Time to Remember
Musicals are a love it or hate it medium. Either you embrace the artifice of characters spontaneously bursting into songs that reveal inner thoughts and move the plot along or you reject it as forced and corny. I happen to be in the former category. What can I say? I am a musical theatre geek. Unfortunately not every movie adaptation strikes the right chords in their translation from stage to screen. Hollywood has a tendency to want to make them even bigger and flashier- using every trick in their arsenal usually resulting in overblown disasters. (see Annie. Or don't. Please don't)
That is why The Last Five Years is refreshing in its' smallness. Directed by Richard LaGravanese and based on the cult off-Broadway show it tells the story of a relationship with time crisscrossing backwards and forwards simultaneously. Sound confusing? Believe it or not, it isn't. We start off with Cathy alone in an apartment upset singing about the end of her marriage. We then jump back in time to the beginning of the relationship sung from the perspective of Jamie who is wildly enamored of Cathy. (The entire movie is sung through with very little dialogue,) Jamie (Jeremy Jordan) is a budding writer and finds out that his first book is to be published. Cathy (Anna Kendrick) is a struggling New York actress who can't seem to catch a break in New York and settles for bad summer stock in Ohio. The backwards and forward movement of the plot eventually meets in the middle when they get engaged and then continues on until both have reached the other side of the timeline- Jamie at the marriages' end and Cathy caught up in the fresh bloom of love.
Kendricks' voice seems a little thin at first but as the movie progresses it seemed to gain strength mirroring her state of mind (As the movie starts she is heartbroken and defeated. Pretty cool, huh?) This is some of her finest work- subtle and understated. Jordan is charismatic and energizing- he has the good fortune of his character starting off happy and buoyant filled with love and promise of success, thus allowing him to immediately win the audiences' love as well as Cathys. His songs tend to be on the showier side (one of my favorites The Schmuel Song is charming and funny) until the perspective switches.
There is nothing particularly revelatory or groundbreaking in the story (marriage is hard, they take a lot of work, success can overshadow everything, etc.) but the movement through the opposite timelines brings a freshness to the storytelling. The music and lyrics by Jason Robert Brown are rich and vibrant. It took a few songs in to capture me but when it hits its' stride, I was giddy with excitement. There is nothing like that electricity you feel when art touches your soul . That may sound a bit over the top, but that is how it affects me. The funny thing with this piece is you know exactly where it is going and how it is going to end ( with the promise of new love and the future and the heartbreak of love lost) yet I still found myself in tears . The music and the performances excite me so much, I think as soon as I finish writing this, I am going to watch it again.
Did I say how much I loved it?
Oscar season is finally over and now is my time to obsessively watch all of the winning performances and films I missed. This is the first in a series of reviews covering the winners.
Indy dramas tend to skew towards quiet thoughtful affairs and Boyhood is no exception.Richard Linklater has crafted an authentic take on the tried and true coming-of-age genre by filming Boyhood over a period of 12 years with barely a sketch of a plot , giving it genuine feel of life progressions . It tracks the life of Mason (Ellar Coltrane) a six year old boy who lives with his divorcee mother Olivia (Best supporting Actress Patricia Arquette) and sister Samantha (Lorelai Linklater). The movie is slowly paced- there are minor upheavals in the boys life( the biggest being his Mothers' predilection for a string drunk abusive men which propels the family to new places and the Mom to her next bad relationship ) but for the most part there are no earth shattering moments or grand plot points. The only way you can surmise that time is passed is the actual growth of Mason mixed with his varying hairstyles and lengths..
The boys actual father Mason Sr. (Ethan Hawke) seems to be the best of the exes - his biggest flaw seems to be that he married before he had time to grow up himself. He is a reliable weekend Dad who initially is painted as a flake but really becomes a steady constant in his children's lives. Olivia is constantly trying to better herself through education and misconstrues relationships with stability. Both Hawke and Arquette are very naturalistic in their portrayals and they have a nice rapport with their younger co-stars.
Young Coltrane is very subdued. I know in film it is sometimes preferable to use kids with little or no experience to help capture truthful and un-affected performances but I found his character a bit flat. It probably is a perfect representation of a boy growing up, but it is not exciting to watch. The biggest excitement came from the actual physical metamorphosis of the boy from ages 6 to 18. Visually , that is the most stirring image, but the same effect could have been achieved in a photo collection.
Unfortunately, I found absolutely nothing in the movie that screamed Oscar Worthy. Sure, independent Spirit award worthy. But Oscar worthy? The greatest achievement of the film was securing these actors for 12 consecutive years. If there is an award given for that, I would say this is the winner.
The highly entertaining Martin Ensemble Theatre in Panama City's current production of the Tony award winning musical 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee will make you smile. Directed by Barbara McMinnis (who has a keen eye for assembling talented casts), the musical is about a group of (mostly) brilliant kids populating the annual spelling bee who, through song, reveal their neurotic backgrounds and personal drive to be the best spellers. The kids are all played by adults along with the two actual adult characters who moderate the proceedings. It is a sweet and silly musical with a book by Rachel Sheinkin and music and lyrics by William Finn.
