Friday, November 16, 2012

Ranking Spielberg

I ran across this article on Vulture, and I thought it was asinine. Just a ridiculous ranking. How could you put Close Encounters of the Third Kind so low? How could The Lost World not be in last place?!?!?

So I made my own list.

I should note, the top three are virtually a tie for me (as are many of these films). That said, I do feel like Close Encounters is his best film. I also am ranking relatively recent films on gut instinct. It's hard to tell how I'll feel about Lincoln in five years, but right now I feel like it's a strong addition to the filmography.

It also struck me that I really only consider 3 of his films "poor," the three above those (Always, The Terminal and Sugarland Express) fall into the "diverting but leave no major impression" category. Above those six are all films I like, and in many cases outright love. Be it the deeply flawed, but interesting, experiment of A.I. Artificial Intelligence, or the pure energy of War of the Worlds. All are worth watching, but 22 and above have at least touches of genius.

1 Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)
2 Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)
3 Jaws (1975)
4 E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial (1982)
5 Schindler’s List (1993)
6 Munich (2005)
7 Saving Private Ryan (1998)
8 Jurassic Park (1993)
9 Empire of the Sun (1987)
10 Minority Report (2002)
11 Catch Me If You Can (2002)
12 Lincoln (2012)
13 Duel (1971)
14 Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984)
15 The Color Purple (1985)
16 1941 (1979)
17 War Horse (2011)
18 Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989)
19 The Adventures of Tintin (2011)
20 Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008)
21 War of the Worlds (2005)
22 A.I. Artificial Intelligence (2001)
23 Always (1989)
24 The Terminal (2004)
25 The Sugarland Express (1974)
26 Hook (1991)
27 Amistad (1997)
28 The Lost World: Jurassic Park (1997)

Friday, November 9, 2012

Names I'm Sick of Hearing in Fanboy Conversation

Fans are just woefully predictable.

I mean WOEFULLY predictable. Every decade, or so, some entertainer or creator rises in the esteem of fanboy circles, and is held up as CAN DO NO WRONG." Then, without fail,, within 5 or 6 years, they make a wrong move, and they become AN UTTER HACK.

Take Peter Jackson. Riding so high after the Lord of the Rings trilogy, then, after King Kong and The Lovely Bones, it became clear that he was just as human as anyone else. Even moreso in the realm of sentimentality and falling overly in love with his work. You can see it begin with the unending denouement of The Return of the King, and spillover into uncontrollable with his sloppy version of King Kong. A film that didn't need to be three hours long in the first place, and certainly didn't need an extended version (I, personally, find it hilarious that Universal have never bothered to release this version on Blu-Ray).

Jackson stood revealed as a filmmaker who just didn't know when to quit. Who didn't seem to understand, at all, the concept of brevity. That image was justified, and compounded, when the announcement that his upcoming adaptation of The Hobbit, originally planned as two films, would be three. The first is two hours and forty-five minutes long.

Still, The Hobbit is a slight book. A friend recently pointed out you can read the entire book in six hours, and Jackson is likely producing a nine hour adaptation. Why? Money is an obvious answer. I have no doubt that some of this decision lies with the studio, who smell three big moneymakers instead of two. Still, it's Jackson returning to the world of J.R.R. Tolkein, he should be able to wield some clout, if he felt this wasn't the best idea.

It's not like I'm finding many people to defend him on this. No one I speak to seems to think The Hobbit should be three films, some big fans of the book pointing out that the Rankin-Bass animated version of the tale from 1977 very nicely condensed the story to less than an hour and a half. I also feel like the excitement about the release of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey was greater a year ago than now, with the release a little more than a month away. It was like the more people saw, the less exciting it seemed.

Now, of course I'm going to see it. I expect to enjoy it. I enjoyed all of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, but I will say right now, the only film of that series that is TRULY brilliant, for it's entirety, is The Fellowship of the Ring. The others have moments (the scenes of Theoden on the battlefield in Return of the King offset the pain in my ass as, but don't sustain the pacing or storytelling the way the first film did.

There was a time, in 1999, when George Lucas could do not wrong. When it was inconceivable that The Phantom Menace might not be the greatest movie of all time. That was a given, and no one doubted it.

After the film came out....

