Saturday, April 28, 2012

Kodi Barrows thrives on trying new things

Kodi Barrows, a senior at Kennett High School in North Conway, N.H., certainly knows how to keep busy. He is in the glee club, chorus, stage band, on the dance team, works behind the scenes on plays and musicals and acts, having most recently appeared in "A Midsummer Night's Dream."

"I am really open to anything," Barrows said. "Trying something new is definitely something I love doing, which is why I've done so many different things, whether it goes to dance or theater or tech or anything like that. Something new is just what I thrive on."

Barrows started his exploration into the arts playing trumpet at Josiah Bartlett Elementary School but he drifted away from music until high school.

"We changed musical directors so many different times it was just kind of crazy and I ended up kind of dropping instrument at the time," Barrows said.

It was ultimately acting that help Barrows not only reconnect with playing an instrument, but discovering singing, dance and, what he's most passionate about, the tech side of theater.

"I want to go to school for the technical theater side," Barrows said. "I want to be the person that knows everything about the theater and just the person you go to for everything you need."

Barrows' first acting experience was "Happy Birthday Sweet 16" in eighth grade, but he "really started enjoying the theater business" working on the Arts in Motion production of "Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe." It would be on "Rent," another Arts in Motion production, that he'd get his first experience working behind the scenes.

"Our tech designer for the show was Florence Cooley and she needed someone to help her," Barrows said. "Glenn [Noble] then asked if I'd be interested in going to assist so basically there was a Saturday when I went and helped her move lights around, adjust lights, go up in the Genie or anything like that or just learn what it was to set up lights and it really piqued my interest in the technical side of theater."

He found his way back to playing an instrument through connecting with Rafe Matregrano while working on Arts in Motions' "Guys and Dolls."

"I expressed an interest in playing an instrument and he knew that the year after that the tenor section was going to be short in band."

Matregrano helped Barrows make connections to get tenor saxophone lessons, which would eventually lead to him joining stage band.

For Barrows, playing an instrument is an invaluable tool for learning discipline and has had an influence over all his artistic activities.

"It takes practice and it is a great thing to do because it teaches you a lot of determination in the arts to get good at what you do," Barrows said. "It just teaches you a lot of responsibility as a person. It can definitely help someone after high school, whether it is band or chorus. Even if you don't continue with it, it is an experience that sticks with you for the rest of your life."

It was also through "Guys and Dolls" that Barrows developed an interest in dance, which led to joining the dance team this year.

"That's probably my newest adventure," Barrows said. "It is great working with Holly [Fougere] and all the different girls on the team."

At first Barrows was the lone guy on the team, but he convinced his friend, freshman Anthony Ferrara to join as well.

"I got him to join because I knew he'd enjoy it and it would really get an interest going for him."

It was also this year that Barrows decided to join chorus. Something he wished he done earlier in his high school career, but it just never quite fit his schedule.

"When I saw the chorus perform it looked like it was a lot of fun like they were enjoying what they were doing on stage," Barrows said. "I wish I had done it my freshman through junior year. I really wish I had participated, which is actually the same thing with band. I really wish I had stuck with and kept up an instrument through elementary school."

Prior to joining the chorus, Barrows was part of the glee club that was created to enter a glee contest put on by Fox 22. The group was comprised mostly of cast members of "Shades of Gray," which was going on at the same time.

"Holly and Glenn wanted to pick some strong singers who were already close friends and knew each other really well to get in a group together. It was pretty last minute, but we got it together and we did pretty well for the competition."

The singing was something different Barrows, but one that he enjoyed explored with the group.

"I've always enjoyed singing whether it is in the shower in the morning or just in the car singing to music, the stuff you love to listen to even if you know you're singing is horrible, but you still sing it because you love it," Barrows said.

Throughout all his many artistic endeavors, Barrows has valued all the connections he's made.

