Sunday, October 19, 2014

Retro Review: "John Carpenter's 'The Ward'"

Genre great John Carpenter made his mark with the original Halloween and has since made some of the most memorable genre films of all time, including Christine; They Live; his amazing remake of The Thing and the very campy Big Trouble in Little China, among others. This 2010 effort from the now 68 year old director, unfortunately can't hold a candle his previous work.

Amber Heard plays Kristin, a teen girl found standing outside a farmhouse to which she set fire, and with no memory of anything before that. She is taken to a special ward of the local mental hospital where Dr. Stringer ("Fringe" and "Sherlock Holmes" villain Jared Harris) is testing a new kind of therapy on a group of similarly-aged teen girls, each with their own disassociative disorders.  Kristin moves into the room formerly occupied by Tammy, who in a prologue appears to have been murdered by some malevolent entity.

What follows is probably the most un-Carpenter-like Carpenter film ever made. Filled with cliches and genre tropes, this 1966-set 'ghost' movie ends up being little more than a pseudo-psychological thriller ala Identity and Shutter Island, though both of those movies are superior in almost every way. There are some terrific performances by the young cast, which includes Mamie Gummer; Danielle Panabaker; Laura-Leigh and Lyndsey Fonseca, all of whom have appeared on plenty of prime-time dramas and assorted smaller films, and all of whom manage to create interesting - if not exactly original - characters. The script by Michael & Shawn Rasmussen is both clunky and derivative, and I am surprised Carpenter agreed to do it. Proof that even if you've got it, you don't get to keep it.

Want to have a John Carpenter Halloween movie festival? Watch the 5 films mentioned in the first paragraph of this review and avoid this stinker like Vampires. *(One Out of Four Stars). The Ward  is rated 'R' for "violence and disturbing images." It is currently playing on Cinemax and Cinemax OnDemand, should you wish to waste 89 minutes.

More, anon.

Thursday, October 16, 2014


Mitzi Ruhlman in Yardbird
I love finding new works from new filmmakers. While Australian director Michael Spiccia's 2012 short Yardbird may not exactly be new, it's relatively new to the States, having played at last year's Tribecca Film Festival. I had never heard of it, but thanks to the good folks over at Neatorama, I discovered it today.

Written by Julius Avery, Yardbird is about a young girl named Ruby, who lives with her father on a remote Australian junkyard. After saving a cat from being tortured by a trio of young thugs, Ruby and her father find themselves under attack. Unfortunately for the chief instigator, Ruby is... special. Taking cues from Stephen King's "Carrie" and employing some extraordinary SFX, Yardbird should be a lesson to all those who would be bullies. You never know who you're screwing with, so don't screw with anyone. 

Ruhlman, in a silent role, gives an extraordinary performance for such a young actor. Without saying a single word, she manages to convey every thought and emotion she's experiencing simply by letting us read her exceptionally expressive face. A remarkable short film by a team from which I hope to see more. Take 11 minutes to watch Yardbird. You won't regret it (a few NSFW F-bombs):

Yardbird from Bridle Path Films on Vimeo.

Not exactly a horror film (though certainly containing elements of the genre), Yardbird is a perfect example of the power of 'quiet' film making. I hope you enjoyed it as much as I and hope you'll share it. It certainly deserves to be seen.

More, anon.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

National Coming Out Day

So today was National Coming Out Day.  I hope lots of folks did and are the happier for it, as am I. And while it's all well and good that we have an official "Coming Out Day," for many of us, coming out isn't or wasn't a one day deal. 

