Archive for September, 2012

No need to stalk ‘Screamers: The Hunting’

September 30, 2012

I’ve not seen the 1995 film Screamers, but apparently it’s considered a minor classic of the science fiction/horror genre. Based on a Philip K. Dick story, “Second Variety,” it is set on the planet Sirius 6B, where killer robots designed to help one side vanquish its foes are now targeting all humans.

The 2009 sequel, Screamers: The Hunting, was apparently released direct to video; I watched it the other night. Directed by Sheldon Wilson and written by Tom Berry and Miguel Tejada-Flores, it is an acceptable but hardly wonderful B-movie.

The plot is set in motion when a human transmits a distress signal, leading to the dispatch of a seven-person crew aboard the Alliance Central ship Medusa. Their mission: Find and rescue any remaining humans on the planet, which was abandoned years ago and was thought to be lifeless.

Commander Sexton and his team are operating on a strict timeline. Six days from the time they land, some kind of space storm will wipe out all life on Sirius 6B. (The wonderful SF/horror/fantasy movie review site describes the phenomenon as a Magellanic storm, although I never seemed to hear the term clearly.)

Things start going badly when the team first contacts the screamers — so named because of the terrifying noises some models emit; two crew members are soon killed. Worse yet, a screamer has entered the ship and drained its power supply, stranding it on the planet unless the team can locate more fuel cells. (Oddly, no thought ever seems to be given to discovering how the screamer boarded Medusa or determining whether it is still aboard.)

Having discovered a dormant screamers factory and made an unsuccessful attempt to parlay with a band of human survivors, the team returns to where they had seen the humans. The competent Lt. Victoria Burke (Gina Holden) convinces a paranoid woman named Hannah to lead the group into the settlement. There, a survivor named Guy slices open Burke’s hand and tastes her blood in order to verify her humanity. Screamers, you see, now emulate people… Read the rest of this entry »

‘Identity’ is a killer: The zippy murder mystery/psychological thriller that could!

September 29, 2012

The year: 2003. The times: So different from today.

Nine years ago, I had recently finished a master’s degree but not found work at a daily newspaper. (Remember those?!) The Internet had yet to achieve its status as a nearly omnipresent component of first world living, although it was moving in that direction, and Apple was near the beginning of its current unparalleled streak of success. (The iPod was not quite two years old at the time, and not nearly as physically diminutive, digitally capacious or all-around nifty as today’s models.)

Streaming video was then a relatively new feature of the Internet. I remember fiddling around with my computer one night and viewing the different movie previews (trailers, in the biz) on a page on Apple’s website.

One of previews on that page was for Identity, a thriller written by Michael Cooney and directed by James Mangold. I still remember the tag line: “Identity is a killer.”

The preview intrigued me, but I had little intention of seeing the movie. I generally shy away from scary movies, and it was clear that Identity was full of killing. (It’s also very possible that I viewed the preview months after Identity hit theaters — on April 23, 2003, according to

Some months back, I ended up reading the script for Identity on the web, and I enjoyed it. And just the other week, I actually watched the movie — legally, through a streaming video website, as it happens — for the first time.

My verdict? I liked it. It is well paced and hits a variety of notes. Over the course of the story, characters experience confusion, panic, terror, resignation, hope and redemption. A strong cast, led by John Cusack, carries the script through a few weak patches.

The story begins as several cars converge on an isolated Nevada desert motel and are trapped there when the rain washes out the road in two different spots.

Limousine driver Ed (Cusack) is desperate to get help for Alice York, a woman whom he accidentally hit and grievously wounded while driving a shrewish fading actress. But he eventually abandons the effort; the motel is completely cut off, with the storm even disrupting attempts to radio for assistance from a state corrections department vehicle. Read the rest of this entry »

Shutdown in Seattle: Washington 17, Stanford 13

September 28, 2012

I have a confession.

After the Stanford Cardinal football team beat USC, 21-14, on Sept. 15, I dared to dream. I dreamed about Stanford beating Oregon in Eugene on Nov. 17. I dreamed about running the table. I dreamed about the Cardinal securing a top-five ranking and a place in the national championship conversation. I began looking at my Cardinal Rose Bowl T-shirt from 2000 and imagining another trip to Pasadena.

