Saturday, May 30, 2009

Worthington makes this new 'Terminator' worthy

Another week, another sequel, prequel or reboot. The cynic in me wants to dismiss “Terminator Salvation” — the fourth film in the “Terminator” franchise — but damned if the film isn’t actually pretty good.

Coming 25 years after the first “Terminator,” this is the first film in the series to not star Arnold Schwarzenegger. This is also the first in the franchise — with the exception of a brief prologue — to be set entirely in a future in which humanity is battling an army of self-aware machines known as Skynet.

Christian Bale stars as John Connor, taking over the role previously played by Nick Stahl and Edward Furlong. Connor is a leader in the resistance who has been told all his life that he will lead humanity to victory over the machines.

Another key returning character is Kyle Reese (Anton Yelchin). Reese was sent into the past in the first film to protect John Connor’s mother Sarah from a terminator and in the process became John Connor’s father.

In this film, Skynet has targeted Reese for termination because they somehow know this whole sordid timeline and if you kill Reese you therefore kill Connor. Confused? Just go with it.

Although Bale gets top billing and in an opening title card it is implied that Connor is the salvation of the title, the real star of the film is the relative unknown Sam Worthington as Marcus, a mysterious man from the past with no knowledge of this new terrible future.

Trailers, commercials, clips, interviews and reviews have revealed a plot development involving the Marcus character that comes about an hour into the film. If you’ve somehow managed to avoid all promotion for the film, don’t watch or read any of it as it ruins the uncertain tension of the first hour.

Worthington steals the film. He has that allusive “it” factor that draws you to him as a performer. As Marcus, a man trying to forgive himself for a dark past and understand an uncertain future, he has a compelling, introspective screen presence.

The screenplay by John D. Brancato and Michael Ferris doesn’t exactly give Worthington, or the rest of the cast for that matter, the most compelling dialogue, but he makes it count and is able to say so much more in what he doesn’t say.

Bale is good here as a hardened warrior, but unfortunately is forced to shout clunky, cliché dialogue like, “If we stay the course, we are dead! WE ARE ALL DEAD!” He is better in the quieter moments as when he is delivering radio broadcasts to the resistance.

Yelchin is having a good summer with this following on the heels of “Star Trek.” As with that film, he is very good. He is believable as a young survivalist and he brings warmth and humor to the performance.

Another standout in the cast is Moon Bloodgood who is Marcus’ love interest. She shares several key scenes with Worthington and they play off each other nicely. Bryce Dallas Howard as Connor’s wife doesn’t fare quite as well. She gives a solid enough performance, but doesn’t get much time to develop it.

At times the film tries too hard to reference the previous films. A callback to the immortal “I’ll be back” line works surprisingly well, but Schwarzenegger’ face digitally placed over a body double’s face is less effective. It is a moment meant to please the fans, but it is more of a distraction.

Directed by McG (“Charlie’s Angels”) the film has an appropriately bleak post-apocalyptic atmosphere. The tone and much of the action scenes recall the “Mad Max” films more so than the “Terminator” series, which works in the film’s advantage.

McG has constructed some good action scenes particularly a chase involving motorcycle terminators and a wrecker. Luckily, this is more than just a special effects film. Although the film doesn’t quite have the strong character connections of the first two, it is given a real human connection thanks to Worthington’s Marcus.

There are reportedly two more “Terminator” films to come, but I was left content with this one. I really don’t need to see another. But there is more money to be made, and therefore more sequels will come.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Take a trip to 'La Mancha' with Arts in Motion

“Man of La Mancha” is a lighthearted comedic musical romp that isn’t afraid to go to dark corners and raise philosophical questions about facing reality and the necessary need for escapism.

Arts in Motion opened its energetic production of “Man of La Mancha” at the Eastern Slope Inn Playhouse Friday, May 22. Director Susie Mosca has mounted a handsomely produced production with a lively cast and an effective period set designed by Roger Clemons.

Based on Miguel de Cervantes’s classic 17th century novel “Don Quixote,” “Man of La Mancha” first appeared on Broadway in 1965. The show is self-reflexive with a fictionalized version of Cervantes (Craig Holden) being thrown into a prison to await trial by the Inquisition.

Cervantes’ fellow prisoners have their own trial for him and accuse him of being an idealist. To defend his case he acts out the story of Don Quixote, a simple man who has read so many tales of chivalry that he has driven himself mad and created a fantasy world in which he is a knight. Cervantes asks those around them to fill parts as needed.

