Monday, March 21, 2016

Con Report – HorrorHound Cincinnati

HorrorHound is sponsored by the magazine of the same name and is growing as a convention every year. Parking was nigh impossible this year and the halls in the dealer’s room were warm and impassible. I’m much more into comics than straight horror, but I attended last year with my friend Rob and we had a blast. This year we went again, along with Rob’s fiancée Lisa. If anything it was even more fun.

John Noble of Fringe and LOTR
We started out in the main celebrity room, where the stars and crowds gathered. This room held the most popular visiting celebs, such as folks from The Walking Dead, the Daredevil TV show and numerous old horror/slasher flicks. Rob was there for one reason—(well, two reasons really) to meet Elvira, Mistress of the Dark. We both loved Cassandra Peterson’s look and persona, and admired someone who could make a living for over 35 years with a look inspired by Vampira and two other assets, which you can probably guess. Of all the celebrities, Elvira’s line was the longest by far. That was surprising to me; probably not many people under 40 even know who she is. However, there were men, women, groups and families waiting patiently for hours to meet her, get an autograph and/or get a photo with her. There were masses of adults and kids dressed like her. We skipped her line for now, hoping it would die down later in the day.

Jon Bernthal
I went over to meet actor Jon Bernthal, who was a freak. He has had a busy career as an actor with a reputation for intensity. He has portrayed characters in The Walking Dead, L.A. Noir and is presently playing Marvel anti-hero The Punisher in season two of Daredevil, which hit Netflix on March 18. I love the Punisher and hoped he had some Punisher photos. He did:

Friday, March 18, 2016

The Odious John Edward

On the way to work in this morning, I saw a billboard advertising the advent of John Edward coming to town to fleece gullible and vulnerable members of the public. The board named Edward as a “psychic medium.” I don’t believe in psychic powers of any kind, ESP, remote viewing, astrology or having conversations with dead people. If people with such powers do exist, John Edward is not one of them.

I dislike “mediums” of Edward’s ilk because they prey on sad and grieving people for money. Oh, some say they are harmless and offer people comfort and closure by delivering messages from their deceased loved ones. I look at it as ripping off vulnerable individuals for cash. Edward used to have his own television show, which I watched occasionally for entertainment value and to marvel at his laughable made up “powers.” He’s a slick showman who knows how to manipulate his audience. It is evident that he uses a typical conman/clairvoyant technique known as “cold reading” to influence the crowd and pretend to talk to dead people.

Cold reading consists of manipulative techniques used by mediums, psychics and other frauds to convince the public that they have supernatural knowledge or abilities. Anyone can learn it, anyone can do it. Practitioners start with general leading questions (“Something bad happened to you lately,” or “Someone in the crowd lost someone close to them ... someone whose name starts with a ‘J’.”) Their queries are so general they resonate with someone. When that person identifies themselves, these frauds make mass generalizations while the “victim’s” brain struggles to make their guesses fit into their own narrative. Human brains look for patterns and to make things fit. What was not shown on Edward’s TV show were the vast majority of statements he made or things he guessed that were incorrect. People will ignore the 90 out of 100 things he got wrong and gasp at the 10 things that were vaguely on target. And sometimes the mediums read people well and get very lucky. Those positive guesses are the things the audience will remember.

John Edward
“Entertainers” such as Edward, James Van Prague and Theresa Caputo, the so-called Long Island Medium, all use cold-reading techniques. I have to wonder ... are they all just outright lying? Or do they really believe themselves to have psychic gifts? I don’t know the answer (I have my suspicions). But to take money to help people wallow in their grief is not only mercenary, it’s obscene. I hope no one goes to this charlatan’s make-believe show and gives him a penny of their hard-earned cash. Instead, consider donating to the Randi Foundation, at It’s a site run by James Randi to expose and explain frauds like Edward.

If you think there may be something real about Edward's well-honed shtick, do me a favor and read up on cold reading and how it works. Then take that information and sit back and watch him with a critical eye, just for argument's sake. I think you will have a new insight to the great man's psychic powers. 

