Movie Review: SUMMER OF ’84

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summer of 84Gunpowder & Sky
2018
NR

“Even serial killers live next door to somebody. Tough pill to swallow, I know, but it’s true.”

Summer, 1984: The perfect time to be 15 years old and free. But when neighborhood conspiracy theorist Davey Armstrong begins to suspect his police officer neighbor might be the serial killer all over the local news, he and his three best friends begin an investigation that soon turns dangerous.

Nostalgia-based movies are, admittedly, rather fun to watch. Especially movies based on a year in a specific decade I remember living through. Which is to say, the 1980s. There have been horror movies that have been set in the 1980s that I’ve watched with varying degrees of success. The better ones happen to be the ones where the actual year they’re set in is merely a backdrop to the story, and not bogging down the movie with hamfisted nostalgia references. I seem to hold these kind of movies to a higher standard, mainly because of ties to my own childhood. I know when I’m being pandered to.

That was one of the concerns I had when going into watching the recently released Canadian mystery / horror flick Summer Of ’84. Was this going ot be gimmicky, or is this going to be a rather good mystery thriller with a good story that I can get lost in, with the year itself being merely the backdrop? All indications were to the later, as the various horror movie blogs and sites were giving Summer Of ’84 an enthusiastically positive thumbs up. So, I went ahead and took a gander at this little movie. Kinda glad I did.

Right off the bat, I’ll say that the story behind Summer Of ’84 borrows heavily from the Hitchcock classic Rear Window, with elements of Fright Night (without the vampires) and pretty much any 80s movie that involves a bunch of young teenagers banding together to solve a mystery in their small town. There are several nods to other horror movies, as well as to the classic Hardy Boys Mystery books that I recall devouring in my own youth.

As far as the year that it’s set in, Summer Of ’84 manages to not over-saturate the nostalgia factor, avoiding the temptation to go the “Hey, this is a thing that happened! Isn’t that NEAT?!?” Instead, 1984 is really the backdrop to the overall story, which is one that could have been set in any time period and still would have worked as a movie.

All of the actors were really good in their rolls, and the characters were written in a way that were spot-on, and made you care about their situations. There’s some actual depth to this movie, and not just your run-of-the-mill mystery thriller horror flick. Of course, for the majority of the run time you seem to think that you’ve got everything figured out, and expecting the upbeat type ending. But then, the final 20 minutes bucks the usual conventions and ends the movie with a chilling twist that, even if you did see it coming, will leave you with a hollow bleak feeling. The movie jukes us into a very unconventional ending, and I like that.

Overall, though this movie’s very limited release before being released on VOD came nowhere near Omaha, I would have like to check it out on the big screen, had I been given the chance. Regardless, The Summer Of ’84 was a rather enjoyable and engaging throwback of a movie with a resolution that will stick in your head long after the end credits. Recommended.

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Movie Review: LASER MISSION

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laser missionTurner home Entertainment
1989
R

“You are fond of birds.

Mercenary Michael Gold is sent from the CIA to seize the laser expert Braun in Cuba before the KGB catches him. A recently stolen giant diamond could be used together with Braun’s knowledge to construct a laser cannon which could bring power over the whole world. Who will succeed: CIA or KGB–or none of them?

Brandon Lee is probably best known as the famed actor son of martial arts legend Bruce Lee, who died tragically from an on-set accident while filming 1994’s The Crow. That movie was reportedly going to be the start of bigger lead roles for the actor, who, up to then, starred in a bunch of low-budget action movies. Like this one, Laser Mission.

Released direct-to-video in 1989, Laser Mission is only half right with the title, as it does feature a mission–Lee’s mercenary character needing to find and get Ernest Borgnine with a bad accent before the godless Commies do, to stop the building of a weapon of mass destruction–but disappointingly, there are no lasers. Well, there’s a laser-guided motion detector…but, co’mon. Show me someone who wasn’t expecting the *pew-pew* kind of lasers when seeing the movie’s title, and I’ll show you someone who’s lying. Not even the movie’s theme song bothered with either the words “laser” or “mission”. Nope, it’s a song called “Mercenary Man”, played ad-nausium throughout the runtime.

