Sunday, August 13, 2017


Ice cream and a Spider-man comic
Crouched on the floor by the passenger seat
In a parked car, cold and still,
Feeling hidden from the cooling air of dusk in late June
And the deep-fried scent of French Fries creeping through the opened windows
Trailing behind the sudden rise and fall of voices from the ballpark outside

Light gradually dims and slowly gives the images on the page less distinction
Exchanging detailed lines for a heightened tone of greater stakes
A childhood imagination sparked
The ice cream melts and runs down grasping fingers
A quick tongue catches the run and smooths the remaining cone
Red and blue become almost indistinguishable in the fading light

The outside world there at arm’s length
Or a car door’s width
A state of connected solitude
Awareness and retreat all at once
Knowing enough to pay attention
Seeing enough to stay put

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

What-To-Watch Wednesday - On Golden Pond (1981)

On Golden Pond is one of the first non-kid movies I can remember seeing in the theater.  My mother took my older sister and me to see it at the old Layton movie house in Seaford.  Her friend and co-worker, Shirley, joined us.  I don't know what possessed Mom to take a nine year old and a six year old to a movie about an older couple dealing with family strife at a quiet lake retreat, but nonetheless we went.

As I recall, the Layton was one of those small town theaters that showed only one movie and had fold-down wooden seats.  It was one of two movie theaters in Seaford at the time.  The other was the Twin Cinema, and it showed TWO movies, hence the name.

Both are gone now as is much of anything that was memorable or worthwhile in Seaford.  Nowadays, the town seems only able to support fast food restaurants and a Walmart.  One has to drive nearly fifteen miles south to Salisbury, Maryland to get to the closest movie theater and bookstore.

If my nostalgic trip down memory lane while lamenting the loss of what once was seems out of place for a movie review, it really isn't when it comes to examining On Golden Pond.  That idea is a central theme in the film and is explored to varying degrees by the circumstances of every character in the story.

In Norman and Ethel Thayer, the elderly couple at the center of the story, we see the results of a long term marriage in which the two people have an almost preternatural understanding of one another, especially Ethel towards Norman.  Here are a husband and wife who are comfortable with each other and in their routine, but that comfort doesn't denote staleness in the relationship; there is obviously a deep love between the two grown out of years of shared experiences and forging a life together.  Soon into the story, we learn that Norman's health is failing, and he is lamenting no longer being the man he used to be, coping through sarcasm and pitiful humor.  This serves as another reason for the two to cling so close to each other.

There is also Chelsea, their only child, who as a grown woman wrestles with feelings of resentment and inadequacy due to not receiving the love and support she feels she should have gotten from her father.  She yearns for a past that cannot be changed and later shifts her focus to try to connect with her ailing father in the present.

At this point, everything I've told you can be found in both the film and the stage version upon which it is based.  What the film offers is the chance to see two screen legends, Henry Fonda and Katherine Hepburn, still at the top of their game, bringing Norman and Ethel Thayer to life in ways I doubt could have happened on stage.  Fonda, in his late seventies at the time of filming and also in bad health, brings a frailty to Norman that I don't think could have been accomplished on stage for the simple fact that an actor would require significant stamina to maintain the energy for a live performance and, therefore, wouldn't be able to get across Norman's diminished physicality quite as effectively.

As for Hepburn, her persona of being strong and independent flows into her portrayal of Ethel resulting in the central conflicts becoming more nuanced and powerful.  In scenes where she could easily have been the put-upon-wife, Hepburn instead creates a sense that Ethel is using her inner strength to support a man she deeply loves and to help keep him from falling away into old age and senility.  For the moments in which she appears to referee the resentment between Norman and Chelsea, she manages to be a guide that allows each to find his and her own way towards reconnection.  Again, these are qualities that would not readily come across in the stage version.

Of course, none of this assessment occurred to my six-year-old self while I watched the film in that dark theater so many years ago.  Only subsequent viewings and an inkling of life experience have allowed me to understand the deeper complexities of the film.  All I knew at the time was that I liked Ethel and I was afraid Norman was going to die at the end.  All very simple, visceral reactions to what I saw happening on the screen, which is, I believe, the point of it all anyway.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Summer Singing...

Today, I had a first. I sang at St. Peter's today, and, as usual, I hung back after the service to avoid the crowd of people heading out the door. People are gracious and sometimes approach me afterward to say how much they enjoyed my singing, but it always makes me a little uncomfortable to be approached and singled out in church. Today, however, I braved the crowd to find Mother Carlyle, who has just returned from a trip to Europe and is celebrating her 40th year of ordination.

As I made my way out to the patio outside the fellowship hall, I was greeted very kindly by several people who wanted to express their gratitude for my participation in the service. I smiled politely and thanked them for their kind words, but I continued on my way towards Mother Carlyle. When I finally reached her, I told her how good it was to see her back with us and congratulated her on this major milestone in her career as a servant of God. That being done, I took my leave and headed back to my car.

My car was parked in the bank parking lot across the street from the church. I walked briskly to my car to get out of the heat and to call my father to wish him a happy Father's Day. As I was fiddling with my phone in my car, in my upper periphery I noticed a car coming to a stop on the street directly in view of my windshield. I paid little attention to it until I noticed the driver, a woman, waving at me somewhat frantically.

I rolled down my window and stuck my head out to see what she wanted. She yelled out to me, "I just wanted to tell you what a wonderful job you did in church today. You have a beautiful voice."

I thanked her. Quickly. Since she was stopped in the middle of the street after all, and went back to making my phone call. She drove on.

