November 8, 2017

By Nancy Plum

Princeton Pro Musica began its Princeton area concert series on the later side this year, with the first performance of the ensemble’s 39th season on Sunday afternoon in Richardson Auditorium. However, the concert date and piece performed went together perfectly. The 100-voice chorus presented Johannes Brahms’s Ein deutsches Requiem on All Saints’ Day, combining liturgical remembrance with Brahms’s German texts of comfort and ultimate joy. As further acknowledgment of the day, Pro Musica included an “In Remembrance” page from members of the chorus in the written program to Sunday afternoon’s concert, commemorating friends and family. more

November 1, 2017

By Kam Williams

In the spring of 2007, Washington Post reporter David Finkel accompanied a combat team of American infantrymen who were deployed to Baghdad at the start of the surge that was ordered by President Bush. After being embedded with the team for a year, the Pulitzer Prize winning reporter wrote about the G.I.s’ efforts to bring stability to the region in a riveting bestseller titled The Good Soldiers.

In 2013, Finkel published a follow up book, Thank You for Your Service, that updated the team’s struggle to readjust to civilian life after returning home from Iraq. The book has now been made into a film and is a psychological drama that is tightly focused on the mental state of a few members of the team’s battalion.

The movie is the directorial debut of Jason Hall, who previously wrote and appeared in American Sniper (2014). The picture stars Miles Teller as Adam Schumann, the team’s sergeant who suffers from PTSD.

As the film unfolds, we learn that Adam has remained close with the surviving members of the tight-knit unit that was under his command. Unfortunately, all of them have some form of damage, mentally and/or physically. Consequently, all of their relationships at home are in crisis, and none of them has managed to hold down a steady job since their return.

Adam’s wife (Haley Bennett) starts pressuring him to get help because he inexplicably dropped their newborn baby and he’s constantly looking for IEDs whenever they drive down the street. Unfortunately, there’s a nine-month waiting list to see a psychiatrist at the VA hospital and he’s also being discouraged from seeking treatment by a callous colonel (Jake Weber) who tells Adam that all he needs to do is toughen up.

Other members of the group are Solo (Beulah Koale), a Samoan with amnesia whose pregnant wife (Keisha Castle-Hughes) is thinking of leaving him. Another buddy, Will (Joe Cole), was dumped by his fiancée (Erin Darke) even before he returned home.

Things get worse before they get better. But this loyal band of brothers can count on each other, if not the VA or their loved ones for support. The movie is a heartbreaking tale that’s difficult to watch because its based on the hard, cold truth and is a sobering account of our wounded warriors’ tragic misfortunes.

Excellent (***½). Rated R for sexuality, drug use, graphic violence, brief nudity, and pervasive profanity. In English and Samoan with subtitles. Running time: 108 minutes. Distributor: Universal Pictures.

CREATIVELY GREEN: Young Audiences teamed up with Littlebrook School for their Creatively Green Family Arts Festival, bringing together children, parents, educators, and artists to link art making with protecting the environment. (Photo Courtesy of Young Audiences)

By Donald Gilpin

In school environments characterized by emphasis on testing and sports, tight budgets, increasing competition for college admissions, and diminishing job opportunities, the arts might seem a low priority.

Not so, says Ann Betterton, development director of Young Audiences New Jersey and Eastern Pennsylvania (YA), which worked with more than 350,000 children through more than 4,000 programs in 573 schools in every county in New Jersey last year. more

By Stuart Mitchner

The New York bus stops outside the building I work in. Several times a day I see it idling in front, waiting for the light to change. In the car last week listening to a CD of live jazz from May 1953, I hear the announcer say “We’re coming to you from Birdland, Broadway at 52nd Street, the heart of Manhattan” and I know it’s time to get on that bus. I’m thinking of the lost city of automats and movie palaces when the Dodgers were still in Brooklyn and I was allowed into jazz clubs in my mid-teens. more

BACK IN THE GAME: Painter Ken Alexander is opening his Trenton studio on Saturday, November 4, as part of the sixth annual Art All Day. Glaucoma has left Alexander legally blind, but he still has much to say with his art.

