Thursday, May 23, 2013

Star Trek: Into Darkness... and I have no clever subtitle to add.

Star Trek: Into Darkness.

When it comes to the ancient and honored Civil War of Geekdom, I’m afraid that my flag is firmly planted in the Star Wars camp. That’s not to take anything away from Trekkies or the object of their cult-like adherence to Starfleet, but rather as an explanation of where I stand in the eternal debate. I enjoy Star Trek, I think it’s a well worthy science-fiction series with memorable characters and it deserves the fandom it has. But it’s just a fun series of movies for me. It was a decent television series that I would watch on occasion, never with any sort of regular devotion that I reserve for a few other projects in existence.  I’m not as versed as some with the subtle nuances and scattered trivia. I’m simply not as attached to the series as I would be to the Jedi or Luke Skywalker. I can complain for hours about how Han shot first, but I really don’t care about the difference between Romulans and Klingons. So I’m not heavily invested in the success or failure of the Star Trek series on the whole, which may be one of the reasons I really enjoyed the reboot.

I’ve seen what J.J. Abrams is capable of with recreating the franchise and doing so from what is basically ‘scratch’… he reset a number of characters, he dashed known “Trek” history out the window, and he created a brand new series out of the franchise with familiar and yet vastly different characters.  We do get a number of the stereotypical moments with Spock, Kirk, and McCoy and the interaction between the three we come to expect. On the other hand, the characters have new histories, backgrounds, and motivations to propel the plot and Starfleet in an entirely new direction. People are happy with a few of the changes, but some fans are up in arms over a number of issues. Fair enough.

Okay, I geeked out a bit when I saw “Mickey” from Doctor Who take on a small role in the very beginning of the film. It wasn’t really much of an impact other than to start the plot moving forward and introduce us to   the character played by Benedict Cumberbatch. The star of BBC’s “Sherlock” arrives in full force as the movies’ primary villain, a former Starfleet operative whose identity is a tightly held secret that fans of the series will thrill to discover. When he flees to Klingon space after having attacked a number of Starfleet targets (leaving a number of higher ranked officers dead or wounded), Kirk and the Enterprise are tasked with a secret mission to bomb the heck out of the Operative. The results will more than likely spark a war with the Klingon Empire, so Kirk ultimately decides to forego vengeance and attempts to capture the Terrorist instead.

The plot plays more like a Mission Impossible sort of film, with spies and intrigue and heavy action pieces all thrown into space. It doesn’t really feel like a Star Trek movie when it comes down to it, and that’s not necessarily a negative thing. Loyalties are questioned, Starfleet’s “prime directive” comes into play, and questioning when it’s alright to “break the rules” is a constant theme throughout the film. Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto continue to drive the film as Kirk and Spock, their chemistry works quite well and we see how the two continue to effect one another.

4.5 out of 5.
Highly recommended.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

My Thoughts after "Mr. Bruce, do you Swear?" (WARNING: Contains offensive Language.)

You want to know what offends me?

There are plenty of words out there that offend me. There are plenty of ideas that I find disgusting, horrible, offensive, and damaging. There are movies I won't watch, shockingly enough. There are books I won't read. There are songs I won't listen to, celebrities I find annoying, politicians who drive me up the wall, and there are plenty of words. I think the word "cunt" is probably one of the most offensive words I've ever heard, and it may be the most offensive term I can think of when scratching the back of my head for a decent insult. I could have gone with "arrogant, cruel, and vindictive bitch-woman", but I thought "Cunt" summed it up far better and much more succinctly. The fact that I already knew it was insulting and cruel and offensive was precisely what I was going for, because I wanted to verbally lash the victim of this horrible word. My favorite insult is "cum guzzling gutter fuck"... I dredged that out when I was a teenager and like to dust it off every now and again for shits and giggles. It's pretty offensive. It sends out red flags with a good many people and got me punched in the face once. The person who punched me in the face wasn't even the target of the insult, but rather his mother. I didn't think he would be appropriately insulted by the comment, so I threw it at him by adding "your mother is... " and found the words hit their mark. I find them offensive, and you're damn right I use them. Words are a fantastic weapon.

