2019年8月17日 星期六

"Slow Apocalypse" by John Varley (2012)

"...The sun never really came out that day.  They had all gotten used to the amazing crystal blue skies of Los Angeles with hardly any gasoline engines pouring pollution into the air.  That day the sky was black."

This is the second of John Varley's books that I've read.  The first one, The John Varley Reader, was also reviewed here a while back.  Suffice it to say he's a lower-tier science fiction author who's lived in various locations throughout the U.S.

In Slow Apocalypse the world's oil supply vanishes under mysterious circumstances.  Without oil, governments worldwide are left to struggle through the inevitable economic catastrophes that are the result of this oil shortage, and individuals forewarned of the difficulties find themselves with an advantage over those taken by surprise.  One such person is a screenwriter living in Los Angeles.  His family's struggles against shortages, starvation, fire and a general state of lawlessness are the subject of this book.

Speaking as someone who enjoyed Varley's short story collection, I'd have to say that I was disappointed by this novel.  It's certainly well written and shows a professional hand, but it lacks tension, and is way longer than it has any right to be.  Shorten this thing by a hundred pages, eliminate the unnecessary details, and you'd be approaching a much better book.

And more than anything, raise the stakes.  What this book really needed was a greater sense of peril, or perhaps a sense of dread for what's to come.  As it is I never really felt like any of the characters were in serious danger.  Instead, the plot of this novel just lumbers along - in almost sociological fashion - without any sense of risk or of the random nature of larger events.  As readers, we know that society is regressing, we know that living conditions are correspondingly difficult, but this doesn't add up to the kind of suspense that any good book should have.

The characters in this book are also far too reasonable given their circumstances.  When confronted with the collapse of their society they seem unnaturally detached, almost as if they know the outcome of things beforehand.  It's FAR from certain that everything will be alright, and it's FAR from certain that they'll survive until the following day.  And yet they carry on as if everything will only be slightly worse tomorrow.  No tempers are lost.  No harsh words are spoken.  After a few hundred pages of their measured responses, they really defy understanding.

I will say this, however.  "Slow Apocalypse" as a title was at least half right.  This book is SLOW, so slow I had to force myself through the second half.  The "Apocalypse" part may be inaccurate, but yeah, he was right on with the "Slow."

Related Entries:

"Distress" by Greg Egan (1997)
"Artemis" by Andy Weir (2017)
"The Windup Girl" by Paulo Bacigalupi (2009)
"Mission of Gravity" by Hal Clement (1954)

2019年8月13日 星期二

The Other Movie Oscars: The Late 1970s

Please keep in mind three things:

1. I'm only choosing Best Picture, Best Actor, and Best Actress.  Let's be honest and say that these are the only three categories most people care about.

2. I'm only choosing from the movies reviewed in my "Some Other Movies From..." entries.  This means that some of the movies I choose might actually be award-winners from that year.

3. The movies reviewed in my "Some Other Movies From..." entries were chosen because I hadn't seen them before, and/or because of their relative obscurity.  To put an even finer point on it, they were chosen half willfully and half randomly.  I tend to pick 7 or 8 movies featuring people I'm familiar with, and 7 or 8 movies featuring people unknown to me.

4. For fun I'm adding another category, something memorable from a film belonging to a given year.


Best Picture: The China Syndrome
Best Actor: Al Pacino, ...And Justice for All
Best Actress: Jane Fonda, The China Syndrome
Most Memorably Bad Movie: Beyond the Poseidon Adventure


Best Picture: Blue Collar
Best Actor: Dustin Hoffman, Straight Time
Best Actress: Geraldine Chaplin, Remember My Name
Most Popular Movie That Future Generations Will Fail To Understand: Convoy


Best Picture: Sorcerer
Best Actor: James Coburn, Cross of Iron
Best Actress: Shelley Duvall, 3 Women
Most Under-the-Radar Horror Movie: The Car


Best Picture: Gator (weird year for movies)
Best Actor: Cliff Robertson, Obsession
Best Actress: Lauren Bacall, The Shootist
So Bad It's Classic: The Food of the Gods


Best Picture: Night Moves
Best Actor: Gene Hackman, Night Moves
Best Actress: Melanie Griffith, Night Moves
Sexiest Actress: Laura Gemser, Black Emanuelle

Related Entries:

Some Other Movies From 1978
Some Other Movies From 1976
Some Other Movies From 1975
Some Other Movies From 1977

Some Other Movies From 1978

The last one!  For now at least.  With this entry I've watched and reviewed at least 15 movies from every year I've been alive.  It hasn't always been easy, it hasn't always been entertaining, but I suppose I've learned a lot.

In case you're curious, I began this quest in September 2017, with the Some Other Movies From 1980 entry.  From there I worked forward through the even years to 2018, and from 2018 I worked backward through the odd years to 1975.  From 1975 I worked forward through 1976 and 1978.  44 years altogether, making for at least 660 movies and at least 990 hours.  No wonder it took me so long!

In 1978 I turned three.  You'd think my mom would've kept me out of the local movie theater, but I have a clear memory of seeing Superman in a drive-in that year.  The first movie I ever saw?  Quite possibly.

The top 5 movies of 1978 were Grease, Superman, Animal House, Every Which Way But Loose and Heaven Can Wait.  I never liked Grease (sorry, just not into musicals), but I still like the rest of these movies very much.

Other good movies of that year were Hooper, The Deer Hunter, Halloween, Coming Home, Dawn of the Dead, Thank God It's Friday (I know it's ridiculous but I love it), Up in Smoke, Days of Heaven (my favorite Terrence Malick movie), Force 10 from Navarone, and Invasion of the Body Snatchers.