By Anne Levin

After almost two decades working as a chef, painter Ken Alexander was finally feeling secure enough to devote himself, fulltime, to his art. He gave up his job at a restaurant in Spring Lake. He moved from Asbury Park to Trenton, where he bought a light-filled loft in the city’s Mill Hill section. more

DAY OF THE DEAD: The Arts Council of Princeton’s Day of the Dead Celebration on Saturday, November 4 at the Princeton Shopping Center will include folk arts and crafts as well as sugar skull decorating, traditional dance performances, live music, and more.

The Arts Council of Princeton and the Princeton Shopping Center present the annual Day of the Dead Celebration on Saturday, November 4 from 3-5 p.m. Celebrate Mexico’s El Día de los Muertos with strolling mariachis, sugar skull decorating, face painting, folk arts and crafts, and live dance performances. Learn about the traditions of this rich cultural holiday at this free, family-friendly event. Food will be available for purchase from Surf Taco. more

By Nancy Plum

Princeton Symphony Orchestra’s concert this past Sunday afternoon in Richardson Auditorium was both one of collaboration and also paying tribute to the music of the past. The keynote work on the program was Felix Mendelssohn’s Reformation Symphony, an appropriate musical commemoration of the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther’s presentation of his world-shattering 95 Theses, but all three works presented by the orchestra looked back to previous eras.  more

October 25, 2017

By Kam Williams

Bride-to-be Alex Martin (Kate Winslet) is anxious to return home where she and her fiancé (Dermot Mulroney) are scheduled to be married in the morning. The only reason the dedicated photojournalist was in Idaho so close to her wedding was because of her sense of duty to cover a demonstration by skinheads and neo-Nazis. Elsewhere, in the same airline terminal, Dr. Ben Bass (Idris Elba) is just as eager to get to Denver because he’s urgently needed to perform life-saving surgery on a critically-ill child.

Imagine their frustration when they learn that their commercial flight has been canceled due to a forecast of inclement weather. The two strangers commiserate over their plight and decide to charter a private plane.

Unfortunately, their pilot (Beau Bridges) has a fatal heart attack and the plane crashes  on top of a snow capped mountain. Their cell phones are useless and Ben — with broken ribs, and Alex — with a fractured leg, are stranded in the mountains far from civilization.

The Mountain Between Us is a harrowing tale of survival based on the Charles Martin bestseller of the same name. The visually captivating production is superficially reminiscent of The Revenant.

The movie is mostly about the protagonists’ battle against the elements when they are lost in the frigid wilderness and are miles from civilization. During their perilous trek they negotiate their way through a treacherous gauntlet that has cougars, slippery cliffs, and lakes with thin ice, to name a few.

The film also has a romantic angle, because Ben and Alex gradually grow fond of each other during their ordeal. As a result, the burning question becomes whether these feelings will continue once they’re saved. After all, he’s married and she’s engaged.

Very Good (***). Rated PG-13 for sexuality, peril, injury images, and brief profanity. Running time: 103 minutes. Production Studio: Chernin Entertainment. Distributor: 20th Century Fox.

ANTI-NUCLEAR RALLY: This archival photo by Gary Schoichet, taken at an Anti-Nuclear Rally in New York City on June 12, 1982, is featured in the exhibit “Shadows and Ashes: The Peril of Nuclear Weapons,” running November 6 through December 7 at Princeton University’s Bernstein Gallery in Robertson Hall. A discussion panel and reception will be held on Monday, November 13 at 4:30 p.m.

