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CULTURE ARCHIVES ENTERTAINMENT 2021 From The Archives Uncategorized

How Makeup, Murder and Dark History Turned Bailey Sarian into a Social Media Superstar

There’s a YouTube show for every interest and fandom these days, but the best tend to be less about the concept and more about the creator. A charismatic star/host can make almost anything interesting and when they find the right niche and it all clicks, followings grow, sometimes into the millions. For Bailey Sarian it was not one, but two niches that helped her do just that – makeup and murder!

With 5 million subscribers on YouTube and 2.4 million Instagram followers, Sarian has melded two seemingly unlikely types of content — beauty tutorials and true crime tales — into a very successful series and brand. The California-based professional makeup artist has always loved reading and talking about crime investigations and one day she simply decided to do both at once on her YouTube channel.

After working with Santa Monica-based IPSY as a social media creator, Sarian started also experimenting with her own YouTube output. “Then 2018 came along and the Christopher Watts story came around; it was this man who killed his two kids and his wife and then put them in oil bins at his work,” she tells us by phone interview. “I was following the story, and I was staying up til like 4 a.m. reading articles about it, trying to solve the mystery. I was like, ‘I don’t have anybody to talk about this story with, so I’m just gonna sit in front of my camera and talk about it and do my makeup.’ I didn’t know how it’d be received, but decided to just try it. In January of 2019 I finally put it up and as soon as it was posted I was getting view counts like I had never gotten before, and within 24 hours I had gotten 60,000 views. To me that was fame. Then I was like, ‘maybe this isn’t a one-off, let me try it again with a different story.’ I’ve just kept going and I have not stopped growing since that first video.”

Copycats trying similar content melds notwithstanding, Sarian’s series “Murder Mystery & Makeup,” feels different from most makeup guide shows. She’s dishy but refreshingly down to earth, and watching her feels like spilling the tea with an old gal pal while you’re both getting ready for a night on the town. She makes the most macabre murder stories go down easy, presenting a compelling narrative rollout with subtly comic commentary and gorgeous cosmetics work.

Sarian’s eye for color and contour are highlighted each week via edgy applications, and she uses looks and transformations that tout her favorite products for lids, lips, and skin, illustrating techniques anyone can follow along with. Still, it’s the stories that keep you engaged. And though her videos feel freeform and effortless, she tells us she does do some pre-planning.

“I write a script for myself which has the whole story start to finish and then when I start filming, I just start explaining,” she shares. “I try not to overwhelm the audience with too many names or too many addresses and I strip the story down to what happened. I just keep it true to myself and make it like a conversation.”

Though she doesn’t necessarily connect makeup looks to the stories she tells, her videos always feel symbiotic between subject and visual. Sarian’s charm is enough of a connection. “Once I sit down, I kind of just decide what I want to do that day,” she says. “I don’t think about the makeup too much because I want to be comfortable. I’m so consumed with the story, the makeup is always an afterthought.”

With subjects covered including everyone from Jeffrey Dahmer (her most watched at 14 million views) and “The Nightstalker” Richard Ramirez to lesser-known criminals like “The Scream Killers” (the Cassie Jo Stoddart case) and the “chocolate killer” (Cordelia Botkins), her YouTube show is a bonafide hit. Now Sarian is ready to conquer new formats.

Joining forces with Wheelhouse DNA and Audioboom, the social media star just launched a new podcast called “Dark History,” on which she’ll go beyond true crime to explore other kinds of strange and menacing real-life stories from U.S. and world history. The show will also have a video component that will be released after each podcasted episode, filmed on a special set in Los Angeles.

No cosmetics lessons are featured on the Monday weekly podcast but a video companion debuts every Thursday, and Sarian, whose colorful tattoos and facial piercing complement her dramatic facial art, still gives face, and in some ways more personality minus the makeup-minded distraction. So far she has aired episodes on the DuPont Chemical scandal and the Zoot Suit Riots, and future subjects will include the Armenian Genocide and the Birth Control Trials of Puerto Rico.

Chatting on the phone with Sarian is no different from watching her on the computer screen — she’s warm, funny and expressive both ways. We discovered “Murder Mystery & Makeup,” organically while scrolling videos on Facebook and we’ve been addicted to Sarian’s stuff ever since. With two fan groups on FB for her work, we are clearly not alone. Podcasting is a natural progression that should further her success and value as a social media figure.

“I’m doing something I’m really passionate about. I get to research true crime and do makeup which are my two favorite things,” Sarian says, gratefully, noting the downside and upside of online notoriety. “There are some times where you’re looking for constructive criticism and people don’t know the difference between that and being an asshole. Of course there is an influx with trolls as you get bigger. But I’ve found an audience that’s super into everything I’m into and I love engaging with my fans. I’ve learned how to find a balance to it all.”     ❖

Bailey Sarian’s “Murder, Mystery & Makeup” is on YouTube and Audible.
Dark History” is available on Apple Podcasts, and other podcast platforms.
More info on Bailey at linktr.ee/baileysarian.

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CULTURE ARCHIVES ENTERTAINMENT 2021 From The Archives MUSIC 2021 TV 2021 Uncategorized

New PBS Special Looks Back on Career of Brazilian Legend Sergio Mendes (Q&A)

An influential music figure gets his due this month on PBS, which airs the special Sergio Mendes & Friends: A Celebration, chronicling the life of the Brazilian music pioneer, throughout June. Featuring the documentary Sergio Mendes: In The Key Of Joy by director John Scheinfeld (The U.S. vs John Lennon), the presentation features commentary from Herb Alpert, Common, Quincy Jones, John Legend, will.i.am (who produced his comeback into the pop world called Timeless) and more.

Mendes, who was born in Niterói, Brazil in 1941, found his rhythm on the keys and in the New York music scene, first as a signee with his music trio to Capitol Records, and later Brasil 66 signed with A&M, where he re-defined the ‘60s Bossa Nova sound and popularized smooth jazz with a pop sensibility. Releasing 35 albums and scoring multiple hits like “Mas Que Nada,” “The Look of Love,” “Scarborough Fair,” “Night and Day,” and later, the soulful ballad “Never Gonna Let You Go,” Mendes has earned three Grammies and received an Oscar nod for his music in the animated film Rio.

His work has been used in countless films, adverts, and TV programs;  so much so that even younger music fans who might not know the artist by name usually have recognition of his work, both with his groups and as a solo artist and composer. His take on Brazilian music has become a global and cultural game-changer that continues to inspire and resonate to this day. With the PBS special debuting this weekend, we spoke to the legend via Zoom from his home in Woodland Hills, California.

LINA LECARO: The movie is wonderful. How did it all come about?

SERGIO MENDES: Thank you. Yes, John Scheinfeld did a tremendous job. He’s a wonderful director and producer, and it was great working with him. The record company had this idea of doing a documentary about my life and they asked me what I thought. I thought that was great so they sent me a copy of the documentary that John did on Coltrane, and also Harry Nilsson, and I loved them. I said I want to meet him. So he came to the house, we met and I said let’s do it. Let’s go.

He’s a great storyteller, and clearly very musical. I think that you probably have to really have a strong appreciation for the music to tell this kind of story in the right way.

I met with him a couple of times here at the house and he lives here in LA, which makes life easier. I really enjoyed meeting him and we spoke a lot about my career, my music, my life… I didn’t see anything until the end. Not the interviews or anything, and so it was for me, a very emotional experience when I saw the final cut. He got some incredible archives from shows I’d done years and years ago. I think it’s very well put together.

The archival stuff was so fun. Really captured that time. Were there things that you forgot about, or that made an impression on you to see again?

Once I saw it I remembered most of the things, but I had forgotten a few, so it was great to see that great footage again. And also, you know, going back to where I grew up in Brazil. The apartment building where I used to live….all that was very, very moving for me.

