Secrets To The Grave by Tami Hoag – Decent thriller set in the 80’s

Secrets To The Grave

pic1

 

See it at Amazon 

(3.5/5)

Pros: Intriguing thriller

Cons: The characters weren’t the best

Tami Hoag’s Secrets To The Grave is the sequel to Deeper Than The Dead. It’s a year later and the characters are doing their best to recover from the horrific events that took place in the first book.

You’d think they could catch a break after all that mayhem, but such is not the case. A young woman, a single mother, is found brutally murdered. The only witness, her four-year-old daughter, left for dead but miraculously still alive. Traumatized beyond belief, as expected. Vince Leone is “on the case” along with his wife, Anne, a specialist in childhood development. While Anne tries to help the little girl, Vince tries to dig up clues. Who could possibly harm a woman who, on the face of it, seemed just lovely?  Further, who could try to kill a little girl?

These books are written in present day, but take place in the 80’s. As such, Vince has to investigate the case the old fashioned way. No DNA tests. No database of fingerprints to match against. Not even a cell phone or a computer. This is the 80’s and these things are barely a thought in anyone’s head. At least, in this book, we weren’t hit with this information over our heads. In the last book the characters were prescient beyond belief about technology that would someday be available. In this book, the characters were less aware and frankly, more believable.

That said, we have an intriguing case and a story that gets more and more twisted the further we go. And while I wouldn’t say these are the most likeable characters I’ve ever read about, they were “ok”. The little girl was pretty obnoxious but I guess I can give her a pass given all she’d been through. Still, I would have written her a bit gentler, a bit less cringe-worthy.

And while it’s not required to read the books in order, it makes more sense to do so. Especially as the events from the first book are frequently mentioned in this book. Overall, Secrets To The Grave is a decent thriller.

Also by Tami Hoag

Cry Wolf
Deeper Than The Dead
The 9th Girl

 

They Work! – Easy Install Monkey Hook Hangers

Monkey Hook Hangers – Heavy-Duty

The Amazing Monkey Hook Wall Picture Hanger Bonus 10 Pack Of Heavy Duty Hooks

See it at Amazon 

[Rating: 5/5]

Pros: no tools required, simple to install, creates small hole, each hook holds 50 pounds

Cons: not designed to anchor into wall studs (if this is important to you)

We had a large, very heavy whiteboard to mount on the wall.  I felt trapped in a joke …. How many engineers does it take to install a whiteboard?  Ideas, disputes, levels, measuring tapes, more discussion.  Finally someone said, “Monkey Hooks!”  That is how I became involved with using these Heavy Duty Monkey Hooks.

Description

Monkey Hooks are designed to hang wall-mounted items in drywall.  The hooks are constructed from steel and have a unique curve to them.  The tip of the hook, which enters the wall, has a sharp tip.  No tools are needed to use this product.  All you need is firm hand-pressure to insert the hook.  Each Monkey Hook is advertised to hold up to 50 pounds.

Our Experiences

We had been procrastinating the whiteboard project.  The board is huge and heavy, and no one wanted to tangle with the job of how best to hang it on the wall.  Our engineers pooled together for discussion during lunch, and one person mentioned how they had helped a relative hang heavy items using Monkey Hooks.  He had never seen the product in action before then, and he was impressed with the results.  He convinced us with this enthusiasm for the product, so we bought a package of Heavy Duty Monkey Hooks.

Since each hook is rated to hold 50 pounds, two hooks will hold 100 pounds.  We used two hooks for our wall-mounting project.  The most difficult part of the procedure was determining the board was level and where to place the hooks.  A measuring tape and level solved the problem.  Since the board was so heavy, we required several people to support the board while the best position for the hooks was determined.

The hooks are super easy to use.  The pointed end is pressed into the wall and twisted a bit, almost like drilling a pilot hole to ease the hook insertion.  Simply determine where you want the hook placed and use steady hand pressure, along with a twisting motion to slide the hook through the drywall.  When the hook is fully inserted, about a 1/2-inch upright metal piece is left extended from the wall.  This 1/2-inch hook is where the item is hung from.  No tools are necessary.  After all that discussion and dithering, we had the whiteboard hung in minutes.  The hooks are holding the weight with ease.

One thing to consider: These hooks are meant to slide directly into drywall.  They are not intended to be inserted into a wall stud.  Before inserting the Monkey Hooks, make sure a wall stud is not located where the hooks is being installed.

Suggested uses for these hooks are to hang wall-mounted items such as photographs, framed artwork, mirrors, home décor items.  We successfully hung a large whiteboard with ease.

Summary

I would definitely purchase these Heavy Duty Monkey Hooks again.  I like that no wall stud is needed since the hooks are designed to even distribute weight across the wall surface.  Just insert the Monkey Hook into the drywall by pressing and twisting.  The hooks hold a lot of weight and are incredibly simple to use.

I hope you found this review useful.

Enjoy your day,
Dawn
http://dlstewart.com

Copyright 2015 Dawn L. Stewart

Click on image to view product on Amazon.

Monkey & Gorilla Hook Combo Pack                   Monkey Hook 4-Pack
                                                           

Monkey Hook — Home & Office              Cast Iron Monkey Tail Hook                                            

Things go awry in northern Nigeria

Confusion Na Wa (2013)

Confusion-Na-Wa

Streaming on Netflix

(3.8/5)

Pros: case, look

Cons: many loose ends

The 2013 “Confusion Na Wa,” written and directed by Kenneth Gyang, shot in Kaduna, is one African movie without any village-to-city dynamic, though it has self-righteous elders and amoral youth. There’s a lot going on in the movie, much of it connected to a cellphone picked up in the confusion at the start after someone was killed in the street. At the end, there are many loose ends, though the voiceover narrator declares (actually, repeats) that things don’t necessarily happen for a (good) reason: ““When I was a boy, they told me everything happens for a reason. But they were wrong. Some things don’t happen for a reason. They just happen.”

