August 30, 2017

The renowned bodyguard Michael Bryce’s (Ryan Reynolds) services were in great demand until one of his clients, a Japanese tycoon (Tsuwayuki Saotome), was executed. That botched operation simultaneously ruined his professional reputation and his romantic relationship with Interpol agent Amelia (Elodie Yung). His career took such a hit that several years later he was homeless and reduced to chauffeuring clients around in a beat-up jalopy.

A chance at redemption — and at winning back Amelia — arrives when she approaches him to protect Darius Kincaid (Samuel L. Jackson). He’s the key prosecution witness in the trial at the International Court of Justice of Vladislav Dukhovich (Gary Oldman), an Eastern European dictator who is accused of committing genocide.

Amelia has discovered that there’s a mole inside of Interpol who has compromised Kincaid’s safety. So, the only hope of getting him to court alive is by hiring someone who is outside the organization.

However, Darius is a vicious hit man who has murdered hundreds of people. Despite being disgusted by the assassin’s grisly record, Michael agrees to escort him from a British prison to The Hague where he’s scheduled to testify in less than 24 hours. In return for his cooperation, Darius’s wife, Sonia (Salma Hayek), will be released from prison where she has been since she slit someone’s throat in a gruesome bar fight.

That is the point of departure of The Hitman’s Bodyguard, a comedy directed by Patrick Hill (The Expendables 3). The film unfolds as an action adventure in which the two protagonists are impervious to harm from bullets, explosives, pyrotechnics, or boat and car crashes.

However, the movie works because of the palpable screen chemistry generated between Samuel L. Jackson and Ryan Reynolds. And it does help that each of these indestructible characters has been humanized by a love interest.

The pair exchange lighthearted barbs while having a close brush with death every other minute as they negotiate their way through an endless gauntlet of assassins.

Excellent (****). Rated R for graphic violence and pervasive profanity. Running time: 118 minutes. Distributor: Summit Entertainment.

Singer-songwriters Lyle Lovett and John Hiatt will perform at McCarter Theatre on November 18 at 8 p.m. This is a rare opportunity to hear them together. Both artists have broadened the definition of American music incorporating elements of country, swing, jazz, folk, and gospel. Master lyricists and storytellers, Lovett and Hiatt’s songs range in topics from redemption and relationships to growing old and surrendering (on their terms). To purchase tickets, call the Box Office at (609) 258-2787 or visit www.mccarter.org.

On the age-old problem of how to begin, what better guide than John McPhee? In his new book Draft No. 4: John McPhee on the Writing Process (Farrar, Strauss and Giroux $25), he says “a lead should not be cheap, flashy, meretricious, blaring. After a tremendous fanfare of verbal trumpets, a mouse comes out of a hole blinking.” He goes on: “The lead — like the title — should be a flashlight that shines down into the story.” And then: “A lead is good not because it dances, fires cannons, or whistles like a train but because it is absolute to what follows.” more

PLAINSBORO ARTS FESTIVAL: Local artist Nelly Kouzmina, center, demonstrated the art of felt making at last year’s Arts Festival at the Plainsboro Public Library. Ms. Kouzmina and many other artists will be on hand for this year’s festival, to be held on Saturday, September 16 from noon-4 p.m.

Local artists will take center stage at the Plainsboro Public Library on Saturday, September 16, when the library holds its annual Arts Festival from noon — 4 p.m. The festival will feature resident artists and members of the Plainsboro Library Artists’ Group. In addition to showing their work in a variety of media, they will also demonstrate their techniques and will help visitors develop their own artwork to take home.  more

“WONDER WOMAN”: A ceramic piece by Ingrid Jordan is among the works featured in the “2017 MCCC Visual Arts Faculty Exhibit,” on display at the Mercer County Community College Gallery through September 28. An opening reception takes place August 30 from 5 to 7 p.m.

The Gallery at Mercer County Community College (MCCC) puts its own faculty in the spotlight for the “2017 MCCC Visual Arts Faculty Exhibit.” The show runs through Thursday, September 28. The community is invited to an opening reception on Wednesday, August 30 from 5 to 7 p.m. The gallery is located on the second floor of the Communications Building on the college’s West Windsor campus, 1200 Old Trenton Road. more

“PRECIOUS”: This photograph by Andrew Wilkinson won Best in Show, Mercer County Photography 2015. This year’s juried competition will take place October 26 through December 8 at the Silva Gallery of Art at The Pennington School.

