Movie Review: Witness for the Prosecution (1957)

Noted barrister Sir Wilfrid Robarts (Charles Laughton) has just been released from the hospital after suffering a heart attack and is heading back to his office at the Inns of Court (where he is also fortunate enough to have his residence). Accompanying him, much to his irritation, is his home health care aide, Nurse Plimsoll (Elsa Lanchester). She’s tasked with looking after his health; making sure he gets plenty of rest, avoids stressful situations, takes his medications, and completely avoids his beloved cigars and brandy.

This is torture as far as Sir Wilfrid is concerned. Fortunately, almost immediately after his return to his office, Solicitor Mayhew (Henry Daniell) arrives, with Leonard Vole (Tyrone Power) in tow. Vole is in a really tight spot: a widow with whom he has been on friendly terms has been killed, and as he was the last person to see her alive, he’s expecting to be arrested for murder at any moment. Could the great “Wilfrid the Fox” be so good as to represent him in court? Shouldn’t be too hard – Vole’s wife Christine (Marlene Dietrich) can give him an alibi….

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Yet Another Halloween Miscellany

It’s that time of year again!

Atlas Obscura is putting the spookier of its worldwide Places and Things of Interest under the banner of “Fright Club” this month.

We’ll be taking you to a mountain of mannequins, the gender-fluid masquerade balls of Imperial Russia, and a church wall in dire need of an exorcist. You’ll learn about Cambodian ghost cakes, the practice of skull blasting, the history of Mischief Night, and more.

USA Today digs deep into how a blend of cinnamon, cloves, ginger, and nutmeg made Pumpkin Spice the flavor of Autumn. They start back in Medieval Europe, when those spices were worth their weight in silver (if not gold).

During winter months, medieval European physicians prescribed the use of warming spices like ginger, clove and cinnamon to accentuate the “hot” and “humid” qualities of roasted meat.

Need some background sounds for your Halloween party, display, or whatever? Check out the free soundscapes at Ambient Mixer:

“Witches, vampires, werewolves, and other ghastly creatures roam the streets. Nightmares come to life with the sounds of old castles, abandoned asylums, or a creature hunting you through the dark woods.

Whether it’s for a haunted porch, a reading or writing session or even a gaming session, create your own eerie and scary ambient noise mix for free!”

And if you’ve got a little one who loves being read to, you will both love “Scaredy Cat” by Heather Franzen.

Support the author/artist and buy a copy! Keep in mind they’re assembled individually by hand, so give plenty of time for delivery.

A story without words, but it doesn’t need any….

The Countdown to Halloween is up and running; they’ve been linking to and supporting blogs in the spirit of the season since 2009. The links to this year’s Cryptkeepers are in a sidebar on the right.

I was also musing earlier today about witches. Vampires, werewolves, zombies, Frankenstein’s Monster, even mummies get their due this time of year. But witches? They’re just a generic wicked or magical character….. That doesn’t seem right to me. There are plenty of witches of note in literature and popular culture.

The Witch of Endor in the Old Testament. The three witches in Macbeth, who almost certainly established the potion-brewing spellcaster archetype. Margaret Hamilton and the role of a lifetime as the Wicked Witch of the West. Witch Hazel, the comic foil to Bugs Bunny. Broom Hilda of the comic strips. Elizabeth Montgomery bewitching viewers as Samantha Stevens. The Halliwell Sisters of “Charmed”. Sabrina “The Teenage Witch” Spellman, hanging out in Riverdale with Archie and the gang. Wanda “The Scarlet Witch” Maximoff…..

And those are the ones I didn’t have to look up.

Maybe I’ll do a full-length post sometime.

BOOK REVIEW: Firebreak

Firebreak
Nicole Kornher-Stace
Saga Press
Copyright 2021 by the author

Mal (short for Mallory) is your typical young adult. She shares a room in a converted hotel with a handful of other young adults, works at assorted jobs like dog-walking, and spends a lot of her free time playing in a “first person shooter” MMORPG where she makes a little income on the side by streaming her sessions.

