May 17, 2017

Emily Middleton (Amy Schumer) is having one of those days. First, she’s fired from her sales job in a boutique because she was ignoring customers and instead trying on outfits for herself. Also, her boyfriend (Randall Park) callously dumps her on the eve of their planned romantic getaway to Ecuador.

Emily cries on the shoulder of her mother Linda (Goldie Hawn), but she rubs salt in Emily’s wounds by saying, “Michael was the best you’ll ever do.” Still, against her better judgment, Emily invites Linda to come on the trip with her because the pre-paid vacation package is non-refundable.

However, Linda is also a worrier who rarely leaves her house, let alone the country. And she’ll be worrying about Emily the whole time, and probably prevent her from meeting a new guy. In the end, Linda grudgingly agrees to go, and packs for what looks like an uneventful stay at an exclusive resort in Ecuador.

Snatched is a screwball comedy far more entertaining than it might appear. Although the script does unfold like a generic “Vacation From Hell” story, it’s actually far above average, thanks to a stellar cast that is led by four consummate comediennes.

The picture co-stars Amy Schumer and Goldie Hawn as the mother and daughter at the center of the story. It also features two veteran scene stealers, Wanda Sykes and Joan Cusack, who make the most of their supporting roles.

The plot thickens when Linda and Emily land in Ecuador. First, Emily’s swept off her feet by a tall, dark, handsome stranger (Tom Bateman) whom she meets in a bar. The next morning, he talks them into a seemingly innocuous drive in the countryside.

Unfortunately, the Middletons are kidnapped by a ruthless gang led by Morgado (Oscar Jaenada) who is demanding a $100,000 ransom for the pair. But the U.S. State Department refuses to help, and Emily’s brother Jeffrey (Ike Barinholtz) is also unable to rescue them.

Left to their own devices, the squabbling mother and daughter put aside their differences and rely on their wits to survive. Schumer, Hawn, Sykes, and Cusack, are all at the top of their game.

Excellent (****). Rated R for sexuality, brief nudity, pervasive profanity, and crude humor. Running time: 91 minutes. Production Studio: Chernin Entertainment. Distributor: 20th Century Fox.

ARTJAM: The annual pop-up art gallery by HomeFront will run from May 19 to June 6 at 19 Hulfish St. in Princeton’s Palmer Square.

HomeFront’s seventh annual ArtJam pop-up gallery will open Friday, May 19 at 19 Hulfish St on Princeton’s Palmer Square. HomeFront is a Mercer County-based nonprofit that works to fight homelessness in the area, and ArtJam serves in part as a major fundraiser for the organization’s ArtSpace programming. ArtSpace is an open studio for clients at HomeFront’s new Family Preservation Center in Ewing. Ruthann Traylor, the ArtSpace director, explains that it is meant as both a therapeutic creative outlet for HomeFront clients, as well as a means for them to pick up entrepreneurial skills through the sale of their artwork. The ArtJam pop-up gallery will feature artwork from ArtSpace participants as well as the work of over 100 locally and nationally celebrated artists.  more

Panthea Reid doesn’t mince words in her preface to Body and Soul: A Memoir of Love, Loss, and Healing (Wild River Legacy 2017). Losing her husband John Fischer, who died in 2015, “nearly destroyed” her mind. What added “fury and guilt” to her grief was the idea that “medical incompetence or indifference hastened his decline.” She’s plagued by thoughts of her “naive trust” in the doctors who misdiagnosed his illness and by the fact that she failed to assert herself and “insist on alternate medical care.”  more

“&thunk”:  This collage by Princeton University senior Aubrey Andres explores the incomplete narratives that form because humans are unable to communicate what they truly mean. Ms. Andres’s work is on display at the Lucas Gallery at Princeton University. (Photo Courtesy of Lewis Center of the Arts)

The Visual Arts Program in the Lewis Center for the Arts at Princeton University will present an exhibition of recent work in a wide range of media by 20 graduating seniors in the program. The exhibition, “Senior All-Star Show,” will highlight work by students completed as part of their senior thesis projects and will be on view from Thursday, May 18 to Friday, June 9 in the Lucas Gallery at 185 Nassau Street. An opening reception will be held on May 18 from noon-2 p.m. The exhibition is free and open to the public. The Lucas Gallery is open Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Special additional hours during the University’s Reunions Weekend will be offered on June 3 from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. more

The Arts Council of Princeton (ACP) invites the community to express their creativity by designing artwork celebrating the ACP’s 50th Anniversary. One overall winner’s artwork will be featured on its 50th Anniversary poster and additional marketing materials. Further, winners from each age group will receive opportunities for their artwork to be shared with the community.

