Review of “Frankenstein 1970” (1958)

trailer from You Tube

Our Saturday pizza and bad movie was a return to an old friend, both in monster and actor. Svengoolie didn’t disappoint.

Plot:

The opening scene of this black-and-white flick shows a young blond woman, Carolyn Hayes (Jana Lund), pursued by a lumbering man whose face is not shown (Mike Lane). The young woman backs into a pond. The lumbering man holds her head under—for a while. The viewer hears someone yell, “Cut!”

And still, the man holds the hapless young woman under. The actor playing the monster, Hans Himmler, doesn’t speak English. Someone has to translate.

He releases the actress, who emerges coughing with some sort of vegetation in her hair.

The director, an obnoxious Douglas Row (Don “Red” Barry), has words with his assistant, who happens to be his ex-wife, Judy Stevens (Charlotte Austin). They’re making a film at Castle Frankenstein to commemorate the 230th anniversary of the original monster.

Inside the castle, Baron Victor Frankenstein (Boris Karloff) grouses with his friend, Wilhelm Gottfried (Rudolph Anders), his financial advisor, about letting those movie folk onto his property. Wilhelm reminds him he’s strapped for cash. The Baron keeps buying laboratory equipment, like that nuclear reactor, which people in 1958 apparently expected to be available for the discerning consumer by 1970.

Later, chummy, loud-mouthed Director Row fixes himself drinks, puts his arm over the Baron’s shoulder (earning his hand a dirty look), and asks about shooting some film in the Baron’s family crypt. After all, it’s conveniently located downstairs… He passes the Baron some cash. It’s a deal.

But there’s more downstairs than the director bargained for.

Thoughts:

This was released in 1958 but set in 1970. The character of Victor Frankenstein, the last of his line, tortured by the Nazis, has scars on his face. These scars change from scene to scene.

Karloff is at his hammiest here, and there are some unintentionally amusing scenes.

At one point, Wilhelm, well acquainted with the Frankenstein family history, inquires what the Baron needs with all that laboratory equipment. There’s more. “What business do you have with the coroner?” he asks. Uh-oh. Wilhelm sees the same look on the Baron’s face the Baron’s mom might have seen when she turned the kitchen light on one night to find her boy’s hand in the cookie jar.

How does one dispose of… extra parts? The powers that be deemed the sound of grinding machinery too gruesome, so they substituted the sound of a toilet flushing.

The writers also gave the ardent fan a scene that pays tribute to the Son of Frankenstein and that Young Frankenstein would later use.

The actors in the movie-within-the-movie have their own dramas going on. The obnoxious director makes eyes at the leading lady and taunts his ex-wife. She rolls her eyes and collects her paycheck.

The film was shot in eight days. It is hardly a masterpiece, but it is a lot of fun. I liked it.

The movie can be watched here:








Title: Frankenstein 1970 (1958)

Directed by
Howard W. Koch

Writing Credits (in alphabetical order)
Richard H. Landau…(screenplay) (as Richard Landau)
Charles A. Moses…(story)
Aubrey Schenck…(story)
Mary Shelley…(characters) (uncredited)
George Worthing Yates…(screenplay)

Cast (in credits order)
Boris Karloff…Baron Victor von Frankenstein
Tom Duggan…Mike Shaw
Jana Lund…Carolyn Hayes
Don “Red” Barry…Douglas Row (as Donald Barry)
Charlotte Austin…Judy Stevens

Released: 1958
Length: 1 hour, 23 minutes

Review of “Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb” (1964)

because I had to.

Svengoolie was a rerun again this week, so we borrowed Dr. Strangelove, a movie I hadn’t seen all the way through before. I first saw bits and pieces of it as a kid, back in the days when the ending was a possibility. Doomsday machine? Yeah.

Plot:

At (fictional) Burpelson Air Force Base, Brigadier General Jack D. Ripper (Sterling Hayden) calls his second-in-command, Group Capt. Lionel Mandrake (Peter Sellers) to let him know he’s received orders. “We’re in a shooting war. I want you to transmit plan R to the wing.” He further orders that the base be sealed and all private radios be confiscated.

He’s lying. When Mandrake realizes the Soviets have not attacked and life carries on outside pretty much as usual, he asks Ripper for the codes to recall the planes from attacking Russia. Ripper refuses, locks the two of them in the office, and tells him he plans to force the politicians into “total commitment.

“I can no longer sit back and allow Communist infiltration, Communist indoctrination, Communist subversion and the international Communist conspiracy to sap and impurify all of our precious bodily fluids.”

Upon reading a similar note, the assembled dignitaries in the Pentagon’s presidential “War Room” say, “We’re still trying to decide what he means by the last line.”

Aboard one of the B-52s that continually patrol the limits of US airspace with their nuclear payloads, the crew receives the go-code. After it’s confirmed, Maj. “King” Kong (Slim Pickens) opens the safe, retrieves his cowboy hat and the attack plans, and passes the packets to each person. The background music is the Civil War tune, “When Johnny Comes Marching Home.”

In the “War Room” at the Pentagon, Air Force General “Buck” Turgidson (George C. Scott) briefs President Merkin Muffley (Peter Sellers) on what’s just happened. The befuddled president finally understands the planes can’t be called back without the recall code, which only General Ripper has. The Soviet ambassador, Alexi de Sadesky (Peter Bull), explains the Doomsday machine, which will automatically trigger if the Soviet Union is attacked or if the bomb is tampered with. If it goes off, it will “destroy all human and animal life on earth,” and “an evil cloud of radioactivity … will encircle the earth for 93 years!”

The president asks the resident scientific expert if such a device is possible. Dr. Strangelove (Peter Sellers), a former Nazi, who now uses a wheelchair, rolls out. In so many words, he says, yes, it could happen.

The President calls Soviet Premier Dimitri Kissov, who is quite drunk.

plans for the future

Thoughts:

The black-and-white film opens with a statement scrolling across the screen, assuring the viewer that, according to the Air Force, their safeguards would prevent the events of this film from happening. It also says no real people are depicted in the movie. I don’t know. I gotta wonder about Bat Guano. He reminds me of an old boss—but that’s neither here nor there.

A voice-over speaks of rumors about the “ultimate weapon” being built by the Russians in a desolate place. The opening credits roll over shots of in-air jet refueling while 1930s-style romantic music plays in the background.

