2020年7月13日 星期一

Some Other Movies From 1985 (2)


For further background on the year in film, please refer to the Some Other Movies From 1985 entry.

The following things happened in 1985:
  • "We Are the World" was recorded and played endlessly on MTV.
  • Tears for Fears released Songs from the Big Chair.
  • Mikhail Gorbachev became General Secretary of the Soviet Communist Party.
  • Amadeus won the Oscar for Best Picture, and no, it had nothing to do with the Falco song.
  • The Soviet-Afghan War began, famously portrayed in both Rambo III and Bond film The Living Daylights.
  • The FBI brought charges against the heads of the five Mafia families in that area.  This event has figured into several gangster movies.
  • Scientists in Antarctica discovered a hole in the ozone layer.
  • Back to the Future opened in theaters.
  • The Iran-Contra Affair took place.
  • The Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) was released.
  • Steve Jobs resigned from Apple Computer.
  • An earthquake in Mexico City killed thousands.
  • Microsoft Corporation released Windows 1.0.
  • DNA was used in a criminal case for the first time.
Linked entries can be viewed in their entirety on YouTube.


Excellent

1. Pee-wee's Big Adventure

People are probably going to think I'm crazy for putting this movie in the "Excellent" category, but really, it's aged extremely well.  And who better than Tim Burton to have directed this movie?  I showed it to my kids, they thought it was hilarious, and I can't think of a single bad thing to say about it.

2. Desperately Seeking Susan

A case of stalking compounded by a case of amnesia and a case of mistaken identity.  1985 was a good year for Rosanna Arquette.  She starred in this movie, and also had sizable parts in both After Hours and Silverado.  Madonna strolls in and out of the film.  It's very understated and hums along nicely.

Fun Fact: The Toto song "Rosanna" is at least partly about Rosanna Arquette.  She was dating the keyboard player at the time.  She later dated Peter Gabriel, and his song "In Your Eyes" is supposedly about her as well.


Some Good Ones

1. The Last Dragon

Vanity or Apollonia?  I'd have to go with Vanity.  Apollonia was a better actress, but Vanity just does it for me.

And while we're on the subject, how does one pronounce "Taimak" anyway?  "Tai" like "Taiwan?"  Or "tay" like in "Taylor?"

The Last Dragon is one of the most 80s movies ever.  There's kung-fu, and breakdancing, and DeBarge, and wannabe Cyndi Laupers.  There's evil arcade owners and parachute pants-wearing shoguns.  It's got it all, it's corny as fuck, and it's still unexplainably great.

2. Tuntematon Sotilas (a.k.a. The Unknown Soldier)

Finnish movie following members of the Finnish army as they invade Soviet Russia.  I'm not up on my Finnish history, so I'm guessing it takes place in the 1940s.  It reminded me a lot of the Russian film Come and See, though it's not nearly as horrific.  I liked it, but I suggest breaking it into two sittings.

3. After Hours

One of Scorsese's less-remembered movies.  Griffin Dunne stars as a man having the worst night of his life.  It gets delightfully weird toward the end, but I can't say I loved it as much as I thought I would.  It's good, but it wasn't as good as reviews led me to believe.

Fun Fact: Scorsese directed this film while he was trying to get The Last Temptation of Christ off the ground.  Not sure how this film relates to The Color of Money, which hit theaters a year later.

4. Return of the Living Dead

"Do you wanna party / It's party time!"

Romero's Law: Anything that can go wrong with zombies will go wrong with zombies.

The zombies in this movie are a little different from Romero's zombies though.  They can talk, and they're a lot more aware of what's going on around them.  This difference makes for some effective scenes, but it doesn't always work within the plot.  Overall, however, I'd have to say this movie is still good.  It doesn't take itself too seriously, and the special effects were well done.

Fun Fact: Linnea Quigley was fitted with a "cuplike vaginal prosthesis" for this film.  In those nude scenes she's never entirely nude.

5. Fletch

Hell yes Fletch.  Chevy Chase stars as Irwin Fletcher, investigative reporter.  It was a departure from what Chase had done up until that point, but it offers a good mix of comedy and action.

Fun Fact: The actress that plays Chase's love interest in this movie is the granddaughter of the guy who founded DC Comics.

6. Sans Toit Ni Loi (a.k.a. The Vagabond)

A young female drifter crosses paths with several people from various walks of life.  I recognized actress Sandrine Bonnaire from A Nos Amours.  I liked this movie much more than that one.


A year after child actor Barret Oliver appeared in The NeverEnding Story, he starred in this movie about an escaped synthetic lifeform.  It's thoroughly entertaining, even if I'm not buying the scientist's change of heart in the second half.

Fun Fact: Spinal Tap's Michael McKean is in this.  This was his first film after that one.


What a Weird Little Movie

1. Cat's Eye

It took me a while to realize this was an anthology.  James Woods tries to quit smoking via mob intimidation, a man runs afoul of a mobster and... Drew "Firestarter" Barrymore learns the value of the family housecat.  Don't ask me how the three parts fit together.  There are a lot of references to other Stephen King adaptations early on in the movie - Cujo, The Dead Zone, Christine, and on the whole it's a fun, if forgettable exercise in 80s horror.


