DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES (Matt Reeves, 2014)
In theaters now
The second film in the Planet of the Apes twenty-first-century reboot manages to do what few sequels have ever achieved: surpass the high quality of its immensely popular predecessor. In 2011’s Rise of the Planet of the Apes, a scientific experiment gone wrong leads to a killer virus that begins wiping out humanity and increasing the intelligence of apes. It’s now ten years later, and the apes are living peacefully in Muir Woods outside of San Francisco while a band of humans struggles to eke out a day-to-day existence in the city ruins, running on what’s left of their food and gasoline and desperate to contact any other survivors via radio. In dire need of power, a group from the city — Carver (Kirk Acevedo), Malcolm (Jason Clarke), his girlfriend, Ellie (Keri Russell), and Malcolm’s son, Alexander (Kodi Smit-McPhee) — venture into Muir Woods seeking to get a broken-down hydroelectric plant working. When human meets ape for the first time in a decade, violence inevitably erupts. The brilliant ape leader, Caesar (Andy Serkis) — who was raised in the first film by Dr. Will Rodman (James Franco), giving him an inherent faith in humans — confronts dissension in his ranks as his battle-hungry second-in-command, Koba (Toby Kebbell), calls for all-out war, while human leader Dreyfus (Gary Oldman) is ready to take the dam by force.
Incorporating elements from several of the original five Planet of the Apes films (made between 1968 and 1973), writers Mark Bomback, Rick Jaffa, and Amanda Silver and director Matt Reeves (Cloverfield, Let Me In) focus on family in Dawn even as violence threatens. Malcolm, who lost his wife to the virus, is trying to rebuild his life with his son and Ellie, who has gone through personal tragedy as well. Meanwhile, Caesar is dealing with his pregnant wife, Cornelia (Judy Greer), and their growing son, Blue Eyes (Nick Thurston), who is seeking his own identity in the large shadow of his father. Both sides, ape and human, are facing a decision all too prevalent in today’s world, a choice between war and diplomacy. The battle lines are clearly drawn, evoking such critical Planet of the Apes themes as fear, racism, the thirst for knowledge, and the search for a kind of humanity in all beings. Serkis is exceptional as Caesar, delivering a powerful, emotional performance despite all of the extraordinary special effects. His interaction with his wife and children are particularly touching. Kebbell makes Koba a viciously devilish villain, while the ageless Russell excels as Ellie, a nurse who is the fragile link between the apes and the humans. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, which can be seen traditionally as well as in 3-D, is a superb action thriller with a whole lot of heart, a breathtakingly exciting parable about the future of humanity in a world that is quickly getting away from us. And thankfully, there’s more to come, with Reeves and Bomback working on the third film, currently set for release in July 2016.
Museum of Modern Art
Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Sculpture Garden
11 West 53rd St. between Fifth & Sixth Aves.
Thursday nights, July 31 - August 28, free with museum admission, 5:30 - 8:00
Every summer, the Museum of Modern Art’s lovely Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Sculpture Garden becomes one of the city’s most beautiful spots to enjoy outdoor music. Free with regular admission, MoMA Nights, which this year focuses on woman-led bands, begins on July 31 at 6:30 (doors open at 5:30, with limited seating) with a performance by all-female Seattle quartet La Luz, who pays tribute to girl-group sounds. The series continues August 7 with LA dream popsters Tashaki Miyaki, named for guitarist Rocky Tashaki and drummer and vocalist Lucy Miyaki (bassist and vocalist Dora Hiller fills out the trio). Frankie Cosmos, a local four piece led by singer-songwriter Greta Kline, will highlight tunes from its March 2014 studio debut, Zentropy, on August 14. The jazzy, funkadelic THEESatisfaction, the Seattle duo consisting of Stasia “Stas” Irons and Catherine “Cat” Harris-White, takes over the garden on August 21. MoMA Nights comes to a close August 28 with Brooklyn twosome Widowspeak (Molly Hamilton and Robert Earl Thomas), whose “True Believer” was twi-ny’s song of the day back on November 13.
