Zsa Zsa Gabor, R.I.P.

As this hellish year marches towards its own end, we have yet another passing, this time of Zsa Zsa Gabor.  She was 99 years old and, from what I’ve read, spent the past five years living thanks only to machines.

A horrible way to go, IMHO.  Hope she was so far gone during those last years that she didn’t actually feel anything.

Considering some of the very big names/personalities that have passed this year, one would think Zsa Zsa Gabor would be a more minor one.  I suppose in some ways she was.  She was known most for being a “personality” in the days well before the Kardashians or the Housewives of the various counties/cities.  She was at times outrageous and a celebrity because of this.  She was also married 8 times, 9 if you count a one day marriage/annulment and was as feisty as she was sexual…

She also provided some delightful quotes and that’s what I found the most amusing and interesting about her.

Some of her “best” quotes can be found here:

Zsa Zsa Gabor’s Best Quotes about Love, Marriage, and Divorce

At the risk of turning people away from the link, here are my two favorites quotes by her:

“I want a man who’s kind and understanding. Is that too much to ask of a millionaire?”


”A girl must marry for love, and keep on marrying until she finds it.”

Rest in Peace, Zsa Zsa.  I hope your life was as entertaining and enjoyable as it seemed from the outside looking in.

Passengers (2016), creative coincidence, and telling a story

Back in the stone age and when I was in High School, our English class was given a creative writing assignment.  It went like this:  Imagine you were on vacation on the TV show Fantasy Island , what would your fantasy be?

For those too young to know, Fantasy Island was a TV show that ran from 1977 to 1984 and featured Ricardo (KHAN!) Montalban and Herve Villechaize as the easy-going -and perhaps supernatural- hosts of Fantasy Island, a place where various guest stars -a revolving bunch of relatively well know actors- to the show came and spent a weekend living out their greatest fantasy.  The fantasies/stories presented could be humorous, touching, action filled, etc.

In many ways, this was a more “benevolent” version of The Prisoner, where people wanted to be on the island rather than escape it.  A new version of the show would appear in 1998 and feature Malcolm McDowell in the titular “host” role but the show went nowhere and was cancelled after a single season.

Anyway, I considered the assignment and what “fantasy” I’d like to enjoy.  There are soooo many choices, many of which would never fly in a High School English class.  So, removing the X-Rated ones and after thinking about it, I decided it would be really cool to spend a quiet weekend in a super-large spacecraft, far away from anyone and everyone and in a place I could unquestionably enjoy some peace and quiet.

As you can guess, at that particular moment in time I must have really had my fill of people!

Anyway, the idea remained in my head for years.  Around 2012 or so and when I first began writing Ghost of the Argus, the fifth book in the Corrosive Knights series, I was finally able to use that concept in one of my novel…along with some new wrinkles: The person “trapped” in the super large spacecraft has 50 years to go before reaching his destination.  Why was he on the ship?  Who put him there?  These mysteries were revealed in the telling of the story.

Earlier this year or sometime late last year I first heard about the Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence film Passengers and, once again, experienced that curious sensation of creative coincidence.  The trailer below gives you a general idea of the movie’s plot.

Now, before you think I’m about to go into a “they ripped me off!” diatribe, nope.  My understanding is that Passengers existed as a screenplay since 2007 or so, many years before the movie was finally green-lit.  I certainly had no awareness of it until filming started, so I didn’t rip the story off and unless the person who wrote the screenplay also happened to be in my English class way back in 1981/82 or so and was so floored with my “spending time alone in a large spacecraft” concept, I very much doubt he took my concept either.

While a case of creative “coincidence” is certainly intriguing, it doesn’t amount to anything more than that.

Now that that’s clear, let me get on with what I did want to talk about: Passenger’s plot.

I will be getting into some SPOILERS regarding the story and not mentioned in the trailer above so if you’re interested in seeing the film, you may want to move along.



Still here?

Ok, so the trailer above shows us a super large spacecraft traveling over a hundred years to its destination.  There are people aboard the ship, all of them in some kind of stasis, in theory sleeping until they reach their destination.  However, two of the passengers (played by Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence, natch), are awoken 90 years too early and suddenly they are the only “awake” passengers on this ship.

By the time the ship reaches its destination, they will likely be dead.

Again, going by the trailer alone, audiences are asked: What do these two very charismatic and beautiful people do?  What awoke them?  Can they somehow get themselves back into stasis or are they condemned to live out the rest of their lives and likely die well before the ship reaches its destination?

Though I haven’t seen the film or read the screenplay it was based on (so take some of my opinions below with that pinch of salt), certain elements of the story have been released.

The big twist not revealed in the trailer but which has been revealed elsewhere:  Only one of these two passengers, Chris Pratt’s character, awoke too early.  His character spends a year alone on the ship, slowly going crazy, until he stumbles upon Jennifer Lawrence’s character’s stasis chamber.  Though he never met her before, he accesses her files and falls in love with who he thinks she is.