Now, I'm not so harsh on Episode I, or any of the prequels. I like them, but I get that many don't. I also have a very clear view on why people revile it so much; because they came to believe that a specific person, Lucas, was infallible. Then they felt "betrayed" because it turns out he was just human, like the rest of us. The fact that many felt it was a "betrayal," mind you, says more about fanboy mentality than the actual film.

Ditto for Jackson. King Kong is reviled in certain quarters, and worse, forgotten in others. We'll see how The Hobbit ultimately fairs. I wonder if Jackson isn't going to face his own "prequel moment" in the next few months. The elements in play are awfully, awfully similar.

Which is just prelude to my we're in the Joss Whedon era. He was beloved for Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel (neither of which I can stand), rose into the realm of the "wronged genius" for the Firefly/Serenity (which I love with the burning passion of a thousand suns) misadventure, then proved himself a mainstream crowdpleaser with Marvel's The Avengers. Well and good, and great for a writer and creator I do admire.

However, we've reached the "overblown genius" period here. Marvel's The Avengers isn't "the greatest superhero movie ever made," I'm sorry, but it's not. "The greatest" of something, in my book, will transcend the genre in some way. I LOVE The Avengers, I saw it four times in theatres, bought the Blu-Ray on the first day, and I enjoy it every time I watch it.

Christopher Nolan's Bat-films, as an example, decimate it as cinema. The Avengers, hell all the Marvel films, are artfully constructed commerce. Nolan's Batman trilogy is highly commercial art. Honestly, Joe Johnston's Captain America: The First Avenger comes closer to transcending the genre than The Avengers. You'd also have to put Richard Donner's Superman: The Movie in that basket.

I say again...that doesn't mean The Avengers is bad, nor am I trying to ramp up some sort of "Nolan is better than Whedon" thing. They are two very different kinds of films, with very different goals. I am not suggesting that The Avengers is a failure, at all, just that it's not the end-all, be-all that some would have you believe. This is also not Whedon's problem. He's doing the job Marvel paid him for, crafting exceptional entertainment, and having a great time doing it. I think he's great, but he's also not the god of creatives that some have positioned him as. He's not the guy that can do anything, and will make anything perfect by being involved with it.

No. One. Is.

Let me say that again: No. One. Is.

So, my teeth grind every, single time, I hear this "they need to bring in Whedon to write/direct _____" thing. The latest, of course, being the final trilogy of the Star Wars saga, announced with Disney's purchase of Lucasfilm. As if Joss sprinkled magic dust out of his anus that, if we all just BELIEVE enough, will make everything brilliant.

It's right up there with this insane idea that Firefly/Serenity will come back, no matter how much the principals have told us it's not, somehow. (Let's be clear, "I'd love to do it again," doesn't mean, "I'd upend all my other professional commitments to do it again," or "I am working actively to try to get money for it.") If it did come back, I'd definitely watch it, probably enjoy it, but you just know a (undoubtedly loudmouthed) portion of the audience would be pissed that it "ruined" what came before. Some people already feel that way about the Serenity film.

So, frankly, what makes my teeth grind in relation to this deification of Mr. Whedon. Because I know that. within a decade, the worm will turn, he'll make something that people won't like, or feel let down by, and then I'll be inundated by overly-emphatic fanboys bitching about how he "raped their childhood," or something equally offensive and stupid. My money for the moment it happens would probably be on the Doctor Horrible's Sing-Along Blog sequel, if it ever actually gets made. If it doesn't, I'll consider Joss more of a genius for dodging the bullet.

I can hear the Whedonites right now, "Joss would NEVER let that happen." Right. Keep telling yourself that, binky. Everybody slips, and everybody, eventually, loses their mainline to the zeitgeist. Your insistence on his infallibility is what's going to make it happen.

Ultimately, what bothers me the most is that not one of these guys deserves this. Not Whedon, not Jackson, and not Lucas. Each of them have given us, literally, hours of  entertainment and imagination. They've fed our souls and minds. When they fall so hard, it's almost never because what they've created is as horrible as the the insane outrage, outrage over the fact that they "let you down" by not living up to your over-inflated expectations of them, that is heaped upon them.

The simple answer is to stop acting like one guy is the panacea that is going to make all of your fanboy dreams come true. Start being willing to experience new things and new ideas, rather than just wanting more and more of the same things that made you giddy as a ten year old. We resent anything that changes, because we're so damn scared to do it ourselves. We spend so much time trying to retard our own growth, and stay children, we start to resent those who actually do change over the years. For the better? For the worse? Not for me to judge, except with my ticket dollars, and none of us have stopped ponying those up.

