Author: Craig Zablo

THE BULLET GARDEN: An Earl Swagger Novel by Stephen Hunter is Coming!

On January 24, 2023, fans of Stephen Hunter’s Earl Swagger can get their mitts on his latest adventure, The Bullet Garden.  Here’s the 411…

The long-anticipated origin story of legendary Marine, fan favorite, and father of literary icon Bob Lee takes us to the battlefields of World War II as Earl Swagger embarks on a top secret and deadly mission—from Pulitzer Prize­–winning and New York Times bestselling Stephen Hunter, “one of the best thriller novelists around” (The Washington Post).

July, 1944: The lush, rolling hills of Normandy are dotted with a new feature—German snipers. From their vantage points, they pick off hundreds of Allied soldiers every day, bringing the D-Day invasion to its knees. It’s clear that someone is tipping off these snipers with the locations of American GIs, but who? And how?

General Eisenhower demands his intelligence service to find the best shot in the Allied military to counter this deadly SS operation. Enter Pacific hero Earl Swagger, assigned this crucial and bloody mission. With crosshairs on his back, Swagger can’t trust anyone as he infiltrates the shadowy corners of London and France for answers.

From “a true master at the pinnacle of his craft” (Jack Carr, author of the Terminal List series), The Bullet Garden is an electrifying historical thriller that is sure to become a classic.

If this is something you’d like, pre-orders are available now.

The Bullet Garden   Hardcover

The Bullet Garden  Kindle

“A Bird in the Head” (1946) starring The Three Stooges / Z-View

A Bird in the Head (1946)

Director:  Edward Bernds

Screenplay: Edward Bernds

Stars: Moe Howard, Larry Fine, Curly Howard, Vernon Dent and Robert B. Williams

Tagline: None.

The Plot…

Larry, Curly and Moe are hired to wallpaper a room.  They totally destroy it and when running away from the guy who hired them, escape into Professor Panzer’s lab.  Panzer has been on the lookout for someone whose brain he can transplant into his gorilla’s head.  Curly looks to be a perfect fit!

Thoughts (beware of spoilers)…

A Bird in the Head was Edward Bernds first directing job!  Bernds would go on to direct over 100 projects, including many Three Stooges Shorts, two Three Stooges feature films, several Bowery Boys films, television episodes and more.  Bernds also wrote this short and made changes when it became clear that Curly, who had suffered a series of strokes, was having a difficult time.  Bernds wrote increased “business” for Professor Panzer and his gorilla Igor.  This kept Curly’s screen time up but with less pressure to get laughs.

The animated sequence when Professor Panzer looks into Curly’s head was created by Tex Avery!

A Bird in the Head earns 4 of 5 stars.

RIP: Albert Pyun

Albert Pyun died yesterday at the age of 69.  Mr. Pyun had been in failing health for some time dealing with multiple sclerosis and dementia for the last few years.  Albert Pyun was a writer, director and producer of low-budget genre films.

Mr. Pyun’s first film The Sword and the Sorcerer was a surprise hit.  Made for just $4 million, The Sword and the Sorcerer made back it’s investment during the first week of release.  It would go on to gross nearly $37 million.  The success of The Sword and the Sorcerer set the pattern for most of Albert Pyun’s career.  He would write/co-write and direct low-budget films which gave him creative control to tell the stories he wanted to tell.

Some of Mr. Pyun’s best known films include: The Sword and the Sorcerer, Cyborg, Captain America (1990), Bloodmatch, Nemesis, Mean Guns and Road to Hell.

Some of the actors that appeared in Albert Pyun films include: Jean-Claude Van Damme, Christopher Lambert, Tom Sizemore, Dennis Hopper, Steven Seagal, Steven Bauer Natasha Henstridge, Ronny Cox, Ned Beatty, Kris Kristofferson, Lance Henriksen, Robert Patrick, Ice-T, Michael Paré, Brion James and Tim Thomerson.

My favorite Albert Pyun film is Cyborg starring Jean-Claude Van Damme.  It contains a cool fight scene in the rain that always comes to mind first when I think of that movie.  I still need to see Mr. Pyun’s Road to Hell starring Michael Paré and Deborah Van Valkenburgh in an un-official spin-off of Streets of Fire.  I applaud Albert Pyun finding his niche in Hollywood.  He was able to make the films he wanted the way he wanted.

Our thoughts and prayers go out to Albert Pyun’s family, friends and fans.

“Dark Shadows” (1944) / Z-View

Dark Shadows (1944)

Director:  Walter Hart, Paul Burnford (uncredited)

Screenplay: Edward Bock, Richard H. Landau

Stars: Henry O’Neill, Morris Ankrum and Paul Guilfoyle

Tagline: None.