This play-within-a-play conceit is a clever device that allows for book writer Dale Wasserman and lyricist Joe Darion to comment on theater and performance. We get to see Cervantes transform himself into Don Quixote with a fake beard, a bit of glue and some make up. It is also factors into the musical’s theme of fantasy versus reality and whether bursting Don Quixote’s bubble is what is truly best for him.

“Don Quixote” was originally written as a satire of chivalrous adventure stories. Written in two parts, the first was farce, but the second was more serious and bleak with Quixote seen as a madman who was cruelly ridiculed.

“Man of La Mancha” explores these two sides of Cervantes’ work, but while Quixote is still seen as a madman, his idealized view of the world is openly embraced. The message seems to be that in a world that is cruel and unfair, no one’s dream, however absurd, should be squashed.

All this makes the show sound very somber and while there are certainly darker moments, including a rape that happens off stage, there is also plenty of sly humor that is well played by the cast.

Holden is effective in the dual role of Cervantes and Quixote. As Quixote he gets the tone just right of a man happily living in a delusion. He shines brightest on the show’s most famous song “The Impossible Dream,” which is sung with great conviction.

Holden makes Quixote’s passion infectious, and when his loyal “squire” Sancho Panza (Frank Smith) sings “I Really Like Him” it is easy to see why. Smith has nice comic timing as Sancho, who puts up with the wild antics, while at the same time enjoying the absurdity of it all.

Anna Mosca, as a barmaid who Quixote believes is his lady Dulcinea, is a great foil to both Holden and Smith. She brings a forceful snarky energy to the character, especially on the song “It Is All the Same” in which she fends off several men on the prowl.

Other highlights in the large cast include Gino Funicella in the duel role of governor and the innkeeper, and Rob Owen as a barber. Both actors play their role for broad laughs and get them.

If the production has a shortcoming it is that at times it is unclear where the drama and comedy line is. There is nothing wrong with show walking the ambiguous line of humor and pathos, but some scenes that seem to be intended be dramatic are unintentionally comic or perhaps it is the other way around. These moments are few and don’t undermine the show’s overall quality.

For more information visit or call 356-5776.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

'Angels and Demon' is a bloated bore

For a movie about attempting to prevent the murder of four cardinals and the destruction of Vatican City, "Angels and Demons," the sequel to 2006's "The Da Vinci Code," is, dare I say, boring.

"Angels and Demons" is another adventure featuring author Dan Brown's symbologist Robert Langdon. The book took place before "The Da Vinci Code," but on film it takes place after. Not that it really matters either way.

"The Da Vinci Code" as a film was largely dismissed by critics, but audiences didn't seem to care as it made more than $750 million at the box office worldwide. There truly is no accounting for taste.

I enjoyed "The Da Vinci Code" as I was watching it but it didn't linger in my mind.
Three years later it is barely there. It wasn't a terrible film, but it wasn't a particularly great one either. It had middling entertainment value in unraveling the mystery, but was overlong and poorly paced. If it wasn't for the fine actors, the film would've been an ordeal to sit through. The same criticism applies for "Angels and Demons."

Tom Hanks returns as Langdon as does director Ron Howard, but they haven't learned from their mistakes from the first time around, or perhaps they are willingly repeating them, since after all you don't want to mess with a $750 million winning formula.

The plot involves a vengeful science-based organization called the Illuminati, who were terribly wronged in one of the darker corners of Catholic Church’s past. Now on the eve of the naming of a new pope, the group is back to kill the pope's four possible successors in an ancient ritual. Oh, and they're going to blow up the Vatican for good measure. Langdon, an expert on the Illuminati, is brought in to save the day.

This should be the set up for an exciting film, especially since there is a one-hour deadline to save each cardinal, but the execution is all wrong. Too much time is spent with Hanks casually explaining the various clues and the history behind them. There's no sense of the urgency of the deadlines.

Furthermore, the film sets up a formula: find a clue, figure out the clue, get to the designated location at the last minute, find the next clue, and so on. Will Langdon and his fetching female assistant (this time played by Ayelet Zurer) make it in time? It becomes repetitive and ultimately numbing.

There's little to no suspense, although a booming score from Hans Zimmer comes clamoring in during all the supposedly exciting parts to tell you it is time to be excited even though there is very little on the screen to be thrilled about.

