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Thursday, December 24, 2009

End of the Year Poem - DC Style (with apologies to The New Yorker)

Peace de Resistance

Ho-ho, dear readers, allay your winter fret,
Gather here with me away from the Internet.
It’s the Santa of Sonnets, the Nick of Time,
Here to give young and old mariners a rime.
So join us on this DC seasonal skate,
(Hey look who’s coming – it’s Alex the Great!)
As we wrap up 2009 in one glittery roll,
With a greeting to some who stirred our soul.

A toast to the Holiday (isn’t Johnny great?),
And the long-awaited prospect of a 51st state.
To that late great paper, hark the Herald,
And our hunk prosecutor of yore, Patrick Fitzgerald.
Can you serve hot cider with your subpoenas?
For Antawn Jamison and Gilbert Arenas,
Holly Twyford and Tom Shales,
Lisa Moscatiello and our own Wale.
Light the yule log for Bob Mondello,
And Avery Brooks (our favorite Othello),
Joy Zinoman, Michael Kahn,
And our biggest celeb, Tai Shan.
Let’s go caroling with Fennelly and Schwartz,
Diane Rehm and puzzle-guy Will Shortz,
We’ll bring along the tenors Carreras and Domingo,
And a Beatle, of course (we’ll settle for Ringo).
Load the reindeer and sleigh with presents to the top,
For Mayor Fenty (he'll run alongside) and Linda Cropp,
Jhumpa Lahiri, Billy Taylor,
Jessica Cutler, Bunny Wailer.
Send out some merry seasonal wishes,
To Debi Smith and Sarunas Jasikevicius,
Ryan Zimmerman and Vincent Gray,
Delores Williams and Doris Day.
Spike some eggnog for her channeler, Nellie McKay,
The Last Train Home and Buddy Guy,
Hey, it’s Nora Pouillon and Frederick Yonnet,
With Septime Webre and the Washington Ballet!
May live music land under your Christmas tree,
(Maybe if you strike a deal with Michelle Rhee.)
All hail Coach Joe Gibbs (but don’t embarrass),
Just give him a holiday CD by Emmylou Harris.
We’re good now Joe, Bruce Allen’s here,
Or better yet, check in again in another year.
Put on the lederhosen, ring the chimes
For Kojo Namdi and Geoffrey Himes,
Lady Gaga and Sen. Ben Cardin,
Roberto Donna and Marcia Gay Harden.
Darrell Green, Carolyn Hax,
Lark McCarthy, Emanuel Ax.
Police Chief Lanier, Stephen Breyer
Norman Parish and the National Cathedral Choir!
Raise a glass to the Alleys, Kirstie and Blues.
(Maybe they know what happened to La Sooz?)
Ylan Q. Mui, Sammy Sosa,
Philippa Hughes and Omarosa.
Sonia Sotomayor, Coach Joe Bugel,
Carl Bernstein (he’ll bring the kugel!).
Serve the punch for O’Malley the gov,
And get him a treat from our own CakeLove,
Cheers for Santana Moss, our favorite wideout,
Politics & Prose and Bonnie Rideout,
Edward P. Jones, Doc and Ed Walker,
Ruth Bader Ginsburg and that new Ooma Talker.
Ermanno Tonizzo and Erin McKeown,
And our king of go-go, the Chuck Brown.
For Abe Pollin and George Michael we mourn,
For those about to be fired, we Zorn.
How 'bout we take him to Bens for a winning chili bowl,
Where we can all sing a verse of Joyeux Noel.
We’ll invite Kal Penn, Adam Dunn and Joey Cheek
And our friends the Salahis, Michaele and Tareq!
Forget about all this fuss and to-do,
And let me introduce you to Freddy Adu.
He had some problems but now it’s all in the past,
Just go to Mallorca (and you should move fast!).
It’s been a tough year, we look tired,
Traffic and the economy, we’re all so mired,
Can’t we all just get away and fly to Ibiza,
With Taraji P. Henson and Condoleeza!

Dear friends, our goose is nearly cooked,
The tables are set and fully booked.
Apologies to those we couldn’t rhyme,
(Like Vincent Orange), we’ll try next time.
From Maryland to Virginia and thru the District line,
Blessings to all for a safe 2009.
It’s time for the flag of peace to be neatly unfurled,
With a sincere and happy Joy to the World.

Monday, December 21, 2009

A Great Performance IS Worth a 5-Mile Walk; I Get Exposed in Georgetown

I always wanted to be part of a special gathering, a once-in-a-lifetime thing that can't be recreated. I finally may have been on Saturday. The kind of event I'm thinking of is like when I was at Rutgers, friends would head down to Asbury Park in hopes of catching an unannounced Springsteen appearance. He never showed when I went. At Iota a few years ago, Glenn Tillbrook of Squeeze fame led the audience into the parking lot to sing Pulling Mussels From a Shell. A few months ago, I couldn't believe it to read that Tillbrook did it again, this time at a concert I went to at the State Theater. After it ended, he went next door - unannounced - to Clare and Don's to play a set. I had gone home.

But on Saturday, with a blizzard taking place outside, I was one of the 60 or 70 people in the Kennedy Center Eisenhower Theater audience for the next-to-last performance of August: Osage County. It was a performance I'll never forget. They told us to move close to the stage - quite a deal for my $25 balcony seats. I was completely engrossed from the first minute on of this Pulitzer-prize and Tony-winning play that Peter Marks really did not take kindly to in The Washington Post. (He wrote that he can't figure out why audiences like it so much. Hello! Thank God for Bob Mondello in The City Paper!) The cast had to know that we fought the elements to get there and perhaps even that I would have to walk 5 miles to get home because they put on an amazing performance. The play has a little bit of everything: incest, pedophilia, suicide, divorce, choking and romance. But the cast is so talented and apparently they play it a little more for the humor now, which makes the moving parts that much more moving.  When it ended, and we gave a standing ovation to the amazing and gut-wrenching 82-year-old star Estelle Parsons and the rest of the cast, they applauded right back. I'm convinced that sitting close for plays really adds to your enjoyment. I liked Streetcar Named Desire last month, but I was not moved like I was on Saturday. The Kennedy Center was probably wrong for going on with the shows Saturday afternoon. But I am so glad they did. I've now got my "Been There" moment.
Aside: Check out Emily Kinney's entertaining blog. She is a young Nebraska actress who was wonderful in Osage County and apparently has a small part in the new film It's Complicated.

My friend Cinthia and I decided to explore Georgetown last Friday as part of their Georgetown Gallery Gaze the third Friday of every month. We started at the beautiful Sea Catch Restaurant where they have a fireplace and a nice Happy Hour with half-price wines and drinks. I wanted to show her the incredible micro-sculptures at Parish Gallery; they're charging $5 now to get in, but it's worth it. You still have until Jan. 23 to see them. We walked next door to a new gallery owned by a Russian couple - she's a professor at the Corcoran. The current exhibit is comprised of nude drawings done by her students. When I wanted to see who drew a particular sketch, I bent down closely to look at the name.  Apparently, Cinthia thought I was looking for a close-up of the penis that was directly in front of me.  Now I will never hear the end of it.  Lastly we went into the gallery that's known for their nudity - MOCA.  I don't want to talk about it anymore.  The next Georgetown Gallery Gaze takes place Jan. 15.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Holiday Fun Across the City


I heartily recommend The Washington Ballet's Nutcracker at the Warner Theater - for all ages. It's a colorful and acrobatic romp through Washington's cherry blossoms and a snowy landscape. Only drawback is no live music, but budget cuts have a tendency of doing things like that.

The Georgetown Gallery Gaze takes place this Friday from 5-8pm. This should be a very nice evening, given the holiday festivities taking place all over.  They're running a promotion that if you get 7 "signatures" fom galleries than you get 20% off of dinner at Mie N’ Yu restaurant.

Washington Printmakers Holiday Party takes place this Sunday, December 20th, from 3:00-5:00 pm.  It's free. A Sampling of Items up for Raffle/Auction: $25 Gift Certificate to Utrecht Art Supplies and $25 Gift Certificate to Maddy's, a nice new restaurant a few doors down Connecticut Ave! Raffle tickets are just $5!

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Neo-Futurists Return, Pirate Radio Steals Some Good Laughs

The Neo-Futurists have returned to Woolly Mammoth with the second coming of Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind. They "perform" 30 "plays" in 60 minutes with titles ranging from A Neo-Gay-PSA to the very clever A Theater Major's Revenge. The best way to describe it is probably that the whole is better than the sum of its parts. Taken alone, the plays can be silly and inconsequential. But after a while, they start to build momentum and you get on a first-name basis with the performers.  When's Chloe going to come out again?  Where's Jay? It's fun - nothing more really.  But with our busy lives intersecting with bad economic times, fun can be a good thing.

