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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