Movie Review: APOLLO 18

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APOLLO 18Dimension Films
2011
PG-13

“Fate has ordained…the men who went to the moon to explore in peace, remain on the moon to rest in peace.”

Officially, Apollo 17 launched December 17th, 1972 was the last manned mission to the moon. But a year later, in December of 1973, two American astronauts were sent on a secret mission to the moon funded by the US Department of Defense. What you are about to see is the actual footage which the astronauts captured on that mission. While NASA denies its authenticity, others say it’s the real reason we’ve never gone back to the moon.

Back when Apollo 18 was released in theaters, I had this odd feeling that I probably could get away with not seeing it on the big screen. And when my gut feeling was validated by the reports of how much of a bore-fest this movie was, not only by online reviews but also by friends who went to see it, I figured I would maybe watch it some time, when it was out on DVD…and probably years down the line, after I’ve forgotten of its existence and then stumble upon the title once again later, mindlessly perusing titles out of shear boredom. Which is exactly what happened in this case. I came across it, remembered what everyone said of it, and decided to finally check it out to see exactly how bad it could be.

Apollo 18’s story consists of three American astronauts being sent to the moon in the early 1970s on a classified mission to set up recording and broadcasting equipment. Two of them make the landing, and set about their mission for two days of exploring the moon terrain. Soon, they stumble upon a deserted Russian lunar lander, with evidence of a violent struggle inside. Then they come across the dessicated corpse of one of the Cosmonauts, because in Soviet Russia, space walk you! Ahem, sorry. That was uncalled for, my apologies. Back at…um, moon camp, the two astronauts are experiencing technical difficulties, finding their equipment damaged mysteriously, and hearing odd shrieking noises over the comm systems. Then, one of the moon rock samples they picked up sprouts legs and infects one of the astronauts with…something or other. Probably eggs. Imagine that, moon spiders spawning under your skin as you sleep. So then, like clockwork, the infected astronaut goes nuts, they have to abandon moon camp, the non-infected guy manages to escape in the Russian capsule, only to discover moon spiders have hitched a ride with and infect him, resulting in loosing control of the capsule and crashing into the orbiting command module. We end on official government reports of how the astronauts “really died”.

Pretty much the entire time I was watching Apollo 18, I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was actually watching an elongated episode of The Outer Limits. The 1990s revival series, not the original 1960s version. And if you look at it this way, yeah, Apollo 18 works as a decent enough Science Fiction B-Movie. As a mater of fact, it’s only 80 minutes long, if you don’t count the credits crawl at the end. And since this didn’t have your now-standard post-credits “twist” stinger scene, I’m not.

As a Found Footage style movie, the decision to go with Super 8 film mostly was a good idea, as at least you got the feeling that you were watching old home movie shot footage. On the other hand, though, whoever thought that dumbing the footage down—i.e., replaying footage and slowing things down, zooming in and highlighting the area of weirdness as if to say LOOK OVER HERE! WEIRD THINGS GOIN’ ON! OOOOOOOO! We know what kind of movie this is. We’re on the lookout, we don’t need help. Or, maybe the filmmakers knew that they barely had anything in the way to keep the audience invested in watching, and this was their way of insuring that they wouldn’t just try finding better made “found footage” scares on their smart phones. Because the only thing scary about this movie is that, despite almost everyone not liking it upon release, it technically is considered a Box Office success. Over-hyped low budget movies tend to be so.

Overall, we have a movie that’s devoid of genuine scares, has a bit of creepiness, relies on maybe a handful of flaccid jump scares and a premise pulled straight out of a Weird Tales To Astonish pulp magazine, all the while managing to have a decent enough pace to be able to sit through without fidgeting too much. At least they kept the moon spiders to the shadows for the most part, working a decent fear-of-the-unknown vibe, but that wasn’t enough to make this anything more than something that could have worked better as an episode of the afore-mentioned Science Fiction anthology television program. I don’t regret having spent time watching this movie, but again I don’t see myself watching it again of my own volition, either.

