Monday, October 31, 2016


Once again—Happy Halloween!

Here’s a sample of The Wife’s seasonal tableaux:

In other matters autumnal, this weekend I took The Wife, The Kid and The Kid’s Friend to the last weekend of the 2016 Arizona State Fair. Outrageously expensive as always, but fun. While The Kid and Friend went on rides, The Wife and I feasted on Shepherd’s Pie Poutine, Strawberry Funnel Cake and…Deep Fried Watermelon.

Don’t judge. It was surprisingly yummy—the crunchy, hearty batter and the light melon go together better than you’d expect. As The Wife put it, maybe it wasn’t $11 good, but it was good.

A few months ago we said farewell to one of the all-time great horror hosts, “Chilly Billy” Cardille, and now we must likewise wish R.I.P. to one of the true Old Masters of the form: John Zacherle…

passed on at age 98, if you please.

Friday, October 28, 2016


Opening this weekend:

InfernoA darkly visionary geneticist has developed a virus to wipe out half of the world’s population, thus solving, or at least postponing, the overpopulation crisis. “Symbologist” Robert Langdon scampers around Florence in the company of a pretty young English doctor, trying to find where the bug is stashed. Agents of the World Health Organization and of a super-secret and lethal security firm chase them from landmark to landmark, led by clues encoded in Botticelli’s illustration of Dante’s version of Hell.

This is the third movie directed by Ron Howard and featuring Tom Hanks as Langdon, based on the fourth of Dan Brown’s syntax-challenged Langdon novels. The first film, 2006’s The Da Vinci Code, was on the limp side; the second, 2009’s Angels & Demons, was feverishly entertaining.

Happily, Inferno takes after its immediate predecessor. Screenwriter David Koepp, who wrote the adaptation, brings a bit more bite and wit to the dialogue than Brown is able to muster, and Howard keeps the action flying from one James-Bond-worthy exotic locale to another, pretty close to non-stop. The cast is full of attractive sorts like Felicity Jones, Irrfan Khan, Omar Sy, Ben Foster and, perhaps most memorably, Ana Ularu as a chic and scary motorcycle-borne assassin.

Best of all is Hanks, who as in Angels & Demons spends his footage belting out exposition on the fly, like a tour guide way behind schedule. Giving him temporary amnesia and a bleeding head wound just adds to the fun.

These are silly stories, to be sure, steeped in the thudding, reductive literalism and reticular paranoia of Brown’s response to Renaissance masterpieces. But it’s hard—for me, anyway—to resist a movie hero who’s a pedantic middle-aged know-it-all.

ChristineThe title refers not to Stephen King’s demonic Plymouth Fury, but to Christine Chubbuck, a Sarasota, Florida news reporter who made a grim kind of TV history when she shot herself on the air in July of 1974. In her final statement, she said her action was “…in keeping with Channel 40’s policy of bringing you the latest in blood and guts…” The incident has long been thought to be part of Paddy Chayefsky’s inspiration for Network.

If a movie on this subject sounds like a bummer to you, you aren’t wrong. Directed by Antonio Campos from a script by Craig Shilowich, Christine is bitterly sad, often heartbreaking. It’s not a movie I’d be likely to watch again, but I’m glad I saw it once, because it’s also superbly done—measured, rich in convincing period detail, compassionate, free of tawdriness.

The key to its success is the talented, underutilized Rebecca Hall, who makes an award-worthy tour de force of the title role. With her long, stricken face, and speaking in the sort of flat Midwestern honk that Brits love to give Americans, she creates a portrait of a highly intelligent and decent-hearted person excruciatingly shut out from enjoying the common pleasures of life.

It seems almost certain that Chubbuck suffered from chronic mental (and physical) illnesses, along with ongoing romantic and sexual frustration and other personal disappointments. Given the understanding of such afflictions at the time, a happy outcome for her was probably a long shot. But her chosen field was no help, and it’s this that makes Christine trenchant rather than gratuitous.

Are many leisure activities more unsavory than watching local TV news? The sensationalism of the stories, and the deliberately dumbed-down insipidity and editorial timidity with which they’re presented, are queasy enough to watch; the effect of working in that world on a person of serious sensibility who wanted to do worthwhile journalism—and who was still vain and ambitious enough to want success—is awful to contemplate.

