10 Culture Essentials for February


We’re rolling full steam into the dreariest month of the year, and now’s the time to arm yourself with one of the best weapons against SAD there is: Consistent exposure to art, literature, music and other cultural endeavors. Sure, the view from your office window may call to mind images of a particularly bleak winter in Krakow circa 1938, but elsewhere in the city you can find beauty in myriad forms and bask in the warmth of humankind’s irrepressible urge to create, share, innovate, and interrelate. It’s a particularly welcome tonic in times like the present, when grim socio-political developments can make you feel more isolated and powerless than crappy weather ever could.

February is typically a time when I see a lot of movies, as the weather is conducive and the Oscars are fast approaching, but I’m actually way ahead of that game this year for some reason. If you’re not, most of the main contenders are back in Brooklyn theaters this month, so it’s a good time to see Lady Bird, Call Me By Your Name, et al. relatively hassle-free. Otherwise, there is a ton of other great stuff coming down the pike in the days and weeks to come. Consider this a jumping-off point to get you started. 

1. New works by Dave Eggers and Zadie Smith

There are some books that, simply put, knock you on your ass, so much so that even a decade plus later you remember where you were in your life when you read them and how your perceptions or perspectives were permanently altered, if just slightly, from that point forward. For me, Dave Eggers’ A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius and Zadie Smith’s White Teeth, both of which I read shortly after graduating from college, were those kinds of books. Nearly two decades later, each writer is releasing a new title this month, and I’m pretty eager to get my hands on both. The Monk of Mokha, which comes out on January 30, is the third book in a series by Eggers about the lives of American immigrants with exceptional stories to tell—this one is about Mokhtar Alkhanshali, a Yemeni-American twenty-something who returns to his home country to learn the coffee-making art of his ancestors and gets inadvertently caught up in the civil war there. If just reading it isn’t enough, both men are set to appear together in conversation at BAM on February 11, but you’ll need to get creative as tickets are currently sold out. Meanwhile, Zadie Smith’s new book of essays, Feel Free, drops on February 6, and she’ll be appearing at St. Ann and the Holy Trinity Church the following evening to discuss it. The essays are divided into five categories—In the World, In the Audience, In the Gallery, On the Bookshelf, and Feel Free—and include previously unpublished work alongside pieces that are at this point well-established parts of the literary journalism canon.

2. The premiere of ‘2 Dope Queens’ on HBO, Feb. 2

I write Brooklyn Based’s Ideal Week column, and I can’t tell you how many times I’ve tried to let you guys know about a live recording of 2 Dope Queens, the hilarious podcast by Jessica Williams and Phoebe Robinson, only to find out that tickets have already been sold out for weeks. The procrastinators among us will be shut out no longer though, because HBO is airing  a Tig Notaro-directed TV version of the smash hit show, which explores gender and race issues as well as topics like unsuccessful attempts to hook up with celebs and “black hairstyles,” starting on February 2 at 11:30pm. The series of four hour-long specials was filmed last year in front of live audiences at Kings Theatre, and includes guest appearances by Jon Stewart, Titus Burgess, and Sarah Jessica Parker.

3. West Cork podcast, Feb. 8

Speaking of podcasts, it’s hard to imagine one better designed to appeal to me– a lady obsessed with true crime and all things related to the UK/Ireland– than West Cork, a new 13-part series chronicling the investigation of the as-yet unsolved 1996 murder of a French film director at her vacation home in a rural Irish town. I’ve found that the only way I can run on a treadmill without keeling over from boredom is if I have a good story to listen to, and it sounds like this thing, which is available for download from Audible as of February 8, is going to get me through a lot of cold-weather workouts.

4. Pop-Up Magazine, Feb. 10

On Saturday, February 10, BAM is hosting an edition of Pop-Up Magazine, a traveling evening of live true stories performed by a rotating cast of authors, filmmakers, photographers, musicians, actors, and other newsworthy types. Contributors to the winter issue include Sloane Crosley (I Was Told There’d Be Cake), National Geographic photographer David Guttenfelder, Buzzfeed reporter Albert Samaha, director Erin Lee Carr, and many more. Tickets can be purchased here, and everyone sticks around after the show to drink and continue the conversation.

