Category: Reviews

John Carpenter | Live at Royale Boston

John Carpenter | Live at Royale Boston | Anthology Tour

November 15, 2017 | Review & Photos by Rob Watts

What can I say about Director, Writer, Producer, Composer, John Carpenter, that hasn’t already been said? The man is one of the greatest Filmmakers of our time and in his over forty years of filmmaking, he’s managed to entertain the masses with classic films such as They Live, Halloween, The Thing, The Fog, Escape from New York and Christine, just to name a few. In addition to filmmaking, Carpenter has a knack (and yearning) for scoring his own films; everyone knows the haunting theme song from Halloween—it’s embedded in our heads, but many of Carpenter’s hardcore fans appreciate just about every film soundtrack he’s produced. Most notably The Fog, Assault on Precinct 13, Halloween 3, Escape from New York and Prince of Darkness. These particular soundtracks are synth heavy and lend very well to his imagery on screen. Which perhaps makes sense that Carpenter has decided to take his music bank on the road, performing with a live stellar lineup of musicians as clips of his accompanying films play behind them on stage. I can’t think of any other director who could pull this off with such panache while commanding near-capacity crowds every night on tour. 

Opening with Escape from New York, fans were treated to the classic theme as imagery from the film blasted its way on screen. This was followed by Assault on Precint 13 and The Fog—at which point, a fog machine threw fog about the stage as the performers played on. Of course the classics were pulled out, including Halloween and Big Trouble in Little China, but one of the highlights and crowd favorites was the theme to the classic cult film, They Live. Carpenter and his band mates donned black sunglasses during the song, referencing the key element to the film. The finale was the theme to the classic film, Christine, which had just recently received the re-issue treatment on special edition vinyl. The Thing has fans cheering and perhaps and out of place addition was the beautifully composed theme to Starman, which was originally performed by Jack Nitzsche for the film. 

It’s great to see a man nearly 70 years old in age, after all the accolades and rewards from filmmaking, taking the leap into live performance after all these years, bringing his classic movie themes that fans have loved over so many years, out on the road with a solid lineup of musicians—including himself. Hopefully he’ll continue this for the next few years; people deserve to enjoy as much of his work as possible—be it, film, comic books, soundtrack music or live performances. 



Halloween Film Series: 10 Films, Worst to Best! 


Halloween Film Series: 10 Films, Worst to Best

By Rob Watts   @RobWattsOnline

It’s just my opinion, but being a life-long fan of the classic film series—John Carpenter’s Halloween (1978) was my first ever viewing of a horror film at a young age, I’ve developed a love/hate relationship with many of the sequels that have followed over the years. With very few exceptions, I actually despise movie sequels with a passion—particularly horror film sequels. They are money grabs in my opinion, and unlike films such as The Godfather, Rocky (Part 2), Star Wars (the original trilogy) and a small handful of others, there is very little need for continuations of a film, other than the obvious desire to cash in on movie goers’ willingness to sit through crappy third-rate reproductions of great films that’ve preceded them. The horror genre is notorious for this practice. I mean, seriously, how many Saw and Paranormal Activity follow-ups did we need? I’ll say the same about the Holloween film franchise. At some point during the run of this film series, it took a sad and desperate turn—snowballing to a point of no return; or did it? Again, this is just my opinion on the matter, but let’s see if you agree. Feel free to comment or Tweet me your thoughts. 

Worst to Best

10- Halloween: Resurrection (2002)

Busta Rhymes, Tyra Banks and a slathering of nameless, crappy actors (including one of the actors from American Pie) make this a terrible film from the get-go. If you need more reasons, how about the beaten to death found-footage style of camera work, the cringe-worthy dialogue, the embarrassing “acting” and the overal poor storyline? Directed by Rick Rosenthal—director of Halloween 2, was brought back to the franchise fold in hopes of giving the series a back-to-basics treatment, but instead he managed to deliver one of the biggest turds in movie history; not just horror movie history. Oh by the way, Jamie Lee Curtis appears in this movie during the first act. The trailer led fans to believe that Curtis had a much more prominent role in this film, but of course, the trick—not treat, was on us. 

9- Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers (1989)

This was considered to be the absolute worst (not just by me) in the series, at least until Halloween Resurrection came about. It’s a tight race, however, because this film is just God awful and in all honesty, an insult to fans of the series and to John Carpenter himself. It is apparent that this film’s script was written over the course of a weekend and that the casting director was clearly on drugs. Rushed into production and released just one year after the previous film, Halloween 5 is a shitty mess. It’s a continuation of Part 4, however, this movie bares very little resemblance to everything we loved about part 4—the charm, the ambiance, the style, the acting, the subtlety (much like the original), and it just gets worse and worse as the film goes on. (Spoilers ahead) – If you felt ripped off by the plot of 1982s Halloween 3 by virtue of the fact that it wasn’t a Michael Myers film, then you should have been undeniably disgusted by the plot line of Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers. First of all, at the end of Halloween 4, the film series threw a considerable twist our way by killing off (once again) the masked villain and revealing young Jamie Lloyd (Michael’s niece—see my take on Part 4 below) to be the new killer, due to the fact that her evil uncle’s curse had now been passed on to the adorable little 11 year old. Well, after much anticipation among eagerly awaiting fans—anxious to find out how the series was going to play this storyline out, we had come to find out that the Filmmakers basically threw this plot point away like a greasy McDonalds sandwich wrapper. Michael’s niece was not to be the new killer; instead, they brought him back in the most ridiculous way and threw his niece in a hospital bed (much like Laurie Strode in Halloween 2) throughout, almost, the entire film and gave her very little dialogue (again, much like Laurie Strode in Halloween 2—which I disliked about that film btw.) Summing the rest of this mess up in short-order, many of the things I found fault with was the fact that they killed off Jamie’s older step-sister, Rachel, in the first act of the film—why would we want her around—she was only one of the most likable characters in the previous film. She was replaced by the most irritating cast of characters (and actors), among them, the character of Tina, the most ANNOYING character thus far in the series franchise and universally hated within the Halloween Film Series fanbase. What else? Well, how about the Myers house? It looks NOTHING like the home used in the original film. This house looked like something out of a Dracula film or Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho. It was simply ridiculous. The character of Dr. Loomis had now become a parody of himself—just crazed, delivering the same tired lines—it had just become very sad for me. The overall style of the film was campy and clearly, Swiss director Dominique Othenin-Girard had zero clue about the established fanbase of this series. I don’t know who he thought he was aiming this film at, but it wasn’t the true devotees, that’s for certain. We mustn’t leave out the fans of The Omen film series. They are still up in arms over his directorial duties of The Omen IV: The Awakening. 

8- Halloween : The Curse of Michael Myers (1995)

Not quite as bad as its predecessor but still a terrible film in my opinion. Produced for the first time by a major studio, Miramax / Dimension Films, this film proves the all-too-well-known-fact that there truly can be too many cooks in the kitchen. With all the re-writes, re-shoots, re-castings—it’s amazing that this film even got made, and perhaps that should have been this movie’s ultimate fate. Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers (AKA Halloween 6) reveals that Michael Myers is part of an evil, secret cult known as the curse of Thorn. Ugh! This apparently is where he gets his evil superpowers from. Remember the man in black with the odd symbol tattooed on his writs in Part 5? Well, this storyline reveals what that hokey mystery was all about in that film. The problem was, the Filmmakers in part 5 had no clue what any of that meant; they just went ahead and through some mystery man in the film with absolutely no idea where the storyline was going to go or who the character was. Great filmmaking! Okay, I’ll dispense with any further criticism about Halloween 5. I’ll save it for this pathetic excuse for a film. So, we learn that Michael is part of a cult and his niece, Jamie (who they replaced with a new actress—enough said) is pregnant (who the father is is left ambiguous—Michael perhaps? Eww…) and is introduced in the film on a delivery table as she gives birth to a baby boy; a baby boy who I guess was intended to eventually follow in the footsteps of Michael Myers—how awesome. Not! Everything that follows is just crap. A new family (Laurie Strode’s and Jamie Lloyd’s relatives) now live in the Myers house (which seemed to have shrunk in size since the last film—oh gheeed!) and the father, a discount John Goodman character, is basically a miserable jerk and is a POS to his family. We knew exactly who we wanted killed off by Michael immediately. The mom was played by the mom in Better Off Dead (“it’s got raisins in it”) and the daughter was played by Maryanne Hagan; probably the most likable character in this film. Rounding out the rest of the cast is the always creepy Paul Rudd; this was his debut film role and his character of Tommy Doyle (yes, the little boy from the original) is highly ridiculous and just as creepy as Rudd in real life—perhaps creepier. We have a grunge loving, flannel wearing college student, a creepy as hell little boy, a cartoonish shock jock and of course, Donald Pleasence, returning for one last hurrah as Dr. Loomis. Pleasence was very ill at the time of filming and this clearly shows throughout the movie. Though, through no fault of his own, his character was greatly diminished in his final film before his death just prior to this film’s release. The deaths are gratuitous, the pacing is awful, the acting is terrible—it’s just all over the place. It’s no shock that the producers of the film series shied away from this particular storyline (starting with part 4) and took it in another direction. I do, however, applaud screenwriter, Daniel Farrands’ efforts in continuing the stupid storyline laid out in Part 5. I mean, how much could be done with that pile of garbage left at your doorstep. Farrands at least tried to bring it back to familiar territory; somewhat, because in the end, the geniuses at Miramax and Dimension demanded more gore, more needless action sequences and apparently the insertion of “And Fools Shine On” by the band Brother Cane. The original cut of this film, known as “The Producers Cut” has been long circulated on bootleg copies for years until recently, when it saw a proper release on DVD in 2014 as it was included in the Halloween: The Complete Collection Box Set. This version is a watchable version of the film and shows the scope of where the screenwriter intended the film to go. Of course, the film that’s released in theaters is the film that counts. If only they went with this version instead. 

