Monday, March 30, 2015

It Followzzzzzz....

Critics are tripping over themselves to praise and read a great deal of significance into It Follows, a modestly-budgeted thriller that attempts to mix a retro vibe with postmodern horror and comes up empty-handed.
Infuriatingly sluggish and elliptical, It Follows certainly could’ve been a clever homage but nothing much happens and it doesn’t make much sense. Writer/director David Robert Mitchell seems to want to evoke memories of the ’70s and ’80s thrillers (especially Halloween) with widescreen cinematography and a nonstop synth score, but he skimps on the suspense and gory payoffs.
Not worth following.

The film opens promisingly enough with a distraught girl staggering out of her house in a state of confusion and driving out to Lake Michigan. Sobbing on the dark beach, she calls her father one last time to tell him that she loves him, and then there’s a shock cut to her horribly maimed corpse lying in the sand as the sun rises. It’s reminiscent of the discovery of the corpse at the beginning of Spielberg’s Jaws…and that’s really about all there is to it.
Next, we’re introduced to Jay (Maika Monroe, also in The Guest, another problematic retro-thriller), a normal, sexually curious high schooler who can’t wait to bag her new boyfriend (Jake Weary). Once she does, however, he chloroforms her, ties her up, and tells her that he’s transferred some sort of killer curse to her.
As she writhes in terror, he gives her the whole rulebook  — she must pass the curse on to someone else as soon as possible or a creature — that only she’ll be able to see — will kill her, go back to get him, and continue down the line to collect its earliest victims. Plus, it has the ability to look like anybody. Then he drives her, barely conscious, back to her house and dumps her in the street.
Mitchell takes the “sex equals death” theme that drove the Halloween and Friday the 13th films to its literal extreme, but it’s a tedious and ultimately empty journey. It’s attractively photographed by Mike Gioulakis and has some interesting visuals, but unless you’ve always feared being trapped in an indoor swimming pool while some undead creature is hurling kitchen appliances at your head, it doesn’t add up to much.
Anyhow, we’re dragged along for an endless ride as Jay, her sister (Lili Sepe) and friends (Keir Gilchrist, Olivia Luccardi and Daniel Zovatto) try to outrun whatever sinister shapeshifter is following her as Rich Vreeland’s Carpenter-inspired score cranks on endlessly.
The director’s retro fetish extends to vintage cars and old-school tube televisions everywhere, constantly broadcasting 1950s sci-fi flicks (as in the original Halloween). What at first seems clever becomes a risible conceit, to the point where we see VHS tapes sitting on a table next to the actors. All I could think was “They must be way overdue.”
As for the creatures, they shamble along in a Carnival of Souls/Let’s Scare Jessica to Death manner, and for some reason, a few of them are naked, as if that’s supposed to make them more horrific. Probably the creepiest aspect of the whole production is when the kids travel into Detroit itself. It looks like a war zone, with its boarded-up houses and silent streets. And when they go into one of the gutted homes to discover strung-up cans and bottles hanging from all the windows, serving as makeshift burglar alarms, it’s reminiscent of all the bones and feathers hanging in — you guessed it — The Texas Chain Saw Massacre.
 It Follows is one of those films you get about halfway through and realize, with a sinking feeling — “This is all there is to it, isn’t it?” Sadly, it is.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

The Woodlawn: A San Antonio Musical Theater Gem

As a recent transplant from Los Angeles, where I covered theater for several years, I was most interested in checking out the stage scene upon my arrival in San Antonio last fall. As fortune would have it, the first show I reviewed was the annual production of The Rocky Horror Show at the Woodlawn Theatre, featuring RuPaul’s Drag Race stars.

I was impressed by the elaborateness of the production and the talent on display. Subsequent shows I’ve seen there — including White Christmas and The Addams Family — were similarly well-crafted, and my curiosity was piqued. So, in preparation for the Woodlawn’s upcoming extravaganza, La Cage Aux Folles, I thought I’d take an opportunity to get a behind-the-scenes look at the theater and the people who make the magic happen.

The Woodlawn opened in 1946 as a single-screen movie house (remember those?). John Wayne premiered his 1960 film The Alamo there, but the rise of multiplexes and home video in the 1980s almost sounded the death knell. Fortunately, the building was able to escape destruction, and in 2012 it found a new life as the home to one of San Antonio’s foremost musical theater companies.

Greg Hinojosa becoming Zaza
Not only does the Woodlawn provide the community with great live theater, it serves as a valuable resource for those who work — or want to work — in the field. There’s also a year-round Children’s Theatre Program that offers classes in drama for the younger generation. Additionally, the theater contributes to the local economy and the regeneration of the Deco District.

Greg Hinojosa serves as the artistic director for the Woodlawn. He oversees the artistic integrity of all the Main Stage productions and directs four of them himself per year. He teaches classes and workshops through the Academy for the Performing Arts and Community Outreach programs. In La Cage, he’s also taking the role of Albin/Zaza, and he is enthusiastic about participating in this fun and flamboyant show among such terrific talent.

La Cage's director, Tim Hedgepeth, is equally happy to be working at the Woodlawn on this production. He considers this theater his good luck charm, having previously launched his own musical theater company there. He’s also delighted to be reunited with musical director Andrew Hendley and choreographer Chris Rodriguez. “I lucked out in getting Andrew and Chris. We have all worked together, on different shows at different times, and it’s such a pleasure that La Cage is the the first one that brings all three of us to the table at the same time.”

'La Cage' in rehearsal
Hendley, who has been working in local theater since 2001, says, “The musical talent pool in San Antonio continues to grow. We have such talented singers, dancers and performers that it makes working with casts a breeze.” He leads a band of eight musicians for La Cage. Live music is a hallmark of the Woodlawn, and it makes a big difference.

About the local theater community, Hedgepeth says, “I think we are in a very good, creative place. I worry that theaters are sometimes competing for limited audiences, and I’m not sure if that’s a good thing or not. What I really appreciate are the numerous opportunities for theater artists to work in a variety of venues around town.”

As for the Woodlawn itself, Hedgepeth calls it “a grand and sometimes terrifying, glorious old picture palace in which echo the voices of old Hollywood and present-day San Antonio.” It’s certainly a great house for the productions being staged here throughout the year. Upcoming shows include Mary Poppins, West Side Story and American Idiot — an ambitious slate indeed.

La Cage Aux Folles plays Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 pm and Sundays at 3 pm (except April 12 at 7:30 pm) from April 3 to May 3 at the Woodlawn Theatre, 1920 Fredericksburg Road, San Antonio. Tickets can be obtained online or by calling (210) 267-8388.


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