2020年5月29日 星期五

"Pebble in the Sky" by Isaac Asimov (1950)


"Pola called up the State House the next day from a public Communi-wave at the other end of town.  She spoke through a handkerchief and asked for a Dr. Bel Arvardan."

Isaac Asimov has been discussed here several times already.  So instead of presenting you with his biography, I'll just say that when he was at the height of his powers he was the best there was.  It's too bad that he sullied his own reputation with some inferior books.  Par for the course, I guess.

Published in 1950, Pebble in the Sky isn't Asimov at his best.  It's an earlier work, and in it you can see that he was still polishing his craft.  It's definitely better than a lot of the other science fiction of the time, but it's not nearly as good as later books/stories like Foundation and I, Robot.

In the novel Joseph Schwarz is accidentally teleported into the future, where the Galactic Empire rules countless planets, in several galaxies.  Among these planets is Earth, a backwater that may have some claim to historical greatness.  While Schwarz acclimates to the future, a noted Archaeologist, Bel Arvardan, visits Earth to investigate what Earth's prehistory might have to say about humanity's origins.

On the whole it's not as far flung as Foundation, and Asimov's background in chemistry is more evident in this novel.  It exhibits some awkward word choices, and the "courtroom" scene at the end doesn't add suspense so much as bring the book to a screeching halt.  Some of the characters are entirely too credulous, while others are blinded by prejudice to an almost supernatural degree.  Throughout the novel it becomes increasingly obvious that Schwarz is a stand-in for the author, and through the Earthmen's treatment at the hands of the Galactic Empire he tries to make a point about the Jewish experience in America.  I don't think he quite succeeds in this endeavor.

This is not, however, to say that Pebble in the Sky is a bad book.  It's actually not bad.  It only suffers by comparison with other books in the same author's bibliography.  In some ways it anticipates Frank Herbert's Dune by about 15 years - a barren frontier planet newly administered by an ineffective bureaucracy, a "hero" with supernatural powers, a cross-cultural romance - and in other ways it even seems to anticipate recent news items like the coronavirus, tensions between the U.S. and China, and racial violence centered around law enforcement.  I don't want to make Pebble in the Sky sound TOO predictive or visionary, but in reading it you can't help but draw these conclusions.

Is it a good book?  Yes.  Is it an awesome book?  No.  It's fairly representative of the time in which it was written, though it does look forward to the better, more complex science fiction of the following decade.  If you liked Foundation you'll like Pebble in the Sky, if you didn't I wouldn't bother with this one.

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2020年5月20日 星期三

"Airport" by Arthur Hailey (1968)


"Well, he reflected, that helped.  Maybe, then, a quick flight to Sweden would be the thing; a few days there were all Gwen would need.  Trans American would cooperate, as airlined always did, providing they were not officially involved - the word 'abortion' could be hinted at, but must never be mentioned."

Arthur Hailey was a British-Canadian novelist.  Aside from Airport, he also wrote Hotel, Wheels and The Evening News.  Several of his books and stories, including Airport, were adapted into movies and television miniseries.  One could even say that the film adaptation of Airport, released in 1970, ushered in an era of disaster movies that perhaps ended with Airplane!, also inspired by Airport.

Airport explores a particularly stressful day at the fictional Lincoln International Airport.  The airport manager, Mel Bakersfield, is doing his best to cope with both a blizzard and a stranded plane on runway three.  At the same time, his brother-in-law, pilot Vernon Demerest, is dealing with the consequences of an extramarital affair.  Mel's brother and Vernon's brother-in-law Keith is dealing with the aftereffects of a traumatic incident which might be influencing his performance as one of the airport's air traffic controllers.

Aside from this general plot there are the operations and airport procedures which occupy the other half of the book.  Through Airport we get a look at topics as varied as the state of aviation, baggage handling regulations, the manner in which customs officers inspect for contraband, the management of airport businesses, and just about everything else pertaining to the state of airports in the late 60s.  It can be interesting if you like that sort of thing - as I do - but in the novel there's an uneasy marriage between the technical details and the situations in which the characters find themselves.  At certain points one gets the feeling that Arthur Hailey would have preferred writing a nonfiction book about airports, but since there was less money in that he wrote a novel set in an airport instead.