And then he does the unthinkable:  He decides to awaken her.

Think real hard about that.

Our protagonist, who is essentially condemned to living a life in solitary, granted through no fault of his own, decides to condemn another person to that same fate.

By his actions, regardless of how “nice” a guy he may be, our protagonist’s actions make him, essentially, first a stalker (he doesn’t know Jennifer Lawrence’s character at all.  He simply sees this beautiful blonde in a stasis chamber and, viola, knows he has to have her) and kidnapper.

While Chris Pratt’s character is a victim of circumstance, Jennifer Lawrence’s character is now a victim of him.

This, my friends, makes him a villain.  A despicable one at that.  He takes his own needs and places them above another person’s life.

Again, going by the reviews and what information I’ve gleaned about the screenplay, Chris Pratt’s character hides the fact that he’s responsible for Jennifer Lawrence’s character early awakening.  The deception kept secret, the two grow closer and closer to each other until they are a couple.

The reviews further note that when Jennifer Lawrence’s character realizes what was done to her, the film promptly falls on its face and fails to properly address the horror of this situation.  Instead, audiences are given Chris Pratt’s character “cute” ways of winning back the love of Jennifer Lawrence’s character.

The bad taste, many critics note, lingers.  (If you want to read some of the reviews, they can be found over at Rottentomatoes.com, where the film so far isn’t tracking well at all.

Some have countered the “icky” facts of this set up and said people are being too “sensitive” or (heaven’s forbid) “feminist”.

To them I say, consider this: What if the Chris Pratt character had been, say, a homosexual and the person he awoke was a male heterosexual and over the course of the film romances this clearly uninterested party?  How would we view his character then?

What if instead of dashing, handsome Chris Pratt, the movie’s protagonist was played by someone considerably less dashing and handsome and far older?  And what would we think if this person awoke someone who was very young?  Like way too young?

We shouldn’t have to think of all these things yet the film tries to cut off those considerations by presenting us these two beautiful mega-movie stars so of course they should fall in love which each other and work out whatever problems they have.

I mean, what’s kidnapping and sentencing someone to death between forced lovers, right?

I won’t be catching Passengers because while its plot is similar to something I came up with and since used in one of my books, the wrinkles placed in this movie, frankly, make my skin crawl.

Passengers comes out later this week.  I wonder if others will find the story as distasteful as many of the critics so far have.


Over at Gizmodo.com Alex Cranz offers an article on Smartwatches.  This article anticipates/predicts the death of these products:

Smartwatches are dying because they’re useless

I’ve noted before I absolutely love tech and am always curious about new tech.  I’m intrigued by them and always interested in reading about, if not actually trying/buying new products, provided they are useful.

On the other hand, I’m not quick to throw the proverbial baby out with the bathwater.  I noted several times before how articles were predicting the end of the desktop PC.  My feeling was that while laptops/tablets were wonderful, there would always be, at least for me, a need to have a desktop computer.  I like the big screen (today, you can get multiple really big screens if you want).  I prefer the full ergonomic keyboard versus the ones usually found on laptops.

Further, it was my feeling the whole “desktop computers are dying” article failed to note that desktop PCs by that time had reached a point where they were so damn good (in terms of speed, capacity, and durability) there was no need for people to buy a new desktop PC every year like we used to when the processors were constantly being improved.

Having/using a desktop PC also didn’t mean I didn’t need or want a tablet or laptop computer.  Its just that when I’m writing, which as an author one tends to do, my preference is to do so while sitting behind my trusty ol’ desktop computer.

The smartwatches, though?

Their usefulness remained elusive to me.  I mean, there were certain things that were undeniably cool about them but it just seemed they were nothing more than an even smaller version of your smartphone, but with two very big problems: 1) their battery charge, at least in those early model releases, seemed pathetically small and 2) their actual usefulness depended on being linked to smartphones.

Why, I asked myself, would you get a smartwatch which needs to be charged every day and, if actually used, as often as twice a day?  Then again, why get a smartwatch when you already have a smartphone doing the things the smartwatch is supposed to do?  Its not like carrying a smartphone is a burden.  If you already carry around a smartphone, why get this ancillary bit of tech?

So I didn’t bother looking into smartwatches much more after reading the initial reviews/stories of their capabilities.  Over time it appeared the hysteria for this new tech dropped quite a bit.  Now there are numbers attesting to this, from the article linked to above:

A more recent report from IDC suggests the Apple Watch, the most popular product of its kind, saw a 71.3 percent drop in sales from last year, overall sales dropped 51.6 percent.