Worst movie?  I really couldn't find one from this year.  As I searched through Wikipedia I realized that I haven't seen that many movies from 1978, and that all of those I'd seen (except for Grease) I liked very much.

Does this mean 1978 was a great year for movies?  Or just that I've only seen the highlights?  I suppose we'll discover the answer together below.


1. Blue Collar

Richard Pryor, Harvey Keitel and Yaphet Kotto star in this look at life in an auto assembly plant.  This was Paul Schrader's first outing as director, and I'd have to say it's both an unqualified success and Richard Pryor's best movie.  

Fun Fact: Pryor, Keitel and Kotto despised each other.  Their disagreements almost derailed the entire production.

2. The Fury

ESP, telekinesis, pyrokinesis... the late 70s was a good time to film a "powers of the mind" movie.  In The Fury - just like in The Medusa Touch (below) - a young man harbors an extraordinary ability.  This young man happens to be Kirk Douglas' son, who was abducted by a shady government agency.  Brian De Palma (yep, he directed this one, too) builds up a wonderful sense of dread in this movie, and Amy Irving is great in the lead role.

Fun Fact #1: Darryl Hannah is in this if you look real hard.

Fun Fact #2: I love both movies, but this one anticipated David Cronenberg's Scanners by several years.

3. Coma

I still think this was one of the best things Michael Crichton was ever involved in.  Genevieve Bujold and Michael Douglas were also excellent as the leads.  It's on the slow side, but it's grounded in enough details to make it seem plausible.  In Coma a doctor uncovers a conspiracy involving a medical institute, and it gets more and more paranoid from there.

Fun Fact #1: Bujold's friend is played by Lois Chiles, who would appear as Holly Goodhead in Moonraker the following year.

Fun Fact #2: This was Ed Harris' first movie.  He has a few lines in the pathology room.

4. Straight Time

In the 70s people put a lot of money into pay phones.  You see a lot of that in Blue Collar.  You also see a lot of it in Straight Time.

In Straight Time Dustin Hoffman stars as an ex-con trying to make it on the outside after doing six years for burglary.  It's a great movie and also very overlooked.

Sadly Forgotten

1. F.I.S.T.

Sylvester Stallone stars as a labor organizer in the 1930s.  For me this movie was the first instance of Stallone exhibiting the star power that would make him famous.  Sure, Rocky appeared two years before, but in this movie you can see him trying on a completely different persona, and speaking dialogue that Rocky Balboa would have struggled with.  In F.I.S.T. director Norman Jewison was also really on to something, and it's a shame some of the critics at the time couldn't see past Stallone's most recent success.

I'd recommend breaking it into two sittings though.  It's pretty long.

Some Good Ones

1. Remember My Name

Geraldine Chaplin had such a circuitous (torturous?) career in Hollywood.  Her famous father, years of obscurity, and then a role playing her own grandmother in 1992's Chaplin.

In Remember My Name Chaplin plays a woman stalking her ex-husband.  Casting Anthony Perkins as the object of her obsession was also a nice touch.  This movie feels like it could have been filmed yesterday.

Fun Fact: Alfre Woodard and Jeff Goldblum were in this, back when nobody knew who they were.

2. An Unmarried Woman

Was this the height of Jill Clayburgh's career?  Sure feels like it, but I'm not sure.  I liked her a lot in Semi-Tough, even if she was wasted on Silver Streak.

In this movie she plays a formerly married woman newly on the market.  Her relationship with her daughter is a little weird, but the performances are good and Clayburgh does a good job of holding the movie together.  In my opinion it's not nearly as good as Remember My Name (above), but it tells an interesting story nonetheless.

3. The Medusa Touch

It wastes too much time dancing around its subject matter, but The Medusa Touch is still an interesting study of a man who may or may not have the power to kill people with his mind.  Richard Burton steals every scene he's in, and even if it's laborious it has the same kind of creepiness - the same worry over causality - that made The Omen and The Exorcist such hits.

4. The Driver

Ryan O'Neal stars as the titular driver, with Bruce Dern as a cop out to nab him.  It's a solid action movie that does exactly what it sets out to do.  On a Movie Manliness Scale of 1 to 10, 10 being Clint Eastwood's second-to-last speech in Unforgiven, this movie's a 9.5.

5. Jaws 2

The great Roy Scheider was still on board for this one, even if Spielberg, Shaw and Dreyfuss had already abandoned ship.  Of course it's not as good as the first movie, of course it gets silly at times, but it's an enjoyable two hours.

Fun Fact: The guy who directed this film also did Supergirl.

Deja Vu

1. The Boys in Company C

Fucking Hollywood has tricked me yet again.  Lee Ermey is in this, playing the same role he played in Full Metal Jacket.  Seriously.  Nine years earlier.  So when you hear them talk about how Ermey was some kind of "surprise find" with regard to the casting for Kubrick's Vietnam film, don't listen - they'd already been down this road with him long before.

Kubrick, Stone, De Palma and Coppola aren't behind the wheel for this one, so of course it lacks that kind of polish, but The Boys in Company C covers a lot of territory familiar from later 80s Vietnam War classics - and it was there first.  It even anticipates American Gangster by a few decades.

This movie, by the way, would make a good double feature with Coming Home, which was released the same year.

Sad but True: Nominating Andrew Stevens for a Golden Globe - as good as he is in this movie - was bullshit.  Stan Shaw, who plays Tyrone Washington, was the one who deserved that kind of recognition.

