Category Archives: Pop Culturing: Movies, Books, Comic Books and Other Arts

Play Review: Chalk by Walt McGough

Fresh Ink Theater Company presents CHALK. Written by Walt McGough and directed by Sarah Gazdowicz, it is currently running at the Boston Playwright Theater through January 24.

I haven’t been to very many plays.

Five.

I’ve been to five plays.

So I’m not the most informed when it comes to this particular medium. However, I do know when I’ve had a damn good time and I had one last night.

Chalk is a tightly wound story, involving only two characters and a single space that, at times, feels perilously small for the heroine. Maggie (Christine Power) is, by all appearances, the last survivor of the end times. Until, that is, her daughter Cora (Caroline Rose Markham) suddenly reappears. It quickly becomes clear that this is not a friendly reunion and that something is horribly wrong.

Chalk makes great use of its space. The set sketched out the environment without being visually overwhelming. Old books, stacked cardboard boxes, and flickering lights and the thrum of a generator in the background let me know all I need to about Maggie’s refuge. And there are so many little touches that helped to enhance the feeling that we were peering into a little slice of post apocalyptic life. As the audience was sitting, Maggie went about her morning routine within her shelter; brushing her teeth, some calisthenics and tending to the circle. It let us into her life gradually, before we were thrown in with a bang.

Both Christine Power and Caroline Markham brought their all to their performances. Power’s Maggie reminded me a lot of Frances McDormand’s character in Fargo: sweet no-nonsense sensibilities with a biting sarcasm when necessary. And Markham was a spitting, mean-spirited creature, full of vitriol and animalistic fury. They counterbalanced one another and drew toward one another and held my attention the entire show.

In spite of the subject matter, which could potentially be overwhelmingly depressing given that is the end of the world, there was hope and humor rather than grim and gritty. Walt McGough‘s story eschewed the usual tropes and cliches that are rife within this genre. This is no The Walking Dead or A Boy and His Dog where humanity is shown to be THE REAL MONSTER: this is a small scale story focusing in on a mother and her daughter. It’s two people circling each other and figuring each other out and it’s funny and touching and wonderful all balled together. There’s one moment at the end, when Maggie throws back a line at Cora that’s hilarious, the kind of line you’d hear in any action movie as a throw-away gag, but it turns into an important, defining moment in the final act. It’s a play with good feelings in bad times and that’s really what I needed right now.

It’s a well-written, well-acted, well-produced feature that provides a great reason to get out of the house and into the theater. Even if you’re like me and you don’t really go to plays, this one you should make the effort to see. It’s seventy-five minutes long, hilarious, deals with the end of the world and will make you have an emotion or two. Go!

I give it five bags of chalk dust and a cherry pop tart.

To buy tickets to see Chalk (playing at the Boston Playwright’s Theater), please go HERE.

For more information about Fresh Ink Theater and their future works, go HERE.

-D-

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James Bond: Chapter One; The First Chapter

“Today we are fighting Communism. Okay. If I’d been alive fifty years ago, the brand of Conservatism we have today would have been damn near called Communism and we should have been told to go and fight that. History is moving pretty quickly these days and the heroes and villains keep on changing parts.”
― James Bond, Casino Royale

I like James Bond. And, like everything else I’m interested in, I have to like it in a obsessive compulsive way that deeply worries the people closest to me. I hate half-measures and lackluster efforts. I have to take my interests and plow them into the ground, wringing out every last bit of enjoyment until I can’t stand the subject and put it on the shelf for a year.

James Bond is one I keep coming back to. He’s a hero that has survived over sixty years, from Ian Fleming’s first novel all the way to his next movie that’s due to be released next year.

He has fought communists, insane madmen seeking to blow up Silicon Valley, North Korean terrorists with a penchant for plastic surgery and duplicitous water stealing businessmen.

James Bond is a hero who has maintained the same posture and panache for his entire run, but, throughout, has maintained a relevancy that few other characters can claim. It is remarkable that someone who was so defined by the culture of the Cold War has not only survived twenty years after the end of that war, but has thrived.

He is defined by a cultured ruthlessness, a suave viciousness. He will lecture you on the correct way to drink a martini and then callously dispatch a henchmen without reflection or doubt. He remains, in many ways, thoroughly British, though beloved around the world.

