Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Rogue One and Yoga Hosers

Rogue One: A Star Wars Tale

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…

George Lucas created a cultural phenomenon with Star Wars, later retitled “Episode IV, A New Hope” and shaped the lives of young fans and film makers for decades to come- the children of those movies (people who were lost in the adventures of Luke Skywalker, Obi Wan Kenobi, and Princess Leia) are now adults and artists and film makers who grew up with games of their own and stories of their own and adventures of their own. All of these stories were given birth in the Star Wars Universe, where Jedi fought with lightsabers and space pirates ran Imperial blockades while a desperate band of rebels struggled against tyranny. And while the Episodes continue, Disney’s purchase of the Star Wars franchise also brings us a series of new anthology stories… movies just off to the side of the primary source films that continue to follow the adventures of the Skywalker family.

Rogue One is not, actually, the first film to step off to the side in the development of an expanded Star Wars universe- George Lucas’ production team also brought a few Ewok films to life in the 80’s. He also brought the Clone Wars and Star Wars Rebels cartoon series to life. But this is the first film under the Disney umbrella and the first real attempt to expand Star Wars cinematic scope- and it’s a Star Wars geek’s dreams come to life.

This is the Dirty Dozen of the Star Wars universe- a group of outlaws, spies, and saboteurs are on a mission to retrieve the Death Star’s lead science officer (played by Mads Mikkelson) and gain information on the Empire’s Secret Weapon- but things are far more dire than anyone realizes and it may be too late to prevent the creation of the weapon itself. The galaxy is torn apart by war and darkness and this is the darkest story in the Star Wars canon- a story of desperation and hope. Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) is the daughter of that science officer, a girl raised in the desperate years of struggle against the Empire and an outlaw in her own right. She is recruited by a rebel spy and assassin, Captain Cassian (Diego Luna) to track down her father. They are joined by turncoat Imperial Pilot (Riz Ahmed), two temple guardians (Donnie Yen, Jiang Wen), and a reprogrammed Imperial Droid named K-2SO (Alan Tudyk, in a scene stealing performance).  

Let me get this out of the way- PETER CUSHING!!! I could not believe it when Gran Moff Tarkin turned and revealed the face of Peter Cushing, the original actor who had played the signature Star Wars villain from the first film- the very man who held Vader’s leash. To be honest, I expected some sort of a cameo- I knew I should expect Darth Vader (And no, you’re not REALLY expecting Vader to be like this… WOW!) but the truth is that I didn’t expect him to speak or even PERFORM for that matter. But Peter Cushing is one of the primary villains of Rogue One- he doesn’t just appear in a cameo, he is a driving force behind the film and appears in a number of scenes. This is some serious necromantic movie magic at play here!

9 out of 10. Must see in the theater, must buy for Star Wars fans.

Yoga Hosers

For those who don’t know, this is Kevin Smith’s latest cinematic venture into his True North Anthology. It’s currently planned as a trilogy, but one never knows where his Canadian fixation may lead him. The films are only slightly interconnected, and Smith immediately let’s the audience know that the tone of this film will be vastly different from the one set by the first film in his series. While both films feature horror elements, Yoga Hosers is a much stronger return to his comedic roots and bears strong similarities to his earlier work.

This film sees the return of Guy LaPointe (Johnny Depp) and the Colleens (Harley Quinn Smith and Lily Rose Depp) from Tusk. The two convenience store clerk teens are a best friend “pair” with a band and a reputation after being featured in the rescue of the Human Walrus experiment from the first film. Sarcastic, irreverent and dismissive of the world around them, the Colleens are super excited to be invited to a senior party when they’re plans come crashing down in a series of mishaps that uncover a secret underground Nazi experiment beneath their store. LaPointe returns to aid the girls when his investigation into a string of grisly murders brings him back to their store. There is obviously a lot of raw talent in the Colleens, who are carrying the majority of the film on their own backs. They overshadow the strange LaPointe at every turn and deliver fine performances on their own.

This isn’t really a “horror” film by any stretch of the imagination. In point of fact, this is a very odd film that sort of defies the ease of genre classification… but let me take you back to the mid-to-late 80’s and the local video stores stock of obscure titles: Munchies, Ghoulies, Critters, and a number of other low budget films- quirky “light-horror” films with less of an eye toward scares and much more of an eye toward a few thrills and low brow humor. That’s what this film is and in that regard it hits the mark. Smith wrote and shot a film that would appeal to the preteen kids and it should be measured as such… so with that in mind, the film is often silly, a little stupid, and incredibly crass.

But the film is also an endearing and affectionate homage to those films.

The film isn’t going to appeal to a majority of viewers, but I was entertained throughout and found myself feeling kind of happy when all was said and done. There were a few laugh out loud moments, some gross outs, and an impressive monster suit.

Unfortunately, whether budget constraints or a lack of shooting time prevented it; Smith’s lighting choices were not done very well in showing off the suit itself. Instead of looking like the gross and disgusting assortment of rotting meat that it was, the suit looked like precisely what it was- foam rubber and latex.

5.5 out of 10 and a low priority rental.

Monday, December 12, 2016

Moana and 31... yeah, that's a weird combo.


If this is the last movie I see for 2016, then 2016 will at least end on one high note as “Moana” is an absolute triumph in animated storytelling for the Disney Princess tradition. Set in the Pacific Islands, we open the story as the demi-god “Maui” has long ago stolen the heart from the Goddess; Tala. With his theft, a darkness is spreading and it is said that one day a hero will sail beyond the barrier reef and will force Maui to return the heart of creation. The Chieftains daughter, Moana, dreams of life on the ocean even as the responsibilities for the village leadership will eventually fall to her shoulders. She eventually starts on her journey and meets a far different Maui than the one she imagined.

The story is a simple hero quest with unlikely heroes, obstacles, villains, and a soundtrack fearing music from “Hamilton” creator, Lin Manuel Miranda. And it’s beautiful- the lush colors are like nothing I’ve seen in many previoius Disney productions, the animation capturing a look that is at once familiar and strange with an eye toward cultural heritage and respect. Dwayne “the Rock” Johnson is spectacularly cast as Maui, an arrogant demi-god whose actions have had unintended consequences. Johnson is at his best despite only being a voice on the screen, perfectly capturing the humor and occasional pathos of a character driven by very human motivations. But while Johnson features heavily in the story, the soul and drive is entirely on Auli’I Cravalho in the title role. Her arc as a hero is wonderful to watch as she goes from uncertain girl to the woman that she needs to be in order to try and save her people.

Sea monsters, storms, volcanos and angry gods stand between Moana and her quest. Don’t let this film pass you by in the theater. You will laugh, cry, and feel everything you’re supposed to feel and this is the way movies should work.

10 out of 10 and a definite BUY! See it in the theater.


Rob Zombie released his latest film in select theaters through a Fathom event during the month of October. Events conspired to rob me of the opportunity to catch this film at that time. So I bit my lip and waited- biding my time. One month later and it’s streaming exclusively on the new Horror-Themed streaming service, “Shudder”. The time had come and I settled down for a night of blood curdling horror and psychotic clowns hunting people-

Set in the late 70’s, “31” tells the story of five unlikeable carnival workers who are kidnapped and forced to participate in a “Deadliest Game”-style murder game that is described as “31”. Throughout the course of the evening they will be chased around by psychotic clowns with a “head” themed name; IE Death Head, Doom Head, Sex Head, et al.. Malcolm McDowell plays a man who instructs the contestants as to the rules and introduces each “Head” as they appear in the film. Then there’s death, carnage, blood, and quite a bit of gore- unfortunately, it also features tone deaf dialogue dialed up to ten with foul language, obscenities, and shouting to the point where the film loses any sort of impact roughly one quarter of the way through. And the film also tends to retread previous Zombie material, but not quite as refined or as stylized as his first two films.

