Wednesday, December 17, 2014

If you missed EDGE OF TOMORROW back in June, like a lot of America, don't fret. It's on video now, and you should see it. Seriously.

I usually blame trailers for divulging the plot, but by NOT doing so, EDGE's publicists probably locked out their target audience! And your best memory of it is probably a loud, aggressive preview to which your numbed reaction was, "Oh. Tom Cruise and aliens again. Pass."

Except here's the thing: it is so much more than that. It's both those things, yes, but here's what the previews omitted: it's also GROUNDHOG DAY. Dipped in WAR OF THE WORLDS and SAVING PRIVATE RYAN. Plus all the humor that implies. Director Doug Liman began with indie darlings like SWINGERS and GO before going big time with BOURNE and MR. & MRS. SMITH, but his wry sense of humor pervades his career.

Cruise plays Cage, a slick but cowardly Media Relations military officer who is in London on the eve of a major counterattack against an invincible Alien force that has already conquered much of continental Europe. A gruff, crusty General of a multinational United Military Force (Brendan Gleeson) attempts to thrust Cage into the front lines to promote it to the media, but when Cage balks, eventually resorting to blackmail, the General punishes Cage by stripping him of his rank, branding him a deserter, and pushing him into the front lines as a mere Grunt, almost certainly condemning him to death.

The next day's battle on the beaches of France (evoking strong parallels to D-Day at Normandy) is even more disastrous than Cage expected: his new Squadmates (led by smirking, sardonic Master Sergeant Bill Paxton) are all slaughtered almost immediately. Even super-badass legend, "Full Metal Bitch" Rita Vrataski (Emily Blunt) is slain, and Cage himself perishes violently while blowing up a rare variation of the Alien Race, an "Alpha", which oozes goo onto him in his final moments–

–before Cage wakes up screaming, exactly where he was on the British military base one day prior. He's back to the exact moment he woke up after being tasered by the General's guards and railroaded into combat duty. He goes through the whole thing again, trying to warn all that it will be a slaughter, to no avail. He tries playing things slightly differently, but not for long, as he dies again. Boom, he wakes up on the base. Or as the film's original title stated, "Live. Die. Repeat." (Which would have been a much better title, too.)

You might think the above formula would be a recipe for repetitive doldrums, but the film never slows down enough for that. In fact, it does the opposite– once the film knows its audience is following, it rockets off at full speed and never condescends. It knows we don't have to see EVERY loop, every death, every variation. Sometimes we witness Cage attempt something the first time, other times it's revealed that this is his 50th. The too-clever-by-half screenplay has 3 names on it, which is usually a recipe for a hack job, but the opposite seems to have occurred here to result in a brilliant Mindmeld of ideas.

The movie picks up speed when Emily Blunt becomes a key player. Ms. Blunt has really impressed me this year, between her endearing musical performance in INTO THE WOODS, and this tough-as-nails-but-heart-of-gold warrior in EDGE. She's surprisingly physically toned and agile here, a side of her I hadn't seen before. Rita & Cage become a rocky duo for awhile, and Cage's secret ability/curse is of particular interest to her for reasons explained later. There is of course some sexual tension/flirting, but the film wisely plays it close to the vest. 

Tom Cruise is more or less perfect as Cage, proving once again that he gives 100% in every performance, and disproving the claim that he's just another Action-Star Pretty Boy. His beats are played perfectly for humor, pathos, or tragedy when the story calls for it, and his chemistry with  Blunt is believable and moving. Of course we watch Cruise transform from self-serving coward to self-sacrificing hero, but it always feels organic and true, and the film makes clear that Cage has gone through A LOT to get there– we often feel the exhaustion of this man's failures.

Overall, a smart, fast-paced, brassy, fun, sci-fi/action/military/comedy. Cruise & Blunt bring their A game, and the effects are great too, including the slightly futuristic military weaponry. A-.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

UNBROKEN edges out FURY as WWII Drama

If you see only one WWII movie this season, I recommend UNBROKEN over FURY.

