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.