July 6, 2016

dvd revOne-hundred fifty years ago this month Beatrix Potter, the creator of Peter Rabbit, was born in London. Peter entered the wider world in book form in 1902 and since then has reportedly sold more than 40 million copies in as many as 35 languages. Just to keep things in perspective on Britain’s place in that wider world amid the withdrawal trauma of Brexit, it’s worth noting that by 1903, six decades in advance of Beatlemania, there was a Peter Rabbit doll and a board game, the first items in a never-ending outpouring of English merchandise featuring Peter and his “Little England” community of friends.
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In musical performance, the term “trio” refers to any combination of three instruments, often two stringed instruments and a keyboard. Prima Trio, which performed last Tuesday night on the Princeton Summer Chamber Concerts series, has put their own twist on this tradition by combining piano and clarinet with either violin or viola. Gulia Gurevich has expanded the range of Prima Trio by playing both violin and viola, joining clarinetist Boris Allakhverdyan and pianist Anastasia Dedik. Each of these players comes from a unique part of the world, and brought their multicultural backgrounds and solid training to Richardson Auditorium for last Tuesday night’s performance. The members of Prima Trio honed their craft at Oberlin Conservatory and through 12 years of playing together and touring, their performance moved from traditional to contemporary, with much of the program drawn from the 20th century.
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Theater rev 7-6-16

VENEER OF CIVILITY: Two sets of parents come together for a rational, civilized discussion of a playground dispute that has taken place between their sons, in Princeton Summer Theater’s production of Yasmina Reza’s black comedy “God of Carnage.” (L to R) Maddie Meyers as Annette, Billy Cohen as Alan, Olivia Nice as Veronica, and Jake McCready as Michael. (Photo by Ogemdi Ude)

The setting is a fashionable living room in the Cobble Hill section of Brooklyn. The leather furniture is spare and tasteful. A large vase of tulips graces the elegant coffee table, which is covered with art books. An expensive-looking painting fills the back wall.

Two sets of well-educated upper middle class parents are discussing a playground dispute that has taken place between their 11-year-old sons. “Fortunately, there is still such a thing as the art of co-existence, isn’t there?” says Veronica, whose son has lost two teeth in the incident.
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movie rev

The slave raids led by Nat Turner and John Brown are well documented in the annals of American history. However, the story of another abolitionist and insurrectionist has somehow slipped through the cracks. At least until now.

Newton Knight (Matthew McConaughey), the grandson of a slave owner, was born and raised in Jones County, Mississippi. That alone should make him an unlikely person to mount a revolt against the status quo in the South. He served as a medic in the Confederate army during the Civil War, and was disheartened when he learned that the sons of large plantation owners had been exempted from the military draft. He was further demoralized when a fresh young recruit (Jacob Lofland) from Knight’s hometown, who had just joined his unit, died in a battle.

Since he couldn’t see any sense in a war where poor people were fighting to preserve the privileges of the very rich, Newt went AWOL, taking the dead boy’s body with him. He returned to Jones County where he was quickly identified as a deserter. After his wife (Keri Russell) abandoned him and his farm was confiscated by the Confederacy, he fled for his life, and found sanctuary in a swamp deep in the woods that was inhabited by a handful of escaped slaves.

There, he befriended Moses (Mahershala Ali), a runaway slave with an iron collar that had been soldered around his neck by a sadistic slave master. Newt, a blacksmith by trade, gained the group’s trust by removing the collar from Moses’s neck.

A naturally charismatic person, Newt quickly became the group’s leader, and founded the Free State of Jones that had four core principles that promoted racial equality. Gradually, their ranks swelled to over 250, with ex-slaves and disaffected Rebels joining them.

Thus unfolds Free State of Jones, a biopic written and directed by four-time Oscar-nominee Gary Ross.

Matthew McConaughey shines from beginning to end in the film. The drama is compelling, primarily because nobody knew that this revolt had occurred in Mississippi. a state known for its segregation and intolerance.

Very Good (***). Rated R for brutal battle scenes, an ethnic slur, and disturbing images. Running time: 139 minutes. Distributor: STX Entertainment.

