August 24, 2016

movie rev 8-24-16It takes a lot of self confidence to remake the Hollywood epic that won the most Academy Awards in history. But that’s just what we have in Ben Hur, a fairly faithful version of the 1959 classic that starred Charlton Heston.

The films are based on Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ, a novel published in 1880, that quickly surpassed Uncle Tom’s Cabin as the best-selling American novel at the time. The book’s author, Lew Wallace, was a Civil War general who had led Union soldiers at the battle of Shiloh.

His inspirational tale of redemption’s timely themes of family, freedom, and patriotism helped unify a country torn asunder by years of war and the Reconstruction. Its compassionate tone particularly appealed to Southerners because of its sympathetic treatment of slave owners that encouraged resolution by reconciliation instead of revenge.

Directed by Timur Bekmambetov (Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter), Ben Hur stars Jack Huston as the title character, although he is overshadowed by the film’s narrator, Morgan Freeman, who portrays Ilderiim, a wealthy Nubian sheik.

The story is set in Jerusalem in the time of Christ (Rodrigo Santoro). As the the film opens, we find Prince Judah Ben Hur living with his mother (Ayelet Zurer), sister Tirzah (Sofia Black D’Elia), and adopted brother Messala Severus (Toby Kebbell), an orphan taken in as a child by the family. Judah also has a love interest, Esther (Nazanin Boniadi), although her lowly slave status makes their marriage unlikely.

The plot thickens when the fully grown Messala, by then a Roman soldier, unfairly accuses the Ben Hur family of an act of treason that was perpetrated by Gestas (Moises Arias), one of the thieves crucified on Calvary alongside Jesus. As a result, the family is separated and sold into slavery, and Judah ends up in chains, rowing in the galley of a warship.

He eventually gains his freedom, and starts searching for his mother and his sister Esther. Concurrently, he finds religion and is afforded an opportunity to even the score with Massala in a chariot race at the Circus Maximus. Fortunately, Ben Hur has wily Ilderim in his corner, who is the best horse whisperer
/charioteer trainer.

In spite of the distracting mob scenes and religious sermonizing, Ben Hur 2016 is nevertheless an entertaining variation on the original that’s well worth seeing.

Excellent (****). Rated PG-13 for violence and disturbing images. Running time: 124 minutes. Distributor: Paramount Pictures.

x1971-202

ADAMS TO WESTON EXHIBIT: Ansel Adams, American, 1902–1984, “Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico,” 1941, printed 1943. Gelatin silver print. Gift of David H. McAlpin, Class of 1920. © The Ansel Adams Publishing Rights Trust.

When David McAlpin, Princeton Class of 1920, donated more than 500 fine-art photographs to the Princeton University Art Museum (PUAM) in 1971 — in an age when photography was still considered a reproductive medium — it became one of the earliest museums to commit to photography as an art form. In addition to these gifts of art, McAlpin endowed an acquisitions fund at the museum as well as a professorship in the history of photography at Princeton — the first in the nation.  more

Art Rev_PEAC

BLACKWELLS MILLS: This painting by Barbara Della Peruta pictures a cow relaxing in front of an old barn at the Delaware and Raritan Canal’s Blackwells Mills.

New Jersey artist Barbara Della Peruta is showing 35 original artworks at the Pennington Ewing Athletic Club (PEAC), 1440 Lower Ferry Road, until the end of August. more

“Negro American style” is defined by novelist Ralph Ellison as “the sudden turns, shocks, and swift changes of pace (all jazz-shaped) that serve to remind us that the world is ever unexplored and that while a complete mastery of life is mere illusion, the real secret of the game is to make life swing.”

For anyone looking to make life swing in this hot, heavy summer I recommend the elixir of Christian and Gray. While the joy and energy may be coming from long ago and far away, the message delivered by the electric guitar of Charlie Christian and the tenor sax of Wardell Gray is that the music of life plays on in spite of deranged demagogues, poverty and misery, mass shootings, and terrorist attacks. more

Music_LaShir

Dr. Elyane Robinson Grossman, music director at Sharim v’Sharot, is now holding auditions for all voice parts for the upcoming 2016-17 season. Weekly rehearsals are on Tuesday evenings from September through June in Ewing. The choir will perform at the Kimmel Center in Philadelphia this November. The theme for the year-end concert in May 2017 is “Songs to Inspire Peace: Shalom, Saalam.” Sharim v’Sharot performs Jewish music of many era and styles at synagogues, concert halls, museums, and community centers throughout the year. Learn more at www.sharimvsharot.org and call (609) 222-4647 to schedule an audition. 