Anyway, what we actually got is a bunch of walking around in a desert while he bickers with Dr. Braun’s daughter, interspersed with action scenes to showcase Lee’s martial arts skills, as well as more bickering with Dr. Braun’s daughter. All that bickering, it’s no surprise that they end up falling for each other near the end of the flick. Because them’s the rules of action movie romances. At least the movie ends with the bad guy getting hit by a truck. So it’s not entirely a loss, really.

What really saves Laser Mission from being completely horrible is Lee’s acting. He seems to know this is going to be a stinker, and he really chews the scenes, having fun with the role. Otherwise, the cheesiness is pretty high with this movie. Make sure you have any cinematic lactose intolerance in check before heading into this Laser-less Mission.

Book Review: DOCTOR WHO: Scratchman

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scratchmanTom Baker
BBC Books
2019

‘Having friends is nothing to be afraid of,’ I reassured them. ‘They’re there for the small things in life — laughing at your jokes, drinking your tea, rescuing you from dungeons. Friends remember you how you’d like to be remembered, and forget the rest. Friends turn up at the last moment, friends tell you to keep running.’

The Doctor, Harry and Sarah Jane Smith arrive at a remote Scottish island, when their holiday is cut short by the appearance of strange creatures – hideous scarecrows, who are preying on the local population. The islanders are living in fear, and the Doctor vows to save them all. But it doesn’t go to plan – the time travelers have fallen into a trap, and Scratchman is coming for them. With the fate of the universe hanging in the balance, the Doctor must battle an ancient force from another dimension, one who claims to be the Devil. Scratchman wants to know what the Doctor is most afraid of. And the Doctor’s worst nightmares are coming out to play…

What’s all this, then? An all-new novelized Doctor Who adventure, featuring the Fourth Doctor and his companions, Sarah Jane and Harry? All written by the man who played the Fourth Doctor himself, Tom Baker?

I believe the phrase you’re groping for is, “Shut up and take my money.” At least, that was my immediate response when I read of this recent publication on the list of Science Fiction Books being published in February of 2019. Den Of Geek is such a wonderful resource, that.

So, I went and immediately bought the Kindle edition of Scratchman, and read through half of the novel in a handful of hours at work, when I made myself reign in things to keep from scarfing this all down in one setting. Take some time, enjoy it at a more leisure pace.

That’s why I waited until the next day to finish it. Totally worth it. Anyway…

If you’re a Doctor Who fan, I shouldn’t have to explain who Tom Baker is. His portrayal of the Doctor is the iconic version for many a Whovian, myself included. He was my first Doctor. He’s known mostly as an actor; he has written a couple of books: One autobiography, and one dark humor novel entitled The Boy Who Kicked Pigs.

Interestingly enough, Scratchman isn’t technically Baker’s first stab at writing for his character; the book actually started off as a rejected script he wrote with James Goss as a Doctor Who feature film. Forty years later, and we finally have that vision in book form. Which…let’s face it, this is probably the best way to present this story, using the reader’s imagination to come up with the special effects. They’re not as skinflint as the BBC would have let them back in the 70s.

The story of Scratchman is told in first person by the Fourth Doctor, who takes on the role of the Unreliable Narrator in this instance. He weaves a tale of how, beginning with standing trial in front of his fellow Time Lords (won’t be the last time that happens, sorry to say) to answer to the crime of…saving the universe. Again. His very existence is threatened to be wiped away permanently, lest he convinces the jury of peers that his actions have merit. So, he tells them a story of learning fear, of a time when he and his two companions — Sarah Jane and Harry — come across a village terrorized by living scarecrows, which leads to finding themselves in an alternate dimension where a powerful entity calling himself the Devil is wanting into our universe to feed off of. Mainly because his own cosmic all-you-can-eat buffet is nearly dry. Trust me, the Time Lords are a tough crowd. And it doesn’t help that the Doctor was late to his own trial, or that there was a literal Sword of Damocles dangling over him, waiting to wipe him from existence at the snap of the Time Lords’ fingers. In other words, it’s a typical day for the Doctor.

