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Allen Adams

Allen Adams

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Those of us of a certain age will remember Friday night strolls through the horror aisle at our local video store. There were the known quantities, of course, but mixed in among the higher-end Hollywood scares was a vast and seemingly unending universe of straight-to-video schlock, sporting lurid, garish box artwork that often had little or no connection to the film that made up its contents.

If you loved those movies then and miss them now, then I might have something for you.

“Hawk & Rev: Vampire Slayers,” written and directed by Ryan Barton-Grimley (he also stars), is an attempt to recapture the energy of those late-night late-80s jaunts through Blockbuster. It is low-budget lunacy, a ludicrous and lively homage to the horror filler of the home video explosion, a story of mismatched buddies devoted to doing whatever it takes to protect their town from the evil lurking all about.

This is a movie that revels in its limitations, celebrating the obstacles to be overcome. This movie winks and nods its way through its brisk 85 minutes; it’s the kind of viewing experience rendered all the more entertaining by the sheer delight being felt by all involved. We’re talking the finest kind of dorky DIY horror filmmaking here, all informed by a love of STV trash masterpieces of the past.

Friday, 19 March 2021 11:34

One leg at a time – ‘Slaxx’

Sometimes, you just know. You read a brief description and are instantly certain that, come what may, you will 100% be seeing that movie. A handful of words gives you all the motivation you require to check it out. Maybe you check out the trailer, but you already know – this movie is for you.

Take “Slaxx,” directed by Canadian filmmaker Elza Kephart and co-written by Kephart and Patricia Gomez and currently available to stream on Shudder. All it took for me to know, deep within my heart, was one descriptive sentence:

“A possessed pair of jeans is brought to life to punish the unscrupulous practices of a trendy clothing company.”

Boom. I’m in. Just like that. Give it to me.

Of course, just because the film has the sort of weirdo high-concept premise that hits me where I live doesn’t mean that it’s actually going to be, you know … good.

But that’s the thing: “Slaxx” IS good. Really good, in fact – the sort of movie that knows precisely what it is, crafted by filmmakers who understand how to maximize relatively limited resources to accomplish their goals. It is a smart, slyly subversive film, one that revels in the fundamental absurdity of its premise while also treating it with face-value seriousness. That blend of attitudes gives you a movie that is campy and gory and ridiculous and hilarious, rendered all the more effective by resisting the temptation to wink; the filmmakers trust the audience to get it in all its over-the-top lunacy.

Believe it or not, Opening Day is almost upon us.

In just a few days, Major League Baseball will hit the field for the start of the 2021 season. It remains to be seen how teams will respond this year, after the truncated season of 2020. And this year will be plenty different as well. Teams will be playing before a limited or no audience. COVID issues may (and almost certainly will) still arise. There’s even talk of some change in the physical makeup of the ball itself.

It will be different. And yet … the bat will still crack. The glove will still pop. Familiar faces will display their usual excellence and unknowns will display unexpected transcendence. And for the more data-driven – the numbers will continue to tell you the truth. The joy of that part of baseball is that there will ALWAYS be more numbers.

We all love it for different reasons.

So we’ll see if the Los Angeles Dodgers can become the first back-to-back MLB champs in a generation. We’ll see if MVPs Jose Abreu and Freddie Freeman can follow up on their award-winning seasons. We’ll see if Cy Young winners Shane Bieber and Trevor Bauer can manage a second straight great year. We’ll find out which young phenoms are the real deal and which are fool’s gold, which long-timers are out of gas or still have a little left in the tank.

It’s a complicated time in the world, and sports fandom is not exempt. Whether you think these games could be happening more safely (or not happening at all), the reality is that the 2021 season is going to take place, for better or worse. Here are one man’s thoughts on how that season might play out.

Play ball!

(Division winners = x; Wild Card winners = y)

Of all American professional sports, baseball is the one that is most enamored of its own history. Celebrating the past is a big part of the game, looking back at the legends and comparing the players of today with those from previous generations.

The thing with history, however, is that it isn’t always good. And baseball isn’t immune from that reality; there are plenty of unfortunate truths scattered throughout the misty fictions of the game’s rose-colored retrospect.

