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.

But anyway…… Continue reading

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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Movie Review: PAIRD (2019)

LEGO has been an amazing tool for amateur filmakers. The pieces are cheap, infinitely combineable, and the human figures are all at the same size and are easily posable. Anyone wanting to do a little stop-motion animation need only get a bucket of LEGOs and a camera, and they’re in business.

There’s a whole genre of these “brickfilms”, with its own support communities and festivals. Given the time-consuming nature of the technique, most of them qualify as “shorts”. (The LEGO Movie and its sequels were made using computer animation, but were careful to follow the brickfilm style.)

Back in 2011, Joseph DeRose started making one of these brickfilms. His 20 minute short quickly grew to the point where it got away from him, and became a full-length feature film. He worked on it with friends and family over the years, doing it in segments and uploading them to YouTube as each one was completed.

He finished it in August, and uploaded the entire thing to YouTube.

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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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