Thursday, October 20, 2016

On Jealousy, Jokes and English Muffin Pizzas: Dan Bolles and Steve Waltien Interview Mike Birbiglia

Posted By on Thu, Oct 20, 2016 at 6:30 AM

  • Courtesy of Mike Birbiglia
  • Mike Birbiglia
Mike Birbiglia is a comedian, actor, director, writer and English muffin pizza savant. His latest film, Don't Think Twicecenters on a close-knit NYC improv comedy troupe that begins to splinter when individual members attract the attention of a network sketch-comedy show called "Weekend Live." It's a not-so-subtle stand-in for "Saturday Night Live," long the holy grail for improv comedians. 

In the thoughtful, shambling style that has become his signature, Birbiglia explores themes of jealousy and ambition. Perhaps most potently, he also ponders the inevitable moment when aging artists are forced to confront Peter Pan syndrome and reconcile creative passions with the desire for conventional stability.

Birbiglia stars in the film alongside the likes of Keegan-Michael Key ("Key & Peele") and Gillian Jacobs ("Community"). Among the film's other notable comedic talents is Vermont's Steve Waltien, who plays the supporting (OK, minor) character Hugh Finn. Waltien is a Shelburne native and an alum of the iconic Chicago improv theater Second City. He's presently a writer on Jon Stewart's forthcoming animated HBO series. (Full disclosure: He is also one of this writer's oldest and dearest friends.)

On Sunday, October 23, Birbiglia brings his new show, "Thank God for Jokes," to the Flynn MainStage in Burlington. Ahead of that performance, we checked in via email to ask him about comedy, his new movie and his mastery of English muffin pizzas. 

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Friday, October 7, 2016

Playtime: Zammuto, 'Veryone'

Posted By on Fri, Oct 7, 2016 at 6:30 AM

Nick Zammuto has a fascination with Rubik's Cubes. - AMELIA DEVOID
  • Amelia Devoid
  • Nick Zammuto has a fascination with Rubik's Cubes.

We made it through another week, you guys! In case you missed my debut post last week, welcome to Playtime. Each Friday I'll be writing about my offbeat local music obsessions. If you're feeling especially drained today, your eyes sore from data entry, your wrists strained from milk-steaming, back thrown from box-lifting, I have the perfect sounds to pour some life back into you. Plus, a bonus local film that you can watch online for free! Say hello to Zammuto.

This is pretty much what its like inside my brain.

A video posted by Zammuto (@zammutosound) on

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Thursday, September 22, 2016

Purple Rain Comes to Town Hall Theater's Rock on Film Series

Posted By on Thu, Sep 22, 2016 at 4:00 PM

Film poster detail, Purple Rain - COURTESY OF TOWN HALL THEATER
  • Courtesy of Town Hall Theater
  • Film poster detail, Purple Rain
If you're still mourning the loss of the Purple One (and who isn't?), you might want to consider driving your little red Corvette to Middlebury this Saturday, September 24, for the 2016 premiere of Town Hall Theater's Rock on Film series.  Purple Rain, starring the recently departed Prince, will kick off the season, which will feature eight or nine films.

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Monday, August 29, 2016

New Local Documentary Profiles Rutland Basketball Racism

Posted By on Mon, Aug 29, 2016 at 4:03 PM

Divided by Diversity film poster. - COURTESY OF DUANE CARLETON
  • Courtesy of Duane Carleton
  • Divided by Diversity film poster.
In 2010, five high school basketball players from the Bronx were accepted at Rutland’s Mount St. Joseph Academy, a small Catholic school beset by flagging attendance numbers and a sports program with a recent history of athletic futility. For the student-athletes, the move four hours north from the bleak Edenwald housing project was both a blessing and a curse.

According to an intertitle in Divided by Diversity, a new documentary from local musician and filmmaker Duane Carleton, between 2009 and 2012, the entire state of Vermont had less than half the murders, less than a quarter the robberies and only a third more assaults than Edenwald during the same period.

