Saturday, September 14, 2013

The Motherfucker With The Hat: The latest Paper Wing Theatre production

I'm going to link you to another review on this show from Shane M. Dallmann:

And here are my ranting thoughts:

I've known way too many people like this. My family is largely in and out of AA and rehab, spending all that quality time with their 'sponsors', and attempting to either make their lives bearable or replace one addiction with another. Drew Wheeler plays a character, Ralph D., who embodies so much of the positive and the negative people tend to find in recovery programs. He's a self-centered, hypocritical, opportunistic manipulator who takes a struggling young Jackie (Timothy Samaniego) under his wing and waxes philosophic regarding his self-centered excuses wrapped up in false morality. The worst part is that the character obviously falls for his own bullshit and I personally wanted to walk up and punch his face in. Chalk this up to an amazing performance, but Jackie meets this philosophy head on during a crucial moment in his struggle toward sobriety.

Melissa Kamnikar explodes in her first appearance on the Paper Wing Stage! She opens the show with a foul mouthed diatribe toward her mother, blasting a verbal barrage without limits and continues to mow through the rest of the show with unbridled passion. Veronica is a force of nature that blasts Jackie (Timothy Samaniego) into a tail spin rush when he finds the mysteriously discarded "Hat" of the plays title.We can immediately see the furious passion between the young couple that explodes from one extreme to the next when Jackie flips out over a suspected affair. Veronica insists that nothing is happening, but Jackie certainly knows better and he's out for answers- fleeing toward the only other people in his life he can trust, Jackie's reactions are extreme and lead him in a tailspin toward self destruction.

Recently paroled, Jackie has been on the wagon for some time and he has a strong relationship with his sponsor. Ralph opens his home to the ex-con and addict, offering advice and juice drinks while holding himself up as an example for Jackie to aspire toward. But as events transpire, Jackie also turns toward his cousin Julio (Jesse Juarez) and is confronted with the nature of who he's become, who he once was, and what it means to be the man he really wants to be. Juarez brings perfect comedic timing to the role of Julio, and also manages to bring tears to the eyes with a particularly poignant moment in the show- but the Van Damme obsession kicks in and you will not be able to stop laughing when he arrives in scene two of the second act.

And then there's the central question at the heart of the show: "What is recovery?" And the best person to answer that question is Victoria (Amanda Platsis), the abrasive and verbally absuive wife of Ralph. She's also struggling with her own addiction, her own experiences, and her marriage to the supposed Paragon of Virtue. While Jackie stumbles and falls through a raging flux of emotions, Victoria delivers a realistic look at the supposed Paragon to which Jackie has been looking for guidance.

Jackie is a man of desperate passion and is played to the hilt by the enormously talented Samaniego. He's been in love with Veronica since their early teens, her picture a warm comfort throughout his two year stint in prison. We wonder if he's trying to be clean for her, if he's trying to find work for her, or if he's really even angry with her or with who he sees he's become. There are some hard questions that Jackie is forced to ask himself regarding the man he wants to be and the man he is, what he will become, or whether he even has a real opportunity to make that transition.

Go see this show at your next opportunity. It's fantastic, you'll laugh, and you'll cheer, and you'll definitely feel  a number of things before the final curtain call.

Monday, September 9, 2013

My grindhouse weekend of being sick.

I’m fighting a massive sinus infection, my ears are itching and feel clogged, my head is grinding, and I have an itch in the back of my throat. I stayed home on Thursday and went to the doctor, got a prescription filled, and came home to spend most of the weekend laid up in bed where I could grind out a few feature films I’d been meaning to watch or some such nonsense. I don’t know. I don’t feel good.

I rewatched a couple of movies I’ve already previously discussed in earlier blogs and comments- by the way, I had no clue precisely how much myspace had changed until I went back to try and read some of my old posts on my page there. There’s nothing there anymore, all gone. Wish I had paid attention before and maybe copied a few to a disc before the whole thing went kaput… but so goes life.

On to the movies.