The Plot…

A police psychiatrist is enlisted to catch a homicidal killer.

Thoughts (beware of spoilers)…

Dark Shadows is part of a series of Crime Doesn’t Pay shorts.  The plot makes it sound good, right?  It’s not.  At least it didn’t resonate with me.  It’s very talky with dull scenes.  Although it has a run time of just 21 minutes, I’d like to have every one of ’em back.

Dark Shadows earns 1 of 5 stars.

RIP: Irene Cara

Irene Cara passed away yesterday at the age of 63.  No cause of death was given.

Irene Cara was an actress, singer and song writer.  Although her performance in Fame made her a household name, Ms. Cara had been a performer since she was a little girl.  When she was three years old she was one of five finalists for the “Little Miss America” pageant.  She studied music and dance.  While still a child she performed on The Original Amateur Hour, The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson and became a regular on PBS’ The Electric Company.

Irene Cara would go on to appear on stage in Broadway productions (and some off-Broadway plays as well).  She became a regular cast member of Love of Life.  This was followed by starring roles in the feature films  Aaron Loves Angela and Sparkle.  Television called and Irene Cara made guest appearances on Kojak and What’s Happening!!.  Next came roles in Roots: The Next Generation and Guyana Tragedy: The Story of Jim Jones.

Irene Cara became an international superstar with her role in Fame.  Ms. Cara was originally cast as a dancer, but her role was re-written once producers heard her voice.  Irene Cara sang the title song, Fame as well as the movie’s other single, Out Here on My Own.  In addition to the singles and soundtrack selling in the millions, both songs were nominated for an Academy Award.  Irene Cara became one of the few singers to perform more than one song at an Oscar ceremony.

Based on her performance in Fame, Iren Cara received Grammy Award nominations for Best New Artist and Best Female Pop Vocal Performance.  She also received a Golden Globe nomination for Best Motion Picture Actress in a Musical. She was crowned Billboard’s Top New Single Artist, Cashbox Magazine’s Most Promising Female Vocalist and Top Female Vocalist.  When a Fame television show was announced, Irene Cara was offered the opportunity to reprise her role, but declined.

In 1983, she co-wrote (with Giorgio Moroder and Keith Forsey) and sang the title song for the movie Flashdance“Flashdance… What a Feeling” would go on to become another multi-million seller as well as winner of  the Academy Award for Best Song.  For her performance Irene Cara won the 1984 Grammy Award for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance, the 1984 Golden Globe Award for Best Original Song, and American Music Awards for Best R&B Female Artist and Best Pop Single of the Year.

Irene Cara would continue singing and acting for the rest of her career.

Our thoughts and prayers go out to Iren Cara’s family, friends and fans.

“Peeping Tom” (1960) / Z-View

Peeping Tom (1960)

Director: Michael Powell

Screenplay: Leo Marks

Stars: Karlheinz Böhm, Anna Massey, Moira Shearer

Tagline: WARNING! Don’t see Peeping Tom unless you are prepared to see the screaming shock and raw terror in the faces of those marked for death!

The Plot…

Mark Lewis (Böhm) hopes some day to be a filmmaker.  He currently works on a film crew and after hours he’s a photographer of soft core porn.  People see Lewis as a shy, quiet recluse.  If they only knew he’s a psychopathic killer who gets off by filming women’s faces as he murders them.

When Helen, a kind woman takes an interest in Mark, they begin to date.  Helen’s blind mother feels something is off with Mark and starts to dig deeper…

Thoughts (beware of spoilers)…

When Peeping Tom was released in 1960, it was marketed as horror and exploitation.  Peeping Tom failed to find an audience.  Over the years Peeping Tom became a popular cult film and its popularity increased.  Martin Scorsese has long championed this film.

While daring for 1960, it seems much less so now.  Kudos for the final scene when Mark realizes he has no means of escape and has planned for this eventuality.

Peeping Tom earns 3 of 5 stars.

“Dustwalker” (2019) / Z-View

Dustwalker (2019)

Director:  Sandra Sciberras

Screenplay: Sandra Sciberras

Stars: Jolene Anderson and Stef Dawson

Tagline:  It walks among us.

The Plot…

An object crashes just outside a remote Australian town.  Shortly after, citizens become infected and turn into fast-moving, zombie-like killing machines.  As the menace grows, a police officer and school teacher attempt to save as many people as possible.

Thoughts (beware of spoilers)…

Dustwalker is a mess.  The poster looks pretty cool and that’s about the best I can say for the movie.

What I’m sure the director thought would be tension-building scenes, came off as boring.  How many times and how long can one look at people just staring ahead?  Then there’s a huge dust storm that sits around the town not allowing anyone to leave.  I guess we can figure out that it was put there to stop the “zombies” from going to another city.  Who put it there?  Well, it appears that the scorpion/dog alien that rounds up the turned humans and incinerates them did.  Truthfully, I didn’t care who/what resolved the situation.  I was ready for Dustwalker to end.  It just didn’t resonate with me.  Your mileage may vary.

