August 16, 2017

Karla (Halle Berry) is a stressed single-mom who is working as a waitress in a diner. Of course she’d rather be spending her time with her young son, Frankie (Sage Correa). Fortunately, he’s patiently waiting right there in the restaurant for her overtime shift to end.

After she finally gets off work, the two drive to an amusement park for what they expect will be a fun-filled afternoon. We also learn that Karla’s in the midst of bitter custody battle for Frankie with her vindictive ex-husband (Jason George).

That explains why she moves a few feet away from Frankie for a little privacy when she gets a call from her divorce attorney.

Unfortunately, her attention from her son is distracted enough to afford a lurking kidnapper (Chris McGinn) an opportunity to pounce. Next thing you know, Frankie is being dragged to a waiting getaway car.

Karla frantically rushes after them into the parking lot, and in her distress, she drops her cell phone before she spots a suspicious Mustang GT with tinted windows and no license plates rushing out of the parking lot. Karla frantically decides to chase the car.

What ensues is an extended chase scene that lasts the rest of the movie. So unfolds Kidnap, a low-budget movie directed by Luis Prieto (Pusher). Although the plot has comical holes big enough for Karla to drive her car through, the picture nevertheless is compelling thanks to a combination of heart-pounding action scenes and the protagonists’ convincing portrayal of their desperation to be reunited.

Very Good (***). Rated R for violence, profanity, and scenes of peril. Running time: 95 minutes. Production Studio: Well Go USA Entertainment / Gold Star / 606 Films / Lotus Entertainment. Distributor: Aviron Pictures.

Princeton Summer Theater is presenting Appropriate at the Hamilton Murray Theater. Written by Princeton University alumnus Branden Jacobs-Jenkins (who graduated in 2006), this contemporary drama is an apt conclusion to a season that has examined “whether it is better to look to the past for inspiration or to move in the direction of future progress,” as Princeton Summer Theater’s website states.

In Pippin, the title character comes of age and anticipates his future. The affluent heroine of Spider’s Web is a fantasist whose comfortable, orderly world permits her to live for the present. By contrast, The Crucible presents conflict as ever-present, using a brutal historical event as an allegory for more recent injustice.

Set in the present day, Appropriate develops themes explored by all three of these shows, epitomizing the exploration of tension between generations and eras. Princeton Summer Theater has given audiences a season that can be interpreted as a variation on A Christmas Carol in its interplay between past, present, and future.  more

I watched Carnie as she sang. I was looking at my daughter and thinking about when she was little; about her sister when she was little; about how I was young then, too; about the cover of Sunflower; about feeling my mom’s hands as she lowered me into the crib. People are beautiful. Life can be, too. —Brian Wilson

A week after the 72nd anniversary of Hiroshima, with people talking about fall-out shelters again thanks to the blustering president and his North Korean counterpart, i’ve been thinking about what makes life worth living, things like family, pets, comfort food, art and literature, baseball and rock and roll.  more

August 9, 2017

When Hitler ordered an all-out assault on the Western Front in the spring of 1940, the supposedly impregnable Maginot Line proved to be no match for the German blitzkrieg. The Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, and France all fell to the Nazis in a matter of weeks.

By May 26th, about 400,000 British, French, Polish, Belgian, and Dutch troops had been forced to retreat to Dunkirk, a port located along the northern coast of France. The soldiers were stranded on the beach because there weren’t enough military naval vessels to evacuate all of the forces.

The logistical nightmare left most of the battle-weary men in need of a miracle because they were sitting ducks for the Nazi artillery fire and Luftwaffe bombs. At 7 p.m. that evening, Winston Churchill, the British prime minister, issued an urgent appeal to private boat owners to help in the rescue effort.

By dawn, over 800 hundred vessels had been pressed into service. The flotilla included everything from speed boats and yachts, tugboats and fishing trawlers, and ferries and ocean liners.

For the next nine days, they sailed back and forth across the U-Boat infested waters of the English Channel. About a third of the ships were sunk by the enemy, but the altruistic patriots managed to save 338,226 troops.

Afterwards, Winston Churchill put a positive spin on the devastating military defeat. that had claimed the lives of 68,000 British soldiers and left the country vulnerable to an imminent invasion. On June 4th, he took to the floor of the House of Commons and delivered his famous speech that assured the country that there was no doubt that Great Britain would ultimately prevail.

