October 21, 2015

Music RevA great deal of music came out of World War II, including patriotic songs and battle-inspired orchestral works from leading composers of the time, but none was more poignant than the music composed in Theresienstadt, the ghetto established in the city of Terezin, outside of Prague, in which 140,000 individuals were imprisoned by the Nazis between June 1940 and the end of the war. This European wartime center of music-making was one of its most productive but also one of its most horrific locales — a walled “Main Fortress” used both as a transport center and artistic “model settlement” for German propaganda.

Theresienstadt was a city unto itself, with a cultural life rivaling any European major city. The collective art and music of Terezin has been the subject of books and films, and pieces by imprisoned composers are heard on concert programs, sandwiched among secure and comforting war horses. It is a brave ensemble that presents an entire program on the works originating from such a devastating creative environment. The Richardson Chamber Players became one such ensemble this past Sunday afternoon in Richardson Auditorium, with “Voices out of the Storm,” a program of five rarely-heard chamber pieces composed by composers of Theresienstadt. More poignant than the music itself was the fact that four of the composers died in 1944, with the fifth in early 1945, characterizing the program as a concert of talent unrealized. more

October 14, 2015

movie rev

MacGyver was a TV series about a character who was famous for using his scientific knowledge to use everyday household items in order to survive in a variety of life-and-death situations. The Martian is an outer space adventure in which a stranded astronaut, with an uncanny knack for improvisation, uses a similar approach to survive on Mars.

The picture stars Matt Damon as Mark Watney, a wounded botanist who was mistakenly presumed dead and left behind by his fellow crew members in the wake of a dangerous dust storm on Mars. However, he is actually very much alive, but doesn’t have enough oxygen, water, food, equipment, and other resources necessary to last the four years it will take for NASA to rescue him.

Undaunted, resourceful Mark proceeds, among many other things, to perform surgery on himself and grow potatoes in a makeshift garden that is fertilized using his own waste products. And, like an intergalactic variation on Tom Hanks’s role in Cast Away, Matt Damon appears alone on the screen for most of the movie.

The great news is that Damon is captivating, and the 141 minutes running time flies by in a flash. Besides captivating us with his ingenious inventions, Matt repeatedly makes us laugh with his many humorous asides.

Directed by three-time Oscar-nominee Ridley Scott (Thelma and Louise, Gladiator, and Black Hawk Down), The Martian has all the tension of the movie Gravity. In addition, its visual effects are the equal of Interstellar.

Excellent (****). Rated  PG-13 for profanity, injury images, and brief profanity. Running time: 141 minutes. Distributor: 20th Century Fox.

book rev

Book love is your pass to the greatest, the purest, the most perfect pleasure….The habit of reading is the only joy in which there us no alloy; it lasts when all other pleasures fade.

—Anthony Trollope (1815-1882)

The quotes about “book love” and “the habit of reading” spearheading this introduction to the upcoming Friends of the Library Book Sale surfaced while I was gazing into the sprawling immensity of Anthony Trollope’s beard. Of all the views of Trollopian facial hair shown in an online gallery of images, this prodigious display most fittingly suggests the depth and range of the event that begins Friday morning at ten in the Community Room. Seen here in full flower compared to the more crafted and contained incarnations, the author’s beard spreads hugely east and west, a veritable landscape, offering in its sheer breadth not only an evocation of the scope of the sale but a definitive image of its owner’s productivity, at rough count 40-plus novels, 15 story collections, and 15 works of non-fiction. more

Theater review

Fifth grade teacher Heather Clark (Hope Kean) is about to get a visit from a parent she doesn’t expect. Eleven-year-old Gidion has committed suicide after bringing home notice of his suspension from school, but his mother Corryn Fell (Ugonna Nwabueze) is determined to keep her scheduled appointment with his teacher.