So looking back at your career, the film shows both your influence and your resiliency in tough times. It really showed the ups and downs. That early live gig Brasil 66 had and how you got fired because the crowds didn’t quite get it. And yet, you went on to be so popular afterward. So can you talk a little bit about that?

Yeah, of course that was a downer. You know, I mean, somebody who hired you to play and then goes, here’s your money and thank you very much but we don’t want you. I said wow, this is the beginning of my career. The gig was in the Bahamas. But I told the members that we just have to rehearse and make this thing better and so we came back to the U.S. And right when we get back here, we start to rehearse, then A&M was interesred, so things started happening.

As they say, ‘when one door closes, another door opens.” Watching the story unfold, that gig in the Bahamas was surprising because you guys were already establishing your sound, and you sounded amazing. Why do you think it didn’t resonate at the time?

Well I think it was a combination of things. First of all, we hadn’t had the big hit yet. This is before “Mas Que Nada.” We didn’t have a record or something to promote and nobody knew about us. I mean after I recorded my first album, and had the big success with so many songs, then things were different.

Brasil 66

How did Albert and Jerry hear about you? Were you playing out live a lot?

I was here in the L.A. studio of a friend of mine on Melrose. And in those days record companies used to come to visit to see and to hear new bands. A few record companies came to see us there and among them was Herb and Jerry. It was a perfect fit. They were just starting and they had great energy and I liked them a lot. We became good friends for life. It was just like—as I use the word many times in the documentary— serendipity.

I think so. Another part of the documentary showing the band’s evolution and how things maybe happen for a reason, was when you lost your original singer Lani Hall . She fell in love with Herb and left the band. That must have been hard because you had such a great chemistry with her singing.

Absolutely, we’re still very dear friends dear by the way. I speak once or twice a week with Herb and Lani. But you know, again, like you said one door closes and the other one opens. That’s when I met my wife who became the singer of the band.

It became a love story for all of you. Sergio, what would you say looking back on your career and being a Latino in the US, about getting your music out there? Like what were some of the challenges that you faced? How did you overcome the cultural barriers and find success?

I think it comes down to the song at the end of the day. The power of the song, and the melody. We had a hit song in Portuguese, it was the first time ever that a song like that became a number one in the world, not only in the United States. I think a lot had to do with the arrangement and the uniqueness of the sound at the time.

It was very unique. Did you ever consider translating it or would that have been weird?

For that song, it would be such a corny thing. It wouldn’t work out. The song by the way is huge in Japan. The melody is really the catchy and people, they’ve taken it to the heart and they’ve embraced it. Some songs need English lyrics but not that one. Having English songs helped to make us even more international, though.

You are a role model for Latin people. How does that feel?

I never thought about it. I don’t know, am I?

You are! Your music brought a flavor of music to America that wasn’t there and it changed pop music. I think the documentary touches upon that and it’s huge. I think it will inspire musicians of all backgrounds because you always stayed true to who you are and you still made it within the industry.

Absolutely, yeah. I would say people should stay with your dream, embrace your dream and don’t stop. As I like to say, keep playing in the key of joy.    ❖

Sergio Mendes & Friends: A Celebration airs on PBS beginning Sat., June 5.

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CULTURE ARCHIVES ENTERTAINMENT 2021 FILM 2021 From The Archives

‘In The Heights’ is a Vivacious Valentine to New York Latin Culture and Musical Cinema

In the Heights was shot before the COVID-19 era, but there might not be a better movie to see in theaters as we attempt to move past the pandemic. Written and produced by Hamilton wunderkind Lin-Manuel Miranda, it’s a magnificently crafted and choreographed musical, and a vivacious valentine to Manhattan’s Washington Heights and the Latin culture that thrives there.

Miranda pulls out every trick in the genre playbook, from the flashback that opens the film, to crane shots transitioning in and out of scenes, to a mesmerizing dance sequence that rivals The Young Girls of Rochefort. There’s a larger-than-life, only-at-the-movies quality to every frame of this instant classic, and it demands to be seen on the biggest screen possible.

An infectious energy whisks the film along, starting with the opener in a grocery store which breaks out into a colorful, city-wide dance number. Usnavi (Hamilton’s Anthony Ramos) sings about his life in Washington Heights, and how he plans to move to the Caribbean. Until then, he has friends Benny (Corey Hawkins) and Nina (Leslie Grace), as well as Sonny (Gregory Diaz IV), the teenager he watches over like a father and hassles like a friend, and the promise of romance with a young girl named Vanessa (Melissa Barrera, best known for her work in Starz’s Vida).

They’ve got dreams of their own, far beyond the bodegas and nail salons where they make just enough to pay the bills. Miranda sets each of their hopes to a one-of-a-kind melodic tracklist. Where else can you find a showstopper about a retired house cleaner or a toe-tapper about a guy who sells ice cream? The song about immigration is unlike anything you’ve ever heard.

Miranda’s compositions find beauty in the struggle and the all-Latin cast make the most of each lyric and rhythm. Though the threat of gentrification looms over The Heights, Miranda and director Jon M. Chu (Crazy Rich Asians) keep things light as air, with Usnavi rapping and dancing and twirling away from his problems in ways that feel fresh and relatable. He may want to sell his grocery store and move away, but he also loves New York. No matter the challenges he faces, his life in the city remains upbeat.

Ramos is the beating heart of the film, the dreamer who tries to run away from hardship, but secretly loves the challenge of his surroundings. Usnavi’s future seems out of reach, but Ramos’ performance makes us believe in his quest for love and escape. He will have to choose between one or the other, a decision made all the more difficult by Vanessa’s effortless allure, as well as the city’s need for a grocery store.

The choreography of cameras, bodies, sweat, and smiles is so wildly wonderful and wonderfully wild that the 143-minute run-time flies by like a night at the club. In the Heights feels like a fiesta. It’s impossible not to get sucked into its Latin dayger-meets-Jacques-Demy vibes. A pool party erupts into a Rochefort-style flash mob, while a gravity-defying waltz up the side of a building will make your jaw drop and your heart stop.

In the Heights is both a crowd-pleaser and a locals-only inside joke — anyone who has ever lived in the area will laugh at the dearth of authentic bodegas. But it’s all-inclusive in its themes of love, hope, and community, and ultimately, a loving sendup to big screen spectacle.    ❖

On HBO Max and in theaters on June 10.

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CULTURE ARCHIVES ENTERTAINMENT 2021 From The Archives News 2021 PODCASTS THE WEEKLY

Chris Sullivan Tells His Story and Talks About the Series Finale of ‘This Is Us’

Chris Sullivan is an actor’s actor. Widely known as Toby Damon on NBC’s wildly successful drama This Is Us, he’s a master of his craft, from Broadway to television.

Chris took time off from his family vacation (a family on TV and real-life) to sit down with Brian Calle and chat about his past, how he’s made it in Hollywood, and the upcoming series finale of This Is Us.

“The journey started in L.A. back in 1998. I went to Loyola Marymount University to study theater and graduated from LMU in 2002,” begins Chris. “I hung around Los Angeles for a couple of years, trying to make it happen, and ended up doing a lot of theater, actually. I ended up getting cast in a Broadway one-man show called Defending The Caveman that was a touring show.”

After being on the road for a few years, he landed in Chicago where he lived for half a decade. It was there that he continued to hone his artistic craft, and also met his wife. From there, the two moved to NYC to pursue Chris’s Broadway career. His talents got him recognized, and the opportunity to audition for the show This Is Us presented itself. He now finds himself settled in Los Angeles with his family, as the show brought him back to the West.