Attention, photographers! “Mercer County Photography 2017,” a juried competition, will take place October 26 through December 8 at the Silva Gallery of Art at The Pennington School. more

The Center for Contemporary Art’s fall schedule of art classes and workshops begins September 11 and runs through December. There are over 45 classes and workshops for adults and over 15 classes for children ages 5 through teens. Classes are offered for artists with all levels of expertise in a variety of media including oil and acrylic paint, watercolor, drawing, photography, and ceramics.  more

FRENCH THEATER FESTIVAL: “Seuls en Scène” French Theater Festival begins with Nicolas Truong’s “Interview,” featuring Judith Henry and Nicolas Bouchaud, on September 15 and 16 at 8 p.m. at the Matthews Acting Studio, 185 Nassau Street. (Photo by Mathilde Priolet)

Princeton University’s Lewis Center for the Arts, Department of French and Italian, and L’Avant-Scène will present the sixth annual Seuls en Scène French Theater Festival, which will take place from September 15 to 30 at venues across the University’s campus. Some performances will be in English, while others will be in French with English subtitles; all are free and open to the public. more

August 23, 2017

Laurie Chambers (Katheryn Winnick) is understandably worried about her 11-year-old son’s recurring nightmares. In them, her son Jake (Tom Taylor) is becoming convinced that the demise of Earth is imminent.

So, she takes him to a psychiatrist who diagnoses Jake’s visions as delusional and has him committed to a mental health facility. However, Jake really is psychic, and he is accurately forecasting the impending extinction of life on Earth.

The planet’s only hope of averting this apocalypse rests on the shoulders, or more precisely, on the trigger fingers of Roland Deschain (Idris Elba). He’s the last in a long line of gunslingers from another dimension who have been locked in mortal conflict with forces that are led by Randall Flagg (Matthew McConaughey), an evil sorcerer who is on a quest for infinite power. World domination by him is attainable if Randall can reach the Dark Tower, the nexus between time and space that is located in a parallel universe called End-World.

Soon the mysterious figures in Jake’s dreams begin to materialize on the streets of Manhattan. After Randall’s minions murder Jake’s mother, the boy is rescued by Roland. The two escape through a portal to Mid-World where the epic battle to preserve life on Earth unfolds.

That is the point of departure of The Dark Tower, an adaptation of Stephen King’s magnum opus of the same name. The science fiction series was inspired by “Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came,” a poem written by Robert Browning in 1855. King also cites Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy, Clint Eastwood’s spaghetti westerns, and the legend of King Arthur as major influences.

The Dark Tower took a circuitous route to becoming a movie. The story was originally optioned by J.J. Abrams in 2007. Ron Howard subsequently acquired the rights in 2010. However, the picture was ultimately written and directed by Nikolaj Arcel, whose A Royal Affair was nominated in 2013 for an Oscar in the Best Foreign Film category.

This movie is Mr. Arcel’s first English language film, which is why he received help with the screenplay from three scriptwriters that includes Oscar winner Akiva Goldsman (A Beautiful Mind). The final production is engaging enough to establish the franchise and leave you anticipating a sequel.

Very Good (***). Rated PG-13 for action, gun violence, and mature themes.

Running time: 95 minutes. Production Studio: Sony/Media Rights Capital/Imagine Entertainment/Weed Road. Distributor: Sony Pictures.

The first time my wife and I saw Bonnie and Clyde, the gunfire-driven dance of death at the end left us limp, wiped out, we couldn’t move. We’d been married less than a year. For a couple destined to see thousands of films together over the next 50 years, it was a defining moment. If one of us had started to get right up and leave as if it had been “just another movie” or if one of us had raved about it only to be greeted by a blank look, it wouldn’t have augured well for the future of the marriage. more

CELEBRATING THE ARTS: Now in its 26th year, the Doylestown Arts Festival will feature 160 juried artists, live music on five stages, local food vendors, art-making, interactive demonstrations, and bike races. The festival will be held on Doylestown’s downtown streets from 10 a.m to 5 p.m. on Saturday, September 9 and Sunday, September 10.