While I would never want to seem ungrateful for anyone's appreciation of my efforts, I truly don't see anything I do as worthy of coming to a halt in the middle of a somewhat busy street. Still, does this mean I can now say that my voice legitimately stopped traffic?

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Thor & Spiderman Trailers Show Too Much! (2017)

Jeff tackles a topic near and dear to his heart: spoilers.  It is a joking point of contention between the two of us as I am more of a journey man while he is a destination sort of guy.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

What-To-Watch Wednesday - Training Day (2001)

When Denzel Washington won the Best Actor Academy Award for his performance in Training Day, I remember it was considered something of an upset as Russel Crowe had been the critical darling that year for his work in A Beautiful Mind.  Crowe had the more conventional Oscar-bait role, playing real-life mathematician John Nash, and he had racked up a slew of awards for his performance going into the Oscars ceremony that year.  But, it was Washington who took home the Oscar, becoming (at the time) only the second black actor to do so and currently the only one to have won two (Washington's first Oscar was for his supporting role in 1989's Glory).

I was in complete agreement with the Academy that year as Washington's performance in Training Day is a prime example of an actor, at the height of his creative powers, making the most out of a role.  

Washington plays Detective Alonzo Harris, a Los Angeles police officer.  Harris is a bad cop who patrols his turf like a power-drunk warlord.  In the hands of a lesser actor, Harris would be as over-the-top as a comic book villain.  But, Washington manages to imbue Harris with a world weariness and even a hint of a core morality that he willfully ignores.  In Washington's hands, Harris becomes a complex character that engages the audience and makes us wonder whether or not there is a hope of redemption for him.

But, Harris is the villain of the piece, make no mistake about it.  And, it is really something to see Washington tear into those moments where Harris is at his most evil.  The way he coldly wields a sawed-off shotgun or the glint in his eyes as he reveals his master plan to the rookie, Jake (played by Ethan Hawke), who he has been trying to corrupt throughout the whole film.  Washington makes Harris a sinister presence while giving him all the allure and charisma you might find in a vampire movie.

And, that might be the most apropos comparison to make about this character.  Harris is a vampire in the metaphorical sense; he feeds off the fear and pain of others while slyly manipulating the events around him.  Washington seems to understand this and makes his performance grandiose and theatrical in just the right modulation so that a line like "King Kong ain't got shit on me" comes across as a genuine threat rather than the ridiculous thing it is to say.

I don't mean to imply that there isn't also subtlety in Washington's portrayal.  When you watch the film, listen for the very deliberate verbal switching that Washington uses when talking with different characters. With Jake, he is the learned, articulate veteran cop imparting his knowledge and experience to a newbie.  With a drug dealer, his language becomes street vernacular, speaking in a quick shorthand vocabulary to make his meaning clear.  And, with his crew of corrupt cops, he sounds like a military leader, issuing orders like a general on the battlefield.

I know I have spent this whole review talking about Washington's performance, but it is truly the centerpiece of a very effective and gritty crime drama.  And, it is also a great achievement in screen acting.

Note: I missed doing a review last week as my time got away with all the end-of-the-school-year craziness.  Such is the life of a high school teacher!

Sunday, May 28, 2017

WONDER WOMAN's Villains are Perfect (2017)

Jeff provides some observations about the upcoming Wonder Woman film.  A great video!  And, I can't wait for June 2 to get here!

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Folding Into the Past

I'm going to be accused of vagueness in this blog post, but I am not prepared to fully divulge all the details of the circumstances I'm examining here.  This is due in part because it would require me revealing names of individuals without permission or prior notice, which is something I try very hard not to do, particularly when I am sharing sensitive information.  Mostly though it is because I have still felt the emotional pangs that have made up the aftermath of the situation.  They have lessened with time but can be very much present, sapping my confidence on occasion and causing me to doubt myself in ways that have made it difficult to move on.  It has felt, from time to time, as though the idea that the past isn't always done with us is all too true a sentiment.

With that said, it is funny how mundane tasks can sometimes inspire moments of clarity and revelation.  The other night I was folding tee-shirts that I had just taken out of the dryer.  Now there are two things you must understand: 1) I have a massive tee-shirt collection which I go through with some regularity especially with the workout routine I've been following, and 2) I am extremely anal retentive when it comes to folding in a those-Gap-employees-ain't-got-nothing-on-me sort of way.  My point is that I was taking my time in getting the tee-shirts folded, and such tasks often cause me to reflect on my day and, sometimes, my life in general.

This night, I was thinking about my back and the emerging soreness in the lower part of it.  It is nothing serious, just a little strain from a recent workout routine.  I began to think of ways to ease the stress on my back without compromising the intensity of my workout.  I then reflected on the reasons I have started working out regularly, one of which deals directly with my desire to look better and healthier for any romantic opportunities that present themselves to me.  There are other reasons, even some that are more pressing than the romantic ones, but I would be dishonest if I said that wasn't a significant factor in my decision to be more fit.

At that moment, I was putting away the folded tee-shirts and came across one that I haven't worn in more than four years tucked way at the bottom of the drawer.  This will sound strange, but I bought it all those years ago as a direct result of my being romantically happy at the time and having more optimism about that part of my life.  More than that I cannot say without revealing more detail than I think appropriate, but suffice it to say that that period of my life ended in heartbreak.  Part of it from my own doing and part of it not.