The other name....Nathan Fillion. Love him, think he's a wonderful actor and a charming presence. Sick to death of hearing fanboys trumpeting his name for every, single character that might, ever be made into a film. Sure, I'd like to see him get out of the increasingly woeful Castle, watching the producers flog his fanbase with cheap "easter eggs," and silly references to better shows. That said, he doesn't "have" to play Ant-Man, Indiana Jones, Han Solo, Green Lantern, Nathan Drake, or any of the other myriad claims I've seen made in the fan press. I LOVE the guy's work, if he did end up playing one of those characters, it'd be cool, but putting it on the internet isn't going to make it happen. It's time to stop acting like it will.

Now, if Whedon wanted to adapt the Brian Daley Han Solo books, with Fillion....Hmmmm.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

The Sword - Apocryphon

The Sword is a fast climber, for me. Their last album, 2010's Warp Riders, was my favorite album of  that year. I love that album, I think it is damn near perfect. It took the doomy-Black Sabbath style metal of their first two albums, and injected some Thin Lizzy style classic rock. I absolutely love that album.

The Texas four piece is back two years later with Apocryphon. I was a little sad that the band had moved back more toward the Sabbath-type sound. That said, the songwriting on this record is tremendous. The band has grown into a riff machine. There is cool stuff all over this album, and while there may be no moment of pure, glorious rock craftsmanship like "Night City" on Warp Riders, the experience is sonically exhilarating.

This is, simply put, a solid selection of songs. There is no filler here, and it's nice to see J.D. Cronise continuing to develop as a vocalist. The lyrics are still the sci-fi/fantasy hokum that we love this band for, but Cronise has really grown from the early records, where his vocal delivery was adequate, but clearly the weakest think in their arsenal. He, quite honestly, may be turning into one of my absolutely favorite current vocalists.

The musicianship is tight and powerful, Cronise and Kyle Shutt have really perfected their dual-guitar style, and I'm absolutely in love with how Bryan Richie plays bass. Jimmy Vela is the newest member, on drums, and, while I miss the way original drummer Trivett Wingo pounded the skins, Vela absolutely fits the formula the band has perfected.

What's nice about the songwriting here, as opposed to the earlier albums, Age of Winters and Gods of the Earth, and I have to guess this is because of the successful jaunt into more of a classic hard rock sound on Warp Riders, is that the band seems very comfortable to lay back from the songs. The first two albums were rather consistently heavy, there might be slower, lyrical passages as an intro, but then when the band got going, they were GOING. There seems lees need for that here, they've proved they can be heavy, and they've proved they can be melodic, now they're clearly finding (and quite successfully) ways to let those things coexist.

The title track, in particular, is just a masterpiece. Starting with what almost sounds like Atari video game sound effects, and then ripping out with some of my favorite lyrics in a long time.

Darkness and light entwine
Everything is all the time
All around you points align
Everything is all the time

It's really nice to see a hard rock/metal band that actually seems to be trying to evolve, to add elements to their music, without losing the qualities that made them cool in the first place. Too often, it seems like bands go completely off the rails, or they seem perpetually stuck making the same record over and over again. IF their first four albums are a good indicator, The Sword will not have this problem.

Favorite Tracks:
Cloak of Feathers
Dying Earth
Hawks & Serpents

As an additional note: There is a deluxe version of the album available that includes four live versions of songs off previous albums, as well as a really fun cover of ZZ Top's "Cheap Sunglasses." Totally worth it, in my opinion.

More on The Sword later, as I'll be seeing them at The Double Door tomorrow night.

The Delicate Balance of Dealing With Reviews

I have a very schizophrenic relationship with reviews.

I don't really hang much on them, and, as I've said, I am much more interested in the opinions of general audience members than anything else. I do believe there is often a disconnect between many critical responses, and the layman's. Not always, to be sure, but I do think that if people are flocking to see a show (or a movie, or read a book, or whatever) that is widely panned, the problem isn't necessarily the public's taste, or lack thereof.

But I do read reviews. I puzzle over them, consider any arguments I feel are valid, and dismiss any I find to be unfair or just obtuse. Sometimes, I am hurt by them, sometimes emboldened, and sometimes just downright confused. You can't change your choices because some critic for "" thinks you yell too much, but you can consider choices you might make in the future.

