Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Review: Frozen

Shot on location during a harsh winter month, Frozen is the story of three young college students stuck on a ski lift. The perfect series of mistakes are made, leaving the three kids up on that lift without hope of rescue for at least a week. And while it sounds like a simple story, I know what might be running through your mind as you read this: All the ways in which this couldn’t possibly ever happen, all the things you would do if you were in this situation, and writer/director Adam Green obviously had the same thoughts you had. This is a simple story, but its telling will rip your nerves ragged and leaving you wincing and near tears. This is hardcore and it will not stop tearing at you once these kids are stuck, ripping at your heart and your soul as you see them make mistakes. The simple act of touching becomes harsh and vicious when frostbite sets in, and then the unflinching burn from a relentless sun simply beats down on them all day long. There is no merciful reprieve for our main characters; no clever till turn of chance and opportunity that lands a pizza on their laps. They are stuck and time is working steadily against them.

Two boyhood friends regularly take the mountain ski trip in order to get away from the stress of their school life. They’ve made this trip on dozens of mountains, sharing jokes and camaraderie in the way so many men have. They’ve been bound by a lifetime of familiarity and experience. But now the girlfriend of one of the two wants to tag along wants to learn how to ski, wants to spend time with the man she loves and share in his experiences. This is a triangle dynamic where two people hide their resentment of one another for the sake of their one point of common concern. So as much as this film is about three people facing the rigors of nature, this is also about a group dynamic that seems destined to crumble from the very beginning. The acting is unbelievably intense with an unbelievably deep performance from Sean Ashmore that finds greater strength than we think him capable of at first.

Look, going any further with regards to this film will spoil it for any future viewer. I’ve seen many horror films, as my blog attests. I love the genre, from the gory and sometimes comedic to the serious and oftentimes disturbing. “Frozen” falls into the latter category. My nerves were shot through with panic, fear, and pure horror. I was left a ragged little ball of tear-stained misery by the end. Green presents a film that is intimate and personal with a kind of horror I rarely ever find in this day and age. He drives a proverbial fist to the gut, yanks you back by the hair, and spits on what is left of your dignity with a cocky smile and dismissive drop to the ground. That damn Green just has a knack for doing sadistic things to my mind, I think.

5 out of 5.

Les Miserable.... IN YOUR FACE!!!!

Les Miserable

I’ve only recently developed a kind of love for musical theater, having had very little exposure throughout most of my life but having been given a great deal of exposure in the recent years through friends in the theater community. However, you’d kind of have to live out in the middle of a third world country with almost no exposure to popular culture in order to miss having heard at least a few songs if not the entire soundtrack of “Les Miserable”, a musical based on the paperweight novel by Victor Hugo. It’s not the first, last, or most faithful adaptation of the source material but it is probably the most successful and has played throughout the world to sold-out audiences. It’s a masterpiece, it’s critically acclaimed, and it’s credited (along with “Cats” and “Phantom of the Opera”) with bringing big musicals back to prominence during the Broadway renaissance of the 80’s.  And while I’m familiar with the music, the rough outline of the story, and the characters, I have never actually seen the show in its’ entirety.

Adapting a stage musical to screen production comes with a great many challenges, especially a production as popular and well known as Les Mis. Casting, set design, and everything else along the way is going to face severe scrutiny from the shows fans and you also have to utilize a wholly different medium to its best advantages. Previous film productions like “Phantom of the Opera” faced similar scrutiny and never really achieved the kind of success seen by the original production. Time will tell whether Les Mis will find a bigger audience, but it did have a higher budget and much more production than the previously mentioned show. I’ll just offer my thoughts on the show…


Okay, so that’s a little short and non-descript. Let me just state that putting the majority of the show across the shoulders of Hugh Jackman in the central role was a terrific decision on the part of casting. Jackmans’ voice is strong, his acting is top notch, and he’s someone the audience can cheer, feel, and understand. It’s easy to see why many of the actors were chosen for their roles, including a few Broadway cast reprisals. But I have to give an amazing amount of credit to Anne Hathaway for her portrayal of Fontaine. “I Dreamed a Dream” is an amazing song on its’ own, but Hathaway takes the song to a new level for me. The camera remains fixed on her throughout the rendition, never cutting to a new angle or using some trick in editing to cover or stylize the performance… it’s honestly raw and brutal and heart-wrenching to see her break down throughout the song, to watch her find the character in a way that I can’t help but admire.  

Ah, but you hear a but in there somewhere, don’t you? Okay… while I loved the movie, I would be remiss if I didn’t point out the few things that took away from the show for me. There were two major issues for me so let me address them.

Along with every other person who is criticizing this movie… Russell Crowe falls short on several occasions. Inspector Javier is supposed to have a voice that is strong and certain, but when he is singing across from the powerful Jackman, Crowe’s voice seems less than adequate. He does manage to carry his solos quite well and the big one near the end is powerful and fully captures the moment so he’s not as bad as everyone claims.  So if you’re letting reviewers convince you to stay away due to this performance, don’t… Crowe is reasonably acceptable and matches Jackman so far as screen presence as acting. His voice isn’t horrible, it just isn’t what one expects from the character he is playing.

The second issue may take some more getting used to… there are some amazing shots in this film with regards to cinematography. Sweeping set design, beautiful architecture, and flawless costuming… most of which will be missed if you don’t have a quick eye because the director’s vision included keeping the camera about two feet away from every single performer. We are close enough to each and every performer to take in every bubble of snot in their nose, to count every wrinkle on their face, and to note every single edit from one angle to another. In some shots, this technique works… the aforementioned solo with Fontaine, Marius’ solo in “Empty Chairs and Empty Tables”, and a few other songs. But when you have a huge ensemble piece like “Lovely Ladies”, the technique falls apart as we rapidly cut from a focus on Fontaine to the featured bits and pieces of random ladies on the street. It’s no more blaringly a miss with regards to “Master of the House”. It feels like some of the songs are sung AT us. This, however, was obviously an artistic decision and I may simply be of a different taste from most audiences.

All in all, I really loved the movie and encourage audiences to give it a shot.

4 out of 5.

Monday, December 17, 2012

The Hobbit: (OR... how I trash a print review)

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (… OR… how I trash a print review.)

I have been known to occasionally savage films that I didn’t necessarily enjoy. I’ve used strong words like “insipid”, “Wretched”, and “miserable” while describing the Transformers movies, the Avatar film, and various other productions that didn’t necessarily deliver on what I was either expecting or wanting. I was, however, always “fair” regarding the merits of the film… from whether it had good special effects to the music soundtrack, I do try to find some light of positive energy to mention for those who actually read my blog.

With that said, we have a weekly newspaper here in this county and I often check the print for movie times, reviews, and other such stuff. It’s considered an “alternative” newspaper, which pretty much means it’s the most “liberal” minded paper. This includes their film reviews, which have featured both negative or positive reviews regarding the political content of a given movie. I don’t often agree with the reviewer, but never have I been more blown away by just how incredibly WRONG the review was  with regards to “The Hobbit: an Unexpected Journey”, which garnered a whopping 2 ½ stars from this incredibly moronic writer whose expectations, knowledge, and taste is woefully poor at best.

Let us start with the assumption that “The Hobbit” is supposed to act as some sort of a prequel to Peter Jackson’s “Lord of the Rings” trilogy. While filmed by the same director, written by the same author, same setting, and featuring many of the same characters… “The Hobbit” is a stand-alone story with an entirely different theme, many different elements, and entirely different mood. Elements featured in the later story are much less prevalent, and Bilbo Baggins is an entirely different main character than Frodo. The writer comments that the ONLY scene he felt was justifiably dragged out was the one introducing us to the older Bilbo from the original film and some dialogue between he and Frodo. Yes, the only scene that actually does NOT have a place in the book itself is the only scene the writer thought was justifiable.

The Hobbit was always intended as a CHILDRENS book! It came out long before “Lord of the Rings”, it enjoys just as much popularity and acclaim, and the writer is acting as if the Hobbit is a prequel “follow-up” to the second story as if this were Star Wars. The mood, the tone, and everything is supposed to be vastly different than that of the laborious and emotionally grinding pathos found in “The Lord of the Rings”. This isn’t some romanticized “return” to Middle-Earth, this is the very cornerstone foundation upon which the other works have been built.

When the writer laments that this “return” to Middle Earth focuses too much on the dwarves he displays an unbelievable display of ignorance regarding the fact that the story is about 13 Dwarves and a Hobbit!!!  The complaints are no more keenly proof of ignorance than in his expression that the audience is forced to sit through two (“Whole!”) songs by the Dwarves… both of which are incredibly important to the mood, story, and characters of the Dwarves themselves. No, this scene which actually IS important to the story is pulled out for far too long. The songs? The first is a flashback to the much beloved Rankin-Bass cartoon and is actually featured in the book itself as a playful number describing how the Dwarves take to a fun party atmosphere. The second is a lament to all that the dwarves have lost, all they’re missing, and what this “Unexpected Journey” is really all about. It’s also one of the most important turning points for Bilbo, who begins to see the importance of this journey and what it could mean to these men who are fast becoming his friend. The fact that this song touches Bilbo is lost to subtlety for the writer of the review, the fact that there’s something of an adventurer within the lead character is lost with regards to his youthful exploits and the playful jibes with Gandalf. For the writer of the review, there’s “No explanation” as to why Bilbo decides to join this quest. This is how to build a story, my dear critic… not with one-liners, gags, and prolonged exposition.

This is a sweeping fantasy film with fun adventure, chilling danger, monsters, a looming threat, and heroes who decide to take a stand when others might bend their knee or fall. An earlier article in the same paper discussed why we, as an audience, might actually need the kind of story that this movie is supposed to elevate… how a small person could make a difference in the world. The writer of that piece mentioned that it’s something we can’t do here in the real world, with billionaires and politicians in positions of power and how a small person will never have the sweeping effect the hobbits have in these films…. I recommend that the writer go back and watch those films, because those small people didn’t set out to change the world. None of them accomplished a feat that not a single one of us couldn’t do ourselves… whether we simply inspired through an example of courage, such as Merry… or inspired through a display of honor unexpected, like Pippen, or if we just cook a meager meal and help carry bags like Samwise, it is the small people that will always make a difference. It’s the small people who change the world in small ways, the ways which truly count, the ways which show the people in power who it is they are working to protect and serve.

