Tagged: Broadway

Emily S. Whitten: Zachary Levi– Thor 2, First Date & Nerd Machine

whitten-art-131025-150x191-3606274I’ve always been a fan of musicals and have seen a fair few on Broadway – from the musical that was an actual yearly field trip for eight graders in my New Jersey school, Cats, to that great production of Les Miserables with the rotating stage. I’ve also been a fan of the TV show Chuck from its debut all the way through the final season. So when Zachary Levi mentioned during the Nerd HQ panel I attended at SDCC that he was going to be starring in a musical on Broadway, First Date, I knew I had to see it.

Fortunately, the New York Comic Con was already on my calendar, so before the con I went to see First Date – and boy, am I glad I did! I don’t think I’ve laughed that hard throughout a live show in… well, maybe ever. And yet there was also substance and seriousness to the plot and characterization that balanced out the humor, a perfect blend of entertainment and wry and wise observations about life, human nature, and the modern dating world.

The premise of the show is pretty simple – it’s about a blind first date, and all of the things that might go wrong or right in that situation. But it’s not just about the couple on the blind date, Aaron and Casey. As the website says, during the date “Casey and Aaron’s inner critics take on a life of their own when other restaurant patrons transform into supportive best friends, manipulative exes and protective parents, who sing and dance them through ice-breakers, appetizers and potential conversational land mines.” Is that as awesome and hilarious as it sounds? Yes, yes it is; and the cast portraying those characters, from Zac Levi and Krysta Rodriguez as the main couple, to the other five actors who are often playing more than one character, is stellar, and gave an energetic and engaging performance.

The main couple are a hoot to watch, being quirky and many-faceted all on their own; but the supporting cast is what really allows this musical to explore so many perspectives. From the “perfect” older sister who has the married life that Casey says she wants, to Aaron’s manipulative ex, to Casey’s flamboyant best friend who is also her designated “bail out call” person for if the date isn’t going well. The other characters in the main couple’s life do a great job embodying the pressures and influences people can experience while they’re out dating and trying to find “The One.” And while the premise is simple, the territory explored by the plot is broad, and ranges over everything from potential religious differences to how our online footprint might affect us in real life.

Broad as it may be, though, the plot flows easily and the production is well-designed and choreographed. Overall, the musical is clever, witty, and frequently hilarious. It’s insightful and endearing; if you’ve ever been a single person trying to do the dating thing, it’s also very easy to identify with… and maybe even learn from. The only other thing I can say about it is: Go see it! You won’t regret it.

You also won’t regret reading on, because after seeing First Date, I was fortunate to also be able to talk to Zac Levi about it and the rest of his career at The Nerd Machine booth at NYCC. Here’s the interview!

•     •     •     •     •

Let’s first talk about the Broadway musical you’re currently starring in, First Date, because I just saw it, and I loved it – especially the song about the ex; you knocked that out of the park.
Thank you! Yeah, that’s a fun song.

So how did you get involved in that production, and can you talk about your previous stage experience?

Well, I grew up doing a lot of theater when I was a kid. The last show I did was about twelve years ago; and I always dreamt about doing Broadway one day. Fortunately, I’ve been really blessed, and I’ve been able to do film and television for the last dozen years; but I was just kind of waiting for the right opportunity, and then this show came along and I just felt like, “you know, this could be really fun.” It’s an hour and a half, no intermission, it’s a comedy, there are only seven people in the cast – it’s lean and mean and I thought “I think people might really enjoy this.” And people have, and so it’s been great.

Great; and I know it’s running now. For people who want to see it, how long will it run?

Well, the idea is for the show to run indefinitely. My contract for the show is up the first week of January. There’s a possibility that I could extend, but I don’t know that for sure – it just depends on what work looks like at that time. So I would say that if you really want to see me in the show, you should come before the beginning of January. But I would tell anybody – you never know with Broadway stuff, the show could close so fast. So if you want to come see the show, come see the show now!

Yes! It looked like you were having a lot of fun in the show, and I know you’ve done TV, movies, voice acting and stage. Do you have any thoughts about those different experiences?

They’re all very different. I don’t know that I like any one more than the others. They all have their unique set of challenges and fun that can be had.

Did you come to the stage first?

Yes; I mean, as a kid, that’s what you do. There are not a lot of kids doing, like, community voiceover work. You have community theater and school theater. So stage was definitely where I started.

What was your first ever role?

Of an actual production? I think it was Sonny, one of the T-Birds in Grease. I think I was about eleven.

That’s pretty cool! So I have to ask, with First Date – do you identify with the musical at all? Because I was watching it and thinking, “I’ve so been there.” Or, “My friend has been there.”

