter.  Mildred takes her fighting too far; assaulting teens & throwing Molotov cocktails.  She's not intimidated by a priest, a bully or authority.  She still has a son at home (Lucas Hedges). He's struggling with his own grief.  Her ex (John Hawkes) has left Mildred for a 19 year old beauty.  He was an abusive husband & cruel parent.  The entire supporting cast is sensational.  Peter Dinklage plays a guy with a kind heart & a soft spot for Mildred.  Sandy Martin is marvelous as Dixon's mother.  She's passed her DNA of bigotry & hatred to her son.  Yet, Dixon bears strong love for his mother which spills over into empathy & remorse.  The noticeable musical score underlies the emotional arch of the film.  The theological overtones by the film's British dir/screenwriter Martin McDonagh (IN BRUGES) paint an intricate mural of good v. evil.  The gorgeous dimwitted 19 year old ingenue summed the essence of movie brilliantly, "kindness begets kindness".   There's a lot more to be said for this oversized work of genius that ebbs and flows with the flux of being human.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

THE LAST FLAG FLYING Stars Bryan Cranston, Laurence Fishburne and Steve Carell

THE LAST FLAG FLYING is a film that is far reaching in its scope of human frailty, compassion, faith and the inhumanity of war.   First and last, dir/screenwriter Richard Linklater's film THE LAST FLAG FLYING is the finest anti-war ever made.  Linklater's genius accomplishment is achieved without depicting bloody brutal battle fields.  Needless, the casualties of war are forefront under shrouded coffins draped by the American Flag.  And felt by grieving family left holding onto memories & the tightly folded flag that accompanied their loved ones to their graves.   Doc (Steve Carell) is a widower & father of a soldier just killed in Iraq.  He seeks out his old Vietnam army buddies to accompany him to retrieve his son's body for burial planned at Arlington.  Doc hasn't seen his old army pals in decades.  Doc still thinks of Sal (Bryan Cranston) & Rev. Mueller as his closest friends despite the years & time he served in the brig covering for them. The years have wrought changes in everyone's lives.  Sal, the alcoholic owner of a dismal bar tells a forlorn Doc "You're something once and we all become something else."  Doc asks Sal (whom he located on the internet) to come with him & he willingly obliges.  They pull up to a church nearby which Sal is reluctant to enter.  Doc assures him he'll find this interesting.  Much to the surprise of Sal & chagrin of the church's Rev. Mueller, also a former army buddy.  Mueller & his wife invite Doc & Sal back to their home for dinner.  After dinner, a stoic Doc makes his request. Sal the rambunctious member of the group readily accepts.  Mueller declines but is shamed into going as Sal predicted.  So begins a melancholy, motley crew road trip reuniting 3 former servicemen that bonded as "brothers" and bounded them with all who serve in the military.  "Every generation has its own war."  Pain is pain yet lessons gained never derail the perpetuity of war.  All 3 lead actors are outstanding as is the young Marine (J Quinton) assigned to help transport the casket for burial.  Cicely Tyson has a small but pivotal part as the mother of a fallen soldier in Vietnam whose death shackles them all with remorse.  Linklater's flawless direction mires comedy with solemnity.  The levity offers little relief from the unrelenting gravitas of grief.  Questions of faith, trust, propaganda and government duplicity are handled with kid gloves.  The "brothers" served their time for their country.  The only virtuous attribute of war is a camaraderie of covering each other's backs wrought from a coerced common enemy.  But, the toll for war is too heavy a scourge on humanity.    THE LAST FLAG FLYING is masterful film if only it had the omnipotence to overcome war.