Filled with feelings of anger, confusion, guilt, sadness, and frustration, Corryn arrives at Heather’s classroom. She wants to know why Gidion was suspended. She wants to understand why he killed himself. She wants an outlet for her anger and emotions. She wants a target for her revenge. The play takes place in real time as the two women square off over the next 75 minutes. more

Gallicantus_Web_Square

Performing arts organizations have long been exploring ways to better connect with audiences, and listeners often wonder what is really going on with performers onstage during a concert. Princeton University Concerts has taken a step toward answering all these questions with a newly-created “Performances Up Close” series bringing musicians and audiences together in an intimate space. This past Sunday afternoon saw the renowned vocal ensemble Gallicantus performing within a circle of 150 of their closest friends in Richardson Auditorium. In this unique concert arena, the audience could hear every nuance from both singers and music, and the members of Gallicantus could easily gauge the impact of their performance. The only thing wrong with this concept was that despite two performances on Sunday afternoon, only 300 or so people could fit onstage and hear the finely-polished vocal precision of these five singers.  more

October 7, 2015

movie rev

Malala Yousafzai was named after a girl who spoke out and was killed for doing it. The folk hero was a teenager who perished in 1880 while rallying fellow Pashtun resistance fighters to a victory over British invaders in a pivotal battle of the Second Anglo-Afghan War.

After choosing this significant name for his daughter, Malala’s father inscribed it into his family tree which was unusual because, until then,  no females had been mentioned in his genealogy that stretches back several centuries. Furthermore, her father, Ziauddin Yousafzai, resolved to raise his daughter in such a way that she would see herself as the equal of any boy.

While such an approach might be unremarkable in the West, it was heretical in the Swat District of Pakistan, which was a hotbed of Islamic fundamentalism in the late 20th century. During Malala’s formative years much of the country was terrorized by the Taliban, which was blowing up any schools that admitted girls.

In defiance of their mullah’s absolute mandate against education for females, Mr. Yousafzai not only allowed his daughter to matriculate, but also spurred her to speak out online as an equal rights advocate blogger. This only infuriated Mullah Fazlullah who issued a fatwa (religious decree) against her over the radio. This led to an assassination attempt on her by one of the mullah’s followers as she was riding on a school bus.

Fortunately, Malala, who was just 15 at the time, managed to survive the bullet wound to her brain. As she lay in the hospital, her parents had no idea whether their daughter would ever even be able to walk or talk again.

She did eventually emerge from the coma, although she was deaf in one ear and needed months and months of rehabilitation. Initially, she blamed her father for her plight, since he was the one who had encouraged her activist streak. “I am a child,” she said, “You are my father. You should have stopped me. What happened to me is because of you.”

Eventually her health was substantially restored, and she became a stoic and serene symbol of resistance to radical Islam. With continued death threats hanging over their heads, the Yousafzai family (including Malalal’s mother and two younger brothers) resettled in England where she would become a champion of oppressed females everywhere.

Directed by Oscar winner Davis Guggenheim.(An Inconvenient Truth), He Named Me Malala is an engaging biopic that describes the close father-daughter relationship which enabled Malala to flourish in the midst of intolerance. Their tender interplay is enhanced by animated interludes which further intensify the sincere sentiments that are displayed on screen.

The picture shows Malala’s emergence as an international icon, that culminates with her becoming the youngest person ever to win the Nobel Peace Prize. The movie is a powerful portrait that illustrates the indomitability of the human spirit and is easily the best film of 2015 thus far!

Excellent (****). Rated  PG-13 for death threats, mature themes, and disturbing images. Running time: 87 minutes. Distributor: Fox Searchlight Pictures. He Named Me Malala opened in select theaters on October 2nd and will be shown in over 2,000 theaters starting October 9th.

Silk Road Page 14

MOGAO CAVE 158: This photograph by James Lo features a reclining Buddha in nirvana in Mogao Cave 158. This image is among the paintings, sculpture, and manuscripts in the “Sacred Caves of the Silk Road: Ways of Knowing and Re-creating Dunhuang” exhibit at the PU Art Museum. The exhibit aims to provide a greater understanding of the Silk Road site.

“Sacred Caves of the Silk Road: Ways of Knowing and Re-creating Dunhuang” is on view at the Princeton University Art Museum now until January 10. The exhibit brings together paintings, sculpture, and manuscripts from the Mogao Caves to provide a greater understanding of the Silk Road site.