Sure, yeah. I think that’s part of the reason why I wanted to do it, and why I think a lot of people enjoy it, is because it’s very relatable. So definitely I do. In fact, in some ways I almost didn’t do the show, because I felt like the character was so similar to Chuck, and I was like, “I’ve already played that character” but then I thought, “Well, yeah, but it’s just a fun way to do it – on stage, with some music.”

I was actually thinking that – it’s a little bit like Chuck, but I think you brought enough to the character that they had written that it wasn’t Chuck – it was Aaron.

Right, it’s not – it was similar, but they’re not the same.

Well I really enjoyed it! Now, I know that you are in Thor: The Dark World, which is coming out really soon, and I’m super excited. Every time I see the trailer on TV I clap. So tell us about being Fandral the Dashing.

Well, Fandral is this Errol Flynn-Lothario type who’s a ladies man, but also arguably the best swordsman in Asgard – or the Nine Realms, I think he would argue. And I mean, the movie is really still Thor and Jane; it’s their movie.

How much do we get of you and the other Warriors Three and Sif?

I really don’t know, because you never know how much of what you shot ends up in it; but I hope there are at least a few cool moments where people go, “Yeah! That kicked ass!” That’s all I’m hoping.

You were originally cast in that and then you were replaced by Josh Dallas due to your schedule; and now you’ve replaced him due to his schedule.

Yeah, it was very, very strange how that all worked. We’ve definitely joked about it – I’ve met Josh before, and he’s just a sweetheart of a guy and super talented, and it was very funny how all of that ended up panning out. But I was grateful that ultimately – after having completely let go of the job, because I thought “this is never happening” – then it came back around. That was kind of like, “Wow, this is very strange.”

Totally. Now I know you’re a comics fan; are you a fan of Thor comics? Had you read about your character before the movie role?

I was definitely familiar with Fandral to an extent, but I really got to know him actually when the first movie came around and I was getting cast; and then a little bit more for this one. But honestly, there’s not that much to find in the comics. The Warriors Three are definitely within Thor mythology, but there’s not that much.

Yes – they help with things but aren’t really the focus.

Yes; but in some ways that’s kind of fun, because it allows you to put your own mark on something, where fanboys and fangirls aren’t like, “Waitaminute! That’s not Fandral!”

Definitely! Do you think it’s still true to the character that you’ve seen in the comics?

I think so. It’s funny, Thor was never really my steez, necessarily. Like, I had Thor comics, and particularly with the Avengers.

I have to admit, I’m the same way. I love the movie, but Thor was always the guy I was sort of reading about on the side, because he was on the periphery of a story or part of a team.

Yeah, and I don’t know, for me – because everybody’s got their flavor of what entices them the most in the comic world –I really liked the mutant world probably the most.

Yeah! The X-Men and all that.

And X-Factor, and X-Force.

And actually, on that note, my favorite character is Deadpool; and I heard you mention that he’s your favorite character.

He’s my favorite villain, yeah.

Well he’s not always a villain! He did save the world…

Well – when I grew up reading him, in the beginning, he was a villain, through and through.

Yeah, in the beginning he was. So do you have a favorite writer or storyline or anything?

Oh, gosh! I don’t know that I could speak to that. I’m mostly nerdy about video games and technology…

What are you playing right now, video game-wise?

I’m actually not really playing anything right now. I left my Xbox back in L.A., because I really wanted to focus on doing the play, and I knew that the new Xbox was coming out in November, so I was like, “I’m just going to wait for that.” And then I’ll probably get lost in Call of Duty: Ghosts. I’ll be lost in that for months and months and months and months.

I bet. So we talked a bit about your voiceover work. You were one of the leads in Tangled. What was your experience like, doing that? Was that your first real big voiceover work?

Oh, yeah! Pretty much my first and only voiceover work. It was amazing. Ever since I was a little kid, I was a giant Disney fan, so to be able to get to do a Disney animated musical – what I’d dreamt about doing my whole life – was like, “Wow, this is really happening.” And singing Alan Menken’s music and everything.

Do you want to do more voiceover?

Oh, totally; I’d love to.

And some of the voice acting greats were in Tangled – like Frank Welker… did you get to work directly with Frank, or John DiMaggio, or some of the other career voice actors?

No; in fact, I didn’t get to work with any of them! I didn’t even get to work with Mandy (Moore). The only time Mandy and I ever worked together is when we recorded the song. But all of the dialogue is all recorded totally separately.

Let’s talk about The Nerd Machine, now, because we’re standing here in your awesome place with phone chargers and photo ops and everything–

In mah booth!

Yeah! Now when did you start The Nerd Machine?

