2015 was the year of many a pop cultural meme, from The Super Bowl’s Left Shark to Drake’s dance moves, but for Miss Ntertainment it was also a year that held a number of highlights in the world of entertainment news worth knowing. So, here, in Top 10 format, are the moments that made it a cracking year.
10. Visiting the Empire set.
Early on in the year, while training for the Paris Marathon, I developed a Wednesday night ritual of running 5 miles on the outskirts of Central Park, then coming home to flop down in front of the TV and watch my guilty pleasure of Empire. Only soon it wasn’t such a guilty pleasure as runners from my crew and I started exchanging messages about the show and our favourite Cookie lines. Ahead of the second season, I got the chance to visit the set in Chicago. As luck would have it, the night before, I fell on a street in Soho (not running, but walking, mind you), giving more truth to the Cookie-ism about the streets not being for everyone that I would’ve liked. I spoke to Taraji P Henson, who was every bit as delightful as I’d hoped, and the rest of the cast – except for Terrence Howard, who was laying low because of a personal court case he was involved in, about the success of the show. The second season hasn’t been as thrilling as the first, but Empire certainly left its mark, and TV is all the better for it.
9. The Seinfeld apartment.
To celebrate the release of all Seinfeld episodes being made available to watch online, and not just as random repeats on late-night TV, Hulu recreated the interior of the apartment where Jerry and co would hang out each episode. It wasn’t on the Upper West Side, as had been in the series, but in the Meatpacking District, and it was a surreal experience to be able to walk through the door and sit on the couch of the make-believe apartment. It ranked up there with visiting Central Perk, re-created in a Soho building last year to celebrate the 20th anniversary of Friends. Now, if we can just get a look inside Carrie Bradshaw’s apartment in the Village…
8. Getting swept up in the Adele, Hotline Bling and Star Wars hype.
There’s so much fragmenting us in this age of viral videos, short attention spans and political disparities that coming together in the name of one thing is becoming a rarity.Uniting over the mutual love of something – even if it is a played-too-often love song or nostalgic space opera – is something to be cherished. The Adele impersonators that the BBC found, together with Drake’s Hotline Bling (a gift that keeps on giving) are but two cases in point. I will always remember the joy Bryan Cranston speaking Drake’s lyrics brought. Priceless. So too is having a heroine like Rey, played by Daisy Ridley, for us ladies to look up to.
7. Trevor Noah taking over The Daily Show.
It still takes my breath away a little every time a bus passes by me with Trevor Noah’s face on it, or when I walk past a subway poster with his face smiling out at me. Being a foreigner in the US, it’s become a sign of familiarity, a little piece of home here in the big city, like whenever I spot a South African flag somewhere or see the SA Tourism bus with pictures of a safari plastered all over it. But more than that, it’s a sign that anything can happen. Work hard, ply your craft, (keep your tweets semi-sane) and you could go anywhere. If this comedian from Soweto can take over the reigns of one of America’s most popular late night TV shows, then anything can happen. And yet, there’s even more to it. In hiring a foreigner, Comedy Central also signalled a step in a new direction, a move towards being more inclusive and open to a broader world view. Who knows what’s next? And how exciting that is!
6. Witnessing Mad Max at the Cannes Film Festival.
This year, Cannes decided to do something different. They opened the prestigious film festival with a blockbuster – only this was the best kind of blockbuster they could have chosen for the occasion. After oversleeping and thinking I had missed my interview with Charlize Theron, I went to the Hotel du Cap to speak to the film’s cast and director about making the film deemed by many as the highlight of the fest. It was called Mad Max: Fury Road, but Charlize’s Furiosa was undoubtedly its star – a tough, strong, but vulnerable woman who pushed through George Miller’s dystopian desert, complete with menacing flying guitarists and dangerous truckers. It was thrilling and never sacrificed the story or characters for the action. I also got to see Inside Out and Amy at Cannes too – again, two memorable experiences of two of my best films of the year.