For Uncle P, the process started with a few High School Theatre girl friends, claiming then (and through much of college) that I was Bisexual, knowing full well that wasn't true in the least. Of course, Uncle P came of age at the beginning of the AIDS crisis, adding additional stigma to being a young gay man. And while all through my 20's and early 30's I had my fun, it wasn't until I went into therapy that I was able to not just come out to myself, but to to my immediate family. I was going to tell my mother on "Come Out with Ellen" day, but chose to do so a week before, steeling myself with a drink or three, first. She cried, not because I was gay, but because I had been afraid to tell her. Eventually, I started expressing to her which men I found attractive on the TV shows we both watched and we would have small conversations about why and whether or not we found the same guys attractive. She loved my long ago ex, Ric and encouraged me to find someone right up until she went into the hospital for the last time. 

I told my sister that same year, on the last night of my once-annual October trip to Florida. She was neither shocked nor upset, though embarrassed at having used the "F" word, earlier in the day (something that almost stopped me from telling her). To this day, she continues to not only be my BFF (I love you K & Q, but you know...) and a staunch supporter of LGBT rights, including Marriage Equality. I feel so lucky to have her on my side, especially given the stories we all know about families abandoning their LGBT members. And while there are still a few elderly family members (my Aunt and Mom's Aunt and Uncle, among them) who don't know - and as far as I am concerned, don't need to know - most of my cousins and few aunts and uncles know. And that's fine. They are all mostly liberal and accepting. And if not, the hell with them. I have reached the age where I truly don't give a rat's ass what you think about me.

For me, coming out was a long, drawn-out process which took many years. As I am sure it was and will continue to be for many gay people. But as more and more of us make ourselves visible, it will be easier and easier for those who come after us. Eventually (hopefully), 'coming out' won't be something anyone needs to worry about. Am I too optimistic about a Roddenberryesque Utopia where the whole word gets it? How  I would love a peek into the future a hundred or so years from now. I can only hope the smart folks win.

In celebration of Coming Out, here's the trailer for my favorite gay rom-com and sweet coming out story, Big Eden:

And here's a very affirming music video about Coming Out:

Own yourself. Love yourself. Be yourself!

Sending you love and support! Come out, come out, whoever you are! Know that there are many people who love and support you! I'm here if you need an ear.

More, anon.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

"The Walking Dead" Season Five Special Event

I am hardly surprised by the general excitement surrounding this coming Sunday night's Season 5 premiere episode of AMC's massive genre hit, "The Walking Dead." Nor am I in the least surprised by my personal excitement. The consistently excellent writing (yes, even Season 2), acting and production values on the cable original all combine for a show that (love it or hate it) will certainly go down in the annals of Television History (as long as such things exist, anyway) for so many reasons.

If you were with me back then, I would re-cap and comment on each episode during Season One and some of Two. I sort of miss doing that, but don't have the time to do so, anymore. But I still love the show and realize that Season Five is a milestone and I want to commemorate that for a couple of reasons.*

Sunday, October 12th from 9:30 PM Eastern to 11:05 PM Eastern, Uncle P will be Live Tweeting leading up to the premiere and during commercials! It will be the only episode I'll watch in real time this season (or maybe the season finale if this goes well - we'll see...). I hope I have enough to talk about! 

Don't already follow me on Twitter? You should. @Caliban761

*All of this, I think, is part of a new enthusiasm inspired by several recent events in Uncle P's life that are pretty much the exact opposite of the events around the same time last year (more on that in my next post). My 'New Normal' continues to become a more level and increasingly positive place that makes me want to get back to writing and expressing myself more. When I thought of doing the Live Tweet thing, I got excited about writing again and I can't wait to see what happens! Hope to see you on Twitter on Sunday night. I'll try not to be too spoilery!

More, anon.
Uncle P

Saturday, October 4, 2014

New 80's Music; Lip Dubs & Other Gayest Things You'll See This Week

Uncle P Was Here
So far, this weekend has been really excellent and this year's fourth quarter seems to be (finally) starting out to be better than last year's. After a terrifically fun & funny dinner and drinks with five other close co-workers (the official closed Facebook invite was called "Drink and Bitch") I came home on Friday, not quite ready to call it a night. So I hopped in the shower, changed and headed toward Southeastern PA's gay Mecca, New Hope and had a very fun evening which included getting to see my favorite comedian/bartender Adrian Colon (among other things; wink-wink, nudge-nudge). 

