Chi-Raq. Spike Lee has kept busy in the last decade with documentaries (When The Levees Broke, Bad 25, Kobe Doin’ Work), remakes (Oldboy, Da Sweet Blood Of Jesus) and personal, independently produced films (Red Hook Summer). But the creative force behind such films as Do The Right Thing, Malcolm X and Jungle Fever is back with a mainstream vengeance with Chi-Raq, already drawing the ire of Chicago mayor Rahm Emmanuel and with various factions within the Black community. Based on the ancient Greek play, Lysistrata, it takes places on Chicago’s south side, where the feud between the Spartans and the Trojans has resulted in unprecedented levels of violence and casualities. When a recent battle claims the life of an innocent young girl, Lysistrata (Teyonah Parris), girlfriend of the Spartans’ leader Chi-raq (Nick Cannon), mobilizes all of the women of both gangs (and most of the south side) to withhold sex until the violence stops. It’s done purely as satire and Greek play, complete with everyone speaking in rhyme, and a one person Greek chorus named Dolmedes, played to the cream colored hilt by Samuel L. Jackson. But the film also highlights serious issues such as gun violence, racism, Black on Black crime, long term effects ineffective policies have on communities and the fragile dynamics within relationships. Parris, last seen in another great piece of satire, Dear White People, has a breakout performance as Lysistrata, who organizes and manages the celibacy campaign. Lee also brings back a slew of veterans: Wesley Snipes as Trojans gang leader Cyclops; Angela Bassett as Miss Helen, a long time bookstore owner who helps Lysistrata get into action; John Cusack as Father Mike Corrigan, the local priest who is passionately trying to rally the community together against the senseless violence and Jennifer Hudson as Irene, the mother of the innocent young victim. Lee, working with writer Kevin Willmont (who wrote and directed the biting 2004 satire, C.S.A: The Confederate States Of Violence), turns everything up to 100, sparing no one and pulling zero punches. It’s his most vital effort as a writer-director since Do The Right Thing and will keep people talking long after the film is over. Chi-Raq opens this Friday. You can also go to www.chiraqthemovie.com for more information.
Hitchcock/Truffaut. Over the course of eight days in 1962, Francois Truffaut interviewed Alfred Hitchcock discussing the Master Of Suspense’s legendary body of work up to that point. Truffaut, whose status as a equally great filmmaker was growing, used these conversations as a basis for his belief that Hitchcock – who, incredibly was still being considered a ‘light entertainer’ – was one of the most innovative and influential directors of all-time. Truffaut used these conversations as the basis of the book, Hitchcock/Truffaut, which essentially became the guidebook for several generations of filmmakers. Director Kent Jones looks back at the making of this book and its impact in this vibrant and exciting new documentary. Jones uses the audio recordings of these conversations, clips from Hitchcock’s films and new interviews with Martin Scorsese, Wes Anderson, David Fincher, Peter Bogdanovich, Richard Linkletter, James Grey, Kiyoshi Kurosawa and Arnaud Desplechin to discuss the book’s influence on their careers and on the world of cinema. A must see for any film fan or an aspiring director. Hitchcock/Truffaut is in theaters now. You can also go to www.hitchcocktruffaut.com for more information.
U2- Innocence + Experience Live In Paris. This HBO special was originally scheduled to air on November 14th, but the terrorist attacks in Paris forced the band to reschedule. The band has promised its French fans that this performance will be a memorable one, and given the band’s history for rising to the occasion at crucial moments in history (Live Aid, the EPIC Madison Square Garden show a month after 9/11), it’s pretty much a done deal. One of rock’s greatest live bands once again seizing the moment. U2 – Innocence + Experience Live In Paris premieres December 7th at 9pm. You can also go to www.hbo.com or www.U2.com for more information.