The Nerd Machine started… I think maybe it was 2011. We started the company about a year before we had the first actual Nerd HQ. We launched with just one t-shirt. With just the classic “NERD.” And the idea was just, “I wanted to make a Nike for nerds.” Because there are so many different nerd-doms, right? And if you’re a Doctor Who fan, you can get a Doctor Who shirt. And if you’re a Star Wars fan, you can get a Star Wars shirt; and that’s great. But I really wanted to have one brand that unified all of them, so no matter what you’re nerdy about, you can just represent it very simply, very clearly: “I’m a nerd; that’s what I’m about.” So that’s what we’ve built on through the years, and our branding is simple, and it’s straight. It’s like “We’re a brand for you.”

Yes – so I have to ask, why “nerd” and not “geek”?

A couple of reasons. One, phonetically I like how nerd sounds more than I like geek. Geek is a little too hard consonant. And there was just a lot of wordplay that I was thinking about, like “Nerd is the word” and all that kind of stuff. But honestly, one of the biggest was, the first shirt that I had ever thought of was the original NERD shirt; and the reason why it works so well is because it’s the Nintendo sort of font… so it’s funny, the reason why you end up deciding what something is going to ultimately be. And the other reason, too, was that I felt like “geek” was being used a lot online with Geekology and Geek Chic, and all that, and I wanted to get away from that and do my own thing. By the way – I was totally unaware of Nerdist at the time! I knew Chris (Hardwick), but I wasn’t even thinking about it.

Well, and his brand has gotten exponentially bigger since then.

Oh, yeah. He’s a friggin’ empire!

Yeah. Now, The Nerd Machine benefits Operation Smile, which I think is great. What drew you to that particular charity?

I really think God kind of spoke to me. I was trying to find a charity that I could be an ambassador for. You know, as a celebrity, you do a lot of non-profit stuff, and you’re always asked, “What’s your charity of choice?” and I never really had one. So I was about to do another singing engagement/charity benefit thing, and I was like, “What could be a cool charity to benefit?” and I was praying about it, and thinking about it, and then in one week I saw about five commercials and five billboards. And I was like, “Oh – I believe this is what I’m supposed to cling to.”

That’s great. So tell me, what is the future of The Nerd Machine? I know that it’s gotten a little bigger since 2011, and I like the fact that it’s still being kept to a smaller scale.

Yeah, we’re always going to maintain the intimacy of our activations. The company will continue to grow, and we’ll continue to do more things, but the idea is to always keep those events as things that are special.

Are you planning to do what you did at San Diego at one of the future New York cons?

Yeah, in fact the original idea was that we were going to do a Nerd HQ out here in New York. It’s difficult. San Diego Comic Con brings every star in the world. And so it’s easy then to be like, “Hey, would you mind popping by for an hour and doing a panel?” NYCC is getting there. NYCC has a lot of talent now, and is growing more and more every year… But it doesn’t quite have the same; so in order for us to get the sponsorship money to put on our own little con like that – you really need to be able to bring the talent. So maybe in the future.

Great! Well I look forward to that future, and thank you so much for your time.

Hope you all enjoyed the interview! And if you’re a New Yorker or heading to New York City sometime soon, don’t forget to get tickets to First Date. Trust me, you’ll love it.

And until next time, Servo Lectio!

SATURDAY: Marc Alan Fishman!

SUNDAY: John Ostrander!


Black Mask Goes Digital with Jerry Tracy– Celebrity Reporter

Pulp Publisher, Open Road Media has announced plans to release digital editions of stories from Black Mask, beginning with Jerry Tracy, Celebrity Reporter by Theodore A. Tinsley.

Black Mask magazine, launched in 1920, built its reputation on fostering, and later inspiring, some of mystery’s most beloved hardboiled writers, including Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, Carroll John Daly, Theodore A. Tinsley, and Paul Cain.

These tough, grim, but ultimately noble stories of private eyes and crooks represent an extremely powerful slice of American fiction. Mysteriouspress.com/Open Road Media is thrilled to announce that Black Mask stories will be available in digital format beginning August 27, 2013.

Paying homage to the original magazine, stories will be released monthly, commencing with works by Black Mask masters Norbert Davis, Steve Fisher, and Paul Cain, as well as an omnibus of stories by Theodore A. Tinsley, Jerry Tracy, Celebrity Reporter. All works feature new cover art, as well as brand-new introductions.

The Jerry Tracy, Celebrity Reporter collection features every Jerry Tracy story ever published in Black Mask, and is an invaluable compendium of one of early noir’s most original heroes.

