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    Martin C. Dreiwitz, Who Took Student Musicians on World Tours, Dies at 91

    He combined his love for travel and music to turn the Long Island Youth Orchestra into a globe-trotting powerhouse.Martin C. Dreiwitz, who drew on his twin passions for travel and classical music to found the globe-trotting Long Island Youth Orchestra, conducting his student musicians before audiences as close as Great Neck and Brookville and as far away as Karachi and Kathmandu, died on June 20 at a hospital near his home in Oyster Bay, N.Y. He was 91.Steven Behr, the president of the orchestra’s board of directors, said the cause was a heart attack.The orchestra may have counted some 100 performers, but Mr. Dreiwitz (pronounced DRY-witz) was practically a one-man show: He raised the funds, he scouted for new members, he cajoled parents to bring snacks on rehearsal days, and he conducted every performance from its founding in 1962 to his retirement in 2012.He was also the orchestra’s travel agent. In addition to playing four concerts a year, mostly at a performance hall on the campus of Long Island University Post in Brookville, N.Y., the orchestra went on a summer tour, almost always abroad, with multiple stops and often on multiple continents. One trip, in 1977, took them to Greece, Kenya, the Seychelles, India, Sri Lanka and Israel, with every detail arranged by Mr. Dreiwitz.Though he trained as a classical clarinetist, Mr. Dreiwitz was, in fact, a travel agent by trade, and he used his skills and connections to plot intricate journeys that even a professional orchestra might shrink from. He took pride in being among the first Western orchestras to play in places like Pakistan and Nepal, performing sold-out shows with students who often had never before left Long Island.He treated his musicians like adults, and saw his mission as one less about pedagogy than about preparation for a professional music career. He eschewed the typical youth orchestra fare — Aaron Copland’s “Fanfare for the Common Man,” Samuel Barber’s “Adagio for Strings” — in favor of deep cuts from Mozart and Rossini and avant-garde composers like Virgil Thomson (a personal friend, who sometimes used the orchestra to test-run his latest work).He also tended to steer clear of Broadway scores, though he did have a soft spot for the music of George Gershwin, especially “Porgy and Bess,” and often included selections from that opera on the orchestra’s summer tour.Mr. Dreiwitz saw travel as another form of preparation. It was, he insisted, important for budding violists and clarinetists to learn how to perform at their best in strange new venues, in strange new cities, in front of strange new audiences.But he also simply loved the challenge of planning, say, a five-week trip for 85 students across five countries in East Asia. In between raising money and running rehearsals, during the school year he would dash off on reconnaissance trips, scouting each site for an upcoming tour — arranging hotels (or just as often private homes), checking out venues, even taste-testing restaurants. When the students arrived, months later, everything would be perfect.The orchestra ran on a shoestring budget, especially early on, when Mr. Dreiwitz refused to charge tuition. Instead, funds came from family donations, annual candy sales and, quite often, his own pocket. Every spring he offered a $2,500 scholarship to be split among the three best high school seniors, as judged by an outside panel.The Long Island Youth Orchestra in 1974. Alumni have gone on to play in most of the country’s major symphonies, and they populate countless chamber groups and academic music departments.Lester Paverman for The New York TimesMr. Dreiwitz’s hard work paid off. The orchestra’s 4,000 (and counting) alumni have gone on to play in many of the country’s major companies, including the Boston Symphony Orchestra, the New York Philharmonic, and the Philadelphia Orchestra, and they populate countless chamber groups and academic music departments.Mr. Dreiwitz could be stern and exacting on the podium, but, many of his former musicians said, he ran the orchestra like a family, fostering a vibe of collegiality instead of competitiveness.“I don’t twist anyone’s arm to join,” he told The New York Times in 1964. “They’re giving up their own time because they love music and want an opportunity to play. I don’t think you can find a more enthusiastic group of musicians any place.”Martin Charles Dreiwitz was born in Weehawken, N.J, on June 15, 1931, and raised in Brooklyn. His father, Samuel Dreiwitz, worked in the fur industry, and his mother, Charlotte (Silver) Dreiwitz, was a homemaker.He is survived by his two sons, Tuan Dinh and Dung Dinh.A gifted musician even as a child, he played clarinet and graduated from the High School of Music and Art in Manhattan (now the Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music & the Arts), and he majored in music at the University of Chicago. Along the way he studied under woodwind luminaries like Simeon Bellison, the principal clarinetist for New York Philharmonic, and Anthony Gugliotti, who held the same post with the Philadelphia Orchestra.After graduating from college in 1953, he moved to Europe, where he traveled and studied to be a conductor, including a stint with Wilhelm Furtwängler in Vienna.He returned to the United States in the early 1960s and settled in suburban Long Island, hoping to find a job conducting. To make ends meet, he took a job as a travel agent and offered private clarinet lessons on the side.One day in 1962, one of his particularly talented students put down his instrument and frowned.“I’ve gotten this far,” Mr. Dreiwitz recalled the student saying, “and now I must wait years, until I get into a major orchestra, before I get some really good experience. Where do I go from here?”The seed was planted, and took root: Mr. Dreiwitz held auditions for what he initially called the North Shore Symphony Orchestra in September 1962. He started with just 52 musicians, and they held a concert the next spring. A few years later, he took them on their first trip, to Chicopee, Mass.It was stop and go in the early years, with Mr. Dreiwitz hitting up Nassau County music teachers to find promising players. But by the end of the 1960s, he no longer needed to. Eager students lined up outside his travel agency to audition, and every year he had a wait list. The orchestra went on its first overseas trip, to Europe, in 1971.He took emeritus status in 2012, handing the baton to Scott Dunn, a former student. He continued to come in to rehearsals at L.I.U. Post, though less and less often, and then not at all.But Mr. Dreiwitzhad one more hurrah. In 2018, hundreds of alumni returned for a concert in his honor, and he even mounted the podium, to conduct a selection from his beloved “Porgy and Bess.” More

