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H. Bala "Me Too Can Read" RSS Feed (Recently moved back to Carson, California, or as I call it... the center of the universe)

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DVD ~ George Segal
Price: $9.67
34 used & new from $6.80

3.0 out of 5 stars Oh, so this is where Dr. Evil got that idea..., September 30, 2014
This review is from: Rollercoaster (DVD)
What is it with crazy criminal masterminds and their playing classical music? Rollercoaster, Universal Studios' modest 1977 hit, features one such loony (Timothy Bottoms, chilling), a mad bomber who demands (*gasp!*) one million dollars lest he keep on planting explosives at amusement parks across the nation. I couldn't help cracking up when I heard his monetary demand, visions of Austin Powers all up in my head. But to my earlier point, the movie opens on the mad bomber seated sedately on the pier, popping the cassette player to "Movement from String Quartette (Young Man's Theme)."

Rollercoaster is part race-against-time thriller, part disaster flick. If you're into historical landmarks, the story lines up several recognizable theme parks as targets of the extortionist: Ocean View Amusement Park (in Norfolk VA), Kings Dominion (Doswell, VA), and Six Flags Magic Mountain (Valencia, CA). And me having gone to Magic Mountain all my life, sure, there's that added thrill.

If not for that ransom note, the law would still be in the dark that these acts of sabotage are connected. The FBI reflects: this crafty nut's rigged two accidents 2,000 miles apart without leaving a trace, this suggesting a working knowledge of structural engineering, demolition, and electronics. But the feds aren't who the bomber picks as his one-on-one foil.

Harry Calder (George Segal) is a divorced dad and inspector from the Dept. of Standards & Safety. He gets pulled in when his disapproving, bureaucratic chief (Henry Fonda) sics him on the Ocean View Amusement Park bombing, since Calder was the last guy to inspect the place. Calder is an interesting, non-conforming cat. He's the one who suspects that these accidents weren't isolated incidents. His show of clever intrigues the bomber who promptly selects Calder as his talk piece to convey his demands. So follows the cat-and-mouse cross-country manhunt.

Props to Rollercoaster for being a modest hit in 1977, the same year that rolled out Star Wars and Close Encounters of the Third Kind. And "modest" is the key word. This isn't a grand spectacle. The special effects are modest. There isn't much action. The film rides on the ability of its actors to advance the plot and ramp up the suspense. So there's good character work done here from Segal to Bottoms to Fonda to Susan Strasberg (as Segal's patient girlfriend) to Richard Widmark (as the grizzled FBI agent) to a 14-year-old Helen Hunt who plays Segal's daughter. Rumor has it that there's a sighting of an up-and-coming Steve Guttenberg, but I sure didn't eyeball him.

Country Remedy
Country Remedy
Price: $3.99

4.0 out of 5 stars "Well, this ain't Chicago, Dr. Gibbs. You're on mountain time now.", September 30, 2014
Country Remedy (a.k.a. Simple Things) generates this Hallmark Channel vibe, and that's not a bad thing. Country Remedy is an indie family drama with many flashes of humor. In a way, it's a more sober take on Michael J. Fox's similarly-veined comedy, Doc Hollywood. They're both essentially about an ambitious big city doctor who somehow end up in a small hick town he can't wait to get out of.

Dr. Evan Gibbs (Cameron Bancroft) is a three-months-widowed doctor from Chicago. He's now raising his 10-year-old son Nate (Aidan Mitchell) on his own, and he wants to do right by the kid. But his paternal instincts are warring with his career ambitions. At his hospital he's jonesing for that promotion to head of the Pediatrician Department. As a stepping stone to securing that post, his boss tasks Gibbs with spending the summer at the remote mountain town of Dunn's Rock, North Carolina and opening a clinic there.

In Dunn's Rock Dr. Gibbs is aghast at the rickety shack masquerading as his clinic (and that's even before he finds out about the rats). He's not off at the best start as he gets on the wrong footing with the pretty town mayor (Bellamy Young) whom he initially assumes (and scolds) as his nurse. Yeah, son, Dr. Gibbs embodies the worst of the big city doctor stereotypes. He is callous and condescending and pompous and oh so awkward in his interactions with the hardy locals. That town hall meeting made me cringe. When he bemoans the lack of his office's medical equipment, the mayor pretty much tells him to improvise and make do, her own tactful version of shut-up juice.

