Monday, April 16, 2012

Cabin In The woods: Oh yeah... yeah...

Cabin in the Woods

You already know the way this goes: A group of friends head up to an abandoned cabin in the middle of nowhere and get picked off one at a time. It’s a cliché seen often enough, with a number of successful franchises and mass merchandising around the globe. It’s as traditional and comfortable as an apple pie, as hokey as the Oscar-baiting dramas released in November through January, and as predictable as the sun set. You know the characters… bland and uninteresting caricatures of punishable “offenses” with a lead caricature of “purity” wrapped in naïveté. You already know about the bloody kills, you’ve seen this movie a hundred times over and why should you even bother to see it again with the price of movies as it is?

Let me make this clear: You have not seen this movie yet. You do not know what it is about, you do not know who these five leads are, and you do not know why they are really at this cabin or who is watching and manipulating events from behind the scenes. And while that may be a bit of a spoiler, deal with it because we start the film knowing. I don’t mean it’s obvious from the previews or that I was reading the script before or that someone told me the story. We START the film being introduced to the puppeteers. They’re average guys getting ready for what might as well be another day at the office and preparations are being made for the events that are about to transpire. And by making the audience part of this initial “twist” we are not entirely prepared for the twists that occur later. They disarm us and wrap us into the larger story where every cliché carries a little more weight and depth, where not much is really what it seems, and the true “horror” is revealed a little more slowly than is immediately obvious.

And while there are plenty of twists and turns, this is not a movie that depends upon the shocks to keep its audience engaged. There’s plenty of grue for the traditional gore hound, there’s fantastic humor that is smartly written and expertly delivered by a cast that proves itself extremely capable, and there’s almost an immediate urge to watch this film again for the sake of picking up on side jokes and brief moments the audience may have missed with the first go-round. The script is fantastic and plays with the audience, plays with our expectations and gives the occasional wink and a nod before showing us precisely how they’re going to trick us and then doing it in plain sight. It’s like a Penn & Teller magic show in that respect, but while the humor is there to blow of steam there is a sense of serious urgency in the actions of our puppeteers. This whole train ride is going somewhere and it’s an absolute joy from beginning to the end.

5 out of 5.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Conan Remake Rant and Nemesis Recomendation

Conan the Barbaria (Reboot!)

The Sword and the Sorcerer was directed by Albert Pyun and featured a triple-bladed sword with the ability to shoot each of the blades separately, a necromancer, and an “evil” warlord attempting to rule the world. The hero was a mercenary pirate with a dark past involving the Warlord, Cromwell. There were witches, a princess, and various monsters for the hero to fight during his great quest to eventually find vengeance. It was a cheap knock off for the currently successful Conan the Barbarian, starring the young Arnold Schwarzenegger. So when the studio announced the reboot of the series, I had no idea they were actually going to use a cheaper knock off of the original knock off rather than going back to any of the source material in order to create a new Conan franchise. Not one story from Robert E Howard served as source material for the new Conan film, not one shred of the original film, but they certainly did rip out The Sword and the Sorcerer pretty liberally and created a 3D “look at this sword poke out of the screen!” nightmare or what Hollywood THINKS a sword and sorcerer movie is supposed to be.

The film starts off with Conan’s birth as he is ripped from his mothers’ womb in the midst of Battle because that’s just kewl. They cast Ron Perlman as the father in order to add some legitimacy to a backstory that flat out dragged through a number of scenes that never managed to capture the emotion or imagination of the original movie. There’s a decent scene where the young Conan battles with a couple of wild Picts, but the promise of that scene means very little to the overall story. “The Riddle of Steel” is briefly introduced but quickly discarded because this ain’t THAT movie. The village is raided by a Warlord looking for the last piece of the MacGuffin Mask (it had an actual name, but you might as well call it the Unobtainium Mask or the Whooosywhatsis for all the importance it has to the story) which Conans’ father has hidden beneath his workshop. Conan is left doing the “Harmonica” thing from “Once Upon a Time in the West” for his father and is otherwise left to die by the films’ villains. Fast forward and Conan is a mercenary and he’s looking for revenge and… oh, please please please, this story is done twenty minutes into the film and the rest is just fluffed out nonsense battles, captures, successes, and minor failures before the big finale. There are no interesting characters, no one grows, there are no revelations that aren’t spelled out for you in the first twenty minutes, and this movie is GANK!!!!

