Monday
Nov182013

Aeterno Elementum: A Heavy Metal Opera-Live Theater At Its Cheesy Best!

Great cheese is definitely not confined to only the movies. This weekend I experienced a darkly themed, but awesome play at the Historic Everett Theater in Everett, WA. It is Aeterno Elementum: A Heavy Metal Opera presented by Ara'Kus Productions. It's a live band performance cloaked within an over the top theatrical production with a huge ensemble cast, including a fire eating Demoness.

 

 

The premise is one we've heard before, but still has an original flair. A well-intentioned man of the cloth, in his desire to rid the world of all sin, ultimately helps darker forces achieve their goal of ridding the world of pesky humanity. After a tragedy makes him question his god, he falls prey to a seductive fire eating Demoness, and makes a pact with her.

 

Through a series of monologues and intensely choreographed action scenes, we are introduced to four others who fell under the Demoness' spell. Each one represents an element, and the surrender of each to the Demoness increases her power, and causes more destruction to rain upon humanity.

 

 

The story is solid, that much is for certain. It also doesn't drag, or even get bogged down by its grandiose theme of how imposing one's will and judgment on the world, no matter how veiled in good intentions, can only lead to misery for all. The story flows with limited dialogue, heavy music to frame each scene, and lots of action.

 

The play also remembers to use humor to break up the tension. The character of the Imp, who works for the Demoness, is hysterical. Just when things could get too melodramatic, the Imp enters, sometimes dancing, sometimes crawling, but always with an impish grin of delight. Out of all of the cast, the Imp steals the show each time he appears. And during the twenty minute intermission, the Imp entertained the audience by coming out for photo ops, and to make a big show of trying to capture the souls of the handful of young kids in attendance.

 

 

The story of the play is intense, and it took me the first couple of acts to get into the flow of things. But once you do, the performance immerses you. The two hour performance truly flies by, and you are tempted to cheer and yell at several points. The actors all clearly enjoy their roles, and each do them justice, no matter how small. They embrace the cheese factor of this over-the-top morality tale.

 

The main character of the priest is played very well. He makes you sympathetic for his plight without any crutches to force you to feel one way or the other. Playing against the fire eating Demoness, it's a great balance. Even though the Demoness has a non-speaking role, her thoughts are clear in each scene. The actress who plays her does a great job at slipping into the background just enough to let the story play out, but still be noticed as the controlling hand of her latest conquest.

 

 

However, after all is said and done, it is the stage production of Aeterno Elementum that makes this worth the drive, time, and ticket price to see. The costumes are detailed, with lots of leather, studs, and demon horns. The Demoness is sultry without being profane, and her headdress is incredible! The clever use of all the characters to move items, including “dead bodies”, around the stage is not intrusive, and before you realize it you've gone from the inside of a church, to a courtyard, to a forest scene. It's minimalism used to its best. The characters also emerge from all areas of the theater, so you are immersed in the experience even more.

 

 

If you're not a fan of heavy metal, or any kind of heavy music, this probably won't make you one. But the music adds to the story so well, if you took it out, or even toned it down, the experience would not be as good. If you think you're not a fan of live theater, I do, however, think this production could change your mind. C'mon, you have people twirling fire, fight scenes including swords, punching, jumping, and twirling, and an imp to make you laugh just when you need it the most!  Be sure to check out www.HeavyMetalOpera.com for much better pictures to get a hint of what you'll see.

 

 

This is a once a year production, and this year I'm told is even better than last year's was. I can only imagine the improvements they'll make to the stage setting, costumes, and story next year. I can already tell you I'll be more than willing to make the long drive to find out.

 

If you are in the Western Washington area, you have one more weekend this year to come see Aeterno Elementum: A Heavy Metal Opera. (Two shows remain: Nov 22nd and Nov 23rd 2013) I highly encourage folks to attend, both because it is an awesome live performance, but to encourage them to continue doing this for next year. Live theater can always use more support, especially when it is this good!

 

You can purchase tickets to the door the night of the show, or in advance from Brown Paper Tickets.  http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/372269

Saturday
Aug032013

Sharknado On The Big Screen-Total Guilty Pleasure

What can pull me from my over year long hiatus of posting a review?  SharknadoOn the big screen

Really, that's probably enough of a review right there.  But I will push forward anyway.