“Whatever the cost may be,” he said in a stirring summation, “We shall fight on the beaches …. We shall fight on the landing grounds …. We shall fight in the fields and in the streets …. We shall fight in the hills ….” concluding, “We shall never surrender!”

All of the above has been portrayed in Dunkirk, a visually captivating World War II epic directed by Christopher Nolan. Mr. Nolan, who is the best British director besides Alfred Hitchcock who has not yet won an Oscar, has made many memorable movies that include Memento, Inception, Interstellar, and the Batman trilogy, among others.

In Dunkirk, he’s found a novel way to recreate the historic evacuation. Instead of having the documentary drama describe a single protagonist or military unit, he has deftly interwoven several discrete storylines that highlight the different perspectives of a number of unsung heroes. Whether on land, by sea, or in the air, many among those patriotic saviors survived, but some did make the ultimate sacrifice in the valiant stand against the evil that was spreading across Europe. Shot with 70mm film, Dunkirk is an instant classic worth seeing on an IMAX screen.

Excellent (****). Rated PG-13 for intense battle scenes and some profanity. Running time: 106 minutes. In English, French, and German with subtitles.

Production Studio: Syncopy. Distributor: Warner Brothers Pictures.

SEW EASY: Alexa Cavalli of Montgomery works on an apron at the Pop In Space at 10 Hulfish Street. Ms. Cavalli is no newcomer to sewing, having even made a headband for her cat, but she was glad to exercise her skills in textiles on Monday.

Maria Evans, artistic director for the Arts Council of Princeton, had long had plans to host a makerspace — a collaborative workshop for all manner of tinkering, building, and fixing, the likes of which have been appearing in ever-increasing numbers across the country for roughly the past decade. Earlier this year, when the Arts Council was offered a large space in the Princeton Shopping Center, her hopes were on the cusp of realization; the large space, less than two miles from downtown Princeton, would be an ideal satellite location. more

“SEASHELLS BY THE SEASHORE”: Scenes such as this inspired the interpretations by Johnson Park School fourth-grade students now displayed on the Olivia Rainbow Gallery walls, along with actual shells brought into the classroom. “Seashells by the Seashore” is on view through September 6.

D&R Greenway Land Trust’s Olivia Rainbow Gallery presents a virtual seaside stroll in “Seashells by the Seashore” by Johnson Park School fourth-grade students, on view through September 6. For this exhibit, the young artists re-created the spirit of beachcombing along the Jersey Shore, while learning the science of shells.  more

PLEIN AIR PAINTING WORKSHOP: Artist Oscar Peterson, right, offers hands-on instruction at a recent Hunterdon Art Museum plein air painting workshop. The Museum will be hosting another workshop on August 20 at 10 a.m. at the Hunterdon Land Trust’s Dvoor Farm.

Create art outdoors on the 40-acre Hunterdon Land Trust’s Dvoor Farm on Sunday, August 20 with the Hunterdon Art Museum’s Plein Air Painting workshop.

Artist Oscar Peterson will teach the techniques to start, establish, and finish a painting en plein air. Fundamental principles of capturing color, light, planes, and structure will all be covered. This workshop, which begins at 10 a.m., is for adults and teens ages 16 and up. more

Jeanne Moreau and Sam Shepard died in the same week, the playwright at 73 on July 27, the actress at 89 on July 31. Their obituaries were paired in the pages of the New York Times and Antonio Banderas posted their photographs side by side with his message on the Los Angeles Times remembrance blog: “thank you for enlightening us at 24 frames per second.”

In 2001 when Moreau was 73 she told the Times: “The cliché is that life is a mountain. You go up, reach the top and then go down. To me, life is going up until you are burned by flames.”  more

August 2, 2017

If you’re familiar with the surreal cinematic stylings of Dominique Abel and Fiona Gordon, then you have an idea of of the treat in store for you in the film Lost in Paris. The talented husband and wife team wrote, directed, and co-starred in their latest foray into the theater of the absurd.

The movie is best described as a cross between Wes Anderson and Charlie Chaplin, because it is an unconventional visually captivating movie with not much dialogue from the leading actors. The rubber-faced duo entertain far more with their movements and expressions than with words.