Even if drugging and raping a young woman (Fola [Lisa Pam-Tok]) is the basis for justifiable homicide on the part of her father (Adekunle [Toyin Alab]), he picks the wrong guy to execute.

Nearby, another patriarch, Babajide (Tony Goodman, who has made a fortune as publisher of Righteous Trumpet Newspape, has hired a prostitute for the son, Kola (Nathaniel Deme), who is not certain if he is gay, and an honest hard-working man, Bello (Ali Nuhu) whose wife, , Isabella (Tunde Aladese), has gotten pregnant by the owner of the lost/stolen phone (Emeka [Ramsey Nouah]) was leaves, believing he has found his cuckolder, though he hasn’t.

 

RAMSEY1-659x370(Emeka getting an offer to buyback his business mobile phone)

chichi(Chichi waiting for payoff)

In addition to sexual double standards, hypocrisy, infidelity, homophobia, bribery, and an extended analysis of “The Lion King” as a celebration of colonialism in what is now Zimbabwe (Simba being a covert image of Cecil Rhodes!), the movie dramatizes class differences, especially that between the young thieves, Chichi (Ikponmwosa Gold) and Charles (O. C. Ukeje), the latter being the sexual player, and the other characters, both the fathers and their young adult children. And there are ironies beyond the confusions fomented by the purloined mobile phone.

Gyang (whose feature debut, “Blood and Henna” [2012] was set around the infamous Pfizer meningitis clinical trials in Kano) has expressed his admiration for the films of Mexican auteur Alejandro González Iñárritu, and the happenstance interconnections of “Amores perrros” (2000) seem a a particular inspiration.

Although Kaduna is primarily Hausa, the verbal exchanges not in pidgin or standard English are in Igbo (according to the subtitles, “speaking in Igbo”), though Igbo that has been found strange by native Igbo speakers. “Confusion Na Wa” won both Best Film and Best Nigerian Film at the ninth Africa Movie Academy Awards. (Gyang was nominated for the best director award, and Ikponmwosa Gold (whom I think was the lead) was nominated for best supporting actor.

Many movies are produced in Nigeria: Nollywood is third, behind Bollywood and Hollywood. “Confusion” is the most sophisticated and best Nigerian movie I’ve seen. The production values of “Confusion Na Na,” were far superior to those of most Nollywood movies, comparable to those of (the turgid)  “Half a Yellow Sun.” Yinka Edward’s cinematography especially deserves praise.

 

I’ve added this and discussion of three other recent Nigerian movie (Mad Couple, Knocking on Heaven’s Door, Half a Yellow Sun) to my Kindle e-book, An Introduction to African Cinema.

Bette Midler’s electrifying screen debut as “The Rose”

“The Rose” (1979)the-rose-5

 

Blu-ray $25.20 at Amazon 

[Rating 4/5]

Pros: performances, look

Cons: rather long

I am neither a big fan nor a detractor of “the divine Miss M” (Bette Midler). It took me a long time to watch her long movie debut (in the lead), the 1979 “The Rose,” directed by Mark Rydell. I knew that it was inspired by (as opposed to being based on) the self-destruction of Janis Joplin, and couldn’t imagine Miss M as Joplin. Midler is and was better looking than Joplin, a singer rather than a screamer, with a lower voice, and not a drug abuser

In the movie, Midler sports some Joplinesque costumes (and granny dark glasses), sings with more than usual soul (though I think it strange for a female vocalist to cover “When A Man Loves a Woman”). As for self-destructiveness, Midler acts. She was rewarded with an acting Golden Globe, an Oscar nomination, and a Grammy (for the title song). And she had onstage moves more reminiscent of Mick Jagger than of Janis Joplin.

It seems that half the movie is The Rose performing in various venues, including a drag club (with Sylvester among others), a Memphis country music bar, and a stadium. Midler has eleven musical numbers, some of them quite extended The concert scenes are very flashily photographed from multiple perspectives by an astonishing array of legendary cinematographers. In addition to DP Vilmos Zsigmond, Conrad Hall, Haskell Wexler, Lázsló Kovács, David Myers, Owen Roizman et al. were shooting, and though the movie’s cinematography was not Oscar-nominated, the editing by Robert Wold and Caroll O’Meara was, along with acting nominations for Midler as best actress and Frederic Forrest (at his peak: he was also a standout in “Apocalypse Now” in 1979). Forrest plays an AWOL army sergeant (ca. 1969, very much the era of Vietnam) working as a limo driver, who is shanghaied by the Rose, who beds him and adds him to her entourage.

From the first scene, in an office high above Manhattan, she says she wants to take a year off, and after she finds a man to love her for herself rather than as a rock star, it is her inability to stop getting audience adoration that drives him off, which sends her into her final tailspin in her native Memphis.

If there was a reference to Vietnam, I missed it, but she also dragoons another solider, played by David Keith, who also attempts to protect her, but does not seem to bed her.

I think “The Rose” is too long. In addition to the concert (etc.) videos, two scenes especially stand out. The Rose and her manager (Alan Bates, whose performance is more subtle and substantial than it seems through most of the movie) visit a singer-writer played by Harry Dean Stanton, some of whose songs the Rose has covered, with greater success than the original. She expects him to be appreciative, but he is not and shocks her by asking her not to cover any more of his songs. (In the interview on the Criterion Collection bonus disc, Midler recalls that she did not know what was coming in the scene and was taken aback, which is just what Rydell wanted.) The other is an incredibly bravura scene, both for lighting and for acting: the Rose is in a very brightly lit phone booth with a football practice field behind her. Practice ends and the lights back there are extinguished, but the lights on her falling apart in the phone booth become even more intense. (Zsigmond discusses this lighting in a long and somewhat slack half hour interview on the bonus disc, interviewed by John Bailey.)

