I’ve looked over my output for the last year. It’s all the same thing. It’s all been said. I can’t say it again.
At this point talking about what needs to be done has very little value. So, I’ll talk about things that I find interesting. Maybe it’ll be technology or science or photography or science fiction or maybe it’ll be some current event that I think is noteworthy. I’ll try to keep the outrage over Biden’s atrocities to a minimum since we all know they’re coming and talking about them doesn’t really accomplish anything.
If I see something happening that is progress, that’ll be discussed. For instance, the red state governors sending illegal aliens to sanctuary cities worked! It struck a nerve, it discombobulated them. It was successful and that is newsworthy and worth discussion. And if someone has some original and thought-provoking theory on how the world will be changing in the future and I think it’s worth discussing I might link to it and put in my two cents.
As I get a chance to make some progress on my sf book, I’ll probably put a few chunks of it up for comment. And I’ll start doing more reviews of movies and books. But banging on the “something must be done” drum has gotten too dull. I’m preaching to the choir and the choir will start heading for the doors soon.
Things will be changing but hopefully folks will still find stuff here that they find interesting and worthwhile. So, my daily announcement that the sky is falling has been cancelled and instead I’ll leave something entertaining.
I’m doing this review on a whim. I just saw this movie for the first time since I saw it on Million Dollar Movie probably about fifty years ago and what I could remember of it even as a kid was that it seemed slightly hammy. In retrospect it’s a lot hammy. Instead of the Ringling Brothers’ Barnum and Bailey Circus; “The Greatest Show Earth,” we’re watching the Whirling and Borman Brothers Circus; “The Biggest Show on Earth.” Remarkable creativity there.
But Hank Whirling (played by Victor Mature) has split up with the Borman brothers and taken his own circus on the road. But he needs money so he goes to the local bank and gets a loan but in exchange for the money he has to take along two bank employees; Randy Sherman (played by Red Buttons) and Helen Harrison (played by Rhonda Fleming). Helen is a publicist who is supposed to help make the circus’s tour successful (and end up as the love interest for Hank). Red Buttons is there to be Red Buttons and annoy everyone. Vincent Price is the circus master Hans Hagenfeld. Gilbert Roland is the high wire star Zach Colino. Peter Lorre is an obese decrepit version of himself as an alcoholic clown named Skeeter. David Nelson is Tommy Gordon, the aerialist and saboteur. And Howard McNear is Mr. Lomax, the bank employee sent to foreclose on the circus when Red Buttons refuses.
Forget the plot. It has to do with the Borman Brothers sabotaging the circus. But it’s too dumb to care about. What you have here is a collection of B-movie actors strung together to make a cinemascope spectacle involving elephants and lions. And you know this from the get-go. Anything with Red Buttons in it will be nothing else. And Victor Mature and Vincent Price are exhibits B and C. Look, they didn’t even get Ricky Nelson, the popular Nelson son. Instead, they got his brother David, the one who couldn’t sing. And the only thing Howard McNear is remembered for is playing the oddly disturbing Floyd the Barber character from the Andy Griffith Show.
So, I’m watching this clunker. Everything about it is hackneyed and telegraphed. But there’s a lion act in it and it’s really fun to watch. And there’s a clown sequence and it’s mildly amusing. And there are some scenes with the elephants and suddenly I’m remembering how I used to like seeing the elephants at the circus. And there are some girls dancing around in harem outfits and that’s not so bad. And even Victor Mature and Vincent Price hamming it up isn’t so bad.
And before you know it, I find myself enjoying this awful movie. By the end when they introduce Steve Allen as himself providing network tv as a lifeline to save the circus during a NYC subway strike, I find myself completely forgiving all the schmaltz. I even forgive the scene where the tightrope walker manages to cross over Niagara Falls to restore his lost courage and honor.
And of course, by the end of the movie there are at least two incipient marriages. Victor Mature will marry Rhonda Fleming and Red Buttons will marry the sister of Mature’s character (whoever the hell she was). All they left out was bloated Peter Lorre marrying one of the elephants.
So, I can’t recommend this movie on its merits. It has none. But if you’re nostalgic for the circus, watch this and pretend the Ringling Bros. circus still exists. The lion scene is really fun.
