March 7, 2018

By Kam Williams

Abacus: Small Enough to Jail is an Oscar-nominated documentary that chronicles an outrageous example of bigotry against the Sung’s Chinese American immigrant family. Patriarch Thomas Sung was inspired by the classic film It’s a Wonderful Life, when he and his family founded the Abacus Federal Savings Bank in 1984 in New York City’s Chinatown.

He wanted to help the people of his community get loans after repeatedly witnessing how other lending institutions were willing take Chinese people’s deposits, but were reluctant to let them borrow money. Abacus flourished over the years, and his daughters, Jill and Heather, joined the family business as executives after they became lawyers. more

February 28, 2018

By Kam Williams

Samson is a popular Biblical figure who was blessed by God with super-human strength as long as he kept his hair long. However, there’s a lot more to know about him than can be found in the Book of Judges in the Old Testament.

For example, his life mirrored that of Jesus Christ in many ways. For instance, both were the product of a miraculous birth that was announced by angels. Jesus’s mother was a virgin and Samson’s was barren. Each was betrayed by a confidante, Judas and Delilah, who were paid in silver coins. Each ultimately fulfilled a prophecy by delivering their people, the Israelites.

Co-directed by Bruce Macdonald and Gabriel Sabloff, Samson is an epic biopic that fleshes out the one-dimensional warrior into a vulnerable person with a full range of emotions. The movie stars Taylor James as Samson and Caitlin Leahy as Delilah. more

By Stuart Mitchner

George Saunders’s Lincoln in the Bardo (Random House $17) and Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad (Anchor $16.95), both available now in paperback, appeared on either side of the “matterlightblooming phenomenon” that took place on November 8, 2016.

Instead of using “catastrophe” or “debacle” for the election, I’m borrowing Saunders’ term for the lightning-flash-and-crack explosion that catapults souls not-yet-dead from the Buddhist limbo of the bardo to their fate in the afterlife.  more

February 21, 2018

PATTERN OF LEAVES: This 1923 oil on canvas by Georgia O’Keeffe (1887–1986), from The Phillips Collection, Washington, DC, was acquired in 1926. © Georgia O’Keeffe Museum/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

About suffering they were never wrong, The old Masters …. –W.H. Auden (1907-1973)

There are four artist’s statements writ large on the walls of the Princeton University Art Museum’s exhibit “The Artist Sees Differently: Modern Still Lifes from The Phillips Collection.” The first and catchiest is Cézanne’s “The day is coming when a single carrot, freshly observed, will set off a revolution.” The most technical is Braque’s “The goal is not to be concerned with the reconstruction of an anecdotal fact, but with the constitution of a pictorial fact.” More generally philosophical is Giorgio Morandi’s “To achieve understanding, it is necessary not to see many things, but to look hard at what you do see.” more

“STOP KISS”: Performances are underway for “Stop Kiss.” Presented by Theatre Intime and directed by Princeton University senior Regina Zeng, the play runs through February 24 at the Hamilton Murray Theater. Sara (Rebecca Senatore, left) and Callie (Jessica Li) begin a friendship that develops into a relationship. (Photo by Erica Dugué)

By Donald H. Sanborn III

Theatre Intime, whose talented cast and production team consist entirely of Princeton University students, is presenting Stop Kiss. In this drama by Korean-American playwright and screenwriter Diana Son, whose credits include episodes of Law and Order: Criminal Intent, two 20-something women in 1990s New York gradually allow their platonic friendship to become a romantic relationship. more

By Kam Williams 

Chadwick Boseman has made a successful career by portraying a variety of prominent African Americans, such as football star Floyd Little (The Express), baseball great Jackie Robinson (42), Godfather of Soul James Brown (Get on Up), and U.S. Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall (Marshall). The versatile actor’s efforts have been recognized by the NAACP, which has nominated him for five Image Awards.

Although Black Panther is a fictional character, the role is no less significant than the historical figures Chadwick has played in the past. That’s because black kids have rarely had a superhero that looks like them to root for, even in Africa, where the Lord of the Jungle, Tarzan, was white. more

“FLUID MOVEMENT”: The artwork of Jane Adriance is featured in a solo exhibit running March 2 through April 26 at the Present Day Club in Princeton. An opening reception will be held on Friday, March 9 from 5 to 7 p.m.