The Pershing Square Signature Center
The Irene Diamond Stage
480 West 42nd St. between Tenth & Eleventh Aves.
Tuesday - Sunday through August 31, $31.50 - $99.50
Art imitates life in the engaging, bittersweet off-Broadway musical Piece of My Heart: The Bert Berns Story. In a prolific period between 1961 and 1967, Bert Berns wrote and/or produced more than two dozen big-time pop hits, recorded by such singers and bands as the Beatles, David Bowie, the Rolling Stones, the Drifters, Janis Joplin, the Animals, Solomon Burke, the Isley Brothers, and Van Morrison, while also founding the seminal Atlantic offshoot BANG Records. Born and raised in the Bronx, Berns died in 1967 at the age of thirty-eight, and today his legacy is all but nonexistent, although his surviving family is in the midst of rebuilding his reputation with this show; the first major authorized biography, Joel Selvin’s Here Comes the Night: The Dark Soul of Bert Berns and the Dirty Business of Rhythm and Blues; and the upcoming documentary BANG — The Bert Berns Story. In Piece of My Heart, Leslie Kritzer stars as Jessie, Berns’s fictional daughter who receives an unexpected call that her mother, Ilene (Linda Hart), is going to close up Bert’s Broadway office and sell the rights to all of his songs. Disturbed by her mother’s intentions, Jessie, who didn’t know anything about the office, heads to New York City, where she finds her father’s former manager and right-hand man, Wazzel (Joseph Siravo), waiting for her. Wazzel tells Jessie how Bert (Zak Resnick), vocalist Hoagy Lands (Derrick Baskin), and the young Wazzel (Bryan Fenkart) got started, with the events unfolding right in front of them. Jessie sees her father going to Cuba and working with a revolutionary named Carlos (Sydney James Harcourt), meeting high-powered producer Jerry Wexler (Mark Zeisler), challenging the legendary Phil Spector, and falling in love with Ilene (Teal Wicks), a blonde dancer who would become Bert’s wife and Jessie’s mother. But when the current-day Ilene shows up at her husband’s office, she kicks out Wazzel and has a somewhat different tale to tell Jessie while trying to convince her that signing over the songs is the right thing to do, leaving Jessie trapped in the middle as she learns more and more about her father.
For much of its two hours and twenty minutes (with intermission), Piece of My Heart walks that fine line between bio show and vanity project. As pointed out numerous times in Daniel Goldfarb’s fairly standard book, Berns was determined to become famous; also, knowing that he was living on borrowed time because of a heart problem, he often said, “My children will know me by my music.” The show is produced by Berns’s son, Brett, and daughter, Cassandra, with the express purpose of finally bringing fame to their father, and the narrative sometimes gets bogged down with whitewashed scenes that turn Berns into a kind of heroic, misunderstood figure. It’s not helped by the casting of Resnick (Mamma Mia!, Disaster!) in the title role; while his singing packs a powerful punch, his acting is akin to a David Wright press conference, all white-bread clichés with no nuance. However, the rest of the cast of seasoned pros is outstanding, including Hart (Hairspray, Anything Goes) and Wicks (Wicked, Jekyll & Hyde) as the feisty Ilene, Siravo (Conversations with My Father, The Light in the Piazza) and Fenkart (Memphis) as the tough-talking Wazzel, De’Adre Aziza (Passing Strange) as Candace, Berns’s sexy first love, and Kritzer (A Catered Affair, Legally Blonde) as a kind of onstage stand-in for the audience. Oh, and let’s not forget about the music, which is performed admirably by a live band led by Lon Hoyt; the songs range from the somewhat obscure to the familiar to the super famous, but it’s best if you go without knowing what they are so you can be surprised by each new well-choreographed musical number (by director Denis Jones) on Alexander Dodge’s simple but effective sets, energized by Ben Stanton’s colorful lighting. The songs are listed in the Playbill and detailed on a large board outside the Signature’s Irene Diamond theater, but it’s better to read about them after the show, which got an instant and rousing standing ovation the night we went.
Portland, Oregon’s Sean Flinn and the Royal We began recording their sophomore album, The Lost Weekend, way back in the summer of 2012, but it was finally released earlier this month, and it’s a sheer delight, eleven tracks of pure pop pleasure. The follow-up to fall 2010’s Write Me a Novel, the new disc features the R.E.M.-like “Maps,” the rollicking “Heavy Hearts,” the CSN-ish “Riverbed,” the country ballad “Broken Arrows,” and the sweet and tangy finale, “The Ravine.” Singer-guitarist Flinn, guitarist and keyboardist Arthur C. Lee, bassist Richard Bennett, and drummer Adam Mack will be at Rockwood Music Hall on July 29 at 9:00, on a bill with Jordana de Lovely, Sarah Factor’s Birthday Show, Michael Daves, Nick Africano, and others.
Socrates Sculpture Park
32-01 Vernon Blvd.
Daily through August 3, free
Socially conscious Polish artist Paweł Althamer has followed up his wide-ranging, vastly entertaining one-man New Museum survey, “The Neighbors,” with the engaging “Queen Mother of Reality,” on view at Socrates Sculpture Park through August 3. Originally commissioned by Performa 13 and seen in Williamsburg last fall, the interactive work, of a large-scale reclining woman that people are invited to walk inside of, lies luxuriously in the shade in the south side of the Long Island City park. The fifty-foot-high, eighteen-foot-long piece is named for Queen Mother Dr. Delois Blakely, the founder and president of the New Future Foundation, a nonprofit whose mission is to “facilitate international and domestic economic social development, community outreach, education, and health”; in 1995, Dr. Blakely became the first woman Community Mayor of Harlem, and she is also the UN Ambassador of Goodwill to Africa. Constructed of all kinds of found materials and scraps with the help of such volunteers as artists Noah Fischer, Roman Stańczak, Rafal Zwirek, and Eric Gottshall as well as Althamer’s sons Bruno and Szymon — using some rather inventive objects for various body parts — “Queen Mother” is a symbolic public gesture “to protect mothers against eviction,” offering people the opportunity to go inside, take a seat, write down a wish, and contemplate their own living situation as well as that of the many displaced and homeless people in New York and throughout the world. The interior includes a chair-throne, Chinese lanterns, flowers, fencing, and plates honoring such women as suffragist Susan B. Anthony, first lady Michelle Obama, civil rights leader Queen Mother Moore, artist Frida Kahlo, and Occupy activist Cecily McMillan. Socrates has hosted a slew of events involving “Queen Mother”; the closing ceremony is set for August 2, when Althamer will lead visitors in “A Draftsmen’s Congress,” a collaborative gathering in which anyone and everyone can come and create their own paintings, drawings, and collages in, on, and around the impressive structure.
