Bad Movie Review: Death Ship (1980)

death_shipI have no idea why this movie suddenly popped up into my thoughts. I do remember that I had seen it during its initial theatrical run. That would be a difficult event to not remember. I was 19, in the Navy, and just getting seriously into RPGs. On that weekend Friday night me and my friends started a marathon AD&D game. We did not sleep but gamed right through the night and on into Saturday. by later Saturday we decided on a break in the game and went to the movies — Death Ship. After the movie we went back and continued gaming. Ah, the energies of youth.

I do remember I was not impressed with the film and tiny bits and pieces have stayed with me but really nearly off the movie was dumped by my data storage. Now, 35 years later I found myself thinking about the film and wondering what it really was like. Find a copy to watch proved to be a task, but one I completed sucessfully and earned out some e.p.

Death Ship is the story of a band of people who survive a cruise ship collision and find themselves adrift on debris in the Atlantic Ocean. Unfortunately for them the cause of their collision is the aforementioned Death Ship and when they spot it the next morning(?) (Not sure about that the lapse dissolves used after they are adrift makes any reasonable time estimation impossible.) They climb aboard its old and rusting hull. At once the ship proceeds to start killing them, throwing the Jewish comedian overboard.

A series of events pass when bad things happen to the survivors and one become possibly possessed by the ship, or perhaps simply enamored with it. the distinction is never made clear. There are psychotic breaks, or breaks in space/time, again the distinction is not clear, and eventually some of the survivors escape to rescue.

I made a post recently about the difference in my opinion between story and plot. This film is all plot, and very bad plot that is illogical and acausal, without any story. There are no characters of note, only the thinnest cardboard cutouts doing things to make the next scary event occur.

It is not surprising that I remembered so little of the movie as it contains nothing memorable.


Hypothetical Trump Stopper

Trumps commanding rise in the Republican Primary is a black swan event. An unpredictable occurrence. When he first announced many people assumed, and I am included in that set, that he would flare and die as more serious candidates took the lead. The silly summer stretched on and Trump’s lead in the polls only grew.

No, I do not think he will be the nominee. TGhe party will rage and eventually kill his chances, but if they do that without gutting his support who knows what backlash his supporters may unleash? To safely remove Trump from the race he has to crater in the polls, but what might prompt that?

Not policy. He’s already all over the map with positions taken that would have killed any other candidate. His supporters simply don’t care.

Personality? Not likely, he is and remains who his public persona has always been, an arrogant, insulting, loud mouth, braggart and with each insult his numbers climb.

Attacks from the establishment? Hell, his supporters love him because he’s giving to the establishment. Every time the elders try to take him to task they strength him like Godzilla feeding at a nuclear reactor.

All the typical tool appear useless. I do think I have one way, but only Trump can do it.

Go watch a movie call ‘A Face in the Crowd.’ The character lonesome Rhodes suffers his downfall — spoilers — when an open mike lets his followers know exactly what he thinks of them.  Mitt Romney was hurt in the general election with his famous 47% comment, Trump supports would eat that up and ask for more, but if Trump were to be caught talking about the idiot and losers who listen to him and how he uses them, then he’d be toast.

But, I don’t know if he feels that way, or is in anyway likely to spout such sentiments.

Without that? I have no idea where you’ll find an oxygen destroyer that works on Trump.


Story vs Plot

Lately I’ve been thinking about the intersection and differences between have a plot and have a story. What follows is necessarily just one person’s opinion and so take it or leave as you will.

Here are my basic definitions. A plot is a character with an objective and an intervening obstacle. A story is about a character in transformation, a character who is progressing through an arc and is changed irreversibly by the arc.

I’ll illustrate the differences between with two James Bond films, Moonraker and On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. (Naturally there will be spoilers)

Moonraker is all plot and no story. Bond has a series objectives, Discover what happen to the stolen shuttle. Survived the attempts on his life by the villain Hugo Drax. Uncover the plot to destroy all human life, and finally prevent the nerve gassing of the planet. He succeeds at all of this, saves the world and has space nookie. The key thing that makes this all plot and no story is that James Bond in the first reel is exactly the same person as James Bond in the final reel. He has endured no tests of character, only of skill. You can replace him with any super-humanly competent secret agent and the events will transpire in essentially the same manner. James Bond himself makes no difference to the outcome only his skills.

On Her Majesty’s Secret Service is a story with a plot. Bond has a series of obstacles to overcome, infiltrating the villain’s lair, discovering the threat to world agriculture, saving the world. In this aspect it is not very different than Moonraker, just with a less ludicrous set of events. However in this film Bonds meets Tracy and falls so hard for her that he marries her and resigns from the service. Blofeld, thwarted in his scheme, attempts to kill bond and kills only Tracy. Bond is shattered and broken in the movie’s final scene muttering over his wife’s corpse ‘We have all the time in the world.’