The insecure star on the road, abusing alcohol and drugs, is a painful spectacle, and Midler mugs not at all in this movie. The Rose is only fully alive when onstage and rallies for an all-out performance of “Stay with Me,” when she should be in a hospital (her manager implores her to go there rather than onstage).

rose

I haven’t listened to the commentary track, but appreciated the new interviews of Midler, Rydell, and Zsigmond, plus a 1979 one of Midler by Gene Shalit, and some production footage narrated by Tom Brokaw from the Today Show, ca. 1978. From a discerning inset essay by Paula Mejia, I learned that the stadium (supposedly in Memphis) for the Rose’s homecoming concert was in Long Beach and the indoor theater scenes were filmed in LA’s Wiltern Theater. From Rydell’s interview and Meijia’s essay, I was reminded that Midler had a fraught relationship with her star-making agent, Aaron Russo (evoked by naming the Rose’s manager Rudge, I’m pretty sure.)

 

Being a Criterion release, the movie looks great. I’m astonished that the work of Zsigmond et al. did not receive an Oscar nomination (I can see Vittorio Storaro’s claim for “Apocalypse Now,” but nominations for “1941” and “The Black Hole”?)

KitchenAid Artisan Stand Mixer: The Future Was Then

KitchenAid Artisan 5-Quart Tilt-Head Stand Mixer in White

005See it at Amazon 

(3.5/5)

Pros: Capable of performing the tasks it claims.  Multiple beater choices come standard.  Tilt-Head locking mechanism.  Power-take-off accepts attachments for juicing, pasta creation and other kitchen chores.

Cons: Weight may make it difficult to move for some.  Excessive motor noise and gear-clash annoying.  Dated styling and moderate footprint make countertop storage an issue.

The Attrezzi was sleeker and quieter - and it never had a chance.
The Attrezzi was sleeker and quieter – and it never had a chance.

For the past decade, I have had a successful bread-making relationship with the Jenn-Air Attrezzi stand mixer.  Also known as “Maytag’s Last Gasp”, this streamlined Italianesque small appliance was axed in April of 2006 when Whirlpool Corp. acquired Jenn-Air’s parent company.  With KitchenAid also beneath the Whirlpool umbrella, there was no need for the established brand to compete with an acquired inter-corporate rookie.

Mid-30s Moderne

The original KitchenAid Model K was produced by the Hobart Corporation and dates back to the Art Deco age when Raymond Loewy was the King of Industrial Design.  Though Loewy has been dubbed “The Designer of Everything” (including the Coca Cola bottle, automobiles and locomotives), the Model K was actually a creation of Egmont Arens – whose realm of design includes the ice cube dispenser and Electrolux vacuum cleaner.

Sensational in its day was the original Model K.  [Image:  Cindy Funk - Flickr]
Sensational in its day was the original Model K. [Image: Cindy Funk – Flickr]

Introduced in 1937 at a suggested retail price of $55.00, the Model K has been tweaked over the decades, but its appearance is essentially unchanged.  Though laudable for its longevity and basic form-and-function, the updated Model K shows its age when conspicuously placed in a 21st century kitchen.

Sensory Perception

The Artisan and crew get ready to mix-it-up.
The Artisan and crew get ready to mix-it-up.

The degree of Artisan drab becomes moot when the mixer is activated.  In the lower range of its ten available speeds, the motor spins with a growl and clash that startles and rankles.  While whipping fresh cream for a strawberry shortcake, several conversing guests fled the nearby counter stools – due to their inability to hear or be heard above the Artisan’s din.

To its credit, the Artisan has survived numerous kitchen challenges for more than a decade with a motor that sounds as if it’s been ready to fail since day-one.  Conversely, the Jenn-Air is handsome and quiet, but is fitted with a sloppy tilt-head lock that is inferior to that of the Artisan.

Utility

The Artisan with its standard equipment attachments and pour shield.
The Artisan with its standard equipment attachments and pour shield.

What KitchenAid delivers is variety.  Included as standard equipment are the wire whip, batter paddle and dough hook.  A clear plastic pour shield fits atop the 5-quart bowl to discourage flour waft and contain spatters.  Should an attachment make contact with the stainless steel bowl while in operation, a screw located on the underside of the tilt-head will adjust the attachment up or down.

A power-take-off shaft on the front of the mixer will accept more than a dozen optional attachments.  A juicer, food processor, meat grinder, grain mill and an assortment of pasta gadgets prevail.  Though I currently own none, the optional ice cream maker is the most tempting potential acquisition.  But how long will I have to endure the motor noise before chowing-down on the resulting frozen delight?

Work In Progress

Planetary action makes quick work of this Toasted Coconut Cake batter.
Planetary action makes quick work of this Toasted Coconut Cake batter.

The Artisan‘s planetary action spins the attachment in the opposite direction of the head – this all-inclusive dual orbit minimizes the need for continually scraping the bowl.  As a result, be aware that whipping heavy cream or egg whites to a desired consistency requires much less time to accomplish vs. a conventional mixer.

While kneading bread dough, the motor doubles-down on gear gnash, but its growl belies its durability.  I’ve never trusted the Artisan to a double-dose of dough, though there are those who do without apparent consequence.  Both the dough hook and batter paddle wear a plastic coating and are dishwasher safe – as is the 5-quart stainless steel bowl.  Due to its aluminum base, I always hand-wash the wire whisk.

Even when cornered, the Artisan lives large.
Even when cornered, the Artisan lives large.

Dependability was for decades the Maytag motto, but it also applies to the KitchenAid Artisan through corporate acquisition.  Its versatility, ubiquity and legitimate (though strictly utilitarian) retro heritage – along with a competitive price and variety of vivid colors – make it the current king of kitchen clamor.  Every kitschy cookhouse should have one – and probably already does.

020
My Toasted Coconut Walnut Cake awaits the oven.

KitchenAid division of Whirlpool Corporation
Customer eXperience Center
P.O. Box 218
St. Joseph, MI  49085
800-541-6390

All images generated by the author unless otherwise noted.

