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Wednesday, October 31, 2018

BEAUTIFUL BOY A Family's Struggle with Drug Addiction Stars Steve Carell and Timothy Chalamet

BEAUTIFUL BOY is film about a teen's battle with drug addiction and the ugly impact it has on an entire family.  The film is based on the autobiography by David Sheff "A Father's Journey Through His Son's Addiction" about his son Nic's drug addicted teen years and the painful saga that overtakes Nic's life and that of his family.  David is an author & journalist.  He has focused much of his writing on the modern day crisis of drug addiction.  The film is directed by Belgian born Felix Van Groeningen, Acad. Award nominated filmmaker ("The Broken Circle).  Nic's vicious cycle with addiction & rehabilitation is an arduous journey that is oppressive not only for himself but for his bewildered & overwhelmed father.  The film is shown in flashbacks between Nic as a young boy and as a teen who totters between being an addict and attempts at getting clean.  Nothing is on an easy clear course.  The pain registers on David (Steve Carell) and the shame Nic (Timothy Chalamet) knows he's inflicting but unable to overcome resonates with impact that is heart stopping.  Amy Ryan as David's ex and Nic's mother and Maura Tierney as his step-mom are excellent in their roles as is the entire cast.  The film is relentless & purposeful in revealing the torment or addiction, relapse and recovery.  "You can't cure them {addicts} but you can be there for them."  BEAUTIFUL BOY is an agonizing & inspiring film that depicts the rampant drug epidemic, the struggle for recovery and the toll it exacts on the addict and their loved ones.

Friday, October 26, 2018

mid90s a Film Written & Directed by Jonah Hill - Young Skate Boarders that Never Takes Flight

Jonah Hill wrote & directed the film mid90s about a 13 year Stevie (Sunny Sujic) who looks for acceptance & excitement amongst a group of older skateboarders to escape his turbulent or dull life at home.  He lives with his single mother and abusive older brother Ian (Lucas Hedges).  Ian doesn't miss an opportunity to physical brutalize his young brother.  Stevie when left on his own seeks acceptance from an older group of skateboarder who smoke and hang-out in places they shouldn't.  Stevie submits easily to peer pressure especially from Ruben (Gio Galicia) who is closest in age.  Ruben entices him to smoke cigarettes & weed.  Stevie's reckless daredevil stunts to impress the older boys nearly gets him killed (it's a miracle he wasn't) and this earns him the acceptance into the group. Stevie's acceptance causes a growing resentment from Ruben.  The film itself is a daily grind of boredom fraught with risk taking skateboard tricks that failed to grip interest.  There is one stunning shot of the group of skateboarders gracefully curving down the middle of traffic at twilight.  This is the only moment the film takes flight.

Thursday, October 25, 2018

AMERICAN SON on Broadway with Kerry Washington and Steven Pasquale

Playwright Christopher Demos-Brown's AMERICAN SON at the Booth Theater on Broadway has a potent social message of racial divides that repeatedly occur in the shootings of unarmed men of color by police.  "The Talk" is the conversation parents are now required to have with their children, especially children of color, on how to respond to any interaction with a police officer.   In this one act intensive play we experience the frustration & anguish of Kendra (Kerry Washington) the mother of Jamal, her 18 yr. old son who has not returned home or her numerous phone messages.  A tempest is brewing outside a police station where Kendra's mounting fears & frustration escalate as she seeks information & help from officer Paul Larkin (Jeremy Jordan) whose about to go off duty.  The white officer tries to placate Kendra who persists in seeking answers.  Her impatience and ire are met with threats of withholding information.  However, when Kendra's estranged husband Scott (Steven Pasquale) a white FBI agent enters he notifies the officer Larkin his is Jamal's father officer Larkin sings a different tune. Paul becomes fawning & more forthcoming with information.  Larkin can only confirm that Jamal's car was pulled over with 2 other black men in the vehicle and that the vehicle had a bumper sticker that taunts the shooting of police.  Tempers flare with mounting fears and Scott lashes out at officer Larkin in the presence of Lt. John Stokes (Eugene Lee).  Scott is swiftly cuffed and charged for an assaulting an officer.  More information is becomes released to the parents as it becomes available indicating an ominous outcome.  Kendra predicts the world is closing in on her son.  There are several strong messages driven home in the play.  There is no routine traffic stop for men of color and the world is not the same for whites and blacks.  There are many subtle & overt racist comments spewed from all parties that strike like a lightening rod.  The officer who pulled Jamal's car over is black as is Lt. Stokes. When the facts are read to Kendra & Scott by Lt. Stokes the pain is piercing yet it leaves lingering doubts as to the culpability of the officer involved.  The play is stirring drama with a superb cast.  The thrust of AMERICAN SON reverberates yet these racial injustices persist.  "I said that this could have been my son.  It's important to recognize that the African American community is looking at this issue through a set of experiences and a history that doesn't go away."  (Pres. Obama)

