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Alexandra Heeney
Alexandra Heeney writes film, theater and jazz reviews. She has covered the Sundance Film Festival, San Francisco International Film Festival, Cannes Film Festival and her favorite, the Toronto International Film Festival. As a Toronto native, the lack of Oxford commas and Canadian spelling in this bio continue to keep her up at night. In her spare time, Alex does research on reducing the environmental impact of food waste for her PhD in Management Science and Engineering.

Our schools are broken: An interview with director Greg Whiteley about his Sundance doc ‘Most Likely to Succeed’

Given that our education system was designed over a century ago by a group of 10 men, including founders of the industrial revolution like Henry Ford, is it still serving students of the 21st century well? This is the central question of Greg Whiteley’s new documentary, “Most Likely to Succeed,” which premiered at this year’s Sundance Film…

This week in Arts & Life (Feb. 2–8)

Whether you want to audition for a play, see a play, head to an art gallery, catch a new film or a classic, hear a concert or learn about screenwriting, there’s plenty to see and do on and off campus this week. Here’s our curated list of the best things to do this week in…

Sundance 2015: Female directors reign in the World Dramatic Competition

While precious few narrative films by female directors make it into the multiplex, there’s a bounty of them screening in the Sundance Film Festival’s World Dramatic Competition. Here’s are some quick takes on a few of them, hailing from countries as diverse as Lithuania and Australia. “The Summer of Sangailé” (Lithuania, dir. Alantê Kavaïté) This Lithuanian…

Sundance Review of ‘The Stanford Prison Experiment’: Harrowing but disappointing

Kyle Patrick Alvarez’s “The Stanford Prison Experiment,” screening in the US Dramatic Competition at the Sundance Film Festival, recreates Dr. Philip Zimbardo’s landmark 1971 experiment with painstaking detail. Student volunteers were divided into two groups and assigned roles as prisoners and guards and then stationed in the basement of Stanford’s Jordan Hall for six days.…

Jennifer Siebel Newsom ’96 discusses ‘The Mask You Live In’ and masculinity in the U.S.

In “The Mask You Live In,” the new Sundance documentary from Jennifer Siebel Newsom ’96, we meet boys and men from across ages, races and socio-economic backgrounds, all of whom have suffered from feeling like they had to conform to a hyper-masculine norm — a natural follow-up to her first film, “Miss Representation,” which tackled how cultural messaging about female roles negatively affects women.

Jazz pianist Brad Mehldau discusses his craft

Brad Mehldau, one of the finest jazz pianists on the scene right now, will be taking the stage at Bing Concert Hall on Friday night with his trio – Stanford alum Larry Grenadier ’89 on bass and Jeff Ballard on drums – as part of Stanford Live’s Student Picks series. Although perhaps best known for…

Seana McKenna stars in the one-woman show ‘Testament,’ Mary’s take on Jesus’s story

In “Testament,” the one-woman show starring Canadian stage legend Seana McKenna (“Napoli”) at the American Conservatory Theater, playwright Colm Toíbín tells the story of the aftermath of Jesus’s crucifixion from his mother Mary’s perspective. Although Mary talks about going to the synagogue – we really do get a portrait of Jesus as the rebellious good…

Writer-director Justin Simien talks “Dear White People,” his filmmaking process, and the performance of identity

Writer-director Justin Simien’s first feature, the brilliant and hilarious satire “Dear White People,” opens in The Bay Area on Friday. After premiering at the Sundance Film Festival in January, where it won the U.S. Dramatic Special Jury Award for Breakthrough Talent, Simien has been making the rounds on the US film festival circuit where the…

Mill Valley Film Festival showcases Hawking and Turing biopics

The 37th annual Mill Valley Film Festival (MVFF) wrapped last weekend, after 10 days of films from around the world in Larkspur, San Rafael and Mill Valley. Each year, the festival tries to attract the biggest Oscar hopefuls. Last year, the program included “12 Years a Slave” and “Nebraska,” with special nights honoring Lupita Nyong’o…

Capsule reviews from the Toronto International Film Festival

From Morocco to the Ivory Coast to Canada, the Toronto International Film Festival programs films from around the world. Here's a look at some of the films I caught from Africa and North America at the festival. Still from "Atlantic," courtesy of the Toronto International Film Festival. Still from "Atlantic," courtesy of the Toronto International Film Festival. “Atlantic” By far the best film with an African subject that I saw at TIFF, “Atlantic” was directed by Dutch filmmaker Jan-Willem van Ewijk. The film tells the story of a Moroccan windsurfer, Fettah (Fettah Lamara, a real-life windsurfer-turned-actor playing a character very different from himself) who decides to windsurf across 300 km of open ocean en route to Spain. By far the best windsurfer in his town, it's when he befriends some white American and European windsurfers – whose passports and money give them a kind of freedom he's never known – who spark in him the desire to leave. The film features gorgeous photography of the Atlantic Ocean and its beaches, and it tells a moving, if sad, story about the difficult choices a man must make when trying to change his fate.