A multifaceted exhibition, “Shadows and Ashes: The Peril of Nuclear Weapons,” will open at Princeton University’s Bernstein Gallery in Robertson Hall on November 6. A discussion panel and reception will be held on Monday, November 13 at 4:30 p.m. Moderated by Princeton Professor Stanley N. Katz, the panel, “A Perpetual Menace: Nuclear Weapons Today, Tomorrow, Forever?” will be held in Arthur Lewis Auditorium (previously known as Dodds Auditorium). more

“THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME”: Performances are underway for the Pennington Players’ production of “The Hunchback of Notre Dame.” Directed by Frank Ferrara, the musical runs through October 29 at the Kelsey Theatre. Quasimodo (C.J. Carter) sings “Out There,” in which he dreams of venturing into the streets of Paris. (Photo by Kyrus Keenan Photography)

By Donald H. Sanborn III

The Pennington Players are presenting The Hunchback of Notre Dame at the Kelsey Theatre. Because the musical contains adult themes and violence, the theater’s website emphasizes that it is “not recommended for children.” For audiences 13 and older, however, this writer enthusiastically recommends the show. more

By Nancy Plum

With the opening of Princeton University’s Lewis Center for the Arts, there has been a new buzz of musical excitement in the community. One of the core University ensembles settling into the new state-of-the-art facility is the Princeton University Orchestra, which opened its 2017-18 season this past Friday and Saturday nights at Richardson Auditorium. Also celebrating conductor Michael Pratt’s 40th year leading the ensemble, the University Orchestra presented music of Mozart, Beethoven, and Mahler — works Pratt called “three sonic columns of sound” to usher in a “new era of music” at the University. more

By Stuart Mitchner

Writing about Twin Peaks in May of 2014, I made special mention of Angelo Badalamenti’s score, how from the first note, the mood created by his music is warm, mellow, musing, inviting, dreamily beautiful, with a subtle undercurrent of menace and dread that comes into play whenever the scene shifts to the interior of Laura Palmer’s home. Above all the music is about Laura Palmer, whose murder is what sets the machinery of the Twin Peaks project in motion with the simplistic but effective tag-line Who killed Laura Palmer? and the answer delivered toward the end of the series’ second season: her father.  more

October 19, 2017

By Kam Williams

In 1887, 24-year-old Abdul Karim (Ali Fazal) was sent from India to England to represent India by presenting Queen Victoria (Judi Dench) with a gold coin that commemorated her Golden Jubilee year as the Queen. When he presented the coin at a banquet at Windsor Castle, he managed to catch the attention of the lonely monarch.

In fact, she was so taken with Karim that she made him her companion and promoted him to be her “munshi,” Urdu for teacher. Not surprisingly, this development didn’t sit well with members of the royal court, especially her son, Bertie (Eddie Izzard). The crown prince was suspicious of the interloper’s intentions and was concerned about how things looked with his widowed mum having a handsome young Muslim at her side.

However, Victoria brushed aside any objections as racial prejudice, and kept Abdul on as her trusted confidant until she passed away in 1901. Based on Shrabani Basu’s bestseller of the same name, Victoria and Abdul describes the unlikely friendship that developed between her majesty and her devoted subject. Directed by two-time Oscar nominee Stephen Frears (The Queen and The Grifters), this “mostly true” tale portrays the relationship as a dramatic comedy whose comedic elements outweigh its dramatic moments.

Dame Judi Dench, who won an Academy award for playing Queen Elizabeth, is again at her best here as an imperious, but vulnerable, Queen. She plays an empathetic visionary adrift in a sea of intolerance that is swarming with British bigots who are too blinded by hate to begin to understand a mild-mannered foreigner whose customs are different than theirs.

The picture’s transparent message about brotherhood is delivered in too heavy-handed a fashion to take seriously. Nevertheless, the movie’s lighter moments generate enough laughs to make the movie worth seeing.

Very Good (**½ stars). Rated PG-13 for profanity and mature themes. In English, Hindi, and Urdu with subtitles. Running time: 111 minutes. Production Studio: BBC Films/Working Title Films/Perfect World Pictures. Distributor: Focus Features.