The films length, which may seem daunting, is appropriate for the material covered. The writer fails to understand this, and so he tries to make it seem as though the material isn’t justified. Jackson includes some elements from other materials that Tolkien has written, and embellishes other elements to flesh out the story. What may have been spoken through exposition in the books is, here, shown in its entirety… we see the Dwarves driven from their kingdom, we see the discovery of the Arkenstone, we see the brief battle over the Mines of Moria, and we see Radagast’s discovery regarding the mysterious “Necromancer”. The book often features the disappearance of Gandalf here and there, but we see here precisely what is keeping him at various points. And through it all we see the growth of our two primary characters… Thorin Oakenshield and Bilbo Baggins, each burdened with a certain sense of responsibility to those they have sworn to lead and aid, respectively.

That’s not to say some scenes couldn’t have been trimmed, because there are moments that maybe drag a little. The ones offered by the writer of the review were far from the worst culprits of Jacksons’ directorial and editing style, and I continue to look forward to the additional films from the franchise.

So, the writer of the review I offer you two hands with a single finger salute from each… you, sir, are an incredibly ignorant piece of manure. From acting, to effects, to cinematography, to the “new technology” you actually did praise, this film has exceeded in every conceivable manner.

5 out of 5.

Saturday, December 1, 2012


I haven’t been spending a great amount of time with my son the past few months, so Saturday was going to be a big “make-up” day regarding the time we lost. And our way of bonding is to go to the movies and check out something on the big screen… he gets his own tub of popcorn, a drink, and we lounge back in the seats with constant looks at one another during the tense, funny, and exciting moments of the show. This movie was going to have an interesting twist however. He was allowed to pick any movie under an “R” rating… and he picked “Skyfall”, the new outing from 007.

Why doesn’t that sound special to you? My son has never expressed an interest in Bond, has refused to watch any of the movies when I asked him to, and I never even really expected him to be aware that it was out. But school friends and neighborhood friends were yapping about it and he got it in his head, and off we were for the boys first experience with James Bond. And it paid off in dividends!

I could tell you about the plot; it featured Bond returning to action after having been assumed dead in the line of duty in order to find a terrorist with a list of undercover operatives. The villain was significantly portrayed by Javier Bardem, of course. There were “Bond Girls” and this may be chauvinistic of me, but I /really/ do not care about the sexism inherent in Bond films. (If “Fried Green Tomatoes” can literally cook up a man to fulfill female revenge fantasies, than James Bond can jetset through exotic locations with exotic women.) And Daniel Craig continues to deliver one of the best performances for 007 since Sean Connery and Tim Dalton! But you know what? None of it really matters in the end… here’s what I’m going to really tell you about the movie:

My son walked out of the theater with his fingers in a gun position, he was loudly humming the theme song, and he was throwing his body out in elaborate dives to mimic one of his brand new cinematic heroes. It was amazing Father-Son Bonding.

5 out of 5.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Who is Sylvia? No, not the goat... but the new Paper Wing Theatre Production!

“Sylvia” : at the Paper Wing Theatre

Have you ever felt a little “disconnected” from the world around you?

“Sylvia” may seem to be a story about a man and his dog, but the underlying theme directly tackles that feeling of disconnect through the relationship. When Greg (Jay Devine) returns home one evening with stray pet Sylvia (Tatum Tollner), we are introduced to a man whose life has become disconnected. His children are out of the home, his wife is focused on her career, and his work is becoming more “abstract” as time goes on. Sylvia seems like a godsend to him, a lifeline in a world that’s become more confusing and unconnected to the increasingly thoughtful Greg. Her adoration for him provides an anchor, and his talks with the dog manage to fulfill the missing pieces from his own life. And the increasingly jealous Kate (Chris Caffrey) finds herself competing with the dog for the affection and loyalty of a man who suddenly seems very distant from her.

Jodi Gilmore tackles the role of “Everybody Else”… an amalgam of three different people who find themselves caught in the story. There’s the high society New Yorker friend of Kate, the fellow dog owner, and the “gender-questionable” couples therapist; all of whom reflect an outsiders’ view of the story to humorous effect. His appearances often shake up the story to humorous effect, though my favorite was the book-quoting dog owner in the park who constantly brings up book titles that are increasingly ridiculous.

The shows dramatic compass hinges on the audiences connection with Greg, and Jay Devine constantly finds moments to shine in the show. We feel for the connection he has with Sylvia, we can understand what he’s lost over the years, and we’re constantly wanting Kate to just stop and ‘listen’ to what Greg is saying throughout the show. The story revolves around Sylvia, but it’s really about this couple and whether they will manage to rediscover the connection they once had with each other. Kates’ cold practicality can seem off-putting to an audience that is already predisposed to “side” with the affable Greg, but there is an honest hurt beneath façade that our “hero” also has to come to terms with.

With all of that, however, Sylvia is a story about a dog. Tatum Tollner consistently dominates in the title role as a mixed breed mutt rescued by Greg. Her honest portrayal of the dog is riddled with hyper-active adoration, nervous energy, and a frankness that can be downright vulgar on occasion. Sylvia speaks with a pure honesty that addresses the needs of Greg, all while telling him that she’s not going to understand the deeper thoughts running through his head… for her the world is fairly simple. Going “out” is the greatest thing in the world and her greatest challenge is sneaking a sit on the ever elusive “couch” where all comfort could be found. She constantly paws this piece of furniture, constantly circles, and ultimately looks for every excuse possible to find herself lounging across it. I found myself laughing so hard throughout her exchange with the “Cat” that I couldn’t breathe, so that moment has to be mentioned as the absolute highlight of the show for me.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

3 Reviews! Devil's Carnival, Psycho Gothic Lolita, and Exit Humanity.

The Devil’s Carnival:

The creators of “Repo: The Genetic Opera” reunite to bring fans a follow up to the cult favorite. But rather than dwelling in the same world as the original production, the cast and crew are reunited for what may become an entirely new and episodic horror musical independently financed and distributed by the creators themselves.

“The Devil’s Carnival” is the destination for three lost souls; John, a tormented father looking for his son; Tamara, a naïve woman escaping an abusive relationship; and ____, a kleptomaniac on the run from police. The Devil presents their stories as three musical renditions of “Aesops Fables” with a cast of carnival attractions ranging from clowns and magicians to dancers and knife throwers. The three fables are represented with interesting twists and an absolutely amazing costume and set design, every detail extraordinarily elaborate. Director Bousman makes a good choice in centering most of the over-arching story around John (Sean Patrick Flannery), whose character seems to anchor the audience with a degree of sympathy regarding his own sins and grief. The carnival side show attractions have incredible fun with their parts, with grand gestures and an overly dramatic flair.

The songs are an interesting change of pace from the techno-industrial flair in Repo, making a conscious effort to sound much more “carny” with horns, strings, and uneven tempos. Each story tends to follow with a pair of songs describing the personal story of the character and further thought on the Fable associated with their tale. I liked the songs personally, but some were near-misses with me and others who were forced to listen to my new CD in the car.

Though comparisons to their previous feature may seem unfair; the advertising boasts that this is a reunion for various cast, crew, and the creators behind Repo! The Genetic Opera. And in that vein “The Devil’s Carnival” is somewhat inferior as a stand-alone project. It lacks the character depth of the previous project and its’ pacing seems all over the place, clocking in at 55 minutes with little having been accomplished in that time. We hear some small fables, we see some interesting characters, but the movie ends with a bit of a cliff hanger as both Bousman and Zdunich have made claims that this is intended to be an episodic piece with a more expansive story. But without those later tales, the film only has itself to judge it by. So to that end, The Devil’s Carnival is a fun ride that doesn’t quite live up to it’s predecessor.

4 out of 5.

Psycho Gothic Lolita

It’s time for some more WTF-Japan!

After her mother is assassinated by a gang of ruthless street criminals, Yuki dons the fashionably cute Lolita garb with a black leather Gothic twist in order to exact her bloody violent revenge on the killers. With a premise as short and tempting as that, how could I possibly resist this feature on a lazy Sunday morning? HOW?!?!! And here’s what I expected… blood geysers, fetish-wear, screaming, sub-titles, and really strange wire work. That’s what I got…. And it was well done. While not quite as gore-ified as “Machine Girl”, the movie had its’ fair share of slapstick blood and guts and was just silly enough to be entertaining without being overwhelming. The story is fairly predictable with a few twists and turns, but this is largely “action-horror” anime straight out of the 90’s with little narrative thought throughout. The movie knows what it is and relishes in it.

3.5 out of 5.

Exit Humanity

This one was an odd duck… so bear with me on it, because I really think genre fans should definitely give it a go.

The story is about a Civil War veteran who returns home to find his wife and son have been attacked by zombies, a horror he once faced during the war of the states. Surrendering to his grief, our lead protagonist takes us on a journey to dispose of his sons’ ashes near the falls where he once found peace during the war. The story unfolds as a journey through the desolate wasteland left behind in the aftermath of the war, zombies roaming the country-side, and desperate survivors struggling with the monsters and one another. Though hampered by the budget, the film somehow manages to feel much bigger than it is and it has an almost epic feel to it. The lead character manages to carry the film on his back, often wandering alone through major chunks of the film with a skeleton cast of ensemble actors filling in various roles.

If you enjoy low budget films struggling to make the most of their budget, this film is for you. Every dollar is on the screen for your examination but this isn’t just some sort of zombie “shoot ‘em up”… this is far more “Western” and character study than it is a gore-filled ride through violence. Taking note that this movie is one of the few to violate my major “rule” regarding the genre, the movie doesn’t use the moment for cheap shock and gives it the impact and emotional depth such a thing should incur.

