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THEATER REVIEW: Queen Lear In Bristol

February 16th, 2020

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BY JON HOULON THEATER CRITIC
I used to beat myself up over not being able to recall much of what I read. For instance, the only thing I remembered from the 400 plus pages of Kerouac’s rather spotty Desolation Angels was the word “passersby.” At least I got a song out of it — and that’s a fact, Jack!

But then I read U and I by the great Nicholson Baker where he admits to only retaining a tiny bit of his literary hero John Updike’s canon. I figured if Baker could only summon up a phrase or two of JU then my own lack of retention wasn’t something to necessarily worry about. Until my recent deep dive into Shakespeare (which I wrote about here), the only line I could remember from Lear was Cornwall’s “out vile jelly!” which he delivers while relieving Gloucester of the same. Even thinking of that phrase always makes me blink if only to make sure my eyes are still in my head!

At the radically edited production of King Lear at the Bristol Riverside Theater, which ended its run last night, they only performed the scenes that included the King himself. There was, alas, no vile jelly plucked from Gloucester’s sockets, at least not on the stage. A disappointment for sure. How could there be no vile jelly?

They did, however, retain Lear’s infamous cri-de-coeur: “Never. Never. Never. Never. Never.” I’ve puzzled over this line. Why five negations? Could it be the formal requirements of iambic pentameter or is it something more profound? To be sure, five may be wanting nowadays. Off the top of my head here’s a quintet:

Never have I been more embarrassed to be an American.

Never have I felt more East Coast and elite.

Never have I more ardently wished that the Kiss concert I reviewed last week for Phawker would have lasted forever.

Never has Shakespeare felt more relevant to me.

Never has Lear, in particular, felt more apropos. A mad King demanding complete loyalty and banishing those who do not conform. Sound familiar?

Director Eric Tucker – who heads up New York’s Bedlam theater and was voted Director of the Year in 2014 by the Wall Street Journal (the ultimate in fake news!) – pulls the phallic plug, as it were, in his Lear, subtitled “Who Is It Who Can Tell Me Who I Am.?” I’m not sure, Maestro, but I was intrigued by the all-female cast and what that would mean in terms of the male gaze – I found my own gaze leering at this uniformly attractive bunch.

The concept of an all-female cast is hardly problematic: in Elizabethan times, men or boys played the women’s roles. Take Twelfth Night, for example, where the part of Viola would have been played by a boy playing a woman playing a man. Willie the Shake was no cis-gender square, I tell you.

The interesting thing about Tucker’s take in Bristol was that the females in the cast playing the men did not necessarily pretend to be male. King Lear, played by the wonderful Zuzanna Szadkowski, appeared as a Cosmo drinking, purse carrying, red fingernail-ed and lipsticked mama whose ample bosom more than filled out her purple dress. She shed that dress as well as her wig in her transition into madness, pouring water over her own head and reinserting the phallus into the proceedings in the form of a whiskey bottle wedged between her thighs which she stroked in onanistic fury. A most peculiar King – or should I say Queen? – Lear, indeed. Affecting, nonetheless.

Szadkowski modulated her Nevers to a peak by the third and then a quieting on the last two. The effect was one of fearful symmetry; defiance followed by resignation. Now that unfortunately sounded very familiar.

Curiously, the last two Shakespeare productions I’ve attended have been along the Delaware. First, Hamlet at the Seaport, and then Lear further upstream in Bristol. Like a river, Shakespeare, in the most capable hands, flows beautifully in spite of the Bard’s sometimes jagged plots. The language carries things. But the compression of these tributary productions from their four hour folios to less than two hour presentations resulted in a fractured feel. But, then, a fracture may, in fact, be more apposite to these times.

Tucker ended his Lear on a hopeful note of reconciliation – a note that perhaps best encapsulates the reorienting of the male gaze into a more female one, a more receptive vs. aggressive one – between the Queen and her estranged but now redeemed youngest daughter, Cordelia. The Shakespeare original contains no such note. And I’m afraid neither does our future.

