Friday, June 28, 2019


Happy Friday everybody!

Check out my reviews, on Phoenix Magazine online, of Yesterday, which opens today...

...and of Spider-Man: Far From Home...

...which opens next Tuesday.

Have a great weekend!

Tuesday, June 25, 2019


This past Friday The Wife, The Kid and Your Humble Narrator betook ourselves to Chase Field for Pride Night...

...and to watch the D-bax take on San Francisco. The game was pretty wretched; the final score was Giants 11, D-bax 5. But the atmosphere at the park was fun and festive, and it was followed by an excellent fireworks display with lots of rainbow colors, accompanied by a trying-too-hard soundtrack full of Elton John, Boy George and the Village People.

Outside the park, by the gates at the west end, were the inevitable street preachers decrying the celebration of "pride" through bullhorns, and a peek at some of the skin-crawly comments on the team's Facebook page, including repeated whiny iterations of "when is straight pride night?" was similarly dispiriting, as was the almost complete lack of acknowledgement of the event on the TV broadcast. But it was still a terrific evening.

Friday, June 21, 2019


Happy Friday everybody!

Check out my reviews, on Phoenix Magazine online, of the Gene Graham documentary This One's for the Ladies...

...and, a week belatedly, of The Last Black Man in San Francisco.

Have a great weekend!

Monday, June 17, 2019


Check out my review, on Phoenix Magazine online, of The Dead Don't Die, the funny but ultimately disappointing zombie movie by Jim Jarmusch...

...along with my reviews of the new Shaft, and the documentaries The Spy Behind Home Plate and Echo in the Canyon.

The Jarmusch movie has me thinking about the cannibal ghoul genre that became so ubiquitous in the last couple of decades that it seemed in danger of chasing away other forms of horror picture. It's taken over TV too, of course, and it hasn't stopped there; a few years ago Mesa Community College hosted a symposium about economics during a zombie apocalypse.

Anyway, I started trying to formulate a top-ten best zombie pictures list, and initially I found it hard to fill out. As compelling as zombie pictures can be at their best, the vast majority of them are unimaginative, unpleasant, low-rent junk. But finally I was able to come up with ten titles that I could wholeheartedly endorse, plus a couple of honorable mentions. See what you think:

Maggie (2015)--Arnold Schwarzenegger plays a farmer whose daughter Abigail Breslin is turning into a zombie. This well-acted movie is a reproach to the idea that a plague like this would anarchic and fun.

Dead Alive (1992)--This early Peter Jackson splatter-fest is a gruesome riot, plus it includes a stop-motion "Sumatran rat monkey."

Day of the Dead (1985)--The third of George Romero's Night of the Living Dead series, set mostly in an underground military-scientific research station, is pretty memorable, between the splenetic performance of Joseph Pilato as the wound-up commanding officer and Howard Sherman as the reflective zombie "Bub."

Zombieland (2009)--Woody Harrelson, Emma Stone, Jesse Eisenberg and Abigail Breslin wander a zombie-ridden America. Over the course of the film Eisenberg enumerates the many rules for survival in a zombie plague; rule number one is simple, and probably wise under any circumstance: "Cardio." Also, as with The Dead Don't Die, Bill Murray's in it.

Shaun of the Dead (2004)--The first and best entry in Simon Pegg, Nick Frost and Edgar Wright's so-called "Cornetto Trilogy" was both the best English comedy and the second-best zombie picture of its year. It was genuinely funny, and by the end, surprisingly emotional.

Shock Waves (1977)--There are zombies, and then there are underwater Nazi zombies. Shipwrecked tourists meet the great Peter Cushing as an SS officer, living on a deserted resort on a tropical island; he's custodian to the remnant of the Totenkorps, undead Nazi soldiers adapted for environments inhospitable to the living (like the bottom of the ocean). Brooke Adams, Luke Halpin and John Carradine are also in this creepy low-budgeter from director Ken Wiederhorn. The shots of the Nazombies rising from the waves are freaky.

