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Aug 30 19

World Fantasy Convention 2019 will take place in Los Angeles, California from October 31st to November 3rd.

It is being hosted by the Southern California Institute for Fan Interests (SCIFI), Inc., a non-profit corporation that was established for the promotion and conduct of conferences, conventions and congresses relating to the fields of Science Fiction and Fantasy.

2019’s venue will be the Marriott Los Angeles Airport Hotel – only a block east of LAX. Programming’s central theme will be Fantasy Noir, but will also cover a wide variety of sub-genres.

Special guests include Tad Williams and Reiko Murakami, along with several others. Artists who wish to display and sell their work in the art show must be approved by a jury. The Dealer’s Room will be devoted almost entirely to books and art.

The World Fantasy Awards for works published in 2018 will also be presented during the convention.

Click here to learn more details and to register.


Jul 31 19

Debuting in 2014, this Louisville-based convention caters to creative writers and artists and provides them with educational, professional, networking and mentoring opportunities.

In 2019, The Writer Magazine named Imaginarium the best writing conference in Kentucky and the second best convention in the southeastern USA for writers.

Imaginarium Convention welcomes authors and other creatives of all genres and levels of experience, and takes place over three days, offering 130 panels and workshops.

Besides the Imadjinn Book Fair and Expo, top talent is recognized at the juried Imadjinn Literary Awards, presented during the annual awards banquet.

Imaginarium also embraces game development and film/TV production, and the weekend event includes an independent film festival with juried awards.

Click here to see details regarding programming, special guests, and info about the host venue.


Jun 29 19

Whenever I come across a zombie movie on Netflix these days, I usually pass it by. I don’t expect to be entertained by this done-to-death genre. But then Ravenous caught my eye. This subtitled French-Canadian film (Les Affamés), written and directed by Robin Aubert, captured my attention because I could tell right away that it would be unique.

The locals of a remote village in Quebec begin to realize that something is very wrong with their friends and loved ones. A strange virus is spreading, its origin unknown. People are turning into ravenous animals that crave human flesh. But they aren’t typical shuffling zombies. They communicate by screaming (bloodcurdling, goosebump-inducing wails) and though they don’t speak, they have retained a good deal of intelligence and normal agility – they can run after their prey. And they prove to be cunning predators.

When the village is overrun, a small band of survivors – all of whom have suffered terrible losses – decide their only chance of staying alive is to travel on foot to the nearest city. Self-professed failure Bonin (Marc-André Grondin) becomes their leader. Tania (Monia Chokri) is rescued by Bonin and in turn, she rescues a young girl named Zoé (Charlotte St.-Martin) who has been orphaned. An elderly couple, Thérèse and Pauline, befriend a traumatized mother, and finally the group stumbles across a teenage boy and the injured old man he has rescued.

The odds are stacked against them. They must travel through dense forests and fog-shrouded fields while being hunted. (Those misty meadow scenes were nerve-wracking.) And what’s most unique about the zombies in this film is that they haven’t completely lost their humanity. They congregate in fields, collecting and stacking together objects that meant something to them when they were normal men and women. They almost seem to worship these “monuments.”

Philosophical moments present in conversations between characters in desperate situations and off-beat humor when you least expect it provides some respite from the suspense. Though I wouldn’t call it extreme, there are more than enough gory moments to satisfy a rabid zombie movie fan.    

In some ways, Ravenous reminds me of the Australian zombie movie Cargo, which I reviewed last year. It’s easy to connect emotionally with these characters, and their quiet reflections can make viewers think. What would you do if you knew you only had hours to live? Is surviving an apocalypse after you’ve lost everything and everyone actually worth it?

The actors are exceptional in their roles, including Charlotte St.-Martin, who plays stoic little Zoé. I feel comfortable giving Les Affamés four out of five goblins.  



BOOK REVIEW: Joe Hill’s N0S4A2

May 25 19

When Joe Hill’s N0S4A2 was first published back in the spring of 2013, I snapped it up and read it immediately. I loved the supernatural thriller so much that I wanted to do a book review, but I simply didn’t have the time to write one. Now the novel has been adapted into a TV series for AMC and will premiere on June 2nd, so I think it’s a good time to revisit the story.

Joseph Hillstrom King managed to have a writing career for ten years before people found out he was Stephen’s son. I think his style encompasses all the good characteristics of his father’s writing, without the tics and flaws that Stephen’s critics love to pounce on. In particular, Joe has a leaner writing style that doesn’t hinder his skill at creating complex, realistic characters.

N0S4A2 is his third novel, and, at around 700 pages, it’s longer than the books I usually prefer to read. But I quickly devoured it.

