Still More Films I Watched Recently

I've mentioned elsewhere - although I can't seem to find where - that my dream job would be writing the capsule reviews for the week to come in the old Sunday edition of the Woonsocket CallAn obsolete position in an obsolete era, but my favorite part of the paper even over the comics throughout junior high and high school. This was like the local paper's TV Guide for the films airing that week over the air or on cable, as filtered through the writer's tastes and sensibilities (and x-out-of-five-star ratings). 

Let's do these the opposite of last time and go in order of release, oldest to newest. Starting with:


An interior decorator and a playboy songwriter share a telephone party line which leads to deception, a love triangle, and ultimately true love.

A comedy of manners whose manners are long gone, as much as Wuthering Heights, Howard's End or Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice. In the same way certain plot points of Less Than Zero or American Graffiti make little sense in an age of cellphones and Facebook, Pillow Talk wouldn't make any kind of sense outside the 1950s. I mean that in both directions - prior/post.

Queer Theory - as I've mentioned elsewhere, when I talk of such things I am thinking only of how I learned it in college, i.e. those attributes of old Hollywood movies where the gayness of crew or cast is "smuggled" into the picture - was born for such a movie as this. (And if you wanted to know where this thing from Family Guy is from, I suspect it's from Brad Allen’s apartment.) 

Every scene with Rock Hudson has about forty levels of subtext, intentional or not.


A rich businessman and a young woman are attracted to each other, but he only wants an affair while she wants to save herself for marriage.

Everything I just wrote goes for this one, too, probably moreso. Well, less Queer Theory, here, and more just manners of a long-past age. (I know there is some disagreement on Cary Grant's sexuality. He was once considered fair game for such an approach, but I haven't kept up.)

The romance of this one includes things that would rightly horrify contemporary audiences, such as when Cary Grant's character, thwarted in his initial attempt to bed Doris Day, sulks by the pool with a husband whose inability to unwind has resulted in having to beat up his wife,. ("Deal the cards.") The past, as they say, nice place to visit but yadda yadda. 

My mom was a big Doris Day fan, and this one as well as Pillow Talk (and Please Don't Eat the Daisies) were all watched regularly growing up, sometimes alongside her, sometimes on my own. It's been over thirty years, though, since I watched any of them start to finish. (That scene made me think of the albums or movies I wasn’t allowed to watch; where were you on that one, Ma and Pa McMolo? Ah well – you can only shelter so much.) My main takeaway from That Touch of Mink all this time has been this scene, particularly all the fur-lined coats and rich Technicolor/ soundtrack-swirling as they switch. Someone needs to mash it up with the Kraftwerk song


The military attempts to contain a manmade combat virus that causes death and permanent insanity in those infected, as it overtakes a small Pennsylvania town.

Romero's best movie? I think so. It deserved an Academy Award for its audio mix alone. Some of the soldiers are muffled here and there, which of course they should be muffled, speaking under masks - and the effect is great - I just mean the muffling’s done on-mic instead of in the mix. The audio collage, though, really sweeps things along. A film like this is really a giant kudos to the editors.

Bleak and a little too edgy in spots - the incest stuff is unnecessary - but very of its era. And ahead of it. What an opening and ending! 

Romero stalwart Richard France plays Dr. Watts, the germ warfare expert brought in to find an antidote. And he does - alas, he's killed before he can deliver it. The actor delivers lines in a very memorable way, almost too distracting, you think, too  theatrical, and yet it works. It adds a tone to the whole thing - as does the exhausted pathos of Lloyd Hollar who plays the colonel trying to avoid destroying the town - that wouldn't otherwise be there. The scene between him (Dr. Watts) and his fellow scientist where they're working on the antidotes and he asks her to marry him and she mistakes it for optimism is such a nice touch. 


Three sisters form a singing group in 1950s Harlem, but success threatens to ruin their relationship forever.

Very soapy and over the top. But so was the original scene it’s based on, I guess. Tweak a detail here and there and this is the sort of late nineteenth century opera, Lifetime movie, Behind the Music, etc. you've seen in any era. You know the story: breakout star of singing group is waylaid by gangsters and drugs and violence, her death allows less outgoing but bigger talent sister to step up and, well, see the title. Written by Joel Schumacher of all people and featuring music by Curtis Mayfield.

If you only know Lonette McKee from Brewster’s Millions, you'd barely recognize her here. Seems she should have been a bigger deal. Dorian Harewood also stars - that guy was in everything. Irene Cara and Philip Michael Thomas both give star turns here, as well. 


A native young girl from the South moves in with her relatives in a Los Angeles ghetto. At first she is made fun of, but eventually she is accepted and plots to rob a bank to raise bail money for her new boyfriend, who is a jailed drug dealer.

