Man Cave is a testosterone-laden Monday feature that highlights the weekend haps of a pop culture-loving Philly dude.
I consumed two films this weekend: Win Win (pictured) and Young Adult. The former starred Paul Giamatti at perhaps his Paul Giamattiest since Sideways. The lovable schlub played a small-time attorney struggling to keep his practice afloat. He sees an opportunity to survive off a wealthy older client with dementia, taking advantage of his need for at-home care. This semi-unethical maneuver helps him feed his family, but not without complications( i.e. the dude's teenage grandson shows up all wayward and pissed at mom-in-rehab and in need of some positive adult role-models). Giamatti — as a part-time wrestling coach — welcomes the kid into his home and onto his wrestling team, where he proceeds to beast his way through the competition.
All told, Win Win really amounts to a nice indie flick about making good on your commitments and doing right by your family. It wasn't particularly mind-blowing but rather a chill hangout with Giamatti, (The Office's) Amy Ryan and (Arrested Development's) Jeffrey Tambor. The wrestling subplot added just enough suspense to elevate this simple film to a level just above really exciting screensaver.
Young Adult, on the other-hand, was almost unbearable. This isn't to say it wasn't any good — all the performances were great. It was just a bit too uncomfortable for me to ever want to sit through again. Charlize Theron was Ka-RAZY! Patton Oswalt was effective as a chubby, loser-y, drunk nerd (true method acting if I ever saw it). And Patrick Wilson (A-Team, Little Children) played a great unwitting object of Theron's nostalgia-fueled romantic obsession. Young Adult reminds me of Black Swan if it were a bit funnier and had less-scary editing. Attractive lead actress lives in a complete fantasy world, and proceeds to suffer the most epic of meltdowns. It gets a bit frantic. I had to look away from the screen. Bat-shit crazy women are not exactly my comfort-zone, which is why this is art, not entertainment.
|Photo | Lauren Seibert|
On paper, it sounds good: A sketch comedy troupe called Comic Energy performs about 14 sequences of rehearsed scenes, improv and music, while guests get a free drink at the bar and a buffet at Karma NightClub in Bustleton. I attended this show on Sat., Nov. 21, and everyone there was extremely welcoming, from the night club staff to the troupe members to the sweet, slightly-above-middle-age audience. So it pains me to say it, but the show was honestly the worst comedy act I've ever seen. I'm still cringing.
I don't know what terrified me more ' the fact that 'music' meant karaoke from the same two people all night in between the acts (singing songs such as Shaggy's 'Angel' and 'Chantilly Lace' by Jerry Lee Lewis); the adolescent and often just plain nasty humor; the overly dramatic acting; or the offensive racial stereotyping.
They covered every offensive subject known to man: racial slurs, farting, diarrhea, drugs ' all utterly lacking a tongue-in-cheek tone that could have perhaps saved it. Let me walk you through a few Comic Energy scenes. In one, troupe member Gia Seta plays an irritating reporter who sticks her microphone in her unfortunate victim's crotch and tries to talk to his 'McNuggets.' In that same scene, further on, a character shouts, 'Don't tase me, bro!' ' a reference likely lost on an audience not of the YouTube generation. In another scene, producer and troupe member James Daly informs us, 'There's three things I like: breasts, thighs and legs. This morning we have a guest. She's not a chicken, she's a chick.' He then proceeds to act out a talk show with troupe member Mary Sack as the special guest, a doctor who feeds crack to mice. At the end, the cracked-out mice (two troupe members wearing antlers) come out and dance.
Another scene involves actor Frank Fral rolling on the floor, eating his own socks and toes, and smearing Vaseline on his rear to hump the ground while the other actors discuss their sex lives in the background. I had to help myself to another drink during this scene. The scariest part is that I believe he was supposed to be either a baby or a mentally handicapped man ' a character role he filled in many scenes to come. Why is it necessary to link either babies or mental handicap to kinky sex? Barely any audience members laughed during this scene, so it would seem that even fans of Comic Energy (several people in the audience had seen them before) found this a bit gross. Most comedy performances involve sex, but it takes more than plain crudity to carry it off.