The story spans decades and interweaves the lives of a psychic vampire, a female “slayer,” and an innocent boy who ends up being caught in the middle of their struggle. After a brief scene set in 2008, where the villain of the tale wakes from a coma, it flashes back to 1986, detailing the dysfunctional childhood of Victoria McQueen. The young girl has mysteriously been blessed with the ability to find objects and people by riding her bike through the Shorter Way Bridge. The covered bridge leads her to the location of whoever or whatever she is looking for. However, using this gift takes a mental and physical toll on Vic.  

On one of these trips, Vic finds a new friend named Maggie, a librarian who has the gift of divination. Maggie warns her about an evil man she calls “The Wraith” – a nickname derived from the Rolls Royce she always sees him driving. His real name is Charlie Manx, and he kidnaps children to drain their life force, using his unique car to escape into a different world. His dimwitted accomplice, Bing, believes he is taking the children to a place called Christmasland, where they can live happily ever after. But their true fate is more than grim…once Manx is finished with them, they become soulless, ageless vampires who exist to do his bidding.

Seventeen-year-old Vic survives a harrowing encounter with Manx that puts him in a coma. She goes on with her life, thinking that her special childhood ability was simply a delusion. Vic writes a successful series of children’s books and indulges her passion for motorcycles by restoring them. She ends up getting married to biker Lou Carmody and they have a son together.

And then one day Charlie Manx finds a way to return – and shows up on her doorstep looking for revenge.

One wouldn’t think there would be much room for humor in a story like this, but Joe blends it in with the suspenseful horror and fantasy elements pretty flawlessly. I almost never think a book or a movie is worthy of five stars, but in my humble opinion, this novel is a fine example of masterful storytelling.

I can’t wait to see it brought to life on the small screen.


Apr 28 19

And now to conclude my Guilty Pleasures confessions, I’ve moved on to ten of my favorite movies about monsters and aliens.

CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON (1954) – Directed by Jack Arnold; starring Richard Carlson, Julia Adams, Richard Denning, Ben Chapman (Creature on Land), Ricou Browning (Creature Underwater)

This classic black and white 3D film launched quite a successful horror franchise and influenced a good many directors and writers. (Proof: Guillermo del Torro won an Oscar recently for his take on a Gill-Man falling in love with a human – The Shape of Water).

Eerie and oddly romantic, this tale begins with a group of scientists in the Amazon jungle who are studying fossils when they discover something infinitely more interesting: an amphibious humanoid creature. They manage to capture the Gill-Man but he escapes, only to return soon afterwards to kidnap his obsession – Kay, the beautiful fiancée (Julia Adams) of one of the scientists.

All of the underwater scenes are impressive, sometimes even enthralling. And as is the case with these types of movies, I’m always on the side of the creature…but they usually don’t survive.

INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS (1978) – Directed by Philip Kaufman; starring Donald Sutherland, Brooke Adams, Jeff Goldblum, Leonard Nimoy, Veronica Cartwright

After alien seeds from deep space find their to Earth, pods began to grow in and around San Francisco, replicating the citizens one by one – and eradicating their human emotions.

“Sleep…sleep and be born again into a world without fear and hate.” (Looking around at this planet’s happenings lately, I’m not sure I’d turn that offer down. Or…I’d at least have to think about it for a minute.)

This is a remake of the 1956 film (same title), which is based on the book by Jack Finney, titled The Body Snatchers. Okay, so the special effects are better in the 1978 version, but the main reason I end up watching this again on various weekends at midnight is because I love all the actors involved.

And now I have to mention The Invasion (2007), since it was originally meant to be another sequel to Invasion of the Body Snatchers, but the writers changed the story in significant ways. It stars Nicole Kidman and Daniel Craig and is set Washington D.C. I think this sci-fi film has been terribly underrated. If you’re a fan of the Snatchers movies, you will probably be entertained by this suspenseful version as well.   

SWAMP THING (1982) – Directed by Wes Craven; starring Ray Wise, Adrienne Barbeau, Louis Jourdan, Reggie Batts

Based on the Vertigo/DC Comics character, Swamp Thing tells the story of a brother and sister scientist team, Drs. Alec (Wise) and Linda Holland and their discovery of a plant-based serum and a hybrid plant and animal cell. After another scientist on their team is killed, government agent Alice Cable (Barbeau) arrives to investigate. She discovers a paramilitary leader, Anton Arcane (Jourdan), is out to steal the discoveries for nefarious reasons.

During an attack, Alec is covered by the explosive plant-based serum and cells and becomes a hybrid creature. Alice sets out to help Alec with the aid of a young gas station attendant named Jude (Reggie Batts – who steals the show on more than one occasion).

What a campy delight. Lots of giggles for me, but the film has heart, too.

STARMAN (1984) – Directed by John Carpenter; starring Jeff Bridges, Karen Allen, Charles Martin Smith

So…you never knew that horror icon John Carpenter had directed a sci-fi romance? I was surprised, too. And I love pretty much everything about this movie – the cast and their stellar acting (pun intended), and the oddly touching storyline. (Original screenplay by Bruce A. Evans and Raynold Gideon.)