A few months back I was talking about blaxploitation as a genre and someone asked if I’d seen this one. Nope. “You should,” I was told, “it’s one of the few serious melodramas of the genre.” That’s how it was pitched to me. I suppose it has elements of that, but then there's stuff like this

I mean, that should be the start, end, and middle of any conversation about Emma Mae (aka Black Sister’s Revenge.) There are a few other funny fight scenes which made me think it was intended as a silly-fight-scene movie with some melodrama trappings and that was that, not the other way around. I didn’t do the deepest dive for info. Made for what I can only assume would be a drive-in/ b-movie audience, it’s fine for what it is, but I’d stick with clips on YouTube.

It's the sole credit of its lead Jerri Hayes. She did a recent interview about the movie for any interested.  


A failing ice hockey team finds success with outrageously violent hockey goonery.

When something is projected over an American flag we're asked to transpose whatever point is being made onto America. Does this movie suggest any sort of bigger commentary on 1977 America? You bet your sweet Zamboni it does! Beyond my scope here today, but give me a semester and a class of stoned college kids and we’d get to the bottom of things. (What a job that would be! The semester after that could be Any Which Way But Loose. Learn America through 70s Films with Dog Star Omnibus.)

Here’s a script that would never get made today. How often do we hear that nowadays? And about movies like MASH (Oscar winners) or Blazing Saddles, never I Spit On Your Grave or Fifty Shades of Grey. What a crap-ass timeline.  Slap Shot is rude, crude, and thoroughly unredeemable. I don’t celebrate it for these qualities in and of themselves – I have W.A.S.P. for that – but the way they’re used to tell a story about the goonification of America – in all its swinging 70s, aging-Lothario-discovering-it-ain’t-what-he-thought-it-was/can-he-get-out-in-time/ why-am-I-even-doing-this – is wonderful.  

Fun fact: John Byrne’s visual model for Wolverine (according to him) was Dr. Hook McCracken. I wonder which X-Men/ FF characters were modeled after the Hanson Brothers? Someone had to be. I wish I had a punchline for that set-up. The Hanson Brothers seem to be the lingering iconography from this film, and that’s certainly understandable. Their introduction scene in the movie is one of my favorite generation-gap-wtfs  in cinematic history. 


Roy Neary, an electric lineman, watches how his quiet and ordinary daily life turns upside down after a close encounter with a UFO.

That’s an interesting plot summary for Close Encounters. It’s not wrong, just seems incomplete. I could rewrite it and satisfy in some small way the lifelong ambition mentioned in the preamble, but let’s just move on. 

I’ve never loved this one the way virtually all my friends and fellow Spielberg fans do. I enjoy it, but it just seems excessive to me. Needlessly excessive, like 1941-needlessly-excessive. I think (unlike 1941) it was an excess and approach that the times demanded. Or if not demanded: made ample room for/ encouraged more of. And maybe that's the problem, as I only ever saw it for the first time as an adult circa 1998, so I missed out on the cultural headwind that first accompanied it. 

I’ve seen it a few more times since then – the director’s cut, restored cut, all the cuts – and this past time, I had even more grumblings than ever before. But who cares? It’ll never be my favorite Spielberg but that’s no nevermind. Its enthusiasm is undeniable and it’s impossible not get swept up in it all. 

Jack Flowers, an American hustler in early 1970s Singapore, dreams of building a fortune by running a brothel and returning to the States to lead a life of luxury.

In some old
Sight and Sound, Wes Anderson named this as one of his favorites, and it was the first time I’d ever heard of it. This was circa 2000, so I was living in North Providence and making frequent treks to Acme Video. In those pre-streaming-days, this double whammy (Sight and Sound and the trek to Acme Video) was basically my cinematic lifeline, and they didn’t have a copy. I only saw it for the first time a few months ago. 

Not bad! Pretty damn good, actually. Kind of a Killing of a Chinese Bookie Lite. Which works much better than it might sound. Bogdanovich will always be judged against The Last Picture Show. Saint Jack is the only other thing I’ve seen from the director that comes close. Whether that’s due to a similar quality in source material - I haven’t read the book by Paul Thereux, but like McMurtry he’s a writer of big themes mixed with finely chosen little details so it’s conceivable – or to the director marshalling the elements together, I’m not sure, but the result is a first-rate picture.


On the eve of their children's marriage, NYC in-laws Sheldon Kornpett and Vince Ricardo embark on a series of misadventures involving the CIA, the Treasury Department and Central American dictators.

I don’t know why it takes me so long to get to certain movies that I watched all the time in that early-to-mid-80s VHS window (this one, Max Dugan Returns, Real Men, etc.) while unworthier films (ahem, Megaforce, ahem)for which that is also true I own on DVD and have even watched half-a-dozen times. Go figure. I discovered, though, I still remembered every other line and musical cue of The In-Laws, despite not having seen it in decades. Always love that kind of rediscovery. 

This write-up says it all with a lot of detail about the cast and creators. Events spin out of their control, time and time again, but they pretend otherwise. Don't panic. They come close to ruining their families’ lives, but at the end of the day they parachute in and save everything. There are some things the Dads have to learn, of course - wouldn't be an arc without it - but mostly it's a warm-hearted fantasy about family life.