His longevity is compelling in and of itself. He has been portrayed by many different actors in many different ways through vastly different era. His novels are still being written to this day, in spite of the fact that the original author has been dead and buried for fifty years.

Because of my obsessive compulsive madness, I need, NEED, to figure out a way to go the extra mile in James Bond researches. So, with a complete lack of careful thought and a dutiful inattentiveness to how much free time I actually have, I have decided to watch every James Bond movie, in chronological order, until I lose interest or I reach the final movie.

I will start with the first on-screen appearance. Which is, obviously, the hour long TV episode of Casino Royale.

Look for it at this location next week.

-D-

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The American Hero

Superman is an interesting character.

I know; that’s not a popular idea. Superman, for me and a lot of people, is The Superhero. He has every power that he could possibly have: flight, super strength, freeze breath, laser eyes, great hair. He holds all life sacred. He does not use his powers to alter humanity’s way of life, no matter how much he may or may not disagree with it. He stands for Truth and Justice and he…does…not…bend from those morals.

This does not make for a compelling character. The reader or viewer or listener (just in case you’re a huge fan of Superman audiobooks, I guess), wants a hero with flaws. They want someone who doubts and second guesses and makes mistakes. This is true in all fiction. If the central character if flawless and is an indestructible being of unimaginable power, the reader is bored at Page One.

However, whether or not you think a writer can tell a good story with Superman isn’t the point today. The point is what Superman says about us. Superman is as American as cowboys, jazz and baseball. Like America, he is the biggest, most powerful guy on the block. His strength is uncontested and his reach is unlimited.

The difference between Superman and America is as clear as the difference between the Ideal and the Real. The wonderful thing about this character is that he has the power to split the world in two. He could rule this planet with an iron (Steel) fist. There is nothing on this planet that could stop him. Instead, against all odds, he helps old people and saves cats from trees. He is an uncorruptible, unstoppable force. He is goodness personified.

America, once it took up the mantle of a global superpower, does not have the same track record. Our country has interfered in the affairs of other nations; not to their benefit, not to correct some wrongdoing or to right some terrible wrong. It has been about money or unfounded paranoia or because of some stupid, political morass that our country has involved itself.

We have wrecked countries over communism, a political system that was so flawed it annihilated itself. We have decimated populations to protect oil fields, which lead to enraged populations that struck back in vicious, terrible ways that caused us to reciprocate in like-mind.

Superman is how we wish America was. He is the ideal for the nation. He is how our country, our government, should be. When people ask for help, Superman responds. If a building was on fire, Superman would save everyone inside. And then he would probably rebuild the building for good measure. He would not make sure that his contractor friends got the job to rebuild and allow them to use shoddy and questionable materials to save a buck and turn a quick profit.

He would not charge into a situation where he was not wanted. He does not impose his will and then leave the situation worse than how he found it. He does only what he can be reasonably expected to do and what he does do, he does because he can and because it is righteous that he uses his might and influence to make things better.

Superman is interesting, he is fascinating, because he represents how everyone in a position of power or authority should be and rarely is. He has ultimate power and he would just as soon use it to talk a young woman out of killing herself as he would fight the Villain of the Week. He is what we should all aspire to be and, while that does not always make for interesting reading, it is sometimes important to be reminded of what we can be.

-D-

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Movie Review: V/H/S/2

V/H/S was an interesting, albeit flawed, horror movie anthology. It featured six short films, all of which were found footage with an overarching frame. There were one or two strong entries, but, for the most part, they were average horror stories that didn’t really make full use of the found footage genre.

Still, I have a soft spot for found footage. But, like all horror, it must abide by very specific rules in order to be scary. Found footage is about convincing the audience that what they’re seeing is real. It’s not a slasher film or a monster movie, it’s something that really happened and we somehow stumbled across this missing tape. To that end, any found footage horror film must follow these rules:

1. No big name actors or people you’d recognize. It pulls you out of the narrative the very moment you see Robert Englund or Kane Hodder onscreen

2. No digital effects. Unless it’s used in a very minor way to enhance a practical effect, digital effects are immediately obvious. No matter how good they are, no matter how real they appear to be, you still say to yourself, “Oh, that’s some cool CGI.” and it’s ruined.