Good?  Bad?  Undecided.


BEFORE Chuck Norris was called back into service, BEFORE he visited scenic Thailand, and BEFORE he went back into 'Nam and kicked serious ass, this movie happened.  Where the first Missing in Action was straight 80s-style cheesiness, this movie is a more dramatic affair.  Sure, for a WAY better take on similar material you'd want to see either Werner Herzog's Rescue Dawn or Little Dieter Learns to Fly - and even during the same decade you had movies like Platoon, Hamburger Hill or Full Metal Jacket - but this movie is... surprisingly not bad.  No, it's not as gloriously excessive as Rambo: First Blood Part II, but it does feature a solid screenplay and a shockingly cohesive story.  I'd recommend it.

Fun Fact 1: This movie was filmed at the same time as the first Missing in Action, and was originally intended as the first movie in the series.

Fun Fact 2: Professor Toru Tanaka, who plays one of the baddies in this film, appeared in Pee-Wee's Big Adventure the same year.  He also played Subzero in The Running Man.  He led quite a life.


Some Bad Ones

1. St. Elmo's Fire

I'd like to take every character in this movie, place them together on a bus, weld the doors of the bus shut, and then slowly cook the contents of the bus with horrifying levels of microwave radiation.  OR I'd like to buy them all a nice dinner, and then, just after the meal, announce that I'd laced the food with a lethal neurotoxin.  OR I'd like to transport them to the graveyard in Return of the Living Dead, and watch from a nearby tree as they're consumed by a horde of zombies.

I hated this movie.  It's full of the most contrived conversations.  It's full of the most contrived situations.  It reminded me a little of The Hotel New Hampshire - another movie featuring Rob Lowe - and also another movie I hated.  What infuriated me about this movie is that none of the "moments" in it are earned.  The plot just skips along, heedless of chronology or explanation, and by the end you feel like you both watched a movie and didn't watch a movie at the same time.  There was one movie - the one you just watched (and hated), and there was another movie, composed of all the scenes they left out of the movie you just watched.

2. Silverado

The characters in this Western aren't interesting.  There's Kevin Kline, who's some kind of "man with a past," there's Scott Glenn and Kevin Costner, who play a pair of brothers headed to California, and last of all there's Danny Glover, playing a rancher fighting against the attitudes of the day.  It doesn't help matters that most of their backstories are introduced halfway through the movie, and that you can see the real villain foreshadowed from a mile away.


A high school student discovers a piece of alien technology that warps space and time.  It's remarkable how unscientific this movie is, and the hero's sidekick offers up some of the weirdest quips in the history of movies.

Fun Fact 1: Dennis Hopper is in this.  After emerging from the vortex near the end of the film he's wearing his Easy Rider outfit.

Fun Fact 2: In Sweden this movie was marketed as TimeBusters.  It resembles Ghostbusters in parts.


Animated Star Wars ripoff with a splash of cgi.  It's uh... not awesome.

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2020年7月10日 星期五

Movies of the late 1970s, Ranked in the Order I Enjoyed Them


I looked at the "Some Other Movie" entries from 1975-1979 again.  Of course lists like this tend to leave a lot out, but I'd rank the movies in those entries thusly:

Sorcerer (77)
The Fury (78)
Deep Red (75)
Buck Rogers in the 25th Century (79)
Grey Gardens (75)
Blue Collar (78)
3 Women (77)
Night Moves (75)
God Told Me To (76)
Starcrash (78)
The Hobbit (77)
The Man Who Loved Women (77)
The Tenant (76)
Picnic at Hanging Rock (75)
The China Syndrome (79)
Straight Time (78)
The 36th Chamber of Shaolin (78)
Anyplace but Here (77)
The Making of Star Wars (77)
Salo, or the 120 Days of Sodom (75)
Gator (76)
The Passenger (75)
Hooper (78)
Semi-Tough (77)
The Shaolin Invincibles (77)
Message from Space (78)
Zombi (79)
Coma (78)
Joseph Andrews (77)
Cross of Iron (77)
Switchblade Sisters (75)
Obsession (76)
The Driver (78)
Stay Hungry (76)
Demon Seed (77)
House (Hausu) (77)
Watership Down (78)
Psychic Killer (75)
The Car (77)
The Man With No Name (77)
Doctrine That Divides (76)
F.I.S.T. (78)
Black Emmanuelle (75)
The Amazing Spider-Man (77)
Capricorn One (78)
Slap Shot (77)
Killer Fish (79)
Cuba (79)
The Boys in Company C (78)
China Girl (75)
Futureworld (76)
Remember My Name (78)
The Black Stallion (79)
Scum (79)
The Boys From Brazil (78)
Silent Action (75)
Sholay (75)
Yeong-ja's Heydays (76)
The Ultimate Warrior (76)
Rollerball (76)
The Gauntlet (77)
Caligula (79)
The Medusa Touch (78)
Salem's Lot (79)
The Initiation of Sarah (78)
The Killer Elite (75)
Devil Dog: The Hound of Hell (78)
Escape to Athena (79)
Jaws 2 (78)
Meteor (79)
...And Justice for All (79)
Black Sunday (77)
The Giant Spider Invasion (75)
The Story of O (75)
The Image (75)
Mother, Juggs and Speed (76)
Mahogany (75)
Car Wash (76)
The Food of the Gods (76)
The Warriors (79)
Spider-Man: The Dragon's Challenge (79)
In the Realm of the Senses (76)
That Obscure Object of Desire (77)
Escape from Alcatraz (79)
Spider-Man Strikes Back (78)
The Electric Horseman (79)
The Amazing Howard Hughes (77)
Hera Pheri (76)
An Unmarried Woman (78)
Death on the Nile (78)
The Ascent (77)
God's Gun (76)
Voyage of the Damned (76)
The Rose That Swallowed a Thorn (79)
Friday Foster (75)
The Shootist (76)
Murder on Flight 502 (75)
Carry On Behimd (75)
The Other Side of the Mountain (75)
Trilogy of Terror (75)
Mad Max (79)
The Legacy (78)
Wizards (77)
(Battle of) Midway (76)
Man Friday (75)
Once is Not Enough (75)
Let's Do It Again (75)
The Eiger Sanction (75)
The Cassandra Crossing (76)
Herbie Goes to Monte Carlo (77)
Cannonball! (76)
Bobbie Jo and the Outlaw (76)
Hustle (75)
Lipstick (76)
Beyond the Poseidon Adventure (79)
Prophecy
Alien Prey (77)
Dogs (76)
Goodbye Emmanuelle (77)
Tourist Trap (79)
Convoy (78)
Hot Stuff (79)
Ashanti (79)
Night Journey (77)
Vigilante Force (76)
The Champ (79)
Shout at the Devil (76)
The Town That Dreaded Sundown (76)
The Ritz (76)
The Apple Dumpling Gang (75)
Silver Streak (76)
The American Friend (77)
Equus (77)
The First Great Train Robbery (78)
FM (78)
Rock n' Roll High School (79)
The Greek Tycoon (78)
Plague (79)
Breakthrough (79)
Jubilee (78)
California Suite (78)
Quintet (79)
The Last Waltz (78)
Kid with the Golden Arm (79)
Quadrophenia (79)
Gulliver's Travels (77)
A Small Town in Texas (76)
Mr. Sycamore (75)
Night of the Ghoul (75)
More American Graffiti (79)
Eraserhead (77)
The Turning Point (77)
I Wanna Hold Your Hand (78)
The Muppet Movie (79)
Bugsy Malone (76)
Murder by Death (76)
Pretty Baby (78)
Faces of Death (78)

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2020年7月1日 星期三

Some Other Movies From 1984 (2)

For further background on the year in film, please refer to the Some Other Movies From 1984 entry.  

It probably goes without saying, but by 1984 a lot of the trends seen in earlier years coalesced into what most people now think of as "the 80s."  This development can be seen in the movies of that year.

Some things that happened in 1984:
  • Brunei became an independent nation.
  • Astronauts made the first untethered space walk.
  • The Winter Olympics were held in Sarajevo, Yugoslavia.
  • The U.S. Marines were pulled out of Lebanon.
  • Teachers at a preschool in California were charged with Satanic ritual abuse.  These charges were later dismissed as completely unfounded.
  • Ronald Reagan called for a ban on chemical weapons.
  • Terms of Endearment won the Oscar for Best Picture.
  • The AIDS virus was discovered.
  • The Soviet Union boycotted the Summer Olympics in Los Angeles.
  • Bruce Springsteen released Born in the U.S.A., featuring the most misunderstood title track of all time.
  • Tetris was released in the Soviet Union.
  • Ghostbusters and Gremlins were killing it at the box office.
  • Metallica released Ride the Lightning.  (Oh yeah.)
  • People in the Philippines demonstrated against Ferdinand Marcos.
  • Jeopardy and the animated Transformers aired on TV.
  • The UK and the PRC agreed to a handover in 1997.
  • The IRA tried to kill Margaret Thatcher.
  • The Vatican officially forgave Galileo for that whole "Earth orbiting around the sun" thing.
  • Reagan won a second term over Walter Mondale.
  • A famine raged across Ethiopia, triggering later aid efforts from Western pop stars.
  • Crack cocaine appeared in Los Angeles.
Linked entries can be viewed in their entirety on YouTube.
Excellent

1. The Natural

Robert Redford stars as an over-the-hill baseball player given one last shot at glory.  But what makes this movie great is that it's about a lot more than baseball.  It's also about the value of integrity in the presence of the corrupt.  This was director Barry Levinson's second film, following Diner by two years.  I applaud its idealism.
Some Good Ones

1. Threads

The Day After, Barefoot Gen and this movie.  In the mid 1980s the threat of nuclear war had an immediacy it just doesn't have now.  If you don't believe me, just look at the metal albums of the time.  That theme presents itself over and over again.  Yet of such books, movies and songs Threads has to be the most relentlessly depressing.  I got about 3/4 of the way through and had to skip through the rest.  It was just too depressing to watch straight through.