This Is Us has become a cultural phenomenon, one of the most beloved shows to hit the airways in modern day. He is now a very recognizable face (and arguably even more so a recognizable voice) thanks to his work portraying the lovable Toby.

Getting to where he is today hasn’t been easy. From constantly moving around for work to endlessly auditioning, his accolades are well-deserved.

“Ninety-five percent of all the things I have auditioned for I have not gotten,” he admits. “It was a slow build.”

“That Broadway touring show was a break in the sense that I did somewhere between 500-600 performances of that show,” he continues. “Over the course of the years, as my theatre mentor says, I got my Ph.D. in stage time.”

That time gave him the confidence he needed to push his craft over the edge. At what point did he realize he wanted to be an actor? What lured him into following this dream?

“I had a lot of energy growing up that needed direction, that needed funneling into something productive, and so theatre became a really interesting emotional activity for me,” answers Chris. “The emotional expertise of theatre, the creative collaboration, the sense of family that comes with a theatrical production … was always very romantic to me and I just loved it. I loved the process.”

Being an actor is one thing, being a theatre actor is another. The ability to successfully tackle both is incredible. To be a working actor in Hollywood, let alone Chicago and New York is a huge feat.

“Television in a lot of ways is rehearsing in front of the audience. You get several takes to try several different things, so it’s almost like every take is a rehearsal, and in post [production], the editor and the director get to decide which performance fits the overall piece,” says Chris of the transition from theatre acting to television acting. “Making that transition is difficult, it’s different styles of acting.”

Little jobs turned into bigger jobs, and now here he is. Through the little jobs he was able to figure out how it all works in television, including knowing he had to make the hard choice to pause theatre in order to make room to grow in his career and get in front of the camera.

It was the right choice, as it brought him to the set of This Is Us, the number one show on television in its time. From its inception, the show has been a groundbreaking hit, being renewed for large sums of seasons in an industry where the promise of even a single season following a pilot is rare.

It was recently announced that This Is Us is coming to its natural conclusion. Too popular to be canceled, the story is simply reaching its final arc.

“Dan Fogelman has had the ending of this series set up and planned out since the beginning. In fact, he’s already shot scenes from the final episode. We are going to go out in the exact way our creator wants us to, and we are going to go out strong and tell the exact story that we want to tell,” confides Chris.

“Now that the end is near it is just going to be soaking up each moment [for me] and really arriving and appreciating the work that everyone — the cast, the crew, post-production, our production staff — the number of people who work so hard to make this show happen is staggering. This will be a season of gratitude and appreciation.”    ❖

To hear more about Chris’ work, including the upcoming series finale of  This Is Us, tune into the weekly podcast here: SpotifyCumulus Los Angeles, or wherever you get your podcasts.

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CULTURE ARCHIVES ENTERTAINMENT 2021 From The Archives News 2021 PRIDE 2021 THE FRONT ARCHIVES

Paul Rudnick Reflects on Decades of Making Us Laugh Through the Tears 

Paul Rudnick entered America’s cultural bloodstream in 1982 with his comedy Poor Little Lambs, about a female Yale student’s attempt to join the all-male singing group, The Whiffenpoofs.

We’ve been laughing ever since.

Rudnick’s 1993 play, Jeffrey, was billed as a comedy about AIDS. As funny as it is poignant, the production initially had trouble finding a theatre as the disease was then ravaging New York City, but it garnered numerous awards and was turned into a movie two years later. Rudnick’s revisionist poke at organized religion in The Most Fabulous Story Ever Told (1998) circles back as relevant with Evangelical Christians suffering from queer-on-the-brain these days. Most recently his specialty of turning the world upside down is on full display in Playing The Palace, his new rom-com novel about Royal love. The Obie and Outer Critics Circle award winner, novelist, playwright, essayist, and screenwriter, whom the New York Times has called, “one of our pre-eminent humorists” spoke by telephone with the Village Voice.

••

Frank Pizzoli: Americans love British Royals. Your new book Playing The Palace shows queer love blossoming between Carter, a lonely New York City event planner, and Crown Prince Edgar.

Paul Rudnick: The book is an all-out romantic comedy, taking full advantage of America’s obsession with royalty. After the last four years, I wanted to create an escape, into a far more lighthearted world. Everyone’s been dealing with stress and rage, from politics and Covid and simply getting through the day. Big time romance and delirious humor are more essential than ever.

FP: Very different than your comedic satire Coastal Elites, recently on HBO?

PR: I wrote Elites to tell the stories of people breaking down — and breaking through — their understandable struggles as they wrestled with the political climate and the erupting culture wars. And if that wasn’t enough, a pandemic descended. The piece was originally going to be staged at the Public Theater and filmed for HBO by the wonderful director Jay Roach, but with the lockdown, that was no longer possible. So we shot the interlocking monologues remotely, with every protocol in place and an amazing cast.  I was able to rewrite constantly, to include everything that was happening, from the overwhelmed healthcare system to the Black Lives Matter protests. The show was an expression of communal fury. I’d get on the phone with friends and we’d promise not to discuss politics and two seconds later we’d be dissecting every Trump atrocity. I wanted to reflect a very specific moment in American helplessness and commitment, right before the election.

FP: And then it all changed?

PR: Yes. Because so many people worked so hard all across the country. My partner and I were poll watchers in Pennsylvania, and I wondered if voters would be fighting, but everyone was calm and determined, to make a change. And now, with President Biden, there’s an adult in charge. The temperature’s different, and the daily desperation has lessened. Nothing’s been solved, but people have taken a breath. I’ve always felt the highest form of happiness is relief. There’s a path forward.

FP: You’re writing the Broadway musical adaptation of The Devil Wears Prada. Does the original story from 2006 hold up in the era of MeToo?

PR: I’m co-writing the book with Kate Wetherhead, who’s terrific, and Elton John is doing the score to Shaina Taub’s lyrics. I think everyone wants to honor a beloved movie but also include cultural shifts in the fashion world and the huge need for diversity. It’s scheduled for an out-of-town try-out in Chicago next summer.

FP: We say the arts require us to suspend reality. And some opine that we live in a post-truth world. If art imitates life and then life imitates art, will art and reality finally collide?

Scenes from the original Off-Broadway production of ‘Jeffrey’

PR: (Laughing) Fiction is invaluable because it allows us to entertain contradictions. We can stroll through a variety of positions, philosophies, and then start all over again.  There could be a strong, renewed interest in fiction, as people try to cope with a cataclysmic world. Fiction permits every dirty secret and nagging question to fully emerge.

FP: I’m thinking of The Normal Heart by Larry Kramer with AIDS data projected on scrims during the action on stage. That’s a real contrast to today’s all-conspiracy-all-the-time posture.

PR: With Covid there have been moments reminiscent of how AIDS was ignored, by the media and the government; Trump’s mocking or nonexistent response mirrored Reagan’s.  Theater became essential in the AIDS era, as a source of sheer information. It’s been fascinating to watch Dr. Anthony Fauci make his way through both plagues. My partner John’s a doctor who studied epidemiology, so he’s helped me make some sense of all this. Reagan specialized in ignoring suffering, while Trump actively lied about it, and spread misinformation. There are differences, of course; the media’s been far more onboard with Covid. Initially, AIDS was sidelined because it was affecting marginalized groups, especially LGBTQ people and communities of color.

FP: Does one staple of life — religion — need another look? The Most Fabulous Story Ever Told (1998) introduces us to Adam and Steve and the first lesbians Jane and Mabel. Most Evangelical Christians cannot let queer love happen. Yet so many pastors vehemently shout anti-LGBTQ sermons while they themselves are sexually active in their gay closets. What would a ‘Rudnick’ diagnosis of the situation say?

