Tuesday, December 4, 2012

My 3rd book WITH THE WICKED, coming in 2013

This is Charlie...

These are his friends...

Discover the fun they have together in D.M. Anderson's upcoming book, With the Wicked.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Things Which Will Become Extinct in Our Lifetime...

PHYSICAL BOOKS - Already dying. As a writer, I do lament the passing of physical books (love the smell of printed paper), but Kindles are pretty cool and the books are cheaper. On the downside of that, now that just about anyone can write and e-publish a book without and agent or publisher (Smashwords will do it for you for free), the number of available books out there (shitty or otherwise) has exploded exponentially. One of the self-published children’s books currently available on Amazon was written by a convicted serial killer, who likes to write in the dark while naked, and his books are listed right up there with the John Grishams and Stephen Kings. There are so many books out there right now that my first novel only had to sell about five copies to rank number two on one e-book retailer’s bestseller list. Need more proof? Not long ago, several well-known authors collaborated to write an intentionally lousy book, loaded with typos, consistency errors and several chapters repeated twice. It was still published by a company called PublishAmerica, who specialize in convincing would-be authors they can actually write, while bilking them for thousands.

ALBUMS - Already dying. We knew this day was coming, and while I still mourn the demise of vinyl records, I have to admit CDs generally sound better and don’t wear out as fast. And they still sound better than compressed downloads. But services like iTunes are killing the album itself as an art form. Sure, some artists are best appreciated for their individual songs, but what about those who create music in which the songs are best listened to within the context of the other songs on the album? And say goodbye to the concept album, folks. On a related note…

RECORD COMPANIES - Musical snobs, who have always considered record companies as corporate machines appealing to the mindless masses weaned on American Idol, must be ready to cut their wrists by now. Now even those evil record labels are dying-on-the-vine, since every wannabe with a drum machine or a working knowledge of the tambourine can put their shit up for sale without their help. On a related note…

MUSICIANSHIP - Sure, you spent years honing your skills on a particular instrument. But who cares, now that anyone who knows how to click a mouse can compose their own music with same level of virtuosity? I’ve created five albums-worth of music (complete with orchestral background and blindingly-fast solos) with music software created in 2002. On a related note…

MUSICIANSHIP, PART II - Look at the sheer number of people who have spent countless days locked in their bedrooms mastering the most difficult songs on Guitar Hero and Rock Band, time which would have been once spent actually learning to play an instrument. On a related note...

ROCK STARS - What was once a possible way for the truly talented to make a living will become just another hobby, because a lot of people refuse to pay for music anymore.

DVD & BLU-RAY - Cannibalism in action. DVD quickly replaced VHS with its better picture quality, convenience and oodles of bonus features appealing to movie geeks. Then came Blu-Ray, which offered most of the same shit, only with a better look at Kevin Costner’s pockmarks. Now it looks like Blu-Ray might enjoy a shorter shelf-life than 8-Track tapes, since it turns out that most folks don’t really give a damn about a $30 Blu-Ray disc when they can catch it on demand for four bucks. Or better yet, steal it online. This is also proof-positive that the average person doesn’t care as much about picture-quality as they do about convenience.

NETWORK/CABLE/SATELLITE TELEVISION - Boxed sets, TiVo, the internet…you do not have to catch the latest episode on regular TV. Watch it whenever you want…commercial free. Never mind the fact that it is commercials which make this shit free to begin with. On a related note…

COMMERCIALS - Even without flipping to another channel, there are countless ways to avoid them now. But regardless of what you think of them, their demise will be a catalyst for the end of nearly everything you hold dear on your TV. The more you ignore the commercials, the more everything is going to cost.

THEATRICAL MOVIES - Technology vs. technology. The more advanced movie technology gets, the more advanced the handheld technology available to moviegoers gets, along with the self-righteous conceit that it is people’s God-given right to use said-technology whenever it suits them. And yes, I‘m talking about cell phones, the number ONE reason I now prefer to watch movies at home (and considering I'm a die-hard cinemaphile who feels movies are best seen in theaters, that is saying a lot). On a related note…

3-D - Already dying. Just as it was introduced in the 50s to combat the introduction of television, this is a last-ditch attempt by Hollywood to bilk moviegoers into shelling out $15 for a slew movies which,10 years ago, might have gone straight to DVD. With jacked-up ticket prices (to pay for glasses you can’t reuse for other 3-D films you might decide to see later on), Hollywood makes it obvious they don’t really give a damn about their product, and assumes you’re a dumbshit for buying it.

EDITORIALS - There was once a time when an editorial was printed in a newspaper as a commentary on current events, usually written by someone well-skilled in persuasive writing. Now anyone can vomit their opinions on any topic, and because of the resources available on the internet, they can present their ramblings with the visual professionalism of an essay by Walter Cronkite. On a related note…

CRITICS - Everyone is a critic now. Need proof? Check out the website, Ain’t It Cool News, written by guys with no regard for the basic mechanics of written English, but held in enough regard by studios that its founder, Harry Knowles, has been invited to movie premieres.

CIGARETTES - This one is actually one of the positives. Being a former smoker, I know this from experience. I tried for years to quit, and it wasn’t until someone turned me onto the E-cigarette (an electronic device which dispenses water vapor in place of tar and chemicals), that I was able to stop - cold turkey - and never smoke again.

LIVE SPORTS - It used to be fun (and relatively inexpensive) to attend live sporting events. But, like everything else, the cost of cheering on your home team has increased dramatically. That, and with the television coverage often providing a better view of the action from every conceivable angle (which you can often choose).

MALLS - Once the bastion for all of your shopping and socializing needs, malls currently have little to offer aside from the occasional novelty kiosk, the chance for individual family members to choose their own restaurant, and a place for the elderly to exercise without braving the elements.

MP3s & PORTABLE GAMING DEVICES - At this point, most phones allow you to listen to music and play games. Some people still use them to make actual phone calls. On a related note…

WRITTEN ENGLISH - Texting, where proper English is optional, is currently condensing the language into a series of numbers, abbreviations and acronyms. The only time punctuation is required is when the sender wants to include a stupid smiley face. Think I’m exaggerating? I teach middle school, and you’d be stunned to discover the number of students who think using such text terms as IMHO and OMG are perfectly acceptable to include in writing assignments. On a related note…

LITERACY - Why bother learning to read when you can just tap a symbol or picture? The ability to read is not required. That’s a picture of a printer…that must mean I can print. On a related note…

PERSONAL PRINTERS - I have a printer, but almost never use it. Almost any document I create, either for personal or professional reasons, I can either send as an attachment or transfer to my flash drive, to be printed out by someone else.

ACTUAL COMPUTER SKILLS - Aside from the folks who design the new techno-toys which make our current ones obsolete within six months, or the lonely hacks currently trying to create a virus that will make them all crash, most of us know truly little about how the technology we depend on actually works. We’re always hearing about how today’s kids are so-much more technically savvy than the previous generation. Really? Hey, I’ve seen kids use computers. Try taking away their mouse or touch pad and watch most of them flop around like a dolphin caught in a fisherman’s net.

SNAIL MAIL - Already dying. Just think…the number of angry, out-of-work postal employees will increase exponentially.

THIN PEOPLE - Pixar’s Wall-E may end up being the most prophetic movie of all time.

SNOW DAYS - There is going to reach a moment in time when most kids get their schooling online. While that may initially sound pretty cool, kids, think about this. There could be an apocalyptic blizzard outside, but online schools never close.

SKILLED DRIVERS - Already dying. Rants about people who talk or text on their phones while driving is already a cliché.

TRUE SCANDALS - Thanks to increasing technology, even a minor indiscretion by a famous person is a media-fueled scandal. An embezzling stock-trader is a scandal. Justin Beiber being slapped with a paternity suit isn’t a scandal. That’s a typical 17-year-old forgetting to use a condom. On a related note…

CELEBRITIES WHO ARE FAMOUS FOR A REASON - All you need to be famous today are, A) a rich and famous parent, B) a hot body, or C) being the biggest douche bag on a reality TV show. Andy Warhol may have had it right…someday we may all have our few minutes of fame.

NEWSPAPERS & MAGAZINES - Already dying. We know why, too. I’ll be the first to agree the demise of physical periodicals would do a lot to save trees and put-off global warming. There isn’t a single magazine or newspaper today that is worth hanging onto for more than a week or two. But, on a related note…

FACTS - The so-called Information Age has given-way to the Too Much Information Age, and Google doesn’t separate factual news from someone’s personal rants on the same subject. And the sad fact remains that a lot of people assume what they read or watch must be true. Don’t believe me? Try talking to someone who gets all their information from Fox News Channel.

