It’s something you just don’t expect. You’re happily driving your truck on the way to work, when suddenly there’s a very loud pop followed by the loudest clatter you’ve ever heard coming out of your engine. I really thought I’d blown a head gasket, but the noise was too loud and the engine continued to run, albeit very noisily.

After checking under the hood for a broken fan blade, or dangling alternator, I opted to try to get the truck home. Still driveable, but extremely noisy, the truck was able to limp along at 10mph. Neighbors rushed to their windows to see what the racket was. Mothers with small children covered their ears.

Finally back in Dry Dock, closer inspection revealed that a spark plug had been ejected from the Ford Triton V-10 cylinder head. In the process it had ripped the plug coil from its mount. At first it seemed like an easy thing to fix. The plug, I thought, had wiggled its way out. “This should be a simple matter of screwing it back in” I said to myself. Not so!

As it turns out, I was just one of many thousands of Ford owners who’d been unlucky enough to own one of these engines. According to articles online, it seems there’s just not enough threads in the aluminum head to keep the plugs secure. After a time, they loosen up, vibrating up and down, until they wear through the threads, finally ejecting themselves under high pressure from the cylinder.

It could have been prevented, I suppose. Two weeks prior I’d heard a slight ticking noise under the hood. In retrospect, that was probably the plug doing its Dance of Death as it rattled and wore away the threads. The day the plug ejected, there were strange puffing noises, sounding much like a small exhaust leak. That happened just ten minutes before the plug went AWOL.

With only 37,000 miles on my Ford Triton engine, I felt violated. Most mechanics told me the engine block had to be removed, a near $4000 job. Online articles describe how Ford disavows any responsibility, citing customer torquing error when installing spark plugs. All this was sickening news that sat like a cold lump in my gullet.

But there was a light at the end of the tunnel. While researching the problem online, I ran across They carry a special tool, the CalVan 38900, that could, they reassured, provide a simple way to repair the thread damage without removing the engine. This was exactly what I needed to hear! Dennis from gave me much needed support, answering my questions, quickly and efficiently. Within the hour I placed my order for the $256 kit and I began my plan of attack on the Triton V-10.

Be forewarned, even though you’ll be doing this job yourself, this is still a costly repair. There’s additional tools and parts that you’ll need, bringing the total repair cost to about $500. But that’s still much cheaper, and time-efficient, than leaving your truck at a repair shop to have the engine removed! Plus, now that you’re the proud owner of the CalVan 38900 kit, you’ll be armed and ready for any future spark plug catastrophes!

In addition to a socket set and regular hand tools you might already have, you’ll need:

a) a video borescope $99 from

b) a good variable speed 3/8″ air ratchet $60 to $130

c) an air nozzle attachment for your compressor $7

d) J-B weld $5

e) a 13 watt fluorescent stick light $12

The CalVan 38900 kit comes with several custom made tools; a special insert, a drill bit, tap, six thread inserts, a cylinder leak detector and a very helpful “how-to” video. All this, combined with the great support you’ll get from is just about all you’ll need to successfully complete the job.

As you’ve probably noticed, the under hood engine area is dark and very cramped. On the Ford vans, space is even more restrictive. This is where the CalVan tool shines. The special insert slips into the spark plug hole and provides a foolproof guide for the drill bit and finally the tap. You don’t have to be looking directly down the spark plug hole to work on it, just clear the area above it so you can get the air ratchet in.

The “how-to” DVD that comes with the CalVan kit is very helpful, although it’s all done in a brightly lighted workshop. Your job will be much trickier. Try to clear the area above the engine as best as possible. Remove the plastic wire loom protectors, tie back floppy wires and hoses and disconnect the fuel injector and plug wires that you’re working on. Follow the step-by-step instructions on the video to a “T”. Take your time and proceed slowly. When you get to the drilling step, don’t worry if the drill doesn’t cut through the head like butter. If it sticks, slowly back it out, remove the drill bit, clean it up, oil it again, and put it back in to continue drilling.