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Star Wars Fan Film

Here's a great Star Wars fan film about Darth Maul with some fantastic action and fight scenes. Warning; don't get too attached to any of the Jedi in the film. They could place this whole into the next Star Wars movie and I'd be perfectly happy. It's only 18 minutes, but well worth your time. 

Sunday, March 6, 2016

TV Rampage

TV Rampage - Television Reviews

A look at what's currently on television ... 

Supergirl Season 1 (CBS) 
Supergirl is proof of so many things; Network TV (CBS, ABC and NBC) is where good ideas go to die; even great producers can’t launch a quality show on a Network, and Melissa Benoist looks great in a Supergirl costume. 

I love Supergirl. I’ve read her comics for decades; I have statues, posters and lots and lots of Supergirl comics. So I was looking forward to the Supergirl show and determined to like it. Sometimes determination fails. The pilot wasn’t bad, but made it clear that I was not the audience for the show. That’s fine. As the weeks went by, I tried to suss out who was the audience for the show. At first I thought women, ages 16-24. Nothing wrong with that. As the execution got worse, I figured the audience was girls 5-15. Even that may be aiming high. Now I think it could be girls aged 5-10 ... possibly with mental disabilities? 

On Supergirl the TV show, Melissa Benoist plays Kara Zor-El, Superman’s cousin who also survived the destruction of Krypton by rocketing to Earth. She is adopted by kindly parents and now works in some dumb made up city, even worse than the usual DC Comics dumb made up cities. She is surrounded by a cast of politically correct supporting characters that check all the right PC boxes. Her sister Alex (Chyler Leigh) is especially annoying; always super-caring, always so earnest in her loving care-bear caringness. Viewers are subjected to possible vomiting by her performance at any given moment. 

Mecad Brooks plays Jimmy James Olsen, who has switched races from the comic. Mecad is a good actor stuck in a thankless role. Because he is a minority on a Network show, he has to be perfect in every way. He too is so earnest and caring, always saying and doing the right thing at the right time. I’m surprised when he smiles there’s not a CGI gleam on his teeth and a “ting!” sound. What a one-dimensional, flat portrayal and character. His girlfriend is Lucy Lane (Jenna Dewan Tatum), yes, sister of Lois and probably the most despicable character on Network television. In one episode she goes out of her way to say how much she hates white men (she’s white), especially older white men who run companies. Nice. Rounding out the cast is Cat Grant (Calista Flockhart), owner of media conglomerate CatCo where Kara works. She’s the only character with a personality, unfortunately that personality is a b----. Finally, Jeremy Jordan plays Winn Schott, Kara’s platonic friend who wants something more. His character exists to be overshadowed by Jimmy Olsen and pine for Supergirl. The men on this show feel things so deeply their vaginas must ache all the time. 

It’s a weekly toss up whether the acting, dialog or plot is the worst aspect of the show. A recent episode adapted one of the finest Superman stories ever told, Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ “For the Man Who Has Everything” from Superman Annual #11. The special effects were excellent, but the writers removed everything that made the story great, and viewers were left with a dull, gold plated turd. Like most aspects of Supergirl

Melissa Benoist does make a fine Supergirl. Producers definitely went for the girl-next-door persona (rather than the porn star look chosen by the Smallville producers). She’s likable and relatable. It’s too bad she’s trapped in a brown miasma of mediocrity like Supergirl. I swear Network execs have someone on staff whose job is to take out all words in scripts over three syllables, then make sure plots are spoon-fed to an apathetic audience. It’s hard to believe Supergirl is produced by the same team who does The Flash and Arrow shows on the CW Network. Arrow is great and Flash may be the best superhero show of all time. Again, it goes to prove even good producers can’t produce quality on ABC, NBC and especially CBS. Awful. 