These credits and this theme song are as burned on my brain as The Odd Couple, Cheers, or Star Wars.


Three Australian lieutenants are court martialed for executing prisoners as a way of deflecting attention from war crimes committed by their superior officers.

I literally never heard of this until 2021. What? How is it that possible? I must live in that part of the world that blacks out anything unfavorable to the British Empire.

Apparently it was on cable all the time (according to friends) in the early to mid 80s. Those were my Germany-and-VHS years, so I never saw it. What’s slightly odder is how years later I asked anyone who’d listen if they knew anything to recommend about the Boer War and no one said anything. (That reminds me of how after 9/11 I asked for recommendations on Afghanistan and somehow Caravans by James Michener never was brought up – to me directly or in the national media at large. How do these things get blank stares? They made a movie of that with Anthony Quinn, FFS. Nobody thought to recall it?) Beyond that, “empire drama” was mostly a public television genre when I was growing up, so it’s possible it just eluded my then-much-narrower range of interests. 

Digression aside, what a masterpiece. Director Bruce Beresford is all over the map and it’s possible this isn’t even his best film. But it should be seen. An interesting companion to both Tai Pan and The Wicker Man for its leads, if you’re fans of those movies. 


When a rich white corporate executive finds out that he has an illegitimate black son, things start falling apart for him at home, at work, and in his social circles.

Another one I watched an awful lot during the VHS era and another one I feel like I “got away” with. I mean, it starts with some rape jokes – however one wants to characterize them – and goes from there to uncomfortable racial waters and then stays there. All while maintaining – thanks to the unflappable optimism of George Segal’s face and manner – an upbeat tone. I won’t bury the lede: it’s a problematic film in all the ways you probably guess from just looking at the cover, but not only is its hearts is in the right place, in at least one way it’s still ahead of its time. 

Interesting to read a review of the film from when it came out vs. retro reviews now. (One can imagine the opportunity for punchdown in/out-grouping such films represent for outfits like the AV Club or your garden variety film podcast in 2021. Easy points to score.) Also, this is the third film written by Stanley Shapiro on this list, which I didn't plan at all but I guess I should put him in the Labels, then. 

What makes Denzel Washington's film debut more than just a feature-length Magical Negro trope or just a long series of rich-white-people-are-racist set pieces is the nicest thing of all: George Segal actually loved Denzel's character's mother. (Denzel's in-on-the-joke line delivery certainly helps, too.) And we don't see her until George's character ("Mr. Charley") earns it at the very end. Earlier, Denzel visits his father in jail and tells him he didn't mean to up-end his life, he just wanted to meet the man who was a) his father b) the love of his mother's life. But when they did meet, all his Dad saw was black, not his mother, and she (now deceased) deserved better. It's a very powerful moment, and it makes all the difference in the film. 

Like I say, still, sadly, ahead of its time - most of us did what Denzel's character decries just by looking at the cover. (Hell these days we’re encouraged not to get past it.) 

I wish there was a commentary, but I can understand why they skipped this one. R.I.P. to George Segal. How many people did this sort of thing happen to? How many interracial marriages would have come out of the Civil Rights Era, how many families, had the times not been what they were? And even before it? Probably plenty. We have choices these days that Mr. Charley and Lorraine did not, and we should safeguard, honor, and cherish them. 

The ending hit me all the more for the weight of this. As circumstantial as Mr. Charley's spiritual awakening is, it sure beats the kind promised by 2021's racial-awakening-gurus, any one of whom would lead us right back to breaking up families and segregation. We're too cavalier about such things, and we shouldn't be.


A female high school student's slumber party turns into a bloodbath, as a newly escaped psychotic serial killer wielding a power drill prowls her neighborhood.

Here’s another one I think I may have seen back in the day once but not enough to leave an impression. I mostly know it from 80s-horror binges in subsequent decades. 

Quite the pedigree of its writer and director and an honorable meta-genre entry: an erotic and self-aware Scooby Doo variation. And a successful one, it’s just the sort of thing that was done if not to death than to distraction and duplication in the decades to come. Another way of saying this has been out-meta’d many times over, so you’ve got to come at it as the pioneer it was and not as something you haven’t seen a thousand times. Certainly not the fault of the film or anyone in it. 


A Hong Kong detective teams up with his female Red Chinese counterpart to stop a Chinese drug czar.

Oh boy I forgot about this one! What fun. I don’t know what we’re supposed to think of Jackie Chan now. Is he a communist stooge? Is he a communist victim? I am not qualified to judge. For a year or two in the nineties, though, he was hands-down my favorite entertainer, and I’ve got that in common with like two billion people. (Between the CCP and Jackie Chan, who you going to side with?)

There used to be a place just north of town when I lived in Dayton that had all those late 80s/ early-to-mid-90s Hong Kong films. There were so many of them back then. I had a book and I went through it, checking off everyone I got at that videostore. They’re harder to come by now. Why is that? I’ll blame Chinese Communism in lieu of any other info. I wish we had Kevin “Supercop” Chan to send in to sort all manner of things out. Anyway, I’d love to get that book now and go on the same bender. 

