The Devil’s Mask (1946) a (very) belated review

If you’re a fan of old time (and sometimes creaky) mysteries, you could do far worse than spend a little over an hour watching The Devil’s Mask.

The story, let’s face it, is lower level pulp.  We begin with a shadowy figure breaking into a museum and doing something with one (or more?) of the five shrunken heads on display recently brought in from South America.  Then, a plane crashes and one of the few things recovered from the wreckage is a box whose address and destination has been burned off but whose contents remain intact.

Inside the box?

A shrunken head, of course!

Meanwhile, two detectives -one “serious” and the other more of a “comic relief”- are hired by the wife of a disappeared explorer to check in on her step daughter and boyfriend.  The boyfriend is following her around at the behest of her stepdaughter and the stepmother fears the two want to do her harm.  You see, the explorer who brought those shrunken heads into the museum is/was the husband of the stepmother, and he has mysteriously disappeared following an expedition south.

Was he murdered?  By whom?  Could the stepmother be hiding a hidden lover?  Could she and the lover be the killers?  Or is it possible the missing explorer is still alive and lurking in the shadows…ready to strike?

As I said, the plot itself is pure pulp and either you enjoy this sort of stuff or you won’t.  Regardless, one can appreciate the lovely black and white cinematography and use of very heavy shadows.  While the plot itself was mildly diverting, even a fan of the pulps like me will admit the story itself borders on the ridiculous (the whole airplane crashing thing never really amounted to more than a way to introduce the idea of the shrunken heads and the payoff to that was more than a little silly).

Still, what can I say?  I enjoyed the film and it was short enough (as I said before, its total runtime is a little over an hour) to not wear out its welcome.  A cautious recommendation is offered to those who like these kind of old “B” films.

Others might want to steer clear.

Deadfall (2012) a (mildly) belated review

There are films that you love, there are films you hate, and there are those in between.  They may grip you for a while before fizzling out.  They may present a story that you simply can’t get into.  They may even feature all the proper elements to make a great film yet those ingredients don’t make a great whole.

In the case of Deadfall, a film barely released to theaters last year, the ingredients most certainly are there to make a potent whole.  The movie stars Eric Bana and Olivia Wilde as ambiguous (in more ways than one) criminal siblings who just scored a big haul along with their partner and are heading to Canada to get away.  But as they make their way through a snowy road, they hit a deer and their car flips.  Their partner dies in the crash and before the duo can fully emerge from the wrecked car a police officer has arrived to see what’s going on.

Addison (Eric Bana) kills the cop and flees deeper into the woods with his sister Liza.  They decide their best course of action (well, other than perhaps, you know, driving off with the police man’s car at least for a little bit!) is to split up and get back together later.  Addison, we find, is very protective of his little sister and she is a little…strange.  Because she is an unknown in whatever heist they just pulled off, Addison reasons this is why it is a good idea for them to split.  If he’s caught, he’s caught.  If she is found, there is no way to link her to the crime they just committed.

The movie segues into introducing other characters, from an elderly couple (Kris Kristofferson and Susan Spacek) to their just released from prison son as well as the Sheriff of the County and his daughter.  Both sets of parents have issues with their kids and, as the movie progresses, the characters and their fates intertwine.

I won’t go into more story detail but suffice to say that while this film features a good cast, great locations, and some excellent cinematography (there’s something, to me, magical about films set featuring a very snowy tableau), the film’s plot, unfortunately, bogs down rather quickly.  Too much information is presented in too little time, though I would quickly hasten to add that the story presented might have benefited from being pared down of at least two of the characters (the Sheriff and his daughter, alas, serve no great purpose in the film, even if veteran actor Treat Williams is quite good as the intolerant and over-protective Sheriff).

In the end, the ingredients are there for at least a reasonably good suspense film, but the execution and too many ingredients (ie extra storylines) ultimately diffuse whatever steam this film tries to build.

While the film had a limited theatrical release, based on the very bland trailer presented below, I have a suspicion the studios knew the film wouldn’t do too well and didn’t really give it a great push.

The Stars (Are Out Tonight)

Second single released for the upcoming David Bowie album.  Pretty cool stuff and more “upbeat” than the first single, though the song’s topic appears to be similar (and certainly is emphasized in the video!) of looking back…

Huffington Post offers an interesting article concerning the video release, as well as noting that early reviews of the album are positive.  The full album is set to be released March 12.