Throughout the film we hear the great national stories of the time—the aftermath of Watergate, Ford pardoning Nixon, etc—as a backdrop to Chubbuck’s lurid or fluffy stories at the beginning of the “If it bleeds, it leads” era in local TV coverage. Her struggle to keep her dignity in an undignified industry—ending in utter failure, as she herself became part of the bloody spectacle—makes Christine tragic.

The Pickle RecipeOn a lighter note...

Joey (Jon Dore), a Detroit wedding and bar/bat mitzvah entertainer badly down on his luck, is enlisted by his shady uncle (David Paymer) to filch the fiercely guarded secret recipe for the incomparable pickles made by his Grandma (Lynn Cohen). Joey agrees, goes to work as a lowly "assistant busboy" in Grandma's deli, and gradually bonds with the diverse staff, all the while coming up with wacky schemes to get his hands on the precious recipe.

This comedy, directed by Michael Manasseri from a script by Sheldon Cohn and Gary Wolfson, bogs down in overcomplication and heavy-handed sentiment at times, especially toward the end. But the performances are strong, and there's a pleasant energy to the affair, driven along by rousing klezmer on the soundtrack. Dore is agreeable in the lead, and it's great to see the veteran Cohen, remembered from Sex in the City and as a judge on many episodes of Law and Order, get a juicy showcase role all to herself as the loving but cantankerous Grandma.

You might want to have some good kosher dills ready in the fridge for when you get home from this one.

Thursday, October 27, 2016


Happy Halloween next Monday everybody! Random, the son of some friends of mine…

Monster-of-the-Week: …drew this truly kickass Halloweeny cat with wings and a chimerical snaky tail…

He/she/it is this week’s honoree.

Monday, October 24, 2016


One week to Halloween, my favorite holiday!

Barry Graham was kind enough to include my zombie novel The Night Before Christmas of the Living Dead on his list of “creepy reads for Halloween.” It’s available on Amazon Kindle or in a dead-tree edition with kick-ass cover art by my pal Vince Larue…

This isn’t a quid pro quo: When I started reading Graham’s classic Of Darkness and Light... Friday evening about twenty years ago, it kept me awake and creeped out farther into the wee hours of Saturday than I intended.

Friday, October 21, 2016


Opening this weekend:

Jack Reacher: Never Go BackBefore the credits, the corrupt sheriff narrows his eyes at the title character, who’s just gotten the better of him, and growls “Who the hell are you?” Reacher glares right back and says “The guy you didn’t count on.”

Oh, snap.

As far as I can tell, none of this is intended as a parody, but intentional or not, this second movie featuring Tom Cruise as the itinerant ex-military badass from Lee Child’s popular novels is one of the year’s funnier comedies. Partly it’s because of zinger lines like that, and partly it’s because of the utter earnestness with which Cruise delivers them. He’s had a lot of success playing these sorts of imperturbably confident special-ops men of action, but I can’t take him seriously in such roles for a second. He’s like a seven-year-old doing one of Liam Neeson’s scary hushed threats in the mirror.

After flicking away the rotten sheriff and his goons, Reacher shows up in D.C. hoping to take an attractive Army Major (Cobie Smulders) he’s met over the phone out to dinner. Instead, he finds she’s being framed for espionage by crooked defense contractors who plan to kill her. It’s always something. He also learns that he may have a daughter (Danika Yarosh) that he didn’t know about.

Fights and chases and shootouts and squabbling ensue. The director is the always-capable Edward Zwick, working from a script credited to Richard Wenk, Marshall Herskovitz and Zwick, so even when the dialogue is risibly clichéd and humorless, which is almost every line, the movie remains diverting.

Until it isn’t any more, that is. In the homestretch, set in New Orleans at Halloween—they’d never think of setting it at Mardi Gras; that would be corny—the long stalk through the crowd of masked revelers between Reacher and his friends and the heavies grows rather tedious. The movie is a competent piece of Hollywood craft, but there’s not a scene in it that we haven’t seen already, too many times.

Miss HokusaiThis anime feature is about O-Ei, daughter of Katsushika Hokusai, the 19th-Century Japanese artist best known—in the West, at least—for The Great Wave. O-Ei was a superb artist in her own right, supposedly rated by her father as his superior in some respects, but she spent her life in his shadow, as his assistant.

I know the material sounds like a depressing drag, but don't skip this one. Directed by Keiichi Hara from a manga by Hanako Sugiura, it's a quietly poignant, sometimes funny, often delightful character study set against an exquisite evocation of Edo (Tokyo) in the early 1800s. It's one of the best movies I've seen this year.

