November 30, 2016

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ANNUAL FESTIVAL FEATURES A DIVERSE PROGRAM OF NEW WORKS: Two Princeton students are rehearsing for a new work by choreographer Olivier Tarpaga that will be performed at the Princeton Dance Festival at McCarter Theatre Center. Festival performances are scheduled for December 2 at 8 p.m., December 3 at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m., and December 4 at 1 p.m. (Photo Credit: Elena Anamos)

The Lewis Center for the Arts’ Program in Dance at Princeton University presents the annual Princeton Dance Festival, in which 40 Princeton dance students will perform repertory works by Zvi Gotheiner, John Jasperse, and Mark Morris, along with new works by Kimberly Bartosik, Francesca Harper, and Olivier Tarpaga. Four performances will take place December 2 at 8 p.m., December 3 at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m., and December 4 at 1 p.m. at the Berlind Theatre at McCarter Theatre Center. more

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Renowned saxophonist/composer Rudresh Mahanthappa and Director of Jazz at Princeton University will perform at Richardson Auditorium on Saturday, December 3 and Taplin Auditrorium in Fine Hall at Princeton University on Wednesday, December 7. Mahanthappa’s music hybridizes progressive jazz and South Indian classical music, a form that reflects his own experiences as a second-generation Indian American. In 2015, Mahanthappa was named a United States Artists Fellow. Previous awards include a Guggenheim Fellowship, two New York Foundation for the Arts Fellowships, and a Doris Duke Performing Arts Award. In 2016, he was appointed the director of jazz and the associate director of the Program in Musical Performance at Princeton University. To purchase tickets for the December 3 performance, visit tickets.princeton.edu. The December 7 performance is free. (Photo Credit: Jimmy Katz)

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Darcy James Argue

Princeton University’s department of music is pleased to announce that bandleader and composer Darcy James Argue has joined the department as conductor of the Princeton University Creative Large Jazz Ensemble. The GRAMMY and JUNO-nominated artist, Guggenheim Fellow, and Doris Duke Artist will make his debut leading the Creative Large Ensemble on Saturday, December 3, 2016 at 8 p.m. at Richardson Auditorium in Alexander Hall in a program including everything from classics — Duke Ellington, Benny Carter, Mary Lou Williams — to more recent works and arrangements by today’s leading artists. The concert will also feature saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa, the new Director of Jazz at Princeton University.  more

November 23, 2016

movie-rev-11-23-16We are introduced to Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) as he disembarks from a steamship from England that has just arrived in the New York harbor in 1926. The young wizard has to resort to some sleight-of-hand illusions in order to slip through customs, because his suitcase is filled to bursting with a unique type of contraband.

It turns out that Newt is hiding a menagerie of mythical creatures with unusual names like obscurials, bowtruckles, and dougals. Thanks to the unreliable latch on his tattered leather satchel, it doesn’t take long for a mischievous niffler to escape. The odd-looking creature soon manages to break into a nearby bank vault where it proceeds to indulge its insatiable appetite for gold by stuffing coins into its pouch.

Newt, however, must get the money back to the vault before its disappearance arouses the suspicions of Mary Lou Barebone (Samantha Morton). She’s the leader of the New Salem Philanthropic Society, a group of no-majs, (aka muggles — meaning ordinary human beings), that is dedicated to the extermination of wizards and witches.

Unfortunately, Newt whips out his wand in order to recapture the naughty niffler in the presence of Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler), an affable Everyman who is applying for a loan to open his own bakery. Unfortunately, since Jacob has just observed the use of magic, wizardry protocol requires that the Everyman’s memory must be wiped clean on the spot.

However, Jacob manages to flee before being “obliviated,” and he inadvertently takes Newt’s bag of creatures with him. As luck would have it, Tina Goldstein (Katherine Waterston) — a comely witch who is a member of the Magical Congress of the United States of America — comes to Newt’s rescue.

Thus unfolds Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, a visually captivating adaptation of the J.K. Rowling bestseller of the same name. Even though the book was alluded to in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, you don’t need to be familiar with the Harry Potter books or films in order to appreciate this delightful fantasy, that apparently will have five episodes.

