Friday, November 30, 2018

Overlord, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, and The Endless

 
OVERLORD
 
Nazi Zombies!!!! WOOOT!!!!
 
Okay, that’s the silly fanboy horror geek in me. Two of the most “guilt-free” monsters ever created are the zombies and the Nazis. Bring them together and you have a guilt-free experience of blood, guts, and full bore adrenaline body horror and nasty nasty NASTY blood and guts GORE!!!! BRING IT ON!!!!
 
Testosterone pumping, the movie starts and I’m all in…. We’re on a plane, we’re headed into Nazi territory, they’re shooting the plane, they’re jumping, and it’s chaos and madness and war war WAR!!!! And as they make their way through a night-enshrouded wilderness, hunted by Nazis, desperate to aid to mission that will secure Allied victory… my wife leans over to me and whispers “This is boring.”
 
*blink*
 
Boring?!?!!! I shake my head in wonder and point to a screen where a landmine is blowing apart a poor American soldier, where there are hanging corpses in the trees, and where the German Nazi Forces are stalking the dark wilderness outside a small town in France. The mission depends on taking out that communications tower hidden in the bowels of the church where a scientist is performing experiments that will revive dead flesh.
 
Led by a demolitions expert (Wyatt Russell – Son of Kurt and Goldie), the rag tag soldiers are few in number and ill-trained to boot. French translator Ed Boyce (Jovan Adepo), sniper Tibbet (John Magaro) and photographer Morton Chase (Iain De Caestecker) must trust a village woman (Mathilde Ollivier) to lead them through the forest, to the village, and then plan their strategy while hiding in her home near the church. But it isn’t long before they learn about the mysterious experiments taking place and are left battling something far more insidious than just the Third Reich.
 
Boring?
 
No, friends… this movie is NOT boring, despite the eye-rolling protestations of my wife. And even she perked up when the soldiers finally learn what the experiments really mean and what dangers it represents.
 
A solid 8 out of 10.
 
 
The Ballad of Buster Scruggs.
 
This Coen Brothers oddity hit Netflix, skipping a  theatrical run and leaving me to feel a little cheated as a result. But, at the same time, I can’t say that this would have necessarily been one of their usual hits with fans. With a series of six Western Vignettes, the Coen’s spin a bit of an awkward film with strange characters that is consistently entertaining but not precisely on the mainstream. They draw some amazing performances from a number of well-known character actors; including John Lithgow, Liam Neeson, James Franco, and others.
 
The film is often very dark, very bleak, and also very funny. It hits several comedic points, especially in the opening vignette about a traveling balladeer turned gunslinger. He’s an open, congenial, happy and cold hearted killer of men. Punctuated with acts of terrible violence, the light-hearted nature of the first vignette sets the tone for the rest of the series as we go from one unfortunate character to the next. Every moment was exquisitely planned to bring a depth of emotion and builds to the final vignette featuring five strangers traveling by stage-coach, a ride filled with dread and uncertainty.
 
Artfully shot with some amazing cinematography, I feel that the film would have looked amazing on the large screen and the sweeping landscapes felt far too small for the television. And this is probably the largest critique I can make regarding this feature- it’s too small for Netflix. Like a few other releases in recent months, the direct to streaming platform may be fine for convenience but ultimately harms the movie-going experience on the whole. I don’t just want to be entertained with a story, I want to sit in a theater and be amazed and transported. I want to have an experience. But this isn’t the fault of the film itself, but rather it’s distribution.
 
9.5 out of 10.
 
 
The Endless
 
After escaping from a cult nearly a decade prior, two brothers return after receiving a strange video. They come to find the cult is still living in a barren stretch of mountain desert inhabited by meth-farms, drug dealers, and other strange inhabitants. The brothers are welcomed warmly by the cult, fed, and they experience a kind of homecoming and acceptance that they never saw in the outside world. As one of the brothers begins to feel tempted for a permanent return, the other brother continues to distrust and question the strange atmosphere and behavior that he’s seeing.
 
That’s it. That’s the movie- that’s the absolute MOST you should know before seeing the film. What happens next is a strange story inspired by the madness of Lovecraft and the weirdness of Kafka. The world is not what we think, things are certainly not as they seem, and every trope one would expect is abandoned for a story designed to ask questions and never force an easy answer. This movie is just so fucking WEIRD, man! And the characters react perfectly to their increasingly bizarre situation, driving the narrative to an exciting conclusion.
 
10 out of 10.
 
