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.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

TV Review: "Z Nation"

SyFy, in an effort to compete with AMC's blockbuster "The Walking Dead," has debuted their own zombie series, "Z Nation." Set 3 years after the Zombie Apocalypse, "Z Nation" concerns the efforts to get the only known bite-survivor to a virology lab in California to use his blood to develop a vaccine. The survivor in question is a non-willing prisoner participant in a trial study which killed everyone else it was tried on. Meanwhile, at a remote polar military installation, a lone soldier who calls himself  'Citizen Z,' tries to coordinate the effort to get that survivor where he needs to be.

Two episodes in and I can assure you that AMC has nothing to worry about from this shoddily-produced effort. Cheesy CGI, ridiculous dialog and some truly terrible acting are the culprits, despite featuring some seasoned veterans like DJ Squalls (The Abyss), cutie Keith Allen and star Tom Everett Scott (That Thing You Do; An American Werewolf in Paris). Allen, looking particularly scruffy and beat, is the survivor, Sqaulls is Citizen Z and Scott is the guy who has to get him to CA after the guy who was supposed to get him there ("Lost" alum Harold Perrineau) is killed in the pilot (oops - not too much of a spoiler - though to be honest, he was probably smart to collect that paycheck and move on). The rest of the cast is made up of folks you probably have seen before, but wouldn't be able to name if a gun was held to your head. 

Created by Eric Bernt (Romeo Must Die) and consequently written by a passel of writers with mostly minor credits, "Z Nation" squanders whatever potential it may have had on really bad makeup and CGI effects that look like they were made on a teenager's MacPro. Personally, I've seen better zombie makeup on my local Trick or Treaters. Most of the cast look like they know they are in a crappy show and seem almost apologetic for it. What a shame...

Unlike SyFy's better original series ("Battlestar Gallactica;" "Warehouse 13;" "Haven"), I really don't see a full five seasons out of "Z Nation." And that's probably not a bad thing. Most of these folks have better things to do with their time and talents. I certainly have better things to spend my time watching, as do you.

0 Stars Out of Four.

"Z Nation" airs Friday nights at 10 on SyFy and is repeated throughout the week, should you have nothing better to do (though I have to imagine - and hope - you must).

Zombie fans should stick with "The Walking Dead," which is about to begin it's fifth season on AMC.

My sister and I (along with many others) can't wait!

More, anon.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Back In the Saddle, Again.

Yes, You Are Seeing Double. The 'Fares' of Langhorne Players' Production of "Bluebird"
Next month will mark the first anniversary of my mother's passing. Uncle P's life has changed so drastically in such a short time that it seems both much longer and hardly a minute later at the same time. Of course, this probably only proves that time is an illusion. There can only ever be now. ("Whoa! Dude, too heavy..."  "Shut up, ya bloody wanker!"*)

Most of the inside of my house looks almost nothing like it did 11 months ago. It is very much starting to finally feel like my own place with my own distinct sense of style. That's helped a lot. I've also recently taken on a boarder (something I didn't want to do - I'd grown accustomed to being alone), but not something I regret. He  is a friendly acquaintance I first met while performing as Cassius in Julius Caesar in 1997. He needed the place, I had the room and I certainly like the extra money. Our schedules are different enough that we aren't often home at the same time and even when we are, we seem to get along quite well. He likes to boast that he is sharing a house with a gay man. I like to complain that he leaves the lid (not the seat) of the toilet up (toilet seats have lids for a reason - I don't want to have to fish anything out of mine, thank you) and he claims an inefficient freezer in a former home has left him with a habit of only filling ice cube trays half-way. But I will break him. Mwah-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha! No, seriously. It's working out well... so far. And yes, being a 12 year-old bartender means I must have a full ice bin at all times. Thanks again. Dad!