My biggest complaint about this book is its lack of moral ambiguity.  Even the abortion discussions that Vernon finds himself participating in are very black and white, without any room for interpretation.  The bad people are bad, the good people are good, and although the characters do overcome certain inner conflicts they're never really changed by their experiences - no matter how stressful or traumatic.  I thought the "bomber" character in particular could have been developed better.  Making him more sympathetic would have added a lot to the book.

This novel also has its share of unnecessary subplots.  There's the lawyer character's scheme, for instance, or Mel and Tanya's romance.  If the author had just whittled this thing down to a more focused conflict between Mel, Vernon and Keith this novel would've had a lot more room for the technical details he was interested in, and the resulting book would have been a lot for to the point.

Of course the flipside to having too many subplots is the lack of development with regard to certain characters.  Keith's dilemma could have been explored in greater detail, but as it is the author has to rush through it.  Tanya and Gwen, Vernon's girlfriend, are little more than props.  Even Mel, who was played so brilliantly by Burt Lancaster in the movie, seems somewhat lost in his own story.  Vernon's character doesn't always make a great deal of sense, and giving him more motivation for disliking Mel would have elevated the story.

One interesting aspect of this book is very the male-centric society in which its characters operate.  The year in which Airport takes place is a year in which it was good to be a man, and more specifically good to be a white, Anglo-Saxon man.  The discussions of abortion also offer a good window into the morality of the time, even if this morality will seem outmoded to modern readers.  Those waxing nostalgic over former times would do well to read this book, and consider how they would fare in its time period.  In some ways it might seem a purer time, where right and wrong were more easily distinguished, but it was also a repressive time, in which a certain subset of the population tended to dominate public affairs.

My recommendation?  It definitely drags at times, but for the most part I liked Airport.  I doubt I'll be reading other books by the same author, but if you enjoyed the 1970 film you'll find that the novel adds an extra dimension to that story.  Airport is far from the best-written book I've ever read, but it was interesting nonetheless.

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Note: It's easy to confuse Arthur Hailey with Alex Hailey, the author of Roots.  Alex Hailey was the recipient of a Pulitzer Prize, so I'm assuming he was a much better writer than Arthur Hailey.

Some Other Movies From 1981 (2)

For further background on the year in film please refer to the Some Other Movies From 1981 entry.

Some things that happened in 1981:
  • Palau became a country.  Can you find Palau on a map?  Quick!  I'll be timing you!
  • The Iran Hostage Crisis came to an end with the release of 52 hostages.
  • The first DeLorean rolled off a production line in Ireland.  It was later sent back... to the future!
  • The pope visited the Philippines.  They had just lifted martial law there.
  • John Hinckley Jr. tried to kill President Reagan.
  • Coca-Cola opened the first bottling plant in China.
  • A panel selected Maya Lin's design for the Vietnam War Veteran's Memorial in Washington D.C.
  • Bob Marley died.
  • The American CDC discovered unusual cases of pneumonia among homosexuals.  These cases would later be recognized as AIDS.
  • Donkey Kong arrived in arcades worldwide.  I spent a lot of my seventh year playing that one.
  • Prince Charles and Lady Di got married.  I remember seeing that on TV.
  • Belize became a country.  Easier to find on a map, I think.
  • The Police released Ghost in the Machine.  Great album.
  • "Luke" and "Laura" got married on TV's General Hospital.  This was a huge deal at the time.
  • The Iran-Iraq War was a thing.  To quote a famous comedian: "It's spelled with an 'N!'" [firing] "No, it's spelled with a 'Q!'" [firing back].
Linked entries can be viewed in their entirety on YouTube.
Excellent

1. The Howling

An almost perfect horror movie with a sense of humor.  My only complaint is the transformation scenes, which a) go on too long, and b) suffer by comparison with An American Werewolf in London, which came out the same year.  To be sure, director Joe Dante squandered the credibility he'd built up with The Howling, but this movie is a glimpse at what he might have achieved if he hadn't pursued more populist forms of entertainment later on.  Dee Wallace is also excellent in the lead role.

Fun Fact: John Carradine, who appears as "the old crazy guy" in this movie, is the father of David, Robert and Keith Carradine.
Some Good Ones

1. The History of the World Part 1

"It's good to be the king."