 

Sunday, November 18, 2018

Bohemian Rhapsody and Suspiria

Bohemian Rhapsody
 
I’ve said it a thousand times if I’ve said it a million times; “Freddy Mercury is the GREATEST front man that ever lived!”
 
My mom wrote in one of my baby books that my favorite song was “Another one Bites the Dust”, so we are going back past my first memories to the womb and back a little further. Queen has been a staple sound in my life, digging deeper than I believe anyone even realizes. I read some Scholastic Biographies of the band, so I know that the Brian May gets that unique guitar sound by using a metal pick. I know that Freddie was an immigrant. I knew that their drummer was going to be a dentist before Queen found the success it reached, and I knew that each member of the band brought a distinct and different sound to their experience. Whether it be a hard rock classic, a disco beat, or an epic blend of rock and opera, the band has been paving the roads since their initial success and beyond the death of Mercury himself.
 
Bohemian Rhapsody is a dramatic retelling of the bands rise to fame and Mercury’s tumultuous life. In order to get the spirit and soul of the story right, the movie plays with a few time jumps and dramatic moments so that they can fit the bands experiences into a dramatic structure. In other words- While not an entirely “fictionalized” account, this movie doesn’t come close to telling the complete story. Some events are played up, other moments played way down, and still other moments totally shuffled out of time itself. (We Will Rock You was written in ’77, I believe.)
 
But, like the focus of the story itself, Rhapsody doesn’t let the truth get in the way of being an entertaining celebration of life, love, and music. And Rami Malek brings Freddie to life once more, recreating the moments that were so incredibly important to the band itself. Their struggle to get the titular song played on the radio, their experimentations with sound, and their critical performance at LIVE-AID, which is the penultimate performance and one of the most legendary rock performances of all time.
 
I’ve never been much of a “reviewer” so much as a writer who speaks from his heart about the things he loves- and there was a smile on my face through most of the film. Tears in my eyes obscured some of the details, a quick jump to the restroom saw me miss out on a moment somewhere, but all in all the film hit all the right notes (Pun intended.).
 
8 out of 10
 
Suspiria
 
Dario Argento’s original film is, frankly, one of my favorite films in the Italian Horror sub-genre. It’s brutal, bloody, deliberately paced, exquisitely designed with a stunning color palate, and has an amazing score by Goblin. So I’ve been very eager to see the remake, released this past week in our local art-house theater. I was there early on a Saturday afternoon with Remo D himself, though I did miss the first five or ten minutes due to events outside of my control.
 
Dakota Johnson stars as Susie, a new dancer entering a West Berlin Dance Studio amidst the crisis of the 1977 plane hijacking of dissident terrorists. She is unaware that the Studio is run by a coven of witches, but it is soon apparent that things are horribly amiss. Where the film works is when it chooses to focus on the actual horror story- A witches coven caught between two paths. Tilda Swinton stars (most notably) as Mme. Blanc, a witch who is seeking to replace the mysterious Mother Markos as leader of the coven. All of which serves to execute a subtle examination of power, corruption, and guilt.
 
All of which is dragged out with a taffy stretching exercise that examines the shame of an aging psychologist. He becomes embroiled with the Coven when his patient(Chloe Grace Moretz) goes missing and he tried to impress the dangers of the coven on another dancer (Mia Goth). And if we had only played with a few moments, that would be well enough. But we spend far too much time traveling back and forth between East and West Berlin, listening to the hostage crisis play over television and radio, watching the doctor lament his long lost wife to Nazi occupation, and what basically felt like an entirely separate film that continually interrupted the flow of the primary narrative.
 
From an artistic perspective, the director very likely achieved their vision of what they wanted the film to be. With several stunning moments, I want to like the film far more than I actually did.
 
7 out of 10.
 
 
 
 

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Terms of Use at Paperwing Theatre Company.


The set is black with neon trim paint, offering a bleak view somewhat inspired by Tron but with a sense of dystopia. Two monitors are locked on either side of the small stage where a lone bed lies atop nothing but a box spring, the covers disheveled as random "parts" lie scattered about. Motherboards, wires, some tools, and a chair-

Terms of Use is a science fiction exploration of a future that is far to near and far too present to our own time. Writer Patrick M. Brennan's stage-play calls for complex management of multiple media features, including interaction with video feeds and the live actors on stage. All of which is capably handled by the shows director, Erin Davison. The fictional world plays all too well with today's concerns with privacy and data mining too often hidden in the "terms of use" in so many current services which seem oddly free. In this "Fictional" story, Virtopia is the Virtual Reality world where many play, work, and spend their spare time. Miss V (Alyssa Matthews) is our virtual guide, company spokes-model, and the long pined for "Fantasy woman" of too many dreams. She is the Artificial Intelligence that learns just enough to be clever, but never displays an ounce of humanity within her circuitry.