7- Halloween H2O (1998)

20 years later, we had the return of Jamie Lee Curtis once again portraying the character of Laurie Strode (although she’s hiding and living under an assumed name) and I will say, although this isn’t one of my favorites, it is a watchable entry in the series. It’s paced well, establishes the plot in short-order and the actor (Chris Durand) who portrays the character of Michael Myers is, in my honest opinion, the best since Nick Castle’s portrayal in the original film. He brings an ominous and menacing tone to Myers that hasn’t been duplicated since. There are some drawbacks, however—the cast for starters. Aside from Curtis’ return, I didn’t appreciate the teen stars dujour being pushed down my throat; Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Michelle Williams, Josh Hartnett—they all may or may not be fine actors today, but at the time of this film, their inclusion was very force-fed and contrived. L.L. Cool J—a fine actor and tremendous musician, seemed like stunt casting to me. Although his character was likeable and had added comic relief, it had become obvious that this sort of casting was to become an annoying trend. Maybe they should have cast Busta Rhymes instead—oh wait, that’s right, they did in the following installment. Even though I felt as though I was watching a bad Dawson’s Creek episode at times—the teens had to work out their rich white people problems—I did enjoy Jamie Lee’s performance and there were some thrilling action scenes at times. At 81 minutes, there is hardly any fat on this film. It moves right along. It was a box office success and it pretty much guaranteed that a sequel would be soon on the way. Sadly, that sequel was Halloween: Ressurection. 

6- Rob Zombie’s Halloween (2007)

If there ever was a film that DID NOT need to be remade, it’s John Carpenter’s Halloween. Unfortunately, the film series had taken far too many turns into back alley’s and another generic sequel was sure to bury this franchise once and for all. With that in mind, it’s understandable why the powers to be decided upon a remake rather than a pointless continuation. I was up in arms when I heard that it was being remade; I was a bit relieved when I learned that musician/filmmaker Rob Zombie would be at the helm. After all, Zombie, while not the best filmmaker (The Devil’s Rejects was great, though), he does possess the elements of everything horror fans love and he has often cited the original Halloween as one of his favorite horror films, so how badly could he botch it up? Well, let’s see. The opening 10 minutes of dialogue (when I say dialogue, I mean screaming) is simply stressful and unnecessary. It’s revealed that young Michael Myers comes from a family comprised of white trash. A stripper mom (of course played by Zombie’s wife, Sherry Moon-Zombie), an out of work father (actually, I think it was just his mom’s boyfriend) and a slutty older sister. The entire set up is just depressing. I didn’t particularly care for Michael Myers origin story—it’s not knowing about the killer that makes it more intense and scary. Regardless, we were given a gratuitously violent backstory tied together with a remake of the original movie, following Laurie Strode and her annoying friends. Malcolm McDowell’s portrayal of Dr. Loomis was well done as was the performance of Laurie Strode (Scout Taylor-Compton) but the stunt casting of Dee Wallace (she’s become the female Tony Todd in my opinion) and Danielle Harris—returning to the series, but now as Laurie’s best friend,  Annie, was particularly hard to swallow. And nothing against Harris, but it was clearly a sympathy casting as a way of repaying Harris for screwing her out of her role in part 6 (actually, I’d say they did her a favor in that regard.) Visually, Zombie nails his films. They look great. The storyline and much of the over acting in this movie was off-putting. I do like this movie, but it’s not something I’d reach for very often. 

