Tag Archives: comic

‘Captain Fantastic’ and the fantasy of a perfect world

Captain Fantastic is about the fantasy of being able to create a perfect world for your children, and the crushing realization that such control is ultimately impossible. Ben (Viggo Mortensen) pursues this ideal in a particularly extreme way – by removing his family from society altogether and creating his own little utopia in the Pacific Northwest wilderness.

We meet the family in the midst of a hunt. They’re all covered in camouflaging mud. The eldest, Bo (George MacKay), slaughters an animal, and Ben tells him that he is a man now. Primitive though the ritual may be, this family is not. Far from it. They are survivalist philosopher kings – highly educated and extremely self-sufficient.

Ranging in age from single digits to late teens, the six children, Nai (Charlie Shotwell), Zaja (Shree Crooks), Rellian (Nicholas Hamilton, who resembles young River Phoenix), Vespyr (Annalise Basso), Kielyr (Samantha Isler) and Bo have been molded in Ben’s very specific image. And, for the most part, they worship their father and their lifestyle – Noam Chomsky day and all.

The casting director should win an award for finding these truly excellent young performers, who shine alongside the always wonderful Mortensen.

But the cracks are starting to show in this little family unit, and not just because normal hormones and attitudes are emerging.

“I’m not a Trotskyist any more. I’m a Maoist!” Bo says in an angsty teenage huff at one point.

No, there is something more serious festering. Their mother, Leslie (Trin Miller), has been away for three months, hospitalized with severe depression. The kids miss her dearly, and her absence is becoming an issue. But we never get the chance to really meet her. Ben finds out early in the film that she’s killed herself.

He tells the kids this fact very frankly. Ben never lies to his children. He trusts that they can handle the truth, whether it’s the circumstances of their mother’s death and mental illness or the littlest one asking what rape is.

The death forces the family out of their little paradise and into the real world to attend her funeral in Arizona – even though Leslie’s grieving father Jack (Frank Langella) has threatened to arrest Ben if he shows up. But, c’mon. It’s their mother. Of course they’re going to go.

“Grandpa can’t oppress us!” the youngest exclaims.

So, they pack up their rickety green school bus and venture down from their ivory tower to go south, into the depths of the America that Ben hates. The younger ones have been so sheltered that they’ve never heard of Coke or Nike, or seen an obese person. Things get especially tense when they meet Ben’s sister (Kathryn Hahn) and her family and disrupt their suburban normalcy.

While the kids seem happy, all outsiders are pretty much in agreement that Ben is unfit to parent. Unlike Harrison Ford’s unsympathetic Mosquito Coast protagonist, however, Ben clearly loves his family deeply and genuinely thinks that his way is the best way. This struggle between the individual parent and society’s expectations is one without an easy resolution. Both are right and wrong.

The film veers into cloying sentimentality a little too often, and, some might tire of Ben’s philosophies. But, that also just means that there’s room for his character to grow too.

Captain Fantastic is the second feature from writer-director Matt Ross (his first was the affair drama “28 Rooms), who is currently best known for his acting. In addition to over two decades in the movies, Ross plays the tech titan Gavin Belson on HBO’s Silicon Valley. I imagine a film of the caliber of Captain Fantastic is bound to change that – this is no flash in the pan success. It’s a single, beautifully realized vision with edge and a true heart.

NAACP: The use of the n-word at White House Correspondents’ Dinner

Cornell William Brooks is president and CEO of the NAACP. He issued the following  about remarks made at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner on April 30 in Washington, D.C.

On The Nightly Show and in many other programs, Larry Wilmore is a thoughtful and courageous comedian who consistently makes us laugh by confronting the ugly contradictions we see in our government, media, and society.

I assume that Mr. Wilmore was sincere in humorously criticizing, commending and mocking the president during the dinner. Context, like race, matters.  The n-word has a long history of hate. It doesn’t matter whether the people listening are wearing tuxedos and gowns, the racist ugliness of it cannot be forgotten. Many in the audience clearly believed he had crossed a line in his final remarks.

In this election year, we have consistently reminded candidates that the words they choose have meaning and consequence. Even a seemingly “friendly” form of the n-word ending in “ga” rather than “ger” insults many in our nation even when meant to compliment our president.