Of course, I had seen the tee-shirt over the ensuing years.  It wasn't a long-forgotten item.  Far from it.  But on this occasion, I picked up the shirt, unfolded it, and took a good long look at it.  As I regarded it, a feeling came over me that I never had in the years since the relationship ended.  For the first time, I saw the tee-shirt's pointlessness, its unnecessary occupation of valuable space.  It wasn't even a very well made tee-shirt to begin with, and I'm pretty sure it no longer fit.

So, without thinking too long on it, I simply wadded the tee-shirt up and tossed it in the nearby trash can.  I wish I could say the moment brought about some sort of powerful catharthis, but it felt more like a dried scab finally falling away from a healed wound.

And perhaps that is ultimately more important than a big moment of emotional realization.  Does the loss still hurt occasionally?  You bet.  But, it didn't hurt when I threw away the tee-shirt.  On the contrary, I felt like I was exercising a muscle for the first time in a long while (forgive the workout simile, but that's where my mind is currently) and realizing it is stronger than I originally thought.  So, maybe it means that even if the past isn't done with me, I can still be done with my past.

We'll see.

Original HARRY POTTER Live Action on Netflix

Jeff makes an argument for a limited TV series detailing some of the background of the Harry Potter universe.  I'm not sure I'm on board with the concept as a whole, but his ideas and the breakdown he gives on how to approach them are solid.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

What-To-Watch Wednesday - Justice League: the New Frontier (2008)

Well, you never know which way the winds of inspiration will blow you.  I was all set to write a review of another film, a non-fantasy film, and spent most of the weekend thinking of things I wanted to say about that particular movie.  But then I saw in my Memories Feed on Facebook that this past Mother's Day was the one-year anniversary of the death of Darwyn Cooke, famed comic book writer and artist.  Cooke died tragically of lung cancer at the age of 53 at the height of his creative talents and with no indication that he was running out of ideas and good stories to tell.

Arguably, Cooke's masterwork was DC: the New Frontier, a re-imagining of the origin of the Justice League of America and some of its key members.  New Frontier was a love letter of sorts to the Silver Age of comics that not only showed the in-text transition from the Golden Age of super heroes but also accomplished the nifty trick of capturing all the wonder and allure of a classic Silver Age story while interweaving rich characterization and  a clever plot, two qualities that are distinctly NOT associated with stories of the era.

The online reminder I received about Cooke's death got me thinking about the film adaptation of his magnum opus, retitled Justice League: the New Frontier.  The movie version manages to capture the best qualities of the graphic novel, including Cooke's distinctive artistic style,   And, the result is that very familiar characters, some of whom were getting a bit a dusty in their depictions, had new life breathed into them.

Part of the reason for this is that New Frontier is set in the late 1950s, where the Silver Age of comics began.  As a result, the film is able to convey the innocence and optimism of the time period but with a hindsight perspective that includes some of the more seedier aspects of the decade, like the Red Scare and the harsh realities of war.  Although heroes like Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman are still intent on doing the right thing, all three of them are now navigating murky territory regarding morality and ethics.  It will take the emergence of a new generation of heroes to shake the Big Three out of their disenchantment with their chosen missions.

At the forefront of this new generation are Barry Allen aka the Flash (the first hero of the Silver Age), Hal Jordan (the war veteran and test pilot who becomes the new Green Lantern), and J'Onn J'Onzz (a Martian accidentally brought to Earth and stranded here).  Their respective hero journeys are interlocked with the main story about a pending threat from an entity called the Center, an alien intelligence that has grown wary of mankind and decides the human race must be eliminated due to its penchant for violence and the escalation in methods of mass destruction, namely atomic weapons.

There is a lot to admire in New Frontier.  But, the last thing I want to say is that a story like this is only possible because DC has routinely allowed writers and artists to have the freedom to reinvent its stable of characters, divorced from the constraints of continuity.  It is one of the biggest advantages that DC has had over Marvel and is what has allowed the company to produce seminal works such as Watchmen, The Dark Knight Returns, and Sandman.  There have also been some abysmal failures, like the New 52, but gems like New Frontier make up for the missteps.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

STAR WARS Plans Without Carrie Fisher

Jeff very soundly summarizes the options that the Star Wars filmmakers have in dealing with the death of Carrie Fisher.  I don't know what the solution is, but I know I don't want an off-screen death/resolution to the character.  She deserves better than that.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

What-To-Watch Wednesday - Batman & Bill (2017)

I hadn't planned on spotlighting another film focused on the fantasy genre so soon after last week's review of Atlantis: the Lost Empire, but that was before I watched the Hulu documentary, Batman & Bill, and my original intentions were thrown out the window.  Batman & Bill is a film about Bill Finger, the long unsung co-creator of Batman and most of the elements (including many of the classic villains) now considered essential parts of the Batman mythology.  

Long time comic book fans will no doubt have heard of Finger and his contributions to the Batman character, but proper acknowledgment of Finger's work was never given until very recently.  Like within the last few years, somewhere around the seventy-fifth anniversary of the character.  This film documents the efforts to establish Finger's credit as well as tell his life story, the details of which are heartbreaking and have been largely unknown to comic book fans until now.

At the center of all this is writer and comic book historian, Marc Nobleman.  We follow his research into the life of Bill Finger and how he slowly uncovers the sometimes mundane but often sad trifles of Finger's life.  We learn how Finger became involved in the creation of Batman, how contracts and legalities kept him from obtaining the credit so many saw as rightfully his, and how the remainder of his career played out while he watched Bob Kane, the man historically given sole credit for creating Batman, reap all the rewards and benefits.