KitchenAid Artisan

Protects and Moisturizes – Jason Aloe Vera Hand and Body Lotion

Jason Pure Natural Aloe Vera 84% Moisturizing Hand and Body Lotion

See it at Amazon 

[Rating: 5/5]

Pros: non-greasy moisturizer, rich botanical composition, light fragrance

Cons: don’t expect it to heal all skin conditions

I had never heard of the Jason brand of hand and body lotion until a relative gifted me with several tubes in different scents.  My favorite lotion is this Jason Pure Natural Aloe Vera 84% Moisturizing Hand and Body Lotion.

Description

Jason lotion comes in a squeezable 8-ounce tube.  The tube has a flip-top lid.  The lid is flat so that the tube can stand upright on a flat surface.  This product is advertised as having a concentrated, rich botanical, hydrating non-greasy formula.  It is promoted as a relief to newly shaven, dry, or irritated or sun-damaged skin.  Jason also never tests their products on animals.

The manufacturer suggests using the lotion on skin that is still slightly damp after a shower or bath.  Suggested daily use is recommended.

My Experiences

My sensitive nose is very happy with the scent of this Jason Aloe Vera lotion.  The fragrance is light and almost a non-fragrance.  I can’t compare it to any one thing.  It is not flowery and does not have a perfume smell.  The scent (light as it is) is pleasant and quickly dissipates after the lotion is applied.

The white lotion easy comes out of the tube without being too liquid.  I mainly use this lotion on my legs, which tend toward dry skin.  If I don’t use lotion, it doesn’t take long for my skin to develop a dry, irritated itching.  The Jason Aloe Vera lotion easily absorbs into the skin.  As advertised, it is not greasy, and it leaves no residue.

I definitely notice my skin is happier after applying this lotion.  I use it daily, sometimes twice a day (morning and evening).  It does a great job keeping my skin hydrated.  Don’t think this lotion is a miracle worker though.  I have a rough patch of flaking skin on my thumb, and my hands are smoothed with this lotion as it is worked into the legs … yet that rough patch of skin on my thumb is still there.  My skin feels soft on both hands and legs; even that rough spot.  So I know the lotion is working well.  It’s just not a miracle healer, but it isn’t advertised as one either.

Ingredients

The ingredients list is from the manufacturer’s website:

Aloe Barbadensis Leaf Juice (1), Aqua (Water), Caprylic/Capric Triglyceride, Glyceryl Stearate SE, Cetyl Alcohol, Stearyl Alcohol, Glycerin, Potassium Cetyl Phosphate, Ethylhexyl Palmitate, Dimethicone, Helianthus Annuus (Sunflower) Seed Oil (1), Persea Gratissima (Avocado) Oil, Chamomilla Recutita (Matricaria) Flower Extract, Camellia Sinensis Leaf Extract, Panax Ginseng Root Extract, Ascorbic Acid, Panthenol, Retinyl Palmitate, Tocopheryl Acetate, Allantoin, Citric Acid, Xanthan Gum, Caprylyl Glycol, Ethylhexylglycerin, Phenoxyethanol, Potassium Sorbate, Sodium Benzoate, Amyl Cinnamal, Benzyl Benzoate, Benzyl Salicylate, Butylphenyl Methylpropional, Citral, Geraniol, Hexyl Cinnamal, Hydroxycitronellal, Limonene, Linalool, Fragrance (Parfum) — (1) Certified Organic Ingredient

Summary

I enjoy using Jason Pure Natural Aloe Vera 84% Moisturizing Hand and Body Lotion.  The scent is mild, and the lotion is easy to apply.  It absorbs well into the skin, and my skin feels better after I use it.

I hope you found this review useful.

Enjoy your day,
Dawn
http://dlstewart.com

Copyright 2015 Dawn L. Stewart

Other products I enjoy using.  Click image to view on Amazon.

GNC Moisturizing Cream                      Aveeno Natural Sunscreen
                                                  

One-A-Day Petite Multivitamin                Os-cal Chewable Calcium 
                                                      

Incomprehensible, Incompetent, Intolerable: THE CULLING

THE CULLING

See it at Amazon 

(1/5) UGH

Pros: Umm…sound design is pretty cool

Cons: Most everything about this film is abhorrent, and the characters?  “They’re idiots!”

Dealing with a group of absolutely moronic, astonishingly unlikable characters who stumble upon evil spirits at a remote homestead, writer/director Rustam Branaman’s The Culling began shooting in 2011, sitting on the shelf for nearly four years before it finally saw the light of day and was released in 2015.  Having now seen the film, I’m frankly amazed that it was released at all – The Culling stands as one of the most genuinely awful movies I’ve seen in quite some time, one that disregards common conventions of cinema and doesn’t even bother to attempt a coherent story. Events in the script are rendered inconsequential by Branaman’s misguided, pointless direction and the piece boasts some of the most crushingly ludicrous dialogue I’ve ever sat through in a straight-faced feature. In short, this is precisely the sort of flick that gives modern horror a bad rap.

The-Culling-Amanda-Linsey-Godfrey-Haunted-HomeAnd what’s behind door number three?   More ill logic and sprit-destroying dialogue!

The Culling follows a group of five young adults on their way to the South by South West Festival (perhaps this is some sort of gag – many film makers dream of taking their films to this event, but sadly – or is it fortunately? – there’s no way in the world that Branaman’s would be selected). After stopping at a cafe out in the sticks, this gang of buffoons discover a young girl named Lucy crying in the parking lot and offer to take her back to her home – which winds up being an expansive mansion in the middle of nowhere. As might be expected, this turns out to be a bad move: not only is this girl some sort of demon, but her parents are homicidal occultists who’ve apparently made some sort of deal with the devil that requires them not only to kill anyone who ventures onto their property, but also construct (??) some sort of army of monster children. Oh, and there’s also the occasional shadow person /smoky apparition / unknown growling, snarling beast prowling the property.

culling7Oh this guy?  Forget about him – he’ll be gone and forgotten in three seconds.