As July draws to a close, I’ve been indulging in inconsequential trifles. Yesterday I watched the remake of “Total Recall” with Colin Farrell and Jessica Biel. The original with Arnold Schwarzenegger was a silly movie. So was this. But I think I liked the recent one better. Not that it was any more sensible or was a masterpiece of cinematic brilliance but it was entertaining.
Then tonight we watched the first episode of the spy series “The Old Man” with Jeff Bridges. And once again it wasn’t deathless theater but it was very entertaining. We’re also watching the “Justified” sequel I guess you could call it. Now, I really liked the original series a lot. I don’t know that I’ll like this as much but it’s well done and definitely in the same vein as the earlier series. So lately I’m not hating tv.
And since it stopped raining every minute, I’ve had a chance to get outside and do some macrophotography of bugs and flowers. And that’s a lot of fun. I’ve been testing out the advantages and disadvantages of using continuous autofocus with fast moving insects. The primary disadvantage is that for the Sony A7IV camera magnified view is unavailable in continuous autofocus mode. So, for instance, if you’re trying to get the eyes of a bee or butterfly perfectly focused you have to guess if the autofocus is precisely on the eye. In single-shot autofocus I can engage a 5.5X magnified view that will let me see whether the eye or whatever else I’m trying to nail is perfect. But often when these critters are crawling around, they can move out of focus almost immediately. Plus, the magnified view ends as soon as the shutter is engaged and so it’s necessary to reactivate it after every photo.
Based on what I’ve seen in the last couple of days I’m starting to think that continuous autofocus is the way to go. Especially if I use high speed multiple exposures (spray and pray mode). This ends up filling up my memory card (and hard drive!) but the chance of getting the perfect shot is much more likely than with the single shot autofocus and single exposure mode. Plus, it’s easier and as I’ve always admitted I’m an extremely lazy man.
And I’ve continued on my program of getting together with the grandsons one by one. Last Saturday I had the twelve-year-old fellow over and he wanted a Star Wars marathon. Luckily this was the “The Empire Strikes Back” and “Return of the Jedi.” I had forgotten just how bad the Ewoks were. I also forgot just how goofy the scripts were. Harrison Ford spends most of his time hammering away at some control components of the Millenium Falcon while whining about how it wasn’t his fault. But we bonded over our shared belief that Imperial Stormtroopers were all pathetic losers without any detectable skills as warriors. And finally, I rediscovered my disdain for Yoda. As far as I could determine he was always wrong and of no value as a teacher or anything else.
On the upcoming Saturday, the sixteen-year-old is coming over and I believe it will be a “Lord of the Rings” film festival. That should be fun. For dessert he’s requested original Klondike Bars, of which I wholly approve. It should be epic.
So, all of these things provide a welcome distraction from the slow-motion train wreck that is our national government. I sometimes wondered what it must have been like to live through the more terrible chapters of the Roman Empire. I think I now have a better idea. Joe Biden is Tiberius and I guess Hunter is Caligula. The FBI is the Praetorian Guard and we’re the rabble existing on bread and circuses. But even if Tiberius was as sexually depraved as Joe, at least he was an able military leader. Watching what Joe is doing to our foreign policy, or allowing others to do to our foreign policy, is frightening.
But enough doom and gloom. Though we are perched on the slopes of Vesuvius we will eat, drink and be merry. July is almost consumed but it will be relished to the dregs.
Reviewing Aliens and hearing from folks who remembered it fondly got me thinking about what readers here consider the best sci-fi movies. So, of course, I went to YouTube. And here’s the list.
The Empire Strikes Back (1980)
2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
Terminator 2: Judgement Day (1991)
Jurassic Park (1993)
The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951)
The Matrix (1999)
Children of Men (2006)
Planet of the Apes (1968)
The War of the Worlds (1953)
Now, right off the bat, I disagree with several of the picks. Neither “Planet of the Apes” or “The Day the Earth Stood Still” would be on my top ten movies list. Planet of the Apes isn’t my idea of a sci-fi movie. And The Day the Earth Stood Still is commie propaganda. So, there’s that.
Some of the other movies are pretty good ones. Now as for the order and any additional movies to pad out the top ten I’ll have to give it some thought. But I think it’s a good talking paper to inspire discussion of what each of us considers to be good sci-fi movies.
