Sunday, August 31, 2014

Kaiju New and Old, Among Other Nonsense

One of the many things I do love 
about the Day Job is that we follow an academic schedule. If schools are closed for a holiday, we usually are, as well. This Labor Day weekend will mark the start of Hell Week for Uncle P's return to the stage for the first time since my mother passed away, "Bluebird" which also marks my debut with the Langhorne Players. I am appearing as two very different characters in Simon Stephens' fascinating 1998 play about a night in the life of a London mini-cab driver and how his various fares relate to and inform his own story. I love both characters and love that I get to do two different accents in the same show. K came over tonight to help with lines (she is half--jokingly referred to among our circle of friends as the "Line Nazi"). I came in two weeks late and while I find both characters so compelling, memorization and short rehearsal periods only work well with shows I've done before or know really well. Thank goodness she came and helped. I feel so much better about opening in less than 6 days!

But that's not really what this post is about and I apologize for rambling (sort of).

Because I really want to talk about finally seeing Guillermo del Toro's Kaiju V. Giant Robots movie, Pacific Rim. I must say, I think del Toro was given short-shrift hen it came to reviews of yet another visually stunning movie from the genius who has given us Pan's Labyrinth The Devil's Backbone  and the Hellboy movies. And while del Toro always tries to make his films be about more than amazing visuals, when it comes to the Kaiju genre, there really isn't a lot of room for compelling characters, though co-writers del Toro and Travis Beacham (Clash of the Titans) do their best. The very fine Charlie Hunnam ("The Sons of Anarchy") leads a cast which includes Idris Elba (using his own accent, which only makes him sexier); Charlie Day ("It's Always Sunny in Philadephia"); "Torchwood" alum Burn Gorman and del Toro (and genre) favorite Ron Perlman in a very funny cameo as a dealer of exotic Kaiju parts. Amongst the explosions and destruction, there are plenty of moments that illicit the requisite relief laughter and moments of heroic sacrifice. You really can't ask for more from a Kaiju movie, and those who love the genre will totally get it.. *** (Three out of Four Stars)

Growing up in the 60's and 70's, there was plenty of Kaiju (though I didn't learn that word until much later) on TV. Toho Studio's "Godzilla" movies and their many spin-offs were regular Saturday afternoon fare on UHF channels (if you know what UHF was, you're probably as ancient as Uncle P) and after-school programming always included ' TV show, "Ultraman." A benevolent alien pursues a monster to Earth, accidentally colliding with Science Patrol Officer Hiyata. Fusing with Hiyata, Ultraman is evoked using the Beta Capsule (which resembled a red, glowing vibrator, if memory serves) and Hiyata is transformed into a gigantic, Kaiju-killing machine:

For del Toro, Kaiju is obviously an extension of his desire to adapt H.P. Lovecraft's "At the Mountains of Madness." I do hope a studio finally realizes that it would have to be a hard R, and would still make tons of money. Have they forgotten The Exorcist and The Silence of the Lambs? Both iconic films and iconic Horror,

More, anon.

Friday, August 29, 2014

My Summer Guilty Pleasure

Howard Stern, Heidi Klum, Nick Cannon, Howie Mandel & Mel B
Wow. All month, I had noting to say? Well, I did, but said most of it on Facebook. Still, I missed posting here and am glad to do so again.

You all know by know how much I love AGT. And it's mostly because, unlike "American Idol" or "The Voice," anyone can audition with any sort of talent. It's a throw-back variety show with singers; dancers; musicians; acrobats; magicians and and any other number of performance artists. I love it. 

Last night saw the first 6 of the 12 finalists for this season and I was very pleased by the winners. In no particular order, they are:



(BTW - Leeman is a friend of a friend)


(A cutie who MUST lose the knit cap)



(A Broadway Belter in the making)

And last,but hardly least, my current favorite, EMILY WEST:

Next week's shows will determine the last six of the final 12. While there are several acts I hope go through, I'm really hoping to see the adorable and hot CHRISTIAN STOINEV and his equally adorable Chihuahua Scooby, move onto the finals:

Of course, as usual, I am torn. There so many great acts this season. Next week's Semi-Finalists include magician MAT FRANCO; singer JAYCOB CURLEE; dancers BLUE JOURNEY and cellists EMIL & DARIEL (who stole their act from by beloved Serbs, 2CELLOS) and all of them have their merits. But if it was up to me, the winner would probably be chosen from among this week's 6. Only one of my personal favorite acts have won (last season's Konichi Ebina), so I'm keeping my fingers crossed this year. I'll let you know who I would have picked after it's all over.

And while my all-time favorite AGT contestant dd not win, I do hope that the gorgeous, funny and very talented Prince Poppycock is doing well.

If you've never seen him, it's well worth the 15 minutes.

More, anon.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

August Horrors

As the summer movie season draws to a close and all the major "tentpole" movies have been released, smaller studios are ready to waltz in and make a quick profit on relatively inexpensive genre films. While October might seem the logical time to release a horror movie, by mid-August, genre fans like Uncle P are looking for something darker and weirder to get them through the often artsy Oscar bait with which we are about to be inundated (not that there's anything wrong with artsy Oscar bait movies... there are plenty of those that I love). But once a Horror fan, always a Horror fan.