3. The more supernatural or sci-fi or unrealistic the plot is, the harder it will be to keep the audience invested in the idea that the movie really took place in our world and we’re just viewing a dark and strange corner of it. That’s not to say that they must avoid the supernatural at all costs, just that it’s harder to pull off.

With all of this said, they’re just about to release the sequel to V/H/S, creatively titled V/H/S/2. Let’s see how it fairs by my draconian rules.

Like in the first movie, there is a framing story. Two private detectives are on trying to track down a missing college student. They break into his house and come across a familiar set-up for anyone who has seen the first movie.

TVs

 

When breaking and entering into someone’s house and confronted with dozens of TVs that were on when you arrived, there is really only one thing that you can do….

InfrontofTVYou start watching the tapes.

Instead of the six shorter vignettes that were in the first V/H/S, the sequel only features four stories this time, which is a shame. I preferred the shorter, quicker films of the original film. No matter. Away we go.

Tape 1

Our protagonist has had his damaged eye replaced with a bad-ass looking cybernetic eye that works just as well as any other eye, but the doctor warns that there may be…glitches (ominous foreshadowing). Everything that the character sees will be recorded. What’s odd is that his eye also records sound which…doesn’t make a lot of sense. Possibly there’s an upgrade package for cybernetic eyeballs that lets them capture sound as well.

CameraEyeAfter seeing a couple of bloody people roaming around his apartment he freaks out, meets someone with similar problems and all hell breaks loose in rather rapid fashion. All told, it’s nothing special, but still entertaining. A couple of jump scares, twitchy acting and some gruesome scenes and then it’s all over. All told, this ranked dead middle for me out of the four shorts.

It did win a lot of points by not pandering too much to the audience. Through some context clues, you realize why the guy is being haunted. It’s not extremely subtle, but they never once say it out loud, which is impressive in this day and age where every motivation apparently needs to be loudly explained with a couple of exclamation points to boot.

Tape 2

This one, this was my favorite one. It’s about zombies, which made me groan and nearly turn it off, but then it turns into a zombie movie that I had never seen before.

It’s a zombie movie from the point of view of the zombie.

It’s one of the few entries that could only have been done effectively as found footage and makes good use of the genre. Tere’s not much else to say about it since the concept really says it all.

Great, bloody, gory and my favorite out of all the shorts in V/H/S or V/H/S/2.

Tape 3

Right after the cozy little nastiness that was Tape 2, we hit the worst of the four. This one breaks pretty much all of the rules I laid out, except for the first one. It’s about a cult in Indonesia that’s being investigated by some young people with cameras.

And there are subtitles. In a found footage movie, there are subtitles. While these can be explained away, it stills pulled me right out the narrative and wrecked any chance of me immersing myself in the thing.

There is also some pretty bad and obvious CGI. It’s not even always good CGI. Even if this had just been run as a regular old horror movie, it wouldn’t have been very scary and was wracked with spooky cult cliches.

Except for this guy:

CreepiestDudeEverThis guy creeped me right the fuck out.

Tape 4

While their parents are out of town, a brother and sister prank each other mercilessly while recording the results and then they’re attacked by….somethings.

This one, like the first, is average. There are some creepy moments and great visuals. There is CGI, but it’s better done than in the third video. It’s very frantic and hectic and blazes through.

In a lot of ways, I think it most accurately reflects what it would be like to suffer this kind of attack. It was pure chaos, lights and sounds flashing and blaring out in a confusing cacophony. It’s good, basic horror except there’s a crying dog throughout most of it and I don’t like dogs being hurt, so I was just sad instead of scared.

F–

Summary

All in all, I think V/H/S/2 suffers by having fewer shorts than its predecessor. V/H/S had one or two clunkers, but, for the most part, it was pretty entertaining and if you didn’t enjoy one short, it would be over soon. V/H/S/2, on the other hand, limits itself. The Cult Story just never seemed to end and went on interminably merely because I wasn’t digging the story. By the time it had ended, I had checked out mentally. More films and shorter films, I think, is the way to go with this style of filmmaking.

In the end, V/H/S/2 was a disappointing follow-up. I wanted more variety and more stories and more chances to delve into a subgenre I love.