Thanks to my hubby, we were able to watch Sharknado on tv the day after it premiered.  I had been so out of the bad movie loop that I would have missed it otherwise.  It was a riot on the television edit.  My sides hurt from laughing after it was over.  The scene with the bus had me rolling, especially when the sharks started jumping out of the water, grabbing onto ropes, and chomping their way up them.

If you haven't seen Sharknado yet, you probably don't have the morbidly ecstatic excitement over bad movies like I know I do.  You definitely have to leave all notions of science and reality at the door when you go to watch these kinds of films.  If you have the properly low expectations, and a sense of humor at all, you will have a great time.  This applies not just to Sharknado, but to bad movies in general.  Bad movies, at least for me, when done well are a fun escape from reality.  There are bad movies that are pure torture, and make you want that 90 minutes of your life back, but then there are gems like Sharknado.

What's the key to making a bad movie great?  For me it's simple:  It cannot take itself too seriously.  You know those kinds of movies, the ones that have a tone like they truly believe they are curing cancer with this film somehow.  The actors either are terrible and wooden (in a way that detracts from the b-movieness) but give off a vibe of "I'm Oscar bound!".  Or the actors are good, but the script is so bad, they die a little more inside with each word they recite.  Truly bad movies often have gore for the sake of gore because they couldn't think of anything else to do.  Or they have sex for the sake of showing nudity, thinking that will keep the audience enthralled.  But for the most part, the bad movies are the ones where it's clear no one had any fun making it.

The Asylum makes a lot of movies.  Many are clunkers, not worth the effort it takes to get through the opening credits.  But as the years go by I've noticed their ratio of truly bad b-movie to funny, oh-so-worth-watching b-movies has shifted in favor of the "wonderfully bad" movie enthusiast.  Megashark Vs. Giant Octopus is when I think things started turning around, in my opinion.  The Asylum does a great job with the limited budget and time they put into each outing, and they are definitely getting their formula figured out.

Especially with shark movies.

As for Sharknado on the big screen, what more can really be said about it that's not flooding the inter-webs?  Tara Reid pulls out the stops and uses all three of her facial expressions.  Ian Ziering was Finley 'Fin' Shepherd, and obviously enjoyed himself wielding that chainsaw around.  John Heard plays a great "Norm"-esque bar patron who tags along for the adventures.  Cassie Scerbo, despite distractingly bad fake eyelashes in her final scene, handles her Baywatch-bouncing/Quint-esque shark hater/quasi love interest role well.  Jaason Simmons plays the buddy with just the right crass humor and heart.  Audrey Peeples plays the teenage daughter all broke up and full of turmoil over her parents' divorce (and delivers the requisite "heartfelt emoting over her personal issues in the middle of the crisis" with a straight face!).  Chuck Hittinger plays the older son in flight school, and manages to step into the movie seamlessly despite his late appearance.  His facial expressions are priceless (there's the humor again!).

And then there's Nova's (played by Cassie Scerbo) extreme paraphrasing of Quint's classic Indianapolis story about her childhood experience with sharks when she, *sniffle*, lost her grandpa.  Because you have to understand why she hates sharks, and has a gigantic scar on her leg she frequently tries to cover up with her short shorts when she catches someone looking at it.

And of course, there's the shooting sharks out of the sky.  With a hand gun.  And the chain saw scenes.

Watching Sharknado in the big theater was a ton of fun.  Because we're in a smaller town, the theater was barely filled, but everyone was quite comfortable, as they should be, laughing loudly, and giving awesome commentary throughout the film.  I can only guess how insane this live showing was in Los Angeles!  

Even better, we got to see two features I'm sure will be on the DVD.  The first was the "behind the scenes" documentary, which gives you a good look at how much they can do with so little.  The second was the "gag reel", which wasn't as glorious as I hoped for, but still provided several good laughs.  It was also interesting to discover that no swearing was allowed in this one.  The Asylum is smart and makes it easy for their films to air anywhere.  (Plus this wasn't anywhere near as gory or bloody as you would have thought it would be.)

Will I buy Sharknado on DVD after this?  Most likely.  I probably will wait for it to go on sale, like I did was Megashark Vs Giant Octopus, but yes, this will have to be in my collection.  And if you're a fan of bad b-movies at all, it should be in your collection, too. 

