Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Hannah Gatsby – Nannette

Hannah Gatsby – Nannette
I’ve been struggling with how to approach a review of this piece currently streaming on Netflix. It’s sold as a “stand-up” special, but harkens more to a one-woman piece in the vein of Julia Sweeney’s “God Said HAH!”. It’s certainly different from a lot of things currently out there and as a straight cis-gendered male, I’m actually kind of running a risk of being taken out of context for sharing my thoughts. It’s a problem I’ve been facing the past year on a number of films, plays, and other materials that I’ve experienced. The sense of nervousness and even a little fear in being attacked for one reason or another. Someone might misinterpret something I’ve said and use it against me. So keep that in mind when you read these thoughts, because I’m actively trying to not be offensive in any way.
But I’ll probably trigger someone or another.
“Nannette” is a mis-titled piece of stand-up performance by Tasmanian comedian Hannah Gatsby. She is an out and proud lesbian who performs mostly in Australia, she identifies as a woman despite many presuming that she’s is a trans male (Her look is rather “butch” by the LGBTQ definition), and she has a lot of opinions and thoughts on her profession, on society, and on the very topic of humor itself.
She’s built a career on telling her stories in life- growing up in a highly religious and intolerant small Tasmanian town, coming out to her mother, coming out in general, discovering herself and who she is in life, coping with the stereotypes and lifestyles of a gender-queer community, and so on so forth. Her humor is outstanding with a set up and a knock down delivery, some thoughts on people sharing their “criticism” and “opinions” of her work. “Men Criticize… Women share their Opinions.”  Her work stands out and she tackles mental health, medication, and utilizes her art history degree to deliver some truly scathing social commentary on the world as it is.
But Hannah Gatsby digs deep into her profession and the laughter stops. Because she’s tired of making people laugh, she’s tired of the way jokes are constructed, of the maliciousness and self-deprecation involved in making people laugh. She’s tired of the stories not going far enough, not giving enough detail on what transpires after the punchline is delivered. Because more does happen. She’s raped, assaulted, and she experiences terror, suicidal thoughts, depression, and she is not safe in the world. People are laughing at her stories and she just doesn’t want to be that person anymore. The material becomes deeply personal- it always has been but it was always played for laughs, but Gatsby just can’t find the energy to laugh anymore.
She is tired.
It’s an emotional piece and it takes you places and it entertains and informs. My heart goes out to Miss Gatsby, my heart goes out to all of those who have suffered and experienced the kind of pain and heartache she has experienced. She’s a natural introvert performing in an extroverts career, a constant contradiction to herself. She’s happier with a quiet cup of tea than going out to watch parades and dance in clubs.  She turns to the male members of her audience and commends them for taking some of the abuse she’s dished out, and she acknowledges that she isn’t being kind to them. She also acknowledges that she doesn’t necessarily have to be, but she knows they’re there and they’re supporting her.
Well, as a man or a viewer or a fan or a customer, the truth is that I don’t have a criticism. I don’t have advice or suggestions or any of that. I do have an opinion, but it has nothing to do with changing the piece or wanting some sort of alteration to what she’s done on that stage. The piece is what she wants it to be and it’s what the material needs to be- for her. It’s an artistic achievement.
I do have a bit of a rebuttal, though. Because as tired as Miss Gatsby is, as frustrated as she’s become, and has worn thin as the frayed lines might be, the humor with which she has faced all the terrible times in her life has given her a strength and a courage that should be admired, respected, and applauded. Her recognition of what a joke is does not diminish the importance of the joke or the need we have of coping with life. I have experienced my own terrors and fears and it’s the ability to laugh that allows me to face my life and avoid eating a bullet. Her words and experiences are powerful, but there is a deep fear in me that some of it would be used to justify restrictions on free speech. I certainly understand why people would- it’s not as though I were deaf to their experiences. I don’t lack for compassion. And I wish that Miss Gatsby did not need to have the strength she once got from comedy.
I am not Miss Gatsby’s target audience. I am afraid she would not like me very much. I am crude, obnoxious, sarcastic, and I am a free speech absolutist. She would likely roll her eyes at my review and never bother reading it should it come across her eyes on a google search one random evening as she is sipping tea. She would read my rebuttal and probably think me a wanker or whatever term the Aussies might use to describe a jerk with an opinion.
That’s fair.
10 out of 10 and a high recommend.

