Jeremy Pope
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James Franco & Christian Slater Spice Up Raunchy Gay Porn Drama

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Tired of the noble LGBT suffering served up in well dressed Oscar-nominated films like The Imitation Game, The Danish Girl, and Carol? Want to dive into pure squalidness, with raunchy, naked people manipulating each other, while game-for-anything James Franco squeals, “Fuck that ass! Gimme that dick! Big dick’s mine!”? Well, here comes King Cobra, an enjoyably sordid (if not exactly trenchant) real-life crime romp which effectively captures the milieu of damaged people looking for love in the grainy world of fucking and sucking for pay.

In the film—which I saw at the Tribeca Film Festival last week—Disney Channel refugee Garrett Clayton projects the perfect mix of innocence and naughtiness as Idaho-born Sean Paul Lockhart, who picks the name Brent Corrigan out of a phone book and becomes a popular porn star in the aughts, thanks to videos made by Cobra’s Bryan Kocis-–here called Stephen (Christian Slater)—a poignant “dirty old man” who not only aims to make money off Brett, he wants the kid to help him stave off loneliness by pleasing him in the sack whenever the mood strikes. In a parallel story, James Franco is an aging escort-turned porn producer named Joe, whose stable of Viper Boyz includes his own younger lover, Harlow (Keegan Allen), an eager to please hustler who’s been abused by his stepdad and turns to Joe for a more loving fatherly figure. (“Who’s daddy’s little piggy pig?” coos Franco in one of their playful moments—though the relationship is every bit as toxic as you’d expect, fueled by jealousy, possession, and misguided affection. There’s also some free spirited play acting, like the scene I mentioned, where Franco’s character—normally a top—is bent over the couch for some bottom action and begging for “dick." If it were anyone but Franco, it would be a shock, lol.)

Enamored by his newfound fame and realizing his growing worth, Corrigan tries to get more money out of Stephen, which leads to a bitter rift, thereby opening the door for Joe and Harlow to step in and press the ka-ching button. Having ended up in financial hot water, Joe decides that hiring Corrigan is his way out of the mess—and the only way to remove the roadblock that is Stephen (who trademarked “Brent Corrigan”) is to simply have him killed! On a fateful night in 2007, he sends Harlow out on the mission—as if it’s just another whoring assignment--and the young guy dutifully goes through with it, figuring he’s not only helping their bank account, he’s somehow avenging the ills of his own stepdad!

Justin Kelly’s writing and direction stay away from judging the characters—he lets them freely play out their various obsessions—though their deep-seated flaws naturally show beyond the mainly sympathetic playing. Even Corrigan, the alleged hero of the piece, calculatedly lied to Stephen about being of legal age when they started (he later used that lapse as a weapon against Stephen) and then wanted to ignore the contract he’d signed with Stephen, in order to up his price. Furthermore, when Joe and Harlow vow to fix things, we have to believe that Corrigan didn’t think they meant that way. (Fortunately, the film, like prior reporting, assures us that Corrigan wasn’t actually in on the whole thing and in fact helped authorities nab the bad guys. He’s potentially shady at times, but not evil!)

 Porn‘s a complicated world, and King Cobra nails it, though it doesn’t have much to say in terms of a profound retelling of the facts, except that older gays routinely prey on younger ones, seizing on their vulnerability for their own pleasure and profit. Franco’s acting as the D-list daddy is self consciously over the top, which seems hammy until you realize just the kind of explosive nut he’s playing. Also of note, Molly Ringwald and Alicia Silverstone turn up as significant women in the guys’ lives, trying to make sense out of the madness as the rug is pulled out from normalcy. Corrigan’s obsession with safer sex, meanwhile, isn’t mentioned.

Before the Tribeca screening, a giddily giggling Kelly told the crowd, “You get to see three butts in this movie”! (“Aw, I wanted dick,” moaned the gay next to me to his friend. Stick to real Brent Corrigan flicks, I guess.) In the Q&A that followed the movie, Kelly—still giddy--said that after they worked together in the gay-themed I Am Michael, Franco was anxious to reteam, and he liked the idea of the Corrigan melodrama when Kelly came up with it. Kelly said his goal was to unjudgingly understand all the characters. He also said he was surprised to hear so much laughter from the crowd; it turns out much of the tale plays out like a very dark comedy, at least until it turns grisly. At this point, someone in the audience raised his hand to say he’d traveled all the way from Virginia to see the movie. He said he’s friends with Joe and Harlow (who are incarcerated), adding that they’re really excited by the film and he can’t wait to tell them about it! Can you imagine? Didn’t I tell you how complicated the porn world is? And can I add that Corrigan said no to the filmmakers, then agreed to lease his various names to them, and now says about the movie, “It’s not about me. It’s Hollywood’s attempt at bastardizing my early years…”? But he wants to see it!

