Thursday, February 26, 2015

Damn you, Marvel! Damn you, DC! + Serioius Questions About Silly Shit

 It's not easy being a comic book fan, particularly if you're me.  Look, I don't know why, but I tell you this: if I really love a title, it is officially on the chopping block.  Don't believe me?  Just ask the green She-Hulk, the Thunderbolts, the red She-Hulk, or Hawkeye, among others.  Now, Marvel is apparently ready to pull the plug on my favorite title and their most underrated hero, Iron Fist (again), and DC is poised to do likewise with what may very well be my second favorite title (and the only book of theirs that I follow), Swamp Thing.  Bonus points: Spider-Man (my favorite superhero) is finally going to get involved in the film side of the Marvel universe and there are reports that his skin color is about to change.  Let me repeat: it's not easy being a comic book fan, particularly if you're me. 

No Iron Fist title?  Why?  This run has been marked by a gripping story paired with the most sensational art gracing the shelves of your favorite comic shop in 2014 and 2015, both courtesy of Kaare Andrews.  If this title truly ends with issue #12, we riot--or something.  Bitch and moan, most likely.

No Swamp Thing?  Jesus, DC, does everything have to be a Batman book?  Seriously, we can produce 718 Batman stories a month, but I can't chill with Swampy?  If Swamp Thing ends at issue #40, we riot--or something.  Yes, probably just more bitching and moaning.

And now for the powder keg: a black Spider-Man?  First off, this could mean that we're getting Miles Morales.  I don't want to see Miles Morales hanging out with the Avengers.  I don't like Miles Morales.  I like Peter Parker.  Peter Parker is Spider-Man.

No, you're not.  Shut the fuck up, Miles Morales.  Grown people are talking.  I like you about as much as I like the Ultimate universe version of Galactus.  Seriously, I'm a Marvel fanboy, and guess how many Ultimate books I follow?  None.  Zero.  Zilch.  I don't like that shit.  I like the originals just fine, and I'd rather read something new than read something that fucks with the original shit.  Which brings us to the the next paragraph, the one that may piss people off.  Maybe it should and maybe it shouldn't.  I honestly don't know.

So, here goes.  What if it isn't Miles Morales?  What if it's just a black Peter Parker?  Am I a racist because I don't really like that idea?  Okay, first off,  I think I'd rather have a black Peter Parker than Miles Morales, but I'm not 100% sure.  It's hard to choose from two things you aren't really keen on with any confidence.  Truthfully, I like the idea of fucking with Peter Parker about as much I like that Ultimate line bullshit.  Do I think that's racist?  No, I don't.  Not even a little bit.  Guess who would be bitching like crazy if they dropped a white Blade on us?  This guy.  White Luke Cage?  Me again.  I don't like the idea of tweaking stuff in that manner--and that would go for race or sex.  Seriously, a male Storm?  I'm not hearing it.  Deadpool as a chick?  Nope.  Black Widow as a dude?  Can that noise.  I wouldn't like any of that shit.

At the end of the day, I don't know if it really makes a difference or not, but I don't like it.  I know that.  I wouldn't like it if they moved Peter from New York to California.  I wouldn't really like it if they made him blonde.  I wouldn't be cool with it if he became an actor instead of a lowly photographer.  I didn't like the Andrew Garfield "cool outsider" approach as much as the Tobey Maguire "straight-up geek" approach because one didn't feel genuine to me and the other was what I grew up reading.  How much does any of this shit really matter?  Could you stay true to all the things that make Spider-Man so entertaining if Peter Parker was a black actor who lived in California?  Shit, I don't know.  If I'm keeping it real, though, I don't want to find out.  Maybe I am being silly.  Maybe it doesn't matter at all, but if you're going to adapt something to the screen, why not be as faithful to the source material as possible.  Is that racist?  Is it pointless?  Again, I don't know.  Who has the definitive answers when it comes to this kind of stuff?

I will also note this as today's blog winds down: you may have noticed that I pointed out that Iron Fist and Swamp Thing are my favorite titles while Spider-Man is my favorite character.  That may seem odd, but it's true.  Why is that?  Well, as much as I love the character of Spider-Man, his popularity has essentially turned his comics into a never-ending series of publicity stunts over the years.  I'm sure that this approach has been very profitable for Marvel, but as much as I love Spidey, it has made it hard for his books to keep up with the freshest material hitting the shelves every month.  I only point that out because it may figure into this whole "black Spider-Man" debate.  It feels distinctly publicity stunt-esque.  Once again, I bet it would make money, but as a fan I'm far more interested in seeing a good movie or reading a good comic than knowing that Marvel made mad loot.  I'm pretty sure Marvel's making mad loot any way it goes.  Seriously, those motherfuckers probably came out okay with the Elektra movie.

As always, maybe I'm wrong, and if I have offended anyone, well, tough shit.  Some of you people offend me with the way you get offended all the time.  We need open conversation in this society a lot more than we need delicate motherfuckers who are always getting offended.  I'm just asking questions.  Are they serious questions?  Perhaps, perhaps not, and if they are serious questions, they're serious questions about silly shit.  If you have the answers (or think that you do), please share them with me.  Would Spider-Man still be Spider-Man if he was a Canadian Mountie (as opposed to a Jamaican Mountie) who lived in Winnipeg?  Does anyone out there really like Miles Morales more than Peter Parker?  Why can't I have my Iron Fist and my Swamp Thing comics? 

Why does Justified have to end?

