Monday, October 31, 2011


Breath Of Fresh Air

I've done beer reviews here, but this is the first restaurant review...

A couple of weeks ago, I ventured up into the San Bernardino Mountains to get away for an afternoon and do some research. So, I headed to Big Bear, having recently hitting the Arrowhead Oktoberfest for a beer and brat. It was a very nice day up in the mountains, much cooler than down in the valley. I rolled into Big Bear Village hoping for something interesting for a late lunch, but was disappointed to find a bunch of Mexican restaurants. I like Mexican food, but I get plenty of that down the hill. There were only one or two Italian restaurants, and only one German, which surprised me, considering the history of the mountain villages. Ideally, a Swiss restaurant would be perfect up there, as it is an alpine forest environment, but that's asking too much, apparently. What was I to do? Clearly the ski freak tattooed bros and their insipid hole-punches won this battle, for nothing says 'flatlander from LA or Orange County' like nachos and beer and tacos. It looked like I was just going to have to go down the hill to find something I'd like.

And there it was!

I couldn't believe it. An Indian/Nepalese restaurant in Big Bear Village!

The Himalayan Restaurant is everything I'd hoped to find that day. Being an adventure guy, the place offered one of my favorite cuisines in an atmosphere perfect to my tastes. The employees were all authentic, too. No white guys in silk shirts (as I have encountered in Sarajevo Chinese restaurants...), nor Latinos passing themselves off as Nepalese. The food and presentation were the real deal and real delicious! I had a basic Tandoori chicken platter, fresh nan bread, and a tasty spicy lemonade. The decor made me forget I was in California for an hour. Not only is the restaurant nicely appointed, there is a Tibetan/Nepalese gift shop and a classic explorers lounge bar called 'The Bombay Club'. The best part is that every table filled and more people were lining up outside, while I was there.

If you find yourself in the San Bernardino Mountains and you just can't take another Mexican restaurant, I recommend The Himalayan Restaurant...I know I will be going back very soon!

Sunday, October 30, 2011

I'm Back!!


Got my computer crisis remedied and NOW I will be posting again regularly...Seriously :)

Friday, October 21, 2011

Back Soon!

Hey all,

I have been experiencing tenacious virus issues on my computers but I will be back with a movie review and a restaurant review sometime this weekend!


Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Stoker's Jewel

As you know, I like adventure horror, or even horror with adventure trappings. Everyone is familiar with 'Dracula', but author Bram Stoker also penned a classic mummy tale, 'The Jewel of the Seven Stars', a 1903 tale about an archeologist who tries to resurrect an ancient Egyptian queen from the dead. Complications arise from the apparent possession of the archeologist's daughter by the queen's spirit. This story has influenced all subsequent mummy horror tales, especially films, and its original unhappy ending was changed by Stoker shortly before his death. That ending has most of the main characters dying, but the replacement ending is often offered in reprints as an appendix.
'The Jewel of the Seven Stars' is told with the same sense of impending horror and doom that works so well in Dracula. It has been filmed twice: the 1971 Hammer production of Blood From The Mummy's Tomb starring the Andrew Keir (aka 'Professor Quatermass') with the delectable Valerie Leon; and the 1980 film The Awakening, starring Charlton Heston and Stephanie Zimbalist (of Remington Steele). Each has its merits, but I'm presently watching my annual October screening of the Hammer version.
Blood From The Mummy's Tomb (BFTMT) originally starred Peter Cushing, probably the most legendary Hammer star (with Christopher Lee), and there were even scenes shot with him. It seems the movie suffered the mummy's 'curse' for, after the first day of shooting, Cushing learned his wife was diagnosed with emphysema, so he left the film, replaced by Keir. Then director Seth Holt dropped dead on the set five weeks into the shoot. Another director finished the final week of filming. In spite of this bit of misfortune, the movie was completed and considered a general success.
What I like about the film is Valerie Leon...and of course the spooky fun of ancient tombs and archeological horror...and Valerie Leon. Seriously, It's always nice when she's on screen. But there's plenty more for the adventure fan, especially the scene when the archeologists are seen in flashback as they enter the queen's tomb late one night and find her perfectly preserved -- except where her hand was chopped off and the wrist stump begins to ooze fresh blood! What follows is that sense of foreboding they all experience as one by one they see clues of the return of the queen.
Except for the bright lighting (it would have been a tad spookier with more dramatic lighting, honestly), BFTMT is pretty good Hammer and worth watching, for us diehards. Just like BFTMT, The Awakening has an archaeologist(Heston) opening the tomb of an ancient Egyptian queen at the exact moment his daughter is born.
Years later, the teenaged daughter displays malevolent changes in personality, and people begin to die. Heston soon comes to believe that the cruel queen's ghost possesses his daughter and intends to resurrect herself through the girl. It's been a while since I saw this film (the 1980 release, as a matter of fact), so I'm going to watch it again before I comment further. I recall it didn't do very well, but that isn't always a determining factor in whether I like a film or not.
One can also see the influence of the story in The Mummy II, wherein Rachel Weisz learns she is an Egyptian princess reincarnated. But those movies, in spite of some cool adventure elements, sacrificed the horror for annoying CGI smears and a slightly annoying bad fantasy touch. I would like to see more movies like BFTMT and The Awakening, which emphasize the mysterious aspects of the horror because this is a natural by-product of adventure. Horror adventure is simply where the trail leads to the dark side of the supernatural shenanigans which shadowy jungles and creepy lost temples promise. Hmmm...sounds like a movie in production that I'm intimately familiar with...

