Tuesday, July 26, 2016


Story and photos by Dwight Casimere

NEW YORK---The Big Apple is the nation's number one tourism destination. What better way to end the summer with a bang than with a late summer or Labor Day Weekend tour of the city capped off by a Statue of Liberty cruise on the Hudson River, complete with a sumptuous lunch or dinner buffet, spectacular city-scape views, dancing and an up-close-and-personal view of one of the nation's most iconic landmarks.

The Spirit of New York cruise lines, departing Chelsea Pier, offer all of that and more on board their luxury yacht. The cruise travels under the iconic Brooklyn Bridge on beautiful New York Harbor, ending with dramatic, close-up views of the Statue of Liberty. Along the way, dine on a spectacular buffet consisting of delicacies such as Organic Spinach and Kale Salad with Lemon and Oregano Dressing, Creamy Corn and Cheddar Casserole, Whole Roasted Pork Loin, Braised Beef Short Ribs, Oven Baked North Atlantic Sole Filet or Honey and Sesame Chicken. Save room for the groaning dessert table, filled with all of your favorites; cheesecake, chocolate cake, strawberries and vanilla custard, cut seasonal fruit, and that all time local New York favorite, Cannolis.

Work it all off on the dance floor with the Spirit's Celebrity DJ and you have the makings of a spectacular  afternoon or evening. Labor Day Weekend is filled with options, from a romantic dinner cruise to a Eat, Drink and B. Mary Brunch with a Gospel option. There's no end to the fun possibilities on the Spirit of New York!

Spirit Cruises are also available from Navy Pier Chicago on board the Spirit of Chicago. Enjoy special summer Fireworks Cruises off Navy Pier on selected evenings. For lunch or dinner cruise information, visit www.spiritcruises.com.

Monday, June 20, 2016



Writer/director Leena Yadav, one of the leading female directors in India, has  created a highly captivating drama that unmasks the cultural and ritualistic exploitation and subjugation of women. In vivid detail and beautiful cinematography from the Academy Award winning  Russell Carpenter of Titanic fame, the film follows the lives of three rural Indian women as they begin their slow journey toward bonding to fight the ancient traditions that hold them in servitude. As the film portrays, the oppression of women is all-pervasive, from the type of entertainment they are forced to provide at the local carnival, including providing sexual favors for cash,  rules that exploit their value in the local marketplace, spreading even into the home, where spousal abuse, families who ostracize women for desiring education or for expressing an opinion, and the bartering of children as brides is commonplace.

This award-winning film is brutal in its honesty, but presented in such an atmospheric fashion that the contrasting beauty and humanity of the culture is juxtaposed against the outright brutishness against women. The nuanced lighting and vivid cinematography make the horrific acts against the women even more shocking. 

The women live in a remote desert community of North West India. The widowed Rani (Tannishta Chatterjee, her vivacious best friend Lajjo (Radhika Apte) and exotic dancer Bijli (Surveen Chawla) talk openly about their struggles to overcome the oppression of men and society under the rules and customs of traditional village ways. Sex and women are a commodity to be bought and sold, even down to a teenaged bride sold off to be married to a spoiled 15 year old from a well-to-do family like so much chattel.

Part Bollywood, part suspense drama and part cultural panorama the film captures the beautiful desert landscapes, and rich, texture of village life in a way that transforms PARCHED into a heart-stirring portrayal.

"This story is my reaction to a misogynistic society that treats women as objects of sex," says director and writer Leena Yadav. The film gives the women characters a voice in a way that also emphasizes their humanity and their universal struggle.

PARCHED is distributed by Wolfe Releasing and will be released August 9 by Wolf Video on DVD/VOD and all digital platforms including iTunes, Vimeo On Demand and WolfeOnDemand.com as well as DVD vial Wolfe Video at major retailers.