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Short Attention Span Review: Escape from New York (1981)

Let's set the stage for this one.  Yes, John Carpenter is probably my favorite director.  Yes, I think Kurt Russell is an epic leading man, and if we're talking about one of those movies he made with Carpenter, forget about it.  With Escape from New York, Carpenter offered up a dark and witty smash hit and Russell sank his teeth into one of the coolest parts ever as rugged anti-hero Snake Plissken.  The movie is absurd, and it is quite amusing to see our distant past grossly misrepresented as the distant future (the film was shot in 1980 and set in 1997), but it's all in fun.  True story: I once referred to this picture as a cult classic in the presence of a couple of friends who acted like I had gone insane.  They seemed to think it was garbage.  This didn't change my opinion of the movie at all, but it did convince me that these particular buddies of mine didn't know shit about movies.  Seriously, what's missing?  We've got a great hero, an insane plot, a wicked setting, an imposing villain, and a bunch of unique supporting characters to keep things popping.  In Escape from New York, Manhattan has become a maximum security prison, surrounded by a massive wall and patrolled by helicopters that gun down anyone looking to escape.  This seems like a good idea right up until the president's plane crashes in this gruesome wasteland and a desperate rescue attempt ensues.  The only man for the job is Snake Plissken, a decorated veteran and a notorious criminal who everyone believes to be dead.  Carpenter slays it with sublime direction and another of his awesome scores.  Escape from New York is very silly, but it's also very suspenseful when it isn't borderline hilarious, and it oozes cool from start to finish.  Most importantly, it's Kurt Russell's show, and it is entirely possible that this was his finest hour.  Escape from New York is a fantastic motion picture that never fails to entertain, and I can't recommend it highly enough.
Former Disney star Kurt Russell hits the mark as the one and only Snake Plissken

Monday, February 23, 2015

Short Attention Span Review: Graveyard Shift (1990)

True story: I'm a big fan of Stephen King's work.  Honestly, if you dig books, what is there to dislike about the catalog produced by this literary titan?  He's an author who deftly weaves gruesome thrills and Americana together in intricate tales highlighted by memorable characters and sound writing.  Despite a few big wins (most of which aren't the horror yarns he's best-known for), I don't think the movies have been very kind to this maestro's work.  For whatever reason, many of the horror films his imagination has spawned that I do enjoy are based on his short stories.  Graveyard Shift is no exception, and this one takes its title and premise from one my personal favorites.  The story is a cynical and incredibly dark ode to the working man that certainly packs a mean punch.  The ending is absolutely masterful and despite its meager length, it conjures up some truly terrifying imagery.  Though it received little fanfare and far less in the way of acclaim, this 1990 film is one that I really like.  Taking the basic premise of King's story (mutant rats turn an attempt to clean out the basement of a decrepit mill into a gruesome nightmare) and running wild with it, the filmmakers are able to wring a decent picture out of a brief tale.  While this isn't a stellar movie, it offers little in the way of shortcomings.  The cast is game and includes Brad Dourif in a wonderful part as a doomed exterminator with a healthy dose of swagger, the effects are nifty, and the grimy atmosphere is perfect.  Ralph S. Singleton does a decent job with the direction and the end credits are a stellar mash-up of some of the film's most memorable soundbytes.  Clearly, no one involved planned on winning an Oscar; rather, they were simply aiming to produce an entertaining scary movie that would deliver a few jolts and a good time to those who chose to work the shift.  I think it succeeds--it's no classic, but it's a pretty damn good show for those of us who like things that go bump in the night.  Graveyard Shift surely earns a few bonus points with viewers who can get behind the plight of the working man.  If you've ever fantasized about feeding some dickhead foreman to a mutant rat, you may wind up thinking that this is the best movie ever made.

Final Grade: B-
"Spread the word, fuckers." -Tucker Cleveland

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Short Attention Span Review: I, Frankenstein (2014)

Wow.  Just wow.  How did this movie even get made?  I'm watching it wondering how anyone involved got through the first five pages of the script without firing their agent just for suggesting they take part in I, Frankenstein.  Making matters worse, once the opening reel made it clear that this was going to be a movie where the Frankenstein monster got embroiled in an eternal struggle between demons and gargoyles, I couldn't even enjoy this in a "so bad that it's good" kind of way.  It was too bad for that.  The CGI was like something from an episode of Charmed, the demon make-up was very Buffy-esque, and the plot got worse with every minute that passed.  The drama this Frankenstein monster/demons/gargoyles saga was able to generate suffered for a great many reasons.  Having said that, here are the three most damning issues that the movie faced: 1) the Frankenstein monster was stupid, 2) the demons were very stupid, and 3) the gargoyles were so stupid that they almost made the demons and the Frankenstein monster seem intelligent.  Aaron Echkart was game throughout, though at some point he certainly realized that this lame attempt at a franchise was a true turd--I could see it in his eyes.  The harder he tried in spite of this, the worse I felt for the poor guy.  I feel like he was looking in the mirror every night after shooting saying, "I got ripped for this?"  Yet he soldiered on, carrying Bill Nighy and everyone else involved further and further into the abyss with every valiant step forward that he took.  If you're thinking about watching this one anytime soon, don't.  Save yourself.

Final Grade: F-

Yo Herman, what did you think of I, Frankenstein?