5. When Rebel Wilson sang to me in Zulu (okay so it was Sotho, but hey!)
Press junket interviews can be hit or miss. You get 4 or 5 minutes to make magic happen. Sometimes you stump Oprah, or make Meryl Streep smile, but mostly, you’re just trying to keep Mark Wahlberg from falling asleep or get Anna Kendrick to like you. Rebel Wilson was by far, not just one of my favourite interviews from this year, she has become one of my favourite interviews ever. Having recently returned from filming a movie in South Africa, and having visited the country before, she told me she could speak Afrikaans as soon as I sat down. Of course I had to ask her about it, and the rest is viral video history!
4. Seeing Bjork in concert for the first time.
Living in the US means I’ve finally got to tick off bucket list concerts like Sade and Pearl Jam, and earlier this year, I got to see Bjork, at the magnificently-restored Kings Theatre in Brooklyn. It coincided with the release of her retrospective at MoMA which was disappointing in its size and scope, but her album, Vulnicura, was not. She’s still an artist that puts out deeply emotional material, and yet is still comfortable enough to push the digital envelope, as I experienced sitting inside a small room inside Brooklyn’s Rough Trade, watching the 360 degree virtual reality music video for Stonemilker.
3. JR’s artwork all over New York City.
French artist JR has taken on the issue of immigration in a big way this year – from his work on Ellis Island to his Walking New York project, where there are images of people, printed and blown up into huge pieces that he pastes on walls across this city. He continues to work with the NY Ballet Company too, and it’s been an incredible delight to turn a corner, look up and gasp at his latest piece. Merci, monsieur.
2. Kendrick Lamar’s urgent, important, historic album, To Pimp a Butterfly.
There’s no denying Kendrick’s talent. That he’s finally been acknowledged for that with 11 Grammy nods means all is well in the world. Except it isn’t really, and this is why we need him. There are many reasons to like Kendrick – his ability to reflect the times within his verbal skills first and foremost. But for me, they become a little more personal, having grown up in a country where racial issues have been at the forefront of life. The way that I used to learn about artists struggling on the Cape Flats in Cape Town, is how I learn about ones from Compton and other less affluent areas in the US – through the rhymes spoken by Kendrick and his musical forefathers. A highlight this past year was seeing him interview NWA on the eve of the release of Straight Outta Compton, and hearing the kinds of questions he had for his idols. I still maintain Alright, with its striking black and white imagery and car being carried by cops is the best of the year. And as many critics have noted, we’ll be talking about TPAB for years to come. May he reign come Grammy time.
1. Hamilton, the worth-selling-a-kidney-for, ground-breaking musical.
You knew this was coming! Anyone who’s had the fortune of speaking to me since August the 12th this year would’ve guessed this musical would top the cultural experiences I had this year. Seeing this show had a profound effect on me. I like it for all the reasons so many people do – from Obama to every single big name you can think of. It’s clever, imaginative, tells the story of a lesser-known founding father in a way that’s unique and fun, and re-casts a bunch of dead old white men with hip cool cats from different races. But I love Hamilton for what it did for me personally. It tapped into so many of the things I have been feeling living in NYC – not entirely unlike Mr Hamilton, the desire to take up every opportunity that comes my way, to write, write, write and work, work, work, to be “in the room where it happens” and make a mark. When the cast released the soundtrack, with its killer hip hop tracks about guns and ships and the battle of Kips Bay, I knew it would be my album of the year. For me, finding solace and inspiration in lyrics created from scenarios that took place in the 18th century is part of the genius of creator Lin-Manuel Miranda. And there’s so much more – the agency we have in our lives, the ability to control none but ourselves, and the power of a strong woman. So many reasons to love Hamilton. I would wish to see it again, but I want everyone else to get the chance to see it at least once before I get to go again. That way, we can all go A.HAM!
The usual reaction upon being told the leading lady of the film you are doing interviews about has to cancel is disappointment. Utter disappointment, coupled with the frustration of being a journalist who has to deliver a story without the central character. This is what happened on Sunday when Jennifer Lawrence cancelled her interviews for Joy, on account of her being ill, according to the publicity folks. Although I was disappointed, another experience I had that day softened the blow for me.