Fury had some really compelling scenes, great acting, intense battle sequences, and occasional moral questions, but I had the same problem with it that I had with the director's previous movie (END OF WATCH): It feels like a "Bro" movie. It feels like the Frat Boy with a degree in History, who really liked SAVING PRIVATE RYAN, decided to make a WWII film. It almost touches greatness, but every time it almost gets there, it takes a douchey turn. Brad Pitt essentially plays the "serious" version of Lt. Aldo Raine from BASTERDS– in other words, if FURY had been released first, Raine would be the satirical version of Pitt's serious performance here (that's not a bad thing; Pitt is excellent, as are ALL the cast).

UNBROKEN, OTOH, has the advantage of actually being a True Story, stars virtually all unknown but seriously talented Actors, and lets you actually empathize with the characters in a way you can't with the FURY crew. Set in the Pacific Theater of the War, the air combat scenes are unrivaled by any I've seen in recent film. Both the elation over survival and the sorrow of losing comrades are given equal due, and while sentimental, it's never preachy. The flashback sequences to the hero's youth are a bit on the nose, but essential and vital. This film will probably make its lead, Jack O'Connell, a movie star. And director Angelina Jolie with her 2nd feature is starting to (believe it or not) take up the mantle of Clint Eastwood as the next great actor-turned-director. If you're worried that this somehow feminizes it, you're wrong. The cast is almost exclusively male, and they are just as macho as men should be, but unlike the soldiers in FURY, they still understand the concept of dignity and honor even under the most painful and degrading of conditions.  See it.

P.S. The 2 women to my right at this Academy screening were much more shocked at the heroes killing birds and fish to SURVIVE while adrift at sea for weeks with no other food, than they were at the many human deaths and suffering. Ain't people funny? :)

Saturday, November 22, 2014

CLOVERFIELD was pretty amazing in the cinemas– a truly immersive experience and you feel you are "in" the movie with the characters– although for that very reason, it loses a little something in a home viewing by being shrunk down. Watch on a big screen with a good sound system and try not to pause too much. The whole idea of the film is to be immersive.

Because it's "found footage" it's easy to lose sight of how intensely difficult and expensive it ACTUALLY was to make, to insert monsters and collapsing buildings and other effects into a jerkily-moving home camcorder frame. This is not a "Blair Witch" shoestring.

Perhaps I'm in the minority, but I actually cared about the characters. And Lizzy Caplan (before she became a HUGE star) is very likeable and endearing. And hot.

I was also an extra in it for 2 nights, covered in fake dust!

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

The lost musical number (and ending) from the film musical, LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS– and I don't mean "Don't Feed the Plants!"

I've been rediscovering one of my favorite film musicals of all time lately, LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS and it just seems to get better as I get older and more capable of discerning the classical elements of its story. LSOH (in its original cut, anyway) is a combination of Faust and Greek Tragedy, dolled up in an early 60s-B Movie package. The moral dilemmas, and statements on the human condition, are what make this film stand the test of time.

Well, that and the kick-ass score. And Rick Moranis and Ellen Greene in the best roles of their lives. IMO, the film version had the opportunity to be the best possible incarnation of this story. I've seen the play onstage and still longed for Frank Oz's glorious production instead, with its giant soundstage, its stylized use of our Greek Chorus (NYC Street) girls, its truly unparalleled puppetry of the various sizes of Audrey II plant, and the stupendous pipes of Levi Stubbs giving voice to the vegetable.

For those not in the know, the original ending from the play was filmed and shown to test audiences in 1986. The ending, while tragic, also left a very specific moral message. Seymour's wrongdoings eventually snowball out of control, continually strengthening the plant, until it is past the point of overpowering, he and those he love pay the price.

