Friday, October 31, 2008

Happy Halloween!

Had to get this one in before midnight, while it was still Halloween.
I had a lot of kids at my house tonight, which was great. There were some surprisingly good costumes. Thankfully, there was not a Joker, Batman or Amy Winehouse among them. One young lady wore a pretty dress and heavy makeup. "What are you?" I asked. "A wind-up doll," she cheerfully offered, turning around so I could see the big metallic key in her back. Another group came dressed as the horror-themed video game "Silent Hill," complete with a faceless nurse and a kid with a giant, black pyramidal head. There were quite a few costumes that I don't think were specifically anything; just whatever the kids could throw together to look like something weird. I did have a Philly, though I thought I'd have more (the small suburban train station I pass on my way to work each morning was over-run with red-shirted fans headed for the parade - you couldn't have paid me to go). A few folks at work dressed up. Two of my immediate co-workers wore headgear: Mama K wore bunny ears and Ms Golden Child wore a princess tiara. As much as I love the holiday, It's become almost as bad as Christmas. Anyway - here are two quick videos that sum up my Halloween 2008 (both via BoingBoing)
I'll bet if we could understand him, this kid would be saying: "Dad! I said 'a robot,' not a fifty pound death-trap that doesn't even let me hold my own damn candy bag!"
And this is probably the creepiest thing I've seen in weeks. I give you: "Mambo Number 5 by Robot-Spider Lou Bega." Eeeek!
Happy Hauntings!

Thursday, October 30, 2008

One for the Road

I have to share this brilliant bit of "Les Misbarack." Theatre geeks will love this:

Zebina Laid an Egg

Well, five, actually.

The lovebirds had been acting funny ever since I provided them with a box of "nesting material" from my local pet store. Zebadiah ignored it for a week. Then I noticed him with a beakful of it one day, and watched as he flew into the little wicker nest I had bought when I first bought Zebina. Soon, I began to see Zebina fly into the nest for the first time. Soon, the wicker palace was a soft and cozy nest for two.

For the last several days, only one of them would leave the nest at a time and I began to be especially suspicious when I noticed he was out much more often than she was. Tonight, for the first time in days, they both came out at the same time and I had visual confirmation of what I thought was happening all along: five tiny white, Jelly-Belly-sized eggs lay on the floor of the nest. I'm so excited, because it happened much faster than I thought it would. Ay, me! Bird love! I'll keep you posted. In any event, would you like a Zebra Finch?

More of this, anon!

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Horror's Greatest Performances (Part I)

When it comes to accolades, actors in horror films are usually given short shrift. The genre is dismissed as juvenile and unworthy of attention, despite the fact that many actors have been nominated (and several have won) Academy Awards for them. Still, many of these performances go sadly unpraised. Uuntil now. Part I of this two-part entry is about the Best Performances by an Actress in a Horror Movie. Full disclosure: some of the images embedded below may be disturbing, but are certainly worth watching for the terrific performances.


And the nominees are:
Kathy Bates for Misery:
Bates won an Oscar for her performance as Annie Wilkes, crazed "Number One Fan" of novelist Paul Sheldon (James Caan) in one of the few actually good adaptations of a Stephen King novel. As a King fan, I am always happy when a movie gets one of his works right, and this Rob Reiner (Stand By Me) directed thriller is one of the best. Bates' performance is both terrifying and fascinating at the same time. A consumate stage actress, Bates went on to build a film career based almost on this performance alone. Scary stuff.
Piper Laurie for Carrie:

Laurie made a name for herself in the late 50's on live TV shows like "Westinghouse Theatre" and "Playhouse 90." Her go-for-broke performance earned her an Oscar nomination for Brian DePalma's 1976 adaptation of King's first novel. Tthe film remains one of the best King movies, and Piper Laurie's Margaret White is a character indelibly and iconically etched into the American psyche. A magnificent performance.
Beatrice Straight for Poltergeist:
Steven Spielberg produced (his hands are all over it, in fact) this thriller from director Tobe Hooper (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre), about a suburban family's brush with the supernatural. When daughter Carol Anne (Heather O'Rouke) disappears into the netherworld, her parents (Craig T. Nelson and Jobeth Williams*) contact a team of parapsychologists led by Dr. Lesh (Straight). An already accomplished actress with an Oscar nomination for Network under her belt, one might wonder what Straight is doing in a horror movie (albeit a very good horror movie). Good actors can move smoothly between and among genres almost effortlessly. Staright's performance here is strong, committed and genuine. In other hands, the role would have been silly. In hers, it's like 'buttah.' And truth be told, her performance in Poltergeist even had an influence on a stage performance of my own, as the psychiatrist in a college production of Equus.
*More about Willams, later.
Geena Davis for The Fly:
Wow! Talk about powerful! The above scene never fails to make me cry. Davis plays Veronica "Ronnie" Quiafe, a reporter for the Canadian version of (now defunct) science "Omni." While attending an inventors' convention, she meets Dr. Seth Brundle (Jeff Goldblum in another amazing performance to be discussed in Part II). a brilliant physicist who suffers from motion sickness and has invented a teleportation machineo he never has to ride in a car again. The two quickly bond and a romance is about to bloom when Brundle makes a critical error: sending himself between the "telepods" along with an univited housefly. Confused, the machine splices Brundle's genes with the fly's, creating a monster. Davis' emotional investment in the role is simply astounding and her omission from Oscar nomination is further proof of the Academy's prejudice against horror movies.
Naomi Watts for King Kong:
Previously known as Nicole Kidman's BFF and "that chick from The Ring," Watts is astounding in Peter Jackson's 2005 remake of the classic monster movie. Her almost silent performance, done mostly in front of a green-screen, is nothing short of a marvel. Every thought and every emotion is writ wide on her face. I can't imagine another modern actress so perfectly cast as the apple of the big ape's eye. Another Oscar oversight.
Sadie Frost for Bram Stoker's Dracula:
Barely glimpsed in the above trailer, Ms. Frost gives the single best performance in Francis Ford Coppola's over-the-top version of the gothic horror classic. Her interpretation of Mina's best friend Lucy, flirtatious and tortured, is the best in any of the story's many film versions. Forget Keanu Reeve's ridiculous miscasting as Jonathan Harker (not to mention accent) and Anthony Hopkins' scenery chewing as Van Helsing. Sadie Frost is without a doubt the best thing in the whole movie.
Jobeth Williams for Poltergeist:
As housewife Diane Freeling, JoBeth Williams personifies the early-80's mom. She smokes pot with her balding realtor hubby (Craig T. Nelson) and keeps her family on schedule; oversees the contractors installing the family swimming pool; officiates at pet funerals gets excited by self-stacking chairs and mysterious cold spots. But when her children are in danger, Diane will go literally anywhere to save and protect them. Williams, a fine actress in any genre, embues Diane with the kind of strength every mother hopes she has when it comes to protecting her family, even if it means tavelling to hell and back.
Julie Harris for The Haunting (1963):

