Performance Review: Into the Mouth of the Wolf

I came in unfamiliar with Circus Automatic.

Jamie DeWolf and Joyce Lee are the alternating storytellers. Although I’m a longtime fan of DeWolf, this happened to be Lee’s day and I’m glad that it was.

The first two performances definitely had the macabre sensibility that I had assumed from the title. Eka Boo Button seemed to rise from the grave to the gallows in what one might call an elegant dance of death. She set what I thought would be the mood very nicely. Next was Inka Siefker and Katie Scarlett in a contortion duet titled “From Behind Our Teeth.” Advertised on the flyers, this was a work of art from top to bottom. It was also the first sign that these performers are all functioning on some peak human levels.

The rest of the show was much more eclectic with the tone and style of the proceeding performances varying drastically. One was an upbeat, Chaplinesque balancing act by Richard Maguire that was both funny and incredible. Another was Katie Scarlett again with a hypnotic feat of aerialism that went from somber to stunning. Near the end of the intermission, Orion Griffiths charmed the pants off the audience and, hilariously, himself.

But every display of contortion, acrobatics and cabaret was done with such panache, I didn’t even care that I occasionally lost sight of the narrative thread. Fortunately Joyce Lee offered a sort of grounding punctuation in between. Her spoken word/anecdotes juxtaposed the action with doses of reality that were whimsical, inspiring and searing.

Into the Mouth of the Wolf engages you with both truth and fantasy. The result is a jaw-dropping show that will make you clap till your hands hurt. Bring friends. Bring a date. See it while you can.

(Review) Marvel’s Luke Cage: A multipurpose, all-American hero’s journey


You have to give it credit for its ambition. Like the titular hero, the show is busy working multiple jobs. Luke Cage is a thoughtful, modern take on a superhero originally created in response to the Blaxploitation film craze. So on one hand it has a LOT to say about the African American experience. It ruminates on the topic but never gets too heavy-handed or bogged down by it. The show also features some of the most fair depictions of black people in this genre to date. Much of that is owed to showrunner Cheo Hodari Coker. There’s an earnestness to the black identity you just won’t find on the CW.

Sorry, Iris.

On the other hand, it tries very hard to invoke the Blaxploitation style (or at least a Tarantinoesque, Kill Bill vol 1 interpretation.) The 70s musical cues can be a little obtuse. Sometimes the cuts work, sometimes they don’t. I’m not always sure what’s an homage and what’s just a cliche.

Mike Coulter portrays the character as both reluctant demigod and frustrated intellectual. Cage is acutely self-aware of every role he’s forced into: convict, gladiator/slave, fugitive, hero, freak. You can see how they all chafe against him. That said, he occasionally comes off a little flat. And I do have a hard time with his hazy but convoluted pre-prison origin.

Unlike its Netflix predecessors, Luke Cage’s biggest weakness is its lack of a compelling villain. In fairness, Vincent D’Onofrio’s Kingpin and David Tennant’s Kilgrave are tough acts to follow that outshine most of the MCU movie villains. And even in the comics, Luke Cage has a D-list rogue’s gallery. But Mahershala Ali and Alfre Woodard bring heart and chemistry to cousin duo Cottonmouth and Mariah Dillard. While not exactly larger than life, they make up for their lack of action figure bankability with character complexity. And this is definitely one of Alfre Woodard’s most memorable performances.

Be glad they didn’t keep it too much like the comics.
“Black Mariah.” Seriously.

And then there’s Diamondback played by the distractingly Tony Todd-like Erik LaRay Harvey. They spend half the season hyping up this guy and when he debuts, he’s like an over-the-top villain from a 90’s action show. I’m talking Robocop: The Series, Time Trax or The Crow: Stairway to Heaven. Diamondback is the most cartoon-like element of the series. I’m ambivalent about his mcguffin of a super weapon. His connection to the story is a bit implausible for me. Every line of dialogue was a sing-song threat.

All he needed was a snake-like lisp.

Simone Cook charms and shines as Misty Knight. It wasn’t obvious at first but her character brings an important balance to this world: She an honest, black, human cop. I half expect her to make appearances in all of these shows just like Rosario Dawson.

