Monday, December 13, 2010

3 Reviews!!! Voyage, House, Operation:Endgame.

Chronicles of Narnia: Voyage of the Dawn Treader

I fell in love with Narnia during the Third Grade. Our teacher had assigned “The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe” as required reading for that year, followed by a series of writing assignments that explored mythology in other cultures. They were fairly basic assignments, but I was instilled with a love for fantasy that continues to this day. After devouring the first book in the series, I dove head first into the entire series and have often returned several times over the many years to reread the stories of C.S. Lewis. I know there’s a chronological disturbance with “The Magicians Nephew” and “The Final Battle” is not exactly one of my favorite books, but when it comes down to the nitty and the gritty… “The Voyage of the Dawn Treader” is probably the most intimate and introduces my favorite character in the series. It begins to tell the tale of a doubting, petulant, and arrogant young boy named Eustace as he joins cousins Lucy and Edmund on one of their adventures to Narnia.

That’s right, faceless reader. My favorite character in the series is also the character that has received the largest number of complaints, including a claim from our local paper that child abuse advocates would probably like to smack him across the face. But it’s not about who he IS, it’s about who he is becoming and the choices that are laid out before him. Voyage of the Dawn Treader is about choice, temptation, and redemption. Oh yes, the strong Christian themes are here and I am just fine with that little oddity in modern cinema. Maybe this is where “Voyage” becomes a little harder to swallow for the public? It is no secret that Fantasy and Theology aren’t precisely great partners, with large Christian fundamentalist groups taking their numerous stands against D&D, Heavy Metal Music, Horror Movies, and the Harry Potter franchise. Additionally, large numbers of Fantasy film fans are tired of feeling pilloried by that same fundamentalist community and aren’t eager to feel the pangs of Christian Spirituality mixed with their Minotaur’s. No character is as great a symbol of intolerance AND salvation as that of Eustace, creating an extremely polarizing character for any potential viewer. Oh, the places we could go with a character study on him… but let’s just focus a bit more on the movie, shall we?

Lucy and Edmund return to Narnia and aid Prince Caspian in his quest to find Seven Lords that were once loyal to his father. His uncle had them banished to some Islands off the coast of the mainland. A growing evil has taken root near the border to Aslans’ Country, threatening the islands as villainous slavers force people there to make ritual sacrifices. Unlike the previous entries, Voyage is much less epic of an adventure and focuses more on the personal struggles of the ships crew as they travel from one island to the next in a desperate bid to seek out the Lords, their swords, and stop this growing menace. The special effects team really outdoes their previous entries by showing a certain degree of restraint and saving the most stunning visuals for when they will count the most. Indeed, the sea serpent is probably one of the most frightening and horrific things I’ve EVER seen on the big screen and it promises to give me nightmares for years to come.

5 out of 5. Definitely one of the most worthwhile films of the year for me.


I have found the Holy Grail! In my quest for the weird and the bizarre, I have delved into visions of the nightmarish and the perverse. I have seen the brutal, the strange, and the beautiful and the politically charged to the nonsensical whimsy of madness. I have seen just about everything there is to see in the world of cinematic art, forgetting some and endlessly haunted by others. But nothing holds a candle to the simple bizarreness of this unique “horror” import from Japan. In what may seem like a simple enough story, nothing could ever prepare you for the oddball lunacy that is unleashed with a viewing of “House”.

Gorgeous is a young teen girl whose family vacation is ruined by the appearance of her fathers’ fiancĂ©e. Rather than allowing the woman to join them, she sets out to visit her Aunt in the country and brings along a group of friends with a bizarre list of nicknames. Kung-Fu, Fantasy, Mac, Melody, Sweetness, and Prof are excited to be spending time together with their beautiful friend and have absolutely no idea that the girls’ Aunt harbors a deadly secret. With that said… THE FREAKIN’ HOUSE STARTS EATING THEM!!!! No, no no no no no… not eating them, really, but kind of yeah. Okay, it starts to devour them a few pieces at a time but they’re still alive… so we have randomly floating limbs, screaming teenage girls, geysers of blood, a mewling cat, furniture that hops around and attacks people, and people getting turned into bananas after drinking soup with bears. I’m not sure what the heck is going on at any point in this movie, except that this is by far the weirdest film I’ve ever seen. Things happen for no apparent reason, people spout out lines of dialogue that make NO sense… and then more things start to happen. And I’m staring at the screen with the distinct impression that someone else HAS to be watching my response, because this movie is MESSED up.

