Sunday, September 28, 2014

shaking crying and horrified: My thoughts on "Tusk"

Kevin Smith is one of the defining voices of my generation. That isn't always a good thing, mind you- I often think he's a vacuous, fearful, and somewhat arrogant little prick but Clerks, Mallrats, Chasing Amy, and Dogma are some of the best comedy films I've ever seen and the guy mostly cracks me up. There are some clear misses in his repertoire, though- Cop Out was awful. His decision to step away from The Green Hornet was cowardly. Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back was fan service masturbatory back slapping. Red State was political pandering. And, largely, he tells the same story over and over again- even with a different plot the story's theme often remains the same... accepting responsibility for yourself and being a goddamn grownup.

So I wasn't ga-ga over seeing "Tusk" but the Human Centipede-like story was intriguing enough to stir my curiosity. I mean, body alteration horror is not always my bag but I know it'll at least bring me a few laughs. So I took myself to the theater for a matinee show and plopped myself down in an empty theater to catch this one before it made it's exit. Now that I've given you some back story regarding my thoughts on Kevin Smith as a film maker allow me to tell you about the film.

"Tusk" is about a foulmouthed podcaster/comedian (Justin Long) whose career is taking off when he adapts the vicious personality of an unfettered douchebag hipster. He makes fun of people on the internet... that's his life. His fiancee (Genesis Rodriguez) doesn't like the "new" version of him, his partner (Haley Joel Osmont) is riding those coattails to the top, and even he may not be very fond of the new him. But when his latest attempt to interview one of his recent targets goes awry, he comes across a posted ad where an old seaman will rent a room in return for nothing more than a willing ear to his life's adventures. And so Wallace sets out to meet Howard Howe(Michael Parks)- and things become twisted from here on out.

The general premise here is that Howard wants to turn Wallace into a human-Walrus hybrid. He drugs him, cuts off his leg, explains his plan, and then starts in on the process while the fiancee and partner set out to track down Wallace with the help of the mysterious "Guy Lapointe". And all of this sounds like a ridiculous premise for a film- it's absurd, it's comedic, and how in the hell could this ridiculous idea even start to give me the shivers? Because the spectacle is one thing- we've seen it in the Human Centipede and various other "shock body horror" films... but Kevin Smith has something to say here and he makes this movie very much about the characters. And this is where the film breaks with the comedy and the absurd because it is very much about the physical and psychological transformation of Wallace and the people in his life.

Justin Long may never win an award for his performance- but it's intense. He's a douche bag, he's a monster before the film begins, and what he becomes is a horror. What happens is a horror. And the film belongs to him and Parks. I can't spoil the film for you, my dear faceless reader- but the end tore me apart in a place I can't even begin to fathom. I'm wrecked. I left the theater and I was stunned- I managed to get to my car where I suddenly broke down crying as the end replayed over and over again in my skull. And I cannot recommend this film- because it horrified me and tore me apart.

Kevin Smith has something to say here and it isn't comfortable and it's more than a little autobiographical in regards to how he may see himself at times. This is a guy filled with regrets and fears and maybe more than a little of what brought him to the theater just crawling around in his soul and wanting to be something more. I don't know how to rate this film... so I"m going to be as honest as I can and look at myself in a way I often don't: As an artist and an appreciator of Art, even if it's ugly and horrifying.

5 out of 5.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

It's so FLUFFY!!! =) (The Marvelous Wondrettes at Paper Wing Theatre: Thoughts)

The Marvelous Wondrettes: A musical by Roger Bean


While I love an edgy show with lots of cussing, lots of violence, a little bit of naughtiness, and some deeply troubling issues to ponder during the drive home- the truth is that I also want to sit there with my son and keep an arm wrapped around him and listen to him laugh, gasp, and say “Wow!”. So when the opportunity came to watch a show that promised a bit of the family friendly entertainment that I was looking for, I jumped and packed the wife and kid in the car and took off for an evening at Paper Wing Theatre’s production of “The Marvelous Wondrettes”, the latest musical production to hit the central coast.