I hope she does, bionic arm or not.

And of course Rosario is back as Claire Temple, the healer and confidant to New York’s miscellaneous heroes. And I could tell from the moment we meet Claire’s mother that Dawson wanted in on the show’s ethnic grounding. The night nurse seems to be headed in a more proactive direction. I’m curious what her dynamic will be with the ensemble Defenders next year.

Theo Rossi as Shades gets an honorable mention. An enforcer/consigliere/liaison, Shades is a surprisingly great supporting character. He’s enigmatic, sinister and clear-headed. I assumed he had powers the minute he was onscreen. Shades genuinely seems evolved: more suited for a post-powered/post-superhero criminal world than everyone else around him.

This is another installment in the Marvel Cinematic Universe depicting a New York carrying on in the aftermath of alien invasion, the spectacle of the Avengers and an influx of vigilante and/or superpowered characters. As such, watching the previous Marvel movies is not exactly prerequisite but having seen Daredevil and Jessica Jones is a good idea. Of course it’s full of Easter eggs and clever references to both the Luke Cage comics and the MCU.

It’s like they want to reward you for having sat through Iron Man 2.

Like the shared continuity into which it fits, the show works as long as you don’t focus too hard on the details. Wouldn’t Mariah’s family have been previously scrutinized? Are we going to acknowledge when the Hulk tore through Harlem (or is that shunned like Edward Norton?) What impact did the events of Daredevil season 2 have on organized crime in New York? Exactly how stupid is Tone?

The climax was similar to that of the movie Friday. (I’m still not sure how I feel about that.) There’s far less resolved by the finale than the first seasons of DD and JJ. With The Defenders hot on its heels, Marvel has no time for the modesty of self-containment. The show’s final shot and Cage’s last line of dialogue are almost on-the-nose in expressing their intentions. That said, it was a lot of fun and they definitely have my attention for the next phase.

I give it a solid B.

(Review) Suicide Squad: The solid C- for your honor roll expectations


As ludicrous as the idea of shutting down Rotten Tomatoes is, the butthurt fandom of the internet has a point: RT can be pretty hard on movies. (The stylish, thoroughly entertaining Smokin’ Aces is sitting at a criminal 29%.)

With a rotten 26% rating based on 265 reviews, here is the website’s Critics Consensus:

Suicide Squad boasts a talented cast and a little more humor than previous DCEU efforts, but they aren’t enough to save the disappointing end result from a muddled plot, thinly written characters, and choppy directing.

I would rewrite that as follows:

Suicide Squad boasts a talented cast and more humor than previous DCEU efforts, which are barely enough to save it from a muddled plot, gaudy post-production choices and not nearly enough Joker to justify the hype.

Just to fill you in, Warner Bros. (the studio that brought us The Dark Knight as easily as it did Green Lantern or Halle Berry’s Catwoman) panicked at the negative response to Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice. (Say the whole name and imagine an exec going “Yeah!”)

And while Captain America: Civil War was earning our praise with its balance of comedy-drama-action, character motivations and most importantly COHESIVE FUCKING STORYTELLING, the total lesson that Warner Bros. walked away with was be funnier. And so, abandoning all faith in director David Ayer’s vision, the businessmen blindly ordered their respective lackeys to stuff MORE HUMOR into Suicide Squad.

You can read more about that shitstorm here:

I don’t always side with the director, but this sort of retroactive micromanagement has killed many a franchise. Needless to say, I lowered my expectations to the floor; I waited the whole movie for it to suck. And did it? There were some weak links:

  • Too much pop music. Clearly a conceit of the newer edit.
  • Kitana couldn’t be more generic.
  • A flashback that revealed nothing new.
  • The Ghostbusterish threat was some basic, Saturday morning cartoon shit. Very little gravity to said threat or the aftermath.
  • Stop telling us they’re the bad guys and let them be bad.
  • Cara Delevingne. At no point could I forget that she’s a model 1st, an actress 2nd.
  • The slow mo in the climax made it duuuuuumbbbeeeeerrrrrr.
  • We get it! Killer Croc is a black guy! Enough with the minstrel show dialogue.
  • The Joker was barely in the movie. I see why Jared Leto was pissed. He wasn’t even around long enough for us to rank his performance let alone this iteration of the character. What a letdown!

