Movie Report: The Master Gunfighter (1975)

Book coverGentle reader, when I watched the 1993 anime film Ninja Scroll (and Ghost in the Shell), I said:

I would have enjoyed these films more as actual films with actors and stuff, maybe, but I’m too old to be watching a lot of cartoons.

And, in an amazing coincidence or bit of cosmic kismet, I proved that to be true within the week.

I grabbed this film thinking that it was going to be a sort of B-movie Western. I knew it starred Tom Laughlin, who played in the Billy Jack films so I expected it would have some political messaging.

The prologue voice over (provided by Burgess Meredith) tells of how the man was educated in Europe and the East, which explains why he was so skilled with a gun (a special 12-shooter) as well as the katana. But he, the Master Gunfighter, is leaving the hacienda of his father-in-law after the father-in-law’s men killed the native residents of a coastal village to cover for their illicit recovery of gold from a shipwreck. The Master Gunfighter, Finley, did not participate in the killing except to save himself when a villager attacked him, but he carries that guilt and cannot stay at the hacienda. Wait a minute, that’s the story from Ninja Scroll adapted to 19th century California instead of Tokagawa Japan.

Finley is working as a sideshow in Mexico when a group of gunfighters comes to find him and kill him because the leader of the hacienda is planning a similar slaughter to steal some gold to keep his hacienda running and wants to have Finley out of the way first. So Finley makes his way back to the hacienda to reunite with his wife, played by Barbara Carrera, and to dissuade his in-laws from pursuing their plans, meeting a mountebank, the only survivor of the first village slaughter, and a government spy along the way (the government spy, of course, tracks with Ninja Scroll as well). Gunfighting and swordfighting ensue.

After watching the film, I went to see if they shared a common source. And although Ninja Scroll‘s Wikipedia page does not mention it, The Master Gunfighter‘s Wikipedia says it’s a remake of a 1969 Japanese live-action film called Goyokin. Strangely, nobody on the Internet seems to have said that Ninja Scroll is also based on this film as well–I’ve found an article about anime that mentions both, but the listicle includes another anime whose soundtrack mirrors Goyokin‘s. So looky there, gentle reader: some original thought/connection/research here on MfBJN. That’s the insight you’re paying big bucks for. Born of a coincidence that still tickles me several days later.

At any rate, a little preachy, as you might expect from Billy Jack. It’s multi-layered though, and not as simplistic as you would get these days. The Americans are pressing the Spanish-ancestored landed gentry in California, who are then slaughtering natives for profit, and the natives abhor the Catholic missionaries.

I remember that my mother watched the Billy Jack movies when they came on. She might have had a little thing for Tom Laughlin, who was a native of Milwaukee and studied at the same university that I did, and I remember he ran for president in 1992.

But if the Internet had been around in 1975, well, public Internet, maybe we would have had Eula versus Chorika debates.
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Truly, He Has A Duplicitous Intellect

Column in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch: Missouri lawmakers try to take over St. Louis police … and defund them, too.

Now, gentle reader, the state of Missouri did resume its control of the city of St. Louis’s police department–St. Louis politicos only got control of the police department in 2013 after state control for a long time, and let’s be honest, it’s not gotten better in St. Louis in that time.

But Messenger’s column is really about the state legislature taking a different action vis-à-vis the city of St. Louis. Apparently, the city of St. Louis stopped refunding income tax money that it should have:

So how is the Legislature trying to save me money? During the pandemic, St. Louis’ collector of revenue, Gregory F.X. Daly, stopped issuing refunds, figuring the world had changed. With most companies forced by the government into remote work, it didn’t seem reasonable to flush away the city’s revenue from refunds.

Legally, it was probably a specious argument. Six plaintiffs filed a lawsuit seeking refunds. A judge ruled in their favor. One of their attorneys was Bevis Schock, a libertarian who is pretty smart about constitutional issues. He’s the reason the city doesn’t have red-light cameras anymore. I wouldn’t bet against him. The city has appealed the lawsuit, but while that appeal is pending, the Republicans who run the Legislature figured why not pass a law making refunds for remote work more explicit in the law?

So, again, we have a city official unilaterally deciding to steal money from people who are not residents of St. Louis and losing in court, and we have the elected legislature passing a law to make this clearer in the future, and we have Tony Messenger working hard to rationalize theft (well, it’s Democrats doing the thieving, so of course it’s okay) and working very, very hard to somehow make this into a Republicans defunding the police story.

And we have a “journalist” conflating two stories to try to attack Republicans. Because that’s what his analysis is: How can I attack Republicans with this?

I suppose the dwindling readership of the Post-Dispatch nod their heads along anyway.

Full disclosure: When I was a shipping/receiving clerk at the art supply store in 1995, they withheld the city income tax even though the store was not in the city and I did not live in the city, and I never got that refunded to me. So maybe I’m just bitter.

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Movie Report: Highlander: Endgame (2000)

Book coverYou know, gentle reader, this might have been the first time I’ve seen this film. I mean, I have within recent memory gone through my videocassette collection of Highlander movies, and then I bought them again on videocassette to make sure I had them all (and have seen Highlander, Highlander 2: The Quickening, and Highlander: The Final Dimension again within the last year, roughly). But, as to the fourth film: I know I’d seen a Christopher Lambert/Adrian Paul movie in that penultimate run-through of the films, but I am not sure it was this movie. I think it might have been the pilot for the television show which originally passed the baton between Lambert and Paul.

