In ‘Guilt,’ Jonathan Kellerman crafts a solid, poignant tale of violence and innocence


Tugging at the roots of a sycamore in the yard of her future home, a pregnant woman named Holly unearths a blue box. Prying it open, she finds the skeletal remains of an infant. She gasps and drops the bones onto the ground: “The skull had landed right in front of her. Smiling. Black eyeholes insanely piercing. Two minuscule tooth-thingies on the bottom jaw looked ready to bite. . . . It kept staring. Like it knew something.” Holly, who has named her soon-to-be-born baby Aimee — which, in French, means “beloved” — retches and begins to scream.

Infants cherished and infants destroyed are at the center — or at what can genuinely be called the heart — of Jonathan Kellerman’s “Guilt,” the solid latest installment in the prolific author’s series of thrillers featuring psychologist-sleuth Alex Delaware. Like Kellerman, who has a background in child clinical psychology, Delaware has worked cases involving child abuse. But this one may be the most wrenching of all — for him and for the reader — as it involves newborns, surely the most innocent and defenseless of all victims.

Delaware and his partner, Los Angeles Police Lt. Milo Sturgis, barely begin to sift through the scant clues to the infant’s identity and to the reasons for its covert burial before a worker discovers the scattered bones of another infant in a nearby park. And in another section of the park lies the body of a woman in her 20s or 30s, dead of a gunshot wound. The partners reason that the discovery of two infant skeletons in a matter of days can’t be a coincidence. Was the dead woman their mother and/or killer?

A briskly paced investigation ensues, with the collected, deliberate Delaware and the punchy, aggressive Sturgis pulling at strands of information and bouncing hypotheses off each other in scenes that crackle with sharp banter.

But it’s Delaware’s confident demeanor as a professional psychologist that largely sets the thriller’s tone, which is cool, brisk and polished. His personal life is also rather steady — he’s in a happy, nurturing relationship with a live-in partner and he has no vices, neuroses or obsessions haunting him at 3 a.m.

But you would be mistaken to describe him — or this case — as unexciting. The astute Delaware lets his sources take center stage, listening and watching keenly as they answer his questions in a series of terse, revealing and charged scenes that are rich in telling detail.

Thus, the sister of the woman shot in the park twists a diamond stud in her ear and admits, “I guess this is the point where I tell you we weren’t close. And feel crappy about it.” The tremors in a man’s hands are “mimicked by quivers along his jawline.” When Delaware confronts a doctor who is eating her lunch with a concise, accurate summation of a past tragedy, “her response was to saw a cube of Jell-O.”

The investigation eventually zeroes in on Tinseltown, fertile ground indeed for a tale of child abuse. Delaware’s infiltration of a movie star’s estate ramps up suspense for a deftly handled action finale. Here, when handed one of the more poignant pieces of information ever to cap a case, Delaware fights tears. The reader may, as well, while contemplating the fate of a newborn in a turbulent world.

Bartell is an arts and travel writer living in Manhattan.

Source : washingtonpost[dot]com

HANDICAPPING THE OSCARS 2013: The long and short of our favorites for the animated Academy Awards HANDICAPPING THE OSCARS 2013: The long and short of our favorites for the animated Academy Awards

CONSIDER IT A SPOILER alert if you must, but we already know tonight’s champ in the Best Animated Feature Film category. That’s because the winner will be…

Disney.

With a likely nod to ani-lord John Lasseter.

That’s because Disney made or distributed three of tonight’s five nominees. And because the Academy rarely crowns stop-motion films in this derby (only once in the category’s 11 years), Disney’s “Wreck-It Ralph” and Disney/Pixar’s “Brave” have the upper hand among these voters.

It’s worth noting, though, that this is the strongest overall field since 2009, when the budding Oregon-based studio Laika (run by the son of Nike’s founder) last had an entry. That year, it was “Coraline”; this year, it’s the excellent “ParaNorman,” Chris Butler and Sam Fell’s half-ode to ‘80s John Hughes films (with a cap-tip to ‘70s TV cartoons) that is rendered in the studio’s trademark gorgeous stop-motion. The gifted Butler and Fell are already at work on their next Laika feature, and they’ll likely win Oscar one day. Probably just not this year.


