Friday, July 11, 2014

Lady Day at Emerson's Bar and Grill: Broadway's "Golden Girl" Resurrects the Spirit of a Tortured Soul

Reviewed by Dwight Casimere
Photos by Evgenia Eliseeva-(c)

NEW YORK--Before Paris Hilton made the dog purse a fashion must on reality TV,  Hollywood bad girl Lindsay Lohan was sent to Beverly Hills prison for bad behavior and drug abuse and Rihanna suffered a beat-down by Chris Brown, there was Billie Holiday, the reigning musical diva of the swing and jazz era. Her tortured spirit is brilliantly resurrected by Audra McDonald, Broadway's most celebrated actress, who made history as a six-time Tony Award winner for winning Best Performance by a Leading Actress for her portrayal of the singer in Lady Day at Emerson's Bar and Grill at the Circle In The Square Theatre. It is a landmark performance.

Many tourists will visit New York City in these waning weeks of summer. Along with tours of the Statue of Liberty and views from the Empire State Building, they should add a stop at the Circle In The Square Theatre to see a Broadway legend in one of the Great White Way's most historic shows.

But, if you are expecting to see Audra McDonald in all her sylvan voiced glory, you will be sorely disappointed. There is no award-winning Broadway star on display here, only the exhumation of a tormented voice that still speaks today. 

Lady Day at Emerson's Bar and Grill is a rare and raw look at a divinely gifted talent, who is equally cursed by her beauty, fame and vocal ability. One of Billie Holiday's most famous songs was one recorded by her in 1939 and inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1978 , entitled Strange Fruit. A line in the song refers to the "Scent of Magnolias, sweet and fresh, Then the sudden smell of burning flesh." The song is a paen to the horrifying lynchings of black men in the South and the sight of the bodies swaying in the trees in an otherwise idyllic setting. The same jarring contrast is symbolic of Holiday's own life with its flashes of beauty, fame and glory and her intermittent descents into drug abuse, sexual and marital abuse, imprisonment and public humiliation. 

One of the most enduring images of Billie Holiday shows her wearing her trademark Gardenia flower in her hair. The portrait is a metaphor for her fragile state and fleeting life.  

Written by Lanie Robertson and Directed by Lonny Price, the show opens with the audience seated in a near theatre-in-the-round, with lower level audience members seated at small, round tables, having drinks, as if at an actual cabaret. The trio, led by pianist Shelton Becton, who plays  Lady Day's long-suffering accompanist Jimmy Powers, is playing warmup numbers on the tiny raised stage, in anticipation of the shaky diva's now long-delayed arrival onstage. 

McDonald's ability to channel both the persona and the voice of Billie Holiday is nothing short of extraordinary. Everything we know about Billie is there, the halting, sometimes stumbling gait, the blurred, drug and alcohol infused slurring of words and occasional vocal missteps, and the intermittent flashes of temper and emotional fatigue. The performance is, at times, uncomfortable to watch because of her gradual and obvious unraveling onstage, but it is impossible to take your  eyes off of her, her performance is that riveting.

In the program notes, the playwright, Lanie Robertson, explains why she wrote the play: "In 1959, a boyfriend of mine saw the great Billie Holiday in a little dive in North Philadelphia (Bille's birthplace) about three months before she died. He said she stumbled in obviously "quite high" carrying her little Chihuahua, Pepi, whom she introduced to the audience. A water glass was kept filled with booze atop the piano for her. She and the piano player performed ten or 12 of her songs for an audience of seven patrons. Then, he said, she staggered out. That image of the world's greatest jazz singer being so undervalued at the end of her life and career was an image that has always haunted me. Writing Lady Day at Emerson's Bar and Grill was an attempt to rid myself of that ghost."