Weirdly Historic

1. The 36th Chamber of Shaolin 少林三十六房

You might recognize the star of this movie, Gordon Liu, from Quentin Tarantino's Kill Bill movies.  The actor who plays the villain was also the "human balloon" in John Carpenter's Big Trouble in Little China.  A lot of the bigger Hong Kong stars made transitions to Hollywood later on.

And forgive me if I ramble a bit here, but I live in Taiwan and have studied its history for years.  The "tartars" spoken of in the beginning are Ching Dynasty officials, sent to Canton Province to consolidate that dynasty's hold on the southern parts of China.  The heroes of this movie are Ming loyalists hoping to restore the "native" (ethnically Chinese) Ming Dynasty to power, which was displaced by the Ching.  Many ethnic Chinese regarded the Ching as northern barbarians.

The good guys in this movie, the Ming loyalists, are attempting to establish communications with the court of Jeng Cheng-gong, a pirate-turned-feudal lord who had forced the Dutch out of Taiwan.  Jeng Cheng-gong's stated goal was the restoration of the Ming Dynasty in China, and this goal made him a likely ally for the heroes in the movie.  In The 36th Chamber of Shaolin the good guys win in the short term, but in the long term the Ching would rule for hundreds of years.  The Ching would endure to become China's last dynasty, which would collapse in the early 1900s after years of civil war and the depredations of foreign powers.

And then, kung fu.  Gordon Liu has to get revenge, right?  Those rascals killed his dad after all.  He escapes to a Shaolin temple where he learns kung fu, and you can probably guess what happens after that.

The Shaolin (or Shiao Lin or Xiao Lin) temples were in essence subversive religious organizations, and the Ching Dynasty had a lot of trouble with those.  The most famous example is the Boxer Rebellion, but the Taiping Rebellion could be another example.  Even now the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has issues with this type of organization, as seen in their persecution of Falun Gong practitioners.

But I digress.  Or do I?  Whether I do or whether I don't, The 36th Chamber of Shaolin is one of the best - if not the best - kung fu movies I've ever seen, and this fact, weirdly, has little to do with the fight choreography.  It's just a well-crafted action movie that tells an interesting story.

Definitely not Good, but VERY Late 70s

1. FM

Just check out that room full of LPs during the credits.  This, and special "in concert" appearances by Linda Ronstadt AND Jimmy Buffett.  Oh, and I almost forgot the scene in Tower Records - back when they really sold records.

The cast?  Let's just say that some of them were in much better movies, others went on to much better movies, and others didn't really go anywhere at all.  The plot?  As you'd expect it's about an FM radio station.  Something something not wanting to play army jingles something something.

Cleavon Little, by the way, deserved the Oscar for Pretending to Like Songs That No Self-Respecting Black Man Would Ever Like.

Some Bad Ones

1. California Suite

I fucking hate plays.  And this movie feels way too much like a play.  Neil Simon wrote it, Herbert Ross directed it, and even though I like a lot of the cast members it just wasn't working.

People only have certain kinds of conversations in plays.  In real life they say "Fuck you" and disappear for several years.  They're probably right in doing so.

My One Coherent Thought for the Day: Michael Caine was terrible at picking movies.  Great actor, but when he was in a good movie it was almost by accident.  He and Maggie Smith are excellent in this movie, but the rest of this film ruins it.  For every The Man Who Would Be King there's a Beyond the Poseidon Adventure, and for every The Dark Knight there's a Journey 2: The Mysterious Island.  I admire his work ethic, but he could have been more selective.

2. Convoy

"Did you ever ride in a truck?  Do you want to?"

Sam Peckinpah sort of directed this.  Kris Kistofferson stars as a trucker, with Ali MacGraw (and a terrible perm) as a woman he meets on the road.  This movie could be seen as the highlight of the late 70s trucker/trucking craze, and yes, CB radios abound.  It was the most commercially successful movie Peckinpah ever directed, and also one of the last.  The first half is solid, but during the second it really wears out its welcome.

Fun Fact: The big afro dude from Car Wash is in this.

Not-So-Fun Fact: As has been discussed elsewhere, Peckinpah was having serious substance abuse issues around this time.  During the filming of Convoy it got so bad that his Cross of Iron star James Coburn was called in to act as second unit director.  Coburn went on to direct most of this movie.

3. Pretty Baby

Susan Sarandon would go on to star in Louis Malle's Atlantic City, a movie I loved, but this one wasn't doing anything for me.  I suppose those involved thought the setting would go some distance toward making this movie interesting, but this story about life in a New Orleans brothel feels very staged.  Brooke Shields' nude scenes in this film (she was 12) have caused some critics to label this "child pornography," and even with that aside I'd have to say that this movie just isn't very good.*

4. I Wanna Hold Your Hand

Robert Zemeckis directed this teen comedy about the Beatles coming to America.  Critics liked it, but it bored the hell out of me.  Reminded me a lot of American Graffiti - another movie I'm not fond of - and I liked this one even less.

Related Entries:

Some Other Movies From 1976
Some Other Movies From 1975
Some Other Movies From 1977
Some Other Movies From 1979

*Maybe I'm going to come off as a prude when I say this, but this was the first movie that actually made me feel dirty for watching it.  This said, that "dirty" feeling probably falls outside the bounds of a critical analysis of this movie, so I'm just including this footnote as a warning.  One of the last scenes in this movie really turned my stomach, and I never want to see anything like that again.