Dustwalker earns 1 of 5 stars.

“Small Engine Repair” (2021) starring Jon Bernthal, Shea Whigham, John Pollono, Ciara Bravo & Spencer House / Z-View

Small Engine Repair (2021)

Director: John Pollono

Screenplay: John Pollono

Stars: Jon Bernthal, Shea Whigham, Jordana Spiro, John Pollono, Ciara Bravo, Spencer House, Josh Helman, James Badge Dale and James Ransone 

Tagline:  None.

The Plot…

Frank (J. Pollono), Terrence (Bernthal) and Packie (Whigham) have been best friends since high school.  When Frank’s marriage broke up, he kept custody of his daughter, Crystal (Bravo).  Thankfully, the guys stepped in to help raise her.  When Frank had to do some time in prison because of his temper, the guys took custody of Crystal until Frank got out.  Now Crystal is about to go to college and the guys can breathe a little easier…

When Frank asks Terrence and Packie to meet him one night at his small engine repair shop, they have no idea what’s up.  When they learn that it involves something that happened to Crystal, there is no line that they won’t cross to make things right.

Thoughts (beware of spoilers)…

I’m surprised that more people aren’t talking about Small Engine Repair.  It is one of the most under-rated movies I’ve seen this year.  John Pollono adapted his play for the screen, directed and also stars.  He’s joined by Jon Bernthal, Shea Whigham (both are always great), Ciara Bravo and Spencer House (who more than hold their own).

Small Engine Repair reminded me of Slingblade in that it’s a small budget film, focused on working class folks with a powerful story that was written and directed by the star of the film.  Small Engine Repair takes time to set everything up and covers a lot of ground.  Then we get to the last act and the tension mounts as we learn what Frank has planned.  Once all cards are on the table there is no turning back… or is there?

I loved Small Engine Repair and hope that more people get a chance to see it.

Small Engine Repair earns 5 of 5 stars.

“Hideout” (2021) Starring Katie Lyons / Z-View

Hideout (2021)

Director:  Kris Roselli

Screenplay: Kris Roselli

Stars: Katie Lyons, Audrey Kovár, Chris Wolfe, Bryan Enright and Eric Francis Melaragni

Tagline: No One Can Hide Forever

The Plot…

After a botched robbery where Reed (Wolfe) was shot, Sarah, Rick and Kyle need a place to hold up until the heat dies down.  They find a remote farmhouse where an old woman lives with her granddaughter… at least that’s how it appears…

Thoughts (beware of spoilers)…

Hideout begins well enough with an interesting premise.  Four violent robbers on the run take shelter at a remote farm unaware that one of their hostages isn’t what she seems.   Unfortunately once it gets going Hideout doesn’t live up to its potential.  It’s slow with quite a bit of overacting by Wolfe and Enright,  Yelling and raising your eyebrows only takes you so far.  Katie Lyons is definitely the star of the show.

If you like low-budget horror, you can do worse, but I was expecting better.

Hideout earns 2 of 5 stars.

“Run Sweetheart Run” (2020) starring Ella Balinska & Pilou Asbæk / Z-View

Run Sweetheart Run (2020)

Director: Shana Feste

Screenplay: Shana Feste, Keith Josef Adkins, Kellee Terrell

Stars: Ella Balinska, Pilou Asbæk, Clark Gregg, Shohreh Aghdashloo and Marco Khan

Tagline:  None.

The Plot…

Cherie (Balinska) is a single mom, and pre-law student working her way through college working as a secretary for a high-priced lawyer.  When her boss calls saying that he needs her to take his place at a dinner that evening with an important client, she reluctantly agrees.

Cherie meets Ethan (Asbæk) who turns out to be rich, handsome, charming and interested in Cherie.  As the evening progresses, Cherie begins to feel attracted to Ethan.  When they arrive back at Ethan’s house, he invites Cherie in for a drink.  Although hesitant, Cherie says she’ll come in for just one.

Cherie will soon find herself on the run for her life.  Ethan was not at all what he seemed to be.  Who will believe that Ethan is a savage murderer who intends to kill Cherie before sunrise?

Thoughts (beware of spoilers)…

Run Sweetheart Run takes surprising turns that some may not like.  I absolutely enjoyed them.  There are times when the fourth wall is broken.  When Ethan and Cherie go for a nightcap, as Cherie enters the house, Ethan turns and looks directly into the camera.  He then makes a go away motion to the audience and the camera backs up.  Ethan then enters the house and from a distance we hear screams, smashing furniture and suddenly Cherie bursts out of the house running for her life.

