Book Report: The Barrabas Kill by Jack Hild (1989)

Book coverNot long after I read The Barrabas Fire, I picked this up, the last volume in the series. I mean, I have only read a handful of them and have not seen them in the wild recently–not that I’ve been looking–so it’s not as satisfying as reading the last of The Executioner novels on my shelves. But it’s a little sad to reach the end, although I have plenty of books in the gaps in my collection if I am so inclined.

At any rate, I had thought that the book would not wrap things up or address the ending of the series as I expected that the books/stories would have been farmed out in such a fashion that the writer would not know this was the end, but I might have been mistaken. In this book, Barrabas wonders whether he’s getting to old or if he’s lost his focus, and he considers retirement. But first, one last job: to reclaim a Soviet scientist who defected but was snatched from a safe house in the Ozarks and whisked away to Scotland by a tech millionaire with communist sympathies who wants to return him to continue work on Icefort, a Soviet space weapon.

Barrabas assembles the remaining elements of his team, and, well, does that thing they do. Set pieces, assaults on heavily defended positions, and finis. In this case, finis finis.

The book was dated whilst it was still on the book stands. It mentions going back and forth across the Berlin Wall, and the Berlin Wall fell in 1989. The collapse of the Soviet bloc must have had a crazy impact on these monthly subscription thrillers with that international flavor. The ones in the actual printing pipeline–what would you do with them? The ones already on spec–do you have them re-written, or do you just pump them out there and hope for the best? Perhaps it explains why non-international thriller series like The Executioner and The Deadlands would continue on for another decade or two.

But this one does feel a bit like the end of an era, which is probably just me retconning my own midlife crisis onto it.

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Movie Report: The Sacketts (1979)

Book coverIt’s been a while since I’ve read Bendigo Shafter, but based on that reading and A Trail of Memories: The Quotations of Louis L’Amour, when I saw this two-videocassette set at the Friends of the Library book sale in April, I picked it up. And given the long Thanksgiving weekend coming up, I figured I could make it through the whole miniseries. To be honest, I was not sure whether it was a major two-night or four-night event when it aired when I was seven years old. The videocassettes themselves said the running time was 198 minutes, but I was not sure whether that was each or total. When I got to the end of the first part, the end titles played, but they used the same stock western footage as the beginning titles, so I thought two episodes per videocassette. But, no, it turns out this was a two night movie event. Maybe it was a couple years before miniseries stretched to four or five nights.

The story is based on two L’Amour novels, The Daybreakers and Sackett featuring basically two stories that tangentally intersect–one can almost see the stitching lines. Sam Elliot plays Tell Sackett who is working in a mining camp when he shoots a card sharp cheating at a camp poker game. He has to leave before the Bigelow brothers come to avenge their brother. He ends up discovering a gold mine and a woman who has been hiding from the Indians who slaughtered her family. Meanwhile, his brothers Orrin (Tom Selleck) and Tyrell (Jeff Osterhage) run from a Tennessee feud, join a cattle drive, gather their own cattle, and then make their way to Santa Fe where Orrin gets elected sheriff just as an Anglo cattle baron (John Vernon) is preparing to square off against the Mexican natives.

The stories continue independently except for a couple crossovers ending in a climactic shootout where the brothers dispatch the Bigelow brothers and their hired hands. The brothers reuinte only after a frantic cable to Santa Fe summons Orrin and Tyrell who ride out and arrive just in time and not tired at all.

I am sure that the books cover most of the threads in greater detail. Orrin’s romance with the cattle baron’s daughter probably encompasses more pages than the couple minutes of screen time we get. One of their friends from the cattle drive and business partner develops a grudge against Orrin that leads to a shootout, but it happens in a couple of short scenes. Tyrell also has a fellow cowpuncher from the cattle drive that for some reason decides he’s an enemy, and they have a near-shootout where Orrin spares but humilates the man; one wonders if he would return later. But if you’re going to make a miniseries out of two whole books, you’re going to chop a lot.

Still, it’s Sam Elliott, Tom Selleck, and Jeff Osterhage as brothers in a western. It worked so well that they later did another L’Amour book together, The Shadow Riders (which I had previously seen). If you’re a fan of the western genre, you could do worse. However, I’m not sure if I’m quite the western fan. After all, the genre often relies on minutes and minutes of stockish footage of men riding horses in Western expanses, rivers, deserts, and so on. I guess my favored genre might be noir as I’ll take black and white shots of dark streets, alleys, and rooms over horses and farms.

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Book Report: Moonbeams and Ashes by Margarite Stever (2021)

Book coverOh, gentle reader. I confused this author with V.J. Schultz, whose book Truth or Dare and Other Tales I read in August. I thought it might be another book by the same author, but it is not. One could perhaps easily make the mistake as both write short stories with a little paranormal twist to them set in southwest Missouri, and the authors undoubtedly know each other as members of the same writing groups in Joplin and attendees of the same book signings (as they were in in July when I bought both books). They’re similar in those regards.

