Monday, December 28, 2015

Ave. Q at Paper Wing Theatre

The problem with writing about the same show three times over the course of the past five years is that it’s very hard to not repeat yourself. This is especially true when several of the performers from the previous performances return for another run, though some in vastly different roles than before. As I can’t be certain people have read my previous thoughts on the previous runs of the Avenue Q, I can’t take for granted that the reader is going to be familiar with the plot- Which is as follows: Princeton (the returning Nicholas Kelly) is a fresh-faced puppet straight out of college who is in for a rude awakening when he enters the “real world” and it’s mundane hurdles of paying rent, finding a job, random encounters and a string of poor decisions that come with growing up. All of this is told in the same style of a Sesame Street-type show that’s geared toward facing much more adult scenarios that include sex, racism, employment, and the day to day lives of those who live on Avenue Q.

But for those readers who have seen my previous thoughts on the show, much of what I’ll be writing will be a rehash of some familiar thoughts on the show. The songs are catchy, the band is solid, and returning players Kelly and Jay Devine (as “Ernie-like” puppet, Nicky) are solid and as inspired as the first two go-rounds. Also returning for another go-round are two of the traditionally “human” characters, Kate Faber as Asian American therapist Christmas Eve; and Jared Hussey as her 33 year old struggling comic and lay about, Brian. Everything I’ve said about them both is just as true today as it was a few years ago… for those who don’t remember,  said they were awesome and other stuff like that.

And, also returning for another go-round, is Robert Feeney who slides from one role into that of “Burt-like” staunch Republican Banker, Rod. He’s very good in the role and is especially moving in the number, “Fantasies Come True”- his manipulation of the Puppet is spot on and he breathes life into the character throughout. Stepping into Trekkie Monster (Formerly played by Feeney twice) is Cody Moore, whose experience with puppetry makes him a grand slam addition to the cast. His voice is also spot on for the gruff and lovable porn-addicted monster. Also stepping from one role to another is Jordan Brewer, filling the shoes of iconic child-star actor “Gary Coleman” (Represented in Puppet form). “Gary” is the butt of everyone’s jokes and Brewer carries off the tongue in cheek humor of the character very well.

New to the show is the shows other lead, “Kate Monster” (Vanessa Burkleo). Her voice carries strong throughout her solos and is endearing with a sense of blushing nervousness as she wishes for romance and dreams of one day opening a school for Monsters. Teri Dobbins plays “Lucy the Slut”, the wanton foil to Kate’s innocence and a delivers the goods on “Make ya’ Feel Special” solo. Then there are the enthusiastic “Bad Idea Bears”, a sickeningly cute pair of trouble-makers with lots of bad advice and temptations for our lead characters. The pair are played by Kelsey Posey and Taylor Landess with terrifically over-the-top enthusiasm.  

The rest of the ensemble cast step into a number of additional roles throughout the show, including an hilariously voice “Mrs. Thistwetwat”, a rambunctious clown with a great magic trick involving a bird, a terrific counting number, and a very blessed moment of silence.

5 out of 5 and a great way to lift your spirits when the holiday dumps come a’calling.

The Producers @ The Western Stage

I get this text message from a buddy of mine, goes by the name of Jay Brew- he’s like, “Were you going to see The Producers?” and I’m pretty sure he means the production at the Western Stage over here in Salinas. And I’m like, “Hey, honey- should I go check out the Producers at the Western Stage” and the wife is like, “How much?” So I ask- and I get a decent price quoted and so I’m off to the see the show on closing night.

My familiarity with the source material sort of ends with my exposure to the film that features Gene Wilder and Zero Mostel in the title roles of Mel Brooks classic comedy. To be frank, I tend to flat out avoid anything with the name Matthew Broderick becoming associated with it because I am “not a fan” of the actor. So the production I saw would not be bringing in the cool cat beatnick who falls into the role of Hitler, the ex-Nazi officer would not be played in quite the same way, and there promised to be many more musical numbers than I was actually expecting in this production from the Western Stage. And as this would also be their closing night, I am sorry to say that my thoughts on the show will not act as a recommendation to my faceless readers. It may, however, come off as a teasing thumb to the nose for those who missed the productions run because I can be a bit of a braggart.

Just a bit.

The title characters of the show are Max and Leo, respectively. Max is a conniving rogue bilking little old ladies out of their savings through a combination of selling a percentage of his consistently bombing Broadway shows and his own “amorous attentions”.  He’s barely making ends meet and he laments a once promising future wasted on a series of poor decisions- when Leo walks into his life. Leo Cortez takes an iconic character first made famous by Zero Mostel and takes ownership with a touch of the playful imp. As I never saw the other version, I’m uncertain how much of the performance may have been influenced by Nathan Lane but I really enjoyed this actor’s ability to offer an occasional nod to the audience and a little breaking of the fourth wall for comedic effect.

The second half of the title characters is a nervous milquetoast consistently browbeaten to submission by a thankless job and unfulfilled dreams. Leo is played to full hilt by Tim Marquette, who manages to spurts of manic energy while remain stoop-shouldered and hesitant throughout each confrontation.

When Leo casually remarks on the idea that one could conceivably make more money from an intentional flop that than an actual hit, the horses are off and the race begins! The pair try to secure the rights to the worst play they’ve read, the talents of the worst director they can find, and proceed to break one theatrical taboo after another in an attempt to make “Springtime for Hitler” the worst show in town. The pair plunge through several musical misadventures with slapstick effect; meeting with the aging Nazi playwright to take the Sigfried Oath and trying to convince a gaudy Broadway Director and his crew to tackle their first “Historic” epic. Then they meet Una ( played by always hilarious Mindy Whitfield), the blonde bombshell from Sweden, who uses her assets to convince the pair to cast her in the ill-fated producted.

The play was every bit as funny as you would expect from a Mel Brooks production with plenty of gags and the rousing apex of “Springtime for Hitler” number that truly carries with it a sense of the absolutely ridiculous.

PS: While this may seem a little self-serving and carries a little bit of nepotism, it was really great to get a chance to see Allyson Bojorquez in several ensemble roles. It was her performance several years ago in the Paper Wing show of “Repo! The Genetic Opera” that inspired me to pursue an interest in theater over the following years and I only had a brief opportunity to work with her on Remo D’s “Manor of Mayhem” television show. It's great to see her again on stage.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Top Ten for 2015.

2015 Year in Movies.

Not the most disappointing year in movies for the weird, but a little light in the realm of Horror. It’s been a big year for blockbusters and several highly anticipated reboots and superheroes and sequels and a whole lot of Disney dominance of the Silver Screen. Last year I never even bothered to write a top ten list since I’d been busy with other things and nothing really stood out as being incredibly awesome.

2015 may be a little more interesting?

Without further ado.

1.      Mad Max: Fury Road-
Released under a bunch of nonsensically false controversy with regard to the fabled “Mens Rights Activists” (IE, morons whining on the internet), Mad Max was a brutal thrill ride of a film that boiled down the language of film to its most basic components for a truly incredible spectacle. Action rather than corny dialogue propelled the simple plot forward, practical effects added weight and kinetic energy to the chase, and what little CGI was used was done to enhance what was already on the screen. Add in a stand-out performance from Charlize Theron and you have a modern classic brought to life.

2.      Star Wars: The Force Awakens
Keeping in mind that I would’ve LOVED to put this movie at the top of the list immediately upon viewing, the truth of the matter is that I think it’s the second best film I’ve seen all year long and that it may change in years to come as I go back and watch again and again. It’s  my favorite in the series since Empire Strikes Back and I can’t wait for the others- but it’s only part of a larger saga and there just weren’t enough conclusions to really make it a fully encapsulated story of its’ own.

3.      Crimson Peak - 
A dark and gothic romance/horror film with some great visuals. Guillermo Del Toro definitely delivers again with a hugely impressive display. Definitely a film for fans of classic films and genre films.

4.      Kingsman:
This satirical super-spy action comedy was one of the best times I had at the cinema this past year.

5.      Green Inferno –
Not the best movie with regards to quality, but a fun little gorefest with plenty of practical effects. The plane crash alone was worth the price of the ticket and I really just had a fun time with this little flick- Eli Roth delivered the Grue!

6.      Ex Machina:
Probably one of the better sci-fi films I’ve seen in recent years. This is an interesting story that, on the surface, explores Artificial Intelligence… and more specifically explores human thoughts, desires, temptations, and manipulation. Very well done.

7.      It Follows:
Struggled a bit with the general pacing of the film, but it’s a terrific concept that brings a whole new sense of terror to ones budding sexuality. The story involves a supernatural creature that only those afflicted can see- and the only way to relieve yourself of the curse, at least temporarily, is to pass it on to someone else before it eventually comes back to you. Great premise, some great performances. Worth watching.