Unless I’m terribly mistaken (not beyond the realm of possibility), the Apple Watch was the only “new” tech Apple provided in the last few years.  I mean, they are doing well with their iPhone and iPad and I suppose their laptops are growing in popularity versus before, but other than Apple TV (is that a success?  I genuinely don’t know), the Smartwatch was their Big New Product™ and, based on the numbers listed above, it appears that product is in the process of bombing.

This leads me to a secondary point which I’ve also noted before:  The success of a business, especially a tech based business, is to convince people every so often -say within a year or less- they have either a) a better version of an already popular product which their buyers need to get and thus spend money on while discarding the old in favor of the new or b) the company offers something “new: to buy and, hopefully, this product will prove popular and, over time, slides into the “a” column.

Desktop PCs are a beautiful example of this.  The desktop computer was first sold in the very late 1970’s/early 1980’s (my first desktop computer was the Atari 800).  The desktop computer proved a popular product and soon we had the IBM based machines with their mighty 8088 processors.

These computers were, compared to the computers of today, absolute garbage but at that time were state of the art.  Improvements were rapidly made and for those who lived through the rise of the desktop PC you’ll remember we went through a succession of better and better models.  In almost every case, you quite literally had to consider buying a new model each year as the new ones put the older models to shame.

And then, as I stated above, we reached a point where the desktop PC reached a plateau and suddenly it wasn’t so very necessary to consider buying a new desktop PC to replace your old one.  In my case, I used to buy new desktop PCs every year to two years and suddenly I realized a desktop PC I had worked for me a mind-boggling 5-6 years before I decided to replace it…and that was because I noticed the machine was glitching.

The current computer I have is 2+ years old.  I have neither need nor desire to replace it with a new one and don’t anticipate doing so for years to come.

As successful as Apple is, I suspect they’ve reached a similar point with their tech.  It wasn’t all that very long ago when new versions of their iPhone would come out and it was a freaking event.  I mean, people were lining up around the block and overnight to be the first to get their hands on the new and improved model.  And the new and improved models were indeed new and very much improved over the previous ones.

Now, though, while the iPhone remains very popular, the newer versions don’t grip the public like before.  I don’t see lines forming like they used to at the various tech shops/cell phone companies for their new product.

Same seems to apply to their tablets.  I love my iPad.  At least two new versions of the iPad were released since I bought mine.  While I certainly would love to buy one of those new 12 inch monitor versions, the reality is that I get pretty much everything I want out of my current iPad and don’t need the new one.  Buying a new model is an expensive luxury I can afford not to have.

But at least those products proved successful enough to get people interested in buying, if for a while, each new version.  With the Smartwatch, it appears this bit of tech may be hitting a dead end almost from the start and people may be aware now they simply don’t need them.

It is possible, of course, for future iterations of the Smartwatch to come and prove themselves more useful.  Then again, if we go by the sales figures, things look mighty bleak for the future of the Smartwatch.

Ash v Evil Dead Season 2 (2016), redux

Yesterday I wrote about the finale of season 2 of Ash v Evil Dead and how the showrunner of the series up to this point, Craig DiGregorio, left the show after that second season and allowed himself to be interviewed as to why.  It turned out there were strong creative differences between one of the show’s producers, strongly hinted as being Robert Tapert, and he.  The end result of these differences was a season 2 finale that was very different from what Mr. DiGregorio intended (you can read about all that, including how he wanted to end the season, here).

In my original writings linked to above, I noted that I wasn’t all that impressed with the season 2 finale though I really liked all the stuff that happened before it.  Overall I felt season 2 was even better than season 1 of Ash v Evil Dead, though each suffered from rather lame (IMHO!) finales.

After reading Mr. DiGregorio’s interview and how he intended to finish off season 2, I was left incredibly conflicted.  On the one hand, Mr. DiGregorio steered the show through two very fun and enjoyable seasons and he clearly steered the show, story-wise, in a certain direction which was leading up to his version of the season 2 finale.  As detailed in his interview, the character of Kelly Maxwell (Dana DeLorenzo) was to be revealed, because of the time traveling shenanigans of the leads, to be the daughter of Ash (Bruce Campbell).

In retrospect, this was set up almost from the show’s very beginning!  Please note this, the season 1 trailer, and particularly the lines of dialogue at the 2:47 minute mark:

Bear in mind, this trailer was released before even one episode of the first season aired.  The line of dialogue in which Ash states he feels Kelly is a younger version of him, is the first of many hints given through the first and second seasons of the show that Ash and she share some kind of commonality.

What is so damn perplexing in my mind is: How could the people behind the show go through almost two full seasons giving us these little hints and setting up this big reveal… and then at what appears to be the very last second scuttling it and going in a completely different (and for my money, far lamer) conclusion?!

