LUCY (Luc Besson, 2014)
Opens Friday, July 25
First there was Anne Parillaud in La Femme Nikita, followed by Milla Jovovich in The Fifth Element and The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc and Rie Rasmussen in Angel-A, and now there’s Scarlett Johansson playing the latest different kind of female superhero in a visually striking film by French writer-director Luc Besson. Johansson stars as the title character in Lucy, a student in Taipei who gets suckered into a drug deal that goes very wrong. She is turned into a mule carrying a bag of a new synthetic drug, CPH4, for evil kingpin Mr. Jang (Oldboy’s Choi Min-sik in his first international film) that has been surgically implanted into her intestines. But the bag opens inside her and releases the substance into her system, with neurons firing everywhere as she quickly realizes that her brainpower is reaching unheard-of levels. While seeking advice from Professor Samuel Norman (Morgan Freeman) at the Sorbonne, she also enlists French police captain Pierre Del Rio (Syriana’s Amr Waked) to help her track down three other bags of CPH4, primarily to feed her brain, which is using 20, 30, then 40% and more of its capacity. Her physical and mental abilities continue to increase at an alarming rate, giving her superhuman strength and confidence but also costing her a piece of her humanity as she transforms into a robotlike woman on a mission. Also increasing is the size of various plot holes and the overall level of absurdity, but Johansson is so mesmerizing that it’s easy to forgive Besson for getting way too excited about the myriad possibilities green screens and advanced computer technology gave him. As with the somewhat similar but ultimately disappointing Transcendence, Lucy directly and indirectly references a slew of sci-fi flicks, from 2001: A Space Odyssey and Demon Seed to Altered States and The Terminator as well as the noir classic DOA. It’s also a natural extension of Johansson’s alluring performance as the voice of Samantha the operating system in Spike Jonze’s wonderful her. Yes, for a movie about a crazy-smart woman, Lucy can get pretty stupid, but Johansson overcomes that drawback with her superb acting chops and, well, graceful intelligence.
Musician, conductor, composer, and educator Jon Faddis couldn’t have picked a more perfect place to celebrate his “reverse-sweet-sixteen” birthday than Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola, a beautiful, intimate venue named for Faddis’s mentor, Dizzy Gillespie, who once said about his protégé, “He’s the best ever, including me!” Trumpeter Faddis, joined by David Hazeltine on piano, Todd Coolman on bass, and Dion Parson on drums, paid tribute to his past during a dazzling early show on opening night, July 24, his actual birthday. As the sun slowly set on Central Park, the soft-spoken California native recalled such fellow jazzmen as Clark Terry, Michael Brecker, Roy Eldridge, Thad Jones, Lionel Hampton, and others as he played “Waltz for My Fathers & Brothers,” entered the Faddisphere on a gorgeous rendition of Lalo Schifrin’s five-movement “Gillespiana,” and even sang lead on Louis Armstrong’s “What a Wonderful World.” He joked with the audience and a table of Russians, traded trivia with host Phil Schaap, and smiled at Hazeltine’s feet as one of the piano pedals made a surprise musical squeak, which actually melded well with Faddis’s horn, in fine form all evening as Faddis effortlessly reached ridiculously high notes and crafted mesmerizing melodies. After Schaap led the crowd through “Happy Birthday,” Faddis was presented with a cake, receiving help from his three-year-old son in blowing out the candles. Not quite done yet, Faddis encored with part of “Teranga” before leaving the stage, only to come back out and hang for a bit with his adoring fans for handshakes, photos, and fist bumps. The Jon Faddis Quartet continues its celebratory run at Dizzy’s at 7:30 and 9:30 through July 27.