Holiday was said to be distant and aloof with audiences, but here she is portrayed as sharing anecdotes of her life between songs, revealing in vivid detail the triumphs and travails of her life as depicted in her autobiography, "Lady Sings The Blues," written with friend and ghostwriter William Duffy and published in 1956. McDonald/Holiday delivers them in her gravely, withering voice, alternately with a tinge of delight, and then with a touch of irony and hilarity, often bordering on gallows humor. One of the great stories is one she relates about her travels as the vocalist with Artie Shaw's all-white band through the Deep South. She confronts the white female restaurant manager of a hotel and restaurant where they were performing, over the establishment's refusal to let her use the whites only bathroom. Billie gets the last word in by squatting down and "letting it go" right on the floor in front of her! That prompted the band to joke onstage, "Don't mess with Billie. She's got a secret weapon!"

I won't give you any more details of the show.  You really should make the effort to go to New York to see it for yourself. It's that good.  It is truly a ground-breaking performance that shows the power of theatre to transfix and transform. 

If Billie Holiday were alive today, she would have certainly been the subject of a reality tv seres. Ironically, she was actually the subject of one of the first reality television shows, ABC's reality series, "The Comeback Story,"in which she discussed her attempts at overcoming her many misfortunes. Alas, her ambitions were never to be realized. Holiday died broke and under arrest for drug possession in a room in a New York hospital in 1959 at just 44 years old.

Fortunately, she is immortalized in her many recordings, film and tv appearances and now, in this superb production.  Long after the sound of the applause at the Circle Theatre has died, the spectre of Billie Holiday will loom large behind the cult of celebrity, the tabloids and reality TV that dominates our daily lives.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Met Live HD Encore Tonight: La Cenerentola

Best Comic Opera of the Met season gets global viewing at local theatres

by Dwight Casimere

Tonight, Wednesday, May 14, at 6:30pm local time, audiences are in store for a real treat, the opportunity to see the Met Live HD Encore Presentation of Rossini's La Cenerentola. This is the best comic opera production of the current season and, by all accounts, one of the best cast ensembles to be featured in the opera in recent memory.  Tenor Juan Diego  Florez excels in the "Prince Charming" role of Don Ramiro in this retelling of the popular Cinderella Fairy Tale and soprano Joyce DiDonato brings a fresh approach to the demanding lead role as the beleaguered Angelina.

Even before the central characters take center stage, its apparent that the rest of the cast has consideragle vocal star-power.  For example, Alessandro Corbelli as the scheming Don Magnifico delivers an absolutely hilarious performance as the father of the vain sisters Clorinda (Rachelle Durkin) and Tsbe (Patrcia Risley), who schemes to marry them off to the handsome prince.  The skullduggery happens all the while their stepsisterm Angelina (sung magnificently by Joyce DiDonato) toils in obscurity as the family maid. The hilarity gets underway very quickly as the prince arrives at the stepsister's home disguised as his valet and his valet, Dandini (Pietro Spagnoli), camps its up as the pretend Prince.
In an interview with Met backstage host and soprano superstar Deborah Voigt, Spagnoli reveals the challenges of Rossini's fast-paced vocal repititions, calling it "an ancient Rossini Rap."

Characterizing the rapid-fire singing technique he employed, Spagnoli said "we kept rehearsing the part, each time singing it faster and faster. The conductor (Fabioi Louisi), did an incredible job of keeping the entire ensemble together with the orchestra and having everything move so smoothly along at such a fast pace." Regarding his own vocal gymnastics, Juan Diego Florez marveled at his ability to ahieve the vocal heights created by Rossini in his final aria. " I have to find this high 'A' in the midst of all of the hundreds of notes he puts in front of me. It's a real achievement, especially since it comes right near the end of a very long and demanding scene!"

In addition to the incredible singing and terrific comedic timing. the sets and costume design by Maurizio Balo are refreshing, using bold colors and modern design touches that hint at the timeless, periiod references of the story line, without going over the top. The production, by Cesare Lievi, is one of the finest of the season. For more information and local theatre listings.

