KILLING BIGFOOT on Destination America


Destination America Website 

(0.5/5) BOGUS!

Pros: Fairly serious and more credible than the lot of similar programs

Cons: Everything is very familiar and I simply can’t for the life of me condone this show’s message

With the current, rather pathetic wave of cryptozoological (read: monster) related reality television shows coming to an end and a few weeks before the new season of Finding Bigfoot starts, it was only a matter of time – a week to be exact – before the Destination America channel’s next monster show would turn up. Unfortunately, as this genre as a whole has become ever more phony, goofy and unbelievable, Killing Bigfoot, which premiered on Friday, October 24, 2014, appears to be deadly serious – and, in my opinion, completely reprehensible. Following the exploits of another acronym-defined paranormal research group (the GCBRO – Gulf Coast Bigfoot Research Organization; they have their own hats so that means that must be legit), the show attempts not just to find one of the hairy, bipedal apes rumored to exist in the woodlands of Texas, Lousiana, and Arkansas, but kill one of the creatures to prove their existence once and for all.


Yes, as one eyewitness points out with regard to the unknown hominids, “most people just let ‘em be.” Not our gang of trigger-happy bayou folk. That’s just not how they roll…

oh snap

Working off the same pattern that led to shows like Mountain Monsters, Swamp Monsters, Monsters Underground, and Alaska Monsters (UGH! – that has to be one of the worst quartets of shows imaginable), Killing Bigfoot begins with a brief, stylized introduction to the eight-man team the program revolves around, a group of “vets, ex-cops, and hardcore woodsmen” who are shown in the opening montage cocking huge shotguns and blowing away paper targets shaped like the (in)famous Patterson-Gimlin Bigfoot. Multiple people featured in the show are identified as “snipers,” while a few – including one fella who’s name is given as “Grumpy” – are given the task of “investigator”; hell, I was cracking up imagining that the show existed as a deranged version of Snow White and the Seven Dorks. Mainly, this crew goes about the normal monster investigation routine – interviewing witnesses, looking for proof in the swamps and forests of western Louisiana, and conducting night investigations that tread suspiciously close to looking like what one would find on the typical hunting program since they involve multiple people traipsing through the woods with shotguns at the ready. What’s shocking about the show is that, unlike the increasingly preposterous monster-related shows on Destination America channel, the characters…er people featured in Killing Bigfoot don’t seem to believe they’re part of an ongoing hoax or comedic program. These guys really are trying to kill a Sasquatch.

leave it to texas
Leave it to Texas to declare that it’s legal to kill Bigfoot…

Right there, I’m already on the verge of writing this program off on principle alone. To me, that this group of supposed investigators’ first response when encountering an unknown creature – even one that reportedly is mighty similar in both appearance and behavior to human beings – is to “bag it and tag it,” is disgusting. It’s this kind of pompous, gung-ho attitude that has caused many problems in recent years (read into that what you like), and it’s about the most unscientific, irresponsible thing I’ve ever heard when mentioned in regard to the existence of unknown creatures. Sure, a Sasquatch corpse likely would silence all the critics – but I can’t in any way, shape, or form condone the wanton killing of an unknown creature just to prove its out there. In all likelihood, if these creatures do in fact exist (in which case, their habitat is rapidly decreasing due to human population expansion), they’re incredibly rare and by eliminating a breeding member of their population, the survival of the species as a whole is potentially put in jeopardy. All one has to do is examine the history of the dodo, quagga or thylacine to see what effect the kind of mentality put forth in this show can have on the animal kingdom.

I know harry, I know
I know Harry…I know.

By autumn 2014, television producers are old pros at making programs of this nature and the ultimate flaw of Killing Bigfoot (aside from its careless main theme of shoot first, brag about it later) is that everything here is painfully familiar. Despite that, I have to admit that this program seems substantially more credible than the likes of Mountain Monsters/Swamp Monsters/Alaska Monsters. First of all, the GCBRO members here don’t just conveniently stumble into the path of the creature they’re seeking: though the show’s narrator informs us that there are “signs of the creatures all around,” we never get any proof of Bigfoot’s existence – or a massive, fabricated pursuit of an unknown beast during the episode. This, in my mind, is indicative of the fact that the producers are at least to some extent attempting to make a more factual, level-headed program whose primary goal is not necessarily just to shock a viewer with how asinine the whole production is (as seems to be the case with most other monster shows).

Um…just what is that?

Refreshingly, though the show may feature some of the worst sighting reenactments I’ve ever seen, not one character featured in Killing Bigfoot falls in line with being labeled as the goofball, “wild card” or loose cannon (i.e. the Wild Bill, Face, or Bobo character) – this gang seems dead serious, although this has repercussions in the long run. Namely, the show is nowhere near as entertaining as some of its other, unbelievably ludicrous monster-hunting kin. There isn’t a whole lot of camaraderie on display between team member and there aren’t obvious jokes and wisecracks being traded around continuously – hell, if I didn’t know any better, I’d say the GCBRO was made up of people who hate each other even if they are rather civil about it. As might also be expected, the climactic “night hunt” sequence is pretty low-key – not much of anything happens and the show’s conclusion is more or less ambiguous (even with the obligatory cliffhanger).

told ya
Told you – the GCBRO has its own line of stylish caps. It’s gotta be a legit organization, right?        RIGHT???!?

Ever since Mountain Monsters changed the very nature of the crypto-reality show through the use of obvious fabrication, I’ve been wondering if any producers of this type of program would have the balls to make a show in which a monster wasn’t instantly, inexplicably found and chased down. Dumb as it is, watching a group of actors … I mean “monster hunters” … stumble around in the dark chasing phantoms has its appeal on a purely stupid level. As some have pointed out in the commentary on my no star review of Alaska Monsters, watching the show is like looking at a car crash – and the statement is true. I’ve just never quite come to terms with the fact that in order to watch these shows, I had to give up an hour of my life that would be MUCH better served doing something more rewarding and/or worthwhile. Problematic though it is in many, many ways, Killing Bigfoot to its benefit doesn’t automatically assume its viewers are morons looking for supposed entertainment of the lowest, most idiotic variety (and let’s be honest – most of these monster shows are designed for people who would watch just about anything if it was on TV). In a way, I appreciate its serious tone and apparent focus on faux-authenticity – no documentary can ever be entirely objective, but this show seems vastly more reasonable than many similar shows and for that it deserves some measure of credit.

just what we need...
Just what we need: another monster show, and another bunch of gun-happy “investigators” trying to shoot phantoms…and each other.

Try as I might however, I don’t think anything could ever make up for this show’s main premise as it goes out of its way to pursue its own, unreasonable agenda: when you’ve got multiple persons attempting to convince a viewer that Bigfoot should be killed to protect the residents of Louisiana…and GASP! their grandchildren…I could do nothing except shake my head at the screen. This type of blatant and unfounded paranoia-inspiring fear-mongering is dangerous in terms of what affect it has on viewers and one of the main problems if not the main problem with American media. Is it really us humans who should be afraid of Sasquatch, a creature which, if we’re to judge upon reliable evidence, has never posed any serious threat to people? Or is it Sasquatch who should be afraid of us, a species who not only randomly kills virtually every other animal on earth, sometimes purely for sport, but even kills members of its own species for the most fickle reasons imaginable? You be the judge. I’m giving Killing Bigfoot a half a star and I’d urge most viewers to avoid it.