Among the most scandalous of the pastime’s past times is the throwing of the 1919 World Series by the Chicago White Sox. Dubbed the Black Sox scandal, this was the story of eight players from the White Sox conspiring with gamblers to fix the Series in favor of the Cincinnati Reds. But despite rumors and whispers about the fix that began before that Series even reached a conclusion, it wasn’t until the fall of 1920 that the wheels of justice truly began to turn.

Eight players – first baseman Chick Gandil, third baseman Buck Weaver, shortstop Swede Risberg, utility infielder Fred McMullin, pitchers Eddie Cicotte and Lefty Williams and outfielders Happy Felsch and Joe Jackson – would ultimately be banned from the game for life for their actions, though they took varying degrees of responsibility; some confessed, some recanted and some professed their innocence until their dying day.

Baseball historian Don Zminda’s “Double Plays and Double Crosses: The Black Sox and Baseball in 1920” (Rowman & Littlefield, $36) offers an in-depth look at the White Sox during that 1920 season, digging into the details in an effort to illustrate how the looming shadow of the scandal may have impacted the team – both on the field and off – all while also addressing the other historic happenings of that season, from the cultural explosion of Babe Ruth’s record-breaking bat to the tragic death of Ray Chapman, the last MLB player to die from being struck by a pitched ball.

It’s also a look into the convoluted path that justice took, with backbiting and infighting among the game’s supposed guardians leading to sham investigations and other CYA behaviors that would ultimately result in the powers that be deciding that baseball needed an arbiter, thus leading to the creation of the office of the Commissioner, first occupied by Judge Kennesaw Mountain Landis, whose lengthy tenure would create ripple effects of its own.

Wednesday, 17 March 2021 13:22

Get a clue with ‘Who Killed Zolan Mize?’

BANGOR – The latest offering from Penobscot Theatre Company is a mystery unlike any you’ve ever seen. It’s a tough one to solve – and you’re part of the solution!

“Who Killed Zolan Mize?” is an interactive livestreaming murder mystery created and executed by Rachel and Brendan Powers, a married couple of actors based in Florida. The show is part of PTC’s ongoing Digitus Theatrum season, with performances streaming through April 3. To purchase a link or to find more information, visit the PTC website at wwws.penobscottheatre.org or call the box office at 942-3333.

The show plays out live for a limited audience – there are only 20 tickets available for each performance – as a pair of hardboiled detectives question a number of weird and wacky suspects, all in an effort to solve this heinous crime. But here’s the thing – the detectives aren’t alone … because they have YOU!

The world of fiction will always have room for fairy tales.

The genre fluidity that comes with literary fiction leaves plenty of space for writers to explore the vast expanse of fantasy and morality that springs from the classic fairy tale. And so when we see modern authors adapting the ethos and entities of those long-told tales, it can be engaging in ways both intellectual and visceral.

That’s the energy that Veronica Schanoes brings to her new book “Burning Girls and Other Stories” (Tordotcom, $25.99). It’s a collection of 13 stories, a baker’s dozen of fairy tale-inspired works driven by the dual powers of the fantastic and the feminist. It incorporates tropes of the fairy tale realm into stories of women fighting back against a society that devalues and others them; there are elements of punk rock and Judaism and revolutionary leftist political thought as well.

These disparate elements could have resulted in stories that were uneven and muddled, stitched-together Frankenstein’s monsters of overstuffed pastiche. Instead, Schanoes wields her razor-sharp craft like a scalpel, carving every one of these pieces into something distinct and idiosyncratic and undeniably powerful. Intellectually challenging and emotionally intense, it’s a collection packed tight with highlights.

Wednesday, 17 March 2021 13:07

Weird National Briefs (03/17/2021)

The high life aquatic

MADRID (AP) — Spanish police announced Friday that they seized a homemade narco-submarine able to carry up to 2 metric tons (2.2 tons) of cargo.