I find that I learn things, even from the most negative reviews, if they come from a place of thoughtfulness. If the critic approaches the work with an openness. They may lose it completely as the show progresses, that is one-hundred percent fair, but you can always tell when that happens. There's a clarity in how they will describe where you lost them that you can learn much from.

You can also never forget that there are critics, and whole publications, who have determined, before they ever enter the theatre, if the show will be "good" or not. Is it the latest show from the current "hot" director? Is it a company who traditionally caters to an "older" audience? Is it a Neil Simon play? Or perhaps the latest "hot" playwright? You'll spot these right away. They're either gushing, embarrassingly gushing, or nitpicky about things that are, in the overall scheme, unimportant, or the best that can be accomplished on that production level, but easy to point out and mock.

That said...I absolutely reject the idea, that I have heard in many a dressing room, that critics are, essentially, a de facto arm of the theatre's promotional department. They do not owe you a good review "to encourage people to go to the theatre." They owe the public an honest, and, I believe, thoughtful, reaction to they show they saw, period.

Also, NEVER forget that it's just some person's opinion.

As you may have guessed, I am taking a walk back through reviews of Frankenstein, and my performance in it. I make no bones about the fact that I put a lot of myself into the show, and some people just did not "get" it. I tried to give everything I had, every show, and I paid the price, physically especially. So, I will admit, the first few reviews out of the gate were fairly critical, and they shook me.

At the end of the day, I think it was good. I needed to break myself out of cocoon of self-indulgence I feel like I'd started to build around myself and my performance. I was twisting myself in knots, because I wanted to be "good." I wanted to be impressive.

What this taught me is to relish when the critical reaction to my work is all over the map. When some critics dismiss your work, while others embrace it eloquently. It's a visceral reminder that not everything is for everyone, and that trying to be that is a recipe for luke-warm water.

Ultimately, the reviews were all over the map. I was honestly amused by the sheer variety of reactions. Some people wanted more rage (as if The Creature is some sort of 19th century version of The Hulk), while others seemed to feel I was just wandering around bellowing the whole time. Who knows? Perhaps my performance varied that much from night to night. Perhaps that's the curse of playing such an iconic role, everyone had their own creature in their mind before I ever rose from the slab.

It doesn't matter. It. Does. Not. Matter.

The simple fact is, the lions share of my notices were positive, if not outright glowing. I have nothing to complain about in the grand scheme. I certainly did not have to deal with some of the out-of-line comments that were directed at other members of our cast. Honest criticism is fair, comparing an actor to a Muppet is just being a dick for the sake of it.

All I know is this; I loved doing this show. I loved playing this role. I loved this cast and this script. I feel strong and justified in the choices I made and the performance I gave. Was this a perfect production? Probably not, because that simply does not exist. I wanted as many people to see it as possible, and I am honored by every person that did.

Monday, November 5, 2012

I Shall Seek Out The Northernmost Extremity of the Globe...

...where no light shall shine on the sight of me, and there, I shall die.

One Hundred and Six hours of rehearsal.

Twenty-Two performances

Twenty hours putting on make-up

Fifteen hours taking off make-up

Two Hundred and Twenty temporary tattoos

Ten hours of fight call

Fourty-Four Ibuprofen tablets.

One package coughdrops

Nine dead characters

One strange performance where the stage monitor apparently stared playing the soundtrack of a porn movie.

Eight actors who impressed and inspired even in my darkest moments

One Stage Manager who handled a lot, and still managed to give a beat-up creature a ride home

One Director who gave us the chance, and trusted us all the way

Thank you to the cast; Ed Krystosek, Sandy Elias, David Fink, Evan Johnson, Lindsey Falls, Jennifer T. Grubb,Catherine Gillsepie, Daniel Pass, and Eustace Allen.

Thank you to our designers; Ian Anthony, Devin Caroll, Tom Kieffer, Robert Kuper, David Yondorf, and Ray Toler

Thank you to our Stage Manager; Norine McGrath

Than you to our Director; Terry McCabe

I'll miss the show, I'll miss the people, and I'll miss The Creature, but I'm ready to be away from the make-up, and the toll the role took on me, physically.

Bless you all, and thank you all.


I am completely ashamed of myself that I forgot to mention our lovely playwright Bo List, who crafted a lovely adaptation of Shelly's novel. Thank you for the words, good sir.