I won't go into the specifics, but the revelations about Finger's life and the subsequent effects on his family had me in tears before the movie's end.  Here is a man that co-created one of the most famous and recognizable (not to mention successful) fictional characters in the history of any genre of literature and hardly anyone knows who he is.  The ensuing languor and obscurity of Finger's life while his most famous creation flourished was almost unbearable to watch.

It shouldn't be a spoiler to say there is a happy ending of sorts in that DC Comics is finally crediting Bill Finger with creating Batman alongside Bob Kane.  But, the real power of this film is watching how the events play out in an attempt to make amends for a decades-long injustice.  As a friend recently said to me, it's a story that shouldn't have had to be told, but at least it is getting told.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Paying For Star Trek Discovery?

Jeff is at it again.  This time he is offering up the debate on a pay-to-watch Star Trek TV series.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

What-To-Watch Wednesday - Atlantis: The Lost Empire (2001)

As Disney continues cranking out one formulaic film after another based on Marvel Comics characters or yet another entry into the Star Wars franchise, it is easy to forget one of the company's more original attempts at making fantasy/adventure films.  Back in 2001, Disney released Atlantis: the Lost Empire in an effort to appeal to young adolescent boys, a demographic the company has always struggled to snag.  Although the film was only a modest success compared to other Disney blockbusters, the result is a story of great narrative and visual imagination.

Before I go any further I should offer the following disclaimer so my nerd brothers don't get up in arms.  I am not disparaging the Disney films made under either of the Marvel Comics or Star Wars banners - far from it.  The results of Disney's stewardship of these movie universes have actually been pretty good.  But, the cracks have long been showing on the Marvel films to the point where the plots are achingly predictable and the dialogue can be recited before it is said on screen.  And, Star Wars is in danger at long last of skating into the realm of over-saturation under Disney's relentless promotion machine.

Bearing all this in mind, I can't help but look back at Atlantis: the Lost Empire and wonder why such a well-made and great looking film wasn't a bigger success or hasn't started to develop more of a cult following.  The nerd cred is certainly there: legendary comic book artist, Mike Mignola (creator of Hellboy), provided the character designs and overall look for the film.  The general tone of the story is darker and somber than what one usually finds in a Disney release, although it still retains some of the telltale elements of Disney humor.  And, the voice cast is one of the best assembled for a feature-length animated movie, including such diverse talents as Michael J. Fox, James Garner, and Leonard Nimoy.

The film's story follows the paces of classic adventure in the vein of Wells or Burroughs in which the main character goes on a journey to find something most people don't even believe exists.  In this instance, the hero is Milo Thatch, a nerdy cartographer and linguist who grew up being regaled with tales of the ancient continent of Atlantis by his grandfather.  His examinations of an old manuscript found on an expedition in Iceland lead him to discover clues to the location of Atlantis, and soon he is recruited to join a team setting out to find the lost civilization.

Milo is accompanied on this journey by a trope of characters familiar to the genre but still so colorful that calling them eccentric couldn't even begin to describe them.  I don't want to take up space describing them as a viewing of the film would be infinitely more effective than any description I could give.  But, I will say that the really cool thing about animation (or even comics) is that the characters can be visualized to suggest personality traits.  Mignola is a master at character design, and his work here, informed a great deal by the steampunk genre, is able to convey volumes about each character without a single line of dialogue.

As we have come to expect from a Disney film, the animation is topnotch, and I am glad Atlantis was done in the classic hand-drawn style as the look best fits the style.  I, by no means, sniff at CGI animated films, but I do believe different techniques benefit different stories.  A computer would have made the visuals too sleek, too neat, and Atlantis is a film that is enhanced by the graininess and grit of hand-drawn animation.

When last I looked, Atlantis: the Lost Empire is streaming on Netflix.  Think about giving it a try, especially if you have young boys who are too old for lighter fare, but too young for movies like Avatar or most of the Marvel films.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Potter & Strange: Wizards or Superheroes?

Jeff once again tackles the issue of what exactly makes for a super hero.

What-To-Watch Wednesday - Wit (2001)

One of the greatest challenges a filmmaker will face is adapting a powerful stage work for the screen while managing to also retain the material's power and effectiveness.  Although stage and film are both dramatic art forms, there is a wide gulf between the two in terms of story presentation.  And, often a piece that works brilliantly on the stage will fall flat when translated to the screen.

I believe that what makes the film version of Wit so good is the inspired collaboration between Emma Thompson (who stars as the main character) and Mike Nichols (who directs the film).  They co-wrote the script together and bring to bear a collective experience from both stage and film.  These are two individuals who thoroughly know what works and what doesn't in both formats.

And there is a lot that works about Wit.  From the smart screenplay adaptation to the acting to the carefully planned moments in which the fourth wall is broken.  There isn't a wrong move made in the entire film.

The story is about a literature professor named Vivian Bearing, who learns that she is in the last stages of ovarian cancer and is enlisted in an aggressive, but experimental treatment program as part of a cancer study.  In an effort to retain some sense of control and perhaps her humanity, Vivian begins chronicling her experiences with the treatment, resulting in periodic monologues describing her circumstances with a sense of irony, humor, heartbreak, and yes...wit.

As an academic, Vivian is able to bring a cold, analytical eye to the situation and breakdown in some detail the systematic monotony of being chronically ill.  However, she is also a woman facing her own mortality in a series of very painful steps.  The script, brought to life by Thompson's performance, doesn't shy away from the real fear that Vivian is feeling as well as the regret she experiences in looking back over her life, a life she dedicated to becoming the leading authority on the holy sonnets of John Donne, often at the expense of human empathy and connection.

