August 17, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Theater Piaf 8-17-16

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

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

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

Music Nashville 8-17-16

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

August 10, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2016 PST Fool For Love

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

Eddie: “It’s no fantasy.”

May: “It’s all a fantasy.”

 more

book rev

Do your thing and I shall know you.

—Emerson, “Self-Reliance”

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

Art Rev_1

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

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

Art Rev_2

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

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

August 3, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

book rev

Just as hate knows love’s the cure

—Stevie Wonder

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

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

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

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

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

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

Theater Fool 8-3-16

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

Theater Adams 8-3-16

On Saturday, September 10 at 1:30 p.m., the actor Peyton Dixon will portray the Honorable James Adams as he reminisces on his life in Congress, role in the Treaty of Paris, time as vice president, and relationship with George Washington. The program will take place at Rockingham’s historic Dutch Barn, located at 84 Laurel Avenue/Kingston-Rocky Hill Road in Franklin Township, one mile north of Route 27 in Kingston. Dixon is an actor-historian with over 15 years of experience portraying John Adams. The performance is free, but advance reservations are required by calling (609) 683-7132. To learn more, visit www.rockingham.net

July 27, 2016

movie rev 7-27-16Pablo Escobar (1949-1993) was an infamous mobster who ran Colombia’s Medellin drug cartel with an iron fist. During his reign, Escobar controlled about 80 percent of the global cocaine market, and took in about $70 million/day.

To maintain his power, the ruthless kingpin had his henchmen assassinate thousands of adversaries, including policemen, politicians, witnesses, judges, and journalists. Therefore, to infiltrate the ranks of such a vicious operation at its height in the 80s was certainly a very difficult and dangerous undertaking.

However, the risks didn’t deter U.S. Customs Agent Robert Mazur (Bryan Cranston), even though he had a wife (Juliet Aubrey) and two children (Lara Decaro and Niall Hayes). Robert assured his spouse that this would be his last assignment before retirement. He adopted the alias Bob Musella and pretended to be a shady Tampa businessman who was willing to turn the drug cartel’s drug money into Florida real estate.

He recruited two agents to help him bring off this daring sting. One was Kathy Ertz (Diane Kruger), a novice who posed as his fiancée on her first undercover case. The other was Emir Abreu (John Leguizamo), a new partner who has street smarts. Soon the trio is swept into a seedy underworld where they have a close brush with death at every turn. However, by proving themselves to be capable and trustworthy money launderers, they gradually work their way up the Medellin cartel food chain to the point where they gain the confidence of Roberto Alcaino (Benjamin Bratt), Escobar’s Miami-based right-hand man.

Consequently, Bob and Kathy become friends with Roberto and his wife, Gloria (Elena Anaya). They are regularly invited over for dinner to the Alcainos’ sprawling mansion, however, the host always reminds Bob and Kathy about the gruesome fate that awaits snitches and traitors.

Thus unfolds The Infiltrator, a riveting, cat-and-mouse thriller directed by Brad Furman (The Lincoln Lawyer). The screenplay was adapted by Furman’s mother Ellen from Mazur’s memoir of the same name. The film stars Bryan Cranston, who ratchets up the tension by portraying his conflicted character with a convincing combination of arrogance and existential dread.

Excellent (****). Rated R for pervasive profanity, graphic violence, drug use, and some sexuality. In English and Spanish with subtitles. Running time: 127 minutes. Distributor: Broad Green Pictures.

book revMy earliest memory of political excitement was rooting for Eisenhower during the suspenseful first roll call at what the New York Times called the “bitterly divided” 1952 Republican convention in Chicago. My childhood party loyalty was due to love of Lincoln, who the history books said was a Republican, which was good enough for me—until Kennedy came along. Even so, my first vote almost went to Richard Nixon. I have Norman Mailer’s Esquire essay “Superman Comes to the Super Market” to thank for helping save me from so ignominious a fate.