PARA-MUTUAL: Norman (voiced by Kodi Smit-McPhee), left, and Alvin (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) react to the fun chills in the 3D stop-motion film, "ParaNorman." (FOCUS FEATURES via AP)

The only stop-motion to ever win this category is Wallace and Gromit fare from the genius blokes at England’s Aardman Studios. But for Peter Lord and his “Pirates! Band of Misfits,” it’s a good year just to be nominated — nudging aside the wonderful but snubbed “Rise of the Guardians.”


HANDMADE CREATION: Victor and his reanimated pal Sparky in Tim Burton’s stop-motion “Frankenweenie.” (Disney)

That leaves the last stop-motion of the bunch: The Disney-distributed “Frankenweenie,” in which Tim Burton “reanimates” his ‘80s creation. Its black-and-white aesthetic is just right, but the film’s story feels a bit too thin to win here.

Which leaves John Lasseter battling himself. As Pixar studio’s co-founder and Disney’s honcho of all things animation, his influence and DNA are weaved throughout “Brave” and “Wreck-It Ralph” (he exec-produced both). A win by the former film would be a historic first Oscar for a woman director of an animated feature (even though Brenda Chapman was replaced 18 months from the finish line). A win by the latter film would be a historic first victory in this category (as striking as that fact is) for a feature created entirely at Disney.


RUSH TO JUDGMENT: Once Ralph meets Vanellope in the Sugar Rush video game, “Wreck-It Ralph” kicks into high gear. (Disney)

Both of this competition’s two CG films flaunt state-of-the-art effects, top-of-the-line voice acting and effective stretches of storytelling. Which makes this race almost too close to call. So we look for even thin differences.

One thing to note: “Brave” is strongest in its first half, and “Ralph” is at its best in its latter half — so how Oscars voters really watched these films, how much they paid proper attention throughout, could swing this race.


GREAT SCOT: Merida (voiced by Kelly Macdonald) and “Brave” could nip its fellow Disney-distributed films with an Oscars bull’s-eye. (Pixar – AP)

Give Pixar (and its first female-heroine film) the slightest of edges. But I will say this: If Rich Moore’s road-racing “Ralph” had the Academy-trusted “Pixar” badge stamped on its hood, it would likely get the nod.

WINNER: Disney and Lasseter.

BEST ANIMATED SHORT

IN THIS CATEGORY, to twist Hamlet: “The best is…silence.”

There are no words for these five nominees. Literally. You can blame/credit Pixar’s winning-short influence, perhaps, but all of these shorts lack dialogue. For the 2013 Oscar statuette, verbal silence is golden.

Beyond that, the creative range is wide. PES’s playful “Fresh Guacamole” is an enjoyable appetizer at just 100 minutes. At the other end, you have the extended narrative of Timothy Reckart and Fodhla Cronin O’Reilly’s sumptuous meal, “Head Over Heels” — an endlessly inventive creation rendered with highly tactile stop-motion puppets and sets.

To some degree, this is a wide-open derby. A vote for David Silverman’s amusing, pun-rich “Maggie Simpson in ‘The Longest Daycare’ “ is also a vote of appreciation for “Simpsons” career screen achievement after a quarter-century. A vote for John Kahrs’s “Paperman” (which ran in theaters ahead of “Wreck-It Ralph”) is also a vote for traditionally elegant and heartwarming Disney art, brimming with grace notes.


Minkyu Lee, filmmaker of the Animated Short Film nominee "Adam and Dog.” (JONATHAN ALCORN – REUTERS)
Then there is the horse that almost defies handicapping: Minkyu Lee’s “Adam and Dog.” It is an oxymoron: A short that feels epic. The shifting palettes simply dazzle. The physical movement rings true. And it all feels somehow personal: Team effort as singular vision. The film is testament to an industry pro taking on a pet project with a passion.

So the winner? “Head Over Heels” may find particular favor with those older, long-married Oscars voters who relish the visual metaphor. “Paperman” is a mainstream-popular pick of undeniable craft. But “Adam and Dog” is a leaping, lapping beast that licks you into submission with both its eye-popping art and tail-wagging sense of affection. In a close race, this could be Oscar’s best friend.