Mel Brooks' take on world history.  It's still funny, but not hilariously so.  Watching it in 2020, it's hard not to reflect on how much more successful Monty Python was with similar material, and also how the relative popularity of both this movie and the various Python films makes more sense now. 

Not-So-Fun Fact: Richard Pryor was originally signed on to play Gregory Hines' role.  Unfortunately he SET HIMSELF ON FIRE prior to production, and while this movie was being filmed he was in the hospital.

2. Southern Comfort

It's a Walter Hill movie, so you know it's going to be MANLY.  Hill would go on to direct 48 Hrs. the following year.  Keith Carradine (best actor of all the Carradines), Fred Ward and Powers Boothe star as Louisiana national guardsmen pursued through a swamp by vengeful Cajuns.  It's watchable, but these guys accelerate into Stanford Prison Experiment-style dementia WAY too fast.  Ry Cooder's soundtrack is probably the best part of the movie.  I loved the ending, but cutting 15 minutes out of the swamp pursuit would have made this movie a lot better.

Fun Fact: Another Predator connection?  Without Warning (below) was the inspiration for that later movie, but Sonny Landham, who plays the Native American guy in Predator, is also in Southern Comfort.  The plot of Southern Comfort and the plot of Predator are also in some ways very similar.

3. Nighthawks

Sylvester Stallone and Billy Dee Williams star as two New York cops assisting a counter-terrorism effort.  It takes forever to get going, but after Stallone spots Rutger Hauer in the nightclub it gets a lot better.  It's one of Stallone's more forgotten movies, following 1979's Rocky II.  He wouldn't be an 80s superstar until the appearance of both Rocky III and First Blood the following year.

Fun Fact 1: This was Rutger Hauer's first American movie.  He'd do Blade Runner after this one.

Fun Fact 2: Lindsay Wagner's in this.  It's one of the handful of films she'd do after The Bionic Woman TV show.

Fun Fact 3: Plagued by production difficulties, this project began as The French Connection III.  Two directors left the project during filming, leaving Stallone to complete the film.


Was artificial insemination not a thing in 1981?  According to this movie, it wasn't.  Burt Reynolds stars as a man looking for a surrogate mom for his potential offspring, with Beverly D'Angelo as the surrogate mom.  The creepy title sequence aside, there are a few funny scenes, and this movie finds Burt Reynolds stepping very obviously into the 80s.  Critics were not loving it, however.

Fun Fact: D'Angelo appeared in this movie after playing Patsy Cline in Coal Miner's Daughter (great movie) and before playing Ellen Griswold in the first Vacation.  She'd eventually have kids with Al Pacino, though they never married.  These kids were conceived via in-vitro fertilization.


Sure, Wolfen, An American Werewolf in London and The Howling all came out in 1981, but what about Full Moon High?  Maybe it's easier to forget about it because it's a comedy, and also because it was made on a miniscule budget.  It's about as funny as Paternity above.

Fun Fact 1: The star of this movie, Adam Arkin, is the son of actor Alan Arkin.

Fun Fact 2: Both Bob Saget and Pat Morita are in this for a few minutes each.


Speaking of Coal Miner's Daughter - a movie for which Sissy Spacek won the Best Actress Oscar in 1981 - both her and Eric Roberts star in this drama about small town romance.  It's not bad, but it definitely has its faults.  The Raggedy Man character could have been better developed, more scenes of Spacek interacting with the townspeople would have helped the story, and the suspenseful ending doesn't match what has come before it.

Fun Fact: Henry Thomas appears in this movie as one of Spacek's two sons.  Thomas would appear as Eliot in Steven Spielberg's E.T. the following year.
Not Bad, But Not Really Good

1. The House by the Cemetery

A professor and his family move into a spooky New England house.  It's Lucio Fulci, so I wanted to like it more than I did, but the first half is WAY too similar to Stanley Kubrick's The Shining, which came out the year before.  The characters in it also look and act too Italian to be taken seriously as New Yorkers.  The second half, however, is more like the slasher picture you'd expect.

A couple of the death scenes in this movie really bothered me.  Why would someone just stand or sit there and allow another person to stab them to death?  I get that one person's foot was stuck in the floorboards, and that another person was locked in a basement, but really?  You're just going to remain where you are, screaming passively while someone murders you?

Parenting Pro Tip: When your young son tells you that he saw his babysitter beheaded on the stairs it's probably better to believe him.