5- Rob Zombie’s Halloween 2 (2009)

I know you’re scratching your head asking yourself why I’d place Rob Zombie’s follow-up higher on the list. Well, even though it just squeaks ahead of his first film, there were things I found better about this film than his first film. For starters, I knew going in that Zombie’s portrayal of Haddonfield was that of trashy degenerates. This is confirmed in the opening scene with the ambulance drivers. I was prepared for this. While I could live without the overused ghostly images of a white horse and once again, Sherry Moon-Zombie, I found that the storyline was much improved. Where Zombie was confined to remaking the original the first time around, he had room to stretch his wings a bit more this time and tell more of a standalone story. It might not be the best storyline, but it’s original nonetheless and really takes the series into a more ominous and darker territory. Scout Taylor-Compton’s portrayal of a now crazed and disturbed Laurie Strode was terrific (but she did come off obnoxious at times) and I found Danielle Harris’s performance in this film so much better than the previous. Lots of fans complain about Dr. Loomis being a total jackass in this movie, but I find this to be a highlight. Malcolm McDowell is very entertaining as a formerly compassionate child psychiatrist, now a fame-hungry, book promoting celebrity. We all know this is exactly how it would happen in real life. Oprah Winfrey would give him a daily show of his own for Christ sake. All in all, I do enjoy this film. And although I can’t count films other than the theatrical version, I highly recommend the extended directors cut. It’s so much better and it closes any storyline gaps that the theatrical release left open. 

4- Halloween 2 (1981)

Most fans site this as the next best film in the Halloween film series, usually because it still has John Carpenter and Debra Hill ‘s involvement and because the action picks up immediately after the original film. Those reasons have never really cut it for me. First of all, I hate that Halloween had a sequel featuring Michael Myers at all. I don’t need things explained to me and I don’t possess the need for more, more, more when in-fact, the original film was as satisfying as a horror film could get—even by today’s standards. But—understandable, it’s not up to me; these are just my feelings and I won’t complain—much. I’ll start off with what I disliked about this movie. The continuity errors for one; the first film clearly shows SIX gunshots being fired at Michael Myers at the hand of Dr. Loomis. In the opening flashback scene, he’s now shot SEVEN times, yet, all throught this film, Loomis keeps screaming that he shot him six times and he’s still on the loose. Speaking of Loomis, his dialogue was basically recycled from the last film and his character really offered nothing in the end. He just delivers a series of speeches, including a classroom scene where he continuously mispronounces ‘Samhain.’ It’s pronounced Sowin / SOW-in. And Yay, Jamie Lee Curtis came back to reprise her role as Laurie Strode; unfortunately, she is filmed in a hospital bed nearly the entirety of the film armed with a terrible wig and very little dialogue. The setting is in a nearly empty hospital (where are all the other patients?) and the new cast is, umm, okay. Nothing about them is very memorable but they aren’t bad either; not as bad as future sequels would offer. The kills are much more graphic and some are very unnecessary. It’s overly gratuitous at times. The music has changed, but not for the better. It’s far more gothic sounding than the first film and it lacks the understated elegance that the original offered. The only action worth bragging about is during the final 20 min of the film, where Laurie tries to outrun Myers. 

3- Halloween 4 (1988)

I really enjoyed this entry in the Halloween series. Although it’s not without its flaws, it’s a terrific attempt at capturing the original spirit of the original. Taking the Michael Myers storyline back after the ill-fated attempt to move the series into a string of one-off Halloween themed films on a yearly basis, starting with Halloween 3: The Season of the. Witch (Which I was all for by the way), we find our serial killer lying comatose in a mental institution for the last decade, while Dr. Loomis (who we all assumed was dead after the ending of part 2) is left badly burned and scarred and still rocking his beige trench coat and waving his gun around while trailing Michael back to Haddonfield. While Michael and his mask look rather goofy and un-menacing, the storyline itself was pretty well thought out. Laurie Strode is now dead (at least as far as this film is concerned) and now her daughter Jamie Lloyd (Danielle Harris) is the object of Michaels psychotic affection. Rounded out by a likable and decent cast, including Ellie Cornell, Kathleen Kinmont and Sasha Jenson, this return to the original concept was on the right track—until they poisoned the franchise with part 5 only a year later—undoing everything that was fresh and distinctive about this film. This was the last good film in the series and if you’ve never watched any of the films and are considering giving them a try, watch the first four and stop there. This is a good film to end your run. 