Neal Adams interview

Back when I was a young kid and just starting to realize the artistic worth of comic books (gasp!), there were a few names that stood out more than the others.

I absolutely loved the Len Wein/Berni Wrightson Swamp Thing issues.  I loved Joe Kubert’s war covers and the rare (at the time!) full stories I could find.  I absolutely loved the Archie Goodwin/Walt Simonson Manhunter stories.

And I loved, loved, loved the work of Neal Adams.

Mr. Adams’ artwork during those years was nothing less than absolutely stunning.  He essentially brought Batman into the “modern” age and out of the campy realms he inhabited in the fifties and most of the sixties.  One could make a reasonable argument that Mr. Adams, along with primary (though not only) writer Denny O’Neil, resurrected and refined Batman into what he is now, one of the most popular and recognizable comic book characters of all time.

Which makes me sad to read this interview Neal Adams made with The Beat, found at the link below:

Where to begin?

Yes, the opinions expressed in the interview may be exaggeration or done in jest…and it may be difficult while reading the actual words to get his “tone”.  However, even while allowing for that, the picture of the man presented in this interview, sadly, is not a terribly pleasant one.  I can certainly understand defending your work, in this case the Batman: Odyssey mini-series he delivered a year or two ago.


Well, what can I say?  He’s proud of having Bruce Wayne/Batman almost tell Alfred “fuck you”?  Here is the full explanation by Neal Adams in the interview:

“I have a little thing in there that I just planted for people who really pay attention where Bruce Wayne is pissed off at Alfred, right, and Alfred just isn’t taking any shit from him. And he’s pissed off, and Alfred turns his back on Bruce and you can see Bruce is about to say something and then Alfred says, ‘Before you say that,’ but Bruce has got his mouth in a position where the only position, the only or one of the few words that you say from that position is “Fuck you” He’s got that F-sound, right? So you can look at it if you look at his face you know he’s gonna say ‘Fuck you Alfred!’ And Alfred says, ‘Before you say the thing you’re gonna say…’ [laughs]

While many were turned off by the plot of Batman: Odyssey (it was, I admit, more than a little confusing), to me the worst sin Mr. Adams committed in the series was in his characterization of Bruce Wayne/Batman.  Yes, the character is fictional and authors can choose (provided the powers that be let them) to portray them anyway they want.  However, to me the Bruce Wayne/Batman character came off as, and I’ll be very blunt here, a complete asshole.  In that context, I suppose him nearly telling Alfred “fuck you” makes sense, but…is that really the way one should present the hero of a piece?  Is this the way our hero should act (and not just to Alfred!)?

Perhaps I’m just getting too old fashioned, but the Batman Neal Adams showed us in the late 1960’s and early to mid 1970’s was a far more noble character than the one Mr. Adams presented in this series.

Ah well.

Corrosive Knights…a little more details

Just because I found it curious:

The first full draft of the latest (5th) Corrosive Knights book runs 115,531 words, of which 26,779 of these words were bits and pieces shunted outside the main section of the book and may wind up being cut entirely and/or modified and reused in this book or a future work.  In effect, these scenes/pages/paragraphs are similar to “deleted scenes” found in the special features section of movie DVDs.

Thus, the word count of this first draft of the story, minus the potentially to-be-cut material, runs 88,752 words long.  My usual first drafts of novels run around 70-75,000 words, so this is a pretty long first draft.

If history repeats itself, this book will eventually gain another 10-20,000 words before it is completed.  While it is possible to “pare down” some material (and I’ve done that before with at least one of my novels), more often than not the first draft is often more “bare bones” than I’m happy with and requires additional material to smooth over some parts and/or better explain events that happen within the work.  So, if all goes as before, this book should wind up being among my longer works.

As mentioned before, this book represents the conclusion to the first major Corrosive Knights story line.  By that I mean that if you read all the previous books and then read this one, you will finally see exactly how they relate to each other.  As I’ve mentioned many times before, one can read the first three Corrosive Knights books, Mechanic, The Last Flight of the Argus, and Chameleon, in any order at all without getting confused about characters or story.  With Nox, the fourth book in the series, I began to show the relationship between both Mechanic and Chameleon.