When I got to the tapping stage, my heart sank when the tap appeared to get stuck. That’s when I abandoned the air ratchet, and slowly backed the tap all the way out. Clean it off, re-oil it and then screw it in with your fingers to catch the new threads. This time use a hand ratchet with a little downward pressure. It’ll go very slowly, and at times you may wonder if it’s going anywhere. Just keep an eye on the marker line at the top of the tap. When that reaches the top og the spark plug hole you’re done! Back the tap out and get ready for the final trickiest step.

Removing the metal shavings from the cylinder

This is the most important part. You need to get the shavings from the drilling completely out of the cylinder. Take the air nozzle that you’ve modified with the attached plastic tubing and stick it way down in the cylinder. Caution – make sure to wear safety glasses! Wrap a shop rag around the top of the spark plug hole and blast away. The shop rag will stop shavings from flying all over the place. Shake it out and keep repeating the procedure.

The video boresope

This is where Lil’ Geek (my pet name for my video borescope) is used to take a look inside the cylinder. There’s lots of video inspection tools on the market, ranging from $99 all the way up into the thousands. But guess what? The $99 hand held video inspection scope from turns out to be the best and the most practical! Who would have thought that a company that makes upscale toys for office executives would carry such a handy tool! It’s very practical, with a 10mm width, 35” snake and an easy to see 2.5” viewfinder. This certainly is no toy, and it comes packaged inside a rugged plastic carrying case which includes a retrieval magnet and hook. The video borescope quickly became one of my favorite shop tools!

In the CalVan “hot-to” video, the inspection of the cylinder seems to go quickly. However this was not true in my case. Perhaps the video borescope was “too good” and showed me all the  little things that are better left unseen. It took over an hour of careful blowing, then inserting a thin shopvac hose, then more blowing. At one point I removed the shop rag, and I could still see shavings coming out when I blew compressed air into the cylinder. At the end of it all, a few teeny shavings remained, jammed between the edge of the piston and the cylinder wall. These looked to be about 1/8” long and about as thick as a human hair. Repeated attempts to remove them failed, so I opted to live dangerously and continued on to the final step of the repair.

Installing the insert

Get your new spark plug ready (make sure it’s gapped correctly!). Although there’s varying opinions about using anti-seize on spark plug threads, I decided to put a light amount of anti-seize on the threads. Using your fingers, screw the spark plug into a new insert. Then mix up a small amount of J-B weld and apply it to about a ¼” area of the lower threads. This will work it’s way up as it’s screwed in, so don’t overdo it! Then attach an 8” length of flexible poly tube to the top of the spark plug, and carefully aim it down the hole. This is the best way I’ve found to start spark plugs into the threads correctly. By using the tubing to tighten the plug into the first few threads, you don’t run the risk of cross-threading. When the plug seems snug, plug off the poly tubing and slide in your 5/8” socket and torque to manufacturer’s recommendations. In most circumstances, a torque wrench won’t fit way back in the engine of a van, but if you’ve done enough car repairs, you probably have a good enough feel to complete the necessary tightening.

It’s almost done!

Try to resist the urge to fire up the engine, and give the J-B weld about 15 hours to cure. This will give you a chance to check each and every plug for correct torque. After checking, I found 5 plugs that were way too easy to unscrew, and four that seemed like they were frozen in place. All the plugs that I was able to remove appeared to be in top shape, so I opted to leave the 4 frozen ones in place (There’s other issues with certain Ford sparkplugs breaking off, so I didn’t want to spit into the wind on this one!)

After all your spark plugs have been seated, and you’ve called your friends to tell them about your truck’s close encounter with Death, it’s time to relax! The worst is over, but be sure to wait until the next day so your J-B weld can set up.

The next morning you’ll turn the ignition key and a big smile will form on your face as your engine purrs like a kitten!  After the repaired engine was running, I realized that my engine no longer making a “ticking” noise (this was the warning noise of a loose sparkplug, a noise that I’d somehow slowly become accustomed to!) 