Recognized for its picturesque setting and rich year-round arts and culture offerings, the small town of Doylestown, Pa., will once again host the Doylestown Arts Festival, a two-day celebration that is expected to draw tens of thousands of visitors from the Mid-Atlantic region. The festival will be held on Doylestown’s downtown streets — converted to pedestrian-only avenues during the event from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday, September 9 and Sunday, September 10. more

PHILIP GLASS AT 80: Pianist Paul Barnes (right) will perform music of Philip Glass in a recital titled “Philip Glass at 80: A Retrospective” Saturday, September 9 at 8 p.m. in Bristol Chapel on the campus of Westminster Choir College of Rider University in Princeton. Admission is free.

Pianist Paul Barnes will present a recital titled “Philip Glass at 80: A Retrospective” on Friday, September 9 at 8 p.m. in Bristol Chapel on the campus of Westminster Choir College of Rider University in Princeton. Admission is free. more

Michael Shannon stars in A Red Orchid Theatre’s “Simpatico” coming to McCarter Theatre, September 8 through October 15, 2017. The tragicomedy explores the slippery netherworld of thoroughbred racing from Pulitzer Prize-winning dramatist Sam Shepard. For tickets, visit www.mccarter.org or call (609) 258-2787. (Photo Credit: Michael Brosilow)

Pianist Clipper Erickson will open the Westminster Conservatory 2017-18 Faculty Recital Series with a performance titled “The Russian American Connection” on Sunday, September 17 at 3 p.m. in Bristol Chapel on the campus of Westminster Choir College of Rider University in Princeton. Admission is free. more

August 16, 2017

Karla (Halle Berry) is a stressed single-mom who is working as a waitress in a diner. Of course she’d rather be spending her time with her young son, Frankie (Sage Correa). Fortunately, he’s patiently waiting right there in the restaurant for her overtime shift to end.

After she finally gets off work, the two drive to an amusement park for what they expect will be a fun-filled afternoon. We also learn that Karla’s in the midst of bitter custody battle for Frankie with her vindictive ex-husband (Jason George).

That explains why she moves a few feet away from Frankie for a little privacy when she gets a call from her divorce attorney.

Unfortunately, her attention from her son is distracted enough to afford a lurking kidnapper (Chris McGinn) an opportunity to pounce. Next thing you know, Frankie is being dragged to a waiting getaway car.

Karla frantically rushes after them into the parking lot, and in her distress, she drops her cell phone before she spots a suspicious Mustang GT with tinted windows and no license plates rushing out of the parking lot. Karla frantically decides to chase the car.

What ensues is an extended chase scene that lasts the rest of the movie. So unfolds Kidnap, a low-budget movie directed by Luis Prieto (Pusher). Although the plot has comical holes big enough for Karla to drive her car through, the picture nevertheless is compelling thanks to a combination of heart-pounding action scenes and the protagonists’ convincing portrayal of their desperation to be reunited.

Very Good (***). Rated R for violence, profanity, and scenes of peril. Running time: 95 minutes. Production Studio: Well Go USA Entertainment / Gold Star / 606 Films / Lotus Entertainment. Distributor: Aviron Pictures.

Princeton Summer Theater is presenting Appropriate at the Hamilton Murray Theater. Written by Princeton University alumnus Branden Jacobs-Jenkins (who graduated in 2006), this contemporary drama is an apt conclusion to a season that has examined “whether it is better to look to the past for inspiration or to move in the direction of future progress,” as Princeton Summer Theater’s website states.

In Pippin, the title character comes of age and anticipates his future. The affluent heroine of Spider’s Web is a fantasist whose comfortable, orderly world permits her to live for the present. By contrast, The Crucible presents conflict as ever-present, using a brutal historical event as an allegory for more recent injustice.

