Tuesday, March 31, 2015

The Audacity of Dope by Monte Dutton

 It isn’t often that you happen upon a main character like Riley Mansfield.  Hell, to be completely honest, Riley is a true one-of-a-kind.  When was the last time you read a good book centered on a plucky pot-smoking musician who likes to live by his own rules and doesn’t really give a damn about fame or fortune?  All Riley is looking for is a good time, but he finds himself at the center of a brewing storm in Monte Dutton’s unique and compelling novel.    

In The Audacity of Dope, Riley goes from being a folk singer to a folk hero, though he wants no part of the acclaim that comes with his new role.  Politics are front and center throughout, but the author’s views on Republicans, Democrats, and the media never get in the way of a good read.  Sure, there are a number of potent and relevant themes embedded in the text along with Riley’s songs, and Dutton pulls no punches when it comes to skewering the establishment.  Yet his primary goal here is to deliver an entertaining yarn and he does a great job in that regard.  The story that emerges is mostly a comedic effort with a dash of suspense and a dash of romance thrown in amid all the political intrigue to round things out. 

The players are likable and the locales are inviting.  Monte has a distinct flair for fleshing out his characters with pitch-perfect dialogue that calls Elmore Leonard’s work to mind.  The prose is crisp and keeps things moving, making The Audacity of Dope a quick and enjoyable read.  Though there are a number of characters, agencies, and subplots in play, it is a credit to Dutton’s ability that he is able to spin this intricate yarn without it ever growing too complex or cumbersome.  Make no mistake, there is an awful lot happening, but the book is engaging and easy to follow from start to finish.

The Audacity of Dope will appeal to anyone who enjoys a good buzz or a good tune, and it will also greatly please those who enjoy vibrant characters and sound writing.  I had a great time hanging out with Riley Mansfield and I strongly recommend his story to anyone who digs sex, drugs, or rock and roll.  Truthfully, if you don’t enjoy at least one of the things on that list, you ought to go ahead and dig yourself a hole.

You can score a copy of The Audacity of Dope here.

Looking for a good book?  Take a hit of Monte Dutton'sThe Audacity of Dope.

Monday, March 30, 2015

The Walking Dead - Season 5

Last night, AMC wrapped up the fifth season of The Walking Dead with a superb 90-minute finale.  In truth, it wasn't just the finale that rocked--this has been one of the best seasons of the smash hit television show yet.  Most importantly, the stage is set for another wild season.

I'm a fan of the comics and I greatly enjoyed the first two seasons, though I thought seasons three and four weren't quite as focused or riveting.  In fact, though the prison storyline is one of my favorite arcs that the comic book series has provided us with, I felt that the television version was fairly lackluster at times.  Heading into Season 5, I was hoping for the best and fearing the worst, and I'm thrilled to say that the optimistic end of that spectrum won out.

The show has a wonderful cast and this last season made great use of many of our favorites.  Rick was a badass who only got more and more badass as we worked our way toward the finale.  Carol was perhaps the biggest star of Season 5 and she had so many cool moments that were awesome to behold.  Daryl showed some range, Abraham finally got to do some cool shit, and Michonne just kept on being Michonne.  Hell, Eugene even found his inner Charlie Bronson at one point.  What's not to love? 

The group's ordeal in Terminus set the stage for a difficult trek to Alexandria, where group dynamics, shady motherfuckers, and power struggles greatly elevated the last few episodes of the season.  There were shocking deaths, there were some of the goriest bits we've seen on the program, and there was an abundance of action in the last few shows.  As much as I loved the first two seasons, it's entirely possible that this fifth season was just as good--if not better. 

Now, all I have to do is wait until October . . .

WrestleMania 31 Thoughts

I dig wrestling and I greatly enjoyed watching the big show last night.  Here are my thoughts on a few of the biggest moments from WrestleMania 31:

Daniel Bryan wins the IC Title
Chris Jericho is my favorite wrestler, so I have a lot of love for this belt.  Putting it on Bryan was an obvious call, but it was the right call.  He'll do a lot with and for that championship, and he earned it in a match where there were some massive bumps.

John Cena defeats Rusev
Call me a prude (can you be a wrestling fan and a prude?) but it's hard for me to get behind fat guys who wrestle barefoot.  That doesn't do anything for me.  It's worse if the guy is billed as a Russian patriot and he's actually Bulgarian.  Like, dude has a tattoo of Bulgaria on his shoulder.  Rusev aside, I'm a fan of Cena and I liked seeing him getting the win and scoring the U.S. Championship.  Score one for the people who wear shoes.

The Divas Tag Match
Paige is awesome.  A.J. Lee is pretty damn cool.  The Bella Twins are okay.  Why wasn't the Divas title on the line at the big show?  I wish the WWE liked their Divas as much as their fans do.  This tag match was okay, but these ladies deserve more--especially Paige.  I like Paige.
I like Paige a lot. 
Sting finally made it to WrestleMania

Sting vs. HHH
I liked Sting when I was a kid.  I cooled down on him once he started aping the Crow, but it was still cool to see him wrestle in the WWE.  I have several friends who are crazy about this dude, and I kept joking that it would be really cool if HHH kicked him in the gut, hit him with a pedigree, and scored a victory in the first thirty seconds of the match.  It seemed like a safe enough joke because I knew the match would go long and there was no way that Sting would be booked to lose this one.  Well, what do you know?  The WWE stuck it to WCW once again and Sting lost by pinfall in an overbooked (but entertaining) match that saw a lot of old dudes get involved.  There was a cheap finish followed by a baffling show of respect that was supposed to make fans feel better about Sting losing, but it made no sense.

