Monthly Archives: April 2014

Capsule film reviews: Four more horror movies from 2013

‘Resolution’
Release Date: Jan. 25, 2013
Director: Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead
Starring: Peter Cilella, Vinny Curran and Zahn McClarnon
Genre: Horror, Mystery, Thriller
Rating: Not Rated
Grade: B+

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Photo courtesy of Tribeca Film and Cinedigm.

Well, “Resolution” starts out with Michael (Peter Cilella) handcuffing his junkie buddy, Chris (Vinny Curran), to a pipe inside a run-down cabin in the middle of nowhere in an attempt to get him sober. What could go wrong? The film is a pleasant surprise, though. As it progresses, it reveals itself to be a slow-paced psychological thriller that comments on storytelling and the horror genre itself. It’s like a low-budget take on the ideas explored in 2012’s “Cabin in the Woods,” although it’s definitely not as well-acted nor as tongue-in-cheek hilarious as its predecessor. Curran, in particular, does a really subpar job portraying his drug-addicted character. On the other hand, “Resolution” is a lot more actually menacing and scary than “Cabin in the Woods,” and its final 30 minutes are tense and unpredictable.

‘Stitches’
Release Date: April 1, 2013
Director: Conor McMahon
Starring: Ross Noble, Gemma-Leah Devereux and Tommy Knight
Genre: Comedy, Horror
Rating: R for strong bloody violence and gore, sexual content, language, drug and alcohol use – all involving teens.
Grade: C-

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Photo courtesy of MPI Media Group and Irish Film Board.

This is a really goofy premise, so stay with me: “Stitches” is an Irish horror-comedy about a clown who is accidentally killed at a child’s birthday party and is resurrected six years later to exact his revenge on the kids who were there. It’s an attempt at the hilariously over-the-top gore perfected in movies such as the “Leprechaun” franchise or “Killer Klowns from Outer Space,” but it isn’t executed as well. The cartoonish special effects aren’t too impressive, and it ends up being neither scary nor really funny (although there are some laughs). Considering there’s a Satanic ritual performed by clowns in the graveyard and an obsessive occult research segment on the history of clowns, “Stitches” should have been way more amusing. But there’s probably still a market for this. I’m not sure who those people would be, but they’re out there.

‘Berberian Sound Studio’
Release Date: June 14, 2013
Director: Peter Strickland
Starring: Toby Jones, Cosimo Fusco and Antonio Mancino
Genre: Drama, Horror, Thriller
Rating: Not Rated
Grade: B

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Photo courtesy of Warp X and Illumination Films.

The film-within-a-film technique makes “Berberian Sound Studio” a creepy, slow-moving, atmospheric piece of surrealist cinema. The story follows British foley artist Gilderoy (Toby Jones) as he arrives on set in Italy to work on mixing sounds for director Giancarlo Santini’s (Antonio Mancino) latest giallo flick. Santini’s film is an Argento-esque horror story (although he refuses to refer to it as such) about a girls’ school cursed by witches, requiring Gilderoy and crew to create many creative sound effects in the studio. This is fascinating to watch, although potentially boring for American audiences. “Berberian Sound Studio” then takes a “Mulholland Drive”-style abrupt left turn into the realm of the absurd about three-quarters of the way through, as Gilderoy grows increasingly discomforted by the nature of the film and the working environment. The final act is eerie and tense, although this film is a lot more understated and never becomes truly “horror.”

‘We Are What We Are’
Release Date: Sept. 27, 2013
Director: Jim Mickle
Starring: Ambyr Childers, Julia Garner and Bill Sage
Genre: Drama, Horror, Thriller
Rating: R for disturbing violence, bloody images, some sexuality, nudity and language.
Grade: B-

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Photo courtesy of Entertainment One.

“We Are What We Are” is a thoughtful, beautifully-shot creepy thriller, but a lot of plot holes make it less enjoyable. The film (a remake of the 2010 Mexican horror film of the same name, although several key elements are different) focuses on the reclusive Parkers — a family of urban cannibals — following the death of Emma Parker (Kassie DePaiva), the mother of three children. The film is clearly supposed to make comment on religious fervor, patriarchal traditions and family bonds, but it seems like a lot of this is lost in translation. The influence of 2011’s excellent “Martha Marcy May Marlene,” about a woman escaping from the clutches of an oppressive cult, is extremely evident, but “We Are What We Are” never seems as believable. Luckily, the acting is strong from all three leads, the cinematography is attractive, and super blonde children are inherently disturbing. I only wish as much attention to detail had been paid to the screenwriting as was paid to the look of the film.

Theater: CityShakes presents ‘The Merchant of Venice’

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Underneath twinkling rope lights in the exposed-brick back room of a storefront in Santa Monica, the City Shakespeare Company brings to life “The Merchant of Venice” with a strong cast, effective stylistic choices and a beautiful performance space.

The company makes the most of a minimal set and places the audience on a few rows of wooden benches right in the middle of the action.

If it’s been a while since high school English class, the plotline of “The Merchant of Venice” essentially follows Antonio (Todd Elliott), who takes out a loan from Shylock (Peter Nikkos) in order to fund his friend Bassanio’s (David Hartstone) quest to woo Portia (Allison Volk), the heiress, under the condition that if the loan is not repaid, Shylock is entitled to take a pound of Antonio’s flesh.