Monday, October 10, 2011

If Dentistry Has A Name...

I spent about three hours this afternoon at the dentist, getting a cleaning and a crown on a tooth I broke.
In between torture sessions and while the sculpture set and glazed, they played Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skulls on the chair screen. I'm hoping for the Solomon Kane movie on my next appointment, since that still hasn't been seen in US theaters yet...

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Harryhausen vs CGI

So when I finally got up this morning, TCM was just starting to run The Golden Voyage of Sinbad, the second installment of Ray Harryhausen's Sinbad 'trilogy'. I was in the right mood to sit and watch a film I own on DVD. I say this is one of the best adventure fantasy films of the pre-Star Wars 70s. It's also an example of why I prefer Dynarama to the way CGI is used.
Notice I said the way CGI is used. When done properly, yes CGI is an absolutely amazing innovation. But Hollywood can't resist ruining the process by saturating films with it and making it obvious when it's applied. The great thing about CGI is that, in the 'pre' days you could tell when you were about to see a process shot (except in Star Wars, of course, which is why it kicked ass)(And except in a few other films, but I'm speaking generally).
With CGI, finally the blend of effects process and real images is seamless. However, the problem is that all producers go crazy with making primary objects CGI yet few do it right, i.e. spend the money and time to do it right. That results in a computer cartoon image that, for me, looks like a boring cartoon image from a video game.
What has this resulted in? As presented these days, CGI usually does not look realistic enough to sustain the suspension of disbelief. Ironically, old school effects turn out to look more realistic, mainly because they are, at least, physical. Case in point, the works of Ray Harryhausen as in Golden Voyage of Sinbad.
One of the reasons Harryhausen films are so beloved by film fans who are aware that movies existed before 1980 is because his physical Dynarama style was perfect for the creatures his films depicted. Mythological and fantastic beasts simply look cool in the stop-motion style and their physical reality fits within the context of the scenery. You watch a Harryhausen creature and it looks like it is there. Even if the sculpture isn't the most amazing work you've ever seen, it just works. Harryhausen achieved what I call making your limitations serve your style.
Sure, the objects are rubber and plastic, but they work in the visual context. This is what CGI has, surprisingly, failed at in over 90% of the movies wherein a primary character object is CGI. The computer work itself might look really cool, but the nature of the CGI image rarely looks like it fits in the reality image surrounding it. Who knew that Harryhausen's Dynarama would turn out to do this better?
So what does that mean? How about we use CGI to touch up or enhance scenery, but take stop motion and model animation to another level? Go back to using physical miniatures for primary objects.
Lucasfilm did a fine job with this in the first three produced Star Wars films and that was thirty years ago. Imagine what could be done now with miniatures if they really wanted to. Of course, that means paying someone to build the miniatures and animate them which, for some reason, Hollywood studios must be reluctant to do. Barron Entertainment, producer of Secret of the Amazon Queen is letting me use miniatures and practical effects on the film. I am excited about that and intend to put my money where my mouth is on this.
Sure, we are using some CGI, but I won't tell you exactly where. I'll let you see the film and decide where we used it. What I promise you is that no primary object will be CGI in that film. In fact, I can tell you we will also be using classic stop-motion in at least one scene. Consider it an homage to Ray Harryhausen.
If you appreciate Dynarama and Harryhausen's films in general, check out the book that came out a few years ago, The Art of Ray Harryhausen by Harryhausen himself & Tony Dalton.
If you've never seen a Harryhausen film, shame on you. His style is perfect for the adventure and fantasy genres and I would love to see someone take up the mantle...

