Dinosaur fleas…

If you have a pet dog or cat, one of the biggest nuisances you probably face are fleas and ticks.  Thankfully, the fleas we have to deal with nowadays aren’t anywhere near as fearsome as those that existed back in the age of dinosaurs!


Given the information on these prehistoric fleas, I’m reminded of the mosquito joke in The Land of the Lost.


The Dead (2010) a (mildly) belated review

The ingredients that make a successful film versus an unsuccessful film are diverse.  The most successful films, in my opinion, grab you from the very beginning, building from scene to scene and delivering a dynamic and unforgettable conclusion.

Unsuccessful films, too, are composed of varied ingredients…often resulting in something less than memorable.  An unsuccessful film, for example, can have good acting voided by a weak script, or a good script hurt by bad acting.  The direction could be pedestrian…the effects unimpressive or, worse, laughable.  Then there are those films that are firmly average.  They may be good enough to entertain you while you’re watching them, but the moment they’re done, so too is your interest in them.

Then there are those in between films.  Movies that are “near misses”, containing so very many great features yet…yet don’t quite successfully cross the finish line.

The Dead (2010), as it turns out, is to me a pretty good example of just such a near miss.  A very near miss.

The Dead is, yes, another exercise in the seemingly endless zombie genre (they’re everywhere, from TV to movies to apps to video games).  The most unique element of this particular movie, however, is the setting: Africa.

In brief:  The last flight of white foreigners leaving Africa after the zombie plague began crash lands.  One of the very few survivors of the flight, Lt. Murphy (Rob Freeman), a mechanic/mercenary, tries to reach civilization alone.  He eventually runs across another survivor, Sgt. Dembele (Prince David Oseia), an African military officer who abandoned his post and is searching for his son.  Together, the two try to find some hope in this hopeless new world.

Again, there is plenty to like here, even if the plot is far from earth-shatteringly original.  The zombie plague is presented in a harrowing way…the dead are quite literally everywhere, and one must not only fight them, but also the harsh African elements if there is any hope to survive.  The cinematography and setting is at times breathtaking.  This is territory we’ve rarely seen in film.  Further, the effects and acting are also quite good.  For those into gory effects, there’s plenty of it to see here, along with some great scares.

However, despite all the good, to me the film simply runs out of gas as it nears its end.  I don’t want to give away any too many details, but in general I’ve found that zombie plague stories tend to end in one of two ways:  1) depressingly, as demonstrated in the original zombie plague film, Night of the Living Dead, wherein the entire cast is wiped out and we’re left with the feeling that civilization is very much doomed or 2) depressingly but with at least one ray of hope, as presented in the sequel to that film and perhaps greatest zombie plague film of them all, the original Dawn of the Dead.  In that movie’s case, while most of the cast does wind up dead, the movie concludes with a feeling that the very few that have survived can and will fight on.

The Dead follows this formula.  However, in this instance it felt like the ending was too “artsy” and symbolic.  It was, unfortunately, my impression that the filmmakers, talented though they were, had a great idea for a story and had all these intriguing sequences they wanted to put into it, but were simply unclear on how they would wrap it all up.  So they went for the formula ending but in this case, it just didn’t work.

However, having said all that, if you’re a fan of the zombie plague genre and are looking to kill a few hours watching just that, you’d do a lot worse than give The Dead a try.  For all others, you may be better off going to the original two George A. Romero directed classics.

Most Overrated Best Picture Winners…

…at least according to Entertainment Weekly:


What I like about this list is that they offer you the winning Oscar motion picture and then note which films it beat out.  I tend to agree for all the mentioned films.

This, of course, puts me in the mind of something I posted a little while back (Oscar talk is slowly but surely building as we close in on the event) wherein Slate magazine offered ways to fix the Oscars, in this case Lowen Liu felt we should have a 10 year “re-vote”:


As I mentioned back then, the Oscar awards should be looked at as what they are:  A snapshot of personal tastes at that time.  Often, we may watch a film and have a reaction to it but, as time goes by, we may re-examined and revisit it and form a completely different opinion, to the better or to the worse, about what we’ve seen.  As is the case with many of the films listed in the first link, while successful when first released, the films simply don’t stand the test of time.

