Top of the world

Going up.

Just over 24 years ago I started what turned into a surprisingly long stint as a freelance book reviewer with a review of Jon Krakauer’s Into Thin Air. I think it was the second review I had published, outside of student newspapers and academic journals. Alas, it appeared in a paper that hasn’t had a books page now for over a decade.

I absolutely loved Krakauer’s book, and a couple of months later did a double review for the same paper of a pair of similarly-themed mountaineering books: Dark Shadows Falling by Joe Simpson and Everest: Mountain without Mercy by Broughton Coburn. The latter was a companion book to an IMAX expedition that was on Everest the same time as Krakauer’s team. Apparently I liked the pictures but thought the text “virtually unreadable.” I recently re-read it though, so I can say that judgment was maybe a little harsh. Still, the main draw are the pictures.

I don’t think I saw the IMAX film Everest at the time, but I recently watched it — on DVD, alas, and a small screen — and posted my thoughts over at Alex on Film. I guess after nearly a quarter century this closes that particular circle.

In case you’re wondering, I’m not a mountain climber. Or rock climber. Not at all. Though I do like hiking. You couldn’t pay me enough to get me to go up Everest, though I wouldn’t mind visiting Nepal. The dangerous stuff should probably be left for the professionals.

Return to Stepford

Over at Alex on Film I’ve been watching the two (big-screen) adaptations made of Ira Levin’s The Stepford Wives. Mostly I was trying to figure out what went wrong. Levin’s book is a little classic, and one that would still seem to have a lot to say to us today. But both movies (1975 and 2004) get confused as to what their ultimate point is, and end up being muddled without providing much in the way of horror, humour, or social commentary. I can’t help thinking that someone might still be able to get it right, if they ever want to give it another shot.

Shark week

Something fishy this way comes.

Over at Alex on Film I’ve been watching a bunch of shark movies. After the mega-success of Jaws there had to be plenty more of these, but sharks are hard to get right, whether of the mechanical or CGI variety. They also don’t have a lot of personality. So the results have been pretty dismal.

Jaws (1975)
Jaws 2 (1978)
Jaws 3-D (1983)
Jaws: The Revenge (1987)
Deep Blue Sea (1999)
Sharknado (2013)
Sharknado 2: The Second One (2014)
Sharknado 3: Oh Hell No! (2015)
The Shallows (2016)
47 Meters Down (2017)
The Meg (2018)
47 Meters Down: Uncaged (2019)


A man of many appetites, and many movies.

Over at Alex on Film I’ve been posting notes on a bunch of movies relating to the Tudors, arguably the first family of drama. Though it’s interesting how it’s really only been a few figures who have dominated the story. The father of the short-lived dynasty, Henry VII, doesn’t make an appearance in any of these movies, even though he led a fairly interesting life. Edward VI doesn’t show up either, but then that’s a lot less surprising. You’d think there’d be more out there about Bloody Mary but she’s still perceived as being more of a villain instead of a complex and tragic figure.

That leaves us with Henry VIII, Elizabeth I, and Mary Queen of Scots (Mary’s grandmother was Henry’s sister Margaret). Henry’s marriages are his story (he wasn’t a warrior). The movies about Mary all just deal with her years in Scotland and then jump ahead to her execution. Elizabeth is the virgin queen who still has a heart to be stolen. Audiences have never gotten tired of this stuff, even though it’s remarkable how little the story has changed or been adjusted to be more realistic or historically accurate. This certainly isn’t an exhaustive list of all that’s out there, but here are the ones I watched.

The Execution of Mary, Queen of Scots (1895)
Anna Boleyn (1920)
The Private Life of Henry VIII (1933)
Mary of Scotland (1936)
The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex (1939)
A Man for All Seasons (1966)
Anne of the Thousand Days (1969)
Mary, Queen of Scots (1971)
Carry On Henry VIII (1971)
Elizabeth (1998)
Elizabeth: The Golden Age (2007)
Mary Queen of Scots (2018)


You don’t know the half of it.

Over at Alex on Film I’ve been watching the Hills Have Eyes movies. This is a weird franchise. The original 1977 film written and directed by Wes Craven has gone on to become a cult favourite, though I don’t think it’s anything special, or very good. It was followed up eight years later by The Hills Have Eyes Part II, a movie that I don’t think Craven wanted anything to do with and which appears to have been cobbled together out of whatever he’d shot after the success of A Nightmare on Elm Street. It’s terrible.