THE KILL TEAM (Dan Krauss, 2013)
Film Society of Lincoln Center, Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center
144 West 65th St. between Broadway & Amsterdam Ave.
Ten years ago, Dan Krauss made the Oscar-nominated short The Death of Kevin Carter: Casualty of the Bang Bang Club, telling the harrowing story of a South African war photographer struggling with his decision to take a photo of a starving Sudanese girl being stalked by a vulture rather than trying to help her. In his feature debut, Krauss documents the emotional tale of another man at a crossroads in The Kill Team. Intrigued by the April 2011 New York Times Magazine article “A Beast in the Heart of Every Fighting Man” about a homicidal military platoon in Afghanistan, Krauss follows Specialist Adam Winfield as he faces one count of premeditated murder. After discovering that several of his fellow soldiers had purposely gone out looking to kill an innocent man, then drop a weapon to make it appear that the victim was a terrorist, Winfield sent an agonizing message to his father, a former Marine: “I want to do something about it. The only problem is I don’t feel safe here telling anyone.” Winfield went along on one of the kill missions, which were led by Staff Sergeant Calvin Gibbs, and eventually blew the whistle on Gibbs and the others, but his nightmare continued.
Krauss first became part of the defense team, shooting video pro bono for lawyer Eric Montalvo and filming his meetings with Winfield, his father, and his mother, Emma. Krauss also speaks with other members of the company, Corporal Jeremy Morlock, Private First Class Andrew Holmes, and another whistleblower, Private First Class Justin Stoner, all of whom were facing serious charges as well. Krauss shifts between Winfield’s trial preparation and the soldiers’ reconstruction of their wartime experience while also taking a look back at Winfield’s childhood. By refusing to participate in the film, Gibbs becomes a sort of mythic master villain, part William Calley Jr., part Colonel Kurtz. The Kill Team, which won the Grand Jury Prize at the 2013 Tribeca Film Festival, does an excellent job of making viewers wonder what they would do not only in Winfield’s position but in any situation that sets moral priorities against physical safety. However, Krauss is too manipulative of reality in favor of his desired narrative. When he interviews Morlock, Holmes, and Stoner, the outcome of their trials are already known, but he saves the details for the end, and he deleted a very different closing scene because it didn’t fit with the points he wanted to make, about the military justice system and moral injury. Still, The Kill Team is an important story about war, sacrifice, family, and the evil that men do. The seventy-nine-minute documentary is having an exclusive one-week theatrical run at the Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center, with Krauss on hand for Q&As with journalist and Oscar-winning screenwriter Mark Boal (The Hurt Locker, Zero Dark Thirty) after the 7:15 screenings on July 25 and 26.
Multiple locations in Chelsea
Thursday, July 24, free, 5:00 - 8:00
More than one hundred galleries from Sixteenth to Thirtieth Sts. between Ninth and Eleventh Aves. will keep their doors open until 8:00 tonight for the fifth annual Chelsea Art Walk. The evening includes open studios, artist talks, panel discussions, book signings, receptions, photo shoots, and other events. Below are some of our recommended highlights.
Wearable Art Photo Shoot: Everyone is invited to show up wearing some kind of self-made art (clothing, makeup, hair, nails), 530 West 25th St., 6:30 – 7:30
Bertrand Delacroix Gallery
Sneak peek at Federico Infante’s fall exhibition, “The Space Between,” including raffle of original Infante drawing, 535 West 25th St., 5:00 – 8:00
Churner and Churner
Performance and reception for opening of Ander Mikalson’s “Three’s Company for Eight Performers,” 205 Tenth Ave., three performances, 5:00 – 8:00
Dean Borghi — NBR Contemporary
Book reading, White Collar Slavery: Based on a Bit of Truth and a Few White Lies by Laurance Rassin and Tracy Memoil, 5:00; live music by Clusterfunk and short film Art Sharks, 6:00 - 8:00, 547 West 27th St.
Hauser & Wirth
Sterling Ruby “Sunrise Sunset” panel discussion with Michael Darling, Jeremy Strick, and Huma Bhabha, 511 West 18th St., 6:30
Opening reception for group show “Summer Garden” featuring works by Osamu Kobayashi, Shinji Murakami, and Gail Stoicheff, with free special Mizu Shochu cocktails and live performance by Zander Padget at 7:00, 521 West 26th St.