On the other hand, one of the more delightful things that could happen is that you see a film you don’t like and over time you come to understand it and it becomes a favorite.  This has happened to me on at least two occasions and both with horror films:  Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds and Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining.  I can’t deny it, when I first saw both films (the former during a television airing and the later when it was first released to theaters) I didn’t like them.  At all.

I found The Birds, frankly, dull and pointless, building to a bizarre, equally pointless ending.  I was especially disappointed because I was a fan of Mr. Hitchcock’s work and wondered how audiences could have viewed this film as anything approaching “good”.  Or so I felt then.  One day, I happened to see it on TV once again and gave it another try.  And for some reason, that second attempt did the trick.  While watching it I understood exactly what Mr. Hitchcock was up to.  He was doing his version of those almost endless “creature feature” films of the 1950’s, but he was turning the genre completely on its head.  Instead of an attack of some huge bird/fish/octopus/grasshopper(!)/spider/etc. etc., Mr. Hitchcock has a town attacked by birds.  Ordinary, common birds.  And in those 50’s creature feature films, where the horror is usually caused by some kind of nuclear or scientific accident, there are no answers given.  Nature has simply run amok.  The ending, too, made perfect sense.  In the creature films, a brilliant scientist and the military through diligent work come up with a way to defeat the menace.  In The Birds, we are the ones that are ultimately defeated.

As for The Shining, as mentioned I saw it in theaters when it was first released and I really, really didn’t like it.  As with The Birds, I thought it was pointless, not all that scary, and way, waaaay too long.  And then the movie started appearing on TV and I’d catch glimpses of it here and there.  Then more.  Then more.  Gradually, perhaps over a period of a few years, I “got it”.  To this day, I think this is one of the best horror films every made, a brilliant piece that literally transports you to a world of darkness and isolation, a place where there is nowhere to run.

Brilliant, brilliant stuff.


The Town That Dreaded Sundown (1976) an (incredibly) belated review

The first and last time, until now, I saw The Town That Dreaded Sundown was probably shortly after its original release back in 1976.  This means I was way, waaaay too young to see what amounts to a prototype of the “slasher” film, one that shares some interesting parallels with what is considered by many (incorrectly!) the first of this genre, 1978’s Halloween.

Based on the true story of the Texarkana Moonlight Murders of 1946, the movie is an interesting attempt to present the “facts” of the case, even though there are considerable digressions and some very clumsy attempts to bring in humor.  And, yes, even a car chase/crash.  Even that.

The film’s story revolves around the unsolved serial killings and assaults our antagonist was (perhaps) responsible for.  In the end, the man responsible for this rampage was blamed for assaulting eight people in total and of those, killing five of them.

The impressions I most recall of the only time I saw this film was the killer himself, presented as a tall, strong, and merciless force.  He wore a cloth bag over his face with eye-holes cut into it and his eyes were a very deep, deep blue.  When he breathed, the bag covering his face would ebb and flow, violently.  This effect was creepy and remains so.  Given the fact that the actor’s face is almost completely covered, its amazing how those intense blue eyes and the very heavy breathing successfully conveyed the savagery of his character.  The second most lasting impression to my mind was his final attack, wherein he assaults a housewife and her husband in a pretty gory fashion.  The husband is killed, the wife almost falls victim to him.

The wife, as it turned out, was played by -of all people!- Dawn Wells, who is best known as Mary Ann from Gilligan’s Island.  Given the fact that this film was made less than ten years after that show ended, she looks remarkably unchanged, and that adds a whole other layer of creepiness to see her become a bloody victim to this seemingly unstoppable killer.  However, her role is ultimately quite minimal, occupying maybe five or so minutes of film time.

The movie itself shows signs of its age.  While today’s horror films are not adverse to showing considerable amounts of gore, what gore is presented here amounts to nothing more than 1970’s era bright red blood.  Nonetheless, despite this lack of gore, the film is quite harrowing at times.  The attacks are often uncomfortably long and presented at times in a near documentary style.  This adds to the horror. The victims are not presented as movie-style caricatures (ie, the horny teen, the stoner teen, etc.), but rather “real” people.  Again, very uncomfortable to watch.

Where the film fails is in that the filmmakers didn’t appear to have a very good grasp of the story they were trying to tell.  Between the killings, obviously, they had to present some kind of story.  They chose logically, focusing on the police’s attempts to apprehend the killer.  However, even this might not have been enough and padding is evident, particularly when we’re shown some very awkward -and downright stupid- “humor” sequences involving an incompetent deputy driver.  This attempt at humor culminates in an out of left field car chase that results in a police car flying into a shallow lake.  Needless to say, this sequence looked like it belonged in another movie.

