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Wednesday, January 31, 2018

The Rise and Fall of America's Highest Office Discussion with Sean Wilentz and Jeremy Suri at NYHistorical Soc

Last night, for those not interested in adding to the inflated TV ratings for the 1st State of the Union Address by the president or for those interested in the topical topic 'The Rise & Fall of America's Highest Office' the NY Historical Society maintained an exciting & enlightening discussion between moderator Sean Wilentz & guest apeaker/author Jeremy Suri.  Wilentz is a Prof. of American History at Princeton.  Wilentz is a distinguished historian and author.  He's received a Bancroft Prize, Pulitzer Prize & Grammy Award for Best Album Notes.  Note, as a moderator, he needed to moderate his participation in the discussion.  He tended to pontificate rather than elicit comments from key speaker, Jeremy Suri.  Suri is the author of the just released "The Impossible Presidency:  The Rise & Fall of America's Highest Office."  Suri is Mack Brown Distinguished Chair for Leadership in Global Affairs at the Univ. of TX.  I also ask the Pres. of NY Historical Soc. not to read aloud the titles, accomplishments & honors of the guest speakers as we have the information & the 50 minutes allotted should be better put to use.  Interestingly, the main point Suri so cogently made clear is the Presidency has been doomed for failure since the end of WWII when Presidents began assuming too much responsibilities throughout the world.  The US became a world leader when other nations were floundering from the devastations suffered from the War.  Suri stated going forward after WWII, US Presidents spread their resources too thin and did not devise clear plans to prioritize or initiate directives for infrastructures at home.  The arguments were not in support of isolationism as the man in the White House would have it. Rather, the 2 most important imperatives for the presidency are 1) to act as a unifying figure for the country (clearly not Trump's modus operandi).  And, 2) to act as the omnipotent advocate for the common citizen.  (Again, this is clearly not the agenda of the maniac in the White House.)  The President should act as a pillar of virtue in representing our nation. (Strike three - hey ho Trump has got to go).  Points of interest from the evening included Andrew Jackson's assessment as a supreme leader despite the heinous genocide of the Native Indians because he was acting in the best interests of the white populist.  I didn't know Jackson attempted to eliminate the electoral college.  Other Presidents deserving of merit:  George Washington, Abraham Lincoln and Ronald Reagan.  Pres. Lincoln was a major turning point in our nation's history because he fought to end slavery to allow for the expansion & enterprise of poor white citizens placed at a major economic disadvantage in a system that allowed for free labor through abhorrent abuse of African Americans for slave labor.  

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Juilliard Jazz Ensembles "The Music of Miles Davis"

The marvelous tribute by The Julliard Jazz Ensembles to the music of the legendary Miles Davis was a joyous celebration by both the Dizzy Gillespie Ensemble and The Dave Brubeck Ensemble last night at Paul Hall.  The Gillsepsie Ensemble was a quintet of talented jazz students which featured an alto sax, trumpet, trombone, bass, piano & drums.  Bass player/arranger Adam Olszewski was the only musician who performed for both Ensembles.  The Brubeck Ensemble was a sextet adding Jasim Perales on trombone.  Perales performance was rich in tonal nuances & syncopation.  Both groups featured phenomenal jazz pianists who sat in on different pieces.  Joel Wenhardt wearing a colorful Rastafari hat donned extra hats playing amazingly on the Steinway piano and electric keyboard.  He also played them simultaneously.  Wenhardt did the arranging for 'Swing Spring' giving it a hypnotic & relaxing version.  Pianist Andrea Domenici played & arranged Davis' 'Flamenco Sketches'.  This was my favorite selection of the evening.  It was a seductive & sensual ballad.  The Brubeck Ensemble performed after the intermission.  I'm glad to note the audience stayed to listen on this cold evening.  Cool jazz seemed the anecdote to warm up the evening.  The warmth & camaraderie on stage amongst the musicians is always heartening to see and the amazing musical talents of these students was remarkable.  Wynton Marsalis, world-renowned trumpeter, composer & educator spent time working with the students.  He's also transitioned some of the Juilliard students into his Jazz Orch. at Lincoln Center.  The musical program performed by the Brubeck Ensemble was too similar in tempo/style from one number to the other.  'The Circle' was the highlight from their offerings.  It  highlighted each of the musicians in their solos.  Helen Sung is the resident coach for the Brubeck Ensemble.  Sung has worked with artists Ron Carter & Wayne Shorter. Elio Villafranco (b Cuba) pianist & composer is the resident coach for the Gillespie Ensemble.   Villafranca received a Grammy Nomination in 2010 for best Latin jazz album and in 2008 'Jazz Corner' was nominated him as pianist of the year.  Look for the Juilliard students to be amongst future Grammy winners.  Also, look for the next Julliard Jazz Orchestra performance on February 21st at the Peter Jay Sharp Theater.