While it may be common to use the n-word as a racial obscenity for effect with a crowd in a night club or among acquaintances in a locker room or a rhyme in a song, the n-word, as racist profanity, should not be in the same sentence or the same room as the President of the United States.

The fact that President Barack Obama is the first African-American to hold the highest office in this country should not be a license for undue racial familiarity or racialized disrespect.

For many years now, the NAACP has maintained that the n-word does nothing to foster real and meaningful conversations our country needs to have about race, class, segregation and tolerance in our nation and we are, once again, sadly disappointed by its perpetuation in our national dialogue. With a vocabulary of America’s aspirations, the NAACP strives for a day when the n-word refers to a ‘nation’ indivisible by race, class, color, creed or slurs.

On the Web…
At the dinner.

Founded Feb. 12. 1909, the NAACP is the nation’s oldest, largest and most widely recognized grassroots–based civil rights organization. Its more than half-million members and supporters throughout the United States and the world are the premier advocates for civil rights in their communities, conducting voter mobilization and monitoring equal opportunity in the public and private sectors.


Review: ‘Grandma’ is brisk, bittersweet and totally Tomlin’s film

A movie about a wisecracking grandma and her teen granddaughter, racing around in a beat-up car to find $600 by nightfall. You might think it sounds like any number of mediocre road comedies out there, full of trite generational gags and sporting a sappy, all-is-forgiven ending.

You’d be very wrong.

“Grandma” is, instead, a brisk, bittersweet and moving film, rightfully devoted to displaying the singular talent of Lily Tomlin – especially her striking ability to fuse acerbity and crankiness with empathy and humanity, and to find the essential lovability way, way down at the core of an unlikeable person.

The film, directed and written by Paul Weitz, is also about abortion, a theme that could easily have taken over every line and frame. But somehow, it leaves us thinking even more about what it means to be someone’s mother, someone’s daughter, someone’s granddaughter – and what it means to grow old. Credit for that last part goes to Tomlin and also to Sam Elliott, who darned near steals the show in a scene with Tomlin that, well, they should immediately start showing in acting classes – to demonstrate what two actors can convey in just a few minutes about a lifelong relationship.

Tomlin is Elle, a brilliant poet and professor who, perhaps due to her facility with words, doesn’t mince them. We meet Elle in her living room, mid-breakup with her younger girlfriend (Judy Greer). “You were a footnote,” Elle tells her lover, with resigned honesty more than spite. But in the shower later, alone, she weeps.

We soon learn Elle is still suffering the loss of her longtime romantic partner, Violet, which explains much of her bitterness. She’s also clearly at odds with her stressed, workaholic daughter, Judy (Marcia Gay Harden, pitch-perfect). But when teen granddaughter Sage (Julia Garner, appealingly natural) comes knocking, Elle’s ready to help.

Turns out Sage needs an abortion, and fast; the only free appointment is that evening, and it’s $600, which has Elle immediately ranting about how it’s impossible to get a reasonably priced abortion these days. Sage has no money, but doesn’t want to bring her judgmental mother into the picture. Elle herself is fairly broke, scraping by on a college writer-in-residence gig. She’s recently paid off her debt and cut her credit cards into scraps, which now serve as wind chimes.

Elle is angry – as we see in an unnervingly funny mini-breakdown she has in a coffee shop – but not at Sage. First, she’s angry at Sage’s obnoxious, good-for-nothing boyfriend, who has no intention of contributing to the abortion until Elle pretty much beats him – physically – into submission and grabs the few dollars he has. They also try Elle’s old friend Deathy (Laverne Cox, of “Orange is the New Black”), a tattoo artist who can only offer a free tattoo.

Elle has one more idea: Karl, an old flame. She shows up on his doorstep, and at first, it seems like it’ll be an easy solution. But then the layers of the onion get peeled back – suddenly, startlingly. Karl’s laconic demeanor and sexy drawl make it all the more shocking when his emotion – rage, resentment, and more – comes gushing forth. The scene is not to be missed.

Of course, Judy (Harden) eventually must emerge, and she’s a trip: She works at a treadmill desk, and has espresso running through her veins. But Judy isn’t the shrew she initially seems. In one of the better scenes, three generations of women come together for a moment – very brief – in which it becomes clear that even in the nuttiest families, there are bonds that supersede all that craziness.