If you were looking to make a big movie on a small budget, however, Threads is worth seeking out.  What they achieved with minuscule resources is indeed something to behold.  The only films which approach it in that respect are some of the Russian war movies like Come and See, which were also made in the absence of appreciable funding.

2. The NeverEnding Story

Probably the best movie you could see after watching Threads above.  Where that movie's all dark and depressing this one's very upbeat - at least toward the end.

I was nine when this appeared in theaters, so of course I saw it in the theater.  Watching it in 2020, I remembered the flying dog thing and the theme song, but aside from that my memory of this movie was very hazy.

The plot?  Uh... something Fantasia something princess something The Nothing something.  The story ranks a distant second behind the visuals, though it's still an entertaining film.  Weirdly enough, director Wolfgang Peterson did this between Das Boot (!) and Enemy Mine.  It marks his transition into Hollywood movies.

Fun Fact: This movie was adapted from a German children's book.  The NeverEnding Story covers the first half of this book, while The NeverEnding Story II covers the second half.

3. Stop Making Sense

Today I learned that P-Funk alumnus Bernie Worrell was also a member of Talking Heads.  This fact makes more sense (ha ha) after watching this movie.  You could regard Talking Heads as an offshoot of the whole P-Funk thing.  As with all such concert movies, I'm not sure where director Jonathan Demme is to be found in this film, but it's still very good.

4. Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind

Anime by Topcraft, the studio that would later morph into Studio Ghibli.  It's set in a future where radioactive insects dominate the Earth, and wherein a young princess tries to teach her people how to live in harmony with nature.  Director Hayao Miyazaki would go on to direct several celebrated films, the best known being Spirited Away.  I watched the restored version, released long after the anime appeared in Japan, and while it's on the slow side it's definitely worth watching.

5. The Last Starfighter

Must have watched this dozens of time when I was a kid.  Arcade game + Star Wars = The Last Starfighter.  The early-stage CGI is memorable - and was cutting edge at the time - even if the plot is an afterthought.  Still an entertaining movie, though they probably could have spent more money on the sets.

Fun Fact 1: Lance Guest, who stars in this movie, was 24 at the time of filming.  WAY too old for high school.

Fun Fact 2: The director of this movie played Michael Myers in John Carpenter's Halloween.  He also co-wrote Escape from New York.

Fun Fact 3: Actor Robert Preston, who carries most of this movie, frequently collaborated with director Blake Edwards.

Fun Fact 3: Dan O'Herlihy, who plays the Alex's co-pilot, was an Irish actor who also played the villain in Halloween III: Season in the Witch and the chief executive in RoboCop.

Fun Fact 4: Atari planned to release an arcade version of this movie, but decided against it after seeing an early cut of the film. 

6. The Philadelphia Experiment

Michael Pare stars as a man accidentally sent into the future.  It's similar in many ways to John Carpenter's far superior Starman, which came out the same year.  Carpenter was also one of the producers of this movie.

7. Purple Rain

Poor Prince.  He just wants to play his music and sexually dominate Apollonia, but his father is abusive, and Morris Day is trying to steal his spotlight.  I remember seeing parts of this movie as a kid, and I was happy to learn that it still holds up.  Especially the sex scenes with Apollonia.  That woman could've given a dead man a hard-on.

And as much as I hate to say it - Bolan being my favorite of the two - I think Prince had the kind of rock/pop stardom Marc Bolan was always striving for.  Bolan of course enjoyed tremendous success in the U.K., but his fame (and talent) never approached what Prince enjoyed in the mid-80s.

Fun Fact 1: The director of this movie went on to direct Tango & Cash.

Fun Fact 2: Morris Day and Prince went to the same high school in Minneapolis, and were frequent musical collaborators.  The Time, Day's backup band in the film, started as one of Prince's side projects.

8. The Element of Crime

Lars von Trier's first movie, and also the first movie in his Europa Trilogy.  It's early Trier, so expect a lot of people saying cryptic things against multiple screens - shots within shots within shots.  It requires a certain kind of patience, but I liked it a lot more than the later Europa.  The murder mystery plot makes it more accessible.

9. The Whale Hunter (a.k.a. Whale Hunting)

South Korean men rescuing women from lives of prostitution.  This seems to be a popular theme in older South Korean movies.  The Whale Hunter explores this theme a bit less seriously, with touches of Hong Kong-style slapstick throughout.
Well That Escalated Quickly.


A high school band teacher tries to reach a group of psychopathic young learners.  The teacher goes from reasonable to unreasonable in a surprisingly short amount of time, but this movie is nothing if not entertaining.  Michael J. Fox appeared in this before Family Ties aired, and it's a lot of fun to see an earlier version of him, long before he was a household name.

I'm not sure how this film compares to later genre offerings like 187 or The Substitute - it's been a while since I've seen those two - but I'm sure Class of 1984 has a special place in many people's hearts.
Some Bad Ones

1. Stranger Than Paradise

Jim Jarmusch is 50/50 for me.  On the one hand I loved Ghost Dog, on the other hand some of his movies have bored me to tears.  Stranger Than Paradise falls into the latter category.  It's slow, nothing ever happens, and the "surprise" ending isn't really a surprise.  Critics loved it, and it won a lot of awards, but its appeal was lost on me.