It isn’t exactly the best weekend of my life, but the first weekend is always a chance for me and the wife to get out for Date Night and catch a movie or a show or something with one another and spend some time together. And it was definitely a weekend full of hard choices if I were left to my own devices, but thankfully the wife only had one clear choice to make as she is a big fan of the Riddick series. Let me make this clear; it’s not necessarily because Vin Diesel is the lead (though she does have a thing for deep bass voices) but it’s more the character itself. She was sold on Pitch Black, she was engaged throughout the Chronicles film, and she was eager to catch the return of one of her favorite action badasses come to live on the big screen. I guess? I’m sure that’s not how she would phrase it, but this is my blog. Bleh! She never reads it.  And I was looking forward to it also,  before you start doubting this is some sort of sacrifice play on my part.

And I’ll be fair; I’ve been much harsher on other films that delivered far less in the cheese factor or predictable storylines. I’m downright sadistically cruel to a lot of films out there, and yet this film series seems to get  a pass from me. I loved Pitch Black- one of my favorite “Alien” rip-offs ever made, it established the character of Riddick, and pretty much set the pace for Vin Diesels’ career for a number of years. And I’ve heard all the negative criticism regarding the Chronicles film, and I agree with much of the negative points, but it’s still a terrific movie in my own mind and I put it in regular rotation for movies to watch. I mean, it’s basically an adaptation of Vin Diesel playing his D&D Dark Elf character up on the big screen. And if you doubt Diesel’s geek credentials, just check a youtube clip from a talk show where he’s pressed to talk about playing Dungeons and Dragons- the mans’ eyes absolutely light up and right there is what we got to see on the big screen. I loved it.

“Riddick”, however, brings the character back down to basics. Betrayed and left for dead on a hostile alien world, Riddick only peripherally addresses the previous entry in the series. It’s largely glossed over but does feature a nice cameo from Karl Urban. Once we’re left with Riddick and we’re alone, we get a lot of introspection from the character as he wonders if he lost his edge and whether he’d become “too civilized” and so on, so forth. He manages to survive for some unknown period of time, raises a pup to keep him company, and then finds out the planet is about to get far more hostile in a short period of time. So he finds an abandoned “Mercenary” station and sends out a beacon, which includes a facial recognition scan that immediately sets a number of bells clinging and clanging as the huge bounty on his head is bound to bring in a couple of different crews.

And from that point the film plays pretty much as you’d expect it. The two crews that show up are at odds, one of the crews being led by a man with a personal score to settle, the other led by an ineffectual braggart, and Katee Sackhoff playing a token bad-ass girl named “Dahl”. And Dahl fulfills far too many quotas to ever really be taken seriously- she’s a woman, she’s a bad ass, a crack shot, a professed lesbian, she has a filthy mouth, and we get to see Starbuck in the buck(Hah!).  It’s unapologetically a return to the thirteen year-old fantasies of bad assery all around. We have a former WWE wrestler, we have some good gore effects, and Diesel delivers one flippant line after another while doing the terrible deeds.  Really, we mostly get a paint by numbers here.

That’s not a bad thing. This is as much a popcorn muncher as you can get, it’s a fun ride, and it’s a character a lot of people have come to really enjoy. It doesn’t try to reinvent the wheel here, and I had a really fun time watching the same wheel go round and round. Sometimes, that’s really all you need to see. The film promised us Riddick, alien monsters, and a return to the R-Rating that brings the grue. Nothing more could have been asked for and I definitely had a blast.

3.5 out of 5.

The House Where Hell Froze Over (AKA: Keep my Grave Open)

I’m always finding something new and interesting to put my attention on. This seventies exploitation gem is about a woman living out on her own (mostly) in the middle of nowhere. She’s really the star and focus of the story and she’s forced to carry the majority, with only a few minor supporting bits thrown in here and there. She lives with a man who may be her husband or her brother, it’s never really made clear which- she refers to them as both, and they may very well be. The thing is that we do not see him throughout most of the movie, but we do know he’s a murderer from the get-go. Nice little gory death scene, favored weapon a civil-war era saber. Compelling performance from the lead, none too shocking in this day and age, but a film that held me interested throughout its runtime.

3 out of 5.

