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I AM THE WOLF MAN Kindle Edition is $2.99 on Amazon.com

wolfmanSomething gruesome is happening to the citizens of quaint Leesburg, Virginia. Young women are being brutally murdered in the dead of night, and the prime suspect is a gaunt young man with a preposterous claim. 
Is he a crazed killer with PCP-fueled pit bulls? Or something even more bizarre?
With the town and national media worked into a frenzy, struggling attorney Thomas Kane must quickly find the truth–and challenge the darkest realms of human nature.
In his debut novel, author Christopher Colston explores the fundamental question each of us face: What do we believe in, and how strong is that belief?

TO SAMPLE THE BOOK, CLICK ON THE COVER.

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DJANGO UNCHAINED

Tarantino channels his inner Peckinpah, with a dash of Mel Brooks.

If you ever needed proof that strong characters and dialogue trump plot, this is it.

R (2 hrs. 45 minutes)

Director: Quentin Tarantino (Pulp Fiction, Reservoir Dogs, etc. )

Screenplay: Tarantino (True Romance, From Dusk Till Dawn, Pulp, etc.)

MY ANTICIPATION GOING IN: Not exactly djumping for djoy; I’m not a big fan of people being whipped. But I hoped Tarantino’s characters and dialogue would overcome it.

BASIC PLOT: German bounty hunter Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz) frees the slave Django (Jamie Foxx). They team up to deliver corpses of wanted men—and ultimately track down Foxx’s enslaved wife Broomhilda (Kerry Washington), now owned by dandy Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio), whose “old decrepit bastard” of a butler (Samuel L. Jackson) is a real d-bag.

WHAT I’LL REMEMBER: Waltz’s performance (which won him his second Oscar). He alone is the reason to see the movie. He’s a civilized man in an uncivilized job, a German version of Val Kilmer’s Doc Holliday from Tombstone.

I’ll remember Waltz, and the laugh-out-loud bag-head scene, something straight out of Mel Brooks’ brilliant 1974 comedy Blazing Saddles.

WHAT WORKED BEST: Besides Waltz, the dialogue, which is why you go to a Tarantino movie (Tarantino won an Oscar for his original screenplay). Walton Goggins was effective as bad guy Billy Crash; if I were going to make a movie in 2013, the cast would include Mark Strong and Walton Goggins.

And, as always, Tarantino has a great feel for music. The soundtrack evokes Sergio Leone.

WHAT DIDN’T: If you ever wanted proof that strong characters and dialogue are more important than plot, this is it. The movie deteriorates badly after a key plot development that I won’t divulge, a mélange of cliché explosions and splattering blood. The gratuitous violence is a waste of Tarantino’s writing skills. (If you’re going to do over-the-top violence, that take a cue from the writers of the AMC series Breaking Bad, the true masters of “ewww, gross!”) Tarantino takes us to a certain point with charm, grace and wit, and then just seems to say, “OK, screw it. Now I gotta go all Sam Peckinpah on you kill a whole shitload of people.”

BEST LINES: “Damn. I can’t see fucking shit out of this thing.” (Don Johnson as “Big Daddy.”)

“My good man, did you simply get carried away with your dramatic gesture, or are you pointing your weapon at me with lethal intention?” (Waltz).

“Last chance, fancy pants.” (James Remar as “Ace Speck.”)

BIG PICTURE: In the end, this is just a well-done, albeit overly violent, popcorn movie; it ain’t gonna change your life or your worldview or make you a better person (if movies can even do that, although I do believe the best ones do, even if only for a little while; see Life Is Beautiful, Rocky, It’s A Wonderful Life, Shawshank Redemption, Schindler’s List, Casablanca). You just walk out saying, “Yeah, well, that was a Tarantino movie.” I guess there are worse things.

VERDICT: Pulp Fiction is still better.

My debut novel, “I AM THE WOLF MAN,” is available through Amazon.com for $2.99. Click here to check it out.

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ZERO DARK THIRTY

R (2 hrs. 37 minutes)

DIRECTOR: Kathryn Bigelow (The Hurt Locker, Blue Steel, Point Break)

SCREENPLAY: Mark Boal (The Hurt Locker)

MY ANTICIPATION GOING IN: The inside story on how U.S. intelligence tracked down and eliminated Osama bin Laden? I’m all over that.

BASIC PLOT: A CIA analyst named Maya (Jessica Chastain) tenaciously pursues a hot lead, a courier whom she believes will lead her to bin Laden (or, as he’s referred to late in the movie, “UBL”).

Fair warning: the movie’s commercial is misleading, showing only scenes from the final act. Most of the movie is more of a manhunt procedural. Yes, there are terrorist explosions, but this is not an action movie, which the commercial portrays, until the very end. And even then, it eschews Hollywood’s clichéd action-flick formula.

WHAT I’LL REMEMBER: Other than Chastain’s lips? The last 40 minutes of the film are as good as it gets: the raid on UBL’s compound presented in nearly real time.