I only wish Mailer, who died in 2007, had been covering events in Cleveland last week. Is there a writer in the summer of 2016 brash or brilliant or courageous enough to make something novelistically engaging out of that festival of hate and its nightmare nominee? Trump would have been rich dessert for Mailer’s hungry, equally huge and infinitely more stylish and self-aware ego. In a photo online of the two tuxedo-clad men with their wives taken at a 1987 Trump Plaza party for Trump’s The Art of the Deal, Mailer is looking boisterously genial at 64, a barrel-chested battler ever ready for a brawl, while Trump looks hale and handsome at 41, an age at which he had “the attention span of a 9-year-old,” according to a Fox News interview with Tony Schwartz, who ghostwrote the book being so lavishly celebrated.  more

Art Grounds for Sculp 7-27-16

“SATURN’S RINGS”: Elyn Zimmerman will have a solo exhibition titled “Wind, Water, Stone” at the Grounds for Sculpture starting August 27.  

Grounds For Sculpture has announced its Fall/Winter 2016-17 season featuring major solo exhibitions by two distinguished American sculptors, Elyn Zimmerman and Ned Smyth. Both artists are pioneers of public art and long-time participants in the New York art world, exhibiting at some of the most prominent galleries and museums. Their works are represented in museum, private, and public collections throughout the United States and beyond. more

Art Mujeres 7-27-16

“MUJERES”:  Artworks Trenton’s September exhibit titled “Mujeres” will showcase the range of Latina women’s creativity and culture.  Artist Guadalupe Reyes’ untitled work, pictured above, will be including in the showcases, which runs from September 10 to October 1. 

Exploding stereotypes and showing there’s a world of Latina art beyond Frida, Artworks will present “Mujeres,” a group show in September featuring the work of five women artists: Esperanza Cortes, Guadalupe Reyes, Jennifer Rivera, Tamara Torres and Mary Valverde.  more

Recycling company TerraCycle is hosting the 11th annual Jersey Fresh Jam, New Jersey’s biggest showcase of hip hop art and culture on Saturday, August 6. In partnership with Trenton based graffiti artists, Leon Rainbow and Vicious Styles Crew, TerraCycle is providing their headquarters as a canvas for talent around the country to express their artistic freedom. more

Open call auditions for The Pennington Players’ October show, In the Heights, will take place at Kelsey Theatre at Mercer County Community College (MCCC) on Saturday, July 30 from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. and Sunday, August 7 from 2 to 6 p.m. All roles are open and will remain so until the end of auditions. This is a non-equity and non-paying production.  more

July 20, 2016

movie rev 7-20-16First released in 1984, Ghostbusters grossed almost a quarter-billion dollars at the box office, making it the most successful comedy of the 80s. In the 2016 remake, director Paul Feig (Bridesmaids) has tweaked the story by changing the gender of the leads from male to female.

Wisely, Feig chose four excellent comediennes: Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, Kate McKinnon, and Leslie Jones. The director developed a script that plays to each of their respective strengths. The result is a hilarious remake that pays homage to the first film while remaining refreshingly unique in its own right. Plus, the movie features amusing appearances by original cast members Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Sigourney Weaver, Ernie Hudson, and Annie Potts.

The point of departure is stately Aldridge mansion in Manhattan, where a tour guide (Zach Woods) inadvertently releases the disembodied spirit of Gertrude Aldridge (Bess Rous), a serial killer who had been locked in a dungeon and fed through a slot in the door after killing all of her family servants in 1894. The attack by the evil apparition causes the slimed victim to enlist the assistance of Abby Yates (McCarthy) and Jillian Holtzmann (McKinnon), professors of the paranormal at the mythical Higgins Institute of Science to exorcise the evil spirit.

The two academics are anxious to explore the haunted house. On their way to the mansion they are joined by Abby’s friend Columbia Professor Erin Gilbert (Wiig), and Patty Tolan (Jones), a token booth clerk who was scared by a spook she saw in a subway tunnel. Unfortunately for the foursome, they are unable to find any evidence of a ghost in the building.

As a result, all three professors lose their jobs. Undeterred, they turn a loft above a Chinese restaurant into a research lab, hire a secretary (Chris Hemsworth), and convert a hearse, borrowed from Patty’s mortician uncle (Ernie Hudson), into a Ghostbuster-mobile.

The self-proclaimed “Conductors of the Metaphysical” develop an arsenal of high-tech weapons including ray guns, a ghost shredder, and a motion-activated proton glove. And just in time, because New York City is being invaded by an army of menacing apparitions.

Excellent (****). Rated PG-13 for action and crude humor. Running time: 116 minutes. Distributor: Sony Pictures.