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Sunday, August 21, 2016

'Café Society' wins early Oscar for Dullest Movie


Jesse Eisenberg and Kristen Stewart in Woody Allen's "Cafe Society"

"Café Society" reminded me of a glass of tea without sugar or lemon, however, a glass of tea without sugar or lemon has more passion.  The colors are the same. The movie (costuming, plot, design, sound) is drenched in sepia tones.

Was this 3-D and I missed the glasses going in?

Did you ever wonder who finances Woody Allen's movies? Maybe the same person who finances Trump's campaign. 

Where is the action?   

Steve Carell is the cheating yawn husband who gives the impression he hasn't been on stage long. Believeable?  Hardly.  (He's straight out of "The Office," and for that I am grateful since I'm still mad over his departure from that show which was ten times funnier than "Cast-Off" or "Cast Out" or "Cash Out Society" or whatever is a better title.  Casting!  Where is casting?)

"Café" is also billed as a comedy, but where is the humor?  This is a comedy like the ones Edgar Allan Poe wrote in his sleep.

It's good fodder for nursing homes where hard-of-hearing residents need not worry since the dialogue is not important.  

There's not much else to say except I couldn't help but wonder if this is another autobiographical Allen tale.

Despite harsh criticism from others, I still immensely liked many Allen films: "Matchpoint," "Crimes and Misdemeanors," "Hannah and Her Sisters," "Annie Hall." Since 1965, he's churned out about one film every year which is incredibly productive, except when measured against box office receipts.

But "Society"?  Over the years we movie fans keep going, going, going, hoping, hoping, hoping for a Woody Allen winner, and yet, it ain't happenin'. For years.

Here I see the existence of an inverse ratio with Allen's advancing years (he's 80) and his films, which continue to plummet in style and substance.  

Hey, Woody!  We don't give a flip about your flippin' love life!  Get over it! Do you have to put them on the Big Screen?

patricialesli@gmail.com


Thursday, August 18, 2016

Bike Virginia's Creeper Trail



On the Virginia Creeper Trail/photo by Patricia Leslie

It may look like a roadway, but four-wheeled monsters are prohibited on the Virginia Creeper Trail which runs almost 35 miles from Whitetop Mountain   through Damascus to Abingdon in the southwestern part of the state. 

Historical markers enlighten riders about the Virginia Creeper Trail. Thomas Jefferson's father, Peter Jefferson (1708-1757), surveyed the area/photo by Patricia Leslie

It's open to bikers, hikers, and horseback riders, and just about five hours from D.C. Well worth the trip down Interstate 81 for exercise, beauty, solitude, and just plain fun!

It begins in either Abingdon (2,000 feet ascent) or Damascus where riders may board a shuttle (laden with bicycles) for a 30- to 45-minute trip to the top of Whitetop Mountain, Virginia's second tallest mountain after Mount Rogers.  (Damascus has all the bicycles and fixuns' ready to rent or take your own.)  

At Whitetop, riders begin the easy 17-mile ride down and around the mountain to Damascus, or continue to Abingdon for a total of 35 miles. (Simple to Damascus, even for grandmas like me!)
On the Virginia Creeper Trail.  Some people (athletic in nature) ride UP the trail, like dumb fools.  They are all thin, and it is true:  I am jealous/photo by Patricia Leslie

The trail hugs Virginia's southwestern boundary which separates the state from North Carolina and Tennessee. From a certain point, the shuttle driver said, you can see all three states! 

It was a hot, muggy day in the lower elevations in the towns, but not for us! We felt only cool breezes emanating from the path strewn with wood chips and some rocks. No sweat!  Of course, you can ride in cooler times, too, but fall months are the most popular ("Lookit those leaves!") and often sell-out, so make reservations now

