Categories
CULTURE ARCHIVES FILM ARCHIVES Media NEW YORK CITY ARCHIVES NYC ARCHIVES TV ARCHIVES VOICE CHOICES ARCHIVES

Why We Need Comedy

Whatever it is New Yorkers want out of life — and it’s not even something we can precisely define ourselves — it was nowhere in evidence on December 3, when a grand jury failed to indict the police officer whose chokehold killed Eric Garner in July. We all know we live in a fractured city; none of us wants to think of it as a truly broken one, though as it turns out, our country seems genuinely broken too. We live in a place where the name “Ferguson” has come to stand for a million brutal inequities that can seem impossible to change or correct.

Chris Rock couldn’t have planned it this way, but his exuberant and wondrous comedy Top Five, opening at just the right time, is like an airdrop of candy over the city, if not the country. That’s not to say Rock glosses over serious issues, or, for that matter, that he hits them hard. But somehow Top Five has its finger on the pulse of right now, not just in terms of race in America — the movie is less about race than about just plain people — but in terms of how we’re all trying to do the best we can, with no money, no jobs, a buttload of creeps in Congress, and dashed hopes of anything coming close to equality or fairness. The story of a hugely successful comedian and actor — played by Rock himself — who turns away from comedy because he just doesn’t “feel funny anymore,” Top Five is a reminder that as often as comedy fails us, sometimes it’s our best hope for resuscitation. Seeing it at the end of a crap week, I suddenly felt I could breathe again.

Rock’s Andre Allen has made a ton of money, and risen to great fame, playing a crime-fighting furball known as Hammy the Bear. But something in his life is cracked, and comedy doesn’t fill the gaps anymore. He’s just released a more-serious-than-thou historical drama about the Haitian Revolution (it’s called Uprize), and he’s about to tie the knot with a reality-TV star, Gabrielle Union’s Erica, a woman he seemingly loves, though he’s not quite comfortable with the fact that she’s turning their wedding into a media circus. On his movie’s opening day, he’s set to be interviewed by a New York Times reporter, Rosario Dawson’s Chelsea Brown. The two wander the city, walking and talking, laughing and bickering, trying to suss out which elements of their conversation are typical star-vs.-journalist BS and which might actually be some kind of truth.

Andre and Chelsea swing by to see some of Andre’s old friends and relatives, among them Leslie Jones’s combative — and hilarious — Lisa, who has her doubts about the direction Andre’s personal life is taking, and Tracy Morgan’s crazy-marvelous Fred, who appears to have been beamed from Planet Zontar just to sprawl on a couch
and make totally out-there observations about Andre’s prosperous present and his rougher, rowdier past in the ‘hood. As
Andre and Chelsea pass a public housing project, Andre makes a surprise reconnection with another figure from his past (Ben Vereen) — the sequence ends with both a wisp of bitterness and a wistful curlicue, the sort of complicated moment that even
a more seasoned star-director-writer might not be able to pull off.

Top Five moves fast and almost never lets up. It’s both lighter on its feet and more piercing than either of the two movies Rock has previously directed, the clumsy 2003 black-president fantasy Head of State and the more graceful 2007 I Think I Love My Wife (a sort-of remake of Eric Rohmer’s Love in the Afternoon). Its jokes unfold in complex layers: They’re rarely just race-related, or political, or connected to the universal needs and wants of human beings — often they’re all three at once, and catching
every nuance can be a challenge. Rock has packed the movie not so much with “black” humor as with humor, period, though you might enjoy the madness more if you can instantly recognize, say, DMX, just one of the constellation of
superb cameos. (Then again, even if you don’t, you’ll still get a charge out of his heartfelt rendition of “Smile,” from
behind the bars of a jail cell, no less.)
And one of the high points of my moviegoing month, if not my year, was hearing
Cedric the Entertainer’s magnificent pronunciation of duvet — he stretches out the first syllable, ensuring that the word sounds like something at once both deeply luxurious and dirty as hell.

There’s a smattering of crude humor in Top Five, most of it extremely funny and good-natured. (One homophobic
gag hits a sour note.) But its greatest joy comes from watching Dawson and Rock together, mapping out the city on foot and by hired car, claiming it, block by block, as their own. As shot by Manuel Alberto Claro, modern New York — a place where the small mom’n’pop stores and restaurants we love seem to be closing by the day — looks strangely and comfortingly timeless. At one point Andre’s bodyguard, played by the delightful J.B. Smoove, warns him sternly about the dangers of the streets even as they stand at Sixth and Greenwich, one of the prettiest, liveliest, and whitest intersections of the city.