, visit or

Rossini's La Cenerento

U.S. Encore: Wednesday, May 14, 2014 at 6:30 pm local time
Canada Encores: Saturday, July 5, 2014 at 12:00 pm ET
                          Monday, July 7, 2014 at 6:30 pm local time
                          Wednesday, July 16, 2014 at 6:30 pm local time

Thursday, May 8, 2014

The Wide World of Wine: Italy's Noble B's: Brunello, Brbaresco and Barolo

by Dwight Casimere

Everyone knows Italy's Chiani wine, made from it most famous indigenous grape, Sangiovese, in Tuscany. Not as many are familiar with the great and noble "B's"; Brunello,  Barbaresco and Barolo, which are similarly terrific Italian red wines, which have their own specific greatness and following among wine aficionados.

Brunello is among the most coveted and expensive of Italian wines. It is extracted from a particular strain of the indigenous Sangiovese grape, Brunello di Montalcino, which is made from a particular strain of the Sangiovese grape, which is specific to the regi(hence the name, Brunello, "little brown one"). The wines are very complex, with rich black and red fruit flavors, complex aromas and velvety tannins. They benefit a great deal from cellar aging, but most people who love Brunello, like that sort of wild, fruit forward, highly tannin "rush" they get from first tasting. It's a wine lover's high that is rarely experienced with other varietals!

The new crop of Brunello, Barbaresco and Barolo wines have just been shipped and are available everywhere in the US. Check your local wine shop for the newest releases.

This was the kind of tasting "rush" experienced by several hundred connoisseurs at the US introduction tasting hosted by James Suckling and Zachys Vice President of Marketing, Andrew NcMurray at City Winery in New York's SoHo. The unique environment, which combines the elements of a wine bar, on site wine making, cellar storage,  restaurant and a music venue, made for a heady experience that enveloped all of the senses.

All of the great names were there: Banfi, Casanova di Neri,  Marchesi di Frescobaldi, Fontanafredda. These are but a few of the historic estates creating great wines that are now available. The remarkable thing about these great wines is that the majority of them are well below the $100 mark, most in the $40 range, which makes them an incredible value when you consider the flavor and aging potential. The wines are just reaching stores in your local community, many with sale pricing through the end of the month. It's a fantastic opportunity to stock up on some terrific Italian reds that will provide drinking pleasure now and for many years to come!.

James Suckling with Andrew McMurray, Vice President of Marketing.

Barolo and Barbaresco are both from the Piedmont region (the top left part of the "boot" of Italy), and both are made from the Nebbiolo grape, but they are named after the districts they hail from. Barolo and Barbaresco have wonderful, distinctive aromas of tar, roses, licorice and truffles. Barolo has a reputation for being more massively tannic and rich, while Barbarescos are more graceful and approachable, but there are many variations of styles out there. (There is one more Piedmont "B," and that's Barbera, which is the name of both the grape and the wine. Barberas are kind of the opposite of Barolos and Barbarescos; they're light and crisp, with lower tannins, and they drink well young.)

Brunello, on the other hand, is made from a particular strain of a different grape (Sangiovese) in a different part of Italy (Tuscany, near the center). The best versions of Brunello have luscious, bold, rich black and red fruit flavors. Decanting and aging is good for Brunello, when you give it a chance to express its complex aromas and velvety tannins.

Here's a peek at my tasting notes of some of my favorites:

Castello Banfi Brunello di Montalcino 2009 $65 (introductory sale price $52). This is an elegant, approachable wine that makes the normally overpowering Brunello a softer, pleasurable experience. The wine opens up with its bright fruit flavors and soft tanins, creating a blanket of fruit flavors on the back of the tongue. Its very drinkable now and will make a terrific wine for al fresco dining with a rack of lamb on the grill or a rosemary and garlic basted strip steak roasted over embering coals.

Castiglion del Bosco Brunello di Montalcino 2007 $44.99 (introductory sale price $39.99). This was one of the real bargains of the new releases. If you love the taste of fresh plums , combined with the unusual combination of lemon rind and hints of brioche or pie crust with a lovely, velvety finish, this is the wine for you. It's an unusually soft and elegant presentation for a normally aggressive red wine. This is a wine that truly reveals the creative hand of the winemaker. Ripe cheeses, artisinal hams and salumis with a side of olives are the best way to appreciate this wine. A hearty meal would overpower the sheer pleasure of drinking a well-balanced wine, made with extreme care.

