Thursday, April 29, 2010

Look out, Mick Jagger. Here come's Old Hickory.

I am far from a connoisseur of theater. Unless you count watching homeless guys and mariachi bands performing for you on the subway as theater, in which case I’m Tennessee friggin’ Williams…All right, I have just been informed that, in fact, no one else but me considers that theater. I would like to take this opportunity to apologize to the estate of Mr. Williams and for adding the word “friggin’” in between his first and last name. Though in my defense it does make his name sound more awesome.

Despite my limited interest in the theater I was thrilled by “Bloody, Bloody Andrew Jackson”, a fast-paced, hilarious, defibrillating shock to my theater-deprived brain. Rock-and-roll narrates the life of our seventh president as Indian arrows fly, Spanish colonialist start bar brawls, and all the while Washington D.C. is one big, gay disco party. Had I been sitting in an aisle seat I would have been rolling in said aisle laughing (to the man sitting next to me during the show: please forgive me for giggling like a stoner who just got an extra bad of Doritos from the vending machine throughout the entire production. Were I a more seasoned theater critic you would not have had to put up with my guffawing).

At this time in history corruption and nepotism are rampant in Washington (insert obligatory topical statement on American politics) and Jackson seeks to run for office and give the common citizen a say, to be the peoples’ president. The show, really, is about how fragile idealism is in the face of reality and how fickle the idolizers can be. When Jackson finally takes the presidency he finds that being the voice of the people is quite difficult when the people have no decision making skills. Sure they vote for the guy they want to have a beer with but when that guy starts asking them to think it’s time to put the Coors back in the fridge an go home. Left to his own devices Jackson makes a string of bad decisions which eventually lead to Indian Removal Act of 1830 which doesn’t sound all that bad until you hear it called by its other name; “The Trail of Tears”. If you don’t know what I’m referring to, look it up. It was kind of like the Bataan Death March only nobody talks about it because we’re the one’s who did it. Jackson’s populist romanticism dies with the end of his stay in office and his realization that, in America, progress only comes slowly and with compromise and a compromised world is one in which idealism is dead.

Now, at this time you’re probably saying, “My god! That doesn’t sound like a rockin’ good time at all!” That, my friends, is what makes this a great play; it can be enjoyed on all levels, from surface to core. You want a final verdict? Should you see “Bloody, Bloody Andrew Jackson”? You’re goddamn Tennessee friggin’ Williams right you should!

© 2010 Dan Howard.
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Work cannot be reproduced for any reason without consent of Dan Howard.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Subvert and Destroy: "Kick-Ass" and the case for Nicolas Cage

For a long time now it has become popular to mock Nicolas Cage and his decade long streak of bad role choices. More popular than Robert Patterson…uh, Paddington….Patterhorn? That sparkly dude from “Twilight.” And that kid’s, like, totally on fire right now, so, there’s a strong analogy right? Okay, off to a great start….My point is that ever since that ever since, let’s say, “Gone In Sixty Seconds” Nic Cage has been an easy target for smug film schoolers to scoff at while writing scripts about twenty-year-olds coming to terms with things. But let’s face it: Nicolas Cage is the Bobby Fisher of playing crazy. Yes, Nicolas Cage is in mostly bad movies but all I’m saying is to think about how bad those movies would be without Nicolas Cages. So please film students, I merely ask that you pause your “Royal Tenebaums” DVDs and pull up your pants and consider that for a moment.

“Kick-Ass” features Cage as Big Daddy, a man who’s part Batman and part Mr. Rogers. By day he wears cardigan sweaters and sips hot cocoa, by night he dispenses justice at the end of a shotgun. Actually, most of the justice dispensed by Big Daddy is at the hands of his 11-year-old daughter whom he’s trained in the deadly arts of gunplay, swordsmanship, and being deceptively adorable. So in that sense he’s sort of the third party administrator for justice. Hit Girl, played by a precocious young actress whose previous film credit was “Tigger and Pooh and a Musical Too”, delivers up a thoracic surgeon’s ransom in carnage all the while mouthing off to the bad guys with language that would make a veteran merchant mariner blush.

(There is a carnival of madness just behind this man's handlebar mustache.)