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Music Review: VENGEANCE RISING – Human Sacrifice (2010 Re-Release)

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Vengeance Rising - Human Sacrifice (Remaster)

VENGEANCE RISING
Human Sacrifice (Re-Release)
Intense Millennium
2010

Human Sacrifice is a classic within the genre that is Thrash Metal. Since I’ve already reviewed that one quite a while back (and which you can check out here if you happened to have missed it), I won’t bore you all with just how pivotal and awesome this album is. Needless to say, I’ve owned this particular release in pretty much all three formats it was released on since 1988: first on CD (a Medusa label release), cassette and vinyl (both under the original Vengeance moniker, sans Rising). Needless to say, the production was rather raw, and admittedly really needed some polish to make a great thing even more awesome.

In 2010, someone finally got around to getting this and several classic albums that were once released on the Intense Records the digital re-mastering. They’ve been re-released before, but never with any remastering. Or any kind of repackaging, for that matter. Don’t get me started about the KMG re-release misfires, there. The idea behind Intense Millennium was apparently to purchase the rights to remaster and re-release the classics on the legendary (but defunct) Intense Records label. I won’t get into exactly what happened after that, but I will say that for the few albums they managed to get out, they did an outstanding job doing what they promised.

The sound quality on the remastered Human Sacrifice is really, really good, managing to bring up the sonics without sacrificing the raw passion of the metal itself. It sounds thicker, meatier, and definitely brought out the sonic bombast that was hidden in the original mix. Added on with the original album tracks are some live tracks recorded before the album was made, and thus a couple of them are quite a bit different in structure. The last bonus track is a radio interview from that time as well.

The CD booklet is an 8-page job, including song lyrics and classic band photos…as well as a new album cover on one side, with the classic album cover on the other. Personally, I have nothing against the new cover, as it was clearly inspired by the original (if not an exact redux); I prefer the original cover, and consider it much more brutal and \,,/METAL\,,/ than the 2010 cover. Kudos to them for putting both choices on the booklet to display.

Overall, this remastered release of Human Sacrifice was a long time coming. Very good job, here, and if you can find a copy of this, by all means snatch it up.

Music Review: BLASTER THE ROCKET MAN – Anatomy Of A Monster

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BLASTER THE ROCKET MAN – Anatomy Of A Monster

BLASTER THE ROCKET MAN
Anatomy Of A Monster
Boot To Head Records
2002

There were a lot of things I regret not getting into at the ground level back in the day. Blaster The Rocketboy happens to be one of them. The underground horror / sci-fi punk band released two albums back in the 1990s on Boot To Head Records – Disasteroid and Succulent Space Food For Teething Vampires – releases that went out of print rather quickly, slipping into legendary status as a result. Of course, I discovered their existence a bit after the fact; post-release of their second album, but a couple of years before they changed their name to Blaster The Rocket Man. I just didn’t have the same connections to the underground as I do now. So I didn’t get a chance to check them out back in the day.

Of course, now these long-lost releases were collected and re-released as part of a two-disc collection entitled The Anatomy Of A Monster. Disc 1 collects the entireties of S.S.F.F.T.V. and Disasteroid (the 1998 re-release, it looks like), both of which were tweaked a bit for better-sounding production, I’m told. I haven’t really heard the original pressings to judge by, really. The version of Disasteroid I had was the 1998 CD re-release, as it was originally a cassette-only release in 1994. Anyway, it’s rather good to finally have both the releases in one shot, as it’s been harder to find a copy of S.S.F.F.T.V. that…well, vampire teeth. Genuine vampire teeth, mind you; not those cheep mold castings you get at those seasonal Halloween outlet shops.

Disc 2 holds the reunion show Blaster The Rocket Man did in 2002 in Indiana, featuring live jams from all three of their studio releases. The sound quality on those live tracks fall within Recorded On External Device, and not a professional setup. It’s a few steps up from Boombox quality, perhaps captured on someone’s smart phone recording or something. It’s kind of tinny, but sounded like a fun show to have been at,with crowd interactions and banter and such. Not necessarily a must-have, but a nifty extra to the overall collection.