Now here’s another list (see below). This is IMDB’s “TOP 100 Sci-Fi Movies of All Time.” There are a few commonalities between the top ten of this list with the former list. But one interesting thing I noticed is that once you get past the top of the list the sequels start piling up. Between sequels to “Back to the Future,” “Planet of the Apes,” “Predator,” “Jurassic Park,” “Star Trek” “Alien,” “Terminator” and “Star Wars” we’re looking at a lot of retreads.
What it made me think was that there really aren’t that many really good science fiction movies. There are definitely a lot more good science fiction books than there are good movies. Which I guess is kind of hopeful if you’re an optimist. For instance, I saw that they’ve made a movie out of Asimov’s Foundation stories. I saw the coming attractions. Honestly, I couldn’t tell anything about it at all. It could be great. It could be awful. But at least it’s a new movie. It’s not a sequel.
So, I guess being a science fiction movie fan is all about being an optimist. And in the larger world of science fiction/fantasy movies we were rewarded in the early 2000s with the Lord of the Rings movies. So that tells me miracles can happen. Maybe one day a true fan of Heinlein will reboot “Starship Troopers” without the nazi iconography or might even film “Have Spacesuit Will Travel.”
So, this will be an open thread to get some comments. If you’d like to give your top sci-fi movie list or what story you’d like to see filmed in the future put it in the comments. Later on, I’ll add some more of my own thoughts on what is a proper science fiction movie and what isn’t.
A last question for the audience. Is “Escape from New York” really science fiction?
It’s a funny thing I had never seen Aliens in its entirety until today. Somehow, I missed the first half hour of the movie and only came in when the main action was beginning. So finally, I have the correct basis on which to judge it.
I won’t synopsize the plot because it’s an Alien movie so the plot is for Sigourney Weaver to outlive the rest of her fellow humans battling the aliens before ultimately jettisoning a xenomorph into the vacuum of space.
As in the original “Alien” movie Sigourney Weaver is Ellen Ripley a commercial astronaut who works for the evil Weyland-Yutani Corporation. Fifty-seven years after the first Alien attack Ripley is discovered still in suspended animation in the shuttle craft that she used to escape the destruction of her ship the Nostromo.
The evil Weyland-Yutani Corporation was very unhappy about her blowing up their ship but when they find out that their terra-forming colony on the planet that the alien was found on has gone silent they send “space marines” and Ripley to fix things. They also send Paul Reiser playing smarmy corporate yes man, Carter Burke to provide the requisite “greedy corporation wants xenomorph for bioweapon” subplot. And finally, they throw in an android to show that despite what happened in the first movie, androids can be pretty swell people too.
And finally, to soften up Ripley’s Rambo impression, they throw in an orphaned little girl named Newt that Ripley rescues a few times over the course of the movie, proving that a modern woman truly can have it all.
So, the producers pull out all the stops. Aliens are popping up everywhere in the industrial complex that serves as the venue for this first-person shooter game. Bits of aliens and “molecular acid” are sprayed everywhere and one by one the marine platoon is picked off by the monsters. Until finally we’re down to Ripley, Newt, android and the pick of the Marine crew, Corporal Dwayne Hicks played by the ever-popular Michael Biehn. But during the final rescue of Newt on the planet Hicks is wounded by molecular acid and from then on, all the heavy lifting is done by Ripley. Which she performs with panache, culminating in the above mentioned obligatory spacing of the mother alien (of course there’s a mother alien).
So, what did I think? Well, I have some quibbles. The plot contrives it that the marines can’t use their heaviest weapons because the industrial plant is a “thermonuclear” power plant and if any of their explosive charges rupture a heat exchanger line the whole plant will detonate. Since it’s a cinch that all the colonists (except Newt) are already dead why are they bothering to throw away their lives in this death trap. As Ripley so astutely recommended, “I say we take off and nuke the entire site from orbit. It’s the only way to be sure.” Also, they overdid it with the strong female characters and weak male ones. Yeah, I know, I know. “There’s nothing wrong with that.” But honestly it is insulting and stupid.