Today, Uncle P got to spend time with some dear young theatre friends at the Philadelphia Fall Festival (photo above), held in Center City's 'Gayborhood.' Tons of amazing food, cocktails and craft beers (I had a particularly delicious raspberry ale that was amazingly subtle and not sweet at all) as well as vendors and artists and tons of live entertainment from all over the region. We left around 3:30 (taking an hilariously unnecessary route back to the garage where we'd parked, but encountering a very cool, functional R2D2 because of it) and the increasing crowd was already becoming increasingly inebriated. I think we got out while the gettin' was good. Oddly, for what was promoted as an LGBT event, there very few LGBT-related booths or activities. After coming home, I ran some errands, defrosted the meats for tomorrow's Meatloaf Florentine and caught up on "Gray's Anatomy" (shut it!). After checking Facebook, I went to visit a few of my usual cyber-haunts, where I found a few music videos which I just had to share, because I loved them (and you should too).

First up (via) is The Department, with their decidedly 80's sounding and looking "As If Transformed." Electronica Lives!

Wow! That takes me back! 

Next (also via) is proof that artists and art everywhere. This weird, wonderful and super-fun single-take lip dub of Kiesza's "Hideaway" is just amazing and deserves to go viral.

Of course, Kiesza's original single-take video is pretty amazing, too.

Last, though hardly least (and to keep 'The Gayest Thing' tag relevant), the very adorable Berkshire Boys are back with their lip-dub of Demi Lovato's over-played "Really Don't Care." They're so cute, you can forgive one more listen!

All this and I still have a Sunday evening first date to look forward to. Whee! Yes, I still have my moments, but after Bluebird and these past few weekends, I'm finally starting to really feel like myself, again. And while I am always loathe to quote a criminal One Percenter, "That's a good thing." 

More, anon.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Retro Review: "Captain America: The Winter Soldier"

So this last weekend of September (and the first of Autumn) was a very mixed bag, though most of it good. I had intended on writing this review last night while the movie was still fresh in my mind, but the randomness of the Universe stepped in and made my Saturday night into something other than I had planned (I fell asleep and missed a party, but went out later and met a hot, funny and sweet man I hope to see again - yes, we exchanged numbers; I may be crazy, but I'm not stupid).  I worked one of my two mandatory Saturday mornings (7:00 - 12:30) and then went grocery shopping. I knew I had a party to attend, but after the groceries were put away, I had time to kill so I rented Captain America: The Winter Soldier OnDemand. Warning: This movie came out in the spring. There will be lots of SPOILERS!

Captain America: The First Avenger was one of my favorite movies the summer it was released, and I was very happy to find... well, soon. This time out, Cap is once again up against Hydra, who have wormed their unctuous tentacles into the very heart of S.H.I.E.L.D., led by the duplicitous Alexander Pierce (screen legend Robert Redford playing against type and obviously having the time of his life). When S.H.I.E.L.D. director Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) is 'killed' by a legendary assassin known as 'The Winter Soldier' (Sebastian Stan), it's up to Steve Rogers to get to the bottom of the conspiracy. Despite being told by Fury to "Trust no one.," Rogers does trust Agent Natasha 'Black Widow' Romanov (Scarlett Johansson, finally getting a chance to do some character development, especially with her relationship with Cap) and new Avenger Sam 'Falcon' Wilson (The Hurt Locker's Anthony Mackie) who is introduced in an hilarious opening sequence where Steve keeps passing him in a jog around the Washington Memorial Reflecting Pool ("On your left!")

