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 bloody-disgusting.com 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.

* *