The final step in the repair is simple but important.  Run the engine for about ten minutes, then change the oil & filter.  This will hopefully remove any debris that might have worked its way into the oil system. 

As a footnote 3 years after the repair, it’s now been 5,000 miles since this repair was completed and my Ford Triton V-10 engine still runs like new!  I’m hoping that occasionally checking all the spark plug torques will help ward off any future disasters!

Disclaimer: Repair tips in this article are designed for informational purposes only, without warranty of any kind, in no event shall the author of this site be liable for any consequential, incidental or direct damages sustained in the course of using the information in this article.


Photos showing some of the repair techniques (click on any photo for a larger view):

It’s dark and cramped under the hood! Here I use a small neoprene tube attached to a Shop-Vac to suction out the shavings. It’s very important to get that engine cyclinder cleaned out after you drill and tap the sparkplug threads



 ”Lil Geek”, at $99 it’s my “not-too-expensive” borescope. Poke this baby down into the cylinder  as you look for shavings. It’s a long task and took me about 2hrs. to get all the visible shavings out. Make sure you do a couple of oil changes the week after the repair,  this gets any remaining  grit out of the engine. The image on the borescope shows the top of a sparkplug,  you’ll get a good view of the cylinder when you’re down inside!


 This is what happens to the spark plug coil when the spark plug gets ejected, or “blown-out”. When this happens gasoline from the fuel injector could have sprayed onto the hot engine block causing a fire…..I was lucky!



Flexible tubing attached to the new spark plug makes it easier to get a start when you’re screwing it it.



The Cal-Van Kit. It contains most everything you need for the repair.



The jig inside the Cal-Van kit fits into the engine block. This ensures that when you drill and tap everything lines up properly.




CalVan drill bit inserted into the jig. It’s a well made tool and doesn’t allow you to drill at an “off angle”



The all important Cal-Van threaded insert. To my mind this makes the repair better than the orignal factory job.



 The new (yellow) sparkplug coil installed at the end of all the repairs.



 Another shot showing the other side of the engine block. Nothing’s easy to get at under the hood of the Ford E-350 van.  But the Cal-Van kit helps make the job a whole lot easier.


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Have you ever reloaded your Windows operating system, and then discovered you’ve forgotten to back up your Outlook 2007 files? Here’s how to copy your precious calendar and contact .pst files from your previous version of Windows XP.

When you loaded your new version of Windows XP, if you didn’t create a new partition (format) your hard disk, then your old Outlook files will be still be hiding, just waiting to be found! Disclaimer: Modifying Outlook files can cause serious problems that may prevent Outlook from working properly. Modifications of the files are at your own risk. We recommend you backup any files before proceeding.

In Windows XP, to find the previous configuration files for Outlook 2007:
1. Click Start, and then click My Computer.
2. On the Tools menu, click Folder Options, click the View tab, and then click the Show hidden files and folder option.

To find the old Outlook data file location in XP, go to:
drive:\Documents and Settings\username from your old Windows installation\Local Settings\Application Data\Microsoft\Outlook

Inside that old Outlook folder are several data files. The one that you want to copy is the Outlook.pst file. It contains the calendar and contacts from the previous version. Important: Remember to backup your Outlook data file before you overwrite the file! The calendar, contacts and other data in your Outlook folder will be overwritten when you transfer Outlook.pst
Good Luck!

They need to be reminded of the order of things” – Zeus

In a time when Greek gods were as plentiful as nuts in a Snickers bar, you’d think that peace and tranquility would reign. Not true. The gods bicker amongst themselves like children vying for the attention of their parents.

Zeus (Liam Neeson) is the head puppeteer in the gods’ plan to gain the undying love and attention of the mortals. Based on the theory that you never appreciate what you’ve got until it’s gone, Zeus hatches a plan to send carnage & devastation to the mortals. To carry out the plan, Zeus forms an alliance with his brother Hades (Ralph Fiennes). Creating a relationship with anyone from the Underworld has never been a good idea, and of course Hades has his own ajenda.