I give it Two Tracking Errors, One Rewind Snarl and A Betamax.

V/H/S/2 comes out in theaters on July 12, but is available for rental now through various providers, like Amazon.

-D-

 

 

 

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Movie Review: Star Trek Into Darkness

I’ve been a big fan of Star Trek for most of my life and I’ve tagged along with the franchise through good times (Star Trek: The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, Star Trek First Contact ) and troubled times (Voyager, Enterprise, Star Trek Insurrection). When I was kid, I loved the original series, but I love the movies more and watched Wrath of Khan so many times that I could (and, embarrassingly, still can) recite the lines along with the actors.

When they announced they were re-booting the series back in 2009 with an all new cast playing Kirk, McCoy, Spock, et all, I was cautiously optimistic. After all, nothing they did could hurt the franchise worse than anything Rick Berman did. Star Trek came out and everybody loved it and it made a ton of money and, most impressively, it made Star Trek cool.

When the sequel was announced I was more than cautiously optimistic and bounced around like a loon waiting for it to come out. To the credit of the marketing team, the trailers they released showed almost nothing of the plot. I knew next to nothing about what to expect going in. Except explosions.

And lens flares.

Star Trek Into Darkness  picks up pretty much where the first left off, with Kirk (Chris Pine) the Captain of the Enterprise and still as reckless and brash as he was in the last movie. Spock (Zachary Quinto) still doesn’t get human emotions. Uhura (Zoe Saldana) is still dating Spock. And so on.

One of the reasons why the first movie was so successful with both old and new fans is that they jettisoned decades of cumbersome backstory in order to tell new stories wit established characters, which Into Darkness continues to do. Everyone still feels very familiar, but you don’t need to have seen Spectre of the Gun to understand the multiple layers of Chekhov’s character. The classic characters have been rebuilt on the same foundations, but with enough tweaks and modifications to keep them compelling and interesting.

In fact, the plot of this movie builds upon plots of some older episodes and reintroduces a few new/old characters as well as aspects of Starfleet like Section 31, more so than Star TrekInto Darkness has a stronger villain, a more compelling plot and a tighter grasp of the characters that comes from everyone involved being more comfortable.

It’s a visually brilliant movie right from the beginning  where Kirk and McCoy (Karl Urban) run through a vivid red alien jungle chased by striking, white aliens while Spock rappels into an active volcano from a shuttle. And, if you couldn’t tell from that preceding sentence, the action is just as lively as it was in the first movie. There are ships exploding and fight scenes and disintegrations and cool warp effects. It’s a shiny, pretty movie and one that does the genre credit.

Also, spoilers: Benedict Cumberbatch is exactly who you think he is and he’s wonderful and I want to hug him and hold him and never let him go.

All in all, Star Trek Into Darkness is a funny, explosive and intense entry in the Trek series and J.J. Abrams once again proves that he was the right person for the job and it makes me want to see, more than ever, how he handles the Star Wars series.

I give it a Baker’s Dozen of bowl cuts and pointy ears.

-D-

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On the Fringes of Geekery

Like many geeks, I am not, nor have I ever been, very comfortable in my geeky obsessions. They are hidden away, buried and untalked about. I’m not just talking about my love of movies and science fiction and the occasional computer game. I have secreted away still geekier joys, of which I will not speak.

But let’s say, hypothetically, that I enjoyed something like….model building. Hypothetically.

Today, I went to Pandemonium Books and Games (hypothetically) to buy a model. A lot of gaming shops will also have tables and space available for people to gather and game and have fun. As I stood there, clutching my Tyranid Pyrovore detailed metal cast kit and medium dry brush, I snorted at the kids playing Magic the Gathering and thought, Nerds, before going back to looking for Warlock Purple paint pots.

Now, I know I’m in no position to judge. I have a Spiderman Beanie Baby, an action figure of the Queen from Aliens and an un-assembled Imperial Guard engineseer on my desk. I’m firmly a geek.

But my own unwillingness to admit that this to anyone who I haven’t carefully vetted makes me extremely dismissive of people who I consider geekier than me. And that’s a little bit shameful. I have no right to judge other people’s hobbies. I shouldn’t pretend I’m not one of them and scoff at them and give them odd looks.