But as I said above, I felt conflicted by learning this information.  The fact is that as much control as Mr. DiGregorio had over the first two seasons of the Ash v Evil Dead, he was not one of the three people who actually control the characters and concepts.  Robert Tapert, who was implied as being the one responsible for nixing Mr. DiGregorio’s original concept for the season 2 finale is, for better or worse, one of the people who has been with the Evil Dead series since the very first film was released back in 1981.  He is one of the owners of the franchise and he certainly has every right in the world to demand things be done to his standards.

The big question is: Why did it take so long for him to realize he didn’t want to go in this particular direction?

I get from Mr. DiGregorio’s interview that the season finale as presented was a rush job as the original script and his concepts were scuttled at the very last minute.  That certainly explains why many of the hints of Kelly’s background remain sprinkled throughout the show’s two seasons.

So I have to ask: What happened?

Was Mr. Tapert not aware of the direction Mr. DiGregorio was going in?  If so, was Mr. Tapert not as hands on as he should have been and only now decided to flex his creative muscles?  Or could it be that Mr. DiGregorio failed in fully briefing his bosses and didn’t give him sufficient “heads up” about his ideas for the Kelly character?

Either way it seems communication was an issue between the two and, sadly, it resulted in Mr. DiGregorio not only walking away from a series he had done some damn good work on, but also removing what could have been a far more exciting conclusion to this second season that what was made.

Like everyone else, I have no idea how Ash v Evil Dead will be next season.  The show will have a new creative overseer and, I’m assuming, he will be more compliant to Mr. Tapert’s ideas of where the show should go.

I’m trying to be optimistic but these revelations have shaken my faith -at least a little- in what to expect in the final product.

We’ll see.

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story…the early reviews

They’re pretty positive, so Star Wars fans, looks like you’ve got a…


Ok, so the reviews are pretty positive and Rottentomatoes.com has the film scoring a nice 84% positive among critics so far but…is there a proverbial disturbance in the force?

Some of the positive reviews clearly are that: Very positive.  Naturally, there are those who outright do not like the film.  While going through the reviews both good and bad, I get at least a couple of repeated criticisms leveled at the film by most critics.  They are: 1) The film’s leads, including Felicity Jones’ Jyn Erso, are very bland and 2) the film kinda muddles along for the first 2/3rds of its run time before giving audiences a rousing climax/finale.

One of the more curious reviews I read was this one, by Germain Lussler at i09.com, a writer who I find very entertaining to read.  His review of the film can be found here:

Rogue One Truly Understands How To Be A Great Star Wars Film

Based on that headline, you would think the film was a home run for Mr. Lussler, who in his review admits to being a HUGE Star Wars fan.

Yet as positive as the review starts out, Mr. Lussler then notes the things he feels are either wrong or don’t work in the film and, by the end of his review, wonders:

But as you leave (the movie), you may also start to wonder something. The film has so many surprises and winks to the rest of the franchise—are all those fan moments of excitement and recognition masking the film’s other flaws? If you’re a Star Wars fan, it’s hard to say definitively when you’re on one side or the other, but I do feel the characters, pacing, and story are engaging without them. Hopefully the many connections to the other films—and there are a lot of them—act more as sprinkles on top.

The fact of the matter is that for many, Star Wars and its various films have moved beyond critical reaction.  To many, the love of the features is such that they’ll dive into any new film of the franchise with an incredibly sunny disposition and, in many cases, actively ignore any faults that may lie within.  A reassessment and realization of a film’s flaws (if any) may -or may not- happen later on but by then the latest movie will have made a tremendous amount at the box-office and, in future years and regardless of how they feel about the film later on these same fans will own copies of those movies as well.

While George Lucas prequel films are today almost universally panned, people forget they did great business at the box office and people lined up and eagerly watched each and every one of these films.  At the time of their original release many stated they loved the films, only to later go back and admit their flaws.  I suspect many of these fans who later admitted to not liking those films have copies of them and, with the arrival of Rogue One, it wouldn’t surprise me at all if many do a viewing of these three prequel films before going into the latest one, which takes place just before the events of the original Star Wars film (Or Star Wars IV: A New Hope as it was renamed).

As I’ve stated many times before, I was never all that into Star Wars and doubt I’ll catch Rogue One in theaters when it is released this week.  Having said that, unlike all those who seemed to take glee in stomping on a creative work, I sincerely hope fans get what they need from in this film.

I sincerely hope they enjoy the hell out of it.

On Writing… and the season two finale of Ash vs. Evil Dead

I’m not alone in loving most of the Evil Dead series.  What started as a low budget movie released in 1981…

…was “rebooted” into a satisfying horror/comedy mix which absolutely worked in 1987’s Evil Dead II.