The film opens in Canada about 50 years ago, where we find Fiona (Gordon) saying farewell to her beloved Aunt Martha (recently-deceased Emmanuelle Riva) who is moving to Paris. Fast-forward to the present when Fiona, now a librarian, receives an urgent appeal for assistance from her 88-year-old aunt.

In the letter, Martha explains that they’re trying to move her into an assisted living facility for old folks. But the feisty aunt will have none of it.

Fiona accepts her aunt’s call for help and the next thing you know Fiona is in France with a large bright orange backpack decorated with a Canadian flag. Her troubles start right off the bat, when she gets stuck in a subway turnstile because of her oversized backpack.

The slapstick escalates further when the weight of the knapsack causes her to topple into the Seine while posing for a photo on a bridge. In order to keep from drowning, she has to free herself from the backpack, and ends up losing all her possessions, including her passport, cell phone, cash, and clothes.

Fortunately Fiona had just met Dom (Abel), a hobo living in a tent pitched along the banks of the river, who just happens to fall in love with her. So, Fiona finds herself having to fend off the advances of her ardent admirer while frantically searching for her missing aunt.

The ensuing search is charming, sublime, hilarious, and implausible. An endearing homage to the silent film era!

Excellent (****). Unrated. In French and English with subtitles. Running time: 83 minutes. Distributor: Oscilloscope Laboratories.

Kathryn Watterson’s I Hear My People Singing: Voices of African American Princeton (Princeton Univ. Press) takes its title from the Witherspoon-Jackson neighborhood’s most famous citizen, Paul Robeson (1898-1976), who celebrates “the honest joy of laughter in these homes, folk-wit and story, hearty appetites for life, and warmth of song” in “hard-working people … filled with the goodness of humanity.” Coming from a man known above all for his prowess as a singer, the emphasis is on “the warmth of song,” as in “Songs of love and longing, trials and triumphs … hymn-song and ragtime ballad, gospels and blues.”  more

ALLEY GALLERY: Dohm Alley’s first exhibit features sculpted portraits of Romantic poets, as well as acoustic guitar and birdsongs played over speakers. (Photo by Will Uhl)

After years of planning, the construction and assembly of Design at Dohm Alley’s (DaDA) first exhibit is underway. The public art project seeks to merge Princeton University’s scholarly sensibilities with the public life of the town by adorning the alley with art exhibits. The first exhibit, currently unfolding as the weeks pass, is a tribute to Romantic-era poets.  more

Photo Credit: Julia Peiperl

Princeton Summer Theater is presenting The Crucible at Princeton University’s Hamilton Murray Theater. This production of Arthur Miller’s 1953 classic is raw, artfully anachronistic, and evokes the spirit of a staged reading. Theatrical excess has been removed, leaving the ritual of performance.

Although The Crucible is set in Salem, Massachusetts in 1692, this production avoids establishing a specific time and place. The set is minimal, and the costumes by Julia Peiperl consist of contemporary clothing. Props are limited to lawn chairs, flashlights, and a cooler that one would use on a picnic. A campfire is at center stage.

On opposite sides of the stage, two women sit at the campfire. The other performers join them as we hear contemporary music and eerie, otherworldly noises synthesized by Sound Designer Joseph Haggerty. An actor opens a script and begins reading the title, stage directions, and opening scene. more

The West Windsor Arts Council (WWAC) presents a free full-day of outdoor music and performances at Nassau Park Pavilion Shopping Center (behind Panera) on Saturday, August 5 from 11 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. Latin Grammy nominees Mariachi Flor de Toloache will headline the event. There will also be dance, live theater, circus acts, and craft and food vendors throughout the day. If it rains, event performances will take place on Sunday, August 6.

As part of the celebration of 115 years of Cadwalader Park, the Trenton Museum Society and the city of Trenton welcome Amazin Grace and the Grace Little Band in a free concert in Cadwalader Park on Sunday, August 27 from 4 to 6 p.m. This dynamic group consists of eight talented musicians, including two lead vocalists, a full rhythm section, and a sax player. Patrons should bring a chair or blanket.  more

July 26, 2017

Believe it or not, over a dozen different attempts to assassinate Adolf Hitler (Udo Schenk) were made until he took his own life in April of 1945. In 1944, Hitler only suffered minor injuries in the bombing that was the focus of Valkyrie (2008), a documentary drama that stars Tom Cruise.

