Archive | A & E

Box Office Revives Puritan Play, The Gallows

FILM REVIEW — Scary movies with a puritan theme is a rare commodity at the box office. So it’s a surprise to see a relatively successful showing of this genre in North American theaters, raking in about $21 million in two weeks. In other territories, it garnered $9.4 million and raked in an impressive worldwide total of $30.8 million against a budget of $100,000.

Not bad for a small-budget film with a familiar horror template,based on a real-life tragedy.

Beatrice High School’s most infamous stage production was revived with budding thespian Pfeifer Ross, who plays the high school kid, Charile Grimmel.  The film begins October 1993 at Beatrice High  in Beatrice, Nebraska, with production of  “The Gallows.” Grimille’s parents, delighted about their son’s performance, record the play. In the third act, Charlie’s character is set to be hanged at the gallows.  Then tragedy strikes as the door beneath Charlie’s feet opens and he falls through with a noose around his neck. He died of strangulation in front of his co-stars and the  audience.

Twenty years later, a student at the same school, arrogant football player Ryan Shoos tapes his good-natured friend (and the events of the film) Reese as he is in a production of “The Gallows” playing the same character Charlie played. Reese acts alongside his crush Pfeifer,

The Gallows ended with the death of  Grimmell with leading man, Reese Houser. He plays a former football star who lacks acting talent but tried out for the play. He died in a deadly freak accident at a high school play in Nebraska.

The film is  a mash up of The Blair Witch Project and Brian De Palma’s horror movie, Phantom of the Paradise.

Directed by Travis Cluff and Chris Louflin,  The Gallows serves up a modicum of scare on the scare-o-meter: The scares consist of moving objects and sound effects with lots of bloody and fear-inducing scenes.

However, it’s a story best left in the past.


Movie Review by Fran Wilson




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African Diaspora Concert Comes to Hartford

By Fran Wilson, Staff Writer

HARTFORD — World-renowned soul singer Betty Harris and Nzinga’s Daughters will headline the annual Music from the African Diaspora concert at the Learning Corridor in Hartford on July 25.

Concertgoers will enjoy a the soulful sound of Betty Harris and her backup singers, which  she has mentored from the Queen Ann Nzinga Center’s Watoto program. The other performers are Third Tabernacle Choir, Nzinga’s Daughters R&B Band, Changes, Relentless, Crystal Blue Project and world-renowned soul singer Betty Harris.

David Mayes of Plainville, who mentors young vocalists in the Queen Ann Nzinga Center programs, will also perform a solo.

Aaleya Hardy, 18, of Bristol, Sabrina Jones, 12, of East Hartford, and Dillyn Caruso, 18, of Plainville, will perform at the Music from the African Diaspora concert with Harris; and Hardy and Savannah Freitas, 16, of Plainville, will join Harris  on stage at the four-day festival, along with Snell, executive director of the Queen Ann Nzinga Center.

Doors  at 359 Washington St. will open at 6 p.m.  Artwork and photography will be sold at a silent auction to benefit the Queen Ann Nzinga Center’s youth arts and enrichment programs before the concert.

The free concert is geared to all ages, and children are welcome.

For information, contact Queen Ann Nzinga Center at or 860-229-8389.

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UConn Health to Address Health Disparities

FARMINGTON –  Health officials are gearing up to address health disparities in Connecticut.

The Connecticut Institute for Clinical and Translational Science at UConn in partnership with the Connecticut Legislative Black & Puerto Rican Caucus and the W. Montague Cobb/NMA Health Institute, will host the National Health Disparities Elimination Summit at UConn Health in Farmington on  June 13.

The summit, “Keeping it Real: Real Solutions, Real Change,” seeks to spearhead an important dialogue and generate actionable solutions to eliminate health disparities.

The summit’s keynote speaker will be Louis W. Sullivan, M.D., former U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services, CEO and chairman of The Sullivan Alliance, and President Emeritus of the Morehouse School of Medicine.

Sullivan and other distinguished speakers will share their expertise and insight into the causes of health disparities and avenues for change. As a result, a collaborative atmosphere will be created to define pathways to truly eliminate health disparities.

