TV Live- Twilight Zone Meets Theater

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All photos by Adam Neubauer

Imagine a strange and horrifying world. In this universe, time can be bent, the dead can return, and irony reigns supreme. Here, characters find themselves at a crossroads between the mundane and the downright bizarre. No, it’s not The Twilight Zone. It’s TV Live.

TV Live is a short evening of mini plays reminiscent of The Twilight Zone, The Outer Limits, Night Gallery, and Tales From the Darkside. Each story is introduced by a Rod Serling type character played by Michele Danyn.

The first play follows a young nurse (Bonnyjean Hoffert) as she attempts to help a patient with multiple personalities. As she assists a sweet  young patient, she must also face his killer persona (both played by Tucker Matthews). Always waiting near by is lobotomy happy doctor (Mark Motyl). Written by Andy Shultz and directed by Adam Neubauer, the piece is a creative tribute to the asylum based thrillers of the 60s like Shock Corridor.

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The next segment, written by Steven Alloway and directed by JC Gafford  concerns time travel, romance, and betrayal. The story revolves around  a young actress (Katie Grace Hansen) playing a role on a sci-fi television show. It quickly becomes apparent that it’s more than just a role. She must unravel her feelings for her showrunner/former lover (Sam Horrilleno) and also deal with her wacky costar (David Kaufman). While I was entranced by the plot, I didn’t feel the performances did the writing justice. I commend all three actors for putting forth an honorable effort, but the emotions didn’t seem to be there.

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The third and strongest piece of the night is a bittersweet tale by Caroline Muniak and directed by Sebastian Munoz. This testament to everlasting love centers on a woman (Sherry Michaels) struggling with Dementia or Alzheimer’s. Her husband (Tom Jones) and his younger self (Nathan Pellow) lend all of their support. I won’t spoil it for you, but the ending sure tugs on the heartstrings in an honest, non Hallmark Channel way. All three actors are outstanding. It’s their performances that allow this piece to have such a heavy impact.

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The concluding play amps up the tension, by placing two criminals (Sasha Snow and Ali Graba) and their hostage (Skip Pipo) in a bank vault. Throw in two guns and some personal secrets and the situation turns ugly fast. This story, written by Adam Neubauer, and directed by James R. Eschom has a decent premise. However, the specific details of the plot aren’t made clear, which causes this thriller to fall flat. Without context, it’s difficult for me to feel invested in the relationships of these three characters. I’d almost like to see this story remade in a longer format to allow more time for things to develop.

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TV Live is a great ride for those who love classic episodic sci-fi. While, the show may not be completely even in quality, it’s never dull. I could tell that all involved brought grand amounts of care to create this endeavor. I imagine Rod Serling himself would be proud. Audiences have one more Sunday to catch TV Live in its current form. After that, the show will return with an all new show in the same format. For times and tickets, readers should visit fonprods.tix.com/schedule.aspx.

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Morgan – What Happened to the Horror?

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There’s a reason sci-fi and horror keep bringing back the Frankenstein story. When done right, this theme is is fodder for countless philosophical questions. What happens when a being is made by man rather than nature? Is it ok to put science before ethics? What does it mean to be human? Can humanity be learned? Initially, Morgan seems like it is going to be a creepy rumination on all of these topics, but it quickly devolves into an action fueled clunker.

Morgan follows Kate Mara as a corporate representative who goes to assess the risk of a potential product. That product is Morgan (Anya Taylor-Joy), a lab created being that possesses abilities and intellect beyond that of human beings. If you’ll forgive me, basically she’s “More human than human.”. The group of scientists that created Morgan, have come to love her as they would another person. Amy (Rose Leslie) is particularly fond of her. She treats Morgan as a sister, or perhaps a daughter.

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After witnessing Morgan’s power, Mara decides she needs to be terminated. Initially the doctors are upset but willing to obey. However, they are unable to face the reality of killing Morgan. By then it’s too late. She has seen how easily humans will turn on her. She escapes, leaving a trail of carnage in her wake. She takes her only true friend Amy as a hostage. It’s up to Mara to track down Morgan, and regain the upper hand.