As this is a compilation review, I write this under the assumption that you’re familiar with the music of Blaster The Rocketboy/Man. If not, then a quick recap: Think The Dead Kennedys if having been grown in the birth matrix of The Rocky Horror Picture Show. There, I just made your brain make that lovely popping noise. I got my copy my usual method nowadays: I bought the MP3 downloads off of Amazon. I have not regretted this decision yet. I’m told that the physical copy contains a DVD of sorts. But, strictly speaking music-wise, if you’re into manic punk rock with fun horror and sci-fi themes, you owe it to yourself to check out this collection.

Movie Review: METALHEAD

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metalheadeOne Films
2013
NR

On a rural cow farm in Iceland Hera’s brother is killed in an accident and she blames herself for his death. In her grieve [sic] Hara finds solace in the dark music of heavy metal and dreams of becoming a rock star.

I first heard about the foreign film Metalhead on the Metal Sucks website that I frequent years ago. Back then, it was still making the rounds at the usual film festivals that go on in Europe. Of course, it had a title that guaranteed my attention.

The description intrigued me further: An Icelandic farm girl grows despondent after the tragic death of her older brother and turns to the Undisputed Music of Awesome–namely, \,,/METAL\,,/–to help cope. And embrace it she does: She not only wears her brother’s collection of vintage, drool-worthy band t-shirts and listens to it constantly within her room festooned with posters and magazine pin-ups, but she also composes her own music. But unfortunately, since she is a teenager, she also has a few additional forms of self-expression, most on the destructive shenanigans side of things–breaking into the neighbor’s houses in the middle of the night to drink their booze, stealing tractors for joyrides, setting their cows free, hijacking the PA system at the slaughterhouse and cranking \,,/METAL\,,/ through them, making passes at the new pastor of their church, things like that. Ah, memories. Anyway, after her childhood friend proposes to her, and her advances at the single pastor were rebuffed, she reacts in the only logical way she knows how: burning the local church down. This proves to be one step too far for the townsfolk, and she makes off for the hills (literally), where she nearly freezes to death, and sees a brief vision of her dead brother, and makes her way back to a forgiving village and accepts the marriage proposal of one of her childhood friends, assimilating into normal rural Icelandic routine. Of course, she’s absolutely soul-crushed, but what is there else to do? Nothing but play doting farmer’s wife…until a trio of Norwegian Black Metal musicians show up in her village looking for her, due to coming across a copy of her demo tape and totally wanting to join her band. So then she drops her metal-hating fiancée and joins up with the guys and plays a totally awesome set at the village’s community dinner-thing. The movie ends with the teenage girl and her two parents dancing to Megadeth’s “Symphony Of Destruction”.

Metalhead falls under the category of Coming-Of-Age Drama that utilizes a bit of pop culture as part of the context of the story, instead of Metalsploitation. I wasn’t really expecting Metalsploitation, mind you, but I would be lying if I said that the presence of \,,/METAL\,,/ wasn’t the sole reason for me buying the streaming version on my Google Play account. I wanted to see how well the \,,/METAL\,,/ references were worked in, regardless of how boring the movie might actually be.

Fortunately, even though it’s not one of the genres I usually glom to for my cinematic downtime, Metalhead turned out to be a rather good movie, well-shot and well-acted. Yes, it’s a foreign film, and yes it has English subtitles, but I found that the actors conveyed their characters very well, to where I probably didn’t really need the subtitles to read the dialog coming from their expressions and performance. The \,,/METAL\,,/ is used well as a good framing device, and not as an afterthought, which is refreshing, to say the least. And finally, we get a depiction of a Christian minister that not only not portrayed in the typical cinematic manner–i.e., judgmental, self-righteous and possibly psychotic–but actually had a history with \,,/METAL\,,/, and understood Hera’s interest in the music.