Friday, February 20, 2015

Short Attention Span Review: Falcon Rising (2014)

There was a time when people used to go rent movies at places like Blockbuster and various other rental chains, places where the walls were lined with titles and you could buy candy at absurd prices.  The heyday for this particular era may have been the 90s, and during that time there were entire sections devoted to martial arts movies.  Here, roughly a dozen gifted warriors of the cinema were vying for kung fu supremacy.  You could chose from legit stars like Jean-Claude or Segal, or you could go for the talent hanging out on the lower shelves, people like Don "The Dragon" Wilson, Cynthia Rothrock, or my personal favorite, Gary Daniels.  It was like Billy Bob's Kung-Fu Theatre for my generation.  Now, VHS tapes are fossils, the rental industry is all but dead (Redbox is an entirely different animal), and the martial arts sub-genre isn't exactly flourishing--but we have Michael Jai White!  Yes, good people, Black Dynamite is here to save the day.  You'll have to understand if I can't help but give Black Dynamite lots of props here--it's one of my favorite movies and if you haven't seen it, please stop reading this blog and go watch it RIGHT THIS VERY MINUTE.  I typed that in all caps because I mean it.  Those of you who have seen Black Dynamite and are therefore still enjoying this review can go ahead and lower your expectations, but you already knew that Falcon Rising would be no Black Dynamite.  Honestly, it's a far cry from Blood and Bone, but it's still worth watching--particularly if you miss that old school kung-fu glory as much as I do.  Of course Michael Jai White delivers the goods, he's an absolute beast.  I think he's a good actor and his martial arts prowess is second to none in this day and age.  The plot for Falcon Rising is a simple exercise in the time-honored "noble hero encounters kung fu treachery and kicks a lot of ass" vein, but I thought Ernie Barbarash's direction was exciting and the score from Charlie Lin was pretty nifty too.  There were decent opponents for Michael Jai White to combat and underrated vet Neil McDonough showed up just long enough to earn a paycheck.  Bonus points: I had never seen Thiago Santo in a movie before and he caught my attention as crooked cop with a bit of a conscience.  All things concerned, this was an entertaining little romp that probably deserves a C, but I'm going to give it a C+.  Why?  Black Dynamite, that's why!

Final Grade: C+

Michael Jai White doing what he does: kicking ass.

Haven't seen Black Dynamite?  Go watch it.  I'm serious.  Scram, you jive turkeys!

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Short Attention Span Review: The Legacy (1978)

Katherine Ross and Sam Elliot headline this kooky fright flick as an American couple who have made a name for themselves as architects.  They accept a job that takes them to England, and shortly thereafter they embark on a joy ride through the country on Sam's motorcycle.  They are involved in a minor accident where the only casualty is the motorcycle.  The passenger in the other vehicle is a curious fellow who introduces himself as Jason Mountolive.    He invites them back to his mansion for tea and pledges to have the motorcycle fixed, but as you may have guessed, this is where the strange goings-on begin.  Other guests arrive at Mountolive's impressive home and this unique gathering is equally notable--it seems that some of the most powerful people in the world have journeyed here for a strange reunion of sorts.  Wait, just where did that curious Mountolive fellow go?  And what's up with that bizarre figure in that strange chamber that looks like something out of a hospital ward?  Also: the creepy cat and the creepier nurse--what are they up to?  Is that Roger Daltrey playing a rock star?  How do Ross and Elliot fit into the strange saga that is unfolding at this remote estate?  How long before these strange people and their cryptic behavior piss Sam Elliot off?  The Legacy is certainly an odd picture, and it succeeds at raising a lot of interesting questions.  Unfortunately, it is isn't as good at presenting compelling answers to those questions.  There is a sinister vibe that keeps the viewer on edge and the talent involved does a great job of bringing these intriguing characters to life.  Unfortunately, the kills are rather lackluster, most of the effects work is pretty weak, and the ending is a bit muddled.  Thus, a picture with a solid premise and the necessary players to produce a real winner emerges as a pedestrian horror film that does manage to create an ominous mood and deliver a  few decent scares.

Final Grade: C

Sam Elliot gets wounded (and pissed off) in The Legacy

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Top 10 Bizarre Horror Movies from the 70s for

So, I found this really awesome site that specializes in cool lists,  You guys know that I dig lists, so it should come as no surprise that I felt the need to contribute.  With that in mind, do yourself a favor and scope out the 10 Bizarre Horror Movies from the 70s piece that I put together for them.  I would absolutely love it if you could check the story out, share your thoughts, and spread the word.  I had a blast with this one and I would love to contribute additional lists to the site.  You know I'm having a good time when I get to write sentences like "It doesn’t take long for our hero’s investigation to lead him to a telepathic Christ-like hippie with a glowing face and a vagina on his side."  Who doesn't have fun with stuff like that?

Okay, pipe down, anti-telepahtic Christ-like hippie with a glowing face and a vagina on his side people, you've made your point.

The rest of you head on over to TopTenz and check it out.

Exhibit A: a telepathic Christ-like hippie with a glowing face and a vagina on his side

Short Attention Span Review: Grizzly (1976)

Gee, I wonder if this was inspired by Jaws?  Arriving in cinemas a year after that 1975 smash hit, this contrived man vs. nature flick from executive producer Edward L. Montoro trades a big shark for a big bear and subs in Christopher George, Richard Jaeckel, and Andrew Prine for Roy Scheider, Richard Dreyfuss, and Robert Shaw.  Advantage: Jaws.  Yes, Grizzly is inferior to Spielberg's masterpiece in every way possible, but that doesn't mean that it's a bad movie.  It's not a good movie either, it's just an average film that does manage to provide the viewer with a few thrills and an abundance of gorgeous scenery.  There are a multitude of shots from the bear's POV and a lot of genuine bear footage to go along with a fair amount of gore, though the film suffers whenever a shot requires someone to interact with the titular menace.  The amount of suspense the picture is able to generate is surprising, and Grizzly somehow succeeds despite an abundance of cliches and a lack of originality.  Seriously, you could put this movie on and engage in a drinking game where you take a shot every time something happens in Grizzly that is a blatant rip-off of something that happened in Jaws, but you would probably succumb to alcohol poisoning.  That aside, the picture has its merits.  The direction courtesy of William Girdler is okay and the acting is good; George, Jaeckel, and Prine all do a fine job with the material.  Of the three, George was the clear choice to serve as the lead, and each of these actors enjoyed worthwhile careers in film and television.  I personally feel that each of these talented performers was vastly underrated, but the horror genre that I'm so enamored with benefited greatly from the lack of mainstream respect that they received.  The plot is pretty much what you would expect: a scenic park is the setting for a grisly grizzly rampage and the bear in question is a massive specimen.  Despite the presence of a smug and greedy authority figure (Joe Dorsey doing his best Murray Hamilton), the good guys embark on a quest to save the day, though only of one of them will live to the see the job finished. 