KILLING BIGFOOT TRAILER ** from Peter von Puttkamer on Vimeo.

Sweet Retreat from Sugary Temptations

Werther’s Original Sugar Free Caramel Coffee Candies

Werthers Caramel Coffee small bag

Werther’s Original Sugar Free Caramel Coffee Hard  Candies — 12-pack of 1.46 oz. Available for $14.03

Werthers Caramel Coffee

Werther’s Original Sugar Free Caramel Coffee Hard Candies — 12-pack of 2.75 oz. Available for $23.76 on Amazon


Pros: Satisfying coffee flavor laced with caramel

Cons: The “laxative effect” of sugar substitutes

It isn’t easy for a diabetic sugar junky, especially as Halloween draws near. In my pre-diabetic days, I would only have to wonder about how to make costumes for the kids without sewing or spending more than a few dollars (a little makeup and a prop or two). As for buying candy for trick-or-treaters, it was a two-bag neighborhood in those days. There were about a dozen or so little ones who’d come while we were putting in our finishing touches, and about the same number of taller deep-voiced trick-or-treaters would show up just as we were getting back with our children. If I needed a sugar fix, there were a few fun-size-whatevers left in the bottom of Bag #2. Because I didn’t have diabetes, candy wasn’t taboo – and my craving for it wasn’t overwhelming. The old saying is true: You want most what you can’t have.

Sometimes, you can have what you want. Werther’s Original Sugar Free Candies taste like their regular candy line. Our son was visiting us and kept dipping into my Caramel Coffee flavored Werther’s without a clue that they’re sugar free. The coffee flavor is light and lets the caramel flavor blend in at will. The texture is smooth and buttery right down to the end. This is a far cry from the old days of sugar free candy that used to taste like chocolate covered mothballs.

The active sweetener is acesulfame-K, a form of sugar alcohol that might have a laxative effect if you overdo the candy. If you haven’t had anything with this type of sweetener before, it’s a good idea to have only one or two pieces at first. If you’re sensitive, it won’t take much to cause trouble. However, over time, the effect isn’t quite that strong.

The other ingredients are: isomalt, cream, butter, artificial flavoring, salt, caramel color, coffee extract, emulsifier, and soy lecithin. For those with food allergies, Werther’s Original Sugar Free Caramel Coffee Candies contain milk and soybeans.

The nutritional information states that a serving size is five pieces, but it’s rare that someone would eat these hard candies like they were cookies or potato chips. I tend to have one or two over an evening at the computer. Since that’s how I eat them, I thought I would at least try to give you the rest of the nutritional information for each candy instead of five at a time. Each candy has 8 calories, 1/5 gram saturated fat, less than 1 milligram cholesterol, 11 milligrams sodium, and 3 grams carbohydrates.

Each candy is individually wrapped, and a bag contains about a dozen candies. Werther’s Original Sugar Free candies can cost anywhere from $3 to $5 dollars, depending on where you shop.

This Halloween, let the trick-or-treaters have their candy corn, and buy yourself Werther’s Original Sugar Free Caramel Coffee hard candies for those sweet-tooth cravings. If you enjoy variety, add a bag of Werther’s Original Sugar Free Caramel Apple hard candies to the mix. Enjoy!

A Fairly Unique but Problematic Unsophisticated RPG for the NES: TIMES OF LORE

TIMES OF LORE for the Nintendo Entertainment System


See it at Amazon 

(3/5) DECENT

Pros: The free-roaming world is impressive and fun to explore

Cons: Graphics; battle system; familiar storyline; difficulty level; relatively short

Set in medieval-like fantasy land of goblins, ghouls, wizards, and dragons, Times of Lore seems less a typical NES-era role-playing game and more an unconventional adventure game. Originally developed by Origin Systems (known for the Ultima series of games) and ported for the NES in 1991 by Toho Co, Ltd. (best known for being responsible for the Godzilla film series and related games), the plot in Times of Lore is pretty typical stuff. The once prosperous kingdom of Albereth has fallen on dark times following the disappearance of the king. Now, the player must choose between three heroes (either a knight, a barbarian, or a valkyrie, all of which are absolutely indistinguishable from one another) tasked with not only uncovering the truth behind the king’s disappearance, but also restoring light to the kingdom by completing a handful of missions and eventually defeating an evil priest. Ho hum. Along the way, the player must traverse a rather large map, questioning townspeople, shop owners, and others to find out clues regarding his tasks while battling various monsters also roaming the countryside.

overhead gameplay
Overhead, main gameplay screen – it becomes quite difficult to distinguish the sprites from the background at times.

For all intents and purposes, Times of Lore plays like a significantly less complicated game of the Dragon Warrior variety. The player’s path through the game is gradually uncovered through conversations with various non-playable characters which reveal certain keywords that can then be inquired about, thereby building up a sort of pool of information (in the use of keyword-driven conversation, the game is somewhat similar to the SNES title Shadowrun). Many times, furthering the story requires a player to journey from one town to another in search of specific citizens to question and arguably the most fun thing to do in this game is simply exploring the vast world in which the game takes place. Even if Lore begins at a pretty familiar starting point however, this game has plenty of odd quirks about it that make it fairly unique in the lineup of 8-bit RPG’s.

world map in use
The world map in use here is vast with a plethora of areas to explore.

For one, the player can freely roam throughout the map (which is seen throughout the game from an overhead perspective) from the start of the game and in real time. The real-time gameplay means that there aren’t glorified battle sequences here: fights occur in a rather low-key manner when a player stumbles across nearby enemies on the map and are accomplished primarily through button-mashing not strategy. Since enemies can be spotted in advance, it’s almost possible to avoid most battles by simply steering clear of the sprites. It’s also worth noting that there are precious few cut scenes or loading screens in this game. This makes for a somewhat odd RPG experience – towns merely show up on the overworld map without the game drawing attention to them. I rather liked that the world seemed very lived in (at least as well as could be achieved on the NES) since townspeople simply wander around the countryside going about their daily activities and the fact that the player really can go anywhere and do anything he wants to at any point during the game is a definite bonus, but this sense of freedom does lead to a few problems.

Chit chatting with townspeople is the only way to progress through the story and game.

One of the main things I noticed about this game is that it’s actually rather difficult to figure out one’s course of action throughout the game – before I discovered online “how-to” guides, the only way to get through the game (or at least try to) was literally to stumble around the map and advance the story simply by covering every base through the process of elimination. This of course was frustrating and often fruitless – it seems to me that the game developers just mishandled the manner in which the story plays out and is revealed to the player. Questioning various townspeople and other non-playable characters encountered throughout the map is the only way the unraveling story is progressed, but individual dialogue passages that reveal vital information can often be skipped entirely – if one isn’t really paying attention during key moments, he’ll likely have no clue how to proceed through the game – or know why the hell he’s doing one thing or another. Luckily, the game developers have included a sound effect to let one know when something important is said to the character (generally, sound in the game and the music is OK if repetitive), but the whole of the “script” as it were for this game is still unnecessarily complex and convoluted. I really doubt that kids in 1991 would have been able to make any sense of it.

Hell, for as much sense as this story would have made to kids circa 1991, it may as well have looked like this.