Oscar-winner Eddie Redmayne (The Theory of Everything) delivers a fresh and endearing vulnerability as the picture’s bashful protagonist. And he is ably assisted by a stellar supporting cast composed of A-list actors and an array of endearing computer-generated creatures.

Excellent (****). Rated PG-13 for fantasy action and violence. Running time: 132 minutes. Distributor: Warner Brothers.

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ARTS ADVOCATE: Taneshia Nash Laird is the new executive director of the Arts Council of Princeton, replacing Jeff Nathanson who is stepping down after 11 years. Ms. Nash Laird was executive director of the Trenton Downtown Association and co-founded MIST Harlem, a cultural and entertainment center.

The Arts Council of Princeton announced Tuesday that, after a national search, the organization has selected Taneshia Nash Laird as its new executive director. A regionally and nationally recognized leader in arts and economic development, Ms. Nash Laird will serve as the ACP’s third executive director since the organization’s founding in 1967. more

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More than 120 children in the Trenton Children’s Chorus (TCC) prepare to delight audience members during the month of December. TCC is an award-winning nonprofit organization providing Trenton area youth with exceptional choral music training and performance opportunities. TCC has performed at the White House for President and Mrs. Obama, the United Nations, the South African Embassy, the World Café Live, the Washington Monument, and throughout New Jersey. For additional information, visit trentonchildrenschorus.org.

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In the foreword to his best-selling autobiography Born to Run (Simon & Schuster $32.50), Bruce Springsteen pictures himself on a hypothetical stage “face to face with eighty thousand (or eighty) screaming rock’n’roll fans” waiting for him to do his “magic trick,” which is “to provide proof of life to that ever elusive, never completely believable ‘us.’” The writing of his life, then, will be his big show, his spectacle, and at 508 pages, the intention is clear: he’s going to give us our money’s worth.  more

“Art demands of us that we do not stand still.” So commented Ludwig van Beethoven on his own late string quartets. No one can argue that the world is far from standing still, and the cycle of Beethoven string quartets presented this year by the Takács String Quartet at Princeton University may represent more than just music. Beethoven composed his repertory of 16 string quartets during some of the most tumultuous decades in world history, and the Takács performance of all the composer’s quartets over six concerts both shows promise for consistency in high-quality music and demonstrates the evolution of the string quartet as a musical form.  more

November 16, 2016

MCDINFE EC060Dan Brown is the author of four bestselling mysteries that feature Harvard Professor Robert Langdon as the protagonist. The popular novels have sold over 100 million copies, and the fifth one is scheduled to be released in the fall of 2017.

Screen versions of the first two Robert Langdon books, The Da Vinci Code (2006) and Angels & Demons (2009), earned over a billion dollars at the box office. So, it’s no surprise that an adaptation of another novel has been made.

Inferno reunites director Ron Howard with Tom Hanks. Hanks reprises his lead role as the genius who has an uncanny knack for deciphering ancient symbols and religious iconography. Howard chose a stellar support cast that includes Ben Foster, Felicity Jones, Irrfan Khan, and Omar Sy.

Inferno is easily the most successful of the three movies, because it eliminates Langdon’s use of inscrutable jargon. In this film, the intellectual badinage has been minimized, thereby leaving room for a series of visually captivating action sequences.

Another plus is the easy to follow plotline. The point of departure is in a hospital in Florence, Italy where Langdon is suffering from amnesia. He is lucky to be alive because the bullet that brought on the amnesia only grazed his scalp.

However, an assassin (Ana Ularu) soon arrives to finish the job. Fortunately, Langdon’s doctor, Sienna Brooks (Jones), not only helps him escape the assassin, but she also abandons her medical practice in order to help her traumatized patient escape from his enemies.

Of course the hit woman was part of a much larger conspiracy. She was following the orders of Bertrand Zobrist (Foster), an evil billionaire who is about to unleash a diabolical solution to the world’s overpopulation problem. The madman plans to release a lethal virus that is designed to kill half the people on the planet in less than a week.