Yet despite its shortcomings, Suicide Squad has plenty of merits that keep it from being a total waste:

  • Will Smith’s bigger slice of the pie was well-served. You know exactly what you’re going to get with him. His Deadshot may be the most interesting depiction of what’s normally a 3rd-tier villain.
  • Margot Robbie was excellent as Harley Quinn. All wackiness and sexiness aside, there was surprising nuance in her performance. Quinn’s many reactions and non-reactions to other characters paint an unexpected picture of her mind in subtle strokes.
  • El Diablo may just be the best pyrokinetic character in any comic book movie so far.
  • This was definitely the best that could be done with Captain Boomerang and the only time I’ve ever liked Jai Courtney.
  • Amanda Waller – Viola Davis is harder than Darth Vader and never overcompensates (unlike Jesse Eisenberg in BvS.)
  • Killer Croc looks great. So there’s that.
  • No one cares about Slipknot. Thanks for not overplaying him.
  • What little we saw of the Joker was a promising take on the character. All those tattoos everyone hated didn’t take away from it.

In Suicide Squad, we wanted another dark horse crowdpleaser falling somewhere between the motley underdog heart of Guardians of the Galaxy and the nihilistic mania of Deadpool. What we got was a cheeky (in more ways than one) installment in a so-far underwhelming cinematic universe that immediately has me waiting for the director’s cut.


Flame Retardant: a questionable account of Burning Man 2012 (8 of 8)

LEAVE by Damian

The sun isn’t up yet when Medium Tim sounds off “Woodstock is over, you dirty hippies! Escape from Black Rock City!”

I’m not quite coherent or cohesive when my body rises and begins stuffing things into a duffle bag. I don’t snap out of autopilot until Tim announces we should leave in 15 minutes.

God knows why I didn’t put more of my belongings in the truck yesterday. I’m taking apart my tent while brushing my teeth and getting dressed. There’s no way any of us are leaving in 15 minutes, but it is important we beat the Exodus. The line to leave Burning Man can be a brutal stretch of your sanity. I remember once being stuck in a car for 6 hours before even reaching the highway.

Of course, I also remember the time I got stranded here without a ride home.

And the year before that, a miserable few of us were left to breakdown the entire camp by ourselves. We didn’t finish until 4:30 am.

There are many terrible epilogues a burner can be dealt. If we can just dodge a few more bullets, we’ll have gotten away with murder.

I cram the last of my gear into the back of the truck and put the lock on. I’m climbing into the driver’s seat when I spot a familiar someone riding by on a bicycle.

Quick! What was her name?

“Francesca!” I call out. She glances back and skids to a stop.

“Gimme, like, 90 seconds,” I tell Tim.

“What the fuck, Damian,” he sighs. “You better make that shit count!”

Nearly falling out of the truck, I resist the urge to sprint to the black-haired girl in the road. She’s wearing a shaggy blue parka and has obviously been out all night. Still looking hot, though.

“You remembered me,” she croaks. Her voice is almost gone.  “Good eye and good memory.”

“You make an impression on both.” She smiles, happier to see me than expected. Great smile.

“How was your Burning Man?”

“Relaxing,” I say. “Stress-free. Exactly what I wanted.”

“Your camp doesn’t waste any time, does it?” she asks as she looks over at the few straggler tents that remain of the Duckpond.

“We’re not big on long goodbyes. How long are you here for?”

“Leaving after the Temple burn. Will you be around for that?”

“Naw. I’ll leave it for the people who need it. Let the shushers and the chatterboxes duke it out.”

“Very generalizing. And which category would you fall into?”

“That would be ‘truck driver’. We’re about to haul away the camp’s parts and pieces in about a minute.”

“42 seconds!” shouts Tim from the truck.

“Well that’s too bad,” Francesca says. “You never came back to dance. Guess you’ll never know if I’m any good.”

“Guess not. Just like you’ll never know if I’m a good kisser.”

“Ha! Well I guess we have a burning conundrum.”

