MOVIE REVIEW: Killings at Outpost Zeta (1980)

I’ve watched a lot of low-end sci-fi movies in my time. There’s something fun about either finding a bit of gold in an otherwise forgettable movie, or coming across one so bad that it turns into an unintentional comedy. I get suggestions by reading the many movie review blogs that are out there (most notably The B-Masters Cabal). I cannot recall which of them mentioned the current subject to me, but suffice it to say that whoever it was didn’t have anything really good to say about it. Intrigued by their description, I went looking for it. And I found that someone had posted a crappy (but complete) print of it to YouTube….

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BOOK REVIEW: Oscar Charleston

Oscar Charleston: The Life and Legend of Baseball’s Greatest Forgotten Player
Jeremy Beer
University of Nebraska Press
Copyright 2019 by the Board of Regents of the University of Nebraska

Thanks to so many people, from Buck O’Neil to the researchers at Seamheads, we know a lot about the Negro Leagues – the players and the business and life in general as a Negro League player. But there are still huge oversights. Josh Gibson (on the basis of his legend) and Satchel Paige (thanks to having actually played in the Major Leagues) are rather widely known among baseball fans. Oscar Charleston, however….

Jeremy Beer has done a remarkable service in correcting this oversight. He has written a truly comprehensive biography of the Hall of Famer, from his childhood in Indianapolis to his death at an age too young to have been part of the Negro League “rediscovery” in the 1970s. He has dug through the archives, and even paged through a scrapbook kept by Charleston over the course of his life and career. This is as good a work on baseball in the Negro Leagues as you are likely to find.

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Movie Review: The Gamera Trilogy

Gamera: Guardian of the Universe (1995)

Gamera 2: Attack of the Legion (1996)

Gamera 3: Revenge of Iris (1999)

 

After a “golden age” in the 1950s where they produced classics like Rashomon (1950) and Hiroshima Mon Amour (1959), Japan’s Daiei Studios began to decline; mostly due to financial mismanagement. They were forced to declare bankruptcy in 1971 – but managed to get revived in 1974. They had a modest number of releases, to decent success.

I’m guessing they were jealous of rival Toho Studios continued success, especially with their Godzilla films. Hmm… didn’t Daiei still own their own giant monster – Gamera? What if they blew the dust off the old Big Turtle (which by then had become a staple of Saturday afternoon “Chiller Theater” TV programming), and gave him new life with the latest in moviemaking technology?

The three movies really do comprise a trilogy. Though each one is self-contained and you can watch them in any order, they exist in the same universe and the second and third movies each contain references to the ones that came before (explicitly in the third). This is not like the Godzilla movies, where Japan – even though they may have a special anti-Kaiju military agency, seems to have completely forgotten even the existence of the monsters from the previous movie. Actors even play the same characters from one movie to the next; most notably Yukijirô Hotaru, who plays a nervous police official in Guardian, a security guard in Legion, and a homeless bum in Iris. Clearly, the stress of his encounters with Gamera and the other monsters got to him. Continue reading

Book Review: Checkpoint Charlie

Checkpoint Charlie:
The Cold War, the Berlin Wall and the Most Dangerous Place on Earth
Iain MacGregor
Scribner’s
Copyright 2019 by the author

It’s not really a history of The Wall, or the geopolitical situation in and around Berlin during the nearly three decades of its existence. There are plenty of books covering that, if you are interested. What MacGregor has collected here (and that’s a good term; it’s not a strict and straightforward textual history) is actually more an oral history of the Berlin Wall, from people who were there at the beginning, for key incidents during its “life”, and the ending.

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MOVIE REVIEW: Master of the World (1961)

Jules Verne is widely regarded, and with very good reason, as one of the fathers of science fiction. He built upon the technology of the time, and turned it into some pretty good adventure tales.

Alas, very little of his work could actually be called science fiction. It fits better in the genre of “pulp adventure”, and is mostly forgettable. Seriously, how many of his over fifty Voyages extraordinaires can you remember, or even name? Well, there’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, which you undoubtedly know from the movie. Around the World in Eighty Days was also made into a movie that’s much better than the original novel. You may have heard of From the Earth to the Moon because of its use of a giant cannon to launch the spaceship…. But The Vanished Diamond or Facing the Flag? Nope.

Working for American International, Director William Witney took two of those forgettable novels – Robur the Conqueror and its sequel Master of the World – into one, well……

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Movie Review: Swamp Thing (1982)

There’s a pitfall for amateur movie reviewers. We tend not to have much experience in criticism (i.e. critical writing), so there’s a tendency to think that pointing out mistakes and flubs and inconsistencies (like Cinema Sins) counts as valid criticism. It is not. While it is true that proper, professional critics do have to note such things, it is not the be-all and end-all of their review.

