2020年4月28日 星期二

Albums That Changed My Life 9: Other Alternative Bands


After Kurt Cobain's suicide "Grunge" became "Alternative."  It wasn't that all those bands broke up at once, just that Nirvana and the other Seattle bands were always at the center of that scene.  After Cobain's death, a lot of bands not from Seattle began making their presence known.

The Alternative bands that appeared in the mid-90s were more varied than the Grunge acts.  Rap was fused with metal.  Ska made a brief but forgettable comeback.  Many other bands were so weird that they defied easy categorization, and placing them in the Alternative category was the easiest option at the time.


When I look back at this period two bands stand out: Faith No More and Rage Against the Machine.  Faith No More predated Grunge of course, but as the Grunge bands faded from the scene Faith No More got a whole lot more interesting.  At around the same time Rage Against the Machine was offering something a lot harsher, a lot less introspective than Grunge.  "Killing in the Name," man.  That song was huge.

I saw Rage open for Primus (another Alternative band) and Alice in Chains on the Lollapalooza tour.  You could tell Grunge was on its way out even then.  Tool was on the second stage, and more electronic bands like White Zombie and Nine Inch Nails were mentioned heavily in our conversations.


Tool, flailing away in a corner of that huge festival, was a band I came to love.  It was impossible to hear them over Front 242's irritating performance, but upon hearing them later on I was an immediate fan.  Maynard James Keenan remains one of the great rock vocalists, and I enjoyed the first Perfect Circle album a lot too.

Radiohead was also getting noticed then.  Their first album appeared alongside the Grunge stuff, but by the Lollapalooza show The Bends had appeared and I was a rabid fan.  In the wake of Grunge that band spoke to a lot of people in Seattle, and their fanbase there endures to this day.  Don't even get me started on OK Computer.  I listened to that album continuously for weeks.


Korn appeared around that time too.  "ArE yOu ReAdY?"  Man, that song was big.  Tom Morello likes to disown bands like Korn, but I think they were doing a lot more than ripping off Rage.  Is some of their output ridiculous in retrospect?  Of course it is, but I'd take Korn over bands like Limp Bizkit, Slipknot and Creed any day of the week.

Shudder to Think was more out of left field.  Their album 50,000 B.C. is still one of my favorites.  As Grunge began to implode, record companies signed up any band they considered "grungy," and bands like Shudder to Think were thus given their shot on MTV.  The Toadies were another example of this trend.


Another plus to the demand for anything "alternative" was that bands like Bad Brains gained a bigger following.  Bad Brains started as a punk band, and became something much stranger later on.  I saw them open for Living Colour not long after attending Lollapalooza, and that show is still one of the best concerts I've ever been to.

Fishbone?  I always hated Fishbone.  Sorry.  Ozomatli?  Anyone remember them?  I liked their first album a lot.


Other bands I remember from back then: 4 Non Blondes, Stone Temple Pilots, Frank Black, Modest Mouse, Queens of the Stone Age, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, The Smashing Pumpkins and Urge Overkill.  Of these bands Frank Black was my unquestioned favorite.

Looking back at it now, the 4 Non Blondes album is somewhat embarrassing.  Their vocalist is/was excellent, but man some of those lyrics are super cringey.  Stone Temple Pilots, hated by many Grunge fans at the time, is pretty much universally embraced now.  And without irony.  I didn't like Modest Mouse and Queens of the Stone Age until much later, but I often listened to the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Urge Overkill in my car.


Related Entries:

"Pachinko" by Min Jin Lee (2017)


"'You must swear that you'll be faithful to this man.  If you're not, you'll bring far greater shame on your mother and your dead father than what you've already done.  You must ask the Lord for forgiveness, child, and ask Him for faith and courage as you make your new home in Japan.  Be perfect, child.  Every Korean must be on his best behavior over there.  They think so little of us already.  You cannot give them any room to think worse of us.  One bad Korean ruins it for thousands of others.  And one bad Christian hurts tens of thousands of Christians everywhere, especially in a nation of unbelievers.  Do you understand my meaning?'"

