Sunday, November 24, 2013

Illuminations (2013) 
New CD from Bill Mumy

Reviewed by Anthony Servante



Click HERE to purchase.



Bill Mumy with Back-up Singer


There are three artists in music that I never tire of: Helen Kane, Cab Calloway, and Bill Mumy. What do they have in common? Their music is timeless. While Kane (voice of Betty Boop) sings of 1920s themes, she hits on universal subjects that play to any generation. Same can be said for Cab Calloway, who sang his bluesy ballads from the 1930s (his early hits were recorded for the Betty Boop cartoons) on. 


"Button Up Your Overcoat"

"Saint James Infirmary Blues"



Which brings us to Bill Mumy. 

His music carries on those universal themes: love, death, pain, happiness, etc. Yet he takes the music one step forward, in that he captures the human spirit with songs of hope that range from Rock to Folk to Americana, but always rooted in today's America, just as Kane and Calloway were fixed in theirs. In "What I Got", he sings of love as an adventure (the video for the song transforms its lovers into the characters from THE AFRICAN QUEEN).


"What I Got"


"Think Nothing of It" tells us not to regret our decisions, that there's a bigger picture out there that we are a part of. "Nothing You Or I Can Do About It" laments the merciless march of progress.



"Nothing You Or I Can Do About It"



But my favorite from the twelve selections is "Pulling An Empty Wagon"; it is about the assassination of John F. Kennedy 50 years ago November 22, 1963. It's not just a tribute, but a gentle warning to never forget. There's much sadness in this song, but, again, that's part of those universal themes I mentioned earlier. 


"Pulling An Empty Wagon"


 Bill Mumy remains consistent in his universal music here in "Illuminations", capturing the American tragedies and glories with timeless songs that will transport you to yesterday and tomorrow, and you'll never have to leave today to experience it.  So, add "Illuminations" to your library and save it between Helen Kane and Cab Calloway under "Timeless Music." 


Track Listings:
1. Man With A Gun
2. Sure Of Nothing
3. Fools Gold
4. The One Who Slipped Away
5. Nothing You Or I Can Do About It
6. One More Little Kiss
7. What I Got
8. You In The Light Me In The Dark
9. Consequences
10. Pulling An Empty Wagon
11. Winding Down
12. Think Nothing Of It














Thursday, November 21, 2013

Movie Tuesday Double-Feature
Aftermath (2013) & All is Lost (2013)

Reviewed by Anthony Servante






Review:
Aftermath, a Polish gothic mystery written and directed by Wladyslaw Pasikowski, echoes movies like High Plains Drifter, where the whole town hides a secret. Franciszek (Ireneusz Czop) returns to his small Polish hometown to discover that his brother Jozef Kalina (Maciej Stuhr) has become a pariah amongst the townsfolk. Jozef welcomes his brother with an axe in hand, a rock is thrown through his window, and his dog's head is cut off. These are some angry townsfolk. Then we learn the terrible reason why all this anger is boiling over. It seems Jozef has been going around town buying up all the tombstones and grave markers from the Jewish cemetery that were used by the Nazis to pave the roads and buildings. 

When his brother asks him why he is doing it, especially since the town citizens are reacting so violently, Jozef answers that he doesn't know why, but it has to be done. Thus Franciszek joins his brother on his task, but he goes one step further: he investigates the history of the cemetery, and as he begins to uncover the secret the townsfolk hide, accidents start to happen. 

The movie plays out like a horror movie. Strange buildings are investigated in the dead of night, creepy neighbors follow Franciszek during his inquiries of the older neighbors who were there during the German occupation, and there's the people in the woods smoking the cigarettes stolen from him the day he arrived. These sinister events mount as Jozef reconstructs the cemetery on his land, learning enough Hebrew to familiarize himself with the names on the tombstones. 

It is a shocking secret, and one that becomes more apparent as the investigation leads down roads one of the brothers regrets taking. But once the task is started, it is taken to its inevitable conclusion. And it's not pretty. The film has been banned locally and abroad. I recommend this movie for horror fans. Even though the film says it is based on actual events, it plays out like fiction, but that should not dissuade you from experiencing this fine mystery that has classic gothic elements to tell a horrific tale. 