There are other heroes as well but it’s these two that stole the show and I really would like the two of them to get the credit they deserve for their roles because, more than the other characters, they subvert all the comic book hero conventions. In the universe of “Kick-Ass” a scrawny 6th-graders and her soft spoken father are more dangerous than an army of mob hitmen. In every other comic book film they would have died in the first scene in order for the superhero to spend the rest of the movie avenging them. We in the audience cheer for Big Daddy and Hit Girl yet, at the same time, are we really supposed to be rooting for a man who trains his daughter to kill with sociopathic glee and who is himself, to put it mildly, crazier than a barrel of Glenn Becks?

More than the gallons of blood I think this is what has the moral outragers morally outraged. But that’s the point of the film. Behind every bad-ass killing machine is a man with severe psychological problems, behind every hero is a frightened child, and not often, but sometimes, two wrongs do make a right.

© 2010 Dan Howard.
All rights reserved.
Work cannot be reproduced for any reason without consent of Dan Howard.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

"There Will Be Blood" review

Here is the second article assigned to me by the E-Zine. As with the first the task was to appeal to the clientel of the website...which admittedly uses the f-word more liberally than most:

There Will Be Blood Review

As you’ve all probably heard by now Daniel Day Lewis’s performance in There Will Be Blood is causing the nation’s critics to pull out their dicks and cum all over the place. I believe I read in Variety that at the critic’s screening in New York many of the other audience members complained that Rex Reed’s glow-in-the-dark cock ring was an irritating distraction. But is Day Lewis’s performance really that spunk-worthy? I’ll say yes, for the most part, if for no other reason than I’ve run out of euphemisms for semen. Wait I got one more: Man chowder... and now we may proceed.

Daniel Day Lewis plays a man by the name of Daniel Plainveiw who, after being tipped off that there’s oil underneath a remote part of California called Little Boston, gets more than he bargained for from the local religious whack jobs who inhabit that land. The town’s leader is a young self-described prophet named Eli Sunday played by Paul Dano (although you may not recognize the name surely you all will remember him as “that fucking douche bag kid from Little Miss Sunshine”). Plainveiw’s and Sunday’s personalities clash. In one fantastic scene Day Lewis proceeds to kick the shit out of the little bastard, smearing his smug face with oil.

But it’s not all fun and games in Little Boston. An explosion at one of the drilling derricks causes Plainveiw’s son, H.W., to lose his hearing. He’s sent away against his will to a school for the deaf while his father remains to drill for more oil. Plainveiw is sick with guilt over this and yet at the same time driving by blind ambition and blah, blah, fucking blah. You get the idea. Lots of emotions and shit. Oscar stuff.

I’m sure that you all, as I did, wanted to see There Will Be Blood for one reason and one reason only: to watch Day Lewis bring the crazy. He brought it quite well as Bill the Butcher in Gangs of New York; the only problem was that we were treated to only about an hour of it while there other two hours were devoted to DiCaprio and Diaz speaking in half-retarded Irish accents. In this movie, however, it’s all Day Lewis all the time and let me tell you he is one crazy turn of the century motherfucker. The final scene in the movie is absolutely glorious. I don’t want to give too much away, but let me just mention that it involves Daniel Day Lewis gnawing on steaks while screaming about milkshakes and drainage.

For sure Day Lewis is a fine actor but did it make me, like all the others, shoot my goo? Almost but, not quite. Not that he is undeserving of his accolades, but there was another performance this year that had me practically humping the seat in front of me: Javier Bardem In No Country For Old Men. If you dispute my opinion I ask you only one question... How many people did Daniel Day Lewis shoot in the face with a shotgun?

I think I’ve made my point.

© 2010 Dan Howard.
All rights reserved.
Work cannot be reproduced for any reason without consent of Dan Howard.

"Juno" review or "Why I Hate Hipsters"

In 2008 I had two reviews published on a E-Zine website called I was assigned to write something that was "tastefully vulgar" and I like to think I succeeded (though it should be noted I was paid in t-shirts):

Juno Review

The Iraq War. Rising unemployment. Millions without healthcare. Global Warming.

There are many things one could pin the blame on for the downfall of American society. However, not to diminish the severity of these other issues, but the rot is much deeper. The current generation, a generation I am a part of in the chronological sense only, has been raised on the cultural circle jerk known as “indie”. Much like the fall of the Roman Empire the debate still goes on as to where exactly our society began to choke itself on its own sense of irony. Personally, I think the blame lies somewhere in the Kevin Smith/ Ethan Hawke area. Regardless of where it began we can pinpoint the exact moment where all hope for a better world was officially lost. America woke up one late December morning next to the dead hooker and the anal beads lodged irreversibly in its rectal cavity; metaphorically speaking of course. “Juno”, my fellow concerned citizens, “Juno”. It turns out T.S. Elliot was wrong; the world doesn’t die with a whimper, it dies with knocked up teenager spewing hipster catchphrases.