Min Jin Lee is a Korean-American author resident in New York.  Prior to Pachinko she wrote one other novel, Free Food for Millionaires.

In Pachinko Sunja, daughter of an innkeeper in Busan, travels with her husband Isak to Osaka, where they spend the rest of their lives.  From that point on Pachinko tells the story of Sunja's children and her children's children, two generations of Japan-born Koreans struggling to survive the privations and prejudices that inform pre- and postwar Japan.

At the center of the novel is the role Korean immigrants have played in Japanese society.  In the early 1900s Korea was run as a Japanese colony, with Japanese landlords making life very difficult for Koreans living there.   For this reason Sunja naturally thinks moving to Japan will make her life easier, but in Japan her family is forced to live in a ghetto, they are denied many opportunities due to either Japanese law or Japanese taboos, and their lives are beset by poverty.

One thing I liked about this book was how seamlessly the author switches between different perspectives.  One minute she's telling the story from Sunja's point of view, the next minute she's switched to someone else's point of view without missing a beat.  It's a trick that many authors struggle with, and the author of Pachinko seems to do it effortlessly.

Aside from this strength however, several of the characters populating this novel felt very incomplete.  Sunja's sister-in-law, for instance, remains an enigma from beginning to end, as does Koh Hansu, Sunja's rich benefactor.  Some of the characters, like Sunja's husband Isak, are described in vivid, consistent detail, while Haruki's older wife seems little more than a shadow, placed there to reveal her husband's hidden weakness.

As you might expect, this incompleteness with regard to certain characters leads to their doing uncharacteristic things.  After a certain point you wonder why Sunja nurtures such an irrational hatred of a certain person, or how she magically overcomes this hatred just a chapter or two later.  You wonder how a local detective could do something like that in a local park, where some of the spectators were certain to know who he was.  You wonder at Sunja's son's fateful decision, and how he could have arrived at that decision if he'd been living apart from the source of his shame - and in the mist of a loving family - for decades.  I suppose that to the author some of these things seemed very "Japanese," but no, I'm not buying it.

Pachinko also seems incomplete as a novel.  I can't say whether it was the work of overzealous editors or the author's desire to be concise at the expense of compelling details, but the whole thing feels disjointed, as if there are chapters missing.  Sunja's older son is the most glaring example of this, but the relationship between Sunja and Koh Hansu could have also been laid out better.  As it is they seem to float in and out of each other's lives, and this relationship, which is at the center of the story the author is trying to tell, needed a bigger presence in the book.  The lack of it, of course, leads to a rather lackluster conclusion.

Pachinko is an interesting book though, and it offers an interesting perspective on regional history.  I came to it knowing almost nothing about Korea in the early 1900s, and the interactions between Sunja's family and Japanese society were definitely food for thought.  I live in Taiwan, and the similarities between what various characters undergo in Pachinko and historical anecdotes from Taiwanese history made me think that the two countries have a lot more in common than people realize.

Is Pachinko a perfect book?  Far from it.  Yet it's entertaining despite its flaws, and for this reason I'd recommend it.

Related Entries 相關的文章:

"Wool" by Hugh Howey (2013)
"The Bridge Over the Neroch and Other Works" by Leonid Tsypkin (2012)
"The Sea, the Sea" by Iris Murdoch (1978)
"The Power and the Glory" by Graham Greene (1940)

2020年4月19日 星期日

Some Other Movies From 1979 (2)


For further background on the year in film please refer to the Some Other Movies From 1979 entry.