Monday, January 29, 2018

Susan Froemke's Doc. THE OPERA HOUSE is Historic, Glorious; a Miraculous Merging of Minds of Genius

The endlessly fascinating doc. on the development/building of Lincoln Center which began over 50 years ago is must see viewing for all New Yorkers & anyone with a love for the arts.  Dir. Susan Froemke (b Amer 1947) an Acad. Award Nom. for Best Doc. "LaLee's Kin: The Legacy of Cotton) is sure to have gotten another Nom. for this in depth, behind the scenes look at how it all came to be.  The film is exceptionally well constructed compiled of archive footage, stills, personal histories & current interviews spanning from the 1950s & 1960s to the present.  It's miraculous the combination of so many geniuses & powerhouses who co-operated, compromised, created & who wrangled the land, the funding, the architectural designs and assemblage of artists.   Lincoln Center is renown as an iconic, world class haven of opera, ballet, symphony & public space.   Assuming it has always graced this space is simply "Ignorant" and grasping all the moving parts an omnipotent achievements whose is too absorbing & important not to grasp.  The major players who accomplished this astonishing feat  all possessed amazing abilities and were relentless in making Lincoln Center with The Opera House, "Geffen (gag) Hall" and "Koch (choke) Theater, Playhouse & Library for the Arts a reality.  Rudolf Bing, the Gen. Mgr., Robert Moses, legendary urban planner, leading architects Wallace Harrison an Phillip Johnson and businessman, major fund raiser John D. Rockefeller.  The original opera house on Broadway & 39th had outgrown its obsolete space.  The footage of the former (now demolished) Opera House was a nostalgic look back in time.  At the final performance, the conductor turned to the audience & beseeched them not to allow the building to be abandoned.  The fat lady had much more to say, to consider, plan & provide for the city and the world.  Diva Leontyne Price is priceless in her prescient interviews along with the footage of her life, rehearsals & performances.   The  1st production held at the opening in Sept. 1966 Ms Price sang the lead.  Murphy's law locked Leontyne in the crypt on the set, the turntable on stage broke & the musical scores were being rewritten to the last moment.  Pres. Johnson & 1st Lady "Ladybird" brought tears of joy to everyone by inviting Ms. Price's parents into their box.  The interviews of the ticket mgr. & house mgr. who've been affiliated with the Opera House since its original incarnation to the present were also interviewed.  They garnered great insight & emotional highlights.  How all the parts came together is astonishing & incredible.  (It's sad to realize an entire neighborhood was forced to evacuate to pave the way).  But Lincoln Center and its remarkable history & foothold for the arts is cause for endless celebration.  Bravo!

Sunday, January 28, 2018

I, TONYA - Acad. Award Noms. go to Margot Robbie and Allison Janney Doesn't Earn a Place on the Podium

The doc/drama based on true events accessing verbatim transcripts & news footage is directed by Craig Gillespie (b Australia 1967).  Perhaps, Gillespie cast fellow Aussie Margot Robbie (b Australia 1990) for the lead role.  Or he chose Robbie ("Wolf of Wall St.") who plays the blowsy broad (Tonya Harding) for her solid gold portrayal of the much maligned Olympian skater; the 1st to land a triple axle.  Well, they can't take that 1st away from the real Tonya but Gillespie direction takes several spills by having the actors talk to the camera out of bounds from "direct interviews incorporated" interviews.  This spin deters from the credibility of on camera interviews.  I'm also taking points off for the fast paced attempts at earning our sympathy for Tonya knowing her brutal upbringing and background.  Tonya is abandoned by her father at an early age despite screaming "take me with you" at the top of her lungs while her cruel mother, LaVonna Harding looks on smoking her endless chain of cigarettes.  LaVonna is told by the skating coach there's no smoking on the ice.  LaVonna tells the coach "I'll smoke quietly then."  There's no telling LaVonna what to do and LaVonna will never tell her daughter she's loved or worthy of love.   Robbie deservedly received an Oscar nomination for her leading role.  LaVonna Harding, played by the multi-talented TV/movie actress Allison Janney ("Mom" "The West Wing") received an Oscar nomination for her supporting role but her character is a one dimensional; the mean ice queen.  The on camera interviews of LaVonna with her bird pecking at her face were hard to tolerate.  Dir. Gillespie got winning performance from Sebastian Stan as Tonya's abusive husband Jeff Gillooly and Paul Hauser as Sean whose ill conceived & carried out assault against ice princess Nancy Kerrigan lands everyone in the cooler, except Tonya.  Tonya is irreverent & irascible.  She has the audacity to argue with the judge at her sentencing pleading for jail time rather than a lifetime ban on competitive skating because that's all she has in life is her skating.  The technical scoring for the film's flaws are countered by higher scores for the film's artistry and entertainment elements building to the crescendo to the "incident" on Nancy.  But just as Tonya who won't take the blame for her actions or apologize for anything, the film felt like how she described Nancy on the 2nd place podium, "like stepped in poop!" The movie doesn't prove there's more to the story or to Tonya's character for that matter.  It only proves that this is a story that has been kept on ice just waiting to leap onto the big screen.

Saturday, January 27, 2018

THE HOMECOMING QUEEN by Ngozi Anyanwu starring Mfoniso Udofia is a Powerful and Regal Play