Rating: * out of 5 stars 

The Flash Season 1 (CW) 
From the ridiculous to the sublime. I’m a year behind on The Flash (I didn’t have the CW until recently) so I just finished season one on Netflix. This really is an inspirational superhero show. There is a joy to The Flash unlike any other show on television, superhero or otherwise. Grant Gustin plays the Flash. At first I thought he was too young to pull off the role, but his performance showed viewers almost immediately that he was up to the task. The theme of The Flash is pretty straightforward; he runs fast and fights supervillains. His supporting cast includes Carlos Valdes as Cisco Ramon, Danielle Panabaker as Caitlin Snow, and Tom Cavanagh as Harrison Wells.

I thought Cisco would be a typical annoying, eye-rolling PC character, like Jimmy Olsen on Supergirl. No. Every Flash cast member is a three dimensional character with a personality, hopes and dreams. No, Valdes  turns in a wonderful performance as a young, super smart scientist/inventor who has taken it upon himself to name all of the supervillains who come out of the woodwork to fight the Flash. And Caitlin Snow, reeling from the recent death of her fiancée, exudes intelligence and depth along with her grief. Harrison Wells has a closet-full of secrets he keeps close to the vest—until they boil over and become the main plot device for season one. 

The Flash revels in superhero tropes and shorthand while still making them accessible to the casual viewer. Longtime comic geeks can spot Easter egg after Easter egg with no harm done to folks who don’t recognize any of them. And the villains are the high point of the show. Captain Cold (a scenery-chewing Wentworth Miller) is a riveting bad/not bad guy. In season one, Flash also takes on comic book rogues such as Weather Wizard, Heatwave and even telepathic Gorilla Grodd—all with a sense of whimsy and fun few other shows possess. There is such a joy of life in Flash running around, fighting bad guys, saving lives and trying to romance Iris West, the love of his life. And that fun is totally contagious to viewers. The Flash is a triumph that I truly love watching. 

Rating: ***** out of 5 stars 

Better Call Saul Season 2 (AMC) 
Is Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul producer Vince Gilligan capable of producing a bad show? Well yes, Battle Creek on CBS was a disaster—further proof major Networks ruin shows. But season two of Better Call Saul, a prequel/sequel to Breaking Bad (my favorite non-genre TV show of all time) once again sets the creative bar high. The law career of Jimmy McGill (Bob Odenkirk) the eventual Saul Goodman, is rising fast. He is hired by a large successful firm to run his class-action suit against a conglomerate of retirement facilities. His relationship with Kim Wexler (Rhea Seehorn) is heating up, and his life is finally showing signs of being a success. But Jimmy, always his own worst enemy, just can’t take both feet out of the gutter. Lounging at a hotel with Kim, he can’t resist grifting an annoying investment manager. He wants to make a commercial for his class action suit—instead of waiting for the firm’s approval, he runs it without their permission and pays hell for it. Is he totally self destructive, or would he just be happier on his own rather than part of the machine? 

Meanwhile, enforcer/parking booth operator Mike Ehrmantraut (Jonathan Banks) sinks deeper into questionable activities in order to earn money to support his widowed daughter-in-law. How far will he go to protect and shore up her failing life? 

Drama doesn’t get better than this, especially in Saul’s complex and well-researched plots and fine, nuanced performances by all creative folks involved. If you’re not watching this, why not? 

Rating: ***** out of 5 stars 

Colony Season 1 (USA) 
In Colony, aliens have taken over the United States and possibly the world. California is divided up into sections, run by local (human) governors working for the invaders. Former Army Ranger and cop Will Bowman (Josh Holloway) takes a job with the occupation, partially to save lives and partially to find his youngest son, separated from his family when the aliens invaded. His wife Katie (perpetual wife/girlfriend actress Sarah Wayne Callies) happens to work for the resistance, and feeds them insight and information from Will regularly, without Will's knowledge. They all walk a delicate tightrope of secrets, hidden agendas and moral dilemmas. Peter Jacobson is especially good as a weaselly local governor who tries to avoid bloodshed and unpleasantness, but can be ruthless when pushed. He also isn’t above enjoying the rewards and prestige that come with his position. 