SECRETS - Already dead. Everything you have ever done with a computer is still floating around out there, waiting for someone to grab. And I mean everything.

TV WEATHER PERSONALITIES - Unless you are damn good looking, your days as a weather forecaster are numbered, especially if you’re one of those who spend the first several minutes of your segment engaging in humorous banter with your on-air colleagues. It's a hell of a lot faster to get a forecast online.

MILITARY SERVICE - We’re already using pilot less spy planes, attack drones and smart bombs. There’s gonna reach a point when the military doesn’t actually need soldiers.

STRIP CLUBS - These are depressing places to hang out, anyway. Now, as long as you have a Visa card, you don’t even have to leave your house. And you can ‘finish the job’ without being arrested for indecent exposure.

SOCIALIZING & DATING, PART 1 - Not to sound like an old fogey, but I met my wife the old fashioned way, by actually being there in-person and impressing her enough to want to go out with me. I didn’t need some computerized service using data to match me up with someone it deemed compatible. I’m pretty sure that it wouldn’t have hooked me up with her at all. Now you can skip all the rituals and formalities of traditional mating rituals and cut to the chase…is she gonna sleep with me or not?

SOCIALIZING & DATING, PART 2 - Again, not to sound like an old fogey, but we used to actually hang out at various places (sometimes even engaging in the ancient art of cruising) in order to socialize with our peers and hang out together. Now you can go on Facebook or Twitter and do the same thing…and you don’t even have to dress up for it. My own daughter has a ton of friends she never really interacts with outside of Facebook. On a related note…

CLASS REUNIONS - Granted, class reunions have historically been excuses for people to show-off what they have accomplished in their lives and see who's gotten balder or fatter. I didn’t attend my 25-year reunion because most of the people I actually wanted to contact again I’ve done so through Facebook. The best part is that I only have to show the best photos of myself I choose to post, so they don’t see how fat I’ve gotten.

LIVE CONCERTS - I used to attend a lot of concerts before they became so expensive that I needed to refinance my home just to go to one. The last concert I went to was Kiss a few years ago, and when the lights went down, it wasn’t a sea of lighters illuminating the arena. It was a sea of cell phone screens capturing the event. And indeed, every song the band performed was made available on YouTube the very next day.

CARS & OIL - The more we can accomplish without ever leaving the house, the less we will rely on these things.

PEOPLE WHO CREATE MUSIC, BOOKS, MOVIES AND VIDEO GAMES FOR A LIVING - Sure, we love getting them for free. Ask yourself this…would you do your job for free? Neither will they.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012


I wonder if spiders sometimes see their reflection and go, "AHHH!!!"

My daughter, a quite observational young lady, suggested that the pronunciation word fire should be officially changed to fiyah! (exclamation included), being that’s how it’s always pronounced in every fantasy movie and heavy metal song ever made. It does sound cooler that way.

Peanut Butter makes damn near everything taste better.

Stop acting outraged by crap spewed by people like Rush Limbaugh, Ann Coulter and Bill O’Reilly. You are reacting exactly like they want you to. Haven’t you figure it out yet? What they are doing is an act (just like Andrew Dice Clay in the 90s). No one but the truly insane would boast being that jingoistic, racist, homophobic, misinformed, apathetic & misogynistic unless they are doing it for attention.

You know what's so cool about Ozzy Osbourne? The fact that he's not really a great singer, he knows he's not really a great singer, and he's open about the fact he's not really a great singer. Still, try to imagine anyone else singing his songs. Can't be done.

As a professional educator, of course I understand the importance of reading and math skills, but not at the expense of everything else necessary to function in the real world, such as being able to read a non-digital clock. Every year, not only do I have an increasing number of students unable to tell time, but they think it's totally reasonable to lack such a rudimentary skill.

More people need to be hit over the head with a shovel.

The number of folks who snap a picture of themselves for their own Facebook page shows just how alone so many of them really are.

Maybe if some people stopped spending their waking hours looking for racism, it would simply go away.

Try this experiment sometime...go to a mall, or simply walk down the street, and count the number of people you physically bump into because they automatically expect you to move out of their way.

I wish my iPad knew when my finger accidentally touched a link I didn’t intend to.

I would have enjoyed the opening ceremonies of the 2012 Summer Olympics a lot more if the NBC announcers would have just shut the hell up once in awhile.

To those of you douchbags who love to claim you’re ‘keepin’ it real’...what exactly are you keeping real?

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

STAR WARS: The Much Shorter Director's Cut

Starring Kenny Baker, Anthony Daniels, Carrie Fisher & David Prowse.
Directed by George Lucas. Re-edited by D.M. Anderson.

"I want to know what you've done with those plans!"

"R2...Take these plans, get in the escape pod and find Obi Wan Kenobi. He's our only hope."

"Funny...the damage doesn't look as bad from out here."

"Lord Vader, an escape pod was just launched, but there are no life signs aboard."

"Eh, blow it up, anyway. Your boys could use the practice."


For more movies essays, reviews, lists and humor,

Sunday, June 24, 2012

40 Reasons RUSH Still Rules

1. The song, “2112,” is arguably the most famous side-long epic ever recorded.

2. Rush was the first concert I ever went to. Tickets were only nine bucks. Imagine that. Nowadays, you can't even see a movie for that price.

3. They've never made the same album twice, even after Moving Pictures sold uber-millions of copies.

4. They kept the same line-up for almost 40 years.

5. It’s only three guys, but they sound like six.

6. They do not sound like anybody else. You know a Rush song when you hear it.

7. Rolling Stone magazine has always hated them.

8. They never really gave a damn if they any had hit singles.

9. Hey, just try playing “La Villa Strangiato.”

10. Neil Peart single-handedly inspired ‘air-drumming.’

11. They are one of the few so-called ‘classic rock’ artists who still regularly sell-out arenas.

12. Stage props have included giant rabbits, washing machines and chicken broilers.

13. Most of us would develop carpel-tunnel syndrome trying to learn their songs.

14. Rush in Rio! This DVD has to be seen to be believed.

15. They trail only The Beatles and The Rolling Stones for the most consecutive gold records.

16. Never cool, and they never cared.

17. Geddy Lee’s nose.

18. One of the few bands never to feature photos of themselves on any album covers.

19. They wrote every song on all 20 of their albums.

20. The first band to ever appear on The Colbert Report.

21. Their shows are three hours long...with no opening act.

22. One of the few rock artists lucky enough to have made a massively-popular, critically-acclaimed album that everyone is now sick of hearing (Moving Pictures).

23. They sound just as good live as they do on record.

24. Geddy Lee’s instantly-identifiable vocals.

25. There isn’t a musician alive who doesn’t respect them.

26. Awesome album covers (well...maybe not Hemispheres).

27. They ended up becoming bigger than all of the bands they once opened up for.

28. Neil Peart had to overcome more unfathomable personal tragedy in a single year (the deaths of his wife and daughter) than most attention-starved celebrities can even imagine in a lifetime.

30. They seem to be pretty boring individuals, meaning they had to impress the world through actual talent.

31. One of the few bands that many parents are successfully able to get their kids to like.

32. Alex Lifeson is a really funny guy.

33. Even after being around 40 years, racking up 23 gold and 14 platinum albums, they’ve never even been nominated for entry into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, thus exposing the ‘honor’ for what it is...an elitist club determined by personal tastes of a select few, not an artist’s actual talent, success, musical influence or longetivity.

34. After their first three albums underperformed sales-wise, Mercury Records demanded something more commercial sounding for the fourth record. Rush responded with what may be the ultimate fuck you...2112.

35. By-Tor and the Snow Dog, the band’s first foray into lengthy, fantasy-tinged, multi-part epics, was inspired their manager’s German Shepherd, who growled at a roadie.

