It

MV5BMTU5NjQ0MjQ1NF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwODA5NTkxMzI@__V1_SX1500_CR0,0,1500,999_AL_I’m sorry. I thought you meant like a root beer float. No thanks. I’m good.

 

     Nostalgia, good marketing, and a love of Stranger Things brought large audiences to see the new adaptation of Steven King’s It, but was it really one of the best movies of the year? The movie follows a group of kids who battle an entity that takes the form of a clown who abducts members of their age group, while mostly ignoring those old enough to drink legally. Spoilers will be largely avoided, but take this as warning to read with caution. What was right? What was wrong? What can we hope for Chapter 2? In general, I am amazed that people were scared by this film, but understand the appeal.

First and foremost, Bill Skarsgard won over at least one skeptic. His performance was original and disturbing. Minus the jiggling bit he did (he looked like he should be making a turkey noise), it managed to be good without trying to outperform Tim Curry’s performance in the original television series. (I promise to try and limit comparisons between the two). The movie was also very pleasing to look at; solid lighting and clean camera work. All of the lead actors ranged from decent to marvelous and I suspect any flaws really belonged to the director.  Henry Bowers and Beverly were certainly highlights as far as acting ability, with everyone else close behind.

What bothered me most about the film was that the script seemed to be written for adults, but performed by children. I am not just referring to the unnecessary foul language from our teens (though it could have been cut back and seemed completely out of character for one of them), but also the way they took major wounds that would have limited grown men! Fresh injuries were ignored seconds later and even if they were not that serious (broken bones are, I don’t. care who you are), the pain would have at least been mentally stimulated.  Even Eddie, who was raised to be a hypochondriac, failed to freak out about his broken arm enough nor did he reach for his inhaler. These kids never met the situation with innocence or inexperience, which would have allowed them to mature by the end. These were not kids and they should have been…at least in the beginning.

I recollect hearing that good stories had characters transform or grow from the beginning of a story to the end. Yes, I know that this is only part one of two, but even in this one half, there should be character growth. The only one who seemed to change by the end was Bill, and there was really no explanation of why he finally gave up on thinking his brother was alive. All of the characters were the same from start to end. That really makes the characters rather one dimensional. Much like Pennywise, who we spent two hours with and failed to deliver any surprises at the end like a good horror villain should do.

It was also troubling that Pennywise was introduced in horrific glory without any build up to his fearful presence. I didn’t like it about the original movie and certainly did not care for the even more explicit scene here. In fact, all the scenes were disconnected for me moving from one random “scary” moment to another. It left me not scared at all. S many questions as to why these were happening. Why was Eddie walking past the creepy house alone? Why did Ben follow the balloon and easter eggs in the library without saying anything to anyone? They were just random “haunted house” scenes that came from nowhere and went nowhere.

Sure, It is better than most modern horror movies. Is that really saying much? It also carries a fan base that started to develop when the book debuted and grew with a heartfelt television mini-series (despite the silly ending).  So, I get the excitement of seeing it get a big budget treatment. With all of this considered, I don’t believe that this adaptation is the masterpiece that everyone is trying to make it out to be.  It is an entertaining movie, but a slightly monotonous script and some short-sighted directing  kept this from being the next Misery or Silence of the Lambs.

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[title of show] – Theater

What the f*@k? Who the f*@k? How the f*@k? These questions (and more) will be answered in this review of [title of show], which opened in The Turpin Theatre on March 31, 2017. It is a 2004 musical comedy by Jeff Bowen and Hunter Bell that follows a quartet who try to get their stage production to become a reality.

Do not be fooled by the all-too-familiar plot. The script is about them writing the script that they are currently performing, so it takes self-awareness to another level. This show is a tightly written jaunt that fires humor out like a comedy AK-47. It is smart and feels connected, but also offers multiple levels of entertainment.  The music is fun, fresh, and (at times) reflective.

This particular production starred Mitch Lyon, Angela Lyon, Daniel Johnson, and Chelsea Davis. Mitch and Daniel play the author and composer. Angela and Chelsea are their actor friends. Finally, Andrew Long serves as the accompanist who also serves as a cameo role. An immediate observation is that the show caters to a strength in each one of the actors. It allows them to showcase themselves.

