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Oscar Alternatives: Vampire Comedy and Punk Musical

There are terrific alternatives to overblown Oscar bait this weekend—What We Do in the Shadows, a hilarious vampire comedy and Home Street Home, a punk musical from a member of NOFX

I love the Oscars as much as anyone, and more than most.

It's a tradition in my house to serve a comfort food dinner, dress in pajamas, and watch the pageantry unfold. But this annual gala brings many annoyances—the films and filmmakers I really loved from the past year are not invited to the party. Take my best of list for 2014: My top four films were The Babadook, Calvary, Under the Skin, and Enemy. Together these movies received exactly zero nominations.

The other thing I can't stand about Oscar week is the amount of energy devoted to picking apart the fashion. I get it, there's heaps of glamour at the Oscars, but the fashion police don't seem to give half a thought to the merits of Birdman or Boyhood—they just thrive on blabbering loudly about "bold choices" on the runway.

So, rather than adding to the chatter about the Oscars (which you can actually watch me do  at 2:30 p.m. on Sunday, Feb. 22 on the KOFY TV20 show Real to Reel), I thought I would mention a movie and a new musical that are well worth your time.

First, the very New Zealand comedy What We Do In the Shadows is my favorite movie of 2015 so far. It's also the craziest movie I have seen in a long time, a reality show about roommates who happen to be vampires. Jemaine Clement, from the hilarious HBO series Flight of the Conchords is wonderful here as a centuries old undead gentleman living in contemporary New Zealand. The film skewers vampire mythology and movies (there are even references to The Lost Boys and Twilight) with a surprisingly genteel style—even with buckets of blood. Think of it as Best in Show with fangs, and do check it out. What We Do In the Shadows plays at Berkeley's Shattuck Cinemas and San Francisco's Embarcadero Cinemas this week. More info here.

The other show to check out isn't on screen, but live on stage. The new punk rock musical, Home Street Home (opening February 20 at Z Space in San Francisco) is the product of a 17-year vision by the legendary rock musician Fat Mike of the band NOFX. Fans of Berkeley Rep's smash American Idiot (aka, the Green Day musical) will want to check out this show about street punks in San Francisco. Fat Mike called me recently to talk about the show, which is clearly a labor of love.

"I wanted to write a punk musical about 17 years ago," says Fat Mike. "I wrote three songs for it, and those three songs actually wound up in the show all these years later."

Over the past five years, Fat Mike focused on completing the script and writing a new collection of songs. During that time, Berkeley Rep opened Green Day's punk opera American Idiot, a smash that went to Broadway and toured internationally.

"American Idiot really lit a fire under my butt to get this show done," says Fat Mike, laughing. "I always thought I had this idea to do a punk musical, which had not really been done. Then I heard Green Day had a musical coming out—Home Street Home is a very different show, but I was kind of obsessed to get it out there."

Fat Mike, photo byAlan SnodgrassFat Mike had a huge stroke of luck when he went to see a production of Hedwig and the Angry Inch and met a prolific theater writer, Jeff Marx, at an afterparty. Marx is the creator of Avenue Q, a  smash Broadway musical featuring Sesame Street-style puppets dealing with very adult issues, and he agreed to co-write the musical with Fat Mike and his girlfriend, Soma Snakeoil.

"It was kind of amazing. I'm just a huge fan of Avenue Q, and there I was talking to the creator of the show at a party," says Fat Mike. "How many times does a guy like that hear, 'Hey, I have an idea for a show'? But I told him about (Home Street Home) and he said he was interested right away. He jumped right on board with us. How cool is that?"

Home Street Home plays February 20—March 7 at Z Space in San Francisco. According to Fat Mike, the show is the "most sex-work positive, gay positive, drug positive show" you will see this year—in short, it makes Birdman seem the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.