Thursday, July 26, 2018

The Golden Right by Justin Throngard – Book Review

Taking cues from the Pulp Action boxing heroes of Robert E Howard, Justin Throngard blends genres with an 80’s action ascetic and tosses his hero deep into the bowels of a corrupt prison system. Murray Bench is an up and coming prize-fighter when he runs afoul of a local crime boss and ends up in prison. The son of a murdered cop and a man of principle and honor, Murray is forced to fight by a corrupt warden capitalizing on his celebrity inmate. But Irvine Graves isn’t done with him just yet. Events continue to elevate the stakes for our hero and he is forced to fight in the ring and in the prison yard itself to survive. He has few allies and a growing list of enemies. Can he overcome the odds, or will he be just another victim to the system?
Throngard’s action set pieces come to life as he describes the violence, the pain, and the consequences for every advantage lost. Murray Bench is a “die hard” style hero, a man who won’t just quit or sell out his friends when the going is tough. He takes a beating throughout the novel and he pays for his principles, but he encourages and inspires the friends he meets along the way. But at the core of the story is a consistent theme of taking responsibility for your actions. Throngard tackles some tough issues on the philosophy of law enforcement, incarceration, and how one pays their debt to society. It’s that theme that ties the book together and drives the actions and motivations of both heroes and villains. While the action stands out with some brutal fights, my favorite moments were the quieter discussions on how a the law is maintained. Corruption, honor, loyalty both deserved and undeserved, and the consequences for actions are all on display here and Throngard’s characters struggle with the answers just as deeply as they struggle with the dangers of a life in prison.
The first in a planned series (entitled: The Phoenix and the Ranger), The Golden Right is currently available in both paperback and kindle formats through Amazon. Justin Throngard is also host to one of my favorite podcasts, “Stinker Madness”. His love of action movies and b-grade genre film runs deep.
8 out of 10, a high recommend for quick pulp action lovers.

Monday, July 23, 2018

Deathstalker 2 RETRO REVIEW!!! Hit the Synth, Bucko!

