Saturday, December 29, 2018

Happy Holidays! New Reviews! (Bumblebee, Aquaman, Anna the the Apocalypse)

Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, and all the other Holiday stuff for other faiths, lifestyles, and all such and sundry. I've been super busy with side projects, playing Santa Claus, and overcoming the usual set of obstacles. I'm trying to play "Catch up" on some of the films I've missed, but there were also some new releases that I really wanted to look at for the blog. 

At the beginning of the year, I had a shortlist of films I was looking forward to and a shortlist of films that I didn’t expect much out of. With the Justice League having fallen mostly flat and with expectations low, I placed Aquaman on the list with barely a shrug. Despite the fact that James Wan was at the helm, I didn’t think there was much the acclaimed horror director could do with such a one note hero in a film universe that had largely fallen flat. And, ironically scheduled to be released the same weekend, Bumblebee would be the first in a Transformers spin-off film to support that franchise. There was no WAY that film could manage to overcome five previously horrendous movies and manage to support it’s own premise to support a character incapable of speech itself. 

But I also had a chance to see one of my most anticipated films of the year, so keep on reading to see my review of "Anna and the Apocalypse".... 
So my plans to watch any film this past weekend were being thwarted at nearly every turn. The family wasn’t in the mood, I didn’t want to really go by myself, and the list kept on compiling until a frustrating Sunday afternoon found me purchasing tickets for Aquaman the following day and a whimsical purchase of Bumblebee that night. My wife, unlike myself, actually enjoyed some of the previous Transformer’s films. She also heard it was more of a “Girl and her Horse”-style narrative, so she was interested in seeing how such a feet would be accomplished and if it could remain true to the high octane action of giant robots fighting and transforming.
It took the film less than two minutes to cement itself as THE best live-action Transformers film in the entire series, which saw the movie opening up on the Cybertron of my distant childhood. Live action versions of the Transformers were doing battle on a big screen, including a discernible Shockwave, Soundwave, Prowl, Arcee, Ratchet, and Optimus Prime when Bumblebee came roaring onto the scene with a ferociousness that belied his size. Lasers, combat, and a powerful delivery on the nature of Bee’s mission set the tone of real stakes and challenge before the film shifts toward earth and the combat training of John Cena’s character, Agent Burner. He and his squad are caught in the middle of a brutal fight between Bee and one of his pursuers, Blitzwing. Indifferent to the humans around them, Blitzwing is a brutal machine intent on ripping the secrets of the Autobots plans from the Bee’s chest. In the struggle, Bee loses his voicebox, his power is dangerously low, and he is barely able to transform into an innocent car and avoid detection.
Fast forward some time later and we find a young girl, Charlee (Hailee Steinfeld), a young girl coping with the loss of her father and the new family unit of her mother, a new boyfriend, and a pubescent pest of a brother. She’s not popular, she’s not conventional, and she isn’t going to get the chip off her shoulder with a power of positivity lecture from the people in her life. In her struggle to find a sense of individuality and personal freedom, she winds up getting a broken down VW Bug that turns out to be our titular character.
Biff! Bam! Boom! We’re off to the races!
I mean, we get a couple of great performances and a bit of 80’s nostalgia (maybe a touch too much) and the film just hammers down on the relationship between Bee and Charlee, with Bee learning about the people of earth and their potential and fragility as a race. We get Charlee learning to care about more than just her grief. Both are set to overcome personal obstacles, including a dogged pursuer in the form of Cena’s Agent Burner. What could have been a typical “Mr. McGhee”-like performance from the ex-wrestler is nuanced with levity and a certain attention to detail that exposes him as a truly honorable man.
8 out of 10.
Which brings us to the next morning….
How do I put this one into words?
There are only so many times you can hit the same point repeatedly about a film, and I think my low expectations were well document when I started this week’s blog. So let me cut to the quick of it- I was wrong.
Aquaman may be the best of the DCEU films to date, surpassing even Wonderwoman with its bombastic titular character and the entire premise which takes us to a whole new alien world located far beneath our own world’s ocean depths. Atlantis isn’t just a singular city, either. We quickly learn that the kingdom, technologically advanced and arrogant in their consumption of power, has sunk below the sea due to its own hubris and the people have been forever changed by it. Many are now incapable of breathing the air above, some of the people have evolved beyond their human form, and others devolved. And all of the story is foreshadowed in a brief glimpse of HP Lovecraft’s “The Dunwich Horror” as it sits upon the table.
A child born of two worlds, Arthur Curry (Jason Mamoa) is the half-blood elder Prince to the crown of Atlantis. Distrusted by both the surface and the deep, his only purpose is to do what he feels is “right” by people. An early exchange shows us the heart of a man willing to stand despite the odds, but who is quickly able to soften when the situation changes. He has a lot of love in his heart and a lot of courage, but he is far from perfect and he is haunted by the choices of others.
When his younger half brother decides to unite the undersea kingdom to declare war on the surface, Arthur is approached to take his “rightful” place by people who do not truly believe in him. He has his own doubts, but the war and the lives at risk are enough to lure Aquaman to the deep where he must finally face his brother and find out what kind of man he will really be.
Jason Mamoa sets the perfect tone for the film, envisioning Aquaman as a blue-collar “everyman” who happens to have great powers and ferocious skills. But, while often joked about in pop culture, Aquaman’s greatest power is the one least considered when examining the cinematic adventures of a superhero. Arthur Curry can talk with fish- a skill we originally believe is probably the most common amongst Atlanteans, but which we find is actually an extremely rare gift.
And that’s what Aquaman is- an extremely rare gift from the production studio that previously brought us Batman Vs. Superman and The Justice League.
9 out of 10. 

