The Chi. The city of Chicago has been a political lightning rod for well over a decade. It’s portrayal as a city besieged by rampant gun violence and high murder rates has been the subject of a number of documentaries, news stories and fodder to politicos looking to grab the narrative on how to combat crime. Writer/actor Lena Waithe is looking to change that with this new Showtime drama. It tells the story of how the murder of a promising young athlete connects the lives of four Black men of varying ages: Brandon (Jason Mitchell), an aspiring chef; middle schooler Kevin (Alex Hibbert), Emmett (Jacob Latimore), a young single father with a fierce entrepreneurial spirit; and Ronnie (Ntare Guam Mabaho Mwine), a long time South Side resident who was a long lost father figure to the victim. Where The Chi really succeeds is showing how gun violence has a ripple effect on an entire community. That said, the heartbeat of this show is the city of Chicago itself. It’s not a shoot happy war zone on the brink of collapse. It’s lively, vibrant, diverse, working hard and playing harder, trying to make itself better each day. It’s as much of a star as its excellent cast. Waithe’s script brings out that warmth with rich depth in each of its characters highlighting their positives and negatives without reducing either to stereotypes. The show has already drawn comparisons to The Wire and that’s great company to be associated with. Get ready for the first great series of 2018. The Chi premieres Sunday, January 7th on Showtime. You can also go to www.sho.com for more information.
Dave Chappelle: Equanimity/The Bird Revelation. There’s been a lot of talk behind the latest series of Chappelle’s last round of specials for Netflix and there should be: It ranks as some of his best work. Equanimity captures him during a recent show in D.C. and he covers everything from growing up poor in Ohio to the backlash he received in response to comments he made about the President and material from previous specials. Recorded at a spontaneous, more intimate show in L.A., The Bird Revelation finds Chappelle as much philosophical as he is comedic, giving multi-dimensional takes on Hollywood’s wave of sexual harassment charges and using allegorical hints as to why he walked away from his hit Comedy Central show. Both specials are exceptional, but its The Bird Revelation – in which his takes on Charlie Rose, Harvey Weinstein and fellow comic Louis CK – that has generated the most attention. It’s sharp, insightful, will certainly tick people off (already has), but it’s also very funny. It must be seen as a whole to, at the very least, begin to understand the context in which he’s coming from. The idea of someone of his status is taking on these topics at all shows why Chappelle is at another level. His most daring and challenging specials to date. Equanimity/The Bird Revelation is available now on Netflix.
Molly’s Game. The directorial debut by Aaron Sorkin (writer of The West Wing, A Few Good Men, The Social Network, Moneyball), looks at the life of Molly Bloom, who, for over a decade, ran a series of high stakes poker tournaments that attracted movie stars, pro athletes, billionaires, unbeknownst to her, The Russian mob. In 2013, she was arrested as part of a federal investigation into money laundering, racketeering and fraud and illegal sports gambling. Jessica Chastain plays Bloom with Idris Elba coming aboard as her lawyer Charlie Jaffey. Together they play a new game with much higher stakes: Keeping her out of federal prison. Sorkin makes a smooth transition from writer to director giving us a fly on the wall perspective of the games as they evolve from a club basement to some of the best hotels in the world. Chastain delivers yet another great performance at the ice cold, always in control Bloom, deftly navigating her way up the social ladder, keeping it together, even as things quickly and abruptly falls apart. Elba is just as formidable as Jaffey, who has to pull double duty to getting inside Bloom’s head and untangling the web of charges to give his client a solid defense. There’s also another late career turn by Kevin Costner as Bloom’s demanding father and a biting turn by Michael Cera playing a composite of the number of actors who took part in the games. As he done with previous work, Sorkin has once again put us in the world that very few get to see and mines all of the textures, nuances and layers within. No secret as to why it’s been making the rounds this awards season. Molly’s Game opens nationally this weekend. You can also go to www.mollysgame.movie for more information.