Test screenings in San Jose and L.A. were spectacularly ill-received with this ending, even though audiences loved it up until the final 15 minutes. So director Frank Oz and producer David Geffen returned to the studios and shot a new, upbeat finale in which our romantic leads survive, defeat Audrey II, receive a barrel of money, and avoid any consequences for Seymour's transgressions. This ending was better received at the time, but Geffen held on to the original finale, hoping to rerelease it one day– until the first DVD version came out and, without his knowledge, included the full original ending, in B&W and mediocre quality. Geffen ordered the DVD recalled, and for years this "lost" item was an expensive collector's item.

Flash forward again to 2012. A NEW Blu-Ray, with Oz's approved "Director's Cut", was released with BOTH endings, in full color and high quality. It would seem that fans now had all they could ask for –

EXCEPT for one musical number, "The Meek Shall Inherit" that was shot in its entirety, featuring a nightmare sequence that includes Seymour feeling the full guilt of his involvement in the deaths of two characters, his near-decision to destroy the plant, and his reasons for ultimately not doing so. There are some truly creepy moments in this sequence (especially Seymour staring up at a gigantic bleeding funeral portrait of Mr. Mushnik), and it's some of Moranis's best singing. But this was not included on the Blu-Ray.

However, somebody had access to a workprint version of this scene, as well as several others. For you LSOH completists, I offer this link to you. This number had been on my soundtrack to the film as a teenager, and I always lamented its omission from the film, and figured it was lost forever. Thanks to the uploader at YouTube for this amazing addition to this film's lore!

THE MEEK SHALL INHERIT (full number) from the workprint of LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS

(There are a host of other lost scenes in this video, and its Part 1 counterpart, too!)

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Want to watch something scary for Halloween weekend, but you/your spouse/your hamster doesn't like horror? Or gore? Look no further than the tightly wound, beautifully shot 1997 suspense thriller BREAKDOWN starring Kurt Russell, JT Walsh, and Kathleen Quinlan.

I could watch this movie multiple times and still enjoy it. Russell is at his best here, opting to play a sensible, beleaguered everyman (rather than his overblown action hero persona) faced with the possible abduction of his wife in the middle of the Deserts of the American Southwest. The less you know going in, the better.

The scariest thing about the whole scenario is its realism. Intense scenes abound, but at no time does it feel too farfetched or silly. If anything, the film goes out of its way to retain plausibility, and keeps you, the viewer ruminating, "This could happen to me."

Monday, October 20, 2014

I have a pseudonym in the Audiobook world, in case any of you are interested. Certain Erotica and other racy stories by my Alter Ego may be found here:

Delighted to say I have just added several credits to this Other Side of Myself, and they should be available for sale any day now! The authors all have bestsellers, and some are bestsellers in their genre – Amy Lane, Nicole Krizek, and Red Phoenix.

I have just taken on the 1st book in the Ryce Leon series by Red Phoenix, His Scottish Pet, which should be available sometime in late November!

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Click here to view ALL MY AUDIOBOOKS, as of August 13, 2014:

There is a #1 Highlander Romance on this list (HIGHLAND SOLUTION by Ceci Giltenan– the sequel, HIGHLAND COURAGE, also narrated by me, to be released any day)! There is a Lambda Award-winning Dramatic Sci-Fi/Fiction (MINIONS OF THE MOON, by Richard Bowes)! There is a delightful M/M Romance by a top-selling Californian author in the Genre, Amy Lane! And there are 2 parts of a trilogy in one of the Sexiest Series I've ever narrated, The MOORE Series by Julie Richman!

The 2nd book (THE BLACKGUARD) in the BLUE DRAGON'S GEAS Series by Cheryl Matthynssens was just released a couple of weeks ago, and both her writing and my narrating are even BETTER in this sequel! Our young miner/farmer hero (?) Alador is forcibly moved from his rustic village to the Empire Capital in this book, and the pace picks up considerably! Let's just say our boy grows up pretty fast. Seriously, this is a fantastic series! I advise you to begin with BOOK 1, OUTCAST, before pushing on to the fast-paced sequel! I'm very proud to be a part of this series!