36. Neil Peart’s drum kit would fill up most people’s living rooms.

37. They are aging gracefully for a hard rock band.

38. Rush fans worldwide are always in constant fear that the band’s most recent album will be their last.

39. Rush is a fucking awesome name for a band.

40. Their 20th studio album, Clockwork Angels, is actually their first true concept album (an album where all the songs tell a single story), and it debuted at #2 on the Billboard charts.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

The Tale of Kevin

For the past year and a half, I’ve been sharing a bed with Kevin. Even though my wife and I have been married nearly 24 years, and we get along just fine, she’s okay with that. In fact, because I tend to snore pretty loud, she prefers I bed-down for the night with Kevin instead. That way she can get a good night’s sleep and not spend the next day searching the web for the cheapest divorce lawyer. So, I guess I don’t actually share a bed with Kevin; most nights we share the living room couch. That’s okay, because Kevin doesn’t take up a lot of room and doesn’t get all pissy when I snore like a busted chainsaw.

And when the family travels elsewhere, like to my mother-in-law’s house about six weekends a year, Kevin comes along because I’m now used to sleeping with him. If he’s not there for me to wrap my arms around, it’s hard for me to fall asleep. Sometimes my dependence on Kevin has my mother-in-law looking at me funny, but that’s okay. She’s seen me say and do weirder things, some of which probably made her wonder why her daughter ever married me.

I’m a middle school teacher, and earlier this year we had a ‘Pajama Day’ fundraiser, when staff and students could donate a couple of dollars and come to school in their pajamas (you know, grocery shopping attire for some of us). I brought Kevin along that day, and even though I live & work in Portland (hipster capital of the world), most of my students found my companion strange and amusing, especially at my age. As for me, I personally found it amusing that, in a town with more lesbians-per-capita than an Indigo Girls concert, some of them found my relationship so bizarre.

Even though Kevin is starting to get a bit dingy, and bathes far less than the rest of us (in fact, he’s never bathed), my wife, kids and dog (who sometimes chases him when I throw him down the hall) all like him very much.

In case you haven’t figured it out, Kevin is a stuffed animal. More specifically, he’s a stuffed Yeti, just like the one from the Rudolph the Rednosed Reindeer. My parents gave him to me when I was in the hospital in late 2010. I was initially admitted for what appeared to be pneumonia, but it ended up being something life-threatening which required open-heart surgery. I was in the hospital for two months, drifting in-and-out of medically-induced comas and eventually having to re-learn such simple tasks as getting out of bed and bathing myself (when you’ve got 30 staples in your chest, that shit‘s easier said than done).

Anyway, I was in the hospital during the winter holidays, miserable, in pain and feeling sorry for myself as I spent endless sleepless nights channel-surfing through 60 channels of what the hospital euphemistically called cable TV. Lots of people - family, friends, co-workers - would visit, often bringing gifts, cards and food packages. Karen, the publisher of my books, managed to send me a care package containing a stuffed cow and several hundred dollars which fellow authors graciously donated. My co-worker and dear friend, Laura, arrived with literally hundreds of cards, letters and gifts from students and colleagues. As someone who, for years, has cultivated an image as being the hard-ass teacher-from-hell, that kinda knocked my defenses down.

Then Kevin showed up in my mom’s arms, still neatly packaged in his Build-A-Bear box, wearing jammies and slippers. I smiled and said thanks, of course, then had her stack it with all the other gifts piling up in my hospital room. Like the monstrous Yeti in Rudolph, he had no name at that time. By the way, when I was a little kid, that Yeti scared the shit out of me every holiday season when the show aired.

During my lengthy rehab period, I was forced to get out of bed with the aid of a sturdy, heart-shaped pillow, which I had to hug to my chest whenever I moved around. I was also instructed to keep it close to my chest while sleeping or whenever my chest hurt.

Anyway, one day, out of boredom, I took Kevin out of his box and found his soft furry body to be far more comforting than the heart-pillow, so I soon took to using him in its place. I don’t know what prompted me to eventually give him a name, and why I chose Kevin. I guess I just thought it was a funny name to give an inanimate object.

When I was finally allowed to go home, I still needed a cane to walk around, still needed chest support while sleeping or getting out of bed. Kevin did latter the jobs just fine.

I was eventually able to ditch the cane, but I’d gotten so accustomed to having clutching Kevin to my chest that I found I was unable to go to sleep without him. Because I’ve always tossed and turned in my sleep, more often than not, Kevin would end up on the floor. Didn’t matter...I had to have him with me at bedtime.

A year and a half later, I still do. There have been occasions when I’ve torn the house apart looking for him before turning in for the night. He no longer wears the slippers and jammies he arrived in; he looks better without all that stuff. However, my wife did buy a pair of Build-A-Bear underpants for him last Christmas, which he still wears on occasion (usually when company comes over). He looks funny in underpants, and since I’ll likely never fulfill my lifelong dream of hanging around the house every day in my underpants, maybe I’m doing it vicariously through Kevin.

I think my irrational attachment to a stuffed toy has rubbed off on my family. And I don’t mean my kids. Hell, they both have enough stuffed animals to start their own colony of misfit toys. I mean my wife - not much younger than me - who decided she wanted a stuffed companion of her own as an anniversary gift. So, after a wonderful Sushi dinner to celebrate our 23rd anniversary, we went to Build-A-Bear, where she made and dressed a stuffed puppy, named Dave 2.

At any rate, here I am...a 48-year-old, married man with two children (one which has outgrown similar childhood friends), a mortgage, and a masters degree...with a stupid attachment to a stuffed animal, given to me on a whim during the most dire moment of my life. I’m not someone overly sentimental, nor do I consciously try to engage in charmingly-eccentric behavior. I’ve simply gotten used to Kevin always being around at bedtime.

How stupid is that?

He’s sitting next to me right now, resting from the photo session required for the picture you see above. He was initially snowy white, though not-so-much anymore. By the time I’m dead and he’s buried with me, Kevin will likely be brown enough to be more mistaken for a teddy bear than a snow monster. My wife suggested putting him in the washing machine once. But what if he sprang a leak and all his stuffing came out?

I dunno...I don’t think I could handle a deflated Kevin, and the last time I was at Build-A-Bear, there were no more Yetis to be found. Besides, even if there were, none of them would be Kevin, would they? We’ve literally been through too much together for me to simply replace him.

It ain’t like he’s some a goldfish you can just flush down the toilet and replace with another.

He’s Kevin, Dave’s Yeti.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

DMG: Dave's Movie Guide

Over the past few months, I've been posting essays/reviews under the title of Dave's Movie Guide, consisting of films I grew up with that had some kind of impact on my life, either because of the movies themselves or the events surrounding the times I first saw them. They are somewhat irreverent essays that are a cross between actual reviews and autobiographical narratives.

Anyway, because of the number of hits those essays have gotten on Free Kittens, I've started a new blogsite (DMG: Dave's Movie Guide) dedicated just to those. You can find it here: http://davesmovieguide.blogspot.com/

In addition to continuing looks back at some great and not-so-great films, there are lists, old movie posters, movie ads, screen shots and old theater marquees, mostly surrounding movies fromt he 70s and 80s.

Please check it out, follow the blog, pass it along and feel free to leave comments about movies influential on your life.

Monday, May 14, 2012

"Shaken" Novel Trailer

Click the tsunami to view the promotional trailer for my second young adult novel, Shaken.

Natalie, a self-centered girl, is dragged away by her family at the worst possible time.

Damien, a juvenile delinquent condemned as an accessory to murder.

Connor, an angry young man unable to get over the death of his father.

Three teenagers from different backgrounds, each suffering pain and loss, must now find strength, responsibility, and heroism they didn’t know they possessed when the worst disaster in American history, a 9.7 earthquake devastates the Pacific Northwest. Their struggle for survival will not only test their resolve; it will affect the lives of everyone around them.

Can they let go of their own personal issues and look beyond themselves before a massive tsunami destroys them all?

Friday, May 4, 2012

"Shaken" Now Available in Paperback

Click cover to buy
My second young adult novel, Shaken, is now available in paperback. Click on the cover to order.

Natalie, a self-centered girl, is dragged away by her family at the worst possible time.

Damien, a juvenile delinquent condemned as an accessory to murder.

Connor, an angry young man unable to get over the death of his father.

Three teenagers from different backgrounds, each suffering pain and loss, must now find strength, responsibility, and heroism they didn’t know they possessed when the worst disaster in American history, a 9.7 earthquake devastates the Pacific Northwest. Their struggle for survival will not only test their resolve; it will affect the lives of everyone around them.

Can they let go of their own personal issues and look beyond themselves before a massive tsunami destroys them all?