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How Bloomberg Ate Biden’s Lunch In Philadelphia

February 14th, 2020

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PHILADELPHIA MAGAZINE: As you may have noticed if you’ve been near a TV recently and it was turned on and dialed in to pretty much any channel, ever since Mike Bloomberg formally announced his intentions back in November to throw his hat into the Dem presidential ring, he’s been aggressively prosecuting a coast to coast air campaign, carpet bombing swing states and inflection points all along the primary map with a vast arsenal of pithy, pointed anti-Trump television spots that run with the kind of ubiquity and perpetuity that you’d have to be a billionaire many times over to bankroll. His 60-second Super Bowl ad alone cost $10 million. But it just so happens that Bloomberg, captain of industry and three-term mayor of New York City, is the 9th richest man on Earth, according to Forbes 2019 ranking of the world’s 2,153 billionaires, with a net worth just south of $60 billion. When you get to that level of wealth, buying the American presidency out right — which was unthinkable before Citizen’s United — is, in the grand scheme of billionaire things, chump change. Guys like Bloomberg — let’s call them The Obscenely Wealthy — could conceivably single-handedly bankroll the next 10 American presidencies at a cost of a billion per term and still be one of the ten richest men alive. Think about it: if each candidate wins two terms, that’s nearly a century’s worth of American presidents chosen by one man.

“He is spending more money on television than Apple or Microsoft or Ford or GM or McDonalds,” says Oxman. “Between now and the convention, that [media] buy will approach a billion dollars — a billion with a B! His marketing is the best, his spots are the best spots on TV. The guy’s already in third. He’s only been doing this in a serious way for two months and he’s already one point behind Biden.”

While Bloomberg’s ads always have Trump in the cross-hairs, the real target all along has been Biden, who has enjoyed front runner and presumptive nominee status in national polls since kicking off his campaign back in May with rally at the foot of the Art Museum steps. Tan, rested, flashing his trademark thousand watt grin, and clearly still basking in the reflected glow of Obama’s halo, Biden radiated a gentle decency and warmth, not to mention stability, that both contrasted sharply with his presumptive opponent and resonated with his no-frills/no-thrills back-to-the-future message: Let’s Make America 2008 Again. And despite the occasional gaffe (to be expected, he is after all the LeBron James of putting your foot in your mouth, and we love him for it) and unmistakable signs that, at 77, he has “lost a step,” as the euphemism goes, Uncle Joe had an aura of soft-spoken invincibility and inevitability all the while rocking his badass midnight black aviators with his malarkey meter set for kill. But the sad fact is, the Dem faithful’s support for Biden’s candidacy has had a slow leak for the better part of the past year. Back in the April 2019 Quinnipiac poll, 38% of Dems named Biden as their top choice for the nomination, by November that support had fallen to 24% and by the beginning of February, that support had deflated to just 17%. MORE

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NPR 4 THE DEAF: We Hear It Even When U Can’t

February 12th, 2020

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FRESH AIR: “The Trump campaign is planning to spend more than $1 billion, and it will be aided by a vast coalition of partisan media, outside political groups and freelance operatives who are poised to wage what could be the most extensive disinformation campaign in U.S. history. Whether or not it succeeds in reelecting the president, the wreckage leaves behind could be irreparable.” That’s what my guest, McKay Coppins, writes in the new issue of the Atlantic in his article “The 2020 Disinformation War: Deepfakes, Anonymous Text Messages, Potemkin Local-News Sites, And Opposition Research On Reporters – A Field Guide To The Year’s Election And What It Could Do To The Country.” It’s published in the March issue of The Atlantic, where Coppins is a staff writer. While researching the piece, he tried to live in the same information world as Trump supporters so that he’d receive the same disinformation supporters did. In his article, he explains the surprising impact that had on him. MORE

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CINEMA: Poster For New Wes Anderson Flick Drops

February 11th, 2020

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INDIE WIRE: The first look at Wes Anderson’s upcoming feature film The French Dispatch (in theaters July 24th) has arrived courtesy of The New Yorker, which has debuted a handful of photos from the project with captions that introduce the star-studded ensemble cast. […] For The French Dispatch, Anderson has reunited with the likes of Bill Murray, Bob Balaban, Jeff Goldblum, Tilda Swinton, Lea Seydoux and Owen Wilson, while welcoming Timothee Chalamet, Elisabeth Moss, and Benicio del Toro into his world for the first time. Searchlight’s official synopsis for “The French Dispatch” reads: “The film is a love letter to journalists set in an outpost of an American newspaper in a fictional 20th Century French city and brings to life a collection of stories published in ‘The French Dispatch’ magazine.” MORE

PREVIOUSLY: Welcome To The Hotel Andersonia

PREVIOUSLY: The Midnight Coterie Of Sinister Intruders

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FROM THE VAULTS: Bring The Noise

February 11th, 2020

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Artwork by DAUBER

EDITOR’S NOTE: The following originally published in the Philadelphia Weekly back in 2006. We are reprising it here today in response to the news of Rage Against The Machine reuniting for a world tour.