Some things that happened in 1979:
  • The US and the People's Republic of China established full diplomatic relations.  Sorry, Taiwan!
  • Pol Pot's regime fell in Cambodia.  Good riddance.  For details see The Killing Fields.
  • The Dukes of Hazzard appeared on CBS.  As a kid I had a General Lee toy.
  • The Ayattolah Khomeini assumed leadership of Iran (for details see Argo).
  • Walter Carlos became Wendy Carlos.  Her soundtrack to A Clockwork Orange is classic in more ways than one.
  • China attempted to invade Vietnam.  Both sides claimed victory afterward.
  • The compact disc was displayed publicly for the first time.
  • Idi Amin fled Uganda.  For details see The Last King of Scotland.
  • McDonald's introduced the Happy Meal.
  • The Sony Walkman went on sale in Japan.
  • Michael Jackson released Off the Wall.  Still my favorite of his albums.
  • There were many advances in space exploration, among them Voyager 1's pictures of Jupiter's rings, the launch of the Columbia space shuttle, and the launch of Skylab.
  • The government of Canada failed in a no-confidence motion.
Linked entries can be viewed in their entirety on YouTube.
Excellent

1. Scum

Ray Winstone stars in this film about a British borstal.  It makes a lot of good points regarding the process of institutionalization and the performances are excellent.  You might be reminded of the earlier One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, but Scum is still an excellent film in its own right.
Some Good Ones

1. The Rose That Swallowed a Thorn

Is it just me or did the late 70s arrive later in South Korea?  You don't really see glimpses of that decade until this movie.  Suddenly there's color, suddenly there's sunlight, and suddenly there's disco.

In The Rose That Swallowed a Thorn a young girl tries - and fails - to self-actualize by dating a series of men.  Despite the upbeat beginning everything goes downhill from there.  It's on the melodramatic side, and there are pacing/editing issues, but it's not bad.

2. Escape from Alcatraz

I can't say it's one of Clint Eastwood's best movies, but it's far from his worst.  It was on TV all the time when I was a kid, and I thought I'd renew my acquaintance.   It's a solid if unsurprising movie.

Don Siegel, one of Eastwood's longtime collaborators, directed this film, with Eastwood as convict Frank Morris, a man bent on escaping America's toughest prison.  I have the feeling that if Hollywood told the same story today it would be far less grounded in fact.  As it is Siegel keeps things fairly realistic and a sense of peril permeates the movie.

Fun Fact: Patrick McGoohan, who appears as the warden, was the star of the TV series The Prisoner.  In that TV show he played a man bent on escaping a far stranger kind of prison island.  He'd go on to play King Edward I in Mel Gibson's Braveheart.

3. Salem's Lot

David Soul stars as a writer returning to small town Maine to research an old house.  James Mason costars as a sinister dealer in antiquities.  Tobe Hooper directed, with a script based on Stephen King's novel.  At 3+ hours this TV miniseries involves a certain level of comittment, but if you approach it more as "mystery/supense" and less as "horror" you won't be disappointed.

4. Mad Max

As with Escape from Alcatraz above I'd already seen this one, but it was so long ago I couldn't remember much.  When people mention Mad Max my first thought has always been "The Road Warrior was much better," but when I actually thought about it I couldn't come up with a single reason why.

In Mad Max a YOUNG Mel Gibson plays a highway patrolman in the near future.  Cars are trashed, manly men settle scores, and the Australian Outback scrolls by endlessly.  Mad Max: Fury Road it most definitely isn't, but you can get a feel of where director George Miller was starting from.

And is it just me, or is Mad Max - at least as seen in this movie - an incredibly irresponsible person?  He knows the bikers are gunning for him, and yet he takes his family on vacation before they've been apprehended.  That, and he keeps leaving both his wife and son alone for long periods of time.  Kind of hard not to blame him a little for what happens after.

Fun Fact: This movie once held the Guinness World Record for most profitable film.  It was filmed on a miniscule budget and went on to make millions.

5. Caligula

It's the late 70s.  You're making a sexually explicit historical epic centered around the rise and fall of the Roman emperor Caligula.  Who's your first choice for the lead?  Yeah, Malcolm McDowell...

I get why critics at the time hated it.  Bob "Penthouse" Guccione was attached, and even though he'd had previous encounters with Hollywood he wasn't really making his presence felt until this one.