October 18, 2017

By Stuart Mitchner

One thing to be said for living in a country led by a deranged narcissicist is how it heightens your appreciation for explosive poets; it also exposes your stressed senses to outrageous fantasies. For days now I’ve been reading Rimbaud’s Season in Hell with special pleasure (“Alas! there were days when all active men seemed to him playthings of grotesque madness”) while enjoying a twisted vision out of Disney’s Snow White where an evil queen with an orange pompadour is staring in the mirror shouting, “Mirror Mirror on the wall, who is the fairest ruler of them all?” and being told time after time in an icky sweet sugar-plum fairy voice, “Snobama! Snobama! Snobama!” And when Snobama’s face actually appears in the mirror grinning that ear to ear grin, the queen begins screaming. Once she’s calmed down she sends a troupe of rogues and jesters out to destroy everything Snobama created, a futile task because the documents of destruction have no substance, it’s like writing in water.

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“A NIGHT WITH JANIS JOPLIN”: Performances are underway for “A Night with Janis Joplin.” Written and directed by Randy Johnson, the musical runs through October 29 at McCarter’s Matthews Theatre. Janis Joplin (Kacee Clanton, front and center) gives a high-energy concert, backed by the Joplinaires: Sharon Catherine Brown, left; Amma Osei; Sylvia MacCalla; and Tawny Dolley. (Photo by T. Charles Erickson)

By Donald H. Sanborn III

A Night with Janis Joplin is playing at McCarter’s Matthews Theatre. Written and directed by Randy Johnson, this raw, high-energy entertainment is a tribute to Joplin and several of the artists who inspired her. Although the show undoubtedly holds special resonance for Joplin’s fans, multi-generational audiences are likely to enjoy this rousing mix of blues, soul, and psychedelic rock.
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October 11, 2017

By Kam Williams

William Moulton Marston (Luke Evans) was a Renaissance man with an impressive array of talents. After earning his BA, PhD, and law degrees, the Harvard graduate taught psychology at Radcliffe. Despite a demanding academic career, he found time to write self-help books and to invent the precursor of the lie detector.

To this day, however, he remains best remembered as the creator of Wonder Woman. Selling the idea to a comic book publisher in 1941 was no mean feat, since until then, Superman, Batman, The Flash, Captain Marvel, The Green Lantern, and all the other superheroes, were male.

The character Marston envisioned was not just a powerful crime-fighter, but also was an attractive Amazon whose eroticism and dominance were deemed to be sexual and sado-masochistic in nature by her detractors. Although Wonder Woman wore a skimpy outfit, as did Superman, and used a rope to subdue and restrain adversaries, the comic books were far from pornographic. Marston had been inspired by the success of the suffrage movement that helped advance the feminist cause. In fact, he once stated that “The only hope for civilization is the greater freedom, development, and equality of women.”

Another source of inspiration were the two women in Marston’s life; his wife, Elizabeth (Rebecca Hall), and their longtime lover, Olive (Bella Heathcote). He would father children with each woman, and they all lived under the same roof, although the scandalous arrangement led to the family being shunned by polite society.

Written and directed by Alexandra Robinson, Professor Marston and the Wonder Women is an intriguing and informative biopic that finally awards a brilliant visionary, who had been marginalized by history, his due. Thanks to our more enlightened LBGTQ-embracing times, William Moulton Marston can finally be fully appreciated.

Excellent (****). Rated R for profanity, graphic sexuality, and lewd images. Running time: 108 minutes. Production Studio: Stage 6 Films/Boxspring Entertainment/Topple Productions. Distributor: Annapurna Pictures.

“AFGHAN GIRL, 2001”: This photograph by Princeton Day School photography teacher Thatcher Cook is featured in the school’s Visual and Design Arts Faculty Exhibition, on view from October 16 through November 9. An opening reception with the artists will be held on on Friday, October 20 from 5 to 7 p.m.