Hopefully that synopsis provides some idea of how much of a haphazard mess this flick is, but any description I could write doesn’t do justice to the abysmal Culling. The lack of coherency, frequent references to marijuana and sex, and gratuitous pop culture references might lead one to think this was written by (at best) a college student, but sadly that’s not the case – a middle-aged man, failing miserably in his attempt to sound “hip” and appeal to young audiences, is to blame. In the mood for some verbal diarrhea? You’re in luck, since the mind-numbing chatter between characters in Branaman’s script is appalling, with many conversations playing out as repeating loops. People have similar back-and-forth exchanges one right after another (can anyone in the film even comprehend or make sense of the English language?), and the film concludes most every one of its instances of bickering between various characters with stubborn declarations of “Fine!” or “That’s Enough!”

The-Culling-Brett-Davern-StillThis group of characters makes the typical Friday the 13th film appear to be populated by rocket scientists.

Furthermore, there’s virtually no explanation provided for any of the events in the film: things simply happen and a viewer is left to try and figure out what the hell is going on. A rambling and thoroughly incomprehensible monologue near the end does about nothing to shed light on what is a confusing and downright sloppy plot. I almost could live with the lack of sense being made in the film – after all, horror flicks aren’t known for their sound logic – but the amount of loose ends left at the end of The Culling is staggering. Ideas are thrown in as if they’ll figure heavily into the ongoing events, then are completely forgotten within seconds. To make matters worse, as the “story” is going full bore towards what one would hope to be a smashing finale, Branaman suddenly yanks the emergency brake and the end credit scroll begins out of nowhere. This hasty ending might as well scream “yeah…we just ran out of money,” making what was already a problematic film all the more frustrating and disappointing. One might hope that Branaman would never work again for how positively incompetent his handling of The Culling is – it boggles the mind to consider the monumental waste of time, energy, effort, and money this film represents.

maxresdefaultNumero uno y numero dos on my list of characters I desperately wanted to die…painfully…as soon as possible.

Bad as the script is, it’s in some ways the characters that push The Culling over the top. I’ve seen many a lousy horror flick in which I hoped the characters would be killed quickly so that I wouldn’t be annoyed by them any longer, but Branaman’s film may have established a new record for how quickly I desperately wanted everyone onscreen to die. This film presents a “who’s who” of cliched horror film personalities in the group of prospective victims: Tyler and Emily, the couple who are attempting to patch things up after a rough patch in their relationship; perennial douchebag Sean, who spends the majority of the film smoking weed or drinking Bud Light; wisenheimer Hank, who actually might have been amusing if he’d been placed alongside other, more obviously likable characters; and Amanda, the girl who just got out of drug rehab. Essentially, none of these people are remotely likable and beyond that, they’re moronic to the point that the killers in this film could probably be considered to be doing a public service by removing them from the breeding pool.

Elizabeth-Di-Prinzio-The-CullingElizabeth Di Prinzio spends the final few minutes of the film running around in just her bra.  Hey, at least it’s something…

Even if none of the actors playing these roles do an especially good job – and many are genuinely horrible in their performances – it’s hard for me to really hold them accountable considering the obnoxious and reprehensible material they were given to work with. The best thing I could say about Elizabeth Di Prinzio (playing Emily who winds up as the semi-heroine of the piece), Jeremy Sumpter (as her would-be boyfriend whose main job after a certain point is to threaten everyone and anyone with a rifle), and Brett Davern (as Hank) is that they weren’t quite as overwhelmingly abrasive as either Chris Coy (as the unbelievably irritating Sean) or Linsey Godfrey (too hysterical as Amanda). Johnathon Schaech as Lucy’s murderous father Wayne easily fares the best in the film, at least partially because he actually has some acting ability but also because he tackles the role of the villain with enthusiasm, and Harley Graham as Lucy ranges from being cute and innocent to fairly creepy.

the-culling-horror-movie-news-4One can only imagine the haunted house tale that could be spun using this location, but the structure is woefully underutilized.

From a technical standpoint, I can say that the outdoor, nighttime photography is accomplished fairly well, with especially good lighting adding a much-needed element of eeriness to the picture. I also rather liked the sound design which was often overrun with ominous groans, rumbles, and growls. Even with the near-constant unsettling audio however, The Culling takes forever to get going, and even then suffers from a serious lack of genuine suspense or scariness – possibly because a viewer has so little regard for them, it’s actually a relief when the “protagonist” characters meet their dooms, which virtually eliminates any semblance of tension from the film. The misguided sense of spatial dynamics doesn’t help matters either: there are numerous instances where it’s nearly impossible to discern what is being seen and why one should even care. Surprisingly, director Branaman doesn’t even rely on the usual overload of gore to sustain audience interest: there really is nothing here to keep one involved in the proceedings and it’s therefore no surprise that the production seems utterly ineffectual in the end. I honestly have no clue why anyone would want to sit through this disaster of a movie: this isn’t so bad it’s good, it’s so entirely awful as to come across as a pathetic excuse for “entertainment.” I’d advise potential viewers to find any excuse not to suffer through this flick: it really is best forgotten.

culling-4

blood & guts5/10: Some violent scenes and isolated instances of gore, but the film is a massive letdown in terms of its overall scariness and intensity.
smack talk5/10: A few curse words; this film contains quite a bit of casual drug and alcohol use.
fap factor2/10: Some sexual innuendo and references, but sadly, no nudity.
whack attack3/10: A pretty poor excuse for a feature film, but one that doesn’t even come across as an enjoyably bad movie.
GI JOE“There’s just no limit to what these reality shows are gonna exploit. I mean, people shouldn’t mess with the occult…”

The Hardy Boys Volume 3 – The Secret of the Old Mill

The Hardy Boys Volume 3 – The Secret of the Old Mill

 

51-K+LYVobL._SX309_BO1,204,203,200_

 $7.90 at Amazon 

(3/5)

Pros: Solid, straight-forward story

Cons: Too straight-forward

 

*Spoilers lurk ahead*

The Secret of the Old Mill is, in my humble opinion, one of the strangest (Grosset & Dunlap) Hardy Boys stories ever published. Surprisingly, this “strangeness” is not due to the story’s content, but rather,  to the “staightforward-ness nature” of the story, itself. Very few nuances, to be sure. So, let’s get the house-keeping out of the way, and discuss this one in more detail….