Take a snapshot of a broken family. CC (Jay Brew) and Martha (Alanna Youngblood) are siblings living together many years after the death of their parents, but only a few short years after the estrangement of their outlaw sister, Fanta (Lucy Tran). They share the rent with local grifter, Erik (Jason Roeder). CC's recent hacking to create modifications to Virtopia are coming to a head as he's caught the attention of black market customers, a network of cyber-terrorists, and the company itself. His experiments may have also opened a door beyond death itself. Or could this be something worse?

Jay Brew brings his best performance to date as the deeply troubled CC, whose experiments may destroy everything his family has left. He's obviously broken from the moment we meet him, suffering from a childhood injury that's left him permanently crippled. But while CC is the deformed backbone of the show, the emotional heart is Martha. Alanna Youngblood is a force of nature on stage, capturing the heartache and worry of a sister on the edge of faith, hope, and heartbreak. She's largely turned a blind eye to the dangers of the virtual world, but it's also blinded her to the allure that threatens to tear her family apart.

And the siblings are going to have trouble knowing who to trust. Everyone wants a piece of what CC's found, for one reason or another.

8 out of 10 and an excellent production from Paperwing Theatre.

Thursday, November 1, 2018

31 Days of Halloween/Horror 2018


Here is my list for 31 Days of Halloween!
  • Caught
  • The House with a Clock in Its Walls
  • The Return of the Living Dead
  • Hell Fest
  • Stephanie
  • Corbin Nash
  • Army of Darkness
  • Friday the 13th Part III
  • Venom
  • Terrified
  • Sightseers
  • Clowntergeist
  • The Void
  • Terrifier
  • The Chair
  • Hell House LLC
  • Hell House LLC II: The Abaddon Hotel
  • The Witch in the Window
  • Halloween
  • Island Zero
  • Night of the Living Dead
  • A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night
  • Satan's Slaves
  • The Evil Dead
  • Trick 'r Treat
  • Errementari: The Blacksmith and the Devil


I also attended EVIL DEAD: The Musical and THE ROCKY HORROR SHOW as parts of my monthlong journey.... which leaves me three movies short of my goal of a solid 31. Failure stings a bit, but there were nights and days where the time just wasn't there.

See you next Halloween, Dear Faceless Readers.... MUAHAHAHAHA!!!!

Monday, October 29, 2018

Rocky Horror At Paper Wing Theatre: 2018


The Rocky Horror Show is a beloved and iconic show here on the Central Coast, where The Paper Wing Theatre Company has regularly performed it throughout many the Halloween season. I’ve covered my thoughts on this show from the inside, from the outside, from performing in the retirement season of the theater’s perennial “Frank” (Lj Brewer) and even to the breakout new performance of a newcomer to the role when the theater brought the show back last year. I’ve “reviewed” this show many times, with many changes to the cast, to the set decoration, the style of music performed, and many kinds of presentations.
 
As of this writing, I still plan to see a second performance of the theater’s perennial “Janet” (Heather Hahn) as she bids farewell to the role. She’s always brought me to shivers with her rendition of “Superheroes” and I’m greatly looking forward to it. That also comes with a mix of emotional ties… I’m struggling with some thoughts on this as a result. And I only mention that because I’ve always prided myself on writing fully honest reviews that express my mindset, how I’m reacting to the experience, and what it means to me. I even question whether I should call my little rants anything closely resembling a “review” every single time I post something. 

The show opened with a new Trixie, and of course Tiffany Jones looks stunning in her bright purple decor but she also is a singer I've repeatedly highlighted on my little blog. So, of course, she absolutely nails it. 
 
Save for the titular role of “Rocky” (Dani Cutter), this year saw the show split into two casts. One with veterans returning and the other with some new performers from last year joining newer performers—it gets a bit confusing when I think of how to explain the situation. I covered a lot of ground last year and I’m trying not to just repeat myself. Returning are Jay  Jones, Anjoli Johnson and Justin Azevedo to the roles of “Brad”,“Janet” and “Rifraff”, a one night replacement saw perennial “Magenta” actress, Jourdain Barton, joining the cast. Also returning was Randy Pires in the dual performance of “Eddie” and “Dr. Scott”.  All are performers I’ve praised in previous blogs and all brought their usual “A” game to the show. Several new faces joined the cast; Columbia, The Narrator, and a brand new Frank.
 
