Book Review: ‘Get What’s Yours For Medicare’

September 27, 2016


Philip Moeller’s Get What’s Yours For Medicare: Maximize Your Coverage, Minimize Your Costs, due Oct. 4 from Simon & Schuster, is a companion of sorts to the excellent Get What’s Yours: The Secrets to Maxing Out Your Social Security, a book he co-wrote which returned last spring in updated form.

Baby Boomers nearing retirement age (please note I didn’t say simply “retirement,” since many will continue to work), these books are for you.

Yes, Medicare and Social Security are valuable programs into which you’ve paid federal taxes for years, and you should take advantage of what’s available to you. But no, neither program is simple to comprehend and navigate, and crucial mistakes in enrollment and options are easy to make.

Moeller makes this clear in the early going, with the terse line “This stuff is complicated.” That certainly goes for initial entry into Medicare, a hard lesson that I learned months before reading this book when I struggled to get straight answers from the Social Security Administration and elsewhere about how Medicare works.

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Review: ‘The Passion’ sings on DVD

September 23, 2016


Chris Daughtry and Jencarlos Canela in ‘The Passion.’

The Passion, which aired live on Fox last spring, is a new musical retelling of Jesus’ final days that’s new on DVD Tuesday, Oct. 4 from Shout! Factory, as a 77-minute performance with no extras.

But how new is it?

Obviously, its Biblical story  is over two thousand years old. But beyond that, The Passion’s use of pop songs to convey its plot has been done — and done better — in the smash 1970 rock opera Jesus Christ Superstar,.a hard act to follow in giving Bible sagas contemporaneity.

But wait: I’m not condemning The Passion, which is earnestly and often beautifully performed, and which does have novel spins.

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‘Stranger Things’ random thoughts: Of burgers and quibbles

September 23, 2016

stranger things titles.jpg

Having just finished screening Season 1 of Netflix’s Stranger Things, I’ve got some random thoughts on the ’80s-set saga of a Goonies-style gang of young nerds, a mysteriously powered small girl and a determined mom and sheriff tackling a scary other-dimensional threat in an Indiana town after a boy disappears.

Yes, the reviews are gushy (pushovers), but honest carping counts too, and someone’s gotta play devil’s advocate.

To wit:

Natalia Dyer, as the allegedly alluring (how’s that for alliteration — again!) teen lusted after by a big-haired dude at school, is too thin — make that emaciated — make that nearly skeletal — for the story’s time setting. Her stick-figure form is 2016 talking, and it undercuts the series’ 1980s period-piece veracity. If I’d been the casting director, I’d have told her she’s a fine actress and has the part — provided she eats some burgers.

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Video Review of ‘Dementia 13’: Ax me about Coppola’s first time

July 20, 2016

Dementia 13

William Campbell, Luana Anders in Francis Coppola’s ‘Dimension 13’

Everyone has to start somewhere, and before winning Oscars as one of the most prominent directors of our time, Francis Ford Coppola started with B-movie master Roger Corman, assisting on films such as 1963’s The Young Racers. Then he got his shot to write and direct his own film, Dementia 13, which returns to home video July 26 on a Blu-ray release from The Film Detective.

(Prior to this Coppola is rumored to have directed some scenes in Corman’s The Terror, also recently released by The Film Detective, but he wasn’t credited for that.)

Reportedly presented in its correct 1:78:1 aspect ratio for the first time on Blu-ray, the black-and-white Dementia 13 is derivative of the edgier new horrors of Psycho and the embryonic slasher genre, while also offering a traditional haunted house tale. So it’s far from original.

Yet Coppola, then billed as Francis Coppola, showed flashes of raw talent — especially in shot composition, mood-setting and use of music — which would bloom in the ’70s when he helmed The Godfather, The Conversation, The Godfather Part II, Apocalypse Now and others.

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Blu-ray Review: ‘Flight of the Butterflies’

July 13, 2016


Again, movies made for IMAX theaters are arriving on home video from Shout! Factory, this week with Flight of the Butterflies and Rocky Mountain Express.

The former is an absorbing saga which shows how a researcher and his wife traced the mysterious annual migratory patterns of millions of Monarch butterflies over the course of decades — and finally found their secret winter home on a Mexican mountaintop.

That story is told with a mix of wondrous documentary footage of the colorful insects and well-played re-enactments of the researchers, who also included a collaborating Indiana Jones-style young couple roaming Mexico on a motorbike to find the missing Monarchs.

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Book review: Stephen King’s ‘End of Watch’

June 3, 2016


Stephen King’s End of Watch (Scribner, 431 pages, due June 7) is the kind of book for which the term “page-turner” was invented. (Note: It’s not to be confused with a 2012 cop movie of the same title.)

A riveting read from start to finish, End of Watch rousingly concludes the saga of retired-cop-turned-private-detective Bill Hodges who, along with sympathetic cohorts, confronts a final appalling plot by the deranged killer of Mr. Mercedes, who spent follow-up book Finders Keepers in a vegetative state.

Or did he?