Photo by Courtesy of Warner Bros. Picture – © 2010 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. and Legendary PicturesDown on Earth, in the city of Argos, the mortals have complicated backstories. At times you may feel like you’re watching LOST without the helpful pop-ups. Perseus ( Sam Worthington ) is a demigod, born from Zeus’ dalliance with Danae, Perseus’ mortal mother. It’s good, it seems, to be a demigod, they have some of the powers of the gods, but enough love and compassion to keep them well grounded.

Within short order, Hades overruns Argos with his loathsome bat-creatures and threatens release of the Kraken. Rumored and much feared, the Kraken was the nuclear bomb threat of it’s day. Perseus, it seems, is the only one with enough moxie and special powers to end the threat. In a quest that’s quite typical in Greek Mythology, Perseus is given a laundry list of tasks to carry out. Throughout this quest there’s no end to the battles that Perseus must endure so he can save Argos from destruction.

It’s inevitable that the new CLASH OF THE TITANS would be compared to it’s 1981 counterpart. At that time no CGI existed and special effects were limited to the very skilled craftsmanship of Ray Harryhausen. Using stop motion techniques, the actions of highly detailed models were inserted into the live action film. The downside of this was that a two minute sequence could take several months to film, so action scenes were understandably limited. At times the 1981 film suffered from long “talkie” sequences while we waited for the next thrilling monster scene to arrive. However, with lots of exquisite CGI action, the new CLASH OF THE TITANS doesn’t dissapoint. Well crafted monster sequences are in abundance and will keep any horror film fan on the edge of his seat.

Medusa, a gorgon, is portrayed in the 1981 version, as one of filmdom’s ugliest and most despicable characters. The gorgon, a highly detailed animation model, slowly slithered through the dark castle, hiding behind Greek columns, and picking out her victims one by one.
In the 2010 film version, Supermodel Natalia Vodianova re-invents the gorgon as a lithe, alluring, yet horrifying monster.Photo by Courtesy of Warner Bros. Picture – © 2010 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. and Legendary Pictures Her vapid yet mesmerizing stare is all that’s necessary to turn a man into stone. We’d worried that in the new film, given the gift of speed, the gorgon’s attacks would be just too fast to maintain a feeling of suspense. But those fears were abated when we saw the great editing, set design, eerie lighting and the wonderfully choreographed fight. The encounter with Medusa turns out to be one of the highlights of the new film!

The giant scorpions, spawned from Calibos’ blood drippings, are much larger, and more fearsome than their incarnations in the 1981 film. Memorable moments include an extended battle that’s reminiscent of the giant bug fights in STARSHIP TROOPERS (1997).

After much anticipation, we finally get to hear Zeus intone the now over used cliché “Release the Kraken!”. Ominously rising from the depths of the ocean, the Kraken is a behemoth to be reckoned with. Towering menacingly above the city of Argos, the Kraken lashes it’s multiple tentacles and destroys buildings in a way that would impress even Godzilla. In the 1981 film, Perseus fought the Kraken with the assistance of his flying horse Pegagus (who incidentally, was white in 1981) and a flying mechanical owl (more about him later). In the new version, Perseus wages war against the Kraken astride his steed Pegasus (now black) with magical sword in hand. Nonetheless, it’s non-stop action and suspense as the Kraken edges closer to killing the sacrificial Andromeda. At this point it would be unconscionable to reveal the film’s ending, but rest assured the Kraken is finally dispatched!

Trivia – Earlier in the film, when Perseus and his soldiers are picking out shields, he pulls a mechanical owl off the shelf and is told “put that back!”. It’s a nice in-joke, referencing Harryhausen’s 1981 creation, Bubo, the mechanical owl, who was Perseus’ sidekick and comic relief in that earlier film.

CLASH OF THE TITANS is a sword-and-sandals film filled with lots of swashbuckling action, sword fights and monster battles. Very entertaining.

The fight with Medusa, the gorgon …Caution contains spoilers !!

