Guest Contributor – War Pig – The Killer Shrews – A Science Fiction Movie Review

Killer Shrews: Schlock at its finest. Poor special effects, hackneyed plot and ham acting. They used hand puppets of the giant killer shrews for up-close shots. They looked like an oversize stuffed mouse with chopstick fangs glued in and black ping pong balls for eyes. For action sequences, they used coon hounds with carpet and fur attached to them and never shot them close up. The coon hound shrews supposedly ate the token Black man in the movie, which would be protested today.

 

The premise is that a Swedish scientist was working on the then threatened coming food apocalypse. He had a Hispanic servant (Alfredo de Soto; more racist tokenism), a cowardly assistant (played by Gunsmoke’s Festus, Ken Curtis, who was an investor in the film and also a fine western actor and amazingly good singer), a beautiful Swedish daughter (played by the attractive Swedish actress Ingrid Goude) and an American assistant scientist played by Gordon McLendon. They are on an isolated island somewhere in the Atlantic hurricane zone so they can be left alone, especially by federal inspectors. James Best (most famous for playing Sheriff Rosco P. Coltrain on Dukes of Hazzard) plays the captain of the small motor ship bringing them supplies. With him is the faithful Black actor Judge Henry Dupree who is his first mate and apparently engineer, playing the character Rook.

 

A hurricane is approaching, so they have to anchor in the protected harbor and wait it out before unloading. The captain goes ashore to meet with the scientists while Rook runs extra anchors and has to tie the boat to a tree ashore. The captain is met by Ken Curtis’ character who is armed and takes him to the residence. There he is told what all is happening, that the experiment went astray and they accidentally created giant killer shrews who must eat their body weight daily to survive, that other animal food is running out, that the shrews are mostly nocturnal and that they will eat humans with gusto.

 

Poor Rook is chased and run up a tree by the coon hound shrews and the effects are so poor you can see the lines pulling the tree down supposedly under Rook’s impressive weight to his doom of being eaten alive. The shrews then surround the residence like the Little Big Horn and try to get in to eat the humans. They dig through the adobe walls and have to be shot or burned. One grazes the assistant scientist’s leg and they therefore find out that the shrews are also deadly venomous, as he dies shortly thereafter. The Hispanic servant also dies from a shrew bite. The shrews make a very distinctive noise that sounds something like “aaawk-ch-ch-ch!”. The shrews are also enthusiastically cannibalistic and will eat any form of meat, including each other, to quell their ravenous appetites.

 

The surviving humans decide they must escape and create a human-powered tank made of barrels roped together. Ken Curtis refuses as he is deathly afraid of the shrews and stays behind. Creeping in the tank the Captain, the Scientist and his lovely daughter make it, barely, to the water where the shrews, who cannot swim, leave them and go back to eat Ken Curtis who, instead of camping out on the roof and safe for a couple of days until the shrews turn on each other, stupidly tried to run off through the woods and he suffers Rook’s fate. As the shrews take him down he screams like a 12 year old girl with a spider on her face. The survivors swim to the motor launch and the Scientist declares; “In twenty-four hours there will be only one shrew left on the island, and he will die of starvation.”

 

This movie and it’s double feature The Giant Gila Monster made a surprising amount of money on the drive-in circuit. Although they were both low budget and schlocky even for 1959, I enjoyed the two movies at the drive-in. An amazing fact is that James Best reprises his role as the captain in the remake “Return of the Killer Shrews” in 2012, which was mostly a mockumentary of the original with even worse special effects and played for laughs. I am probably one of the very few people who have seen both movies. It is also a break of 53 years between the original and the sequel. Has to be some kind of record.

Blade Runner 2049 – A Science Fiction Movie Review

I saw Blade Runner in 1982.  It was a dystopic sci-fi story based on a Philip K Dick story, “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?”  Harrison Ford is a cop named Rick Deckard whose job is to terminate runaway androids (replicants), he’s called a blade runner.  The movie was constructed as a film noir with Deckard in love with a woman that he knows to be a replicant.  The movie is full of dark violent imagery.  And the story has at its core the concept of the inherent dignity of all human life and the injustice of denying anyone freedom.  And Rutger Hauer was a lot of fun running amok as a brilliant homicidal replicant named Roy Batty.

