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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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Blackbird
Blackbird
by Anna Carey
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $14.21
73 used & new from $4.21

3.0 out of 5 stars Blackbird fleeing in the dead of night, October 20, 2014
This review is from: Blackbird (Hardcover)
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With Anna Carey's Blackbird, maybe the "mileage may vary" approach is the one to roll with. This one never gripped me, and that's saying something because I am a sucker for this sort of premise. It's the YA thriller's take on The Most Dangerous Game and on the amnesiac on the run - and it's an exciting hook that initially had me all in - and maybe it'll be different for you, but somewhere in these pages I lost interest.

What does it say when my favorite character is someone who isn't even much in the story (it's Izzy)? The main character is an amnesiac teen who wakes up on the train tracks at the Vermont/Sunset Station in Los Angeles, serenaded by the rumble of an oncoming train. Out of that predicament, she collects herself and runs thru what she DOES know, that she's in L.A. and that she sports a cryptic tattoo on the inside of her right wrist of a blackbird and a series of letters and numbers: FNV02198.

See, all that stuff beguiled me. The first few chapters set me up for an exciting, involving adventure that never quite manifests. The "mileage may vary" approach applies to the author's decision to tell her story in present tense, second person narration. It's a format that may throw a reader or three. It jarred me for a bit before I got used to it, brought me back to when I was a kid reading those Choose Your Own Adventure books. Credit to Anna Carey for attempting something different, but it's a style that I think hampers the story. I think it does detach the reader, and there's an emotional distancing. Also, it's a style that feels a lot like it's telling rather than showing.

My favorite ever "amnesiac on the run" story is Roger Zelazney's Nine Princes in Amber, and that's a lofty watershed to be compared to. And, no, I'm not really comparing; that wouldn't be fair. Anna Carey's Blackbird is a passive, disjointed read rife with contrived, convenient moments. It's aggravating that Carey keeps so much close to the vest. The book leaves us with so many unanswered questions. I wish she'd thrown us more bones. It's as if she's stringing us along for that sequel. The romantic angle had me disinterested from jump. I'm not a big fan of insta-love or relationships that lack substance, and that's what happens between "Sunny" and Ben. Other than the opening chapters, Blackbird didn't excite me nor did I find it suspenseful. I saw each twist coming. The protagonist didn't accomplish much, and her inability to forge ahead was frustrating. It's a short read at 244 pages. It took me weeks to finish it. 2.5 out of 5 stars.


Island In The Sky
Island In The Sky
DVD ~ Gloria Stuart
Price: $19.98
25 used & new from $10.50

4.0 out of 5 stars Fear not, deathrow inmate, Gloria Stuart is on the case, October 20, 2014
This review is from: Island In The Sky (DVD)
Island in the Sky is a downed aircraft survival movie from 1953 that starred John Wayne, but that's not this one. This is the second-tiered Island in the Sky that 20th Century Fox trotted out in 1938 and runs only some minutes past an hour. If you'd heard of Gloria Stuart, it's most likely her as the 100-year-old Old Rose from James Cameron's Titanic. I'll have you know, in 1938, she was very much in her prime, all grace and gorgeousness and easy decorum.

Yeah, son, I know her best from watching The Old Dark House (1932) and The Invisible Man (1933) and her supporting roles in two Shirley Temple vehicles: Poor Little Rich Girl (1936) and Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm (1938). But, even in her more obscure onscreen parts, there was just something about Gloria Stuart that struck me. Given, she's a looker. And she had class. But she also had this warmth about her that made you want to side with her from jump. Anyway, if it's not yet obvious, let me say that I'd watch anything she's in.

Island in the Sky is one of those more obscure parts. But you ought to take a gander. It's a thriller in which the plot develops like a mother. The story starts with the assistant D.A. Michael Fraser (Michael Whalen) and his secretary Julie Hayes (Stuart) having a night out on the town. They've just ambled into the posh nightclub, Island in the Sky, nestled high up on the 70th floor of the Courtland Building. The assistant D.A. is in the mood to celebrate his engagement, see? But, first, he lets the unwitting Julie in on it by way of an informal marriage proposal. He regales the happy sudden fiancée about how he's got a month's holiday coming to him. It's honeymoon talk, son.

