Category: Blasts from the Past


By J. Torrey McClain

I have an outsized morbid curiosity.  I am in the midst of reading “Devil in the White City” about the 1893 World’s Fair and the serial killer that lurked just outside its gates.  I definitely enjoyed reading Bill James’s foray into something not related to baseball, “Popular Crime.”  I’ve included several books by criminal profiler John Douglas in my reading list over the last fifteen years.  I wrote about “Green River Killer: A True Detective Story” for  So, those personal facts may color my opinion, but I’m going to go ahead and say that if you’re looking for a true crime podcast, you can’t do any better than the season that “You Must Remember This” devotes to Charles Manson and the murders he and his family committed in the summer of 1969.* (

*However, if you’re looking for runner-ups, I suggest the first season of “Serial” from the producers of “This American Life,” and the ongoing “Criminal” that is part of the Radiotopia podcast network.  I’m sure you’ve already read WAY too much on “Serial,” but I may have to add my own “Hey Listen To This!” post on “Criminal” and several of the other members of Radiotopia.

Host Karina Longworth knows how to tell a story, gives the listener a bunch of great facts and lets you know when she ventures into the realm of speculation and rumor.  Each podcast episode comes with its own blog post that notes the sources Karina uses to edify and explain the years Manson spent living free outside of prison.  She connects Manson to various other figures in Hollywood like Dennis Wilson and Doris Day.  (I must say the Wilson part really intrigued me and got me to add his digital double album, “Pacific Ocean Blue & Bambu” to my music wish list.)  She takes her time telling the story, so the series runs for twelve episodes and each episode is at least a half an hour.  It’s not a rush job, it’s not a sample of one evening in the life, it’s a darn comprehensive look at a specific time and place centered around one of the most sensational and senseless crimes of the century.**

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Arnold Terminator Genisys

Few sci-fi films are as revered as James Cameron’s Terminator and Terminator II: Judgment Day. Judgment Day is regarded by many as one of the greatest sequels to any movie ever made.  Both films made American Film Institute lists and are the kind of movies we can watch hundreds of times and still keep enjoying them.  Two sequels followed, no longer under the direction of Cameron, Terminator III: Rise of the Machines, a worthy but lesser sequel reviewed at here, and the far, far lesser Terminator: Salvation.  So coming into the fourth sequel this past summer with the opening of director Alan Taylor’s Terminator Genisys, expectations by many were low.  But fans of sci-fi and borgs knew a winner when they saw it.

Somehow Terminator Genisys manages to be not only good, but great, and not only that, it manages to equal the punch and excitement of both Terminator and Terminator II.  A pretty big feat that holds its own even off the big screen on the newly released 3D Blu-ray, DVD, and Ultraviolet releases available this month.

Terminator Genisys cast

That’s right, if you love the universe of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s sometimes villain, sometimes hero Terminator T-800, you’re going to love this film, which is not only loyal to James Cameron’s originals, it flat-out amps up the sci-fi and takes every element that made the earlier films great and expands them into new, exciting places.  This includes time travel, big action, story twists, casting, acting, and all the cybernetic tech you could hope for.  Adhering to a carefully laid out plan covering two parallel timelines (that we know of), we revisit the first Terminator trip to 1984 and learn about two other time jumps that illustrate Kyle Reese’s important line from the first movie: “The future is not set.  There is no fate but what we make for ourselves.”   In fact in Reese’s first conversation with Sarah he made the same point, calling her future “one possible future.”  These seeds planted in the original allow this new story to take off.

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If you missed this one in the theater earlier this year, now is the time to see what you missed out on.  It’s the big screen release of The Man from U.N.C.L.E., a retelling–or more accurately, a total reboot–of the 1960s television series available on Blu-ray tomorrow.  It’s an adaptation in that it takes the framework of the show—an American and a Russian working together as Cold War era spies—yet director Guy Ritchie makes this work stand completely by itself.  The fact that it’s based on a classic series may turn away viewers who may be tired of other remakes of 1960s shows like Get Smart and The Avengers (both of which were good standalone films).  But that would be a great loss, as The Man from U.N.C.L.E. is not only as stylish as advertised in our favorite trailer of the year, it’s a classy and smart story and a superb re-creation of the early 1960s.

It’s no surprise that this film relishes its Bond influences–Henry Cavill’s character Napoleon Solo was created by Ian Fleming, the same Ian Fleming that created Bond. Yet the movie is fresh and new.  The story and Cavill’s performance evoke Matt Bomer’s role of stylish and cocky ex-art thief-turned government man on TV’s White Collar. In fact Cavill is a dead ringer for Bomer.  Likely it’s just a coincidence but if you loved White Collar you’ll love this film.  And any doubts you may have as to Cavill’s acting because of the poorly written part he was stuck with in Man of Steel will be wiped away with his confident and suave Solo.  Even better is Armie Hammer’s performance as Illya Kuryakin.  Any doubts you may have as to Hammer’s acting from his lead role in The Lone Ranger will also be wiped away.  Hammer’s performance as a KGB agent in need of some anger management is nuanced and layered.  The idea of putting some Ennio Morricone musical queues behind Hammer and adding a Clint Eastwood Dirty Harry twitch are simply inspired.  This is a great team and a film that sets itself up for an exciting sequel.