Predictably, it's tough times for the doc. Dunn's Rock is slow to warm to newcomers and generally untrusting of physicians. It's deep into the film before Dr. Gibbs gains enough trust within the obstinate community that he's able to build up a clientele. And it's a colorful community to draw from: from the routinely inebriated handyman (Mickey Jones) and the fiercely self-sufficient pregnant hillbilly woman (Amber Benson, from BtVS) and the shiftless father of her child to the mayor herself and her tomboy daughter (Channing Nichols) and her taciturn pal (Zac Gardner).

It's a story that you've seen before and time and again. But the key moments come off well, with Bellamy Young simply wonderful (and naturally gorgeous) as the insightful mayor. Familiar themes are addressed, that of coming to terms with loss and reconnecting and acclimating to strange environments and easing up and taking it all in. Somewhen, Dr. Gibbs gets over himself and settles into the leisurely rhythms of Dunn's Rock. And are you so surprised that the movie title refers not to what Dr. Gibbs doles out to his patients but to healing that's applied to the good doctor himself? He's got a savvy boss back there in Chicago.

One thing. Dr. Gibbs' icebreaker at the town hall meeting: "Have you heard the one about the two rednecks and the rooster?" I wish that stone-cold crowd ahad let Dr. Gibbs finish that joke.

Another thing: Did the movie set up Dr. Gibbs' son as asthmatic before that climactic scene? Because, to me, it seemed to come out of nowhere. Maybe they established that when I went to raid the fridge (shout out to tuna melt sandwich!).

Girl Fights Back (An Emily Kane Adventure Book 1)
Girl Fights Back (An Emily Kane Adventure Book 1)
Price: $0.00

4.0 out of 5 stars Emily and her perfection of Go No Sen, September 29, 2014
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
If you like pure escapism in literary form, Jacques Antoine has got something for you. I just glommed onto his YA stories featuring Emily Kane and I am straight up ripping thru them. Girl Fights Back (original title: Go No Sen) is first in the series and introduces us to Emily Kane, a 17-year-old martial arts prodigy living her loner life in Virginia. Emily, daughter of a chauffer and a mother who abandoned her years ago, is one of those kids that exists on the margins of high school society, on the outside looking in. And it's not that she's shy or socially awkward as much as she's simply caught up in her own world of dojos and black belt kumite tournaments and camping on the hills with her dad. Emily Kane has mastered various martial arts disciplines ranging from shotokan to aikido to wing chun and probably jenga and sudoku.

The plot accelerant is the nighttime home invasion inflicted by a squad of kill-happy covert operatives. It compels Emily and her family to scatter on the run. Except that Emily runs only so far. She makes a choice to go back and graduate high school and take on the multiple shadow agencies - foreign AND domestic - gunning for her. It's a decision that's part of her make-up, and it's something that may throw off other readers. This book bristles with martial arts mayhem, but the author doesn't neglect the underpinning philosophy of martial arts. Why Emily comes off as so accomplished, why she can beat down men much bigger than her, isn't because she's stronger or faster or more vicious. Nah, her edge derives from her ability to channel sen. And quote: "Sen, the initiative, is the key to every contest, and controlling it is essentially a matter of finding one's own chi." And then there's Go No Sen: the risk held in reserve and seizing the initiative concealed within the opposition's attack. Emily senses what's coming and instinctively applies the proper countermove.

And this philosophy that she's breathed in all of her life is what makes her such a different animal. Emily is methodical and patient and internalizes everything. Criticisms about this book circle around that she comes across as emotionally empty and that her transition from being reclusive to suddenly being socially inclusive happens too quickly and dramatically. But the way I see it, that's just how she's wired. A teenager who decides to stay and fight to live her life despite what's stacked against her, she has to be ridiculously self-possessed and prone to, once she makes up her mind, going full speed ahead. So I rolled with her choices, startling as some of them are. Anyway, you should go into this book knowing that the lead character, by far, is not the usual teenaged girl.