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    Nadya Tolokonnikova of Pussy Riot Goes on a Crypto-Party Crawl

    At 21, she was a founding member of the Russian anti-government punk collective. At 22, she was imprisoned. A decade later, she’s still fighting, this time using cryptocurrency to help her subvert the system.“I’m a super-introvert,” said Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, one of the founding members of Pussy Riot, as the elevator zoomed to the Rainbow Room on the 65th floor of Rockefeller Center, where the NFT Now gala was in full swing on June 21. “But it’s a job. As an activist, you have to do it,” she said of the schmoozing. “You have to put your work out there.”The doors dinged and slid open. As Ms. Tolokonnikova, 32, strode toward the entrance, the cacophony of hundreds of voices grew louder. “But when I hear all this noise, my heart freezes a bit,” she said quietly, switching to Russian.She did not pause to collect herself. There was no time. Ms. Tolokonnikova, a musician, artist and activist who goes by Nadya, was in New York to mingle with the crypto crowd at a conference focused on NFTs, or non-fungible tokens. Her schedule was packed with discussions, parties, panels and several performances.Since being jailed for 21 months for performing a guerrilla-style piece called “Punk Prayer” — which protested the government’s cozy relationship with the church — at a cathedral in Moscow a decade ago, Ms. Tolokonnikova has not gotten any quieter about her feelings toward the Russian powers that be. She was released from prison in 2013, and the following year, she and Maria Alyokhina, another Pussy Riot member who served time in prison, founded Mediazona, an independent news outlet in Russia. In 2018, Ms. Tolokonnikova published a book, “Read & Riot: A Pussy Riot Guide to Activism.” Ms. Tolokonnikova calls her uniform “feminist superhero,” or “something between Spiderman and Catwoman and Sailor Moon.”Ye Fan for The New York TimesIn December, Russian authorities labeled her a “foreign agent,” a category used to suppress opposition figures. (As a result, she does not disclose where she lives.) After Russia invaded Ukraine in late February, Ms. Tolokonnikova led an effort to raise $7.1 million in cryptocurrency for medical aid in Ukraine. “Putin is a bloody dictator, a terrorist who must be stopped as soon as possible,” she said.In the years after she was released from prison, Ms. Tolokonnikova dealt with a severe depression and relied on art as a form of therapy. A classically trained pianist, she now makes music that zips across genres like pop, techno and punk. On Aug. 5, Pussy Riot will release its first mixtape, “Matriarchy Now!” Ms. Tolokonnikova is the lead musician on the album, with the Swedish singer Tove Lo as the executive producer. Collaborators include Salem Ilese, ILoveMakonnen and Big Freedia.Some of the other well-known Pussy Riot members, like Ms. Alyokhina, who recently escaped from Moscow by wearing a delivery-service uniform, are not on the mixtape. Ms. Alyokhina and others, but not Ms. Tolokonnikova, are performing as part of a multicity antiwar tour in Europe this summer. Ms. Tolokonnikova said Pussy Riot is a loose network with no hierarchy; there are no leaders, and anyone can become a member and use the name as part of their protest efforts.Ms. Tolokonnikova posed in front of a billboard whose text is the same as the title of Pussy Riot’s first mixtape.Ye Fan for The New York TimesOn this rainy Tuesday in June, however, Ms. Tolokonnikova’s presence in New York wasn’t primarily about music. In March, Ms. Tolokonnikova and several partners created UnicornDAO, a fund-raising and investment vehicle built on a blockchain whose goal is to commission and buy NFTs made by women, nonbinary people and members of the L.G.B.T.Q. community. She had come to New York to raise awareness.So far, UnicornDAO has purchased more than 1,000 works by artists like Sofia Crespo, Claire Silver and Olive Allen, and raised $4.5 million in funding. The musician Grimes, who is a member of the DAO (it stands for “decentralized autonomous organization”), donated an NFT of her work to the DAO’s permanent collection, and the singer Sia is an active member. After a quick lunch of seafood spaghetti and a few sips of an Aperol spritz at the Roxy Hotel, where she ran into the D.J. Steve Aoki, a friend, Ms. Tolokonnikova bounded over to Spring Studios nearby for brainstorming sessions hosted by ConsenSys, a blockchain software company. During the cocktail hour that followed, a group formed around Ms. Tolokonnikova, with people asking for her thoughts about NFTs and fund-raising, or simply expressing their admiration toward her. She lingered for about 45 minutes, then made a quick exit. On the way out, a fan requested a selfie. When people ask her for a photo, she said, “they always