Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Be Kind, please rewind... VHS/2.!


Checking the credits and- YES! There’s no involvement from my arch-nemesis this time around, so I can sit back and try to enjoy the latest in the anthology series without worrying that Ty West will pop his head around the corner to ruin my film watching experience. It’s a fun little anthology premise and the story wrap-around seems to have a much more cohesive narrative than the previous entry so let’s just keep our fingers crossed, shall we?

The wraparound features a pair of private detectives hired by the mother of a missing teen to check on his welfare. They locate his house, stacked high with video tapes and monitors and other equipment but no sign of the teen. One of the detectives sits to watch the series of tapes, while the other continues to check out the house for any additional clues. The story is generally creepy and the tension builds with each successive tape, and the handheld camera techniques are actually pretty smooth without too much of the “shaky” cam effect so successfully parodied by that one South Park episode. That one cracks me up… and this story actually cracked me up. More on that later, though.

The first story features a character receiving an implant replacement to his left eye. The lead lost his eye is in an accident that never gets a fully fleshed story. He’s seeing phantoms, though and these ghosts seem to have gained the ability to interact with him through the implant as well. It’s a pretty short piece and would have worked better with some additional exposition, but the story in itself works very well. I’m not so sure the high-tech eye implant really does much to further the “VHS” themed narrative, but it was a good story either way.

The second story is my favorite by far. A young man takes to a biking trail for a morning ride only to be attacked by zombies. Yes, I know many people are just going to dismiss this because they know my affinity for zombies but that was actually the least interesting aspect of the story in general. This film take the best advantage of the VHS theme by giving our lead a helmet cam and establishing that he enjoys recording these morning rides. It’s a digital recording but I can really forgive that, because it’s the one video that seems to have the most legitimately “filmed for home use” feel to it. As the lead character goes through his ordeal, we establish who he is and we understand what is happening to him and we are able to slide ourselves into his shoes for a long period of time. There’s a sense of riding along in his head for long moments, living through his experiences, and the end is ultimately the most perfect one that could be imagined. This short made the whole movie worth-while.

The third story is longer- and maybe too long. A group of investigative journalists are doing an in depth piece on a cult in some unnamed Asian or Asian Pacific compound and- I don’t want to spoil anything, but the whole thing sort of builds to a predictable climax and is both the most entertaining and most fiercely annoying “short” in the film. Actually, most of the movie is this short and it’s got the added promise of coming to us from the team that brought us “The Blair Witch Project”… great gory effects, some interesting concepts, but probably one of the single doofiest monsters I’ve ever seen in the last revealing shot. I couldn’t stop laughing and had to stop the film because of how moronically stupid the monster looked. Still, there were momentary sequences and blips throughout the story to give a person some decent nightmares through the night.

The final story is probably the weakest and most overblown. It establishes the first person narrative to be coming from a “doggy-cam” attached to a mini pooch that the family members use to spy on one another and play pranks and all that kind of stuff. Some teens have a slumber party, the dog wanders about with a couple of bits leading up to an alien invasion. Yes, an alien invasion that features a bunch of grey-skinned, thin, creeping “monsters” that pose elaborately as they approach whoever might be dragging the dog along with an eruption of electro-bass audio looped back on itself while too-bright lights flash in the background to frame the aliens in shadowy outline. We get that same jump scare eruption of sound at least five separate times.

My final thoughts on the film are this: it’s not nearly as serious an attempt as the last one. There were some serious scares in the previous entry, an attempt to utilize the restrictive thematic structure to create an interesting dynamic but this one seems to flout those limits and dismiss them at a whim. There’s massive use of digital after-effects in some of the shorts, they don’t tend to utilize an actual VHS recorder in nearly any of the shorts, and nearly every film has some sort of a “punchline” for its finale. They seem to be played for laughs rather than for scares, which is well and good if that’s what you want to sell or buy. It just didn’t seem to be following the narrative established in the previous film in the anthology series. I recommend it for a good Halloween fright flick this season, it’s fun, and there’s a lot worse you could do. The “Ride in the Park” is probably worth the time in and of itself, but it seems to go downhill from there. The wraparound story itself followed the entire structure of the film… it started off strong, it was building a decent tension, and then it finished with what amounted to a punchline that fell a little flat for me. There was a visual effect in this movie that seemed plastic and fake, especially under the lights of the shakey-cam effect we were seeing it.