The story is pretty simple- four girls perform a number of popular standards at the High School Prom, interlacing stories that lead directly from one song to the next culminating in the crowning of a the Prom Queen before intermission. When we return, the girls return for their ten year reunion to perform once again, and once again interlace stories from their personal lives that lead directly from one song to the next. There’s audience participation as someone is inevitably dragged to the stage for a number of songs dedicated to their vocal instructor, “Mr. Lee”. (This happened to be me in the performance I saw. Woohoo!) Other audience members and the lighting booth are also referred to as a number of characters in the lives of the four ladies.

And who are these four ladies? The ring-leader and goodie-two-shoes type, Missy, is played by Kate Bradley Faber (who wears two hats as the shows Director). Faber is hilariously awkward in glasses, a too bright smile, and a perpetual goody-two-shoes cheerfulness that unites the other three ladies in spirit and more. Cindy Lou (Jacqui Hope) is the saucy one- laying some beautiful vocals and “make me a star” posing that borders the antagonistic in the first half of the show but reveals a touching level of warmth in the second. Suzy is the blonde ditzy one whose bubble gum chewing and slightly off step clumsiness offers Alyca Tanner’s comedic prowess to shine. And, finally, Laura Hodge rounds out the group as Betty Jean, also called (with a tongue very firmly planted in the cheek) “BJ”. She’s Cindy’s best friend, rival, and foil through much of the production. Her antics to antagonize of undermine the other girl are hilarious! We also get some additional voice-over work from stage manager, Cheryl Karoly, and lighting technician, Ralph Cardoza.

I don’t want to get too much into the songs covered because some of them might bring back nostalgic memories for quite a few and should be experienced more than talked about. “Mr. Sandman” makes an appearance, “Lipstick On Your Collar” is found, and there’s definitely a “Heatwave” in the air. See what I did there? Gave you some titles while making it fit in with a certain degree of narrative description- that right there is talented writing, yo. The songs are all amazingly performed and the lucky souls who get pulled to the stage will get a particular thrill.  

This show is pure fluff- no deep dark deceptions, no screams of horror, no titillating moments of an obscene nature, and no deep explorations into the darkness of the soul. It’s sweet, it’s innocent and it’s fun!

4.5 out of 5!

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

The Irish Curse: At Paper Wing Fremont

In the interest of full disclosure, I am preparing to direct my first show  with the same company responsible for this production. I have a clear business and personal relationship with Paper Wing Theatre and with various people involved with this particular production. I maintain this blog out of a personal interest in keeping my writing skills honed and in promoting the local arts in my immediate vicinity. If you believe this will color my opinion, there’s nothing I can say to change your mind- if you want to read my thoughts, by all means continue and see what I thought of this show.

“The Irish Curse”

Wee Willy Winkies are funny. Admit it- you’ve probably made a couple cliché jokes regarding a man’s car, the size of his feet, or his eagerness to carry a gun. It’s a pretty common thing- I use the word cliché for a reason, obviously. It’s virtually a stereotype- more on that term a little later. So Paper Wing Theatre’s Fremont Location plays host to a show devoted entirely to the Irish Curse and a support group for men whose package may be little more than the envelope found in the bottom of a Cracker Jacks box.

The Irish Curse opened this past Friday and I was lucky enough to attend- Not only that, but I also won a free ticket, my family was out of town, and I needed a good laugh for the weekend. Now- if I want a good laugh there’s definitely one performer that I know who has done more to explore the nature of comedy as an art form than any other person I know. Jody Gilmore was advertised to be helming this puppy from the director’s seat and I have yet to see him go wrong with ANY show he’s ever been involved with. And he doesn’t fail to deliver here, either.

The ensemble cast are New York Irish men brought together by the genetic inconsistency regarding the size of particular body parts. They meet on a weekly basis and they discuss their problems, but it isn’t until the latest newcomer to the group arrives that the men are forced to expose far more than they thought they had- that their feelings run a little deeper than the resentment of God’s little “gift” and involves moments of shame, humiliation, depression, loneliness, and rage.

