Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Captain America sequel and a few other movies.


As the armies of Hell march on our world, small pockets of humanity take a stand against the onslaught of evil. We’re introduced to a pair of brothers on the frontline of the last great battle, both of whom are murdered one after the other by Lord Draculon. The younger brother, however, awakens to find himself encased in a body that is more machine than man. He’s quickly drawn back into the battle for Earth and dubs himself “Manborg”, joining the resistance, battling in the arena, and on a quest to find his past and get revenge.

Manborg was shot entirely on green screen with a handful of actors and a variety of special effects; from classic make-up to stop-motion and green screen CGI. It’s an homage to the classic Z-Grade sci-fi movies of the 80’s complete with bad dialogue and ham-fisted acting. It brings up memories of The Exterminators, Laser Blast, Cyborg, The Road Warrior, and a number of post-apocalyptic Terminator, Robocop, and Total Recall rip-offs that swarmed the local video stores in the mid to late 80’s. It probably owes its very existence to the success of the Grindhouse films and seems to want to follow the trend with its’ devotion to another kind of film experience. The movie is balls out one of the funniest, twisted, bizarre, and utterly insane films I’ve had the pleasure of enjoying in recent months. With character names like Justice, #1 Guy, and Draculon the film never dwells on taking itself too seriously and barely pays too much attention to its own plot. Characters hate one another at the drop of the hat, offer forgiveness for past crimes, hug, hate each other again, and the dialogue is either dry and generic or brilliantly comedic. Don’t bother to riff the film, because the movie winds up doing that itself at various points. It’s makers knew what they were making and they revel in it.

4 out of 5.

Knights of Badassdom

So this dude gets dumped by his High School Sweetheart. His best friends (Peter Dinklage and Steve Zahn) decide that the best way for him to get over it is to drag him out into the middle of the woods, dress him up in armor, hand him a rubber sword, and have him join in their LARP (Live Action Role-Playing game for the people who don’t know). It’s been years since he last played D&D, and he’s definitely a stranger in a strange land when it comes to joining the Game. And while he’s not overly enthused, he pitches in and is incidentally part of a ceremony that calls forth a very real Succubus from the gates of hell.

I’ve been looking forward to this movie for years. It was announced several years ago, it had a significant following online, it garnered plenty of interest from the Comic-Con panel, and included a number of stars that included genre favorites like Dinklage, Summer Glau, and some dude from that Vampire show on HBO- I don’t know the name and I don’t feel like looking it up on IMDB. Everything about the film just screamed “AWESOME!”- even the director Joe Lynch, whose only real major previous contribution consists of the Direct to DVD cult classic, “Wrong Turn 2”.

I wasn’t totally disappointed. It delivered the grue, it was funny, there were plenty of jokes that would appeal to the geek and norm community with equal hilarity, and there was plenty of sword play violence to be had by all. The rocking Black Metal soundtrack not only drives the action but becomes a focal point of the story in a few places, and the characters are all very likeable and easy to sympathize with.

There were a number of things that I found a little irksome about the film itself, though. Specifically, I don’t think the writers had nearly the respect for LARPing that the director, actors, or crew seemed to express in a number of interviews. Most of the gaming characters are portrayed as complete social outcasts more focused on experience points than they are on the relationships around them. This isn’t entirely a false premise to create. Many people in the gaming community are exactly that, they’re people who don’t tend to fit in with many social settings. It’s a humorous stereotype that I pretty much expect to see in a movie like this. That’s the whole premise for the game of “Munchkin”! But when its revealed that the two least socially awkward characters also happen to not actually BE gamers themselves? That makes it a little insulting. One is there at the behest of his friends, the other is there to “babysit” their game-obsessed cousin. Can you cop out any further in a movie that’s supposed to appeal to the gaming community as it is? Is it possible for the one character dragged in by his friends to actually enjoy the experience and actually meet a fully formed and well developed character who also happens to be a gamer? Did we have to excuse their lack of munchkin tendencies as just being someone who doesn’t really like to play the game anyway? I admit, it’s probably me being a thin-skinned geek who’s long been tired of the taped horn-rimmed glasses, chest high pants, and pocket-protector image conveyed by the geekist leaning media and their jock-led corporate masters.

3.5 out of 5. (Ignoring the stupid post-film “What happened after” bits would probably pump the rating up to a 4, but screw them.)

Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Good movie. Go see it.