8.      Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation
This odd little series of films just seems to be getting better and better with each successive film- an oddity in cinema in that it’s usually the first film that’s the best and the others are just sequels making an odd attempt to recapture the brilliance of the first. This series keeps going on, each film getting better in quality over the first and Tom Cruise’s “Ethan Hunt” character matures with each installment and mission.

9.      Victor Frankenstein:
This will probably be the most tragically underrated and underappreciated film of the year due to the poor marketing and it’s attempt to saddle the stars with an unnecessary burden. The movie works as an adaptation of the Frankenstein story from the point of view of his assistant and it works as stand out performances from the films stars, but it should never have been promoted as a vehicle for either man and much more attention should have been given to the actual premise of the story. Worth seeing.

10.   Jurassic World:
This is pretty much my popcorn muncher film- and it brought back the M’F’in’ T-Rex!!! It wasn’t very good, but it was very fun.

Honorable and dishonorable mentions: Super Hero films were all over the place this past year, but none really seemed to rise above expectations or really deliver anything new and engrossing to the bloated genre as it currently stands. “Age of Ultron” had a great voice performance from the title character, but the heroes all seemed to be going through the motions and worked toward setting up the next Avengers film without caring about where the story currently stood. Ant Man felt like a traditional throw-back to the original story we’d seem time and again with a little of a “Heist” film thrown in the background- had the movie focused more on the “heist” and less on the “redemption of untapped potential” I may have been a little more invested.

We also had a slew of “Paranormal” horror flicks- A lackluster Poltergeist remake, The latest Paranormal Activity film, the Gallows, and so on so forth etcetera and beyond- the recent glorification of renowned con-artists and proven frauds continue to flood the “Based on a true story” horror market and then there was rinse/repeat cycle of sequel dregs.

Then there are the films I missed- Bone Tomahawk is the horror/western featuring what many are saying was THE performance of the year from actor Kurt Russell. Krampus was released to some critical praise, the Christmas-themed horror film bringing a sense of pop-culture recognition to what many believe is the “anti-Santa”. Tarantino’s “Hateful Eight” is supposed to see a small release before the new year, with a wider release directly afterward so it may have to wait for the 2016 year in review.

What to look for in 2016-

The big tent-pole film is supposed to be the Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice movie; fans rejoice and get set for that one. The trailer more than teases the conflict between Kent and Wayne and introduces a typically neurotic Jesse Eisenberg in the role of Lex Luthor… the arrival of Doomsday, Wonder Woman, a promised appearance by Aquaman, and possibly other Heroes in the DC Universe which is all supposed to set up the eventual Justice League film. Also, from DC, we get introduction to some of the Warner Bros. villains in the form of the Suicide Squad which had a slightly less spoiler-filled trailer to tease the arrival.

On the opposite side of the comic hero spectrum we have Captain America and the new Civil War story Arc for all the Avenger films. What kind of affect this may have on the upcoming Doctor Strange film has yet to be revealed, if there is any affect. With a  number of projects in development, Marvel Studios rushes into Phase Three of their film universe.

Then in the horror realm we have classic literature battling zombies, another year of another promised Friday the 13th and Halloween films, and really nothing that I can think of off the top of my head.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Episode 7, spoiler free.

STAR WARS: The Force Awakens (spoiler free review)

This one doesn’t mince around and it doesn’t try to take you by surprise. But if it doesn’t take someone by surprise, then why should we go without spoilers? Because it’s about the way the story is told- it’s about the craftsmanship in telling a story and bringing the characters from point A to point B. And I’ll try to remain as spoiler free as I can because this film deserves it and the audience deserves it.

It’s just well done. It’s storytelling from the Mythic standpoint and it tells you a story that is a little familiar but also just different enough to be engaging. It’s the story of heroes and their villains- the story of a galactic enemy coming into power and the resistance that rises to stop them. That’s where we are in the Star Wars franchise- an offshoot of the Empire calls itself The First Order and it’s a militant uprising devoted to the iconography of the Empire and it’s rule of law.

The characters are just very enjoyable- John Boyega’s “Finn” is fun, engaging, and VULNERABLE… not whiney, not pedantic, but genuinely vulnerable. He’s the "everyman" character we root for and understand. He's everything that we, as the audience, are supposed to be. Funny, witty, a little frightened, and very much out of his depth. He's also brave and he acts without thinking- and it all stems from compassion rather than just going out and trying to "get his". He's a breath of fresh air in a cynical world. He’s absolutely central the story, but these stories work best with an ensemble and if Finn is the everyman “fool”, then  “Rey” is the idealist. She’s the kind of character people would wish they were; someone destined to greatness. Po Dameron brings the snarky bluster, BB-8 is a trusty sidekick droid, and then there’s Kylo Ren.

Let me say this, and I’ll try not to spoil anything- Kylo Ren is precisely what Anakin SHOULD have been in episodes 2 and 3. He’s not whiney- he’s afraid and he’s angry, bitter, and he wants to bring Order to a Galaxy that he thinks has fallen into chaos. This is a character in pain and who happens to have more power at his disposal than he knows what to do with- but, even more importantly, he’s someone who has difficulty maintaining control and he lashes out multiple times. And his motives are left shrouded in mystery- there’s only really a taste of what he is, despite all that’s revealed.

There are a lot of cameo appearances- but Han Solo, Chewbacca, and Princess Leia are very important characters to the film. They aren’t just there to pop their heads in and remind you of what was- they mean something to the story.

You’ll note I haven’t spoken much about the details of the story?

That’s on purpose- because it’s so very basic and so very simple and it’s a reflection of things that have come before. The major differences are in the telling and the specifics- A Galaxy at the brink of war, a doomsday weapon, heroes, villains, and allies for both.

5 out of 5.

Thursday, December 3, 2015



I don’t always find a lot to write about with regards to the films I watch- and I watch a lot of movies, especially with a subscription to Netflix and Amazon going. I also own a Roku, and that provides me access to several free streaming services with plenty of Public Domain footage.  And while I enjoy several films and may occasionally find something worth writing about with one film, often I  will just stream a series of films and never write a single word. I thought, with my recent marathon, that it deserved a little write up with only a little blurb and recommendation for each film.

And as these “Marathons” usually have one linking attribute to them, I figured I would start it off with a bit of an informative piece each time I write one of these.

Shaw Brothers Studio is a production company that mostly made a name for itself with a series of Kung Fu features that spanned from the 1960’s through the 1980’s with a “classic Hollywood” business model of pairing specific actors with specific directors for a slew of films. There are literally thousands of films from the company’s “Golden Period”; with stars like the “Venoms” and Gordon Liu featured prominently.  To be honest, Shaw Brothers films pretty much dominated the “Martial Arts” film business and only saw a significant challenge to their model when a pair of executives left the company in order to form “Golden Harvest” and signed a brand new star; Bruce Lee.

Several Shaw Brothers films are currently streaming on Netflix and, of course, I’ve been knee-deep in the epic awesomeness that is “classic Kung Fu” from the top studio of the time. As a young boy, I’d often be sticking to channel eleven or channel five during the Saturday double matinee to catch a flick- often horror or Kung-fu related, but always a degree of pure adrenaline that kept my eyes glued to the boob tube when I should’ve likely been out climbing trees and building snow forts. So revisiting the films is a bit of nostalgia and a bit of newfound appreciation for the things I loved as a child.

As a note, the only unfortunate slight I’ve been able to find is that the films are only available in their native “Chinese”… whether Mandarin or Cantonese, the only option on the Netflix “Language” selection is “Chinese”. There are English subtitles, but the traditional “awful dub” option is just not available and part of the nostalgic charm of these films are the terrible dubbing with awful accents and fake tenors designed to make characters as over the top as possible. It’s not that I dislike the language, but a little nostalgic value is lost when we don’t hear the same guy dubbing over several different characters with a different pitch, growl, or whatever it seems something is lost from my childhood. Luckily, something is gained when we’re able to hear the appropriate tenor, voice, and inflection to specific lines. So it’s mostly a fair trade off, but requires more reading when one may want to just be focused on the fighting.

“Come Drink With Me”-
This film is a bit of an oddity for its tone and rather progressive view of the female protagonist, played by Pei-Pei Cheng (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon). The story is a fairly simple one as the son of a Governor is kidnapped by a gang of bandits and held for ransom. The Governor’s sister is sent to investigate and free her brother, aided only slightly by the mysterious “Drunken Tiger”. From here on out the action fills in the blanks as she fights off the gang, infiltrates the area, and winds up wounded before the big climactic battle that will reveal the truth behind Drunken Tiger. There’s a bit of a romance that never goes much further than the occasional look between the leads and “Golden Swallow” is never portrayed as the damsel in distress. The action and choreography is terrific and there’s plenty of slapstick comedy to go along with the story.