Though emotionally distant, old Hokusai isn't a bad sort as depicted here. He isn't particularly oppressive toward O-Ei, who has inherited his brusque, slightly intimidating manner. The other men in her life, cronies or patrons of her father, are likewise drunken or neurotic but not unlikable, and she's able to handle them, though she's thrown by the young artist who likes her. O-Ei seems relatively liberated in social terms; to the extent that she's hemmed in, it's by her own psychology. How accurate this is historically I couldn't say, but dramatically it's refreshing and believable.

Though the period atmosphere is intensely vivid, the movie has a fanciful side as well, showing us the effect that Hokusai and O-Ei's artistry had, both on their own their own imaginations and those of their viewers. Demons and dragons and astral projections spring matter-of-factly into their real world, suggesting that art can haunt as much as it can bless. This movie does both.

Thursday, October 20, 2016


RIP to Ted V. Mikels, the low-budget mogul behind The Astro-Zombies, The Corpse Grinders, The Worm Eaters, Blood Orgy of the She-Devils, Doll Squad etc. etc., passed on at 87

I interviewed Ted for New Times when he was in the Valley in 2007, presenting a bunch of his films at Chandler Cinema when it was under the auspices of the Midnight Movie Mamacita. I still have autographed DVDs of several of his movies on my shelf. He was an extremely charming guy, and my pal Dewey and I laughed our asses off at The Corpse Grinders, the cheeky Mikels opus of a cat-food company which resorts to using human flesh in its cans (the felines that partake develop an unfortunate partiality to people meat). I remember Ted claiming, proudly, that the film had out-grossed Tora! Tora! Tora! in Honolulu, on the main drag, on its opening weekend. Anyway, in Ted’s honor…

Monster-of-the-Week: …here’s an Astro-Zombie, held at bay by Tura Satana...

Saturday, October 15, 2016


Since the startling announcement that Bob Dylan was awarded this year’s Nobel Prize for Literature, there have been a few dissenting arguments, like this one and this one.

As far as I can tell the case against a Nobel for Dylan is twofold—on the one hand, that there are writers who’ve been laboring in obscurity, sometimes in developing countries, that could use the exposure and the money more, and on the other hand that he’s not a writer, he’s a lyricist, and the power of his writing is inseparable from its musical context.

I can sort of see the former argument, I suppose. But I’m still glad Dylan won, because I’m thinking of all the scoffing and eye-rolling I received in my twenties when I gushed about him as one of the great 20th-Century American poets. For me, it’s not an acknowledged elder statesman of American pop culture being gratuitously honored, it’s the goofy, wise-assed, frizzy-haired kid with the braying-goat voice from half a century ago being vindicated, along with everybody who could hear something dazzling and beautiful in his haywire words and cadences.

As to the second argument, though—lyricists aren’t writers? Really? W.S. Gilbert wasn’t a writer? George M. Cohan wasn’t a writer? Irving Berlin and Cole Porter? Woody Guthrie? Frank Loesser? Sheldon Harnick? Tom Lehrer? Johnny Cash? Jacques Brel? Smokey Robinson? Leonard Cohen? Neil Diamond? Carole King? Merle Haggard? Bill Withers? Judy Collins? Dolly Parton? Stephen Sondheim? Bob Gaudio? Frank Zappa? Billy Joel? Lyle Lovett? Ice-T?

If Dylan, or anyone else on that list, or any of three hundred others that could be named, don't qualify as writers, than I guess I’d rather not be a writer. I’d rather be whatever it is they are.

Friday, October 14, 2016


Opening this weekend:

The AccountantThere’s a degree of wit in naming an action thriller The Accountant. Even before the classic Monty Python sketches featuring Arthur Putey, accountants have traditionally been seen as comic dullards and drudges.

But as with Jean Reno’s “The Cleaner” in La Femme Nikita, the term “accountant” has an extra meaning here—it’s moral as well as financial books that get balanced. Ben Affleck plays Christian Wolff, one of many aliases of a bean-counter who secretly works for vast criminal enterprises, and gets paid in cash or gold bullion or first issues of Action Comics or Renoir and Pollack originals. Chris is a high-functioning autistic man of remote, robotic affect, given to self-stimulation and other obsessive behaviors in private.

