Movie Review: Peking Opera Blues (Hong Kong, 1986)

The Middle Kingdom has collapsed. As a democratic government struggles to find its feet, several factions are jockeying for power. In the chaos in a general’s mansion, traveling musician Sheung Hung (Cherie Chung) bops a hapless soldier, Tung Man (Cheung Kwok-Keung), on the head with her instrument, and scampers off with a box of valuable jewelry. To evade the police, led by Inspector Liu (Feng Ku), she stashes the box on a cart belonging to a theater troupe. It shouldn’t be too hard to follow it to the theater, sneak in backstage, and collect it, right?

At that very theater, manager Master Wong (Wu Ma) is struggling to get tonight’s production off on schedule. His daughter, Bai Niu (Sally Yeh), isn’t helping. She wants to be in the show, but he knows well enough that the theater is no place for a young lady. Especially because any distinguished guest might want to order an actress to come home with him – and the manager would be powerless to refuse.

One of those “distinguished guests” could be General Tsao (Kenneth Tsang), who is on the rise in the local game of “king of the hill”. What he doesn’t know is that his recently returned from abroad daughter, Tsao Wan (Brigitte Lin), has sided with the new democratic government. In cooperation with a young army officer, Pak Hoi (Mark Cheung), she’s plotting to pilfer the documents that would prove dad is in cahoots with foreigners to pretty much sell out the country.

Can these three young ladies find happiness, friendship, and success?

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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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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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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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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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Book Review: Then Everything Changed

Then Everything Changed: Stunning Alternate Histories of American Politics: JFK, RFK, Carter, Ford, Reagan
Jeff Greenfield
G.P. Putnam’s Sons
Copyright 2011 by the author

Greenfield, author and political analyst, adds his considerable knowledge and experience to the “alternate history” field with this surprising and insightful trio of lengthy essays. He takes great care to avoid creating words for historical personages, instead taking what they actually said (albeit in different contexts) and using that to bring his hypotheses to life.

His first essay deals with the prospects of a John Kennedy administration. The early 1960s are fertile ground for counterfactual history. Given the constitutional crisis resulting from Richard Pavlick’s assassination of Jack Kennedy before he had been confirmed as president by the Electoral College, it’s no wonder. We all know how Lyndon Johnson took the reins of power through the sheer force of his personality and guided us through that crisis. But without it, Greenfield suggests that the charisma of Kennedy would have blinded us to his utter lack of political experience and the many scandals waiting to happen just below the surface.

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Movie Review: Primer (2004)

This film, created by Shane Carruth, has a reputation in the science fiction world for being one of the most complex and interesting movies about time travel in the entire genre. I’d wager that no other movie has had more “explainer” material written about it. Indeed, if you want to untangle all the loops and loops within loops, you pretty much do need a cheat sheet of some sort.

But those analyses have come to dominate all the reviews so much that people seem to have forgotten they’ve been watching a movie, and one should spend at least a little time going over its cinematic aspects.

Primer is the first of (to date) two films by Carruth, an indie (obviously) filmmaker from Texas. One usually wants to “be kind” with new works from aspiring artists and give them a large benefit of the doubt, but one also doesn’t want to be unfair to potential viewers.

So, with that in mind…..

 

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Movie Review – When Women Lost Their Tails (Italy, 1972)

It’s fairly common to turn any film genre into a comedy. Romantic comedies, horror comedies, action comedies…. Combining one specific type of comedy with another film genre isn’t that common. You can’t just shove jokes into the script; the comedic subtypes have their own rules that must be followed. A “sex farce” must have jokes about sex, and silly romantic situations. Combining it with another film genre isn’t going to be easy. Especially when you’re trying to combine it with something serious, like a satire of capitalism……… Continue reading

Book Review: The Man Who Ended War

The Man Who Ended War
by Hollis Godfrey
1908
Feedbooks edition
https://www.feedbooks.com/book/6626/the-man-who-ended-war

At a press conference by the Secretary of War, someone asks about a strange letter that the government got earlier that day. The writer of that letter claims that the world has been too long in conflict, so he’s going to put a stop to it by destroying the navies of the world unless everyone agrees to disarm. They’ve got one year.

Everyone dismisses it as the work of a crank, but intrepid reporter Jim Orrington (our narrator and protagonist) isn’t so sure. He asks to see the original letter, and spots something a bit odd. He is able to persuade the government to allow him to bring the original (!!!) to Tom Haldane, a scientist friend of his, where they accidentally discover a part of the letter was erased and written over. That erased part gave a list of dates and times when battleships would be destroyed. It also happens that Tom noted some odd behavior of a piece of his lab equipment on occasions, and, musing on how one might destroy a battleship from a distance, they wonder if it could be connected.

When the USS Alaska disappears off the eastern coast of the US, at the same time that equipment exhibits its strange behavior again, Jim and Tom – and Tom’s sister Dorothy (a fair scientist in her own right) – manage to conjure up a device that acts as a locator for the source of whatever it is that vaporized the Alaska. Using Jim’s Washington connections, they get the OK from the president (!!!) to go ahead and track down “The Man” responsible.

As more battleships vanish, it’s a race against time to find “The Man” and put a stop to his doings.
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Movie Review: Charlie Chan in Egypt (1935)

When watching movies “of a certain age”, one has to keep in mind the old saw that “the past is a foreign country”. Social and cultural attitudes were quite different in the past, and those attitudes will be reflected on the silver screen. Not just the way people behaved in general (the casual smoking and drinking, for example), but the way people of other races were depicted.

The “Charlie Chan” movies were based on a character created by mystery writer Earl Derr Biggers, who was inspired by newspaper accounts of Chinese-Hawaiian police detective Chang Apana. Chan would appear in six novels, and became so popular that Hollywood would make over three dozen “Charlie Chan” movies.

In this particular film, Chan has been sent to Egypt by a French archaeological society to find out why goods from an excavation they’re sponsoring have been winding up in the hands of private collectors. This quickly turns into a multiple murder investigation, but for our purposes, there’s another question to investigate:

How many ethnic stereotypes can you cram into one movie, without pushing it over the line into blatant offensiveness?

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