But, first, there's the homicide assigned to Fraser at the eleventh hour. Off both of them go to the scene of the crime, a study with a corpse rendered so by shotgun and an open safe nearby. And there's the dead man's son, a.k.a. the suspect (Robert Kellard), and it seems cut and dried. Come the trial and the conviction and the death sentence. And there's the assistant D.A. with the steamship tickets all set for the honeymoon. And there's his secretary postponing the wedding.

Back then this simply wasn't done, so credit the movie for tweaking the conventions of the day. In an era in which womenfolk were relegated to window dressing, Gloria Stuart's character stands by her conviction and grabs the bull by the horns. She thinks the suspect falsely accused. And off she goes, the gutsy dame working solo - because the assistant D.A.'s got his feelings hurt and doesn't have her back in this one. This isn't about him, anyway. Gloria Stuart is just fine and resolute playing the intrepid amateur sleuth what's working off a wide hunch. Again, the film is barely over an hour long, so things move fast. There's time enough for an impromptu prison break, collusion with a racketeer, a car chase in which the participants get up to speeds of *gasp* 60 mph, and a wild denouement 70 stories up. There's also stock comic relief in the shape of the dimbulb cop sidekick Happy (Paul Hurst). But this isn't about him, either.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Oct 20, 2014 12:03 PM PDT


Halloween H20: 20 Years Later
Halloween H20: 20 Years Later
DVD ~ Jamie Lee Curtis
Price: $6.99
29 used & new from $2.25

4.0 out of 5 stars sometimes, family reunions can be awkward, October 19, 2014
When it comes to horror cinema, Hollywood keeps on flogging that dead horse like nobody's business, churning out sad sequels often with diminishing results. Only, once in a while, a horror sequel unexpectedly strikes a chord with the audience and dents the box office. Such was so with 1998's Halloween H20: 20 Years Later. This one had some things going for it. As a nod to its 20th anniversary, it brought back its original protagonist, scream queen Jamie Lee Curtis. In the wake of the subversive Scream films, it stepped up its game by injecting a sense of self-awareness, though it had nothing on the meta mojo delivered by the Scream films or even by 1994's Freddy's New Nightmare, a sequel that also returned its original protagonist, Heather Langenkamp (who plays herself), to the fold. But I liked H20 very much.

Maybe a few SPOILERS now.

Taking a page from Scream, H20 gives us a pre-credit sequence that gets our juices flowing. Not sure why Michael Myers waited twenty years to pick up his sister's trail. Maybe he's got this overblown flair for the dramatic? But you wonder what he'd been up to all this time. (My guess: chef at Benihana's or door-to-door cutlery salesman.) The film opens up in Langdon, Illinois as dead Dr. Loomis's former nurse arrives at her burgled home. Confoundinng our expectations, she does everything right. She gets the ef out of there. She calls the cops. She makes sure she's not alone. She waits outside with someone while someone else checks out her home. None of that does any good. And the Shape has got what he's sought: his sister's address.

In Summer Glen, northern California, Laurie Strode (Curtis) is divorced and raising a 17-year-old son on her own. As resilient as ever, Laurie as lived a life. Years ago, she'd faked her death and changed her identity. As "Keri Tate" she's the headmistress of a secluded private school. Oh, but the little things. She's overprotective of her son, John (Josh Hartnett, making his debut). She drinks and pops pills and frets a lot and still looks over her shoulder. But, today, not even the solace offered by her school counselor beau (Adam Arkin) can lower her stress. It's Halloween today.

She and John are feuding. John's had it with her stranglehold on him. He's the only one who knows her true past, but he thinks she's tweaking too much. His argument is that if his deranged uncle hadn't come for them in twenty years, what makes today different? She just refuses to give him permission to go on the school's camping trip to Yosemite. But then John realizes that a near deserted campus is the ideal venue for some alone time with his girl (Michelle Williams) and a few friends. Oh, you poor dumb kids.

It's still mostly standard slasher flick fare. It still honors plenty of slasher tropes. But it's made really watchable by Jamie Lee Curtis's presence. Her character just resonates, man. She's like Ripley in the Alien franchise, that one strong connective tissue. More on her later. I thought LL Cool J was good in his bit part as a campus security guard with aspirations to writing trashy romance novels. He not only shows off his likable side but he upends that cliché about the black guy in horror films. I don't know that the kids added anything noteworthy to the movie; they did provide us with a few gruesome kill scenes (that dumbwaiter scene, oy!). Adam Arkin's school counselor is the calming voice of reason, but I bet he would've traded that for Dr. Loomis's expertise on deviant psychology.