The worst part being that you could see, from step one to step two, that there were opportunities for them to take the story someplace interesting and at least keep the audience interested in more than just one battle scene after another. Instead we get nonsense monsters popping up without any degree of back story…. Remember the snake from the original film? It was a pet kept by a cult of evil fanatics, it was fed worshippers on a sacrificial basis and it was there to guard the treasure that Conan and his friend are stealing. They have a “Dweller” Octopus thing in this film… why it’s there we are never shown, other than it’s there for a big battle and people get smashed and there’s cutting and chopping and angry growls from Conan and he escapes and they move on to the next battle. Remember Conan’s love interest in the first film? She saved him, she fought him, she dared him, she moved the story forward and was a character with her own strengths and weaknesses and her death meant something. This film has a love interest too… she’s in distress and screaming most of the time. Yeah. Remember James Earl Jones and his monologue about the Riddle of Steel and how the Flesh was stronger? Our new villain has an evil white goatee sticking out of his chin and he snarls a lot and expresses admiration for Conan before trying to kill him… Oh, his motivation is to raise his wife from the dead so they can take over the world. That’s it. It’s cartoonish buffoonery at its worst.

I have nothing bad to say about the actor portraying Conan. He did what the script called for him to do, he had some charisma, and he was otherwise just stuck with a bad movie surrounding what could have been a great break through performance for him. This movie sucked! The Albert Pyun rip-off was heads above and better than this garbage. If you absolutely MUST see this movie, do so when you have nothing better to do and there are two hours you simply have to occupy with mindless drivel.

2 out of 5 because it at least had a lot of battle action sequences to occupy the time you’re wasting with a nonsensical story that never goes anywhere.

You know what? I can’t let it rest… I can’t just sit here and bash some movie without offering a good recommendation to offset my warning. So, since I started this rant with a mention about Albert Pyun, I may as well end it with a recommendation for one of his films. I’ve already mentioned “The Sword and the Sorcerer” so we may as well go with a different strategy:


Olivier Grunier was a French kick-boxing champion in the 90’s who hit the B-Movie circuit with a number of starring roles that included just about every formulaic “action” trope there was. But one of the few standouts was a little sci-fi action flick that featured Grunier as a Cyborg police officer in a mostly post-apocalyptic world. Much of the plot is kind of hokey and confusing, involving the potential capture of a major criminal and the exchange of information as humans struggle against what they see as a growing robotic threat to their humanity. What ultimately saves this film are the performances and action sequences, much of which revolves around the former Kickboxing champion as he tries to blast his way free through warring factions. Grunier is perfectly cast as a man struggling to maintain his humanity despite the cybernetic implants that make him “better” than he once was… of course, this is probably because Grunier is stiff and lifeless (though oddly charismatic) in just about every other role so this one seems perfectly suited for him. But the film really shines when his captain is on the screen, played by Tim Thomerson. He borders on the excessive ham that could ruin a major Hollywood production but absolutely shines here when he’s taunting Grunier. “Top of the line, Alex!”

There are some great side characters played by B-genre vets and some pretty nifty effects for the time period. Stuntwork is off the hook and Pyun manages to reign in his usual strategy of taking the story in odd directions that never pay off. The story, despite being a little muddled, is pretty straightforward and easy to follow so we’re not scratching our heads by the end of the film.

3.5 out of 5 may seem a kindness, but I actually really enjoyed this film and have watched it a few times over the years. It always gives me a little bit of joy and is a great little popcorn action flick.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Attack the Block thoughts and rant!

Attack the Block


In the past few years, Hollywood has been glutting the market with a series of movies like “Skyline” and “Battlefield: Los Angeles.” You know the movie: Unlikely cast of characters try to fend off an alien invasion with big budget explosions and CGI alien attacks. Well, the British did throw their own hats in the ring though I missed the initial theater outing. So I waited for Netflix to send me the latest “Blue-Glowing Alien Invasion” film with very small expectations of greatness, and this is despite warm reviews from fellow genre fans. I’m eating my expectations and vomiting giddy joy in the aftermath! “Attack the Block” was everything that the recent trends of alien invasion films have wanted to be. It has good scares, a smart script, and a cast of oddly likeable characters. The film also boasts a small percentage of the budget the other films carried so every effect works to bring the film forward instead of wallowing in hype and spectacle.