Final Grade: C

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Short Attention Span Review: Broken Trail (2006)

I'm a big fan of Walter Hill's work--in fact, I think he is one of the most underrated directors of all time.  He's the man responsible for hit movies like 48 Hrs. and The Warriors, as well as unheralded gems like The Long Riders, Southern Comfort, and The Driver.  Most of his pictures (to include those set in modern times) rely on western themes and feature tough heroes and despicable villains at odds over their individual views on justice and the law.  Until recently, I had never viewed Hill's 2006 miniseries Broken Trail, which originally aired on AMC.  I'm glad I finally gave it a look--Broken Trail is an excellent western, and excellent westerns are hard to come by these days.  Robert Duvall stars alongside Thomas Haden Church and it's no surprise that Duvall excels as an ornery cowpoke with a soft and gentle side he works very hard to conceal.  Church is a bit of a revelation here, though, and that did surprise me.  Tough, brooding, and direct, it's his performance as Tom Harte that really steals the show.  The picture is built around an attempt to drive horses across the country that becomes more and more complicated as various twists of fate test our capable leads.  Broken Trail contains a few riveting setpieces, but it relies more on character development and intrigue than shootouts to tell its story, and as such it won't appeal to those who measure a good western by how many shots are fired.  There's as much time devoted to the relationships forged with a handful of Asian women who wind up under the care of our hardened cowboys as there is time devoted to their struggles with the various bad men who they encounter along the way.  Broken Trail may disappoint those looking for an action-packed jaunt through the wild west, but it will greatly please those who want to see a detailed saga about good people faced with difficult choices.  I often put Hill's work on a pedestal, and I feel that Broken Trail ranks among his very best.  In fact, it may be his most thoughtful and moving effort, and I highly recommend it to those who enjoy a rich story with a lot of scope. 

Final Grade: A

Monday, February 16, 2015

Cult Classics from Dimension X: The Omega Man (1971)

I can remember watching this as a small child.  I know, I know, that explains a lot, right?  I can also remember being fascinated by it even though my father insisted that it was lousy.  As an adult, this is still one of the few movies that Pop and I disagree on.  The Omega Man is a fantastic piece that is equal parts science fiction, horror, action, and thoughtful drama.  Most importantly, it's one of the finest showcases Charlton Heston ever had the opportunity to embrace, and he delivers a marvelous performance that surely ranks among his best work.  Now, I'm not going to discredit anyone who sees another of this cinema titan's films as his most memorable offering, for I'm in agreement that he starred in better movies.  Yet it's surely the part of Robert Neville that I consider his best role, despite any shortcomings with the film itself.

Additionally, it must be noted that this is one of three attempts Hollywood has made to bring Richard Matheson's timeless novel I Am Legend to the screen.  Each attempt has fallen well short of living up to the book's lofty standards.  Furthermore, only the 1964 version (The Last Man on Earth starring Vincent Price) was interested in being faithful to the material, but it didn't have the budget it needed to match Matheson's visionary masterpiece.  I am a huge fan of the novel, and you can read more about it here in a "Top Vampire Movies and Books" piece I did for RVA Magazine.  Am I disappointed that the other film versions have strayed from the material?  Yes, but there's something about The Omega Man that makes me forgive the filmmakers for cutting their own path.  I also enjoy the 2007 version of I Am Legend with Will Smith, but it's no more like the book despite sharing its title--and it's certainly no match for this wonky gem from 1971.

The opening reel is one of the best things about the picture, as the film begins with Heston cruising the deserted streets of Los Angeles in a cherry red Ford.  There's something so eerie about a solitary figure driving through an empty city, and a bit of intrigue is added to the mix when he pauses just long enough to grab a machine gun and spray a nearby window where there may have been movement with a hail of lead. What follows is a unique series of bizarre sequences as Heston's lone survivor (or so he thinks) squares off against a clan of bloodthirsty mutant albinos known as "The Family."  These strange enemies hide during the day while Neville rummages for supplies and works to achieve a cure for that which ails his adversaries.  At night, Neville must barricade himself within his swank L.A. home and try to survive as The Family lays siege to his residence over and over again.

Throughout, Heston operates with an impressive passion for his craft, excelling in a complex role.  Neville is desperate, fearsome, vulnerable, and also a bit mad.  As such, the picture requires him to portray a man who is a hopeless lunatic at times, but who is also a rugged survivor, and finally, a man who emerges from the desperation and carnage around him as a selfless hero.  He goes crazy, he guns down mutants, he makes love to Rosalind Cash, and he perishes in an attempt to save what remains of mankind.  It's a huge role that would have capsized many a fine performer, but not Charlton Heston.  He kills it.

His adversaries, the fiendish (and vaguely hippy-esque) members of The Family (who had to be at least partly inspired by the so-called "Manson Family" and their brutal exploits two years prior in 1969), are a fearsome crew.  Led by Anthony Zerbe as Matthias, who is also seen as a news anchor in Neville's flashbacks of a world that had yet to be spoiled, they hide during the day and lust for blood--Robert Neville's blood in particular--during the night.  Zerbe, as always, delivers the goods, setting an admirable standard for  his co-stars who join him in bringing these spooky creatures to life.