First up is the modern Southern Gothic Jessabelle. Directed by Kevin Greutert (the Saw series). Jessabelle concerns a young woman (Sarah Snook) who returns home after a car accident paralyzes her and kills her boyfriend. Moving into the first floor bedroom previously occupied by her late mother (something Uncle P is actually about to do), Jessie discovers a series of VHS tapes made by her apparently  psychic Mom., predicting what's going to happen to her. 


Next is from Quarantine director John Erick Dowdle. As Above So Below explores the catacombs beneath the City of Lights, an ossuary created to house the many thousands of Parisian corpses which could no longer be contained in traditional cemeteries via a group of young archaeologists looking for a missing part of history. Combining elements from and with any number of Gates of Hell movies,. As Above So Below looks like good a old-fashioned claustrophobic nightmare.

I would NOT go down there. Would you?

And then there's the curiosity known as The Congress. Robin Wright (The Princess Bride) stars as a version of herself in a film that comments about the illusions of beauty, reality and Hollywood. And while there are some who might argue that The Congress isn't a Horror film, imagine yourself trapped in an animated world where anything could happen. I think Ethel from The Twilight Zone might sympathize.Wright is joined by an amazing cast which includes Harvey Keitel; Jon Hamm; Kodi Smit-McPhee and Danny Huston. 

I'll be happy to see one of these films this month and delighted if I were able to see all three (as unlikely as that is). 

More, anon.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Mini Retro Review: "Oculus"

Now on DVD and OnDemand, last year's forgotten little Horror Movie That Almost, Oculus (Latin for 'eye') has a lot going for it, despite a plot that needs more attention paid to it than Inception

Kaylie (Karen Gillan - Amy on "Dr. Who") and Tim (Maleficent's Brenton Thwaites) are brother and sister who ten years ago, survived a supernatural event which killed their parents, involving an apparently haunted antique mirror. Dad (Dazed and Confused's Rory Cochrane) and Mom (Katee Sackhoff, best known for "Battlestar Galactica") are slowly driven to violent insanity by the mirror which thrives on the souls of its owners. Think "The Shining" if the Overlook was a mirror. Told simultaneously in and while jumping back & forth between the past and present, Oculus is chock full of both creepy scares and gross-out gore (Uncle P will NEVER bite into an apple again). Determined to prove the mirror is to blame, Kaylie brings it and Tim back to their childhood home, along with a plethora of tech (no idea how she afforded all that) to document what she says is proof the mirror is to blame. Tim, having spent ten years in a mental institution, being told what he saw wasn't real, wants nothing to do with his sister's obsession but gets drawn in, nonetheless. The cast is fine (kudos especially to Annalise Basso and Garrett Ryan, who play young Kaylie and Tim, respectively). I'm surprised this twist on an old trope wasn't embraced by the genre community.

Mike Flanagan's direction is perfect for the genre, though his script gets a bid muddied in Act 3. The special effects are on point and there are some genuinely creepy moments. *** (Three Out of Four Stars). Oculus is rated 'R' by the MPAA for: "terror, violence, some disturbing images and brief language."

More, anon.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

"The Joke's On You" Part Deux

The Joke's On You star, Adrian Colon
A while back I posted about a short film starring and co-directed by a young man I met on a very odd Friday night, not too long ago in New Hope. Adrian Colon is a standup comedian from my hometown of Trenton, NJ and The Joke's On You is short documentary about his struggle to make it in an exceptionally difficult field. 

One way Adrian supplements his income is by bar-tending at New Hope's (in)famous Raven Inn. He is funny and adorable and pours my perfect martini, perfectly (Sapphire:* up; in & out;  no fruit). At home, I keep my gin in the freezer, so it doesn't get diluted by the ice. Same thing with my vodka, but I digress.

Uncle P is excited and pleased to announce that The Joke's On You has been chosen to premiere on Friday, September 12th as part of the NJ Film Festival's Fall Schedule! I am lucky enough to have seen the entire film and thought it was just terrific. Adrian's likeability comes across so well and his stand-up is very funny (peeks into his family help explain why). 

I love promoting new talent (especially local talent who also happen to be menches) and I truly hope this award-nominated short goes on to bigger and better things and brings Adrian that much closer to his dream. If you can, please check out The Joke's On You.

*The only gin, darlings!

More, anon.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Review: "Guardians of the Galaxy"

It what will undoubtedly be the weekend's #1 movie (and possibly the summer's - even the 2:30 2D matinee I saw was packed), Chris Pratt becomes a bona-fide movie star;  Bradley Cooper's and Vin Diesel's voices get the most laughs and Marvel has yet another critical and popular hit franchise on it's hands. Is it the 'Best Marvel Movie Yet!'? You can decide for yourself. I'm not going there.