HHH: Great match, Sting.  I respect the hell out of you.

Sting:  Hell yeah, bro.  The feeling is mutual.  The way you had all your cronies come out to interfere in the match was awesome.  The NWO came out to help me because we were always bitter enemies, but you had one more dude in your corner than I did.  Then you hit me in the face with a sledgehammer to win the match.  I respect the hell out of that.

HHH: Let's shake on it.

Sting: Word. 

If there's a silver lining, maybe the fact that he took the L means we'll see more of Sting in the WWE.

Bray Wyatt vs. The Undertaker
I'm glad the Undertaker won this one and he looked pretty good.  A lot of people were worried that he would be on his last legs, but he appears to have some gas left in the tank.  Wyatt did a great job, but that's no surprise.  He cuts too many promos and he talks way too much, but he's damn good and it showed
The future is here.
Roman Reigns vs. Brock Lesnar for the Heavyweight Championship
(Seth Rollins cashed in his Money in the Bank briefcase in the closing minutes and stole the victory)
I wasn't as hyped for this match as I should have been because Reigns is still a work-in-progress, but it was actually one hell of a match.  Rollins showing up at the end was a nice move, and the last few minutes of this contest were flat out awesome.  The fact that Lesnar and Reigns killed it was probably overshadowed by Rollins walking away with the belt, but this was a top-notch main event that many were expecting to be rather lackluster.

All in all, it was a solid WrestleMania with some surprise developments and several quality matches.  I'll be curious to see the fallout on tonight's RAW.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Cult Classics from Dimension X: The Return of the Living Dead (1985)

I'm frequently asked to name my favorite zombie film, and despite my affection for Romero (and Dawn of the Dead in particular), my answer is always the same.  It's The Return of the Living Dead, the 1985 ode to punk rock and dead people who won't stay buried that never fails to thrill or amuse me.  Not only is this Dan O'Bannon feature my favorite zombie flick, but it's one of my favorite horror movies in general.  Hell, we can take that one step further, for it's truly one of my favorite movies from any genre.  It's a fast-paced nightmare loaded with black humor and wonderful dialogue, and it benefits from the presence of a talented cast highlighted by Clu Galager, James Karen, and Thom Mathews.  They make the most of the material and the twisted frightfest that ensues is a disgusting descent into madness and terror where no one's brain is safe.

Dan O'Bannon made a nice mark in the horror genre (Alien was his idea and he contributed to a number of horror films over the years) but directing The Return of the Living Dead was surely his finest hour.  The picture moves at a frantic pace, the characters are well-drawn and the performances are top-notch, the effects are massive, the score is killer, and the movie greatly benefits from a perfect ending.  What did he do wrong?  I can't think of anything.  O'Bannon gave us a wildly different take on the zombie sub-genre that can be seen as a bit of a trendsetter in a great many ways.  Long before fast zombies became so popular, the undead were racing around in this gory delight.  Additionally, the diverse and rebellious cast of characters and the lack of a clear-cut hero or heroine are both noteworthy and admirable.  Finally, the humorous aspect of the picture is probably the biggest reason that The Return of the Living Dead is so beloved by so many, and it generates a wealth of laughter despite the fact that it takes itself seriously.  It isn't hokey or silly, it just showcases gifted performers portraying characters who come apart at the seams and rant and snarl at one another as things get progressively worse.  The picture also has a gift for irony.  I think it's a shame that O'Bannon didn't direct more movies, but he knocked this one out of the park.

These punk rock kids just want to have a good time.  Don't we all?

The acting in The Return of the Living Dead is absolutely terrific.  There are so many memorable performances and so many cool characters that it would be hard to pick a favorite.  Thom Mathews and James Karen are fabulous as Freddie and Frank, and their antics never get old.  Clu Galager is on fire as Burt and his various rants are all highlights of the picture.  Miguel Nunez may steal the show as Spider, but there's also Don Calfa as Ernie, the kooky mortician who wears a sidearm and is surprisingly quick on the draw.  The way these characters (and many more) argue with one another, cutting lines short and yelling over top of each other, is riveting and gives the piece an authentic feel that is often lacking from movies where the staging is a bit more deliberate so far as the dialogue is concerned.  There are so many classic exchanges, so many great lines, and so many big moments.  The cool thing is the lack of a singular hero makes this a true ensemble piece, meaning there are plenty of worthwhile bits to go around.  It's a big cast that works very well together, and everyone gets their moment. 