So successful was this film that in 1992 we were treated with a third movie, Army of Darkness.  In this movie’s case, we moved farther away from horror and more into straight up comedy…

Like Evil Dead II, I loved it.  Audiences, however, didn’t.  Not at that time.  In fact, Army of Darkness was a flop when it was initially released though subsequent home video releases made plenty for the studios.  However, that initial failure is the reason it took many years, twenty one in fact, before we had another Evil Dead feature.  2013’s reboot, entitled Evil Dead, was a straight up horror movie which, IMHO, wasn’t all that great, though I do think the trailer is creepy as hell…

This film did well at the box office and, with the realization that perhaps there was a demand for more Bruce Campbell starring Evil Dead, the wheels were in motion.  It would come to be.  Not as a new movie but rather a series from Starz titled Ash vs Evil Dead

The first season of this series, IMHO, was quite good and took the same blend of horror and comedy that worked so well in Evil Dead II and Army of Darkness.  I loved the new show though I thought its finale wasn’t all that great.  Still, it was a very entertaining ride and I very much looked forward to season 2.

The second season, IMHO, was absolutely glorious, better than the quite good season 1.  Last Sunday, December 11th, the season finale of season 2 of Ash vs Evil Dead was played and…I’m sad to report history repeated itself.  As good as the second season was, I found the final episode/resolution, like season 1’s, also disappointing

Turns out, there might be a reason for that.

Craig DiGregorio, Ash v Evil Dead’s showrunner, left the series after season 2 and, following the presentation of the season finale, was interviewed on why he left the show.  As it turns out, there were considerable creative differences between he and producer Robert Tapert (who has been with the Evil Dead series since its inception) which resulted in a last minute rewrite/reworking of the season 2’s finale.

If you have seen season 2 of the show and are curious as to what the original plans for the finale were, check out this interview with Mr. DiGregorio…

Craig DiGregorio on leaving Ash v Evil Dead and the original season two finale

Read it?

Seen it?


I won’t go into all the details presented in the interview as they speak for themselves, but the ending Mr. DiGregorio was working at sure sounds a lot better than what we were given.  Again, the season itself was a complete blast and therefore I can’t be too unhappy by the fact that the final episode didn’t work for me as well as it should have.

I am, however, concerned about what will come.

Mr. DiGregorio, whether you agree with his opinions or not (or feel he shouldn’t have spoken out as he did, biting the hand that feeds you and all that), was behind two for the most part delightful seasons of the show.  While Ash v Evil Dead tended to lean toward comedy and some felt there should have been more of a balance between that and horror, I loved it…well, again, except for the end of season 1 and now the end of season 2.

Would Mr. DiGregorio’s original ideas have worked better?  We’ll never really know though the ideas he presents are certainly far more ambitious and, to my mind, interesting than (SPOILERS!) the bland celebratory festival we were given in the season 2 finale, which played out like -of all things- the ending of Return of the Jedi, complete with ghostly apparitions giving our heroes the “thumbs up”.

I point all this out -and if you’ve paid attention to the headline of this blog entry- because we’re dealing with the job of writing here.

When I was considerably younger, I dreamed of one day being the writer of Batman.  I loved, loved, loved the character and having a hand in his stories was my ultimate writer’s dream.  Mind you, this was before Batman became BATMAN, the character everyone now knows and loves.  Back when I had this dream, Frank Miller’s Dark Knight Returns and Tim Burton’s Batman movie was still to be and the multi-billion dollar franchise megalith the character has become wasn’t quite there.

Yes, people knew the character, if only from the Adam West TV series, but he was far from the character everyone knows and loves today.

Which means if you are the writer of Batman today you have to deal with the suits behind the character.  You have to please them as much -probably even more!- than the readers.  You have to heed their advice even if it means cutting story ideas you may love to pursue what the people who own the character want you to do.

In the case of Mr. DiGregorio, it feels like he was in a similar situation.  He spent two years devoted to Ash v Evil Dead and, for the most part, delivered a pretty damn great product.  If his interview reveals anything it is that some of his concepts and ideas -and most certainly his ending to season 2 of the series- clashed with producer Robert Tapert’s vision.  Clearly these clashes were too much and he left the show.  Equally clearly, he’s not all that happy with the “new” ending which was imposed upon the season.

Yet he’s also sanguine enough to note that Mr. Tapert, being one of the people behind the Evil Dead from its inception, rightfully had the power and right to exercise control over the product and impose his ideas over Mr. DiGregorio’s.

Some have said this interview was a hatchet job directed at Mr. Tapert, a one-sided low blow from a disgruntled writer who thinks himself bigger than those who created the series to begin with.

I suppose it is possible but what I read was an interview with a man who clearly put in a great deal of effort into a product he was proud of but ultimately had to leave it over creative differences.  Then again, as I writer, I have sympathy for someone who works hard on a creative idea only to see it scuttled for something they may feel is inferior.

