Sixkill – Robert B. Parker – last, but definitely not best

Sixkill by Robert B. Parker

 

pic1


 

(1.5/5)


Pros: last of an era

Cons: dull story – the “case” is a total dud!

Sixkill is the 39th book in Robert Parker’s Spencer series.  Sadly, it’s last book penned by Parker, himself.  Parker passed away after this book came out.  And while the Spencer series lives on through other authors, Sixkill is that last true Parker/Spencer adventure.


Too bad last doesn’t equate to great, in this instance.

In terms of his personal life, Spencer is definitely settled down with Susan.  And while that’s lovely for him, it’s dull for me.  Especially since the two of them have the most bland discussions I’ve ever heard two people have.  “You know I would walk into a fire to save you, right”.  “Yes, I know that.  And I, you”.   That’s nice, really, but that sentiment repeated over and over throughout the book just gets tedious.

In terms of the case, this one is a real dud.  It seems there’s this big movie star named Jumbo.  Big in both senses of the word.  He takes a girl to his hotel room, and she ends up dead.  How?  We really have no idea.  There were only two people in that room that night.  One is saying he has no idea how it happened – he was in the bathroom at the time, and she must have simply “expired”.  And the other one, well she’s not going to be talking ever again.


The media is making a huge to-do over this.  Calling Jumbo a rapist and murderer.  Do they know something the rest of the world doesn’t?  No, of course not.  But it sells more newspapers if you use those ugly terms.  The public is up in arms, too.  They want Jumbo’s head on a platter for what he did.  And, yet, no one can really say what happened that night.

Spencer is on the case, but there’s really not a whole lot to “investigate”.  The ME’s report is inconclusive, and there’s no evidence, one way or another.  What’s he to do?

Well, in this book, he doesn’t do a whole lot.  He befriends a man named Sixkill and teaches him the ways of the world.  He has inane conversations with Susan, and eventually, the book ends.


Like I said, dull.

There are far better Parker novels out there.  Read any of them, but skip this one.

 

Two highly suspect (Polish) pasts

“Ida,” Oscar-winning best foreign-language filmida


[Rating: 2.3/5]

Pros: cinematography, saxophonist

Cons: lack of character development even with startling revelation about title character’s past

I had not heard of the movie “Ida” before it received the Academy Award for best foreign-language film (which should have gone to “Timbuktu”). If I’d known that it was another confrontation with the holocaust, I’d have been less surprised by the Academy choice… and perhaps somewhat less critical of the short, somewhat opaque, black-and-white, 1.37:1-aspect movie that is now streaming on Netflix. I guess that writer-director Pawel Pawlikowski, who studied at Oxford was hailed for the thriller “The Woman on the Fifth Floor,” which starred Ethan Hawke and Kristin Scott-Thomas, but I have seen neither it nor his documentaries for British tv.

 

Anna (Agata Trzebuchowska) is an orphan/novitiate aged 17 or 18 who is scheduled to take final vows as a nun in a small Polish convent. The mother superior orders her to visit her only living relative, Wanda (Agata Kulesza) an alcoholic former prosecutor for the communist government since having been part of the underground resistance to the Nazis. The time is not specified, but must be the late-1950s (or very early 1960s).

ida2

Wanda informs her niece that she is a Jew, whose parents named her Ida Lebenstein. The two women go to the farm where the Lebensteins (including Wanda’s young son) were sheltered… until they weren’t. The confrontation with the members of the family that are still on the farm than belonged to the Lebensteins are fraught, and there is a bland romantic encounter with a saxophonist whom Wanda picked up hitchhiking (personable Dawid Ogrodnik), but Wanda’s motivations (past and present) remain pretty enigmatic, and I have no idea what Anna/Ida thinks about anything she learns or does. That is Trzebuchowska is pretty but blank-faced. Lack of previous acting experience is not always a positive thing!

The bleak interiors and exteriors were artfully shot by Łukasz Żał. The lack of specificity about when the events are supposedly occurring is matched by opaqueness of motivations for both of the women on a road trip to the past of Polish/Roman Catholic complicity with Nazi genocide.

 

BIKINI SPRING BREAK Delivers Plenty of T&A, But Is No Fun Whatsoever

BIKINI SPRING BREAK

(1/5)

Pros: Attractive female eye candy along with lots and lots of bare breasts

Cons: That’s literally all the film has going for it.