Applicants should ideally live or work in the Princeton or surrounding areas and have familiarity with the Arts Council of Princeton. The contest is open to individuals (all ages), companies, organizations, educational institutions, or groups associated with such institutions. more

Photo Credit: T. Charles Erickson

Lynn Nottage’s Intimate Apparel opened at McCarter’s Berlind Theatre May 12. The program notes state that Ms. Nottage, whose Pulitzer Prize-winning Sweat is currently on Broadway, has the following artistic mission: “to tell the stories of forgotten people, those whose lives did not make it into the records through which we, as Americans, chronicle the history of our country.” Inspired by a photograph of her great-grandmother, a Barbadian seamstress who lived in New York City at the turn of the last century, Ms. Nottage succeeds with this 2003 drama.

Esther Mills, a 35-year-old African American seamstress patterned after the playwright’s great-grandmother, rents a room in a boarding house owned by Mrs. Dickson. Esther creates “intimate apparel” for affluent women such as the unhappily married Mrs. Van Buren; and for Mayme, a prostitute and talented pianist. more

New Jersey Symphony Orchestra (NJSO) closed its 2016-17 Princeton series on Friday night with the best of the late 18th and early 19th centuries, as well as an old musical friend featured in a Romantic Sibelius violin concerto. NJSO Music Director Xian Zhang led the ensemble and violin soloist Jennifer Koh in a concert at Richardson Auditorium including music of Mozart, Sibelius, and Schubert.

Ms. Koh is an old friend to Princeton audiences; she has performed a number of times with area ensembles. Jean Sibelius’s Violin Concerto in D minor, Opus 47 is an expansive symphonic work, and even after its 1905 revision by the composer, still demands the highest in technical facility from the soloist. more

May 10, 2017

Emily Dickinson (1830-1886) had less than a dozen of her 1,800 poems published while she was still alive. Since her work was appreciated posthumously, it makes sense that a movie about her life would be about something other than her literary work, which was unrecognized by her contemporaries.

Writer/director Terrence Davies (The Deep Blue Sea) resisted the temptation to examine Dickinson’s poems, but instead examined her tortured soul. As a result, A Quiet Passion is an exquisite costume drama that presents the protagonist as an iconoclastic visionary and a retiring recluse.

The socially-conscious production suggests that the agnostic, feminist abolitionist was ahead of her time, and that she withdrew from the world in response to being raised in an era when evangelism, slavery, and male chauvinism were the order of the day. The movie focuses on her fragile psyche that was further crippled by her cloistered existence.

As the film unfolds, we find Emily (played in her teens by Emma Bell and later as an adult by Cynthia Nixon) finishing a frustrating freshman year at Mount Holyoke. She decides to drop out in order to avoid having to conform to the pious practices that were dictated by the Christian revival movement. That pressure was being exerted on her by the school’s president, Mary Lyon (Sara Vertongen). Dickinson refused to conform because she saw her relationship with God as a private and personal matter, not one that demanded public displays of devotion in a church service.

So she returns to Amherst, Massachusetts, and lives on the Dickinson family estate with her parents (Keith Carradine and Joanna Bacon), brother (Duncan Duff), and sister (Jennifer Ehle). Unfortunately, Emily is unable to bite her tongue when visitors like the local pastor (Miles Richardson) or even a potential suitor (Stefan Menaul) make social calls.

Even though she has trusted confidantes in her sister-in-law Susan (Jodhi May) and Mabel Loomis Todd (Noemie Schellens), Dickinson’s first preference is to remain in her upstairs bedroom where she can write her poems in secret. Cynthia Nixon convincingly conveys the emotional fires that simmer just beneath the surface of Emily Dickinson’s stoic countenance.