I dig the wink-of-the-eye vibe. There are these touches of irony. I love the bit where a cameoing Janet Leigh - star of Psycho and Curtis's real-life mom - drives away in a Ford cruiser, the same car that Marion Crane drove in Psycho five decades ago! It's a nice balancing act, because these sly nudges aren't so prevalent that they undermine the impact of the horror elements. The Shape himself, and never mind that he still has that William Shatner mask, remains an utterly terrifying, unstoppable force of nature. Which makes Laurie Strode's final stand against him so meaningful. Watching the amazing final 15 minutes, a showdown that is savagely gratifying, I think those parallels between this scene and Ripley's face-off with the alien queen are on point. Laurie Strode is just as badass.

Closing points of frustration (and maybe SPOILERS):

- LL Cool J's preventing Laurie from finishing off Michael; LL thought he was doing the right thing, but, still, I couldn't help yelling at the screen
- This one really bugged me: While fleeing from Michael, Laurie stupidly heaves a drawer of kitchen knives to the floor and then gets on her knees and, from that position, picks up the knives scattered on the floor and throws them at Michael. WTF?


A Kiss in the Dark
A Kiss in the Dark
DVD ~ David Niven
Offered by StormyDayFlix
Price: $21.98
25 used & new from $14.49

3.0 out of 5 stars what I've learned: don't trade punches with a pianist who practices five times a day, October 18, 2014
This review is from: A Kiss in the Dark (DVD)
With A Kiss in the Dark, Warner Bros's modest 1949 comedy, David Niven channels a bit of Cary Grant, a fellow paragon of elegance. Niven plays neurotic concert pianist Eric Phillips who has a freak out moment when he strikes a false note during his latest playing engagement. Not even his staff's celebration of his 21st year anniversary in the music industry could keep him from obsessing about this fail from perfection. To distract himself, having canceled all his summer bookings in a grumpy moment, Eric decides to get hands on with a new investment property acquired for him by his business agent: the Cleopatra Arms, an apartment building in Morningside Heights, New York City.

Turns out, Cleopatra Arms is fraught with repair needs, something which the hand-wringy building manager (Victor Moore) and the 53 tenants are quick to point out to their new landlord. And if you're wondering what's keeping our Nervous Nellie from right away amscraying out of there, the answer is that he runs into Jane Wyman's character. Polly Haines (Wyman) is a photographer's model. She's lovely and jaunty and down-to-earth and effortlessly wins Eric over. She's also one of the most vociferous tenants in advocating for improvements at Cleopatra Arms. It's almost too much for the uptight, high-strung fella, except that Ms. Haines is so tremendously appealing. Eric even stands up to a bullying tenant (Broderick Crawford) just to champion her. For his trouble he gets socked in the face.

David Niven showcases his knack for slapstick comedy here. He does a bit of mugging and indulges in a pratfall or two. He may not be as good as Cary Grant at balancing the witty bon mot with the physical comedy, but then again who's as good at it as Cary Grant? It's a good cast that lends to fun and chuckles. Jane Wyman, glamorous yet grounded, makes you wish you lived back in the day when the Hollywood studio system safeguarded its stars and hid all the warts. It's sort of a shame that, today, paparazzi and social media have reduced plenty of celebrities into laughing stock. I liked it when I could look up to those folks and their movies meant more. Oh, hey, crap, is that a soap box?

Anyway, I thought Jane Wyman was fine here, never mind that the critics circa 1949 thought she was slumming after her 1948 Oscar win for Johnny Belinda.

A Kiss in the Dark is amiable and amusing and even affords Niven's milquetoast character a measure of retaliation in the end. And why is Niven in need of retaliation? Well, there's his seedy business agent (Joseph Buloff) and the jealous rival (Wayne Morris) for Polly's affections. For me, the standout is Broderick Crawford who plays the bullying tenant. Dude works the night shift and so craves absolute peace and quiet during the day so he could sleep. Except he's real aggressive and nasty in his demanding of it. Several droll highlights are provided when Niven and Wyman address the problem of this imposing brute of a bully. And Crawford's reactions are to die for and build up to an awesome crescendo.

