Thursday, May 28, 2009

Six of one, half-dozen of the other

Well, as we come up on the end of this month, we're in full May-Gray weather mode here in L.A. We're all just prepping ourselves for the warm weather months ahead, I guess. So, let's perform some clean up before the month is out.

I'm almost through with The Devil in the White City--another great recommendation by blogger Corey Wilde. Author Erik Larson transports the reader beautifully back in time to Chicago as the nineteenth century comes to a close. And he makes it a vivid
 journey with many historical figures and facts dotting the landscape. Larson's stunning detail of the making of that city's World's Fair of 1893 is just about peerless and done with fine writing skill. Echoes of the central event still impact us to this day. I'm not even bringing up the chilling serial killer stalking within the shadows of this tale. If this was a fictional novel, it would be a wild concoction on its own. But, from an historical non-fiction work, it's been a wonderful ride. Scott Brick performs his usual splendid narration on this unabridged audiobook. But, when I'm done, it's The Dawn Patrol for me on audio (another recommendation by Corey and Pop Culture Nerd).

That's well and fine for my ears, but what to read next after I finish Tonight I Said Goodbye? Thanks go to book blogger Jen for that recommendation. I'm not the fastest reader since a sojourn between the cover of a book is hard to come by for this father of two (who, between my kids, must have a bet going to see who can shock the old man the most). Recently, I struck out with my favorite local book shop, The Mystery Bookstore, in trying to locate a copy of Small Crimes by Dave Zeltersman. I started craving to read this work after I took in Corey's interview of the author. It just sounds so ferocious. And today, as I was across the street from my work, at the oh so trendy Beverly Center, I thought I'd check to see if anyone there had this paperback. I was on the phone with she-who-must-be-obeyed, when this conversation occurred:

Me: "I'm looking at the mall directory and guess what?"

Wife: (silently waiting for her husband to get to the point... again)

Me: "There's no longer a book store in the Beverly Center! The ones that used to be here are now gone."

Wife: "Makes sense. You'd have to have people who'd want to read a book there instead of text messages."

Me: (now I'm silently wondering why she gets to say the clever, pithy passage in this post)

Anyway, till I find this book, I'll be reading Money Shot for my pulp noir fix.


Terminator Salvation: Decent sci-fi actioner. Has more of the grittier aspect of James Cameron's first Terminator movie, but it's still not in the same league as the first two in the series. Although, Christian Bale (regardless of his on set demeanor) makes a superior John Connor compared to the supremely wimpy interpretation by Nick Stahl of Terminator III. Whoever made that movie's decisions should have been shot. At least, this one washes that previous bad taste out of my mouth.

Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian: all I can say it's better than it predecessor, and has a way better villain to enjoy (Hank Azaria). Also, Hank must be working out because the guns he displays in the movie is making the First Lady and the Governator jealous. Anyway, I enjoyed this with the kids. My favorite sequence in it was the Air & Space Museum portion. During it, there's a great movie reference with Ron Howard's brother that was really clever. At least I didn't have to take a nap to get through it ;-).

And I'm definitely looking forward to Pixar's Up this week!

For you Steely Dan fans out there, blogger Dennis Cozzalio has posted a wonderful piece about the band, their music, lyrics, and movie references. If you're a fan of any of those, you gotta check out this post. As well, those commenting on the piece are equally up to the task, here. In honor of this, I've got Gaucho's Time Out of Mind playing on the computer as I write this.

Quick Movie Quiz

(yes, I'm padding this post--answers to this are in the Comments section)

How many times has actor Michael Biehn portrayed a Navy SEAL in movies?

Name the movies and his characters for extra credit.

Go Lakers!