Marchesi de Frescobaldi Castelgiocondo Brunello di Montalcino 2009 $74 (introductory sale price $54).  The Frescobaldi family has been making fine wine since the days of the Medici's, yet they continue to rewrite the history books. The wines all come from the greatest vineyards in Tuscany, and it shows. The 2009 is rich and full-bodied with a polished texture and long finish. This is among the highest rated wines in the batch and it deserves the recognition and accolades it has received.

 Antonio D'Ambrosio, Empson USA with Lisini Brunello di Montelcino 2009
 Sabine Lodahl, Castiglion Del Bosco, , Campo del Drago

 Robert Spierer of Perelson Weiner LLP
 Luciano Castiello, Castello Banfi Ambassador and Joe Janish, Director of Public Relations, Banfi

Galen Crippin. Export Manager USA at Marchesi de Frescobaldi.
 Candace Ma'te' of Mate Montalcino

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Met Live HD: Rossini's La Cenerentola

by Dwight Casimere

Met Opera Photos: Ken Howard

Terrific singing from a stellar cast; Imaginative sets and beautiful costumes; and, of course, the music of Gioachino Rossini, makes for a not-to-be-missed presentation of the Met Live HD's "La Cenerentola" this Saturday, May 10 at 12:55pm ET. Check your local listings for theatre locations or visit U.S. Encore performance is Wednesday, May 14 at 6:30pm local time and the Canadian Encores take place Saturday, Jul5 at 12:pm ET, Monday, July 7 at 6:30pm local time and Wednesday, July 16, 6:30pm local time.

Scintillating Peruvian tenor Juan Diego Florez brings all of his charsima, star-power and a silver-lined voice to the role of Don Ramiro, the enchanting prince to Joyce DiDonato's ravishing portrayal of the central character in this romantic comedy. From the act one quintet "Signore Una Parola," to the climactic aria "Dolce Sperenza," the opera is filled with Bel Canto (beautiful singiing) that is the hallmark of one of the greatest opera composers of all time. Joyce DiDonato is magnetic in the title role, displaying a coloratura virtuosity that becomes more vibrant with each moment that approaches the happiness of meeting her Prince Charming. Rossini's La Cenerentola is one of the real gems of comic opera and the cast assembled for this Met Live HD production is one of the best in recent memory.

Rossini's La Cenerentola

May 10, 2014, 12:55 pm ET

U.S. Encore: Wednesday, May 14, 2014 at 6:30 pm local time
Canada Encores: Saturday, July 5, 2014 at 12:00 pm ET
                          Monday, July 7, 2014 at 6:30 pm local time
                          Wednesday, July 16, 2014 at 6:30 pm local time

Friday, April 18, 2014

Tribeca World Premiere "Five Star" rips a page from the mean Brooklyn streets in compelling film

Reviewed by Dwight Casimere April 17, 2014

NEW YORK--"Five Star", the World Narrative Competition entry, had its World Premiere  at the 13th Tribeca Film Festival. It is a compelling film by second-time features director Keith Miller (Welcome to Pine Hill-2012 Sundance Grand Jury Prize winner).  A member of the Brooklyn Film Collective, Miller, with his cinematographers Ed Davis, Alexander Mallis and Eric Phillips-Horst, captures the raw, Bosnia- drab world of  Brooklyn's Walt Whitman housing projects and frames it in a modernistic urban fable that blurs the line between documentary and fiction.

This is not the street gang world that you see glorified in the rap videos. There are no pimped out "rides"or make-it-rain visits to strip clubs. The gang bangers in this film don't wear any bling or drive  fancy cars. They simply hang out on street corners or in dingy apartments,  protecting their turf, and using young kids as 'mules' to transport their 'packages,' a euphemism for drugs, from point A, to point B.' That's precisely the point where we meet the protagonists Primo and John in the film Five Star.