Now for the agonizing wait for Sharknado 2!

Sunday
Jun242012

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter-A Good Movie That Should Have Been Great

I absolutely loved the book Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter by Seth Grahame-Smith.  It's smart, well researched, and written in the perfect tone.  He gives us a unique theory on Abraham Lincoln's life, including his reported battles with depression.  I was thrilled to hear Seth Grahame-Smith wrote the screenplay for the movie.

But I forgot what happens to good books in the hands of Hollywood.  They took a great, rich story and first chopped out a ton of it.  We don't get to see Abraham Lincoln growing up, or see how much contempt he feels for his weak yet ambitious father.  Then they made changes, including one which completely reverses the dynamic between Henry Sturges and Abraham Lincoln, and one which deprives Lincoln of his drive to survive, even past so many personal tragedies.  I got a sense from watching the movie that they further chopped the screenplay in editing, and that the movie should have been at least thirty minutes longer.  I'm hoping for a director's cut of this movie, because I think whatever the studio executives decided was "fluff" would have turned this from a decent movie into a great one.

Leaving my agony of how the movie failed the book aside, this is a good movie.  The acting is all solid, the special effects are excellent, and while feeling rushed and choppy, the screenplay is still well done.  The costuming looks right for the time period, although the makeup to age the actors could have been done much better.  While there isn't a lot of color to the movie, with lots of it happening at night, and the daytime having a sepia overtone, it still fits.  I think they were going for "an old postcard brought to life" feel at times.  The action scenes are often spectacular, including a chase across a stampede of horses.  This is definitely not what I would call a "gory" movie, but it does have a lot of blood (all appropriate).  That plus the overall dark tone makes it decidedly not little kid friendly.

Benjamin Walker fills the stovepipe hat of Abraham Lincoln well, especially as the younger version.  He comes across as quiet, maybe shy, and very driven, but never brooding or overly-angsty.  More importantly, he didn't turn the role into a caricature.  I was often distracted by how much he looks like a young Liam Neeson, but that, for me, was definitely not a bad thing.  Later when Walker has to play Lincoln at fifty, with a beard, he doesn't look very comfortable at first, but he gets into the swing of things quickly.  I think he does the grand speeches justice, and overall was a great choice for the role. 

Dominic Cooper (who I loved as Howard Stark in Captain America: The First Avenger) plays Henry Sturges with quiet charm, and believably tough where appropriate.  He somehow takes up just as much of the screen as his much taller co-star when they're together.  He's quickly becoming one of my favorite actors.

Mary Todd's character is played by Mary Elisabeth Winstead, quite a change from her tough girl character of Lucy Gennaro McClane in Live Free Or Die Hard, and her role as the teenaged daughter of a werewolf sheriff in a town full of werewolves in the awesome, yet short-lived Wolf Lake.  Mary Todd could have been a whiny, unsympathetic character, but she's written as a human being, and Mary Elisabeth Winstead plays her without overacting.

Rufus Sewell plays the required villain, and does it with his usual flair for being the bad guy.  He has lines that could have come across as ludicrous and cheesy, which would have been a poor fit for the serious tone of the film, but he delivers them with a calm, cold, evil tone. 

Anthony Mackie as Lincoln's childhood friend Will Johnson, and Jimmie Simpson as Lincoln's later friend Joshua Speed give a good balance to the main characters.  There aren't real chances for humor in the film, which is something I normally cry out for, but they manage to lighten things up a bit.  It may be the contrast of their characters' not having the angst Lincoln is carrying around, but whatever it is, it works. 

This is a movie that is frustrating, because it should have been great.  It had everything going for it, from the author writing the screenplay, very good actors, very good CGI and cinematography.  But you can feel how it was chopped to hell by executives forcing changes to the script to save time or fit their pre-conceived idea of what an audience can handle/understand, and by post production editing.  If Tim Burton had directed instead of just produced I think this would have been the masterpiece I expected.

While I left the theater disappointed, I'm still glad to have paid the ticket price to see this on the big screen.  I desperately hope they will release a director's cut, which I will buy in a heartbeat.  For now I will go back and re-read the book, and try to stop saying "Oh, and another thing they left out/changed...!" to anyone within earshot.