About Jerry Tracy, Celebrity Reporter:
Manhattan’s sharpest gossip columnist tangles with brawlers, triggermen, and dames

The most important people in the world come to Broadway—to eat in restaurants, dance in nightclubs, and die in rain-slicked back alleys. Whatever the big names are doing, Jerry Tracy hears about it—and tells the world in his infamous Daily Planet column. As quick with his typewriter as he is with a .45, Tracy can break a nose as easily as he breaks a news story. But beneath his hard exterior, this columnist has a kind heart, and a sense of justice that will make him do crazy things for a woman in trouble, or a friend with a murder rap hanging over his head.

Featuring every Jerry Tracy story ever published in Black Mask, this collection is an invaluable compendium of one of early noir’s most original heroes. Written in machine gun prose that would make Damon Runyon proud, these stories describe a man whose words are tough—and whose fists are even tougher.

About the Author: Theodore A. Tinsley (1894–1979) was a prolific noir author who wrote for all of the prominent pulp magazines, including Black Mask, Munsey’s Magazine, All Detective Magazine, and Action Stories. His best-known creations are Carrie Cashin, a private eye who became pulp fiction’s most popular female character, and Jerry Tracy, a gossip reporter with a nose for sniffing out murders.

The other authors/stories launching that day are “You’ll Always Remember Me” by Steve Fisher, “Red Goose” by Norbert Davis, and “Pigeon Blood” by Paul Cain.

Learn more about Open Road Media here.


Frozen Trailer Debuts

FRZN_IceLogo_Teaser_1s_v8.0C_ComposedDisney has released the first teaser trailer for November’s animated Frozen. The film features the usual impressive vocal cast and comes well pedigreed.


Genre:                                     Animated Comedy/Adventure
Rating:                                    TBD
U.S. Release Date:              November 27, 2013

Voice Cast:                            Kristen Bell, Idina Menzel, Jonathan Groff
Directors:                              Chris Buck, Jennifer Lee
Producer:                              Peter Del Vecho
Screenplay by:                    TBA

[youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S1x76DoACB8 [/youtube]

Walt Disney Animation Studios, the studio behind Tangled and Wreck-It Ralph, presents Frozen, a stunning big-screen comedy adventure. Fearless optimist Anna (voice of Kristen Bell) sets off on an epic journey—teaming up with rugged mountain man Kristoff (voice of Jonathan Groff) and his loyal reindeer Sven—to find her sister Elsa (voice of Idina Menzel), whose icy powers have trapped the kingdom of Arendelle in eternal winter. Encountering Everest-like conditions, mystical trolls and a hilarious snowman named Olaf, Anna and Kristoff battle the elements in a race to save the kingdom.

The film is directed by Chris Buck (TarzanSurf’s Up) and Jennifer Lee (screenwriter, Wreck-It Ralph), and produced by Peter Del Vecho (Winnie the Pooh, The Princess and the Frog). Featuring music from Tony® winner Robert Lopez (The Book of Mormon, Avenue Q) and Kristen Anderson-Lopez (In Transit), Frozen is in theaters in 3D on November 27, 2013.

In Frozen, fearless optimist Anna (voice of Kristen Bell) teams up with rugged mountain man Kristoff (voice of Jonathan Groff) and his loyal reindeer Sven in an epic journey, encountering Everest-like conditions, mystical trolls and a hilarious snowman named Olaf in a race to find Anna’s sister Elsa (voice of Idina Menzel), whose icy powers have trapped the kingdom of Arendelle in eternal winter.


  • Kristen Bell has starred in a variety of films, including the comedies Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Couples Retreat,Hit & Run, Some Girls and the Farrelly Brothers’ Movie 43. On the small screen, Bell is currently starring in the Showtime series House of Lies alongside Don Cheadle; she has also starred in Heroes”and Veronica Mars. Broadway credits include The Crucible and Tom Sawyer.
  • Idina Menzel, who won a Tony Award® as best actress in a musical for her role as Elphaba in Broadway’s Wicked (2004), landed her first role on Broadway in 1995 in the Tony Award-winning musical Rent. Film credits include Enchanted and the feature film Rent. She has appeared in a recurring role on TV’s Glee and recently released Idina Menzel Live: Barefoot at the Symphony, a live concert with an orchestra led by the latecomposer/conductor Marvin Hamlisch. Menzel is currently on a North American concert tour.
  • Jonathan Groff appears in C.O.G., which is part of the 2013 Sundance Film Festival. Film credits include Taking Woodstock, Twelve Thirty and The Conspirator. TV credits include Fox’s Glee, the Starz series Boss and CBS’ The Good Wife. Groff received a Tony® nomination for his performance in the Tony Award®-winning musical Spring Awakening, and appeared in the Public Theater’s revival of Hair and off-Broadway plays Prayer for My Enemy and The Submission, among others. He made his West End debut in Ira Levin’s Deathtrap, and appeared in the 2010 Tony Award®-winning Red by John Logan at the Mark Taper Forum.FROZEN
  • Robert Lopez is a three-time Tony Award®-winning writer of the Tony and Grammy® Award-winning musical The Book of Mormon, which was co-written with Trey Parker and Matt Stone (South Park), and the musical Avenue Q, which ran for six years on Broadway and four years in London’s West End. Lopez teamed with wife Kristen Anderson-Lopez, whose Drama Desk-winning show In Transit is Broadway-bound, to write original songs for 2011’s Winnie the Pooh, a stage version of Finding Nemo and a new musical called Up Here.
  • Director Chris Buck helmed the 1999 Disney classic Tarzan (with Kevin Lima) as well as the 2007 Oscar®-nominated Surf’s Up (with Ash Brannon). His animation credits also include 1989’s The Little MermaidThe Rescuers Down Under (1990) and Pocahontas (1995).
  • Director/screenwriter Jennifer Lee is one of the screenplay writers of this year’s hit arcade-hopping comedy adventure Wreck-It Ralph. Her screen adaptation of John Steinbeck’s The Acts of King Arthur and His Noble Knights is being produced by Troika Pictures. She has an original screenplay in development with Leonardo DiCaprio’s Appian Way, and her original script Lucid Dreams was optioned by Wolfgang Peterson’s Radiant Productions.
  • Peter Del Vecho’s credits as producer include 2011’s Winnie the Pooh and 2009’s The Princess and the Frog. He served as associate producer for Chicken Little and Treasure Planet.