The soundtrack rules!  It's definitely in my Top 10 so far as soundtracks go.
I am such a fan of the soundtrack for this movie that I've devoted an entire blog to it.  You can read it here.  For the purposes of this piece, I just want to acknowledge how important it is to the movie.  The notion of melding a zombie film with punk rock music (and a bunch of punk rock characters) was such a cool decision and it works so well.  Additionally, while many movies have cool soundtracks but fail to make the best use of the great tracks at their disposal, the music is essential to The Return of the Living Dead.  Several of the best scenes would suffer greatly if the songs that accompany them were removed.  It's hard to think of a movie with a better soundtrack that was used to greater effect, but if such a film exists, it's probably one of QT's flicks. 

In closing, I can't recommend this one enough.  I love horror films (you already knew that) and the zombie sub-genre in particular (you already knew that too), and I truly believe that this is the best of the bunch so far as brain-munching shenanigans are concerned.  There's so much to love and it's so damn fresh.  It is gruesome, tense, and frightening, and yet it can be absolutely hilarious at times.  The soundtrack rocks, the direction and the editing are stellar, and the cast is wonderful.  The Return of the Living Dead is the most entertaining and the zaniest film in a long line of horror classics that will not die, the cinema of the undead. 

The Return of The Living Dead Trivia

While it is widely believed that the presence of a pair of pals named Bert and Ernie is a gag, Dan O'Bannon has stated that he was actually oblivious to the existence of the beloved muppets with the same names who reside on Sesame Street.

Ernie (played by Don Calfa) is a nazi in hiding.  His use of German, his musical preferences, the photo of Eva Braun he keeps in his morgue, and even his choice of sidearm are among the clues to his secret identity sprinkled throughout the picture.

When Trash does her striptease, you're not actually seeing full frontal nudity.  Linnea Quigley wore a plastic application for that sequence that concealed her private parts.  

Clu Galager was a last-minute addition to the cast and he apparently wasn't all that easy to get along with.  According to various reports, he was prone to temper tantrums and violent outbursts on set.  There are even claims that the effects team secretly swapped a rubber pipe for the real one he was wielding at one point during the film because his peers were afraid that he would lose his cool while armed with a lead pipe.

While John Russo (co-writer of the original Night of the Living Dead) wrote a script entitled Return of the Living Dead and receives a story credit for this picture, it is believed that very little of his material was used.  O'Bannon thought Russo's script was too serious and too closely resembled Romero's work, so it was re-written as more of a satire.

Some of the cast members portraying zombies actually chowed down on raw calf brains during filming.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Short Attention Span Review: RoboCop (1987)

Earlier today I posted a review of the new RoboCop (I gave it a C) that you can read below.  It only seemed logical to follow that up with a look at the original 1987 smash hit from visionary director Paul Verhoeven.  Rest assured, good people, this one gets an A+.  RoboCop is one of the best sci-fi/action mash-ups ever to grace the screen and I can't think of anything that it doesn't do well.  Peter Weller leads an amazing cast that boasts wonderful performances from Nancy Allen, Ronny Cox, Kurtwood Smith, and Miguel Ferrer.  Many of these talents offered up what was likely their best work in this excessively violent and riveting shoot 'em up with a lot of heart.  It also benefits from a wealth of black humor and tremendous effects work.  The story is engaging and provocative in equal measures and heightens the impact of all the bloody mayhem unfolding onscreen.  Basil Poledouris provides the piece with what may be his second-best score (I'm hoping that no one reading this needs to be told what his finest score was) and the production team nailed every aspect of bringing this wild and visionary tale to life.  I'm frequently amazed that this was such a major success, but that gives me hope for mankind.  Apparently, there are lot of people out there who dig dark humor, gratuitous voilence, and buckets of gore.  RoboCop is a true one-of-a-kind and it remains just as potent and daring now as it was then.  Perhaps that's the biggest reason that I was so unimpressed with the reboot--RoboCop didn't need a paint job, and there was surely no need for a PG-13 RoboCop Lite.  If you're in the mood for a badass movie about a badass cybernetic policeman cleaning up the mean streets of Detroit, look to 1987.

Final Grade: A+
The original RoboCop is a special effects masterpiece.
If you don't believe me, just ask this guy.

Short Attention Span Review: RoboCop (2014)

The original RoboCop from 1987 is a classic.  Incredibly violent, incredibly funny, and incredibly distinct, its enduring popularity made it ripe for a reboot.  So now we have the 2014 version of RoboCop, which is a decent action movie.  In a way, it's a bit of a shame, because if I had sit down to watch this movie without ever having seen the original, maybe I would have been a bit more impressed.  As it is, this loose interpretation of the Paul Verhoeven blockbuster hits a lot of the same beats, sports an impressive cast, benefits from stellar effects work, and still manages to fall a bit flat.  It doesn't have the same heart and it doesn't have the same acidic wit--though it tries really hard on both counts.  Now, to be fair, the lack of an R-rating probably makes it damn near impossible to compete with a legendary picture that is as violent and as gory an action film as you're apt to see.  There are certainly times when this 2014 RoboCop feels more than a little watered-down, and some of the performers involved could have made a lot more noise if they had been working without boundaries.  Yet it emerges as a serviceable thrill ride and the original was built on a strong enough concept that even a RoboCop Lite packs a bit of a punch.  In the end, I was entertained by this one, but I wasn't as moved by it and I certainly didn't feel like I had just watched something fresh and exciting--though, to be fair, I don't know if that's even possible with these reboots that are so en vogue.  Would I recommend it?  I guess, but I would certainly recommend the original first.