The film Pirate Radio (4 RED DOTS) has gotten overlooked a little. Any movie that has Bill Nighy and Philip Seymour Hoffman and Rhys Ifans making merriment, Kenneth Branagh and Emma Thompson doing wonderful sendups, and Mad Men's January Jones as a love object can't be all that bad. Pirate Radio starts out over the top and never strays from there. Yet it keeps to the storyline, which is that back in 1960s England, radio stations weren't allowed to play the great rock music of the day.  So a bunch of legendary deejays commandeer a ship and live and broadcast from the North Sea.  It's by Richard Curtis who wrote one of my all-time favorite films, Four Weddings and a Funeral, and Love Actually.

I saw a very good film at the Jewish Film Festival last night called Brothers, not to be confused with the Tobey Maguire-Jake Gylenhaal movie out now. It was about two Jewish brothers who got separated while growing up in Argentina and are reunited in Israel years later. It has beautiful footage of Jerusalem and the Israeli countryside.  Catch it if you can at the Avalon Theater Thursday, Dec. 10 at 6pm.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

'Up in the Air' Soars! Micro-Sculptures at Parish and Free Tickets to Terra Cotta Warriors

Up in the Air (4.5 RED DOTS) is an incredibly well-done, thoughtful movie that tries pretty successfully to tie today's modern woes into a sort-of romantic comedy formula.  It stars George Clooney as a corporate downsizer with no relationships in his life. He meets a woman (Vera Farmiga) who stirs his emotions, works with a young woman (Anna Kendrick) who jolts his precious ideals, and reconnects with his family and hometown. Director Ivan Reitman moves up into the rarefied air of our best directors.  He takes detours in the typical rom-com world and most of them pay off. It's a very enjoyable film to watch, though if you're single and/or have lost a job in the last couple years, there will be a few twinges.  The job-lost confessions from the "actors" - done in that Woody Allen interviewing style - are all too real for someone who has gone through that, and indeed, Reitman did tape real people who had lost their jobs. Just leaves a bit of a sour aftertaste - usually not my normal feeling after seeing what I consider a very good movie - but to steer into a cliche, I ceryainly feel the pain here. Kudos to Reitman for also allowing Kendrick to tell her boyfriend that Clooney is way old for her and mean it. It allows the film to stay in reality and deliver its punches.

So the Post finally wrote up the micro-sculptures of Willard Wigan at the wonderful Parish Gallery in Georgetown. In the above photo you can see the microscope on the left where the sculpture is contained. (The "painting" is a huge blowup of the art.) It's something you should see. I was there opening night and Mr. Parish said that he will have another reception for the works. I'm not sure yet if that will be the regular Third Friday (Dec. 18) that the galleries at 1054 31st Street usually claim.  I will let you know and maybe we'll even put a meetup together. Wigan said that he works on his minute pieces - often displayed on needles - crafted from diamond chips "between his heartbeats." He was demonstrating to visitors how steady his hand can be compared to ours. He's showing sculptures of the Titanic, the Obamas, King Henry VIII, Hulk and Charlie Chaplin among others. I marveled at a "regular" one of a couple having dinner at a restaurant. The details - her earrings, the glass of wine - are spectacular.

I spoke with a friend yesterday who said that getting free tickets to the Terra Cotta exhibit at the National Geographic was not that difficult. Here's the deal: every Wednesday they give out about 200 free tickets for 6pm viewing. They tell you to come as early as 3pm, but he said he got there at 5pm. The rain probably helped, he said. The exhibit goes to March 31, 2010, so if you're patient, this free option might pay off.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Vox Gives a Leno Preview, All's 'Welles' for Richard Linklater, and Much Ado About a Bad Review

Watch Jay Leno on Wednesday night if you can. One of the guests will be Victoria Vox who I caught yesterday evening at the Kennedy Center Millennium Stage. Even though the woman behind me must have gotten some nasty Tiny Tim flashbacks causing her to say, "The ukelele! This is going to be awful," Vox was very entertaining. She strums the uke beautifully and won over the audience as an excellent songwriter and singer. "But wait," she said, "I will not be on Leno for my uke playing. It's for my mouth trumpet." Indeed, Vox plays a mean mouth trumpet. The first time she did it I was looking for the instrument. She's now THE WOMAN in my musical world.

And Richard Linklater is THE MAN in my cinematic book. When Before Sunrise came out in 1995, I felt like someone was finally talking to me. (Okay, it wasn't Julie Delpy, but I did get to interview her last year.) How can you make a movie about two people talking in Vienna all night? With Ethan Hawke and Delpy at their tantalizing best, easy. Now that I've been to Vienna and LOVED it, I need to watch it again. The film ended with an agreement that they would meet up again in six months or so. NINE years later, Linklater filmed the sequel, Before Sunset, in Paris, and he and Delpy garnered an Oscar nomination for their screenplay. So who didn't show? Late Saturday I couldn't sleep and guess what was on? Wrong! The School of Rock, Linklater's rockin' good-time story of a substitute teacher's fantasy class.

Now we get Me and Orson Welles (FIVE RED DOTS) and it's sensational. I saw it at the famous Angelika Theater in New York's Lower East Side on Friday - where that evening Keanu Reaves was doing a Q&A for Rebecca Miller's new film, The Private Lives of Pippa Lee. British actor Christian Mckay plays a dead-on Orson Welles on the eve of his famous Julies Caesar in 1937 at the Mercury Theater. Zac Efron from High School Musical fame shows that not only can he act but he can ACT. He happens upon Welles in front of the theater, wins the part and then learns about life, on-stage and off. The film falls into a category I enjoy when done right: the show within a show, where it all leads to THE ACTUAL performance at the end. The Canadian TV show Slings and Arrows, that you should rent if you haven't seen it, played out each of its three seasons like that: five episodes of mayhem and culture, and then one last episode where they nailed the performance: Hamlet, Macbeth and King Lear. Noises Off showed the personalities in the first act, the backstage chaos in the second, and then what the audience actually saw in the third. Tim Robbins' Cradle Will Rock, also about Orson Welles, succeeded at this as well but this film is better.

James Tupper (Mr. Anne Heche) is also excellent as Joseph Cotten, Eddie Marsden as John Houseman and Zoe Kazan as Gretta, whose "romance" with Efron bookends the film. And Claire Danes gives her finest screen performance as the female lead. Kazan is the granddaughter of On the Waterfront and A Streetcar Named Desire director Elia Kazan. (Kazan also came under hostile criticism for naming names in the Blacklist Era.) Zoe Kazan also appears in Pippa Lee and played in an underrated film from last year, In the Valley of Elah with Tommy Lee Jones.

I saw Much Ado About Nothing at Folger last week and really enjoyed it. Unfortunately, it's over but I was distressed that it received a bad review from Post theater critic Peter Marks. The point is that you should make up your own mind on most stuff. I will help guide you into areas or topics that may appeal to you. Folger's conceit transported Much Ado to Jamaica and I'm not sure that worked. But it did give a chance for some incredible African American actors to show off their Shakespearean flair. That was worth my price of admission (even though I ushered and did not pay - you get the idea).

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Gershwins and Hope Prevail at Library of Congress, Hamlisch and Cage Shine

The Library Congress has a couple amazing exhibits to whet and overwhelm your cultural senses. Here to Stay: The Legacy of George and Ira Gershwin takes up a small room on the first floor of the Thomas Jefferson Building at First and Independence, across from the Coolidge Auditorium.  (By the way, the Coolidge offers free concerts all year but you have to go online for tickets and get them a couple months in advance.) A large piano centers the room, playing classics like "I Got Rhythm," "Someone to Watch Over Me," "Fascinating Rhythm," and "Embraceable You." There are amazing letters including one from George to his mother about a month before he died of a brain tumor in 1937 at age 38. He complains of dizzyness but writes that the doctors don't think it's serious. A video presentation gives us performances from Porgy and Bess ("Summertime"), Fred Astaire, Gene Kelly ("An American in Paris") and others.  I spent about an hour here and could have stayed longer. I walked 20 feet down the hall to a larger exhibit centering on Bob Hope. In this large collection, we get audio and video clips of Bob Hope and other greats of the time. I watched a can-you-top-this musical interlude of Hope and James Cagney. Judy Garland sang on another clip and the Nichloas Brothers danced on another.  This exhibit can be enjoyed for hours. They told me that both of these exhibits are permanent for the time being. Don't forget to walk upstairs! It's an amazing building. There's a large temporary exhibit of Herblock cartoons as well.