My former roommate and I had this one on laser disc back in the day and must’ve watched it two dozen times, easy. Brought back some memories watching this. (I forgot all about this song!) Good times. My girls watched most of the ending with me, too, and loved the bloopers. (The scene where Michelle Yeoh goes flying off the train made them audibly gasp.) So now in addition to remembering laugh-filled viewing with AJ, I’ll have that association as well, when I’m in the retirement home and want to get weepy-eyed.

And now let's leap ahead to the year:


The Templeton brothers have become adults and drifted away from each other, but a new boss baby with a cutting-edge approach is about to bring them together again - and inspire a new family business.

The general rule for sequels is to go bigger than the original. There seems to be another rule these days to really have a heavy foot with messaging. I guess the thinking is, if something achieves a certain amount of visibility, it's irresponsible not to piggyback political messaging on the sequel. Boss Baby 2 is not as bad in that specific regard as certain other offenders have been (Incredibles 2, Wreck It Ralph 2, Trolls 2, or the reigning champ, Frozen 2, which in the words of Ross Douthat comes “as close as an hour-and-forty-minute kids’ movie can come to uniting every grievance, aspiration, resentment, ambition, theoretically in-tension element of the intersectional Left into a single animated master narrative." Amen.) But there’s certainly more than a bit of that. In more than one way, all the charm of the original is undone and re-assigned to more narrative-friendly targets (girl boss, cross-dressing, boys learning their place/ giving up their ambitions, etc.) But in other perhaps more important ways, meh, don’t harsh my buzz, edgelord. Those who want a continuation of the spirit and aims of the original may be better served by the Netflix show (which is excellent) but this is fun, too. 

Back to the do-it-again-but-bigger-ness, the original created its own cosmology for the events of the film - something a lot of cartoons do these days, see Inside Out, Soul, Emoji Movie, etc. -  which the sequel largely ignores in favor of a supervillain plot with Jeff Goldblum. Not an uninteresting variation, that, and Goldblum gives a spirited performance. There’s a creepy subtext to the in-class Zoom scene, given the past year, as well as the hypnosis-through-apps theme. That's another creepy theme in a lot of animation these days.

Animation-wise, it’s one of those over-exaggerated deals where the characters pirouette several times while crossing a room or other Tex Avery-isms times a thousand. YMMV on your tolerance for that; it always seems like too much to me. 

Thanks for reading, everyone.


Some More Films I Watched Recently

It's been a particularly fruitful couple of months for movies-watching so I actually have two posts worth of stuff to get through. Part the first coming atcha'.  

Presented in reverse chronological order of release.


When alien invaders capture the Earth's superheroes, their kids must learn to work together to save their parents- and the planet.

Robert Rodriguez has made a name for himself in several genres but particularly in the Kids Action genre. I'd never seen any of them until I had rugrats of my own. This one is a quasi-sequel to The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl, which he also directed. 
I could just have easily covered Spy Kids 4: All The Time in the World for this spot and written practically the same review. Every so often we get rid of Netflix and then add it back for a few months. When we do, I see these two movies an awful lot.  

Great stuff. My kids love it, so I've seen it, I don't know, twelve times? Maybe more? Good ensemble picture, inventive use of CGI, nice performances from all the kids and the adults (among them Shooter McGavin, Christian Slater, Boyd Holbrook, Haley Reinhart, and Priyanka Chopra Jonas), and lots of heart. The political messaging that disfigures so many projects these days is kept at a bare minimum: a tremendous relief as a parent. It's there if you must, but not overwhelming.


In a post-apocalyptic world, a family is forced to live in silence while hiding from monsters with ultra-sensitive hearing.

I resisted seeing this one for awhile. I'm kind of over this sort of thing. ("Metaphor" monster.) 
And yet, I'm not, really. I loved Train to Wusan for example, which merely uses zombies (and the fast-zombies prop, which I am sick of) as an exploration of one guy learning to be a Dad. Or perhaps it's just the price you pay for being a parent. Good or bad. It's a grisly metaphor for that discovery, but it moved me and I appreciated it and admired the way it was put together. It's not horror films with a message that bother me, perhaps, it's just horror films that prioritize message over function. 

And for a good portion of watching A Quiet Place, that's how my brain was processing it. What are these things? Wait, just sound? What? Where do they come from, how does this work, etc. Then somewhere along the way - I think when the mom (Emily Blunt) is having a wordless conversation with her son about the future - I realized what I actually was watching: a representation of the unfathomable grief, loss, rage, helplessness, broken-mind-and-soul, etc. of parents whose son or daughter has died. Everything in this movie is an expression of that. This isn't a film about a family running from sound creatures; it's about parenting (hell, simply existing) after the unfathomable loss of a child. i.e. of course the monsters make no sense, came out of nowhere, turned life upside down, broke the future into pieces that no longer seem to fit or to be put together, and moreover, of course there were rules - of silent suffering, of limited movements without pain/immediate consequence, etc. 