This is it…. This is the strangest movie I’ve ever seen. I decided to watch some of the extra’s on the DVD, but once I saw the name Ti West my brain sort of folded in on itself and wrapped into a tight little knot. This guy starts talking about the movie as if he’s EVER made a decent film in his life and I’m trying to figure out why this even matters… when I remembered that there are journalists and reviewers out there who will swear by House of the Devil as being the greatest horror movie of the past five years. I looked at this movie and tried to figure out why Ti West, the man who films a girl refilling her glass of water multiple times, has any sort of say in regards to this film. And I listened to him speak… at the end of the day, his comments could be regarded as this: “This is the strangest movie I’ve ever seen. It’s like a childs nightmare.” Congratulations, doofus! You state the obvious…

This movie deserves 4 out of 5. The Ti West commentary after the film in the special features seems perfectly nonsensical with regard to the rest of the film. It’s like asking Eli Roth to do an interview on the special features portion of “On Golden Pond” because Cabin Fever took place in a cabin near a lake. I don’t get it.

Operation: Endgame

Two government assassination squads are forced to kill one another in this extremely dark comedy. The basic premise introduces “Joker” to his new assignment, a covert operations assassination team devoted to furthering the interests of the U.S. government. Their opposing squad, set up decades earlier, is also devoted to furthering the interests… so it’s never really clear where their major differences lay, save that they both work as top secret cover operation squads on the fringe of legality. The events of the film coincide with the change of administrations, the aftermath of an operation gone wrong, and orders to shut down all operations and destroy all data related to their activities. Joker is a seemingly innocent bystander caught up in events, desperate to find a way out of the facility before the entire place is flooded with hot napalm and fiery death.

As much as this film REEKS of political propaganda, the story is actually really good and could have worked with just about any change of political power. As it is, we are often brought into current events with snips of public speeches from “then” newly elected President, Barack Obama. Steve Cordell, “Daily Show” regular, is heavily featured as a middle-aged and extremely burned out senior agent struggling with alcoholism, regret, and the impending psychological breakdown of a man in his line of work. All of the characters are homicidally insane, except for two lackeys left to monitor events on video feeds. Zack Gaffigan, Ellen Barkin, and other cast mates round out an interesting ensemble in the tradition of “Heathers” and ‘Very Bad Things” with characters holding secret plans, grudges, and orders for one betrayal after another.

3.5 out of 5.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Jingle Belles Burlesque Show! Review?

Jingle Belles Burlesque at the Paper Wing Theater

Burlesque? What does that even mean these days? It’s a turn of phrase that conjures Betty Page imagery with tassels and jazz, maybe a little bit of the old vaudeville comedy, your general hodgepodge collection of talents focused around teasing dances and a fair number of naughty bits. For an odd-ball like me, it’s a big seller in attracting my attention and luring me in to a theater with a promise of something a little different. The Paper Wing Theatre plays host to a wonderful Christmas show featuring the proud traditions of Burlesque, complete with audience participation and awesome dance routines that run the range from naughty to silly to intense and just about everything else in between. Let me make this clear... Burlesque is NOT about stripping! It's a show that features dancing, playful teasing, and comedy.

My wife was roped in from the word “go” and was very eagerly anticipating the event. We wanted to rush the theater with a crowd of friends, all of us prepared to hoot and holler in support of the brave folks who would most certainly face a bit of a chill at the very least. But, friends mostly pulled out and we set forth on our journey for the opening night performance with my brother-in-law as an initiate to the theater’s atmosphere. We were met by my dear friend, Remo D, and his wife with whom I settled down in front row while my wife and her brother hovered behind us by a few rows. So we were all good and settled when the show began and our hostess hit the stage with a quick explanation of what “burlesque” was going to be all about and just what we might expect from the performance this evening. She introduced us to her cast, four women, two men, her stage crew, and Santa “The Pole” Clause.

The dancing was incredible. The opening number did everything it needed to do to introduce the audience to the show they had paid to see as a two dancing dolls were wound up by a very excited Santa. Each performer was featured in a number of signature pieces suited to the personalities of their characters; A teasing glove strip, the mixture of a poisonous love potion, a cute “fan” dance using gift boxes and ornaments for props, and a balloon dance featuring audience participation that even included yours truly popping a balloon. The intensity of a brutal tango number sent a hush through the crowd and a little shiver down my spine as the ladies told their story… passion, defiance, obsession, confusion, need, and desire building in each step and turn. The men were certainly not excluded from the festivities as “Lance Lightninghorse” found himself the victim of an amusing stalking that should be seen before being described. All of them were terrific numbers and the performers deserved all the applause, the hooting, the hollering, and the cat calls they received from their audience.

There were a number of sketches and singing bits, including an ode to “Bulemia” from Lightninghorse and a couple’s big decision regarding the “expansion” of their relationship. Continuing running gags between Santa and the Hostess made for a number of hilarious moments and male co-host “King” was a trooper when dealing with vocal enthusiasm from the audience itself. And, in one of those instances that went beyond simple audience participation, the “stage boy” found himself cheered and “encouraged” as he quickly went to work before and after a number of performances. All of the performances led to a fantastic finale that took the roof off with a great song from our hostess and the antics of her mischievous cast.