 

June 29, 2016

movie rev

Nancy Adams (Blake Lively) was so shaken by her mother’s (Janelle Bailey) untimely death that she dropped out of med school. In an attempt to feel closer to her late mother, she decided to go to the same Mexican retreat where her mother told her she had been conceived. An avid surfer, Nancy plans to search for her mother’s favorite stretch of beach.

When she arrives, Nancy is so impatient to find that idyllic spot that she impulsively heads for the ocean with her surfboard, handbag, and smartphone, leaving her tired companion at the hotel. She gets a ride to the shore from Carlos (Oscar Jaenada), who is happy to serve as Nancy’s chauffeur and navigator. After depositing her at the secluded cove, he drives away. Nancy is not worried about being left alone, since she does have cell phone service. So she blissfully paddles out to deep water on her surfboard where she’s surrounded by a pod of playful dolphins as she starts riding the waves.

Things change when she spots the carcass of a humpback whale. What Nancy doesn’t realize, until it’s too late, is that she’s in the feeding ground of a shark.

She receives a nasty gash from the initial attack of the shark but is able to swim to a tiny nearby island. Her medical training comes in handy as she quickly fashions a tourniquet from part of her outfit.

However, with high tide coming in a matter of hours, she knows that she’s got to get to the beach before her temporary sanctuary is overrun by the rising sea level. The shore is 200 yards away, which is too far to swim with a determined predator steadily circling as her blood drips into the water.

Two potential rescuers (Jose Manuel Trujillo Salas and Angelo Josue Lozano Corzo) show up, but hope fades when they start swimming without noticing that Nancy is in trouble. The next beach goer (Diego Espejel) does see that Nancy needs help, and takes advantage of her predicament to steal her phone and other personal effects that were left on the sand.

So Nancy must survive by her wits, a daunting challenge given her situation. Thus unfolds The Shallows, an engaging thriller expertly directed by Jaume Collett-Serra (Non-Stop).

The movie borrows elements from Jaws, Castaway, Blue Crush, and MacGyver. The good news is that it all has been sewn together quite seamlessly into a movie that will keep you on the edge of your seat.

Excellent (****). Rated PG-13 for bloody images, intense scenes of peril, and brief profanity. Running time: 87 minutes. Distributor: Columbia Pictures.

 

After approving my 2000 Honda CRV for another two years last month at the Inspection Station, the DMV technician wants to know about my MOBY license plate — is it about the musician or the whale?
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Since its inception 49 years ago, Princeton University Summer Chamber Concerts has presented many fine string quartets. All-female quartets have been few and far between, and ensembles which can mesmerize an audience as well as the Aizuri Quartet are even rarer. The Summer Chamber Concerts opening event last Thursday night featuring the Aizuri Quartet brought a nearly full house to Richardson Auditorium to hear excellence in chamber music performance.
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June 22, 2016

movie rev 6-22-16In high school, Calvin (Kevin Hart) was voted “Most Likely to Succeed” while his chubby pal Bob (Dwayne Johnson) was bullied by classmates because of his weight. However, that was 20 years ago, and a lot has changed since then.

Today, Calvin is thinking that he might have peaked during his glory days at Central High when he and his childhood sweetheart Maggie (Danielle Nicolet) were voted Homecoming King and Queen. The pair did get married, but their relationship’s been so rocky that she’s insisting that they enter therapy. Things are even worse for Calvin at his accounting firm, where he’s just been passed over for a promotion to partner.

In comparison, Bob’s fortunes have improved considerably during the 20 years. He lost weight, and with the help of weight-lifting, he has become quite handsome. Furthermore, he is having a successful career as a CIA agent involved in international espionage.

The pair meet again for the first time at their 20th high school reunion where Calvin is impressed both by Bob’s new physique and his daring line of work. Taking advantage of the situation, Bob enlists Calvin’s technical expertise as an accountant to help him in his latest assignment.

That’s the point of departure of Central Intelligence, a comedy directed by Rawson Marshall Thurber (We’re the Millers). Kevin Hart has proven himself quite the master of the genre, given the success of such box-office hits as The Wedding Ringer, Get Hard and Ride Along 1 and 2. Unfortunately, Kevin and co-star Dwayne Johnson fail to generate any chemistry, even though they appear in scene after scene of silly slapstick.