*By the way, check out the cover. Does anyone else think Frank Hardy looks like Tony Dow/Wally Cleaver? Just saying….

Stuff I have said before

Frank, aged 18 with dark hair, and blond, 17-year-old Joe Hardy are sons of the famous private detective, Fenton Hardy, who made his reputation as a “crack” detective working for the NYPD. Frank and Joe live in the town of Bayport, USA–somewhere on the coast of New Jersey (hard to believe they may have grown up in the same town as Snooki, isn’t it?)–and are both seniors at Bayport High School. As you may have ascertained by now, they are following in their father’s footsteps as amateur detectives…and aren’t too bad in their own right, either.

Please note: As a child, Frank missed a full year of school due to an illness.

In addition to their father, Frank and Joe live at home with their mother, Laura (she is hardly ever given anything to do in these stories) and their irascible Aunt Gertrude who always has dire predictions of gloom and doom awaiting Frank and Joe…but “is secretly proud of their sleuthing abilities.”

Chet Morton is the Hardys’ best friend. He is a bit chubby, and quite fearful–but a loyal friend. Chet, in addition to providing comic relief, usually has some new hobby that always manages to tie in to the Hardys’ latest case. This week it is an interest in science (as long as the science involves microscopes).

Tony Prito and Biff Hooper are two other very close pals of Frank and Joe. Tony’s dad owns the Prito (how original) Construction Company and Tony, himself, has a boat: The Napoli. Biff (real name is “Allen”) is the nephew of a famous boxer–FWD forgot who, apparently–and provides much-needed muscle: “Many a criminal had felt the iron of Biff’s wallop.”

Jerry Gilroy is the “Wedge Antilles” of the Hardy Boys universe. I call Jerry “the Wedge Antilles…” because I have always (not really) thought the two characters have a lot in common: We do not know their respective back stories; they only show up every now and then–yet survive their series’ entire run. I still maintain Jerry has his own set of adventures that George Lucas, er, Grosset & Dunlap, have failed to cash in on. Maybe someday.

Detective wanna-be, Oscar Smuff, also makes a brief appearance in this story, for comic relief only. More on him below>

Finally, the Hardys’ romantic (if you want to call it that) interests are: blonde-haired Callie Shaw and Iola Morton (Chet’s raven haired sister). “Vivacious” and “fun” is what we are told about them. It seems to be true.

Pssst: If you want the inside scoop on Franklin W. Dixon, check out my review of The Tower Treasure, ok? But, I warn you, it’s not for the faint of heart.

******************

The Secret of the Old Mill

Alas, no “Briefly” section this time out. There just isn’t enough material for more than 2-3 sentences, if that. And, it’s worth noting the only other time I skipped a Briefly section for one of these novels was for my Epinions review of Hunting For Hidden Gold. However, that was due out of respect  to its being–by far–the most well-written HB story I have ever read.

There is a lot of stuff going on in and around Bayport this time out. Mr. Hardy is away on a case, so Frank and Joe get enlisted to check out the strange goings-on at the Elekton Corporation, located just outside of Bayport. It seems EC is working on rockets, and the evil foreign agents (once again) have descended onto Bayport. Frank and Joe investigate and ask the question: Could this case be related to Dad’s??

What do you think?

Meanwhile, back in Bayport, counterfeiters have also arrived, and Chet Morton is one of their latest victims (as he is on his way to purchase his new microscope). Oscar Smuff is on it! But, this just leads to yet another epic fail by OS so our intrepid heroes take over “his” case, too.

Where is Mr. Hardy?

We also have a 14 year-old kid, Ken Blake, riding around Bayport on his bicycle, and he manages to always show up at the wrong place at the wrong time. What’s he up to, anyway?

And, finally, an evil dude known only as “The Arrow” (no, not Stephen Amell) is on the loose, shooting arrow after arrow at our heroes. Fortunately, his aim is on the level of your average Star Wars villain.

Oh yeah, I almost forgot (which is telling) – an old mill also figures into this case, and said mill has a, er, secret. It seems something strange is going on at and around the old mill. How do Frank and Joe know this? They just know, ok?

***************

So, after just reading all of the varied aforementioned goings-on of this story, one would think this would (work with me) make for a great read. Unfortunately, not so much. As I have said in reviews past, I still have my HB novels from childhood, and I will re-read them from time to time and it’s usually a very enjoyable experience. However, it has been so long since I last read this one, I pulled it out and gave it a re-read before writing this review.

And, I now know why it has been such a long while….

The story, despite a few exciting elements that mesh together fairly well, just isn’t interesting at all. FWD (perhaps he was sober) writes at a very methodical, matter-of-fact pace, and the story plods along its 180 pages or so to the conclusion…..yet never really takes on an identity (Re: charm) of its own. It’s serviceable, just not very interesting….

….oh, we get the brief humor with Oscar Smuff hot on the trail of the counterfeiters–and I do admit the hide-and-seek he plays with one of “them” is hilarious. We also get a chapter devoted to the HB’s getting their speedboat, The Sleuth, and that is entertaining, too. However, both of these sequences occur within the novel’s early chapters, and then it is as if the author just followed the outline given  him to a “T” and didn’t try to stamp his personality onto it in any way, shape, or form.

This is what I believe happened, anyway.