At any rate, this film came out after the television series wrapped, and it looks as though there’ve been a number of other spinoffs since, including another series and an animated series not to mention comic books and novels (see my report on Highlander: The Element of Fire from twenty years ago, only ten years after the book was published, which is now, doing the math–thirty years ago?).

This film starts with Duncan MacLeod and Connor MacLeod meeting–apparently, Connor called for Duncan, but when they meet in New York, coming up from the subway, Connor is distant and promises to meet him later. But as Connor is coming to his antique shop, it explodes with a loved one inside, and a man with three crosses on his shoes walks away.

Years later, a group of immortals attacks the Sanctuary–a place where immortals can go and be drugged, kept out of the Game and dreaming (at their own request and as part of a plan from certain Watchers to always have one immortal on ice to keep any one from reaching The Prize). But Connor MacLeod, who was at the Sanctuary, was set free to hear the others killed.

The film includes numerous flashbacks to both Scotland and Connor’s wife Heather and to a time when Duncan married a woman whom he knew to be immortal but she did not know it. On their wedding night, after the customary several minute sex scene over 80s sensuous music, he stabs her to prove it to her–when she awakens, healed in bloody garb, she wanders into the night, and he has lost the love of all lifetimes.

Meanwhile, we learn that the big bad guy is a friend of Connor’s from Scotland, a man of God who participated in burning Connor’s mother at stake for not denouncing him (Connor) as a demon. Connor kills the man’s mentor, also a priest, in the height of battle or perhaps as vengeance, and the big bad Kell (also a K name, like the Kurgan, General Katana, and Kane) has been killing Connor’s loved ones for centuries, all the while with three crosses on the backs of his shoes. He has assembled a team of immortals, somehow, to help him, including Duncan’s wife.

Oh, and Jing Ke. When we first meet the team of immortals, Duncan recognizes Jing Ke, who serve the emperor Qin, and he calls him a man of honor. I know it’s not a comedy, but I laughed, because I have some knowledge of Chinese history not gleaned from…. well, I’m not sure where the writers of this film got their knowledge, but Jing Ke “served” the first relatively modern emperor of China by trying to kill him. So. Well, one does not come to Highlander movies for history.

At any rate, some chop/chop and fight scenes. One of the Watchers (mythos from the television series, I gather) says that Connor (2000+ immortal kills) and Duncan (1000+ immortal kills) will have their hands full with Kell (661 immortal kills). I’m not as good as math as I am at history, but, wait, wut? So Connor determines that only by killing Duncan and gathering his, um, Gathering or vice versa, can one of them defeat Kell. Kell goes on to kill the members of his team (probably 5 of them to bring his total to 666–get it?). And then, chop, chop in a standard random industrial facility with steel steps and catwalks and steam and sparks, finis!

Except! Although we were led to believe that Duncan’s wife was part of the race to 666, she lives, and he meets her at the end to try to reconcile with her, or to begin again (or until next time).

My youngest, returning to non-electronics sabbatical, wandered into the film about 45 minutes in and asked what was going on. Well. How to explain the entire mythos of Highlander including the series? I didn’t bother and let him pick it up as he went, and he got the basics pretty quickly. At the end of the film, he said they couldn’t make another since it wrapped everything up. Well, they could just ignore the other movies which was standard policy for the first two sequels after Highlander wrapped everything up. But the television show added a bunch of complexities, and immortals seem to have been born fairly regularly in the past, so I guess they could make a sequel where an immortal has gathered the prize, but another immortal is born so he has to go all King Herod and try to decapitate a baby. Or something.

At any rate, I think the way the film dismissed Connor MacLeod was a bit sad. He is a broken man, haunted by memories of his first wife (the flashbacks do not include much of Brenda or any of the other women he romanced in the series). I have to wonder how much old footage they had in the can from the first film that they could trot out as new for this one. But he basically loses his will to live and decides that he must fight Duncan so that the victor can be powerful enough to defeat Kell–although I’m not sure why this was the case. So the predilection to piss on established heroes to pass the IP onto the next generation is not a new thing. We just forget so much.

At any rate, a definite film in the series which adheres to its framework. But it’s entirely possible I will forget having seen it, especially if I already have.

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Movie Report: Sabotage (1936)

Book coverOh, but no, gentle reader. Next, after Dracula, I did not delve into a Godzilla movie. Instead, I picked up this early Hitchcock film as Universal was pitching Hitchcock movies on videocassette in the trailers before that film. As I had this on videocassette and had freshly let it play soundlessly to rewind it, I popped it in over the weekend as well.

You know, in English class, they warn you against starting your essay with a dictionary definition, and I’ve seen that happen a couple of times in the Lenten devotional my church’s congregation compiled. And Hitchcock uses it with the titles on this film: The camera focuses on a dictionary definition of sabotage as what we would later call terrorism (of a sort, of course, not necessarily involving sabots). A blackout strikes London. Outside a cinema, the patrons demand a refund from the woman in the box office, and she tries to put them off. A vendor next door sees the cinema owner return, and the cinema owner washes sand from his hands as authorities discover sand caused the outage. When he meets his handler at the aquarium, the handler tells him to do something more serious, but the man tries to demur, not wanting to have a hand in the loss of life. But the cinema owner eventually gets a bomb to plant in Picadilly, but his gang discovers that the vendor working next door is actually a Scotland Yard detective, so they want nothing to do with the plot. So the cinema owner sends his young brother of his wife (the woman in the box office) to deliver the package. So the main tension of the film is whether the boy will deliver the bomb before it explodes. He is delayed by a parade and whatnot, and….