say, ‘I never do this.’” She paused, then smiled. “That’s what I said when I got a selfie with Bernie Sanders in Chicago,” she said. Next stop was the gala, where the dress code was “inspired.” Ms. Tolokonnikova showed up in a uniform of sorts: black fishnets, white platform shoes, a short skirt, a ruffled top and finger-less gloves. One guest after another sought Ms. Tolokonnikova’s attention at the N.F.T. Now gala, though she describes herself as “a super introvert.”Ye Fan for The New York TimesShe called that day’s outfit “feminist superhero.” The look’s origins stretch back to when Pussy Riot started in 2011, when Ms. Tolokonnikova was 21. “I was thinking that we would be something between Spider-Man and Catwoman and Sailor Moon, and maybe we would be the superheroes that will come and save everyone,” she said. At the gala, the mood was buoyant, seemingly unaffected by the crypto crash, which has led ordinary and amateur investors to lose large amounts of money and crypto companies to lay off employees.For about an hour, Ms. Tolokonnikova sipped on a glass of sparkling wine and chatted with guests, including Joe Lubin, a founder of the Ethereum blockchain; the musician Miguel; and Michael Winkelmann, a digital artist who goes by the name Beeple. Mr. Winkelmann famously sold an NFT of his artwork at Christie’s for $69 million last year and is a member of UnicornDAO.“She actually makes me feel lazy because every time I turn around she’s started another DAO or a charity that’s raised, like, $10 million,” Mr. Winkelmann, 41, said. “And it’s like, ‘What did you do?’ I drew a bunch of pictures of wieners or something.” Backstage at the Bowery Ballroom, Ms. Tolokonnikova chatted with Salem Ilese, one of the artists featured on Pussy Riot’s first mixtape, while John Caldwell, another founder of UnicornDAO, lingered in the background. Ye Fan for The New York TimesMs. Tolokonnikova said she gets along easily with “crypto bros.” “The world of finance is super-toxic and a total no for me,” she said. “Crypto is a bit different. There are bros. Many of them are nerds. I myself am a nerd. We’ve always spoken the same language.” Growing up in Norilsk, a city in Siberia, Ms. Tolokonnikova said she was the one who helped other students with their homework, in part because it meant they wouldn’t be mean to her. Eventually, she studied philosophy at Moscow State University.She said she realized the potential fund-raising capability of the crypto world when she sold an NFT for a four-part Pussy Riot video artwork series made in collaboration with several other artists for 178 Ether, or about $356,000 at the time. “This is life-changing money,” she said. It was distributed among everybody who worked on the project and a portion went to a shelter for domestic violence survivors in Russia, she said. (Today, after the crash, the dollar value of the Ether they earned is significantly less: about $196,000.)As an activist, she said she has always kept herself abreast of technological shifts like cryptocurrency, blockchain and NFTs because she thinks that these are new tools she could harness while the rules around their usage are still being understood and established.The final stop of the evening was Bowery Ballroom. When the car pulled up to the club, she dashed in and reappeared minutes later onstage, performing Ms. Ilese’s “Crypto Boy,” a tongue-in-cheek song about getting frustrated with a boy who is talking too much about crypto. At the end of a long day of networking, Ms. Tolokonnikova joined Ms. Ilese to perform Ms. Ilese’s song “Crypto Boy” at the Bowery Ballroom.Ye Fan for The New York TimesIn response to the Supreme Court’s leaked decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, Ms. Tolokonnikova’s UnicornDAO created a crypto wallet that makes donating digital currencies to a reproductive rights fund safer, anonymous and easier. The fund UnicornDAO is supporting is funneling money to seven reproductive rights organizations, including Planned Parenthood and Fund Texas Choice. So far, the fund has received more than $87,000 in donations. Independently, Ms. Tolokonnikova teamed with Ms. Ilese to sell several NFTs of the song “Crypto Boy.” The money they raised, $170,000, went to the Center for Reproductive Rights. Ms. Tolokonnikova was not shocked by the Supreme Court’s ruling, but she was deeply disappointed. With “Punk Prayer” in 2012, “we loudly declared that the government and religion have no right to get involved in our decisions about our bodies,” she said. “Years later, the country that calls itself the leader of the free world is allowing a ban on abortion. It’s really, really sad.”“Of course, it’s just a drop in the ocean,” she said of her fund-raising efforts. “But I think that if we all make these drops and unite in one great ocean, then there will be a lot we could change and influence.” More

