1 One actor. One setting. No back story. No dialogue. One hell of a movie. “All Is Lost” is a survival-at-sea story stripped to the essentials, a muscular, Hemingway-esque film with compelling emotional drive. Here, less truly is more. Lost at sea, Robert Redford is not acting in this nonspeaking role so much as being. At 77, after a legendary career, he has delivered his defining performance.
4 Bloomington Civic Theatre music director Anita Ruth has reorchestrated the score for “Les Misérables,” eliminating the Broadway staging’s reliance on synthesizers. The 24-member orchestra enhances the music’s power. There are powerful voices throughout the cast. Director Karen Weber’s big spectacle scenes are dazzling, adding to the romance and pageantry. But it is in the moments of individual suffering that the show finds its true humanity. This is a more satisfying experience than even the Broadway productions. www.btacmn.org.
2 The rah-rah, rise-up-America story line feels forced and overstated (especially by Eddie Vedder), but the Ron Howard-directed documentary “Made in America” of Jay Z’s Philadelphia festival of the same name is pretty stellar as a straight-up concert movie. Pearl Jam, Kanye West, Jill Scott and especially Run-DMC, the Hives and Gary Clark Jr. gave stand-out performances for the cameras, and the ever-affable Opie made Skrillex likable and Jay Z seem humble behind-the-scenes. Currently in rotation on Showtime.
5 If parents want to introduce their tweens to the influential voices in modern music, give them “Legends, Icons & Rebels — Music That Changed the World.” Put together by Rock Hall of Famer Robbie Robertson of the Band and others, the tween-targeted coffee table book gives thoughtful glimpses into 27 of the greats — from Chuck Berry and Ella Fitzgerald to Bob Marley and Joni Mitchell. The book is part memoir but mostly a tribute and it includes two CDs of music to give the tweens a taste of greatness.
3 Mary Schmich’s columns for the Chicago Tribune are plainspoken, heartfelt, sensible and enduring. In her new collection, “Even the Terrible Things Seem Beautiful to Me Now,” she writes about the personal — her aging parents, her sister’s mental illness — and the eternal. The collection is worth buying simply for her powerful series of pieces on Joan Lefkow, the Illinois judge whose mother and husband were murdered by a disgruntled plaintiff. The 10 columns that earned her the 2012 Pulitzer Prize for commentary finish the book.
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