The public is invited to a reception in celebration of the opening of a solo exhibit by Jane Adriance at the Present Day Club in Princeton on Friday, March 9 from 5 to 7 p.m. Light refreshments will be served. The exhibit runs through April 26. more

February 14, 2018

By Stuart Mitchner

The phrase “labor of love” has been haunting me ever since I saw Anne Elliott’s drawings of her husband, Peter Gruen, who died in August. I’ve been an admirer of my former Town Topics colleague’s work for almost 15 years. Last week admiration gave way to awe. You know when you’re in the presence of what Henry James, among others, calls “the real thing.” The gallery attitude — you stop, you look, you move on, you go home, you think of other things — no longer pertains. Not this time, not when you’ve witnessed what happens when love and art become one. more

By Kam Williams

The Shape of Water is clearly a favorite in this year’s Oscar sweepstakes. The science fiction fantasy about love across species lines was nominated for 13 Academy Awards, in six major categories: Best Picture, Director, Original Screenplay, Lead Actress (Sally Hawkins), Supporting Actress (Octavia Spencer), and Supporting Actor (Richard Jenkins).

Writer/director Guillermo del Toro was apparently inspired by Creature from the Black Lagoon, a classic horror film from the 50s. This variation on the theme portrays the merman as being misunderstood instead of evil. more

February 7, 2018

Atmosphere is radiance, glamour, warmth, mystery. It is what gives beauty a soul and makes it alive. — F. Scott Fitzgerald

By Stuart Mitchner

As the current news cycle has made clear, Dreamers is a word to be reckoned with, creating instant sympathy for the cause it represents. That’s why the State of the Union speechwriters made a feeble attempt to undermine the cause by having the president say “Dreamers are Americans, too” when it’s generally understood that the true heroes of the narrative of the American dream are the immigrants who came to this country looking for a new life.

There’s an echo of that narrative in the closing paragraphs of The Great Gatsby when F. Scott Fitzgerald writes of “the last and greatest of all human dreams,” and of “the enchanted moment” when “man held his breath in the presence of this continent … face to face with something commensurate to his capacity for wonder.” The narrator then thinks of “Gatsby’s wonder when he first picked out the green light at the end of Daisy’s dock. He had come a long way to this blue lawn and his dream must have seemed so close that he could hardly fail to grasp it. He did not know that it was already behind him. somewhere back in that vast obscurity beyond the city where the dark fields of the republic rolled on under the night.”  more

“BLOOM NO. 2”: This hand-built porcelain sculpture by Lindsay Feuer is part of “Adaption: An Exploration of Scale,” on view from February 12 through March 8 at Princeton Day School. An artists’ reception is on Thursday, February 15 from 5 to 7 p.m.

The Anne Reid ’72 Art Gallery at Princeton Day School (PDS) presents “Adaptation: An Exploration of Scale” featuring the work of artists Lindsay Feuer, PDS science teacher Carrie Norin, and Madelaine Shellaby, on view from February 12 through March 8. There will be an artists’ reception on Thursday, February 15 from 5 to 7 p.m. The exhibit and reception are free and open to the public. more

“THROUGH THE LOOKING GLASS”: Rachel Huffaker of the Hun School of Princeton received first prize in the photography division of the Phillips’ Mill Youth Art Exhibition for this black and white Philadelphia cityscape. The exhibition runs through February 11.

Hun School of Princeton seniors Rachel Huffaker and Nicholas Reilly have been awarded top prizes in the Phillips’ Mill Youth Art Exhibition in New Hope, Pa.

Huffaker received first prize in the photography division and Reilly received second prize in the 3-D division of the juried art competition. This year, 126 students from 18 high schools in New Jersey and Pennsylvania entered the competition. It is open to the public on Saturday and Sunday through February 11, from 1 to 5 p.m. more

By Kam Williams

In 1983, 17-year-old Elio Perlman (Timothee Chalamet) is spending another summer in Lombardy, in northern Italy, with his parents. Each year, Elio’s father (Michael Stuhlbarg), an archaeology professor, invites a different doctoral candidate to live with his family over the summer and be his research assistant.

This year, the guest is Oliver (Armie Hammer) who is Jewish and gay. That’s just fine with Elio, who’s exploring his sexuality and has been dating a local girl (Esther Garrel), until Oliver arrives at the villa.