As to Tom Baker’s writing style, I described it to a friend as being like Terry Pratchett if he wrote for the Scholastic crowd. It’s in the same vein as Pratchett and Douglas Adams, but more whimsical, like a Roald Dahl after a couple of pints. As a matter of fact, the whole of Scratchman has that feel of a great-uncle (or what have you) spinning a spell-binding yarn; you can almost see the twinkle in Baker’s eye as he writes this all out for us.

So, yeah, Scratchman was a rather enjoyable Doctor Who story. It takes some interesting twists and turns, and satisfies that empty void that is always there while waiting for the next season series of Doctor Who to broadcast. Also, there’s a bit of a passing of the torch to Number Thirteen buried in there, somewhere. I’m not going to say where, you’ll have to read to see what happens. Which you should. Read it, I mean.

Movie Review: The BERMUDA TRIANGLE

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bermuda triangle, theSunn Classic Pictures
1978
NR

The passengers and crew of a boat on a summer cruise in the Caribbean stray near the famed Bermuda Triangle, and mysterious things start happening.

Ah, the Bermuda Triangle. A classic in the pantheon of supposedly haunted mystery spots on this big world of ours. You’ve heard the legends, of ships and aircraft disappearing mysteriously in this stretch of ocean between Bermuda, Puerto Rico, and the southern-most tip of Florida. Paranormal enthusiasts have tried to explain things as supernatural something-or-other, alien abductions, or Atlantians annoyed with us surface dwellers. Of course, pop culture has been rather helpful in spreading the mythology and pseudoscience; one of which is the topic of discussion in today’s review, the 1978 Italian/Mexican joint flick The Bermuda Triangle.

Also released under the titles The Secrets Of The Bermuda Triangle and Devil’s Triangle Of Bermuda, The Bermuda Triangle stars writer/director/actor John Huston, a man known throughout his career as the writer and director of genre classics, including the likes of The Maltese Falcon, The Asphalt Jungle, and The African Queen. The rest of the cast is…inconsequential, really.

The plot of The Bermuda Triangle itself, well…if you know your Twilight Zone, you can probably guess the plot, as well as the big twist ending. That part, I don’t mind. No, what makes this movie a chore to get through, it’s the bloody annoying and unlikable characters. Not the choppy editing, not the really bad English dubbing, not even the way it seems to take forever to get to the point. That’s all just rancid icing on this already rancid cake. No, from the get-go, the characters and their interactions and mannerisms make you want to punch them individually, every single time they come on screen. Especially that brat of a kid. To say nothing of the blatant misogyny of the lead character, always verbally ripping apart his wife in front of everybody at the drop of a hat. Then your intelligence is insulted by suggesting that the doll they find floating on the ocean is somehow causing all the weirdness and murder, which leads you to be rather glad that they’re all stuck in a hell of their own making, reliving their doomed voyage in a continuous loop with no hope of respite for all eternity.

What do you mean, “Spoilers”? I just saved you the pain of having to watch this yourself. From here on out, if you do watch The Bermuda Triangle, it’s on you. You’ve been warned. Stay away. Stay away.

Movie Review: BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY

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bohemian rhapsody20th Century Fox
2018
PG-13

“We need a song teenagers can bang their heads to in a car. Bohemian Rhapsody is not that song.”

Bohemian Rhapsody is a foot-stomping celebration of Queen, their music and their extraordinary lead singer Freddie Mercury. Freddie defied stereotypes and shattered convention to become one of the most beloved entertainers on the planet. The film traces the meteoric rise of the band through their iconic songs and revolutionary sound. They reach unparalleled success, but in an unexpected turn Freddie, surrounded by darker influences, shuns Queen in pursuit of his solo career. Having suffered greatly without the collaboration of Queen, Freddie manages to reunite with his bandmates just in time for Live Aid. While bravely facing a recent AIDS diagnosis, Freddie leads the band in one of the greatest performances in the history of rock music. Queen cements a legacy that continues to inspire outsiders, dreamers and music lovers to this day.