Playwright Ngozi Anyanwu is currently commissioned by both the Atlantic Theater Co. and The Old Globe.  Both playhouses are fortunate to have the talented playwright Anyanwu's works to present.  Her previous play "Good Grief" (2016) won the Inaugural CTG/Humanitas Playwrighting Award.  THE HOMECOMING QUEEN hones in on the return home of Kelechi (Mfoniso Udofia, in a tour-de force performance) to her native Nigeria after a 15 year hiatus in America.  During her 15 years abroad she has become a successful best selling author.  With Kelechi acclaim & financial success she has been supporting her papa (Oberon Adjepong) a tribal king living in a manner befitting royalty.  Kelechi has become Americanized in her time abroad.  She appears the ugly American with resentment & disrespect towards the locals & her elderly, ill papa.  Kelechi shows a general disdain for being back in Nigeria and the "house girl" Beatric is the buttress of much of Kelechi's demands & irritations.  The One Act play is cleverly staged on a small sparse set surrounded on two sides by the audience.  Amongst the audience are 4 women of varying ages dressed in native African clothes & headgear who stay in character onstage & off; always singing & doing chores all the while with a smile and song to lighten their load.  These friendly women are endearing except to Kelechi who seems to look down upon them.  The spare set has a staircase leading to a 2nd floor of her father's home.  The upper level is offstage but the hierarchy & snobbery of looking down upon others doesn't go unnoticed.  The chorus anchors the play in present day Nigeria with its dress & dialect.  These women represent a far cry from the sophisticated, modern & superior Kelechi having lived in the US.  The brilliance of Anyanwu's writing & the acting talents of its ensemble cast (led by a magnificient Udofia) is the seamless flashbacks to Kelechi's childhood in Nigeria with her virile father & young male friend Obina.  The crafty non-linear storytelling is convincing, the revelatory events & repercussions are powerfully unleashed.  Kelechi returns home as a writer of renown & success & a women under duress.  Her anxieties (treated by prescribed medications) intensify.  Her reasons for her leaving & returning to her regal father are ambigious until they are made shockingly clear.  THE HOMECOMING QUEEN covers many prominent, prescient subjects.   The women's chorus sings in unison a joyous "You are welcome".  But the underlying secrets & pain in spite of this repeated refrain don't overshadow the secrets & tragedies intended to stay buried deep within a sorrowful well of emotion.  Anyanwu's sovereign play weigh heavily upon the heart.  There is redemption and much to celebrate in this intelligent & stirring play.  "Commitment, Perseverance, Knowledge, Dedication, Common Sense" 5 memes of Anyanwu's extraordinary play.

Friday, January 26, 2018

92ndY Dance Performance/Discussion "Where Do We Fit?" Addressing Gender, Sexuality and Race

Today's dance program at the 92ndY was a combination of dance performances & panel discussion by the choreographers/dancers:  "Where do we fit?  Choreographers address Gender, Sexuality and Race."  The 5 works consisted of 4 solo works by the dancer/choreographers:  Chuck Wilt's 'Cadet',  Aimee Rials' 'The Quiet We Keep', Trebien Pollard's 'She Gives Birth to Stone', Pamela Pietro's 'Everything I Thought I Knew but...' and a duet 'Shook' {an excerpt} performed & choreographed by Dominica Greene and Angie Pittman.  Chuck Wilt's 'Cadet' piece & dancing was exceptional for its spatial composition and Wilt's remarkable technical skills and musicality.  Wilt is the artistic dir/choreographer of UNA Projects, a NYC based company.  Wilt has been selected this year as a choreographic fellow for the prestigious Alvin Ailey Dance Fdtn. New Directions Choreography Lab.    I was impressed by his lateral movements, energetic dancing & serene juxtapositions.  Wilt's musicality was impressive as well as his embracing of silence within his piece.  'Cadet' evoked a sense of self-discovery, athleticism and a poignancy of unrequited love.  Wilt was the only choreography to adjust the lighting which added a layered dimension of isolation or dissociation.  While all the works were exemplary, Wilt's piece was extraordinary.  The discussion with all 6 dancers/choreographers following the performance explored their expressions of exclusion, dissociation and disillusionment.  Aimee Rials is currently in residency at the Baryshnikov Arts Center & she is a teacher at the Amer. Acad. of Dramatic Arts.  Rials acted as guest curator for the open conversation.  Given the topic for the program, the connotations for struggles with fitting into a biased & discriminating society was a given for being interrelated to the performances.  Therefore, it was with chagrin that the first Q&A asked the panel to specify what they intended to communicate through their dancing.  Nevertheless, the panel was forthcoming & candid and their answers as eloquent as their physical articulation.  Some of the dancers expressed their trepidations with revealing their sexuality or their struggles with maintaining a forced duality in how they presented themselves.  While all were encouraged with welcomed progressive changes, there still persists a  repression to living their truest selves.  One dancer said his work expressed the grief of a parent losing a child and having to maintain strength to advocate positive change and finding a balance with peace & bereavement.  Another female dancer said her work stemmed from her experiences with sexual harassment, abuse & ageism. The overall general consensus testified to the empowerment & potency dance provides in self-expression, exploration and pleasure.

NYPhil Rehearsal: All Prokofiev Program with Violinist James Ehnes and French Maestro Stephane Deneve

