Grateful Art in The Electric City
We caught up with The Grateful Gallery’s John Warner about his upcoming appearance at The Backyard Ale House, 523 Linden St., Scranton, on Friday, March 7 as part of Susquehanna Breakdown’s Fee Free event. The night will feature selected works from The Grateful Gallery, as well as live music from The Kalob Griffin Band and The Tom Graham and Bill Orner Duo.
Give us a little background on your work.
I work primarily in the music business creating concert posters for bands like The Allman Brothers, Further, Phil Lesh & Friends, moe., Gov’t Mule and Warren Haynes to name a few. I’ve also created artwork for festivals like Lockn’, Gathering of the Vibes and Mountain Jam. In addition to posters, I design T-shirts and other band merchandise. I also work locally with Cabinet and this upcoming festival – the Susquehanna Breakdown.
How did you get involved in the business?
I’m originally from Binghamton, N.Y., not far from this area. As a kid, I was a huge fan of album artwork and it was my objective from a young age to become a professional artist. I started seeing the Grateful Dead, Phish and other jam bands in high school and I fell in love with the scene. I started making fan art back then in the ‘90s, selling my T-shirts in the parking lots at shows. I moved to California in 1990 and followed several Grateful Dead and Phish tours. At the same time, I was developing my design business, working with local bands and clubs. After a while, my art just kind of got noticed, my client list grew and I’ve been doing it for more than 20 years. I always prioritized developing good working relationships with the bands and have been designing for some of my clients for five, 10, 15 years now. In addition to artwork, I’ve worked on the business side of the music industry by booking bands, promoting shows and so on. In 2004, I moved to Austin, Texas to focus on developing my graphic design business, and at the same time I started managing a bar and booking shows there. I created the artwork for the shows and did promotion too. In 2007, I moved back to the Northeast and continued developing my design business with some great new clients like Citizen Cope. I met Cabinet in 2008 and booked them at a festival I was producing and promoting — the Hop Bottom Arts and Music Festival — which was in its second year in 2008. We’ve been friends ever since, and I am thrilled to design posters and other artwork for them.
You’re not “just” a full-time artist, then?
Oh, no — I work on the production side too. I work with Bill Orner who is the lead promoter for the Susquehanna Breakdown. I’ve helped with the nuts and bolts of the festival like layout and attractions. I also coordinate vending for a few music festivals.
How did you get involved with Susquehanna Breakdown?
In January 2013, Orner called me up and said “LiveNation is giving us the opportunity to host a festival at Montage Mountain.” He knew I had worked with Mountain Jam, Peach and other festivals and that I had some experience. He wanted to know if I would come on board to give a hand and we’d see what happens. I love Cabinet and it has been really awesome to see their success and growth over the years, so naturally I said “absolutely, anything I can do to help.” Initially, the festival was supposed to be outside by the front entrance to the venue. We had some bad luck with the weather, which turned into good luck, because they moved us all under the big Pavilion tent. I really don’t think it would have been the same if we hadn’t moved it under the Pavilion. It just added such a special vibe to an already great event. It was dumb luck that we wound up underneath the tent, but it totally transformed the look and feel of the whole thing. In the first year, despite bad weather, we put on a show that looked like a legit, real, big event.
Everything went really well, and it was pretty much an automatic decision that day that we were going to do this again. So Orner usually takes care of all the booking, ticketing, promotion and organization there, and I fill in the gap by coordinating food and craft vendors, sponsorships, that kind of stuff. This year the lineup just speaks for itself — it’s fantastic. We really have some great talent this year and we’re really looking forward to it.
It’s great to showcase local talent on a stage that houses giant national acts.
Well, that’s what it’s all about. I’m originally from the region — I love the area. My mom lives in Susquehanna County and there’s just so much local talent around here that I think all too often gets passed over. There’s the proximity between NYC and Philly, so we get overlooked, but I think our region is ready to get put on the map in a big way. I know there are a lot of people in this area who just have no idea that so much great music is in their back yard! The other day, I was checking out the Facebook page for Montage Mountain, and somebody posted “What’s with Montage Mountain booking these festivals with bands nobody’s ever heard of?” This is a good thing! This year’s lineup for Susquehanna Breakdown is amazing year with both local talent and nationally touring artists. I recommend skeptics come up to the show to check it out, because they’ll walk away thinking “wow, these bands are really good!”
It shows the strength of the local scene that we can support a main stage show with local acts.