The role is a large one to fill, and while last year brought a sense of reptilian menace and punk rage to the role; this year’s performance comes with yet another change. The audience is struck with a hammer's strength of vocal force when he takes the stage, and I’m immediately struck by a sense of déjà vu- I swear to god we were seeing what might happen were Freddy Mercury to take the stage as the cape came down and Stephan Sams nails an entirely different and far more playful Frank than previously experienced. Equal parts bombastic assault and boyish innocence, a new Frank brings with it a different feel to the rest of the cast.This is a pouting and spoiled Frank, and it's a fantastic experience to see such an iconic role taken in so many different directions by such talented performers. Despite the differences, each of them remains absolutely faithful to the original performance by Curry and yet each tackles him with a slightly different twist on the familiar.
  
Although you may see a hundred Ceasars or a thousand Romeos, you will never be able to compare those performances to the iconic original like one can with Dr. Frankenfurter. I think that's uniquely of our age and time, something that few other shows will ever be able to meet or exceed. 
With that said, Rocky Horror continues to perform in Monterey at the Paper Wing Theatre and will likely return again in the coming years.
 

*** ADDITIONAL NOTES ****

This just in- and it's not a secret so much as I am just way out of the loop on some information, so let me get down to brass tacks and speak straight from the heart.

When I first started at Paperwing Theatre, I made a few fast friends. I also didn't know much about the theater world or how to interact or what to do in what situation at any given time. I had a few people I could ask, a few people I could learn from, but one person stood as a example of the kind of man I wanted to be. In the way he carried himself, in the way he reached out, in the way he took notes and studied his lines and made decisions regarding his character. In that first year where I worked with Paperwing, I wrote his name on a ballot for the local newspaper as "Best Artist" because of the example he set for me. 

I just found out this would also be HIS last run in the role of the Narrator for The Rocky Horror Show and the news leaves me devastated. His quick wit, his work with the audience, his ability to adapt and always keep the show moving and funny is something that I wish I could do. It's midnight, October 30th, and I have work tomorrow morning and I'm all medicated up- but I wanted.. needed... was compelled to write something and it's a little clumsy.

I love you, Jay. I love you, Heather. I love you, Lj Brewer and Koly McBride and Matt, Alyce, Chuck Messenger, Drew, Jordan, Jourdain, Taylor Young, Allison Smith, Kate, Jody, and so many more talented wonderful people who shared the stage with one another and with me.
 

Friday, October 26, 2018

EVIL DEAD: The Musical!!! @ San Jose


 
Blasting off with double barrel badassness, Evil Dead: the Musical is something that I’ve long wanted to see and finally had the opportunity this year. Presented in San Jose, the shlock-fueled madness of Sam Raimi’s cult classic is given a great spin as every cheesy moment is embraced whole heartedly by a game cast led by it’s stalwart champion, Ashley J Williams (Matty Gregg).
 
When I say “led”, I absolutely chose that word especially. Gregg captures Bruce Campbells iconic mannerisms beautifully and easily adapts to the rowdy audience and the very nature of live performance with comfortable ease and charisma. He never second-guesses his choices and walks with the full bluster and bravado that Ash needs in order to keep the show moving and keep the audience involved. He’s a natural, with a cocky grin all his own and a playfulness that shows from the opening moments of the performance and throughout.
 
Followed to that mysterious Cabin in the Woods are Ash’s best friend, Scotty (Edie Flores), his girlfriend, Linda (Lindsay Sporleder), his sister, Cheryl (Shannon Alane Harger), and some skank that Scotty picked up in the bar, Shelly (Zanna Wei). The five teens are on vacation and have decided the perfect spring break would be to break into an isolated cabin where no one knows they are. Oh, also they find a mysterious book, eerie dagger, ancient tome bound in human flesh, and a tape recording that phonetically recites the ancient passages that supposedly summon the evil to this world. Perfect!
 
Familiar story from there on out- boy expresses love for girl, another boy gets down and dirty with his girl, while the prudish sister is lured into the woods where she’s assaulted by several trees that ultimately  possess her and various others in the group. Ash is quickly left on his own, which is when Zanna Wei returns in a dual role as “Annie”, the daughter of the man who owns the cabin and recites the book. She’s accompanied by her fiancée, Ed (Oklys Pimental) and erstwhile, reliable, and dependable local yokel, Jake (Ray D’Ambrosio).  Hilarity ensues.
 