But taken all in all the movie does provide an exciting action-adventure/science fiction/horror experience. I won’t claim it’s my favorite but it is a worthy representative of its genre. I will give it a recommended status.
(Spoiler Alert – Skip down to last paragraph to avoid spoilers and read recommendation)
Ad Astra (Latin for “to the stars”) is a science fiction movie starring Brad Pitt as astronaut Roy McBride whose father Clifford McBride (played by a decrepit looking Tommy Lee Jones) is inexplicably firing anti-matter particles back at Earth from the orbit of the planet Neptune. The anti-matter will eventually destroy Earth so Roy is supposed to go to the Moon to catch a ride to Mars to broadcast a message to his father asking him not to destroy Earth, or something. The why and how of all this is very odd. Clifford has been MIA for twenty years on a mission called Lima that was somehow supposed to be looking for extraterrestrial intelligence (from somewhere near Neptune!).
Eventually we learn that Clifford murdered his crew long ago because they figured out, he was crazy. When Roy gives his message on Mars Clifford doesn’t agree to cease and desist so the military outfits a mission to nuke Project Lima to erase the threat. Somehow (but not believably) Roy stows aboard the rocket (after it blasts off) and without really trying he kills the whole crew that were trying to kill him. Now he flies to Neptune and confronts his father who is completely nuts. He sets the nuke and thinks he’s convinced Clifford to return to Earth with him. But when push literally comes to shove, Clifford unshackles himself from Roy and heads off into empty, empty space.
Finally, Roy uses a hatch panel to protect himself while he takes a shortcut through the rings of Neptune and then somehow the nuclear blast that destroyed Project Lima was able to provide most of the kinetic energy to return him to Earth before Roy dies of old age. And despite all the astronauts he killed getting out there the military decides to forgive and forget and so Roy finishes off by reciting some kind of humanistic spiritual affirmation statement of some kind or other and then gets back together with his ex-wife Liv Tyler.
Now maybe that sounds quite odd for a science fiction story. And it is. This is a somewhat confusing rigamarole. So let me give my thoughts on it. The visual effects are quite good. Some scenes in low Earth orbit, the Moon, Mars and aboard spacecraft are a lot of fun to watch. But there are (I kid you not) space monkeys! Which I kinda/hafta frown upon. So, two points off. Brad Pitt’s character starts out as an apparently emotionless robot who always saves the world from disaster without getting his pulse above eighty. By the end he’s crying about his crazy father being crazy. Tommy Lee Jones’ character is crazy so there’s not much there. Donald Sutherland has a small part and he’s always crazy. So, this movie doesn’t make a lot of sense. For instance, how is Tommy Lee Jones investigating other life in the universe from Neptune. Neptune is too incredibly cold for anything to live there. And it’s not like it’s any closer to the stars than Earth. Alright, I’ll stop making fun of the movie. It’s a crazy movie, but like “2001: A Space Odyssey” it’s a visually enjoyable movie if you don’t care too much about the plot. I recommend it for hard-core sci-fi film lovers who can live with space monkeys.
Here is another movie for which I will not provide a spoiler alert. This movie cannot be spoiled. There’s nothing there to spoil.
For whatever reason, more than a few well-known actors and celebrities appeared in this ridiculous film. The star is Bill Murray as Police Chief Cliff Robertson. Adam Driver is Officer Ronnie Peterson, Robertson’s patrol partner. Steve Buscemi is a farmer named Frank Miller. Tilda Swinton is Zelda Winston, a samurai/funeral director/space alien. Danny Glover is a hardware store owner. Selena Gomez is Zoe, “a young traveler.” Rosie Perez plays a tv reporter and Iggy Pop is a coffee guzzling zombie. Carol Kane is a fat bloated drunken zombie who wants a drink. And last but not least, Sturgill Simpson, who also sings the eponymous theme song of the movie (several times) is “Guitar Zombie.” He is this by virtue of a guitar that is dragging behind his foot by the strings as he stumbles zombie-like through the night.
Most of the dialog is Murray and Driver speculating on the steadily increasing zombie body count in what I suppose is supposed to be the stoic tones of small-town cops. They also break the fourth wall from time to time by mentioning what the script said would happen next. And one strange character arc has Tilda Swinton interrupt her zombie slicing work to be picked up by an alien space ship and transported away.