Overall, Metalhead was very much worth a watch. It’s a compelling drama that is refreshingly saccharine-free, and actually gets the whole \,,/METAL\,,/ part of things right. To say nothing of how awesome the soundtrack is. Definitely worth checking out.

Music Review: APPLEHEAD – Meaning

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Applehead_-_Meaning

APPLEHEAD
Meaning
Ocean
1992

I first heard about Applehead from one of the more oddball places to get music recommendations from: I had helped out with the Saturday evening service at a homeless shelter in Omaha with my youth group back in 1995, and one of the residents there came up to me afterwards to chat a bit, which is when he showed me his cassette copy of Meaning, which he proudly proclaimed as “rockin'”. Unfortunately, it took me a good ten years to locate a copy for myself to listen to, because at that time Ocean Records and all things associated with the label had become hard-to-find out of print items. And the affordable copy I was able to snag was a cassette bought from Rad Rockers back in the day. Still wrapped in its original cellophane, but still a cassette copy. And try as I might, I still cannot locate at least a decent MP3 download to purchase off of any of my usual suppliers of my habit. My MP3 rip from that cassette I have still has to suffice for now.

Just to get the technicalities out of the way, Applehead is really the second solo release from one time Crucified guitarist Greg Minier. The reason for releasing it under the Applehead logo? My guess is that it has to do with the change of musical styles from the first solo record. While the Minier release was an awesome crossover thrash disc, the music on Meaning is what you would generally call “Grunge”. Fortunately, though, due to it being released in 1992 and not the later 1990s, this release may actually be the first actual genuine Grunge album released into the CCM market at a time when Grunge was still at its zenith of popularity in the mainstream market, and not the crappy “post-Grunge” that flooded rock radio after 1995.

Normally, when you say “Grunge”, I tend to shrug and go “meh”. But, listening to this Applehead release, I have to admit that the music on Meaning falls more under the “really good guitar-driven Grunge rock” rather than the “pretentiously self-important douche rock” that I normally associate alternative rock with. Every song on this album has a nice heavy guitar hook rooting things, with a heavy foundation normally found in the earlier works of Alice In Chains, very Jerry Cantrell style. It’s stripped down hard rock that drags you in and keeps you there.

I found myself surprisingly enjoying this release, despite my preconceptions of the Grunge and Alt. rock styles of the past. It’s well produce, and the fact that Greg Minier is credited as having played all of the instruments is very impressive, to say the least. It’s a pity I’ve had trouble finding this on at least a CD format, in a non-ludicrous price. I would prefer having this re-released as an MP3 download, like a lot of out-of-print albums have been getting. Until then, though, I did a good enough job transferring my cassette copy to MP3s to listen to on my media player, so until then, I am contented to have that. Seriously, though, you should check this release out, if you can.

Book Review: The BLACK FLEET CRISIS

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Michael P. Kube-McDowell
Bantam Spectra
1996

As I continue on with finally getting around to reading the Star Wars novels that I’ve had on my shelves for well over a decade now, due to having been given them by a friend who was cleaning out his apartment, I went ahead with the Black Fleet Crisis trilogy, by Michael P. Kube-McDowell. Because everything about Star Wars has to be a trilogy of some sort, right? Anyway, once again, I decided to review all of them in one shot, rather than giving them all their own individual review. You’re welcome. Here we go, then:

black fleet 1Part 1: Before The Storm
Sixteen years (give or take) since the whole kerfuffel in A New Hope, the New Republic is experiencing a bit of a lull due to peace. Princess Leia (I’m certain, by now, it’s merely an honorary title) is President of the Republic, while Han is all domesticated with watching the kids and stuff. Chewbacca decides now’s a good time to go back home to Kashyyyk for his son’s coming-of-age ceremonies and various other hang-time with his own family. And Luke decides to go on a hermitage on Coruscant, something about deeper Jedi enlightenments of some sort, so he builds up some impressive digs on the beach. Leia’s under a lot of stress, mostly from talks with the Viceroy of the Yevethan Protectorate, one Nil Spaar, who seems a bit shady about his intentions. A fact that every one else seems to realize, except for Leia. And Lando takes Lobot, C3PO and R2D2 along to check out a mysterious ghost ship that may be an artifact from a long-dead world. And then Nil Spaar declares war on the Republic, because reasons. Fade out…