In total, the film isn’t a complete waste of time but it’s not going to be high on my “best of” list- there are a few decent kills and one chilling scene that almost lives up to the hype. The problem is that the material is unable to sustain itself and the movie screams itself hoarse before it’s unsatisfying conclusion.

5 out of 10, and a mid-priority rental.

Monday, November 7, 2016

As You Like It, well I liked it. =)

As You Like It

I always feel awkward when I give the premise of a play by William Shakespeare- they’re often a little convoluted and I’m always missing something. But here it goes: The Duke Senior is banished to the Forest of Arden by Her (Alternative gender casting Sherry Kefalas) villainous brother and current Duke; Frederick (Thomas Tribolet). The rightful Duke’s daughter, Rosalind (Gracie Balistreri) is allowed to remain because of her close friendship with Frederick’s daughter; Celia (Natara Denga). Meanwhile, the restless Orlando (Roland Shorter) bristles under the dominating influence of his elder Sister, Oliver (Persis Tomingas). It isn’t long before several characters flee or are sent to Arden where they find adventure, opportunity, and Love.

MPC’s adaptation takes several bold choices in presenting Shakespeare’s play- obviously, there are multiple gender switches within the cast itself and the play is also set in a much more “modern” period. The Forests of Arden are a computer generated wilderness designed like Minecraft and there are multiple references to pop culture and social media. To that end, the set is incredibly simple and beautiful, a lush set of colors and blocks that allow the cast to change the world to fit their needs.

Many of Shakespeare’s most famous speeches come from this play (“All the World’s a stage”, “I saw a fool”, etc.) and are spoken by the coarse Jaques. Matthew T. Pavellas delivers an inspired performance with an intense stare and almost serpentine movements. He is one part Jack Sparrow and an equal part Toshiro Mifune’s “Yojimbo” as he moves across the stage, questions the characters motivations, and counters their humor with morbid churlishness. And he is brilliantly countered (Quite literally in one scene reminiscent of the Marx Brothers) by Rosalind’s friend and “Fool”, Touchstone. Chris McElwain brings great physical comedy and distinct mannerisms to his performance and plays a great philosophical counter to the serious “love” practiced by several of the other characters. His own relationship with Audrey (Lauren Hoelscher, bold and lusty in her portrayal of the rural country girl) is filled with suggestive innuendo and slapstick physicality.

But the primary story surrounds the play’s heroine, Rosalind. It’s her love for Orlando and her friendship with Celia that drives the story forward, leading her to take up a disguise as a young boy. Shakespeare is known for his “woman in disguise” characters, and Rosalind is among one of the best. Gracie Balistreri kicks some serious fucking ass in her performance! It’s hard to be eloquent when someone just knocks you on your ass and leaves you gasping for air. That’s what she’s done in this role and she is quickly becoming a favorite performer here on the Central Coast.

So, yeah- this is a really great play and I enjoyed myself immensely.


While the set, the performances, music, and story were all really well done I did have one small stitch to the nitpicking nagging attention to detail in the back of my brain. And this, of course, is the “Pro-Wrestling Fight Choreography” in one particular scene. With regard to the flow of the show, the fight itself is well intentioned. But as a fan of pro-wrestling, this was a situation where it feels like few involved took the time to really consider what they were doing. There’s a reason that people “don’t try this at home”… and with each loose tumble and rush forward, I was honestly worried that the performers were going to seriously hurt one another. And not in the way I should be worried. But this is a detail that may be more particular to me than to others.

All in all, the show is a solid 9 out of 10.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Repo! The Next Chapter... (And this marks six years of Paper Wing Shows)

On October 9th, 2010: My love for "The Genetic Opera" is certainly no secret. It was one of the most anticipated movies of the year for me when it came out, I drove well over two hours and into the heart of Berkeley in order to catch it on opening weekend, and it's become a staple diet of cinema to share with friends. My wife and I both consider it one of our favorite adventures and even she, who is not a fan of gore, enjoys the music and spectacle of the opera. So I kind of jumped a little for joy when the local Paper Wing Theater decided to run a live performance... These were the words that started me on a journey into the world of stage performances. And while I have repeatedly reviewed Paper Wing reprisals for The Rocky Horror Show, this play has always remained one of the three performances that have hit me the hardest. And, in the spirit of full disclosure- there was a part of me that didn't want to see the show again. You see, I had these memories and they were amazing and wonderful and I know how hard it is to capture lightning in a bottle twice. So much has shifted and changed in the theater and in the community and within the Paper Wing Family itself... but while that small part of me had a bit of nervous-nelly fear, there was a larger part of me that was eager to hear LJ Brewer once again become the monster. The Repo Man.

Brewer has an amazing voice, as always. And he has to carry much of the emotional weight of the show on his shoulders- a man torn by duality between the loving father and the maniacal surgeon. He is soft and gentle in one paternal breath, but there is a gleeful madness in the next. Brewer plays the role with sadistic energy and delivers a thrilling rendition of "Thankless Job" to the glee of the bloodthirsty audience in attendance. The emotional beats of the plays duet finale with Shiloh are heart-wrenching and Tiffany Jones tackles her own character with a rebellious anger that made her a force to be reckoned with. This angry Shiloh brings the audience into her world and brings righteous fury to the revelations that surround her life.

One of these revelations being the connection between her mother and Geneco spokeswoman, Blind Mag. Mag (Mindy Whitfield) prepares to leave the employ of Geneco, and sees an opportunity to make up for her past mistakes and help the daughter of a dear friend. Whitfield is haunting and mesmerizing during her rendition of Chromaggia, the most traditionally operatic of the songs in the show. 

Shiloh and Nathan are trapped within the machinations of Geneco and the Largo Family, led by patriarch Rotti Largo. Nicholas Kelly CONQUERS this role! I want to write like paragraph after paragraph about how powerful this man is as a performer, but the truth is that it would all be redundant. Kelly just fucking CONQUERS the stage. As for the rest of the Largo family: Cody Moore delivers a gleefully decadent performance as Pavi (Everyone loves him), Taylor Landess is all in as a brutal Luigi, while Sara Mar Don primps and preens as the pampered surgery princess daughter, Amber Sweet.

The story unfolds with the help of Graverobber, an audience narrator and occasional guide for Shiloh. Played with mischievous energy by Jordan Brewer, Graverobber introduces the audience to various components of the world in which Geneco exists even while collecting and dealing illegal Zydrate to a culture of addicts that have sprung up in the wake of Organ Transplants. He's a monster of a different stripe and it's hard to tell if he truly wants to help Shiloh or simply lead her down a primrose path to self destruction.

Reserve your seats now because Repo! The Genetic Opera plays for only one more weekend with two additional shows on Halloween night. I'll be going again, that's for sure.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Monday, October 17, 2016

Scherzo Diabolico: Horror from south of th border.

Scherzo Diabolico

He’s a pretty mild mannered guy. He’s an accountant with a wife and son. He’s one of the most trusted men in the office. He’s also stalking a teenage girl and is going through a step-by-step plan to kidnap her. Why? That would be spoiling things. Who is she? So far as we know she is just a teenage girl. So how can I describe this film? That’s the trouble- there aren’t many ways to describe this film that doesn’t spoil things. So keep on reading as I try to navigate the rough and winding road through this psychotic little tarnished gem of a film- and then throw it on your Netflix Queue because this one is going to leave you shocked and numb.

This little import from Mexico is an intense psychological thriller that gets downright gruesome toward the end. It left me somewhat numb at the end- sort of buzzing with a bunch of mixed feelings. Aram, the lead character, is not a good man by any stretch of the imagination. He is planning something horrible. It isn’t entirely clear that his plan is all that necessary for him to achieve his goal. What he does and how it spirals through the rest of the story is a dark stain that creeps into the viewer and leaves them wondering where everything is going to go. And then there are the scenes with his victim- watching her struggle against her bonds and seeing her trapped within an abandoned warehouse where he’s holding her captive through most of the film. And he leaves her alone through most of that.