Anna and the Apocalypse
So we take this High School senior on the cusp of graduation. She wants to see the world, but her janitor father wants her to go to University. She wants to travel Australia, but her artistic best friend harbors romantic interests. She wants to leave her home town, but she’s also recovering from a poor romantic moment with the school bully. Anna is the prototypical “John Hughes”-style lead in a small town high school populated with the average teens who populate those classic films.
The world of Anna is filled with Disney Channel-influenced musical numbers, teens lamenting or celebrating their self-induced technological separations, romantic entanglements, energetic declarations of “change” or “making a difference” and so on, so forth, and all of it coming to a crashing halt when the dead rise through a zombie virus that spreads like a plague. Everything the characters were declaring, avoiding, or confronting becomes almost meaningless when the blood starts to splatter and heads begin to (literally) roll.
Anna (Ella Hunt) and her best friend John (Malcomb Cumming) are just turning over new leaves, kickstarting their lives through a jaunty song as they fail to see the carnage in the world around them. Bodies literally drop just behind them, unseen and unheard, before the two are finally confronted by one of the undead and are forced to take action. They soon join erstwhile school reporter and American transplant, Steph (Sarah Swire) and videographer Chris (Christopher Leveaux), who are hiding in the local bowling alley. Meanwhile, the many of the teens friends and families are trapped at the local High School with Anna’s father(Mark Benton) and the school’s recently promoted Headmaster Savage (Paul Kaye).
As civilization falls apart, Anna must take control of her life and rely on her friends to survive. As the film continues, the music adjusts to the tonal shift and retains a darker edge without sacrificing it’s pop-rock roots. Songs reminiscent of anthemic hard rock themes and morose electronic new wave echo through the characters journey. A symbolic journey of growth and change where some will survive and some will remain trapped in the town forever. It’s not often easy to wed horror and musical without sacrificing the latter to a camp comedy, but Anna steps into the occasional comedic dip only to reveal deeper horrors and real emotional depth.
9  out of ten.

Friday, November 30, 2018

Overlord, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, and The Endless

Nazi Zombies!!!! WOOOT!!!!
Okay, that’s the silly fanboy horror geek in me. Two of the most “guilt-free” monsters ever created are the zombies and the Nazis. Bring them together and you have a guilt-free experience of blood, guts, and full bore adrenaline body horror and nasty nasty NASTY blood and guts GORE!!!! BRING IT ON!!!!
Testosterone pumping, the movie starts and I’m all in…. We’re on a plane, we’re headed into Nazi territory, they’re shooting the plane, they’re jumping, and it’s chaos and madness and war war WAR!!!! And as they make their way through a night-enshrouded wilderness, hunted by Nazis, desperate to aid to mission that will secure Allied victory… my wife leans over to me and whispers “This is boring.”
Boring?!?!!! I shake my head in wonder and point to a screen where a landmine is blowing apart a poor American soldier, where there are hanging corpses in the trees, and where the German Nazi Forces are stalking the dark wilderness outside a small town in France. The mission depends on taking out that communications tower hidden in the bowels of the church where a scientist is performing experiments that will revive dead flesh.
Led by a demolitions expert (Wyatt Russell – Son of Kurt and Goldie), the rag tag soldiers are few in number and ill-trained to boot. French translator Ed Boyce (Jovan Adepo), sniper Tibbet (John Magaro) and photographer Morton Chase (Iain De Caestecker) must trust a village woman (Mathilde Ollivier) to lead them through the forest, to the village, and then plan their strategy while hiding in her home near the church. But it isn’t long before they learn about the mysterious experiments taking place and are left battling something far more insidious than just the Third Reich.
No, friends… this movie is NOT boring, despite the eye-rolling protestations of my wife. And even she perked up when the soldiers finally learn what the experiments really mean and what dangers it represents.
A solid 8 out of 10.
The Ballad of Buster Scruggs.
This Coen Brothers oddity hit Netflix, skipping a  theatrical run and leaving me to feel a little cheated as a result. But, at the same time, I can’t say that this would have necessarily been one of their usual hits with fans. With a series of six Western Vignettes, the Coen’s spin a bit of an awkward film with strange characters that is consistently entertaining but not precisely on the mainstream. They draw some amazing performances from a number of well-known character actors; including John Lithgow, Liam Neeson, James Franco, and others.
The film is often very dark, very bleak, and also very funny. It hits several comedic points, especially in the opening vignette about a traveling balladeer turned gunslinger. He’s an open, congenial, happy and cold hearted killer of men. Punctuated with acts of terrible violence, the light-hearted nature of the first vignette sets the tone for the rest of the series as we go from one unfortunate character to the next. Every moment was exquisitely planned to bring a depth of emotion and builds to the final vignette featuring five strangers traveling by stage-coach, a ride filled with dread and uncertainty.
Artfully shot with some amazing cinematography, I feel that the film would have looked amazing on the large screen and the sweeping landscapes felt far too small for the television. And this is probably the largest critique I can make regarding this feature- it’s too small for Netflix. Like a few other releases in recent months, the direct to streaming platform may be fine for convenience but ultimately harms the movie-going experience on the whole. I don’t just want to be entertained with a story, I want to sit in a theater and be amazed and transported. I want to have an experience. But this isn’t the fault of the film itself, but rather it’s distribution.
9.5 out of 10.
The Endless
After escaping from a cult nearly a decade prior, two brothers return after receiving a strange video. They come to find the cult is still living in a barren stretch of mountain desert inhabited by meth-farms, drug dealers, and other strange inhabitants. The brothers are welcomed warmly by the cult, fed, and they experience a kind of homecoming and acceptance that they never saw in the outside world. As one of the brothers begins to feel tempted for a permanent return, the other brother continues to distrust and question the strange atmosphere and behavior that he’s seeing.
That’s it. That’s the movie- that’s the absolute MOST you should know before seeing the film. What happens next is a strange story inspired by the madness of Lovecraft and the weirdness of Kafka. The world is not what we think, things are certainly not as they seem, and every trope one would expect is abandoned for a story designed to ask questions and never force an easy answer. This movie is just so fucking WEIRD, man! And the characters react perfectly to their increasingly bizarre situation, driving the narrative to an exciting conclusion.
10 out of 10.