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    Overlooked No More: Klaus Nomi, Singer With an Otherworldly Persona

    His sound and look influenced everyone from Anohni to Lady Gaga. He also sang backup vocals for David Bowie.This article is part of Overlooked, a series of obituaries about remarkable people whose deaths, beginning in 1851, went unreported in The Times.A wide range of musical genres fueled New York’s nightclubs in the late 1970s and early ’80s, including new wave, no wave, punk and post punk. Klaus Nomi, who performed during that era, defied being categorized under any of them.“I wouldn’t give it a label,” Nomi said of his sound in a Belgian television interview. “Maybe the only label is my own label: It’s Nomi style.”His music combined opera, infectious melodies, disco beats, German-accented countertenor vocals and undeniable grandeur. He influenced everyone from the singer-songwriter Anohni to Lady Gaga; in 2009, when Morrissey was asked to select eight essential records for the BBC radio program “Desert Island Discs,” Nomi’s version of Schumann’s “Der Nussbaum” made the list.Nomi’s stage look was equally eclectic, and inseparable from his sound. The gender-fluid mix included dark, dramatically-applied lipstick as well as nail polish, the occasional women’s garment and often a giant structured tuxedo top that suggested Dada as much as sci-fi. His style influenced the fashion world as well, in collections by designers like Jean Paul Gaultier and Riccardo Tisci.Nomi’s look was indisputably nonbinary, and a bit otherworldly. “He still comes across as an outrageously expressive and strange figure,” Tim Lawrence, author of the 2016 book “Life and Death on the New York Dance Floor, 1980-1983,” said in a phone interview.“There was something about his entire being, which seemed to be queer, around makeup and voice and music and dress,” Lawrence said.Nomi — or Klaus Sperber, the name he was born with — moved to New York City from his native Germany in the early 1970s. He fell in with a group of creative friends and in late 1978 joined many of them to perform at New Wave Vaudeville, a series of quirky variety shows. The bill included a stripper, a singing dog and a performance artist dressed as a sadistic nun.Nomi, in the background at center, at the Mudd Club in Manhattan in 1979, the year he met David Bowie there.Alan KleinbergAs the closing act, Nomi sang an aria from Camille Saint-Saëns’s “Samson et Dalila” while wearing a transparent raincoat over a shiny, fitted top and pants along with dramatic eye makeup and lipstick.“He really blew people’s minds,” Ann Magnuson, who directed the shows, said in an interview. “He had all these snarky punk rockers out there who were speechless.”With the performances came a new name, inspired by the name of a magazine focused on outer space, Omni.“Klaus said, ‘I can’t go out as Klaus Sperber,’” his friend Joey Arias, the singer and performance artist, recalled by phone. “‘That’s not a star’s name.’”Soon he was performing as Klaus Nomi at tastemaker Manhattan clubs like Max’s Kansas City and Hurrah, with a set list created with the help of Kristian Hoffman, a musician who served for a time as his musical director. The material included edgy originals and unconventional takes on well-known hits. Lesley Gore’s “You Don’t Own Me” became an enraged dirge, for example; the chorus of “Lightnin’ Strikes” morphed into an aria. The thought was that pop songs would “catch the ear of an audience who isn’t ready for opera,” Hoffman said in an interview.As The New York Times put it in a review of one of his performances, Nomi’s music was “positively catchy, in a strange sort of way.”One night in late 1979, Nomi and Arias were at the Mudd Club, in TriBeCa, when they met David Bowie there. Nomi called him later — Bowie had asked him to, scribbling his phone number with a friend’s eyeliner — and Nomi and Arias were recruited to be Bowie’s backup singers for an appearance that December as the musical guest on “Saturday Night Live.”For the show’s three songs, they wore clinging women’s Thierry Mugler dresses, purchased at Henri Bendel. The look was extremely provocative at the time, especially on national television. Throughout, the TV cameras’ focus seemed to be as much on them as on Bowie.“It legitimized everything, because it had been sort of a private scene, and all of a sudden there it is, right in front of you on ‘Saturday Night Live,’” said Katy Kattelman, a designer who is known professionally as Katy K and who was a friend of Nomi’s.Soon after, Nomi signed a record deal with RCA France. His debut album, titled simply “Klaus Nomi,” was released in Europe in 1981; a second album, “A Simple Man,” came out the next year. The records sold well — “Klaus Nomi” earned gold-record status in France — and he performed abroad to packed venues.Nomi returned to New York toward the end of 1982, excited by the prospect of possible American tours and releases. But he arrived gaunt and exhausted — he had contracted AIDS. He died of complications of the illness on Aug. 6, 1983. He was 39.A scene from the 2004 documentary “The Nomi Song” showing Nomi getting ready for a performance.Palm PicturesNomi at Hurrah, one of many nightclubs he performed at in New York City.Harvey WangKlaus Sperber was born on Jan. 24, 1944, in Immenstadt, a town in what was then West Germany. He was raised by his mother, Bettina, who worked odd jobs. A fling with a soldier, whom Klaus never met, resulted in his birth. When he was a child, he and his mother moved to the city of Essen, about 400 miles away. Opera music was often playing in their house, and it set Klaus on his path.“The first time I heard an opera singer on the radio I said, ‘My God, I want to sing just like that,’” he said in interview footage that is included in the 2004 documentary “The Nomi Song.” As a teenager, he became equally fond of Elvis Presley.He moved to West Berlin and worked as an usher at Deutsche Oper, where he sometimes sang for colleagues after the audience had left. But he aspired to sing professionally, and, Arias said, “he felt like he was at a dead end.”“He wanted to come to New York because he felt like it would change his life,” Arias added.Nomi settled in Manhattan’s East Village. He worked for a while in the kitchen of the Upper East Side cafe and celebrity hangout Serendipity 3 and started a baking business with Kattelman called Tarts, Inc., supplying restaurants with desserts made in Nomi’s St. Marks Place apartment.Nomi was known to frequent after-hours clubs, like the Anvil and Mineshaft, where casual sex was commonplace. There were sexual encounters at home as well — Arias said he once arrived at Nomi’s apartment to find a naked Jean-Michel Basquiat toweling off.To get a green card, he married a woman, Melissa Moon, a U.S. citizen, in 1980.“I don’t think he was in any way being anything that wasn’t himself, which was pretty gay as far as I knew,” said the artist Kenny Scharf. “When you’re creating your persona, the sexuality part is obviously part of the persona. It was all part of his sense of style and him being an artist in every way.” More