Another issue with the game is the graphics. Despite the fact that the map itself is impressive in terms of its scale and detail, the color palette used was poorly designed. This becomes especially noticeable when one realizes that some enemies drop items (gold, scrolls, potions, etc, the vast majority of which seem mostly worthless) that can be picked up and used by the player. These objects are often virtually impossible to spot on the backgrounds: I often found myself doubling back into areas I had already covered for the sole purpose of finding out if enemies I had defeated had dropped something. Furthermore, even though the NES controller only has four buttons on it, the controls in this game are incredibly frustrating. Essentially, one of the two red buttons (“B”) brings up the status menu which allows for items to be picked up or used and conversations to be initiated and the other button (“A”) attacks. I can’t tell you how many times I accidentally attacked a friendly non-playable character simply because the control system in the game doesn’t make much sense (for instance, the A button has to be used to continue dialogue passages, but then will instantly attack when the status menu is closed). To some extent, the programmers have mitigated the damage caused by accidental attacks (if the player leaves the area and comes back later, the non-playable characters will have returned and/or won’t act in a hostile manner). Still, it seems there are many concessions made on the part of the programmers for problems that simply shouldn’t have been an issue in the first place for a finished game.

graphically unimpressive
Times of Lore is graphically unimpressive to the point of being ugly to look at.

By far the biggest problem with here is the sense of difficulty present. Initially, Times of Lore seems unbelievably difficult. This problem is made worse by the fact that the player’s life is indicated onscreen by an image of a candle: when the candle burns low, the player is nearing death. Unfortunately, there’s no real gauge for how many hit points the player is losing at any point, so it’s very easy to be overwhelmed quickly and killed – especially by swarms of enemies. Additionally, the player’s character at the start of the game moves incredibly slowly onscreen and has massive issues with regard to turning and facing another direction (essentially, after moving in a certain direction, the onscreen character will continue to face that way for a few seconds after his direction has changed). This makes attacking groups of enemies particularly annoying, and a player really has to get acclimated with the eccentricities of this game in order have any amount of success getting through it.

menu-driven commands
Menu-driven commands wind up defeating all the serious enemies in the game. And the ending? A major disappointment.

All that said, at a certain point in the game, Times of Lore becomes so ridiculously easy that it poses virtually no challenge to a player at all. There are no experience points to gain during the course of the game and precious few items to pick up, yet when a player purchases the boots (which allow for much faster and relatively easier travel on the ground), he can successfully avoid almost every single instance of combat in the game from that point onward by avoiding and outrunning enemies. Making matters worse is the fact that there are no “boss” type battles in this game at all: every one of the big, fearsome enemies is defeated through use of a particular item and none require the player to defeat them in combat. At a certain point, then, Times of Lore becomes more or less a cakewalk since there’s minimal challenge in completing the game. This makes the game’s finish (which is painfully mediocre to begin with) seem all the more disappointing. Finally, I should point out that this game is very short in comparison to other NES-era RPGs. If a player knew what he was doing (and/or had access to a walkthrough or guide), I bet he could finish this game up in an hour or two – a significantly less time than it takes to get through a more substantial RPG from this era.

Even the game over screen is lousy…

Considering the amount of glaring problems in this game, it might come as a shock that I still rated it three stars. Try as I might to hate Times of Lore, the game is fun even if it plays like a very lite RPG that’s no match for the likes of Legend of Zelda or Final Fantasy. This game has a metric ton of problems associated with it and looks pretty awful in terms of its graphics, yet I have to give the developers credit for making a game that was a bit different from just about every other RPG title for the NES. Not everyone would have the same opinion I do (hell, I could see many gamers becoming incredibly frustrated with this title in a very short period of time), and I’m not sure the payoff is worth the effort and frustration needed to play through this thing, but fans of old-school role-playing games might appreciate what the title does have to offer. It’s not a masterpiece by any stretch or even one of the better games for the system, but Times of Lore certainly is an interesting, offbeat little title that I’d give a moderate recommendation to.

Gameplay Demonstration:

“The Lord is Sabata…” The Polished but Familiar Sequel ADIÓS, SABATA



Sabata Trilogy DVD at Amazon 

(2.5/5) meh

Pros: Memorable ending, quirky details and a nice sense of scale

Cons: Extremely familiar story that makes it very nearly a remake of the first Sabata film

The somewhat strange middle entry in the Sabata Trilogy, 1970’s Adiós Sabata sees actor Yul Brynner take over the title role from Lee Van Cleef (who coincidentally couldn’t do this film because he was replacing Brynner in a Magnificent Seven sequel). This time around, the titular gunfighter joins forces with Mexican revolutionaries and an prankster American named Ballantine to steal a wealth of gold from an Austrian colonel hiding out south of the US border. Predictably, the plot to capture the gold (initiated by a guerrilla leader who’s trying to fund an uprising against Austrian emperor Maximilian I) doesn’t go exactly to plan – after capturing a wagon supposedly transporting the treasure, Sabata and his partners discover that they’ve been fooled into stealing a cart full of sand and are forced to come up with a more decisive plan of attack. This eventually leads to an all-out assault on the colonel’s fortress, but can Sabata really trust any of his sneaky co-conspirators considering that they all have their own motives and ambitions?

Sabata (in all black) discusses his plans with his compadres.

Compared to the first Sabata film, this sequel is probably a more serious affair, mostly due to the fact that Brynner takes an entirely different approach to the main character than did Van Cleef. While there was a playfulness to Van Cleef’s Sabata, an almost emotionless Brynner (sporting an all-black get-up and a continual scowl) is all business in the part and definitively appears like the more typical (and hence, somewhat tiresome) Italo-western protagonist. Due to his stoic performance, the tone of this sequel is a bit off: the same team of writers (Renato Izzo and Gianfranco Parolini, who also directed) wrote both these films, the first of which played almost as a tongue-in-cheek parody of the Spaghetti Western genre. Adiós Sabata, originally planned as a standalone film dealing with a character named “Indio Black,” never quite seems to decide whether it wants to be a more serious film or a comic one. Parolini and Izzo throw in quite a few slightly offbeat and/or goofy details, but Brynner’s no-nonsense attitude doesn’t really allow a viewer to really buy into the efforts at comedy.

Austrians in Mexico?
Gerard Herter as Colonel Skimmel of Austria. Though the idea of Austrians in Mexico circa 1867 being the villains of this story seems odd, it’s historically accurate.

One of the more confusing aspects of this film is that a number of the same cast who appeared in the first Sabata film show up in this sequel in entirely different roles. This takes a bit of getting used to: at first, I was under the impression that the writers were trying to make a sequel that (gasp!) was generally consistent with the first film (albeit with a different actor in the title role), but it soon became apparent that there’s about no connection in the story between the original Sabata and this second series entry. That said, one could definitely make the argument that Adiós Sabata is very nearly a remake of the first film. The main villain of the piece (the Austrian colonel played by Gerard Herter) comes across as a virtual carbon copy of Stengel from the first film (hell, even the name of the Austrian is similar – “Skimmel”). Additionally, the Ballantine character (played as a conniving jokester by musician-turned-actor Dean Reed) seems almost identical to the Banjo character in the first film, and the returning Ignazio Spalla, playing another buffoonish Mexican who acts as Sabata’s main partner in crime, performs essentially the same duty that he did in the first film. Considering that Izzo and Parolini’s script isn’t exactly the most original thing I’ve ever seen in the first place, the fact that we’re getting mostly the same exact thing this second time around makes this sequel all the more disappointing and questionable.

musician Dean Reed
Dean Reed as Ballantine, the smart-ass gringo who may just run off with the gold himself.