The Ties That Bind. To coincide with the release of a box set of the same name, HBO is airing this one hour documentary about the making of Bruce Springsteen’s only studio double album, The River. Directed by Thom Zimny, it looks at how despite having dozens of songs written and recorded, Springsteen and the E Street Band struggled to find the right mix of rockers and ballads to round out the 20 song set. It also looks at the lyrical and musical shift that Springsteen was going through at the time, with songs looking at a country in the midst of a recession and the fragility of relationships both with families and with spouses. There’s a ton of archival footage, photographs, demos and outtakes and new performances of songs such as ‘Two Hearts’, ‘Hungry Heart’, ‘Wreck On The Highway’ and ‘The River’ featuring just Springsteen on acoustic guitar. It’s an extraordinary look at Springsteen’s creative process at the height of his powers. The Ties That Bind is airing now on HBO, HBO Go and HBO Now. Go to www.hbo.com for a complete rundown of showtimes and air dates.
A Very Murray Christmas. When you put Bill Murray and anything related to Christmas, you know magic is going to happen. For this Netflix-produced special, Murray tries to piece together a Christmas TV special despite the fact that a historic snowstorm has hit New York City. Of course, the bad weather doesn’t stop George Clooney, Miley Cyrus, Chris Rock, Maya Rudolph, Jason Schwartzmann, Amy Poehler, David Johansen, Michael Cera and Rashida Jones from stopping by to lend Murray a hand bringing in the holidays. Directed by Sophia Coppola and co-written by Mitch Glazer, its Murray’s own twisted, yet loving spin on Christmas specials that, after a series of semi-serious acting turns, brings back Murray to the comedy that defined him in such films as Stripes, Scrooged and Groundhog’s Day. It has all of the makings of a cult classic. A Very Murray Christmas premieres December 4th on Netflix. You can go to www.netflix.com for more information.
Technoself by Deantoni Parks. Deantoni Parks is an in-demand drummer who has worked with such artists as Sade, John Cale, Run The Jewels, Kudu, Flying Lotus, Meshell Ndegeocello and most memorably with The Mars Volta. For his first solo album, Parks puts a new twist on the one man band concept: Using just a sampler and a drum stick, Parks recorded the tracks live with no overdubs. For the song ‘Bombay’, Parks taps on a sampler with one hand and snaps wrist flicking rim shots with the other. More concept than gimmick, the album is tense, dark, buoyant, funky, melodic, abstract and avant garde all at the same time. Parks has put together a sonic adventure that begs to heard from start to finish and will have you hitting the repeat button once its done. A fun, rhythmic ride. Technoself will be available Friday through Amazon, Itunes and all major music retailers. You can also go to www.stonesthrow.com for more information.
Patti Smith – Collected Works 1975-2015. 40 years ago this month, Patti Smith fired the first shot from the downtown New York City punk scene with the release of Horses, an 8 song barrage of garage rock fused with poetry. As part of the 40th anniversary celebration, the High Priestess of Punk has updated her 1998 collection of lyrics and poems with 35 more works, including her first song, which she wrote for Janis Joplin in 1970 and her most recent piece, ‘Writer’s Song’, which will be featured in a future release. Whether you are a long time, casual or new fan, this is an essential piece to getting into the artistic and creative head of a true original. Patti Smith – Collected Works 1975-2015 is available now through Amazon, Barnes & Noble and all major book retailers. You can also go to www.pattismith.net for more information.
New York City: I Blame Dennis Hopper: An Afternoon With Illeana Douglas. Actress/Producer/Director Illeana Douglas was practically born into movie business. Her parents transformed themselves into hippies after seeing Easy Rider and her grandfather Melvyn Douglas, introduced her to her first movie set while he was working on Being There. She began a professional and personal relationship with Martin Scorsese when she was able to successfully dub a scream that was needed for The Last Temptation Of Christ. Douglas would also go on to have memorable roles in such Scorsese directed films such as Cape Fear and Goodfellas, and did a strong supporting turn in the painfully underrated TV series Action. Douglas will tell some extraordinarily true Hollywood stories from her book, I Blame Dennis Hopper at an extended Q&A session at the Film Forum in New York. It’ll also feature clips from her career and sign copies of her book following the interview. A wonderful opportunity to hear from one of Hollywood’s great storytellers. I Blame Dennis Hopper: An Afternoon With Illena Douglas will take place this Sunday at 2:30. You can go to www.filmforum.org for tickets and more information.