This book collects fifteen stories:

  • “Clean Heist” wherein a woman discovers her boyfriend has stolen several cases of sanitizer for COVID-era profiteering. Quite a product of its time, and easily the most dated story in the bunch. COVID-era concerns dated very quickly, did they not?
  • “Aunt Rose’s Cabin” in which a woman inherits her aunt’s cabin, hidden armory, and a secret that can put several government bad actors away–if she can survive their onslaught.
  • “Gold Grand Prix” wherein a woman walking home after a bad date is picked up by a strangely familiar man in a Grand Prix.
  • “A Bigfoot’s Dreams” wherein a freespirited female Bigfoot rankles against her traditional male counterparts.
  • “Silver’s Curse” wherein a woman is saved from her abusive ex by the werewolf of her dreams.
  • “Aunt Ida” wherein a woman inherits her aunt’s cabin, hidden armory, house and a secret that can put several government bad actors away is keeping Aunt Ida’s ghost from moving on.
  • “Devil Rooster” about a family with a rooster that attacks them until they eat it. To be honest, it started like it might be a more horror story like Cujo or something, but instead it’s a slice of chicken life vignette.
  • “One Foggy Night” wherein a woman has a car accident and is rescued by someone who looks vaguely familiar.
  • “Grandma Dottie’s Secret Recipes” wherein a woman receives a collection of recipes from her disinterested cousin and wins a cooking contest/publishes a cookbook based on the overlooked recipes.
  • “A Terrible Neighbor” wherein a woman detective looking for a missing person visits her neighbor and hears that the missing woman is a terrible neighbor with men coming in and out of her house in what was a respectable neighborhood. But DUN DUN DUH! The respectable neighbor being interviewed is the real terrible neighbor.
  • “Gwen’s Used Books” where a used bookstore owner, upon receiving books from an estate, opens an old book and releases a ghost. Or is it a demon?
  • “Yellow Bicycle” wherein a woman receives a gift of a yellow bicycle from an older neighbor whose son is moving her into assisted living, and the bike comes with a ghost.
  • “Lost Sheep” wherein Little Bo Peep goes looking for her sheep. A modern mash-up of nursery rhymes.
  • “Ashes in the Evening” wherein a woman becomes the victim and protector of a child-sized vampire until she is rescued by the werewolf of her dreams.
  • Runaway Asses” wherein a woman calls the police because of some donkeys in her yard and earns the handsome responding officer’s respect when she steps between them and her little dog.

A little better written than the Schultz stories and a little less formulaically DUN DUN DUN! than Caroline Giammanco’s Into the Night. At 148 pages, definitely a quick read. I am pretty sure this author and Schultz are in some of the same writing groups, so it’s not surprising to see some cross-pollination. Perhaps even with Giammanco.

A pleasant read, not unlike the stuff the other members of Marquette Writers Ink and I would bang out in college. Well, more like I would as topically the other writers in the group were more less interested in genre writing.

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Book Report: Sheriff Without A Badge by James R. Wilder (2021)

Book coverI got this book at ABC Books in June 2021 when it must have been fresh off of the presses. Heaven knows that it had numerous typos in it, but that did not really impair my enjoyment of it. This series–I’ve already read Terror Near Town and Tough Times in Grubville–has rather grown on me.

This book takes place right after the events of Tough Times in Grubville. Chet Harbison has taken the deputy sheriff’s position in Jefferson County, but he gets a field promotion when the current sheriff has a heart attack and can no longer run the department. He stands for election and narrowly defeats a DeSoto barber / county commissioner, but as he learns, politics ain’t beanbag. He has to deal with a near-lynching of a pedophile held in his jail along with attempts to paint him as corrupt.

The book, like the others, is more of a Western in the Louis L’Amour tradition than a mystery, although the cover says they’re “A Harbison Mystery”. You get a fair amount of detail in raising cattle and farming during the Great Depression than a whodunit, but that suits me fine.

As I mentioned, the book has some typos in it, which lead to some false positive ackshuallys on my part. It mentions the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, and I verified that the Post-Dispatch papers were combined before the 1930s. It mentions Eagan’s Rats, and I thought, aha! I’ve got you now because I know the St. Louis gang was Egan’s Rats, but apparently the first mention was a typo as the secon mention spells it correctly. There’s a spot where he mentions a quarter mile hike into the woods that might be taxing to an old doctor, and I was going to call that out, but then I recalled when my elderly friend “Roberta” came to Nogglestead, and we went to the Battlefield Park for its Independence Day festival, she had trouble with far less level ground. I am a little less forgiving in him saying that someone is going fishing for perch. Perch, as native Wisconsinites know them, are not found in Missouri. Not walleye, not yellow perch. They have a couple species down here classified as perch, but they’re not really the eating fish we know up north.