So, in conclusion, I am rating this with three very unenthusiastic stars but please understand my rating  of “barely passable” is geared only towards diehard HB fans. If this isn’t you, then you should pass on it. It is a decent, one time only, read for fans only. You’ve been warned!

Thanks for reading.

The Hardy Boys Volume 3 – The Secret of the Old Mill

*The Secret of the old Mill was first published by the Stratemeyer Syndicate in 1927, and written by Leslie McFarlane. The updated version reviewed here was published by Grosset & Dunlap in 1962, and written by Alistair Hunter. Thank you, Wikipedia.

ISBN-10: 0448089033

ISBN-13: 978-0448089034

 

Sauder’s “Multimedia Storage Tower” Is Well Worth 40 Bucks

Sauder Multimedia Storage Tower, Cinnamon Cherry

Sauder

See it at Amazon 

(4/5)

Pros: Price (about $40 including shipping). Capacity. Ease of assembly. Satisfactory appearance.

Cons: Back panel’s permanent “fold marks.”

Last March I was in the process of completing my collections of (mostly) “racing” video games for the PlayStation 2; GameCube, and original Wii systems. I’d decided to segregate those older games from my flagship Xbox 360 console’s compatible games (kept in an adjacent billiard/games room), and so I ordered this Sauder Multimedia Storage Tower [from Amazon.com for slightly over $40], and I installed it in my home office’s 6’ x 6’ walk-in closet.

According to Amazon, this product’s “assembled measurements are 32.50 inches wide by 9.375 inches deep by 45.375 inches tall.” However, those numbers pertain to the maximum exterior size of the product, not its usable shelf space. Accordingly, prospective consumers should note well that the actual shelf width and depth (per my hands-on measurements) are 32.2 by 5.5 inches.

As for the usable height of each shelf tier, well, using some of the manufacturer’s predrilled holes (for which insertable little metal “supports” are provided), I’ve adjusted four (of the six included) shelves such that there are five tiers (not counting the top of the cabinet), each measuring about 8 inches high. [This assumes you want each tier to accommodate conventional “DVD” cases, like those originally included with most PS2, GameCube, or Wii video games.]

According to the manufacturer, this “storage tower” can hold 426 CDs or 280 DVDs. In actuality, I filled this tower with only 265 “DVD” cases, as follows: 150 PS2 games; 62 GameCube games; and 53 Wii games. [Sure, I could’ve shoehorned another four or five such cases, but that would’ve made for an annoyingly tight fit.] Now, on the one hand, I wish the shelves were each several inches wider (which would’ve let me display my entire collections of PS2, GameCube and Wii titles). On the other hand, I recognize that any amount of increased width would’ve likely engendered significant warping of the composite-wood shelf boards after several years. [Thus I’m philosophically content to compromise by storing my least significant game titles in a nearby chest of drawers.]

After about five months of use — with all shelves fully loaded with video game discs in DVD cases — there’s no noticeable warping. However, at least one other online reviewer has reported that after a year or more of use, a tolerably slight amount of warping has indeed begun to occur with his specimen. Considering the low cost of this product, I’m not unduly concerned about that issue. Besides, at some point in the future, I could easily invert each shelf board (after applying some dark Minwax stain to the presently unfinished underside), which should effectively reverse any such warping.

By the way, since inverting the shaped top piece of the cabinet would not be an option, I strongly suggest that you don’t place any weighty objects atop this product. [I myself have (primarily for display purposes) placed just five games there that I selected for their cases’ particularly attractive front-cover art. And since I’ve got that handful of featherweight objects positioned “face-forward” near the back edge of that top piece (where at least a modicum of additional support is provided by the thin, nailed-on back panel), I don’t anticipate any perceptible warping in my unit’s top.]

Regarding color, the manufacturer calls it “Cinnamon Cherry.” The actual specimen that I received looks pretty much like a somewhat reddish version of dark walnut. (My specimen looks a bit darker than the above product image.) Although I could’ve used a somewhat lighter hue (to more closely harmonize with a preexisting dark-oak closet shelf on which I’m displaying a six-foot-wide row of original PlayStation [PS1] games in standard “CD” jewel cases), I’m more than satisfied with this product’s somewhat darker color, and I certainly would prefer it to more extreme alternatives like “ebony” or “light oak.”

If you look carefully at the above (click-twice-to-enlarge) product image, you’ll notice that the woodgrain back-panel piece has two vertical “creases” running from top to bottom; this reflects the fact that that panel was packed folded, and only when you unfold and nail it to the rear of the cabinet’s edges does the back panel flatten out. (Actually, as you can see in the photo, it doesn’t quite completely flatten out; indeed, at those points where a videogame case is directly in front of a back panel crease, the case is effectively pushed a fraction of an inch forward. Fortunately, the degree of such discrepancy is slight enough to be scarcely noticeable.) Though the back panel’s permanent “fold marks” will scarcely matter for most installations, they could prove annoyingly conspicuous if much of the shelf space isn’t sufficiently filled with media or whatever.

Though this rock-bottom-cheap product obviously can’t match the hardwood custom cabinetry in my house’s featured books-and-music “library” rooms, it’s plenty good enough for displaying the aforementioned older videogame collections in my home office’s walk-in closet. In fact, this easy-to-assemble/move Sauder unit wouldn’t look half bad in many an apartment living space– especially if you’re not pernickety and/or must make do on a tight budget.

ROSEMARY’S BABY and THE OMEN Get the Found Footage Treatment: DEVIL’S DUE

DEVIL’S DUE

See it at Amazon 

(2/5)

Pros: Sense of ambiguity and mystery; first half of the film isn’t bad

Cons: Ending is a disappointment; too many cheap thrills, not enough genuine tension

With the ghost story formula of Poltergeist and numerous other films tackled using first-person perspective in 2007’s Paranormal Activity and even The Exorcist getting the discovered footage/mockumentary treatment in 2015’s The Atticus Institute, why wouldn’t horror film fans expect a found footage variation of Rosemary’s Baby and/or The Omen to pop up at some point? Abandoning any attempt to justify that formatting, 2014’s Devil’s Due presents the story of newlywed couple Zach and Samantha McCall who, after a honeymoon in the Dominican Republic, start to suspect that something is very fishy about their subsequent unplanned pregnancy. With shadowy figures and pseudoreligious symbolism appearing all around them, it would appear that Samantha is about to give birth to the antichrist, but husband Zach doesn’t seem willing to write off his unborn child just yet.

