Archive: April, 2011
Q&A with THOMAS MCCARTHY: "It was a challenge to make these characters sing. I loved that challenge."
Win Win, the newest film from writer/director Thomas McCarthy, is much more than a subtly poignant, deeply funny and uniquely literate film about high school wrestling, poor choices, lost love and irksome adolescence starring Paul Giamatti, Bobby Cannavale, Amy Ryan and young Alex Shaffer. (It's all those things, and more.) Like Shaffer’s wrestler in Win Win, McCarthy was once a young mat-hugger in New Providence, N.J. Since then he's been Oscar-nominated for screenwriting (the animated Up) and directed his scripts for The Station Agent and The Visitor — not to mention being a memorable character actor with titles such as The Wire, Little Fockers, The Lovely Bones and Syriana to his credit. Let’s rock this.
City Paper: Should we consider Win Win at all autobiographical since the film is set at New Providence High, where you went to school? What elements came from your experience?
Thomas McCarthy: Not really autobiographical, no. There are personal elements, yes, from my history, that I drew upon. I grew up there. I know a little about the high school wrestling team. … Certainly reflecting upon our wrestling experiences and some of the things we went through as kids and with other kids. What the matches felt like. I was a mediocre to bad wrestler, so that helped.
CP: All of the male leads in all of your films — The Station Agent, The Visitor, Win Win — they all seem put out, very put upon. Even when the best of luck is theirs, they don’t seem easy about having it.
TM: You wouldn’t be wrong. I don’t set out that way. Some of them had good lives cut out for them to start. Maybe things didn’t wind up good in the end. Now Paul’s character in Win Win — he loves his life. He’s built that life. He likes his practice, his house. He’s trying to live his American dream. But then he commits this act under an enormous amount of pressure that invites the put-upon-ness you speak of. He’s a really good guy who made some bad choices, and now he has to pay for them. That’s what I was trying to explore. Paul and I talked a lot about this. He didn’t want to play people he’s been before. His character here is different than the ones he’s worked on before. In fact this guy is quite content and happy in his life. It’s just that in this moment in time — it ain’t working.
CP: Next time, I'll preface questions like those with “Willie Loman”-level put-outedness versus the lesser sort.
TM: (laughs) That’s a whole different level of pain.
CP: What made you want to do this film at this point in your career?
TM: It was gradual. I didn’t have a eureka moment, in fact, I had the idea in my head for over a year before I committed to start writing it. I had it. Laughed a lot about it. Then I fell in love with the characters and the story. I do that with a lot of scripts. See the merit as the passion grows. Plus it had something to say as well as had heart. The characters, at first blush, are quite conventional — who they are, where they live in small-town New Jersey. It was a challenge to make these characters sing. I loved that challenge.
CP: Your characters are truly lit from within. Did you get into this business leaning more toward acting, writing or directing?
TM: I did see my self as actor first even though I entered this business late. Right after college. That was a big jump to start. Hey I want to be an actor. But as I was achieving that — hey, I’m being taken seriously, this must be a mistake — I just found myself writing. After I had a few movies under my belt where I started portraying the same guy, thirtysomething, not married, but trying — I thought about what to do. Should I set around and complain and do the same part or do I write? As I was writing The Station Agent, I began to think that I would love to direct this. It was a very organic process, honestly. My life and career shifted. It had options. I had options. Suddenly there were a few different tings that I could do. I didn’t see why I shouldn’t be allowed to do all three. I will continue to do as such until someone asks me to stop.
Every Friday, Ryan Carey takes a look at who and what’s giving Philly the giggles…
In September of 2008, Philly stand-ups Chris Cotton and Conrad Roth met each other at the bar after the Wednesday Laff House open mic. Strangers, they tried to think of small-talk to pass the moments.
First thing that came out: “I wish there was somewhere else we could go to get on stage and work on our comedy.”
Cut to March 31, 2011, and the wildly popular Center City Comedy ‘open-mic showcase’ is packing in audiences to capacity every Thursday night at the Raven Lounge on Sansom. Started by Cotton and Roth out of necessity (for comedy as well as an ice-breaker), Center City Comedy has attracted and nurtured many young talents who have grown into skilled comics.
Cotton boasts about comics like Darrel Charles and James Hesky who got a lot of their stage time at CCC, and have since moved up in the local comedy scene to host at Helium.