Speaking of composers, I saw the Marvin Hamlisch tribute at the Kennedy Center and it lived up to expectations. This is one of the best formats of anything the KenCen does. Interviewed in a one-on-one setting, Hamlisch spoke of how he got his start playing with Broadway composer Jule Styne - recommended by childhood friend Liza Minnelli! That led to his playing for Barbra Streisand's regearsal band which led to his writing The Way We Were. (He explained that process as well.) He also wrote the music to two Woody Allen movies, Take the Money and Run and Bananas; the latter was watched a couple years ago by Steven Soderbergh in his down time filming Che. Soderbergh loved the music and aksed who wrote that because he was making The Informant next and wanted that same playful verve. Don't be surprised if that soundtrack gets nominated for an Oscar this year. Three Broadway performers took turns singing Hamlisch songs, Karen Ziemba (who starred in Contact), the amazing Liz Callaway and up-and-coming Kevin Early. They performed songs from A Chorus Line, They're Playing Our Song and other shows. Next in the series will be a tribute to Guys and Dolls composer and lyricist Frank Loesser in the spring. I'll let you know when tickets go on sale. Oh, and Hamlisch will be conducting the National Symphony Orchestra Pops as they perform the Music of the Music Man Friday and Saturday at the Kennedy Center. Featured vocalists are Mrs. Partridge herself Shirley Jones and Rebecca Luker who I saw as a terrific Marian the Librarian in a Broadway Music Man a few years ago.

I saw Perestroika, the final part of Angels in America, last night at that great Round House space in Silver Spring. It only runs another week so I won't go on much. But it was an incredible effort by the small Forum Theater, especiallyh Jim Jorgensen as Roy Cohn, Alexander Strain as Louis, Karl Miller as Prior Walter and Casie Platt as Harper. It was funny to hear Prior Walter tell his new-friend Hannah Pitt, the mother of his ex-lover's ex-lover: "I've always depended on the kindness of strangers." Kushner grew up in Lake Charles, La., and you can hear the influence of Tennessee Williams and A Streetcar Named Desire in this era-defining work. Let' see if Forum can keep this amazing momentum going next year.

Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans (**** out of 5 red dots) takes Harvey Keitel's 1992 starring role and moves it to the Big Easy, helmed by the illustrious Werner Herzog. Herzog takes you on a fun ride, with a wired Nicholas Cage in the front seat in easily his best performance since Leaving Las Vegas. What I liked about the film is that goes up to the edge but not over and keeps its sense of humor. (Having beautiful Eva Mendes in the film doesn't hurt.) Herzog is a great director and give him a good script and you have the equation for an excellent film.

Monday, November 16, 2009

'Angels' and 'Streetcar' Put Great Words on Display; Binoche Stars in Disengagement

I remembered that Angels in America was poignant and startling, but I didn't remember how funny it was and how it pays tribute to other artists. If you have not seen this yet, and really enjoy theater, you should try to go. It plays through the end of the month at Forum Theatre's new home in the Round House Theater in Silver Spring, next to AFI. I saw Part 1 - Millennium on Sunday and can't wait to see Part 2 - Perestroika next weekend. Louis has a speech at the beginning of Act 3 that is just amazing. It's a one-way conversation with his black friend about everything he is not and all his thoughts and phobias. Brilliant writing. The other scene that I was dazzled by spotlighted two conversations on stage going on across each other. At first, they alternate, so you can hear everything. Tom Stoppard did this to amazing effect in the last scene of Arcadia. But then Kushner amazingly takes it further, so the conversations are going on at the same time. You kind of have to pick one to listen to, but the greater point seems to be the sound of the language, It becomes melodic.

Seeing A Streetcar Named Desire the night before, I am in awe of these two playwrights: Tennessee Willliams and Tony Kushner. The play is the thing in this production of Streetcar. The sets are simple, no one is doing anything that is not in the text. And yet it is a mind-blowing experience. Cate Blanchett can be so strong-minded one moment and so delicate the next.  She appears to be so confident in her demeanor and appearance that she doesn't have to overplay her hand. She can instead concentrate on forming one of the great characters in modern theater, from the first moment we see her dressed in her best to the last moments being taken away by doctors. "I have always relied on the kindness of strangers."  Wow! It's such a shame more people can't see this.

The very successful monthly French Film Club at the Avalon Theater returns this Wednesday with Disengagement, a new film by the Israeli director Amos Gitai, starring Juliet Binoche. Variety wrote: "Amos Gitai's English-language "Disengagement," about the eviction of Israeli settlers from Gaza, looks to be the helmer's strongest entry since "Kippur." Featuring a virtuoso, disquietingly fey performance by Juliette Binoche and a compelling straight-arrow turn by Israeli heartthrob (and Gitai regular) Liron Levo, magisterial pic shifts foreground and background as it focuses on both mass displacement and its impact on a family." I've seen Gitai's films at the Jewish Film Festival and they're always interesting. Come join a group from Bike and Brunch at Wednesday's showing. We'll meet at 7pm in the coffehouse there.

Friday, November 13, 2009

'Untitled' Soars and Jewish Film Festival Explores

I became a fan of Adam Goldberg a couple years ago when I interviewed Julie Delpy here in DC. She was in town promoting Two Days in Paris, the movie she wrote, directed, starred and cast her parents and cat in. She spoke highly of Goldberg as a person and performer. I had seen him before - in Deja Vu and The Hebrew Hammer - and he reminded me of Adam Arkin in Northern Exposure with a brooding but likeable presence. Arkin, by the way, does a great job as the lawyer in A Serious Man.
Goldberg finally gets his starring role in Untitled and I recommend it highly. It's still playing twice a day at Landmark E Street, which probably means it will be gone in another week. It's the perfect melding of film and art galleries, so it should probably become the new symbol of my blog. Goldberg plays a brooding musician and composer of serious "melodies" involving buckets, reids of a clarinet, chanting and other crazy sounds. A talented piano player, he refuses to compromise from his vision. The movie refuses to compromise as well; there's a nice, cliffhanging moment towards the end. In a breakout performance, intelligent and sexy Marley Shelton plays the gallery owner and love interest of Goldberg and his commercially successful artist brother.  Vinnie Jones of Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels fame plays the featured artist. Why do these good movies play for so short a time?

Coming Attractions
The 20th Jewish Film Festival schedule came out yesterday and it looks wonderful! The opening film, A Matter of Size, will take place at the French Embassy with a dessert reception to follow. Other films will take place at the Embassy of Switzerland, AFI Silver Theatre, Avalon Theatre, Embassy of Ethiopia, and the Harold and Sylvia Greenberg Theatre in Tenley. Subjects range from a documentary about the worst company in the world to the Orthodox Jewish social scene to a short starring the great Derek Jacobi to a young Argentine heroine with Down Syndrome.
This festival does everything that the DC Film Festival in April does not. It encourages conversations and community and spreads out through the city. There are panel discussions, different types of receptions and very reasonable prices. Tickets will go on sale in about a week. Their track record on showing excellent movies is very good. Kudos to the festival's leader Susan Barocas.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Marvelous Marvin and Free Spy Museum Nights

I cannot recommend strongly enough this Monday's one-time show at the Kennedy Center: Broadway Up Close and Personal: Marvin Hamlisch. This is a wonderful format - so far I've seen Jerry Herman (Mame, Hello Dolly, La Cage Aux Folles) and Sheldon Harnick (librettist for Fiddler on the Roof) in this setting. Hamlisch will be interviewed about his career (A Chorus Line, The Sting, They're Playing Our Song, the music in The Informant which really complements the fun mood of the film, etc.) and then the songs will be performed by a trio of Broadway singers: Liz Callaway, Kevin Early and Karen Ziemba (whom I saw in an incredible performance in Contact on Broadway - the Italian restaurant scene). Tickets are $18 but I've now seen it on Goldstar for $9. That is a steal. Oh, the other thing is that Hamlisch has always come off as the nicest, most interesting guy. I think I wrote in this space before about a reading he did at a bookstore at least 10 years ago for his autobiography. He ended up playing a short piano concert for the 20 of us who were there. It was like hearing The Sting in my living room! Fortunately, the KenCen's Terrac Theater is also very intimate.