Harry Potter: A History of Magic at the NY Historical Society is a Magical Experience for All Ages

Before entering the Harry Potter exhibition it's easy to be caught up in a caldron of excitement brewing by large groups of teens.  There is a a photo opportunity which was being used by many to pose within the facade of the book cover of the first Harry Potter book astride a broomstick.  The phenomenum that enveloped a whole generation that grew up alongside the characters brought young readers into a magical realm and nurtured a love for reading.  "Because that's what Hermione does.  When in doubt she goes to the library."  However, J. K. Rowlings first novel was turned down by 8 publishers.  Credit 8 year old Alice whose wise father, the CEO of Bloomsbury Publishing, gave his daughter the book to read.  Alice wrote her father a review claiming this was the best book she ever read and that every child should read it.  Her note to her father is found next to portions of J. K. Rowlings handwritten stories & her own remarkable illustrations. J. K. Rowlings ink drawings and rough sketches for the structures at Hogwarts are dispersed throughout the darkened galleries.  Be sure to look up, around and down for there are discoveries revealed in every nook, corner & archway.   Books hang from the ceiling and fleeting images appear out of the corner of your eye.  Under glass show cases are real treasures of ancient books & artifacts on loan fro the British Library of rare books containing information on magic, witchcraft, botany and herbalism.  The NY Historic Soc. also provides rare items from their collection of early studies into astronomy, astrology & cosmology.  These centuries old treasures enhance the literary world created by J. K. Rowlings.  Enjoy the memorabilia, exquisite artwork by renown Harry Potter illustrator Jim Kay and all the potpourri of paraphernalia in an exciting and educational show that dazzles & enlightens.  And, note the symbiotic relationship between imagination and progressive comprehension.

Sunday, October 21, 2018

Jean Valentine's Poem MY WORDS to YOU Posted on MTA Poetry in Motion

You take the subway to get someplace quickly (& cheaply).  Spotted yesterday in the subway car was a short & sweet poem by Jean Valentine (b Chicago 1934) but a lifelong New Yorker.  Valentine has received the Nat'l Book Award for Poetry and been nominated for the Pulitzer Prize in Poetry.  Ms. Valentine taught at NYU up until 2004.  Why is it that just a few words strung together in a lyrical fashion can possess such majesty?  MY WORDS to YOU is so tender and magical it warms your heart & transports your soul.

                            MY WORDS to YOU by Jean Valentine

My words to you are the stitches in a scarf
I don't want to finish.
Maybe it will come to be a blanket
to hold you here.

Love not gone anywhere.