The characters cover a wide range of archetypes one associates with such contests- the "over-achiever" Marcy Park (played with arch know-it-all bitchiness by Valerie Woods) who besides spelling has a wide range of talents from ribbon dancing to sharpshooting;the outcast loner William Barfee pronounced Bar-Fay (Panama City theatre stalwart Ron Holman whose mere entrance onstage in shorts and knee high socks elicited laughs from the audience ) who only has one working nostril and spells his words using his "magic foot" ; the lisping Logainne ShwartzandGrubenniere (a delightful Kelly Kivett) who has two gay dads and is precociously politically active; the "smart" jock Chip Tolentino (Doug Gilliland, on a roll with consecutive strong performances in the local theatre scene) who is distracted in the competition by the onset of puberty and its' embarrassing symptoms (I.E. Erection, which I guess is a word unsuitable for Panama City audiences- the G rated version of his song substitutes "distraction" for "erection' in this production); the parent neglected Olive Ostrovsky (sung beautifully by Casey Kivett Naggiar) who finds solace in her love for the dictionary; and the home schooled idiot-savant Leaf Coneybear (the joyously energetic and loose-limbed Jason Blanks who reminded me of my nephew at the same age) raised by hippies , makes his own clothes, and is generally clueless until he reaches a trance-like state when he spells. (Blanks and Kivett both excel at channeling their child within with an unselfconsciousness that only children possess)
Rounding out the cast are Janet Nuckols (always a joy to watch onstage) as Rona Lisa Peretti - a former Bee champion and current moderator , Mike Stone as Vice Principal Paunch (who is unfortunately saddled with an atrocious wig) and Stephanie Skiba as comfort counselor Miss Mahoney who is performing her community service by giving juice boxes to the losing contestants while leading them offstage. Skiba also performs double duty as the musical director. Most actors are double cast, playing the parents of the contestants. Additional contestants are selected randomly from the audience, adding much fun to the proceedings as they spell to varying degrees of success.
The music itself is slightly forgettable but the cast sounds fantastic led by Skiba. The second act "The I love You Song " is exquisitely sung by Naggiar, Nuckuls, and Gilliland and is a showstopper .The simplistic choreography is well suited for the portrayal of awkward youngsters but would have benefitted from a choreographer. The set is sparse and appropriate for the piece, but it would have been nice to have seen a little more production design to distinguish it from the previous offerings of the season.
Definitely worth the price of admission, 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee is a feel good musical for all ages. Catch it before it closes!
What would you do if everything you knew, everything you loved, every part of you that makes you...you disappeared? What if you were aware that it was happening and you knew there was absolutely nothing to be done to stop it? And in the absence of all those things are you still the same person? These are the questions at the root of the film Still Alice, written and directed by Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland and based on the novel of the same name by Lisa Genova.
Alice Howland (Julianne Moore) is a brilliant linguistics professor at Columbia University. Successful and well renowned in the academic circle, she is happily married to her intellectual peer (Alec Baldwin) and has three grown children (Kate Bosworth, Hunter Parrish, and Kristen Stewart) with lives of their own. Every thing seems perfect, but of course something is amiss. Alarmed that she lost her way on a run and more importantly alarmed that she starts to lose words (words being her greatest joy), she visits a neurologist . She fears that she has a brain tumor, but it is much worse.
She is diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer's.
What follows is her struggle to come to terms with her diagnosis and her ultimate acceptance of her declining faculties. The movie hits all the right notes with her downward spiral, but still rings Hollywood in it's portrayal of the disease. By casting the 50year old Moore (whose nuanced portrayal raises the material) , it shows a prettier version of this ugly disease. The reality is much less glamorous. Making her a brilliant linguistic professor seems a bit of a cheat as well- even as she slips away, she has her wits about her enough to use her phone to answer a set of questions designed to help her remember simple facts about herself until she can't spell anymore. The fact that she was still able to conceptualize using the phone or navigating a computer in her diminished state seemed to stretch plausibility. She seems to be taking care of herself for the most part-. Her husband typically falls into a state of denial, refusing to acclimate or change his forward moving life- leaving her by herself way too much. Baldwin plays him with an empty coldness that belies the tortured reality.
The only one who seems attuned to her is her wayward actress daughter (a lovely performance by Kristen Stewart- words I never thought I would say!). Their scenes together electrify the screen, holding the most resonance (particularly one scene involving a found journal) and their relationship the most poignant.
All in all, Still Alice is a decent movie with extraordinary performances that make up for the sketchy made-for-Lifetime feel of the script. I went in expecting to be emotionally devastated, but for a few tear worthy scenes, I felt nothing.
The latest production at KT (Kaleidoscope Theatre) is your classic bedroom farce filled with slamming doors, mistaken identities, sexual innuendos, and enough belly laughs to provide a full evening of entertainment. Directed with a keen eye for the silly by Barry Hertzog who has made these types of plays his stock and trade. The twisty-turny plot hinges on a necklace and an unhappily married couple trying to keep the valuable family heirloom from falling into the others' clutches. Both of them have arrived at their beach cottage with their respective lovers , both ignorant of the others scheming or presence. Add to the mix a cartoonishly clueless P.I. with a knack for being knocked out, a libidinously inclined friend set up to seduce the husband, and a mini-skirted burglar, and comic mayhem ensues.
The cast is led by Bunnie Hibbard (Ashley Worthington) and Eric Minter (William Worthington III) as the duplicitous couple , playing the "straight man" to the wackadoo characters surrounding them with aplomb. Worthington's dizzy flame Lorraine is played by Amber DuVal, ( who seems to be channeling Lesley Ann Warren in Victor Victoria) and Cody Evans brings an innocence as his turn as the Mrs. Worthington's young paramour. Daphne Lewis shines with her precise comic timing and awkward sexuality as the man-eating friend who "if she was fast food, she would have golden arches over her bed." Rounding out the talented cast are Renee Ryals who adds just the right amount of sauciness to the burglar, and Marco Andrews who plays the Elmer Fudd-esque P.I. whose idea of inconspicuously blending in is a loud Hawaiian shirt and an ever changing array of bad wigs. The cast works well together under the strong direction of Hertzog who also designed the beautiful set.