While primarily known for their horror and sci-fi films (Sharknado 1 and 2 and Mega Shark Versus Giant Octopus among them) and so-called “mockbusters” which are patterned after major-release Hollywood films, in recent years production company The Asylum has branched out into making teen sex comedies, and why not. Considering the minimal amounts of creativity and talent (to say nothing of money) that goes into the typical Asylum film, this genre seems a good bet for them – after all, technical quality and acting ability don’t much matter in the standard sex comedy so long as a maximum amount of skin and rowdiness is put on display. Which leads to 2012’s Bikini Spring Break, as terrible a movie as could be imaginable. The film follows the world’s smallest and most moronic community college marching band (all five members of it) as they attempt to make their way cross-country to attend a national competition. Upon reaching Florida, the band’s bus breaks down, forcing the downright idiotic five women traveling in it to come up with some rather outlandish ideas of how to raise money to make sure they arrive at the competition on time…most of which revolve around taking off their shirts.

wanna see
Wanna see any of these women topless? If so, you’re in luck.

A made-for-video production apparently written and directed by a gang of horny fourteen-year-olds (actual guilty parties: writer/director Jared Cohn and co-writer Naomi L. Selfman) and tailor-made for late-night cable airings, Bikini Spring Break takes a minor story detail from the American Pie series (“…one time, at band camp…”) and turns it into a puerile mess of a film that heaps on the cliches and rowdiness but can’t for even a second be described as entertaining. OK, I’m lying – I may have chuckled twice, but by most any standard, this script is just jaw-dropping and populated by one of the worst gatherings of characters I’ve ever seen in a film that saw any kind of release. Frankly, I’m astonished that anyone would agree to star in this bomb: the five young women at the center of the picture are (literally) fleshed out as stereotypical bimbos completely oblivious to anything happening around them. Their sole purpose in the film is to periodically disrobe for a series of completely gratuitous – and fetishistically-photographed – scenes complimented by a soundtrack of lousy alternative rock.


What would a sex comedy be without a locker room scene? Probably a better movie.

Events such as a Jell-o wrestling match, bikini car wash, mechanical bull-ride, and wet T-shirt contest are photographed in slow-motion, with the camera pointed almost exclusively on the frequently bouncing breasts of any females in sight, thus providing any teenage boys in the audience with exactly what they’d want to see. It doesn’t speak well for anyone involved in this production however – Bikini Spring Break is about the most immature film one could ever hope to see, having precisely no connection with reality or – imagine this – good taste. As if the scenario itself isn’t bad enough (and let’s be clear, this film has plot holes that could swallow the galaxy), Cohn and Selfman’s script is loaded with soul-crushingly awful dialogue and unnecessary profanity. The constant bickering between the main characters, overbearing hysterics, “hip” exclamations (“FML” and “OMG” prove these writers are on top of modern culture), and supposed humor (the main running gag deals with one girl’s poorly-endowed boyfriend who’s belittled as being gay at every opportunity) quickly become tiresome, leaving a viewer with little to sustain interest.


No one can get between Zoe and “Charlie the Euphonium.”

It’s pretty sad to see Robert Carradine (best known for his role in Revenge of the Nerds) reduced to acting in this film to collect a paycheck. Sleepwalking through the role of the band director, Carradine’s line delivery is atrocious and he seems wholly uninterested in the proceedings. Sorry to say, the females in the film (Rachel Alice playing the perpetually oblivious Alice, Virginia Petrucci as the clumsy Zoe, Samantha Stewart as the “leader” of the group, Jamie Noel and Erin O’Brien as the pair of relatively minor characters whose main job it is to complain about anything and everything, and Erika Duke as an obnoxiously cheerful girl trying to “ban” spring break) are probably worse. To be honest, I’d almost have to say that some of these folks have potential as actresses if they were given proper roles, but Bikini Spring Break is hardly flattering in its portrayal of their characters. This almost seems like a film it’d be difficult to move on from in terms of developing an acting career, which is perhaps the most unfortunate thing about it.


Oh look – a wet T-shirt contest.  Unfunny to the point of being painful to watch, no one over the age of fifteen would have any interest in this film.

The one and only saving grace in this film is that it features topless nude scenes from a variety of generally attractive actresses. Every one of the main female characters gets naked at some point, and the camera lingers over their bare bods for minutes at a time. If a viewer enters this film for the sole purpose of attaining some masturbatory material, Bikini Spring Break won’t disappoint, but anyone expecting any kind of decent movie should find something better to do than waste 87 minutes on this P.o.S. It’s shocking that something this reprehensible and pervasively, mind-numbingly dumb would be produced in the first place, and while this film satisfies on a certain, purely lascivious level, it’s not fun at all.

There’s simply gotta be a better use of a potential viewer’s time out there. The seedy side of the internet, for one.

doh!


No extras on the widescreen DVD from Asylum Home Entertainment.

bobby
0/10 : It’s harmless sure, but I’m not sure I’d call this fun.


7/10 : Plenty of profanity thrown in for no reason whatsoever.


9/10 : Mesmerized by bare titties? If so, this is the movie for you.


3/10 : Even the copious nudity can’t do much to improve this pathetic excuse for a movie.


“…So this camera could change our lives forever? Do you want me to attach it to my euphonium?”