EVERYONE in the cast stands out in each of their respective roles. The vocals throughout their songs are strong, supported by strong character work and a live band that lays hidden behind the setting wall. (more on that, later) Regular readers know that I try to highlight a few performances throughout my thoughts, but the truth is that every single cast member  were at the absolute top of their game in their performances. Cheryl was beautifully vulgar and carried through with some groanworthy puns.. Scotty was callous and later led the crew through a phenomenal Necronomicon Dance (“Just like the Timewarp, only BETTER!”). Zanna Wei carried two performances, one as a ditzy tramp (It’s in the script, don’t get offended) and the other as a long suffering student of the occult whose life has been marred by experiences with the Zandarian Demons. Linda kicks the romance into overdrive and adds depth to Ash’s torture at the hands of the deadites, especially when the horror erupts and she very nearly screams her head off. Jake is completely lovable as the redneck rascal. And, of course, Ed’s delivery is engaging, beautifully spoken, and compelling each and every time he has something to say. He is, quite possibly, the lynch pin that holds the entire story together. So it’s in the audiences’ best interest to pay special attention each and every time he speaks.
 
And if you think that’s all there is, I have some weird news for you. Chants for both “tree’s” (Tyler Pardini / Daniel Lerma) would rise up throughout the whole of the evening, demanding repeat arrivals from those two throughout the show. Each carried through with other special moments throughout the show, including a singing moose and a …. Well, I’ll leave that as a surprise.
 
Now, regarding that “more” and considering it is now “later”- the set was an interesting technological achievement as they chose to immerse the audience in a video model of the set, a large screen wall and floor played host to the plays action. The cast were zoomed through the wilderness with beautiful 3-D computer graphics, the cabin twisting to display different angles and moving Cheryl’s cellar door prison throughout the show. The cast bursts through doors to the outside, falls, and their blood splatters back against the wall during key scenes. It worked far better than I would have thought, being a big fan of practical sets and effects myself. But I’m always willing to embrace the different, and this succeeded in their mission to bring a fully immersive “Movie Musical” to life.
 
But with all the good, I’d be less than honest if I didn’t mention there were some technical problems with some of their practical effects. At times a little unwieldy, the cast wore blood packs that occasionally malfunctioned at various points and there were a few sound effects that didn’t quite hit their cue. Played (often brilliantly) to comedic affect by the actors on stage, the malfunctions were actually somewhat endearing and are more than forgivable. I actually think it’s one of the reasons to really love and enjoy a live theater environment, to see what happens when theater isn’t entirely scrubbed to flawless perfection and is allowed to live on a dangerous edge that welcomes the audience to embrace these experiences.
 
10 out of 10, and a fervent wish it were a longer run. The show runs through November 8th, in San Jose. Check local listings for theater location.

Saturday, October 20, 2018

31 Days of Horror: Halloween (2018)


Set forty years after the first film, Halloween (2018) follows up on the events of the first movie and ignores all sequels, reboots, restarts, re-imaginings, and whatever else has gone on before except for the events of that one movie. So it's a direct sequel to that first movie.
But it really isn't.

Laurie Strode is a hermetic shut-in, agoraphobic and sequestered out on a lonely stretch of road where she lives in both fear and anticipation of the Shape's return. She has had two failed marriages, she's tried to raise a daughter of her own, and her fear and alcoholism have destroyed many of the dreams she once had for a normal life. She's not a hero. She hasn't overcome her demons. This is not the Laurie I hoped to see, frankly. And it's that much more heart-wrenching to experience it.
Two investigative journalists are hoping to use the Haddonfield murder case in an upcoming feature story. They visit Laurie and they also pay a visit to the asylum where Michael Meyers has spent the last several years of his life. He is the living embodiment of evil. He hasn't said a word since his killing spree forty years prior. He's just been waiting.

A bus transfer to a new facility is just the opportunity that Michael needs, and the killing spree starts anew.

I knew this was going to be a different movie, but the truth of the matter is that this is so far removed from what I expected that it is hard to discuss without spoiling it. There are layers to this film and I'm glad they decided to not slap a number on to the end of it, leaving it as just "Halloween" and letting it sort of speak for itself. Because this isn't really a sequel, despite revisiting the characters of the previous work. This is a whole new Halloween film, a whole different story with entirely different themes and completely new nightmares for the audience. You'll get your familiar beats, but this is a new creature in and of itself.

Jamie Lee Curtis gives a layered and complex performance. I'm going to be a little too honest here- I did not LIKE what Laurie had become. My heart broke to see her taken by her own demons, to see her living with a guilt and shame over not being able to move on. A specific scene cut close to home as I saw the kinds of things I feel when my own PTSD is triggered and it was hard to watch it reflected back to me in that way. Though it will never happen, she should be nominated for an award in this movie.

10 out of 10.