With this upcoming book, readers will see the interrelationship between all four previous Corrosive Knights books.  But more to the point: I think its a great story and if you enjoyed the previous books in the series, you should like this one.

I’m very excited and will work really hard to get this out as quickly as possible.

I can’t wait to see what you guys and gals out there think about it.

6 Huge Movie Plot Twists That Caused Even Bigger Plot Holes

Been a while since I’ve posted a link to the very entertaining  This particular article, concerning the above, was particularly interesting to me:

Of the ones listed, the most intriguing to me is Skyfall, the latest James Bond film.  Even when the movie first came out, I noted that it was a feature one could simultaneously love and hate.  The love part related to the spectacle and icy cool smooth execution of the film.  To me, the film was nothing if not entertaining…as long as you kept your mind on neutral.


If you take your mind out of neutral for even a few seconds, you can’t help but realize that the plot of the film is incredibly…silly.  James Bond, in retrospect, is for the most part a spectator in the whole affair.  Events happen around him and, as the plot is further revealed, he is revealed to be more of a pawn than an active player.  But even worse that that, by the end of the film the villain accomplishes everything he wanted.


Javier Bardem’s Silva’s, we find by the end of the film, has two goals:  To rub M’s nose in her failures before, ultimately, simultaneously kill her and get himself killed.  Guess what?  He accomplishes his goals by the end of the film, even with James Bond’s fighting him all along the way!

Getting back to the “plot holes”, the whole villain-getting-caught-on-purpose part was especially difficult to swallow and for the reasons outlined in the Cracked article.  Seriously…he needed to be caught to release the computer virus (earlier in the film he accomplished this without needing that second step) to subsequently escape so he could attack M at the conference she was scheduled to attend anyway?  She was already humiliated by Silva, why not lay low and skip the whole “getting caught on purpose” bit and just attack her at the conference?

Ah well.

Corrosive Knights update

Been a while since I’ve written about, well, my writing, so here goes:

As of yesterday, Valentine’s Day, I finished the first full draft of book #5 of my Corrosive Knights series.  This book follows Mechanic, The Last Flight of the Argus, Chameleon, and Nox, all available through (Click here for the Amazon link)

Corrosive MACN

The latest book in the series is, effectively, the conclusion to the first major Corrosive Knights story line.

That’s not to say, however, that the upcoming book represents the last of the Corrosive Knights series.

Like all books I write, this one involved many many hours of very hard work and, given I’m “only” at the end of first draft stage, there’s still plenty of hard work to come.  To give you an idea of how much more I’ve got to do, I’m usually comfortable enough with my books to release them after doing at least five full revisions/drafts.  In the case of the upcoming book (note that I’m keeping the title to myself at the moment), I suspect it too will take roughly that amount of full revisions.

Still, the biggest hurdle is getting that first full draft done.  It represents a “complete” road map of the story I’m trying to tell.  In turn, the second full draft, which I began working on today, represents the second biggest step forward in getting the novel out there.  My focus on the second draft is to get all major and minor plot points clarified and/or “punched up” for maximum impact.  Subsequent book drafts (ie 3 through 5) tend to focus more on smoothing whatever verbal imperfections or grammatical errors I can find and, therefore, tend to be completed quicker.

I’ll be working very hard for the next few months on this, the latest book in the Corrosive Knights series.  I’m very proud of what I’ve accomplished so far and I think those who have read the first four books in the series will get a huge kick out of this, the fifth one.

I’ll be moving very fast -but not recklessly fast- on these revisions.

Trust me, I can’t wait to get this book out there.

A Lonely Place To Die (2011) a (mildly) belated review

Read about this movie in an article concerning movies audiences missed out on in 2011 and gave it a try.

I’m glad I did!

In a nutshell, A Lonely Place To Die concerns a group of five mountain climbers who stumble upon a little girl locked up in a box buried below ground.  They save her from her captivity and then have to face the cold-blooded individuals who put her there in the first place.

This is a low budget film that does not feature huge special effects and is far from your typical “Hollywood” action spectacular.  The heroes are down to Earth (no pun intended) and the villains are really fearsome.  If the film has any real big problem, it may be the final act/conclusion.  It’s not that the film had a “bad” ending, but after such great sustained intensity in the first two thirds plus of the film, the ending felt a little too ordinary.