Clash of the Titans (2010)

Cast & Credits
Director: Louis Leterrier

Sam Worthington … Perseus
Liam Neeson … Zeus
Ralph Fiennes … Hades
Jason Flemyng … Calibos
Alexa Davalos … Andromeda

Running time: 118m.
Rated PG-13 – fantasy action violence, some frightening images & brief sensuality.

A deceptively engaging comedy, HOT TUB TIME MACHINE broaches the theory that changed events in the past can affect your present life. The premise is simple, three middle aged guys take a dip in a hot tub and travel back in time to 1986 to rediscover their past conquests. But  more than just a typical “buddy movie”, this film is an enjoyable comedy that features witty quips and great character interactions.

Hot Tub Time Machine (2010)

Adam (John Cusack), is a sad sack… his wife has just left him, taking most of his belongings. Nick (Craig Robinson) is a veterinary assistant who cleans up after dogs, and Lou (Rob Corddry) passes his time taking recreational drugs and booze.

They were all best buddies back in 1980′s, but in the years since, they’ve drifted apart. It’s not until Lou is hospitalized that they re-unite and start reminiscing about “the good old days”.

Adam suggests that the three return to Kodiak Valley, a ski lodge where the three partied in the ’80′s. With high hopes of reliving their Glory Days, the three buddies, with teenager Jacob (Clark Duke) in tow, pack up and head for a guy’s weekend at the lodge.

Arriving at the lodge, they find it’s a mere shadow of its former self. The building is in a state of disrepair, the “Kodiak Valley” sign hangs askance and cats run freely about the hotel lobby. In a memorable role, Crispin Glover (of George McFly fame) plays a very cranky, one-armed bell hop. He makes many appearances throughout the film, with his Bell Hop character becoming a popular scene stealer.

In their hotel room, the guys find the hot tub of the film’s title. Slipping into the warm water to relax, the three friends reminisce about their great weekend back in 1986. Colorful lights appear from beneath the tub’s water and a vortex starts. Looking directly at the camera, Nick intones “it must be some kinda hot tub time machine” The four are swept back in time to the same ski lodge, but now it’s the colorful 1980′s. 

The transition to the past is quite apparent. The ski lodge is now much newer and populated with hoards of happy, fun loving ’80′s teens. We’re bombarded with sights and images that define 1986;  Walkman’s, polo shirts, poster colored clothing, leg warmers, Jheri curls, and President Reagan on TV. Glancing in the mirror, the guys see themselves as their young 1980’s selves, and everyone who meets them does too! Seeking some sort of proof, Nick asks a passerby “what color’s Michael Jackson?” when she answers ”black”….he screams (apparently this is a sure sign that it’s 1986!) 

In a strange cameo, Chevy Chase appears as the Hot Tub Repairman. When he warns the guys about the dangers of tampering with the time-space continuum, Jacob quickly bemoans “We’re gonna do something to make Hitler president”

HOT TUB TIME MACHINE is one of those fun, up-all-night movies, where none of the characters seem to sleep, and everyone has unlimited energy. Aimed mostly at the Forty-Something crowd, the film’s humor contains enough bawdy comments and raucous moments that most teenagers will be entertained too. It’s a fun comedy with funny references to movies, lots of quick snappy dialog and chuckles throughout. Recommended

Running Time – 100m.

Rated R for strong crude & sexual content, nudity, drug use and pervasive language.

Cast & Credits

Director: Steve Pink

John Cusack … Adam

Clark Duke … Jacob

Craig Robinson … Nick

Rob Corddry … Lou

Crispin Glover … Phil

Chevy Chase … Repair Man

….an amalgam of lighting, music and sound effects create a visual symphony of terror!

Born in Rome, Italy on September 7, 1940, director Dario Argento grew up in a close knit household where family members told folk tales by Hans Christian Andersen, Edgar Allan Poe and the Brothers Grimm. Elements of these frightening bedtime stories would later become fodder for his horror films.

Suspiria 1977 posterWith SUSPIRIA (1977), Argento reaches the acme of his creative works. Combining his stylized use of color, innovative sounds and rapid cutting, SUSPIRIA would go on to become one of the touchstone horror films of the 1970’s. Emphasizing mood, lighting and color, Argento is able to create a nightmarish world filled with angst and duplicitous characters.