So, if you're looking for a night of larceny, infidelity, light bondage, and lots of laughs, KT is the place to be! Catch the last weekend of "There's a Burglar in my Bed" before it closes. You won't be disappointed!
Director Mathew Vaughn's latest movie Kingsman: The Secret Service is a fresh new take on the spy genre previously dominated by Ian Fleming's 007. Filled with homages to previous spy films (including a tip of the hat- I mean umbrella to UK TV import The Avengers) he puts them in a blender to make something new and reminds us how fun the genre can be.
A secret Agent is killed in the middle east and agent Harry Hart (a pretty kick-ass Colin Firth) delivers a medal of bravery to the agents widow and young son. She wants nothing to do with it and he hands it to the boy, telling him if he ever needs a ...favor to call the number on the back.
Flash forward 17 years to the now chav-ish youth named Eggsy (Taron Egerton in a breakout role) getting arrested for joyriding in a rivals car. Unable to rely on his mum for help because of her abusive boyfriend, he calls in the favor and is promptly released from jail, where he is greeted by his savior Harry. Another agent has been killed while trying to save Professor James Arnold ( Mark Hamil looking his age) and there is a spot open in the Kingsmen round table (the agents are codenamed for the knights of the roundtable) and Harry (Galahad) offers Eggsy the chance to follow in his fathers footsteps. Eggsy jumps at the chance after seeing Harry take down a group of ruffians in a pub (making an weaponized umbrella THE spy accessory to have!) and joins the training program. He is the odd man out amongst the other recruits as they are all proper and educated but it's his streetwise savvy that give him an edge over his snobby compatriots.
Meanwhile, Harry searches for the professor, only to find him not missing at all but teaching a class at the University. When Harry questions him, an explosive device implanted in the professors neck explodes, killing him and injuring Harry. The device is linked to the Tech wizard/tycoon Richmond Valentine (Samuel Jackson with a ?what-was-he-thinking? lisp ) who is launching his latest tech platform- an implanted micro-chip that would connect the whole world with free phone and internet access through compatible use of his sim-cards.. Of course, his intent is not altruistic at all but diabolically nefarious. When activated, the chip causes uncontrollably violent behavior resulting in homicidal tendencies simultaneously worldwide.
Witty and action packed, Kingsman pumps fresh blood into what has become a somber genre with the Bond reboot. Nifty gadgets, natty clothes (the Kingsman headquarters is housed in a tailor shop on Saville Row), and colorful villains (Valentine's number one is Gazelle who has shiny metal prosthetic legs that double as lethal blades: BEST murderous accessories since Oddjob's black bowler hat in Goldfinger) give this movie a rousing serving of fun. It is nice to see Colin Firth playing up his British gentlemanly reserve with physical prowess proving you shouldn't judge a book by it's seemingly foppish cover. He finally overthrows his iconic Mr.. Darcy role and proves his mettle in the action genre. Taron Egerton is definitely an actor to watch out for. His charismatic portrayal anchors the film and he is pretty easy on the eyes as well. I look forward to see what he does next. Sam Jackson is always a delight on screen, even if he does sound like Mike Tyson.
The film has several set pieces that stand out ( a massacre in a Kentucky church set to the guitar solo from Lynyrd Skynyrd's Free Bird, and an explosive symphony near the end of the movie) and showcase Director Vaughns eye for visual hyperbole. One of my favorite directors in the comic-action genre (previous films include Kick-Ass and Xmen: First Class), he has a keen eye for grand storytelling with loads of wit and splashy colors.
As for the blades mentioned in the title of this review- more mayhem is executed in this film with use of blades than guns. Maybe it's a comment on gun control in the UK, or a subtle outcry at gun violence in films. Who knows. But with a shiny sword/leg prosthetic in one hand and a pistol in the other I will take the blade any day. It just seems cooler.
This past winter I had a lot of downtime. I mean a lot! Netflix has been a blessing, giving me hours of movie and television series to binge to my hearts' content. To my twisted horror movie lovin' delight, they put the Friday the 13th franchise part 1 -8 and I spent about four consecutive days watching them back to back. Amazingly, they seem kind of tame compared to what I remembered. Of course, my memories of gore were supplemented by my devotion to Fangoria magazine, which I pored over religiously to find out the secrets of their makeup effects and get a glimpse of the movies that were verboten in my household.. Friday was on the first issue I ever purchased, and I was hooked ever since. And since no one would take me to any of the movies featured in the pages so I would buy the novelizations to satisfy my morbid curiosity. Let me tell ya, Friday the 13th part 3-D kinda lost something in the translation,
Anyway, with my Friday binge session , I started to think about Jason. I mean, really think about him. Who is Jason Voorhees? What makes him tick? Unlike other slasher films of the same time period (Halloween, Nightmare on Elm Street, Terror Train, Prom Night) there is miniscule attempt at even a sliver of a backstory. Little is known about Jason's past except that his Mother Pamela lost her shit when she "thought" he drowned because of the inattention of camp counselors and she exacted her revenge on them in 1958 as well as the slaughtering the group who had returned years later to open it back up. It is assumed that he witnessed his mothers demise at the hands of the soul survivor of the first film and hunted her down in the second. From there he starts his own reign of terror, hacking and slashing willy nilly to his "death" and beyond.
But what of those early years? Why did his mother think he was dead? Who was his Dad? In the first film, the surviving counselor Alice dreamt that she was attacked by a deformed man in the lake. Was it just the suggestion of the boy drowning that inspired her dream, or did it really happen?
Binge watching the films inspired some personal theories of my own in an attempt to imagine a semblance of a backstory that might explain the enigma we call Jason. This is here are a few of my stupid theories.