There’s a chance that many of those dreams still might be realized. But they are much less likely to come about after the Washington Huskies largely shut down the Cardinal offense in a 17-13 victory in Seattle Thursday night.

It was a painful loss, as much for what it showed about the Cardinal football team as for the damage it did to the hopes and dreams of fans such as me. The anemic offense that seemed sure to doom Stanford throughout most of the last two games never transformed itself into the competent attack that generated two second-half touchdowns against the Trojans.

Quarterback Josh Nunes remained mediocre (to put it very, very kindly). Stepfan Taylor, who produced 213 yards of overall offense against USC, was taken down a notch, as the Huskies defense limited him to 75 yards rushing and no net yards on four catches. Zach Ertz caught six balls for 106 yards, but Nunes only completed 12 other throws to four other receivers — that on a night when he made 37 pass attempts. Read the rest of this entry »

Adultery, murder and madness drive Dexter’s brilliant ‘Paris Trout’

September 5, 2012

Some years ago, I read The Paperboy, Pete Dexter’s 1995 story about small-town newspaper reporters investigating an unsavory death row inmate who may have been framed for murder. I thought it was a  wonderful book, but I did not seek out any other work by Dexter. 

That changed the other week, when I picked up the American writer’s 1988 novel, Paris Trout. It takes place sometime around 1960 in the small (and fictitious, I believe) Georgia town of Cotton Point.

Many of the denizens of Cotton Point live unhappy lives. In some cases, accidents of birth and race limit their potential; others have made poor choices, while a few suffer simply because of circumstances beyond human control.

The man at the heart of the tale is the bizarrely named Paris Trout, a penny-pinching store owner who has built his fortune by loaning money to black people, whom he despises. Trout isn’t merely racist, however; he is a full-blown misanthrope who sees little value in anyone other than himself.

Trout commits a terrible crime near the beginning of the book, motivated only, it seems, by sheer meanness. His victims are black females whom he encounters when he goes to collect on an unpaid loan. One dies.

Trout’s defense attorney, political macher (to use a Yiddish word) Harry Seagraves, is uneasy about his client, whom he knows to be a difficult man. Trout can’t believe he will be prosecuted; he maintains a perpetual air of disbelief and outrage as the case slowly proceeds through the justice system.

Like Seagraves, almost everyone in Cotton Point would like to forget Trout’s crime. The key exception is a prosecutor, who eventually wins other town residents to his side. His best efforts, however, aren’t nearly enough to uphold any real ideal of justice. Read the rest of this entry »

Missteps obscure Adams’ quirky comic genius in ‘The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul’

September 4, 2012

By Matthew E. Milliken
Sept. 4, 2012

Douglas Adams is best known for The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, his comic romp through space and time featuring the hapless Earthling Arthur Dent and a cast of zany alien friends and enemies.

Adams died in 2001 at the age of 49, having only completed seven novels. Five of those books belonged to, as the tagline goes, the increasingly inaccurately named Hitchhiker’s trilogy; the other two concerned a dissolute London detective.

Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency, published in 1987, was a marvelous book. It featured a smattering of science fiction and a bunch of eccentric characters and unusual events, plus, of course, a great deal of humor. The central storyline involved contemporary Londoners with whom the reader could more or less identify. The new book had some things in common with the Hitchhiker’s tales, but it was different enough to establish that Adams could still entertain readers while striking out in new directions.

A year later, the British novelist published The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul, a follow-up with Gently as one of its main characters. I read the book years ago and felt that it missed the mark more often than not. Unfortunately, a recent rereading of the novel confirmed that impression.

The two people at the heart of Tea-Time are Gently, a short, stout and undisciplined detective, and Kate Schechter, a widowed American travel writer. The novel starts as Schechter is trying to catch a flight to Oslo; she is thwarted by a number of factors, the last of which is a very large and very odd man who is trying to board a plane without ticket, money or identification. A few sentences later, there is a mysterious explosion, which kills no one but sends Schechter to the hospital. Read the rest of this entry »

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