Along the thread of human connection from other poems by Jean Valentine:

"Blessed are those who break off from separateness."  (Little Boat)

"Who gave me this wool sweater?
So it pleases you life, we won't go alone."  (Poem from the Russian)
         

EMMA and MAX by Todd Solondz - A Racially Explosive Black Comedy that Turns Extremely Dark

Todd Solondz is an independent film screenwriter and director ("Wiener Dog" 'starring Tracy Letts, Greta Gerwig & Danny Devito).  EMMA and MAX marks Solondz playwriting debut premiering at the FLEA Theater.  The play is a black comedy and social satire blazing with wit aimed at reckless self-indulgent white privilege.  Brooke (Ilana Becker) and Jay (Matt Servito) are an affluent white couple and parents to toddlers Emma and Max.  The play begins with a tense & comical scene in which the couple are firing the current black caregiver, Brittany (a  tour-de-force performance by Zonya Love).  Brooke & Jay fire Brittany while praising her and shelling out 3 months severance in a loaded envelope.  Brittany painstakingly counts out the bills with comic effect.  Despite pleading for her job & offering to switch deodorants, the couple have already hired a young, white au pair from Europe.  The stress of dismissing Brittany is so upsetting for Brooke it requires the couple take a vacation.  Their destination is Barbados the Island from which Brittany was born.  Brooke & Jay bask in the sun and are blinded by their delusional justifications as to their liberal open-mindedness.  Solondz skillful satirical edginess is brilliant.  Brooke calls Brittany and asks her to guess where she is - "someplace with a B" -  Bergdorf's answers a bewildered Brittany.  During their stay, Jay dreams he's speaking to Brittany recounting his noble act while toiling at a McDonalds as the sole white employee.  He's gloating over getting a middle-aged employee arrested for presumed sexual deviance.  Brooke & Jay's preposterous behaviors are hilarious, cringeworthy uncovering the detritus of their insular daily lives.  The set changes are plodding and all manned by Brittany.  The clever scenic design adds depth and fluidity.  The final act takes a drastic & deeply disturbing turn.  Brittany is lying on a prison cot being interviewed by an opportunist reporter. Brittany speaks of her love for white children but her hatred for the cruel & stupid adults they'll become.  She tells of being raped & impregnated by a former white employer.  Brittany employer's entitled white privilege is comparable to a plantation owner's mentality.  Her horrendous treatment &  profound sufferings purportedly lead to the heinous crimes she commits.  The acting by the cast is first rate especially by Ms. Love.  Playwright Solondz's EMMA and MAX fathoms provocative social satire.  We're drawn in with wry observational humor but left drowning by the pernicious & systemic undertow of white affluent privilege.

Saturday, October 20, 2018

LOVE, LINDA The Life of Mrs. Cole Porter - An Interesting Musical Biopic Being Married to Genius

LOVE, LINDA is a charming & poignant cabaret show at the Triad Theater that offers an intimate ruminating of life as Mrs. Cole Porter married to the celebrated & legendary composer, songwriter/lyricist Cole Porter.  Cole Porter is regarded as one of the most significant songwriters of the 20th C.  He married the beautiful, wealthy socially connected Linda Lee Thomas of Louisville (Stevie Holland) whom he met while living in Paris.  Linda and Cole shared a deep love for travel, music and socializing.  The two became each other's loyal companion and confidant.  Between musical selections all composed by Porter, Linda looks back with fond & bittersweet memories of their lives together.  She lets us know up front she was aware of Porter's homosexuality going into the marriage.  Although this understanding came with acceptance & discretion, it also came with anguish & setbacks.  The book by Stevie Holland and Gary Friedman strikes the right note between storytelling and song.  Holland is adroit at taking us into her confidence.  She attains both ebullience at their whirlwind lives of lavish entertaining and elicits sympathy with her feelings of loss for her youth & their popularity.  Porter's successes and set-backs are galvanizing and anguished.  His unrequited love for a young male dancer is painful for both.  Linda went into their marriage with eyes open but this doesn't shield the heart from hurt.   Holland's lovely voice is accompanied by a talented trio consisting of a pianist, drummer & bass who do justice to Porter's music.  No one knows the true relationship in a marriage but LOVE, LINDA gives an entertaining window into Linda & Cole's collaborative co-habitation in a cabaret fashion.