2019年8月10日 星期六

"Distress" by Greg Egan (1997)

"He gestured at the screen, and the ball of twine exploded, sending brilliant loops arching out into the darkness in all directions.  'The Keystone is, at the very least, armed with a TOE [Theory of Everything], and aware of both vis [sic] existence, and a canonical body of observations and experimental results - whether vis [sic) own, or 'second hand' - which need to be accounted for.  If we lacked either the information density or organizational schema to explain vis [sic] own existence self-consistently, the whole event would be sub-critical: there'd be no universe implied.  But given a sufficiently rich Aleph, the process won't stop until an entire physical cosmos is created." 

I know, I know.  Let that sink in for a while, and get back to me.  No one's going to get there all at once, and anyone who says they have is probably mistaken.

Greg Egan is an Australian computer programmer and writer of science fiction.  He's somewhat famous for being one of the harder hard science fiction writers out there, and he's won several awards for his books.  One of his other books, Permutation City, has also been reviewed here.

In Distress a journalist is assigned to cover a physics conference in the year 2050.  This particular physics conference has attracted a lot of attention because at least three of its keynote (or should I say keystone?) speakers have claimed to have discovered a Theory of Everything (TOE) which will revolutionize our understanding of the cosmos.  Little do these speakers know that a fringe group of cosmologists has targeted each and every one of them for assassination, hoping to avert the end of everything.

As novels go it's damn slow, and it just didn't blow my mind the way Permutation City did.  The protagonist is by turns irritating and slow on the uptake, and none of the situations in which he finds himself are remotely interesting.  About halfway through the book I started to actively wish for his death, and the threatened end of the world began to seem like a satisfying way to end this novel.

As much as I loved Permutation City, I think it's in Distress that Greg Egan reveals his weakness as a writer.  He's good with big, sweeping, mind-numbing ideas - the kind of ideas that held center stage in Permutation City - but very weak with regard to creating interesting characters and putting them in dramatic situations.  And instead of going with his strength as a writer, the kind of philosophical/technological/scientific ideas which should have been at the heart of this story, he decided to populate this novel with a host of unlikable and uninteresting people, all loosely joined together by a subplot that would make most people laugh if you explained it to them.

So yeah, this book is boring... but I won't hold it against the author.  If the only thing he'd ever written was Permutation City, that alone would be enough to put him up there with authors like Asimov and Clarke.  I'm also fairly certain that he's written other, better books than Distress.  Every author's allowed his or her occasional duds, and it was just my bad luck to have chosen Distress out of Egan's bibliography.

Related Entries:

"Artemis" by Andy Weir (2017)
"The Windup Girl" by Paulo Bacigalupi (2009)
"Mission of Gravity" by Hal Clement (1954)
"R.U.R. and War with the Newts" by Karl Capek (1920 and 1936)

2019年8月6日 星期二

Some Other Movies From 1976

In 1976 I turned one year old.  I doubt my mom took me to any movies because taking infants to movies isn't fun.

The top 5 movies of that year were Rocky, To Fly! (a documentary), A Star is Born, All the President's Men and The OmenRocky and All the President's Men are still awesome, I haven't seen To Fly!, A Star is Born (the one with Streisand) is cheesy fun, and I don't think The Omen has aged well.

Other good movies from that year were The Enforcer, Network, Marathon Man, Taxi Driver (hell yeah), Assault on Precinct 13, Bound for Glory, Carrie (classic), Logan's Run, and The Man Who Fell to Earth.

For "worst movie" I'd pick King Kong, which always seemed unintentionally funny to me.  Jessica Lange is of course stunning in it, but some of its plot points don't bear thinking about.

Movie History

1. The Shootist

John Wayne, Lauren Bacall and Ron Howard star in this, John Wayne's last movie.  It lumbers along the way that Wayne himself lumbered along, and while recalling the Westerns of yesteryear it does make some concessions to more "modern" examples of the genre.  All in all a good sendoff for Wayne, who would pass into movie history three years later.

Fun Fact: Ron Howard would direct his first movie, Grand Theft Auto, the following year.

Some Good Ones

1. Gator

I wonder how much of an influence that swamp chase sequence in Live and Let Die had on this movie.  Yeah, Gator is the sequel to White Lightning (which I haven't yet seen), but Live and Let Die came out the same year.

In Gator star and director Burt Reynolds plays a bootlegger sent to catch a local crime boss.  This movie walks a fine line between action and comedy, and does so with Reynold's characteristic aplomb.  You could see this movie as a dress rehearsal for the far more successful Smokey and the Bandit; you could also see it as a labor of love for Reynolds, who in some ways made a very personal statement with this film.

Critics hated it at the time, but I liked it.

Fun Fact: Burt Reynolds' career and Sean Connery's career have intersected at two important points.  After Connery left the 007 franchise, producer Albert R. Broccoli offered the role to Reynolds.  Several years later Reynolds was set to star in the movie Zardoz, but was unable to appear in that movie due to illness.  Sean Connery replaced him in the lead role.

2. Mother, Jugs and Speed

"Two tickets to the Cat Stevens concert tonight!"

Holy shit it's Bill Cosby.  And no, as far as I know Raquel Welch never came forward with those kind of allegations.  Then again it's only been 43 years since this movie's release, so it may be too early to say.

Not only is this movie a lot of fun, not only is it a 70s trivia goldmine, but it's also a movie trivia goldmine as well.  Peter Yates, Bill Cosby, Harvey Keitel (!), Bruce Davison, Larry Hagman, Dick Butkus, the list of associations is endless.  Besides the great cast, this movie is also really well-written and directed.  It's easy to see why it was on TV so much when I was a kid.

Fun Fact #1: Gene Hackman was originally slated to play Mother.  He passed on the role due to exhaustion, and recommended that Bill Cosby take his place.