Since this is Orion’s Cold Fire, I feel it is necessary to record here Roy’s final speech before dying:

“I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhäuser Gate. All those moments will be lost in time, like tears…in…rain. Time to die.”  It’s effective, both dramatically and emotionally.  In point of fact it’s the best thing in the movie.

Blade Runner 2049 is the sequel to this movie.  It’s about thirty years after the first movie and K (played by Ryan Gosling) is a replicant who works for the Los Angeles police department as a blade runner.  While terminating a rogue replicant he detects a body buried under a tree on the replicant’s farm.  Forensic evidence points to the body belonging to the replicant that Deckard ran away with at the end of the first movie.  And the forensics shows that she gave birth to a child.  This is supposed to be impossible and so frightens the law enforcement establishment that they order K to find the child and terminate it and destroy all evidence of its existence.

But based on evidence associated with the child in K’s search he begins to believe that he is that child.  Because of the usefulness and efficiency of having replicants fertile, Niander Wallace, the wealthy, brilliant and evil CEO of the replicant manufacturing corporation wants to find the child in order to learn the secret of its ability.

This scenario sparks all manner of fights and chases and clues are found and people are hunted down.  Eventually K finds the woman who delivers the child and learns he is not the child.  He finds Deckard (reprised by Ford) and reunites him with his daughter.

I thought it was an awful movie.  It was full of off-putting action, boring and confusing dialog and unsympathetic characters.  Even as science fiction it didn’t make any sense.  We can currently read the entire genome of any human being.  How could it be possible for a future world that could produce synthetic humans not be able to make them fertile.  Also, since as we learned in the first movie, these replicants were born adult and only lived a few short years, how could having them gestate other replicants make any sense?  They would be born infants and take twenty years to mature.  Or even if in the meantime replicants now lived longer why were humanoid slaves needed at all?  The advances in artificial intelligence showcased in the movie made the need for android slaves nonsensical.

But honestly, all that is beside the point.  The movie was terrible.

Guest Contributor – War Pig – SF&F Movie Review – EEGAH!

EEGAH!  (also known as; “EEGAH! The Name Written In Blood”)

A 1962 schlock sci-fi movie apparently shot on a budget in the double digits. It is notable for three things; first, being one of the 50 worst movies ever made. Second, introducing us to Richard Kiel who went on to star as the giant alien in the Twilight Zone episode “To Serve Man”, and as the melancholy villain/henchman Jaws in the James Bond franchise. Lastly, it proudly introduced America to the dune buggy, a sort of hot rod with “tires filled with water for traction” meant to climb desert sand dunes. If you ever watched the cartoon Speed Buggy as a child, you’ll get the drift.

The comely Marilyn Manning plays the beautiful damsel and a forgettable Arch Hall, Jr as the hero with a DA haircut and a poorly recorded singing voice.

Kiel was the only decent actor in the lot and he played well considering what he was given to work with. I love the movie as I love all scholcky sci-fi movies, the worse, the better. Arch Hall, Sr drafted his son as the hero and himself played a part in the movie. Senior wrote it and headed the film company.

Poor EEGAH. He somehow survived in a cave from the caveman days to present, along with his mummified family. How he managed to live years in the area around Palm Springs without discovery is a mystery, but the movie glosses over all that. Fumes or something. He is in the road looking for roadkill and is almost hit by the comely heroine, who passes out at the sight of him and accidentally scares him off by honking the horn. An Easter egg is that there are sheep bleating in the background when EEGAH picks up a deer carcass and carries it off. She tells her father, a sort of amateur archaeologist or something, who goes out in a helicopter to be dropped off to look around. The chopper drops him off but that is the last we hear of the chopper. It breaks or something so the hero and heroine ride off in the new Dune Buggy to go look for dear old dad.