Monday, May 25, 2009

Memorial Day

It's the last day of the three-day holiday weekend. The Los Angeles Marathon is being run today (first time away from its previous March date)--and one better be aware of where not to drive in the city. We will be heading out to my brother's home in Thousand Oaks for a BBQ in a few hours. But this date represents more than just foot races and family get-togethers. It's Memorial Day. And the L.A. Times had a timely Column One article to mark it. It made me reflect on the number of family members, on my wife's and my side, who've served in the Army, Navy, Marines and Air Force currently, or in the past. While this holiday has a varied history (and some controversy), it traditionally honors those who've died in defense of their country. But, I'd like to honor those in harm's way, now. So, on this day my family and I are putting together a care package for a Marine representing two sections in Iraq. We obtained his address going through the Any Soldier web site. It's a small gesture, but a worthy one.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

The Variant

With credit to blogger John Gruber, I've downloaded this short story by author/screenwriter John August. At 7,176 words, a cost of 99¢, and an intriguing synopsis, I couldn't resist it.

It’s described on Amazon thusly:
After 35 years working at the Central Library, Vincent Lewis has perfected the art of unremarkability. But when a terrified woman falls through his bathroom ceiling, he’s forced back into a life of gunfights, double agents and paranormal research. The secret he’s been keeping for nearly four decades might reunite him with his lost love, or kill millions.
I'm following Gruber's lead, too, by downloading the Kindle for iPhone so I can give this content a whirl on my phone. Why? Pick one:
  1. I'm just curious (shoot me)
  2. It's cheap
  3. It's a holiday weekend
  4. It is definitely cheaper than buying a Kindle and reading it there
  5. Another excuse to play with the iPhone (my wife's pick)
But, the author also offers this short story in a PDF file, too.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Tales from the (Movie) Theater: Part 3

Continuation of the series--see Intro, part 1, part 2:


Learning about all of the duties that came with the job of movie theater projectionist was a revelation. And it was administered to me by my younger brother, the Sr. Projectionist for the Huntington Park Warner at the time. I spent a week coming to work during his shifts and acquiring the basic skills at projecting a movie onto a screen (and not killing me, him or anybody in the building at that time). And though it involved no liquids or air (but plenty of electricity), it was pressure-based. This was especially true for older theaters with owners highly resistant to modernizing because it "cost godd*mn too much money."

The rest of the chapter has been updated and relocated to my current blog, found here.

Next up: Amateur Night (Part 4)

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Sherlock's Trailer is Out

Crimespree Cinema clued me in to this one. Guy Ritchie's Sherlock Holmes does look interesting. Besides Robert Downey, Jr., I'm intrigued in seeing more of Mark Strong (as the villain), too. He was excellent in Ritchie's RocknRolla and Ridley Scott's Body of Lies. Kind of crappy to have to wait until Christmas to open this, though.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Epicenter Epilogue

No doubt many have heard we had a shaker last Sunday night. This is very much earthquake country around here. And if you've never been through a decent-sized one, they're never boring, always unexpected, and cause that ever endearing reaction of life reflection. The expert seismologists at the U.S. Geological Survey and Cal-Tech now surmise that this one (4.7 magnitude) was a slip of the Newport-Inglewood fault.

That, of course, is the other thing you learn about us crazy southlanders, we love to name the things in the ground that can bring us our destruction. It's just our way of saying, "Hi. My name is such-n-such. And, by the way, PLEASE DON'T KILL ME!!!" The fact is this shaker, centered in the nearby community of Lennox (just east of LAX), was on a fault capable of a quake in the 7-magnitude range. And it is very close by to my home in the hills just north of that. Well, if I go, I'm taking the shooting location of the Victory Motel in L.A. Confidential and the climatic shootout site in Robert Crais' Sunset Express novel with me. So there...

But, what is also amazing to me, in going through another one of these tremors (we got a bunch of names for them, folks), is how parent's memory traces (AKA, engrams) are distributed in their progeny. My hypothesis for this is by a review of their reactions to such stark, shaking events. Your experiences are right there in your children to see, if you look for them. For my wife, you'd only have to look at my son's reaction to the earthquake. Emotionally, he was quite struck by it all. Easily palpable, and having a hard time letting it all go (so he could go back to sleep). Some history here: my wife is employed in the same medical center as I (it's where we met and where our kids were delivered). And she works in the Safety Office as a health physicist. We have been there over a couple of decades now. This covers the notable and memorable 1994 Northridge earthquake. That one hit at 4:31 AM PST on January 17th. Where this recent one was classified  as light (it was downgraded from 5.0 moderate), the '94 event was a 'strong' moment magnitude of 6.7.