“Some of the younger guys, this is the only place they’d come during the week. I’d tell them, they need to go to the other places too. Just coming here, I feel honored, but comedy is about you becoming the best comedian you can be. To do that you have to be everywhere all the time, telling jokes.”
I have to admit, the clocks on the walls at Time, a classy bar on Sansom, kind of freaked me out. At first I thought they were real, since right at 8:30 p.m., I looked at one that said 8:30. Then, two hours later, it still said 8:30. Something fishy was going on. Then I realized. “This bar is called Time. They’re just decorations.” Still, seeing real-looking clocks everywhere saying different times makes you feel like you’re in a creepy kids’ movie.
Aside from that, I liked the place. It has a great beer selection from around the world, and good food that mixes gourmet with everyday — including some intensely flavorful macaroni and cheese. The open mic took place in a large space to the left of the entrance, where a bar formed a square island in the middle of the room. Along the outside of the room were small tables, each with a candle. Along with the clocks, the walls were adorned with mirrors and a large painting.
In the corner sat a small stage, with just enough room for a drum kit with two performers in front of it. The existence of the drums suggested this would be a night heavy on bands — and it was. Signups were around 9 p.m., and the first to play, at 10, were the Suntones, who hosted the night.
Talented and unpretentious, they performed a batch of classic reggae tunes. Though it was just guitar, voice and drums, they managed a full sound; Marc Lomax’s guitar mimicked a bass throughout. Their clean and well-balanced performance fit well with the atmosphere of the bar: upscale but not in-your-face about it. Following the Suntones, each performer was allotted three songs. Acts included Ryan Kilo, an acoustic guitarist and high tenor who injected his hard-strumming songs with contagious emotion. Later came the New Indulgers, folk rockers whose Jerry Garcia-esque lead guitarist traded solos with a trumpet player, who filled the bar with a sweet, clear tone.
The best part of it all was the crowd: The spacious bar was packed. Sure, they probably didn’t all rush out specifically to see the open mic, but they were there, and they gave performers many, many ears to woo.
The nitty-gritty for performers: Mondays, sign-ups at 9 p.m., show at 10, Time, 1315 Sansom St., timerestaurant.net. Free, three songs each.
For more locations, visit the Open Mic section of our online listings database.
Quirk Books — local publisher of "irreference," aka everything from tips on making sure your boyfriend isn't a demon to a treasury of "yo momma" compliments — can be credited with taking old, stuffy classic novels and jazzing them up via vampires, werewolves and all manner of monsters. (See: Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters.)
But Quirk didn't want to bogart all the mashup-creating fun, so it opened up a contest called Art of the Mash-Up, in which the artistically inclined were invited to create monsterrific book titles of their own. (The Meowmorphosis is already taken. Damn.)
The contest is over, but the best entries (including Othello, the Moor of Venus; Mime and Punishment; and our personal favorite, pictured above, Jane Eyre: The Confident Centaur) are on display tonight at Brave New Worlds (45 N. Second St., 215-925-6525, bravenewworldscomics.com). The piece will be for sale via silent auction, with proceeds going to the Red Cross for Japan disaster relief.
Need more First Friday guidance? Check out Holly Otterbein's column right here.
The Bob in question is Bob Wills, the great populizer of western swing. Hot Club of Cowtown has more than done him justice in this live-in-studio recording. Some tunes are Wills standards, just as juicy and full of dancer-driving energy as the original 1930s big band settings, yet played by only the trio’s members. Elana James (fiddle), Whit Smith (guitar) and Jake Erwin (bass) are extraordinary instrumentalists. Layer the light and (mostly) sweet pop lyrics of the 30s over astonishing riffs and relentless rhythm, dancers and music snobs alike will be seduced by this collection.
Mon., April 4, 8 p.m., $20$-22, World Cafe Live, 3025 Chesnut St., 215-222-1400, worldcafelive.com.
Even with your most gorgeous duds and glamorous 'do, you best prepare to be outdone: The Bingo Verifying Divas are busting out their curliest eyelashes and most extravagant gowns for the AIDS Fund’s 12th annual Black Tie Gay Bingo event, and they're out to out-fabulous everyone in the crowd.
The AIDS Fund is pulling out all the stops in its once-yearly benefit to combat AIDS, enlisting local Philadelphia businesses to donate prizes. If you’re in the market for cocktail gift baskets, accessories, restaurant gift certificates and more, you won’t want to miss the silent auction. The event will also feature cocktails, six rounds of bingo games and a choreographed dance number from the BVDs.