Set in the present day, Appropriate develops themes explored by all three of these shows, epitomizing the exploration of tension between generations and eras. Princeton Summer Theater has given audiences a season that can be interpreted as a variation on A Christmas Carol in its interplay between past, present, and future.  more

I watched Carnie as she sang. I was looking at my daughter and thinking about when she was little; about her sister when she was little; about how I was young then, too; about the cover of Sunflower; about feeling my mom’s hands as she lowered me into the crib. People are beautiful. Life can be, too. —Brian Wilson

A week after the 72nd anniversary of Hiroshima, with people talking about fall-out shelters again thanks to the blustering president and his North Korean counterpart, i’ve been thinking about what makes life worth living, things like family, pets, comfort food, art and literature, baseball and rock and roll.  more

August 9, 2017

When Hitler ordered an all-out assault on the Western Front in the spring of 1940, the supposedly impregnable Maginot Line proved to be no match for the German blitzkrieg. The Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, and France all fell to the Nazis in a matter of weeks.

By May 26th, about 400,000 British, French, Polish, Belgian, and Dutch troops had been forced to retreat to Dunkirk, a port located along the northern coast of France. The soldiers were stranded on the beach because there weren’t enough military naval vessels to evacuate all of the forces.

The logistical nightmare left most of the battle-weary men in need of a miracle because they were sitting ducks for the Nazi artillery fire and Luftwaffe bombs. At 7 p.m. that evening, Winston Churchill, the British prime minister, issued an urgent appeal to private boat owners to help in the rescue effort.

By dawn, over 800 hundred vessels had been pressed into service. The flotilla included everything from speed boats and yachts, tugboats and fishing trawlers, and ferries and ocean liners.

For the next nine days, they sailed back and forth across the U-Boat infested waters of the English Channel. About a third of the ships were sunk by the enemy, but the altruistic patriots managed to save 338,226 troops.

Afterwards, Winston Churchill put a positive spin on the devastating military defeat. that had claimed the lives of 68,000 British soldiers and left the country vulnerable to an imminent invasion. On June 4th, he took to the floor of the House of Commons and delivered his famous speech that assured the country that there was no doubt that Great Britain would ultimately prevail.

“Whatever the cost may be,” he said in a stirring summation, “We shall fight on the beaches …. We shall fight on the landing grounds …. We shall fight in the fields and in the streets …. We shall fight in the hills ….” concluding, “We shall never surrender!”

All of the above has been portrayed in Dunkirk, a visually captivating World War II epic directed by Christopher Nolan. Mr. Nolan, who is the best British director besides Alfred Hitchcock who has not yet won an Oscar, has made many memorable movies that include Memento, Inception, Interstellar, and the Batman trilogy, among others.

In Dunkirk, he’s found a novel way to recreate the historic evacuation. Instead of having the documentary drama describe a single protagonist or military unit, he has deftly interwoven several discrete storylines that highlight the different perspectives of a number of unsung heroes. Whether on land, by sea, or in the air, many among those patriotic saviors survived, but some did make the ultimate sacrifice in the valiant stand against the evil that was spreading across Europe. Shot with 70mm film, Dunkirk is an instant classic worth seeing on an IMAX screen.

Excellent (****). Rated PG-13 for intense battle scenes and some profanity. Running time: 106 minutes. In English, French, and German with subtitles.

Production Studio: Syncopy. Distributor: Warner Brothers Pictures.

SEW EASY: Alexa Cavalli of Montgomery works on an apron at the Pop In Space at 10 Hulfish Street. Ms. Cavalli is no newcomer to sewing, having even made a headband for her cat, but she was glad to exercise her skills in textiles on Monday.

Maria Evans, artistic director for the Arts Council of Princeton, had long had plans to host a makerspace — a collaborative workshop for all manner of tinkering, building, and fixing, the likes of which have been appearing in ever-increasing numbers across the country for roughly the past decade. Earlier this year, when the Arts Council was offered a large space in the Princeton Shopping Center, her hopes were on the cusp of realization; the large space, less than two miles from downtown Princeton, would be an ideal satellite location. more

“SEASHELLS BY THE SEASHORE”: Scenes such as this inspired the interpretations by Johnson Park School fourth-grade students now displayed on the Olivia Rainbow Gallery walls, along with actual shells brought into the classroom. “Seashells by the Seashore” is on view through September 6.