1) Pamela Voorhees (Jason's Mom) was raped. This is why she gets all freaky about sex. Or maybe she's just deeply religious . I know she says it's because the camp counselors were doing the deed when they should have been watching the young swimming Jason, but since he obviously survived his "drowning" then the issue must be sex!
2) Jason's Dad is really his UNCLE! There is no mention of his Dad, but that could explain the malformed child of their union. I read at one point (maybe in a novelization) they mentioned an Ellis Voorhees as his father. Could be Pamela's bro! Incest is supposed to produce birth defects. Could explain a lot.
3) Mommy Voorhees has ugly shamed him into covering his face. Jason lives in a shack in the woods. Alone. Why would he give a shit about covering his face? I think as a child she made him wear a potato sack over his head. Poor guy had no chance.
4) Jason comes from solid Viking stock! His hulking form is from years of Nordic inbreeding (See Uncle Ellis Voorhees)
5)Jason is mute. Okay, I really have nothing else to say about that.
6) There is some sort of witchcraft or black magic in Jason or his Moms' background. Hinted at with the alter displaying her severed head surrounded by candles in part 2, and you know, the fact that he cannot be killed!!! Like, ever. Seriously, gotta be some kind of hoo-doo.
7) Jason is some kind of ninja. I mean, how else do you explain some 6'6 getting right up next to someone without even snapping a twig? Nobody seems to hear him before he is RIGHT NEXT TO THEM! Are they all deaf ? I think it's because Jason has some serious Ninja skills.
8) Jason is a vegan. Seriously, you would think that with all the fresh meat around, he would eventually have a nibble, but he never does, not even when he turns into a zombie!!!
9) Jason just hates his birthday. It certainly doesn't help that it will always be remembered for the day his Mom was be-headed. But come on, man, everyone has issues! Just learn to stab a cake, not a friend!
Once upon a time in 1999, two filmmakers wrote and directed a film that would change the cinematic landscape forever. With The Matrix , the Wachowski siblings showed great promise in fusing live action anime , pseudo-philosophical theories, and cutting edge visual effects (hello! remember the first time you saw bullet-time? Jaw dropping!) which resulted in a cyber-punk classic that did the near impossible: make Keanu Reeves seem relevant.
Unfortunately it seems that it was a one time affair, unable to be reproduced in the subsequent sequels that failed to eclipse the power of the first film. The Matrix Reloaded and The Matrix Revolutions were bloated confusing affairs filled with More whiz-bang imagery but resulted in proving the saying that more is just ...more. Their next movies Speed Racer and Cloud Atlas (the latter of which I actually liked despite it's arty reach) failed to connect with audiences despite their acknowledged visual splendor.
Which brings us to their latest spectacle. Jupiter Ascending is gorgeous to behold (definitely worthwhile to see in HD 3-D Imax if you have such an inclination) and the story is...well, it's pretty straightforward in a slightly confusing way. Try to follow if you can. Jupiter Jones (played with plucky charm by Mila Kunis ) is a maid who longs for a life of more than cleaning toilets and sneakily trying on her well to do employers gowns and jewels. Besides her fashion aspirations , she one simple desire: to make enough money to buy a telescope just like the one her dead astronomer dad had ( hence her stripper cum sci-fi babe of a name). Her cousin drags her into a money making scheme that involves selling her eggs to a fertility clinic. Unfortunately, the clinic is manned by a group of alien hunters who have been tracking with the intent of killing her. You see, earth is not the original home of humankind. It was seeded along with many other planets in the universe by Alien royalty for the whole purpose of being harvested by said Royals once the human species has reached a genetic state of perfection and their "essence' is then extracted to create an age defying serum that grants eternal youth. To top it off, Jupiter is the heir to the dynasty as she is the genetic reincarnation of the recently deceased Queen of the universe and her "siblings" are hunting her to stop her from ascending to her rightful throne. The main baddie in the bunch Balem (played with laughable intensity by Eddie Redmayne who has the bad fortune of reminding me of Jaye Davidson in Stargate) wants her dead so he can claim earth as his own. His brother Titus (a prettily bland Douglas Booth) has his own agenda in retrieving Jupiter- he wants to wed her to share in her power, and so he sends Cain Wise (Channing Tatum sporting pointy ears and badly dyed facial hair), a wolf-dog-human hybrid ex-soldier to save the day. Dog-boy sports some natty hover shoes that help him zoom to the rescue, and in one particularly stunning set piece whisks Jupiter through the Chicago skyline.
To reveal any more would spoil the movie. It is filled with visual references and odes to other sci-fi visionaries (look for Terry Gilliam in one particular scene that could be directly lifted from his masterpiece Brazil). Actually, there is little that is original to the film. It generously borrows from so many films- a dash of Wizard of Oz, a sprinkle of Chronicles of Riddick, a scoche of The Fifth Element, and a wraparound of Maid to Order . Yet it is entertaining and stunning to look at. The cast seems to be in on the joke except for Tatum, who brings an earnest solemnity to his role. Jupiter Ascending is meant to be fun and diverting, nothing more. It is the type of movie that is rarely made these days with a detailed vision of other worlds, and with that intent, the Wachowski's soar.
It was a quiet January morning when we took the Messiah Lutheran Church in Panama City. There was nothing special about it at all except for the fact that it was a good day to die. My comrade at my side was a vision in tight fitting black sweater and leggings, her faded red hair blowing in the wind, and a tan assault rifle hanging from her shoulder. She looked to me for guidance, and I nodded towards the side door of the church. It was time. Time to show America that even in an out of the way church on the gulf coast of Florida, no one is safe.