Dad is found, the hero sent off, and the heroine captured by the amorous caveman. She’s the best looking things he’s seen in 10,000 years and she smells good, too. The heroine tries to keep EEGAH interested enough in her so that he doesn’t kill them both, while at the same time keeping things from going too far. Pretty much like a date with a fratboy, I guess. She shaves her father for some unknown and inappropriate reason, then EEGAH wants a shave, too. So she shaves him while he tries to make zug-zug with her and eat the shaving cream at the same time. A hilarious scene for me.

At any rate, the hero returns from wherever, gets dad and daughter out of the cave, and there is the predictable chase scene with the three of them running away from EEGAH in the dune buggy back to Palm Springs in time for a pool party which allows the heroine to show off her bikini bod (and a rather good, one, too), then to change into a form fitting sheath dress for a later party. Poor EEGAH comes to town looking for his love and instead gets into a comical series of adventures with civilization which were apparently stolen straight from the caveman scenes in Dinosaurus, another sci-fi movie from two years earlier. Then he crashes the pool party, whips all the fratboys, tries to run off with his lady love like a good caveman will do although he carries her instead of dragging her off by the hair. But the cops arrive and that is the end of poor EEGAH as he finds out a good club and a 7’2” frame are no match for little metal pellets going 1100 feet per second.

This movie is so loaded with cheese that it’s really a comedy. Marilyn Manning has two other IMDB credits, one of which was the actually good Sadist. Pity, as Ms Manning was very easy on the eyes, especially in a bikini. She could have given me a shave any day, if I had shaved back in 1962. Cuter than Annette Funicello of the Beach Party movie franchise. Mr Kiel went on to do bit parts calling for a tall guy and also got some better roles. As mentioned, he was an alien in Twilight Zone and Jaws in the James Bond franchise. He also played the tall man in the Adam Sandler movie Happy Gilmore. Overall, he has 82 credits on IMDB and had a successful career. Arch Hall Jr has a total of 9 IMDB credits, 6 of them his father’s films. He left acting to become a pilot. What happened to Marilyn Manning after her three movies is not known and I can find nothing really about her. She was a chiropractor’s receptionist in the same building as the film company for EEGAH! and was brought in because of her very good looks.

Overall, EEGAH! Is a hilarious send-up of sci-fi/horror movies. Like Plan 9 From Outer Space, it’s so bad, it’s good.

31DEC2018 – Best of 2018 List

Here’s my retrospective on 2018, completely subjective of course and whenever I can’t make up my mind or I don’t want to leave something out I’ll cheat and provide more than one choice.  And that’s one of the wonderful things about being the boss, you get to break the rules and do what you want.

 

Best Quotes of the Day

Some are political, some philosophical and some just human nature.  The order is just chronological of their appearance on the site.

 

“In the many forms of government which have sprung up there has always been an acknowledgement of justice and proportionate equality, although mankind fail in attaining them, as indeed I have already explained. Democracy, for example, arises out of the notion that those who are equal in any respect are equal in all respects; because men are equally free, they claim to be absolutely equal.”

Aristotle

 

“No state will be well administered unless the middle class holds sway.”

Aristotle

 

“When there aren’t any smart decisions, I suppose you just have to pick the stupid decision you like best.”

Orson Scott Card

 

“No one likes the fellow who is all rogue, but we’ll forgive him almost anything if there is warmth of human sympathy underneath his rogueries. The immortal types of comedy are just such men.”

W. C. Fields

 

“Every normal man must be tempted, at times, to spit on his hands, hoist the black flag, and begin slitting throats.”

H.L. Mencken

 

Carpe diem!  Seize the day!  Rejoice while you are alive; enjoy the day; live life to the fullest; make the most of what you have. It is later than you think.

Horace

 

“And this is the simple truth – that to live is to feel oneself lost. He who accepts it has already begun to find himself, to be on firm ground. Instinctively, as do the shipwrecked, he will look around for something to which to cling, and that tragic, ruthless glance, absolutely sincere, because it is a question of his salvation, will cause him to bring order into the chaos of his life. These are the only genuine ideas; the ideas of the shipwrecked. All the rest is rhetoric, posturing, farce.”