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    ‘Mr. Malcolm’s List’ Review: A Finalist for His Affection

    Upper-crust courtship comes with undercooked social commentary in this Regency-era romance.A tepid Regency-era romance, “Mr. Malcolm’s List” hinges on Jeremy Malcolm (Sope Dirisu), a wealthy, aloof bachelor looking for a woman who meets his 10-point checklist for a suitable mate. The trouble starts when Malcolm rejects Julia Thistlewaite (Zawe Ashton), a singleton who fails Point No. 4 — “converses in a sensible fashion” — and is publicly humiliated by Malcolm, who yawns behind her back. Vowing vengeance, Julia schemes to manipulate the snob into falling in love with her childhood friend Selina Dalton (Freida Pinto), a country naïf whom Julia presents, through bits of trickery, as Malcolm’s dream bride. (In one scene, Selina is made to look like a piano virtuoso.) Selina doesn’t so much agree to her bossy chum’s plan as succumb to it, like a leaf drifting downstream.But the film is too soft at heart to condemn Julia as a manor-bred mean girl. (It might be more fun if it wasn’t.) The early sequences are spritzed with a whiff of pity for this society’s anxious would-be wives. The screenplay, by Suzanne Allain, adapting her own novel of the same name, seems to suggest that a marriage-minded society breeds shallow, superficial girls. Emma Holly Jones, the director, apparently agrees, layering images of pretty birds in cages next to shots of desperate debutantes in pink-plumed hats. In a scene at an opera, Jones shows that the young women are too preoccupied with gossip to pay attention to the soul-stirring Rossini onstage.Jones pointedly sets key romantic scenes during horse auctions and board games, but runs out of things to say beyond the well-trodden suggestion that courtship is equal parts commerce and chess. Once it has established sympathy for the embittered Julia — whom Ashton plays with a marvelously light touch, even when forced into heavy-handed scenarios — the film is stuck doubling back on its own social critique by hustling to resolve the various love plots until everyone’s paired off and all insights into the status of women have been tidily swept under the Persian rugs.Pinto’s Selina is judicious and kind — and as interesting as a plain meringue. Her duped suitor, Malcolm, has little personality beyond his seeming to approach every ball as though the dance floor were made of hot lava. We are frequently told that he’s arrogant. The counterargument is that most of the items on Malcolm’s list — be truthful, be charitable, read books — are reasonable. A more innovative period comedy could be made from his frustration trying to find these basics among the upper classes.Instead, Dirisu’s wary gravitas allows Malcolm, ostensibly the main man, to be outshone by Theo James’s Captain Henry Ossory, a flippant, mustachioed love rival who threatens to win Selina for himself — and strides off with the audience’s affection in the process. The score, by Amelia Warner, announces when to titter and when to swoon. In its cleverest flourish, it accompanies the ladies’ marital campaigns with a rollicking military march.Mr. Malcolm’s ListRated PG. Running time: 1 hour 55 minutes. In theaters. More