QUICKTAKES: The Adding Machine has been extended at the Studio Theater for at least another week. Try to get there if you can. It's very interesting theater - try Caryl Churchill combined with some parts Sondheim and a little bit of Moe, Larry and Curly for good measure. The group Footlights has been sending out emails offering free tickets.
Take a nice walk over to the House of Sweden to see their new exhibit, What Lies Beneath. Many of the countries in Europe have contributed a photo to the exhibit, showing something on the ground or from the air or hidden somewhere.
Do you know about FREE Community Nights at the International Spy Museum.  I haven't been yet but signed up for the Dec. 2 one. When is The Newseum going to do something about their $20 admission fee?

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Terrific 'Music Lesson' One Night Only This Friday at National Geographic!

A BIG heads up for this Friday, Nov. 6 and the film The Music Lesson at National Geogarphic. I saw this at the Santa Barbara Film Festival last February and it is a beautiful movie. Students from the Boston Youth Symphony Orchestra are chosen to travel to Laikipia, Kenya, to meet students whose musical traditions have been passed down from tribal elders. The interaction between the students, the lessons they impart and their admiration for each other’s music form the basis of the film.
"It’s amazing how changed the kids were," director Ginny Galloway said at that time. "They really let their guards down–let go of their fears and got back to rhythm and the pulse of music."
She spoke of visiting the family of one of the young Kenyan musicians, and "even though it was a straw house with dirt floors, they took the same pride we do when someone visits. The only difference was they were moving the chickens and trying to dust the dirt floors."
Producer, Orlando Jones, who played the heroic bandleader Dr. Lee in Drumline, said the musical theme drew him to the project, as well as Galloway’s desire to form an exchange program such as this for a regular part of many school systems. Galloway says that many of the Boston kids still have Kenyan friends on Facebook, a true 2009 testament to friendship.
You can buy $5 tickets on Ticketplace! It's well worth it.

Monday, November 2, 2009

A fun birthday card for Tac

Playing WIth Time in Movies, Photography Show in Georgetown

AWESOME PHOTOGRAPHY On Saturday night, I attended the opening reception of Select Contemporary Photography from the Lucille and Richard Spagnuolo Collection in the Walsh Building on the campus of Georgetown University. Coming on the heels of FotoWeekDC, this is a great appetizer with standouts Nikki S. Lee, Carrie Mae, Weems and Doug Hall. It goes to Dec. 11 if you can get over there.

Film Talk

That Damn United (4 out of 5 Red Dots)
An Education (4½ Red Dots)
American Casino (4 Red Dots)
Money-Driven Machine (3.5 Red Dots)
The Invention of Lying (3 Red Dots)

Can it really be almost 10 years since Memento? Or is someone playing with time? (Guy Pearce has made interesting choices since then – The Hurt Locker, The Proposition, The Factory Girl with Sienna Miller who just received okay reviews for After Miss Julie on Broadway. Though when you start with LA Confidential and Memento, tough to keep that up.) Twenty years before that, Nobel-prize-winning playwright Harold Pinter succeeded with Betrayal (Roy Scheider, Raul Julia, Blythe Danner (Gwyneth Paltrow’s mother) which started with the last scene chronologically and then went backwards in time ending with the scene where the three protagonists first met. And 20 years before that, Pinter, who died last year, also played with time in writing the screenplay for the film Accident—where we see the accident at the beginning and then go back in time from there—which kicked off the Joseph Losey retrospective at the National Gallery yesterday. Film critic Jay Carr gave a wonderful talk at the before the film. That place is a treasure! Highly recommended: two more Losey/Pinter collaborations – The Servant, Nov. 7 at 4pm; The Go-Between with the beautiful Julie Christie, Nov. 8 at 4:30pm.

I bring the “time” element up for a couple reasons. I saw the famous director Peter Bogdanovich a couple weeks ago (Last Picture Show, Paper Moon, Daisy Miller). He spoke following the film , Anatomy of a Murder, at Fordham Law School in Manhattan. He was a friend of the film's director Otto Preminger, so he told some stories including how much the star James Stewart liked to rehearse, but no one on this film would rehearse with him. It is a superb film, and interestingly, the judge, Joseph Welch, was a famous real-life attorney who represented the army in the McCarthy hearings. Bogdonavich doesn't like the playing with time, but the film he criticized, the very average Duplicity, was not a fair example. The latest to play with time is That Damned United, written by Peter Morgan and starring Michael Sheen (they also worked together on The Queen and Frost/Nixon), focusing on the '70s British soccer manager Brian Clough who took small teams to championships but failed miserably in a 44-day stint with the big team, Leeds United. Timothy Spall, the great character actor, plays his assistant in another standout performance. I heartily recommend this film; it has received little publicity but it is different from the usual sports movie.

An Education is an even better film. It’s written by Nick Hornby, author of High Fidelity and About a Boy and who just made the Washington rounds plugging a new, well-received novel, Juliet Naked. I remember standing in line to hear him speak at Olssons Books at Metro Center around 15 years ago after High Fidelity. He has such a good ear for dialogue. The film should be nominated for an Oscar – though with 10 such films this year, is that still an honor? – because Carey Mulligan, Peter Saarsgard and Alfred Molina put out some exceptional performances. The Invention of Lying certainly has a good setup and a lot of hearty laughs early on - all the things that we're thinking but never say get said in this truth-serumed society. But then, as others have written, it loses steam. Probably a shame - if Gervais had not been as worried about the happy rom-com ending, he might have really had something special. Phillip Seymour Hoffman and Edward Norton have funny cameos.

We joke sometimes that Washington has a cultural festival of some kind almost every week. Actually, I think it’s true. Last week it was the 2009 Impact Film Festival in the two auditoriums of the U.S. Capitol Visitors Center. (Have you seen this place? Wow, quite a venue! You enter from the East Capitol side.) Next week, of course, it’s FotoweekDC. After that, The Jewish Film Festival, in January the new German Film Festival. This week, I’m sure there’s something and I’m chagrined not to know about it. I saw a film called Money-Driven Medicine ( about our health care situation, specifically the lack of coordination between doctors at hospitals, something partly attributed to the growing scarcity of general practitioners. (It’s very expensive to follow this path, apparently.) I spoke to director Andrew Fredericks afterwards at a cool restaurant called The Reserve. He was originally contacted by producer Alex Gibney who was also there (he directed the great Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room and the Academy-Award winning Taxi to the Dark Side)— which was quite flattering to Fredericks. The film is based on a book of the same name by reporter Maggie Mahar. The Impact Festival also included The Most Dangerous Man in America: Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers (which I did not get to see but has been very well-reviewed) and The Messenger with Woody Harrelson who was in town last week promoting it. This is a great new festival for the DC cultural radar.

It’s unbelievable what we have here in DC. My friend saw Richard Curtis (Four Weddings and a Funeral, Love Actually) in person last Monday before a showing of his new film, Pirate Radio. Gibney the next night, Harrelson two nights later, the same night Ian McKellen gave a performance at Shakespeare Theater. (I still have a signed poster after a one-man show he did at Olney 20 years ago. I’ll never forget it.) Cate Blanchett just got a rave review for Streetcar today, so on and so on.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Simon Says Quality, Stars Shine in NY and Many New Events!

Caught a preview last week of Theater J's Lost in Yonkers at the DC Jewish Community Center. Theater J continued its strong run of the last few years with the Zero Mostel bioplay earlier this year. And Lost in Yonkers keeps a good thing going. You can do much worse than a solid Neil Simon play with wonderful actors (Tana Hinken, Holly Twyford and Max Talisman especially shine here. Hinken and Twyford played to acclaim last year at Studion Theater.) Jerry Whiddon directs with assuredness and solid timing. It is by no means a great play, as say The Odd Couple is. But it has a lot of funny lines and an endearing quality to it. Theater J has many good deals to see it, some with discussions afterward. Please check it out.

If you get to New York, definitely go see The God of Carnage. Jeff Daniels, James Gandolfini (who was a couple years behind me at Rutgers), Hope Davis (of Next Stop Wonderland fame) and Marcia Gay Harden form an impeccable and riotous ensemble, but they're only on for a few more weeks. The theater sells standing room for just $25 2 hours before the show, and the show is just 80 minutes, so it's a great deal!

Monday, Oct. 26, Jewish Literary Festival, DCJCC, Louis D. Brandeis: A Life. 7:30. Free, a reception to follow.

