“The Dark Knight.” “Chiraq.” “Candyman. “ “The Untouchables.” Each in their own way makes Chicago America’s city of tough breaks and broken hearts. But just read the devastating recent New York Times headline, “In Deeply Divided Chicago, Most Agree: City is Off Course,” and you’ll be more thankful than “Barbershop: The Next Cut,” is in our theaters. I can’t remember a movie that wears its civic pride, its city love, more on its sleeve.
Worth leaving home for
“Barbershop,” like real barbershops, gives you the kind of community experience you love cities for. You go to “Marble Hill’s International Unisex” hair salon on West 228th Street and you thank Mr. Roosevelt Spivey and his customers for the civic spirit that beat back an eviction exactly one year ago. (Read all about in The Riverdale Press). You go to “Angela’s Beauty” on West 231st Street and you see the miracle that is Angela Suriel’s small shop, about to move to bigger digs down the street between Tibbett and Johnson. Latina power! (Wouldn’t that make a great name for a hair salon reality television series?)
You go to “Barbershop: Next Cut,” and you get so close to the characters you can insult them yourself. Yes, there’s that broad comedy that makes Cedric the Entertainer a showstopper and even Nicki Minaj a light comedienne. There’s a battle of the sexes theme that’s played for keeps, and a simmering rivalry between the two male leads, Ice Cube and Common, that’s all too real. But every cheap laugh and every beat of the family drama feel earned because they’re part of a civic purpose that is so transparent, it’s Brechtian. This movie talks back to you about the kind of broken city you let happen. It tells you how to join together and make it work. It explains hashtags. And it begins and ends with a vision of Jubilee that is dear to the heart of anyone who ever dreamed Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream: the presidency of a black man, Chicago’s own Barack Obama. In fact, if Chicago’s political leadership had any brains, they would take a page right out of this movie and set up free viewings of “Barbershop” throughout the city. It’s impossible to feel hate or fear afterward.
Have you heard? There are now three cinematic versions of jazz great Nina Simone’s life and career. You might have seen “What Happened Miss Simone,” the Oscar nominated documentary still available on Netflix. You might have heard about “Nina,” the biopic about the darkening of Zoe Saldana’s complexion. That movie disappeared so fast it made Diana Ross look typecast in “Lady Sings the Blues.” And now we have “The Amazing Nina Simone,” the lauded film of Jeff Lieberman and Ms. Simone’s brother, Sam Waymon. It recently had its New York premiere and is coming back for encores. If you want to make it happen.
Shereese Mullings of Island Voice, a Staten-Island based youth empowerment organization, is a Manhattan College graduate, an actress and singer, and winner of the Nina Simone Youth Advocacy Award. Who better than to consult for guidance on the three Simone films? For Shereese, “The Amazing Nina Simone” captured the “essence” of Nina even better than “What Happened Miss Simone.” The story of a classically trained musician forced to abandon the classical music career she was destined to have — her parents were not allowed to sit in the front of her recitals — in order to reinvent herself as a jazz artist is told with “objectivity,” reports Shereese.
Whichever film you choose, it’s a good thing we can fight over a jazz singer most people didn’t know about just a year ago. Such is the power of our times. Shereese values Simone for precisely this prescience: “I have a role and I’m going to play it. This is where I need to be,” is how she imagines Simone positioning herself in the turbulent 1960s. Shereese is deepening her own connection, currently working on a performance based on Simone’s classic, “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood,” which pretty much should be an anthem for all of us.
Worth staying home for
“Gone Girl” is now available at home, and it’s the mis-marketing of all time. If you expected a slick suspense thriller like that one with Goldie Hawn or that other one with Gwyneth Paltrow, you didn’t read that David Fincher is the director. Fincher’s entire filmmaking oeuvre is the fatalistic, obsessive pursuits that yield no real conclusions, only truncated, arbitrary violent ends. He pursued the latter in “Alien 3” and memorably, “Se7en.” He committed to the former in “Zodiac” and now “Gone Girl.” What’s the fatal obsession in this movie? A couple one step away from killing each other but without the means to extricate themselves. Yikes. That’s what you call a horror story.