From ‘The Most Fabulous Story Ever Told’

PD: The Most Fabulous Story was inspired by the evangelical insistence that “God made Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve.” I was talking this over with the director Christopher Ashley, at the Empire Diner in Chelsea, and I thought, that’s my next play. But I wasn’t interested in simply an attack on organized religion, but a genuine exploration of faith. I realized that, at any New York cocktail party, if you asked people about their sex lives, they’d go on for days. But if you asked them about believing in God, the subject felt far more taboo. As I was writing the play it struck me, that when it comes to religion, everyone’s opinion is equally valid; it’s the most personal topic imaginable. There are historical facts, in terms of how various religions come into being and flourish, but as for faith itself, that’s up to each of us. 

And of course, when people pursue their personal idea of God and belief, they get passionate, which means they also usually get funny. The best comedy results from the highest possible stakes. The play doesn’t deride anything except bigotry, which tends to confuse audience members expecting a diatribe. Religion is also inherently theatrical, and dependant on costumes, pageantry, and ritual. But we were off-Broadway, which meant miracles on a budget.

FP: Broadway is expected back full throttle by Fall. Will digital presentations continue anyway?

PR: During the pandemic, artists found imaginative ways of keeping their work alive, through Zoom readings and every other form of tech theater. But everyone’s yearning to be back in a theater, with an audience and the alchemy of a live performance. People have been predicting the death of theater for centuries, but it’s irreplaceable. Digital innovations can be extremely useful, especially in bringing all sorts of work to people without access to theaters. Zoom can also be used for meetings, casting, and rehearsals although again, there’s nothing like being in a room with other people. That’s the essence of theater.  

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CULTURE ARCHIVES ENTERTAINMENT 2021 From The Archives

Beyond The Lip Sync: Everything Must Be Alaska

As RuPaul’s Drag Race cements its size 12 pump-print on culture and entertainment with a host of international offshoots, former contestants continue to use the exposure they received on the show to gain and maintain successful careers. But last year that became difficult thanks to COVID-19, which not only forced the producers to cancel their wildly successful conventions in Los Angeles and New York, but pretty much obliterated the drag community’s opportunities to perform live and make money off the fandom they earned via the TV competition.

One of the show’s most popular queens — she was a contestant on season 5 and won the subsequent year’s “All Star” competition — decided she wasn’t going to let the coronavirus take her crown. L.A.-based Alaska Thunderfuck 5000 (real name Justin Andrew Honard) seemingly became even busier during the pandemic, co-hosting her scorching Race Chaser podcast with Willam (another outspoken former RDR alum), making music and releasing videos, creating her own online drag beauty pageant and most recently, releasing her first-ever stand-up comedy special.

“I always save jokes on my phone and I just emptied out my comedy file,” the queen tells L.A. Weekly by Zoom, about the taped program’s material. The Alaska Thunderf**k Extra Special Comedy Special features some of the performer’s provocative music numbers, special guests, and stand-up comedy, off-color jokes and all. Because of the multitude of elements, it took a while to put together. “Then the pandemic hit and that sort of threw a wrench in everything,” Alaska says. “And at that point I was like I don’t even know if it’s appropriate to do a comedy special during this really difficult time. The world changed and it still is changing.”

Though it was filmed pre-pandemic at Sweet Hollywood in the Hollywood & Highland complex, the producers decided to add new elements that address what we’ve all been going through including zoom calls with Alaska’s mentors about current topics, “to put it in perspective and make it make sense with the new world.” Now that in-person nightlife is rolling out slowly post-vaccinations, the show provides a perfectly tarty taste of what’s to come for the fashion figure/funny “lady.”

While live drag shows are starting to trickle into towns across the country, the ease and scope the of web means online shows are here to stay as well.  Alaska will be doing a Britney Spears-themed club musical in New York called Blackout that will also be streamed at the end of May, and just last week, it was announced that queens from many past RDR seasons will be part of a new online festival. The “Digital Drag Fest 2021.” will see Alaska will join last season faves Tina Burner, Denali, and Utica along with fan faves Ginger Minj, Jinkx Monsoon, Jujubee, Latrice Royale, Manila Luzon, Miz Cracker, Monét X Change, Sharon Needles, Trixie Mattel, and non DR LA royalty Jackie Beat and Sherry Vine, to name just a few.

As with her comedy special, music is sure to be a part of Alaska’s segment. She’s garnered big numbers on YouTube for her side-splitting and simply infectious song stylings and accompanying videos. Chart-topping, shamelessly-named studio albums called “Anus,” “Poundcake” and “Vagina,” and catchy singles — some featuring fellow queens — have helped elevate her profile, and provided much-needed laughs and levity during lockdown, even for this writer. After a call was put out on Instagram for fans to film themselves in leopard looks (our favorite!) and tag #quarantinecouture for a chance to be in Alaska’s video for the song (Everything Must be) “Leopard Print,” we decided to participate and made into the final clip. Can you spot us?

L.A.-based queen Symone just won the current season of the hit VH1 show, and now that the virus appears to be subsiding, it’s exciting to see what she and the other queens from this past season will do with their fame. Alaska serves as a forceful example of how to get creative in terms of platform and self-promotion, even as a pandemic made doing so challenging.

“Alaska’s Drag Queen of the Year Pageant” is another example. The digital extravaganza just crowned its second-ever winner– Chicago’s own Tenderoni, who won $10,000 and will reign until 2022, when a new competition is planned.

“We started it as an experiment,” Alaska says of the competition. “There were a lot of pageants out there but they were for one type of drag only. My drag sister Lola LaCroix and I thought, ‘what would happen if there were drag kings competing against trans queens competing against cis female performers,’ and we wanted to see what all of that on the same stage would look like… so we did it and it was like one of the fiercest shows we’ve ever seen.”

The focus on this kind of spectacle featuring all gender identities and anatomies was clearly an idea whose time had come, and with Drag Race featuring it’s first trans contestant, GottMik, this past season, it seems like drag inclusivity is here to stay.

Though Alaska has clearly sashayed into new entertainment territory, she says will always be grateful to RuPaul and his show, noting that it inspired everything she is; Drag Race started airing the same year “Justin” became “Alaska Thunderfuck 5000,” which by the way was meant to be a sort of space alien glamazon persona. These days, she’s mostly just referred to as “Alaska,” due to the moniker’s expletive, but also the notoriety she’s achieved as she continues to balance bodacious comedy and queendom. Clearly the former is her focus right now, and no matter how risque or salty the material, it’s all about bringing joy.

“I really admire comedians for doing the work of being out there and taking the dark, horrible scary stuff of life and turning it around and making it a little less scary,” Alaska shares as our Zoom chat concludes.  “And I guess drag does that a little bit as well. I like talking about stuff that maybe is too much to talk about. Sometimes I get it right and sometimes I don’t. But I don’t want anyone to ever leave one of my shows feeling diminished. I want people to leave feeling empowered and happier and better.”   ❖

Links to everything Alaska here.

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CULTURE ARCHIVES ENTERTAINMENT 2021 From The Archives TV 2021

Better Crimes and Punishments

The superb BBC miniseries The Serpent, which recently made its way to Netflix, reminded me that I’m pretty particular when it comes to TV shows about lawbreakers and the law enforcers pursuing them. For instance, The Serpent expertly dramatizes the horrific story of a real-life fiend — con artist and murderer Charles Sobhraj, chillingly embodied by Tahar Rahim (The Mauritanian). With a female accomplice (Jenna Coleman of Victoria) under his spell, Sobhraj preyed on gullible Western hippie types seeking kicks with a side order of enlightenment in Asia during the 1970s. It’s an eight-part limited series based on true events, and even if you know the basic facts of Sobhraj’s villainy, it’s as incredibly tense and thrilling as any fictional thriller I’ve come across — and a heck of a lot better than many examples of the crime genre on television.

