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Friday, February 13, 2015

Fave cult and horror movie magazines

A visit to my local San Antonio Barnes & Noble in search of Christmas presents last December was fruitful for a couple of reasons. The first reason was that they now carry new vinyl records (I bought Weezer's latest, which is just great). The second reason was, when I scanned the newsstand, my heart leapt with joy to see several of my favorite cult movie magazines still in print. Okay, so I haven't been ina bookstore for a while.

Ages ago I wrote a post lamenting the late, great weird movie magazines, but I was delighted to be able to pick up these new issues. Not only do these pubs keep me connected to the world of weird, old and new, they also bring back happy memories of my misspent youth. So, in no particular order...

The Phantom of the Movies' Videoscope. Packed with tons of reviews and interviews with some of the most interesting cult figures in filmdom, this mag never disappoints. My collection goes back at least a decade but I need to order some back issues to complete it.

The Winter 2015 ish is typically awesome. Production designer Joe Alves tells talks about the making of Jaws on the 40th anniversary of the world's first summer blockbuster. Animal House alum Tim Matheson reminisces about his career, including his stint as the voice of Jonny Quest.

Regular features in Videoscope include Nancy Naglin's Art-House Video, festival coverage, Rob Freese's Drive-In Dementia, Dan Cziraky's MST-ie Madness, the Phantom's own Joy of Sets and the New Release Shelf, which helps point the way for my on-demand and Netflix choices. I mean, how else would you know that there was a new documentary about conjoined twins Daisy and Violet Hilton, who starred in the ultra-bizarre and inadvertently hilarious Chained for Life, one of the most psychotronic films of all time? And that it was directed by Leslie Zemeckis, wife of Robert? Check the magazine out here — and help preserve the printed word!

Shock Cinema is another old-timer that probably captures the spirit of Michael Weldon's much-missed Psychotronic Video Magazine most of all (minus the typos), and the caliber of interview subjects they manage to snag is always impressive. The latest issue has interviews with punk legend John Doe, '70s beauty Angel Tompkins and utility character Richard Anderson.

I love to read publisher Steven Puchalski's Page One rants about modern culture, city dwelling and anything else that comes to his mind. He was one of the first to grieve when New York became Disney-fied, something I wholeheartedly agree with. Every time I come to town, I walk to Times Square and think, "Jesus! The Lion King is still playing?"

Then, we dive into capsule reviews of bizarre stuff like American network TV movies (back when they were decent) — as well as obscure, forgotten films by famous directors like Hellman, Polanski and Malle. Puchalski also generously plugs other magazines and tiny video distribution companies offering essential product (like the aforementioned network TV movies) who would otherwise not get a platform.

Rue Morgue. The new kid on the block, historically speaking, it's nevertheless almost 20 years old and going strong, supported by efforts in the multiplatform world. Not only is there a print book, it has a substantial web presence and participates in a lot of live events. The magazine also has an aggressive publishing schedule of 11 issues per year.

Of all the current cult movie mags, this is one of the most lavish. All glossy, four-color pages with rich art and graphics, Rue Morgue features regular departments covering new flicks, graphic novels, obscurities highlighted in It Came From Bowen's Basement and new releases in DVD and Blu-Ray. In the latest issue alone, I learned that Archie comics has gone zombie, CHUD is turning 30, and the guy who wrote Coscarelli's marvelous Bubba Ho-Tep is back with a new prison tale of terror.

Check out Rue Morgue's web site and see all of the amazing things they're up to.

Filmfax. Another wonderful old timer, this one never disappoints. As its tagline avers, it's a six-ounce ton of intelligent fun. The new issue has the first chapter in a continuing story of actress Barbara Payton, whose love affair with uninhibited sex and booze was no match for the Hollywood buzzsaw. Also covered is Bela Lugosi's reappearance onstage in Balderston's creaky old Dracula during World War II, when escapism was at its height and poor broke Bela needed all the work he could get.