Damn, Hitchcock has the bomb go off whilst the boy is on the bus. The origin of the bomb is recognized by the films that the boy was also carrying, leading Scotland Yard to his residence. But before they get there, the sister/wife stabs the husband, but the murder is eventually covered up by the arrival of the bomb maker who sets off another explosion covering the wife/sister’s crime.

It definitely has some of the earmarks of Hitchcock’s later work, the ratcheting of tension and the actual danger involved which imperils characters that you think would be safe (especially in modern Hollywood productions). But the director is still learning, so this is a film for serious film students. Or indiscriminate purchasers of dollar videocassettes.

I actually bought a boxed set of Hitchcock’s early movies on DVD, so I might have it elsewhere. Unlike, say, a Cary Grant movie, I will not feel compelled to watch it again should I come across it. It’s a public domain thing off of a bad film print. The first reel looks to have been in rough shape indeed, making me wonder if my videocassette player was on the fritz (as it had trouble handling a VHS copy of Cast Away earlier), but it looks to only have been the particular cassette.

I’ll definitely watch for Hitchcock’s Hollywood films in the wild, but the early British stuff (like this) can be a bit hit or miss.

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Movie Report: Dracula (1931)

Book coverAfter my recent spate of cartoons and cartoonish films (interspersed with a romantic comedy), I decided to watch a serious piece of film.

Just kidding. What happened is that I started handling videocassettes that I’d bought where the previous owner had not rewound them. I have been treating them as though they’re stuck and unable to rewind–with some older videocassettes, the spring inside develops some trouble so that if you try to rewind it, it will get up to speed and rewind for a second and then stop because it thinks it’s completely rewound. To fix it, you can open the videocassette and remove the spring (I think–it’s been a while since I’ve done it), or you can simply let the film play all the way to the end, which resets the spring or something because it will completely rewind then. So I’ve been feeding videocassettes into the player with the television and sound system off to trigger the full rewind, which means a number of old videocassettes are sitting atop the cabinets now, which means I will likely be reporting on a number of old movies in succession.

So: This is a 1999 videocassette version of the 1931 film starring Bela Lugosi as Dracula. To a contemporary viewer, it looks like it hits the tropes of a vampire film, but this film pretty much established the tropes. A man, Renfield, travels to the Count Dracula’s castle in Transylvania even though the local villagers think it’s a bad idea. He’s got papers for the count to sign to take possession of a property in England, and he becomes the count’s thrall. The count travels to England and takes possession of the new property next to a sanitarium/asylum (where they have put Renfield whom they think is mad because the ship carrying the count had something kill its crew). Once there, the count sets his eyes (and teeth) on the daughter of the sanitarium….owner? Manager? When people start to disappear/get ill, including the daughter’s close friend, they call in a specialist, Van Helsing (not played by Hugh Jackman) who learns that Count Dracula is the vampire whose presence he suspected.

The film makes its use of simple sets (and, apparently, some reused footage from an old silent movie for its shipboard scenes), and we get, like I said, things that we would come to expect (the vampire coming in the window, the leaning over the sleeping woman’s form, and so on). I know, some of it had been seen before, but we get Lugosi doing it. We get a lot of close-ups of his mesmerizing eyes. We get Dwight Frye as Renfield, chewing up the scenery and hamming up his madness.

And we get Helen Chandler as Mina, the daughter of the sanitarium owner who is presumably saved from becoming a vampire (or is she?) and Frances Dade as her friend Lucy who does become a vampire (and whose ultimate fate is not mentioned in this movie). But if the Internet had been around in 1931 (I mean, that is, if it was not around but hidden from us by the government, like giant robots and powerful cubes hidden under Hoover Dam), ahem, if the Internet had been around in 1931, perhaps we would have Mina versus Lucy arguments on newsgroups.

I dunno, but I think I’ll take Frances Dade as Lucy (right).

Do we even still have those kinds of versus arguments on the Internet any more, or is our society too completely fragmented for it? Or are they happening in places I don’t frequent, like Reddit? Because I’m not seeing them on the blogs I frequent (generally too serious and sturm und drang) nor on Facebook (given over to “suggested posts” and the same three or four people’s days’ old posts every time I log in). I dunno.

So: You know, I’m glad to have seen this as an adult because it is a bit of cinematic history, something part of the Universal monster movies back in the day that were exciting and thrilling and then devolved into self-parody after a couple of decades. The Dracula story was retold in 1992 with Bram Stoker’s Dracula with Gary Oldman, Anthony Hopkins, Winona Rider, and Keanu Reeves–I saw that film, but given its date, I might have seen it with college friends, with the girl who preceded my beautiful wife, or with my beautiful wife. Eesh, I cannot remember with whom I saw the film. Isn’t that awful? It would partially retold in 2004’s Van Helsing with Hugh Jackman as the title character as an action hero. Fortunately, the timing of that film lends certainty yhat I saw it with my beautiful wife.

What’s next, Brian J.? A Godzilla movie, for crying out loud? You never can tell, can you, gentle reader?

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We Want The Dox. Give Us The Dox.

Remember when I said about a ruling protecting the names of citizens who write legislators:

Although if one were not eager to bash the Republicans in the Missouri state legislature (and Republicans generally) with any cudgel at hand, one might say Legislature/Judge Protects Privacy of Private Citizens Who Want To Write To Their Representatives Without Getting Doxxed By Activists and Newspapermen Who Disagree With Them.

Case in point (that case being “journalists” identifying and targeting a citizen for wrongthink), the Springfield News-Leader has a photo and long story on a man who has given money to Springfield School Board candidates.

The wrong ones, of course, or you wouldn’t be seeing his picture and this treatise.