Trailer: (Warning! Not suitable for intellectuals)

Pointless is More Like It: Pink Floyd’s THE ENDLESS RIVER

THE ENDLESS RIVER by Pink Floyd

(2/5)

Pros: Definitely sounds like Pink Floyd; a pleasant enough listen

Cons: A far,far cry from the group’s best recordings

After forming in mid ‘60s, legendary and hugely influential British rock group Pink Floyd really hit their stride just after the true “psychedelic era,” producing some of the most well-known and iconic albums of the ‘70s and indeed all time – 1973’s Dark Side of the Moon, 1975’s Wish You Were Here and 1979’s The Wall among them. By the mid ‘80s however, tensions between bandmates David Gilmour and Roger Waters had escalated to the breaking point, and Waters left to pursue other projects. This effectively ended Pink Floyd’s reign at the top of the rock and roll food chain, but singer/multi-instrumentalist Gilmour, keyboardist Richard Wright, and drummer Nick Mason carried on nevertheless. As might be expected, 1987’s A Momentary Lapse of Reason and 1994’s The Division Bell presented a group that was a mere shadow of its former self, and 2014’s The Endless River, fifteenth and supposedly final album from the group, continues much in that same trend.

Pink Floyd
The band’s original five-member lineup.

Made up of material recorded mostly during the sessions for The Division Bell, The Endless River plays like exactly what it is: a collection of outtakes. It starts out well enough, with a piece in “Things Left Unsaid” that creates a bright, glowing ambiance through its use of fluttering background tones and a trumpeting keyboard melody. This opener leads nicely into (the appropriately-named) second track “It’s What We Do” which replicates the spaciness of older Floyd material and eventually unleashes a driving guitar solo. Accompanied by a super-smooth bass, relaxed drumming and resonant keyboard, the soaring, triumphant guitar work makes this a track that recalls Floyd’s trademark songs from the 1970s. Unfortunately, after initially convincing a listener he might be in for something special, The Endless River loses it way, meandering through a series of inconsistent, purely atmospheric tracks that are nothing if not unremarkable.

tumultuous
The tumultuous relationship between David Gilmour (left) and Roger Waters ultimately led to Waters leaving the group…and Gilmour embarking on a series of less-than-stellar Pink Floyd recordings.

Even if the more substantial “Sum” reprises the commanding guitar rock heard in “It’s What We Do,” there’s not much to latch onto in tracks like “Skins,” “Unsung,” and “Anisina,” the last of which, with its Kenny G sax solo, would almost be genuinely cheesy if not for its ethereal mood and use of transcendent vocal choir. “The Lost Art of Conversation” and “Night Light” abandon that more grandiose sound palette however and head right back into more ponderous (and frankly, dull) sonic territory, while the generic soft rock of “On Noodle Street” is downright embarrassing coming from a band that’s perhaps rightfully regarded as one of the greatest of all time.

2014
Later-era Pink Floyd – left to right, Wright, Gilmour, Mason.

The louder “Allons-Y” parts one and two seem like unused interludes from The Wall and may be the only tracks during the album’s middle stretch which break up the monotony. They also just might interrupt the snooze a listener very well may be engaging in by this point in time. Meanwhile, as much as Wright’s droning organ work in “Autumn ‘68” is impressive, the track is as fleeting and forgettable as most of the others here, and Talkin’ Hawkin’” uses the same gimmick as Division Bell’s “Keep Talking,” sampling physicist Stephen Hawking’s computerized voice as used in a British commercial. As things wind down, “Calling,” “Eyes to Pearls” and “Surfacing” act as an extended introduction to album finale “Louder than Words,” the only track to feature conventional vocals and lyrics. After waiting for the entirety of the record to hear a more song-like track, this last number is a definitive let-down. Essentially a facsimile of older material, this closer (and the album in general) suggests that a burnt-out Gilmour is all-too-willing to milk the Floyd name and formula to put a couple more dollars in the coffers.

ambient

In the end, the fact that a listener would have heard most everything heard here on previous Pink Floyd albums is actually not the worst aspect of The Endless River: it’s the fact that Gilmour applies so little creativity and imagination to the established song formulas that’s downright depressing. This mostly pointless, largely inconsequential album may as well have been produced by a random artist a listener stumbled across on the internet – slapping the Pink Floyd name on something so completely ordinary and uninspired is perplexing and most unfortunate given the band’s reputation and legacy.  It’s never a good sign when something like happens.

fail

Though I liked the fact that the eighteen tracks here seem like one flowing, continuous composition, there’s simply no overlooking the fact that most every listener would be underwhelmed or maybe outright disappointed by The Endless River – it may be satisfying as ambient music, but no one expects a Pink Floyd album to sound like anything even remotely resembling elevator music. Though it’s easy to pick out parts that capture the flavor and sound of vintage and indeed classic Floyd, in between those highlights, the record farts around through a tiresome batch of instrumental tracks that simply aren’t very compelling. Despite the fact that I toyed with the idea of handing Endless River a one star rating, it’s far from being the worst thing I’ve ever heard. Still, this is a final chapter in a legendary career that probably shouldn’t have been included in the first place.