For quite a stretch this thriller, directed by Gavin O’Connor from a script by Bill Dubuque, takes an intriguingly quiet, reserved approach, giving us peeks into the title character’s life and backstory as he studies the seemingly cooked books of a prosthetics manufacturer (John Lithgow) and tentatively bonds with an amiably nerdy fellow accountant (Anna Kendrick). All the while, two Treasury operatives (J. K. Simmons and Cynthia Addai-Robinson) are zeroing in on him.

Then, about midpoint, The Accountant suddenly spins into a tense and violent actioner, with shootouts and martial arts brawls. It’s quite effective on this level, too; the shift into Jason Bourne-style mayhem seems like an entirely natural turn for the movie to take.

Affleck keeps things admirably low-key as Chris, not letting more than a hint of loneliness or sly drollery slip out from behind the stony façade. All of the acting is strong, with Kendrick particularly endearing as the colleague, tirelessly friendly even as Chris keeps throwing her off-balance with his dogged literalism.

The movie is really quite good of its kind. If it misses greatness of its kind, it’s in the final third, when it takes yet another turn, this time for the windy. The Treasury man abruptly spews a big lump of exposition, and even with illustrative flashbacks it still calls up Simon Oakland’s explanatory lecture at the end of Hitchcock’s Psycho. It’s J. K. Simmons, so (as with Oakland) it’s delivered with enjoyable panache. But it still feels artificial, and O’Connor and Dubuque allow several other characters to launch into similarly wordy and heavy-handed rambles.

But this is less complaint than quibble. Considering the theme, and the impressive intricacy of the plot, it would be ungrateful to criticize O’Connor and Dubuque for making sure, perhaps overzealously, that all of the movie’s details are accounted for.

Max RoseJerry Lewis plays Max, a jazz pianist nearing 90. In the days after the death of Max’s beloved wife (Claire Bloom), he finds a clue—an inscription on her elegant compact—that indicates that she might have cheated on him, half a century earlier. Already devastated by grief, he’s further rattled by this possibility, and finds he can’t let it go.

Although Max’s probing of the past leads, toward the end, to a mildly Gothic confrontation with the author of the inscription, it’s nothing terribly shocking. This strand serves, mainly, to give a hint of mystery and tension to this small-scale drama, written and directed several years ago by Daniel Noah and only now finding its way into a few theaters. The movie’s real function is as a showcase for Lewis. He’s in every scene, almost every shot, often in full-on facial close-up, giving us his take on weary but unsettled old age.

And formidable his chops are. There’s never been any doubt of his talent or of his star power; with Lewis it’s always been a question of how much, at any given time, he was going to tyrannize us with his massive performer’s ego. As Max Rose, there’s no mugging, no pushing, no visible self-indulgence—his lined, drooping face is inscrutable, his speech maddeningly measured. If anything, he’s more restrained than he needs to be, but when he suddenly barks in anger, it’s like a slap.

The small supporting cast is led by Kerry Bishé as Max’s anxious, adoring granddaughter, who clowns for him and tells him silly jokes, and Kevin Pollak as the semi-estranged son to whom he can barely bring himself to speak. Also on hand are such vets as Lee Weaver, Dean Stockwell, Mort Sahl, Rance Howard and Illeana Douglas. But in most of their footage they serve, basically, as human follow spots for Lewis.

He lends a magnificent turn to a movie the point of which is that getting old is tough, and that you may not have known everything about the people closest to you. These revelations won’t exactly blow the minds of most viewers—even those of us who aren’t quite as old as Max yet—but it’s hard to argue with the power of the star’s presence.

Thursday, October 13, 2016


Congratulations to the great Bob Dylan on this year’s Nobel Prize for Literature. Earlier this very week I had been singing along with “Like a Rolling Stone” in my truck and thinking what a really great poem it is. Nice to know I was right.

Anyway, in honor of one of Dylan’s less-celebrated works, his 1971 stream-of-consciousness tome Tarantula

Monster-of-the-Week:’s one of our favorites, the title character of Jack Arnold’s 1957 Tarantula… 

Tuesday, October 11, 2016


Except for the occasional sidelong crack, I rarely write about politics. Those who know me know that this isn’t because I’m without partisan opinions, some of them pretty passionately held.