This is how it could have happened had we not been actors in a training scenario for the local Panama City Sheriff's Department., SWAT team, and bomb squad. I really had no idea what I was getting into when I got the text from a friend whose husband was in charge of the operation. Basically, she asked if I was interested in a non-paying gig with good exposure playing a terrorist for a training situation. Also, it will most likely be reported on the news. Being an agreeable attention whore willing to do anything for the experience/exposure and desperate for an "acting challenge" (Oh God ,that sounds pretentious and invariably sad) , without a second thought I said "Sure!" She attempted to lure me with the promise of being "manhandled " by a group of big muscly guys but she needn't have. She had me at TV exposure.
I have to admit I put very little thought into what this situation would entail- until the meeting two days prior to the event all I knew was that it would be an all day affair, and that they most likely cuff me a little. Oh, and my friend Kelly would be my co-terrorist. Kelly and I had done a couple plays at the Martin Theatre , so at least I would know someone there. We met at the Messiah Lutheran Church where we found out our "hostages" would be the Pastor and the ladies of the church staff. We also met the Ed, who was coordinating the scenario, and Brent and John who would be leading us step by step through the takeover.
John immediately started by calling us by our first names, telling us that he knew everything about us! He passed out copies of our "dossiers" which had our pictures, stats, and priors. Mine read: Stephen Coulibay, Caucasian, 72 inches, 202 LBS (oh so kind) NKMP, US Citizen. Member of the "Alvares" Cartel based out of Juarez Mexico, known to work as key Liaison between the cartel and AQAP (Yemen). A US citizen who rarely visits the USA due to (3) outstanding Felony warrants for his arrest. Outstanding Warrant Details 1) Three counts of lewd acts on a 14 year old girl 2)Two deadly counts of assault with a deadly weapon 3) Four counts of murder/weapons charges Mexico. Currently on US/Interpol Terrorist watch list. He then proceeded to tell us that , though unloaded and unarmed, we would indeed be using real weapons and explosives.
Ok, shit just got real.
I looked at the lovely, peaceful, smiling faces of my hostages-to-be and I suddenly felt very uncomfortable with what I was going to be doing. One of the ladies (who looked to be in her 60's) seemed uneasy at the mention of real guns . These women were someone's mother, someone's grandmother, And then there was the amiable and friendly Pastor, asking if guns would be pointed at them. I started having second thoughts about doing this.
Kelly on the other hand was already figuring out her strategy , figuring out where she could "hide " the hostages (she had a working knowledge of the church having been a member of the congregation) , pummeling John with questions about what her costume should be,and thinking out her motivations. Luckily John told us that she would be the ring leader. Her character was more a disgruntled university student involved with anti-American propaganda groups with no real warrants.
John asked me if I had any camo to wear and I had to stifle a laugh as I told him, "No. Sorry. No camo." He suggested dungarees and told me to think "militia." Okay, I see what I am going to have to Google later.
When we left the meeting, we learned very little of what exactly was going to happen (Kelly and I did receive a loose schedule/breakdown of the day, but during the actual event, there were too many variables to pinpoint.) John and Brent were very good at putting us at ease and assuring that it would be a fun experience, and I actually started to look forward to the adventure at hand.
John gave us some parameters for the exercise- a list of "triggers" that would end it ahead of schedule- things like do not say anyone has been harmed or killed, do not give a set deadline with the threat of harming or killing a hostage, don't mention or threaten fires, etc. All of these things would hasten their breaching the site and taking us down. He gave us a safe word (blueberry) to use if we they hurt us or put us in any physical discomfort. he told us they would be laying their hands on us and we would be bound, so feel free to let them know if they crossed the line.
The day of my "terror" gig, I got to the church around 7:30 a.m. We didn't have to be there for another half hour, but nerves and an obsession for not being late got me to the church way before time. Ample time to sit in my car, finish my coffee and chain smoke like a mo-fo. The day before I had started getting anxious about doing the whole thing again despite the effort I had already put into searching for a costume (no camo to be found, I bought a hunter-ish sweatshirt with leaves and trees on it at Goodwill and borrowed a green army jacket from my good friend Paul. Add a black knit stocking hat from Coach and Voila! As close to militia as I was gonna get!) and researching cartels, militia, and AQAP. (after my google searches my computer froze up, asking if I wanted to let it change my programming. Freaked out, I finally was able to turn my tablet off and re-start. Oh great, was I now going to be on some watchlist for the NSA or the CIA just because I was researching for a role?? And the fact that it froze up after the searches I am sure had nothing to do with the fact that I was then watching something that may or may not be deemed as appropriate. Right?!?!?) Anyway, I started worrying about the mental implications of such a traumatic event and the potential impact it could have on our "hostages". I pictured my character as viciously cruel and amoral, a cold-blooded killer whose only purpose that day was to blow up a church and everyone inside. Holding them at gunpoint, hiding explosive devices, etc.- all these things played on my mind and gave me pause. I am more of a musical-comedy guy!
I shouldn't have worried. Once everyone arrived at the church, the mood was very laid back and mellow. After a short debriefing by John of the planned stages of events with very little detail, we all sat in a conference room waiting for it to start. The ladies passed around pieces of the newspaper, one of them working on the crossword, and Kelly studied her lines for her latest play. I realized then that what we did inside the church was inconsequential to the exercise. Of course, there were certain things we had to enact for the SWAT team to react too, but I did not have to go full tilt psycho to achieve our goals. Yay! I really didn't have enough coffee or cigarettes beforehand to fuel that fire.
John, who would be going back and forth between the to camps, informed us that it had begun. For reasons unknown to me, Kelly and I's roles had been reversed. I would now be the one manning the phone, talking to the hostage negotiator, and Kelly would be patrolling the grounds with the hostages. Maybe he sensed my hesitancy, maybe it was because he saw in Kelly a more imposing figure with radical ideas. Maybe it was my knit hat from Coach. Who knows.
