Book Review: The Weird

The Weird: A Compendium of Strange and Dark Stories
Edited by Ann and Jeff VanderMeer
Tom Doherty Associates
(c) 2011 by the authors

It’s kind of tricky reviewing an anthology, especially one where multiple authors are involved. What are you reviewing? The individual stories? The editorial choices involved in their selection? The presentation? I’m just going to go with the overall principle of “Should you get this book?” Rather simple, but for an amateur reviewer like myself, it will do.

The Weird is a massive collection of – well, you can’t really call it “horror”, because the stories are generally more unsettling than outright scary. Think “Tales from the Darkside” rather than “Tales from the Crypt”. There are 110 stories in the book’s 1100+ pages, dating from 1908 to 2010. Included are authors you should have heard of (Stephen King, Ray Bradbury, H.P. Lovecraft), authors that horror buffs should know (Clark Ashton Smith, Daphne du Maurier, Algernon Blackwood), and authors that will be new to you (Augusto Monterroso, Stefan Grabinski, Haruki Murakami). There’s an amazing variety; only two authors get to have two stories. Many of the stories are translations; it’s great to see so many “non-English speaking” authors and other cultures being represented

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Movie Review: Sandkings (TV, 1995)

With the success of such syndicated shows as Star Trek: The Next Generation and Tales from the Crypt, Metro Goldwyn Mayer decided it was the right time to bring back its old anthology series, The Outer Limits. The one hour show would first appear on the cable network Showtime, and then be released into syndication.

All they needed was a good story – one that could handle being extended into a 90 minute movie. They found it in a George R.R. Martin novelette, “Sandkings”. The 1978 story would have to undergo some major adjustments in order to work on TV – not the least of would be that it had to work within a TV budget.

The original story is an award-winning horror tale where the protagonist is a right proper cretin who deserves everything that happens to him – but I’m not going to talk about that. Not even about how the movie is different from the story. One has to treat the movie on its own – and if you have to have read the book to understand the movie, then the movie hasn’t done it’s job.

Anyway….

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Movie Review: The Secret of Kells (Ireland et al., 2009)

Any other year.

Any other year, and it could have easily won the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature. But at the 2010 Oscars, it was nominated with Up, Coraline, The Fantastic Mr. Fox, and The Princess and the Frog. One of the best set of nominees since they added the category in 2001. Heck, even the animated short films that year were all awesome!*

Any other year, and it should have won. But when one of the other nominees (Up) was also nominated for Best Picture, what chance did it have?

And a foreign film, too!

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MOVIE REVIEW: Fehérlófia (Hungary, 1981)

Director: Marcell Jankovics
Writers: László György, Marcell Jankovics
Music by: István Vajda

Start by collecting bits and pieces of local folk tales and legends. In this case, that means Hungarian, Avar, and others from the peoples that came and went through that part of southeast Europe.

Assemble them into a fairly standard “Hero’s Journey” tale.

Decide to animate the result.

Take some mild hallucinogens to give you inspiration for your design aesthetic….

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BOOK REVIEW: Decoding the Heavens

Decoding the Heavens
A 2000-Year Old Computer – And the Century Long Search to Discover its Secrets
Jo Marchant
Da Capo Press
(c) 2009 by the author

I suppose that anyone interested in the history of science in the years BCE or archaeological oddities has heard of the Antikythera Mechanism. Found in a shipwreck off the coast of a Greek island, the box of gears and dials has been a puzzle and a marvel (a puzzling marvel?) for decades.

Marchant has dredged up the history of the device, from its collection off the Aegean seabed up through the first decade of the twenty-first century. Well, to be honest, the object itself hasn’t done much. It sat in storage in the National Museum of Athens for years before anyone decided to take a look at it. The museum – and the divers that worked on the wreck – were more interested in the statues and other objects of obvious value.

The Mechanism turned out to be a specialized device for computing the many lunar cycles – and possibly some dials that compute planetary positions as well (parts are still missing). Marchant doesn’t spend much time on the astronomy or mathematics behind it; she’s far more interested in the archaeology and personalities in its story.

