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Tuesday, April 22, 2014

DVD Review: Poseidon Rex



I’ve had a love for monster movies ever since I was a little kid watching Creature Double Feature on Channel 56. Godzilla, Mothra, Daimajin, Gamera, King Kong and The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms – I watched them again and again.  And in more recent years I’ve enjoyed films like Jurassic Park, so I was excited to see Poseidon Rex, a movie about a dinosaur that lives in the ocean and attacks boats. On the DVD cover it says: “Half Dinosaur! Half Sea Monster! All Trouble!” That’s perfect. I'm sold.

But what makes this one even more enticing is that it was directed by Mark L. Lester. He’s known for directing Firestarter and Commando. Those are fine, but the film I love him for is Class Of 1984, a movie that I watched a whole lot when I was a kid, and several more times as an adult. Poseidon Rex has a much lighter tone than some of Lester's earlier films. This is just a fun movie – there’s nothing serious here, and nothing too frightening (so, yeah, it's fine for children).

It opens with three men diving for gold. One of them, Jackson Slate (Brian Krause), is being forced to lead this diving expedition at gunpoint. The men set off some powerful explosives, waking and angering a giant dinosaur, which eats two of the men and the boat.

Meanwhile Rod (Steven Helmkamp) and Jane (Candice Nunes) have arrived on an island for a vacation. Henry (Berne Velasquez) takes them out on his boat to go snorkeling out by the blue hole, a giant sinkhole where Jackson has gone searching for gold. They find Jackson floating in the water and revive him, with the help of Sarah (Anne McDaniels), a marine biologist. No, it doesn’t quite make sense that they would take Jackson to Sarah, but this film has to get all of the main characters together quickly.


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DVD Review: Junction


Junction is an exceptional, exciting, intense character-driven thriller about a simple burglary that escalates into a hostage situation, but is about so much more.

Junction begins with a bit of voice over narration describing a childhood nightmare, whose main image has never quite disappeared. Then during the opening credits we see a group of four people in car, in a series of close-ups from outside the car. Each person is isolated, from us because of the barrier of the windows, and from each other through the choice of single shots. None of them is talking.

They arrive at the home of their drug dealer, and David (Tom Pelphrey), the driver, goes in. He doesn’t have the money and asks for the drugs as a favor. It’s revealed through the dialogue that David and the dealer went through rehab together, which is a nice touch. The film, though intense, actually has many humorous touches like that. What’s wonderful about those moments is that they don’t lessen or destroy the tension, but in some ways actually add to it, because these moments show that even comedy is robbed of its ability to solve, or even ease the situation.

Tai (Anthony Ruivivar), the dealer, mentions that he wants to get a television for his mother’s birthday, so David sees that as an opportunity to get the crystal meth that he and his three friends are desperate for. So the four of them break into the house of a family that had recently moved in (figuring the family likely hadn't installed alarms yet). David finds a large flat-screen television and puts it in the car. Donald (Neal Bledsoe) has meanwhile found an older style television in the attic, and they decide to use that as a back-up in case Tai doesn’t want a flat-screen.

David, Kari (Summer Crockett Moore) and Spot (Harris Doran) wait in the car, but it is taking Donald way too long to bring down the other television. While Spot urges them to just leave him, their loyalty to their friend causes them all to go back into the house. By then, the older television isn’t even necessary, as David has talked to Tai on the phone, and Tai said the flat-screen would be fine. So we as audience members just want Donald to get out of there. But in the meantime Donald has discovered some videos in the machine of the older television, and now his goals have changed.


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Theatre Review: Bulgakov/Moliere or The Cabal of Hypocrites



Santa Monica CA

Review by Jonathan Weichsel

The Master and Margarita has long been one of my favorite novels. I find its theme of the responsibility of the writer to stand up to authority very moving, and consider it required reading for anybody who aspires to write serious fiction, so when a friend of mine told me that she was acting in a play about Bulgakov, I just had to check it out.

