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February 03, 1997 - Image 10

Resource type:
The Michigan Daily, 1997-02-03

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1QA - The Michigan Daily - Monday, February 3, 1997

'Gridlock'd' promises a smooth ride
Solid performances by Roth, Shakur bring film success

By Prashant Tamaskar
Daily Arts Writer
Already a tale of nearly legendary
proportions, the strange and unusual
saga of late rapper/actor Tupac Shakur
continues with the posthumous release
of "Gridlock'd."
The film takes a RI
gritty, sincere look
at the lives of two
heroin junkies who V
are trying to termi-
nate an addiction
that dominates
their existence.
Shakur is Spoon, the bassist in a
three-person, spoken-jazz band, who,
along with mates Stretch (Tim Roth)
and Cookie (Thandie Newton), lives for.
the thrill of the high.
When Cookie
lands in. an emer-
gency room due to <
an overdose, ,
Spoon and Stretch N.
vow to quit by
entering a detox
program the next


rehab center isn't as easy as it seems,
especially without medical insurance.
Frustrated by all the bureaucratic hoops
through which they have to jump to
attempt to straighten out their lives, the
protagonists hastily return back to their
® _smack dealer, who
SVIEW is later murdered.
Spotted at the
GridloCk'd scene of the crime,
Spoon and Stretch
*** become the police's
At Showcase prime suspects. In
addition, they are
stalked by the true killers, who are
searching for some missing heroin.
Believing that everything will turn out
all right if they can just enter detox, the
lead characters continue to seek assis-
tance with their drug problem, while
avoiding the cops
and the bad guys.
At the heart of
"Gridlock'd," like
so many other sub-
stance addiction
films, is the strug-
gle to cease usage.
But, writer/direc-
tor Vondie Curtis
Hall offers a twist.
Is Hall What if the failure

to quit is due more to the inability of
society to offer proper help than to a per-
sonal weakness on the part of the
In presenting this idea, Hall leads his
characters from government office to
government office on a wild-goose
chase that is meant to infuriate both
them and the audience. In contrast to
the almost optimistic outlooks of Spoon
and Stretch, an air of helplessness is
created, as the viewer empathizes with
the plight of a couple of downtrodden
stiffs. While they are trying to change
their lives, they receive little help from
a system that is supposed to support
them in a time of need.
The sense of powerlessness increases
when Spoon and Stretch find them-
selves mired in a murder case.
However, to his credit, the director
always keeps the focus of the film on
the addiction and not on what would be
a more conventional (and less interest-
ing) action sub-plot.
The two most affected by all of the
governmental red tape, Spoon and
Stretch have an intriguing, brotherly
relationship. Collectively, they form a
unit - with varying personality traits
meant to complement each other.
Spoon and Stretch are held together by

an addiction that probably forged the
friendship at its beginnings. Their bond,
however, is extremely deep and tran-
scends both race (an element that thank-
fully isn't emphasized) and drugs.
Shakur and Roth have excellent chem-
istry and do a commendable job of
bringing the two junkies to life. Shakur,
in moving away from his gangster per-
sona, brings a serene composure to his
more assertive, level-headed character.
He fully captures the frustration, desper-
ation and hope that simultaneously over-
come Spoon throughout the film. Fueled
by the actor's charisma, we understand
that he is not a bad person, but instead
someone who was merely led astray.
Roth is effective in playing the more
difficult of the two parts. Stretch, who
is kind of a loose cannon, doesn't want
to stop using heroin, but he only does so
because he knows that Spoon can't quit
without him. With his honest delivery,
and restrained facial expressions, Roth
adroitly expresses the physical anguish
that plagues a person who is making the
ultimate sacrifice for his friend.
Driven by Hall's skillful writing and
direction, the lead actors' solid perfor-
mances and a soundtrack that tells a
story in and of itself, "Gridlock'd" is a
creative, intelligent production of an
Music disa
By Christopher Tkaczyk
Daily Arts Writer
The musical theater world is not
something to be taken lightly. To
achieve success, a musical theater per-
former must have the balanced quali-
ties in all of the areas that encompass
the field: drama, song and dance.
Withl 1three