Sample:

Captain Lawrence Frost Monster – a warm Imperial for these frosty and chilly days.

Captain Lawrence Frost Monster

Price: N/A

(4/5)

Pros: Full bodied stout with a wonderful taste

Cons: Aroma not exactly to my liking, better stouts out there

Captain Lawrence Brewing Company from NY delivers a pretty good Imperial Stout calling it Frost Monster, which indeed grabbed my attention for these terribly cold winter days. I had a feeling this dark beauty would hit the spot for the right warmness and it did exactly that.

Frost Monster pours into a very dark coffee body with a thick and tanned head. It’s very smooth and full with a soft carbonation; there is really good retention and the lace hangs around for the entire drink. The roasted aroma is probably the only real weakness for me, because it never really attracted me. It’s quite average to say the least, but the taste makes up for this in a good enough way.  There’s a pretty good hoppy bitterness: nice black grains, brown sugar, roasted malts, dark chocolate and definitely traces of licorice. The mouth feel really isn’t that special when compared to others yet I really like this stout though. Despite the 12% ABV that does deliver a nice warmness that I highly enjoy; the alcohol bite doesn’t feel strong but it balances out the drink wonderfully.

Perhaps there’s a chance that I’m under rating this beer. It’s quite complex for the most part with the heavy alcohol count being overshadowed by its full, roasted malty body; but I simply can’t ignore that I had better drinks such as Founders Breakfast Stout for example. In any case, I definitely recommend this to stout lovers, especially during these cold winter days here in NY. The beer comes in a four pack and it’s quite pricey at around 14 dollars. For the most part it’s money well spent and I would buy this again.

 

Decoding Satellite Imagery on Science Channel’s WHAT ON EARTH?

WHAT ON EARTH? on Science Channel

(3.5/5)

Pros: More science and evidence than is common for this type of speculative documentary; fine presentation

Cons: Recycling of topics from other shows; no real answers provided

Filling the void left when shows such as America Declassified (which hasn’t returned following its first season in 2013-14) and The Unexplained Files aren’t delivering new episodes, Science Channel’s new series What on Earth? (which premiered on February 10, 2015) continues to explore the realms of the unknown. Though it traverses much the same realm of conjecture as History Channel’s trendsetting Ancient Aliens, What on Earth? would seem to have significantly more credibility than the typical program of this nature. In recent times, a large number of surveillance and observation satellites have been launched into orbit, many of which have the goal of surveying and mapping areas of the globe which previously had been largely undocumented. During the course of this survey process, various anomalies of one sort or another have been uncovered and photographed and What on Earth? focuses its attention on these frequently strange but indisputably authentic images in an attempt to promote thought about what they actually are depicting.

ruins of El Dorado?
Could these ruins, revealed from space, be the remnants of the legendary ?

Set up like the typical television documentary, this program features a familiar mixture of archival footage, an inquisitive, omnipresent narration (provided by Steven Kearney), expert analysis from a veritable “who’s who” of persons who regularly appear in these sorts of programs, and actual evidence and documentation; in this case, the satellite images themselves. The straight-forward presentation of this “hard evidence” is easily the show’s main draw, and there’s no denying that the topics discussed during this program (which are examined on both a macroscopic and microscopic level) would be fascinating for those interested in science and the world around them. The show’s debut episode featured a variety of stories, covering topics ranging from the so-called “band of Holes” which snakes through the Peruvian Andes to an image which seems to show a humongous tsunami heading towards Hong Kong. Also discussed is an extremely shadowy submarine base in China, a huge Florida sinkhole which contains several-thousand-year-old human and animal remains, and a lake in Iraq that appeared blood red when photographed from space. As is about the norm in programming like this, What on Earth? doesn’t so much try and explain everything, or indeed, anything. Instead, the goal seems to be to make a viewer aware of some interesting phenomena and various hypotheses surrounding them so that he can do some additional research on his own if desired.


, off the coast of Australia, as seen from Google Earth’s satellite. Strange thing is, shortly after this photo appeared, the island, originally documented by Captain Cook, vanished completely.

While this show’s level-headed presentation may be its best characteristic, I also really like the fact that What on Earth? doesn’t draw things out to a ridiculous level. A significant problem in shows like UFO Conspiracies, The Unexplained Files, and even Dark Matters: Twisted but True is that individual segments are stretched out to the point that each episode only features the examination of two or three separate topics. What on Earth? only devotes about ten minutes of screen time to each subject it discusses, so the program is able to cover significantly more topics per episode. I’m a fan of this approach since, at a certain point, there’s really nothing more to be said about any single thing. I’d rather a show of this nature move on and cover something else than beat a dead horse for a half hour just to satisfy time requirements or an established format.