Well, that’s the thing — last year could have been a huge failure and we wouldn’t even be having this conversation. It wouldn’t have come back. It gives me a feeling of pride that so many people came out to support Cabinet and the local scene, and the whole thing was a success. This year, I’m really hoping that we get a wider variety of the community to come up — those who aren’t necessarily Cabinet fans, friends and family, but people who just heard about the festival and thought it sounded pretty cool.
What’s going on Friday at The Backyard Alehouse?
A night of music by Susquehanna Breakdown artists The Kalob Griffin Band and Tom Graham, along with a chance to buy festival tickets with no service charge. (Ticket prices are $20 GA and $55 VIP.) I’m going to be there with a gallery of my artwork as part of a sneak preview of the Grateful Gallery concert poster and photography show that I bring to music festivals throughout the summer. I’ll also have some posters from Mike Dubois, another Grateful Gallery artist, and there’s a chance we’ll have a special guest and some other surprises. These gallery shows are a great opportunity to pick up a poster from a favorite band or a show you attended.
What can we look forward to at this year’s Susquehanna Breakdown?
In addition to the music, we also have a great variety of vendors and artisans this year. We have some of the best vendors in the country, like handmade apparel, accessories and artwork from the non profit Eden’s Rose Foundation; organic cotton and bamboo clothing from Hooked Productions; hand-painted ornaments made from recycled Christmas trees from our local favorite S.A.W. Family Creations; and Uncle John’s Outfitters, which is my own family business. We also have a couple of the best food vendors joining us — the Gouda Boys have an out-of-this-world menu and we are happy to have our local favorites Shady Grove Wraps. We’ve got some new stuff coming in like a children’s drum workshop from Everyone’s Drumming. There’s going to be something for everyone. It gives me an enormous amount of pride to be able to help bring this kind of event into my backyard.
— tucker hottes
Author Le Hinton is the special guest at the next Writers Showcase on Saturday, March 1.
The next installment of the Writers Showcase at The Vintage will be held on March 1 at 7 p.m. at The Vintage, 326 Spruce St., Scranton. The reading series, hosted by Brian Fanelli and Jason Lucarelli, will feature readings by local and visiting writers including Laura Duda, Jeff Rath, Emmalea Russo, Kevin McDonough, Amanda J. Bradley and special guest, Le Hinton.
Laura Duda is a recent graduate of the Wilkes University Creative Writing Master of Arts program. Her fiction has been published in the Osterhaut Library’s Word Fountain, and her non-fiction short story “Bonnie” was published in the Fall 2012 edition of the East Meets West American Writer’s Review and won honorable mention in the 2012 Fall Writer’s Contest. She is employed full-time as the Director of Institutional Research at Lackawanna College where she is also an adjunct instructor in the humanities division, and co-chair of both the Creative Arts Club and First Friday Committee. She is also an adjunct faculty member at Southern New Hampshire University as an instructor in English composition and creative writing.
Jeff Rath is the author of three collections of poetry: The Waiting Room at the End of the World (2007), In the Shooting Gallery of the Heart (2009) and Film Noir (2011), all published by Iris G. Press. His works have been published in a number of journals including Everyday Genius and Fledgling Rag. He is the 2007 R.E. Foundation Award winner and a Pushcart Prize nominee.
Emmalea Russo is a poet and visual artist. Her books are they (forthcoming GAUSS PDF, 2014), CLEAR1NG (dancing girl press, 2013), and book of southern and water (Poor Claudia, 2013). She lives in Brooklyn, New York.
Kevin McDonough is a full-time Assistant Professor at Lackawanna College. He teaches a range of English and writing courses including College Writing, Introduction to Literature, Women’s Literature, American Literature to 1900, and Language, Literacy and Play. Kevin also works as an adjunct professor for Marywood University’s English department teaching Composition and Rhetoric, Children’s Literature and Structured Linguistics. He spends his time outside of the classroom writing and performing original music and working on short fiction. His New Year’s resolution for 2014 is to start submitting stories.
Amanda J. Bradley has two books of poems out from NYQ Books: Hints and Allegations (2009) and Oz at Night (2011). She has published poetry and essays in journals including Kin Poetry Journal, The Nervous Breakdown, The Best American Poetry Blog, Rattle, The New York Quarterly and Poetry Bay. She was interviewed in The Huffington Post in April 2013. Amanda is a graduate of the MFA program at The New School and holds a PhD in English and American Literature from Washington University in St. Louis. She is an Assistant Professor at Keystone College.