17776616_265419680573141_1326855596_o(Clockwise from top: Mitch Lyon, Daniel Johnson, Angela Lyon, and Chelsea Davis)

Each actor was good on every level and great in at least one. A. Lyon, for example, was able to sing, dance, and act. What she brought special to the production was her natural comedic energy that was consistent throughout. Lines that may have not been funny were brought to life with her timing and expressions. Meanwhile, Johnson was possibly the most grounded in terms of acting, though he certainly is a singer and capable of garnering laughs. Davis, who has proven her acting and singing ability, brought a gentility to the otherwise aggressive group. It provided a much needed balance especially when doing numbers like “A Way Back to Then.” Finally, M. Lyon was probably the best vocalist of the group, though he had his moments with comedy and dance.  Ultimately, it was a roulette wheel of talent, where someone was always winning. Even Long manages to pop out his 3 or 4 lines with fun innocence, while slaying the music on piano.

The highlight numbers included “An Original Musical” where Jeff (Johnson) duets with a blank piece of paper (M. Lyon). Lyon explodes as a foul-mouthed urban muse, while Johnson is undeniably charming in his delivery. “Die, Vampire, Die!” is also worth mentioning as Susan (A. Lyon) takes lead with support from the rest of the cast. This number moves from funny to suddenly reflective, without missing a beat.  “Secondary Characters” (Davis and A. Lyon) and “Nine People’s Favorite Thing” also stood out due to writing and performance.

The only minor criticism is that I was unaware the two lead male characters were gay. There were moments and gestures, but it felt more like they were using them for effect and not part of their characters. It wasn’t until much later in the show that someone said something in a non-comedic tone that I realized. It didn’t deter any entertainment value, though.

Overall, the show had no low points, moved well, was choreographed appropriately for the space and told a full story with minimal props and set. It was proof of what can be accomplished with the right talent and some creative thinking. [title of show] is a quick, but relentless musical comedy that needs to be experienced. Call Gaslight at 580-234-2307 to get your tickets.

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Logan – (Movie)

MV5BOTAwZjYyNDYtNjIyMS00N2ZmLTk1ZjQtZTY2MzY1MDYyNzZjXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNDg2MjUxNjM@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,1502,1000_AL_I have no witty caption to add here.  He’s too hot for me to think straight.  (Ah, there it is)

(SPOILER ALERT) Logan promised to be the Wolverine movie that fans have been waiting for. I have always found Wolverine overrated but have enjoyed Hugh Jackman in the role. So after appearing in at least 9 movies (whether he fit or not), we are wrapping up his character in 20th Century Fox’s farewell to Jacksman. Let’s get on with this review, bub.

If you are a comic fan, you realize that Logan is gently inspired by Old Man Logan. If you aren’t a comic fan, this means that it is going to be less about special effects and more about emotional ones. It’s a melancholy romp that begins with Logan living out in the desert caring for Professor Charles Xavier (again played by Patrick Stewart), with help from Caliban (played by the equally delightful Stephan Merchant, who out of make-up is kind of hot in a nerdy way. In make-up, he’s the visual representation of suffering.) A woman seeks out Logan to help because (like in most X-men movies, whether it makes sense or not) he’s the only one who can. She has a young mutant girl who she wants to get to a safe-haven before the bad guys that experimented on her destroy her.

The best points of the movie are sometimes the worst. Reflecting on the positives; Stewart as Xavier is always a rich experience and here we get to see him stretch his acting in the role. Xavier is far less confident and capable, now presented as a bed ridden senior who can’t control his powers. It’s a fascinating look into that character’s future. Aside from still being insanely attractive (like your friend’s hot dad in high school), Jackman gives a sturdy performance. Merchant gives more than expected, achieving sympathy without being completely one note. You can imagine different stages of his life just by what you get to see on screen.

The general cinematography is clean and steady (thank goodness the director, James Mangold, didn’t go into shaky cam territory). The story is not without holes (we’ll get to those in a moment). It does strive to be something deeper than a Hollywood blockbuster and I appreciate that effort.