Think about that: Mr. DiGregorio is a writer.  His profession offers almost no guarantees of a steady paycheck, yet he lands a plum job working on a successful series.  He could have swallowed his pride and “gone with the flow” and continued his job but felt that his vision and the producers clashed so much that he decided to walk away.

From a well paying, high profile job.

There was rancor in the interview, certainly, and Mr. DiGregorio is clearly nursing a bruised ego.  But I didn’t read the same levels of rancor some have said there was.  He appeared sanguine about the situation and noted he had to go because he simply didn’t have the power over the product and didn’t want to continue clashing with the producer who clearly wasn’t into his ideas.

This, to me, is the adult way of going about things.

I suppose the big question becomes: How will the show do without Mr. DiGregorio?  If he was responsible for many of the good things the series presented in its first 2 seasons, how will things go with season 3?

As with so many things, we’ll see next year…

The Last Witch Hunter (2015) a (mildly) belated review

Hmmm…The Last Witch Hunter…it was a Vin Diesel film, right?  The follow up to his incredibly successful (and goofily over-the-top) Furious 7?  Which in turn was his follow up to his cute (even though I personally didn’t like the overall film) vocal turn in Guardians of the Galaxy, right?

I mean, Vin Diesel was on such a roll!  Yet I recall The Last Witch Hunter (I’ll refer to it as LWH from now on) came and fled the theaters -and everyone’s memories- quicker than you could say, “Vin Diesel is in a new movie and its called–”

I kid, I kid.

But the reality is that while this film featured a big cast, including Michael Caine, Elijah Wood, and Rose Leslie in the principal roles, the studios seemed to smell a stinker and while the movie was released to theaters, it felt like not much of an effort was made in the promotion of this feature.  It kinda came and went.

The critics were certainly not kind.  Over on Rottentomatoes.comLWH scored a pathetic 16% positive among critics yet, curiously, total reviews were only 123.  Generally, a “big” film release winds up with at least 200 “professional” reviews.  Furious 7, for example, had 233 professional reviews.  Suicide Squad had 294.  Jason Bourne 259.  Thus, LWH’s 123 is a pretty small amount.

The point is, critics weren’t all that interested in, or bothered, to review the film and those that did, obviously, hated what they saw.  Audiences, too, weren’t all that impressed.  Again based on Rottentomatoes.com, only 44% had a favorable opinion of it.

So why the heck did I like the film?

Don’t get me wrong: LWH is far from a “superb” film.  It loses steam as it goes along and the climax wasn’t nearly as exciting as it could have been.

And yet, I liked the damn thing.

In some ways the movie reminded me of the Hellboy comics/movies.  Here we have an alternate reality where the “real world” goes about its business yet in dark corners and alleys a parallel world of magic exists, in this case where witches go about their daily business.  At one time, however, witches and humans clashed.  800 years before Kaulder (Vin Diesel) and his people confronted a particularly evil witch.  Kaulder slayed her but she “cursed” him with immortality.

In the present, Kaulder works for a religious organization which has made peace with the witch population.  Kaulder acts as an enforcer, making sure the witches don’t stray and/or abuse their power.  While the witches view him as a stern, fascistic “cop” and rightfully fear he may end their lives at any moment, we find that Kaulder, while stern and no-nonsense and has a past which should make him hate all witches, is actually a very even keeled man who isn’t a bloodthirsty killer at all (I really liked the opening “present” day act on an airplane and the way Kaulder interacts with a witch who has accidentally endangered the entire flight).

Kaulder’s right hand man, a priest named Dolan (Michael Caine), is the 36th “Dolan” to have stood by Kaulder and helped him do his job.  When the movie starts Dolan 36 is set to retire and a new Dolan (#37, played by Elijah Woods) is set to take over.  But Dolan 36 dies of old age…apparently…and after the funeral Kaulder suspects something is amiss.

When Kaulder and Dolan 37 investigate Dolan 36th’s apartment, they find things indeed aren’t what they seem and a mystery is revealed…one that has ties to Kaulder’s origins.

I won’t go into more spoilers but, again, this movie entertained me.  The effects are top notch and the story moves along nicely.

It is a straight up fantasy story and perhaps those accustomed to seeing Vin Diesel play either sci-fi heroes (a-la Riddick) or macho car-driving heroes had a hard time accepting him in an action/fantasy role, especially when he plays a character who many think is a “bad ass” but turns out to be the type of hero that is willing to smile and has a soft spot in his heart for others…even if they may be witches.

Again, LWH isn’t The Greatest Thing I’ve Ever Seen™, but it is an entertaining action/adventure/fantasy that wasn’t anywhere near as bad as the studios and the relatively few critics who bothered to write about it thought it was.  At least IMHO!

Phantasm: Ravager (2016) a (almost right on time) review

I’ve written before of being terrified way back in 1979 or, more likely, 1980 when I saw the original Phantasm (the movie was released in 1979 but I must have seen it at least a little after its theatrical release as I wasn’t in the U.S. at the time).