My pick for the scariest movie ever, Robert Wise's adaptation of Shirley Jackson's novel The Haunting of Hill House is absolutely terrifying, all without the use of blood, dismemberment or cannibalism. Harris plays the personally haunted Nell, a psychic who was psychologically tortured by an over-bearing invalid mother. Nell finds a strange affinity for the tormented spirits trapped in the mansion she has been invited to invesigate along as a member of a team assemled by a noted parapsychologist. In a performance that never fails to give chills, Harris manages to be both sympathetic and pathetic, and we understand her need to belong to someone, anyone, even if that someone is only the ghost of a charismatic monster.
And my pick for the Best Performance by an Actress in a Horror Movie is:
Geena Davis in The Fly. No other actress on this list evinces the visceral response in me that Davis does in The Fly. One of cinema's great, underrated performances of all time. The Fly is a movie I can see again and again and never grow tired of. Cronenberg, Davis, Goldblum and company are at the top of their games here. I'm not ashamed to admit that there are quite a few movies that can make me cry. The Fly is the only horror movie that can and that is entirely the fault of Davis' amazing acting. There really is such a thing as a good horror movie, and The Fly proves it.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

On Gay Mormons

That got your attention, didin't it? But it's hardly just a come-on.'s gay advice columnist, Cary Tennis, posts this powerful and moving letter and response. I cried when I read Mr. Tennis' compassionate and sound advice to a Mormon with a terrible burden.

(via Towleroad)

Movie Previews

Two new and already rather infamous Direct-to-DVD horror movies hit the shelves today, and like a good gore junkie, I salivated my way into my local rental establishment (I can't be bothered with Netflix, folks -- I never watched them and returned them six weeks later) and snatched them up. Oh, and did I mention their infamy? I will be reviewing them both in the next couple of posts, but I thought I'd catch you up on all the dish surrounding these gems.

First up: Feast 2: Sloppy Seconds:

Project Greenlight, the movie contest created by Matt Damon and Ben Affleck and funded by A&E for use as a reality series, got three movies made. The first two were so awful, the distributor wanted nothing to do with the third; a troubled genre picture with no budget. Rumors abounded that director John Gulager (son of character actor, Clu Gulager) didn't know what he was doing, the cast seemed to hate one another and the reality show painted a very unhappy picture of the production. The gig had been a dog for them and they wanted to put it down. Feast had one public showing and was released on DVD the very next week. Sadly, the movie no-one really believed in, was the best one PGL made. It was funny, smart and way-over-the-top outrageous and gory. Genre fans went nuts over it and writers Marcus Dunstan and Patrick Melton have since gone on to write some major studio films. Now they have re-teamed with Gulager for the inevitable sequel. Gulager the older, appears in both pictures. I'm drooling to see Feast 2: Sloppy Seconds. I'm sorry. I won't do that again, I promise.
Next up: Zombie Strippers
When I first heard about this movie, I thought it was yet another sign of the End of Days. The movie's title says it all. A bio-weapon is accidentally loosed on the women of a small Nebraska town, thus creating the titular (every single possible pun intended) zombies. It stars Robert "Freddy Kruger" Englund and notorious straight porn star Jenna Jameson in her first non-porn role. then it started generating some buzz among those seen it's various cuts. I mean, did you see that trailer? I almost peed myself laughing at just that. This film looks to be high camp, on the order of Planet Terror, Robert Rodriguez' superior half of Grind House.
My reviews will follow, shortly (i.e. More of this anon).

Monday, October 27, 2008

DVD Review: "The Strangers"

Halloween Week is finally here and what better way to start than with a review of a horror movie? (And of course, since this is Halloween Week, I'll mostly be talking about a horror movies, so get over it).
Anyway, another summer flick I missed was The Strangers starring Liv Tyler and Scott Speedman in the story of a young couple terrorized by three strangers in a remote country home. Tyler and Speedman play James and Kristen, returning to James' family summer house after a wedding. It is soon clear that James had proposed to Kristen, who said "No." The two try to salvage what they can of their relationship and are about to have what will no doubt be great make up sex, when a knock comes at the front door (at 4:05 AM, no less). James answers, to find an apparently female figure standing in the shadows, who asks "Is Tamara home?" They send the girl away, explaining that she has the wrong house. The moment ruined, James offers to go get cigarettes for Kristin, knowing that neither of them will sleep, anyway. Once he is is gone, all hell breaks loose as three masked strangers (two women and a man, whose faces are never seen) proceed to terrorize the couple.
Not exactly original stuff, here. But first time writer/director Bryan Bertino is familiar enough with the genre to know a scary movie's best friend is tension, and boy does he pour it on. Creepy squeals and bangs from unknown sources; shadows glimpsed from the corner of the eye; the touch of an unfamiliar hand on the back of the neck - all expertly in play for the first hour of the film. Shot using plenty of hand-helds and claiming to be "inspired by actual events," The Strangers is, for the most part, an effective and creepy addition to films in the vein of Funny Games and last year's underrated Vacancy. Unfortunately, the last twenty minutes of the film are perhaps too over-the-top and turn what had been a relatively smart thriller into little more than a cheap torture-porn shocker.
Tyler (best known for The Lord of the Rings films) is as lovely as ever, but I hated that Bertino didn't give her anything else to really do but be a victim. Her performance was good, but she deserves to play better, more complex characters. The curiously "sometimes-he's-hot-and-sometimes-he's-not" Speedman is on the border here. I didn't quite buy his emotional distress as the guy who got turned down; and he didn't show off enough of his amazing bod to keep my interest (how shallow is that?). The titular characters are only referred to in the credits as "Dollface;" "Pin Up Girl" and "Man in the Mask" and are appropriately scary and completely anonymous as played by Gemma Ward, Laura Margolis and Kip Weeks.
Creepiest moment: tied to a chair after hours of psychological torture, Kristin asks her tormentors, "Why are you doing this to us?" Dollface replies, in a completely detached monotone, "Because you were home." Without a doubt, one of the more effective, if ultimately disappointing horror movies of late. **1/2 (Two and a Half Out of Four Stars)