Final Grade: C
The new RoboCop certainly looks cool.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Short Attention Span Review: Crippled Avengers (1978)

Often referred to as a sequel to the baddest kung fu flick of them all, Five Deadly Venoms, Crippled Avengers is actually a totally different feature from the Shaw Brothers.  It does reunite most of the cast from that martial arts masterpiece with gifted director Chang Cheh, and though I can't say that Crippled Avengers is as good as Five Deadly Venoms, it's definitely close.  The plot is an epic exercise in kung fu treachery: a sadistic master of tiger style kung fu and his equally vicious son (who have a tragic backstory that almost justifies their dastardly behavior) take great pleasure in crippling anyone who offends them.  Four of these victims (one who is rendered deaf and mute, one who is blinded, one who loses his legs from the knees down, and one who winds up with brain damage) join together and learn how to defend themselves in spite of their disabilities.  Once their training is complete, they return to seek vengeance against the evil master and his son in one of Chang Cheh's signature battles boasting numerous opponents and various styles.  No one could stage such a duel like Cheh, who excelled at presenting grueling showdowns that were ripe with talented performers (he made numerous films with the same stars) and showcased some of the best fight choreography ever captured on film.  In addition to the stellar fight scenes, this movie also benefits from the glorious sets and the bold color schemes that are typical of the motion pictures produced by the Shaw Brothers.  It also succeeds because it tells a good story (even if it is a bit far-fetched) and it is well-acted.  If you are looking for kung fu treachery and you have yet to experience the Shaw Brothers and Chang Cheh's work in particular, you're doing it all wrong.  Crippled Avengers is definitely in my top ten so far as martial arts movies are concerned, and it may even be in my top five. I also have to give some major props to Sheng Chiang, for while I love all the Venom Mob guys in the cast, his performance here as the brain-damaged warrior is a splendid treat.

Final Grade: A
Let the training begin!

Short Attention Span Review: Go Tell the Spartans (1978)

U.S. History captivates me.  I'm particularly drawn to tales of the old west and stories about our country's various military exploits.  As someone who grew up shortly after the Vietnam war had concluded, that conflict has always greatly intrigued me.  There have been many notable films about that tragic war and I count Go Tell the Spartans among them.   Yet many who have seen movies like Apocalyspe Now, Platoon, Full Metal Jacket, and We Were Soldiers haven't experienced this insightful look at the early stages of the conflict.  Burt Lancaster, one of the best leading men ever, stars as a cynical Major who has already fought in two wars before being sent to an undermanned outpost in South Vietnam.  There, he is charged with overseeing a group of South Viatnemese and does his best to fulfill his obligations though he never regards his assignment as much more than an exercise in futility.  Craig Wasson, Marc Singer, and Evan Kim offer up noteworthy performances and director Ted Post does a great job of bringing Daniel Ford's 1967 novel Incident at Muc Wa to the screen.  As the picture progresses, the movie's title becomes more and more pertinent.  Barker's understanding of the situation is mostly ignored by his superiors who aren't stationed in the combat zone and thus the odds of survival for our heroes rapidly diminish.  Go Tell the Spartans is a methodical anti-war film that lacks the star power, the exciting overtones, and the rock soundtrack of many better-known Vietnam sagas, but it is undeniably authentic and extremely well-acted.  It offers little in the way of hope, though a motion picture that seeks to probe the beginning of that difficult period in American history should emerge as a downer.  It wasn't a big-budget film and it isn't slick or exciting, but it is compelling.  Finally, Go Tel the Spartans is worth seeing for Burt Lancaster's somber performance alone, and anyone who enjoys this sort of fare should definitely seek it out. 

Final Grade: B


 Craig Wasson also starred in another of my favorite films about the Vietnam conflict that doesn't get the respect it deserves, The Boys in Company C.


The ill-fated Major Asa Barker's last words: "Oh shit."

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Cult Classics from Dimension X

I did a new Cult Classics from Dimension X today and as always, I had a blast with it.  I'm a big fan of subversive cinema, and a great many of my personal favorites are pictures that never really got the love they deserved.  I know that many of you enjoy these zany flicks as well, and with that in mind I just wanted to share the following links with you so that you can enjoy the other Cult Classics from Dimension X features I have composed for this blog.

Vice Squad



The Omega Man

Kingdom of the Spiders

Cult Classics from Dimension X: Kingdom of the Spiders (1977)

I could try, but I'm sure that I couldn't adequately explain why William Shatner's schtick is a such a key attribute of this film's success.  It doesn't make sense.  No one casts their male lead hoping for a wooden performance, a total lack of chemistry with the female lead, and several sequences that generate unintentional laughs.  Yet that's what director John "Bud" Cardos got from the Shat here, and for whatever reason, it only serves to elevate the picture.  This is the epitome of a cult classic, an unheralded gem that shouldn't have worked--and didn't work in many ways--yet somehow found an audience that could appreciate it for what it was.  Somehow, someway, this low-budget "spiders on the rampage" opus wound up being tremendously entertaining in spite of its flaws, of which there are many.  Honestly, some of those flaws, to include the Shat (who masterfully partners his inherent charm with an uneven performance) work to the movie's advantage.