5 out of 5.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Don Juan In Hell: There are no easy answers.

Don Juan In Hell

I’m not a fan of George Bernard Shaw. Let me make this clear… his politics sicken me, his view of the world annoys me, and I find him an unbelievably elitist scumbag whose Pygmalion flat out insults my sense of freedom and liberty. (Oddly, I do happen to love “My Fair Lady”, which is based upon the latter work but features enough music and additional characters to distract me from the original point of Pyg.) So with all of that in mind, I wasn’t quite certain what to expect when Jourdain Barton decided to adapt one of his pieces for the Paperwing Stage. Her previous adaptation, “Prometheus Bound”, hit to close to the heart with many of my own frustrations and railing against the gods of convention and paradigm. Barton has a way of taking a work known for promoting one view and sort of turning it in on itself, exposing several bits of raw hypocrisy and laying open a great many hard questions without the benefit of an easy answer. I love that and decided I needed to see what she did with this work.

Don Juan In Hell is another successful venture in philosophical torment. The titular character, Juan(Timothy Saminiego), is truly suffering an eternity of torment surrounded by the exquisite horror of false love and beauty. The Father of Lies (Erik Morton) isn’t about to roast the wicked in eternal fires of damnation, not when there’s so much love to share with one another. And the crux of the story is the debate between two beings who are diametrically opposed to one another in philosophy, ideals, and goals. This is a debate that has gone on before… time and again, by the introductions from both characters and their endearments to one another. But all great events begin with a catalyst, and the final decision on whether Juan stays in Hell or moves on is brought to a head by the arrival of Dona Ana. (Taylor Noel Young)

The most famous paramour in the stories of Don Juan passes at the ripe age of 77. Her first meeting in the new plane is with Juan, who fails to recognize her at first. He tells her where she is, he explains the new “rules”… or lack thereof… regarding the form of the spiritual body. They are soon joined by Ana’s doomed father, The General (Jodi Gilmore). The two men have long since put their past behind them and have become fast friends in the time since their passing. In fact, the General is actually visiting from the Heavenly Host… much to his daughters disapproval. And the only comfort either father or one-time lover can offer is disillusionment.

And that disillusion is no better embodied than by The General, who has chosen to exist in the form of his own marble statue and bask in the glory of his own dashing image. Gilmore provides terrific comedic timing with the image of a right proper gentleman, mocking the seriousness of their debate and declaring his intention to find permanent residence with the damned. His confessions and desires embarrass and occasionally horrify Ana.

We get the feeling that the debate has gone on before… the argument between the Devil, Juan, and the General feels somewhat “old hat” between the three friends. And that’s where Ana comes into play… because whether they admit to it or not, they are struggling to convince this newest addition to their discussion on the various points of their arguments. The devil declares that the only things of worth-while value are love and beauty and social standing and adoration and it simply does not matter whether any of these things are “true” or not. Only that they are and that people enjoy them. Heaven is a place for boring contemplation, we're told. Endless contemplation for the promotion of “life” and creation and the universe and ones place in it. It’s also flat out boring, at least according to our three characters in the "know". The devil sells his Kingdom with all the passion of a zealot… Mortons’ performance is flat out chilling to this particular viewer. He is absolutely the Father of Lies, in all his twisted glory and as seductive in his assurances, promises, and twisted rhetoric as one could imagine such a creature to be.

But Juan refutes the empty promises with equal passion, intelligence, and understanding of just how deceitful this kind of eternity truly is. Samaniego cuts through to the quick on his performance with equal parts biting humor and depressing impact. He doesn’t as much as defend “heaven” and “life” so much as he refutes the basic lie of his current existence. And while he has obviously had this conversation before, the newest addition to their little discussion provides a vehicle through which Juan struggles to reach a new understanding. But, make no mistake,Ana is more than the rope between the characters in some sort of tug-war and starts to take various stands, rising to the dialogue with equal ferocity and questioning the points of all three. Taylor delivers a moving performance of her own, dismantling the points of all three gentlemen with the view of a woman and her own role in their existence.

I don’t want to spoil anything for anybody… the climax is amazing and every person may get something different from the experience. Thirty people watching the same show and my guess is that not one of them had the same view regarding the "point" of the discussion or precisely who "won" the debate. The show has one more weekend and that means two more opportunities to catch these amazing performances. The Paperwing Gallerie Threatre repeatedly delivers on the full immersion experience. Support the local arts and check this show out!

5 out of 5.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Night of Champions Thoughts.

Night of Champions is a fairly minor annual PPV in the WWE… it features every title in the company being put on the line and is usually the start of a build up toward Survivor Series. I don’t normally buy these kinds of PPV’s, but some of the advertised matches and storyline build up to this PPV just felt really intriguing to me. Add in a main event with the newly “Heel” version of CM Punk defending his title against Hometown Hero and resident Superman, John Cena, and you have a pretty big match on hand with two guys who work extremely well together.

IC Title Fatal Fourway: Rey Mysterio vs. Sin Cara vs. Cody Rhodes vs. The Miz (C)

This match featured two legendary lucha libre stars against two of the hottest young heel workers in the company, and it opened the show with a good performance. There were some good spots, but a fatal fourway often works to prevent any meaningful psychology. Most people wanted to see Mysterio and Cara face one another, but with both acting face it was difficult to build a story around that angle. Miz retained the IC title in an amusing spot where Cara placed an extra mask (intended for Rhodes) over the face of Miz, and the champion accidentally hit Rhodes with his finisher. Seeing as how this was a fatal four way, though, it didn’t have the kind of impact it might have had if Miz and Rhodes had been allies ahead of time.

3 out of 5.

U.S. Title match, Antonio Cesaro (c ) vs. Zack Ryder

Ryder won a pre-show battle royal that I missed in order to earn this shot, which set up a storyline where the heelish Cesaro complained about being unable to prepare for the opponent. Cesaro continues to play up his European Superiority angle… and I think Ryder may have been the perfect opponent for Cesaro to build his gimmick. With Ryder being the internet-savvy fan favorite, he pretty much rose up from the ashes of an unpromising career to become a real standout on the roster… this match played to Ryders’ strengths and helped Cesaro get over on a true baby-face. Cesaro wins after some interference from manager Aksana.

3 out of 5

Tag Title Match: Kingston and Truth (c) vs. Team Friendship

Truth and Kingston were sort of thrown together a few months back when Kingstons’ normal partner failed a wellness policy test and then injured himself. The pair works well together, but they haven’t exactly put the tag team titles on fire… but they’ve had some very decent matches with the young boys in town. But now we have a new team, brought together through their Anger Management classes… Daniel Bryan and Kane. They don’t like each other at all, they don’t work well together, and that’s build a great storyline within the tag division with a series of vignettes putting them together. I wish there was more to be said about Truth and Kingston, but no one really expected them to walk out with the titles when you have such an entertaining combination in Team Friendship. Good match that could have been better with more emphasis on enmity BETWEEN the two teams.

3.5 out of 5.

Orton vs. Dolph Ziggler. No title on the line.

Ziggles is on the verge of breaking out… and this match did nothing to hurt or elevate him. Don’t get me wrong, because the match quality was excellent and the two men worked well together, but there wasn’t much on the line between them. JBL, on announcing, did an excellent job on trying to build more of a story between them then there really was… Orton prevented Ziggler from cashing in his Money in the Bank briefcase. Ziggles wants ‘revenge’… but he can really just cash it in at another time later. Orton didn’t really prevent much of anything. And then the end of the match saw Orton hitting his RKO and then Ziggles did the job. Kind of a shame, because most every fan knows that Orton is about to take time off to film the new "12 Rounds" film. Ziggles needed a push here and instead he got held back again for a superstar who should be stepping back in light of a number of screw-ups recently. This match could have been the show stealer, but I never felt like either guy was really invested in the television time.

3.5 out of 5.

Diva Title: Layla ( c ) vs. Eve

It was supposed to be Kaitlyn getting the title chance, but she was attacked by a “mysterious” person back stage and hurt her ankle. Even with some backstage stuff between her and Booker where she blatantly manipulated him into offering her the shot. Eve was put in the match after build up on her angle about being a “nice” person now, and having changed. Well, she didn’t … we knew she didn’t… and the opportunist took advantage to win the Diva Championship in what was a much better match than I could have imagined from her. Both women worked pretty hard during this match, each one hitting a couple of decent spots before Layla eventually missed a double spring inverted body-block... and Eve capitalized. We see some heel heat with Eve accepting a hand shake at one point, and she uses it to kick the crap out of Layla. Seriously, excellent ladies match.

4 out of 5.

World championship : Sheamus ( c ) vs. Del Rio

The Brogue Kick was banned leading up to this match… and in typical WWE booking, the move was suddenly put back into place and thus negating what might have been an interesting twist to an otherwise boring feud. Still, we had some good psychology as Del Rio continuously avoided Sheamus’ attempts at the Brogue Kick… they teased the Cloverleaf a few times, Del Rio locked on his armbar submission twice and forced Sheamus to work for those ropes. The two men are working tonight, putting in more effort than I've previously seen from either of them in the build up to this match. Back and forth action saw no interference from Ricardo Rodriguez, surprisingly… and Del Rio lost to (what else?) the Brogue kick. And hopefully this ends what has become a gratingly annoying feud. Both men need different guys to work with… Sheamus especially. Del Rio needs to change up his gimmick somehow, or he’s just going to be a minor foot note in Pro Wrestling.

3.5 out of 5.

Interesting Bit back stage with Kane and Bryan. A few vignettes and commercials… and we get to the Main Event.