"I feel like I am part of so many different families," Barrows said. "It is just everywhere I go: glee, dance team, chorus, band, my friends from different theater shows I've done because when you do a show with someone you make a connection that lasts longer than a normal friendship does. You always keep in touch with your friends from shows. It makes it easier to talk because you get to know them from spending months at a time running lines or running scenes, practicing choreography, you really get to know someone and it just makes it fun."

Friday, April 27, 2012

'Cabin in the Woods' is a clever riff on the horror genre

Just weeks before the release of Joss Whedon's much-anticipated "Avengers," the massively budgeted smash up of some of Marvel comics biggest characters, we have "Cabin in the Woods," a much smaller project from the man behind such popular TV shows as "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," "Angel," "Firefly" and "Dollhouse."

"Cabin in the Woods," co-written and produced by Whedon, is a self-reflexive horror movie somewhat in the tradition of the "Scream" franchise. Much like "Scream," the film is more black comedy and satire than goofy parody. As is true of all of Whedon's projects, the material is played straight, but doesn't take itself too seriously. Whedon's signature sharp wit is very much present.

A group of college students head to a remote cabin in the woods for the prerequisite sex, drugs and alcohol, but, naturally, encounter ghoulish company that turn their fun fatal. The twist, which is revealed early in the film, is that the cabin and surrounding area are controlled by a mysterious government agency that has chosen these rambunctious 20-somethings for slaughter.

It isn't clear what this agency is, but the why behind the cruel manipulation of the protagonists is the film's real twist. Attentive viewers should figure out what's going on around the mid-point, but the bigger implications of the twist are surprising if a bit silly.

This underground operation is headed by Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford, both masters of dry, sarcastic line delivery. Through the use of chemicals and pheromones, Jenkins and Whitford have transformed the hapless group of students into horror movie stereotypes.

The brainy Curt (Chris Hemsworth, "Thor") and Jules (Anna Hutchinson) turn into dimwitted, sex fiends and Dana (Kristen Connolly) begins to think of herself as a virgin. There's also a nice guy (Jesse Williams), who actually genuinely seems to be a nice guy, and the stoner (Fran Kranz).

Outside of the invaluable Jenkins and Whitford, Kranz is a the standout of the cast. Stoner characters are usually a source of cheap laughs and when played wrong are just annoying. In this case, the script gives Kranz some of the best lines and his paranoid, wide-eyed delivery scores big laughs. He also has a travel mug that turns into a bong, which later begins a handy weapon.

This is co-writer Drew Goddard's directorial debut having previously written for numerous TV show including "Buffy" and "Angel" and J.J. Abrams' "Alias" and Lost" as well as scripting the Abrams' produced movie "Cloverfield."

"Cloverfield" was a film filled with cardboard characters and cliches that convinced people it was more interesting than it was because it was shot with handheld cameras. That gimmick didn't hide that the characters and plot were still uninteresting, but did add the bonuses of motion sickness and not being able to see anything.

Thankfully, "Cabin in the Woods" is not filmed in the oh-so-trendy "found footage" style. Even though Whedon's irreverent edge is prevalent throughout the film, Goddard does a nice job of creating atmosphere, tension and some well-placed scares.

The script for "Cabin in the Woods" is just as riddled with barely sketched characters and cliches as "Cloverfield," but, this time, that's the point. Whedon and Goddard are basically deconstructing the horror film and showing the mechanism behind it. "Cabin in the Woods" has a wicked sense of humor that was sorely lacking in "Cloverfield." If these two films are any indication, Goddard is better off working with Whedon over Abrams.

The film's conclusion goes gloriously, absurdly and gruesomely over-the-top. This is probably the first film to have a killer unicorn. Those tuned into the same weird, genre-subverting wavelength as Whedon and Goddard will be smiling widely at the insanity of it all. If you're not with them, you're likely to think the film is just plain stupid. For the record, I was totally with them.

Friday, April 20, 2012

A flawed, but funny 'Reunion'

"American Reunion," the third sequel to "American Pie," is a surprisingly pleasant experience, but, like actual reunions, some things will never be the same.

