Home Blog

  
                June 7, 1958 – April 21, 2016

Four! And Three! And Two! And One!
Broad City, starring Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer, is one of the funniest shows around – and not just because of its uncanny ability to be spot-on about what it’s like to live in NYC, but because it effortlessly encompasses the ups and downs of living as a 20-something, heck, a 30-something, in today’s millennial era, with the show taking digs at sexism, racism, elitism, and a bunch of other -isms.
By now, the story of how the sitcom came to be is well known – having been adapted from an online series the two comedians and friends, Abbi and Ilana, created when both of them were attending the Upright Citizens Brigade. Amy Poehler, who ended up as one of the executive producers of the show, got to know about the web series and played mentor to the pair, and now Broad City is on its third season on Comedy Central.
Abbi and Ilana won me over with their hilarious skit about subway encounters, and since then I’ve been known to scream out “yassss, kween!” more times than I’d like to admit, much as I dislike the colloquialisms of today that insist on re-spelling and re-pronouncing everything. With the third season being in full swing, I wanted to run to some of my favourite places featured in some of my favourite episodes. This season has stepped up in terms of the jokes, but also the cameos – Vanessa Williams, Whoopi Goldberg, Hillary Clinton et al.
Here is the video…
And here is the route…
Beacon’s Closet to Green Hill Food Co-Op to Hillary Clinton HQ! Ignore the time it’ll take – that’s for walking. Really slowly, according to Google. Also, don’t make my mistake and go to the residential part of Pierrepont, but rather stick to the map and go towards Cadman Plaza! (Coincidentally, this part of Brooklyn was where I got horrendously lost during the OSR Midnight Half too – I just seem to have a block in this part of town…)
And when you’re done, pop by One Girl Cookies in Dumbo for one of the best slices of cake I’ve had anywhere in the city. Pro-tip for Summer – their iced coffee is made with coffee ice-cubes.
You’re welcome!

 

When you live in New York City, it’s easy to slip into avoid-Times-Square mode. I often have to go there for movie screenings, on a weekend night, and I’m often late, so the slow-traipsing, wide-eyed people out and about in that part of the city can be pretty frustrating. But avoiding Times Square is just no way to live life – especially if you’re a fan of theatre, living and breathing theatre, where the best of the best come to ply their wares and bare their souls.
This Wednesday, my friend Stevie and I made a double bill out of Eclipsed and The Crucible. One, an off-Broadway Public Theatre transplant (just like another little production you may have heard of called Hamilton), the other, an oft-performed classic of both stage and screen. Eclipsed is one of two recently written by Danai Gurira, directed by Liesl Tommy and stars Oscar-winning actress Lupita Nyong’o in a story set within the Liberian Civil War. Nyong’o is one of five women in the production, which is currently showing at the John Golden Theatre.
The set is sparse, with most of the play taking place within the four corners of a shack where three of the women are being held as “wives” of war generals. The story of war from the experience of girl child soldiers is one that isn’t really heard and so that already makes this an important story. A necessary one. While the cast is more than adequate in relating the story, I can’t help but wonder why I wasn’t more moved by the production. I am a great fan of Gurira and of Nyong’o, but for some reason, I didn’t have the kind of soul-shifting experience I expected to with a story of this nature – where a girl must face the question of her own fate. Should she take up arms and hurt and kill, or be hurt and killed herself? Weighty, almighty questions.
Perhaps it’s because I learned about atrocities of this kind of war in documentaries and current affairs shows in South Africa, from a young age, and so I needed a little more from the story itself. But this is the first time a Broadway play was written and directed by women of African descent, so my qualms are small in relation to the need for as many people as possible to see this show. It still asks its audience to think a little deeper. The title of the play led me to think of how much the lead character, played by Nyong’o, the Girl in question, allows fear to ‘eclipse’ her true nature in the most harrowing of circumstances. 
In following up Eclipsed with The Crucible, Stevie and I found ourselves confronting fear in a different form. Set in the late 1600’s (although this production is staged a little later), the story written by American playwright Arthur Miller in the 1950’s explores the fear of a town seemingly besieged by witchcraft. Originally set as an allegory to McCarthyism and communism, it gets deep down into the belly of the beast of fear – how it turns logic illogical, rational to irrational, comfort to chaos. This particular production, directed by Ivo van Hove, who last worked on David Bowie’s Lazarus, features an all-star cast, from Oscar-nominated Saoirse Ronan as Abigail Williams to Ben Whishaw and Sophie Okonedo as John and Elizabeth Procter. Tavi Gevinson, known for the blog-turned-magazine Rookie, is remarkable as Mary Warren. Whishaw, who usually plays soft-spoken characters is a tour de force here, making full use of the stage in his anguish, while Okonedo is his foil, repressing all that she feels. Ronan is solid and tempestuous, but for me, not the highlight of the production. The fear and tension created by the ensemble becomes another character in the story, and it’s an intense experience.
With both productions being heavy on subject matter and having deep relevance for our times still today – witness the impact of Boko Haram in Africa and the political games being played in the run-up to the US elections, I recommend filling the time in between with some light-fare, like sushi at City Kitchen, or perhaps a screening of Zootopia, as we did. Fear does too make an appearance in this latest animated offering from Disney, but it is combatted by a bunny who’s can-do attitude is immeasurably inspiring – a bunny who wouldn’t think twice about venturing into Times Square at any time.

Eclipsed is on at the John Gordon Theatre while The Crucible is at the Walter Kerr. And Zootopia is currently playing on a big screen near you!

