Friday, November 21, 2008


In rural Wisconsin, an elderly couple is found murdered, their bodies propped up in praying positions in a church. In Minneapolis, the partners of a computer game development firm are horrified when a serial killer starts bumping off locals in the style of the murderer in their newest game, Serial Killer Detective.

This is basically an enjoyable thriller in the read-it-and-forget-it school. It's got some of the requisite People With Dark Secrets, Tormented Main Characters, and Brutal Evil Killer. It's cliched, to be sure, but it moves at a brisk pace and it plays enough with some of the genre elements to keep from being too tiresome.

It benefits from some pretty gruesome scenes and a perverse twist when it's found out that the most likely suspect is a hermaphrodite. The novel starts off very grotesque and horrific, but toward the second half becomes more of a police procedural. There are a few weaknesses, though. The identity of the killer is telegraphed a bit far in advance, and quite a few characters lack dimension. But there's quite a bit of humor to leaven the gruesomeness.

Still, if you're looking for a fun read, you could do worse. As I said, it's in the read-it-and-forget-it school.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Pass the Punch

Just got home from another gruesome play....Dog & Pony DC's "PUNCH: That's the Way We Do It."

It's a live-action Punch & Judy show. No, really. Never thought that sort of thing could happen, eh? It's about 37 different kinds of wrong, but outrageously entertaining, if it doesn't give you the heaves.

There's a four-person cast: Josh Drew as clown/narrator Joey, the brawny Dan Van Hoozer as Punch, Niki Jacobsen as Judy and later as the doctor, and Lee Liebeskind as the policeman, the executioner, and later the Devil.

It's all totally batshit crazy, although sometimes shocking. It's funny to see puppets or cartoon characters beating each other up, but when it's suddenly actual human beings beating each other up....well, it still can be funny, but you're not as comfortable about it.

Screaming slogans like "Eat! Fuck! Kill!" over a soundtrack of punk-rock tunes, and ending in a general melee, flailing in a pool of blood at my feet (literally, at my feet), this was a memorable evening out.

Unfortunately, it closes Saturday night, so DC area folks only have a few days left to catch it. It's playing at Flashpoint DC, near the Chinatown metro stop, so make an evening of it. Tickets are $15, and there's free (!) Pabst Blue Ribbon for the taking.

Monday, November 17, 2008

CLOSET LAND, from Molotov Theatre

On a cold, windy November evening, this play is a great choice.

CLOSET LAND, by Radha Bharadwaj, is an intense two-person play. In an unnamed country being ruled by a totalitarian dictatorship, a nameless woman (played by Jessica Hanson) is under arrest. She's a children's book author, and is being accused of hiding inflammatory political messages in her books, to indoctrinate the young and alert adults to resistance activities. Her interrogator (Alex Zavistovich) plays all sorts of games with her, physically and mentally, in order to get her to sign a confession. She maintains her innocence even as dark secrets are revealed...and the interrogator may be more than he seems.

It's a chilling, effective play. The torture scenes are handled with a certain amount of subtlety, with cuts to black or sound effects standing in for various events, although some are pretty much up-front. And, depending on your frame of mind, there's a certain ambiguity. Is it all really happening? Is it all in her mind? Is the interrogator really who he claims to be? Or is he only using his knowledge of her past to trick her? Is she really a subversive? Or is she being turned into a subversive by the interrogator?

The acting is uniformly good. Jessica Hansen brings a lot of determination and vulnerability to her role as the author, while Alex Zavistovich exudes a bland, jovial complacency...until the mask comes off.

Performed in the back room of 1409 Playbill Cafe (1409 14th St NW, Washington DC), this is subtler in its approach to violence than some other Molotov fare, and also more overtly political. Still, seek it out. Molotov Theatre is waiting for you.

Saturday, November 15, 2008


OK, so I'm a James Bond fan. Have been since I was a kid. They've varied in quality, sometimes quite remarkable, sometimes almost painful.