I was helping a friend out by doing interviews for the movie. Joy, which has been nominated for a few Golden Globes, including Best Actress for Oscar winner Jennifer Lawrence, is the latest pairing of Lawrence, Robert De Niro and Bradley Cooper with director David O. Russell, in a story about the woman who invented the Miracle Mop. Not only did Joy Mangano invent that and a bunch of other super-useful items, but she also created the thin velvet clothes-hangers that have been a staple in my teeny-tiny cupboard, since moving to NYC. Although I found the film itself to be a little all over the place and lacking a clear tone, it’s an inspiring story of how Joy battled volumes of debt, bickering family members, misogyny and the era she lived in, to become richer than she ever knew she could be, and fulfill her life’s biggest creative ambitions.
The film has a large supporting cast, and the story incorporates women from 4 decades, which is fantastic to see. The junket had many of these cast members on hand for interviews. Junkets can be pretty hit and miss. The day before I spoke to Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg about Daddy’s Home, and I’ve never felt more unfunny or awkward than I did in the 6 minutes I shared with them. Hey, maybe I was trying too hard. But on the day that I spoke to the Joy cast, everything seemed to flow. Sure, there was much anguish when J.Law cancelled her interviews at the last moment. For me, it would have been my first time interviewing Ms Lawrence. Somehow in the years of her rise from Winter’s Bone to Hunger Games, Silver Linings Playbook and American Hustle, I have not had the chance to speak to her.
Despite her not making the junket, I had a truly great time talking to rest of the cast, from 80-year-old Diane Ladd, mother of Laura Dern (who told me the dress with roses I was wearing was going to bring her good luck because roses are her lucky charm), to Edgar Ramirez who is a warm kind of soul, and even Robert De Niro, who, the last time I interviewed him asked me why my country was allowing Oscar Pistorius to go off the hook (this was before the new hearing).
But by far, the person I most enjoyed speaking to was Isabella Rossellini, who plays the woman who helps finance Joy’s invention dreams, Trudie. After watching the documentary about Ingrid Bergman in Cannes earlier this year,In Her Own Words, which takes letters and notes written by Rossellini’s late mother, I was happy to be able to get in a few words with her before the interview started about that film. Isabella said she was glad to see that the documentary presented her mother’s story using her own words and showed the full spectrum of her life. Bergman was the face of Cannes this past year and being in Rossellini’s presence felt like an extension of the celebration of her life’s work.
Added to that was something Rossellini said about Jennifer Lawrence that struck me too. She said she’d been thinking of the actress the day before and about her place in the movie business. “Her talent is huge, it’s another dimension,” Rossellini said. “It’s hard to talk about it in present time. But just like Marlon Brando had a rawness in his acting, and so redefined what it meant to be a man, and gave masculinity a new definition, I think it is the same with Jennifer. She is redefining what it means to be a woman.”
She went on to mention Marilyn Monroe for adding a clown-like quality to being a sex symbol, and Sophia Loren, who changed the identity of Italian women from being something ugly into beautiful. “So Jennifer is creating a new definition for what it means to be a modern woman. Someone who is strong, and still remains calm and never loses focus. It’s beyond acting,” she continued.
To hear Rossellini, who has lived in the film world since she was born to her mother and father, Roberto, in 1952 talk about names from bygone eras and relay her perspective of current trends today was indeed a joyful experience.
Hello from New York City! Well, actually hello from New Jersey. I took myself across the Hudson River to Hoboken to check out a few Sinatra-inspired sights, on account of what would have been Ol’ Blue Eyes’ 100 birthday.
This week has been the kick-start of awards season nominations, with the SAGs and Golden Globes nods being announced. There were quite a few suprises and snubs, but Carol scooped 5 Globe nods – with its stars Rooney Mara and Cate Blanchett both scoring Best Actress noms. But at the SAGs, they’ve been separated into Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress for Rooney. Also, it’s been a great year for Sweden’s Alicia Vikander – she is up for best actress and best supporting actress at the Globes, for The Danish Girl (opposite fellow nominee Eddie Redmayne) and Ex Machina, respectively.
It’s also been a good year for Kendrick Lamar – he scored 11 Grammy noms, followed by Taylor Swift and the Weeknd with 7 each. Kendrick is up for Album of the Year for To Pimp a Butterfly. The track Alright, which he penned in a time where racial profiling and cops killing civilians has been a urgent need to address, is also up for best song, and best music video, which pleases me a lot because it’s my favourite music video of the year. Even Pres Obama said How Much a Dollar Cost was his fave track of the year. Kendrick is also now just behind Michael Jackson, who once had 12 nominations in a single year. History-in-the-making.