D&R Greenway Land Trust’s Olivia Rainbow Gallery presents a virtual seaside stroll in “Seashells by the Seashore” by Johnson Park School fourth-grade students, on view through September 6. For this exhibit, the young artists re-created the spirit of beachcombing along the Jersey Shore, while learning the science of shells.  more

PLEIN AIR PAINTING WORKSHOP: Artist Oscar Peterson, right, offers hands-on instruction at a recent Hunterdon Art Museum plein air painting workshop. The Museum will be hosting another workshop on August 20 at 10 a.m. at the Hunterdon Land Trust’s Dvoor Farm.

Create art outdoors on the 40-acre Hunterdon Land Trust’s Dvoor Farm on Sunday, August 20 with the Hunterdon Art Museum’s Plein Air Painting workshop.

Artist Oscar Peterson will teach the techniques to start, establish, and finish a painting en plein air. Fundamental principles of capturing color, light, planes, and structure will all be covered. This workshop, which begins at 10 a.m., is for adults and teens ages 16 and up. more

Jeanne Moreau and Sam Shepard died in the same week, the playwright at 73 on July 27, the actress at 89 on July 31. Their obituaries were paired in the pages of the New York Times and Antonio Banderas posted their photographs side by side with his message on the Los Angeles Times remembrance blog: “thank you for enlightening us at 24 frames per second.”

In 2001 when Moreau was 73 she told the Times: “The cliché is that life is a mountain. You go up, reach the top and then go down. To me, life is going up until you are burned by flames.”  more

August 2, 2017

If you’re familiar with the surreal cinematic stylings of Dominique Abel and Fiona Gordon, then you have an idea of of the treat in store for you in the film Lost in Paris. The talented husband and wife team wrote, directed, and co-starred in their latest foray into the theater of the absurd.

The movie is best described as a cross between Wes Anderson and Charlie Chaplin, because it is an unconventional visually captivating movie with not much dialogue from the leading actors. The rubber-faced duo entertain far more with their movements and expressions than with words.

The film opens in Canada about 50 years ago, where we find Fiona (Gordon) saying farewell to her beloved Aunt Martha (recently-deceased Emmanuelle Riva) who is moving to Paris. Fast-forward to the present when Fiona, now a librarian, receives an urgent appeal for assistance from her 88-year-old aunt.

In the letter, Martha explains that they’re trying to move her into an assisted living facility for old folks. But the feisty aunt will have none of it.

Fiona accepts her aunt’s call for help and the next thing you know Fiona is in France with a large bright orange backpack decorated with a Canadian flag. Her troubles start right off the bat, when she gets stuck in a subway turnstile because of her oversized backpack.

The slapstick escalates further when the weight of the knapsack causes her to topple into the Seine while posing for a photo on a bridge. In order to keep from drowning, she has to free herself from the backpack, and ends up losing all her possessions, including her passport, cell phone, cash, and clothes.

Fortunately Fiona had just met Dom (Abel), a hobo living in a tent pitched along the banks of the river, who just happens to fall in love with her. So, Fiona finds herself having to fend off the advances of her ardent admirer while frantically searching for her missing aunt.

The ensuing search is charming, sublime, hilarious, and implausible. An endearing homage to the silent film era!

Excellent (****). Unrated. In French and English with subtitles. Running time: 83 minutes. Distributor: Oscilloscope Laboratories.

Kathryn Watterson’s I Hear My People Singing: Voices of African American Princeton (Princeton Univ. Press) takes its title from the Witherspoon-Jackson neighborhood’s most famous citizen, Paul Robeson (1898-1976), who celebrates “the honest joy of laughter in these homes, folk-wit and story, hearty appetites for life, and warmth of song” in “hard-working people … filled with the goodness of humanity.” Coming from a man known above all for his prowess as a singer, the emphasis is on “the warmth of song,” as in “Songs of love and longing, trials and triumphs … hymn-song and ragtime ballad, gospels and blues.”  more

ALLEY GALLERY: Dohm Alley’s first exhibit features sculpted portraits of Romantic poets, as well as acoustic guitar and birdsongs played over speakers. (Photo by Will Uhl)

After years of planning, the construction and assembly of Design at Dohm Alley’s (DaDA) first exhibit is underway. The public art project seeks to merge Princeton University’s scholarly sensibilities with the public life of the town by adorning the alley with art exhibits. The first exhibit, currently unfolding as the weeks pass, is a tribute to Romantic-era poets.  more