Deathstalker 2 Retro-Review
As we approach the year 2019, it should be noted that the world of Sword & Sorcery film-making has seen leaps in improved effects, costuming, and story-telling. Even some of the most lackluster sci-fi channel films would be seen as miracles in cinema had they been seen back when I was a younger boy- at the risk of dating myself, I am in my mid-forties and I grew up on Krull, Hawk the Slayer, and the Deathstalker franchise. And yes, these films were a franchise trilogy that were only loosely connected by the character of Deathstalker himself. A character whose actor would change from one movie to the next, who never spoke about the events of the previous movies, and whose legend only consistently named him a Prince of thieves.
The first film received cult status as producer Roger Corman cashed in on the Conan craze, featuring swords, sorcery, scantily clad babes, and featuring Playboy playmate Barbi Benton as a princess in peril. But the film knows precisely what it is- and it’s something that would never be made in this day and age. The “Hero” (Rick Hill) is a misogynistic cad who rescues a damsel from gang rape only to go about raping her himself, is armed with the Sword of Justice, and goes about slaying creatures and men by the bucketful until eventually making his way to the Princess. It’s all guts and glory.
And it made enough of its money back to justify not only one, but two sequels!
In the third film, the hero is played by John Allen Nelson and he once again goes on a quest to aid a princess in peril. See a pattern here? The film was featured on an episode of MST3K and is the last of the Deathstalker movies to be produced to date.
But the second film?  Ah, let’s speak about the second film in the trilogy for a bit.
The second film features a decidedly wry John Terlesky (Chopping Mall) as the Prince of Thieves, one part Han Solo and one part Errol Flynn, a wise-cracking swashbuckler in an age of mythic fantasy. After rescuing a peasant woman (Monique Gabrielle), she tells him she is a seer and that he is destined to help save a princess from an evil sorcerer (John La Zar). Toni Naples also casts a shadow as the nefarious Sultana, a witch or warrior queen or mercenary- you know what? I don’t know what she was supposed to be and I really don’t care. And, although we are just rehashing the plot from the first film, Deathstalker doesn’t seem too impressed with the heroic deeds laid out ahead of him. Luckily our hero is easily swayed by the promise of fortune and glory, so off he goes with his slightly less than competent Seer. 
A huge change in this film is the “self-aware” dialogue, with the protagonists realizing they’re in danger moments before it happens, flowery insults (The village idiot and two runners up?) and moments that bend the fourth wall to the breaking point. Terlesky and Gabrielle have a lot of fun chemistry on camera, their playful banter seems natural and playful throughout the film and of course leads to the inevitable love scene. Also, Terlesky seems very athletic in the role and leaps to action on more than one occasion. How he never became a major actor is a mystery to me, but he’s since gone on to success as a director on several television projects. Gabrielle made a career in soft core adult feature films, including the title role of Emanuelle 5 after famously appearing in Bachelor Party.  
This movie is just a fun ride. Now you may poo-poo the cheesy effects, the bad make-up design on the orcs (Literally men with pig masks), or laugh at the badly painted set design but you would be wholly missing the point. This isn’t Conan, this isn’t a land of high adventure, this is a z-grade production and it knows exactly what it is. Have fun with it! Enjoy it for what it is, and not for what other movies are. I know that sounds like I’m trying to justify it’s existence or making excuses, but the film really works far better than either of the two other features in the Deathstalker franchise. It’s a treat for its short runtime and it’s good revisit to see how Sword and Sorcery movies were presented before Lord of the Rings made them popular.
7 out of 10 (Though, in fairness it probably deserves less) and a high recommend.  

Saturday, July 21, 2018

UNFRIENDED: The Dark Web and Ruin Me


Matias (Collin Woodell, "Unsane") opens up his new laptop and immediately sets to work on his new app to translate his words into sign language for his deaf girlfriend, Amaya. It isn't long before we find out that our lead is coming in from the dark ages of a slower computer and that this night also coincides with his on-line "game" with friends over Skype. But his new computer has some secrets, including a previous owner who wants his machine back in a big way.

Somewhat of an improvement over the previous entry in the growing franchise, the film continues with the conceit of viewing the entire story through the computer monitor. That, however, is where any and all similarity to the first film ends. These events aren't supernatural. Heavily inspired by creepy pastas over the years, including folklore surrounding the mythical "Dark Web" (Where nothing is taboo.). Matias and his friends find themselves victims of a sinister group that trades in snuff films.

Okay, the truth is that I wasn't pulled in to this film by the scares or machinations of the sinister "Charons"... the film felt forced at times and there's just not enough to follow when everyone is staring into the camera with wide eyes, hands to mouth, and shock on their features. The gimmick of the film is also it's major limitation as we are forced to watch all the action from security cameras, webcams, and camera phones. And there just isn't a lot of "there" there.

4 out of 10, not a recommend. A friend I went with to the film disagrees, however... so it may not have appealed to me.

Alexandria (Marcianne Dwyer) is such a great girlfriend. She agrees to tag along with her boyfriend on a camping trip designed as part “Haunted” attraction and part “escape room”. The Slasher Sleepout will feature clues to a puzzle, actors playing various roles, and other contestants hoping to win whatever contest is in play. But things may not be all the fun and games we first believe, and Alexandria must play the game for very real stakes if she hopes to make it out alive.