Once Morgan breaks out of the facility, the film ceases to be a horror movie in any way, shape, or form. The rest of the film is dedicated to car chases, physical fighting, and several people eating bullets. The sad thing is that all this action plays out against a beautiful backdrop of forest, fog, a serene lake, and a decaying mansion. When I was allowed a moment here and there to breathe, I could take it all in. It’s the perfect atmosphere for a different kind of film.

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This film should’ve been a slow character driven horror piece. It could’ve been too. Director Luke Scott had all the ingredients to make a chilling morality tale. The characters at first are quite engrossing. There’s a scene where Paul Giamatti is pushing Morgan in order to get her to break. I got a little teary eyed watching him lambast this poor creature. Taylor Joy brings so much to the character of Morgan. She’s articulate, and scary, and sympathetic all at the same time. Her moments with Rose Leslie are among the best in the film. This relationship should’ve been given more time to flourish. Morgan’s relationships with all the scientists should’ve been given more screen time.

There are some wonderful actors in this film, whose talents aren’t utilized at all. Toby Jones seems to have an interesting connection with Morgan, it’s unclear if he looks at her as more of a project or as an emotional being. You barely have time to ponder this, before his character hangs himself.

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Then there’s Kate Mara. The problem with Mara’s character is that her role is hindered by the final twist of the film. The twist itself is actually pretty damn good, except you can see it coming from a mile away.  They would’ve been better off cluing the audience in from the beginning and playing with that. Scott couldn’t have made the clues more obvious if he tried. Even the casting of Mara is a big red flag. (Seriously look at her face, and compare it to Morgan’s) Without the twist, Mara’s character is pointless. She doesn’t grow or change. She just beats people up and waves a gun around. She’s pretty much the protagonist in name only. If it were my script I would’ve made Rose Leslie’s character the protagonist, because she’s the one facing the biggest moral dilemma.

Morgan may be pretty to look at and contain some great performances (Not by Kate Mara) but it’s a “Hollywood” film in the worst kind of way. It tricks you into thinking it’s going to have depth, and then crams the film with cool fight scenes and noise. By the time it’s over it’s lost all value. I guess perhaps Morgan wasn’t meant to ask big questions or offer any insight, but it sure was a deceptive first act. My recommendation, watch the first half hour, then walk away.

 

 

 

 

I Don’t Believe Anymore- The X-files Review

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The X-Files has been my favorite show since I was about 14. I’ve suffered from insomnia pretty much my whole life. They used to show reruns on TNT all night, so I’d just watch until I was finally able to fall asleep. Episodes like Hollywood A.D. had me rolling on the floor with laughter, while mythology episodes like Memento Mori left my brain racked with possibilities of a conspiracies and aliens.

Needless to say, when I heard the show was coming back, I was thrilled. Seasons 8 and 9 had skewed from the course, and the overall mysteries of the show were never wrapped up in any sort of satisfactory way. I thought Chris Carter would use the six episode miniseries as a way to correct past mistakes and give fans a cohesive alien/government syndicate story. Boy, was I ever wrong! Instead, Carter mangles The X-Files beyond recognition. Instead of clarifying his previous ideas, he adds he even more layers to the mythology. Now fans are left waddling in a stew of 9/11 truther propaganda, anti-vaccine babble, and chem trails.

The first episode of the season, My Struggle, attempts to cram in a whole season’s worth of ideas into 45 minutes. The result is a messy parody of a real X-files episode. Mulder’s beliefs rock back and forth so many times during this episode, that I thought I’d get whiplash. Scully just seems content to sit back and go for the ride. Still, I held out hope. The next four episodes are monster of the week shows, which I’ll get to in a minute. First, I want to address the chaotic, cliffhanger trainwreck that is My Struggle Part II. Keep in mind people, this may be the last episode of The X-Files we ever see. This was the one that was supposed to contain answers. Instead, I was left with no less than 50 new questions. Why was everyone injected with alien DNA? How does that help the Syndicate? Who the hell is even in the Syndicate, besides CSM? What do chem trails have to do with anything?