Queen. This is a band that, on paper and in theory, should not have worked. And yet, not only did it work, but some would argue that they made a mark on the rock and roll world that has yet to be duplicated, before or since. It was just a matter of time before a big screen biopic was made, and in the waning months of 2018, we got one. Whether we asked for it or not.

A little personal history: The first Queen song I ever heard was their hit “Another One Bites The Dust”, played at a skating rink in Grand Island, Nebraska, while I was in 2nd Grade, attending a birthday party with my Cub Scout troop. This was back in 1982. Come to think of it, that was probably my very first exposure to this wacky thing called “rock n’ roll”, as my parents had more of a taste for schmaltzy AM Gold type music, if they did play music. As time went on, I was familiar with Queen’s singles, and while I knew a handful of outright fanatics of the band in High School, I never really graduated past “listener” of the band. Meaning, I never owned a full album, maybe one or two singles; but, if one of their songs came on the radio, I wasn’t exactly clamoring to change the channel. Also, my English teacher taught me how to play “Crazy Little Thing Called Love” on the guitar.

Anyway, like any other biopic/docudrama/whatever, I went into watching Bohemian Rhapsody with a generous amount of salt grains. Obviously, I don’t expect accuracy in these kind of movies; not only are we essentially trying to boil down three decades worth of a career into over two hours of run time, but artistic licenses abound to make things much more interesting for the movie goer. The same thing goes for Bohemian Rhapsody: I’m not expert on the band or their front-man Freddy Mercury, but I still got the sense that a lot was glossed over, and some context was sacrificed for streamlining the run time.

So, what we’ve got here is a trip of highlights following Freddy Mercury’s first hookup with the band that would become Queen, record their first album after selling their van, getting signed by EMI, getting engaged to his girlfriend, questioning his sexuality while the band tours America, recording the titular song, getting bigger, starting an affair with their manager, coming out to his fiance who then breaks things off with him, recording “We Will Rock You”, getting even more popular, recording “Another One Bites The Dust”, estranging himself from the band after he signs a two-album solo deal with CBS Records, contracts the AIDS, makes up with the band just in time to play the Live Aid festival in 1985. The end.

Of course, I understand why the makers of the movie would focus more on the hits and ending things on the big triumphant comeback at the Live Aid concert. This wasn’t an exhaustive documentary, this was a biopic of sorts. As such, it’s an entertaining soap opera drama of sorts that happens to be based on the life and times of Freddy Mercury and the band he helped to make famous, and the wackiness that came with it. Everyone doe a decent enough job playing their respective parts; I do have to say, though, that while Rami Malek does a bang-up job portraying Mercury, he always looks like he’s about to sneeze. My favorite bit, though, happens to be with the band’s interaction with EMI executive Ray Foster, who is played by Mike Myers. The guy from Wayne’s World is telling Queen “Bohemian Rhapsody” will never be a hit. I don’t care if it may not have happened, that was too good to pass up.

Overall, Bohemian Rhapsody was a rather entertaining diversion, based on a band I had a mild interest in. Unlike Oliver Stone’s The Doors, though, watching Bohemian Rhapsody didn’t really kickstart an interest to really research the history of the band or really dive into their discography, like I did with The Doors back in the day. But, I did feel it was engaging and heart-rendering and joy-inducing all the same. At least they played my favorite song over the end credits, albeit an edited version of “The Show Must Go On”. I’m not crying, there’s something in my eye…DON’T LOOK AT ME!

Movie Review: SILENT RAGE

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silent rageColumbia Pictures
1982
R

“I don’t care if he killed one hundred people. We are scientists, not moralists.”

He’s an indestructible man fused with powers beyond comprehension. An unstoppable terror who in one final showdown will push Chuck Norris to his limits, and beyond. A mentally ill man in a small Texas town goes on a killing rampage and is fatally wounded by police. When doctors use an experimental serum to bring him back to life, the killer develops superhuman strength and the town sherriff must pursue him.