Then, nearly thirty years after the original, Alexandre Aja was picked to direct a remake which I think is the best of the horror-franchise remakes that were thick on the ground in the early 2000s. I love what Aja did, and the mutant hill people are a great twist.

There was a sequel to Aja’s movie the next year with The Hills Have Eyes 2. Though not as good, it’s still a decent attempt at doing something different, this time having a squad of National Guardsmen being hunted by the cannibal clan of hillbillies. Anyway, the upshot is that the remakes are actually more entertaining than the first two movies, which is rarely the case. Obviously, though, they aren’t for everyone.


He’s not alone in there.

Over at Alex on Film I’ve been watching the various Fly movies, which had their genesis in a story by George Langelaan first appearing in Playboy. Two minor classics are in the mix (the original and Cronenberg’s version), as well as some interesting follow-ups.

One thought: there was never a female Fly. The closest they came was the character of Judith in Curse of the Fly, but she wasn’t an insect hybrid. I don’t know if there’s any significance to this, but it did strike me as interesting. We’ve had female vampires, mummies, and werewolves, brides for Frankenstein and invisible women, but no female Fly. Somebody should get on that.

The Fly (1958)
Return of the Fly (1959)
Curse of the Fly (1965)
The Fly (1986)
The Fly II (1989)

They’re here!

Your invasion may be colourized.

Over at Alex on Film I’ve been watching various body-snatcher movies. The basic idea may have come from Robert A. Heinlein’s novel The Puppet Masters (1951), which had a real political edge to it. Jack Finney’s The Body Snatchers (1955), later made into the movie Invasion of the Body Snatchers, which the novel subsequently adopted as its title, was less political, but that hasn’t stopped people from interpreting it (and all of its successors) that way. Let’s face it, it was the Cold War and body-snatching aliens were all part of the Red Scare. Anyway, here’s the line-up:

Invaders from Mars (1953)
Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956)
The Brain Eaters (1958)
Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978)
Invaders from Mars (1986)
Body Snatchers (1993)
The Puppet Masters (1994)
The Faculty (1998)
The Invasion (2007)

Critter round-up

Leonardo DiCaprio, looking even prettier than his costar in his film debut.

Over at Alex on Film I’ve been watching the five (thus far) movies in the Critters franchise. Widely seen as a Gremlins rip-off, these omnivorous furballs apparently were independently conceived, and the first two movies aren’t all bad. The others are garbage, though Critters 4 does deserve some credit for being, I think, the first horror franchise to expand from Earth into space (later, Hellraiser, Friday the 13th, and the Leprechaun franchises would all make a similar migration).

Critters (1986)
Critters 2: The Main Course (1988)
Critters 3 (1991)
Critters 4 (1992)
Critters Attack! (2019)

Spies in the ’60s

You have a lot to answer for, Mr. Bond.

Over at Alex on Film I’ve been watching a bunch of spy movies from the 1960s (along with a couple of outliers at either end of that decade). Basically this means Bondmania: the Connery Bond movies and all their parodies, imitators, and correctives. Somehow Bond just hit on the perfect formula right from the start though, and no one could ever duplicate the success they had with it.

North by Northwest (1959)
Dr. No (1960)
From Russia with Love (1963)
Charade (1963)
Goldfinger (1964)
The Spy Who Came In from the Cold (1965)
The Ipcress File (1965)
Dr. Goldfoot and the Bikini Machine (1965)
Thunderball (1965)
Arabesque (1966)
The Quiller Memorandum (1966)
Kiss the Girls and Make Them Die (1966)
Torn Curtain (1966)
Our Man Flint (1966)
Funeral in Berlin (1966)
Murderer’s Row (1966)
Modesty Blaise (1966)
Casino Royale (1967)
You Only Live Twice (1967)
In Like Flint (1967)
Billion Dollar Brain (1967)
The Million Eyes of Sumuru (1967)
Deadlier Than the Male (1967)
Some Girls Do (1969)
Topaz (1969)
On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969)
The Kremlin Letter (1970)
Diamonds are Forever (1971)