4.5 out of 5.

Invincible Shaolin

The Qin General of an unspecified province is unhappy with the Imperial edict forcing him to employ Shaolin teachers to instruct his troops. The Shaolin are also unhappy with the Qin dynasty, preferring to return the Ming to power if fate allows. So the General concocts a scheme, demanding new teachers from the Northern Shaolin to replace those from the Southern Shaolin school. What follows is a contest that ultimately proves fatal for the Southern Shaolin teachers and creates a rift between the schools. Both sides are manipulated by the General into several pitched battles- can the Shaolin unite in time to prevent the General from succeeding in his plan to destroy all of Shaolin?

This is a very traditional Kung Fu film in that it features the detailed training sequences we normally come to see in such films as various fighters work to master a given style. The cast is very likeable and the General comes off as a terrific villain with a masterful hand at pulling a number of strings. Much of the story depends on the viewers acceptance of social customs in order to fully buy in to why the two sides would fight one another. The fighting is absolutely top notch and features a number of impressive battles with a fair amount of gore.

5 out of 5.

Disciples of the 36th Chamber

The third film in the “36th Chamber” (AKA: Master Killer) series of films features the terrific Gordon Liu returning to the role that originally made him famous. Unfortunately, the film doesn’t quite live up to the first film’s promise and features a much less engaging protagonist being trained by Liu. The film is played more for slapstick comedy and pratfalls than it is for the serious training that made the first film so amazing. A young teen and his two brothers are forced to hide and train in the Shaolin monastery when the buffoonish brother repeatedly insults the reigning Government. Liu takes the boy and his brothers under his wing and the rest is Kung Fu training.

2.5 out of 5.

Masked Avengers.

The title here is a little misleading and may be an issue of something being lost in translation or maybe just a misunderstanding- but the men in the masks are a group of bandits whose butchery, sadism, and cruelty have drawn the attention of a Martial Artist and his school of young warriors. When one of their agents manages to return to their school with fatal wounds, he leaves them with a barely muttered clue on where the Masked Bandits are hiding but not who these bandits may be. The school heads off to the province and start to investigate, only to run afoul of the Bandits in several encounters.

Are the bandits led by the charismatic merchant? The mysterious cook? Or the wealthy landowner? With their numbers dwindling, the school had better find out or they’ll be far too outnumbered to fight back. The film features some terrific fight choreography and the wonderful interaction between the characters builds to a brutal finale that sees the bandits base turned into a house of torture and death traps. A must-see for Kung Fu fans!

5 out of 5

Five Elements Masters.

I love me a bit of grue in my movies, and Five Elements Masters (AKA Five Elements Ninja and several other titles) features an awful lot of spurting blood, severed limbs, and massive physical damage to various victims of deadly Kung Fu. Probably one of the goriest Kung Fu films made, this was definitely a fun watch. The plot revolves around the Japanese “Five Elements Ninja” and their attempt to dominate the Martial Arts world by destroying the local practitioners through their five elements style. Fairly cut and dry when one member of the local school survives an ambush, he’s forced into hiding and trains to prepare himself for the style utilized by the Ninja.

4 out of 5.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Victor Frankenstein & Hunger Games:Mocking Jay


I was skeptical when I first started seeing the trailers a few months back, but I am a bit of a fan of the old school Hammer films and a sucker for a creepy looking period piece. I’m the sort of guy who gets sucked in with the promise of Van Helsing and I found plenty to enjoy with the Wolfman remake, all while fully recognizing the various faults and flaws in these films and lamenting the missed opportunities each film represented. And this movie reeked of missed opportunities and misguided ideas to cash in on all those things the other films aimed to achieve. I was going to see it anyway and I was going to swallow the suckage that it promised.

I was wrong.

Daniel Radcliffe’s “Igor” warns us from the very beginning that this is a story we know- the mad scientist, the dark and stormy night, the Monster, and all of the usual trappings we see in each and every Frankenstein adaptation. No one is trying to reinvent the wheel here and no one is going to even try. This is a familiar story and it’s not the first time this kind of story made an attempt at telling it from the assistant’s point of view, either. But what we’re going to be told is an interesting take on the story- hitting familiar beats, striking a few recognizable notes, but all done very well and with just enough difference to be unique into itself. This is very similar to the “Hammer” style of story-telling in that it takes familiar elements and then makes something a little different.

And this is really the first time we get extremely close to seeing the monster as it is described by Mary Shelley- over ten feet tall, with multiple organs and parts in order to retain the power necessary to bring the creature to life (Lightning, once again… though never what is actually specified in the book itself.) The CGI here is used in force perspective with practical effects for one of the best Monsters I’ve seen in recent years. And James McAvoy is maddeningly brilliant as the good doctor himself.

It’s utterly baffling to see this film take such a stumbling step forward on its release weekend, but the marketing of the film has done nothing to really sink its teeth into the fanbase. The timing of the release seems designed to bury the film that should have come this past Halloween in a place where it’s destined to fail, but let me assure anyone reading this that this film is definitely worthwhile and fun for the Hammer Horror fans who still dot the globe.

4 out of 5. Worth seeing and a definite recommendation.

“Hunger Games” : Mockingjay Part Two

I’m not a huge fan of the first “Hunger Games” film. I kind of enjoyed the second film because I thought it told a much better story and it explored effects of what surviving such a game could do to somebody. And I am probably the only person who actually preferred the slow-burn build in the third film, the exploration of Katniss’ use as a propaganda tool for a “rebel” force looking to sieze power, and the rescue of Peta as a big finale to the end. So I was pretty much looking forward to the fourth film- and then the reviews started to pour right in and I heard so much negativity that I nearly didn’t catch this film.

Let me say- I think the negativity is a little overboard in some cases. I think the film is overly long and that it never quite figured out what it should have been; brooding and dark or dangerous and exciting? The film was as indecisive as the story’s lead character- but more on that a bit later. Because of this very divided nature of the film, we were treated to long establishing shots that stuck to certain points for beats that were way too long and moments that never served the story’s interest. Despite that, I thought the film did manage to blur the lines of good and evil a little and it treated post-traumatic stress with a seriousness that it deserved.

But, let me stress this one point- Katniss. Jennifer Lawrence does a commendable job with the character, but she is ultimately one of the most self-absorbed characters on screen and manages to kill all sympathy I had for her with one brief scene near the end. Her decision to continue moving forward shred every last bit of respect or concern I once had for the character and, while I knew she would ultimately survive, I’m very very glad she would have nightmares for the rest of her life.

3 out of 5 and worth seeing.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Hyde at Paper Wing Fremont and SPECTRE... two British characters for the price of three... or so... titles suck.

HYDE: At Paper Wing Fremont

As familiar as I was with the story of Henry Jeckyll and Edward Hyde, nothing I’ve experienced before could prepare me for this Victorian Thriller adapted for the stage by Patrick Golden and Beverly Van Pelt. Their adaptation is a story that is utterly transfigured from the bare bones skeleton of the original with a twist I didn’t see coming- as the play has now run its course, no one else will see it coming again for quite some time and I still won’t spoil it here. The story centers around the sensationalized true life murders committed by “Jack the Ripper”, revealed to be the brutal Hyde in the opening moments of the play. This isn’t something new as Hyde and Ripper have been tied together before in other films. The story is revealed through the intervention of Jeckyll’s University flame, Dr. Lenore Lanyon(Beverly Van Pelt). A physician equally enamored with the nature of human “duality”, she is the only one who may be able to understand and unravel the mystery surrounding the good doctor, the murders, and what lays behind the true mystery of the story.

The dialogue is quick-witted and darkly humorous with plenty of gallows humor that may leave you laughing, squirming, or equal bits of both. Golden takes the lead as Hyde/Jeckyll, a loathsome man covered in scars and quick with a bottle or a knife. His performance is filled with anger- anger at the world, anger at his scarred visage, anger at perceived threats and hatred for everything. There's a certain sense of paranoia and a guarded study of the room at nearly all times. He is in sharp contrast to the younger version of Jeckyll (Larry Oblander III), a quick witted doctor with a flair for riddles and jokes. We are shown both versions of the character through flashbacks before this dual nature is revealed in the plays final moments. Oblander is plainly terrific in his role- equal parts likeable and ultimately consumed by his work.