Something Completely Stupid

I have no idea why this made me laugh so much. Maybe it's because I love Jonathan Togo (the poor man's Jake from CSI:Miami) or maybe because every once in a while, you just need something completely stupid to make you laugh at the end of a crappy day.
What ever the reason, I give you: My Best Friend is my Penis (not safe for conservative workplaces)

Saturday, October 25, 2008

DVD Review: "Iron Man"

May tends to be a very busy month for me - it's the middle of rehearsal and running around and mailings and a gazillion other things for the annual James Tolin Memorial Fundraiser event. Consequently, for the last six years, I have not seen a single summer tentpole movie that opened in theatres before July 4th. By the time I do have the time to go to the movies, those early starters have been down-sized to the 100-seat auditoriums, and something else is in the big houses with the great big screens and ear-piercing sound-systems. Such was the case with brand new Marvel Studio's first ever movie, Iron Man. Most critics loved it, and I am happy to say that I agree and and hate that I missed it on the giant screen.

For the seven people out there who still haven't seen Iron Man, the story revolves around billionaire genius playboy Tony Stark, who runs his family's weapons company, designing super-high-tech killing machines. While in the middle-east, demonstrating his company's latest mega-weapon "Jericho," Stark is captured by a band of multi-ethnic guerrillas, who hand him over to another prisoner who devises an electromagnet that keeps the shrapnel in Tony's chest from piercing his heart. When the guerrillas demand that Tony build them their own Jericho bomb, he agrees. But what he does is build a super armored exoskeletal robotic suit, powered by Stark's own "impossible" reactor (leaving him with a glowing blue implant in the middle of his chest). The devise also keeps him alive. Escaping his captors using the suit, Tony gets home and realizes the error of his ways (in classic comic-book mythology, such epiphanies are common-place). He announces the closing of the company's weapons division and vows to destroy all the weapons his company ever made. In his lab at home, Tony perfects the suit and by the end of the movie, the press has dubbed him Iron Man and he... well - wouldn't want to spoil.
As played by former tortured bad boy Robert Downey, Jr., Stark makes quite a believable transition to hero. Downey has always been insanely talented, and like many great artists, suffered along the way. I am so happy to see him clean and fit (wow is he fit!) and just having a great time. Stark's Gal Friday (and possible true love), personal assistant Pepper Potts is amiably played by the often ephemeral Gwyneth Paltrow. Paltrow plays Pepper (I'm on an alliteration roll, it seems) as smart, capable and vulnerable - everything a superhero's girlfriend should be. Jeff Bridges is on hand as the improbably named Obadiah "Obi" Stane who, after Stark's father's death, ran the company until Tony turned 21 and is now number two. Stane vehemently opposes the closing of Stark Weapons, and... well, no spoilers. Terrence Howard plays Stark's military liaison. Personally, I don't get Terrence Howard. I have never thought he was particularly great in anything (don't dump the hate - I just don't get it, okay?) and he's weirdly wrong. It has been announced that he has been replaced by Don Cheadle in the sequel, who probably should have had the role in the first place. There are a host of terrific character actors - Clark Greg; Tim Guinee; Paul Bettany and a surprisingly "wow-he-grew-up-hot!" Peter Billingsly and a terrific script by Marc Fergus and Hawk Ostby. Director Jon Favreau keeps the pace running along nicely with some very funny physical and verbal comedy (and even finds time to give himself a small role). Early on, Paltrow has one of the funniest and bitchiest lines ever about "taking out the trash" and Tony's flying experiments are hilarious. And Marvel Papa Stan Lee's obligatory cameo is one of his funniest, ever, with Tony confusing Stan with the elderly founder of a well-known girly magazine. The CGI is terrific and Favreau certainly has an eye for action.

I loved Iron Man. Unlike the summer's megasmash other superhero, Iron Man isn't grim and brooding at all. It has a dark moment or two, but it's so damned fun the rest of the time and is exactly what an early summer superhero movie should be. I can't wait to see what Favreau and company come up for the sequel. Iron Man is now third on my list of the summer's best movies. **** (Four out of Four Stars)

Friday, October 24, 2008

(Halloweeen?) Dreams

I had two very different nights of dreaming last night and the night before.