WWE Championship: CM Punk ( C ) vs. John Cena

Paul Heyman hits the ring and delivers a promo… it’s cold, it’s calculated, and it builds more heat than half the guys who are pretending to be arrogant all the time. There’s purpose to this promo and it builds up the angle surrounding Punk, putting him over as a deserving and much maligned champion. And when the challenger hits the ring, he gets all the fan fare of a home town welcome. He’s got a bit of a stare for the uncaring Heyman, and settles down to wait for the champion… and here comes Punk, taking the traditional championship entrance and coming out second. And with the unzipping of his jacket, Punk utterly BURIES John Cena shine with a tidal wave of heel heat… his trunks are white with dark blue pinstripes, dark blue stars, and he has matching boots and kneepads. Dressed in traditional Yankee colors, CM Punk walks down the aisle through the jeering Boston masses and the game is ON!!! The referee checks both men and CM Punk lifts the title up high… and just stands there. He isn’t soaking in the response… he’s building a whole new response without a word, with only the most minimal of actions, and this man has FOUND his niche as top heel in the company.

The match starts and both men feel each other out before Punk takes a quick advantage. Solid mat work, opportunist moments with quick throws and long wear down holds. Cena is selling like crazy and we’re seeing some uncertainty in the Super-Cena before he ever starts to make a comeback. The crowd is eating this up and we’re on the edge of our seat back home… me and my friends are getting into this match and things escalate quickly. Back and forth… both men hit finishers, both men lock their submission holds, and we see some power from Cena before Punk takes to the air with the elbow. Every move they give, the other man takes… everything they take, they give right back. Punk with the Rock Bottom, mocking the Hollywood superstar he put down a few weeks earlier… and eventually, we get a turnbuckle German Suplex from John Cena! Shoulders are down … .and the referee counts THREE!!! The hometown crowd goes crazy… while I’m laughing. I see what the ref saw…. So while John CEna is celebrating, we see the dusty-finish coming. Music stops and the referee shakes off Cena’s celebration… shoulders were down, alright… John Cena did not bridge on the German Suplex, leaving his own shoulders on the mat for the three count and both men pull the draw…. So, STILL WWE champion… CM PUNK!!!!

HEEL HEAT GALORE!!!! Cena is in shock… and then Cena is PLOWED by the WWE title and CM Punk stands victorious! Great ending and more build up to Cena / Punk rematch at a much later date.

5 out of 5.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Of Dice and Men thoughts...

“Of Dice and Men”

I first played D&D when I was 11 or 12 with a girl who barely understood the mechanics and we quickly became distracted by other things like dog walking and riding our bikes. I wouldn’t get another opportunity to play the game until I was just about to turn 17 and that came when another girl invited me to play with her, her sister, and their DM. But let me just say that RPG’s were probably one of the most important discoveries in my life and The Game became my primary social outlet for years to come. As a painfully shy, brutally awkward, and physically scarred “weirdo”, D&D became an outlet through which I could reach out to others and enjoy a goal oriented activity that allowed my imagination to thrive. It wasn’t long before I took up the mantle of DM and began to design my own stories and adventures for various systems. I met my wife through White Wolf’s “World of Darkness” series and I’ve attended a couple of conventions, made various friends, and I’ve enjoyed a number of different worlds and settings throughout the years. It may even be more important than professional wrestling with regards to my personal growth and the influence it has had on me throughout the years.

I read about “Of Dice and Men” in our local Weekly newspaper, a brief blurb that mentioned the opening of the show and that it was about a group of gamers coping with adulthood. Let me preface this by saying most stories and television shows and even movies tend to portray Gamers in a negative light… at best we’re portrayed as harmless nerds with no social skills. At worst, we’re portrayed as psychotic and delusional. The only exception I’ve ever been able to find is the “Dead Gentlemen” indie film, so I was a little nervous about what this production would offer and held my head up high just in case. I didn’t just hold it up high… They offered “cosplay” night, with a 50% discount if we came in costumes and I am THAT much of a geek. And so on went the kimono as my wife dressed as the “Fall Faerie”. We were ready for whatever may come! So let’s take this over to the “2X4 BASH” presentation at Hartnell…

GREAT!!! “Of Dice And Men” is a fantastic play that finally treats MY hobby with the respect and honesty it deserves, portraying it’s characters as more than just the predictable stereotypes so often found. That’s not to say the stereotype isn’t touched upon, because it is… and it’s treated with the humor and acceptance so many in the hobby have struggled to find. And our main character doubles as the narrator as well as the Dungeon Master, telling us about his discovery of the hobby and his earliest friendship with his first player. We meet a colorful selection of characters… and THEIR characters, the rogue, fighters, wizard, and cleric that make up the typical adventuring party in just about every game. Each actor doubles as a character in the play AND a character in the game, dressing in the elaborate costume for each of the games larger than life adventurers. But, even more than that, these characters also represent the inner core of each character… what makes each person unique in how they view and approach The Game.

Our DM is packing his books and getting ready to move after having accepted a job across the country. But while this is a major change in the lives of these friends, it is not the driving change of the story. Just before he is able to make his announcement, the DM is beaten to the punch by another player who announces his own major life decision. The group is split and the reactions are mixed, but nothing is going to be the same again for any of these people. In order to cope with all of the major challenges, our DM is forced to re-evaluate his life and the lives of his friends. Feeling responsible for the care of everyone around him, our DM conjures memories of the past and brings the audience into the present and we watch him adapt to the changes around him. The story is told from a single perspective so we don’t see what the players are really thinking or how they feel, which is important for a number of later revelations. We’re not flies on the wall in this spectacle… we’re the DM’s audience and his confessors. He’s talking to us and this is his story. And it’s definitely one worth hearing.

Now... I'd like to tell you about the performers themselves, but this moron lost his program. Seriously... dropped it or lost it in the car or whatever and I'm honestly not familiar with all the performers. I've worked with one of them before, but I don't think it's fair to mention one without mentioning the others and they were all so very good. So go check out the show yourselves, pick up your own programs, and read the names there. Thanks for reading, faceless readers!

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Thoughts: August Osage County at Paperwing Theatre

“Art isn’t safe.” Bill Mosely attributed the quote to Rob Zombie on the day he had to shoot an extremely rough scene during “the Devil’s Rejects”. It was a phrase that stuck in my own mind through the years… because art isn’t safe. I like the phrase and it’s appropriate here. Art isn’t always beautiful, it isn’t always victorious, and it isn’t always going to shine a line through the shadows. Sometimes it will drag you through the broken glass and remind you of hurts and pains, it gives you an outlet for a good cry and it simply affects you in a way that can be cathartic. It can help us face the shadows within ourselves. But it still isn’t safe.

“August, Osage County” is that kind of art… a dark comedy about a dysfunctional family. They’re not the trailer trash definition of dysfunctional, either… these are middle-class, educated, and total poison to one another kind of dysfunction. Family dinners with verbal jabs and deflating dismissals, people who can’t even resist tearing one another down at the worst of times. When we first meet the patriarch, Beverly (Richard Mueller) is interviewing a young Cheyenne woman(Norma Barocio as the grounded "Johnna") for a live-in house-maid. We find out, through the course of the show, that he was once a successful poet whose work earned great honors in his youth. He was never able to follow up the success and became an established professor at the local university. His mood waxes and wanes throughout the conversation and he admits to his own alcoholism before introducing us to the family’s matriarch, Violet; Drug addled, diagnosed with mouth cancer, and cruel. She is played by Deanna Edwards in a deeply moving portrayal; chain-smoking through several scenes, baiting her relatives and opening wounds with malicious intentions and the occasional honeyed words. When Beverly goes missing, the rest of the family rushes to Violet’s side and things quickly escalate. Actually, the crap hits the fan. There are plenty of laughs, but intermission comes with a much needed reprieve for myself. The well-timed concession break gave me time to prepare for the roller coaster ride of the second half, where the fan starts hitting back with a vengeance. Big revelations, twists, turns, and some truly cathartic moments worthy of cheers. And it’s hilarious!

Okay, when you pick up a program and open the pages I want you to study every actor on the page… they are all amazing. All of them blew me away! When I first started writing this I had to try and think about a way to make this whole thing make a lick of sense without spoiling anything, but if I were to even touch on who ALL the characters are and what they did throughout their performance it would spoil just too much. Each character adds a specific dimension to the story, people we can admire, hate, feel pity for, and just flat out disgust in some cases. Some characters turn out to be not what they first seem while others become something less than what they seem. And while I want to talk about the fantastic work from each and every performer, whether they made me hate, love, cheer, or jeer for them… I just can’t figure out a way to do it without spoiling the story for others. And I want other people to walk into this as blind as I did… I only knew it was about this family and specifically focused on the mother and her relationship with the three daughters during this crisis. That was pretty much it.

I have to mention one performer, however… the physicality of her performance and the raw emotion on display deserves high praise. Linda Dale is the eldest daughter, Barbara. Playing opposite Charlotte throughout much of the show, Barbara is set as a constant foil to her mother. The two play verbal games of cat and mouse, each one struggling for a position of authority within all the chaos. The mother/daughter bond between the two characters is strong and incredibly frightening. I was moved to tears through the performance of these two women and their dynamic with one another is heart wrenching.

5 out of 5.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Cyrano De Bergerac at the Outdoor Forest Theater in Carmel

Cyrano De Bergerac was a real man.

No, seriously, he really existed... though he's best remembered for the works of fiction thus based on his life. Though his nose was not nearly so long as described in those fictions, he was a noted duelist and composer of tragedies. The play is by Edmond Rosand and was adapted into English by writer Anthony Burgess. And this story is about the real soul of a man (Richard Boynton as the titular character) hampered by a physical deformity. He's an artist, a duelist, a courageous man willing to battle 100 men at one time for no more than the opportunity to defend a mere acquaintance. Despite his courage, his talent, and his skill he is plagued with doubt because of the very large nose which he feels deforms his face. So while he is in love with paramour "Roxanne"(Michelle Vallentyne), he is unwilling to woo said strumpet.