Daniel_Rowland_DSC_3284-®-Balazs-Borocz-_-Pilvax-Studio

Violinist Daniel Rowland

On Thursday, September 15 at 8 p.m., the Princeton Symphony Orchestra (PSO) presents The Seasons, Antonio Vivaldi’s popular The Four Seasons interwoven with Astor Piazzolla’s The Four Seasons of Buenos Aires, arranged by Leonid Desyatnikov. The concert at Richardson Auditorium features Daniel Rowland as violinist and conductor, leading the PSO through Vivaldi’s vividly depicted scenery and Piazzolla’s soulful homage infused with passionate melodies and tango rhythms. more

From the Beacon Theatre in Manhattan to the Top of the Standard in Los Angeles to Lola’s Trailer Park in Fort Worth, Tex., musicians are banding together for The Concert Across America to End Gun Violence on Sunday, September 25th. At Trinity United Methodist Church in Ewing there will be a full day of music, food, speakers, art, and peace, as part of this national effort.  more

so-pots-down

So Percussion will offer the first of two free performances in Princeton as part of their Edward T. Cone Residency at Princeton University. On Friday, September 16, 2016 at 7:30 p.m. in Richardson Auditorium at Alexander Hall, the community has the opportunity to engage in a striking range of music — from John Cage’s Living Room Music transforming household items into instruments, to the world premiere of Emeritus Professor Paul Lansky’s Springs.  more

August 17, 2016

movie revTanner (Ben Foster) and Toby Howard (Chris Pine) are brothers who are as different as night and day. The former is impulsive, reckless, and sociopathic, a combination that explains why he’s spent a long stretch in prison for a violent crime. In contrast, his younger brother is stable, sensitive, and chivalrous.

While Tanner was behind bars, Toby, who is divorced, divides his time between raising his two sons (John Paul Howard and Christopher W. Garcia) and caring for his terminally-ill mother. It’s no surprise that before she died, she cut Tanner out of her will and left a sizable estate to Toby.

Unfortunately, a shady loan officer (Richard Christie) had duped her into taking a reverse mortgage on her cattle ranch. As a result, the bank is holding a lien on her land which Toby has just learned is sitting atop a fortune in untapped oil reserves. However, unless the note is paid off by Friday, Texas Midlands bank will follow through on its threat to foreclose, “Come hell or high water.”

Of course, Toby wants keep the property and sign it over to his boys. Trouble is, he can’t raise the cash. As a result, he is considering breaking the law for the first time in his life.

Enlisting the assistance of his brother, who was just paroled, he hatches a plan to rob Texas Midlands’ branches until they’ve got enough cash to pay off the mortgage. The two proceed to embark on a spree aimed solely at branches of the bank that had taken advantage of their vulnerable mother.

However, the heists soon come to the attention of the Texas Rangers and the case is assigned to Marcus Hamilton (Jeff Bridges), a wily veteran who is only weeks away from retirement. Soon Hamilton and his Comanche partner (Gil Birmingham) are on the pair’s trail.

Thus unfolds Hell or High Water, a captivating, cat-and-mouse crime thriller directed by Brit David Mackenzie (Starred Up). Between Taylor Sheridan’s (Sicario) engaging script and the powerful performances by Jeff Bridges and company, this sleeper would be generating Oscar buzz if it hadn’t been released in August.

Excellent (****). Rated R for graphic violence, pervasive profanity, and brief sexuality. Running time: 102 minutes. Studio: Film 44/Sidney Kimmel Entertainment/Lionsgate/OddLot Entertainment. Distributor: CBS Films.

Screen Shot 2016-08-17 at 8.12.05 AM

“HERAT AFTER TEN YEARS OF BOMBING,” Afghanistan, 1992. Archival pigment print. Courtesy of Steve McCurry.

When I wandered out of Friday’s heavy heat into the Michener Art Museum in Doylestown, there she was, Afghan Girl, the banner image of “Unguarded, Untold, Iconic Afghanistan: Through the Lens of Steve McCurry.” Taken in 1984 at a tent school in the Nasir Bagh refugee camp in Pakistan, the National Geographic cover photo won world renown as a symbol of the plight of refugees everywhere. more

Theater Piaf 8-17-16

Anne Carrere returns to McCarter Theatre on October 17 at 7:30 p.m. to pay homage to French singer Edith Piaf. Join “the Sparrow” on a journey through the streets of Montmartre during the halcyon Paris cabaret days of the 1940s and 50s. For tickets, visit www.mccarter.org or call (609) 258-2787.

Art Rev_1

“RAMESSES’ EAGLE”: Pictured above is one of the tapestries by Armando Sosa on exhibit at University Medical Center of Princeton’s Art for Healing Gallery through October 31.