How’s that for setting the mood?

The black humor is delivered in understated scenes for much of the movie. The leaders quarrel and envision the post-apocalyptic world with ten beautiful women for each man. On the phone to the Russian premier (who never appears or is heard), President Muffley says things like, “How do you think I feel, Dimitri?” In the same call, he continues, “I’m very sorry… *All right*, you’re sorrier than I am, but I am as sorry as well… I am as sorry as you are, Dmitri! Don’t say that you’re more sorry than I am, because I’m capable of being just as sorry as you are… So we’re both sorry, all right?… All right.”

There are great lines:

Turgidson and Sadesky get into a fight when the ambassador starts taking clandestine photographs of the war room.

President Muffley reminds them to show some resect: “Gentlemen, you can’t fight in here! This is the War Room.”

In contrast to the men in the war room, frittering away their time, the men in the B-52 are determined to do their duty. They are convinced the Russians have already attacked the United States and wiped significant parts of it out.

Locked in a room with the increasingly unstable General Ripper, Captain Mandrake asks for the recall codes. “Don’t want to start a nuclear war unless we really have to, now, do we, Jack?”

There is also the character of Dr. Stranglelove himself, an ex-Nazi scientist who slips and calls the president “Mein Führer!” With an apparent will of its own, his right arm springs out occasionally as if it has just heard, “Sieg heil!” No one around him reacts as if this is anything out of the ordinary.

The movie is based on a 1958 novel titled Red Alert by Peter George. While most of the basic plot elements of the book and the film are the same, the ending is different, and the book does not contain the character of Dr. Strangelove. The book is also a serious work, while the movie is a farce and full of black humor.

I loved this movie. I will admit that it’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but I really enjoyed it. And with a despot in Russia threatening to release nukes if others don’t dance to his tune, it’s a reminder of the sheer insanity of the weapons and the arms race themselves.

From the New Yorker (yeah, you may hit a paywall)

Almost Everything in “Dr. Strangelove” Was True | The New Yorker




Title: Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964)

Directed by
Stanley Kubrick

Writing Credits
Stanley Kubrick…(screenplay) &
Terry Southern…(screenplay) &
Peter George…(screenplay)
Peter George…(based on the book: Red Alert by)

Cast (in credits order)
Peter Sellers…Group Capt. Lionel Mandrake / President Merkin Muffley / Dr. Strangelove
George C. Scott…Gen. “Buck” Turgidson
Sterling Hayden…Brig. Gen. Jack D. Ripper
Keenan Wynn…Col. “Bat” Guano
Slim Pickens…Maj. “King” Kong
Peter Bull…Russian Ambassador Alexi de Sadesky
James Earl Jones…Lt. Lothar Zogg

Released: 1964
Length: 1 hour, 34 minutes
Rated: PG

Review of “Ghostbusters: Afterlife” (2021)

trailer from YouTube

Svengoolie was once again, alas! a rerun, so we borrowed this from the library for our Saturday pizza and bad movie night. Frankly, my expectations were not high (*cough* Ghostbusters II *cough*), but I was pleasantly surprised at the silliness of this kiddie sequel.

Plot:

The film opens with a shot of some power shooting skyward out of an abandoned mine. Above, clouds swirl in a dark sky. A bearded old man—his face obscured in the darkness—hauls ass away from the mine, through the gate with signs reading “Do Not Enter” in a pickup that’s seen better days. He flies down a deserted rural road. On the seat next to him is a metal box with a handle at one end and black and yellow warning stripes across the top. Power buzzes across it.

A being follows him from the mine. It begins to coalesce and pushes the truck off the road into a corn field. The driver recovers and keeps going, ending up at a farm. Here, he runs up to a porch and holds the metal box up, daring the entity, and flips the power on to what appears to be a group of silos—but they’re not storing grain. The being resolves. The farmer readies a ray gun—a proton pack—to confront the approaching being. This is a trap for it. He hits a pedal, and the power dies. He runs inside and hides the metal box in his floorboards, then sits in a chair. The being pursues him inside and resolves into a wave something almost human. Before it can touch the man, he slumps over.

In another city, single mom Callie (Carrie Coon) faces eviction because she’s behind on the rent. Word comes of the death of a father she never knew, so she packs fifteen-year-old Trevor (Finn Wolfhard) and twelve-year-old Phoebe (Mckenna Grace) for Oklahoma. The house is in disrepair and full of odd things. One of those things is an Aztec death whistle, which makes a god-awful noise when blown and is meant to scare off evil spirits.

Phoebe is a nerd, interested in all things scientific. Trevor is not. Their mother finds science boring. On Phoebe’s first day of summer school, she tells her, “Don’t be yourself.” It’s also the day she comes across Phoebe’s teacher, Gary Grooberson (Paul Rudd), whom she at first mistakes for another parent dropping off children.

Mr. Grooberson, a seismologist interested in the bizarre earthquakes gripping the area, shows his class relevant films like Cujo and disappears into his monitoring room.

At home, Phoebe sees a chessboard in her room flip over for no apparent reason. Undeterred, she rights it and sets it up by her bed. When she wakes, a pawn has moved forward. She moves a knight, gets up, and goes to school for another fun-filled day.

Thoughts:

The film has been criticized for “fan service,” a term I hadn’t heard before. It grew out of Japanese manga, meaning material intended to please fans, and often involves nudity or suggestive settings. No shower scenes in this movie—sorry to disappoint. I think what the term refers to here is a lot of in-jokes with respect to the original film. Only an ardent fan will catch all of them. I’m sure I missed a bunch. Gozer, the Gatekeeper, and the Keymaster all return.

When Callie appears to be behaving oddly, Phoebe asks her mother if she’s all right.

“There is no mom. There is only Zuul,” the possessed Callie tells her.

This is a play on a line from the original movie. It’s goofy.

The movie is aimed at kids, so there will be a lot of kid stuff. Trevor falls for Lucky (Celeste O’Connor), a pretty carhop at the local burger place, and tries to get a job there by lying about his age. At first, she blows him off.

Phoebe makes a friend at school, a boy calling himself Podcast (Logan Kim), who seems determined to narrate the most mundane things. Later, the two display an advanced knowledge of ghosts, which is especially striking after Phoebe says she doesn’t believe in ghosts.