Although typically considered a comedy, “The Merchant of Venice” throws in some intense dramatic scenes (Shylock’s attempting to forcibly remove the aforementioned flesh from Antonio’s chest in open court comes to mind, for instance). These moments are especially powerful in the intimate space: the audience members in the front row are directly confronted by Nikkos as Shylock during the famous “Hath not a Jew eyes?” monologue, among others.

But, really, this production’s excellence lies in its brilliantly-executed comedy. The supporting cast is as strong as the leads, and the jokes land effortlessly.

Daniel Landberg and Gilbert Martinez are particularly fantastic in their comedic ensemble roles. These two are instrumental in making CityShakes’ production of “The Merchant of Venice” as accessible and laugh-out-loud funny as it is. Additionally, Landberg scores the play with acoustic guitar-playing throughout and interjects a few original songs during key scene changes that help advance the storyline.

CityShakes’ production is so well done, the only real flaws come from the source material itself. “The Merchant of Venice” isn’t often performed in contemporary theaters — most likely because of the hard-to-ignore, heavy-handed anti-Semitism. Shylock is clearly portrayed as a villainous, vengeful Jew in contrast to the righteous and merciful Christian characters. During the play’s denouement, they tell Shylock that they’re going to force him to convert to Christianity, and that’s the happy ending to his story.

Considering these problems exist within Shakespeare’s text, the theater company does a fair job presenting the story and emphasizing mercy and forgiveness as the overall themes of this production. Although, even the play’s portrayal of mercy is questionable, since Shylock is unflinchingly hell-bent on revenge and has to be lectured about compassion by Portia. Director Brooke Bishop addresses this issue in the playbill, writing, “The Merchant of Venice is often thought to have been written from a place of hate — we invite you to watch out production from a place of love, and see what you discover.”

Still, the City Shakespeare Company’s “Merchant of Venice” is an outstanding artistic production. It is incredibly charming in its moments of comedy and romance, and thought-provoking in its most dramatic scenes. It is, altogether, definitely worth watching.

‘The Merchant of Venice’

1454 Lincoln Blvd.

8 p.m. Thursday – Saturday and 4 p.m. Sunday

Tickets are $20, or pay-what-you-can at the door on Thursday

For more information, visit www.cityshakes.org.

Live: Monthly services of the almighty Opp

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The almighty Opp. SCREAMfmLondon

It was one of those nights I really appreciate living in LA.

I was walking up Western Avenue toward Hollywood after checking out “Hail to the King, Baby,” a Bruce Campbell-themed art show at the Agit Gallery in the heart of Koreatown. I heard I missed Bruce Campbell himself by about 40 minutes, and it was kind of a bummer.

But, as I’m walking, I notice a small crowd is gathered outside of a Korean auto repair shop watching a knee-high stage that is producing a very loud, jangly, disharmonious type of music.

When I peer through the crowd, I discover (to my delight) that I’m watching a puppet show: a marionette clown is using a seesaw to catapult a baby doll into a tin can, and another marionette has a rapidly-inflating balloon for a head. The balloon head finally explodes after moments of suspense, and the audience cheers.

“They do this on the last Saturday of every month. At this street corner,” the girl standing next to me clarifies, pointing around to the Giant Dollar store across the street.

The discordant music becomes hypnotic, and before I know it, I’m settled in to watch the rest of the show, enraptured.

I’ve unknowingly stumbled upon one of the monthly services of the almighty Opp, a “rapidly growing friendship network” that uses a combination of puppetry, live music, clowns and interactive theater spectacle to cure what ails you.

The makeshift stage stands at the corner of Western and Elmwood; it is partially comprised of a red Radio Flyer wagon, a bicycle and two black umbrellas. The craftsmanship is impeccable, though, as is the performance. It is obvious that the almighty Opp has been at this for years and has perfected the art.

Somebody hands me a chocolate cupcake. Off to my right, a couple of people pull up a crushed velvet loveseat on wheels and steady it with a few milk crates. I have no idea where it came from. There is a thunderous pop and an explosion of silver streamers and star-shaped confetti that makes its way clear across the four lanes of adjacent traffic. This is the best.

So far, the masterminds behind the almighty Opp remain a mystery to me. I can hear their voices, I can hear them playing the acoustic guitar, and I can see a couple of disembodied hands whenever they reach around the stage to spray silly string on the crowd. They are sharp-witted and hilarious from behind the curtain, but, finally, they reveal themselves.

Kranko climbs out first — his face is painted white, he is wearing striped socks and arm warmers, he has a bright red clown nose. He tosses me a miniature bottle of bubbles, and then he runs across Elmwood to begin the laborious process of stringing a puppet up between two streetlight poles.

Jeffrey follows — he is wearing a white mask and a mechanics’ jumpsuit. He comes up to each member of the audience individually, hands us a sticker, holds a mirror up for us to pose into as if he’s taking our picture, and then he gives us a hug. He doesn’t smell great, but I’ve never been so excited to wrap my arms around a strange man I came across on the street in the middle of the night.

I am pretty convinced that I witnessed some real magic out there. It was enchanting, fun and immersive. It did seem like the entire audience (some wearing combat boots and homemade patchwork vests, others in full-length gowns and top hats) was a big group of friends. I felt like, for a moment, I was a part of their network. I loved it.

I’m an almighty Opp convert. I’ll see you at next month’s service.