Police came across the 9-meter-long (30-feet-long) craft last month while it was being built in Málaga, on southern Spain’s Costa del Sol, during a broader international drug operation involving five other countries and the European Union crime agency Europol.

The 3-meter-wide (10-feet-wide) semisubmersible craft is made of fiberglass and plywood panels attached to a structural frame, has three portholes on one side and is painted light blue. It has two 200-horsepower engines operated from the inside.

Rafael Perez, head of the Spanish police, said the vessel had never sailed.

“We think it was going to go into the high seas to meet a mother ship (to) take on board the drugs,” probably cocaine, before returning to Spain, Perez told reporters.

“It is like an iceberg,” he said of the vessel’s structure. “In practice, nearly all of it goes under water apart from the top, which is the only part of it that would be seen from another ship or a helicopter.”

Similar drug-smuggling vessels have in the past been discovered in the Atlantic Ocean, especially off Central and South America. They sit low in the water to escape detection and rarely are able to fully submerge.

The wider police operation against the alleged international smuggling ring netted hundreds of kilos of cocaine, hashish and marijuana in various places in Spain, with 52 people arrested.

Spanish police said in a statement that police in Colombia, the United States, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands and Portugal also were involved in the operation.

TME – The finest kind of party sub.

Hollywood has long been fascinated with soldiers’ stories. Movies about soldiers, whether they’re on the battlefield or off it, have been part of the cinema since the beginnings of the medium. In the early days, those films tended toward the celebratory and/or laudatory, but more recent fare has leaned into deconstructing the physical and psychological impact of men going to war.

“Cherry,” the new film from Joe and Anthony Russo, is the latest in a long line of films exploring what happens to those who are broken by war and then dropped back into their old lives without anyone helping them to repair themselves. Adapted by Angela Russo-Otstot and Jessica Goldberg from Nico Walker’s acclaimed 2018 novel of the same name and currently available via Apple TV+, it’s a story of one man’s struggles to deal with the aftermath of his choices – an aftermath that leads him into a seedy and unsafe world of addiction and crime.

It’s an intense and unwavering film, one that seeks to paint an unvarnished portrait of the pain of a young man left behind by the system that used him up. It is also a film not without issues, a story whose pacing is bumpy and whose character motivations are sometimes murky. All in all, an uneven but still worthwhile viewing experience.

A huge part of being a parent boils down to one simple word: “No.”

Raising children to be functional members of society requires that the adults responsible for their well-being make clear the simple reality that we can’t always get what we want. It’s the way the world works, like it or not … and many kids lean hard toward the “not” in that equation.

This isn’t because parents and guardians LIKE saying no. The truth is that their lives would likely be easier in the short term if they eschewed the word more often, but it is the long term with which they must concern themselves. Like it or not, “no” is a part of parenting.

But what if, for just one day, it wasn’t?

That’s the central premise of “Yes Day,” a Netflix family film based on the children’s book of the same name by Amy Krouse Rosenthal and Tom Lichtenheld. Directed by Miguel Arteta, it’s the story of one family’s adventure that takes place when the parents decide to embrace a recent parenting trend involving a single day in which they must say yes to their kids.

It’s a charming, albeit slight film; an agreeable enough hour-and-a-half that likely won’t stay with you after the credits roll. Still, there’s nothing wrong with a kids’ movie that leans into the sensibility of its target demographic. There are some fun moments and a few laughs and a lesson or two ostensibly learned, resulting in an inoffensive family-friendly offering that will go down smoothly.

There are a lot of cautionary tales out there regarding the aftermath of child stardom in the entertainment industry. So many times, the Hollywood machine sucks them dry, chews them up and spits them out. Maybe they become punchlines. Maybe they become cautionary tales. Or maybe they just fade away, forgotten.

But what’s the view like from the inside?

That’s the perspective of the new Hulu documentary “Kid 90.” Specifically, it’s the perspective of Soleil Moon Frye, who rose to fame in the mid-1980s as the titular moppet in NBC’s hit series “Punky Brewster.” See, as it turns out, Frye spent much of her adolescence with a video camera in hand, recording the world around her throughout her teen years and into her 20s – and she kept all of it.

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