John gave me absolutely nothing to go on as far as info to feed the negotiator. He only told me that he would ask me questions about what was going on and how many hostages there were. This was my big improv moment! I tried to think of all the hostage type movies I had ever seen before and imbue my character with all of that information and malice . I pictured (for some bizarre reason) Hans Gruber from Die Hard. Not really the best choice, but I was nervous! The phone rang and John motioned for me to pick it up. The day before I had tried to work on a Spanish accent (my character IS supposed to work for the Mexican Cartel!!) but I have no idea what accent came out of my mouth. More quasi-European or slightly middle-Eastern with some French influences than Spanish, More Balki from Perfect Strangers than Antonio Banderas. I had to stifle my natural urge for proper phone etiquette by answering "Yes...." rather than, "Hello, how are you?" There had been a call earlier made by John setting up the scenario telling the sheriffs office that there was a hostage situation and there were explosives so the negotiator asked me to explain the situation. With nothing to go on but the dossiers of the hostages, I committed probably my first terrorist faux-paus. I told him everything I knew. I said Yes, we had taken over the church, we had blah blah blah hostages, their names are blah, there are two of us, we mean business, anything and everything I could divulge. Okay, so I was nervous! He asked what our demands were, and I turned to John and Kelly for input. Kelly whispered, "Tell him we want the Quaran!" I did, he asked what else I wanted, and Kelly (prompted by John) came over and grabbed the phone from me, yelling into the phone "He said too Goddamned much!" and slammed the phone down. John took Kelly into the hallway and the church ladies hovered in the coffee room that opened onto the office I was in, talking amongst themselves. I had my hand over my mouth and I confessed I wasn't sure about the whole cussing in church thing- I felt like I was going to hell. One of the ladies laughed and said she was sure she had heard worse in her life.
Okay, kid gloves officially taken off.
My next call I revealed that my father was murdered by American soldiers, my Mother was raped and killed, and my sister was...I couldn't bear to say it. John gave me a thumbs up and I hung up the phone, pleased with my backstory. My character had issues!
Kelly went on a patrol of the grounds and spied the SWAT van sitting in the parking lot, so John coached me on my next call to scream at the negotiator to "Get that fucking van out of my sight!" John looked slightly shocked and closed the office door as the only previously scheduled event at the church was ending and a ladies aerobics class was filing out the doors at that moment. Whoops! My bad.(Okay, maybe I shouldn't have screamed the F word- but hey, they said it was okay!)
My screaming evidently worked...somewhat. The Swat team moved the van to the other side of the church! Still in view, still out in the open. They were working my nerves. The next call came and I was (faux) furious!The hostage negotiator on the line tried to calm me down as I screamed at him, "Do you think I'm stupid???? You just moved it to the other side. I'm not playing games here. I do not want to see the van. I do not want to see anyone. I mean business!!!" The negotiator assured me he wasn't lying to me. He was in a room two blocks away and he only knew what he was being told. Ii yelled at him, "Move it now! Get it done!" and slammed the phone down. I have to admit it was a little hard to keep up the charade as the ladies in the break room were laughing. I don't know if it was because I was shocking in my vitriol and they were uncomfortable or if the more likely explanation was my bizarre accent was eliciting giggles. No matter, the show must go on!
John came back to tell me the van had finally been moved out of view. He had been making Kelly make several turns around the building with the hostages while I manned the phones and evidently at one point she had left herself vulnerable to possible sniper fire by letting her hostages take the lead by a few steps ahead of her. She escaped unscathed.
We were not the most savvy of terrorists.
My intermittent phone conversations continued- John coached me to play different emotions- calm and rational to angry- keeping them on their toes as to what the mood was. I still had no clear objective of what I wanted and the negotiator kept trying to get me to divulge my goals. He told me that he got me the Quran and asked if I would be willing to trade it for a hostage. being that it was Kelly's improvisational idea and not in my mission parameters, I had to keep deflecting the request. Thanks, Kelly! One good thing was that I got to slam the phone down cutting conversations short. Anytime I was at a loss for words, I would hang up on them. Sometimes I would do it because the conversation was coming to a standstill and I was fighting the urge to say , "Thanks for calling, have a nice day, talk to you later!" Damned phone ettiquitte!
John came back to inform me that there was a bomb detecting robot in plain sight behind the church so my next call should be hostile . I picked up the ringing phone and started screaming "What do you think you are doing??Yankee imperialists!(??? I am not sure were I was going with that, but it seemed like good thing to call them.) Why is there a bomb..." I scrambled for the right term, "THINGY?!?" Whoops. Probably not effective terror-speak. "Move it now!" The negotiator assured me he would and I slammed the phone down.
Brent (or Brett, not sure. My hearing impaired ears!) came in and told me to take a hostage and go into the ?work-out? room that was all glass walls and doors on either side. He told me to take her to one side , holding her closely in front of me and look out towards the west corner behind the Church for the bomb robot. Lo and behold, there it was, poking up behind some brush. Brent led me back to the phone where John coached me to threaten the lives of the hostages if they did not move it immediately. The negotiator swore that it was gone and I screamed, "I just saw it! You are lying! I am going to start killing hostages one by one until you move it!" Slam!
I guess they heeded my threat because soon after the robot was gone. My next call, I told him I was a reasonable man and that I would be releasing a hostage who was having medical issues. John told me I would lead her out and once I got a third of the way towards the parking lot I was to push her forward and head back in only to be greeted by my comrade in arms Kelly who was to argue with me and pull me back into the building. Easy-peasy.