This isn’t a straight forward film that delivers it’s major points right off the bat- it slowly unwraps and exposes a dark and bloody center which will leave the viewer scarred. Director , does a fantastic job of crafting a tense thriller throughout the first two thirds of the film- but it's the final third of the film where the film turns itself on a screw. The film is reminiscent of some Korean thrillers over the years but develops a personality all its own. The very last frame of the film left my heart beating in an uncomfortable rhythm and I felt hollow to my core. I wanted to cry- and I felt a sort of shame and fear. As an emotional roller coaster, Scherzo Diabolico works and delivers one heart pounding smash after another.

However, there are some clear plot holes and some of the contrivances never really seem to work as anything more than a thing of convenience to move the story along. Few characters ever really earn our compassion and the lead is never meant to be a likeable person.

8 out of 10.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Greasy Strangler, Phantasm Ravager, and a Top Ten of Carpenter list.

The Greasy Strangler:

I won’t be the same person I was the moment before I sat down to watch “the Greasy Strangler”- there are some incidents that can irrevocably change the nature and soul of a man. I count this film among those moments and incidents. And, God help me; I cannot say that this is a “bad” film- because it neither wasted my time nor did it lose my attention. So I cannot warn you to stay away- in fact, I’m probably going to do the opposite. I’m probably going to wind up encouraging you, dear faceless reader, to bear witness and experience precisely what it is that has left such an indelible mark upon my immortal soul. What I can do is give you my reaction to the film- and to do that, we have to tell a little story.

Two of my theatre friends decided that we should all check out this bugnuts film at our local Art House Theater- It looked something like an early John  Waters meets Aqua Teen Hunger Force type of film to me, and the trailer somehow caught the attention of both my friends and so the plan was set. We would land in the Osio and we would watch this thing- whatever this thing wound up being- and we would share in the experience. And then we sat there through the credits and we stared at the screen until one of us eventually broke the silence; “What the fuck was that?” my friend Koly asked, an odd smile on her face. Ralph and I fumbled in our own heads and we sought meaning to everything we had just witnessed- I am still sort of stumbling around in my own head, trying to figure it all out.

We laughed throughout the film and we were caught up in the experience. None of us could declare this was a bad movie. None of us could really say it was great. None of us could really lay claim to understanding it, either. And when a fourth friend sent a text to ask how it was, Ralph could only reply with “I don’t know”. And we talked about the film- we tried to figure this out. We were three reasonably intelligent people- three artists who regularly read and decipher scripts for translation to the stage. We’re also not entirely certain we did miss the point of the film. The truth is that we just don’t know for certain. Ralph’s best guess was “The duality of man”- don’t ask me because I’m stuck on the greasy melon. I haven’t seen either friend since we parted ways and I worry for the wellness of their minds at this moment but I must save myself. May divine spirits have mercy on our souls.

This movie, however, offered no such mercy. The creators of “The Greasy Strangler” give us a simple story about a father and son competing for the affection of a woman. Throughout their town, people are being killed by a mysterious serial killer covered in Kitchen Grease. Hilarity ensues? I think? Eye-balls pop, body parts are cut off, some parts are eaten, there’s naked genitalia all over the screen, and there’s grease. There is a lot of grease. And the film is an absurdist nightmare with ugly, awful, and disgusting moments all caught on video and burned indelibly into my cornea. There are sounds that echo in my ear that I can’t stop remembering. And someone says “I am the Tarzan of a cum jungle.” And that’s what we’re dealing with, here.

7 and a must see for fans of bizarre cinema.

Phantasm: Ravager

The ball is back!

This here is the fifth and absolutely final film in the Phantasm franchise and brings back almost all the star players for a curtain call. With the passing of Angus Scrimm (The Tall Man villain of the film) earlier this year, the film is almost over shadowed with a sense of loss and regret. And the films thematic explorations reflect this tone as we find Reggie stumbling back out of the desert where he’s been lost the past several years. He’s been fighting the Tall Man, tracking his friend Mike through dimensional portals, and then we flash to where Reggie has spent the past several months or years while suffering through dementia. Mike is at his side and visiting, reminiscing, and also quite interested in hearing about this “Tall Man” story. And then we flash through other stories, other worlds, where Reggie is at once a hero, a victim, a savior, and a partner- and we continue to explore the first film’s themes of loss and death. Or is it all just a dream? Or it is all really happening?

A landmark franchise, Phantasm has never had the popularity of a Slasher film or the traditional monster movies but it has maintained a core audience through every film in the series. Don Coscarelli allowed his original story to be changed a little and continued through the eyes of a new director, David Hartman. The two co-wrote the script and we get a lot of Coscarelli’s visual style throughout with some new tricks along the way. And through it all, Phantasm remains the mystery it was always meant to be- a film that the audience makes rather than a film that tells them what they should be thinking. Because this all could be a dream. This all could really be happening. Reggie could be dying in a hospital bed or he could be writing a song for some pretty young lady. The film is open to interpretation and I’ve always enjoyed that about the film.

The movie answered every lingering question I ever had about the franchise to my satisfaction. It hit all the right emotional notes and it gave us a couple of endings to the journey of Reggie, Mike, and Jody. I highly recommend the film for Phans of the original, but be warned that some deep things are going to be explore here and it’s good idea to walk in with an open mind.

7.5 out of 10.


So, I started my 31 Days of Horror and decided to watch a couple of John Carpenter films. This little piece will not be a review of each Carpenter film I saw but rather a ranked listing of my top ten John Carpenter films. So, if you enjoy lists and want to see where YOUR favorite Carpenter film falls then give it a look through.

10. Vampires: James Woods as a foul-mouthed crusader hunting vampires in the desert. An underrated gem from the Carpenter legacy and probably one of the last “fun” projects that Carpenter had a chance to work on. It feels more Carpenter-esque than his later full length films.

9. Christine – based on the novel by Stephen King, a car possesses a teen and they form a dangerous bond of obsession.

8. They Live: Aliens have infiltrated and taken over society, enslaving mankind.

7. In The Mouth of Madness: A detective is sent to track down a reclusive writer whose works may be a doorway to another dimension.

6. The Fog: Vengeful ghosts return to wreak vengeance on a small coastal town.

5. Prince of Darkness: An ancient evil wakes up and it's up to a team of scientists and a priest to unlock the mysteries of the anti-god before destruction is set loose upon the world.

4. Big Trouble in Little China: A truck driver dives into the dangerous world of Far East mysticism and helps an old friend find his kidnapped fiancee.

3. Escape from New York: A battered veteran criminal has to rescue the President from the prison island of New York City.

2. The Thing-An alien attempts to devour and replicate an Antarctic Research team.

1. Halloween-A masked killer goes on a murder spree, terrorizing a group of teen age babysitters.

Saturday, October 1, 2016

#deadserioushorror For the Horror Movie Podcast!

The following Video was taken this past summer at the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk. My favorite podcast to listen to is the Horror Movie Podcast, hosted by Jay of the Dead, Wolfman Josh, and the doctor of shock-a-nomics, Dr. Shock Dave Becker. And just following it, they sent out a challenge and I haven't had a chance to take a new video since... but here it is to qualify for entry in this years #deadserioushorror on the TWITTER!!!


Wednesday, September 28, 2016

31 Day Horror Challenge!

31 Day Horror Challenge

An annual tradition for many horror enthusiasts, I've decided to create a schedule for myself- the card is, of course, subject to change. But here it is... the Calendar schedule for 2016's Horror Challenge. 31 days and 31 movies... actually, 36 since I will be pulling a double feature on Saturdays. Woot woot!  