On the plus side, Parolini’s handling of the direction seems a bit more sure-handed during this film. The original Sabata had a handful of stylish moments that suggested that Parolini did have some nifty tricks in his repertoire, but more often than not, the director played it relatively safe. Adiós Sabata sees Parolini let loose a few times with some eye-popping visuals and wild camera moves (check out the swirling camera suggesting the feeling of jubilation when Sabata and his crew first get their hands on what they think is gold) and also seems to have a more grandiose sense of scale. Contrary to the confined nature of the first film, the sequel features quite a few scenes filmed in extreme long shots in rather expansive locations which are nicely captured by cinematographer Sandro Mancori. Thus, the picture (boosted by a fine music score from the always-reliable Bruno Nicolai) feels bigger and more spectacular, even if the story leaves a lot to be desired.

Superb location photography
This sequel features superb location photography and a more grandiose sense of scale than the first Sabata film.

I love some of the quirky, eccentric details in the film – the mute gunslinger who’s claim to fame is his ability to fling rocks at his opponent with his feet; the handful of scenes where a gunfight erupts immediately after a cowboy stops his tap-dancing routine – and it’s not hard to see why this offbeat film was a favorite of Quentin Tarantino. The entire last act of the film is actually pretty impressive, with the loud and exciting raid on the colonel’s fortress being followed up by a genuinely clever final scene which is rather funny and positively memorable in the history of this genre. Even if it’s difficult to deny that the film saves its best ideas for last, I can’t help but wish some of this inspiration had found its way into earlier scenes in the movie which are pretty formulaic and forgettable. A little spark early on would have gone a long way in making this picture better as a whole.

ending shot
The film’s ending is outstanding…I just wish there were more genuine highlights on the way there.

Admittedly, a western has to be pretty outstanding for me to really fall in love with it – I usually find this genre of films to be relatively dull and predictable. Adiós Sabata is one that’s very watchable but nothing special: there are certainly some unique elements to this film, enough weird details to keep things interesting, and generally enjoyable acting performances (even if the English language dubbing is sometimes quite sketchy), but nothing can make up for the fact that everything in the film seems very familiar. Director Parolini was clearly capable as a filmmaker, but he simply doesn’t seem to possess the level of inspiration that led directors like Sergio Leone or Sergio Corbucci to produce what are easily the best films of the Spaghetti Western genre. The Sabata films then are better than many of the cheapo programmer westerns that were pumped out in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s and probably would be worth a look for genre fans, but I wouldn’t go out of my way to track any of them down.


disc deets
Nice-looking widescreen DVD from 20th Century Fox as part of the Sabata Trilogy package offers no extras. This film can also be streamed individually on amazon.

blood & guts
5/10 : Standard western gun violence with brief glimpses of gore.

smack talk
1/10 : Maybe a few isolated instances of rough language; nothing major.

fap factor groan!
0/10 : Sabata doesn’t hang out too  much in the brothel this time around.

whack attack
3/10 : Even with some eccentricity to it, this doesn’t hold up to the best of the Spaghetti Western genre.

“Well gentlemen, it’s been fun, but I can’t waste any more time. I wanna wish you all the…uh…very best of luck, especially you Escudo. You’re going to have a hard time convincing the revolutionaries that you didn’t steal the gold. And you know what’ll happen – I’m afraid that you must just end up dripping the fat into the fire, with an apple up your big mouth and a spit up your caboose…”

Hot Time in the City

The Chocolate League no park, no sparks



  See it at Amazon 



Pros: fast paced, chapter book, easy listening, easy reading

Cons: none noted     

Same as every day, on their way to the park Jelly Bean Jason, Roster and his big brother Derrick stopped off at The Penny Candy Store. All the kids in the neighborhood did. The penny candy store sold lots of kinds of candy for just a penny along with ice cream cones, and cookies and other treats. Of course the other stuff all cost more than a penny.   The penny candy store was always crowded with kids on hot summer days.

Jason, an only child, lived with both his parents in their own home, Derrick and his 4 year old brother Roster lived with their Mom in a 2 family flat. Derrick is the storyteller in this work presented by brothers Rah and Jahi, ages 9 and 7.

This first in the series, The Chocolate League no park, no sparks is filled with the escapades, adventures and undertakings of neighborhood kids including Deedra, a somewhat older girl, Peaches who loves to sing, quiet Mike who is repeating first one grade and then another, Deja and more.   During vacation when school is done for the term summers are spent visiting the candy store and hanging out at the park.  All the kids in the neighborhood gravitate to both to wile away the days until it is time to return to study and teachers and responsibility.

This is the summer that everything is going to change. Derrick, Roster and JB are shocked to find a Condemned sign hanging on the locked gate.   Now what?

Chapter 2 Tag You’re It finds the kids playing tag in yards, or the street and on the sidewalk now that their park is closed. Life on the street filled with sounds of children was suddenly rent with noise of argument; Tasha and Mr Larry were apparently fighting. All Mr Larry’s clothes were laying out in the street, cars didn’t stop or go around, they just drove right over the pile that Tasha was dousing with syrup.   Nine year old Derrick was so overwhelmed with the sight of the syrup and clothes and cars he did not notice the street lights beginning to glow. Rule on the street was, kids on their own porch when those lights came on.

Chapter after chapter  introduces the reader to two touch football, Mr Frosty the ice cream truck, searching the sofa cushions for change for buying a treat, and sitting on the porch hoping tomorrow will be a better day.   And summer presses on with races and visits with cousins, sitting on the fire hydrant, Double Dutch jump rope, Better Made potato chips, water balloons and water fights, house parties, panhandlers, a boxing club, the beauty shop and more all appear on the pages of the fast paced children’s book filled with summer fun, and friends, and learning life lessons for how to get along, make do and the life of city kids.

The Chocolate League is the first in a series of books filled with the exploits of a group of friends who mostly get along, during one summer in Detroit where everyday life filled with innocence and hope seen through the eyes of a child is filled with action, imagination and optimism.

Osage County First Grade gives 12 thumbs up, listening to the book read chapter by chapter over several days gave my class of rural dwellers a little insight into how children in a big city live. And, helped my students understand that children whether in the city, or in a rural setting, in Detroit, or the middle of the continent, and maybe even those in other countries live and think, and plan pretty much the same. The names of children may differ, games and family make up may differ, but underneath life is  much the same and  we all enjoy many of the same kinds of things.

Filled with action, fast paced prose and compelling believable characters The Chocolate League no park no sparks is a read to for the younger set, read alone for middle grades. Listeners or readers are drawn into the antics of the children presented on the pages of the book.

Happy to recommend for the classroom book shelf, as one of a group of books used for social studies curriculum development, for the home book case, school and home library, and for gifting to a special child.

I was sent an ARC for review.    