4 out of 5.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Pontypool at the Stardust Theater.

Pontypool Changes Everything

At least that’s the title of the original book upon which the stage play is based. And the stage play is based upon the movie, and a radio drama has also been released, and so on so forth and again. It’s quickly becoming one of the most oft adapted fictions of the modern era, and that’s pretty impressive to be honest.  I’m a big fan of low budget minimalist pictures, so this one had been on my radar from shortly before it’s official release on film. It’s an interesting little story, with a bizarre premise, and a minimalist approach to the zombie apocalypse reminiscent of the original zombie film; Night of the Living Dead. Instead of a lone farm house and a group of survivors, we’re trapped in a radio station with minimal staff that includes an aging former shock jock, his producer, and the lone radio technician. And when the poop hits the fan, we’re not left with a traditional horde of flesh eating zombies either- they’re infected people (conversationalists) driven to blood-thirsty acts through the usage of “language”… yes, you read that right. Language is the means through which the virus is spread.

Now, first off: if you think the premise is too bizarre, then let me put you on pause. Language IS an infection- it’s not just a means of communication, it’s not just a series of sounds that come out of the human mouth. It’s an understanding, a way of defining our world, and a means through which people can convey thoughts, emotions, logic, and understanding. The words I’m writing this very moment are having an effect on my own mind, echoing my thoughts as I think them but also reflecting them back to myself to check for comprehension and understanding. It may seem like a lot of “blah blah” to you, but the truth is that if you are reading my thoughts you are also being infected by them and by the verbiage and translation within your own minds. And my words are also being infected by your own understanding of them. The story regarding the “Tower of Babel” is very much a reflection of this same idea. For a slightly goofier yet probably far easier to understand translation of what this infection might be like, you could listen to the song “Bulbous Bouffant” which is just a series of words that the singers find impressive, amusing, and fascinating. There is no true meaning to the words being shouted out through the song, the meaning is totally lost, but the song is highly entertaining nonetheless.

Enough ranting on the whole idea behind hte show...

The set is amazing! Right off the bat, you immediately feel like you are occupying the very real fourth wall of this small radio station in the rural hinterlands of Canada. The community bulletin board in the lobby offers a number of hints to the characters involved and they are very real within the confines of the set. This is their world. And the cast never lets you forget it once they hit the stage.

Grant Mazzy takes to the microphone with an opening monologue regarding the story of a local missing cat. And there are interesting coincidences regarding a series of words, jumbled together, connected, a strong foreshadowing of what's to come but more importantly a peek into our protagonist. Patrick Golden puts another notch into his acting credits with a strong, often amusing, and very charismatic performance. He captures the "outlaw" shock jock personality of our lead and pushes him into small communty that seems to box him in from all sides.

Opposite Golden is Beverly Van Pelt as the station manager, Sidney Briar. She's the anchor to Mazzy's desire to shake up his audience. She knows the town and the people. The tension between her and Mazzy carries much of the drama, the events transforming them both, and Van Pelt captures the heart of the show in her performance. There's one moment where my heart literally ached for her character; a sobering phone call that reminds the audience of the world beyond our fourth wall and that these events will ripple far beyond our brief moments in ths small town radio station.

And then there's Laurel-Anne, a resourceful technician recently returned from a military tour in Afghanistan. She's amused with Mazzy's on-air hijinks and has a close working relationship with Briar. She often seems caught between the two, and Molly Lindquists' performance is endearingly playful as she chuckles through the banter of her boss and the talented man behind the microphone.