Mal lives in New Liberty City, a sort of “free city” nominally controlled by Stellaxis Corporation, which is defending the area from attacks by the rival Greenleaf Industries. Stellaxis runs the place as a strict company town, controlling everything – including access to water.

So when Mal gets a strange “sponsorship” offer from a strange woman that will pay her in gallons of water per week, and all she has to do is play the MMORPG well enough to get in-game access to the “avatar” of one of Stellaxis’ supersoldiers, well, it’s hard for her to say no.

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Baseball’s Best Night Ever

Wednesday, September 28, 2011.

A day that will live in baseball history. Heck, in sports history.

Wild card races and home field advantage for the playoffs had yet to be decided.

Fate decreed that all relevant games would be scheduled to happen at the same time.

The very next day, Major League Baseball posted a highlight video. It was great, except it lacked context. So I added it.

(download link)

There was a lot of wonderful celebratory reporting in the immediate aftermath:

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Movies I’d Like to See II – The Remake

The Brain from Planet Arous (1957) is widely regarded as one of the worst movies of all time – with good reason. The acting is terrible, the special effects are about as un-special as can be, and there are so many idiotic things in the script that the viewer is frequently left gobsmacked at the stupidity on display. The crap is partially balanced out by good camera work and a proper use of decent stock footage. It’s mostly the glaring disconnect between the acceptable and outrageously bad that makes the movie a favorite among B-movie buffs.

The plot is decent enough. Two scientists, nuclear physicist Steve March (John Agar) and Dan Murphy (Robert Fuller) head off into the mountains near Steve’s home to investigate a meteor that crashed there the night before. Turns out it was an alien spacecraft, piloted by an energy being of some sort called Gor. Gor takes over Steve’s mind, and kills Dan. Luckily for Gor, Steve is part of a government weapons research program, so Gor figures he’ll take advantage of this knowledge and position to take over the world.

Steve’s fiancee, Sally Fallon (Joyce Meadows), notes that Steve has been acting strangely since he got back from the mountains – and whatever happened to Dan, anyway? She and her father (Thomas Browne Henry) hike off into the mountains to investigate. There, they find Dan’s body – and Vol, another alien who has been hot on the trail of Gor to bring him back to Arous to face the music for certain unspecified crimes. Will they be able to collar the criminal before he can make good on his nefarious plans?

So, is it possible to fix this?

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Jeter, Miller, Simmons, Walker

Just a few days ago, Derek Jeter, Marvin Miller, Ted Simmons, and Larry Walker were inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame.

I’ve already written about Jeter; there’s no need to do it again.

With regards to Marvin Miller, one of the things that seems to be overlooked with his contributions is that he didn’t come across as a “union boss”. No cigars or three-piece suits for him. He was approachable; players felt they could talk with him and not get a lecture. His portrait at the National Portrait Gallery shows this.

But what of Ted Simmons and Larry Walker?

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Book Review: God’s Shadow

God’s Shadow: Sultan Selim, His Ottoman Empire, and the Making of the Modern World
Alan Mikhail
Liveright Publishing Corporation
Copyright 2020 by the author

Mikhail opens with a note of curiosity. On the Mexican side of the mouth of the Rio Grande, there’s a town called Matamoros. In Spanish, that means “Slayer of Moors”. What is this reference to the Reconquista doing in the New World?

He goes on to explain that Spain’s system of colonizing the Americas involved land grants to that war’s veterans, and that encomendia system was a direct carryover from how Moslem lands were distributed back in Spain. He also notes that the major driver for Spain’s exploration was to find a way to outflank Moslem domination of the eastern Mediterranean, which had monopolized control of the trade routes to the Orient.

That’s his launching point for a look at the rise of the Ottoman Empire – and the sultan responsible.