That sets off Langdon and Sienna’s dizzying race against time to foil the diabolical Zobrist’s scheme. That, in a nutshell is the essence of Inferno, except for a humdinger of a twist that is unfair to spoil.

This movie is easily the most accessible, engaging, and entertaining cinematic adaptation of a Dan Brown thriller to date.

Very Good (***). Rated PG-13 for action, violence, profanity, disturbing images, mature themes, and brief sensuality. In English, French, and Italian with subtitles. Running time: 126 minutes. Distributor: Sony Pictures.

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“What will become of us?” — PJ Harvey

In PJ Harvey’s The Hope Six Demolition Project, the music lifts you up even as the words bring you down. To paraphrase Michelle Obama, when the lyrics “go low, the music goes high.”

During the weeks leading up to the election, I was listening day in day out to Hope Six without fully registering the words. In the election aftermath, Harvey’s dark vision of devastated war zones and the mean streets of Washington D.C. makes timely sense. more

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“SUNFLOWER GLASS”: Karen and Geoff Caldwell of Sunflower Glass Studio, located outside of Stockton, are working on many new ideas with their fused and stained glass for the Covered Bridge Artisans Studio Tour and Sale. Karen continues to develop her fused dimensional botanical panels, adding many species of fish into her work. Her newest art form is creating Birch Tree groves in fused glass. Geoff is exploring his hand-painting images that go into their collaboration of the ‘Patchwork’ Series windows. He also delights in making stained and beveled glass border treatments that compliment and finish Karen’s fused glass.

The Covered Bridge Artisans Annual Studio is a self-guided event located in Southern Hunterdon County, New Jersey. The 22nd annual holiday studio tour will take place in six professional artists’ studios in the Lambertville, Stockton, and Sergeantsville areas with 11 guest artists at the Cultural Arts Center in Sergeantsville. The event will take place November 25, 26, and 27, 2016. It will run from 10 a.m.–5 p.m. on Friday and Saturday and 10 a.m.–4 p.m. on Sunday.  more

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“OLD BARN”: Carl Geisler’s photograph, “Old Barn” will be in the juried exhibit, “Farms, Barns and Bridges” at the D&R Greenway Land Trust’s Johnson Education Center from November 18 through December 16.

Farms, Barns and Bridges, a juried art exhibit, is on view at D&R Greenway Land Trust’s Johnson Education Center, 1 Preservation Place, Princeton, through December 16. There will be an opening reception, Friday, November 18, 5:30-7:30 p.m. Sales of original paintings benefit D&R Greenway’s mission of preserving land and inspiring a conservation ethic. Gallery hours are Monday-Friday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Please call ahead to confirm availability at (609) 924-4646, or visit www.drgreenway.org.

November 14, 2016
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Arts Council of Princeton’s Executive Director Jeff Nathanson with artist Paul Henry Ramirez

Photography by Erica Cardenas

Dining by Design, the Arts Council of Princeton’s signature annual fall gala, was held at Grounds for Sculpture in Hamilton Township on Saturday, November 12. This year’s theme, Eye Candy, was inspired by the art exhibit Rattle by Paul Henry Ramirez on view in Grounds for Sculpture’s West Gallery. The evening featured cocktails, hors d’oeuvres, live modern dance, Party Boards, a multi-course dinner catered by STARR Events, and an exciting live auction. The choreography and direction of the dancers was the work of Dawn Cargiulo Berman, director of The Pennington Studio for Dance and the Creative Arts. Berman engaged dancers from the Carolyn Dorfman Dance Company and Pilobolus Dance Theater to be a part of the evening. The event proved to be a major success, raising funds for the Arts Council of Princeton’s many community programs including their scholarship fund, which benefits local students.

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November 9, 2016

movie-rev-11-9-16Mildred Jeter (Ruth Negga) and Richard Loving (Joel Edgerton) committed a crime when they were young and fell in love in 1958. That’s because she was black and he was white, and they were living in Virginia, one of many southern states that had anti-miscegnation laws that forbade cohabitation, marriage, procreation, and sexual relations across racial lines.