Cavill Debicki Man from UNCLE

As commanding a presence as Cavill and Hammer have, they are almost upstaged by the equally important roles played by Alicia Vikander as the German daughter of a rocket scientist and Elizabeth Debicki as the ultimate Bond villain.  The villainy in The Man from U.N.C.L.E. is surprisingly as powerful, seething, and fun as any 1960s Bond film.  All of this is a credit to Ritchie’s bankable directorial and writing prowess. A fan of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Ritchie knows how to get the best out of partnerships here, just as he did with his Sherlock Holmes movie series.

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Pixar Finding Dory

This next film wins the “what took them so long?” award.  Dory, voiced by Ellen DeGeneres, is currently Disney and Pixar’s most popular character, with 25 million “likes” on Facebook.  Finally she gets to headline her own movie, and also bring back a few friends.  The ten years later follow-up to Finding Nemo, next year’s Finding Dory features the comic stylings of DeGeneres, the world’s funniest guy* Albert Brooks as Marlin, Diane Keaton as Dory’s mom Jenny, Eugene Levy as Dory’s dad Charlie, and Ty Burrell as Bailey.

Ed O’Neill, Idris Elba, and Dominic West are also expected to have roles in the film under the eye of master animator John Lasseter with music by Thomas Newman.

Finding Dory

Check out this first trailer for Finding Dory:

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Just like I could make the case that The Empire Strikes Back is the best film of the saga, I could make a similar argument for the superiority of John Williams’s stunning score for The Empire Strikes Back.  And no version of that soundtrack surpasses the original 1980 two-disc vinyl set, which hasn’t been available in its original version for literally decades.  Thanks to Sony Classical, the original soundtrack for not only that film is coming back, all six original soundtracks are returning to store shelves in 2016 in CD, digital, and yes, good ol’ vinyl formats.

I still have my vinyl two-disc LP sets for both Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back, and they still play with the clarity and punch as they did in the late 1970s and early 1980s on the same 1950s Magnavox record player I first played them on.  If you’re not into the vinyl scene, no worries, just pick these up in one of the other formats.ESB vinyl 1980 reverse

As to The Empire Strikes Back soundtrack, I go back and forth between Side Two and Side Three as being the best of the set.  Side Two begins with the epic Darth Vader theme in The Imperial March and ends with the menacing Hoth assault in The Battle in the Snow.  With Side Three probably the most exciting of any of John Williams works is The Asteroid Field followed by the sweeping Bespin arrival theme in The City in the Clouds.  Throughout all four discs are cues from the Star Wars main theme, the haunting Yoda theme, and the touching Han and Leia theme.  As with the prior release of the Star Wars soundtrack in a two-vinyl set, the tracks for the original 1980 release of The Empire Strikes Back are not presented sequentially, and masterfully they are instead included in a very cohesive and musical order crafted for each album.  The CD versions of The Empire Strikes Back released and re-released in the 1990s are in sequential order, yet they don’t provide the complete musicality of sound experience as the original vinyls.

SW box set CDs

Sony Classical announced they’ll reissue the six soundtracks January 8, 2016 (or about the time you’ve seen Star Wars: The Force Awakens for the tenth time) in three editions: Star Wars: The Ultimate Vinyl CollectionStar Wars: The Ultimate Soundtrack Edition, and Star Wars: The Ultimate Digital Collection.  Here are the details:

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Apocalypse Star Wars

For a guy who doesn’t want anyone knowing the secrets of Star Wars: The Force Awakens before its release next month, J.J. Abrams sure keeps releasing more and more footage of the film.  This time he released a trailer of scenes previously not released in the United States, lending much credence to story plotlines fans have guessed about since the release of the last and supposedly final American trailer.

The trouble is, spoilers or not, we just can’t stop watching whatever Disney and Lucasfilm throw at us.  Nobody wants to watch the movie before we see it in theaters, but they just keeping baiting us, don’t they?

Who is Daisy Ridley’s character Rey and where does she fit into the greater Star Wars saga story?  Why are she and Darth Vader-inspired villain Kylo Ren the focal point of the next trilogy?  Is Captain Phasma really the next Boba Fett–the next coolest customer in the galaxy?  And will Chewbacca be the real hero of Episode VII?


