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Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Signature Frosts Nixon, 'Summer' Showcase and a Fine 'Enemies

Have you been to Shirlington and the Signature Theatre lately? It has really grown up and out. While Reston Town Center becomes a bit too big these days unless you like the 5th floor of parking garages, Shirlington has just about got it right. Parking is easy, it's on a bike trail, the baguettes at Best Buns still rock, the new library allows easy Internet access, the movie theater still shows arty fare, and you have your choice of restaurants. The next great day to be there is Saturday, Aug. 8 for their Target Open House. At 1:15 pm, hear a concert from Julia Nixon, who if she did not take a break to raise her kids, would be a Broadway star by now. We saw her at Studio Theater in Caroline or Change a couple years ago and she nearly blew the house down. At 2:30 and again at 6:15, Emily Skinner performs. She IS a Broadway star. The day wraps up with a Broadway-style grand concert at 8:30 and it's all FREE!

While checking everything out, I did happen to catch 500 Days of Summer; (nnnn) out of five so I'm pretty sold on it. I've liked Joseph Gordon Leavitt since he did Brick (a must-rent if you haven't seen it). The film starts out very funny and ends very funny. Inbetween, it takes some familiar boy-meets-girl turns, until at about the midway point, it starts to catch you off-guard. This is pretty real stuff, not the usual rom-com merriment. Nobody's a bad guy, or girl, nobody messed up and now has to win (him or her) back. The second half unfolds and I'm kinda sure you'll be able to see yourself in there somewhere. I did. It's an original movie, and Zooey Deschanel is interesting to watch.

Michael Mann directs big, solid films - Ali, Heat and The Insider (we'll excuse him for Miami Vice) - and Public Enemies (nnnn) is no different. From the opening breakout scene to the final gun, the film lives large with Johnny Depp in the lead role of Dillinger. I haven't enjoyed his performance this much since Finding Neverland in 2004, and before that Don Juan Demarco (another good one to rent).

Sunday, July 26, 2009

In the Loop Sizzles, Hurt Locker Keeps Your Eyes on the Guys, Historical Movie Reception and 50th Anniversary of the Nixon-Khrushchev Encounter

On the movie front, I can recommend three new films. The Hurt Locker (4 nnnn out of 5 - based on how sold on it I am) is a captivating look at a bomb-defusing squad in Iraq. It's hard to take your eyes off this film or its two leads. In the Loop (nnnn=) is a sometimes hilarious, inner-circle examination of a high-up British committee's interactions with each other and with American hearings on going to war in the Middle East. I can't understand The Washington Post's negative review, though that's not the first time I've said that. Yoo Hoo Mrs. Goldberg (nnn=) by Washingtonian Aviva Kempner tells the story of Gertrude Berg, perhaps the first lady of TV sitcoms. It is another straightforward, extremely well-done documentary from Kempner, whose last film was about Hall of Famer Hank Greenberg. There are many good stories and subplots here, and some wonderful footage from the 1950s, including an Edward R. Murrow interview with Berg and an interview with Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. See it you can; it's nice to support folks like Kempner. I also caught the opening night film of the Washington DC African Diaspora Film Series, Glorious Exit (nnnn=), a documentary about a Swiss Nigerian Los Angeles actor who must return to Nigeria to bury the father he has hardly met. Director Kevin Merz, the protagonist's half-brother, did an incredible job here. I'll let you know if I see it around again.

Events for the week:
Monday: Screen on the Green - Dog Day Afternoon
Tuesday: Pink LIne Project's Voting Party, 6-8pm, 1405 Florida Ave.
Wednesday: Alfred Hitchcock's Dial M for Murder in downtown Bethesda (Bike & Brunch will have a group there.)
Thursday: Turn Left at the End of the World, a special movie/reception at DCJCC. The free tickets are all reserved, but my guess is that if you come an hour early or so, you will get in.
Friday: 7:30 P.M. Daniel Silva reads from and signs his new Gabriel Allon thriller, The Defector, at Barnes & Noble-Bethesda, 4801 Bethesda Ave.
Saturday: Gallery opening at the Watergate Gallery, 4-7pm

Let's talk history. First an upcoming event. On Tuesday, Aug. 4, at the DC Jewish Community Center on 16th and Q, come to the film FOUR SEASONS LODGE and stay for a reception. The documentary centers on "Holocaust survivors [who] live life to the fullest each summer at a special Catskills retreat [that is] about to shut down." New York Times journalist Andrew Jacobs directed the film with beautiful cinematography by a team of filmmakers including Albert Maysles," the legendary documentarian. Tickets are $10 and can be purchased at or most likely on the night of the show as well.