Fun Fact #2: Writer Tom Manciewicz also wrote several of the James Bond movies.

3. Car Wash

It was never going to win any Academy Awards, but as a "slice of life" movie it works very well.  It also has a sly sense of humor that hasn't aged a bit.  Richard Pryor and George Carlin (R.I.P.) are the most famous people in it, but you might also recognize Bill Duke from Predator.

Fun Fact: Joel Schumacher wrote the screenplay.

4. Voyage of the Damned

Max von Sydow captains a boatload of Jews headed for Cuba as the Second World War heats up.  It's on the long side, but if you've got the patience it builds to a satisfying conclusion.

"Satisfying" in relative terms.  You know it's called Voyage of the Damned, right?

Fun Fact: Laura "Black Emanuelle" Gemser is in this.  Just look over Orson Welles' shoulder as the man enters the casino.

5. (Battle of) Midway

Charlton Heston leads a cast of Hollywood all-stars in this story of the famed military engagement.  Actual footage was used for the battles.  It was a moderate hit, but I feel this movie arrived a bit too late to find its intended audience.  In 1976 Vietnam was still fresh in everyone's memory, and the great WWII spectacles of yesteryear were distinctly out of fashion.

The actress who plays the Japanese girlfriend is TERRIBLE, but her particular subplot would have made for an interesting movie.  A Japanese-American family with pro-Japan sympathies?  A Japanese-American father who considers his family American, but refuses to let his daughter marry an American serviceman on racial grounds?  There are a lot of layers there, and telling this story from their point of view would have offered an interesting perspective on the war.

Just one question though: WHY would the maps used by the Japanese have English on them?  I guess you could say they were taken from Western maps at the time, but the presence of English on those maps seems unlikely.

Fun Fact: Hollywood's going to try this again soon.  2019's Midway should hit theaters this November.

6. Obsession

God damn Cliff Robertson is great in this movie.  He's got this thing going on with his eyes...  Man, I don't even have words for it.

BUT there's a huge problem at the center of this Brian De Palma directed-film, and that problem is the fact that Cliff Robertson doesn't recognize a family member after a 16-year separation.  I'm sorry, but I'm just not buying that.  Other than that huge, gaping hole this movie is brilliant.  The soundtrack is amazing too.

Fun Fact: Screenwriter Paul Schrader wrote a whole other ending for this movie, which was later removed by De Palma over Schrader's objections.

7. Stay Hungry

Jeff Bridges, Sally Field and... Arnold Schwarzenegger!  This was one of Schwarzenegger's earliest film appearances, and the first where his own voice could be heard.  Jeff Bridges stars as a young man trying to escape his family's legacy, with Sally Field as the love interest and Schwarzenegger as - you guessed it - a bodybuilder.  It's an ok movie, but the voiceovers were unnecessary and its tone reflects the pretentious novel it was adapted from.  There's also a REALLY pointless sex scene near the end.

Fun Fact: Continuing with the theme of Robert Englund appearing briefly in every other 70s movie, he's in this one, too.  Oh, and Scatman Crothers, who happens to be in both Silver Streak and The Shootist, is in the cast.

Some Bad Ones

1. The Ritz

A straight man from the Midwest hides out in a gay bathhouse.  Hilarity ensues?  Not quite.  It's almost watchable, but the straight man is too credulous to be believable, and too dumb for this movie to be funny.  Just go watch The Birdcage.  It works a lot better.

2. Bobbie Jo and the Outlaw

Wonder Woman Lynda Carter and a Billy the Kid-type fall in love and drive around a lot.  The guy who plays "Outlaw" is a terrible actor, and Lynda Carter's hotness just can't save it.

Reason for Self-Abuse: If you're a straight guy (like me) who grew up in the 70s, Lynda Carter probably looms large in your sexual imagination.  If you want to see those wondrous bazooms this is the movie for you.

3. Lipstick

Hollywood's never met a good idea it wasn't willing to recycle several times.  Sure, the events of Star 80 actually happened, but years before it Mariel Hemingway had already appeared in Lipstick.

In Lipstick her big sister Margaux stars as a model who crosses paths with an emotionally disturbed man.  Anne Bancroft and Chris Sarandon round out the major cast members.  It's in too much of a hurry to get from point A to point B, and Sarandon, while a decent actor, just isn't able to summon up the kind of manic energy that made Eric Roberts famous.

Fun Fact: Margaux Hemingway was named after a type of wine.  Her sister Mariel was named after a port in Cuba where her famous grandfather liked to fish.

Not-So-Fun Fact: Several members of the Hemingway clan have struggled with mental illness.  There's a documentary, Running From Crazy, about this very thing.

4. Shout at the Devil

It's weird to see Lee Marvin and Roger Moore in a movie together.  In Shout at the Devil scheming Marvin and gentlemanly Moore run afoul of German colonial authorities.  I liked the first hour, but after that this movie just doesn't make any sense.

Note: Action movies cease being lighthearted romps ONCE YOU THROW A BABY INTO A FIRE.  Just a thought.  Make of it what you will.

5. Silver Streak

This is more of a personal thing.  I've just never liked Gene Wilder.  Ditto for the Gene Wilder/Richard Pryor combination.  Wilder stars as a man who witnesses a murder during a cross-country train trip, and about halfway through he (predictably) meets up with Pryor.

So Bad They're Good

1. The Cassandra Crossing

Director George P. Cosmatos' third movie.  In The Cassandra Crossing a man carrying a killer virus boards a train in Switzerland, and the WHO must deal with the consequences.  It's one of the more overlooked disaster movies of the 1970s, and features Sophia Loren, Richard Harris, Burt Lancaster, Martin Sheen (in one of his more out of the box performances) and O.J. Simpson.  It's pretty silly, and critics hated it at the time, but I think modern viewers will get a kick out of it.