Excellent (****). Rated PG-13 for mature themes, disturbing images, and suggestive material. Production Studio: Hurricane Films. Running time: 126 minutes. Distributor: Music Box Films.

HAPPY 25TH GFS: Grounds for Sculpture (GFS) has welcomed more than 2.05 million guests since it opened to the public in 1992. GFS celebrates its anniversary this year through a host of activities, including a festive summer gala in June, plus special programs, themed tours, and pop-up events. One of the new exhibitions for the spring/summer season is “Elyn Zimmerman: Sensitive Chaos,” an exploration of space and sky with photographic collages and pastels like the image pictured here titled, “Heavens Breath.”

In honor of its 25th anniversary, Grounds For Sculpture (GFS) opened its Spring/Summer Exhibition Season on May 7 with five new exhibitions, including a site-specific installation of glass by Daniel Clayman and an exploration of space and sky with photographic collages and pastels by Elyn Zimmerman. GFS continues the celebration with Grounds For Sculpture: 25 Years, an exhibition curated by GFS Director of Exhibitions & Collections, Faith McClellan and GFS Director of Education & Engagement, Heather Brady.  more

LESS IS MORE: “A Wonderfully Difficult Journey,” based on The ARC Mercer, is among the short films being presented May 20 and 21 at the third annual Nassau Film Festival.

It didn’t take long for word to get out about the Nassau Film Festival. In just three years, the annual spring celebration of short films has blossomed from 35 submissions in 2015 to 336 for this year’s event, which returns to the Princeton Garden Theatre May 20 and 21. more

After describing Franz Kafka’s “sharp and skeletal face” as it appears in a photograph from 1924, Philip Roth observes that “chiseled skulls like this one were shoveled by the thousands from the ovens” and that had he lived, Kafka’s “would have been among them.” He then adds, “Of course it is no more horrifying to think of Franz Kafka in Auschwitz than to think of anyone at Auschwitz — it is just horrifying in its own way.” In fact, Kafka died the year the photograph was taken, “too soon for the holocaust.” Had such a monumental literary figure actually perished in Nazi ovens it would become a horror of the horror, a legend, an historic abomination.

“Content That I Can Breathe”

According to Kafka: The Early Years (Princeton Univ. Press $35), the third and final volume of Reiner Stach’s landmark biography, Franz Kafka was “newly confronted with the problems of Jewish identity” four years before he died.

In one of the first entries in Diaries 1914-1923, January 8, 1914, however, Kafka is already asking, “What have I in common with Jews? I have hardly anything in common with myself and should stand very quietly in a corner, content that I can breathe.” Content to live, a stranger in the strange land of the self, Kafka, a Jew, asks what he has in common with Jews. Ten years later, upon asking his doctor for a lethal dose of morphine, he says, “Kill me or else you are a murderer.” more

CLASSICAL DISCOVERIES: Marvin Rosen, host of the “Classical Discoveries” program, in the WPRB studios at Princeton University.

“You know, in our world today, all over our world, there is just so much incredible talent,” Marvin Rosen says as he leans back in his seat contentedly, wire-rimmed glasses on his nose, a nest of curly brown hair atop his head. “I could never air everything that I would want to air.”  more

Programmatic coincidences do not happen often in Princeton; there is so much music out there that local ensembles usually do not program the same works for the same season. Such a coincidence occurred this past weekend when Princeton Symphony Orchestra performed the same Paul Hindemith piece as the Princeton University Orchestra did last weekend. Audiences rarely have the opportunity to hear the same work twice, compare performances, and perhaps hear something new the second time around. Princeton Symphony Orchestra closed its classical series this past Sunday afternoon at Richardson Auditorium with a concert entitled “Metamorphosis,” that not only could refer to the Hindemith work performed, but also the orchestra’s journey from the beginning of the 2016-17 season until now — a season jam-packed with concerts, educational programs, and community outreach activities. PSO Music Director Rossen Milanov led the ensemble in a performance that was both rooted in impressionistic musical style and full of precision and elegance of playing. more

May 8, 2017

A Night in Old Havana

Photography by Erica Cardenas

On Saturday, May 6, McCarter Theatre Center welcomed Wynton Marsalis and the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra to “A Night in Old Havana” Gala 2017. The evening began with a cocktail reception and dinner on McCarter’s back lawn, which was tented and decorated with 1940’s-era old Havana flare. The musical performance was held at McCarter’s Matthews Theater. The electric after-party included more food, entertainment, and dance. All proceeds benefit McCarter’s Artistic, Education, and Engagement Programs. more

May 3, 2017

A few action films have opening scenes, that by themselves, are worth the price of admission. Taken (2008), District B-13 (2004), Super 8 (2011), and Dawn of the Dead (2004) are four that come to mind. I can now add The Fate of the Furious to this list of movies that grab your attention from the very beginning.