The film revolves around the actions of the notorious Bloods in their home turf in the Brooklyn projects during one sweltering hot summer.  Their leader, "Primo,"is  the Five Star General of the Bloods who rules by abject fear, although he calls it "respect."(The term "Five Star" is an obvious play on the like term for military leaders).

At the outset of the film, we meet James "Primo" Grant, a real-life Blood enforcer,  speaking on camera to an unseen passenger riding in his car, about the day his young son, Sincere, was born. Sincere, we later learn, is autistic. Sincere is at the center of Primo's being and  he expresses his feeling that the birth of Sincere was the seminal event of his life. "But do you know where I was," he declares ruefully. "Fuckin' locked up!"

The film quickly moves forward, with Primo taking young John under his wing (played with disarming charm, authenticity and a sense of youthful innocence by budding actor and East Side New York resident John Diaz). John's father was mysteriously murdered and Primo has offered to mentor him, showing him the ropes and all the ins and outs of gang life and the streets. John's an eager wannabe and Primo offers him the protection and guidance he craves, particularly in light of the absence of his father, who was revered by everyone in this tightly wound world of ruthless demi-gods and their minions.

Primo promises that he will mentor John, but what transpires is anything but. The next thing we see, is John as mule, transporting a "package" to one of Primo's street lieutenants. When Primo  hears that John didn't make the drop as ordered, he's ready to snuff him. So much for Ward Cleaver!

The film deftly sets up Primo's character, showing him first as the coldly calculating ruler ("It's just business!" he declares as he beats a young recruit to the floor for failing to come up with the money that is owed on a drug deal, then cooly walks out of the room as his followers finish the job). Flash forward to him lovingly preparing a tasty meal for his doting girlfriend and commercial- pretty young children in the sanctity of their peacefully, albeit threadbare, home in the projects. The contrast between his ruthlessness in the streets and the loving interactions with his girlfriend and their three young children, could not be more pronounced.

We soon learn that another child is on the way and Primo is overjoyed.  We especially meet young Sincere, Primo's son, who is profoundly affected by autism.  Primo's own children played themselves in the movie and both the director and Primo deemed them "naturals" in front of the camera. In a post-screening Q and A, Primo declared that his son, "no matter what anyone says about him. He's perfect!" It's the kind of whistling in the dark heroism displayed by many parents of autistic children, which I learned as a volunteer with the Autism Spectrum Disorder Foundation, in which horses are used as Equine Therapy with children who have autism. The children with autism interact and communicate with the horses in a way that they will not with humans. It's magical to see. (See the reference in actor Liam Neeson's op-ed piece on the  Central Park horse drawn controversy in the April 14 New York Times).

Director Miller admits that parts of the film were unscripted. That is both one of its strengths, and its profound weakness. As Miller later pointed out in the post-screening Q and A, the ad libbed approachs fostered a great deal of  honesty in the actor's interactions and contributed to the authenticity of some of the scenes, such as the pickup basketball game  between John and Primo at the outset of the film. It is a pivotal moment in the development of their relationship.  The scene unfolds as a sort of male rite of passage with the older and younger man developing a sparring match that becomes a test of manhood between the mentor Primo and his new charge, John. Part of the central theme of Five Star revolves around the meaning of manhood and the process of fostering same, which often translates as toughness.

Miller and his crew capture the inner essence of Primo's life perfectly, eavesdropping on the tender interactions with his family in their bleak apartment and contrasting that with the  twinkling lights of the cityscape view just outside his window. The nearby beach also plays a role in the film, as both a metaphor for life's endless possibilities and a parallel setting for some of the grittier pivotal moments in the film, such as the place where John target practices an illegal semi-automatic, and where, in all probability, his father was murdered.

One of the few lighter moments in the film is the budding romance between John (John Diaz) and the girl-next-door beauty Jasmine (Jasmine Burgos). As much as the mother rails against the relationship, she grudgingly advises him on proper condom use, much to John's chagrin. The scenes of John courting Jasmine on the beach are magical and in such sharp contrast to the eventual consummation of their relationship on a mattress on the floor of her family's apartment, which is her bedroom.