Troupe member Walter Threadgill brought a slight tinge of humor to the show through the juxtaposition of his tough appearance (big man with earrings) and cheek-splitting grin, along with the silly lines you'd never expect to emerge from his mouth. For instance, he played a man running a TV news show, and, bored with the news, suggests randomly, 'Let's pretend to be monsters!' Later, he plays a doctor who names a couple's baby for them: Herbert Lucifer Minion. This skit goes on far too long, dragging out a story that lacks substance. Along with abrupt, awkward closures to scenes, dragging story lines seemed to be the theme of the night. Threadgill's line about 'six months of online training in a medical school in Mexico' could have saved it, had they based the scene around that concept instead of focusing on the baby's name.
Beyond the loud and obnoxious characters the troupe chose to portray, the continuous sound cues really detracted from the comedy. True comedians don't need them. Farting sounds for about four minutes straight might have a place in some pre-pubescent class skit, but not in an adult comedy show that should appeal to a higher wit. And really, do we need a skit about a date interrupted by bouts of diarrhea? Accompanied by loud groans and culminating in bathroom sex? Watching this, I wished I hadn't had that drink.
During the middle of the show, a guest standup comedian who declared himself 'half-hillbilly, half-Amish' stunned me with 10 minutes of sheer drunken rambling. He even had a bottle in his back pocket from which he paused to take a swig.
As a final straw, the racial slurs made in many Comic Energy scenes were unaccompanied by any sort of self-deprecating humor that serves to show that the stereotyper the comic is playing is truly the one he's lampooning. Instead, a character speaks to Threadgill, who is black, about 'you people"; and the same Threadgill is the only one in a funeral scene to be carrying a gun and a six pack of beer. Even worse, in a separate scene, a couple climbs into a cab with a turban-wearing driver and tells him, 'Oh, we were kinda hoping for a white cab driver.' After several near-collisions, they then say, 'How would your Arabic ass know how to drive?' Wow. The cabbie doesn't even get a rebuttal line. Cleary, Comic Energy, which started 10 years ago and has had members flow in and out since then, needs to reevaluate its material.
|Photo | Lauren Seibert|
|Dancing to Rihanna.|
Every kid should get the chance to revel in the cheesy glory of a circus' clowns, magic and acrobatic feats on large animals. Now, as a young adult, let me modify that thought: Everybody, appropriate-age or not, should see the UniverSoul Circus at the Mann Center, performing through Nov. 15. My friend and I were not accompanied by the safety net of a small child to justify our presence at this circus this Sunday. But I'm not gonna lie ' we had a ball.
As the only "Big Top" traveling circus in the world that's owned and operated by African Americans, UniverSoul spins its name two ways: It's definitely universal, with performers from as far as China and Brazil, and it's got soul (it opens with a James Brown number, after all). Instead of your typical top hat-wearing white guy with a mustache, this ringmaster was the tottering, cackling, bossy Aunt Maggie, who played up the old-school versus new-school dynamic with her sidekick and nephew, Lucky. She scolded, she danced to Beyonc', she attempted to do the stanky leg, and she had the audience up in the ring doing the Soul Train Line. When she orchestrated a dance-off between an older couple and a younger one, old-school won by a mile. All this occurred at intervals throughout the night, keeping the audience constantly involved with the show.
One thing that seemed out of place were the constant plugs for President Barack Obama. UniverSoul repeatedly beamed his face on the walls of the tent to the explosion of music and confetti. But all in all, the show presented such a flood of energy that it practically dared you to be skeptical. Not possible. We were grinning just as hard as the little kids when the beautiful women magically turned into tigers. When the horses came out and tore around the ring, sporting their standing riders. When a troupe of young Chinese acrobats laid on their backs and flipped each other through the air with their feet ' five, 10, 15 times in a row, and all I could see was a tower of spinning children. When feathered, sparkling Caribbean dancers sashayed under flaming limbo sticks. And when the elephants came out and danced to Rihanna ' well. I don't think I'll ever see the circus quite the same way.
Runs through Nov. 15, $12-$28, Mann Center for the Performing Arts, 52nd Street and Parkside Avenue, 800-316-7439.