Here’s a Fun Fact that will probably have certain people (you know who you are) question everything they thought they knew about their Uncle NecRo: I’m not a fan of Chuck Norris. He’s never piqued my interest as much as Schwarzenegger, or Stallone has, as far as 80s-era classic action movie stars go. If anything, I’m really more interested in Chuck Norris as a meme generator than a movie and television star.

So, you can imagine how bored/doped up I was, back when I was recouping after amputation surgery, when I decided to give Norris’ 1982 flick Silent Rage a watch. You see, the description on the streaming site I watched this on made this movie sound like he was going up against a zombie. Any crappy action movie can be made better with the inclusion of a zombie. They’re like the peanut butter of the B-movie world.

Well, I was a bit off. This wasn’t so much a zombie he goes up against, as it is a kind of Frankenstein’s monster. If even that. You see, the body of the serial killer guy Norris’s Texas lawman is pitted against is on the verge of death when a scientist pumps him full of an experimental chemical and brings him back with SCIENCE! This only turns him into a rage-filled killer, and of course he escapes and the wackiness does ensue.

Silent Rage is mindless drivel. No pun intended, there. The acting is about as wooden as it gets, Chuck Norris has the charisma of a practice dummy, and certain scenes were obviously shoehorned in to both pad out the running time, and to showcase Norris’ martial arts fighting skizzles. This is definitely a movie that could have benefited from a zombie apocalypse subplot. Maybe if you pretend this is a prequel to his Walker: Texas Ranger series, you might get some enjoyment out of this. Even on all of those painkillers, the only “silent rage” that was experienced was what I felt when this movie ended. Hard pass.

Movie Review: The GALAXY INVADER

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galaxy invaderMoviecraft Entertainment
1985
PG

“What’s dad gonna go huntin’ for, mom?”
“Let’s play Scrabble!”
“I hate that game.”

A drunken redneck encounters a newly arrived visitor from space while wandering in the woods. He recruits a whole gang of rednecks from the local pool hall, and they charge off into the woods to capture the creature. A college professor and one of his students are the only ones sympathetic to the plight of the Galaxy Invader, and they must match wits, if that is the word, with this army of backwoods slobs in order to keep the alien from being taken prisoner.

One of my favorite episodes of Mystery Science Theater 3000 was the Pod People episode. If you haven’t seen that particular classic, stop reading this now and go watch it. Go ahead, I can wait.

Finished? Good. Now, you may have noticed at the beginning and end credits of the movie itself, there were clips of a movie that had nothing to do with the actual movie itself. For years, I kept trying to find that particular movie, if it did indeed exist. Well, it does. It’s called The Galaxy Invader, and hoo boy, am I glad I found this.

An obscure low-budget direct-to-video sci-fi flick it’s easy to see how this escaped my attention back in the day. I don’t recall ever seeing it at the Applause Video where my family rented our movies (it would be another 10 years before Fremont would get an actual Blockbuster); I certainly never saw a copy for sale at any of the department stores. Just as well; something tells me I wouldn’t have appreciated such a momentous cheeseball like I do now.

Wow, where to begin with this movie? How about the main antagonist, the redneck Dad who’s always drinking, yelling at everybody for no apparent reason, threatening violence against his family at the very slightest provocation, all the while wearing a dirty white t shirt with a giant hole torn in the middle of it. Classy. Or how about the unintentionally hilarious dialogue, like the exchanged I decided to use as the quote up top of this review? Yeah, I had to pause the movie to let sink in that I just heard that exchange. Or the slapdash nature of the plot. Or, perhaps the alien costume that seems to be a cast-off reject from the Creature From The Black Lagoon set. The dime store special effects. Or that ending that really wants to get the feels out of you, but just ends up cheesy.

Whichever way you slice it, Galaxy Invader is amazingly bad, the kind of movie that you really want to watch with several of your friends just to take the brunt of the intensity of the cheese factor. If you do, you might want to get sufficient amounts of adult beverages and/or pain killers. Also, watch this on the RiffTrax edition to lessen the pain.

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