Wanda Nobles Colon displays considerable acting chops as John's Mom, and lights up the screen with her intensity. Her character offers the single best explanation of the plot construct surrounding the mystery of her husband's death. Unfortunately the film fails to build upon that point. The character delineation and conflict between John and Primo somehow fall flat and gets lost in the amorphous ramblings of the core scenes of the film.

According to the script, John's  father was supposedly killed by a stray bullet,  an explanation that neither  the mother, nor her son, believes. John is determined to find the truth. Subconsciously he knows that it lies hidden somewhere beneath the emotional chain mail that surrounds his mentor, Primo.
(That was the image gleaned from the maze of tattoos Primo wears on his arms and chest. They looked like the chain link armor worn by the knights of old for protection.)

James "Primo" Grant  deserves raves for a stellar performance as a first-time actor playing himself in the film. He brings to mind the late James Galdolfini as Tony Soprano, with his undercurrent of menace toward the outside world tempered with an overriding sweetness toward his family in the privacy of his home. We never actually see Primo in any overt acts of extreme violence. He always seems to be walking away as his lieutenants carry out his dirty work.

Another irony, Primo works as a bouncer for a local club owner, who pays him a measly 300 bucks for a couple of nights a week. Primo practically begs him for more work because he has another child on the way and needs a larger apartment. The club owner hires him to be a bodyguard at his son's Bar Mitzvah. We see Primo getting outfitted in a business suit for the occasion. At the conclusion of the event, Primo and the owner have a heartfelt talk about the significance of the Mitzvah as a rite of passage for a Jewish boy into manhood when he turns 13. Primo likens it to his initiation into the Bloods at the age of 12, in which he had to beat off 7 guys and take a solemn oath. The comparison is a bit of a stretch, but you get the idea.

In spite of its flaws, Five Star is a compelling film that will command attention wherever it is shown. It is a must see at this year's Tribeca festival. One of the distinct advantages of being shown at a festival like Tribeca, is that it allows budding directors to be seen and to attract the type of interest and resources that will  further their careers. Keith Miller is clearly an up-and-coming director to watch. He has an uncanny feel for edgy subject matter. Hopefully he will garner the resources to express his ideas in future projects in a more developed way.

Five Star shows at the 13th Tribeca Film Festival Saturday, April 19, 8:30pm at AMC Loews Village 7, Monday, April 21, 8:30pm, Bow Tie Cinemas 9 and Saturday, April 26,  2:30pm, also at Bow Tie Cinemas 9. For ticket information, visit

Below: James "Primo" Grant in the title role
photo 2-with John Diaz as John

Wanda Nobles Colon who plays John's mother

 The cast of Five Star on the Red Carpet at the Tribeca World Premiere
 Dwight Casimere with James "Primo" Grant

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Tribeca Film Festival premieres "All About Ann," HBO Documentary Film on Texas Governor Ann Richards

"All About Ann" and unvarnished view of tough-as-nails political pioneer

Reviewed by Dwight Casimere April 17, 2014

NEW YORK--All About Ann: Governor Richards of the Lone Star State is the HBO Documentary Film that premieres at the 13th Tribeca Film Festival Friday, April 18 with additional screenings Sunday, April 20 and Friday April 25. The film debuts on HBO exclusively Monday, April 28 at 9pm ET. For Tribeca times and tickets, visit

Ann Richard's life has already been the subject of a short-lived Broadway play, Ann, written by and starring TV's Holland Taylor (Two and a Half Men), which ran last summer at Lincoln Center's Beaumont Theater. Now comes the HBO movie and Tribeca Film Festival Premiere.

"All About Ann" charts the meteoric rise of Ann Richards, a little girl with big dreams from the small town of Lakeview, Texas , who rises from obscurity as a school teacher, mother of four to be catapulted into first state-wide and then  the national spotlight to be elected as the Lone Star State's first female State Treasurer and then, the state's first elected female Governor in a hotly contested race that garnered national and international attention.