The film opens in Cuba, where newlyweds Dom (Vin Diesel) and Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) are spending their honeymoon. However, their vacation is interrupted when Dom tries to stop a man who is threatening to repossess Dom’s cousin’s car.

Dom talks him out of towing the car away and instead challenges him to a drag race to settle their differences. What ensues is a heart-stopping race through the colorful streets of Havana that ends in a photo finish at the ocean shore.

Next, we find the bride and groom back at the hotel, where Letty brings up the idea of starting a family. Dom goes for a walk to consider Letty’s suggestion and stops to help a woman (Charlize Theron) who is having trouble with her car.

However, the woman is Cipher, a cyber-terrorist who is bent on world domination by acquiring a device that will shut down electrical grids. She blackmails Dom into joining her by showing him something very incriminating on her cell phone.

That sets the stage for a high-octane battle of brawn, muscle cars, and wits that has Dom fighting against his wife and a reassembled gang composed of Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson), Tej (Ludacris), Ramsey (Nathalie Emmanuel). Roman (Tyrese), their new team leader Frank (Kurt Russell), his assistant Eric (Scott Eastwood), and Deckard (Jason Statham).

Forget about trying to follow the plot. It’s messy and there are too many characters to keep track of. Just sit back and enjoy the spectacular stunts, the playful badinage between Hobbs and Deckard, and Roman’s comic relief.

In this critic’s opinion, this is the year’s first summer blockbuster.

Excellent (****). Rated PG-13 for profanity, suggestive content, and prolonged sequences of violence and destruction. Running time: 136 minutes. Distributor: Universal Pictures.

SEA-FARING SONGS WITH TOM LEWIS: The Princeton Folk Music Society welcomes musician Tom Lewis to Christ Congregation Church in Princeton for a performance of sea-faring songs accompanied by the button accordion and ukulele on Friday, May 19 at 8:15 p.m. (doors open at 7:30 p.m.). Born in Northern Ireland, Tom’s Celtic heritage is evident in his passionate musicality. Tickets are $20 at the door ($15 Folk Society members, $10 students, and $5 children). Ample free parking is available.

Anchoring its last concert for this season, Princeton Folk Music Society presents an evening of sea-faring songs with Tom Lewis on Friday, May 19 at 8:15 p.m. at Christ Congregation Church, 50 Walnut Lane in Princeton. Doors open at 7:30 p.m. and the show begins at 8:15 p.m. Tickets are available at the door for $20 ($15 members, $10 students, and $5 children).   more

Born May 2, 1903, a household name in his time at the heart of the 20th century; a Best Actor Oscar winner, Hollywood’s top box-office attraction for five years, with 38 number-one records, more than Elvis or the Beatles — Bing Crosby was “a monumental figure,” in the words of his biographer, Gary Giddins. Yet during a 2001 book tour for Bing Crosby: A Pocketful of Dreams, The Early Years 1903-1940, Giddins was surprised by the “degree of ignorance about his entire career …. It really became a question of ‘Bing who?’”

With the 50th anniversary of the Beatles’ monumental Sgt. Pepper album only a month away, no one’s asking “Paul who?” Not when Sir Paul McCartney, who’ll be 75 on June 18, has been filling stadiums during his One-On-One tour, finishing off the last three nights in April at the Tokyo Dome. In July he’ll be in arenas from Miami to Chicago, ahead of a September 11 concert at the Newark’s Prudential Center, followed by concerts at Madison Square Garden, and Barclays Center in Brooklyn.