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    ‘The Forgiven’ Review: When the Haves Dispose of a Have-Not

    Ralph Fiennes and Jessica Chastain play an unhappy couple who accidentally kill a stranger in Morocco en route to a desert bacchanal.“They were careless people,” the narrator in “The Great Gatsby” says of two of that novel’s wealthiest, cruelest characters; “they smashed up things and creatures.” They would probably get along with the similarly careless wretches who populate “The Forgiven,” though especially the unhappily married couple who smash into a teenager, killing him.David (an excellent Ralph Fiennes) and Jo (a decorative, badly used Jessica Chastain) are yelling — and looking — at each other while rocketing down a dark Moroccan road when they plow into the boy. For reasons that are more narratively useful than persuasive, they bring the body with them to their destination, a sprawling compound where a bacchanal is underway. There, after servants whisk away the body, David and Jo join the festivities, assuming their place among the other avatars of wealth, great privilege and bone-deep rot.As Fitzgerald observed elsewhere, the very rich are different from you and me. They are not, though, always dissimilar onscreen, and in far too many movies, they tend to fall into reliably distinct camps of gaudy buffoons, heroic saviors or unrepentant villains. “The Forgiven” is about villains. Specifically, it centers on the kind of white scoundrels who — with their empty hours and seemingly bottomless pockets, their cultivated cynicism and to-the-manner-born prejudices — stir up trouble for less-privileged souls. These monsters twirl their mustaches, seduce the naïve and rob the credulous because they can. They also do so because authors know villains provide easy entertainment, including when they’re object lessons.Certainly, in his adaptation of the Lawrence Osborne novel, the writer-director John Michael McDonagh has done his best to be diverting while he shoots fish in a barrel. His richest, most dubiously easy targets are the party’s hosts, an unctuous British libertine, Richard (Matt Smith, continuing his journey as Jeremy Irons 2.0), and his down-market American lover, Dally (Caleb Landry Jones). They’re introduced lounging in bed — the camera opens on Dally’s naked rear — as a visibly uneasy Moroccan servant enters with tea. Richard smiles at the man or maybe his discomfort. Is the servant uncomfortable with male intimacy, its unembarrassed display or merely his boss’s amused gaze?McDonagh lets the moment linger, which outwardly lets him off the hook. It doesn’t, though, not really, and he is saying something by making two gay lovers the story’s most conspicuous embodiments of neocolonialist excesses. So it goes: That night, Richard refers to the servants as boys, and Dally winds up the party (and your sensitivities) by thanking their “little Moroccan friends” who renovated the compound. The guests in tuxes and gowns laugh and swirl, eating and boozing as Moroccans hover and serve. A shrieking blonde jumps in a pool the size of a lake. Later, Jo casually drops that she and David killed a Moroccan en route to the festivities; at another point, David sneers about “pederasts” and name checks Allen Ginsberg.“The Forgiven” doesn’t get any subtler, although things improve when David agrees to drive off with the dead boy’s father, Abdellah (Ismael Kanater), and a companion, Anouar (Saïd Taghmaoui). It doesn’t make any sense given David’s prejudices and suspicions. He goes simply because the story needs him to, but it does get you away from the compound’s claustrophobia. Mostly, though, it allows you to spend time with Fiennes, whose performance — in its intricate, complex play of emotions and in the push-pull of David’s contempt for himself and for everything else — says more about this world’s nihilism than all the brittle chatter. Fiennes peels David in layers, unraveling this man until you see his hollow interior.McDonagh’s work is more nuanced and his touch lighter in the scenes with David and these other men, even as the story grows heavier and then leaden. There’s less yammering and hyperbolizing, and McDonagh makes fine contrapuntal use of the landscape’s visual drama and of the chasm separating these characters. Here, in the prickling, ominous spaces between David and Abdellah, in their glances and halting words, you see how power flows from man to man, from world to world, and how it nourishes but also engulfs.It’s then that you are reminded of the sharper work that McDonagh has done before, such as “Calvary” and “The Guard,” and how good he can be when characters talk because they have something to say.The ForgivenRated R for gun and vehicular violence. Running time: 1 hour 57 minutes. In theaters. More