A few review excerpts:

From Lavender Lines 

The way Anderson described the earthquake, and what happens after, made me feel like I was watching it happen. I could feel the tension, the hope, the desperation as characters struggled to deal with the aftermath and trying to survive. My heart was pounding during certain scenes, breaking during others.

Now, I don’t want you to think that this was just an action book, because that’s so not the case. There was some nice character development in Shaken. I enjoyed watching the teens grow and realize who they really are. I felt for these characters and I cared what happened to them.

Shaken was just a great all around read. For fans of disaster movies, disaster books and just great YA books, I recommend Shaken.

From Sabrina Sumsion

Post trauma stories fascinate me. Imagine your world falling apart. What do you do? How do you survive? Do you let yourself fall apart? Do you do whatever it takes to survive? Do you find in yourself the strength to help others or crawl over their dying backs?

In Shaken, the story follows three teens who face these challenges. After a traumatic earthquake shakes the western coast of America, a small beach community tears asunder. One teen is a native, the other two are visitors who would have passed through with a few memories in normal life.

D.M. Anderson writes for teenagers using their slang and often showing an insight to their thoughts and maturity level that someone without access to teens regularly lacks. I felt sometimes he let too much slip into his narrative and weakened the flow of the story but luckily, the plot line contains plenty of action to keep a reader turning pages to find out what happens next.

For my cautious readers: I felt the story contained enough villainous acts to maintain a sense of danger without crossing the line into adult material. I only remember one word that would be considered profane. All in all, I am comfortable recommending this book to parents as a discussion book.

Monday, April 30, 2012

New and Noteworthy from Echelon Press

DECEPTIONS - A Demonkin Novel
by Sean Hayden

The great State of California has elected themselves a new governor…and he’s a vampire!

Many hope it will bring some peace between the humans and vampires. Many don’t, which could be the reason someone is trying to kill him. Knowing they can’t protect him from supernatural terrorist attacks, the Department of Homeland Security turns to the only people who can, the FBI. More importantly, their only vampire agent.

Ashlyn may be Governor Greer’s only hope, but can she keep him alive without starting a war of her own?

When the lines become blurred and it becomes difficult to separate her enemies from her allies, Ashlyn may end up doing just that.

Read an excerpt and purchase at https://www.omnilit.com/product-deceptions-772938-234.html

by Reggie Ridgway     

Doctor Jonathan Anderson is having the worst day of his life.

Forced to resign from his prestigious position as chief of surgery, he goes home to find his wife in bed with another man. On the brink of suicide, his wife tries to wrestle the gun from him and is accidentally killed. Convicted for her murder, he finds himself in prison, but after managing to escape, he ends up in the same hospital he ran, this time as a patient.

Hell-bent, Anderson seeks revenge on those responsible for ruining his life. Things are not as they should be, and a series of murders ups the stakes, but despite the work of two committed hospital employees and the investigating detective, the identity of the murderer and the motive for the heinous crimes may come too late to save any of them.

“A fast paced thriller with good story points and characters which are believable and worth reading about.” Author Scott Nicholson says. “You won’t want to go to the hospital again after reading In the Midnight Hour.”

Buy at http://www.omnilit.com/product-inthemidnighthour-770328-249.html

by Donna Galanti    

One by one, Laura Armstrong’s friends and adoptive family members are being murdered, and despite her special healing powers, there is nothing she can do to stop it. The killer haunts her dreams and leaves cryptic notes advising her to use her powers to save herself because she’s next.

Determined to find the killer, she follows her visions to her hometown and the site of a crashed meteorite. There she meets Ben Fieldstone, who seeks answers about his parents’ death the night the meteorite struck. In a race to stop a mad man, they unravel a frightening mystery that binds them together.

But the killer’s desire to destroy Laura face-to-face leads to a showdown that puts her relationship with Ben in jeopardy and her pure spirit to the test. With the killer closing in, Laura discovers her destiny is linked to the stranger and she has two choices – redeem him or kill him.

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Saturday, April 21, 2012

What If David Lee Roth Had Never Left Van Halen?

Van Halen vs. Van Hagar. An argument as old as time, and just about as boring. Ever since 1985, when David Lee Roth either quit or was fired from Van Halen (depends on who you ask), you’ve had purists claiming the Roth-era is the only true Van Halen, and everything released with Sammy Hagar is watered down, synth-happy pop. Hagar performed on four VH albums over the next ten years, all of them reaching #1 on the Billboard charts, before he also quit and/or was fired (again, it depends on who you ask).

Of course those purists, after years of rumors and false-starts, got their wish when Roth reunited with Van Halen for a monumentally successful tour in 2007. It wasn’t a true reunion of the original band, though. In the ultimate act of rock & roll nepotism, longtime bassist Michael Anthony was unceremoniously dumped and replaced by Eddie Van Halen’s pudgy son, Wolfgang.

Since absolutely no record company was interested in signing the band without Roth or Hagar (the latter of whom ultimately burned those bridges with his amusing tell-all autobiography), this reunion was inevitable.

But where would Van Halen really be today if Roth never left to begin with? To answer this question, it is necessary to go back to what first made Van Halen a household name.

Eddie Van Halen fired the shot heard ‘round the world, at least in rock circles, when his instrumental workout, “Eruption,” was included on the band’s debut album in 1978. Usually coupled on radio with their cover of The Kinks’ “You Really Got Me,” “Eruption” introduced an unsuspecting audience to an innovative and flashy guitarist who was different from traditional guitar heroes like Clapton, Page, Hendrix and Blackmore. First of all, he was really fucking fast, though much of his ‘speed’ stemmed from a finger-tapping technique which, while not actually fast, prompted many budding guitarists to say, “Why didn’t I think of that?” The point is that Eddie Van Halen, like Hendrix, was an innovator, a master of his instrument, and most listeners were exposed to that through “Eruption,” arguably the first-ever guitar solo that did not require prior knowledge of guitar technique to appreciate. With that one-and-a-half minute track, Eddie Van Halen inspired countless kids to pick up a guitar, and scared the shit out of others still trying to make it in the music business.

But with all due respect to Mr. Van Halen’s musical abilities (easily the MVP on their debut album), it was ultimately David Lee Roth who truly propelled the band to superstardom. No, the man couldn’t really sing very well, his so-called ability to scream paling in comparison to Roger Daltrey, Robert Plant or Ian Gillan (all of whom could sing). But what Roth had that the aforementioned didn’t was a sense of uninhibited, cocky showmanship, as well as enough self-depreciating humor to understand that rock wasn’t supposed to be art…it was supposed to be fun. How the lyrics sounded was a lot more important than the words themselves. He was the member of the band with all the good looks, the one who acted like a rock star, the one invited on all the talk shows, the one who hammed it up in VH's music videos, the one supplying an infinite number of quotable sound-bites for the press. By the time the band released their sixth album, the uberselling 1984, chutzpah and arrogance went a lot further than true talent and, for better or worse, Roth had both. If Eddie was the cake for success, but Roth was the frosting, most people’s favorite part.

Think about it, if pure instrumental virtuosity was the only prerequisite for success, then Yngwie Malmsteen would be the biggest rock star of the 80s. If you don’t know who Yngwie Malmsteen is, then you’ve just confirmed my argument.

So when Roth left (in a very acrimonious break-up), many understandably assumed that was the end of the band. Historically, the simple fact is that many rock bands are most identified by the general public through their lead singers, not who writes all the songs or plays the guitar. And the bigger the band, the more daunting the task of replacing the singer. Very few mega-selling bands in rock history have been able to replace their high-profile lead singers in mid-career and continue the same level of success. One could argue that AC/DC, who were forced to replace the recently deceased Bon Scott with Brian Johnson, are one of the few exceptions. But even they weren't a household name at the time.

Van Halen already was, coming off of the biggest album of their career. Roth’s presence in the band (and the media) was so huge at the time it seemed inconceivable anyone could adequately take his place.

But that’s not how things turned out.

Roth went on to a solo career that, like a shooting star, shined ever-so-brightly before quickly flaming out. At the same time, the remaining members of Van Halen made the single smartest move of their career…they hooked up with Sammy Hagar, essentially turning Van Halen into an 80s version of the supergroup.