Conversely, more awkward than droll is the sequence in which Niven takes his tenant kids out on a hike to demonstrate his mad outdoorsy skills. He doesn't have mad outdoorsy skills. Poor David Niven gets pummeled and lambasted and put upon thru the course of the film, and from most of these inconveniences he reacts with a frosty, punctured ego stare. This is where he and Cary Grant part company, as Grant would've come up with something more inventive than that.

Word on the street: Niven didn't actually play the piano. Instead, an expert pianist threaded his hands thru the sleeves of Niven's tail coat and those are his stunt fingers you see cavorting on the piano keys.


It Falls to Us (A Defiant Story Book 1)
It Falls to Us (A Defiant Story Book 1)
Price: $2.99

4.0 out of 5 stars maybe when Blackheart enclosed the city in an impenetrable bubble, the proofreader got stranded outside, October 16, 2014
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Take a 19-year-old dog groomer whose quick hands can catch bullets. Take a petty thief who can de-solid her left arm. And a wallflower who can boost someone else's super power to four times its potency... but only for eight seconds. And take a 25-year-old stock boy who sometimes goes about town in the powder blue guise of Defiant. Jake Smith had never really had a girlfriend or many friends because he was afraid of accidentally harming people. He's strong enough to lift an SUV over his head. He can leap five stories up. And he's sort of bullet proof. For a few minutes he can run all out at 40 mph. This makes him a second-string super. There are folks out there much, much stronger and faster and invulnerable. As Defiant, he's only ever fought one supervillain in his life.

But when Sunset City's preeminent superhero team, the Legion of Freedom, succumbs to the dread villain Blackheart, and when Blackheart erects an impenetrable bubble around the metropolis, severing all outside contact, it falls to Defiant and a ragged, untested assortment of lesser heroes and second-rate crooks to band together and save their city and, oh, the world. They have only hours to do this.

Echoing a bunch of ya, I say that Tim Nolen's story is in devastating need of editorial polish. I'm a sucker for superhero prose so I still found quite a bit to relish with It Falls to Us. I'm easy to please. With this genre I don't mind straightforward plotting. Defiant is probably the most generic hero in this book - just about everyone else is more interesting, including the one normal in the crew, Officer Kelly - but Nolen writes Defiant as so dang nice and self-sacrificing I couldn't hate on him. It helps that Nolen puts him thru hell, in the same day pitting him against stone cold killers who have it over him in terms of sheer power. Defiant lives up to his name, overperforming and enduring massive beatings during the course of, I repeat, the same day. As the de facto leader of this ragtag group, Defiant isn't much in the way of tactical acumen. His go-to modus operandi is to boldly storm the villain's lair and wreck sh-- up. He's more the inspirational type with his actions and his rally speeches.

I always cheer for the underdog, but it helps when they're actually getting stuff done. I love that they're often overwhelmed but somehow find a way to stand their ground and even gain ground. See Blackheart's henchmen's egos deflate further with each encounter. There's a cinematic sweep to the combat; Nolen delivers on that front, with none of the "heroes" going unscathed.

And should Nolen get that editor, maybe they could scrub up the dialogue which is some of the most sophomoric I've read in a while, awful enough that it's at times down to the standards of fan fiction. When the best interplay comes from the big bad's I.T. flunkies, something's rotten in literary land. I admit, though, that my favorite code name comes from one of those I.T. guys, from him who wants to be addressed as Hacker to Bits. Heh.

I'm not down with one bit of funky science: Seems to me that intangible bullets shouldn't be able to physically affect an equally intangible target.

Here's a drinking game: Take a good swig each time you read the phrase "All hell broke loose" or someone calls someone an idiot. You just may kill the whole bottle in no time flat. Despite its substantial flaws, I give it 3.5 out of 5 stars. Because I like superhero prose that much and because I like drinking games.

By the way, I'm a few chapters into the sequel and hell is still breaking loose and there's still the calling out of idiots. Thankfully, I've another bottle.


Hawk (Vlad)
Hawk (Vlad)
by Steven Brust
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $18.62
48 used & new from $11.56

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars return of the wry banter and the sword & sorcery caper - Vlad stops running, October 15, 2014
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
This review is from: Hawk (Vlad) (Hardcover)
Nowadays Steven Brust takes forever and a week to put out a novel. He must have taken the Katherine Kurtz course on writing like a laggard. It helps if you champion that old saw about quality over quantity. Me, I consumed HAWK like it was a delicious taco, tore it up in one session. I caution those novices to the Vlad Taltos series. HAWK doesn't make for a friendly jumping-on point. Instead, start with JHEREG or with TALTOS and go from there.