Le Hinton is the author of four poetry collections including Black on Most Days (Iris G. Press, 2008) and The God of Our Dreams (Iris G. Press, 2010). His work has been published in Gargoyle, Little Patuxent Review, Unshod Quills, Watershed, Off the Coast and in the poetry anthology/cookbook, Cooking Up South. His poem “Epidemic” was the winner of the Baltimore Review’s 2013 Winter Issue contest. In 2012, his poem, “Our Ballpark,” was incorporated into Derek Parker’s sculpture Common Thread and installed at Clipper Magazine Stadium in Lancaster, Pennsylvania as part of the Poetry Paths project.
The event is free, but donations are encouraged to help support The Vintage. Light refreshments will be provided.
Andrea McGuigan’s Bookmarks appears bi-monthly in ec and dc. Send your literary news to: firstname.lastname@example.org.
SONS OF RAGE AND LOVE
Green Day’s American Idiot plays The Kirby on Wednesday
You could call it the RENT of the Oughts or the Hair of the 21st Century. Critics looking for a way to describe something they hadn’t exactly seen before also compared American Idiot to The Who’s Tommy. Offering almost no dialogue (director Michael Mayer actually cut what few lines existed when the show moved from Berkeley to Broadway), it is more of a rock opera than a nostalgic ‘jukebox musical’ like Jersey Boys or Mamma Mia. But pulling its punk aesthetics from the chaos of the suburban media-warped alienation of its soundtrack, it is to performance what abstract art is to painting.
Led by songwriter Billie Joe Armstrong, Green Day had imagined its music scoring some visual performance piece as it created the concept album American Idiot, released in 2004, and later 21st Century Breakdown (2009). But it wasn’t until Mayer and musical arranger Tom Kitt sketched out a workshop of the show that the band saw the full potential of what it had created. The story following American Idiot from multi-platinum album to Broadway musical is documented in the film Broadway Idiot released in October. Meanwhile the third national tour continues to penetrate middle American, playing the F.M. Kirby Center for the Performing Arts in Wilkes-Barre for one night only, Wednesday, March 5. American Idiot is a period piece that is still contemporary, proposed Dan Tracy who stars as Tunny on the road. It may be a decade or two before we have the perspective to see the whole picture.
Actor Dan Tracy plays Tunny in the third national tour of American Idiot.
Your bio cites just as many, if not more, straight shows than musicals. And American Idiot doesn’t offer much dialogue.
But it is really a piece of performance art. It’s in the vein of a piece of physical theater, like the post-modern pieces happening in the ‘60s or ‘70s reimagined as this rock musical. There’s a lot of really elaborate staging and choreography. Nothing is very literal. It’s representative in a way. So I feel that a lot of the training I got as a straight actor, which is more of my wheelhouse, has helped me to get here. Now obviously it’s a rock musical, so you have to have a strong singing voice. Plenty of the people in the show are straight actors and musicians. Not many American Idiot people are necessarily perfect for a show like Wicked, but we are a perfect for shows like American Idiot.
After watching Broadway Idiot last night, I went back and listened to the original Green Day albums and it was like listening to a demo. It was as if this is what was supposed to happen to these songs and the creative team knew it.
I think Billie had the idea that he wanted it to be something bigger than what he had laid down and he was lucky enough to find such an amazing team. The work that Tom Kitt did on this album is absolutely incredible. The way he was able to take one voice and four instruments and turn them into 12 instruments and 30 voices or 20 voices is simply amazing. Listening to this cast album is like completely transformative.
Those original songs are deceptively simple — they have the structure, the foundation to be able to hold all of that.
Absolutely. I think that was some of the success of the album, that he was able to sort of transcend his punk genre and jump into this land of — like I said earlier, the melodies are classic and they really stand on their own two feet in the whole spectrum of music, not just in the punk rock world.
Tell me about your character, Tunny. It’s political, but it’s not political.
I like to say that the politics are a context. The show seems, right now, as if it is a contemporary piece about contemporary politics but I think it’s actually more of a post-9/11 period piece that hasn’t really gotten past the point to be a period piece yet. It still looks contemporary and you can still buy the costumes at a store any street you walk down in the United States right now. But the politics of it all are all underneath the first couple of numbers to give you a feeling for how these characters are feeling and why they make the decisions that they do. It’s not directly anti any particular president or anything like that. It’s more just political in that it’s about growing up in the post-9/11 era.
And you’re playing a soldier.
My character grows up in a broken home in a suburb in California. He is very unhappy where he is. He gets into the hardcore music scene and he sort of defines himself by violence. He has 13 tattoos. He is kind of emotionally detached from the world and he and his best friend end up going to New York City, which he also hates because, as I have learned quickly about New York City, it’s not necessarily the most friendly place. It’s kind of scary and there are a lot of things that can upset someone, so he ends up channeling his violence into something good and ends up serving in the military. He has a really difficult stretch — I don’t want to give too much away, but he ends up back where he started at home, with a brand-new perspective on the world and I think his story is one of hope. And it’s inspiring, for sure.