The release goes off without a hitch and I start heading back towards the building. Kelly storms out, screaming at me and being theconsummate in-character actress that she is, proceeds to haul back and smack the shit out of me! I swear it was as if my head was inside the liberty bell- the ringing in my ears was intense and my jaw ground into itself when her hand made contact. She dragged me back into the building where she quickly said, "Brent told me to do it!"
I know I was warned that I would be "man-handled" during this event, I just never dreamed it would be by my co-conspirator!!!
She took the next call and told the negotiator that I was no longer in control, she would now be doing the talking, and after a few minutes on the line with him with her saying nothing, she hung up.
Okay, I guess that's why I am the brains and she is the brawn.John then turned the phones back over to me, still with no goals or objectives. I guess with goals the SWAT team could force a swifter resolution to the proceedings. The next call , the negotiator asked me what was going on, was there dissent among my ranks, he had seen the altercation between Kelly and I . I blathered on that everything was fine now and I was back in control. Kelly then stormed the office and snatched the phone of my hand, slapping me again!!!I screamed "Oh SHIT!!" and had to cover my mouth as I ran into the break room with the hostages, laughing hysterically. After stifling her own fit of giggles. she told him that we were starting to get hungry. Maybe we could negotiate to get lunch. After a few minutes of her listening to his demands, she hung up the phone.John took the next call (probably to show us how it is really done). I couldn't make out what he was saying, his tone was low and ominous, his delivery intense, but I was compelled to believe that he showed them we meant business! Maybe I should have watched some terrorist movies to prepare for this thing, but I really didn't cotton to the possibility of the NSA freezing up my Netflix!
John sent Kelly on another mission with the hostages huddled around her to act as a human shield. I continued taking calls, not giving the negotiator an inch while he tried to convince me to release a hostage in exchange for food and the copy of the Quaran he had procured. I told him the Quaran was for him, and he needed to read it. I regretted ever asking for it in the first place as if course I knew it would bite us in the butt later on! I reminded him that I was in control, they did not tell me what to do! Now bring us some food!
I showed him!
A little later, John returned asking where Kelly was. I replied that I thought she was patrolling the grounds agan with the hostages. He told me to call her on the walkie talkie. "Alpha Dog to...uh...Chick-girl" I flailed. We had never come up with call signs. Boy, we were poorly prepared terrorists. No matter though, John found her talkie in the conference room. She had taken it off.
We were destined for failure.
John disappeared for a while and the Pastor and I chatted about the moral implications of the situation and the incomprehensible mindset it would take to be a terrorist. When John returned, he appeared concerned. "They've got Kelly."
WWHHAATT???? That's not part of my itinerary!
He got on the phone and called the negotiator. Same low intonations beyond my realm of hearing, but it read with serious intent. When he got off, he told me that it was now the endgame. They will be coming for me shortly. I got back on the phone. "I am missing some of my people. What is going on? I can't find them anywhere!! Just know, this is on your head! You asked for this!" Slam! I felt like such a bad-ass!
John ushered the Pastor and I into the music room down the hall which had the other two hostages I had no dealings with- Kelly's son (who was supposed to be the "unknown variable" that they had no dossier on) and another gentleman from the church. He told me to place one of the two assault rifles on the couch between the Pastor and the other guy. I would be by the door, with the young boy sitting near me. When they came in, I was to immediately surrender and point the blame to the men on the couch. (really, John had told me to "pussy" out and point fingers at them. To be perfectly frank, it was not too much of a stretch for me with a SWAT team pointing guns at me.)The next few minutes seemed to be an eternity with the forewarning of my impending doom. My stomach was in knots and my muscles tensed as we waited for them to burst through the door. We laughed nervously as Pastors stomach gurgled loudly. At least I wasn't the only one on edge. I guess it could have been just hunger, though. I wondered if they would still feed us even after we were captured. I took off my knit hat thinking that my lack of hat might make me blend in better with the hostages. Basically, I am an idiot. They had my picture, they even saw me releasing a prisoner . Besides, my carefully designed militia wear made me stand out like a sore thumb Who am I kidding?
Finally, the door slowly swung open and I saw roughly six guys there, all training their guns on me. As they piled into the room, I immediately flung my arms up in the air and yelled "It's not me, it's them! Get them! I am innocent! They raced over to the men and made them get on the ground, snatching the rifle between them and zip-tying their hands behind them. My ruse worked! They turned me around and zip-tied my hands behind my back and led me outside. The officer who led me out proceeded to pat me down, asking me what had happened. I told him that I had been visiting the church earlier that morning with my wife who had been in aerobics class and then this mess had happened. I was quite pleased with my story-until he came upon the pistol clipped to my waist. Oh yeah. Forgot about that. Then he was quite pleased with himself . "And what's this?" I told him I was an American, and I had a permit for that. But of course, the jig was upMy captor radioed to his company that he had the target secured and that I was the leader. He then ushered me into the back of the SWAT van which let me tell you is no easy feat with your hands behind your back! The Pastor, the boy, and the other guy were already in there. We sat in uncomfortable silence as we were driven to another site. I tried to maintain a sullen demeanor which probably came off more as pouty. I then broke the silence, turning to my captor. "So...I guess this means lunch is a no-go?"
I thought it was a valid question.
We arrived at their base camp which was two blocks away from the church. I made the boy get out before me, and then gingerly made my way to step off, foot catching on something on the floor, and proceeded to tumble out the door. Luckily my captor grabbed me before I made it to the ground and helped me the rest of the way. See, I don't need anyone to defeat me, my clumsiness does a pretty good job on it's own! We were on a dirt road with several SWAT vans and Sheriffs vehicles. Across the road I saw my sweet lady hostages chatting away and a little further down I saw Kelly laughing it up, un-bound, talking with her brother-in-law. Had she convinced them that she was an innocent? Had she put all the blame on me? I asked my captor why she wasn't in cuffs and he replied that it wasn't my concern, and he couldn't comment on that.