When you watch, look for the scenes between Vivian and Nurse Susie (played by the wonderful Audra McDonald), for here is where viewers will find the true message about human compassion and kindness.  In small, simple gestures, Nurse Susie expresses more understanding about the human condition than anything the more learned characters espouse, including Vivian.

The film originally aired on HBO and never received a theatrical release, which is just as well since I think the big studios would have had a hard time knowing how to promote this film.  Below is the only trailer I could find; it was one that aired on HBO at the time.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

A Note For the Cast & Crew of Driving Miss Daisy

So, the run of Driving Miss Daisy at Possum Point Players has been finished for almost two weeks now.  My sense is that it was a success in every way for Possums, and my hope is that choosing well-written material, material that a cast and crew can get excited about, continues to be the trend at PPP.  Suffice it to say, I've come away from the experience of performing in Driving Miss Daisy with a great deal of satisfaction.

It is due to that satisfaction that I wish to reach out to the wonderful cast and crew I got to work with on this show.  Personally, I am not big on the "circle" tradition that most community theaters in the area have.  Don't get me wrong - I completely see the value in it, especially as a morale raiser just before a show.  But, my mindset is usually in need of quiet contemplation before walking onto the stage, and "circle" takes me out of that much needed space.

The result is that I listen as people speak, but I rarely have much to say during it.  And, when it is done, I go back to my quiet as best I can.  It usually isn't until a show is done and I've had a chance to reflect on it that I have anything much to say at all.  And, that is what I would like to do right now.

Although a short play (it clocks in at just under an hour and half), Driving Miss Daisy requires an ongoing collaboration between cast and crew the likes of which I have never experienced in a show.  I give our light and sound crew as well as the stage crew a lot of credit for creating a unique look and feel for this production.  From the opening notes of the mood-setting music to the final dimming of Miss Daisy's living room lamp, the show just looked and sounded wonderful.  And, the scene transitions were smooth and felt like organic parts of the story.

Special mention needs to go out to our costume and make-up crew.  My character alone had eight or nine costume changes, some of them very quick ones, and each one subtly suggested the progression of time, something that was a key ingredient for this show.  Along with the costumes, the three of us cast members had to be aged; I alone was supposed to age from 40 to 67, so, in some ways, I had the most dramatic change to undergo.  As such, our make-up and costuming crew was just as active backstage as we were onstage.  And any success the show has had is due in large part to the efforts of those individuals.

I do feel I need to make particular note of two crew members who were especially helpful to me during the show's run.  Ashlie Workman and Elizabeth Holz alternately made it possible for me to get through my costume changes in a timely manner.  They each knew my costume changes better than I ever could, and I marveled at how they were always prepared with a shirt ready for me to put on or a new tie for an upcoming scene.  I have nothing but gratitude for the invaluable assistance they were to me.

As for my fellow cast mates: Claudius Bowden and Stephanie Allman, getting to play these finely written scenes with the two of them each show night was one of the best theater experiences I've ever had.  It is a rare pleasure in community theater to work with people who can pick up what you are putting down and vice versa in order to make scenes feel fresh and new each night.  I am so grateful we got to go on this journey together of discovering our characters and making the scenes work.

And, last but not least, my illustrious director, Becky Craft.  I know she didn't plan on directing this piece and that part of her wishes the opportunity had never been there to begin with as it was the result of dear friend's illness, but I consider myself damn lucky to have gotten to work with her twice now on two of the best written stage dramas of the last century.  When I first worked with her on Doubt, I appreciated how every choice she made as director was informed by the script, through valid interpretation of the piece we were trying to bring to life.  The same held true throughout Driving Miss Daisy, and I came away believing we managed to create something very special.  That feeling is all because of Becky and the creative leadership she provided throughout this whole production.

I have said before that I view theater productions as ephemeral experiences, meant to be savored in the moment and nowhere else, so I never wax nostalgic for a show I have completed.  But, I will have great memories of Driving Miss Daisy for a long time to come.

Thank you all, and best wishes for the future!

Friday, April 21, 2017

Iris West Must DIE (Flash Season 3, 2017)

Jeff takes on a subject near and dear to my heart.  Although I agree with most of his points, I can't say I agree with his conclusion that "Iris West Must DIE!"

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

What-To-Watch Wednesday - Lady In White (1988)

I am writing my review of Lady In White almost exclusively from the memory I have of watching it for the first time when I was about fourteen.  I say "almost exclusively" because the film is not available on Netflix on either streaming or DVD, but I did find it on YouTube, which I've been viewing in starts and stops as my time allows.  So, I will apologize ahead of time if my memory of certain details is spotty even though I believe I remember enough to give a decent recommendation.

What needs to be noted first is that Lady In White has the look and feel of a quintessential 80s film.  The opening sequence alone featuring a long cab drive to a small town in upstate New York clearly places the movie in that decade, complete with phony-sounding voice overs and inexplicable quick cuts.  It seems most American films of the 1980s were afraid to take their time in depicting a scene, and Lady In White is no exception.

The film's opening serves as a clumsy frame tale that flashes back to the early 1960s.  It is here, in a small town in northern New York, where the movie finds its voice and displays style that makes it an engaging horror story.

We learn that the narrator is Frankie Scarlatti, and we follow him as a young boy during one Halloween season.  Frankie has a loving family life, but he is lonely and very much haunted by the death of his mother.  His daily life is filled by fighting with his older brother, shyly fawning over a cute girl in his class, and avoiding bullies.  He is also a burgeoning writer and at one point regales his classmates with a horror story he has written for their school's Halloween party.