Armstrong stresses how dark the show is but of course there has to be a redeeming message, even in a punk rock musicals.
I think the encore that we play ends up instilling a little but of hope with the audience and it leaves people with a smile on their face. It’s definitely a dark story but punk rock isn’t all about the darkness and anger. It’s also about the joy of banding together with a group of people who feel the same way. It’s about community and that’s … where the love comes from.
Steven Hoggett’s choreography is fascinating. That was probably a lot of the rehearsal work you all had to do.
That’s definitely the hardest of the structure, especially for the ensemble members. We had 12 days to learn all of that stuff and put it all together. In a featured role, I and the other principal actors have a little bit of different responsibility in trying to figure out what our stories are and what we are saying to the audience and how that acting is executed throughout the show. But most of the ensemble spent that time learning the choreography which originally was conceived with a group of actors and the choreographer piecing it together bit by bit. He would bring in three pieces, three physical actions which describe breaking out of a glass box, and then the next days the actors could come in with their three little movements to break themselves out of the box and then slowly but surely that was weaned down into what you see on stage in “Jesus of Suburbia” today. So our process was more learning what the original company had conceived. We didn’t conceive any of it on our own, but that’s only due to time constrictions. It still has that flavor of that organic movement that comes from inside of you and everything is a form of that personal action.
It’s really exciting that this kind of movement is coming to middle American because I don’t think a lot of our audiences have had the opportunity to see people move that way on stage.
It’s a show that draws people who have never seen musicals before and that’s really cool because I think it may bring them to see another musical in the future. It is dance and people recognize it as dance but it doesn’t have the same connotations that other form of dance have, where people have pre-conceived notions of how they should feel about ballet or what ever it is. I think it can bring a new appreciation for what we do as performers.
It must be challenging to fit the show into so many different spaces (e.g. the walls of Christine Jones’s original set were 40 feet high). Do you do any of the flying choreography on this tour?
There are lot of one nighters and we are plying some smaller spaces this year which is exciting because we get to go to a lot places in middle America and they get the opportunity to see the show but a lot of those theaters are only 20-to-25 footers and can’t support the flying system so they had to make the decision not to continue the tour because they needed those cities or take the flying away. So the flying has been eliminated and the choreographer conceived a piece that, if you haven’t seen the flying, most people don’t miss it. If you have seen the flying, it’s this element of spectacle that my character experienced that really added to my story. But I think they still have the same level of storytelling and I think it still really works the way it is now.
So that is your character, Tunny, and “The Extraordinary Girl,” who is a nurse, in that scene.
She’s either a nurse or a doctor, but she becomes a personification of my morphine-based fantasy and then she ends up kind of saving my psyche and I recognize this person who I saw in my dreams and then in “21 Guns” she kind of talks me off the ledge and shows me that everything can be OK. And we end up together in the end.
Is there a scene you especially enjoy playing?
I have a blast executing the first few numbers where we set the stage for what’s about to happen. It’s just a group of 20-somethings on stage screaming and yelling and dancing and having a lot of fun together and then for me it takes a turn into this more serious dark place. And that’s been a challenge to try and keep that fresh and allow myself to go into the darker places inside and present all of that truthfully to the audience every night. But it’s fun to experience that whole arch every night and its very cathartic once I get to the end of the show having experienced all those things and then I can just leave it on the stage and walk away.
What else might our readers want to know?
It is important to note that some of the content is explicit. There is representational heroin use on the stage. There is a bit of choreography that appears to be live sex although it is a choreographed dance and they are fully clothed.
Sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll …
I like to say it is important to go into the show with an open heart and an open mind so you can really see the fully trajectory of the story of these people and not just shut them out because you might not agree with some of the staging choices that have been made.
Did you grow up listening to Green Day?
(American Idiot) came out in 2004 so I was 14. I didn’t listen to Green Day before that, but once it came out I listened to all the other Green Day albums and now that I’m in the show I’ve listened to even more. I’ll always feel some kind of connection to Billie Joe and his story and to this story and the people associated with the show.
Something about coming of age after 9/11?
Absolutely. I think I really connect with my character on the level of when 9/11 happened, it was when I realized that the world wasn’t as carefree as it was in my small little town in New England. I come from a really supportive and loving family and I didn’t have a lot of the difficult experiences that my character had and I also really didn’t know of a lot of terrible things happening in other parts of the world until that point and I think that’s what you see on stage and that’s what keeps us all going here because we realize how important this story is to so many people.