DISCUSSED: IRISH GIRLFRIENDS; THE IRA; RAGE AGAINST THE MACHINE; MUMIA; PHILIP SEYMOUR HOFFMAN; THE BEGINNING OF THE END OF DEMOCRACY

meavatar2BY JONATHAN VALANIA Five years and three girlfriends ago, Rage Against the Machine was on the FOP shitlist for staging a Free Mumia concert at the Meadowlands. Mumia, as you may have heard, was convicted of killing Philadelphia police officer Daniel Faulkner. None of that hubub was much on my radar back then. But my gal at the time, well, she was pretty hardcore Irish, Up The Ra! and all that. Her aunt was a tough-but-sweet old broad that was up to her elbows in The Troubles, if you know what I mean. Let’s just say that some of the proceeds from those beef n’ brews she threw might have wound up putting butter and guns on the table in Belfast. Suffice it to say that Faulkner was a sainted Irish martyr in the eyes of her family.

One day she came by my place and told me she was breaking up with me because I had Rage Against The Machine’s Evil Empire CD in my apartment. Still in the wrapper mind you.
“I didn’t buy it, it got sent to me,” I protested. (She had a great ass.)
“Why don’t you get rid of it then?”
“I might have to write about it some day.”
“It came out four years ago. If you loved me you would get rid of it.”

She was kidding, but only by half. Truth be told she never really looked at me the same after that. Long story short, she left and Rage stayed. All these girlfriends later, I didn’t get around to listening to it until I saw The Party’s Over, a documentary directed by Donovan Leitch and hosted by Phillip Seymour Hoffman about the 2000 Republican National Convention in Philadelphia. The Party’s Over isn’t very good, in fact it’s a rather anemic dollar-short-day-late stab at x-raying the blackened heart of American democracy. But there are two must-see moments that justify the rental fee.*

The first is a lot of never-seen footage of rioters clashing with cops in the streets of Philadelphia during the 2000 Republican convention. (Watch it again, and after everything that came after, tell me you don’t see it all differently.) From here the film cuts to the LA cops igniting a bloody riot when they shutdown an TPO_hiincendiary street performance by Rage Against the Machine outside the Democratic National Convention a few weeks later. Rage had thousands in the streets. That was the last time an American rock band scared the shit out of the powers that be.

I put on Evil Empire and the shoe still fits, it stomps out of the speakers like a Hendrixian bull in the Columbine china shop of Clinton’s America. When Evil Empire came out in 1996, it just sounded like shrill sloganeering to me. After all, our guy was in the White House, he may have a little of the devil in him, but it’s the devil we know. Sure there’s injustices great and small, but we have peace, prosperity, Stereolab and the Internet stocks are gonna make us all independently wealthy. All of us.

That was, as Karl Rove likes to say, a pre-9/11 mentality. Listening to Evil Empire now, it sounds to me like rumbling war drums foretelling the great clash of civilizations. I feel the rage. I hate rap-rock as much as you, but really, it’s come to this: the sky is really falling. Mister we could use a band like Rage Against The Machine again. A band that scares the shit out of the powers that be, a band that pounds lies into dust with their bare hands. A fist that slams on the table and rattles the chess pieces. A band that brings the huddled masses into the streets, a band that must be stopped. And no, I’m not just talking about Audioslave.

RAGE AGAINST THE MACHINE + RUN THE JEWELS @ BB&T PAVILLION AUG. 7TH

*Hey boys and girls, back in the pre-streaming olden days of the early Aughts, you still had to go to a brick and mortar video store and pay a rental fee for a thing called a DVD

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How I Learned To Stop Hating On Taylor Swift

February 10th, 2020

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Rachel Teson copyBY RACHEL TESON I’ve never been a big fan of Taylor Swift. Sure, I grew up singing “Teardrops On My Guitar” and “Should’ve Said No” among her other early country songs. As I got older, and became more familiar with social media, I began to actively dislike the star, but if you had asked me, I would not have been able to give you a reason why. After watching her documentary Miss Americana, now streaming on Netflix, I discovered what that reason was — the Celebrity Industrial Complex.

