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Sunday, December 29, 2019

LITTLE WOMEN Wins Big-All Star Cast-Modern Takes

Louisa May Alcott may very well be rolling in her grave with joy at Greta Gerwig's brilliant adaptation of her literary legacy "Little Women."  Gerwig received an Acad. Award nom. for directing and writing Lady Bird ('18) a contemporary coming of age story.  Taking on Alcott's "Little Women", Gerwig takes artistic license with the Alcott's coming of age story ensconced in the Civil War era. This modern appropriation skirts around the Civil War but promenades staunchly on the social constraints of the epoch when women were subjugated to marriage & motherhood.  The March household is comprised of women. The matriarch played by the incomparable Laura Dern, is left to manage the household with 4 daughters while her husband is enlisted as a chaplain for the Union army.  Our heroine, the fiercely independent Jo, a novelist played by Saoirse Ronan, a shoe-in for an Oscar nom.  Gerwig assembled Ronan along with Timothee Chalamet as Laurie and Tracy Letts as the chauvinistic publisher whom she directed in "Lady Bird."  Jo is not the sole sister to shine in her role.  Older sister Meg (Emma Watson), and younger sisters Amy (Florence Pugh) & Beth (Eliza Scanlen) are all magnificent, multi-dimensional & formidable characters.  Chris Cooper plays their gracious, benefactor and Meryl Streep the wealthy, crochety aunt who tries to impress on her wards marriage is strictly an economic proposition and crucial her nieces marry into money.  The film is structured by Joe's flashbacks to her enchanting childhood while dealing as a formidable writer/businesswoman when selling her novel (not the copyrights) for publication.  Jo's charmed reminiscients in a household with 3 sisters is filled with omniscient sisterhood joys and squabbles. "Little Women" is richly endowed with passions, remorse and acts of human kindness that bring this heartfelt film to life.  The March sisters' desires, jealousies, rivalries and mischievous behaviors are all illuminated with zealous & wanton abandon that it's impossible not to feel ingratiated with each character and imbedded into their bonds with one another.  The modern day twists to Alcott's story offers a conspiratorial wink to convention of the novel's era with a lighthearted take on today's romantic comedies.  The sumptuous cinematography glows in warm candlelight, horse drawn carriages and debutante balls.  Gerwig's film is a lively and smart protestation that women were merely  ornaments of society but possessed power over who they chose to love and to pursue that which they loved.  "Life is too short to be angry with your sisters" say Mrs. March.  One of the clever, artistic tidbits that imbue "Little Women" to win your hearts and Oscar votes.

Thursday, December 26, 2019

German Film "A Hidden Life" Resisting Hitler's Rise

How did Hitler rise to power?  A multi-complex answer but basically - because people allowed it.  Amer. filmmaker/screenwriter Terrence Malik's latest film "A Hidden Life" is a biopic on the life & execution of Franz Jagerstatter, an Austrian farmer, husband & father whose courageous convictions to oppose Hitler's evils ending up costing him his life.  Never heard of Jagerstatter?  Most people never have and because the Nazis imprisoned, executed and covered up those who stood up to Hitler. Malik (b Amer. 1943) has received 3 Oscar noms. for directing/screening.  "A Hidden Life" which is set in Austria in the 1940s is in heavily accented English with German spoken by Nazis or Nazi sympathizers. oftentimes in silence despite the obviously vitriolic hatred being spouted.  The film has received multiple nominations from this year's Cannes' Film Festival & the Palm d'Or Award.  The laconic & lugubrious 2 1/2 film is measured in its stark cinematographic beauty of the Austrian countryside and heinous fascism of Nazi Germany.  The film doesn't belabor the horrors or brutalities of war.  In fact, it luxuriates in the arduous but idyllic life of a farm couple.  Franz (August Diehl b. Germany 1976) and his wife Fani (Valerie Pachner b. Austria 1986) are a loving & devoted couple with 3 young daughters.  Their love story is very much a part of this story as its powerful message of Fran's conscientious objections amidst the melee of madness that exacts the ultimate self-sacrifice & knowing hardship & ostracism to his wife & family.  Malik's deliberately measured film captures Franz's deliberate disobedience to his church, country and solidifying conclusion that he must obey what he believes to be morally correct.  Franz is given multiple opportunities to recant & pledge allegiance to Hitler's regime to save his life but balks & remains stalwart.  First, Franz speaks with his parish priest who counsels obeyance of conscription orders & this is also what is asked by God.  Franz tells the father "God has nothing to do with this."  Franz & his wife pose a humbleness in their stance and in their steadfast acceptance of each other's love.  The Catholic Church which supported Hitler's regime declared Jagerstatter a martyr in 2007; a shameless exoneration for their evil stance during WWII.  This is a film of great beauty and the profundity for reconciling one's knowledge or morality as omnipotent despite one's impact or lack thereof.  Numerous Nazi officials brutally beat him, repeatedly threaten execution (by guillotine) for treason and all for his futile obdurance.  Franz forlornly observes "The sun still shines down on the good and the evil alike."  Malik's masterpiece poses the impossible scenario of standing up against unsurmountable impediments and considers what would be possible should courageous individuals condemn rather than condone or align with what they know is anathema.

Thursday, December 19, 2019

Melinda's Top Ten Movie Picks for 2019

The following are my top ten picks for flicks from 2019.  The list will include movies on the big screen as well as on-line:

1.   A BEAUTIFUL DAY in the NEIGHBORHOOD starring Tom Hanks

2.   ARTIC - Brazilian Director Joe Denna based on a true story

3.   FLEABAG - Nat'l Theater Live Broadcast written/starring Phoebe Waller-Bridge

4.  FOSTER - HBO doc. on the Foster system in Los Angeles

5.   IF BEAL STREET COULD SPEAK - based on Jame Baldwin's novel


7.   ROCK and a HARD PLACE - HBO Doc. produced by Dwayne Johnson

8.   The PEANUT BUTTER FALCON - starring Shia LeBeouf


10. THEY SHALL not GROW OLD - WWI Doc. Re-enhanced Footage

Melinda's Top Ten Cultural Picks for 2019

The following picks are my top 10 cultural picks from 2019 in alphabetical order.  Exceptional theater dominates this year's list:

1.   Alvin Ailey premier of Jamar Robert's ODE

2.   Jean-Michel Basquiat Exhibit at the Brandt Fdtn.

3.   INK on Broadway by James Graham

4.   Bob James, David Sanborn & Marcus Miller Concert:  Double Vision @ Sonoma State

5.   Diana Krall Concert @ Sonoma State

6.   SOCRATES at the Public Theater starring Michael Stuhlberg

7.   The HEIGHT of the STORM on Broadway starring Jonathan Pryce & Eileen Atkins

8.   The SOUND INSIDE on Broadway starring Mary Louise Parker

9.   To KILL a MOCKING BIRD on Broadway starring Ed Harris

10. WHAT the CONSTITUTION MEANS to ME written by & starring Heidi Shreck

Korean Film PARASITE - Directed by Bong Joon-Ho

The title of Korean director Bong Joon-Ho "Parasite" refers to the financially destitute Park family who prey as leeches, mercilessly upon the wealthy Kin family.  The Kin's beautiful matriarch is easily manipulated by the the Park clan.  Parks' members manage to get their grubby, grifter carcasses into the Kin home where they roam freely with no remorse.  The Parks sucker the Kins and suck the life & money out of this wealthy, upper class family.  There's little sympathy for the plodding, déclassé Parks living in unemployed squalor.  The Park's family down on their luck get a fortunate break thanks to a former classmate of the son.  The friend refers him as a temporary tutor in his stead for the Kin family's daughter.  The son ingratiates himself to the lovely but naive mother.  The Park's daughter soon finds herself tutoring the young Kin's son through clandestine conniving.  Soon, the parents' plans to be employed by the Kins illicitly wins them all job while throwing the former household staff to the curb.  The Park's maintain the pretense that they do not know one another. Spoiler alert: I didn't stay til the end of this grueling movie.  I anticipated the Parks receiving their  comeuppance for being ruthless con-artists.   Dir/screenwriter/producer Joon-Ho (b. Korea 1969) is a highly regarded filmmaker.  "Parasite" earned this year's Cannes Film Festival Award.  Here's where the movie "crossed the line" for me.  As Mr. Kim says to Mr. Park, his new chauffeur, "Never cross the line."   The Kin family is too pathetic and the Park family too pernicious.  Both families are all distractingly good-looking; particularly the 4 young people.  This is a petty complaint that the people are all too pretty.  The point being I never crossed over into favorably accepting the premise.  Neither did I enjoy the slow & sinister story-telling.  Perhaps, I missed being bitten by the bug that seems to have gotten under critics' skin.  "Parasite"  just never felt right to me.

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

GIVE ME LIBERTY a Gem with an Independent Lens

"Give Me Liberty" is an independent, art film that slides frenetically & unexpectedly into a deeply penetrating and quixotic magical mystery tour.  Dir., screenwriter & producer Kirill Mikhanovsky's cinematic feature film feels raw, real and Felliniesque.  Kirill draws from his own life as a US immigrant from Russia at 18 who finds work driving a van for the handicapped.  Vic (a wistful & endearing Chris Galust) is the central driving force of this unusual cast of individuals rarely featured on screen.  The motley mix of ethnographic & debilitated individuals offers a piercing look into humanity from a kaleidoscope of colors, cultures and abilities and meshes into a pastiche of stark reality and peculiar sequences.  Music is crucial to the fluidity of the film encompassing a panoply of ethnic, religious, classical & contemporary modes. Vic's transports people with physical & mental limitations to their destinations of work, rehabilitation & recreation.  He's prevailed upon to take a group of elderly Russians to their friend's funeral while enroute on the job.  The elderly Russian immigrants admire American's allotted freedoms and reminisce how in the old country Russians, Ukraines, Jews all managed to get along.  They also tell Vic to hurry out of the bad {black} neighborhoods.  Vic manuvers his van at warp speed, negotiating obstacles & areas blocked off by protests.  Vic's unflappable, frenzied driving leaves him constantly late tho he assures his boss & riders they'll get there in just 10 more minutes. This remarkable journey is bookended by Vic's visits with Nate (Ben Derfel) an elderly quadriplegic who spouts philosophical lessons in an unhurried fashion. Vic dotingly listens while taking Nate's fag in & out of his lips.  Nate's elegiac messaging speaks to the beauty of life, the wonders of love and the necessity of holding fast to love. Compressed between these tranquil respites is a whirlwind of ruckus, protests, and earnest emotions bringing people together in melodious harmony and incorrigible encounters.   Dima (Maxim Stolanov) is a Russian, pugilist grifter whose shenanigans pack a major punch.  Tracy (Lauren Spencer) plays a wheel chair bound social worker for the disabled.  Her earnest frustrations & heartbreak feel crippling.  These are only 2 of the many eccentric people Vic encounters in the 24 endlessly compelling hours while anxiously awaiting the fat lady to sing.  Wyatt Garfield's stunning cinematography and overall authenticity make GIVE ME LIBERTY an art film which should be given numerous honors in addition to the Independent Spirit Award.  Keep your eyes out for future features by Mikhanovsky and roles played by Chris Galust (a Leo DiCaprio doppelgänger) and a luminescent & unforgettable Lauren Spencer.