Still, I liked the book, the pacing, the style of writing which is more Hemingway than Faulkner (or L’Amour) suit me well. I bought the fourth book in the series last August, and I will probably pick it up before long. And probably before I have to go to ABC Books to buy newer entries in the series.

I’ve also decided to pick up one or more of these books for my brother for Christmas. So don’t tell him if you see him.

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Movie Report: How To Be A Latin Lover (2017)

Book coverWell, after watching Don Juan DeMarco, I thought watching this film (bought in my massive haul in September) would fit in thematically. Well, sorta, but not really.

This is an independent comedy, which means it has a large number of name actors working in what turned out to be an overlooked film. Maximo, a Mexican whose father was a hard worker but who died comically in the intro flashback, decides he wants to be a trophy husband as a career. So he charms and seduces an older widow who visits a resort where he’s working. The bulk of the film takes place twenty-five years later where Maximo, played by Eugenio Derbez (not a recognized name actor here in the U.S.), checks every morning to see if his elderly wife has died. He leads a pampered, spoiled life, but he finds that he has been cuckholded and supplanted by a McLaren dealer (played by Michael Cera). He’s thrown out without a penny. He turns to his fellow trophy husband Rick (played by Rob Lowe), but Rick does not have room to help as he has to satisfy his wife Millicent (Linda Lavin) who likes a lot of role-play sex. So Maximo goes to his estranged sister Sara (Salma Hayek) and moves in with her. When he finds that his niece nephew attends an expensive school on a scholarship, he vows to help the boy win his crush whose grandmother (played by Raquel Welch) is loaded and single. It all goes awry, of course, comically.

So I laughed a couple of times–the Weird Al cameo was unexpected and very welcome.

Did I say Salma Hayek? I did, and not Salma Hayek Paz Vega.
Continue reading “Movie Report: How To Be A Latin Lover (2017)”

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Movie Report: Don Juan DeMarco (1995)

Book coverI was vaguely aware of this film when it came out. I was just about a year out of college, and either my friend Mike mentioned it, or perhaps the premise reminded me of Mike. But I did not see it in the cinema, nor had I seen it any time before now.

Johnny Depp, fairly fresh from 21 Jump Street, plays Don Juan DeMarco, a man who dresses in black and wears a mask like Zorro. He is a great seducer, but he has decided to end his life. So after one last conquest, he scales a billboard and plans to end it all in a duel with his greatest adversary. However, the responding police send up a psychiatrist played by Marlon Brando who plays along with Don Juan to get him into the bucket of a bucket truck and from thence to a mental hospital on a ten-day hold for evaluation.

Dr. Mickler, Brando’s psychiatrist, goes against the wishes of his colleagues and does not drug DeMarco but instead listens to his fanciful story of his life. The child of an American and a Mexican property owner who falls in love with his tutor but the affair leads to his father’s death in a duel and DeMarco’s running away and his mother’s entering a convent. He then has a variety of adventures told in flashback, including being in the harem of a shiek and then meeting a beautiful woman on a beach after a shipwreck who would go on, after their parting, a centerfold.

The authorities locate his grandmother, who tells a different story. The father died in an automobile accident, which might have been a suicide based on his wife’s affairs, and the mother did enter a convent. The fanciful stories that DeMarco tells have enough touchpoints with the grandmother’s story to introduce some ambiguity as to whether his stories, although fantastic, have some truth to them, or if he is really deluded.

Meanwhile, Mickler is learning from the stories to alter his outlook on life to be more romantic and legendary even in the everyday. This helps him to rekindle his marriage with his wife, played by Faye Dunaway.

So I liked the film more than I expected. Thematically, it questions our every day epistemology and outlook. How do the stories we make of our everyday life make our lives better? How did I save the planet today by defeating the invading mildew in my bathrooms? I guess the movie did not cover the last case explicitly, but it’s implied.

I’m surprised that this film is not more fondly remembered today. Perhaps its fanciful nature limits its Seriousness, so it is not thought of as meaningful as, say, Girl, Interrupted. Which I am not inclined to watch twenty-five years after its release because it was so serious and probably more a product of its time.

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Good Media Hunting, Saturday Wednesday, November 22, 2023: Relics Antique Mall

I received a couple of gift certificates for $25 from my beautiful wife for our anniversary. As I have mentioned, Relics sells gift certificates and not gift cards, they do not give change for the gift certificates so any amount under the face value is lost if you don’t spend it all, and that the gift certificates have very short expiration dates. So I had to spend the certificates in the next month or they’d be lost as one or more others have been in the past. I thought I might be able to pick up a Christmas gift or two for the dwindling number of people for whom I buy gifts, but I came across a copy of White Men Can’t Jump which was on my list of things to look for, and I was off to the races.