Tickets to American Idiot range from $36 to $77. Doors open at 6 p.m. with the show scheduled to start at 7:30 p.m. Call the box office at (570) 826-1100 or visit kirbycenter.org for more information.
by Jeff Boam
The acting community has their SAGs. The Brits have their BAFTAs. The H’Wood Foreign Press has their Golden Globes. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences have their Oscars. And I have my PFA … no wait, er, the Boamies! Yes, that’s what I’m here to present!
Every year, these collectible figurines hard-crafted by a hundred screaming chimpanzees are given to honor the very best in film … from the previous year, mind you. It’s no accident that these malleable statues made from a mysterious alloy that fell to earth in the ‘60s get presented THISclose to the annual Academy Awards telecast (this year, the 86th annual event bows on ABC this Sunday at 7 p.m.). After all, the Boamies ceremony not only includes scarily dead-on guesses as to who and what will win the Oscar, they also shoehorn in the important categories that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences seemingly forgot to include.
At an informal, business casual affair catered by the pizza shop below a certain “Screens” reporter’s condo and attended by the prestigious Boamie Committee (which, not for lack of trying, numbers one person), the following glowing conversation pieces that smell like a landfill fire were given:
THE BOAMIE WINNERS
Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues
Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa
This is the End WINNER
We’re the Millers
The World’s End
If Wolf of Wall Street wasn’t nominated for Best Picture, this award would’ve been wrapped up with a cocaine-dipped bow made out of $100 dollar bills. By default, the prize goes to This is the End. Hilariously insane and insanely hilarious, the star-studded potty-mouthed directorial debut from the screenwriting duo behind Superbad made moviegoers want Apocalypse RIGHT Now. If the Who’s Who of comedy legends in the comedy classic It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World worked blue, were being invaded by otherworldly forces and found a stash of weapons-grade marijuana beneath the giant X, it would turn out a lot like this uproariously funny and brave comedy.
BEST COMIC BOOK FLICK:
Iron Man 3 WINNER
Kick Ass 2
Thor: The Dark World
Mostly Marvel-ous, this nearly Iron-clad sequel answers the questions “Has he lost his mind?” and “Can he see or is he blind?” with results that are often quite entertaining. Much of this sequel’s success is owed to Lethal Weapon scribe-turned writer/director Shane Black, who took the character out of the suit and into a downward spiral only redeemed by a blockbusting ending.
Worst Comic Book Flick actually proved to be a much more heated competition, mostly because Man of Steel made that particular list. RED 2 and Kick Ass 2 (it only made the list above because I needed 5 contenders and refused to grant Man of Steel a spot) would’ve been duking it out were it not for the painfully bad — but appropriately titled — R.I.P.D.
Before Midnight WINNER
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
The Hunger Games: Catching Fire
Star Trek Into Darkness
Best Sequel (AKA Continuation of a Franchise) mostly boasts popcorn blockbusters but it’s the Hemlock-laced, romance-on-the-rocks maelstrom and Indie Dark Horse Before Midnight, following in the footsteps of Before Sunrise (1995) and Before Sunset (2004) before it, that easily takes the prize. In fact, this ridiculously engrossing gem, one of 2013’s best, should’ve taken the 10th Best Picture nomination.
A Good Day to Die Hard had Worst Continuation of a Franchise sewn up (Fast and Furious 6 and Grown Ups 2 were never great franchises to begin with) until A Madea Christmas almost singlehandedly ruined the holidays. And yes, the Madea movies were never good either, but this chapter hit a new groan-inducing low in filmmaking that falls somewhere close to the 6th circle of Dante’s levels of Hell.
BEST HORROR FLICK:
The Conjuring WINNER
World War Z
Though the docket goes on and on for Worst Horror Flick (AKA: Scariest for the Wrong Reasons) — The Haunting in Connecticut 2: Ghosts of Georgia, Insidious: Chapter 2, Mama, The Purge, Texas Chainsaw 3D — moviegoers were also lucky to amass a short list of strong spine-tingling contenders. Barely edging out the frightfully good You’re Next and decent crowd-pleaser World War Z is a flicks that conjures up some ridiculously heart-stopping scares with a fudged true story that ends up to be one of the best bets for horror fans who like to be so hair-raisingly frightened that they wet themselves. OK, so the real events portrayed here get thrown against a wall and scraped off as something different — not completely, just heightened. Regardless of credulity, however, the flick proves to be a veritable blood curling scream machine cranked up to 11.