Monday, December 16, 2019

MARRIAGE STORY - 6 Golden Globe Nominations

"Marriage Story" just received 6 Golden Globe nominations including Best Drama is the best release now on NETFLIX.   Directed & written by Noah Baumbach, the Nat'l Board of Review & the Amer. Film Inst. named "Marriage Story" 1 of the 10 best films of 2019.  The plot is a pastiche of a modern day "Kramer v. Kramer" and "An Unmarried Woman."  It has lots going for it including two very charismatic and convincing performances by Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson as a married couple; Charlie & Nicole.  They find their marriage unfolding tho still holding onto each other and their beloved son Henry (an exceptional Azhy Robertson).  The film starts with voice overs from Charlie & Nicole extolling the virtues they admire in each other.   The film is also a Woody Allen homage and debate to whether LA or NYC is first rate.  Charlie is a director of a fledgling theater troupe.  Nicole is his muse & lead actress.  The couple are seated within a sterile counseling room where the mediator asks them to read aloud what they admire in one another.  Nicole decides this is bullshit and stomps out despite the advice to state what drew them together before love turned to hate.  Their idyllic existence unravels with Nicole's accepting a lucrative offer to star in a TV series in LA.   Born & raised in LA where her mother & her sister's family live, Nicole is happy to return with Henry in tow.   Nicole loves her family and Nicole's family loves both Nicole & Charlie.  But, things fall apart before too long.  Divorce attys. & frenemies Nora (the incomparable Laura Dern) and Bert (a wise guy Ray Liotta) are guilty of stealing scenes.  The precipice of the marriage's final fissure begins in a benign, well intentioned discourse between Charlie & Nicole without attys. present.  Their sentiments go from 0 to 90 in seconds in a whiplash of pain & blame that is excruciating.  Charlie says to Nicole "You were happy, until you weren't".  The mounting costs of divorce which fuel an acrimonious split is astounding as is this heartfelt dissolution to what had been a loving & devoted family.  We want them to work it and for them to think of what they're saying.  "You can get it wrong and still think that it's alright." (Beatles)  "Marriage Story" is far better than just alright.  Don't miss it!

Sunday, December 15, 2019

Aszure Barton's "Busk" Performed by Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater

Choreographer Aszure Barton (b Canada) mystifying and startling work "Busk" had its Ailey premiere on Friday at the company's home in City Center.  "Busk" first premiered in ('09) is now being interpreted by the amazing Ailey dancers.  The Ailey Dance Theater is a superb pick for adapting "Busk" with the aid of the company's virtuoso versatility.  Busk is defined as street performance or improvisation.  The ominous dark staging and monochromatic black costumes of flowing, black monkish robes provide an eerie ambiance.  The dance begins with a solo dancer and a top hat turned upside down as if asking for donations.  The dancer performance is partly mime, partly spontaneous dance with overtly mendicant supplications.  The entertaining dancer is engaging and simultaneously reminiscent of street performers oftentimes intentionally ignored.  "Busk" is not to be ignored or pegged into any one style.  All dancers in their identical hooded, black robes make ghoulish faces & humorous formations.  The solos are rakish and stupefying, bordering on risqué and  risk taking.  A male soloist sheds his top and cavorts atop a multi-stepped prop.  A statuesque,  unmoving, unmasked figure remains situated on the steps.  The dancer takes a suspended leap from the top step softly landing in an acrobatic tumble on stage.  (A daring move that looks more like a Cirque de Soleil antic).  A female soloist also bares her top dancing with a minimalistic black sports bra.  She dances with equal bravado and muscularity.  The score varies from liturgical music to a contemporary mixed bag which seamlessly sorts itself out with ease.  Religious supplication, macabre humor and social contemporary on hooded victims of shootings splay in and out without making an overriding commitment to any major reference albeit an unpredictability and spontaneity.  Barton's "Busk" is a powerful and provocative work intended to be taken seriously with a large stipend of mirth.  The audience's rousing standing ovation is an indication that "Busk" is besotted with artistry and whimsy.  "Busk" is surprisingly fluid and swift and leaves you begging for more.  BRAVO!

To KILL a MOCKINGBIRD on B'wy with Ed Harris

Harper Lee's Pulitzer Prize winning novel "To Kill a Mocking Bird" (1960) is an iconic literary work of American fiction.  The book was made into an Acad. Award winning film and is now a Broadway play.  It's a major undertaking transforming Lee's work to the stage while conveying its social impact without preaching or convoluting the integrity of the novel.  American playwright Aaron Sorkin captures Lee's multi-layered racial & social commentary alongside the coming of age stories of Scout (Nina Grollman) & her brother Jem (Nick Robinson) growing up in AL in 1934.  Sorkin was snubbed for his adaption by the Tonys.  Sorkin has received Oscar, Emmy, Golden Globe, and Writer Guild awards and nominations for his expansive work in multiple mediums.  Somehow he was sorely overlooked for "Mockingbird."  Racism, mob mentality and lynchings portrayed in the novel are painfully enacted on stage.  Atticus (Ed Harris), Calpurnia (Lisagay Hamilton) and the falsely accused Tom Robinson (Kyle Scatliffe) play their courageous and sympathetic roles brilliantly.  Calpurnia's candid repartee with Atticus cuts through the permeated myth that racism is something found only in caricatures of the most contemptible white people in the deep south in decades past.  Atticus tells Scout "for the poor, white uneducated affronted by the Civil War 70 years prior, it feels but like yesterday."  Of course, this resonates with the pernicious, systemic  racial hatred that plagues our nation today.  We must acknowledge our painful history, and confront heinous events distilled such as the Greenwood Massacre in 1921, the 5,000 lynching from 1882-1986, the indelible image of Emmett Till in his casket and marchers attacked during the civil rights era and confront our present malaise of mass incarceration & inhumane & unjust sentencing of men & youth mainly of color.  Bryan Stevenson's auto-biography "Just Mercy" depicts the framing of black men put on death row that persists.  Moreover, the killings of unarmed black men whose heinous murders by whites who are not held responsible.  This is to say "To Kill a Mockingbird" is still relevant and should resonate with audiences.  It must be noted the subtler lessons of compassion & empathy which are as important, if not more powerful.  Scout & Jem's epiphanies of damaging, flawed pre-judging of & the need for empathy "inside someone's skin" are omnipotent.

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Alvin Ailey World Premier of Jamar Robert's ODE

The Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater is performing at their home here at City Center through Jan. 5th.  Last night's world premier ODE is the work of Ailey's First Resident Choreographer, Jamar Roberts.  Roberts is a beloved, long-time member of the dance company.  Artistic Director Robert Battle has encouraged Roberts to pursue his passion for choreography and wisely designated Roberts as Ailey's Resident Choreographer.  Jamar's first work for the company was "Member's Don't Get Weary" ('16).  Roberts was honored that year with the Bessie Award for exceptional achievement by independent dance artists.  ODE is set to the music of legendary jazz pianist Don Pullen.  Pullen's immense body of work & numerous styles including modern and free jazz make his music difficult to pigeon-hole.  In this piece, Pullen's sophisticated composition transitions fluidly from smooth to sharp syncopation.  Roberts virtuoso musicality embodies the unpredictability of Pullen's music with an ephemeral as well as percussive aesthetic.  The dance begins with a male dancer lying, motionless in front of a very colorful floral scenic design on a black background.  The uniform costuming by Roberts is stunning.  The dancers are bare chested with free-flowing golden trousers.  The prone dancer is joined by 5 other male dancers.  The dancers gracefully intertwine evoking a joyful imagery of Matisse's "Dancers".  One man falls and a 2nd attempts to raise him but he too succumbs to the ground.  The middle section projects frantic, startling images of victims of gun-fire. The 3rd section bookends the piece with a melancholy, gracefulness with the revelation of dancers paying homage to those who have died.  The backdrop now appears as floral funeral arrangements.  ODE is both elegiac and mournful.  It's inspiring and horrifying.  It's a powerful work for its artistry and for its ode to victims of gun violence.  "I think art has power.  I think it has power to bring things to light and have people see the world in ways that they may not have seen.  And dance does it without words.  And I think that that is one of the most beautiful things about this art form that we don't use our words, but everybody knows exactly what the feeling is."  (J Roberts)  There are alternating casts comprised of all male or all female dancers.  ODE is the good, the bad the ugly in mankind.  Still, it conveys the preciousness of life and inspires for the best in humanity.

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

JUST MERCY Michael B Jordan as Bryan Stevenson

JUST MERCY is the film focusing on true events in the early 90s concerning the legal battle to overturn the wrongly convicted Walter McMillian , a.k.a. Johnny D (Jamie Foxx, in an Oscar worthy performance) aided by atty. Bryan Stevenson (Michael B Jordan).  McMillian was framed for the murder of an 18 yr. old white women in AL and given a death sentence.  Stevenson, a Harvard law grad, having just passed the AL Bar, founded the Equal Justice Initiative, to  help pro bono, wrongly convicted people receive justice.  Stevenson's mission is met by outright enmity from law enforcement & the white community, police harassment, bomb threats and skepticism by the black men for whom he pledges legal support.  Initially, Stevenson's only ally was white female activist Eva Ansley (Brie Larson).  JUST MERCY is significantly more than a compelling biopic or courtroom drama.  It's a clarion cry for long over do justice in our society.  In one scene, Bryan & Ally overlook the serene harbor where Bryan notes this is where Africans were first dragged ashore to be sold into slavery.  The inhumanity of slavery in the US has morphed into racial oppression, mass incarceration and intentional abuse the legal system to suppress the poor and people of color.  The harsh reality of how abusive systemic racism is in our nation cannot be brushed aside.  But, it takes courage, morality, decency, compassion & commitment to amend the long overdue imbalance of justice and construct a humane society.  Dir. Destin Cretton has made a cogent and heartfelt film based on real people and actual events.  Sadly, these are actual events.  The film educates, inspires  motivates us to align for a world of mercy; a world of justice.  The film doesn't proselytize, rather it serves to inspire social reform.  What we say and do matters. Furthermore, truth will prevail despite the wheels of justice turning slowly.  Still, we are system of laws.  There are other important observations made.  Capital punishment has no place in civilized society and should be banned outright & immediately.  Herbert Richard (Rob Morgan) was executed during the time McMillian spent on death row. Morgan deserves an Oscar for depicting the barbarity of sanctioned execution. Neglect for the care of veterans is shameful.  Sentencing of our youths is cruel & far too punitive.  No one act should define a person's life.  Every life has value.  "The opposite of justice is not injustice it's poverty." (BS) "You ultimately judge the civility of society not by how it treats the rich, the powerful, the protected and the highly esteemed, but by how it treats the poor, the disfavored and the disadvantaged." (BS)

