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Sunday, April 18, 2010

A British Author, Swedish Jazz Group and an Argentinian Film - What a Great Place to Live!

Some recommendations:
1) I saw Ian McEwan read from his new novel, Solar, last week at a packed Folger. Haven't read it yet but the chapter he read - very convincingly! - sounded fascinating. The last question of the Q&A was, Can you tell us how you came up with the structure of Atonementand especially the ending? Wow. This reminded me of years back when someone asked John Irving a similar question about one of his novels. He answered he saw an Indian man crossing the street in Toronto and wondered how he got there. So he created this incredible back story. McEwan said that he envisioned a young woman - he didn't know the time or place - who jumped into a fountain to retrieve something. Then she had a little sister (Briony) who was putting on a play. And then the time and place came into his mind. He then addressed the ending, where the reader is told that the last part of the book - the apparent happy ending - was made up by Briony who is now a very famous old novelist (played by Vanessa Redgrave). McEwan said there is no doubt or duplicity in this ending. This was the only way that Briony could make up for what she did, for the lives that she ruined. There was no happy ending. Signing books later, McEwan was very personable and friendly with customers - nice to see.

2) Two music groups to check out - one is Saffron Caravan, an eclectic mix of Jewish and Middle Eastern musicians. See their recent performance at the Kennedy Center Millennium Stage.
The second is a Swedish folk/jazz group called Jaerv. You can go onto their Website and hear some of their music - both instrumental and vocals. Definitely has an Irish feel to it. Put June 17 on your calendar - that will be the evening for the House of Sweden rooftop jazz festival this year. More deatils to come.
Also put June 12 on your schedule with 10 stars. The Kennedy Center will be celebrating the 13th anniversary of their Millennium Stage AND the always-amazing 2010 International VSA Festival Closing Ceremony. I would travel miles to see either Henry Butler or Raul Midon play and sing. They will BOTH be playing this evening and it's free! We'll put together a big Meetup so stay tuned.

3) The foreign film Oscar winner has just been released - The Secret of Their Eyes - and I can highly recommend it. Part thriller, part romance and very well told, it was the most impressive of last year's five nominated films - although A Prophet is also quite a film.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Recommendations on Stage, Film and in an Art Gallery

If you're in the 7th Street area, head to 625 E Street for the art show, I Dream Awake. It is the first in a new series of shows called "pop-ups," developed by Amy Morton, a former art seller in Alexandria. The show takes up the floor in the old Numark Gallery, one of the best gallery spaces in the city. Michael O'Sullivan had a very nice write-up in Friday's Post.

Reasons to Be Pretty at The Studio Theatre. The film Greenberg has received some buzz, but when you compare it to a new Neil Labute play, there is no comparison. The question in both, as art forms, is can you be mean-spirited and still have an audience warm to you. Of course, the answer is yes, but we have to be made to care at some point. In this play - which gets intense performances from all four actors (Ryan Artzberger, Margot White, Thom Miller and Teresa Stephenson) - Labute starts off with a TIRADE. Steph is leaving boyfriend Greg after she has been told by a friend that he described her looks as something ordinary. No time for comfort here. Then we meet that friend, Carly. She and her husband Kent work with Ryan and have problems of their own. Like Greenberg, we don't like these characters at first. But Labute knows this and wants us to care. He just wants to take us out of our comfort zone befrore bringing us back to a situation we are familiar with.  It's brilliant really. The second act has two amazing scenes: when Greg and Steph see each other at a restaurant a few months later, and when Carly confronts Greg about her husband's funny ways. We do like these people now because we see ourselves in them - or at least in their situations. The tenor is lower but the stakes are higher. In Greenberg, there is never a reason to care. The best thing in the film is Greta Gerwig, who plays the 25-year-old love interest. It seems inconceivable that she would stay around this 40-year-old inconsiderate person - a Ben Stiller who's not even funny. Try to see Reasons to Be Pretty - you won't be disappointed.

A Prophet is still playing around at the Landmark theaters. It creates a world in prison and then stays true to that world. Again, as stated above, we start to CARE about the lead character and what happens to him, and thus we care about the film. It's long but I think worth it.
They took in Yellow Handkerchief already, but put it on your list of rentals. It's a feel-good film with a great performance by William Hurt, and good work by Kristen Stewart and Eddie Redmayne (whom I read was in DC with Alfred Molina to go to the Phillips; they're starring a play about Rothko on Broadway). And having Maria Bello in a film never hurts - although even that didn't save The Cooler.