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Vacationing in the Time of COVID

One should still be hesitant about traveling these days, for obvious reasons. But I had plenty of vacation days at work that I needed to use, I didn’t want to sit around my home all day (one can only do so much housework), and I also felt I needed a “practice trip” to see if I could mentally handle going outside my local area for a few days.

Was there a place that I could easily drive to in one day, one that I was reasonably familiar with so I wouldn’t feel too weird, and one that was also far enough away so I’d feel like I was actually going somewhere?

Atlantic City NJ fit the bill. Continue reading

Movie Review: Whatever Happened to Aunt Alice? (1969)

It used to be in Hollywood that a surprisingly successful flick would almost immediately spawn a flood of knock-offs that tried to ride the financial coattails of the hit. The many “killer big animal” movies that followed in the wake of Jaws (1975) are the prime example of this. These days, studios are more protective of their property – they’ll make their own sequels and reboots, thankyouverymuch.

Some of the examples are only clear in retrospect; those usually wind up getting their own subgenre. When Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962) blew everyone away thanks to the performances of Betty Davis and Joan Crawford, a number of movies borrowed the idea of a deranged older woman terrorizing people, and the “psycho-biddy” genre came out of that.

Robert Aldrich, who produced “Baby Jane” and another entry in the genre, Hush… Hush, Sweet Charlotte (1964), snarfed up the rights to the 1962 novel The Forbidden Garden by Ursula Curtiss, and turned it into Whatever Happened to Aunt Alice? Geraldine Page and Ruth Gordon were signed to play the protagonists, the aging widow Claire Marrable and her housekeeper Alice Dimmock, respectively.

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Counting Medals

There’s an almost unhealthy obsession in some circles (the print media especially) about the “medal count” in the Olympics: which country has the most medals. Admittedly, it’s an easy shorthand for reporting the results, but no one who knows anything about the Olympics really likes it. The bigger, wealthier countries can obviously send more athletes, so they’re naturally going to win more medals.

One could make a list of “Medals per Capita”, but even that has some problems. A country might not, for whatever reason, be particularly interested in competing in the Olympics. India is the best example here. The nation of over a billion people just doesn’t seem to care that much about the Olympics. It’s not that they don’t have sports – if cricket were an Olympic sport, you’d KNOW they’d be all over it.

What if we did a list of medals per athlete sent (or athletes per medal, so we’re not dealing with tiny fractions)? Well, there are a LOT of team sports, and in some disciplines it’s possible for an athlete (e.g. gymnastics) to enter more than one competition.

How about medals per competition entered? This would be a kind of “medal efficiency” – how good your country is at winning medals. That just might work, but it would really smell of jingoism. The exact sort of thing we’re hoping to avoid. And don’t forget that the IOC has rules about how many athletes you can enter in any given area.

And what about the medals themselves? Isn’t a gold medal more “valuable” than a silver or bronze? What weight – if any – do you give to the type of medal?

It’s all a mess.

But I do know that there are some medals that carry a bit more meaning than any others.

Hidylin Diaz (women’s weightlifting, 55kg division), Flora Duffy (women’s triathlon), Mutaz Essa Barshim (men’s high jump) and Fares Elbakh (men’s weightlifting, 96kg division) won their country’s first ever gold medals (Philippines, Bermuda, and a pair for Qatar).

Pollina Guryeva (silver, women’s weightlifting, 59kg division) and Hugues Fabrice Zango (bronze, men’s triple jump) brought home medals for the first time to Turkmenistan and Burkina Faso. Alessandra Perilli (women’s trap shooting), Gian Marco Berti (silver, mixed trap shooting – with Alessandra Perilli), and Myles Amine (bronze, men’s freestyle wrestling, 86kg division) all brought home medals to San Marino.

Not a single one of them should have to pay for drinks in their home countries ever again.

(For the record, there were 206 countries or delegations at these Olympics. 93 of them brought medals home – 65 of them earned a gold.)