The Anne Reid ’72 Art Gallery at Princeton Day School presents the Visual and Design Arts Faculty Exhibition, on view from October 16 through November 9. There will be an opening reception with the artists on Friday, October 20 from 5 to 7 p.m. The exhibit and reception are free and open to the public. more

“BELLE”: The collage paintings of Meredith Remz are on exhibit at Blawenburg Cafe in Skillman through January 5, 2018. Remz says she draws inspiration from contemporary and industrial design, as well as Mother Nature.

Meredith Remz debuts her work at Blawenburg Cafe in Skillman this fall with a solo exhibition of expressive collage paintings. The exhibit will be on display through January 5, 2018. It is is free and open to the public, child-friendly, and all art is for sale. more

By Stuart Mitchner

Movie actors are not always the most quotable beings. The value of their words depends not on substance or style so much as gossip potential, career-advancement, otherwise known as the publicity quotient. Then you have one-of-a-kind people like Robert Mitchum, who was born 100 years ago, August 6, 1917. Unless Mitchum has a ghostwriter named Hemingway slipping him gems, what he says fits perfectly with the big man dwarfing the screen at the Garden two summers ago in Out of the Past. Anyone who has seen Mitchum in that film or in other RKO noirs like Where Danger Lives will recognize him in these words — “Listen. I got three expressions: looking left, looking right, and looking straight ahead.” I hope Hemingway read that line before he died.  more

October 4, 2017

By Kam Williams

Faith-based films usually have limited appeal beyond the Christian community because most tend to be heavy-handed morality plays that preach to the choir. A Question of Faith is a refreshing change of pace, because instead of proselytizing, the film features character development and a compelling plot.

This carefully crafted modern parable explores a mix of worldly and spiritual themes in a way that will entertain the faithful and sinners alike. The picture was directed by Kevan Otto, who recruited an impressive cast to perform Ty Manns’s script.

The cast disappears so thoroughly into their parts that it’s easy to forget you’re watching actors after just a few minutes into the movie. One of the stars is Kim Fields, who’s best known for the role of Tootie that she originated in the TV sitcom Different Strokes, and continued to play in the spinoff, The Facts of Life.

The film unfolds in Atlanta where we’re introduced to three families that are dealing with serious life issues. The first is Theresa Newman (Fields), who is worried that her husband (Richard T. Jones) is so obsessed with taking over as senior pastor of the church from his father (Gregory Alan Williams) that he might break a promise to attend their younger son’s (Caleb T. Thomas) basketball game.

Next, gospel singer Michelle Danielsen’s (Amber Thompson) father (C. Thomas Howell) is pressuring her to perform at a record company’s audition because he needs the money his daughter’s contract with the record company would provide to help save his business. He is apparently more concerned with avoiding an impending collapse of his business than with finding the cause of his daughter’s debilitating headaches.

Finally, restaurant owner Katie Hernandez (Jaci Velasquez) keeps reminding her daughter Maria (Karen Valero) to stop texting while driving when she is making deliveries to customers. Katie doesn’t want Maria to have an accident that might prevent her from becoming the first person in their family to attend college.

These parallel storylines converge in a very dramatic fashion. As their fates become intertwined the protagonists rise to the occasion in different ways.

The film is a moving tale of redemption that reveals God’s grace and makes a case for cross-cultural tolerance.

Excellent (****). Rated PG for mature themes. Running time: 104 minutes. Production Studio: Silver Lining Entertainment. Distributor: Pure Flix Entertainment.

