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Apr 28

See you at World Horror Convention 2016

Posted on Thursday, April 28, 2016 in Books, Conventions

This weekend, I will be reading and appearing on panels at World Horror Convention 2016 in Provo, Utah.If you are too, I’d love to meet you. Your best chances of finding me:

Thursday, 8:15 pm in the Cedar Room – Panel: Historical Horror

Friday, 4:30 pm in the Juniper Room – Reading my short story “Come Down, Ma Evenin’ Star”

Saturday, 10:15 am in the Birch Room – Panel: My Favorite Horror Film

Saturday, 8:45 pm in the Cedar Room – Panel: Using Music in Your Stories

Sunday, 12:45 pm in the Cedar Room – Panel: Why We Love Lovecraft

And of course, there’s always the bar. They do have hotel bars in Utah, don’t they?

 

 

 

 

 

 



Apr 5

Forgotten Films: Watership Down (1978)

Posted on Tuesday, April 5, 2016 in Forgotten Movie

By Scott A. Cupp

This is the 162nd in my series of Forgotten, Obscure or Neglected Films

This week’s film is forgotten by me and I think many others. Back in 1972 while I was in college it was hard to find someone who had not heard of Watership Down, the novel, which was a cause célèbre at the time.

A first novel, the story of a group of intrepid rabbits was welcome in the literary world and another fantasy reached the mainstream, though most would not acknowledge that it was “fantasy.” Surely it must be an allegory or fable or something more palatable.

I believe I read the book in 1973 or whenever the paperback came out. Hardbacks were too expensive for my college budget. But I read the paperback even though I had more than I could read with the English classes and the rest. I really enjoyed the tale and was excited when I heard about the film version to come.

It took a while for the animated version to appear (1978) and I saw it then and, again, enjoyed the story. The other day, Turner Classic Films offered it as part of the rotation and my fingers clicked the Record function on the DVR.

So today I decided to watch it. I had such fond impressions left from my last viewing in 1978 that I don’t know quite what I was expecting. I got an interesting Heroic Rabbit Exodus story.

The tale follows a group of rabbits led by Hazel (voiced by John Hurt) and his brother Fiver (voiced by Richard Briers). Fiver has had a vision of impending doom for the warren where the two reside. They bring their warning to the Chief Rabbit (Ralph Richardson) who is not impressed. Hazel convinces several rabbits, including Bigwig a former leader, to leave with them and they are soon challenged by the Owsla (the rabbit equivalent of an army or militia). A group of eight rabbits manage to escape. Fiver’s vision soon comes true and the warren is destroyed by men for a building project.

The group is soon cut down to seven as the only female doe Violet is killed by a hawk. Their trip to some place that only Fiver knows is peppered with dangerous situations including a loose dog, a cat and some rats. Eventually they meet the very odd rabbit Cowslip (Denholm Elliott) who offers the group a place in his warren. But something is not good about it and Fiver tries to leave. Bigwig challenges him and in following Fiver finds himself in a snare. This intense scene was the subject utilized in the movie poster, which I feel was a bad move.

Bigwig is saved, though not without incident and the group leaves the warren which was a man-made rabbit factory where rabbits lived an easy life with food and protection until they are plucked away and never seen again.

They eventually arrive at Watership Down, Fiver’s mystical place of “milk and honey” where they run into a totalitarian warren overseen by General Woundwort (Harry Andrews) who does not to let a group of females leave and join the new less restrictive warren.

At the time of release, most animated films were aimed totally at children. This film with its brutal looking poster and intense sequences must have been somewhat problematic. There was some comic relief supplied by the seagull Kehaar (Zero Mostel).

Also, the opening and closing sequences are very stylized and contain a sort of creation myth for the rabbits involving Frith, the sun god, and El-ahrairah, the prince of all rabbits. The rest of the film presents fairly realistic representations of the rabbits.

For myself, I was somewhat disappointed this time through. The film was very episodic and seemed a little jerky. And it was not an epic fantasy type film. In several areas I found it a little dull and wished for something to happen. Probably that’s just curmudgeonly me reacting to the animation changes of the last 30 years. I’m glad I saw it again, but I would not recommend it for younger viewers.

Of course, your mileage will certainly vary. Bear in mind that my taste is in my mouth and you may love this film. If so, spread the word.