Friday, October 7, 2011

South America By Train

I enjoy train travel, especially when seeing the world for pleasure. That's why I selected some travel videos on Netflix that feature seeing the world by rail. I started with South America.
From a series titled 'Travel The World By Train', I viewed their 1999 production. Admittedly, the video is dated. From what I am able to determine, much of the rail service presented no longer exists -- and it had already become a remnant nearly ten years before when the formerly touted South American tourist railways were shut down. That's too bad because what little experience I have with rail travel on that continent remains one of the best memories of the experience, and what I see in films or travel videos just makes me want to do a lot more. I am a travel romantic. Yes, the simple going is half the motivation for me. Seeing landscapes I've never seen is the other half. That's why I enjoy trains. You don't get the same experience in an airplane (and I don't do small craft unless I'm on a job. Just a weird superstition of mine which aviation enthusiast friends of mine find irritating...), and though I thoroughly love road trips by car in my home country, I prefer to let someone else do the driving when in other lands. Thus, my enjoyment of train travel. On the ground, you see everything; on the train, you can relax and let your mind and heart wander.
See the world by rail and you'll see that no amount of computers, iPads, or cell phones really make the world one small village. There is a LOT of land that remains uninhabited. This train travel video through South America emphasized that (again) for me. Seeing the wide plains and lonely yet beautiful skies over the Andes is a beautiful sight. The trains take you through the vast and quiet landscapes of one of the most fascinating continents on Earth. This video brought to mind a lot of memories of places I've seen and places I yearn to. The trains themselves are incredibly charming for a traveler (as opposed to a tourist). Old steam locomotives which burn wooden logs or heavy oil pull equally arcane cars across the grassy plains of Paraguay, over high deserts in Argentina, or through the scenic backdrop of Chile. The famed Patagonian Express has one locomotive, built in the United States in 1922. That was in 1999, so I'm not sure if it's still running. This is likely the one you've seen in movies, like The Big Blue (1988), with the wooden slat seats and stoves in each car to keep the passengers comfortable. Not all the trains are such nostalgic affairs, but I'd love to ride one of these living steampunk machines before they completely disappear. I've been on the railroad between Ollantaytambo and Machu Piccu. The engine is more modern and the cars more what tourists are used to. But that doesn't take away any of the fun. I like all trains, old and new. I recall the excursion from Ollantaytambo to Agua Caliente, from where we took another train to the next station to then board a bus reserved by WEX Club guide and founder David Childress. (The bus ride to the top was a white knuckle hoot). The train runs along the river and as you pull into the mountains, it just gets better.
The bus was in lieu of a 1300 foot ascension walk, which I wouldn't have minded but we had older folks in the group and several members of the group were already experiencing altitude difficulties. Fortunately for me, the thirty days prior to this particular trip I had spent on the job in Bogota, where I had my first bout with the axe in the skull that comes with altitude. A bottle of neosaldina and a month to acclimatize prepared me for Peru and Bolivia, so I was better off. Anyway, I enjoyed the rail experience enough to buy a souvenir PeruRail vest (As a photographer and filmmaker and sometime field security consultant, I find vests very useful). I plan to go on a major South American trip with my son and my nephew in 2013 and you can bet rail travel will be part of the plan. It will be their first trip to that continent, and much of what we see will be new to me as well (unless I return there on my own or on the job before then...). Whatever you've heard about rail travel good or bad, I always recommend trains as part of any travel itinerary. As I wrote nearly all of Secret of the Amazon Queen during the first four months I spent in South America (started it in the Philippines), I can see myself being inspired to write more adventures while experiencing the trains down there, whatever little remains of the experience by now. I'm looking forward to the next travel-by-train video...