2- Halloween 3 (1982)

I know, I know…it’s not a real “Halloween” movie, it doesn’t have Michael Myers, it’s crap, bla bla bla—I don’t care, it’s a great movie and I’m standing by it as one of my favorites. Let me explain my reasoning; as far as I’m concerned, the original Halloween is a perfect stand-alone horror film—it didn’t need a sequel—the killer was shot, fell off a second story balcony, was believed to be dead, until it was revealed that he got up and walked away. That’s how the movie ended, it was incredible, theater of the mind came into play and we were all left imagining our own version of how the killer lived, where he might have gone, would he kill again—I don’t need continuations or half-assed concocted back stories spelling things out for me that quite frankly, I’m not looking for. As far as I’m concerned, the rest of the films and their attempts at bigger and more shocking story lines, simply don’t exist. So—although part 3 is non-related to the Michael Myers world, I think it’s a very good attempt to make a fresh start in what was to become a batch of one-off Halloween films released every year. That obviously never happened, although imagine if you will; Halloween 4: Prince of Darkness, Halloween 5: They Live, etc.. It might have happened that way if part 3 had made a greater impact at the box office. While I won’t summize the film, what I loved about it was the filming locations—they were simplistic much like the original film and offered up the same type of eerie vibe. It had a likable (sometimes laughable) cast of characters and although the storyline was very simple, it was effectively creepy. Let’s not forget the film’s score; probably some of the best work John Carpenter has ever done. Remove the annoying Halloween Mask jingle, and you have a perfect soundtrack! 

1- Halloween (1978)

Hands down—never mind in the Halloween franchise, but in the rhelm of the horror film world—one of the absolute greatest horror films to ever be made. For a film that was made on practically a whim, with a minuscule budget, with much of an unknown cast, during a time when horror movies were considered passé, by a virtually unknown director, John Carpenter’s Halloween was a happy accident and lives on as one of the most creative, well-directed, memorably acted and perfectly scored horror films ever made. From the pan and glide POV filming techniques, to the this could happen anywhere filming locations, to the well-placed (yet modest) jump-scares, the tension building, the likable characters, the dialog and of course the spine tingling, suspense inducing film score, you simply can’t find a better recipe for a scarier horror film. Many films have tried over the years but have never truly captured the essence and uniqueness  that made the original Halloween great—not even close! 

Thanks for reading. Do you enjoy reading scary stories? My latest book, CHARMS: Four Stories of Female Revenge is available now! 

Nika Cantabile: Hotaru’s Road | Review

Nika Cantabile: Hotaru’s Road

Review by Rob Watts    @RobWattsOnline

Nika Cantabile’s debut album, Hotaru’s Road, is a truly epic fantasy-journey which takes the listener into a world of romance, adventure and fairy-tales. The music—which is the soundtrack to the story “Hotaru’s Road”, is wonderfully produced, beautifully performed and perfectly paired with Cantabile’s illustrated story of elves, villians, romance and mystical landscapes (available as a Deluxe Edition.) Much like Cantabile’s Moonlight Carnival e.p. release a few years ago, Hotaru’s Road possesses the same trance-inducing chords and melodys, however, this time around, her music has matured with a sense of purpose—aligning her compositions to her illustrated passion project, giving each scene a piece of her soul, modulated and brought to life through her encapsulating violin performances. It’s definitely a triumph and well-worth a listen. Your ears will thank you! 

Download Hotaru’s Road on iTunes.  Listen on Spotify

Visit Nika’s Website

Newport Car Museum | Review & Photos

Newport Car Museum | 1847 W. Main Road | Portsmouth, Rhode Island

Review and Photos by Rob Watts   @RobWattsOnline

It was by pure chance and happenstance that I stumbled upon one of the coolest automobile collections on the east coast—needless to say, I’m glad it caught my eye as I was driving to Newport, Rhode Island. I’m even more glad that I decided to pop in to have a look. What I found was a 50,000 square foot institution devoted to the most beautiful cars to ever come off the assembly line. Everything from pristine and/or lovingly restored Lamborghini’s, Plymouth’s, Corvette’s, Ford’s—they all compete for the most attractive car award. Personally, my favorites were the Fin-era models, the split-window Stingray’s and above all, the alluring collection of Ford Shelby’s. It took all I had to pull myself away to move on to the next showroom. There are mini-documentaries playing on a loop in each showroom, comfortable chairs to kick back in along the displays and a simulator room for those who truly feel the need—the need for speed! Price of admission is $18.00, parking is free and plentiful and the hours of operation are from 10am-6pm. Here are a handful of photos I took, but you can find more on my Instagram Page. Enjoy. 