This is a story. Replace Bond with some other super-competent agent and while the world may be saved and the plot resolved, the character transformation will be missing. Tracy and James, quite unlike most other Bond girls, make this a story about choices and loss.

There in a nutshell is I how to cleave the difference between story and plot.


Celebratory Trip

As many of you are aware, two months age I signed with the Virgina Kidd Literary agency.  (I am still somewhat boggled by that. They are a premier agency for SF/Fantasy writers.) Also in the month of June I twisted my knee and reinflamed its old injury. Now after weeks and weeks of work with my chiropractor, the knee is doing well. (The WorldCon was a test and I was able to walk 4.5 miles a day without pain.)

So now that the knee was recovered I could do what I wanted to do in celebration, go to Universal Studios Hollywood. My sweetie-wife doesn’t care for theme parks and the rides are certainly not her cup of tea, so this trip was a solo trip. That is sometimes a good thing. I am an introvert by nature and 10-12 hours on my own is good for my emotional state and usually give my brain time to ponder writing issues.

The sun beat down mercilessly on the park today, but I had  the foresight to apply sunscreen meaning I am not burned. There had been a few changes from my last trip in May. (I am an annual pass holder, so I go fairly often.) The Fast and Furious bit has been added to the tram tour/ride. It works pretty well. They use some sort of transparent screen to project footage in such a way that without glass there is a three-d effect. That’s only for the introduction, the main ride is pretty much like the King Kong 360 3D. You wear the glasses and are fully immersed in a fast action scene with events happening all the way around the tram. It’s a fairly well-executed illusion.

Raptor Encounters have been added as a character in the park. It’s very much based on the event sin Jurassic World where a trained works with the ‘tamed’ raptor. The suit/puppet for the raptor was impressive with articulated jaws and eye-lids. The Raptor performers I watched did an excellent job playing the beasts.

Photos and videos are up over at my facebook page. All in all I had a good day.


Movie Review The Living Skeleton (1968)

Sorry about the scarcity of posts here lately. I’m engrossed in writing a new novel and that has taken up quite a bit of my new word output. So here’s a review of a film I streamed from Hulu.

1-LivingSkeleton_originalThe Living Skeleton is a 1968 Japanese horror film. I stumbled across it while browsing Criterion’s Catalog on Hulu. It promised an atmospheric, maritime-centric, ghost story. That sounded like a film worth at least a look-see. I am particularly fond of ghost stories and found several from Japanese cinema that worked quite well for me.

The story is about a freighter that is taken by pirates. (modern day freighter, not sailing ship.)  The crew are murdered and the ship considered lost at sea.  The film skips over a number of years to the sister or a woman murdered on the ship. She lives near the sea, working for a priest, and involved with a young man. The lost ship reappears on a foggy night and the young woman ventures aboard.

The story starts following the fate of the pirates as one by one they meet their deaths. All in all up to the point the film had been working for me. It is well acted, nicely photographed, and has plenty of atmosphere. My only quibble is editing. It lacked mystery because of the linear plot line. I would have favored an approach that started well after the pirate attack and brought the viewer up to speed with bits and bites of information.

*Spoiler Warning*

The film falls apart in the third act. After several well handled twists and very nicely staged ghost scenes the story reveals that there was no ghost. The ‘dead’sister survived the attack and managed to describe her attack so well that the surviving twin could track down the pirates and by her mere presence cause them to panic and die. The plot takes another terrible turn when it is revealed that not only did the ‘dead’ sister survive, but her groom did as well. Both have lived aboard the derelict ship, he as some sort of mad scientist inventing fantastic acids for bad guy disposal and third act ticking clocks.

The bad guys are killed, the sisters are killed, the mad scientist groom is killed, and the boyfriend is left alone and terribly confused.

This was a decent movie that had me buying in until they cheated and switched the genre. SF author Nancy Kress in her writing guides puts forth the idea that at the start of a story the artist and the audience enter into a contract, a promise, about what sort of thing they are going to experience, and that breaking this promise is a sure way to anger your participants. This film is an example of that failure.



Post Worldcon entry

I am sorry that the daily entires dropped out. but I was just too dang busy. That’s a good thing when you are at a worldcon. The previous entries had been written at breakfast, and on those days I ate breakfast alone. The last few days of the convention we discovered a chain place that was suitable to both my and my sweetie-wife’s diets. So having breakfast with my sweetie-wife took priority over blog posting.