Nevertheless, Richard was in love and he asked Mildred to marry him. When Mildred said yes, he purchased a vacant plot of land where he promised to build their dream home. However, in order to become married, they had to go to Washington, D.C., where they could obtain a marriage license.

When they returned to their hometown of Central Point, they were promptly arrested in a nighttime raid by policemen who were tipped off about the couple’s recent wedding. They were charged with violating section 20-58 of Virginia’s Racial Integrity Act, a felony that was punishable with up to five years in prison.

The Lovings were convicted, but they fled to the District of Columbia in order to avoid going to jail, especially since Mildred was expecting their first child. It was a tragedy for them to be fugitives and forced to start their family in a strange city, since they already had a place to live, albeit in a state that sanctioned racial intolerance.

Five years later, their plight came to the attention of Bernie Cohen (Nick Kroll) and Phil Hirshkop (Jon Bass) who were attorneys working with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). The lawyers persuaded Mildred and Richard to become plaintiffs in a suit that challenged the constitutionality of Virginia’s statute that prohibited interracial marriage.

The couple agreed to pursue the case, and the appellate process worked its way up to the U.S. Supreme Court. “Tell the judge I love my wife,” Richard implored the ACLU legal team as they were preparing their oral argument before the court.

On June 12, 1967, the Court announced its unanimous decision that was written by Chief Justice Earl Warren. It declared that the state of Virginia had violated the Loving family’s rights to equal protection and due process that were guaranteed in the 14th amendment to the constitution.

Directed by Jeff Nichols (Mud), Loving chronicles the life and times of an unassuming couple whose landmark legal case thrust them into the national limelight. The production features excellent performances by Ruth Negga and Joel Edgerton, who generate a quietly convincing screen chemistry while portraying Mildred and Richard as a modest working-class family.

Excellent (****). Rated PG-13 for mature themes and ethnic slurs. Running time: 123 minutes. Studio: Big Beach Films. Distributor: Focus Features.

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The portrait of Turgenev was painted in 1872 by Vasily Perov

I’ve been looking at a photograph of the Russian novelist Ivan Turgenev, who was born on this day, November 9, in 1818. What interests me about the photo, which isn’t clear enough to be reproduced here, is the unorthodox pose. He’s seated with one leg tucked under the other with a book propped on the thigh of the tucked-under leg. There’s a suggestion of amusement in his expression that seems to say, “Hello, whoever you are, let’s agree about the absurdity of humans striking poses and be comfortable together in the moment. We’re all in this together.” more

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Library Live at Labyrinth will present biographer Reiner Stach and translator Shelley Frisch in a discussion of Kafka: The Early Years, (Princeton University Press $35) on Thursday, November 10 at 6 p.m.

According to Princeton faculty member and author of Lambent Traces: Franz Kafka Stanley Corngold, “Kafka: The Early Years completes a masterful trilogy. One feature puts it at light-years’ distance of superiority to anything previously written about Kafka’s early years: Stach had unique access to Max Brod’s notebooks, part of a celebrated cache of documents bearing on his friendship with Kafka. Far more fully than any other Kafka biographer, Stach gives us what Hegel calls ‘the concrete vitality of the full individual.’” more

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BIRTHDAY SURPRISES: (L to R) Matt (Grant Shaud), Jill (June Ballinger), Carol (Leslie Ayvazian), and Dan (Ken Land) leave the city for a weekend at a bed-and-breakfast in the Poconos to celebrate Carol’s 60th birthday, and they find themselves in unexpected, unsettling emotional territory in Passage Theatre’s production of Leslie Ayvazian’s “Out of the City,” playing through November 20 at the Mill Hill Playhouse in Trenton. (Photo by Michael Goldstein)

At least since A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Shakespeare’s “out-of-the-city” play set in ancient Athens and the surrounding forest, leaving the structured, rule-bound urban world for a sojourn in the unconstrained world of nature has been a risky proposition, bringing about all sorts of romantic upheavals, shifting relationships, and surprising transformations of identity. more

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STRING SECTION: Students at Grace A. Dunn Middle School in Trenton are learning the violin from José Gregorio Sanchez Rodriguez, who is a product of the highly successful El Sistema program in Venezuela. Rodriguez also teaches at Westminster Conservatory in Princeton.