An exhibit of tapestries by Armando Sosa — whose hand-woven artwork employs imagery from civilizations spanning several centuries and the entire globe — is now on display at the University Medical Center of Princeton (UMCP). more

Music Nashville 8-17-16

Clare Bowen (left) and Charles Esten currently star as Scarlett O’Connor and Deacon Clayborne on ABC’s musical drama television series Nashville. The two will perform songs from the TV show and their record-topping album at the State Theatre of NJ in New Brunswick on Saturday, September 10 at 8 p.m. In addition to the TV show, Bowen and Esten regularly perform at the Grand Ole Opry House. For more information, visit www.statetheatrenj.org or call (732) 246-7469. 

August 10, 2016

movie revFrank (Seth Rogen) is frustrated sitting on a shelf in a Shopwells supermarket where he’s cooped up in a shrink-wrapped package with seven other sausages. They pass their time speculating about what awaits them in “The Great Beyond,” meaning the vast unknown that is past the cash register and on the other side of the door.

They’re all very eager to be bought because they believe in the rumor that the store’s customers transport their groceries to a heavenly utopia where they enjoy lives of never ending bliss. Also, Frank has another reason he wants to leave, because he has a crush on Brenda (Kristen Wiig), the curviest of the Glamour Buns girls.

However, when they’re all about to be purchased during the blowout 4th of July sale, Frank learns from a returned jar of honey mustard (Danny McBride) that the rumor is all wrong. In truth, the food gets taken home and is eaten by the humans.

So, Frank sounds the alarm and warns that “The Gods are evil and they will kill us!” Unfortunately, the news falls on deaf ears, since the majority of his friends are simply too brainwashed to believe him.

However, he and a few intrepid souls make a break for it. They include Brenda, Sammy Bagel, Jr. (Edward Norton), Teresa the Taco (Salma Hayek), Lavash the Pita bread (David Krumholtz), Grits (Craig Robinson), Twinkies (Scott Underwood), and fellow sausages Barry (Michael Cera), Carl (Jonah Hill), and Troy (Anders Holm). What ensues is a rollicking exploration of religion, sex, and political issues from the perspective of these anthropomorphized grocery items.

For example, Middle East concerns are reflected in the bitter discussion about aisle space between the bagel and the pita bread — a thinly-veiled reference to Jewish and Palestinian tensions. Race in America is touched upon when Grits complains about “Crackers” in a tirade during which he bellows “They call me Mr. Grits!”

Co-directed by Greg Tiernan and Conrad Vernon, Sausage Party is an adult oriented cartoon. It’s a coarse and crude movie that deserves its R-rating. Reminiscent of of other equally outrageous animated adventures — Team America (2004) and South Park (1997) — this comedy will resonate with fans of politically-incorrect shock-fare.

Very Good (***). Rated R for ethnic and off color humor, graphic sexuality, drug abuse, and pervasive profanity. Running time: 89 minutes. Distributor: Sony Pictures.

2016 PST Fool For Love

BATTLEGROUND OF PASSION: Eddie (Matthew Seely) and May (Olivia Nice) can’t live without each other, but they know they can never live together in Sam Shepard’s conflict-fraught drama, “Fool for Love,” Princeton Summer Theater’s final show of the season at the Hamilton Murray Theater and plays for one more weekend. (Photo by Noel Valero)

Eddie: “It’s no fantasy.”

May: “It’s all a fantasy.”

 more

book rev

Do your thing and I shall know you.

—Emerson, “Self-Reliance”

When Gertrude Stein arrived in New York in October of 1934 after 30 years abroad, “her eminence on the American scene,” according to her biographer John Malcolm Brinnin, “was shared only by gangsters, baseball players, and movie stars.”  more

Art Rev_1

EPIC TALES FROM INDIA: In this artwork from the Princeton University Art Museum’s new exhibit, the demon Dhumraksha leads his army to attack Hanuman, ca. 1705, Kulu, India. (San Diego Museum of Art, Edwin Binney 3rd Collection. Princeton University Art Museum.)

One of the most significant collections of South Asian painting outside of India will be on view in an exhibition of narrative art at the Princeton University Art Museum (PUAM). Encompassing more than 90 paintings representing the major narratives, regions and styles of South Asian art from the 16th through the 19th century, Epic Tales from India: Paintings from The San Diego Museum of Art will be on view from November 19, 2016 through February 5, 2017.  more

Art Rev_2

INSECT FRIENDS: Princeton Academy first grade boys studied insects in their class, and then created their own inventive critters out of snippets of paper. Pictured here is a colorful Stag Beetle by Jack Dowling.

D&R Greenway Land Trust’s Olivia Rainbow Gallery presents Our Insect Friends, a paper-collage artwork by Princeton Academy of the Sacred Heart first-graders, through September 8.  more

August 3, 2016

movie rev 8-3-16A Jason Bourne movie just isn’t the same without Jason Bourne, as the producers found out the hard way in 2012 when they made The Bourne Legacy without the title character. Fortunately, Matt Damon has returned to reprise the role of the renegade CIA agent that he originated in the series’ first three films.