My postings may be spotty over the next month or so. I am taking on a new day job and it will require relocation, so I may not have time to view and report. I will try, but I am being realistic. I am about to have an incredibly intense five weeks. The same will apply to my Forgotten Book posts on Thursday.

Series organizer Todd Mason hosts more Tuesday Forgotten Film reviews at his own blog and posts a complete list of participating blogs.

 



Mar 31

Forgotten Book: Amazon Planet by Mack Reynolds (1966 – 1967 magazine, 1975 book form)

Posted on Thursday, March 31, 2016 in Books, Forgotten Book

Mack Reynolds' Amazon Planet seems to have lost some of its political punch.

By Scott A. Cupp

This is the 183rd in my series of Forgotten Books.

Popular taste in science fiction is a pretty fluid thing. The field is so broad and encompasses lots of sub-genres. It’s pretty easy to be focused on a single area or author and not see whole fields that exist. As a teenager in the ’60s, I found it was still possible to read most of the important books in the field each year. Within a few years that was no longer possible.

I remember when fantasy titles were very, very scarce. This year represents the 50th anniversary of the first Lancer Conan title with a Frank Frazetta cover. At that time you had to look. Michael Moorcock was coming and Ballantine had published Tolkien and some E. R. Eddison but not much else. Ace was thinking of printing the Fafhrd and Grey Mouser books.

So all this is in prelude to talking about Mack Reynolds. A very prolific writer, Reynolds published something like 75 books between the 1950s and 1980s, of which I have read four. That’s not much based on his output and huge presence in the marketplace. I don’t know why I never read much. He was in a lot of ace Doubles, and I certainly read many of those by lesser writers. But I did read Amazon Planet back then, and now, some 48 years later, I decided to revisit him and one of his novels.

Amazon Planet was serialized in Analog in 1966 and 1967, which is where I originally read it. God only knows why, because I didn’t read many of the serialized novels at that time. The fact that I had all three parts at the time is pretty amazing, at least to me.

Guy Thomas is a United Planets Federation negotiator who has been sent to Amazonia on a freighter. The only other passenger is a young woman, Patricia “Pat” O’Gara, who is going from her home planet of Victoria to Amazonia.

The crew is fascinated that Guy plans to go to Amazonia. The planet is run by women, and men have little to no rights. Pat is trying to escape the repressive Victorian mores of her planet to the more enlightened government of Amazonia. There are several early political discussions about matriarchies and female warriors, a subject which Reynolds obviously knew much about.

But there are difficulties. Pat has no landing visa to go there. And Guy is a man. When the Amazonians show up, there is a problem with Guy’s visa also, since it shows his name as Gay. He tries to convince them that it is no big deal. The Amazonians warn him that since he is a man, any Amazonian warrior with fewer than three husbands can come up, clasp him on the shoulder and say, “I take thee.” At that point, he would become part of the warrior’s harem.

But things are never quite what they seem. Guy is not a sales negotiator. He is a spy hoping to help a male underground rise up from the female tyranny.

It becomes an action adventure story stuck in the idle of a political discussion (not quite a diatribe) and something approaching Women’s Rights. And even that does not begin to cover the whole of the book.

I mostly enjoyed the novel, but it does seem a bit dated. And according to Wikipedia, this was one of the books caught up in a period of declining sales on Reynolds’ part and a takeover of Ace Books that prevented several novels from being published between 1969 and 1975. By 1975 the ERA was old hat and much of the punch of this book seemed to have been lost.

I do have another Reynolds book that I intend to read sometime, Code Duello. I am not sure when I will get to it. My experience with Amazon Planet has not moved that one in up in my reading list, nor caused it to disappear.

The Ace Books thing is interesting as it notes that his sales had declined. Yet on the paperback copy I read, he is noted in a big label, “Voted the most popular science fiction author by the readers of Galaxy and If.” Go figure.

Series organizer Patti Abbott hosts more Friday Forgotten Book reviews at her own blog, and posts a complete list of participating blogs.

 



Mar 29

Forgotten Films: The Giant Behemoth (1959)

Posted on Tuesday, March 29, 2016 in Forgotten Movie, Movies

The Giant Behemoth's animated monster feels flat in some instances, but it still delivers some fun for genre fans.