Setting the conspiracy aside, I was also hoping for some closure regarding Mulder and Scully. They spent the whole season contemplating their choices regarding William. I was expecting to see something happen there, but I guess it turned out to be just another empty plot point. What about their relationship with each other? Are they back together? Are they going to get back together? They barely had two minutes of shared screen time during the finale.

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Despite, both parts of My Struggle being a complete waste, neither episode was actually the worst of the six. No, that title goes to Babylon. Babylon uses the Charlie Hebdo attacks as its launching pad. Two young agents seek Mulder and Scully’s help with communicating with the terrorist, who is in a coma. Agents Miller and Einstein are more or less younger versions of Mulder and Scully. The characters are fun, I liked seeing how our heroes would interact with mirror versions of themselves, but they needed to make their appearance in a different episode. The serious nature of the case seems incongruent with the wacky nature of the two new agents. The most WTF moment of the episode occurs when Mulder, under the influence of a placebo or maybe God hallucinates a whole scene of Country dancing. I’m as confused as you are. The mood abruptly shifts and he’s naked and standing in some sort of dark Biblical scene. During this scene, the information Mulder needs to stop the terrorist attack is passed on to him. The final scene of the episode between Mulder and Scully is cute. It’s nice to see them expressing affection, but I could’ve just watched it on mute. As they ponder the conclusions they reached during the case, it’s clear that there is no discernable lesson or theme to be found.

Although, most of the season was a mess, it did have some high points. My favorite episode is Mulder & Scully Meet The Were-Monster. It had all of the comedy and charm of classic monster of the week episodes like Humbug and How the Ghosts Stole Christmas. The episode revolves around Mulder trying to rediscover his belief in the paranormal while hunting a giant lizard monster. He comes to learn that the monster is not a man that turns into a monster, but rather a monster that turns into a man. The only goal the monster has is to permanently return to his lizard form. This episode was the most lighthearted, but it may also be the most philosophical of the season. There were many great moments in this one, including Scully referring to Mulder as, “My Mulder” and the lizard man fabricating a sexual encounter with Scully. (Bonus Fact: Die hard X-Philes will notice the tribute to the show’s late Director/Producer Kim Manners. His name is on a tombstone during the scene in the cemetery.)

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As for the other two episodes, both were solid monster of the week shows. Founder’s Mutation follows Mulder and Scully as they investigate a strange suicide that appears to be linked to  a company that runs genetic experiments on children, giving them alien DNA. The case forces Mulder and Scully to examine their own choices as parents. The best part of Founder’s Mutation is that it shows what Mulder and Scully’s lives might have been like if they had raised William.

Home Again is a more serious version of season 7’s Arcadia. Both episodes are about surburbanites who are forced to confront issues they’d rather keep buried. Both are about tulpas, which are creatures created from a strong belief in their existence. Both tulpas are made of literal garbage. The thing that makes Home Again unique, is that the creature was originally conceived by a street artist. His image will show up on a wall, and then it’s gone in the blink of an eye. Through their investigation our dynamic duo discovers that a street artist conceived the monster as an art piece to represent the homeless population, but its power grew, and soon the creator was helpless to stop it. In addition to the case file, this episode also deals with the death of Scully’s mother and her feelings of failure regarding William. Overall, I felt Home Again presented an oversimplified view of gentrification and poverty, but I can overlook that. This modern day version of Frankenstein is fresh, and will be a favorite of fans who enjoyed episodes like Squeeze and Home.

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While there were a couple great episodes in the revival, it felt a lot like digging through a mountain of rat feces to find a few pieces of gold. I had such high hopes, they were curbstomped. I’m already hearing about a possible season 11. Truth is, I’m scared it will come back, but I’m also scared it won’t. I have to wonder how invested Carter is in The X-Files if he didn’t see fit to even give it an ending. I can’t help but liken him to the artist in Home Again. He created something, it spun out of his control, and now he’s running for the hills. I want to believe. I’ll always want to, but I just can’t anymore.