Aside from those mentioned "flaws," another nitpick may be the omniscient narrative style. Some readers may feel that there's too much random head hopping going around but I relished getting the perspective from the other characters and how they perceive Emily. If there's one criticism I agree with, it's that Emily seems way too good to be true. Not in that she wins every damn contest - because she doesn't - but that, universally, everyone around her is promptly bowled over and won over by her. I would've liked to have someone simmering in envy, sipping the Emily Kane haterade. In the sequel, Emily does get this sort of rival at school. Anyway, Girl Fights Back forks over tremendous action. The author delivers expert detail on the martial arts sequences. He presents a badass teen heroine I wish they'd throw in a cage match with JeeJa Yanin's autistic waif from Chocolate or Batgirl (Cassandra Cain) before she gained the ability to speak and so forfeited her ability to read her opponent's body language and predict their moves.

So far in the series:

- Girl Fights Back
- Girl Punches Out (An Emily Kane Adventure Book 2)
- Girl Takes Up Her Sword (An Emily Kane Adventure Book 3)
- Girl Spins a Blade (An Emily Kane Adventure Book 4)
- Girl Takes The Oath (An Emily Kane Adventure Book 5)

Sweetheart Of The Campus
Sweetheart Of The Campus
Price: $9.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars "Zig me baby with a gentle zag", September 28, 2014
My perspective is that of someone who grew up in the '70s and '80s and so cut my teeth on re-runs of The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet. So imagine the sense of novelty and nostalgia I had when I saw this on TCM the other day, Sweetheart of the Campus. Besides Ozzie and Harriet Nelson (née Hilliard), the draw is Ruby Keeler who, in 1941, would have her peak on-screen career behind her. But never mind. She still hadn't lost her sunny disposition or her vigorous hoofing or her amazing gams. She certainly doesn't look out of place as a happening college girl.

Sweetheart of the Campus is one of them trifling "college movies" they used to trot out with regularity in the '40s (think 1947's Good News or 1943's Campus Rhythm). The plot doesn't elevate above the usual campus hijinks. The movie's heavy is pompous but influential old biddy, Mrs. Minnie Sparr (Kathleen Howard), who sics the local sheriff on a nightclub when it dares operate within five miles of her beloved Lambert Tech university (apparently, there's a state law prohibiting such temerity). And just like that, club performers bandleader Ozzie Norton (Nelson) and his band and featured dancer Betty Blake (Ruby Keeler) are out of their steady gig.

See, Mrs. Sparr champions these dusty, old notions on education. She's dead set against modern teaching techniques. At Lambert Tech she's already put the kibosh on football activities and on college dances. All the female students have pulled out, and here's Lambert Tech now strictly a men's college. Unless it can fluff up its student enrollment, good old Lambert Tech will soon be shutting down.

Here's the college president's daughter, Harriet Hale (Hilliard), fed up with stodgy Mrs. Sparr. Off Harriet goes, recruiting the bandleader and his band and that featured dancer as Lambert Tech's newest freshmen. Suddenly, Lambert Tech is being touted as the "school of rhythm" and Betty Blake promoted as the sole campus co-ed and the school gymnasium converted to a nightclub (only it's a "commissary" should Mrs. Sparr come a-snoopin'). Broadcasting on Station WOO and generating massive buzz, Ozzie and the gang (and even Harriet who - surprise! - can sing) pull Lambert Tech out of its monetary crunch. Ah, but Mrs. Sparr has one last dirty trick in the shape of the last-minute final exams, or to quote one stuffy professor: "It is rumored that these tests will be the most diffucult ever devised by mortal man." Yikes!

It's lightweight frivolity made entertaining by Ruby Keeler's taps and Harriet Hilliard's reedy singing. Sure, Keeler's style is more coltish and energetic than it is sleek and elegant, but you can't tell me it lacks for effervescence. Highlights for me are the swingy musical number "Zig Me Baby With A Gentle Zag," Harriet's singing "Where," and Keeler's tapping up a storm in "Tap Happy." Romance-wise, Ruby finds herself the third wheel in a romantic triangle involving her and Ozzie and Harriet, but how else was that gonna go? She frets: "Ozzie and Harriet. Ozzie and Harriet. The way you say it, they go together like ham and eggs!" If only there were a studly band manager (Gordon Oliver) pining in the wings. Sweetheart of the Campus is for those who enjoy sour-pussed authority figures getting their comeuppance and old-timey performers like Ruby Keeler and the Nelsons doing their thing. An above average 3 out of 5 stars.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Sep 28, 2014 3:35 PM PDT