Don’t worry, gentle reader, the journalists and anyone who might be inspired by them are only out to get you if you’re bad.

(Full disclosure: My beautiful wife has served on a board with this fellow, so she knows him sort of.)

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Movie Report: Transformers (2007)

Book coverWell, I watched it.

Maybe I had just moved out of the target demo when this film came out–I had my first son, so I was a father, and we were not DINKs (double income, no kids) eager to hang onto our childhoods who were going out to see a property based on toys (which we never owned until we got McDonalds Happy Meal things for our boys promoting these films). I have not seen any of the GI Joe live action films, either, even though I did have (and still have) a number of G.I. Joe films. Maybe I instinctively rebelled against Hollywood trying to make a man named Shia LaBeouf an action hero. But until now, I had not seen one of the live action Transformer films. And now I have.

So. The film retells the story of the Transformers, their war on Cybertron, the destruction, the loss of the AutoSpark in space, and whatnot in the voiceover prologue. The film-film starts out with arctic explorers in the early part of the 20th century who find something in the ice, leading to the leader of the expedition’s eyeglasses becoming the film’s MacGuffin because the location of the AllSpark is imprinted on them, although nobody knows what they found in the ice (nor what the AllSpark is–they did not benefit from the prologue). In the present, robots attack a military base in the middle east to break into the military network. The attack is repelled, but the bad guys find the location of the MacGuffin, so they go to LA to try to get Sam (Shia), a teenaged boy trying to raise money for his first car by selling his grandfather’s artifacts. On a trip to buy his first car, he discovers a beat up Camaro that essentially picks him–it’s Bumblebee, seeking to protect the MacGuffin from the Decepticons who not only want to find the AutoSpark but Megatron, their leader, whom the military has on ice. Bumblebee summons the Autobots to help, and they come and have some robot battles and… finis! Well, except for the six sequels (so far).

The film definitely was built to be a special effects spectacle–look! Giant robots! That transform into cars! But a cartoonish plot, cartoonish situations that make no sense, and shallow characters make it not much more than a cartoon for humans. (Hey, Brian J., haven’t you been watching cartoons lately? Yes, but I’ve not been enjoying them.)

The film also features Megan Fox as a gearhead girl (of course). Normally, I would tuck some pictures of the actress below the fold, but I’m still wavering as to whether I think she’s pretty or not. She’s right up there with Angelina Jolie in the “Kind of hot, sometimes, but weird enough to be off-putting.”

Oh, and I’m probably not going to run right out and gather the other Transformer movies. Even if they’re a dollar or fifty cents each. I have other things I’d rather watch ahead of them, including a set of films about the 1980s year by year and instructional woodshop videos that I mean to get around to sometime.

I should also mention that I watched this with my youngest who will be joining me for plenty of films this quarter as he’s restricted from devices on weeknights. He asked me if this was an old movie, and I guess it’s a fair question: It is, after all, older than he is. And he was also unimpressed even though he is closer to the target demo than I am (or was when it came out) and he had Transformer toys and exposure to the cartoons when he was younger.

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The Mysteries of Nogglestead

Who drew a praying mantis sigil on the sliding doors to the exterior?

More importantly, what eldritch horrors will occur when I wash the windows?

Maybe I should not wash the windows just in case. Which, as you might expect, is the default at Nogglestead. I’ve got Civ IV games to play for hours and then abandon because I haven’t won yet.

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Movie Report: Enemy Mine (1985)

Book coverI saw this film over and over again when it was on Showtime and we lived in the trailer. Many times, I’ve said that a small set of films played on those long summer days when we were not supposed to leave the trailer when my mother was at work (and we obeyed infrequently). Not only were we limited to a 12′ by 60′ metal box–a very small mobile home even then–but the nature of premium movie channels in the 1980s gave us plenty of opportunity to watch the same film numerous times in a short time frame. You might not remember, gentle reader, but premium movie channels in those days would get a couple of new movies every month and would play the hell out of them that month, running them two or three times a day interspersed with some of the older movies–that is, the movies that had debuted a couple months previously, which were still getting a lot of play, available several times a week to view. It’s hard to imagine it in the 21st century, where the premium movie channels offer a couple of movies and a pile of original series, so their playlists, if you will, are far greater than what they were then. So my brother and I watched Enemy Mine a couple of times in the span of a couple of months, and I’m not sure that I have seen it since. But when I asked my brother about it before watching it, he said he’d watched it a couple of months ago.

It’s a pretty simple plot. Dennis Quaid is a human space fighter pilot on a space station when the lizardian Drac attack. When a Drac fighter blows up one of Quaid’s squad mates, Quaid wounds his ship and pursues him into the atmosphere of a harsh planet, which leads them to both crash on it. They’re alone on the planet and have to team up to survive, working from hostility to friendship. The Drac, played by Louis Gossett, Jr., (wasn’t he a gamer? He would play anything in the 1980s) becomes “pregnant” and delivers a baby drac (I will have to check my style guide to see whether I should be capitalizing Drac when I don’t capitalize human), he dies, leaving Quaid’s character to raise the boy. He does, but when Scavengers, human illegal miners who use Drac for slave labor, return, it leads to a confrontation that culminates in a shared understanding, Quaid liberating the slave labor while hunting for his young Drac charge, and eventually peace between the races.

A fairly simple storyline with special effects of the era. As my youngest is taking a bit of an involuntary sabbatical from electronics, he joined me in watching the film, and he thought it was good. Even in 1985, though, it bears some elements of what we would later call “woke”: The humans are the bad guys, as they started the war with the Drac by trying to seize some of their star systems (mentioned in the prolog voice over) and they’re the slavers in the climax, and the Drac are nothing but noble. But you can’t build too much nuance into a simple film like this. But that sort of inversion has become the norm in fictional themes to the point of being beyond irritating.