We won’t spoil the story, but in the end, it’s just Elle on the screen. As it should be. Tomlin, at 75, is operating at full throttle, and she deserves that final shot, all alone.

3 cheers for Alison Bechdel

On June 7, the musical based on Alison Bechdel’s graphic memoir “Fun Home” won five Tony Awards, for best musical, best director, best actor, best book and best original musical score. 

“Fun Home” is the little musical that could.

Alison Bechdel spent years drawing her memoir about growing up and discovering she was a lesbian in the context of a dysfunctional family whose father was a closeted gay man. The “Fun Home” of the title is what Bechdel and her brothers called the funeral home their father ran. It’s also an ironic twist on their troubled abode.

Because the story was so personal, Bechdel wasn’t sure it would ever be published. But her mother and brothers consented, and “Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic” was published to positive reviews. It was on many lists of the 10 best books of 2006. It went into development as a theater piece in 2009, played Off-Broadway in 2013 and opened on Broadway this spring.

“Fun Home” is the first Broadway musical with a lesbian protagonist, which is pretty amazing given how many shows with gay and transgender characters have trod the boards for decades. Yet it strikes universal themes. Jeanine Tesori, who won a Tony for the music, said it’s about “trying to grapple with what your parents gifted you with and what they burdened you with.” 

It depicts Bechdel at three stages of her life: as an 11-year-old chafing against limitations and recognizing her incipient lesbianism (“Ring of Keys,” sung by Sydney Lucas on the Tony show); as a college student making love with a woman for the first time (“Changing My Major”); and as a 43-year-old looking back trying to make sense of her crazy family life (“It All Comes Back”). 

The show’s Tony wins give wider recognition to an artist who spent much of her career documenting lesbian life and foibles through her decades-long cartoon series “Dykes to Watch Out For.” 

Begun in the 1980s, “Dykes to Watch Out For” was published in dozens of gay, lesbian and feminist publications. It followed the misadventures of a group of lesbians through self-discoveries, love affairs, break-ups, political arguments and family dramas. 

The strip was remarkable for its multi-sexual, multi-racial, multi-ethnic characters and its commentary on culture and politics. The feminist bookstore owner Jezanna railed against “Bunns & Noodle” stealing her business. The characters attended many an anti-war protest and women’s music festival. They debated and spoofed the latest twists in gender theory.

One comment in a 1985 “Dykes” strip has become a feminist touchstone: the Bechdel test. The character says she’ll only go to movies that fit these criteria: 1) it has to have at least two women in it who 2) talk to each other about 3) something besides a man. See bechdeltest.com.

A month before the Tony Awards, Bechdel made another notable contribution. She filled in as a table sponsor at the PEN America Awards after some writers pulled out to protest the organization giving its Courage Award to the survivors of the French newspaper Charlie Hebdo. Bechdel clearly saw the protesters’ rationale as fallacious. Salman Rushdie quipped: “I hope nobody ever comes after them.”

Three cheers for Alison Bechdel for standing up for artistic freedom, for sharing her life story, for giving hope to young lesbians, and for making the lives of lesbians more visible and relatable to a wider audience.

‘Age of Ultron’ is an Avengers overdose

It will surely stand as one of the most peculiar and possibly ironic entries in a director’s filmography that in between Joss Whedon’s two “Avengers” films there reads “Much Ado About Nothing”: a low-budget, black-and-white Shakespeare adaption sandwiched between two of the most gargantuan blockbusters ever made.

In “Avengers: Age of Ultron,” there is definitely aplenty ado-ing. Too much, certainly, but then again, we come to the Avengers for their clown-car excess of superheroes, their colorful coterie of capes.

What binds Whedon’s spectacles with his Shakespeare are the quips, which sail in iambic pentameter in one and zigzag between explosions in the others. The original 2012 “Avengers” should have had more of them, and there’s even less room in the massive — and massively overstuffed — sequel for Whedon’s dry, self-referential wit.