Tuesday, Oct. 27 - Falls Church Arts and Creative Cauldron October mixer, 5:30 - 7 at ArtSpace Falls Church, 410 South Maple Ave.
Thursday, Oct. 29, 4pm - William R. Smyser discusses his book Kennedy and the Berlin Wall: "A Hell of a Lot Better than a War" - Room LJ-119, Thomas Jefferson Building, Library of Congress. Free.
Thursday and Friday, Oct. 29 and 30 – Pay What You Can for Forum Theater’s ANGELS in AMERICA Part II: PERESTROIKA at Round House Silver Spring, 8pm
Friday, Oct. 30Kennedy Center Jazz, Jon Irabagon – alto saxophonist, only $15. Wonderful setting of small tables, intimate atmosphere. Usually double the price
Saturday, Oct. 31 - Select Contemporary Photography from the Collection of Lucille and Richard Spagnuolo. 5:30 – 7pm, Walsh Building, Georgetown University
Saturday, Oct. 31Ofrenda – Art for the Dead, an all-day/night celebration at the Torpedo Factory in Alexandria. Art reception from 3-7pm, parade at 7, masked ball at night (no cover! cash bar)
Wednesday, Nov. 4 - Iconoclash! Political Imagery from the Berlin Wall to German Unification. Opening discussion and reception for this exhibition of political and cultural artifacts and their changed meaning. Commemorating the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. RSVP to
Friday, Nov. 7The FotoWeek 2009 Launch Party promises to be great fun. $15 for appetizers, drinks, photography and friends.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Pecha Kucha and Other Great Events in Next Few Days

Events time!
Tonight, Oct. 21, PWYC at the DC Jewish Community Center, Lost In Yonkers. Meet Bike and Brunch group between 6 and 6:30 in Upstairs Lobby.
Thursday, Oct. 22 - Capitol Pecha Kucha Night, Vol. 10, Boffi Studio, 3320 M Street, NW
$10 at the door. doors open 5:30pm, presentations start at 6:30. If you haven't been to a Pecha Kucha, you're missing out!  Short, hip presentations at a cool architectural place, followed by a reception and music. 
Friday, Oct. 23 - Birthday Celebration at Vapianos, 18th and M
Saturday, Oct. 24 - DC Food For All Presents: The Great Harvest. 5-9pm, Big Bear Cafe, 1st and R Streets, NW. Delicious food, music, drinks, $15 donation asked for.
Saturday, Oct. 24 - Design Day at Cadys Alley. Lectures and Talks all day. 11:30am - 6pm. For anyone who recalls the elegant First Thursdays here a few years ago, there's a soft place in the heart for any events they hold.  See you there.
Monday, Oct. 26 - Louis D Brandeis: A Life. Lecture and Reception at the DCJCC, part of the Jewish Literary Festival. Free with reception after.
Tuesday, Oct. 27 - PWYC for Woolly Mammoth new play, Full Circle.  (Also on Monday, but I will go on Tuesday). Try to come early, by 6pm.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Amazing Dance, a Fun Informant and Cyclists to Get Lost in Yonkers

Attended the opening preview of Washington Ballet's Don Quixote at Kennedy Center Wednesday night and what a revelation! When company director Septime Webre told us before the show that he was VERY excited to have Viengsay Valdes of the Ballet Nacional de Cuba dancing the part of Kitri/Dulcinea, he wasn't kidding. She soared and twirled through the show alongside Jonathan Jordan's Basilio, to ovation after ovation. (Personally, I'm a Sancho Panza fan, but here he was just a supporting player.) How she spun on one leg so long and gorgeously I'll never know. I'm not a dance critic so I can't wait to see the review in tomorrow's Washington Post. But this was an exciting event to be at. It continues through the weekend with two performances Saturday and Sunday. But Valdes will only be dancing Saturday night.

I'm a little behind on movies but did enjoy The Informant (3.5 RED DOTS), Matt Damon's break from the exciting Bourne movies. (I think a fourth one is in the works.) It reminded me some of Shattered Glass, but a little lighter. Marvin Hamlisch's music is sensational as always. Has anyone ever seen him in person? He'll be doing one of these cool (and inexpensive) retrospectives at the Kennedy Center Nov. 16 and I will definitely go. I saw him once at an Olssons Books about 10 years ago with an autobiography he wrote. There were about 20 people, the interviewer, Hamlisch and a piano. OMG! He's so nice and modest. He started playing his songs for us, the theme from The Sting, The Way We Were, A Chorus Line, and stuff from further back. I'll never forget it. I should see if I still have the book. Anyway, Soderbergh gets back to some of his cute ways and further away from the Che Guevara stuff in the Informant. It's clever and surprising, not great but good entertainment.

Come meet us (a group from Bike and Brunch) at Theater J in the DC Jewish Community Center on 16th and Q next Wednesday, Oct. 21, for a PWYC preview of Lost in Yonkers. Holly Twyford and Tana Hinken reunite after last year's amazing Road to Mecca at Studio. Jerry Whiddon directs. We also last saw him at Studio last year in Blackbird, that exciting two-person play about the reuniting of a man and woman after he had molested her years before. So this should be first-class stuff at Theater J.

On Thursday, my friend Rob and I usher for opening night of Folger's Much Ado About Nothing. I really enjoy their theater offerings, so I'm looking forward to it and will let you know!

My friend Cinthia of The Culture Club is starting to get very excited over Fotoweek, Nov. 7-14. And who can blame her. We will have numerous postings for that in the next few weeks. She's got some fun meetups coming up including a free screening of the Chilean film The Maid on Nov. 5 at E Street. It got a very good review in today's New York Times.

Okay, let's post this and then I'll do a calendar to follow.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Whoa Nellie!, McKeown Rocks at Java, Coens Go Back to Roots, 'Invention' Shows Off Talented Newcomers, and New Outings!

Good news: Nellie McKay has a new cd out: "Normal as Blueberry Pie." It comes from a line from South Pacific. If you've never heard her, check out her much-acclaimed cd "Get Away From Me" and a song called Sorry. (Yes, the cd debuted a short time after Norah Jones's "Come Away With Me.")  She's independent, plays a mean piano and ukelele, sings standards, raps, writes lyrics, has already starred in a musical on Broadway and now channels Doris Day in her new cd. As I write this, a film called Lover Come Back plays by chance on the tv in the background - with Rock Hudson and Doris Day. (Ms Day is 87 and lives in Connecticut.) I don't see any local appearances yet for McKay, although she will be on Prairie Home Companion Nov. 21.  

In the meantime, we'll have to settle for Erin McKeown, who performs Monday, Oct. 19, at Jammin' Java in Vienna. I highly recommend her and will be there.

I saw A Serious Man (4 red dots) yesterday and was impressed, and I'm not always a huge fan of the Coen Brothers. I thought A Country for Old Men was all style, but enjoyed Fargo and Millers Crossing. A Serious Man opens somewhere in snowy Eastern Europe with people speaking Yiddish. Unfortunately, I didn't have my mother with me to see if the translation was accurate. (I could pick up some of the words from when my grandparents used to visit.) The movie thought-provokes and prods, without any big-name stars. It was good to see Adam Arkin in a fun role - always loved him on Northern Exposure. If there's a moral, it's probably that the "hero" doesn't really do anything wrong but gets tread upon in the shuffle. Sometimes, I feel that any action I take is better than inaction.

Attended the closing night of the Asian Pacific American Film Festival last night, and what a great surprise to see a terrific American film called Children of Invention, directed by Tze Chun, who attended. It's about a Chinese single mother living illegally in Boston with her two children, a boy 10 and a girl 7. She is enamored with pyramid schemes and it finally gets her into trouble, leaving her two children alone. Chun gets great performances from the two kids, nothing over the top; he said it was especially difficult given that you have a maximum of about 6 hours a day with the kids. But they were very professional and had all their lines memorized right away. We will be hearing more of Chun in the coming years, and if he can get a DC release, I will write more about him and the film myself.
Prior to Invention, a short Australian film called Crocodile was shown about a young boy freeing himself from the contraints of life. Again, it showed a lot of talent in its writer-director Maura Milan, who lives in LA and is now at work on a short about celebrity impersonators in Koreatown. Afterward, she explained to me the difference between a crocodile and alligator. Hopefully, we will be seeing more of her and her work in next year's DC Shorts Festival.

I saw a documentary called La Americana at Campus Progress last week and was very impressed. It focuses on a woman from Bolivia whose daughter becomes a paraplegic, forcing her to go to New York to try to earn enough money for her well-being.