2. Private Lessons

Teenage boys of the 1980s, begin your furtive, shame-ridden masturbation in 5, 4, 3, 2...1!

This movie is NOT great, but it was the beginning of a whole series of "Private" teen sex comedies in the 80s.  None of these other teen sex comedies were great either.  Sylvia "Emmanuelle" Kristel is in this, and there's a lot of nudity, but that's all I can say in its favor.

But if I might return to the film's first scene for a moment, what's going on with Philly's friend?  He thinks his sister is sexy, and he wants to see her naked?  His sister?  Not even his step-sister?
Some Bad Ones

1. Saturday the 14th

Painfully unfunny horror parody that has absolutely nothing to do with Jason Voorhees.  Had I purchased a ticket for this movie in 1981, I'm sure I would have asked for my money back.

2. Roar

FUCK this movie is terrible.  On the one hand you've got this American Humane Society-sponsored view of African wildlife (what happens when those animals get released?  If ever?), and on the other you've got a story that's just barely there AND some of the worst acting I've ever seen.  Tippi Hedren and Melanie Griffith are in it, but the stars of the movie are the big cats in the sanctuary.

Fun Fact: Griffith bailed on this movie halfway through the shoot.  She stated that she didn't want to leave the movie "with half a face."  There were multiple injuries from animal attacks during filming, and Roar has since been described as "the most dangerous movie ever made."

3. S.O.B.

Bored me to tears.  Did this really come out in 1981?  Feels a lot more like something that would've appeared in the late 70s.  Blake Edwards, entertainment types, Hollywood... it's all very familiar... too familiar.  The plot centers around a movie that bombs - or a movie that's going to bomb - I'm not sure - and a studio executive losing his mind.  I guess it was supposed to be funny, but it wasn't doing anything for me.  In terms of Hollywood satire, I think Robert Altman's The Player is much better.
So Bad It's Good

1. Without Warning (a.k.a. It Came Without Warning)

"Alieeeennn!!!"

You know clay pigeons?  Those things used for skeet shooting?  Well imagine living clay pigeons that propel themselves through the air.  Once the clay pigeons hit you they shoot out gross, mucus-covered tentacles into your body.  Case closed.  Exit stage left.  No extra lives.  I'm not sure why Jack Palance and Martin Landau are in this - maybe they needed the money.

Fun Fact 1: David Caruso's in this movie until he isn't.

Fun Fact 2: This movie was the inspiration for the far superior Schwarzenegger vehicle Predator.  The guy who played the Predator also played the... whatever-it-is in this movie.
And the Award for Most Unintentionally Hilarious Movie Goes To...

1. Tarzan the Ape Man

"I wallow in me."

Yes, Richard Harris.  Yes you do.  And to my great surprise Bo Derek is far from the worst part of this movie.  She looks great naked of course, and yeah, she has her share of cringe-worthy dialog, but the worst (or best?) part of this movie is the script, which does no one any favors.  It's full of long conversations that make little sense, and at the halfway mark it puts its characters into the most unlikely situations, almost as if they were all suffering from heatstroke and had temporarily lost their senses.  And what's the deal with that swimming scene anyway?  Is she afraid of Tarzan or the lion?  What's Tarzan trying to do?  Why is the lion even there?  Where were her dad and the rest of the party?  Why suddenly decide to take a nude bath in the ocean, and then later decide to put your clothes back on? 

The mind reels.  In 1981 a lot of critics were nominating either this movie or The History of the World Part 1 for "worst picture."  In my opinion Mel Brooks' movie doesn't even approach the monumental badness of Tarzan the Ape Man.  Don't believe me?  Watch it... and be amazed!

Fun Fact 1: The director of this movie, John Derek, was Bo Derek's husband.

Fun Fact 2: Contrary to what you might think, this movie actually turned a profit.

Fun Fact 3: Before he turned his attention to writing the (abominably bad) script for this movie, one of the screenwriters had been commissioned to write a script centered around the comic book character Dazzler.  Bo Derek would have starred in the Dazzler movie if Tarzan the Ape Man hadn't been made instead.

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2020年5月6日 星期三

"The History of the Jews" by Paul Johnson (1987)


"Hence when the ghetto walls fell, and the Jews walked out into freedom, they found they were entering a new, less tangible but equally hostile ghetto of suspicion.  They had exchanged ancient disabilities for modern anti-Semitism."