The Con was a blast. Each day I was there at the start of panels and they carried through into the late night. The fires nearby were bad. Sadly a few firefighters were killed battling the blaze. On Friday the winds shifted and the smoke overtook downtown Spokane. By evening the air quality had degraded to ‘hazardous to all’ and everyone was advised to no go outside unless required and to wear filter masks. Luckily this condition did not last long and Saturday the winds flipped again and it became much better.

I hung out with friends, learned new things in publishing and science, played a new game, and had the wonderful reinvigorating time I needed. I am already looking forward to next year in Kansas City MO. (2017 was won by Helsinki Finland, a convention I am unlikely to attend.)



WorldCon Day 2

Well there was certainly a lot going on yesterday. Programing started at 10 am and for me the last panel ended at 10 pm. I did managed a short dinner with my sweetie-wife, but other than that it was panels panels panels. All of which made for a happy Bob.

I’m not going to recap all of them, there are simply too many and too much, so here are my highlights.

150 Years of Alice in Wonderland. A standing room only 10 am panel. Fun panelists, informative and well worth the time. Got a chance to introduce myself to my potential publisher as I wait for her acquisitions editor to make a call on my novel.

Pluto in the Rear-View Mirror. A standing room only panel on the recent discoveries at Pluto by the New Horizons mission. Pluto joins the list of bodies in the solar system that has produced unexpected mysteries.

From Starship Troopers to Honor Harrington, a look at Military SF. Informative and lively the discussion covered the topic well without getting bogged down in politics.



All in all things are a blast.


Worldcon Day 1

So here it is at the start of Day 2 and I’ll give you a recap of the previous day here the 2015 Worldcon in Spokane Washington.

First off we awoke to a weather report of warm and smokey. Wildfires near the city have turned the sky yellow/gold, casting a lovely light but everywhere is the smell of smoke. As sunset approached the sun became a fiery red blood color more suited for an alien world than the pacific northwest,

We had registered and picked up our badges the day before so we avoided the long lines at the convention. The panels were good on the first day. I started out with  the best advice I had been given on writing. Nearly all of the advice I already knew but the speakers were entertaining and I had fun.

I followed that with Understanding Contracts, a useful topic and one that I feel is going to become more and more important to me in the near future. There were just two panelists, but both were experienced from different angles (Author and Agent) and provided plenty of precautionary advice.

Next up was a spot of fun with a discussion of Hard SF films. There I learned that Connie Willis truly does not like with Interstellar. The panel could have been better, a little too much audience taking over, but I still enjoyed it.

My sweetie-wife and I then went to a panel designed to welcome Discworld fans to the WorldCon. Naturally I know quite a bit about worldcons and I am a discworld fan, but it was nice seeing the con introduced from a different perspective.

There was time for a dinner break at a local spot The Onion, it was nice but I think I liked the burger at the Irish Bar the night before better. Then back to my final panel on legends of the Northwest followed by horror film in the film festival. (Most were okay but one was a dry dull nothing happens slashers film. boring)

now onto day 2.


Movie Review: The Man From U.N.C.L.E

1-The_Man_from_U.N.C.L.E._posterWhen talking about books and movies about spies I find it helpful to divide the genre into two large sub-genres; Secret Agent stories and Espionage stories. Espionage stories are more grounded, more like reality, that are more often about the careful work of deception and the moral grayness of the field. John Le Carre’s work, such as Tinker Tailor, Solider, Spy is an excellent example of this sub-genre. The Secret Agent stories are not about reality. They deal with fantastic, often impossible gadgets, uber-competent heroes, fantastic plots and plenty of thrilling action. The platonic ideal for the Secret Agent story is of course James Bond. Neither style or approach is superior to the others, that are matters of taste.

The Man From U.N.C.L.E., the original television series and the 2015 feature film, belong quite solidly in the Secret Agent landscape. I will admit that the few episode I have seen of the original series did not win me over and I can not be counted among the fans. That said, I did go along with my sweetie-wife on Sunday morning and watched the feature film adaptation.

I very much enjoyed this movie. Guy Ritchie, one of the credited writers and the director, walked the line between credible threat and campy fun perfectly. The story has been dinged as rather simplistic, but personally I think this works in the movies favor and not against it. Set properly during the cold war in 1963 A former NAZI scientist has developed a new and easy method of enriching Uranium. Said Scientist has vanished it is is thought a new independent player has arrived on the field, threatening to upset the balance of power between the U.S. and the Soviet Union. The global adversaries must work together to investigate and neutralize this threat. America’s best agent, Napoleon Solo is forced to partner with the Soviet’s best agent Illyan Kuryakin. From elements at the start of the film both men have reason to distrust and hate the other, but both men also have needs beyond their respective services.