“The Art of Painting Portraits,” lecture by artist Alphonse van Woerkom, 115 West 30th St., 5:15
Yossi Milo Gallery
Book signing, Horizons by Sze Tsung Leong, 245 Tenth Ave., 6:00 – 8:00
Sinatra Drive between Fourth & Fifth Sts., Hoboken
Thursday, July 24, free, 7:00
At the May 2012 Thanks Jimi Festival in Wrocław, Poland, 7,273 guitarists set the world record for most people playing the same song, Hendrix’s “Hey Joe.” On July 24 at 7:00, Hoboken’s Guitar Bar will attempt to set a new high when they bring together instrumentalists of all skill levels in Sinatra Park to play Bob Dylan’s “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door.” The world record attempt will be led by the Guitar Bar All Stars, teachers and staff of the popular Guitar Bar and the nearby Guitar Bar Jr. The setlist will also feature some combination of David Bowie’s “Heroes,” the Velvet Underground’s “Sweet Jane,” Patti Smith’s “Gloria,” Outkast’s “Hey Ya!,” Johnny Cash and June Carter Cash’s “Jackson,” Hank Williams’s “Jambalaya,” the Beatles’ “Yellow Submarine,” Dylan’s “Rainy Day Women #12 & 35,” and Bruce Springsteen’s “Glory Days” and “Jersey Girl.” Feel free to just show up with whatever instrument you want; you can get a song tutorial here.
Morris A. and Meyer Schapiro Wing, fourth and fifth floors
200 Eastern Parkway at Washington St.
Wednesday - Sunday through August 10, $15
Art Off the Wall: “Ai Weiwei: According to What?,” July 24, $15, 6:00
Over the last decade, Ai Weiwei has become the most famous, and arguably the most important, artist in the world. The multidisciplinary artist and activist, the son of a poet and activist father, helped design the National Olympic Stadium, aka the Bird’s Nest, for the 2008 Beijing Summer Games, was beaten by police in Chengdu in 2009, had his influential blog shut down by the Chinese government that same year, then was arrested in 2011, his whereabouts unknown for eighty-one days as people around the globe demanded his release. Through it all, Ai, who has been under house arrest since 2011, has remained steadfast in his dedication to challenge belief systems, question the status quo, and explore social issues in his art. All that and more is evident in the impressive “Ai Weiwei: According to What?,” a touring survey that is in the midst of its final stop at the Brooklyn Museum, where it continues through August 10. “Rather than thinking of my projects as art, they attempt to introduce a new condition, a new means of expression, or a new method of communicating,” Ai tells Kerry Brougher in a Q&A in the exhibition catalog, in which he references Ludwig Wittgenstein, Andy Warhol, Confucius, Donald Judd, and Sergei Eisenstein in a few short pages. “If these possibilities didn’t exist, I wouldn’t feel the need to be an artist.”
The exhibition began in 2009 at the Mori Art Museum in Tokyo but continued to morph as it made its way through North America toward Brooklyn, where several pieces have been added. Upon entering the Brooklyn Museum’s front lobby, visitors are greeted by “S.A.C.R.E.D.,” six iron boxes that contain detailed re-creations of scenes from Ai’s imprisonment — being led into his small cell by guards, being interrogated, eating, sleeping, using the bathroom, under constant surveillance — instantly turning the Beijing-based artist into a heroic, bigger-than-life figure. The rest of the show, spread across two upper floors, confirms that Ai is indeed a hero, his sculptures, photographs, films, repurposed found objects, and installations all having political, historical, and social relevance, dealing with individual freedom, human rights, and the search for the truth.
There is critical meaning behind every work, sometimes obvious, as in the marble “Surveillance Camera” and photographs in which Ai shoves his middle finger at Tiananmen and the White House, and often less clear at first, as in “He Xie,” a pile of more than three thousand porcelain crabs gathered at the center of a room. The piece references a dinner of river crabs that Ai, who could not attend because of his house arrest, organized shortly before his Shanghai studio was going to be torn down by the government; the title of the piece sounds like the word “harmonious,” which echoes the communist phrase “a harmonious society.” Ai consistently values people above material objects, mocking monetary worth. In “Dropping a Han Dynasty Urn,” three photographs depict him letting an ancient ceramic vase fall from his hands, smashing at his feet. “Stacked” consists of hundreds of silver bicycles in a dazzling array, not only evoking the popular means of transportation in China but the mass production of consumer goods, in this case made by a company called Forever.
