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Magic Mike (#110 of 15)

If/Then Interview with Tom Kitt

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If/Then Interview with Tom Kitt
If/Then Interview with Tom Kitt

Luckily for Tom Kitt, he was in his dorm room when opportunity knocked. A lovely young woman made him a desperate offer to work on the music for the annual campus show premiering just days later. Though he was an economics major, he said “yes.” The experience generated a new dream for his life which, over the past 20 years, has been realized. Still, Kitt has often wondered about the other life he might have led, the other Tom he might have become, if he hadn’t been inside that dorm room—thoughts that would inspire If/Then, his latest collaboration with lyricist-librettist Brian Yorkey.

Their musical about a supremely cautious woman, Elizabeth (Idina Menzel), audaciously leaps over traditional story structures. In the opening number, the character considers the probable outcomes of a simple choice: to help a friend (Anthony Rapp) gather signatures to protest a housing development or listen to music with her new neighbor (LaChanze). The show then magically lets her give each option a shot by splitting her in two, as Liz and Beth, and the proceeding parallel narrative shows how big and small choices like Liz’s agreeing to take the phone number of a handsome war vet (James Snyder), or Beth’s taking a phone call from an old friend (Jerry Dixon), significantly alter the life and personality of each.

Liz and Beth may share an initial resistance to risk, but Kitt and Yorkey embrace it. Like their previous collaboration, Next to Normal, which earned the pair the Tony Award and Pulitzer Prize, If/Then is a wholly original musical in an era of movie adaptations, revues, and bio-sicals. I sat down with Kitt in early June, when If/Then’s cast album was released, to discuss the choices and serendipities that have shaped his life and work.

Macklemore, Warped Queer Advocacy, and Why Dallas Buyers Club is One of the Year’s Worst Films

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Macklemore, Warped Queer Advocacy, and Why <em>Dallas Buyers Club</em> is One of the Year’s Worst Films
Macklemore, Warped Queer Advocacy, and Why <em>Dallas Buyers Club</em> is One of the Year’s Worst Films

A few months back, I was driving out of New York, and Macklemore’s “Same Love” came on the radio. It was the rare Top 40 track with markedly gay-themed lyrics that had nothing to do with Lady Gaga. And it was rap. I’ll freely confess that music is my weak spot as a popular-media journalist, and I’ll admit that I jumped to some serious stereotyping conclusions when I heard the song. Though it didn’t have, from what I’ve gathered, Frank Ocean’s cool poetic stylings, I instantly assumed “Same Love” was by Ocean, because, ya know, he’s the most popular queer rapper. Perhaps the lyrics marked some hypothetical experiment—an instance of a (mostly) out artist using words like “if I was gay” to reimagine the experiences of growing up closeted (or questioning) through the eyes of a contrived straight person. Regardless of what this knee-jerk reading might say about my inability to discern one rapper’s musicality from another’s, it all felt, well, nice: Here was a queer artist with an explicitly gay-themed song that, while not even particularly catchy, was getting major play on a major radio station. Inevitably, I quickly learned that my Frank Ocean song wasn’t by Frank Ocean at all, but by a white, straight rapper who was ostensibly sticking up for me and his gay uncles. To crudely summarize a swirl of conflicted feelings, suddenly the song wasn’t so nice, and, definitely, wasn’t so cool.

Poster and Trailer Drop for Dallas Buyers Club, Starring Matthew McConaughey as Homophobic AIDS Patient

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Poster and Trailer Drop for <em>Dallas Buyers Club</em>, Starring Matthew McConaughey as Homophobic AIDS Patient
Poster and Trailer Drop for <em>Dallas Buyers Club</em>, Starring Matthew McConaughey as Homophobic AIDS Patient

Today marked the release of the trailer and poster for Dallas Buyers Club, the long-touted, awards-buzzy Matthew McConaughey vehicle, wherein the newly ubiquitous, former bongo drummer plays Ron Woodruff, a real-life AIDS victim who began smuggling treatment drugs across the border. Startlingly gaunt, McConnaughey pulled a drastic, Christian-Bale-esque slimdown for the part, as did co-star Jared Leto, who plays Rayon, a transsexual and fellow AIDS patient (reportedly, McConnaughey dropped 38 pounds for the film, while Leto lost 30).

Woodruff’s story, unfolding circa 1986, is indeed a remarkable one, telling of a club that was formed to offer AIDS sufferers pure alternatives to the government-dispersed AZT, which wreaked havoc on the bodies of many who took it. What Woodruff reportedly “started” began to spread very rapidly, with alternative, illegal med clubs cropping up all over the country (you’ll remember that AIDS patients who were forced to become scientists and fight for their own lives were documented last year in the remarkable How to Survive a Plague.)

Box Office Rap 2 Guns and the Cycles of Popularity

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Box Office Rap: 2 Guns and the Cycles of Popularity
Box Office Rap: 2 Guns and the Cycles of Popularity

When Martin Scorsese takes the time to write a critical piece on legitimating film culture disguised as a reflection on the language of cinema, not only do you read it, but you read it twice for good measure. That’s precisely what happened this past week, as Scorsese joined Steven Soderbergh to deliver the second, excellent “state of cinema” address of 2013. Scorsese’s prose is packed with an expected degree of passion, reverence, and Romanticism, such as when he lovingly calls cinema “the invocation of life…an ongoing dialogue with life,” and on that premise, he laments the decline of cinema associated with cinephilia, a lack of visual literacy being taught in schools, and the rise of box-office culture as “a kind of sport—and really, a form of judgment,” where “the cycles of popularity are down to a matter of hours, minutes, seconds, and the work that’s been created out of seriousness and real passion is lumped together with the work that hasn’t.”