Sunday, November 18, 2018

Bohemian Rhapsody and Suspiria

Bohemian Rhapsody
I’ve said it a thousand times if I’ve said it a million times; “Freddy Mercury is the GREATEST front man that ever lived!”
My mom wrote in one of my baby books that my favorite song was “Another one Bites the Dust”, so we are going back past my first memories to the womb and back a little further. Queen has been a staple sound in my life, digging deeper than I believe anyone even realizes. I read some Scholastic Biographies of the band, so I know that the Brian May gets that unique guitar sound by using a metal pick. I know that Freddie was an immigrant. I knew that their drummer was going to be a dentist before Queen found the success it reached, and I knew that each member of the band brought a distinct and different sound to their experience. Whether it be a hard rock classic, a disco beat, or an epic blend of rock and opera, the band has been paving the roads since their initial success and beyond the death of Mercury himself.
Bohemian Rhapsody is a dramatic retelling of the bands rise to fame and Mercury’s tumultuous life. In order to get the spirit and soul of the story right, the movie plays with a few time jumps and dramatic moments so that they can fit the bands experiences into a dramatic structure. In other words- While not an entirely “fictionalized” account, this movie doesn’t come close to telling the complete story. Some events are played up, other moments played way down, and still other moments totally shuffled out of time itself. (We Will Rock You was written in ’77, I believe.)
But, like the focus of the story itself, Rhapsody doesn’t let the truth get in the way of being an entertaining celebration of life, love, and music. And Rami Malek brings Freddie to life once more, recreating the moments that were so incredibly important to the band itself. Their struggle to get the titular song played on the radio, their experimentations with sound, and their critical performance at LIVE-AID, which is the penultimate performance and one of the most legendary rock performances of all time.
I’ve never been much of a “reviewer” so much as a writer who speaks from his heart about the things he loves- and there was a smile on my face through most of the film. Tears in my eyes obscured some of the details, a quick jump to the restroom saw me miss out on a moment somewhere, but all in all the film hit all the right notes (Pun intended.).
8 out of 10
Dario Argento’s original film is, frankly, one of my favorite films in the Italian Horror sub-genre. It’s brutal, bloody, deliberately paced, exquisitely designed with a stunning color palate, and has an amazing score by Goblin. So I’ve been very eager to see the remake, released this past week in our local art-house theater. I was there early on a Saturday afternoon with Remo D himself, though I did miss the first five or ten minutes due to events outside of my control.
Dakota Johnson stars as Susie, a new dancer entering a West Berlin Dance Studio amidst the crisis of the 1977 plane hijacking of dissident terrorists. She is unaware that the Studio is run by a coven of witches, but it is soon apparent that things are horribly amiss. Where the film works is when it chooses to focus on the actual horror story- A witches coven caught between two paths. Tilda Swinton stars (most notably) as Mme. Blanc, a witch who is seeking to replace the mysterious Mother Markos as leader of the coven. All of which serves to execute a subtle examination of power, corruption, and guilt.
All of which is dragged out with a taffy stretching exercise that examines the shame of an aging psychologist. He becomes embroiled with the Coven when his patient(Chloe Grace Moretz) goes missing and he tried to impress the dangers of the coven on another dancer (Mia Goth). And if we had only played with a few moments, that would be well enough. But we spend far too much time traveling back and forth between East and West Berlin, listening to the hostage crisis play over television and radio, watching the doctor lament his long lost wife to Nazi occupation, and what basically felt like an entirely separate film that continually interrupted the flow of the primary narrative.
From an artistic perspective, the director very likely achieved their vision of what they wanted the film to be. With several stunning moments, I want to like the film far more than I actually did.
7 out of 10.

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Terms of Use at Paperwing Theatre Company.