5. Kat Edmonson, Feb. 6, 20, and 27

Young Brooklyn-based singer Kat Edmonson’s music is a throwback to an earlier era—not the ’80s or the ’90s, but specifically from the 1920s to 1950s. If you didn’t know that the songs from her upcoming album Old Fashioned Gal were written by her, you could’ve sworn they were covers of jazz, pop and Broadway standards—tracks like “I’d Be a Fool,” “Sparkle and Shine,” and “With You,” really evoke the Great American Songbook. Edmonson—who is doing a residency throughout the month of February at City Vineyard—has a childlike voice with a phrasing that recalls Billie Holiday and Madeleine Peyroux. The whimsy and grace in her singing fit with her lush and romantic songs like a glove. It’s hard to believe that she was once a contestant during the second season of American Idol, an experience she references with humor on the song “Not My Time” from the new album. Had she gotten farther on that show, who knows if she would’ve pursued this jazzy-pop path. Fortunately, Edmonson is doing fine quite on her own.—David Chiu

6. Black Panther & A Fantastic Woman

Marvel Studio’s Black Panther, which is said to be one of the most highly-anticipated movies of the year, opens at theaters nationwide on February 16. It’s the first mainstream, standalone film about a black comic book superhero, and it marks a new chapter for the Marvel franchise, which heretofore hasn’t been renowned for its diversity. It also boasts a cast that reads like a list of award nominees—it feels like you really can’t go wrong when you’ve got Chadwick Boseman, Michael B. Jordan, Lupita Nyong’o, Angela Bassett, Forest Whitaker, Daniel Kaluuya, and Sterling K. Brown all in the same movie. If I’m being honest, superheroes aren’t really my thing, but I will see this because it sounds especially good for the reasons mentioned above. Further up on my list, though, is A Fantastic Woman, a Best Foreign Film Oscar nominee from Chilean director Sebastian Lelio about a transgender woman who is mourning the sudden death of her lover while facing discriminatory treatment from the hospital, his family, and the authorities in the process. The performance of star Daniela Vega has received near universal accolades, and I’d like to see it for myself when it hits the Angelika on February 2.

7. Everything Sucks!, Netflix, Feb. 16

My teenage years spanned the 90s, so a nostalgia-driven dramedy series about a kerfuffle brewing between the drama club and the A/V club at a high school in Oregon in 1996 is admittedly not a tough sell to me from the get, but I’m definitely planning to binge-watch Everything Sucks! when it debuts on Netflix on February 16. We probably won’t know whether it’s actually any good until then, and details are not plentiful as of yet, but it sounds like a mashup between 16 Candles, Stranger Things, and Freaks and Geeks, all with a 90s twist, and I for one can’t think of one thing wrong with that pitch.

8. Joseph Cornell at The Met

There is something really appealing to me about the hyper-narrow focus of the Met’s current exhibition of shadow boxes created by Joseph Cornell in response to a Cubist collage he saw one random day in a gallery on 57th Street in 1953. Cornell was so affected by The Man at the Cafe, a Juan Gris work from 1914, that over the next 15 years, the Queens-based artist created some two dozen pieces about it, all featuring a recurring image of a splendid white-crested cockatoo. Birds of a Feather: Joseph Cornell’s Homage to Juan Gris brings a dozen of Cornell’s boxes together with the original Gris collage that inspired them, and it will be on display through April 15.

9. Teknopolis at BAM, Feb. 25

February 25 marks the return of Teknopolis, BAM’s multi-story, immersive digital media and art installation for a second year of interactive sound and light displays and 360-degree films. It seems like a pretty cool way to spend a gray day, and it would be of interest to kids as well as adults. I’m particularly interested in the Abstract Landscapes installation, which allows the spectator to participate in the work through movement that influences responsive light. Teknopolis runs on weekend days through March 12, and tickets are available here.

10. Angels in America, Feb. 23

I think all the people I know IRL are probably sick of hearing how excited I am for the Broadway revival of Angels in America, which begins previews at the Neil Simon Theater on February 23, but perhaps I haven’t prattled on about it enough here yet? In any case, I never saw the original staging of Tony Kushner’s iconic Pulitzer Prize-winning play about six New Yorkers living in the midst of the AIDS crisis, but the 2003 Mike Nichols-directed HBO miniseries had a profound effect on me, and can’t wait to see this rendition, which stars Andrew Garfield as Prior and Nathan Lane as villainous, self-hating Roy Cohn. That Denise Gough, whose performance in People, Places & Things this fall at St. Ann’s Warehouse was perfection, will play Harper Pitt was what finally sealed the deal on me laying out the scratch for the two-night performance.

{Sponsored} Beat cabin fever this winter with the NYRR Al Gordon Brooklyn 4M on Saturday, February 24 at 8AM in Prospect Park. Al Gordon, a New York Road Runners board member and benefactor, started running marathons in his 80s and exercised regularly until the end of his life in 2009—at age 107—so there’s no excuse for missing this race. Keep your motivation high even when the temperatures are low and #GetOutToRun in honor of an NYRR legend! Sign up at mynyrr.org today.

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