The two find
out, however, that
entering a drug

Director Vondie Curti

Several true-blue
gems save Seals' latest
Son Seals

Son Seals Live, Spontaneous
Alligator Records
Son Seals, like the late Albert Collins,
Lonnie Brooks, Buddy Guy and Luther
Allison, is a part of the great tradition of
urban-blues musicians of the post-B.B.
King generation. For many years, musi-
cians like Seals have labored in obscuri-
ty on small labels (like Alligator) to
keep the tradition of the urban blues
alive. That is to say, keep it alive until
the folk festival circuit "rediscovers" it
What disappoints me is that I've
heard Seals play better than this. Some
of the sides he cut in the early '70s are
great examples of blues/funk/rock
fusion (it sounds better than I just
described it). Seals has a gift for rhyth-
mically propulsive guitar lines and
vocals that gently tread the boundary
between grit and grace.
Which is not to say that the album is
without merit. Quite the opposite. Seals
displays much of the same emotive
ability that has made him a darling of
the "chitlin circuit"
But the record is spotty. Several of
the tunes get bogged down in a rock 'n'
roll sensibility that robs the music of its
behind-the-beat ease. Tunes
like "Your Love Is Like A
Cancer" and "Crying
For My Baby" have a C
rushed feel about
them that takes away
from the slow
moody nature of
Seals' vocals.
Similarly, on the most
rock-oriented tunes,
organ is substituted for
piano, giving the songs a
wide, garish sound.
Redeeming the album are stellar
tracks like "I Need My Baby Back,"
"Every Goodbye Ain't Gone" and
Lowell Fulson's excellent "Trouble,
Trouble." Here, the band seems to
relax into a blues groove in which it is

obviously more comfortable. Seals'
piercing, urgent guitar work is sup-
plemented by some able work at the
piano on these tracks, especially in "I
Need My Baby Back." This is where
Seals' true talent lies: In making the
nuts and bolts of the song subordinate
to his own emotional powers. If you
can get through the crossover tracks,
the true-blue gems are-well worth the
This is not an album for blues neo-
phytes. But people who are already afi-
cionados of urban blues and who like
powerful live recordings will be pleased
with this one.
-.James Miller
Hot Saki & Bedtime Stories
TVT Records
"Hot Saki & Bedtime Stories" is an
album that has it all. Catherine has
composed 14 psychedelic-glam pop
songs, ranging in topic from absolute
debauchery to the innocence of a child-
hood fantasy.
This Chicago band's style of candy-
coated lyrics and experimen-
tal music is easy to swal-
low, and, not surpris-
q dingly, tasty to the last
At times,
Catherine might
sound like the
Smashing Pumpkins;
at others, the Beach
Boys, Foo Fighters or
mellowed-out John
Lennon. Regardless,
Catherine has skillfully com-
bined acoustic and electric guitars with
just enough inventive musical tricks to
produce a unique sound that stands
"Four Leaf Clover" this album's first
single, is a song about summertime


Son Seals plays the urban blues.
relationships and the allusions that are
attached. For the song, Catherine
employed D'Arcy (Smashing
Pumpkins) to sing this duet with
singer/guitarist Mark Rew. Although
they are not Sonny and Cher, this song
is still excellent, and it will have its lis-
teners wondering why Billy Corgan
doesn't shut up sometimes and let
D'Arcy take over.
The song "Vegas Glam" is based on
Catherine's gambling misfortunes dur-
ing its last tour. Rew sings it like so
many others have before: "I'm ready to
lose everything." Staying on the topic of
vice, Rew sings, "With all the drugs
I've been dropping ..." on "Punch Me
"Pink Floyd Poster" is a humorous
song about getting stoned and trying
so hard to find revelations in the
posters of the '70s. One can try so hard
that the intoxication becomes irrele-
One of the most beautiful songs on
"Hot Saki & Bedtime Stories" is
"Sign of the Cross." Rew originally
played the song for his infant son. He
liked it so much that it appears on the
album. When he sings, "You're not
sucking my blood, you're sucking
your thumb," it's all about his son's
fascination with vampires, not some
freaky gothic theme.
Catherine has created a wonderful
album that covers just about every
base. It's just as the title implies:
There's probably nothing better than
"Hot Saki & Bedtime Stories" for the
- Brian M. Kemp