The trio are joined by traffic reporter Ken Loney (Jesse Juarez) through phone call updates and then by  Doctor Mendez in person, his arrival coming on the heels of the event that spirals out of control. Other calls flow into the station, various reported incidents, and then there's Mazzy's own personal run in with a strange woman on his way to work.

Highly recommended show for the Halloween season and a terrific exploration on the effects of language in our society. 5 out of 5.

Monday, October 7, 2013

The Rocky Horror Show at the Paper Wing Theater-

LJ Brewer. 

No, that's not a typo or an incomplete thought- that's just the first thing I needed to type. That's it. The name. And now I have more to say about the show-

You want to talk about all the terrific performances from the show, but the honest truth is that it’s hard to start writing about The Rocky Horror Show without focusing so much of your attention on the shows lead player. It’s the defining role of the show, it’s an iconic character, and LJ Brewer brings Frankenfurter to life and utterly blows (pun intended) each and every audience away with the performance. The moment before he struts onto the stage the entire tone shifts and you can feel an absolutely electrical moment shiver through the crowd (with anticipation, yes, I know). You can just suck in the energy from the players on the stage to the customers in the seats to the band and everywhere in between as Frank takes his place in front of the stage lights and hits the familiar notes and lyrics “Well how do you do?” At that moment, we’re all slaves to LJ Brewer and he can do whatever the hell he wants with each and every one of us. There is absolute power in the performance and LJ Brewer delivers with a charisma few ever hope to achieve.

But no matter how good he is, LJ Brewer is definitely not alone on the stage. And he’s also not the only one returning to a familiar role. Heather Hahn returns as Janet, carrying charm, comedy, and seduction in perfectly measured … uhhh.. .. (I can’t resist) cups. (I was going to go with levels, but I think some of this rant should have a little of pervisity in it.) Nicholas Kelly steps into the milquetoast shoes of Brad and this chalks up another fun performance from the veteran Winger. The young couple are on their way to see old friend, Dr. Scott (Shane Dallmann), when an unfortunate flat tire in the pouring rain leads them to follow a light toward the old spooky castle where events are about to unfold.

Frank is joined by his assistants, Riff Raff (Taylor Landess), Magenta (Jourdain Barton), and Columbia (Taylor Noel Young) in his mad plot to create a personal monster designed for his own particular interests. All details regarding The Denton Incident are explained by the knowledgeable  (and clearly neckless) Criminologist, Jay Devine. Everyone rises to the occasion and delivers a number of great performances, comedic timing, and they’ve been well prepared for the audience participatory “shout outs” during the performance with enough pauses  to allow people to feel as if they were part of the experience themselves.

And that’s what Rocky Horror is: An Experience. It’s not a traditional show, it’s not just people on stage doing their thing and then receiving applause- everyone is being let it on the jokes, on the moments, and it’s something audiences get to share with the performers. I don’t know anyone who delivers the goods as well as this Theatre, and anyone missing out is really going to be missing out. The show runs throughout October, playing Friday and Saturday nights at 8 pm with a special Midnight show on Saturdays. There are also two shows on Halloween- the 8 pm and Midnight shows. Costumes are encouraged, props encouraged, and riffing (shout outs) virtually in demand. Casts members are willing to take photos in the lobby, but photography during the show itself is prohibited. Additionally, this is not a “shadow cast” performance of the Rocky Horror Picture Show, this is the stage production without the film screening in the background. Be prepared for something a little different in what is normally so very familiar so very many … who are… familiar… with… well, anyway, I think you get the point, yes?

(In the interest of full disclosure: I had the opportunity two years previously to be a part of the Rocky Horror Show with the Paper Wing Theatre as one of the Transylvanians. I had a blast during that particular performance and many of the players from that show have returned for this round. Maybe you think that will color my opinion or my recommendation. Fair enough. None-the-less, there are many ways to perform the show and there were obvious changes to direction and style from the last time. So this was a new experience entirely for me AND I don’t really believe that my previous experiences disqualify my opinions. I’m just sharing some thoughts on local shows and I’ll just keep on doing it my way.–Mark)