To say "American Pie" was groundbreaking is perhaps too strong, but it was something fresh and different. Teen sex comedies gained popularity in the 1980s with films like "Porky's." Those films viewed woman purely as sex objects to be ogled. The antedote for these films were John Hughes' smart and funny films about teens. By the 1990s, teen films, with few exceptions, had simply become bland, watered-down versions of Hughes' films.

So, when "American Pie" came out in summer 1999 it was quite unexpected. The humor was raunchier than anything else out at the time, but there were also actual characters and the women were equal opportunity participants in the randy activities. For a film about teen guys trying to lose their virginity, there was sincerity and even tender moments. Like a good pie, it was a perfect balance of sweet and savory.

The sweetness still remains in "American Reunion," which has our horny friends attending their high school reunion, but, disappointingly the woman are no longer equal partners in the exploits and feel sidelined to just being wives, girlfriends or things to objectify.

Former band camp girl, Michelle (Alyson Hannigan), one of the most loveable characters in the series, in particular feels ignored. Hannigan also doesn't seem interested in even recreating the character. Michelle's endearing speech pattern is gone as Hannigan essentially plays the role as Lily, her character from the show "How I Met Your Mother."

Every major cast member from the first film has returned, even if only for a quick, sometimes forced, cameo. It is nice to catch up with these characters, but it is frustrating that a previous character arc for the crass Stifler (Seann William Scott) has been negated.

In "American Wedding," the womanizing, self-centered Stifler finally met a girl that he actually cared about and, for the first time in three movies, showed some humanity. Clearly, writers/directors Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg, who are making their debut in the series, didn't want a neutered Stifler, but it undermines the character. Like in "American Wedding," Stifler learns to be less of a jerk. We've seen it before and it feels stale.

The only other major thing going against the film is an uncomfortable subplot involving a girl the forever awkward, and now married, Jim (Jason Biggs) used to babysit. The now 18-year-old girl admits to having a crush on Jim and that she wants to lose her virginity to him. The plot is used for cheap laughs and nudity when it could've been explored with a bit more sensitivity. I know that seems like an odd request for an "American Pie" film, but these films always had a healthy dose of heart.

All that negativity aside, there are a lot of very big laughs in the film that are worth the price of admission. The way Stifler gets revenge on a group of guys that sprayed him with Ski-Doos is hilarious.

There's also the invaluable Eugene Levy as Jim's dad, the provider of sage and always inappropriate advice. He was always the heart of these films. Now a widower, dad joins his son at their post-reunion party.

Watching Stifler get Levy drunk is priceless and results with Jim's dad meeting the infamous Stifler's mom (Jennifer Coolidge). This is the highlight of the film. The next installment of the series should be called "American Parents" and focus on Levy and Coolidge.

I realize this seems like a harsh review, but I did in fact enjoy the film. I laughed heartily throughout. It was only after the fact that my complaints arose. I didn't regret seeing it, but reunions are always going to be a mixed bag of emotions. Fans of the series should definitely see it. Others should avoid.

Friday, April 13, 2012

See 'this show'

M&D Productions production of Lanford Wilson's "Burn This" is a return of the creative team behind last year's NH Theatre Award-winning production of another Wilson play, "Talley's Folly." Best director winner Rich Russo once again takes up the direction duties and best actor winner Ken Martin returns in a supporting role.

"Burn This," which opened Thursday, April 12, at Your Theatre in North Conway, N.H. and is running Thursday through Saturday for the next three weeks, is a very different, but at the same time similar beast, to the two-person romantic dramedy, "Talley's Folly."

In the opening scene of "Burn This," a trio of friends are mourning the recent death of Robbie, a young, hard working, talented, gay dancer. Anna (Christine Thompson), his roommate and dance partner, and Larry (Ken Martin), his other roommate and a successful ad man, fill in Burton (Ryan Orlando), a screenwriter and Anna's long-time lover, about the awkwardness of the funeral. Anna and Larry lament that his family didn't truly know him.