Van Pelt and Kelsey Posey each pull duty as co-directors and lead the audience through a highly stylized production, possible nods to German Expressionism and Hammer Studio productions throughout and a cast that took the material every bit as serious at is should with comedic aspects coming about organically. Amanda Platsis pulls double duty as a conniving Madam Paine and the attending surgeon at an autopsy. Both roles completely different and equally biting with humor. Jesse Juarez delivers an intense performance as the erstwhile Police surgeon on the trail of Jack, Cheryl Karoly is solid as the suspicious maid and one-time caretaker to Dr. Jeckyll, while Robert Feeney takes his performance to manic highs as a true life suspect in the string of East End murders, “Russian” Mike. Accents may have been a little spotty in parts, but it hardly slowed the show down.

After the show I found myself lost in thought- it was an interesting twist on an old tale. A consideration on what we consider familiar and how we can make a change to those familiar stories- in an age where Hollywood is constant “rebooting” old films and delivering stale sequels to pad their studios it’s a way to approach material and keep it fresh with a few additional questions. Golden delivers a chilling performance near the end- an introduction of s5orts that chills.

4.5 out of 5.


How do I start this? 

James Bond, Double-OH-OH-SEVEN is back! This is the fourth outing for Mr. Daniel Craig in the role of our erstwhile spy In Her Majesty’s Service and I am totally psyched!!! Can you tell? I hope you can tell- I hope you understand that it’s not always horror, blood, guts, and carnage ‘round these here parts and there’s the occasional foray into other “genre” films. I hope you know that, dear faceless reader, and by all means keep reading on. Because I love the spy genre- to be more specific, the superspy genre!

And this year’s Bond is hitting right from the get-go with a beautiful long shot that captures everything we need to know about the character. Even if you’ve never seen a Bond film, this is everything you need to know- he’s walking with a beautiful woman, he’s moving through a crowded festival with a sense of purpose, and he’s out to perform some specific task with a flippant comment and intense focus. This is Bond- and the opening moments of the film are filled with a non-stop action sequence. Assassination attempts, explosions, a slow chase through a crowded festival, a helicopter, explosions, and those familiar horns hit to signal the opening credit sequence.

From here on out, the film is pure comfort food- Craig is fantastic as Bond and has completely reinvented the role for himself. He’s grittier, edgier, and much less suave than the Sean Connery pastiche we’ve seen in other Bonds. But no Bond is complete without a villain to be his equal- and I’m sure some fans were absolutely salivating to see what kind of man would be stepping up to take a swing at our hero. Christoph Waltz bears that honor- oh, and what an HONOR it is when his plan and identity are fully revealed. And professional wrestler Dave Bautista (Guardians of the Galaxy) also steps in as an enforce “Odd Job” sort of character- a man of few words and brutal actions. And in the end- I absolutely LOVED this film!!!


That’s sentiment talking and I’m not really giving the film an objective view. The truth of the matter is that while the movie is well acted, well directed, and put together very nicely- there are huge flaws in the film that I would be silly to not bring up. The script is a bit of a mess and there are some truly hackneyed moments. It reads almost like fan-fiction in certain parts and that great and amazing reveal is almost spoiled by the attachment of an historic link that was never needed or really even wanted. The requisite “Bond-girl” comes off as almost forgettable, despite lame attempts to make her a supposedly stronger character- despite lip service to her competence, knowledge, and ability she is really only ever portrayed as the “Damsel in distress” so often complained about.


But it's not a great film and isn't the best Bond ever. It's still very satisfying and fun, but I'd be remiss to not point out some of the flaws. 

4 out of 5.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Crimson Peak review.

What is “goth”? Gothic films are draped in black lace, splattered with drops of blood, and wrapped in tight collars, bodices, and flowing fashions of gloom and a bygone day.  That’s easy enough to understand, but there’s so much more to it- it’s a style and a fashion and it speaks to a certain sort with poetry and music and things of a slightly strange nature. It’s “Hot Topic” at the mall and that’s just far too bourgeois to be truly Goth. So it’s vampire clubs and Depeche Mode until that becomes cliché and exhausting and then we look to Poe and Blackwood and maybe some Emily Bronte and so on so forth. The truth of the matter is that “goth” isn’t easy to define but very easy to identify- because it’s iconic and you know it when you see it.

Crimson Peak is a Goth Fan’s wet dream.

I don’t want to repeat what I’ve read and heard in other reviews and so I’m a little empty on how to approach the movie from here on out.  

This movie is a gothic love-letter to a kind of film we rarely get to see and it’s a virtual feast for the eyes when it is seen. Guillermo Del Toro (Pan’s Labrynth) returns to the “horror” genre with a story that doesn’t share so much with the modern “Paranormal Activity” sort of film, but brings back the ghost stories and creepy castle feel of far older films. This is not his first foray into the realm of ghosts and ghouls and things that go bump in the night, and his return has been well worth the wait.

This is the story of a troubled romance between a bookish young woman and an entitled Baronet with a sinister past. This is a story of scandal, violence, family, and an old rotting house on the top of an English peak. Del Toro’s film echoes the sentiment of The House of Usher, the Haunting, Rebecca, and the ghost stories of Algernon Blackwood- but delivers a razor’s edge of violence that simply cuts to the bone with stark visuals. Del Toro doesn’t just let you relax in the cold comfort of creeping spirits- he executes moments of violence that are stunning, brutal, and visceral in detail. When the first death comes it is so sudden and so brutal that it jars the senses.

It’s beautiful, haunting, and totally worth seeing this winter- which may be the only real drawback of the film. Released three weeks before Halloween, the film is much more of a winter’s ghost story and will likely not see the kind of box office it should have seen had it been released on the tail end of Halloween. So if this is the kind of film that interests you then I recommend catching it as soon as you can. It is also a finely tuned niche of a film- audiences who do not enjoy a gothic romance may find the film a little melodramatic at times. It’s a style of filming and acting that is not often seen in this day and age, but I found it refreshing.  

4 out of 5.

Monday, November 2, 2015

The Rocky Horror Show from the inside

Rocky Horror (From the Inside)

For the past few years I have written about my experiences in seeing The Rocky Horror Show as performed by the Paper Wing Theatre Company. I always wrote about my experience as a spectator. I always admired the way Koly McBride always seems to come up with new and innovative ways to bring the show to the Central Coast. I’ve long ago described the way Lj Brewer dominates and commands the stage in his portrayal of Frank N. Furter, how Heather Hahn simply charms her way into our hearts, the way Jourdain Barton haunts the stage as Magenta, and that both Nicholas Kelly and Jay Devine are stalwart professional in the face of shenanigans, and I’ve had no shortage of words to describe the energetic frenzy of Taylor Landess in performing Riff-raff. All of these performers returned this year- along with Dani Kutter reprising the title role with a comedic and tooth-glistening portrayal guaranteed to bring the house up.

But this year saw a few new faces in the main roles- including a split on the role of Columbia between actresses Taylor Young and Allison Smith on alternating evenings. We also had William Colligan in the role of Dr. Scott and Ralph Cordoza in the role of Eddie. Everyone did a fantastic job- but, of course, this is coming from the last Transylvanian to the Right of the ensemble! Yes, yours truly took a spot on the stage and so I am not going to write a review for this year so much as share the memories in a post will hopefully offer a little justified tribute to Paper Wing’s signature production and a farewell to Lj Brewer in the role of Frank N. Furter as he delivers a Swan Song run with the character he so richly embodied over the past ten years.

My own journey with the company started in 2011 where I first performed as an ensemble Transylvanian doing the Time Warp alongside an almost entirely different cast save for Brewer and Hahn in their respective roles. Barton alternated Trixie with a pair of other actresses and Nicholas Kelly performed as a Transylvanian or as understudy to actors with schedule conflicts. This was also the first time I would meet Monterey artist Cody Moore, who would also be dancing the Time Warp with me these four years later. Reminiscing over the past four years, it’s amazing to see the affect this company would have on me and the family I would become a part of. That’s a story for another day, if that story is ever even told- this is about Rocky Horror 2015.

My journey begins with a facebook text message from Heather Hahn and Koly McBride, asking me to join the new cast for Rocky Horror. As Halloween is normally a big family thing for me and mine I am often not able to perform- but this was something I needed and the wife agreed. I would come to learn that this was to be Lj’s last performance- and not only was I eager, but I was flat out HONORED to share the stage with these wonderful people. And I leapt in to rehearsal with as much energy as I could muster-

Choreography! Egads, I am not a light and nimble sort and I’m not exactly a “down at the club” sort of guy. Add to that the boundless energy and love of dance from our choreographer (Devin Adler), and I would crawl home with sore legs, tight muscles, and a hope that each day would bring an improvement for my physical well-being. This was an intense period filled with plenty of action- kicks, turns, and broad arm sweeps throughout Time Warp, Sweet T, and a very fun little shuffle during the Sword of Damocles. Devin was an inspired teacher and a warm-hearted guy who helped us all adapt.