“ADAM AND DOG” TRAILER:

“HEAD OVER HEELS” TRAILER:

“PAPERMAN” TRAILER:

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Source : washingtonpost[dot]com

Oscar under the influence of Washington politics


Will “Zero Dark Thirty” be Swift-boated out of an Oscar?

That’s just one of the questions swirling around what observers agree has been the most political Academy Award season in recent memory — not just the movies themselves, but the tactics used to undermine their legitimacy for cinema’s top prize.

In early December, “Zero Dark Thirty,” Kathryn Bigelow’s taut, masterfully executed thriller about the hunt for Osama bin Laden, looked like an unassailable Oscar front-runner, winning a clutch of glowing reviews and awards that usually augur success on Oscar night. But just as quickly and forcefully, an aggressive game of pushback began, with Washington playing an improbably prominent role.

It’s not at all clear that politics kept Bigelow from receiving her second Oscar nomination for best director. The shocking snub more likely had to do with the vagaries of electronic voting, the fact that nine best picture directors won’t go into five best director slots — plus old-fashioned sexism.

But it’s inarguable that, in an exceptionally tight race for best picture, the proxy attacks on “Zero Dark Thirty” — and its parent studio’s anemic response — didn’t help. The result is that the best reviewed, most-award-winning movie of 2012 will probably be denied a best picture Oscar at the ceremony Sunday. (In more cheering news, “Zero Dark Thirty” screenwriter Mark Boal and editors Dylan Tichenor and William Goldenberg are strong contenders in their categories.)

For decades, Academy Awards campaigns have been compared to their political counterparts as filmmakers press the flesh, caffeinated consultants staff up their war rooms, studios launch stealth attempts to ding the opposition, academy voters are bombarded with ads, and, at a time when tens of millions of dollars are often spent to win a coveted statuette, everyone calls for serious campaign finance reform.

But this year’s race for the Oscar has been politicized to an unusual degree, with campaigns that usually would be confined to the Hollywood hustings arriving in Washington for noisy, well-publicized whistle stops. After premiering at festivals in Telluride and Toronto last year, Ben Affleck’s “Argo” made its Washington debut in October, when Affleck showed the film at the Canadian Embassy. Several weeks later, Steven Spielberg and Daniel Day-Lewis were on hand for a bipartisan screening of “Lincoln” — not long before U.S. Sens. John McCain, Dianne Feinstein and Carl Levin fired off a letter to Sony Pictures Entertainment chairman and chief executive Michael Lynton criticizing “Zero Dark Thirty” for its depiction of torture.

The Venn diagram of Hollywood and Washington achieved perfect consonance on Jan. 13, when former president and surrogate extraordinaire Bill Clinton introduced “Lincoln” at the Golden Globes ceremony.

Not to be outdone, the marquee names of “Silver Linings Playbook” came to Washington this month, when director David O. Russell and star Bradley Cooper — who plays the film’s bipolar protagonist — met with Vice President Biden to discuss mental-health policy. Quvenzhane Wallis, the pint-size Oscar nominee from the indie “Beasts of the Southern Wild,” stopped by the White House, to kibitz with first fan Michelle Obama. On Saturday, newly minted Secretary of State John Kerry even tweeted good luck to “Argo” on Oscar night.

Source : washingtonpost[dot]com

Arts in schools: an addendum Arts in schools: an addendum

In the Washington Post Magazine this week, I write on arts education in schools – a huge and complicated topic. Read it here.
WASHINGTON, DC – DECEMBER 4: Dancer Damian Woetzel, center stage, leads students and cellist Yo Yo Ma, bottom right, in motion excercises during a music and dance workshop with kids at Savoy Elementary on December, 04, 2012 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Bill O’Leary/The Washington Post) (Bill O’Leary – WASHINGTON POST)

I initially came at this story from my own beat. Over and over, I hear orchestras, in particular, blaming the decline in music education for their own declining audiences, and I see them putting more and more of their own resources into education to counteract this trend. This is, to me, a dubious claim: the decline in orchestras’ ticket sales reflects, to my mind, a general cultural shift in perception and priorities — there are so many other kinds of music to go to! — as much as a decline in education. I also think that by investing in arts education, orchestras make themselves feel like they’re doing something about a problem that needs to be addressed on a number of levels, in terms of administration, programming, artistic philosophy.

