What sort of movie would RZA — the de facto mastermind behind Wu Tang Clan and its hip-hop dynasty — make if he had a chance to direct one? We wouldn’t know precisely what kind because The Man with the Iron Fists, RZA’s directorial debut that he co-wrote with Eli Roth, wasn’t made available to screen before this interview. But you could guess from his background in the theology of martial arts — the skill and its films and their influence on Wu everything — to say nothing from a reel where he, Russell Crowe, Lucy Liu, Rick Yune, David Bautista and Jamie Chung run roughshod across 19th-century China. It would be a fast-paced bloodbath, especially since it’s being “presented by” his cinematic mentor Quentin Tarantino, with whom RZA has worked on several film scores. Plus RZA created most of the score to The Man with the Iron Fists when he wasn’t developing Chambers headphones (a pair of which we gave away in an Instagram contest this week), the sleek black zip-up pouch it comes in, or trying to get the entirety of the Wu Tang Clan in fighting action for 2013. I spoke to him from the Roosevelt Hotel in Los Angeles.
City Paper: What was the first movie that you absolutely loved?
RZA: Star Wars. It’s still an amazing film. I even love the whole saga.
CP: What was the first film that moved you to pay attention to its direction, do decide that making movies was something you’d like to do someday?
RZA: I can say the first film that I found remarkable enough to want to know more about was Five Deadly Venoms then The 36th Chamber of Shaolin, after that. Once those hit I probably began to look at films from the standpoint of how they were done. The Godfather, The Good, The Bad and The Ugly — these were masterpieces of cinema that you wanted to get inside. I watch films with a different eye because of that. Like when I saw The Grey I felt like I was in a rainstorm the whole time. I got cold.
As the world's oldest, most exclusive sorority churns out tons of celebrities and politicians, a new young batch of sisters discovers the secret power behind their rituals is actually demonic and a tad bit murderous. No, this isn't a hidden legend of UPenn past, but the plot in local production company South Fellini's Alpha Girls, shot entirely in Philadelphia. With a world premiere at 7 p.m. tomorrow at The Balcony, last summer's production will soon be splattered on screens across the East Coast and elsehwere. Tony Trov and Johnny Zito, the comic artist duo that wrote and directed the film, took time out to sit with City Paper for a brief, snark-tastic gab fest.
City Paper: How much research and first-hand experience went into accurately representing sorority life?
JZ: There was a ton of research. We spent months playing beer pong, listened to tons of dub step and entered several pillow-fighting competitions.
TT: Not to mention the countless panty raids. These were all difficult hurdles but we managed to overcome.
Mike Birbiglia and Ira Glass' Sleepwalk With Me opens today at Ritz at the Bourse (see our review here). In anticipation of its release, the duo sat down for an interview with City Paper's Frida Garza that quickly went from chatter about the movie to a sweeping, almost romantic saga about how the project got started. These guys are total goofballs. Read on.
City Paper: My first question is for Mike. Sleepwalk With Me has been a one-man show, it’s been a book, it’s been a segment on This American Life. When was the first time you told the story of your sleepwalking.
Mike Birbiglia: The first time I told it to anyone was the night it happened. I was on the phone with my wife and my parents. It was a really weird phone conversation, because I was calling them in the middle of the night saying, “OK, this really weird thing happened.” I think it was really shocking for them. And I’m sorry that I had to put them through that.
CP: So when did it progress from something that was happening in your life to something that you were starting to include in your comedy?
MB: A few months after it happened I started to tell people conversationally, and then I said, 'you know, I think I’m gonna tell this onstage.' I found that it was really connecting with audiences. I was doing it in a standup setting, and eventually I merged it with my one-man show, Sleepwalk With Me, which I was already writing.
CP: This one’s for Ira. When did you first hear this story and how did you react the first time you heard it?
Ira Glass: My part of the story is a little boring, because I heard a recording that Mike had made for … The Moth. Somebody on my staff heard it and they thought, ‘We gotta get this guy on the radio.” They played it for me and I agreed. You know, when I heard the story — the short, 15-minute version — the things that are appealing about the longer movie version were there. It has this spectacular trajectory of somebody in denial about what’s really going on his life and then it expressed itself through big, physical action. That’s the thing at the heart of the film.
CP: So, when did one of you turn to the other and say, ‘This is something that we should make into a feature film’?
IG: It was over a candlelit dinner, and Mike …
Despite having members dispersed across the country, WHY? remains a productive purveyor of hummable confessionals. The group’s recently released Sod in the Seed EP contains enough witty wordplay and memorable melodies to keep fans sated until the full-length Mumps, etc. is unveiled on October 9. City Paper caught up with frontman Yoni Wolf as the band continues its worldwide tour. WHY? plays Union transfer tonight.