This past Thursday at George Washington University, I attended an event called Face-off to Facebook: From the Nixon-Khrushchev Kitchen Debate to Public Diplomacy in the 21st Century. The all-day discussions, commemorating the 1959 US National Exhibition at Moscow's Sokolniki Park, included Khrushchev's son, Sergei, a professor at Brown, his granddaughter Nina, a professor at the New School, William Safire, the longtime New York Times columnist and former Nixon speechwriter and William Burns, the current Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs and former Ambassador to Russia. In the audience were around 50 "Guides" from that famed 1959 event, where Nixon and Khrushchev got into a shouting match in the "new kitchen" area of the exhibition.

Safire recounted his part in that debate, as a pr flack for a kitchen company. He said he was able to get Times reporter Harrison Salisbury past the ropes to where he could write down the quotes but could not get the AP cameraman in. So the cameraman threw his camera to Safire who snapped a now-famous photo of Nixon speaking to Khrushchev with a finger in his chest. On the panel, Sergei Khrushchev quickly dismissed that, saying he has a similar photo with his father's finger in Nixon's chest. Safire said that he got the favor back from Salisbury, who changed the title in his article from the Sokolniki Summit to the Kitchen Conference, benefiting Safire's client.

We also saw a new documentary film about the kitchen debate. Thousands of Russians swarmed the event, checking out American fashions, models, music, dancing and homes. Some of the guides in the audience were also featured in the film. The film also showed some flamboyant speechmaking from Khrushchev, telling Nixon that Russia would be moving past the US, accentuating this with a long waving of his hand to signify bye-bye. Sergei Khrushchev recalled all the KGB at the Fair, saying that at one point they left his mother outside by mistake. Safire asked Khrushchev about a later Nixon visit in 1966, trying to clear up a long mystery. Apparently, Safire said, Nixon left a restaurant, dodging KGB agents by going out through a window in the bathroom - his purpose being to meet with the already deposed Khrushchev. And that he got to his house, but Khrushchev wasn't there so Nixon left a note for him. "Did Khrushchev ever read that note," Safire asked. Sergei Krushchev dismissed all the spy-story stuff, hinting that the KGB would not be fooled so easily. He said his father did read the note and wanted to meet with NIxon, but by the time it was handed it to him, Nixon was conveniently on his way back home.

Secretary Burns's lunchtime talk presented quite a contrast from his boss, Hilary Clinton. He was extremely low-key, took questions in the most reassuring, calm way, and left the audience with a very secure feeling. Later on, George Clack from the State Department pushed their Democracy Video Challenge on You Tube of all places. Ivan Sigal talked about his inititaive. Clay Shirky, a professor at NYU, was impressive in the final Public Diplomacy in the Digital World discussion. His new book, Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations, sounds like an important read.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Hugh the Man, Rose Blossoms in Adam, African films and Artomatic Lives On

Oh so attractive, stars Hugh Dancy and Rose Byrne happily perched on their high director chairs to face a mostly pleased audience last week in Georgetown, following a preview of their new movie Adam. Dancy comes off a star turn in the Jane Austen Book Club, where he whined and dined Maria Bello. Byrne told us that it was liberating to leave the zombie world of 28 Days and the stern glances of Glenn Close in Damages.

The film follows the boy-meets-girl script, except this "boy" has Asperger's Syndrome, so there are many complications. It appears to be a pretty honest portrayal of the disease - one of the questioners said his brother-in-law has it and they captured it pretty well - and the actors played mostly nice both on screen and in person. Dancy was commended for the way he did not make eye contact in one particular scene, and he said "it's hard not to look at someone but be listening." Director Max Mayer shared the stage and a slice of the limelight. He got the idea for the story after listening to a piece on NPR, and then, of course, went to the Internet to do research.