The effects are serviceable enough.  As a kid, The Family scared the hell out of me, and while the make-up is a bit dated by modern standards, it's still eerie enough to get the job done.  The action is well-choreographed and there are some fine moments of suspense.  While Matheson's novel was far more brisk, the plot for The Omega Man seldom falters and there are only a few lulls sprinkled throughout the 98 minute running time.  The picture can be a bit overwrought, and Cash and the rest of the actors portraying the other human survivors who arrive late in the game have a hard time keeping up with Heston and Zerbe.

Boris Sagal did a nice job directing the picture and Ron Granier's work with the score is solid.  The editing and cinematography are top-notch, and The Omega Man is definitely a fine example of the high-quality fare the elite studios used to churn out.  I want to single out a sequence early in the film where Neville goes to a theater and watches Woodstock as a brilliant touch.  Heston shines in this scene where a lonely man sees multitudes of people come together in celebration on the screen.  Neville recites the lines verbatim as one subject of the documentary tries (and mostly fails) to explain the Woodstock experience.  It's as close as Neville can get to joining in on the fun himself and thereby escaping his lonely and treacherous existence.  It's simple yet powerful stuff, and seeing as how it arrives lumped in amid some fairly ludicrous sci-fi mayhem, it may surprise you.  

In the end, my childhood fascination with the picture aside, I think it's fair to say that The Omega Man remains the best attempt to adapt I Am Legend.  It's wildly dissimilar, far more absurd, and it exchanges the book's masterful (and incredibly cynical) ending for a far more optimistic (and yes, contrived) conclusion.  Yet it is owned by Charlton Heston, who attacks the role, guns blazing, and elevates a far-fetched vision of an apocalyptic future into one of the more outlandish and captivating sci-fi yarns that you're apt to see.


In his autobiography, In the Arena, Heston writes that Rosalind Cash was bit apprehensive before shooting her love scene with him.  "It's a spooky feeling," he recalls her saying, "to screw Moses."

Allegedly, Richard Matheson felt that the picture was so unlike his book that he wasn't at all bothered by the various changes.  He saw it as a completely different tale.

Tim Burton has voiced his affection for The Omega Man more than once.  He even went so far as to say that if he was stranded on a desert island, it's the kind of the movie he want with him to help pass the time in an interview held to promote his 2009 Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) exhibit.

Believe it or not, some scenes of the empty Los Angeles landscape that Neville inhabits were accomplished simply by shooting in the business district early on Sunday mornings, when the streets were mostly empty.  This explains why it's possible to pick out a few random souls walking around in the background during some of the wide shots used to emphasize the main character's isolation.

The decision to exchange Matheson's vampires for mutant albinos is credited to screenwriter Joyce Corrington, who held a doctorate in chemistry and felt that mutants spawned by biological warfare were a more realistic choice.  

Other Cult Classics from Dimension X c/o Land of Way:

Sssssss (1973)

Sorcerer (1977) 

Vice Squad (1982) 

A Fistful of Satchels

I just had a chance encounter with a gritty old man who was carrying a satchel.  It was a minor incident that occurred during an otherwise mundane trip to the grocery store to get bread and milk.  No, this wasn't one of those "Oh no, it's cold outside and there may be bad weather" freakouts, this was business as usual.  We're a family of six.  We always need bread and milk.

Anyway, as I was walking through the parking lot, I passed an old man with a satchel.  He was wearing a leather jacket and he had his hair slicked back. The presence of his satchel required him to thrust his chest out and throw his shoulders back.  Sometimes you can read another person's thoughts.  This old guy was challenging the world, daring someone to say something about his satchel.  Yes, satchels have a bit of a stigma, and this dude was well aware of that, and he wasn't going to take any shit about it.  He paused long enough to regard me with a steely gaze.  Okay, that last bit was an example of poetic license--he did pause, but he had on mirrored sunglasses.  Honestly though, I'm willing to bet that there was a steely gaze beneath those sunglasses, and aren't mirrored sunglasses the eyewear equivalent of a steely gaze anyhow?  But I digress.  He studied me, his satchel at his side and his teeth clenched together.  He was going for that expression that Clint Eastwood used to make whenever he had a chance encounter with a bad guy in the saloon.  Typically, this was followed by a confrontation that ended with Clint pulling his six-shooter and shooting three or four goons in the blink of an eye.  Honestly, the old guy was doing a pretty good job with the expression, but if I'm going to be completely transparent here, the satchel did keep him from nailing it.

Regardless, he looked at me, wanting me to say something about the satchel.  "Dude, I'm wearing slippers.  Your beef's with them, not me," I wanted to say, but I didn't.  I probably should have.  It could have been the start of a truly unique conversation.  Of course, it also could have been the catalyst for a beating at the hands of a tough old man with a satchel, and you can't walk away from something like that with your pride intact.  In closing, all of this begs the question: if you get beat up by an old man, do you save face or lose face if he had a satchel that he used as a weapon?  I'm thinking that you probably lose face.  Even if he had a brick in there and he thumped you with it, it's still a satchel.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Short Attention Span Review: I Am Legend (2007)

Right off the bat, I want to say that I'm a huge fan of the Richard Matheson novel that this movie is based on.  The book is an absolute classic and you can check out a "Top Vampire Movies and Books" piece I did for RVA Magazine here for more on it.  Suffice it to say that it's a work of fiction that I hold so near and dear to my heart that I shied away from this Will Smith vehicle for quite some time.  Of course, I'm actually a big fan of Charlton Heston's The Omega Man from 1971 (also based on the book, and also a very loose interpretation of the material) as well as the more faithful (but cheaply made) Vincent Price version entitled The Last Man on Earth from 1964, so I couldn't avoid the most recent attempt at bringing this tale to screen forever.  And you know what?  I liked it.  I honestly think it was probably a better picture than either of the previous versions to grace the silver screen, but I still favor The Omega Man.  Will Smith does an awesome job in the 2007 version, but he's not quite in Heston's league.  Smith is modern cinematic royalty, and it's close, but Heston was one of best ever and I preferred his take on the character of Robert Neville.  Anyway, this most recent version of the film exchanges Matheson's vampires for CGI mutants with a powerful thirst for blood and Spider-Man's ability to run, jump, and climb walls.  The CGI can be a little problematic, but the powerful (and heartbreaking) tale of Sam the heroic dog offsets any shortcomings so far as the effects are concerned.  The plot zips along at a nifty pace and there are several rousing action scenes in the mix.  There's also a compelling story and a worthy conclusion--a pair of them actually, as I thought the alternate ending featured on the Blu-Ray I watched was equally potent.  Legendary?  I think not, but definitely worth a watch.  Just be sure to dig up a copy of The Omega Man if you like what you see.