The movie attempts to be humorous by contrasting Bob’s bravery with Calvin’s cowardice. But sadly, the laughs are few and far between during this underwhelming action-adventure.

Fair (*). Rated PG-13 for violence, sexuality, nudity, crude humor, and brief profanity. Running time: 107 minutes. Distributor: Warner Brothers Pictures.

The girl from L.A. had just arrived in Venice and was sitting at a cafe on Piazza San Marco being hassled by a Yugoslavian when she noticed a bedraggled individual shuffling across the great space, probably on his way to the American Express office to check for mail. His hair was long and scraggly and his jeans were baggy and halfway falling down, as if he had recently lost a great deal of weight. For the better part of a year she’d been exchanging letters with a guy she’d met in Berkeley; they had arranged to meet at the foot of the campanile on the evening of June 21.  more

Theater rev

Princeton Summer Theater’s (PST) 2016 season opener, Assassins, is chilling in its timeliness.

Just five days after a gunman assassinated 49 people in Orlando, the opening-night audience watched as nine characters — all wannabe assassins of U.S. Presidents — paraded across the Hamilton Murray stage, brandishing an array of firearms.  more

Art McCurry

“AFGHAN GIRL”: This iconic photograph by Steve McCurry will be on display at the Michener Art Museum starting July 16 as part of the exhibit, “Unguarded, Untold, Iconic: Afghanistan through the Lens of Steve McCurry.”

In an exhibition that opens on July 16, 2016, the James A. Michener Art Museum will present a collection of photographs by Steve McCurry, the photographer whose iconic image “Afghan Girl” captivated the world in 1985.  more

Art Ellarsie Open 33 6-22-16

Now is the chance to visit the Ellarslie Open 33 Juried Exhibit that will close on June 26. This painting by Sheila Grabarsky titled “Orange Segment” won the Douglas H. Palmer Award for Best in Show Overall and is part of the exhibition. Along with this piece are more than 180 artworks from area artists that are currently on view at the Trenton City Museum. 

This season Princeton Festival has undertaken one of the most complex and challenging operas in the repertory with Benjamin Britten’s dark but poetic Peter Grimes. Like the World War II years in which the opera was composed, Peter Grimes has many levels, reaching back to 19th century morality while drawing on fears and suspicions still prevalent today. The date of the opera’s premiere, in London’s first few post-war months, makes the genesis of this work even more remarkable.  more

Theater Frozen 6-22-16

State Theatre of NJ in New Brunswick will host a free screening of Disney’s “Frozen” on Tuesday, July 12 at 10:30 a.m. and 7 p.m. The event is part of a Free Summer Movie Series at the State Theatre. Upcoming films include “E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial,” “Despicable Me 2,” “Babe,” and “Monsters University.” For more information, visit www.statetheatrenj.org

Music PSC 6-22-16

SUMMER COURTYARD CONCERT SERIES: Soul R&B artist Lindsey Webster will perform at the Princeton Shopping Center on Thursday, July 7 at 6 p.m. as part of the Summer Courtyard Concert Series.

The Arts Council of Princeton (ACP), in partnership with the Princeton Shopping Center and Edens, presents the Summer Courtyard Concert Series every Thursday from June 23 to August 25 at 6 p.m. in the Princeton Shopping Center Courtyard, 301 North Harrison Street.  more

Dark Star Orchestra - Publicity Images - 2016

Dark Star Orchestra – Publicity Images – 2016 – Suzy Perler

The Mercer County Park Commission announces that “Dark Star Orchestra: Continuing the Grateful Dead Concert” is coming to Mercer County Park Festival Grounds on Friday, August 12. The concert will start at 6 p.m., with doors opening at 5 p.m. Tickets are $27 for general admission and are available now for purchase through the Sun National Bank Center box office. To purchase, call (800)-298-4200 or visit www.sunnationalbankcenter.com

