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Tuesday, January 31, 2012

AU's Katzen always worth a visit

Universities in the area are probably the most underappreciated by arts patrons, and American University is at the top of the list. If you haven't been to the Katzen Center Museum, you should check it out. A new show opened Saturday with an incredible lecture at 5 pm about modernism, spirituality and religion in art. It was to introduce an exhibit by Anil Revri, sponsored by the Indian Embassy.  My group spent a great deal of time on the 3rd level where Raoul Middleman's big, colorful, impressionistic and a bit racy paintings hang. Funny, I think most of us liked his smaller paintings which were not racy. The photos here are from other artists in the exhibit. Middleman will speak on Feb. 11 about his work at 4 pm. The next art opening will be April 5. See the Katzen schedule here.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

A Few Disappointments with Oscar Nominations

The Oscar nominations finally did come out yesterday with not many surprises. I had a few disappointments:
1) that Martin Sheen did not get nominated for The Way; instead, Demian Bichir got nominated for A Better Life. Who?
2) that Win Win did not receive a best picture nomination.  It just seems like a picture can not come out early in the year and expect any nominations. Tree of Life? Extremely Loud...? Please.
3) It would have been nice for Margin Call to get a best picture nomination, but one for original screenplay seemed acceptable.
4) that Bill Cunningham New York was not one of the five finalists for best documentary.
5) that A Separation did not receive a best picture nomination. It also got stuck in the Original Screenplay category.
I'm glad The Artist and Midnight in Paris got all those nominations. And I hope Michelle Williams wins best actress. Demian Bichir?

Sunday, January 22, 2012

A Separation Is Well-Deserving of Its Loud Oscar Buzz

A Separation opens brilliantly. A couple faces us arguing about a divorce before an arbitrator. She wants to leave the country for a better life. He wants to stay to take care of his father who has Alzheimers. The judge asks if he hits her or has cheated. No, he's a good and decent man, she says. Most movies leave you when you exit the theater; this one stays with you. Who was bad? Who was good? We see how their marriage has broken apart and get a glimpse into the lives of another couple of lower economic scale. Asghar Farhadi has made a beautiful film which really never ends. The credits roll as we're waiting for a verdict and a gulf continues between the two leads. Last night I spoke with Reza Bahar, the producer of the new German film Bastard, that played at Film Neu. He moved to Germany from Iran when he was 8 and says there now might be about 200,000 Iranians in Germany. He said that he loved the film - A Separation - but hopes that the director speaks out a bit more as he continues to win awards. (It's on the short list of 10 for an Oscar and is expected to win.) It must be hard for Farhadi who wants his films to be seen by people in his country so he must tread carefully. Of course, he has things to say about circumstances there, but his film says a lot of it. We see prisoners sitting awaiting their fate. We see wives who still must defer to their husbands. The justice we see actually isn't too bad. They are genuinely concerned about the lead chracter's guilt. There are scenes where all the adults complain and scream like the opening scene. One time, the two children exchange glances like get me out of here. The wife was smart enough to know that, but it will probably not happen. Make sure you see A Separation.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Film Neu Strikes Just the Right Chords - with younger folks at least

So to the guy last night who was upset that following the film, the credits were stopped for the interview with the lead actor, I have the perfect solution. Go see A Separation. Besides being a great movie - it will probably win the foreign film Oscar - its credits roll over the end of the story. No leading actor would dare stop it. In fact, it was a strange Q&A last night following Westwind, a lovely, coming-of-age, just before-the-Wall-falls-down story that opened the 20th Film Neu German Film Festival. The older people were upset that love triumphed and nobody died; that wasn't what it was like, they said. Emcee and renowned film buff Eddie Cockrell apologized later for his poor choice of words, though I think he was fine. Those people just wanted dark. It's one of my favorite festivals because you can really get up close and semi-personal with the actors and directors. We met lead actor Franz Dinda yesterday at the reception and he was a delight. He said he cherished this role because it was such a good script. Opportunities do not come every day in the German cinema world, so you take what you can get. When it's good, that's a privilege.
Our group - the ArtHouse - will be going again on Tuesday night to see a film titled  Black Brown White that has garnered excellent reviews on the festival circuit. Join us if you can or go Wednesday to see a Swiss horror film or Thursday's closing for the German version of Sex in the City party 2 from the male point of view. It's a German box office smash! Back tomorrow for a discussion of A Separation.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