I got several movies which will not fit into nor atop my to-watch cabinet:

Titles include:

  • Meet Me In St. Louis. Given that I lived in St. Louis (for, what, twenty years off and on?), you might think I would have already seen it. Oh, but no.
  • White Men Can’t Jump. My wife was surprised that we did not already have this. I, too, have been surprised that we don’t own films which I’ve seen on home video, but back in the old days, we rented an awful lot of them.
  • Rampage, the Rock movie based on a video game. Probably one of many.
  • The Wolverine, the origin story film. We saw it in the cinema, but I am coming to build our DVD collection as well. Although I passed over Deadpool because it was $3 at a booth early in my journey. Had I come across it later, when my calculation changed to I have to make sure to spend the full $50, I would have picked it up. But I did not go back for it.
  • Death Wish, the remake with Bruce Willis. I tried to watch this on Amazon Prime in 2019 but could not (or did not finish it due to annoyance with the service at the time).
  • Grumpy Old Men. Now that I am getting therer, I might appreciate the movie more. Although apparently if I want to see Sophia Loren, I have to get even older until I acquire the sequel.
  • RED. We also saw this in the theater. Man, we went to the theater a bunch in the old days. Now that I am a grumpy old man, I don’t think there’s much in cinemas that I want to see.
  • Titanic. Not the James Cameron one.
  • Ma and Pa Kettle Back on the Farm. These films were huge back in the day, but they didn’t interest me when they were in syndication when I was a kid. Now I live in the Ozarks and perhaps I can appreciate them more.
  • Funny Farm. A Chevy Chase movie I’ve not seen. You’d better believe I’d jump on a $1 copy of Modern Problems.
  • Date Movie, a modern(ish) spoof of date movies from the people behind Scary Movie and, likely, Not Another Teen Movie.
  • District 9.
  • Live Free or Die Hard. Quite the Bruce Willis haul today. I think I have the others. Are there four or five now?
  • Men in Black 3. I was not aware there was a third with Tommy Lee Jones and Will Smith. Apparently so.
  • Revenge of the Pink Panther. When I reported on Return of the Pink Panther in June, I said:

    I don’t know that I have seen any of the other films or reboots in the wild, but I might pick them up in the future if they’re a buck or so (as this was when I bought it in April).

    This has proven true.

  • Married: With Children: The Complete Second Season. This early Fox comedy was considered crass at the time. We will see how crass it is relative to modern things thirty years later. Also, Christina Applegate.

I also picked up some records. I couldn’t even tell you what I bought!

Which is true, because the bundle above with the twine was sold as ten LPs for $2.95, and I will just now untie it to see what I got. I told the young lady ringing me out about how Mainstream Records in Milwaukee used to cell-wrap ten singles pulled from juke boxes and sell them together, and how I loved to buy them a lot because one never knows when one might find something one liked in them, such as a Prince side project. But I predicted that the bundle was one Percy Faith record and nine copies of Bob and Thelma Sing The Lord’s Glory

Well, I know I got:

  • When Lights Are Low by the George Shearing Quintet. I paid $5 for it which is a bit outside my normal price range, but I like George Shearing.
  • A Jean Pierre Rampal/Robert Veyron Lacroix collection of classical works. It was only $1 at the same booth as the Shearing record, so I was able to tell myself that I only paid $3 per record between the two of them.
  • 30 Trumpet Favorites by Jim Collier. It was $4 at that booth, so the amortizing was not going so well. But I was looking to make sure that I spent the $50. Actually, more than $50, as I did not want to get to the checkout and find that one of the booths was 20% off so I only spent $46.87. Something similar has happened once or twice. So some of the records I bought were more expensive than I’d normally spend. Well, now. In a couple of years, they’ll all be expensive.
  • Liszt: Hungarian Rhapsodies by Balint Vazsonyi. I remember mention of them from the lecture On Great Master Liszt: His Life and Music.
  • Sinatra’s Swingin’ Session. I will mention this record was only $3.50. Which is odd as anything remotely noteworthy tends to go for $7 to $20 in some booths.
  • 52nd Street by Billy Joel. I might have had this another time, another place–in college, when I had a record player and bought some Billy Joel at Recordhead in Milwaukee when they were cheap as people were switching to cassettes for their musical libraries. It might have been one of my records that actually sold at one of my mother’s garage sales. I paid $7.50 here for it. It helped to put me over the top. And, coincidentally, “Zanzibar” from this record played on WSIE while I’ve been typing this post.
  • I’ve Gotta Be Me by Sammy Davis, Jr. A lot of relatively inexpensive Rat Pack to be had. Although I had a little difficulty remembering this afternoon all five of the major members of the 60s Rat Pack until now.
  • By Moonlight by Wayne King. A saxophonist I’m not sure I’ve heard of.
  • Bill Pearce Trombone. A collection of gospel songs on trombone, I reckon. Actually, all I saw was trombone at the antique mall, but it is on A&M’s Word records, and I looked at the back, and it is. So I will play it tomorrow morning.
  • Swingin’ by Dean Martin. I think I have it already, but, if so, then now I have two.