Monday, December 9, 2019

Alvin Ailey Performs GREENWOOD at City Center

Choreographer Donald Byrd's GREENWOOD is potent, historic storytelling though dance.  Greenwood was the segregated district in Tulsa, OK a.k.a "Black Wall Street".  It was one of the most affluent Black communities in the country at the time when a barbaric massacre occurred on May 30, 1921.  This slaughter has mainly been obliterated from our history books and our nation's knowledge.  The indelible image of the tortured & murdered young man Emmett Till in 1955 from his casket is one that cannot, nor should it be forgotten.  Our nation has & continues to inflict a hateful war on its own people solely based on bigotry.  The horrors of Greenwood have all but been forgotten though they mirror the heinous murder of Emmett Till.  The upcoming centennial of the Greenwood melee has reignited attention to a white mob attacking the black community killing at least 300 black people & destroying the homes & business of more than 10,000 blacks.  Byrd's balletic interpretation of these events are both horrifying, remarkable & unforgettable.  Omnipresent on stage, entered by passing through a hazy, smoked filled aperture, is a female dancer garbed in tribal dress.  She performs a poignant African dance that personifies grace and strength.  It's through her ubiquitous & incredulous eyes we see into the future to 1921 as a witness to the terrifying events in Greenwood.  Byrd uses 2 couples in 1920s dress in an ephemeral pas de deux that is jolting in juxtaposition with futuristic, faceless militia that mercilessly raze the defenseless couples.  The catalysis for this mob lynching is depicted on stage by a white female dancer replete with white gloves opens and closes an invisible, but audible elevator door.  When a black man enters the elevator she screams.  Mayhem ensures whereupon a mass of henchmen in their uni-glow army dress and oversized heads resembling gas masks.  The intensive imagery of blacks being mowed down by these "green" monsters is utterly disturbing and makes it impossible to look away unscathed.  The ghostly presence of the African tribeswoman does her utmost to serve as a shield but in vain.  She manages to lift one of the women killed onto her back & carries her back through the crimson portal.  Byrd's brilliant choreography, haunting costuming by Doris Black and exceptional dancing by the company create a monumental work of artistry and historic legacy.  

Friday, December 6, 2019

LINDSEY VON: The Final Season - A Ton of Reasons to See this HBO Doc.

The Lindsey Von doc. on HBO is the ultimate, in-depth biopic that uncovers the highs, the lows and the beauty of the indefatigable  human spirit.  For those who think of Lindsey as the beautiful bombshell Olympian formerly on the arm of Tiger, this intimate, in-depth look at Lindsey's life, you've not glimpsed the forest through the woods.  This doc. captures the gold for candidly illuminating the physical & emotional demands and grueling tolls unseen by most people.  The inherent drive to becoming the greatest professional competitor in a sport that provides the ultimate adrenaline rush is not something that can be taught.  However, this majestic & courageous coverage of Lindsey comes as close as possible to empathizing & appreciating the woman behind the stunning good looks and winning smile.  There's plenty not to smile about for an athlete of Lindsey's caliber beyond calibrating the risk factors and physical injuries.  We empathize with Lindsey's self-sacrifices and the burden of acknowledging the sacrifices required of her family & support team. Lindsey is seen as a fully bared human being with a steadfast will to win who loves her sport with an insurmountable passion that's infectious.  Her entire life feels revealed; her childhood, young marriage, longtime break from her dad, loneliness on the road, numerous tears to the body and unabashed tears from her sparkling eyes.  The most potent take away from illuminating doc. is the inevitable end to an all consuming pursuit and a humble acceptance for an unfulfilled lifetime goal. Lindsey is a robust paradigm of grace & commitment.  "My body is broken beyond repair and it isn't letting me have the final season I dreamt of.  My body is screaming at me to stop and it's time for me to listen." (Nov '18)  '"The Final Season" crosses the finish line with a nascent transition into a glimmering future.          

KNIVES - Not all It's Cut out for - An Agatha Christie Clever Plot It Doesn't Got

KNIVES is a whodunnit with some bankable stars directed by Rian Johnson ("Star Wars: The Last Jedi").  It's not got a whole lot of intrigue to conspire to create a clever murder mystery plot. As Detective Blanc (Daniel Craig) says "It's a donut hole within a hole of a donut."  It's elementary, KNIVES does not a hold a whole lot sense.  The ensemble cast can't cover-up the missing pieces of suspense, ominous foreboding or amusing family dysfunction.  The Thrombey family assembles to celebrate its patriarch Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plummer) on the evening of his 85th birthday.  The family gathers around the hearth in a house straight out of an Agatha Christie novel with howling hounds on the grounds.  Earlier in the day, Harlan was getting his house in order with his ne'er-do-well progenies.  The motley mix of family members include son Walt (Michael Shannon), daughter-in-law Joni (Toni Collette) and grandson Ransom (Chris Evans).  There are more sparring, self-indulgent spoiled siblings & off-springs.  It's a high offense to engage A list actors in a vehicle that's a wreckage with an added gratuitous car chase.  Harlan's death is revealed later the night of his birthday  celebrated by family with 2 non-family members present; the housekeeper and Harlan's young, doe eyed nurse/companion Marta (Ana de Armas).  Herein lies a clue: Ana ain't able to carry the heavy load of this film on her pretty head.  Foul play is surmised with Harlan's apparent suicide.  It's up to the local police & Det. Blanc to uncover the truth.  Blanc in his southern brawl tells us all "There is the inevitability of truth.  It's what you do with it that matters."  This is stolen from Sherlock Holmes: "The impossible, whatever remains, however improbably, must be the truth."  There's an admirable attempt at addressing illegal immigrants but it warranted more gravitas.  Harlan's daughter Linda (Jamie Lee Curtis) thinks her father's death feels more like one of the games he plays.  "I'm waiting for the big payoff" she quips which is like "Waiting for Godot."  KNIVES is mildly amusing but it doesn't cut it as a sordid, suspenseful or revelatory sleuth picture.  It's no enigma why Rian Johnson was fired by Disney from directing future "Star Wars" sequels.  The conundrum with this obfuscating mystery is the ripoff at the box-office.  It's enough to make you puke!  

Tuesday, December 3, 2019

"A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood" Stars Tom Hanks as Mr. Rogers

Fred Rogers, a.k.a. was a beacon of kindness, compassion and inspiration who impacted multi-generations with a covenant of caring.  "Won't You be My Neighbor" is the PBS doc. on Fred Rogers that came out earlier this year and is something to cheer about.  What more could a film offer than this heartwarming and inspiring doc?  It turns out this film portrays Mr. Rogers from the perspective of a cynical, embittered journalist transformed into a more understanding & accepting person supported by Rogers' proffered friendship.  Artistic license plied onto a moving & credible script is based on the real relationship between Fred (Tom Hanks) and journalist Tom Junod.  The script uses the pseudonym Lloyd Vogel (Matthew Rhys) for Junod.   Noah Harpster & Michah Fitzerman-Blue clever screenplay and magical art direction by George Weimerskirch created a more profound movie going experience than I could've imagined.  Vogel, known for his character assassin interviews is assigned to do a "puff piece" on Mr. Rogers much to his chagrin.  Nonetheless, Rogers' sincerity, focus and sage responses to Vogel melts the most incredulous cynic into a marshmallow.  I'm not referring to just Vogel whose backstory of family bitterness is a lot to chew.  I'm talking about me and you, NYC subway riders and the whole neighborhood shebang.  Hanks, Rhys and the masterful cast including Chris Cooper & Susan Kelechi Watson are just wonderful.  If this movie doesn't move you - you're in the wrong movie.  You're entitled to your feelings but I suggest instead "Maleficent" because your heart must be FROZEN.  Fred Rogers' legacy inspires us to be kind and reminds us "We were children once." Rogers' inimitable sagacity is for all ages, "Parents get a new chance to grow."  See "A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood."   Whether it wins an Oscar doesn't matter.  It's a winning morality lottery ticket.  

Thursday, November 28, 2019

Martin Scorsese's "The Irishman" is Interminable with Robert De Niro

"The Irishman" Martin Scorsese's latest film is an interminable regurgitation of his gangster genre made with A list geriatric stars.  Scorsese's inimitable talent as a director does not make him sacrosanct or untouchable.  "The Irishman" is an irrefutable leaden mobster mess that sinks like a stool pigeon imbedded in cement.  Scorsese calls back his winning score card cast:  De Niro, Al Pacino and Joe Pesci.  Martin must of called in favors only he didn't do his wise guy crew any favor.   Martin's montage of mobster movies does a grave dishonor to his genius in this 3 1/2 hour epic dating back to the 50s.  It should've remained unreleased rather than submit audiences to this thuggish rubbish.  The plodding plot of good fellows climbing the pecking order by following hit orders follows Frank (De Niro) as a working schlub who comes under the protection of Russel (Joe Pesci) while rising up the ranks doing dirty work for Jimmy Hoffa (Al Pacino).  The packed cast of  acting legends portray such poor caricatures of their former tough guy persona they come across as  pathetic.  These roles should be handed over to a new crop of actors like Jesse Plemons ("Breaking Bad") who plays Hoffa's son.  Buzz kill - Hoffa's son may or may not have been an accessory to the mystery of his missing teamster father.  The wearisome "Irishman" robbed 3 hours of my time I can't get back.  I'd complain about the cost of a ticket but I watched it for free on Netflix and still I was taken for a ride.  "The Irishman" is an interminable & abominable film that squanders the talents of its actors and taints Scorsese's irrefutable record of having made movie greats.

Monday, November 25, 2019

Ford v Ferrari - A Race Car Movie that Drags with Matt Damn and Christian Bale

Ford v Ferrari is a film based upon true events spinning around the competition on/off the runways between cars, drivers, business executives and innovators.  The film fails miserably at being innovative, exciting or credible.  It's true the world renown Le Mans 24 hour car race in France had never been won by an American built car until 1966.  Oops! Does the buzz kill for which company wins the race in 1966 spoil the film?  No. The faults lie in the staged friendship between 2 American race car fanatics that flounders between Ken Miles (Christian Bale) and Carroll Shelby (Matt Damon).  Both actors portray their characterized film personas with their sleek take but British dir. James Margold should have put the brakes on the heavy handed scenes between these frenemies and the self-promoting Ford exec. Leo Beebee (Josh Lucas) and the staunch Shelby.  Shelby knows Miles is the driver & engineer whose the man that can get the job done if winning is the ultimate aim for the Ford Co.  Henry Ford II (Tracy Letts in a wasted stock performance) as the besieged head of Ford when their car sales were going through a steep downturn.  Ford turns to his flashy executives (including Lee Iacocca) for a return road to glory.  Sexy, sleek & fast is what sells along with great PR.  Beebee sees Miles & Shelby as obstacles in his path and plays the evil self-promoter with a PR plan that pits friends Shelby & Miles against each other and robs Miles of the deserved win at the Le Mans in 1966.  There are two scenes that needed to be ejected:  Miles and his wife having an argument while she drives their family sedan like a mad man and Miles & Shelby having a tussle using wonder bread to beat each other while Miles' wife looks on amused in a beach chair.  Credit British actor Noah Jupe who plays Miles son for his winning performance.  The parts in the movie are much better than the clunky, weighted down finished project.  This car racing movie is slow going.  "Ford v Ferrari" was thrust in low gear and in need of a lube job.  The real buzz kill is the fatal race car accident involving Miles that feels hammered on at the end of the movie just months after Ford company's triple crown win at Le Mans.  Ford v Ferrari is a disaster on and off the tracks.

