We Have Always Lived in the Castle

By Shirley Jackson
ISBN-13 978-014-303997-6

Publication Year: 1962

Tags: Thriller, Horror, Classic

Rating: ★★★☆☆

The book’s beginning: “My name is Mary Katherine Blackwood. I am eighteen years old, and I live with my sister Constance. I have often thought that with any luck at all I could have been born a werewolf, because the two middle fingers on both my hands are the same length, but I have had to be content with what I had. I dislike washing myself, and dogs, and noise, I like my sister Constance, and Richard Plantagenet, and Amanita phalloides, the death-cup mushroom. Everyone else in my family is dead.” Continue reading “We Have Always Lived in the Castle”

Interstellar

(2014, rated PG) Matthew McConaughey (Cooper), Anne Hathaway (Amelia Brand), Jessica Chastain (Murphy “Murph” Cooper), John Lithgow (Donald), Michael Caine (Dr. Brand), Casey Affleck (Tom Cooper), Matt Damon (Dr. Mann), William Devane (Williams). Music: Hans Zimmer. Screenplay: Johnathan Nolan and Christopher Nolan. Director: Christopher Nolan. 169 minutes.

Tags: Sci-Fi, Epic, Dystopian, Special Effects Extravaganza

Notable: Various aspects of “hard science” heighten the film’s believability; a PG-rated film with a single f-bomb in it, which used to make a film require an “R” rating.

Rating: ★★★★★

In the mid-twenty-first century, the Earth can barely sustain life. Cooper (McConaughey) is a former NASA astronaut, now trying to eke out a life as a dust-bowl farmer after NASA had been abandoned some years before. His daughter Murphy finds a strange pattern in the dust on the floor of her room, a pattern she blames on a ghost. When the pattern keeps recurring, Cooper deduces that it’s a gravitic anomaly, that the lines are actually a binary code for geographic coordinates. Following them, Cooper discovers Brand (Hathaway), his old boss from NASA, heading a secret facility that has been researching the presence of an artificially-created wormhole, an opening in space that could lead to a planet that could sustain human life… if they can get there. Continue reading “Interstellar”

You Are A Badass

By Jen Sincero
ISBN-13: 978-0-7624-4769-5

Publication Year: 2013

Tags: Self-Help, Unoriginal, Potentially Dangerous

Rating: ★☆☆☆☆

I had this book recommended to me by someone who said that it changed her life. (She’s still working at a discount book store, so maybe other areas of her life were changed.) Short Form: Another self-styled Life Coach hypes herself as having THE ANSWER, using all of the worst self-help suggestions in the world, barely repackaged into modern, poorly-written tripe. To quote a favorite short review, “This is not a book to be tossed aside lightly; it should be throw with great force.” (Attributed, without confirmation, to Dorothy Parker) Continue reading “You Are A Badass”

The Parade of the Grotesques

As but a pup, I remember using words like gross or even “groady” (which isn’t a word) to describe something disgusting, foul, probably even slimy. These would seem to be the modern American abbreviated forms of something being grotesque which, in this sub-dialect of the English language, has come to mean not merely unnatural, bizarre, or freakish, but more often malformed, ugly, or just plain puke-worthy. Considering the origins of the word, and its use early in the last century in the sense of fantastic (something out of fantasy) or outrageous (something so unusual as to cause wondrous disbelief), it would seem to be a word worth revisiting. Continue reading “The Parade of the Grotesques”

True Believer

(1989, rated R) James Woods (Eddie Dodd), Robert Downey, Jr. (Roger Barron), Margaret Colin (Kitty Greer), Yuji Okumoto (Shiu Kai Kim), Kurtwood Smith (Robert Reynard), Tom Bower (Cecil Skell), Miguel Fernandez (Art Esparza), Charles Hallahan (Vincent Dennehy), Luis Guzman (Ortega). Music: Brad Fidel (“Busload of Faith” written/sung by Lou Reed). Screenplay: Wesley Strick. Director: Joseph Ruben. 108 minutes.

Tags: Mystery, Courtroom Drama, “Criminal Justice YRW”

Notable: Downey as a baby-faced 24 year old; spun-off short-lived TV series Eddie Dodd, starring Treat Williams.

Rating: ★★★★☆

Eddie Dodd was a crusading lawyer in his day; now, he’s a burn-out, defending drug dealers that he knows are guilty in order to make points about the unfairness of governmental and police procedural flaws… so he says. Roger Barron, fresh out of law school, was impressed with Eddie’s early cases, comes to San Francisco to work with him, not sure that he’s even meeting the firebrand of years past. The knifing of a prison inmate by another inmate calls into question whether or not young Shiu Kai Kim (the alleged killer) should have been in prison in the first place. After all these years of having lost his own belief in The System, Eddie now has a chance to defend an innocent man. The question becomes… can he? Continue reading “True Believer”