Title: The Chocolate League No Park, No Spark

Genre: middle grade fiction

Read to for the 6 – 8 group,

Read Alone for 8 -10 group,

Read to siblings, mentor reading at school and to parents ages 8 -12

Author: Rah and Jahi Humphrey

Illustrator: Fanny Llem

Pages: 108

Line/Publisher: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform

Release Date: 2013

ISBN-10: 1490486860

ISBN-13: 978-1490486864

Available Kindle   Paperback

Haircut Anyone?

Junie B. Jones Is a Beauty Shop Guy



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Kindle about $5   Paperback about $5


Pros: Child riveting prose, great illustrations,  Child and adult  friendly,  just plain fun read

Cons: none noted

Junie B Jones is a Beauty Shop Guy follows a 70 or so page, 8 or 9 chapter format found in many of the other Junie B. books.

Junie B., B for Beatrice, AKA Pinkie Gladys Gutzman, which is the loveliest, cutest name Junie B. knows. Junie is a precocious youngster who charms adults and children alike.  Childlike, Junie B. really cannot understand why her Daddy is not quite so thrilled with her new name.

A trip to the barber shop appearing in Chapter 2 brings Pinkie Gladys Gutzman not to the shop where Daddy usually gets his hair cut but to a beauty shop which causes Junie, ummm Pinkie to shout to the world that her Daddy is going to a Beauty Shop. Meeting the beauty shop lady, Maxine, who also wore a name tag set the scene for some floor sweeping shenanigans at the shop as Pinkie Junie served as Maxine’s helper.

Before long Junie B. is practicing hair cutting and snip, snip, snipping. Philip, Junie’s bestest elephant volunteered to be first, only, made of smooth velvet, he had no fur.  Next to volunteer were Junie’s bunny slippers with the long white fur.  They were not pleased. And their fur did not grow back.

Junie B. flung them under her bed. Who knew bunny fur does not grow back.

Monday at school a glum Junie B. confided her dashed hopes for becoming a beauty shop guy to her bestest friend Grace. Grace’s aunt IS a beauty shop guy and she has already told Grace that she can be the shampoo girl.  And, maybe Aunt Lola will let Junie be a shampoo girl too.

Of course becoming a shampoo girl is going to take practice.

Home from school, and before long Teddy is a sog ball covered with shampoo and water and under the bed he went.  Unfortunately Junie’s dog Tickle chose that moment to scratch at the door.  It didn’t take long before Junie was busy trimming his fur.

Hearing the sound of her Mother’s step in the hallway; Junie tried without much success to push Tickle under the bed.

Running down the hall and out into the yard did no good; Mother is speedier than she looks.

By morning Junie realized her problem trying to trim hair, Tickle has dog hair.

Junie is sure that she can trim people hair, her own, just fine.  So she snip, snip, snipped; first bangs then sides, some top and some back, and then she tried to even up the bangs.  And, they just kept getting tiltier and tiltier.  So she took a big chunk and cut it right off.

How Junie solves her problem with the sprigs of hair she has left before setting out for school  is a chuckle unto itself.

Boys and Girls alike, Osage County First Grade enjoys the Junie B books. As always Junie B is the focus of the tale told in child friendly verbiage and filled with the impossibly child single-mindedness I see exhibited on a daily basis in the classroom.

Illustrations are perfect accompaniment to the text. That writer Park and illustrator Brunkus know their kids is obvious.

The situations in which Junie B finds herself, the  noise and shouting and fixated notions surrounding Junie B are convincing, not forced or unreliable.

Filled with anticipation, resolve and inventiveness; Junie B behaves much as do many 5 year olds; noisy, notionate and determined.

Has there been a child alive who had not cut their own hair?

Daddy came home from work to find my Mother laying in bed and whimpering, holding my long braids, one in each hand and near tears.  Youngest sister cut herself bangs half way to the top of her head.  My own youngest son took scissors to his hair the day before picture day at day care when he was little.   Has there been a child alive who had not cut their own hair?

A book about scissors, a five year old and hair is one sure to please Little Readers.

And, Junie B Jones Is a Beauty Shop Guy does just that.

12 thumbs up from Osage County First Grade, I am happy to recommend Junie B Jones Is a Beauty Shop Guy as a read to book for the younger set ages 3-7 and as a read with help for the 6 and 7s. Children with strong reading skills will enjoying read the book to themselves, younger siblings or to others in the classroom.

Price varies by when and where the book is purchased. I found several Junie B. books, paperbacks for little to nothing at the local jumble shop.  Because they are already well loved, and didn’t cost much; Junie B. books are carried home nearly every evening by Osage County Little Readers for reading to parents.


Product Details

Age Range: 6 – 9 years

Reading Level: read to younger set and old children too during evening cuddle time

Read with help first grade readers

Read alone to other second grade and older

Paperback: 80 pages

Publisher: Random House Books for Young Readers (June 16, 1998)

Language: English

ISBN-10: 0679889310

ISBN-13: 978-0679889311

Product Dimensions: 7.7 x 5.1 x 0.2 inches



An Overlooked Classic for the SNES: SHADOWRUN

SHADOWRUN for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System


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(4.5/5) cool

Pros: Innovative gameplay; compelling story and atmosphere

Cons: Low-key ending; difficulty level can be frustrating

Among the many role-playing games for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System, a few truly stand out as being wholly unique. Earthbound, for example, switched up the setting from a medieval-like fantasy-like world to a sort of deranged interpretation of America, while Chrono Trigger threw time travel into the mix as a wild card element. It’s safe to say however that no RPG for the system was quite as odd as Shadowrun, based on the pen and paper game of the same name and developed by Data East for release in 1993. This game is set in a dystopian future ruled by all-powerful corporations (could it be that the game developers actually predicted how modern society operates?) and plays out much in the manner of an old-school film noir story, albeit one that has orcs, dwarves, dragons, and magicians as peripheral characters and enemies.

main perspective
Main perspective of the game, showing Jake (center of screen) fighting off a pair of enemies.

Taking place in a cyberpunk version of Seattle, Washington in the year 2050, the player assumes the role of Jake Armitage, who wakes up in a mortuary. As seen in the game’s prologue, Jake has been gunned down by unknown assailants only to be saved by an equally enigmatic shape-shifting fox (ok, so this game does have some weird elements to it…bear with it!). Unable to determine how he got to this point, Jake embarks on a mission to try and uncover the circumstances leading to the attempt on his life, eventually uncovering a plot in which he was used as a courier for one of the corporations, having vital information implanted in a computer inside his head. As the game progresses, more and more of the plot details surface as Jake has to take on a variety of increasingly unusual boss-like characters, including a rat shaman, an underground club full of vampires, and eventually the head of the biggest corporation in town who assumes the form of a giant snake. Along the way, in addition to battling enemies in real time battle while seeking guidance from a mysterious figure who takes the form of a dog, Jake must use his computer skills and a device called a cyberdeck to tap into and hack “The Matrix,” a digital realm (i.e. cyberspace) in which he can manipulate various objects in the real world and uncover additional information hidden behind digital interfaces. If nothing else, you’ve got to admit that Shadowrun was well ahead of its time in dealing with these kinds of ideas – remember, this was made six years prior to the original Matrix film.

inside the matrix
Once inside The Matrix, perspective switches to this overhead view showing the player’s progress through the digital realm.