It begins in Wisconsin with the crash of a UFO (caused by the military). Jenny, a young, grieving widow (Allen), is terrified when an alien life form invades her home and uses her late husband Scott’s DNA to create a human body – identical to his – in order to survive.

It turns out the Starman (Bridges) traveled to Earth after finding the gold record on board the Voyager 2 space probe, no doubt thinking it was an invitation. But of course, the government just wants to kill him (after studying and torturing him first). So he forces Jenny to set out on a road trip to Arizona, where he expects to be rescued at the Barringer Crater. Along the way, Jenny is amazed at the magical things the alien can do. She lets go of her fear, especially when she realizes that his human body is already dying. Thanks to an understanding SETI scientist (Smith), they have help in evading government officials and the U.S. military.

Jeff Bridges was nominated for an Oscar for his portrayal of an alien life form stuck inside a human body. No matter how many times I watch the film, I’m always impressed by his performance. (It was even sexy in a strange kind of way.) I admit the special effects don’t hold up well, but that’s the least important thing about this story.       

TREMORS (1990) – Directed by Ron Underwood; starring Kevin Bacon, Fred Ward, Finn Carter, Michael Gross, Reba McEntire

How can you resist Tremors? I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve seen this movie. Humor and horror can go together quite well. Although the film spawned a bunch of sequels, I’ve pretty much remained faithful to the first one.

It’s just another boring day in Perfection, Nevada – an isolated desert town east of the Sierras. Handymen Val (Bacon) and Earl (Ward) decide to move on to greener pastures, but as they are leaving Perfection, they come across another resident, perched atop an electrical tower. They discover he died of dehydration. When they find the head of a sheep farmer buried in the sand, they decide a serial killer must be on the loose and they head back to town to warn the remaining citizens. Too bad the construction crew they passed didn’t heed their warnings. When Val and Earl attempt to leave again, they find the road blocked by an avalanche of boulders. And the phone lines are down.

Now the fun really begins. With the help of a seismologist named Rhonda (Carter), the pair learn that at least three giant underground snake-like creatures (later named “Graboids”) have invaded the area and are responsible for all the killings. Any movement a person makes gives away their location, making escape highly difficult. And of course this makes the film more interesting to watch – how will they outwit the monsters? I particularly enjoyed any scene featuring the survivalist couple, Burt and Heather Gummer (played admirably by Gross and McEntire), who think they are prepared for any type of danger until a Graboid crashes through their basement wall.    

Even though movie critics were kind from the beginning, Tremors barely grossed more than its $11 million budget. But it has gained a strong cult following through the years, earning an 85% “fresh” rating on the website Rotten Tomatoes.     

SPECIES (1995) – Directed by Roger Donaldson; starring Natasha Henstridge, Michael Madsen, Ben Kingsley, Forest Whitaker, Alfred Molina, Marg Helgenberger

This sci-fi/horror flick was met with mixed and negative reviews, but it was still a box office success, spawning three sequels.

When SETI scientists begin receiving alien transmissions sharing knowledge of how to create an endless supply of fuel, they assume the species is peaceful. They carry out instructions on how to splice alien DNA with human DNA to create a female hybrid. (Why does anyone ever think this is a good idea?)

Sil (Henstridge) looks human, but she begins to age much more rapidly than expected. She also begins to have violent fits that scare the doctors so badly they decide to destroy her with cyanide gas. But Sil is stronger and more intelligent than they imagined and she breaks out of her containment cell and escapes. She matures rapidly and finds her way to Los Angeles, where she is driven to find a mate and create more of her own kind.     

The government assembles a team to track Sil down and kill her. It’s not as easy as they expect. I appreciate a lot of the dark humor and special effects in this film, and I think Henstridge (in her debut role) does a fabulous job of playing an alien nymphomaniac.

SLITHER (2006) – Directed by James Gunn; starring Nathan Fillion, Elizabeth Banks, Michael Rooker

Another sci-fi/horror film, and even though Slither received positive reviews, it was basically a box office bomb. But, much like Tremors, it has grown a strong cult following over the years.

A meteorite hiding an exceedingly unfriendly alien life form lands near a small town in South Carolina, and soon the parasite causes chaos by infecting the citizens, turning them into zombie-like creatures. It’s up to police chief Bill Pardy (Fillion) to come up with a plan to save humanity.  

I love Nathan Fillion in any role – especially if there’s humor involved. This felt like a tongue-in-cheek homage to several horror films of the 80s. (Although some people objected to its plot being way too similar to the 1986 film Night of the Creeps.)

COWBOYS AND ALIENS (2011) – Directed by Jon Favreau; starring Daniel Craig, Harrison Ford, Olivia Wilde, Sam Rockwell, Keith Carradine, Abigail Spencer; based on the 2006 graphic novel by Scott Mitchell Rosenberg

I think this might be the only sci-fi/western movie I’ve ever seen. I was drawn to the unusual premise, and the leading men involved.