I thought that T.S. wrote the same generic love songs because she knew they would make money and didn’t really care about the music. Now I know better, she was told by her handlers to write and perform those songs. In a clip from an early interview featured in the documentary, she tells the interviewer that she was always told to be a good girl, wave and smile, and be quiet. “People don’t want to hear me talk about politics, they want to hear me sing songs about heartbreak and feelings,” she says. The industry instilled a fear of “becoming like the Dixie Chicks”– a band that spoke their mind about their president and lost millions of listeners as a result — in Taylor, a girl who grew up in the spotlight like a flower would the sun.

Taylor began performing on stage at the age of 12. She made her first album when she was 16, and the her fame and the pressures that came with it only continued to grow over the next decade. I’ve never had much sympathy for stars, to be honest. They have money and fame, they can do whatever they want with their lives while a special occasion for me is eating Chick-fil-A. They must be happy, right? But watching Taylor talk about how she can’t even think about her future because every moment is planned for her, sometimes years in advance, gave me pause. Not to mention having your entire dating career put on display for millions of people to mock and meme.

But perhaps the biggest takeaway from Miss Americana, for me any way, is that Taylor has gotten involved with politics. The final third of Miss Americana, ably directed by Lana Wilson, focuses on how Taylor wants to fight for the rights of all people, no matter their gender or sexuality. She begins to write songs about things that really mean something to her, songs inspired by her sexual assault or her political views and wish to get young adults registered and in the voting booths. My favorite quote from the documentary is one said by the star, “I like the color pink and want to talk about politics, and I don’t think those two should cancel each other out.” I don’t know if I’ll start listening to her music more now that I know the story behind the voice, but I would definitely recommend watching this movie if the jury is still out on your feelings about Tay Tay.

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GEEK SQUAD: Let Us Prey

February 7th, 2020

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the-geek-300x300BY RICHARD SUPLEE GEEK SPACE CORRESPONDENT Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) is just as fun as that title. And honesty, that is all the film needed to be. The last time we saw Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn in Suicide Squad (2016) proved how hard it can be to make a fun film. The similarities between these films go beyond the sexy killer clown. Both films star large superhero teams in content meant for an older audience. But Birds of Prey actually gives a damn about being a solid film.

Beyond Joker’s ex girlfriend Harley, the film stars down on her luck cop Renee Montoya (Rosie Perez), teenage pickpocket orphan Cassandra Cain (Ella Jay Basco), singer who becomes a mobster’s driver Dinah Lance/Black Canary (Jurnee Smollett-Bell), the survivor of a mafia massacre seeking revenge Helena Bertinelli/Huntress (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) and the billionaire heir turned mob boss Roman Sionis/Black Mask (Ewan McGregor). The fact that I can describe each character easily in understandable tropes most moviegoers are familiar with is why the film works. It would be easy for all these plot lines to run together and confuse audiences. But somehow all those plot lines coalesce into a whole that is essentially a heist movie quest for a diamond. A diamond that Cassandra Cain steals and swallows which spurs all the other characters to go after her. And that simplicity is perfect.

This isn’t a movie about a bunch of supervillains and heroes who are thrown together to save the world and in the process become better people, Let Us Prey is too busy explaining a convoluted plot to give character development. And there is still plenty of time for crazy antics like Harley owning a pet hyena, kicking ass in a roller derby team, and Huntress shooting people in the neck assassination-style. We also see emotional scenes such as Huntress’s family being murdered, Dinah not wanting her boss to murder a little kid and Harley bonding with Cassandra Cain. All told, I do not think anyone will be calling Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) the movie of the year, but I can see it being people’s favorite.

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BOB MARLEY: Redemption Song

February 6th, 2020

ROLLING STONE: The Marley family, Universal Music and Island Records have teamed up to celebrate the 40th anniversary of Bob Marley & the Wailers’ “Redemption Song” with an inspirational video. Created by French artists Octave Marsal and Theo De Gueltzl, the clip features nearly 3,000 original drawings that represent the song’s message of emancipation. Jamaican imagery fills the screen as a powerful lion wears a crown, eventually growing wings and flying away from a kingdom. Marley can be seen strumming an acoustic guitar filled with flowers. MORE

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BEING THERE: Kiss @ The PP&L Center

February 5th, 2020

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Photo by JOSH PELTA-HELLER

Could have been the fact that I was recently promoted to Theater Critic at Phawker and have a background in Kabuki.  Or the fact that both my wife (who, concerned for my personal safety in Trump territory, forbade me from donning my Lizzie Warren kit) and my editor (who blew out of there like some sort of psyclone ranger during the Reagan era) are from Allentown and this, therefore, would practically be a family affair.  Or maybe it was just my desire for an alternate State of the Union. No matter. On Tuesday night I laid down the lineaments of adulthood and hightailed it up to the PP&L Center in Allentown to see The Hottest Band in the Land, KISS!