Sunday, November 17, 2019

TRIO Capriccio-Classical Program in Cloverdale

"It's easy to play any musical instrument:  all you have to do is touch the right key at the right time and the instrument will play itself." (J. S. Bach) One of the clever quotes on the program notes for TRIO CAPRICCIO at the Cloverdale Performing Art Center in Sonoma.  A Bach composition "Prelude Cello Suite #1" was on the program after the short break.  I didn't stay to hear it as I made a break for it.  This was my 1st time at this contemporary & intimate venue.  The house seats 100 and serves as a local musical & theatrical forum.  I didn't purchase the $25 open seating ticket beforehand assuming I could buy a ticket at the door.  I was when I got there they were sold out.  I said "That's great.  I'll try another time."  "Wait." said the congenial ostiary.  "Try the box office they 'may' have tickets".   It turns out tickets were available & there were vacant seats.  The 1st piece of the evening was "Merryton Townhall" by Purcell (1659-16950).  It's folk-song jig meant to be played molto allegro.  Here' where things went wrong.  The cellist played off-note and the 2nd violinist was flat.  "Sonate" in 4 movements by Handel (1685-1759) came next & was played more proficiently albeit somewhat off-key.  Still, the audience whose median age I estimated at 75 (and 40% asleep by intermission) voiced their pleasure by forte clapping between all 4 movements.  My favorite piece came next, "Duet in G Major" by Mozart (1756-1791) a duet for viola & violin.  Dr. Parthasarathi, the 2nd violinist, told us Mozart composed the duet while visiting family. The only instruments on hand were a viola & violin and he swiftly composed the duet.  Tingting Gu, the 1st violinist switched to viola for this piece.  Gu was born in China & studied at the Beijing Central Conservatory.  She spent 3 years with the Guanzho Symphony.  Gu came to the US in 2010 to attend the Thornton School of MUSIC at USC on full scholarship.  Her musical viruosity was remarkable.  Mozart's duet played in one movement was lovely and the applause was well deserved and well placed.  I note the disservice to harshly critique the talents of the cellist and the violinist but it's hard not to perceive the inequity amongst the musicians when performing with Gu who would be welcomed to join any major US Symphony.  I offer a rousing ovation to both Ms. Gu's playing and the Cloverdale Performing Art Center for enlisting such a gifted musician.  I urge the community to support the Art Center to encourage a flourishing cultural venue.  The reasonably priced tickets are a plus but there's no fuss with buying them at the door.  "Whoever is most impertinent has the best chance." (Mozart).

Sunday, November 10, 2019

Branford Marsalis Quartet - Marvelous!

The Branford Marsalis Quartet performed an evening of cool & contemporary jazz along with surprising arrangements and older jazz standards.  The concert was held at Sonoma State University (SSU).   Judy Sakaki, SSU Pres., welcomed the audience giving special thanks to our firefighters & first responders and expressed support for our community.  Branford Marsalis (BM) also paid tribute to our local heroes.  BM has led a very interesting & illustrious career as a jazz & classical saxophonist, composer, arranger and band leader.  He's won a Grammy for "Contemporary Jazz" ('10) and received a Tony nom. for Best Original Score for "Fences" the same year.  In addition to performing with his brother Wynton, BM has accompanied legendary jazz artists Dizzy Gillespie, Herbie Hancock and Miles Davis.  The BM Quartet released their latest album "The Secret between the Shadow and the Soul" earlier this year.  The first 2 numbers of the set were from the album: "Cianna" and "The Snake Hip Waltz" composed by Eric Revis who played the bass.  Justin Faulkner was sensational on drums and Joey Calderazzo on piano was astounding.  He proved competent playing & chewing gum simultaneously.  BM showed amazing virtuosity on both soprano & alto sax.  He joked the set-up placed him too close together "and I'm not that sure I like you guys enough."  The jest was a jab at the erroneous staging that squished the quartet on top of each other.  BM admitted having a cold which might explain his extended breaks from playing on every number.  The trio carried the jazz but BM's playing gave the compositions excitement &  luster.   "The Snake Hip Waltz" was my favorite piece.  It had 3 distinctive sections all having surprising rests that accentuated a syncopated tempo.  It began with a slithering flow, the middle had a menacing cadence in a lower key with an underlying bass.  The end section highlighted BM's trilling sound which morphed into an innovative rendition of "My Funny Valentine."  Other than the 2 recent recordings the Quartet played classic standards from the 1930s & 40s including an irresistible interpretation of I. Berlin's "Cheek to Cheek" and Sidney Bechet's "Petite Fleur" with an old-time New Orleans aesthetic.  The Quartet played a Bossa nova from a tour requested in Brazil despite forewarning of gringoizing their sound.  True to form,  BM's sexy Bossa nova morphed into a jazzy rendition of Ellington's "Don't Mean a Thing."  The concert was an exuberant performance.  Every number was a precious jewel.  Perhaps the Quartet will perform more of their own compositions versus more jazz classics of the mid 20th C. Jazz is like a box of chocolates - you never know what you're going to get.  It's all good!

Friday, November 8, 2019

Nat'l Theater HANSARD a Play by Simon Woods

"Hansard" is a new play by playwright/actor Simon Woods (b UK 1980).  The National Theater Live films live productions at the National Theater and made available on large screens throughout the world.  The broadcast of this production was at the Rialto theater in Sebastopol, CA.  "Hansard" is the name of a collective of British laws dating back centuries dictating societal norms.  The play is set in 1988 in a country home belonging to a long & embittered married couple Diana & Robin Hesketh.  Diana (a stirring Lindsay Duncan) is an alcoholic & angry wife who lives outside London while her husband Robin (an animated Alex Jennings) remains in the city as a parliament member of Thatcher's Tory Party.  There is a brief prologue narrative & short film highlighting major political turmoils in the UK in 1988.  A Hansard Law passed in 1988 barred the teaching, publication or promotion of homosexuality as acceptable.  This ruling is pivotal within the play.  "Hansard" mirrors American playwright Edward Albee's "Whose Afraid of Virginia Woolf."  The barbs sling at each other swiftly & harshly.  The grueling, incredulous dialogue calls into question why they've remained married.  Robin's vitriol attacks Diana's drinking & slovenly dress.  Diana harangues Robin for his faux image & poor acquiescent voting under Thatcher.  Diana tells people not to vote for her husband.  She tells Robin if she carried "the weight of his words" she'd know how to utilize them.  The combative sparring depicts their unhappiness with each other and their opposing political views.  Diana derides Robin and his elite entitlement embedded in Britain's aristocratic society.  For all the couple's mounting animosity the underlying tragedy that forged their fissure packs as a poignant punch near the end of the play.  This revelation  offers the audience empathy and hope for their reconciliation.  However, it's too late in the game to mitigate contempt for this couple whose belligerent blows furiously unfurled.  Still, Duncan's & Jennings' tour-de-force performances maintain a sonorous ambience too entrancing to disengage from this feuding train-wreck.

Saturday, October 26, 2019

COME FROM AWAY - Tony Winning Musical Pays Tribute to Humanity

There is a defining timeline in our recent history.  On Sept. 11, 2001, the world was forever altered by  terrorists attacks on the Twin Towers, the pentagon, and aboard Amer. Airlines flight 77 that crashed in PA while passengers & crews fought courageously to gain control & overtake the hijackers. More than 2,600 innocent people were killed and countless lives destroyed.  This heinous terrorist act defies humanity marking a demarcation in history that continues to reverberate. There's intensified scrutiny for travel, at public venues and growing mistrust & animosity towards people unjustly presumed as terrorists.  The devastating loss of so many including our brave first responders insures this day of infamy will never be forgotten.  The 9/11 Memorial & Museum serves as a testament to honor those who died and those who acted selflessly & heroically.  Time diminishes memory and the significant impact of events.  The highly awarded musical COME FROM AWAY (book, music & lyrics) by Irene Sankoff and David Hein is a transcending reminder of the horrific events of 9/11 by portraying the best of humanity.  The chronicling of actual accounts of magnanimous acts of kindness bestowed to unwitting passengers & crew on 38 flights compelled to land by the locals on the tiny island of Gander, Newfoundland is utterly inspiring.  The population of fewer than 13,000 people in Gander took in more than 7,000 wayward strangers.  Several accounts are expounded with a rousing score and compelling drama.  Homage is paid to the many remarkable people whose acts of generosity & ingenuity who welcomed thousands of strangers over several days into their town, their homes and their hearts is presented in earnest.  The 1st female Amer. Airlines pilot, Beverly (Jenn Colella) sings of her love and determination for flying and her desolation at the immense tragedy, personal loss and despair knowing her love for planes that were used as bombs.  The friendship between local Beulah (Astrid Van Wieren) and Hannah (Kenita Miller) a passenger trying to reach her firefighter son in NYC was especially poignant.  It speaks intensely of grief and  if compassion provided by others'  concern & listening.  There is levity,  camaraderie & love forged between wayward strangers and locals.  Kevin (Chad Kimball) a stranded passenger was a welcomed source of humor & irony.  The Company sings a stirring number "Something's Missing" prior to the finale.  It's a solemn reminder of catastrophic loss on 9/11.  COME FROM AWAY is a profound & inspiring reminder of what was recovered as a beacon for the best of mankind.

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Rangers Lose to Coyotes in New OT Rules that Suck!

Last night's Rangers game at MSG ended in a 2-3 loss with the winning goal scored in overtime.  The rather tame lackluster game but for the new rule changes for overtime.  The Rangers had very few shots on goal in the 1st period and fell behind the AZ Coyotes 0-1.  The 2nd period brought new energy to the team.  The Rangers score 2 goals both coming from Tony Deangelo.  The Coyotes also scored in the 2nd heading into the 3rd period with a 2-2 tie.  Neither team scored in the 3rd ending regulation play tied heading the game to a 5 minute sudden death overtime (OT).  NOTICE:  New rules in play for OT allow only 3 players per team on the ice not including the goalie.  Should a penalty be called on a team, a 4th player on the opposing team will be brought on the ice.  There will never be fewer than 3 players on the ice. This looked like miniature golf for hockey.  And, should the 5 minute OT also end tied, play goes to a 3 shot shootout with 3 shots on goal.  If a team pulled their goalie during regulation play this will cost the team a point in the shootout.  If the shootout ends in a tie - play goes back to a 5 minute sudden death overtime and it's deja vu all over again.  Why the new rules?  I'm thinking it's intended to speed up the end to tied games.  To that extent, I suggest get rid of these new silly rules.  They're ridiculous! What should be adjusted is the lagging time between periods.  I'm not saying shorten the 20 minutes for the Zamboni to refurbish the ice with a kid strapped backwards which looks pathetic.  I'm talking about an actual 20 minute interval.  Skip the T-shirts shooting from the ice.  Send them to the crowds by standing in the aisles and eliminate the not a chance in hell shot at someone getting a puck through a minuscule hole to win a signed hockey stick or a car shooting from further out.  Start the 20 minute time clock as soon as the players get off the ice.  Shows us highlights from the game on the screens or clips from concerts at MSG.  These new rules do no apply during the playoffs.  The old rules apply which are the rules that should still apply in regular season play.  Stop with the juvenile 5 minute play with 3 players and the hokey hockey entertainment.  Hey! Hey! Hey! Hey! Hey!