But - if you look past all the penises and vaginas - this is still a good movie and also one of McDowell's finest performances.  The rest of the cast - those with speaking parts, that is - are very good as well.  So if you're working your way through the more eccentric movies of the 70s, I'd encourage you to give this one a chance.  It tells and interesting story and it isn't afraid to shock you in the telling.

Fun Fact: Gore Vidal wrote the screenplay with a heavy emphasis on homosexual sex.  Most of his screenplay was ignored by the director, though a few homosexual sex scenes were included in the finished product.

6. Meteor

Sean Connery stars as an astrophysicist leading a US-Soviet effort to destroy a meteor.  It doesn't generate as much tension as it should, and some of the post-Star Wars special effects leave something to be desired, but the script was good and Karl Malden somehow manages to carry most of the film.  Critics despised it, but I thought it was alright.

Fun Fact: Marvel Comics released a comic book to accompany the movie.
Not Bad, Just Not Into It

1. The Muppet Movie

I gave it a try, but I'm not five anymore.  I think the time when adults could watch movies full of puppets has come and gone.  Respect to Jim Henson, but this movie did nothing for me.
Definitely Not Good, But Timely

1. Plague (a.k.a. The Gemini Strain)

There is exactly one person in this movie who can act, and this one person (the secretary) makes everyone else look so much worse than they otherwise would.  In this SUPER low budget movie a medical research facility accidentally unleashes a lethal bacteria on an unsuspecting population.  Does that sound familiar?  Maybe like something you've seen on the news?
Some Bad Ones

1. Kid with the Golden Arm

Man, the fight choreography in this movie is not awesome.  Makes you realize why Jackie Chan got so popular later on.  It also isn't quite bad enough to be good.  It's a Shaw Brothers film, and it certainly enjoys a following, but I wasn't loving it.  The 36th Chamber of Shaolin is heaps better.

2. Rock n' Roll High School

It's going to sound crass, but you know what this movie needed?  Titties.  Big ol' titties.  Titties were the saving grace of all the fondly-remembered 80s teen sex comedies, and this movie is a desert when it comes to titties.  Instead of titties it's got the Ramones and some actors you might remember from much better movies - but that's all.

This movie enjoys a certain cult status, but even Ramones fans have to admit that The Ramones were only picked because Cheap Trick and Todd Rundgren were busy.

3. More American Graffiti

Dismal, misguided attempt to reacquaint us with the characters from the first movie.  The chronology doesn't make sense and much of the movie is shot in a split-screen style that makes it difficult to focus on anything.  The director did a lot of TV later on.

4. Spider-man: The Dragon's Challenge (a.k.a. "The Chinese Web")

With this movie I conclude the TV trilogy that began with Spider-man, continued with Spider-man Strikes back, and ends with this movie.  It's been a long road, it hasn't always been easy, but I took the challenge and survived to tell the tale.

This one has to be the worst of the three.  By this point they'd weakened Spider-man to the point where you wonder why he's present in his own movie, and the action scenes are uniformly bad.  True, Spider-man does have a kung fu fight in this one, and I enjoyed this after being denied a karate fight in Spider-man Strikes Back, but damn if that isn't the slowest kung fu fight ever filmed.

This one ends in Hong Kong.  It's kind of interesting to see what Hong Kong looked like back in 1979, but the pleasure of seeing it's diminished by the sheer randomness of the movie by that point: visits to a Taoist ceremony, strolls through a market, shots of the ports.  It's if those producing this film knew how thin the story was, and decided to fill the remainder of the movie with bits of their trip to Hong Kong.

Fun Fact: Ted Danson and Rosalind Chao are in this.  Chao was 22 at the time, and if I may say so she looked amazing in that red dress.