Grade: B+





Summary:
Deep into a solo voyage in the Indian Ocean, an unnamed man (Robert Redford) wakes to find his 39-foot yacht taking on water after a collision with a shipping container left floating on the high seas. With his navigation equipment and radio disabled, the man sails unknowingly into the path of a violent storm. Despite his success in patching the breached hull, his mariner's intuition and a strength that belies his age, the man barely survives the tempest. Using only a sextant and nautical maps to chart his progress, he is forced to rely on ocean currents to carry him into a shipping lane in hopes of hailing a passing vessel. But with the sun unrelenting, sharks circling and his meager supplies dwindling, the ever-resourceful sailor soon finds himself staring his mortality in the face.

Review: 
Robert Redford should have no trouble getting Oscar nominated for his role as "Our Man", the unnamed hero of our survival journey. One thing I must get out of the way now is the "R rating.for Language". Our Man says "FUCK" once during the movie. Yep, an R rating. As a matter of fact, he says little else. 

It brings to mind Jeremiah Johnson, a Redford movie that also went on for long periods without a word. As in that movie, nature does all the talking. Here, it's the ocean roars, the lightning storms and thunder claps, rendering Redford's words unnecessary. He goes from task to task, trying to stay one step ahead of the sinking ship, then switching to the lifeboat, and finally, in desperation, using his flares on gigantic freighters passing by without noticing the grain of sand that is Redford against this vast ocean backdrop.

Everything that can go wrong does. And Our Man handles it with skills that MacGyver would envy. But overall, it's a one-trick pony. But what a trick it is. There were more thrills here than in two thrillers I've seen this year. When the movie ended, the crowd let out their breaths simultaneously. We all laughed that we were holding our breath for that final scene. And that is quite a trick for any film to pull off.

Grade: A-

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Zombies Spotlight on:
Oasis by Joan de la Haye

Reviewed by Anthony Servante



Click here to purchase.




Joan De La Haye


Biography:

Joan De La Haye writes horror and some very twisted thrillers. She invariably wakes up in the middle of the night, because she's figured out yet another freaky way to mess with her already screwed up characters.

Joan is interested in some seriously weird stuff. That's probably also one of the reasons she writes horror.

Joan is deep, dark and seriously twisted and so is her writing.


Book summary:

The planet has been fried by solar flares turning it into a desert. The surviving population has been affected by solar radiation, turning them into Zombies. Only a handful of people remain unaffected. A family of civilians, guided by a crack army unit who has seen more action than they can handle, must make their way to the safety of a UN base at the South Pole called New Atlantis. But can they make it to this oasis alive or will they only reach it as the undead? A zombie novella with a difference.


Review:

Joan De La Haye has created a scenario where zombies are created by a hole in the ozone. Clever conceit. Very green. Maxine is the narrator and she has some heavy duty mood swings. The majority of the story focuses on these ups and downs. We don’t learn much about the zombies except at the periphery as Maxine, our story-teller, has other things on her mind. For instance, when one of the soldiers that is escorting her and her family to New Atlantis, a bunker at the South Pole (you see, everywhere else has been turned to desert sand because of the solar flares coming through the hole in the ozone), is bitten by a zombie and screams in agony, Maxine decides it would be a good time to make love to the soldier, Wolf, whom she’s been flirting with for a few hours before a zombie bit off the victim’s face. Here’s how Joan describes it, “I’d never seen another man bite another man’s face off. I didn’t even think it was possible for human teeth to rip flesh like that. I could understand an animal being able to do that, but another person … I was struggling to come to grips with the situation we found ourselves in. The only thing that had made sense was the feel of Wolf’s lips on mine and I longed to feel his hands on me again.” See what I mean?

But don’t get me wrong. Maxine has her reasons for her uncontrollable sex cravings; she tells us, “An apocalypse is not exactly the time to turn into a prude or a nun.” And she does let the reader know how her lovemaking relates to their grim situation: “We were screwed and not in a good way.”

Things turn serious even as Maxine is swiped by a bullet to her scalp. She reveals to the reader the ending before we’re even close to reaching the horrific finale. But there's no getting around it, for our narrator has to share her secret with someone: too bad it had to be us readers. Anyway, I finally got the storyline. It was all foreshadowing for that big surprise. Although I would have preferred to learn more about the zombies because it is such a clever devise that De La Haye uses to create them for the story, I was satisfied with the way the tale turned out. With a little patience, you, too, might be gratified with the shocker of a finale. Just be patient with our narrator. She has issues to work out.

I asked Joan De La Haye about Maxine’s behavior in such a dire situation, and she explained, “Maxine is just your average girl next door. No woman is just one thing. We all have are naive moments and we also have our savvy moments. Have you ever met a woman who wasn't a contradictory blend of emotions and thoughts? Or have you ever met a woman who didn't confuse you just a little bit? She's also going through something that is confusing to her. Does that make any sense?”