Today's open rehearsal started in a very friendly, unique way that I've never encountered before today.  Guest conductor Stephane Deneve (b France 1971) Music Dir. of the Brussels Philharmonic stood on his conducting platform, turned to face the audience & wished us all a good morning.  Maybe that sounds mundane, but it's more insane that it's never occurred in all the times I've gone to open rehearsals in NYC or San Francisco.  Usually the audience is treated as if invisible & kept at a distance as voyeurs.  Of course, the 1st 12 rows are always roped to maintain a comfortable distance from the corrections & admonitions given to the musicians.  Maestro Deneve first rehearsed Selections from Rome & Juliet (1935-36).  Included in this "sampler" were Rome & Juliet {Balcony Scene}, The Death of Tybalt, Romeo at the Tomb of Juliet, and 7 other sections from the entire score.  Deneve had the orchestra play all the way through the different movements.   Only afterwards did he go back & give the orchestra his notes & re-rehearsed sections.  He spoke in a friendly but stentorian voice.  More often than not, the conductors speak softly (so as not to be overheard')?  I don't know, but his comments were met with some laughter, nods of approval and there was a general sense of wanting to please the conductor while enjoying the rehearsing.  The 2nd piece played was Prokofiev's Violine Concerto #1 performed by soloist James Ehnes (b Canada 1976).   Ehnes is an accomplished virtuoso on the violin.  Ehnes made his debut at the age of 13 with the Orchestra Symphonique de Montreal.  In 1987, Ehnes won the Grand Prize in strings at the Canadian Music Competition.   The following year he earned 1st Prize in Strings at the Canadian Music Festival (the youngest person to receive this award).  Ehnes' played with serene lyricism, unfaltering musicality and technical virtuosity.  I was transported by his performance & the NYPhilharmonic.  Maestro Deneve also did something that I've never experienced before at an open rehearsal.  When Mr. Ehnes came on stage & shook hands with the conductor Deneve turned to the audience and introduced Enhes.  I was awed by the performance and the generosity & camaraderie of conductor Deneve, violinist Enhes & the NY Philharmonic.

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Screening of "The Making of Judy Chicago's 'The Dinner Party'" with Panel Judy Chicago & Maura Reilly

For those (myself included) unaware of Judy Chicago's (b Amer 1939) large art installation  {48' for each side of an open triangle} featuring mythical & historic women figures of prominence in history, it was first presented in 1979 at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.  The project took 5 years to complete & relied on over 100 volunteers (mostly women).  After a much heralded opening in 1979 in San Francisco, the "Dinner Table' went on an int'l tour of 16 countries and then put into storage for an extended period of time until 1996 when it found a permanent home in the Brooklyn Art Museum.  The open triangle is a symbol of equality.  There are just over 1,000 place settings made in tribute to women & they are honored with unique artistic ceramic plates set upon handwoven cloths.  One thousand more names are inscribed in the 'Heritage Floor' comprised of triangular white handmade tiles.  The names are written in gold luster; all being of equal font size.  The doc. film 'The Making of Judy Chicago' just released is an edited version of the laborious & glorious work process highlighting its frustrations, personal conflicts and artistic expression.  Chicago is an artist, political activist and pioneer in bringing women's art & contributions to the forefront.  The doc. is fascinating for its tactile expression of artistic creation, an up close & personal view of Chicago creativity,   intentions and frustrations and the amazing commitment & dedication involved in the 5 year process & its evolutions.  After the film, Judy Chicago was present to discuss 'The Dinner Party', her body of work and her commitment to women's issues.  Dr. Maura Reilly, Chief Curator of the Nat'l Academy  Museum was also on the 2 women panel.  Dr. Reilly was previously the founding curator of the Elizabeth Sackler Center for Feminist Art at the Brooklyn Museum.  These two dynamos shared their sparkling wit, wisdom & unqique experiences.  I could have listened to these two talk about art, personal experiences and the arch they've seen in the art world in relation to the women's garnering attention.  Chicago's main goal in the 'Dinner Party' installation was to bring into discussion, or bring to the table if you will, many women who have been erased, ignored or ignobly treated.  This was a fascinating evening (but for the Q&A's -  Chicago dismissed some questions as irrelevant).   I admit to not knowing many of the women whose names are inshrined in this intriguing & innovative artwork.  I intend to head to the Brooklyn Museum and see this installation as soon as possible and learn more about the women represented.   Watching the film & having the privilege to hear Judy Chicago speak about her work was a fortuitous & unforgettable event.

Monday, January 22, 2018

CARDINAL at 2nd Stage is Bloody Relentless Babble about Urban Renewal at Any/All Cost

Don't it seem to go, you don't know what you've got til it's gone?  CARDINAL at the 2nd Stage theater knocks around the issues facing dying small towns USA in dire need of urban renewal.   A worthy motif but irritatingly overstated by Lydia, a former notorious hometown girl (played with relentless irritation by Anna Chlumsky ('"Veep") returns to paint the town red.  So repeats herself until she's blue in the face.  The small dying city is in upstate New York.  Lydia has recently returned home after an unsuccessful stint as a band mgr./bar tender in Brooklyn that has left her finances deep in red ink.  Lydia thinks she's got all the answers for reviving the city.  Her first meeting is with the town's young Mayer, Jeff (Lydia's sister's former boyfriend).  She bulldozes him into putting her agenda on the town council meeting which is painting the entire downtown business district entirely red.  Yes, that's she said over & over until this flaming idea sparks the town to vote in agreement.  Her arguments were built in pat upon the city in Morocco painted all in blue & the city in Columbia painted all in yellow which keep tourists coming & business thriving.  Lydia's halcyon days from high school (a radical vigil ante antic left the town in a lengthy power outage) have not cooled down.  She's determined to pump life into this town, whether she draws blood or not.  To be sure there is collateral fallout.  Lydia's actions are known to be inappropriate (as she readily admits).  She's obdurate, obnoxious & callous.   She coerces the town to vote her way, & then proceeds to bulldoze over the mayor in bed, and some of the smaller business which have been beloved landmarks.  The more interesting & poignant storyline involves a mother, Nancy (an excellent Becky Baker, TV's "Girls" & "Freaks & Geeks") and her mentally challenged son whose bakery is forced to deface their business sign made be her husband and then eventually to sell out to a local Chinese businessman, Li-Wei Chen.  Li-Wei appropriates Lydia's "brilliant" color wash idea & turns a profit which turns away indigenous proprietors.  Red has many symbolic connotations, blood, Communism and fire & brimstone.  Here the color red is intended to turn into green; bucks, dollars, cash for the city & its inhabitants.  Playwright Greg Pierce addresses several social issues such as anti-immigration, assimilation, anti-semitism, urban decay as well as mental illness, suicide & gun violence.  But, these topics gets buried under an over burdened, garrulous & grating dialogue.  Welcomed respites came from Nancy & her son and Li-Wei Chen (Stephen Park) the savvy Chinese business opportunist.  Li-Wei's character is clever, complex & compassionate.  As for the One Act play CARDINAL it's a cardinal, it's a red finch, no '-'  it's a red herring.