Dennis O’Neil: Snow Business

O'Neil Art 130214I guess the angels were scratching their heads real hard, and so when I awoke yesterday there was three feet of white stuff all over everything. It’s still there, mostly, except for the streets, where our tax dollars have been at work, and the driveway where a nice man who didn’t ask for a king’s ransom shoveled it off.

I like it when the angels scratch their heads, except if I have to go someplace or the electricity kerfutzes, which it did during the recent hurricane – angels blowing out birthday candles? – and then the angelic behavior is plenty vexing and old folks have to seek shelter in hotels and if you think that’s easy to find, you’ve never sought shelter after a big wind!

I guess this is why some folks who have reached or exceeded their three score and ten choose to reside in places like Florida. You know – beaches on both sides of the state and plenty of sunshine headin’ their way, zippety-doo-dah.

Florida has the reputation of being paved with greyheads, but the last time I was there I saw more young than old. Maybe it helped that I was attending a comics convention. But I remember a movie in which the main characters were twenty-somethings who ended up in Florida. (Okay, one of them didn’t quite reach his destination due to dying en route.) I have to thank my man in another sunny locale, Ken Pisani, currently residing in Southern California with the lovely Amanda, for informing me that I have a small participation in the flick. Very, very, very small.

In the brief clip Ken sent me, Jon Voight is riding in a bus next to a little girl who’s reading a comic book – that I wrote. It’s one of my early Wonder Woman issues (though, come to think of it, arguably there were no later Wonder Womans by me because I didn’t last long on the title.) Well, golly!

I saw the movie, Midnight Cowboy, during an early run, probably the first and probably at a Times Square theater – one of the classy ones on Broadway, not one of the stick-floored grind houses on 42nd Street. But I don’t remember the bit with the comic book and that’s curious because I was still close enough to my Catholic boyhood to be aware that the film was considered to be…you know, smutty. Near occasion-of-sinny. And I sure as hell(?) wasn’t used to seeing my work anywhere except on newsstands and in editorial offices. I would have reacted and having reacted, I would have remembered.

But I didn’t and I’ll worry about that as soon as I deal with global warming and the legal implications of drone warfare.

I’m forgetting something…

Oh, yeah. Later today, Marifran will be reading this blather off the computer and when she gets this far, I’ll be wishing her a happy birthday.

FRIDAY: Martha Thomases

SATURDAY: Marc Alan Fishman


Mike Gold: Mad, or Sad?

A couple years ago, Mad Magazine was demoted to quarterly release – a status it had not had since it first converted into magazine format in 1955. Shortly after, I ran into its publisher Paul Levitz and expressed regret at the situation. Paul, a major comics fan and historian, shared my feelings but said with obvious sadness “Maybe its time had passed.”

Maybe so. Mad’s return to bi-monthly status, one suspects, has more to do with the successful animated series than any publishing-revenue prerogative. Paul was right, and he’s still right: Mad’s time had passed. To his credit, it had passed back when he was still a teenager.

I came across Mad at an early age, discovering my sister’s comics stash as I was ferreting about her bedroom looking for, well, comics. And maybe spare change. Like an unbelievable number of Boomers, it totally warped my mind. Mad was part of its time: we also had Ernie Kovacs and Rocky and Bullwinkle. Steve Allen and Del Close. Chuck Berry and Jerry Lee Lewis. All assaulted a status quo that was desperately in need of destruction.