I loved, loved, LOVED the last film, CASINO ROYALE. It had just the right mixture of action, intrigue, suspense, and character development to absolutely thrill me. I saw it three times in theaters. I pre-ordered the DVD from Amazon...and am now kicking myself since the Special Edition just came out.

I was quite interested to see where they went with the next one. I admit....I groaned, loudly, when I heard the announced title. Good grief, not QUANTUM OF SOLACE!!!! For those who don't know, it's one of Ian Fleming's short stories about Bond, actually quite a good one but devoid of any real action or intrigue; it's basically Bond hearing a story about a dysfunctional marriage and pondering how normal life can be more dramatic than his own. (The story uses the phrase to indicate a tiny amount of comfort.)

But c'mon...using that for a title? In this day and age? Holy crap. What the hell were they thinking? Some of my fears about public reaction to it were justified, as it seems most of the public who weren't fans of the literary Bond either had no idea what it meant, or thought the movie would deal with space travel or time travel (thanks a lot, QUANTUM LEAP), and critics used terms like "forbidding" and "pretentious" when describing the title.

Still, I hoped the movie would be good. I really did. I wanted to like it.

But alas. I am SO disappointed by QOS.

There's lots of action, to be sure, but most of the action scenes are so over-edited that it's hard to keep track of what's going on, or who's doing what to who. In the opening chase scene, for instance, Bond's car loses a door, and I have no idea how, because the editing is so frantic that it's almost impossible to make out. This has been pointed out by many critics and fans, and I went in feeling actually fairly skeptical that it could be so bad...and it was. It was just all wrong.

I guess some of the blame for that can be laid on the shoulders of director Marc Forster, who has never directed an action film before. Yup. He's good when it comes to exploring emotions and relationships (I thought his work with FINDING NEVERLAND was exceptional), but he was so out of his element with a Bond film. He seemed to be aping the style of the MATRIX films (which I detest, btw), and the Bourne series (which I think are OK) with the shakycam work and the frenetic editing. He often seems to be afraid of pulling back and just letting the camera sit and watch, so we can see for ourselves what's going on.

The plot is OK...Dominic Greene, who hides behind a facade of environmental charity, is really part of a vast criminal network called Quantum, and is plotting to seize control of Bolivia's water supply and reap billions. Really, not all that bad a plot, esp. when you consider the concern in the scientific community about a potential water crisis in the real world, with parts of the world potentially becoming uninhabitable due to water shortages. It's a little spooky. But the film fails to focus enough on the plot; it's really secondary to the real plot. Bond is out for revenge on the criminal network that deceived the woman he loved in the last film, and drove her to commit suicide.

Now, I thought, since they called it QUANTUM OF SOLACE, we'd get some real exploration of Bond's feelings as he went after the villains. There is some, I'll admit...but not enough. It often seems perfunctory, especially coming from someone like Marc Forster. That sort of thing is his bread and butter; he SHOULD have done better with it.

The REAL emotional link in this film is the prickly relationship between Bond and his boss M, negotiating their trust for each other and dependence on each other. In fact, a much more appropriate title would have been A MATTER OF TRUST or something along those lines, as that's really as much a theme in this film as Bond's search for comfort. Early in the film, M is betrayed by her own bodyguard, and is angry over her trusting a traitor, even though there was no reason to doubt him, as they find out. M doesn't trust the CIA. Bond gives trust in Mathis. The CIA doesn't trust Bond. There's even issues of trust among the villains. It's everywhere in this film, and deserved more playing up than what it got. Even the film's final scene is more about trust than solace.

There are some good parts. The scene at the performance of Tosca, where Bond eavesdrops on a conference of Quantum officials, works well. There are flashes of nice scenery in Italy and Bolivia, although they're not used to best advantage. I did like the final bit with Bond confronting Vesper's lover Yusuf, who had played her and abused her trust. (See? Trust again!) Agent Fields' tripping of a henchman, followed by a wide-eyed "So sorry!" The imagery in the opening credits scene is often quite clever.