The Yes Men Fix the World opens with its protagonists frolicking in green, sun-dappled waters, dressed head to toe in business suits. Before the end of the documentary, they've manufactured candles ostensibly made from human remains, distributed a version of The New York Times with entirely good news and roamed lonely landscapes dressed in 'Survivo-balls,' inflatable, 'disaster-proof' suits they marketed to a frighteningly receptive audience of Halliburton product scouts.
In their more, erm, legitimate lives, the Yes Men, Mike Bonanno and Andy Bichlbaum, are professors of media arts and design, respectively. The Yes Men Fix the World, which was screened at Painted Bride on Nov. 5 as part of the First Person Festival, documents how they apply those disciplines and their Monty-Pythonesque spirit to a special brand of political activism they call 'identity correction.' Briefly, this entails impersonating corporate figures to perform acts that are remarkably socially responsible, environmentally conscious or simply absurd, to get at larger truths about the corporation.
But The Yes Men Fix the World also shows the more private, authentic aspects of their work. We see Bichlbaum on the morning of his visit to the BBC studios in Paris, about to pose as a Dow Chemical spokesman in front of 300 million viewers, curled up in the sheets of his hotel bed and groaning with anxiety. His BBC performance goes smoothly, and he temporarily convinces the world that Dow has decided to compensate the victims of the Bhopal disaster in India, in which poisonous gas leaked out of a factory and killed thousands. Bichlbaum performs so well, in fact, that reports start coming in of how crowds of Indians celebrated the broadcast with tears of joy ' then bitterly angry tears when they found out it was a hoax.
Bonanno and Bichlbaum are suddenly stricken by guilt. 'Had we really hurt the people we'd been trying to help?' asks Bonanno in a voiceover. They go to a Bhopal to find out ' and what do you know, the locals in Bhopal welcome them gladly. Turns out they were bitterly disappointed, but when Bichlbaum sheepishly asks, 'Was it worth it?' an old man assents vigorously: 'Totally worth it!' For longtime fans of the Yes Men, many of the exploits covered in the documentary may already be dearly familiar. But these glimpses at their real identities are delightful, and give a fuller sense of who, in fact, the Yes Men really are.
Bichlbaum opened up even more in a question-and-answer round after the screening. He winced when describing some of the pair's failed stunts, including an effort to parody the Bush presidential campaign in multiple skits: 'We got a grant for it, too,' he recalled wistfully. He spoke bluntly about his fears for the future of journalism, declaring himself 'worried about a future in which news is only told by bloggers.' But of the lawsuit recently filed against the Yes Men by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, whose identity they recently corrected, Bichlbaum was buoyant. The case would attract the Chamber a lot of bad publicity, he said, and besides, 'We're raring for a fight.'
There are probably more direct ways to actually fix the world than impersonating corporate figures, as Bichlbaum himself said during the post-screening Q&A. But before being dismissed as distracting jokers, the Yes Men should be credited for focusing global attention on some grievously neglected injustices.
Plus, who else will insert images of sodomy behind a filmed interview with a free-market pundit who requests that he be shown against a backdrop of 'free men freely pursuing their desires'?
Writer and director Michael Dougherty's straight-to-DVD horror film Trick 'r Treat is set in Ohio suburbia on the night of Halloween.
Trick 'r Treat is made up of four interwoven, non-linear stories, with characters making cameos in different vignettes for in order to clarify that they're all in the same town on the same night. The best among the Trick 'r Treat stories involve a 22-year-old girl (True Blood's Anna Paquin) donning a Little Red Riding Hood costume looking for 'her first time to be special,' and one where an adolescent prank at the site of a bus massacre goes awry. The remaining two, about a serial killer (Dylan Baker) and an old grouch (Brian Cox), seem arbitrary and confusing in their relation to the collective, yet are gory and suspenseful nonetheless.
Overall, it's about the importance of following (and respecting) traditions, and the consequences that come when these traditions aren't met. To put it simply: If you blow out a jack-o-latern on Halloween night, you'll get your throat slashed by a bitten candy pumpkin sucker.
Trick 'r Treat, 82 Minutes, Rated R, Warner Brother Home Video
Michael Jackson rehearsal documentary This Is It did not screen in time for print, but we sent our very own Cindy Fuchs anyway.