The setting is the New Mexico territory in 1873. The town of Absolution falls under attack from alien spacecraft – and an unlikely band of citizens must join forces to rescue the kidnapped townsfolk: amnesiac outlaw Jake Lonergan (Craig), wealthy cattleman Colonel Dolarhyde (Ford) and a mysterious traveler named Ella (Wilde). 

The film received mixed reviews and was a financial disappointment at the box office. I remember some of my friends complaining that the plot and premise were too ridiculous and they didn’t like the genre mash-up, but I enjoyed the movie a great deal. I always find Daniel Craig quite appealing, and I’m still a fan of Harrison Ford. The cast and special effects are superb. I won’t give any other details away, in case any skeptics who haven’t seen it decide to check it out.      

SUPER 8 (2011) – Directed by J.J. Abrams (who also wrote the screenplay); starring Joel Courtney, Elle Fanning, Kyle Chandler, Riley Griffiths, Jack Mills, Ryan Lee

What makes me love this film enough to include it in my list of top five sci-fi/horror films of all time? Nostalgia – the warm, fuzzy kind of feeling I used to get watching a Stephen Spielberg film from the 80s, mixed with the suspense of a Stephen King novel like IT. I’m not saying it’s a flawless movie, but I was enthralled by this story from beginning to end. Many people agreed with me – the film was a box office success and was praised by critics for the acting performances, plot and special effects.  (The detractors complained that it was merely a sentimental homage to blockbusters of the past, but that’s one reason I liked it so much.)

The opening scene takes place in February of 1979 in the small town of Lillian, Ohio. Teenager Joe Lamb is mourning the loss of his mother. His father, Jack, a deputy sheriff, blames his wife’s alcoholic co-worker for the industrial accident that took her life. Neither Jack nor Joe know how to deal with their grief, which makes things uneasy between them.

That summer, Joe decides to help his friends make a Super 8 zombie movie to enter into a competition. Joe has a crush on the only female in their group, Alice – who happens to be the daughter of the co-worker his father hates. While they’re filming a pivotal scene by the railroad tracks, a truck deliberately crashes into a train, causing a derailment. Narrowly escaping with their lives, the teens flee the scene and swear not to talk about the experience with anyone else. But Joe realizes he’s seen something he can’t explain – a strange creature that may have escaped into the night. And it might have a connection to one of the unusual objects he stole from the accident site.

It’s not long before weird occurrences begin to happen all over town. The monster is revealed at a gradual, suspenseful pace. And then all hell breaks loose on the town of Lillian.

PAUL (2011) – Directed by Greg Mottola; starring Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Seth Rogan, Jason Bateman, Sigourney Weaver, Kristen Wiig, Blythe Danner

This irreverent sci-fi comedy tickled all my funny bones. And I probably would have ignored the movie if I hadn’t noticed that Simon Pegg and Nick Frost were its stars as well as its writers. (Because Shaun of the Dead is my favorite horror-comedy film.) The movie got mixed reviews and was moderately successful in the U.S. Some critics thought it was simply a parody of other famous science fiction films. I thought it had a clever script and the cast and acting were topnotch.

British geeks Graeme (Pegg) and Clive (Frost) travel to America to attend the annual San Diego Comic Con International. After the convention, the two hit the road in a rented RV to visit the most famous UFO hot spots in the western states. While driving one night on a lonely desert highway, they witness a car crash and stop to help. That’s how they meet Paul (Seth Rogan’s sarcastic voice), an extraterrestrial on the run from the FBI.   

For the past sixty years, Paul has been held prisoner inside the top secret Area 51 military compound. Now that he’s escaped, he needs the Brits’ help in finding a mother-ship to take him home. What follows is pure craziness as the trio (who accidentally abduct a young fundamentalist woman) try to keep ahead of several determined federal agents and the fanatical father of their kidnap victim.

Who’s up for a close encounter?


Mar 29 19

That old saying, “War is Hell,” is given new meaning in this horror flick set during WWII.

I’m not a big fan of war movies, at all, but the previews for Overlord intrigued me. In June of 1944, on the eve of D-Day, planes carrying American paratroopers on a crucial mission are shot down over the coast of France. (This opening scene, introducing us to some of the main characters, quickly became nerve-frying.)

A handful of men survive, avoiding enemy troops on the shore.

Private Boyce (Jovan Adepo) is green, and isn’t happy about being drafted. He literally couldn’t hurt a mouse when the opportunity arose in his barracks during basic training. Of course, he ends up being the “moral compass” of the group.

And then there’s the obligatory wise-cracking character, a sniper named Tibbet (John Magaro), along with young war photographer Chase (Iain de Caestecker) and jaded leader and explosives expert Corporal Ford (Wyatt Russell – who looks just like his dad, Kurt).