I don't know the situation of anyone who made this movie, whether this is some genuine explication of inexplicable trauma, loss, etc. or just an act of empathy and grace or just the kind of fake authentic experience we sometimes create through art, joining previously incommunicable camps together in a shared experience. It felt authentic, though. Unlike:


Five years after an ominous unseen presence drives most of society to suicide, a mother and her two children make a desperate bid to reach safety.

No such sense of actual grief or shared experience animates Bird Box. My friend described it as "another Floor Is Lava" movie, which made me laugh. But yeah: terrible attempts at motivation, characterization, symbolism, etc. Nothing holds or makes sense, and the false hope of the ending is, like pretty much everything from the first scene on, pointless and full of holes.

If the monsters in A Quiet Place defy logistics/ logic, that makes sense; so does the grief of losing a child or a civilization. Bird Box needed similar conceptual covering fire. Instead we get the cinematic equivalent of doomscrolling, never landing on anything sensible. The characters are terrible, the script is anemic, the performances are perfunctory when they're not absurd. Mainly the problem is motivation (the script keeps reminding us why the characters are doing what they're doing, because it's unclear from either structure or performance) and conceptual consistency/ sense. (Is the ending - hey-oh! The Home for the Blind at the end of the river! - supposed to comfort anyone, FFS? It ends on a similar note of "everyone is screwed" as The Thing but blind oblivion is presented as a happy resolution. Weird.

The differences between Bird Box and something like A Quiet Place are very instructive, both for filmmakers and for empathic humans trying to understand their friends' loss(es). Or their own. 


A veteran hunter helps an FBI agent investigate the murder of a young woman on a Wyoming Native American reservation.

Here's an intriguing mystery, engaging story, good performances, great scenery, and well-told visually. Ultimately, it's kind of a silly set-up, but the above is all true. 

Its politics are worth remarking upon for the simplicity and sensationalism: this is the sort of thing a certain type of person believes is not just super-realistic and, like, profound, but happening right now. (Unnamed Indian tribe, Department of Energy employees with immunity who get bored so they rape and kill, when they're not RAPING AND KILLING THE PLANET! etc. Young FBI agent who represents a better future nevertheless "doing the work" to learn how not to be white, etc. Caught in a crossfire hurricane, perhaps, but on the right side of history, despite her boss.) 

The film's central premise (boredom in service of the evil Department of Energy and manifest destiny leads white people to rape and murder) could have been a little less ridiculous - at one point, to cover their crime, the bad guys decide to ambush and kill every cop in the reservation, thankfully missing Elizabeth Olson and Jeremy Renner; kind of strange progressive optics, that, but also the sort of plot development that strains credulity - but that would require the whole gamut of oversimplified conclusions to be less ridiculous. 

It's still a very watchable movie; I watched it twice, actually. It's like a very special episode of Law and Order: SVU, one with two or three times the usual budget. A better name for this movie, incidentally, would be Law and Order: Energy Rapists. And Jeremy Renner should just be Hawkeye. It's basically the best and grittiest Hawkeye movie ever made, and that's cool, whatever the hell else I say. 

It's funny to me that they thank the Department of Energy in the end credits. Good sports! I liked the mountain lion motif. (Jeremy Renner's character is tracking some mountain lions who are bothering the reservation. He finds the den just before the big shoot-out scene. The job he's there to do is deferred, in other words, until he cleans up the big white people mess. That'd have been a subtler conclusion than, you know, spelling it out in giant 'H-E-L-P-M-E' letters in blood in the snow.)


A black police detective must solve a strange case of a kidnapped boy and deal with a big racial protest.

I kind of liked this one. I left the room at various points, though, so I can't in good faith say I watched it incredibly closely. But it seemed better than I thought it would be, going in. I think this Ebert review, though is fair:

"Freedomland assembles the elements for a superior thriller, but were the instructions lost when the box was opened? It begins with a compelling story about a woman whose car is hijacked with her 4-year-old son inside. It adds racial tension, and the bulldog detective work of a veteran police detective. And then it flies to pieces with unmotivated scenes, inexplicable dialogue, and sudden conclusions which may be correct but arrive from nowhere. The film seems edited none too wisely from a longer version that made more sense. (...) Based on a novel by Richard Price, whose Clockers made a better film. He adapts his story for director Joe Roth as if they know a lot of places in the neighborhood but don't remember how to get from one place to another. Individual scenes feel authentic, but the story tries to build bridges between loose ends."

Probably fair. I've been meaning to both rewatch Clockers and even read it one day. It's a long one. A nice turn from future Avenger Anthony Mackie as Billy, and always nice to see Detective Lester from The Wire (as the intermittent Reverends, who in the words of Ebert, "vents on command to provide filler for the plot." Hey now! That's what Reverends do.)