It's also worth noting that Kingdom of the Spiders is one of those rare cheesy movies that has you laughing hysterically until the closing reel, when the picture suddenly starts to work.  In fact, it's the tension and the the fear that the finale provides that cements this one's cult classic status.  Without a powerful conclusion, it would be something akin to a mockery of the genre, but the nifty ending saves the day.  Of course, this is a 70s flick, and the 70s were all about downbeat finishes, so don't actually expect the Shat to save the day.  It's just a rousing finish that punctuates a sub-par motion picture, elevating it to something that vaguely resembles greatness.

Tiffany Bolling (Diane Ashley) pretends not to notice that the hat is wearing the Shat
while Woody Strode (Walter Colby) and Altovise Davis (Birch Colby) look on.
No, Birch--that's a terrible idea!
Most of the drama in this spider-filled shocker comes courtesy of the incredible Woody Strode and Altovise Davis as Walter Colby and his wife, Birch Colby.  Seriously, an alternate title for this film could have been The Woeful Saga of the Colby Farm, for theirs is a tale of misery.  You see, the spiders that menace our heroes make their presence known by munching on Walt's prize calf, who was destined to win a big prize at the upcoming fair.  It's a crushing blow, but Walter soldiers on so that he can later be eaten by spiders while driving around in his trusty pickup.  Poor Birch is understandably distraught, and is only beginning to grieve when she is devoured by spiders within her home. 

It's up to Shatner as country vet Rack Hansen and Tiffany Bolling as a lovely expert on spiders named Diane Ashley to save the day.  Their efforts are complicated by Rack's hilarious attempts to seduce his lovely sidekick.  The meddling mayor also presents problems along the way.  No, Rack's predatory attempts at seduction aren't supposed to be comical.  Yes, there's a meddling mayor.  Most of these "Man vs. Nature" flicks aspire to be Jaws, and as such there is usually a clueless and greedy authority figure who seeks to endanger everyone he is supposed to serve.  Roy Engel absolutely slays me as Mayor Connors, a ludicrous caricature who doesn't have time for killer spiders and the death of his constituents because he is too worried about the fair.  His lines are bad enough, but his delivery is so phenomenally awful that his small part in Kingdom of the Spiders quickly becomes comedic gold.

You haven't seen acting until you've seen the Shat grieve.
The only thing better than the mayor's antics and Shatner's awe-inspiring lack of chemistry with Bolling are the scenes that require the Shat to emote.  Rack Hansen is a man who is presented with a wealth of conflict and heartache, so Shatner is thereby required to grieve, rage, and dig deep so that he can keep on fighting the good fight.  Truthfully, though I love the Shat and greatly enjoy his presence in this picture, he's a lot better at that spoken-word music that he does.  If you can watch the first 60 minutes of Kingdom of the Spiders without laughing, I don't want to know you.  Movies that are so bad that they're good don't come any worse (and thereby better) than this one, and it's a laugh-riot all the way up until that riveting conclusion when the picture mysteriously finds its groove. 

The score is largely assembled from stock music and the editing is a bit clunky, but director John Cardos manages to string viewers along until the handful of characters that remain gather for their last stand in that worthwhile finish.  If it sounds like I'm totally bashing this movie, I promise that isn't the case.  I love it.  It's terrible in so many ways, but it's damn entertaining, and I do think that the ending kicks ass.  Additionally, I should point out that people who are deathly afraid of spiders may not find it quite as hilarious as I do, and some seem to think it's a fine film.  Hell, the Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror Films nominated it for their Best Horror Film award in 1977, though it lost to The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane.  I can't call it one of the best horror films that I've ever seen, but I'm certainly more than willing to rank Kingdom of the Spiders as one of my favorite Cult Classics from Dimension X.

Best Horror Film?  I think not.
This dude's screams, though--if there was an award for
Best Screaming Performance, he would have taken that bad boy home.

There is no way this film would be made today.  The making of Kingdom of the Spiders was essentially a tarantula holocaust.  Real tarantulas were used throughout the making of the film, and this means that a multitude of them were trampled underfoot, run over by vehicles, and otherwise squashed during production.

$50,000 of the film's budget (a big slice of the pie, to be sure) went to the purchase of live tarantulas.

As a player for the Los Angeles Rams, actor Woody Strode was one of the first athletes to break the color barrier in the NFL.

Rumors of a sequel have popped up on several occasions.  There were even reports in the late 80s that not only would Shatner return as the lead, but he was also going to direct the picture.

Marcy Lafferty plays Willam Shatner's sister-in-law in the movie.  When Kingdom of the Spiders was filmed, Shatner and Lafferty were actually husband and wife.