I told the young man that, to get the real flavor of living in a trailer in Murphy, Missouri, in the 1980s, we were going to watch it again the next night. We did not, and it might be another forty years before I pop this one into the last remaining VCR on earth to watch it again.

But the film did have Carolyn McCormick in it as the about the only female role who was not an extra, one of Quaid’s fellow pilots.

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Movie Report: Sleepless in Seattle (1993)

Book coverYou know, it was easy for me to think this was the first of the Tom Hanks/Meg Ryan movies, but actually, Joe Vs. The Volcano was first in 1990. I don’t think I’ve seen that one all the way through, but I have seen this one and You’ve Got Mail (1998) before. I might have seen the latter in the theater, of all things, as I was dating a girl whose first introduction to me announced by the America Online “You’ve got mail!” voice. As it happens, that girl, now my beautiful wife, joined me in watching this film, surprised that I was watching a romantic comedy instead of some old movie or foreign film of dubious merit.

So: A young widower and his son move from Chicago to Seattle to start anew. Worried about his father, the boy (8 years old) calls into a nationwide radio program hosted by a therapist and explains that his father is lonely. Which leads to the father getting onto the phone and talking for a while about his love for his dead wife. Women across the country write in to learn more about the father, including a journalist from Baltimore, Annie (Ryan).

So the film details how the father deals with the attention and then finally tries to move on by dating a local woman he’s met through work whilst Annie deals with the doubts in her relationship/engagement with a Bill Pullman character. A Rosie O’Donnell character connives to get Annie to reach out, and the son connives with the help of a friend, to get the two together, and the film alludes to An Affair to Remember (which I just watched last September), including plans to meet atop the Empire State Building at midnight on a holiday.

So fluff and fantasy. Not funny-funny, but not dramatic. So a romantic comedy? Eh, not so much. But you know what you’re going to get by now.

And it stars a pre-work-done Meg Ryan.

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Oh, No. Anyway.

The top story this morning at the Springfield News-Leader Web site: White nationalist stickers appear again in Springfield. Here’s what to know

Stickers and posters printed in the patriotic colors of red, white and blue have appeared around Springfield in recent days. While they may appear harmless, the stickers are promotional material for a white supremacist hate group.

The stickers have been spotted at local parks, on lamp and signposts, bus stops, gas station pumps and even by the World’s Largest Fork. Some who came across the stickers took to social media to share their findings and urge people to remove the promotional material. The stickers included slogans like “not stolen conquered,” “free occupied America,” “for a new American nation state,” “American spirit European blood” and others pushing for a revamp of the current political system.

The posters and stickers direct people to visit a website of “Patriot Front.” The News-Leader was unable to reach any representatives from the group as of Tuesday morning. The contact form on the website notes that “The organization does not participate in interviews with journalists.”

Some reports on social media, some stickers placed by someone, and hundreds of words ginning up “awareness” of the threat of white nationalism. Even here in bucolic Springfield!

I take the “threat” less seriously than a 2023 journalism school graduate, whose research involves going to the Southern Poverty Law Center Web site and somehow did not stumble across the some who say or suspect the Patriot Front is a government group of some sort, perhaps to designed to make the problem of white nationalism look worse than it is in an election year. But that’s an icky conspiracy theory, and these stickers are real, you guys.

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Thanks. I Didn’t Need That.

KCSM, the Bay Area’s jazz station, played this song this morning:

I was writing a letter to my 96-year-old grandmother when the song came on. In the past, she has mentioned how much she loved my letters, and so I try to write something to her about every month with pictures of my boys in them. But she’s in decline, so I’m not sure if she’ll get each letter or if she even knows it now. She’s about the last person alive aside from my brother who remembers me as an almost continuous entity for my whole life. To the rest of my father’s family, I was a distant relation for most of their lives, someone probably not thought of or spoken of. And my maternal relations, what remains of them, were always elsewhere as well and still are.

In the letter, I told my grandmother that the oldest boy is graduating from high school in about a month, and the culmination of the slow separation will complete. I told her, and now you, that we just had spring break, but as we did not travel, the boys went about their businesses and I…. Well, I did some household projects, but around them. They’re about to launch, and I can only hope that I will have been a more lasting influence than Minecraft and YouTube. But I am not sure.

It has been a very long time since they were little buddies who wanted to be like their father and asked a lot of questions. They have changed so much. But I have not.

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Brian J.’s Favorite Soundtracks

So last week, Severian posted a Nerd Fight post about the best soundtrack and invited his commenters to hash out the best soundtrack albums for movies.

Well, we here at MfBJN have owned a soundtrack album or two, and although I did not contribute at his blog, I thought I would steal the theme.

Now, he talks a bit about the history of a soundtrack, but in my post here, I’m going to specify that a soundtrack for my consideration:

  • The songs must have been relatively new for the soundtrack. I mean, you could look at the discs released for Forrest Gump and Sleepless in Seattle. They’re full of good songs, but they were earlier hits collected for the film. Not going to count those.
  • Film scores do not count either. And that’s not just Last of the Mohicans or Lord of the Rings or even Star Trek: The Motion Picture or Star Wars with their soaring classical themes and whatnot but also the works of Henry Mancini (yes, I have both of the Peter Gunn soundtrack albums, and I listened to his work for Charade within the last week. But when I think of soundtracks, I think of collections of vocal music.