But what the Bronx natives, all of whom were black, hadn’t bargained for was a barrage of racism, both veiled and overt. As the Mount St. Joseph team became increasingly accomplished on the hardwood, ugly racial barbs on social media escalated to outright hostility at games. At one game, fans started a racist “KFC” chant; at another, two people showed up in gorilla and banana costumes.

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Monday, August 8, 2016

Montpelier's Savoy Theater to Get New Owner

Posted By on Mon, Aug 8, 2016 at 9:00 AM

James O'Hanlon at the Savoy Theater - TRISTAN VON DUNTZ
  • Tristan Von Duntz
  • James O'Hanlon at the Savoy Theater
The Savoy, Montpelier's 35-year-old art house cinema, will change hands this month. And the soon-to-be owner says he's committed to preserving the "unique experience" the theater offers.

Current owner Terrence Youk purchased the theater in December 2009 from long-timers Rick Winston and Andrea Serota. Youk renovated the theater, turned the basement into a second screening room, and closed the companion business Downstairs Video.  (The Savoy has preserved more than 1,000 classic DVDs from the stock as an "archive," lending them out to patrons who pay membership dues.)

Now Youk has new plans, including spending six months in India, where his wife will be a Fulbright scholar. He's selling the theater to James O'Hanlon of Worcester, in whom he has "every confidence that he will continue the mission of the Savoy of bringing central Vermont the finest in independent and foreign film," Youk wrote in an email.

O'Hanlon, who has been the Savoy's projectionist for the past two years, will take over ownership later this month, he said in a phone interview. While he's "not going to touch" the Savoy's programming of first-run independent films, he hopes to find new ways to connect the theater to its community.

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Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Director Todd Solondz Talks 'Wiener-Dog,' Mortality and Cinematic Influences

Posted By on Tue, Jul 5, 2016 at 2:04 PM

Director Todd Solondz (far right) talks with Greta Gerwig on the set of Wiener-Dog. - COURTESY OF IFC FILM
  • Courtesy of IFC Film
  • Director Todd Solondz (far right) talks with Greta Gerwig on the set of Wiener-Dog.
On Friday, July 1, I had the rare opportunity to speak by phone to Todd Solondz, the controversial creator of Welcome to the Dollhouse, Happiness, Palindromes and now Wiener-Dog, at his hotel in Germany. For a guy who grew up in New Jersey, he speaks with a strangely European accent. And for a guy as famous for his dark, depressive worldview as for his eight feature films, Solondz was thoughtful, generous with his time, funny and even warm.

My review of his new film appears July 6, online and in the paper. You can read my interview with this fascinating, one-of-a-kind filmmaker right now. 

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Monday, May 23, 2016

A Movie Not to Miss: The Fits to Screen in Burlington

Posted By on Mon, May 23, 2016 at 1:29 PM

click image Royalty Hightower stars in The Fits. - OSCILLOSCOPE LABORATORIES
  • Oscilloscope Laboratories
  • Royalty Hightower stars in The Fits.
The scene: an urban community center. A young girl dances frenetically, her fists punching the air, her controlled movements channeling the churning emotions of adolescence. Suddenly she's out of control — writhing, seemingly seizing. Or perhaps she just stands quietly transfixed, as if glimpsing something beyond this world.

Variations on this scenario occur throughout The Fits, the directorial debut of Anna Rose Holmer. The offbeat coming-of-age film screened at the Venice International Film Festival and the Sundance Film Festival. This Thursday, you can see it in Vermont as a presentation of the Vermont International Film Foundation and Main Street Landing Performing Arts Center: May 26, 7 p.m., at Main Street Landing Film House in Burlington. $5-8, or free for VTIFF members.

And why should you see it? Because The Fits combines the energy of a dance film with the obliqueness and eerie atmosphere of an art film. I feel safe in saying I've never seen anything quite like it before.