Made very quickly by the same team that developed the quirky NES title Nightshade, Shadowrun has a plethora of eccentricities to it (in case that wasn’t obvious from my brief plot summary). The main part of the game is a free-roaming section that finds the player wandering through various nightclubs, shops, and rundown areas of Seattle and interacting with the oddball characters who inhabit it. The only way to progress through the game is to talk to various characters in an attempt to find out what they know, and this is where one of the game’s most intriguing gameplay elements takes shape. Throughout the game, Jake builds up a library of terms that he can question the non-playable characters about. It’s through this inquiry that new terms are learned and additional information is gained, and the process by which a player has to double back and talk to characters encountered previously in the game in an attempt to gain new perspective and insight makes the playing experience both complicated and incredibly compelling. Combine this notion that the game doesn’t necessarily proceed in a straight-forward manner with the fact that minute details and hard-to-find items (which are often quite difficult to spot onscreen) play a big role in how the game progresses and a player faces a game that’s nothing if not extremely challenging yet undeniably fascinating and completely enveloping.

Talking with each and every character becomes increasingly important, since it’s the only way to learn new terms and keywords and thereby further the game.

Battle sequences in the game can occur at most any time since various hitmen and assassins are continuously trying to eliminate Jake and stop his investigation. More substantial enemies also pop up from time to time along with the expected RPG game “boss” figures, and it becomes rather difficult to manage Jake’s health, particularly late in the game (the only way to fully restore Jake’s magic and health levels is to sleep in a bed, only a few of which appear in the game). Fortunately, the mystical “Dog” character teaches Jake various magical spells from time to time which not only can heal his injuries, but also allow for offensive attacks and general assistance during battle (the invisibility spell for one is quite useful). Defeating enemies in battle using one of various firearms that can be purchased at shops or through the use of magic provides Jake with “Karma,” which is essentially Shadowrun’s version of experience points. These Karma points can be applied to expand Jake’s abilities with regard to various skills, enabling him to inflict more damage, resist enemy attacks, and even function better in the world The Matrix among other things.

adult content
Shadowrun is probably more violent and obviously adult-oriented than most games of its era.

The ability to function in the world of cyberspace becomes more important as the game progresses, and when a player “jacks” into The Matrix, the game’s perspective switches from an isometric perspective to an overhead view that shows an effigy of Jake navigating through various digital terminals and relays. During these sequences, the game operates somewhat similarly to the familiar Minesweeper game since a player must combat various defensive computer programs that attempt to keep him from having access to sensitive information. Successfully making it through the screens in The Matrix can provide the player with money achieved by transferring funds from corporate accounts, data which further explains the rather complex storyline, or can actually manipulate objects in the real world (modification in cyberspace is the only way for instance to ensure that various elevators and lifts work as intended). The cyberspace screens in Shadowrun take a bit of getting used to and can be frustrating until one gets the hang of how they work, but I found this to be one of the most clever and fun aspects of the game.

inside the nightclub
The setting of the game includes several nightclubs populated by a colorful cast of characters.

Shadowrun gets its name from in-game characters known as “shadowrunners” who act as mercenaries of sort that can be recruited by the player to aid his journey through the storyline. Hired for a limited amount of time, all of these characters (of which there are a dozen) have a specific skill set and range of abilities: some are valuable more for their ability to fight enemies, while others specialize in magic or are computer specialists. It’s worth noting that at no point is it entirely mandatory to hire any shadowrunner: one can make it through the game without hiring any of them. These characters can however come in handy during certain parts of the game and do allow a player to accomplish things he would not otherwise be able to do.

real-time battles
The real-time battles in the game are often quite challenging.

Graphically-speaking, Shadowrun is a really nice-looking game that made the best of the 16-bit capability of the SNES. The entire world has a run-down, grungy look to it, with squalor and low-life characters lurking in the periphery of the more destitute sections of town. During the last section of the game, the player finds himself in the more bustling downtown district, which looks appropriately futuristic and imposing, with huge skyscrapers and more high-class, glitzy nightclubs. The soundtrack for the game (written by Marshall Parker) perfectly captures the menacing vibe of the game and has a hard-edged, industrial feel to it. My personal favorite aspect of the game are the character portraits, all of which are intricately detailed, plenty strange-looking, and occasionally downright creepy. I could probably make a case for Shadowrun existing as a cyberpunk Mad Max in terms of its story and the wacky characters found in it.


There really are many elements to this game which would be impossible to cover in the context of a review, but the player willing to devote some time to learning the ins and outs of this game is likely to find it to be an outstanding title that was largely overlooked and ignored when it came out – perhaps because it was more adult-oriented than many or most titles at the time. The game has earned a reputation since the mid-1990s as being one of the most unique and captivating games for the SNES and I’d be inclined to agree with that assessment even if the ending is fairly low-key and indicative of the fact that the whole project was rushed through production and programming. The length of the game is decent and the level of challenge offered in Shadowrun is very high. It certainly forces a player to think through and evaluate his actions as he progresses through the story (though anymore, it’s possible with the help of online guides to breeze through the game without much problem), and the ways in which this game works were quite innovative at the time. It would be hard to come up with many titles that are even vaguely similar to this one, and I’d label this as being one of the best Super NES games out there: well worth checking out for the gamer looking for something definitively different.

brain burnt

A Pirate’s Life for Me! UNCHARTED WATERS for the NES

UNCHARTED WATERS for the Nintendo Entertainment System


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(3/5) decent

Pros: Complex, open-ended gameplay and lots of small detail

Cons: Man, does this game get tedious in its middle section….

Taking place during the Age of Discovery shortly after Columbus’ journey to the New World, Koei’s 1991 Uncharted Waters stands as one of the most unique titles in the Japanese publisher’s already intriguing lineup of historical simulations and hard-core strategy games. A player in this game takes command of a young Portuguese sailor named Leon Franco whose noble family has fallen on hard times. Choosing a life of adventure on the high seas the player guides Franco as he sails between various cities trading goods, hunting for treasure, and eventually fighting pirates and rival fleets. During the course of the game, Franco is entrusted with various tasks by merchants, barkeeps, treasure hunters and even the Portuguese king, accumulating wealth and royal titles in the process. Royal titles help enhance the player’s fame, which eventually leads to him having a chance to woo Princess Christiana, who resides at the Portuguese castle in Lisbon. Ultimately, the storyline here sees Franco having to rescue the princess from kidnappers, leading to a predictable storybook conclusion of the game.

ARGH! Surrounded by enemy ships on the open sea!
Graphics are definitely not this game’s strong suit – I’d go so far as to say that they’re ugly.

Perhaps the best thing about the game is the fact that its very open-ended with regard to how a player completes it. Initially, the storyline of Uncharted Waters is focused more on the player trading goods from far away lands for profit, but as it goes along, there’s more emphasis placed on engaging in sea battles with pirates and enemy fleets. Conversely, a player can simply become a pirate right from the start and make a living off the spoils of battle (in its operation, I’d declare that Uncharted Waters plays like a more complex, all-encompassing version of Sid Meier’s Pirates! which also was ported for the NES in 1991). Piracy has ramifications of course, since simply going against all flags (i.e. the foreign powers of Spain and Turkey) will cause those countries to act aggressively and hostilely towards the player and his fleet. Though not entirely accurate, the world map the player and his fleet sail around and in which most of the game’s action takes place is relatively true to life, and more exotic goods can certainly be found by exploring the far-away lands of the Americas, the Arab countries, and the Far East. Sailing to these areas is dangerous however, as storms will ravage the player’s fleet and enemy pirates will show up to pillage his gold.