But to write a whole piece debunking orchestras’ reasons for investing heavily in a very worthy cause would be unforgiveably curmudgeonly, especially when kids need arts so much and the importance of getting them more arts is so great. I may look askance at the eagerness with which orchestras have embraced the El Sistema idea, because it promotes a vision of the world the way they want to see it — see, childrens’ lives are improved by playing our music! — but I can’t find anything but praise for the energy, commitment, and results of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra’s OrchKids program, one of more than a dozen such programs around the country. Meanwhile, it’s a relief that policy-makers in education are finally beginning to recognize the importance of the arts — now that No Child Left Behind has helped show everyone what happens when you put all of your educational eggs in only a few baskets. What this adds up to is more arts organizations (not only orchestras, of course!) trying to get involved in education, and more communities and school boards, it seems, trying to find ways to benefit from what they have to offer.

Though I didn’t want to focus exclusively on orchestras, I think this education push shows a continuing evolution in their self-definition. A few years ago I said that orchestras should consider the possibilities of redefining themselves as educational institutions, pointing to the New World Symphony — a training orchestra, not a professional one — and its ability to pursue interesting artistic avenues precisely because it is an educational insitution. At the time, I got derisive comments saying I understood nothing about the structure of orchestras, but of course I wasn’t saying that all orchestras should transform themselves on the model of the New World Symphony, simply that there were lessons to be learned. Meanwhile, the existing structure of orchestras is working no better now than it was then, and more and more orchestras seem to be investing more and more in education as a hope for their future. There was a lot of research done for this article that didn’t make it into the final cut, including interesting information from small and mid-sized orchestras in the Washington region about how much they’re investing in educational programs — several of them, from the National Philharmonic to the Prince Georges Philharmonic, devote as much as one-quarter of their annual operating budgets to education.

“Arts education” itself is such a huge topic that this article is necessarily incomplete. I gave no more than a passing mention to the idea of an integrated curriculum, which is being extensively tested in a number of areas (the Fairfax public schools being one of them): a curriculum in which arts are used to help bolster skills in other areas, like math and science. The Wolf Trap Foundation is doing significant work in this area with its Institute for Early Learning Through the Arts, a nationwide program that I talked about in a past article but which, for better or worse, I felt fell a bit outside the topic of arts in schools which I chose to explore in the current piece. The idea of an integrated curriculum, like most things about arts education, is contested; some teachers are concerned that it means they’ll have to be retrained to teach material they’ve been successfully teaching for years. Others feel it’s swinging too far toward the arts side of the pendulum. Anthony Jones, a musician and teaching artist at the Savoy Elementary School, which I visited in December, was himself the product of an arts magnet school in Houston, and he summed up his reservations about an integrated curriculum succinctly. “You could really save a lot of time and money,” he said, “instead of trying to make school arts integrated just put music or dance or theater or band back in the school. The schools I was at were not arts integrated schools. We did math, English, social studies, foreign language; none of those ever mentioned arts. Academics were very strong and arts were very strong. We didn’t need an arts integrated curriculum.” I’m not anti-integration, but I think he makes a notable point.

The other big issue, which I touch on in the piece, is content. When Yo-Yo Ma comes to your school, or your teachers discuss a painting with you in class, what exactly are your students getting out of it? In the course of working on this article, I saw a couple of demonstrations of arts education in action that left a lot to be desired, for all of their praiseworthy intentions. It is not a priori a teaching experience to get a kid to tell you that he sees a bird in a painting, though at least it shows the kid is actually seeing a painting in the first place. If basic exposure is the goal, the bar is set pretty low, but it is, at least, a starting point — and it may be more valuable, as Rachel Goslins, the director of Turnaround Arts, said in the conclusion of the piece, than she, or I, may have initially thought. The communications director at Savoy Elementary School, when I arrived there for Yo-Yo Ma’s visit in December, summed it up pretty well; I didn’t take down exactly what he said, but the gist of it was that the kids probably didn’t know who Yo-Yo Ma was, but as the years went by they would realize his stature, and remember that he’d come. I’d guess that the kids will have a clearer image of the excitement of the visit, the sense of event, and of getting to perform “Thriller” themselves, than of the beauties of Saint-Saëns “The Swan,” but of course you can’t be prescriptive about what people should get out of art: the point is to give them the tools to let them start figuring it out for themselves.