There's is a simmering anger in Anna and Larry that never entirely erupts. Anna simply states that she is angry, but there's no sense of the emotion behind it. This could be viewed as a limitation of the performance or simply as the character attempting to keep her emotions in control.

In scene two of act one, Pale (Eric Jordan), Robbie's volatile older brother, literally bursts into the scene seething with anger and frustration. Pale's emotions are definitely not in check and he goes on an abrasive, obscenity-filled rant.

This is the best written and performed scene in the play. Just as Pale's obnoxious ramblings begin to wear thin, the writing starts to humanize him and you begin to see his genuine pain over the loss of his brother and the realization that he didn't know much about him.

Jordan is extraordinary in the scene and subtly portrays the complex emotional shifts. There's always a sense that he's struggling with an internal monologue. This marks a huge growth as an actor for Jordan, who has always been a reliable, often scene-stealing comic actor, but here, under the sure direction of Russo, he ably flexes his dramatic muscles.

As the show progresses, uncertain romantic feelings begin to develop between Anna and Pale that neither knows how to deal with and which strains Anna's relationship with Burton. There's an interesting, hesitant romantic chemistry between Jordan and Thompson that builds to a tender, ambiguous final scene.

Wilson's writing takes potentially stereotypical characters and makes them recognizably human. Larry is basically the cliche gay best friend, who adds color commentary and provides advice, but doesn't have a life outside that role. The script addresses this, though, when Burton calls Anna and Larry out on living together instead of actually seeking out true romantic connection.

Larry is a comic relief character to be sure, but Martin doesn't play Larry for cheap laughs. The characters always feels like a person, not just a type. Even when Martin is just on stage listening to the actors, you can sense that he's truly listening and processing what is being said instead of just waiting to say his line.

Orlando, on the other hand, seems slightly emotionally disconnected from his scenes. He says his lines, but without much feeling. He does have a great, and well-delivered, monologue about the worthlessness of film as an art form. Martin has a similarly cynical diatribe about the advertising world and Jordan spouts out numerous tirades on things he hates. This sardonic edge to Wilson's writing helps to break the emotional tension that builds throughout scenes.

Thompson feels, at times, emotionally removed, but, again, it is unclear if this is an acting choice or a flaw in the performance. In the second act, Anna does wall herself off emotionally from the world. It is a defense mechanism just as Pale's anger is his. Even so, Thompson may be burying the emotions too deeply.

As always, Deborah Jasien, who won best set design for "Talley's Folly, has created a fantastic set for the actors to play on. This time it is an authentic-looking loft apartment.
"Burn This" is a show that addresses griefing, but while much of it is marked by sadness, there's also a sense of hope that sometimes out of pain, there can be love.

For more information or tickets, call the box office at 662-7591.

Fryeburg Academy student has film in Lewiston Auburn Film Festival

Jonny Tang, a foreign student at Fryeburg Academy in Fryeburg, Maine, never imagined he'd have a film in a festival, but a film he made in Michael Dana's film class is making its debut at the Lewiston Auburn Film Festival Saturday, April 14, at 12:30 p.m. at the Lyceum Gallery in Lewiston, Maine.

"As a foreign student here, to be accepted into a festival that I have never thought about seems unreal to me," Tang, who is a senior from China, said. "This is a really big encouragement to me on making films."

"The iEraser Story" is about an introspective teenager, who downloads an App for his iPad that lets him erase the things he doesn't want to deal with from his life. The responsibility leads up to an important decision that may have very serious consequences.

"Teenagers are rebellious and they don't like a lot of things," Tang said. "Most of them choose to escape or ignore these things, and after a long time, most of them will regret what they've done. So I wanted to express this idea through the movie."