The group was started out of a dare between the groups two primary organizers, Father Kevin and Joseph, a middle aged and slightly uptown lawyer coping with the end of his marriage. Endlessly chatty and a little on the gullible side, Phil Livernois plays a ranting, raving, and emotionally damaged grump of a man with a bizarrely optimistic outlook on the direction of his life. He’s also the member of the group most willing to confront his demons head on despite (or perhaps in spite of) his nebbish nature. He’s bookended well by the youngest member of the group; Rick (played by Brian Benjamin Balistrari). He’s a brazen braggart boasting about one conquest after another to anyone that might listen. He stuffs his jock strap and has a girlfriend back home and he plays off Josef’s nebbishness and courage in reverse- he’s the first member to speak up and he’s the first person challenged to go a little deeper and expose more than he’s prepared to. And everyone gets in on the the discussion here, so don’t forget about Father Kevin (played by Richard Mueller). Even he has a few personal demons to exorcise on this rainy night.

Everyone has their story- and for every story there are questions, and that’s where Kieran comes in. 

Robert Feeney delivers his best performance to date. He’s been best known on the coast for is turn as “Trekkie” in the local production of Avenue Q, but I’ve never seen him tackle the range of a character like Keiran before. That he delivers such a nuanced performance with a thick Irish Brogue that never once threatens to spill out into Python-esque ridiculousness is testament alone to Feeney’s depth as a performer. But the nuances are what plays best- his sense of timing, his ability to expression emotions without a word, and the clear art of “listening” are what brings the character to life in the story. His character acts as a sort of audience surrogate at first, posing questions and then listening to the answers- but it’s that listening that brings him away from the audience. It’s the listening and the emotional impact of what he hears that lures the audience into identifying and caring about the group as a whole.

And for every good “hero” there has to be a good villain- LJ Brewer hits the ground running as an undercover NYPD officer whose life revolves around the Job and a series of meaningless flings with other men. Stephen’s a bitter, cynical, wise-cracking blowhard who lashes out at those around him with one biting insult after another. He’s an antagonist to the core- but maybe he doesn’t always want to be that- he’s forced to confront more of himself than he ever wanted when he’s repeatedly challenged by the other members of the group. And each of them regain a little more of their own self worth as they present their challenges- to stereotypes, religion, the authority of a police officer, the culture of sex in marketing, and the perception of society’s pressure around them.

Which brings me to my one problem with the script itself. As nearly every rant or assertion is met with a challenge, one politically pandering rant felt like it came straight out of left field (pun intended).  It’s met with cheers from a contingent of the paying audience, but it took me completely out of the story for a moment. Unlike so much of the play, it was met with no challenge, no discussion, and simply accepted as an “as is” sort of declaration. And let me be clear- I’ve never made it a secret where my own political inclinations lie, but I’m not usually prone to getting butt-hurt when a few lines of dialogue betray the playwright’s beliefs. I’ve even been in plays that were often very clearly leaning in a direction opposite of my own- but for a play that deals with challenges to nearly every other declaration, this brief moment took me out of the action that I thought it bore mentioning.

The Irish Curse is a funny play about men facing their insecurities. It’s deeply challenging but there’s plenty of comedy and camaraderie between the cast members that audience members can choose to accept the cigar for what it is. It continues to run throughout most of September at the Paper Wing Fremont location, Fridays and Saturday nights at 8:00 PM. The language and graphic subject matter may not be appropriate for younger audiences.

4 out of 5.

(Back there was an attempt at making a Freudian joke- it relies very heavily on my reader being aware that Freud once said “Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar”- this was clearly meant to be a joke regarding the phallic nature of his interpretations. It’s a not-too-obscure reference but one that I felt may require explanation so that you, my dear faceless reader, might not feel too lost. You must completely forget that my over-explaining the joke undoubtedly destroyed any shred of humor that may have been in that all so brief and yet overly explained moment in reading the review… PS. I’m not doing this for word count, but rather because I’m writing most of this as a stream of conscious thought.)