The movie is a  romp through a James Bond that is having fun with the material but not winking so hard at the camera as to shatter disbelief.  The comedic moments are perfectly timed and the reversals and reveals move the pace and plot along with a brisk momentum. This is an origin story, but it is one that gives the characters a chance to grow into their final forms. Director Ritchie also handles digital effect far better than most working in the industry. Using digital camera to create swooping impossible tracking shot he keeps the geography fixed in the viewers mind during a cross mountain chase without losing any sense of the speed or danger in the pursuit. His use of split screen to convey the impression of a massive battle without slowing the film was also masterful.

In short I really enjoyed this film and heartily recommend it if you want some light summer fun.


Thoughts of the Republican Primary Season

Clearly this is a political post and if that’s not your cup of tea, skip.

America is gearing up for the 2016 Presidential contest and the Republican after getting beaten the last two out is gunning for a win.  The process starts early and runs long. there are, I think, 17 candidates running to represent the Republicans in the autumn contest. this far out early polls have very little predictive power about who the eventual nominee will be, but that can give you insight in the party, its factions, and its troubles.

Last week the first debates Fox News hosted the first debates. They held two, one for candidates who polled very low and another prime-time debate for the top 10. I did not watch the junior varsity debate, but I did watch the main event. Everything that follows is opinion only. I possess not special knowledge or training in this field.

It looked to me that the host, Fox News, long accused and rightly in my opinion, of presenting their material with a bias for conservatives and the Republican Party, managed the debate with bias for factions and candidates within the Party. It seemed to me that some candidates were treated in a manner that would enhance their standing within the contest while downplaying their weaknesses. Other candidates were subject to hostile questions to looked to me to have the intent of driving a wedge between the candidate the party’s base.

Candidates that were treated favorably in my opinion were Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, and Scott Walker. Bush often received questions that allowed him to answer with his resume as a governor while sliding past the fact that these facts and reports were already nearly a decade old. Walker and Rubio were treated with opportunities to boast of their social conservatives ideals, playing well to the base. All three in political writings are often referred to as candidates acceptable to the business/establishment faction of the Republican Party.

Candidate treated less well included Trump, Paul, and Kasich. All three were questioned about stands or actions taken that might be considered heresies with the conservative base. Trump endured the brunt of the attack questions while Paul and Kasich both had fewer but given their positions more policy-oriented questions. (Paul in a previously proposed budget suggest cutting all aid to Israel and his isolationism doesn’t play well with the hawkish elements of the base. While Kasich was pulled onto the carpet for expanding Medicaid in his state, and thus committing the sit or working with Obama’s hated health care reforms.)

It is interesting to watch some conservatives react with anger and surprise at Fox’s behaviors during the debate. It hardly surprises me. If they present a blatant bias in other areas it is quite reasonable to assume that they have biases within the party and its contentious factions. As the old saying goes, what is good for the goose is good for the gander.

Far more fascinating to follow is is the entire war on Trump. Now in my opinion Trump is a buffoon, an egotist, and narcissist, and a terrible, terrible choice however he’s tapped into the anger and resent that Fox News and the conservatives have cultivated within the base of the party. Anger is not rational, and those who are standing for Trump are not doing so because of policy and position, but because of passion. They see someone standing up and ‘telling it like it is.’ The problem for the republican party is that what Trump is spewing is pretty much vile, racist, sexist, shit. Fox news tried to use this at the debates to destroy Trump. They launched their nukes and watched the monstrosity of their creation withstand the blast and grew stronger. Instead of driving a wedge between Trump and the base, they drove a wedge between the Base and Fox News. Trump threatened their ratings and Fox folded. (Revealing the critical flaw in running a news organization as a for-profit business. Can any report from them ever be trusted again?)

Trump has the go to keep running even if he can’t win. He has the money to do it big and loud, as he does everything. he has the petulant nature to run purely to hurt those who have hurt him. Where in the last cycle the fringe candidates like Herman Caine eventually flamed out and crashed, Trump has the cash to survive anything crisis he wants to survive. I do not think he can win the nomination, but I do think he can stay in the race, dividing support, and maybe even throwing next year’s convention into chaos if the leading candidate doesn’t have a clear majority of the delegates. All of that would critically wound the eventual Republican nominee, nearly ensuring a Democratic victory. But what tools, what weapons does the party have to placate Trump?

No matter what happens, it’s time to buy stock in popcorn.