Now, I have a lot of respect for my wife--she's more than strong enough to live more than 20 years with the likes of me ;-). And what she did next, not too long after that quake struck, went along to cement all of that in my mind. When the shaking stopped and we initially checked out the house, she calmly got dressed. "Where are you going?", I asked. "To work.", she said. Mind you, my wife is one of those people who doesn't leave things to others when it comes to helping out--it's the reason she works in the kind of job she has, and in that office. She knew this event was going to cause the havoc that it did--and that the hospital was going to be at the center of it all (which it was). She never wavered. I stayed behind to finish the assessment (come daylight) and check for gas leaks. She-who-must-be-obeyed (I say that lovingly) got in her car (and this goes to those who work in the same office), drove across totally dark streets (due to the power outage), found and managed to get safely around this mind-blowing site (at 5 AM in the dark, mind you): then arrive at work and stay there for the next 30 straight hours cleaning up radioisotope, chemical spills in laboratories so that firemen and structural engineers could go in [only after she cleared them (many times by her lonesome)].

True Story: at about o'dark-thirty (the next night, during this stint), my wife cleared a lab in one of our oldest buildings on campus. The structural engineers walked in after she left that room... they then proceeded to slowing back out of it soon thereafter. They had quickly spotted a central support column with the ominous intersecting cracks on it--they quickly evacuating all personnel and red-tagged (condemned) the structure. I only saw her briefly (on and off) during that time when I came in to work later that morning. I went home that day... she didn't. Saw her again the next morning when I got back in when they forced her (and her other colleagues) to get some rest. So, when my wife had that terrible feeling of dread after this one, I understood where she was coming from. I can only imagine what she went through back then. I can only hope my poor efforts to try and calm both of them helped.

And what about me, you ask? Look to my 9 year-old daughter. She got up, after her brother rushed by her bed to come to our bedroom after the shaking stopped. He sought solace. She, something else. I looked at her and we recognized the same thing in each other. "It's over, yes?" "Yes, mija. You're okay, please go back to bed.", I said. And she did. She was probably asleep within 30 seconds after her head hit the pillow. What was I doing during all of this?: pulling up epicenter readings on the web to post on Twitter ("This would be a good post!", as my wife looked at me, incredulously). As we spoke later about the earthquake (while laying in our bed around 11 PM) and our separate reactions to it, she still couldn't fathom how we two could move on so. I certainly can't explain it--I got scared (as did her daughter). Then, we forgot about it all. And I have the nostalgia gene (as my wife puts it), at that. We're not uncommonly brave, either. We just have those chromosomes in common. That, or we're too [insert descriptor] to react rationally. Oh and by the way, our first child was born the next year, 1995. Engrams...

Sunday, May 17, 2009

My First Winslow

One of the pleasures each year of attending the L.A. Times Festival of Books and some of its panels is getting a chance to meet/listen to new authors. Last year, it was discovering T. Jefferson Parker who was with Robert Crais at one such panel. This year, it was finding Don Winslow. Both Jen of Jen's Book Thoughts and Pop Culture Nerd gave great accounts/summaries of this panel that included Crais, Joseph Wambaugh, Parker, and Winslow. And that new kid on the block (for me, anyways) has made it a more than worthwhile revelation. As with the other authors of said panel, Winslow (who is as well an accomplished screenwriter) concentrates much of his books in our local southland.