My brief KISStory:  I’m the perfect age.  In 1975, I recall puzzling over my buddy Chuck Castle’s older brother’s copy of KISS Alive.  I found it, at once, menacing and funny. By the bi-centennial, I had, at age 8, accumulated Destroyer, a KISS lunchbox, and a membership to the KISS Army.  I may not have been a Kid In Service to Satan but Gene, Paul, Peter and Ace were my John, Paul, etc ….

Then everything changed.  My father laid a copy of Before the Flood on me and, in ’78, took me to see Bob Dylan at the Capitol Center in Landover, Maryland.  I was 10 and I guess my old man considered me ready for the real item. He was right. Something transformative (no, not trans-figurative, Bob) happened and I never looked back.  It was time to put away childish things.

Fast forward 40 years, I’m watching Scorsese documentary on the Rolling Thunder Revue and there’s Bob himself saying that he got the idea of wearing make-up on his legendary 1975 tour from having seen KISS.  He claims that Scarlet Rivera, the violinist in the Revue, was dating “the leader of KISS” and took him out to see the hottest band in the land in Queens. Yes, I know: Marty and Zimmy booby-trapped the doc and the dates don’t align here:  KISS had long escaped Queens and by ’75 they were arena-rock stalwarts. But, still, Bob seems to have lifted one out of their playbook; I “filed it [the idea of make-up] away”, he says.

It is also worth noting that in 2004, Simmons on his aptly-titled second solo album, Asshole, included a co-write with Bob entitled “Waiting for the Morning Light.”  Moreover, on their not woefully underrated Music from the Elder LP, Gene co-wrote several tunes with none other than one Lewis Reed. Co-writes with Dylan and Reed?  Not bad for the old resume, Chaim, and that’s no shit, Shylock.

In Rolling Thunder, Dylan also says that they should have worn “more masks” on the tour and that “when somebody’s wearing a mask, he’s gonna tell the truth.  When he’s not wearing a mask, it’s highly unlikely.” Hmmmm. On their criminally underrated power-pop masterpiece, Unmasked, KISS did not actually reveal their mugs; rather, per a comic that graced the cover, when they removed their make-up, what remained were the very same made-up faces (the Demon, the Star Child, the Cat, and the Spaceman) as before.  What was this then? A reference to Arthur Rimbaud and his proclamation that “I is another”? Or a nod to the Derridean concept of “trace.” These New York City Katz are heavy thinkers, man, and that’s Wicked cool, Lester!

In any case, I was determined to uncover the Truth behind the mask and rounded up my drummer in the Donuts to accompany me to the Lehigh Valley.  I selected him because he is not especially intelligent (no offence, Head!; none taken, Claw!) and if I was going to penetrate this scene I was gonna have to dumb it down considerably.  We wanted the best and, goddammit, we would have the best if the Gods of Thunder aligned.

KISS IN ALLENTOWN BY THE NUMBERS

  • Mentions of opener “Diamond” David Lee Roth in this review: 1
  • Times the word “Allentown” was uttered by KISS: 69 (e.g. “I’m gonna kick your ass, Allentown” by Gene Simmons in introduction to “Parasite”)
  • Between song raps by Paul Stanley:  16 (NOTE: a “rap” must contain at least one subject, predicate, and object. One word “speech acts” such as “people” — even elongated to multiple syllables e.g. “peeee-eee-eep-hole” — do not qualify)
  • Raps by Paul Stanley advocating for witnesses to be called in the Senate:  01
  • Times Simmons grabbed his medieval codpiece (is there another type?):  36
  • Times Simmons fellated the microphone with his outsized tongue:  11
  • Songs played from Psycho Circus: 1
  • Songs played from Psycho Circus that I wanted to hear: 0
  • Times I regretted eating a marinara-laden cheesesteak + a chili dog chased w/ 5 High Lifes at the Brass Rail (est. 1931) in Allentown prior to the show: 0
  • Times I regretted bringing my drummer to the show: 666
  • Songs played from Music from the Elder: 0
  • Times I wondered what the hell I was doing here: 9