The reason given for the appearance of the walking dead is that the Earth has “fallen off its axis” because of “polar fracking.” Eventually, one by one, or in small groups all the townspeople are eaten by the zombies. Finally Driver informs Murray that the movie ends with them dying while courageously fighting the zombies. So, they get out of their squad car and get to it. And not a moment too soon.
I’m not sure whether this movie had a script or whether the actors just extemporized. There might have been a few moments that were mildly funny. Steve Buscemi is funny even when he doesn’t mean to be. But there aren’t many. And by the middle of the movie, you’re just hoping it ends sooner than later. But it doesn’t. It goes on and on. It’s a very long 103 minutes.
This movie must have an audience. But that audience doesn’t include me.
And so it begins. When a film franchise is based on the likability and heroic stature of the main character and you go out of your way to mock and belittle that character you might be undercutting your fan base, just a little. https://t.co/Bcsi2PXVbb
That post I wrote a few days ago about Disney’s woke movies losing money at the box office and some of the comments I got have inspired me to spend some time looking back at some of the good movies that have been made over the years. What I’ll start out doing is put together a list of categories like comedies, dramas, and genre films like film noir, sci-fi, fantasy, westerns, war movies, etc. Then I’ll start getting people to give me their favorites. We might even divide it by decades or at least eras (30s/40s/50s, 60s/70s, 80s/90s, 00s/10s/20s)
At some point we can get some polls up to find out what the popular favorites are on the site. Now this is tricky. With the exception of some of the regulars, most people are pretty uninterested in commenting. What I was thinking is if you know any movie fans encourage them to show up and contribute movie titles and when we get to the voting to pick their favorites.
Feel free to leave comments on how to enhance the process to get a good list together. I know there are some specialists in such sub-genres as “schlock science fiction” and of course these will not be neglected.
In the next installment Ill start the ball rolling with my own best of lists for the various categories.
So, let’s talk about something less depressing than the train wreck that is Western Civilization. Let’s laugh at the misfortune of Hollywood. And specifically let’s mock Disney and their putrid movies. Look at this article and the underlying video.
Now, admittedly, Disney has deep pockets. They can absorb losses that would bankrupt smaller companies and move forward. But let’s think for a moment about how they will analyze these problems and what their idea will be to address them.
They will see that these films include heaping doses of progressive girl power, gay themes and anti-white and anti-male bias and they will assume that the problem is too many racist and sexist Americans refusing to celebrate wokeness sufficiently. After all, what parent wouldn’t want to send his kids to a movie with a gay kid as the main character? Or why wouldn’t a Buzz Lightyear origin story benefit from a lesbian kiss? Why would this make parents uncomfortable?
So, their solution to this rejection of woke content will be … doubling down on girl power, gay themes and anti-white and anti-male bias! Now how could that possibly fail?
So, I’m incredibly happy for Disney. This winning strategy may be able to do the impossible; namely bankrupt the largest remaining Hollywood studio. And just to keep things hopping along comes the fifth Indiana Jones movie. And from everything I’ve heard it’s going to be a humdinger. Picture if you can an eighty-year-old Harrison Ford shuffling around the set getting hen-pecked and brow beaten by his “god-daughter” as she performs the heroic stunts and he gets lost in the caves and probably soils himself. Oh yeah, that’s gonna be box office gold.
There is some word on the street that some of this is beginning to dawn on Disney’s front office and there might be a program to step back from the precipice of woke financial suicide. But that wouldn’t be my favorite outcome. I really hope they give us some more Captain Marvel and Rey Skywalker and She-Hulk and whatever trans-super-hero they currently have on the drawing board. This is really good stuff. It will reinforce to parents just how screwed up the role models that Disney pushes on their kids are. It will dovetail with the gender dysphoria that seems to have magically exploded among the teen and pre-teen age groups that are Disney’s target audience.
So, yeah, I do hope that other studios start to return to healthier cinematic fare. It’s high time that some of them figure out that there is an enormous domestic and international audience for healthy role models in the super-hero genre and in other genres too. But for Disney I hope they never turn back. If they crash and burn it would be a powerful lesson for the corporate world. And it comes right at the point where conservative boycotts seem to be picking up steam.