Wednesday night/Thursday morning, I had two very nightmarish dreams. First, I dreamt that I had to retrieve some item or other from the storage space in my house, a room which to which we have always referred as "the unfinished room," simply because that is exactly what it is. Anyway, as I was getting ready to close the door, I noticed a large, horrific bug of some kind scuttling across the plywood flooring. The thing was huge; almost rat-sized and colored unlike anything found in nature in obnoxious shades of red, green, blue and yellow. I thought to myself "That's too horrible to live" and promptly stomped on the hideous thing. But when I raised my foot, I found that I hadn't done it any damage at all. Instead, the little beastie turned about, puffed up and starting squirting something akin to acidic green slime at me. I raised my hands to protect my face and quickly slammed the door shut. Curiously, I felt no pain, but knew instinctively that I had been covered in acid. In the absurd logic of a dream, I next found myself in the shower, watching with detachment as bits of clothing, blood and flesh slid down the tub drain.
After awakening, happy to find myself whole and entimologically unmolested, I checked the time on my alarm clock (4:09 AM), quickly recorded the dream in the black side of my reversible dream diary, rolled over and almost instantly fell back to sleep, assuming that the dream was the result of seasonal influences.
Which is when I had my second nightmare of the morning. A very dear friend's birthday is on Halloween. I bought him a truly hilarious and spot-on present while in Chicago on business and plan to see him sometime next weekend to celebrate. In this dream, he had arrived at my house in preparation for us to go out. I wasn't quite ready to go, so when a knock came on the door, I asked him to get it. He opened the door and before anyone could say anything, a madman burst in and started hacking at my friend with a cleaver. I awoke screaming my friend's name and crying. Now the clock read: 6:47 and my hand trembled as I made another entry into the black side of the book, despite knowing the dream was the result of seasonal (and personal) influences.
Less than immediately, I fell back into a dreamless state until the alarm went off. I went about my day trying to shake both dreams' disturbing qualities. I am sure that both scenarios (or variations thereof) will appear in a future play, screenplay, novel or short-story.
Last night proved to be a very different and surprisingly inspirational night of dreaming. I found myself dragooned into appearing as a costumed-character at an event celibrating the success of a new animated children's show on a prominent kid's cable network. While happy for the extra cash the gig provided, I was annoyed at having to wear a hot and uncomfortable character costume (I've worn my share - they're no fun). But the kids' enthusiasm upon seeing their favorite characters "in the flesh" was almost palpable. Since I plan on actually using the characters in this dream to develop an actual animated children's program, I won't go into detail here, but I will tell you that I am often amazed by the detail one's subconscious can display when inspired. The dream even provided clever character names along with the hilarious visuals. Friends both old, new and yet to be appeared in the dream as well, portraying the other characters from the show.
Thoughts? Am I insane? Do I watch too many movies or drink too much Diet Cherry-Vanilla Dr. Pepper? Or am I just a weirdo who has dreams that match the rest of my personality? I know it's a dark and scary place up here, but I wouldn't have it any other way. Your thoughts and comments are always welcomed.
As always, more of this anon.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

A Variety of Topics

Lots to talk about today. First off is the newest film to top my MUST SEE list for the fall, Were the World Mine, writer/director Tom Gustafson's fantasy about a gay teen in small-minded small town who, while playing Puck in a production of A Midsummer Night's Dream, discovers a love potion that turns people gay. From the trailer it looks sweet, funny and romantic. See for yourself:
And now a brief update on my birds, Zebina and Zebadiah. As my regular reader (ha) knows, Zebina was purchased for my production of The Skin of Our Teeth, last month. After the show closed, I brought her home and quickly bought her a partner, who I promptly named Zebadiah. Since then, they have gotten along quite well. Last week, I went out and bought them a box of 'nesting material' in the hopes that it would it encourage them to use the wicker nest I had hung inside their cage. Well, it took a while, but Zebadiah finally discovered the cotton fibers and has since fully lined the nest with it. The two now spend much of their time huddled together in the nest and I expect that anytime now I will find tiny Zebra Finch eggs inside and will, for the first time in my life, be able to refer to myself as... wait for it... a 'breeder.' Ha-ha!
And finally, one more word on California's Proposition 8, from my favorite raunchy comedienne, Chelsea Handler:
As always, more of this anon.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Bonus Post

As a Halloween treat, enjoy this very weird and kind of disturbing short from 2001:


Another Remake

As noted in an earlier post, with very few exceptions, I generally hate remakes. they are rarely as good as the original and usually pointless (see Gus van Sant's ridiculous shot-for-shot remake of Psycho for proof). But, every once in a great while a remake comes along that is actually as good or even better than the original. Today, I saw a teaser trailer for a remake that may well be the exception that proves the rule.

The original version of this movie is terrible. It has horrible acting, super-low budget standards and is notable for only three things: the film debut of Kevin Bacon, amazing physical FX from make-up genius Tom Savini and the seemingly gazillion cheapo sequels (one even in 3D) that followed. But this teaser has me intrigued and I may very well plop down ten of my hard-earned dollars to see it.

As always, more of this anon.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

The Gayest Thing You'll See This Week

Also the funniest. I couldn't help myself (via Towleroad):

Monday, October 20, 2008

DVD Review: "Pathology"

For his feature film debut, Heroes star Milo Ventimiglia chose Pathology, a slick, sick thriller from the writers of Crank (a silly but highly entertaining movie), Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor. Ventimiglia plays Ted Grey, a pathologist on the rise who takes a job at major hospital under the tutelage of Dr. Quentin Morris (John de Lancie, better known as "Q" on Star Trek; TNG). There he falls in with a group of young doctors who play a 'game' in which they commit murders to see who among them can figure how it was done. Led by the pathological Dr. Gallow (Michael Weston), the group choose their victims from among the unnamed city's low-lifes and degenerates, ensuring that no one will miss them very much. Fueled by sex, drugs and alcohol, Gallow spirals out of control, taking Grey and the rest of the team down with him. When Grey's fiancee Gwen (Alyssa Milano) comes to visit, things take a turn for the worse and it is up to Grey to stop the murderous band of MDs.
Loaded with gore, violence, S&M and graphic drug use, Pathology had a brief theatrical run this past spring, but was out of theaters as quickly as it went in, and for good reason. The plot is riddled with holes and inconsistencies, and while the cast gives it their all, the base vileness of the movie's central characters is completely off-putting, leaving the viewer with no one for whom to root. Some horror fans may find much to admire here, but it just left me with a bad taste in my mouth. Let's hope Mr. Ventimiglia chooses better roles in his future feature film (say that 3 times fast) career. *(One Star out of Four)

Sunday, October 19, 2008

DVD Review "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull"