So much is improbable with the movie, but it matters so little. This is just good, silly fun. It’s not the original movie, but it has the same playful spirit. I enjoyed it.

The movie is dedicated to Harold Ramis, who passed away in 2014. He played one of the original Ghostbusters, Egon Spengler. His likeness is reproduced as a ghost for some brief scenes. The others arrive to battle Gozer near the end of the flick.

There are a couple of nice Easter eggs at the end of the credits.

This movie, flaws aside, was a lot of fun.

Sadly, this is too recent for a free download. We got our copy from the library.


Title: Ghostbusters: Afterlife (2021)

Directed by
Jason Reitman…(directed by)

Writing Credits
Gil Kenan…(written by) &
Jason Reitman…(written by)
Dan Aykroyd…(based on “Ghostbusters” written by) and
Harold Ramis…(based on “Ghostbusters” written by)

Cast (in credits order)
Carrie Coon…Callie
Paul Rudd…Grooberson
Finn Wolfhard…Trevor
Mckenna Grace…Phoebe
Logan Kim…Podcast
Celeste O’Connor…Lucky

Released: 2021
Length: 2 hours, 4 minutes
Rating: PG-13



Review of “The Big Sleep” (1946)

from YouTube

Alas! Svengoolie was a rerun last night, so we opted for a bit of noir, The Big Sleep, which neither the dearly beloved nor I had seen.

Plot:

Ill, elderly General Sternwood (Charles Waldron) hires private detective Philip Marlowe (Humphrey Bogart) to settle some “gambling debts” his daughter Carmen (Martha Vickers) owes to a bookseller named Arthur Geiger (an uncredited Theodore von Eltz). He also mentions the disappearance of one Sean Regan, a hired man whom Sternwood regards almost like a son. Why would Regan up and leave just like that?

Carmen has already introduced herself to Marlowe; she’s a childlike temptress given to—really—sucking her thumb. “You’re cute,” she tells Marlowe. After Marlowe agrees to help the General, the General’s other daughter, Mrs. Rutledge (Lauren Bacall), asks to see him before he leaves. She wants to know why her father hired Marlowe. Does he want him to find Sean Regan? Is there some other…difficulty? Marlow maintains that’s between him and her father.

Marlowe first tries to find Geiger at his place of business. The proprietor, Agnes Lozelle (an uncredited Sonia Darrin), tells him he’s not in. He quizzes her about some rare first editions. Her answers lead him to believe the bookstore is a front for some illegal business.

When he later follows Geiger to his home, he hears a woman’s screams and gunshots.  Running toward the house, he sees two cars pull away. Entering the front door, he finds a man dead on the floor and Carmen Sternwood sitting in an ornate chair near the body, higher than a kite. He accidentally triggers a statue head of the Buddha so that it swings open to reveal a camera. The camera has no film. The implication is more blackmail material; someone recorded Carmen killing Geiger over her gambling debts. The two men in the cars that drove off have the compromising film.

Marlowe hustles the barely coherent (“You’re cute.”) Carmen into his car and takes her home. This includes a de rigueur slap across the face. Once home, he instructs everyone that she was there all evening. He returns to Geiger’s house to find the body has disappeared.

Thoughts:

The plot is convoluted and rather hard to follow, perhaps in part because of the nature of the movie itself. It was drawn from a Raymond Chandler novel of the same name that was a mash-up of two earlier unrelated short stories. Complicating things was the Hayes code, limiting things movies could depict. In the book, Geiger’s bookstore was a bookstore that sold illustrated books of a type illegal at the time, which could not be mentioned in a movie. The book also depicted a same-sex relationship, which didn’t exist. A viewer would have to read between the lines, even if they knew what to look for.

The film is atmospheric and very noir-ish, which is more important than the plot. Snappy Chandler-ish dialogue fills the movie, as does a high body count. Most deaths are off-screen. The characters are interesting. Among them is the gangster, Eddie Mars (John Ridgely), who seem friendly enough for a gangster, and just a whole passel of thugs—some violent, some just hanging around ready to extort as the opportunity arises.

Among the writers are William Faulkner, who has apparently taken a respite from Yoknapatawpha County, and Leigh Brackett, the Queen of Space Opera, coming in from the cold to write this. The story is that they asked Chandler at one point who killed the person whose car is fished out by the Lido Pier.

“I don’t know,” was his helpful answer.

But wasn’t it cool to watch the cops pull a Packard out of the drink?

If the roller coaster ride of threats, deaths, and beatings is light on coherence, it is entertaining. I liked this movie. It’s fun watching Bogey and Bacall bait each other. However, enlightened attitudes toward women do not abound.

I could not find this available for free, but it is available for rent or to buy here.




Title: The Big Sleep (1946)

Directed by
Howard Hawks

Writing Credits
William Faulkner…(screenplay) &
Leigh Brackett…(screenplay) &
Jules Furthman…(screenplay)
Raymond Chandler…(novel)

Cast (in credits order)
Humphrey Bogart…Philip Marlowe
Lauren Bacall…Vivian Rutledge
John Ridgely…Eddie Mars
Martha Vickers…Carmen Sternwood
Dorothy Malone…Acme Book Shop Proprietress

Released: 1946
Length: 1 hour. 54 minutes

Review of “The Ghoul” (1933)

trailer from YouTube

This week’s pizza and bad movie selection is delayed by a week because I once again came down with pneumonia, something I have a penchant for. At first glance, this appears to be an old-fashioned horror flick, but the truth is a little more complicated.

Plot:

A man wearing a fez with stained skin and exaggeratedly widened eyes (D.A. Clarke-Smith) follows a man in a suit to the latter’s apartment. The landlady at first tries to send him away, treating him like a door-to-door salesman, until he asks for Mr. Dragore (Harold Huth).

When he finds Dragore, the man in the fez holds a knife to his neck and demands the jewel known as the “Eternal Light.” He wants to return the gem to the tomb whence it was stolen. Dragore insists he hasn’t got but recently sold it to Professor Morlant (Boris Karloff), who believes it has the power of resurrection. The old man, an expert in Egyptology, is dying. All they have to do is wait.