For further information about the National Health Disparities Elimination Summit at UConn, visit the organization’s website (


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UConn’s Kevin Ollie to Speak at Summer Soiree

By Shakira Johnson, Staff Writer

HARTFORD — The Greater Hartford Arts Council will host its first Summer Soirée on June 17 at the historic Philip Cheney Mansion in Manchester with basketball coach Kevin Ollie.

Ollie, UConn’s head basketball coach, will speak at the event to benefit the Arts Council’s 2015 United Arts Campaign and Neighborhood Studios, a summer arts apprenticeship program for teens. The event will begin at 5:30p.m.

The event will also feature live entertainment by Neighborhood Studios apprentices and master teaching artists. Guest speaker, Coach Ollie, will speak about the importance of youth engagement and development through community programs like Neighborhood Studios.

Coach Ollie made national headlines in 2014 when The Huskies defeated the Kentucky Wildcats in the NCAA men’s championship.

Arts Council officials said Ollie is known for his commitment to building strong, professional teams that aligns with the mission of Neighborhood Studios.

Tickets are $150 and can be purchased online at

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State Officials: Hurricane Season Begins June 1

Fran Wilson, Staff Writer

HARTFORD —  June 1 will mark the 2015 Atlantic Hurricane season.

As a result, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy in a press release reminds residents to be prepared for severe weather that may impact the state.

The Atlantic hurricane season runs from June 1 to Nov. 30 with most of the threat period for the state occurring between mid-August and mid-October.

“As we have experienced, it only takes one hurricane or tropical storm to make landfall to have a devastating impact on our state,” Malloy said.  “Now is the time to prepare.  I urge residents to take three simple preparedness steps: Get a kit, make a plan, and stay informed. These three steps will allow you to become more resilient to any storm or emergency you may face.”
State officials said the potential risks to the community includes storm surge, flooding, road or bridge closures.
 “If a storm is approaching your area, carefully monitor weather reports and follow all of the instructions provided by public safety officials,”Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection Commissioner Dora B. Schriro said.
Connecticut residents can subscribe to get alert messages by going to to register.



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In Living Color’s Tommy Davidson to Perform in CT

By Candice Dodd, Staff Writer

An actor, singer and stand-up comedian, Tommy Davidson is a force to be reckon with in the entertainment industry.
Known for his role in the hit series comedy show, In Living Color and the voice of “Oscar Proud” for the Disney cartoon series, The Proud Family, Davidson was made into a household name overnight. The international star will make his way to Manchester for his upcoming show at the Funny Bone Comedy Club on Feb. 5.
This is not Davidson’s first time at the club when he visited a year ago.

“I have a unique experience with the club because I was locked in during a snow storm,” says Davidson with a laugh during a telephone interview with The Hartford Guardian.
With plunging temperatures in the upcoming week, fans will get a hot performance from the star as he does his famous impersonations of Sylvester Stallone and myriad of other actors. “I will do some by request,” he says.
When asked about the start of his career before comedy, Davidson admits that singing was truly his passion.
“Singing was something I always wanted to do,” he says firmly over the phone.
Diving into comedy, Davidson explains that he was at a gentleman’s club with a friend during his early years and was told to go on stage and crack some jokes.
“My friend always thought I was funny,” he says. His guest appearance that night did lead his way to further his career.
As a standup comedian in the late 1980s, he performed in various comedy clubs throughout the Washington Metropolitan region and was recognized by local talent promoters who booked him as the opening act for big stars such as Patti Labelle, Kenny G, and Luther Vandross.
Davidson’s career was taking off big time and it didn’t stop there when he landed a role in the hit show In Living Color that aired in the early 90’s and also won a Primetime Emmy award in 1990.
When asked if the show led him to Hollywood, “Absolutely,” says Davidson. “It was the breakthrough of my life.” He spent his days working alongside other stars such as, Jamie Foxx, Jim Carrey and Damon Wayans performing a variety of humorous skits, music, and dancing.
He is currently working on a biopic called, Deconstructing Sammy, based off the book by author Matt Birkbeck about the life and death of Sammy Davis, Jr. He is also working on television shows, comedy specials and his musical career.
While the talented father is working on “raising his kids” and traveling across the globe, he will win the hearts of many on Thursday night for his fascinating talent and down-to-earth character when he hits the stage on Feb. 5.