It’s a cold season. The Paper Wing offers warm entertainment with delicious hot drinks and a great cast of enthusiastic performers. Instead of shoveling out cash for the same old Hollywood theatrics that’ll wind up on a $10 DVD in three months, spend the evening in Monterey and catch this special Holliday engagement while it lasts. Experience something different with a great crowd. Happy Holidays!

5 out of 5.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

2 Reviews: Potter and Robogeisha

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

We have come a long way from where the series started; the relative safety of school and the guidance of both teachers and peers is gone and “The Deathly Hallows” forces a level of maturity on our lead characters that each actor rises to fulfill. Potter’s story has always been that of the classic Hero Quest and these are the darkest times within his path. Lord Voldemort and his Death Eaters have come into power, forcing Harry to become a fugitive. We travel the length and breadth of the English countryside with visits to homes and neighborhoods within the Wizarding community, but mostly on the run through the vast European Wilderness. As always, he is accompanied by childhood friends; Hermione and Ron. Their quest to discover the horcruxes are darkly mirrored by Voldemorts’ own mission to obtain one of the objects of the “Deathly Hallows”, characters in a faerie myth passed down through the generations.

While many are praising the work of both Potter and Hermione, I thought Ron was the ultimate glue holding this film together and his presence also became the most heroic as he overcame feelings of his own doubt. He owns every scene and constantly provides an emotional connection with the audience as the most “human” of all the characters. Harry is the chosen one, Hermione is extraordinarily gifted, but it is Ron whose family is in constant danger and whose abilities are notably limited when faced with the dangers of their quest. We have a large host of well known Brits providing their talents in a number of limited “cameo” roles, but the story really is about these three young teens coming to grips with being alone in the world. Limiting their interaction with periphery characters becomes necessary, but the little peeks the audience gets into other lives and events does a good job of explaining just how alone they are.

I haven’t been this satisfied with the Potter series since The Chamber of Secrets. It ramps up the action, the suspense, and brings the story outside the relative safety of Hogwarts without the idea that Dumbledore will ride in at any moment to save them. More than worth seeing, this film is also worth seeing on the big screen for the absolutely stunning photography and brilliant European countryside.

5 out of 5.


The Japanese “Gore” films are a sub-genre within a sub-genre buried beneath another sub-genre and require a certain taste in very strange things, a pseudo-punk mentality, and the ability to wrap your brain around imagery dedicated to the soul purpose of blowing out your optical nerves. The plots usually don’t make a lot of sense… they’re sort of threadbare storylines designed to set a hero against a band of colorful villains. They sort of throw in a cacophony of buzzing saws, fountains of blood, and severed parts flying across the screen while bizarre body modifications are used in an aggressive twist. Limbs transform into waving phallic tentacles, razor filled mouths open wide in the middle of stomachs, and so on so fort in the midst of combat scenes. Robo Geisha isn’t quite “Tokyo Gore Police” or “Machine Girl”, but it is far better than the abysmal “Vampire Girl vs. Frankenstein Girl”. The splatter punk outrageous comedy is ramped up with armpit blades, secret martial arts “geisha techniques”, and cybernetic implants complete with acidic discharge of bodily fluids.

The bitter rivalry and competitive relationship between two sisters takes center stage in the classic retelling of “My Brothers’ Keeper”. The two women are training to become Geisha, with the eldest sister well on her way to a successful career as the younger is forced to live in her shadow. They are kidnapped by an evil iron corporation with designs on world domination, or perhaps world destruction, and they are trained and modified throughout their imprisonment. The sisters betray one another, support one another, and receive a number of cybernetic implants designed to create better killers. We’re treated to a series of screaming, crying, battle stances, posing, and long-winded introduction of tertiary characters. These fools just as quickly die off in order to fill up a good hour’s worth of time before things start to get REALLY strange. One of the sisters makes a startling discovery, sending her into conflict with her creators and leading to the ultimate battle to save Tokyo from the corporations’ depredations! Yeah, we get a lot of fan service and plenty of grue to satisfy the bloodlust, but this film is just flat out WEIRD. Buildings come to life as giant robo-Kaiu designed to wreak havoc and step on hapless victims and smear them across Tokyo.

I’m not so sure I could really recommend the movie to others, but if this is your cup of tea then have a watch. It’s not a waste of time, at the very least. If it sounds like something you might like, you should probably check out the previously mentioned films in similar style. Machine Girl and Tokyo Gore Police are far better entries into this bizarre series of sub-sub-sub-genre work, better stories, acting, and effects and just as likely to leave you scratching your head. Robo Geisha is more like the least interesting in this selection, good enough to waste time with but not quite the feast of utterly strange Nippon extremism I’ve become accustomed to over the years.

3 out of 5.