Directed by Oliver Hirschbiegel (Downfall), 13 Minutes describes this first attempt to assassinate Hitler just after he had taken control of Germany. The incident occurred in Munich on November 8, 1939 in a hall where the Führer was scheduled to deliver an address.

Unfortunately, Georg Elser’s (Christian Friedel) homemade time bomb went off too late, because Hitler had already completed his remarks and left the building 13 minutes earlier accompanied by the Minister of Propaganda Joseph Goebbels (Ulrich Matthes), Deputy Führer Rudolf Hess, and the architect of the Holocaust, Heinrich Himmler (Ulrich Noethen).

Later that same day, Georg was apprehended when he was trying to cross into Switzerland. Border guards took him into custody after they discovered him with incriminating evidence that led them to believe that he was connected to the explosion.

He was taken to Germany’s Chief of Police Arthur Nebe (Burghart Klauszner) and Gestapo Chief Heinrich Muller (Johann von Bulow) for interrogation, but Georg refused to answer any questions until they threatened to arrest his girlfriend Elsa (Katharina Schuttler). Georg then confessed to protect her, but they still didn’t believe that a simple carpenter could have possibly acted alone to produce a powerful explosive device that claimed eight lives and wounded 62.

So, they resorted to torture to extract the identities of his suspected accomplices who only existed in their imaginations. But Georg had nothing further to share, other than an explanation of how he’d secretly amassed enough gunpowder to construct the bomb.

13 Minutes has an unorthodox story structure, because it opens with the failed assassination attempt, and is followed by a series of Georg’s flashbacks. While behind bars, he reminisces about everything from his disgust with the Nazis to his relationship with Elsa.

Excellent (****). Rated R for sexuality and disturbing violence. In German with subtitles. Running time: 114 minutes. Production Studio: Lucky Bird Pictures. Distributor: Sony Pictures Classics.

The image shown is Anna Alma-Tadema’s Girl in a Bonnet with Her Head on a Blue Pillow, 1902, watercolor and bodycolor with some graphite on board, The Ashmolean Museum, Oxford. Image © Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford. 

BBC America’s Broadchurch and HBO’s Game of Thrones have descended on our household just in time to impact my impressions of the Princeton University Art Museum’s (PUAM) current exhibit, “Great British Drawings from the Ashmolean Museum.”  more

“SALT MARSH, BIRDS”: This painting by Lucretia E. McGuff-Silverman is featured in the exhibit “Celebration III by Creative Collective Group,” running August 6 through August 25 at the Gourgaud Gallery in Cranbury. An opening reception will be held on August 6 from 1-3 p.m.

The Gourgaud Gallery in Cranbury will host the exhibit “Celebration III by Creative Collective Group” from August 6 through August 25. An opening reception will be held on August 6 from 1-3 p.m.  more

PERCUSSIVE MULTI-TASKING: A typical performance by Sō Percussion, which concludes its summer institute at Princeton this weekend, is never confined to traditional instruments. (Photo by Claudia Hansen)

In a popular YouTube video from 2014, four men seated on a stage with their backs to the Los Angeles Philharmonic are snapping twigs in carefully timed unison. As the orchestra, led by famed conductor Gustavo Dudamel, continues to play a piece called man made by composer David Lang, the four turn their attention from the twigs to rows of wine bottles, which they clink and plonk with precision. more

IT’S A WITCH HUNT: Princeton Summer Theater cast members Robby Keown and Ben Diamond address a stoic Abby Melick in rehearsal for Arthur Miller’s The Crucible. Performances will be held at the Hamilton Murray Theater located on Princeton University’s campus, July 27-30 and August 3-8. A talkback will occur after the evening performances on July 28 and August 4 with the director, cast, and creative team. (Photo Credit: Princeton Summer Theater) 

Princeton Summer Theater’s third show of the 2017 season opens Thursday, July 27 with Arthur Miller’s The Crucible. Regarded as a classic of American theatre, The Crucible uses the proceedings of the Salem witch trials to examine the manic effects of mass hysteria in society. As an increasing number of upstanding townspeople are accused of witchcraft, Mr. Miller emphasizes the contagious nature of fear and the elusiveness of truth. The 1953 Tony Award-winning play invites us to question the importance of upholding morality in times of hardship. more

The repertory for orchestral trio includes music for almost every combination of instruments imaginable, but especially for piano, violin and cello.  The Lysander Piano Trio, formed at the Juilliard School, is less than ten years old, but is nevertheless a major ensemble player on the chamber music scene.  The Lysander Trio came to Princeton last Tuesday night for a concert at Richardson Auditorium which showed that the appeal of these three instruments together has never faded, from the time of Mozart to the present day.   more

July 19, 2017

War for the Planet of the Apes is the ninth movie in the film series that began almost 50 years ago with Planet of the Apes. The original groundbreaking science-fiction adventure was based on the novel of the same name by Pierre Boulle, who also wrote The Bridge Over the River Kwai.