Devil’s-Due-(2014)-HollywoodInsert John Williams’s Jaws Theme here…

Told by way of any number of handheld and closed-circuit security cameras which seem to capture any and every aspect of the McCall’s everyday life, there’s not so much as a hint of authenticity to this film. I suppose in a way it’s advantageous that filmmakers have decided that the found footage gimmick can be used just because (some) audiences enjoy it: there doesn’t really have to be any effort made to make these films seem believable anymore since no one would in the first place. As such, Devil’s Due writer Lindsay Devlin and co-directors Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett can concentrate on telling their story in the best way possible, without any concern for upholding the illusion of the film portraying real events. Unfortunately, the film they’ve delivered becomes ever more goofy as it goes along – in the lousy way these “scary” moments are crafted onscreen, I half expected comic-book style balloon descriptors to intrude, accentuating the film’s action (BOOM! BANG! POW!) but more importantly pointing out exactly how the writer and directors wanted the audience to react (GASP! SHIVER!).

devils-due-mainNot quite normal behavior from a pregnant woman…

In dealing with a story like this, it’s almost inevitable that the fear of pregnancy itself is the most frightening notion being dealt with. Devlin’s script might not be the most logical thing in the world, but it does a satisfactory job of capturing the anxiety of the prospective parents. Cast members Allison Miller and Zach Gilford handle this material fairly capably, and there are some genuinely uncomfortable moments in a first half or so that’s much more reliant on subtle, eerie elements and a palpable sense of dread rather than obvious cheap thrills. I could even buy into the obligatory dark ritual which resulted in Sam being impregnated: related to the camera in a protracted, very mysterious manner, I wasn’t sure quite what I was seeing, but it was appropriately spooky and bizarre – even more so when placed alongside joyous images taken during the couple’s honeymoon.

The film has some downright uncomfortable moments early on relating to the fear of pregnancy.

Down the stretch though, Devlin throws any notion of subtlety out the window and revels in the same sort of basic ingredients found in virtually every supernatural-related horror flick – people and objects being tossed around by unknown forces, a group of zombie-like fiends seemingly pulled straight out of John Carpenter’s under-appreciated Prince of Darkness, a priest making desperate exclamations about the end times. It was at this point that Devil’s Due started to lose me…and eventually made the transition into being more funny than scary. It’s been quite a while since I chuckled at a straight horror movie as much as I did at the final third of Devil’s Due. At a certain point, Devlin goes completely overboard in an attempt to give what had been a slow-burner of a creepy movie a wopbop-a-loobop-a-lopbamboom conclusion. Making up for lost time in an appeal to the ADHD generation, this loud finale went against everything that had occurred earlier and wound up turning this fairly typical but nonetheless watchable flick into a mostly ludicrous hunk of cheese.

devils-due-zack-wallNicely executed?  Sure, but slick visuals can’t make up for a script that runs out of ideas.

As was the case in The Atticus Institute, Devil’s Due suffers from a lack of legitimate tension – the film actually lets the viewer off the hook precisely when one would expect the suspense level to be nearly unbearable. Honestly, the only moment in which I was truly unnerved was during a child’s “hide and go seek” game – this scene had been featured in the advertisements for the film and I was a bit apprehensive awaiting the inevitable jump scare that I was sure would occur very shortly. Imagine my massive disappointment when even this scene didn’t offer up that much of a jolt in the end – the suspense was mostly in my mind. Perhaps that notion suggests the most damning thing about this film: it shows too much to viewer. Movies like The Blair Witch Project, the original Paranormal Activity, and even Jaws for that matter worked as well as they did because they more often than not forced a viewer to imagine the monstrous entity at their center: as has been proven time and again, the human mind is capable of visualizing much more disturbing and unsettling imagery and ideas than what any crack team of special effects artists can create. By simply allowing its more fantastic scenes to play out on screen, Devil’s Due actually becomes less effective as a horror film even though the effects themselves aren’t bad.

maxresdefaultEnjoy it – the only really creeped-out moment in the film.

Eventually, all the smoke and mirrors in the world can’t save Devil’s Due from seeming like anything other than a run-of-the-mill found footage flick that picks up ideas from various classics of the horror genre and mashes them together into tiresome hodgepodge. The film is capably made, and has some clever (if rather familiar) moments, especially early on. I also rather liked the sense of ambiguity that seeps into the film during certain stretches, although many viewers take a more negative view of events not being explained thoroughly. By the time the story heads into the home stretch however, the fresh ideas have clearly been exhausted and a viewer is left to trudge through a gory but mostly ineffectual and unsatisfying final act. To be honest, Devil’s Due isn’t as truly abysmal as I thought it would be, but it’s hardly something that I’d urge people (even those who enjoy b-grade or found footage horror) to see – if you do enjoy this sort of movie and have an hour and a half to kill, knock yourself out…but don’t expect greatness.

Rest assured – this publicity stunt is much more clever than anything in the film:

 

blood & guts
6/10: Though relatively bloodless early on, it unleashes a torrent of gore by its conclusion.
smack talk
7/10: Fairly regular use of profanity, including numerous f-bombs.
fap factor
1/10: Extremely brief nudity shot from a distance and some mild sexual references.
whack attack
6/10: A rather ambiguous found footage Omen that has its moments but is ultimately disappointing.
GI JOE
“Children, it is the last hour / and as you have heard that the antichrist is coming / so now many antichrists will come / Therefore we know that it is the last hour…”