It’s rather because I’m skeptical of the power of editorializing discourse to do much apart from entrench those who disagree with you, and also because I’m not confident of my command of my own arguments, even if I’m confident that they’re right (which I’m not, always). I’m generally pretty sure that there’s somebody else, more knowledgeable, more eloquent, who could back them up more effectively.

But even that’s a cop-out. I suppose I must also admit that I don’t spout off politically, especially online or in print, because I’m a coward. I have friends and relatives and coworkers of all political stripes, I have opinions that could alienate any of them, I despise confrontation, and I have neither the time nor the desire to spend hours of my day arguing with somebody whose position is no more likely to change than mine.

This long-winded preamble is a build-up to this: I want you to vote for Hillary Clinton in the upcoming election.

Now, if you honestly, in the depths of your soul, believe that Donald Trump would make a better President of the United States than Hillary Clinton—if you think he would make a better President than Roger Clinton, or Hillary Swank, or Donald Duck—then it may be that there’s nothing more I can say to you here. One of us, I’m afraid, is deluded. I can only urge you, as Donald Trump urged his followers in Florida a few hours ago, to get out and vote on November 28.

But before you go, Trumpians, I do have one thing I’d like to ask you to consider. Without even referencing the reprehensible Access Hollywood recording that surfaced last weekend, in which Trump boasted that his celebrity status privileges him to violate women (he describes this as “locker room banter”), go down the list of other remarks for which Trump has been criticized over the last year, and ask yourself: What if Obama or Clinton had made them? If either of them had dismissed John McCain’s heroism and said they preferred people who didn’t get captured? Had said they knew more about ISIS than the Generals, “believe me?” Had praised Putin and Kim Jong-Un? Had compulsively interrupted a debate opponent, dozens of times? Would you have cackled happily at how they “tell it like it is,” and how they weren’t constrained by “political correctness?”

Beyond that, I’m at loss where wholehearted Trump supporters are concerned. If, however, you’re part of the larger number of people whose feelings for Hillary Clinton range from indifference to dislike to visceral disgust, then I’m asking you to get over it.

Much of what follows here will sound like all I’m saying is: Oh well, I guess she’s the best we can do. Though I do think Clinton’s the best candidate who has any chance of being elected, and probably the best period, and galactically better than Trump, I don’t mean to suggest that it’s only by negative criteria that I support her. I understand that there’s a solid case—within the context of moral compromise that always accompanies presidential politics, that is—for admiration of and enthusiasm for Hillary Clinton.

I’m just not going to make that case here. If Clinton wins the election, I’ll rejoice, not only from relief but in my sense that she has a decent shot of being a capable president (but mostly from relief). But I’m addressing those who feel like they can’t stomach voting for her, so for my purposes here, I’m going to stipulate that she’s a flawed candidate, and that not all of the objections to her are baseless or trivial.

You should still vote for her.

Not to be coy about my own leanings: I’ve been a registered Democrat since I was eighteen. I’d call myself a moderate liberal, but even so, like many Democrats, I regard myself as to the left of Hillary Clinton. I voted for Bernie Sanders this year in the Democratic primary here in Arizona, not because I thought he had a chance of winning the nomination (though I would have eagerly supported him if he had) but because I thought his candidacy would help move the Democratic platform in a more progressive direction.

And so it did, but even so, I’m wondering if his candidacy hasn’t done more harm than good. The disappointment that Bernie supporters felt at Clinton’s nomination has led to the same petulance that gave us, via Ralph Nader, George W. Bush a decade and a half ago. I fear that some of this “protest vote” impulse, or the impulse to abstain from voting altogether, comes from feeling too morally rarefied, or maybe just too cool, to vote for an establishment candidate like Al Gore or Hillary Clinton.

And I realize that Hillary Clinton fits that bill. I’m not particularly a fan of her—I get that, at least on TV or at the podium, she’s not a terribly charming person. She’s certainly not a soaring, riveting orator, like her husband or even Obama, and there is something about her public persona that almost always seems forced and self-conscious.

But I also keep hearing about her supposed great and sinister corruption, and I have to say I’m not impressed. I don’t mean to suggest she’s pure as the driven snow, of course, but the buzz-word scandals that get thrown up—the e-mails, Benghazi, the Clinton Foundation, not to mention dredged-up old stuff from Arkansas—seem pretty un-heinous by the standards of national politics. I’ve heard her referred to as a “war criminal,” and that’s probably fair enough—except that you could probably make the case that every American politician in the last two centuries, at least, who’s held anywhere near the level of international covert and military influence that she has would qualify as a war criminal, if only by consenting to accept such power within the sort of bullying, rapacious superpower that we are.