Offered by SONY Music Entertainment Downloads LLC.
Price: $5.99

10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars oh, it's ear candy, September 24, 2014
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
This review is from: PTX, Vol. III (MP3 Music)
I am one of them out of touch fools. The swerve for me, believe it or not, is that I tend to listen to Pentatonix more so than any other singer or band. And so, most times, it's thru PTX's covers that I learn about these hits being played on mainstream radio. Whenever I turn the radio on, I tune it to sports. So, yeah, son, PTX is my gateway to what's poppin' - or, correction, what's poppin' some months back. Seasons ago I was like this with Glee - when Glee was good - I'd hear somethin' on Glee and I'd track down the original track.

So, hey, what is Pentatonix to me? Oboy. Pentatonix is... tight harmonies and mind-blowing arrangements. They're about breaking boundaries and breaking off the vocal dub-step and the techno hip-hop. But then check 'em as they ease back into pop and r&b and whatever else genre. Pentatonix is my losing tons of sleep staying up late into the night clicking on all their YouTube clips, and working the next day dead dog tired but thinking "It's worth it." Pentatonix is the Trio and the Meat & Potatoes and staying humble and accessible to their fans and winning the 3rd season of The Sing-Off, NBC's choir competition show. They're the world's most progressive a capella group or as they style themselves: "choir nerds." Pentatonix is NOT Gregorian chanting, although do you doubt they could kill that should they choose to dabble in it? And PTX Volume III is Pentatonix's continuing mission to spread a capella to the mainstream market. They're nudging us, trying to make us appreciate all over again the one instrument that's of chief concern when it comes to making music but has been so dismissed and undervalued: the human voice. As you may guess, big, big fan here.

So, seven tracks on this ep. Four covers, three original songs, and all of them amazing (but some more amazing than others).

The covers:

- "Problem" (Ariana Grande featuring Iggy Azalea)
- "La La Latch" (mash-up of Naughty Boy's "La La La" and Disclosure's "Latch," both songs featuring Sam Smith)
- "Rather Be" (Clean Bandit featuring Jess Glynne)
- "Papaoutai" (Stromae)

The originals:

- "On My Way Home"
- "See Through"
- "Standing By"

"Problem" is so much fun. It's bass & beatbox driven and capped off by Mitch's Iggy rap. Ariana Grande herself tweeted how much she liked the cover. But then the original artists tend to do that when PTX covers them.

With "On My Way Home" PTX achieves a cool world music vibe and showcases Scott Hoying's high register. This track is chanty and huge parts of it will remind you of The Lion King.

I love "La La Latch" very much. There's so much ear candy here; the harmonies are so sick and intricate. And, awesomely, Kirstie sings the hook.

But "Rather Be," right now, is my favorite cover. It's got this catchy, laid-back groove that just makes you smile and dig your toes in the sand on the beach and help old people cross streets. And, holy crap, Kirstie nabs the lead! Of course she kills it. There's just an easy warmth to Kirstie's performance that hearkens back to how she sang "Stuck Like Glue" in The Sing-Off.

"See Through" is a fun, dancy song with Mitch singing the lead and hitting those high, high notes.

"Papaoutai" is the odd creature here, and may make PTX more popular in France than Jerry Lewis and berets. Word is that they hired a French tutor, and I think it paid off. My high school French learnin' informs me that Scott sounds convincing with his lead vocals. PTX does Stromae justice and, as per norm, there are some serious vocal bells and whistles, with guest artist Lindsey Stirling's violin and Kevin's cello giving the song that extra sizzle.