2. Firestarter

To be fair, only Drew Barrymore could have carried this movie, but the director and the script weren't doing her any favors.  It's something of a spiritual successor to 1978's The Fury, though it's not nearly as good as Brian De Palma's film.  Everyone involved does their best John Carpenter impersonation, but this movie lacks the dramatic insight of Carpenter at his best.  The biggest problem is "The Shop" organization, which doesn't seem to operate in the most practical manner.

Fun Fact 1: Director Mark L. Lester would go on to do Schwarzenegger's Commando the following year.

Fun Fact 2: John Carpenter almost directed this movie.  He was involved in its early development, but the studio replaced him with Lester after The Thing proved to be a financial disappointment.

Fun Fact 3: Blumhouse has plans to remake this movie.  I'm not optimistic about these plans.


Like Firestarter, another Stephen King adaptation.  This one is the worst of the two.  It has three major flaws, which are, in descending order: 1) It starts off from the children's point of view.  This destroys a lot of the mystery which should surround them.  2) Peter Horton's character is a thundering dumbass.  3) The "corn demon" at the end should have been hinted at in the beginning.  As it is it just seems to appear out of nowhere, and its presence isn't that necessary to the overall plot.

Fun Fact: Linda Hamilton is in this.


Oooh... "exotic Mezcal."  These days you can buy that in most Walmarts.

Judge Reinhold and Willem Dafoe star in this lifeless attempt to resurrect American Graffiti-style nostalgia.  At no point is it interesting, and this movie has some serious continuity issues.


Paul McCartney and co. lipsync their way through a plot that's just barely there.  It's self-indulgent in the way all of the Beatles' movies were self-indulgent, and this kind of self-indulgence is only more annoying two decades after the British Invasion.  Just compare this to Stop Making Sense and Purple Rain above.  It's obvious which two of the three movies are better.

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2020年6月25日 星期四

"Dust" by Hugh Howey (2013)


"Juliette stepped back to study her father.  Peter excused himself.  The noise from outside wasn't as loud this time when the door cracked, and Juliette realised Judge Picken had allowed her father passage, was out there calming the crowd.  Her dad had seen those people react to her, had heard what people had said.  She fought back a sudden welling of tears."

Dust is the third and final book in Hugh Howey's Silo series.  For a review of Wool, the first book in the series, click here.  For a review of Shift, the second book in the series, click here.  Below are the "Reading Group Questions" found at the back of the book:

Q: "Lukas and Juliette don't always see eye to eye when it comes to her plans for the future.  Were you backing Juliette all the way in her decisions?  Or did you disagree with anything she did?"

A: Lukas isn't any better developed in Dust than he was in Shift.  I'm hazy as to what his plans for Juliette's future were.  Points of view opposed to Juliette's aren't presented in any kind of detail, and this one-sidedness makes it hard to disagree with anything she does.

Q: "Donald soon discovers that Anna was working against her father, in order to help the people of silo forty.  Have your feelings changed toward Anna since Shift?  Do you think she could have helped Donald in Dust?  How"

A: Does he he make this kind of discovery though?  He has a feeling she was working against her father, but this feeling is never confirmed by subsequent events.  Anna, like Lukas, isn't a well developed character, so I never had any feelings about her one way or the other.  Could she have helped Donald in Dust?  Well, we know that she was proficient in programming (and things of that sort) while Donald isn't, so yes, she could have helped him if she'd been inclined to do so.

Q: "In an exchange with Nelson, Juliette considers how someone 'just doing their job' can lead them to doing some very nasty things.  Other than Nelson, are there any other characters in the trilogy that you can relate this to?  Would you consider Thurman to be one of these people?"

A: This question reminds me of high school English.  It's the kind of question the teacher would ask while you were reading The Diary of Anne Frank or something like that.  Blind obedience bad!  Questioning authority good!  Unless of course political correctness is at issue.

With characters who are little more that ciphers (or placeholders) it's hard to gauge how closely they're fulfilling (or not fulfilling) the responsibilities of their jobs.  Add to this the fact that the author never really describes what anyone's job really is.I am, in other words, unable to answer the question.

Q: "Solo places a lot of trust in Jules [Juliette] - not only that she will come back for him, but that she will give him a better life than the one he currently has.  Why does he trust her so completely?  Should he have trusted her?"

A: Because he doesn't have a choice?

Q: "Juliette's decisions lead her to the truth, but they also result in numerous deaths.  Would silo eighteen have been a better place if Juliette had never returned?"

A: A better place in the short term?  Probably.  In the long term?  The powers that be would have buried them under tons of concrete.  That was the overall plan, wasn't it?

And "the truth?"  What was the truth exactly?  That there was a magic dome of nanotechnology suspended over their silos?  A dome that's beyond the technological capabilities of the time that produced it?  A dome that's never explained?  This "twist" (if you can call it that) has to be the most irritating part of the book.  Not only does the author spend way too much time foreshadowing it, but when you finally get there it's like "What?  That's it?  And now they're all free, without any lasting psychological effects?"