This show is enjoyable and worth watching, mostly for Holloway’s charismatic performance. But it has some problems. One, the budget isn’t high enough to allow for a lot of action, so the plots are mostly limited to gun battles and political intrigue. Two, and I know this is on purpose, but season one is almost over and the aliens have never been shown, nor their motives/goals examined. Today more than ever shows have to give viewers reasons to tune in, and there have been a thousand alien invasion shows. What do the aliens want? Where do they come from? What do they look like? It seems the producers could give viewers a crumb of information to keep them interested. Instead, we just get another sci fi show that takes place in the near future about an unknown force occupying the U.S. It’s good, but it’s been done. As of now, nothing makes the show unique or special. Hopefully the final few episodes will answer some of these questions and give viewers a reason to watch season two. If there is a season two. 

Rating: *** out of 5 stars 

Married at First Sight Season 3 (fyi) *Spoilers* 
This season just ended and is truly must-see television. Each season, three couples are matched by “experts” and meet on the altar as they are joined in holy matrimony. After the honeymoon, they live together for five weeks and decide whether to stay married or get divorced.  “Reality” shows are anything but, and I’m not sure how much editing and manipulation goes into this particular show. But I tend to believe that generally the producers are telling the story that actually happened. The experts and the couples involved call this process “the experiment.” Here are the couples that were chosen this year. 

David and Ashley: David is a nice guy. He’s tall, handsome and looks like a Viking. Ashley is a stunningly beautiful woman. From the altar, viewers could tell he was smitten, she looked like she swallowed something sour. Ashley rejected David at first sight, and never gave him a break or tried to make it work in any way. It’s sad, some beautiful women never develop a personality or sense of humor, they don’t have to. They can get by in life on their looks. I’m not sure if Ashley is such a woman, but it sure seems so. David tries his little heart out and she is not interested. Why did she sign up for this? In the middle of the experiment, David makes the mistake of texting another woman he thought was a friend of Ashley’s and asking her out for drinks, ostensibly to talk about Ashley. Turns out Ashley doesn’t know the woman that well and accuses David of asking her for a date. Did he? He denied it, but it definitely wasn’t a good move. Ashley then used that as an excuse to ride out the rest of the experiment keeping David at a cold and distant arm’s length. 

The Decision: David’s decision was to stay married, I think because of Ashley’s looks. Ashley couldn’t reject him fast enough, and chose a divorce. That just made him want her more. Just go for the divorce/annulment, pal! This is not the one for you. Or anyone who wants a sane, loving relationship. She’s a frosty one. 

Neil and Sam: Neil is a thin, dark-bearded quiet type, Samantha is an outgoing, somewhat immature bank manager. Sam is used to guys like her dad; alpha males that take charge and do manly stuff. Neil is much more laid back, and on their honeymoon Sam is a little too vocal about Neil’s, in her perception, lack of masculinity. She makes several comments that a wife should not say to her husband about his manhood. A few weeks in, Neil has had enough and confronts Sam about it, as he should. This results in a 180-degree turn, as Sam now respects and starts to love him a little, and he can’t get over her callous comments and attitude. 

The Decision: At the end of the experiment, Sam is smitten and asks him to stay married. He ultimately rejects her, asking for a divorce. She walks out of the studio, on camera, and breaks down, heartbroken. Watching that, the show seems smarmy and exploitive, playing with people’s emotions for ratings. While this is true, these are adults and they signed up for this. I don’t think any of these couples realized what they signed up for until they lived it. 

Tres and Vanessa: Tres and Vanessa are probably the nicest couple to appear on the show and the couple who viewers have most rooted for. He’s a thoughtful car salesman; she’s a happy and smiling party planner. They had chemistry from the altar and, with some ups and downs expected from this pressure cooker situation, got along well. These folks meshed on screen, snorkeling on their honeymoon, giving gifts and talking during the experiment and holding hands in the limo on the way to the decision shoot. They just seemed like nice, likable people who the show may have helped find each other. 