The crux of the story is this: Roxanne is attracted to the handsome Christian de Newillette (Timothy Samaniego), a new recruit to the same regiment as Cyrano. When she tells her dear friend and cousin, de Bergerac, he is heartbroken but conceives of an idea to help his courageous new sword-brother to woo the lovely Roxanne by using his own words. Christian, a brave but not too terribly bright young fighter, accepts the help of Cyrano and successfully wins the heart of Roxanne. But for how long can they maintain the charade, and what will be the final cost to all three?

The ensemble cast is fantastic, providing a moving background of interesting characters who shine in various ways. We believe these people are really the friends and associates of Cyrano, that they feature prominently in his life, and that our brief glimpses into them remind us that Cyrano is just one story of many in the streets of Paris. Samaniego and Boynton shine on stage together, with the latter somehow managing to win the respect of Cyrano despite his foolishness and the jealousy between them. Act 2 truly gives the relationship between the three characters an opportunity to shine, with Roxanne reacting with near-orgasmic pleasure to the words of de Bergerac as he and Christian alternate in the wooing beneath her balcony. The epic battle scene in the 3rd act is well staged and fantastically choreographed with various duels taking place throughout the wilderness surrounding the Outdoor Theater. Use of the natural setting is uses at various points throughout the production, allowing the audience to feel as though we are in the thick of events and possibly more than just mere flies on the wall.

If you get a chance, check out the Outdoor Forest Theater in Carmel and enjoy some good refreshments while kicking back to this entertaining performance. If that's not enough to convince you, there's a juggler opening the show! Small slight of hand magic tricks are performed before the audience is sucked into the world of Paris, 1640.

5 out of 5.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Beardomania! B-Reviews for Monster Brawl and Abe Lincoln versus Zombies!

Abraham Lincoln vs. Zombies

The Presidents’ struggles against the undead were only just beginning when he took on Vampires. Thanks to The Asylum, we are now able to learn about Lincolns’ struggle against the virulent zombie menace. Thank you, Asylum!

In typical “Asylum” fashion, the movie studio built on mock-busters delivers another cheaply made direct-to-dvd knock off in hopes of cashing in on the Lincoln craze. Unlike the Hollywood effort, this film isn’t backed by a best selling novel and it didn’t have much in the way of a budget. Asylum films are often gadawful rush job creations with terrible CGI and a bevy of terrible actors and actresses. They’re sole purpose is to cash in on a film trend and rake in some quick cash on the rental market and a quick rotation through the Syfy Channel. To that end, the Asylum has a horrible reputation for presenting terrible movies. I’m not going to try and change your mind regarding Abraham Lincoln versus Zombies, but it is much better than most of the drek delivered by this company.

Firstly, the guy playing Lincoln isn’t half bad. Actually, he plays the role straight despite some amusing one-liners spread throughout the action. He really does carry the film and has the charisma to rise above the haphazard direction and clumsy pacing that dominates the movie. Some other historical figures are presented as allies throughout the zombie conflict, including a youthful Teddy Roosevelt with Pat Garrett. We also meet John Wilkes Booth and Stonewall Jackson, both of whom stand at various odds with the President in his fight against the undead. And the film lives up to the fun of watching the President fight against the zombie horde. But while there’s plenty good about the film, it’s still an Asylum picture and there are some truly shoddy production values throughout the feature.

BEARD-O-MANIA runs wild with some of the worst “fake” beards and mustachios ever put to film. Stonewall Jackson himself bears a strikingly horrific set of falsies, with an almost wax-like mustache never even attempting to join forces with the loosely straggling wire thread that hangs in gray tatters from a beard that never came close to fitting the face beneath it. Zombies saunter about with quickly layered pancake powder and badly dried fake blood splotched in several areas. Cheap keyboard music tries to set a dire mood, but only succeeds in accentuating how cheaply made the film really is. Despite all these faults, I really enjoyed the movie.

3 out of 5.


What do you get when you combine a love for cheesy monster movies with a love for cheese-ball 80’s rasslin’? You get a movie that features a bunch of monsters going at it in a no-holds-barred competition to determine the champion monster. You also get “The mouth of the South” Jimmy Hart, Kevin Nash, the one time Kurgan, and David Foley as a comedic drunken play-by-play announcer. And this is the ultimate cheese-festival and it’s very Gouda! We get back stories for each of the monsters, we get the usual pre-match promo, and we get a few gory gags thrown in with a series of standard wrestling holds and minor bumps. There really isn’t much of a plot to speak of with this film, just a lot of monsters brawling as the announcers crack wise… zombies rise from the graveyard tombs at one point, bringing greater danger to the announcers and event staff.

4 out of 5.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

DIGGING IN WITH TWO FANGS: Abraham Lincoln and Underworld: Awakening

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter

So we drove an hour to the north and parked ourselves in front of the nearest “Drive-In” screen for a double feature presentation of Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter with Prometheus. It was a Friday Creature Feature in the classic tradition! I was happy, munching on snacks with my family and enjoying the general atmosphere of a Drive-In theater.

Lincoln was a fun little trip through re-imagined history, starting with a sweeping shot of the Washington Memorial fading backwards through time to its early construction. It’s a nice little fade shot to bring us backward through time, very epic in the majesty of our country’s great history. And we’re brought straight to the river where men are working, kids are playing, and vile dastardly doings are going on. The future Sixteenth President is a young boy whose defense of a friend leads to the later vampire attack that kills his mother. He grows up wanting a taste for revenge, but doesn’t yet realize the terrors that await him. After discovering that vampires are real, Lincoln starts to train himself and learn how to identify and kill the undead menace. His early years are documented as he juggles school, work, and his night time forays to destroy the bloodsuckers. We also get to see major historical moments through the prism of his struggle with the vampire menace. There are bits from his great debates supporting abolition, the courtship of his wife, his rise through the political quagmire that is ultimately all a part of his struggle to end a vampire tyranny.

Let’s face it; this is just cheap b-movie fun and not really any deeper than what it promises to be in that regard. It doesn’t need to be anything greater, either. It’s the 16th President wielding an axe and chopping up vampires! How could that NOT be kinda’ cool? The performances are good, the story is fairly compact, and the revisionist history is kind of amusing. Confederate Vampires marching on Union soldiers is an interesting sight to behold, have no doubt. There are moments where the movie does offer more than cheap thrills, though… the moments where he stands over the bed of his dying son, the choices he’s forced to make when actually holding the highest office, and his confessions to friends about his true mission carry serious pathos which the actor delivers well on. Although there’s far too much CGI for my taste, most of it works for the film as it stands… the vampires leap and hiss and casually smash through solid walls with reckless abandon. Mostly; the movie fits into the “fun horror” category, even though it does threaten to lose that identity on occasion. I can easily see this movie making my top ten lists at the end of the year, but we’ll see.

4 out of 5.

Underworld: Awakening

I’m not entirely sure I even know where this franchise is trying to go at this point. We still have the “Matrix” action feel mixed with gory blood and monsters in what I can only describe as a fairly typical “Gothic-Punk” setting. The Vampire Seline returns to the narrative in a story that takes place shortly after her and Michael manage to overcome Marcus in his bid to do nasty stuff. The humans have discovered the existence of Lycans and Vampires. They institute a “cleansing” slash and burn to destroy all of the creatures, capturing Seline in the process and holding her in frozen hibernation for 12 years. She gets free, lots of action, lots of blood, and monsters running about trying to slaughter everything in their path. But while we have plenty of blood, plenty of grue, plenty of monsters and other such junk we are completely devoid of an interesting story.

The story of this film is dependant on the audience sympathizing with monsters, which is hard to do when you see these monsters simply mowing down the police and innocent bystanders with all the concern of swatting a fly. Vampires fighting Lycans is a good formula, but this film tries to introduce the human element as villains but it ultimately doesn’t really work in the context of this story. Seline isn’t likeable when she’s just killing everything the screenwriter puts in front of her. Later revelations might make things a little more palatable in hindsight, but we’re still just watching her mow through people throughout the early portion of the film. What also doesn’t work is Kate Beckinsale herself, ten years older and still trying to pull off the Black-PVC-Rubber-Leather semi-bondage gear just doesn’t really work at this point. Whatever she had in the first two films simply isn’t there for the fourth leap, with much of what she does coming off as awkward. They introduce a “daughter” for Seline, who doubles as not only a character but also a MacGuffin device for the villains of the film to push the flimsy plot forward. This also doesn’t work because there’s almost a vacuum of emotion coming from Beckinsale in scenes with the “daughter”. She’s a vampire, not a Vulcan.

What made her work in the previous films was that she wasn’t just willing to kill people without good reason. The whole reason Michael is supposedly spared is because she doesn’t want to think of herself as a monster, she’s a soldier fighting a war with an identified enemy. She doesn’t want to pull out her guns and start shooting in a busy subway because she doesn’t want to harm innocent lives. What made her stand out from the other vampires was that they had long ago embraced their monstrous natures while she still struggled to hold on to her humanity. The first few moments of this film completely wipes that humanity off the board when we see Seline going out of her way to absolutely slaughter the humans sent to kill her. We see several scenes where she can move unbelievably fast, where she can leap large distances and yet not once does she just try to leave. She attacks people non-stop, sometimes even going back to make certain they’re dead before moving on to the next wire-fu kick and slash.

There are some additional characters including the usually excellent Stephen Rea as a villainous “doctor” sort, but it feels like the director told all of the actors to deadpan every line with all the emotion of a broom. Rea is mopey in his villainy, his lines delivered with wooden dismissal, and every twist isn’t just out of the blue it completely goes against everything established in the first act of the film. There is a new vampire coven hiding just outside the city, but they can be pretty much boiled down to “whiney losers” dressed in goth clothing. They all hate Seline for betraying them in the first two movies and show this anger by letting her stick around and lounge about. The only exception being a vampire who wants to “fight” against the human oppression… he has a real name, but I’ll call him McRebel. Yawwwwn… didn’t we see this theme more justifiably addressed in the X-Men movies? The difference being that the X-Men Mutants were just people who happened to have special abilities while vampires are BLOOD FEASTING MONSTERS!!! Tyranny has nothing to do with it! There is something very justified in destroying a race of creatures that have placed humanity on the menu here.