Newly Opened MoMA Features Betye Saar's Artwork

The MoMA has just reopened after months of renovation.  The changes provide more free flowing space, outside light and a fresh approach to curating.  The artworks are grouped not by epoch but by interconnections.  The curation is minimal.  The guest is induced to drawn their own ideas & impressions.  There are floor to ceiling windows in a galley showcase a large, immersive installation by David Tudor and Composers.  The windows draw the architecture outside in creating a heightened awareness.  The MoMA designated more open spaces and the large staircases with lucite rail guards.  Artworks are installed from walls & ceilings outside galleries utilizing more space and making the art more accessible and the viewer more astute.  The gargantuas space on the 2nd floor houses a dazzling exhibit of Haegue Yang's "Handles".  From everywhere you look or walk you become part of this intoxicating groupings of sculptures, glimmering geometrics and interactive light and sound.  The luminescent chandler in the lobby is a welcoming beacon for visitors.
The featured exhibition is Betye Saar "The Legends of Black Girl's Window."  Saar (b. Amer. 1924) is a master printmaking.  The recent acquisitions of her remarkable skills for printing and her work in the medium of assemblage are on display.  Some of the prints are of serene, colorful landscapes and glimpses into the working mind.  Her self-portrait made towards the end of her pregnancy portrays a contemplative respite.  The print of her 3 daughters indicates complexities of sisterly relationship and their own individualities.  Included with her prints are several of etchings which demonstrate the technical skills of her intricate craft.  Several repeating motifs in many works include symbols of mysticism and spirituality.  Saar's work also addresses racism, stereotypical degradation of blacks and heinous images of lynchings.  There were two works that spoke most to me.  One is her iconic wooden window frame "Black Girl's Window" 1969.  The head and hands of the black woman encased is haunting.  The only visible feature on her face are eyes that shift quietly but omnipotently and mystical symbols in red & yellow on her palms that implore you to touch (but don't) - and stop taking selfies in front of it.  This is a very moving work makes the viewer feel both the oppressor and the oppressed.  The other window frame that captivated me is an assemblage of faded photos and mementos spilling over onto the frame that offer a yearning for family and nostalgia.

Sunday, October 20, 2019

THE SOUND INSIDE with Mary-Louise Parker

THE SOUND INSIDE written by playwright Adam Rapp ("Red Light Winter" a Pulitzer Prize finalist) is a hushed play about loneliness that accumulates in emotional power like a soft snowfall that swept into mountainous drifts.  Bella (Mary-Louise Parker in a searing performance) is a tenured writing professor at Yale.  Bella speaks to the audience from a park at night where she writes when battling insomnia.  She ruminates on observations and feelings which also serve as fodder for her writing.  The barrier between her life and her creative writing jettison in and out of context.  She informs us she's in her 40s, never married or had children, she has no no parents or siblings and was in seemingly excellent health until felled by an excruciating pain.  She was able to call 911 before passing out.  She woke in the hospital after emergency surgery which revealed advanced cancer and given a dire prognosis for survival. The timeline of events are hazy.  Her writing student Chris (Will Hochman) stops by during her office without having pre-arranged a meeting.  The two banter over books & broach into each other's personal lives.  She informs him in the future he needs to set up a scheduled stop.  This doesn't stop Chris from dropping by again unannounced. Bella is drawn to Chris and invites him to join her for dinner.  The two find they share a lot in common besides being bibliophiles.  They're both find solace in books over company.  Chris shares that he was raised by a single mother who is a successful mystery writer with agoraphobia. At times Chris (Will Hochman) also addresses the audience.  The accuracy of events is dusted under shifting ambiguity.  Bella depicts a scene while talking to the audience where she meets someone in a bar and goes back to his shabby motel  room for sex. The first time in 2 years she tells us. The scene is simultaneously amusing and melancholy.  What's clear is the profundity of hunger "the sound inside" which roars unheeded by others.  Clarion  cries to be seen and heard and touched bellow like muted falling snowflakes.  Rapp's elegiac writing, pitch perfect acting by Parker & Hochman, and dim yet inviting staging  create a visceral theatrical experience that rages with human longings.

Thursday, October 17, 2019

Mac Wellman's The Fez and TheSandalwood Box

"The Fez" and "The Sandalwood Box"are two one act plays running in concert as part of Mac Wellman's Perfect Catastrophes, A Festival of Plays.  "The Fez" begins as "My Fair Lady".  Eliza Doolittle (Rora Brown) is debased as less than human by a fiendish Prof. Higgins (Jimmy Dailey).  She washed her hands she did before coming to Prof. Higgins for voice lessons to elevate her station in life. The startling staging goes haywire in a fez frenzy.  The trajectory projects into a deafening & undecipherable melee that morphs into absurdist theater with logic to its madness.  Hats off to choreographer Jose Rivera, Jr. and scenic designer Frank J. Oliva who manage to orchestrate an interesting intersection of free for all spirit with pizzaz and a medley of music & dance styles.  Actors planted in the audience add an element of immersive theatrics that add to the madcap fusion of fun & theatrics.  "The Sandalwood Box" is a pandora box of bedlam that is ominous, poetic and bizarre.  This surreal production has a nightmarish tilt that sprouts paradoxical poetry with euphemism of woes.  The sandalwood box contains a collection of historic catastrophes foretold by Prof. Mitchell (an ominous Ashley Morton).  Wellman throws out existential questions and questions who possesses the knowledge for determining right from wrong, truth from lies.  Marsha Gates (Dorothea Gloria) lost her voice at the start of the play but finds it at a ferocious decibel sporting a menacing Cheshire Cat grin.  Gloria falls through the looking glass and shatters the avant-garde drama into a daring quandary.

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

THE GREAT SOCIETY - Stars Brian Cox as LBJ

"The Great Society" is an ambitious and arduous play about LBJ (Brian Cox) that technically span the years from 1964-74 although the program gives the TIME as 1965-1968.  Therein lies a hidden detail to wag the dog to derail from the copious political characters and social upheavals that ravaged our nation.  The years 1965-1968 are the confluence of domestic civil liberty issues LBJ was contending with as he led our nation into escalating the Viet Nam War.   There's an army of politicians for a feeding frenzy of political pundits.  One might benefit from cliff notes or a cheat sheet.  Cheating being the modus operandi that keeps churning the Presidency and constituencies that parallel with today's bully in the White House.   LBJ sets up his character by offering up a bull story; literally a rodeo bull riding story.  LBJ tells us "Everybody gets thrown.  Sometimes you don't get up."  LBJ uses a lot of animal analogies to drive home his message along with bullying and wheeling and dealing not often done in good faith.   "All the Way"also written by Pulitzer & Tony winning playwright Robert Schenkkan starred Bryan Cranston on Broadway.  "All the Way" was a more cogent play and a more complex character study.  Cox plays LBJ with one pounding dimension until the end when we see vulnerability expressed to Lady Bird and in his defeat declining to run for re-election.  However, this is a crucial & painful epoch in our nation's history.  Schenkkan delivers emotional punches on the pressing social issues that plagued our nation that systemically persist in today's society.  The Voting Rights Act signed into law under LBJ is a major comprehensive civil rights legislation the eliminated obstructions that fettered African 's from exercising their rights to vote.  LBJ's concessions were made with seemingly quid pro quo negotiating.  LBJ felt betrayed by MLK's stand against the Viet Nam War and Stokely Carmichael (Marchant Davis) derailing of peaceful protests made a burning impact.  Why LBJ seemed to submit to McNamara's demands for troops & funding for the Viet Nam War is baffling.  VP Humphrey (Richard Thomas) seemed heroic  on issues in opposition to LBJ until he cowered under pressure in front of the press.  LBJ recognized "racism as becoming respectful" but failed to commit the National Guard to combat the atrocities he knew would be perpetrated on protestors.  There's much to benefit & learn from in "The Great Society."  LBJ intimates to Nixon damning info during the campaign was withheld.  How was it obtained was Nixon's concern. History often repeats itself.  Seeing Trump become the 2nd president to depart office in disgrace should likely take place.

Sunday, October 13, 2019

THE PINK HULK Written/Performed by Valerie David

"The Pink Hulk:  One Woman's Journey to Find the Superhero Within" is Valerie David's one woman show of her personal journey with her bouts with cancer.  Valerie is the writer/performer of this highly charged show sharing her experiences and emotional scars.  Valerie's energy is infectious and uplifting.  Valerie plays more for comic relief than pathos.  Having been cancer free for 14 years post her bout with Stage 3 Hodgkins Lymphoma, Valerie & her bf Belinda are vacationing and celebrating in Aruba.  Valerie unabashedly boast she always scores sex on a beach or campgrounds.  What she finds is a lump that is confirmed by Belinda who urges her to get checked out as soon as they return.  The gall of getting a diagnosis of breast cancer is confounding for Valerie whose bound and determined to get ravaged by a lover before her body is ravaged by cancer treatments.  The marathon search for a hook-up took-up too much time.  While its Valerie's tale to tell,  her pursuit of tail derails from the gravitas of her prognosis.  Valerie has aspirations for being on a Broadway stage and missed out on her big break to be in "Urine Town".  She does find her calling & support in improv.  The play is a defiant depiction of a strong willed woman.  She's filled with humor & rage overflowing onstage in buckets.  Valerie claims her treatments and needs on her own terms.  We sympathize with Valerie's abandonment by her friends (especially Belinda) and her feelings of anxiety and depression.  Surgery, radiation and chemo did exact a heavy toll on Valerie's self-confidence and femininity.  The play is performed not for laughs nor pity.  Any diagnosis of cancer is shitty.  Valerie's approach is lighthearted amidst adversity.  Everyone's experience is unique and complex.  "The Pink Hulk" is a sobering and soothing antidote for feeling alone in struggling with cancer.