After school one day, he is locked in the coat closet by the aforementioned bullies and is trapped there well into the night.  While he waits for someone to find him, he witnesses the ghost of a little girl enter the coat closet.  Although the girl initially talks to Frankie and seems aware of his presence, she is suddenly pulled into what appears to be a re-enactment of her murder.  Afterwards, someone (a live person) comes into the coat closet looking for something, finds Frankie, and attacks him, nearly choking him to death.

The movie then becomes as much a mystery as it is a horror story.  Who is the little girl?  Who and why was she killed?  Who attacked Frankie?  These are questions that Frankie seeks to answer, all of which involve a long string of child murders in his town going back for years and a local legend about a "Lady In White" who can be seen walking through a nearby woods.

Sophisticated viewers, however, will be able to guess Frankie's attacker, particularly if they are familiar with  Roger Ebert's "Law of Economy of Characters."  It states that there are no extraneous characters in a film and that seemingly superfluous characters will end up playing a significant part in the plot, especially if that character is played by a relatively famous actor.  I don't mean to add spoilers to this review, but Lady In White is a perfect example of this concept in action.

Also, that isn't meant as a criticism of the film.  In fact, the beauty of how this is handled is that even if the viewer guesses who the killer is, it makes perfect sense that Frankie would not.  And so dramatic irony is created in watching Frankie attempt to figure out the mystery and inch closer and closer to danger in doing so.

Lady In White is a film about atmosphere, about the gentle creepiness of a dark room and hidden secrets.  While it isn't a film I've gone back to re-watch over the years, it has stayed with me ever since I first saw it as a teenager.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Guardians of the Galaxy - Are They Superheroes?

Via a discussion about the Guardians of the Galaxy, Jeff tackles of the biggest debates in comic book fandom: what is a super hero?

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

What-To-Watch Wednesday - Reefer Madness: the Movie Musical (2005)

I don't think I've reviewed a musical before for this series, so it is probably about time that I included at least one.  And, if I am going to choose one, it would have to be the musical version of Reefer Madness.

For those that don't know, the original film version of Reefer Madness was released in 1936 and was a shameless exploitation film that purported to show the damaging effects of marijuana use.  Medically inaccurate and exaggerated to the point of camp, the film was originally funded by some church group that wanted to warn parents about the dangers of pot smoking.  However, a producer of exploitation films bought the distribution rights to the film and had it re-cut to market on the exploitation film circuit.  Since then, the film has become a cult classic as a notable "worst film ever made."

Of course, such a film is a ripe target for parody, and the musical version does indeed parody the inaccuracies and exaggerations depicted in the original film.  It opens in a small mid-western town with an emergency PTA meeting in which a guest lecturer (Alan Cumming) shows concerned parents a film he says reveals the dire evil their children are facing with marijuana use.  The film-within-a-film follows the budding romance of Jimmy Harper (Christian Campbell) and Mary Lane (Kristen Bell) as they profess their love for each other and show a striking ignorance of the plot of Romeo and Juliet.

Soon, Jimmy is enticed by a pot dealer, Jack (Steven Weber), to come back to his "reefer den."  Once there, Jimmy is tricked into smoking what he thinks is a regular cigarette (incidentally, cigarette smoking is repeatedly and comically touted as being harmless throughout the film) and begins his descent into addiction and madness.  To say Jimmy's life begins to unravel as a result of his pot smoking is an understatement as he goes on a tirade of increasingly erratic behavior that includes orgies, hallucinations, and murder.

All of this happens with rousing song and dance numbers, of course.  The music deliciously punches up the satirical elements that make the film feel like a rich SNL skit.  Look for the "Mary Jane/Mary Lane" number, which offers the obvious play on words.

And, speaking of SNL, the stand-out performance in this movie is Ana Gasteyer as Mae, one of the reefer den residents.  Her number, "The Stuff," done in the style of a classic Broadway ballad, is a study in comedic timing and singing.

Finally, Reefer Madness doesn't have a trailer available on the internet that I could find.  This is probably because the film never had a theatrical release as it was aired on Showtime.  So, instead, watch one of the kooky musical numbers.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

What-To-Watch Wednesday - Stranger Than Fiction (2006)

At some point, I will more than likely update my Top Ten Films list.  And when I do, Stranger Than Fiction will be a top contender to make one of the ten.

There are so many things I like about this film that I hardly know where to begin talking about it.  I suppose I should first start by mentioning how smartly written the movie is.  The screenwriter, Zach Helm, takes what could be a hackneyed premise and turns it into a story that is genuinely sweet and touching.  It follows the exploits of Harold Crick, an IRS agent, who lives a life of mundane consistency.  One morning, Harold wakes up and hears a female voice narrating his life.  His initial irritation and concern changes to alarm when the voice reveals that Harold is headed to an untimely death.

Frantic about facing his own mortality, Harold seeks out help to avoid his fate and, in the process, he ends up changing his life for the better.  A meeting with a psychiatrist leads him to getting advice from a literature professor, who instructs Harold to live his life to the fullest until they are able to find out what kind of story he is in, namely a comedy or a tragedy.  Harold begins to indulge in his long neglected passions, starts to connect with the people around him, and even falls in love with a young woman he is auditing.  All of this occurs as he is slowly approaching his eminent death.