Q: "Shirly seals the entrance to silo seventeen, ensuring her death in the poisoned silo.  Did she really not know what she was doing?  Or did she want to end life without her husband?  Was this her way of choosing her own fate?"

A: I'm pretty sure she knew what she was doing.  Did the person writing these questions not read the book?  Her character is just barely introduced at the end of Wool, so again it's hard to gauge her motivations.

Q: "Through Elise's eyes, we see how people turn to religion in times of fear and the unknown.  What does this say about the power of religion?  Can you relate this to our society's relationship with religion?"

A: Sorry but there's just not enough about religion in the book for me to make that kind of assessment.  A few crazies pop up near the end, and the author engages in a half-hearted discussion of the role of religion plays in people's lives, but the religion under discussion is never described.  It seems to be an offshoot of Christianity, but I'm not even sure about that.

Q: "Darcy gives Charlotte the benefit of the doubt, and risks his life on what she tells him.  Would Charlotte and Donald have succeeded without him?  Why do you think he believes her so quickly?  Would you have believed her?"

A: It's obvious they wouldn't have succeeded without him, though it's never evident that Darcy believes them entirely.  This is another question that points to the book's real weakness: the psychology of several characters never makes sense.

For example I take you and several other people, and bury you all in a big hole for several hundred years.  Some of you I put in suspended animation, and wake up periodically so you can fulfill certain functions.  Others I allow (or force) to live normal lifespans, to the point where your children and your children's children can't remember what the world outside the big hole is/was like.  Are you or anyone else I've put into the hole going to think like present-day people?  Are we going to have the same values?  Are we going to define ourselves in the same way?

Would I have believed Charlotte?  I don't know, I haven't been told why Darcy was put into the hole, or his personal reasons for being there.  We know he's just stopped taking the medication, but we know nothing about his worldview or what keeps him going.

Q: "Juliette has had quite a difficult relationship with her father throughout the trilogy.  Once they reach the outside, he wants to be the first to take his helmet off and Juliette agrees.  How do you feel their relationship has changed from Wool to this point?  Why?"

A: They've spent time together, they've overcome some of their differences.  That's it.

Q: "Ultimately, Donald is the one who causes the fall of silo one, and destroys what he first created.  Is this him killing himself before Thurman can kill him?  Or is this his way of atoning for his sins?"

A: But he didn't create silo one.  He only designed a small part of it.  He was going to die either way after his exposure to the nanomachines, so I'm not sure what atonement has to do with anything.

Q: "Juliette realises at the end that in asking people to believe in what she had seen, she wasn't being fair - knowing that if the roles were reversed, she would not believe it herself.  How would you feel if you were in her position?  What about if you were a member of silo eighteen?  Would you believe her?"

A: Well everyone saw her walk over the hill, and they later saw her come back, so obviously something happened.  Various other characters have also communicated with other silos, so there has to be some kind of explanation.

Q:"Throughout the trilogy, a number of the characters stand up for what they believe is right, even if it means going against the rules, from Juliette and Lukas, to Donald and Charlotte - and even Shaw in his own way.  Who do you believe is the true hero of the trilogy?  Why?"

A: I think the true hero of the trilogy is me, the guy that waded through three books in which most of the characters were never properly developed, and which are capped by one of the most infuriating endings ever.  As an example of world-building this story has a lot of holes, and not just the holes various groups are living in.  The author of this book had one job - ONE job - and that was to explain how these people had been detained in an interesting way - and he fails to do that.  I get mad again just thinking about it.

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2020年6月15日 星期一

Some Other Movies From 1983 (2)

For further background on the year in film, please refer to the Some Other Movies From 1983 entry.

Some things that happened in 1983:
  • The internet MIGHT have come into existence.  People argue about when this actually happened.
  • Jim Henson's Fraggle Rock appeared on TV.
  • The Miami Dolphins made it all the way to the Superbowl and lost.  In case you don't watch (American) football, the Dolphins are terrible now.
  • The last episode of M*A*S*H aired.
  • The first Swatch watches came out.
  • Ronald Reagan introduced his "Star Wars" defense initiative.
  • Return of the Jedi opened in theaters.
  • A massive drought ravaged the American Midwest.
  • Dragon's Lair, quite possibly the most frustrating arcade game ever, was appeared in arcades nationwide.
  • Nintendo's Famicom, the Japanese version of the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) was released in Japan.
  • The Soviets accidentally shot down a Korean airliner with a U.S. Congressman aboard.  It amazes me that this didn't trigger WWIII.
  • Huey Lewis and the News released Sports.
  • Jesse Jackson announced he'd be running for President of the United States.
Excellent

1. Sans Soleil (Sunless)

Documentary (?) comparing everyday life in Japan and Africa.  At least that's what I THINK it's about.  There's a lot going on in this movie - and it doubles back on itself more than once - but I found the experience very edifying.  I was slightly drunk while viewing it, and that might have helped.  I'm sure it's great whether your'e drunk or not, but I do think that alcohol might diminish the "noise" in this movie to some extent.

Fun Fact(s): Junji Ito must have seen this.  Some of his manga Uzumaki (Spirals) borrows the spiral (Vertigo) theme from this film.  In it you can also see images from the movie House (Hausu) in the bit where people are "collectively dreaming" on the train.