Dawn of the Dead (2004)--In Zack Snyder's reboot of George Romero's zombies-at-the-mall classic, the zombies run instead of slowly plod. I'm an old-school zombie purist, but there's no denying that Snyder's movie is exciting, genuinely scary, and possessed of a fine sick sense of humor.

Dawn of the Dead (1978)--Zombies overrun the lower levels of the Monroeville Mall near Pittsburgh; survivors commandeer the upper decks. Directed by George Romero with gore effects by Tom Savini, this is one of the movies that defined the zombie genre, among many memorable moments is the notorious downsizing of the "Helicopter Zombie" (Jim Krut).

Return of the Living Dead (1985)--Dan O'Bannon's "meta" send-up of the Romero classic, in which the zombies are verbal and specifically crave "braaaaaains!" is chilling and hilarious, with performances by veterans Clu Gulager, Don Calfa and James Karen that are not only lovable but truly touching.

Night of the Living Dead (1968)--Nothing especially imaginative or controversial about my number-one choice. The first of its kind remains, as far as I'm concerned, the best of its kind; George Romero's low-budget black-and-white zombie yarn gets the nod not only for its skillful, suspenseful film-making but for its nightmarish yet convincing atmosphere.

Honorable mentions include World War Z, that almost gore-free epic starring Brad Pitt that you could nearly take your Grandma to, zombie rom-coms like Life After Beth and Warm Bodies, and the literary zombie mash-up Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. I'll also admit to a soft spot for the six Resident Evil pictures, though that may have more to do with my deep feelings for heroine Milla Jovavich.

Friday, June 7, 2019


Happy Friday everybody! Check out my "Friday Flicks" column, reviewing Ron Howard's Pavarotti... well as the drama Katie Says Goodbye...

Happy Father's Day next weekend. Check out my "Four Corners" column, also online at Phoenix Magazine, with some suggestions that Dad might enjoy.

Monday, June 3, 2019


Your Humble Narrator didn't catch up with this one until this weekend...

Ma--Octavia Spencer seems like a game sort. She even came back to reprise her small role from Bad Santa in Bad Santa 2, though she'd won the Oscar for The Help between the two films. It suggests a lack of pretentiousness worthy of a British actor.

Now Spencer stars as the title character in Ma, the latest from the admirable Blumhouse factory. She plays the heck out of Sue Anne, a small-town veterinary nurse who gets confronted with a classic adult moral quandary: teenage kids ask her to buy them alcohol outside a liquor store. She refuses at first, but then, charmed by their pleas and flirtations, she gives in.

She later offers the kids the use of her basement, on the theory that they're safer partying there than outside somewhere. They dub her "Ma" and before long her basement is a popular party spot for the area teens. Her young guests are forbidden, however, from going upstairs. Other disturbing signs arise from this creepy but somehow distressingly plausible social scenario.

Though the product varies in success from movie to movie, I admire the commitment of Blumhouse Productions to provide their young audience with good value on a modest budget. Ma is one of the company's most interesting efforts to date; a horror movie based on character development and queasy inappropriateness rather than shocks. Spencer is emotionally naked here without hamming; using only shifts of expression on her sad-clown face and in her voice, she makes Sue Anne's motivations so painfully obvious that we don't really need the explanatory flashbacks to explain her psychology.

The director is the Mississippian Tate Taylor, who also directed Spencer in The Help.  Working from a script by Scotty Landes, Taylor maintains a good balance between genuine pathos and macabre comedy, and he gets strong performances out of the youngsters, especially Diana Silvers as the good-girl heroine. There are amusing turns by vets like Juliette Lewis, Luke Evans and Missi Pyle, among others.

The violence doesn't really start until the last quarter or so of the movie, but once it does, Ma turns into a wild melodramatic bloodbath. This gory homestretch is entertaining enough, in a twisted sort of way--it even includes a gruesome outrage that Lionel Atwill committed in Murders in the Zoo back in pre-code 1933. This lurid stuff probably lessens the impact of the subtle, uneasy chills that precedes it, but not enough to dismiss the commanding potency of Spencer's performance. Be forewarned, however: Ma isn't a very comforting movie for parents of teenagers.