1.      NOES
Double Feat.
1 &2
2 Italian Horror.
City of the Living Dead
*update +Blood Punch
3 Carpenter Week:
The Fog
4 Carpenter Week:
5 *Update
Army of Darkness
6 Carpenter Week: Prince of Darkness
7 Carpenter Week:
The Thing
8 *Update
Phantasm: Ravager

Double feat.
The Greasy Strangler
10. Part 2:

Hatchet 2
11 Part 2 week;
Shin Godzilla

13 Pt 2
 Evil Dead 2
14 Part 2 week.
Halloween 2
F13 + Curse of Frankenstein.
16 Mexican Horror:
Scherzo Diabolico
17 Slasher
18 Slasher
The Mutilator
19 Slasher
20 Slasher
21 Slasher
Leslie Vernon
22 Lovecraft double Feature:
Re-animator / Dunwich Horror
Werewolf vs. Vampire Woman
24. Classic:
25 Classic:
Bride of Frankenstein
26 Classics
27 Classics
Creature Black Lagoon
28 Classics
Abbot & Costello meet…
29 VAMPIRE double Feature:
Let Me In & 30 Days of Night.
Dead Snow

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Train the Busan and Kubo And the Two Strings.

Train to Busan

I never thought I would get to a point where I am writing about how tired I am of the Zombie film- it’s a fad that has sort of hit a downward slide and overexposure is leading to burn out on the creature as a viable threat in horror films. So, despite rave reviews, I didn’t see much point in checking out Train to Busan- except the reviews got louder and the  raving almost became a mantra and this year has seen a bizarre dirge in horror film-making. So when I caught an opportunity to catch the train, I hopped on board and figured it couldn’t be an awful ride. So let me get to the quick of it-

On the early morning of her birthday, a young girl is accompanied to Busan by her work-a-holic father who rarely seems to have time to be a father. The train has several notable characters- including an expecting husband and wife couple, a homeless man, a high school baseball team and their friends, the COO of a major corporation, two aging sisters, and a partridge in a pair tree. (joke) But in all seriousness, the characters find themselves trapped on the train when the virus breaks out and it almost immediately begins to devour occupants of the train itself. Our zombies are World War Z speed monkeys and they swarm with a feral hunger. Victims don’t linger in the film- they’re turn isn’t quite the eleven seconds of WWZ, but it doesn’t take very long at all for the virus to take effect. And combining elements of a disaster film with the swarming threat of the undead works as a fulcrum in which to tell other stories- Train to Busan utilizes the threat as a metaphor to tackle issues of parenthood, class warfare, desperation, sacrifice, and how civilized people behave when the threat is suddenly very real and very present. Train to Busan shares much more in common with “The Poseidon Adventure” than it does with “Night of the Living Dead” .

Visually, the film is absolutely stunning and delivers some truly creepy scares. The film also takes place in the daytime, so this is horror in the day-  the light, in fact, may be a greater danger than anything the shadows may hide. The film plays a little with an occasional stereotype, but no one in the film behaves in a manner that is truly nonsensical- mistakes are made and they are organic to the story. The zombie swarms are impressive, especially in one key moment where separate crowds of the nasties collide and pile over like a giant wave.

8.5 out of 10. 

Kubo and the Two Strings

The people responsible for Coraline and Para-Norman (LAIKA) are back once again with this stop motion feature featuring Charlize Theron and an almost unrecognizable Matthew McConaughey. Art Parkinson lends his voice to the titular character, a boy hiding from his god-like grandfather, the King of the Moon (Ralph Fiennes). He makes his way through the world by telling stories with his magical shamisen and an extraordinary ability with paper. “If you must blink, do it now. Pay careful attention to everything you see no matter how unusual it may seem. If you look away, even for an instant, then our hero will surely perish.” These are the opening words to the film and they are as true as they are captivating- Kubo faces monsters, demons, and his own uncertainty in a traditional hero quest that his him seeking the instruments for his success.

Like LAIKA’s previous entries, this film is rich with imagery and story. So rich that it’s hard to discuss without spoiling a vast majority of the film- suffice to say that Kubo’s allies include a toy monkey brought to life through magic and a cursed samurai given the body of a beetle. Each of them is on a quest of their own, aiding Kubo along the way in unique ways and allowing Kubo to grow as a character and person. It’s at once heartbreaking and uplifting. Much like Para-Norman, the film tends to defy genre simplicity and spends less time referencing pop-culture than many “children’s” films in this day and age. Save for one cameo, the film relies on its own world-building for the humor and explores a Eastern story motifs with family, loss, tradition, and humanity.

9 out of 10.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Don't Breathe!

Don’t Breathe

When a trio of teens decide to target a blind Gulf War veteran, they get much more than they bargained for when the man wakes up and subjects the burglars to a savage funhouse of horrors. Fede Alvarez (Evil Dead remake) sits at the helm and uses every trick you come to expect while pushing the envelope a few steps beyond for some truly twisted bits of terror. Our three burglars are struggling kids who are trying to break free from their poverty-stricken Ohio slums. A “hot tip” leads them to the home of our Blind Vet, whose name we never learn. He is played by genre vet, Stephen Lang (Avatar). Having lost his daughter to a car accident some time previous, the man is living off a settlement with the driver’s family. The teens quickly find themselves trapped within the house and discover more locked doors than they’re expecting. Jane Levy (Evil Dead remake) and Dylan Minnette are cast in the lead roles of Rocky and Alex- Levy all but unrecognizable from her role in Alvarez’s previous film. Both are fairly standard character actors who really don’t stand out too much.

So I was sitting in a pretty loud theater with a bunch of teenage boys who were trying to make themselves feel tough by scaring their girlfriends with inopportune “jumps” every few moments- all of which came to a head when one teen sitting in front of me declared “Wait… he’s blind?!?!!” after over an hour into the film and several moments where they specifically state the character was blind. Despite this interesting audience, I still found the film tense and that it worked well where it intended to work. Still, most of the film seemed to be a fairly “paint-by-numbers” affair with the traditional beats getting struck here and there.
And then the third act began.

And the film went from tense to downright terrifying, disgusting, and horrifying in a way that I didn’t expect from a wide release film. I felt my dinner gurgle up and threaten to leak out my throat, a little bit of that bile burn deep down in the back of the tonsils. The film ups the ante and our nerves get raked across an acre of broken glass. Our Blind Vet goes from tough as nails hardcore to sadistic monster in a steady progression that suddenly dips into the deep end of crazy town. The violence, both physical and mental, really ramps up in the final moments of the film.

7.5 and a strong recommendation.

Friday, August 12, 2016

Suicide Squad

Suicide Squad

Task Force X is a highly secretive government program that allows DC Meta-Human criminals to work years off their sentences. Masterminded by Amanda Waller, the Task Force is led by an Elite Forces soldier named “Flagg” and each of the criminals are implanted with a tracking chip in their skull. Either Waller or Flagg are fully capable of arming the chips to explode. That’s the basic premise of the comic book and that’s the basic premise for the film in a nutshell.

As the third film offering in the latest DC cinematic universe, Suicide Squad is “okay”- a somewhat interesting offering to a series of films that haven’t yet had a chance to establish the heroes or the World in which the universe takes place. We are introduced to a number of characters and given brief origins that include appearances from both Batman and The Flash. The Squad is assembled and a mission is given—so we’re set for a nice little roller coaster ride with some interesting performances. And the film is “okay”.


Here is the thing- I want to be excited about the upcoming films. I wanted to be excited by this film. I wanted to be thrilled and amazed and incredibly impressed with everything surrounding this huge film that would focus on some of DC’s colorful villain elite. I sincerely want to enjoy the DC universe in much the same way that I enjoy Marvel- truth be told, I want to enjoy them MORE than Marvel. The truth is that I prefer the DC comics to those of Marvel- at least the DC comics I grew up with. My favorite superhero is The Flash- I love Booster Gold, Blue Beetle, and Green Lantern. I enjoy the colorful Villains that include Captain Cold, Joker, and Lex Luthor. When all is said and done, I’m looking forward to Aquaman coming face to face with Black Mantis… but when I felt a certain degree of relief that this film didn’t suck it made me check myself.