An intellectual billionaire and two other men struggle to band together and survive after getting stranded in the Alaskan wilderness with a blood-thirsty Kodiak Bear hunting them down.

That description is kind of wack. Accurate enough, I suppose. I like that they make it clear it's a Kodiak bear. 

I was a huge David Mamet fan in the 90s - still am, I guess, though there's been a lot he's written since the 90s that I haven't read - and this struck me as the ultimate script: a thoughtful action/ survivor film where the "bear" could be read as a metaphor for anything. For years whenever Mamet (or Lee Tamahori, the director) come up, I start talking The Edge

This time around, I disagree with my earlier self: the bear is not some movable feast of metaphor; that was just the will-to-subjective-readings of my younger self. I've seen this thing, I don't know, two dozen times? It never gets old for me. This time, though, maybe I thought this scene or that scene may have been overwritten or the wrong beat emphasized here or there. 

I have a friend who picks this movie apart mercilessly. "No head cover?! How did they tan the hides?!" etc. Understandable, I guess, but I'm perfectly willing to go along for the ride of this one. If I were a football coach I'd give some variation of this speech every goddamn halftime. Whenever I'm confronted with lagging enthusiasm I like to slip into it. "You want to die out here, don't you?"


Historical fiction set against the backdrop of Hong Kong in its early years of British rule.

That's the broadest-strokes plot description we've seen yet! For our intents and purposes, though, it works just fine.

Not the best adaptation. The novel it's based on is one of my favorites. And it's more or less faithful to it - so what gives? I'm not sure, really. It is not unintelligently transcribed. No one gives a bad performance. It's just that everything seems cosplay-ish and overbroad on screen. Dirk Struan is a larger-than-life character, for sure (any composite of the larger-than-life characters of early Hong Kong colony would have to be) but Bryan Brown - while doing a perfectly good job - seems in every scene to have stepped off a romance novel cover.

As does Janine Turner, although this is true to her character from the book.
The contrast between east/ west, between Janine's character (Shauvin) and Joan Chen's (May May) and Dirk's bridging the two worlds, so poignantly explored in the source material, seems mostly standard love triangle-y here. Or worse, white-savior-y.

As the only adaptation of Tai Pan out there, hey, I'll take it. I hope someone makes a better one, someday, when saner storytelling and commercial sensibilities return to La La Land (if they ever do).

The book has a sequel, Noble House, which isn't as good as Tai Pan, but it was made into a mini-series (with Pierce Brosnan) worth seeing, if only for the sumptuous visuals of Hong Kong before its turnover to the CCP. I wish I'd been able to see it. 


A group of young shopping mall employees stay behind for a late night party in one of the stores. When the mall goes on lock-down before they can get out, the robot security system malfunctions, and goes on a killing spree.

Prior to this viewing, I could've swore I saw this before. Hasn't any child of the VHS era seen every slasher flick from the 80s? You'd think so. But apparently I had not seen this before.

Much better than I expected. I doubt it knocks on the door of "great" but its fun in that very specific 80s-slasher-film way. Kelli Maroney of Night of the Comet fame gets another lead, or co-lead. She seems a bit distracted throughout, or not as much of a presence, perhaps, as in Night of the Comet. It shares more than a few castmates with NOTC, actually; perhaps the same casting agency worked on both films. Directed by Jim Wynorski, whose CV reads like some kind of cautionary tale. (An alternate caption for the above would be "What Happened To Your Pants, Young Lady: The Jim Wynorski Story.")

You google contemporary reviews of this movie and they're terrible, whereas retro-reviews all seem to emphasize how much fun it is. Both make sense. There was perhaps a glut of such fare in the 80s, so its more agreeable aspects stand out more now vs. then. I don't know how future generations will sort out our current era, where the "glut" is seven thousand straight-to-streaming movies a week for every platform. Funny: this is what a lot of 80s reviews said of stuff like Chopping Mall, i.e. this direct-to-video market will over-saturate the market, etc. 

But I think any fair evaluation of 80s fare would separate this from lesser efforts. 


A family moves to a suburban town only to be coerced into joining a suspicious club.

Whatever campy fun you expect to have with it is pretty much dispensed with in the first scene, kindly available to us via YouTube. (Albeit with commentary.) Actually the whole thing is available on YouTube, or any free streaming service like Pluto or what not. 

It's the subject of more than a few "so bad it's good" retro look-back sort of reviews (like this one) and I don't disagree with anything said in any of them. A film made for friends to come over and laugh with. Never a bad thing, that. 

A bit more pointless, alas, watching by one's self, either in 2021, or in 1984. For Wes Craven (or Susan Lucci or Robert Urich) completists, only. 


An unearthly fog rolls into a small coastal town exactly 100 years after a ship mysteriously sank in its waters.

Here's one of those films that was widely considered a failure for many years, then was gradually rediscovered, and now seems to be hailed as a "classic" fairly routinely. I've seen it referred to as one of John Carpenter's best, even. 