My problems with the movie range from writing to it’s message. I was bothered that the nurse who rescues Laura (played by Dafne Keen) was able to send a fully edited video from her phone…That she took time to do it and wasn’t caught while filming quite a bit of footage in the secret facility are both questions that drew me out of the scene. Speaking of Laura, there is little transition seen as Laura goes from a feral mute child to this weeping and protective little girl. Was Xavier’s death supposed to motivate the change in her? Was Logan’s love? Was it the chips she ate that certainly contained corn syrup that changed her? There was no focus on this change. It just happened.

Let’s talk about the black family in Oklahoma that gets slaughtered. I’ll ignore the jokes about southern stereotypes for now and ask…What was the point in terms of the story and character development? Did I miss something? These people were HIGHLY open to letting a stranger with tons of scars all over him bring his “father” and mute “daughter” come in and have dinner, then stay overnight. Then, once they are wiped out, there is no reference or mention of them. No moment to have Logan reflect on the family he lost or what it means to be family. It all seemed like a very lengthy plot device that was conveniently and quickly wiped from the story.

Meaning was also lacking for me in the final fight between the mutants and the soliders/agents. Logan came to help the kids and his daughter. Fine. But wouldn’t the movie have shown his paternal attachment to Laura by letting him fight FOR her instead of WITH her against the bad guys? It’s like they bonded through slaughtering people and the Logan dies. Are we supposed to believe that Laura is somehow no longer the violent, ready-to-kill-a-cashier, thieving little girl he was on a road trip with? Would she go on a killing spree if someone didn’t give her enough corn? Laura’s character had no real development…she was just conveniently what she needed to be at certain points in the movie.

Certainly, Laura’s final act of turning the cross on its side to make an “X” was intended to be an image depicting the X-men…but that gesture came across anti-God. Would it not have been better to lay the cross down over his grave (as not to draw attention to it) and turn the camera to make an “X” out of it? Why did she do that? It felt like it was supposed to really mean something, but wasn’t sure what?

This movie is littered with “The Walking Dead” type violence and enough foul language to fill a Tarantino movie. Was THAT what fans were waiting for? Were execs thinking “Deadpool made us money and fans. Let’s raise the vulgarity on Wolverine…who tons of children have been watching for 17 years?”  What point did it prove except that the movie was edgy? The violence itself wasn’t part of the moral message, was it?

This is an escort plot that has been done plenty of times (Violet, The Professional, Taxi Driver, etc.) Grizzled character protects young child that is special. Despite the laughter and gore, violence and profanity don’t make a movie better. Sometimes it belongs and sometimes it doesn’t. To say those things add to a movie is like a 10 year old giggling at “poop.”  Deadpool was the movie where it worked. That movie was basically teen angst and attitude. Here, it felt like they were pushing hard to prove how cold this world was and to be taken seriously.

This leads me to a side gripe. Since when was it wrong for a comic book superhero movie to be fun, bright, and action-packed? I realize The Dark Knight is considered to be the template to which we judge all superhero movies, but not everything needs to have Batman’s raw brooding seriousness. What is so wrong with just watching good guys take down bad guys without some internal struggle, the word “f*ck” for audience to giggle at, or nudity?

With all that said, Logan was a good movie…especially when compared to all the other Wolverine movies. Is it one of the greatest superhero movies ever? I…guess so? It lacked some imagination, but had some interesting plot points (like Xavier’s seizures). If there was a message, it didn’t come through in the action for me. So I was left feeling a little hollow about the characters I was supposed to root for at the end credits. It was a thoughtful movie and perhaps I judge it harshly because it could have gone further in summarizing its point. I prefer movies like X-Men: United and Deadpool to this noir-embellished grit fest. I don’t want to be depressed for an hour and a half. Logan  might have served someone like me better if they had done even more to show this was a different world. Shoot it in black and white and go full noir? Explore the comparison between the comic book and real life that Logan touched on?

Most people enjoy this movie and I can respect that. We had little to go on before.

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Winding Road (Music)

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Sean Macgregor / Winding Road

(Produced by Sean MacGregor and Ron DiSilvestro.)