Soren Kierkegaard

 

If civilization had been left in female hands we would still be living in grass huts.

Camille Paglia

 

Best Books Reviewed

Fiction

I’ll have to go with the Galaxy’s Edge series:

http://orionscoldfire.com/index.php/2018/01/18/legionnaire-galaxys-edge-volume-1-by-jason-anspach-nick-cole-a-science-fiction-book-review/

Over the course of 2018 I read and reviewed all eight of the volumes in the main series (first volume linked above) and they only got better as the series went along.  It was good old mil-sci-fi space opera.  I assume I won’t live long enough to see the end of the series but so far that isn’t a problem.  I look forward to the next installment soon and am in no way tired of this particular universe.  Kudos to Anspach and Cole.  Long may they stoke their dumpster fire at the Edge of the Galaxy!

 Fiction Runners Up:

“The Hidden Truth” by Hans G. Schantz

http://orionscoldfire.com/index.php/2018/10/30/the-brave-and-the-bold-book-3-of-the-hidden-truth-by-hans-g-schantz-a-science-fiction-book-review/

Schantz has also upped his game as his series progresses and the “The Brave and the Bold,” the third volume, is the best so far.  Kudos to him.

 

“Southern Dust” by Caspar Vega

http://orionscoldfire.com/index.php/2018/08/25/southern-dust-by-caspar-vega-a-science-fiction-and-fantasy-book-review/

Vega is an acquired taste for me and as I’ve written about him, “It’s for those who like gritty crime dramas with a staccato, post-modern, minimalist writing style.”  Even though my tastes are a little more conventional I appreciate that there is an audience for the more unusual so I look around for interesting stuff.  As I’ve said before, your call.

 

Non-Fiction

The two books listed below provide two different takes on the way to interpret the results of ancient DNA analysis.

“The 10,000 Year Explosion: How Civilization Accelerated Human Evolution” by Gregory Cochran and Henry Harpending

“Who We Are and How We Got Here; Ancient DNA and the New Science of the Past” by David Reich

http://orionscoldfire.com/index.php/2018/05/24/the-10000-year-explosion-a-book-review/

http://orionscoldfire.com/index.php/2018/06/18/who-we-are-and-how-we-got-here-ancient-dna-and-the-new-science-of-the-past-by-david-reich-a-book-review/

 

David Reich being an academic embedded in the politically correct culture of the university system treads ever so gently around the edges of how the science of human genetic history should be interpreted.  Cochran and Harpending are much more direct and sometimes possibly presumptuous in the conclusions they draw from the evidence.  Both books together tell a fascinating story of how much we now know about the complex and diverse origins of the various human populations.

 

Best Movie

Science Fiction & Fantasy

The Incredibles 2

http://orionscoldfire.com/index.php/2018/07/08/the-incredibles-2-a-science-fiction-fantasy-movie-review/

This is a kids’ movie but it far exceeds any of the other “superhero” movies for just plain entertainment value.  I won’t say it was as original as the first installment but it mostly kept to the spirit of the original and provided a fun vehicle for parents (or grandparents) to enjoy a movie with their kids.

 

Older Movies

True Grit

http://orionscoldfire.com/index.php/2016/12/07/true-grit-the-duke-the-dude-and-the-dutiful-daughter-part-i/

 

This is a twofer.  For younger folks I’ll only recommend the new version by the Coen Brothers.  For people who grew up on the John Wayne movies of old I recommend they view both movies back to back in chronological order.  They each have facets to its advantage.  Each differs slightly from the source material.  But each is a fine movie.  And I’ll also recommend the novel that is the source for the movies.  It also has facets that aren’t available in either movie.

 

Music

Country Music

Album of the Year

Colter Wall by Colter Wall

Song of the Year

Pan Bowl by Sturgill Simpson

My music choices are very idiosyncratic so I won’t try to justify them.  To paraphrase a recent annoying politician, they just reflect who I am  Pan Bowl is an older song from Simpson’s 2014 album.

 

TV

The only truly notable television I watched in 2018 was the State of the Union address by the president.  Everything else was at best just okay.

