Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Book Review of ‘The Institute’: King’s Kids Have the Power

September 24, 2019

Institute

As a Constant Reader of Stephen King’s since Carrie, one thing I’ve always valued is his ability to take an element of the fantastic (a girl’s massive telekenetic powers in that novel, or vampirism in ‘Salem’s Lot) and enmesh it so much in everyday life that a far-fetched story becomes quite real (a talent which didn’t much apply in the massive otherworldly fantasy saga of The Dark Tower, which is one reason I never warmed to it, even while reading the whole damn thing).

While trading on the could-be-possible though unlikely mental powers of Carrie, Firestarter and the like, The Institute also feels real. That’s one thing which makes the new novel from Scribner so compelling, despite its almost deranged conspiracy-theory bent.

But beyond that, King also sucks us in by making most of his many principal characters kids — not teens, but 12-year-olds on down. And those kids suffer. They suffer mightily. And heroically.

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‘Shoot for the Moon’ book review: Go for liftoff

March 4, 2019

shoot for the moon

Landing the first man on the moon was perhaps mankind’s most enormous undertaking, and in Shoot for the Moon (Little, Brown and Company, March 12) writer James Donovan does an excellent job of telling that story from its World War II rocket weapon origins through that first small step for a man on the moon (as he notes first moonwalker Neil Armstrong meant to say).

An ardent follower of NASA since my childhood in the ’60s and a resident of Houston since 1983, I’m more familiar than the average person with these things, and I can testify that readers will gain immense knowledge and details from Donovan, who seems to get everything right.

Well, almost everything.

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‘Valley Girl’ Blu-ray review: Like, Totally Bitchin’

November 1, 2018

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I used to celebrate ’60s nostalgia. Now it’s the ’80s. The styles and the music were such fun. And no cell phones! So any movie or TV series shot in the era doesn’t have characters incessantly interrupted or distracted by their phone fixation.

No, they can focus — and in the case of 1983’s Valley Girl (just out on Blu-ray from Shout! Factory), the focus is a lively if not exhilarating boy-girl romance.

The boy is Randy (Nicolas Cage), a punkish guy from LA. The girl is Julie (Deborah Foreman), a trendy girl from the suburban valley. When her friends balk at her out-of-step and less than totally tubular suitor, peer pressure causes a Romeo and Juliet rift.

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Book Review of Stephen King’s ‘The Outsider’: Aptly Titled

May 18, 2018

outsider

Stephen King’s latest horror work, The Outsider (Scribner, due May 22), is a departure from his oeuvre in several ways, notably in its devotion to today’s popular police procedural dramas. For awhile, King’s 561-page 60th novel is King-sized CSI.

As such, it focuses on analyzing two hellish crimes in which the obvious suspect somehow was in two places at the same time — courtesy of a supernatural being whose pursuit by good-guy lawmen detours the book’s second half into a more eventful cat-and-mouse chase.

The Outsider also is a departure because it’s largely set in Texas and Oklahoma — not exactly King country, unless you count 11/22/63.

King knows Maine, but he doesn’t know Texas, where I’ve lived most of my life (and even in Oklahoma for nearly five years). In fact, I can say with vehement certainty that Stephen don’t know Jack when it comes to either state — nor do his editors, apparently.

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DVD Review of MST3K The Singles Collection: It Lives!

May 15, 2018

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Egad! With Eegah and others back, it’s not the end of the line for new DVD box sets of Mystery Science Theater 3000. Shout! Factory’s May 22 debut of The Singles Collection brings back six out-of-print titles first issued only as single discs during Rhino’s run releasing the show.

And not only that, but the discs sport lots of juicy new extras, including the mini-documentaries we’ve grown to love with great thanks to writer-director Daniel Griffith and his Ballyhoo productions.

No theme? No problem. The six titles are: The Crawling Hand (1963, Episode 106); The Hellcats (1968, Episode 209); Santa Claus Conquers the Martians (1964, Episode 321); Eegah (1962, Episode 506); I Accuse My Parents (1944, Episode 507); and Shorts Volume 3 (collecting seven shorts from various MST episodes — two with Joel, five with Mike). (Remarkably, all six discs are neatly packaged in a plastic case the same size as the single-disc cases in which they first came individually.)

As for those extras, besides trailers they include some real goodies:

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‘Chasing New Horizons’ Book Review: Go for Launch

April 24, 2018

New Horizons

Like many who conceived, designed, created, launched and tracked the magnificent bound-for-Pluto spacecraft called New Horizons, I grew up a space geek.

I loved the enticing mysteries of our universe. I devoured science and sci-fi books about it. I even launched my own model rockets, courtesy of Estes Industries.

So it was only fitting that my journalistic career took me to Houston, where I’ve lived since the early ’80s, proud of being a citizen of Space City, whose neighbors reach for the stars.

But those are manned missions. The first closeup looks at our planetary neighbors must come from robotic scouts — and spacecraft such as New Horizons, which made humanity’s first historic flyby of  Pluto in July 2015 after a journey of nine years and three billion miles.