5. Quintet

To describe this movie as "turgid" would be an act of charity.  It's one of the dullest films I've ever seen.  What's surprising is that auteur director Robert Altman helmed it, with none other that Paul Newman in the lead.  It's boring: terribly, existentially boring.  Having made this and the still more disastrous Health during the same year, no wonder Altman had such trouble making Popeye the year after.

6. Breakthrough

Man, Richard Burton was NOT looking good in 1979.  According to Wikipedia he was smoking around 100 cigarettes a day, and drinking three to four bottles of liquor during the same time period.  He'd die of a brain haemorrage in 1984, but his lifestyle must have been a contributing factor.

Breakthrough is, by the way, an unofficial sequel to Sam Peckinpah's far superior Cross of Iron.  Only one of the actors from Peckinpah's movie returned for Breakthrough, and most fans of Cross of Iron like to pretend Breakthrough doesn't exist.  I can't blame them.  The plot goes nowhere fast, it's impossible to sympathize with the characters, and Peckinpah's more sardonic take on the horrors of war was entirely forgotten.
So Bad It's Good

1. Prophecy

Remember that one movie where Armand Assante played a Native American?  No?  Well, it's this one just the same!

It's hard to believe John Frankenheimer directed this.  I know he's directed a few duds, but this one is beyond the pale.  It's ridiculous from the minute the local tribe shows up, and steadily picks up steam from there.  That scene with the raccoon?  One of the funniest things I've seen in a while.  The weird bear thing at the end is also classic.

2. Hot Stuff

How is this entire movie not entrapment?  Anyway, Jerry Reed, Dom DeLuise and Suzanne Pleschette (!) star as a team of burglary detectives running a sting operation inside an old pawn shop.  Besides starring in it Dom DeLuise also directed.  And while we're on the subject, how does the policeman who takes the bribes not know who Jerry Reed and Dom DeLuise really are?  Wouldn't they be working in the same precinct?

That scene with the British couple has to be one of the cringiest scenes ever.  On what planet does one purchase weed that good?  People have had more restrained acid trips.

Fun Fact: There's a Close Encounters of the Third Kind pinball machine in the corner of the pawn shop.

Related Entries:

Some Other Movies From 1978 (2)
Superhero Movies From October 2018 Onward (11)
Some Other Movies From 1977 (2)
Some Other Movies From 1976 (2)

2020年4月14日 星期二

"Wool" by Hugh Howey (2013)


"When they reached one-thirty-nine together, Marck knew they'd made it.  His legs had somehow held out.  The blood loss hadn't stopped him.  With his wife helping him along, they passed the landing before Mechanical, and all he could think about was holding the line against those bastards who were taking shots at them from above.  Inside Mechanical, they would have power, safety in numbers, the advantage of home turf.  More importantly, they would be able to bandage wounds and get some rest.  That's what he sorely needed: rest."

Hugh Howey is an American writer of science fiction.  In the years since publishing Wool online in 2011, he's written many other books.  Two of these books are sequels to this one.

Wool imagines a future in which the remainder of humanity lives inside silos organized around a rigid, unchanging societal order.  Each silo is nominally run by a popularly elected mayor, and this mayor's decisions are enforced by a small group of sheriffs.  Countering the mayor's power is the head of IT, who both controls the silo's servers and retains a privileged knowledge of the silo's history.

All of which works out fine until an individual or individuals in any silo figure out how their silo really works.  The result of such a discovery is invariably violent revolution, and - as I'm sure you've already guessed - this is what happens in Wool.  In this particular instance a young woman from the bowels of the silo is elected to the post of sherriff, and what happens after her election involves a radical restructuring of her silo's society.

Aside from an overfondess for the word "quieten," Hugh Howey is a good writer.  His writing shows a polish you don't often see nowadays, and his command of the story he's telling makes plain the weaknesses of more technical authors like Andy Weir and Neal Stephenson.  In Wool it's the story that comes first, rather than the technical details.