Saturday
Jun162012

Rock Of Ages: Cringe, Laugh-Rinse And Repeat

I'm definitely a child of the '80's, but my musical tastes were more in the New Wave vein, like Duran Duran and The Fixx.  I enjoyed good rock and roll, but I wasn't obsessed with it.  I consider myself a casual fan of The Scorpions, Def Leppard, Poison, Twisted Sister and the like.  But the 80's "lifestyle" and "culture" crosses those musical boundaries, so if you grew up in the 80's, you will identify with much of Rock Of Ages, often painfully so.

Being a musical it took me more than half the movie to get into the storyline, because the singing and dancing just threw me off.  But once you get into the swing of things, you can actually follow along and not be so distracted.  It starts off with the Mary Sue character of Sherrie Christian singing "Sister Christian" along with her fellow bus passengers as she leaves Oklahoma for the bright lights of Hollywood.  It's funny at the same time as cringe inducing.  All of the musical numbers are like this.

The storyline is very simple, and the characters are no deeper than a kiddie pool, but it's all so over the top and drenched in the camp that is the 80's rock and roll cliché, I can forgive.  This really is just a very long music video with some "talkie" parts thrown in for interest.  And there's nothing wrong with that!

Julianne Hough plays her sweet small town girl , Sherrie Christian, well, and has a solid voice.  More importantly she can play that 80's good girl to the hilt, clearly having fun with the role like she should.  She has the big hair, the pink and green Maybelline mascara tube in her purse at all times, draws annoying hearts on the mirror with her lipstick, and generally comes off as too good to be true.  But then she maintains this persona while ending up on stripper pole later in the movie.  That takes skill.

Her love interest Drew Boley is played with the right amount of bumbling charm and rock and roll ambitions by Diego Boneta.  Where he ends up later in the movie is absolutely hysterical, because you can actually see a part of him dying when he ends up selling out to the scummy record executive (played as only Paul Giamatti can).  Drew and Sherrie's relationship take a lot of the screentime, and could have been nauseating, but it's tempered with a lot of humor, and a lot of cringe inducing musical numbers.

Alec Baldwin and Russell Brand have less screentime, but they definitely make an impact.  Their duet later in the movie is disturbing on many levels, the best representative sample of how this movie will make you cringe at the same time as laughing out loud.  This is also when I truly needed a drink.  Seriously.  No hyberole.

Catherine Zeta-Jones has a surprisingly good voice, showing she didn't lose her singing chops from Chicago.  She is also still "lord, how I hate her" beautiful.  She plays the religious zealot with a wild eyed glee, made even better when you find out her character's secret past.  Watching her belt out "Hit Me With Your Best Shot" in the middle of a church is another cringe moment, but I couldn't turn away. 

Tom Cruise.  What can I say?  He's really too old to be playing the role of hot rock star Stacee Jaxx, but he pulls it off.  He's in the best shape I think he's ever been.  There are plenty of moments he could have taken his character too far one way or the other, but he has comedic timing and delivers everything much better than I'd hoped he could.  Even his singing is better than I expected.  Naturally, like everyone else's singing I'm sure any glaring atrocities were fixed in editing and post-production, but you have to at least have some kind of solid base to pull off these songs.  The character of Stacee Jaxx is just about the perfect amalgamation of all the crazy rock stars we know and love from that era.  And Tom Cruise somehow plays crazy really well.  Frighteningly well.  In the credits I noticed "Special Transportation For Tom Cruise."  I can only imagine what that meant.

I was dreading watching Rock Of Ages, sure it was going to be a painful test of endurance.  That probably made me a heck of a lot more forgiving and open to it than I otherwise would have been.  But all in all, it was a lot of fun.  I would have preferred to be taking a shot of vodka several times throughout, you know, to enhance the experience, but a viewing while sober was definitely not a waste of time.  It was fun, the movie didn't take itself seriously at all, and it has a monkey.  I mean, you got to love a movie with a monkey, right?

This isn't a movie that needs to be seen on the big screen, in my opinion.  But it wasn't a waste of the ticket price.  It has good music, provides a lot of laughs, and makes you feel a little bit nostalgic for big hair, spandex, and even that horrifying time when boy bands were beginning to be all the rage.