There are things to admire about "Angels and Demons" including some well placed jabs at the media that get a laugh and help to break up the monotony. It also has a uniformly strong cast that helps keep the film watchable.

Hanks is an innately likable performer and he does his best to get through wordy monologues on par with a mediocre high school history lesson. Ewan McGregor as the former pope's aid is particularly strong as an open-minded man of God with a big heart.

Familiar faces like Stellan Skarsgård ("Pirates of the Caribbean") and Armin Mueller-Stahl ("The International," "Eastern Promises") add a necessary level of credibility to a film that is anything but.

The film does feature a thoughtful discussion of faith and science and whether they can co-exist. For all the bloody murders and pyrotechnics, this is easily the most interesting aspect of the film and so welcomed and refreshing that it almost compensates for the film's shortcomings.

The same can be said of the ending, which is the only time the film feels emotionally genuine. Unfortunately it comes two hours too late.

Fans of Dan Brown and the film version of "The Da Vinci Code" are likely to enjoy this installment, but non-believers will not be converted.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Local 'working class' band rocks Meadowbrook with Korn

It is a pretty classic scene. The Berlin-based band buRne is playing a gig in a bar in Gorham and a brawl breaks out. Pool tables are being flipped. Chairs are flying. The state police show up. And the band just keeps playing.

“Girls are fighting, guys are fighting, state troopers are fighting, they are closing the bar. We didn’t know what to do,” said the band’s lead singer Antly Horne, of Conway. “That was awesome. Interesting, I don’t know about awesome, but it was interesting.”

Last September, in a very different kind of show, the self-described working class band played the Tweeter Center in Mansfield, Mass. with Queensrÿche, Alice Cooper, Dio and Black Sabbath. On May 23 the band will join Korn and 30 other bands at the Meadowbrook U.S. Pavilion in Gilford. Not too shabby for an unsigned band from Berlin.

“We all have jobs outside of this, but this is just something we never let go of,” said Horne. “It is a side lifestyle, is what it is really. We’re playing and writing and trying our best to do what we can and trying to stay unique to other bands and it has been going good so far.”

buRne started out as a two-piece band about seven years, but started getting more serious three years ago —and things been on the rise ever since. The band recently released its self-produced first album, “Surface.”

Horne describes the band’s sound as grunge based, but not “scream-rip-your-head-off music.” The band is not above playing a ballad, and in fact intends on playing one at the Meadowbrook show.

“We weren’t sure we were going to do it because we are playing with all these heavy bands, but you know that’s the sort of stuff that makes us stick out,” said Horne. “We are not afraid to be ourselves, and that’s what we’re going to do be: ourselves. That’s what got us to where we are now and we’re not going to stray away from that.”

Horne says that the band's diverse influences, which include Alice in Chains, Jethro Tull, Dave Matthews and Megadeath, are what keeps the band’s sound unique.

“Everyone puts their own style into it and nobody critiques each other,” said Horne. “You want to do something one way, then do it. That’s what is going to stick out.”

And that’s the theme that keeps surfacing when talking with Horne: Try to find a way to stand out and be original. That’s the same advice he gives to aspiring musicians.

“Everybody starts at the bottom,” said Horne. “Some people are just a little bit more fortunate than others. The chances of making it are slim to none, but if you make it in your own mind that’s all you need. You got to keep that in mind. You don’t have to please anybody but yourself.”

Bands playing the Meadowbrook show must sell tickets using a special unique code in order to climb their way higher on the main stage. Currently buRne is high on that list and hopes to stay there.

For more information about the band visit

Friday, May 15, 2009

'Star Trek': A summer movie at its best

I am by no means a Trekkie, or a Trekker — the preferred term these days — but I have no qualms saying I loved the new “Star Trek” film. This is exactly what a summer movie should be: smart, fast and fun.

Director J.J. Abrams (creator of “Lost” and “Alias”) wastes no time with an opening that features George Kirk sacrificing himself in a space battle to save the crew of his ship. He does this all while his son, the future Captain James T. Kirk, is being born in an escape pod. This opening has more thrills and emotion than some whole movies and is one helluva hook.

Like “X-Men Origins: Wolverine,” this is an origin story where we get to see young versions of Captain Kirk, Spock, Dr. Bones McCoy and all the rest. This origin work is so much more than “Wolverine” because of how inclusive it is to fans and non-fans alike.