In fact my only complaint about Wool is the way almost every chapter ends with a cliffhanger.  Someone's in trouble, oh no!  Cut to another part of the silo.  Take two steps back.  Do not pass "Go."  Oh no, someone's in trouble again!  Cut to three years ago.  On and on it goes.  A little of this would have been justified, but as it is it grows annoying toward the end of the book.  Creating suspense is fine, but after so many cliffhangers this tactic grows tiresome.

That said I consider Wool one of the best science fiction books I've read in some time.  I'm looking forward to reading the sequels.

Related Entries:

"Science Fiction Stories" edited by Edward Blishen (1988)
The Remembrance of Earth's Past Trilogy by Cixin Liu (2014)
"The Paper Menagerie" by Ken Liu (2016)
"Seveneves" by Neal Stephenson (2015)

2020年4月4日 星期六

Some Other Movies From 1978 (2)


For further background on the year in film please refer to the Some Other Movies From 1978 entry.

Some things that happened in 1978:
  • The Copyright Act of 1978 took effect.  Might not sound like a big deal, but it was.
  • The Sex Pistols held their last concert.
  • Ted Bundy killed several women at a sorority house (for details see: Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile)
  • Director Roman Polanski skipped bail and fled to France.
  • Electrical workers in Mexico City discovered the remains of the Great Pyramid of Tenochtitlan.
  • The first global positioning satellite was sent into orbit.
  • The San Francisco city council signed a gay rights bill.
  • The World Cup was held in Argentina.
  • The leaders of Egypt and Israel won a Nobel Peace Prize for working out their differences.
  • Vietnam and Cambodia weren't getting along well.  For that matter, neither were Ethiopia and anyone else.

Linked entries can be viewed in their entirety on YouTube.




Excellent


1. Watership Down

Part rabbit-oriented adaptation of Rudyard Kipling's Jungle Book stories, part unspeakable horror that terrorized a generation.  I can remember watching it when I was little, and it sure gave me some nightmares.  The animation is excellent for the time, and the script was well written.




70s Gloriousness


1. Hooper

Damn Sally Field was sexy back then.  Hooper, Stay Hungry, Smokey and the Bandit... the list goes on and on.  Sure, she won the Best Actress Oscar the following year for Norma Rae - an honor she truly deserved - but let us not forget how SEXY Sally Field was in the late 70s.

In Hooper Field costars with Burt Reynolds (R.I.P.).  Reynolds plays a stuntman nearing the end of his career, and Fields plays his girlfriend.  It's all silly fun, and those who scoff at the implausibility of the barfight at the Palomino are missing something.  Hal Needham, who knew a thing or two about stuntwork and also directed Reynolds (and Field) in Smokey and the Bandit, directed this one too.

And it really has everything: huge, flared bellbottoms with stars, rocket-powered Trans-Ams, people drinking and driving without seatbelts, doctors smoking in hospitals, "zaniness," and jokes that aren't all that funny but which Burt Reynolds somehow manages to make funny anyway.  In 1978 this movie almost made as much money as Star Wars, and that's saying something.

Fun Fact: After their "bender" Reynolds and co. watch outtakes from Deliverance at his house.




Some Good Ones


1. Death on the Nile

Whatever happened to Lois Chiles?  1979's Moonraker, and then nothing!  Wikipedia says she took a three-year hiatus from acting, and after that Hollywood kind of forgot about her.

Death on the Nile adapts Agatha Christie's famous novel.  Aside from Chiles, Mia Farrow, David Niven, Angela Lansbury and many others make up the cast.  If you liked the recent Knives Out you'll probably also like this one.  The director, John Guillermin, also directed The Towering Inferno.

Fun Fact: Another film adaptation of Christie's novel is due this year.  This version of Death on the Nile is directed by Kenneth Branagh, who is also starring as Hercule Poirot.

2. The Boys from Brazil

On the one hand it's a great premise: Nazis hiding out in South America, and Nazi hunters desperately trying to find them.  On the other hand it's bungled in the execution.  The beginning of this movie is solid, but it somehow fails to generate any kind of tension.  Laurence Olivier's character is a bit too bumbling to be credible, and many of the characters aren't fleshed out to anyone's satisfaction.  And why are the Nazis all speaking English?  In Brazil?  Just to make it easier for people to record their conversations?