The idea for the film had inauspicious origins. Dana assigned the class to come up with a theme for a film last May. When it came time to share his idea, Tang had nothing.
"I saw there was an eraser on my desk, so I said, 'Why don't we make a film about a magic eraser?'" Tang said. " I didn't expect this theme would be chosen, but it seemed people liked this idea."

There were over 400 entries and only about 80 films that were nominated for awards and will be shown. Tang is proud to be representing Fryeburg Academy at the festival.

"We hardly have students get into a big film festival," Tang said. "I hope I will be a good start. After our vocal jazz win — the first place in the nation —maybe we will have the best director in nation some day."

For more information about the Lewiston Auburn Film Festival visit

Friday, April 06, 2012

Nap time with the 'Titans'

Late in "Wrath of the Titans," the sequel to the 2010 remake of "Clash of the Titans," Liam Neeson's Zeus says "Let's have some fun." The phrase "Well, we haven't yet" crossed my mind.

I was not prepared for how bad "Wrath of the Titans" would be. "Clash of the Titans" was by no means a great film, but it was passable, if instantly forgettable, entertainment. I expected more of the same. No such luck. Director Jonathan Liebesman is lucky though that his film is so sleep inducing he'll never feel the wrath of the audience.

The plot of "Wrath" is simple enough. A decade after his heroic feats in "Clash," Perseus (Sam Worthington), the half-human son of Zeus, is trying to live as a fisherman. His tranquil existence is shattered when Zeus is taken prisoner in the underworld by Hades (Ralph Fiennes) and Ares (Édgar Ramírez). Perseus must rescue his father and stop the release of Kronos, who will destroy the world. In this quest he is joined by Agenor (Toby Kebbell), Poseidon's half-human son, and the warrior queen Andromeda (Rosamund Pike).

That plot is an easy formula for a popcorn movie. Throw a bunch of monsters from Greek mythology at our heroes and call it a day. Heck, you don't even need a particularly good screenplay in this case. "Clash" only had a so-so screenplay, but it got by on decent acting and a couple fun action sequences. "Wrath" can't even deliver on that modest level.

At least "Clash" director Louis Leterrier remembered a key rule of directing action: You need to be able to see what is happening. Liebesman is entirely to blame for how poorly "Wrath" came out.
His choices as director — the editing, the dim lighting, the shot composition — make for a film that is difficult to follow and see.

Liebesman frames his action sequences in tight close ups with quick edits every few seconds that make it impossible for the audience to have sense of place within a scene. Everything happens in such a whirl of images that there is never any sense of building tension or excitement. A good action scene needs to use medium and long shots so that viewers can clearly understand what is occurring.

There is a battle involving a group of cyclops, in which for the first few minutes I didn't realize there was more than one cyclops. There was never an establishing shot. Instead there was a series of seemingly random close ups. In another sequence, Perseus does a battle with a monster and, once again, it is all close ups to the point of which you barely get a look at the creature.

If you're going to spend millions of dollars on special effects — the budget was reportedly $150 million — wouldn't you want your visuals to be seen? When you do see them, they are pretty good, which makes it all the more frustrating.

The style that Liebesman utilizes is meant to seem more visceral, chaotic and put you in the action. This approach can work in the hands of a talented filmmaker like Steven Spielberg, who did create a sense of chaos in the opening of "Saving Private Ryan."

The acting on display, even from returning greats like Neeson and Fiennes, is stiff and dull. Neeson and Fiennes just seem to be waiting to go cash their paychecks. I hope a huge chunk of their wages goes to charity, medical research or, at the very least, to funding some more interesting films.

There are two bright spots in the cast. Kebbell is given some good one-liners and he delivers them well. Bill Nighy has a 10-minute sequence as Hephaestus, the god who created Zeus, Poseidon and Hades' godly weapons. Nighy has a quirky energy that infuses the film with an all-too-brief sense of fun.

Those two performances are not enough to give this film even the most marginal of recommendations. This film is an ungodly mess. You've been warned.