What makes these pretty outlandish circumstances palatable is the interesting ensemble cast.  Will Ferrell plays Harold Crick, and here he manages to dial down his trademark mania to portray a man whose very existence is muted.  He is surrounded in the film by the likes of Maggie Gyllenhaal, Dustin Hoffman, Emma Thompson, and Queen Latifah, all of whom create interesting and compelling characters that seem to have distinct histories of their own outside of the main narrative.

Of particular note are the characters played by Emma Thompson and Queen Latifah.  Thompson plays Karen Eiffel, the author whose voice Harold hears throughout the film.  Unbeknownst to her, the writer's block she is battling is caused by Harold's efforts to stay alive.  Queen Latifah is Penny Escher, a publisher's assistant, who has been sent to help Karen finish the book.

These characters have a  very clearly defined relationship that provides a counterpoint to Harold's experiences.  Their interactions with one another are made more interesting by the unexpected pairing of Thompson and Latifah, who are engaging as individual actresses and manage to parlay that into an easy chemistry with one another.  Their scenes would make an interesting movie by themselves, but here they enhance the main storyline.

Stranger Than Fiction is one of those films in which all the right elements come together in precisely the right ways to make something that is truly a joy to watch from beginning to end.  In the years since its release, I've yet to see a film that is quite like it, and that is a testament to its originality and style.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

PPP Driving Miss Daisy

A promotional video for my latest show, PPP's production of Driving Miss Daisy.  Look for me a little ways in - I'm playing Boolie.

SPIDERMAN HOMECOMING TRAILER (2017) *** Details You Missed ***

Jeff offers a pretty nifty breakdown of the new Spidey trailer.  Check it out!

Board Games & Politics

Several weeks ago, just after the new year began, I was invited to the home of some friends for a Friday night of drinking and board games.  Along with the massage I had scheduled for earlier that evening, this promised to be a great ending to my work week and a good way to get my weekend started.  Little did I realize though that I would end the evening with an interesting political allegory about which I would feel inspired to write.

Going into this social situation, I didn't know that I would be the only liberal present, a situation that in and of itself isn't all that surprising given the socio-political make-up of Sussex County, Delaware.  I was surprised though to be among ardent Trump supporters.  Although I do count Trump supporters among some of my friends, family, and colleagues, I wasn't prepared to be surrounded in so intimate a social situation and to be the target of some good-natured ribbing for my liberal viewpoints.

Don't get me wrong - I didn't feel there was anything malicious in the teasing, and I was certainly giving as good as I got.  I just wasn't expecting this type of encounter among people I consider friends and contemporaries.

The evening commenced with a series of board games of varying levels of complexity.  The first game we played was Apples To Apples, which is essentially a clean version of Cards Against Humanity.  A round consists of one player reading a question or statement with a fill-in-the blank.  The other players provide responses from the cards they have, and the reader selects what he/she feels is the best answer, usually the one that is the most clever or the funniest.

Round after round, I noticed something.  The Trump supporters were, to put it kindly, stepping outside the bounds of the rules to get their cards selected.  There were not-so-subtle hints thrown out as to which card the reader should select.  Some of the readers at times clearly picked the card of someone they have a more personal connection to, like a spouse, rather than actually picking one that was actually funny or clever.  And, most interestingly there was some irritation expressed whenever a reader failed to pick a certain card, particularly a card in which the player had done everything he or she could to get it selected.

I, the bleeding heart liberal, stuck to the rules and came in last.

However, the next game we played saw a turning of the tide so to speak.  We set out to play something called Finish Lines, a game in which a player is given a portion of a quote from anything ranging from song lyrics to a literary text to a famous speech and has to finish the quote.  It is a game that requires a certain measure of cultural literacy as well as a certain precision in the use of language in order to be successful at it.

It is also a game in which it is very difficult to rely on special favors and secret hints in order to win.  And, I noticed that the Trump supporters began to flounder as I took a decisive lead.  In other words, the liberal excelled at the game that required a base of knowledge and education, not side deals and underhanded maneuvers.

The final game of the evening served up the last major point of the little political allegory I was observing.  I had never played Cranium before, so I asked for someone to explain it to me.  I was told that the game requires at least two teams of two people to compete against each by completing cooperative tasks and problem solving.  I was paired with one of the Trump supporters and faced off against the other two.

Almost immediately, my partner and I dominated the game, winning one round after another, completing our tasks well within the time limits placed on us.  Anything ranging from acting out a scenario to constructing objects with clay - nothing daunted us for too long, and we found ourselves easily working in tandem to move further along the board.  As our imminent victory became more assured, I couldn't help but take pride in the fact that the liberal was succeeding at the game that required cooperation and problem solving skills.

You probably noticed that I didn't mention any names in this little anecdote I've laid out.  That's because I have no desire to embarrass my friends.  And, I don't mean to imply that some lighthearted rule breaking during an inconsequential board game indicates a lack in moral rectitude.  These individuals are fine people with whom I always have a good time.  However, I could not ignore the obvious political parallels I could draw between what was happening during this pleasant evening of recreation and what has been playing out on the national stage over the last year.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

What-to-Watch Wednesday - The Nines (2007)

If a movie gives me something to think about then I can forgive it almost any flaw.  Such is the case with The Nines, a film that ponders some rather deep existential matters even if its efforts aren't 100% successful the whole time.

The film stars Ryan Reynolds in three different roles that seem to be in three different stories, but they are in fact connected in a single narrative.  The film's events though are disjointed and surreal, leaving the viewer wondering what is real and what might be the product of a deranged mind.  What remains consistent in each story is that the Reynolds' character starts to see his world unravel in some way.  There are also two characters who continuously pop up (played by Hope Davis and Melissa McCarthy) and engage in a tug-a-war in which they try to keep him away from the other.  Their actions are what result in each world starting to come apart.