As it always is.

Perhaps these combined forces shaped me more than the average pre-adolescent. Truth to Power, there’s really no “perhaps” about it. Therefore, when Mars Attacks! came out I discovered creative people can up the ante. And Mars Attacks! ushered in the 1960s when the ante wasn’t simply upped, it grew daily and exponentially.

Somewhere along the way, Mad’s “usual gang of idiots” continued to age. Instead of hoisting our culture on its own petard, Mad sometimes turned on the latter-day iconoclasts. Not viciously, not regularly, but by the end of the decade you could hear the sound of the hardening of their arteries.

This was unnecessary, but it left room for the sons of Mad to take on the role – folks like Robert Crumb, Jay Lynch, George Carlin, Tommy Smothers, Richard Pryor, Michael O’Donoghue, Doug Kenny, Frank Zappa, Matt Groening, Mike Judge… I’m happy to say the list goes on and on. Now, the grandsons of Mad have taken over. Just as Frank Faye begat Jack Benny who begat Johnny Carson who begat Bill Maher, Mad is better thought of as a major influence than an active force.

I’m not saying Mad sucked. It continued to be funny and, often, clever. But it was totally ready for prime time. Mad was on Broadway. It became a movie (for which publisher and legend Bill Gaines apologized – in the pages of Mad). It became a television show. It became two television shows, actually, and both were more cutting-edge than the magazine had been in over two decades.

Onetime Madmen like Paul Krassner and Chevy Chase went elsewhere. If you’re in the culture evolution business and the establishment doesn’t regard you as a pariah, you’re not doing your job right.

Clearly, Paul was on the money. My inner-fanboy (who pays the rent; it’s a good arrangement) says Mad could of and should of stayed in the thick of the fray, but que sera, sera.

The massive talent of Mad was celebrated ten years ago in a wonderful book called Mad Art, by none other than Mark Evanier. It owns my highest recommendation. A new book, Totally Mad, is set for release next Tuesday, which means it’s in the “bookstores” right now. I haven’t read it so I won’t comment, but you might want to give it a look.

THURSDAY: Dennis O’Neil


REVIEW: Rock of Ages

The film version of Rock of Ages, has a whiff of cannabalism about it. First, it took a series of 1980s songs and turned them into what has been branded a jukebox musical, since originality no longer matters on Broadway. The success of the stage version – five Tony nominations indicates someone liked it – led to it being optioned for production as a feature film. Broadway used to feed Hollywood source material and the trend has been reversed as risk adverse producers look for sure things, which are not necessarily quality things.

Thus, the film version of the musical based on a disparate collection of rock tunes, which were popular as I advanced through my adult years and saw my tastes changing, means I bring a series of prejudices to watching the film on the just-released Blu-ray. First of all, I am a big fan of many performers in the cast and applaud Tom Cruise for lightening up with several of his recent performances. He’s also backed by Alec Baldwin, Malin Akerman and Paul Giamatti. I also remain fond of Julianne Hough who is a far better dancer and country singer than rocker.

As happens, the movie adaptation was seriously reworked to accommodate the cast rather than cast around the script and soundtrack. Therefore, many numbers were cut, others mashed up, and several reassigned to different characters. This results in a movie largely unrecognizable from the stage version and a lesser effort at that. What made the show edgy and fun is replaced with watered down replicas.

The basic trio of story threads has would-be rock star Sherrie (Hough), arriving in Los Angeles and meeting Drew (Diego Boneta) so you have your love story. Then there’s the Bourbon Room, a doomed club in need of a miracle story that focuses on Dennis (Baldwin) and his fight against a mob led by Catherine Zeta Jones (still sexy), trying to shut it down. His last hope is a kick ass concert from Arsenal, fronted by Stacee Jaxx (Cruise), who is on the verge of going solo. Behind the scenes, his agent, (Giamatti) gums up the works.

Rock is meant to messy and fun and frenetic with high doses of energy. The voltage one expects from the music used, from Foreigner to Pat Benatar leans closer to a Smash rendition and the wattage is cut in half, robbing the movie of the verve the material deserves. It’s not all bad such as the pool table duet between Jaxx and Rolling Stone reporter Constance Sack (Akerman). But when you sing “I Love Rock n Roll”, you should be feeling ready to leap to your feet and dance, not check your watch.

Bad enough the core storylines are predictable as heck, but the movie telegraphs just about everything thanks to direction of Adam Shankman. None of the characters, save Jaxx, stands out, wasting plenty of potential from a stellar cast.