5 out of 5.  

That was my bait and switch, in case you missed it… everyone reading this and hoping to get my thoughts on Captain America, well you can all find one review after another and another. My buddy Shane has one on his Facebook page, check it out. It pretty much says the same thing- I’d rather tell you about the much more obscure movies I’ve been watching with a hope that you lift a curious brow and give them a play on your DVD, Blu-ray, or some form of streaming media.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

The Mighty Roar of a Lyon... thoughts on "The Lyons"

The Lyons.

Many families are warm, forgiving, gentle, and supportive of one another.

The Lyons are none of these things.

When the family patriarch lies on deaths door the gathering of wife and children are anything but comforting in the older man’s last moments.  The longstanding battle between husband (Richard Mueller)  and wife (Andrea MacDonald) has boiled over and he is done with being polite. Ben’s dropping F bombs left and right, he’s abrasive, he’s upset, and he’s very resentful toward the family he’s helped to create. And Rita’s basking in the glow of that resentment, she’s bathing in his hate as she promises to redecorate the living room once he’s gone and persistently feigns to misunderstand every warm memory the patriarch tries to share. The wordplay between the two is as hilarious as it is cruel.

And that right there is what you’re going to find at the The Lyons; wordplay that’s savage, cruel, hilarious, and maybe a little sadistic. I know I laughed out loud- I know that it was feeding a little dark part of my own self, holding a mirror to some of the shadows in my own family life and giving me a certain degree of ventilation and schadenfreude. I admit there’s a little sadistic part of me that found it a pure joy to laugh at all the horrible things these people said to one another. I’m not ashamed to admit that I virtually guffawed at various points. I had to laugh or I would cry, and there’s plenty to laugh about when you realize that these people most likely deserve one another. None of them are put upon by one another, their suffering is often self-inflicted, and each one of them have fallen into a pattern of abuse and codependency.

Daughter Lisa shows up with an excuse for being late, blaming the traffic and a lack of parking that her family is quick to demolish. She immediately starts in with her own melodrama, making semi-veiled references to her “sponsor”, her youngest being with a sitter while the oldest is spending time with the father, and we are quick to find out that she systematically attempts to make every struggle and pain into something she can own, protect, and cater in an attempt to gather what she sees as sympathy or attention. Actress Penelope Morgan is fantastic and her comic timing is spot on when she’s taking offense at a perceived slight or reacting to the dramatic revelation of her father’s impending death.

Curtis arrives and sparks immediately fly between the siblings, showing a rivalry that’s been going on for their entire lives. More than that, Curtis is homosexual, much to the displeasure of his dying father. And where Lisa is the poor victim, Curtis lives his life as anything but- he’s snarky, arrogant, dismissive, and maybe even a little cruel with his personal interactions. And all of that is played to the hilt by Lucas Tovey. He’s absolutely brilliant in the role and makes the deliciously unpleasant Curtis into a mesmerizing character you can’t help but enjoy watching as he copes with both personal and family drama.

Both children are the product of their parents never ending feud, both embittered and morally questionable brats with few redeeming qualities. Their mutual sniping is virtually encouraged by the parents, and all four snipe at one another throughout the first act with the occasional interruption from a nurse (Marjorie Lowery) who goes nameless throughout much of the play. Don’t be afraid to laugh because the situation seems so bleak. These reprehensible creatures deserve every chuckle you can muster up.

The second act follows Curtis as he continues to cope with the impending loss of his father and certain revelations that have left him too exposed for comfort. He works through several of these issues with his real estate agent, Brian(David Naar). Maybe we start to see a gentler side to Curtis, or maybe this is just more manipulation and cruelty, or maybe something between- I’m not going to say much more beyond the fact that the scene is as powerful as it is comedic.

When the family eventually reunites again, the gloves come off and the fur starts to fly. Watch yourself, because emotional blood is poured out on the stage and all participants gleefully stomp on the gory remains and swim through all that soup for the smallest opportunity to stick another dagger in. If you’ve never had dealings with these kinds of people, you are blessed and you’ll be absolutely shocked into outrageous laughter. If you’re familiar with these people, I sympathize and highly recommend laughing at these people who have so negatively affected our own lives.

The Lyons plays at the new Paper Wing Fremont on Fridays and Saturdays, from 8 pm to 10. The show closes on 4/19/14, so take advantage of the opportunity while it lasts and support the local arts.