Monday, October 27, 2014

Latest Model Shoot- Nian

Danger in the Dark

Danger in the DarkDanger in the Dark by L. Ron Hubbard
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

[This review is of the BOOK, not the Audio Book.]

Danger in the Dark is a book that has three short-stories by Hubbard, written during his height as a pulp writer in pre-War USA.

The first is Danger in the Dark, about Billy who just bought an island near the Philippines, complete with natives and a god. At first Billy thinks the god is a myth, but as it turns out, he’s a real being! One who causes earthquakes as he walks, who creates typhoons and plagues.

To appease the god, the natives want to sacrifice Christina, a beautiful girl who is all too willing to sacrifice herself for her people. Billy has other ideas.

Fun David and Goliath story, though I would have liked to know what kind of being the god Tadamona was!

The next story was The Room, about a special room that nephew Jacob inherited after the disappearance of his Uncle Toby, who used to stay in that room for days and days.

Another world lies beyond it, a special dimension of sorts will all kinds of goodies in it. Despite this, Jacob makes himself known in the small town, a place that is so Midtown America that it hurts.

Lots of commentary on the fickleness of the human condition and the impossibility of alternate universes that may not be so impossible.

The last story was He Didn’t Like Cats, which I had read before in another anthology, Supernatural Cats.

Joe was a broken-down, vindictive yet small man, who used to torture cats when he himself was given a hard time by others. The story is humorous and sad at the same time. Joe accidentally kills a cat and what happens next is quite a tale!

In some ways the short reminds me of the Slaves of Sleep, except instead of a wondrous dream world of a hero, Joe suffers from a nightmare world of which the cat rules and rules with revenge.

Bottom Line:

Some great line art by Edd Cartier, famous pulp fiction artist of the time. The stories are quaint and actually have a message behind them in every case. You just have to be aware enough to find it.


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Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Classic Film Review: Charlie Chan on Broadway!

Another great detective film by Twentieth Century Fox with Warren Oland as Charlie Chan and Key e Luke (remember "Kung Fu"?) as number one son Lee.

Unlike other Chan films that had some pretty bad racist stereotypes, this film stuck to the story at hand. The story involves Billie Bronson who has a big secret that could "blow the lid off" the secret goings on of the gangsters of Broadway.

The banter between Charlie and his son is what makes these films so fun. They are on a boat going to NYC and Charlie is a bit seasick. Son Lee is bragging about all the food that his father just missed out on. When Charlie says stop, Lee asks if he needs a remedy. "Only cure is to find land", says Chan.

Billie comes into town who has info that is "hot enough to blister" and deals with a few nervous gangsters and a couple of reporters - of course we have the usually snarky female reporter and her sidekick smarty male reporter for the New York Bulletin, whose editor is also a bit involved in the case.

The viewer is lead on quite a merry go round on this film. It's not until we hit the 30 minute mark that Billie actually gets killed.

About 15 minutes into the film, a very brief uncredited cameo by Lon Chaney, Jr.!

And the murderer is quite a surprise. I had zero suspicion until the end of the film where they put all the facts together. These old films usually end with all suspects in a single room where we hash things out.
The film gets into forensics too with the "paraffin test", looking for gunpowder marks on hands. This was quite cool for 1939, but with today's detective & cop shows, this might not seem so hot to today's modern view.

Bottom Line: Love the banter, the hilarious New York cracks and commentaries, on everything from Chinese cigarette girls to camera hounds (worse than newspaper reporters). Must-see for any Chan fan.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Book Review: Guns of the South, by Harry Turtledove (1992)

If you like historical fiction with a dash of science fiction yet mostly a history of what the South would be like without losing to the Union, then this book is for you.

What I appreciated about Turtledove is how he did not make a big issue about 21st century politics from the white racists who stole a time machine and traveled to the waning days of the US Civil War. 

Not only was there a lot of emphasis on life in the trenches, military strategy of Grant and Lee, but also what the parties at Jeff Davis’s house were like, what the slaves thought (not enough on this view) and following the life of Nate Claudell and Molly Bean (a woman who dresses as a man to fight in the war, and parttime “whore”) and what they go through in all this.

The Afrikaans want a white racist state that will ally itself with Nazi Germany in the future.  They settle in to a town called Rivington (fictional) and immediately begin their reign of terror not only on the Union, but their manipulation of the men and women of the South.  Pretty intense story here.

The Afrikaans though are a bit cardboard characters; Turtledove does not build them up to any great degree.  There are funny moments as when he introduces the Confederate soldiers to instant coffee and freeze-dried meals. 