Since their creation over 1,500 years ago, the Mogao Caves, located on the outskirts of the city of Dunhuang in northwestern China, continue to narrate the history of religious art and connect the Eastern and Western worlds through their once central location at the gateway to the Silk Road. The caves come to Princeton through a time capsule of objects dating from A.D. 270 to the 1960s. The exhibit explores the aesthetic and transcontinental nature of this World Heritage Site.  more

Book RevI’m planning ways to pipe “All I Need is a Miracle” by Mike and the Mechanics into the St. Louis clubhouse when the Cardinals host the National League Central Division playoffs this Friday. Why send a Power Pop anthem to a team that has won 100 games in spite of losing virtually half their starting lineup this season? That’s not miracle enough? Not if you add to that truckload of adversity the loss of a potential Hall of Fame catcher and proven post-season clutch hitter who saves pitcher’s souls and throws out baserunners at a major-league-leading clip. When “things fall apart” and “the center cannot hold,” Yadier Molina is the center that holds, and at this writing, there’s no way of knowing how effective he’ll be even if he’s cleared to play in the post season.

The September 20 incident that put Molina out of action is an example of what his former manager Tony LaRussa calls “beautiful baseball” — in the bottom of the eighth inning in a do or die game against the surging Chicago Cubs, Anthony Rizzo racing for home, a perfect throw from right-fielder Jason Hayward snagged on one hop by Molina, one quick stab of Molina’s mitt to tag out the sliding runner, a medley of forces converging in game-saving synchronicity. Except that as the catcher executes the neat rapier-like motion of the tag, the force embodied by the 6’3, 240-pound Rizzo going hellbent for home has Molina slinging off his mitt, in pain from what proved to be a partially torn ligament in his left thumb, and just like that, the one indispensable player is out for the last ten days of the regular season and perhaps the playoffs.

So it goes with baseball. Beautiful, yes, but also inevitably bipolar, a field of ups and downs and broken dreams. more

September 30, 2015

movie rev

On March 11, 2005, Brian Nichols (David Oyelowo) was being escorted from jail to the Fulton county courthouse where he was scheduled to go on trial for assault, kidnapping, and rape. At the courthouse, however, he overpowered a sheriff’s deputy (Diva Tyler), took her gun, and embarked on a bloody killing spree in which he killed the judge, a court reporter, a police sergeant, and a federal agent.

Nichols then hijacked several vehicles and went from Atlanta, Georgia to its suburb Duluth. There, he accosted Ashley Smith (Kate Mara) on the street and, at gunpoint, forced her to take him home with her.

Once in the apartment, Ashley smashed her head against the wall in frustration even though she was doing her best to comply with Brian’s demands. She was well aware that he was armed, extremely dangerous, and was the subject of the biggest manhunt in Georgia history. Ashley, who was a single mother, didn’t want to do anything stupid that might jeopardize her chances of ever seeing her daughter Paige (Elle Graham) again, especially since, as a recovering meth addict, she had already been forced to surrender custody of her daughter to an Aunt (Mimi Rogers).

Meanwhile, the police were closing in. Since Brian had left his cell phone on, they were able to narrow his location to within a three-mile radius of the cell tower that was sending out his signal. They even spoke to him and suggested that he give himself up, which he refused to do.

A seven hour ordeal ensued during which Ashley and Brian not only bonded, but also experienced a life transforming catharsis. Thanks to Ashley’s Narcotics Anonymous sponsor, she had a copy at home of The Purpose-Driven Life, the inspirational bestseller by Pastor Rick Warren.

In response to Brian’s admission that “I’ve got a demon in me,” Ashley asked him if she could share some of the insights that were in the popular self-help guide such as: “The greatest tragedy is not death, but life without purpose,” and, “When life has meaning, you can bear almost anything.”

Warren’s inspirational messages resonated with Brian and he surrendered soon afterwards. Thus unfolds Captive, a tale of redemption directed by Jerry Jameson.

The movie is a riveting psychological thriller about a nationally publicized standoff that is told from the perspective of two troubled souls who were barricaded in a home surrounded by a SWAT team.

Very Good (***). Rated PG-13 for mature themes involving violence and substance abuse. Running time: 97 minutes. Distributor: Paramount Pictures.

book rev

Chrissie Hynde’s Reckless: My Life as a Pretender (Doubleday $26.99), which entered the N.Y. Times non-fiction best-seller list in 7th place this week, is a gutsy rock and roll memoir whose sales have undoubtedly been boosted by online chatter surrounding the author’s account of a sexual attack and her repeated refusal to blame her attackers. Now she finds herself, as she slyly puts it in a recent Washington Post interview, “a leading authority on rape.”