Saturday, October 12, 2019

Matthew Lopez's THE INHERITANCE - Part I

"The Inheritance" by playwright/screenwriter Mark Lopez is at the Ethel Barrymore Theater in a marathon performance in 2 parts.  Lopez best known for his play "The Whipping Man" which earned an Obie.  "The Inheritance" opened in London and received the Olivier and London Critics Award.  The play is cleverly structured around a group of young men who are budding writers. The play is set in NYC in the near present and tips its poetic license in homage to E M Forster who appears as their friendly professor willing to work with a student claiming writers block or as Forster says "a writer's tool - procrastination."  The young man bemoans narrative today can't compare to that of the epoch in the early 20th C England.  Forster steps in and tells him themes of love and requited love are timeless and persists in prodding his protege into setting up characters and plots.  Toby Darling is selected as the main character and his lover is Eric Glass.  Toby is at a party in the Hamptons surrounded by famous celebrities and calls Eric cajoling him to join him as he continues to consume martinis.  The facade of structuring a story melds into the play unfolding.  Toby is the budding writer and Eric his partner/fiancee.  The live in a spacious rent controlled UWS apartment, for now.  Eric is the unassuming character whose heroic triumphs have yet to be revealed.  Happenstance brings Eric together with the older, Henry Wilcox while both their partners are out of town.  Over dinner & wine, Henry is coaxed into sharing how he and his partner have remained together for nearly 4 decades.  Henry's love story is shrouded during the AIDs epidemic, its horrors and fears.  It seems that fear that was a major factor in sustaining their relationship.  Eric and Toby inhabit an era liberated from AID's fatalities and gay persecution and face seemingly more banal issues that plague all relationships.  Lopez's clever play is staged on a minimal set with engaging actors.  But, the dramatic impacts falters in comparison to "Angels in America" and "The Normal Heart."  The comparisons with these masterful plays and E M Forsters' brilliant writings may be unfair but this is the inheritance "The Inheritance" is built upon.  

"The Owl" by Arthur Sze - MTA Poetry in Motion

Poet Arthur Sze (b 1950 NYC) is a prolific writer of poetry.  His poem collections have earned him numerous honors including an American Book Award and was named Poet Laureate for NM.  Coming across this tranquil and soft poem while riding the subway stirred a serene feeling while amongst my fellow strap holders.  I like this poem for its simple beauty and colorful imagery.  The poster paints a regal owl perched on a branch .  The owl is brazenly & unabashedly scrutinzing you.  This lovely painting has a blazing background awash in golden sunshine & crimson autumn leaves.  It draws consideration of the wondrous colors enveloping us.  Awaiting as we burst forth from underground.

The path was purple in the dusk
I saw an owl, perched
on a branch

And when the owl stirred, a fine dust
fell from its wings I was
Silent then, And felt

the owl quaver.  And at dawn, walking,
the path was green in the
May light

The Owl
Arthur Sze

FOR COLORED Ntozake Shange at Public

The full title of this revival by poet & playwright Ntozake Shange (b Amer. 1948-2016) is "For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/When the Rainbow is Enuf".  The play was first performed off-Broadway in 1975 where it earned and Obie and quickly moved to Broadway.  The play is a choreopoem; a pastiche of music, drama, poetry, storytelling and music.  The exceptional cast of women are only referred to by the varying chromatic colors dress.  The outfits all have a motif of a black woman's face. The immersive staging is performed in the round with some seatings on stage.  The Ladies move through the aisles, encouraging participation and making contact with those wishing to dance & move their hands. The Ladies enter the stage from the aisles and commence dancing in an exuberant free for all that resembles a tribal Macarena accentuated with tap mired in jazz.  The 7 Ladies tell us of their lives of hardships, abuse, longings and desperation with raw honesty in an elegiac style.  The Ladies speak in a profoundly poetic style that emphasizes their sufferings, defiances, sorrows & joys.  Music and dance flows continually uplifting and sustaining the women.  The rainbow of colored women adhere together.  The Ladies recognize their combined strengths and experiences creates something much more powerful than themselves.  The rainbow of colors epitomizes a combined energy; a beacon of beauty & sustenance.  The Lady in Blue (Sasha Allen) singing voice was astonishing and the Lady in Brown (Celia Chevalier) was adept at orchestrating the interwoven storytelling.  The play paints a dire portrait of black-men.  But, it's more complicated and magical than a plight of woes. "For Colored Girls" is a theatrical experience that blends poetry that lingers in the air, music & dance that blend the body and spirit.  The Lady in Red's requiem scorches one's soul.  The Ladies tell us "I want for you to love and I don't want to dance with ghosts.  I am not impervious to pain or sensual pleasures."  Shange's masterful play is audacious and alive.

Friday, October 11, 2019

AMERICAN FABLES - 5 Short, Startling Plays by Eric Fallen

"American Fables" is a compilation of 5 short, one act plays that deliver a powerhouse punch.  Playwright Erick Fallen's plays are construed with unrelenting dramatic suspense and contentious interactions between two characters.  The dialogues are fast, furious, ominous and elegiac.  The first play "Prefect Weather" is a seemingly benign, happenstance interaction between a man & a woman seated on a bench in Central Park. The parallels between Edward Albee's "The Zoo Story" resound like a clarion bell.  The innocuous encounter between 2 strangers turns aggressive & antagonistic with menacing undertones of prejudice and distrust.  The ending is ironic & unexpected.  Themes of distrust, discomfort and deceitfulness are all cleverly imbued in Fallen's plays.  "Paradise" is no picnic for a man being sequestered and interrogated.  The interrogator has an accent & appearance that may be Middle Eastern.  The surprising twists to this play are shocking.  The double-talk from both the one in charge and his detainee is humorous and menacing.  The relentless questioning uncovers alternate facts.  "Friendly Fire" is a fierce display of determination from a mother of a fallen solider demanding the army's release the file on her son's death.  The mother's obdurance & convictions surmount the stall tactics of a military officer.  Having fought to obtain the file she's overcome with confusion & pain by what is revealed.  "The Fixer" is the most ominous and poetic of the 5 plays.  Sean, an attorney is beside himself with worry.  Files were just raided from his office along with everything, including the office lights.  The fixer, someone known to Sean comes into the officer wearing rubber gloves and somehow soothes Sean's fear of reprisal.  He quotes from Romeo & Juliet to Sean (and quotes from Trump) "Facts don't matter.  The past diminishes their impact and significance."  Hark, for never was a one act play of more woe!  The final play amongst these brilliant, concise, well-written and superbly acted short plays was "Basic Plumbing."  As in the previous acts, there's a fueled stand-off between 2 people.  A vexing woman demands a book from the librarian.  He tells her the library is closed and she'll have to return tomorrow.  Their combustible dialogue provokes & excites as in all these plays.  The ending is also surprising, but it's a kinder, gentler outcome.  Eric Fallen's "American Fables" playing at HERE  portend a politically savvy & talented playwright.  Fallen's ear for dialogue and flair for ferocious drama place him in the pantheon of playwrights along with Edward Albee.

Thursday, October 10, 2019


The long one act play "Nothing Gold Can Stay" by Chad Bekim appropriates its title from Frost's famous poem portending the ephemeral fleeting of beauty.  The opening scene is of a young couple Clay (Michael Richardson) and Jess (Talene Monahon) bantering & laughing.  Jess reads aloud from Clay's high school year book as Clay is packing his satchel.  Clay is headed for college.  Clay's kisses & pleas with Jess to come with him are futile.  Jess is steadfast in staying put but insists Clay attend  and their plan is "to stick to the plan."  Jess asks Clay to leave her with his golden t-shirt.  "...Gold, her {nature's} hardest hue to hold." (RF)  Their idyllic plan diverges soon after Clay starts college.  Jess is working a menial, demeaning job in the town with little to offer.  They Skype each other at the start of the semester but their connection wanes.  Clay's mom Susan (Mary Bacon) has kindly welcomed Jess to live in her home as a haven from her mom's abusive boyfriend.  Clay returns at Thanksgiving and finds Jess hanging out with friends getting high.  He's frustrated and their relationship frays.  Sesame Street has just introduced a new character to educate young people on the opioid/drug addiction crisis.  Bekim's play dissects the downward spiral of addiction and the vortex of pain ensued.  The fragmented scenes lend a frenzied pace. Jess' drug problem becomes all consuming.  Susan kicks Jess out of her home.  Clay becomes ensnared in a spider's web of drug dependence with Jess. People have pain.  For some, drugs are a way to numb the pain.  It's difficult to fully fathom the circumstances & choices that lead people to using narcotics for an induced altered state of consciousness ostensibly destroying all aspects of a normal, productive life - for a passing reprieve from reality.  The impact of Jess & Clay's addiction resonates most powerfully from Clay's mom Susan and Jess' brother Jamie (an excellent Peter Mark Kendall).  Susan's love and compassion for her son and Jamie's for his sister don't suffice to ward off the omnipotent lure of addiction.  "Nothing Gold Can Stay" makes it painfully clear that one of the worst aspects of a self-destructive illness is the toll it summons on those most intimate with the addict.

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Jonathan Pryce and Eileen Atkins on Broadway The Height of the Storm

Sir Jonathan Pryce and Dame Eileen Atkins alight upon the Great White Way in a play by French playwright/novelist Florian Zeller, "The Height of the Storm."   Zeller at age 40  is wise in the creative art of play-writing and the ways of the world.  Zeller tells us as the play begins "We need to know when to let go."  Andre' (Jonathan Pryce) has been married forever to Madeleine (Eileen Atkins).  The couple's 2 daughters are Anne (Amanda Drew) & Elise (Lisa O'Hare).  This family dynamic is never in doubt but the clever & devious structure of the play is nebulous as to whether Andre or Madeleine or perhaps both have died.  We know the family is in mourning but who is grieving and for whom we're uncertain.  Andre, a highly acclaimed write has advanced dementia.   What is a mirage and what is real remains clouded in a stifling mystery.  We're left to drift through the detritus of these people's live to ascertain the truth?  The muddled sequence of events are mired in such cunning fashion the audience experiences vertigo & confusion.  We're not alone in asking what is going on?  These multi-layered manifestations come fast & furious, tender & slow.  Life is short - except for when it's oppressively long.  This brilliant & provocative play examines the burdens of becoming elderly.  It looks at the complex issues that arise when adult children of parents become the generation responsible for caring for their infirm and geriatric parents.  Both Pryce & Atkins give tour-de-force performances and the supporting cast is flawless.  "The Height of the Storm" is a tempest of mounting issues that deal with aging & dying with dignity.   The play examines truths from many pensive perspectives.  One needs to know the truth is oftentimes ugly and too oftentimes not confronted in a timely or diplomatic manner.   "The Height of the Storm" lingers like a cyclone long after the curtain falls.