Sunday, January 21, 2018

20th C Blues - Pershing Square Captures the Past Present & Precariousness of Female Baby Boomer Friends

The entertaining comedy/drama "20th C Blues" is aptly named for spanning the historic events & lives of Baby Boomers' seen through the lenses of 4 female friends "born in the decade after the War."  This clever & astute 1 ACT, 4 main character play zooms in on 4 women. They bonded while in before receiving their bail bond during the 70s; at time when "everyone was getting arrested".   The linchpin in this motley crew that covers character stereotypes of this epoch is Danny (Polly Draper  of TV's"30 Something").  (The irony of Draper reprising an iconic "baby boomer" character is all but lost but for those who were 30 something in the 80's).   Playwright Susan Miller (b Amer 1944) is a 2 time Obie winner & recipient of the Blackburn Prize & Writers Guild Awards.  Miller is adroit at snappy dialogue and spanning the spectrum of seismic events that captured the nation's attention in the later half of the 20th C.  Furthermore, her characters are caught in a time capsule of pre-technology, struggling to be prescient in today's hi-tech world.  Danny is addressing a "Ted" talk about her life's work in photography which is about to receive a retrospective at the MoMA.  She explains the circuitous way in which she arrived at her career as the play begins.  The play then flashes back to 4 months prior into Danny's trendy NYC apartment replete with large windows, brick walls & paraphernalia pertinent to a photographer's vocation.  Over the course of a few hours (which feels more like decades) her 3 female friends stop by for their annual "fun" day & Danny's yearly group shot of these 3 women.  (A photographic study renown & hung at the MoMA by Sally Mann (b Amer 1951').  The 1st of the group to arrive is Gabby (the garrulous, neurotic peace maker of the group), Mac (an accomplished writer/reporter retiring as a result of downsizing) and Sil  (irascible & reluctant to grant her consent releasing her photos for the MoMA retro).  What else you need to know is Mac is black & gay, Gabby is a vet and Sil sells real estate in the city.  Danny's mother Bess makes ephemeral appearances.  Bess is in advance stages of Alzheimer.  Bess' Alzheimers is a (heavy handed) reminder that memories are what makes us who we "why erase anything?", and how the aging process is not always pretty.  Danny's son Simon makes an appearance bringing his grandmother to his mother's apartment.  He's a writer & wants to assist Mac (as in a computer) how to stay in touch via technology & media today.   There are many moving & relevant observations on aging, recent events and the significance of leaving a legacy.  The entertaining  play "20th C Blues" makes crystalline commentaries on times/past & present from these women.  It's a well crafted play,  but the credibility of it feeling like real life is very precarious.  

Saturday, January 20, 2018

The French film "Lover for a Day" Directed and Written by Philippe Garrel - Love for the Film Lingers

If you're of the opinion that the Parisians are more passionate in love & more laissez faire regarding affairs, this movie will promulgate your view.  I sense in general the French emote more, smoke more, indulge in sexual rendezvous making most of us (myself included) feel prudish and, that I'm missing out!  "Lover for a Day" written & directed by Philippe Garrel (b France 1948) is a  noir & blanc film that makes American film noire pale in comparison.  French cinematographer Renato Borta's eye for light, shadows & underlying emotions is revelatory.  French composer/musician Jean-Louis Aubert's original score is magnificent and heightens the intensity & despair of le coeur.  The film's plot is not the point.  People fall in love, fall out of love, infidelities are inevitable and oh blah dee love & life go on.  The 3 main characters in the film are Gilles, a middle-aged college prof., his daughter Jean and Gilles' lover Ariane (one of Gilles' students).  Jean & Ariane are both in their 20s beautiful & sensual women.  Jean is completely distraught over the breakup with her lover & is returning to her father's home late at night.  Gilles welcomes her in and then returns to bed where Ariane is already asleep.  In the morning, the 2 women meet & commiserate over inevitable heartaches.  Ariane offers Jean some sage advice "Don't waste emotion on someone who doesn't love you."  (Ah,  but the heart wants what the heart wants.) Gilles is uncertain if the women's alliance is advantageous but he's more concerned whether Ariane is having sex with other men.  His fears are confirmed when he discovers her having sex in a college bathroom where we were first voyeurs of Ariane & Gilles embroiled in lascivious sex.  There is a female narrator to the film which doesn't deter from the feeling of watching real life play out.  Throughout are embers of emotion that flicker & burn alongside cigarettes & wine in smoke filled bistros.  The film is alluring, sensual & captivating.  "Lover for a Day" makes American romance films feel staid.  Garrel's film is not a happy ever after story but it captures the intuned je n'ais se quoi that the French maintain as a banner of pride.  "Lover for a Day" is ooh la la, how life goes on...  