the musical play R
becomes a power-
ful storyteller that
can alter an audi-
ence's emotions or
destroy its precon-
ceived views.
The Basement Arts production of
"Assassins" was a slap in the face to its
composer, Stephen Sondheim.
Sondheim musicals are not intended to
be simply acted; they are written as
pieces of theater that combine song,
story and art with highly developed
"Assassins" is a show that looks at
the men and women who have attempt-
ed the life of presidents, and it illus-
trates them as humans who are in
search of the American Dream. While
heartily attempting to present an excel-
lent production of an excellent show,
director Randy Kurstin and his random
cast of misfits presented an evening of
mixed performances.
Still, to mount a production of a
Broadway musical requires a large
amount of talent and experience. The
task taken by Kurstin and company
was not a small one, and they should be
commended for their intentions. While
there were a few shining moments from
some cast members, the show was a
large disappointment.
Kurstin's intentions to direct the
musical arose after witnessing the orig-
inal off-Broadway production in 1991.
He said the show he experienced didn't
tie together well, and it was more of a
review than an actual play.
If his intentions were to create some-
thing different, he did accomplish
something. Definite characters were
created by the 12-member cast, making
the production bearable. However,
there weren't many shining moments
during any of the musical numbers,
save the ensemble of five who were on-
stage for a limited number of scenes.
Some of the better performances


Tim Roth and the late Tupac Shakur take a break from the action in "Gridlock'd."
overdone topic. But even more memo- late Tupac Shakur, begins to quest*
rable than the film's quality is the and regret the ill-fated situation in
almost surreal experience of viewing it. which he has found himself, the movie
Managing to be cruelly ironic, particu- serves as just another tragic example of
larly when Spoon, as portrayed by the life imitating art.
ppoints in 'Assassins'
were given by Laura Heisler, who hilar- Garfield's assassin) was one of thisp'
iously portrayed Lynette "Squeaky" duction's strongest points. GreenfiU
Fromme, and Kelly Gillespie, who used his lack of vocal ability to human-
made an over-the-edge housewife out ize Guiteau, and he won audience
of Sara Jane Moore. Fromme and approval with his rendition of Guiteau's
Moore were the conspirators who death song, which became a funny look
unsuccessfully attempted to assassinate at a somewhat somber event.
President Gerald Ford. The women's Jason Lindner's characterization of
failure was hilari- Franklin Delano Roosevelt's attempted
E V I E W ously overplayed assassin, Giuseppe Zangara, was anoth-
when Fromme's er fine performance. However, the
Assassins gun failed to fire, important scene of Zangara's death
and Moore desper- hushed by the overly loud music P
Arena Theater ately began throw- vided by the show's orchestra. While
Jan. 31. 1997 ing bullets at the seated on the electric chair, Zangara's
bumbling Gerald final lines of "flip the switch" were
Ford. drowned out by the music and the loud
A new turn that Kurstin provided in ensemble cast. While the exchanges
the production was the casting of the between Zangara and the ensemble
role of the Balladeer, who serves as the were powerful, they were hard to under-
show's narrator. In the original off- stand, due to Lindner's strong Italian
Broadway production, the role was accent and his inability to overpower
played by a banjo-strumming man. the rest of the onstage spectacle.
However, Kurstin decided to cast a The best acting of the evening caS
woman as the Balladeer. Jackie Urso, from the show's director, Randy
this production's Balladeer, failed to Kurstin, who took his turn onstage as
conjure the character of the American Samuel Byck, the hijacker who
spirit. While her different costumes of attempted to fly a 747 into the White
red, white and blue helped to indicate House while Richard Nixon was in
her role in the office. Kurstin's
production, she Byck was highly
didn't portray . g' detailed, and he
the Balladeer T abein, O depicted the
with feeling, character w
often appearing t came Byck's qui
stiff and awk- the paced mono-
ward. Her voice, from show s logues were
though beautiful Irector, Randyve x c e I I e n t
at some points, spouted out by
sounded strained KtnKurstin in what
while singing the were some of the
Balladeer's high- finer scenes of
er chords. the evening.
Another disappointment in the cast One of the evening's surprises was the
was the performance given by beginning of the performance, when the
Bernardo De Paula, who portrayed the show's musical director, Matth
show's most important asset, John Witten, gave a touching rendition of te
Wilkes Booth. De Paula's Booth simply National Anthem. The inclusion of the
lacked emotion. While, at times, he anthem was a good way for the audience
hinted at having a good singing voice, to realize that what they were about to
he didn't use it to complement his char- witness was not just a piece of theater; it
acter, who passionately acts out of con- was a piece of American theater.
tempt to "kill the man who killed (his) The show deals with strong, emo-
country." De Paula's performance of ,tional subjects that plague American
"The Ballad Of Booth," along with society. While the cast and its ensem-
Urso, was a weak one. ble gave excellent acting, the singi
Adam Greenfield is an excellent was a large disappointment for ww
actor; however, he is not a singer. His otherwise could have been a powerful
portrayal of Charles Guiteau (James production.


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