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Blu-ray Review: ‘Journey to Space’

May 31, 2016

Journey to Space

As a longtime resident of Houston — aka Space City — I’m a huge space exploration fan. As such,  I want to support Journey to Space, a Giant Screen film from 2015 arriving  June 7 on home video, with a single-disc Blu-ray and 4K UHD + 3D Blu-ay + Blu-ray two-disc combo, both from Shout!Factory.

But as a reviewer I must be honest, and honestly, the material here feels overly familiar for anyone who’s paid cursory attention to NASA’s doings from the Shuttle program onward.

Yes, space is awesome, so it feels funny saying “been there, done that.” But we’re not talking space — we’re talking filmmaking.

Besides, the wow-factor of a theatrical presentation with an enormous screen, ear-blasting sound and audience involvement is understandably muted when the program is brought home. And at just over 40 minutes, along with minor extras, Journey to Space barely has time to reach orbit before it’s over.

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Blu-ray review: ‘The Terror’

May 30, 2016

The Terror

If 1963’s The Terror had been on Mystery Science Theater 3000, the show’s movie-mockers would have wryly chimed “The terror!” during its many slow, meandering stretches punctuated by slight frights at best.

But though misnamed and mismanaged (the script is a mess), this nostalgic cheapie from Roger Corman and American International Pictures is satisfying in many ways — especially now, with a beautiful restoration by The Film Detective for reissue May 31 on Blu-ray.

For one thing, it shows where the great Boris Karloff’s career wound down and where the great Jack Nicholson’s career started out.

Horror great Karloff was 76 and ailing, yet gave a robust performance as Baron Von Leppe, a recluse wearing Hugh Hefner-worthy house robes while living in a huge seaside castle with only his servant (Roger Corman stalwart Dick Miller) in early 18th century France. Enter wandering soldier Andre (Nicholson — looking so young!), who seeks an elusive, mysterious, cleavage-brandishing woman he briefly encountered on the craggy, cliff-ringed beach over which the castle looms.

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Blu-ray review: ‘Bad Influence’

May 18, 2016

Bad Influence

The clunky computers. The overwrought synth-rock. The shoulder pads and big hair. The fiercely photogenic Brat Pack.

Gotta love the ’80s, which Bad Influence represents, though the indie film was released in early 1990.

As a suspense-thriller, the film is darkly entertaining and not without humor — starting with its absurdly simplistic and understated title.

Bad Influence? That’s like calling Saving Private Ryan “Unpleasantness at the Beach.”

Making its Blu-ray debut May 24, Bad Influence top-bills Rob Lowe as Alex, a strange stranger who insinuates himself into the life of bookish, meek and up-tight L.A. financial whiz Michael (James Spader). Alex does this as sort of a Robin Hood for hell-raising, giving Michael’s life jolts via reckless good times.

The sudden friends soon become enemies, as sociopath Lowe’s cruelly twisted intentions become apparent.

You don’t wreck a guy’s engagement to an overly controlling woman by surprisingly showing video of him having sex with another chick at the big anniversary party of his henpecking fiancee’s parents. You just don’t — unless you are a Troublemaker with a capital T, right here in River City.

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DVD Review ‘Mystery Science Theater 3000 Volume Two’

May 17, 2016

I’m not sure if out-of-print copies of Rhino’s original Mystery Science Theater 3000 sets “cost as much as a used car,” as box notes said on Shout! Factory’s reissue of Volume One. But it’s still good to see Volume Two also back in print as of May 24, even with far fewer extras than Shout delivered the first time.

Jack Perkins

Mike Nelson as Jack Perkins, host of the “Mystery Science Theater Hour.”

“Take that, third party sellers!” the box notes say this time, as four MST3K programs get new digital life: Cave Dwellers, Pod People, Angels Revenge and Shorts Vol. 1.

While I love shorts compilations (which I often buy from the MST crew now at RiffTrax), Pod People is my twisted favorite of these discs.

Our friends at Satellite News found the flick sleep-inducing, but this low-rent E.T. rip-off (sorry: homage) is oh-so-’80s, my favorite decade to revisit with wry amusement. And what better time to brandish an absurd hatched alien called “Trumpy”?

As for bonus features, the discs for Cave Dwellers and Pod People add Mystery Science Theater Hour “wraps” (intros and outros) for those episodes, running a grand total of 10 1/2 minutes. And that’s it. (The new menus are bare-bones.)

Though that’s not a lot, I’ll take it — especially since these wraps feature MST Hour host Mike Nelson as goofy, toothy, weirdly enthusiastic Jack Perkins (a parody of a real-life TV journalist), a regular in Deep 13.

Here, he fondles electric guitars and giant snakes while he sets up and rehashes episodes, then dazedly roams the set in near-darkness as the credits roll.

By the way, has anyone catalogued how many such wraps have been featured so far on DVD? Thirty MST3K episodes — thus, 60 two-part shows — were made for the reissue series, all from seasons three-five.

These were done to appease TV stations reluctant to air a two-hour episode but open to showing them divided in half as two-part, one-hour episodes.

Hey, anything that gets MST shown is fine with me — along with reissuing OOP  episodes ASAP (welcome to Acronym Theater).

As Lawgiver would say, “Keep ’em coming.”

— Bruce Westbrook