Movie Review: Star Wars: Neon Noir (Online, 2015)

It is pretty much agreed that the Star Wars prequel trilogy was….. well, “Not Good”. Admittedly, it’s not easy to tell a story when the ending is predetermined. But one shouldn’t need three whole movies to tell how Anakin Skywalker became Darth Vader. Quite a few fans took it upon themselves to edit the trilogy (removing the boring or tasteless parts (i.e. Jar-Jar Binks)) into a single, more “streamlined” film.

These fans pretty much succeeded in creating films that are faithful to the Star Wars universe, and tell the story rather well. It’s essentially a Grand Tragedy, how a young Jedi filled with promise was turned to the Dark Side.

The team at Film Addicted went a bit further. What if you not only condensed the story, but changed the tone?

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Book Review: Conquistadores

Conquistadores: A New History of Spanish Discovery and Conquest
Fernando Cervantes
Viking Books
Copyright 2020 by the author

There seems to be a trend in the study of history these days to reexamine and reframe the past to highlight the evils that have been painted over in our “standard narrative”. Winston Churchill, for example, was not the brilliant leader who kept Britain fighting throughout World War II; instead he was the brutal colonialist whose policies led to the deaths of millions when famine hit India in the 1940s.

Some will claim they’re just trying to present a more nuanced approach, but to me it seems like they’re just being petty and vindictive, blaming the Past for all the ills of the Present that they feel powerless to deal with. Or perhaps they just enjoy being contrarian.

For if they were truly trying for a more nuanced history, surely they would be willing to accept a reexamination of what the “standard narrative” states was Bad and Evil – right? Would it be acceptable, for example, to show that the Spanish conquest of the Americas wasn’t one huge mess of rape, plunder, and murder by the white European males? Continue reading

BOOK REVIEW: Checkmate in Berlin

Checkmate in Berlin: The Cold War Showdown that Shaped the Modern World
Giles Milton
Henry Holt and Company
Copyright 2021 by the author

In the waning days of the Second World War, the allies – Great Britain, the United States, and the Soviet Union – were all on reasonably good terms when it came to defeating Nazi Germany. Sure, there were a few rough spots, but “the enemy of my enemy” and all that saw to it that any differences were papered over for the common cause.

Four years later, the Soviets tried – and failed – to blockade western Berlin into submission, and NATO had been founded to counter the Communist threat.

How did it all happen?

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BOOK REVIEW: Head On

Head On: A Novel of the Near Future
John Scalzi
Tor Books
Copyright 2018 by the author

FBI Agent Chris Shane had something of a front-row seat to the death of hilketa player Duane Chapman during an exhibition game. Because the league was trying to persuade his father to invest in their expansion, he was in the luxury box for the game. Well, not really there in person. Shane is one of the millions who is a “Haden” – he suffers from a neurological condition where (as described in the “prequel” Lock In) his mind cannot control his body. Thanks to a neural interface, he can operate an android body to get around.

The same tech is used in hilketa – a superviolent sport that involves knocking the head off a player on the other team, and using it to score. Can’t do that with real people, obviously.

Agent Shane finds himself on the case, with two big questions. How did Chapman die, and why does it look like the league is desperate to cover it up?

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Movie Review: The Year of the Sex Olympics (UK, TV, 1968)

Get your mind out of the gutter. This is NOT some sort of soft-core porn “nudie cutie”. It’s a “made for TV” play that aired on the BBC’s “Theater 625” drama anthology series, so other than a hint of some passing nudity in one scene, there’s nothing that could be considered lascivious.

It just happens to be set in the Year of the Sex Olympics. We’re not given any clue as to what a “sex Olympics” might entail. But what we do know is that the teleplay takes place in a not too distant overpopulated future, where everyone is effectively divided into the “hi-drives” (the leaders, movers and shakers, the “One Percent”) and the “lo-drives” (the plebians, the workers, the unwashed masses). The lo-drives are fed a nearly constant stream of lowest-common-denominator entertainment to keep them in line.

There are some who dissent, and some of the hi-drives are worried that their usual methods of keeping the lo-drives sated and content aren’t working anymore. Coordinator Ugo Priest (Leonard Rossiter) has a plan to try the broadest of physical comedy – a pie fight – in the hopes of getting people to laugh. It fails completely. When the accidental death of a protester on the set during a live “introduction” of some of the year’s sex Olympians causes the viewing audience to break out laughing, director Nat Mender (Tony Vogel) gets an idea. Continue reading

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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