To tie all of this in with this post's title and the sprawling publicity photo above, despite the crazy crap that's been going on since she passed, I know Mom would be very upset to know that I'd put the thing about which I am most passionate on hold for so long. I was contacted by a director I knew by name only, at the suggestion of my very own Q (who knows me well enough to know it was time, as well). I was asked to come in and read for one or possibly two small roles in a play I'd never heard of, Bluebird by British playwright Simon Stephens. I got both parts and joined a show already two weeks into rehearsals with a bit of trepidation. Yes, they weren't huge rolls, but they were obviously important to the story and both have some hefty monologs. Thank His Great Noodly Appendages for my "Line Nazi" K, who always gets the job done! (LOVE you, Honey!). We officially opened last night (Friday) and while it was good, I still had a flub that almost threw me. 

Tonight, however, I was feeling particularly 'on,' as we say. I was calm and collected; focused and and firing on all cylinders. The performers among you will totally understand the feeling. Even better, two performances in and I am still finding new things about these two characters, both of whom are as different as can be, yet have so much in common. Bluebird is mostly set in a London Bluebird Mini-Cab and revolves around it's driver and a single night of fares who both inform and reflect his own story. I play Robert (a middle-class father returning to the scene of a crime on the day the perpetrator is being released from prison) and Andy (a tough-guy bouncer with a heart of gold, on his way home to his family after a rough night). Stephens' spare dialog is delicious to work with and immediately made me decide Andy was Cockney, which really gives him some delicious linguistic energy that's so very fun to play (and his very dirty mouth doesn't hurt - I love swearing on stage - it's very liberating)! Robert is much darker and sadder (and very drunk) - still a good exercise in character and mood, which is not as 'fun' to play, but equally satisfying. *And while I don't actually say it, "Shut up, ya bloody wanker!" seemed the obvious response in a post that has somehow turned out to be about dichotomy; death; life; theatre; acting; change and growth.

"Dude! What'd I say?"  Yeah, I know, but I'm not going to stop, because if there is one thing I have had reaffirmed these past few weeks (and especially tonight), it's that theatre can and should be transformative, for both performers and audiences. I can't speak for the audiences of any work in which I am involved, but as stressful and wonderful (I've not only made many new friends, but reconnected with one I hadn't seen in 30 years) as Bluebird has been, it reminded of why I do what I do. It is my 'religion' and it feeds my 'soul,'  however you decide to define either. And I am so very glad to be feeding so satisfyingly. Of course, I used to have to add silver to my hair to age me. Now I have to spray it darker to 'youthen' me. And don't get me started about mascara in my goatee!

Depending on when you are reading this, there are still 9 performances left. Be forewarned, this will not be everyone's cup of tea, you should pardon the metaphor. It's dark and spare and doesn't have a lot of action (almost the entire show is set inside the cab - cleverly designed and executed by the director and a fellow cast-mate, so it's never static for too long) but every 'episode' - no matter how brief - informs, echoes and/or foreshadows the bigger picture that is ultimately Andy's path to a sense of closure and self-redemption. Chewy, yummy actory stuff and exactly (as Q knew) what I needed, when I needed it most. For info and tickets, visit

Well, there's a ramble for you, eh? One of Andy's admonitions is "Enjoy the sunshine!" This is my sunshine. It is warm. It is friendly. It is good. Thank you to Mr Ken Junkins, who saw something he liked and trusted me to do what needed to be done.  And forever and forever thank you to Q for knowing this was the right project to ease myself back into and K for the line drills. Small enough to not have the line-load of 'Prospero,' but still artistically challenging and rewarding, I am so happy I agreed to do it.

Things are really starting to look at least a little bit better. At least, I hope so. Change is both inevitable and good. While embracing change isn't always easy, stagnant water both looks icky and stinks!

Here's a bit more about Bluebird and the London company that developed the original production:

I'm not saying it's all roses and lollipops. Hardly. There's all sorts of nonsense still going on that you would think I was making it all up if I told you. But the newest sense of normalcy seems to be a thousand times better than the worst possible scenario. 

Shameless Self-Promotion/Nonsense/Philosophizing over.

More, anon.