I was relieved that the movie didn’t suck.

I didn’t think it was “good”, not really- just that it didn’t “suck”. Why am I giving this film such an easy pass?

It was fun and frivolous and there were some good performances in it- The Enchantress creeps and crawls about as an early member to the team while Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn tries to instill some decent bits into what is, essentially, awful writing. Will Smith lends some power to Deadshot, even if he winds up quipping his way through a majority of the film. Joel Kinamen hits some very impressive pathos as the teams’ leader, Flagg. And Jay Hernandez is a powerhouse as El Diablo.  Throw in a humorous turn from Aussie lay-about “Captain Boomerang”, glorified appearances from both Killer Croc and Slipknot, plus the special addition of Flagg’s bodyguard, Katana. The film acts as a veritiable “Who are any of these people and why should I care?”. It literally relies on its audience to be more than passing familiar with the source material and then abandons that same source material whenever it becomes convenient for the story.

And the story is bad. It’s not just poorly conceived, the story is just flat out “bad”- it doesn’t really make much sense, there isn’t a whole lot to inform the danger, and every contrivance is a sign of really lazy writing. The team has to face a villain who is already a member of the team before anyone else is a member of the team. And then we also fight in order to close the big shining door up in the middle of the sky- for the umpteenth time in a comic book film.

Now, before I get to my final rating let me address the Elephant in the Room- he’s an icon, he’s a standard, he’s probably the single MOST recognizable villain in the history of comics. He’s had several incarnations and he has been brought to life through several actors- and in this film, the role of the Joker belongs to Jared Leto. And he makes very little impression in the role. Sorry, but I didn’t buy him in the role- he didn’t impress me, he didn’t disgust me, he didn’t terrorize me in the least. All I could think was that he looked really stupid with the tattoos and the shaved eyebrows and his laugh was more annoying than it was horrifying. He was certainly “acting crazy” and he maybe thought he was being crazy- but he was just sort of annoying. It was weird because there were all these rumors about the “pranks” Leto would often play on other cast members- and he was just really dull as the Joker.

6.5 out of 10 and I recommend it if you have nothing to do one afternoon.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Star Trek: Beyond! and "Light's Out!"

Star Trek:

A clever script and intense action sequences allow the crew of the Enterprise to deliver one of the best films in the franchise. As a partial “trekkie” (I enjoyed the original series, Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, half of Voyager, and some of the largely panned “Enterprise” series), there was plenty about the new reboots to love despite a few annoyances. Fans were willing to embrace the inconsistencies of the first film from JJ Abrams, but man felt the second film went to the “Khan Well” far too soon in the series and that it was done very poorly. For me, it was largely entertaining (though I did feel bad about Pike’s “unhappy ending”), but mostly just popcorn entertainment and not so much the “science fiction epic” that I was hoping for.

Justin Lin (Fast and Furious sequels) takes the director chair with a script co-aughtored by Doug Jung and genre favorite Simon Pegg. The story takes place three years into the Enterprise’s five year mission- they’re weary, frustrated, and daily life aboard the ship has become monotonous with an occasional spark here and there. Of special note is that the original series had run three seasons- so the crew is likely to have had many of the same missions of that series during the space between the past film and this one. So we are moving past the known universe and we are telling a new story- and this one calls to question the very purpose of Starfleet.

A renegade alien has been watching from a distance. Resentment has grown, anger with the Federation itself, and we finally question the nobility of Gene Roddenmerry’s future Utopia and whether it’s our conflict or our unity that offers humanity it’s growth and strength. And while there’s no subtlety to the question being asked, the film doesn’t spend much time running their moral question to the ground- they have a world to save, an enemy to confront, and near-death experiences to avoid.

I’m not going to bore you with the praise I have for this film: I just loved it. It is easily the best of the new series, easily better than many of the films in The Next Generation and Original series, and well worth the time in catching the movie on the big screen. This is Chris Pine’s defining moment as Kirk and the other characters are all well-represented, not only for their moments as characters but their moments as officers of Starfleet.

9 out of 10.

Lights Out

Based on the original viral video of the same night, this full length adaptation attempts to take an atmospheric and haunting film that leads up to a single jump scare and expand it well beyond the two minutes or so of the original run time. When the lights go out we can see “her”… Diana. A ghost? An apparition? A creature of pure darkness? Whatever she is, she is a creature of darkness and she is unable to exist in the light.

First: let me talk about the “good”- as an allegory, Lights Out is an effective exploration of mental illness and the effect it has on the family of those affected by it. The story follows a pair of siblings, one a young boy and the other an older sister who has already moved out and has been avoiding her mother for some time. After the death of the mother’s second husband, the boy continually sees her talking to her friend, “Diana”. The older sister remembers a time when “Diana” paid visits to her mom as a young girl and the mysterious things that would happen. And we learn fairly quickly that “Diana” has no intention of sharing the mother’s affection with others- even with children.

Second: The “Bad” is that the film actually lacks some of the tension of the short. Creaking noises, pounding feet, and little silhouettes framed against a slightly lit backdrop tend to grow more annoying and less scary the longer they go on. There are a few moments where the film goes where it’s strongest and plays with the idea of the light switches being turned off- but it never really goes very far. There was one moment where I did, literally, jump in my seat- but the film never really goes far enough in just building the tension.

This is a very standard type of film and it won’t be the “best new thing”, but it a largely satisfying enough piece of “light horror”. It’s a film that truly deserves the PG 13 rating without having to really reach for it- there are few things that could have elevated the film to an “R” rating and it didn’t truly deserve it. Basically, if you have time to kill and you want to see something a little tense and spooky, this is the film for you.  

6 out of 10.

Monday, July 18, 2016


GHOSTBUSTERS (2016)                 

There has been a LOT of controversy surrounding the latest Ghostbusters film. Let me get that out of the way right off the bat, because it’s going to be relevant to what I have to say about the film in general. The basic thing is this- there was a lot of flak from people regarding the “all female” cast of the new Ghostbusters. To some, it felt like “stunt” casting- to others, it felt like a long overdue recognition of female empowerment. The honest truth is that this pretty much felt a little “in the middle” for me- it felt like a stunt, it could have been decent, but I was incredibly skeptical with hope for a good feature. And then the trailer hit- and the backlash was almost immediate and it was brutal. Let me say that I think it’s a poor trailer at best- it kills the comedy, highlights poor special effects, and it relied too much on familiar iconography to sell something that was supposedly moving away from the original source material.

But all of that would be almost meaningless if not for the backlash from Sony and, specifically, Kevin Feig. They decided that the best way possible to spin all of this controversy would be to attack anyone with an accusation of sexism- and they proceeded to unleash one of the most bizarre instances of “shaming” an audience into attendance. Seriously?

Well, my son is a big Ghostbusters fan. My wife was interested in seeing the movie as well. And I had nothing better to do than to make certain my family spent some time together at the cinema…

And it wasn’t awful.

It was a fairly standard film utilizing the best elements of CGI in order to create some truly awful looking effects that we could ultimately dismiss as being far too colorful, goofy, and cartoonish than it was frightening. It introduces a villain that is, quite frankly, one of the most boring representations of male ego and rage. This is, literally, a basement dwelling troll who hates the world above him- and he has no real personality, no real identity, and nothing all that impressive in his performance. His interest in the paranormal is barely scratched, his ability to create the technology is dismissed and never addressed, and whole of the plot seems lost with an inability to actually tell a story arc with any real beginning, middle, or end. The film, largely, manages to exist and does little more than that.