In the same interview, she says, “I wouldn’t expect most people to do some of the stuff I did. But then again, most people don’t get to be a rock star, either. We have to walk the plank.” In her case, walking the plank meant going to a biker “party” with a shipload of sexist pirates and suffering the consequences.  more

September 23, 2015
book rev

Photo by Tom Grimes

After walking in a daze down the brightly-lit aisles of McCaffrey’s, stunned by Monday’s New York Times obit, I find myself in the same check-out line where I last spoke with the poet C.K. Williams, who died at home in Hopewell Sunday. When he and his charming wife Catherine lived on Moore Street, I used to see him often at McCaffrey’s. He was hard to miss. At 6’5, he loomed over everyone else. We would shake hands and I would think how good it is to live in a town where you can shake hands with a great poet while pushing a shopping cart at the market. Life in Princeton …. more

Lindsey Ferrentino     Playwright Patricia McGregor     Director Tim Brown     Set Design Dede Ayite     Costume Design Jiyoun Chang     Lighting Design Jessica Paz     Sound Design Caite Hevner Kemp     Projections Vincent T. Schicchi and Thomas Denier

DANGEROUS LIAISON: Silva Vaccaro (Dylan McDermott) pursues his seduction of Baby Doll (Susannah Hoffman), as passions for vengeance and love coincide, in Tennessee Williams’s  “ Baby Doll,”  adapted for the stage by Pierre Laville and Emily Mann at McCarter’s Berlind Theatre through October 11. (Photo by Richard Termine)

Baby Doll Meighan, 19-year-old virgin wife of middle-aged Archie Meighan, lies provocatively sucking her thumb in her tiny bed as the lights rise on McCarter Theatre’s American premiere production of Baby Doll, adapted by Pierre Laville and Emily Mann from Tennessee Williams’s “scandalous” 1956 movie. more

September 16, 2015

movie rev

IT’S A MIRACLE — HE’S STILL ALIVE: After the first responders could not find a pulse, they declared Pastor Piper (Hayden Christensen) as dead and left the scene after calling for a crew to deal with the disposal of the body and the wreckage. An hour or so later, a passing minister stopped to pray for the dead occupant, and to his surprise found that the Pastor was alive. Firemen were immediately summoned and, using the jaws of life, he was extracted from the wreckage and rushed to a hospital where he subsequently recovered.

Traveling Pastor Don Piper was thinking about having his own congregation on his way home from a Christian convention when fate intervened. His car was crushed so badly by a tractor trailer that he was declared dead on the spot by first responders who couldn’t find a pulse.

Since there was no hurry to extract him from the twisted wreckage, he was still lying there over an hour later when a minister (Michael Harding), who was passing by the accident scene, decided to stop and pray for the repose of his soul. But upon approaching the auto, instead of a corpse, he found the supposedly deceased pastor to be very much alive.

In fact, despite his considerable loss of blood, Pastor Piper was faintly singing a Gospel spiritual. A rescue team with the jaws of life was immediately summoned and he was soon extracted and rushed to the hospital.

Although he fought to survive for the sake of his wife (Kate Bosworth) and their three children (Hudson Meek, Bobby Batson, and  Elizabeth Hunter), Don was actually undecided about whether he wanted to live or die. It seems that during his near-death experience on the side of the road, he’d briefly entered heaven.

There, he not only experienced an unparalleled feeling of unending bliss, but also had reunions with a number of dead loved ones, including his great-grandmother (Sallye McDougald Hooks) and two childhood friends (Matthew Bauman and Trevor Allen Martin). By comparison, being back on Earth was relatively painful, given the 34 operations he needed to undergo over the next several months to fix torn muscles, disfigurement, broken bones, and shattered disks.

Thanks to the power of prayer, Pastor Piper ultimately recovered. But rather than open his own church, he wrote a memoir that became a bestseller that describes his entrance into Heaven as well as his subsequent resurrection. Directed by Michael Polish (The Astronaut Farmer) 90 Minutes in Heaven is a modern parable even though the title gives away the ending.

Very Good (***). Rated PG-13 for an intense car accident and graphic images. Running time: 121 minutes. Studio: Giving Films. Distributor: Samuel Goldwyn Films.