Anyway, once it shifts into science fiction mode it gets better.  I liked it, but there are definitely better movies from that year.

Fun Fact: Gregory Peck starred in this two years after The Omen.  In both movies he plays a "father" who sires... EVIL!

Random Thought: A sequel to this movie, told from "Bobby's" point of view could be interesting.  I know they did something similar with Omen II and III, but those movies were distinctly lacking in Nazis.

3. Capricorn One

80% of this movie is excellent, but toward the end there's a coincidence that's really hard to buy into, and it really flubs the landing.  But yeah - up to the last 15 minutes or so it's great.

Peter Hyams directed this movie about a NASA-centric conspiracy.  As this movie is less famous in 2020, I don't want to give away any more than that.  Hal Holbrook, James Brolin and Elliot Gould star.  I'm guessing the studio got nervous about its length, and there were some shenanigans in the editing room.  It's really too bad, because if it had been allowed to run its course it would have been much, much better.

4. The Legacy

It's a decent horror movie, even if the person who scored it should've been fired.  There are moments where the soundtrack completely destroys the mood - and horror movies are all about mood.

The beautiful Katharine Ross and Sam Elliot (!) star as two Americans mixed up with a group of sinister British aristocrats.  Richard Marquand, the director, would go on to direct both Return of the Jedi (!) and Jagged Edge in the 80s.

Fun Fact 1: The Who's Roger Daltrey appears in this.

Fun Fact 2: Despite winning several awards, Katharine Ross was never as famous as she could have been.  She turned down several high profile roles for various reasons.  Many of these roles went to Jacqueline Bisset, who appeared in The Greek Tycoon (below).  Ross married costar Sam Elliot years after filming The Legacy.  They remain married to this day.

Fun Fact 3: Charles Gray, who appears as one of the manor's "guests," also appeared in the Bond films You Only Live Twice and Diamonds are Forever.  In Diamonds are Forever he played the role of Blofeld.




Weirdness


1. Jubilee

Adam Ant is in this!  Beyond that, it's about... uh... not exactly sure.  You see, there's the queen of England, right... and her fortune teller/court astrologer/whatever he is is telling her about the future... and then it's the future, kind of like A Clockwork Orange but a lot lower-budget... and then... and then...  I dunno.  Watch it if you want to feel "arty?"  I'm not into punk, and some of the acting in this movie is unspeakably bad, but it's nothing if not unusual.




Not Bad, but Just Not My Thing


1. The Last Waltz

Martin Scorsese directed this documentary on The Band's last show.  And I'm so NOT into The Band.  Watching this film in 2020, I was moved by their professionalism (that drummer had such a nice, light touch), but the music itself did nothing for me.  The movie FM, as terrible as it is, came out the same year and offers a glimpse at the niche The Band occupied.




Some Bad Ones


1. The (First) Great Train Robbery

Heist movie featuring Sean Connery, one of his less convincing hairpieces, and Donald Sutherland.  Michael Crichton directed this movie from a screenplay he wrote.  Some of the double entendres are amusing, but this film fails to build any kind of momentum.  The heist at the end just kind of happens, and it's hard to care about it one way or the other.

2. The Greek Tycoon

Aristotle Onassis gets a thinly veiled Jackie Collins/Danielle Steele treatment.  Anthony Quinn stars as the titular tycoon, with Jacqueline Bisset as Jackie Kennedy.  Quinn does his best to elevate the material, but the script just isn't very good.

Fun Fact 1: L. Lee Thompson, who directed this movie, also directed The Guns of Navarone and the original Cape Fear.  He ended his career directing some of Charles Bronson's more forgettable movies.

Fun Fact 2: Despite being cast as a Greek in this and other movies, Anthony Quinn was born in Mexico to an Irish father and a Mexican mother.