Final Grade: B

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Short Attention Span Review: The Return of the Living Dead (Soundtrack) - 1985

I frequently express my affection for Return of the Living Dead, a vastly underrated picture that is not only my favorite zombie flick, but one of my favorite horror films in general.  Hell, it's one of my favorite movies.  One of the things I like most about this outlandish gem is the incredible soundtrack.  The movie itself is very punk, so while it might seem bizarre on the surface, a soundtrack with songs from The Cramps, The Damned, Tall Boys, and The Flesheaters meshes well with the zombie carnage that ensues in the film.  Not only that, but most of the selections are awesome songs.  The movie's anthem, "Partytime," comes courtesy of 45 Grave, and it would probably be the highlight of this gnarly album if not for the song The Cramps brought to the party: "Surfin' Dead."  I dig the whole album and I do believe that it was integral to the movie's success.  I'll use this space to recommend the movie to any poor soul hasn't seen it, but my primary objective is to show the soundtrack some love.  It rocks--correction: it punk rocks.  Show your ears some love and give it a listen if you haven't already.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Current Reading List - Comics

I blogged about the new Star Wars comic from Marvel earlier, so I've definitely got comics on the brain today.  I'm always curious about what you guys are reading, and I'm willing to share my reading list with you as well.  I generally follow anywhere from 5-10 comics a month, and here's what I'm currently rocking:

Star Wars - read the previous blog for more, but the bottom line is this comic rocks

Iron Fist - this is the coolest book on my list and Kaare Kyle Andrews is the most sensational artist in comics today

Black Widow - I'm a big fan of girl power and I absolutely love this title

Swamp Thing - if DC really does end this comic, they're dead to me--seriously, there are 743 Batman books, kill one of those off before you discard your coolest title and character

She-Hulk - another cool comic that is one on the cusp of annihilation

Hawkeye - a theme is forming right before our very eyes, but at least there's a replacement for this stellar venture coming down the pipeline

The Amazing Spider-Man - yeah, this whole Spider-verse thing is totally ridiculous--and it's also lots of fun

Guardians of the Galaxy Team-Up - this one is slated to debut this month and we've already signed up--I'm a sucker for a good team-up

So, that's what I'm reading.  Feel free to share your thoughts on my list and as I said earlier, I'm definitely curious about what you guys are looking at these days.  I'm a Marvel fanboy at heart, but I'm willing to branch out.  Just don't try and recommend anything DC does to me if they really pull the plug on Swampy.  That aggression will not stand.

Star Wars - the new comic series from Marvel

Last night I read the second issue of Marvel's new Star Wars series to the kids.  Yes, I played Star Wars music, just like I did with the first one, and even though Darth Vader's breathing isn't part of the script, I went there.  I went there a lot.  True story: we're having a great time with these comics.  Honestly, they're pretty close to the top of my list now, and that's high praise considering just how new the title is.  The kids would probably love it regardless, but I'm genuinely impressed.  I'm a lifelong fan of comics, and it's not like we haven't had Star Wars comics to enjoy before.  However, I never felt the property translated well to comics--at least not the ones I encountered.  They were okay, but they were never something that I sought out.  This series is dope.  It's set right after the first Star Wars--or should I say the fourth?  I think I would prefer to refer to it as the first, even though it is Part IV, but I digress.  What I'm trying to say is that it's very cool because I get to hang with Luke, Leia, Han and Chewie, and everyone's favorite droids again after all this time.  Bonus points: it is entirely possible that Darth Vader has never been more badass.  That's probably my favorite thing about the series.  Anyway, if you're a fan of comics or Star Wars, you should definitely check this series out.  The story is gripping, the pencils are solid, the colors are incredible, and I think you'll enjoy it just as much as these wacky Waylands are.

May the force be with you.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Faith No More to release Sol Invictus on May 19

Alternative rock titans Faith No More are poised to release their first album since 1997 and we finally have a date and a title for the record.  On May 19, the quixotic outfit from San Francisco will drop Sol Invictus.  The album is preceded by the unruly single "Motherfucker," which is currently available and incredibly cool.  There are rumors that a second single titled either "Superhero" or "Leader of Men" will be made available in March. 

Additionally, the band has scheduled the following U.S. tour dates:

April 16 - Seattle, WA - Paramount Theater
April 17 - Portland, OR - Keller Auditorium
April 19 - San Francisco, CA - Warfield
April 20 - San Francisco, CA - Warfield
April 23 - Los Angeles, CA - The Wiltern
April 24 - Los Angeles, CA - The Wiltern
April 25 - Santa Ana, CA - The Observatory
May 7 - Chicago, IL - Concord Music Hall
May 8 - Detroit, MI - The Fillmore
May 11 - Boston, MA - Orpheum Theatre
May 13 - New York, NY - Webster Hall
May 14 - New York, NY - Webster Hall
May 15 - Philadelphia, PA - Electric Factory

However, don't get your hopes up--those shows all sold out pretty much as soon as tickets became available.  Fortunately, the band insists that additional U.S. shows will be scheduled, and given the response we can hope for lots of them. 