The viewer next sees Professor Morlant on his deathbed. He appears to have suffered some sort of disfigurement. A parson comes to the door and introduces himself as Nigel Hartley (Ralph Richardson), new in the neighborhood. Morlant’s servant, Laing (Ernest Thesiger), tells him Professor Morlant is a pagan and tells the parson he’s of no use.

The doctor (an uncredited George Relph) comes out of the sick room. He first tells Laing Morlant is asking for him and then seeks Morlant’s solicitor, Broughton (Cedric Hardwicke), to let him know Morlant hasn’t much time left. Broughton is busy going through his client’s books.

Upstairs, Morlant tells Laing not to trust Broughton and goes over his funeral preparations, which include wrapping the Eternal Light to his hand. Laing doesn’t care for the business but agrees. He says, “A man will no find peace that robs his heirs.” Morlant swears that if he is robbed of the jewel, he will rise from the dead and kill those who robbed him.

Answering Laing’s cries, the doctor runs upstairs. He listens for Morlant’s heartbeat through his stethoscope and declares, “It’s all over.”

The viewer next sees the Eternal Light when the clubfooted Laing pulls it from a hollow in the heel of his shoe.

Thoughts:

This sounds a lot like The Mummy, which Boris Karloff made in 1932, but there are differences. First, farcical elements make one wonder if the movie is satire or serious. In truth, this is neither fish nor fowl.

However, it is a lot of fun. A mad dash ensues for the jewel. Kaney (Kathleen Harrison), a friend of Morlant’s niece, is a classic ditz swooning over the exotic bad guy, Dragore. An old feud between branches of the family is represented by a niece Betty Harlon (Dorothy Hyson) and brash nephew Ralph Morlant (Anthony Bushell), who can’t believe rich old Uncle Morlant died nearly penniless and wants the jewel to make up for it.

In the meantime, everyone is stalked by Professor Morlant, who feels ill-used. He says little but menaces a lot, scaring the bejesus out of people who saw him carried out on a briar and entombed by torchlight.

The photography of the entire movie is dark as if they were trying to save money on lighting. It is a little hard to see. I suggest watching this at night with the lights off. The sound is also less than pristine, but considering the age of the movie, it is not bad.

The score uses a lot of Wagner, which is to say, a heaping helping of overblown music. The music can sharpen the contrast between scenes. Ferinstance, Morlant is carried to his almost-eternal rest to a bit of Wagner’s “Death and Funeral March” for the hero Siegfried. It is a stately scene, and the music is heavy and mournful. Once the coffin is laid in the tomb, the pallbearers walk out, grumbling as if they were complaining about a crummy boss at quitting time. One is heard distinctly saying the whole business is “disgusting.” One would think even Siegfried might have to chuckle at that.

A Snidely Whiplash ending doesn’t lend credibility to the movie, but by that time, I don’t think most viewers will care.

The movie was long considered lost. In the early 60s, an incomplete copy surfaced with poor sound quality and Czech subtitles. It was deemed nearly unwatchable. In the 80s, a disused film vault at Shepperton Studios in Great Briton was uncovered, and a near-perfect copy was found. From this copy was drawn the film that is now available.

This was made during Karloff’s brief contract dispute with Universal and is regarded as the first British horror film of the sound era. Well, it’s horror-ish.

The movie can be watched here.



Title: The Ghoul (1933)

Directed by
T. Hayes Hunter

Writing Credits
Frank King…(by) (as Dr. Frank King) &
Leonard Hines…(by)
Roland Pertwee…(screen version by) &
John Hastings Turner…(screen version by)
Rupert Downing…(adaptation)

Cast (in credits order)
Boris Karloff…Prof. Henry Morlant
Cedric Hardwicke…Broughton
Ernest Thesiger…Laing
Dorothy Hyson…Betty Harlon
Anthony Bushell…Ralph Morlant

Released: 1933
Length: 1 hour, 17 minutes

Spring Clean #11 Five More Books

This is the next group of books set aside for donation. They were all informative and I have fond memories of them. Even Johnson’s book, which I consider propaganda at least made me think. I meant to get back to this sooner, but a bout of pneumonia waylaid me.

The final decision on the Jeffrey book was to not donate it. It’s so full of bad information and just nonsense it’s like sending misinformation out into the world. Yes, I know no one is forced to buy the book. Yet, in all good conscience, I’ll keep it as a door stop.

author’s pic

Defeating Darwinism by Opening Minds by Phillip E. Johnson (1997) is not a scientific but an argument-based stance against evolution. Its target audience is “late teen—high-school juniors and seniors and beginning college undergraduates, along with the parents and teachers of such young people.” He continues: “These young people…need to protect themselves against the indoctrination in naturalism that so often accompanies education.” In other words, don’t let facts get in the way. He argues that scientific inquiry/empiricism presumes a godless universe.

Hooey.

Bio: Phillip E. Johnson (1940-2019) was a UC Berkeley law professor, opponent of evolutionary science, and co-founder of the pseudoscientific intelligent design movement. The idea of a “wedge” strategy for introducing the supernatural to science and public thought is attributed to him. Aside from his professional publications, his books include: Darwin on Trial (1991), Reason in the Balance: The Case Against Naturalism in Science, Law & Education (1995), and The Wedge of Truth: Splitting the Foundations of Naturalism (2002).

author’s image

The Language of Genes: Solving the Mysteries of Our Genetic Past, Present and Future by Steve Jones (1993) is drawn from a series of Reith Lectures the author delivered over BBC Radio in late 1991. Jones studied snails. For a long time, studying human genetics was clouded in ignorance and hampered by the detrimental ideas of the heritability of traits like criminality and intelligence.

Jones sees genetics as a code, a language encoded into genes that can gradually be unlocked. He does not view human behavior or destiny as a simple question of nature or nurture.

A few things may be dated. For example, Jones writes, “By about the year 2000, we should have the complete sequence of the three thousand million letters in the DNA alphabet which go to make up a human being.”

It wasn’t a bad guess. The human genome was sequenced in 2003.

This is a good, readable primer on how genes work despite a few dated things like this.