Fun Fact: This was Ava Gardner's second disaster movie of the 70s.  She appeared in Earthquake opposite Charlton Heston two years before.

2. The Food of the Gods

Getting killed by giant wasps would be FUCKED UP.

In The Food of the Gods various forms of animal life become gigantic after they eat some kind of goo.  It's based on part of an H.G. Wells novel, and I'm sure this is the part that makes H.G. Wells turn over in his grave every time someone watches The Food of the Gods.  This movie wonderfully bad right from the start.

And hey, there's Marjoe Gortner again, last seen in Bobbie Jo and the Outlaw.  Dude was having a good time in 1976.  His acting isn't any better in this one though!

Related Entries:

Some Other Movies From 1975
Some Other Movies From 1977
Some Other Movies From 1979
Superhero Movies From October 2018 Onward (8)

2019年8月2日 星期五

An Incomplete List of Weird and Ridiculous Things in Flash: The Silver Age Vol. 4 (1966ish)

It was the late 60s, and this stuff was written for kids.  Gardner Fox and John Broome wrote most of it, with the great Carmine Infantino at the drawing board.

1. The Flash can move fast enough to dodge bullets, but if he hits a piece of paper while he's moving at super speed it knocks him out.

2. Captain Boomerang actually tried to shoot Flash into orbit using a boomerang.  And it almost worked.

3. There is "another dimension of space" full of psychic beings, and some of these psychic beings travel to other "dimensions of space" purely for the sake of blowing shit up.

4. The villain Abra Kadabra isn't just able to give his "magic" to other people, Flash is later able to transfer this "magic" into a lamp.

5. Barry Allen's fiance Iris is an idiot who somehow can't figure out that he's the Flash.  Even when Barry disappears and the Flash appears a moment later.  Every.  Freaking.  Time.

6. Captain Cold doesn't just make stuff out of ice.  He can also animate the things he makes and use them to attack the Flash.  The Flash is able to escape these creations by "vibrating faster than light."

7. The Flash is able to travel several times the speed of light and yet no time dilation occurs.

8. When the Flash moves a group of criminals at speeds faster than light they somehow develop telekinetic powers.

9. The Flash takes the criminals' telekinetic powers away by moving several times the speed of light in the other direction.

10. #7-#9 above were all in a single 12-page issue of The Flash.  The writer was really smoking the good stuff when he wrote that one.

11. Flash villain The Shade controls a "dark dimension," populated by "dark animals."  These creatures are able to follow commands and interact with our world, but are exempt from physical law as we know it.

12. Iris's uncle invents a way to make plants larger, with the side effect that they explode soon after.

13. Professor Zoom (a.k.a. Reverse Flash) has created his own "science of ultra-speed" based upon "speeding electrons and other sub-atomic particles to fantastic rates."

14. Certain individuals like the Flash are without any tendency toward criminality.  They are the ubermensch spoken of by Nietzsche.  Their every action is in alignment with Kant's categorical imperative.

15. When a super speedster travels forward or backward in time, they still need to worry about how much time they spend in a past or future era.  Otherwise they'll be... too late?

16. Laws in Central City are created and enacted in an almost arbitrary fashion.  And when the mayor of Central City decides to make super speed illegal, the Flash complies with this without question.

17. The Flash, although able to move at superhuman speeds, can be imprisoned in a cone of "ultra-radiation."

18. Over time the Flash builds up something called "haywire speed," which makes it impossible for him to control his powers.  This haywire speed must be drained away by giving his super speed to other people.

19. Even though the Flash's real identity is supposed to be secret, he's able to get people hired on at the Flash Museum.  And STILL Iris has no idea that Barry Allen is the Flash, despite the fact that she's an investigative reporter.

20. As a way of averting a "giant planet-wide explosion," Flash and Kid-Flash race longitudinally and latitudinally over the surface of the Earth, covering every inch of it (including the oceans) with some kind of explosion-preventing spray.

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2019年7月29日 星期一

Some Other Movies From 1975

1975 was the year I was born.  Time flies when you're... alive?

The top five movies that year were Jaws, The Rocky Horror Picture Show, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, Dog Day Afternoon and Shampoo.  My favorite of these movies is Shampoo, if only for that scene where Warren Beatty's sitting at a table surrounded women he's slept with.

Other good movies of that year were Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore, Barry Lyndon, The Sunshine Boys, The Godfather Part II, Tommy, The Towering Inferno, Monty Python and the Holy Grail, Nashville, Three Days of the Condor, Shivers and The Man Who Would Be King.

Worst movie?  I don't have any real grudge against it, but I've always found the Pink Panther franchise annoying.  For this reason I'd have to nominate The Return of the Pink Panther, which also came out the same year I did.


5. Night Moves

Check out Gene Hackman's answering machine in the beginning of this movie.  Pre-his-tor-ic.

If you wanted to work your way through the "great movies of the 70s," you could do much worse that start with Gene Hackman's filmography.  I Never Sang for My Father, The French Connection, The Poseidon Adventure, The Conversation, Superman... there are a lot of great films there.  Of course they weren't all winners, but during that decade he was a lot more careful about the roles he took, and his career was on the upswing.

Night Moves is another great one.  Hackman plays a private detective in search of a missing girl, and this film has the same sense of paranoia that made movies like the first French Connection and The Conversation so good.  Night Moves also has a nice male-female dialectic going for it, in that the male characters are constantly trying to come to terms with the female characters (and vice versa).