“You have a fiery lexicon.”

“So you think you’ve earned a kiss?”

“Oh, absolutely not. But seeing as how I reached out and seized such an unlikely gem of synchronicity today, it would be a shame to let such a rare playa moment go to waste.”

I can’t believe I just said something that stupid, but I don’t flinch.

She squints her eyes at me and says, “Maybe you earned a peck.”

“A peck?”

“A little peck.”

Green light. I make this one count.

When I get back to the truck, the engine is on and Tim is scrolling through his phone for driving music.

Without looking up he says, “Nice to see you pull a rabbit out of a hat back there.”

“And for my next trick…” I say, shifting the gear into “D” and slowly rolling our asses out of the near-empty lot we called home for the past week.

The roads are so clear that staying under 5 mph is like a Zen exercise. I can’t believe there are no other cars. We’re actually beating the Exodus. I want to floor it so bad. I want to step on the gas before the Universe, the playa and God all change their minds. The entire way to the gate, we creep along like the Pink Panther behind the back of that guileless inspector.

And then, freedom. Open highway. I’ve never felt such triumph from something so unremarkable.

Leaving unscathed was our last stunt. We’ve had our fill. Next comes hot showers, warm beds and the glory of survivors mistaken for returning heroes.

Exit stage west. Restore default settings.

Flame Retardant: a questionable account of Burning Man 2012 (7 of 8)



I’m watching the Man burn from roof of the Death Star art car. It’s owners were generous enough to give a few of us Ducks a ride out into the playa. We couldn’t have asked for a better view. The burn itself is a fine display of pyrotechnics, even though it hasn’t emotionally moved me since my virgin year. Likewise, the Duckpond has become adept at breaking down camp and packing the trucks by mid-afternoon. Very few of our veterans and de facto leaders stay for Burn Night anymore. It’s ultimately a night for the virgins. I’ve come to vicariously enjoy this denouement of their week-long adventure. I’m with a group of them now. Seeing the firelight and wonder on their faces reminds me of my own virgin year.

I’ll continue coming back here until the light is too far from me to validate the effort. I miss the innocence of my first couple of burns, but have no need to mourn them. Most people’s taste for this event has a finite timeline. I’m already a relic. The magic of Burning Man will favor the newer burners, the newer Ducks, as much as it will be shaped by them. The sooner I embrace this reality, the more gracefully I’ll age.

But a couple of them did wear their clubhouse T-shirts tonight instead of actual costumes. Maybe we’ll work on that for next year.


So the Man is burning and I had to go drop a deuce of spades. Blame it on the Adderall. Unfortunately I couldn’t find a port-a-potty and ended up walking all the way back to the ones across from the Duck Pond. When I came out the fireworks had already begun. I’m circling the blaze from a mile away like some wary animal. Walking towards it doesn’t seem like a realistic option. I don’t know where to go or what I want. Too tired to dance and too numb to care. It’s fitting. The event and I have grown estranged. Some time apart might be in order.

I can hear the faraway cheers of the city’s population declaring in no uncertain terms that they are where the action is. They are a mirage. I’ve been chasing them for years but have never pinned them down.

I see the Man and it sees me. The party rages on and leaves me in the dust. I can admire the poetry in that.


They burn the thing. Great.

The massive assembly scatters quickly and the chaos of Amateur Night begins. Maybe that’s a little harsh, but Saturday is the time of the week that feels most like a Spring Break free-for-all. As the effigy collapses, so do many pretenses of civility.

Just today, Nadine caught two strangers fucking in her tent. Right on her bed. The dude had the casual, apologetic attitude of someone who had just caused a light fender bender.

I’m with Medium Tim, Nat and a couple of other Ducks making an abridged exploration around Burning Man. A few of us need to sleep enough to drive the trucks in the morning. But who knows? Maybe we’ll get into some last-minute mischief.

Probably not.

We find a bar that’s only serving drinks to people who pick up 10 pieces of MOOP (ground litter). I try but can’t find any. A rotund young fellow in a lizard-print kimono looks way more frustrated than I am. I let him have my flask and its contents.