The Obamas Finally Join Me at One of my Events

President Obama and the First Lady finally caught on to one of my great events last night. I sort of had an idea that they would be attending the Kennedy Center's 10th Annual Let Freedom Ring Celebration when I got there around 2 pm (tickets were given out at 4) and police and security dogs surrounded the place. At Cupa Cupa across the street, they filled the tables. (Must have been break time.)  Sure enough, at 5:55 pm, an announcement in the Concert Hall said to please welcome the President of the United States and in they walked. The free performance featuring the truly incomparable Bobby McFerrin and the Let Freedom Ring Celebration Choir with Reverend Nolan Williams, Jr., musical director was amazing--from their opening original spiritual, "Buses Are A-comin'" to the finale, "Down by the Riverside." McFerrin I knew about. (If you ever get a chance to see him, go!) But the choir and Rev. Williams were revelations. They are supported by Georgetown University, which also gave out their Legacy of a Dream award to Clarence B. Jones, who served with Dr. King and has gone on to a legendary career of helping those who need help. Soloist Nova Nelson of St. Martin's Catholic Church nearly ran off with the show with her version of "My Country Tis of Thee." But McFerrin and his audience-involving medeys showed that he is still one of a kind.  Prior to Down by the Riverside, Rev. WIlliams said that they had rehearsed it, but given McFerrin's participation, who knows what will happen. Everyone including the President and the First Lady eventually stood and sang. An announcement said to stay seated and let the President leave; once Rev. WIlliams led the choir in another encore, it was easy to stay. Down by the Riverside indeed! And we'll study war no more!

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Theater J's Time Stands Still and Studio's The Religion Thing Put Couples at the Forefront

Couples are on display this month in two of Washington's premier stages - what brings them together and what keeps them together.  (Kind of funny that my ArtHouse group just saw the film version of Waiting for Godot Sunday - another couple trying to stay together.)  The standout of these two is Time Stands Still by Pulitzer Prize winner Donald Margulies at Studio Theater, starring the excellent (and ubiquitous) Holly Twyford. Also thought-provoking, The Religion Thing at Theater J features top-notch local actors (Will Gartshore and Kimberly Gilbert) but is not as polished. It probably raises more questions, however, which is part of its problem. In Time Stands Still, a journalist couple returns from covering the war after she barely survived a road-side bombing. (As an usher, I was able to see Holly practicing her walk with crutches before the play.) It's the professional thrills that have defined their relationship, but now James (Greg McFadden) wants to give up the dangerous stuff and get officially married. (He didn't have any rights when Twyford's character was in the hospital.) But despite her injuries, she's not ready to give it up. In walks their middle-aged editor Dan Illian with his new girlfriend, the "hot" young Laura C. Harris and we see more of what makes a good couple tick. She's simpler and naive but is that a bad thing? Why can't Sarah go on without the live-and-die pyrotechnics?  Why can't these two highly intelligent and passionate people who seem to be in love figure it out? It's a stirring performance that I will try to see again.

I took a group to see The Religion Thing and then we stayed for the discussion after. People enjoyed the play; local playwright Renee Calarco has an ear for dialogue that rings true. But where Margulies has focused his themes, Calarco's are all over the place. Her two couples have numerous issues going on - what brought them together, did they settle the kids question, can they play with others, is Gartshore's character straight, can you be gay and then decide to change, does sex depend on this, and, as the title indicates (and her strongest theme), what role does religion play in all this. It's just too challenging a task that she's set out for herself. She then complicates it by giving us a sugarcoated first scene comedy sketch rather than trusting the play. (An equally dizzy "dream" scene occurs in the second act as well.)  I was fascinated by the Mo and Brian couple (played sympathetically and well by Liz Mamana and Chris Stezin) and the simple issue of do they belong together. She seems to want kids more than he does, but he later indicates how important Judaism is to him and perhaps her being Catholic has held him back. So communication certainly sits at the forefront here. It's all swirling and the gay issue probably gets the most focus; I would have preferred otherwise. But it is still worth seeing.