Also, this is not a “best” collection, but rather the ones I like best over time.

So here they are, not ranked:

  • Pump Up The Volume
    I have mentioned before that I have this soundtrack which does not have Leonard Cohen’s “Everybody Knows” on it). But I have not mentioned that I might have worn out a cassette copy of this soundtrack and bought another before buying a CD of the soundtrack in the 21st century. I have mentioned over and over about the main period when I watched films over and over in my youth (living in a trailer in rural Missouri with nothing but Showtime to keep me company, which oversimplifies it). But when I was in college and had a paycheck, I’d sometimes hit the mall on Friday nights and visit Suncoast and buy videocassettes. Which I would then watch over and over. I watched this movie over and over in those college years when I only had a VCR to keep me company (which oversimplifies it, but my video library was much smaller then). This cassette was one of the ones in heavy rotation in my cheap (but unreliable!) Nissan sports car in 1994-1995, so I heard the soundtrack a bunch, too.
  • Shaft
    I mentioned just recently that I bought numerous blaxploitation films’ soundtracks a decade or so ago. I am not sure whether I saw Shaft and then got the soundtrack or vice versa (I’ve seen all four Shaft movies). I was pleased when I picked up this album on vinyl, too, which I have listened to within the last month. Based on the strength of this album, I’ve bought other Isaac Hayes albums on CD and vinyl.
  • Across 110th Street
    The title song by Bobby Womack plays over the titles of Jackie Brown, so it’s probably on that soundtrack as well. But after watching Jackie Brown, I looked up the song and then bought the soundtrack to the original film (which I have not seen). The title song is on my gym playlist, and I have bought several other Bobby Womack CDs and then records based on his work on this soundtrack.
  • Scott Pilgrim vs. the World
    It’s a bit thin on the content; a lot of the songs are silly and light (and like a minute long). But it’s one of the more recent soundtracks I’ve bought on CD.
  • Fletch
    C’mon, man, I’ve already talked about this album at length. I will still throw it on when I find it in the disorganized Nogglestead record library. I’ve not bought it on CD, though, as part of the joy of it is in playing the record and remembering what would happen when I did. Maybe if I see it for a buck at a sale I’ll pick it up on CD.

So that’s the top five soundtracks for me, not based on quality, but based on the films and/or where I was when I listened to them a lot.

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Movie Report: Ninja Scroll (1993) / Ghost in the Shell (1995)

After watching a couple of martial-arts / Eastern-produced movies (The Forbidden Kingdom and Jade Warrior and Blind Fist of Bruce) and having my fill of them for the nonce, I took Ninja Scroll out of the cabinet and saw mention of Ghost in the Shell. Which I also had in the cabinet. I picked both of them up at garage sales before I started tracking film purchases on the blog here, but I am pretty sure it was in the Casinoport or Old Tree days when I thought I’d familiarize myself with anime since the young people (then) were into it. I can’t help but note that the young people with whom I work now–people in their early 30s, so teens or so when I acquired these videocassettes, don’t seem to be into anime–it’s for people ten or twenty years older than they are (but not me, as we’ll get to by-and-by).

Book coverWhen I popped in this videocassette, I thought it would be a short, maybe 30- or 60-minute cartoon, perhaps like an episode of Robotech, one of which I actually watched with my boys sometime after readingRobotech: Genesis/Battle Cry/Homecoming (my young boys were underwhelmed with the story and/or animation). But, no, this is a full length movie. I then noted that its animation was about what you would have seen in imported Japanese cartoons that appeared on television in the late 1970 like Battle of the Planets before the American toy-based cartoons like G.I. Joe, He-Man and the Masters of the Universe, and Transformers took over in the middle 1980s. And I have to admit that, when I was a lad watching cartoons after school, I probably never thought, “You know what this cartoon needs? Gore, nudity, and sex!” Because this film has them.

In it, a mercenary ninja is hired by a wizened old Tokugawa government spy to help learn the fate of a village that died after an apparent plague arrived there. Meanwhile, a local clan leader sends a ninja team also to investigate, and they, too, are killed, except for one woman who reports back to the clan leader. She is sent back, where she encounters a devil who tries to rape her, only to have the mercenary ninja save her. Together, the trio uncover a plan by another clan to overthrow the government and they must face eight ninja with supernatural abilities to do so.

So it’s laden with intrigue and gore and nudity and whatnot. It was okay, I suppose.

Book coverAfter watching Ninja Scroll, I (re-) discovered this film in the library, and I figured I might as well watch it right away whilst my brief interest in anime was at its peak.

In it, a cybernetic government agent and her team (and directorate) investigate “ghost” hacking incidents where humans are “hacked” through maniuplated emotions to do actual hacking on behalf of a shadowy figure known as the “Puppetmaster.” She and her team discover that it might be a computer program another directorate created who has become sentient and wants to procreate.

The film dwells on some heavier themes than Ninja Scroll, including the nature of consciousness, the soul (the “ghost” in the “shell” of a physical body). Not too heavily–man, I am reading a particularly talky book that touches on Great Themes–but enough to maybe make you think.

This film has a different look than Ninja Scroll–the animators have a more Japanese traditional art influence (more straight lines and strokes) as well as the scene selection to animate was heavily influenced by traditional noir scenes. So more interesting to look at at times, but to be honest, I was a little lost on a main plot point when one pivotal character looked a lot like an earlier character who was unrelated–I got confused and just rolled with it, but better discernment on my part would have made a bit of it more comprehensible. Although I suppose with more experience and exposure to anime, I could get better at it.