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    ‘The Man From Toronto’ Review: Not So Clearly Canadian

    Woody Harrelson plays a hit man and Kevin Hart the wrong man in this Netflix action comedy.There’s very little Toronto in “The Man From Toronto.” There’s the iconic CN Tower, visible only in a distant establishing shot of the twilit skyline, and a few shots of a remote hide-out somewhere on the outskirts of town, before our Canadian hit man hero (Woody Harrelson) is called away on a mission, and the action moves elsewhere — Minnesota, Puerto Rico, the suburbs of Virginia.Ironically, the movie was filmed almost entirely in Ontario, so Toronto, its capital — as well as Hamilton, Milton and Brampton — will frequently show up disguised as somewhere else. When Harrelson chases Teddy (Kevin Hart), a bumbling fitness buff embroiled in an assassination plot because of a case of mistaken identity, they’re actually cruising beneath downtown Toronto’s Gardiner Expressway — not the streets of Washington, D.C. No one in the cast even manages to pronounce “Toronto” correctly.“Geographic license is usually an alibi for laziness,” Thom Andersen once observed in his feature-length essay film “Los Angeles Plays Itself.” In “The Man From Toronto,” directed by Patrick Hughes, the vague sense of location is typical of a broader lack of effort. Although Hart, as the broadly comic version of the classic Hitchcockian Wrong Man, has a certain goofball charm, his frantic coward routine gets old quickly, with no appreciable change as the action-flick danger continues to escalate. Harrelson, on the other hand, does little with the role of the unflappable super assassin, playing put-upon straight man to Hart’s over-the-top jester without much chemistry.As the shoot-em-up carnage builds to a long one-take fight sequence in Teddy’s gym — reminiscent of the spectacular church battle in the 2014 movie “Kingsman: The Secret Service,” with less panache — the overall feeling is one of simply going through the motions. That’s a shame, eh?The Man From TorontoRated PG-13 for crude language, comic action and some graphic violence. Running time: 1 hour 50 minutes. Watch on Netflix. More

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    ‘Accepted’ Review: Reaching for the Stars, Seeing Them Dissolve

    After a scandal unravels at their private school in western Louisiana, four seniors pick up the pieces.In “Accepted” the director Dan Chen takes us inside the world of T.M. Landry, a Louisiana private school whose videos of African American students collecting Ivy League college acceptances once went viral. But nine months after the filmmakers’ first visit to the school, The New York Times published reports of physical abuse, falsified transcripts and “cultish” behavior on the part of its founders, Mike and Tracey Landry. Viewers of “Accepted” get a front-row seat to the life-altering impact of the school’s unraveling through the stories of four promising high school seniors: Adia, Alicia, Cathy and Issac.As we witness both the documentary’s subjects — and its director — navigate a shocking development in real time, a quietly probing film emerges that pierces the myth of American meritocracy.Chen makes the choice to plod along at the same measured pace throughout — even after the T.M Landry scandal comes to light — and forgo the cryptic scoring we’re used to hearing when the jig is up. Similarly, the cinematography by Chen and Daphne Qin Wu moves seamlessly between intimate hand-held shots and aerial views of western Louisiana landscapes that reflect the eventual loss of access to the Landrys and the school.In the end, it is the resilience of the film’s teenage subjects that lifts “Accepted” to new heights. As they sit for close-ups in front of a swirly blue backdrop, gone are the Georgetown and Stanford sweatshirts, and the hopes they once represented. But in their place sits a clear understanding of the misguided pressures placed upon individual minority students to succeed in a society that systemically disadvantages them and a surprisingly powerful tale about making peace with imperfection.AcceptedNot rated. Running time: 1 hour 32 minutes. Rent or buy on Apple TV, Google Play and other streaming platforms and pay TV operators. More

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    ‘Hallelujah’ Review: From Leonard Cohen to Cale to Buckley to Shrek

