Wednesday, October 31, 2018


Happy Halloween everybody! My favorite holiday.

Check out The Wife's costume...

Pumpkin Pi, get it?

Here's my costume...

No clever pun with this one; I'm just calling it "Sharky McSharkboy."

Also, Happy Dia de los Muertos. Here's a pic, by The Kid, of the little Day of the Dead dude now riding on my dashboard...

...a kind gift from my pal Joe Moore.

Here's a couple of catch-up reviews:

It's been a few years--since 2015's heavy-handed but enjoyable Black Sea, unless I'm forgetting something--since we've gotten a big-budget submarine adventure picture. But Hunter Killer, now in theaters, gives us an amusing tour of some of the genre's favorite elements--nerve-wracking cat-and-mouse between underwater vessels, threading the ship through narrow canyons, stony-faced rival Captains who respect each other, an Executive Officer questioning orders, decisions effecting the fate of the world made in the cold depths of the sea. Coolest detail: The standing officers leaning back in unison as the ship dives.

The term "hunter killer" refers to a class of submarine used to attack other subs; the one we follow here is the U.S.S. Arkansas, commanded by non-Academy, up-from-the-working-class Captain Gerard Butler. He's asked to navigate his way through a heavily mined inlet to pick up a Navy SEAL team that has rescued the deposed Russian President (who seems decidedly NOT based on the current real-life holder of that office) from the rogue Defense Minister who wants to start a war with the U.S. Along the way the Arkansas picks up the Captain (Michael Nyqvist) of a sunken Russian sub, who must decide whether or not to help the Yanks navigate their way in.

All of these thrills are excitingly if conventionally handled. But where director Donovan Marsh and screenwriters Arnie Schmidt and Jamie Moss really show their ingenuity is how they avoid the dramatic as well as the literal claustrophobia of the submarine genre. We aren't stuck in the tin can underwater with Butler and his crew for the whole running time; there's a dry-land side to the movie as well.

We follow the Russians, and the exploits of the SEAL team, led by Toby Stephens, that's infiltrating the Russian headquarters. And back at the Pentagon, we get to see the squabbles between the bristling head of the Joint Chiefs (Gary Oldman), a sober-minded Admiral (Common) and a shrewd NSA analyst (Linda Cardellini). We even get a glimpse of the blond, female U.S. President (Caroline Goodall), wistfully reminding us that this film went into production when a different set of political and social assumptions were in place.

Butler is good company once again, and the late Swedish actor Nyqvist, to whom the film is co-dedicated (along with producer John Thompson), brings an effective tinge of the tragic to his Russian counterpart. Those hoping for a good rip-snorting Gary Oldman scenery-chew may be disappointed; he gets less of an opportunity for flamboyant ranting here than in some of his other roles.

In case it isn't clear from my description, Hunter Killer is a very old-school piece of work, in the "guy movie" tradition. If you're the sort who could never resist a Saturday afternoon rerun of The Enemy Below or Ice Station Zebra, this might be the movie for you, and maybe your dad or your grandfather or your uncle might want to come along. Much of the action seems cartoonishly implausible, and it's exactly on that basis that you're likely to enjoy it.

A note on this movie's Russians: In another old-school convention, they speak Russian when it's necessary for the American characters to overhear them, and accented English the rest of the time, so we don't have to read subtitles. But at a key moment, a Russian character expresses his feelings to some of his fellow countrymen by showing them his middle fingers. Does that gesture have the same meaning for Russians that it does for us?

Halloween is here, both the holiday and yet another movie named after it that's too scary for younger children and wimpy adults. But there's also a milder movie alternative for such audiences who still want to get into the spirit: Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween. The subtitle begs the question, though--shouldn't any self-respecting Halloween be haunted?

It's a sequel to Goosebumps, the 2015 comedy-fantasy riff on Scholastic Publishing's massively successful young-adult horror paperback series of the 1990s. The heroes of these tongue-in-cheek tales, cranked out by the dozens by author R. L. Stine, were kids, pitted against ghosts and werewolves and aliens and giant bugs and mummies and pretty much any other standard horror or sci-fi menace you could name, most of them derived from the movies.

The 2015 film turned a bunch of these creatures loose on a small town in Delaware; it also brought Stine onscreen as a character, played by Jack Black as a vain but lovable curmudgeon with an imagination so powerful that his creations can literally leap off the page. It was a trifling film, but well-made and enjoyable, with a little more wit than might have been expected.

Goosebumps 2, directed by Ari Sandel and set in a small town in New York, has a Halloween theme. Two scavenging boys inadvertently unleash the power of an unfinished early Stine tale, Haunted Halloween, and the town's elaborate decorations and treats come to life, from a bucket of Gummi bears to an enormous black-and-purple dragon made of balloons. These creepy creatures are led, once again, by Slappy, the sinister ventriloquist's dummy come to life.

Some of the resulting sequences are visually striking, though again, none are allowed to tip over into serious terror, and the film should be fun for all but the littlest viewers. The young cast, led by Jeremy Ray Taylor and Caleel Harris as the boys and Madison Iseman as Taylor's college-bound older sister, are capable. But most of the laughs are provided by the adults, especially the always-amusing Wendy McLendon-Covey as the indomitable mom, Chris Parnell as the drug store guy turned into Slappy's toadying sidekick, and Ken Jeong as the wacky neighbor who really, really likes Halloween.

One of the best features of the first film was the lively music by the great Danny Elfman. The macabre scherzos here are by the British composer Dominic Lewis, and he channels Elfman so well it's scary.

Friday, October 5, 2018


Happy October everybody! My favorite month, back again.

Plenty of opining by Your Humble Narrator, in case you have time on your hands: Check out my reviews of Free Solo and Marvel's Venom, online at Phoenix Magazine... well as my "Four Corners" column on Valley gastropubs, and my short item about the abruptly announced demise and just as sudden revival of Pedro's Mexican in Glendale.

It's always a wacky adventure when my pal Vince Larue visits from Normandy.

Earlier this week we were heading up East Van Buren, along the back forty of the Phoenix Zoo, when we noticed a large object in the road—a turtle. We pulled into the parking lot of the Rolling Hills golf course and crossed two lanes of traffic to get to him. So much traffic went by in that time that I was sure he’d be turtle pizza by the time we reached him, but incredibly he was intact, plodding along calmly, almost to the far side of the road.

There was just a construction site there, however, with no water I could see, and since he was obviously an aquatic species of turtle I thought we’d better try to get him back to the lagoons at the rear of the zoo, from whence I’d guess he escaped; you can often see turtles sunning themselves there. It was tough to find a spot in the fence he could get through, but we finally left him at the bottom of a steep bank, near a muddy pool that led through an abutment under the fence. But not, of course, before getting a few testudine selfies...

Could I look any creepier? "Hey lady, y'wanna buy a turtle...?"

Hope he’s OK. It seemed like a better spot than where we found him, anyway.