All right, now for the unveiling of the bundle. It included:

  • Malaguena: Music of Cuba by Percy Faith and his Orchestra. It was inevitable that I would someday begin to collect his work as well. This one came with bonus discs.
  • Solisti di Zagreb, a collection of classical string material conducted by Antonio Janigro.
  • Mozarto Concertos 21 and 23 conducted by Alfred Wallenstein.
  • Elman Jubilee Record by Mischa Elman, violinist.
  • Buxtehude Organ Music by Walkter Kraft. A collection of preludes and fugues for organ.
  • Dream Along with the Singing Strings, a collection of string songs with “Dream” in the title.
  • Dream-Time Waltzes by Reg Owen conducting the Vienna State Opera Orchestra.
  • Stadivari Strings Sampler, a sampler disc of some line’s string records.
  • Pop Concert Favorites by the Morton Gould Orchestra.
  • Sweet Voices of Inspiration, a Longines Symphonette Recording Society platter of choir songs.

Holy cats, did I luck out. I thought it would be a collection of the family gospel group records that sellers cannot give away. Instead, it’s not far off of things that I would maybe buy at the Friends of the Library book sales on half price day. Except fewer Pretty Women on Covers (PWoC). I laughed out loud in relief and joy.

So, at any rate, although every booth seemed to have a sale going running up to the holidays, I managed to go over the gift certificates by about $15. Still, a respectable haul for that amount.

Of the films, I am most likely to watch White Men Can’t Jump first (it is the one I was keeping an eye out for). As to which record I will listen to first, c’mon, man, it’s the Shearing record, ainna? I shall go listen to this presently as I start baking pies for tomorrow.

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More City of St. Louis Follies

A $600K mistake? St. Louis forgot to tax recreational pot sales:

City officials missed the deadline to begin taxing recreational marijuana sales this fall, leaving hundreds of thousands of dollars on the table.

The city was supposed to start charging a 3% levy in October. But until about a week ago, no one had filed paperwork with the state to turn on the spigot. And now, per state regulations, city officials will have to wait until January.

Early estimates suggest the city could lose between $480,000 and $600,000 to the mistake.

The Powers That Would Be want to spread this competence to the entirety of St. Louis County.

Unfortunately, I think this sort of competence is percolating up through all levels of government these days. And society.

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Movie Report: A Night at the Opera (1935)

Book coverWell, gentle reader, I suppose since I just watched a couple episodes of You Bet Your Life on DVD, it was inevitable that I would watch this videocassette shortly thereafter. It’s been almost exactly two years since I watched Horse Feathers and Duck Soup which I liked so much that I bought this film the next spring. And it’s likely I will buy all three of them again when I find them for fifty cents or a quarter just to make sure I have them. And backup copies thereof.

But enough about the reification of my related watching and purchase activity. This is a movie report, ainna?

Groucho Marx plays Groucho Marx Otis Driftwood, a grifter working as a… manager? for a rich woman (played by Margaret Dumont) who wants him to introduce her to the heights of New York society. They open in Italy, where Driftwood introduces her to the leader of a New York Opera company director who is in Italy to bring Italy’s greatest tenor to New York. The tenor, Lassparri, insists that the New York Opera company also sign his female co-star whom he’s trying to woo. She agrees, parting with her lover, Ricardo Baroni, who is also a tenor. When Driftwood discovers how much opera singers make, he signs Baroni to a dubious contract to serve as his manager as well. Instead of waiting for his lover, though, Baroni and two Marx brothers stow away on the ship to New York and hijinks ensue, including what was apparently an iconic stateroom scene and a near-destruction of the opera house.

It’s an amusing film, probably moreso for me because I was an old soul even before I got old, and I lived in the Before times and even then had a bit of a predilection for old movies and whatnot. But perhaps the Marx brothers’ slapstick is more universal than that, especially as the film relies on a thin base plot and archetypes.

I’ve mentioned before that Marx’s impact carried on into the 21st century, in so far as you can still (or could still as of six years ago) find Marx glasses in the party store to put into elementary school birthday party gift bags. When I was watching You Bet Your Life, the following Facebook memory came up:

I told him I loved his work and asked for his autograph. Which he spelled like the plural of mark because he had not yet gone to a public school or university.

Six years? But my youngest is still that boy. He’s all of the boys he was and the young man he is now. Simultaneously. I am not sure how that works.

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The Springfield Police Chief Puts It Diplomatically

Springfield Police Chief addresses string of gun violence and more at city council meeting:

The chief says the recent shootings are not random, but the concern is still there.

“There is concern about an element in our society that hadn’t been there in the past that is growing,” said Chief Paul Williams. “We’re doing our best to keep a lid on it and take those people off the streets, but we really need the community to step up and be aware,” said Williams.