Here’s the gist: A group of young teen hoodlums are interrupted in the middle of a street mugging when an object from space crashes through a car nearby. Their victim makes her getaway in the confusion and the teens are briefly attacked by a small “gremlin”-like creature before chasing it down. They easily kill the creature and we’re quickly introduced to a number of side characters as they carry the body to their friends for safe-keeping. The “friend” is a dealer played by Nick Frost, and other side characters include his boss, the local girls, a college kid looking to purchase drugs, and the aforementioned “victim” who happens to live in the same building as the boys. Events quickly escalate when the first creature is joined by a number of others who crash to earth and the boys quickly find out that these creatures quite larger than the first. They are, in fact, far more vicious and dangerous.

The boys are chased back to their building by the creatures, which prove themselves quite capable of ripping and shredding the police and other area hoodlums. There are some great little gory scenes, plenty of splatter for the gorehound, and we find ourselves starting to actually like this group of misfits and hoodlums. The thing is, they also start to like themselves. They start to see themselves as Heroes at roughly the same time as the audience, even though their victim is always quick to remind them of what they just very recently did to her. These kids really aren’t angels, but we do root for them and we also start to understand why the aliens are invading. But look, all of that stuff is spoiler and doesn’t have much to do with the rant.

This is a great film! Just check it out, you won’t be sorry, and be prepared for a crash course in British slang because this film is chock full of it. Truth, Bruv. Grab your fam and get yerself a telly to watch this bloody good film, truth! Okay, I’m not British, I don’t quite have the slang down, but seriously you should watch this film.

5 out of 5. Truth.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Reefer Madness: The Musical (My thoughts)

Playing all month every friday and saturday night, The Paper Wing Theatre performs "Reefer Madness: the Musical" live on stage. I was there for opening night alongside the infamous "Remo D" (Shane Dallmann), my favorite horror host from the Manor of Mayhem where I was once a regular. He has a much more detailed review available here:

While I have seen the original “scare” film upon which this musical is based, it never really stood out as anything extra-ordinarily special when I watched it. I had scrounged through a guide to “Cult” movies and pretty much watched everything featured in that book, including Zardoz (which stands as one of the weirdest and worst movies I’ve ever seen) and this was one of the tamer films I found. Madness just seemed like a fairly hokey little number and I don’t even remember enough of the film to really draw too many parallels with the Musical effort I saw this past weekend. I was, however, able to draw parallels to the Rocky Horror Show but all of ideas were covered in the review written by my friend and audience neighbor, Shane Dallmann. So if you want to read a good review, I would recommend reading his thoughts and the written parallels between this show and Rocky. But, seeing as how you’re on MY blog right now, I thought I’d take a different tactic and just write some general thoughts on the performances and maybe even the eventual “Moral” of the story.

LJ Brewer is simply fantastic in the role of the Narrator. He plays the role with deep seriousness and bitter anger regarding the evil nature of the shows primary “demon”. There are hilarious moments in his narration, many of them made even more hilarious by the severity of his performance. I’ve seen Mr. Brewer absolutely kill in a variety of roles, but this has to be my favorite performance from him to date. That’s saying A LOT considering how brilliant he was as Frankenfurter and how chilling he was as Nathan/Repo. Brewer is a gifted guy and he seemed to just absolutely revel in the challenges of this particular role. His voice in the opening number is perfect and total rock star and the show just rolls along from there at full tilt. The Narrator slips into a number of guises throughout the show, from a Soda-Jerk to a clerk a the Train Station and other moments that have to be seen and should not be spoiled.