Pratt is Peter Quill, an Earthling abducted by space pirates in 1988, after the death of his mother. In the slightly heavy-handed and deliberately complicated plot, an unlikely band of heroes is brought together to fight against an evil force that wants to destroy the planet (sound familiar?). This time the weapon is powerful stone forged during the Big Bang and the villain, Ronan the Accuser (my beloved Pie Maker, Lee Pace) has some unclear grudge against the prosperous and peaceful people ruled by a severe-looking Glen Close in some wigs that would make Effie Trinket giggle. 

Wrestler-turned-actor Dave Bautista is actually hilarious as a voile-skinned Drax, an out-for-revenge literalist who doesn't understand jokes or irony.  Zoe Saldana (who is fast becoming a Sci-Fi regular) isn't given much of a character to play, though I hope she'll get the chance to develop one in the inevitable sequels. A bulked-up Pace, hidden under weird makeup and an even-weirder headdress, hams it up as the bad guy like Pacino on steroids. And the few lines Close has, are barked out like she just wanted to pick up her check and to go home. But this is Pratt's movie all the way and his goofy charm and egotistical swagger as "Star Lord" are reminiscent of so many great Sci-Fi movie heroes - almost like a hot guy playing Peter Griffin playing Han Solo in the "Family Guy" Star Wars parodies.

Director James Gunn (Slither - one of my faves!) keeps the action moving while managing to keep the many homages and nods from becoming cliches. There are lots of great 70's tunes and 80's references (the 'outlaw' John Stamos, for one) and plenty of cool Sci-Fi gadgets and space ships. "The Walking Dead" alum Michael Rooker; Djimon Hounsou; John C. Reilly; and Benicio Del Toro (looking particularly silly) are also on hand with voice cameos from Nathan Fillion and Rob Zombie.

All in all, Guardians of the Galaxy is fun and faced-paced and loud and bright and so very, very colorful. My eyes were exhausted in 2D. I can't imagine it in 3. In all honestly, it is visually stunning and Gunn's palette works beautifully for a comic book movie with no actual super-heroes. Well, except maybe for Groot.* And while hardly perfect, it is undoubtedly the most fun I've had at the movies all year. **** (Four Out of Four Stars). Guardians of the Galaxy is rated PG13 for "intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and for some language." Make sure you stay for the after-credits Easter Egg, which is hilarious and had to be explained to every teenager attending with their parents. It was hilarious hearing them all. Oh - and Stan Lee's cameo is particularly hilarious.

*If someone doesn't market a desk-top Dancing Groot toy, I will be very unhappy. Because I must have one.

More, anon.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Got My Tickets

While not quite the insane San Diego ComicCon, the Philly burbs have hosted a more genre-specific Fan Con called Monster-Mania Con for nearly 30 years, at a convention center in the South Jersey Upper-Middle-Class Philly burb known as Cherry Hill, NJ.

When Uncle P was a kid, the Cherry Hill Mall* was the largest and first of its kind. A trip there with Auntie and Grandmom meant coin-operated and ticketed kiddie rides; endless exploration of the late-60's and early-70's version of Pier One Imports; a new pair of something and maybe a toy (if we were exceptionally well-behaved). After the NJ State Fairgrounds in Trenton closed down, the NJ State Fair was moved to the Cherry Hill Race Track, though these days it is held in North Jersey at The Meadowlands and the old Fairgrounds are now the rather amazing Grounds for Sculpture, which I highly recommend visiting once every few years. But, I digress.

It has been nearly 30 years since Uncle P attended a fan convention. It was 1985 and my sister and I went up to Manhattan (can't remember f I drove or we took the train) to attend Fangoria Magazine's first ever Weekend of Horrors. It was... well, you can imagine. This was early on in Fan Cons and most of the space was taken up by vendors. We made sure we attended George Romero's Day of the Dead panel, where we caught a sneak preview that wasn't immediately shared on an internet which didn't quite exist, yet. And it was amazing. We met and spoke with Horror Icons Tom Savini and Michael Berryman (both of whom were lovely and appreciative of their fans); I bought books and a t-shirt. We got lots of free buttons (including a Back to the Future button I probably should have hung onto) and generally had a good time. Though we found ourselves to be... well... the least nerdy duo in attendance, that day. And while there were maybe a dozen or so cosplayers there, the term had yet to be coined and they stuck out like sore thumbs. 

On Saturday, August 16th, I will be attending Monster-Mania Con with two co-workers: My sweetly and identically insane Mia (creator of Teddy-Z) and the newest addition to our department, Chris B. Chris is a sports guy (go Phillies!); a far less-obsessive movie fan than Uncle P (honestly - his lack of the Essentials is appalling - but I'm going to take care of that) and a fellow performer. I think the three of us will have ourselves a grand time and cannot wait to attend my first modern Fan Con! I'll make sure my phone is charged and will take lots of pics!

If you haven't figured it out by now, yes, I am a HUGE Horror geek and can't wait until we go! I'll also be asking my compatriots to restrain myself when it comes to shopping...

More, anon.

*Uncle P started my 20 years of purgatorial retail life at Bamberger's, in my local Oxford Valley Mall.