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