2. L'Argent

Robert Bresson directed this adaptation of a Tolstoy story.  I'm not exactly sure what the central thesis is - money is the root of all evil?  An unmerciful society creates unmerciful individuals?  But whatever it is, this ambiguity only adds to the movie.  I especially liked the way the camera turns away from certain people at critical moments in the film, almost as if it was ashamed to look directly at them.

3. Danton

Yes, another French movie.  But this one is a French-Polish-West German production, so maybe that makes it different.  Gerard Depardieu stars as Danton, hero of the French Revolution, reduced to a suspected figure at the end of The Terror.  The production values are high, and its themes are still very relevant.  Many of the discussions of Robespierre's secret police and the role of a free press suggest more recent events.

Two things I love about this movie: 1) it was adapted from a play, but never feels like a play, and 2) It never bothers with the question of whether Danton was actually guilty or not.  The director and the screenwriter knew that wasn't where the story was.
Some Good Ones

1. Cujo

Rabies, dude.  And not like in David Cronenberg's Rabid either, with doesn't actually have anything to do with rabies.  A dog chases a rabbit into a bat-filled hole and you can guess the rest.  Dee Wallace stars as a morally flexible mom, and it does a great job of setting up its story.  No, St. Bernards - even rabid ones - aren't all that scary, but Cujo is a solid horror movie just the same.

2. The Right Stuff

Scott Glenn and Lance Henriksen, two actors I get confused all the time, appear together in this film about the U.S. space program.  The rest of the cast is also excellent - Sam Shepard, Ed Harris, Dennis Quaid, Fred Ward, Barbara Hershey and even Jeff Goldblum.  It's on the long side, but critics of the day loved it.  Definitely worth watching.

Fun Fact 1: Chuck Yeager appears in this movie as the bartender in Pancho's saloon.

Fun Fact 2: A big reason for this movie's existence is the colossal failure of director Michael Cimino's Heaven's Gate.  After that movie bombed hard, United Artists sold the project to the Ladd Company and it entered production.

3. Barefoot Gen

I suppose that the watching of depressing cartoons is no more and no less than a race to the bottom.  At some point I'll actually end up watching a cartoon that manages to traumatize middle-aged me.  In Barefoot Gen a boy survives the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, and this event in explored in all its grisly detail.  It's good though, and worth seeing if you'd like a Japanese perspective on the event.

4. A Nos Amours

A rebellious young woman comes of age in France.  The lead, Sandrine Bonnaire, is beautiful in the way that only French actresses can be beautiful, and her character's relationship with her family is interesting if a bit hard to relate to.  The director, Maurice Pialat, also plays Bonnaire's father in the film.

5. Pauline at the Beach

Hearts are broken in a French coastal town.  Pauline at the Beach explores much of the same subject matter as A Nos Amours above, though the relationships between the characters and the situations in which they find themselves seem a lot more natural.  The lead in this movie is also stunningly beautiful.

6. Twilight Zone: The Movie

I had vague memories of seeing this as a kid, but recently rewatched it to refresh my memory.  It's a solid movie, but as 80s horror anthologies go I think Creepshow was better.  I was surprised to learn that John Landis, Steven Spielberg, Joe Dante and George Miller (!) directed the four segments.  John Landis' segment was plagued with production difficulties, and what you see in the movie is an abbreviated version of what they were trying to do.

7. Dark Habits

"Habits" as in the things nuns wear, get it?  In this Pedro Almodovar movie several drug-addicted women take up residence in a convent full of eccentric nuns.  It's not without a certain charm, but I think Almodovar directed much better movies later on.  The inclusion of Marisa Paredes in this movie only makes the superiority of later films more obvious.  An "attack on Christianity?"  Eh, seems like hyperbole to me.
Some Bad Ones

1. Local Hero

An oil executive visits a small Scottish town with designs on buying it.  The most famous cast member is Burt Lancaster, though you might recognize other cast members from more interesting films.  Critics loved (and continue to love) it, but I found it boring.

2. A Christmas Story

A lot of annoying kids.  The story that inspired this movie probably isn't bad, but I couldn't take the way the kids in this movie acted.  That "my little piggy" scene at the dinner table?  My mom would have slapped the shit out of me.

Like Local Hero above, I'm going to have to disagree with the critics on this one.

3. Under Fire

Salvador it ain't.  Nick Nolte and Gene Hackman star as two reporters covering a war in Nicaragua.  The two characters have an interesting dynamic, and after a shaky start it's somewhat interesting, but it goes on way too long.  Nolte appeared in 48 Hrs. the year before, while Hackman hadn't done anything since a supporting role in 1981's Reds.

Fun Fact: Why do so many movies lead back to Predator?  If you look real close, about a third of the way through Elpidia Carrillo, the "captive insurgent" from Predator appears as - you guessed it - another insurgent.  Carrillo also, by the way, appeared in Salvador as James Woods' love interest.