Bulgakov/Moliere is a meta-fictional reworking of Bulgakov's play Moliere, with a meta-fictional reworking of the most famous scene from The Master and Margarita acting as a frame for the narrative. In Bulgakov/Moliere, Bulgakov's play Moliere has just been banned by Stalin's regime, and Bulgakov has burned his manuscript of The Master and Margarita in despair. Little does he know however, that manuscripts don't burn.  He passes out drunk, and is visited by characters from The Master and Margarita, who perform his play for him, but because Bulgakov dreams of running away to the US, they set the story in contemporary, 21st century America.

Click the RAWR for the full review.


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Monday, April 21, 2014

Action Figure Review: DC Comics Designer Series - Talon

Since the Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo’s Batman storyline, The Court of Owls, I’ve been looking forward to the release of a Talon action figure. That day has finally come and I couldn’t be more excited!


Part of DC Collectibles’ new DC Comics Designer Series, Talon is the second release in the first wave dedicated completely to Capullo’s Batman designs. This figure looks like it was pulled directly from the pages of Batman.


Click RAWR to read more!


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Pop Culture Beast Version 2.0 @Kickstarter!


Late last night I launched a Kickstarter campaign to fund a massive overhaul of Pop Culture Beast and to relaunch Pop Culture Beast presents SHOW.  I woke up this morning, less than 12 hours later, to find we're already 25% funded.  We've raised over $2,000 in the wee morning hours.

This is extremely exciting!

Have a look at the Kickstarter and if you are able, please support us as we gear up to turn PCB into something amazing.   If you can't contribute, your sharing of the KS page is not only welcomed but appreciated.  Every share helps just as much as ever dollar.  Getting the word out helps us reach new eyes and gain new readers.

I started the site just for me to write about what I loved.  We've grown a lot and it's time that the site reflects that.  Last night, you're support has shown me that Pop Culture Beast truly belongs to the people out there who keep reading it and supporting us.  We're gonna give you guys a great site you 'll want to come back to day after day.

Thanks to everyone who donated so far and to those who plan to do so later.

We are on the road to a brand new beast!  I'm super stoked to have you all along for the ride!

Pop Culture Beast Version 2.0 Kickstarter.

Here's the link!  Feel free to share it.

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1437868841/pop-culture-beast-20



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Sunday, April 20, 2014

DVD Review: Picture Of Light



Picture Of Light is a strange documentary about the northern lights, about our perception of reality, and about the use of technology to somehow capture nature. It has a slow, deliberate approach, both in its narration and in the film overall, that is completely engrossing.

It opens with the crew testing camera equipment in a cold chamber to get ready to capture the northern lights – an interesting way to begin the film. But this film is about the making of the film as much as it is about the northern lights. We see the crew on the train heading north, and we are told in voice over: “We were escaping the electrical world, with fifty pounds of batteries in our bags.” Nice. And yes, there is a bit of a sense of humor to the whole project. The film asks us early on, “Is film a surrogate for the real experience?

For me, for now, it is. The northern lights are something I hope to experience firsthand at some point in my life. But this film does work as a surrogate, or at least a taste of the actual experience. It’s interesting too, because the filmmakers are both experiencing the lights firsthand, but also capturing the images and creating a surrogate.

This film is also about the details. There are close-up shots of details along the way, such as water dripping onto the railroad tracks. The water looks like darts shooting down (and in its own way as beautiful as the northern lights). There are lots of beautiful shots long before they even get to the northern lights. The seemingly simple shot of snow blowing across a road is gorgeous.


RAWR(for more)

Thursday, April 17, 2014

DVD Review: The Strange Woman

The Strange Woman is an excellent and unusual film with some really good performances and intriguing characters, particularly that of Jenny, who is portrayed impeccably and deliciously by Hedy Lamarr.