In the works: 2 Supernatural Scottish Romances by UK author Poppet, more chapters in the Felipe Adan Lerma PARIS series, another Highlander Romance by Bestselling author Amy Jarecki, and another M/M Comedy Romance by Amy Lane!

Thank you to all you folks joining in and following my Voiceover & Audiobook Career! Although I am not fit to wash his linens, I have received accolades comparing me to HARRY POTTER Narrator (and PETE'S DRAGON stalwart) Jim Dale. Thank you for your reviews!

Friday, July 25, 2014

Dan Harmon And The Cast Of ‘Community’ Helped To Bury Network Television At Comic-Con

COMMUNITY. So brilliant. Became the smartest self-aware comedy on TV sometime near the end of Season 1. Seasons 2-3 were Epic. Season 4 mostly sucked due to the firing/resignation? of Harmon, but 5 was back up to speed.

If you're looking for a great comedy series with incredibly talented actors & writers, and haven't watched this series, it's a good time for a Marathon! :)

Joel McHale FINALLY gets a role perfectly suited to his wise-ass charming, faux-smarmy self. Alison Brie & Gillian Jacobs finally got to dissect and mock the  ingenues and stripper roles they'd been stuck in previously. Danny Pudi is brilliant as the hyper-pop culture-aware nerd who just might be God, and Donald Glover as his dim-bulb unlikely best bud provides an amazing foil for his ridiculous antics. The rest of the cast is brilliant (sorry, don't want to shortchange anyone but this is long already), especially Chevy Chase as the frequent antagonist to the group-- when he gets to play the villain, it's some of the best work he's ever done.

Congratulations, COMMUNITY! Keep it up! 6 Seasons and a Movie!

•Woodson Spout.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

This Highlander Romance novel, HIGHLAND SOLUTION by Ceci Giltenan, just reached #1 in several Amazon categories! I recorded the audiobook version, which is also doing really well– this is great news for me and the author. Although I've done many audiobooks, this is my first time being attached to a #1 novel. Very exciting!

The Audiobook is not #1– yet– but it is receiving high marks, and available on Amazon, iTunes, and Audible. If you're a friend of mine, contact me for a code. If you're not, this is a great time for you to use that Amazon or iTunes gift card that's been sitting around since your Aunt Griselda saw you at Christmas.

Check out the Audiobook of HIGHLAND SOLUTION here!

(Reluctant to set up a new account for Audible? You really don't have to. If you have an Amazon account, your Audible account is built in. All you really have to tweak are your preferences.) :)

Also, I'm currently in audiobook production of the 2nd book in the series, HIGHLAND COURAGE, which primarily casts some minor characters from the first book as the new heroes. All the Duncurra books take place in the same Universe, but each has a different focus.

I should also mention that production is complete on several new audiobooks of mine as well, THE BLACKGUARD (The Blue Dragon's Geas: Book 2) – a terrific Fantasy series on which I favorably expounded 2 posts ago. Book 1, OUTCAST, continues to place in the top 20 in the Sci-Fi/Fantasy Category.

...and, SEARCHING FOR MOORE (released) and MOORE THAN FOREVER (awaiting ACX approval), Books 1 and 3 in the steamy "Needing Moore" romance trilogy. If you doubt my "sexy" voice, give these a listen – I think you'll be pleasurably surprised.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Paul's Deep Thought of the Day:

I was musing on technology turning to weaponry, e-mail turning to spam, online banking turning to ID theft, etc. And was thinking, "It's sad that no matter what great advances mankind invents, there's always this 5% or so who looks at it, thinks a moment, and decides, 'You know, we could make this suck for everybody.'"

Monday, July 14, 2014

Is it a weird conflict of interest to write a review of the Fantasy book series of which I'm narrating the audio versions?