God Bless America

So the opening moments of the film begin with a man, our lead character, fantasizing about the brutal murder of an infant in the apartment next door. It’s a bloody scene, played for a bit of twisted humor, but this is our lead character and he’s fantasizing about a brutal action that no one could really comprehend. His opening monologue introduces the situation, the constant crying, the babbling chit-chat from his neighbors overheard through paper-thin walls, but a shotgun blast and a splash of blood does seem a little extreme for even the most jaded viewer.

So who is this character? His name is Frank. He is bombarded by reality television, loud neighbors, a failed marriage, a spoiled daughter, a thankless and largely obnoxious place to work. He is a miserable loner who gets diagnosed with a fatal brain tumor and just snaps. One reality show too many, an argument with his ex-wife, and the spoiled rot of his own daughter push him over the edge and Frank goes out and kills the star of a reality show with a single shot to the head. There are plenty of witnesses, including one jaded young girl who finds herself driven to join Frank on his eventual crusade. And the pair hit the road to kill various people they cannot stand; Religious protesters calling for the damnation of all they find offensive, a talking head, reality stars, people who use their cell phones during a movie, and we go from one place to the next and the next. And there’s a bit of a sick sense of satisfaction, a sick murder fantasy played out, and both characters are fully fleshed out in the process of their horrible crimes.

Bobcat Goldthwaite helms the film and delivers another bizarre entry into a filmography that includes a few whoppers. Certainly not the sort to play it safe, this film could have been played completely for laughs but there’s much more going on here than a simple violent fantasy being played out on screen. The pacing can move a little slowly at times while Goldthwaite continues to build on Frank’s tension, but the comedy hits the right notes in gallows humor and never really lets up once the pace gets moving. These two people are troubled, lonely, and frustrated and they are not really heroes in this film. They may be killing annoying people that are largely disliked, but what right do these two have to make these judgments? This isn’t a question that gets ignored; they’re both challenged by one another, they both fit the bill to a “tee” with regards to impending victims, and they are consistently complicit in promoting the very attitudes and actions they claim to despise.

As this is my “entertainment” blog, I try to not discuss my politics. I’m not shy about discussing them, much to many friends  chagrin. But I don’t use my blog to soap box or discuss my beliefs- It’s not the purpose, and it’s not something that tends to come up. But there is a degree of controversy to discuss regarding this film, which one a few festival awards and found itself the target of discussion from the Right and the Left. Most would say I fall a little right of center, probably true. I consider myself a libertarian. But with that said, the bit of criticism regarding the films politics revolve around a “conservative” talking head portrayed as a bullying, arrogant, and totally obnoxious blow-hard. The lead characters are criticized for being ultraviolent “liberals” stomping down their political adversaries. In other words, ultrasensitive political hacks got their panties in a bunch over a movie that was as non-political as it gets- because it didn’t matter what politics were at play here, the film didn’t glorify one over another in any way. It just showed how loud, obnoxious, and unnervingly impolite people can be. In fact, Frank even discusses how his politics are mostly the same as the Talking Head, but that he thinks the guy is just flat out mean and impolite. So there’s that.

4 out of 5

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

The Shrine and Castle Freak: 2 Reviews.

The Shrine:

Browsing through Netflix and thinking that I have far too much access to far too much crap these days, I stumble upon “The Shrine” and give the synopsis a quick little read through. No spark of interest the first, second, or tenth time I read through it on a given night but a recent recommendation of brief mention in a Lovecraft discussion board urged that I give this low budget indie flick a second look and a screening. So let me tell you about the boring synopsis – It basically sounded like Hostel meets the Wicker Man, a journalist investigates the disappearance of a hiker in a backwoods area of Europe and finds more than she bargained for. Something like that- it doesn’t really spark much interest in me because there are a couple dozen movies with the same description and I’ve seen the same thing over again. But when there’s a recommendation- and what’s more, a few more agreements with that same recommendation, I figure it’s worth checking out. And then, when you see the names of people responsible for one of your favorite movies in the past ten years, a little bit of excitement begins to build.