The film takes place in Bangor, Maine, in the eighteen hundreds. It opens with a wonderful scene in which Tim Hager, a broke drunk, tries to purchase more whiskey, while the shopkeeper tells him he should spend his money on food for his family. We learn through dialogue between the shopkeeper and another customer that Tim’s wife had left him, and that he has a daughter named Jenny. We then see Jenny playing with other children, and right away get a sense of her character. She tells one kid that she hates losers. She taunts Ephraim, a boy who can’t swim, and even pushes him into the river and tells the others she doesn’t care if he drowns. But then when the adults are approaching, she jumps in and fishes him out, pretending it was the other children that pushed him in. She has goals of being rich.

The film then cuts to Jenny now grown up. She is stunningly beautiful, and still living in Bangor, and still with the same goals of being rich. In an early scene, she goes down to the docks to meet the sailors, hoping to pick out the richest one. (By the way, early on you hear people singing “Drunken Sailor,” a song I love.)

Her father is still a drunk. He tells Jenny she’s just like her mother, saying there’s a devil in her, “And I’m going to whip him out of you.” Jenny responds, “You’re going to beat me.” He says, “This is one beating you’ll not like.” It’s an incredible scene. As he hits her repeatedly with his belt, there’s a wild look of enjoyment on her face – at least at first. Then she fights back and runs out. Her father falls over, seemingly from a heart attack, and dies.


RAWR(for more)

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

DVD Review: Key And Peele: Seasons 1 + 2



Key And Peele is a sketch comedy series on Comedy Central starring Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele. The first two seasons have now been released in a four-disc box set, which includes bonus features as well.

The series is seriously funny. And one thing that sets it apart from other sketch comedy shows is that the segments are filmed ahead of time, so they’re like a series of short comedic films, with introductions and other silliness shot in front of an audience linking the sketches. Both men are bi-racial, and a lot of their comedy comes from that, particularly in the first season.

“Bitch”

The first episode of the first season, “Bitch,” is one of my favorites. The title skit is about two married men who are bragging to each other about calling their wives "bitch" but are terrified that the wives might hear. So they remove themselves to more and more remote spots before repeating the word. This skit gets funnier as it goes on (while never mentioning that they're afraid of their wives). During one of their live segments, they rip on the premises for reality television programming, such as, "You have a mental illness - let us rearrange your furniture for you." I absolutely love that, and it leads into a sketch making fun of those kitchen shows.  One of my favorite bits is a fake commercial for Ancestry.com, in which all black people trace themselves back to Thomas Jefferson. 


RAWR(for more)

Movie Trailer - X-Men: Days of Future Past (Final Trailer!)


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Monday, April 14, 2014

DVD Review: Junk



Junk is a completely enjoyable, seriously funny and surprisingly sweet film about two guys who must set aside their differences when their movie is accepted at a small film festival. Don’t let the photo on the DVD fool you. This is not a drug movie. Sure, some of the characters do some drugs, but that is not the focus. This is a movie about films and friendship, and while it is often very funny, it also has heart and substance.

The film stars Kevin Hamedani as Kaveh, a man who directed a film titled Islama-rama 2, which has been accepted in a film festival. Kevin Hamedani also directed and co-wrote Junk. Ramon Isao co-wrote Junk, and plays Raul, the man who wrote Islama-rama 2. When the film opens, Kaveh is rehearsing a speech in front of the mirror about changes he’s making to his life. He then goes to meet his ex-girlfriend Natasha, telling her he still loves her and that he’s changed (“I even listen to R.E.M. now”) in an attempt to win her back. This attempt fails, as she is seeing someone new (“Somebody who listens to my stories without needing to take a bong hit”). But it’s interesting to see where this character’s priorities are. His film has been accepted to a film festival, and the first thing he thinks of is using that as a way to win back the love of his ex-girlfriend. That right there lets you know that this is a character-driven comedy, and not a slapstick comedy about silly situations.

Meanwhile Raul, his filmmaking partner, is in New York, in a writing workshop, which is not going well for him. The leader of the workshop tells him, “You’re not a good writer, but you’re a good film thing. So be a film thing.” We also get a truly sweet moment with Raul and his wife, Sachiko.