Though I love a mystery, I don’t much care for the standard-issue procedural dramas churned out and played on American network TV for decades. The Law & OrderCSI, and NCIS franchises and their ilk generally deliver a string of one-off crime-or-crisis-of-the-week affairs with barely perceptible character growth from season to season. The formulaic nature of these productions seems banal, even tedious to me, but the various shows, including the spin-offs, are popular enough to be renewed year after year. So I go elsewhere for my cops ’n’ criminals narrative fix.

My attitude toward the British and European variations on the format is markedly enthusiastic. I find myself eagerly seeking out and consuming those series, which can usually be accessed through streaming services such as Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, BritBox, Acorn, and MHz Choice. Upon reflection, the appeal is more in the long-form storytelling than in the exotic nature of the locales. Admittedly, a few select U.S. crime dramas have used the miniseries structure with satisfying results, such as the first True Detective series from HBO, starring Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson. I’m particularly fond of the Amazon Prime offering Bosch, featuring Titus Welliver as the resourceful title character, with extended plots based on Michael Connelly’s Bosch novels. Meanwhile, our friends overseas have been — pardon the expression — killing it with literally dozens of engrossing multiepisode explorations of humanity’s dark side that also examine those investigators who seek justice and risk their lives in search of the perps.

UNDER SCRUTINY OVERSEAS

Evidently, I prefer some nuance and complexity to my procedurals that a single hour-long one-and-done episode seldom can provide. I’ve previously raved in these pages about ITV’s Broadchurch (now on Netflix), which follows a mismatched pair of detectives, enacted in brilliant fashion by David Tennant and Olivia Colman, as they try to solve the murder of a young boy in an insular British seaside town and deal with the aftermath over the course of three seasons. And there are comparable and equally compelling foreign shows including The MissingThe Tunnel, a Franco-British effort based on the Scandinavian series The Bridge, which also spawned a decent American version; the interrogation-centered Criminal that looks at different crimes and suspects with separate English, French, German and Spanish takes on the concept; and Spiral (Engrenages), the durable, addictively soapy French policier.

One of my favorite episodic programs about crime and punishment has a rather unique structure. In each of its six seasons, Line of Duty, set in an unnamed British city, follows a police anti-corruption division — what’s commonly known as Internal Affairs in the United States — as they investigate a different person of interest within the department. Additionally, the division, Anti-Corruption Unit 12 or AC-12, is under scrutiny by administrators with possibly dubious agendas of their own in who-watches-the-watchmen fashion.

Vicky McClure and Kelly Macdonald in ‘Line of Duty’

The main recurring characters on the show are the mainstays of AC-12: Detective Inspector Steve Arnott (Martin Compston) whose refusal to cover up a deadly, mishandled raid on suspected terrorists results in reassignment to AC-12; Detective Inspector Kate Fleming (Vicky McClure), a veteran of undercover operations who is a divorced single mom; and their upright superior officer, Superintendent Ted Hastings (Adrian Dunbar). Their messy private lives and personal interactions are as much a part of the show as their challenging, often dangerous professional doings. But the series’ not-so-secret weapons are the high-profile guest stars cast as each season’s investigative target.

In Line of Duty’s first season, Lenny Harris (The Walking DeadFear the Walking Dead) plays a media darling supercop who may be up to some shady dealings. Keeley Hawes (The DurrellsBodyguard) is a detective inspector accused of conspiracy in Season 2. Daniel Mays (1917Good Omens) gets grilled in Season 3 as a sergeant involved in a problematic shooting incident. Season 4 centers on Thandiwe Newton (WestworldCrash) as a chief inspector accused of tampering with evidence. Stephen Graham (The IrishmanBoardwalk Empire) is an undercover cop whose allegiances are called into question during Season 5. The current season has Kelly Macdonald (Giri/HajiTrainspotting) as a detective superintendent whose suspicious behavior while overseeing a murder case gets the attention of AC-12.

BritBox was granted exclusive U.S. rights to Line of Duty’s sixth season, available for streaming there this month. All of the six serialized investigations offer bravura performances by the big-name guest actors and the regulars, amid compelling turns and twists. Each season is able to stand on its own, but there are some plot threads and character arcs that will pay off better down the road if Line of Duty is watched in order, starting with Episode 1. It would be positively criminal to do otherwise.   ❖

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CULTURE ARCHIVES ENTERTAINMENT 2021 From The Archives

Born to Batroc: Georges St-Pierre Returns to the MCU

On the heels of the biggest fight in MMA history failing to materialize, Georges St-Pierre sat down to chat with us about his transition into full-time acting following his recent return to the Marvel Cinematic Universe reprising his role as Batroc the Leaper in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier on Disney+.

St-Pierre was born to play Batroc, a dangerous Frenchman. Over the years, before his leap to the big screen, St-Pierre proved time and again that he was one of the most exciting fighters on the planet; he worked his way through the greatest welterweights of all time to take that title for himself. Eventually, he added to his hall-of-fame career by exiting retirement to defeat Michael Bisping, winning the middleweight title in the process. At the time, he was only the fourth person to ever accomplish such a feat.

His wildly positive energy made him that much more likable through the title defenses, and when he did get involved in prefight banter it had so much more zip coming from an anti-bullying advocate than from the people talking shit all the time in hopes of selling their fights.

So, when you see St-Pierre selected to play a hand-to-hand combat-heavy B-list Marvel villain that’s been scrapping with Captain America since the 1960s, it adds some excitement for sure. We’ve seen some of the most dangerous 170-pound men on the planet stand across from him and fail. It makes it feel more believable when you see George St-Pierre (GSP) get shots in against a title character compared to some random henchman.

Not only is St-Pierre considered one of the greatest mixed martial artists of all time, but he’s also arguably America’s most famous Canadian athlete without a hockey stick. I mean, he has three times as many Instagram followers as Steve Nash, who is the only other guy in the discussion.

We started the interview by congratulating him on being the pride of Quebec that doesn’t play hockey.

“I do play! But I suck!” St-Pierre told us through the laughs. Despite being an amateur gymnast over the last decade, and since incorporating the practice into his training regime in the second half of his career, St-Pierre joked he had no balance on ice and zero hockey intelligence.

We moved on to what is filling his time these days. We didn’t want to say retired, because he obviously has plenty on his plate, but we asked how he would describe daily life. He said mainly it’s just really busy. But you can hear the conviction in his voice as he attempts to perfect a new craft with the same level of focus that got him multiple UFC titles across two weight classes.

“I’m having a lot of auditions, and I’m working a lot on different skills that require a lot of my time,” St-Pierre expands. “My English classes, acting camera classes, theater classes, audition classes. So, I’m very busy now trying to learn new things. And it’s a lot of fun. It’s like a new challenge in my life.”

GSP emphasized that even with all these new challenges, he still trains regularly. According to his longtime training partner Rory MacDonald – a former Bellator Champion – Canada’s second most dangerous welterweight of all time after St-Pierre, half of a lot of people’s greatest fight of all time alongside Robbie Lawler, and the current favorite heading into the million-dollar Professional Fight League Tournament, GSP could still hang with the best of them. “I think if he wanted to, and he had that passion, he definitely could,” MacDonald told The Schmo recently. “He’s probably better now than he was when he retired. He just keeps training and keeps getting better.”

Prior to hearing MacDonald’s glowing praise just after our chat, we asked GSP if he was still sparring. Simulated combat with the young killers of Montreal and points beyond is no joke and provides perspective on just how hard he’s going at the moment. If not for COVID closing the gyms, he said he’d certainly be in there mixing it up with the young lions.

“Yeah, not now because the gyms are closed, but yeah for sure. I always train, and I’m training at the elite level because I help guys prepare for their fights,” St-Pierre said before looking ahead to when Montreal gyms reopened just after our chat. “So now I’ll be able to go back to the gym and train. I love that the science of fighting.”

