Here at the Arts and Culture section of the Commentator, we feature a cultural calendar every issue, filled with editor picks for the insane smorgasbord that is NYC nightlife. Usually we only cover events in the time until the next edition, but given the upcoming holidays, we will instead take the opportunity to look ahead at the best of what fall has to offer in the cultural department. As always, if you’d like to see more of a certain of event covered, or if you simply want more recommendations, drop us a line at CommentatorChief@gmail.com.
Lee Daniels’ The Butler, Out Now, Wide Release:
Few filmmakers these days tackle issues as important and loaded as race with any sort of subtlety, but if anyone has, it has been Lee Daniels. In his latest, The Butler, an all-star cast led by Forest Whitaker tells the story of Cecil Gaines, a black White House butler who served eight consecutive administrations, starting with Dwight Eisenhower’s. Gaines’ story is used as a lens through which Daniels looks at the burgeoning Civil Right movement, its aftermath, and the trajectory of the black experience in America. Oprah Winfrey returns to the screen to play Gaines’ wife, and everybody from Robin Williams to Alan Rickman shows up as the various Executives in Chief Cecil has served.
Doctor Sleep, by Stephen King, out September 24th
It remains the most horrifying movie adaptation of one of the most horrifying King books, by an axe length at least. Decades after it’s release, The Shining retains all it’s blood drenched horror, making audiences and readers clench white with each utterance of REDRUM. Now, 36 years after The Shining’s original publication, Stephen King returns with the ultimate rarity in quality literature, a sequel. Entitled Doctor Sleep, the novel follows Danny Torrance, the child with the shining, now in middle age, adrift, not clear as to what the horror of his youth meant. He meets a 12 year old girl, and a pack of road people called the True Knot, intent on her torture, and his life takes another leap into the supernatural abyss. Few match page turning pulp with sharply observed human nature like King, and this rare glimpse into the later life of someone we’ve already met is a rare privilege.
Grand Theft Auto V, Playstation 3 and Xbox 360, September 17th.
Grand Theft Auto, the most revolutionary video game series this side of Mario returns to the West Coast in this fifth installment, entitled, like the previous entry, simply by number. Unlike GTAs of the past, however, this time you control three different characters: Michael, a former bank robber who lives with his dysfunctional portrait of the 21st century family in Rockford Hills, riffing on Beverly Hills, Trevor, his former partner in crime, who now lives in a trailer in the desert, and who never met a situation he couldn’t escalate quickly with booze, and Franklin, a repo man who wants out of his ghetto. Controlling three characters at once allows you to switch between their individual vantage points in any given mission, or at any point in the game, allowing a series predicated on mayhem the potential for unprecedented levels of chaos. Additionally, there are many new models of airplanes, bikes, and cars, and a whole new world with nearly every type of environment to run wild in, from the broken urbanity of Los Santos (Angeles) to the mountains, oceans, and even deserts. Another new feature, GTA online,promises to be quite the outlet, though details are still sparse. Thankfully this drops over break, so our grades won’t suffer that much.
Spiritualized, Live at Webster Hall, September 10th.
Jason Pierce, the man behind Spiritualized, plays, as he calls it, secular gospel. Hazy guitars and charging drums, Prog by way of Krautrock, meshed with a backing choir’s determined vocal thrust, underscored by Pierce’s plaintive delivery of songs of love, addiction, fear, death, and redemption. Gospel indeed. His latest album, 2012’s Sweet Heart, Sweet Light, which started off with the classic rocking “Hey Jane”, ended by bringing God back into the mix on the track “So Long You Pretty Thing”, where Pierce heartbreakingly begs “help me lord, help me father”, before dissolving into the kind of huge, life affirming gospel rock chorus spectacle only Spiritualized can manage. Plenty of bands preach about how music saved their lives, but only Spiritualized makes their musical salvation explicit onstage. Check them out, and walk away a true believer.
Two Boys, an Opera by Nico Muhly, The Metropolitan Opera House, Late October till mid-November.
Though the 20th and 21st century had brought some degree of innovation to the classic operatic setup, the stages are still dominated by the Italian, German, and to a lesser extent Russian traditions. All around the world, singers dress up in dead clothes, and sing in dialects long gone. Half the experience of going to the opera these days is the trip back into the past, when barons, generals, ladies of the court, and the occasional fairy got down to some extreme shenanigans, and sang about it. You can increasingly see a touch of the modern day when an adventurous director garbs his cast of Rigoletto or Lohengrin in modern dress, but a truly contemporary art, one that sings of the human condition as we know it today, is so rare as to be almost non-existent. In 2011, however, Nico Muhly, a composer and musician who made his reputation adding strings for various pop and rock groups like Antony and the Johnsons and the National, premiered an opera he wrote in London, one that gets to the very heart of our wireless culture. The opera, entitled “Two Boys,” tells the story of two teenagers who meet on the internet, and sink into a morass of lies, conspiracy, and murder, as only the web can provide. The opera chorus sits at their laptops onstage, faces aglow in the otherwise dark stage, telling us and themselves that they will be right back, they just need to check their Facebook. The opera has a history of telling a societies’ stories in their main public arenas, the street and the court. Muhly updates this to arguably the sole public arena of any note, the world wide web. The venerable tradition of the opera has finally gone digital.
Salonen, Sibelius, and Ravel, The New York Philharmonic, October 30th – November 5th.
Esa Pekka Salonen, the famed composer and former conductor of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, comes to our side of the country to premiere his stunning Violin Concerto, one of the greatest new additions to the violin canon. The concerto, performed by supremely talented violinist Leila Josefowicz, is in a clear modernist style. Tonal, yet punctuated with sharp zig and zags, underlined by a clear harmonic pulse. It is new music at it’s most exciting, and, with Sibelius’ great, definitive Fifth Symphony on the bill as well, a uniquely great way to introduce yourself to live classical music.
The Fifth Estate, opens October 18th in wide release.
In 2010, Julian Assange and WikiLeaks achieved instant notoriety the world over for his orchestration of the public airing of many governments’ secret files, chief among them: the United States. In the time since, he’s been hailed as a hero, exposing the workings of corrupt governments, and a high villain, subverting the work of Western Democracy, thus aiding tyrannical regimes. Now, in the ultimate tribute of Western society, his life and the story of his work have become a movie. Benedict Cumberbatch of “Sherlock” and Star Trek fame stars as Assange, ice blonde locks intact, as he works to uncover the secrets of Western governments and spy agencies, and becomes an international celebrity in the process. Based on the trailer alone, spy intrigue and political invective will not be in short supply.