This new “Star Trek” is accessible to even those who have never watched a single episode of the original “Star Trek” series or any of the films, because Abrams and screenwriters Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman have taken the time to create their own world while honoring what came before and to flesh out even the secondary characters.

Abrams has wisely not stuffed his cast with big names, but instead cast actors that perfectly fit their roles regardless of the size of their Hollywood star. It would be an overstatement to say it is a cast of unknowns as there are several familiar faces, but these actors aren’t household names.

Fans were concerned by the casting of Chris Pine as Kirk because his sparse resume featured a couple unremarkable teen films (“Princess Diaries 2” and “Just My Luck”), but Pine is excellent as Kirk. He emulates William Shatner cockiness, but without going the easy route of doing a direct impression. He’s a dynamic and charismatic lead.

Zackary Quinto of “Heroes” as Spock is equally well cast. Spock is half human and half Vulcan, an emotionless alien race. The emotions his human side gives him are seen as a disability by other Vulcans.

Spock’s human side has been touched upon before, but never quite to the extent here. Quinto captures the stoic, logical mind of Spock, but also hints at the emotions he is struggling to repress. They have a tendency of showing through in caustic remarks or subtle facial expressions.

Kirk and Spock’s relationship was always the center of the “Star Trek” movies, and here we get to see an alternate take where they aren’t the close friends that they will later become. There is a rivalry that is well played.

The plot of the film involves a vengeful Romulan named Nero (a fantastically creepy, but underused Eric Bana) who has come from the future to destroy Spock’s home planet because he wrongly believes Spock destroyed his.

This time-travel device allows for Leonard Nimoy, the original Spock, to reprise his role and play scenes against the young versions of Kirk and himself. Nimoy has much more than a mere wink-wink cameo, and his appearance adds a certain gravitas to the proceedings.

Other highlight of the cast include Simon Pegg (“Shaun of the Dead, “Hot Fuzz”) doing a hilarious scene-stealing turn as Scotty; Anton Yelchin (“Charlie Bartlett”) sporting an over-the-top Russian accent and youthful enthusiasm as genius whiz kid Pavel Chekov; Karl Urban doing a spot-on impersonation of DeForest Kelley's Dr. McCoy; and John Cho (“Harold and Kumar”) taking Sulu out of his seat for some fencing action.

Abrams keeps the film moving, and there are some spectacular action sequences, especially one involving a fight on a laser drill, and the digital effects are top notch. The visuals have a sense of place and base in reality that was lacking in George Lucas’ overly glossy and artificial looking “Star Wars” prequels.

As a director, Abrams is fond of shaky cam, quick editing and close-ups. This style of action is getting a bit tiresome, but Abrams does it better than most.

Above all else, the new “Star Trek” is funny — and that’s crucial to the film’s success. It is smart enough to take its characters and universe serious, but also realizes not to take itself too seriously. The humor and pitch-perfect cast make this a great time at the movies.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

'Facing' the truth

M&D's 'Facing East' offers rewarding night of theater

Faith can be a beautiful, uplifting thing with the power to wrap people in a comforting love. But faith can also have an ugly, destructive side, and M&D’s production of Carol Lynn Pearson’s “Facing East” confronts that darker side head on.

“Facing East,” which opens Thursday, May 14, at Your Theatre in Willow Common in North Conway, is set at the grave of Andy, following his funeral. His parents, Ruth and Alex (Karen O’Neil and Kevin O’Neil), have stayed behind because Alex believes the funeral was a lie and wants to do it right even if it is only the surrounding trees that hear it.

The lie was ignoring that Andy was gay, something that went directly against his Mormon upbringing. That conflict between his true identity and a faith that deemed it a sin led to a self loathing that would drive him to suicide.

Ruth clings to her faith, even using it justify the death as a blessing in disguise, but Alex can no longer take solace in his faith. When Andy’s partner Marcus (Jeff Warach) joins Ruth and Alex at the grave, there are revelations that challenge Ruth’s views of her faith.

“Facing East” is similar in tone and theme to John Patrick Shanley’s play-turned-movie “Doubt.” The play doesn’t condemn religion, whatever denomination someone may be, but instead it explores the dangers of following the dogma of a church blindly and with an unremitting rigidness.