"Standing By" is the introspective capper. It features Avi Kaplan on rare lead vocals with Scott providing decent (but not as womping as Avi's) basswork.
Comment Comments (3) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Sep 26, 2014 9:34 AM PDT

Gallant Sons
Gallant Sons
DVD ~ Jackie Cooper
Offered by Clyde Parks
Price: $21.41
25 used & new from $10.99

4.0 out of 5 stars ...if it weren't for those meddling kids..., September 22, 2014
This review is from: Gallant Sons (DVD)
Jackie Cooper had a run in which what you remember most are the films that pretty much bookended his film career, from his classic early colabs with Wallace Beery in The Champ (1931) and Treasure Island (1934) to his role as Daily Planet editor Perry White in the four Superman pictures (1978 - 1987). Jackie Cooper was one of them unfortunate souls who had a tough time transitioning from kid actor to adult actor. By 1940, Cooper was at an impasse. Unlike his more popular peer, Mickey Rooney, he lacked that high-spirited, public-pleasing charisma. Cooper basically looked like a quiet, beefy, pug-nosed fella. At 18-years-old, he found himself in casting purgatory when it came to starring roles.

Still, he did nab a lead role in 1940's Gallant Sons, an entertaining comedy-suspense yarn. And credit MGM for landing a roster of prominent teen actors. Cooper plays newspaper editor's son, Byron "By" Newbold, who dives into sleuthing when the gambler dad of his childhood pal, Johnny Davis (Gene Reynolds), is convicted of murder. Byron recruits Johnny and other schoolmates to the cause, and things soon take on this screwy Dead End Kids vibe, only less emphasis on hooliganism. Partly because even though Leo Gorcey - tough-talking ringleader of the Dead End Kids / East Side Kids / Bowery Boys - has a part as one of the clue-sniffing kids (he's the street-wise "Doc"), he doesn't take center stage. Bonita Granville - fresh off her Nancy Drew mysteries - lends class and spunk as Kate Pendleton whose kindly mother (Gail Patrick) has taken in young Johnny during his father's incarceration.

Gallant Sons is a vehicle for the teen stars, obviously. And yet Gail Patrick, Edward Ashley (as the suspect), and Ian Hunter (as Johnny's likable gambler dad "Natural" Davis) convincingly act out their adult parts. It's a comical, briskly-paced mystery that finds our teenaged gumshoes more than equal to the task. See them tackle a crusading newspaper, extortion, underground gambling, family scandal, music as a significant clue, young love, gangsters, and, finally, a school play to expose whodunit. What fun!

In a World
In a World
DVD ~ Lake Bell
Price: $17.60
14 used & new from $12.29

5.0 out of 5 stars the power of the voice - or how fat, old men can snag chicks, September 22, 2014
This review is from: In a World (DVD)
It's an indie flick written, produced, directed, and starred in by Lake Bell as she tries to show us something new. Lake Bell directs us to an obscure, cut-throat corner up in Hollywood, and it's the one inhabited by egotistical voice-over performers. Say, you may not know Don LaFontaine, but odds are that you'd heard his voice many times before in any one of 5000 movie trailers. He's that mellifluous hombre who coined the catch phrase "In a world..." In the highly competitive voice-over industry, Don LaFontaine was THE top dog. And when he died, imagine the feeding frenzy left in his wake.

31-year-old Carol Solomon (Lake Bell) is a struggling freelance dialogue coach forever languishing in his father's shadow. Doesn't help that she still mooches off him by living in his home. Her dad is the celebrated Sam Sotto (Fred Melamed), now the world's leading voice-over talent with LaFontaine's passing. Sam is sort of a jackh01e, conceited, boastful, dismissive, not at all interested in nurturing her daughter's try in his specialized profession. Sam is deep into that stage in his life where he's taking on trophy girlfriends. And things have gone on swimmingly enough with the latest "window dressing" that he kicks Carol out of his "crash pad." He tells his daughter: "I'm gonna support you by not supporting you."

Sam is passing the torch to Gustav (Ken Marino), an up-and-coming voiceover talent. And it's in their scenes - lots of old boy networking in steamrooms - where you get a sense of how much of an uphill battle Carol is fighting. Still, little by little, Carol starts landing these modest voice-over gigs until, finally, these continued job offers pit her in a head-to-head competition with her father.

In A World... won Best Screenplay at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival, and it's a fine day when them high muck-a-mucks are in agreement with low brow peeps like you and me. In A World... is a wonderful screwball indie satire. It has stuff to say about the power of voice and the baggages we carry when it comes to who we choose to listen to. The movie has stuff to say about how we utilize our voice in the art of conversation to shape our identities. We're conditioned to these powerful male voices selling us movie premises. But then there's the soothing female voice embodying the GPS in our vehicles and the PA/navigator in our Apple devices.