 

On – Line Articles

 

Here are the articles that I thought were informative on our political situation.  There were many others that were intersting but these seem to encapsulate the developments in the political thinking this year.  Basically it’s the red-pilling of the normies.

http://orionscoldfire.com/index.php/2018/03/23/american-greatness-pick-of-the-day-total-political-war-by-matthew-j-peterson/

 

http://orionscoldfire.com/index.php/2018/04/15/a-different-kind-of-red-shift/

 

http://orionscoldfire.com/index.php/2018/05/29/john-derbyshire-post-electoral-gold-for-the-stupid-party-the-anti-anti-white-vote/

 

http://orionscoldfire.com/index.php/2018/10/25/our-revolutions-logic-angelo-codevilla-an-on-line-article-review/

 

Humor

Trump vs

These are of course the most subjective things to judge.  I just kind of liked these a lot.  I admit they are absurd but such is life.

Trump vs the Hell Storm (Part 1)

Trump vs the Hell Storm (Part 2)

Search hell Trump vs the Hell Storm (Part 3)

 

Photos

Here are my favorite photos of the year.

Landscape

 

 

Nature

American Museum of Natural History, New York City, Sony NEX 5N, Sony 24mm F\1.8 APSC lens
macrophotography with Sony A7 III, Minolta 200mm f\4 macro lens and extension tubes, long horned beetle
Monotropa uniflora, Indian pipe, ghost plant, corpse plant, Sony A7 III with Minolta 200mm f\4 Macro lens
Sony A7 III with the Sigma MC-11 Adapter and the Sigma 180mm f\2.8 APO Macro EX DG HSM OS for Canon

 

Aquaman – A Science Fiction & Fantasy Movie Review

Today Camera Girl and I took grandsons Primus and Secundus to the local multiplex and watched a double feature of

  • Ralph Breaks the Internet
  • Aquaman

Between tickets and popcorn this went for about a hundred bucks.  And it was horrible.  Having to twice sit through the interminable coming attractions and other advertising video was pure torture.  Ralph Breaks the Internet was mildly amusing but twice as long as it needed to be.  Plus, at the end I found out that Sarah Silverman was one of the voice actors.  By the time Aquaman began I was bored and queasy from eating greasy popcorn.

It wasn’t bad.  There was a little too much girl power being pitched and of course none of it made any sense at all but taken as a whole it wasn’t bad.  The plot was ridiculously contrived and the evil half brother motif might as well have had Thor and Loki’s names filed down to protect DC from being sued by Marvel.

The special effects are, of course, spectacular.  Due to his human/Atlantean hybrid ancestry the title role is performed as a regular guy who just happens to be a super hero that can breath under water and control the denizens of the deep.  The rest of the Atlanteans try to sound like some kind of quasi-medieval nobility, sort of like how the Asgardians in the Thor movies do.  It’s a little silly but not terrible.

I’ve never followed the Aquaman character before.  I figured he was just the DC version of Submariner who was the lamest of the Marvel superheroes.  From the ending sequence and the way these superhero franchises are handled it’s certain that there will be sequels.  Not that I think there need to be any.

Bottom line, the movie has plenty of action and drama.  The main character is likable and fulfills the function of a superhero by being heroic.  And finally, the grandsons thought it was very good.  So it fulfills its primary role, it amuses kids.

Them! – A Science Fiction Movie Review

You may be asking yourself, is photog becoming demented?  Didn’t he already write a review of Them!?  The answers to those questions are yes and no.  I have referenced Them in several posts about cheesy 1950s science fiction movies.  But it has never gotten its own exclusive treatment.  Well, I mean to remedy that situation, pronto.