The small band of soldiers tries to avoid the German night patrols, determined to fulfill their mission: destroy a radio transmitter the Nazi’s have installed in a medieval church’s tower. They get unexpected help along the way from a young French woman named Chloe (Mathilde Ollivier), who helps guide them to her Nazi-occupied village where the radio tower is located.

The men hide out in Chloe’s home, where she lives with her kid brother, Paul, and an ailing aunt. The older woman’s strange suffering is their first clue that there’s more going on in the village than just a military operation.

Nazi (Aryan) leader Wafner (Pilou Asbaek), who has taken a shine to Chloe, complicates and compromises their mission immediately. But when Private Boyce manages to infiltrate the stronghold while doing reconnaissance, the true scope of the Nazis’ nefarious plan is revealed. Boyce’s exploration of the underground labs leads to gruesome discoveries of horrifying experimentation. Hitler’s main goal: reanimate the dead to create an army of super soldiers.

Oh, is that all?  The stakes are raised and the battle becomes even more vicious.

The amount of gore in this R-rated film should come as no surprise to viewers. Warfare + Nazi atrocities = bloody carnage.  Even though I’m not keen on splatter-fests, it didn’t seem gratuitous to me. Familiar tropes are present, however, and as often happens, I questioned the actions of certain characters who were in threatening situations. I wanted to yell, “Don’t do it! Don’t go in there!” But they always do.

All that being said, I felt satisfied at the end of the story (directed by Julius Avery). I was never bored and I thought the writers (Billy Ray and Mark L. Smith) did a great job of keeping the middle from dragging with the right amount of suspense-filled action and intrigue. And the cast was commendable – no acting greenhorns present.

People who know me will probably be surprised, but I’m giving Overlord four out of five goblins.

Next month on the blog: Guilty Pleasures – Part III: Monsters & Aliens  


Feb 28 19

Last month I talked about my top picks from the first big wave of disaster films to hit cinemas in the 1970s. Now I’m listing my favorite movies that were released during the second wave in the 90s.

ARMAGEDDON (1998) – Directed by Michael Bay; starring Bruce Willis, Ben Affleck, Billy Bob Thornton, Liv Tyler, Steve Buscemi

A humongous asteroid is hurtling towards Earth, and NASA is desperate to come up with a plan to stop the collision. The answer, they hope, is a team of blue-collar deep-core drillers, led by Harry Stamper (Willis). Will they be able to set off an explosion on the asteroid to divert its course?

This movie was a little hard to resist, once I saw the all-star line-up. (And I wasn’t the only one to feel that way – it was the #1 movie of 1998.) I expected all action and little to no characterization. But I was pleasantly surprised. Humor is always a great ingredient, and there were even a few genuinely touching moments in the film. The actors prove they deserve to be stars.

DANTE’S PEAK (1997) – Directed by Roger Donaldson; starring Pierce Brosnan, Linda Hamilton, Charles Hallahan, Elizabeth Hoffman

The quaint, picturesque (fictional) town of Dante’s Peak, Washington is suddenly threatened with destruction when a nearby mountain turns out to be a volcano. (I hate it when that happens!)

Dr. Harry Dalton (Brosnan) is the volcanologist who tries to warn the inhabitants, but of course, no one takes him seriously. When all hell breaks loose, he tries to help his new friend, the town’s mayor, (Hamilton) escape with her children. The special effects were (mostly) quite good and I definitely had no complaints about the actors involved.

I’m a huge fan of Brosnan’s, but I suppose the main reason I was drawn to this movie is because it likely could happen at some point in the future, affecting a populous city (unlike Mount St. Helens).

DAYLIGHT (1996) – Directed by Rob Cohen; starring Sylvester Stallone, Amy Brenneman, Viggo Mortensen, Danielle Harris

What do you get when a caravan of trucks carrying toxic waste collide with a stolen car used in a jewelry heist inside the heavily traveled Holland Tunnel? Impressive explosions – and the perfect vehicle for Sylvester Stallone to use to achieve more box office success.

Stallone is excellent in the role of Kit Latura, an ex-medical services chief turned cab driver who witnesses the collapse of the tunnel and springs into action to help the trapped victims. On the inside, among the survivors, sporting goods retailer Ray Nord (Mortensen) takes charge and tries to lead everyone to safety.

I found the movie a little exhausting to watch, there are so many ups, downs, close calls and triumphant moments. And the special effects are convincing, too.

DEEP IMPACT (1998) Directed by Mimi Leder; starring Téa Leoni, Robert Duvall, Elijah Wood, Vanessa Redgrave, Morgan Freeman, Maximilian Schell

Earth is being threatened by a comet so large it could cause a mass extinction. Scientists and governments around the world try to find a way to destroy it, and somehow prepare for the worst.