PSYCHO REALY KILLS IT ON BROADWAY

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Photo of Ben Walker as Patrick Bateman by Joan Marcus

Moving on to straight people with weapons:

“We’re going to get splattered,” said Tony winning costume designer William Ivey Long as we sat down for the highly anticipated exercise in singing-and-dancing blood and guts called American Psycho the Musical. “But it never shows on navy blue,” he added, laughing, as he stroked his pristine looking jacket. It turns out a scrim comes down before the fake blood can hit you in one crucial splatter scene—but the musical has a visceral effect nonetheless. Based on the 1991 novel by Bret Easton Ellis, with music and lyrics by Duncan Sheik and a book by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, American Psycho the Musical takes us to the heart (or, rather, the heartlessness) of the 1980s, when people worked out for their health in between doing nonstop recreational rugs and having unsafe sex. At the center of this mixed-up, acquisitive world is 26-year-old Wall Street drone Patrick Bateman, who’s aroused by a walkman with “auto-reverse continuous play,” menu items with “sun-dried tomato reduction,” and business cards done in eggshell white. A victim if ever there was one, Bateman turns his narcissistic yen for stylistic perfection around and victimizes others, getting pleasure out of hacking them to tiny bits, just like in the exploitation flicks he watches on video over and over again. (His idol, by the way, is Donald Trump. How’s that for a sick joke?)

The slick production, directed by Rupert Goold, features flashy projections, herky jerky choreography by Lynne Page, and expert sound design by Dan Moses Schrier, a lot of the house and techno-flavored score filtered through vocoders and other technology that created some startling aural fullness. Benjamin Walker is terrific as the increasingly haunted (and minimally clothed) Patrick, taking us inside the man’s psyche as he longs to eradicate competitors and just about everyone else in his quest for ego dominance. Helene Yorke is fun as his vapid girlfriend who feels mahi-mahi goes well with Isaac Mizrahi, and Jennifer Damiano projects decency in a relatively thankless role, as one the show’s very few people without a literal axe to grind. Act One is sardonic and kicky—a new kind of slickly cynical. Act Two loses a little steam, especially as we start to doubt whether anything’s really happened, but it’s still innovatively presented while re-proving the old adage that sex and violence sell. I loved the show, finding it way more fascinating than the kitschy, more heartwarming musicals made out of old films. A Madonna-like character singing at the ‘80s club the Tunnel adds gay appeal, and so does the male friend relentlessly lusting after Patrick, though his misguided passion seems almost as psycho as Patrick’s lust for Prosecco. (Of course it might just be paranoid Patrick who’s imagining the whole thing anyway.) But here’s the biggest gay appeal of all: My work is referenced! One character says he’s doing an article called “The Death of Downtown,” an obvious nod to my 1987 Village Voice cover story of the same name. Should I sue or celebrate?

JESSIE MUELLER IS THE CATCH OF THE DAY

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Phot of Jessie Mueller in Waitress at the American Repertory Theater by Evgenia Eliseeva

A small-town lady named Jenna uses her carving tools to nicer effect in the musical Waitress, which is as sweet as Psycho is sardonic. [SPOILERS] You almost feel as if you’ve been thrown back into the ‘70s sitcom Alice as you meet the nimbly pie baking Jenna (Jessie Mueller); her two sidekick waitresses, one saucy, one meek; the diner’s irritable owner; and the inevitable cranky old customer with a heart of gold.

In the musical—based on the appealing if slight 2007 film written and directed by the late Adrienne Shelly—Jenna is a lovely person who’s stuck in a horrible marriage to a pig of a guy when she learns she’s pregnant (prompting the special of the day, the “Betrayed By My Eggs” Pie). She is cared for by a cutely neurotic, married gynecologist, who starts tending to her privates in more ways than one. (In one musical reverie, Jenna starts riffing on “chocolate stirrups” before correcting that to “chocolate syrups”).

Sara Bareilles wrote the score, which is ethereal and different sounding for Broadway, with lots of emo mood pieces, the entire show punctuated by short bursts of Mueller singing “Sugar…” But a real Broadway-style showstopper comes when Christopher Fitzgerald—as the Paul Revere-impersonating wacko who becomes fixated on the meek waitress--bops around the diner while effectively warning “Never Ever Getting Rid of Me.”

Meanwhile, Jenna’s initial chemistry with the wacky doctor seems to pale as his character becomes more serious and generic (though that makes it easier for them to break up, at least). And throughout, fairly predictable happenings are enlivened by a quirky approach and Diane Paulus’ witty direction. (The best sight gag has three of the show’s seemingly mismatched couples going at it in a tawdry triptych. “Love is where you find it” seems to be a theme. And Keala Settle, who’s the sassy waitress, always livens up a show like a sparkplug.) When Jenna ends up giving birth, you know you’ve entered a very rose-colored Easy-Bake oven because the doctor, his nurse (a funny Charity Angel Dawson), his wife (who’s an internist), Jenna’s husband, the two sidekicks, and the cranky old man are all there, to add to the merriment. You wonder where Jenna’s mother, who’s floated around in flashbacks, is hiding!

Mueller (who won a Tony for Beautiful) is superb as usual, with a lovely presence and haunting vocals, triumphing on her 11 o’clock number, “She Used To Be Mine.” The result is the second best musical about pie baking—tasty, if not exactly good for your waistline.

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