Tuesday, January 7, 2014

The Live Stage was SOOOOO much better than the silver screen...

Well, the movies were took up far too large a suckage quota for 2013, so let’s talk about something a little bit nicer and let’s look back at the year in live theater around our local area. This’ll come off as a bit biased since I usually only attend shows at the Paper Wing Theatre on a regular basis, but I’ll try to touch base on other shows that I’d either seen or heard about throughout the course of the year. There were plenty of shows vying over my hard-earned entertainment coin and I don’t want those efforts to go to waste without mention. And since I have a soapbox set off in a little private corner of the World Wide Web, I may as well shout a bit. Right? I mean I’m no different than any other ranting lunatic blog.

So let’s cut to the quick: I was broken, shattered, peeled open, exposed, and forced to laugh while soaking in a puddle of tears when the Paper Wing Theatre presented “Mr. Bruce, Do You Swear?” and Jodi Gilmore’s performance left me with plenty of thoughts, opinions, vulgarities, and a desire to express myself as vividly as possible. The play was a look back at Lenny Bruce and the struggle he faced when performing all those years ago with all those terrible words. Rob Foster’s script is available through Amazon and is a terrific read, but the live performance is where it’s at for absolute certain. This show is what live theater is all about- the human experience and the conflicts we face in the world.

Later in the year, Paper Wing again tackled some controversy when they opened Macbeth with a decidedly non-traditional approach that incorporated gothic-punk fashion and music. Several strong performances and direction from Jourdain Barton brought Shakespeare to life and made it accessible for a different audience than the Bard would usually attract. My wife also made her own theatrical debut with this show, and I did get a program credit for helping with some of the special effects.

And following up his performance as the title character in Macbeth, Patrick Golden once again delivered a strong performance as Grant Mazzy in Stardust Theater’s production of “Pontypool”. This bizarre twist on the zombie apocalypse delivered the frights for the Halloween season and made for one of a few outings to the theaters outside of Paper Wing.

Beyond the shows I saw, there were also the shows I didn’t see- Spamalot and Les Miserables fell outside my price range but were two big productions in the local area that I really wanted to see. I heard nothing but great things about them so I wanted to make sure they got little mentions. There was also the Wharf Theater’s production of “Pirates of Penzanze” that I also missed, but more because of scheduling conflicts and my inability to find the time and the money for that period of time. I’m extremely lucky in that the local theatrical performances in my area are really starting to battle over my patronage coins. Well, not JUST mine, but you get the idea.

Returning to Paper Wing and the performances I /did/ get to see, I could be wrong but I felt like the theater opened their season with a bang in “9 to 5: The Musical” with some terrific performances and an ambitious moving set. Their Gallery theater presented  a variety of shows, from the sadomasochism comedy of “Big Baby” to heart-wrenching disolution of a marriage in “The Last Five Years”, the aforementioned “Mr. Bruce”, “Macbeth”, and their Halloween crowd-pleaser “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” of which I was in the audience a number of nights throughout the run. LJ Brewer continues to drop jaws and thrill the blood system with his performance of Doctor Frank N Furter- and then I got to help close the year with by performing in their production of “Bob’s Holiday Office Party”, my only performance in the year but one many are going to find hard to forget. 

Here's to 2014! 

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Years best... 2013

We are looking back at the past year in films and such.It kinda' sucked in case you wondered... and here's my top ten of the list, starting with my favorite movie of the past year.

1.      The Worlds’ End:
The final installment to Edgar Wrights’ “Cornetto” trilogy reunites Simon Pegg and Nick Frost for an alien invasion story about men who have gone past the ripe age of 40. Pegg’s performance is absolutely brilliant and it’s interesting to see Frost play the straight man in what seems like a role reversal from previous films. The film featured pro-wrestling maneuvers, alien robot decapitations, music from “Sisters of Mercy”, and everything I could have possibly hoped for. The film tops this year’s offerings from every major studio and delivered some of the most heart-wrenching moments for this theater goer.

2.      John Dies at the End:
I had to miss the theatrical release or it may have been number one on my list… I’m including it as number two because it was one of the best movies released this past year and touched every button I had. It was horrifying, comedic, and twisted- by far one of the best films ever from Indie director Don Coscarelli. John and Dave are definitely one of the best “buddy” duos in fiction today and it’s definitely a great gateway drug to the Soy Sauced world of David Wong brilliantly written book series.

3.      Evil Dead (remake)
Say what you will about the hackneyed writing or it’s failure to live up to the previous movies expectations, Evil Dead was still one of the most fun experiences I had at the movies and even saw it twice. It was gory, ridiculous, horrifying, disgusting, and it just hit a lot of perfect notes for me. It didn’t need to reinvent the wheel, so it makes the list by not even making the attempt. It was just a solid scare flick through and through.