This Is It ' C+
"Everyone in a Michael Jackson show is an extension of Michael Jackson," says director/choreographer Kenny Ortega, exhorting the young dancers assembled for Jackson's last extravaganza. He makes his documentary's premise clear: It will revere the King of Pop, remind us that he was grand and singular, tragic and brilliant. He's also dead. And this, like everything else about Jackson, apparently bears repeating ' everything here is familiar, from Jackson's dance moves to his "hee-hees." A jumble of reflections and allusions, rehearsal clips cut together in split screens and sequences, the film helps you to remember what might have been. In theory, it's intriguing, a documentary on an event that didn't happen. But in practice, it's a compilation of unfinished preparations and imperfect performances. Most of the songs are, of course, sensational: Even pieces of "Wanna Be Startin' Somethin'" or "The Way You Make Me Feel" can be rousing, bits of performances that reveal again Jackson's dedication and gifts. This Is It mostly refrains from close-ups of his disfigured face, using long shots instead to emphasize his enduring dance skills, his meticulous rhythms and familiar gestures. This reminds you of what's been lost, the pains he endured and the losses he embodied. As much as the documentary does right by Jackson, recalling his genius, it perpetuates the exploitations that shaped his life.
This Is It opens wide today. Check citypaper.net/showtimes for more info.
Based on his 2005 short of the same name, Joe Leonard's How I Got Lost is the re-coming of age story of a bored sports journalist Jake (Jacob Fishel) and his drunken friend (Aaron Stanford, Tadpole) embarking on a spontaneous road trip from Manhattan to podunk Ohio. Fallen on hard times, the guys encounter situations along the way that teach them to work through issues they've struggling to resolve at home. The storyline mainly stays with the ruggedly handsome, but oh-so sensitive, Jake, who is marred by an earlier, unexpected break-up. In Ohio, he lets go, courtesy of a little sexual healing provided by Leslie, a no-nonsense diner waitress played smartly by Rosemarie DeWitt (Rachel Getting Married). Back in New York, however, there are more heartbreaking surprises in store, which further instill his motivation to keep moving on.
The quick, 87-minute run time makes for a seamless flow from start to finish. While some of the point does get lost in quick transitions from setting to setting, this is a charming, buzzworthy film that's worth all the noise.
"I like to eat white butt," convicted murderer Mubia Abul Jamal (ahem) says before the switch is thrown and he's executed in the opening scene of Black Devil Doll. A slick James Bond credit sequence follows with a funky track that recalls classic exploitation and '70s drive-in films and sets the tone for all to follow. It's a cue you're about to watch some fine-ass muthafuckin' exploitation in this Blackula-meets-Chuckie mash-up.
Mubia, summoned by the Oujia board by Heather, an unsuspecting white girl, emerges anew to wreak havoc on the world, but this time in the body of a puppet. Murder, rape, necromancy and drugging ensue. Puppet Mubia quickly wins Heather over with lines like, "Niggas wanted to be me and all bitches wanted to be with me." In regard to dropping the n-word, he says, "It's the only thing that keeps my teeth white."
Just when you think Mubia is going to add to his body count, he falls in love with Heather. A hilarious R&B backed montage ensues, capped with a raucous sex scene. As these scenes retread, there's more fun in imagining the direction given to the actresses. This flippant irreverence continues ' well-captured with split screen ' with an impromptu car wash scene involving four of Heather's friends, joyously backed by a song called "Pussy Dripping."
Of course, not everything is perfection. Puppet Mubia soon lets Heather know that he just needs to fuck (and subsequently kill) some new ass. They work out an arrangement for her to leave at the "right moment," Heather's friends are stalked one by one. Unlike Heather, all of her friends are silicone beneficiaries, leaving one to conclude at this point that a new metric for survival has been introduced.
The film, however, soon revels entirely too much in its own stupidity (think Eli Roth meets American Pie III). It knows what it is ' the production company is called Lowest Common Denominator ' but without playful subtlety, we're left with predictability and shit jokes. Other than the brilliant use of a Grey's Anatomy poster, the conclusion doesn't offer much. But this is exploitation, so maybe that's part of the point. The free beer will definitely help for the entirety, though there are some corkers in the first half.
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