“They are the heart and soul of this event,” say Robb Reichard, AIDS Fund executive director of the all-volunteer troupe, all of whom have sacrificed their time to rehearse and money to acquire their own wardrobe and makeup. “They are an incredible group of guys.”
Besides the entertainment, the AIDS Fund will also give an award for Favorite Straight Person of the Year. Says Robb, “It's a way to recognize a person who has done a significant amount of work in the battle against AIDS."
12th annual Black Tie Gay Bingo, Fri., April 1, 6:30 p.m., $150, Crystal Tea Room, 100 Penn Square East, 215-731-9255, aidsfundphilly.org.
Duncan Jones is an amiable chap. When the question-and-answer sesssion following the Rave theater screening for his new film, Source Code, had a microphone malfunction, the director quickly went into “town hall” mode and did it without a sound system. When I interviewed him the next day at the Four Seasons Hotel and told him that I couldn’t stand Source Code star Jake Gyllenhaal (who was attached to writer Ben Ripley's script before Jones got on board) until this very film, the bearded director smiled and said, “That’s all right. I liked him just fine.”
It is perhaps his genial steadiness and humor that makes Source Code what it is — a colorfully future-forward and frenetic Hitchcock-like conceit (with hints of Memento and Groundhog Day) where the mega-watt action and vivid effects never overwhelm the romantic back story or the comedy of it all. That and the fact that Jones was a philosophy major in college (“I could’ve reasoned my way through this film,” he laughs), a director of commercials in Britain (ads for Kodak and French Connection were his claims to fame) and a hardcore video gamer who makes mention of Grand Theft Auto as inspirational to the hyperactive heft of Source Code.
Then there’s this. When I tell Jones that I’ve interviewed his father, David Bowie, in several similar face-to-face situations, the director laughs and asks, “Are we so very alike?” When I tell Jones that I got his pop angry throughout several questions during our interviews, he laughs and says, “Well, he takes things so much more personally than I do. Much more to heart.”
With that, Jones wasn’t looking to repeat the minimalist sparseness that was his self-penned Moon, his airy 2009 Sundance Festival hit that starred Sam Rockwell. For a director so rooted in retinal-searing science fiction and the tech of it all, Jones digs his actors and never leaves them in the cold. “I love acting and thrive on that sense of collaboration,” he says. “I trust my actors.” Jones didn’t want to repeat himself or take the easy road. Word has it that he turned down the re-boot of the series of Judge Dredd comic flicks. Besides, he waded through filming “too many commercials so I could afford to shoot what I wanted to,” he says regarding what was supposed to be his debut, the Blade Runner-like Mute, which he’ll take on next.
Jones wanted to do something ultra-vivid with multiple moving parts like Source Code, something where he could make grandiose special effects an intimate escapade and toy with up-to-the-minute effects like “virtual stuntman,” that allowed Gyllenhaal’s “Army Capt. Colter Stevens” to leap from a moving train, roll, then return to a standing position with the grace of a gazelle. Beyond the technological puzzle that Jones was happily engulfed in solving throughout Source Code was the question of how to make the eight-minute intervals that “Stevens” had in which to solve the crime, a different vibe for each of his actors. It's a simple explanation, he says: “I’m a problem solver.”
Read Shaun Brady's review of Source Code in our Movies section.
Devoted poet/avid concert-goer/nerd-grrrl extraordinaire Jane Cassady's weekly horoscopes run in this space every Friday morning.
Aries (March 21-April 18): It’s been so chilly out, it’s hard to see the little blue flowers, the blooming trees, the armies of narcissi on the median strips. But they’re there, sure as the sky is blue.
Taurus (April 19-May 18): "The eye of the storm is where I operate, I'm surrounded by chaos but I concentrate" (Brother Ali). Everybody’s been dreaming about waves, but in yours, there’s no drowning. Your breath is infallible, and your head always stays above the froth. It’s OK to pick up your feet off the sand.
Gemini (May 19-June 21): “Let me be universally true without having to be egotistically right. Let this piece find the me that I knew little about. Let the reader find the self they always wanted or was scared to know. Let this piece be a mirror that reflects YOU in us and US as kin folk” (Sherod Smallman, Prayer Before I Write). Pal, you are a faith millionaire, a glittering handful of true verbs. You’re right to drop your defenses. Go you.
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