And is this just Abrams making his take on Apocalypse Now?  It’s impossible that Episode VII will fare as well as the original Star Wars or The Empire Strikes Back, but we’ve already seen enough to make us think Episode VII has the potential to be better than Return of the Jedi.

Check out–or don’t–this international trailer for Star Wars: The Force Awakens:

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Star Wars Cover Girl

CBS is finally taking a cue from Disney.  Disney, digging in its heels every which way it can to exploit its new Star Wars property, may have finally awakened CBS, which holds the Star Trek television rights.  While any new Star Trek on the TV front has been idle since 2005, Star Wars is licensing everything it can to make major money from Star Wars: The Force Awakens, planning more tie-in movies, and going crazy with product placements, including this commercial we just noticed this week:

And this one for Kraft–for some reason any food can go with Star Wars:

Sure–Paramount has released two major Star Trek movies with another on its way next summer, but the core of Star Trek has always been about television, and CBS hasn’t remotely touched on all the opportunities available for a brand like Star Trek.  At long last, CBS is getting off the dime and beginning to try to make some money from its stagnant TV brand opportunity, too, by creating a new Star Trek TV series more than a decade after the end of the most recent Star Trek show, Enterprise. 

What do we know?  Not much.  Only what was issued in the below press release:

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Walken Poe The Raven

The Witching Hour of All Hallow’s Eve has just passed.  It is time to pick your poison, so to speak.

It is time to listen to the many readings by celebrities of Edgar Allan Poe’s classic poem, “The Raven.”  The poem actually takes place in December, so there’s no wrong time to listen to the poem again and again.  Thanks to a new audio version uploaded this weekend by Sean Astin, we were prompted to search for other famous voices, and we found many interesting celebrities to choose from, many from long ago.  Oddly, we found no famous actresses voicing the creepy story–if you know of any please add them to the comments above.

So which do you want to hear first?  Why not give an ear to all?  As you listen try thinking of the actor, or of that actor’s many roles, from Samwise Gamgee to Gomez Addams, from Saruman to Dracula or Sherlock Holmes, the Headless Horseman or Johnny Smith, Max Schreck or Lucius Fox, and from Darth Vader to Captain Kirk or the alien known simply as Q…

The Raven

Have a listen to one or all.  Quoth the Raven, “Nevermore.”


Sean Astin


John Astin


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The X-Files boxed set Blu-ray

It’s the sci-fi classic series that defined conspiracies and paranormal mystery storytelling for a generation–The X-Files.  It is not only back in 2016 for a six-episode TV “event” on Fox and available in continuing stories via IDW Publishing’s monthly comic book series.  For the first time, all nine groundbreaking seasons will be available on Blu-ray.  Go back again to the beginning, the dueling philosophies of FBI special agents Fox Mulder and Dana Scully as they search for the truth behind alien encounters and the secrets around us, and take on that great monster of the week every other episode.

The nine seasons will be released in a boxed set as well as individually and will include several bonus features–23 hours of extras, including documentaries, and commentary by creator Chris Carter and the production team as well as special effects sequences and deleted scenes.  The boxed set includes space for the upcoming six-episode season.

The X-Files single season release Blu-rays

Pre-ordering for the boxed set will be available soon on here.

Fans of The X-Files will also want to see these latest trailers from the new season:

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Kauffman Stadium 14 innings Tuesday October 28 2015 World Series Game 1

As predicted by Bob Gale in his script for Back to the Future II, it was the destiny of the Chicago Cubs to be playing–in fact sweeping–this year’s World Series.  At least in the current alternate timeline we’re all living in, that just didn’t happen.  If the Cubs hadn’t lost to the New York Mets they would have played Game 1 tonight at the home field of the American League champs instead of Wrigley Field because the American League won this year’s All Star Game.  That meant Game 1 was played in Kauffman Stadium, and had the Cubs made it to the Series they would have faced off against the Royals last night in Kansas City.

In that game we got to see the second longest game in World Series history–14 innings, ultimately with the Royals taking the win, 5-4.  The bright lights at the stadium in the wee hours of this Wednesday morning seemed to actually burn into the wet night’s sky.  Fourteen innings and more than five hours of exciting gameplay.  You can’t have a better World Series game than that–well, unless you’re a Cubs fan.

Bunce World Series 2015 dugout

We did our part, yours truly and writer Elizabeth C. Bunce were bound and determined to see the Royals face off against the Cubs, because we’re sci-fi (and Royals) fans, and thanks to our friend Mike we watched Game 1 from dugout seats last night.  Watching Lorenzo Cain steal second base when you’re sitting at first base… just can’t be beat. (And, hey, that stolen base means Taco Bell must give away free A.M. Crunchwraps on November 5, 2015, because they sort of lost a marketing bet in their Steal a Base, Steal a Breakfast campaign–see here for details).

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