The discovery of 20th century books, the way General Lee uses the information of the future to help not only his own political ends but the ends of his country are fascinating.  The Afrikaans really shoot their own foot – if they were trying to create a slave state, why were they treating the Black man so badly – worse so than the Confederates were!

Final Note:  Some may bristle a bit in making the South the good guys in this story, but frankly they were really coming of age as a nation, realizing what they were doing not only with demanding slave rights but also state rights, and realizing they were part of a global economy (pretty radical in 1868!). 

The fates of Lincoln, Grant, and even Hayes are revealed.  Check it out, not a bad read. 

Rise of the Planet of the Apes -- Better than Burton!

Rise of the Planet of the Apes had some good things going for it, but overall was unsatisfying.  That said, it was much better than Tim Burton's Planet of the Apes!  Still, not as good as the well-acted films by Charlton Heston.

James Franco plays a scientist who discovers a cure for Alzheimer's which his dad is suffering from.  After an accident where an ape escapes and is put down, his boss Jacobs, who cares more about his bottom line than lives, orders all the apes put down.

These apes are intelligent thanks to Franco's experiments.  He's created a virus that strengthens the brain and thus humans.  He tries it on his dad to great results but finds they are not lasting. 

He then creates a stronger virus! 

This is where the story gets weird.  As he is experimenting, there's an accident where the virus escapes.  Klutz nerd assistant was not wearing his mask.

No quarantine?  Klutz then goes home, calls in sick.  Really?  And then he wanders all over the neighborhood looking for Franco's character and sneezes on people.  Yikes!

The virus apparently causes brain hemmorage in humans, yet makes apes smart.  And it's a stronger virus, too.

Another thing:  Franco's character steals some virus and leaves it in his fridge at home.  Really?  A highly toxic virus next to the eggs and milk?  How domestic.  Not only does he NOT get fired from his job, he also keeps the stronger virus from later in the story in the same fridge, which his ape pal Cesar uses to great effect.

The whole story of Cesar, the last survivor of the ape purge earlier in the film, is quite interesting.  But the ape, after taking over an ape facility (where we hear the Heston quote regarding damn dirty apes!) wreaks havoc upon San Francisco, doesn't like taking human life but leaves a bloody black mess on the Golden Gate Bridge, and takes up residence in Muir Woods. 

That's it?  Intelligent apes hanging out in Muir Woods and Franco's character only says "OK?"  No talking Cesar out of it, no real characterization here that could have been done, but the film is rushed at this point. 

The End?

Mid-credit scene where the guy who was sneezed at (Remember McKay from  Stargate: Atlantis?) goes to an airport and promptly spreads the virus to all points. 

Intelligent Apes?  The end of Man-As-We-Know-It?

Who knows? 

Really hope the sequel makes more sense.  :)

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Classic Film Review: West Side Story!

West Side Story, taken from the Broadway play of the same name in the 1950s, draws its parallels to Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet. Rival gangs want to "rumble" and the single members within each, Maria and Tony, are in love, surrounded by the hate and animosity of their respective groups.

I won't draw the parallels to Shakespeare here; just suffice to say that the fights, the characters and the lovers all have their counterparts. But West Side Story is not so much about the plot and the at-times one-dimensional characters. It's about the music. It's about the dance!

Wonderful choreography by Jerome Robbins and the amazing tunes by the team of Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim, just take you away. You can't help yourself, it's so mesmerizing and at times dark and depressing.

The movie, despite light tunes like "Tonight", and "Maria" has its dark overtones. The murder of two of the gang members and Tony's involvement, the betrayal and lies after the attempted rape of one of the Puerto Rican women by the Jets and Maria's final act makes for some somber storytelling.

But as in Shakespeare, this is a tragedy, and as a tragedy will be dark but will also give the viewer hope for a love gained and lost.

The production values are quite high. The cast can't help themselves but to dance as they walk, dance as they stroll, dance as they match each other stride for stride, movement for movement. A wonderful, electrifying experience!

11 Academy award nominations and winning ten. This was a big film for Natalie Wood (Gypsy, Splendor In The Grass) and her co-star Richard Beymer (The Longest Day, Twin Peaks).

The amazing choreography is just to die for. I'd love to see these performed on stage someday.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Book Review: Doctor Sleep by Stephen King!

Doctor Sleep

This past year I’ve read two King novels:  11/22/63, about an alternate history to the Kennedy assassination and Doctor Sleep, a supposed sequel to the excellent The Shining.