Bio: Steve Jones is a British geneticist and was a professor of genetics at the Galton Laboratory at University College London. He is also a television presenter. In 1996 he was awarded the Michael Faraday Prize. Among his books are: In the Blood: God, Genes and Destiny (1997), Darwin’s Ghost: The Origin of Species Updated (2000), and Evolution (2017).

author’s image

Atheism: A Reader by S.T. Joshi (2000) is, as the title suggests, a selection of articles and excerpts from various writers throughout the centuries regarding disbelief in a god. The entries are arranged by topic: e.g., “Religion and Science,” “Religion and Ethics,” and “Religion and the State.” In his introduction, Joshi writes that his book is not for those who are persuaded in their religion, rather “only for those who profess an open mind on the subject of religion and religious beliefs.” His primary question is: is religion true? Not any particular religion, of course. Religion itself has been around as long as humans have.

Some of the authors included are (stop me if you’re surprised) Robert G. Ingersoll, but also David Hume, Lucretius, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Thomas Paine, and Benedict (Baruch) de Spinoza. Joshi is an H. P. Lovecraft scholar (which I didn’t find out until after reading the book), so, of course, he includes an entry from Lovecraft.

While the readings ranged far and wide and were interesting, I got the feeling there were a lot of unpleasant people among my fellow non-believers.

Bio: S. T. Joshi (b. 1958) is an Indian-American writer and literary critic specializing in weird fiction who has published biographies of H. P Lovecraft and edited collections of M. R. James’ ghost stories. He has also published in the areas of atheism and politics.

author’s image

The Harlot by the Side of the Road: Forbidden Tales of the Bible by Jonathan Kirsch (1997) grew out of the author’s efforts to read the Bible to his five-year-old son. After the story of Noah’s sons finding their father drunk and naked in his tent, Kirsch says he began to read more slowly. If he waited too long, his son—no fool, he—began to ask, “What are you leaving out?”

What makes Kirsch’s book entertaining is not the lurid stories themselves but how various guardians of the people’s morals sought to deal with the tales of lust, intrigue, murder (GEEZ, a tent stake through the temple?), etc. For example, one group of Protestant clergy marked passages they saw fit for the laity. Kirsch points out the unmarked passages might draw the curious Bible reader. There is also a bit of deliberate mistranslation and dancing around of odd (yet obvious) metaphors. What exactly is Ruth doing when she uncovers Boaz’s feet while he was sleeping?

Bio: Jonathan Kirsch (b. 1949) is an American lawyer specializing in intellectual property rights, a writer, and a book reviewer. He reviews books for the Los Angeles Times and has written both fiction and nonfiction. Among his books are Bad Moon Rising (1977), Kirsch’s Handbook of Publishing Law: For Authors, Publishers, Editors, and Agents (1995), and The Woman Who Laughed at God: The Untold Story of the Jewish People (2001).

author ‘s pic

God Against the Gods: The History of the War Between Monotheism and Polytheism by Jonathan Kirsch (2004) is pretty much as advertised, concentrating on the Abrahamic religions. Author Kirsch begins his discussion with the short-lived monotheistic experiment under the Egyptian Pharaoh Akhenaton (14th C. BCE), turns to the prophets scolding the people of Israel to finally abandon the gods in favor of the God of Israel, and ends with the Roman Emperors Constantine and Julian. Common wisdom views paganism as dark and violent; they sacrificed humans, didn’t they? But Kirsch takes a different tack. This was an intriguing book.

Bio: See entry at The Harlot at the Side of the Road.

Spring Clean #10 Five More Books

This is the tenth group of books I’m getting ready to drop off for donation. With this group gone, my second shelf is cleared—“cleared” being a relative term, of course. I get a chance to wipe it down and fill it with books that have been lying around the house. Writing about the book donations is my way of saying goodbye. Many of these books bring back fun memories. There is one notable exception this week, however. I’m still debating whether to donate it or to keep it and use it as a doorstop.

author’s image

The Future of Islam and the West: Clash of Civilizations or Peaceful Coexistence? by Shireen T. Hunter (1998) describes the roles of ideology and pragmatism in how nations conduct themselves. In her introduction, she writes, “…even during the Cold War [kids, ask your grandparents–my note], more often than not, ideological interests and objectives had to be abandoned or relegated to second place because their pursuit endangered more tangible interests; but the pursuit of tangible interests had to be rationalized and justified as in perfect harmony with the ideology and the other values of the state as well as in the service of some higher, unselfish objective.”

She also stresses that Muslim areas of the world have long and varied histories and are not monolithic. They are often, in fact, in conflict with each other. For the West to view Muslims as one civilization sells them short.

This was written before the rise of al Queda and ISIS and before the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. It does pay homage to the idea–cynical and ideal at the same time–that peace, if not harmony, can prevail through paying attention to practical matters.

Bio: Shireen Tahmasseb Hunter (b. 1945) is an independent scholar originally from Iran. She holds a B.A. from Tehran University, an M. Sc. from the London School of Economics and Political Science, and a Ph.D. from Graduate Institute of International Studies Geneva. She is fluent in English, French, Persian, and Azeri Turkish and has a working knowledge of Arabic. Until 2019, she was a Research Professor at the Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding (ACMCU) at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., with which she had been associated since 2005. Among her books are Iran and the World: Continuity in a Revolutionary Decade (1990), The Transcaucasus in Transition: Nation-building and Conflict (1994), and (With Jeffrey L. Thomas and Alexander Melikishvili) Islam in Russia: The Politics of Identity and Security (2004).

author’s image

Why I am Not a Muslim by Ibn Warraq (1995) was written in response to the fatwa and death sentence against Salman Rushdie for his 1988 book, The Satanic Verses. There were several assassination attempts on the author, and the book’s translator into Japanese, Hitoshi Igarashi, was murdered.

While the violence around Rushdie bothered Ibn Warraq, he was further incensed by articles and books written by those he called “Western apologists for Islam,” those who argued that violence was not the nature of Islam. He spends the rest of the book arguing that violence is part and parcel of Islam despite what the individual Muslim practices. He uses both historical and contemporary examples.

While the history was interesting, I have mixed feelings about this book.