The Gods Themselves

By Isaac Asimov
ISBN-13 978-0-5532-8810-0

Tags: Science Fiction, What-If, Cautionary Tale

Rating: ★★★☆☆

Through an accident of science, Earth now has a seemingly unlimited supply of energy, enough to last a trillion years. Three people — an outcast scientist, a rebellious alien in a parallel world, and a lunar-born human Intuitionist — are aware that this boon to humankind could cause an imbalance in the nature of nuclear attraction that will cause the sun to explode with enough force to destroy the entire solar system and beyond, in perhaps as little as a few years. Continue reading “The Gods Themselves”

The Sentinel

(1977, rated R) Chris Serandon (Michael Lerner), Christina Raines (Alison Parker), Martin Balsam (Professor Ruzinsky), John Carridine (Father Halloran), José Ferrer (Robed Figure), Ava Gardner (Miss Logan), Arthur Kennedy (Monsignor Franchino), Burgess Meredith (Charles Chasen), Sylvia Miles (Gerda), Deborah Raffin (Jennifer), Eli Wallach (Detective Gatz), Christopher Walken (Rizzo), Jerry Orbach (Film Director), Jeff Goldblum (Jack). Music: Gil Mellé. Screenplay: Michael Winner (based on the book by Jeffrey Konvtiz). Director: Michael Winner. 92 minutes.

Tags: Horror, Suspense, Kitsch

Notable: Jeff Goldblum almost invisible; Christopher Walken with about three lines; presentation of a lesbian couple (who are, of course, evil).

Rating: ★★☆☆☆

Model Alison Parker catches a great deal on a Brooklyn apartment, with her few neighbors being a bit eccentric, particularly the old, blind priest, Father Halloran in the upper floor apartment who sits in the window, staring at nothing, and never moves. It takes some time for her and her lawyer lover, Michael Lerner, to discover that the building is actually the gateway to Hell… and Alison has been invited to join the occupants of the building permanently. Continue reading “The Sentinel”

Millennium

By John Varley
ISBN-13 — 978-0441006779

Publication Year: 1983

Tags: Science Fiction, Time Travel

Rating: ★★★★☆

Far over Oakland, California, a DC-10 commercial aircraft strikes a 747 in mid-air, bringing down both planes in an area covering several miles. No survivors. Air disaster investigator Bill Smith is searching for the reason for the crash, as a woman calling herself Louise Baltimore prepares, 50,000 years in the future, to stop him from finding out too much. The crash had to happen. It wasn’t that Louise caused it, but she left something behind on that plane, and Bill Smith can’t discover it before her, or the entirety of human history could be wiped out at a speed of hundreds of years per hour. Continue reading “Millennium”

Hitchcock

(2012, PG-13) Anthony Hopkins (Alfred Hitchcock), Helen Mirren (Alma Reville), Scarlett Johansson (Janet Leigh), Toni Collette (Peggy), Danny Huston (Whitfield Cook), Jessica Biel (Vera Miles), Michael Stuhlbarg (Lew Wasserman), James D’Arcy (Anthony Perkins), Michael Wincott (Ed Grein), Kurtwood Smith (Geoffrey Shurlock), Richard Portnow (Barney Balaban). Music: Danny Elfman. Screenplay: John J. McLaughlin. (based on “Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho” by Stephen Rebello). Director: Sacha Gervasi. 98 minutes.

Tags: Behind-the-Scenes, Bio-Pic

Notable: Good story about the making of Psycho, but the personal aspects ain’t actual history.

Rating: ★★★☆☆

By all accounts, Alfred Hitchcock was a difficult man, as a person, as a director, and as a husband. The great gamble of his life was to make the film Psycho. The studio hated it, wanting him to fall back on thrillers like The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934, his first big success in the genre) and several dozen others. Hitch was becoming somewhat bored with the formula, even with brilliant films like Rope (1948), Strangers on a Train (1951), and Rear Window (1954) in his repertoire. The truth was that Vertigo (1958), which has long since been vindicated as brilliant, was a box office flop as far as the studio was concerned; North By Northwest (1959) did well enough, and Paramount wanted “another one like that.” They wanted to make money, and at that point, the team of Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis was making a ton of cash for the producers. Studio executive Lew Wasserman was so sure that Psycho was going to bomb that he banked on the rather “craptastic” Martin-Lewis debacle called Cinderfella, which came out that Christmas. Talk about flops… Continue reading “Hitchcock”

The Manitou

By Graham Masterton
ISBN 1587541033

Publication Year: 1975

Tags: Horror, Native American

Rating: ★★☆☆☆

Harry Erskine is a phony clairvoyant who reads Tarot cards for a living. One of his “wealthy old ladies” has a niece, Karen Tandy, who has been having disturbing dreams and, perhaps coincidentally, has developed a strange lump on the back of her neck. Growing at an astonishing rate — measurable in centimeters per hour — the lump has some of the characteristics of a developing fetus. Piecing together clues both material and psychic, Harry believes this to be the impending reincarnation of a Native American Medicine Man from 300 years in the past, returning to reclaim the land from the White Man. If he grows to maturity, if he escapes Karen Tandy’s body, the girl will be the first to die… and the body count will only grow larger… Continue reading “The Manitou”