But you know what really offends me?

No, fuck that... you know what pisses me the hell off? I mean, seriously pisses me off and sets all sorts of red flags up in my own head? I get pissed when one person tells another person to "shut up"... whether it's me or someone else, or whether I'm saying it or not, it fucking burns me up and makes me want to scream and claw and fight. I once threw someone across a room for telling me to "shut up".  And then broke a wall and nearly made a goddamn door out of it. Yeah, I had anger issues when I was growing up so suck it up because that's not the point. I find censorship to be offensive. And you know what? I also find the passive aggressive version of censorship to be even more offensive... when someone says that free speech means having a responsibility to say the "right" things, to NOT be "offensive", to NOT be harmful. Fuck that bullshit because I already wrote this a little earlier, but here it is again: WORDS ARE A FANTASTIC WEAPON.

So Jody Gilmore is a friend of mine and we've had chit-chats about classic movies, monsters, and the controversial work of Lenny Bruce. Gilmore once played Bruce in a play written by Rob Foster, so we had plenty to talk about. I'm a big fan of the man. I've downloaded a number of bits onto my mp3 player and continue to update my rhapsody with a number of people who benefited from the fight Mr. Bruce took to his grave. And when Gilmore decided to reprise that role in Paper Wing Theatre's latest production, "Mr. Bruce, do you Swear?", I was super excited and eager.

Lenny Bruce was repeatedly jailed for being offensive, for using his words. He was punished for delivering a series of ideas to an audience that huddled in the dark night clubs and allowed themselves to laugh at dark material. He casually tossed insults toward Catholics and Jews, he dropped the F bomb, he repeatedly went to jail, and he had a reputation that continues to this day. They say he fought the system, you know that? They say he fought the system and he lost... he fought the fucking LAW, man! He stood before a judge and a jury and plainclothes Detectives and he continued to use his words in defiance and he was fucking punished. Nat Hentoff once wrote: "Bruce opened the door not only in the way we live, but also in the way we cover it up."

I like that.

And it's appropriate that the play at Paper Wing Theatre is a sort of modern day reminiscence or dream or other-worldly idea regarding a conversation between Hentoff and Bruce. Hentoff is a well known civil libertarian himself, having long continued the fight after Bruce's death. But if you watch the show, if you pay attention, you understand something that every rebel without a cause often miss when they think of Lenny  Bruce: He wasn't really fighting the system. He was fighting a series of judges who wanted to redefine the system, he was fighting small-minded police officers, he was fighting the lame repetition of cuss-words taken out of context by Herbert Ruhe when the agent took the stand, he was fighting for his words in a country built upon a word that begins with C... .and it may be the most offensive word to the ears of Lenny Bruces' critics. Lenny Bruce believed in the system. Lenny Bruce fought FOR the system, he fought FOR his rights, he fought for is words... every one of the offensive bits and pieces that made up the whole of the context of his act.

You know, I'm sure people are reading this and wondering when I'm going to ever get to the show itself... I've been telling you about the show the whole time if you paid a little bit of attention. This show is about ideas, it's about a performance that hits straight for the goddamn heart and shreds the mind and the expectations of its' audience. You want me to tell you about the lighting? It was there, it was appropriately used, and it helped to tell the story. You want me to tell you about Jay DeVines' fantastic portrayal of Hentoff and various others who appear throughout the remembrance of Bruce? Jay DeVine is a great actor, he tackles the material with enthusiasm and delivers Ruhe's well known testimony in the New York trial. Oh, but come on, what do you want from me? Pay attention to the context and maybe you'll start to understand what I'm saying. Sorry, what I'm writing. You can't actually HEAR what I'm saying, can you?

"Mr. Bruce, Do you Swear?"