The Shining was a fun, scary book to read.  Dan’s father and mother take over as caretakers to the Overlook Hotel in Colorado where, by the way, a horrible murder by the father of the family of the previous caretaker occurred.  They need Jack (Dan’s father) to take over. 

Unlike the movie which ignores what the Shining is, Dan’s father, a recovered alcoholic, tries to kill his family and give his son over to the evil that lurks there.

OK, Doctor Sleep fast forwards to Dan’s life – he’s just like his father – alcoholic, abusive, criminal.  His mother, never developed in this story, dies, and so does his mentor, a cook from the Overlook who also has the Shining. 

First Impressions:

The story drags on and on about Alcoholics Anonymous, Dan’s adventures along the East Coast seaboard, his near miss car accident and a mysterious thing on the road that is never explained. 

After a couple hundred pages of this the reader is introduced to two characters:  The True Knot, a group of vampire-like people who suck up the Shining of children – they torture and kill them, then suck up the Shining.  Creepy.  And this drags on and on.  Do I really want the detail of every person in the group, what their hang-ups are, and so on?  Really?  A past history would have been better, but oh well.

Another is Abra – who as a baby freaked out at the same time as the 9/11 disaster in NYC.  Turns out she has the Shining too, much more powerfully than Dan did. 

After that intro we again go into Dan’s world.  King drops the alcoholic nightmare stuff and briefly involves the reader in Dan’s hospice work, how he helps the dying go to the “other side” with the help of a psychic cat.  Yikes!

Finally, finally, The True Knot, Abra and her parents and Dan meet and though somewhat anticlimactic, is a satisfying end to the tale. 


You need the patience of Job to finally get to the end of this dragging behemoth of a novel.  It does not have the pace of The Shining, nor does it have the interesting many-faceted characters from 11/22/63.  What it does have is some interesting views of how an American teenager deals with her psychic powers – which was the most entertaining part of the book.  Too bad I have to get to page 400 to find that out! 

Three stars, Mr. King. 

Monday, February 17, 2014

2014 Chinese New Year Parade & Photos - San Francisco

Chinese New Years is always a fun parade to shoot, but only if you're in the right place.  I had a very hard time finding a decent lighted platform.  Should have brought my flash unit.  Very crowded, several people deep.  Managed to save about 100 of 400 shots taken, not a great percentage in my usual event-mode.  Pentax K-5 came through very well.

See more on Flickr sets, scroll around looking for 2014 Chinese New Year

Some pix:

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Classic Film Review: Citizen Kane!

I got the two disc DVD set of Citizen Kane.  The film was quite controversial of the time and RKO Pictures originally was not going to play it because of the pressure put to bear by William Randolph Hearst, famous newspaper magnate and philanthropist.  Even to this day, the Hearst Corporation has its fingers in every pie:  radio, television, cable, satellite broadcasting, etc.  Hearst did not like that Orson was making what amounted to an unauthorized criticism on Hearst himself.

Similarities?  Oh yes!  Although the names were changed, the film follows Hearst's life to a Tee, with a lot of creative license being taken. 

Charles Foster Kane at the beginning of the film is being taken away as the family can no longer have him.  His mother is played stoically by Agnes Moorhead, a strong character actress in her own right (well before "Bewitched!" the cheesy sitcom of the Sixties.).

Kane gets a newspaper, expands his empire, builds a castle (in Florida rather than San Simeon (current location of Hearst Castle), collects art as well as pretty girls, runs for office, confronts scandal and finally dies, dropping a snow globe and whispers "Rosebud."

Why Rosebud?  Well, the newspaper guys who are creating the news reel (News On The March!) want to know more about Kane and what Rosebud is.  The film then goes through a lot of flashbacks and personal interviews with fictional (and thinly disguised) friends of Kane to find out more about the man, his mission and what was Rosebud. 

Was Kane a self-seeking vampire who sucked the spirit out of everyone he came in contact with?  Or did his childhood memories still haunt him decades after the fact?

Melodramatic to the extreme, some scenes were slow-paced.  The black & white photography was simply gorgeous.  And getting a peek at life as it might have been like in the early 20th Century was enjoyable and fascinating. 

"A film is never really good unless the camera is an eye in the head of a poet."
-Orson Welles

"Even if the good old days never existed, the fact that we can conceive such a world is, in fact, an affirmation of the human spirit."
Orson Welles

"I started at the top and worked down."
Orson Welles