Passing by Ashram Galactica, there’s a woman sitting outside with a boy maybe 8 years of age. His face is painted up. He likely did it himself. The kid, who I assume is her son, looks tired and unhappy. It’s clearly past his bedtime. Tim tells me to shut up even though I don’t say anything.

Flame Retardant: a questionable account of Burning Man 2012 (6 of 8)

PUSS IN BOOTS by anonymous

I hold her hand on the way back to my tent. Her fingers are cold.

This side of camp is quiet. No one is around to see, judge or whisper. It’s a rare moment of serenity unburdened by the opinions of others. The anticipation I feel seems almost vulgar by comparison.

One of my favorite songs is blaring somewhere in the distance. A wink from the universe. This may be the pinnacle of my week.

Once inside the tent with the door zipped shut, our conspiracy feels complete. There’s no particular reason to hurry. But as we kiss, there’s an urgency that derives from an understated truth: We’re on borrowed time.

Burning Man is nearly over. We both sacrificed much to be here. I don’t know if or when I will see her again. But the desert has given us a window that we accept with haste and gratitude.

We roll around on my sleeping bag fully clothed until the kissing unfolds seamlessly in foreplay. Her skin tastes like sweat and playa dust.

I’m flooded with an inexplicable sense of relief when we strip off each other’s clothes.

She leaves her boots on for me.

I take a moment to look at her body and simply bask in what’s in front of me. How did I get this lucky? It’s like I’ve stolen something beautiful from the gods.

My condoms are still linked together along the perforated edges. I accidentally tear open two instead of one.

She tells me to go slow. She says she’s a little afraid. I promise to be gentle.

I click off the overhead light and end whatever shadow theater our silhouettes may be revealing to the outside world.

Flame Retardant: a questionable account of Burning Man 2012 (5 of 8)

DUST MITES by Bolivar

In keeping with my defeated ambitions, I’ve missed most of the shows, art and burnings I wanted to see. I’m no longer upset about that and have accepted my slackerdom.

But I did manage to come watch Burn Wall Street ignite. Too bad it’s not on fire. The mock-up of the New York Stock Exchange is full of people who won’t be evacuated anytime soon. Maybe it’s too dusty to burn right now. Unfortunately it’s too dusty to wait around for it.

It’s not that I’m full of anti-capitalistic sentiment. I just wanted to see something reminiscent of Burning Man ’96, when other corporate totems were burned in the event’s last true celebration of anarchy. At least that’s what I’ve gleaned from documentaries.

I head back to camp, nearly running over several darkwads to whom I bark curt suggestions of illumination. Attempting to sleep, I have a bad dream involving a floating zombie cat over a great gushing reservoir. I wake in a sweat around 2am to the painfully redundant song “Get Low” by Lil Jon & the Eastside Boyz. It sounds like the final bars are being dragged out way too long, which was feeding my nightmare. I get dressed and venture back out.

It’s been a good week, but not phenomenal. One more thrill would make it complete. At least that’s what I tell myself.

Exploring the backroads, I find a nice mom-and-pop dive: a full-size, outdoor bar decorated from top to bottom with trinkets. It’s also literally run by a mom and pop. Their adult daughter is drunk and hilarious. In my opinion, the heart of Burning Man is in these out-of-the-way places. I hang out for a couple of hours and banter with a woman from San Diego who is friends with the family. It goes nowhere but I tell myself I’m okay with that.

I move on to another small bar surrounded by an arrangement of couches under a large festival tent. There are a handful of people still awake and socializing. I meet a stunning Swedish girl called Narnia and her American boyfriend, Randall. The three of us begin a riveting conversation about the 1953 Iranian coup d’état, but their drunken friend keeps interrupting us in an aggro-playful manner.

Let’s just call him “Brett.” Maybe 6’1″. 180 lbs. Class 3 fratboy. The first I’ve spotted the entire trip. He keeps interjecting things like “Hey. Hey. Hey. Hey. Hey… These were some fine-ass bitches running around today, right bro?”

And I keep deflecting with replies like “Absolutely! Nothing that puts pep in a gentleman’s step like top-shelf bitch! You look like a man who prefers the vintage. Am I right?”