Source : washingtonpost[dot]com

Washington Ballet puts on forceful performance with ‘Stars and Stripes’


March madness came early as the Washington Ballet whirled through George Balanchine’s tribute to John Philip Sousa this weekend. “Stars and Stripes” turns the buoyancy of Sousa marches and the crisp rhythms of military drills into a dandy drill of a ballet, borrowing as much from the Rockettes and the June Taylor Dancers as it does from the Marines.

Created in 1958, “Stars and Stripes” sallies forth with all the world-on-a-string optimism of its age. The mid-century exuberance of its Karinska costumes in pinky-reds, yellows and blues, with their sharp contrasts and dynamic patterning, recalls the new frontier of color TV. In those rich hues the dancers bounce and spin through their formations with the pace and timing of musical-comedy hours. At one point in the ballet’s “Third Campaign,” where the women flash lipsticked smiles at us while kicking their legs to white-gloved hands, and repeat the kicks to every beat of the brass, it’s like something from the Ed Sullivan Show.

The stage at Harman Hall was hardly big enough for all of this perkiness, but scale and proportion were not the point of the evening. As Washington Ballet Artistic Director Septime Webre announced before the curtain rose Friday, this presentation was the launch of the company’s occasional series of “gala-style” programming — that is, punchy excerpts from popular ballets, anchored by a showpiece like “Stars and Stripes” — collected under the label “Tour de Force.”

Force is the idea here. You could also call it the business end of ballet. (Or just the end of ballet? I admit, that thought came to me once or twice.) Balanchine knew audiences would go mad for the marches, for his ballerinas in bobby socks and pointe shoes, for lines of men in uniform popping up into air turns. Bright music, bright costumes, high jumps: The formula can’t fail to whip up excitement.

In the same way, the slew of virtuoso pas de deux that preceded “Stars and Stripes” — among them, excerpts from “Don Quixote,” “Swan Lake” and from contemporary works such as Trey McIntyre’s “Blue Until June” and Nacho Duato’s “Cor Perdut” — were a tool, guaranteed to extract shouts and cheers.

If the stage looked cramped during “Stars and Stripes,” it looked cold and vacant during the classical duets. Mood, atmosphere, emotional range: These weren’t part of the package. Ji Young Chae and Jonathan Jordan didn’t conjure romance in the “Don Quixote” spot, and tragedy didn’t make its way into the second-act “Swan Lake” snippet led by Aurora Dickie and Hyun-Woong Kim. If the excerpts portion of the program smacked of a ballet competition — and it did, a dubious distinction — at least it met all the competition standards. The poses and jumps were nailed.

Warmth and expression isn’t meant to fit into this equation. But there was one piece with soul: the “Valley of Ashes” scene from Webre’s “The Great Gatsby.” This was an unexpected addition, with its sullen gang of men in trousers and undershirts, raising their hackles to early Duke Ellington. In a program of relentless exclamation points, here was a welcome element of depth.

The Washington Ballet’s “Tour de Force: Stars and Stripes” continues, with cast changes and varying excerpts, through Sunday at Sidney Harman Hall of the Harman Center, 450 7th St. NW. Tickets $32-$111.25 at washingtonballet.org, or shakespearetheatre.org, or by calling 202-547-1122.

Source : washingtonpost[dot]com

‘The Secrets of Happy Families’ by Bruce Feiler


Books about families fall into two categories: those proclaiming that we’re all doing it wrong (delivered with a French accent or the roar of a tiger mom) and those detailing just how ­badly the author’s parents messed up.

Although New York Times columnist Bruce Feiler figured there had to be some happy families out there, he knew he wasn’t going to find them in the self-help section. “How-to manuals with their chirpy banalities pile up unread next to our beds,” he writes. “Even our metaphors are outdated. Sandwich generation? Linda wouldn’t dare serve processed luncheon meat to our kids. So what are we, then, just schmears of organic hummus in a vegetarian wrap?”