The set is black with neon trim paint, offering a bleak view somewhat inspired by Tron but with a sense of dystopia. Two monitors are locked on either side of the small stage where a lone bed lies atop nothing but a box spring, the covers disheveled as random "parts" lie scattered about. Motherboards, wires, some tools, and a chair-

Terms of Use is a science fiction exploration of a future that is far to near and far too present to our own time. Writer Patrick M. Brennan's stage-play calls for complex management of multiple media features, including interaction with video feeds and the live actors on stage. All of which is capably handled by the shows director, Erin Davison. The fictional world plays all too well with today's concerns with privacy and data mining too often hidden in the "terms of use" in so many current services which seem oddly free. In this "Fictional" story, Virtopia is the Virtual Reality world where many play, work, and spend their spare time. Miss V (Alyssa Matthews) is our virtual guide, company spokes-model, and the long pined for "Fantasy woman" of too many dreams. She is the Artificial Intelligence that learns just enough to be clever, but never displays an ounce of humanity within her circuitry.

Take a snapshot of a broken family. CC (Jay Brew) and Martha (Alanna Youngblood) are siblings living together many years after the death of their parents, but only a few short years after the estrangement of their outlaw sister, Fanta (Lucy Tran). They share the rent with local grifter, Erik (Jason Roeder). CC's recent hacking to create modifications to Virtopia are coming to a head as he's caught the attention of black market customers, a network of cyber-terrorists, and the company itself. His experiments may have also opened a door beyond death itself. Or could this be something worse?

Jay Brew brings his best performance to date as the deeply troubled CC, whose experiments may destroy everything his family has left. He's obviously broken from the moment we meet him, suffering from a childhood injury that's left him permanently crippled. But while CC is the deformed backbone of the show, the emotional heart is Martha. Alanna Youngblood is a force of nature on stage, capturing the heartache and worry of a sister on the edge of faith, hope, and heartbreak. She's largely turned a blind eye to the dangers of the virtual world, but it's also blinded her to the allure that threatens to tear her family apart.

And the siblings are going to have trouble knowing who to trust. Everyone wants a piece of what CC's found, for one reason or another.

8 out of 10 and an excellent production from Paperwing Theatre.

Thursday, November 1, 2018

31 Days of Halloween/Horror 2018

Here is my list for 31 Days of Halloween!
  • Caught
  • The House with a Clock in Its Walls
  • The Return of the Living Dead
  • Hell Fest
  • Stephanie
  • Corbin Nash
  • Army of Darkness
  • Friday the 13th Part III
  • Venom
  • Terrified
  • Sightseers
  • Clowntergeist
  • The Void
  • Terrifier
  • The Chair
  • Hell House LLC
  • Hell House LLC II: The Abaddon Hotel
  • The Witch in the Window
  • Halloween
  • Island Zero
  • Night of the Living Dead
  • A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night
  • Satan's Slaves
  • The Evil Dead
  • Trick 'r Treat
  • Errementari: The Blacksmith and the Devil

I also attended EVIL DEAD: The Musical and THE ROCKY HORROR SHOW as parts of my monthlong journey.... which leaves me three movies short of my goal of a solid 31. Failure stings a bit, but there were nights and days where the time just wasn't there.

See you next Halloween, Dear Faceless Readers.... MUAHAHAHAHA!!!!

Monday, October 29, 2018

Rocky Horror At Paper Wing Theatre: 2018

The Rocky Horror Show is a beloved and iconic show here on the Central Coast, where The Paper Wing Theatre Company has regularly performed it throughout many the Halloween season. I’ve covered my thoughts on this show from the inside, from the outside, from performing in the retirement season of the theater’s perennial “Frank” (Lj Brewer) and even to the breakout new performance of a newcomer to the role when the theater brought the show back last year. I’ve “reviewed” this show many times, with many changes to the cast, to the set decoration, the style of music performed, and many kinds of presentations.
As of this writing, I still plan to see a second performance of the theater’s perennial “Janet” (Heather Hahn) as she bids farewell to the role. She’s always brought me to shivers with her rendition of “Superheroes” and I’m greatly looking forward to it. That also comes with a mix of emotional ties… I’m struggling with some thoughts on this as a result. And I only mention that because I’ve always prided myself on writing fully honest reviews that express my mindset, how I’m reacting to the experience, and what it means to me. I even question whether I should call my little rants anything closely resembling a “review” every single time I post something. 