Whatever, it's the best!
What's this?  Van Gogh on the Creeper Trail?  Nope.  He died in 1890 or he might have been here. It's just, just (!) another typical scene found along the trail filled with all things Mother Nature. What artificial beauty could be lovelier? (The building materials came from Mother Woods.)/photo by Patricia Leslie
Christmas trees (in the distance, not those weeds) grow along a stretch of the Virginia Creeper Trail.  Buy a Carolina Fraser fir!  No fragrance like it to match the beauty, sounds, and scenery of a North Carolina mountain top.  (Hey, we're in Virginia, not North Carolina!)/photo by Patricia Leslie
A free museum (with seasonal hours) provides a bit of local yore at Greencove Station (with rest rooms) on the Virginia Creeper Trail /photo by Patricia Leslie
Home sweet home on the Virginia Creeper Trail/photo by Patricia Leslie
Who needs helmets on the Virginia Creeper Trail?  Not these young'uns/photo by Patricia Leslie
Children ride with abandon near a crossing of the Appalachian Trail on the Virginia Creeper Trail/photo by Patricia Leslie
The Appalachian Trail crosses the Virginia Creeper Trail at least three times/photo by Patricia Leslie
Time out to wave "hallo" on the Virginia Creeper Trail/photo by Patricia Leslie
Take a break and listen to the water rush on the Whitetop Laurel River which runs alongside the Virginia Creeper Trail/photo by Patricia Leslie
A naturalist pointed out beavers at work on the Virginia Creeper Trail/photo by Patricia Leslie
Bike racks aplenty stand ready to house your vehicle while your party stops for a bite to eat on the trail. (Said the guy in red:  "I wish I had that bike.")/photo by Patricia Leslie
On the Virginia Creeper Trail/photo by Patricia Leslie
You see what I mean about tree canopies? On the Virginia Creeper Trail/photo by Patricia Leslie
Stop and admire the scenery on the Virginia Creeper Trail/photo by Patricia Leslie
Is that kudzu on the Virginia Creeper Trail?/photo by Patricia Leslie
Finish your trip in Damascus with a great big pitcher of margueritas at Hey, Joe's! I'll drink to that!/photo by Patricia Leslie


The people are grateful to the U.S. Forest Service, the cities of Damascus and Abingdon, and property owners who maintain the trail and let us use it. Thanks be to all!

Wikipedia has some history on the trail, but the name is never explained on any of the websites I found.  
It creeps along the states' borders?  
It creeps along the river?  
It creeps where rails used to roam.  
Sounds like the title of a song or poem to me.  

Van Gogh in Damascus?  Novel, anyone?

patricialesli@gmail.com 

Monday, August 8, 2016

Kennedy Center's 'Phantom' draws ovation

The company sings "Masquerade" to open the second act of "The Phantom of the Opera" at the Kennedy Center/Photo by Alastair Muir

At the end theatergoers stood and cheered the performers who came out on stage to receive the accolades, to bob up and down like puppets, holding hands and moving in rows to a replay of "Masquerade" which they had sung moments earlier in Cameron MacIntosh's remake of Andrew Lloyd Webber's "The Phantom of the Opera" now at the Kennedy Center.

A great show, enjoyable in every respect. And I could see it and hear "The Music of the Night" again. Tonight!
The Phantom (Chris Mann) leads Christine (Katie Travis) to his den in the Kennedy Center's "The Phantom of the Opera"/Photo by Matthew Murphy

Give the people what they want:  exciting melodrama, unforgettable music (lyrics by Charles Hart and Richard Stilgoe), soaring sets, dazzling costumes, voices you wish would echo at every play you ever attend, and that, my friend, explains the endurance and haunting allure of "Phantom," the longest running show on Broadway where it opened in 1988, and in London where it still plays after 30 years.

Storm Lineberger is Raoul in the Kennedy Center's "The Phantom of the Opera" /Photo by Matthew Murphy

From the get-go, before the announcement to shush your phones, you knew this show was set to be another smashing "Phantom" as you gazed upon the large, opening scene with its high, very high ceiling, shrouding a dark, black and shadowy stage, where single cascading strands of light outlined stark statues and forecast the eerie presentation about to unfold. 


I've seen "Phantom" in Nashville, New York, and twice at the Kennedy Center, and it does not become tiresome (like "West Side Story") since it's enlivened by new actors, sets, and magnificent costumes. (Maria Björnson a "designer's designer" says Wikipedia, was the costume designer and Tony winner who died in 2002. Her most famous creation, the show's chandelier, treated a bit differently in this production, is named after her.)