It is not humanity’s job to judge who is damned, and yet so many do. That is the theme at the center of Pearson’s play. Pearson is an advocate of forgiveness and acceptance.

Both leads are effective at showing the grief on their faces. Even without a line of dialogue, we know that they are grappling with heavy emotions. Much of the dialogue is delivered directly to the audience, giving the show an intimacy and intensity that is hard to ignore.

There are flashbacks, with Karen O’Neil and Kevin O’Neil alternating playing Andy. This is an effective device that is enhanced by moody blue lighting.

Kevin O’Neil is quite affecting portraying Alex’s struggle with his son’s death and the guilt he feels for not being understanding enough of his son.

Karen O’Neil has a tricky job as she manages to make Ruth empathetic even though she is often insufferable and infuriating. All Ruth has ever known is her faith, and so in this time of mourning she holds it tightly and refuses to let go.

Warach’s appearance comes late in the play, but injects new life into the proceedings.
He is good at balancing Marcus’ anger toward Ruth and Alex with his anguish.

The sparse set of an open grave surrounded by bare trees on a slanted stage is evocative and never lets the audience forget what was lost.

“Facing East” is an emotionally charged play that isn’t easy viewing, but it raises important issues and as an acting showcase is a strong piece of theater that is well worth the effort.

For more information visit or call 662-7591.

Friday, May 08, 2009

'Wolverine' is overstuffed

“X-Men Origins: Wolverine” is a tough one to review. It isn’t a mind-blowing movie-going experience, but isn’t an unmitigated disaster either. There are large stretches that are entertaining, but it is too unfocused to be fully satisfying.

Wolverine (Hugh Jackman), also known as Logan, is a mutant with powerful healing abilities, heightened animal-like senses and who ages slowly. He also has retractable metal claws, and in this film we see how and why he gets them.

His origin story is a pretty straightforward revenge tale involving his half brother Sabretooth (Liev Schreiber, “The Manchurian Candidate”), also known as Victor Creed. Victor has similar abilities to Logan, but where Logan attempts to suppress his animal instincts, Victor embraces them.

Their brotherly bond is severed when Victor kills Logan’s love interest. With the help of William Stryker (Danny Huston, filling in for Brian Cox from “X2”), Logan gets those oh, so shiny claws and becomes Wolverine.

The film opens with a great title sequence showing the brothers fighting alongside each other from the Civil War through to the Vietnam War. I would’ve liked more of that and to see these characters interacting throughout the ages. What was Logan like during the roaring '20s or during The Depression?

Jackman and Schreiber’s dynamic is the best thing in the film. They are fantastic together. Schreiber, who has never played a role quite like this, is completely convincing. He is oddly charismatic and menacing at the same time.

This is Jackman’s fourth time playing Wolverine, the role that put him on the map. He has the role down cold as he ably tosses out dry one-liners, is believable in the elaborate action scenes and hints at deeper emotions hidden just below the surface.

Unfortunately, the emotion of the Wolverine/Sabretooth plot line gets lost. As with the third “X-Men” film, that human element is largely missing as the focus in “Wolverine” has been placed on action and the screen is overpopulated with too many underdeveloped characters.

Several secondary characters are given five to 15 minutes of screen time and then are killed off or just dropped. We don’t get enough time to get to know these characters and they just take away from the real star of the film.

One such character, Wade Wilson, also known as Deadpool, is particularly under-utilized. Deadpool is a wisecracking mercenary who is ideally played by Ryan Reynolds at the beginning of the film, but he returns so drastically altered at the end of the film that fans of the comic won’t even recognize the character they love. For the average moviegoer, the character works within the context of the film, but for fans it is sure to be a sticking point.

Another popular “X-Men” character that finally makes his long-awaited appearance in the series is Gambit (Taylor Kitsch, “Friday Night Lights”). His few scenes are flashy and he seems interesting, but his appearance in the film has little to do with making the film better, but rather appeasing fans.

There is a lot to like about “Wolverine,” including a great action sequence involving Jackman taking down a helicopter, but it could’ve been so much more. What made the first two films in the series work was that even though the films were action-packed there was a thoughtfulness at the core. Mutants were used as an allegory for social prejudices and to explore moral ambiguities.

“Wolverine” is simply a summer action movie with some decent acting and some fun scenes. Fans of the series should see it, but don’t expect it to be this year’s “Iron Man” or “The Dark Knight.”