Dawson and Rock, the central figures in this wily wonderland, are
a terrific match: Dawson, her eyes as large and expressive as a doe’s, is a screwball Nefertiti. And Rock has barely aged a whit in the past 10 years. He still has the goofy gangliness of a teenager, though his jokes are purely adult in their sharpness. At one point, Andre and his pals wonder aloud if Tupac, had
he lived, would be a senator today. Andre offers the suggestion that he might just be “playing the bad, dark-skinned boyfriend in a Tyler Perry movie.”

In the world we live in — sometimes
remarkable, sometimes so depressing we wonder if it’s even worth it to get out of bed — either is possible. Rock knows the truth of that as well as anyone. There are two scenes in Top Five in which Andre is grabbed and beaten by cops — these are brief, fleeting sequences, edited to be fast and funny, and though you may not
believe it until you see them, they actually are. Their honesty is cutting. This is Rock saying, “Here’s the reality of being a black man in America.” These two scenes, wedged casually into a comedy, are more effective than any earnest, straight-faced statement Rock could make. That his movie is mostly a work of joy makes them even more potent. Sometimes there’s no choice but to laugh till it hurts.

Categories
BOOKS ARCHIVES CULTURE ARCHIVES Media Neighborhoods NEW YORK CITY ARCHIVES NYC ARCHIVES VOICE CHOICES ARCHIVES Where To

RECORD DEAL

In Do Not Sell At Any Price, Amanda Petrusich describes approaching a roomful of 78 rpm records “like a chimpanzee devouring a pile of ripe bananas.” Made of shellac and producing 78 revolutions per minute (modern CDs spin 200-460 times per minute), with grooves so large that the discs can only hold 3 minutes of music per side, these rare records were last seen commercially in the mid-1950s. Petrusich, a music critic for the New York Times and Pitchfork, joins fellow 78 collectors Nathan Salsburg and Chris King, as well as the old-timey Strung Out String Band, under the glass ceiling of Brooklyn’s favorite literary greenhouse to celebrate these nearly-extinct artifacts and the eccentrics who hunt them down. Before 1925, artists sang directly into the horns of gramophones in order to record 78s acoustically. 78s recorded before that year have yet to be discovered, but the evening promises a similar intimacy.

Fri., July 11, 7 p.m., 2014

Categories
Media NEW YORK CITY ARCHIVES NEWS & POLITICS ARCHIVES NYC ARCHIVES THE FRONT ARCHIVES

The Headless Horse Ban

Bill de Blasio started his mayorship with a promise to ban horse drawn carriages “immediately,” vowing that he’d end the Central Park tradition his first week in office.

At a pre-inauguration press conference, he promised, “We are going to quickly and aggressively move to make horse carriges no longer a part of the landscape in New York City. They are not humane… it’s over.”

But four months later, that promise is falling apart. The carriage industry has launched an intense public relations campaign against the ban, one that seems to be working. The New York Times, the Daily News and the Post have all come out against the ban, and a recent poll showed weakening public support for the idea. A number of City Council members no longer seem sure they’ll vote for the ban, even one who sponsored a similar ban bill last session.

As the fight drags on, it’s getting nastier and weirder. Animal rights group NYCLASS, the main organization behind the ban, has thrown all of their time and money into an unrealistic, wildly expensive plan to replace the carriages with electric-powered vintage replica cars, an idea that virtually no one else supports.

On the other side, the carriage industry is getting support from an increasingly odd group of people, including Liam Neeson and a shadowy, Missouri-based lobbying group who advocate for the rights of animal owners to do whatever they want with their animals, and thinks it should be legal in the U.S. to slaughter horses for food.

Read the full story in this week’s Village Voice.

Categories
Bars Living Media NEW YORK CITY ARCHIVES NYC ARCHIVES VOICE CHOICES ARCHIVES Where To

WAR STORIES

Twelve years ago, New York Times 
reporter C.J. Chivers was working at 
police headquarters in Lower Manhattan when the Twin Towers were attacked. “I remember the exhaustion,” he told Esquire, “almost not sleeping for two weeks at Ground Zero. I remember the confusion.” A former Marine in the Persian Gulf War, he later put his military experience to use as a war correspondent, covering the conflicts in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Libya, and elsewhere. Tonight at War Correspondents: Covering 9/11, Its Aftermath, and the Middle East Today, former AP foreign correspondent Steve Hindy interviews Chivers about his memories of 9/11 and his experience in the Middle East. The work of Italian photographer Fabio Bucciarelli, whose photos of the Syrian conflict earned him a Robert Capa Gold Medal, is also on display. All proceeds benefit RISC (Reporters Instructed in Saving Colleagues).