Them’s fightin’ words! Challenging a pirate to battle…

Another positive element in the game is the sense of complexity present. Even if this game is quite obviously limited by the 8-bit technology and data storage capability of the NES, there are a ton of intricate details in the game which would be nearly impossible to cover in the context of this review. Various ships can be purchased, with the top-end models being both better at navigating the high seas and more well-equipped for battle. Additionally, there are many things a player can do in the various towns he comes across: most every town has a shipyard, marketplace, tavern, and many also have an exotic item/weapon shop. Investing in the marketplace allows the player to purchase more items as well as receive higher profit margins for the goods he sells, while investment in the shipyard is the only way elusive and powerful ships like the war galleon (which, with its capacity for up to 500 crew and 150 cannons, is essentially invincible during battle) can be purchased. The tavern not only provides for the recruitment of additional skilled sailors and crew members into the player’s party, but also acts as a sort of information exchange due to the fact that waitresses and bar patrons can provide important information and clues for the player about the tasks he undertakes during the course of the game. Some of the most fun and challenging portions of the game involve finding hidden treasure that’s unanimously situated in the most remote, borderline inaccessible portions of the globe – managing food and water resources on these voyages requires some skill.

Most every town has various shops and buildings to explore and people to interact with.

Despite the fact that the game lets the player choose how to go about playing it, there are some glaring problems with Uncharted Waters. First, like many Koei games which focused much more on gameplay than any technical aspects, this game is plain ugly to look at from a graphical standpoint and has repetitive music that will likely drive most players bonkers. Even if the character portraits and cut scenes are colorful and generally attractive, much of the game takes place on the entirely blue background of the open sea. It’s easy to be hypnotized by the dull backgrounds in this game which grate on the eyes after a relatively short time, and though the looped music written by Yoko Kanno of Cowboy Bebop fame does capture the mood of the game well (the music around the polar regions sounds very foreboding for instance, while the music heard when sailing around Europe feels very comfortable), it quickly becomes monotonous. The entire middle portion of this game, in which a player completes rather mundane tasks for merchants and the king while in the process of building his reputation is mind-bogglingly tedious and seems utterly pointless. This game takes an unnecessarily long time to complete (I try and play all the way through the games I review, but came very close to just calling it a day on this one), and I’m not at all sure that the ultimate payoff (which features a sequence of graphics that would have looked downright pathetic even in 1991) makes it entirely worthwhile to get through. A player almost has to invent fun things to do during this middle stretch of game, since simply completing the genuinely unrewarding tasks required in the story not only doesn’t achieve fame fast enough to really seem adequate, but also because these tasks are excruciatingly repetitive. How many times can one sail from the Caribbean to the Middle East around the coast of Africa in search of one spice or another?

Though trading takes priority early on, it’s necessary to focus more on piracy later in the game.

While it’s almost imperative that a player simply become a pirate at some point in order to both spice up the gameplay and further the storyline, the sea battle interface present here is fairly clunky. When engaging in battle, the viewpoint switches from a macroscopic view of the open ocean to a closer-range perspective showing the relative positions of the player’s fleet and that of the enemy. At this point, one must carefully maneuver his ships in order to either open up with long-range weapons (i.e. cannons or their less-powerful cousins) or storm enemy ships in hand-to-hand combat. Maneuvering ships is both difficult and frustrating, since the bigger vessels have extremely limited mobility and can only attack enemies who fall within a very specific range of their cannons. Each ship has both a finite number of crew and a strength index which gradually diminish as cannon-fire is absorbed or enemy attacks are repelled, and if either number reaches zero, the ship is destroyed. Winning sea battles eventually becomes quite easy since all a player has to do is destroy the enemy flagship: once this fact is realized, the sea battles don’t especially offer up any level of challenge either, adding yet another level of “blah” to this game.

battle interface
The battle interface – and yes, it’s about as clunky as it looks.

In the end, I’d call Uncharted Waters an interesting failure as a game. Taken on its own merits, it’s a title that (like Koei’s Aerobiz, a Super NES title that operated as an airline business simulator and is a much better game than that concept suggests) suffers considerably because its sequel is just so damn good. The outstanding Uncharted Waters II: New Horizons, released for the Super NES in 1994, improves on every aspect of the original game to the point of nearly rendering the original unplayable. In a way, this is unfortunate because Uncharted Waters is a genuinely well-designed thinking man’s game possessing a very cool concept that’s pulled off about as well as could be expected considering the limitations of the NES. Like most of Koei’s extremely complicated strategy titles though, this game would only appeal to a select crowd willing to devote time and energy to a game that offers only a moderate payoff. While Uncharted Waters would have been something special and truly unique in 1991, it hasn’t held up well over time – this in my mind is largely due to the fact that New Horizons perfected the formula that originated here. If the game at all sounds interesting, I’d recommend that players try and hunt down that second game in the Uncharted Waters series rather than waste effort on the fruitless original.

lost at sea...

Great Music, but is the Austin City Limits Music Festival Simply Too Big?



Official Website 

(4/5) cool

Pros: Great headlining bands and a lot of really cool supporting acts; definitely an experience….

Cons: Agoraphobia

Started in 2002 as an extension of the PBS live concert series of the same name, the Austin City Limits Music Festival has quickly become regarded as one of the best large-scale music events in the country, with attendance expanding from 40,000 in its first few years to nearly 100,000 some ten years later. Taking place over the course of several days in early October at Austin’s Zilker Park which offers a breathtaking view of the downtown Austin skyline, the festival is produced by the C3 Presents promotion which also stages the Lollapalooza festival which occurs annually in Chicago, and attracts prominent musical performers from around the globe as well as promising up-and-coming artists. In addition to the music lineup, the ACL Festival includes a lineup of activities for children and also showcases local artists and food vendors in an attempt to feel more like an all-encompassing event experience (as might be expected, all food and beverage available at the festival is on the pricey side).

breathtaking view of downtown
A breathtaking view of downtown Austin seen behind one of the two main stages.

Austin City Limits splits its varied lineup of over 100 musicians and groups between eight stages, with set times that begin in late morning and run through 10 PM. Ticket prices for the festival fall in the $250 range for a three-day pass or $100 for a single day pass. Obviously the thing that sets ACL apart from other Austin festivals is the quantity of well-known, headlining artists: the 2014 lineup of the festival (which took place on the weekends of October 3-5 and 10-12) included sets from artists such as Skrillex, Eminem, Outkast, Pearl Jam, and Beck. For me though, considering that by the time the main acts begin, there’s some 75,000 trying to cram around the main stages, the undercard which is built around less high-profile but still outstanding artists, actually provides the more attractive shows. 2014’s festival included day-time and early evening sets from such groups as Lorde, Lana Del Rey, The Replacements, Spoon, Chvrches, AFI, Tune-Yards, The Head and the Heart, St. Vincent, and dozens of others (not sure I’m proud to admit that I caught Iggy Azalea performing her 2014 hit “Fancy” live….). There’s a nice variety of all sorts of music represented at the festival, from hip-hop to country-western and folk, and even if some of the music wouldn’t be attractive to all festival attendees, perhaps the best thing about the festival is that one can discover and experience a wide variety of music that he might not otherwise have had the opportunity to.