Once again, proving what a miserable yellow bellied terrorist I was, upon interrogation I withheld nothing. I revealed my co-conspirators- implicating John as the third, how many explosive materials were present, how many guns, etc. When asked where the bombs were I regained some of my foothold due to my ignorance of their placement. I just sad repeatedly, "That was out of my realm of expertise. "
Ha! Terrorist 1 ....SWAT guy 20.
Once he had wrung as much information out as was humanly possible, we fell in silence. My arms were getting sore from being zip-tied and the SWAT guy asked me if I was alright. "Well, I'm not quite at "Blueberry" but I might be close." He called out to his command and relayed that vital bit of information and they agreed to free me.
The exercise was over.
That concluded my thankfully brief career as a terrorist. On my side of things, it wasn't as dramatic as I worried it would be. Previous to the event, I started panicking about what getting into the mindset of a terrorist would be like. I thought it would be too disturbing for me and it would have been if I actually had to go there. But thankfully we were led by consummate professionals who really had no intention of making us do something we were not comfortable with . We had the leeway to go dark with our characters, but the main object was the staging of events that could play out to see what the response would be. I came away with even more respect for our protections in place and the amazing men who keep us safe. They did an incredible job- not once did I see any of the snipers that were hidden close by and the negotiator did an admirable job at trying to keep everyone safe with his calm line of questioning. They handled the entire scenario quickly and efficiently while maintaining the safety for all involved. There is no question in my mind that true heroes walk amongst us
On the downside, the TV news crew came and interviewed at the main site while we were being interrogated. So no faux terrorist glory. I am okay with that. My failures as a terrorist were not the notoriety I was yearning for. Besides, it wasn't about me and my petty actor's ego, it was about the men who dedicate their lives to protect the public and make the world a better place.
On the plus side., I got this bitchen patch!
Things I learned :
1) I don't have what it takes to be a terrorist. More touchy-feely than blowy-uppy kind of guy
2) Hanging up on someone can be fun! It releases lots of pent up aggression. Definitely on my future "to-do" list.
3)My negotiating skills leave something to be desired
4)I really need to work on my Spanish accent because Kelly thought I was doing Tevye from "Fiddler"
5)Always use your safewords even with the ones you think you're safe with, cause if you don't, you might get bitch-slapped!
#truestories #memories #comedy
Black or White is Hollywood's latest offering in its' "white people save the day" subgenre of feel-good movies that actually starts with the promise of a complex portrayal of it's flawed main character but inevitably wimps out in its pat ending.. Elliot Anderson (played by Kevin Costner who really does get better with age.) has just lost his wife in a tragic car accident. In a haze of mourning and alcohol, he attempts to carry on with the day to day care of his bi-racial Granddaughter Eloise (a beautifully un -affected Jillian Estelle) who he and his wife have raised since the tragic death of his daughter in childbirth. Hindered by his clueless-ness of even the most basic of things(brushing her hair, tying bows, and any kind of general interaction with the spunky youth) and by the ever-present glass of scotch in his hands, he is a miserable failure as a guardian.
The girls paternal Grandmother Rowena (Octavia Spencer at her feisty best) feels that (initially) custody should be shared- she lives with a tight core of extended family including other children- and feels the young girl would benefit from a female influence in her life, as well as one of heritage. She feels a wall between her and Anderson, one she claims is because he doesn't like "black people". Anderson poo-poos this notion (somewhat ineffectually) but does nothing to engender a stronger bond between the two families beyond giving an open invite for them to visit whenever they liked. His refusal to build the bridge between the two prompts Rowena to sue for full custody.
Now here is the question: Should the girl stay with the rich white man who has a lovely house in a nice neighborhood and sends her to a private school even though he has no experience with raising a child and drinks heavily or should she go with the Grandmother who is a self made business woman where she would be surrounded by loving family and kids in a possibly sketchy neighborhood (some thuggish types appear to live next door to Rowena's lovely house), providing the girl with a warm safe environment and a much needed maternal figure? Okay, doesn't seem that tough a question to me. She should go with her Grandmother. Even with Andersons attempts to acclimate to his new-found role as caretaker which he supplements by hiring a math tutor (Mpho Koaho as the industrious over-achiever, providing comic relief) who also doubles as his driver because he refuses to cut back on his drinking before breakfast, once the dust settles in his life, he will be going back to work full time. To me, that does not sound like "father of the year" material.
But wait- the girls biological father enters the picture and he is definitely not in the running for the award. Marred by a checkered past that includes drug addiction and a felony record, the father (Andre Holland in a tragically underwritten stereotype of a role- one of the other characters points out that he is a walking stereotype that makes all African-Americans look bad!) comes to Anderson to ask for money to disappear for the duration of the trial.
The film is bolstered by the strong performances of it's leads- Costner's third act monologue during the trial is a grand example of an actor in his prime, Spencer's fiercely protective Grandmother is always a joy to watch, and Anthony Mackie shines as Rowena's brother- a powerful lawyer in his own right who represents his sister.
Writer/Director Mike binder try's to tackle these hot-button issues in the most simplistic of ways- Anderson says, " It's not a question of black or white but a question of right or wrong". That could not be further from the truth. There are no easy answers to any of these questions- just shades of gray. He wimps out in the true examination of these deeply emotional and complex societal matters and opts for an easy scapegoat and miraculous only-in-the-movies kind of feel-good ending.
Definitely worth a rent, but shelling out $8 bucks at the local Cineplex? My feelings on this are a bit more cut-and-dried: No.
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