By Scott A. Cupp

This is the 161st in my series of Forgotten, Obscure or Neglected Films

I am ashamed to say that I had never seen this film before pulling it up for this week’s Forgotten Film. I love stop motion animation and Willis O’Brien. King Kong is one of my favorite films off all time and anything with O’Brien’s animation in it is something I want to see. I’ve seen most of his science fiction related stuff but I had not seen this one.

According to Wikipedia, however, O’Brien did not do most of the animation. The director wanted him but the producers hired Jack Rabin, best known for his work on The Beast of Hollow Mountain and The Saga of the Viking Women and Their Voyage to the Waters of the Great Sea Serpent. Rabin apparently sub-contracted the work to O’Brien for the flat fee of $5,000. O’Brien’s assistant, Pete Peterson, did most of the animation. This was the last film that O’Brien really worked on, other than a very short piece in It’s A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World.

Giant Behemoth director Eugène Lourié previously did 1953’s The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms, and this film has several similarities. Apparently the original premise for this film had an amorphous blob of radiation as the monster but the distributor wanted a pastiche of the former film, so the script was changed.

On to the film. The film begins with American scientist Steve Karnes (Gene Evans) speaking to a British nuclear commission about the possible effects of radiation on the ecology of the ocean. In an astounding coincidence, a small fishing village suffers the loss of an old fisherman who is found near death and says the word “Behemoth” before he dies. Suddenly, fish begin washing up on the beach. And thousands of dead fish mean something is wrong.

Karnes and his British counterpart Professor James Bickford (André Morell) decide to visit the village. They find the fishermen afraid to go out since something is causing the fish to die. Also, one fisherman has suffered unusual burns, similar to those caused by radiation exposure. Soon there are more deaths and a footprint is discovered. Karnes and Bickford take the footprint to a paleontologist who decides that the monster must be a type of Palaeosaurus, an aquatic dinosaur with electric qualities like an eel. The monster is also discovered to be highly radioactive.

Soon, the monster is traced to London where it destroys a ferry with lots of people on it. And begins a run through the city. The monster has the power to emit deadly radiation that kills quite effectively.

Karnes and Bickford have to work with other scientists and the military to destroy the monster without blowing it up and leaving thousands of little highly radioactive bits across town.

Overall, The Giant Behemoth is an enjoyable enough film. It is very obviously a low budget piece; one shot of the monster destroying a car is used three times in the film. The water scenes of the monster are not animated in much detail; the monster’s mouth barely moves. However, the land shots of the monster terrorizing the city are much better. While the movie is derivative of The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms and takes a while to get going, I still had fun.

The Giant Behemoth is a product of its time — nothing even remotely approaching computer assisted animation was used here — and being in black and white will probably discourage younger fans. If you have not seen it, give it a try. If you have seen it, you are better off going back to see King Kong, The Lost World or Mighty Joe Young to see O’Brien flex his animation powers.

Series organizer Todd Mason hosts more Tuesday Forgotten Film reviews at his own blog and posts a complete list of participating blogs.

 



Mar 24

Forgotten Book: The Drawing of the Dark by Tim Powers

Posted on Thursday, March 24, 2016 in Books, Forgotten Book

Swords and dark beer both figure prominently in the Tim Powers novel.

By Scott A. Cupp

This is the 182nd in my series of Forgotten Books.

The other day we celebrated Leap Day which means my friend Tim Powers actually had a birthday that he could celebrate. I always think of him at those times and since I had not read The Drawing of the Dark in a long time I pulled one of my copies off the shelf.

I first met Tim and his wife Serena at a World Fantasy Convention in Arizona sometime in the 80’s. A quick look at Wikipedia indicates that it was probably Tucson in 1985. I met many fine people at that show including Dean R. Koontz and Evangeline Walton. But Tim, Serena and Jim Blaylock were the ones I had a great time with. I had my British hardcovers of The Anubis Gates and Dinner at Deviant’s Palace with me and I got them signed. The Anubis Gates was signed by Tim and Jim (as themselves and William Ashbless) and by Dean, for reasons I have never determined. I also got the prospectus on Offering the Bicentennial Edition of the Complete Twelve Hours of the Night: 1785-1985 by William Ashbless from the International William Ashbless Society (IWAS) of which only a few copies were printed. Even after the big book sell-off of 2007, I kept those volumes and the prospectus.