HAWK is the fourteenth one. And it's the most gratifying of the most recent published lot because a) there's no confusion in chronology and b) we get a glimpse of the end game. Chronologically, HAWK is the most recent adventure, not an interlude (TIASSA) or an out-of-sequence adventure (JHEGAALA) or a story that jumps around, time-wise (again, TIASSA). Vlad Taltos - witch & sorcerer, ex-assassin, ex-mob boss, unwilling revolutionary, measly human in a world ruled by disdainful Dragaerans (a.k.a. tall-ass elves) - has been for years staying half a whisker ahead of the House of Jhereg, his old crime guild. Lots of things had went on during his fugitive state, perhaps the most telling of which is the birth of his child. It's exacted its toll on Vlad. I was despairing that we steadfast readers would have to keep on swallowing further Taltros books in which this status remains quo. But here's HAWK, son, to swerve the game. The opening bits find Taltos (barely) surviving a series of murder attacks. And maybe it's true what they say about adversity triggering inspiration.

In the sprawling city of Adrilankha, grievously wounded, sweating out this most recent scrape, he stumbles on a wicked, twisty plan to cross himself off the shine-on-sight list. He'd always assumed it would take buying off the Jhereg or piquing their interest in a scheme or service (provided only by him) so lucrative that it'd be worth it for the House to forgive him his betrayal. Vlad's epiphany would involve procuring, among other things, an enchanted lockpick, a euphonium (which is a musical brass instrument), a hawk's egg, a rusty anchor...

Steven Brust's stories are unputdownable stuff for me, and I have to blink when I think that the Taltos series has spanned over three decades now. As ever when chronicling the life and misadventures of Vlad Taltos, there's a strong whiff of the caper element. Keeping it close to the vest, Vlad sets into motion cryptic sequences of which causality he hopes would bring about a state of grace in which the House of Jhereg is okay with him, y'know, breathing.

Above all else, Vlad remains that monumental wiseacre, bested only by the biting wit of his raptor-like familiar, Loiosh. The best bits always seem to involve scenes of their trading banter. For sure, the humor, often punctuated with sarcasm, serves as a much needed counterpoint to the somber stuff and the Machiavellian plottings. In a lot of ways, Vlad is a tragic anti-hero. There'd always been this undercurrent of his railing against the fates that long ago determined that his people (humans) be subjugated by the hated elves. Yeah, son, there's deep, abiding anger festering thru the guy. His sense of humor humanizes him.

Brust busily weaves in familiar characters, some beloved of Vlad and the readers, including a favorite of mine from The Khaavren Romances. Also, rearing his head is an old adversary whose past activities Vlad had foiled. Maybe a side job is called for? Steven Brust, of Hungarian lineage, serves up storytelling worthy of a gypsy campfire and it kept me up into early hours. And it's seriously gratifying to see Vlad back to his old form, deviously scheming and tricking all parties silly. Except Vlad can't plan for everything...

Vlad Taltos novels: publishing order:

Jhereg (1983)
Yendi (1984)
Teckla (1987)
Taltos (1988)
Phoenix (1990)
Athyra (1993)
Orca (1996)
Dragon (1998)
Issola (2001)
Dzur (2006)
Jhegaala (2008)
Iorich (2010)
Tiassa (2011)
Hawk (2014)
Vallista (TBD)

Vlad Taltos books: chronological order:

Taltos (1988)
Dragon, main chapters (1998)
Yendi (1984)
Dragon, interludes (1998)
Tiassa, section 1 (2011)
Jhereg (1983)
Teckla (1987)
Phoenix (1990)
Jhegaala (2008)
Athyra (1993)
Orca (1996)
Issola (2001)
Dzur (2006)
Tiassa, section 2 (2011)
Iorich (2010)
Tiassa, section 3 (2011)
Hawk (2014)


The Sixth Extinction (Sigma Force)
The Sixth Extinction (Sigma Force)
by James Rollins
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $20.48
150 used & new from $11.15

4.0 out of 5 stars Sigma Force vs. the big bad cloud, October 15, 2014
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
The Sixth Extinction heralds the tenth year anniversary of James Rollins' writing the Sigma Force adventures. And like all authors with serious mojo, it's a series that keeps on going strong. A harrowing distress call from a bioresearch station in northern California launches Painter Crowe and his crew of commandos and scientists around the globe in a desperate try at thwarting the extermination of the human race, courtesy of a biological threat spanning from the distant past. And because we don't ever learn our lessons, yeah, there's a assshat in a labcoat in these pages who'd been tinkering with what God - or the universe - had intended to be left as is.

