Spirit Fiction, Ravi Coltrane
Somewhere in Dix Hills, Long Island, there’s a brick house on a suburban street with peeling paint, dangling gutters and an upstairs room where a legend was born. That legend is John Coltrane's four-part suite, A Love Supreme, which he composed there in the summer of ‘64. It's arguably one of the greatest jazz albums of all time. One year later, his son Ravi was born. The boy barely knew his father — John died when Ravi was 2 — and yet somehow Trane handed down his signature sound. Who knew DNA strands could groove? Critics praise Spirit Fiction for its “style informed by tradition but not encumbered by it.” No small feat when your name is Coltrane.
Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry
It’s partly the translation and partly his intellectual charm that can make it seem as if Ai Weiwei is speaking in proverbs. There’s a moment, for instance, in Alison Klayman's Sundance-winning doc about the Chinese artist/activist when a portly cat springs up and up and up like a pogo stick to reach a door latch. “If I never met this cat that can open doors,” says Ai, “I wouldn’t know cats can open doors.” Hmmm. No wonder Ai is as well known for his Tweets as he is for his Beijing "Bird's Nest." Of course, his succinct sentiments are rarely so benign, and often endanger his life. (Giving the middle finger to the Communist government is a common theme.) This inspiring film offers an intimate look at the provocative work and complicated life of the man known as the dissident for the digital age.
Top Chef Masters
Bravo, Wednesday, 10 p.m.
No matter how adroitly the trailer editors mash flames bursting, blood spewing and chefs cursing, true fans know the truth. Masters is and always will be the kinder, gentler version of the Top Chef competitive cooking franchise — the one purists prefer. No trauma. No drama. No Padma. (Sorry, James Oseland, but nobody’s tuning in to eyeball your outfits). Sure, star chefs tend to be tyrants, but — on camera, at least — professionalism (they are competing for their favorite charities) and mutual respect keep the emotions from boiling over.
Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk, Ben Fountain
This is not a book about football. Though the central moment is set on the 50-yard line at Texas Stadium during the Cowboys’ annual Thanksgiving Day game, the action takes place mostly in the titular war hero’s head as he contemplates his baffling circumstances: being plucked from an Iraq battlefield and plunked down into the spectacular gaudiness of an NFL half-time show. It’s the ideal setting for a biting satire of our times. “Class, privilege, power, politics, sex, commerce and the life-or-death dynamics of battle all figure in Billy Lynn’s surreal game-day experience,” wrote a reviewer in the New York Times. The novel offers up a ruthlessly sharp cultural critique, and that’s just one of the reasons it’s so often likened to The Catcher in the Rye. Acerbically witty, like Holden Caulfield, Billy also has remarkable insight into his own alienation. “It’s very strange,” he says, “being honored for the worst day of your life.”
WORTH THE TRIP (AND HURRY UP!)
Newport Folk Festival, July 27-29
Never have boos been so seminal. What began as the hippie little sister of the famed Jazz Fest became renowned as the place where Dylan plugged in and changed the world. NFF has since grown into one of summer’s hottest tickets. The Folk Nazis are long gone; the crowd converging on bucolic Fort Adams now expects an eclectic and electric mix, from bluegrass to rock, by young indies and classic stars. This weekend’s headliners — Wilco, My Morning Jacket and Jackson Browne — share the bill with the likes of The Alabama Shakes, New Multitudes and The Guthrie Family Reunion. Though the Festival sold out months ago, a handful of seats are left for Wilco and some two-day passes can be had on StubHub. If all else fails, NPR airs a live webcast.
Pamela Miller is a freelance writer in Los Angeles