Anyway, we hit it off and I once drove 12 hours each way to see Powers at a convention in Kansas City (Conquest 17 in 1986). Major fan Fred Duarte and I drove up, found the convention, spoke with Powers, slept and then returned home – me to Dallas, Fred to Austin. We would see each other occasionally, including a wonderful trip the Lansdales made with me and Sandi to California, where we spent time with Powers, Blaylock and Koontz families over two days and had a wonderful Mexican seafood dinner with Powers, Blaylock and Lew Shiner at La Perlita. There was also an incident involving doughnuts that may have inspired a famous Blaylock story.

So, on to The Drawing of the Dark. This was the first major Powers novel, following two Rafael Sabatini-inspired tales for Laser Books (who also published the first efforts of K. W. Jeter and an odd Dean Koontz title). The simple summary is that this is the world’s only epic Arthurian fantasy about beer – specifically dark beer.

If that does not intrigue you, you may need to see a doctor. Arthurian fantasy and beer? How odd. How Tim Powers-y.

It is 1529 and knight-for-hire Brian Duffy is in Venice when he finds himself embroiled in a fight with three brothers regarding an insult Brian made in a bar. While he easily defeats them, he finds that he needs to leave Venice pretty fast. He stumbles across an odd person named Aurelianus who wants to hire him as a bouncer in his inn in Venice. Aurelianus provides good money (actually, better than good) with the promise of more and a place to live. Brian has previously lived in Vienna, leaving only when his one true love, Epiphany Vogel, married another man. He decides to return and see if she is still there. He procures passage out of Venice and is attacked as he’s leaving. Strangely, one of the three brothers who previously attacked him dies defending him.

Magic attacks follow and Brian is forced to flee alone through the mountains. In his dreams and on the road, he finds himself being accompanied by an odd assortment of mythic creatures. He catches a ride with other travelers but is thrown out when superstitions get the better of them. They later die horribly.

In Vienna, Brian finds the inn and is reluctantly paid and put to work. His love, Epiphany, is working there also as her husband has died and left her with debts to Aurelianus forcing her to work to pay off the debt.

Vienna is a town preparing for siege as the Ottoman Turkish Sultan Suleiman I is advancing toward Vienna and nothing appears able to stop it. But things are not as they seem. Aurelianus and Brian have many layers that are not quickly revealed. The inn is a former monastery and is noted for its beer, particularly the darker blends. The beer casks in the basement have deep roots in the ground and in legend.

As I said, this is Arthurian and some favorite characters appear and are changed. It’s full of magic and adventure, betrayal and reward, oddity and obscurity. And special surprise guest heroes appear on and off stage. In short, it is a Tim Powers book.

Tim has a new book out that I am ready to read. I will also get to a Blaylock book real soon now and speak of his own weirdnesses. For right now, try The Drawing of the Dark, even if you don’t like beer.

Series organizer Patti Abbott hosts more Friday Forgotten Book reviews at her own blog, and posts a complete list of participating blogs.

 



Mar 23

Moment of Wonder: The Shock Breakout of a Supernova

Posted on Wednesday, March 23, 2016 in Moment of Wonder, Uncategorized

NASA has shared some amazing footage of Mars, Pluto and the moons of Saturn. But this may be its recent money shot.

The space agency’s planet-hunting Kepler Space Telescope has for the first time captured the flash of an exploding star’s shockwave using optical wavelength, or visible light. Astronomers call this brilliant flash a “shock breakout.” They only last about 20 minutes and are essentially the opening salvo of a dying star going supernova.

A team led by Peter Garnavich, an astrophysics professor at the University of Notre Dame, analyzed light captured by Kepler every 30 minutes over a three-year period from 500 distant galaxies to obtain the the photometric observations used to create this video animation.

“In order to see something that happens on timescales of minutes, like a shock breakout, you want to have a camera continuously monitoring the sky,” Garnavich says. “You don’t know when a supernova is going to go off, and Kepler’s vigilance allowed us to be a witness as the explosion began.”

Sit back and enjoy the light show.



Mar 22

Forgotten Film: Green Mansions (1959)

Posted on Tuesday, March 22, 2016 in Forgotten Movie, Movies

Green Mansions has some fun moments, but it marred by its casting.

This is the 160th in my series of Forgotten, Obscure or Neglected Films

Green Mansions had been waiting on my DVR queue since November while the novel has been in my Forgotten Books to-be-read stack since last summer. Since the film takes less time to complete, guess which one won the race?