Piano Winners

Over 120 young pianists competed in this year’s Princeton Festival Piano Competition. The 2016 Young Artist Winners are (l to r): Mia Huang, Petrina Steimel, Stephen Joven-Lee, Isabella Florendo, Kyle Huang, Angeline Ma and Linsy Wang. Jacobs Music was again the sponsor for the Young Pianists Competition, which has been a highly anticipated feature of The Princeton Festival since 2008. Lois Laverty and Glenn Smith were Masters of Ceremonies and Randy Brown from Jacobs Music Company presented the awards. (Photo Credit: Pia Ruggles) 

June 15, 2016

movie rev 6-15-16It’s been three years since we saw the world’s greatest illusionists — known as the Four Horsemen — playing a game of cat-and-mouse with the FBI. Now, the master magicians have resurfaced for a mesmerizing adventure that ups the ante in terms of both audacity and visual effects.

This sequel wows the audience with a combination of spectacular stunts and an array of exotic locales. However, if you don’t expect a coherent plot, then this globe-trotting fantasy will not disappoint you.

Directed by Jon M. Chu (Jem and the Holograms), the movie co-stars Woody Harrelson, Jesse Eisenberg, and Dave Franco who reprise their lead roles as Merritt, Daniel, and Jack respectively. Lizzy Caplan rounds out the principal cast as Lula, replacing Isla Fisher as a member of the Four Horsemen. The ensemble cast also includes Academy Award-winners Morgan Freeman and Michael Caine, as well as Daniel (Harry Potter) Radcliffe and Sanaa Lathan.

After filling in a bit of backstory from 1984, the movie fast-forwards to the present where we find our heroes being blackmailed by Walter Mabry (Radcliffe), a billionaire bad boy who is bent on world domination. He has designs on “The Stick,” a special computer chip that will give him unfettered access to the back door of every computer on the planet.

Of course, the quartet proves adept at staying a step ahead of the megalomaniacal misanthrope. Instead of accommodating Mabry, they proceed to use their seemingly supernatural powers in displays of hocus-pocus.

Although the group is worried about restoring its tarnished reputation, that concern takes a back seat to staging a series of implausible magical acts.

There’s also a competition among the four with each one endeavoring to outdo the other. The ensuing feats make for an eye-popping blockbuster, even if what’s on the screen is computer generated special effects.

Excellent (***½ stars). Rated PG-13 for violence and some profanity. Running time: 115 minutes. Distributor: Lionsgate Films.

Though a quarrel in the Streets is a thing to be hated, the energies displayed in it are fine ….

—John Keats (1795-1821)

All the great poets should have been fighters.

—Muhammad Ali (1942-2016)

Courtesy of a live feed from the BBC, we’re driving through the streets of Louisville under bright blue skies with the hearse carrying the body of Muhammad Ali to Cave Hill cemetery. As the procession passes through modest neighborhoods like the one Cassius Clay grew up in, past his school, Central High, crowds on both sides of the street are throwing flowers, waving, shouting, chanting “Ali! Ali!” The flowers have fallen so heavily on the windshield of the hearse, it’s a wonder the driver can see where he’s going. more

Art Edrman Gallery 6-15-16

“FUNKY COLOR WHEEL”: This 19” x 14” artwork by third grader Gabriel Contreras will be featured in the exhibition “The Many Colors of Christina Seix Academy” at the Erdman Art Gallery. Each of the artworks on display was created by a third grader from the Academy, which serves children from single-parent homes in the greater Trenton area.

Princeton Theological Seminary’s Erdman Art Gallery presents “The Many Colors of Christina Seix Academy,” an exhibition of still life paintings, etchings, sculptures, mosaics, and rock art, created by third grade students of the academy. The exhibition at the gallery, located at 20 Library Place, opens Saturday, June 18 from 10 a.m. to noon. The exhibit, which runs until August 19, is free and open to the public. more

Pennington School Play 2016

“THE PLAY’S THE THING”: “We thought this was an opportunity for Pennington School graduates to continue to work in the theater. They might not have been able to do this after graduation, and found they missed it. It’s also an opportunity to work together with alumni who were not classmates. We have graduates from the Class of 2016 and one from 2011.” Henry Sheeran (left) and Tim Secrest, Pennington School Class of 2014, have started a new theater company, which will have its first production June 23.