As a sequel, “Age of Ultron” pushes further into emotionality and complexity, adding up to a full but not particularly satisfying meal of franchise building, and leaving only a bread-crumb trail of Whedon’s banter to follow through the rubble.

The action starts predictably with the Avengers assaulting a remote HYDRA base in the fictional Eastern European republic of Sokovia. They are a weaving force: Robert Downey Jr.’s Iron Man, Chris Hemsworth’s Thor, Mark Ruffalo’s Hulk, Chris Evans’s Captain America, Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow and Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye.

Their powers are as various (supernatural, technological, mythological) as their flaws (Iron Man’s narcissism, the Hulk’s rage, the Black Widow’s regrets). Downey’s glib Tony Stark/Iron Man is the lead-singer equivalent of this super group and, I suspect, the one Whedon likes writing for the most. “I’ve had a long day,” he sighs. “Eugene O’Neill long.”

What “Age of Ultron” has going for it, as such references prove, is a sense of fun, a lack of self-seriousness that persists even when things start going kablooey — something not always evident in other faux-serious superhero films. (See: “Man of Steel,” or rather, don’t.)

In Sokovia, they encounter duplicitous twins: the quick-footed Quicksilver (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and the mystical Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen). The real villain, though, is the titular Ultron, an artificial intelligence that the Scarlet Witch slyly leads Stark to create, birthing not the global protection system he hopes, but a maniacal Frankenstein born, thankfully, with some of his creator’s drollness.

Ultron (James Spader) builds himself a muscular metallic body and begins amassing a robot army to rid the planet of human life. Spader plays Ultron who is too similar to other mechanical monsters to equal Tom Hiddleston’s great Loki, the nemesis of the last “Avengers” film. But Spader’s jocular menace adds plenty. He wickedly hums Pinocchio melodies: “There are no strings on me.”

But the drama of “Age of Ultron” lies only partly in the battle with Ultron. The film is really focused on the fraying dysfunction of the Avengers and their existential quandaries as proficient killers now untethered from the dismantled S.H.I.E.L.D. agency.

There’s not a wrong note in the cast; just about anything with the likes of Spader, Ruffalo, Johansson, Hemsworth and Downey can’t help but entertain. But the dive into the vulnerability of the Avengers doesn’t add much depth (is the home life of an arrow slinger named Hawkeye important?) and saps the film’s zip.

All the character arcs _ the Avengers, the bad guys and the new characters _ are simply too much to tackle, even for a master juggler like Whedon. The movie’s hefty machinery _ the action sequences, the sequel baiting — suck up much of the movie’s oxygen.

In the relentless march forward of the Marvel juggernaut, “Age of Ultron” feels like a movie trying to stay light on its feet but gets swallowed up by a larger power: The Franchise.  

Ellen DeGeneres to host the Oscars in 2014

Ellen DeGeneres will return to host the Oscars for a second time, producers Craig Zadan and Neil Meron announced on Aug. 2.

The Academy Awards will be broadcast live on March 2, 2014, on ABC.

“We are thrilled to have Ellen DeGeneres host the Oscars,” said Zadan and Meron in a statement. “As a longtime friend, we had always hoped to find a project for us to do together, and nothing could be more exciting than teaming up to do the Oscars. There are few stars today who have Ellen’s gift for comedy, with her great warmth and humanity. She is beloved everywhere, and we expect that the audience at the Dolby Theater, and in homes around the globe, will be as excited by this news as we are.”

DeGeneres said, “I am so excited to be hosting the Oscars for the second time. You know what they say – the third time’s the charm.” 

“I agreed with Craig and Neil immediately that Ellen is the ideal host for this year’s show,” said Cheryl Boone Isaacs, Academy president. “We’re looking forward to an entertaining, engaging and fun show.”

Academy CEO Dawn Hudson said, “Ellen is talented, wonderfully spontaneous, and knows how to entertain a worldwide audience. She’s a big fan of the Oscars; we’re huge fans of hers. It’s a perfect match.”

DeGeneres hosted the 79th Academy Awards in 2007, for which she received a Primetime Emmy nomination for Outstanding Individual Performance in a Variety or Music Program.

DeGeneres has made a home for herself in daytime with her hit syndicated talk show, “The Ellen DeGeneres Show,” which has earned a total of 45 Daytime Emmys during its 10 seasons.