The Big Screen does create some funny perceptions. My female friend was a bit disappointed, saying that Dancy is smaller than she envisioned and probably more average looking. But I happened to catch the Jane Austen movie a couple days later on cable, and he certainly looked the romantic-lead part, staring down at the older (!) blonde hotness that is Bello. Anyway, the two British stars agreed that doing American accents is no big deal - no budget for a dialect coach necessary, Dancy said with a smile. He later complimented the supporting actors in the film, Peter Gallagher, Amy Irving and Frankie Faison, and said too bad "Max had to go to the bottom of the barrel with the leads."

Byrne said she had been in India when shooting had started but was excited to come to New York to do the film. (The scenery in the mountains of California of a scene without her is just breathtaking.) Next she said that she's doing a sequel of Forgetting Sarah Marshall. I thought that had been a happy-ever-after ending but what do I know. I recommend seeing this film; it's a romantic dramedy with some twists, smiles, tough moments and real feelings.

Thursday night starts the African Diaspora Film Series at the National Geographic. There will be an opening reception at 5:30 pm followed by the movie Glorious Exit, a documentary about a Swiss-Nigerian actor in Los Angeles who must go home to bury his father. It's only $10 for the reception and film. Other films in the series look interesting as well, including Nothing But the Truth (6pm Saturday) and Movement (Friday at 8:30pm), a dance documentary that will have a Q&A afterward.

On Monday, July 27, at the Folger Theatre, Taffety Punk will present a free showing of Shakespeare's Troilus and Cressida. TP has a good reputation for these and the Folger is an awesome venue, so there will probably be a good crowd for the Folger's 250 seats.

Tonight from 6:30-7:30 pm, Hillyer Gallery will be hosting an artists forum and organizational meeting. Sounds like a good way to be part of the community. There's also the ukelele festival at Strathmore and a dive-in movie (The Big Lebowski) at the Capitol Skyline pool. Always tough decisions!

One gallery that you should try to get over to see is Fraser in Bethesda. They are showing the Best of Artomatic and we took some photos when were there. There's another spurned girlfriend exhibit; these are getting a little old (the 2007 Biennale had the queen of these exhibits) but people - women - still seem to enjoy them. Then there's the mini-presidents and the sculpture horse - proceed at your own risk. Kudos to proprietor Catriona Fraser who went through Artomatic on countless visits to find good art among lots of not-so-good art.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Dunes in Georgetown, a Meeting at Hillyer, Screen on the Green Returns and 'Goldberg' Is Discovered!

Last night in Georgetown, Parish Gallery opened a show of black and white photographs by Dennis Cook, a longtime technician for CBS. Take a stroll by there if you get a chance; it's in the square of the Sea Catch Restaurant at 1054 31st Street. Many of the photos look at the dunes of California, near San Luis Obispo, Cook told us. My friend said it reminded her of The English Patient, and it's true. Hard to believe that it's California. Cook also throws in a beautiful photo of a gondola in Venice and some in Taos as well.

Hillyer Art Space, in the alley behind the Phillips Museum, has enjoyed quite a rise in the last couple years, and it couldn't happen to nicer folks. This coming Wednesday, they will be hosting an open Artists' Forum from 6:30 to 7:30 to discuss ideas for the future. Founder and President David Furchgott gave us a tour of the upstairs a couple months ago, and they have quite a collection up there - all from the famous Hechinger collection that was bequeathed to them (International Arts and Artists). If they're looking for a little help from their friends - that's not even financial - seems like we can oblige.

If you're looking for some company for Screen on the Green, I think I've found a group that's not all undcer 30. Send an email and I'll forward the info. Close Encounters of a Third Kind should fill the Mall with some astral vibes and provide people with excitement even after the HBO Dance. If you don't know what that is, you really need to go.