 

So there’s the stats.  But what about this Truth that Bob claims will emerge from a mask?  I will say that this wasn’t any Gwyney Goop on these boys’ faces. This was industrial strength paint that disguised the advanced years (the Demon is 70, peep-hole!) of this, the ultimate cock-rock band. Was the truth to be found in the pyrotechnics and explosives that sizzled my beard and will probably ring in my ears until 2021 when KISS finally reaches the End of the Road (as they are calling this tour)? Was it Star Child Paul Stanley’s Pan-like flight across the arena during “Love Gun”?  Was it Cat Man Eric Singer’s 12 minute double-bass-rocking drum solo on a riser that lifted him to the very peaks of the PPL?

Was it when Space Ace (I mean, Tommy Thayer dressed as Space Ace.  How’s that for a Shakespearean Twelfth Night-like substitution?) – in a phallic display that would even make Camille Paglia blush – shot bolts of fire from the headstock of his Flying V? Was it the fact that, whether he is lip-syncing or not, Paul Stanley plays kick-ass rhythm guitar that really undergirds the spectacle on stage?  Or was it the genuine affection that I witnessed between this band and its multi-generational (if not diverse) audience?

No.  The Truth on the eve of our Constitution’s actual demise was far simpler.  Nothing profound here, friends. But rather this … wait for it … The TRUTH is I WANNA ROCK AND ROLL ALL NITE AND PARTY EVERY DAY! Putting away childish things will have to wait this time cuz we could sure use some fun right about now. – JON HOULON

PREVIOUSLY: Our Q&A W/ Gene Simmons

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CINEMA: Bitches Brew

February 4th, 2020

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GRETEL & HANSEL (directed by Oz Perkins, 97 minutes, USA, 2020)

Dan Tabor_byline_avatarBY DAN TABOR FILM CRITIC Gretel & Hansel, the new film by director Oz Perkins (The Blackcoat’s Daughter), is an eye-dazzling new take on the Brothers Grim classic. Gretel is played by Sophia Lillis whose complex and remarkably empowering take on Beverly Marsh in 2017’s It was easily one of the best parts of that adaptation. While this recent subgenre of expanding on these familiar stories we thought we knew is nothing new, rarely do we see them take the approach on screen here. The film’s visual palette channels Robert Eggers (The Witch) and Alejandro Jodorowsky (The Holy Mountain).

In this iteration, Hansel & Gretel are forced out of their home by their mentally ill mother who is haunted by the ghost of their deceased father. Gretel is portrayed as an older teen on the cusp of womanhood and Hansel is the much younger brother who she has been tasked with raising since the decline of their mother. They escape into the forest and begin their quest for a new home with the hope of finding a group of kindly woodsman or a convent to take them in. After traveling for some time without food or water, the duo unwittingly eat some psychedelic mushrooms and after tripping their brains out happen upon the witch’s cottage. While the witch is definitely sticking to the Grimm’s script with her cannibalistic plans for Hansel, she sees something of herself in Gretel and decides to groom her as an apprentice instead of eating her. It all boils down to the fiercely independent Gretel — hence the reversed name order of the title — who has to choose between inheriting the witch’s dark power or the saving the life of her younger brother.

The film is visually striking with its orange-and-blue-hued phantasmagorical world and skin-crawlingly creepy production design, and its semi-grounded depiction of witchcraft gives the narrative a bit more believeability and weight. Borrowing a page from The Witch, the film deploys witchcraft as a metaphor for Gretel’s ascent into womanhood and explores feminism in a time when that is simply unheard of. This gambit is further enhanced by the naïve childlike stupidity of Hansel who just can’t understand why his sister must always be “difficult.”  I went into Gretel & Hansel expecting a Blumhouse-eque haunted house take on the fairytale filled with jump scares and mind-numbing gore — which in and of itself wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing. But I was pleasantly surprised when the film turned out to be an eerily effective slow burn that utilizes the tropes of horror to weave a densely layered coming-of-age fairy tale. Sophia Lillis once again shows she’s one of the best young leading ladies out there, turning in a nuanced and empathetic performance as a young woman who is just trying to grow up and keep her brother safe in the big bad world. As such, Oz Perkins’ update makes the story relevant to today’s audiences, while still remaining true to the grim intent of the Grimm brothers’ ur-text.