In a cluttered classroom at Trenton’s Grace A. Dunn Middle School, seven girls and one boy stand in a circle, violins in hand. It has been barely a month since they began learning the basics of the instrument. But “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star,” which they are playing along with their teacher, is sounding pretty good. more

November 2, 2016

movie-rev-11-2-16Desmond Doss (Andrew Garfield) was born in the Blue Ridge Mountains where he was raised as a Seventh-day Adventist. Devoutly religious, he followed his faith’s literal interpretation of the Ten Commandments, including the Fifth one’s dictate that “Thou shalt not kill.” So, when he rushed to enlist in the Army right after the Japanese sneak attack on Pearl Harbor, he did so as a conscientious objector.

However, because he was unwilling to touch, let alone carry a weapon, Desmond was teased mercilessly by other members of his platoon. In fact, he was not only beaten by a bully (Luke Bracey), but was also court-martialed for failing to complete the weapons part of basic training.

However, the military tribunal ruled in Desmond’s favor after his World War I veteran father (Hugo Weaving) testified on his behalf. Still, his fellow G.I.s were reluctant to accept a comrade whom they thought was a coward, since they had just been taught by their Sergeant Howell (Vince Vaughn) that a unit was no stronger than its weakest link.

Nevertheless, Desmond was commissioned as a medic with the 307th Infantry with whom he would more than prove his mettle on the island of Okinawa in the bloodiest battle of World War II. He exhibited extraordinary courage during a month spent dodging bullets and bombs in order to attend to the wounded during the siege of Hacksaw Ridge.

Desmond would save the lives of 75 soldiers and his selfless exploits were ultimately appreciated by both his fellow unit members and the Pentagon. The heroic medic eventually became the first conscientious objector to be awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor.

All of the above is recounted in riveting fashion in Hacksaw Ridge, a biopic directed by Mel Gibson. Fair warning: the film features graphic battlefield scenes similar to the gory D-Day reenactments seen in Saving Private Ryan (1998).

In addition to the gruesome war scenes, the film has flashbacks that describe Desmond’s formative years, including his romance with Dorothy Schutte (Teresa Palmer), the pretty nurse he fell in love with and married shortly before shipping out for the Pacific Theater.

The film closes with archival newsreels and stills of the real-life Desmond and Dorothy. The movie is a moving portrait of a war hero who made a significant contribution to the war effort without ever using a weapon.

Excellent (****). Rated R for graphic violence, gruesome images, and ethnic slurs. Running time: 131 minutes. Distributor: Summit Entertainment.

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The portrait of Emily is by her brother Branwell, as restored by Michael Armitage.  It was originally painted around 1833-34 when she would have been 15 or 16. It is on view in The National Portrait Gallery, London.

Imagine a neighborhood dominated by bookish types who costume their children in the garb of their dark favorites every Halloween. Not for them the everyday Draculas, Darth Vaders, Freddy Krugers, and Norman Bateses. No, this is the domain of wee Lady Macbeths and Crookback Richards. more

In its season opener at Richardson Auditorium this past weekend, Princeton Pro Musica returned to its roots in the great choral masses of music history. Pro Musica Artistic Director Ryan James Brandau centered Sunday afternoon’s concert on one of the more dramatic masses of Franz Joseph Haydn, combined with smaller choral works similarly grounded with Classical melodies and clear-cut structures. Dr. Brandau combined the 100-voice Pro Musica with a Classically-sized orchestra and the established Polydora Ensemble, whose members doubled as soloists for the Haydn mass. more

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Growing up in Princeton, Brian Sanders was captivated by two things: ballet and gymnastics. The 1984 graduate of Princeton High School divided his time between Princeton Ballet School and Alt’s Gym.