Banking on an interesting premise, Ruin Me becomes surreal as we are constantly questioning whether the game is about to turn real or not. The characters are the sort of archetypes you would expect to find, from the goth princess “slut”, her “edgy” boyfriend, the film nerd, and … well, that random guy with a beard. Alexandria and her boyfriend, Nathan (Matt Dellapina), are the perfect pair of regular schmucks along for the ride. And there’s plenty to enjoy about the premise and set up of the film. There’s interesting dialogue, enjoyable interactions, and some quirky moments that makes the viewer believe they might be in for a nice comedy-horror treat.

Then the film comes to a screeching halt at the apex of the action we’ve been enjoying so far, and we’re taken out of the moment and thrown into a surreal twist. It’s a great set-piece and it reminds me of “Saw” in all the best ways, but it’s such a tonal shift that the viewer is no longer able to trust the film. Now we know that there’s a big twist coming and we’re left waiting for the inevitable drop. It’s not a mystery- not really. We know where the film is heading and we’re just waiting for the explanation. We want to know why, but the wondering doesn’t allow us to really enjoy the rest of the film.

Which is a shame.

6.5 out of 10- mild recommend.

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Tau and Hotel Transylvania 3

A prostitute wakes up in a small dark room, gagged, and a strange device is surgically implanted at the base of her skull. She’s part of an experiment. She doesn’t know why, she doesn’t know what the experiment is, but she knows she needs to escape. Her jailor is Tau, an artificial intelligence responsible for maintaining the experiment, the lab, and the subjects there-in. That’s all you need to know.
Hitting Netflix with only a little fanfare, “Tau” is a small sci-fi film with Maika Monroe (“It Follows”) and Ed Skrein (“Deadpool”) comprise the majority of the film’s cast with Gary Oldman (“The Fifth Element”) providing his voice to the titular character of Tau. Perhaps the greatest challenge for a film like Tau is that it’s following so closely on the heels of the similar “Ex Machina” in terms of set-up. Monroe interacts with the A.I., a cold-hearted creator tries to control the experiment, and the film is isolated to these few characters throughout most of the run-time. And those who dismiss the film on those surface comparisons are going to miss out on something special, as Tau carves itself a separate path with the journey of these characters.
The stakes lead into horror territory, the leads certainly have different goals, and Tau is NOT the object of this experiment. The film moves at a brisk pace and won’t disappoint devotees of the sci-fi/horror genre.
7 out of 10. Recommended. 

Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation
The Drac Pack is back with a summer vacation spin, transporting Dracula, Mavis, and Johnny aboard a luxury cruise for Monsters. The families are there to rest and relax with one another, but Dracula suddenly has eyes for the human Ship’s Captain. Ericka certainly has an interest in Dracula as well, but it’s not quite the same. Shenanigans, a couple of musical ditties, a devious cyborg, battling DJ’s, and bizarre fishmen run roughshod throughout the 3-D animated film.
It was okay.
5 out of 10 and a mild recommend.

Monday, July 2, 2018

MOHAWK review, (streaming on Netflix)


The War of 1812 is in the last few weeks of conflict when a British spy seeks allies from a Mohawk tribe, inspiring one to commit a brutal act of sabotage when he burns an American encampment in their sleep. The survivors seek revenge and hunts the Native back to his people where the British spy and their lover, a girl named "Oak", are chased through the wilderness as they seek refuge with a nearby Mission.

Shot with unforgiving brutality, Mohawk eschews the traditional trappings of easy morality and dives deep into deeply troubled waters of xenophobia, fear, and inhumanity. Kaniehtiio Horn delivers a harsh performance as Oak, a woman in a menage trois relationship with fellow native "Calvin" and British spy "Joshua". But it's her story of desperation that drives the film toward it's bloody climax.

Ted Geoghegan (“We Are Still Here”) directs this film like a nightmarish dream that weaves through the North-East wilderness, moments often passing too quickly to be in real time and other moments moving slowly. We walk in circles, lost in mists and darkness, and flickering torches give us pause to the shadows around the characters.

8 out of 10 an a definite recommend. Streaming on Netflix.