Monday, February 9, 2015

Short Attention Span Review: Merantau (2009)

As a huge of fan of both The Raid (awesome movie) and The Raid 2 (just fucking incredible), I'm surprised it took me so long to get to Merantau.  For those who aren't familiar with Gareth Evans and Iko Uwais, the director and the star of a pair of the finest action films ever (that would be The Raid and The Raid 2 for anyone who's having a hard time keeping up), this potent team first hit the scene with Merantau back in 2009.  Knowing that this was the film that launched this ultra-talented tandem, I was expecting something vastly inferior, but that wasn't the case.  I think that with The Raid and its powerhouse sequel, Evans and Uwais greatly advanced their game in terms of plot and effects/gore, but Merantau is no amateur debut.  It's a highly-polished martial arts film with a decent story and an abundance of riveting fight choreography.  It's a bit more traditional than those later efforts, with The Raid taking a John Carpenter-esque approach to the genre and The Raid 2 deftly combining kung fu treachery (I never miss a chance to give Black Dynamite his due) and a plot that was on par with The Departed.  Yet Merantau is still highly-effective, and if I had happened upon this before viewing either Raid picture, I would have been almost as keen on Evans and Uwais.

Final Grade: B

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Wake N Bake Donuts in Carolina Beach, NC

This morning the fam went to Carolina Beach in search of coffee, donuts, and a stroll along the sand with the ocean nipping at our heels.  The weather was fair, the sky was blue, the sun was shining, and Wake N Bake Donuts was ready to rock.  That statement can be taken literally--the tunes were almost as good as the donuts and coffee.  It's hard to go wrong with grunge and classic rock, and I'll give the place bonus points because the staff was friendly and knowledgeable.  There were a wealth of donuts to choose from and despite being vastly superior to the donuts offered by either of those franchises everyone who likes a good donut knows and loves, the prices at Wake N Bake were far more reasonable.   

I had a Wake N Bacon donut complete with maple glaze and bacon crumbles, and it was stellar.  I followed that up with a Mexican Fire donut, which was topped with a peanut butter glaze and a sweet sriracha drizzle.  Wow!  I need another one ASAP.  Yes, dear readers, the coffee was good and the donuts were epic.  The whole family was thrilled with their donuts and we greatly enjoyed soaking up the good music and the cozy atmosphere.

Rest assured, if you're in the vicinity you have no better option for donuts and coffee than Wake N Bake Donuts.  For a truly divine start to your day, follow up your breakfast with a walk along the ocean.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Cult Classics from Dimension X: Sssssss (1973)

 Cult Classics from Dimension X: Sssssss (1973)

If a movie revolves around a demented scientist named Dr. Stoner, who is experimenting on his teenage assistant in an attempt to turn him into a snake, it may be a cult classic.  Bonus points are awarded if the mad scientist in question is doing this because he has strange views.  Essentially, he is trying to prepare his species for an impending apocalypse that he believes will destroy humanity but leave snakes unharmed.  Yet, despite the fact that our mad scientist is named Dr. Stoner and he comes armed with a kooky scheme, the reason that Sssssss actually works is the serious and deliberate nature of the piece.  The plot sounds like one of those cheesy horror flicks where the lousy effects and the unintended laughs are plentiful.  Now, there are lousy effects and unintended laughs on display here, but the picture is surprisingly grounded and far less sensational than one might expect.

This is what happens when you take a job for a dude named Dr. Stoner.
 The body count is pretty low and the acting is pretty damn good.  Strother Martin does a great job of bringing levity to a role that most anyone else would have gone overboard with.  His Dr. Stoner is a believable lunatic and not some cackling maniac, and he is very adept with the snakes.  He is totally convincing and this is essential as the film is centered on his bizarre experiments.  Dirk Benedict is a bit wooden as Dr. Stoner's ill-fated assistant, David, but he is also innocent and naive enough to bring genuine sympathy to the part.  Heather Menzies is given most of the big dramatic bits as Dr. Stoner's daughter, Kristina, and she proves thoroughly capable.  The rest of the cast is game and Reb Brown makes his film debut as a macho bully who makes an impact in a meager role.

The snakes are the star attraction here and there are plenty of them.  A variety of species grace the screen, to include cobras, a black mamba, a python, and various others.  The footage with the reptiles is impressive and next to Strother Martin's presence, said footage is the movie's biggest asset.  The effects work that we are treated to as Dr. Stoner works to transform David into a snake is far less impressive, but the acting and the script nearly compensate for these hokey visuals.

The snakes are the star of Sssssss and this guy gets top billing.
At the end of the day, Sssssss is far from a great film, and it may not even be a good one.  Yet it is far superior to the movie most would expect based on the title and the plot--and yes, the fact that we're dealing with a Dr. Stoner.  The acting is surprisingly worthwhile, and the wealth of footage with live snakes and the thoughtful approach that Bernard L. Kowalski took with his direction make for a surprisingly effective cult classic.  If you're a fan of horror films, snakes, and mad scientists, this Sssssss is for you.  Pick up your copy today, and when you do, tell them that Dr. Stoner sent you.

 Sssssss Trivia:

Allegedly, the only shots in the film featuring a fake snake are when Dr. Stoner grabs the king cobra and when the police shoot the king cobra at the end.  It has been stated numerous times that the actors interacted with real snakes (to include 5 king cobras), none of which were defanged, and all of which had full venom capabilities.  Whether this is accurate or not, the cast (Strother Martin in particular) is extremely comfortable with their reptilian co-stars.

In addition to the cast and crew working with live snakes, the mongoose/cobra battle in the closing reel is not a product of special effects.  The final outcome of this throwdown isn't shown, but it certainly appears as though the cobra is going down.  