Art Rev web

“INTIMATIONS”: This oil on linen by painter Audrey Ushenko will be among those on display in her solo exhibit at the Rider University Art Gallery called “In Natural Habitat” from September 24 through October 25.

The Rider University Art Gallery will present an exhibition titled “In Natural Habitat” featuring the work of Audrey Ushenko from Thursday, September 24 through Sunday, October 25. The exhibit will include an opening reception on Thursday, September 24 from 5 to 7 p.m. and an artist’s talk on Thursday, October 1 at 7 p.m. Admission is free. more

Book Rev web

On drives from Indiana to New York City before the Interstate, my parents took U.S. 40 east, which brought us into the hilly outskirts of Pittsburgh at night. It was the most vivid moment of the trip: the red-orange glow of steel mills against the dark sky, the smoke-hazed aura around the glow, the balmy summer air, the excitement of seeing that vision lighting up the sky. The moment was marked by the metallic scent of industry, like the aroma of pure power, which is what I seemed to be breathing again in “Iron and Coal, Petroleum and Steel: Industrial Art from the Steidle Collection” at the James A. Michener Art Museum.  more

Alice Theater web

IT’S A MAD, MAD WORLD: Alice spends time with a tea-drinking mouse and other wondrous creatures in an original musical adaptation of Alice in Wonderland, presented by the award-winning Kaleidoscope Theatre at Mercer County Community College’s Kelsey Theatre on Saturday, September 19 at 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. Tickets are available at www.kelseytheatre.net or by calling (609) 570-3333.

Kaleidoscope Theatre at Mercer County Community College present the Lewis Carroll classic, Alice in Wonderland. Performances are scheduled for Saturday, September 19 at 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. at Kelsey Theatre, located at MCCC’s West Windsor campus, 1200 Old Trenton Road.  more

September 10, 2015

Nassau Web 2

To celebrate the beginning of the Fall 2015 semester and an exciting new year of programming at the Princeton University Art Museum (including the opening of Cézanne and the Modern: Masterpieces of European Art from the Pearlman Collection) students and the greater Princeton community are invited to the seventh annual Nassau Street Sampler. Visit the PU Art Museum galleries and taste what local restaurants have to offer while enjoying musical performances by some of Princeton’s most beloved student groups. more

September 9, 2015

movie rev

LET’S GET OUT OF HERE BEFORE WE GET KILLED: The Dwyer family led by Jack (Owen Wilson, left) who is holding his daughter Lucy (Sterling Jerins) and his wife Annie (Lake Bell), who is carrying Beeze (Claire Geare) flee to the roof of their hotel as the beginning of their perilous flight to a safe sanctuary at the American embassy. (Photo by Roland Neveu- © 2015 The Weinstein Company. All Rights Reserved)

After the company he works for files for bankruptcy, Jack Dwyer (Owen Wilson) accepts a position overseas with Cardiff, a transnational water bottling corporation. Dwyer regrets that his new job will uproot his wife, Annie (Lake Bell), and their young daughters, Beeze (Claire Geare) and Lucy (Sterling Jerins). During the long flight to Southeast Asia, we find the girls fretting about whether they’ll like their new home and if their dad’s new company will go bankrupt.

Luckily, Beeze strikes up a conversation with a fellow passenger (Pierce Brosnan) about his assortment of curious face and body scars. Fortunately for them, the mysterious stranger, Mr. Hammond, happens to be quite familiar with the family’s destination point.

Upon landing at the airport, he helps them avoid the shady street hustlers lurking around the terminal. Instead, he directs them to an honest cabbie (Sahajak Boonthanakit) who takes them to what they expect to be comfortable accommodations.

However, shock sets in when the Dwyers’ check into the Imperial Lotus hotel where nothing in their suite seems to work: their cell phones, the land line, the TV, not even the lights. Still, those inconveniences pale in comparison to the threat to their very existence as a result of the coup d’etat in which the country’s prime minister (Vuthichard Photphurin) is assassinated.

In the wake of the murder, gangs of rebels start roaming around the country looking for Westerners whom they lynch on the spot. To the Dwyer family’s horror, the marauders are going door-to-door right inside their hotel.

As a stranger in a strange land with no links to the outside world, Jack realizes that he has to rely on his wits to save his family.