We asked St-Pierre how much easier it is to balance the acting side with training compared to when he was an active champion defending his belt. The first time he portrayed Batroc was in the training camp leading up to his fight with a pre-USADA Johny Hendricks. At that moment, Hendricks was one of the most spectacular knockout artists in the UFC with three knockout-of-the-night bonuses during a six-fight win streak that led up to the St-Pierre fight.

“Yeah, exactly. Just different stress,” St-Pierre replied. “Because when you fight you have only one shot. If you zig when you should zag you can get knocked out. It could be very bad for you.”

Acting isn’t as bad, “because they say ‘Cut! Let’s do it again’ but there is much less pressure.”

St-Pierre said every time he walked to the Octagon, he was terrified and uncomfortable, but thankfully he had a mean poker face. It’s always surprising to hear GSP reference this in interviews over the years since his walkouts were in the top 20% for energy levels throughout his career.

St-Pierre went on to say even with the difference in the kind of pressure he faces when it comes time to shoot a take, there are certainly similarities in preparation. Both require him to rehearse for the various outcomes he sees in his head.

“But when you get on set it’s not exactly the same as you imagine it. The setup is always different. Very often the reactions of the other actor are playing differently,” St-Pierre said. “So, to be successful, a successful fighter and a successful actor, I believe you need to be, like Bruce Lee said, ‘Be like water my friend.’ The best actors and fighters, I think they’re the ones that can adapt the best.”

Playing off his Bruce Lee reference, we asked what it was like to be such a major representative for traditional martial arts in this new platform where he plans to take the bull by the horns. St-Pierre credited Hollywood’s attempts to cast more authentically over the years with his chance to provide a platform to martial arts. It came down to the perfect timing of The MCU needing a ninja with a Quebecois accent that could pass as French to the less cultured ear.

“I’m just very blessed and lucky that I came in the right timing. I’ve been told that in Hollywood now there’s this new trend that if they’re looking for someone to play an Italian guy, they’re going to often choose an Italian person. Same thing when they look for someone to play an Irish guy they, look for someone with an Irish background,” St-Pierre said.

St-Pierre said it was a lot of fun to be able to put a different level of commitment into the character this time around. The first time it was just for fun, now it’s a lot more important to him as he moves on to post fight life.

“And I’m aware now that the career of an athlete has a limit, you know?” St-Pierre said. “We all have a window, and you can say I can play basketball, play football, play baseball, but you don’t play fight. And you don’t want to hang there too long in a sport like fighting because it could be very dangerous.”

As St-Pierre wanted to change the orientation of his career to focus more on acting, Disney contacted him to reprise his role in the MCU.

“I was thrilled,” St-Pierre said of the timing. “I felt very lucky that the stars were all aligned. And now I’m focusing on acting full-time. It’s been two years now that I follow classes. I improved my game, my acting game.” He emphasized he still has a lot to learn now that he has a lot more screen time. He expects fans to love what they see.

We asked St-Pierre how much the money factored into us not seeing him fight more in the second half of the 2010s. He said it wasn’t too much of a factor. He knew the PPV money would be there. His first fight with PPV points was worth more than his whole career combined up to that point.

Contrary to the financial aspects, GSP said the state of the game before the UFC brought in the United States Anti-Doping Agency to run its drug-testing program certainly played a factor in his activity levels.

He pointed again to the “you don’t play fighting” metaphor. “Especially for that reason, because the outcome of a fight to them, severe impact of the athlete’s life, and the well-being. And that’s one of the major reasons I’ve always believed that our sport should be clean, more than any other sport. Because the outcome could influence so much more in the life and the health of the athlete.”

After helping lead the conversation around testing in the years prior to the UFC’s eventual deal with USADA, St-Pierre is thrilled to see where the conversation is now. He understood the risk the organization took in wider scrutiny of the substances fighters were putting in their bodies.

“But I’m glad that they took the step forward. They did it, knowing that a lot of their future, a lot of their stars will fall, and they did,” St-Pierre said. “But now I think it’s better for the UFC brand. Because to the mainstream world, it’s a cleaner sport, so it makes a better image for them than it was before. Though it cost them a lot of money.”

We asked St-Pierre how close we really got to the Khabib Nurmagomedov fight. It was widely expected to be the biggest UFC fight of all time if it happened.

“It takes three entities to make a fight. It takes one fighter, the second fighter and it takes the promotion. My contract is exclusive to the UFC,” St-Pierre said. “If I ever come back it needs to be in the UFC. And after I retired, we tried to make a fight with Khabib. He was interested, but the UFC clearly told us that they had other plans for Khabib. So that’s why it never materialized.”

We asked if it ever got to the point where weight was discussed since each man was the greatest in their respective weight classes of 155 and 170. He said it never got that far. A few years back, he would have made the attempt to cut weight to 155, but the older you get the harder it is.

But with the fight falling through, there is a certain sense of additional freedom on his journey. “But we’re not really free, we all work for someone. We always pay our taxes, you know? We never see 100%. We’re always victims of the causality of things that we need to do. We all have responsibilities.”

That being said, he admits the last time he had this much freedom he was broke.

“I did a lot of sacrificing. Now my life is much easier,” St-Pierre said. “Now I feel like the point that I am in my life, I’m more in control of things. And with the experience, I can improve without putting myself too much out of my comfort zone. There is a lot more freedom and much, much less stress. That’s what I like about my new life.”

On a final comedic note, back in 2013 St-Pierre got a lot of flak for saying he saw something in the sky he couldn’t explain on the Joe Rogan Experience. We asked if he ever expected the guy from Blink 182 would help prove him right? He laughed, noting everyone in the car that night was not a trained observer, but the pilots and officials we’ve seen in the years since coming out of the Pentagon speaking on the subject are.

“These [pilots] are trained observers. Their credentials are very strong,” St-Pierre noted. “I don’t know, we don’t know what it is. We don’t know if it’s maybe some secret weapon that you know that the army is testing or alien or other dimensional humans from the future we don’t know. I mean we can only speculate. But that there are UFOs, since it’s clear that there are things that cannot be explained.”   ❖

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CULTURE ARCHIVES ENTERTAINMENT 2021 FILM 2021 From The Archives Uncategorized

As Deathstroke And As DJ in New Smiths-Themed Film, Joe Manganiello Kills It (Q&A)

Those of us who grew up in the ’80s may recall there were pretty much three camps for teens to join musically: pop, metal, or new wave.  The later two tended to possess the most passionate fans, especially when it came to the darker end of the sonic spectrum. Woe-filled melodies can convey angst just as well as aggressive sounds– often better. Which is why The Smiths resonated so deeply with so many of us. When the band announced their break-up in 1987, fans were crushed.

Shoplifters of the World, the new film from writer/director Stephen Kijak, seeks to convey the sorrow of losing a favorite band -that band- within a music video-like flashback film.  It chronicles a wild night in Denver as a group of teens mourn the end of an era while contemplating the beginning of their lives. And it’s all back-dropped by Smiths music thanks to one of their peers taking over the local radio station and holding the DJ at gunpoint, ala Airheads. 

The DJ, named Full Metal Mickey, is played by Joe Manganiello, best known for early roles in HBO’s True Blood and Steven Soderberg’s male stripper drama Magic Mike. The actor -who is married to Modern Family’s Sofia Vergara- has been very busy as of late, and roles such as this one show a dramatic range fans might not have expected from his earlier work. As he shared with LA Weekly prior to the opening of his latest projects, he likes to keep his characters and endeavors varied, but he also knows how to connect with all of them on a personal level.