By Stuart Mitchner 

On one of last week’s unseasonably hot heavy days, deep in the late-afternoon do-nothing know-nothing blahs, I tried to pull out by reading the latest New Yorker and only felt worse. Next I tried King Lear, usually a reliable energy source, but this is the play that begins when Lear tells Cordelia “Nothing will come of nothing,” which dooms them both and is the word at the dead center of my ennui. more

“ART AT KINGS OAKS”: A pop-up exhibition featuring the works of 26 artists will be at Kings Oaks Farm in Newtown, Pa. from October 6 to 15. An opening reception is on October 6 from 6-9 p.m. Shown here are a painting by Susan Jane Walp, top left; a monotype by Stuart Shils, top right; an installation by Margaret Parish, bottom left; and a sculpture by Maxwell Mustardo.

“Art at Kings Oaks,” a pop-up art exhibition in a historic barn and chapel on Kings Oaks Farm in Newtown, Pa., returns for its fifth year this October 6-15 to present its largest group of artists to date. The exhibition includes paintings, drawings, prints, sculpture, ceramics, and installation works by 26 renowned and emerging artists from the Northeastern and Mid-Atlantic U.S. and Italy. more

“A CITY SQUARE”: This oil on canvas by Bill Scott is part of Rider University’s exhibit featuring a 40-year survey of the artist’s work, which runs through October 29. An artist’s talk is October 5 at 7 p.m.

The Rider University Art Gallery presents “Bill Scott: The Landscape in a Still Life Paintings, Pastels, Prints, and Watercolors, 1977-2017” through October 29. An artist’s talk is Thursday, October 5 at 7 p.m.

The exhibit includes still life and figure compositions made before Scott’s painting veered toward abstraction. His recent abstractions include references to garden and landscape imagery: flowers, foliage, and tree branches. more

By Nancy Plum 

Princeton University Concerts has innovatively combined different forms of media in the past, most notably a concert a few years ago featuring actress Meryl Streep and the Takács String Quartet fusing literature and music in one performance. To open the 124th season of Princeton University Concerts, The Emerson String Quartet joined forces with seven well-established actors for a “multimedia theatrical realization” of Anton Chekhov’s story The Black Monk in a fantasy also exploring the lives of Russian composer Dmitri Shostakovich and Russian leader Josef Stalin.  more

September 27, 2017

By Kam Williams

Lloyd Garmadon (Dave Franco) must be the least liked student at Ninjago High. The unassuming 16-year-old is so unpopular that nobody will even sit on the same side of the bus with him on their ride to school.

What they don’t know, however, is that he has a super hero alter ego — the Green Ninja. He is the leader of the Secret Ninja Force, a team of five teens and an android who are helped by Lloyd’s wise and wisecracking uncle, Master Wu (Jackie Chan).

Master Wu has taught each of his protégés how to harness the different forces of nature that are contained in his magical treasure chest. The hot headed Red Ninja (Michael Pena) controls fire; the music-loving Black Ninja (Fred Armisen) has mastered earth; the Blue Ninja (Kumail Nanjiani), lightning; and the Gray Ninja (Abbi Jacobson), water; and the robotic White Ninja’s (Zach Woods) domain is ice.

Their mission is to prevent Lord Garmadon (Justin Theroux) from conquering Ninjago City. It turns out that the evil villain is Lloyd’s long-lost father, who abandoned his wife (Olivia Munn) and baby when she refused to accept his decision to go to the dark side.

As a result, all Lloyd knows about his father is what he’s been told by his mother and uncle. Consequently, Lloyd is eager to meet and defeat the diabolical warlord who has the reputation of being the world’s “Worst Guy Ever.”

If you’ve seen either LEGO or LEGO Batman, then you have an idea of what to expect from the third film in the animated series. Directed by Charlie Bean, the film is not only a visually captivating adventure, but also has pithy asides and clever allusions to screen classics that also make the movie interesting to adults.

In this critic’s opinion, Ninjago is the best episode in the series because of all the positive messages that are delivered by the picture’s end.

Excellent (****). Rated PG for mild action and rude humor. Running time: 101 minutes. Distributor: Warner Brothers Pictures.