Now, before we get down to business you may be wondering what exactly classifies a hipster. There is no definitive way to identify them (its not like pointing out a black person) but here are a few ways you can determine who among us is a hipster so that you, hopefully, will then hit them as hard as you can in the brain. Hipsters are:

- people who own a hooded sweatshirt in any color or pattern but plain grey

- people who claim to enjoy the music of Bob Marely and are white

- people who have uttered the phrase, “I prefer his earlier work”

- people who play and acoustic guitar outdoors

- people who roll their own cigarettes and are not from the 19th century

- people who are heterosexual males and own more than one belt

- people who wear hats for any other reason other than to keep sunlight from their eyes or warmth

- people who comment on something’s irony more than once a day who are not Oscar Wilde

- people who do not live in Manhattan but still refer to Greenwich Village as “The Village”

- people who invest time and money on their cloths and hair in order to look like they do not invest time or money on their cloths or hair

Okay, now that that’s cleared up lets move on: what saddens me the most is that the “indie crowd” willingly and happily swallows shit like “Juno” faster than pigs eat... well, shit. Somewhere, somehow a bunch of movie executives must’ve gotten together and brainstormed over cocaine and Dom Perignon and realized that they could forgo actual character development and just pile on unnecessary quirks to fool these twenty-something acoustic guitar playing tumors on humanity’s colon.

The movie begins when our hero Juno MacGuff (you see its like the name of Alaska’s capital but not spelled the same. Isn’t that just delightful?) does what no woman in real would ever do; willingly has sex with Michael Cera. Much to the young hipster’s surprise she finds that Paulie Bleaker (Cera’s character) has planted the seed of a soon-to-be Death Cab For Cutie fan in her lady parts. Unlike most teenagers, who at this point would be reaching for the nearest coat hanger, Juno, dissuaded from getting an abortion by her apparently near retarded Asian friend, decides to keep the child and donate it to a local couple. The plot thickens when Juno develops and unhealthy relationship with the husband. They bond over their shared irony and self important attitudes towards “popular” music (surprise, surprise; there’s The Clash posters all over the husbands studio. We get it Joe Strummer you don’t like government, now brush your fucking teeth). And then.... aw fuck it, then eventually everything works out, play whiny indie song, roll credits.

Back to my point: this hipster culture is not just isolated pockets of smug kids listening to shitty music like goth culture or frat culture, it’s a plague. You see, hipsters have no mind of their own, they suckle like sickly calves to anything other people tell them is okay to like. How do you think Bright Eyes became popular? Because he’s a talented musician?! Therefore it spreads and occasionally its size-too-small t-shirt wearing tendrils sink into something that I actually enjoy. I used to love the movie “Suspiria” but now I can’t mention it without someone saying, “Oh, like in ‘Juno’ right?” and me wanting to toss that person into traffic.

Sadly, it seems we’re all doomed. We can’t just kill Conner Oberst or Zach Braff because that would martyr them and then the virus would only spread faster. I would say we could somehow set them up to get caught molesting children but that could backfire and suddenly we could be looking at The Moldy Peaches posing on the cover of Rolling Stone above the caption, “The Moldy Peaches tell you why they wont play with grass on the field. Plus- they tell you which candy keeps little Billy coming back for more”.

© 2010 Dan Howard.
All rights reserved.
Work cannot be reproduced for any reason without consent of Dan Howard.

"The Messengers" (2007)

"The Messengers" was a bad horror movie I reviewed back when I was the film critic for my college newspaper that attempted to capitalize of the success of "The Grudge". Few people ended up going to see it and those who did, like me, went begrudgingly. Get it? Be-GRUDGE-ingly. Eh? Eh?