Again, like Wolf of Wall Street and Best Comedy, if Gravity wasn’t nominated for Best Picture, this award would’ve been a done deal. Honestly, not one of these Boamie nominees is an out-and-out great movie … so let me suggest instead a romantic comedy with a sci-fi gimmick! The hands come together for writer/director Richard Curtis’s latest, About Time, a time-travel romantic dramedy worth a Notting Hill of beans in a cineplex flush with superheroes and Oscar bait. Granted, you can wind your watch to writer/director Curtis’ formula. His oeuvre often and rightly gets criticized for putting forth sentimental hogwash perpetrated by British archetypes. The lynchpin in this flick, however, proves to be a clever, touching, and unapologetically wonky timey wimey premise that bears a lot of fruit for moviegoers who like, well, sentimental hogwash.
Jack the Giant Slayer
The Lone Ranger
Man of Steel WINNER
The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones
Oz the Great and Powerful
Expectations often skew moviegoing … unless you’re a paid reviewer. Then, you learn to expect very little to the occasional reward of pleasant surprise. Still, it must be argued, when so much money gets spent on and talent touted around a popcorn blockbuster, audiences begin to get their get their Super-sized hopes up. In stepping away from the cinema, some wannabe tentpoles grew more distasteful (Oz the Great and Powerful) while others moderately improved with a second look (The Lone Ranger). Still, far up, up and away, the clear winner of this Boamie is Man of Steel. Taking a divisive leap away from the funny books in a single genre-shaking bound, the latest reboot of Superman soured more than soared. Indeed, this gritty, dark, and decidedly sci-fi revisionist take on Joe Shuster and Jerry Siegel’s famous red-caped superhero wasn’t so much a comic book adventure as reboot of Starman. Ultimately, the movie wants for levity and more superhero than spaceman in the Superman equation.
BEST REASON TO STAY HOME:
Breaking Bad — Season 5 WINNER
Game of Thrones — Season 3
Homeland — Season 2
House of Cards — Season 1
Orange is the New Black — Season 1
Episodic television has embraced so many cinematic qualities (H’Wood stars, Oscar worthy writing, marquee production value), but 12 -13 chapter seasons allow for something that the big screen doesn’t: room to breathe. A TV program that never jumped the shark and was just starting to peak, the brilliantly scripted, acted and directed Breaking Bad went out on top with a bang in 2013. Even if the disagreeable premise turns you off at first, one screening — like the drug featured on the show itself — gets you permanently addicted to what amounts to being one of the greatest programs in television history — as cinematic as anything on the big screen.
AND, OF COURSE, THIS YEAR’S REQUISIITE JOKE CATEGORY:
WORST SHOWING BY A MEMBER OF THE EXPENDABLES:
Bullet to the Head
The Last Stand
Oh, but I wish it were a joke. Stand Up Guys and Last Vegas also made this list until I realized that no action star pensioners who could qualify as ‘able’ (read: they ain’t no Expendables) Eking out a slim albeit dubious victory over The Last Stand, however, is Homefront. The laugh hit of the season, this unintentionally hilarious Home-spun tough guy tale is an affront to any high-octane thriller set in a backwater town. This flick puts a swivel-arm battle-gripped action figure with one setting through a one-pump firefight in a one horse town with a one-note villain. As a Bostonian trying to fit into Podunk Louisiana, Jason Statham plays Jason Statham, squinting and kicking people in the head while delivering a snarl that’s not so much an attempted American accent as a horribly misplaced British accent. Plus, for those movie fans who thought he might look better with hair, the once and future Expendable elicits huge laughs while wearing a long mane as a cop working undercover in the Sons of Anarchy. Worst, the action plays out as a series of B-Movie fisticuff cliches that the audience can see coming from a country mile away.
ACADEMY AWARD PICKS
Now, without further foot-dragging or back-peddling, here are my predictions for how this year’s Academy Awards race will break down. It’s been a stellar year for film so far as quality. As always, these aren’t my personal picks for these categories—just educated guesses as to how the consensus of Academy members will vote.
