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Film and the Arts

Musical Short Cuts: Motown and Orpheus at Carnegie; Benanti at the Allen Room

A Tribute to the Music of MotownRay Chew
February 9, 2012
Carnegie Hall, Seventh Avenue & 57th Street, New York, NY
With a show titled “A Tribute to the Music of Motown,” there’s no way anyone can’t have a good time. And the evening’s music director Ray Chew--who also holds that exalted position on TV’s smash hit “American Idol”--has chosen a superb array of performers to sing many of the tunes he loved while he worked in his grandfather’s Harlem record store. There’s Martha Reeves, Melba Moore, Dionne Warwick, Bebe Winans and Boyz II Men, along with the promise of  “very special surprise guests,” all of whom will be belting out the classics from Motown’s greatest years.

Paul Shaffer will also be on hand to, presumably, lead the house band through its paces, something that he does nightly on David Letterman’s show and at the annual Rock’n’Roll Hall of Fame bash. Chew himself is looking forward to the performance: “As some might say, ‘those were the days.’ But for me, THIS is the day. And tonight is THE night.”

OrpheuThibaudets with Jean-Yves Thibaudet
February 11, 2012
Carnegie Hall, Seventh Avenue & 57th Street, New York, NY
French piano man Jean-Yves Thibaudet just came through town to play some stellar Gershwin at the New York Philharmonic’s New Year’s Eve bash. For this concert, Thibaudet teams with trumpeter Louis Hanzlik to perform Shostakovich’s extraordinary Concerto for Piano and Trumpet, with backing from the prime (and conductor-less) ensemble Orpheus.

The remainder of the concert is a typically eclectic Orpheus mix: the curtain raiser is Michael Tippett’s barely-heard Divertimento on Sellinger’s Round, while the second half of the program comprises Arthur Honegger’s lovely Pastorale d’Ete and Tchaikovsky’s sizzling Serenade for Strings.

American Songbook: Laura Benanti
February 11, 2012
The Allen Room, Time Warner Center, New York, NY
BenantiShe won a Tony for her delectable turn as Rose Lee in Gypsy, showing that Laura Benanti can hold her own against a dominating star turn by Patti Lupone. And if the NBC drama “The Playboy Club” was cancelled after only a few episodes, it wasn’t Benanti’s fault: as the show’s singing bunny, her onstage performance was easily each episode’s highlight.

For anybody unaware, this sublime Broadway star of musicals good and bad (Into the Woods, Nine, The Sound of Music, Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown) is also an accomplished comedienne, as her turns in Sarah Ruhl’s In the Next Room or The Vibrator Play and Christopher Durang’s Why Torture Is Wrong...and the People Who Have Love Them can attest. So Benanti’s “American Songbook” appearance unsurprisingly combines her singing and storytelling talents.

Footnote: See Under: 'Oscar Contender'

Image from FootnoteDon't miss Footnote/Hearat Shulayim when it opens this winter, for it may be another 2,000 years before Talmudic scholars return to your cineplex. Though perhaps a dozen knockoffs are being rushed into production, now that Joseph Cedar’s father-son drama, set in the hallowed halls of Jerusalem's Hebrew University, is in the running for a Best Foreign Language Film Oscar.

Read more: Footnote: See Under: 'Oscar...

Today's Cinematic Thrillers

With such films as Sherlock Holmes - A Game of Shadows, Mission Impossible - Ghost Protocol, The Adventures of Tin Tin, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (all which opened very recently), there's a good chance of catching one variation or another of today's cinematic thrillers.

 Whether they be spy actioneers, crime adventures, or a suspense mysteries, all of this bunch pretty much satisfies the basic strictures of these spy/cop/crime dramas -- good guys, skillful associates (at least one of them has to be an attractive, sexy woman -- or, in Tin Tin's case, a cute dog) nasty villains, wealthy magnates, fancy moves and incredible weaponry/gadgetry. 

 Only Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is more of an arthouse production with lots of talk and little action.

 Among these four, the Brad Bird-directed Mission Impossible does the best job of hitting its genre's high points with the most balanced and stimulating results. Between a smart use of humor (with the comical Simon Pegg as one of the IMF's skilled team), Tom Cruise's gymnastic moves and Paula Patton's sultry turns, the film's story pulses forward.

 Though the digitally animated Tin Tin reigns as the latest advance in performance-capture, it also serves as a successor to director Steven Spielberg's love affair with adventure films seen through such series as the Indiana Jones tales -- and terrier Snowy makes for a much smarter, cuter sidekick than Shia LeBouf

 In Tin Tin's case, this series has lots more gas in its narrative engine than the now-tired Indie Jones saga.

 Both Sherlock Holmes and The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo deal with bloodthirsty villains -- one who kills for perverse greed, the other for sadistic passions -- and present convoluted stories that come to uncertain conclusions. While they each offer slick, visually stimulating sequences of death and destruction, one seems a sleekly-made yet unnecessary remake (Dragon) and the other an almost too-peculiar re-imagining (Holmes).

Drawing on author John Le Carre's cerebral novel, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy investigates the secret agent landscape as an intellectual exercise. In director Tomas Alfredson's version, this story of spymaster George Smiley ferreting out a mole in the British espionage bureaucracy tries to recreate the novel's complex machinations, but it spurs more confusion than insight.

All of these films have roots in a raft of source material, but the granddaddy of it all is the James Bond series, longest running franchise in film history.

Some of the series' cinematic excursions ranged far afield from Ian Fleming's original novels where the world's most suave, savvy spy was actually a lot grittier and more of a cold, ruthless operator.

While the filmic Bond increasingly relied on fancy gadgets to enhance the drama -- especially after the character became far more of coy caricature during the Roger Moore years -- it still influenced a crop of sometimes superior imitators. And now the character has returned to a harder edge through actor Daniel Craig's recent re-invention.

Normally the Bond films can only be viewed on various DVD and Blu-ray sets but they have been viewable all this month on Epix -- the premium entertainment service available on television, video-on-demand, online and on consumer electronic devices.

Spousonomics: Jenny Anderson Marries Economics + Romance

Spousonomics1For a chance at a better marriage, it’s advised to consult proven figures in the field. Not relationship gurus, but quantifiable economics. So say Paula Szuchman and Jenny Anderson, whose new book Spousonomics: Using Economics to Master Love, Marriage and Dirty Dishes (Random House, 2011) advances solutions to domestic challenges from bickering to chores to sex.

Szuchman and Anderson -- a Wall Street Journal editor and a New York Times reporter, respectively -- may well be the first self-help authors to bring bar graphs to the realm of couples harmony. Film Festival Traveler reached Anderson for the inside scoop on how economics can offer optimal strategies for a happy union.

Read more: Spousonomics: Jenny Anderson...

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