LL:  Really enjoyed the new movie and I think it will resonate with music lovers no matter what genre they were into growing up. I’m curious what kind of music you listened to as a teen and if your tastes and past experiences informed this role as a heavy metal DJ?

JOE MANGANIELLO: I don’t think I was easily put into a category. In high school, I was kind of friends with everybody. But I will say that from a young age, I had all Van Halen records. And then as I got a little bit older, I think my first cassette tape was Bon Jovi Slippery When Wet. Then I found Appetite for Destruction, and that was- that just blew my mind wide open. Then I discovered Ride the Lightning, and I listened to nothing but that, start to finish and then on repeat, for about 18 months straight. I had a yellow Sony Walkman, and I would flip the tape. Once one side ended, I would flip it to the other side and that went on for about a year and a half… Then I realized, oh wait, there’s like Kill Them All and Master of Puppets.

So I got into all of those but then I was also, like into the Lords of Acid and what was going on electronically at the time. And then as we moved into the early to mid-90s I had a bunch of drum & bass and San Francisco house tapes and some stuff from East Coast house DJs. I could probably sing you any Public Enemy song, Cypress Hill, old school hip hop from back in the day. So you know, I was a bit all over the place.

But there was lot of a heavy metal influence in me. My first concert was Pantera, Sepultura, and Biohazard, so it started there. But I wound up in the theater club. So I was a jock and captain of the sports team, but I also had friends I would make movies with. Then, from making those movies, I wound up getting cast in a bunch of plays my senior year. So when my senior year started and theater replaced sports, I thought, ‘I am going to be an actor or be in entertainment… I’m going full force over in this direction.’ So once I started hanging out with the theater kids, I started getting mixtapes with all of those bands around that time, whether it was The Smiths and New Order or Violent Femmes. The great bands of that era.

Sounds like you are and always have been a big music lover.

A lot of my friends are musicians. You know I go to see music shows. I was always into music, reading music magazines, very much up on all of that type of, you know, culture, especially in the ’90s. My formative years was like, the old Details magazine and Spin magazine, and Rolling Stone. And if I had a day off or had nothing to do or no plans, I would go to the record store.

I miss those days. It’s a bygone era and I felt the movie really captured that time. I was about the age of the protagonists when The Smiths were big, maybe a little bit younger. But I could really relate to them on that level and that was cool. It sounds like because of your love of music this project had a lot of appeal for you. Can you talk a little bit about how you approached playing the DJ? Did you model him after anyone?

I think when I looked at the character, I thought, okay, there’s a bit of Eric Bogosian in there. He’s like a shock jock but I think that that mixed with -I don’t want to say Henry Rollins ‘cause Rollins was very punk- and Micky is very metal. But I was certainly obsessed with Rollins. You know kind of like the spoken word, and there is a bit of poetry that comes with my character. He kind of gets poetic about what’s going on with these kids and so there’s a bit of that. I think that my relationship to Ellar’s character is very Sam Shepard True West. That’s where you have these two characters whose identities were very much locked into a certain music type and a certain way of dressing, that then lent itself to a certain ideology and created a form of tribalism amongst themselves to repel others who are not as cool. I think that they ultimately intersect in the middle and kind of wind up influencing each other and becoming more well-rounded by the end.

I think a lot of people will relate to one or the other mindsets that Mickey and Ellar Coltrane’s characters represent, and what I loved was your character showed how we can all find common ground. And it’ll be interesting to see if older viewers relate more to your character’s perspective and if younger audiences connect with the kids… even though they represent music-lovers who are our ages now. This film being set in the ‘80s means the nostalgia hits on multiple levels.

You know, I’m like one of the few adults in the movie. So, the idea that my character has wisdom, that can be useful to a young man who is trying to impress a girl…he just, he doesn’t know what to do and I sense that and help him figure out how to do a better job. So there’s that. One of the scenes talks about rock stars that you idolize and how bands break up all the time, and they’re gonna get older and they’re gonna say things that are gonna turn you off and go against everything they ever stood for. When you’re young you’re putting all of these eggs into this basket of worship, and they’re just going to disappoint you, which is a very cynical way of thinking. But I think what my character needs is the ability to open up because he’s also had his heart broken and he’s never really been able to reconcile it. Through the music of The Smiths and through Ellar’s character opening up, my character becomes a little more sensitive, and I think his character a little tougher, a little cooler.

Speaking of worship, fandom, and being disappointed sometimes, are you aware that a lot of fans feel that way about The Smiths singer? Morrissey’s fanbase has always been hardcore, but in recent years there’s been a bit of a backlash due to some of his political beliefs. I’m a Smiths fan but I’ve lost respect for Moz due to these issues.

Well, I’m a huge Smiths fan too. So yeah, I’m aware. We started making the film 10 years ago, Well, I read the script and met with Stephen [tl] about 10 years ago so that was a different climate. The things that you’re referring to, hadn’t been said… Our film isn’t about that– it’s not even really about Morrissey. It’s about the teenagers who were affected by the breakup of the greatest band of all time. And if you talk about the band’s influence on kids in 1987, oh my god, they were huge. Morrissey was worshiped like Elvis. If you went to a Morrissey concert there’d be boys and girls crying.

Oh yeah for sure. I think that especially in this day and age, we have to ask ourselves the age-old question: can we appreciate the art and even separate it if we don’t like everything that the artist did in their lives. I mean, clearly a lot of people can and do, but then there are some that can’t and I guess that’s a personal decision.

Yeah and that topic didn’t necessarily have to be broached for our film because like I said, we were shooting scenes set in a certain time.

Ellar Coltrane as Dean in Shoplifters of the World

The film feels like a snapshot of a certain time, and for a lot of us, The Smiths and Morrissey’s voice will take us back to that time and that innocence we felt, no matter what. 

Yeah and that’s why I think as filmmakers, our job was to ensure that the film felt like an authentic experience rather than a caricature of the 1980s.

I think you guys pulled it off and I really enjoyed it.

So shifting gears, I’m not a big superhero movie watcher, but like everyone else who has HBO, I did watch the Zack Snyder Justice League cut and was happy to see you in the end.  What can you tell us about your role in the theatrical release versus the new cut? 

Okay, so I was cast by Ben Affleck to play the main villain in his Batman. The plan was to tease our Batman movie and give the first glimpse of me as the villain Deathstroke in the end credit scene in Justice League. 

Four and a half years ago I shot the scene on the yacht with Lex Luther. When Batman was canceled, the studio went in and ADR-ed Jesse Eisenberg’s dialogue and re-shot with him in a bald cap to tease a Justice League part two, which never happened, without me even knowing they did that. I’d signed on for the Batman movie but when it was canceled, I thought, okay, they’re just gonna throw that scene out. But that wasn’t the case. They altered it to tease a part two, which I was not signed on for. So that’s what appeared at the end of the original theatrical cut of Justice League.

Now, what you see at the end of the Zack cut is the restoration of the scene that teases me going after Batman. You know Lex Luther tells me his name and his secret identity and now I’m gonna go find him and kill him. So that was the restored scene. Then Zack called me back in to officially basically invite me into his Snyderverse, where I then came in to film the nightmare sequence.

Deathstroke in Justice League

Is there anything you can share with us about your future in the DC Universe?

I mean it’s been an up and down. There’s been about six different projects starring my character that have all been in development, in the middle of being negotiated, or that have been canceled so that’s kind of– that’ll be a chapter in my book, the roller coaster of the past five years.

Would you like to pursue more with the Deathstroke character?

Well I wrote the story for an origin film prior to the mass exodus of executives that happened after Justice League came out in theaters. The entire studio was reshuffled. The people who were champions of my origin film left the studio. And the next regime that came in did not see that film as a priority. The old regime was in negotiations with Gareth Evans, the director of The Raid movies, to direct this origin story so, like, do I have a story? Would I love to be able to take all of that, take all those old notes and turn it into like a serious character? Yes.