I've been seeing Aviva Kempner around for years, so it's great to see her new film Yoo Hoo, Mrs. Goldberg, open to nice reviews, both here and in New York. Catch her with the film at the wonderful Avalon Theatre, tonight (July 18) at 8pm, Sunday at 11am and Monday night at 8pm (with Women in Film and Video). Her last film, The Life and Times of Hank Greenberg, proved excellent, and this one should be the same. What's interesting about historical documentaries is that they can be real cliffhangers. I mean, I didn't know when the Tigers would win or lose the World Series that Greenberg palyed in, and I don't much about Goldberg, which is exactly the point of the film.

More later, I'm off to see what's happening on Alexandria this beautiful morning!

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Outdoor Screens Heat Up, AFI Gives us Science, and DC Shorts Aren't That Long Away

Here are some film tips for the rest of month:

Adventureland must be doing well at the Cinema & Drafthouse because they keep showing it every week. The next showings are Tuesday, July 14 for the hefty price of $2.00 and Thursday, July 16 at 6pm for a whole dollar. Now that's the deal of the week!

This Wednesday, the NOMA Summer Screen, at L Street between 2nd and 3rd Ave. NE, presents Standing in the Shadows of Motown, a very cool film about the history of the Funk Brothers, the musicians who backed up dozens of Motown artists. It's worth it just to see and hear Joan Osborne singing What Becomes of the Brokenhearted and Bootsy Collins singing Do You Love Me?

The AFI in Silver Spring is again hosting free screenings this summer of films presented by NIH's Science in the Cinema Program. Screenings are at 7pm:
July 15: The Painted Veil (great scenery, Naomi Watts)
July 22: Warm Springs (a 2005 TV movie about FDR with a great cast)
July 29: Inherit the Wind (a classic)
These screenings are very popular, so try to get there early if possible.

Screen on the Green begins next Monday, July 20, with Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Start tuning up for the HBO Dance.

July 28-Aug. 1 marks the Stars on the Avenue, Bethesda's outdoor movie week, at the corner of Norfolk and Auburn Avenues. It's always a very comfortable setting with chairs already set up. I will try to make Dial M for Murder on Wednesday, July 29.

TURN LEFT AT THE END OF THE ROAD -Free film, panel and reception co-sponsored by the Middle EastInstitute and Embassy of Israel
Moroccan immigrants (who think of themselves as French) aren't too happy about the arrival of Indian immigrants (who think of themselves as British) in their dusty Israeli desert town, making for a captivating mix of old enemies, cultural mine fields, the very British game of cricket, teenage girls and the sexual revolution of the Sixties.

Although reservations are full, I think there will be places for people who just show up. That's what happens when events are free.

Theater J at the DCJCC is again giving away free tickets to The Seagull this week, if you have not seen it yet. For Wednesday and Thursday shows at 7:30 pm, e-mail for your free comps.

September looks good.

Put Thursday, Sept. 10 on your calendar. That's the opening night of the DC Shorts Film Festival. Last year the films were pretty good and the party on a DC rooftop was amazing. They are also looking for people who can host fillmmakers during their run of Sept. 10-17. They'll give you a lot of freebies if you can help. This is an extremely well-run and fun-to-watch festival.

The Shakespeare Free for All not only moves venues this year, from Carter Barron to the Harman Center, it also moves time periods. The much-awaited re-production of The Taming of the Shrew will take place Aug. 27 to Sept. 12.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Trap Dancing, Art and Photography in Bethesda, Life on the Fringe, Free Tix at Theatre J

Went to Wolf Trap last night for the Aspen Santa Fe Dance Company - always a good thing on a beautiful night and a full moon. For the last few years, Wolf Trap has been selling $10 lawn seats for their modern dance performances. They have one more this year, next Tuesday for the Merce Cunningham Dance Company, featuring music from Radiohead and Sigur Ros. Cunningham, in his early 90s I believe, is one of the greatest living choreographers so this should be an interesting show. I got there about a half hour before the start last night and got a perfect place on the front of the lawn. Those who know say that dance should be viewed from a good distance.