Monday, October 7, 2019


Teens in a small southern town are consumed with their appearances, their social status and their teen trysts amidst Ku Klux Klan conductivity.  Self-Obsession during high school years is all too common but it's shocking to see youngsters go about their quotidian vapid lives often nonchalantly dressed in their heinous Ku Klux Klan garb.  Their banter flows from current crushes to questions raised about the existence of a heaven or hell and God's plans; should there be any.  Identical dialogues are repeated between different pairings which resonates a repetitive cycle of thinking & behaving. The quality teens consider omnipotent is sincerity.  Sincerity seems to offer a hall pass to these KKK teen members for their adorations as well as blind hatred of others.  There's a lot these teens admit to not knowing including the difference between good art or bad.   But, they've been convinced their sincere Christian beliefs condone their putrid racism and bigotry.  An omnipresent fuss ball or celestial presence seems to permeate all their senses.  The fuss ball appears as a vehement black woman toting a satchel far too heavy for anyone else to bear.  She ends the play with a blazing pontification of disgust for mankind.  The anger being directed at supplicating God's name to uphold hatred.  Playwright Mac Wellman's writing captures teens' angst and curiosity.  Wellman also exposes how being raised entrenched in white supremacist society, the freedom to choose, question and change is laden with perpetrated hatred sincerely viewed as privileged and therefore manifests unchallenged.

BAD PENNY at The FLEA by Marc Wellman

Staged outside under strung lights amongst a parklike venue, BAD PENNY places the audience onstage and into a peripatetic performance of happenstance encounters.  Guests park themselves on blankets and beach chairs while several people are enjoying a game of bean bag toss.  A young woman breaks into a soliloquy pondering celestial mysteries and perceptions of reality.  Her poetic and seemingly rhetorical pontification is rudely interrupted and she's told to shut up by a hostile young man holding a tire. He's focused on crossing through the park to find help fixing his tire. Unperturbed by her brazen interloper & maintaining a cheery disposition she continues her open dialogue saying she expected a bad turning point in her day for having picked up a penny with its face side down portending bad luck.  The man holding his flat tire & blown-up ire when is confronted by a man in orange sunglasses who questions his veracity & sanity for abandoning his valuable,  vintage car to cross the park when there are garages closer to where he's left his car.  A mounting cacophony of varied conversation spring forth from a motley mix of people haphazardly situated in the park.  Three time Obie winning playwright has written a symphonic chorus that challenges the conventions of theology and metaphysics.  BAD PENNY is an immersive thought provoking and provocative play.  It's simultaneously beautiful and gruesome and puzzling.  It's worth every penny.      

Thursday, October 3, 2019

FLEABAG Phoebe Waller-Bridge Nat'l Theater Live Filmed Broadcast

The Brits wan away with this year's Emmy Awards going to the phenomenal Phoebe Waller-Bridge  (PWB) for her writing, acting and best comedy series FLEABAG.  The genesis of the impregnable series FLEABAG airing on the BBC network began as a one woman show written/starring (PWB).  The humble beginnings in 2013 at the Edinburg Fringe Festival as a one woman show gained notoriety for a woman contending with her sobriety, liberated & unsure sexuality, sibling rivalry, relationships and maintaining a flailing guinea pig themed cafe with a mixed bag of irreverence, omnipotence, vulnerability, neediness, independence, humor and guilt.  The taping of a live broadcast from the Nat'l Theatre takes the audience to the skeletal beginnings of Fleabag's character in her original one woman format.  Fleabag splays open a pandora box of contrition, confusion, comedy and pain.  PWB breaks down the 4th wall dousing the audience in a pandemonium of coherent chaos that leaves one agog with repulsion & reverence for her behavior, on-going dialogue within herself and with you.  Fleabag's interview to get a bank loan shows defiance in lieu of her debacle.  Fleabag claims she's unable to read her sister but her insights are cunning and comical.  Fleabag speaks of her best friend who passed with poignancy & longing.  Some characters leave us befuddled but all are memorable.  PWB's alter-ego Fleabag simply can't contain her churning thoughts or snide commentary causing us to chortle with chagrin.  Not that we mind in the least.  Nor is it possible to repress this impregnable force.  Fleabag power to shock, makes us titter and still connects us to her humanness of remorse is staggering.  PWB fabricates a gamut of colorful characters on stage orchestrating a cacophony of lively discord.  PWB's BBC series benefits from an exceptional ensemble cast of talented actors including Andrew Scott and Olivia Colman.  PWB is a blazing artist whose gifts transcends a kaleidoscope of emotions entrenched with laughter and longing.  People make mistakes.  Don't make the mistake of missing the spellbinding broadcast of FLEABAG or its inspired Award winning series.  

Friday, September 27, 2019

Linda Ronstadt Doc. THE SOUND of my VOICE - It's so Good It's so Good, It's So Good

How do you chronicle a talent like Linda Ronstadt? How do you pin her musical contributions down?  It seems an insurmountable task to encapsulate the maverick life and accomplishments Linda Ronstadt (LR) has achieved.  "The Sound of my Voice" is a fluid and coherent doc. that blends footage of LR's performances, artists' interviews and her own words into a fascinating feature that hits all the rights notes.  The immensely talented, fiercely independent and generous human being tells us "We sing for the joy of being alive and to maintain a legacy of our dreams and delights."  The well paced biopic is a cogent exploration of an extraordinary talent and remarkable woman.  The film is bookended with LR in 2019.  LR is living with Parkinson's disease that has thwarted her greatest passion and vocal gifts but not her unflappable joy.  LR's family & personal history is told with warmth, love and augmented by astounding black/white photos.  The footage of LR's performances are phenomenal. We're shown a prodigious talent who broke into the good ole boys club of recording artists fearlessly and harmoniously.  Her love life and love for life are abundant.  The efflusive admiration from her talented peers is heartfelt. Of particular note are the interviews from Bonnie Raitt, Emmy Lou Harris and Dolly Parton.   LR was the confluence of major artists breaking onto the musical scene. The takeaway from this entertaining and endearing biopic is the remarkable essence of a great artist with a generous spirit and iron willed determination.  Never satisfied with being pigeon holed or fettered she sought out major recording talent, producers and arrangers to fulfill her visions.   LR conquered broad musical genres including folk, country, pop, Mexican and opera with her beautiful & expansive vocal range.  She's a groundbreaking artist that collaborated & supported ungrudgingly her peers.  The movie is a well deserved besotted feast to LR.  One can't help loving her so whether singing on Sesame Street or in a Broadway operetta show.  Award winning doc. filmmakers Rob Epstein & Jeffrey Friedman somehow captured a majestic artist and beacon of positive energy.  A thoroughly captivating doc. that is finely orchestrated.

Diana Krall Dazzles with her Piano Virtuosity and Sizzling Vocals at Sonoma State

Diana Krall wearing a long suede coat with tall leather boots and blonde tresses come on stage looking every bit a runway model.  She's a sexy siren with an exceptionally enticing voice and prodigious piano skills.  Her radiant good cheer warmed the audiences. "I love playing here.  I feel back at home." She asked we "Get out of the present and into the present," and broke into "Do I Love You" with her sensual jazz libretto.  The program consisted mainly with standard jazz classics like "Nothing at All" and "Love is All I Can Give to You."  Her artistic interpretations transform the ballads into nothing like you've heard before.  Many of the numbers were bookended by her deep rich vocals bridging the smooth jazz and allowing for blowing changes.  Krall's jazz fusion sound was augmented by a quartet of phenomenal musicians.  The bass player gave a mesmerizing solo simultaneously strumming & plucking the strings combining a cadence of both jazz & classical.  Diana asked for a sing-a-long on "Love is All I Can Give to You" but didn't get fed back from the crowd and picked up with it in good humor.   The numbers were never introduced although most were identifiable classics.  They performed one original composition she wrote with 2 of her bandmates.  I would have liked her to name the song and her favorite Irving Berlin song which was a beautiful love ballad.  Krall is a two time Grammy winner with numerous jazz albums topping the jazz billboard charts.  Krall constantly amazed with blowing changes and her sensual sound that marks her unique style recognizable while transcending any one musical genre.  The roaring standing ovation brought them back on stage for 2 memorable encores:  "Cry Me a River" and "Doing Much Better Now."  Live jazz performances don't get much better than this and was an especially welcomed  respite from today's tumultuous times.

Thursday, August 29, 2019

The Peanut Butter Falcon - The Movie Soars into Your Heart and Sticks to the Soul

This majestically shot film is much more than an odd couple, buddy road trip.  It tips its sails to Huckleberry Finn.  Directors/screenwriters Tyler Nilson and Michael Schwartz have framed together an odyssey that grapples between good guys and bad guys.  It unveils kindnesses & understanding that puts mankind in the same boat and keeps humanity afloat.  The unlikely heroes of this endearing saga are Zack (Zack Gottsagen) and Tyler (Shia LeBeouf). Both young men are on the run.  Zack (a Down syndrome actor) has escaped the confines of a senior living center where he's been wrongly relegated by the state.  Despite the loving care from the facility's social worker Eleanore (Dakota Johnson) Zack has unfulfilled dreams of a young man.  He feels imprisoned with only "old people".  His roommate (Bruce Dern) empathizes with Zack and assists his escape tho denies any culpability.   The other unlikely anti-hero, Tyler (a stupendous Shia LeBeouf) supports himself by poaching from other fisherman's traps.  The two connect when Zack stows away on Tyler's small motor-craft when Tyler is fleeing the murderous wrath of those he's stolen from.  John Hawkes plays one of the vicious men in ruthless pursuit for revenge.  Tyler reluctantly takes Zack under his wing as they travel together on a harrowing Mark Twain adventure with many dips and surprising curves.  Eleanore is ordered to find Zack and bring him back.  The symbiotic bond between Tyler and Zack swells from a whirlpool into immense solicitude.  Their growing friendship helps heal Tyler's painful ordeal and provides Zack with "life experiences that make for a good story to tell."  The makeshift family formed between Eleanore, Tyler and Zack is touching & tenable.  Not all is smooth sailing but along way they encounter winsome individuals who offer warmth & hospitality  Comparing this film to Twain's masterpiece "Huckleberry Finn" is lofty but defensible.  Jim & Zack were viewed by society as sub-human (not to say Jim's heinous treatment equates to Zack's).  Needless, both were unjustly pegged and constrained.  Huck and Tyler (both outsiders) view Jim & Zack as equals, friends and   deserving of their rightful freedom.  Huck & Tyler help secure their friend's journeys.  The crepuscular scenes aboard the make-shift raft run parallel to "Huck Finn."  "The Peanut Butter Falcon" soars on its stunning cinematography, superb acting and powerful storytelling.  Its superhero strength stems from its expansive heart.