The movie was incredibly creepy and downright shocking to my then 13-14 year old mind.  The scene with the flying ball-o-death, in particular, had me shaking.

The memory of the film stayed with me but it wasn’t until many years later that I got to revisit the movie.  By then, there were at least three sequels (Phantasm II came out in 1988 and is probably the best of the sequels.  Phantasm III: Lord of the Dead came out in 1994 and Phantasm IV: Oblivion came out in 1998).  All four of these films were written and directed by Don Coscarelli and feature (for the most part) the same recurring characters, protagonists Mike (A. Michael Baldwin, though he was temporarily replaced with James Le Gros for Phantasm II), Reggie (Reggie Bannister), Jody (Bill Thornbury), and, most importantly, the movies’ villain: the very sinister Tall Man (Angus Scrimm).

The plot of that first film played out like a beautiful, unsettling, and ultimately terrifying nightmare: Young Mike, his brother Jody, and best friend Reggie lose a good friend (this happens in the movie’s opening act).  During the funeral, Mike witnesses a strange sight involving the Tall Man, the funeral’s director, lifting without any apparent effort a coffin with their friend’s body in it.  What is this sinister -and clearly superhuman- man up to?

What follows is Mike’s attempts to get his brother and Reggie to believe him that something is most decidedly up at the funeral parlor.  Eventually they face the Tall Man and, more terrifyingly, the strange flying metal balls which serve as security in the funeral home.  These ball ram a victim in the head and impale themselves into a victim’s skull via razor sharp blades.  Once impaled, a drill opens up the victim’s skull and sucks out their blood.

I’m tempted to show the movie’s most famous sequence here, but for those who haven’t seen the film, give it a look.  While the original movie has aged some it remains, IMHO, a decent watch, especially since it was remastered this year.

Phantasm II, as I mentioned before, is probably the best of the sequels though by the time it was released I couldn’t help but think The Evil Dead (1981) and Evil Dead II (1987) had an impact on that feature.  Ironically, it wouldn’t surprise me if The Evil Dead, which came out a couple of years after the original Phantasm, was inspired to some degree by Phantasm yet It seems to be the case that Evil Dead II, which came out a year before Phantasm II, proved something of an inspiration to that movie.

In Phantasm II you had a little more humor and a “hero” in Reggie who armed himself in a semi-goofy manner not unlike Ash did.

Phantasm III, to my eyes, felt like a half-baked work.  It wasn’t terrible by any means but it just felt far from complete.  I’m not certain if I’ve seen Phantasm IV but if I have, it clearly didn’t register all that strongly.

Which brings us to Phantasm: Ravager, the fifth and, most likely (I’ll get into that in a moment), last Phantasm film.  Don Coscarelli co-wrote the screenplay of the film but co-writer David Hartman took on the directorial reigns.

The film follows Reggie as he appears to move from alternate world to world, seeing himself as an old man nearing his death in one world to the fighter he always was taking on the Tall Man and his menacing silver balls in the next.  He also gets to meet up with the mysterious Lady in Lavender (Kathy Lester), a still sexy incarnation of the Tall Man.

In the retirement home Reggie finds himself in he is visited by a now grown and much older Mike who listens to his friend’s stories of confronting the evil Tall Man but barely believes them.  In another reality, he wanders a desert area, meets up with a beautiful woman, and is confronted by the menacing silver balls.  In a third reality, he faces a world in flames and under the thumb of the Tall Man.

The story, as one suspects, is presented in a fragmented manner and the viewers are possibly dealing with a elderly man who may be losing his mind as he draws nearer and nearer to death.  The original Phantasm was essentially a meditation on a young man’s mental breakdown following the death of (I’ll try to be delicate and non-spoilery here) a very close family member.  When that film is done, we’re not certain how much of what we saw was real or not.

Subsequent Phantasm films, especially the second one, tried to straddle the reality versus fantasy elements to varying degrees and its fair to say the more that was revealed the less successful the films were.

Phantasm: Ravager inverts the original film’s formula and, to my mind, this is where it is at its most clever, especially after all we’ve experienced in 2016.  Instead of a young boy working out the trauma of death, we have an older man whose best years are behind him dealing with his approaching death (again, so 2016).  Has any of what he’s done before been real, or is he suffering from age related dementia?  It’s heavy stuff which could have made for great drama but…

…the film simply doesn’t stick the landing as well as I hoped.

The sequences of Reggie in a nursing home are, in my opinion, the best the movie offers.  When Reggie talks of his past to the grown Mike and Mike nods and patiently lets his good friend vent (noting at one point he’s heard these stories before), as a viewer I couldn’t help but feel touched by Mike’s caring and Reggie’s confusion.  These scenes were handled quite well by the actors.