As the film opens, American teen Suzy Bannion (Jessica Harper) is arriving in Germany to join a ballet academy. It’s here that we’re treated to a host of Argento’s techniques. Suzy arrives at the boarding school late at night, amidst a driving rain storm. Vivid blue lighting emphasizes the rain drenched, deserted streets around the ballet school while the frenetic music of Goblin punctuates the soundtrack.

Greeted by the dour school headmistress, Suzy is told “…we don’t teach you to dance here…we presume our students know how to do that!”.  Of course it’s not long before, one by one, strange, grisly murders start occurring. Argento punctuates his well crafted, yet repellant, murder scenes with bright poster colored lighting and the heart pounding percussion music of Goblin.

One of the most chilling murders involves a character, who, while running from The Killer, stumbles into a room filled with coils and coils of sharp razor wire (the type they run around prison walls). The visual experience is so captivating (and disturbing) that we have little time to consider why someone would store miles of razor wire in a room at a ballet academy. Rather, we just bask in the terror of this contrived situation, empathizing with the character, who is trapped like a fly in a spider’s web.

Another gripping sequence involves a blind man and his Seeing Eye dog, alone at night in a deserted city center square. His dog barks at something (or someone) unseen, while all around him stark shadows give  sinister life to the walls of the buildings. Wonderful cutting and relentless music combine with haunting “sighs” and “whispers” to make this a compelling scene.

SUSPIRIA earned an R rating when it was released in the U.S. in 1977, and there’s lots of grisly violence, including the use of sharp knives, broken glass and other items that will make your skin crawl. Argento directs these scenes with flair, as an artist paints his canvas. The colors, the framing and the music lift this film from its roots as a mundane horror film into the realm of something much more special.

Throughout SUSPIRIA, the action and mood is supported by the frenetic and haunting music of Goblin, an Italian progressive rock band best known for their work on many Argento soundtracks. Creepy “sighs”, “whispers” and other unsettling sounds permeate the soundtrack adding to the feeling of uneasiness.

The set design on SUSPIRIA compliments the mood of the film. Many scenes are decorated with vivid, velvety red walls and flowing sanguine drapes. Filmed in widescreen, you’ll want to view SUSPIRIA in DVD letterbox format. Directors usually have trouble composing for the wide 1:2.35 ratio, but Argento handless it flawlessly. Slow camera movements down long, bright red, narrow hallways, add to the unusual claustrophobic feeling that this widescreen film is able to achieve. Characters are carefully framed, benefitting their onscreen movements. Arms gracefully stretch the width of the screen, and action is well contained during the murder scenes. Of special note is the swimming pool sequence, which reminds us of a similar scene in Lewton’s CAT PEOPLE (1942). The camera floats in front of the two girls, carefully following them as they swim around the darkly lit indoor pool. The camera movements alone would make for a very scary sequence, but the amalgam of lighting, music and sound effects create a visual symphony of terror.

At the end of the film, we’re never really sure if the events really happened, or if they were part of Suzy Bannion’s dreams. It’s a moot point because this movie succeeds not as a story, but as a series of vivid, well crafted images….images that you’ll revisit in your nightmares! A modernistic classic, SUSPIRIA is available on DVD and should be viewed by all aficionados of the horror-gore genre.
Highly recommended.

Director: Dario Argento

Country: Italy (available dubbed in English, or Italian language with subtitles)

Jessica Harper … Suzy Bannion
Stefania Casini … Sara
Flavio Bucci … Daniel
Miguel Bosé … Mark

“I’m not right, am I?”  – Russell Clank

Resurrected from a 1973 George Romero film of the same name, “The Crazies” attempts to bring zombies and biological warfare together in one film.

The Crazies (2010)Opening with images of flames and a burning town, the film fades out to “two days earlier”. It’s the sleepy town of Ogden Marsh, a rural Midwestern town where people enjoy life at their own pace, kids play baseball and folks call the town sheriff by his first name.