I fell into that trap when just after watching Swamp Thing. I focused on all the things that made no sense at all to me – from the violation of Conservation of Mass to why the federal government has stashed a supposedly secret lab someplace down in the bayous and mangrove swamps of the Deep South – and they’re not even doing military research there.

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BOOK REVIEW: Theodore Roosevelt for the Defense

Theodore Roosevelt for the Defense: The Courtroom Battle to Save His Legacy
Dan Abrams and David Fisher
Hanover Square Press
Copyright 2019 by the authors

Even after his failed campaign to retake the White House, Theodore Roosevelt was not one to retire quietly like other former presidents. Even when age kept him from the “strenuous life” that he had long championed, he was still writing and speaking out against corruption in government.

In 1914, Roosevelt came out in support of Harvey D. Hinman, a progressive Republican, for the governorship of New York. Party boss William Barnes Jr. supported his opponent, Charles Seymour Whitman. In July, Roosevelt published a screed where he accused – in no uncertain terms – Barnes and Tammany Hall boss Charles Francis Murphy of corruption and conspiring to thwart the will of the people.

Murphy let the attack go – either he was used to such criticism, or perhaps he felt discretion was the better part of valor given his opponent. Barnes, however, took the attack seriously. He sued Roosevelt for libel.

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Book Review: World War II (Series)

The World War II Series
Robert T. Elson, Roebrt Wernick, Leonard Mosley, et al.
Time-Life Books
1976-1983

Back in the late 50s, there were a couple of things every home just had to have to show off the status and erudition of the residents. A television set (presumably a nice 27″ console), a big hi-fi stereo, and a set of books.

Normally, the books would be a basic encyclopedia. In the days before the Internet, that’s where you went for quick information on any topic. Or you might have something like the Harvard Classics set of important works in the Western Canon (The Encyclopedia Britannica’s “Great Books” set if you wanted something more current), or even Will and Ariel Durant’s The Story of Civilization. Not that anyone would actually read all of them all the way through; they just looked neat on your bookshelves and let your guests think you were smarter than you really were.

In 1959, Time Inc., who published both Time and Life magazines, decided they should get in on this. They had access to top writers and editors around the world, and a truly humongous photo library. Time Life Books was born.

They’d publish dozens of book series over the next two decades or so, covering topics from folklore and home repair to the Civil War and world history. Quality varied, as should be expected. One of the more highly regarded series covered World War II.

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Movie Review: Kitten With a Whip (1964)

Film critic Nathan Rabin came up with the idea of the “manic pixie dream girl” as a character type after seeing Kirsten Dunst in Elizabethtown (2005). He called the type “that bubbly, shallow cinematic creature that exists solely in the fevered imaginations of sensitive writer-directors to teach broodingly soulful young men to embrace life and its infinite mysteries and adventures.” A less-overblown description would be a generally young, usually cute, female “free spirit” who enters the life of a dull, boring, generally older male and gets him to loosen up and enjoy life.

The MPDG has been identified in movies going all the way back to 1936, when Katherine Hepburn turned Cary Grant’s world upside down in Bringing Up Baby. The term has also taken flack from critics who object to the sexism of the idea, which has been used to define actresses in real life, and not just characters.

The character type has become one of those things where once you know to look for it, you can’t stop seeing it – or at least hints of it. Since it’s become a defined trope, one might expect to start seeing variations – a Manic Pixie Dream Boy, perhaps.

Kitten With a Whip was made well before the MPDG became common, so it clearly cannot be a response to the trope. But it does pose the question – What if the MPDG was a sociopath?

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Book Review: Finder

FINDER
Suzanne Palmer
DAW Books, NY
Copyright 2019 by the author

Fergus Ferguson is what he calls a “Finder”. According to the book jacket copy, that means he’s a sort of interstellar repo man – with all the survival, “jack of all trades”, con man, and MacGyvering skills that entails.

His current job has him recovering a stolen spaceship of the latest design. He’s tracked it to the Cernekan (“Cernee”, for short) system, where before he can even settle in he survives being an incidental bystander to what turns out to be a politically-motivated murder. Which, by the way, turns out to be the opening salvo in a power grab by one of the local big shots in the system.

Now, he’s got to follow the book jacket copy and get caught up in the lives and politics of Cernee’s residents – and deal with the enigmatic aliens hanging around the place – if he wants to succeed.

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