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‘Selma’ Is Powerful, Relevant and Moving

By Julie Walker, The Root

As one watches Selma—which opens in limited release Christmas Day and nationwide Jan. 9—it’s hard not to reflect on the protests going on around the country over the shooting deaths of unarmed black men by white police officers. It’s a topic that comes up often when Selma director Ava DuVernay discusses her film. She and some of her cast even posted a picture on social media in which they wore “I Can’t Breathe” T-shirts at the movie’s New York City premiere to show solidarity with #BlackLivesMatter protesters.

At 42, DuVernay is too young to have lived through the events depicted in Selma. But her film reminds those in her generation, and mine, what our parents and grandparents fought and, in some cases, died for.

She tells the story of three months in Selma, Ala., in 1965 when Martin Luther King Jr. was mobilizing his movement in the fight for voting rights. As history shows, the effort paved the way for the passage of the Voting Rights Act through Congress later that year. And while the film is not a history lesson, it offers an intimate portrait of a man and a time in history that should never be underestimated, overlooked or forgotten. In the end, the film is bigger than King—it’s about the bloody civil rights campaign in Selma and the outcome it yielded. It’s about the politics and the personal battles that shaped part of King’s life and the movement at that time.

Selma is an emotionally wrought film, told vividly through the eyes of not just King but also many of the other African-American icons who shaped the movement. The protest scenes in which police officers beat peaceful demonstrators with billy clubs push all the buttons that DuVernay hopes to—we feel the pain, injustice and moral outrage. At one point we even see Annie Lee Cooper, played by Oprah Winfrey, knocked to the ground and set upon by police with batons.

Winfrey is extremely impactful as Cooper, the proud and courageous Selma resident who tried several times to register to vote, only to be turned away. Cooper is most famously known for punching Selma Sheriff James Clark (Stan Houston). Upon first seeing Winfrey on-screen, I had to blink to make sure it was her, costumed in cat-eye glasses and a frumpy outfit. Winfrey and Brad Pitt (who does not appear in the film) are part of the producing team that helped make the picture happen after years of delays. Lee Daniels was slated to direct Selma before the film’s original deal fell apart, and it’s clear that if he had, we would have seen a very different film.

DuVernay told The Root in September that she wanted to portray King the man, and not the myth. She achieves this admirably by mixing his private moments of doubt with widely known public speeches that illustrate why he succeeded as a leader. Even his infidelities are shown through the eyes of his wife, played by Scottish-Nigerian actress Carmen Ejogo, who reprises her role as Coretta Scott King in HBO’s Boycott.

Ejogo’s performance is nuanced and moving as the wife who seems to want just a little more love and respect. In the film, Mrs. King is shown listening to recordings of her husband making love to other women—part of FBI chief J. Edgar Hoover’s (Dylan Baker) campaign to tear down King. We see how King’s private battles spilled over to his very public battles.

David Oyelowo’s pitch-perfect performance as MLK deserves an Oscar nomination, as does the film itself. The British actor, who was also in Lee Daniels’ The Butler and DuVernay’s Middle of Nowhere, embodies King. He transforms himself into the leader, from his shaved hairline to his deliberate speech patterns. The actor has said that the role took an emotional toll on him, and it’s clear why: When you see and hear Oyelowo speak with his native British accent and contrast that with him speaking on-screen as King, it’s breathtaking.

DuVernay uses music from the B sides of several popular records from 1965 on the soundtrack. Although several of the songs aren’t well-known, they work well for a film that wants to feel—and succeeds at feeling—fresh, even as it examines a moment in history that feels familiar.

Julie Walker is a New York-based freelance journalist. Follow her on Twitter.

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CPTV to Air Bala Brothers Live

HARTFORD – Connecticut Public Television will host the U.S. broadcast premiere of Bala Brothers Jan. 12, live at 9 p.m.

Bala Brothers, who will be live in the CPTV studios, grew up poor in a South African township and rose to become national singing stars while breaking through apartheid barriers.

During the concert special, viewers will hear a mix of South African traditional music and contemporary songs from Elton John, Paul Simon and Billy Joel. During the live breaks, Bala Brothers will be interviewed in the studio.