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Book Review: Heirs of the Founders

Heirs of the Founders: The Epic Rivalry of Henry Clay, John Calhoun and Daniel Webster, the Second Generation of American Giants
by H. W. Brands
Doubleday
(c) 2018 by the author

History is not what you thought,” wrote W.C. Sellar and R.J. Yeatman in the “Compulsory Preface” to their classic 1066 and All That. “It is what you can remember.” Those words are as true on this side of the Atlantic as they are in Great Britain, where they were written.

We tend to remember only those things that are memorable. When it comes to history, for most Americans that means wars and crises, the more recent, the more memorable. The decades between the War of 1812 and the Civil War are one big nothing. Depending on where you were raised, you might remember the Missouri Compromise, the Nullification Crisis, or Texas’ War of Independence. But for most of us? Boredom on parade – especially when the presidents of the era generally served only one term (at most) and were mediocre (at best).

Alternate History buffs: What if William Henry Harrison wore a hat and coat at his inauguration, and didn’t catch pneumonia?

In Heirs of the Founders, Brands dives into those decades with a joint political history of three of the greatest Congressmen ever to walk the halls of the Capitol. Kentucky’s Henry Clay, South Carolina’s John Calhoun, and Massachusetts’ Daniel Webster were all widely known and respected for their powers of oratory, and their abilities to get things done.

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BOOK REVIEW: The Tango War

The Tango War
The Struggle for the Hearts, Minds, and Riches of Latin American During World War II
Mary Jo McConahay
St. Martin’s Press
(c) 2018 by the author

I like to think of myself as something of a WWII buff. I’m not one of those people who can argue the finer points of the various tanks used in the European Theater, but I know enough about the war to be embarrassingly wrong about some aspects. However, I do know that it was a truly World War, with battles raging from Spitzbergen to Madagascar, troops being pulled in from all over the world by their colonial masters, and a vast network of military and transport bases linking everything together.

If one is so inclined, one can take out a world map and mark it with all the places that were somehow affected by combat. One might soon spot a large gap on the map, where nothing much seemed to be happening.

What was going on in South and Central America?

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Movie Review: Seytan (Turkey, 1974)

Back in the 70s and 80s, Turkey – or at least the Turkish film industry – didn’t seem to care much for international copyright law. If a movie was successful in the US, they’d quickly churn out their own version, rights be damned. “Turkish Star Trek” dropped a noted comedian into the Star Trek universe for (presumably) comedic effect. “Turkish Star Wars” is really a movie called The Man Who Saved the World, and is not a knock-off of Star Wars – it just ‘borrows’ a couple of space battle scenes for background footage (and steals music from Raiders of the Lost Ark). Seytan is sometimes called “Turkish Exorcist” – with very good reason. It’s practically a scene-for-scene, if not shot-for-shot, remake.

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An Open Letter to the National Film Preservation Board

The National Film Preservation Board “works to ensure the survival, conservation and increased public availability of America’s film heritage, including: advising the Librarian on its recommendations for annual selections to the National Film Registry…The National Film Registry selects 25 films each year showcasing the range and diversity of American film heritage to increase awareness for its preservation.”

Well, at least according to their website.

For the average movie buff, it’s a list of movies that are deemed sufficiently important for aesthetic, historic, or cultural reasons. They started selecting movies in 1989, but over the years they have somehow managed to avoid selecting one particular film. So once I’m done writing this, I’m going to nominate this movie – and hope someone there actually reads my nomination, and acts favorably.

The Blob (1958)

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Movie Review: The Wages of Fear (France, 1953)

It isn’t an easy matter to take a movie to an international audience. There’s a lot that doesn’t translate across cultures. Comedy is often highly culturally specific. Romance depends a lot on social customs. Drama is a little easier to do, but it still has some problems.

Action and thrills, however, cross all borders. Explosions and monsters speak all languages. Is it any wonder that the biggest international box office successes these days are action & adventure flicks?

But even there, some things may still not translate very well across space and time.

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