Stellar acting all the way around and a more realistic ending, with moments of genuine emotion, helped hold my attention. Most of the special effects take place towards the end, of course.

This movie didn’t fare as well at the box office as Armageddon, which was released just a few months later. However, astronomers claimed that Deep Impact was more scientifically accurate (if you care about that sort of thing).

And…Morgan Freeman as the President of the United States? I’m all for it.

INDEPENDENCE DAY (1996) Directed by Roland Emmerich; starring Will Smith, Bill Pullman, Jeff Goldblum, Mary McDonnell, Judd Hirsch, Randy Quaid

Finally! A good old-fashioned alien invasion! With fabulous special effects and a killer cast. Loved the action, the humor, the touching moments, the failures…and especially the triumphs. It was the highest-grossing film of 1996. Will Smith can do no wrong! (At least not back then.) And it doesn’t hurt my feelings that the story begins on July 2nd – my birthday.

SPEED (1994) Directed by Jan de Bont; starring Keanu Reeves, Sandra Bullock, Dennis Hopper, Jeff Daniels

I liked the premise of this movie. And I don’t care what you say about Keanu Reeves, he’s one of my favorite actors.

LAPD cops Jack Traven (Reeves) and Harry Temple (Daniels) are tasked with saving the lives of civilians who are trapped on a city bus rigged to explode if the speed drops below 50 mph. Naturally, Dennis Hopper is superior in the role of bomber Howard Payne. When the bus driver is wounded, Annie Porter (Bullock) takes the wheel.

The story has a nail-biting beginning, introducing the bomber and the cop he’s obsessed with, Traven. Trapped people on a sabotaged elevator always freak me out. The suspense holds on throughout the entire movie.

TITANIC (1997) Directed by James Cameron; starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Kate Winslet, Billy Zane, Kathy Bates, Jonathan Hyde, Bill Paxton

Why do I feel the need to apologize for putting this one on the list? (Oh, right…guilty pleasure.) If you are as fascinated as I am by shipwrecks and any mention of the Titanic disaster, if you fancy doomed romances between couples from different social classes (DiCaprio and Winslet), and you adore jealous, devilishly handsome villains (Zane), then I see no reason why you wouldn’t want to watch this lengthy film at least once. And if all of that isn’t enough, the special effects showing the sinking of the Titanic are worth waiting around for.

TWISTER (1996) Directed by Jan de Bont; starring Bill Paxton, Helen Hunt, Cary Elwes, Jami Gertz

The story begins in the summer of 1969 in Oklahoma. Young Jo and her family are in the direct path of an F5 tornado. The family takes refuge in the storm shelter as all hell breaks loose. In the chaos, Jo’s father is killed and the girl is traumatized.

Flash forward to the 90s and Jo (Hunt) is now a meteorologist (obsessed with tornadoes). One day her estranged husband (Paxton), who was once a weather researcher, shows up with his new sex therapist fiancée (Gertz) to get Jo to sign their divorce papers. Instead, Jo sucks him into a storm chasing adventure.

I’ve probably seen this movie more times than any of the others. I would never chase them, but I’ve always been in awe of tornadoes (having been one street over from one during a storm many years ago in Ohio).

This one has it all: crazy action and special effects, humor, romance (and a love triangle), good guys, bad guys, emotional drama and Bill Paxton (love me some Bill, and I can’t believe he’s already gone).

VOLCANO (1997) Directed by Mick Jackson; starring Tommy Lee Jones, Anne Heche, Don Cheadle, Gaby Hoffman

The fact that this film was released two months after Dante’s Peak could have something to do with its mixed reviews and lower box office draw. I had to give it a chance because I’m a fan of Tommy Lee Jones.

And the premise is different – no mountain explodes in this movie, like you’d expect. Instead, Los Angeles is struck by an earthquake that leads to a volcanic rift opening in the middle of the city, near the famous La Brea Tar Pits. Mike Roark (Jones), the head of Emergency Management, is forced to work with geologist Dr. Amy Barnes (Heche) to come up with a plan to save as much of Los Angeles as they can.

Jones is always a pleasure to watch in any role. And there are some really good performances in this film. The action and special effects are admirable, too.


Jan 28 19

We all have our guilty pleasures. I admit that one of mine happens to be watching disaster films from the 70s and 90s. I can’t seem to resist them when they show up on TV.

Here are seven of my favorite movies from the 1970s that fall into that category (next month I’ll list my faves from the 90s):

AIRPORT (1970) – Directed by George Seaton; starring Burt Lancaster, Dean Martin, George Kennedy, Jacqueline Bissett, Jean Seberg – and too many more to name; based on the novel by Arthur Hailey

This star-studded epic kicked off the disaster film craze of the 70s and spawned two sequels (’75 and ’77). Not only do the plane’s crew and passengers have to deal with tricky romantic entanglements and dirty politics, they also have a bomb on board. A snow storm complicates matters even more, causing major problems at the airport where they need to land. Oh, and air traffic personnel find themselves mired in sticky issues, too.