Actresses Kristen Wiig and Melissa McCarthy are school friends grown apart in recent years. A recent resurgence of an earlier book published by the two scientists provokes their reunion when the uptight Wiig finds herself up for tenure. Supernatural stuff, they’re both humiliated, they both decide to start investigating the paranormal once again, and so they do. And while McCarthy is an interesting character to follow, Wiig seems largely over directed with only a few moments of pure comedic brilliance. Her scenes with Chris Hemsworth and a few other moments with the ensemble allow her to shine, but she seems largely pulled back from any real reactions in a number of scenes. Actress Leslie Jones seems to be a little lost in the mix- a character searching for her voice and relegated to screaming, yelling, and over-acting in a number of scenes. She’s somewhat shoe-horned into the group as their resident Local Expert.  

Now, I know it seems I’ve been real negative till now- but here is the kicker: The first two women are joined by Kate McKinnon in what has to be one of THE best comedic and iconic performances I’ve seen in years. She absolutely owns her scenes, owns her character, and delivers in each and every moment that she is on screen. Whether she is delivering her lines or just reacting to the situation, this is a fully realized performance and it deserves some serious praise. What’s more, I want to see more movies with this character- and there’s enough in her performance to make me want to see her interact with the other characters in the film, as well.

And that brings me to the weird crux of the film- this is largely a Jeckyl and Hyde kind of film- when it works, it’s really good. Moments between the four leads are fairly well done and establish their characters, interaction, and relationships with one another. There are moments caught on film where the four women seem to be having some genuine fun with the script and their story; interviewing for a secretary, challenging a hoax debunker, and some of the earlier “investigation” scenes work to their strengths. Their eventual confrontation with a series of ghostly creatures is excitingly cut. But all of this is cut with a poor script, a terrible story, and a lackluster villain- a number of plot contrivances pull the characters toward one scene after another and many jokes are left dangling or fail to hit.

The film itself is actually about a 6 out of 10- EXCEPT for the performance from Kate McKinnon, whose presence alone elevates the film a whole two stars. So 8 out of 10.

Saturday, July 2, 2016

The Shallows - A couple of thoughts on this fish film.

The Shallows

Ready? Here we go…

I took the bait.

I had a few hours to kill and a gift card burning a hole in my pocket so I went and caught the latest Shark film- “the Shallows” over at the Maya Cinema. It had some decent buzz surrounding it and I happen to like these types of films. So the card when through and I dropped two fins off the total. I grabbed a bucket of popped corn and a cup of soda, I took my seat in what I thought would be an empty auditorium- but alas, others were soon to join me in my Thursday screening. The film started to roll and we were already off and swimming.

So here’s the story- a woman (played by Blake Lively) is on a journey of “self discovery” after the passing of her mother due to cancer. We get a bit of lazy exposition drop early in the film- she’s a med student who just dropped out, she’s been on this journey for some time, and she has a younger sister that she helped raise. We learn all of this in the first ten minutes of the film and- actually, it’s all done quite well for what it is. This is who she is, this is what brought her to this largely abandoned beach, now let’s get on with the film and the direction handles this information very well considering my usual distaste for this type of writing. Suffice to say that we know everything we need to know about this woman in the first few minutes of the film and then the action moves on from there. And I was hooked!

What’s the action? Well, she’s out surfing in the breakers of this small beach when she is attacked by a shark. She manages to make it to a small island in the shallows, but the tide is going to wipe this island out eventually so she needs to either wait for a rescue or somehow outsmart the ultimate eating machine. It’s basic and there aren’t many frills to complicate the issue- and it’s really good. You might say it never flounders! Lively is an engaging actress and I can’t help but draw a little comparison to her real life husband and his performance in “Buried”- (Ryan Reynolds, trapped in a coffin the entire film.). She isn’t an actress I’m overly familiar with- I haven’t seen much of her work. But she is completely engaging in this film and she carries a strong lead throughout the piece. She spends the majority of the film trapped on a coral reef and vacillates between playing the helpless damsel and the fighting woman her parents raised her to be. And this is where that back story comes into play- because we see the journey she is on and the decisions she is making, why she is making them, and where they will ultimately lead her to. So while I groaned inwardly at the start of the film, the whole of it made sense of everything much later- and the film eventually asks the question: “How much do you want to survive?”

4 out of 5.

Monday, June 27, 2016

Borrowers @ The Carmel Outdoor Forest Theater.

The Borrowers @ The Carmel Out-Door Theater

Based on a well known series of books for children by Mary Norton, “The Borrowers” saw its’ most recent adaptation (Arrietta) by the Studio Ghibli brand of family friendly anime features. It’s now being brought to the musical stage after a storied history; made available in the shows program.  It seems a long journey that spans decades and involves the recent passing of the shows composer.  The book was written by and the show directed by Walt deFaria, whose passion for the material stretches back to the 1970's. This is also the first play to be performed at the venue since the Outdoor Forest Theater’s closure back in 2013.

The basic premise of the story surrounds a small family of “Borrowers” who live beneath the floor boards of an English home in the country. Pod, his wife, and their daughter; Arrietta. They’re a tight knit family but they haven’t had any contact with others of their kind in a very long while. They live off the human residents of the home, “borrowing” random household items for their own use. They must remain hidden from human eyes or else risk “Emigration” to the outside world.

Jared Warren Hussey commands a strong lead as the family Patriarch. His vocals remain strong throughout the show and his mannerisms are perfect to the character he plays- cautious, a little mischievous, and always looking out for his family. He hones a character that is charismatic, likeable, and always on point from the first moment he steps on stage in the opening number. Gracie Moore Poletti stars opposite, a nurturing maternal figure who counters Pods caution with encouragement. And Gracie Balistreri features as the curious Arrietta, whose desire to visit the “Outside world” may bring her family to ruin. With long flowing curls that seem to catch in the wind, Baliesteri prances across the stage with active enthusiasm and captures the imagination of children everywhere.

But no story exists without their antagonists- and in this case, the upstairs Humans get some of the juicest tunes and most elaborate comedy in the show. Played  to the hilt by stage veterans (and real life partners) Phylis and Mitch Davis; the two residents of the home have taken in a young boy from London and it may only be a matter of time until one of them sneaks more than a glancing peak at the little creatures in the floor. To say anything more may spoil a few pleasant suprises, but the upstairs neighbors do receive a visit from three local men with positions of some importance.

The play is good family entertainment and should, no doubt, make it to your list of things to do these next several weekends.

4 out of 5.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

We Are Still Here... thoughts. Fucking A!

We Are Still Here

Currently streaming on Netflix, “We Are Still Here” is one of those hidden gem films that fucking brings it. Seriously, I walked in with eyes wide open and I expected yet another carbon-copy “haunted house” film despite hearing all the good things about it being a love letter to Fulci and those old 70’s Italian Horror films of the time. Yeah, right- I figured we’d get an eye gouging scene and a few “vintage” cars with some “grindhouse” color saturation and I was okay with all that- I dig those kinds of movies. But the truth of the matter is that every advertisement, every trailer, every little bit I’m seeing in advance of this film is making me think “Conjuring” or “Annabelle” and I put this one on the back burner for the past couple of months before finally biting the bullet to check it out. I’m a little glutted out on “Haunted House” flicks and this one didn’t really look at all that special.

I should not have waited.

Barbara Crampton takes the lead as a mother who is mourning the loss of her teenage son. She and her husband purchase a house and things start to get a little weird- the basement is too warm, there’s an odd smell, and she can’t shake the feeling that her sons’ spirit is still with her. Things move in the wee hours of the night and there are noises- oh, it’s kind of spooky and all of that stuff and we even get a nice little background on the house from a creepy neighbor. And then shit goes down- and when it goes, it fucking GOES! Because this isn’t a creeping crawling ghost situation- this is a tortured spirits who will physically tear people apart situation when we see some honest to goodness CREATURES crawling up from the shadows of the house.