Paul Johnson is an English historian and politician.  He's known for his conservative views.  Many years ago I also read his Birth of the Modern: World Society 1815-1830.

The History of the Jews, as you might expect, starts in antiquity and ends in the late 80s, when this book was published.  It's divided into seven sections, which are: Israelites, Judaism, Cathedocracy, Ghetto, Emancipation, Holocaust and Zion.  Zion, which closes the book, describes how the state of Israel came to be.

I was familiar with most of the theology, thinkers and historical incidents presented in this book, though there were a couple surprises.  If you've taken a course (or read a book) on the development of religion in the ancient world you'll probably feel the same way.  I didn't find much of interest in this book until the last two chapters, these dealing with the Jewish dilemma during and after World War II.

In terms of style I have nothing bad to say about Paul Johnson.  He can be plodding at times, but he states his arguments clearly and offers a lot of supporting evidence.  This was even more the case in The Birth of the Modern, which I found to be the more insightful of the two books.

My one complaint about this treatment of Jewish history is that it felt like it needed another chapter: Diaspora.  Outlining the history of Jews in lands beyond the Middle East, the United States and Europe would have added another dimension to discussions of both the Holocaust and Israel, and would have also made the book as a whole feel more relevant to a wider number of readers.  To some extent the author does do this in the Zion chapter, but his analyses of more remote Jewish communities are very brief, and obscured by a more statistical approach to the subject.

Related Entries:

"The Bridge Over the Neroch and Other Works" by Leonid Tsypkin (2012)
A Smattering of New Age Theosophy

2020年5月2日 星期六

Some Other Movies From 1980 (2)


For further background on the year in film please refer to the Some Other Movies From 1980 entry.  Written three years ago, that's the earliest of the "Some Other Movies" entries.  

...and I've gotta say, it was strangely difficult to find movies I haven't already seen from 1980.  1979?  No problem!  1981?  Not that hard!  The movies of 1980, however, seem to be somewhat elusive.  Maybe it has something to do with the arrival of VHS?

Some things that happened in 1980:
  • U.S. President Jimmy Carter was attempting to deal with an energy crisis AND an economic crisis.  He wasn't doing a very good job with either.
  • Indira Gandhi became Prime Minister of India.
  • Someone invented the Rubik's Cube.
  • AC/DC's Bon Scott died.  Back in Black would come out the same year.
  • The U.S. severed diplomatic relations with Iran.  No big surprise.
  • Iron Maiden's self-titled debut album appeared.
  • Smallpox was eradicated.
  • Mount St. Helens erupted.  I was a five year old in a car headed toward Oregon at the time, and I can remember wondering why it was "snowing."
  • Pac-Man was released in Japan.
  • Ronald Reagan was elected President.
  • China's population reached 1 billion.  They're up to about 1.4 billion now.
  • The Gang of Four trial was held in China.
  • John Lennon was killed in New York.
Linked entries can be viewed in their entirety on YouTube.
Excellent

1. Hopscotch

Malter Matthau and the great Glenda Jackson star in this espionage farce.  Matthau's breezy charm keeps it chugging along, and Jackson adds a touch of class to every scene she's in.*  This movie's also a treat if you're into obsolete technology - that turntable/cassette combo, the rotary dial payphone in England, and even the decor in the bar Matthau frequents.  I'd love to travel back to 1979/80, sit right in the middle of that bar, and listen to people talk...

Fun Fact: Ronald Neame, the director of this movie, also directed The Poseidon Adventure in 1972 and Meteor (recently reviewed here) in 1979.

2. Brave New World

BBC television movie.  It does more than adapt the novel for television, it takes the concepts in Aldous Huxley's novel and runs with them, creating something more akin to an exploration rather than a straight adaptation.  The production values were low, but the screenplay would've been worth reading in its own right.  Critics at the time found it boring, but I loved it.
Some Good Ones


1. The Gods Must Be Crazy

I'd seen it, but I couldn't have been older than six.