USS THRESHER
One of the strange, obscure stories that popped up in the series’ first episode was the tale of the , which sank under mysterious circumstances in 1963.

On the downside, it seems like this is another program on an educational channel that’s recycling topics that have been discussed previously elsewhere. In relation to this debut episode, the “Band of Holes” had been covered previously (several times) on Ancient Aliens and the topic of so-called “red rain” had been the subject of an episode of The Unexplained Files. This repetition of material is somewhat frustrating: considering that I believe that the same audience would be interested in most if not all programs dealing with these sorts of unknown phenomena, since nothing significant is added to the discussion here, it seems mostly pointless that What on Earth? would cover the same topics as have been dealt with in other shows. You’d think (especially given that a new “unsolved mystery” type program seems to pop up every other week anymore) that these programs would want to stick out from the crowd and have some element of distinction to them, but I guess the producers are more content to stick to tried and true subject matter. If it works for Hollywood….


What would a speculative documentary be without some good conspiracy theory to mix things up?

All in all, What on Earth? does exactly what it sets out to do I suppose, a well-executed television documentary that remains compelling even if it does seem to talk about the same sorts of things as any number of vaguely similar shows. My favorite aspect of shows like this are the esoteric anecdotes that one inevitably gets while watching, and this new Science Channel series certainly provides a few of them per episode. In my opinion, What on Earth? doesn’t think far enough outside the box to be truly outstanding, but there’s more than enough food for thought here to please viewers who would watch a show like this in the first place. The fact that the program is based on actual evidence is a definite plus, and I’d urge interested parties to check it out if they get a chance.

many evidence

THE KILLERS ARE COMING! PROM NIGHT

PROM NIGHT

image-placeholder

(2.5/5)

Pros: Film has its moments…along with plenty of  DISCO MADNESS!

Cons: The horror movie tricks and treats are a long time coming

Made in Canada and released in 1980, just a few months after the original Friday the 13th, Prom Night is yet another horror flick based around a date or prominent event. While playing a tag-like game in an abandoned building, a young girl named Robin Hammond is accidentally forced from a second story window and falls to her death. The four children who witnessed the accident immediately take an oath of secrecy to hide their involvement, police pick up a convicted sex offender they believe is responsible, and the incident is all but forgotten…or is it? Six years later, as the date of their high school prom approaches, the now-teenaged kids involved in Robin’s death are being harassed by an unknown stalker. Could it be that the “disfigured, schizophrenic psychotic” who was convicted of the crime, sent to a nearby asylum, and recently escaped has come back to clear his name? Has the super skeezy school janitor finally lost his marbles and become a pervert murderer? Or is there someone else out there who wants to avenge the young girl’s death?

who could it be?
Who could this ax-wielding maniac be?

Considering the familiarity of the material, it’s somewhat inexplicable that Prom Night has achieved and maintained a substantial amount of popularity since its production. Written by William Gray from a story by Robert Guza, Jr., this film includes virtually every slasher film cliché imaginable. When Gray’s script introduces a character who, much like Halloween’s Dr. Sam Loomis, has a vested interest in the escaped mental patient or a Carrie-like revenge plot that’s ready to play out at the prom, it’s pretty clear that not a whole lot of genuine inspiration or creativity went into this thing. Try as he might, director Paul Lynch can’t do much to add vitality to an excruciatingly talky script that devotes way too much time to pointless and inconsequential character development. To make matters worse, Gray’s choppy script can’t even stay focused long enough to build any single character up as being entirely relatable or even remotely interesting.

lots of drama
A viewer will be in for a lot of typical high school drama in getting to the film’s “big payoff” moments.

By far the worst of the issues is that Prom Night delivers nary a single moment of legitimate action or suspense for more than two-thirds of it run time. A viewer of this film has to sit through an hour of buildup before there’s any serious threat of murder and even once the kill scenes are primed, set, and ready, Lynch interrupts the action for an extended disco dancing routine. Hell, the entire last thirty minutes of this picture pulsates to the beat of a never-ending string of faux-disco hits (made exclusively for the film by composer Paul Zaza), which can either be viewed as a good or a bad thing depending on one’s tolerance for bad music. It also should be pointed out that while most other slashers of the early ‘80s went the “bigger is better” route and featured body counts in the double digits, the number of kills in Prom Night can be counted on one hand.

yes that's leslie
Yes, that’s Leslie Nielsen of Airplane! fame doing the hustle.