You know what? I just had to suck back a few tears right there when I wrote that. That's a fucking awful question. It's a fucking rip-off of a question to ask a man who puts his words together to form a fucking goddamn idea and then to have his words ripped away from him. Do you swear? Is that what it came down to at the end of the day? Were a couple of people offended by some language, offended by an idea or two, offended because some guy stood on a stage and told jokes for a living? There are too many people in this world who are offended by something or another. They're offended by the word "Dyke", they're offended by the word "Nigger", they're offended by religion, they're offended by a lack of religion, they're offended by political discourse, they're offended by sex, they're offended by violence, and they point their fingers and then decry a belief that is slightly different than their own. And if I've offended you with what I've written, perhaps you needed to be offended... and I ripped that idea right out of a Suicidal Tendencies song, so don't credit me with some clever little sentence. I didn't put that idea in my head, they did. I've got a lot of really harmful ideas in my head, inspired by listening and reading a lot of words from a lot of people. I can thank Mr. Bruce for those ideas because he opened a door and he made so many of them possible.

Jody Gilmore is in the title role of Mr. Bruce. He inspires laughs, he inspires frustration, he inspires courage, and he brings one of the best performances I've ever seen on stage. He brings a lot of words to the show, also. Some of them are pretty scary. They are harmful, they are cruel and they are offensive. They are a series of ideas delivered in context. These words define a battle that started when a bunch of men decided to sign their names to a document that guaranteed that people could trade, exchange, and discuss various ideas and judge for themselves the worth and value of each idea. The battle didn't end in 1776, it didn't end when Lenny Bruce passed away on August 3rd, 1966. It didn't end when they decided to put "Parental Discretion" stickers on albums, it didn't end when Nat Hentoff was ousted from The Village Voice for sharing an unpopular decision, and it isn't over when the lights go down in Paper Wing Theatre.

Go see Jody Gilmore resurrect Lenny Bruce, because there isn't a better show on the silver screen or any stage in Monterey County.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

John Dies at the End: the new Don Coscarelli movie.

John Dies at the End.

I suppose I should begin with Don Coscarelli. The man who brought me Phantasm and Bubba Ho-Tep has been a pretty consistent director for the weird and bizarre, often hitting the nail on the head when it comes to catching my interest. When he announced his intention to direct an adaptation of the novel “John Dies at the End” I knew only two things: 1. It was going to be a long time before I saw another Phantasm movie and 2. I had to hold off on reading the David Wong series that began with “John Dies at the End”. Since that time I’ve avoided all spoiler info on JDatE and I waited for the film to hit a local theater or DVD or whatever. Well, it nearly skipped the theater with a release direct to VOD but did manage to get a brief run at the local art house during a hell week for myself with a single showing at 9:30, which would have gotten me home well after midnight when all was said and done. I’m 37 years old and I have a family, so that wound up being all sorts of fouled up. And then I also refuse to order VOD when I’m likely to get the movie a few weeks later through Netflix… which is what I did.

Another friend of mine saw the movie before me… and he didn’t have that much to say about it. In fact, he seemed downright disappointed in the product and so my hopes were brought a little bit lower. But I still wanted to see the film for myself and it wasn’t too long before Netflix came through. As a side note, I no sooner got the DVD from my mail account than the movie became available ON DEMAND through Netflix two days later!!! Oh, I hate when that happens…

So did Mr. Coscarelli disappointment me? I rarely so passionately disagree with my friend, but this is one of those rare occasions where our views were totally different. “John Dies” utterly blew me away and was probably one of the trippyiest, most bizarre, twisted, and entirely entertaining bits of film I’m likely to see this year. The story is narrated by lead character David Wong and features a struggle against the supernatural, alternative dimensions, a drug called Soy Sauce, giant brain scorpions, a meat monster, ghosts, a famed television psychic, and a talking dog all leading up to bizarre climax. The problem is that telling anyone who reads this blog about this movie is a huge disservice to them, because this is definitely an experience kind of movie and something you need to see fresh in order to absorb the full strangeness of the piece. 

Now, that's not to say the movie doesn't have a few faults... some of the CGI and green screen tech is a little low budget, but keep in mind that Coscarelli bucks the studio system and creates INDEPENDENT films for the weirdos. But while the effects tend to lag at points, the acting more than makes up for it... we have an amazing performance from Paul Giamatti and Clancy Brown has an interesting turn as the mysterious psychic television personality, Marconi. 

4 out of 5.