Beginning her career as an emcee at a local comedy club in her hometown of New Orleans, DeGeneres’ acting career in television included roles in several successful sitcoms before being offered a part on “These Friends of Mine” by ABC. After the first season, the show was renamed “Ellen.” Running from 1994 to 1998, the show garnered record ratings, with DeGeneres receiving Emmy nominations each season in the Best Actress category.

In 1997 DeGeneres was the recipient of the coveted Peabody Award as well as earning an Emmy for writing the critically acclaimed “Puppy Episode,” when her character came out as a gay woman to a record 46 million viewers. DeGeneres has also been successful in her feature film work.

 The Oscars telecast will air in 225 countries and territories worldwide.

Russell Brand to launch ‘Messiah Complex’ roadshow

Russell Brand has a “Messiah Complex,” and he’s taking it on the road.

The British comedian announced that he’s launching a world comedy tour focusing on Che Guevara, Gandhi, Malcolm X and Jesus Christ. Brand says the show examines “the importance of heroes in this age of atheistic disposability.”

The 38-year-old says he plans to perform in theaters as well as “prisons, drug rehabs … nationalist organizations, Mosques, foreclosed houses, protest sites, Synagogues and in people’s private homes.”

The “Messiah Complex” tour is set to begin Aug. 15 in Abu Dhabi and wrap up Dec. 9 in Iceland.

Brand’s FX show, “Brand X,” concluded last month.

Last year, Brand brought two members of the Westboro Baptist Church on his show to talk about the fringe group’s anti-gay campaign and to introduce the homophobes to some of his gay friends.

On the Web…


DeGeneres gets star on Hollywood Walk

Comic and TV talk show host Ellen DeGeneres on Sept. 4 received the 2,477th star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

The openly lesbian celebrity invited a large audience to the event, tweeting on Tuesday: “I’m getting a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame today at 11 am. Come watch me! Also, I’d love a ride home. 6270 Hollywood Blvd.”

In her speech at the celebration, eonline.com reported, DeGeneres said, “It is amazing. I spent my entire career trying to conduct myself in a certain way making sure no one walks all over me only to get to a point where people are going to walk all over me. It means so much to me that everyone showed up.”

Season 10 of “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” begins on Sept. 10.

On the show’s Facebook page, DeGeneres describes herself as “a comedian, an animal lover and a talk show host. Which means I tell jokes about cats to celebrities.”

‘Funky Winkerbean’ comic follows gay storyline

Cartoonist Tom Batiuk’s new storyline for “Funky Winkerbean” began this week. He’s chronicling a gay couple determined to go to their high school prom together and the consequences that ensue.

Launching during the strip’s 40th anniversary year, the series distributed by King Features Syndicate is appearing in more than 400 newspapers.

The strip has featured a number of controversial storylines not typically addressed in the funny pages – teen pregnancy, suicide, teen-dating violence, the death penalty and alcoholism.

The new prom storyline, introduces two gay teenagers attempting to go to the fictional Westview High prom together. The community and school become divided over the issue, resulting in a heated debate with one side demanding acceptance and the other side expressing intolerance toward same-sex couples attending the prom. The series also delves into the generational differences that arise when this issue is brought to the forefront.

“As I sit in on the classes at my old high school, I see how the younger generation’s attitude towards gays is more open and accepting than that of their predecessors,” said Batiuk. “It shows promise that this emerging generation will one day bring this cultural war to an end. Until then, this story is an attempt to reach across the divide and speak to the intolerance that still exists on the other side.”

The Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation called the prom tale “a heartwarming story of allies taking a stand for LGBT youth, and the kind that we need to see more of.”

“We’re pleased to see such an accurate portrayal of today’s young people represented in ‘Funky Winkerbean,’” said Stephanie Laffin of the It Gets Better anti-bullying project.

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Archie comic features gay wedding

A new installment of the “Life With Archie” comic features the same-sex marriage of gay character Kevin Keller to his partner.

Keller is a soldier injured in Iraq who meets husband-to-be, Dr. Clay Walker, while recuperating in the hospital.

“Life With Archie” tells the story of the gang – and some extras – in their 20s.

The wedding story is in issue number 16.