Initially, ballet won out. Mr. Sanders spent several years studying at Princeton Ballet with the late Alexei Yudenich, who was a principal dancer with The Pennsylvania Ballet. So there is something gratifying about the fact that a piece by Mr. Sanders, now a choreographer with his own company, is being performed by the Pennsylvania Ballet next weekend. Chicken Bone Brain shares a program with works by George Balanchine and British choreographer David Dawson at Philadelphia’s Merriam Theatre November 10-13. more

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“ONCE”: Seniors Sam Gravitte and Maddie Meyers in rehearsal for the Lewis Center for the Arts’s production of the musical “Once.” The show runs November 11, 12, 17, 18, and 19 at 8 p.m. in the Berlind Theatre at McCarter Theatre Center. Tickets are available at (609) 258-2787 and online at arts.princeton.edu/once. (Photo Credit: Graham Phillips)

The Lewis Center for the Arts at Princeton University presents the Tony Award-winning musical Once, directed by senior Graham Phillips and featuring seniors Sam Gravitte and Maddie Meyers, on November 11, 12, 17, 18 and 19 at 8 p.m. in the Berlind Theatre at McCarter Theatre Center. more

October 27, 2016

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HOSPITALITY TO HOSTILITY: (L to R) Amir (Maboud Ebrahimzadeh), Emily (Caroline Kaplan), Isaac (Kevin Isola), and Jory (Austene Van) enjoy a cordial dinner before resentments surface and the mood turns dark in McCarter Theatre’s production of Ayad Akhtar’s 2013 Pulitzer Prize-winning drama “Disgraced,” at McCarter’s Matthews Theatre through October 30. (Photo by T. Charles Erickson)

If Ayad Akhtar’s characters had followed my grandmother’s warning, “We never discuss politics or religion at social occasions,” his 2013 Pulitzer Prize-winning drama Disgraced would never have been written.

Now playing in a riveting production at McCarter’s Matthews Theatre, the 90-minute uninterrupted, four-scene exploration of identity, Islam, and what it means to be Muslim in contemporary America, as seen through the interwoven lives of five New York City characters, was the most often produced play in the United States in the 2015-16 season.  more

October 26, 2016

AMH_D5_04663.RAFNo one has ever accused Tyler Perry of being short on ideas. The prolific writer/director has been the brains behind plays, movies, and television shows. But he would be the first to admit that he was not the source of inspiration for Boo! A Madea Halloween, the ninth in the Madea series about the sassy sermonizing granny.

The idea originated with Chris Rock, who featured a fake poster for a film with the identical title in his 2014 comedy Top Five. Because the joke went viral, Tyler decided why not get back in drag and make a movie to meet the demand generated by the buzz.

However, Boo! definitely has a different feel from the previous Madea movies. It is not a typical Tyler Perry morality play but instead is a rudderless, kitchen sink comedy that seizes on any excuse for a laugh. Madea is no longer a Bible thumping role model who interferes on behalf of an underdog in distress. True, one minute, she’s promoting old-fashioned values. However, in the next scene she is exposing her breasts to frat boys.

The film does have a rudimentary plot about Madea’s 17-year-old grand-niece, Tiffany (Diamond White). However the idea is presented at the opening of the film and promptly abandoned. It’s Halloween, and the headstrong high schooler and her girlfriends hope to attend a party at the Upsilon Theta frat house.

Since her divorced father (also played by Perry) will be otherwise occupied, it falls to Madea to babysit Tiffany, to make sure the rebellious teen never leaves the house. Madea arrives with an entourage of amusing misfits, including Aunt Bam (Cassi Davis), Hattie (Patrice Lovely), and Uncle Joe (also played by Perry).

Soon, silly Halloween one-liners, non sequiturs, slapstick, and sight gags appear at a fast and furious rate. Unfortunately, many of the punchlines are likely to be lost on those unable to decipher the often inscrutable exchanges.

Good (**). Rated PG-13 for drug use, suggestive content, profanity, ethnic slurs, scary images, and mature themes. Running time: 103 minutes. Distributor: Lionsgate Films.