Back-to-back homicides are tragically hurting those in the Springfield area, with four deaths in just the last week.

The Springfield media is not so interested in finding what might be common threads between the victims and the perpetrators, instead focusing on the fact that guns were used since the Powers That Would Be are gearing up for a ballot initiative to supersede statewide law which keeps local governments from enacting gun control laws.

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If You’ve Lost Bill McClellan

St. Louis Post-Dispatch columnist Bill McClellan opposes efforts to merge St. Louis City and St. Louis County.

To all those who want to force a merger: Thanks, we’re good:

In 2019, our happiness faced another challenge. Better Together, which seemed like the Freeholders on steroids, announced that we would undergo some self-improvement whether we wanted it or not. They would seek a statewide vote on merging the city with the county. Steve Stenger would be the new entity’s unelected czar.

This was beyond shocking. No more municipalities. The tiny little burgs with their own mayors and police chiefs. Gone. Webster Groves and Kirkwood. Gone. Clayton and Chesterfield. Gone.

Never have I seen the entire region pull together like it did then — THANKS! WERE GOOD!

We prevailed.

Of course, the “good government” people never stop. In the wake of the Better Together debacle, the Municipal League of Metro St. Louis called for the Freeholders to be revived. That ended happily. The county named some people to the new Board of Freeholders, but the city could not agree on its selections.

That is the last I have heard of the Freeholders, but we know, in our collective heart, that the board never dies. It stays dormant for a bit, but it will rise again.

It’s a blatant and obvious attempt for the failing city (St. Louis can’t pay its bills on time. Darlene Green and her work hours draw attention., etc.) to grab a lifeline. And to ultimately also drown the county as well.

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Facebook hit me with a bunch of suggested nostalgia posts yesterday about the film Night of the Comet (a Christmas movie by the way) because it was released this week in 1984.

Meanwhile, KY3 alerts me Look up! Leonid meteor shower peaks this weekend.

If anyone needs me, I’ll be barricaded in the local shopping mall. We still have one here in the Springfield area for emergencies just like the one I’m expecting.

Also, Friar, note: Geoffrey Lewis. Who was also in Spenser: Promised Land as I recall.

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Book Report: The Barrabas Fire by Jack Hild (1989)

Book coverSweet Christmas, gentle reader, but sometimes these book reports, or at least the “research” in them, makes me feel old. In this case, I have discovered that the last time that I read a book in this series was in 2014 (The Barrabas Hit, #29 in the series). And, in my research (which means my trip to Fantastic Fiction), this entry, the 32nd in the series, is the penultimate one–the other that I have on my shelf, #33, is the last. Which kind of fits my general fin-de-siècle mood. Everything is coming to an end.

But enough about me: Let me briefly talk about me reading this book. Barrabas and his team (the same one from The Barrabas Hit) are hired to help a deposed president/king of a tourist-attraction archipelago in the Indian Ocean recover his throne. They face off against the new leader and his army of mostly untrained African mercenaries and a big boss French mercenary. So they come ashore, set up some guerrila ops, and then have the big battle with the tower defense of a particularly nice resort.

So a set of, well, set pieces and finis. Not a whole lot of threat, really, to the main characters, not a lot of character development, but it is a men’s adventure paperback. The literary equivalent of the 80s action film. If you’re into that sort of thing–as I am–you’ll enjoy this book and its type for a quick read amidst heavier books (well, not that Wizard or Wizard were particularly weighty, but…)

I will probably pick up the last of the series before long. But do not worry: I have plenty of other Gold Eagle paperbacks mostly from Executioner spin-off titles which I have not really gotten into since I finished the last of my Executioner paperbacks last June.

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A Work Hazard

As you might know, gentle reader, I am a software tester by trade, so part of my job includes creating a large number of first name + last name combinations.

As a reader of British tabs, I’m exposed to an awful lot of porn star and OnlyFans names, so I have this fear that I will sometime unwittingly combine a first name and a last name to match a porn star.

Actually, given the size of the industry and the number of names I’ve run through the various systems, this might already have occurred.

Probably, it would result in slightly less opprobrium than if I accidentally combined a first name and a last name to match a Confederate general.

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Movie Report: Ad Astra (2019)

Book coverThis weekend, gentle reader, I spent a moment to take the DVDs that in September at the Friends of the Library Book Sale (fifty or more) out of the box in which I brought them home. I fit some of them into the to-watch cabinet, a repurposed old stereo cabinet, and others into the ones atop the video game cabinet (including fitting some into the box atop the cabinet that I brought home my purchases from the April Friends of the Library Book Sale). I have been watching television DVDs of late, so I had a little space to condense the cubic feet of media. But something occurred to me. I have kind of made peace with the fact that I have more books than I will ever read (and, to be honest, some are just reference works and not readers, like books on trees of North America or weeds of the Midwest). But with these films piling up, for decades in some cases, I might be getting to having more movies than I will ever watch. Unless I make a concerted effort. Which I have here recently. I bought this film in September amidst the aforementioned fifty-some films because my oldest picked it up. And then I watched it without him.