Here Today by Alicia Hall Moran. The 2nd album by this multi-dimensional mezzo-soprano is a genre-bending suite that features everything from a mind blowing operatic mash up of Stevie Wonder and Bizet’s Carmen (‘Signed Sealed Delivered) to new spins on classic material made famous by Nina Simone (‘Feeling Good’) and Billie Holliday (‘God Bless The Child’). The rest of the material puts Moran’s talents as a singer, songwriter and producer on full display as well, running the gamut from jazz, classical, pop, avant-garde, all to an astonishing effect. With contributions from a number of collaborators including husband (and monster pianist Jason Moran) and the band Harriet Tubman), it connects that past with the present, speaking of the times, yet transcending them. The first great album of 2018. Here Today by Alicia Hall Moran is available exclusively through Bandcamp. You can also go to www.aliciahallmoran.com for more information.
David Bowie Book Club. In addition to be a musician, producer, actor, artist and all around bad ass, David Bowie was also an avid reader. Now his son Duncan has launched an online book club that will cover 100 of The Thin White Duke’s all time favorites. It kicked off this month with Peter Ackroyd’s ‘Hawksmoor’ with Jones announcing a new title at the beginning of each month. It’s a chance to get caught up on some great literature and get a peak into the mind of what fueled Bowie’s artistic side. You can go to www.davidbowie.com or follow Duncan Jones on Twitter at @ManMadeMoon for more information.
New York City. The Way I See It: Directors Cuts. The rise of the corporatization of film studios saw the end of the director driven projects that dominated Hollywood throughout the late 60s and 70s. Creative clashes happened on the set, in the board room and, inevitably, in the cutting room, resulting in a number of compromised, truncated versions of great films. Thankfully, the rise of the DVD format allowed directors to put back in a number of scenes, and in many cases, allow them to present their work as it was intended. A number of these restored classics will be part of a two week retrospective at Quad Cinema. It will include the original Blade Runner, The Last Picture Show, Close Encounters Of The Third Kind, Amadeus, Apocalypse Now Redux, and much more. The centerpieces of the series also includes two films that cinema buffs say suffered the most from its initial cuts: Heaven’s Gate and Sergio Leone’s final epic, Once Upon A Time In America. This is perfect series to go see an artist’s fully realized work, uncut, unfiltered, and on the big screen. The Way I See It: Directors Cuts will be at Quad Cinema January 5th through the 18th. You can also go to www.quadcinema.com for a complete rundown of films, tickets and more information.
New York: Richard Avedon: Nothing Personal. Richard Avedon and and James Baldwin first met each other while they attended DeWitt Clinton High School in the late 1930s. They worked together writing and editing the school’s literary magazine and shared similar stances on issues dealing with race, mortality and global affairs. In 1963, while shooting Baldwin for a magazine assignment, Avedon suggested that they collaborate on a book about life in America. They would spent all of 1963 and the bulk of 1964 on the project, with Avedon traveling extensively to shoot portraits and Baldwin writing the essay. Published in the fall of 1964, Nothing Personal would capture both at the height of the creative powers: Avedon’s photos featured everyone from civil rights icons (Malcolm X, Julian Bond), segregationists (George Wallace) politicians (Adam Clayton Powell, Jr) and aging sports stars (Joe Louis); to pacifists, ordinary citizens and the mentally ill. Baldwin’s essay captured the country’s love for the fascinating and the mundane, even as it was on the cusp of a social and political revolution. Shockingly, the project was universally panned upon its release, and quickly went out of print. But it has since been recognized as a literary and cultural classic, with its messages and themes more relevant now than ever before. To celebrate with the reissue of the book, Pace Gallery and Pace/MacGill Gallery is presenting an exhibition to exclusively feature the photos done for this narrative. It’s one thing to see it in book form – it’s an entirely different experience to see them blow up to reflect the grandness and importance of its subjects. A loving, moving tribute to an icon. Richard Avedon: Nothing Personal will be at Pace/MacGill Gallery through January 13th. You can also go to www.pacegallery.com for more information.
New York City: Twin Peaks @ MoMa. As a part of a series showcasing some of 2017’s best films, The Museum of Modern Art will screen all 18 episodes of season 3 of David Lynch’s groundbreaking series. A four hour block will kick it off on Friday, with six hour blocks covering the remainder of the weekend. Twin Peaks fans who were unable to catch its run on Showtime (or those who want to see it again) will be treated to a full blown movie experience, free of charge. A binge watching trek to the highest degree. MoMA’s screening of Season 3 of Twin Peaks will take place this weekend. You can also go to www.moma.org for free tickets and more information.