Rollins has something to say about the latest call for alarm, which is that anyone nowadays can build a lab out of their own home. A quote from Rollins' interview with blackfive.net: “The starting point for this novel is the bio-punk movement where labs are set up in people’s garages. Because the technology has gotten faster, cheaper, and easier they can do some amazing things in these makeshift labs. What is scary and startling is the lack of oversight."

Rollins brings his usual whirlwind bag of goods: the exciting blend of science and mysticism, explorations into cutting-edge technology, the forays into shadow history, the far-flung geographies... And I won't go much into it, but I'm super-stoked that Rollins ties this book into the mythology of a previously stand-alone novel. The author delivers them duck-for-cover thrills. He presents a return from the grave of one of Sigma's most diabolical adversaries.

It's the smart writing we've come to expect, rife with not only the mad science flourishes but also with good humor and humanity and a flair for grand adventure. I like that we get a peek into Sigma's personal lives, some of them anyway. We glimpse Gray Pierce, lead field commander for Sigma, coping with his Alzheimers-stricken dad. Meanwhile, Painter Crowe, director of Sigma, was finalizing plans for his impending wedding when the fit hit the shan. I'm betting a distress call that ends with the scientist imploring: "No matter the outcome: Kill us... kill us all." will put a crimp on Painter Crowe's mooning over his gorgeous, whip-smart fiancée.

But as much as I like reading about the established cast - and it sucks that one of my favorites, Seichan, gets minimal treatment (due to events in The Eye of God) - the juice for me are those segments that feature new characters California State Park Ranger Jenna Beck and her partner, a search & rescue Siberian husky named Nikko. Jenna and Nikko are awesome. They're the first responders to arrive at that beleaguered research facility and witness that cloud of fire and smoke and something else that inflicted death to all sentient life exposed to it. See Jenna Beck and Nikko dash away fast as they can from the fast billowing cloud. By then, I was all in.

At some point, I would love for Nikko to run into Kane.

Those who geek out over them wilder techno/scientific threads - ie: bio-hacking, de-extinction, panspermia - Rollins tackles bits of those. Me, I'm no hard-core science nerd, so it's gratifying that Rollins can make the technical bits easier to digest. Somewhere, Clive Cussler and Michael Crichton are beaming. Me, I just like to read a page-turner, of which The Sixth Extinction is one.


The Riders of the Purple Sage (1941)
The Riders of the Purple Sage (1941)
DVD ~ George Montgomery

3.0 out of 5 stars the fourth time Lassiter's moved that boulder, October 13, 2014
To date, there are five screen adaptations of Riders of the Purple Sage, Zane Grey's most famous novel, with the 1996 television version, in my opinion, coming off as best (and most faithful) of the bunch. There were the two silent versions - one in 1918 and then in 1925 with Tom Mix - and the 1931 version with George O'Brien. And then there's this one, which came out in 1941 and starred Robert Montgomery as Grey's most mythic hero, the infamous gunfighter dressed in black, Lassiter.

I suppose there's enough here that's faithful to the source material. Yes, it does do away with the pivotal Mormon element (religious zealots are pretty much the big bads in the book). Instead, the central conflict rears up in the shape of the crooked vigilante society. It's a law and order league founded in Arizona by the father of young ranchwoman Jane Withersteen (Mary Howard), and it's just too bad that Old Man Withersteen had passed on and that a corrupt judge (Robert Barrat) has taken over the reins. And this judge, he's in the midst of a sweeping land grab, no matter that he has to terrorize the local ranchers to acquire territory. He's got his eyes set on Jane's ranch and her water rights.