This program features the amazing musicianship of the three gifted brothers, who are already stars in their own country; they grew up in a home with dirt floors and no electricity, but were able to lift themselves out of poverty through their sheer talent.

Brothers Zwai, Loyiso and Phelo come from a musical family, and all three possess remarkable innate musical abilities and singing voices. They remain influenced by their membership in South Africa’s famous Drakensberg Boys’ Choir. In fact, older brother Zwai broke barriers by becoming the choir’s first black member.

They are drawn to a number of musical genres, from pop to gospel to opera. Their talents will be displayed in full-force in their first-ever PBS concert special, which was recorded live at the Lyric Theatre in Gold Reef City in Johannesburg, South Africa, with the participation of a 24-piece orchestra and the Drakensberg Boys’ Choir – the very choir that played such an important role in the brothers’ lives, and for which Phelo went on to hold the positions of head chorister and music leader.

“CPTV is proud to be the station selected by PBS to premiere Bala Brothers. This group represents a triumph in human nature. The Connecticut audience is sure to be touched by the music and their story,” said Laura Savini, CPTV National Productions executive.

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CONCORA to Present its First Finalist for Director Position

NEW BRITAIN —  Connecticut’s The acclaimed professional choir will present its first finalist for the Artistic Director position to succeed Richard Coffey, who stepped down after 40 years at the end of the 2013-14 season.

CONCORA selected David Hodgkins, who is scheduled to conduct on Oct. 26 at 4:00 PM at First Church of Christ, 830 Corbin Ave., New Britain. in New Britain, in a program titled “Tradition Re-Imagined.” The program will include works by Vivaldi, Pärt, Poulenc, and others, plus the Bach motet Komm, Jesu, Komm.

Hodgkins’ concept of the program is one of taking the old and re-forming it, or re-imagining it, into the contemporary. Thus he presents four versions of Ave Maria, from the original plainsong chant, through a Renaissance version, to Bruckner, to 21stcentury Kevin Memley.

Similarly, he offers the Magnificat, a beautiful text taken from Luke’s Gospel, in arrangements from Vivaldi, with a chamber orchestra of Hartford Symphony musicians, and Arvo Pärt, an a cappella arrangement that is perhaps best described as ‘ethereal.’

The second half offers Francis Poulenc’s Huit Chansons Françaises (Eight French Songs), which. Poulenc wrote in a burst of nationalistic pride. They are all settings of old French folk rhymes, and while most of the melodies are Poulenc’s, a few of the movements are also loosely based on traditional folk songs.

The concert closes with a selection of spirituals and gospel songs, to glorify an American tradition that was passed down aurally from generation to generation.

Tickets are $50 for preferred seating, $30 for general seating, $25 for seniors, and $10 for students. 2-for-1 general seating tickets are available with Let*s Go! Arts card.  Order online at, or by phone at 860-293-0567.

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Get Ready for Gyllenhall’s Night Crawlers to Hit Movie Theaters

By Fran Wilson, Staff Writer

You don’t have to be a journalist or a Jake Gyllenhall fan to anticipate this upcoming film to the big screen in October.
The film, NIGHTCRAWLER, is in the selected pool for the 2014 Toronto International Film Festival and will be released nationwide on Oct. 31.
Critics say it is a“pulse-pounding thriller set in the nocturnal underbelly of contemporary Los Angeles.”


Open Road Films produce the much-talked about film, and it’s written and directed by Dan Gilroy.

NIGHTCRAWLER stars Jake Gyllenhaal as Lou Bloom, a driven young man desperate for work. He then discovers the high-speed world of L.A. crime journalism. Finding a group of freelance camera crews who film crashes, fires, murder and other mayhem, Lou muscles into the cut-throat, dangerous realm of nightcrawling — where each police siren wail equals a possible windfall and victims are converted into dollars and cents.

Other fan faves might also draw you to this film. Gyllenhall character is aided by Rene Russo as Nina, a veteran of the blood-sport that is local TV news, Lou blurs the line between observer and participant to become the star of his own story.

Also starring in NIGHTCRAWLER are Bill Paxton and Riz Ahmed.


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