There's also an illuminating portrait of Jane Henson, wife of Jim, and how she stepped out of her husband's looming shadow to do some remarkable work of her own. And there's an interview with the late Robert Easton, an actor and noted voice coach who ran an ad in Daily Variety promoting his classes for years and years.

Filmfax speaks to the monster kid in all of us, especially us Baby Boomers who were in the 11-14 age range when Universal released all of its horror classics in the 1960s and '70s, giving birth to horror hosts, toys, commercials, cultural shifts and fanaticism that still resonates today.

UPDATE: I went to the Filmfax site to copy its URL for this story, and it looks like there hasn't been any activity for a while. Jeez, was this the last issue?

Other in-print genre magazines of note:

Fangoria. Almost 40 years old, this colorful pub keeps churning out the horror news along with its sister publication Gorezone. The publication has also dabbled in film production and distribution over the years, including the bizarre 1991 Children of the Night — with Karen Black!

HorrorHound. Slick, glossy and aggressively multiplatform, this pub even has its own convention.

Little Shoppe of Horrors. Richard Klemensen has been publishing this Hammer and English-centric horror magazine since 1972 —an amazing feat. Issues scheduled for 2015 will cover Showtime's Penny Dreadful and Hammer's 1961 Phantom of the Opera. I have many issues of this magazine, which always features insanely in-depth coverage and rare photos. Hard to find in stores but issues can be ordered from its web site.



Friday, February 6, 2015

Theater review (San Antonio): 'Hairspray' at the Cameo

What a long, strange trip Hairspray has taken. Beginning as a shockingly wholesome PG-rated film from Pink Flamingos shockmeister John Waters, it transformed into a smash hit Broadway musical before morphing into a second movie with John Travolta playing the character originally inhabited by Divine.

So as I was sitting in the Cameo Theatre in San Antonio last Saturday night, watching the opening number, “Good Morning, Baltimore,” I couldn’t help but be struck by the irony of it all. I've covered hours and hours of theater in L.A., I've seen dozens of productions on Broadway, and now here comes Hairspray, welcoming me to my new Texas home like an old friend.

The show is certainly transcendent, speaking to all types of audiences, regardless of locale, ethnicity or persuasion. It’s a story that makes an earnest plea for racial equity and acceptance of those who might be perceived as “different.” And it sure doesn’t hurt that the Tony Award-winning score is jam-packed with rousing numbers that any theater company would love to sink its teeth into. That’s the kind of infectious enthusiasm the cast at the Cameo delivered on Saturday.

Set in 1962, it’s the tale of plus-sized high-schooler Tracy Turnblad (Krystal Newcomer), who is obsessed with the local teen television program The Corny Collins Show and especially its brooding heartthrob, Link Larkin (Agustin Olvera). When she hears that the show is going to be auditioning for new dancers, she drags her best friend, Penny Pingleton (Jovi Gonzales), to the studio to support her in her bid for the big time.

There, she runs into Amber Van Tussle (Cindy Koch), the top girl dancer on the show — and Link’s main squeeze — as well as Amber’s mother, Velma (Louie Canales), the show’s producer, who immediately tosses Tracy out on her ear because of her size. And when Tracy sees Velma snubbing the equally enthusiastic Little Inez (Danica McKinney) merely because she’s black, she realizes that changes need to happen.

Hairspray‘s book, by Mark O’Donnell and Thomas Meehan, telescopes Waters’ original screenplay to allow time for the number of songs that an all-out musical requires. Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman’s bouncy score helps to fill the gaps with tunes that advance the narrative while providing the kind of showstoppers that audiences demand. They also managed to squeeze in enough offbeat humor to keep Waters diehards satisfied.

Jonathan Pennington’s new production at the Cameo is lively and colorful, featuring a two-story set that does some interesting stuff with silhouettes and lighting to give it that big show feel. Co-directors Pennington and Jovi Gonzales have their hands full organizing all of that activity on the Cameo’s modest stage, but they manage to pull it off.

As for the performances, Newcomer’s Tracy is terrific, projecting just the right amount of enthusiasm and optimism. Canales is lots of fun as the villainous Velma, as is Koch as her spoiled-rotten daughter, Amber. Olvera brings the Elvis moves as Link, and Sean Salazar is also good as the too-smooth Corny Collins.