I heard that if you’re a fan of Hailey’s complex book, then you would no doubt be disappointed in the film. Since it’s one novel I’ve never gotten around to reading, I’m blissfully unaware of the movie’s shortcomings.

THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE (1972) – Directed by Ronald Neame (Irwin Allen production); starring Gene Hackman, Ernest Borgnine, Shelley Winters, Red Buttons, Roddy McDowall, Jack Albertson; based on the novel by Paul Gallico

Another star-studded (CGI-free) adventure that holds up well – I’ve probably watched this movie more than any of the others on my list. I was in high school the first time I saw it on TV – and I remember being really pissed about the fate of my favorite character. Every cast member gave it their all – no bad actors here, folks.

You probably know the story: An aging passenger ship on her last voyage (before being scrapped) is hit by a rogue wave on New Year’s Eve, flipping her upside down. Reverend Scott (Hackman) attempts to lead a small group of survivors up through the damaged bowels of the ship to the hull – and possible salvation.

THE TOWERING INFERNO (1974) – Directed by John Guillermin (Irwin Allen production); starring Paul Newman, Steve McQueen, William Holden, Robert Wagner, Fred Astair, Faye Dunaway (and many others … even O.J. Simpson); based on two novels: The Tower by Richard Martin Stern and The Glass Inferno by Thomas N. Scortia and Frank M. Robinson.

During the dedication ceremony and reception for a new skyscraper in San Francisco – now the tallest structure in the world – a fire breaks out in the poorly constructed building, putting hundreds of lives at risk. It’s up to the architect (Newman) and the fire chief (McQueen) to come up with a rescue plan. This three hour film is a nail biter once the action begins – with plenty of impressive pyrotechnics/special effects. The cast is superb, so I found the characters emotionally engaging as well.

EARTHQUAKE (1974) – Directed by Mark Robson; starring Charlton Heston, Ava Gardner, George Kennedy, Lorne Greene, Geneviève Bujold

Another huge, impressive cast playing dysfunctional characters who come together when disaster strikes. In this story, a tremendous earthquake levels Los Angeles. (Charlton Heston and George Kennedy already know the ropes, since they both starred in previous disaster flicks.) There are some entertaining close calls and daring rescues worth seeing, which helps make up for the earlier melodrama.

THE HINDENBURG ((1975) – Directed by Robert Wise; starring George C. Scott, Anne Bancroft, William Atherton, Burgess Meredith

I was intrigued by this movie because it’s based on historical events, which I know you are familiar with: the German (hydrogen-filled) zeppelin (largest in the world at the time) that bursts into flames above a New Jersey airfield in May of 1937. This story mixes truth with conjecture, fictionalizing the events leading up to the tragedy. Rather than using the original theory of electrical issues as the cause for the blaze, this film chooses sabotage. A stellar cast makes it interesting to watch, even though you know what’s coming at the end.

THE CASSANDRA CROSSING (1976) – Directed by George P. Cosmatos; starring Richard Harris, Sophia Loren, Martin Sheen, and O.J. Simpson (again)

I love “train stories” – intrigue and danger and a mystery to solve means I’m hooked from the start (thinking of Murder on the Orient Express?). I’ve always been a big fan of Richard Harris, so that’s another reason this film is on my favorites list.

In this story, terrorists let loose a deadly virus among the passengers traveling on a European train. No one is allowed to get on or off to avoid spreading the disease. Of course, military officials plan to destroy the train to prevent an outbreak. When it was released, many critics called the movie ridiculous. But with the way the world is today, I can totally see this scenario happening.

THE CHINA SYNDROME (1979) – Directed by James Bridges; starring Jack Lemmon, Jane Fonda, Michael Douglas, Peter Donat

An intrepid television reporter (Fonda) stumbles on a cover-up involving safety hazards at a nuclear power plant. She wants to make certain incidents known to the public, but is put in danger by those who are protecting a sinister conspiracy. (“China Syndrome” is a term used to describe a fictional result of a nuclear meltdown, where reactor components melt through structures into the earth, “all the way to China.”)

Incidentally, this film was released only twelve days before the Three Mile Island nuclear accident. I find the story suspenseful and scary because this sort of tragedy could easily happen again and again. (I’m glad I wasn’t anywhere near Chernobyl in 1986.)

I’ve listed only seven disaster movies from the 1970s here, but there are dozens of others. I decided to narrow it down to the ones I’ve watched the most. Next month, I’ll reveal my favorites from the “second wave” of disaster flicks released in the 1990s.


Dec 28 18

Bird Box, a Netflix original movie, is based on the 2014 post-apocalyptic debut novel of Josh Malerman. I haven’t read the book, but friends have told me that the film doesn’t do it justice. (Movie adaptations rarely ever do.)