The show opened with a new Trixie, and of course Tiffany Jones looks stunning in her bright purple decor but she also is a singer I've repeatedly highlighted on my little blog. So, of course, she absolutely nails it. 
Save for the titular role of “Rocky” (Dani Cutter), this year saw the show split into two casts. One with veterans returning and the other with some new performers from last year joining newer performers—it gets a bit confusing when I think of how to explain the situation. I covered a lot of ground last year and I’m trying not to just repeat myself. Returning are Jay  Jones, Anjoli Johnson and Justin Azevedo to the roles of “Brad”,“Janet” and “Rifraff”, a one night replacement saw perennial “Magenta” actress, Jourdain Barton, joining the cast. Also returning was Randy Pires in the dual performance of “Eddie” and “Dr. Scott”.  All are performers I’ve praised in previous blogs and all brought their usual “A” game to the show. Several new faces joined the cast; Columbia, The Narrator, and a brand new Frank.
The role is a large one to fill, and while last year brought a sense of reptilian menace and punk rage to the role; this year’s performance comes with yet another change. The audience is struck with a hammer's strength of vocal force when he takes the stage, and I’m immediately struck by a sense of déjà vu- I swear to god we were seeing what might happen were Freddy Mercury to take the stage as the cape came down and Stephan Sams nails an entirely different and far more playful Frank than previously experienced. Equal parts bombastic assault and boyish innocence, a new Frank brings with it a different feel to the rest of the cast.This is a pouting and spoiled Frank, and it's a fantastic experience to see such an iconic role taken in so many different directions by such talented performers. Despite the differences, each of them remains absolutely faithful to the original performance by Curry and yet each tackles him with a slightly different twist on the familiar.
Although you may see a hundred Ceasars or a thousand Romeos, you will never be able to compare those performances to the iconic original like one can with Dr. Frankenfurter. I think that's uniquely of our age and time, something that few other shows will ever be able to meet or exceed. 
With that said, Rocky Horror continues to perform in Monterey at the Paper Wing Theatre and will likely return again in the coming years.


This just in- and it's not a secret so much as I am just way out of the loop on some information, so let me get down to brass tacks and speak straight from the heart.

When I first started at Paperwing Theatre, I made a few fast friends. I also didn't know much about the theater world or how to interact or what to do in what situation at any given time. I had a few people I could ask, a few people I could learn from, but one person stood as a example of the kind of man I wanted to be. In the way he carried himself, in the way he reached out, in the way he took notes and studied his lines and made decisions regarding his character. In that first year where I worked with Paperwing, I wrote his name on a ballot for the local newspaper as "Best Artist" because of the example he set for me. 

I just found out this would also be HIS last run in the role of the Narrator for The Rocky Horror Show and the news leaves me devastated. His quick wit, his work with the audience, his ability to adapt and always keep the show moving and funny is something that I wish I could do. It's midnight, October 30th, and I have work tomorrow morning and I'm all medicated up- but I wanted.. needed... was compelled to write something and it's a little clumsy.

I love you, Jay. I love you, Heather. I love you, Lj Brewer and Koly McBride and Matt, Alyce, Chuck Messenger, Drew, Jordan, Jourdain, Taylor Young, Allison Smith, Kate, Jody, and so many more talented wonderful people who shared the stage with one another and with me.

Friday, October 26, 2018

EVIL DEAD: The Musical!!! @ San Jose

Blasting off with double barrel badassness, Evil Dead: the Musical is something that I’ve long wanted to see and finally had the opportunity this year. Presented in San Jose, the shlock-fueled madness of Sam Raimi’s cult classic is given a great spin as every cheesy moment is embraced whole heartedly by a game cast led by it’s stalwart champion, Ashley J Williams (Matty Gregg).
When I say “led”, I absolutely chose that word especially. Gregg captures Bruce Campbells iconic mannerisms beautifully and easily adapts to the rowdy audience and the very nature of live performance with comfortable ease and charisma. He never second-guesses his choices and walks with the full bluster and bravado that Ash needs in order to keep the show moving and keep the audience involved. He’s a natural, with a cocky grin all his own and a playfulness that shows from the opening moments of the performance and throughout.
Followed to that mysterious Cabin in the Woods are Ash’s best friend, Scotty (Edie Flores), his girlfriend, Linda (Lindsay Sporleder), his sister, Cheryl (Shannon Alane Harger), and some skank that Scotty picked up in the bar, Shelly (Zanna Wei). The five teens are on vacation and have decided the perfect spring break would be to break into an isolated cabin where no one knows they are. Oh, also they find a mysterious book, eerie dagger, ancient tome bound in human flesh, and a tape recording that phonetically recites the ancient passages that supposedly summon the evil to this world. Perfect!
Familiar story from there on out- boy expresses love for girl, another boy gets down and dirty with his girl, while the prudish sister is lured into the woods where she’s assaulted by several trees that ultimately  possess her and various others in the group. Ash is quickly left on his own, which is when Zanna Wei returns in a dual role as “Annie”, the daughter of the man who owns the cabin and recites the book. She’s accompanied by her fiancée, Ed (Oklys Pimental) and erstwhile, reliable, and dependable local yokel, Jake (Ray D’Ambrosio).  Hilarity ensues.
EVERYONE in the cast stands out in each of their respective roles. The vocals throughout their songs are strong, supported by strong character work and a live band that lays hidden behind the setting wall. (more on that, later) Regular readers know that I try to highlight a few performances throughout my thoughts, but the truth is that every single cast member  were at the absolute top of their game in their performances. Cheryl was beautifully vulgar and carried through with some groanworthy puns.. Scotty was callous and later led the crew through a phenomenal Necronomicon Dance (“Just like the Timewarp, only BETTER!”). Zanna Wei carried two performances, one as a ditzy tramp (It’s in the script, don’t get offended) and the other as a long suffering student of the occult whose life has been marred by experiences with the Zandarian Demons. Linda kicks the romance into overdrive and adds depth to Ash’s torture at the hands of the deadites, especially when the horror erupts and she very nearly screams her head off. Jake is completely lovable as the redneck rascal. And, of course, Ed’s delivery is engaging, beautifully spoken, and compelling each and every time he has something to say. He is, quite possibly, the lynch pin that holds the entire story together. So it’s in the audiences’ best interest to pay special attention each and every time he speaks.
And if you think that’s all there is, I have some weird news for you. Chants for both “tree’s” (Tyler Pardini / Daniel Lerma) would rise up throughout the whole of the evening, demanding repeat arrivals from those two throughout the show. Each carried through with other special moments throughout the show, including a singing moose and a …. Well, I’ll leave that as a surprise.
Now, regarding that “more” and considering it is now “later”- the set was an interesting technological achievement as they chose to immerse the audience in a video model of the set, a large screen wall and floor played host to the plays action. The cast were zoomed through the wilderness with beautiful 3-D computer graphics, the cabin twisting to display different angles and moving Cheryl’s cellar door prison throughout the show. The cast bursts through doors to the outside, falls, and their blood splatters back against the wall during key scenes. It worked far better than I would have thought, being a big fan of practical sets and effects myself. But I’m always willing to embrace the different, and this succeeded in their mission to bring a fully immersive “Movie Musical” to life.
But with all the good, I’d be less than honest if I didn’t mention there were some technical problems with some of their practical effects. At times a little unwieldy, the cast wore blood packs that occasionally malfunctioned at various points and there were a few sound effects that didn’t quite hit their cue. Played (often brilliantly) to comedic affect by the actors on stage, the malfunctions were actually somewhat endearing and are more than forgivable. I actually think it’s one of the reasons to really love and enjoy a live theater environment, to see what happens when theater isn’t entirely scrubbed to flawless perfection and is allowed to live on a dangerous edge that welcomes the audience to embrace these experiences.
10 out of 10, and a fervent wish it were a longer run. The show runs through November 8th, in San Jose. Check local listings for theater location.