He decides to seek sanctuary at the American embassy, which is easier said than done because the streets are crawling with Yankee-hating insurgents. Nonetheless, with the gangs closing in, he leads Annie and the girls to the roof of their building to begin their perilous journey to the embassy.

Directed by John Erik Dowdle (As Above, So Below), No Escape is a high-octane action thriller that keeps you on the edge of your seat because of the Dwyers’ close brushes with death at every turn. There are convincing performances from Owen Wilson, Lake Bell, Claire Geare, and Sterling Jerins as the terrified family, along with Pierce Brosnan.

Excellent (****). Rated R for profanity, graphic violence, and rape. Running time: 101 minutes. Distributor: The Weinstein Company.

L.N.Tolstoy_Prokudin-Gorsky“If I live.” These words translated from the Russian can be found at the end of nearly every dated entry in the 1895-1899 journals of Leo Tolstoy, who was born on this date, September 9, in 1828, and died at 82 on November 20, 1910. I wonder what Oliver Sacks, who died at 82 ten days ago, would make of Tolstoy’s daily acknowledgment of his mortality. Sacks’s maternal grandfather, who fled Russia at 16 to avoid being drafted into the Cossack army, might know. Perhaps it was nothing more than an abbreviated prayer. After “If I live” July 31, 1896, Tolstoy is quite literal, writing later the same day: “I am alive. It is evening now. It is past four. I am lying down and cannot fall asleep. My heart aches. I am tired out. I hear through the window — they play tennis and are laughing.”

Short, simple statements of fact. You can almost hear him breathing.

While the most familiar image of Tolstoy may be the photograph from 1908 of a white-bearded patriarch seated on a rattan chair, one leg crossed over the other, very much the ruler of his domain, I prefer the word-pictures by his neighbor in the Crimea, Maxim Gorky, who used to see him along the coast, “a smallish, angular figure in a gray, crumpled, ragged suit and crumpled hat … sitting with his head on his hands, the wind blowing the silvery hairs of his beard through his fingers.” This sounds more like the man who would write “If I live” and “I am alive” in his journal. But then, in the same paragraph, Tolstoy becomes “the old magician” in whose “musing motionlessness” Gorky feels “something fateful, magical, something which went down into the darkness beneath him and stretched up like a search-light into the blue emptiness above the earth.” more

Art 2

A LOVELY SHOT: Photographer Donna Lovely’s “Great Blue Heron” will be among the works on view at “A New Leaf,” a show by The River Queen Artisans Gallery located at 8 Church Street in Lambertville. The show features local artists like Jay and Joanne Eisenberg who will be hosting its opening reception Saturday, September 12 from 6 to 8 p.m. “A New Leaf” will run until November 15.

New Hope artists, Jay and Joanne Eisenberg will be hosting the opening reception for the show “A New Leaf” at The River Queen Artisans Gallery on Saturday, September 12 from 6 to 8 p.m. “A New Leaf” will run through November 15 and many of the artists will be available at the opening.  more

 

French Theater ArtistsPrinceton University’s Lewis Center for the Arts, Department of French and Italian, and L’Avant-Scène will present the fourth annual Seuls en Scène French Theater Festival, which will take place from September 24 through October 24 at venues across the University’s campus. All performances are free and open to the public. While performances will be in French, three productions will include English subtitles: Jaz, Le 20 novembre, and De mes propres mains.

Marking the launch of the fifteenth season of the student French theater workshop L’Avant-Scène, Seuls en Scène brings celebrated French actors and directors to the University and the local community. This year’s festival features an exciting line-up, including a play from the 2012 Avignon Theater Festival, a preview of a new production to premiere at the 2016 Avignon Festival, and works by some of the greatest contemporary playwrights in Europe and the Francophone world. Seuls en Scène has been organized by Florent Masse, Senior Lecturer in the Department of French and Italian and director of L’Avant-Scène. more

September 2, 2015

movie rev

IT DOESN’T GET MUCH BETTER THAN THIS: As they stretch out on the hood of their car, Mike (Jesse Eisenberg, left) and his girlfriend Phoebe (Kristen Stewart) enjoy an evening under the stars. The pair are content to get together and get high after work each day. However, their easy-going life is about to be turned upside down when assassins try to kill Mike. (Photo © 2015 – Lionsgate)

When you meet him, Mike Howell (Jesse Eisenberg) appears to be a prototypical slacker with not much of a future. The small town stoner is content to fritter away his life behind the counter of the local convenience store as long as he can go home every day and get high with his girlfriend Phoebe (Kristen Stewart).