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Monday, April 25, 2016

Three for Three: UVM Students Win Another Visit From Seth Rogen

Posted By on Mon, Apr 25, 2016 at 5:46 PM

From left: Lauren Miller, Seth Rogen and Ryan, John and Griffen Fox - RICK KISONAK
  • Rick Kisonak
  • From left: Lauren Miller, Seth Rogen and Ryan, John and Griffen Fox
Signs of April in the Queen City: The last traces of ice vanish along the waterfront. Hundreds of ice cream lovers line up for Ben & Jerry’s annual Free Cone Day at the company’s shop on the Marketplace. And, dependably as a swallow to Capistrano, the planet’s most famous stoner, the man Forbes ranks as the 26th highest paid actor in the world, comes to town to thank three students at the University of Vermont.

For the past three years, triplets Griffen, John and Ryan Fox have raised more money for HFC U — Hilarity for Charity’s national collegiate competition — than some 100 other student groups across the country. Their prize, as always, is a hang with Seth Rogen, who, along with his wife, Lauren Miller, created the nonprofit in 2012 as “a movement to inspire change and raise awareness of Alzheimer’s disease among the millennial generation.” Affiliated with the Alzheimer’s Association, it’s raised more than $5 million.

Saturday morning at Essex Cinemas, the couple held a press conference to talk about the cause, explain why they got involved, and lavish praise on the three brothers, who lost their grandfather to the illness in January 2014.

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Thursday, March 31, 2016

"Tanner on Tanner" Launches Film Series at Main Street Museum

Posted By on Thu, Mar 31, 2016 at 11:06 AM

Michael Murphy and Cynthia Nixon in "Tanner on Tanner" - SUNDANCE CHANNEL
  • Sundance Channel
  • Michael Murphy and Cynthia Nixon in "Tanner on Tanner"
Burlington resident Allan Nicholls may be best known to movie lovers for his role as team captain Johnny Upton in the 1977 hockey comedy Slap Shot. Canadiens fans apparently still feel the same: When Nicholls, a Montréal native, attended a game earlier this year, the Centre Belle camera operator found Nicholls in the crowd and broadcast his image on the mega-screens. The crowd roundly cheered.

Nicholls’ career in film is better defined, however, by his decades-long collaboration with Robert Altman. He worked with the renowned director in a variety of capacities on some two dozen films. That makes him uniquely qualified to introduce a screening of Altman's incisive 2004 political mockumentary series “Tanner on Tanner.”

On Friday, April 1, the event kicks off a new monthly series called Alt: Cinema at White River Junction’s Main Street Museum. Its mission is to use film as a catalyst for community discussion.

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Friday, March 25, 2016

A Nazi Film With an Unusual Perspective on the Holocaust

Posted By on Fri, Mar 25, 2016 at 8:11 AM

Archival footage from What Our Fathers Did - WILDGAZE FILMS
  • Wildgaze Films
  • Archival footage from What Our Fathers Did
A college film professor of mine once remarked that if Nazis had never existed, Hollywood would have had to invent them. He was an eccentric guy and his lectures were pretty obtuse, but I understood his point: Nazis are so evil that they have filled the all-important Bad Guy role in countless films.

And it’s not just Hollywood that loves to hate Nazis. Films of the Holocaust subgenre have an excellent track record with critics and prize givers. Just this past year, the Hungarian film Son of Saul, an intense drama set in a concentration camp, won the Oscar and the Golden Globe for Best Foreign Language Film, as well as the Grand Prix at the 2015 Cannes Film Festival and other awards.

This particular cinematic well is a deep one, as evidenced by the upcoming Middlebury screening of What Our Fathers Did: A Nazi Legacy. The new documentary will play for a single screening at the Town Hall Theater on Sunday, April 3, 7 p.m., as part of the Middlebury New Filmmakers Festival Winter Screening series.

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