The climactic mission begins without fanfare; the SEALS are quiet and business-like. There is no juiced-up gung-ho dialogue. And Bigelow films beautiful scenes of black helicopters stealthily traversing the Pakistani mountains in the dark of night.

On board, a SEAL asks his cohorts, “How many of you have been in a helo crash before?” Everybody raises their hands. “OK,” he says. “Then we’re all good.”

As we know, one of the “helos” does indeed crash. You can only wonder what the people in UBL’s compound were thinking just then, in between exclamations of “oh, shit!”

It was fascinating to watch how the SEALS then worked their way, meticulously, through the grounds until they track down the head terrorist, via the green glow of night-vision goggles. The actual taking down of UBL happens quickly, and I was like, “wait—what?” Because I’m addicted to home TV I found myself reaching for a remote that wasn’t there to replay the scene.

WHAT WORKED BEST: The insight that came from Boal’s first-hand interviews with military and intelligence officials; the portrayal of the sacrifice, the commitment, the obsessive drive it takes to accomplish something big in this world.

WHAT THE…? Unless I missed it, nobody ever actually invokes the term “Zero Dark Thirty.” You just have to know that it’s a military term for 30 minutes past midnight.

REVELATION: I never knew that we were all indebted to the carmaker Lamborghini to help bring down UBL. And call me naïve, but I didn’t realize Navy SEALS looked like a bunch of biker dudes. I guess I kind of expected them to be lean and have short hair and be, like, ultra intense instead of laid-back.

 BEST LINE: “I’m the mother(bleep) who found this place.” – Maya.

 BEST LINE II: The always-awesome Mark Strong, as CIA bigwig “George,” gives his crew a bad-ass chewing out, “I want targets. Do your (effing) jobs. Bring me people to kill.”

If I’m making a movie in 2013, I’m making sure Mark Strong is in it.

BUMMERS: There are few more bad-ass people walking the earth than Navy SEALS, “With your dip and Velcro and all your gear bullshit,” as Maya contends. The movie made me hungry for more scenes with them.

ITS PLACE IN TIME:/BIG PICTURE: Because of the historical significance of the subject matter, the film will hold up over time. But it will probably be best remembered—at least so far—for its portrayal of torture (waterboarding specifically) to obtain information from detainees. Judas-like, the interrogators wash their hands of torture by claiming, “You decide how you’re treated by your answers.”

Ironically, one of the best nuggets of intelligence comes, not from torture, but from a clever bluff over a clean, civilized, outdoor meal of grapes and hummus.

Does “Zero Dark Thirty” imply UBL would never have been found without it? You could interpret it that way. But what were the filmmakers supposed to do, gloss over it? “Enhanced interrogation techniques” happened. To ignore that aspect would be dishonest. In storytelling, everything must have a purpose, so if you’re going to have a torture scene, it must be there for a reason.

In a statement to CIA employees, acting director Michael Morell said that while the film was wrong to depict torture as the key to finding UBL, the interrogations did produce useful intelligence.

 VERDICT: The scene of the helicopters at night, alone, makes this worthy of seeing this on the big screen and not waiting for Netflix or whatnot. Just don’t expect a thrill-a-minute action movie. Much of the narrative revolves around simple, unglamorous hard work.

If you found this review helpful and like my style, please consider checking out my novel, “I AM THE WOLF MAN,” available through Amazon.com. Click HERE to check it out!

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LINCOLN

PG-13 (2:29)

DIRECTOR: Steven Spielberg (Schindler’s List, Saving Private Ryan, Jaws, etc.)

SCREENPLAY: Tony Kushner

MY ANTICIPATION GOING IN: As movies are expensive, I have two general rules for seeing one in a theater (as opposed to waiting for it to come out on Netflix or whatnot).

1.            Either I’m just impatient or …

2.            It’s a big action movie that is best seen on the big screen.

Lincoln is the former. But this is one of those rare cases where you should go see it in the theater anyway, even if you aren’t impatient.

I’ve found that, most times in life, when somebody gives absolute full effort—when they’re really, really throwing themselves into the task at hand—it almost always turns out worthwhile. And here we have America’s best working director (Steven Spielberg, just ahead of Mr. Martin Scorsese) paired with the world’s greatest actor (Daniel Day-Lewis according to IMDb, and I’ll be damned if I’ll disagree with that assessment).

And both of them busted their ass on this project.

Imagine Boston Celtics Hall of Famer Bill Russell at the foul line, sweat pouring off his goatee like rainwater from a bucket. That’s the kind of effort we got from Spielberg, Day-Lewis and screenwriter Tony Kushner. Then again, when you’re making a movie about of the most important human beings ever to tramp about on U.S. soil, you’re pretty much obliged to do so.

BASIC PLOT: The great sportswriter Dan Jenkins preached that a good columnist doesn’t write about everything that happened in a particular game. No, he said, every game has a key moment, a turning point. A columnist must identify it and then kick it to death.