Of course it makes sense. Too bad we have to wait till the ending to realize it. So here’s a fair warning: Don’t give up on this story, trod on, you will be rewarded in the end. And in addition to learning about our contradictory heroine, you’ll actually learn more about the zombies too. It’s a perfect segue to Oasis II.


Tuesday, November 12, 2013


Off Kilter TV: Where Horror Rears its Ugly Head on Family Television
The Addams Family Meets a Beatnik, Season 1, Episode 15 (1965)
Stars John Astin, Carolyn Jones, Jackie Coogan. 
Guest stars Tom Lowell & Barry Kelly.
Directed by Sidney Lanfield. 
Story by Jack Raymond.
Based on the characters by Charles Addams.

Analysis by Anthony Servante






Summary:

A young biker on the run from his domineering tycoon dad ends up hiding out in the Addams house, and the Addamses couldn't be happier.

Analysis:

The Addams Family was the macabre answer to The Brady Bunch, a distorted point of view of family values. But let’s get one thing straight here: The Addamses are a normal nuclear family. They just have strange tastes. Gomez Addams is a wealthy man who takes care of his kids and isn’t afraid to show affection to his wife, while indulging his own time for yoga and fencing. Morticia Frump Addams is a caring mother who dotes on her children, while spending time on gardening, knitting, and reading, when not feeding her carnivorous plants. Pugsley and Wednesday Addams, the children, share a passion for explosives and grotesque pastimes such as grave digging or mutilating their toys (note Wednesday’s doll Marie Antoinette has no head). The extended members of the family include Uncle Fester Frump, handyman, tutor, babysitter, and advisor for the clan, and has a pendant for shooting people in the back, Grandmama Eudora Addams, who dabbles in witchcraft (she rides a broom, though never seen on-screen), cooks, and acts as family physician, and Lurch, the butler, who shares cooking duties with Grandmama and handles all household duties, and whose presence reminds one of Frankenstein's Monster with a civil job. They have weird hobbies, yes, but they are a regular nuclear family seen through grotesque lenses.


Wednesday "digs" it.

Pugsley & pet.


In our episode at hand, writer Jack Raymond poses the question: What if someone weirder than the Addams met with the kooky family? Thus we have The Addams Meets a Beatnik, in this case, biker Rockland 'Rocky' Cartwright III. Let’s discuss this possibility. We can assume that the episode takes place in 1965, the year it was taped. By this time, the Hip Generation was in full swing; The Beats had been replaced.  According to Wiki, “During the 1960s, aspects of the Beat movement metamorphosed into the counterculture of the 1960s, accompanied by a shift in terminology from "beatnik" to "hippie"… There were stylistic differences between beatniks and hippies—somber colors, dark sunglasses, and goatees gave way to colorful psychedelic clothing and long hair… Beyond style, there were changes in substance: The Beats tended to be essentially apolitical, but the hippies became actively engaged with the civil rights movement and the anti-war movement.” Rocky would have been an anachronism by 1965. But it was important to select a character who was out of place in his day and age to match the Addamses in their eccentric lifestyle. It becomes a case of the weird meeting the grotesque.



Hollywood Beatnik
Maynard G. Krebs (Bob Denver)
Circa late 1950s

Hollywood Hippie
Tommy Chong (Stoner)
Circa late 1960s

Hollywood Biker
The Wild One (Marlon Brando)
1953


Consider also that Rocky incorporates two outdated styles: The Beatnik and The Biker. Hollywood has always been playing catch-up with counter-cultures. By the late 70s, mainstream TV had begun to show Hippies on their shows while Disco, Glitter Rock, and Progressive Metal were blossoming on the radio and on the streets. The days of The Wild One with Marlon Brando were long gone. Be that as it may, Rocky the Beatnik-Biker crash-lands on the Addams doorstep.


Rocky Cartwright III
(note leather jacket & scarf, circa 1953)


While this type of cultural character was out of place in mainstream America, he was a welcome addition to the Addams household. At first, he finds their macabre tastes even too extreme for his apolitical beliefs. He is escaping from his father, Rockland Cartwright II, a tycoon who wants his son to follow in his corporate footsteps. Rocky sees his father as “The Man”, “The Establishment”, enemy of the free spirit. This belief is more akin to the political agenda of the Hip Movement, who preached free love, social reform, and an end to the War in Viet Nam. Although Rocky uses the current lingo of the Beats (cool, dig, square, etc.), he does convey a sense of the 60s in his rebellion against his father. So, when he comes across the Addams Family, he finds their eccentric values more akin to his individualistic beliefs than to those of his own family’s.