Žilvinas Kempinas, whose “Double O” was a highlight of MoMA’s recent “On Line: Drawing through the Twentieth Century,” regularly uses fans in his immersive, often kinetic sculptures. For the 250-foot-long, 13-foot-high site-specific “Scarecrow,” the largest installation in Socrates’s history, the Lithuanian-born, New York-based artist relies on the natural environment to bring the work to life. With minimal materials—two parallel rows of slender stainless-steel mirrored poles joined by an open “roof” of fluttering Mylar strips overhead, “Scarecrow” physically and energetically reflects the surrounding river and sky, seamlessly amplifying and responding to the movement of water and air. The near weightlessness of the Mylar allows it to twist in the wind and wink in the sun continuously, depending only on natural power. Without engines or electricity, the installation nevertheless is in constant motion, even more so as you move through it, making your way across the green grass. Without solid walls and a ceiling, it nonetheless encloses you, shaping and accentuating their experience of the surrounding park space, especially as a woman passes by pushing a stroller, two people stop and chat as their dogs sniff each other, and a shirtless man practices martial arts at the far end. Using the bare essentials, Kempinas has created a truly monumental work. (Also at the park through August 3 is Meschac Gaba’s psychedelic “Broadway Billboard: Citoyen du Monde” and Austin+Mergold’s “Folly: SuralArk.”
U.S. Grant National Memorial Park
West 122nd St. at Riverside Dr.
Sunday, July 27, free, 12 noon - 8:30 pm
Harlem Week continues in multiple locations through August 24
On Sunday, July 27, “A Great Day in Harlem” kicks off the annual Harlem Week festivities, a month of free events including live music, film screenings, community fairs, a college expo, and more. This year’s theme is “Forever Harlem: Yesterday, Today & Tomorrow,” honoring the past, present, and future of this historic part of Manhattan. The event, inspired by Art Kane’s legendary 1958 photo of fifty-seven jazz musicians, takes place in U.S. Grant National Memorial Park, featuring a cultural showcase with music and dance at 1:00, a gospel caravan with Bishop Hezekiah Walker and others at 3:00, and a fashion fusion showcase at 4:30, followed by “A Concert under the Stars,” which this year salutes Motown and the Philly sound, with appearances by members of the cast of Motown: The Musical, Harold Melvin’s Blue Notes, and special guests. Harlem Week continues through August 24 with such other events as the Dance Theatre of Harlem Street Festival on August 9; the Tri-State Jr. Tennis Classic August 14-17; “Summer in the City” on August 16 with the NYC Children’s Festival, Harlem Honey & Bears, the Historic Black College Fair & Expo, Dancing in the Street, the Fashion Flava Show, the Uptown Saturday Nite party, and ImageNation’s Outdoor Film Festival; “Harlem Day” on August 17 with the Upper Manhattan Auto Show, the NY City Health Village, the Upper Manhattan Small Business Expo & Fair, day two of the NYC Children’s Festival, and three stages of music, dance, spoken word, fashion, and more; the Percy Sutton Harlem 5K Run/NYC Health Walk-a-Thon for Peace in Our Communities on August 23; Golden Hoops in Rucker Park on August 23; and the Charlie Parker Jazz Festival on August 23-24.
For more than fifty years, iconoclastic German auteur Werner Herzog has traveled to the far corners of the Earth and beyond to make some of the most fascinating fiction and nonfiction films the medium has ever seen. On September 4, the eve of his seventy-second birthday, the Munich-born director will venture into the borough of Brooklyn for what promises to be an intimate and entertaining conversation with the New York Public Library’s Paul Holdengräber. Herzog’s vast credits range from Aguirre, the Wrath of God and The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser: Every Man for Himself and God against All to Nosferatu and Woyzeck, from Fitzcarraldo and Grizzly Man to The Wild Blue Yonder and Cave of Forgotten Dreams. And at the center of it all is Herzog’s voice — not just his artistic voice but often his actual voice, the hypnotic spoken words that come out of his mouth as narrator of many of his documentaries, his thickly accented speech that has even made its way onto such animated series as The Simpsons, Metalocalypse, and The Boondocks. “Perhaps I seek certain utopian things, space for human honor and respect, landscapes not yet offended, planets that do not exist yet, dreamed landscapes,” Herzog has said. “Very few people seek these images today.” Herzog has a unique view of cinema and the world itself, things that are sure to be explored in this highly recommended BAM discussion.