The film flashes back and forth between two timelines. The opening scene is set five years after the beginning of the apocalyptic event. A woman and two children are attempting to navigate a treacherous river – and they are traveling blindfolded.

The box they carry with them at all times holds three birds. The sensitive creatures alert them to any danger that may be nearby.

In the first flashback, we learn that Malorie (Sandra Bullock) is a recently jilted pregnant woman who doesn’t want to become a single mom – or perhaps she’s never imagined herself as a mother under any circumstances. The chip on her shoulder weighs a lot more than a newborn baby – and her life is about to get way more complicated.

Malorie’s sister, Jess (Sarah Paulson), persuades her to go to an ultrasound appointment, where she declines to learn the sex of her baby. It’s right afterwards that Malorie first sees all hell break loose. People (including her sister) begin killing themselves for no apparent reason. Soon, it becomes clear that their suicides are caused by an invisible alien presence that shows them their worst fears. People who are already crazy seem to be immune, and they immediately become “disciples,” trying to force all who are still sane to gaze upon “the beautiful sight.”

Five years in the future, Malorie is in survival mode. She is traveling with two children, one of whom is her own son, and they all must make the journey to find a safe haven without the use of sight. Malorie is still afraid to be a mother – she doesn’t even give the children names, calling them “Boy” and “Girl.” “Boy” isn’t even aware that she is his mom, and “Girl” is afraid of her half the time. (This movie could have been called The Horrors of Parenthood – perhaps Malorie tries to suppress a portion of her maternal instincts and feelings because of all she’s lost and all she expects to lose.)

I’m a fan of Sandra Bullock, so I’ve seen most of her work. This might be the most unlikeable character she’s ever played. Of course, she’s excellent in the role. And grouchy Douglas is another character who stands out in the flashback scenes, due to John Malkovich’s stellar performance. Tom Hollander also shines as Gary.

A lot of people are comparing this movie to A Quiet Place, which I reviewed back in July. I can see why – the Bird Box characters must remain sightless instead of soundless, and there is a lot of suspense in both movies. They both have flaws, too. Less mystery surrounds the monsters in A Quiet Place, and some seem to think that there are more contrivances and clichés in Bird Box – especially with regards to the ending. I don’t disagree.

However, if you like horror/sci-fi films and you don’t hate Sandra Bullock, then by all means check this movie out on Netflix streaming. I’m giving it three out of five goblins.


Nov 30 18

Stephen King is, of course, one of my favorite writers of all time. That doesn’t mean I love every book he’s ever written. It’s impossible to be as prolific an author as King and please everyone even half the time. Some of his novels – always the longer ones – have either failed to capture my interest or lost it by the middle of the tale.

I believe he is truly (and consistently) gifted when it comes to writing short stories and novellas. When I pre-ordered his latest offering, Elevation, I wasn’t expecting such a short novel. I was pleased about the length; however, when I read the description I hoped the story wouldn’t descend into a diatribe against a certain world leader for whom neither of us voted.

I was pleasantly surprised in more ways than one.

Hate crimes are on the rise and it seems that many people are feeling brave enough now to voice their prejudices and display their bigotry in public. How should we react to such toxic behavior? What can we do to help heal our towns and neighborhoods? This topic weighs heavily (pun intended) on the mind of King’s latest protagonist – along with his highly unusual health problem.

Scott Carey is a middle-aged white guy living in Castle Rock, Maine. The computer nerd is leading an ordinary life until the day he notices that he’s losing weight at a rapid pace – though his outward appearance remains the same. He still looks like a 230 lb. man sporting love handles and a large belly. Stranger still, what he’s wearing, holding or carrying never has any effect on his weight.

Scott confides in his friend, Dr. Bob, who suggests that Scott visit the best specialists he can find. Scott soon rejects the idea. Either the inexplicable condition would go away or it would not – and there were no doctors on the planet with the knowledge to help him.

While he’s dealing with his ailment and all of its bizarreness, Scott begins to take more notice of what’s happening in his town. He is determined to appreciate life and do some good while he’s able. After having a disagreement with his new neighbors, a lesbian couple, over the behavior of their dog, he strives to find a way to get along with them. When the couple open a restaurant in Castle Rock and are rejected by most of the population (married lesbians are a deal breaker), Scott wonders how he can help the two women gain acceptance and keep their business from going under.

I could have sped through Elevation in a very short time, but I wanted it to last a little longer. King’s book is perfect for the season, being quite touching in places. The only real horror involved comes from humanity – the nasty ways human beings treat each other and their reasons for doing so. But the melancholy tale includes a heartwarming truth about the difference one man can make in his world. I found the ending more than a little satisfying.

I’m tempted to give it five goblins instead of four. If only I believed in perfection …