black fleet 2Part 2: Shield Of Lies
Lando, Lobot, C-3PO and R2-D2 are all stranded on the mysterious ghost ship; they have no idea how long they’ve been there, where the ship is jumping at, and trying to navigate around inside the thing is about as simple as trying to describe a David Lynch movie in one sentence. Lando and Lobot’s space suits are beginning to get kinda funky, while tensions mount as the hours go by, everyone still clinging to hope that rescue is on the way. Meantime, the Republic officials have called off all rescue teams. Whoops. In Plot B, Luke is off with that mysterious lady that he met in the previous book, hopping around the galaxy to track down his mother. The mysterious lady has intriguing clues, yes, but she’s also annoyingly passive aggressive and elusive about everything. Which seems about par for the course. And in Plot C, Leia is still contending with the douchenozzels of the Republic Senate while the Yevethan continues to commit their own wacky style of galactic genocide in the name of xenophobic purity. And then Han is captured by the Yevethan. Fade out…

black fleet 3Part 3: Tyrant’s Test
Things are coming to a head, as the Senate is calling for a recall of Princess Leia as President of the New Republic, and Leia is kinda sorta thinking maybe she should…but then she experiences a spontaneous stiffening of the upper lip and doesn’t. Luke is still playing courier to the mysterious passive aggressive bent who won’t give him a straight answer about anything, and ends up being found out that she had SECRETS and LIES!!! when they wind up finding the group of women who can wield something that’s TOTALLY not the Force…even though it has the same properties and stuff. The leader of this galactic Lilith Fair explains to Luke that they have never heard of this mother of his, but then reluctantly agrees to help ward off the Nazi Yevethan threat. Meanwhile, Chewie and a bunch of other Wookies storm the ship Han is being held captive on, and manage to lay the smackdown on the Yevethans on board and escape with a tenderized Han due to the help of one of those ladies using the Force her magic that’s totally not the Force. Meanwhile, Lando (remember him? He’s part of the story, too) manages to make a bit of headway into discovering what the mystery deralect ship is, which is to say not much, when they’re attacked by space pirates (the single most awesome thing I’ve typed during this entire review); C3PO has the droid equivalent of an existential crisis, and Lobot hooks himself up to the ship to discover not only where they’re headed, but that the ship itself is some kind of mechanized sperm bent on fertilizing the egg that is the dead, frozen-over planet it originated from. Believe me, that’s the simplest way I can put that. And since Nil Spaar is now a power-crazed jerk who can only think about sex and how great his species is, he doesn’t notice when the Imperial slaves they took back at the beginning of the trilogy series Order 66 their butts and take control of most of the fleet, helping to stem off this Black Fleet crisis for the next threat to pop up in another novel. The end.

Overall, like a lot of the other Star Wars books that end up as trilogies, The Black Fleet Crisis could have been told in one shot; in this case, there’s a lot of exposition involving political positioning and military strategy, like if someone took that pre-Death Star run briefing scene from A New Hope and stretched that out into a bit over half of the movie. I’d make a similar riff on the political exposition, but Lucas already did the job for me by way of The Phantom Menace. You get the idea. I understand there are many out there who really get into that kind of detailed minuet with their fiction. I really don’t. At least, not in my space opera.