Anyway, even if her culpability in these scandals (not counting the plainly fake ones, like the death of Vince Foster) were all true and uncontested, I’m pretty sure I’d still rather have her as President than Donald Trump.

You can say, if you like, that “pretty un-heinous by the standards of national politics” is a sad standard by which to judge the candidate to whom you’re going to give your vote. And you’d be right, but I’m not aware of another standard that has any actual political efficacy. It may be a bitter pill to vote for someone so far away from your values, but grownups—like Bernie Sanders himself—understand that this isn’t a game, that voting isn’t a gesture of personal style, like what music you wouldn’t be caught dead listening to. Voting is a tool.

If the choice this year was between Hillary Clinton and, say, any of Trump’s Republican primary opponents, refusing to vote for her on the grounds that she isn’t Bernie Sanders or Jill Stein would still, I think, be a tantrum response. It would be something like when a kid is told “OK, tonight we can go to Pizza Hut or McDonald’s,” and the kid says “No, I want to go to Chuck E. Cheese.” And when the kid is told “Not tonight” he pouts and refuses to choose until the choice is made for him.

But the analogy changes when the choice is between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. Then it becomes more like a choice between Pizza Hut and a flesh-eating virus (an orange-skinned flesh-eating virus who hates Rosie O’Donnell, in case I’m not making myself clear). And there appears to be a segment of the American left so determined to maintain a non-mainstream pose that they’ll take the flesh-eating virus over the cure for it.

Of course, there are those who, while disliking or even loathing Trump, still have the vague idea that a shock to the system like a Trump presidency would be preferable to things continuing as they are, that it would “shake things up” in some way that would be beneficial to the country in the long run. A friend of mine says that this is the equivalent of “burning down the house to fix a clogged toilet.” I might admit that the problems of this particular “house” go well beyond a clogged toilet, but I still find it a useful comparison.

Many Bernie Sanders supporters seem to feel betrayed because, since leaving the race, he has suggested, essentially, trying a plunger first, rather than burning down the house. He’s been quoted as saying “…let us elect Hillary Clinton as president and that day after let us mobilize millions of people around the progressive agenda which was passed in the Democratic platform.”

Makes sense to me. Democracy isn’t about getting exactly what you want, exactly when you want it, especially not in a pluralistic republic of three hundred million people. The vast majority of the time, it’s about voting for the candidate who is two inches closer to your values than the other candidate, and who has some chance of being elected.

I’ll be told that this attitude holds back the possibility of third parties achieving political relevance. That seems, first of all, like a small short-term price to pay to avoid a Trump presidency, and second of all I don’t think that is what holds third parties back. Third parties could perhaps gain some clout in the U.S. if they received long-term advancement on a grassroots level—if supporters devoted slow, serious effort to electing, say, Green Party candidates to city councils or corporation commissions or state legislatures, and over decades paved the way to a national profile.

But grabbing for the White House would be an overreach even if it was possible. I’m skeptical that, even if Jill Stein or Gary Johnson or whoever somehow could be elected President, they would be able to function effectively even as reformers, plopped down in the Oval Office within the current system.

I’ll further be told that the essential thing is to “vote my conscience.” But my conscience tells me that I ought to put the consequences of my vote to actual human beings, both here and around the world, ahead of ideological purity.

Right now Donald Trump is the right-wing’s fault. He’s an embodiment of how much a segment of the American electorate resents having had a black guy as president for the last eight years (among other social shifts, of course). And the Republicans picked him. They fucking picked him. Nobody forced them to. They listened to his incoherent rambling and blustering and sneering and thought, this is who we are. But if the rest of us—Democrats, Independents and for that matter responsible Republicans—dither and fail to participate in flushing him away, if we hold ourselves superior to such dirty practicalities, then he becomes ours.

Finally, I’ll also be told, no doubt, that my position on all this is craven. On that one, you got me. I don’t have any taste for sudden political upheaval. I want stability, in the hope that it may allow things to gradually get better and the prayer that they at least won’t get worse. Thus the idea of Donald Trump as President scares the crap out of me, scares me so badly that I’ll settle for almost any alternative.