On the Schedule
Oct. 13 Come to the Bike & Brunch Happy Hour at the Cleveland Park Bar & Grill
Oct. 14 I'll be reporting from The Washington Ballet's first show of the year, Don Quixote, at the Kennedy Center. (Tickets are cheaper than you may think.)
Oct. 15 The Culture Club Meetup will gather at the Smithsonian American Art Museum for their monthly jazz in the glorioius Atrium there. This is a nice event for ample time to schmooze and hear great music from the Afro Bop Alliance.
Oct. 16 It's Third Friday in Georgetown meaning the openings for the Galleries in the Sea Catch square - great appetizers, wine and the wonderful Parish Gallery has a new opening as always - Joanne Kent
Oct. 17 The Arabian Sights Film Festival will have a reception at the National Geographic following its showing of Masquerades.
Oct. 21 Bike and Brunch will have a group at the PWYC of Lost in Yonkers the DCJCC. Tana Hinken and the wonderful Holly Twyford star. Meet between 6 and 6:30.
Oct. 27 Woolly Mammoth will have a PWYC of their new play Full Circle, and it sounds fun. The promo says to wear comfortable shoes. (Also a PWYC Oct. 26 but Redskins play that night.)

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Asian Pacific Films, Coming to Amreeka, So-So Paris, More Events

The 10th annual DC Asian Pacific American Film Festival opened Thursday with a documentary called Liberty 9500 from filmmakers Eric Byler and Annabel Park.  It focused on town meetings in Manassas concerning immigrants and the way the town was responding to them.  I really enjoyed Byler's first feature, Charlotte Sometimes, but did not see his second one, Americanese.  These are two talented filmmakers though this piece is kind of difficult to enjoy, unless you are really familiar with this situation.  A couple at the after-party - on the roof of the Rosa Mexicano Building across from Verizon Center! - told me they had seen a previous that was more enjoyable, more personal.
The Festival will close next Saturday night (Oct. 10) with the showing of Children of Invention at the Goethe Institut.  Screenings will be at 7:30 and 9:30 with receptions after each showing.

I highly recommend Amreeka, still playing at E Street Cinemas. It's the story of a Palestinian mother and son who immigrate to Illinois to join her sister and her family (a likeable husband and three daughters).  The film moves slowly, documenting their hardships at home and their hardships coming to a new land.  But the payoff comes later in the warmth of family and friends.

The film Paris by director Cedric Klapisch does show off the city in all its attractiveness from the Eiffel Tower to the Luxemborg Gardens to various neighborhoods.  It also shows off Juliette Binoche who enjoyed a much finer turn in last year's Summer Hours (a good one to rent).  This film's parts are better than its sum.  There are some good scenes with a college professor, and Binoche's brother, Romain Duris (who fared better in Klapisch's L'auberge Epagnole and its sequel Russian Dolls, whose illness is the focus of the film. And as previously mentioned, rent Klapisch's best film, When the Cat's Away.

On the radar...
Tuesday, Oct. 6, The International Club hosts a free cello/accordion concert and wine reception at the Austrian Embassy.
Also on Tuesday, the two-woman folk group Sweater Set plays at the new Capitol Hill place, The Fridge.
The fun folker Erin McKeown comes to Jammin' Java on Oct. 19.
I've been told that The Phillips Collection's Thursday evening gatherings remain especially good, with music, free food and $5 drinks. That same night International Club hosts their last rooftop soiree.
The Culture Club, one of the best meetup groups out there, hosts a well-regarded movie at Goethe Institut next Thursday called Silent Country with the fillmmaker in attendance.
Put Nov. 6 and 13 on your calendars.  There will likely be Single Volunteer guided gallery walks through Dupont and Bethesda, respectively.
Fotoweek, Nov. 7-14. Put it on your schedule!

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Asian Pacific Films, Free Theater and a Comfortable Sweater Set

For your Calendar: (I will try to get this organized into an easy-to-read events calendar in the near future.  Thanks for bearing with me.)
**Opening night for the dc Asian Pacific American Film Festival is this Thursday, Oct. 1.  $20 gets you into an interesting documentary by Eric Byler (rent his Charlotte Sometimes when you get a chance), a Q&A after, plus a rooftop soiree across from the Verizon Center.  Sounds like a good deal to me.
**This Thursday Oct. 1 is also Free Theater Day.  This means that you will be able to go online and get tickets to a future free show in the area!  But shows will go fast.  You'll need to go online as close to 12pm as possible. 
**At the Shakespeare Theatre this Sunday, 9/27, there will be free Open Rehearsals to their new production of The Alchemist, at 1pm, 2:30, 4, 7 and 8:30.  No reservations needed.
**The Velocity DC Dance Festival takes place next Friday and Saturday nights.  Tickets thru Goldstar are only $8.50.  There's a Culture Club meetup for Friday night's show.
**Nick Hornby (Hi Fidelity, About a Boy) comes to Politics & Prose next Thursday with his new highly praised novel, Juliet, Naked.
**The Pink Line Project is very active these days.  This Sunday night at 7, at a new hot place on Capitol Hill called The Fridge, they are sponsoring magician David London.  RSVP to  Then on Saturday, Oct. 10, they will be having a big party in Rosslyn (Rosslyn??) to preview Arlington's new cultural center being built in the old Newseum Site.  That's a great thing!
**I really enjoyed a folk musical group named The Sweater Set at Arts on Foot.  They'll be playing Oct. 4 at the Takoma Park Street Festival, at the aformentioned Fridge, Tuesday, Oct. 6th at 7:30pm and at Iota on Nov. 10.
**Monday, Oct. 26, at the DCJCC is a free reading of a new book about Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis.  It's part of the DCJCC Literary Fetsival.  The Event is free and will have refreshments after.  It will fill up quickly.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

The Impact of No Impact Man; Nein on 'Mein'; Swedish Hip-Hop, Who Knew?; Not the 'Real' Pinter (Pause); and Calvin Hill Talks about '29-29'

I've been trying to think of a way to connect The Baader-Meinhof Complex - nominated for a Foreign Film academy award last year - and No Impact Man - which may just be nominated for a documentary award this year.  I saw them on the same day: German terrorism and New Yorkers giving up Whole Foods and Bloomingdales (okay, and subways, elevators and electricity, among other things).  I could give you some fancy edict about the power of the human spirit to overcome, but I won't.  Simply put, go see No Impact Man and go read about the real Baader-Meinhof episode in German history on Wikipedia.  The movie is certainly well-done, but do we need to see the faces behind terrorism.
The faces behind No Impact one are mostly confused ones.  The fun of the story comes in large part from the wife, who is told by her husband on a daily basis what new thing they are giving up - meat, makeup, tv, etc.  It's an interesting study into what we can live with and without.  Their litle girl seems to love everything and why not - candlelight, games and constant adventure.  We saw the free preview at Campus Progress on H Street, NW.  It's a good place to get on the mailing list.

Swedish hip-hop artist Adam Tensta took over the The House of Sweden rooftop last night, and thank goodness for the solid boardwalk because the place was literally jumping!  "Do I look like I sell drugs?" was my favorite chorus.  Check out their Web site and get on their mail list. Throughout the fall and winter they'll concerts, exhibits, receptions and forums that are always fun to attend. It looks like Saturday night Oct. 24 is their next big party - Eurovision Night After Dark.  Stay tuned for details.

The Homecoming, The Birthday Party, No Man's Land, Betrayal, Celebration.  What do these plays have in common?  They all could have been wonderful choices by the usually-awesome Studio Theater for a play to celebrate the life of Harold Pinter, who died earlier this year. (Pause.)  But they chose Moonlight, a rarely done (for good reason), kind-of poetic, un-dramatic, senseless play that Pinter wrote in 1993.  Skip it and instead rent French Lieutenant's Woman (his screenplay for the great John Fowles book), The Comfort of Strangers (from an early Ian McEwen novel), The Handmaid's Tale (starring the luminous and tragically late Natasha Richardson), The Go-Between and Accident. Studio will bounce back.

