Tuesday, January 26, 2016

On the Edge of a Paper Wing

My thoughts on the upcoming 2016 Season of Paper Wing Theatre!

For the past five years I’ve had a growing relationship with The Paper Wing Theatre Company in Monterey, California. This small, independently run, local theater is one of the last of its kind here on the Central Coast. There’s no board of trustees, there’s no affiliation with some University curriculum, and its two owners (Koly McBride and Lj Brewer) are the sole decision makers with regard to the direction of the company. Paper Wing Theatre is noted for bringing live theater with an “edge” to the local community- it’s the place where “The Rocky Horror Show” has had a home for the past decade or so, it’s where “Killer Joe” saw a run, “Mr. Marmalade”, “Mr. Bruce, Do You Swear”, and a live rendition of “Night of the Living Dead” saw runs on their stages. It’s the place where classic pieces, such as “Macbeth”, “Salome”, and “12th Night”, have been given young blood renditions from upcoming local artists. The theatre has played hosts to comedy events, local fashion shows, and touring musicians like Zoe Boekbinder. Paper Wing is home to a wide array of artists, actors, directors, and writers.

My relationship with the theatre started shortly after their dark production of an “Alice in Wonderland” adaptation with drug dealers, kidnappers, and an S&M club off the darkened alleys of New York City. Through the years I’ve been a constant patron, an actor, a writer, and now a director with the company as we head into our 2016 Season. I’ve passed out flyers, I’ve helped build sets, I’ve painted walls, cleaned toilets, posted my thoughts on shows, and I’ve generally lived and breathed this company for the past several years and I’m as excited now as I was the first day I walked in to deliver my first line in my first show some five years ago.

The Paper Wing Theatre has two locations- the first is their Hoffman stage, otherwise known as the Main Stage where a number of performances include larger musicals and larger cast productions. Their season ended with the production of “Avenue Q” and is set to begin with a February “Burlesque Show” that’s become an annual staple the past several years. It will follow that sultry series of evenings with a family drama, “Other Desert Cities”. The theatre will then play host to the musical, “Songs For a New World” and other shows already announced include “Pippin”, “Repo: The Genetic Opera”, and “Snow White and the Evil Queen”.

Their Fremont location is set to open their 2016 Season with William Shakespeares “The Tempest”, followed by “Believers”, “Mozambique”, and “Knocked up by Satan”(The last of which was written and will be directed by yours truly). A truly eclectic range of tones for the more intimate audience, Fremont is a fully immersive theatrical experience that places the action nearly in the audiences lap and occasionally pushes the limits of the live experience.

Paper Wing has always been Theater On The Edge and 2016 promises to be one of the biggest years to date. If you’re traveling through Monterey for any of the heavily attended local events through the year, a night at the theater may be something you’re looking for. If you’re looking for something to do after a long walk on the beach or a visit with the renowned Aquarium, Paper Wing Theatre has a welcoming atmosphere with a volunteer staff that truly cares about entertaining its audience. If you like laughing till hurts, crying till the weight is lifted off your shoulder, or seeing something you’re not likely to see nearly anywhere else, Paper Wing Theatre will give you a home for a few hours and a good story to talk about with your friends.

My name is Mark Daniel Cunningham- you may see my name in your program and I may be on stage, behind the curtain, in a booth, or lurking somewhere about the audience. I love to hear you laugh, I love to see you react, and I’m excited for the year to come. And I’m even more excited for the audiences who will experience it all.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Everly, Creep, and The Keep


Salma Hayek stars as the titular character in this action/revenge flick- when Everlys gangster boyfriend finds out that she’s planning to betray him to the police, all bets are off and the captive prostitute is beaten and prepared for death. Desperate to survive, she manages to shoot her captives and prepares to leave her apartment. But there’s a price on her head, an army in the elevator, and the police are on the payroll. That’s the first thirty seconds of the film and things get truly crazy from that point on!