I don’t say this lightly. In the first decade of this century thousands of people died who didn’t have to die, thousands more were maimed or left homeless, the economy collapsed, and this country’s international reputation was severely damaged, mostly, in my opinion, because of the reactionary, reckless, immoral and inept administration of George W. Bush. But if my only choices—my only viable choices—in the upcoming Presidential election were George W. Bush and Donald Trump, the W. would get my vote without hesitation.

So if voting for Clinton means voting for continuing drone strikes and covert assassinations and coziness with Wall Street—as, alas, it does—show me the slightest evidence that a Trump presidency would result in less irresponsibility, less bloodshed, less war crime, less corporatism, less bigotry, less environmental abuse. Otherwise I’m voting for Clinton with a clear conscience, or as clear a conscience as I think is possible in our society.

Indeed, to take the idea as far as I can, I suppose that if my only viable choices were Donald Trump and David Duke, I’d vote for Donald Trump.

Come to think of it, David Duke’s political career offers a lesson for this year’s election. In 1991, Duke managed to secure the Republican nomination for Governor of Louisiana, and ran against scandal-plagued Democrat Edwin Edwards. A bumper sticker showed up in the state that read: “VOTE FOR THE CROOK. IT’S IMPORTANT.”

Louisianans did. Years later, after he had left office, Edwards was indeed convicted of multiple racketeering charges, and went to federal prison for years. But before that happened, a scumbag Klansman didn’t get to be governor of Louisiana.

I’m not saying, necessarily, that I think it’s fair to call Hillary Clinton a crook. I’m saying that if you do unshakably think so, then…vote for the crook.

It’s really important.

Friday, October 7, 2016


Ah, October. Scary movies back in the theaters. Opening this weekend at Harkins Valley Art, on alternating showtimes with the handsome new remastered version of the original, is… 

Phantasm: RavagerReggie (Reggie Bannister), the pony-tailed ice cream man turned supernatural warrior, stumbles out of the desert at the beginning of this fourth sequel to Don Coscarelli’s 1979 classic Phantasm. Within minutes, he’s behind the wheel of the “black ’71 ‘cuda” [Plymouth Barracuda] so beloved by the series, and is again battling the lethal flying silver spheres.

The wild adventures that follow, directed by David Hartman from a script by Hartman and Coscarelli, take Reggie across multiple dimensional realities, stalking and stalked by the malevolent metaphysical mortician The Tall Man (Angus Scrimm). Intercut with this are scenes at a nursing home in which Reggie is told that he is suffering from early-onset dementia—a Ravager far more terrifying to most of us than The Tall Man—so he, and we, can’t be sure what’s real and what isn’t.

Where the ‘79 film was full of witty, ingenious low-tech special effects, Ravager is wall-to-wall CGI, and thus lacks the original’s funny yet unsettling spookiness. Making up for this, however, is the presence of the original cast members, not just Bannister, who gives a genuinely touching star performance, but also A. Michael Baldwin as Mike, Bill Thornbury as Jody, and even Kathy Lester as the “Lady in Lavender.” They still have the warmth and offbeat, real-life attractiveness that made the first film so distinctive—these people are definitely not from central casting.

Although the movie leaves open the possibility of a sequel, it does close a chapter for Phantasm: it was the swansong of Angus Scrimm, who passed on in January at the age of 89. His glowering Tall Man is as baleful and perversely lovable as ever; his manner here toward Reggie, with whom he tries to strike a bargain, seems almost fond. 

Ravager also retains some of Coscarelli’s startling, imaginative eccentricity. I missed some of the direct-to-video Phantasm sequels over the years, and it’s possible that this is why I didn’t understand some of the movie’s more puzzling elements, like, say, the Bulgarian farmhand named Demeter (Daniel Roebuck). But even if there’s a perfectly logical explanation for him, movies with Bulgarian farmhands named Demeter don’t come along every day.

Thursday, October 6, 2016


The new Phantasm sequel, Phantasm: Ravager, opens tomorrow at Harkins Valley Art, alternating showtimes with the original 1979 Phantasm. So…

Monster-of the-Week: …here’s the ultimate honoree from that series: the body-snatching, shape-shifting, yellow-blooded mortician known as The Tall Man...

The Tall Man was the signature role of Angus Scrimm, the screen name of a music writer turned actor named Rory Guy who passed on in January of this year at the age of 89. Let’s hope his mortal coil received better treatment then the corpses that came under The Tall Man’s care…