It’s a good thing then that director Lynch makes sure that at least some of the murders here are memorable: a slow-motion throat slashing in which Robert C. New’s camera focuses not on the gaping wound and pumping blood, but rather the distressed eyes of the victim is actually very effective at conveying the horror of the situation. Another rather brutal sequence finds a young woman being stabbed repeatedly in the chest and throat after her sex games are interrupted (remember kids – have sex and you die!). Other than these two moments however, Prom Night plays by the book and is relatively bland, delivering an extended scene in which an ax-wielding prowler chases down a hysterical teen and a decapitation that may as well have been pulled straight out of Friday the 13th. Oh, and there’s also a vehicle somersaulting down a cliff and exploding. Can’t forget that. Gore effects are adequately done but fleeting, and the element of the film that may be the most shocking is the sheer number of boom mics clearly visible in the final cut. I counted at least six instances in the first twenty minutes or so where this occurs and there seems to have been almost no effort made to correct this problem – the mic just sits onscreen for minutes at a time. Frankly, this is completely inexcusable and points to the amateurish nature of this production as a whole.

rutrow
Rutrow!: post-coital activity of an unfortunate variety.

Jamie Lee Curtis stars as the film’s main character Kim Hammond, the most popular girl in the school and Robin’s older sister. This was Curtis’ third horror role (following Halloween and The Fog, both made for director John Carpenter), and she’s believable enough as a hot to trot teenager getting ready for her prom date with boyfriend Nick (played by Casey Stevens), who’s one of the kids semi-responsible for Robin’s death. Par for the course in these sorts of films, these lead actors do all right when they’re tearing it up on the dance floor, but can’t for the life of them inject any sort of emotionality into the more dramatic moments. Particularly strained and laughable is a scene in which Nick comes close to telling Kim the whole story about her sister’s death – watch as Stevens contorts his face to convey his “inner torment!.” Leslie Nielsen meanwhile walks the straight and narrow for a change as the school principal and Kim’s father, Michael Tough plays Kim’s brother, and Mary Beth Rubens, Eddie Benton, and Joy Thompson are the promiscuous girls and obvious murder victims. I’ve got to give credit to David Mucci (playing the school’s chain-smoking tough guy), Sheldon Rybowski (as a would-be ladies man named “Slick” who tools around picking up women in his van), and Robert A. Silverman (the hilariously stereotypical pervert janitor) for making the most of their goofy minor roles: it’s them and not the leads who ultimately add a sense of fun to the proceedings.


I bet there, bud. I bet.

Even if it’d be easy to trash director Lynch’s handling of this film, he does manage to create a few standout moments. I liked the way in which a handful of rather ambiguous flashback sequences tell the story of how Robin’s death was pinned on a sex offender with no connection to the case. It would have been easy to spell this out for the viewer but instead, Lynch and Grey insist that the viewer put the pieces together for himself, which is commendable: I’m always a fan of making the viewer use his brain. Additionally, scenes in which the raspy-voiced killer phones and threatens his intended victims have a definite creepiness about them, especially due to their use of a jagged editing scheme, and the lengthy aforementioned “DISCO MADNESS” scene boasts nice choreography and photography (seems someone watched Saturday Night Fever a time or three). Sad to say, I’d almost be more comfortable with calling this dance sequence the true climax of the film since Prom Night is a definite letdown in the horror department. Despite its many problems and shortcomings however, similar to a film like Sleepaway Camp, I think most horror fans would want to see Prom Night just to say that they did. It’s not a perfect film by a longshot, but I’d give it a slight recommendation.

ARGGGH!


Special edition Blu-ray from the always reliable Synapse Films includes a commentary track with director Lynch and screenwriter Gray, a 25-minute making-of featurette, nine minutes of additional scenes (added for TV broadcast) and outtakes, as well as a still gallery and collection of trailers. The film is presented in an outstanding anamorphic widescreen version with optional English subtitles – a top-notch home video package. I should also point out that viewers should avoid the Alliance Atlantis print of the film (which occasionally pops up on cable) at all costs – the print is so dark as to be almost unintelligible.


4/10 : Slow-going for most of its run-time, then releases a handful of fairly low-key but decent kill scenes in its last half hour. Moderate gore, including a decapitation by ax.  Minor drug content.


3/10 : I noticed one f-bomb, but these teens keep it mostly clean.


3/10 : A pair of sex scenes with just a hint of topless nudity.


6/10 : Has its admirers for sure, though for my money, there are much better ’80s horror flicks out there.


“Lieutenant, you’re asking me to comment on a catatonic schizophrenic who was disfigured and institutionalized six years ago.”

Trailer:

The Stranger You Seek – Amanda Kyle Williams gives us something different

The Stranger You Seek by Amanda Kyle Williams

pic1

 

(3/5)

Pros: a few things that make this book different from the rest

Cons: the ending was not the best

I read a whole lot of thrillers.  And I frequently complain about how they all start to sound alike after a while.  How I long for something “different” within the genre.  Well, I have to say that The Stranger You Seek by Amanda Kyle Williams does bring some new items to the table.  That’s not to say that I loved the book.  In the end, it was just “ok”.  But, still, I have to give credit where it’s due, for having the guts to take some different turns.