It’s hard to figure out why she puts up with this loser who has no ambition and has a crippling fear of flying that prevents him from travelling very far from Lymon, West Virginia. After all, Phoebe is attractive and has a decent career as a bail bondsman. Nevertheless, she sticks with him, even after he has a panic attack in the airport and aborts their plans for a perfect Hawaiian getaway. Mike was as upset as Phoebe when he failed to board the plane, because he had purchased a diamond ring and was going to pop the question during their vacation.

Phoebe has no idea that her beau is a sleeper agent who has been trained to be a deadly assassin by a U.S. government spy agency. Mike is also unaware of it too, since a part of his brain was turned off when the program was put in mothballs.

However, the couple is in for the shock of their lives soon after Adrian Yates (Topher Grace) decides to have Mike put to death. The callous bureaucrat dispatches killers to Lymon to prevent the remote chance that the dormant asset might somehow be activated and go rogue.

Mike surprises himself when the hit men arrive to kill him. He unexpectedly displays an array of prodigious fighting and survival skills that have been implanted deep in his subconscious and almost effortlessly slays his attackers. Yates nevertheless remains determined to complete the mission, gradually upping the ante as Mike manages to vanquish each escalating wave of adversaries.

Thus unfolds American Ultra, an entertaining action comedy directed by Nima Nourizadeh (Project X). This novel adventure alternates effortlessly between lighthearted and graphic scenes.

The movie also generates a palpable chemistry between Jesse Eisenberg and Kristen Stewart, which ensures that we care about their fate when the plot thickens. Alternately sophisticated and silly, but ever unpredictable thanks to a few cleverly concealed twists, American Ultra is a delightful summer sleeper that is not to be missed.

Excellent (****). Rated R for graphic violence, pervasive profanity, ethnic slurs, drug use, and some sexuality. Running time: 96 minutes. Distributor: Lionsgate Films.

Dance 1

LEAPING INTO A NEW SEASON: American Repertory Ballet dancer Mattia Pallozzi is among those to be introduced to the public at the company’s first “On Pointe” event of the fall at Rider University on September 23. The series is designed to familiarize the community with the company, it’s dancers, and repertory. (Photo by Richard Termine)

When Douglas Martin took over as artistic director of the American Repertory Ballet five years ago, he knew he wanted to forge relationships inside and outside the studio. Having a continuing dialogue with the public was as important as training his dancers. So Mr. Martin, who was a principal dancer with the Joffrey Ballet and later with ARB before becoming its director, began to focus on a monthly series called “On Pointe.” more

Art Modigliani

“JEAN COCTEAU”: Modigliani’s well-known 1916 image of the French writer is among the works in the exhibit, “Cézanne and the Modern” at the Princeton University Art Museum from September 19 through January 3, 2016.

“Cézanne and the Modern,” a new exhibit at the Princeton Art Museum running from September 19 through January 3, 2016, includes works by Paul Cézanne — and a great deal more. Drawn from the Pearlman Collection, it will feature the artists PaulGauguin, Oskar Kokoschka, Wilhelm Lehmbruck, Jacques Lipchitz, Édouard Manet, Amedeo Modigliani, Camille Pissarro, Alfred Sisley, Chaïm Soutine, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec and Vincent van Gogh. more

DVD rev 1You guys have a way of making a way out of no way. You know the sun comes after every storm—President Obama to New Orleans

Ten years after Katrina, the president comes to New Orleans, looks the city in the eye and says,” You inspire me.” At the same time he’s shining a light on his administration’s high points, he’s making sure the audience in a community center in the lower 9th Ward knows there’s a grease stain on his pants from some fried chicken he ate at Willie May’s Scotch House on St. Ann Street in Tremé; he’s just glad it didn’t get on his tie; he’s got his mojo working; after all, he’s in “the gateway to America’s soul, where the jazz makes you cry, the funerals make you dance, and the bayous make you believe all kinds of things.”

It’s the human touch, mix the politics with some sloppy downhome reality you can rub between your fingers, and make your exit while Bruce Springsteen’s singing “Land of Hope and Dreams.”  more