That book was adapted to the movie by two scriptwriters: Rod Serling (The Twilight Zone) and Oscar-winner Michael Wilson (The Bridge Over the River Kwai, Lawrence of Arabia, It’s a Wonderful Life, and A Place in the Sun). So, it’s no surprise that that movie’s thought-provoking social commentary resonated with critics and audiences.

In that movie, the apes’ masks were so skillfully made that the Motion Picture Academy awarded the movie’s makeup artist, John Chambers, an honorary Oscar. However, it wasn’t until the ’80s that Best Makeup became an official Academy Award category.

War for the Planet of the Apes is the finale in a trilogy that recreated the series in 2011, starting with Rise of the Planet of the Apes, and followed a few years later by Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. Fortunately you don’t need to recall, or even have seen, the earlier pictures to fully appreciate this movie.

Additionally, the use of the latest computer graphic image technology has been so skillfully applied that you never once doubt that you’re watching real apes interacting with humans. The best news is that the movie is a morality play of Shakespearean proportions that explores many universal themes on the way to the showdown that settles the fate of both species once and for all.

The apes are again led by Caesar (Andy Serkis), who matches wits with a ruthless army colonel (Woody Harrelson). Between the sophisticated storytelling and the state-of-the-art special effects, War for the Planet of the Apes is a touching finale for the series.

Excellent (****). Rated PG-13 for action, violence, mature themes, and disturbing images. Running time: 140 minutes. Production Studio: Chernin Entertainment. Distributor: 20th Century Fox.

If I am a wild Beast, I cannot help it. — Jane Austen, from a letter

“Every time I read Pride and Prejudice,” Mark Twain once wrote to a friend, “I want to dig her up and beat her over the skull with her own shin-bone.” The sheltered drawing-room stereotype of Jane Austen that Twain is ridiculing only redounds to the power of her art. If anything, his vehemence suggests a kind of backhanded recognition of the “wild beast” of a writer she spontaneously and perhaps inadvertently reveals in a May 24, 1813, letter to her elder sister Cassandra. more

“SPIDER’S WEB”: Performances are underway for Princeton Summer Theater’s production of “Spider’s Web.” Directed by C. Luke Soucy, the play runs through July 23 at Princeton University’s Hamilton Murray Theater. From left: Jeremy (Peter Giovine), Hugo (Pablo Milla), Sir Rowland (Christopher Damen, seated), Clarissa (Abby Melick), and Miss Peake (Alex Yogelsang) examine a mysterious piece of paper. (Photo by Michelle Navis)

Princeton Summer Theater is presenting Spider’s Web at Princeton University’s Hamilton Murray Theater. Audiences will find much to enjoy in this polished production of Agatha Christie’s comic mystery, which — like Murder on the Orient Express — artfully undercuts thrilling suspense with lively characterization and witty dialogue. more

Julie Diana Hench

American Repertory Ballet and Princeton Ballet School announced that, after an international search, Julie Diana Hench has been selected as the organization’s executive director starting September 1, 2017.

“On behalf of the Board and the entire organization, I am very pleased to extend a warm welcome to Julie Diana Hench,” says Chuck Metcalf, chair of the organization’s Board of Trustees. “American Repertory Ballet and Princeton Ballet School are recognized as leaders in their respective fields throughout the tri-state area, as well as on the national landscape, and it is imperative we have an experienced leader to maintain and build on the excellent reputation of the entire organization.” more

Some cast members are shown from Princeton Day School’s production of “She Kills Monsters” by Qui Nguyen, that will be performed at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in August. From left: Danielle Hirsch ’17 (Newtown, Pa.), Hope Ammidon ’18 (Princeton), Liv Sheridan ’18 (Lawrenceville), Emily Trend ’18 (Pennington), and Nate Jones ’18 (Princeton). (Photo Credit: Matt Pilsner)