So the film starts off with a cult sacrifice as a young man is held down and chanting prayers echo through a dark chamber. An iron mask is brought to his face, huge spikes at strategic locations above the eyes and a little lower. As the mask is placed just perfectly, the cult leader brings a massive hammer down across the mask and drives it down into his face- blood pours, the body jerks and spasms, and ultimately dies a gruesome death. Then we’re introduced to the films lead characters, a young couple going through some rocky times as the woman continues to ignore the relationship in favor of pursuing her career as a journalist. She’s investigating the disappearance of the murdered man in the beginning of the film so she engages her boyfriend ( A photographer) and her assistant to accompany her to the man’s last known destination in Europe. I think it may be Scandinavia, but I’m not entirely certain.  They find a xenophobic town that bars them from entering the wilderness over which floats an unmoving grey smoke or mist.

And while we’ve taken some time to get here and the atmosphere has been built up rather impressively, it’s at this point that the movie starts to roll down the track with only a few small drops to get you ready for the big one. Oh, these people find the mist.  And two of them enter, do a bit of exploring, and they definitely find something in there. I’m not going to spoil it, but it’s definitely a creepy scene. And the townspeople certainly do not want them to be there, but now very bad things are absolutely going to happen as a result. And I’m not going to spoil these either. But I’m going to tell you something else, also: there are no explanations. There are no subtitles beneath the screen when the townspeople talk about the situation, when they discuss their options for what to do with these interlopers, there’s no answer for anyone, and the resolution will not solve everything- and this is about as far from all the other generic films matching Hostel and Wicker Man descriptions as it can get, because this film is definitely a creature of a different sort.

What “The Shrine” does have is an atmosphere reminiscent of the Hammer Films with a little bit of Lovecraft thrown in for flavor. Special effects seem practical, bloody, and gruesome but the film focuses much more on the situation and the mythology of its own story. The choice to not add subtitles helps the audience to identify much more strongly with the protagonists as we also fail to understand where they are, what is happening, and who the people are who are chasing them through the wilderness.

Currently streaming on Netflix.

4 out of 5.

(retro-look) Castle Freak

Presented by Full Moon Video, the film is loosely based upon “The Stranger” by HP Lovecraft and falls incredibly short by several measures. Barbara Crampton is once again cast with Jeffrey Combs to tackle the material in what seems to be a continuation of the series begun with “Re-animator”. I’m not entirely sure where this film falls in the order of release, but I know that director Stuart Gordon worked on a number of films “inspired” by Lovecraft during this period of time and this is the least discussed amongst the work. Watching the film, it’s easy to see why.

The story by Lovecraft is considered one of his best, but there simply isn’t enough material there to explore a full length feature on its’ own. There are other stories that explore the “ghoulish” creature described, an entire society of the creatures mentioned in various “dream cycle” stories, but “The Stranger” is pretty much a stand-alone tale dependent on the twist ending to deliver the sock to the gut it requires. The story is utilized and takes up all of about five minutes from the film, the rest of it revolving around a marriage on the rocks and the typical stalking monster living in the castle.

Combs delivers a decent performance, and Crampton largely disappoints with a character that seems poorly written at best. The “plot”, such as it is, revolves around the inheritance of a family castle and the unhappily married couple attempting to cope with the death of their young son after a DUI accident involving the father. Combs is carrying a lot of weight, Crampton’s character blames him and wants him to suffer, and the blinded daughter is only trying to learn to cope with her new life. The film, however, puts all of its gravity in Combs and he borders on the pathetic while coping with his demons. Crampton might have well been on the phone to deliver her lines, because she’s barely there for either daughter or husband save to scold him and then disappear. Very little is done to explore her emotions throughout the film, and it’s a shame because Cramption is a far better actress than this. Add into the mix a suspicious police inspector jumping from one conclusion to the next in a dizzying display of logic leaping and the film generally starts to fall apart.

The special effects are nothing to sneer at, however and the movie works on a few levels but fails to live up to the expectations set by From Beyond or Re-animator. Synthetic music builds the tension suitably, but is just the same old Full Moon scoring we hear in a variety of movies from the studio and adds little to the tension of a given scene. Quite possibly the best performance comes from “the Freak” itself- a pathetic creature tortured for untold decades, his body a mass of scar tissue and unset broken bones jumbled into a pulpy mass that knows it could never be loved by a the society from which he has been kept for so long. The actor within the rubber suit manages to convey moments of frustration, worry, and insecurity within the creature and it is definitely the best part of this poor film.