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LISTEN: The Cars Circa ’77 Live Tape Surfaces

February 4th, 2020

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DANGEROUS MINDS: A pre-fame live tape of a show by new wave heroes the Cars recently surfaced online. The 1977 recording documents the Boston band less than a year on from their concert debut, and just when they were starting to gain some notoriety. The tape contains songs that are now classics, as well as those that are only known to diehard fans, including a few that have never been released. The gig took place at the Paradise Theater, a small Boston venue, on October 1st, 1977. At the time, the Cars hadn’t been together all that long, but they were a band on the move. Demos of “My Best Friend’s Girl” and “Just What I Needed” had started to receive prominent airplay on Boston radio, and following a major label bidding war, the Cars signed a multi-album deal with Elektra/Asylum Records in November. MORE

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GOD OF THUNDER: A Q&A With Gene Simmons

February 2nd, 2020

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EDITOR’S NOTE: This interview originally published in June 2017. We are reprising it now in advance of Kiss’ performance at the PP&L Center in Allentown tomorrow night, the second date on the End Of The Road farewell world tour, with David Lee Roth opening. We will be sending a writer and photographer, stay tuned for a complete report. In the meantime, enjoy.

BYLINER mecroppedsharp_1BY JONATHAN VALANIA In advance of his performance at the Trocadero tonight as part of the Wizard World Philadelphia Comic Con nerd jamboree at the Pennsylvania Convention Center (June 1-4), we got Gene Simmons, commander in chief of the Kiss Army, on the horn. DISCUSSED: Trump, Russia, comic books, codpieces, Beyonce, Nirvana, his $300 million net worth, Elvis, Schvetty Balls, Les Paul, Donna Summer, the Jesus Of Rock, Helsinki, The Beatles, Nietzsche, Kierkegaard and Kant, Wizard World, the death of rock, inspiring This Is Spinal Tap, why he got himself fired from The Apprentice, the mechanics of capitalism, how supermarkets work, and the prospect of making peace with Terry Gross (Hint: Don’t hold your breath).

PHAWKER: Before we get started, in the interest of full disclosure, you should know I’ve been a member of the Kiss army in good standing since 1976.

GENE SIMMONS: Wow.

PHAWKER: You’ve always been my favorite. I remember spending many hours looking at the cover of the Kiss Alive 2. You were legitimately scary, everybody else the band kind of just looked like weird clowns and transvestites from outer space. But you were intense, I just wanted to put that out there. Don’t tell the other guys I said that, I don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings. So, what can the fans expect from your show at the Trocadero in Philadelphia?

GENE SIMMONS: What happened was Wizard World was aware that I’m a comic book geek and that Kiss in particular and I have had a long and proud relationship with comic books going back many decades. I mean the first comic book event that I went to was a sci-fi comic book convention called Luna Con in New York in 1968. This was before there was even a Comic Con. And through the 70’s, we had our Kiss comics, which became the biggest selling comic books of all time, at that point. And through various decades, we’ve had everybody from Image to IDW, and now finally Dynamic is putting out Kiss comics. And so every month, there were kiss comics coming out and including my own comic book company called “Simmons’ Comics Group” which puts out Dominatrix and Zipper as well as Gene Simmons’ House of Horrors. So, Wizard World asked me toKISS Marvel do five of their conventions, and I said sure. Question and Answer, talk comic books, all of that stuff. And then they had asked me if I would play a few tunes. And I thought, well gee that’s interesting, I never done a solo tour anywhere but maybe I could put a band together of some rockers I know who love this thing and take over a concert hall someplace and do some obscure Kiss tunes that Kiss will never play, and have never played. And that was interesting to me. So that’s sort of what happened and we’ve done two out of them, I think I have three more to go and they’ve been an awful lot of fun. It gives me the chance to kind of step out of the Kiss boots and get up on stage and just have a lot of fun and some of the things that we do with the Gene Simmons band is bring people up on stage and if you think you can sing, you can hold your own against me on stage we pull you up, and if you think your kid, or child, is a rockstar, send your video of your child singing, performing, or doing whatever to WizardWorld.com and if they’ve got the goods, I’ll pull them up on stage. It’s a lot of fun, people just love it and so do I. it gives me a chance to kind of get much closer, because you know around Kiss, it’s tough to get close to us. There are bodyguards between the stage and the audience, there’s that moat, and with the Wizard World relationship, I get a lot closer to people and it’s actually a lot more fun for me to.