ACTRESS IN A SUPPORTING ROLE:
Sally Hawkins, Blue Jasmine
Jennifer Lawrence, American Hustle
Lupita Nyong-o, 12 Years a Slave WINNER
Julia Roberts, August: Osage County
June Squibb, Nebraska
Jennifer Lawrence is totally deserving and presents Nyong-o’s biggest challenge, but the fact that she just won the same prize last year for The Silver Linings Playbook diminishes her chances. As indelible a screen debut as I can remember, Nyong-o’s harrowing turn as Patsey, the tragic subject of continual brutal rape and an unforgettable lashing caught in one long uninterrupted take, is the performance that leaves your heart lodged — perhaps permanently — in your throat. With such turns that burn white hot, writing that pops and crackles with truth, and direction from Steve McQueen (Hunger, Shame) that captures this entire house on fire, the film earns a vaulted place as one of the best historical dramas of the last 12 Years, let alone one.
ACTOR IN A SUPPORTING ROLE:
Barkhad Adbi, Captain Phillips
Bradley Cooper, American Hustle
Michael Fassbender, 12 Years a Slave
Jonah Hill, The Wolf of Wall Street
Jared Leto, Dallas Buyers Club WINNER
A drama about the AIDS crisis might seem to be a bit, well, well dated. Given the film’s pharmaceutical bent — pitting terminally ill Americans against for-profit pill-pushing corporations in a broken-down health care system — it’s actually a very modern parable. As the business partner of Matthew McConaughey’s pharma-hustler, a drug-addled cross-dresser with a tough veneer named Rayon, Jared Leto definitely sets the bar untouchably high for the supporting category. Director Jean-Marc Valee colors their pestilent world with a winning mix of period detail and immersion into the sadness, sickness and silliness, but it’s the performances that sear — burning indelibly into your memory after the credits role.
ACTRESS IN A LEADING ROLE:
Amy Adams, American Hustle
Cate Blanchett, Blue Jasmine WINNER
Sandra Bullock, Gravity
Judi Dench, Philomena
Meryl Streep, August: Osage County
If Woody Allen’s latest happens to leave filmgoers a little Blue, it’s only because this auteur paints such a ridiculously engrossing portrait of a woman well past the verge of a nervous breakdown. A timely tale of financial malfeasance and a brilliant bi-polar character study, this cross-cutting story is as every bit as gut-punchingly brutal as Match Point with moments as gut-bustingly funny as Mighty Aphrodite. With a performance that proves both beautiful and withering in the same scene, Cate Blanchett pulls ahead as the Best Actress winner with her turn as the widow of a Bernie Madoff-type investor. Thanks to pitch perfect support from Alec Baldwin, Sally Hawkins, Andrew Dice Clay, Louis CK, Allen can technically call this dramedy an ensemble, but Jasmine only blooms because Blanchett says so.
ACTOR IN A LEADING ROLE:
Christian Bale, American Hustle
Bruce Dern, Nebraska
Leonaredo DiCaprio, The Wolf of Wall Street
Chiwetel Ejiofor, 12 Years a Slave
Matthew McConaughey, Dallas Buyers
Buying up awards votes with an emotional Texas-sized tale brimming with emotional Texas-sized performances, membership in the Dallas Buyers Club offers a lot of truth, tears, and timeliness. Oh, it’s not exactly perfect (some of the antagonists come off as caricatures), but some Oscar-worthy turns make up the dividend. Capping off a string of amazing performances (Magic Mike, Mud), Matthew McConaughey delivers his best performance ever and the best male performance of the year as a homophobic hustler who travels over the border to help AIDS patients get the medication they need after he is himself diagnosed with the disease.
ANIMTED FEATURE FILM:
Despicable Me 2
Ernest & Celestine
The Wind Rises
Like an invigorating wintry blast of coolness, Disney finally surpasses its subsidiary Pixar in terms of heart and humor with this beautifully sung, drawn, and written loose adaptation of the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale “The Snow Queen.” Of course, the Mouse House’s animation unit has been riding high again as of late, following up the impressive The Princess and the Frog with the superior Tangled. But this is something beguilingly more. Their best feature since Beauty and the Beast and The Lion King, Frozen challenges Pixar (Disney bought the Toy Story studio in 2006) when it comes to combining smart alecky wit and whipsmart writing with letter-perfect voices — all with Uncle Walt’s signature princess and tunesmith hook.
12 Years a Slave, Steve McQueen
American Hustle, David O. Russell
Gravity, Alfonso Cuaron WINNER
Nebraska, Alexander Payne
The Wolf of Wall Street, Martin Scorsese
Career-wise, director Alfonso Cuaron jumped from indie success (Y Tu Mama Tambien) to blockbuster hit (Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban) to critical darling (Children of Men). Gravity, however, is one giant leap for filmmaking. Consider the uninterrupted naturalism-aping takes. Consider how he filmed the actors underwater to capture the feel of listlessly floating. Consider how he invented a spinning rig to make you feel every pulse-pounding tic of their perilous space walks amid showering space debris. Just like the opening moments of Saving Private Ryan proved all-too-too real for WWII veterans, however, this film must surely do the same for astronauts. Unfortunately, you also feel that they’re wasting valuable oxygen when encouraging each other to talk and laying on the survival message a little too thick with a 2nd act pep talk, which is why Gravity won’t win Best Picture. Still, it’s Cuaron’s masterwork thus far and he’s a shoe-in for Best Director.