That a strong, melodious voice emanates from the dainty, minute body of Kaitlyn Davis starring as the heroine, Christine Daaé, in "this dream come true" role is unanticipated, Ms. Davis being the understudy for Julia Udine.  (Is it ironic that understudies are part of the script?)
  
Chris Mann, a forceful, credible Phantom in Mann's "dream role," competes against Christine's childhood friend, the handsome, Raoul (Storm Lineberger) whose rich voice matches his appearance.

Other notable cast members are Jacquelynne Fontaine as the talented, strong-willed star of the opera house, Carlotta, (and one can easily understand why she was the main attraction until upended by a little upstart), and the opera house's new owners, Monsieur Firmin (David Benoit) and Monsieur André (Price Waldman) who elicit much-needed noteworthy, lighter moments and audience snickers.


Edgar Degas ballerinas danced and frequently fluttered across the stage and relieved serious undertones (choreography by Scott Ambler).
Not to be overlooked are the musicians under the direction of Dale Rieling and members of the Kennedy Center Opera House, directed by Philippe Auguin.  


"Phantom" is a heartbreaking triangle romance with a not-so-happy ending. Ahhh, whom to choose? The ugly, the banished, the forlorn and forgotten? Or, the handsome knight come to save the poor lass.  You decide.  


Laurence Olivier and Tony awards winner Paule Constable designed the spectacular lighting.

Paul Brown's frequent set changes add to the effectiveness with seamless transitions into offices, dungeons, and behind-the-scenes perspectives on the opera's stage.
Laurence Connor directs, Mick Potter is sound designer, and Nina Dunn, video and production designer.

All I ask of the Kennedy Center is to think of me and seat latecomers (wishing they were somewhere not here again) only at intermission and prohibit candy sales to inhibit the crinkling of little wrappers

A phreakish Phantom phan, I am


What: Carmen MacIntosh's North American tour, "The Phantom of the Opera"

When:  Now through August 20, 2016 at 7 p.m., weekend matinees at 1 p.m., and a Wednesday matinee, August 17 at 1 p.m.

Where:   John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, 2700 F. Street, NW, Washington, D.C. 20566

Tickets:  $25 - $209 

Duration:  About 2.5 hours with one intermission 

patricialesli@gmail.com 

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Middle East photo show ends at Women's Museum

This is a brother and sister, photographed by Gohar Dashti (b. 1980, Ahvaz, Iran), Untitled #4 from the series, "Today's Life and War," 2008, courtesy of the artist

If you missed the stark exhibition which ended today at the National Museum of Women in the Arts, She Who Tells A Story by 12 women photographers from Iran and the Arab world, you may still buy the 176-paged catalogue for $40.
The entrance to the show/Photo by Patricia Leslie

For the show's opening, museum director Susan Fisher Sterling wrote: "These groundbreaking artists challenge us to rethink our preconceived notions about Arab and Iranian women and their art." It "challenges stereotypes" about the Middle East region "and "provides insight into political and social issues."
This one and the three photographs below are part of different series by Boushra Almutawakel (b. 1969, Sana'a, Yemen), "Mother, Daughter, Doll," 2010, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.  The series progresses into darkness, and the subjects gradually change expression and apparel until they are... no more.
Part of different series by Boushra Almutawakel (b. 1969, Sana'a, Yemen), "Mother, Daughter, Doll," 2010, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Above are the ending photographs in the series pictured below on the wall.  The first photograph begin with a smiling mother and daughter (and doll) who are progressively covered up until there is only darkness left (above; photograph on right).
Part of different series by Boushra Almutawakel (b. 1969, Sana'a, Yemen), "Mother, Daughter, Doll," 2010, 
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Part of different series by Boushra Almutawakel (b. 1969, Sana'a, Yemen), "Mother, Daughter, Doll," 2010, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston


The artists' creativeness came unbound in the presentation, clashing with restrictive and cloaked apparel so often associated with women from the area and frequently seen on Washington's streets. Indeed, some artists focused their cameras on the hijab and the burqa. (The Middle East is not the only conservative region when it comes to vestments: In a report issued this year by the Pew Research Center, 40 percent of European countries regulate women's religious dress in one way or another.) 
Shadi Ghadirian (b. 1974, Tehran, Iran), Untitled, from the series "Qajar," 1998, courtesy of the artist
 Shadi Ghadirian (b. 1974, Tehran, Iran), Untitled, from the series "Qajar," 1998, courtesy of the artist
Not everything is dark and humorless.  Try an outing in a boat. Tanya Habjouqa (b. 1975, Amman, Jordan) Untitled from the series "Women of Gaza," 2009, courtesy of the artist and East Wing Contemporary Gallery
Ruth Halawani (b. 1964, Jerusalem) Untitled XIX, from the series "Negative Incursions," 2002, courtesy of the artist and Selma Feriani Gallery, London
 Ruth Halawani (b. 1964, Jerusalem) Untitled VI, from the series "Negative Incursions," 2002, courtesy of the artist and Selma Feriani Gallery, London

The exhibition included more than 80 photographs and a video installation which filled galleries with contemporary color, and black and white images of life (sometimes staged) in the Middle East.

NMWA Curator Kathryn Wat noted on a tour that the show contained different subjects (including gender roles, military objects, and ways women are oppressed), displayed with "an element of grit, a lot of humor, and irony." Nine of the dozen artists still live in the Middle East. 

The exhibition was organized by the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston where it opened and next traveled to Stanford University and then, the Carnegie Museum of Art in Pittsburgh before arriving in Washington.
 
Buy the catalogue here or at
the National Museum of Women in the Arts, 1250 New York Avenue, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20005 which has other exhibitions to see.

Admission: Free on the first Sunday of the month (August 7) or $10, adults; $8, seniors and students; and always free for members and children, 18 and under.

For more information: 202-783-5000

Metro station: Metro Center. Exit at 13th Street and walk two blocks north.

patricialesli@gmail.com

Friday, July 22, 2016

Movie review: 'Weiner' is must-see for political junkies


Anthony Weiner's name is familiar to all political junkies.  He was an aggressive, progressive seven-term congressman (D-New York) who was defeated by his own sexting scandal.  It was 2011 and only two short years later, New York City's voters gave him a second chance when he decided to run for mayor.

Until he did it again

Until he sextexted again.

This man is sick.

The movie, Weiner, is about his political life of the last five years, chiefly, New York's mayoral race.  At Rotten Tomatoes, Weiner has earned a 96% rating from the critics, an 87% from the audience, and at the Sundance Film Festival, "Best Documentary."

But, why did they do it?  

Why did Weiner and his wife agree to permit filmmakers inside their lives and record them carte blanche?  (Most of the time. In two tense moments when truth comes knocking on the marital door, Weiner asks the film crew to leave .) 

His wife is the lovely, Huma Abedin, who is Hillary Clinton's indispensable aide.  In the film Abedin shatters her robotic persona as bag carrier. She reminds me of George Clooney's wife. (How does she keep that lipstick on all day?)  
   
After the 2011 shock, Weiner gathered momentum and sallied forth in his last campaign when he ran for mayor. He rode to the top of the polls, until the second sexting scandal broke, and this time, the voters gave him no second chance. 

He won less than five percent of the final tally.

Watch Weiner fall, see the media go nuts, and the trash follow him relentlessly around trying for a photo op 
inside the morass populated by humor, sadness, and wonder.

Campaign workers will recognize the office scenes, the talk, the buzz,  making calls, staging, knocking on doors, eating pizza for B,L, and D.  ("Been there; done that.")
 
Josh Kriegman and Elyse Steinberg directed the documentary, enriched by Jeff Beal's musical compositions and videos from talking heads Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert, Howard Stern, and Lawrence O'Donnell

Near the end of the film Weiner is asked: Why did they do it? He considers the question and drifts glumly to the next scene without answering.


Did they do it for future political gain?  Perhaps.  But, the American people are good about forgiving, and I think they'll give this relentless, energetic Democrat another chance, and he'll ride the cause again.

patricialesli@gmail.com