Though there were rubber spiders in the mix, the actors frequently interacted with live tarantulas.  Cast and crew members reported being bit by these arachnids on several occasions.  As you watch the movie, there certainly seem to be moments where performers pretending to be attacked by the spiders suffer a legitimate bite.

Faith No More: New Album/Top 5 Songs

They're back!
I am so stoked for this new Faith No More album coming in May that it's ridiculous.  FNM is my favorite band and while I spent years hoping for a reunion, I really didn't think it would happen.  Then they reunited a few years ago to tour, refused to play a show anywhere near me, and swore that there would be no new material.  Bummer.  Yet here we are, just a couple of months away from the release of their new album, Sol Invictus.  Two killer tracks have already been released and it sounds like the band still has the ability to throw down some vicious rock while taking their sound in strange and unique directions.  Many seem to prefer "Superhero" to "Motherfucker," and while I like them both I do believe that I'm a bit more infatuated with the latter.  When the album hits, I'll be sure to provide a review after I take a day off from life to immerse myself in it. 

Until then, I wanted to provide you with this link to a "Top 5 Faith No More Songs" piece I did for RVA Magazine back in 2010. 

And, for those who haven't heard the new stuff:



Monday, March 23, 2015

Short Attention Span Review: Mother Lode (1982)

Mother Lode isn't one of Charlton Heston's most popular movies, but it is a picture that I have always enjoyed.  Man's lust for gold sets the stage for deception, mystery, and murder in this adventure with ample doses of suspense and intrigue.  The locations are gorgeous, the film benefits from some wonderful cinematography, and the acting is solid across the board.  Heston kills it, but that's obvious, right?  After all, we're talking about Charlton Heston.  Nick Mancuso did a fine job with his role and Kim Basinger was obviously on her way to stardom.  There are some creepy moments and a wealth of tension, and the atmosphere is a major strength for Mother Lode.  The wide shots of the aptly-named Lake Lovely Waters and the equally stirring Fraser River Valley in British Columbia are marvelous to behold and contrast nicely with the claustrophobic interior shots within the mine that is so essential to the film.  Heston's cozy/creepy cabin is also a nice touch.  Additionally, Mother Lode is well-plotted, with the spine-tingling opening scene setting the hook well and allowing the picture to slowly build until things really get going in a riveting third act.  The conclusion that follows is satisfying and there honestly isn't much to complain about so far as this peculiar movie from 1982 is concerned.  It didn't receive a wide release in the U.S. and maybe that's why it flew so low under the radar and remains undiscovered by so many viewers.  Rest assured, Mother Lode isn't cinematic gold, but it is a good movie bolstered by an impressive performance courtesy of one of the finest actors ever to grace the screen.

Final Grade: B-

"Whoops!  My bad."


One of the cooler sequences in Mother Lode involves a plane crash that wasn't scripted.  The pilot really fouled up his water landing and the filmmakers incorporated the ensuing chaos into the film.

"Get your hands off of my gold, you damn dirty ape!"

Has Rick Lost His Damn Mind?

Like many of you (probably all of you--you are reading this blog, after all) I am a big fan of AMC's The Walking Dead.  It's not the best show on television (that honor belongs to Justified), but it's damn close, and I think this has been one of the best seasons yet.  One of the reasons I'm enjoying this arc so much is the way that Rick is behaving, though many seem to think that he has lost his grip on reality.  Well, is that true?  Has Rick lost his damn mind?  Before I answer this question, I should probably note that I think the first two seasons of the show were vastly superior to the next two seasons for a couple of reasons, but mostly because I liked Shane.  Yes, he banged Rick's wife.  Yes, he was a bit of a dick.  Yet he figured out how to live in this sucky new world long before Rick did.  Shane wasn't batshit crasy--not at first, anyhow--he was simply ahead of his time.  Hell, as much as his obsession with Lori wound up pushing him over the brink, his mental collapse was likely also triggered by being the voice of reason that was continually ignored.  His big scene at the barn in Season 2 was one of the best moments the show has produced to date, and I think it was rather similar to Rick's little outburst last night.  The zombie apocalypse isn't a great setting for second chances or any overt acts concerning trust or lenience.  The golden rule doesn't hold the same worth in this environment.  In other words, Rick isn't losing his damn mind, he's looking out for his people, and he's starting to realize that it's better to be sure than to be nice.  Fall in line and you've got no worries.  Present a threat to the safety of the group and your ass is grass.  It's not polite and it's actually a bit ruthless, but considering how things went at the prison and Terminus, that's just the way it has to be.  In closing, I'm not just giving the dude a pass, I'm giving him a high five.  Rock on, Rick, and fuck you, Pete. 
"Crazy?  Don't you dare call me crazy! 
I just figured this shit out three seasons before Rick did."