In The Gods Must Be Crazy a Kalahari bushman goes on a journey to ride his tribe of "an evil thing."  The story plays with the idea of what it means to be civilized, with the bushman coming into contact with various "civilized" people on his journey to the end of the Earth.  It's cute and harmless in the way that the bushmen are protrayed as being cute and harmless, but the physical comedy grows tiresome.  I liked it, but it tells its tale with a certain condescension toward its characters.

Fun Fact 1: This film remains the most financially successful South African movie ever made.

Fun Fact 2: This movie spawned a whole series of films, some leading to the bushman character's appearance in Hong Kong.

2. Shogun Assassin

A simply story of revenge told in the most stylish manner possible.  Oh, and it's really gory.  In Shogun Assassin a man and his young son battle an army of ninjas.  The only thing keeping me from listing this movie under "Excellent" is its incompleteness.  It was pieced together from a Japanese TV series, and seems to be missing an ending.

Fun Fact 1: The original TV series, known as Lone Wolf and Cub, aired on Japanese TV in the early 70s.

Fun Fact 2: This movie is referenced in Quentin Tarantino's Kill Bill films.

Fun Fact 3: Despite the long shadow cast by both the original TV series and its American adaptation, the manga which inspired the TV series was also very influential.

3. The Long Good Friday

Look, it's Helen Mirren, recently seen in 1979's Caligula!  We take Helen Mirren for granted these days - she did play the Queen after all - but back in 1980 she was still working her way up in the movie business.

And there's also Bob Hoskins.  He was excellent in Neil Jordan's Mona Lisa several years later.  He was in several other movies between that one and this one, but I'm having trouble remembering his roles in those films.

Besides those two, if you look real hard you can see Pierce Brosnan.  This was his first real movie.  Two years later he'd costar in TV's Remington Steele, and many years after that he'd play James Bond.

I liked The Long Good Friday, but its plot is a bit hard to follow.  Something about a British gangster, some American gangsters, the IRA, and a land development deal.  Various people get killed along the way.

...but my favorite part of this movie is the soundtrack.  Orchestral with an emphasis on synthesizer.  Like Goblin?  You'll be sure to like this movie's soundtrack as well.

Fun Fact: The land development deal mentioned above centers around London hosting the 1988 summer olympics.  London, however, was never in the running for the 1988 summer olympics.  Those were hosted in Seoul.

4. Jagko (Jjagko)

Speaking of Seoul, this South Korean movie follows a disgraced soldier as he pursues a North Korean "saboteur."  Some of the scenes in this movie are so dark it's hard to make out what's going on, and the order in which they're presented is puzzling.  Even so it's not bad.

5. Inferno

The most ambitious movie Dario Argento ever directed?  Probably.  It employs a certain amount of dream logic, so more literal-minded people would do well to avoid it, but if you're looking for an artistic statement in the context of horror you'll enjoy it.  Just don't ask me what it's about.  Something about an old book?  Or witches?  Or a knife-wielding killer?  Or all of those?  Or none?

Fun Fact 1: This is Argento's sequel to Suspiria and part of his "Three Mothers Trilogy."

Fun Fact 2: Keith Emerson, of Emerson, Lake and Palmer fame, did the soundtrack.  Parts of this soundtrack are very reminiscent of ELP's Tarkus.

6. Humanoids from the Deep (a.k.a. Monster)

Sea monsters, nude women, sea monsters, nude women.  Repeat.  Oh, and there's a subplot about some guys trying to build a cannery on tribal lands.  It sounds terrible, but it somehow works. 

Fun Fact: Barbara Peeters, the director of this movie, would go on to direct several episodes of Remington Steele.  The rape scenes in this movie were added over her objections.
Some Bad Ones

1. Inspector Blunder

French comedy about a bumbling detective.  Funny?  Maybe if it was still 1980; maybe if you were French.  Wasn't doing anything for me.  

2. ffolkes (a.k.a. North Sea Hijack)

By 1980 Roger Moore was nearing the end of his tenure as James Bond.  For Your Eyes Only would come out the following year, and 1983's A View to a Kill would be his last outing as 007.  In this movie he stars as a diving expert trying to recapture two oil rigs from terrorists.  Anthony Perkins, who plays the head terrorist, appeared in Disney's The Black Hole the year before.  Perkins' acting in this movie might be way, way over the top, but the biggest problem with it is how boring it is.  The characters spend eons in the same cabin discussing things, all while Moore's character acts eccentric and terribly pleased with himself.

