Screened Out – The Witch

By : Stephen Miller
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Ralph Ineson, Anya Taylor-Joy, Kate Dickie, Harvey Scrimshaw

It’s easy to sense the research and commitment that went into the horror movie The Witch, the debut full-length by NYC stage talent and shorts director Robert Eggers. The flick – set in 17th-century New England – follows a Puritan family thrust out into the wilderness, where they battle evil forces that come from the gnarled woods around them.

Alas, the sum here is more mood than sense. By the end, all the dark foreboding, meticulous academics, commentary on fundamentalism, and self-flagellating religiosity has less witchy magic. It devolves into gory absurdism.

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Transgender student fights for right to use boys’ restroom in rural Virginia town

By : Wire Report
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GLOUCESTER, Va. (AP) — Amid the cornfields and marinas dotting this conservative tidewater Virginia enclave between the York River and Mobjack Bay, people are divided over what one local pastor calls “the civil rights issue of this generation” – how to deal with a transgender student’s demand to use the boys’ restrooms at the local high school.

“If they’re not fixed like a man, they should not use the men’s bathroom,” Gary Pilkinton, a 56-year-old movie special effects worker, told a reporter recently outside the local Wal-Mart.

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Words To Live By: Religious Right

By : Rick Claggett
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Rick Claggett

Rick Claggett

Let’s start by clarifying the use of the word right immediately. I’m not referring to the religious right as in the social dictator and presidential doubtful, Mike Huckabee. Or the incoherent speaking marvel that is Sarah Palin.

This column is about the religious right as in the moral or legal entitlement to have or obtain something or to act in a certain way, as defined by Google.

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Screened Out: Prisoners

By : Stephen Miller
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Hugh Jackman, Terrence Howard, Viola Davis, Maria Bello, Jake Gyllenhaal, Paul Dano, Melissa Leo

On average, audiences pay nine bucks just for a ticket to a flick. No matter how good some aspects are, I cannot imagine the average moviegoer being overjoyed with something this long, this labyrinthine, this tortured.

I also cannot, in good conscience, call Prisoners a bad film – just a painful, troubling one, with some small flaws.

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Heaven and Hell collide in “Pandemonium”

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A lot of work goes into theatre. (By necessity, in Orlando, that hard work is usually on top of other work to put food on your table.) After the all the blood, sweat and tears, it's disappointing when the whole thing doesn't quite come together in the end, which is unfortunately the case for Halstead and Castaneda's Pandemonium from the Greater Orlando Actors Theatre.

Heaven versus Hell in this new musical that uses existing popular tunes to tell its story, bringing to mind Baz Luhrmann's Moulin Rouge. Those selections range from the obvious â┚¬â€œ Drowning Pool's â┚¬Å”Let the Bodies Hit the Floorâ┚¬Â during an angels against demons battle scene â┚¬â€œ to groan-worthy â┚¬â€œ Adam (Michael Osowski) singing the ubiquitous â┚¬Å”Just the Way You Areâ┚¬Â to Eve (Krystal Gillette). At times during Pandemonium, it seems that the song choice may have come before the plot, a scene created around a song that would be kick-ass to sing.

Harmless liberties are taken with theology: the relationship between God (Scott Mills) and Satan (Leesa Halstead) is a romantic one, and Satan seduces Adam and Eve in turn a la Rocky Horror Show, forgoing a serpent to handle the situation herself. Pandemonium‘s book could benefit from further development; it's often unclear what is happening or why it is happening. Perhaps most telling is God himself providing the deus ex machina, abruptly wrapping up the show with a monologue.

The idea of bringing a dance troop into the mix is an intriguing one, but the contributions of the Emotions Dance Company appear unfocused and, in the end, superfluous. Using the visual art of Renee Wilson designate Heaven, Hell, and the Garden of Eden is an effective choice, though the tech executing these scene changes proved to be distracting.