There are plenty of fun moments and Cruise is a revelation all over again. He rarely repeats himself and is excellent here, sabotaged by the lack of raw power around him.

You can watch the theatrical version or the extended version, with 13 more minutes of tedium. The highlight is the cut scene between Jaxx and Sherrie, as they sing “Rock You Like a Hurricane”  and nearly copulate, which smolders better than the rest of the film.

The Warner Home Video release comes as a combo pack with the Blu-ray, DVD, and of course ultraviolet digital. They do a fine job transferring the film and sound to disc so it rocks as best it can.

Poison’s Bret Michaels kicks off the extras with two featurettes: “Rock of Ages: Legends of the Sunset Strip” (29:56) with real rockers Pat Benetar and Sebastian Bach, members of Styx, REO Speedwagon, Twisted Sister, Quiet Riot, Night Ranger, Def Leppard, Winger, Whitesnake, Dokken, Foreigner, Poison, Journey, Warrant, Faster Pussycat, Vixen, Extreme and W.A.S.P. reminiscing about the rock scene in their heyday. “The Stories We Sing” (12:53) brings back many of these rock stars to discuss their inspirations for the greatest hits such as “Sister Christian,” “Can’t Fight This Feeling,” and the perennial “Don’t Stop Believin'”. This one is well worth a look.

There’s also the eight-part “Defining a Decade” (35:34), hosted by Hough and Boleta, that displays some embarrassing awkwardness between them but they manage to take us through the production of the film. You also get a look at the Broadway inspiration which deserved more screen time.

“Any Way You Like It” was re-edited into a full music video starring Mary J. Blige and Constantine Maroulis (who originated the Drew Bolley role on Broadway) but it can be skipped.

Michael O’Hare: 1952-2012

Michael O'HareJ. Michael Straczynski posted earlier today on Facebook that Babylon 5 star Michael O’Hare has died at the age of 60.

I regret that I must convey the sad news that Michael O’Hare passed away today. He suffered a heart attack on Sunday and was in a coma until his passing this afternoon. This is a terrible loss for all B5 fans and everyone involved with the show wishes to convey their condolences to the O’Hare family. He was an amazing man.

Michael O’Hare was born in Chicago, Illinois. He attended Harvard University, majoring in English literature, and studied at the prestigious Juilliard School of Drama, as well as with Sanford Meisner. He appeared in a number of theatrical productions on Broadway and in the New York area, including an acclaimed revival of Shaw’s Man and Superman with Philip Bosco and originating the role of Col. Jessup in the original stage version of A Few Good Men (the role played by Jack Nicholson in the film version) He was the first white actor nominated by the black theater community of New York for the AUDELCO Award for the Best Actor for his performance in the play Shades of Brown which examined the effects of apartheid in South Africa.

In 1992, he was cast in Babylon 5 in the lead role of Commander Jeffrey Sinclair. O’Hare remained with the series for the first season, and came back for appearances in the second and third season. He had various appearances in other TV shows, from Law & Order to The Trial Of The Incredible Hulk.

I had a few conversations with Michael over the years, though I hadn’t seen him in almost half a decade. He was a kind and gentle man, and much funnier than his roles would have made you think. And his voice makes for one of the best intros to a science fiction series ever:


Our condolences to his family and friends.


By Riana Telgemeier
Scholastic Graphix, 233 pages, $10.99/$23.99

Despite being an adult, Raina Telgemeier has not forgotten what it was like to be an eighth grader when everything, from your body to your relationships, change with startling regularity. She demonstrated this in the wonderful memoir Smile and returns with Drama, a story across a school year.

Callie adores the theater and while isn’t comfortable on stage given her horrible singing voice, relishes her backstage work. This year, the final one of middle school, she’s now charged with the set design for Moon Over Mississippi. Her devotion to Broadway fills her head with larger-than-life ideas, almost impossible to pull off with a school budget coupled with her inexperience at things like hammering. What she does excel at is making friends  and she forms some new attachments during the course of the production.

She’s gaga for Greg, the older brother of her best friend Matt, but he has eyes for someone else. Then she meets twins Justin and Jesse; one wants to be the star, the other is equally good but more comfortable working behind the scenes. Their integration into the school’s theater culture forms a large chunk of the story, especially as it becomes apparent one of the twins is out and proud. Of course, drama kids tends to be more accepting of gay friends, but in middle school it’s never easy and Telgemeier doesn’t shy away from, ahem, the drama inherent in this.

The entire graphic novel is set within the framework of a play with opening and closing curtains and even a brief intermission. Aided with subtle and effective coloring from Gurihiru, Telgemeier’s accessible style makes this an easy, entertaining read.  She doesn’t crowd her pages and makes her characters look and speak in distinctive ways, yet retaining that youthful exuberance we all recall from those years in school.