Ai has spent much of the last few years investigating the aftereffects of the 2008 Sichuan earthquake, in which poorly constructed buildings, including schools, resulted in approximately ninety thousand missing or dead men, women, and children. For “Straight,” Ai had workers take twisted steel rebar from the sites of the building collapses and pound them back into their original straight form, then laid them out in a vast landscape that appears unfinished, as more bodies need to be found and identified. The victims of the earthquake, who have been mostly ignored by the government, are given back their identities in “Sichuan Namelist,” an inkjet print listing casualties, and “Remembrance,” a nearly four-hour recording on which a voice reads the names of the students who died in the tragedy. The children are also memorialized in “Snake Ceiling,” in which hundreds of children’s backpacks form a serpentine figure lurking above.
“Ai Weiwei: According to What?” also includes dozens of Ai’s photographs from his time in New York City; repurposed furniture that comments on Chinese tradition and the actual map of the country; his film Stay Home!, about a woman who contracted AIDS from a blood transfusion when she was a little girl; the installation “Ye Haiyan,” in which Ai has collected the belongings of a women’s rights activist who keeps getting evicted from her home; a video documenting his “Fairytale” project, in which he brought 1,001 Chinese people, from all classes, to Documenta in Kassel; and works that detail his brain injury suffered at the hands of police. The exhibition is splendidly curated by Sharon Matt Atkins, allowing plenty of space for contemplation of these bold, inspiring works by an artist who is not afraid to speak his mind, fully aware of what the consequences might be. “The relationship between thought and action is the most important source of human wisdom and joy,” Ai says at the end of the catalog interview. “With both, the process of turning art into reality is the path to happiness. It’s like a game. Only through this process can we understand who we are. So the game will continue.” The captivating exhibition — which is positive and delightfully engaging despite the serious nature of so much of its subject matter — makes you want to be part of that game. On Thursday, July 24, there will be a special evening “Art Off the Wall” program, consisting of a talk by Matt Atkins at 6:00, a presentation and workshop by the Asian American Oral History Collective at 6:30, Kelly Zen-Yie Tsai’s multimedia spoken-word piece “Ai Weiwei: The Seed” at 7:30, and a Chinese calligraphy workshop and DJ set at 8:30. (To see Ai answer questions from museum visitors, go here.)
Cedar Lake Theater
547 West 26th St. between Tenth & Eleventh Aves.
Tuesday, July 29, and Wednesday, July 30, free, 7:00 & 8:30
In the last few odd-numbered years, Chelsea-based Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet has presented a summer intensive where dance students work with the sixteen-member company to create an immersive 360° installation in which the performance reaches into a variety of physical spaces. This summer, recently promoted artistic director Alexandra Damiani has created Cedar Lab, an initiative in which five of the dancers will choreograph new pieces; the works-in-progress will be unveiled to the public for free July 29-30. “As we reach our ten-year anniversary, this is an opportune time for Cedar Lake to consider where we would like to go in the next decade,” Damiani, who was ballet master under pervious artistic director Benoit-Swan Pouffer, said in a statement. “By investing in the talent of our dancers, who have time and again proven themselves to be insatiably gifted individuals, I hope that Cedar Lab will open new creative doors for our dancers and reinforce our position as a leading voice in the creation and performance of contemporary dance.” The five dancers — Jon Bond (The Devil Was Me), Navarra Novy-Williams (three solos for women), Matthew Rich (dance film), Joaquim de Santana (gender-defying duet), and Vânia Doutel Vaz (seven dancers exploring communication) — will not just choreograph the pieces but work with lighting, set and costume design, and music and sound to get the full experience. The shows will take place at 7:00 and 8:30; admission is free, first come, first served.