4. Gorky Park

William Hurt stars as a detective trying to solve a murder case in Soviet Russia.  It could have been a half hour shorter, and none of the characters in it are especially engaging.  And what, by the way, is going on with Hurt's accent in this film?  Director Michael Apted did the disastrous Continental Divide the year before, and the excellent Coal Miner's Daughter the year before that.
So Bad It's Good

1. Sleepaway Camp

Super low budget Friday the 13th ripoff with a surprise ending.  It's easy to dismiss it as talky and boring, but once you stop taking it seriously it's an amusing hour and a half.  No one in this movie went on to become famous for any reason whatsoever, though it did spawn a whole series of films.  Certain revisionists try to claim that it's genuinely good, but no, it's really not.  Yes, the ending is memorable, but it doesn't automatically make everything up to that point good.

Fun Fact: The star of this movie went on to direct videos for Slayer.
Porn

1. Carnal Olympics

A porn magazine challenges two porn starlets to a series of sexual encounters as a way of proving who's the hottest.  Round One: the lesbian threesome.  Round Two: seducing a policeman.  Round Three: an orgy in which the male participants ejaculate into a bucket.  Thankfully they don't do anything with the contents of the bucket, because that's really not my thing.  

I know what you're thinking: with such a carefully nuanced, intricately structured plot, are the actors and actresses involved up to the task?  On this score rest easy, my friend.  Not only are they all well endowed, they're also the finest film performers of their generation.

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2020年6月12日 星期五

"Shift" by Hugh Howey (2013)


"Eren smiled and nodded.  'Great, well if you need anything, call me.  And the guy across the hall goes by Gable.  He used to hold down a post here but couldn't cut it.  Opted for a wipe instead of a deep freeze when given the choice.  Good guy.  Team player.  He'll be on for the next few months and can get you anything you need.'"

Shift is the second book in Hugh Howey's Silo Series.  I'm now reading Dust, the third book in this series, and will review it here when I'm finished.  For the general premise behind this series, and for information on the author, please refer to my review of Wool.  What follows are my responses to the "Reading Group Questions on Shift," which are to be found at the back of the book.

1. Q: Thurman truly believes that he is doing what is right for his country by building the silos and forcing people inside them.  Do you agree with him based on the information of the possible threat to his country?  Or is acting on anything but a certainty of a threat too much of a risk to take?

A: Do we know that though?  We know that he appears to believe that what he is doing is right, but I don't know that this belief is ever demonstrated to anyone's satisfaction.  Thurman isn't described all that well in any part of this novel, and his personal beliefs seem very far removed from the narrative.

This aspect of the book also strikes me as completely implausible, even given the fact that Shift is set thirty years or so in the future.  So... a congressman decides that another country is threatening the United States with some kind of nanotechnology... would this congressman - however well connected - be able to then mobilize a massive construction project and then secretly lure thousands of people into this project in a matter of months?  I mean, we're talking about the U.S. government here.  As it is, the U.S. government could barely respond to the coronavirus and the George Floyd incident.

But ok, let's step back from that for a moment and get abstract.  Is acting on anything less than a certain threat bad?  Given that the whole thrust of most countries' relations with one another is anticipatory I would say no, it's not too much of a risk to act.  The real argument here is whether or not Thurman's plan is practical, and I don't think it is.  Creating a much greater number of smaller cryogenic facilities over a much largeer area would have been more practical.  Large silos would be visible to satellite photography, and thus vulnerable to nuclear attack.  Any country clever enough to produce that type of nanotechnology would probably also have an espionage program in place and a few nukes lying around.

When you think about it, Thurman's response seems more inspired by the movie G.I. Joe.  Could it be that the author has also seen that movie?

2. Q: Mick is obviously aware of the last minute switch between himself and Donald when they go down into the silo just before the rally.  Of their two roles, Donald's is the more powerful, with much more responsibility, leading to him living hundreds of more years, but he is envious of Mick's relatively normal live in a silo with Helen.  Whose position would you rather be in?

Is it obvious though?  I guess.  I can't remember that part of the novel that well.  I think the choice between the two options is like a choice between a frying pan or a fire.  "Enjoy" a family life inside a tomb?  Or wake up every hundred or so years in the same tomb, with some vestige of authority?  Can I pick Option C instead?

3.Q: The members of silo one are given medication that causes them to forget traumatic events.  If you were offered this medication freely, would you take it?  Or would you want to remember the truth about your past?

What was Shatner's line in Star Trek 5?  "I need my pain?"  Something like that.  I guess I'd choose to remember.

4. Q: Donald discovers that Anna is the reason he's in silo one, and not with Helen in a different silo, and is furious.  Do you think she put him there for purely selfish reasons?  Or do you think she thought he would be the best man for the job?  In either case, do you think she had the right to make that decision for him?

Anna, like her father Thurman, isn't a very well-defined character.  I couldn't say whether her reasons were selfish or not.  I also couldn't say whether she thought Donald was the best man for the job or not.  I suppose if their insane project made some kind of logical sense then yes, she had the right to make the decision for him.  But their project was neither sane nor logical.

In Conclusion: If you loved Wool you'll like Shift.  It's much longer than it needs to be, and it adds very little to the premise set up in the first book.  Giving the silo more of a backstory would have added interest IF the characters at the center of this backstory are presented in compelling detail.  This book never manages to do that.

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