As a whole the cast seems more confident when singing than speaking the dialogue. Halstead, Kevin Sigman (Michael), and Desiree Perez (Beelzebub), in particular, have strong voices and attack their songs with gusto.

Having said all that, what is most important is the risk G.O.A.T. took in putting together this eclectic piece. Creativity without such risk is hardly worth talking about. Pandemonium, for all its faults, is an original, ballsy interpretation of familiar stories and leaves you anticipating what G.O.A.T. will come up with next.

Show: Halstead and Castaneda's Pandemonium
Theatre Group: Greater Orlando Actors Theatre â┚¬â€œ Winter Park, FL
Venue: Yellow
Remaining Performances:
5/24 Tue. 7:40 PM
5/25 Wed. 10:50 PM
5/28 Sat. 3:20 PM
5/29 Sun. 1:40 PM

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Irreverent “Hell” Trilogy Comes to a Close

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Jeff Jones claims this is the last installment in his Hell trilogy, but Heaven Help Us! The Final Chapter demonstrates that his characters — God, Jesus, Satan, Moses, Mother Nature, Adam, Eve and Liberace — have enough comedic life for syndication.

The Hell franchise is perfect for Fringe: broad, irreverent, sacrilegious, and with characters so well-known that plotting can take a backseat to Jones steady stream of one-liners. A stand-up comedian who has opened for Joan Rivers, Jones hits far more often than he misses. His Jesus recounts a drunken fall into a Vegas fountain: â┚¬Å”I'm gonna be pissed when Judas puts that shit on YouTube,â┚¬Â he says.

Heaven opens with pink-haired televangelist Jan Crouch (Doug Ba'aser) and her creepy husband (Josh Paul) selling seats on an Armageddon-Go-Round that will transport people during the upcoming rapture. But Satan (Jones), who got them the tax exemption on their local Holy Land Experience, explains they've got it all wrong. He's about to collect on a bet with his mother, God, and win control of the universe. The wager? That after thousands of years the original fun couple, Adam and Eve, will be done with each other.

The rest of Heaven is like Home for the Holidays, but this time the dysfunctional family dinner party is floating on a cloud somewhere over the Borscht Belt. God (Elizabeth T. Murff) winters in Boca, Moses (Kevin Bee) is centuries-old Shecky Greene, Eve (Janine Klein) is a whiny Kardashian with body dysmorphia, and Adam (Paul) is a sexually confused Ken Doll.

And when God throws a party, who entertains? Liberace (Bee), of course. Looking out at the Fringe audience, Mother Nature (Ba'aser) comments that there are a lot of gay people: ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢”šÂ¬Ã…”That's why we call it â┚¬Ëœheaven,'â┚¬Â Liberace minces.

Jones' cast is universally strong, and talented enough to capitalize on inevitable flubs. Murff's â┚¬Å”cawfee tawkâ┚¬Â accent sometimes sounds cockney, but her platinum coiffed God-as-cocktail-hostess is smashing. Klein's Eve makes a hilarious entrance and never pales. Bee is funny as a kvetching Moses,and even funnier as Liberace.

Aided by Marcy Singhaus' witty costumes, Ba'aser is a scene-stealer as Crouch and Mother Nature. This talented actor plays it both in character and out, making him better able to pounce on every comic opportunity.

With his arched eyebrow, Jones creates a Satan that is part lounge lizard, part mama's boy. Horns suit him. And at Fringe, it was somehow perfect that you could see his knee-length boxer shorts through his Jesus robe.

Show: Heaven Help Us!
Theatre Group: Mo' Laughs Comedy â┚¬â€œ Orlando, FL
Venue: Silver
Remaining Performances:
5/23 Mon. 9:00 PM
5/25 Wed. 5:30 PM
5/26 Thu. 8:30 PM
5/27 Fri. 6:00 PM

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Supreme Court votes 5-4 to block YouTube broadcasts of Prop 8 trial

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The Supreme Court on Wednesday indefinitely blocked cameras from covering the high-profile federal court trial on the constitutionality of California’s ban on same-sex marriage.