Maybe this new version of Justice League will get people excited again for the character. So do you have anything else you’ve been working on? 

There’s Archenemy and another film, Spine of Night, an animated Rotoscope film that I recorded seven years ago; it just played South by Southwest last week and it’s got worldwide distribution. That’s going to be coming out in the next year at some point,  so that’s very exciting. My character just debuted on the Disney cartoon Big City GreensI’m the voice of  Viper Fang who is the arch nemesis of Danny Trejo’s Tiger Fang. I have an animated film called Koati which is about the Latin American animals of the jungle that Sophia [Vergara, his wife] produced and does a voice in. I play the fatherly panther in that movie, and that’s coming out, so that’s fun. And I voiced a 3D animated series that is being directed by Zack Snyder, it’s part of his zombie universe for Netflix.   ❖

Shoplifters of the World is currently in select theaters, available to rent now on VOD and digital including Amazon Prime.

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Simply the Best: Tina Turner, Woody Allen, Q-Anon and More Get the Documentary Treatment

Documentaries are dominating the streaming TV space as of late and there are quite a few worth your time this month. From music legend Tina Turner to the college admissions scandal to Q-Anon to the Woody Allen versus Mia Farrow saga, the recent releases by HBO and Netflix prove that truth is still stranger than fiction, especially when the people involved have different versions. The best docs give us detailed facts and participants willing to share everything so that we can consider our own opinions, as most of these films do.

Tina Turner could sing the phone book and it’d be soul-scorchingly rousing. She is undeniably one of the most iconic and powerful voices of all time. This is a woman who can cover the Stones, Zeppelin and The Beatles for example, and not just hold her own but often blow the originals out of the water. As a fan of her Ike & Tina Turner period, there is almost a guilty feeling for some of us, though; she was going through so much pain at the time even as she brought so much beautiful energy and joy to stage and record. TINA doesn’t necessarily reveal anything that we didn’t already know about her abusive marriage to Ike, but it does make us see how it hard it was for her to forge her own path after she told the world the truth. Having to rehash and revisit that time in her life for media was like ripping off a scab over and over again so that the wound underneath was never allow to heal. The doc has lots of sad but not surprising moments, such as when she tells a packed house on opening night of What’s Love Got To Do With It (her biopic starring Angela Bassett) that she hadn’t even seen the film. It was obviously too painful. Despite the dark stuff, her story is uplifting. As we see the tempestuous trajectory of her life unfold in this heart-wrenching chronicle, we also get some astounding musical performances, and even a sort of happy ending with a new sit-down featuring the star herself sharing her life the past several years. She reveals details about how after a lifetime of never feeling truly loved, she met her adoring husband Erwin Bach in the ’80s. Bach, Bassett, Kurt Loder, Oprah Winfrey, and more share their takes on Turner’s talents and journey as music’s most visceral rock & roll soul queen. A lot is made of her rock influences so it would’ve been nice to hear from her legendary rockstar peers -like say, Mick Jagger- alongside the other talking heads, but directors Dan Lindsay and T.J. Martin had a lot to work with on this one and what they did include makes for a more then respectable and extremely touching tribute.

Woody Allen’s transgressions and alleged abuses are well documented. His adopted daughter Dylan Farrow says that the director molested her as a child in her mother Mia Farrow’s Connecticut home. Just before this occurred in 1992, Farrow found naked pictures of her other, college-aged daughter Soon Yi Previn, at Woody’s apartment; they had clearly been having an affair. In the HBO docuseries Allen vs. Farrow, the whole sordid family drama is aired out, and while it is slanted in Farrow’s favor, it’s got the eyewitnesses and research to back up its stances. The four-part exploration directed by Kirby Dick and Amy Ziering (who tackled similar territory in On the Record, about the sexual misconduct in the hip-hop world) makes a compelling case against Allen with never before seen documents, sworn testimony and interviews. Dylan is not only believable but assured, as are the siblings who appear and share their memories and perspectives. Farrow too, seems relatable and real here though anyone who’s followed her story or sought to understand both sides of her and Woody’s union and breakup might have shreds of doubt about her intentions and even psyche. If you want to explore this more, as sort of a balance to what’s presented in HBO’s docuseries, Oh By The Way, Woody Allen is Innocent on YouTube, equally biased — in Allen’s favor — is a good comprehensive start. After viewing both we still feel Allen v. Farrow, and Dylan in particular, more credible. Whatever you might believe as a viewer, it’s a fascinating reconsideration of an iconic filmmaker’s artistic choices and personal character that needed to happen now.

Matthew Modine playing a guy who helps high school students get into fancy colleges by pretending to play sports (and other lies) makes for some interesting irony; older viewers will probably never forget him as a high school wrestler in the Madonna music-fueled 80’s classic Vision Quest. Modine offers a believable portrayal of one slimy silver-haired Rick Singer, the man at the center of the college admissions scandal which involved Hollywood bigwigs and uber-rich power players paying hundreds of thousands of dollars to get their kids into the most prestigious universities in the U.S. Singer promised to provide a “side door” for these families to gain entry via SAT cheating and outright untruths about their athleticism, all without the kids knowing, the later fact many of us probably never really believed. In this absorbing doc, actual phone conversations taped by the FBI are re-enacted, proving that many parents were as focused on the dupe of their sons and daughters as their colleges of choice — to protect both their offspring’s legal liability and just as likely, their snowflakey feelings. This is a story about privilege and how those who have it often don’t even realize it because they have been raised a certain way. Utilizing media footage, interviews, and reenactments that are far less esoteric than those in the similarly structured The Social Dilemma, this film looks at how Singer not only worked the system over and over and then did it again, when he threw his cohorts under the bus as an informant.  Director Chris Smith (whose doc about the ill-fated Fyre festival in 2019 was the better of two that came out) shows off his storytelling skills here just as well, but the celeb-specked scandal and comeuppance-filled climax kinda made that easy.

We struggled to stay with this three-part series from filmmakers Jared Hess (Napoleon Dynamite) and Tyler Measom (Jesus Town, USA) about Mormonism and misconduct of many types. The religion serves as basis of the story, which also explores forgery of historical documents and an incident involving a bombing and a double murder. Okay it sounds intriguing, but somehow it’s not. The film presents a complicated tale in a formulaic way, but mostly, it’s the lack of charisma from all involved that make this one a meh.

As they did with Allen vs. Farrow, HBO is rolling out the new Q-Anon doc in weekly increments, which might be frustrating for bingers but makes for anticipatory viewing or what programming exec’s like to call “event TV.” Q-Anon and its followers are pretty fascinating no matter what side you are on politically, though middle/right-leaning folks are surely embarrassed by them. This thorough look at the conspiracy group and its origins and key players wont help matters. Some come off reasonably intelligent, while others come off as total wackadoodles. The code words, the wild theories, the in-fighting and of course, the salaciousness involving movie stars and baby blood drinking are fascinating to hear explained, especially by people who believe it all, and so far the first couple episodes have packed a lot in. You might even have to re-watch to fully understand the computer nerd/web-centric components and how everyone fits together. Part one explained how it all started online via 4chan, social media and a slew of You Tube channels and podcasts, while Part 2 featured 8chan founder Frederick Brennan and father/son duo Jim and Ron Watkins, who took over 2016.  As of now, director/narrator/interviewer Cullen Hobeck seems focused on one question: who is Q? Yeah we all wanna know, but a lot more context is needed and hopefully coming. This insidery look is understandably not very relatable, but it’s also not very critical, and we probably all agree that after the Capitol insurrection and Trump’s attempted gaslighting of the country about election fraud, critique and tough questions for Q are a must. ❖