The Don’t-Miss List: Shawn Colvin, The Newsroom, Beasts of the Southern Wild

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Shawn Colvin, All Fall Down (Nonesuch)
Three-time Grammy winner Shawn Colvin has faced down depression, anorexia, alcohol and heartache — subjects she’s unflinchingly mined in her music and a recently released memoir, Diamond in the Rough. But her eighth album, the first in six years, may be Colvin’s darkest yet — and we’re talking about someone whose most beloved hit is about a would-be arsonist (1997's "Sunny Came Home").

With references to janitors, homeless people and the detritus of love, All Fall Down's lyrics lament both our crumbling economy and a collapsed romance. The balm is Colvin’s tenacity. The 56-year-old singer is once again putting herself out there, up against the Taylors and the Katys, and she’s doing it on her own terms— and it's meant to be experienced in the pre-MP3 way, from beginning to end. “When you’re hurting, you want to write about what’s going on," Colvin told an interviewer, "but if you’re really depressed, you’re not creating.”

There’s something reassuring about hearing that familiar voice after all these years. Sunny’s still out there — and she’s all right.

The Newsroom, HBO

We built great big things, made ungodly technological advances, explored the universe, cured diseases, and we cultivated the world's greatest artists and the world's greatest economy. We reached for the stars." —Will McAvoy
The first two episodes of The Newsroom made at least one thing abundantly clear: Aaron Sorkin does not grow subtler with age. His main characters, cable news anchor Will McAvoy (Jeff Daniels), executive producer/ex-girlfriend MacKenzie McHale (Emily Mortimer) and their team of overachieving underlings set out to resurrect honest, responsible journalism. Chaos and righteous indignation ensue!

The season so far, like its creator, has been polarizing. Critics have sniped at Sorkin for trotting out familiar formulas and grinding the same old axes. But defenders say his intellectualized rhetoric is refreshing at a time when words tend to matter less than personality. Jeff Daniels told The New York Times that before shooting Will’s first-episode tirade excoriating America for no longer being a great country, Sorkin approached him. “Sorkin said, ‘The speech.’ I go, ‘Yeah.’ He goes, ‘As important as it is to you, it’s twice as important to me.’ 

Beasts of the Southern Wild

If soul food were a movie, it would be Beasts of the Southern Wild, in which surviving the apocalypse isn’t about scavenging scraps, it’s about creating a glorious feast from them. A young girl called Hushpuppy (Quevenzhane Wallis) lives in a flood-ravaged mythical Louisiana lowland known as the Bathtub. What happens next is akin to Where the Wild Things Are meets Mad Max, observed film critic Elvis Mitchell.

As magical as the film itself, which is said to have come out of nowhere to win the Camera d’Or at Cannes and the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance, are the making-of-the-movie stories. For his first feature, co-writer/director Benh Zeitlin cast non-actors, among them a brazen 5-year-old (Wallis) and a revered 7th Ward doughnut maker (Dwight Henry) as her boozing dad. Henry worked on his acting technique in the pre-dawn hours while his doughnuts baked. The 29-year-old filmmaker has a lifelong enchantment with eccentrics, which he chalks up to his unique upbringing in Sunnyside, Queens. There, his folklorist parents often took him to parties filled with colorful friends, including Coney Island freaks who would pass their bodies through coat hangers for fun.

The Red House, Mark Haddon

Eight people, seven days and a world of guilt and resentment. The author of the best-selling The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time taps the most universal theme of them all: the screwed-up family.

Estranged siblings Richard and Angela, their spouses and children gather in a vacation house in the remote English countryside following a death in the family. The ambitious structure — Haddon alternates among all eight characters’ points of view — is what makes it fresh. If that sounds difficult to pull off, it was. In a blog Haddon posted 30,000 words about writing the book. He called it  “a long haul,” adding that that he was “perversely reassured” by the introduction to Virginia Woolf's The Years, “in which she detailed the interminable, painful and tortuous genesis of the novel (impossible… eternal… incredibly dreary… my vomit… i'm so sick of it… never again… failure… failure).”

Paris Opera Ballet 

If the last ballet you saw was Natalie Portman as a psychotic swan, a trip to the real thing is long, long overdue. The time is now. The oldest (and arguably finest) national ballet company in the world, Paris Opéra Ballet is making its first American appearance in more than a decade. The ballet company appeared in Chicago, where the troupe's artistic head, Brigitte Lefevre met — and was duly impressed by — "your famous mayor who loves dance.” The critics were as captivated as Rahm Emanuel was captivating. The much-lauded production of Giselle (choreographed nearly two centuries ago for the Paris Opera Ballet by Jean Coralli and Jules Perrot,) was performed at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. (July 5-8) and comes next to New York's Lincoln Center (July 13-19.)

Pamela Miller is a freelance writer who lives in Los Angeles.

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