Finally - back to movies.
In full disclosure, I saw Indy IV in May, when it was released in U.S. theaters. I liked it then, and liked it again on DVD, but I must admit that seeing it a second time changed my opinion slightly.
It is 1957, 19 literal and fictional years since Indy's last adventure (the disappointing Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade). Now it's the Commies who are the enemy. Soviet Colonel Irina Spalko (Cate Blanchett) has captured Indy (Harrison Ford, looking might fit for his 60 years) and is forcing him to help her find a relic first discovered in 1947, now ensconced in a military warehouse in Nevada's notorious Area 51. After a harrowing (and ridiculous) escape, Indy finds himself accused of being a communist sympathiser and is ousted from his position as a tenured professor of archaeology. About to take off for Europe, Indy is approached by a young ruffian by the improbable name of Mutt Williams (Shia Lebeouf), who asks Indy to help him rescue both his mentor and his mother, who have been kidnapped in Peru. After the two are nearly attacked by KGB officers on campus, Indy and Mutt find themselves on their way to Peru, where Indy rediscovers the one true love of his life, Marion Ravenwood (Karen Allen) and his former schoolmate, Professor Harold Oxley (John Hurt). Oxly has found a fabled "Crystal Skull" which seems to have driven him mad. It is also the catalyst for what the evil psychic Spalko is planning to use in the creation of a psychic mind-control weapon against the West. Indy also discovers (SPOILER ALERT) that Mutt is his son.
While nothing will ever come close to the excitement and wonder director Steven Spielberg created in the first Indiana Jones film, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Kingdom of the Crystal Skull tries mighty hard; there are exciting chases, monstrous buggies, and other-worldly powers at play. Sadly, the script by David Keopp (Jurassic Park; War of the Worlds; Panic Room) gets bogged down midway through with exposition and discovery, leaving Indy and company to slog through some rather boring, but necessary, dialog. There are more than a few amusing moments (including a very funny nod to Indy's fear of snakes). but it all feels rather forced this time around.
The performances are mostly fine. Ford seems game, if a bit long-in-the tooth-for some of the sillier action sequences. Lebeouf is terrific as the rebellious Mutt, sporting Marlon Brando's outfit from The Wild One in his first appearance. And Karen Allen dazzles as Marion; the chemistry between her and Ford is just as dynamic (and welcome) as it was in Raiders. John Hurt isn't given a whole lot to do here as the crazed "Ox" but Cate Blanchett has plenty of opportunities to chew the scenery as a Russian psychic who wants to know (literally) everything. The CGI effects aren't too terrible (with the exception of a pack of Peruvian monkeys), though the finale pales in comparison to Raiders' ghostly face-melting, head-exploding denouement. Certainly better than than the ridiculous Last Crusade, Kingdom of the Crystal Skull lacks the sense of wonder we all felt when we first saw Raiders. Time has not been kind to our heroes, and it shows. **1/2 (Two and a half Stars out of Four)
PS - A recent Internet rumor says that Indy will be fighting Commies over possession of the Ark of the Covenant (glimpsed briefly in Indy IV's opening sequence) in Indy V. Let's hope that's not true and that all parties involved have put Dr. Jones and company to bed, once and for all.
As always, more of this, anon.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

My Most Recent Musical

For the first time in months, I actually pulled up my unfinished musical (I can't tell you the title here, as it is an adaptation of a film to which I do not yet have the rights to adapt) and wrote a little tonight.

I finished the dialog for the last scene in progress and started the penultimate scene - less than a whole page, if truth be told, but still more than I have written since the auditions for The Skin of Our Teeth, back in early August.
The creative process is a bizarre one, to say the least. 90% of what I've written so far poured out of me in a six-week burst of creativity between directing What the Butler Saw and The Skin of Our Teeth. And I think the stuff written in those six weeks includes some of my best lyrics, ever (I'm particularly proud of the songs "Miami," "Staple in My Navel," "Pretend It Was a Dream" and "They Say It Ain't Natural" ). But the show still has quite a way to go before I can even approach a composer (anyone interested in writing music for a 'Hillbilly Horror' parody?), let alone a potential producer.
But somehow, I still have confidence in this particular show's potential. The original film, a 1960's drive-in shocker, has plenty of modern fans. And the fairly recent successful productions of Batboy and Evil Dead: The Musical give me hope that this kind of show can be a hit. I just need to find others who believe in it's potential as much as I do. This could very well be the one...
Or, I could simply be deluding myself.
A month ago, a production company contacted me about about a screenplay I'd published online, expressing interest in optioning it for possible production, which was a big ego-booster. Of course, I have heard nothing from them since. But, no matter. I write for myself, as all writers must do, and as I do on this blog. I know of at least one person (a dear, dear friend) who reads this regularly. Maybe there is someone else out there reading this and thinking, "I believe in you, too." If you're out there, please let me know.
More of this, anon.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Gay TV

I readily admit that I love television. Not in a Homer Simpson way, but in the way that an hour of smart writing and great acting and a bit of cheese can be just as wonderful as a great film or play. And, after many years of seeing stereotypical gay characters (damn you, Billy Crystal), the networks are finally starting to give us the respect we deserve. I'm not talking about cable here (despite Showtime's efforts with Queer as Folk and The L Word), or even Here! or Logo. I'm talking about the big four: ABC, NBC, CBS and Fox. There are now realistic portrayals of gay characters all over the tube. And I say "It's about damned time!"
The gayest show on TV right now is ABC's Ugly Betty. Sweet, funny and bitchy in the best possible way, Ugly Betty features not one, but two gay characters (Mark & Justin) plus a bonus transgendered character (Alexis). Yes, it's silly and corny and very soapy, but who cares? It's great fun and features wonderful performances from America Ferrara; Vanessa Williams; Becky Newton; Eric Mabius; Michael Urie; Mark Indelicato; Judith Light; Ana Ortiz and Rebecca Romijn.
Then there's one of my mother's favorite shows, Brothers and Sisters which features gay brother Kevin (Matthew Rhys). I don't watch this particular show, though Mom tells me it's fabulous.
And then there's everyone's favorite gay talk show hostess, Ellen Degeneres. When she came out publicly and made her sitcom all about being gay, it almost ruined her career, but her uber-successful talk show proved she's still one of the country's funniest ladies. Bright, articulate and so quick-witted, Ellen's recent (and celebrated) marriage to Portia DeRossi proved that America can deal with with openly gay celebs. And thankfully, Ellen has finally made her own Anti-Prop 8 PSA.
Of course, where would we be without NBC's ground-breaking comedy, Will & Grace? Yes, Sean Hayes' Jack is a stereotype. And yes, the brilliant Megan Mullaly's Karen can be a bit shrill. So what? the simple and sweet friendship between Will and his straight soulmate Grace is the core of this often hilarious ensemble comedy and often reminds me of the friendship I share with my dear "K." Now in syndication on Lifetime (women's TV - go figure), Will & Grace stands as a landmark in LGBT programming.
Finally, my favorite gay show is the BBC's Torchwood featuring the gorgeous and openly gay John Barrowman as Captain Jack Harkness, leader of the Cardiff, Wales branch of a secret government agency that monitors supernatural, extraterrestrial and other odd phenomena. Best line ever? While investigating a case involving the illegal sale of extraterrestrial meat to the general public, Agent Gwen Cooper (the brilliant Eve Miles) asks Jack. "Have you ever eaten alien meat?" "Yes," Jack responds. "How was it?" Gwen asks. Jack smiles, wryly and says: "He certainly seemed to enjoy it." Smart, funny, sexy and silly, Torchwood is simply the best Sci-fi on TV.
As always, more of this anon.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Politics (Both Humorous and Serious)