So Bad It's Good


1. The Initiation of Sarah

FORESHADOWING.  A whole lotta foreshadowing.  And before you can say "Shelley Winters" or "Morgan Fairchild," Sarah is using her "gifts" for EVIL.  Yup.  Straight up evil.  It'll remind you a bit of Carrie, though in this case the "powers of the mind" have been exported to a college setting in which sororities battle for... something.  I'm not sure what.

Fun Fact: This movie was remade for TV in 2006.  Morgan Fairchild was also in the remake.

2. Devil Dog: The Hound of Hell

Hey, it's Richard Crenna!  Just a few years later he'd appear in First Blood as Colonel Trautman.  In that movie it was strictly military uniform, while in this movie he's clad in the finest men's wear the 70s had to offer.  Just check out that pantsuit.  Damn, Richard Crenna, you looking GOOD!!

The most hilarious part of this movie is the showdown at the end.  I don't want to give it away, but when the devil dog shows its true colors it's hysterical.

3. Message from Space

Japanese Star Wars ripoff with a racially mixed cast.  It's not as memorably bad as Starcrash (below), but it sure isn't Star Wars.  I had some trouble following the plot, but apparently an oppressed people disperse some kind of "seed" throughout the universe, and those who come upon their seeds become one of the seven heroes that will save the universe from the bad guy.

Fun Fact: Sonny "Street Fighter" Chiba is in this.

4. Spider-man Strikes Back

It's somehow even shoddier than the first TV movie.  Nicholas Hammond reprises his role as Peter Parker.  In this one a "Mr. White" is after an atomic bomb, and - as one would expect - a whole lotta coincidences lead up to that not happening.  My greatest complaint about this movie is that there's no karate fight between Spider-man and Mr. White.

Fun Fact 1: When the security guards are chasing Spider-man into/out of the lab, one of them says something to the effect of "That's Dr. Banner's lab!"  The implication being that Peter Parker is a student in the college where Bruce Banner is a professor.

Fun Fact 2: Joanna Cameron, who also appears in this movie, was the star of The Secrets of Isis TV show.

Fun Fact (?) 3: I'm fairly certain the Western-themed backlot toward the end of the movie is the same backlot seen in Hooper (above).




So Bad You Gotta See It


1. Starcrash

"Imperial battleship!  Halt the flow of time!"

SUPER low budget attempt to cash in on the Star Wars craze.  Marjoe Gortner, that titan of 70s B movies, stars as an... android?  Or something?  Caroline Munro, seen to better effect in The Spy Who Loved Me, costars as his copilot.  And hey, it's David Hasselhoff!  This is pre-Knight Rider folks - something for the history books.

Yet the true stars of this less-than-stellar Star Wars knockoff are the unspecial effects.  Apparently unsatisfied with the white stars seen in George Lucas' far superior film, the person in charge of special effects on this movie made them rainbow colors.  The models?  They were tiny in reality, and they look even tinier on film.

Fun Fact 1: Italian director Luigi Cozzi contributed to several of Dario Argento's films.  

Fun Fact 2: Caroline Munro also appeared in 1967's non-Eon production of Casino Royale - so she was a Bond girl twice over.  Much later on, in the 80s, the appeared in Adam Ant's video for "Goody Two Shoes."




Couldn't Go There


1. Faces of Death

I gave it a try.  I got to the part where they started cutting corpses open.  Then started thinking about the barbecue I had earlier for dinner.  That was it for me.

People who grew up with the internet will probably have a hard time understanding how this series developed the following it did.  Just cast your mind back to 1978: no internet, only four or five channels, and the home video revolution was just around the corner.  In other words, it was a lot harder to see dead people and explicit sex back then.  In 2020 you can just type whatever horrors you're looking for into Google and you'll get at least a few authentic images.  In 1978 people had to use their imaginations a lot more.

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Some Other Movies From 1976 (2)
Some Other Movies From 1975 (2)