3. Raise the Titanic

Christ this movie's boring.  That, and the "hero" is completely unlikeable.  Oh - and raising the Titanic isn't really the point of the movie.  You see, there's this super mineral called "Byzanium" that the Americans want to power a big shield around their country (really, I'm not making that up), and they need the only Byzanium on the Earth, which is - you guessed it - on the Titanic, which they then have to raise.  I'm assuming Clive Cussler's novel was better, but I don't really know because I've never read any of Clive Cussler's books.  "Byzanium."  Really?  "Dirk Pitt?"  Sounds like a porn name if you ask me.

Fun Fact 1: Clive Cussler hated this movie.

Fun Fact 2: Elliot Gould was initially offered the lead role.  When asked about it he famously stated: "I don't want to raise the Titanic.  Let the Titanic stay where it is."

Fun Fact 3: This movie was a huge financial disaster.  It made $7 million against a budget of $40 million.

4. The Children

Several children become evil/toxic after their schoolbus passes through a radioactive cloud.  It's more professionally done than Humanoids from the Deep (above), but pale kids hugging people to death isn't scary at all.  Humanoids from the Deep also has a lot more sex and gore.

Fun Fact: If the music sounds familiar it's because Harry Manfredini also scored the first Friday the 13th the same year.
Deja Vu

1. Virus

I AM YELLING BECAUSE I AM ANGRY.  I AM ANGRY BECAUSE I AM AN ACTOR AND IN THIS SCENE I AM SUPPOSED TO BE ANGRY.  I WILL YELL UNTIL THE SCENE IS OVER.  YOU WILL YELL UNTIL THE SCENE IS OVER.  WE WILL YELL BECAUSE WE ARE ACTORS AND WE ARE SUPPOSED TO BE ANGRY UNTIL THE SCENE IS OVER.

Not to be confused with 1999's Virus, this movie is memorably bad in a whole other way.  Also not to be confused with 1979's Plague, which was reviewed here recently.  If nothing else Virus has (on average) better acting and higher production values than Plague, though it's not as unintentionally funny as 1999's Virus.

In this version of the Book of Revelations, the U.S. Military-Industrial Complex unleashes an unbeatable virus on the world population.  A group of researchers in Antarctica, protected by the extreme cold there, are left to carry on the human race after the nations of the world have vanished.

This movie was made by a Japanese studio with an international cast.  This fact allows us - almost miraculously - to see Sonny Chiba and George Kennedy in the same film.

Fun Fact: Edward James Olmos is in the cast.
So Bad It's Good


1. Somewhere in Time

Quite possibly the corniest movie ever.  Christopher Reeve stars as a man who hypnotizes himself into the past, with Jane Seymour as the woman of his dreams.  It gets better/less silly once Reeve arrives in 1912, but even so it's hard not to chuckle at the sheer manipulativeness of the production.  The theme, the romantic yearning, the coincidences...

It's easy to understand why it has a following though.  What (heterosexual) woman wouldn't want Chris Reeve pining for them?

Fun Fact (?) 1: This movie has nothing to do with the Iron Maiden song/album of the same name.  Of course it doesn't.  It would be weird if it did.

Fun Fact (?) 2: It's easy to confuse this movie with 1979's Time After TimeTime After Time had a lot more to do with H.G. Wells' novella The Time Machine, whereas Somewhere in Time is based on one of Richard Matheson's novels.

OR it's based on the Iron Maiden album.  You be the judge.
So Terrible, But So, So Good


1. The Clones of Bruce Lee

"We'll go along with the film as planned, and then shoot him in front of the camera!"

...the irony being that Bruce Lee's son, Brandon Lee, died in a similar manner while filming The Crow.  There was always a weird symmetry at work with that guy.

In The Clones of Bruce Lee an evil scientist creates three Bruce Lee clones, none of which look much like Bruce Lee and none of which look like the others.  The evil scientist then sends these clones on "missions" to clean up the Hong Kong underworld.  It's all so gloriously bad.  Even now, having just watched it, I want to watch it again.

Did You Know?: There's an entire subgenre of these movies, referred to as "Brucesploitation."  The Clones of Bruce Lee is, according to Wikipedia, the holy grail of Brucesploitation movies.

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*Yes, that pun was incredibly obscure.  If you got it, hats off to you!