I try to be relatively apolitical. But some things are just too near and dear to my heart to ignore. You may have read my previous post about California's Proposition 8, which would amend that State's constitution to ban same-sex marriage. There is a similar item on the Florida (where my sister lives) ballot, Amendment 2. Here is someone we all know with his thoughts on that issue:
Now, just a fun little anti-Prop 8 music video from Mandy Steckelberg that I thought was both hilarious and true:
And finally, if this was a real campaign video, I might actually consider voting for her:
Vote your hearts, folks. You know what's right and what isn't. America is supposed to be the land of opportunity for all, not just those of a particular belief system. Okay, I swear, unless it's particularly funny, I won't be posting about politics again. I just brought home three new DVDs to review and will post about those, soon.
As always, more of this, anon.

Monday, October 13, 2008

My Favorite Comedies

Comedy, almost more than any other film genre, is completely subjective. What I may find unrelentingly funny, you may think is relentlessly stupid. Of course, this post is about my favorite comedies, not yours. In no particular order, here are my favorites:

Young Frankenstein Mel Brooks and Gene Wilder wrote the screamingly funny screenplay for this parody/homage to one of Universal's most enduring characters. Nearly every line is quotable and almost every sight gag is hilariouos. Add brilliant performances from an amazing ensemble which includes Wilder; Marty Feldman; Teri Garr; Madeline Kahn; Peter Boyle; Kenneth Mars and an almost unrecognizable Gene Hackman, and you have one the singlularly funniest and most-beloved comedies of all time, bar none.
Monty Python and the Holy Grail I was in middle school when I first discovered Python on PBS. By the time The Holy Grail came out, I was a devout fan. Their first film, a parody of the King Arthur legend is their best and most quotable. Eric Idle's recent stage musical adaptation "Spamalot" is further proof of the films enduring hilarity. Sheer comic genius. And so hard to choose a favorite moment. Here is one of many:
The Producers Mel Brooks again, this time with his Oscar-winning screenplay about a down-on-his-luck Broadway producer and the hapless CPA he convinces to help him produce a Broadway flop. The incomparable Zero Mostel joins Gene Wilder, Kenneth Mars and a host of "little old ladies" in quite possibly the funniest movie about a musical about Hitler, ever made.
Bringing Up Baby My personal favorite film has Katherine Hepburn and Cary Grant at their madcap best. This 1938 Howard Hawks comedy was a flop when it premiered, but is now considered one of the director's best films. The story revolves around Grant's paleantologist character and Hepburn's zany heiress who loves him; two leopards; mistaken identities; a bone-stealing Terrier and a hundred other things that all add up to a zany romantic adventure. Pure genius.
What's Up Tiger Lily? Early Woody Allen at his best. Allen took a Japanese spy movie, removed the soundtrack, re-cut and re-dubbed it with his own script about the search for the perfect egg salad recipe. With a soundtrack provided by The Lovin' Spoonful, this 1966 film is both silly and sublime and it never fails to make me laugh. The only decent clip I could find is from the end credits, but it will give you an idea of just how goofy this movie is.
What's Up, Doc? The only Barbra Streisand movie on any of my lists, Peter Bogdonavich's love-letter to 30's madcap comedies is pure hilarity. Ryan O'Neal (at his peak of hotness) is a music professor presenting his latest theory at a "Musicologist's" convention in San Francisco. Striesand is the girl who gets him into repeated trouble. Madeline Kahn makes her brillaint film debut along with a host of comic geniuses, including Austin Pendelton and Kenneth Mars (funny how he seems to keep popping up). Loopy, looney and silly, What's Up, Doc? is just a whole lotta fun. The funniest movie about igneous rocks, stolen CIA documents and San Francisco you will ever see.
Dead Alive Peter Jackson (The Lord of the Rings; King Kong) made this insane horror-comedy early in his career. It concerns a young nerd, the Hispanic beauty who loves him; his zombified mother and more fake blood before or since. Gross, disturbing and hilarious, it is without a doubt the funniest zombie movie, ever.
Evil Dead II Director Sam Raimi (Spider-Man) cemented his reputation for outrageous visuals with this slapstick horror film about a group of young people vacationing in an abandoned cabin who stumble upon the Necronomicon (Book of the Dead) and unwittingly unleash a horde of 'Candarian' demons upon themselves and the world. If the Three Stooges had made horror movies, this would have been their best. It also made a cult star out of its young hero, Bruce Campbell. It also inspired a hilarious Off Broadway musical. For some reason, I can't embed the clip I wanted to show you, but you can view it at:

Hope you enjoyed these clips as much as I did. More of this, anon.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

I'm Baaa-aaack!