I have been a fan for W. H. Hudson and his fabulous works of South America for quite a few years and when last I saw this film (20 years or so ago) I really enjoyed it. So, when it came on TCM last year, I recorded it. I started to watch it about 2 months ago but got interrupted and did not immediately return, much like my viewing of Jessica Jones on Netflix. (What I saw I enjoyed, but I have not been compelled to finish it up yet.)

This is an odd film for MGM. I am not sure of the casting of Audrey Hepburn and Anthony Perkins as a romantic couple. Audrey, yes! Tony? Well, I keep hearkening back to Psycho, which came out the following year. It might have worked for audiences in 1959, but I found it a little tense.

Abel (Perkins) is a young Venezuelan man who is connected by his parents to the government. Revolution is in the air and he finds that he needs to leave town fast with only his clothes and little else. He travels down the river to a small trading post where he acquires a map which might lead to some gold that can finance his revenge. Along the way, his guides desert him and his canoe crashed over a small waterfall. He finds himself captured by a village of natives led by Runi, portrayed by that most South American actor (and I’m being sarcastic here) Sessue Hayakawa. Unable to communicate but knowing that the natives respect courage and the ability to stand and talk for hours, Abel stands for many hours reciting anything he can think of until the arrival of Kua-Ko (Henry Silva), the son of the chief who has spent time with missionaries and can speak English.

Abel is respected for his performance and becomes part of the tribe. One day, he notices a small forest across the savannah. When he asks about it and the possibility of what game (and gold) it might contain, he is told that it is taboo. Undeterred, Abel visits the forest and is haunted by its beauty and the trilling bird-like songs he hears. When he returns, he is taken to Runi who praises his bravery, because the wood is haunted by the “Daughter of the Didi,” a spirit that has killed the chief’s favorite son and Kua-Ko’s older brother. Abel is sent back to kill the spirit.

Upon his return, he is confronted by the vision of Rima, the bird girl (Hepburn). While watching her, he is bitten by a coral snake and passes out. He awakens two days later in a hut occupied by Nuflo (Lee J. Cobb), who reveals that Rima is his granddaughter.

Abel begins to fall for Rima but is concerned that Runi and Kua-Ko will come to kill her. He tells her something of the outside world and Rima wants to go to Riolama, a village she has some residual memories of. This causes a rift with Nuflo. Abel returns to the native village where is again taken captive. Kua-Ko proves himself a mighty warrior by surviving a nest of wasps and bees stinging him without evidencing pain or screams. A mighty party ensues to celebrate his endurance. Abel escapes and takes Rima and Nuflo out to avoid the raiding party.

There is more action after they escape, and eventually they return to face the vicious mob. But I will leave that for you to see.

I liked this film better the last time I saw it. This time, several things that bothered me, not the least were the casting of Sessue Hayakawa, Anthony Perkins and Lee. J. Cobb, who was mostly annoying in his incessant complaining. And somehow Audrey Hepburn just did not seem to be into the role. She was beautiful to look at and she delivered her lines well, but there was something missing.

So, Green Mansions has a good story but not an exceptional cast. Also to it’s credit, the music is interesting. Apparently MGM hired famed composer Heitor Villa-Lobos to do the score but did not like the results. The studio then had Bronislau Kaper create a score that used some of Villa-Lobos’ themes and some new original music. There are times when it is brilliant and times when it is jarring and intrusive.

And the film was directed by Mel Ferrer who was married to Audrey Hepburn at the time. It wasn’t his first time directing a feature film nor was it his last but he did not do very many. None that I have seen are outstanding.

Overall, I am glad to have seen Green Mansions again but I may not be in such a hurry the next time it shows. If you have not seen it, it is worth a viewing.

Series organizer Todd Mason hosts more Tuesday Forgotten Film reviews at his own blog and posts a complete list of participating blogs.

 



Mar 17

Forgotten Book: The Caves of Karst by Lee Hoffman (1969)

Posted on Thursday, March 17, 2016 in Books, Forgotten Book

The Caves of Karst is a science fiction adventure that delivers on what it aspires to do: entertain.

By Scott A. Cupp

This is the 181st in my series of Forgotten Books.