Monday
Jun042012

Snow White And The Huntsman-Lovely On The Surface

I went to Snow White And The Huntsman with my expectations in check.  I knew this wouldn't be ground breaking storytelling or Oscar worthy performances.  I did know it would be stunning to see, and the big screen would be the only place to do a first viewing justice.

When I go to the movies without my hopes set too high (see Your Highness for an example of how badly that can play out), I enjoy myself thoroughly.  The fact that this is a decently written, well produced and mostly well acted film makes it more than just CGI eye candy and lush landscapes and costuming.

The battle scenes are grand and intense.  The initial one against an army of phantom soldiers is incredible.  Later in the film it's even believable to see Snow White in armor and riding into a full charge at the head of an army.  The action sequences go on just long enough, stopping before they get tiresome.

Snow White And The Huntsman is set in a beautiful realm.  Even when the land goes dark in response to Ravenna's takeover it still has an unearthly beauty to it.  Some of the CGI is a little cartoonish, but it's very minor and doesn't detract from the hard work and love that went into creating the scenes.  The attention to detail is great, and much appreciated by me who frequently finds CGI to be too cold nowadays.  The live landscapes are gorgeous, as well.  The costuming is beautifully done, giving the right idea of poverty and suffering where needed, and giving Ravenna the right look of vanity.

The look and feel of the movie is perfect.  Where it stumbles is in the actual story.  This should be an epic tale, but is has been squished into proper movie format so a lot is rushed, or just plain omitted, that would let you understand all of these characters better.  This story could have been done into a mini series on a cable channel and done very well.  It's intense, but not gory, with nothing you don't already see on television.  But then they probably wouldn't have been able to afford Charlize Theron, and she definitely is right to play Ravenna.

Say what you will about Kristen Stewart's performance and acting skill in general, I think she did very well for what she was given.  The wooden facial expressions and trouble emoting at critical points in the movie actually say more about the Snow White character.  Let's examine this a bit.  Snow White saw her father laying stabbed to death in his wedding bed at a tender age, and was immediately thrown into a prison tower for years afterward by the murderously ambitious witch Ravenna.  When Queen Ravenna decides it's time to eat her heart, she manages to escape, only to stumble into the Dark Forest (where psychotropic mushrooms abound).  After all this trauma, you're not going to fall back into social graces and a bubbly personality right away.  Kristen Stewart's Snow White was called upon to dramatically let tears fall from her lovely green eyes a bit too much, and her grand speech towards the end would have benefited from more passion, but overall I think there is hope for Kristen Stewart to twist out of that terrible Twilight role.  She's not gorgeous, certainly not fairer than Charlize Theron, but she has a unique look that is striking, and I thought just right for Snow White.

Chris Hemsworth as The Hunstman is very well cast.  He's not a golden haired god here, but even under the grime and rampant alcoholism, he's handsome and charming as ever.  He falters a bit with his character at the beginning, especially the accent, but then finds his pace and works with the minimal script very well.  There isn't enough interaction between him and Snow White to explain how deep their connection becomes, but a lot of "epic" movies do that.  There's enough to get the idea here, even without a chance to develop any real chemistry between The Huntsman and Snow White, or the curveball of Snow White's childhood friend Prince William (well done by Sam Clafin from Pirates Of The Caribbean 4) coming to her rescue.  This isn't a great love story by any means, but it is still very enjoyable with a couple of moments of levity.

The side characters of The Dwarves are all great, but not used to their full potential.  Ian McShane's larger than life personality is muted when forced into a CGI-ed dwarf.  Bob Hoskins fits a little more seamlessly, but it still feels weird.  They were all necessary characters and all well played, but I think they were going for name recognition more than whether the actors were the right choice.

Charlize Theron as Ravenna is very good.  This is a complex character not given enough screentime to develop past two dimensions, but Charlize Theron manages to add that third dimension anyway.  You can see the fear, the anger, and the plain old bat sh*t crazy in her eyes.  She mostly speaks in soft, soothing tones (generally right before she sucks away your youth and life), but goes into a shrill tone meant to make you jump out of your skin and flee in terror if you're the one who set her off.  She's beautiful, even when her youth is fading.  And she can deliver cold hearted evil as good as anyone I've seen.

Overall Snow White And The Huntsman is a movie you should see, and definitely see on the big screen, but don't expect to be amazed by any part of it.  Go to see a beautifully made movie with more going for it than against it, and let yourself be entertained.