    A new documentary tells the entwined stories of a songwriter and his best-known composition.Leonard Cohen’s final album, released in October 2016, is called “You Want It Darker.” He died on Nov. 7, the day before the U.S. presidential election, and in the years since, things have grown very dark indeed.Cohen wasn’t one to offer comfort. His gift as a songwriter and performer was rather to provide commentary and companionship amid the gloom, offering a wry, openhearted perspective on the puzzles of the human condition. “Hallelujah: Leonard Cohen, a Journey, a Song” is, accordingly, not a movie designed to make you feel better about anything, except perhaps Cohen himself. But this generous documentary is nonetheless likely to be a source of illumination for both die-hard and casual fans, and even to people who love Cohen’s most famous song without being aware that he wrote it.That’s “Hallelujah,” of course, which you can hear at weddings and funerals, on singing-competition reality television shows and in too many movies to count. The directors, Daniel Geller and Dayna Goldfine, wrap a circumspect biography of the singer — loaded with archival footage and interviews with sundry friends and admirers, including a rabbi and a Canadian government official — around the story of the song.It’s quite a story. “Hallelujah” took something like seven years to finish — Cohen’s own estimates varied. Larry Sloman, a music journalist who knew Cohen well and interviewed him often, surmises that there may be as many as 180 verses, starting with the one everybody knows. By now, we’ve all heard about the secret chord that David played, and it pleased the Lord.But “Hallelujah” did not please the executives at Columbia Records, who refused to release “Various Positions,” an album recorded in 1983 that also included the future classic “Dance Me to the End of Love.” John Lissauer, who produced the LP and who had worked on and off with Cohen since the early ’70s, recalls the label’s decision with dismay and surprisingly good humor, given the damage done to his professional prospects. (“Various Positions” was eventually released on a small American label.)At the time, Cohen had been recording for nearly 20 years, though he was also something of a musical late bloomer. He was past 30 when he turned to songwriting, having established himself as a poet and figure on the Canadian literary scene. The filmmakers sketch his early life and career, noting his privileged upbringing in the Westmount section of Montreal, his interest in Jewish and Zen Buddhist religious teachings and his reputation as a Casanova. (His fifth studio album is called “Death of a Ladies’ Man.”)Personal matters stay mostly in the background. Suzanne Elrod, his partner in the mid-70s, is briefly mentioned — we’re reminded that she was not the inspiration for the song “Suzanne” — and their children are glimpsed but not named. Dominique Issermann, the photographer with whom Cohen lived on the Greek island of Hydra, reminisces fondly about their time together. But “Hallelujah” is interested in Cohen’s private life mainly insofar as it suggests themes for his work.These could be divided up — spiritual, sexual, existential, emotional — but he specialized in tracing the entanglement of those categories of experience. Sloman, citing an unidentified critic, says that Cohen was most interested in “holiness and horniness.”“Hallelujah” is his great anthem of religious ecstasy and sexual longing. Some versions emphasize the sacred, while others dwell on what another poet called “the expense of spirit in a waste of shame.” “All I’ve ever learned from love/Is how to shoot at someone who outdrew you”: Some singers omit that line (and the one about being tied to a kitchen chair), but even when transcendence seems to prevail over cynicism, the tension between sacred desire and profane disappointment remains.The documentary’s account of the song’s fate, indebted to Alan Light’s book “The Holy or the Broken,” is a fascinating study in the mechanics and metaphysics of pop-culture memory. Bob Dylan, who admired Cohen, added “Hallelujah” to some of his set lists in the late ’80s. John Cale’s cover, recorded for a 1991 tribute album, brought the song to wider attention.“From Cale to Buckley to Shrek” is Sloman’s synopsis. Jeff Buckley’s full-throated rendition injected “Hallelujah” into the ’90s pop mainstream. “Shrek,” the DreamWorks animated blockbuster about a lovelorn green ogre, repurposed Cale’s glum version. The soundtrack album, which sold millions of copies, included another one, more in the melodramatic Buckley mode, by Rufus Wainwright. The floodgates were open.“It goes like this: the fourth, the fifth.” By the hundredth time, you might think the magic would be gone, but “Hallelujah” is one of those rare songs that survives its banalization with at least some of its sublimity intact.Cohen lived to see its triumph, and the last third of the documentary is devoted to his comeback, including generous clips from his later concerts. He is, throughout, a vivid, complicated presence — witty, melancholy, well-dressed and soft-spoken. By the end, he radiates wisdom, gratitude, and the kind of fulfillment whose elusiveness had always been his great subject.Hallelujah: Leonard Cohen, a Journey, a SongRated PG-13: She tied you to a kitchen chair. Running time: 1 hour 55 minutes. In theaters. More