At the very least, I’ll take this space to admit my inner geek and to formally apologize to everyone over the past year that I’ve scoffed and snorted at.

Here’s to being more accepting of my own kind.

-D-

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The Many Bonds Theory

The Many Bonds Theory is simple in its premise. The theory goes that James Bond is not a man, but a codename and that several men have operated under this codename. Each of the actors who portrayed Bond portrayed a different man. It should be noted here that this theory is not my own and that the arguments are also not my own, though I did introduce my own wrinkles here and there. The words are mine though. I’ll claim those.

Now, in order for this theory to work we must do two things right off the bat. We must disregard the Daniel Craig Bond. Casino Royale was a reboot of the series, meant to be taken as a prequel to the previous movies. And, not to inflict spoilers on you, but Skyfall states pretty conclusively that his true name is James Bond. Now, after Daniel Craig decides to leave the series, the theory can come into play again when the next actor takes his place.

We must also disregard the books. I’ve only read the Ian Fleming books and I have absolutely no interest in the other ones, but it makes for a confusing mess trying to fit that all into the canon of the movies.

Now that we’ve tidied up the playing field a bit, we can proceed.

In order for there to be an honest to God canon, there needs to be an explanation for how the James Bond who fought against the Soviets in the 1960’s is the same Bond who ended up fighting North Korean terrorists in Die Another Day. Just the problem of time is enough to unhinge the series, if we’re to believe that Bond is the same man. Bond is in his mid-thirties in the 1960’s, meaning he’d be in his ’70s at the time of the last Brosnan movie.

There is also the change in personalities. No one would confuse the playful and smirking Roger Moore with the more lethal and dry Sean Connery. And can anyone imagine Pierce Brosnan using the same disguise and terrible nasally voice as a cover as George Lazenby did? While basic traits remained the same, they were different men who approached their profession in different ways.

There were even little differences like Sean Connery smoking cigarettes and martinis, while Roger Moore preferred cigars and brandy, while Brosnan was a complete nonsmoker.

There are also the points in which each actor left the series. Sean Connery left after destroying SPECTRE’s volcano headquarters and killing the head of SPECTRE (or so he thinks). A good point in which to leave a career.

Next, Lazenby is Bond. (Fun Fact: At the end of the pre-credit sequence, Lazenby turns to the camera and makes a smart-ass remark about “the other guy”. See? More proof that Bond is more than one man!). At the end of that movie (Spoilers, obviously), he is married, only to have his wife brutally murdered by Blofeld, (Back from the dead, leading to my counter theory that Blofeld is also a codename for the head of SPECTRE).

Lazenby drops out of the surface and Connery returns. His desire to revenge himself upon Blofeld is not because Blofeld killed HIS wife, but because Blofeld attacked the family of a fellow agent. Once again, he kills Blofeld and that’s it for Connery (except for a terrible remake of Thunderball in the early 80’s called Never Say Never Again, which is not canon. Thank God. There’s a scene of Bond defeating a henchman with his own urine sample).

Next Roger Moore takes up the mantle of Bond. Rather than tragedy ending his career, he retires due to old age. Moore is 57 at the time of that filming.

Dalton is up and in his second movie, has his double-O status remanded because he’s taking the law into his own hands. His actions result in the botching of an undercover operation, the death of agents from Hong Kong and unsanctioned murders of multiple people. And then he’s never seen again. Obviously Dalton is taken out by his own government.

Brosnan ends his career after being captured and tortured at the hands of terrorists. Is it any wonder that he doesn’t come back after that final mission?

Lastly, there are the secondary characters. At the start of the series, Felix Leiter is introduced as near Bond’s own age, . In the last movie he’s seen in before the Daniel Craig Bond movies, Leiter looks considerably older than Dalton. Other characters, like Moneypenny, M and Q also get older while Bond stays around the same age, because the same actors play them well into the ’80s. The Leiter age difference is more striking since a different actor is playing him. They deliberately went with someone considerably older that Bond.

In conclusion, every Bond except for Daniel Craig and maybe Sean Connery (after all, there’s no guarantee that there wasn’t another Bond before him) was the real Bond. Everyone else was a man acting under a codename.

Like The Batman.

-D-

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