At the time, Hagar himself already enjoyed a lucrative solo career, having released several successful solo albums, some of which went platinum. Most rock fans already knew who he was, so this key line-up change was not nearly as big of a risk as replacing Roth with an unknown. Hagar may not have been as goofy or good-looking as Roth, but he could write music, play guitar and was a far-more accomplished vocalist, not to mention he brought along a respectable fan base of his own. Regardless of what anyone thinks of Hagar-era Van Halen albums, hiring Hagar was a great move. At the very least, 5150, the first album to feature Hagar, would sell a lot of copies based solely on the curiosity factor.

In the ensuing decade, longtime Roth fans continued to bitch ad-nauseum that the music of ‘Van Hagar’ was softer, more serious, more keyboard-driven, and it’s hard to argue with such a claim. But really, those same changes in the band’s sound are largely responsible for Van Halen’s continued chart success, long after many other 80s-era metal bands were dropping like flies due to the shifts in musical tastes. And even die-hard Roth zealots have to admit the band, as fronted by Roth, represented the same type of flashy, image-driven, hedonistic and over-the-top ideal that people began to turn away from in the early 90s. Not that Hagar was some sort of down-to-Earth dude who wrote deep introspective lyrics, but unlike Roth, he did often attempt to write about subjects other than sex, cars and getting shit-faced. During his time in VH, Roth was adamantly against adding keyboards to the mix; it has been well-documented he did not want “Jump” (their biggest single) to be included on 1984. Whether or not his stance was a catalyst for his eventual departure (or the surprise success of his EP of cover tunes, Crazy from the Heat) doesn‘t really matter. Simply put, Roth didn’t want VH to change from the tried and true, and Hagar was willing to adapt.

So, the argument here isn’t which version Van Halen is the better one. The argument is that if Roth had remained, Van Halen would probably have a few more platinum selling albums in the 80s before their fan base began to dwindle along with the Poisons, Motley Crues and Ratts. David Lee Roth was excess personified, both on and off-record, and was quite content to remain so, as evidenced by his solo records, which mostly continued the party he started in Van Halen. His first two records (Eat ‘Em and Smile & Skyscraper which sounded a lot like old school Van Halen albums) sold in big numbers. By the time the 90s rolled around, however, most of his fans had grown up and moved on, but he was still unwilling to let-go of his arrogant rock star persona and grow up along with them. Subsequent albums flopped. This provides a strong argument that, while Roth may have been the key to VH's initial superstardom, had he remained in the group, he would have been the catalyst to their downfall.

And what would have become of Sammy Hagar if Roth had remained in the band? Before joining Van Halen, he had a fairly consistent solo career with a reputation as a pretty entertaining live performer. His albums were mostly successful, often going gold and sometimes platinum, but never approaching VH’s numbers. He had a minor hit here and there, the most enduring being his ode to speed, “I Can’t Drive 55.” But when public taste in hard rock began to change, only the biggest of the big (most notably, Metallica, Bon Jovi, Ozzy Osbourne, Guns ’N Roses, and Hagar-era Van Halen) roared into the 90s as though grunge never happened. Hagar’s pre-VH solo music is definitely a product of its time. He himself didn’t become more musically adventurous until he joined VH, which later helped his latter day solo career after he left, when he refashioned himself as a heavy metal Jimmy Buffet. It stands to reason that Hagar, having not hooked up with VH, would continue to be a fairly popular concert draw, but music-wise, he would have experienced a sizeable drop in record sales and popularity. In fact, while he continues to release solo albums on a regular basis, none of them have come close to equaling the sales of his VH albums, or even his 80s solo records.

David Lee Roth’s inevitable 2007 reunion with Van Halen suddenly put the band back in the spotlight after nearly a decade away (VH’s ill-fated attempt to carry-on with Extreme’s Gary Cherone replacing Hagar). The reunion tour, in which the band played nothing but songs from the first six albums, was one of the most successful of the decade, which would never have been the case if Roth hadn’t split back in 1985. Long-time die-hards could look at this as sort of a vindication, an argument that the Roth-era Van Halen is untouchable, and the band simply picked up where they left off in 1984.

There’s the age-old cliché, absence makes the heart grow fonder, especially in the first dozen years of the new century. Legends from the 60s (Cream), 70s (Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath), 80s (Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, The Cars, The Police) and 90s (Stone Temple Pilots, Faith No More, Soundgarden) have regrouped (either permanently or for one-off shows/tours). For the most part, they've been welcomed back with open arms, mostly by those nostalgic for an era when rock music dominated the sales charts, concert halls and airwaves.

Van Halen are currently huge once again, having released the first Roth-era album in 28 years, A Different Kind of Truth, which literally does pick up where they left off in 1984. Many of the 'new' songs sprouted from demos dating as far back as 1978. But rather than being written off as dinosaurs, Van Halen have enjoyed some of the greatest praise of their entire career by returning to the sound which made them famous to begin with. But this doesn't necessarily make them musically relevant again. This is an album that, while debuting at #2 on the Billboard charts, is more a testament to the dedication of its 40-50-something fans than anything else. Hard rock isn't currently doing too well in the music business, so it'll be very interesting to see what happens with Van Halen once the novelty of Roth's return has worn off.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Kitten Kibbles

Due to the number of hits I've been getting on my recent Dave's Movie Guide posts, I've started a new blogsite exclusively for those, imaginatively titled, Dave's Movie Guide.
http://davesmovieguide.blogspot.com/ That's where you'll find more reviews of the classic & not-so-classic movies I have felt compelled to write about.

I think it would be funny to dress up as an airline pilot, find a corner booth in an airport lounge and start slamming back martinis. Then, after about an hour, check my watch, slap my head and slur, "Oh crap! I'm late for the Fresno run!"

I'm sad to say neither of my young adult books (Killer Cows & Shaken) is selling too well right now. Both have been getting good reviews, but it's been damned hard getting the word out about them. Doubly frustrating is numerous websites have requested free copies for review, but few of them have followed-through. I share the same disappointment as fellow Echelon authors have recently expressed regarding this. I dunno, I always believed people should come-through on their promises, or not make promises to begin with. As it stands, I gave out a lot of free copies of Shaken for no reason whatsoever. If I'd have known the outcome of my efforts, I'd have given those copies to my friends.

Being someone who is snobbish enough to automatically rebel against something that becomes massively popular, I have to admit The Hunger Games is one of the best books I've read over the past few years. In fact, once I finished it (in one night), I couldn't wait to see the movie, even though it's the biggest piece of cinematic pop culture since Twilight. On the other hand, once I opened up a recent issue of People magazine, which presented the results of a dumbass Team Peeta vs. Team Gale pole, I wanted to puke. What the hell does Team (insert name here) even freaking mean, anyway!?! It's a goddamned movie, not a platform through which to declare your adoring allegiance to some teenaged hottie.

Feeling bored? Try challenging a total stranger to a pillow fight.

Am I the only one who will mourn the day when all forms of physical media (CDs, DVDs, books) are a thing of the past?

I just watched Titanic with my seven year old daughter, and at the end, even she wondered why Rose didn't just scoot over to let Jack out of the freezing water.

I'm starting to get irritated at the number of my Facebook friends who use the network to spew their political leanings by posting 'clever' photos slamming this guy-or-that-guy, this-policy-or-that-policy, with the presumption that all of their Facebook friends share the same opinions.

Has anyone else ever noticed that American Idol voting results are only considered worthy of being included on nightly news broadcasts by the same channels that also air the show?

Why are so many people still debating whether or not those New Orleans Saints players and coaches involved in the bounty scandal should be banned from the NFL for life, while Michael Vick was welcome back with open arms?

Once I finish building my time machine, I plan to go back, find the first person who decided people should get up as early as possible to go to their jobs, and kill him.

I'm a teacher, and my district is threatening to go on strike, which has recently been reported in the local news. It's amazing how many people, most of whom haven't set foot in a classroom in decades, suddenly think they know everything about my profession. Maybe I should select one of them, show up where they work and say, "Hey, buddy...I think you should do the same thing for a thousand bucks less per month. I know all about your job because I shopped-in-your-store/drove-by-your-factory once, so I know you don't work that hard."

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Dawn of the Dead (1978)

1979 was a watershed year in my young life as a movie geek...Alien was the scariest movie since Jaws, I managed to sit through all of Gone with the Wind on TV without falling asleep, and best of all, I witnessed a movie make a kid so sick that he ran out of the theater, but not before vomiting all over the place.

The offending flick was George A. Romero’s classic, Dawn of the Dead. It’s hapless victim was one Mark J. Fortner.