Saturday, October 20, 2018

31 Days of Horror: Halloween (2018)

Set forty years after the first film, Halloween (2018) follows up on the events of the first movie and ignores all sequels, reboots, restarts, re-imaginings, and whatever else has gone on before except for the events of that one movie. So it's a direct sequel to that first movie.
But it really isn't.

Laurie Strode is a hermetic shut-in, agoraphobic and sequestered out on a lonely stretch of road where she lives in both fear and anticipation of the Shape's return. She has had two failed marriages, she's tried to raise a daughter of her own, and her fear and alcoholism have destroyed many of the dreams she once had for a normal life. She's not a hero. She hasn't overcome her demons. This is not the Laurie I hoped to see, frankly. And it's that much more heart-wrenching to experience it.
Two investigative journalists are hoping to use the Haddonfield murder case in an upcoming feature story. They visit Laurie and they also pay a visit to the asylum where Michael Meyers has spent the last several years of his life. He is the living embodiment of evil. He hasn't said a word since his killing spree forty years prior. He's just been waiting.

A bus transfer to a new facility is just the opportunity that Michael needs, and the killing spree starts anew.

I knew this was going to be a different movie, but the truth of the matter is that this is so far removed from what I expected that it is hard to discuss without spoiling it. There are layers to this film and I'm glad they decided to not slap a number on to the end of it, leaving it as just "Halloween" and letting it sort of speak for itself. Because this isn't really a sequel, despite revisiting the characters of the previous work. This is a whole new Halloween film, a whole different story with entirely different themes and completely new nightmares for the audience. You'll get your familiar beats, but this is a new creature in and of itself.

Jamie Lee Curtis gives a layered and complex performance. I'm going to be a little too honest here- I did not LIKE what Laurie had become. My heart broke to see her taken by her own demons, to see her living with a guilt and shame over not being able to move on. A specific scene cut close to home as I saw the kinds of things I feel when my own PTSD is triggered and it was hard to watch it reflected back to me in that way. Though it will never happen, she should be nominated for an award in this movie.

10 out of 10.