Kaveh and Raul haven’t spoken in a year, but the two are going to be sharing a motel room together. Their goal is to pitch their next film to a famous producer who will be attending the festival (described as a Japanese Roger Corman). When the two meet up in their crappy motel room, the scene is allowed to play out, which is nice. We see a little of the sources of their animosity (Kaveh can’t be bothered to remember Raul’s wife’s name, or even her nationality for that matter), but also the way they try to hide it with pleasantries. It’s actually a really good scene. Because of the really good performances by both lead actors, it’s believable that they have a history, and their awkwardness is likewise believable. It’s not overplayed for comedy.


RAWR(for more)

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Theatre Review: Romeo And Juliet (Independent Shakespeare Company 2014 Production)

I’ve been attending the Independent Shakespeare Company’s Griffith Park productions for several years, and have always been impressed by the talent of this group. The acting, the staging, their style, and their energy and joy make each of their productions a treat. So I was excited to see this company in the more intimate setting of their Independent Studio.

Their new production of Romeo And Juliet features a cast of eight (so there is quite a bit of doubling of roles, while others characters are cut completely), and is presented at a quick pace, particularly at the beginning (though the quieter moments are given their needed time). There are several choreographed moments throughout the production, giving it an interesting feel and style. That tone is set at the beginning, with all of the actors on stage, a book being passed among the cast members. That leads to the Chorus, which is performed by the entire cast, each taking a different line or phrase, until “their parents’ strife,” which is repeated by everyone and leads into a very stylized choreographed fight scene (without props such as swords).

It’s an interesting way to present the opening street brawl, and by cutting Sampson and Gregory, it’s also a way to save some time. The first line of Act I in this production is the Prince’s “Rebellious subjects.” The line is spoken while he stands on top of a chair. The set is very simple, which I appreciate. Upstage there is a brown fence which has two entrances. There are a few chairs, a table and a step ladder (all painted brown) which are used to various effects throughout the production.


RAWR(for more)

Friday, April 11, 2014

DVD Review: Bettie Page Reveals All



You really can’t beat the title Bettie Page Reveals All, and you can’t beat Bettie Page, still the world’s most famous pin-up girl. In this new documentary, Bettie Page does in fact reveal many things about her life through interviews that function as the film’s narration (Bettie Page does not appear on screen, as she wished for folks to remember her as she was in her photos).

The film opens with a few thoughts on Bettie Page from people like Hugh Hefner (who talks about how much her image has influenced pop culture) and Dita Von Teese (who says, “It’s sort of confusing even whether she was a real person or not”). We then briefly see her funeral at Westwood Village Memorial Park in December of 2008.

After those opening shots, the film is basically told in chronological order. Through the interview, Bettie Page is really allowed to tell her own story, and she does a great job of it, offering fantastic and surprising anecdotes and information. Bettie speaks with candor about not only her professional life, and not only about her triumphs and joys, but about her troubles. About her father, she says: “A sex fiend is the way to put it. I mean, sex with anything that he could get his you-know-what into. Chickens and sheep and cows and anything.” He had sex with Bettie’s two sisters, and Bettie talks about how she let him touch her in order to get money to go to the movies. Her mother then took Bettie and the other children and left him. But because there wasn’t enough money to care for all six children, Bettie was put in an orphanage for a time.

As striking as that is, perhaps even more surprising is that Bettie Page aimed to be valedictorian of her high school class in order to get a scholarship and missed it only slightly, becoming salutatorian. Who would have guessed? It was very early in this film that I was already completely engaged.


RAWR(for more)

DVD Review: Newhart: The Complete Third Season



The third season of Newhart saw one significant cast change. Peter Scolari became a regular cast member, taking the place of Steven Kampmann. Michael Harris (Peter Scolari) had appeared in a few episodes of the second season, as the producer of Dick Loudon’s local television program. In the third season, his relationship with Stephanie (Julia Duffy) is developed.