See more car photos here 

Third Eye Blind w/ Silversun Pickups: Summer Gods Tour | Boston

Third Eye Blind w/ Silversun Pickups: Summer Gods Tour | Boston

Photos & Words by Rob Watts.  Follow @RobWattsOnline

Boston celebrated 2017s first day of summer at Blue Hills Bank Pavillion on the Boston waterfront in style—great weather, good vibes and nothing short of stellar music—kindly provided by Silversun Pickups and headliner, Third Eye Blind. During their Boston stop on their Gods of Summer tour, Silversun Pickups played and abbreviated, yet potent set list of their better known material. I’ve seen them five times now and they’ve always been in the headliner position. Although they only performed 2/3 of their usual set, they certainly did not disappoint. Opening with Nightlight from their most recent release, Better Nature, the band kicked it into high gear from the onset. Followed by such crowd pleasers, Well Thought Out Twinkles, Panic Switch, The Pit and Substitution, the band, especially the always energetic and fun to watch Brian Aubert, plowed through one song after another to the delight of their fans. The quartet ended their set with their best-known hit single, Lazy Eye—the one with that amazing extended guitar solo, and left their fans to a satisfied and thunderous applause. 

By the time Third Eye Blind took to the stage, every seat had been filled in the sold out venue. Very eager fans—many who weren’t even five years old when the band’s self-titled debut was released, were on their feet, cheering and jumping up and down in anticipation of their opening song. There was an energy flowing through the area that I don’t see very much at concerts these days—at least not from Millennials cheering on a band from the mid-nineties with a fifty-two year old lead singer. As the band took the stage, Lead singer and rhythm guitarist, Stephan Jenkins—wearing an illuminated sport coat, eased into the evening with Weightless, followed by Company of Strangers, Horror Show, Wounded, Queen of Daydreams, Something in You and Shipboard Cook. After some light banter regarding the fact that their debut album reached number one twenty years ago on that day, the band left the stage for no more than 5 minutes. Upon their return, the stage set changed, the lights got brighter and more colorful, and the band ripped into their self-titled debut album, performing the album live in its entirety. Ripping into Losing a Whole Year, the crowd went into a frenzy, singing along to every lyric, to every song, which included Semi-Charmed Life, Graduate, How’s it Going to Be and Jumper. God of Wine was omitted from the sequence and saved as the final song of the evening, following Alright Caroline and Never Let You Go. The Summer Gods surely conquered. 


Visit my site at

Rachel Kadish: The Weight of Ink | Book Release Party

Rachel Kadish: The Weight of Ink | Book Release Party | Newtonville Books

Story & Photos by Rob Watts   Follow @RobWattsOnline

It was a packed house last night at Newtonville Books in Newton Center, just outside of Boston. You couldn’t fit another body in the bookstore with a shoehorn as there was an abundance of excitement and anticipation for author Rachel Kadish to debut her latest novel, The Weight of Ink published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Rachel took to the podium shortly after 7PM, allowing store employees to set up extra chairs for the continual flow of fans. She read from chapter one—the first time she’d read from her book publicly, and delivered a wonderful reading which was sure to entice spectators into diving into their own copies as soon as possible. I know that I will be. During her Q and A, Kadish responded to questions in an engaging and informative fashion. She spoke to everything from the writing process of “Weight,” the historical research involved, her detail to accuracy and her refusal to outline her writing projects ahead of time. After which she signed copies of her novel to a lengthy line of fans. Thank you, Newtonville Books, for hosting yet another terrific event. 