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Short Attention Span Review: Ouija (2014)

Utterly predictable and populated by some of the dumbest characters you'll ever find in a horror movie, Ouija is one of those flicks that still manages to entertain.  It's silly, it never strays from the formula, and it doesn't do anything new or inventive, but it is enjoyable if you don't mind watching stupid people suffer.  The ghoulish hijinks start when a couple of naive teenagers start messing with a ouija board and fail to follow the rules.  Every time they break out the ouija board, things get worse, yet they always respond to the gruesome tragedies that ensue by getting together again and busting out the ouija board.  "Guys, Debbie bit the dust last night after dicking around with the ouija board.  We have to get together tonight and dick around with the ouija board."  Cue horror movie antics.  Then the gang gets together the next day and it's like, "Guys, Isabelle bit the dust last night after we dicked around with the ouija board.  We have to get together tonight and dick around with the ouija board again."  I'm not exaggerating, that's essentially the plot for Ouija.  Not only that, but these brilliant teenagers (who I can't help but envy as there is never anything resembling adult supervision in their lives) insist on playing with the ouija board in the dark in houses where people recently suffered sinister demises.  Yet there are some decent jump scares to be had and the mood and music are serviceable.  I watched this one with my wife and my sister-in-law, and while I chuckled and sipped my bourbon they acted as though we had been transported back to 1973 to watch The Exorcist in one of those theaters where people were allegedly passing out and running for the exits.  The conclusion was as obvious as everything else about Ouija, but it worked.  If it sounds like I'm hating on this one, I'm not; the picture itself wasn't any smarter than the characters in it, but it was enjoyable.  Some horror movies work because you strongly identify with the leads and their struggles and you're drawn into a riveting story.  Some work because the leads are idiots and it's somewhat comical watching them stumble from one big scare to the next.  Count Ouija among the latter.  In closing, don't expect a classic--just pop some popcorn and have a few chuckles with this one.

Final Grade: C
This particular moment represents dumb mistake #19 for Laine (Olivia Cooke).

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Short Attention Span Reviews: Shock Waves (1977)

I don't know why, but when it comes to cheesy horror movies I'm a modern era snob.  Try to introduce me to a low-budget horror movie from 2015 and odds are I won't care to view it.  Find me a low-budget horror movie from 1977 and I'll buy the popcorn.  Honestly, I think the old crap is a lot better than the new crap.  Yet that isn't always the case and films like Shock Waves stand as proof of that.  Now, I knew that Shock Waves was either going to be bad or "so bad that it's good" going in, but one of my fellow horror fanatics is really keen on this particular nazi zombie flick and that gave me high hopes.  He was wrong.  I was misled.  I'm sorry, Peter Cushing, but Shock Waves is a lousy movie.  Before we start discussing things that the movie didn't do well, let's talk about areas where Shock Waves managed to succeed.  Well, . . . that was a short list.  No, seriously, they cast Peter Cushing and the atmosphere was a bit charged at times, though that probably happened by accident.  The sets are cool, though the fact that the camera was apparently operated by an orangutan makes it hard to enjoy the locations.  I'm assuming the director was drunk because I want to give him the benefit of the doubt.  The editor must have gone missing long before he finished his work with the picture.  The score could only be deemed impressive if it had been provided by small children.  On a similar note, the effects could only be deemed impressive if they had been provided by small children wearing blindfolds.  If there was a movie about people having to sit down and watch Shock Waves, that movie would be far more frightening than Shock Waves.  Seriously, if you're thinking about watching Shock Waves, I implore you to take your copy of the movie and toss into the depths where it belongs.  In fact, I should have given it the Spinal Tap treatment.  Hell, it's not too late--here's my alternate review of Shock Waves: "Shit Waves."

Final Grade: F-
This is what will happen to you if you ignore my advice and watch Shock Waves.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Short Attention Span Review: The Island (1980)

Earlier this week I did a review of The Deep.  Today, I'm dipping back into the ocean for another film based on a book by Peter Benchley that hit cinemas shortly after Jaws gave us the summer blockbuster.  The Island was no blockbuster, and much like The Deep, many critics and viewers were lukewarm on this seafaring adventure simply because it wasn't Jaws.  If we're ranking these pictures, The Island is surely in third place, but it's not a bad movie.  There are a few shocking moments of violence, a wealth of striking visuals, and Micheal Caine and David Warner offer up sound performances as the hero and the villain of the piece.  This pirate yarn is a bit over the top at times (that's an understatement) and some of the performances are uneven, but it is lively and suspenseful throughout.  Once again, like most every adaptation out there, the book was superior, but The Island still makes for a nifty movie that is often overlooked.  The pirates that menace these waters are surely entertaining to watch and they're a far cry from the likes of Captain Jack Sparrow.  Dirty, vulgar, crude, and extremely violent, these malevolent misfits make for feisty adversaries, and Caine's intrepid reporter is a sound protagonist.  The Island presents Caine's Blair Maynard with a great many obstacles to overcome and the struggles he endures during his captivity make him easy to root for.  The big finale is a bit unbelievable, but it is rather satisfying, and Caine's strong performance makes it easier to swallow.  The direction courtesy of Michael Ritchie is solid and Ennio Morricone provided The Island with yet another of his melodic and haunting scores.  In closing, it's a far cry from Jaws in terms of story and execution, but if you're looking for a cheeky good time The Island is surely worthy of a visit.