Please Kill “The Messengers”

The Solomon family, seeking refuge from a tragic past, moves into a haunted North Dakota farmhouse to grow sunflower seeds in The Messengers. I’m no psychologist but are North Dakota farms (even perfectly un-haunted ones) really the best place to strengthen family bonds? I mean, sure, sunflower seeds are high in vitamin E but let’s face it; antioxidants can only help so much.
Anyway, soon after moving in the Solomon’s teenage daughter, Jen, begins to be plagued by visions of leftover special effects from The Grudge. Her parents give her the old speech that horror movie parents give; Jen is merely having trouble adjusting to her new life. Which, again, I’m no psychologist, but…well… let’s just move on. Her 4-year-old brother can see the ghosts too, but he can talk so he’s useless. The reason the movie has no one believe her, we all know, is so that we can spend forty-five minutes watching Jen wander through the house while blurry things run in and out of frame.
Ghosts in these movies always seem so lazy. It’s always the same: someone walks trepidatiously down a dark hallway, put’s their ear to the door, there’s about five seconds of silence and then BOO! Someone mashes their fist on a grand piano, the girl screams and there’s a quick cut to an eyeball or something. There’s nothing scary actually happening, but on the plus side the spirits do seem to have some great sound equipment.
Eventually Jen learns from one of the townies that the previous residents of the farmhouse were also killed by jump cuts and sound effects, however possessing this new information doesn’t seem to change Jen’s strategy of running around and letting little blue ghosts frighten her. And there was also something about crows too. Perhaps a metaphor for mortality but every time they showed up I could help but think that they only wanted some sunflower seeds.
The only entertaining thing about The Messengers is the fact that the Solomons posses the ability to brush off fatal injuries. Jen and her mother collectively fall down the stairs about eight times during the movie and at one point the father is pitch-forked in the spine only to moments lately get up fully recovered and engage in fisticuffs with a mustachioed John Corbet (see, you know he’s evil ‘cause of the mustache). By the way, John Corbet does more damage to this family with his fists in ten minutes that these dilly-dallying ghosts do the two hours. I’m just saying that, and yes I am making a judgment call here, you’ve failed as a horror movie when the love interest from Sex and the City is the most threatening presence in the film.

© 2010 Dan Howard.
All rights reserved.
Work cannot be reproduced for any reason without consent of Dan Howard.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

New York Jedi: Character Intro

Hello Internet!

This is my very first post and my very first blog so I thought I'd start with something that sort of gives you an idea of my style and my interests. I'm part of a group called NY Jedi in which stage combat is performed using the Star Wars mythology as a background. Its a fancy way of saying we play with toy lightsabers. Anyway, what I'm posting now is the intro to the character I perform as named Blight, a nefarious soul-hopping zombie!

Please to enjoy:

Blight’s Manifesto

The “force” is a failed religion and a dead superstition and I am coming to bring it to an end.

Now before you become hysterical in your righteousness, as you Jedi are apt to do, I want you all to know that this is not a threat or a warning. I am simply telling you what is going to happen. Every son and daughter of the force will be killed. I will kill you and I will not stop.

My name has preceded me for longer than I can remember. Often I can’t keep track of every one of them but these days in most parts I go by Mr. Tooth. Mr. Tooth, when he was alive, had some infamy of his own. On Tatooine he was an outlaw and a butcher. He had a penchant for pulling out the teeth of the people he murdered. Hence the name. The Jedi of Tatooine, of course, decided that this sort of behavior could not be tolerated and had poor Mr. Tooth executed. At the time bodies of the condemned had been left to decay in a sand-scoured valley north of Mos Eisley called Ryl’s Hex, though the locals had taken to calling it by its more colorful nickname: the stink pit. Having been executed once myself I felt a certain kismet with the stink pit and its putrefying residents. My execution was centuries ago, though, when the Jedi were nothing but a lunatic cult of magicians. Back then they were even more sanctimonious than they are now if you can imagine. But that’s an entirely different story. I do tend to ramble and I must get back to my point. Let me just assure you, however, that Mr. Tooth is a more than adequate host. Rot will eventually render him useless like my previous vessels and I will have to find another like I always do. But that’s my favorite part about humanity; there’s never a shortage of dead.

At this juncture it would be perfectly fair for you to ask “why”. Why am I doing this? Why can’t I just leave the force to its natural order?

I am the natural order.

I am the electricity before a storm. I am the riptide. I am erosion. Everything must die in the end. Creatures die. People die. Civilizations die. Planets die. And God can die too.

The Jedi preach peace and the Sith preach order and the two of them rule the galaxy with the same dogmatic stupidity of a child ruling a toy army. But there are those out there who cherish disobedience, who revel in perversity, who live for sin. They are the silent majority. I am their father.

For centuries we’ve been under the thumb of a religion that regards people who don’t posses its powers as pawns and cannon fodder. Times need to change. I’m here to widen the crack in the glass. I will take my time but I will come for you as I will for everyone.

Every good story has a plague in it.