Nonetheless, I found it interesting to revisit this very early example of a “slasher” film.  While I’m not a particularly big fan of this horror sub-genre, it is nonetheless a popular genre to many.  To those, you may be curious to give the film a look.

Last Flight of the Argus ebook available free through Amazon.com

Starting on tuesday the 21st and concluding on 2/22, the following day, an ebook copy of my novel The Last Flight of the Argus will be available for free via Amazon.com.  (Note: I mistakenly posted this offer would begin today, Feb 20. My apologies for any confusion caused by this error)

The Last Flight of the Argus represents the second part of the Corrosive Knights series, which also includes Mechanic and Chameleon.  The novel is a space opera that explores the many mysteries behind the abrupt end of a potentially devastating intergalactic war.

To me, the most interesting part of the Corrosive Knights series is that these three initial books can be read in any order.  The stories in the books are self-contained and feature unique individuals, situations, and eras (Chameleon is set mostly in the present, Mechanic is set 250 or so years into the future, and The Last Flight of the Argus is set some 3000 years into the future).  Currently, I’m very hard at work on the next book in the series.  I’m hoping to have it done in the next couple of months.  That book, I promise, will start to tie the loose plot threads within the first three books together.

Upon reading The Last Flight of the Argus, good friend and professional artist Steve Scott said it was his favorite work of fiction, behind only the Sherlock Holmes stories of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.  Considering my own love of the works of Mr. Doyle (something Mr. Scott didn’t know at the time!), his praise was truly an honor.

I hope everyone out there takes advantage of the free ebook offer.  And those that do, I hope you enjoy reading the book as much as I did writing it.

Disembodied foot in British Colombia solves 25 year old mystery…

Fascinating clip from Huffington Post regarding finding the identity behind one of the several (!) disembodied feet found in the British Columbia area:

When I first heard about the many dismembered feet found in the British Colombia area, my first thought was:  Why feet?  Why didn’t they find, for example, heads or legs or arms?  After seeing the photograph of the boot -and assuming it is the boot which housed the dismembered foot mentioned in this story!- that particular element of the story, at least to me, a bit clearer.  The boot, as shown, remains in great shape despite the passage of many years.  Given it hasn’t disintegrated all that much over that time, it is logical to assume that what was inside the boot also remained in place.  While the rest of a person’s body decomposes and -no other nicer way to say it- breaks apart, the foot tucked inside the boot/shoe would stay in place.
Thus, people who died in the waters of the lakes, whether their deaths were caused by natural or darker means, would have their bodies eventually decompose but their feet, trapped within their shoes, had a better chance of eventually being found.

Girl possibly murdered during Roman Invasion Found in England

I was looking around History.com. the website of the History Channel, and came upon this story:


Despite the fact that this murder occurred so very long ago, I felt a great deal of sadness reading about this unknown girl/woman (she was between 16 and 20 at the time of her death) and her fate.

Given the times this young woman was living in, around 50 A.D., and the events occurring in England, it chills me to think of the possible terrors she faced during her final days of life.  One imagines she could well have been a prisoner of the advancing Roman army and, as mentioned in the article, once she outlived her “usefulness” to the invaders, she was murdered and hastily buried.

A tragic -albeit small- piece of history that nonetheless gives us a window on ancient times.  Given what we know about modern warfare and its victims, stories like these makes one wonder how much we have truly advanced in all these years.

Dave Mustaine endorses….Rick Santorum?!

Say it ain’t so!


Back in the later 1980’s and for a several years afterwards, I really got into the heavy metal music of Anthrax, Stormtroopers of Death, and Megadeth.  Though I tried a few other bands at that time, including the ever-popular Metallica and heavy metal favorites Slayer, the ones I really liked was that original group of three…two if you count Stormtroopers of Death as what they were, half the members of Anthrax doing an offshoot project.

Megadeth, fronted by ex-Metallica member Dave Mustaine, were in my mind sensational.  While the fact that he was kicked out of Metallica resulted in plenty of “which band is better” comments among the fans, to me there was no question:  Megadeth was the better group…if not the better selling and more popular one.