Friday, January 19, 2018

"The Phantom Thread" with Daniel Day Lewis - Fascinating Film Set in London in the 1950s

 "The Phantom Thread" is set in post-war London where the aristocracy & royalty are ready to flaunt their wealth, fashion, grace (or lack thereof).  Dir/screenwriter Paul Anderson (b Amer 1970) is also the crafty cinematographer of this sumptuous looking film & sinister character sketch.  Anderson ("Punch Drunk Love" & "Inherent Vice") dons the film with a chic & stunning veneer.  For added luster, Anderson assembled a star studded cast including 3 time Acad. Award winner Daniel Day Lewis ("Lincoln").  Reynolds Woodcock (Lewis in a tour-de-force role) is the head of the Woodstock haute couture fashion house that designs & dresses the very wealthy & the monarchy.  The film is padded front & back with a fireside chat between an enigmatic man & young woman.  The woman describes for her attentive  companion her relationship with an unbeknownst man, "I give him everything he desires which is my complete self forever."  The man referred to is Reynolds whom we first meet in his meticulous, ritualistic grooming & again at breakfast where he summarily dismisses his mistress & delegates his sister, Cyril (British actress Lesley Manville "Another Year") to have her removed.  Reynolds & Cyril are tightly hemmed together.  They reside at their fashion/townhouse & country estate.  Reynolds eccentricities are forgone sovereignties.  He's a talented workaholic.  He's charming but mainly controlling, obdurate & harsh with an overdrawn sense of his omnipotence.  After a stressful week he drives at a reckless speed to their rural estate.  It's on this trip he becomes  smitten by a waitress who trips over herself but she doesn't let herself be ruffled.   Reynolds invites her to dinner as so the yarn of their passionate & tumultuous relationship unravels.  Reynolds brings Alma back to London with him.  There he transforms her into a glamorous, high fashion model.  Soon Alma's true measure & girth materialize.  The power play triangular relationship between brother/sister, Alma/Cyril & Reynolds/Alma adorn the film overflowing with intrigue & intensity.  Getting the last word is a never ending battle of wits and endurance.  Reynolds & Alma are well suited for each other.  I loved every stitch of this bewitching creation.

"Trump-Year 1" Presidential Panel with Ed Rollins, Roger Cohen, David Frum and Douglas Brinkley

"Trump - Year One" Presidential Panel in partnership with Hunter College & The Common Good was held Wednesday night at a packed Danny Kaye Playhouse.  The moderator for the evening was Dana Perino, co-hose of Fox News Channel's "The Five" & anchor of "The Daily Briefing".  Her illustrious & eloquent panel, alongside Perino, provided a spectrum of political perspectives.  The 4 prominent writers & political commentariats comp "NYT" columnist, David Frum, Sr. Editor at the "Atlantic Monthly" and Ed Rollins, premier political strategist who served as Pres. Reagan's campaign mgr. ('84).  The prescient topic that brought in a full crowd on a very chilly evening centered on Trump's performance during his first months in office.   Perino, did a good job asking pertinent questions without pontificating her views. (Although, she asked whether Trump should receive credit for the upsurge in the state of the nation's economy "...the 2nd highest record for the stock exchange today, the highest coming recently under Trump".)   The 4 men on the panel all gave cogent responses and were very respective of each other's speaking time.  There was an overall shared consensus that Trump is {in my words} "a shithole of a president".  Their assessments echoed each others & felt this 1st year has been "ugly& troubling".  I'll reiterate some comments without quoting the individual.  Trump has caused numerous problems, exacerbated volatile issues & has polarized of our nation. There is no unity and no discernible foreign or nat'l policies.  Trump was described as a bully, in need of constant affirmation.  He was called immature, uninformed & lackadaisical in becoming educated on pressing issues.   And most disturbing, they were all convinced it highly possible he could provoke a nuclear attack from N. Korea or Iran or both.  Trump has burnt bridges with German Chancellor Merkel whose alliance is greatly needed.  He's pulled us from the Paris Climate Accord.  China & Russia feel more omnipotent with Trump in office &  consider the US flagging behind as a world power.  The US GNP is at a low of 20%.  Meanwhile he's put the world in an ambiguous position leaning towards disasters.   The quick answer as to whether the panel thinks Trump would win the election in 2020:  Rollins YES (if the economy is good), Cohen NO, Brinkley NO and Frum PROBABLY NOT.  The general consensus is there is no clear Dem. Presidential candidate but highly likely Hilary Clinton & Joe Biden will bide for the nomination.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

JOHN LITHGOW: STORIES BY HEART on B'wy - Family History Told in Two Stories is Too Long in theTooth