That’s the approach Spielberg took with Lincoln.

Spielberg eschewed the full-fledged biopic route and instead focused on the final four months of Lincoln’s life, precisely his drive to pass the 13th Amendment. In doing so he was able to reveal the nuances of Lincoln the man: his love of stories to the point of exasperation to some; his complete lack of pretense, treating enlisted soldiers as intellectual equals; his deep melancholy over the death of his 11-year old son Willie; his doting love for his young surviving son Tad; his temper in the face of idiocy; his patience with Mary Todd Lincoln’s emotional outbursts; his big-picture appreciation for the task before him; and his own questions about life and God.

In one memorable scene, Lincoln asks a young telegraph operator, “Do you think we choose to be born? Or are we fitted to the times we’re born to?”

You can just see the young kid going, “uhhhh….you’re the President of the United States. What are you asking ME for?”

In focusing on these four crucial months, this movie, essentially, is about one man’s conviction of purpose in the face of death and more death.

WHAT I’LL REMEMBER: For me, the sight of Lincoln in his top hat ambling down the hallway in his slow, bowlegged way, leaving the White House for the last time, on his way to Ford’s Theater. Hell yeah my eyes watered up and I’m not ashamed to admit it.

BEST LINES: Lincoln, relating a quote by Ethan Allen: “There is nothing that will make an Englishman shit so quick as the sight of General Washington.”

William Seward to Lincoln after one of his yarns: “I have no idea what you’re talking about.”

WHAT WORKED BEST: Fabulous acting performances across the board; hardscrabble realism capturing the feel of the times. There’s a great scene near the climax when Lincoln’s vote-swaying lobbyists/henchmen must deliver him a note. Since there are no cellphones or taxis, the henchmen literally run from the Capitol to the White House to give Lincoln a balled-up, hand-scribbled note.

But the coolest thing, to me, was being able to envision what Abraham Lincoln must have been like in real life. Because like the dinosaurs, we don’t know what he sounded like or how he moved around. All we get are some old scratchy black-and-white photos—none of them ever show him smiling with his teeth, ever notice that? So he seems like some mystical, larger-than-life being.

Here’s the thing: Tommy Lee Jones was terrific. But I knew it was Tommy Lee Jones playing Thaddeus Stevens. With Lincoln, you don’t ever think of Daniel Day-Lewis the actor. As Dan Jenkins would say, you believe it’s Lincoln his ownself. We see Lincoln huddled in a shawl, refilling his coffee mug, telling a story to his cabinet; little scenes like that made the movie worthwhile to me.

WHAT THE …? The always-excellent Joseph Gordon-Levitt (Inception, Looper) plays to cliché as the son who wants to go to war, against his father’s wishes, to prove himself. Though I didn’t expect old Abe to actually slap his boy across the face, the predictable confrontation was a little bit beneath this movie.

BUMMERS: I was kind of hoping for some classic Spielberg-style Civil War gore. I mean, our hero Steven Spielberg came through in the opening scene of 1998’s Saving Private Ryan, filming the greatest war battle of all time (bullets buzzing like hornets, plowing through helmets like butter, abdomens ripped open, guts hanging out, gross as shit. I mean Spielberg went to such lengths to get realism that he used real amputees and human hair on the dummies). So you figure, Civil War, that deal was super gory, with big-ass cannonballs flying through the air taking off heads and limbs, Spielberg is going to really be able portray the brutality of it and the toll it was taking on Lincoln.

We got a taste of battle early, the hand-to-hand combat, a muddy boot smashing a man’s face into the muck, drowning him, but it was nothing like the taking of Normandy’s Omaha Beach. The closest we get is a memorable scene when Robert Todd Lincoln follows a squeaky cart leaking blood and is shocked by what it carries.

So I suppose I’ll have to wait for someone to give us a Spielbergian treatment of the Civil War—the Battle of Gettsyburg, to be precise. I know, it’s not going to happen; he would’ve done that by now. My only hope is that there’s an HBO spinoff, much like Band of Brothers sort of spun off the idea of Saving Private Ryan. I’d love to see miniseries examining the brutal nature of the Civil War, and more of Lincoln. With all those Civil War buffs out there, I think that might just land a viewer or two.

ITS PLACE IN TIME: If ever a movie is girded to stand the test of time, it’s this one. There are no special effects to make look outdated, and hell, it’s a historical movie anyway.

WILL YOU LIKE IT? Warning, this is not a “Let’s slam some beers first” movie. It’s what you call one of them “artistic” films, with very little action and lots of talking. (And the talking is kind of old-timey and hard to follow at times.) Almost every scene takes place in parlors and meeting rooms and creaky basements and darkened bedrooms and, prominently, the United States Capitol House Chamber.

In that regard it’s tailor-made for Netflix or whatnot, in the quiet of your home, where you can quickly rewind a conversation you can’t quite follow. Just don’t queue it up if you haven’t had much sleep.