Friday, October 19, 2018

ODYSSEY: Jack Whitten Sculptures at MET Breuer - Unseen Sculptures & Iconic Works

The extraordinary exhibition of the works by one of the most innovative artists of the 20th & 21st C Jack Whitten is a collection of 40 sculptures he created from 1963-2017 which have never been made available to the public are on view at the MET Breuer.   The sculptures are carved from wood, both smooth and charred.  Locally found materials are used in these works which reference influences of African, Ancient Mediterranean and Southern American States.  The works are graceful, powerful, playful, mystical & inspiring.  The exhibition includes a large collection of his iconic Black Monolith Series that pay tribute to prominent figures in the arenas of art, politics, music, sports and literature.  This too is the first time so many works from the Black Monolith Series have been compiled & shown together.  The MET draws from its collection of African art, American art and Greek antiquities. Their relevance with Whitten's own work make these pieces feel redundant.  It is crucial to see ODYSSEY. This is a rare & massive collection of Jack Whitten's art that attest to his profound genius as an artist and social advocate.  I will be revisiting this magnificent treasure trove of Mr. Whitten's bounty of art only now being presented on this collective scale to the public.

The FERRYMAN - Domestic Unrest in the Early 1981 Ireland Amidst IRA Dissension

The FERRYMAN playing on Broadway is a recent transport from the London stage.  The British collaboration of playwright Jez Betterworth ("Jerusalem) and director Sam Mendes ("American Beauty") is an ambitious production set in the home of a large Irish family set in rural N. Ireland 1981.  The prologue & setting reference Republican inmates on a hunger strike protesting they be recognized as political prisoners denied by Prime Minister Thatcher.  The violent revolts by the IRA serve merely as an undertow to a domestic play of a huge farming family headed by Quinn Carney.  Quinn & his wife Mary have 7 children.  Adding to this overflowing household are an uncle, aunts, nephews, field hand and  Quinn's sister-in-law, Caitlin & her son. Caitlin & her son had moved in after her husband went missing a decade ago.  Stopping into the household at all odd hours is the feeble priest, Father Horrigan and a menacing Muldoon; the presumed leader of the resistance and the town itself.  Quinn's brother's corpse has just been discovered in the bawg with a bullet in his skull.  Muldoon coerces the Father to communicate this discovery to Quinn without indicating the death was a murder.  There's a cornucopia of drama, drinking, secrets, shenanigans and resentments that carry on within the Carney clan.  The lengthy 3 hour play is convoluted and a complex mixture of components.  The Carney family works hard, drinks heavily and celebrates joyously.  The dancing following the harvest uplifts an otherwise sombre play.  Quinn's wife Mary feigns illness which is caused by a broken heart realizing her husband's affections lie with Caitlin.  Aunt Maggie Far Away is mostly comatose until she rouses and reveals bloody battles and lascivious longings for an unrequited love much to the entertainment of the 4 sisters.  Uncle Patrick is in the background except when he reads aloud from Virgil.  Muldoon appears as an ominous thug who threatens and provides for those in the parish while the Priest remains hapless.  Tom Kettle, a dimwitted field hand has an identical storyline to Steinbeck's  Lenny from "Of Mice and Men".   Somehow strewn altogether the combined elements in "The Ferryman" creates an intoxicating brew but one that casts confusion like a lingering hangover.  "The gates of hell are open night or day; smooth the descent, and easy is the way. But to return, and view the cheerful skies, In this task the mighty labor lies."  (Virgil)

Thursday, October 18, 2018

The Hate U Give - Provides a Powerful Understanding of Racial Divides & Injustices