Erik James Morton and Jill Miller are also brilliantly naive in their roles as the shows primary protagonists, Jimmy and Mary Lane; Two 50’s era suburban teens about to come face to face with their own darker natures when they’re introduced to the evils of Marijuana use. Morton is just so gosh golly gee in the beginning that his steep and rapid decline becomes even more hilarious when his raving madness is confronted by his parents. He's addled with a desperate hunger for the demon weed. Jill is a very gifted physical comedienne whose responsibilities also included choreography on the various dance routines throughout the show. Her performance as Mary Lane was very wholesome with a touch of slapstick regarding the physicality, her facial expressions selling so much of the comedy in all of her scenes. She has a magnetic charisma that stands out on stage.

The flop house den of iniquity is populated by four characters who each play their own part in the tragic events depicted within this cautionary tale. The slick con-man dealer (Daniel Matthey) lures the innocent teens to foul debauchery with sadistic glee, controlling his little gang with a steady supply of “The Stuff”. His moll(Erin Davison) is the owner of the house and the story’s primary moral compass as an unwilling slave torn by guilt for her part in the tale. Ralph (Nicholas Kelly) is a feral creature driven to a golem-like existence, creeping through each scene with maddened hunger and glee. Rounding out the foursome is a blonde bombshell seductress (Taylor Noel Young) played to the hilt with some of the best one-liners in the show.

Okay… the moral of the story isn’t the obvious heavy handed attempt to keep kids off “the Stuff” that the original film was. It isn’t a tongue-in-cheek celebration of it, either. While there were similarities to Rocky, I was actually more struck with the similarity to an episode of South Park where Stan’s parents hire an actor to play a future “Drug-addled” version of him in a complicated scheme to get him to avoid using drugs. There’s a great scene at the end where they actually discuss the real concerns regarding drug use and that parents shouldn’t be afraid to have these real discussions with their children. The heavy handed tactics of films like “Reefer Madness” and the anti-drug commercials drowning the airwaves don’t really accomplish much beyond spreading fear and unease regarding the very topic itself. It causes more harm than good. There are some great lines in the lyrics, where the narrator and the “Government” sorts actually try to scare the parents away from their responsibilities and just leave everything in “Their” hands… to mold and shape the children in the image “They” think is appropriate. But I’m the over-intellectualizing ass-hole that saw far greater significance regarding a reference to Cerberus than was probably far less than intended. So don't read too much into my views on the story and the morality, because this show is just flat out hilarity from start to finish.

Reefer Madness: The Musical is a great experience for a night out on the town. It is great comedic fun and the performances are brilliant. There were several moments where I thought I was going to pass out from laughing so hard, including a number of “Chase” sequences that started with a “high speed police pursuit” that simply HAS to be seen. Seriously, get yourself down to Monterey and check out the show at your next convenience.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Wrestlemania thoughts and notes.


Lillian Garcia opens the show with her beautiful voice and we get a good view of the arena, the set designs, and all the other stuff we normally open Wrestlemania with and the crowd is absolutely foaming at the mouth. I’m pumped, the houseguests are pumped, and everything is absolutely buzzing about tonight and I feel like something special is in the air.

Daniel Brian and Sheamus are going to start us off and I’m pumped! This is going to be a great… WHAT THE F-BOMB?!?!?!! Wrestlemania, biggest show of the year, the time for people to really blow the roof off and Sheamus hits the brogue kick and a pin to get the World Title and I’m heated. I’m ticked! I wanted something good out of this match, thought these two had the potential to steal the show, and we get THIS honky-tonk load?!??!! Everyone in my house is laughing but I’m TICKED!!!! First off, never mind that Daniels is one of the most amazing workers in the business and that he’s a star for years to come… but Sheamus is supposed to be this huge deal that the WWE wants to push to the moon. Giving him this cheap win doesn’t build him on what is one of the biggest shows he’s ever going to see, it just doesn’t give him a chance to really shine.

Kane vs. Randy Orton is up next and… these guys put on a good match. I know Orton was working hurt, but he and Kane build up some decent interest and sort of make up for the travesty of that first match. I’m getting back into the show and Kane picks up the win? A little confused with that finish… Kane? Really? Orton is supposed to be their big star for the next several years so I was a little taken aback, but I guess it makes sense and I don’t begrudge Kane getting this big win on Wrestlemania. Not at all.