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Latest Review of 'Empire of the Wheel'

Nick Redfern has posted his review of the book: Reviews of the Mysterious Kind

Sunday, October 2, 2011

New Interview on Occult Serial Murder Book: 'Empire of the Wheel'

For those interested in "Empire of the Wheel", which I wrote with Richard B Spence, go to this link: EOW on Mike Clelland Show We discuss the strangeness associated with our investigation into seven questionable deaths in the San Bernardino Valley, their occult synchronicities, and the Zodiac Killer connection...

Saturday, October 1, 2011

'Tis The Season!

My favorite time of year has begun! For me, the holiday season begins with October 1st, as I enjoy all things Halloween for the entire month. I enjoy Christmas so much more when it arrives after the proper build-up, which must commence with the spooky time of ghosties and creepy thrills. It's literally the most magical time of year for me. So, let's kick off our journey... I'll be recommending films that capture the unique blend of horror and adventure throughout the month. These are scary delights, old and new, that marry our beloved genre of exotic locales and expeditionary trappings with themes of things going bump in the night. Naturally, I'll make distinctions, because a bunch of teenagers stalked by a madman at a Club Med is NOT what I'm talking about. No, the films I'll be recommending will fit a little more firmly into the classic adventure backdrop and the horrors will be just as classic -- but none stale! The first recommendation for this Halloween adventure season is the 1932 cult favorite White Zombie starring Bela Lugosi.
I'll borrow the plot description from Wikipedia: 'On arrival in Haiti, Madeleine Short reunites with her fiancé Neil Parker, with imminent plans to be married. On the way to their lodging, the couple's coach passes Murder Legendre, an evil voodoo master, who observes them with interest. Neil and Madeleine arrive at the home of the wealthy plantation owner, Charles Beaumont. Charles' love of Madeleine prompts him to meet Murder secretly in Murder's sugar cane mill, operated entirely by zombies. Charles wants to convince Madeleine to marry him and solicits Murder's supernatural assistance. Murder states that the only way to help Charles is to transform Madeleine into a zombie with a potion.' Heh heh heh, as you can guess, from there we are treated to much eerie fun and intrigue.
I pull out my DVD of White Zombie every year (and am actually using it as a guide for Secret of the Amazon Queen production design) to marvel at the atmosphere created by the visual mood. The filmmakers were fortunate to have much available at the time as horror was a profitable and popular genre so the studios maintained wonderful sets. The jungle is lush and foreboding, the mansion somewhat anomalous yet a perfect fit, filling the role an ancient mysterious temple might fill in a straight adventure tale. I also love the black and white photography of this film, itself a reason to watch the movie. As a rule, I hate modern zombie movies, but this film features classic voodoo zombies, not boring gore-eating monsters. White Zombie is adventure-horror not just for the setting, but because it captures a similar esoteric strangeness to be found in the works of Talbot Mundy or H Rider Haggard.
So, before this month is out, whip up some popcorn and enjoy a midnight viewing of White Zombie...