DC is again fortunate to have two such intelligent productions.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Ronndezvous's Top Ten Films of 2011

The Top Ten lists are out for 2011 so I would like to add my three cents to the conversation.  Here in a pretty close order from bestest to best are my selections.  (Please comment and add some of yours.)
1. Margin Call - The rhythm of the conversation and the incredible actors delivering it made this perhaps the most riveting film of the year for me. Stanley Tucci, Simon Baker, Kevin Spacey, Zachary Quinto and Demi Moore wait for The Boss to come and fix the problem, so he better be good.  Jeremy Irons is. The scene of him eating quietly from a view perched in the clouds while Spacey approaches is memorable.
2. The Way - Under-seen and in my opinion under-appreciated, this beautifully photographed film made its protagonist feel alive again and me as well.  It reminded us that the thrills of travelling lie just as much in the people we meet as the places we go.  Emilio Estevez deserves much credit for this and father Martin Sheen deserves an Oscar nomination.
3. Win Win - We tend to forget films from earlier in the year but this feel-good one gave us a believable story with no easy answers.  Paul Giamatti was terrific as the father and wrestling coach, and it showed that the young star was a wrestler turned actor rather than the other way around.  Rent it if you haven't seen it.
4. Le Havre - What's wrong with a fable now and then?  We're so attuned to something going wrong, people being bad that it's hard to expect a nice film sometimes.  But this one will stay with you - especially the relationship between the old man and the young boy.
5. The Descendants - I liked that they made the young people the level-headed ones in this film.  Clooney's character is all over the place and yes, what was his wife doing with that nincompoop, but director Alexander Payne gets the setting right and the mood. Good cameo from Beau Bridges and nominations to come for father and daughter?
6. The Artist - What an incredibly inventive film!  A silent take on the silent-into-talkies era with modern themes. Wonderful chemistry between the two French leads make us root for them (okay the dog helps), and fun performances from John Goodman and James Cromwell.  Penelope Ann Miller where have you been?
7. Midnight in Paris - Thoroughly entertaining, it's Woody's best film in years.  The portrayals of Hemingway and Fitzgerald hit just the right marks, and the evocative mood of Paris made me want to jump on the next jumbo jet.  Marion Cotillard is exquisite - just saw A Good Year again with Russell Crowe and didn't even realize it was her.
8. Nostalgia for the Light - Hard to mix dramatic films and documentaries but I will include two of the latter. This film from Chile began with gorgeous shots of the Atacama Desert and the amazing astronomy taking place there. Then it drifts to interviews with some of the astronomers, one of whom lost her parents to the Pinochet regime - she was raised by her grandparents. The juxtaposition works perfectly and it becomes an incredibly moving film.
9. Bill Cunningham New York - Watching this 80 year-old or so photographer bike recklessly around Manhattan is a site to behold. And then watching him through the years just adds to the delight. Look at his editing, when they make him switch apartments, when he covers a gala.  It's all about the work. Is he gay? You'll have to watch for the best answer to that question that I've ever seen. It's a touching film.
10. (Tie) The Guard - Why not? Brendan Gleason has never been better and Don Cheadle plays it down enough to make it feel right. It's very very funny and works on many levels. Has a satisfying ending and makes me ready for a sequel where he gets to romance the beautiful foreign woman.
10. Hedgehog - It's such a beautiful and unseen film that I couldn't leave it off the list. Try to rent it if you can.
Other films I liked: Beginners, Kid With a Bike, My Week With Marilyn, Hugo, Moneyball, Of Gods and Men (why it couldn't it have been a half hour shorter?) and a French comedy I can't think the name of (older guy, younger woman).  And I still need to see The Illusionist and A Separation.