Being a 2019 film, this is one of the more recent films that I have seen–Spider-Man: No Way Home and Top Gun: Maverick might be the only others I’ve seen as recent. And if you’re looking for a 2001-like film where at the end of the day it’s not an artificial intelligence that the hero must destroy but his own father, his hero, and perhaps his past (although I guess thematically, I am taking it one step too far there).

Brad Pitt, whom I saw recently in Mr. and Mrs. Smith from fourteen years earlier, shows some lines on him. He plays Roy McBride, an astronaut/space worker. When mysterious pulses devastate the electronics on Earth and in space, including sending him falling from–a space elevator?–he is tasked with going to Mars to send messages to a space station in orbit around Neptune which looks to be the origin. The Lima project, which was supposed to look for extra-terrestrial intelligence, went that far out to escape interference from the sun, and Roy’s father headed it up, but the project has not been heard from in 30 years.

A couple of side quests ensue on the moon and on Mars, from which Roy is supposed to send pre-written radio messages to the Lima project, but he breaks protocol and sends a personal message instead which causes Space Com to keep him from joining the mission heading to Neptune. He learns from Reina the station director the truth about the project: how McBride the father went mad in his obsession to find other intelligences out there–and that he killed her parents when they tried to leave the Lima Project. So Roy tries to stow away on the mission to Neptune–not a rescue mission, but a search and destroy mission with a nuclear weapon designed to destroy the Lima Project. The other astronauts discover him as he comes aboard, and Space Com orders them to dispatch him, so he kills them instead. He travels to Neptune (currently the furthest known planet from the sun even when you count Pluto) and finds his father, and the unfortunate truths.

As I said, it tracks kind of closely with 2001 in spots but without alien intelligence to guide or to provide the deus ex maquina. Roy returns with a lot of knowledge of Space Com’s wrong doings and cover-ups, which it seems to me would end the film on a bit of a sour note, but instead the film wraps up with McBride returning the data collected by the Lima Project over the decades, which includes exoplanets to explore and colonize, and he reconciles with his estranged wife, whom we see in numerous flashbacks as Roy has pushed her away in his drive to be autonomous.

A slower paced movie, but not a waste of time. Its depictions of life in space and space travel are very detailed and nicely filmed.

In addition to recognizing Ruth Negga (who played Reina in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.), I thought I recognized Liv Tyler as the wife even though her face is obscured, out-of-focus, or blurred in the flashbacks.
Continue reading “Movie Report: Ad Astra (2019)”

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Movie Report: The Producers (2005)

Book coverWait a minute. Somehow, I got it in my head that this was a Mel Brooks movie, and it is. Sort of. This version of The Producers is the film version of the Broadway show, starring Matthew Broderick and Nathan Lane. The Broadway show, of course, was the Broadway show version of a Mel Brooks film from the late 1960s (The Producers starring Gene Wilder). Sweet Christmas, the only way this could peg the things Brian J. reads/watches meter would be if it were the novelization of a video game based on a novelization of a film of a Broadway show based on a film. Based on a Shakespearean play in the original Klingon or something.

So: Nathan Lane plays a Broadway producer, Max Bialystock, who was something sometime in the past, but whose latest shows have flopped. Broderick plays a timid accountant, Leo Bloom, who comes to do his books and mentions that a flop could make more money for the producers than a hit if dealt with the right way. So Max presses Leo to join him, and Leo eventually does, and they look for the worst possible play to produce. They settle on Springtime for Hitler, written by a former Nazi (played in the film by Will Ferrell). A Swedish actress (played in the movie by Uma Thurman) wants to audition, and she captures Max and Leo’s, erm, lower heart, and she gets to act as their receptionist until the show comes off. They hunt up the worst director they can think of, a flamboyantly gay man, who wants to make the show gay (along with his Village People staff). The Nazi comes to the audition and impresses everyone to take the part of Hitler, but on opening night, he actually breaks a leg and cannot go on. So the flamboyant director, who knows the role, takes the part. Although the audience gets restive and offended during the opening number, when the director hits the stage and vamps it up, they think it’s satire. And the show is a smash, which puts Max and Leo in a bind.

As a movie based on a Broadway show, there’s more singing and dancing than I generally prefer in films, but I could tolerate it since it was a Mel Brooks musical. It ends with the putting-on-a-show-in-prison trope which has become fairly common–was the original The Producers the source of this? The Blues Brothers came along later.