Richards garnered the national spotlight as the Keynote Address speaker at the 1988 Democratic National Convention. Her famous opening lines (which the HBO producers carefully pointed out, were hand-written by Richards herself just moments before delivering the speech), instantly cemented her reputation as a no-nonsense defender of women's rights. "Ginger Rogers did everything Fred Astaire did, only backwards and in high heels!"

Not only was Ann Richards a woman in a man's game in a decidedly macho environment, she was also a liberal in an ultra-conservatiive, even John Birch Society right-wing political climate. Along the way, she sacrificed her marriage to her long-suffering and supportive husband David, on the altar of political ambition, battled alcoholism, for which she very publicly engaged in rehabilitation, and vociferously countered accusations of lesbianism and drug abuse.

Producer Keith Patterson, CEO of Filmbank Entertainment of New York, in his first outing as a filmmaker for HBO and veteran HBO producer Phillip Schopper, whose credits include the Emmy-nominated "Gloria: In Her Own Words," and the Emmy-winning "Teddy: In His Own Words," present a probing, behind-scenes- look at this most public of charismatic figures, using archival and news footage, profile interviews with such news and political luminaries as Dan Rather and Bill Clinton, and personal sidebars from her ex-husband David and daughter, Ann, among others.

The documentary further gives an insightful behind-the-scenes look at the pivotal events in Gov. Richards' life, most notably her bare-knuckles fight against Republican Clayton Williams in the race for the Governor's seat. Williams stooped to accusations of cocaine abuse by Richards, even in the face of her very public acknowledgement of her alcoholism.  The death knell was sounded when he committed the gaffe of being caught on camera saying that "Rape's like the weather. If it's inevitable, lay back and enjoy it." Voters began to reach their limit with him when he failed to identify an important ballot initiative during an on-camera interview. The final straw came when he snubbed Richards at a televised political event, refusing to shake her hand on the dais. The ungentlemanly act revealed him to be the true heel that he was and voters responded by giving Richards a resounding victory as the first duly elected female Governor of the Lone Star State.
Ann Richards giving the Keynote Address at the 1988 Democratic National Convention
TV's Holland Taylor as Ann Richards on Broadway
Ann Richards and her opponent in the race for Governor, Clayton Williams
TV newsman Dan Rather, one of the commentors in the Ann Richards HBO documentary
Ann Richards at the helm at Texas Governor
"W" on the campaign trail
David Richard's, Ann's ex-husband appears in the film with sensitive commentary
Ann's daughter gives illuminating commments throughout the film
Ann Richards applies her "war paint" before an appearance on Meet The Press
With Nelson Mandela
A latter-day Ann Richards

Producers Patterson and Schopper conclude the film with a probing analysis of Richard's ultimate defeat in her race for a second term as Governor at the hand of master GOP strategist Roger Ailes and his freshly-minted future presidential candidate, George W. Bush. From the outset, Ailes makes it clear that he views the Texas Governor's race as merely the first step in "W's"ultimate ascendancy to the Oval Office. The documentary very deftly charts Ailes' capabilities as a master political architect, carefully crafting his master plan through a series of very public onslaughts and behind-the-scenes subterfuges, with innuendos of lesbianism, drug abuse and anti-gun stances (even though Richards herself was a gun owner), which ultimately undermined her reelection efforts.

One of the final scenes of the film is among its most poignant. It shows Richards in one of her last public appearances before succumbing to esophageal cancer in 2006. Speaking to a political action group of LGBT supporters, her speech was interrupted several times by coughing spasms and dry throat, which an aide explained on camera, were symptoms of her advancing disease. Richards nonetheless, gave a rousing speech that praised efforts to support individual rights and freedoms. Her remarks through a thunderous and heartfelt ovation.