 And then, from Opening onwards we tackled the show with a fury that wouldn’t be denied. Every performance meant something- Lj’s last run, the celebration of old friends, the wedding of the Theatre’s first Janet, the passing of a dear mentor, the passing of an old friend, the greeting of a new era, and it all culminated in the Farewell weekend for Lj Brewer. A farewell that brought me to tears and is just one of the many reasons I love this theatre so much.

Halloween Night saw something you won’t see in too many other places- Ron Moore stepped back in to the role of Eddie for one single performance. The shows usual Eddie (Ralph Cardozza) had done an amazing job, but he didn’t let ego get in the way of a beautiful moment when he stepped aside for one show and allowed the Theatre’s original Eddie to do his thing one more time alongside Lj Brewer and also beside Koly McBride, who would step in to play Trixie when schedule conflicts prevented the original actress from finishing the run. All three were responsible for the creation and growth of Paper Wing Theatre over the years- and it felt right to have the three on stage together one last time. 

Sunday, October 18, 2015

It Follows...

It Follows

Human sexuality is terrifying.

There are awkward years where you’re not certain about how you feel, where you’re afraid to express those emotions, where physical contact could mean anything and where we fumble around, get confused, and then there’s the possibility of so many ramifications; Pregnancy, Venereal disease, past relationships, and just flat out being used or being a user. “It Follows” is the result of a sexual encounter gone awry- an allegory for facing the consequences of sex and all the little horrors that could result. Only this film makes the “horror” for more personal.

Jay has a sexual encounter with a boy she’s only starting to get to know- only to find out that he’s really only using her to “pass on” the curse of a murderous entity that will stalk, follow, and eventually murder her unless she passes the curse to another. But even if she does pass the curse, the entity will return once it has done its business with the new carrier- a cycle that will continue indefinitely unless she and her friends can find some way to stop the creature.

There was a lot of hype around this movie when I finally sat down to give it a go- which may have played as a bit of a detriment for me as a viewer. I was so primed for the film that the slow methodical pacing had me clawing at my chair for something to happen- and when it happens, the movie absolutely delivers! We see the creature just out of the peripheral of the camera’s focus- a figure who takes on various forms as it slowly approaches our lead from behind. There are some weird angles being used here to show all of the characters in a given scene, yet it rarely focuses on more than one or two throughout the story. The acting is very good and there are some truly sympathetic characters to be found, even as Jay struggles with her decisions on whether to pass the curse on down or just face the creature on her own.

That’s all I’m going to say about the movie, detail-wise. And, honestly, the less you know about the film going in, I think the better your viewing experience is going to be. I think it’s a fun little ride and definitely a worthy entry into the horror genre- but my honest opinion is that it may be one of the ten best movies I’ve seen this past year, but it’s not at the top of the list.

4 out of 5; a strong rental

Pro-Wrestlers vs. Zombies

We already know what this is. The title says it all. We have zombies and a couple of low grade professional wrestling “celebrities” getting down and dirty in a bloody gruesome mess of a film that tries very hard. And I honestly wanted to love the film for the pure cheese and love that was obviously on display, but the film never really managed to rise above its many flaws. And, perhaps the biggest flaw, falls on the shoulders of professional wrestlers unwilling to really engage and commit to the project at hand. And that’s a real shame when it comes down to it.

Shane Douglas stars as “himself”, a wrestling villain who manages to snap the neck of an opponent in the ring and send him to his maker. The wrestler’s brother comes for revenge and sells his soul in order to raise the dead and lay a trap for Douglas and a small roster of mixed legends and Independent wrestling stars. And this is where the film finds its primary problem- Shane Douglas, as himself, is really just a parody of the Franchise character he used to bring ECW to prominence in the 90’s. But while he is good at playing the “character” in the ring, he never uses the film’s material to lend any depth to the villain he’s played for so long. He is largely a one note character and he is supposed to be one of the three primary stars of the film- it’s Shane that the zombies are targeting, it’s Shane who committed a murder in the middle of a ring, and it’s Shane whose family are used as Zombies (including a brother named “Troy”, which is ironic since Douglas real name is “Troy Martin”). But he never commits to the film, only to the character of The Franchise- and it hurts the film on the whole.

Matt Hardy and his girlfriend, Reby Sky, also step into the film as the “couple” who are always looking to hook up. And while they may have had a real life romance off the side, Hardy is atrocious on the screen and is not just an unlikeable character but he comes off as totally clueless when it comes to delivering lines. It was as though someone fed him the lines as the movie filmed with a constant look of nervous panic every time the camera would swing in his direction. Other “indie” wrestlers appear to focus on their gimmicks and ultimately get swarmed by zombies in order to pad out numbers. But with such a focus on gimmicks, they’re failing to live up to the potential of having wrestlers defend themselves against zombies.

Kurt Angle stops in for a cup of coffee and leads me to believe that he was doing someone a favor for a single afternoon. No big deal with that, but as one of the top names billed in the film I would have expected to at least see some sort of an arc for the man.

But where Shane Douglas and others fail, Roddy Piper succeeds- he’s been friends with Shane for years and he’s a true road Veteran who has seen it all and done it all. He knows that his buddy is a jerk but he attributes it to the gimmick and is a constant apologist for the other man’s behavior. Piper brings a full commitment to the film and plays it straight- You actually believe he’s present in the moment and that his friends are being slaughtered around him. He comes across as a protective father-figure and a man who wants to do good by the people in his life. There’s an emotional moment between him and fellow legend, Hacksaw Jim Duggan, that actually made me feel bad. Both men delivered what they needed to and had the film found a focus with them, rather than Douglas, I believe the movie could have worked so much better.

There are a few editing hiccups, the video quality isn’t the best, and the “jock rock” soundtrack runs a little against the mood at times. But the film doesn’t totally fail to accomplish the task at hand and a little more experience behind the camera may give the director a little more traction in years to come. And as one of Roddy Piper’s final performances, fans will honestly be moved by his character arc and quality he brings to a project as silly as this.

Truth be told, there are worse ways to spend an evening and love for wrestling is an absolute “must” in order to pick up on a number of references throughout the film.

2.5 out of 5. Weak Rental.

Lost After Dark

Billed as a “throwback” to the 1980’s slasher genre, “Lost at Dark” plays with the usual tropes and delivers a few interesting turns along the way. It is, at its core, a play on the Tarantino/Rodriguez-inspired “Grindhouse” double feature from a few years ago. With damaged footage, cut scenes, and the usual wear and tear seen throughout- the film pays homage to the horror flicks of the 80’s and strives to capture the look and feel throughout its’ runtime.

A group of High School friends decide to ditch the dance and drive out to a cabin in the woods, but never actually make it that far. They are pursued by their Gung-ho Vietnam Veteran vice-principle, played by Robert Patrick. The teens break down en route and try to find help from an old manor house they come across- there they come face to face with a cannibal wild man who brutally murders a number of the teens. The deaths are gory, there are some truly brutal scenes, and some tropes are played with in order to assault the audience expectations. Few moments are actually played for comedy, however- as the film does remain grounded in its sense of horror, though several moments do seem to have an ironic sense of humor to them. Robert Patrick, especially, is good in an “over the top” performance.

3.5, the film is better than I expected it to be and fairly enjoyable, but not a definite “must see” on the scale. If you’re a fan of slasher films and you enjoyed the lesser known backwood-killer movies, this is pretty much on par.

Furious 7

In the interest of full disclosure, I haven’t seen all of the Fast & Furious films to date. But the truth of the matter is that you can’t be a cinephile without at least hearing about the series and I have seen the first and second films in the action series. And, much like a great many other people, I was honestly moved by the stories of Paul Walker and how the film would address his very real death that took place shortly after principle photography wrapped and required use of a double and CGI for a number of shots that would feature the Fast and Furious star.

Furious 7 picks up right where the previous film left off- which is to say, I have no idea where I’m starting out except that some guy I don’t remember was killed by a character played by Jason Statham and that makes Dom (Vin Diesel) an unhappy camper. He and his “family”- this includes Paul Walker’s ex-cop character, Dom’s sister (now married to the ex-cop), Ludicris, and others I’m honestly too tired to remember all jamming into some cars and driving around to do stuff and miraculously survive. Somewhere along the way the Rock winds up in the hospital with a broken arm, Kurt Russell comes traipsing on in, and I’m fairly certain we’re about to have a visit from the cast of The Expendables at some point in time because that would actually make a lot of sense. There’s a computer program that tracks people, a hacker, some more cars, and a bunch of stuff that blows up along the way. And Dom doesn’t have friends, he’s got “Family”… so that’s what we’ve got developing here.