The parts I rather enjoyed were the bits involving Lando, Lobot, and everyone’s favorite droids trying to find out the mystery behind the ghost vessel that’s been eluding everyone who tried to get even close enough to take a look. There was some much-needed character development for Lobot, there, that I enjoyed. And C3PO getting rather philosophical as to what exactly made one sentient was fun. Otherwise, I found the side plot where Luke goes off with a complete stranger to “find his mother” rather pointless. I mean, sure, this was written before the prequel trilogy was even a twinkle in George Lucas’ brain, but I don’t think anyone was fooled into thinking he was going to find his mother, especially in an Expanded Universe novel. The whole time, I kept wanting to shout at the book, “WHY ARE YOU PUTTING UP WITH THAT MANIPULATIVE WHINER?!?” But, then I’d have everyone around me further question my already shaky grasp at sanity. I can see it now: “Come on, we’ll take you where the books won’t bother you anymore…” Can’t have that. I like the voices. They’re very soothing.

Anyway, to end this review, I’ll give The Black Fleet Crisis trilogy of books a “worth a read” recommendation; it was well-written and did maintain a decent clip despite delving a bit into exposition territory.

Movie Review: RADIO FREE ALBEMUTH

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radio free albemuthFreestyle Digital Media
2010
R

Part of the reason why science fiction author Philip K. Dick fascinates me–okay, more like a good chunk of the reason–is because of the reason why he was so good at writing stories involving themes of paranoia, loss of identity, and metaphysical weirdness: namely, he suffered from a kind of mental illness that translated really well into his fiction. Among other things. And since insanity is kind of a hobby of mine, of course I would have been drawn to Dick’s work sooner or later. And now, if you’re done giggling immaturely at the multiple use of the word “Dick”, let’s continue on with this review, shall we?

I haven’t read the book Radio Free Albemuth is based on yet (getting around to it, there), but from what I understand, it’s a mind-blowing stew of sci-fi that takes on new meaning when you realize that it’s semi-autobiographical, as far as Philip K. Dick was concerned. Since I haven’t read the book yet, I really don’t know if this movie follows it closely, and considering the track record of all of the other movies that are based on Philip K. Dick novels and stories, it would be more surprising if this one did stick close to the source material.

Regardless, the story of Radio Free Albemuth tells the tale of a record producer named Nick who starts getting strange visions by way of alien signals being beamed into his brain every night in the wee hours of the mornin’. Both his wife and his best friend–who just happens to be writer Philip K. Dick…how meta–initially think he’s having a breakdown of sorts; but when his visions start having this uncanny way of coming true…yeah, they still think he’s having a breakdown, but now they just smile and nod politely. Soon, though, sNickers meets Alanis Morissette, who has been having the same kind of visions, and together they decide to record and release a super-subversive song to help stir dissent against the fascist regime that controls America, because this is an alternate reality of sorts, and there are roves of SS-style police called the Friends Of People…or FAP, if you needed to giggle uncontrollably…roaming around ready to spirit you away to jail at the drop of a tin-foil hat. Are there aliens beaming things into people’s heads? Is there really a government conspiracy to stamp out those in tune to said alien frequencies? Will I manage to stay awake during the entire run of the movie?

Oh, but this was a rather long, boring mess of a movie to sit through. The pacing just kind of plods along, the actors give performances that seems like they’re sleepwalking through everything. Maybe this was a directing decision? To put forth that everyone is sleeping through the reality? I don’t know. What I do know is, I’ve seen more charisma and dynamic acting in a grade school play than I did watching this movie. Which is a pity, because I have no qualms with the plot itself. I count myself as a fan of Philip K. Dick, the writer. I haven’t read the VALIS trilogy, which is what this movie is derived from, and for the most part it does have the unsettling atmosphere of paranoia that I love so very much.

I get the feeling that Radio Free Albemuth could have been pulled off with enough of a budget and much more work on both the script and getting some actors with even a modicum of personality. Maybe a different 90s alt rock star, instead of Alanis Morissette. Shirley Mason was pretty good in the Sarah Connor Chronicles.

In the end, Radio Free Albemuth ranks as one of the lower adaptations of Philip K. Dick’s material. Watch it if you must, but just remember to have the coffee ready to go.

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