Fairly or unfairly, I'm happy that's the case. This time around, however, its clunkier or harder-to-square aspects jumped out at me more. The end definitely drags, and the cross-cutting makes it draggier. (Adrienne Barbeau's character seems menaced by the tower-climbing pirates for what seems like an unfathomable period of time, same with the square-off in the church.) The ending (the very ending) doesn't really work. The Jamie Lee Curtis/ Tom Atkins parts are miscast.

And yet, everything's fine. I have a theory: ambience (like Authority) always wins. You can get a lot of things wrong in a picture, but if you get the ambience right, chances are, you succeeded. And The Fog, fittingly for its title, has plenty of atmosphere

There'll be another post soon, but let's end with:


American astronauts are drawn by a mysterious force to the planet Venus, which they find to be inhabited only by beautiful women and their despotic queen.

I've often defended movies like this or Fire Maidens from Outer Space or Cat Women of the Moon on their own non-ironic merits, or episodes like "Spock's Brain" as send-ups of these things. And I still do, more or less. I find films like Amazon Women on the Moon more exploitative than the genre they're allegedly sending up, which often is the case actually. Deconstructing or mocking something can create brand new offenses. 

Joe Dante et al, 1987.

This time around what struck me about this one was the blandness of the male cast, the assembly line appropriation of Anne Francis' minidress from Forbidden Planet while leaving most of the style and sensibility of that one behind, and the heroic masturbational fantasy of it all. PG but man, it's all there. All stuff I knew existed in the film, but I had less fun with it all this time. Am I getting old? Less prone to putting on my irony monocle? Or have we just moved on from such things enough at this point that the distance has become too great? It's ironic to end on this having started with We Can Be Heroes

Whether my senses are increasingly bludgeoned or it's just the phases of the moon (so to speak), I feel my appreciation, ironic or otherwise, of things like Queen of Outer Space has played out. I'll have to leave the "Spock's Brain" et al defenses to other parties. Like when I listen to Frank Zappa, I can remember what I liked about it and why and how to defend it, but it's like a train card with no rides left on it. Similarly, I'm now post-QOOS. (There's a fun phrase.)

There's one hell of a reboot in here, though, for someone with the right mix of girls, gods, and guns, zazz and zowey. Alan Moore, in other words. Actually, I think he basically rebooted all of this in the text-appendices of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen; I need to reread it. He mashed together several pre-actual-moon mission mythos, if memory serves, QOOS among them. 

Until next time, friends.


Billy Summers (2021)

Man oh man, folks, am I in the wrong room with this one.

So, Billy Summers is about a guy (Billy) pretending to be dumber than he actually is while taking assassination contracts from mobsters, only for people he thinks are bad. He suspects he's being double-crossed, and sure enough he is, but he hits the mattresses and bides his time. Until a girl is deposited right outside his hideout, who has been gang-raped by some MAGA-heads from the nearby college. So Billy decides to track them down and avenge her. He puts on a Melania Trump mask, sodomizes them and lectures them, then tracks down the big enchiladas who double-crossed him, all the way to Mar-a-Lago and/or Jeffrey Epstein.

Honestly, I think this is the end of the line with King and me. I've felt increasingly "in the wrong room" for years, but I hoped he'd snap out of it, "it" being this Twitter fear and loathing spiral he's in when it comes to MAGA rape fantasies and the like. But, he is not. Hoo boy is he not; the problem has deepened considerably. And from the reviews I've looked at, no one in the King community is batting much of eye, when they're not openly cheering on for more of it.

Which hey - I mean, I'm the guest, really, here, so maybe I just stayed too long at the party.  I've struggled with how to put this because the last thing I want to do is make any of my friends/ King fans feel the way King and many King fans make people like me feel. Or that voting for King (you get me) makes you fair game for rape fantasies and the like. 

I mean, that's kind of nuts - not going to lie, here. But it's the kind of nuts inflicting most people right now. I knew it was getting bad, years ago, but Billy Summers is like that episode of Cheers where Cliff has progressed from growing vegetables in his garden to cross-breeding (and dressing) them to resemble political leaders. Cliff had Norm to take him to one side and snap him out of it ("You've gone way off the deep end on this. You've dressed a potato like Richard Nixon, and you actually want people to come and know this." Paraphrasing from memory.) King has only Twitter, egging on his worst instincts, and providing him with desktop notifications to rally his spirits (or plot points) when they flail

Hell, that's what Twitter is good for. 

Like I said, it's not going to get better. I knew this, truthfully, before Billy Summers. You can't get a little woke; you're in for a penny, you're in for the whole rape MAGA fantasy pound of it all. Unless you consciously free yourself from it, you are just a hapless passenger on Blaine the Mono. With all that entails. In the Barony coach or no. (From what I can see, actually, the Barony coach is the place to be, but the pressure to partake in this sort of thing is much more intense than in coach.)

So, here we must part. It's not me, it's you; it's not you, it's me. 