Using the term “rock music” doesn’t mean much these days. There are so many variations and sub-genres that defining what makes “rock” is more complicated. Sean MacGregor’s new album, Winding Road, feels like rock, as in…it is hard to give a specific definition to. Perhaps this is something that works in his favor.

“Small Town” is the first track (available on iTunes). First impression was a mix of 90’s rock and Christian rock. It has an edge, but never pushes to it. Think Goo Goo Dolls or Better Than Ezra. The lyrics have a slight modern country vibe, but it is a solid song. First songs should set a tone for the entire album and this one does just that.

The next track, “Can’t Sleep Tonight” sounds like a continuation of “Small Town” in a way. It is like a sequel. People listen to tracks out of order, but if listening through  it would be unfortunate to listen to this right after the first song. Only because people have ADHD when it comes to unfamiliar artists. The song is good, but not different enough.

Now, we get to “Winding Road.”  It’s the album title and that makes it an important song. How did it stand up? Honestly, it should have been the second song I listened to. The music is pleasing and nostalgic. The crescendo from beginning to end is well paced. The only criticism is that the lyrics seem to be trying a bit hard. The album works to paint a picture and three songs have positioned him with alcohol, as if to really drive home how “down to earth” this man is. This is only an example of the strain in the lyrics and it does not happen often. As a single, however, it carries a lot of life and a good representation of the album as a whole.

MacGregor’s  vocals are on key with modern pop rock like Jimmy Eat World’s, Jim Adkins or Yellowcard’s. The range at which he sings does make it sound as if he’s always singing the chorus to songs. By the time tracks like “Sundays” and “Nebraska” came around I was a bit exhausted. He has an excellent voice for this genre of music, but he could stand to explore other ranges in order to provide a wider variety.

“Nebraska” was one that easily could have benefited from starting lower and building, allowing us to relax for a moment. The music itself was gentler in its start; something you might listen to while driving down a lonely stretch of highway and creating a journey. If lower range vocals aren’t possible, then soft spoken might have provided that room for climax.

Finally, we come to the last track. Easily one of the best tracks on the album, “Ellie” is a father’s song to his daughter. While the other songs may hint at experiences, this one goes head first into the love he feels. Here, his vocals blend with the music in such a way that eases the audience into this story. The vulnerability and sincerity are never more evident than with “Ellie” and it is a perfect way to end the album.

McGregor wrote most of the songs, only co-writing “Nebraska” with Chris Rhoads. He is a talented singer and songwriter. Several songs could be soundtracks to films or to an individual’s real life. Winding Roads isn’t perfect. As a full project, it misses some vocal variety and lyric / music harmony. Yet, as individual tracks, it has enjoyable additions to a playlist. Winding Roads is a good step McGregor and hopefully, the growth will be heard in a follow-up album.

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The Bad Seed – (Theatre)

The discussion has been had regarding whether true horror can be achieved on stage (whether the production itself is good or not). With the flop adaptation of Stephen King’s Carrie and a lackluster Night of the Living Dead script, there seems to be a leaning to failure. In time for the holiday, Gaslight presents The Bad Seed written by Maxwell Anderson and directed by Catina Sundvall. Based on the 1954 novel by William March, it follows the story of the Penmark family. In particular, the mother, Christine and her “perfect” daughter, Rhoda. As tragedy strikes more than once, a cloud of suspicion forms over Rhoda and it is up to her mother to fight through her doubts and the opinions of those around her to discover the truth. (Note: I have never seen the movie or read the script).

To start, I was taken back by the lack of any ambient noise. It was deathly silent throughout the show. While I first thought of this as a criticism, I began to wonder if music would somehow take away from the vibe of the setting. In the end, I wasn’t sure how I felt about it.

The set itself was well decorated, if traditional. Personally, I enjoyed the yellow walls with brown trim. Along with the set dressing, it gave me an antique feeling, which worked in harmony with the time of the story. Nothing looked “out of place” and other than the common problem of a sofa blocking a portion of the acting, the spacing worked fluidly.