Let me also talk about Officer Everyman. He’s the veteran officer who makes it to the scene of a few murders winds up allying with Seline. Exposition forces him to try and put the vampires and other monsters in a sympathetic light by explaining his wife was a vampire who died in the “purge”… I am not supposed to laugh at him, and yet I am. I am supposed to identify with his pain, but the premise is so unbelievably stupid. He offers to help Seline, jeopardizing his life and career for no better reason than this expository scene regarding his deceased wife. He should be afraid of these monsters, but he only sees them as having the same rights and emotions. They’re MONSTERS… he’s tossed about and is ridiculously out of his element during the combat scenes, but none of this wakes him up to the harsh reality that he’s gotten involved with a war between monsters.

So the action is pretty much the only thing worth watching the film for, and there’s fun frivolity all around. The movie sort of exists while it’s on, but it’s nothing anyone is ever going to really care about too deeply. I liked watching it, but I couldn’t take the film seriously at all. It’s going to be another guilty pleasure film for me because I can see so many faults with the direction, the pacing, the acting, and the special effects. Split review score… a long time since I’ve given one of those.

The movie is a 2, but I’m giving it a 3.5 for my personal tastes.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

REPOST: Savage Worlds RPG review

SAVAGE WORLDS: review (repost from myspace)

"Fast. Furious. Fun!" That's the marketing tag line. Is it true?

I picked up Savage Worlds a few years back in hardcover copy. Designed by Shane Lacey Hensley and produced by Pinnacle Entertainment Group, it was a basic table top game engine that could be adapted to any Theme or genre the play group wanted to explore. It boasted a simple and easy action resolution system and an amazingly quick "Prep" time for game masters. There was no "core" setting for the rules system, and my initial sentiments was that it worked very much like the Serenity RPG I'd picked up a few months earlier. (That game uses the Cortex Rules, which I'll try to review at a later date.) PEG did, however, produce several "Settings" with which to run their game, each of them bound in a hard cover World Book with the occasional "Plot Point" adventure to include for your play group.

I initially picked up the book in order to run their new Deadlands: Reloaded setting with the most current system available. Deadlands was originally created by Shane Lacey Hensley as a stand alone system, later reproduced with a D20 conversion. This is an Old West meets HP Lovecraft game with a bit of Steam Punk thrown in for additional flavor. In other words, a setting I fell absolutely in love with and tried, time and again, to introduce to my gaming group. The original setting had already been out of print for almost a decade, but I was eagerly anticipating the release of the system for Savage Worlds and once again made the valiant effort to introduce both the setting and the system to my gaming group.

Rules are simple. Your character has the expected Attributes consistent with most games, offering a Die Rating on Strength, Smarts, Spirit, Agility, and Vigor. You next have abilities, all very broadly defined so that fine tuning doesn't get in the way of having some quick fun during action resolution. Characters roll a single Ability die for any action, from shooting to Stealth attempting to hit a target number of 4 in order to gain a success. Modifiers come into play, along with opposing stats and rolls. Wild Card characters (more on that later, but they include player characters) get to roll an additional D6 and keep the best result of the two die rolled. Rolling the highest result on a given Die results in "Acing", which allows the roller to re-roll the die and add that number to the aced number. (This process repeats until the die no longer "aces".)

Static traits are derived from dice values for associated Attributes, including Charisma, Toughness, and Parry. Additional "Edges" and "Hindrances" allow players to give their characters a spark of life beyond these simple die stats, providing bonuses and negatives to specific actions and static traits.

I mentioned "Wild Card" characters a little earlier. A few things seperate the Wild Cards from the rest of the characters in Savage Worlds. Anyone who doesn't have the Wild Card status is pretty much a "mook"... their the nameless horde of ninja, the goblin war band, or faceless minions of the evil mastermind. In order to keep action fast paced and cinematic, most Wild Cards of the appropriate experience are going to mow through these goofballs like they're Steven Seagal. They don't take wounds, they just go down the moment they get any real damage, and they're only rolling their one Ability Die to hit the players. But things take another twist when those goofs are led by that big bruiser with the skull cap, the one who stands out from the crowd. He's likely a Wild Card and he may be just as tough as your character, he takes multiple wounds to go down, he rolls an additional Wild Card Die just like you, and he might be able to provide leadership bonuses to all those mooks you were just mowing down a few scenes earlier. Wild Cards are normally the stock villains and their Right Hand Henchmen in the stories, though they can also be the big bad monster the PC's have been hearing rumors about.

The main complaint I've been hearing about the game is the next issue I plan to address. Combat Initiative is determined through the deal of a card from a standard deck, including both jokers. Turns are based on the value of the card, from Ace to Deuce and then suit. Jokers provide a bonus to all actions for the round. While some edges allow you to make changes to this Turn Based Initiative engine, many traditional gamers find it frustrating that their stats have no determination on the value of their initiative. A slow moving zombie could go before even the fastest drawing gunslinger in the Weird West. My personal feeling is that sometimes, even the fastest gun in the west might hesitate just a little more and it provides those slow moving zombies with just enough time to catch up and maul the hero. I like this method of Initiative, but the core system does provide a few alternatives if this isn't your bag of tea.

The game play is fast. Resolutions are quick and dramatic and characters aren't trying to look up the dynamics of one spell or action versus the benefits or hindrances of another. There are a number of tactics that can be used in order to provide bonuses or penalties to many actions and targets, so the game isn't simplified to the point of redundancy. As players get used to the mechanics, they find many "tricks" that provide flavor to the game and make for an exciting experience for everyone at the table. It's charm is in the simplicity of the game, but this is also where alot of criticism is also derived. If you like your games to be quick and cinematic, than this game is for you. If you like alot of realism, number crunching, and finely tuned optional actions than you might want to pick up something a little different.

The core game is currently available in a soft-cover "Explorer's Guide" and retails for $9.99. Additional Setting books usually retail for the standard game price of $30-$40 and include several themes. Deadlands:Reloaded was already mentioned but they also include (but are not limited to) a Flash Gordon-esque Space Pulp called Slipstream, a Pirates of the Spanish Main source book, the Swashbuckling Horror of "The Savage World of Solomon Kane", the super powers setting of "Necessary Evil", and the supremely bizarre "post-apoclyptic" setting of Low Life. Pinnacle usually provides a small twist on familiar settings in order to provide outrageous flavor to their games. Necessary Evil is a world where Superheroes were wiped out and the only hope against an alien invasion are Earth's mightiest villains. Low Life gives players the opportunity to play mutated Cockroaches, Amorpheous Slimes, and Evolved Snack Cakes. They cut a niche in the gaming market for a tidy profit in a time when people are really trying to pinch their pennies, so they don't waste the customers' time with the Thousandth book on Dragons and pitfall traps.

3 MOVIES!!!: Chop, Don't Go In the Woods, and High Lane!


I’m a regular visitor to the website, an online horror news and information service. The company recently entered the distribution market, signing a couple of films to their brand for DVD and Direct to Cable distribution, with “CHOP” as one of the major headliners in their series. It’s an independent film directed by Troma veteran, Trent Haaga. Best known for his antics in front of the camera, Haaga is no stranger to taking the directors seat with the movie “Dead Girl” firmly under his hat. He’s got an eye for uncomfortable subject matter and proved capable of adding a new twist to familiar horror tropes.

CHOP follows a similar pattern by adapting the “stranger” trope best known in films like “The Hitcher” and setting it on its head. Our main character is an average guy named Lance, and we’re quickly pulled into the world of this character when he’s kidnapped and forced to kill his half-brother. A maniac threatens to kill Lances’ wife if he doesn’t meet his demand, claiming that this is revenge for something Lance did to him. From that point on, the movie spirals out of Lances control when he starts to wake up with pieces of his body missing. But where this movie seems to be a familiar trope, the twist is that Lance really is NOT a likeable character. He’s done terrible things to people with casual dismissal. The stranger peels back layers from Lance revealing one terrible confession after another in a desperate bid to force him to remember what Lance did to him. And, as a result, we find ourselves sympathizing far more with the “Stranger” than we do with Lance. Stranger is polite, respectful, and truly hurt by Lances’ inability to even so much as remember his face. He’s been driven to these monstrous acts, one worse than the other, because of Lance and the more we get to know the lead the more we identify with his tormentor.

CHOP is, at moments, darkly hilarious. We meet some of the people who have been affected by Lances’ horrible acts, few of whom are innocent in their own lives. (The lead actor), another Troma vet, is hilarious as Lance. The dialogue throughout the film often seems surreal given the circumstances surrounding the characters, and both men play off one another very well. There’s so much stuff that just WORKS in this film that to talk about it would just spoil the story, and this is something where the absolute shock of various moments need to be felt for the full effect. Check it out.

4 out of 5.


Don’t Go In The Woods.

Vincent D’Onofrio’s “Don’t Go In the Woods” picked up some good reviews on the festival circuit before finding it’s way to my own television set and DVD player. The simple premise of taking a group of young people out into the woods for a bloody massacre gets an interesting spin when it’s turned into a musical. I was promised “camp entertainment”, “catchy musical numbers”, along with “GORY!” special effects. The fact that this is an artistic achievement is certainly NOT under dispute, because it takes some immeasurable degree of talent to take all of those elements and still manages to deliver one of the most boring, uninteresting, and annoying films I’ve seen this past year.