Spongebob Squarepants was created by marine biologist and animator Stephen Hillenburg  out of an unpublished educational comic book. It premiered on Nickelodeon in 1999. Seventeen years, two movies, two Emmys and 12 Kid's Choice Awards and $18 billion dollars in franchise merchandising revenue later, it is on stage in the Pre-Broadway World Premiere of The Spongebob Musical at Chicago's Oriental Theatre, 24 West Randolph, through Sunday, July 10. 

With a roster of Grammy Award winning songwriters, A Tony Award-winning design team and a visionary director, The Spongebob Musical is a highly imaginative, high energy production that transforms the lovable undersea characters of Spongebob Squarepants (Ethan Slater, in his Chicago debut), Squidward Tentacles (Tony and Olivier Award nominee Gavin Lee), Sheldon Plankton (Broadway and Off-Broadway's  Nick Blaemire, and Sandy Cheeks (Broadway's Lilli Cooper of Spring Awakening and Wicked), and a host of  other lovable animated sea creatures magically realized on stage as flesh and blood characters with a brilliant cast, eye-popping sets and an original score from a galaxy of the hottest composers and artists from the worlds of pop, hip-hop, soul, Heavy Metal and vintage Broadway.

Tina Landau, of Chicago's Steppenwofd Theatre, is director, with highly creative scenic designs from the team behind Fun Home, Hedwig and Spring Awakening that takes up the entire front of the house, creating the world of Spongebob's Bikini Bottom that practically spills into the audience,  Spongebob is a full-immersion experience, taking the audience into Spongebob's undersea world with a story that pits the plucky sponge against the forces of total annihilation with a message that even the most unlikely person can become a hero with enough self-belief and heart.

With original songs by Yolanda Adams, Steven Tyler and Joe Perry of Aerosmith, Sara Bareilles, John Legend, The Flaming Lips, Cyndi Lauper, They Might Be Giants, T.T., David Bowie and others, with additional songs by Jonathan Coulton, The Spongebob Musical is a rhythm machine that will keep audience members young and old dancing in their seats.

Spongebob is beloved by both the younger set and a devoted following of adults who find its infectious characters and heart-warming themes universally appealing. That characteristic rings true throughout the two and a half hour show. It might seem a little long for the younger set, but there's enough to hold their attention, including moveable set pieces, special effects and high-stepping dance numbers (Squidward steals the show in the second act) that make it a sure-fired success when it reaches Broadway. The Spongebob Musical plays through Sunday, July 10 at Chicago's Oriental Theatre. For tickets and showtimes, visit BroadwayinChicago.com. 

Wednesday, May 18, 2016


Second edition of Mammoth Lake Film Festival honors film legend Joe Dante of Innerspace and  Gremlins fame

by Dwight Casimere

Scene Mammoth Lake, California scene of the Mammoth Lake Film Festival May 25-29

Director Joe Dante of Gremlins fame, recipient of the festival's Sierra Spirit Award with a furry friend

A unique opportunity to attend a film festival that, according to its executive director Shira Dubrovner ,  has a "rustic and down to earth vibe" that is "true to the filmmaker, is occurring this coming Memorial Day weekend in the majestic and picturesque setting of Mammoth Lake, California. The Mammoth Lake FilmFestival is now in its second year, and will feature 14 films in Narrative and Documentary competition as well as additional events and special screenings. Among the featured events is the Opening Night Screening and Party for Operation Avalanche, from Canadian filmmaker Matt Miller. "He's one of the new filmmakers whose impact will be seen for years to come," director Dubrovner said. "He's an example for why we're so excited about the lineup we have. We consider ourselves a film centric festival that puts the filmmaker first and Hollywood second." 

Mammoth Lake Film Festival Executive Director Shira Dubrovner

Operation Avalanche is a documentary narrative that recreates the speculation that the 1967 moon landing, was really  a staged hoax. In the film, four undercover CIA agents are sent to NASA posing as a documentary film crew only to discover one of the biggest conspiracies in American history. "Filmmaker Matt Miller uses techniques similar to the film Forrest Gump.The film has been bought by Lionsgate and will have a theatrical release.    Were really fortunate to have Paul Sbrissi as our programmer, who finds the golden nuggets for our festival," Dubrovner emphasized.