I've previously highly recommended the 2008 documentary Harvard Beats Yale 29-29. It's the story of a classic football game in 1969, but it's so much more.  It airs the poignant stories of a generation of intelligent and thoughtful and sometimes controversial group of men, 40 years after one of the seminal events of their lives.  Meryl Streep shows up as a past girlfriend, secrets of Doonesbury are revealed, and Tommy Lee Jones offers his recollections as a player for Harvard.  I always had one big question: why wasn't Calvin Hill in the movie?  Hill was the star of undefeated, nationally ranked Yale, one of the Ivy League's greatest football players ever, who went on to a celebrated career with the Cowboys (and later the Redskins).  I ran into Mr. Hill Friday night at the Parish Gallery opening in Georgetown. (Go see this show if you can; it's sponsored by the DC Chapter of the National Conference of Artists.)  Anyway, Hill was incredibly nice as always, but hardly let me even finish the question.  "I had talked about that game so much in my life," he said. "I just didn't want to go there again." He acknowledged the trauma of the Yale team, thus leading to the possibly confusing title.  Though both teams were undefeated at the time, Yale was a huge favorite and leading 29-13 with just a couple minutes to go. "It was two days later that I realized that we did not lose the game," he admitted. "It just felt so much like we lost."  Reading between the lines, it appears that if Hill knew of the high quality of the film, he would have talked.  It's a shame. As eloquent and introspective as he is, it would have added even more to this incredible film.  One of the keys to the game was that Yale knocked out Harvard's ineffective starting quarterback, bringing on the unknown backup Frank Champi. "I was the only one who knew Champi," Hill said. "We were together on a Harvard-Yale track team that went to London. I knew he was a good athlete."  Interestingly, Hill said that he spoke to a Yale team this past Thursday, as they prepared to play Georgetown.  "I told them, 'Whatever you do, don't let them tie you, 29-29.' "

All right, come back later for a schedule of events.  I'm working on a permanent calendar that will be easy to access.  See you at the big Politics and Prose party later today!

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

A Powerful Eclipsed, Binoche and Paris coming Our Way and a Fundraiser for the CommonGood

Last year, I introduced two of my friends, Ibti - she of the - and Molly - whom I met at the DC Shorts Festival.  They have something in common: Liberia.  Both had worked there and their convesation about it looked very heavy and sad. Now I know why.  I saw the play Eclipsed last night at Woolly Mammoth, a week after seeing the film Pray the Devil Back to Hell there. It's funny, when Woolly is good - Dead Man's Cell Phone, No Child..., Mike Daisey's stuff - they're real good; and when they're bad, they're real bad.  Eclipsed is in the real good category.  Five excellent actresses come together to tell the story of Liberian women, through the eyes of the wives of one warlord.  Their plight is a moving one, and their choices are incredibly tough.  If the play tends to be slightly didactic in telling this history, it makes up for it with passion, warmth and an atmosphere that transports you to this horrible country. The accents take a little time to get used to, but what we miss in dialogue, we get back in grit.  It only has two weeks to go - please try to see it.

Juliette Binoche appeared on Charlie Rose last night. Talk about someone who never ages. I mean how long ago was the movie Blue? (She actually mentioned the late genius director Kieslowski, writing one of her new poems in his honor.) I perked up after she spoke of her new movie, Paris, directed by Cedric Klapisch. He is one of my favorite directors - if you can, rent Chacun Cherche Son Chat (When the Cat's Away).  It's a lovely story about a woman who loses her cat in a Paris neighborhood and has to go meet her neighbors to try and find him.  I used to have great neighbors - now I hardly know them.  Unfortunately, Chloe is too old to make it very far away.

In Ibti's organic honor, I will put in a promotional word for Friday's fundraiser for CommonGood CityFarm.  They are only asking $15 and it's for a great cause. I may try to get over there after the Georgetown galleries.
Other events worth noting:
+ Many of the WalkingTown DC events this weekend need reservations. It's worth checking out the schedule.
+ Zero Hour at the DCJCC will have two PWYCs - the Friday matinee and next Tuesday evening.
+ Bike & Brunch has a Happy Hour next Wednesday evening at RiRa in Clarendon. It's Comedy Night there, not that a typical B&B Happy Hour isn't funny in itself (lots of romantic tanglings - not enough time to delve)
+ Faccia Luna now has half-price wine on Tuesday and half-price beer on Wednesday.
+ On Sunday, Irish arts group Solas Nua will have a preview to their December Film Festival, from 3-6 pm at Flashpoint.  Free.  They're a fun group of people.
+ Thai Embassy in Georgetown has free events this Saturday, and then Cinthia has a meetup there next Saturday for The Culture Club.
+ Free performance of the National Players Much Ado About Nothing at Olney Saturday night
+ Monday at 7:30 the DCJCC will screen Holy Land Hardball, a well-received documentary about Israeli baseball. Who knew?

Stay tuned later in the week for reviews of film No Impact Man (with director tonight), Studio Theater's Moonlight and Baader Meinhof Complex.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Go See Agnes, Free Tickets for Library of Congress concerts

"I am alive, and I remember." These are the closing words of Agnes Varda in her remarkable new film, The Beaches of Agnes (5 RED DOTS), which opened here Friday after a DC premier at the National Gallery in June. It is a mesmerizing two hours, as the four-score Varda takes us through her incredible film-making career and her loving marriage to film genius Jacques Demy. Varda portrays her life with incredible creativity, arranging mirrors on the beach to show one scene, moving ahead to a Cinema Paradiso-type segment of two middle-age sons watching footage of their father for the first time - footage shot by Varda - on a moving cart through town! We see early film roles for Gerard Depardieu, Phillipe Noiret (speaking of CP) and... Harrison Ford; leading actors like Jane Birkin standing in for Varda to air her thoughts; snippets of her masterly films that I wish AFI would do a retropsective of (see if you can rent a copy of Lions Love - it looks like a wild romp and stars "Hair" composers Ragni and Rado, Warhol girl Viva, Jim Morrison - yes, that Jim Morrison, who Varda used to have dinner with - and director Peter Bogdonavich). Yes, she is 80, but there is nothing old or plodding about this film. Quite the contrary, it's one of the most exciting that I've ever seen.

At the DC Shorts Festival, I saw a wonderful group of short films on Friday, completely better than the ones I saw on Thursday.  Showcase 6 will be playing again tonight at 9:30 pm at E Street.  The "best-of" the festival will play Thursday at 7pm and 9:30 at E Street.  If you have pick one night to go, that would be the one.

Let's get a schedule of events in here:
Wednesday, Sept. 16 - Free tickets can be obtained for first couple Library of Congress concerts, including the highly regarded Eroica Quartet Oct. 19.  They go fast.
Artists Forum at Hillyer Gallery 6:30 - 7:30pm
Sept. 18 - Third Friday Gallery openings in Georgetown, Sea Catch Square
Sept. 19 and 20 - The big event is WalkingTown DC, an amazing schedule of more than 100 free guided walking tours - and a few bike tours - across Washington.
Saturday, Sept. 19 - Evening on the Rooftop at House of Sweden (featuring Swedish hiphopper Adam Tensta - $10)

Friday, September 11, 2009

Turning Japanese (for Films); Eclipsed Something to View; 'Shorts' Are Long This Week

Friday, 9/11 - STUFF going on in 3 areas:
Bethesda's Second Friday (I'll be leading a Gallery Walk there Nov. 13, so stay tuned.) Fraser Gallery has the Trawick winners tonight
7th Street area: Touchstone, Civilian Arts Project, The Gallery at Flashpoint, Carroll Square Gallery, Pepco's Edison Gallery on 8th St., and Reyes + Davis
Arlington: ARlington Arts Center - Fall Solos Opening
Saturday, 9/12 - Afternoon: Kennedy Center Open House, Rosslyn Jazzfest (see Fred Yonnet!), Arts on Foot. In the evening, head to American University's Katzen Center for a big opening (6-9pm), and then to Silver Spring for Allen Toussaint at the Silver Spring Jazz Festival.
Sunday, 9/13 - Takoma Park Folkfest

When I attended the Santa Barbara Film Festival in January, I was blown away by a Japanese film called Nobody To Watch Over Me.  If you can ever find it to rent, do so.  It's about a policeman assigned to protect the sister of a young killer.  (Apparently, in Japan, the family of a killer is subjected to awful media scrutiny.)  This week, I went to see Still Walking (5 RED DOTS!), the latest Japanese film to open here, and it's even better.  I didn't even realize just how good it was until I emailed with a friend earlier this week who has a tragedy in her family.  At first, Still Walking makes you sad and we all have enough sadness in our lives that we don't need to see it. But then, something changes. There's love in the family, small moments of happiness and laughter, and all of a sudden, we're not alone - and that's a great relief.  At one point, the mother of the family asks the daughter-in-law about when a new grandchild might be coming. But she does it in a backwards way. When the daughter-in-law says why not just ask me in a normal way, she says, very matter-of-factly, We're not a normal family. From then on, we're with them.