Bio: Ibn Warraq (b. 1946) is the pen name of an anonymous author born in present-day Pakistan. The pen name is from Abu Isa al-Warraq, a 10th-century scholar and skeptic. Ibn Warraq is the founder of the Institute for the Secularization of Islamic Society. Among his books are The Quest for the Historical Muhammad (2000), What the Koran Really Says: Language, Text and Commentary (2002), and Defending the West: A Critique of Edward Said’s Orientalism (2007).

author’s image

Writing: The Story of Alphabets and Scripts by Georges Jean (1992) is a pocket-sized, richly illustrated book on the history of scripts. The text is more of a decoration, and the illustrations are the main story. It also describes the decipherment of hieroglyphics and cuneiform. The reader also gets a tour of Asian scripts and a couple of articles on the text used as art. Oddly, the pages in the beginning are thick and glossy. Those toward the end are standard paper and black and white. Nevertheless, I really loved this book.

Bio: George Jean (1920-2011) was a French poet and essayist specializing in linguistics, semiology, and children’s literature, according to Wikipedia. According to his author’s blurb, he was a professor of linguists and semiology at the University of Maine (France) and published some forty works. He was awarded the 1980 Fondation de France prize for his book, Le Plaisir de mots. In 1985, he received the Louise-Labé prize for D’Entre les mots.

author’s image

The Signature of God/The Handwriting of God by Grant R. Jeffrey (1999) is a two-volume set of previously published absolute bullshit. The first volume points to “scientific” aspects of the Bible, the second to “Bible codes,” that is, hidden messages in scripture by counting so many nth letter of the text. Among the claims for scientific knowledge is a demonstration of the understanding of Conservation of Energy. God rested from all his works after the sixth day of creation, and therefore matter can be neither created nor destroyed. Yep.

At one point, he says society performs paternity tests and not maternity tests because blood type is inherited from the father and not the mother. Never mind the scientific ignorance–the practical everyday knowledge he had to ignore to make such an egregiously silly statement does rather boggle the mind.

Not surprisingly, this garnered criticism not only from outside the Christian community but also from Jeffrey’s fellow Christians.

I confess I bought and read this book on a dare. At this point, I’m in two minds about donating it. Should I let it continue to take up space on my shelf? Or let it loose on an unsuspecting world? Maybe I’ll keep it. Who knows when I’ll need a good door stop?

Bio: Grant R. Jeffrey (1948-2012) was a Canadian television personality and teacher of Bible prophecy/eschatology and biblical archaeology. Jeffrey’s book, The Millennium Meltdown, reached #2 on the Publishers Weekly bestseller list for religious paperbacks. How unfortunate. It dealt with the Y2K, ahem, problem, and what people should do to protect themselves. A little fearmongering here? At present, it’s out of print. Grant also hosted a program on the Christian broadcasting television network, TBN.

author’s image

Under the Red Flag by Ha Jin (1997) is a collection of twelve unrelated short stories set during the Cultural Revolution in Maoist China. Several take place in or around the (fictional) village of Dismount Fort and involve recurring characters such as a boy called Bare Hips, but the stories are all stand alones.

Casual brutality runs through many of the stories. In “Man to be,” a husband is convinced his younger wife is cheating on him and arranges her gang-rape. But that’s not the point of the story. The reader doesn’t even know if the woman is indeed unfaithful or what happens to her after the assault. In another, the richest man in the village is denounced and tries to defend himself with the truth, not realizing that he’s supposed to confess to things he’s not guilty of and ask for forgiveness. In yet another, a woman returns from burying her husband and is assaulted by a stranger. She kills him with his knife. Upon being told he was the nephew of some important party official, she becomes terrified. That’s not all there is, of course.

In many of the stories, the author makes the point that party loyalty and subjugation to the party–even at the cost of simple human compassion or decency–are all that matters.

I was looking forward to reading this book, having heard the author interviewed on a podcast and read his biography of classical Chinese poet Li Po (or Li Bai). I liked his narrative style. The author himself seems an interesting person. I can’t fault it for not conforming to my expectations, but what a downer.

This book received the Flannery O’Connor Award for Short Fiction.

Bio: Ha Jin is a pseudonym for Chinese-American writer, poet, and academic Xuefei Jin (b. 1956). Jin joined the army at fourteen and left after five years. Afterward, he worked as a railway telegraph operator and learned some English by listening to the radio. While studying English at Brandeis University, he watched the government crackdown on Tiananmen Square in 1989 and decided to stay in the United States. Among his books are Waiting (2000), War Trash (2004), Nanjing Requiem (2011), The Boat Rocker (2016), and A Distant Center (2018).

Review of “Romancing the Stone” (1984)

trailer from YouTube

Our Saturday night pizza and bad movie movie was in color for a change. And our usual place for pizza procurement changed hands, which included a big jump in prices. I asked if that meant a pay raise for the worker bees, not realizing I was talking to one of the new owners. He laughed. We still have to microwave our pizza after we get home. Neither here nor there.

Plot:

In the opening scenes, evil old west cowboy Grogan barges into the house of a scantily (but not provocatively)-dressed woman named Angelina. He takes the saddlebags where she’s been concealing…something… and then moves in on her with a leer on his face. She removes a knife from her garter belt and throws it at him. He drops dead (*THUD*). In a voiceover, Angelina tells the viewer Grogan had killed her father, raped and murdered her sister, burned her ranch, shot her dog, and stolen her Bible.

But that’s not all…

Once she’s dressed, she rides off, only to be followed by Grogan’s brothers. A shadowy figure appears on a ridgetop and rescues her. Jesse! And they’ll be together forever!

The viewer next sees Joan Wilder (Kathleen Turner) sobbing behind an electric typewriter at a crowded desk. She’s out of tissues and toilet paper to wipe away her tears. Her apartment is decorated with Post-It Notes, one of which reminds her to buy tissue. But she’s finished her book! Time to celebrate! She calls for Romeo, her cat, and gives him a can of tuna on the coffee table while she drinks.

After celebrating, she wakes on the couch, realizing she’s late for a meeting with her publisher. She grabs her manuscript in a box (this is 1984). On her way out, she meets Mrs. Irwin (Eve Smith), an elderly neighbor who hands her a package that wouldn’t fit in the mailbox, something from Joan’s late brother-in-law, Eduardo, in Colombia, whose body was found mutilated. (That happen a lot in Colombia?)

Because she’s running late, Joan takes the package with her to meet her publisher, Gloria (Holland Taylor). Gloria loves the new book and takes her out on the town, where they drink and evaluate the men in the bar. None of them–alas!–measure up to the fictional Jesse.