Look, I love stupid action films and this is really as stupid an action film as you are ever likely to get- The cast is fun, the dialogue is corny, and the stunts are all amazing. No one is surviving this stuff and Jason Statham is over the top as an egregious villain looking to kill Dom for having killed his brother in what I assume was a previous movie. And if there was ever a movie you didn’t want to know anything about, this is the one. I’m sure there are some great storyline purposes being driven home here, but the less I knew the more outlandish and ridiculous the movie seemed and that made it so much more worthwhile. I’m going to go back and watch them in reverse order just to see if the same experience could be had in successive numbers.

4.5 out of 5.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Green Inferno. A gory good time.

A word of warning: This movie is not for everyone. It's especially not for the faint of heart or the easily disturbed. Social Justice Warrior slacktivists beware! You will be mocked throughout this film and you will be indicted for the lazy-ass "occupy" "Kony" "spread the meme" bullshit that currently permeates this pathetic excuse for a society we currently live in. So if you are an easily offended little punk fuck-nugget who can't help but feel offended for the slightest perception of an insult, you may want to the avoid this film like the plague.

Eli Roth is back after a ten year hiatus from the Director's chair and returns with a cannibal jungle film that doesn't pull any punches on the gore. Green Inferno takes it's influence from Cannibal Holocaust, Cannibal Ferox, and other Italian shock films- so while there's nothing new here in the initial premise, the honest truth is that it's like nothing we are currently seeing in the horror genre these days. Every blood curdling moment is caught in daylight and played at for squeamish delight. 

The central plot of the film is that a bunch of college students make their way to Peru in order to organize a protest and protect the indigenous tribe threatened by greedy industrialists. The problem is that these kids are essentially idealistically driven fools driven by ill-conceived notions of saving the world. Justine (Lorenzo Izzo) joins the group after having been traumatized in a lecture about female genital mutilation and it just so happens that her father works for the U.N. and his answers fail to satisfy her desire to "do something". To make a long story short, their plane crashes in the middle of the Rain Forest and the teens encounter the very tribe they've come to help.

The film is going to draw a lot of criticism with the way Roth has chosen to portray the Natives- the tribe are cannibal head hunters who have no contact with the outside world. They're uncivilized, alien, and savage- a stereotype that's often been set in contrast with the Great White Hunter. Roth, however, sets another contrast here- The Great White Fool. The Tribe is brutal and unaware of the world around them, while the protesters are shown to be selfish, naive, and too "aware" and judgmental of the world they don't understand. And in that way, this horror film works as gory satire.

Regarding the violence:  KNB and Greg Nicotero have a gory great time with the blood, the mutilation, and the horror- but that's really only part of it. The truth is that the actors are very good and the first major death scene is downright haunting as the character's screams and crying increase, intensify, vary in pitch, and drag through a rough scene that ends another character commenting on the smell of the roasting flesh. This is a cruel film. But if you can take it, then I highly recommend it for the horror fans out there. But with one note- blood changes color as it dries and some characters are streaked with blood from the plane crash several hours later, and it looks as fresh as the moment of their crash. A little oversight, perhaps... or a creative choice. But worth noting.

4 out of 5.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Beach Blanket Burlesque at the Paper Wing Theatre.

I laughed my fucking ass off!

Wow- that was brief, huh?

Okay- I've been to a number of Paper Wing Burlesque shows and they always seem to knock it out of the park and I always have a great experience and this years Beach Blanket Show is no different and probably has the most cohesive story-line linking all the numbers together. It's a fairly traditional "Beach" plot, with Frankie (William Colligan) attempting to woo the lovely Dee Dee (Mindy Whitfield) and get her to "Surf" with him. Their romance faces a bit of opposition and the boys are preparing for a competition later in the show- both Colligan and Whitfield play well off one another and have fantastic comedic timing. Colligan cools it up with a fantastic turn toward the Elvis as he digs down to Memphis with a little bit of "Burnin' Love".  I've so often praised Miss Whitfield in this blog for her physical comedy that I might as well cut and paste at this point because I'm running out of adverbs- But she especially shines in her duet with the dastardly Horn Dog (Nicholas Kelly) as the two deliver a fantastic rendition of "Hot Toxic Love" from "Toxic Avenger: The Musical"!

And speaking of musical numbers- Kelly Machado reprises her performance from an earlier production when she tackles "Heart to Heart" and pretty much SLAMS it home to a rousing ovation. Roz returns for a second number that brings a little booty back. heh. Jason Stout delivers one of the most rousing songs of the evening and also one of the most surreal experiences local audiences will enjoy being a part of. Kate Faber's "Be Italian" number is deeply sensual and delivers a "bad girl" mood to the show. Nani Almanza (playing Miss America) makes a terrific stage debut with a rousing rendition of "California Sun" and is a fantastic dancer in a number of performances. And Yeah Guy (Chris Lopez) offers a strong vocal accompaniment to Moonlight Dancer's (Allison Smith) soulful dance number. 

Speaking of dancers- Scarlett Sinclair (Lucy Tran) delivers a much more traditional tease and captures the essence of Burlesque with her naughty grin and wicked wiggle. Sandy Shackup (Brittney Stane) is an enthusiastic member of the troupe and leads the chorus in a rousing ode to a certain bitty bit of clothing.

But, the number that truly took away my breath was most assuredly the decidedly family UNfriendly parody of "Part of Your World" by the Sexy Nerdmaid, Terri Dobbins. With dance accompaniment from others in the cast and an assortment of goodies that bring shocked expressions from Dee Dee, the Sexy Nerdmaid delivers a number that's sure to grab you by the skull and fuck your eardrum into hilarious submission. GREAT JOB!!!!

4 out of 5, see it if you can because it only runs for one more night at Paper Wing Theatre on Hoffman Avenue. Saturday, Sept. 12th, 2015. Be there or be [].

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Retro Reviews: Scream and Scream 3.

Retro Reviews:

This is not the first time Wes Craven attempted to challenge and rebuke the tropes of his genre- Wes Craven’s New Nightmare also attempted to use a meta-plot to push forth a similar narrative, but ultimately failed to achieve what it set out to do. And the mid-90’s was a place that had a definite lack of horror, most often attributed to the dot-com boom in the economy, the genre suffered from a number of lackluster blockbuster performances and a veritable sea of goofball clichés and direct-to-video failures.  Craven was eventually approached to tackle screenwriter Kevin (Dawsons Creek) Williamson ’s script, and the film became a huge commercial and critical success. It has, since, spawned three sequels, several parodies, and a series of knock-off attempts to follow this films “formula” in order to cash in.

I’m not a huge fan of the film and honestly was not very impressed with the 1996 offering, but stuck around long enough to check out the first sequel before tapping out for the other films. And it’s been well over a decade since I last saw any of the films, so I largely checked out on the franchise in general by the time the third film came out and barely registered the blip on my radar when the fourth film was released. But with the recent passing of Wes Craven and a recent discussion on my favorite podcast (, I thought it might be time to revisit some of the films from the series. Luckily, three of the films first  films are available on Netflix…

Also, beware- there may be some spoilers here if you haven’t seen the film.


The film opens with Drew Barrymore receiving a phone call. And I’m not going to lie, this is one of the most chilling openings to a horror movie ever made. Much of the success of the film depends on this scene, where Barrymore is harassed, pursued, and brutally murdered in the opening minutes of the picture. It’s a horrific scene that’s further escalated when the girls’ parents are just outside of earshot to hear her cries for help, but they’re able to hear her brutal murder when they pick up the phone. It’s a nasty scene and could have set the mood for the rest of the film-

Then we are introduced to Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell), a young girl coping with the recent murder of her mother one year prior. It was her eye-witness testimony that put away Cotton Whirry (Leiv Schreiber), and the sensational story brought her to the attention of Gail Weathers (Courtney Cox), a tabloid reporter. Sid is struggling with her loss and an insistent boyfriend, Billy (Skeet Ulrich). And she’s the main focal point for the rest of this picture when the killer starts to target her- harassing, taunting, attacking, and ultimately attempting to murder Sid and her friends. She’s a strong character with decent motivation, and her initial dismissal of horror tropes is well-played, even as she falls victim to one trope after another.