I'm going to say No, on this technicality: I'm not reviewing my own narration performance, but the books themselves, as written. My Audiobooks will be reviewed separately by other parties, as they should be. Yes, by writing a positive review, I hope the book sells more copies, but I didn't write these books; I was engaged to narrate them and found that I really loved them.

So here is my capsule review of the 1st two books in the series, THE BLUE DRAGON'S GEAS-- OUTCAST (Book 1) and THE BLACKGUARD (Book 2), written by Cheryl Matthynssens:

Star Wars set in the Roman Empire? Lord of the Rings where the Wizards are Dragons and the Hobbits are Native Americans? Harry Potter with Prostitutes? A medieval DUNE? Romeo and Juliet meets The Clone Wars? Well, not exactly. All of the best elements of familiar Fantasy epics are on display here, but nothing is cribbed from another Universe-- Ms. Matthynssens has crafted her own entirely unique World out of elements that feel vaguely familiar, but which are ultimately entirely her own. 

Although set in a far-off fantasy world where dragons (descendants or gifts of the Gods) and magic are real, THE BLUE DRAGON'S GEAS could well be set on Earth in an age somewhere between Ancient Rome, the European Middle Ages, and the American Old West. Real-life issues of love and sex, honor, family, conquest, war, racism, classism and tribalism, plus the otherworldly elements of Magic, Mythical Creatures, and Gods-- have been combined into a highly gripping Epic Coming-of-Age Story that isn't afraid to get dark or sexy when the mood requires. Our hero Alador rides an emotional and physical roller coaster and we, the readers, are lifted and plunged into his peaks and lows right along with him.

Don't be misled by the first paragraph: My comparisons to those other works are meant as the highest compliment. In today's world, where no story seems fresh or original, BLUE DRAGON has managed the nearly impossible feat of taking timeless lessons and elements of great epic tales and making them new all over again! (And besides, I'm not sure anyone COULD purposely combine all those different works into a tale this strong and coherent.)

Although adult themes of sex, murder, slavery, etc. are woven through the narrative, they are generally tastefully depicted in a realistic way. This is one of the best aspects of the series: while not gratuitous, it doesn't shy away from more mature content. This is no children's Fantasy series, but teens 13 and up (as well as all adults) will probably enjoy these books immensely-- in fact, young people will benefit most from the lessons of acceptance, equality, and justice that are the books' essence-- ironically shown mostly through the tragedies that result when these are NOT the norm.

Anyway, there you have my honest review of the first 2 books in the Fantasy series, THE BLUE DRAGON'S GEAS, by Cheryl Matthynssens. 

The Audio Book of OUTCAST, book 1, is already available on Audible, Amazon & iTunes, and THE BLACKGUARD is already available in written form and the Audio Version should be released within a month! If you are good friend of mine, I might even give you a free download! :)

Outcast, Audiobook version

Follow the Author, Cheryl Matthynssens, on Twitter:

Follow ME, your Friend and Humble Narrator, on Twitter:


Tuesday, May 27, 2014

I'm just starting this whole blog thing.

It may be a better way to communicate than the self-HTML'ed page I created in, oh, 2000, before Facebook, Twitter, and social media took things over-- back then we created webpages with twigs, rocks, and white paste!

If all goes well, I'll be redirecting my page to this address instead of that old dinosaur of a page, as entertaining as it may be. If you've never seen it, go visit it now-- you may not be able to for much longer! See how self-created webpages (not outsourced to professionals) looked in the first decade of the 21st century! -- And even so, mine wasn't half-bad for a non-pro. ;)

Anyway, give me some time to figure this blogging thing out, and check back with me here. Mostly I'm creating this page to market my skyrocketing audiobook narrator career... no, I'm serious.

Cheers! If you found this page because you've heard my voice (or seen me on stage, screen, or TV), God bless you.

Paul Woodson