But Gonzales threatens to steal the show as the nerdy Penny, and James Estes is a riot as Tracy’s mother, Edna, who manages to evoke memories of both Divine and Harvey Fierstein with his husky voice and considerable attitude. Also exceptional are Michelle Burnett as the rhymester Motormouth Maybelle, and McKinney, who displays considerable pipes as Little Inez.

Hairspray plays Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 4:30 p.m. through March 1 at the Cameo Theatre, 1123 East Commerce Street, San Antonio 78205. Reservations can be made online or by calling the box office at (210) 212-5454.

Photos by James Teninty

Monday, February 2, 2015

Film Review: J.C. Chandor's 'A Most Violent Year'

The year J.C. Chandor refers to in the title of his excellent new film is 1981, a time when New York City was literally awash in crime, but he takes what could have been another blood-spattered mob movie and transforms it into an intense character study worthy of Lumet or Coppola in their prime.

Abel Morales (Oscar Isaac) is the son of immigrants, struggling to get his share American dream. Beginning as a driver for a local fuel supply business, he has risen over the last two decades to become its owner, expanding the company to the point that it's big enough to become a major player — and to draw the unwelcome attention of competitors who are hiring thugs to hijack his trucks and steal his fuel.

And his own origins aren't exactly pure. He bought the company from a mob kingpin and married said kingpin's daughter, Anna (Jessica Chastain), who is just as driven as he is — and even more ruthless.

Abel is on the verge of closing a major deal that will give him ownership of a vital waterfront storage facility that would crush the competition and solidify his company's dominance once and for all. However, the continued attacks and the threat of indictments from the District Attorney's office are putting a big crimp in his plans. To make matters worse, he has 30 days to deliver the rest of the money to the property owners or he will forfeit his preliminary investment — his entire life's savings.

The local Teamster leader (Peter Gerety) advises him to arm all his drivers with pistols, an action his lawyer (Albert Brooks) wholeheartedly endorses, but Abel doesn’t want to sink to such gangster tactics. Anna is appalled by his reticence, especially when their family is threatened by intruders in their own home. She demands that he fight back — or she’ll take matters in hand herself. Feeling such pressure from all sides, he tries to solve his problems the best way he can, even if it means making compromises in his integrity, such as it is.

Abel has convinced himself that he’s leading the life of an upstanding businessman despite evidence to the contrary. He tells the DA that he has nothing to hide and refuses to do anything that might be viewed as less than honest. Yet when he is training a group of young sales recruits on how to engage new customers, it sounds just like he’s teaching them how to pull the big con.

And when his banker nervously pulls the financing on his big deal after one of his trigger-happy drivers opens fires on thugs trying to steal his truck, his ostensibly lofty morals become even more malleable.

Isaac brings a Pacino-like intensity to the role of Abel. This similarity is reinforced when he calls a Godfather-style meeting of all of his competitors at one of those darkly-lit New York restaurants to tell them to cease the hijacking of his trucks. Sitting at the head of the table, he utters a one-word warning: "Stop."

Chastain's Anna is tough and single-minded, deriding Abel's weaknesses and constantly steamrolling over him to deal with their problems herself. Indeed, their relationship seems far more like a business partnership than a marriage. Even their occasional demonstrations of affection — a brief caress, a kiss on the cheek — feel alien and awkward.

Chandor sets his film in the dead of winter, highlighting the dirty back alleys, dusty truck lots and graffiti-stained subways when the city was at its most foul. Ironically, the bejeweled Manhattan skyline is seen only from behind the oil storage facility that Abel is sacrificing everything to acquire — and it sprawls tantalizingly across the river, unreachable, looking for all the world like Oz.

Anyone expecting an explosively violent '80s-style actioner should look elsewhere. However, those seeking an intelligent, character-driven examination of the overwhelming forces of corruption — and the ends a man will be driven to in order to achieve his goals — will be well rewarded by this superbly crafted piece.

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