Them! is the grand-daddy of all atomic energy fear films.  Instead of fearing cancer and radiation sickness we are provided with a much more rational fear, giant ants.  It is 1954 and nine years after the first atomic bomb was tested at White Sands, New Mexico.  During those nine years ants have been traipsing around the New Mexico desert ignorant of their future as future contenders for mankind’s crown as King of the Earth.  But the wait is over.  A small prop plane is inexplicably cruising over the desert and spots a little girl holding a doll aimlessly walking in the hot sun.  The pilot alerts a nearby police cruiser which intercepts the little girl and finds that she’s catatonic.  With the help of the pilot they trace her point of origin to a recreational vehicle parked in the desert.  On closer inspection the officers discover that one side of the RV has been ripped to shreds.  But being crack forensic experts and logical linguists, they proclaim that the RV wall, “wasn’t caved in, it was caved out.”  Whoever wrote the deathless prose of this dialog is partly responsible for the sad position we currently find ourselves in, vis-à-vis cultural and actual illiteracy.  Later on, the policeman redeems himself when at a general store that has been similarly destroyed, he declares, “this wasn’t pushed in, it was pulled out.”  Okay, stupid rant over.

Based on blood found in the RV the officers determine that the girl is the only survivor of an attack.  On the way back from finding the girl and the trailer they stop off at a local general store and find it similarly damaged and the store owner brutally killed.  One of the police officers, Ed Blackburn is left at the store to guard the remains.  His partner, Sgt. Ben Peterson played by James Whitmore, drives off and shortly afterward, Blackburn is heard off camera firing his revolver at some thing and then screaming as he suffers horrible death.

Evidence found at the site of the RV, a foot print, is sent to the FBI for identification and so the story moves on to its next logical step, Santa Claus is called in.  Or more precisely Edmund Gwenn who played Santa Claus in Miracle on 34th Street.  Gwenn plays Dr. Harold Medford a world-renowned myrmecologist who with his myrmecologist daughter have come to lead the effort to save the world from the giant ants.  Representing the government is FBI agent Robert Graham played by James Arness.  Arness who later found fame as Marshall Dillon on TV’s Gunsmoke is the brave, competent hero of the movie and the love interest for the myrmecologist daughter.  And to provide local color Ben Peterson is always on hand to provide the comic relief.

With the help of the scientists, the army locates the giant ant nest and destroy it with cyanide gas.  But after inspecting the inside of the nest the scientists break the bad news.  New queen ants have escaped the nest and will be forming new nests elsewhere.  Now a war room is set up and armed forces from all the services mobilize to battle the giant ants on land, on sea and in the air.  Dunt, dunt, daaaah!!!

The final showdown takes place where it must, in the storm drains of Los Angeles.  And in fitting fashion, the ants capture two little boys who wander into their nest and are rescued by the US Army.  Unfortunately, Ben Peterson dies saving the boys but dies the good death of a hero.  And when the ants are finally finished off Dr. Medford gives a speech and tells us that the atomic age is fraught with danger and giant insects.

Despite how thoroughly I’ve mocked this movie, I actually enjoy it immensely.  Other than the laughably fake animatronic ants the production values for the movie are quite good and the actors are actually very effective for the most part, including the character actors performing the bit parts as police, military and civilian participants.  My favorite scenes are where the scientific expertise of the Medfords is showcased for the benefit of the poor ignorant soldiers and police.  While under attack from their first giant ant Dr. Medford makes sure he uses the Latin singular and plural versions of the word antenna when instructing the police to shoot at the ant. “Shoot the antennae, shoot the antennae,” he yells and once one of these has been shot off he continues “now shoot the other antenna.”  In another scene Dr. Medford is attempting to convince the Pentagon that the giant ants are an existential threat to humanity and he uses an ant film clip that looks like it could have been made by my high school biology teacher.

Them! is a wonderful time capsule of the 1950s.  Americans are the good guys and giant ants are definitely bad.  What could be simpler?

The Adventures of Baron Munchausen – A Movie Review

Terry Gilliam is best known as a member of the comedy troupe Monty Python’s Flying Circus.  But he also had a second career as a motion picture writer/director.  His best-known movie was Brazil, about a dystopic future where the all-powerful security state reaches an absurdist level of control.