And then things get worse.

The term “Love letter to Fulci” has been used so many times by so many other reviewers that it’s kind of become a cliché at this point. And this film is all of that- no doubt about it. But there’s something else about this project- there’s an laser focus to the horror that Fulci often blurred with his dialogue and plotting. This movie heads straight on and leaves just enough for audience interpretation. The gore is cranked up by quite a bit, though we never do seem to get the expected “eye-ball trauma” that I expected. Blood flows and the “creatures” are impressive to behold- their eyes bearing a resemblance to those seen in The Beyond while the rest of them is just unnerving to watch.

While Crampton carries the heart of the picture, Andrew Sensenig’s performance as her husband “Paul” keeps the audience grounded with his skepticism. Of all the characters, Paul seems the most sensible and the most direct in facing their problems. Larry Fessenden delivers an incredible performance as family friend, Jacob. Just wait until the two men are left by their lonesome as the ladies take a ride into town and be prepared for the creep levels to reach critical mass.

This movie seriously kicked my ass and I literally watched until the credits stopped rolling.

5 out of 5.

Monday, June 13, 2016



Orcs and Humans have been locked in an eternal war for thousands of years on the planet of Azeroth. This endless struggle between the Horde and the Alliance is the main storyline behind the hit On-line community game, “World of Warcraft”. And this fantasy film depicts the very beginning of this conflict as Orcs from the Horde are led to the world of Azeroth through a portal from their own dying world- warbands attack human settlements and draw the military force of a noble king (Dominic Cooper, known for playing Howard Stark in Captain America and currently appearing in AMC’s “Preacher” adaptation) in a desperate bid for survival and dominance.

This is a beautiful film, first off; CGI-rendered Orcs and monsters look pretty good while sharing the screen with very human actors and the action is intense and brutal. While never quite as gritty as The Lord of the Rings trilogy, it’s a good film in its’ own right and delivers the goods on a story with intriguing heroes, despicable villains, and a conflict with no easy answers. No one walks away with clean hands or complete understanding- both sides make mistakes and both sides make their stands. Travis Fimmel stars as Anduin Lothar, a high ranking knight in service to his King. Paula Patton is Garona, a half-orc slave of the Horde whose capture by Anduin opens new avenues of strategy and understanding of the Orc armies. Toby Kebbell is Durotan, a proud Orc chieftain who chafes beneath the yoke of dark Shaman, Gul’dan (Daniel Wu).  But stealing the show, as is his norm, is Ben Foster as the Human Guardian Wizard Medivh.

Fans of the game will see some of their usual haunts realized while others may come away a little disappointed by the lack of racial diversity in the film- Dwarves and Elves (generic and not the usual character classes of “Night” or “Blood” as seen in the game itself) seem almost an afterthought with only the barest glimpse of Trolls in the Horde. Most of the action takes place in the one continent where the Alliance holds sway, but there’s still a lack of variety- but it may have been the best choice in order for the film to remain focused on the primary conflict between Alliance and Horde.

People unfamiliar with the video game shouldn’t struggle to understand the basics of the world being presented- it’s no more confusing or disorientating than Lord of the Rings, for example. But the film also doesn’t waste time to explain the magic, the political hierarchy, or who the individual players are- they let the story do it and the viewer simply needs to exercise some patience when wondering if a certain issue may be explained.

This is high fantasy and is only the smallest of steps below Lord of the Rings- almost too small to bear mentioning, but I am certain some people will compare the two and find this film to be lacking in some comparisons. It’s still a worthy addition to the Fantasy genre and an exciting popcorn muncher for the summer season.

4 out of 5.

Monday, May 9, 2016

Green Room & Captain America: Civil War -

“Green Room”

This is one of the most suspenseful, taut, and intense films I have seen in the past two years. Jeremy Saunier delivers one of the most realistic horror films to come down the pike and he does it without resorting to cheap scares, supernatural artifices, or a faceless killer. This is about human drama taken to an extreme- the violence is sudden and gory, the emotions are real and intense, and there’s no such thing as a one-dimensional character no matter what you may think of the players involved. This is what horror should be- it should defy the cookie cutter definitions often placed on the genre and it should terrify us. It should dig in deep and do very bad things to our brains.

The “Ain’t Rights” are a touring punk band living out of a van as they wind up some tour dates promoting their latest vinyl album- because these are “true” punks, living the lifestyle and refusing to “sell out” with social media or downloads and being everything “punk” is supposed to be about. When their most recent gig cancels, they wind up picking up an extra gig a little out of the way in a backwoods “skinhead” bar. They’re not entirely in their element and the danger signs are all there, especially when they open up with a Dead Kennedy’s cover designed to antagonize their audience. But the band kind of wins some respect and the skinheads start moshing to the rest of their set- and the band is getting cleared out so the headliner can take the Green Room. They just forgot their cell phone, so a quick little run inside-

And that’s when things go to hell real quickly. As witnesses to a murder scene, the band is quarantined to the Green Room once again and the Nazi’s are stuck trying to figure out the best way to get rid of them without drawing attention to the bar. Tensions escalate quickly as the band gets a certain measure of control- but they’re trapped and the Skinheads surround them and it’s only a matter of time until something gives.

Anton Yelchin headlines the protagonists and delivers the best performance I’ve so far seen in his young career. He’s a confused young man who doesn’t know how much danger he really is in- and when blood is shed, we know that absolutely no one is safe in this film. Patrick Stewart gives a chilling performance as the leader of the Skinheads, a cool and collected businessman who seems more concerned with the dangers of a possible fire hazard than he does with the well being of any individual. He doesn’t waste time twirling a mustache in this film- everything he does has a purpose and he truly has a sense of the dangers facing him and his group.

But truly standing out in his performance is Macon Blair. The long time Saunier collaborator delivers one of the most nuanced performances as the bar manager. He’s a man who believes in “the Cause” but experiences the conflict of his actions with his humanity. The responsibility for much of the films experiences rest on his shoulder- he makes several early calls that will ultimately lead everyone down a dark rabbit hole and he’s faced with the consequences of those calls.

Don’t expect to feel good while watching this film- don’t expect that you will walk out of the theater cheering or high fiving one another. You’ll be stunned, horrified, a little confused, and maybe worn ragged by the experience. And that’s what a horror film is supposed to do.

5 out of 5.See this in the theaters before it leaves!!!

Captain America: Civil War

The American political climate is tense and fevered and very dangerous. And the story of Civil War reflects the very same climate we are currently faced with- the idea of liberty vs. security and what it means to the individual as opposed to the group. There is an idea that the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few- so when the Avengers are faced with the consequences for their heroism, each member of the team must make a difficult choice. Do they comply with oversight regulations or are they going to be the ones who make the decisions for themselves?

The choice is easy for Tony Stark- whose character arc from the first film is a series of glimpses in to the repercussions of his inventions and the violence it has brought to the world. He needs to make it right and if there’s some sort of oversight, that will relieve him of a sense of responsibility. And he urges the other members of the Avengers to sign the same Accord- but Steven Rogers, Captain America, tells Stark that the same oversight that may feel better about having the Avengers under control might send the Avengers on missions where the team doesn’t feel it’s needed. They may refuse to send the Avengers where they are needed. Rogers realizes that signing the Accord removes his choice- and he refuses to comply.

That alone is an interesting premise for the film- but the stakes are increased when a desperate Zemo uses the split in order to enact a long devised plan based on the information available from the first several films of the Marvel Universe. He has a way to trigger the Winter Soldier, he has access to information that will implicate the Soldier in a terrible crime, and he has the unwitting help of several World Governments to keep our heroes on the run or divided.