But when it goes wrong, it goes very wrong. There's a lot more that's wrong. The horrible theme song from Jack White and Alicia Keys. A henchman who's more of a buffoon than a menace. A confrontation between Bond and Greene that lacks any real heft or impact. Gemma Arterton's negligible role as Agent Fields (we never actually hear her first name, but she's listed as "Strawberry Fields" in the credits, which had my friends gagging). A few overobvious homages to past films, that started to seem forced and clumsy. Bond's inexplicable ability to overhear a conversation several hundred yards away (the prelude to the big boat chase in the hell did he know what Greene had planned for Camille?) And the absence of the phrase "quantum of solace" from the film, and an accompanying explanation, that would help clue audiences in as to what the hell it all means.

In fact...a bit of trivia...the title was not settled on until the film had been shooting for a week or so. Not long after that we heard that the evil organization was called Quantum. Ah ha, I said, they must have named that after they figured out the title. No no no, said some other Bond fans, they had that figured out all along, really! But in the movie, the organization is not referred to as "Quantum" until almost the fact, that's the first time we heard the word used in the movie at all. Even if they had named it before choosing the title, it really looks like it was a last minute piece of retrofitting.

Well, I'm hoping the next one will be better. Ever since they rebooted the series with CASINO ROYALE, I've expected a few missteps and miscalculations as they find their way and redefine the series. I don't miss some of the slapstick comedy or overabundance of gadgets or cheesy one-liners that had come to dominate the series and turn it into a parody of itself. I do kinda miss the old opening gunbarrel visual, the presence of Moneypenny and Q (but please, don't bring back John Cleese, I hated him as Q), and some other bits, and I hope they come along. But I really think they lost their way somewhat with this film. It's not quite as bad as some reviews make it out to be (MOONRAKER, DIE ANOTHER DAY, YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE and LIVE AND LET DIE are the worst of the Bonds in my view, and QOS is better than them), but it's most definitely not a brilliant piece of art or the greatest Bond film ever. It's too confused and unfocused, the work of a director out of his element. Let's hope they fix what went wrong and get things back on track with the next film.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Useless Monday Blogging

Meaning, of course, that today was sort of a useless day. You're just coming off a fabulous weekend, and you have to go into work for a day....and then you're off again another day. Veteran's Day. It's also Martinmas, but that's not a big deal in the U.S.

Temperatures are dropping here in the DC area, thank goodness. It IS November, after all, it's SUPPOSED to be chilly. But considering some of the warm autumns we've had, where it's hard to get in the Halloween mood, or even do your Christmas shopping, because you're running around in shorts. Thanks, global warming.

The last week has been a haze. What with Halloween, the Zombie Walk, and then that momentous Tuesday that I'm still in state of semi-disbelief about, it's just been too much. On election night, I was to be part of a live webcast from a local bar-n-grill (actually, the same place the Zombie Walk left from), with some local folks, but there were "technical difficulties" and it didn't last long. Oh well. We had some good things to say about the campaigns and what we hoped would come along in the future. Too bad the video feed conked out before someone else popped up with "Nailin' Palin" on his laptop. Filming us reacting to that would have been precious.

This was a burlesque-heavy weekend for me, with a show up in Baltimore on Friday night, to honor my pal Trixie Little's birthday. And then another on Saturday night down at the Palace, an 80's themed show hosted by another pal, Li'l Dutch. Socialized with a lot of folks, and found out I had a couple regular readers (Hey, Gina!), and another friend wants to start contributing at some point (Hey, Bill!).

Sunday afternoon, I decided to be lazy. It was fairly chilly, so I did what chilly lazy Sunday afternoons are made for: I watched an entire 40s film serial, THE CRIMSON GHOST.

It's a great example of serial madness, and the villain's costume is something you've probably seen before. The image of the Crimson Ghost basically became the logo of the band The Misfits, and has been overused on all sorts of merchandise that you wade through at your local Hot Topic store. It's kind of annoying, really. I wonder if the kids buying that stuff have any idea where it came from. It's sad, but I've sometimes had to explain to people of my generation what the old serials were. They have no idea. This is something that was a vital part of pop culture from the 1910s through the 50s, and it's saddening to think people don't know about them.