Firstly, there is no “camp” beyond the fact that the band sets up their tents and builds a fire. The Young musicians head out in the woods to write new music, but this is pseudo-rock “emo” music with a bunch of shoe-gazers with whiny voices. None of the songs fit in with any narrative structure and do very little to push the story along, we’re sort of watching a bunch of kids sing songs as they wander the wood and goof off with one another. And none of the songs really differ from one another in any significant ways. The songs are sung with the same screamy-whine nasally cracking brittle voices, no matter if it’s a ballad or something more up-beat, and every song gets a reprise a few moments after its initial performance when someone randomly wanders down the path for one reason or another. This is the bulk of the movie. The dialogue consists of one character yelling at the others to stop fooling around, partying, drinking, talking on cell phones, and to just sing a new song. The band is joined by their respective girl-friends and hangers on, but that just makes the one “serious” character get all the more upset when they won’t work on new material. And all the dialogue gets rinses and repeated time and time again. There’s very little to rescue this movie from the tedium with which it drives itself, unless one is a fan of the type of music on display here. Acoustic guitars, whining vocals, and “semi-Punk” bass playing with the occasional drumbeat with high focus on the snare.

My only reason to continue with this film is to deny Vincent D’Onofrio the satisfaction of my defeat! I made it through Birdemic, I can make it through this drek!

There are some halfway decent “gore” effects, but I’ve already long lost interest in watching any of these characters. Their deaths mostly occur in the last twenty minutes of the film, and all stalking is thrown aside for a quick flurry of seemingly confusing cuts designed to make the audience think this film is far edgier than it is. We’re supposed to be shocked by the ending and they go far out of their way with it, but the killers’ identity is never a surprise and the cuts only serve to satisfy a sense of self-congratulation. This is about D’Onofrio being an “artist”, and it doesn’t matter if we’ve already seen this cinematic “technique” in far too many films and that it’s basically a cheat to the audience; it’s been used so much that it no longer fools the audience. The pacing is a grinding snails pace crawl from the moment they enter the woods to the moment that the killer is revealed.

1 out of 5.



And here we have another formulaic movie about young group of post-teens on a hiking trip through the woods. This one is a foreign import, the location is the Balkan Mountains, and the Youngsters have all the makings of a decent body count; The girl coping with a recent incident in her life, her new boyfriend, her ex, her best friend, and the best friends boyfriend who invited the ex along without realizing the tension it would create. And the trail they want to take is closed down, a bridge that would make it easier to get back to civilization winds up breaking, and there’s a homicidal maniac on the loose. You can pretty much label each character with a number, because you already know the order of their deaths if you’ve seen this sort of thing before. We’re not reinventing the wheel here, and a paint-by-numbers rote is kind of what I was looking for after the travesty of “Don’t Go in the Woods.”

Some of the scenes here are actually really well done, and adding the mountain climbing aspect made for great suspense moments as the characters hung off cliffs by little more than their fingertips. The cinematography is beautiful and the landscape is breathtaking, so there’s a lot of pretty stuff to look at and the director does a decent job in presenting the film. We do become a little invested with the climb, with some of the characters and their reactions to the events around them, but the whole thing is just extraordinarily predictable. I’m not going to lie to you and tell you this is an amazing film, because it’s really not. It’s just what it presents itself to be and that’s not entirely a bad thing. I’ve often said that even the predictable can be entertaining so long as it’s done ‘well’…. This movie was done well and it entertained. That’s pretty much all I can say about it.

3 out of 5.

Monday, June 18, 2012

James and the Giant Peach thoughts. =)

James and the Giant Peach:

My Fathers Day involved a special trip to the Carmel Forest Outdoor Theater for the last performance of “James and the Giant Peach”, featuring several friends in key roles and technical support. Sadly, I wasn’t likely to have a chance to see the show throughout most of the run but then a friend offered me and my family a few “comp” tickets that I was only too happy to take advantage of. I love live performances and I’ve never actually gone to this theater before, despite the prestige attributed to the venue. Frankly, it’s a long drive in an area of the county I’m just not familiar with. And when I weigh the cost of a show with my own tendency toward agoraphobia, the agoraphobia usually wins. But the offer for tickets was too good and I wanted to do something a little special with my family, so off we went!

So first off, this isn’t a review… these are my personal thoughts after watching the show and it was the last show of the run. I want to thank Koly McBride for her ticket offer and it was really nice to see her in a singing role. As artistic director for the Paper Wing Theatre, she’s brought a number of musicals to the theater in recent years and helped me to discover that I really enjoyed working on my own voice. Despite this, I haven’t had much of an opportunity to hear or watch her perform in musical numbers. There’s always a special kick to watching people you respect do their “thing” in front of an audience! Koly and her son, Dustin, were both featured performers in the roles of Ladybird and Glow Worm.

So let’s get to James and The Giant Peach! Live, beneath the burning sun of Father’s Day, at the Outdoor Carmel Theater.

Based on the Raoul Dahl story of the same name, “James and the Giant Peach” is a fun little musical geared toward children and told from the point of view of the titular character. It’s the story of a young orphan forced to live with his two unloving Aunts. After meeting a mysterious traveler who offers James a bag of magic “seeds”, the boy drops those seeds near the peach tree growing in the front yard of his aunts’ home. A giant peach grows and James meets a number of human sized insects who also had a bite-full of the “magnificent things”. The group then breaks the peach free of its stem and rides the fruit across the ocean in an amazing adventure.

The setting, make-up, and costume designs are amazing, colorful, and often struck me with similarities to Tim Burton or “The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari”, an “other-worldly” appearance that put the audience in the right frame for the story. The performances are all well done, but my personal favorite performance came from the young Cody Moore as the Caterpillar. The eye is drawn to his movements with the multiple arms and the gravel tone of his characters voice so perfectly suits the role. Every actor on the stage deserves to take a bow, as everyone stepped up at various points to crack the audience and bring some laughs. The kids in the ensemble also really stepped up, controlling seagulls and fish and sharks throughout the show and helping to create the right atmosphere for the audience to enjoy the show. It was exhausting to watch the show beneath the sun, and those children were incredibly brave and should be proud of the product they helped to create. I hope they all enjoyed their experiences and that audiences will continue to watch them grow into larger roles in time.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Review: Prometheus "Found"? HAH! me and my puns... thoughts on the new Ridley Scott film.


It’s been a long time since Ridley Scott took a step in the sci-fi genre, but this is still a name that carries a lot of weight. This is the man who brought us “Bladerunner” and “Alien” so this isn’t exactly a little deal for genre fan-boys like me. This is one of the big guns, ladies and gentlemen. So I’m going to set my expectations a little high, which may or may not wind up knocking the film a little. Just so you know where I’m coming from with this review, I was expecting to be blown away and left the theater simply happy. That’s not a bad thing, it’s just a little short of the expectations I originally had.

First off; what this film does well it far excels at. Visuals are stunning, the designs are fantastic, and Scotts sweeping cinematography does put you on another world with a completely alien environment. We can almost feel the chilling cold of this harsh environment; a desolate wasteland of dust and craggy rocks covered in shadow. We’re introduced to some interesting concepts, by no stretch new ones in the world of Science Fiction… but stuff that doesn’t get explored nearly enough and with nearly the kind of horrifying depths this film almost seems capable of. But remember that I said “almost” because we’ll get back to that later. Also, there are some really good performances… Noomi Rapace is very engaging and obviously put a lot of thought into her performance, displaying signs of depth and subtlety to her character that goes beyond some of the direction in this film. Equally engaging was Michael Fassbender in the role of David the Android, whose AI seems nearly advanced to the point of experiencing genuine emotion. There are 17 members of the crew, but none are nearly as fully realized as these two leads that carry the majority of the film.

The starship “Prometheus” is an exploratory ship funded by the Weyland Corporation (From the Alien movies) that is sent to track what may be the source of humanity on a distant planet. Two archeologist have found a series of maps spread throughout different cultures which offer detailed instructions on where to find the planet. Once on the planet, the crew finds a dome structure that contains the remains of an ancient alien race slaughtered by some unknown incident. And what follows are some horrifying discoveries regarding the birth of man, the intentions of our “Engineers”, and precisely where the familiar Xenomorphs came from. The film nearly succeeds on broaching the subjects of “Faith”, creation, and generational conflicts. But this is where “almost” comes into play…

The film abandons the heady subjects about half way through and becomes little more than another “survivor” girl slasher film with cgi-monsters. It simply stops playing with the concepts that make it interesting and starts traveling down traditional tropes with careless abandon. We’re introduced to one-dimensional characters surrounding the two primary leads. A very small number of other characters are given only a few additional lines of dialogue to flesh out their personalities. They may as well be listed Victims 1-10 for all the depth they bring to the film. We don’t really get to know anyone and so every death just feels flat and there’s so little emotional connection. Half the monsters feel extraordinarily unnecessary, more like FX works thrown at the screen to see if anything stuck rather than pushing the plot forward by any degree. One particular scene just irritated me and served as little more than an opportunity to slaughter roughly half the crew in a single scene. And don’t get me wrong, because I love films of this sort… but it felt like a nearly 180 degree spin from where the film was taking us.

I did really like it, however. I do recommend it. And it is absolutely a great experience.

4 out of 5.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Two Boring Movies... ugh... DEADLY BLESSING & THE WICKER TREE


When I was a kid I saw the commercials for "Deadly Blessing"... I was six or seven and the commercials scared the heck out of me. A spider drifted down from the ceiling and entered the mouth of a poor innocent victim, some woman gripped from behind while a pair of hands held her jaw open. So I remembered the film for that, but never actually sat down to watch it... which is odd, because it was directed by Wes Craven. As a big Nightmare on Elm Street fan I loved watching a lot of his work back in the day. But I kind of avoided this one because of that childhood fear.

I shouldn't have worried. That scene wound up being a dream sequence, and the rest of the movie largely bored the hell out of me. It wasn't bad, it wasn't quite insulting, but nothing happened through a fair majority of the film. The deaths were largely boring, including a stabbing of one character who at least could have been a decent red herring when all was said and done. The concept could have been engaging, but it didn't really go anywhere or build on itself. A former Hittite, shunned by his community for marrying an outsider and taking up with modern ways, dies and leaves all of his land to his pregnant wife. The community blames her, of course... but the tension is really minimal. Her closest neighbors are also persecuted for being outsiders... a woman and her daughter. The wife is joined by her two friends, things happen, and there's a rushed resolution with terrible transitions regarding time jumps. It fell flat on it's ass and never bothered to actually do something interesting with its' concept.