While she’s out, a sinister sort lurks by her door. The super approaches the sinister man, only to be knifed. Upon returning home, Joan finds someone has ransacked her apartment. Romeo is okay. The phone rings. Joan’s sister, Elaine (Mary Ellen Trainor), is on the other end, asking if Eduardo has sent her a package. She’s been kidnapped. Her ransom is the map in the package. Joan must come to Colombia with the map.

Thoughts:

This is a silly movie. The kidnappers, cousins Ralph and Ira (Danny DeVito and Zach Norman), are the kind of villains who might be dangerous if they had a working neuron between them. The evil villain is Zolo (Manuel Ojeda), a steely-eyed man of few words, capable of the cold-blooded murder of a building super, for example, and commands something of a private militia. (Is that a common thing in Colombia?).

There are genuinely funny scenes, though. Joan and Jack Colton (Michael Douglas), a smuggler who agreed to help her for a fee, walk through a small village, followed by menacing-looking men. When they ask for a car, they are directed to “Juan” (Alfonso Arau). Knocking on Juan’s door, they receive a rebuff through a peephole. A further effort brings a second rebuff with a gun–until Juan realizes who Joan is. She’s his favorite author. He lets the men behind them know she’s the author they read every week and invites the couple inside. He treats Jack like Joan’s servant. Despite its humble appearance, his house is actually a luxurious mansion.

I did not see this movie when it came out in theaters. This is my first time seeing it. Perhaps it’s only my old jaded eyes that just look at the flick as sort of cute, lightweight fare. I was surprised to find this was nominated and won several awards. It was nominated for an Oscar for best film editing in 1985. It was also nominated for Best Edited Feature Film by American Cinema Editors in 1985. Kathleen Turner won a Golden Globe for Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture in 1985. Most Spectacular Stunt went to a long list of stuntmen from the Stuntman Awards in 1985.

This was different from our usual Saturday night movie and a nice change of scene, but I’m looking forward to some more sci-fi/horror schlock or more noir.



Title: Romancing the Stone (1984)

Directed by
Robert Zemeckis

Writing Credits
Diane Thomas…(written by)
Lem Dobbs…(uncredited)
Howard Franklin…(uncredited)
Treva Silverman…(uncredited)

Cast (in credits order)
Michael Douglas…Jack Colton
Kathleen Turner…Joan Wilder
Danny DeVito…Ralph
Zack Norman…Ira
Alfonso Arau…Juan
Manuel Ojeda…Zolo

Released: 1984
Length: 1 hour, 46 minutes

Spring Clean #9 Five More Books

This is the next group of books set aside to be donated in my spring clean. Happily, two of these are going to a woman in critique group I’m a member of. So nice to see books go to a happy home.

One more drop-off, and I will have my second shelf cleared. “Cleared” is relative, however. It’s more like I’m making room for books I have scattered around the house.

author’s image
author’s image

How Fiction Works by Oakley Hall (2000) is a how-to on writing fiction. It covers all the basics and includes helpful exercises. It also has an appendix with recommended reading, mainly of classics and other horrors—A Farewell to Arms, The Great Gatsby, and Gone with the Wind are among those listed. I’m sure his advice is solid, but my strongest memory about the book is how boring it is.

Bio: Oakley Hall (1920-2008) was an American novelist who wrote mysteries early in his career and wrote works set in the American West. Two of his most popular works are Warlock (1958) and The Downhill Racers (1963). The latter was made into the movie Downhill Racer in 1969. Hall served in the Marines during WWII. Until he retired in 1990, he directed the writing program at UC Irvine.

author’s image

The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason by Sam Harris (2004) discusses faith as a pretext for religious violence and, therefore, something to be dispensed with. He equates religious faith with some level of insanity because it demands action based on assumptions without evidence. Does faith lead to religious intolerance and thus to violence? What is the difference between faith and spirituality? Harris prescribes a middle path, which he views as rational and atheistic.

This book has gotten criticism from both faith and humanist communities. I had mixed feeling about it. The author himself said it was written in the dark days following the 9/11 attacks.

Bio: Sam Harris (b. 1967) is an American philosopher, neuroscientist, author, and podcast host. Harris has a B.A. in philosophy from Stanford and a Ph.D. degree in Cognitive Neuroscience from the University of California Los Angeles. He has had articles appear in The Washington Post, The Huffington Post, Newsweek, and The Los Angeles Times. His books included The Moral Landscape (2010), Lying (2011), Free Will (2012), and Waking Up (2014).

author’s image

Writing New Adult Fiction by Deborah Halverson (2014) is, as advertised, a guide to writing New Adult fiction, a genre first defined as separate from YA and adult novels. It includes many sidebars and exercises. Topics are headlined with large print and underlined, making them easy to find. Chapters are also easy to find, with their titles written in white again a black field that shows up on page edges. 

As for the advice? I think it is helpful if nothing profound. Most useful are the many exercises throughout the book, particularly since the reader can reuse them for different projects.

Bio: According to her site, Deborah Halverson edited children’s books for ten years at Harcourt. Now she is the award-winning author of Writing Young Adult Fiction For Dummies, the teen novels Honk If You Hate Me and Big Mouth, the picture book Letters to Santa, and three books in Remix series for struggling readers.

author’s image

The Celts: The People Who Came out of the Darkness by Gerhard Herm (1975, English translation 1976) recounts the history of the Celtic peoples from the earliest contacts with Rome to the onset of the Dark Ages. Herm notes immediately that the Roman historians (from whom he derives most of his material about the early Celts) scared the bejesus out of the Romans. In Roman eyes, the Celts (“Gauls”) were half-wild, some of them charging into battle in the nude and keeping the severed heads of their conquered enemies as trophies outside the doors of their houses.

Of course, this is according to their enemies…

While there are some black and white photos and maps, the material is based on literary rather than archaeological sources.