The movie takes on a supernatural aspect about three quarters of the way through, although there have been hints along the way.  Ella Balinska is excellent as the “girl on the run” who will have to survive by her wits and toughness.  Pilou Asbæk is believable as the charming date at one moment and terrifying killer in the next.  If you’re a fan of movies that break the mold and take chances, then Run Sweetheart Run may be for you.

Run Sweetheart Run earns 4 of 5 stars.

“Three Little Pirates” (1946) starring The Three Stooges / Z-View

Three Little Pirates (1946)

Director:  Edward Bernds

Screenplay: Clyde Bruckman

Stars: Moe Howard, Larry Fine, Curly Howard, Christine McIntyre and Vernon Dent 

Tagline: The Stooges’ newest tickler.

The Plot…

Larry, Curly and Moe are sailors who washed ashore on Dead Man’s Island.  After Curly flirts with Rita (McIntyre), the island’s ruler’s fiancée, the boys are sentenced to death.  Lucky for Larry, Curly and Moe, Rita has a plan to help the boys escape by dressing them as travelers from a strange land.  What could go wrong?

Thoughts (beware of spoilers)…

The highlight of Three Little Pirates is Curly and Moe performing the “Maharaja” routine.  Sadly this is the last short that features Curly throughout the whole production.  He had suffered a serious of small strokes and his health was in decline.  Larry gets in on the laughs when Curly and Black Louie have a knife-throwing contest.

Three Little Pirates earns 4 of 5 stars.

THE LAST ACTION HEROES by Nick de Semlyen is Coming!

The Last Action Heroes: The Triumphs, Flops and Feuds of Hollywood’s Kings of Carnage by Nick de Semlyen looks like something many of us will want to check out.  Here’s the lowdown…

The behind-the-scenes story of the larger-than-life action stars who ruled ’80s and ’90s Hollywood—Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sylvester Stallone, Bruce Willis, Jackie Chan, Steven Seagal, Chuck Norris, Dolph Lundgren, and Jean-Claude Van Damme—and the beloved films that made them stars, including Die Hard, Rambo, and The Terminator.

The Last Action Heroes opens in 1990, at the Cannes film festival, where Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone finally forged a truce. After years of bitter behind-the scenes combat—Stallone once threw a bowl of flowers at Schwarzenegger’s head; the body count in Schwarzenegger’s Commando was increased to “have a bigger d*** than Rambo”—the world’s biggest action stars had at last formed a friendship.

In The Last Action Heroes, film journalist Nick de Semlyen charts their wild, carnage-packed journey from enmity to friendship. He also reveals the personal stories of the colorful characters who ascended in their wake, from Jean-Claude Van Damme and Steven Seagal, to Chuck Norris and Jackie Chan. But as the ‘80s rolled on, the era of the invincible action hero who used muscle, martial arts, or the perfect weapon to save the day started to fade. When Jurassic Park trounced Schwarzenegger’s Last Action Hero in 1993, everyone knew that the glory days of these macho men–and the vision of masculinity they celebrated–were officially over.

Drawing on candid interviews with the action stars themselves, plus their collaborators, friends, and foes, The Last Action Heroes is a no-holds-barred account of a period in Hollywood history when there were no limits to the heights of fame these men achieved, or to the mayhem they wrought, onscreen and off.

If this sounds like something you’d enjoy, pre-orders are available now.  The book drops June 6, 2023.

Thanks to @popcornwithafork for the head-up!

“Three Pests in a Mess” (1945) starring The Three Stooges / Z-View

Three Pests in a Mess (1945)

Director:  Del Lord

Screenplay: Del Lord

Stars: Moe Howard, Larry Fine, Curly Howard, Christine McIntyre, Vernon Dent and ‘Snub’ Pollard

Tagline:  Three screwballs on the loose!

The Plot…

Larry, Curly and Moe are inventors who become enamoured with a gold digger who thinks the boys are loaded. When she finds out they’re not, she calls in her partners to rough up the boys.  While making their escape Curly accidently shoots a mannequin.  Thinking that Curly has killed a man, the boys put the “body” in a bag and take it to a cemetery to bury it.  What could go wrong?

Thoughts (beware of spoilers)…

Three Pests in a Mess is another Stooges classic.  Curly’s interactions with the gold digger and his shirt “preparedness” are priceless.  The cemetery scenes at night with Larry, Curly, Moe and the folks from the masquerade party (A devil, skeleton, and mad magician) are classic.  Curly shines when carrying the bag containing the mannequin and with each step he takes gets slapped in the head by the mannequin’s hand.  Three Pests in a Mess is another great example of how comedy and “horror” work so well together.

Three Pests in a Mess earns 5 of 5 stars.