Wed., Sept. 11, 7:30 p.m., 2013

Categories
Datebook Events Listings Living Media NEW YORK CITY ARCHIVES NYC ARCHIVES VOICE CHOICES ARCHIVES Where To

GROWING PAINS

“I could only have imagined this happening, if I was lucky, when I’m in my seventies,” playwright Lucy Thurber told The New York Times. Thurber was selected 
as the first playwright to receive a retrospective in Rattlestick’s inaugural Theater: Village festival, which will annually put on five plays simultaneously at various venues linked together by a playwright 
or theme. Thurber’s The Hill Town Plays follows one woman from her childhood growing up in a poor, abusive home in 
a western Massachusetts town to 
exploring her sexuality as a teenager to becoming a successful writer as an adult. With the $125 five-play pass, you can 
work your way through all of them in 
order: Scarcity (Cherry Lane), Ashville (the world premiere at the Cherry Lane), Where We’re Born (Rattlestick), Killers and Other Family (Axis), and Stay (New Ohio).

Mondays-Sundays, 8 p.m. Starts: Sept. 1. Continues through Sept. 28, 2013

Categories
CULTURE ARCHIVES Datebook Events FOOD ARCHIVES Listings Media MUSIC ARCHIVES NEW YORK CITY ARCHIVES NYC ARCHIVES VOICE CHOICES ARCHIVES Where To

COMIC RELIEF

Did you know that Mario Batali’s Crocs can double as pasta-makers? Or that Anna Wintour takes power naps in a Louis Vuitton trunk? Or that Martha Stewart hot-glues dildos to her oven knobs when she’s drunk? OK, OK, none of that is true (that we know of). Rather, these hilarious scenarios are what Brooklyn-based illustrator and cartoonist Lisa Hanawalt has dreamed up in her first book, My Dirty Dumb Eyes. A contributor to The New York Times, Vanity Fair, and McSweeney’s, Hanawalt turns her idiosyncratic eye to subjects such as The Vow (which ends with her explaining why a rat eating a churro is more romantic than the Channing Tatum film), the types of hats you might see animals wearing at Fashion Week (like a Chia Pet pillbox), and all things scatological (including a “stool chart” of the feces of different animals). Get to know how her strange and brilliant mind works at tonight’s launch party.

Mon., May 20, 7 p.m., 2013

Categories
Datebook Media Museums & Galleries NEW YORK CITY ARCHIVES NYC ARCHIVES VOICE CHOICES ARCHIVES Where To

URBAN LEGEND

Jean-Michel Basquiat was only 27 when he died of a drug overdose in 1988, and the art world has never seen anything like him since. See what made him so unforgettable and his work so valuable (last year, one of his paintings sold at auction for $16.3 million, according to The New York Times) at Gagosian Gallery, which is presenting nearly 60 of his wild, energetic, colorful works done in a mixture of collage, oil and acrylic paint, oil stick, spray enamel, and Magic Marker. The first New York exhibition on Basquiat since the Brooklyn Museum’s retrospective in 2005, the show includes his tributes to black boxing champs, such as Cassius Clay (1982) and Untitled (Sugar Ray Robinson) (1982), as well as one of his final paintings, eerily titled Riding With Death (1988).

Tuesdays-Saturdays, 10 a.m. Starts: Feb. 7. Continues through April 16, 2013

Categories
Media NEW YORK CITY ARCHIVES NYC ARCHIVES VOICE CHOICES ARCHIVES Where To

SHAKESPEARE SPECIALISTS

Anytime there’s an opportunity to see John Douglas Thompson on stage, it should never be passed up. And it especially shouldn’t be when then ticket is just $20. The actor, who won an Obie for his powerful turn in Othello (Theater for a New Audience) and was called “one of the most compelling classical stage actors of his generation” by The New York Times, will be at the Pearl Theater for a one-night-only open rehearsal of Julius Caesar. Thompson, who made his Broadway debut as Flavius opposite Denzel Washington in Julius Caesar, will, this time, take on the part of Brutus. Rob Clare, who is a leading actor and text coach for the Royal Shakespeare Company, the Goodman Theater, and NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts, plays Cassius under the direction of Michael Sexton. Alas, if only we could tell you this show was happening on the Ides of March.

Mon., March 18, 7 p.m., 2013

Categories
Media NEW YORK CITY ARCHIVES NYC ARCHIVES VOICE CHOICES ARCHIVES Where To

PICKING SATIRE’S BRAIN

Perennially bearded and bespectacled, 
author and professor George Saunders has made a living playing the savvy spectator of our consumer culture in his essays, novels, and short stories. In his newest collection, Tenth of December: Stories, which The New York Times glowingly lauded as “the best book you’ll read this year,” 
Saunders uses a robust arsenal of characters as the collection’s engine. His work often echoes Vonnegut’s in its tone and toughness but, in its own way, remains merciful, despite it darkness. Dick Cavett moderates a discussion with Saunders about the author’s life at the New York Public Library.