***Possible SPOILER in the next paragraph***

At first I thought it superfluous, the inclusion of the B-arc revolving around Carol's conscierge sister, Dani (Michaela Watkins), and her husband Moe (Rob Corddry). But then we note how the power of voice - in this case the confident, charming Irish voice of the sister's client - can crumble a solid marriage. In the film's most telling, most emotional scene, Dani confides to Carol what her marriage means to her. Words are a creative force, but they can also undermine and destroy.

I don't think I've gone over how funny this movie is. I mentioned it was "screwball," and I meant it. Lake Bell as "Carol" is delightful and warm and charming and neurotic. She consistently puts herself into these demented situations, whether it's trailing and recording accented folks or being party to perhaps the world's most awkward seduction scene. But there's also equal attention paid to witty, observational humor. Lake draws plenty of humor from her characters' interplay. Family dysfunction is still a dependable gold mine for snark.

I'm so glad that Alexandria Holden isn't relegated to just playing the dumb trophy girlfriend. That character, it turns out, has moxie and heart when it counts. But the film's secret weapon is Fred Melamed who is brilliant here. Melamed has a fantastic voice and the acting chops to convey Sam Sotto's larger-than-life swagger. What else? Eva Longoria has an early cameo. Geena Davis' cameo punctuates the narrative by providing that balancing somber note of reality to what otherwise is an upbeat ending.

The DVD's bonus stuff:

- Audio Commentary with Lake Bell
- 9 Deleted Scenes (totaling 00:14:27 minutes) including an alternate opening sequence and a scene with Melissa Disney, the only woman to have done a voice-over in a movie trailer (for Gone in 60 Seconds)
- 6 promo trailers for In A World... (totaling 00:05:23 minutes)
- Gag Reel (00:03:56 minutes)

Grudge Match
Grudge Match
DVD ~ Robert De Niro
Price: $17.78
94 used & new from $1.99

4.0 out of 5 stars The Raging Bull vs. the Italian Stallion - slap on the salonpas, September 20, 2014
This review is from: Grudge Match (DVD)
Grudge Match ticks the box for those craving scenes of wild geriatric activity and perhaps old man boobs flapping. It finds De Niro and Stallone - two performers on opposite ends of the spectrum when it comes to their acting approach - at a more or less happy medium. Grudge Match banks on each actor's past cred built up on their having played boxers on cinema.

They play two tough Pittsburgh pugilists - and heated rivals - whose heyday was back in the 1980s. Henry "Razor" Sharp (Stallone) and Billy "The Kid" McDonnen (De Niro) each owns a stunning victory over the other. But with the highly anticipated third match in the offing, Razor inexplicably quits the sweet science, leaving in his wake untold riches, surefire fame, devastated fans, and a howlingly frustrated Kid McDonnen.

Today, on the 30th anniversary of what should have been, a young promoter (Kevin Hart) has a plan to resurrect the rematch. It'll take some luck. Oh, not concerning Kid McDonnen. After all these years, the cocky Kid still craves another shot at Razor, although he's moved on enough to found a car dealership and a restaurant. No, son, it's Razor, him what still wants no part of going back in the ring. Luckily for the promotor and for the Kid, Razor's steady factory gig ain't as steady as it's been.

The reluctant Razor brings a stipulation to the table. He tells the promoter he doesn't want to be in the same room as the Kid. But you can imagine how that caveat goes over. There's big fun in watching these hostile old dogs sharing camera time as they promote the big fight. My favorite of these spots is when they get interviewed during an MMA event.

Grudge Match was advertised as a straight-up comedy, but it's also got good dramatic content. We're left hanging for a bit with regards to why Razor retired all those years ago, but it's a reason that would drive the rest of the narrative. Stallone and De Niro are surprisingly sympatico; their screen chemistry is good. Stallone's is the more reserved role which makes sense since De Niro is obviously the more accomplished actor to pull off the more showy moments. De Niro must've had a blast playing the insensitive cad. And yet there's enough character development to him that, at the end, he comes off as an unsavory guy that's uncomfortably relatable and even sympathetic. He and Jon Bernthal - who plays his unexpected son - share several good scenes. Bernthal, by the way, is very solid as the more mature and grounded of the pair.