Top 5 films at the Toronto International Film Festival that had critics buzzing

The Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF), which wrapped up mid-September, is a peculiar beast. It’s one of the best showcases for foreign and art films, but it also hosts plenty of Hollywood movies with an eye on the Oscar race. A good chunk of North American journalists sent to the festival are there to cover the Oscar buzz. This year, the biggest Oscar hopefuls were the Alan Turing biopic “The Imitation Game,” starring Benedict Cumberbatch, the Stephen Hawking biopic “The Theory of Everthing” with Eddie Redmayne, and “Wild” with Reese Witherspoon, the story of a woman hiking the Pacific Crest trail as she recovers from grief. The most ambitious of us will try to cram upwards of seven films into a given day to make it possible to see smaller, foreign and indie fare. I averaged three per day. The headlines from the festival may focus on the celebrities, but the heart of the festival, and the reason we film critics love it so much, is its offerings of world cinema. Here’s a look at the top five off-the-beaten-path foreign films that most critics were buzzing about.

Writer-director Mike Cahill discusses his new film “I Origins”

Writer-director Mike Cahill’s sophomore film, “I Origins,” opened on Friday and will continue to play in South Bay cinemas this week. The film centers around Ian (Michael Pitt) and Karen (Brit Marling), both of whom are biology Ph.D. students who study the evolution of the human eye. Ian sees the world in a very rational, scientific way, and the film explores how he opens himself up to and pushes up against spirituality. The film, which explores the debate between science and spirituality, and also very accurately depicts how scientists behave, won the Alfred P. Sloan award for outstanding depiction of science at the Sundance Film Festival. The Daily caught up with Cahill to discuss the science in the film, its characters and how Cahill approaches both writing and directing.

Spotlight on NYC Theatre: Sam Mendes’ brilliant and chilling “Cabaret” is back

In a recent appearance on “Charlie Rose,” director Sam Mendes was asked why he keeps revisiting the 1950s’ Kander and Ebb musical “Cabaret”; he first revived it at the Donmar Warehouse in London in 1993, then on Broadway in 1997, and now he’s mounted it again at Studio 54 in New York.Mendes explained that it’s one of the great 21st-century plays, and probably the best play to explain how the rise of Nazism could have happened.”Cabaret” is the story of two couples in love – the young Sally Bowles and her American writer, Cliff Bradshaw, and the older Fraülein Schneider and her Jewish beau, Herr Schultz – who, because of the Nazis, can’t be together. They’re all so caught up in the party going on in Berlin, and the harsh realities of getting by on a day-to-day basis, that nobody notices the Nazis are gaining a scary amount of power.

Theater Review: “As You Like It” soars at Santa Cruz Shakespeare

There’s something magical about being in an actual forest when “As You Like It” takes us to the Forest of Arden. Making excellent use of its rustic setting is something at which Santa Cruz Shakespeare (formerly Shakespeare Santa Cruz) excels: last year’s “Henry V” brought us to a highly realistic army camp when night had fallen in Santa Cruz, and the wilderness we found ourselves in perfectly mirrored that which our heroes were in.

Spotlight on NYC Theater: the immersive “Sleep No More” has you follow the actors through the McKittrick Hotel

Chances are, you’ll leave “Sleep No More” at least a little dissatisfied and frustrated — it’s designed that way, to get you to come back — but it would be hard to deny that it’s anything but intoxicating. Part immersive theater, part installation art, this Off-Broadway production produced by the British company, Punchdrunk, began its run in New York in 2011, and it’s still running, often to sold-out shows. Spanning six stories of the complex called the McKittrick Hotel in Chelsea, you spend about three hours — or less, if you’re as unlucky as I was to be pulled out of it too soon — exploring an extremely elaborate set and following actors, racing from one room to the next, as they act out a story very loosely based on Shakespeare’s “Macbeth.” Upon arriving at the McKittrick, and after checking all coats and bags, you’re sent down a twisting, barely lit hallway, until you reach the lounge where drinks are served and several bands will eventually play. From there, you’re handed a white mask and ushered into an elevator to be taken up to the top floor of the complex — that is, of course, assuming you aren’t the last one into the elevator, for that person is first deposited, alone, on a lower floor. The rules are laid out by a flirtatious guide: you’re free to explore, but you are not to utter a sound while you do it. Then, it begins.

Spotlight on NYC Theater: Broadway is where musicals like “Kinky Boots” and “After Midnight” thrive

If there’s one thing Broadway still does better than anywhere else, it’s the musical. Some of them are so good and so popular that they run for years. As part of my special on the New York City theater scene, running this week, I caught the open run “Kinky Boots” at the Al Hirschfeld Theatre and “After Midnight,” the Tony Award winner for Best Choreography, which just closed at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre. Although “Kinky Boots” — a musical based on the British film — has only been running for a little over a year, it’s so much fun and so well-executed, I could see it running for many more. This is a flawless production of a deeply flawed and already dated play: it looks and seems like progressive thinking, but it’s actually a troubling portrait of masculinity, cross-dressing and even race. Nevertheless, it’s quite something to see so many talented men dancing in flashy six-inch heels without ever wobbling.
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