Then I give him a bro-ish fist bump and he stumbles away for a few minutes.

Brett is precisely the sort of specimen that challenges “Radical Inclusion.” On a cynical note, I know a few women who would fuck him.

On one of his return visits, he suddenly barks at me, “What are you, a fag?!”

Well shit. A full-on Class 4. This is exactly the sort of person I say warrants a throat-punch regardless of the setting. I stare directly into his face as I make a mental inventory of my resources. The walking stick/flashlight in my right hand. My steel toe boots. Regardless, I’m already aiming directly for the groin. Nothing fancy.

(Fashion note: I removed the leather tip of my left boot to expose the actual steel toe underneath. Then I coated it with a clear, industrial-strength epoxy. It gives your footwear a nice, post-apocalyptic touch.)

Brett’s eyes are wild and unfocused. I realize how unsatisfying this would be; the fight equivalent of date rape. I’m irritated that this may be the highlight of my Burning Man: a braggart tale of kicking a drunk fratboy in the balls and watching him vomit on himself. No. I ignore the sterile little HAL 9000 voice telling me to punish him and opt for something stranger.

I answer, “One way to find out.” I grab him by the waist and begin a fast, furious dryhump. The thick, padded codpiece over my jeans bangs against his legs.

Amazingly, he flips back into party mode and begins wooting and humping back. He once again retreats to a couch. Time for a graceful exit.

Randall asks to see my walking stick. I oblige him but say I’m leaving soon. He inspects it for a moment and compliments me on the mounted lamp. Then Bretts asks for it and Randall hands it to him. What the fuck?

Brett starts swinging it around. He’s probably going to break it. I politely ask him to give it back. He doesn’t. Then I politely put my elbow over his wrist and twist the stick out of his hand. I spin around and throw a feigned elbow at his nose (which deliberately does not connect) and then gently use the stick to knock his trucker hat off his head.

Brett yells, “What you got, huh? What you got?!”

A scene from the movie Tombstone with Val Kilmer and a tin cup comes to mind. I swing the stick around like a sword in a playful series of martial art flourishes. I don’t like to show off, but this is my nonviolent solution. Silly enough to avoid engagement. Deft enough to show I can knock his molars out. I finish with a bow.

The fucker actually applauds and cheers.

Randall, however, looks pissed at me. Something is more wrong with this situation than I realized. I leave before it gets any worse.

I’m biking back to camp now, finally admitting that there’s nothing more for me tonight. Then, only a couple of blocks from the Duckpond, I spot a sign that I’ve somehow missed all week:

Swing City – Santa Monica Muscle Beach  

A sex camp? No. There’s a scaffolding rig maybe 30’ high suspending a consecutive row of 6 flying rings. Rings from which gymnasts perform aerial feats. I’ve never done anything like that before.

The lights are all on, but no one’s around. I climb the launching platform, which looks like a section of gym bleachers. I take off my hat, gloves and codpiece.

After a quick stretch, I hold the first ring with both hands and step off the platform. I swing out to the second and grab with my left hand. I pull back on the first ring to charge my momentum before releasing it to grab the third.

My feet are dangling 4 feet from the ground. I could let go if necessary, but it wouldn’t be pleasant. My boots feel like they’re made of lead. For some reason though, being improperly dressed makes this more fun.

Pull back and swing to the next.

Kicking my legs out helps, but only slightly. I’m relying almost entirely on arm strength but I understand the pendulum motion required. The proper technique is revealing itself. It’s like an isometric puzzle.

In the air, I feel heavy like a wrecking ball. The sensation is liberating. I swing out in a wide arc on the sixth and final ring. My legs flail out from under me as I spin around almost parallel to the ground.

Holy shit!

I focus on my grip lest I go flying into Swing City’s shade structure. The endorphin rush is electric. I catch the previous ring for the returning trip, which now seems twice as far.

I’m suddenly aware of how little sleep I’ve been functioning on all week. I can feel exactly which tendons will be the first to tear. They are taut like guitar strings. I just have to push myself. I’ve always been able to push myself.

The launching platform is only a few feet away now. There’s a purity in the exercise; a meditation.

My boots slam down on the dismount.