John Lithgow is one of America's most versatile & talented entertainers.  Lithgow (b 1945) is a TV/film & Broadway star.  He's also known for his comedy, singing & writing.   His work is honored in numerous arenas:  2 Tony Awards, 6 Emmys (3rd Rock from the Sun), 2 Golden Globes, 4 Drama Desk Awards, 3 Screen Amor Guilds Awards, 2 Acad. Award nom. (Terms of Endearment).   He's been nominated for Grammys for his work in children's entertainment.  These many deserved & elite honors attest to his remarkable knack for entertaining & his illustrious body of work.  My impetus for seeing STORIES BY HEART was to see Lithgow up close on the B'wy stage.  Lithgow's 1 man show (in 2 Acts) is an ode to the art of storytelling, told within the story of his life.  The 2 Acts are structured around 2 different "short" stories taken from the book of short stories John's father read to him & his siblings during their nomadic & theatric, warm & loving upbringing.   Told with a true raconteur flair, Lithgow shares his unorthodox childhood & close familial ties.  Arthur Lithgow, John's father was a founding member of the Great Lakes Playhouse where Shakespeare's plays were presented in an astonishingly short time period.  Moreover, this show is an homage to his father whom John credits for sparking his storytelling/acting skills.  The minimal, inviting set  contains wooden wall panels, an oriental rug & overstuffed chair.  The overall effect created a welcoming, cozy nook.  The 2 "short" stories which Lithgow performs are longwinded & interminable.  "The Haircut" is told via a garrulous barber in friendly banter to his captive customer.   The sound affects & antics were irritating & the story inappropriate for a father to be reading to his 3 children under the age of 10.  At the beginning of the Act II, John asks the audience if perhaps we found it outrageous the story of adultery & murder that was read to them as kids.  "Well, we loved it!" he gleefully proclaims.  Act II turns the page to a more sombre & heartfelt tone.  John's elderly & frail parents were in need of his exhausting & all consuming help.  As the only unemployed sibling "between gigs" the responsibilities fell to him.  John discovered he was able to reach through the malaise & morose his parents felt when he read stories to them.  The stories read were the ones read to him & his siblings as youngsters.  The 2nd story of an absurdist British flimflam artist was aptly pantomimed in all its variant characters with valiant effort.  However, I found it insufferable.  The senior citizens in the audience were enthralled.  Lithgow's limitless talents abounded but appeal for STORIES BY HEART is for the niche elderly audience or very young.  I liked Lithgow the man but didn't care for his show.  I couldn't wait to go.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Lebanese Film "THE INSULT" Receives High Praise and Worthy of a Noble Peace Prize

The Lebanese language film THE INSULT is incredibly powerful, intelligent, relevant, stirring, thought provoking and riveting.  THE INSULT is in an elite category of movie making that gives the medium an omnipotent ability to move us, shame us, inspire us and see ourselves & reflect on our humanity & proclivities towards hate, carnage & atrocities.  The film takes place in Beruit where a multi-apartment building is under construction.  Dir/screenwriter Ziad Doueiri (b Beirut 1963) is a master of his craft & a movie maker whose intelligent script & indelible images pierce the soul. searing insights into human nature's proclivities, our past histories & future possibilities.  Living in an apt. alongside the construction is Tony (a superlative Adel Karan).  Tony is a man of pride (perhaps too much).  He's obdurate, volatile, irreverent, relentless & resistant to change.  He runs an auto mechanic shop & is looking forward to the arrival of the birth of their daughter.  His beautiful, sensible & steadfast wife, Hanah (Lebanese actress Rita Hayek in a tour-de-force performance).  The stability, heart & sensibility all stemmed from the women.  From the ruling judge on the court, the female atty. &  Hanah and the wife of Tony's Palestinian nemesis, Yasser (Kamal El Basha whose performance is miraculous).  The title "The Insult" is the initial incubus for the escalating, cataclysmic & revelatory events of the film.  Yasser called Tony a "fucking prick" for his rudeness & destruction of a gutter he constructed off Tony's balcony.  Tony demands an apology from the man he already bears resentment for being a Palestinian worker in Lebanon.  The compilation of mounting egregious words & then physical violence leads to Tony demanding restitution in a court of law.  While both parties admit culpability on their part, the escalating confrontations boil over into a higher  courts.  The case captures media attention & public hysteria.  Douieiri considers human nature with its leanings towards violence, kindness & decency.   The media frenzy is agitating a mob mentality.  The local government authority tries to broker peace with only the two men in his chambers.   When the official is asked what is more important sincerity in forgiveness or stability.  "Stability every time" is the response.   Remembering the past is a means to controlling the future.  Feigned civilities can lead to harmonious co-existence.  Tony & Hanah's newborn & future generations deserve a world in which to thrive, flourish & live in peace. The power of words can change everything.   In this masterpiece of human turmoil, if only words of respect & tolerance could dominate over emotional, irrational behavior.  "THE INSULT" deserves an Oscar, a Pulitzer & Nobel Peace Prize.