Home from my business trip to Chicago, where I stayed at the very beautiful Hyatt Regency McCormick Place, a lovely hotel with very nice rooms and comfy beds. As part of our expense allowance when travelling, my company lets us rent one in-room movie per night. I always try to to take advantage of this, especially to see more recent films that I missed in theatres. This weekend I saw two movies that I had wanted to see in theatres this summer, but missed.
First up: Director Peter Berg's "Anti-Superhero" movie Hancock, starring Will Smith, Jason Bateman and Charlize Theron. I admit to being a fan of all three of these talented and attractive actors. What the hell they are doing in this mess, however, is beyond me. Smith is the title character, an uncaring alcoholic with superpowers, but no memory of how he came to have them or why he has them. He causes destruction where ever he goes; wracking up damages in the millions, killing whales and alienating the people of Los Angeles who have begun to see him as more of a threat than the criminals he pursues. When he saves down-on-his-luck PR man Ray Embry (Bateman) from an impending train wreck, Embry sees an opportunity to turn both his and Hancock's lives around. Embry brings Hancock home for dinner with his family, where Ray's wife Mary (Theron) sees Hancock as a threat to a secret she's been keeping from her family.
Sadly, Berg and screenwriters Vincent Ngo and Vince Gilligan go absolutely nowhere with what could have been an intriguing concept. Instead, we get a muddied mess of a redemption story that completely wastes the talents of its cast and the time of its audience. The jokes fall flat, the CGI looks cheap and not a single character comes off as likable. The plot twists (such as they are) are telegraphed practically from the beginning and the film starts in the middle of the real story, leaving a confused audience with nothing and no one to root for. What a shame.
The next night, I watched The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor. Reprising his role from the first two Mummy films, Brendan Frasier returns as American adventurer Rick O'Connell, now living the quiet life of a gentrified Englishman in post-war Britain. His wife Evie (now played by Maria Bello after Rachel Wiesz wisely bowed out) has written two novels based on their previous adventures, and finds herself blocked when it comes to writing a much-anticipated third in the series. Their son, Alex (somehow missing the English accent his younger version had the second film) has taken off from college and found the above-mentioned tomb, where 2000 years ago an evil Chinese emperor (action star Jet Li) was cursed by a witch (the lovely and talented Michelle Yeoh) to spend eternity with his vast army as terra-cotta statues.
Unfortunately, what should have been a fun reinvention of the franchise, comes off as silly and trite and makes one wonder what Fraser, Li and Yeoh are doing in this movie (besides making a buck). John Hannah returns as Evie's irascible brother Jonathan, now running a nightclub (the Egyptian-themed "Imhotep's") in Shanghai. A convenient plot contrivance gets the O'Connells to Shanghai just in time for the unveiling of their son's discovery. An evil general wants to raise the Emperor from the dead so he can contain the chaos that is post-war China and eventually rule the world. There is a ridiculous romantic subplot involving the witch's daughter, Lin (the lovely Isabella Leong) and a sublimely silly tribe of helpful CG Yeti who look more like a cross between a cat and a bear than any depiction of the Abominable Snowman I've ever seen. Ford, as Alex, is flat and boring and looks barely young enough to be the son of 38 year-old Fraser. Ms. Bello, while a fine actress, is lacking the fiery spitball spunk Ms. Wiesz brought to the role of Evie. While Wiesz played Evie as an adorable nerd who finds her inner-warrior, Bello plays her as a supremely confident heroine with no hint of her bookish background. Consequently, we no longer care about the character. Writers Alfred Gough and Alfred Millar even resort to a cheap joke about how the character in Evie's novels is "a completely different woman." Fraser, as hot as ever (and maybe even a bit more-so), is game but has little to work with here. The movie ends with Jonathan taking refuge in Peru where, unfortunately, there are plenty more mummies to be found. Let's hope this the end of the run for the O'Connells and their mummy-fighting ways. Pee-yew!
As always, more of this, anon.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

October Horror

October is a Horror fan's favorite time of year. This October proves no exception, with several new movies hitting theaters.

Quarantine (Oct 10). A TV news crew follows firefighters into a building on an emergency call, only to find themselves trapped inside with something (s) that look mighty frightening. This is a remake of the Korean horror film "[Rec.]" (as in 'record' on a video camera).

Let the Right One In (Oct 24). This Swedish vampire film has an unusual twist - the vampires are children. A bullied young boy makes friends with the new neighbor girl, who happens to be killing off the kids who bully him.

Saw V (Oct 24). Okay, the last one was pretty lame (despite how much I loved the first one). They are promising that V will be the last, so we'll see.

Of course, you could wait until January for David Goyer's ("The Dark Knight" screenwriter) new horror movie, The Unborn. I don't have a video to embed, but you can see the trailer at MTV:


I'm off on a business trip this weekend, so I won't be posting again until Sunday night. As always, more of this anon.


Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Stop Prop 8

I live on the other side of the country, but I am watching California's Proposition 8 debacle closely. As many of you know, the California Supreme Court recently ruled that banning same-sex marriage was unconstitutional in that state. Since then, a proposition has been introduced that would amend the California State Constitution and make same-sex marriage illegal. I'm not a political activist, by any means (though I was involved in the local "Stop Dr. Laura" movement, way back when). But I vote and speak my mind. This travesty cannot be allowed.
Proposition 8 is an insidious measure, pushed by the so-called "Christian" right, which would actually deny rights to members of the LGBT community. This is more than a travesty; it's a crime against human rights. If you live in California, I urge to vote against Proposition 8. If you don't live in California, but want to help, please donate whatever amount you can to the fight against this truly hate-filled bill at: (via Towleroad). It is said "As California goes, so goes the nation." Don't let California (and the nation) take a giant step backwards in human rights. Please help stop Prop 8.
Okay - enough politics. More movies, soon. I promise.


Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Zebina Got Married

The 'ceremony' was at 7:15 PM in my bathroom, after the reluctant groom had settled in my sink long enough for me to catch him. "Zebadiah" quickly settled into his new home and the happy pair are canoodling as I type this. After I went online and discovered that Zebina is indeed a female, I went to get her a companion, because she seemed so lonely in that big cage (they also have two new perches, a cuttle bone and some toys). I didn't even watch as the young lady at Pet Smart snatched my new bird and boxed it up. It wasn't until I got home and got him in the cage that I realized I had a male (the deep orange beak, bright red cheeks and larger tail fan were the giveaways). Who knows, I may end up with Zebra Finch chicks.
I had no idea that directing a show would lead to a whole new world of pets for me. I still need a stand (right now, the cage is on a plant stand, but it's getting cold and my plants have to come inside soon) and a tray to catch the seeds they seem to delight in knocking to the floor. And truthfully, Zebadiah is still a little freaked out after his box-to-bathroom-to-cage adventures, but he'll settle in quite nicely. They spent about about an hour together, huddled atop the wicker "nest," peeping and squeaking away. Now they are both hopping and flying about, getting used to each other (though they were probably together in the store for a while and just need to get re-acquainted).
A short and simple post tonight. I'm still catching up on television and am off to Chicago on a business trip for my day-job on Friday. I'll start renting movies again next week and maybe writing about them sooner.
As always, more of this anon.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Back to Real Life

I promise this will be my last "Skin of our Teeth" post.