But the movie that I am interested in here is a less well known but sunnier exercise.  The movie opens up within a walled town besieged by the Turks at a time that is identified as being in the 18th Century, The Age of Reason, Wednesday.  A small acting company is putting on a comical play of the legendary Adventures of Baron Munchausen, when in the middle of the first act the real Baron Munchausen interrupts the play to refute the slanders, he claims are being made against himself.  The Right Ordinary Horatio Jackson who is in attendance in the audience and is the military governor of the town and a staunch proponent of the Age of Reason, takes offense at the Baron’s aspersions against reason and logic and threatens to throw the Baron and the whole acting troupe over the wall to the Turk.  The Baron claims he is the cause of the Turkish assault on the town and spends the rest of the movie assembling his legendary comrades to save the town from both the Turk and the Right Ordinary Horatio Jackson.  The Sultan and Jackson, behind the scenes are actually on excellent terms and take turns winning battles in order to keep the war going on forever.

Some very excellent actors are included in the cast including Jonathan Pryce as Horatio Jackson, Robin Williams as the King of the Moon and Eric Idle as Desmond and Berthold.  The reason Idle has two characters to play is another conceit of the movie.  The play actors of which Idle is one look exactly like the Baron’s actual comrades and so the movie actors play both parts.  Robin Williams as mentioned, is King of the Moon and his characterization has a split personality.  When the King’s head is detached from his body, he has a light, zany, Italian-accented voice an impish personality.  But when the head and body are joined Williams takes on the voice and personality of what could most easily be described as an angrier version of Benito Mussolini.

The English actor John Neville plays the Baron and smaller parts are distributed to well-known actors like Oliver Reed and Uma Thurman who portray the gods Vulcan and Venus respectively.  Even Sting (of Police singing fame) has a cameo as the “Heroic Officer.”

The plot, such as it is, has the Baron sailing to the Moon, falling into Mount Vesuvius to meet Vulcan and Venus and being swallowed by a giant sea monster, all performed as part of his search for his servants.  Along the way he flirts with Queens, goddesses and even a few commoners.  At all times he somehow has long stem roses to hand out and he invariably compares the beauty of each women to Catherine the Great “whose hand in marriage I once had the honor to decline.”  On one occasion he makes the remark to three women at once.  When an auditor of this exchange challenges him that they couldn’t all remind him of Catherine the Great, the Baron petulantly replied, “Why not? Bits here and bits there!”

The movie is obviously a hymn to fantasy and whimsy and the final showdown has the Baron conquer not only reason and reality but even old age and death itself.  It’s an utterly ridiculous movie that is full of fantastic visual effects and fairy tale imagery.  It probably will not appeal to all tastes.  I highly recommend it to those who can enjoy elaborate nonsense.

I Robot – A Science Fiction Movie Review

My regular readers will know that my estimation of Isaac Asimov’s work is not uniformly positive.  I read the “I Robot” stories as a kid and enjoyed them a good deal.  I think what I found entertaining was the cleverness of the interplay of the Three Laws of Robotics with the plot lines.  Re-reading them many years later I saw that aside from the cleverness, the stories were not particularly rich in characterization or description.  And for short stories of that era that wasn’t unusual.  So, let’s say I Robot is a worthy example of its time and type.

A film was made from the stories back in 2004.  It bears no resemblance to any of the stories but involves the concepts of the three laws and how they relate to a world that has adopted an almost universal use of robots in commercial, industrial and even personal service.  Will Smith is a cop in Chicago who despises robots because of a past encounter.  The plot revolves around his investigation of a murder that contrary to the requirements of the three laws has apparently been committed by a robot.  For fans of Firefly the voice of the killer robot Sonny is provided by Alan Tudyk (aka Hoban “Wash” Washburne).

I was sort of busy back in 2004 and didn’t see the movie when it came out.  But I Robot, the movie, has been in almost constant rotation on AMC for the last year or two so I’ve seen all or part of it a number of times now.  When I first viewed it I wasn’t very enthusiastic for it.  The dissimilarity from the Asimov stories probably annoyed me.  If I grasp for any other reasons, I’ll point to the presence of Shia LaBeouf in the cast in a part so insipid that it makes you shake your head wondering what the director was thinking.