It isn’t long before Elio realizes that he is developing feelings for the 24-year-old Oliver, who is quick to understand what is happening. Elio and Oliver spend long stretches of time flirting with each other, whether it’s swimming in the lake, canoodling at a cafe, or taking walks along the shore.  more

January 31, 2018

Man is like a ball, the plaything of Chance and Passion. —Franz Schubert (1797-1828)

God, how I hate it when somebody yells “Good luck!” at me when I’m leaving somewhere. It’s depressing. — J.D. Salinger (1919-2010)

By Stuart Mitchner

Schubert, whose remarks about “Chance and Passion” are from a journal he kept at 19, was born on the last day of January in Vienna. Salinger, who was born on the first day of January in New York City, is speaking in the voice of his creation Holden Caulfield in The Catcher in the Rye, which came out in 1951. When his collection Nine Stories was published in 1953, Salinger prefaced it with a Zen Koan: “We know the sound of two hands clapping. But what is the sound of one hand clapping?” more

By Nancy Plum

Princeton Symphony Orchestra’s concert on Sunday afternoon centered on guest pianist Simone Dinnerstein, but another subtler theme also ran through the performance. PSO Music Director Rossen Milanov programmed a concert with a narrative covering three hundred years of music history, featuring innovation and new musical ideas within well-known frameworks. The addition of dynamic and technically dazzling American pianist Simone Dinnerstein made the afternoon that much more exciting.  more

By Kam Williams

Zenzile Miriam Makeba was born black in Johannesburg, South Africa in 1932, which meant she was a second-class citizen. In fact, she spent the first six months of her life in prison with her mother, a sangoma (witch doctor), who was sent to prison just days after giving birth.

Luckily, her mother was also an amateur singer, and that was a gift Miriam inherited. She married at 17 and had a child a year later, but was soon abandoned by her abusive husband. So, to support her young daughter, she started singing professionally.

After performing and recording with several different bands, she found a measure of fame as the lead singer of an all-girl group called The Skylarks. However, while on tour out of the country in 1959, Miriam’s passport was revoked after the release in Italy of Come Back, Africa, a secretly filmed anti-apartheid documentary drama in which she appeared.  more

January 24, 2018

By Stuart Mitchner 

According to Susan Cheever’s biography of E.E. Cummings (1894-1962), his working title for The Enormous Room (Liveright 1922) was The Great War Seen from the Windows of Nowhere. Planning to write about World War I on the 100th anniversary of the Armistice year, I’ve been reading both book and biography along with Princeton University faculty member Susan Stewart’s Cinder: New and Collected Poems (Graywolf, paper, $18). Although a collection of contemporary poetry may seem an unlikely match, I found a window to the Great War in Stewart’s “Kingfisher Carol,” which comes with a prefatory note explaining that “the seven days following the shortest day of the year” is when “the halcyon, or kingfisher, builds her nest on the water and that in spite of the violent weather prevalent at this time, the gods grant a respite from all storms while she hatches and rears her young.” more

“LAMBERTVILLE STATION:” This wood stain by Lawrence High School teacher Sean Carney is among 30 works by high school students and their teachers featured in “Passing the Palette” at the MCCC Gallery through March 8. The community is invited to an opening reception on Wednesday, January 24 from 5 to 7 p.m.

The Gallery at Mercer County Community College (MCCC) will showcase the talents of high school art teachers and their students in “Passing the Palette: Arts Educators and Students.” This multi-generational exhibit will be on display through Thursday, March 8. The community is invited to an opening reception on Wednesday, January 24 from 5 to 7 p.m.  more

“OUTBURST”: This work by Timberlane Middle School student Raelynn Cui is featured in the “BRAVO! Listen Up!” exhibition running January 30 through February 26 at the Arts Council of Princeton. An opening will reception will be held on Tuesday, January 30 at 4 p.m.