Director Joe Lynch strips down the average “revenge” film and traps the protagonist in a single apartment and apartment hallway where ALL of the action takes place. We are caught up in a never-ending onslaught as our heroine fights off rampaging hookers, murderous psychopaths, tattooed Yakuza, savage dogs, well-armed thugs, assassins, and armored police in riot gear. She has no hope for survival and it’s not even an option, but she has a stash of money that she’s been saving and she needs to make certain that she can keep her mother and daughter safe from the monsters who are currently on the hunt for them all. AND... This movie was AWESOME!!! Okay, there’s this dude who gets shot right in the beginning but he doesn’t die- actually, he’s shot in the stomach and I guess it must chip his spine because he can’t move at all after that. But he tries to help Everly and we get a few minutes of good dialogue between them, we find out about the crime lord, we get details on the organization, and Hayek is as beautiful now at 49 as she was during “Desperado”- action sequences are fantastically shot and there’s a few tracking shots that show us how claustrophobic everything is at times. When the movie slows down it's only to build up the stakes and let us know who Everly is and what the villain is capable of. And all of this while trapped in one single location that gets wrecked through the course of the film! I was laughing at inappropriate moments an filled with glee as Salma Hayak blasted her way across the scene on a path toward bloody revenge!

Amazing use of space!

4.5 out of 5 and a definite MUST watch! MUST OWN!!!

The Keep

“They were all drawn to THE KEEP!”

Directed by Michael Mann and based on the horror novel by F. Paul Wilson, this 1983 film is a bit of an oddity from this era. We have some truly great actors and performances with Gabriel Byrne, Ian McKellan, Scott Glenn, and Jurgen Prochnow. We have some beautifully shot scenes and a couple of really eerie moments, but a really confusing narrative that never seems to address what might actually be happening within the walls of the ancient Keep in question.

The film takes place during World War Two and a German Squad has been stationed within the walls of an Eastern European Keep where an ancient force lies buried. Some of the soldiers accidentally release the “Force” (It calls itself “Molinar”) and another ancient immortal (Glenn) senses what’s happening from half a world away. Several soldiers are killed, villagers are blamed, and the SS Officer is convinced to bring in a Jewish Professor (McKellan) to translate some words found etched into the walls.

Okay, I found myself a little lost about halfway through this movie and kept watching with a hope that there would be answers- but most of what is happening is lost in the delivery and I had to do some research on the film’s source material to find out a few details. Molinar is not just an ancient force but a powerful Sorcerer, Scott Glenn’s character is an opposing force to Molinar and is maneuvering to stop the Sorcerer from accomplishing his task, with everyone else supposedly falling between the two powerful forces where one is good and the other is evil. I’m not going to spoil which is which- because there is a bit of a mystery involved in that bit of a detail.

The effects are fairly top notch, but the whole film sort of unspools with a number of scenes that seem a little rushed, incomplete, or maybe edited a little badly. There’s also a heavy-synth score that virtually blares beneath some of the more dramatic moments and it can work against the tension of the scene.

3 out of 5 and a low priority rental, though you could literally avoid this one and not lose any sleep. But it's definitely worth watching for sci-fi/fantasy/horror fans.


There’s a sub-genre with the Independent film market that is referred to as “mumble-core”, the basics of which are as follows: Rough outline sketch of a script, actors perform improv, and the director sort of splices together the material he shoots and tries to make a cohesive film out of all the material he’s shot. “Creep” falls squarely in this category and is the second of its sort to try and explore the genre using elements of horror.

The simple story is that a man answers a “craigslist” ad for a videographer to record a day in the life of a man who is dying of cancer. He wants to record a day in his life to share with his unborn son, a son that he regrets he may never get a chance to meet. And the whole of the film comes from the material collected during this project- and that’s all I can say without spoiling it. Suffice to say that not everything is as it seems and the film builds on suspense and slowly crawls and slithers to its unnerving conclusion. 

The film stars Mark Duplass as the “dying man” and Patrick Brice as the “videographer”. Duplass is engaging, funny, charismatic, and downright mesmerizing in his role as the character suffers breakdowns, turmoil, regret, and ultimately confesses a series of truths that makes Brice uncomfortable and maybe a little on edge. Are things really as they seem? Is there more going on here than is obvious, or are we just seeing a dying man facing his mortality?

3 out of 5 and a strong rental if you enjoy POV-shot films.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Bone Tomahawk and All Cheerleaders Die!

“Bone Tomahawk”

I want to start with a few thoughts about film distribution.