Interestingly, over time I actually grew to enjoy the movie more.  It’s an action adventure movie and the scenes featuring Will Smith battling enormous numbers of robots are cleverly done and quite a lot of fun.  Tudyk does a good job making the robot character sympathetic.  And Bridget Moynahan makes the Susan Calvin character more personable than Asimov ever did.

So here we have a couple of inversions of the typical situation.  For the most part, I find that a movie made from a book almost never lives up to it.  But in this case, it surpasses it.  And here is an example of a book that has decreased in my estimation over time while the movie has done the reverse.

I Robot is not a film version of the Asimov stories and it does not break any new ground as a science fiction movie either for the special effects or for original story telling.  But it’s a pretty good Will Smith action adventure.  And he does kill a lot of robots with a big gun.  How can you go wrong with that?

Independence Day – A Science Fiction Movie Review

I have never reviewed the movie Independence Day.  It may seem as though I have because I have used the movie setting as the background for four parts of a Trump vs Independence Day post.  In any case it’s time for me to rectify the deficiency.  I’ll start out by declaring that I have a love/hate relationship with the film.  There are numerous strengths and weaknesses to the movie that cry out for mention.  So, let’s do that.

The concept of Earth being invaded by space-aliens intent on exterminating the human race is almost as old as science fiction itself.  H. G. Wells wrote War of the Worlds well over a hundred years ago.  In the era of modern science fiction the concept has been done and redone.  And there have been two film versions of War of the Worlds.  But Independence Day broke new ground in the tradition.  By the 1990s special effects had progressed far enough along so that the images from Independence Day of New York, Washington and Los Angeles being obliterated were groundbreaking in their impact.  Seeing the energy weapon explode the Empire State Building and then unleash a super-heated shock wave throughout Manhattan was at the time remarkable.  Even today, the destruction scenes are visually impressive.  The visual effects for the alien ship are also well done.  The aliens themselves I would say are more of a mixed bag.  They have some interesting features but just didn’t seem all that scary.  All in all, I’d say that the CGI and other technical effects stand up pretty well to present day expectations.

Next up is the cast.  Will Smith, who plays Marine pilot Capt. Steve Hiller, would of course now be considered the biggest name in the cast.  Back then though, Jeff Goldblum coming off his part in Jurassic Park would have been the more prominent star.  He plays David Levinson an electronics genius and ex-husband of President Pullman’s Chief of Staff.  Both of these guys get plenty of screen time.  Bill Pullman plays President Tom Whitmore and has about equal importance with Smith and Goldblum in the story line.  Other memorable parts are portrayed by Randy Quaid as Russell Casse, Robert Loggia as General Grey, Adam Baldwin as Major Mitchell and Judd Hirsch as Julius Levinson, David’s father.  Most of the humor in the movie are provided by Randy Quaid and Judd Hirsch but there is a general humorous atmosphere in the film despite the catastrophic nature of the action.

The plot of the movie has an enormous alien space craft arriving in earth orbit from which smaller city-sized ships fly down and hover over Washington D.C, New York City and Los Angeles in the United States and the other largest cities around the world.  David Levinson figures out that the space craft is preparing to launch a simultaneous attack on all the target cities around the world.  Once the attack destroys these cities the President and his advisors counter-attack with military aircraft but the alien ships have force fields that turn the counter attack into a disaster.  After this the personal stories of the three main characters and their loved ones are skillfully blended with the race to find some way to stop the aliens from systematically wiping out the entire human race.  And of course, the decisive battle occurs on the Fourth of July.

So, what’s the verdict?  As I mentioned at the beginning I have a love/hate relationship with the film.  But on balance I consider the movie a success.  The cast is for the most part likeable.  The plot is undeniably exciting.  And the resolution is almost completely satisfying.  I have some quibbles about messaging by the David Levinson character about the use of nuclear weapons and environmental crap.  And the President gets a little too globalist during the pep speech before the world-wide battle at the end of the movie.  Saying that from now on the Fourth of July would be a world-wide holiday was pretty annoying.  But for the most part it’s a good movie and has lots of great action, heroism and even some excellent comedy.  Highly recommended.