PHAWKER: Excellent, so you guys are on tour and Europe right now, I believe your last show was a couple of days ago in Moscow, or in somewhere in Russia? Yes?

GENE SIMMONS: Yes, we played in Moscow, the first show on May Day. Which is when the Russians bring out all of their missiles and stuff, and we played at the Olympic Stadium there in Moscow, a lot of fun. If you go to Kissonline.com you can see photos and stuff, and I’m sure you can go to Google or someplace and get photos. Packed house, everybody had a ball. Right now we are in Helsinki, Finland and you can actually Google this. The international railway station, in Helsinki there is this huge arc, and on either side of this arc are these fifty foot high statues made out of stone. And what the city of Helsinki has done is paint our face makeup on the statues, really quite something. I was just out there, we took some photos and it just, I’m dwarfed by these huge statues, and of course people immediately got that I was one of the guys. And so everybody crowded around and did photos, but when I first approached it I went ‘What the hell, you started a rock band and all of a sudden you’re on Mount Rushmore.’

PHAWKER: Nice. So tell me, what is a typical day in the life of Gene Simmons. Do you wake up at the crack of noon?

GENE SIMMONS: Well there are no typical days. Almost every day is different, because at the same time I am running two different film companies and I’ve got my real estate venture and a lot of Kiss Cartoon2other projects happening at the same time and Kiss has lots of projects. So sometimes — when my partners are overseas when I’m in America — I have to hop on the phone in the middle of the night because it’s noon of the next day for my European partners or in Japan. And so, every day is different. Today, we woke up, uh, I don’t know about 10 AM Helsinki time, and went out there at 11 AM to take photos of the big statues and then, you know, running the gauntlet between the fans. They know exactly which hotel we’re staying in so as I leave, you know, you got to do what you got to do. Be nice to the fans, sign this poster this photo and so on. But it’s a real tug of the heart when you are sitting in the restaurant, we sat outdoors because the weather was pretty good, and a few people came over. One guy in particular very young, he had to go back to school, he told me. And he started shaking and said, ‘You are the reason why I am playing music’ and you know all of this stuff. And it’s a real, it puts a lump in your throat when you realize that yeah you can put out a song or two here and there that people might like but it profoundly impacts people’s lives and that’s an amazing thing.

PHAWKER: So, Kiss turns 42 years-old by my calculations.

GENE SIMMONS: Forty-three.

PHAWKER: Forty-three, congratulations. Is it safe to say that you don’t agree with the premise that rock and roll is the young man’s game?
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CINEMA: Who’s A Good Boy?!?

January 31st, 2020

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TOGO (Directed by Ericson Core, 113 minutes, USA, 2019)

Rachel Teson copyBY RACHEL TESON Many people know the story of Balto, mostly from the 1995 animated film Balto with Kevin Bacon as the voice lead. You can visit Balto’s statue in Central Park in New York City. A reward he received for being known as the dog who saved an Alaskan village called Nenana from a diphtheria epidemic. While Balto should be praised for his accomplishments, he, along with over a dozen other mushers, only covered around 20 miles out of the total 674 mile race. A twelve year old husky (considered a senior in dog years) named Togo was the true hero of The Great Race of Mercy, covering 260 miles in the most horrendous and dangerous conditions Alaska had to offer.

Directed by Ericson Core with screenplay written by Tom Flynn, Togo goes into the history of the heroic pup who was told his entire life that he was a runt and would never be strong or fast enough to be a sled dog, let alone the lead dog. Togo quickly proved to his reluctant owner Leonhard Seppoala, played by Willem Dafoe, that he could be the best sled dog in the nation. The movie, now streaming on Disney+, explores Seppoala and Togo’s relationship, and let me tell you, both of these actors should receive Oscars for their acting. My eyes and throat hurt for the next two hours after watching this film. This story is the epitome of all underdog stories; one that will move you to several tears while also making you laugh with warmth at the end.

Togo’s valiant actions saved an entire town of sick children. While the rest of the world recognized Balto as the savior, locals of Nenana heard of Seppala’s lead dog and his astounding racing capabilities and wanted a dog like Togo for their own. While Togo was never able to race much after the Great Race of Mercy, he did live on for four more years to sire many pups, whom became known as the Seppala Siberian Sleddog, named after Togo’s famous owner. This movie instantly moved to the top of my favorite movies list, and I am sure it will to many other people as well.

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