As a bully move, thugs from the vigilante society are about to take a whip to Jane's ranch hand (James Gillette) when who rides up but this stranger who performs the impressive stunt of shooting the length of the whip off a thug's fist, leaving him naught but the handle? As entrances go, that one's really neat. It's been a minute since I read the book but the impression I have is that Grey never revealed Lassiter's Christian name (but maybe I'm wrong?). In the movies, his handle is Jim Lassiter. I think giving him a first name loses him some of that mystique. But, clearly, this minor oater wasn't trying for heady stuff like that.

Given, these hour-long pictures don't give you much in terms of character development, but the plot moves along briskly and there's always some sort of activity, whether it's Lassiter's confounding a stampede or taming a wild bronco or bracing the vigilante society. Robert Montgomery is serviceable. He invests his Texas gunfighter with a sense of capable authority, never mind that he's lighter in tone and mood than the book Lassiter.

Lassiter's got his reason for coming to Arizona (in the book, Utah). He's seeking his dead sister's now grown-up daughter, and it's just Jane Withersteen's good fortune that she crosses paths with him. Jane and Lassiter lock horns because she abhors gunplay. But you can guess where that story's going. Lassiter's easy rapport with her adorable young ward, Fay (Patsy Patterson), helps to smooth matters. Another sub-plot concerns Jane's ranch hand and his interactions with a mysterious masked rider. It all culminates with a shoot-'em-up rescue attempt and a mad dash up the slopes of Surprise Valley and the Balancing Rock perched atop. In the book the Balancing Rock symbolizes Jane Withersteen's long-held beliefs, and Lassiter's moving of the rock parallels Jane's monumental shift in perspective. In the movie, things don't get so deep as the boulder just triggers an avalance and is cool to look at. In the movie, Lassiter is clearly more hero than tortured anti-hero. Yeah, it's a trifling B-western what lacks the weight and mythic resonance of the book. But it's worth scouting.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Oct 17, 2014 7:25 AM PDT


Montana Sky
Montana Sky
DVD ~ Ashley Williams
Offered by Fulfillment Express US
Price: $8.28
75 used & new from $0.79

4.0 out of 5 stars Part aw-shucks sibling drama, part slasher flick - I was expecting Longmire to pop up, October 12, 2014
This review is from: Montana Sky (DVD)
Haven't read the book, liked the 2007 Lifetime screen adaptation well enough. Nora Roberts' Montana Sky throws multiple sub-plots in your mug and expects you to make sense of them all. And if there's a flaw, it's that. Too many things to keep track of.

Old Jack Mercy - hard, unfeeling cattleman - sure had sown his oats. The film opens with old Jack being laid to rest, his gravesite being where his three daughters - strangers to each other - first meet. No-nonsense cowgirl Willa Mercy (Ashley Williams) is the one old Jack kept with him in big skied Montana. And for Willa and her half-sisters - self-indulgent Tess (Charlotte Ross) and shy, damaged Lily (Laura Mennell) - it's a case of mutual discontent. But there's their father's will and the provision that stipulates that for them to inherit their fortunes, they must spend a year together at the Montana family ranch. And should any sister leave, the ranch - worth north of $20 million - is forfeited to a nature conservancy and the girls instead only get $100 each. Even the spoiled miss from La La Land can't walk away from that.

If only this were a Hallmark picture, the story would've concentrated solely on the girls' relationships. But it's Lifetime, yo. So we're also treated to a two-front mystery as the Mercy siblings must contend with a creepy stalker, brutal animal mutilations, and a serial killer on the loose. Add on that the story also addresses the girls' respective love lives, and the brim just overflows with plot.

Guess what? I liked it. 3.5 out of 5 stars liked it. The three lead actresses work well together. I have had a crush on Ashley Williams from way back, and she's fantastic as the bossy cowgirl who develops her own sub-plot concerning her ranch hands' resentment at taking orders from a woman. Williams lands the most prominent romantic arc, or the one I cared the most about anyway. I like her blend of toughness, suppresed feminism, and vulnerability. And, yeah, I guess a cocky, rugged cowboy like John Corbett will get under your skin. Old Jack's will also stipulates that neighboring rancher Ben McKinnon (Corbett) act as overseer during the year-long probation. This drives the very independent Willa up the wall as she's fostered a love-hate relationship with Ben for years (despite the undeniable sparks between them). Oh, man, if I were a chick, I'd maybe swoon. But I'm a dude so I'll just give Corbett an appreciative bro nod.