The Winter of Frankie Machine, my first of what I hope will become more such novels by this writer, makes wonderful use of the various sub-cultures here of crime, power, and surfdom living amongst the palm trees and beaches of SoCal. His sympathetic anti-hero, one Frankie Machianno, makes a good, quiet life for himself as the bait shop guy to the locals. And though the retired mob hit man remains active with his other, legitimate businesses, Frankie keeps a lot of secrets. "It's a lot of work being me." And it's here that I'll agree with a Publishers Weekly write-up (posted at Amazon). Winslow's writing should bring on familiar echoes of another great crime-thriller author I've enjoyed, Elmore Leonard. His characters and plotting are that good. Plus, he uses a good bit of actual local crime history in his work (this is especially true for those like me who've lived in this area and can recall some of the newspaper headlines from decades past).

In looking at the audiobook that I listened to (produced by Blackstone Audio) for this work, the publisher did solid work in choosing veteran character actor Dennis Boutsikaris to voice this book. The actor has good range in his characterizations, especially for those gangsters of the East Coast variety. Boutsikaris' Newark, New Jersey background surely helped with those vocalizations. Plus, his tenor and delivery of Winslow's lively and descriptive wording is a very pleasing one for those taking it in via audio. Unfortunately, there was a downside to this audiobook (especially for me)--and it's the publishers fault, not the reader's. For those like me who shift media for listening convenience--that is move the audio to my iPod--it's an irritating one. The studio managers choose to have the narrator announce the beginning and end for each of the 8 unabridged audio CDs.

Let's be clear... not all audiobook publishers do this, mind you. Thankfully. It jolts story continuity for the listener, big time. Now, I'm sure that the MP3 version (Blackstone being one of the handful that produce them) of this novel doesn't perform this service. And if I could have gotten my hands on that version, I wouldn't even be writing about it, now. I know why publishers do it - it signals to those that listen to the actual CD themselves when to pop out the disc and drop in the next (correct) one. And yes, some CD decks (like those in automobiles) will just begin replaying the disc if you don't eject them. But, this really doesn't play well with others, especially when disc ejection is not part of their normal audiobook experience. Criminy! It's that insert-eject-insert rigmarole [puzzle word... thanks for that, Don] that drove to me to media shift in the first place.

Okay... (as he steps off his curmudgeon-tech soapbox) that aside, I look forward to obtaining and reading more books by Mr. Winslow. His is a creative voice I'm going to seek out (a must, really). Between his plotting, keen/humorous observations and wording, and just damn interesting story-lines, I can see myself coming back to this author on a regular basis. And after this book, and a post by Nordette Adams, I'm reminded that Elmore Leonard has a new book out this week, too.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

"Thank you sir, may I have another"

Well, just in time for this year's annual Oscar eligibility run, another unoriginal studio will release a remake:
Nine. Gee, I hope no one brings up the fact that it's been done already (and likely better) with All That Jazz. TOO LATE!!! And, if you examine that 1979 film more closely, you'll discover it was Bob Fosse's remake of Fellini's 1963 film, . Sheesh!!! And the hits crap just keeps on coming.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Sad News: Kathleen Zundell

It's with a heavy heart I learned today that one of sweetest people I ever had the pleasure to meet has passed away from a long illness. Kathleen Zundell was the StoryTeller-in-Residence at the elementary school my children attend/ed. Quoting the school's principal:

"Kathleen touched the lives and hearts of children and families at our school for more than ten years, and we know that her absence will be felt across our campus."

Her connection with children, whether or not it was in a teaching environment, was indeed special. I know for a fact that my son's and daughter's outlook and fearless expression were greatly influenced by the storytelling sessions led by this inspirational woman. My third-grader will find out today when her teachers will break the news to the class. We'll be having the heart-to-heart talk with my son when he gets home from middle school. She will be missed.

Yes, this is all part of life, which my children will learn and grow from. But, it basically sucks when it's you, the parent, that gets to break the news to your child that someone they cared for has passed on. During times like these, for me, there is one poem I always seem to recall. Mary Frye's Do not stand at my grave and weep. Perhaps, it'll be a help to them and the rest of us.