Stallone plays to his strength. He's laconic and world weary and leans on his physical presence. His personal trajectory is governed by his friendship with grumpy, old-timey trainer (Alan Arkin) and by the cautious re-entry of an old lost love (Kim Basinger).

Can The Kid and Razor get in fighting shape in twelve weeks? The movie gives us scenes in which they try their durndest, and these training scenes are worth a bunch of good chuckles. Stallone, for his age (what, 93 years old?), is in phenomenal shape. De Niro, meanwhile, is the brunt of many jokes about his "fun bags." Also, prep yourself for several comic nods to the Rocky series. 3.5 out of 5 for Grudge Match. I didn't expect it to be this watchable. I enjoyed the doctored footage of Razor and The Kid in their fighting prime as the movie opened. And the grudge match itself, which takes up the final 20 minutes or so - is wonderfully staged and looks pretty brutal. I like that you have no idea who'll win the fight. I like that the movie doesn't really go out of its way to favor one over the other as even the despicable Kid gets his moments of grace. But I knew who I was rooting for.

The Deep
The Deep
by Nick Cutter
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $20.02

3.0 out of 5 stars The Troop is awesome. The Deep... Well, The Troop is awesome., September 18, 2014
This review is from: The Deep (Hardcover)
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
Nick Cutter's previous horror tale, The Troop, scared the crap out of me, and I guess it scared the crap out of Stephen King, too. So I was all in when I found out about The Deep. Except I couldn't get into The Deep as much as I did The Troop. And I'm not sure I can really articulate why. The first half certainly rocked it. I loved the set-up, about the entire world stricken with a terrifying, initially innocuous disease called the 'Gets (for "forgets"). It starts out with you forgetting the little things: whether you left the stove on or where you left the remote. Then it progresses to bigger things: like how to drive and doing basic arithmetic. Finally, it escalates to that stage where your body forgets to perform basic functions (like breathing).

There may be a cure. It's located fathoms deep into the Pacific Ocean, in the Marianas Trench, in the shape of a mysterious substance known as "ambrosia." Down there, many miles beneath the ocean's surface, is a research laboratory studying this perhaps panacea. And when the station alarmingly goes dark, its communications cut off, the world's desperate hope is pinned on veterinarian Luke Nelson. Down he goes, accompanied by a select few, not at all anticipating the horror awaiting below.

I liked The Deep, but didn't love it. The first half holds you with a vice-like grip. I wish that the author had stayed more with the 'Gets story arc, which to me is a premise that had serious potential. It's undeniable that Cutter has a way with words. His storytelling does evoke a heap of vivid imagery and unsettling moments. But while there are several really effective creep-out moments, plenty of what happens smacks of traditional scare tactics. I was expecting more originality from someone who can write something as visceral as The Troop. It doesn't help that there are excess forays into flashbacks and the characters wallowing in "O my crappy childhood, I remember when..." Maybe the biggest drawback is that the characters didn't pop for me. I didn't much care for Luke or how damaged he is or his relationship with his genius scientist bro. I agree with some of the other readers that this book did become a chore for me to finish. And then the payoff wasn't even all that. Sometimes you can't put a guy on a pedestal so soon. The Deep works as a solid horror and a psychological thriller. But I was looking for more oomph. "Abyss meets the Shining," someone said? It doesn't quite live up to that. Still, Nick Cutter - a.k.a. Patrick Lestewka (The Preserve, The Coliseum), a.k.a. Craig Davidson (Cataract City: A Novel, Fighter) - has got tons of talent, and I'm looking forward to his next horror book. I haven't thrown out the pedestal.
Comment Comments (3) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Sep 19, 2014 7:24 PM PDT

Avengers: The Serpent Crown
Avengers: The Serpent Crown
by Steve Englehart
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $18.29
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4.0 out of 5 stars retro-review - gods go west, September 16, 2014
So I've tapered off reading DC and Marvel. It just rubs me wrong, DC's New 52 and Marvel's NOW! reshuffle and the annoying habit of relaunching #1 issues. So, yeah, son, of late I'd been sticking with the indie stuff. But every once in a while I like to reminisce and re-read them comic book classics. For instance, Avengers: The Serpent Crown is a TPB that collects issues #141-144 and #147-149, stories that Steve Englehart wrote way back in 1975 and '76.