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

British Dir Gurinder Chadra's Blinded by the Light - Is so Bad it Should've be Seen

"Blinded by the Light" is so wrong for so many reasons.  The ingredients in this botched film are so  better than the combined cliched, interminable MTV video which ends up going nowhere.  Dir. Chadra (b. Kenya 1960) is a British film director whose film have dealt intelligently with issues pertinent to British women of Indian heritage.  The Pakistani women are delegated to abject, submissive subjects.  Sarfraz Manzoor (b Pakistan 1971) is a British journalist & doc. filmmaker whose semi-autobiographical book "Greetings from Bury Park" the film is based. The premise here is of a young Pakistani boy, Javed (Viveik Kalra) who immigrates to the UK with his family & the father's dreams for a better life doesn't start a fire but offers a spark for an uplifting coming of age story & family saga.  The Javed's father (Kalvinder Ghiri) plays the overbearing patriarch/martyr who forbids Javed & his sister from parties & social norms enjoyed by their peers. The father son uprising is not surprising nor their teary eyed conciliatory reckoning endearing.  The film is one overly long platitude that is cloying and pathetic.  Javed's dreams of becoming a writer which are spurned on by Springstein's music, a prof. who nurtures his potential and an aberrant, elderly neighbor.  The setting is in a banal urban town outside London; it ain't got nothing to offer.  Javed believes his ticket out from the town which ain't going nowhere is through his writing & education.  The film is ambitious in its political messaging.   The epoch of unrest is set in the UK '1986/7 under Thatcher with rising unemployment & racist xenophobia.  The protests & prejudices lack impact.  The father's ongoing quip to associate with the Jews because they're successful is a joke here somewhere.  Springstein's lyrics are plastered on screen ain't got nothing to say that isn't facetious rather than impactful.  Javed's  song & dance number with his girlfriend and on-lookers is gag inducing.  I liked the performance by Kalra although his omnipresence grew tiresome.  His friend Roops (Aaron Phagura) added welcomed relief.  Unfortunately, Javed's dad is a boorish stereotype and becomes a farcical figurehead.  Glory days - let this wearisome film pass you by.

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

The Last Black Man in San Francisco - Wistful Longing and Lasting Friendships

Joe Talbot's stunning debut film "The Last Black Man in San Francisco" earned him the Best Dir. Prize at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival.  Talbot was born & raised in the city by the bay for which this beautiful shot and poignantly acted film pays homage.  This tender and heart rendering film emphasizes the ever changing city.  It casts its light on the rancid water in the bays, homelessness, deterioration of its structures, impoverished populations and gang violence.  This languorous film is seen mostly through the eyes of  Jimmie Fails, a skateboarding squatter who pines for the Victorian home he maintains was built by his grandfather just after WWII.  There's a scattering of colorful characters that add luster to this luminescent landscape.  We find a street preacher, an aspiring artist/playwright and his blind father played by Danny Glover.  There's a colorful & loud neighborhood gang of tough talking thugs with little else to do.  The contained plot of Jimmie's commitment to care for and obtain this beloved home in SF becomes a courageous odyssey through a visually stunning city filled with unforgettable faces.  The acting by Fails and Jonathan Majors as Mont is phenomenal.  Their enduring friendship shores up the others dreams and lifts the film into a profound realm.  There are no individual villains in this film.  Patience, dignity & kindness are oftentimes the traits shown.  The malefactor is the passage of time & apathy rendering too often lives meaningless.  The blind eye of society's deterioration is highlighted into kaleidoscope focus.  Talbot wrote, directed and produced "The Last Black Man in San Francisco".  This will not be the last we see from a budding filmmaker of immense talents.

Friday, August 16, 2019

THE FAREWELL Well Written & Dir. by Chinese/Amer. Filmmaker Lulu Wang

THE FAREWELL "Based on a True Lie" is an affecting film about a Chinese family whose beloved matriarch, Nai Nai (a marvelous Zhao Shuzen) has been diagnosed with terminal lung cancer & given a life expectancy of several few weeks.  Nai Nai is the only one out of the loop amongst her family to be informed she's not long for this world.  Her 2 sons & sister believe it's a kind lie and in her best interests.  One son  emigrated to Japan the other America to raise their families.  This beautifully shot and artfully framed movie serves as a paradigm for comparing western/eastern philosophies as well as generational divide perspectives.  Billi (Awkwafina) born in China moves with her Chinese parents to NYC at a young age.  Billi is bi-lingual with a wry sense of  humor, inner strength and tenderness.  She's struggling to make it one her own but it's arduous in the city that never sleeps.  She's close with her mom & pop.  She's home often to do her laundry and bicker with her folks.  Her parents have been known to bicker & battle with boozing.  Still, there's a lot of love to go round in this family dramedy  to keep the film on keel between melancholy & merriment.  The film muses on familial bonds, diasporas/assimilations and cultural differences between east & west.  Many scenes are shot around the dinner table the central hearth & heart of the family unit. The wedding banquet is a bonus of delectable nuggets crammed with whimsy & charm.  Dir/screenwriter/producer, Lulu Wang (b China) is an Amer. filmmaker.  Wang has an astute & artistic eye that captures the beauty in the mundane and momentous moments in life.  What remains constant is change and steadfast connection with the ties that bind.  Expecting an epiphanous ending?  Ha! Ha!  Think again.  No lie, this movie is generous in spirit, not everything is about money.  Life's burdens are lifted when carried by family.

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

SF MoMA Chamberlains & Bove - Crushed Crumpled and Tired Sculptures

Amer. born artist John Chamberlain (1927-2011) and Swiss born artist Carol Bove (b. 1971) are both sculptors who share many commonalities.  Both sculptors work with metals and found objects and are highly regarded artists whose arts have been shown in top art museums and installed in outdoor public spaces.  The SF MoMA has a gallery that has combined the works of both artists which draw comparisons and yawns.  Chamberlain is best known for his large, colorful sculptures that incorporate scrap metal, galvanized steel; most stemming from the detritus of crashed or crushed autos.  Chamberlain reassembles the metal scraps which are often painted and colorful into abstract expressionist works that resemble what they are - calamitous debris from discarded cars that resemble heaps of scrap metal; just juxtaposed I suppose to engage the viewer to see destruction as construction - tragedy as ingenuity.  Chamberlain's works over his prolific career have at times drawn me into his formidable shapes that soften what could be seen as harsh metals crushed by happenstance together.  Looking in on the exhibit at SF MoMA, I found the large scale works tired, looking like something pulled from a garbage heap of scrap metal.  Bove, brings a fresher, more whimsical approach with her vivid but limited color palette and fewer combined forms creating a more solid, intentional shape. Still, the use of serendipitously found objects (hmm) and crushed and folded forms also feels outmoded and banal.   Perhaps, the sculptures are best suited to outdoor venues as they seemed musty inside MoMA's gallery.

Monday, August 12, 2019

HBO Doc the Rock Dwayne Johnson "Rock and a Hard Place" Boot Camp Offers Hope

"Rock and a Hard Place" is a doc. film by multiple Acad. Award nominated directors Matthew O'Neill and Jon Albert.  Originally filmed in '17, it's available on HBO.  The film follows 38 young convicts of serious crimes given long time sentences who are given a 2nd chance to turn their lives around. They're enabled to revoke their sentences upon completion of a 16 wk. Boot Camp Corrections and Rehab Program in Dade County, FL.  Dwayne Johnson, a.k.a. "the Rock" is the producer.  He appears in the beginning & end of this film.  Johnson had a peripatetic upbringing & was no stranger to getting in trouble with the law.  By the time he was 17 Johnson had been arrested for fighting, theft and check fraud.  Johnson credits finding sports as one of his outlets and motivations for changing his life.  "Rock and a Hard Place" is both a painful movie to watch not just for the arduous & oftentimes harsh treatment of these young men, but for the heart breaking knowledge of what led these teens to commit violent felonies destroying their lives as well.  The 38 youths assigned to Dade County Boot Camp have received a major reprieve by the judges who handled their cases.  We don't know what went into the decision making process.  We do know it's now up to the individuals to take this opportunity & training to turn their lives around by adhering to the rigors, demands & guidance given.  We get to know some very intimately.  The cameras are somehow invisible in this locked down facility which demands extreme obedience & discipline.  Not everyone uses this tough but liberating 2nd chance.  The police/military staff & social workers hew are not the enemy, far from it.  The main drill sergeant is a heroic human being whose objective is to see all in this program succeed.  This 2nd chance may be the first chance to some for hope for their future and a vision for what that entails.  As the officer says "No one says in 10 years I want to be in prison, homeless or poor."  But  without a viable support system or productive alternatives, that is where many end up.  Of the 38 that entered the book camp, 5 did not graduate.  Two who showed promise made the worst decision possible.   Their stunned bunkmates calculate what this will mean in terms of incarceration.  As for recidivism, Dade County Boot Camp has a 10% rate v. 70% on the national level.  This is a must see doc. film that gets up close & personal and in your face.  Programs like this that prove there is a way for young people to know their lives matter and what they do to with their lives matter.  At graduation Johnson says  "Now go out there & do good in the world."

Bob James, David Sanborn, Marcus Miller DOUBLE VISION Redeux - COOL JAZZ in Sonoma

No need to adjust your vision or your hearing, Thursday night at Weil Hall in Santa Rosa, legendary jazz artists Bob James, David Sanborn and Marcus Miller reunited on stage for the first time since recording their Grammy winning album "Double Vision."  James on keyboard, Sanborn on sax & Miller on bass guitar dazzled the packed auditorium & filled the outdoor venue with crowds picnicking & celebrating this fortuitous classical jazz performance.  Miller told a spellbound audience, the 3 had collaborated on this album back in 1986 "back when I was 6".   Joking aside, this landmark recording with the collaboration of these immensely talented artists stands the test of time.  There was plenty of good natured ribbing on stage between the musicians oftentimes at their own expense.  This added an aura of good natured camaraderie, cool jazz listening and dancing.  This concert invited dancing in the aisles, in your seats and on the lawn.  James recalls recalled working on this jazz fusion album in '86 at a time when new age music was becoming more mainstreamed "...and taking away their audience."  Multi-award winning composer, arranger & keyboard artist, James' musical genre includes jazz, smooth jazz & fusion jazz.  The epoch for new age may have had its day but "Double Vision" is the kind that aligns with legendary musical artists that James, Sanborn & Miller have also collaborated with including Sarah Vaughn,  Freddy Hubbard, Grover Washington Stanley Turrentine, Maynard Ferguson & Quincy Jones.  It was Quincy Jones who discovered James in a music competition while he was a college student at MI and quickly signed him.  Sanborn was described by critic Scott Yanow as "the most influential jazz saxophonist on pop, R&B & cross-over of the past 20 years." ('00). Sanborn has earned 6 Grammys, 8 gold albums & 1 Platinum album and  given a hall -pass for the intermittent squeaks that emanated from his sax.  After all, the superstar is pushing 80.  He was very disarming.  He said "I'm not a prolific composer like Bob or Marcus and I haven't been too lucky in love.  But, the few times I've had a girlfriend they'd ask me to write a song for them.  So, there's Bernice, and there's Maude and there went those relationships.  The next time my girlfriend asked me to write a song for her I titled it 'It's You' so you'll know."  He then delighted us with performing "It's You."  Billy Kilson on drums killed it.   Larry Braggs on guest vocals was an added bonus to this jazz bonanza.  Braggs sang "Since I fell for You" written by Miller originally for Al Jarreau.  Braggs, a founding Tower of Power member gave us a fabulous rendition.  "Double Vision is considered by many as one of the most successful & influential albums in the jazz genre.  "Hot funk cool punk, even if it's old junk"* this was one swinging, winning evenings of cool jazz and a lot of fun.
*Billy Joel