Do not stand at my grave and weep,
I am not there, I do not sleep.
I am in a thousand winds that blow,
I am the softly falling snow.
I am the gentle showers of rain,
I am the fields of ripening grain.
I am in the morning hush,
I am in the graceful rush
Of beautiful birds in circling flight,
I am the starshine of the night.
I am in the flowers that bloom,
I am in a quiet room.
I am in the birds that sing,
I am in each lovely thing.
Do not stand at my grave and cry,
I am not there. I do not die.

Monday, May 11, 2009

The Mystery is the Writer

By the time I got home from a long day's work this evening, I noted that some more messages had creeped into my personal email account. Well, in more than one account actually. Imagine that...

Captain Renault: I'm shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on in here!
a croupier hands Renault a pile of money]
Croupier: Your winnings, sir.
Anyways... But after being torpedoed by my 9 year-old daughter into helping her with her long division homework (just another chance to go back in Mr. Peabody's Wayback Machine of my mind, if there is one), I finally started opening some of those electronic missives. Which then caused this conversation with my long departed grandmother*:
¿Cuál es este email?

Huh, it's a form of mail that arrives electronically to your computer, Ma.

Never mind. So, I sit down again in front of my computer and I'm going through the new messages, when I notice the new email newsletter from The Mystery Bookstore. In it, they list the 2009 Agatha Award winners (my son will be happy to note that Chris Grabenstein won for his The Crossroads novel), The Macavity Award nominees (which includes Sean Chercover's Trigger City and The Price of Blood by Declan Hughes, Corey) and a whole bunch of other stuff concerning mystery writers. They even have some Fifty Grand first editions for sale, too.

O-K... and this is leading where? Alright, I'll get to the point. It's the writer... the mystery writer. The creator of all of that fun and mayhem some of us love to delve into. I can go on about the imagination of these authors... Just then my kids drag me over to the TV for this classic bit that's on a rerun of Malcolm in the Middle involving the incomparable Bea Arthur (may she rest in peace):

Where was I? Oh, yes... the mystery writer. Which lead me to try and recall how many of these writers became the subjects themselves of the stories on TV, books, or movies:
  1. Murder, She Wrote (mystery writer solving crimes)
  2. Castle (mystery writer helps NYPD solve crimes)
  3. Murder by Death (mystery writers being setup to solve a murder while at dinner)
  4. Deathtrap (mystery writer pulls off murder... only to be caught by another writer)
  5. Sleuth (mystery writer plots to kill wife's lover)
  6. The Langoliers
Wait a minute... what's that last one? I know. Isn't that a Stephen King story? The horror writer?!? What is he or it doing in this post (and why am I talking to myself)? It's because this novella (from the author's Four Past Midnight book) is one of my favorites (along with his Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption and The Body from Different Seasons). King is now recognized as one of the best storytellers we have in print. And whether its straight horror fiction, redemptive dramatic or nostalgic tales, his skill in writing the prose is exceptional. His dark scary stuff unfortunately puts off many and causes them to dismiss work of his that has nothing to do with that realm of fiction.

The novella The Langoliers, not necessarily the TV movie, is one of those (along with those others I've mentioned) that I encourage people to try and read. If you enjoyed any Twilight Zone episode (ever), you'll be on familiar ground with this one. In fact, one of the key characters in the story, a Bob Jenkins, is a mystery author. And it's he, using the plot devices of the genre, that figures what is actually going on. Yes, King writes a mystery... one a little more fantastical than most. But a mystery, nonetheless. 

Oh, god. It's only Monday. Now... where was I?

* ever since yesterday's Fifty Grand post, she's been in my head.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Grand It Is, Too

There's many a reason I read Corey's book blog. And reading his book reviews is but one. It's a gift that he can establish the book's synopsis and whet the reader's beak just so with his examination of the story within them. The scope of the crime fiction (and authors) he covers makes reading his posts so enlightening for those like me who drop by regularly. And it was his review last month of Adrian McKinty's Fifty Grand that I have to thank him now. Bringing this great novel to my attention was one of best things for me in my 2009 reads. I'll quote him here (because he's quite right), "Yeah. It's that good."