All About Ann is more than a political documentary. It is an up close and personal look at one of the most charismatic and visceral political figures of our time and an unvarnished view of the no-holds-barred cage fight that is the arena of modern American politics.  All About Ann: Governor Richards of the Lone Star State premieres on HBO Monday, April 28 ay 9pm ET, with additional HBO playdates April 28 (4:45am ET), May 1 (4:45pm ET), May 4 (2pm ET), May 7 (8:30am) and May 10 (10:15 am ET). This film is must viewing for anyone who believes in the importance of life-long commitment and sacrifice in the preservation of individual freedom and liberty within the context of the American Body Politic.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Tribeca Film Festival 2014: Love & Engineering a passionate, funny look at romance in the age of cyberdating

Reviewed by Dwight Casimere April 12, 2014

NEW YORK--Love & Engineering, a Finnish, German and Bulgarian Documentary Feature now playing at the 13th annual Tribeca Film Festival in lower Manhattan, is a passionate and oftentimes humorous look at a close-to-the-bone subject, the search for romance in the age of cyberdating. Award-winning Finnish producer Kaarle Aho (Finnish Film Producer of the Year-2008) and third-time Bulgarian documentary filmmaker Tonislav Hristov (Family Fortune-2008, Rules of Single Life-2012 Best Documentary Award, Sofia International Film Festival), ask the question "is there an algorithm for love?"

Atanas, a happily-married Bulgarian engineer living and working in Finland, decides to find the answer, using his fellow engineers as subjects in an elaborate study, utilizing cyber-dating, speed-dating and good old fashioned blind dates contrasted with super-scientific brain-wave studies to come up with the answer. He even employs the prickly practice of "hacking" (using a pseudo-persona to misrepresent your desirability on a computer dating site) to attract perspective mates to his hapless band of computer uber-geeks.

Ironically, Atanas has a promounced stutter, yet it in no way inhibits his ability to get his point across. He most certainly has not suffered any diminishing of his self esteem as a result of it. In fact, he is the only one in his crew that has a stable, fulfilling relationship with a woman, making him the envy of all. 

"Go ahead and show up in costume," Atanas off-handedly tells his eager participants, during a discussion of what to wear when they show up for a speed dating session at a local nightclub. One of the subjects decides to adopt the persona and costume of a cruise ship captain, which turns out to be an instant hit. He decides to adopt the garb for each and every one of the subsequent speed-dating sessions and becomes the accidental life of the party!

Atanas and his subjects meet often to discuss their progress or lack of same. In between, there are elaborate lab sessions and studies involving the application of electrodes on both male and female subjects, to record their brain wave and heart/blood pressure activity during question and answer sessions surrounding the subjects of sex and dating. After the first speed dating session, one of Atanas' geek subjects almost strikes it rich with a potential love mate. After tripping the light fantastic on a successful introductory date, he decides 'this is it,' but, obviously, his female counterpart has second thoughts and abruptly cancels a much-anticipated second date.  He is crushingly plunged into depression by the rejection. Atanas likens the experience to the mythical figure Icarus, flying to close to the sun. An almost-uncomfortably long close-up shot records his subjects meltdown and emotional unraveling, a no-no in the cold, data-speak world of the engineer, but no less a telling scene that cuts to the heart of the movie's subject matter. 

The whole project and the film reaches a denouement when Atanas organizes a Love Boat-type overnight cruise-to-nowhere that turns disastrous. The entire project almost comes apart at the seems amidst a three-way fight over the same girl and a shouting match and near fisticuffs over privacy issues and a perceived-as-inappropriate sexual encounter.  With a happy marriage and  kid at home and  a contented wife who wants another muffin in the oven, Atanas reaches an epiphany and abandons the project.

Love & Engineering is a delightfully captivating film that treats a delicate and sometimes uncomfortable subject with a light touch and a good dose of humor. It is a film with a subject matter that will resonate far beyond the festival screenings and generate buzz in social media and private conversation for some time. 

Love & Engineering plays at the Tribeca Flm Festival Sturday, April 19, Tuesday, April 22, Thursday April 24 and Saturday, April 26 at Bow Tie Cinemas Chelsea. Visit for ticket information.

 Filmmaker and Director Tonislav Hristov

Producer Kaarle Aho

 Scenes from Love & Engineering-The Finnish Film Foundation