CLARIFICATION: The Pennington School production of “Charlie and Bruno”  will be performed on Thursday and Friday, June 23 and 24 at 7:30 p.m., Saturday, June 25 at 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.

The curtain is going up on a brand new production at The Pennington School. Charlie and Bruno, a one act play, written, produced, directed, and acted by former Pennington School students, will be performed at the school June 23rd and 24th. more

Princeton Festival has placed a special emphasis on the music of 20th-century British composer Benjamin Britten this year. The cornerstone opera of the Festival’s 2016 season is Britten’s Peter Grimes, and this past Friday night, Concordia Chamber Players offered some of Britten’s more charming works for voice and instruments as the festival concluded its first week. more

Music Prima _2

The Prima Trio will perform at Richardson Auditorium on Tuesday, June 28 at 7:30 p.m. as part of the Princeton University Summer Chamber Concerts series. Founded in 2004 while its members were studying at the Oberlin Conservatory of Music in Ohio, the Trio triumphed at the 2007 Fischoff Chamber Music Competition, winning the coveted Grand Prize, as well as the Gold Medal in the Senior Division. In addition, the Prima Trio was awarded a Midwest Winner’s Tour and a European debut at Italy’s Emilia Romagna Festival. more

Music Lawrence 6-15-16

Soprano Dominika Zamara and classical guitarist Stanley Alexandrowicz will perform arias, songs, and solos at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, August 10, at the Lawrence Headquarters Branch of the Mercer County Library System. The program will highlight Romantic-era songs by Croatia’s preeminent 19th century composer-guitarist Ivan Padovec (1800-1873), Baroque and contemporary guitar solos, as well as famous operatic arias by Vincenzo Bellini (“Casta Diva” — from the opera “Norma”), and Georges Bizet (“Habanera” — from the opera “Carmen”).  more

June 8, 2016

movie revX-Men: Apocalypse is the ninth movie in the Marvel Comics series that was launched in 2000. This episode is the fourth directed by the series’ originator, Bryan Singer, whose sophisticated touch gives the audience a relatively cerebral experience.

The movie not only includes action sequences that feature exhibitions of spectacular superpowers, but it also has an absorbing plotline. The result is a film for all age groups that’s memorable for more than its special effects.

The story begins in Cairo in 1983, where we we see the ancient mutant Apocalypse (Oscar Isaac) rising from the dead. Disenchanted with the world’s current state of affairs, he decides to destroy civilization and start over.

Although Apocalypse is the most powerful mutant, he recruits four allies to assist him in his mission. Dubbed the Four Horsemen, the group is comprised of Magneto (Michael Fassbender), Storm (Alexandra Shipp), Psylocke (Olivia Munn), and Archangel (Ben Hardy), who represent War, Famine, Pestilence, and Death, respectively.

By the time the forces of good understand the extent of Apocalypse’s diabolical scheme, it is almost too late because cities from New York to Sydney are under attack. Fortunately, after the X-Men leader Professor Xavier (James McAvoy) falls under Apocalypse’s spell, Professor Xavier’s protege — shape-shifting Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) — rises to the occasion and rallies the next generation of mutants in the battle to save the besieged planet.

She is helped by telekinetic Jean Grey (Sophie Turner), teleporting Nightcrawler (Kodi Smit-McPhee), supersonic Quicksilver (Evan Peters), brawny and brilliant Beast (Nicholas Hoult), laser-eyed Cyclops (Tye Sheridan), and CIA agent Moira MacTaggert (Rose Byrne). Initially, they prove no match for Apocalypse, who has been harnessing an assortment of powers over a period of several millennia.

However, by pooling their skills and resources very effectively, the protagonists prove themselves able to conquer evil, save the world, and thereby survive for another sequel.

Excellent (***½). Rated PG-13 for violence, action, destruction, suggestive images, and brief profanity. In English, German, Polish, Arabic, and Ancient Egyptian. Running time: 144 minutes. Distributor: 20th Century Fox.