If you're into snark, this movie has got something for you. That opening funeral scene is loaded with sly, catty moments, and Willa and Tess - the two most adversarial siblings - keep up dishing the snarky banter for most of the film. I tell you, this would've been a solid pilot for an ongoing series. I would've tuned in weekly just to observe the Mercy sisters forge their relationship.

Besides the glut of storylines, what also bugged me throughout was that the film never does go into detail about why their dad - who impressed us as the most unsentimental cuss around - decided to unite his estranged daughters. Why the change of heart, old Jack? Maybe I'll read the book and find out.
Comment Comments (3) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Oct 14, 2014 4:29 PM PDT


Tales From The Crypt Presents - Demon Knight
Tales From The Crypt Presents - Demon Knight
DVD ~ Billy Zane
Price: $9.92
49 used & new from $3.60

4.0 out of 5 stars "Humans. You're not worth the flesh you're printed on.", October 12, 2014
Tales from the Crypt Presents: Demon Knight may have been panned by critics and dismal at the 1995 box office, but it's managed to build up a cult following. I'm in that cult, as well as my buddy, Bollywood Bob, and possibly my 8-year-old nephew whom I caught eyeballing the flick on the telly. I happen to think it's a shining example of B-horror done right. Yep, it's campy and wise-cracky, but that's where the fun is. And just because my evil nephew saw it doesn't mean that it's young age appropriate. It's Rated R for gore (two decapitations) with nudity and strong language.

Demon Knight captures the atmosphere and gallows humor of the HBO series and the 1950s EC comic book. It seamlessly bleeds the pulpy broad strokes of the four color industry into the sensibilities of a live action picture. In keeping with the HBO series, the Crypt Keper (voiced by John Kassir) provides the framing device and the wonderfully awful morbid puns. Then begins the story proper, and it's potentially an apocalyptic one.

If you hadn't ever seen the movie, then maybe even mentioning this bit is a spoiler. So maybe you ought to skip this paragraph... I like the unpredictability of the opening minutes. I'm reminded of Terminator 2 in that I wasn't at first sure who to root for. But, one night, on a dark, desert highway, two men walk away from a horrifying car crash.

In Wormwood, New Mexico, these two survivors (William Sadler, Billy Zane) arrive at a rundown boarding that once was a church until it was decommissioned back in the '50s due to lack of interest. There we run into the rest of the cast. Are they composed of stock characters? You tell me. There's the wh0re who just wants to be loved (Brenda Bakke), the tough-as-nails innkeeper (CCH Pounder), the old drunk, the timid postal clerk, the surly convict out on a work release program (Jada Pinkett), the self-serving tool we're sure to hate (Thomas Haden Church), that ineffective deputy... Okay, yeah, these are stock characters. But the actors put in work, never mind that it's B-horror. They dig into their parts and somehow add depth and layers that raise these impersonal archetypes into flawed people whose final fates you're actually interested in.

The film's huge watchability rests on its two leads, them two survivors. Sadler plays fugitive Frank Brayker with his typical edge and scowly grit. You can sense how very tired Brayker is from running. He's grimly hanging on to an ancient relic that, in actuality, is the seventh key that threatens to unleash eternal darkness onto the universe. Relentless in his pursuit is Billy Zane's cowboy hat wearing character, he who claims to work for a "collection agency." Billy Zane is awfully charismatic and, surprisingly, delivers a consistent string of laughs. I say "surprisingly" because I'm too used to seeing him in sleazy roles (scenes from Dead Calm flit before my eyes). But Sadler and Zane and their adversarial interplay make the movie.

There's a bit of that old Rio Bravo vibe as the boarding room comes under siege from a host of demons. And from there, cue the morality play. The big bad's various seduction ploys - reminiscent of Freddy Krueger at play - are a highlight as the head demon proves himself to be palpably evil and endlessly persuasive and very droll and hammy in ways that make you like him. And the film doesn't rely on the head demon alone for its levity. It counterpoints the serious, trippy flashbacks (that give us the relic's history) with moments of cheekiness that are worked in so well they don't at all undermine the horror elements. I love how they balanced that. Anyway, I think Demon Knight is severely underrated. The visual effects still work. The scares are fun. The final showdown features a clever tactical maneuver by the hero. So, yeah, if you're a horror fan and you haven't yet seen this, shame, shame. I'm calling you out, son.

But then again, I also liked Bordello of Blood.


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