On Tuesday, January 30 at 4 p.m., the Princeton Symphony Orchestra’s (PSO’s) “BRAVO! Listen Up!” exhibition featuring student artwork and writing created in response to Erwin Schulhoff’s Concerto for String Quartet and Winds opens at the Arts Council of Princeton (ACP). Participating middle school students will be on hand to discuss their works and their interaction with PSO’s guest ensemble, the Lark Quartet, who performed the concerto with the orchestra on October 29. more

“STONES IN HIS POCKETS”: Performances are underway for “Stones in His Pockets.” Directed by Lindsay Posner, the play runs through February 11 at McCarter’s Berlind Theatre. Irishmen Charlie (Garrett Lombard, left) and Jake (Aaron Monaghan), who are extras on a film, have a conversation in between takes. (Photo by T. Charles Erickson)

By Donald H. Sanborn III

Stones in His Pockets is playing at McCarter’s Berlind Theatre. Written by Belfast-based playwright and performer Marie Jones, whose acting credits include the films In the Name of the Father and Closing the Ring, this 1996 tragicomedy examines a subject that obviously is topical now: abuse of power in the entertainment industry. From its actors the play requires great versatility, which here is delivered in full by Garrett Lombard and Aaron Monaghan. more

By Nancy Plum

At first glance, the title of New Jersey Symphony Orchestra’s concert this past Friday night would seem to have little connection to the pieces performed. As it turned out, the works by Bohuslav Martinu°, Maurice Ravel, and Sergei Rachmaninoff were all linked to “America, Inspiring,” with each piece rooted in the composer’s association with the United States. Led by guest conductor Andrew Constantine, the orchestra’s performance at Richardson Auditorium showed a little-known side of how America in the first half of the 20th century affected European composers from all regions. more

By Kam Williams

A few days after the 9/11 attack, President George W. Bush visited Ground Zero where he delivered an iconic speech while standing on a pile of rubble. He assured the rescue workers and the rest of America that those responsible for the senseless slaughter would soon be held accountable.

Less than a month later, the first contingent of soldiers was sent to Afghanistan. Their top secret operation, code named Task Force Dagger, called for them to be dropped behind enemy lines and rendezvous with a local militia led by General Rashid Dostum (Navid Negahban).

The American Special Forces unit, composed of a dozen elite soldiers, was led by Captain Mitch Nelson (Chris Hemsworth). He was not only confident that the mission would be successful, but made the bold guarantee that no one under his command would perish in battle.  more

January 17, 2018

By Nancy Plum

Students at Princeton University have an incredibly diverse range of choices for musical experiences on campus. One of the most challenging this year was the opera class Music 219, in which music majors and non-majors joined together to explore a single theme or production. As described by Humanities Council Visiting Lecture Thomas Guthrie, co-teacher of Music 219, this year’s class was “all about exploring what it’s like to be in an opera.” The 30 students who participated in the class performed the resulting operatic project this past weekend at Richardson Auditorium. Guthrie and University Director of Choral Activities Gabriel Crouch (also co-teacher of Music 219) led the students through a staged production in Italian (with English super-titles) of what is considered the first fully-developed opera — Claudio Monteverdi’s 1607 L’Orfeo. Friday night’s performance (the opera was repeated Saturday night) showed both the depth of the class and how even those who are not studying music extensively can rise to a challenge.  more

By Stuart Mitchner

In his 1915-1936 prime, Charlie Chaplin, who died 40 years ago this past Christmas, wasn’t just the most celebrated film personality of his time, he was an international icon. With his derby, his mustache, his baggy pants, and his cane, the Tramp became a secular deity; the sainted spirit of laughter; comedy and humanity incarnate. He was also exposed to a tabloid-driven version of the Hollywood dynamic of sex and power that surfaced last fall with the Harvey Weinstein revelations.  more

By Kam Williams

The Post is a movie that should be compared to two classic newsroom thrillers: All the President’s Men (1976) and Spotlight (2015). Like the former, it’s set in Washington, D.C. in the 70s and is about an attempt by the Nixon administration to prevent the publication of incriminating information leaked to the Washington Post by a whistleblower. And it’s eerily similar to the Best Picture Oscar-winner Spotlight in that they’re both dramas about an idealistic newspaper’s legal battle in defense of freedom of the press.

Hollywood has a predictable habit of parroting success, which means it’s just a matter of time before a knockoff of a big hit arrives in theaters. In this case, Spotlight’s Academy Award-winning scriptwriter, Josh Singer, was tapped to tweak first timer Liz Hannah’s original screenplay about the Pentagon Papers. more