The Decision: They decided to stay married. The question is, will it last? 

Next week’s wrap-up show takes place six months after the decision. The “experts” will talk to all of the couples (some of them separately, I’m presuming). We’ll see if Tres and Vanessa are still together and if Neil and Sam are still apart. I’m guessing David is still pining for Ashley and Ashley is still basking in her own afterglow. I realize the show is playing with people’s emotions and the “experts” are somewhat mercenary, but I just can’t look away. This show is the crack of television. 

Rating: **** out of 5 stars

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Books – Queen City Notorious by JT Townsend

I really enjoyed Townsend’s first book, Queen City Gothic, delving into Cincinnati’s most infamous unsolved cases (for my interview with the author about these books and other famous murder cases, see Part 1 here and Part 2 here). I think I like Notorious even better than Gothic, just for the closure. Queen City Gothic is a riveting read, but the frustration of either not knowing or not catching the perpetrators was aggravating as all hell. Here, Townsend peels back the mysteries and exposes these fascinating murder cases to light. As he put it himself, this one is “about justice.”  

Queen City Notorious is the perfect mix of crimes and time periods throughout the 20th Century. For each case, Townsend describes what happened and puts the case in historical context with other major events occurring around the world. He then describes the players in each drama, what happened and why. For some crimes in the book, though ostensibly solved, there are still major facts or actions that are unknown. Townsend expertly speculates what may have happened and who probably was—and wasn’t—involved.

The first case is one of the most horrific—in 1910, Alice Van Zandt is roasted to death over a gas oven by her husband, left to die while their small child tottled around in the next room. The most outright shocking case was failed businessman Vinton Perin shooting his wealthy mother-in-law Frances Rawson in her Clifton mansion in 1924. Today that case would cause a national sensation and rock every tabloid on the market. It’s almost funny how local papers didn’t know how to report the case of Betty Butler, a black lesbian, drowning her love rival Evelyn Clark after strangling her in Cincinnati’s Sharon Woods. They couldn’t report many aspects of the story in “family” papers in 1952.  

One of the outright strangest stories is when all-American college athlete Jack Rauss slew Goldie Cunningham and her disabled husband James in 1961. It seems he went to visit them and Goldie said something bad about his mother, her close friend, which Jack couldn’t abide. He killed her in a crime of passion, then murdered James because he was a witness. After serving ten years in prison and becoming a prison trustee, he was released on parole and never committed another crime. Bizarre.

There’s even a bad-boy/girlfriend love triangle murder. Bobby Abbot was going with Alice Ewing in 1964, but he tricked nursing student Wanda Cook into coming to his room at the old Sheraton Gibson Hotel. When she wouldn’t succumb to his desires, he killed her. Alice helped him put the body in a trunk and ship it cross-country. It got as far as Columbus when it was discovered and Bobby and Alice were arrested. They couldn’t blame each other fast enough. Bobby went to maximum security, but Alice was convicted as an accessory and didn’t do much jail time. She’s still alive and lives in Northern KY. And she doesn’t like to talk about the past.

Townsend ends the book with another odd passion crime: the murder of Dr. Jane Shutt by her adopted daughter Barbara. This one is fascinating—Dr. Shutt was married to a much older man, and was having an affair. When Barbara learned her adopted parents were separating and she would have to move out and make her own way, she lost her mind and murdered her mother most viciously. Then she tried to cover it up and did a sloppy job of it. She was convicted, did time in prison, was eventually released and, as Townsend puts it, never got so much as a traffic ticket for the rest of her life.

You don’t have to be from Cincinnati to marvel at these crimes of passion and gain—you can enjoy the sharp police work and seeing the bad guys get what’s coming regardless of where these crimes happened. Townsend unfolds each story layer by layer, unraveling the mystery into a just, if not always satisfying, conclusion. Once you get your teeth into one of these stories you won’t be able to stop reading them all.

Rating: ***** out of 5 stars