4.      Pacific Rim:
Giant robots fighting giant monsters who ransack and destroy major cities throughout the world. Hell yeah… and with a solid popcorn munching “be proud of the human race” kind of script that peppers the story with major “rah rah” moments, this movie was one of the most satisfying experiences I had at the theater this year.

5.      Star Trek: Into Darkness
My fifth film on the list and I feel kind of awkward about it- it was a good film, and it hit a lot of the right notes, but it’s not really much more than a popcorn muncher for me. My wife, however, loved it… I’ve never seen her go out of a way to secure the DVD-Bluray release of a movie quite as quickly as she scooped this one up. That’s worth a nudge above number six-

6.      Thor: The Dark World
The sequel to the blockbuster sensation that was Thor and a follow up film to the successful Avengers franchise, Thor returns to earth and does battle with Dark Elves and stuff happens and things blow up and it was fun. It makes my top list of the year- and my lack of enthusiasm is matched only by the lack of this years releases in cinematic blandness.

7.      Much Ado About Nothing:
Joss Whedon helmed this adaptation of Shakespeares’ comedy and it was excellent. Great cast, great score, and a terrific experience for me in the theater.

8.      Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaugh
I don’t know where this film went wrong for me but it did. It still went into my top ten list, but it really didn’t have a lot of competition which is what you’ll find with a couple of the films I watched. But while I thought it was too long, the moments that worked were well worth it.

9. Riddick:

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. Blood spills, flesh gets ripped, and so on so forth.

10.     Hatchet 3:
The first and second Hatchet films were ranked much higher than this one, and I didn’t get a chance to see this one in the theater. Lack of direction from Adam Green kind of doomed this one from the get go, but there were moments that truly worked and some awesome grue to be had by all. So it ranks up there for me.

It’s been a pretty bland year for me in regard to movies.

 And this is some pretty bland writing from me, but there you go and then you're gone.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

47 Ronin: Kind of???? Maybe? sorta'?

7 Ronin

The legend of the 47 Ronin is a popular story of revenge and bushido (The code of the Samurai), and it has been popularized into various forms of entertainment in the Japanese culture. There have been multiple films, there have been several bunraku and kabuki performances dramatizing these events. And the events are as followed: A pair of young Daimyo are being given instruction to proper court etiquette when their instructor becomes cruel and brusque. One of the two young daimyo relents and offers a “gift”, the other remains true to himself and is provoked beyond endurance- he draws his dagger against the instructor within the home of the Shogunate. This unpardonable offense results in the Daimyo’s seppuku, his men are forbidden from seeking vengeance, and they are cast out as ronin. After nearly 2 years of planning, the 47 Ronin execute an attack that results in the instructors death and their own Seppukku. 46 die, the 47th controversial figure remains alive and is pardoned. He watches over the tomb of the others until his death of old age- there was literally no family relationship between this Samurai and any of the others. There is a terrific movie regarding this legend- Chushingiri came out in the 60’s and features the late, great Toshiro Mifune.

Keanu Reeves also stars in a recent release of a film that bears the title of the “47 Ronin” but quickly splits into two very different and separate films- in the Keanu film, Kai is half-breed eta and shares a forbidden love with the Daimyo’s daughter. He’s on a fairly typical “hero-quest’ through myth and magic to ultimately rescue the princess from the vile clutches of an evil sorcerous and her own Lord. This plot line features some interesting special effects, decent cinematography, and a best foot forward effort on the part of Reeves who I’m sure the studio executives saw as the star of the film. This film wasn’t bad, had some good moments, and was a very westernized way of attempting to shoe-horn in that level of familiarity. The primary villain for Kai is the evil witch, fantastically played by Rinko Kikuchi (Pacific Rim).

The other film is much better. It follows the story of the films real hero, Oishi (Hiroyuki Sanada).He was the leader of the 47 Ronin from legend. His story is about honor, sacrifice, and duty. While he’s occasionally forced to interact with the story of Kai, Oishi sacrifices his reputation and comfort in order to remain true to Bushido. And while a few quick cuts managed to stifle the depths to which the story could have gone, I suppose better could not have been expected. It was kind of cool to see the Tengu in action, it was interesting to note the hengeyokai sorceress, and the final revenge of the 47 is cool. Okay, I enjoyed most of the movie but I have an addendum.

If you decide to see this movie, you can literally skip the first ten to twenty minutes of footage and pick up where the Daimyo is ordered to commit seppuku. That’s when the movie becomes increasingly tolerable and pretty good. You just have to be willing to sit there and swallow huge heaping drops of manure on what is largely one of the most endearing stories of feudal Japan.

3 out of 5.