This post is not an attempt of mine to review this suspense novel--it's been done better by bloggers like Corey and others. However, since this novel was so well written I have to put something down here. The characters and situations McKinty wove are still rolling around in my head something fierce. I'm holding off starting another audiobook because I have to get this down in words. First, I especially enjoyed the author's use of contrasting cultures and ethnicity in this novel. I'm a sucker for contrast whether in visual graphic design, the color combinations I gravitate to, or through the imaginative writings of a gifted writer. The fact that Mr. McKinty is of Irish heritage and wrote such a mesmerizing novel involving the immigrant population (that reaps much of today's conservative scorn) does not surprise me.

I've always thought the Irish and the Mexicans had a great deal in common, including their religion, grand expression through language and emotion, and their common background of living through a society's contempt for being a feared migrant group on U.S. soil. And the combination of Irish-Mexican-American is not unheard of. Ask Martin Sheen. Mr. McKinty examines cultural identity so very well here in the pages he's written. Adding to this, his use of a female Cuban police detective as the revengeful protagonist, and outside observer of our practices and missteps, is key and really drives home the narrative. Again, it's just a wonderful use of contrast. Add to this what James Lee Burke, Michael Koryta, and others recognize, paraphrasing in my words: crime fiction is now the vehicle (and an entertaining one at that) for examining the society we live in through the actions of those on the out of it. The author and his book performed this beautifully. Definitely, this will not be last Adrian McKinty work I'll read.

And since I took in this novel in through my format of choice, the audiobook, I have to speak to that, too. Blackstone Audio's production of Fifty Grand was particularly well done, especially in who the studio managers choose for the story's narration. Paula Christensen turned out to be a perfect choice--I'm in great company on this since the author seemed to confirm this in a post last month. Too often, audiobook publishers seem to pick narrators based upon name, reputation, or availability without giving more weight for the language needs (foreign or domestic) a book's audio form may require. And Mr. McKinty's novel, with its wonderful use of English and the sprinkling of Spanish, demanded it. Because I care a good deal about this, I have my maternal grandmother to thank for giving me my Spanish ear. Though English has always been my primary language, I had to speak to my grandmother using only Spanish (she must have loved me since she could put up with that).

Since her passing over 25 years ago, I just about never use it anymore. But I still understand most of it still when I hear it--and can recognize whether it's a Mexican, Central American, or Cuban speaking it by their dialects. Listening to any audiobook where the reader butchers the pronunciation of the spanish words in a book heavy with them just grates on me (as Mark Bowen did with his narration of Killing Pablo). The bilingual Argentinian actress, Ms. Christensen, gave an extraordinary performance in narrating this novel. She moved effortlessly between the English and Spanish words, and the various characters of different ethnicity that the author breathed life into. And, she absolutely nails the spanish curse words! You can tell I very much appreciate that ;-). I'll forever associate her with the character of Detective Mercado. Hers was one of best performances I've listened to in the past few years. Luckily for me (and other audiobook listeners), it was a great pairing for a great novel. Thank you's to Adrian McKinty and Corey Wilde.

Mother's Day and Reboot Complete

Since today is Mother's Day, and being the fiercely loyal and appreciative family members that we are, we are dedicating this day and effort to her. I'm trying my damnedest to keep the kids in check today and prevent the words twitching and eye from entering into my wife's vocabulary. My daughter (which can be an exceptionally challenging relationship for any female parent) took the time to compose a special haiku for her mother:

A great cooker, soft
tacos, crazy foods salad
computer, and kind

Happy Mother's Day to all mothers. You certainly deserve this day in your honor (especially if you have put up with us ;-).