When I first saw a commercial advertising Dawn of the Dead, man, did I want to see it! As a 15-year-old horror fan, nothing gets you more pumped-up than a movie ad that ominously announces the film is so violent that it has no MPAA rating. On the same token, nothing shoots the wind out of your 15-year-old sails faster than the addendum in the same ad which states ‘no one under 17 will be admitted.’ Period.


Worse yet, since most places wouldn’t book any unrated movie (which is still true today), Dawn of the Dead would likely not be shambling into any mall theater in the ‘burbs (kind of ironic, once you're aware of the plot).

Sure enough, it only played in one college theater downtown for a few weeks, and even though I often snuck into R rated movies at the Southgate Theater near my house, I was 100% sure I couldn’t talk my parents into driving me downtown and tag along while I enjoyed some zombie gut-munching (although imagining the horrified face of my mother gasping at the carnage does bring a smile to my face). Alas, I had to settle for reading about Dawn's gory glory in the pages of Fangoria.

Then, a few months later, a miracle happened. Dawn of the Dead popped up as the bottom half of a double bill (with Phantasm) at the trusty old Cinema V, an ugly, ancient, puke-colored, second-run theater in downtown Milwaukie, the suburb where I lived and only a ten minute drive from my house. I’d gone there many times, mostly when my allowance money was running low but still needed my movie fix. The admission price was always only 69 cents for as long as I could remember, and that was for two movies! 69 CENTS was perpetually plastered on its cracked and weathered marquee at least five times bigger than the movie titles themselves. In fact, most of us had been calling the place Cinema 69 for years.

At any rate, even though the place was old, dank and had a big slit in the screen no one bothered to repair, it was pretty awesome to be able to catch a movie just by rummaging through the sofa cushions for loose change. Even better was the fact that Cinema V never checked IDs. I couldn’t believe it: the mother of all zombie flicks, 69 cents, no ID check. The stars must have aligned that weekend in 1979.

God bless the second-run theater, an endangered species nowadays. There’s hardly any of them around anymore. As it becomes cheaper and more convenient to simply watch movies at home, one by one, these theaters are dropping like zombies being shot in the head. That’s too bad, because there’s still nothing like catching a flick on the big screen.

Oh sure, some still exist in major cities, but usually only after rechristening themselves as theater-pubs, where hipsters congregate to pretend they enjoy beers that tastes like socks, or cinema-arcades to train young kids the fine art of gambling (offering them tickets for successful game play, which can later be exchanged for trinkets worth far less than the number of coins they spent to get those tickets). Even the old Cinema V is now one of these, it's once-spacious auditorium now chopped in half to make room for Skee-Ball and Whack-A-Mole. Movies alone are seldom enough to keep these places in business, even with an admission price less than a glorified milkshake from Starbucks. There are still a few second-run cinemas left (not art houses...those are for people who pretend they like foreign films) offering just movies, but I think it is just a matter of time before they are all gone. That’ll be a sad day.

Maybe I’m a hopeless romantic (euphemism for old fart). I truly believe all movies are best on the big screen, yet I am also someone who is increasingly unwilling to roll the dice and shell out 80 bucks (admission for my family, plus popcorn and a few sodas) unless I am almost guaranteed to enjoy the film I’m mortgaging my house for. But as a true fan of the moviegoing experience, second-run theaters always gave me the same opportunity at a fraction of the price.

But that's now. Back in '79, all I cared about was hopping on my bike and pedaling into Milwaukie that summer afternoon with my best friend Clay (more on him later) and our sort-of friend Mark Fortner.

I say 'sort-of' because Mark was more of a friend out of proximity; he and his family moved into our neighborhood the previous year. He was a nice enough guy, but a clean-cut, goody-two-shoes who went to a private school. He had a stupid sense of humor and often said the dorkiest thing at the most inappropriate moments. The guy wore thick glasses, always tucked in his shirt and acted like he just committed the perfect crime whenever an expletive escaped his lips. In other words, not cool, as defined by me and Clay. His dad, a pediatrician, was also a piece of work. He looked and talked like Ward Cleaver and had the dumbest laugh I'd ever heard in my life. One time, while we were all playing in the driveway, Dr. Fortner popped his head out the door and, with a congenial grin and stupid laugh, said, "Hey gang, be careful not to hit the garage door with that basketball."

Me and Clay stared at each other, barely suppressing laughter.

Gang? Gang? What were we, the Little Rascals? Who the hell called kids gang back then? Me and Clay were merciless, mocking his dumbass dad, yet Mark took it like a good sport, because it was obvious he wanted to fit in with his new friends, but had little idea how. He'd buy Led Zeppelin records just because we did, even though his personal preference in music was never that heavy. When he tore the brown paper wrapping off of his new copy of Zeppelin’s In Through the Out Door, we gave him a lot of shit because the brown paper bag wasn’t wrapping; it the album cover.

Looking back, we weren't too nice to Mark himself most of the time. The neighborhood we lived in was still in development, so there were always several houses at various stages of construction. We played in those structures a lot, often engaging in our favorite activity, dirt clod fights. The rules were simple...divide into teams and try to nail each other. We introduced Mark to this sport on the first weekend in his new house. In his effort to make new friends, he was up for it, but once I had him cornered in a ditch surrounding a house-in-development, he let his true colors fly. He was a sitting duck and he knew it. I stood over him above the ditch, arm cocked and ready to let the rock-filled dirt clod fly. Clay was nearby, giggling uncontrollably as he urged me to make the kill-shot (and he was on Mark's team). At this point, Mark started to cry. That made Clay laugh even harder, which was all the encouragement I needed to open fire. I missed, by the way, which was probably a good thing. Although we loved dirt clod fights, none of us really wanted to hurt each other. Mark was already bawling when my projectile exploded next to his head. I’d hate to think what would have happened if I’d nailed him.

Clay would later swear up and down Mark wet his pants while cowered in that ditch. Whether or not that was actually true didn't dissuade me from relaying that detail as the climax to the story when I told others.

Yeah, we were often pretty shitty to Mark, but that’s not to say we didn’t like him. Despite his social awkwardness (at least defined by us), Mark was a pretty nice guy. And, God bless him, he put up with a lot of shit just so he could be included with the neighborhood cool kids (also defined by us). We never objected to having the guy around, especially in the summer, since he was the only kid in the neighborhood with a pool.

So when me and Clay decided to pedal down to the Cinema V to check out Dawn of the Dead, Mark wanted to go, too. That was fine with us.

Mark’s dad, however, had some initial reservations when he asked for permission. Permission? Really? Couldn’t he just lie and go anyway?

Mark’s dad warily shook his head. “I don’t know. I heard Cinema V is a shady place.”

Shady place? It was an old theater, not a freaking strip club. And who the hell described any place as shady anymore? We never let Mark live that one down either.

Still, Mark was able to convince his dad to let him go, conveniently leaving out the fact we were going to see an unrated zombie movie. I didn’t actually tell my parents, either. Mom had already once forbidden me from seeing the main feature, Phantasm, during its initial run because of the tag line, ‘If this one doesn’t scare you, you’re already dead.’ Maybe Mark himself didn’t know or care what we were seeing; he was just happy to be included.

So we got there, bought popcorn and settled into the front row of the balcony (remember those?). The place was pretty full, mostly with a bunch of other kids whose IDs were obviously not checked at the door.

Dawn of the Dead is director George A. Romero’s sequel to his 1968 classic, Night of the Living Dead. Although released a decade later, Dawn picks up shortly after the events of the first film, only now the living dead have overrun the world. Two SWAT guys, a chopper pilot and his girlfriend escape in a helicopter and eventually find refuge in a shopping mall. After ridding the place of zombies, they barricade themselves in and proceed to live out the fantasy most of us have entertained at some point...having a whole mall to yourself. This idyllic existence is later disrupted when a gang of bikers lay siege upon the mall, allowing the zombies back in. Our heroes, now down to two, manage to escape, but the film ends with their ultimate fates unknown.

That’s the quick & dirty summary. Much has been written over the years about the film’s obvious satiric commentary on consumerism, that the zombies themselves are not the true monsters...we are, devolving into animals once society has broken down and can no longer keep us in check. All that and a thousand more metaphors are exploited in the movie’s 127 minutes (epic length for a horror movie, but the Dawn never feels that long).