Rockland Junior & Senior
(T-shirt vs. suit)


As played by actor Barry Kelley, Cartwright Senior is an iconic representation of a Capitalist hardliner. He rejects the Addams as “oddballs” (who hasn’t on this show?!) and demands that his son maintain the corporate family rather than waver from it with such thoughts as free spirit and individualism. But when the patriarch attacks the Addams way of living, Rocky stands up for them, saying that they accept him for who he is, not for who they want him to be. Here Rocky’s father sees the error of his ways and accepts his son for who he is, offering him the keys to his motorcycle as a sign that he is letting him choose his own way. Given the freedom to choose, Rocky chooses his father’s way and gives up his “Beatnik” clothing to Pugsley and Wednesday and his motorcycle to Uncle Fester. We hear over the radio later that Rocky has joined his father’s firm, and it is nice to think that maybe his individualistic thinking will pave a new way for the corporation that he will eventually inherit, thanks to the Addams Family.

A few words on the language of the Beats as understood by the Addams:

Rocky, when invited to eat with the Addams, comments on the table setting:  “Satan’s coming to dinner.”
Wednesday: “That was last week.”

Rocky: “Do you dig?”
Wednesday: “Only graves.”

Morticia Frump Addams: Now, darling, we want this to be a real surprise to Rocky, so I'll instruct the children to keep it an absolute secret. They're not to tell a living soul - or anyone else for that matter.

Rocky: “You kids really live in this crumb box?”
Wednesday: “We like it. It’s nice and eerie.”


When a creepy family like the Addams meets a counter-culture outsider, they warm to him immediately and cherish the influence he has on the kids (he helps them to make hand-grenades), but so too does Rocky take, albeit gradually, to the Addams, finding his way back to his own family by living with a family whose macabre ways paralleled his own strange (in the eyes of society and his father) lifestyle. One of the more sentimental shows of the Addams Family by way of Kerouac's "On the Road", the Biker culture, and the Hippie Era, this episode used the Addams weirdness to show the audience that family values can be found in every home, even the ooky, spooky Addames.

Watch the episode here:

Part One

Part Two

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Zombies Spotlight on:
Bob the Zombie by Jaime Johnesee

Reviewed by Anthony Servante


Click here to purchase



Jaime Johnesee


Biography:

Jaime Johnesee worked as a zookeeper for fourteen years before deciding to focus on her passion of writing. Her decision has proven to be a good one, as her books have been received with critical acclaim, including Oh The Horror and Shifters, which was recognized as one of the best horror novellas of 2012. Although her initial foray into the literary world has been marked by success, Jaime has just begun and is a force to be reckoned with in the years to come.

Book summary:

A novella. 
Life is rough, unlife can be even more difficult, especially when you're a zombie with bad luck. This is not your average zombie novella.

Review:

Bob the Zombie employs that new perspective popular in zombie books today—the pov of the zombie itself. This, of course, is a throw-back to the White Zombies of the 1930s where the Voodoo priest or priestess controlled the mind of a recently dead and/or living person via a spell or potion and the zombie had to obey all commands even though they were aware of what they were doing (for Johnesee, she divides the zombie groups into “hordes” or free-willed undead and “skags” or enslaved zombies). One of my favorite uses of this device was in Wet Work by Philip Nutman, where it was played for epic proportions; but Jonathan Mayberry also utilized it for horrific effect in Dead of Night to underscore the transformation of his zombie. Jaime’s use of the device is played for ironic parody. In other words, for laughs.

Instead of the voodoo rites, Jaime prefers a witchcraft ritual to bring Bob back to life after a “hilarious” pruning accident (right off, Johnesee compares the severing of a young man’s jugular vein [carotid artery?] with a Chevy Chase pratfall. Bob then worries more about his cosmetic appearance than his being dead: “The clouding of my eyes bothered my mom (and me, really) the most. I have the eyes of a corpse now.” Then playing the sympathy card, our undead narrator wants us to know that he is not a “ghoul” and reserves the right to eat “normal” food (if you can call Chicken Nuggets food) in addition to “nonfood” items. And like a spoiled teenager, Bob complains about rejection from his family: “I didn’t ask to be brought back from the dead” (compare: I didn’t ask to be born, a teen’s favorite line to authoritative parents). And like a good rebel, Bob joins a gang of zombies (although he prefers the word “horde”).