But strange things are happening in Ogden Marsh. At a baseball game, the town drunk wanders listlessly onto the ball field brandishing a rifle. Meanwhile, the town doctor is getting an alarming number of patients who exhibit schizophrenic symptoms. These elements should combine to make the essence of a strong sci-fi horror film the likes of “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” (1956), but instead the film takes a wrong turn.

It’s no secret to say that the townspeople are mysteriously dying and returning as zombies. Zombies, incidentally, are a time-tested-and-true plot device, allowing for lots of muffed gory attempts at killing them before you get it just right. Unfortunately, there’s just not enough “colorful” zombie deaths in this film to satisfy even the most desperate of zombie fans. To be sure there’s gratuitous violence, but not the cinematically choreographed carnage of the type Tom Savini gave us in 1978’s “Dawn of the Dead”

But more than a zombie film, “The Crazies” is a film about government interference and incompetence handling a chemical bio-agent catastrophe, which brings to mind “The Blob” (1988). The government rushes in, gas masks & hazmat suits in hand, rounding up the “usual suspects”, which in this case turns out to be the unsuspecting inhabitants of Ogden Marsh.

There’s a few moments that come close to what the whole film could have been. The discovery of a submerged plane, much like the discovery of the saucer under the ice in “The Thing” (1954), is a plot point that could have been savored for its mystery. Yet the whole subject is dismissed very quickly. Not enough blood, I’m guessing. And the unattended combine, running at night inside the barn gave the promise of something creepy and surreal, but the promise is never fulfilled.

“The Crazies” dips into the well of over used clichés one time too many: the sudden hand on the shoulder; the person about to be killed, saved at the last moment by a friend; an eye suddenly peering back at you through a keyhole; and of course, the much anticipated business with the pitchfork (shown in the movie poster). It’s all grizzle and gore, with surprises that will no doubt please the teenaged date crowd, but cinematically this film is a disappointment. “The Crazies” is a formula film that gets it’s ingredients all wrong.

Cast & Crew:

Director:  Breck Eisner

Timothy Olyphant  … David Dutton

Radha Mitchell  …  Judy Dutton

Joe Anderson …  Russell Clank

Danielle Panabaker … Becca Darling

Running Time: 101 min       Rated “R” for bloody violence & language

“Which would be worse, to live as a monster or to die as a good man?” – Teddy Daniels

“Shutter Island” is a much anticipated film from veteran director Martin Scorsese, starring Leonard DeCaprio and Ben Kingsley.

The film opens with ominous music and a view of a ferry heading towards a foreboding island. Much like the approach to Kong’s Island, it’s a remote, fog laden place, surrounded by craggy rocks and lashing seas.

Shutter Island posterIt’s 1954 and Deputy Marshall Teddy Daniels (Leonardo DeCaprio) and his assistant Chuck Aule (Mark Ruffalo) have been sent to investigate a woman’s escape from the island’s prison for the mentally insane. Arriving at the island they’re met by a prison guard who tells them “we take only the most dangerous and damaged patients”. The prison buildings loom menacingly above the dock while the rainy, windswept terrain adds to the already growing feeling of angst.

Dr. Cawley (Ben Kingsley), the prison’s medical director, is a mysterious and evasive character, who seems to relish running the asylum. As the plot unfolds, we find that Daniels is a complicated character who has many flashbacks. In one such flashback we see him as one of the first US soldiers to liberate the Dachau Nazi concentration camp. Other flashbacks are equally unsettling, and convey multiple messages.

“Shutter Island” is an atmospheric, windswept, brooding film, that coveys a feeling of angst from beginning to end. Director Scorsese, a master of film history, often alludes to past classic movie scenes. His shots atop the craggy cliffs overlooking the light house remind us of Hitchcock’s “Suspicion”, while DeCaprio negotiating the dark prison tunnels with only a match to light the way is reminiscent of “The Old Dark House”. Even the lightning storm sequence, with it’s brief canted angles gives nod to “The Bride of Frankenstein”, and there’s the disturbing, yet somehow beautiful, flashback sequences with ashes floating through the air like snow. These are all wonderful images and they give credit to the skill and artistic direction of Scorsese.