2 out of 5.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Finding Genre Films: Addendum update.

I originally wrote most of this a few years ago... and I have a few new thoughts to add and it was something on my mind recently.

Rant On!!!

When I was young, the local television networks offered a strong variety of kung fu, horror, and sci-fi feature films for Saturday and Sunday matinee and late night viewings. It was my gateway to cult movies, the world of monsters and aliens and chop-socky action. When my life seemed rough, I could always look forward to Saturday afternoons or late night weekend features where people ran around in rubber costumes and beautiful women fainted at the sight of the latest creature to come stalking their way. It was a warm comfort to find a safe outlet for my fears, my angers, and my hurt. In an odd sort of way, it helped me feel less lonely on some levels. There were other people who wanted to watch the same stuff, and I became friends with some and found a sense of camaraderie in the world of The Strange. And, as I got older and video stores began to stock my favorite titles… I moved on to the next big scare, the next gross out, the next hollow drop from the center of my stomach. My world seemed a lot simpler when I imagined myself as a Great Vampire Hunter or the Slayer of Demons. I grew up with an introduction to the genre, caught by chance while skimming channels for something to while away the day and spend an afternoon escaping the madness of a fairly rough childhood.

With the advent of DVD I’m able to own almost all of my favorite child-hood titles and purchase the new ones with very little investment of real cash value. So I can watch Army of Darkness with the press of a button, throw on Curse of Frankenstein, sit down for The Curse of the Werewolf, or check out the newest Eli Roth gore fest any time I want. It’s nice to have this kind of technology at my fingertips, but it’s also a bit of a shame in some ways. What had been a treasured discovery for me is all but lost to the next generation of fans to the genre.

Flipping through channels on a Saturday afternoon or late in the wee hours of the night results in an endless stream of reality based programs and infomercials. Celebrities talk about their hair, their love lives, their pets, cars, houses, and scandals in an endless bleating of self-importance. Stupid kids attempt to emulate the moronic stunts they see on various MTV programs where some kid runs around and slaps his Uncles fat stomach, builds a skate ramp in his mothers’ house, and laughs at his friends when they suffer one injury after another attempting to one up each other with an bizarre string of stupid antics. Singing competitions, dance contests, wives in one county after another, and criminals doing bad things while families crumble for the sake of entertainment. It will always be cheaper to put these people on the air for a major network, so the executives have no concerns about story or substance or even the cultural value of presenting classic genre work to a younger audience.

The Horror Host Underground continues their own proud traditions by investing their time and resources into providing a gateway for many fans, young and old. Using the technology made available through cable television, Horror Hosts use public access channels to broadcast the genre gems that have fallen through the cracks to the Public Domain. It’s a labor of love for many of these heroes and they support one another through a network of websites and tape trading. The Local Access availability was a measure passed by congress and the Senate many years ago, created to help local people present their own artistic visions in a format where the bottom line wasn’t a commercial profit. Too many people ignore their public access television access and the shows available. In Monterey County, Local Access allows Remo D to present the Manor of Mayhem on a weekly basis with a Friday and Saturday night screening. Like many hosts, he also uses his allotted time to feature shared programs from other hosts. I’ve appeared on his show a number of times and I continue to support the show and I absolutely love the genre he chooses to present in his slot. It offers me hope that somewhere there’s a young kid watching another host, laughing and getting scared in the comfort of their home and finding a means of escape from the dreary reality we all find ourselves.

My roku box gives me access to a number of "genre" channels offering a sort of broadcast.... films in the public domain, rare indie films, and other such stuff. There's also a bunch of snarky reviewers I found through who introduce people to varioius films, with reviews and synopsis riffing and so on so forth. My favorite reviewer is The Cinema Snob, played by Brad Jones- an independent film maker and radio personality. Fantastic stuff right here with that guy, as he brings a number of interesting films to a new life and provides plenty of comedy to fans of the original material. My big suggestion for people who enjoy his work is that they also follow up a review by maybe looking for the source material of his projects and give it a view of their own.

So yeah... finding Genre films and bizarre shit: It ain't always easy, but there are going to be people out there willing to share what they find. And there are blogs like this one... one little voice in the world wide web willing to talk about random shit and blather on with these bits and pieces.