But, no. I would have enjoyed these films more as actual films with actors and stuff, maybe, but I’m too old to be watching a lot of cartoons. And I’m not in my teens or early twenties, latching onto this particular “art” form to differentiate myself from the rest of mass consumer middle-brow taste at the end of the period that actually had mass consumer middle-brow taste.

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Book Report: George Burns: The Hundred Year Dash by Martin Gottfried (1996)

Book coverNot to be confused with Bob Greene’s The 50-Year Dash which came out at roughly the same time. This boko, which I bought in 2008 (closer to its publication date than to today). Jeez Louise, it’s amazing how I can remember that book sale at St. Martin’s fairly clearly, but I don’t remember things from recent years. Mostly because most things in recent years have not been memorable, I reckon. But let’s not get maudlin and introspective again (or still) here.

This 329-page (with index) biography of George Burns tells in great detail, based not so much on Burns’ own (often ghost-written) accounts (in his other books) but on interviews with people who knew him and other primary written sources. It’s not a hagiography–it does not omit Burns’ frequent infidelity to his wife nor shy away from exposing, indirectly, the man’s insecurities which drove him. But it doesn’t make his flaws the center of the story, which is of a man who liked show business and wanted to get into it, succeed in it, and to continue in it his whole long life.

I mean, Burns’ career had so many different stages. He started in vaudeville and struggled as a solo act; he met with Gracie Allen and was part of a successful vaudeville act; he and Allen did some movies in the 1930s, usually short reprising of their vaudeville routines; they had a successful radio show which transitioned into a successful television program (the television show beginning when he was 54 years old); when Gracie retired and then died, Burns tried unsuccessfully to work on television with a number of series and continuing his nightclub act, neither of which worked (as nightclub acts were in decline as entertainment, perhaps due to television), leading to a fairly fallow artistic decade or fifteen years where although he was still producing and making money on business deals, he was not a popular entertainer; but in the 1970s, (at 79 years old), he takes a role in the film The Sunshine Boys and wins an Oscar as the Best Supporting Actor for it, leading to a resurgent career that saw him publishing books, appearing on television frequently, and starring in movies like the Oh God! series–strangely enough, I saw the first one a couple of times on television and the third one a lot because it was on Showtime when I was in the trailer, but I never see it on videocassette or DVD.

I found Burns’ resilience and longevity inspirational. I came to the part of the biography dealing with the death of Gracie Allen when Burns was like 68 years old, and the biography had 100 pages left.

You know, I’ve been letting the old man in a bit lately, and I’m inspired a bit by how Burns had whole decades short of success and carried on and succeeded.

You know, I am not much of a book collector these days, but I do have the urge to seek out Burns’ filmography. I know that only a few episodes of The George Burns and Gracie Allen Show survive–and they’re packaged not only on dollar DVDs you could buy in the grocery store twenty years ago but also in expensive collectible sets in collectible tins on Amazon. But maybe get some of the later films if not Damsels in Distress where they danced with Fred Astaire.

At any rate, this particular edition is not a collectible, but it is an oddity in my collection. Not only is it an ex-library book, but it’s also a BookCrossing book. Which looks to have been (and apparently still is) a Where’s George? (which is also apparently still a thing) for books. Or maybe it’s not still a thing–although the Web site has an up-to-date copyright date, clicking around in it yields a number of “no results” and stack traces. At any rate, it is or was a way to label books so that when you put them in a little free library or leave them lying around, the next person to pick them up can enter or could have entered a code into the Web site so you could see that it was being read and maybe where. But the ultimate result is that the book has a couple of extra labels on it with the penultimate owner’s user name (presumably penultimate as I bought this book and BookCrossing books are philosophically to be given away freely) and two or three little fliers in the pages like blow-in cards in a magazine.

Well, this book has been in my stacks for sixteen years now, so it has been out of circulation and will be until my estate sale. Note that these cards cannot be classified as Found Bookmarks because they were not actually used to mark the previous reader’s place.

Oh, and one more anecdote about this book: On my way to a book signing at ABC Books last weekend, I brought my sons and a friend of theirs along (they were along for a promised lunch at a buffet), and he and I got to talking about what we were reading. I told him about this book, and prefaced it by asserting that he would not know who George Burns was. And he did not. He’s a couple weeks short of turning 18, and George Burns, although an interesting figure in the history of 20th century entertainment whose career spanned every major genre of entertainment except video games, was in prehistory for a teen today. I mean, he was not even from the 20th century. He was born in the 19th century, which is not even covered in modern school history classes (I presume). So I was an old man talking about an old man. To be honest, I mostly talk about old or dead men, so this is not actually a variation on my theme.

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Movie Report: Fist of Fear, Touch of Death (1979) / Blind Fist of Bruce (1979)

Book coverAfter watching The Forbidden Kingdom and Jade Warrior, I thought I would throw in this DVD which I bought in June 2021 in Branson. I mean, I knew one of the films starred Bruce Li who was supposed to be a successor to Bruce Lee, but what did I just watch?

Fist of Fear, Touch of Death is not a Bruce Lee film. It was made after he died, and one of the currents is questioning whether he was murdered. I don’t know if the film makers were influenced by Kentucky Fried Movie or similar influences, but this is a jump-cut mockumentary (?) comedy (?) (it’s not funny though) centering on a karate tournament in Madison Square Garden in 1979, where the winner might be the successor to Bruce Lee. You’ve got Fred Williamson playing himself; you’ve got interview excerpts with Ron Van Clief (I’m familiar with both from the Urban Action Cinema Collection). You have a couple other martial artists who might be real or might be actors doing demonstrations. You also have a sparring match for the title at the end. In the middle, you have a fictionalized “biography” of Bruce Lee based on two films chopped and redubbed: one a samurai film purportedly depicting Lee’s Chinese samurai [sic] great grandfather, a mighty warrior, and the second a film starring a young Bruce Lee redubbed and cut to show him studying kung fu against his parents’ wishes. All of it is narrated by a sports reporter Adolph Caesar who does not appear to have been a sports reporter.