Below: Scenes from the film Operation Avalanche-courtesy Lionsgate Films


Operation Avalanche director Matt Miller


Saturday evening, May 28, the festival will hold its Centerpiece Gala and film screening, honoring legendary film director Joe Dante of Gremlins fame. The festival was host a screening of Dante's classic 1987 film Innerspace and present him with the festival's inaugural Sierra Spirit Award. "The film will be followed by a discussion with Mr. Dante and will feature an appearance by actor Robert Picardo, who appeared in Innerspace and Gremlins 2," Dubrovner said. "The reason we're giving the tribute to him because he's one of the first directors to really cross over from the cult film world into mainstream success. Mr. Dante worked extensively with Roger Corman and managed to stay true to his style of keeping his 'comedic weird.' Actor Robert Picardoi, who was featured in Innerspace, will present the award to Mr. Dante.

"Also in the documentary feature competition is our Spotlight Gala Screening film Beware the Slenderman from Oscar-nominated director Irene Taylor Brodsky, which tells the story of a Boogeyman lurking on the internet and two 12-year-old girls who would kill for him. Ms. Taylor Brodsky will be present for Q&A.

"Filmmaker spent 18 months researching to create this amazing documentary that will blow your mind," according to Dubrovner. 

The  Closing Night Gala Screening and Awards party features the Iranian film Spnita from director Rokhsareh Ghaemmagham. It tells the inspiring story of an 18 year old Afghan refugee, living in Iran, who thinks of Michael Jackson and Rihanna as her spiritual parents and dreams of becoming a big-name rapper. Her family, however, has a very different future planned for her; as a bartered bride, she's worth $9,000 to them. 

The the Narrative Feature Competition is the hauntingly atmospheric Brazilian film All The Colors of the Night from Director Pedro Severin.

"We're really excited about this year's festival and the film's we've programmed. We've got a fabulous mix that shows films and filmmakers at the beginning of their careers and those that are a little more seasoned. At Mammoth Lake Film Festival, we try to stay true to our roots. We intend to grow organically and stay true to the filmmaker," Dubrovner concluded.

The Mammoth Lake Film Festival runs May 25-29. 

Additional Information about Mammoth Lakes Film Festival is available at

Connect with Mammoth Lakes Film Festival:


Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Electrifying "Elektra" is final MET LIVE HD Encore Presentation Wednesday May, 4 6:30pm

Nina Stemme, Waltraud Meier, Adrianne Pieczonka, Burkhard Ulrich and Eric Owens give steller performances

by Dwight Casimere

Soprano Nina Stemme as Elektra-Met photo by Marty Sohl

The standing ovation for last weekend's Met Live HD performance of Richard Strauss's Elektra was one of the most thunderous in recent memory. Deservedly so, as this, the final transmission of the Met's 10th Live HD season, delivered a fiery climax to what was an outstanding season.

As if to underscore the importance of the event, the Met featured its original HD Host, star soprano Renee Fleming.

The opera was filled with stellar performances from beginning to end. Conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen, who is also a celebrated composer, let the cat out of the bag early on, when, in a pre-performance interview with Met General Manager Peter Gelb, he declared that "this is the largest orchestra assembled for anything, anywhere!" He certainly delivered Strauss's complex score with a dramatic arc that brought out both its dramatic depth and lyricism.

The music is rich and complex and demanding of both the performers on stage and the orchestra members in the pit. That said, the performance was flawless. No one got off the hook. Even the chorus members, who opened the opera, were charged with the task of singing Strauss's Herculean octave leaps while moving restlessly about the stark, foreboding set of Richard Peduzzi. Stage director Vincent Huguet showed his best work here, in this hard-hitting production by Patrice Chereau. Lighting designer Dominique Bruguiere similarly deserves praise for creating the somber, yet charged atmosphere of the performance.