Friday saw our biggest audience (probably S'70's largest audience ever at TCNJ - over 150!). The crowd was enthusiastic and most of the sound cues were right (I never again got my "winding crank," though). The young lady who ran sound for most of the run was also supposed to make SP lamps and a slingshot for me. She failed there, so why should she have succeeded any better in sound? (I hate lazy kids.) But, the performance was almost magical. The "Announcer' added a bizarre and stunted 'Elvis hip swivel' to his monologues, whenever he didn't get a laugh he thought he should have gotten. Strangely, his way over-the-top performance didn't detract from the rest of the show of show and somehow added yet another layer of surrealism. My Producer, myself and a few cast members laughed ourselves silly while discussing his gestures and posturing at the 'official' cast party at "Homer's" house on Friday.

Closing night was smaller (91), but good. My friends 'M' and 'J' came down to see the show. They are sweet and funny and very silly young ladies who never fail to make me laugh (we saw Xanadu together this summer). And my other beauty, "J" was there with his mother and step-father. I was so happy to see him.

The end, however, proved rather anti-climactic for me. We did a small strike (mostly costumes, props and foam set pieces), but by the time we reached the bar, it was last almost last call. Mind you, this was at 12:10 on a Saturday night. What kind of lame-ass bar has last call at 12:30 on a Saturday night? "Henry" and I each had a beer and then the rest left to go to a diner. I wasn't hungry, so I took Zabina to her new home (she is very happily retired from a career on stage. Tomorrow I am buying her a friend and some toys) and sent out in an email the Open Letter in my previous post. I didn't get the chance for total privacy with "Henry" that I wanted, but I did manage to tell him how proud I was of him and how much I love him. We agreed to go out for his birthday at the end of the month, so maybe we'll get the chance to talk more in depth, then.

So, when all is said and done, how did it go? Very, very well. Was it as personally exciting as my production of Midsummer or as artistically as rewarding as Much Ado or The Food Chain? Almost. It was certainly thrilling to have vindication of my ideas from people who know Wilder so well, and people who know good theatre so well. It was really gorgeous (though I do wish we could have done a better job costuming the 'extras,' but that's a budget issue, more than anything. In fact, with my dream budget, the gears in the roof and walls would have turned as they flew in and out and we would have had actual 'steam' as it all went). And "The Extinct" would have had legs that matched the rest of their bodies (it would have involved cutting foam femurs, knees and tibias and Velcro-ing them to the puppeteers pants, but we also had a time issue). Still, Tappan Wilder (the author's nephew and executor) was thrilled to see them left in, as many productions can't figure out how to do them and either change or omit them, altogether. So I guess you could say I was very pleased.

This will probably be my last posting about my personal theatre experiences until April, when auditions get underway for Paul Rudnick's The Most Fabulous Story Ever Told as part of the annual JTMF AIDS benefit. I will, however, probably post my experience with the "Eden Dreams" Gala in January (another benefit, for an organization which works with Autistic persons). Eden Dreams is both a rewarding and frustrating experience in which I usually end up as little more than a "human prop." It's a long, dull and exasperating night where relatively few in attendance actually appreciate one's participation, and one's talents as a performer are hardly challenged. But, more about that later.

So, for the next few months it's movies, movies, movies (and maybe a raving rant or rambling here and there). Thanks for listening (reading, I guess). It's been surreal...

As always, more anon...


Open Letter to My Cast & Crew

My Dear Friends;

Every once in a while, the stars align, bringing together all the right people for just the right event. This whole mad, grand, steam-driven machine has actually been fueled by your talents and and imaginations. I turned the key and primed the pump, but once that engine roared to life, there was no stopping it. The show grew into a very, very funny and exceptionally entertaining statement on about 5000 topics, while managing to create a living world where dinosaurs as house pets made complete sense (of course, if you're an insane Alaskan governor, it already did -- sorry, couldn't help myself). Who cares if grouchy old deaf people didn't get it? Linc loved it, the conference scholars loved it and Shakespeare '70 saw some of it's biggest crowds at TCNJ, ever. I only hope that each of you is as proud of the show and yourselves, as I am of it and you. My expectations were continually and exponentially exceeded throughout the entire process. A director alone is nothing. A director with an amazing team can create an entirely new and unique new universe. Your trust in and commitment to my vision has gone above and beyond everything I had hoped for and each of your unique contributions to the show added up to far more than the sum of its parts.

Theatre began as religious worship, and I like to continue to think of in that way. As much as anything (and more than many things), art is what makes us uniquely human. And when so many people can come to a consensus about a piece of art and express it through such amazing work, the gods are pleased, indeed.

Thank you all so very much for taking part in such an important production for Shakespeare '70, TCNJ and myself. What we all managed to achieve with this production has not gone without notice and will go a long way toward cementing S'70's relationship with the College and their ability to produce more lage-scale productions on the main stage. As for myself, getting to direct in a space I know so well and love so much, on a show of such massive scale, has been both intimidating and exceptionally rewarding. Getting to share that experience with all of you has been like the gooey-fudgy frosting on a prize-winning brownie. Theatre should feed the soul, my dears. I am so very glad you were all there to partake with me.

I love and will miss all of you. I will never forget any of you and it is my fervent wish that we get to work together again and again. I'd take a trip to Excelsior (or anywhere else we might find ourselves) with all of you, anytime.

Remember to play! I promise you'll never be sorry for it. It will keep you young and happy. It has been my complete joy to play with you.And keep an eye out for those sneaky ham- bushes!

With my deepest affection and boundless gratitude, Prospero

"What hath God wrought!"

PS - One last thing about teamwork (and if you've already heard or read this, it bears repeating. Plus, it's the short version):

Confucius dreamt that he visited hell. Hell turned out to be a huge dining hall, filled with tables laden with every delicious and delightful dish known to mankind. The damned were all seated around the tables, starving. They had each been given ten-foot long chopsticks with which to eat and try as they might, they couldn't maneuver their chopsticks to reach the food into their mouths. They wept from hunger and despair. Then Confucius visited Heaven. Heaven turned out to also be a huge dining hall, filled with tables laden with every delicious and delightful dish known to mankind. The people seated around the tables in Heaven had also been given ten-foot long chopsticks with which to eat, but they were all happy and well-fed, taking great pleasure in the bounty before them. The difference? In Heaven, the blessed used their chopsticks to feed each other.