Mr. Mustaine certainly had his demons, including alcohol and drug use and the group went through more personnel changes than any other band I had followed.  For the most part, however, it didn’t appear to hurt their music.  Each successive album was quite good, at least in those early years.  The band, in my opinion, released not one but two absolutely classic heavy metal albums:  1986’s Peace Sells…But Who’s Buying (their second album) and 1990’s Rust in Peace (their fourth album).  Their biggest chart topper would be the album that followed Rust in Peace, 1992’s also quite excellent Countdown to Extinction.

After that came Youthanasia, a decent effort but the band was clearly slowing down and not producing music that was quite as “heavy”.  Their next album, Cryptic Warnings, didn’t do all that much for me.  The album after that, Risk, did even less.

The band underwent more turmoil, but in 2001 and with the release of The World Needs a Hero, I heard faint distinct echoes of what made me like the band in the first place.  While the album as a whole wasn’t as good, IMHO, as some of the “classic” albums, for the first time in a while I was optimistic that maybe, just maybe, Mr. Mustaine and company (whoever he had in the band at that time) could make a comeback.  For the first time in a while, I had hope.

Unfortunately, this hope seemed to be dashed permanently when news came out that Dave Mustaine suffered nerve damage to his arm in 2002 and it looked like he might never be able to play the guitar again.  Mr. Mustaine went on to announce the end of the band and an era appeared over.

But, after extensive therapy, Mr. Mustaine recovered and was back to playing.  Finally, after so many years, could there be a rebirth?

Well, since that time the band has released three more albums.  And in the intervening years, Mr. Mustaine has changed.

A lot.

When it was announced he had become a born again Christian, I noted that his songs began to have a certain…rightward…bend.  Then I heard Mr. Mustaine refused to sing some of the songs off his earlier albums.  They simply didn’t fit his current mind set.  His politics, too, headed right, and therefore it isn’t terribly surprising to find his endorsement of Mr. Santorum, a man who I strongly suspect would be only too happy to ban all of Mr. Mustaine’s music.

It’s a funny world we live in.  I can’t help but wonder what a younger Dave Mustaine would think of the older version of himself.  The personality change is about as complete as one could imagine.

Regardless, I’ve always felt that people should do whatever makes them happy, provided they do no harm to others in the process.  Unfortunately, the subject matter and music in Mr. Mustaine’s latest albums just haven’t been my cup of tea.  At all.  I’ve given up on the hope that Megadeth might one day surprise me and release an album that stands toe to toe with their best.

Luckily, and when the mood hits me, I can still enjoy the works from the past.

How do we make the Oscars better?

How about a 10 year Oscar re-vote?  So opines author Lowen Liu at Slate Magazine:


Of course, such an idea would never happen as its waaaay too embarrassing, controversial, and just plain nasty an idea.


Ms. Liu points out something that is perplexing about the public’s views on art in general and something I’ve noticed on more than one occasion:  What might be popular -even wildly popular- today may be passe or worse tomorrow.

Actors Paul Newman and Al Pacino were famously nominated (and sometimes not nominated) for works they should have, in hindsight, won awards for.  In the end, Mr. Newman was nominated some nine times for an Academy Award but finally received one for his work in The Color of Money, the Martin Scorsese directed sequel to The Hustler.  While The Hustler was (and is!) considered by many, including myself, a cinematic classic, there are few who hold as high an opinion of the belated sequel.  In fact, to my mind the sequel is an incredibly mediocre film, perhaps one of Mr. Scorsese’s rare misfires.  Mr. Newman wasn’t terrible in it, but neither was he as scintillating as he was in so many other, better films.  The Award, it felt, was given in lieu of awards he should have received in the past.

As for Al Pacino, he was also nominated multiple times for his acting in very, very strong films.  Ultimately, he was given an Academy Award for his role in Scent of a Woman.  This award, too, felt like a gift for past transgressions.  While the film was a success upon its release, I suspect there are few today who would consider this film anywhere near the level of many of Mr. Pacino’s “great” films, films that he deserved to win an award far more than this one.

In the end, however, Oscars have to be viewed as what they are:  A snapshot of the times.  Sure, there are going to be films and actors who should have won but didn’t, yet ultimately great work, for the most part, is recognized over the course of time.  And works that were perhaps not as good as one thought, well, they slowly are forgotten.