Look, we get a lot of guest appearances throughout the film- nearly all the Avengers show up, we get Ant-Man fresh off his own successful venture, we get a brand new Spiderman all set to debut in his next feature film, and we get The Black Panther as he gets set to pounce on his own film debut with Marvel’s next wave in 2017. But the film boils down to six characters who will be long affected by the consequences of this war- Iron Man, Captain America, Black Panther, The Winter Soldier, and Zemo. These are the people most heavily involved and revelations peel back the layers of respect and friendship between Stark and Rogers, exposing divided loyalties and personal animosity never truly seen. Zemo is a brilliant, patient, and methodical villain. The Winter Soldier (Bucky) is a man who is clearly suffering from years of abuse and brain washing- and The Black Panther is a man driven by vengeance but open to the idea of justice.

4 out of 5.

Songs for a New World @ Paper Wing Theatre

“Songs of a New World”


No, seriously, that’s the first word I thought of when I tried to sit here and figure out where to begin- “Songs for a New World” is a seriously ballsy show that takes a bunch of risks where it could have chosen to play much safer. Director Noah Reeves dresses his stage in newspaper print from top to bottom with only four major pieces of furniture to tell the small tales that make up the whole of the show- it’s minimalism that carries a bold statement- it’s small but it’s everything. It’s and the newsprint reflects the vastness of what the show wants to accomplish. And when the music begins, we are immediately struck with the next risky venture- the cast moves forward without the aid of microphones.

And it caught me off guard.

“Songs For a New World” is a musical piece of performance art where the cast (2 men, 2 women) take on various roles representing people who have come to a moment of decision in their lives. Whether it comes to love, finance, liberty, war, or the dreams of a High School Basketball player; each of the characters represented are caught in a moment in their lives where one decision could mean the world. And the vocal pieces here are difficult, with challenging pitches and word play. And all four performers step on the stage without the aid of a microphone so these pieces need to be loud in the near 80 seat capacity theater- they need to sing loudly enough to match the accompaniment. They need to project their voices so everyone can hear them- and as I sat near the back of the theater, I was immediately aware of the challenge facing these performers.

And it works.

The four actors had chemistry with one another and there was a sense of support for one another as they represented the many tales being told- each of them remained present in the moment, even if they were not the focus of attention. I was really impressed with these performances and these vocalists.

4 out of 5.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Hardcore Henry and Dawn of Justice.

Hardcore Henry

BOOM!!! Inspired by “first-person” shooter video games, this film is bad ass!

So the movie starts and the audience is seeing everything from the point of view of an eponymous “Henry”, a tattooed man who lost his arm, his leg, and much of his features in some unknown battle with a villain we are guaranteed to meet early on. He’s given cybernetic replacements by a wife he can’t remember and things immediately go to hell when the villain makes his entrance, forcing Henry to flee before certain procedures can be completed. And away we go!

“Crank” fans will probably see a lot of similarities between the two films as “Henry” subs for Statham’s Chev Chelios and is partly sent on the run and sent on a mission of vengeance when he has to rescue his wife from the Villain (who has telekinetic powers of some sort) and help his only friend in all of the mess, Jimmy. The movie is almost all non-stop action and all told from the point of view of the audience- so there’s quite a bit of shaky-cam work, but it all makes sense with regard to the narrative of the film.

Oh, and then there’s the grue factor- this film gets downright bloody and nasty with what it delivers. Heads exploding, bodies cut into pieces, knives through hands, and more than small fair share of other exploitation moments.

Hardcore Henry is a solid 4 out of 5.

Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice

I don’t hate Zack Snyder.

In point of fact, I really enjoy Snyder’s body of work on the whole and I think he has a very unique and expressive visual style. I think he approaches material with an eye for detail and a mind toward exploring a number of themes; individuality, fighting despite the odds, and perseverance. He’s a director who took the source material from the Watchmen and actually had the cajones to insert a rebuttal to the nihilism of Moore’s original work near the end. He took an opportunity to explore a passion project that was, essentially, a remake of “One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest” and dressed it up as a fantasy adventure with “Sucker Punch”. And so I was incredibly eager to see his rendition of Superman with “Man of Steel”- and I was overwhelmed with the disappointment of it. Still, I had some hope- I saw stirrings of the Superman I wanted to see in Henry Cavill and I just knew that Snyder had a good superhero film in him- but then I saw the trailer for “BvS: Dawn of Justice” and all hope seems dashed to the wind. The reviews poured in- nothing really good in the echo chamber, but I knew I had to see the film for myself. Some friends liked the film- there had to be something worthwhile here?


Green Lantern wasn’t the worst film I had ever seen but it was largely panned… surely this couldn’t be that bad?

And it’s not- it really isn’t as bad as people are claiming, but there are things that don’t work and there is definitely a “fan edit” on the way. Someone is going to cut the useless “dream” material- someone is going to cut about thirty minutes from this two and a half-hour slog in order to deliver a more concise narrative that tells a much more direct story. It’s just unfortunate that this person was not Zack Snyder and it wasn’t Warner Bros. and it wasn’t anyone who will really count when all is said and done.


Ben Affleck is great as Batman. To be honest, the script seems to be written with the events of Batman Begins and The Dark Knight in mind- moments from both films are lightly referenced in dialogue and a 20 year history is blatantly spelled out as Alfred interacts with Bruce in casual conversation.  The Dark Knight Rises, however, seems to not have been made during the first draft of this script and so there are no references… which is good, because I don’t think that was a good end to Nolan’s “trilogy”.

Gal Gadot literally SHINES on screen in the role of Diana Prince (AKA: Wonder Woman) and I was really looking forward to her appearance later on in the events. Disappointing as the finale was, it was awesome to see Wonder Woman standing where she belongs in the DC iconography.

Henry Cavill works HARD to be Superman- and he has a few great moments.

The initial reason for Batman’s mistrust of Superman is compelling- the film opens on a note made very sour for many viewers of Man of Steel; specifically the dismissive loss of life that occurred during Zod and Superman’s battle above the Metropolis. Bruce investigates a way to take on the Man of Steel and Superman seems too aloof to confront on a social level- much less on the personal level in which Batman witnesses during that rampaging battle in the skies. This is a compelling story at its core… but more on that later.


Lex Luthor. What?!?!! What was Eisenberg thinking throughout this performance? Honestly- my wife really enjoyed it and pointed out that he was a creepy, uncomfortable, and completely psychotic paranoid megalomaniac with delusions of grandeur- and that makes an awesome villain. It just doesn’t really make a Lex Luthor-type sociopath driven to destroy Superman. But never mind that-

Because there’s the freaking plot.

Here’s the thing- Batman doesn’t trust Superman, Luthor nudges them into a fight, and the two titans do battle. That’s simple- unfortunately, Batman isn’t really nudged by Luthor. Luthor somehow figures out the secret identities of both heroes and that revelation comes very late and without any degree of explanation. Batman, also, seems to be plagued by dreams of a “future” that may or may not come to pass- it includes an image of The Flash with a warning and an extended scene with minions of Darkseid ruling the barren post-apocalyptic wasteland of Earth. None of which has any sort of influence from Luthor or his supposed “machinations”… all leading to a huge battle that ultimately ends because Superman and Batman both have a mother named “Martha”.

I shit you not. And yes, that’s a spoiler that I gave without any degree of warning because I simply give no figs about it. They stop fighting because their mom has the same name and that stops Batman from striking the killing blow… and to his credit, Affleck is able to pull off the hesitancy in a believable manner but the damage is done. “Our moms are both named Martha!” I imagine two kids on a schoolyard claiming before they become the best of friends.


And then Luthor makes Doomsday. With Zod’s body.

And Superman is just plain DEPRESSING… can we get a single real Superman moment from one of these films? Please? Just one happy moment where he actually does rescue a cat rather than having Bruce mock such moments in casual dialogue? Please?!?!! Pretty please?!?!!!

5.5 out of 10.