For Frank Sinatra’s 100th birthday celebration, the Grammys and CBS staged a special concert. Lady Gaga (who also scored a Globe nod for American Horror Story) put her spin on New York, New York.
If I wasn’t a fan of Netflix after Orange is the New Black (I mean, reason enough to keep the love flowing, right?) then the double bill I’ve spent the past two weekends of my life binge-watching would have won me over. Between Master of None and Jessica Jones, I feel like I’ve been handsomely rewarded for spending time I would have usually dedicated to watching movies or reading on TV.
Both shows are set in New York, so I’ve had much fun playing spot the location while watching the lead characters, Aziz Ansari’s Dev and Krysten Ritter’s Jones go about their lives. But more than that, I’ve been immensely satisfied watching these shows smartly deal with important topics – and seamlessly so, so well that you don’t even realize they are doing it, until you stop for a brief moment to let the next episode re-load. This is how TV right now should look, and feel, and show and tell us, about our lives and the lives of some people we live with (well, minus the superhero part, I guess, but hey, who knows?)
With Master of None, I feel as if I identify with Dev more than I ever have with any of the Girls characters, trying to deal with dating and love, and work and career ideals, and living in a city that offers a thousand choices a day. As Dev tries to navigate his way through texting a crush, staying in touch with his parents and figuring out the next path to take in his career as an actor who isn’t quite where he wanted to be at the age of 32, I feel like the laughter I emit when watching is mostly because I know how real those situations feel because they feel like my truth too. In between the humour are moments of poignancy – witness the way Season One ends, and you’ll know what I mean.
Beyond that, I feel like, in laughing with Dev over the commonalities we share, I have learnt along the way about the differences and things that separate us. As a white girl, I may never know what it’s like to have a person who isn’t white play a character who is, onscreen, as has happened many an incredulous time with people who are Black or Indian or Asian. The issue of representation in Hollywood is addressed in the episode Indians on TV, but it’s not heavy-handed; Ansari and his co-writer Alan Yang, don’t just chastize the system, they try to have their characters work through the issues, so we, as viewers who may not know how this feels, are given insight into the anxiety and anguish it causes and why.
In Jessica Jones, there’s very little laughter (save for Jones’ whiskey-soaked sarcasm), with its neo-noir scenes of gruesome and violent acts, staged by the villain in the series, Kilface (played so devilishly well by David Tennant). But there are women. So many women on my screen. All types – interesting, nuanced women, who exist to live their lives, and not just for the sake of men.
Suffice to say, I can’t wait for Season 2 of both shows. I’m ready for the next binge.
From the moment I turned a corner in Miami, on a one-day trip, and spotted what I’d gone in search of – Faith47’s Multum in Parvo, a woman with her head bowed and arms cupped together in service/suffering – I was captivated. The piece was for a series of artworks done specifically by women artists for Wynwood Walls. Being from South Africa means I’d seen Faith’s (not her real name) work in Cape Town, where she’s from, before. But there was something about seeing this piece here on a wall in the US that struck me.
I don’t know if it was the sheer size – seeing the emotion of the woman’s body language loom so large – but it took my breathe away. As have many of her other pieces. Witness the swans in flight of The Psychic Power of Animals on Broome Street in Soho or the birds in migration of Estamos Todos Los Que Cabemos in Harlem, which reminds us that nature ignores the lines we humans draw on a map. And every time I see another work of hers go up in other parts of the world, I make a mental note to visit them should I venture to those spots any time soon.
I’m thrilled, then, to have been able to see Faith bring her works to the walls of the Jonathan Levine Gallery in Chelsea. It’s her first solo US show, but a continuation of one she started in London last year. Aqua Regalia 2 seeks to cast a new light on items that seem to be of mundane value. So in taking cardboard signs that would’ve been held by those in need and lottery scratch-cards that would’ve been held by the hopeful, and putting putting them under the gaze of a divine goddess of sort, she transforms the ordinary into so much more. Her animal and feminine figures are here in the exhibition too – I’ve never quite looked at hands before, the way Faith gets me to look at them.
Though her works here may be confined to a smaller canvass this way, they’re no less as breath-taking.