2. Deep Red

Dario Argento.  Yup.  Feels so good say it again: Dario Argento.  There, that's better.

Deep Red is perhaps the slasher movie of all slasher movies.  It's just so damn right in so many ways, and it came out so long before many of its more famous cousins.  The Goblin soundtrack sets the tone early on, and from there it's an absorbing detour through a series of grisly murders.  I like (the original) Suspiria, but this is the one that really does it for me.

Fun Fact: those gloved hands seen throughout the movie belong to the director.

Some Good Ones

1. Rollerball

Seems pretty corny now, but this movie was blowing people's minds in 1975.  Don't bother with the 2002 remake; it's not only terrible but it missed the point of the 1975 film.  You take the NFL, put it on rollerskates, make it even more violent - and THAT was the point of the original movie.

In Rollerball James Caan finds himself forced out of the game as a result of corporate machinations.  It's heavy-handed for sure, but it remains both one of the great 70s dystopian films and one of Caan's best performances.

2. The Killer Elite

My only reservation about this movie is that it was a bit too far ahead of its time.  Just imagine that airport martial arts battle a decade later.  It would've been epic.

The great Sam Peckinpah directed, with James Caan starring as a spy out for revenge, and Robert Duvall as a friend turned enemy.  It's predictably violent, but it's somewhat unique in that it often follows through on the violence, showing us the consequences of gunshot wounds and blows to the head.  Critics weren't loving it in 1975, but I think modern audiences will find a lot to like there.

3. The Ultimate Warrior

A surprisingly well-written movie about life in a post-apocalyptic commune.  Yul Brynner stars as a soldier of fortune (?), with Max Von Sydow as the commune's leader.

4. The Other Side of the Mountain

A young woman finds her skiing career cut short after an accident which paralyzes her from the neck down.  There's way too much narration during the first half, and I think one of the boyfriends could have been cut out of the movie altogether, but it's alright.  Beau Bridges and Dabney Coleman are the most famous people in it.

5. Once is Not Enough

What?  Was "young women paralyzed in accidents" some kind of popular theme in 1975?  As in The Other Side of the Mountain, another young woman gets paralyzed after a motorcycle accident in Italy.  This young woman happens to be the daughter of Kirk Douglas, who plays an aging movie producer.

And then, shades of incest.  Yep, in 1975 Kirk Douglas was willing to go there.  It was 1975 after all, and by that point the "aging movie producer" and Kirk Douglas weren't all that different.  Both, in their respective ways, were looking to score.

Good?  Bad?  Definitely Disturbing!

1. Salo, or the 120 Days of Sodom

I tried reading the book a while back.  Had to give up.  Those familiar with the book will probably understand why.

I will say the movie improves upon the book, which was basically a catalog of perversions.  The movie brings the subject matter closer to the present day, and also interjects certain philosophical points which were not present in Marquis de Sade's work.

Those approaching this movie with trepidation should know that it doesn't get rough until halfway through.  After the first half?  Well, bring a strong stomach.

Fun and Not-So-Fun Facts: The making of this movie could be a movie in itself.  I recommend reading its Wikipedia page AFTER seeing it.

Some Bad Ones

1. The Eiger Sanction

In some ways this movie couldn't be more politically incorrect if it tried.  In other ways it was trying WAY too hard not to be 007.  Clint Eastwood directed and starred in it, back when he was known more as an action hero than as an auteur.  There are some beautiful women in this movie, and also some great climbing sequences, but these two things don't make up for the fact that it never quite knows what it wants to be.

2. Night of the Ghoul (a.k.a. "The Ghoul")

Man this movie just creeps along.  I suppose some people would find it atmospheric, but I thought it was like watching paint dry.  John Hurt, who would later go on to meet an unfortunate end in 1979's Alien, is probably the cast member most familiar to moviegoers in 2019.

3. Trilogy of Terror

Hey, it's Karen Black, recently seen in 1979's Killer Fish!

I don't get how you make someone roofie you at a drive-in.  What was the villain's evil plan, when all is said and done?  The first of the three shorts never bothers to explain how her plan "worked" exactly.

The second part is similarly overacted, and you'll see the plot twist coming from a mile away.  It doesn't help matters that Black's psychiatrist is played by the captain from the Police Academy movies.  It may have worked much better in Richard Matheson's original treatment, but as a film it's crushingly obvious.

The third part is your standard evil doll/toy/puppet story, yet it does manage to generate some tension near the end.

This made-for-TV movie has quite a cult following, but I'm not buying it.  When you consider that classics like The Exorcist came out in 1973, and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre came out in 1974... naw, it's just not that good.

Drinking Game: Every time the camera aims up Karen Black's skirt take a shot.  You'll be blasted in no time.

4. Hustle

Burt Reynolds!  And Catherine Deneuve!  In the same movie!  The 70s were strange.

And speaking of strange, something about this movie feels off from the very beginning.  Reynolds plays a cop, Deneuve plays a prostitute, and the way they relate to each other just seems WEIRD.  Don't think I'm getting on some kind of moral high horse when I say this.  It's just the way they talk to each other.

And then they call both of the dead girl's parents to the police station, just before telling them that it's not necessary for both of them to be there.  And then Burt Reynolds tells the father he can't smoke, only to let him smoke a second later.  The movie goes on and on like this.

By the time it got to "Well, after all, how many albinos are there?" I couldn't help but smirk at this movie.  It's trying so hard to be tough, but the actors are writing checks the script can't cash.  Seeing Reynolds and Deneuve together has its novelty, but that novelty isn't enough to hold this movie together.