How big were and are the Beatles? Crosby himself had some thoughts about the dimensions of the phenomenon: “Sinatra was … bigger than I ever was, and Presley was bigger than Sinatra, but there’s never been anything like the Beatles.” That was in 1964, three years before Sgt. Pepper lit up the 60s. Now here it comes again, “the act you’ve known for all these years” trailing clouds of bicentennial glory with a new stereo mix of the album, an expanded deluxe edition as a two-CD set or two-LP vinyl package, and a “super deluxe” six-disc box set.  more

Join McCarter Theatre on Saturday, May 20 at 7:30 p.m. for a screening of “The Princess Bride” followed by a discussion with Cary Elwes who played the heroic Westley. The screening celebrates the 30th anniversary of the film. Mr. Elwes will take audience members on a behind-the-scenes portrait of life on the set, sharing his memories of iconic scenes, and little known facts about the creation of the film. To purchase tickets, visit www.mccarter.org or call (609) 258-2787. 

The Princeton University Sinfonia performs a program that utilizes the talent of Princeton University’s students on Wednesday, May 10 in Richardson Auditorium in Alexander Hall at 7:30 p.m.  more

Public Events, Private Lives – Literature and Politics in the Modern World

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

McCosh Hall; 6:00 pm

Acclaimed author Sir Ahmad Salman Rushdie is the author of twelve novels, as well as memoirs, short stories, and essays. A Fellow of the British Royal Society of Literature, Salman Rushdie has received, among other honors, the Whitbread Prize for Best Novel (twice), the Writers’ Guild Award, the James Tait Black Prize, the European Union’s Aristeion Prize for Literature, Author of the Year Prizes in both Britain and Germany, the French Prix du Meilleur Livre Étranger, the Budapest Grand Prize for Literature, the Premio Grinzane Cavour in Italy, the Crossword Book Award in India, the Austrian State Prize for European Literature, the London International Writers’ Award, the James Joyce award of University College Dublin, the St Louis Literary Prize, the Carl Sandburg Prize of the Chicago Public Library, and a U.S. National Arts Award.  more

Two years ago, Princeton University music professor Simon Morrison was working on an article in the archives of Yale University when he noticed the original score for a ballet by none other than Cole Porter. Within the Quota, which had libretto, scenery, and costumes by wealthy expatriate artist Gerald Murphy, premiered in Paris in 1923 and was Porter’s only commission for a ballet. more

As temperatures warm up and spring buds make their presence known, one thing is musically clear in the Princeton community — the Princeton University Orchestra will show its best in the annual Stuart B. Mindlin Memorial Concerts. The student musicians of the orchestra were not born when these commemorative performances were first established, and the Mindlin children are all grown and on to amazing careers of their own, but one thing has never changed over the past close to 30 years — the University Orchestra has taken on the most challenging works in the repertory to end its concert year in a musical blaze of glory. This past weekend’s final performances of the orchestra’s 2016-17 season featured two towering composers of the 20th century in Paul Hindemith, who spent a good part of his career in the United States, and Gustav Mahler, who never fails to disappoint those looking to hear the most complex and dramatic of orchestral writing.  more

“SUMMER HARVEST”: This painting by Debbie Piscreta will be on display alongside the work of Gail Bracegirdle in the Artists’ Gallery’s latest exhibit, “Quiet Spaces,” that runs until June 4.

Recent work by Gail Bracegirdle and Debbie Pisacreta will be on display at the Artists’ Gallery in Lambertville from May 4 to June 4 for the “Quiet Spaces” exhibit. The opening reception will be Saturday, May 13 from 4 to 8 p.m. Both Ms. Bracegirdle and Ms. Pisacreta’s paintings evoke a quiet and calm feeling where the choice of subjects and the use of muted palettes contribute to the sense of contemplation and reflection that both artists feel when they paint.  more

This painting by Meredith Remz is included in her solo exhibition and art sale at Small World Coffee titled, “Brave.” The artist draws inspiration from her experiences with contemporary and industrial design, as well as nature.

Joyce Carol Oates will read from and discuss her latest work, A Book of American Martyrs, at Labyrinth Books of Princeton on Wednesday, May 17 at 6:30 p.m.

Described by the Washington Post as “The most relevant book of Oates’s half-century-long career, a powerful reminder that fiction can be as timely as this morning’s tweets but infinitely more illuminating.”  more