Yesterday, while I took my daughter to a birthday movie party for a classmate, my son and I went to see the new Star Trek movie. What's the verdict? This one is so good... they're going to make a ton of money with this one. Director J.J. Abrams has successfully rebooted this franchise. The studio seems to have correctly picked the right person to guide this in. The script intelligently plays it for those new to the venerable series while keeping familiar aspects of the characters and story-lines (and turning some against convention). They really did this exceptionally well. You want to see a great summer movie this season? Take this one in. But, don't take my recommendation alone:

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Dom DeLuise: 1933 - 2009

Dom DeLuise, the manic comedic actor, passed away yesterday. He was always a fun to watch entertainer. He seem to scene steal in whatever venue he worked in. Whether he was on Dean Martin's or Carol Burnett's variety shows, or Mel Brooks or Burt Reynolds movies, Dom was a deranged bundle of energy. He always seemed to give himself entirely over to whatever role he was cast in. His closing bit as the musical director while the Blazing Saddles western cast crashed his set was totally unexpected and hysterical. But the one role that I think I'll always remember him for was his rare dramatic bit role in Sidney Lumet's 1964 cold war thriller, Fail Safe. His anguished take as the Air Force Sergeant (Collins) ordered to give his Soviet counterparts the technical secrets toward defeating our Hustler bombers on their mistaken run was something very special in a movie full of great performances. It was exceptional because, for someone not formally trained, he masterfully conveyed the character's conflict with his struggled delivery of the information while in an impossibly tense situation. When his character is done and sits down, you can clearly see the suffering he'll have to live with from that moment forward. What he does with this small role was nothing short of amazing. He will be missed. May he rest in peace.

Monday, May 4, 2009

70 Years for Union Station

One of the great train stations of the country turns 70 75 this month (and I wish I look this good if/when I reach that age). The Los Angeles Union Station, first built in May 1939, attains that pinnacle.

The rest of the article has been updated and moved to my current blog, found here.

Dog Soldiers on Blu-Ray

One of my favorite, though little known outside horror fan circles, werewolf movies is coming out tomorrow (May 5th) on Blu-Ray disc. Dog Soldiers, by the same director who did the claustrophobic mayhem of The Descent and the derivative but fun Doomsday, is an early Neil Marshall film full of surprises and scares. Right up front, it's gory (but not in the same vein [no pun intended] of torture porn or the recent 70's remakes). But, it does successfully channel the same tense atmosphere of such great films like Romero's Night of the Living Dead and Hawks' Rio Bravo--just through the different, but very kinetic werewolf genre. And, there's something to be said for such monster films that are situated in the cold bleak exteriors of the Scottish highlands. No worries if you don't have Blu-ray--the standard definition DVD version is more than enough to keep you pinned down (under the covers) out of fright ;-).

Wolverine is Fun

I managed to take X-Men Origins: Wolverine Friday evening after work (as a manner of parent pre-screening, mind you), and again yesterday with my 13 year-old son. It is a very enjoyable comic actioner, with studio writers doing a commendable job adhering to the Marvel character's mythology. Yes, they do change things around, but even the comic books manage to do that themselves with some of their iterations. The spirit of the character remains in this film, though with PG-13 qualities the studios pretty much mandate these days to promote their box-office potential. Hugh Jackman remains very likable in this Wolverine role and Liev Schreiber brings a needed depth and acting wherewithal to the role of Sabertooth (something wrestler Tyler Mane sorely lacked in the first of the X-Men movies).

Although, when I first saw it on Friday, I had an inkling about Hugh's presentation of the character in this movie. Something was very familiar to it, but I couldn't place it. And after watching it a second time, I finally recognized it. If you see Origins, tell me if you don't think Jackman's channeling a young Clint Eastwood in his line delivery. The voice pattern and inflection, not the rasp, seem to register with me somehow (likely because I'm a long-time fan of Clint). I can also report, from a youth's perspective, that my 13 year-old simply loved this movie. For me though, as fun and entertaining as it is, it's not in Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight territory for depth, structure, or relevance. It's rumored that Origins director Gavin Hood (and the movie) received some last minute (pick mentoring, tinkering, or saving here) by way of uncredited veteran (and Superman movie) director Richard Donner. Either way, I give the film a thumbs up* and am pleased for a very good start of the Summer Movie season (as early as it now arrives, that is).

* and after re-reading Dan Brown's Angels & Demons, I was reminded this ancient hand symbol has a whole set of other meanings that may apply here ;-).