This week I decided to take a chance on a book published nearly 50 years ago by a well known science fiction fan who was also a highly respected writer of western novels. Lee Hoffman was the name used by Shirley Bell Hoffman for her writings and there were plenty of them. She did 17 western novels (she won a Western Writers of America Spur Award in 1967 for The Valdez Horses, which was later filmed as Chino starring Charles Bronson and Jill Ireland) and four science fiction novels, of which The Caves of Karst was the second.

I first became acquainted with Lee Hoffman through her novel Always the Black Knight, which was serialized in Ted White’s Fantastic Stories in 1970. I read that serialization then and was always intrigued by the cover to The Caves of Karst. Somehow, though, I never got around to reading it. Somewhere along the way my copy disappeared, but I found a British SF Book Club copy in 2013 at Half Price Books and I purchased the copy I read for this week’s column. (As an aside, over Christmas I was asked if I really read all the books I discuss in the Forgotten Books. The simple answer is “yes,” and I do it just before doing the review. My feeble brain finds it far too easy to mix and match story ideas among the thousands of novels I have read — and I try to adequately present the book as I see it.)

So, let’s get to the story. The novel takes place on the planet Karst, a remote colony that is part of the Earth Empire. Earlier, a rebellion in the Centauri sector had led to Earth giving less attention to their remote colonies and a deep rooted revulsion on the part of colonists.

Karst is covered with a lot of water and has many deep caves rich in gems and minerals. Divers who work for the Divers Guild are a very powerful force on the planet. Griffith (or Griff), one of those divers, is our protagonist. He’s also gone in for adaptive surgery and had gills installed to enable him to swim into the deep without scuba gear during his searches. This type of surgery is taboo in Earth and prevents Griffith from having the ability to leave Karst and see other worlds. Not that he wants to.

One day, he runs across the dead body of another diver during his search of a cave. Divers protect their claims jealously, so Griff gets his ID tag to report to the Guild anonymously. While exploring the cave he runs across some valuable gems and the incredibly rare thelemite.

Divers have legitimate sources for selling their finds and some not-quite-as-legitimate. Griffith sells some gems for the credits he needs to leave, but then he meets with merchant Captain Rotsler of the space ship Teick. Rotsler is hanging with Griff’s old girlfriend Sheryl, which irritates Griffith immensely. Rotsler is interested in the gems but goes nuts over the thelemite. He wants any and all that Griff can provide.

Griff also has an encounter with some folks who are expressing very anti-Earth Empire opinions and eventually end up in a fight. He gets rousingly drunk. When he sobers up two days later, he finds that the Teick has been destroyed and the Authority (the local, Earth-backed cops) see him as a likely suspect for the deed.

Suddenly, life is not quite so good. Illegal interrogations begin, he has a fight with his Guild lawyer who does not believe his alibi, and he gets busted out of jail by folks with homicide on their mind.

There is some pretty fun action and dodging the police in the final third of the book as Griff tries to figure out who is on his side and what the heck is really going on.

I enjoyed the book quite a bit. It does not try to be much more than a diverting science fiction adventure tale with murder. There are good guys and bad guys, moral ambiguities, dilemmas of the soul. Griff is an interesting character, and so are several others, including Irma, who wants to be the girl that Sheryl never was, and Czolgosz, the attorney who has to play within the system he is representing.

If I find my copy of Always the Black Knight (a title I really like), I will probably read it and cover it here. Lee Hoffman is worth seeking out. Not a brilliant writer, but a good, entertaining one — and that is always a worthwhile thing.

Series organizer Patti Abbott hosts more Friday Forgotten Book reviews at her own blog, and posts a complete list of participating blogs.

 



Mar 15

Forgotten Films: Cloverfield (2008)

Posted on Tuesday, March 15, 2016 in Forgotten Movie, Movies

J.J. Adams claims Cloverfield was his attempt to make an American Godzilla movie.

By Scott A. Cupp

This is the 159th in my series of Forgotten, Obscure or Neglected Films

This week the second Cloverfield movie, 10 Cloverfield Lane, opened. I went on Saturday and enjoyed the film quite a bit. The two people I went with had not seen the original film and asked me probing questions about it. So immediately after returning home, I dug out my DVD of the 2008 film to reacquaint myself with it.