There is plenty of tension during rehearsals and performances and Callie’s attempts to perfect a cannon going off is a metaphor for the entire experience. There is a lovely rhythm to the character arcs as things go from complicated to easy and then veers into the “it’s complicated” territory. By the end of the play, bonds have been forged that helps prepare all of the cast members for the leap into high school. Growing up is never easy and you survive school thanks to your friends and Telgemeier sees to it Callie is well loved as people respond to her devotion to theater and all its trappings.

MoCCA closes their Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art

The Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art (MoCCA) announced yesterday via a press release that they will be closing its physical location effective immediately.

The SoHo museum, currently at 594 Broadway, New York City’s only cultural institution dedicated specifically to celebrating the comics medium, recently celebrated its tenth anniversary.  While the physical space is closing, plans are afoot to continue MoCCA in a new incarnation.  An announcement of MoCCA’s future arrangements will be forthcoming by the end of July.

Current memberships will be honored at the new venue, as will table renewals for MoCCA Fest 2013.

MoCCA’s website has been scrubbed of all previously upcoming events.

REVIEW: Margaret

The world seen through the eyes of a teenager is an overly complex place, spoiled but adults who overly nuance everything while teens see it all with unjaded clarity. Such a worldview can be permanently altered by a single action and the resulting repercussions, which ripple in waves, touching many in unexpected ways. From that premise comes writer/director Kenneth Lonergan’s Margaret, a film whose making is as tortured as its premise.

Originally scheduled for release by Fox Searchlight in 2007, Lonergan (You Can Count on Me) labored over the production and then the editing until the release date came and went, prompting law suits. He finally delivered a cut totaling 3:06, far longer than the 2:30 the studio insisted upon, which became a part of the suit. Finally, Martin Scorsese and Thelma Schoonmaker stepped in to craft a cut that the director and studio could live with and the movie opened in December.

You missed it. You probably never heard of it or vaguely recall it was something Anna Paquin shot before True Blood made her a superstar. Before that series though, she was always an accomplished actress rarely given the right roles to demonstrate that but Lonergan wrote Lisa Cohen with Paquin in mind and she delivers a riveting performance worthy of your attention. Fortunately, the film is available as a Blu-ray Combo Pack on Tuesday and comes complete with both cuts of the film.

Twentieth Century Home Entertainment recently sent me a screener of the studio cut and it is extremely powerful and moving. Lisa is a 17 year old girl living with her divorced mother Joan (J. Smith-Cameron), an actress, and younger brother. Preparing to spend the summer at a ranch with Dad, she is seeking the proper cowboy hat when she spots one atop bus driver Jason “Maretti” Berstone (Mark Ruffalo). Chasing the bus in the hopes of boarding it and talking to him, he is distracted long enough to run a red light and strike a pedestrian (Alison Janney). Margaret comforts the woman whose life quickly ebbs away and with that the movie is launched.

Margaret gives a false statement, at Joan’s urging, to the police and the guilt weighs on her. She struggles with the memory of the event, the lie, the lack of justice in a cruel world and questions the meaning of life itself. As a result, she is adrift, thrashing out at friends and family alike. She is distanced from her mother, who is distracted first by the impending opening of her Broadway show and then an unlikely romance with a foreign businessman (Jean Reno). Lisa confides in her math teacher (Matt Damon) and ignores her English teacher (Matthew Broderick) and best friend (Olivia Thirlby). She does, though, make a conscious decision to lose her virginity to a stoner (Kieran Culkin) in what has to be one of the most honest lovemaking scenes in a long time.

Eventually, the weight of the lie and lack of proper closure eat at Lisa who connects with Emily (Jeannie Berlin), the victim’s closest friend, and together an odd bond is formed. Lisa confronts Jason, berates the police who have closed the case, and seeks legal remedies. She has made Jason losing his job, protecting potential victims, her mission and focuses solely on that with dramatic results.

As you can see, this has a hefty cast that underplay their parts. Emily is brittle and rude and not terribly warm to Lisa but they’re in this together, a relationship Joan has trouble accepting. No adult can say the right things or make the right moves to salve Lisa’s fevered conscience and Paquin runs with it. Lisa is appealing and sympathetic for the most part, but far from ideal and perfect.

The movie is heavy and dramatic but Lonergan brings a precision to the dialogue and storytelling, making it feel honest and real. He lets his characters argue, including some nice scenes in high school where the kids debate current events and Shakespeare with fervor. There’s one false note, a blunt statement Lisa makes to two of her teachers late in the film that feels out of left field with no follow up. Still, the movie is well worth your attention.

As for who Margaret is, she is a character in Gerard Manley Hopkins’ poem “Spring and Fall: To a Young Child”.