At any rate, an enjoyable bit. But I am still not generally a fan of musicals or Broadway shows. Not that there’s anything wrong with that (he said, making allusion to a 30-year-old television program, old man). Of course, one wonders how a younger viewer not raised on Mel Brooks would do with this job given that a lot of the humor is based on homosexuality and even some cross-dressing.

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Book Report: Wizard by John Varley (1980)

Book coverWell, after reading Wizard by Ozzie Smith, of course I immediately picked up Wizard by John Varley. As it happened, they were close together, relatively, on the to-read shelves in the hallway which we just turned over as we painted the hall.

It turns out that this book is the middle book in a trilogy–I did not know that when I started it, as it does not seem to pick up en media res but instead introduces us to a couple of characters who will factor into the story and establish some world building. It starts with Chris, a schizophrenic in California who goes into the embassy of Gaea and meets some Gaeans–well, Titanides, who are centaur-like except that they have both sets of genitalia on the horse-part at the back but a single set of human genitalia on the front–heaven help us, this will be explored later. Chris seeks to visit Gaea, the god-like computer running a small Ringworld-lite space station in the outer part of the solar system as Gaea can cure his condition. Meanwhile, a woman raised in a woman-only society on a space station at a LaGrange point seeks a similar audience with the computer to heal her epilepsy.

They both make their way to Titan, the space station, and climb the kilometers-long cable to the hub where Gaea, represented by an old woman avatar, resides. She’s grown bored, having created and destroyed civilizations and races on her habitat over the millions of years, and she in recent millenia has started to have to deal with insubordinate local computer systems which run different regions of the planets. So Gaea encourages “pilgrims” to come try to visit her, and they can choose to live in her hub without their diseases or they can go out and do something “heroic” to earn a permanent cure. Both pilgrims decide to try something heroic, and they link up with Rocky, the titular Wizard, and her associate Gaby who is an engineer doing contract work for Gaea.

Turns out that Rocky and Gaby were the stars of Titan, the first book in the series, but they’re kind of introduced as individual characters, so early on it does not require a lot of knowledge of that book to get into this book.

So the party sets off, nominally to do something heroic, but easy heroic quests have already been done. Few dragons remain; the idols have lost their jeweled eyes; and so on. But Gaby and Rocky use the journey, nominally a survey of the regions and interviews with the sometimes rebelious, sometimes obsequious, regional computers, to determine what allies they might have in an attempt to overthrow Gaea.

So it’s kind of like Ringworld with some fantasy elements to it. In addition to the centaur-like creatures, the book features “angels” who have wings and a variety of other beasts, all created by Gaea for amusement or to set the stage for later heroics. As the party goes along and encounters difficulties, members die, so one does not know who might make it through the journey–and the actual point of the journey, from Gaby and Rocky’s intent, only becomes clear later as one lies dying and explains why the odds were so stacked against them.

And although the book starts off as though it were not part of a trilogy–with a good intro to the world (well, space station) and characters new and old, the ending makes clear that the story is To Be Continued. Although some survive and find resolution (abruptly), it ends with a vow of vengeance.

So it was an okay read; a bit disappointing in that it leads into the next book, Demon (and when I checked out the science fiction shelves at ABC Books last weekend, they only had a copy of Wizard–no first or third book available).

I did mention that the Titanides have both male and female horse genitalia in the rear and one set of human genitalia up front. The book goes into detail about how Titanides procreate, and it’s complicated, starting with the fact that the Wizard has to put the unfertilized egg in her mouth to activate it, and then it has to be fertilized both in the back and in the front and…. Well, okay, it’s weird. But a helpful appendix shows you the many ways it can occur between female and male Titanides. Also, Titanides and humans, as it turns out.

Also, I flagged a couple things in this book on a common theme. When we did our recent trivia night, one of the categories was words without the vowels. One of the questions was MSM, and my beautiful wife and I had the same answer: miasma. Cooler heads amongst our team realized that this word was more likely museum. But right after that, I found the word miasma in the book. Then, one night at dinner, I asked my boys if they knew what portage meant. They did not, so I explained it. And then I found the word in the book. On a later evening, my wife said the word offal, which would fit right into the book and…. Well, that word was not in it. But talking about two words that showed up in this book shortly thereafter probably speaks to the belief that the AI and algorithms are listening to us because we spot patterns about what we talk about and what ads we see on the Internet. And that lesson is: The AI in this forty-year-old Book Club Edition is smart enough to not also display offal to establish the pattern and make me suspicious. Truly, truly, I say to you, the world is magic and duplicitous. Which might also be the lesson of this trilogy.

So in looking back at the two other books of Varley’s that I’ve read–Millennium and The Ophiuchi Hotline, I’ve found them kind of meh, but I remember them fondly. If I had found one or the other of the books in this series this weekend, I would have bought it. And I have one or more books by John Varley on my bookshelves, and I’m not likely to recoil from them when I come across them in the future. Perhaps the next time I paint. In 2035 or so.

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