The advent of new technology makes it more and more difficult for distributors to actually make any money on the distribution of a film- the costs associated with the production, marketing, and shipping costs alone are problematic but when you throw in the added damage from on-line piracy, some films will just not receive the sort of distribution we once saw for smaller releases. The way things work right now, there are two types of films- the big budget spectacles and the micro-budget “art-house” and exploitation film. The days of a moderately budgeted “working” film are all but dead and we now live in a feast or famine environment in film.

I mention all of this because “Bone Tomahawk” may be a firm example of how the failures of distribution, marketing, and shipping are a direct reflection of the problems currently haunting cinephiles such as myself. Because my guess is that not too many of my Faceless Readers have ever even heard of the movie I’m going to be reviewing. I barely heard about it myself and all credit goes to the “Horror Movie Podcast” for reviewing and recommending this film as one of the best of 2015. Without this word of mouth, “Bone Tomahawk” finds itself doomed to a Walmart bargain shelf and the vague hope that someone finds a little interest in seeing Kurt Russell in a western. And that’s a damned shame, because it may actually be one of the years best films I had a chance to see- and it missed my “Best of List” by merely a few days.

Kurt Russell stars as a frontier sheriff. He’s abrupt, quick to decide, and ultimately good hearted man who wants to serve the community and do what’s right. He arrests and wounds a drifter, not knowing the man is being hunted for the desecration of “sacred land” a small distance away. During the night, the drifter, deputy, and an attending Nurse are kidnapped by an obscure tribe of mountain cannibals that the other tribes fear. The Sheriff gathers up a small posse of men to follow after and hopefully rescue the kidnapped townsfolk- a local veteran in fighting Indians(Matthew Fox, “Lost”), an aging deputy grieving over the loss of his own wife(Richard Jenkins, “Cabin in the Woods”, and the nurses’ wounded husband (Patrick Wilson, “Insidious”).

It’s a straightforward film about four men on a journey. This is about their interaction with one another and why each man feels compelled to make the trek, what they plan to do when they get there, and the obstacles standing in their way. It’s a gritty film and there’s very little joy to be found in the rocky crags and near-desert emptiness of the mountain region- there’s little hope for success and slighter hope in even finding their charges alive. And the film just ramps up the intensity with small squabbles, well-paced dialogue, and moments of sacrifice long before they finally manage to track down and confront the “Troglodyte” tribe responsible.

You’ll notice earlier in that I said I heard about this film through the “Horror Movie Podcast”, and make no mistake- this film gets downright horrific. It’s a moody, dark, gritty, violent, and horrifying little film but that “horror” classification only accounts for a small tenth of the run-time. This movie is a dramatic western long before it’s a traditional horror, but it definitely deserves it’s spot on the “Horror” wall with one act that is so brutal and monstrous that I nearly turned my head from the gruesomeness.

5 out of 5.

“Cheerleaders Must Die”

I didn’t expect it from this film. I mean, I should have sort of expected something. This is a collaborative effort from directors Lucky McKee (“The Woman”) and Chris Sivertson (“The Lost”) and is currently streaming on Netflix. And I should’ve known that a film directed by two men who have repeatedly adapted material from Jack Ketchum wouldn’t just come on straight for a horror comedy, but that was what I was expecting. A couple of giggles, a couple of laughs, a couple of dark moments, and a big twist at the end to reveal that Sidney herself would be the killer. In other words, I was expecting this movie to be another “I Know What You Did… “ knock off and I was genuinely surprised when the film took a sudden turn midway through and became something far different.

This is basically “Heathers” meets “The Craft” by way of “Lifeforce”- a rebellious teen joins the High School Cheerleader squad in order to get some measure of revenge on the Football Captain and school star. Her plans lead to some unfortunate events that result in the squad and herself being resurrected from death as vampiric creatures of some sort. Despite the cheesy sounding plot, the film packs a hell of a cruel punch as characters reveal themselves to be much more than the caricatures they portray much earlier in the film.

3.5 out of 5 for this highly entertaining flick.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Hateful Eight, Pretty good.