As characters were introduced, I was pleasantly surprised by the costuming. Though I can’t confirm the authenticity of all the pieces in relation to the period, most seem tailored to fit the actors (though they came from costume storage) and support their characterizations. Normally, costumes aren’t a point of interest for me, but in this show everything helped visually and with the storytelling. Not only stylish in most cases, but also purposeful.

Now, onto the biggest factor; acting. Across the board, I found the acting consistent, effective and interesting. While it might be a bit verbose to mention them all, there were highlights. Gaslight newcomer, Tree Perkins, played the drunken neighbor, Mrs. Daigle. The story does not lend itself to much levity, yet Perkins was able to manifest a chuckle while not taking away from the dire circumstances of her scenes. Alex Ewald was cast as Leroy, the caretaker. What was exceptional here was all the nuances that Ewald gave his character, which isn’t done far enough on stage in shows (in my opinion). Gestures, body language, speech; this character was real enough to spark a mix of funny, odd, and creepy. Chelsea Davis also managed to accomplish quite a bit as the mom, Christine. Over the last several years, I have found Davis more entertaining in comedy. However, this role convinced me she is fully capable of handling heavier stories. There was a way that leading ladies carried themselves in movies prior to the 60’s and she was able to embody that delicate nature. This is important as the character’s life begins to unravel around her, we need to see a stark contrast by the end. The arch of this character was handled quite well and brings the climax of the show where it needs to go. Finally, we have Jersey Garrett as Rhoda; the possible bad seed referred to in the title. This young actress has a lot to carry to interpret old-fashioned dialogue in a way that translates for now. I would say she was successful in all moods of the character, but excelled when facing off with another character. This is fine, as I think that’s what the audience pays for!  She has a great expressive face for the stage, which easily reads across the stage. Hopefully, she will continue to sharpen her skills on the stage, as she has everything it takes to continue getting good roles. These were not the only strong performances on the stage, just highlights.

Sundvall gave good direction and believable blocking. The characters moved with purpose and locations made sense. I was never lost on what a character was doing.

In the end, I am not convinced it is a “scary” play. It WAS, however, intense and suspenseful. The conclusion was shocking and other than some slight lagging during a scene change (music may or may not have helped here), it moved well. It does contain some suggestive violence and mature themes, so use your discretion.  This bad seed was a good thriller, and I am certain audiences will be genuinely entertained. (580-234-2307 for tickets)14352055_157574501357660_3298704976327705515_o

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Sympathy for the Director

director-1380748_1280Why did the director cross the road? To get a different perspective.

I once went to a job interview. The dimly lit panel asked the usual series of questions; What are your strengths? What are your weaknesses? Are you capable of taking the blame for something I do wrong and giving me credit for things I had nothing to do with?     You know. They got to one question I had been hoping for. “Tell us about your most challenging job.” I proceeded to tell them about a movie I directed and the nightmare of having mother nature almost ruin an outdoor scene. However, I noticed that as soon as I said “directed a movie” their eyes sort of went into a relaxed state. I think their brains were using their eyes as surfboards as they traveled to the beaches portrayed as screen savers on their computers. It was then I realized that the general public will never understand or appreciate the work that goes into a movie.

Directors are present long before the cast and still around long after the cast has forgotten their lines (well, that’s an exaggeration.) If they are independent, then they are often the same ones who have written the script and participated in casting and…crew-ing? Why isn’t that word? If “casting” is assembling a cast, shouldn’t “crew-ing” be assembling a crew? I digress. Directors have to continue to think about every aspect of a movie; the camera shots, interpreting the  writing, knowing all the characters, etc. Any decent director who takes their work seriously has acquired some skills that others have not.

Organizing is most certainly towards the top. A good indie director is often the one designing a schedule, telling everyone where they need to be and when on set, deciding the order that scenes will be shot, delegating tasks to crew and more. Once the project begins, it is non-stop adjustment for illness, technical difficulties, and weather that requires re-organizing all the plans. This leads to another attribute; problem-solving.