City Paper: You’ve mentioned during previous Philly shows that you used to spend a lot of time in this city. What’s your connection to Philly?
Yoni Wolf: My parents are from Philly so I used to come back all the time to see my grandparents, my aunts and uncles and shit.
CP: A couple years ago, you left the Bay Area to live with your parents in Cincinnati. What inspired this move back home to Ohio?
YW: I’m not sure exactly. It just kind of felt right. I had gotten rid of my apartment in Oakland because we were going to be touring for a few years. So I did and I was just kind of getting sublets here and there between tours. And after the last bit of touring on Alopecia and Eskimo Snow, I was kind of sick and I just went to stay with my parents and decided I am going to stay in Cincinnati. So I bought a house and stayed there.
CP: During the time when you were living with your parents, you’ve said that you had very little contact with the outside world. Was this a source of relief or stress?
YW: It was what it was – a necessary thing at the time. I developed a routine of going to the gym, yoga classes, and Whole Foods. That was all I’d pretty much do: go to the gym, Whole Foods, and then album. I would work almost every day on demos for the new album.
Every Friday, Ryan Carey covers the people and events that are giving Philly the giggles.
We had a fun chat with internet-sensation/Conan-regular Reggie Watts about eating pot brownies on live TV, his Thom Yorke impression and how he feels about being a psychedelic comedian. He’ll be performing his unique brand of improvisational music-comedy tomorrow night at the Troc (click here for tickets).
City Paper: What's your favorite question to be asked in an interview?
Reggie Watts: Uh, maybe "Where are you right now?"
CP: Noted. Least favorite?
RW: "How would you describe your act?" I mean, I know it's a necessary question, but ...
CP: How do you like coming to Philly?
RW: I've been there a few times … to the clubs back in the day when the whole neo-soul thing was going on, and The Roots and everything. I played with Soulive at the TLA and got booed off the stage by the audience, which is fun. I've tried ... a Philly cheesesteak ... and thought, "I might be having a heart attack."
CP: You've said the root of your show is about being in the moment with absurdity. Would you call your style "psychedelic comedy"?
RW: Yeah, I've actually started using that exact phrase. I've been thinking about that idea, and about all the guys I know who do that kind of "out there" comedy, like Jon Dore and Rory Scovel. It's cool that the term is already out there.
In the last ten years, Jason Kernevich and Dustin Summers have gone from back-table gigs selling posters at the Church to doing illustrations for the pages of the New York Times. There have been stops along the way — working with Wilco led to working with R.E.M., for instance. They relocated to Brooklyn and Seattle respectively, and finally circled back to Philly two and a half years ago to set up permanent shop. They've been working the lecture series for about five years now, and as they prepare for a hometown talk tonight at 6 p.m., back at the First Unitarian Church, they took some time to speak with CP.
CP: I see your work as simultatneously clean and rustic — clean in the sense that you don't clutter a lot of shit around it, and rustic in the sense that it has a very handmade quality.
Dustin Summers: It's really important to us to keep it as elegant and simple as possible. We like for the finished product to to have a human quality to it.
Jason Kernevich: That's just the way we like our images, with that hand-done element; we definitely feel more connected to work that communicates that aspect.
Can you speak at all to your creative process?
DS: We probably spend about 75% of the time figuring out the concept. We don't really spend a lot time thinking about the image, which probably sounds weird since we're visual artists, but we're much more concerned with the concept.
JK: Basically, we just like to design rectangles. (Laughs.) Seriously, though, rectangles draw your eye in. You kind of need that boundary. When we're in the planning/sketching phase, If I have a big, blank piece of paper, it's difficult for me to begin. I need that confinement. For the most part, my sketchbook is full of words.
Do you prefer making posters or designing book covers, or would you rather just do projects like the Gatsby business cards?
JK: I get restless. If we've been doing illustrations for 18 months then I want to do a Gatsby-type project or typography type thing.
After fleeing his sleepy boyhood home in the Poconos in 2009, Cesar Fernandez moved to Philly in search of a more-queer-friendly niche. Little did he know this would be the birth of Celia Supernova!. I caught up with Ms. Celia at Tabu Lounge, where she'll be performing in Sinful Sundays on April 1.
City Paper: Tell me how you started doing drag.
CF: When I was 10, my sister had a Repunzel wig she bought for Halloween. I was always wearing it, and I literally have videos of me [wearing it while] lip-syncing to Britney Spears. I didn't realize the significance of what I was doing at the time, but I guess that could be considered my first attempt at drag. Then, in my first year in Philly, my roomate's boss was hosting a cupcake-eating contest and everyone was encouraged to come in costume. She dared me to come in drag, so I went to some store in the Gallery and tried on nine different dresses. It actually felt really natural to shop for women's clothes.