So then we have Big Show vs. Rhodes for the IC title… I’ve always loved the IC title and consider it to be one of the most important wrestlemania matches whenever it goes on for defense. The Rhodes and Show angle has actually been built up pretty nicely and these guys put on a pretty good match. The ending put the title on Show, which is nice for a guy whose done so much for the company and worked so hard over the past decade. Rhodes has a big future ahead of him and he gave a great performance and showed his mic skills leading up to the match… what more can I say? I liked this match.

And it’s a good thing I liked the last two matches because the Divas are next. And who booked this??? Celebrity performers are not supposed to beat the Women’s Champion! This match was chunks.

The sun is setting… and that brings down Micheals, HHH, and Taker for Hell in a Cell.

I am blown away. This isn’t a great hold for hold match, it isn’t blood and spots… it’s pure emotion and it’s driven by the old school psychology of telling a story and putting the audience on the edge of their seats. I talked about “magic” and this is it… this is a work of art. Years from now, people are going to be talking about this match and all the emotion involved. The investment of that audience and being able to wrap up a jaded hand like me and sell me on every near fall throughout this affair. Michaels did a GREAT job as the ref… he gave us the emotion we needed, didn’t get overly involved, and it wasn’t about him… it was about Taker and HHH and what these two men mean to this great sport. And yeah, I still call it a sport.

Team Johnny vs. Team Teddy is next and… it was what it was. It followed HiaC and there was no way anyone was going to do that and deliver. I will say this, however… Ryder makes the most of his Mania opportunity and got me interested in his deal with Eve. Ryder makes a good sympathetic baby face, which is odd considering how doofy his gimmick is supposed to be. Not the greatest worker in the world, but he has charisma. Oh, Team Johnny wins and we get more Otunga and Ace for the next several months. Wonderful.

Backstage, Johnny Ace manages to suck the crowd anticipation out of Punk vs. Jericho, giving them both an up-hill climb in following HiaC with stupid gimmicks attached.

Punk vs. Jericho.

Initial reaction was “Meh?!?!!” It took awhile to get into this match as they build the story with Jericho as a coward, trying to get Punk to DQ himself, and other nonsense. The crowd isn’t into it and I’m wondering where the fast-paced action is that this match sort of promised. I get it toward the tail end and these guys finally yanked me back into the moment and I’m popping huge for the ending…. Second view of the match, this is something that needs to be taught. The crowd was STILL blown up from Taker vs. HHH, and these two guys has to work some real magic to bring the crowd back into the moment. Working that slower pace gave these guys the building blocks for late match intensity and showed just HOW you’re supposed to follow a great match. Punk is a star, Jericho puts him over, and I’m actually more impressed in hindsight than I was on initial reaction.

Concert songs with MGK and Flo-Rida… would’ve been better served to throw another match in there and the fans are NOT into the music or the performances. Flo-Rida isn’t actually all that bad, but not really my kind of music (neither is MGK, but I can at least understand the appeal for Flo and his performance is all about the moment). MGK feels canned.

Rock vs. Cena… good match from both guys. Good story in the ring with Rock getting hurt in the early and selling the ring rust. Comes back in the later half and… Rock wins?!?!!! Actually, I already thought he was going to win based on some of the promos that Cena did leading up to the match but it was still pretty cool to see.

Real quick view on the skits and vignettes peppering the show… none of them were offensive, none of them really helped build the show, and none of them really mattered in the end run of everything else going on. Hall of Fame inductees were nice to see, Foley and Santino did a bit of comedy with Ron Simmons adding the punchline, Flo-Rida even got involved with Heath Slater and some of the people who just weren’t going to be seen on Mania any other way.

Some friends demand I mention the Funkasaurus Rex and his Mama dancing. I mentioned it. There. Happy? Fuck you.

Over all, this was one of the better Manias the past several years… far better than last years’ travesty and there were some pretty good matches to round out the show. Taker and HHH delivered the best performance of the night, but I have to hand it to Jericho and Punk for trying to follow that up with everything seeming to work against them. Rock and Cena delivered what both guys are capable of. Brian and Sheamus was an absolute travesty, however. The Diva’s booking was moronic, but what else is new?