Maximum Harm by Michele McPhee: Book Review


Maximum Harm: The Tsarnaev Brothers, The FBI, and the Road to the Marathon Bombing by
Michele R. McPhee

Review by Rob Watts   Follow @RobWattsOnline

Let me start off by saying that true-crime author and investigative reporter, Michele McPhee, deserves a great deal of credit for the tremendous amount of work put into writing the book, Maximum Harm. The exhaustive research along with the tedious process of fact-checking, conducting interviews, tracking down evidence reports, victim’s testimonies, medical reports, arrest records, so-on-and-so-forth—the leg work that she’s put into this book project is immeasurable and should not be overlooked. Why do I give praise to this fact so early on in my review? Frankly, as a life-long resident of Boston, I’m angered to this day over what had happened during Marathon Monday on April 15th, 2013. And like many, many residents who live in the Boston area (many whom’ve been directly affected by the bombing attacks), we’ve always been left with more questions than answers. Sure, the media reported the basics—they’d deliver information in dribs and drabs, but ultimately the deeper and darker story behind the story was somehow always shrouded in mystery. Maximum Harm finally delivers the facts in a very informative and eye-opening manner.

Upon reading the opening chapters, we are given a harsh and descriptive look at the mayhem that ensued during the critical moments following the two blasts. The grim details (and they are in-fact grim) of the victims who’d lost limbs, spectators who had gotten separated from their families and loved ones, the E.M.T.s who rushed in to tend to the countless victims within minutes amid the chaos, the efforts of local law enforcement, the Boston Fire Department, random civilians who had rushed to help the bloodied victims; knowing full-well that more explosions could in-fact detonate in their vicinity, the marathon volunteers—this in-depth vantage point is all laid out for the reader to get a sense of just how dire and uninviting this tragedy was and how the timeline unfolded from that point forward. 

As I had mentioned, there have been so many unanswered and poorly explained answers up until now and thankfully, McPhee does a remarkable and impressive job at piecing the puzzle together. So what prompted the foreign-born brothers, Tamerlan, (born in Siberia in 1986) and Dzhokhar (born in Kyrgyzstan in 1993) to attack their country—who’d seemingly rolled out the red carpet for them and their family members, in such a horrific and monstrous manner? You would need to trace their family beginnings back to their war-torn homeland of Chechnya, their fleeing from Russia to finally settle into Cambridge, Massachusetts (upon which they received free housing and a bevy of government handouts and benefits), enrolling the Tsarnaev brothers in Cambridge Rindge and Latin, one the the finest public schools in America, and ultimately enrolling younger brother Dzhokhar into UMass Dartmouth. If you’re saying to yourself, Gee, this doesn’t sound like a recipe for disaster, then you’d normally be correct. Many factors along the way played into what would become Boston’s darkest days. A handful of those factors were: 

  • The Tsarnaev family had been granted political asylum. Younger brother, Dzhokhar had become an American citizen; this was something elder brother Tamerlan wanted so desperately, yet he was denied.
  • The denial of U.S. citizenship resulted in Tamerlan being denied a place on the United States Olympic Team as a boxer, a sport in which he was passionate about and had trained incessantly over. 
  • The FBI, who had employed Tamerlan as an informant, apparently broke their promise to grant him citizenship if he cooperated with them. 
  • Tamerlan’s eventual radicalization and the influence he had on younger brother, Dzhokhar. 

McPhee also sheds light on a number of questions, such as

  • Without a valid passport and while being on TWO terror watch lists, how was Tamerlan free to travel to and from Russia and The United States without any red flags? 
  • Why did the FBI and CIA ignore repeated warnings about Tamerlan from the Russian Federal Security Service? 
  • Were Tamerlan and Dzhokhar directly involved in the triple homicide of Erik Weissman, Raphael Teken, and Brendan Mess on Sept 11th, 2011? 
  • How was it that Tamerlan could afford to drive a lavish vehicle and own expensive clothing without ever having worked a job? 
  • What is Tamerlan’s uncle, Ruslan Tsarni’s connection to the CIA? 
  • Did the FBI know who the suspects were prior to their acknowledgment, and if so, would MIT Officer Sean Collier still be alive today? 
  • If the Feds hadn’t ignored these repeated red flags and warnings, might Krystie Campbell (aged 29), Lü Lingzi (aged 23) and Martin Richard (aged 8) still be alive today? 

There is a lot of information to absorb from this book, but it flows at a consistent and rapid pace. Although this book may have more regional appeal to those living in and around the Massachusetts area, I would urge everyone to pick this up and give it a read. It’s important to know what’s going on behind the scenes of law enforcement—be it shady dealings or beneficial practices, and it’s vital to ask questions (at least to yourself) about how these dubious affairs affect our daily lives and jeopardize our safety. 

Pick up a copy of Maximum Harm available at