Theater-wise, there's a good buzz to see  Eclipsed at Woolly Mammoth, Wittenberg at Rep Stage of Columbia and Zero Hour at Theater J (DCJCC - special PWYC Tuesday 9/15).  I did get to Woolly this week for a documentary about Liberia called Pray the Devil Back to Hell (which got good notice in Santa Barbara). It was very powerful, so I can't wait to see Eclipsed. The playwright, Danai Gurira, who co-wrote and acted in the wonderful In the Continuum a couple years back at Woolly, also starred in The Visitor last year.  Talk about intimidating talent.  Eclipsed has a meet-the-artists day after Sunday's matinee and a special panel, Women in Conflict Zones, next Thursday, 9/17.

I attended the DC Shorts opening last night - a little subdued and quality of shorts was so-so.  Pigeon Impossible was definitely the standout.  They changed up the schedule and made last night's party for VIPs and tonight's for us regular folks. I think that was a mistake, although I'm sure party tonight will be fun. (Just buy a ticket for a 7pm show tonight and party is included: a very good deal.)  It just seemed to make more sense to start things off with a bang and get the word going out.

The Center for American Progress has a cool event next Wednesday - a Washington showing of No Impact Man. Sign up quickly; it will surely fill up.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Taking Stock of Mostel, A Look Back at Woodstock, and a Week Stocked With Events

Zero Hour, the new Theater J offering about Zero Mostel, packs a punch.  It reaches a crescendo in the second act.  We've already been told about Mostel's hatred for director Jerome Robbins, who named names in the Blacklist Era of the early 50s. We've watched a scene where Brochu--who delivers a dead-on impersonation of Mostel--walks over to a desk on the side of the stage to recreate Mostel's testimony to Congress. He will not name names. "I will only talk about myself," he says.  But when A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, Mostel's first huge success, started in rehearsals, it wasn't working. So George Abbott and David Merrick had the answer, Mostel tells us.  Robbins was brought in.  Would this be okay with Mostel?  "Those of us on the left do not blacklist," he said. Last year Theater J soared with plays like The Accident and The Rise and Fall of Annie Hall.  I wouldn't say Zero Hour soars.  But it flies low with an interesting and well-acted if fairly undramatic historical story.  It's still worth seeing.

When Ang Lee started out, it was one beautiful movie after another. The Wedding Banquet, Eat Drink Man Woman, Sense and Sensibility.  Great stories all.  Lately, it's been Ice Storm, Hulk, Brokeback Mountain and now Taking Woodstock  (3.5 red dots).  I wasn't crazy about those others, but this one I enjoyed watching.  The story doesn't quite hold up, but it works because of good feelings, Liev Schreiber, newcomer Jonathan Groff, the aura of Woodstock and Lee's light touch. Great directors still neat great scripts and this isn't one.  One critic pointed out how Robert Altman worked the camera in and out of small scenes in Nashville to amazing effect.  Here, Lee reverts to split screens with less success.  (Though Nashville is one of the best movies ever - in my opinion - so it's not quite a fair comparison.)  I would say to go see it because you'll come out smiling.  And for me that's enough once in a while.

Monday, Sept. 7 - Glen Echo Arts Show and Irish Music
Sept. 8 - Baader Meinhof at the Goethe-Institut
Sept. 9 - Art opening at Goethe-Institut: Thirteen: A Portrait Series, 6-8pm
Sept. 10 - Opening night of DC Shorts; Phillips Collection Thursday evenings, Second Thursdays at the Torpedo Factory
Sept. 11 - 2nd Friday in Bethesda; DC Shorts big party following their 7pm shows.
Sept. 12 - Kennedy Center Open House, Rosslyn Jazz Festival (featuring the amazing Fred Yonnet) and Arts on Foot

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Sova Looks Fun, Shorts IS Fun, and Lorna Is No Fun

I've been away a little bit - does anyone want to move to Vancouver with me? - so let's jump back into this with a calendar.
Aug. 31 - Pay What You Can preview of Eclipsed at Woolly Mammoth Theater (Sept. 1 as well). People start lining up pretty early, so best to get there by about 6:30.
Theater J (very busy this week!) hosts a Town Hall meeting to kick off their season (8pm). Drinks and refreshments will be served.
Sept. 1 - Movies Under the Stars in Bethesda Row - final one: Chicago 8:45 pm.
Sept. 2 - The Atlas district in Northeast DC has an Open Mike Night at Sova, inviting poets, musician, comics and storytellers toi compete for a $50 prize. This looks like a great new place. On Saturday the 5th they'll be featuring Appalachian Mountain Music with Sabra Guzman and the Blind Tiger String Band. Looks like a blast! And it's just $5. Bring your square dancing shoes.
Sept. 3 - There's live salsa music at the wonderful Kogod Courtyard in the Smithsonian American Art Museum from 5-8 pm
Sept. 4 - Dupont's First Friday features Mentor + Mentee show at Printmakers, Susan Serafin and Nekisha Durrett at Hillyer, a Silent Auction at Foundry Gallery (a good chance to buy original work), Maryland Printmakers at Gallery 10, and an All-Members Show at Studio.
The 2009 Ultimate Karaoke Challenge takes place at Champps on Pentagon Row from 8pm 1:30am

It's worth repeating about the upcoming DC Shorts Film Festival - tickets are now on sale! I got mine for the 7pm Friday night, Sept. 11 show at the Navy Memorial (a very reasonable $13). It includes admission to the opening-night party which provides food, drinks and live music in the Navy Memorial plaza. Jon Gann runs a great festival; his imprint was all over the recent International Shorts Festival as wll, which also lighted up DC for a week. This will sell out.

New on the movie front is Lorna's Silence (nnn) from the gritty and urban Dardenne brothers. I thought last year's Revanche, which was nominated for a foreign-film Oscar, did this story better: the petty criminal involved with the Russian mobsters trying to make a life. That one had a twist. Lorna's Silence is extremely well-done but just too bleak and straightforward for my tastes. Information leaks out and the story proceeds, but don't expect any exhilarating moments.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Hop on the 'Caravan'; Feel Good With Julie & Julia; DC Shorts, a Festival to Trust

Tell me why I do like Mondays. Okay. The Caravan of Thieves. This past Monday we were fortunate enough to catch their show at Iota in Clarendon, and it proved to be quite the goulash of fun, talent and Mercury rising. You are fortunate that they will be playing three more Mondays at Iota, Sept. 21, Oct. 19 and Nov. 16. A talented bass player and an amazing violinist bookend the handsome husband-and-wife, singer-songwriting, wine-making team of Fuzz and Carrie Sangiovanni (just kidding on the wine). They played songs from their new CD Bouquet mixed with an inventive repertoire of covers that includes an excellent Bohemian Rhapsody (get it? Freddie Mercury rising. Wow, first a Boomtown Rats reference and now Queen. It's British rocker day!)

I am very sold on the movie Julie and Julia (nnnn=). It takes two separate stories--Julia Child's culinary march to fame in Paris--and then, 50 years later, Queens (the place not the band) government worker Julie Powell's attempt to bake, brown and bone her way through Child's cookbook. You can't have two more excellent, likeable actresses than Meryl Streep and Amy Adams. (That reminds me of two more rentals: the wonderful Harvard Beats Yale 29-29 where Streep is shown in a photo as the college girlfriend of one of the players and Junebug. (I am going to make a separate list to post of all these great rentals I mention.) The film moves so humorously and intelligently from story to story that I was disappointed each time it went to the other. (Not so for Melinda and Melinda, though Gwyneth Paltrow did well with the two plots in Sliding Doors.) Go see it.

Last September, we watched about 10 creative, well-crafted short films at Landmark E Street and then went up to a rooftop soiree nearby. It was a beautiful night and food, drinks and live music plentifully wafted into the intellectually charged air. A French director of one of the films attracted many of the prettiest females, so he seemed a good guy to get to know. Well, guess what? It's back! Tickets for the DC Shorts Film Festival are now on sale! I got mine for the 7pm opening night at the E Street Cinema ($12). I believe that includes admission to the opening-night party (it did last year), but there is no mention of it. I sent an email asking for clarification, but no reply yet. Anyway, for that price, I think tickets will sell out fairly quickly.

September is already looking nuts with events. In particular, Sept 12 will find the Kennedy Center Open House, the Rosslyn Jazz Festival (yay, Frederic Yonnet, the jazz harmonica guy, is back!) and Arts on Foot. Yikes! Good thing I'm a cyclist.