I suppose almost all films of this type, where “city” folk face peril in the rugged and unforgiving outdoors, work in the very tall shadow of Deliverance, and in the case of A Lonely Place To Die, perhaps like Deliverance the film might have been a little better if it kept the villains’ identity and intentions more nebulous.

Just a thought.

Still, A Lonely Place to Die is a strong, intense suspense film well worthy of your time.  It may not completely stick the landing, but it does a great job in getting your juices pumping.

Dream House (2011) a (mildly) belated review

Stop Me If You’ve Heard This One Before (part 2):  Idyllic guy and idyllic family move into an idyllic home out in the suburbs, only to find that there was a brutal murder committed there a few years before.  Strange goings-on ensue…

The last time I used the above opening was for The Bourne Legacy (read the full review here) a film that, ironically enough, also starred Rachel Weisz.

In the case of Dream HouseDaniel Craig is Will Atenton, a family man who at the start of the film quits his job and heads to his “dream house” where his wife (Rachael Weisz) and two daughters are already living.  Now free of his city job, he plans to settle down and write a book, fix up the house, and bask in his close relationship with his wife and young family.  But strange things, of course, are afoot and husband and wife discover that five years before the family who lived in the house -all but the husband- were brutally murdered.  The husband was shot in the head by his wife, an act the police believe was meant in self defense.  However, much as they suspect the husband killed the rest of the family, there isn’t enough evidence to verify his guilt and the man was sent to a psychiatric hospital and, eventually, released…

…is he now stalking Atenton and his family?  What are his plans…if any?  And what about the family’s neighbor (Naomi Watts, completely wasted in a role I suspect was considerably trimmed down as the film was made)?  What secrets does she hold?

The little plot presented above gives you most of what you need to know about this film before treading dangerously close to SPOILER territory.

Which I will do now.



Still here?

Ok, you’ve been warned.  The upshot is this:  Will Atenton, we find, is in reality the man who previously owned the house.  He is indeed the man people think (but couldn’t prove) killed his wife and two children.  In Atenton’s current fantasy world, he quit his job in the “big city” but in reality was released from his psychiatric hospital and returned to his vacant home.  His wife and children are hallucinations or, as revealed later in the film, actually ghosts he alone can see.  The mysterious neighbor, of course, knows who he is and humors his hallucinations/visions.  Of all the townsfolk, she alone suspects he didn’t have anything to do with his family’s murder.

Eventually it is revealed this is indeed the case, that the murderer is actually the neighbor’s ex-husband (a short fused bully of a man who wants sole custody of his child from Naomi Watt’s character) and his partner in crime, a thug he hired to kill his wife but who went to the wrong home (I think…I might have been hallucinating myself by that point in the film).

Most of this, by the way, is revealed in the theatrical trailer, presented below.  Seriously, studios…why bother making the film if you’re going to give almost everything away in the trailer?

Anyway, Dream House, unfortunately, is not a very good film.  It never really engages you and when the big reveal comes so early in the movie you can’t help but wonder (and predict) why any time at all was spent on the neighbor and her short-fused ex-husband.  As mentioned before, Naomi Watts is wasted in what amounts to a very small role and I couldn’t help but think that there were considerable changes made to the screenplay as filming was done.  Why, after all, would Naomi Watts, a big star and listed as second star in this film after Daniel Craig, agree to do such a, in the end, small role?  Further, the pace of the film often lags and tests one’s patience.  Given how easy it is to predict where the movie is going, that becomes a double problem.

If there is one bright spot it is a sequence toward the very end, a genuinely emotional final scene between the haunted Atenton and the ghosts of his deceased family.  I found this part to be incredibly well done…emotional, exciting…even sad.  I wish the rest of the film could have been half as good as those few minutes.

As good as the scene is, it does present one of the film’s most glaring plot holes:  If it is confirmed that Atenton is not hallucinating but actually seeing the ghosts of his dead family and they are trying to help him…why didn’t they reveal everything to him earlier?  Why didn’t his wife tell him who actually killed her and her family?  It makes no sense at all.

Needless to say, unless you’re really, really bored and would like to see Daniel Craig doing something a little less “suave” than James Bond, there is little reason for you to bother seeing Dream House.