What we'll be listening to, watching, and reading to sate our pop culture needs.
The Mad Men countdown is on. Luckily there are plenty of things we can distract ourselves with until Sunday night, including Queen Latifah’s star turn as Bessie Smith, and Catherine Deneuve’s French thriller. Bon weekend, indeed!
We’re not yet ready to say goodbye to Peggy, Joan, and the rest of the Sterling Cooper cohorts, but show creator Matthew Weiner isn’t giving us a choice, so we’re going to watch, riveted, on Sunday night as television comes to the end of an era. As a series that made no qualms about showing the harsh history of sexism and racism in even the most progressive of cities, Mad Men, though entertaining to say the least, has been a fascinating window into an all-too-recent past, one that caused us to reflect on our current societal ills, many of which are far too similar. Echoing the last words of the agency’s biggest eccentric Bert Cooper, “Bravo.”
Sure, the HBO Bessie Smith biopic, directed by Pariah filmmaker Dee Rees, would be a good watch on premise alone—the openly bisexual singer it depicts was a groundbreaking blues great after all. But with Queen Latifah in the titular role, Bessie becomes exceptional, especially when QL takes the stage. The riveting film follows the star’s rise to fame in the face of adversity—not least of which was her skin color—as well as her meaningful relationships, like mentor, Ma Rainey played by Mo’Nique. Its nuances highlight the rampant racism of the day—through minor characters like vaudeville bookers and White blues fans—but beyond the story, Bessie brings Queen Latifah back to the forefront where she should be, and shows off the sharp skills and keen eye of director Rees, who has us highly anticipating what she’ll do next.
Female rock critics have long been relegated to the sidelines, getting elbowed to the back of pop culture by the male writers who feel they have more of a “right” to be there. Which is why Jessica Hopper’s new book is so important. As the Pitchfork Review editor says in her foreword, she’s “planting a flag,” with this collection of reviews, reportage, profiles, and criticism—we’re here, and there are more of us coming.
French screen queen Catherine Deneuve stars in the latest film from André Téchiné, as Renée La Roux, a casino owner double-crossed by her daughter, Agnès, after she falls in love with her manipulative lawyer (who is later blamed for Agnès’s disappearance). Based on a true story, the intrigue of the ’70s scandal is balanced by the gorgeous Nice locale it’s set in. Deneuve is superb, as always, and her daughter, played by Adele Haenel, is certainly one à surveiller, as they say.
Few septuagenarians are still rocking the mic, but, after a seven-year break, Buffy Sainte-Marie has released her 18th album, and she still sings with the same fire she had in the ’60s. A mix of political anthems, ballads, and pure rock, Sainte-Marie’s album is, in a nutshell, why we love her—she’ll forever be fighting for awareness of indigenous Americans, and she sounds so good doing so.
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