The movie reunites Damon with Paul Greengrass, director of The Bourne Supremacy (2004) and The Bourne Ultimatum (2007), that were the series’ most successful episodes at the box office. While this film might not measure up to those earlier pictures in action, it nevertheless features riveting cloak and dagger intrigue.

The point of departure is Athens — ten years after the last time we last saw Jason. He’s now fully recovered from the amnesia that had plagued him. However, he has remained under the radar because he is still considered an outlaw by CIA Director Robert Dewey (Tommy Lee Jones).

We soon learn that Jason’s ally inside the Agency, Nicky Parsons (Julia Stiles), has gone rogue. She’s off the grid in Iceland, working in concert with a whistleblower (Vinzenz Kiefer) who is attempting to hack into the CIA’s computer files.

Nicky eventually joins Jason in Greece where she provides him with some incriminating evidence about the Agency as well as answers about his own mysterious past. However, their rendezvous has been tracked by CIA analyst Heather Lee (Alicia Vikander) who has been surreptitiously monitoring Nicky’s movements.

Next, Jason finds himself on the run from an assassin (Victor Cassel), who was dispatched by Director Dewey. Then Lee joins the chase, too, hoping to talk Jason into voluntarily coming in from the cold. The ensuing cat-and-mouse caper becomes a globe-trotting affair that unfolds all across Europe and ends in a captivating showdown on “The Strip” in Las Vegas.

The film’s only distracting flaw is the sotto voce performance delivered by Oscar-winner Alicia Vikander (The Danish Girl) who seems to swallow every word. Otherwise, the principal cast acquits itself admirably: from Tommy Lee Jones in the familiar role of an orders-barking boss, to Vincent Cassel as a despicable villain, and Matt Damon as the two-fisted protagonist.

Very Good (***). Rated PG-13 for brief profanity, violence, and intense action. Running time: 123 minutes. Distributor: Universal Pictures.

book rev

Just as hate knows love’s the cure

—Stevie Wonder

For psychiatrists treating patients fearful that Donald Trump might win, the most potent remedy for Trump Anxiety Disorder is absolutely natural, over the counter, no synthetics, no suspect chemicals, just stature and beauty, strength and charm, sweetness and light in the form of Michelle Obama. When she walked onstage in that bold blue dress smiling and waving, it was possible to believe that whichever side this woman was on had nothing to fear from T.A.D. more

Art_1

“AUTUMN GLORY AT PHILLIPS’ MILL”: The Phillips’ Mill Art Exhibition, a juried art show in the Delaware Valley since 1929, has announced that Princeton artist Charles McVicker has been chosen as this year’s featured artist for the show. This painting by fellow artist John C. Mertz is among the impressive artworks in the exhibition that runs from September 24 to October 29 in New Hope, Pa. more

Art_2

“YOUNG HARE”: This photograph of a Krishna Devotee taken by Joseph DeFay will be on display at the Artists’ Gallery in Lambertville beginning September 8.

Artists’ Gallery presents “Enchantment,” an exhibition featuring the oil paintings of Maxine Shore and the photographs of Joseph DeFay. The show runs from Thursday, September 8 through Sunday, October 2, 2016. A reception with the artists will be held at the gallery at 8 Bridge Street in Lambertville from 5 to 8 p.m. on Saturday, September 17, 2016. more

The Princeton University Summer Concerts series has thrived on presenting instrumental chamber ensembles and, to close this summer’s season, added to its offerings by bringing a refined and polished vocal ensemble to Princeton. The German vocal quintet Calmus performed a program based on the works of William Shakespeare last Wednesday night at Richardson Auditorium to one of the best houses the series has seen this summer.  more

captions   mccarter    8-3

The Board of Trustees of McCarter Theatre Center recently welcomed Leslie Vought Kuenne as its new president. Ms. Kuenne, who lives in Princeton, has been a McCarter trustee since the 2012-13 season. She has served on the boards of the Arts Council of Princeton and Stony Brook Garden Club. Brian McDonald, right, was board president since 2012 and will remain as the immediate past president.

Theater Fool 8-3-16

Princeton Summer Theater closes its 47th season with Sam Shepard’s “Fool for Love,” which opens on Thursday, August 4 and runs through Sunday, August 14. Winner of multiple Obie Awards, the play unfolds in a motel room in the Mojave Desert where two lovers (pictured: Olivia Nice and Matthew Seely) unravel their tangled relationship. A dark exploration into love and family, “Fool for Love” shows us how our pasts surely come back to haunt us. Performances are at the Hamilton Murray Theater located on Princeton University’s campus. To order tickets, call the PST Box Office at (732) 997-0205. (Photo by: Ogemdi Ude)