If this is all starting to sound familiar to you (that sounds like the teen in my family), that’s because that’s what parodies do; they mock traditions, and in this case, Bob the Zombie mocks family values.

Soon, Bob is off on an adventure and we learn about the interplay of the natural and supernatural forces causing friction for our hero and his dead friends. Jaime Johnesee has created a marvelous world of social outcasts finding friendship and family in an uncaring society. Even without the zombie fittings, this story would play out perfectly well as the straight-up tale of a human outsider in today’s world of media isolation and cyber-social clubs. Either way you take it, Bob the Zombie will warm your heart, whether it’s beating or not. 


Bob the Sequel is also available. Purchase here

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Movie Tuesday Double-Feature
Reviewed by Anthony Servante


Ender's Game (2013)


Ender's Game is a 2013 American science fiction action film based on the novel of the same name by Orson Scott Card.
Director and Screenplay: Gavin Hood
Rating: PG-13
Stars Asa Butterfield, Harrison Ford, Sir Ben Kingsley, Viola Davis, Abigail Breslin, and Orson Scott Card. (It's important to note that the author does have a cameo in the movie and contrary to reports that he was not involved in the making of the film, in an effort to minimize his anti-gay stance. So there).


The Alien Queen


Ender's Game plays out like an episode of The Outer Limits, but without any originality or intelligence. Most of the movie is Ender's training to engage the alien invaders in all-out war. There are many kids in training but they are superfluous since never is there any question that Ender will be chosen for the job. Harrison Ford's commander reminds us every five minutes. 

Neither do we get to know our invaders. Ender, toward the end of the movie, mentions that we chased them away when all they wanted to do was set up a colony (to share our water), but this statement seems to come out of the blue since we see footage of the aliens killing off humans. We're supposed to take Ender's word for it because he dreamed of the monster pictured above. Yeah, right.

It seems like an entire third of the film was left on the cutting room floor. And without that missing part, the ending doesn't have any payoff. It's downright goofy. Had we seen what terrifying creatures the enemy was, the long sequences of training might have had more impact or at least more meaning. As it stands, it's a bad attempt to be profound, but comes across as silly and even downright treasonous. The enemy just might want revenge on mankind. I'm sure those of you familiar with the book series know the answer to that possibility. 

I don't recommend Ender's Game, not even as a rental. It's not bad, but neither is it good. If you get the urge to go see it, rent a couple of The Outer Limits episodes. Start with The Architects of Fear. 

Grade for Ender's Game: C.


The Fifth Estate (2013)

The Fifth Estate is a 2013 American thriller film directed by Bill Condon, about the news-leaking website WikiLeaks starring Benedict Cumberbatch as its editor-in-chief and founder Julian Assange.
Director: Bill Condon
Rating: R






In the 1960s we had the FREE PRESS, an alternative newspaper that dared to tell the truth about the War in Viet Nam, the politics behind the violence against war protesters on campuses across the USA, and promoted the withdrawal of troops from that land that had no effect or relation to or on our economy. Back then, the underground world of journalism spoke for the common man (or hippee, as the case might be), while the Big Papers represented The Establishment, The Man, Big Brother. The Fifth Estate is the Free Press of the modern world, where hacked cyberspace is the new underground. Or so the story would have us believe.

Initially, our heroes want to publish the "truth" on their website, WIKILEAKS, but as the story evolves and the site grows, the line between freedom of the press and national security begins to blur. Julian Assange turns into a megalomaniac, or maybe that's what he was all along, and maybe that's the type of person that we need to get to the truth. We never really learn too much, other than he appears crazy to his partners, but seems super-smart in front of the news cameras. I guess we're supposed to make up our own minds about whether or not WIKILEAKS was a good thing or bad, or whether Julian was a good person or bad. 

I liked the movie. Its two hour length seemed too short to cover the growth of the website, and it skimmed over the controversy that changed the federal government's attitude toward the site. The audience was left hanging with the abrupt ending, but for me that just made me curious to learn more about the website's history. Somehow I imagine I'll be more entertained by all the videos and articles that I'll be watching soon as I research Wikileaks. So, consider the movie a CliffNotes version of the real story. Same thing with the Free Press of the 60s: if you want to know the truth, read the papers, not the movie about the papers.

Grade for The Fifth Estate: B-.