Angus Scrimm, who played the movie’s villain The Tall Man, appears here for the last time in the various movie timelines in his most famous role.  Mr. Scrimm would pass away before the film was completed but his presence in this movie proves most welcome yet again, though the fact that the actor has passed may well indicate the movie series has reached its end.

While I enjoyed much of what I saw in the film, what seriously hurts it, IMHO, is its climax.  Set in a Tall Man created apocalypse, these scenes could have been very grim but instead are goofy thanks to the introduction of another character (I won’t go into spoilers but this “tough as nails” character was too late an addition and his “smart ass” quips felt out of place with what we had going until that moment.  I can’t help but wonder about the wisdom of going in that direction at the tail end).  It also hurts that these sequences show the film’s very low budget in a very unflattering way.  What does it say when the best scenes in the film have Reggie and Mike talking in a nursing home with no special effects at all?  I can’t say Phantasm: Ravager is an outright terrible film.  It works well enough and provides fans of the series several things, particularly the touching idea of this hero we’ve followed for so long being laid low by the ravages (pun intended) of time itself.  Others who are not as familiar with the world of Phantasm will surely not enjoy the material as much and should probably try the first two films to see if they like them before dipping their toes into this one.

In the end, I can only offer a tepid recommendation for Phantasm: Ravager.  If you’ve been around since the beginning and want to see the end, its a decent enough bookend flick that could have been, with a slightly different focus, a stronger overall work.

Sometimes, you feel so out of it…

Today, being the 9th of December, 2016 and also being only a few short weeks before the end of the year, one starts to see “best of” lists appear.

You know, best books of 2016, best albums/songs of 2016, best TV shows of 2016, and my personal favorite: Best movies of 2016.

When done well, I absolutely love movies.  Sadly, I don’t have the free time like I used to have to actually sit down and watch them.  My Netflix account is used more by my daughters than myself (I rarely stream anything through the service, instead getting the DVDs sent to me).  Similarly, my DVR is loaded with far too much stuff to see, some of which takes me many months to get to…if at all.

Anyway, we’re starting to get the lists of best movies of 2016 and, if you’re curious, here are a few of them:

Entertainment Weekly’s 20 Best Movies of 2016

New York Times Best Movies of 2016

Rolling Stone: Peter Travers’ 20 Best Movies of 2016

Variety: Owen Gleiberman’s Top 10 Films of 2016

There are several duplicated films in the various lists I’ve read.  High up there for many is the Ryan Gosling/Emma Stone musical La La Land (It makes the #1 spot in a few different places).

There are a smattering (only!) of films I’m familiar with.  Several (far too many!) I’ve only first heard of by these lists.

One of the more curious list items is Owen Gleiberman putting Deadpool at #9 on his list.  I thought the film had its moments but…a top 10 film of the year?

I dunno.

Entertainment Weekly has two Marvel films among their top 20, Dr. Strange (#20) and Captain America: Civil War (#10).  I have yet to see either film, but…I dunno.

If you’re really into these type of lists, you should check out Rottentomatoes.com’s Top 100 Movies of 2016.

Then, if you’re unlike me and have the free time, you may want to give ’em a look see.

Now, the category I’m certain everyone loves even more than the best of list…The Worst Films of 2016…

Business Insider’s Worst 25 Movies of 2016

Entertainment Weekly’s 5 Worst Films of 2016

Time Magazine’s Top 10 Worst Movies of 2016

Interestingly, I’m more familiar with/have seen more of the films in these lists than I have in the “best of” ones…and in some cases disagree quite strongly on their inclusion.  (Yes, I’m mostly referring to Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.  Though I’m noticing people already, especially with the director’s cut out there, giving the film a second look and not being quite as down on it, the critics were pretty unanimous in their hatred of the film.  I don’t agree with it, but that’s just my opinion and they’re certainly entitled to their own)

Of the films I’ve seen in 2016 that really disappointed, I’d have to go with the wretchedly stupid Zoolander 2.  The first movie was a funny, innocuous goof of a comedy that happened to be released at just about the worst time possible (very shortly after the events of 9/11).

The film managed to become known despite the poor box office, to the point where studios were willing to fund a very belated sequel.

I noted in my review of the film that once it was done, I turned to my wife and daughter (who sat through that turd with me), and said:

This has to be the stupidest film ever made.

My statement was most certainly not a complement.

Zoolander 2 is easily the worst film I can think of (though I grant you there may be others) that I saw this year.

Keep very far away from this one.

This has got to be a record…

Found this article over at BBC.com…

Overdue library book returned to school 121 years late

What’s most fascinating is that the person who took, and kept the book, while deceased (duh), nonetheless likely benefited from it.

The article also notes what the monetary penalty for returning a book that late is.  SPOILERS: The library waived the fine but it is listed.

Check the story out!