Much has been said about the new Zack Snyder film, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. It’s the dawn to a new era of superhero movies from the DC stable, so it’s no wonder there’s a lot to say. Not to mention the insane amount of money spent on the film ($250 million to make, $150 to market), and all the vested interest within it. We’ve all heard how much is riding on this to set up the DC Universe for Warner Bros, following Marvel’s roll-out at Disney. But I wonder, where to from here?
The film has already found success in the US and globally, with a hot take-home at the box office. In South Africa, it’s become the biggest opening for a Warner Bros film (but is still behind Fast & Furious 7 in terms of 3 day-opening weekend), which has been the case in the US and other countries too.
And, yes, it’s been established that numerous critics have intensely disliked it. Filmmaker Kevin Smith has just panned it too, for its misunderstanding of the characters and being too dark, a sentiment shared by many of my favourite critics. He also says there was no humour whatsoever in the film, but I actually found the reason Batman and Superman stopped their fighting to be very funny. I couldn’t stop laughing at how lame they both sounded in the dialogue that followed. This is quite sad, given it’s a moment that’s actually meant to be pretty profound and moving.
This M & M review, aside from my friend Alicia Malone’s priceless facial expressions and one word answer to it all, expresses the disappointment I, too, felt early when an interesting idea that’s set-up at the beginning of the film for the audience is not followed through, because it’s just stuffed with too much material that makes no sense as a whole.  This review from GQ is unforgiving, but not as unforgiving as this one from Film Freak Central. Batman v Superman is a film that seems to suck the joy out of believing in something bigger than ourselves, something more positive and stronger and better.
But it’s already been established that all the critical response to the film doesn’t really matter, because people still paid to see it, they want to see it and will see it, based on the characters alone. What I want to know is, what does this mean for other films? If there’s this perception that these blockbusters will do well no matter what the story-line or lack of character development, what will happen to the willingness to invest in films that do pay attention to this? And will audiences just go on to accept this? I’m not a comic book geek so I don’t know the story-lines or characters well enough (even more reason then to explain who these new people are when you bring them into the film’s world) but I do love a good superhero film – yet only if I believe in the heart behind the actions. See, Guardians of the Galaxy and The Avengers.
Who are we rooting for when that support isn’t actually isn’t earned? When the films just take for granted the built-in fan base and ride it? Does it even matter to ask out loud and want for more? I imagine these questions will no doubt be answered in the coming years – and the films they will bring with them. In the meantime, thank goodness for Wonder Woman, hey?

“The playlist came through the door.”
This is how Stretch and Bobbito’s radio show on community station KCRW back in the day became the place where New York hip hop found its feet, and beat, in the early 90s. It’s the stuff of legends for those of us who didn’t grow up in the city (especially for those of us from across the seas!) for the part it played in bringing the best emcees to the fore, names that are now well etched into the history of hip hop. Instead of just playing pre-recorded and already-mixed tracks, Stretch and Bobbito became known for featuring the best upcoming talent – artists who’d walk into their studio on the Columbia campus, in the middle of the night, to drop verses on the spot, technical difficulties and bad jokes only adding to the energy of the sessions.
The doc Stretch & Bobbito: Radio That Changed Lives is a love-letter to all of that. I watched it last night at the Samsung Pop-up in the Meatpacking District, thanks to Giant Step. Directed by Bobbito aka Bobbito Garcia, aka DJ Cucumber Slice, with music supervision by Stretch Armstrong, it’s an unabashed tribute to the role the radio show played, giving a behind-the-scenes look at how it came together, who it featured and what its legacy is today. Bobbito’s directing style is wholehearted – his enthusiasm evident in the “Proud Mom!” and “Proud Dad!” monikers attached to interviews with the pair’s parents, and in his noting when verses were dropped “off-the-head” and “not yet recorded.” It also captures part of the reason the duo achieved what they did. Their singular passion for the scene and the art form came together to be greater as a whole, and it was contagious. It still is. And while some may have heard it on their radio or on tape recordings, this doc gives us look at where that energy came from.
Of course, there are the big names who found a footing in the show… There’s Method Man and Nas and a so-young Busta Rhymes and Biggie and Jay Z and Fat Joe and El-P and Pharoahe Monch and, and, and – the list is a long one of those who came to string words together in the early hours of the morning, and have them carried out on airwaves across New York City. If you could fiddle the radio dial to just the right spot to find the “island”, that is.
That’s one of the things I really liked about this doccie – it relays the spirit of radio, a spirit that is all but lost today. Seeing tape decks and hearing kids talk about how they’d record the show (by pressing play and record at the same time – remember those days!) and hope the sound of tape reaching the end and stopping would be enough to wake them up to change sides in the early hours of the morning, when the show would air, is a delight. And Busta, talking about the great lengths he would go to to care for his tapes and then sell them like a boss, an even bigger one. 
While the show was dominated by males, the doc does speak to women who were part of the scene at the time and touches on the misogyny experienced by them, and how they wouldn’t stand for it. Even if your name was ODB. Or especially if, I should say.
There are many great anecdotes shared but I liked hearing Pharoahe describe the feeling he got from being on the show, knowing the city was listening in, and how different that was to being on stage or in a recording studio. This doc captures not just a vital part of hip hop history but a vital part of how we used to communicate. Long live radio!
Stretch & Bobbito: Radio That Changed Lives played at a variety of film festivals last year, and is available on Vimeo.