To Scorsese’s claims I say: absolutely. Box office is indeed used as a form of judgment to determine what films audiences are interested in seeing. Thus, studios act accordingly and try to replicate success through like-minded projects with stars that have a proven pedigree. Nevertheless, the cinema, as a form of popular culture has, more or less, always been a democratic medium, contingent on viewers showing up in support. I think of Mario Van Peebles’s Baadasssss! when reading this argument; in that film, Van Peebles plays his father Melvin, whose new film, Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song, is opening in a single Los Angeles theater. A dejected Melvin sits in the theater as no one fills the auditorium on opening night. Suddenly, the doors burst open, and people start flooding in. He’s elated because people want to see his film.

Oscar 2013 Winner Predictions Supporting Actor

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Oscar 2013 Winner Predictions: Supporting Actor
Oscar 2013 Winner Predictions: Supporting Actor

All right, all right, all right. We should’ve known. As it turned out, Matthew McConaughey’s still supple ass cheeks in Magic Mike were no match for AMPAS’s preference for saggy old balls in this category. And not just old, but used balls. As was pointed out during this year’s overproduced nominations press conference, all five nominees have already won Oscars. And so in the absence of a swimsuit competition, the narrative this go around shifts onto the question of which person do Academy members feel most deserves another trophy, and which of them is the most overdue?

Oscar 2013 Nomination Predictions: Supporting Actor

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Oscar 2013 Nomination Predictions: Supporting Actor
Oscar 2013 Nomination Predictions: Supporting Actor

With all due respect to the gentlemen in contention, this year’s likely Supporting Actor crop has shaped up to be a snooze, filled with veterans who, however gifted, feel like obvious choices, and whose singling out undermines some truly vibrant male turns. It’s true that Silver Linings Playbook boasted Robert De Niro’s best performance in years, giving the actor a tender comic role that required more than just cracking wise and mugging for the camera. And frontrunner Tommy Lee Jones turned in fine, fiery work in Lincoln, bringing complex life to abolitionist Thaddeus Stevens, whose character arc is arguably the movie’s most dramatic. But both industry icons still feel a tad like instant candidates, and they’re liable to be joined by Alan Arkin (Argo) and Philip Seymour Hoffman (The Master), both of whom have been lauded for performances that are neither remarkable nor surprising. As consistent and consummately professional as Meryl Streep, Hoffman is faithfully intense as L. Ron Hubbard stand-in Lancaster Dodd, but there’s nothing in the character we haven’t seen him play before. And Arkin, whose crotchety film producer is a wellspring of rib-elbowing condescension, seems to have joined this race merely for his seasoned way with one-liners.

Poster Lab: The Worst Movie Posters of 2012

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Poster Lab: The Worst Movie Posters of 2012
Poster Lab: The Worst Movie Posters of 2012

Dishonorable Mention

The Sessions: The flagship poster for The Sessions is just your latest example of a marketing brainfart: How does one sell a dramedy about a polio survivor looking to lose his virginity? The answer, sadly, is the old, square, film-still-collage standby, whose slanted positioning doesn’t make it any less banal. The ad may be preferable to its illustrated counterpart, which walks a dangerous line between the inspired and the vulgar, but it still fails to do the movie justice, its design appearing unfinished and its lone pullquote a cheap ploy for Oscar love. [Poster]

Save the Date: Never mind the whole bottom-heavy layout here, which opts to crush a pair of stills with a needless mountain of whitespace. The real problem is what’s conveyed in the stills themselves: an aesthetic defined by boring over-the-shoulder shots. Is it a metaphor for the male characters’ lack of emotional presence? Is it underscoring the prominence of the females of the film? Not really—it’s just bad design. And rather than providing quirky adornment as intended, the pencil-drawn faces merely appear tacked-on, somehow making this minimalistic-in-all-the-wrong-ways fiasco look busy.[Poster]

The Giant Mechanical Man: A wonderful gem that never quite found an audience, The Giant Mechanical Man deserved much better than this tossed-together one-sheet, which basically slaps a still on a blue background and scrawls in some text. None of the film’s infectious, magical-realist nature is expressed, only the fact that Jenna Fischer and Chris Messina go for coffee. The lone cloud and subtle heart might suggest that love is in the air for these drifters, but none of it succeeds in piquing interest. [Poster]

Slant’s Top 25 Films of 2012

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Slant’s Top 25 Films of 2012
Slant’s Top 25 Films of 2012

From Calum Marsh’s introduction to Slant Magazine’s Top 25 Films of 2012: “Two thousand and twelve was, if nothing else, a banner year for uncommonly productive provocation. Audiences were galled by Rick Alverson’s divisive deconstruction of hipsterdom, The Comedy, beguiled by the taciturn charms of Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master, and, um, probed by the penetrating cultural criticism of David Cronenberg’s Cosmopolis. Masters of cinema both old and new even found time, between saucy bouts of male stripping and fellating chicken parts, to butt heads with every conceivable status quo, grappling admirably with hot-button issues as wide-ranging as colonialism (Tabu), U.S.-endorsed torture (Zero Dark Thirty, maybe or maybe not endorsing it itself), and the very nature of cinema (Jafar Panahi, who didn’t make a ’film’ at all).” Click here to read the feature and see if your favorite films of the year made our list. And see below for a list of the films that just missed making it onto our list, followed by our contributors’ individual ballots.