And really, it's unfair of me to suggest King has gone off the deep end. The King of Billy Summers is really no different than the King of Under the Dome (if you voted for Bush, the idea there was you were a crystal meth warlord energy baron necrophile, or at least adjacent to such) or the King writing Henry Bowers or maybe all the way back to scrapbooking serial killer stories as a kid. Like the oft-told story of the scorpion who will sting because it's his nature, no surprises here. It's just getting old to be stung so monomaniacally, and with such little grace, and with the amount of scolding and violence that's coming with it. 

I get it, man! Let's call the whole thing off, as smarter people than me once sang. 

So it's been nine years since I decided to catch up with the favorite author of my youth. I regret nothing. But for me, after finishing this one (really quick: Nothing "Billy" writes  -  because since this is 2021 of course at the end the male's agency has to be busted down to merely co-authoring his own story, to raise the agency of the woman. That's just good manners! (And we see what happens to bad mannered boys. Kick his ass, sea bass; Twitter notifications are definitely not finding their way into your story) -  feels authentic except the "I'm a bad man" part. Which didn't even happen. This was after one-hundred-sixty pages of Quarry and central casting cliches. Fuggedaboutit. But I believed it - after everything we'd seen, this was King's confessional, not Billy's) I put all but three of my King books into bags to distribute to the free libraries in my neighborhood. Some kid is going to be very happy. 

(What did I keep? Duma Key and The Tommyknockers - those were my "discoveries" from the past nine years, and I've fond memories of that, plus I want to read both of them again and know they're not going to make me feel like the man wants me or my family gang-raped - and The Stephen King Companion, which contains within it all the warm and wonderful Stephen King feelings of my youth, way back before I knew the guy had such strong feelings about raping me and my family and giving aid and comfort to those who do. The joy of these three books, in other words, is safe and unable to be retconned from whatever Twitter rant awaits or has slouched off already, its hour come round at last.)

(Oh, I kept The Outsider, too. I didn't mean to, actually, I just forgot it and noticed it after. I don't feel strongly motivated to read it again but nor do I feel like giving it away, either. For the moment, over on the shelf it sits.)

I had a nice interaction with my neighbor down the block while loading up the books. He grabbed a bunch of them and was so happy for a Misery to give to his daughter. We laughed at the oddness of that phrasing/ idea, which I understood completely and chatted about reading King in the 80s and down to now. (I did not mention any of this other stuff. Didn't want him to run into the kitchen and come out with a cake mixer! Just totally normal stuff.)

He asked me, holding up The Regulators, "why have I never heard of this one?" I told him that was one I almost kept, that it deserves to be rediscovered both by the King community and the world at large. I stopped there. Why tell him I have to leave that fight for someone else? My heart is no longer in it. I think I convinced my neighbor, though, to come at it with fresh eyes. 
So there's my last little act of positivity for the King community - spreading joy one book at a time - which, the last few years of rape fantasies and such aside, has been a fun few years. I liked that it began where it did and led where it did and ended on a nice conversation of book-gifting to a neighbor.

Billy Summers itself I gave to a different friend, at his request. This particular friend has no problem that I can see with MAGA rape fantasies or Twitter fear and loathing; like King I suspect that deep down he thinks anyone who voted for Trump - like women in short skirts perhaps, but I'd really like not to think so - is just asking for it. It's getting hard to navigate these sorts of things politely. I guess I can sympathize with King on that front. Writing, he once said, is an act of willed empathy.

Or was, once upon a time. May it be that again, and soon. 

I realize some of the pronouncements above may seem unconducive to conversation, but all y'all out there that don't want to rape me, please feel free to let me know your feelings on the book, positive or otherwise. 

But: I mean, who are we kidding here? Has a single review mentioned this revenge rape fantasy of King's? Or anyone's over the past few years? Like I say, King's always had this side of his work, it just too much resonant frequent with our present cultural moment. This is a terrible addition to our current cultural moment. And from the guy who pulled Rage, it's baffling. What possible conclusion could possibly be drawn other than King is indeed just fine with certain types of violence against certain types of people? A book is not a confessional; a book timed with this cultural moment that includes all of the above isn't, either, it's just... tasteless. Stupid. Unbelievably irresponsible and banal. 

That it's not a good book is more forgivable than being some weird MAGA rape fantasy that seems a-okay in the mainstream reviews of it. That strikes me as not just abnormal but really kind of dangerous and sad.

So ends the King's Highway! And I wish it was a better part of town. 

I'd like to end with three pics of this little Barrens-area (much cleaned up nowadays, as evidenced in the first pic below with a nice fence to keep you from falling in the reservoir, luxuries unheard of back when I was biking down here to read whatever King I checked out of the library) central to the King-reading of my youth and all subsequent nostalgia. If you're ever in Slatersville, RI, stop on by the library, walk on down to the water, and sit for a spell. 

There's graffiti of hedgerow animals galore down there. Mostly benevolent. Sometimes it's only visible from the corner of your eye, not when you look at it directly. Other times it sneaks up on you when you're not looking.