3 out of 5.


On the tail end of one boring movie and on to the next boring film... the official follow up to the original "Wicker Man", a film called the Wicker Tree. This film also suffered from boredom but for a completely different reason... in the first film, a devout Christian Police officer heads to an island where he's to be sacrificed by a pagan community. There are so many things to love about that film, from the pacing to the bizarre characters to the intricate manipulation that leads our protagonist to his final fate. In this film, a pair of American Christian Missionaries travel to another secretly Pagan community where they're presented with "honor" of fulfilling specific roles in their community celebration. The problem here is that we, the audience, are already aware of what's going to happen before it ever happens. And then we have almost two hours before anything really does happen.

There were some key differences between the films, however. The leader of the community is also the cause for much of their suffering, having poisoned the land himself and created the radiation problem that's sterilized so much of the community. He also doesn't necessarily believe that any of the rituals will actually work and expresses as such in private with his wife. Additionally, the protagonist couple don't really add much depth to the film. They're such average people and they're acceptance of the other culture gives them a "Tourist" feel, but nothing is really done to play with that concept. There are scenes that could come off as quirky and amusing, but I think the fact that we're already aware of the "punchline" well in advance works against us. A different twist could have helped build on what was happening, but the ending was fairly predictable.

2.5 out of 5.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Late Post: Old Ringers at the Paper Wing Theatre

You just want to laugh .Sometimes it's really that simple and that's all you need. When you hear about the premise for "Old Ringers", you feel that's what you're bound to get when four senior women take up the mantle of "Phone Sex Entrepreneurs" in this randy comedy. You know you're going to laugh because it's already going to play with popular misconceptions about sexuality in those twilight years. The Paper Wing Theatre is always a great place for artists to ply their craft with unconventional stories, unconventional music, and generally present the audience with something they're not really expecting to see. And while you may just want to laugh, the show is also more than that. It also manages to tackle some pretty thoughtful topics, but the laughs are never far behind.

Diane (Andrea McDonald) lives with her adult daughter, Amanda (Kelly Machado). The two women live very different lives, with Amanda opening the show as she reads her own religion-inspired blog aloud while her mother tries to talk openly about her boyfriends visit later in the day. Both women play well and contrast one another very well. When Diane finds out her social security check is being reduced, the ball gets rolling and we're off to the races as her friends arrive for their regular get-together and share stories. Verna (Suzanne Alvin) is the randy cougar with plenty of quick flirtatious comments, Rose (Kira Gray) is the somewhat cynical wisecracker, and Kathy Anne (Linda Dale) is the simpler and naive widow of the group. They're joined by Harry (Richard Mueller), Diane's flirtatious boyfriend and accountant. The dialogue is quick, snappy, and there are plenty of punchlines peppered throughout the exchanges. And sparks begin to fly for Amanda when she meets Officer Runson (Jay DeVine), a new transfer to the neighborhood.

Events transpire and the ladies are encouraged to seek their fortune with a phone sex service. Of course they have to hide their latest endeavors from Amanda, they're afraid they may be breaking the law, and precisely how comfortable are they all going to be with the various scenarios that play out in the fantasies of their callers. And where is this adventure going to take the ladies? Well, don't expect me to give you an answer... get up, head out to the Paper Wing Theatre, and enjoy the show. It's fantastic fun.

*note: I wrote this almost two weeks ago and posted it on my Facebook... but totally forgot about my blog. So here it is! -Mark

late post: MIB3, Legend of Bloody Jack


The Men In Black franchise returns with stars Tommy Lee Jones and Will Smith as agents K and J, respectively. And let me get to the point on my mindset going in to the film… why is there another MIB film after the last one? It was basically the same film as the first with rehashed gags and a fairly stupid retcon regarding the retirement of K. What had been a pretty happy ending to the first film was ruined by the second films need to bring the pair back together. The same jokes from the first film were used in the second and Johnny Knoxville was flat out annoying. (What WAS with that second head and where was the tentacle attached, specifically?) So I didn’t have high hopes for the third in the franchise but thought it would be a good little popcorn flick to enjoy with the family.

So the film brings on Jemaine from “Flight of the Conchords” as the leading villain (Boris), a criminal from the past of Agent K. This creature escapes from a high security prison and enacts a plot to gain revenge on Agent K, sending himself back in time to kill the younger K and succeed in his mission. The only trouble with the plan is that Agent J somehow remembers (this is dealt with in the story) the original time line and is sent back in time to stop Boris from killing K. So Tommy Lee Jones is quickly replaced with Josh Brolin (Goonies, Planet Terror).

In what originally looked like a stupid “time Travel” sequel with dated references and a bunch of jokes regarding the appearance of Hippies and Nixon, MIB actually delivers a solid story with emotional resonance as we meet a younger and somewhat less stand-offish K. We meet the MIB organization in its early years, we see how aliens originally adapted the world, and the time gags take a back seat to the character development between J and K. That isn’t to say we aren’t going to see some of the expected “time travel” gags; the early development of a few typical MIB devices and their “low tech” alternatives, moments of intolerance, and popular icons from the era. But the point is that they were just gags and they were used as such. They weren’t the point of the film, it wasn’t a weak story surrounding a lot of pratfalls. J and K are fantastic together, and the younger version of K gives us some fantastic insight into how he became the man he would eventually become.

5 out of 5.

* *

The Legend of Bloody Jack

I’ve seen worse movies and this film doesn’t even crack the top 10 on that list, but it certainly deserves some degree of honorable mention. It’s a fairly typical “slasher” theme with the titular character being some sort of ancient woodsman raised from the grave by a descendent, but this aspect really only serves to chew up some running time in the early beginning because it doesn’t really have much bearing on the story itself. It introduces the character, it shows us how he’s raised, it hints as to how he can then be sent back to the grave, and none of it matters because it has no bearing at all on the story. We’re introduced to our cast of victims and get comfortable because we’re stuck with them throughout the runtime of this heavily padded film that throws in additional victims for no more purpose than to run out the time and show off really REALLY bad special effects. We are talking buckets of blood, a cup of latex, and lots of cut-aways before we see just how bad the make-up truly is.

2 out of 5, and that’s a kindness.

* *

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Thoughts: Prometheus Bound Review at Paper Wing theatre

o... I went to see "Prometheus Bound" last night at the Paper Wing Theatre. Consider me blown away.

Jourdain Barton's direction and approach the material is amazing and I absolutely LOVED LOVE LOVED this show! Based on the mythology of Prometheus, the Titan who dared to take a stand on behalf of humanity and deliver fire unto them. Often used as a symbol for Socialism and Communism, mainly because Karl Marx read the story in one way. Bartons' approach to the material seems far different, however... at least to this viewer. Prometheus is a champion of liberty and opportunity, a Titan who saw the potential of Man to harness the fire and find the arts, to find production, to lift the yolk of tyranny from their own necks through individual effort. Prometheus taunts the supporters of Zeus that have come to gloat, he mocks their subservience and glories in his own suffering because he has already seen what it will lead to. He has been gifted with blessing/curse of foresight and he knows what his actions have inspired from Man.

Timothy Samaniego is a compelling and amazing actor to watch in the title role, and the courage of Prometheus to stand so tall in the face of tyranny, to stand for liberty and self-reliance and the will and ability of humanity to overcome the yolk of power is amazing to watch. His suffering is palpable and the "advice" from those who visit him is absolutely relevant to the political climate of today. We feel his pain as he is chained to the rock, we feel his anguish as he's driven to bouts of madness through his visions, and we glory in his willingness to spit in the face of such punishment. Prometheus suffers but he knows the suffering will bear out in the end, and his purpose does not fall on deaf ears. I was nearly driven to my feet in glee from a transformation that takes place near the end of the show, embodied by the performances from Taylor Noel Young and the director herself.

Erik James Morton provides a slight comic relief in the role of Oceanus, an opportunist who is easily swayed by the motion of the times... the "get along to go along" sort of person, likened to that part in ourselves that choose to not make waves. (pun intended) He's willing to take to the defense of his brother, to dare offer advice to the ever so reasonable Zeus if only his brother will agree to just "get along" with the flow of the times... and the chained, beaten, battered, and tortured Prometheus treats his fellow Titan with nothing short of pity. He already knows where all of this could lead, after all. Morton pulls double duty in the show, so let me also say that the comic relief he brings to Oceanus is in stark contrast to the intense remorse of Hephaestus, the god charged my Zeus with the binding of Prometheus to the forsaken rock.

And then Tatum Tollner brings the audience to tears in the second act. Changed into a cow and chased to the ends of the earths by stinging gadflies as punishment from a jealous Hera, Io finds herself standing before Prometheus and is forced to recount her tale. She demands that the Titan tell her of her fate, to which the Titan complies and her suffering is not near its' end. Her only comfort will be in the knowledge that her offspring in several generations will bring about the end of Zeus' tyranny, that by the hand of her own descendant will Prometheus be freed.

And that brings us to Hermes, portrayed by the Lucas Tovey. Glittering and golden hued, Hermes is the very image of a God on stage. Lucas' has a demanding presence, but the image is not of heroism. His taunting, demanding, and threatening burn the audience to rightful anger as he delivers the demands of Zeus.

The Program offers insight to the director and her goals with bringing this vision to the stage. Producers Koly McBride and LJ Brewer have given voice to one of the most daring productions and their Gallerie Theater offers a proud opportunity for student directors to learn their own voices. I look forward to other productions in the small theater and give kudos to every single person involved with this production. As a fan of Greek Mythology it was an absolute thrill to see Prometheus brought to life on stage.