Thursday, October 18, 2018

31 Days of Halloweennn.... Dear lord: VENOM, Terrified, Terrifier, Hellhouse; LLC parts 1 & 2

Based on the comic book character from Marvel, SONY was somewhat compelled to abandon the Spider-man origins of the character in order to develop a stand-alone feature. When a manned research expedition in space goes horribly awry, some canisters holding a parasitic organisms find their way to a facility in San Francisco. These Organisms, called Symbiotes, are part of a genius entrepreneur’s plan to find a new planet for mankind. Some fairly typical mad genius sort of stuff.
Failed Investigative reporter Eddie Brock is infected with the creature, and hilarity ensues.
I’ll be honest, here.
Venom has never been my favorite character in the Spider-man Universe. In point of fact, I’m fairly ambivalent about him even after several decades. Eddie Brock, who just seemed like a whiner most of the time, later developed as more of anti-hero sort along the lines of The Punisher. With that said, I honestly preferred this version of Brock and enjoyed this incarnation of Venom. Seen as a “loser” among his own race, Venom finds a degree of compassion as he sees the world through Brock’s eyes. I thought the action and effects scenes were pretty cool, and the movie was just pretty fantastic throughout. A lot of plot holes, but ultimately I was just along for the ride.
7 out of 10, mild recommend.
I was browsing through the selections and put it up on an evening where I was feeling under the weather. Not realizing the film was going to be subtitled (not normally an issue for me), I was on the verge of turning it off when an opening moment so shocking and violent immediately snapped my attention with a very loud “What the fuck?!?!” as I sat glued to my couch for the next hour and a half. I was hooked!
Demian Rugna directs this Shudder exclusive, an import from Argentina. On the surface, it presents as a fairly standard “haunted house” feature with the usual ghosts in the background and a paranormal research team. The material quickly spirals out from what we think we know. Police Commissary Funes and three researchers investigate the strange occurrences in a Buenos Aries neighborhood.  Three separate stories that merge into one incident that links them all. Something is banging on the walls, something’s crying in the pipes, there are figures under the bed, hiding in the closets, and waiting in the dark. A young child climbs from his grave for a glass of milk. A mother in despair, a detective with a heart condition, a former pathologist who spoke with the dead, and something that thirsts for blood.
My heart was beating fast through this nightmare of a film.
9 out of 10 and a definitive RECOMMEND!!!!
And, why not go with a similar titled film just to confuse the FUCK out of all you faceless readers.
Based off a short film of the same name, Terrifier is as mean-spirited a slasher film as you are likely to find in this day and age. Art the Clown is the titular character, a mute killer with an affinity for pantomime and awful violence. Art is out one Halloween Night when he encounters a young woman and her drunken friend just outside a neighborhood pizza place. Catching his interest, the ladies find themselves the targets of Art’s murderous intentions.
Look, I’m going to warn you right now- This movie is goopy as hell. A body WILL be sawed in half from the crotch on down and it will be in graphic detail with the guts hanging and the body left hanging there for the rest of the film. And while that’s definitely a highlight, that’s not nearly the finale to this gorefest from director Damien Leone. The film reminds me a little of “Laid to Rest”, going just as far with the gore and the kills as it possibly can.
6.5 out of 10. This was totally my cup of tea, but I can’t recommend it unless you have a strong stomach and a bit of a sadistic nature.
Hell House, LLC
What went wrong at the Abbadon Hotel? A haunted attraction was set to open and the first guests filed through when tragedy struck. Fifteen people were dead, many others wounded, and the town will not let anyone speak about it. A small documentary crew are prepared to dig deep and uncover the clues, piece together the footage, and expose the secret of what happened on that fateful evening.
I’m not normally the biggest fan of “found footage”, but this movie has a knack for presenting it as more than just a series of pieced together bits of footage. The story unfolds through interviews, footage, and investigative narration that ultimately reveals the truth about the night in question. But many more are
6.5 out of 10. Mild recommend.
Hell House, LLC 2: The Abbadon House
Picking up a year after the events of the first film, the previous film’s remaining documentary crew are left to pick up the pieces. The mysteries of the House itself remain, and a new series of visitors have left behind additional footage for others to contemplate. The House is still accepting guests, despite the best efforts of the town itself.
6 out of 10. Mild recommend.

Sunday, October 14, 2018

31 Days of Horror: THE CHAIR

Is anyone innocent?

Is anyone guilty?

Based on the graphic novel by Peter Simeti, The Chair is a complex nightmare that starts from the perception of an inmate on death row. He sees a twisted horror of sadistic guards, taunting inmates, and gory scenes of torture and violence. He constantly repeats his innocence, reaching out to the other inmates and watching as they are sadistically tortured by the Warden (Bill Oberst Jr.).

Timothy Muskatell's performance is divided as the tortured inmate, Richard Sullivan. He's haunted by the memories of abuse suffered at the hands of his mother. He sees himself as an innocent victim of circumstances, but he reacts with violence and shows more than a few glimpses of the psychotic madness with which he is accused. He's our introduction to the story and so we have to determine whether he's a reliable narrator to the events as they transpire.

It's hard to discuss Oberst's performance without spoiling the film. It's far more complex than we are originally led to believe. He is portrayed as a sadist when we meet him, but a different view is exposed as we peel back the layers and learn the truth about Sullivan's crimes.

But the stand-out of the film is Roddy Piper. I don't just say this as a fan of the Rowdy one, but as a viewer watching one of his final and very best performances. There is something special for him in this movie and we see the actor more so than the wrestler, a man digging deep for an incredible performance in the character of Murphy. He's a sadist, a monster, and maybe even a psychopath. But as the layers are peeled back, we see not everything is as it may seem.

The film does suffer from it's budgetary constraints and some concerning choices in the editing. A small scene between Murphy and Sullivan is constantly interrupted with unnecessary flash imagery of the Warden and somewhat interrupts the power of an intimate scene between the two actors. The flashes make more sense later, but I still felt as though the choice to interrupt may have undermined the potential power of the scene a little.

Sunday, October 7, 2018

The House with a Clock in it's Walls.