But none of the movie’s social commentary matters when you’re 15 years old and exposed to some of the most graphic violence you’ve ever seen. People are eaten alive, whole chunks of flesh bitten out of bodies; skulls are severed by helicopter blades, screwdrivers are thrust into temples, head literally explode from gunshots, zombie-rendered children are gunned down, etc. This wasn’t just violence...this was gore.

While we were taking all of this in, it quickly became obvious Dawn of the Dead was not the kind of movie Mark was used to watching. Me either, actually, but at least I’d been working up to it, having survived Jaws, The Exorcist, The Omen and Alien. But the violence in Dawn was way, way beyond any of that. And here was Mark, whose maximum exposure to movie mayhem was probably seeing Krypton exploding in the original Superman.

During much of Dawn, Mark was green in the gills, but managed to man-up and tough it out, at least until the climax, when the aforementioned biker gang starts getting ripped apart and dismembered by the zombie hordes. Torsos are torn open, intestines are spilled and devoured, arms and pulled from their sockets, all while the victims are still alive. I have to admit, even I was getting a little queasy. But Mark couldn’t handle it. At the height of the biker slaughter, he leaned forward, eyes squeezed shut. He lurched a few times, clutching his stomach, then loudly spewed massive amounts of projectile vomit into the air. Since we were seated in the front row of the balcony, his stomach chowder rained down in chunks and splattered people twenty feet below us.

I heard screams. Mark, grabbing his midsection, stumbled toward the exit.

Clay was laughing his ass off.

While the movie kept playing, I leaned over to see puke-drenched people standing up in revulsion, hands outstretched in disbelief. Several of them also bolted from the theater, others stared up accusingly at me and Clay. We did our best to look like we had no idea what was going on.

By this time, the stench of Mark’s puke wafted to my nose. That, along with the disembowelment going on onscreen, made my own gut to a few summersaults. Thank God I managed to swallow it back down, because I knew this was yet-another socially awkward event Mark would ever live down. I sure as hell didn’t want to join him as an object of ridicule. The only other time in my life I ever came that close to puking because of a movie was when I first saw Jackass.

As the end credits of Dawn of the Dead rolled, a few Cinema V cronies came into the theater to clean up the mess below. The manager stormed up to the balcony and demanded to know who was responsible, which is kind of stupid when you think about it. Who the hell goes out of their way to puke on paying customers? Me and Clay had since moved to another section of the balcony, acting like persona non grata, so he paid us no attention.

After a lengthy delay, the main feature, Phantasm, finally began. Having cleaned himself up and looking a bit less green, Mark eventually came back up and sat with us, and we all watched the movie in relative silence. Phantasm wasn’t a bad movie, but not very scary and, aside from a great scene involving a flying silver ball drilling into someone’s head, kind of anticlimactic after the zombie carnage of Dawn of the Dead.

Today, Dawn of the Dead is a classic and widely considered the greatest zombie film of all time. For years it was the most gloriously violent thing I’d ever seen, and when it later came out on video I used to love watching it with newbies who had no idea what was coming. The film immediately spawned countless imitations, many spewing out of Italy, that often upped the ante in the gore department. Some were okay, most were shit, but Dawn just got better with each viewing, mainly because it was never just a gore film (even though that’s what I first loved about it as a kid). It’s a smartly-written, well-acted and sometimes vicious attack on materialism that’s as morbidly funny as it is scary. Even the ample amount of over-the-top zombie violence is actually easier to stomach than the realistic torture scenes in Hostel or the Saw series.

As for Mark, he managed to survive, though we gave him a lot of shit for puking up his popcorn and, as usual, he took our chiding with a good-natured grin. For all of his social inadequacies, the guy was a damn good sport, and because of that, maybe he was a better friend than we ever gave him credit for.

Mark and I kind of drifted apart shortly after I discovered girls, cars, booze and weed, while he continued taking school seriously and was a valedictorian his senior year. Shortly after I (barely) graduated high school, I think it was his younger brother who told me Mark got a full scholarship to USC or something. I, on the other hand, dropped out of community college to marry my girlfriend (but that’s another sad tale). Obviously, his encounter with the living dead at the Cinema V didn’t do any permanent damage, but I’ll bet he’s still not a zombie fan.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Dave's Movie Guide: The Swarm (1978)

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, when drugs were still cool, I knew a guy named Scott, who spent most of his high school years in a pot-induced haze. Scott was the typical likeable stoner present in every high school, likeable because he had an endless supply of weed he was willing to share with anyone in the room at the time he decided to load a bowl. Hence, I hung out with him a lot.

Scott was also a closet scientist, a trait which only came to the surface when he was high. He wouldn’t do jack-shit in biology class, but was more-than-willing to conduct experiments with the able assistance of Panama Red. Baking in his garage one night while his parents were out of town (which was often), me and a few buddies heard Scott’s theory about digestion. He put-forth that corn kernels showed up in shit because they weren’t chewed up enough, so it stood to reason that if you swallowed a sardine whole, you’d have a turd sprouting fins in the toilet bowl a few hours later. We never discovered if his hypothesis was true - though we did manage to get him to swallow a whole fish without killing himself - because, like most people in our condition, the overwhelming urge to crash in front of the TV with a box of Apple Jacks outweighed the need to carry on in the name of science.

Nobody had cable back then, although HBO was becoming available to the few willing to stick a dildo-shaped antenna on their roof. Scott’s parents weren’t among that group, so the only thing this night on TV was The Swarm, Irwin Allen’s 1978 killer bee epic. I saw the movie when it first came out, and even then I knew this was one of the movies which essentially killed the disaster movie craze in the 70s. But it plays a lot better when you’re high. When you’re high, the lousy special effects take on a surreal look, and there’s plenty of dull stretches in between the attack scenes to run back out into the garage and fire up another bowl. There’s also the tendency to seriously ponder whether or not a swarm of bees could actually cause a train to derail or a nuclear power plant to explode. Sober folks wouldn’t engage in such a debate. They know better.

Though we had abandoned the sardine-in-your-shit experiment, we did manage to come up with a few other conclusions, even if the Scientific Method was no longer foremost on our minds. One fact we discovered was that Michael Caine (and his goofy hair, one of God’s crueller jokes) isn’t someone you should watch when you’re doing drugs. His performance in The Swarm, with his deadly-serious delivery of dialogue that makes the average Godzilla movie sound like the prose of Tennessee Williams, had me convinced he was trying to mess with my head. Not to mention his eyes, which were kinda freaking me out that night. And when he pulled out his trusty pouch of sunflower seeds, it had Rick (one of the other guys hanging out that night) wanting to head to 7-Eleven to buy a bag of his own. Fortunately, he couldn’t find his car keys.

We also discovered Scott was willing to have sex with anything...even Olivia De Havilland, who in The Swarm plays an elderly school principal in being courted by geezers Ben Johnson and Fred MacMurray. Yeech.

“Man, I’d do her,” Scott stated matter-of-factly.

What?” replied Greg, the other guy in our cannibus crew in between handfuls of dry Apple Jacks. “She’s a thousand years old and 300 pounds! I suppose you’d do that military dude, too.”

“Richard Widmark,” I interjected, being the only movie geek in the bunch.


Scott ignored my clarification of the film’s cast and said to Greg, “Yeah, but dude, if she was the only chick around and the lights were off and you were baked enough...” (It was at this point I realized career stoners probably would have sex with anything). Then he looked at me. “Dave, you’d do her if there was no one else around, wouldn’t ya?”

“Maybe if she was the Gone with the Wind Olivia De Havilland,” I replied.

Gone with the Wind? That’s my grandma’s favorite movie!” Scott started laughing uncontrollably, apparently enjoying the punchline to a joke only he understood. At this point in the film, the killer bees caused a train carrying much of the cast - including Olivia - to tumble down a mountain in a fiery blaze, thus ending the debate whether or not she was do-able. Besides...it was time to go back out to Scott’s garage to refuel during the commercial break.

Speaking of Olivia De Havilland, her role in the The Swarm has absolutely no impact on the plot at all. She’s introduced in a few pointless scenes before plummeting to her death into a canyon. You could take out every frame she appears in and she wouldn’t be missed at all. You could say that about half of this ‘all-star’ cast...Slim Pickens, Lee Grant, Richard Chamberlain, Patti Duke (in a hilariously random scene of blooming love for her physician, even though her husbad just died!), Jose Ferrer, Ben Johnson, Fred MacMurray...all included for no other reason than to boost The Swarm’s marquee value. Hell, it worked for Allen’s The Towering Inferno. Surely it’d work again, right?