So Feiler set out to write a parenting/marriage manual without any self-help experts (a few crept in, despite his refreshing intentions).

“The Secrets of Happy Families” opens with a profile of the Starrs, a software engineer and his wife who used a system borrowed from Japanese auto manufacturers to streamline how they and their four children function as a family. Among the results: a kid-designed morning checklist and a weekly meeting to analyze what went well and what didn’t.

Feiler interviewed former Green Berets about team-building exercises, and he got advice on allowances for kids from a banker Warren Buffett trusts. (It’s much better to start managing money early, “with a $6 allowance instead of $60,000 salary or a $6 million inheritance.”)

Celebrity chef John Besh, outraged that his wife took his four boys to McDonald’s, realized that he needed to spend more time ­thinking about what the kids ate. His schedule made family dinner an impossibility, so the Beshes gather around the table for family breakfast and family dessert — as well as a blowout feast every Sunday. (Dinner is now a quick meal at 4 p.m., before sports practice.)

Not every idea will intrigue every reader. As the survivor of too many all-day meetings, I would rather have a family crest tattooed on my forehead than be responsible for unleashing another mission statement on the world, as suggested in a chapter titled “Branding Your Family.”

Although Feiler spends a day on the set of the TV sitcom “Modern Family,” the happy people he profiles would feel at home amid the cast of “Leave It to Beaver.” Among the underrepresented in this book: single parents, gay parents, adoptive parents, and parents of children with serious illnesses or developmental delays. Feiler profiles several Jewish families and one African American family, but as far as this reader could tell, no Asian, Muslim, La­tino or mixed-race parents.

And it turns out, Tolstoy was right: “Happy families” — at least the ones profiled in this book — “are all alike”: They have abundant disposable income. In one chapter, Feiler interviews Zynga executives about how to have more satisfying family vacations. (The annual weeks spent on Cape Cod and occasional jaunts to Europe just weren’t proving memorable enough.) Families struggling to pay rising grocery bills probably aren’t going to have a “Eureka!” moment while reading about ways to get a hesitant child to swim under a Hawaiian waterfall.

Feiler has an engaging style, however, and his primary thesis — that people should work as diligently on their families as they do on their careers — is well worth exploring. Feiler, who received a diagnosis of a rare form of bone cancer when his twin girls were 3, is all too aware that a happy family is one of life’s greatest treasures.

Zipp regularly reviews books for the Christian Science Monitor and The Washington Post.

Bruce Feiler

discusses “The Secrets of Happy Families” with “Meet the Press” host David Gregory, also a father of twins, at the Sixth & I Historic Synagogue in Washington on Tuesday. For information, call Politics & Prose at 202-364-1919.

Source : washingtonpost[dot]com

EDWARD GOREY: As Google Doodle celebrates macabre master’s birthday, here are the Gorey details EDWARD GOREY: As Google Doodle celebrates macabre master’s birthday, here are the Gorey details

TODAY, ghoulish Google invites you to pull up an urn;

To beguile, to be-wonder, here’s one dark Doodle to learn:

Seated at left is the man of letters, Edward Gorey;

As the be-scarfed Doubtful Guest tells the rest of this story…

His practical cats, drawn for Eliot, lounge on the “G”;

Each letter inspired by the style of “Amphigorey.”

Finely wrought lines, in black and white, do justice and the job;

Like feline to string, he spun yarns of the playful macabre.

Deranged cousins, hapless children, “Tinies” of Gashlycrumb;

It’s a thin line between storybook, and dark “Gorey-book” fun.

He hatched book plots (and graveyard plots), he cross-hatched raven-black lines;

He drew from Carroll and Lear to twist his “nonsense” valentines.

In the family of Addams, he scared up rich history;

His “Dracula” won Tony, he helped PBS find “Mystery.”

He inspired Tim Burton and helped the Tiger Lilies bloom;

Nine Inch Nails soared on his style, backed with industrial boom.

The wrought irony, of course, is that this bearded recluse,

Created art that reached ‘round the globe, like Dickens, or a Seuss.

He tickled us to death, with the magic of a dark story;

And now behind the Doodle, you know the rest of the Gorey.

Happy 88th birthday to the late, great Edward Gorey (1925-2000).

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Source : washingtonpost[dot]com