The scene where Dirk Benedict and Heather Menzies go skinny-dipping featured nudity.  The leaves that conceal the talent's pink parts were added in post-production in a successful bid to avoid an R rating.

Friday, February 6, 2015

Short Attention Span Review: The Equalizer (2014)

Disclaimer: I'm a sucker for a good slow boil.  I point that out because while I really enjoyed this one, I think anyone looking for something like Taken or John Wick will be put off by the way that The Equalizer simmers a bit before the bullets (and nails) start flying.  Heck, once we are treated to our first major action scene, the film slows down again, and that pattern repeats itself throughout the picture.  This is no mindless action flick.  The plot is important and the quiet moments are just as crucial to the picture as all of the bloodletting.  Denzel excels in the lead role, but that didn't need to be stated--he is Denzel, after all.  Honestly, I would love to see this become a franchise, but we'll have to wait and see.  I think most viewers are going to be hoping for something a little less thoughtful and lot more frenzied.  The Equalizer is a deliberate action film with a wealth of character development and an attention to detail that many modern films lack.  I thought it was very entertaining and I'm going to recommend it to anyone who likes a few good thrills spread throughout an involving piece where the characters and the story are just as important as the body count.

Final Grade: B+

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Short Attention Span Review: DeepStar Six (1989)

I like movies set in the ocean, particularly if they are horror movies.  Add a sea creature of some sort and you are promptly awarded bonus points.  I'm also a big fan of the Friday the 13th series, so I try to give DeepStar Six the benefit of the doubt because it was directed by Sean S. Cunningham and Harry Manfredini did the score.  In the end, however, it's an okay movie that does fall a little flat.  It doesn't help matters that the superior Leviathan debuted in the same year.  DeepStar Six has a quality score and Cunnigham's direction is steady enough.  Throw in some creative death scenes, a sound performance by Miguel Ferrer, and some effective gore, and we should be good, right?  Where does the problem lie?  I'm pretty sure it's the monster.  The movie is nearly over before we see the monster, and while I'm generally okay with that approach, here I think it was probably less about style and building up to that moment than concealing DeepStar Six's greatest failing.  The monster isn't all that effective.  Having said all that, the movie is still watchable and there are surely inferior horror films, so if you're looking for a B-rate horror flick set in the ocean, you can settle for DeepStar Six.  It's not stellar, but it doesn't suck.  It just manages to stay afloat.

Final Grade: C

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Short Attention Span Review: Pain & Gain (2013)

Let's get this out of the way before we go any further: this movie is based on a true story, and the only thing more twisted than what really happened is the idea of turning that story into a comedy.  Stranger still, it's directed by Michael Bay doing all of his usual Michael Bay shit.  Yes, that means a lot of slo-mo and an abundance of classic rock propping us this sicko true crime story.  There were so many times during the movie that I couldn't help but wonder "Is it wrong to laugh at this stuff?"  Honestly, I'm pretty sure it was--but the movie kept making me laugh.  Is it great?  Lord no.  It's not even close.  In fact, it's pretty damn average, mainly because it's definitely too long and all of the primary characters are amusing but impossible to root for.  The movie is centered on Mark Wahlberg's character, and he does a fine job with the most difficult part.  Anthony Mackie was also really good in his role, but if there's one reason to see this, it's the Rock.  No one has ever done a better job of playing a reformed con/cokehead with a Jesus jones as he slips back into a life a crime and rampant abuse of the powerful drug (if you don't believe me, just ask Rick James) that is cocaine, all while clinging to his Jesus jones.  Virtually all of the movie's biggest laughs and better sequences are a result of the Rock flexing his acting muscles, and while I can't recommend this movie wholeheartedly, I would love to see him do something in a similar vein. 

Final Grade: C

Final Grade for the Rock's Performance: A+

Monday, February 2, 2015

Short Attention Span Review: Dracula Untold (2014)

I've got a lot of love for all things Dracula, and lately that equates to being harshly critical of the way that brand is utilized.  In my personal opinion, the ill-fated television show that hit the scene in 2013 was maybe the worst television show that I've ever watched--and that's not hyperbole.  I hated that shit.  So, I have to admit that I was surprised by how much I enjoyed Dracula Untold.  The previews had promise, but the approach bothered me.  Yes, this is Dracula as an anti-hero, and there's a definite comic book feel to the piece, but what can I say?  It worked, and most importantly, it was entertaining.  Luke Evans was a quality Drac, and the effects and the direction were worthy of the Count.  I thought the sets were gorgeous and the mood and atmosphere really did the job.  Okay, so it's a far cry from Coppola's version, but as a fresh take it never stood any real chance of challenging a faithful adaptation of Stoker's timeless tale.  In the end, Dracula Untold fully realized its potential; it wasn't destined for greatness, but it did a great job of delivering upon its cooky premise.  Bonus points: it will leave you longing for a sequel.  That's always a good sign for a fresh take on a beloved property. 

Final Grade: B

Look out--some damn fool has gone and pissed Dracula off!

Short Attention Span Review: Dead Heat (1988)

Last night, I watched Dead Heat for the first time in a while.  This silly zombie/buddy cop feature has always been one of my personal favorites, and I'm pleased to report that it is aging well.  The effects still rock and the nifty mix of laughs and thrills continues to work.  Of course, the best thing about the movie are the actors in the lead roles.  Treat Williams and Joe Piscopo, two more-than-capable performers who never truly got their due, work extremely well together here.  Neither part represents an easy gig, but both men are spot-on, nailing both the action bits and the comedy.  The movie races along, running a brisk 86 minutes, and the ending is a nice touch.  Seriously, it's hard to go out on a positive note after you've killed all of your main characters, but that's precisely what happens here.  If you have never seen Dead Heat and you dig zombies or buddy cop pictures, do check this one out.

Final Grade: A-