Hateful Eight

As I sit here typing my thoughts I am listening to the beautiful soundtrack to the film- composed by Ennio Morricone- and  it’s like nothing he’s previously done for any other Western that I can think of.  It surely seems more in line with some of the Italian Horror and suspense films of the 80’s and 70’s. Upon further research, some of the music is actually recycled from unreleased material in his earlier collaboration with John Carpenter for “The Thing”- which is probably no accident given the subject matter, the tone, and even some of the film’s stars. A friend of mine drew several similarities to the film and I’m probably going to do the same- because this is Tarantino doing the west with the paranoid edge of a noire thriller. These are my thoughts regarding “The Hateful Eight”.

First- it’s hard to ignore the controversy surrounding the film over the past several years. A leak in the production team or amongst Tarantino’s personal circle resulted in the distribution of an early draft on the script- and that release provoked a fury in Tarantino as he withdrew all consideration for even making this film to begin with. Amidst this controversy, Tarantino decided to stage a live reading of the script and this brought him back on board for making the movie. Then he insisted the film be made in 70MM cinescope, which is mostly an all but dead technology in film production. He intended the film be released in a traveling road show for 70mm projection- probably gorgeous, by all accounts, but ultimately received a larger digital distribution with about ten minutes shaved from the time. During press junkets for the films promotion, Tarantino has rankled other film makers with comments toward the makers of “It Follows”, the Disney corporation for the timing of their Star Wars release, the activities of police officers, his liberal usage of some choice terminology in his movies, his decision to probably top at a magic “10” to the total number of films he intends to make throughout his life, and a genuinely bizarre series of encounters that leave most of his fans confused and a little troubled by the writer/director.

And all of this kind of feels a little important when the theater lights come up and the film comes to a close- because this film may be one of the most interesting looks into the mind of the director himself, his technique, and precisely where he sees himself and his legacy in the world of film. Make no mistake about it- this is the most Tarantino film of all his films and yet it’s also the most mature and ambitious project he’s ever tried to tackle. It’s also the most self-indulgent and aggrandizing project and I’m kind of at a loss on where to rank this among his other works.

The story is fairly simple and hearkens back to his beginning with a nod to Reservoir Dogs-minimalism; Eight people in a lonely little outpost along the western trails of Colorado during the dead of winter.  John Ruth (Kurt Russell) is a bounty hunter looking to collect his pay on a fugitive he’s got chained to his wrist. We know who he is from the outset- grizzled, gruff, and maybe a little sentimental toward the ideals of justice in what he sees as the Land of the Free and Home of the brave. His prisoner, Daizy Domergue (Jenniver Jason Leigh), is a foul mouthed tramp that is most likely due for the gallows rope once Ruth brings her in. Along the road they come across a Civil War Northern veteran who now makes his living as a bounty hunter (Samuel L. Jackson) and the son of a famous Southern General claiming to be the new Sheriff of Red Rock (Walton Goggins).

The sparks are already flying between the four as driver O.B. eventually steers them up to that old Outpost (amusingly called “Minnie’s Haberdashery”; it doesn’t take long to find out why) and the rest of the ensemble cast. Are they all just innocent men trying to wait out the blizzard, or are some of these men here to help out the wild gal in Ruth’s custody? Tarantino maintains a slow broil throughout the film and uses the freezing cold of winter to crank up the heat. And when things happen it’s sudden, explosive, violent, and absolutely no one is safe or innocent. And I’m sure everyone is going on and on about Jackson and Russell- rightfully so! They’re amazing!

But there are two break out performances in this movie beyond what we might expect. The first is Jennifer Jason Leigh’s dark little turn as the vindictive Minnie. Leigh hasn’t seen much in the way of a prominent role since the early 90’s, but she really sizzles here and is worth the price of admission all alone. And the second performance comes from Walton Goggins, a familiar character actor you’ve seen coming from ten miles away in a number of different films where he’s often playing the same old role- most notably in “The Shield” and “Justified”;  he’s often typecast as the Southern Redneck-type and it really plays to our expectations. Here he plays to his strength with some interesting turns and performances along the way- is he really the sheriff or is he something darker? I found myself constantly on the edge of my seat throughout the course of the film- even if the seat did start to feel a little too well worn by the three hour mark.

I really want to give the film a five out of five, but the three hours and a couple of scenes just started to knock a few points off- because while the film is truly a great thing, it is also very much a case where “art for art’s sake” is a bit too presumptuous.

4.5 out of 5.