The mystery behind what is happening slowly reveals itself, and the answer tackles some rather big issues about the nature of existence, of how we determine the reality in which we find ourselves.  It also ponders the relationship a creator has with his creations.  Does the creator owe any allegiance to that which he has created?  Is he free to destroy that which he creates simply because he was the one who created it in the first place?

Writer/director John August tackles these questions in a story that functions as a show business allegory on one level but evolves into something much deeper and profound as the "rules" of movie storytelling are slowly and systematically ignored to reveal hidden truths beneath the surface.  Like David Lynch's Mulholland Drive, The Nines brings attention to itself as a movie by breaking the rules it establishes at the start and isn't afraid to confuse the audience with inexplicable dialogue and random jumps in time and space.  Unlike Mulholland Drive, however, The Nines isn't cynical and has, in fact, a great deal of heart at its core.

And that is where the film loses some of its power by being a touch too sentimental about its subject matter.  It doesn't quite make the leap into brilliant satire because it feels the need to give its characters some closure.  But, you know, that's okay.  By the time all is said and done, the audience has connected enough to the characters, even as they continuously change, to want them to find some sort of happy ending.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Did HAN and BOBA FETT and MACE WINDU Survive?

So, Jeff had me help out with this one.  Look for me playing a smarmy Disney executive.

I really like this one because Jeff shows his strong, acerbic view on some of the more "extreme" aspects of Star Wars fandom.  I can't say I agree with him 100%, but he is a good enough friend that I am okay with him being completely wrong sometimes.  Haha!

Friday, March 24, 2017

Lessons From a Comic Book: Rising From the Shadow

My first entries in this series focused on two of DC Comics' Big Three (Superman and Wonder Woman), so the natural assumption would be that the next one would examine Batman.  However, I came of age reading comics when Batman was pretty uninspiring as a hero.  Certainly, he was cool (and still is), but he was being depicted in the comics as something of a sociopath with a dark and unwelcoming personality.  There was little kindness in him, no sparks of warmth that would take the edge off his more intimidating characteristics.

I've written about this portrayal before, and I still say it damaged the character most noticeably in how it limited what could be done with him in the comics.  Fortunately, such has not been the case with the supporting characters of the Batman mythos.

Although I never read any of the core Batman comics on a regular basis, in the 1990s I found myself reading two books that were considered part of the Batman-family of books: Nightwing and Birds of Prey.  Nightwing was the first solo book for Dick Grayson, who had long since dropped his Robin identity to forge his own way as Nightwing.  Birds of Prey focused on two female leads (a rarity even in today's comics), one of whom was Barbara Gordon aka Oracle.  At the onset of each title's run, the books were being written by legendary writer, Chuck Dixon, who took the characters in directions that carved distinctive identities for each of them.

Nightwing had long been considered the most popular super-hero to not have his own book.  DC Comics seemed noncommittal to the idea of giving the character a solo book until a costume change and a successful mini-series effectively poised the character to carry his own series, beginning in 1996.  Immediately, the series distinguished itself from the core Batman books through its look and content.  In Scott McDaniel, the book had an artist that highlighted Nightwing's acrobatic movement and a fighting style shown from angles that made the action look truly death-defying.  All of this was placed within the context of a story about a young man making his way in a strange city, determined to forge his own path.

In contrast, Oracle was a character born out of tragedy.  Barbara Gordon had her career as Batgirl ended when the Joker shot a bullet through her spine, turning her into a paraplegic.  From this horrific experience, she created the identity of Oracle, a computer and technology expert who functioned as a powerful information broker for DC's metahumans.  Still, she was little more than an occasional supporting player until a succession of one-shots and minis paired her with the equally under utilized Black Canary.  The popularity of the pairing paved the way for an ongoing series in which Oracle functioned as mission coordinator while Black Canary was the field agent in their partnership.

My reading life has taught me that sometimes certain books find you when you're ready to read them.  I've come to believe that such was the case with Nightwing and Birds of Prey.  I was reading both books at time when my life was stalled - I had left college, was working some dead end jobs, and had no clear prospects to get on track to a real career.  Obviously, my choices were very much in contrast to what Dick Grayson and Barbara Gordon were accomplishing with their lives.  And, on a certain level, their active stories served to highlight how mine was going nowhere.

I won't be so melodramatic as to say that reading these comics galvanized me into taking some drastic action with my life and finally getting it into gear.  It took a series of circumstances and a lot of much needed life experience for that to happen.  However, I think I can honestly say my reading these books kept me from becoming too complacent in what my life had become at that time as well as helping me not lose focus on my long-term goals, even though many were telling me to give them up.  

Like Dick and Barbara, I, too, felt the pressures of living up to the expectations of my parental figures and wanted desperately to be accepted on my own terms and for what I wanted to be.  At times, I understood all too well what it was like to be part of an all-encompassing family that left little room for individuality and where there was an expectation to fit into the common narrative of the other members regardless of whether or not that narrative fit into the one I was writing for myself.  The balancing act that Nightwing and Birds of Prey achieved on a regular basis taught me it was possible to have one's own space while also fitting into a larger context.  One doesn't necessarily have to reject one in order to have the other.

A Note For the Cast & Crew of Driving Miss Daisy

So, the run of Driving Miss Daisy at Possum Point Players has been finished for almost two weeks now.  My sense is that it was a success ...