Monday, January 15, 2018

Blue 13 Dance Co Performs a Driving Tour-de-Force Electrifying Eclectic Modern Work that Works Artistically

The APAP /NYC Global Performing Arts Conference brought an international plethora of dance to NYC in a marathon of international dance companies throughout the world.  The dance showcases were held in numerous venues throughout the city including Lincoln Center on Columbus Circle and City Center.  The showcases commenced in the early hours of the day lasting through the midnight hours.  APAP brings dance companies together to present their works and allows for tangental dance professionals & associations opportunities to observe, connect & exchange ideas.   The staggering & spectacular performances are overwhelming in magnitude.  Nevertheless, APAP is an opportunity not to be overlooked.  Saturday night I was especially delighted to see BLUE 13 DANCE Co perform "Terpsihore in Gungroos"at City Center.  The artistic dir/choreographer, Achinta McDaniel introduced herself and her work saying she is a 1st generation American whose parents were born in India and she identifies with both her country & her Indian culture.  The mouthful title to her enchanting & powering choreography is a combination of the Greek Muse of Dance & Chorus, Terpishore and Gungroos which are metallic bells strung together to form a musical anklet tied to the feet of classical Indian dancers.  The choreography maintained a rhythmic, driving power that highlighted the women dancers donning gungroos & harem style pantaloons in misty shades of ochre. The hazy, dim lighting added an ancient archeological aesthetic that unearthed the mesmerizing melding of ballet, modern, Bollywood and cultural Indian dance.  The music McDaniel selected was hypnotic & the addition of the gungroos made a richly layered composition that provided a wonderful musicality to the dancing.  The dancers, with women outnumbering the men, were all exceptional.  The androgynous costuming was a good choice as this did not deter from the medley of dancing styles.  The women had the stronger & more daring dance moves (women flipped onto other women's backs with astonishing grace & strength).  There was some storytelling which spoke perhaps to a push/pull of assimilation.  The clever choreography was wonderful on its creative merits.  Special detail was given to the porte-bras that added an exotic Bollywood flourish.  BLUE 13 DANCE Co. gave a tour-de-force, unique & inspiring performance.  This is a company whose work deserves attention.

Saturday, January 13, 2018

The 1st New MTA POETRY in MOTION "DEW" by US Poet Laureate Kay Ryan - Do Enjoy!

How pleasantly serendipitous & icily ironic that DEW appeared in the metro car during this frozen tundra in NYC!   I unabashedly admit, I'm a twit having been unaware of the highly distinguished & honored American poet, Kay Ryan (b Amer 1945).  Ryan has received the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry, named as a US Poet Laureate and 4 of her poems have been selected as the Best of American Poetry.  I was charmed by DEW with its few words & crystalline imagery of nature's luster during spring & summertime.  New Yorkers are in dire need of spring like weather or anything above frigid for that matter.  What we got was a heartwarming diversion & perhaps harbinger of balmy days ahead (and let's please leave the innocent groundhogs alone).  Ryan's terse quixotic verse was in a font all in shades of sylvan greens fading to gradients of pale greens.  The artwork was a curling, wispy green vine in the upper lefthand corner and the top lines of the poem in matching shades of green.   The poetry & poster evoked a feeling of harmony, healing & hope and imageries of nature's bounties of  beauty.  It's fair to compare Ryan's to Frost but her own distinct voice is not lost.  

As neatly as peas
in their green canoe,
as discreetly as beads
strung in a row,
sit drops of dew
along a blade of grass.
But, unattached and
subject to their weight,
they slip if they accumulate.
Down the green tongue
out of the morning sun,
into the general damp,
they're gone.

Bye bye frigid, blistering winter weather.

Monday, January 1, 2018

"Tomorrow Ever After" Ironic Apocalyptic Perspective of The Present From a Future Time Traveler

The intriguing time travel apocalyptic picture views the 21st C as the "despair epoch" by a time traveler from the 25th C who inadvertently travels back in time to NYC today who is ill equipped to navigate the dissociated, dismal era of despair where no one seems to care for one another.  This thought provoking twist on the mundane doomsday future of most sci-fi "road warrior" movies is a clever cat's-eye lens on the malaise that infects today's society into a cold & forlorn world.  The director,  screenwriter/producer & star of this illuminating picture is Ela Their (b Israel 1971 "A Summer Rain").  Shaina (Ela Their) is the doe eyed innocent space traveler from the future who finds herself stranded & befuddled in present day NYC.  Somehow, she get's separated from her peers in the 25th C and must maneuver her way back to her utopian future with the aid of her waning hi-tech implement and the dependence on the kindness of strangers.   Her implement is a highly advanced piece of technology able to understand & utilize mechanisms.  It appears as a plain white wallet sized card but functions mysteriously and masterfully in Shaina's hands.  Still, she needs the aid of elite physics to help recharge her implement in order to return home.  Her home in the future is a much kinder & gentler society; no one is left to fend for themselves, money is absolute and hugging is the accepted norm.  This utopian world she's traveled from renders her a product of a population - post cataclysmic occurrence that rendered the planet into a equanimous & egalitarian society.  The resonates with the sitcom "Third Rock from the Sun" where aliens inhabit earth to study the human species finding our behaviors antiquated, perplexing & humorous.  "Tomorrow Ever After" is more of a dark comedy where Shaina is perplexed in her innocent assumption of decency & camaraderie amongst fellow human beings.  Her first encounter is an armed mugger who demands she go to a cash machine.   She uses her implement to withdraw money (a quaint medium) and is happy to oblige.  She lacks an understanding how to use money for food & shelter.  She persues the mugger and he becomes her helper & hugger.   She discerns her predicament has landed her into a a the forlorn "despair era".  We recognize Shaina's eye opening & disparaging view of our human frailties, cruelties & callousness which we've readily accepted.  Some may find Shaina's shenanigans wearisome.  I was carried along with the interesting characters (especially Ebbe Bassey as the mugger's girlfriend) & their stories as well as Shaina's resourcefulness and unflappability.  The charm & fascination of this gem of a film "Tomorrow Ever After" lingers leaving an imprint of hope for the future of humanity.