Thursday, August 30, 2018


Last week we paid tribute to the late Douglas Grindstaff, the brilliantly imaginative sound effects man whose contribution to the atmosphere of the original Star Trek would be hard to overstate. But I think Grindstaff deserves at least one more monster, so...

Monster-of-the-Week: ...let's acknowledge the "neural parasite" that attacks poor Spock in the second-season episode "Operation--Annihilate!"

In one interview I found, Grindstaff claimed that he produced the creature's icky sounds by using samples of kissing.

While we're on the subject of Star Trek, check out...Quentin Tarantino's Star Trek!

Friday, August 24, 2018


Check out my review, on Phoenix Magazine online, of The Happytime Murders... well as my rundown of the current crop of TV commercials for Arizona political candidates.

Have a great weekend everybody!

Thursday, August 23, 2018


RIP to Douglas H. Grindstaff, who I just learned passed on late last month, at the age of 87. Grindstaff was the Emmy-winning sound effects designer and editor for the original Star Trek, the man who created the unmistakable squeal of the phaser, the whirr of the transporter, the swish of the automatic doors, the snarling of the Gorn and the trilling purr of the tribbles, among countless other sounds you'd recognize at once if you heard them.

So, in honor of this insufficiently-sung hero of pop culture...

Monster-of-the-Week: ...our honoree is the giant cat...

...from the second season episode "Catspaw"(written by Robert Bloch), into which the witchy alien Sylvia (Antoinette Bower) transforms herself in the show's climactic minutes, and for which Grindstaff and crew provided the unnerving, deeper-then-natural meows and growls and hisses.

Friday, August 17, 2018


Check out my reviews, on Phoenix Magazine online, of Crazy Rich Asians and Down a Dark Hall.

Also opening this weekend:

AlphaThis new adventure isn’t just a Boy and his Dog story, it’s the Boy and his Dog story. The original Boy and his Dog story. It’s the seed from which grew Lassie, and Snoopy, and Scooby-Doo.

Well, OK, really it’s a Boy and his Wolf story. It’s set thousands of years ago, on hilly grasslands, among people who chip stones into spearheads, stampede buffalo off of cliffs, and revere their ancestors. Mammoths, wooly rhinos and saber-toothed felines are part of the local fauna.

Separated from his tribe and injured during a bison hunt disaster, an adolescent, Keda (Kodi Smit-McPhee), befriends a wolf. As they travel together, we see the beginnings of all that will follow: The first fetched stick, the first whistle, the first invaded bed, the first guilt-inducing stare while you’re trying to eat.

Directed by Albert Hughes (half of the Hughes Brothers team that made Menace II Society back in the ‘90s), from a screenplay by Daniele Sebastian Weidenhaupt, Alpha tries for some paleontological and anthropological authenticity. The people speak a (subtitled) language, presumably invented for the movie, though a phrase that sounded like “cara mi” (for “my friend”) kept reminding me of “cara mia,” a favorite Italian endearment of Gomez Addams for his beloved Morticia.

Alpha’s original title was The Solutrean, referring to the tool-makers of Western Europe in the Paleolithic. The change seems wise, not only because Alpha is less obscure but because the Boy/Wolf bonding tale is the true core of the picture.

Inevitably, this story is harsher than the average contemporary kid’s movie—animals die, blood is shed. But it’s only a little harsher. Our hero Keda is given a sensitive nature that seems distinctly modern; his mother says that he “leads with the heart.” He’s reluctant to kill, even in a hunt, and it’s this that leads him to take pity on the wounded wolf, even though the creature was part of the pack that had just tried to kill him. Thus Alpha is, perhaps, not only an origin story for the beginnings of domesticated animals, but for the beginning of thinking outside the box.

In any case, despite a plot full of questionable lucky breaks and softened edges, the movie works. Briefly, I thought it might have a Dog of Flanders-type ending, but Hughes and Weidenhaupt manage a final twist that I admit I didn’t see coming.

The delicate-featured Smit-McPhee, who played Viggo Mortensen’s generous-hearted little son in 2009’s The Road, has just the right callow yet otherworldly look and manner for his role. He’s only upstaged by the wolf, an uncommonly beautiful beast who is credited under the name “Chuck.” The cutaways to the canine’s interested but skeptical facial expressions seem to connect with the audience every time, and it’s touching when the homesick Alpha joins in the howling of a distant pack.

Those of us to whom pets in general, and dogs in particular, are one of the great joys in life may find our imaginations especially stirred by Alpha. The human innovation depicted here, however simplified and romanticized, was one of the chief reasons our species thrived, and certainly a big part of what makes our lives worthwhile.

Thursday, August 16, 2018


RIP to the mighty and magnificent Aretha Franklin, passed on at 76. Words fail.

Since it plays late this Sunday night on Comet TV...

Monster-of-the-Week: ...our honoree is any of the big cyclopean starfish from the 1956 Japanese epic Warning from Space...

(They aren't really that big in the movie.)

Monday, August 13, 2018


Check out my reviews, on Phoenix Magazine online, of Spike Lee's BlacKkKlannsman and of this weekend's winner at the box office, The Meg.

Yesterday The Kid captured this thoughtful study of Your Humble Narrator... we waited in the car outside a store for The Wife. She texted it to her, with the caption "Dead asleep." The Wife replied "Did you mean, 'Dad asleep?'" She did, but it would have been accurate either way.

Thursday, August 9, 2018


With Teen Titans Go! (To the Movies) still in theaters...

Monster-of-the-Week: about "The Beast-God of Xochatan,"

...who shows up as half-man-half-snake, half-man-half-jaguar and half-man-half-raptor on the cover of the first issue of the team's comic, from 1966.

Friday, August 3, 2018


Happy August everybody! Check out this month's issue of Phoenix Magazine... on the stand, for my "Four Corners" column on some newish Valley eateries. It's also this year's "Best of the Valley" issue, and several of those entries were penned by me.

And if all that isn't a potent enough dose of Your Ever-Humble Narrator, check out my reviews of McQueen and Christopher Robin.

Thursday, August 2, 2018


With Disney's Christopher Robin opening this weekend...

Monster-of-the-Week: ...our honoree is the ever-elusive Woozle...

...from the 1968 short Winnie the Pooh and the Blustery Day.