It’s your basic “serial killer has town in fear” story.  In this case, men and women are turning up dead, in some cases, horribly beaten.  And in all cases, left in humiliating poses.  The police haven’t a clue.  Literally.

They ask Keye Street to help.  She’s an ex-officer – lost her job due to alcoholism a few years back.  But she’s still the best profiler around, so they call on her when they need her.  Despite the fact that this case triggers her emotionally, she sticks with it, even when the hunter becomes the hunted.

So – I said this book was “different”.  Let me give some reasons why.  First of all we have a very flawed main character with a complicated past that still haunts her to this day, affecting every aspect of her life.

There’s another character in the story who sustained a traumatic brain injury, completely altering his personality… I found this character to be fascinating.

Our killer enjoys blogging, on a knife-fantasy site.  This type of site is definitely a new one, for me.  And while the writings are graphic (as is the level of violence in this book) I still found it a fascinating glimpse into something that was certainly different, for me.

Keye’s other job – when she’s not helping the police – leads her to a variety of “interesting” folks, some of which added some nice humor to the story.

So, yes, The Stranger You Seek has some nice qualities to it, some things that make it just a bit different from the norm.  But a story still needs to be exciting, and the ending needs to be satisfying.  And this is where the book fails.  The ending was horrid.  I’m all for twists and surprises, but not ones that make absolutely no sense.  And, worse, leave a whole bunch of unanswered questions.

So, in the end, The Stranger You Seek is just an “ok” thriller.  Some good points, some bad points.  Read it, but don’t look for that awesome ending.

Another Winning Soundtrack from Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross: GONE GIRL OST

GONE GIRL: SOUNDTRACK FROM THE MOTION PICTURE by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross

(4/5)

Pros: Works extremely well as an atmospheric dark ambient album

Cons: Overlong – the final handful of tracks here are forgettable

Though it’s perhaps one of the most polarizing projects in the repertoire of Trent Reznor, the 2008 release Ghosts I-IV (from Reznor’s main musical project Nine Inch Nails) is likely to be regarded as one of the most important of his career. By the late 2000s, I had all but lost interest in NiN, a band whose earlier albums up to and including 1999’s The Fragile I had enjoyed immensely. Reznor seemed to hit a bit of a creative brick wall on 2005’s With Teeth, and even subsequent album Year Zero didn’t do much to restore my faith in the artist’s ability. It almost seemed to me around this time that Nine Inch Nails, a band I had once regarded as primarily being a studio group due to Reznor’s production brilliance, became more for me a band that put on a good live show. Ghosts went in a completely different direction from what NiN had previously been about however, and revitalized the project as far as I’m concerned.

ghosts
This Ghosts artwork seems appropriate considering how the album sounds.

While Reznor frequently dabbled with instrumental work on his previous releases (I might even be inclined to label a few of his vocal-less tracks as some of his best), Ghosts was a true behemoth: a double album of dark ambient music which led directly to working with collaborator Atticus Ross on a series of film scores for director David Fincher. For my money, the soundtracks Reznor and Ross produced for 2010’s The Social Network and 2011’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo were some of the best material that Reznor had worked on in years – much more exciting than anything his How to Destroy Angels side project was doing, and better than the music heard on 2013’s uneven Hesitation Marks, his “return” album as Nine Inch Nails.

gone girl poster

The latest Reznor/Ross soundtrack collaboration was produced for the 2014 film Gone Girl, an unsettling drama which follows a man’s life after his wife disappears, and the collective musical sensibilities and talents of the composers seem a good match for this type of material. Reznor, after all, had been dealing with themes of loss, frustration, and despair for years in his work as Nine Inch Nails, and Ross had been in the studio for the last several of those albums prior to the soundtrack collaborations. While I was prepared for the underlying sense of tension and mystery that pervades and indeed pulses throughout the Gone Girl soundtrack, I was a little surprised by the fact that the less downright bleak tracks here fall in line nicely with the minimalistic ambient music that Brian Eno had pioneered in the early 1970s and Aphex Twin had made in the early ‘90s as part of his Selected Ambient Works series. In the end, the Reznor/Ross soundtrack is not only impressive as a compliment to the motion picture it came from, but a satisfying album of music in its own right.

Reznor and Ross at work
Reznor (left) and Ross at work in the studio.