Not that this robotic machine was soulless — not when so many humans’ efforts, hopes and dreams went into it, and traveled with it in spirit.

From such dreams to mission-accomplished reality is the compelling tale of Chasing New Horizons: Inside the Epic First Mission to Pluto by Alan Stern and David Grinspoon, due May 1 from Picador.

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‘Liquid Sky’ Blu-ray/DVD Review”: Strange Trip

April 24, 2018

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Liquid Sky is one of those movies I can recommend, but with trepidation. That’s because it’s not for everyone — not by a long shot — and I don’t want to encourage the wrong audience, who will hate it. But for those who can handle the film’s perverse pleasures — namely, its twisted beauty offset by an ugly, corpse-filled, drug-drenched sci-fi plot amid New York’s early ’80s club scene — then this strange trip is for you.

I say this with deference to qualifying remarks because I recall showing another gritty, edgy New York indie to a couple who once visited my wife and me — with emphasis on the word “once,” since we never saw them again. That film was Hedwig and the Angry Inch, which I found to be an inspired rock odyssey of raw yet oddly tender sexual passions. Yet if you’ve seen it, you know that Hedwig isn’t for everyone, either.

So for Liquid Sky (slang for heroin), you’re both warned and encouraged. As a Rocky Horror sign would say, enter at your own risk.

Due April 24 in a Blu-ray/DVD combo pack from Vinegar Syndrome, this 1982 film is as strange as they come. How strange?

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‘Peyton Place: Part Three’ DVD Review: Sudser Wonder

March 25, 2018

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To paraphrase a classic line by a star of TV’s Peyton Place in a later role, what can you say about a decades-old TV series that dies?

Peyton Place has died several times, in fact, not only with its cancellation by ABC after 514 episodes in 1969, but also, in effect, after the first two volumes of 30-plus episodes premiered on DVD in 2009.

Since then it’s been an eight-year wait for this week’s release of Peyton Place: Part Three, offering 33 more segments of the durable nighttime soap opera based on the 1956 novel Peyton Place by Grace Metalious and the 1957 film starring Lana Turner.

And happily, the sudser series of personal dramas in a quaint (on the surface) New England town will be back beyond that.

On June 26 Shout! Factory will release Peyton Place: Part Four. That will complete the show’s lengthy (114-episode) first season and start its second.

How did Peyton Place manage so many episodes in five seasons? Critically panned but an immediate hit for fledgling ABC, which needed it, Peyton Place aired for two and then three nights per week and had no summer hiatus. (Color episodes began in 1966.)

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‘Macon County Line’ Blu-ray Review: Jethro Goes Loco

January 11, 2018

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The Jan. 16 release of Shout! Factory’s Blu-ray debut of Macon County Line is not apt to draw nearly the same heat as the low-budget movie’s original theatrical run in 1974.  Back then, raw ’70s filmmaking was beginning to bloom, and indie productions with expanded limits of sex and violence could make waves amid the studio big boys.

Macon County Line, in fact, became the biggest grossing independently produced film of that year. And to think: it was written and produced by Jethro — that is, actor Max Baer Jr., billed here simply as Max Baer, who went solo as a filmmaker shortly after the nine-season run of The Beverly Hillbillies ended in 1971.

Baer also appears in the film as a small-town Southern sheriff in 1954 who doesn’t take kindly to three drifters: brothers with two weeks to kill before reporting for military duty and a girl they pick up on a hell-raising yet harmless uneasy ride through the Deep South.

After a slow slog at the start, the film picks up when the trio are mistakenly perceived by Baer as responsible for a heinous crime. Much fear, loathing and gun-totin’ violence ensues, with Baer’s lawman going full-bore, shotgun-blasting loco.

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‘Matinee’ Blu-ray Review: How I Saved the Galaxy

January 8, 2018

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Any review by me of Shout! Factory’s excellent new Blu-ray debut of 1993’s Matinee must begin with the frightening truth: I battled Mant, the title monster of the movie within the movie, thus saving the galaxy. Or something.

Actually, it was all just another day at the office back when I was covering film and entertainment for the Houston Chronicle. In the fine hammy showmanship tradition celebrated by Matinee itself, Universal sent someone in a “half man, half ant — all terror!” costume to the newspaper, where the famous battle occurred, as seen above.

Silly, right? But also great fun, as is Matinee, despite the fact that it opened with a thud. Universal was stumped on how to sell director Joe Dante’s picture, which certainly fit no readily exploitable mold.

Horror movie? No — just an affectionate mocking of the genre. Comedy? Yes, but the very real threat of atomic bomb annihilation also hovered over the proceedings, with 1941-style panic (and we all know how that Spielberg film fared at the b.o.).

In truth, Matinee (due at retail on Jan. 15) was more of a nostalgia piece for Baby Boomers who remembered A-bomb “duck and cover” drills, the scariness of 1962’s Cuban Missile Crisis, the big bug movies of the ’50s and perhaps even the showmanship of film producer William Castle,  channeled by the producer played by John Goodman in Matinee.

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