Final Grade: C+
This is what happens when you fuck with Michael Caine.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Short Attention Span Review: Psycho III (1986)

Stop me if you've heard this one before: Alfred Hitchock's Psycho is a masterpiece.  As is the case with many classics, it spawned sequels, most of which were relatively tame.  However, the third picture in the series, directed by star Anthony Perkins, is a worthy follow-up.  Now, it's nowhere near as good as the original, but that should come as no surprise.  Still, it's an intriguing opportunity to revisit one of the horror genre's most iconic figures and the plot provides us with a few twists and turns during our third stay at the Bates Motel.  Perkins had the art of playing Norman Bates down to a science and he also showed himself to be a fine director with this tense and disturbing thriller.  Diana Scarwid is also impressive as a conflicted nun on the run who flees the convent and takes refuge at the Bates Motel.  Bad call, right?  Most importantly, Jeff Fahey is on hand as Duane, a seedy drifter who takes a job at the motel and proves to be almost as kooky and dangerous as Norman.  Those who know me well know that I'm a big fan of Fahey and this performance is one of the reasons why.  He adds so much to the movie and his character is a tremendous foil for Perkins.  Their volatile relationship generates a wealth of tension in the third act of the picture.  There are a few scenes in the mix that would have made Hitchcock proud, to include a choice bit where the sheriff casually scoops cubes out of an ice machine where a corpse is stashed while Norman watches, sweating bullets.  There are a handful of gruesome demises and a lot suspense, but this isn't the type of picture that depends on cheap scares or gore.  It's quirky but serious, twisted but deliberate, and it showcases a unique talent in a part he was born to play.  Perkins also shows that he could direct everyone's favorite momma's boy as well and his Psycho III is a strange little thriller that delivers the goods.

Final Grade: B-
Jeff Fahey damn near steals the show as Duane, the master of lamp foreplay.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Short Attention Span Review: The Deep (1977)

Widely regarded as "that other movie based on a book by the guy who wrote Jaws," The Deep is a different sort of adventure, with only an ocean setting and Robert Shaw's presence to link the two.  This is probably why it suffered in the eyes of many fans and critics, for anyone looking for something in the Jaws vein was bound to be disappointed.  Yet that's more than a tad unfair, for while it may not be as good as Jaws (which just so happens to be my favorite movie) and it has precious little in common with that Spielberg blockbuster, it's still a quality motion picture.  Anyone who is fascinated by the ocean is bound to be delighted by the spectacular locales and the impressive underwater cinematography.  Those who like a good old-fashioned adventure will greatly enjoy watching Shaw, Nick Nolte, and Jacqueline Bisset vie for a sunken treasure while being menaced by Louis Gossett and his drug-dealing goons.  There's a huge moray eel that plays a considerable role in determining who survives this daring struggle, and there are voodoo scare tactics, frantic chases, and fisticuffs to keep things lively when our heroes aren't exploring the depths of those spellbinding Bermuda waters.  I'm a big fan of the novel and I believe that this movie directed by Peter Yates is a worthy adaptation of Peter Benchley's work.  There are a few minor discrepancies and the book was better, but isn't that always the case?  Yes, both the book and the film version of Jaws were superior, though I think it's pretty close on both countsThat shouldn't deter anyone from exploring The Deep, however, as it is a rich film that is very beautiful and very exciting.
Final Grade:  B+
This dude scared the hell out of me when I was kid.
Honestly, I still don't want to hang out with him.  Not even a little bit.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Short Attention Span Review: Night of the Living Dead (1990)

As is so often the case, this remake is inferior to the original, but that doesn't mean that it isn't a worthwhile zombie flick.  In spite of what you may have heard about Tom Savini's version of the George Romero classic that started it all, I rather enjoy it.  It's not groundbreaking and it doesn't bring anything new and inventive to this particular sub-genre, but that's okay.  It is a solid update with nifty effects and a good cast.  The score works for me, the mood is suitably grim, and I do enjoy it a lot.  In a rare role as the hero of a horror flick, Tony Todd is absolutely terrific, and Patricia Tallman also shows a great deal of range with her performance.  Most importantly, I thought Tom Towles was a bit of a revelation as the dick.  Most good horror movies have a dick and this Night of the Living Dead has one of the most irritating dicks you'll ever encounter.  Ideally, you don't spend a lot of time with irritating dicks to begin with, but you know what I'm saying.  Towles seldom fails to piss me off with his performance, yet there are a handful of occasions (most notably his "options" speech) that greatly amuse me.  The fact that Tony Todd has to deal with this dude makes him as much of a hero as his zombie-bashing exploits in this picture.  Additionally, I think Tom Savinia did a good job as the director.  There are no major shortcomings to complain about and his Night of the Living Dead doesn't deserve the bad reviews some have given it.  Now, if I make a list of the best zombie movies ever (been there, done that: link) you won't find this 1990 effort on the list, but I'm still going to recommend it.  It is not as shocking as the original and it isn't as wild or creative as many of the zombie movies that Romero's 1968 surprise hit has spawned, but it is an entertaining and well-made horror movie.

Final Grade: C+
Drinking Game: take a shot every time you want to punch this guy in the mouth.