If the Marvel Cinematic Universe were looking for the next big bad to brace Earth's Mightiest Heroes, it could do plenty worse than Kang the Conqueror and the temporal baggage he brings. Kang is a classic Avengers villain and has a formidable skills set. So imagine just how much the Avengers were up against it when, during the time-spanning, multi-world Serpent Crown arc, not only did they face Kang's predations but also all-out combat with the otherdimensional Squadron Supreme?

To fill in some blanks, you should know that, as the Serpent Crown story starts, Hawkeye had gone missing, swept away in time. Thor and Moondragon time travel to the year 1873 and team up with Hawkeye and a passel of legendary gunfighters to take back the town of Tombstone, Texas from Kang, this being the Conqueror's first step in a bid to take over the 19th century. If you're any sort of Marvel historian, then names like the Two-Gun Kid, Kid Colt, the Rawhide Kid, and Nightrider won't furrow your brow. It's a fun arc, seeing as how totally out of place Thor is in the Old West. And maybe it's just me but I get a kick out of these badass hombres speaking in old colloquial cowboyese. I think my gramps was the last person I know to use terminology like "rannies" and "polecats" in real life. Anyway, for those who were wondering when it was that the Two-Gun Kid time traveled to the present, this is when he does it.

The parallel storyline rolls out a roster of Cap, Iron Man, newlyweds Vision and Scarlet Witch, the Beast (a fledgling Avenger), and, uh, tag-along Patsy Walker (more on her in a bit). When they storm the headquarters of the corrupt Brand corporation they run into the company muscle - the renegade Squadron Supreme! Cue the Avengers trapped by Dr. Spectrum's prism prison and this resulting quote from Beast: "Four walls do not a prism make." Cue the parallel earth hopping. And cue the malevolent Serpent Crown, ancient relic of sunken Lemuria that brainwashes whosoever wears it into a servant of Set. In this arc you can trace the threads that would shape Mark Gruenwald's vision of a totalitarian world governed by the Squadron Supreme (in his acclaimed 12-issued 1985 mini-series).

Cue also the debut of Hellcat. Which brings us back to Patsy Walker. Again, Marvel historians won't blink when her name pops up. Patsy Walker has been around since the 1940's, having been featured in a series of teen comics (Miss America, Teen Comics, Girls' Life, and her own self-titled series and several spin-offs). Patsy's cameo in Fantastic Four Annual #3 (Reed and Susan's wedding) established her as part of the mainstream Marvel continuity. Here's a neat twist: In The Defenders #89 it's divulged that those early comics about Patsy were actually stories published by her mom, meaning that Patsy's adventures circa 1940's - 1960's do exist within the 616 continuity, but as published works. Although apparently her mom did base those stories on Patsy's real-life experiences. Make sense? No? Oh, well.

In the Serpent Crown arc, Patsy lets everyone know how badly she wants to be a superhero. So when that old Cat costume (once worn by Tigra) was unearthed, she doesn't think twice about putting it on. And, guess what, she acquits herself pretty okay.

Seven paragraphs in, and I'm just getting to George Pérez - shame on me. Pérez was already making some noise but it wasn't until he debuted as The Avengers' regular artist with issue #141 that his rep began to skyrocket. Yeah, his pencils do look rough in spots, compared to, say, his later polish in The New Teen Titans. But even in The Avengers the style and dynamism and attention to detail are present, and you note how adept he is at composing panels crammed with multiple characters. Meanwhile, Steve Englehart is a pro's pro. He just knows how to tell a story with resonating human elements. His 12-issue Vision & Scarlet Witch mini-series is one of my old-time favorites. In this TPB he introduces several interesting beats, whether it's the cautionary take on misguided government, or the prideful Moondragon - who styles herself a goddess - questioning Thor's willingness to curb his divinity while on Earth, or the Two-Gun Kid doubting himself when in the presence of Avengers, or Patsy's self-serving obsession with becoming a superhero. A lot of key things happen in these issues. Thing is, with Marvel's new world order, I'm not sure they're all that relevant today. I don't know what Marvel NOW! has kept or discarded. Like I said, I'd tapered off.

Also, if you want to see how badass the Vision is, check it out as he takes on several of the Squadron Supreme by himself.

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