Fun Fact #1: The murdered girl's friend is played by Catherine Bach, who'd go on to play Daisy in the Dukes of Hazzard TV show.

Fun Fact #2: That guy holding up the liquor store at the end is Robert Englund, who'd go on to play Freddy Krueger in the Nightmare on Elm Street movies.

Unpleasant Fact: The producers of this film wanted Catherine Deneuve for the role because they thought her being French made her more believable as a prostitute.

5. The Apple Dumpling Gang

This Disney movie was - for whatever reason - a big hit in 1975.  Bill Bixby (!) stars as a man stuck with someone else's kids, and by the end everyone comes to understand the true meaning of family.  Just typing that last sentence made me slightly nauseous.

Only the Cheesiest Cheese, Only the Corniest Corn

1. Switchblade Sisters

"We're Jezebels, cop!  Remember that name!"

I'm only sorry I didn't see this movie sooner.  It is - without a doubt - the silliest, most unrepentantly BAD thing I've seen in years.  Girl gangs, women's prisons, a rumble on rollerskates, SHITTY acting, bad fight choreography... this one really checks off all the boxes.  Lovers of terrible movies should see this YESTERDAY.

2. The Giant Spider Invasion

Like Switchblade Sisters, this one lets you know what's going on early.  Town folk go to a revival, giant spiders, special effects that aren't special, cringeworthy acting, and stock footage abound.  The best parts of this movie are the "scientific" explanations provided by the "scientist" characters.  "I've got a man from NASA and he knows what he's doing!"  Yeah, whatever dude...

Fun Fact: the giant spider is actually a VW bug covered in artificial fur.

Porn (Sort of)

1. Black Emanuelle

"Black" Emanuelle, because the main character is played by Indonesian Laura Gemser, as opposed to earlier Emanuelle Sylvia Kristel.  This is the version with the "hardcore inserts" (heh heh), and it's painfully obvious that another actress features in those inserts.  In this one, egomaniacal/nymphomaniacal Emanuelle goes to Africa.  People then get naked and do "erotic" things.  It's all fairly dumb, but Laura Gemser sure was beautiful.

2. The Story of O

Beautifully photographed movie about a young woman who gets on the bad side (or is it the good side?) of a group of sadomasochists.  Corrine Clery stars, with Udo Kier as her "lover."  It has a low score on Rotten Tomatoes, but I think critics have been unduly harsh on this movie.  It's also not as explicit as I was led to believe.

Fun Fact: Corrine Clery would appear in Moonraker two years later.  Moonraker was the biggest film she ever did.

Porn! (For Sure)

1. China Girl

"Such language from a brilliant lady scientist!"

James Hong is in this.  In case you're not familiar with James Hong, he has a filmography that goes back to 1954.  He was also the bad guy in Big Trouble in Little China.

The further back you go, the talkier porn gets.  If you added all of the sex in this movie together, it would probably amount to around 15 minutes, and that's out of a 1.5 hour runtime.  Watching porn back in 1975 required PATIENCE, the kind of patience people no longer have.  Even more recent porn aimed at women moves faster.

The lead in this movie is kind of cute, but she never gets down the way you'd expect her to.  Instead, she assigns all of the banging to her Caucasian henchwomen, and when sex finally does happen - after an eternity of dialogue - it's fairly disappointing.

Thing is, the story is kind of interesting.  There's a Chinese gang stealing state secrets in northern California.  One of the state secrets is the formula for some kind of potion that allows users to "steal other people's thoughts."  As a way of uncovering the formula, the Chinese gangsters employ a form of "sexual interrogation."  This sexual interrogation involves injecting subjects with a drug that prevents orgasm - thus driving them insane.  If someone thought through these concepts a little better they'd make for an good movie!

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2019年7月28日 星期日

"Libra" by Don DeLillo (1988)

"He would put someone together, build an identity, a skein of persuasion and habit, ever so subtle.  He wanted a man with believable quirks.  He would create a shadowed room, the gunman's room, which investigators would eventually find, exposing each fact to relentless scrutiny, following each friend, relative, casual acquaintance into his own roomful of shadows.  We lead more interesting lives than we think..."

Don DeLillo is an American author best known for his novel White NoiseLibra, the direct successor to White Noise, came out three years after.

In Libra DeLillo explores the Kennedy assassination and the role Lee Harvey Oswald might have played in it.  As you might expect, the novel is rich in conspiracies and speculation as to what might or might not have motivated various factions to kill the President.  Throughout the novel Oswald, a pathetic figure, is both seduced by ideas and driven to make himself a "man of history."

In tone Libra is a bit more subdued, a bit more literal than White Noise.  It's also, somewhat paradoxically, less sweeping in scope.  Where White Noise was a commentary on America as a whole, Libra is more a study of a single personality and how larger forces can converge around that personality.

So is it good?  Well, in my opinion it could have been a lot shorter.  The continual meditations on various plots can be somewhat masturbatory, and certain episodes from Oswald's life could have been omitted.  The ending of the book also falls flat, and Jack Ruby's role (and motivations) are never satisfactorily explained.  It just doesn't seem to have the weight of White Noise, perhaps because the author was too worried about authenticity.

Even so, if you've read White Noise you'll probably like this one.  I just wouldn't be in a tremendous hurry to read it.  You'll have already seen interpretations of these events in popular culture, movies like Oliver Stone's JFK or James Ellroy's Underworld USA trilogy.  These other interpretations have, I must say, a lot more impact than whatever DeLillo was trying to do in Libra, and for this reason I consider the novel something of a failed experiment.

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