Oh well. I've got several reading projects going on, including plugging away at Dumas' THE COUNT OF MONTE CRISTO for my book club. I'll post a review when I'm done; I think the occasional swashbuckler will fit in here. I'm also working on yet another volume of Clark Ashton Smith stories, an Arkham House tome dubbed A RENDEZVOUS IN AVEROIGNE, but luckily I can skip half of it because there's quite a bit that was included in the stuff I read earlier. And I picked up P. J. Tracy's MONKEEWRENCH at the library, which looked intriguing.

And I've got another busy weekend coming up. A concert with the Washington Sinfonietta on Friday, going to see QUANTUM OF SOLACE on Saturday with my best buds, and trying to fit in the new Molotov Theatre play, Closet Land, opening up this weekend, and I just found out about another play, a live-action Punch and Judy from Mead Theatre Lab. I'll be posting reviews as I see them!

And, of course, it's fall. Meaning I'll be taking some time to walk around and kick up the leaves.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

We did it.

OK, this isn't a political blog, but I'm over the moon.

We did it.

I'm so afraid I'll wake up in the morning and it will all have been a dream.

But we did it.

Sorry, this may bother some of my readers (if I have any), but I'm overjoyed right now.

Let's hope the next four years goes well.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Zombie Walkin'

I went to my first-ever zombie walk last night....sweet Lucifer, it was a grand time.

We started by gathering in Silver Spring's venerable Quarry House tavern. The organizers had no idea how many would be showing up, and it ended up being jam-packed with zombies. After a few burgers and beers, we started to lurch north on Georgia Avenue. We'd startle locals by clawing at windows of open businesses, and any cars that slowed to watch the mayhem got surrounded. At one point, an ambulance went by, and I started yelling "Rrrrr! Mmmmmeatwagon! RRRRRRRRM!" which led to zombies clawing after it.

A bit further down the road, we came upon a stopped bus, and proceeded to claw at the windows, moaning for meat. We probably scared the living shit out of the passengers and the driver was rather alarmed.

We proceeded through Silver Spring's commercial strip, Ellsworth Avenue, where we terrified teens and traumatized tots. (I'm sure some kids were having serious nightmares last night.) It was a warm night, so folks lingering late at the sidewalk tables were treated to the sight of the walking dead. A teenaged girl coming out of Cakelove was screaming and running for her life. A group of us stumbled into Borders and lurched around. A crowd exiting the local multiplex was menaced, and a few more teen girls ran screaming back in.

We lurched toward the AFI Silver Theatre, and along the way clawed at the windows of various fancy restaurants, terrifying the servers and amusing the patrons. Everything ended at the AFI, which was showing NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD. Rrrrrm. It was quite an experience, watching it amidst a group of zombies.

I had a chat with a gal while waiting in line for a beer. She observed how liberating it was, and I had to agree. It was amazing fun, dressing up and getting in character and creating all sorts of mayhem. (Really, some of us did start to worry that we'd get arrested for some of the stuff we were pulling, like impeding traffic.) But it was refreshing to have an implicit license to act like a complete maniac, to take part in what I later described as "feral street theater." It made me realize why I enjoyed trick-or-treating so much as a kid...dressing up, running around after dark unsupervised, and acting wild. An evening of freedom from the usual social constraints is probably very healthy psychologically, and drives home the point that holidays like Halloween serve a greater purpose than simply a chance to sell decorations and candy. It's not just for kids, folks. If there's a zombie walk, or some similar thing going on in your neck of the woods, take part. You won't be sorry.

Staggering back to my car after it was all over, I was momentarily alarmed when a group of tough-looking fellows approached me, but all they wanted was my picture. They thought I was the coolest thing around.

This is me when I got back:

I had to take a long shower to get the makeup off, and tossed my filthy old jeans and a bloodstained wifebeater top in the trash. Oy, what a night, but kudos to the Quarry House and the AFI for handling this rowdy crowd with grace.

More photos can be found here and videos here.