Directors Anthony and Joe Russo (my beloved "Community") have proven they have the chops to make a coherent action film with action sequences which a) make sense and b) can be followed without straining one's eyes. This is exactly what an Superhero action movie is supposed to be, folks! Performances across the board are up to Marvel's usual standards. Of course, while the astonishingly beautiful Chris Evans was born to play Steve 'Captain America' Rogers, he was nearly shirtless enough for countless women and gay men (though that grey jogging T is pretty amazing!). The scene with the now dying Peggy Carter (a heavily made-up Hayley Atwell) was particularly well done. There is also a very Sky Captain-ish appearance by the the fabulous Toby Jones as the computerized mind of mad scientist and Red Skull's right-hand-man, Arnim Zola.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier is probably one of the best of the Marvel films and certainly one of my favorites. If I had to quibble at all, it's that it seems to follow the Marvel formula: Complicated plot followed by massive third act destruction. It may be time to mix it up a bit, guys. Still, it's a solid and beautifully made action movie with loads of all sorts of eye-candy for everyone! One last spoiler: Did you really think Cap and his team wouldn't prevail? **** (Four Out of Four Stars). Rated PG-13 "for intense sequences of violence, gunplay and action throughout."

More, anon.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

TV Review: "Gotham"

I don't usually review new TV series until after the 2nd episode but every once in a while a new show comes along that hits a home run on very first up at bat. And before I go there, what regular readers are left, know that I am and have been since childhood, a MASSIVE Batman fan. Closely followed by Superman, Batman doesn't need superpowers to be a Superhero. Other DC Favorites include Wonder Woman; Aquaman (don't you dare!); Flash and to a lesser extent, Green Lantern; Green Arrow and Nightwing. When FOX first announced what appeared to be a DC Muppet Babies, I was less than impressed. It looked... unnecessary, at best. As more clips and promos began to filter across the Net, my interest was piqued, though my expectations were still rather low.

Imagine my surprise when I sat down to watch last night's pilot episode and found myself immediately immersed in and engrossed by what turns out to be not only a Batman & Villains origin story, but a gritty, dark and violent crime drama filled with intriguing glimpses of the young versions of the characters we've come to know and love. The first episode begins (not a spoiler if you know anything at all about Batman's origins) with the murder of Bruce Wayne's parents and the new detective who promises Bruce he will catch their killer, Jim Gordon (Ben McKenzie). Gordon's crooked partner Harvey Bullock (Donal Logue) is in cahoots with vicious club owner Fish Mooney (Jada Pinkett Smith) who in turn works for mob boss Carmine Falcone ("Rizzoli & Isles" and "The Wire" alum John Doman). As the investigation mounts, we're introduced to young versions of Selina "Catwoman" Kyle; Ivy "Poison Ivy" Pepper; Oswald "Penguin" Cobblepot and Edward "Riddler" Nigma.

First and foremost, kudos to Production Designer Doug Kraner, who has imagined a Gotham City for the 21st Century. Gotham City is gorgeously executed, seamlessly blending real-life New York City with his CGI rendered skyline, while managing (along with expert cinematography) to maintain the Noir atmosphere essential to the source material. Pilot director (and series producer) Danny Cannon has artfully set up what looks to be an exciting and intriguing show. Hottie McKenzie (probably best known for "The O.C.") has been around long enough to deserve the breakthrough role I hope Gordon will be for him.* Gordon is determined to clean up the corruption in Gotham and McKenzie plays him both tough and vulnerable, though it might be nice to see his softer side a little more. Logue is his usual self: slovenly and only looking out for himself, he brings an odd likeability to a completely unlikeable character. Smith is both seductive and vicious as Fish, a woman who won't blink an eye while cutting your throat. The stand-out villain this episode was Robin Lord Taylor's Cobblepot. Taylor's Penguin is madly sadistic and duplicitous and I loved him. 

If you are a Batman fan, a DC fan, a crime drama fan, a comics fan or just a fan of smart,entertaining TV, you should be watching "Gotham,' Monday nights on Fox (just before the excellent "Sleepy Hollow," which has a terrific season premiere!). **** (Four Out of Four Stars)

*If not, he should play Jeremy Renner's brother in something...

More, anon.