Nina Stemme gave an Olympian performance as Elektra, matching Strauss' Himalayan vocal leaps with her own high-stepping movements in a  physically demanding role. The regal Waltraud Meier as her troubled mother, Klytamnestra, gave audiences a weighty performance that solidified her standing as one of the most commanding and enduring veteran performers of the operatic stage.

Strauss's Elektra tells the story of Elektra, daughter of Agamemnon and Klytamnestra, who is driven to the brink of madness after the assassination of her father, the king, following his return from Troy. Filled with a rage, she covets the ax used by her mother, Klytamnestra and her lover, Aegisth (Burkhard Ulrich), and at times fondles it almost lovingly as she plots her revenge.

Her sister,  Chrysothemis (a luminous Adrianne Pieczonka), begs Elektra to back off and move on with her life, but Eletkra is having none of it. When her mother arrives with her entourage after preparing sacrifices to appease the gods, she asks Elektra what sacrifice would ease her grief. Elektra replies in a rather pointed riddle that makes it clear that only the blood of Klytamnestra, her own mother, will ease her distress. When her sister reveals that her mother and Aegisth plan to lock her away in the tower, Elektra forges full speed ahead with her bloody plot, dancing with frenzied elation.

Elektra works herself up to a fever pitch as she imagines how her  long-absent brother, Orest (sung majestically by bass/ baritone Eric Owens), will return to strike the deadly blows.  Upon hearing that he has died, Elektra vows to act alone.

The most arresting scene of the opera then unfolds, as Orest (Owens) steals his way back into the castle and finally reveals to Elektra that he is, indeed, still alive. The duet between Owens and Stemme is the most powerful and vocally rich moment of the opera. Esa-Pekka Salonen's precise conducting brings out the lyricism of Strauss's score, further heightening the exquisite drama.

This performance was a ravishing conclusion to a superlative 10th season for Met Live HD. With the steady hand of  HD  director Gary Halvorson, the originator of the Met's Live HD concept, this transmission deserves a second look, even if you just saw it over the weekend. Encore Presentations will take place in theaters globally Wednesday, May 4 at 6:30pm local time. Visit metopera.org or fathomevents.com for theatre locations and ticket information.

Thursday, April 28, 2016



by Dwight Casimere

HENRY GAMBLE'S BIRTHDAY PARTY is a film that deals with a rather weighty subject; a teenaged boy coming into the reality that he's gay, with a delicate balance of humor and humanity. Though it approaches a serious matter and has a message, the film's director , Stephen Cone doesn't  hit you over the head with it.

The plot unfolds over a single day as Henry and his family, in their Evangelical Christian world, prepare for his 17th birthday party. His mother is a 40-something single mom, who doesn't quite know what to do with her two nearly grown children. Henry, himself, is not quite sure of which way he wants to go in terms of choosing partner amidst his burgeoning sexuality.

The film opens with Henry (Cole Doman) and his brest friend Gabe (Joe Keery) holding a masturbation session as they talk about their imagined conquest of a local girl. The two wind up downstairs with their Evangelical circle of church leaders and friends, holding hands in a prayer circle. The irony of the scene is stunning. That seems to be the tone throughout, with an odd mix of family, friends and church leaders passing in and out of slamming doors, drinking and watching forbidden soft porn on cable and getting in fights fueled by sexual jealousy; it's all so pathetic and hilarious at the same time and yet, so gloriously human. At the end of the day, everyone winds up swimming in the family pool, which is sort of a metaphor for life itself. That's the beauty of this film. We can all see ourselves in these pitiful, yet heroic figures, who are all grappling with their own inner demons and insecurities, yet holding their heads up in spite of the frailties and outright bumbling. Even Henry himself, in his final scene, approaches his own destiny with an awkward self-doubt. In the end, we've all been their at one time some point in our lives, and that's precisely what makes the film so magical and endearing.