Leonard DeCaprio creates an intense, brooding and multi-layered character. Ben Kingsley is perfect as the medical director who seems to know more than he’s telling.

“Shutter Island” is a high-tension mystery thriller of the first order, that reveals a deadly secret as the film unfolds. Highly Recommended.

Cast & Crew

Director … Martin Scorsese

Leonardo DiCaprio … Teddy Daniels

Mark Ruffalo … Chuck Aule

Ben Kingsley … Dr. Cawley

Max von Sydow … Dr. Naehring

Running time 138m. Rated “R”

more details at

“I believe six impossible things before breakfast” – AliceJohn Tenniel illustration Wikipedia

Alice in Wonderland has been in my consciousness since my earliest encounters with the Lewis Carroll stories. Alice in Wonderland 1951 Sawyer ViewmasterTheir accompanying John Tenniel illustrations both fascinated and troubled me. The 1952 Viewmaster version, and the 1951 Disney Animated film collaborated to produce images in my mind that would become the fodder of nightmares.

Now Tim Burton brings “Alice in Wonderland” to the theater screen. However, this time the nightmarish world of Wonderland is skillfully crafted and realized by experts who helped create the world of “Avatar”.

Alice, now a teenager, is starting to feel the pressures of grown up life. She’s able to escape reality when she follows a mysteriously dressed rabbit to his burrow. As she falls down down the rabbit hole there’s a wonderful transition between the real world above and the fantasy world that awaits below.copyright Disney 2010

Sampling both the “drink me” bottle and the “eat me” cake, Alice gets to change sizes several times, and to our delight it’s all handled quite realistically. In a scene not unlike that in the “Wizard of Oz”, Alice opens the tiny door to enter the fantastic world of Wonderland. Here we get to see the lush detailing and conceptualization of this fantasy world and it’s bizarre inhabitants.

The characters she meets are wonderful and highly detailed. They’ve all met Alice before, but she’s unable to remember the encounter. The Blue Caterpillar (voiced by Alan Rickman) is suitably mysterious, puffing continually on a hookah and the Cheshire Cat (voiced by Stephen Fry) is both creepy and vaporous.

Special CGI effects give nightmarish qualities to the characters. Johnny Depp’s large eyes and the Red Queen’s bulbous head are but a few of the graphic treats that the movie holds in store. The highly detailed army of marching cards is entirely menacing and certainly much more convincing than the paper thin Queen’s guards that the 1951 film offered.

Johnny Depp, as the Mad Hatter, brings in a great performance and as usual he melds himself to the role. At times I found the Mad Hatter to be almost a bit too sane, unlike the over-the-top 1951 Hatter. Depp gives a touching performance as a tormented soul who quickly forms a strong bond with Alice. Anne Hathaway offers a somewhat pedestrian performance as the mostly inneffectual White Queen.

The final battle sequence reminds us of the recent “Chronicles of Narnia” (2005) in which all the characters in the film are rounded up for one last melee. Whether or not Alice is supposed to remind us of Joan of Arc is inconsequential. Her glistening armor is a wonderful touch of costuming, and the sword fight with the Jabberwocky (voiced by Christopher Lee) should satisfy most action fans.

Please be forewarned that despite it’s PG rating, this is not a film for those under 13. There’s several disturbing scenes such as floating decapitated heads in the Red Queen’s moat, eye piercings and a decapitation during the final battle scene.

Tim Burton’s vision brings this timeless story to life on the screen. A recommended film, both for it’s wonderful special effects and a new take on a classic story.


Tim Burton

Mia Wasikowska … Alice

Johnny Depp … Mad Hatter

Helena Bonham Carter … Red Queen

Anne Hathaway … White Queen

Alan Rickman … Blue Caterpillar

Stephen Fry … Cheshire Cat

Running time: 108m.

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