So is it a comedy? A quick cash-grab made for small theaters? That doesn’t matter. This film was a thorough waste of time except for the stories of some of the awful films I’ve watched. And this is not bad in a fun way that I’ll want to rewatch.

Blind Fist of Bruce, originally Mang quan gui shou, is a straight-forward kung fu film. Bruce Li plays the owner of a small town bank who is being taught kung fu by a pair of clowns whose tutelage has not actually taught the youth much. They stage an attempted bank robbery which proves the safety of the bank and the owner’s martial arts skills. However, when a real group of criminals moves into town, they shame him until he finds that the blind beggar is a kung fu master who can teach him how to really fight. He then bests the leader of the criminal gang, but they call in a favor, seeking a really bad guy called Tiger who was originally the student of the blind beggar–and blinded the beggar years before.

I guess the film is more of a straight-forward kung fu movie at the tale end of the 1970s resurgence–right as Jackie Chan was turning the genre into light comedy and before the wire work and CGI made it into video games. It was okay–you know, we thought films like this were great when we watched them at 11:30 on Saturday nights in Milwaukee, but now I look at them with a bit of experience, and when I see people blocking sticks with their hands or arms, I think, “Well, this fight is over,” but these things are filmed for how they look, not how they actually are.

I think this exhausts most if not all of the Chinese films in the library currently, and even if it has not, it has rather tamped down my interest in watching another such film any time soon.

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Did Someone Forget Some Paperwork?

Imagine you’re a kid, excited that you’re going to be on the front page of the newspaper, but your mom forgot to sign and return the release form.

And now all the kids at school call you “smiley” or “Walmart-savings-face.”

My beautiful wife speculates that the child might be in a foster home or something. I would extend that to perhaps hiding out from the mob like Jon Cryer in Hiding Out by acting like she is an elementary school student.

You know, I’ve never seen that film, and I don’t remember seeing it on physical media in the wild. I do remember the television commercial briefly. At least Jon Cryer sitting in a school desk (the school kind, so, yes, in the desk and not at the desk), smiling and raising his eyebrows (I forgot the wink, though).

Where was I?

Oh, I don’t know. Riffin’. Riffin’.

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Pikachu, I Choose Hu

I had not realized I could select “Hu” as a pronoun.

I would choose that as my pronouns except I fear it would be denigrated as cultural appropriation rather than cultural appreciation of Mongolian throat-singing metal:

Also, just to be pedantic, but:

Let the employer know what pronouns you use so they can address you correctly.

He/him, et ab., are third-person pronouns. They’re used when people are talking about you. My employer can address me by name or by “you.”

Meanwhile, I sometimes wonder if I’m not being considered for positions because I have twenty-plus years’ backlog on this here blog not taking wrongthink and rightthink seriously.

As this question was marked optional, I did not answer it on the online application, which scored me in some fashion in the omission.

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Book Report: The Widow’s Ring by Mary Schaffer (2020)

Book coverThis book is one of two that I bought by this local author in Heber Springs, Arkansas last year.

I have to say that I am not sure that I have read a book that more closely matches an episode of a television cop show than this one. Inside the front material, it says it’s a novel featuring Lt. Al Stimpson, but apparently it never evolved into a series.

The book begins with the prologue of how the killer came to be the killer: His abusive mother kept his father and his siblings in line until the father died, whereupon the mother tried to assert dominance, but the older brothers left, leaving the future killer and his younger sister. His mother begins an incestuous relationship with him and hates on the daughter who is young as she is no longer. When the mother kills the daughter, the son kills the mother and cuts off her finger. Which becomes his MO when he starts killing low class women after being triggered by a mother/son porn (probably porno to the author). I’m not spoiling the surprise for you; like a television program, it’s all up front, and the real tension is how the police will find the fellow.

This is not a piss on Missouri book or even a piss on Arkansas book as the original crime takes place in Oklahoma and other crimes take place down south which is rebuilding from Hurricane Katrina (even though it was published in 2020, the book is set years earlier).

So, for the cops, we have a deputy in Oklahoma who just recently discovered the mother’s and sister’s bodies when someone was building on the abandoned mobile home site. She’s a hire for political reasons, but she doggedly pursues leads when the sheriff can’t be arsed. We have Lietenant Stimpson and his partner: he is white, and she is black, and some are surprised they work so well together (the book says in pretty much those words). And we have a couple other ciphers of characters, such as a stock FBI profiler who makes an appearance or two to say stock FBI profiler things. Most of the other characters are just names and occupations, and many of the scenes in the book are not actual investigations, but instead meetings and reports of investigations. Like you might see on a television program with a small location budget.

I mean, the writing is pretty good, and the book moves along quickly (and it’s only a bit over 130 pages). So if you’re in the mood for something like this–something with the heft of a 21st century equivalent of men’s adventure paperbacks–I guess it could be your thing. But it’s ultimately not mine. I was going to pick up the other Schaffer book right away to complete my tour of her work, but I decided against it at this time. It is one of the “series” where “series” means a couple of books with the same investigators, but its 200+ length daunted me. So I’ll save it for another day.

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