The film "The Hate U Give" is based on the young adult novel by Angie Thomas.  This powerful & racially charged film addresses pervasive battles along color lines & economic strata.  The central character Starr Carter (in a star turning performance by Amanda Stenberg) is a black h.s. student.  Her parents have enrolled her & her older 1/2 brother in a prestigious school outside their community to provide the best opportunities for their futures.  Starr is aware of the dichotomy of living in two separate (but far from equal) worlds.  The disparities are glaringly apparent. This sets Starr apart from immersing fully in either world.  A fatal encounter leads to epiphanies of how tenuous safety is for herself & people of color and how vicarious empathy is in the world of white privilege. Director George Tilman, Jr., covers many serious topics that continue to plague our nation & perpetuate injustice along color lines.  The film queries the lack of accountability for the mass shootings of unarmed black men by white officers who mostly aren't indicted. The emotional potency felt is from the perspectives of both black & white teens.  Starr's uncle is an officer.  He gives Starr an honest & eye opening account of the likelihood race may elicit different responses from him. He also explains what's going through officers' minds when faced with split second harrowing choices.  Social appropriation by whites of black culture is rampant and viewed as foolish & hypocritical by Starr.  Of more consequence is Starr's dismay at her friend's allegiance to the white officer & the failure in his being indicted following her courageous testimony to a Grand Jury. Starr's family is nurtured by two hard working, loving parents (an astounding Lisa Carter & Russell Hornsby).  They instill essential values & life lessons for their children.  Starr's dad adjusts his bigotry when discovering her boyfriend is white. The film begins with "the talk" by Starr's father to all 3 siblings.  "The talk"about deescalating a confrontation with police officers. "Hands spread on the dashboard where they can be seen at all times and do exactly as instructed and respond respectfully."  This scenario is played out shortly thereafter when Starr & her friend Khalil are pulled over by a white officer after fleeing a party in their hood after shots were fired.  Despite Starr's urgent plea for Khalil to co-operate fully his actions are construed as a threat.  He's fatally shot as Starr is handcuffed, agonized alongside him.  "The Hate U Give" provides a clarion voice for discussing hard issues of persistent barriers in our complicated world with the hope for healing, dignity and justice. "I believe that everything you do bad comes back to you." "I want to grow.  I want to be better.  You grow.  We're made to grow.  You either evolve or you disappear."  (Tupac)

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

A STAR IS BORN is a Bore but Bradley Cooper Can Sing, Lady Gaga Can Do Anything

The latest remake of "A Star is Born" is a sappy love story of couple coping with the rise in career of  one & the demise of the other.  New singer/songwriter Ally (Lady Gage) is discovered by country singing sensation Jackson (Bradley Cooper) while performing in a drag queen bar.  The film fails to twinkle despite its mega star power.  The incomparable Lady Gaga lights up the screen with her phenomenal voice and solid acting chops in a tour-de-force performance.  Meanwhile, Bradley Cooper as country singing legend Jackson is not too shabby at holding a tune.  His singing is surprisingly appealing & convincing as a country crooner.  However, Cooper in his directorial debut may have taken on too many cowboy hats. The chemistry works between Gaga & Cooper but the movie doesn't flow.  It has a very disjointed feeling that doesn't gel.  The story is too washed down in Jackson as a sloppy, self-destructive drunk.  Sam Elliott is type cast and phones in his role as Jackson's older brother & thankless caretaker.  An interesting casting choice is Andrew Dice Clay as Ally's doting & self-promoting father.  Nevertheless, for all its blazing star power, A STAR IS BORN fails to promote sparks.  Like the punches thrown, the film never quite strikes its intended mark.  