Much as rain is always appreciated in Texas, it leads to Zilker Park turning into a mud bog.

In 2013, the festival (which runs from Friday to Sunday) was expanded from one weekend to two, with the headlining artists appearing both weekends in an attempt to limit the crowd that would attend on any one day, but having attended the festival both before and after this change, I’m not sure that this effort has really had any effect on the number of people who attend each day. To me, the expansion was just an excuse to draw in more people to the festival, thereby increasing its revenue: 75,000 is still a large amount to squeeze into the 350 acre Zilker Park, and by the end of any given day when the crowd is at its largest, just making your way from one end of the park to the other becomes a chore. At any large festival like this, seeing all the performances one would like becomes all but impossible: though the set-times are somewhat staggered (less so as the day goes on), an attendee has to “choose his battles” so to speak and to some extent plan out his “must-see” list. I also should say that it’s increasingly difficult to get a good vantage point for the headline bands playing at the festival unless one is willing to “camp out” at a stage well in advance of their set time. Though there is a chair-free zone around the main stages, the standing-room areas immediately around the stages quickly fill up and remain extremely crowded as the day turns into night.


A further problem with the expansion from one weekend to two deals with the performers themselves. Though both weekends of the festival feature what is essentially the same lineup, the expansion seems to have had an adverse effect on the bands that are booked for the festival in the first place. Not every group would be willing to “honker down” in Austin and the surrounding area for a two week period, and the quality of the lineup from top-to-bottom seems to have diminished in the past couple years. When I attended the festival previously in 2012, there not only seemed to be more bands playing at the festival, but the overall strength of the lineup as a whole was greater. Additionally, set-times appeared to be staggered a little better during the 2012 event, making it possible to see at least some of the set that most bands were playing if one wandered from stage to stage throughout the day. The groups featured on 2014’s schedule mostly began their sets at the same time, and there honestly only seemed to be a handful of groups playing at any given time: by mid-afternoon, the number of performances going on at any point had dropped to three or four. This only increased the number of people watching any given show at any given time and also made it more difficult to navigate the park from one end to another – particularly when a group like Lorde was booked at a secondary stage smack bang in the middle of the venue, essentially cutting the main stages off from one another.

ACL: It’s an experience for sure.

Ultimately, the massive crowd at Austin City Limits Music Festival is for me, the main drawback of the experience: there simply seems to be too many people at this event. By the early evening, it’s increasingly frustrating to have to negotiate a sea of chairs, blankets, and their occupants in the area between stages – especially in low light conditions, and standing half a mile from the stage isn’t an especially great vantage point to view any concert even with additional speaker installations and huge video display screens that show what’s happening on stage. For me, when placed alongside a comparatively (much) smaller festival like Fun Fun Fun Fest which takes place in early November, ACL just seems like an overcrowded mess. Sure, one can see some great shows during the course of the day, but the large crowd makes it difficult for most people to really get the experience out of the festival that they might want. On the other hand, many younger people attending the festival seem mainly interested in drinking as much beer as possible and acting like a fool when electronic groups such as Skrillex, Calvin Harris, or Zedd begin what is essentially a huge rave-like concert once the sun goes down. As much as that sounds like something a younger version of myself would have really been into, as I get older I find myself appreciating more small-scale shows more than the balls-to-the-wall free-for-all that a large-scale festival like Austin City Limits would provide.

Oh sure, ACL is supposed to be like this…

…but this is sometimes what it seems to turn into…

To be completely honest, I think the organizers of the ACL Festival do about as good a job as they can ensuring the festival runs smoothly and most attendees at the festival are understanding with regard to their fellow attendees (I actually encountered more moronic behavior at a Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers concert I recently attended in Dallas than I did at the entire ACL festival, which was a bit of a shock). I have seen some really amazing performances the times I did go to ACL, but I also was very much ready to leave at a certain point during each day due simply to becoming frustrated with dealing with the immense crowd. Though the lineup of artists performing is frankly unbelievable, in all likelihood most festival-goers won’t be as close to the action as they would like or be able to see all the bands they would want to see, even if they are increasingly aggressive in making their way from one stage to the next. As much as I would call ACL worthwhile and generally enjoyable as a populist music festival with (obviously) mass appeal, I would personally be more likely to choose to go to a smaller and more manageable festival in Austin; both November’s more niche-oriented Fun Fun Fun Fest (my choice for best festival in Austin) and the spring’s Psych Fest fit this bill nicely.

More splatter for the splatter fan.

Hatchet III (Uncut and Unrated)

Price: $15.47


Pros: More gore and dismemberment

Cons: It’s clear that this series has ran out of steam

Marybeth (Danielle Harris) once again survives an encounter with the seemingly indestructible killer Victor Crowley (Kane Hodder), and this time she is convinced that he is dead. Believing that she finally annihilated her nemesis, Marybeth turns herself into the police department covered in blood and holding a shotgun. Not believing her story, the police leave to the swamp and discover plenty of bodies and parts. Suddenly the killings begin again and Marybeth is forced into returning to the swamp and meeting Crowley one last time. -summary

At this point the Hatchet series has officially ran its course because this second sequel reeks of a money grab. Released in 2013 and directed by BJ McDonnell, Hatchet 3 is another bloodbath that really doesn’t measure up to its predecessors at all. The only thing this series really had going on for it was the creative and sadistic kills performed by Victor Crowley; but after another arm rip, decapitation, and disembowelment, it becomes all too obvious that it’s time to put this dog to sleep.

The plot follows Marybeth as she’s forced to work with a journalist by the name of Amanda (Caroline Williams), whom has been researching Crowley for years and believes that there’s only one way to stop him, and this has something to do with Marybeth’s father whom was responsible for Crowley’s death years ago. Once again, there’s a pretty interesting back story that at least explains why Crowley constantly returns, and it jells really well with the first sequel when looking at how they failed to put him to rest. For the most part, I like the backstory involving Crowley and the constant unveiling of new possibilities to put him down. Adam Green at least attempts to add sense to his stories, unlike many of horror’s boogeymen whom have returned from the grave no matter how impossible it seemed for them.

While the cast is pretty strong consisting of a “who’s who?” of horror actors, and some relatable characters such as Caroline Williams who does a good job grabbing the spotlight while Harris is tossed in the backseat (literally). Hatchet 3 just feels way too familiar as if I walked this path before despite the bloated body count. The gore is still done rather well but there’s nothing shocking anymore, and to top it all off, some of the deaths happen off-screen which is totally inexcusable. It makes no sense at all to shortchange the movie’s greatest strength.

The first two movies took the violence and even the comedy about as far as they can possibly go without becoming beyond stupid; with that said, Hatchet 3 really has nothing new to offer. If you enjoyed the first two movies, then watching this one for conclusion’s sake is the only good reason I can think of.  There is nothing remotely special about this movie, yet at the same time, it’s not exactly a really bad slasher either. There are far worse slasher movies than Hatchet 3 out there. At best, this is good for a rental unless you’re a die hard member of the Hatchet Army and need this in your collection.