The Bethesda Art Walk takes place this Friday, July 10. In the past, the summer used to slow down for the gallery world, but not so much this July at least. Last Friday's Dupont walk featured an incredible show at Printmakers with interesting prints from many of the greatest print shops in the world--and some at very affordable prices (even $20!). Studio Gallery had an all-members show and Hillyer opened an interesting collection curated by Renee Stout, who seems to be everywhere these days.

Anyway, in Bethesda, Gallery Neptune will open an abstract exhibit by Cregger Drymon Minah. Waverly Street Gallery will open a show of Tapestries by Julia Mitchell. Fraser will be showing the Best of Artomatic - that must have taken a lot of legwork. Washington School of Photography will have a big crowd for their Your Best Shot competition. And my favorite gallery, Orchard, will have recent work by Jan Willem van der Vossen. Should be a fun evening!

The Capital Fringe Festival starts tomorrow. The event has gained in size and popularity each year. Here are a few productions that I have heard good things about:
**Dizzy Miss Lizzie's Roadside Revue: The Saints (last year's revue, The Oresteia, is being shown again as well at PWYC previews 7 and 10pm Friday at Church Street Theatre.)
**Irish Authors Held Hostage
**Jack the Ticket Ripper (especially for people who usher like me)
**Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead

Theatre J at the DC Jewish Community Center is offering comp tickets this Wednesday and Thursday and next Wednesday and Thursday for A Seagull on 16th Street. The weekend shows will be PWYC. It's a great chance to see some good acting and wonderful scenes. Unfortunately, the whole doesn't add up to the sum of the parts.

Friday, July 3, 2009

A Sensational Capitol Fourth and Events for the Week

Through the rain and soggy grounds, I was one of the few (50?) to make it to the Capitol last night for the first of two rehearsals for A Capitol Fourth. What a show! At first, the National Symphony rehearsed the march tunes always played at the end of the program. And then the music heated up with the cast of The Jersey Boys - Big Girls Don't Cry, Can't Take My Eyes Off of You, Oh What a Night. At first, they made us stand in the back portion near the Capitol steps. Then they let us down close. Suddenly, we heard "It's a Miracle," and saw famous silhouette, big nose, styled hair and all: Barry Manilow! He was giving directions to his musical director - very interesting. Copacabana got all 25 of us dancing on the soggy lawn. Next came the Sesame Street cast with Natasha Bedingfield singing the famous Carpenters tune Sing (Sing a Song). (Three 20ish women said they were just passing by and thought they heard Bedingfield! I was looking at her 50 feet away and didn't know who she was.) Lastly, Michael Feinstein and Andrew von Oeyen sat at opposite ends of huge piano to lead the symphony in Rhapsody in Blue. Absolutely beautiful! Hope to see you there tonight!

Some Events for the Week starting Sunday July 5

Argentina is getting very active on the cultural scene. Last night there was an Argentina Tango group appearing at Decatur House in Lafayette Square. They have First Thursdays with an interesting music group, wine, beer and hors d'oeuvres. Cost is $25 but might be worth a try. On SUNDAY at the National Gallery, the Argentina film Silvia Prieto will be screened at 4:30 pm with famed director Martin Rejtman in attendance. It's part of this amazing 3 Continents Film Festival taking place now.

On MONDAY, in McLean the new 1st Stage will be presenting a FREE staged reading of the hilarious Joe Orton face, What the Butler Saw. Apparently, the company is looking for help in choosing shows for their second season.

TUESDAY, there's something in the Post this morning that looks interesting. At Iota in Clarendon, one of our favorite places (!), Those Darlins apparently marry country and punk music together. They'll be playing at 8:30 pm and it's only $8. Drop me an e-mail if you'd like to go.

WEDNESDAY, my social bicycling club, Bike & Brunch, is having its July Happy Hour at Strathmore on Rockville Pike to celebrate the salsa sounds of Calle Sur. Barbecue items will be available and we should have a nice group there (as always!).

THURSDAY, the Capital Fringe Festival starts. We'll have more on that later.

And on SATURDAY, July 11, another of my favorite events takes place as Oldtown Alexandria celebrates their own birthday with the Alexandria Symphony Orchestra (and an always amazing 1812 Overture) and a huge cake on the river with fireworks.