The first episode of the season, “Tell A Lie, Get A Check,” briefly explains the absence of Kirk (Steven Kampmann) and Cindy (Rebecca York). The episode opens with Dick and Joanna returning to the inn. Dick says, “After two weeks of staying in one hotel after another, it’s really great to be back home in our inn.” I love that great dry delivery of his. They learn that Kirk and Cindy left town while they were away, as Cindy got a job as a clown. Dick is left with the job of selling Kirk’s café, which leads to a great guest appearance by Ray Walston as Claude Darling, the man who initially buys the café. Dick has a great line to him: “Trust us, we lied to you.” And so Larry, Darryl and Darryl buy the café.

Larry, Darryl and Darryl play a bigger role in this season. That famous introduction “Hi, I’m Larry, this is my brother Darryl, and this is my other brother Darryl” gets a bit old, but by the end of the season the writers are playing with it, creating jokes from the very fact that it was repeated so often. Like in "The Prodigal Darryl," when the first Darryl disappears and Larry leaves a gap in his introduction for the missing Darryl.

Throughout the season, Michael keeps trying to get Dick to promote his television show, but Dick and Michael disagree about the image the show should have. Several episodes feature his Vermont television show. In one episode George (Tom Poston) is a guest, and in another Joanna (Mary Frann) is the co-host. In the season’s final episode, Dick is driven to compete for a Vermont television award. Michael again wants him to change his image, and this time Dick gives it a go, and the results are disastrous and hilarious. That episode also features a puppet show put on my Larry, Darryl and Darryl to cheer up a sick Stephanie.


RAWR(for more)

Comedy Interview: Tim Barnes

 
I'm recording the intro into my phone. I don't know if it's going to actually say what I want it to say or if the words will be wrong. I refuse to actually look at that, I'm just going to send it in as done. The interview guest today is amazing, he's awesome, he's fantastic, is one of the best, he's one of the best best and he's black! That's right guys, we did it, we got a black. I knew that was the goal the whole time. I didn't tell him that but god damnit that was my goal. I had to fill that quota and who better to fill quota with than today's guest dot dot dot Tim Barnes!
 
 
Riggs: How are you?
Barnes: You know, I'm doing well! I've been staying busy with video projects, stand up, and working at a Dunkin' Donuts. How about you? What's going on with good old Matty Riggs?


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Thursday, April 10, 2014

DVD Review: The Curse Of The Gothic Symphony



I knew nothing about the Gothic Symphony before viewing this film. In fact, I hadn’t even heard of the composer, Havergal Brian. But the opening title card of The Curse Of The Gothic Symphony immediately set me at ease: “In 1919 obscure British composer Havergal Brian began to write the Gothic Symphony.” Yes, that word “obscure,” made me no longer feel bad about not knowing him. It continues: “Finished eight years later, it became the largest, longest and most complex symphony in history. Many great conductors tried to mount performances, but their attempts were thwarted. As a result the composer declared the work to be cursed.”

The Curse Of The Gothic Symphony tells the story of a group of enthusiasts, led by Gary Thorpe, who are determined to mount a production of the symphony in Brisbane, Australia. The Gothic Symphony hadn’t been performed in thirty years, and never previously outside of the United Kingdom. It had only been performed four times in the UK. Because of the inherent troubles in mounting a production, this symphony has been considered cursed. It’s interesting that the composer himself considered the piece to be cursed. Part of the problem is the large number of musicians and singers that it requires – approximately six hundred people (and that’s six hundred incredibly talented people, including a children’s choir). That means a large venue, and some serious coordination.

The film begins in 2007. Interestingly, the film’s producer, Veronica Fury, is also interviewed as a subject because she ends up becoming involved in helping the symphony happen through her involvement in the film itself. And that is just one of the many interesting stories that come as a result of this endeavor.  We meet several of the people involved in the project. It’s interesting that one of the people who is involved for a time, Michael Black (Chorus Master, Opera Australia), himself hadn’t heard of the symphony before. He says he is not concerned with the curse, but then due to mounting troubles and scheduling conflicts, he ends up being unable to stay with the project.


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