Now in its third day, the trial in federal court in San Francisco concerns Proposition 8, the voter-approved ban on gay marriage in the state.

The presiding trial judge, Vaughn R. Walker, had authorized real-time streaming of the proceedings for viewing in other federal courthouses in California, New York, Oregon and Washington and contemplated posting recordings of the trial on the court’s Web site after several hours of delay.

However, a conservative 5-4 majority ruled against streaming the trial to the other courts. The high court said it wasn’t deciding the Web site posting plan because Walker hadn’t formally requested authorization for that proposal.

Gay rights advocates condemned the ruling sought by lawyers representing proponents of gay marriage who were concerned that broadcasts would expose their trial witnesses to retaliation from gay marriage supporters.

“The Supreme Court just struck a huge blow against transparency and accountability,” said Rick Jacobs, chairman of the Courage Campaign, a Los Angeles-based gay rights organization. “This historic trial will remain largely hidden from public view, despite it’s historic potential to challenge and change the minds of Americans.”

In federal court Wednesday, evidence in the case targeted a proponent of Proposition 8 who warned voters in a letter during the 2008 campaign that gay rights activists would try to legalize sex with children if same-sex couples had the right to wed.

San Francisco resident Hak-Shing William Tam, a defendant in the lawsuit, discussed the letter sent to Chinese-Americans church groups during a legal deposition taped last month.

“On their agenda list is: legalize having sex with children,” states the letter, which also cautioned that “other states would fall into Satan’s hands” if gays weren’t stopped from marrying in California.

Lawyers for the two same-sex couples pursuing the lawsuit introduced the footage in court to buttress their contention that Proposition 8 is unconstitutional because it was fueled by deep-seated animosity against gays.

Regardless of the outcome of the lawsuit, the case is likely to be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, where it could lead to laws that restrict marriage to a man and a woman being upheld or abolished nationwide.

In its unsigned opinion about cameras, the Supreme Court criticized Walker for attempting to change the rules “at the eleventh hour to treat this case differently than other trials.

“Not only did it ignore the federal statute that establishes the procedures by which its rules may be amended, its express purpose was to broadcast a high-profile trial that would include witness testimony about a contentious issue.”

The court’s majority, though not identified in the ruling, consists of Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Samuel Alito, Anthony Kennedy, Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas.

The four justices in dissent with the ruling were Stephen Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor and John Paul Stevens. In a dissent written by Breyer, they said the high court should have stayed out of the issue.

Breyer said “the public interest weighs in favor of providing access to the courts.”

In his San Francisco courtroom, Judge Walker said the ruling provided “limited guidance,” and the Web site issue was pending.

“My inclination,” he said, “is to put that issue aside for the time being.”

Walker said he didn’t want to delay the progress of the trial.

Anthony Pugno, a Sacramento lawyer for the group behind the ballot initiative, said he was puzzled by Walker’s comments about the possibility of posting video on the Web.

“I’m not sure what else the Supreme Court needs to tell him,” Pugno said.

Most federal courts say they fear broadcasts will diminish the system’s dignity, could unfairly influence rulings and disrupt proceedings. There is also concern that judges, lawyers and witnesses will pander to the camera while potential jurors will shy away from serving out of concern they will be identified.

Though all 50 states allow cameras into some state-level court proceedings, federal courts from the high court on down have for decades generally refused to admit cameras into courtrooms.

Congress has failed several times to pass bills introduced to specifically allow the technology in the federal courts, though a new proposal with bipartisan support to allow cameras is pending before the U.S. Senate’s Judiciary Committee.

Six trial courts and two appeals court participated in a three-year study during the 1990s that included granting applications to broadcast 186 hearing, including 56 trials.

A majority of judges and lawyers who participated in the program supported opening federal courts to cameras, but the Judicial Conference of the United States â┚¬â€ which sets the court system’s policies â┚¬â€ still said it was against recording hearings and trials.