The film is very tongue-in-cheek in its approach to the horror genre, providing you with complete details of precisely what is happening at every point in the film and precisely why these tropes tend to work. It challenges several of them- the guilt of “sin” (drug use, sex, nudity) is directly referenced by our film geek “nerd” character, Randy (Jamie Kennedy). Why the trope doesn’t work anymore is obvious, but the film shows us precisely why the trope needed to be challenged in the first place. In a very “Penn&Teller”-esque way, the film tells us precisely what is going to happen every single step of the way, and we are constantly told what is going to scare us and when but the audience is expected to fall for every trick in the book anyway. And then we’re supposed to laugh at ourselves in falling for precisely what we’ve been told is going to happen.

Perhaps the most audacious scene takes place in the video store where a number of “facts” are revealed but quickly obscured in a deluge of “cute talk” designed to distract from everything we’re actually being told. It worked for many- it’s a well shot, well-acted scene with just enough humor to relieve the tension that’s being built in that one moment.

Where the film falls apart, for me, is in the characters themselves. The performances are a direct reflection of the characters presented on film- The “bad” girl, the insensitive “goof-off”, and the general atmosphere of teenagers present in the film is a direct reflection of the writers later work on “Dawson’s Creek” and other top WB-related Teen “Dramadies”. The characters are spoiled, entitled, arrogant little jerks who I have very little compassion for and ultimately couldn’t care less when each one faces their tragic end.  The dialogue is filled with “cute-talk” moments designed to make us remember “Oh, yeah, tha exists!” in a series of film references and in-jokes that the audience is expected to laugh along to or to feel as if they are “missing out” on. Wes Craven, himself, makes a cameo appearance as a Christmas sweater-wearing janitor named “Fred”… yeah, that happens. And when I don’t care what happens to the characters, I’m ultimately not caught up in the suspense that the film is attempting to create and therefore only left with the comedy- which is really just a series of reference points that would later become a genre in and of itself with the parody spin-off; “Scary Movie”.

The movie isn’t “awful”, though- it just failed to hit several marks for me, as a viewer. But, ultimately, the film tends to work far more than it fails and is a decent addition to the slasher genre. Considering the amount of money it made, one lone dissension in a sea of praise is probably not worth much in the long range of things- but this is my opinion.

3.5 and probably a must-see for horror purists looking to get a complete vocabulary of knowledge regarding the genre.


Having given up on the series after the first sequel (which I’m not going to review here), I decided to forego the third film in the planned trilogy and instead write letters to my favorite soap dish company in order to explain how much I love and enjoy their product. So, now that it’s 2015 and Wes Craven has passed and it’s being offered on Netflix, I figured- “what the heck, the company never wrote me back anyway” and decided to give Scream 3 a whirl. And so this is a review of the third film that has, so far, gone sight unseen.

Leiv Schreiber reprises  his role of Cotton Whirry from the first two films and becomes the first victim in what is likely the least impressive opening scene in the Scream franchise. It’s convoluted, overblown, and ultimately fails to really set the stage for anything that will even closely resemble a moment of suspense. And this is how the film pretty much goes from here on out, because now it’s going to be a trilogy and we have simply got to see how closely tied to horror franchises this film is going to be. This will include celebrity cameos from Jay and Silent Bob amongst others.

Okay- this film pulls a couple of interesting tricks, the most key amongst them being that they change the focus from Sidney Prescott and instead turn it on Deputy Dewey and Gail while they try to figure out who the killer is for this third installment. Sidney is relegated to the background through much of the film, a woman in hiding after the events of the first two films and someone who only really comes into the film when the Killer eventually taunts her out of hiding. The cast is joined by actors playing new roles in the “movie-within-the-movie” and a pair of cops, one of which is played by Patrick Dempsey (star of the Meatballs 3 movie). And this movie doesn’t even pretend to be a horror film at this point- the self referencing is way over the top, the deaths are cliché, and the Red Herrings go so far as to have a literal sign (“I KILLED HER!”) pointing at the most obvious choice so as to render that choice completely moot.

I did, however, have a full expectation that the “killer” would be two people- and in this I was wrong, though only half so much in that I guessed the identity (including the motive) of the killer within three minutes of having seen that character on the screen. Where the first film created moments of tension, horror, and an eventual release this film just wanted to be “clever” and completely fell apart for me within moments of the opening kill.

The film’s not a complete loss, however. Cox and Arquette have great chemistry in their scenes together and it was nice to see Dewey sort of take center stage for as long as he does. He’s a good cop, a good friend, and a good character that I was happy to see more of- it goes to show that David Arquette has a lot of charisma and can occasionally deliver a good performance. Their scenes of investigating the great “mystery” of the film are good to watch, even if the ending is fairly predictable.

2.5 out of 5.

Monday, August 17, 2015

MY BLOG, MY RULES, the mechanical fundamental bare bones structure of what guidelines I choose to follow... and that's just the title.


I don’t get paid for jack diddly squattle in typing my rambling thoughts to a blog on the interwebs. Scratch that- I do have an “ad-sense” that was supposed to monetize this thing a little bit and to date I have earned approximately 12 cents in the past five or six years; give or take. They won’t pay until I’ve reached a $10 limit at the very least so I never see a check on it. It just assures me that I have earned it and that it exists in the middle of cyberspace collecting dust. I’ve never received an award, I’ve never been offered a lucrative contract, and other than few random opportunities here and there I’ve never been offered much in the way of my thoughts on the various movies, plays, books, and wrestling shows that I’ve written about here. So when you read my “rules”, be aware that I’m as amateur as it gets and I’m not the guidepost for professionalism in this day and age. What I do know is that I will occasionally read a magazine, a newspaper, or the “official” website of an agency whose job it is to “review” any number of things and I am struck numb by how utterly useless these articles are in doing the job they are supposed to be doing.

So what is the purpose of a “review”? Some reviewers seem to believe that a “review” is simply telling someone the synopsis of the show and then saying whether it was good or not according to their opinion. Let me cut to the quick on that regard: An opinion doesn’t mean anything. Roger Ebert, who may be considered one of the greatest reviewers to ever live, is notoriously vitriolic regarding nearly any and all horror films and has lamented their complete lack of cultural value. He’s peppered all of his reviews of these films with his personal distaste while being completely ignorant to the target demographic of the film or whether the film was a good representation of the genre. In a word: if you read a Roger Ebert review and wondered whether a horror film would be worth your time, you would never ever get a fair review of that film. As far as I am concerned that makes him a bad reviewer. And far too many writers tasked with the subject of “reviewing” a film will take that route in their writing.

So I write my own reviews with my own set of rules. For my faceless readers who tell me that they trust my opinion, that they will see a show based on what I’ve written, or that they wonder why I have the criteria that I have; these are the rules I follow when I write and the things I ask myself in the editing process. I always write from the heart and I always try to be fair according to these rules. Without further ado: THE RULES!

1.      Review the Show you are seeing, not the show you want to see.
-         THIS is my most important rule above all others.

-         I see it all the time. A reviewer goes to see a play or a movie and they don’t like the subject matter. They don’t like the set because they hate the color brown or they think an actor is “too old” to play a role or they find a pet peeve in the show that sticks in their craw- whatever. Or they went to a show and they wanted to see Shakespeare and instead they got Sam Raimi. It is not my job to tell you about the show I wanted to see- it is my job to tell you about the show that I am seeing. If a theater decides to insert post-modern sensibilities into the tale of Romeo + Juliet, then did they do it well or was it a jumbled mess that confused everyone? If I watch “Evil Dead: The Musical”, did the actors pull it off and did the gore get the crowd excited and were the jokes hitting or is the blood not plentiful enough? My “taste” has nothing to do with what is being presented and I may not exactly BE the target audience… but the target audience may read what I am writing and I have to serve as a guidepost for whether they choose to bring their money to this product. It’s not fair of me to impart MY tastes on their decision. Only my interpretation of what is being delivered and what sensibilities I feel are being aimed for. Write about whether the show achieves what it sets out to do, nothing more and nothing less.
2.      Buy something.
-This may seem a little odd, but I honestly don’t believe that anyone has the right to say word one about a show or movie if they don’t put skin in the game. You might get a free offer to see a show, but while you are there you had better buy a concession item or two and you better not act as though you “deserve” a freebie just because you’re writing. Some people have told me that I deserve a free ticket because my writing helps to sell a show, but the truth is that I have nothing to write without the show to begin with. So I often buy my tickets- I support the arts when I can and the only time I even accept a freebie is when I simply can’t afford a ticket because I’m on a low a budget. And, even then, I occasionally scrape some funds together to see a movie or a play because I have a special interest in it. The added bonus is that I can say whatever the hell I want because I laid down some skin to watch it or see it or read it and that makes it, essentially, “mine” to do with as I choose. Buy something, for heaven’s sake.

