A Thousand Words: Scanners

Scanners

The 1981 David Cronenberg film Scanners, about people with psychic powers, is a perfect movie to review in October. It’s also an underappreciated movie. See, it has Cronenberg’s trademark twisted body horror done in a way that’s suspenseful and not overexaggerated. It also manages to be excellently paced and creepy.

However, most people only know Scanners for the scene where a man’s head explodes. While that is well-done, there’s so much more to the movie than that. It’s well worth a watch.

Review: Funland

Funland

Horror legend Richard Laymon’s Funland is a tale of terror at an amusement park. Or at least it supposedly is. What it actually is is a story of a war between crazed hobos known as “trolls” and a gang of teenage delinquents fighting them. Oh, and love triangles.

The only real “horror action” occurs very late in the book. Other than that, it’s just a conflict between groups of totally unsympathetic people. That the small spurts of action are indeed good is what makes this a slightly better horror novel than the last one I reviewed. But only slightly.

Would it really hurt to have people who you can actually support? Even conventional horror story victims would be better than the waves of creeps and vigilantes that we got.

Review: Teacher’s Pet

It’s October, so I figured I’d do some more horror novels on Fuldapocalypse. I also figure I’d start at the bottom. Because Andrew Niederman’s Teacher’s Pet is definitely down there. And not in a good way.

The plot is simple. Mysterious tutor Mr. Adam Lucy (Hmm, do those first three letters remind you of anything else?) arrives in a town and mysterious creepy stuff happens. Mr. Lucy could be the Antichrist, a mere demon, or an alien (or a combination?). The book goes for the “what you don’t know is creepy” approach, which I could respect more if it wasn’t so shallow.

See, there really isn’t much gore or excess. There is, however, a large quantity of the dreaded activity that sends a shudder down every reader’s spine when a book uses it. Although not in a “that’s scary or chilling”, more like an “oh, no, the author really did that ‘literary’ trope again?” I speak of the infamous middle class adultery.

This is not a good book. It’s not a good horror book, and it’s not even that good a book to mock. It’s just-weirdly mundanely bad.

Review: Friday The 13th

Friday The 13th

Film tie-in novelizations do not have a good reputation. The tie-in for the first Friday The 13th movie is no exception. Granted, it has a shallow film as a base (the movie is a stilted, aged terribly movie that doesn’t even have most of the sleaze/exploitation elements of its sequels). But author Simon Hawke didn’t even try very hard.

There is one exception. That would be the doomed lovebirds Jack and Marcie, whose shallow sleazy character in the actual movie gets stretched out to a long piece of angsty exposition. But that amusing bit of padding can’t make up for the rest of the book. Especially because, having been released several years (!) after the movie, you can’t even use the justification of being rushed!

It’s one of those things that’s basically just sort of… there.

Review: The Rhodesian War

The Rhodesian War: A Military History

The subject of Rhodesia and its war is dominated by uh, “iffy” sources that I shouldn’t have to explain the problems with. Thankfully, among these strides a beautiful unicorn: Moorcraft and McLaughlin’s The Rhodesian War: A Military History. Originally released not long after the war’s end and Zimbabwe’s creation, it recently got an updated edition on post-war developments.

What this is is a very evenhanded, very detailed look completely devoid of “Fire Forces! Selous Scouts!” “Shorts!” “Be a Man Among Men!” Soldier of Fortune romanticism. It doesn’t hesitate to look at the negatives of the guerillas (and, in the updated edition, the Mugabe regime), but it’s unsparing in its blunt assesment of the minority government: Rhodesia was doomed from the start. The British knew it. Apartheid South Africa knew it, which is why they tried to twist Rhodesia into stepping aside in favor of a moderate African government, rather than face a radicalized one on their border that would develop from a victorious war. I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that even South Vietnam and 2001-2021 Afghanistan rested on vastly sturdier foundations than Rhodesia did.

The Rhodesians had no concept of war as a political entity and were only good at leveraging limited resources in tactical operations. Even those were aided by weaker opponents (Rhodesians themselves had said that if the guerillas had been as astute in military craft as the Vietnamese ones had been, the war would have been lost much sooner), and said opposition was becoming better as the end of the decade neared.

This is one of the best-single volume military histories I’ve read. It’s also a great antidote to noxious internet fandom surrounding a country that simply did not deserve it.

A Thousand Words: Tucker The Man And His Dream

Tucker: The Man And His Dream

Imagine a movie that depicted the infamous Juicero in a romantic and fluffy way. Why, its founders were plucky little upstarts who wanted to save the world and make a buck but they got ground down by the evil monolithic force of Big Juice Squeezer. You know, instead of being an obviously doomed-from-the-start project.