Strictly instrumental, the Gone Girl soundtrack features two dozen tracks. The majority of these fall in the two to four minute range: brief musical passages presumably designed to accompany specific scenes in the film. If there’s one thing I could say about the album it’s that the majority of tracks here are rather incidental and seem to revolve around a single theme or motif. That’s not necessarily a bad thing; in fact it’s precisely what one would expect from a film soundtrack. Film music is most often designed to inconspicuously create mood or atmosphere, but the downside to this (as might be expected) is that the Gone Girl soundtrack only contains a handful of tracks that I would categorize as being more “complete” pieces of music. One such piece is “Technically Missing,” a driving track around the album’s halfway point which may as well have been an instrumental outtake from a NiN album. Other than this, it seems that the album alternates between shorter tracks that are comparatively more or less obviously dark in terms of their sound.

gloomy

A gloomy mood is established right off the bat in album opener “What Have We Done To Each Other?,” a piece which throbs under an unsettling choir of airy high-pitched tones and fleeting melody. The track escapes it new agey trappings however by sounding very rich, with a lonely trumpet occasionally sounding out under the louder background ambiance. Reznor has claimed that one of the goals of this album was to create a sense of discontent in tracks that were generally pleasant, and he certainly achieves this on second track “Sugar Storm,” in which bright, fluffy keyboard melodies are joined with jarring sound effects and sunny but slightly ominous background chords. A more haunting keyboard part takes center stage in “Empty Places,” in which the solitary melody is accompanied by quietly tinkling bells and a throbbing bass, “With Suspicion” eventually builds to a loud and crackly climax that recalls vintage NiN recordings, and fifth track “Just Like You” is a serene piano-based number that may be one of the most genuinely beautiful and upbeat tracks here.

dark

With heartbeat-like rhythms pushing them forward, “Clue One” and “Two” are perhaps the most sinister offerings, mostly because there’s a sense of inevitability to them that suggests they’re leading a listener towards something truly unfortunate and maybe even horrible . A more calming pair of tracks in piano number “Background Noise” and synth-driven “Procedural” is followed-up by one in “Something Disposable” that jangles the listener’s nerves with its almost Indian-sounding melody and seemingly random noise accents. “The Way He Looks at Me” and “Perpetual” exist as noisy experiments that utilize a rather familiar Reznor sound palette, and the album concludes with the eerily peaceful “At Risk.”

Reznor and Ross
Though the partnership between Reznor and Ross has been successful thus far,  I’m most interested to see what happens if they branch out a bit in the future.

Honestly, the only significant problem I had with this release was that down the stretch, the Gone Girl soundtrack loses steam. Part of this may simply be due to the fact that it’s a fairly long album at nearly an hour and a half in length, and requires some patience and stamina on the part of the listener. Still, the inclusion of several reprise tracks doesn’t help matters at all and actually makes the album’s last quarter mostly insignificant and unremarkable. That said, the music of Reznor and Ross positively succeeds at creating a sense of unease and maybe even dread in its listener. It’s worth bearing in mind that it isn’t a genuine Nine Inch Nails album and shouldn’t really be approached as such: those whose tastes tend to fall in line with more pop-oriented material might just be bored to tears by this. As an dark ambient work however, Gone Girl’s soundtrack is by and large outstanding: one of my favorites of 2014 and something I’d have no problem recommending.

Sample:

Excruciating story of poverty early in the Pax Tokugawa

Miike’s remake in color of “Harakiri”

hara-kiri

(3/5)

Pros: actors

Cons: trying to improve on a perfect movie

I think that Mike Takashi’s 3-D color 2011 “Hara-Kiri” is a pointless remake of Kobayashi Masaki’s very great (1962 b&w) version of Takiguchi Yasuhiko’s novel Ibun rônin-ki. I was surprised that it was shorter than the original (128:133 minutes). Both have prolonged scenes of immobile samurai talking, before the final explosion of violence. I thought that Eita was excellent as Motome, the son-in-law raised by Hanshirô (Ichikawa Ebizô, who is good, but not as coiled or as charismatic as Nakadai Tatsuya in Kobayashi’s version). (Ishihama Akira was also very impressive as the gentle teacher, a samurai who had no experience of battle.)

The basic story is excruciating, but IMO Kobayashi’s movie did not seem also to be excruciatingly, boringly slow. In Kobayashi’s version, Hanshirô is shot after the retainers cannot handle him, and the shogun praises the House of Li for its handling of the ronin suicides. Kobayashi aimed to show the hollowness of the “code of honor,” about which Miike seems more equivocal, though certainly he also shows the suffering of the former warrior elite with the coming of peace (the pax Togukawa that began a decade before the farthest reach of flashbacks in the movie, though there are allusions to Hanshirô fighting in the decisive 1600 Battle of Sekigahara).

Hara-kiri2Sakamoto’ Ryuichi provided a strong musical score (as is his wont; Kobayashi had the services of Takemitsu Toru). And Kita Nobuyasu’s cinematography is as good as for Miike’s previous movie, the 2010 “13 Assassins” (Jûsan-nin no shikaku).

Both versions are harrowing (as was the “Human Conditions” trilogy with Nakadai directed by Kobayahsi). I prefer“Samurai Rebellion” (“Jôi-uchi: Hairyô tsuma shimatsu”, 1967), in which Kobayashi directed Nakadai and Mifune Toshiro in an adaptation of another novel by  Takiguchi Yasuhiko (and with one of Takemitsu’s best movie scores).