But the difference is that, despite its cornball melodrama, The Towering Inferno is actually a good movie, mainly because Irwin Allen only directed the action scenes. He left the ones involving real actors to John Guillermin. In addition, even though a large portion of the cast pop-up in for little-more than glorified cameos, we care about their characters enough so that when one dies horribly, at least the audience feels something. Not so with The Swarm, the first of Irwin Allen’s disaster films in which he handled all directorial chores. This is where we realize that this ‘Master of Disaster’, as he was so fondly called when the genre was at its peak, really had no inherent filmmaking talent of his own. The gratuitous cameos are often so random and out-of-place that (along with some of the worst dialogue ever uttered in a big-budget film) you can’t help but laugh. And seeing it today, once you throw it the shoddy special effects, you have one of the most unintentionally funny films of all time. Imagine if Ed Wood (Plan 9 from Outer Space) was given an unlimited budget, access to major (if long-in-the-tooth) Hollywood stars, and a script written by a bunch of hacks from a community college creative writing class, all working on individual scenes without knowing what the other writers are doing. Put all that together and you end up with a film almost shocking in its technical and narrative ineptitude.

And it’s for all those reasons that The Swarm is so damned fun. It’s one of those rare birds...a film with a gigantic budget and a huge cast, squandered by a hack once revered for creating a genre, only to destroy that genre (and his reputation) by believing all the media hype the bestowed him. And The Swarm was definitely the biggest nail in the disaster movie coffin. But for one film to single-handedly destroy a genre, it must be worth seeing. As such, The Swarm does not disappoint.

A few years later, Airplane! was released, effectively exploiting every disaster movie cliche for laughs and killing the genre for the next two decades. But now that both Airplane! and The Swarm are thirty-year-old relics, try watching the two of them back-to-back today. Both are still hilarious, but for different reasons. Airplane! is still funny, but because it knowingly parodies a genre popular of the time, many of its most hilarious moments may be lost on modern audiences. But The Swarm, by virtue of its sheer seriousness and ineptitude, is even funnier and far more entertaining. One only has to view Richard Widmark’s performance to appreciate that. Here’s a guy whose been a reliable co-star or villain his entire career, applying the same earnestness to this role that he always had, only saddled with some of the dumbest lines in the film. As General Slater, he’s asked to repeatedly suspect the motives of Bradford Crane (Michael Caine), who has done nothing but help resolve the killer bee situation, yet Slater still orders his second-in-command (Bradford Dillman) to ‘build up a dossier’ on the scientist. To what end? Does Slater really think Crane is in league with the bees? It’s to Widmark’s credit that he approaches the role with the same seriousness he once did in Kiss of Death.

It’s also to Caine’s credit that, even though he sometimes looks like he knows this was the worst film he’d ever signed on for at the time, he never offers a knowing wink over the ridiculousness of the story, nor does he look like he’s about to lose his lunch with the next stupid line he’s forced to utter. If that’s true, I can’t begin to imagine the raging gorge he made himself swallow when doing Jaws: The Revenge.

On an awesome footnote, though, The Swarm offers something no other disaster film did at the time. You know the perky/smart-aleck/adorable kid who pops up in every one of these movies, the ones you wished would die but never do? Well, in The Swarm, that kid dies. It's supposed to be a tragic moment in the film (swelling music, crying doctor at his death bed), until you remember that this little bastard was also responsible for several hundred deaths because he just had to taunt the bees.

Simply put, The Swarm may be the greatest bad movie of all time...more fun than a barrel of Twilight movies.

I bought The Swarm when it came out on DVD, and have watched and enjoyed it more than any of Irwin Allen’s other films. Allen himself died in 1991, and no, I wasn’t invited to the funeral, so I imagine the eulogy covered his greatest successes (The Poseidon Adventure, The Towering Inferno, Allen’s various TV shows in the 60s). Too bad, because, as much as I love Poseidon and Inferno, they aren’t as much dumbass fun as The Swarm.

Regarding the night me and my buddies baked ourselves in front of the TV back then, I eventually lost touch with Scott. Like a lot of stoner buddies from many of us may recall fondly, he’s got no Facebook page, nor have I seen him at any reunions. I dunno, maybe he’s still in front of his TV, lusting after Olivia De Havilland. I only hope he’s a little more sober, and being so, perhaps checked out some of De Havilland’s older movies, when she was certainly younger and hotter than she was in The Swarm.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Dave's Movie Guide: Damnation Alley (1977)

This movie has the dubious distinction of being the movie I’ve seen in a theater more times than any other. Not because it’s any good, or that I’m a big fan of Jan Michael Vincent (who the hell is?), but because when I was a kid I hung out at a theater called the Southgate, a quad cinema with a pretty relaxed security policy; you could easily sneak from theater to theater and see all four movies after paying for only one. Me and my friends thought we were pretty clever, but with hindsight, I doubt the theater management actually cared, so long as they were selling popcorn.

Just about everyone I knew went to the Southgate every weekend to bump into people of the opposite sex (okay, it wasn’t exactly Studio 54, but we were 13, and it was within biking distance). Back then, long before home video or digital downloading, movies played in theaters a lot longer than they generally do now. One of those movies was Damnation Alley.

Don’t remember this one? Allow me to enlighten you. Damnation Alley, based on a novel by Roger Zalanzy, is a post-apocalyptic ‘epic’ that was supposed to be the bigger blockbuster of the two sci-fi movies 20th Century Fox released that year (the other one was Star Wars, which the bigwigs at Fox apparently had no faith in). And even though Damnation Alley had a much bigger budget than Star Wars, it turned out to be a truly cheesy end-of-the-world movie in which a few survivors of a nuclear war trek across the country in a weird looking, armed-to-the-teeth, multi-wheeled tank called the Landmaster. As dumb as the movie is, I gotta admit the Landmaster is a pretty badass vehicle, making the Humvee look like a SmartCar. It would sure come in handy today during my frequent bouts of road rage (get off your goddamn phone or I'll shove a rocket up your ass!). By the way, the original Landmaster built for the film still exists in storage somewhere.

Also of note is Sound 360, an audio gimmick ballyhooed in Damnation Alley trailers the same way Sensurround was for movies like Earthquake. Sound 360 was a multi-channel system which supposedly created an audio experience allowing the viewer to feel like they were in the middle of the action. Which is all fine and good, provided one wants to be in the middle of the action. Today, such gimmicks as Sensurround and Sound 360 can easily be replicated by any home theater system, but back then, I suspect they were used to convince moviegoers they were paying to watch a better movie than they really were. Kind of like the use of 3-D today. Sorry folks, if you need any technical assistance to enjoy a movie, than said-movie wasn't any good to begin with.

Anyway, Damnation Alley played at the Southgate for about two months, and since our other choices at the time consisted of stuff like The Goodbye Girl and Annie Hall (a fine film, but Woody Allen’s brand of humor is sort of lost on 14 year olds), me and my friends ended up watching Damnation Alley a lot. It was part of a double-bill (back then your ticket allowed you to watch two movies) with Wizards, a sleazy and stupid animated fantasy flick that once duped people into thinking director Ralph Bakshi had talent. On the plus side, that was the first cartoon I ever saw where the female characters had nipples.

Speaking of nipples, on about my fifth or sixth viewing on Damnation Alley, I bumped into a girl from my school named Shelly Joslin, who was there with one of her friends. Shelly had the honored distinction of having the biggest boobs in the 8th grade, which I actually got to touch in the back row of Southgate’s auditorium #2. While George Peppard and Jan Michael Vincent battled legions of killer cockroaches on the screen, I had my trembling hand up a girl’s blouse for the first time.

What does copping my first feel have to do with the movie? Not a damn thing, but whenever I fondly recall Damnation Alley, I don’t think of the ludicrous story, dumb pseudo-science or shoddy special effects that might have been impressive in 1960. I don’t think about the film’s characters being able travel across a radioactive wasteland without being covered in pus-oozing lesions, or, other than some stock footage of nuclear explosions, we actually see nothing destroyed. I don’t think about the ridiculous notion that the city of Albany survives unscathed, with white picket fences and green trees intact. I don’t think about Jackie Earl Haley, who played the young punk from The Bad News Bears, and stretches himself here by playing another young punk. No, when I think of Damnation Alley, I still think of only one thing...Shelly Joslin’s boobs. Actually, that’s two things, isn’t it?