Replace “juice squeezers” with “cars” and you have the big problem with Francis Ford Coppola’s Tucker: The Man And His Dream. A biopic about entrepreneur Preston Tucker and his attempt to start a car company, the actual movie is well-acted and well-made. Its just that it romanticizes an inevitable failure.

Henry Kaiser’s car company with far more resources only succeeded in the gargantuan seller’s market that was the immediate postwar period (when there was a ridiculous amount of pent-up demand). Then it became the second of four Jeep Zombies. And Kaiser knew a thing or two about supply chains, which let him take advantage of that boom. Meanwhile, Tucker’s project would have rammed right into a righted market and the Korean War-if it made it that far. It was less that suppliers and financiers were crushed by the Evil Establishment and more that they were rightfully reluctant to work with such a ramshackle operation.

No one said historical films had to be 100% accurate. But the message here is so whiny and maudlin, and Tucker’s saga so misinterpreted that it squanders the production. The Tucker Tiger, a would-be scout car in World War II, is mentioned as being rejected because “gosh, it was too fast”. The reality was that it had absolutely no off-road capability, a rather serious problem with a scout car.

Preston Tucker was not a martyr, and the film tries to make him one. The walls and furniture of this movie are good, but they can’t make up for a talc foundation.

Review: US Battleships

US Battleships: An Illustrated Design History

Norman Friedman’s US Battleships: An Illustrated Design History was one of the first really big, really crunchy, really technical books on military equipment that I got. It’s obviously not light reading (at least for normal people), but it flows well. And I honestly think battleships are the best suited to a historical chronicle like this.

Since 99% of their history was in the past tense (the sole exception being the Iowa reactivation at the time of the book), it means there’s less sensitive info around. And since battleships are gigantic and awesome (don’t lie), it makes for fascinating reading. In battleships, you can see the US Navy going from its humble beginnings to its World War II juggernaut.

Technical naval warfare fans should definitely get this book. It’s one of the best of its kind.

A Thousand Words: Ishtar

Ishtar

The film Ishtar, about a pair of dopey musicians that end up involved in a Middle Eastern revolution, is frequently labeled one of the worst films ever. Is it that bad? Not really. Is it bad, period? Kind of. See, it wants to be smart, but it fails spectacularly at being smart. When it lets itself be dumb, it has some good moments.

The highlight of the film is a scene in a bazaar involving a ton of secret agents with terribly stereotyped disguises. It had me laughing massively, and reminded me of the classic Oktoberfest scene in The Pink Panther Strikes Again. But the attempts at actually providing DEEP POLITICAL COMMENTARY? Not so much. Even some of the dumb comedy moments don’t work-there’s a scene later in the movie that involved arms dealers, natives, and the main characters “translating” by speaking gibberish that came across as contrived, unfunny, and honestly a little offensive.

The acting is iffy. Charles Grodin does a great job as a secret agent. The actor playing the emir of Ishtar is undeniably talented and would have worked well in a serious movie, but fails here where a Chaplin/Baren Cohen-style goofball dictator would have fit a lot better. The main characters are annoying and idiotic, but they’re meant to be annoying and idiotic. Does that help? You can decide.

It’s not the best movie of all time or even really “good”, but it doesn’t deserve to be considered one of the worst films ever.

Review: The Voroshilov Lectures

The Voroshilov Lectures

The Voroshilov Academy was/is one the most prominent Soviet/Russian military training centers of all time. In the late 1980s, a peek behind the curtain emerged. An Afghan officer named Ghulam Wardak attended the academy in the mid-1970s and carefully transcribed the courses. Wardak later fought with the mujaheddin and escaped to the United States, where staff from the US Army’s Soviet Army Studies Office eagerly edited and published his notes. Since its publication, the CIA’s FOIA reading room has declassified similar lectures and studies from there that support Wardak’s interpretation of them.

In three volumes (two on strategic and one on operational combat), the lectures go into detail about how to plan and execute a Soviet campaign in 197X. Most importantly, they occurred in a time period that finally allowed for the discussion and making of purely conventional plans. The lectures and planning do not take the naive belief that a Fuldapocalypse would stay conventional from start to finish, but they do view non-nuclear war as important. (Of course, with Soviet conventional superiority at the time, they’d have a vested interest to keep it non-nuclear as long as possible…)

Obviously much of these lectures need to be taken with a pile of salt. There’s obvious politically uh, slanted passages and some of the advance rates seem a little too optimistic. But these are nonetheless an invaluable resource for the wargamer and/or conventional World War III historian. As detailed Soviet primary sources, they excellently fill a previously blind spot in knowledge.