Hilma af Klint: Paintings for the Future at the Guggenheim - An Artist for the Ages & Sages

The paintings by Hilma af Klint show an artist whose creativity spun from a ceaseless curiosity & spirituality.  Klint (b Sweden 1862-1944) was a maverick; an artist both ahead of her time.   Her abstract paintings predated Kandinsky.  Klint's work has a captivating kookiness stemming from her endless fascination with innovative breakthroughs in science, mathematics and an open-mindedness towards the occult & spiritualness.  Klint was one of the first women to be accepted into Stockholm's prestigious Royal Academy and graduated with top honors.  A collection of her figurative paintings, mainly portraits & botanical figures attests to her technical proficiency.  However, it is her abstract paintings she gravitated towards that are so remarkable.  The first gallery contains her "10 Largest Paintings".  These share a commonality of color palette, geometric shapes and forms seemingly  aquatic or microscopic images recently identified through scientific discoveries.  This gallery is sufficient reason to view this expansive & exciting collections by a gifted artist.  Her paintings show a fascination with what is indiscernible by the human eye but perceivable through scientific evidence & a spiritual awareness.  Perhaps the death of her 17 year old sister sparked Klint's known participation with seances.  Klint's works reflect her beliefs relating to theosophy; intuition leading to a connection to spiritual divinity & rosicrucianism; metaphysical & mystical mysteries.  This exhibit is both esoteric and engaging calling into question both the artist's intent and your interpretations.  My favorite collection were The "Swan" series explores opposing dualities in nature while sharing their intrinsic connections.  Klint's beautiful "Evolution" paintings show her interest & conceit of the female reproductive anatomy and the recent identification of the atom.  Look closely at her celestial, planetary paintings and you will discover 2 diminutive human figures at the center of planetary forms.  Klint agreed with Darwin's theory of evolution.  Klint also kept an eye to the future of extra-terrestrial discoveries.  The exhibit "Paintings for the Future" is aptly named as Klint's work is expansive, inquisitive, fascinating & timeless.  Klint asked that her abstract works not be shown until 20 years after her death (1944).  Her incredible lasting legacy is ironically an imaginative cumulative abstract body of works that can be realized with an appreciation for the ephemeral, indiscernible,  & yet to be discovered.  

Monday, October 1, 2018

The MET's Delacroix Exhibit is the First Comprehensive N. American Retrospective - Not to be Missed

Eugene Delacroix (b France 1798-1863) is one the most prominent painters of the French Romantic era of the 19th C.  The Met's comprehensive exhibit of this master's work contains many of his large murals and spans his work over 4 decades.  Above the MET's entry curation is a quote from the Dutch painter Vincent Van Gogh (b. 1853-1890).  "Delacroix reveals the liveliness of things and the expression of movement, that he is utterly beyond the paint." I found this esteemed praise from this reticent master baffling.  Delacroix took his inspirations from historic battles, Greek mythology, literature, martyrdom and exotic locations.  There are numerous portraits and paintings of the human form and ferocious animals.  I was vexed by Van Gogh's descriptive praise.   I didn't readily grasp an awareness of movement & liveliness alluded to.  Going through the galleries, I began to note the softness of forms and a shift towards kinetic surges of power as portrayed in many battle scenes and crucification depictions.  I was struck by the large painting of a tiger and her cub. You sense the mother posed  to pounce on a threat of which her playful pup is unaware.  The expressive figurations of horses depicted in massacres and crusades whose agitation & fear emote starkly the chaos & impending destruction.  Delacroix favored a dark palette with hazy, brown & tepid blues in the background.  I found his portraitures, mostly of friends & family, very distinct and expressive.  Delacroix's first self-portrait is barely discernible.  The large self-portrait next to it is very striking.  However, it was not accepted by the Institute de France.  It took 6 more portraits and 20 years before he gained acceptance.  I was interested to see several of these self-portraits not included in this show.   I favored the paintings in the next to last gallery showing Christ amid ships being pitched in a tempest.  Here the rough waters and hazardous skies elicit violent turbulence & pending doom.  Delacroix magnificent paintings reflect influences by Rubens, Rembrandt and Goya.  I felt the retrospective held a sombre aura.  It would seem Van Gogh's use of vivid arbitrary colors and broken brush strokes are at odds with Delacroix's aesthetics.  Grasping the concept of Delacroix being in Van Gogh's words "...beyond the paint" is perplexing but worth considering when seeing this expansive & glorious retrospective of Delacroix's masterpieces.