3.      Don’t take notes during the show:
I really HATE it when I see people writing in a journal as they’re watching a show. They see something, they jot something, and they’re missing something else that’s happening. You want to keep it fresh, wait for intermission or set change or whatever- but don’t take a note in a book while you’re watching a show. You are MISSING something if you do. If you’re there in a “professional capacity”, then act like a professional and absorb the full experience before you start writing an opinion on something that might become further informed as the show progresses. I’ve read several reviews that have left me completely confused because the plot they describe is NOT the plot taking place on the stage, or  a line of dialogue is taken completely out of context solely because the writer glommed on to something and started to take a note rather than pay attention to the rest of the scene.

4.      Take a Program or Read the Credits:
This shouldn’t even need to be a rule, but here’s the thing: I’ve seen names misspelled, I’ve seen characters misidentified, and it’s annoying as hell. Even with the program, I occasionally make a mistake- but I always try to correct it in the editing. A Program for the play or the Credits of a film will often give you the most basic information you need to have in identifying who is involved with what. With the creation of IMDB, this is even easier for reviewing films because the names are there to do research on and see other projects the people are involved with.

5.      Identify and be specific-
-         I’m going to give an example of what I mean for this- I dislike James Cameron’s film “Avatar”. Not only do I dislike it on a personal level, but on a professional level as well- that doesn’t negate the fact that I realize it is an amazingly beautiful film with fantastic special effects. It doesn’t mean that I don’t acknowledge the action or that certain actors in the film do a good job of presenting the story. What it does mean is that I call out James Cameron for writing a near carbon copy script for “Dances with Wolves” and created such a generic and passé series of driving motivations that he literally chose to use the word “unobtainium” in order to describe his MacGuffin. I’m describing precisely what I did not like about the film, precisely where I found fault, and exactly why it didn’t work for me. But I also praised precisely what I thought was incredible and worthwhile for someone who WOULD like the film and that there is value in it.
-         Too many times these writers simply try to create an art form unto themselves in tearing apart something they don’t like. They offer zero credit to anyone or anything and the review becomes about them or about their cause. I don’t have to love everything, but there was hard work put into a production and the good stuff needs to be pointed out just as much (probably more) as the bad.
6.      DO NOT SPOIL:
-         There are ways to talk about a movie or film synopsis, to talk about specific performances, to talk about specific “moments” without spoiling the rest of the film. I’ve read a number of reviews where the writers just flat out tell you the whole of the story, including the twist ending and then stared at the article wondering if I should bother seeing the movie or show. What’s the point? It’s already been spoiled.
-         First off- these reviewers are occasionally wrong. They totally miss the point or they see something happening that is not happening. It’s confusing and you feel at a loss, but chances are more than likely they had their head down while taking notes and missed something. Don’t spoil the show.
-         Star Wars: A New Hope features the story of a young man who joins an elderly old warrior to help rescue a princess from the Galactic Empire- we need never read about the death of Luke’s Aunt and Uncle because that is a twist in the story, a dramatic moment that loses all impact the moment the audience is informed of it. Don’t talk about the twists in a review, don’t spoil the ending, and don’t spoil the show.
7.      Be fair: “It’s Personal- take responsibility for it.”
-         A review is always a personal interpretation of what the reviewer is watching, reading, or listening to. Not only that, but the art they are reviewing is a personal thing that is being created by someone(s) who is likely going to read those thoughts if they are published in any medium (even a lowly blog on the interwebs). As much as I may wish to say something “isn’t personal”, it is and I’m responsible for what I write. As such, I have a responsibility to the performers, writers, and producers to be fair in what I’m writing. To view their product on a level where, even if I don’t understand it, I’m being fair with it and I’m not letting my personal feelings interfere with an honest review. But that doesn’t mean “lie”- be honest and responsible for that honesty. If I don’t like something, I owe it to myself and my credibility to say that I didn’t like it and to explain why. If I do like something, I owe it to myself, my credibility, and any readers that what I am writing is worth their time.
8.      Keep a ratings scale:
-Thumbs up, thumbs down, that stuff doesn’t fly for me because there are so many levels to regard whether something is good or not. Here is an explanation of my own ratings scale and what each rating means.  I use a five point rating scale based on the Netflix *Star* program, mostly for ease of effort. Much of the scale is subjective and occasionally may seem inconsistent when set against my reviewing history.

Let me be blunt; I enjoy B movies, zombies, horror, bizarre comedy, and thrilling adventures… A family drama surrounding the personal problems of a daughter, son, mother, or father is not necessarily my cup of tea. It’s not something that cries out “Come see me!” and then sends me running to my piggy bank in hopes of cashing out- but they can be really good and really well done. On the other hand, something appeals to all of my senses but maybe came off a little oddly- something wasn’t perfect and it could have been any number of things, including my particular mood.

However much it counts, here is an explanation of my scale:

-5. This is something that moved me, thrilled me, and excited me and was everything I want out of a product on any given level. It’s almost entirely subjective since it does, actually, touch on my own personal interests: IE; “Army of Darkness” is as much a 5 movie as is “Casablanca” because they are both great examples of what they promise to be and want to be. I get just as much from one as I get from the other. To me, this is the best of the best of the best.

-4.5. This is a great product and touched on nearly everything I could want. However, there are a few flaws from a technical level or maybe some pacing moves a bit oddly. It’s not enough to detract from my general enjoyment, but it is worth noting.  *Note* The Star Wars movies are imperfect bits of joy and most of them collectively fall here for me- the writing is cheesy, the dialogue is stilted, and the acting is often mere mahogany, but there’s something special for me here and that’s all there is to it.

4. This is still a great product but may not necessarily be something that gave me everything I could want. Or it gave me everything I want, but isn’t necessarily a great product.

-3.5 This is good. Worth the money, worth the time and worth the bother. It’s not great, but I left with more smiles than frowns.  This is what I refer to as a “decent popcorn muncher”- you can sit back, have a good time, but it’s not really going to stick with me for too long afterward unless it’s something I’m particularly interested in. I might pick it up to own but I’m not going to go out of my way to buy it- in a live show, it means it was a decent few hours spent just lazing about with nothing particularly interesting to note from either a good or bad standpoint. It just sort of exists for me. *Note* While I hate the film Avatar, on a fair scale the film succeeds far more than it fails and it would fall here for my reviews- but a clearer view would be the Phantasm films, for me.

-3. This is the last rating in which something is actually considered “Good” for me and the scale slips down from there. This is the decent popcorn muncher that I’m not going to bother picking up unless it’s in a bargain bin, the matinee show that I’m going to watch in the cheapest way possible, or a performance that just doesn’t strike me as interesting. At the risk of sounding cruelly honest- I’m not seeing anything great enough or awesome enough to really grab my mind and keep me interested beyond a pleasant time-wasting experience. It’s still not bad, it’s just that middle of the road “smiling shrug” that I’m having a decent time. *Note: I’m pretty sure this is where I would have rated the latest Ninja Turtles Movie.

-2.5 Dull, but with a few interesting bits… maybe a half-decent performance, or an interesting couple of effects, or a nice tune- something kept it from totally and utterly sucking and it scraped the bottom of a 3 in regard to grabbing my attention. It’s not a solid recommendation, but if someone finds what I’m writing to be of interest to them then they may get something out of the movie, book, or show that I didn’t. *NOTE: This is where I’ve previously rated the movie PIXELS.

-2. Boring. Not only boring, but predictably boring and uninteresting. The performances might be decent, but the movie or the show is just plain boring. Nothing is happening, nothing ever happens, and nothing is ever going to happen because nothing matters. This is the quirky British snobbery of every Hugh Grant film made after “Lair of the White Wyrm” and often constitutes a 2-hour plus running time where nothing ever happens. It’s not gadawful enough to warrant hateful vitriol because nothing is ever going to happen in this movie. Ever.

1.5 The (.5) is usually because someone figured out how to use the camera appropriately sound was synched, people were acting, and there was a cohesive story to follow along. I’m normally yelling at my television. If I’m in a live theater I will sit there with a stunned, shocked, and horrified look on my face and will shake my head as I walk out. No one is going to be shocked when I write about what I saw and no one is going to be confused. I /will/ be specific and I will start to call people out for wasting my time. I’m cruel like that.

1.      This is the holy grail of awfulness- this is Birdemic, this is Manos, this is the place where bad things will not be allowed to exist in a vacuum unto themselves. I want to hurt these movies when I see them and I want to make fun of them, mock them, and drag them through a thesaurus of bad adverbs in order to make my point. This is the bottom of the barrel.

0: This is rare- but there are those special gems where things are so utterly awful that they don’t even deserve mocking. They deserve nothing. I’m done… just done.