Wednesday, April 20, 2016



Kenneth Anderson, a returning inmate who is one of the subjects of THE RETURN

TribecaFestival 2016 ScreenPremiere:
Sunday, April 17 at 5:30pm, Regal Battery Park
Press & Industry Screening
y, April 20 at 12:00pm, Regal Batter
Word Premiere Tribeca Film Festival 2016, Sunday, April 17
Additional Public Screenings Wednesday, April 20 and Saturday, April 23
visit tribecafilm.com for theatre and time information

Reviewed by Dwight Casimere

Nothing exemplified the unjust laws that disproportionately incarcerate men of color more than California's three-strikes law, which sentenced thousands of non-violent offenders to life in prison for petty crimes. At least 20 states around the country have adopted similar laws, but California's was the harshest, putting thousands of Black and Latino men behind bars for something as minor as a purse snatching or shoplifting food at a convenience store; an echo of the racial caste system under apartheid in South Africa or Jim Crow in America.  In 2012, California voters amended the three-strikes law, to give new hearings to those convicted for non-violent offenses, marking the first time in U.S. history that citizens voted to shorten the sentences of those already incarcerated.

With The Return,  directors Kelly Duane de la Vega and Katie Galloway follow newly released inmates Bilal Chatman and Kenneth Anderson as they struggle to rebuild their lives after years behind bars.

Kenneth Anderson's ex-wife Monica Grier and one of their grown daughters anxiously await his fate at a California court hearing on his early release

Directors de la Vega and Galloway met while they were students at Berkeley High, a traditional hot-spot of radical thought and activism in the San Francisco Bay Area. Their fathers were both Civll Rights lawyers. Their last feature film, BETTER THIS WORLD told the story of two radicalized Texas friends who became the targets of an anti-terrorism sting operation at the 2008 Republican National Convention.

Even with the support from family and local outreach and rehabilitation programs, the road to repatriation is long and hard for both men. Both ostracized and traumatized by their experience in prison, the film compares their plight to that of returning war veterans and their post-traumatic stress syndrome. The specter of drug addiction and mental illness hangs heavy over these men, and even the healing balm of loving open arms cannot heal them, as is the case with one of the film's subjects.

An empty California jail cell following the release of hundreds of lifers after the amendment of California's harsh sentencing laws

Kenneth Anderson, one of the film's subjects, was sentenced to life in prison for a non-violent drug offense. He was released in March 2013 after the three strikes law was amended.  In the film, we see his ex-wife Monica Grier and four grown children in the courtroom as lawyers argue for his early release. With difficulties finding and keeping a job with the stigma of being an ex con hanging heavily over him, Anderson returns to the streets and the drug life that earlier imprisoned him both literally and figuratively. He now continues to life in a re-entry home with visitation and support from his family.

Bilal Chatman is the undisputed success story of "The Return." A junior college grad how worked in the logistics field, he lost his job in the financial markets crash of the 1980s and descended into the world of crack addiction and crime. He was sentenced to 150 years to life after selling $200 worth of drugs to an undercover police officer. Since his release, he has become a supervisor for a major logistics company with a second with an American sports team and continues to travel and speak, making numerous tv appearances and participating in Congressional panels on behalf of The Return Project. He speaks out frequently on the injustice mass incarceration and its negative impact on communities around the country.

THE RETURN is a difficult film to watch. For myself, I cried repeatedly throughout the film, recalling the fate of many personal acquaintances and family members who were put in jail and had the keys thrown away for petty crimes. Many of them are still fighting their way back to some semblance of normalcy, hindered by the dual stumbling blocks of racial prejudice and criminal history.

THE RETURN is an excellent film, even if it is a bit preachy at times, but, so be it, its one of the few voices out there speaking to one of  the horrors of the American justice system and its institutionalized racism. The film adds faces and voices to the heartbreaking state of a condition that impacts individuals, families and communities that ultimately eats away at the fraying fabric of society. THE RETURN makes all of us face it in an up front and personal way. For that fact alone, the film's creators are to be applauded. For more information on the film and The Return Project, visit their website at thereturnproject.com