Cloverfield is an American monster movie. It is told in the found-footage format used so wonderfully (or awfully, depending on your viewpoint) in The Blair Witch Project. The film follows a major storyline and one minor one. The first scene delves into the minor story where Rob and Beth (Michael Stahl-David and Odette Yustman, respectively) are 30-ish lovers, having just had their first sexual experience with each other in Beth’s father’s place, overlooking Central Park in New York City. They are rapt in the throes of love and Rob is showing Beth the joys of Coney Island and documenting it on his camera.

Cut to a farewell party about a month later. Rob is being assigned as a VP in Japan by his company and is hanging out with his brother Jason (Mike Vogel) and Jason’s girlfriend Lily (Jessica Lucas). They’re being documented by Rob’s best friend Hud (T. J. Miller), who is totally clueless in how to tape testimonials at a party. Hud is doing this because he wants to get close to Lily’s friend Marlena (Lizzy Caplan).

Rob and Beth have a fight. Apparently Rob has not talked to or emailed Beth since their hot date and she is upset, showing up to the party with another guy, Travis (Ben Feldman). Beth and Travis leave.

A short while later, there is a loud explosion, and lights across the city begin to go out. This causes the group to try to go to the roof and see what is happening. They cannot tell much, but it is obvious something is going down.

Everyone gets down to street level, and Jason, Rob, Hud, Lily and Marlena try to get to the Brooklyn Bridge to get out of Manhattan. As they watch, something crashes in the street in front of them – the head of the Statue of Liberty. Fire and chaos surround them. Suddenly, Rob’s phone rings. It’s Beth. Her building has collapsed on her and she cannot move. They are right at the Brooklyn Bridge and Beth is located near Columbus Circle, a spot apparently not close to where they are.

Jason is separated from the group when the monster attacks and destroys the bridge. The shaky found footage works really well for this. Jason is killed in this attack. The group turns around to find Beth. They encounter nasty troubles in the subway and in Beth’s collapsed building, all while trying to avoid the monster and the army.

There are some problems with the film, not the least of which is, when facing the Apocalypse, I would have dropped the camera and worried more about saving myself rather than documenting the trials of some spoiled New Yorkers. And, to some people, the found footage and shaky camera work may induce nausea and headaches. I am not one of those folks.

Overall, though, I enjoyed the film. I preferred to see it as Cthulhu Eats Manhattan, while others called it an American Godzilla film. The monster is never clearly seen with the shaky camera and smoke pervading the frames. In watching some of the DVD extras, J.J. Abrams wanted to make a Godzilla for America. I like my interpretation better: the idea of some powerful, uncaring creature arriving with no notice, no apparent motivations and no compunctions about killing. At the end of the film, we know about as much as we did when it started. The creature has been given the code name Cloverfield, for reason we are not given. We do not know the final disposition of the battle or the creature. Which I think is totally right. Hopefully you will also.

If you have not seen it, check out Cloverfield. If you have, I recommend 10 Cloverfield Lane also. But, as I have said, my taste is my own and your mileage may vary. Hopefully not. Ph’nglui mglw’nafh Cthulhu R’lyeh wgah’nagl fhtagn.

Series organizer Todd Mason hosts more Tuesday Forgotten Film reviews at his own blog and posts a complete list of participating blogs.

 

 



Mar 11

Moment of Wonder: The Rings and Moons of Saturn

Posted on Friday, March 11, 2016 in Moment of Wonder, Uncategorized

Saturn's rings and three of its moons.

When I was a kid, the mystery of Saturn’s vast rings had me in their sway. I did a number of school projects on our solar system’s second-largest planet and even attempted to draw a comic book chronicling the adventures of its alien inhabitants.

The recent photos coming back from NASA’s Cassini spacecraft have helped rekindle that fascination (although I’ve long since given up any aspirations of being a comic artist). Yep, those vast rings still hold plenty of mystery.

Take, for example, this photo Cassini snapped of three of Saturn’s moons — Tethys, Enceladus and Mimas — straddling the rings.

In this configuration, Tethys (660 miles across) appears above the rings, while Enceladus (313 miles across) is just below at the center and Mimas (246 miles across) is located to its left.

For those keeping track of such things, the craft acquired the shot at a distance of 837,000 miles from Enceladus. Tethys was 1.2 million miles away and Mimas was approximately 1.1 million miles away.

The Cassini mission is a cooperative project of NASA, the European Space Agency and the Italian Space Agency.