The House with a Clock in it’s Walls
Based on a series of books written by John Bellairs, “House” (for short) is directed by Eli Roth in a departure from his more extreme Horror films such as “Hostel” and “Cabin Fever”. It’s interesting to see Roth tackle a number of the projects he has recently been drawn to, but especially interesting given that this is largely a Family film dealing with fantasy elements. Jack Black and Cate Blanchett headline the feature along with Owen Vaccaro as the orphaned Lewis Barnavelt, with the indominatable Kyle MacLachlan as the villainous Isaac Izard.
The film opens in 1955 with a freshly orphaned boy on a bus to live with his only surviving relative, Uncle Jonathan Barnavell (Black). The man is an eccentric magician living in an old creepy looking house covered in clocks. It isn’t long before Owen discovers his Uncle is really a Warlock and that his neighbor and best friend, Florence Zimmerman (Blanchett) is also a Witch. While Owen is eager to learn the secrets of magic, he also years for a normal childhood and wants to make friends and just be considered NORMAL.
That’s a fine enough premise on its own, but the story digs much deeper into sentiments of the time and the survivors of the World War and the reverberating shock of the horrors they experienced. Owen represents so much that many other characters have lost. He breathes life into the characters he touches, but his own pain and loss is still an open wound waiting to be exploited by schoolmates and society. He wants the acceptance found with normalcy, but his heart keeps pushing him to accept the stranger aspects of his family and his own interests.
Roth proves himself more than a capable director throughout the runtime of the film. We still see his devotion to the horror craft, however. There are crawling slimy things, undead monsters, creepy clockwork dolls, and monsters aplenty for our protagonists to tackle. The effects work is top notch, save for some awkwardly rendered CGI in a few key moments. (I will never get a certain “baby” image out of my head, mostly for the awkwardness with which the rendering was done.) The film still works on the whole and that one knock isn’t enough to take away from it.
8.5 out of 10.

Monday, October 1, 2018

31 Days of Horror: DAY ONE "Caught"

I'll be honest.

I'm not entirely sure I "liked" this film all that much. The premise caught my eye and held my attention. A couple are approached in their home by two strangers who would like to ask them a few questions. Mistaking these strangers for religious missionaries, the couple find themselves trapped and caught up in a terrifying nightmare as the two strangers subject them to strange questions and bizarre behavior.

Actor Cian Barry is one of the strangers to come calling and captures the bulk of the menace in the film. His partner doesn't speak much, more feral with each action and eager to kill. He barely holds her leash and warns the couple that he's "Not the one who decides" repeatedly. He barely seems to be holding it together and seems confused, which makes sense given the films unfolding narrative that never quite spells it out for the waiting audience. Even if you "know", they aren't going to tell you what the truth is out there on the moors. 

The film kept me hooked throughout most of it's run time but quickly lost steam once it had played out. It ended and not much was there when all was said and done. Still, a decent watch and currently streaming on Shudder as I type this.

6 out of 10

Thursday, September 20, 2018

BLEACHing hair with my son... NAH, Bleach Live Action Movie review....

BLEACH (Live action Movie)
Let’s go back in the time machine to when G4 was still a channel, I could get regularly updated news on some new anime without leaping through hurdles, and my body didn’t have quite the same aches and pains as it does on this day. Bleach was the new “thing” from Japan, a strong fanbase and a regular series on its’ way from Toonami, but we also still had a Suncoast video where I regularly bought into a regular anime collection on a semi monthly basis. Ahh, yes… disposable income… those were the days.
I started to pick up Bleach.
I thought it was a fun series, but the member of my household who really bought in was my young son who had gotten into the habit of expressing fandom through regular cosplay at the ripe age of five (maybe 4, really.) And I came home some days to find him dressed in a kimono his mother had fashioned for him, hair sprayed orange, and a decent facsimile of an oversized sword somewhere on his person. I am, perhaps, understating the absolute OBSESSION my son had with the sword swinging warrior who fought against and on behalf of ghosts. My son had a young hero that was his before it ever had a chance to become mine.
Netflix unveiled the film directly on the heels of it’s Japanese theatrical release in July. The story revolves around Ichigo Kurosawa, a teen with the ability to see and communicate with ghosts. A recent altercation brings him into contact with a “Reaper” named Rukio Kuchiki and she is stuck on Earth in a semi-human state while he is tasked with replacing her as a substitute. Neither are happy with the arrangement, both are resentful, and the Soul Society for which Rukia works is extremely displeased. They send two Reapers to bring back Rukia so she can face punishment for her actions, and Ichigo is forced to train hard in order to use his new powers effectively.
The film mostly condenses the first several chapters (or episodes) of the Manga/Anime in to an hour and forty five minutes. And this is a deep series with many threads to explore, but the film has to work in a different medium and can’t afford to spread itself as wide to satisfy some fan service to series loyalists. Suffice to say, a few elements from the series will be missing in this film so you should prepare yourself for that. But the characters are all true to their origins, with Ichigo himself as the central thread tying everything together. He’s brash, judgmental, a little arrogant, tortured, and… most of all… he risks it all to protect the ones he cares for. The ending is pitch perfect to the character of Ichigo, drawing at my now well-developed heartstrings and leaving my son with glitter in his eyes for the hero he discovered nearly a decade ago.
And make no mistake- this was a film for my son, who hates reading subtitles but sat through this rip roaring adventure because of the love he held for the series as a little tyke. His not-so-little heart was pounding, he was smiling from ear to ear, and that father/son bond we had as he sat on my lap in those days was beaming bright the night we sat and watched the live-action film. It was part nostalgia, but it was also the iron will of a young teen who refused to give up- regardless of how much the odds were stacked, regardless of what it cost him, and my son saw his hero brought to life.
8.5 and I highly recommend it.