12 Years a Slave WINNER
Dallas Buyers Club
The Wolf of Wall Street
A Slave to no film before it, this amazingly rich but brutal true story sets an almost unreachable high standard for H’Wood awards season films to follow. You’ve seen such scenes before, harrowing historic events depicted on screen with wince-inducing near-realism. In fact, you’ve probably seen them so many times before that you wonder what a 2013 slave drama could possibly bring to the screen. And then you bear witness to 12 Years a Slave, a blistering gut punch of authenticity that hits so hard that you might have a legal claim towards, pardon the expression, whiplash. It is the greatest cinematic achievement that captures America’s darkest hour. Period.
The Pipes are Calling
RED HOT CHILLI PIPERS bring Bagrock to The F.M. Kirby Center
As we draw closer to the onslaught of various St. Patrick’s Day celebrations, you can almost hear the bagpipers approaching The 570 far off in the distance. When we think of bagpipers, thoughts of “Danny Boy” and “Amazing Grace” might come to mind, but a Scottish pipe group is gearing up to deliver the sounds of Coldplay, ZZ Top, the Eurythmics, Gary Neuman, Queen and more this weekend. Possibly the most famous bagpipe group in the world, the Red Hot Chilli Pipers perform at the F.M. Kirby Center for the Performing Arts on Saturday, Feb. 22. Doors to the show open at 7 p.m. with show time at 8 p.m.
Two-time winners of the Scottish Live Act of the Year, the Chillis have delivered their own style of rocking bagpipe covers — they call it Bagrock — to audiences around the world since 2003. The Pipers have released several records of covers and originals throughout the past decade (Music for the Kilted Generation, BLAST Live! and Bagrock to the Masses to name a few).
Band director Kevin MacDonald offered some details about the band to help American audiences further understand just what the Red Hot Chilli Pipers have to offer.
On their formation:
The Red Hot Chilli Pipers were formed in 2003 by five friends from varied walks of life — three students studying at the Royal Academy of Music and Drama, a fireman and a trainee accountant. There was a common thread amongst us all that we wanted to make a bit of extra money to see us through life. We came up with the idea to form a band playing rock covers on the bagpipes with accompanying percussion. The struggle was to come up with a name. The name came about by accident. One of our original band members was tidying his flat with his girlfriend and they were sorting out his CD collection and she put a Red Hot Chilli Peppers album amongst his piping collection. When he asked why she had done this, she replied I thought it said Red Hot Chilli Pipers — and hence the name was born.
On the name Red Hot Chili Pipers:
The name has never really gotten us into trouble — yet! At the start, when we had no identity people just laughed when they first hear the name. Now that we have our own identity in the UK and Europe and certain parts of the USA there is little or no confusion. In new areas it still throws up the odd enquiry. (The band doesn’t play any Peppers covers.)
On selecting a song to cover:
There are 10 of us involved in writing the material and we just try rock and pop songs and see what works. The one restriction is that the bagpipes only have nine available notes so not all songs work.
On original songs:
Not only do we cover rock songs but we also take traditional Scottish and Irish songs and add a rock element to them. Our style of music has its own description now — “Bagrock.”
On responses from artists whose songs they’ve covered:
We understand that Brian May really likes our cover of “We Will Rock You” — so that will do for me. He posted (that he liked it) on Facebook after we won a talent show in the UK in 2007 playing the song.
On the difficulty performing Bagrock:
The trick is to make it clever music and not bagpipe karaoke.
On the topic of performing with kilts:
We have become used to performing in kilts. The only difficulty we have in performing with them is that when we spin they tend to come up higher than we hope – although maybe some members of the audience enjoy this part.
The Red Hot Chilli Pipers perform at the F.M. Kirby Center for the Performing Arts on Saturday, Feb. 22. Doors to the show open at 7 p.m. with show time at 8 p.m. Ticket prices are $27 and $37 plus applicable fees. Tickets can be purchased at the Kirby Center Box Office (71 Public Square, Wilkes-Barre, PA) in person or by calling, (570) 826-1100 or at all Ticketmaster locations, ticketmaster.com or by calling 1-800-745-3000.