Tue., Feb. 26, 7 p.m., 2013

Categories
Media NEW YORK CITY ARCHIVES NEWS & POLITICS ARCHIVES NYC ARCHIVES THE FRONT ARCHIVES

The Rat Czar Plots His Ascent

It was an ugly meeting last week when the Metropolitan Transit Authority’s board voted to raise transit fares. Members of the public were furious; even the MTA board members who voted for the hike called it “a sad day,” pointing out that, once again, poor New Yorkers were going to feel it most acutely.

But the board’s chairman, Joseph Lhota, didn’t want to let the meeting end on a down note. As soon as the increase was approved, Lhota moved on to sunnier news: After less than a year at the helm of his generally foundering ship, he was stepping down to explore running as a Republican to become mayor of New York City.

It takes some balls to walk away from an agency teetering on the edge of structural collapse, mere minutes after sticking straphangers with yet another bill, and then tell the press that your departure to pursue your own political advancement is “bittersweet.” But no one has ever accused Lhota of lacking balls.

Politically, Lhota is a creature of Rudy Giuliani, a man he has called “the most energetic and intelligent person I’ve ever had the chance to work for.” Lhota’s wife, Tamra, raised thousands of dollars for Giuliani’s mayoral campaigns, and a few months after Rudy was elected, he brought Joe on board. Lhota quickly ascended from being a deputy mayor’s chief of staff to finance commissioner, budget director, and deputy mayor.

Those titles all paled in comparison to “Rat Czar,” the vivid honorific Lhota assumed as the administration’s expert on pest-control issues. As Rat Czar, he tabulated the city’s rat complaints and extermination missions and urged residents to put lids on their trash cans.

But Lhota was even more useful to Giuliani as the Imperial Mayor’s top attack dog, taking to the role with gusto—and an overweening vocabulary. When the New York Public Interest Research Group’s Gene Russianoff knocked Giuliani’s charter revision commission in the mayor’s first term, Lhota told him to “apprehend your hubris and rethink your definition of democracy.”

In 1998, Lhota was busted for calling Wall Street firms to talk them out of attending a fundraising dinner for the Citizens Budget Commission, a watchdog group critical of Giuliani. In 2000, a New York Times reporter wrote about Lhota giving her the finger.

Even after Giuliani left office, Lhota ran interference for him. When it was revealed that Giuliani was using a taxpayer-funded police detail for security during his trysts with his mistress, Lhota said the creative accounting that hid the expense was commonplace and predated Giuliani. Confronted with the reality that the sneaky bookkeeping was, in fact, a Giuliani innovation, Lhota folded immediately, telling the press, “I’m going to reverse myself on that.”

This past February, Lhota had to apologize after picking a fight with State Senator Bill Perkins over his old pet topic, rat control. He had told The New York Times that “as a legislator, he does nothing but talk and talk and talk, and he does nothing.” By the next day, he was eating his words: “Bill is an excellent legislator,” he wrote. “I share his commitment to addressing the problem of rat proliferation in New York City.”

In September, when MTA board member Charles Moerdler pushed back on Lhota’s drive to reduce the number of times the transit board meets, Lhota exploded, challenging Moerdler to “be a man,” accusing him of “blubbering,” and daring him to step outside.

Last month, Lhota had to apologize again, for telling the press that Mayor Bloomberg was behaving “like an idiot” in offering projections of when storm-damaged transit service would come back on line.

As a mayoral candidate, Lhota’s got some ground to cover. A November Quinnipiac Poll found him pulling 9 percent versus a generic Democrat’s 60 percent.

But if New Yorkers aren’t ready for a return to Giuliani time, team Giuliani certainly is. Unnamed sources have already told the New York Post that “Giuliani’s circle believes it can raise $10 million for him to run.” After Rudy’s catastrophic presidential bid and general evaporation from the national stage, you can almost hear him and his crew dunning the Czar for sinecures and comfy consultancies. Maybe there will even be room for Rudy’s former right hand, Bernie Kerik, once he’s released from federal prison.

Of course, the “business community” is just as eager for a Lhota administration. Never slow with a dog whistle, they are already hailing the candidacy of a Rudy lieutenant as an opportunity for the city to consider what New York was like before America’s Mayor made it “vibrant and safe and livable.”

A Lhota campaign will at least make the mayoral race more interesting. As a former investment banker and the Giuliani standard-bearer, Lhota could give Bloomberg’s anointed successor, Christine Quinn, a run for her money with Wall Street. For that matter, the Bronx- and Queens-raised son of a cop and his wife could be a more comfortable choice for outer-borough blue-collar voters than Quinn and hers.

Even if Lhota’s candidacy is shorter than a rat’s gestation period (“21 days,” he once informed a reporter), the members of the press are glad he’s rolling the dice. However you describe him—frank, spirited, belligerent, bullying—he’s a damn sight more colorful than the gray-faced hopefuls in the race so far. Let the bird-flipping begin.

npinto@villagevoice.com