CP: How did you move from cupcake drag to your first live show?
CF: One of my roomates moved ... next door to the queen [Goddess Isis] who runs the Sinful Sundays show at Tabu. On the Fourth of July, I went to a barbecue at their house and I got to talk to the queen himself, who was super-sweet. He invited us to the show, and we loved it. I couldn't stop thinking how I wanted to be up there. When I told Isis, he was such a sweetheart about the whole thing. Any insecurities I had melted away. It was so nice to have someone in the drag community say, “You have my support”. It felt like it didn't matter how much I sucked, I had someone who believed in me.
You probably remember her best from the ’90s, but since her days as a fashion-challenged teen on Blossom, Mayim Bialik has bloomed in every way possible. This weekend, the PhD-wielding author and mother of two will be the keynote speaker at the National Museum of American Jewish History’s celebration of the bat mitzvah ceremony’s 90th anniversary.
City Paper: OK, so I have to ask this first. Blossom must follow you everywhere. Can you ever escape it, and do you want to?
Mayim Bialik: It does, but no, not at all! I think it’s normal for a lot of women my age to want to get away from things they did [early in their careers]. But Blossom was great. It was the first show of its kind to feature a girl the way that it did, so I think it is something to be proud of.
CP: You didn’t really take any of the traditional paths that a lot of child stars do. What was the driving force behind pursing a higher education?
MB: I come from an immigrant background; three of my four grandparents came to America from their native countries, so I was raised with the ethic that you go to college. It’s just what you do if you have the opportunity, and it was something I wanted to do no matter what I had done in my teen years.
CP: Why did you choose neuroscience?
MB: I actually fell in love with biology while being tutored on the set of Blossom, and that initial interest in the coursework just took off. For my graduate work, I focused on Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and the specific hormones related to human attachment.
One of the saddest things about finding out that William Shatner was under the weather on the day we were to speak was that the dazzling array of questions I prepared to ask the boldly-going-nowhere, one-man-show actor would go to waste. The Shatner’s World namesake, appearing tonight at Merriam Theater, would have been hard-pressed to answer questions about albums like his Seeking Major Tom as well as those about his past on Philadelphia stages such as his 1951 run at A Shot in the Dark at the Walnut Street Theater with Julie Harris and Walter Matthau. I couldn’t despair too much, though. A few years ago I spoke to Shatner about his recording process and various television gigs for a now-defunct men’s magazine. Shatner was as utterly charming as expected and I'm guessing tonight will be a weird treat.
City Paper: You seem to be comfortable, to an extent, playing into what could be a persona of self-deprecation in terms of making music. What made you decide to go that route?
William Shatner: Delving into my emotional memory … probably “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds.” Someone asked me if I was joking. I have a vague recollection of that first time being shocking that someone would ask me that, because I had a very definite, very serious intent. This conversation took place many times: I’d ask them if they had heard anything else from the album (The Transformed Man, 1968). They always said “no.” They didn’t know what preceded “Lucy.” They didn’t know what followed. All they knew was “wow, what a weird interpretation. Were you joking?” I realized then that people weren’t listening to the album but rather that one cut put out by Rhino. And for that reason, they more or less laughed at it. I … went along with it because there was nothing else I could do.
In Salmon Fishing in the Yemen (read City Paper's review here), Emily Blunt plays Harriet Chetwode-Talbot, who facilitates Dr. Fred Jones (Ewan McGregor’s) efforts to bring a Yemeni Sheikh’s (Amr Waked) fly-fishing dream to the desert. Blunt gets a meaty role in this romantic comedy-drama. From Harriet’s crisis moments when she learns her boyfriend Robert (Tom Mison) goes missing in war, to her budding relationship with Fred, Blunt creates a character that’s engaging. She spoke with City Paper about the film and her related experiences with travel, fly-fishing, romance and crisis.
CP: You tend to play uptight or vulnerable, and Harriet is a little of both. What drew you to this character?
EB: I liked that she was a complex girl in a complex situation — that’s fun to play. She’s bubbly and tenacious and good at her job, but she suffers this loss when her boyfriend goes missing / is presumed dead. What a predicament — to be on this crazy mission with perseverance and hope and she’s feeling grief and loss. She has this huge spirit.
CP: You have some interesting body language in the film — slightly rigid in the early scenes, then depressed and eventually relaxed, romantic. How do you approach your character’s disposition?
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