Bio: Gerhard Herm (1931-2014) was a German journalist and writer. He studied at Werner Friedmann Institute and later worked as a television journalist at WDR. He published his first book in 1964. During his time in television, he participated in the production of forty documentary programs. Among his books are The Phoenicians: The Purple Empire of the Ancient World (1975) and nonfiction and fiction books that don’t appear to have been translated into English.

author’s image

Memory’s Ghost: The Strange Case of Mr. M. and the Nature of Memory (1995) by Philip J. Hilts is a case study of a patient known as Henry M. In 1953, Henry’s hippocampus and other brain structures were removed to control his epileptic seizures. At the time, he was 27 years. The seizures were severe enough that he could not hold down a job. The surgery seems to have partially controlled the seizures, but it also destroyed his ability to form new memories. However, he could add information to some old memories. For him, the world stopped in 1953. He was institutionalized for the remainder of his life.

This book was written before Henry M.’s 2008 death. It delves into some brain science as well as the poignancy of Henry’s life. For example, he grieves afresh every time he’s told of his mother’s death.

Bio: Philip J. Hilts (b. 1947) is a journalist and author. He’s worked for both The New York Times and The Washington Post. While at the NYT, he received a leaked package from a whistleblower at the Brown and Williamson tobacco company. From it and further research, he wrote more than twenty front-page stories and a 1996 book, Smokescreen: The Truth behind the Tobacco Industry Cover-Up. His other books include Protecting America’s Health: The FDA, Business, and One Hundred Years of Regulation (2003) and RX for Survival: Why We Must Rise to the Global Health Challenge (2005).

Spring Clean #8 Five More Books

This is my next installment of spring cleaning and saying goodbye to five more books. I look forward to cleaning off a second shelf—so I can fill it up again. I don’t have to go shopping or anything. I have enough books lying around the house. Hence, the need to get rid of some of them. I’m running out of room for new bookcases.

author’s image

The Bible Unearthed: Archaeology’s New Vision of Ancient Israel and the Origin of its Sacred Texts (2001) by Israel Finkelstein and Neil Silberman examines the archaeological record for the origins of the books of the Bible and the Israelite people. For example, they see the exodus story not as a historical event but as an expression of a continual migration. Many took issue with the contents of the book.

Bio: Israel Finkelstein (b. 1949) is an Israeli archaeologist and a professor emeritus at Tel Aviv University, specializing in the archaeology of the Levant biblical archaeology. Among his books are David and Solomon and The Forgotten Kingdom.

Neil Silberman is an American archaeologist specializing in biblical archaeology. His other books include Archaeology and Society in the 21st Century (2001), Heavenly Powers (1998), The Message and the Kingdom (1997), and The Archaeology of Israel (1995).

author’s image

The Search for Superstrings, Symmetry, and the Theory of Everything (1998) by John Gribbin is written without presupposing any science and or physics background on the part of the reader. It even explains scientific notation, for crying out loud. That is not to say it doesn’t discuss heady stuff, but the heady stuff is in chapters with titles like “Quantum Physics for Beginners.” There is some math, but it is safe. That is, I read it and my head didn’t explode.

Bio: John Gribbin (b. 1946) is a British science writer and astrophysicist He graduated with a degree in physics from the University of Sussex and later completed an MSc in astronomy, also from Sussex, and a PhD in astrophysics from the University of Cambridge. Currently, he is a visiting fellow in astronomy at the University of Sussex. He writes fiction and non-fiction and has written biographies of such luminaries as Isaac Newton and Richard Feynman. Additionally, he writes science books for children. Among his books are In Search of the Double Helix (1987), Almost Everyone’s Guide to Science: The Universe, Life and Everything (1998) and, The Birth of Time: How Astronomers Measured the Age of the Universe (2001).

author’s image

The Inflationary Universe: The Quest for a New Theory of Cosmic Origins (1997) by Alan Guth is written for the nonscientist to explain the idea of inflation—that is, a brief time of exponential expansion of the early universe with respect to the Big Bang, which Guth helped develop. The book is remarkably free of mathematics but instead relies on pictures and graphs. Guth writes clearly and with a light, breeze style, making corny jokes at times. It was written before the discovery of the Higgs boson but, of course, anticipates it.

 Just the same, I wouldn’t call this book a beach read. It takes a bit of thought and effort to get through if you’re a layperson. It is worth it.

Bio: Alan Guth (b. 1947) is an American theoretical physicist and cosmologist, known mainly for his work on elementary particle theory and how particle theory applies to the early universe, and particularly for the idea of cosmic inflation and the inflationary universe. He is the Victor F. Weisskopf Professor of Physics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). He has written more than 60 technical papers related to the effects of inflation and its interactions with particle physics, but this is the only book for us plebs I could find by him.

author’s image

The Nazi Officer’s Wife: How One Jewish Woman Survived the Holocaust (1999) by Edith Hahn Beer with Susan Dworkin is the sad but ultimately triumphant story about how one woman survived the Holocaust by hiding her Jewish identity. Paradoxically, she kept her original identity papers. A gentile friend helped her with this, foreseeing the day when she might need to recover her identity. In the meantime, she worked as a nurse’s aide and married a Nazi, who knew she was Jewish.

There is some humor as well. She noticed her neighbors in the apartments around her made a lot of noise when she tried to listen to the BBC (on the radio), something she had to do at low volumes because listening to foreign broadcasts was illegal. This was understandably annoying until she realized one neighbor started his construction projects to cover up the BBC call tones.

Bio: Edith Hahn Beer (1914-2009) was originally from Austria. She was studying law at the time of the Anschluss. Her religious affiliation disqualified her from graduation, let alone practicing law. Her family was sent to a ghetto in Vienna. Later, she seldom talked about the war. This book was written to answer her daughter’s questions.

Susan Dworkin (b. 1941) is a novelist, playwright, and producer of audiobooks. She worked for the US Department of Agriculture and as a journalist covering international aid projects. Her books include The Garden, The Commons, and Stolen Goods.

author’s image

Without: Poems (1998) by Donald Hall is a collection of poems about the final illness and loss of the poet’s wife, the poet, author, and translator Jane Kenyon. While this may seem maudlin, it is not. The author certainly grieves, but there is little self-pity. The collection is moving and a human portrait of mourning.

Bio: Donald Hall (1928-2018) was an American poet, writer, editor and literary critic. During his lifetime, he taught writing at Stanford University, Bennington College, and the University of Michigan. Among his many honors, he served as the poet laureate of his home state of New Hampshire for five years (1984-1989) and in 2006 was appointed the fourteenth U.S. Poet Laureate. His books included Ox-Cart Man (1979), The One Day (1988), and Essays at Eighty (2014).