In the example above, I brought up mother nature’s interference in an outdoor shoot. The entire movie took place in the fall. However, because I live in Oklahoma, the sky decided it was a good time to poop out a few inches of snow. None of the other outdoor scenes had been shot in the snow. It’s important to make good use of time because the longer a movie takes the more hurdles you risk having. Instead of rescheduling (noting that we had no idea how long the snow would exist), we interwove a dream sequence into the scene. It worked out alright since one character was prone to having prophetic-type dreams. This is problem-solving at its finest.

Communication is key to getting what you want on camera. You not only  have to know technical jargon, you have to be versed in talking to various personalities. One actor may be eager to please, while another comes onset to simply prove what all they know. While it would be nice to pull a Hitchcock and slap the latter, that would be ineffective and waste time. No, you have to know how to communicate in a way that tells your actors what you need from them without getting caught up in ego, insecurity, etc. You have to be able to tell crew clearly what they should be doing so you get a shot in as few takes as possible.

Yes, being a director is a great way to improve new skills and highlight some you may already have. They are required to juggle everyone’s schedules and needs, while steadily progressing to a final product in a limited amount of time. They must remain on their toes for problems that arise…and they WILL arise. They do so with less gratitude or attention than actors (though admittedly more than crew) and can spend up to 15 hours a day on their feet. Yet if you walk into any average job interview, mentioning your experience directing a movie can come across as if you eat Play-Do for a living.

Hug a director…better yet…give them a job.

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Love, Loss, and What I Wore

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There are lots of pro-women projects out in the world. One of the most famous is The Vagina Monologues by Eve Ensler. Yet, there are countless and some are rather preachy or feel desperate to prove something…on occasion it is at the cost of the reputation of the opposite sex. Love, Loss, and What I Wore was written by Nora Ephron and Delia Ephron. It was directed by Jill Patterson Phillips at the Gaslight Theatre in Enid, OK. It opens tonight in the Turpin Theatre, but I was fortunate enough to catch the final dress. I left inspired, with my masculinity in tact.

The Turpin hosts a small stage and an intimate setting. Phillips went an extra step by not only dressing the stage, but the audience chairs and entry. That is often a good sign that you will see that something “extra” on the stage. She made excellent use of the stage and from where I was sitting, the mirror made for some dramatic pictures. It was colorful, fun, and intimate (much like the stories the actors would soon be sharing on stage).

The show began with a strut down the catwalk to the stage. Each actor got into place and we were introduced to Mary McDonald as the lead character. McDonald has such a love of language and it comes out like a professional storyteller. It was the perfect thread to run through the fabric of the show. Carmen Ball was very real and dedicated to her various roles (where I had mostly seen her play to the audience as mother goose or serve as a rather stoic character). It was subtle and beautiful. Courtney Strzineck was solid, but achieved her greatest moments in some of the more dramatic stories. There was a thoughtfulness that projected her vulnerability to the audience. It was an excellent delivery of some rather emotional dialogue. Speaking of vulnerability, Tammy Wilson made one of the strongest leaps. Her performance here was one of her best as we got to see much softer and more loving characters who wore their emotions on their sleeve. I had never seen this from Wilson before and she nailed it. Finally, I’ve dubbed actor, Leslie Newell, as Enid’s answer to Lucille Ball or Aisha Tyler. She’s young and pretty, but she is fearless when it comes to reminding you she’ll sacrifice the pretty for a valuable laugh.  Newell has such a wonderful comedic spirit. Each woman garnered laughs, but Newell’s timing and expressions were undeniably hilarious.

The script was one of charm and great care. It was like spending Friday night hanging out with friends. With that, one does not feel obligated to stay to the end, but instead loses any interest in time. It approaches many topics and emotions, but does so successfully without force. It also tells its feminine story in such an entertaining and familiar way that even men will understand and appreciate it. They may find themselves thinking about their moms, wives, daughters, etc.

There are surprises that I cannot mention, lest I suffer a cruel death at the hands of the director. I found the entire experience honest without being desperate (like excessive vulgarity, as an example). The cast was light-hearted without being shallow. While this show is about women, it is certainly for everyone. Phillips made wonderful choices in her directorial debut and the sold-out crowd will no doubt be in for a treat. If the opportunity ever arises, put on your best black attire and catch Love, Loss, and What I Wore.

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