The 1978 Project: Arbitrary Awards

The 1978 Project edition of the Kaedrin Movie Awards were finished off last week. The idea is to recognize aspects of films that aren’t reflected in more traditional awards or other praise like a Top 10 list. However, any awards system will fail to capture all the nuances and complexity available; hence the Arbitrary Awards, an opportunity to commend movies that are weird or flawed in ways that don’t conform to normal standards. A few of these “awards” have become an annual tradition, but most are just, well, arbitrary. If you’re curious as to how this has played out over more recent years, you can see more Arbitrary Awards here: [2020 | 2019 | 2018 | 2017 | 2016 | 2015 | 2014 | 2013 | 2012 | 2011 | 2010 | 2009 | 2008 | 2007 | 2006]

The “You know what happens when a toad gets struck by lightning? The same thing that happens to everything else” Award for Worst Dialogue: Attack of the Killer Tomatoes! This is one of those things where the whole package is so bad that it almost boomerangs back around to being good. Still the dialogue is silly at best. “Hey, can somebody please pass the ketchup?” Oof. Sadly, there are tons of 1978 movies that could compete for this award, but let’s not dwell on it, ok?

The Proximity to Jason Vorhees Award for Heroic Stupidity: The Redeemer: Son of Satan! What’s that? You’ve never heard of this movie? That’s probably for the best. There actually are some interesting bits about the movie, but the characters are pretty dumb and it’s the sort of thing that I only caught up with because it was easily available on streaming…

Best Badass/Villain (non-Human Edition): Zombies in Dawn of the Dead. I don’t love this movie nearly as much as most horror fanatics, but it is a good movie and it’s impossible to deny the influence of the Romero zombie sequence, this movie chief among them.

The “Weiner” Award for Unparalleled Access to Documentary Subjects: Koko: A Talking Gorilla. While not quite the coup that the category’s namesake implies, it’s great that someone was able to get so much footage of Koko while we could…

Most Weirdly Impressive Pedigree Applied to a Silly Premise: Magic. Directed by Richard Attenborough, written by William Goldman, starring Anthony Hopkins, Ann-Margret, Burgess Meredith, and Ed Lauter, none of whom are particularly well known for horror movies (except for Hopkins’ turn as Hannibal Lecter over a decade later). All in service of a ventriloquist vs killer dummy tale! And it works, too… They play it completely straight and the movie is legit pretty great. Also of note for this category: Piranha. Total Jaws ripoff, but it’s directed by Joe Dante and written by John Sayles.

Best Meme Derived from a 1978 Movie: Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Of course, it’s a bit of a spoiler, but that shot of Donald Sutherland at the end is an all time classic meme base.

Invasion of the Body Snatchers meme

Lots of Halloween memes also available for sure, as well as Grease and National Lampoon’s Animal House, but really it’s that Body Snatchers ending that takes it.

Best Exploding Head: Dawn of the Dead. Tom Savini is clearly a champion of the category, and this is probably his earliest example of that sort of thing. However, worth noting some strong competition from The Fury, which actually might be better because you know the character whose head is exploding and thus it has more of an impact… Anyway, two top tier exploding heads means this is a pretty great year for horror movies, no?

Best Motion Picture Score: Superman by John Williams. I suppose that whole late-70s early-80s corridor is dominated by Williams, but there’s a reason for that. Strong competition from John Carpenter’s quickie Halloween score; simple but memorable and extremely effective. Giorgio Moroder’s score for Midnight Express won the Oscar and is certainly in the conversation as well…

Best Death Scene: Snake in the Eagle’s Shadow. I mean, come on, look at this thing. Might be a best of all time, let alone 1978.

Weirdest Plot Device with a Surprisingly Historical Precedent: Death Force. Our hero washes up on a Pacific island and encounters two Japanese soldiers who did not believe that WWII had ended (the movie is set towards the end of Vietnam). This was a real thing, though not quite widespread. “Hiroo Onoda remained in the jungle on Lubang Island near Luzon, in the Philippines, until 1974 because he did not believe that the war had ended.” Good for him, I guess. Anyway, Death Force is an absurd movie for more than just this historical note, but it’s worth calling out.

The Mumblecore Precursor Award: Girlfriends. Greta Gerwig owes a lot to Girlfriends. I guess perhaps not technically mumblecore, but still.

Most Harrowing Gameplay: The Russian roulette scene in The Deer Hunter. I have my issues with the movie, but that sequence is just expertly constructed and basically makes the whole exercise worthwhile.

Best Tarantino Referenced Movie: The Inglorious Bastards is the obvious choice for an obvious reason, but a more obscure option would be Five Deadly Venoms (aka The Five Venoms), which Tarantino lifted some sound effects from for the Kill Bill movies. I’m sure there are dozens of other references and tidbits that Tarantino has culled from 1978 movies, but those were the two that jumped out at me…

So there you have it, the 1978 Arbitrary Awards are in the books. Stay tuned for a Top 10 list (along with the requisite Honorable Mentions) and perhaps some additional 1978 Project thoughts in the coming weeks.

The 1978 Project: Kaedrin Movie Awards Winners

The nominations for the 1978 Project edition of the Kaedrin Movie Awards were announced last week, to much fanfare. After a week of rampant speculation and record-setting bets in Vegas sportsbooks, it’s time to announce the winners. Next week, I’ll announce the winners of some more goofy, freeform categories that we call the Arbitrary Awards, and not long after that, I’ll post my top 10 of 1978. And now, the KMA goes to:

Best Villain/Badass: Michael Myers, played by Nick Castle in Halloween. And it’s not even close. As mentioned in the noms, this wasn’t a standout year for villainy.

Michael Myers in Halloween (1978)

For crying out loud, two whole nominees (from Patrick and The Medusa Touch) spent the majority of their respective runtimes in a goddamn coma. Which, I’ll grant, is the point of those particular movies and they’re good examples of that sort of thing, but still. Another is only really there because of the comeuppance he receives in the end (Cassavetes in The Fury). Other nominees are fine… as nominees. But none can even approach The Shape.

Best Hero/Badass: Superman / Clark Kent, played by Christopher Reeve in Superman. I mean, I guess you wouldn’t call Supes much of a “badass”, but he’s pretty clearly an archetypal hero. Much more to choose from in the nominations and this decision was much closer than for villain.


Jamie Lee Curtis in Halloween was certainly in the running, and that one speaks to the notion of balanced heroism/villainy. A good villain requires a good hero. A large proportion of nominees were driven by the seemingly endless supply of martial arts flicks in 1978, some of which genuinely do stand out from the crowd. Still, I couldn’t pass on Supes.

Best Comedic Performance: John Belushi in National Lampoon’s Animal House. A bit of a cheat in that Belushi is clearly just the standout performance in an ensemble, but then, as I said, he is the standout. And he’s fabulously funny in a way that many are inspired by but few can actually imitate. Jackie Chan is always fun to watch, and Charles Grodin does a lot with a little. Chevy Chase and Goldie Hawn did their best with a movie that never quite gelled. I Wanna Hold Your Hand is another ensemble piece that’s notable because of its mostly female cast, and it’s great. Cheech & Chong have never really been my thing, but I guess you have to recognize them. But Belushi’s short career means that some of these performances can only burn a bit brighter.

Breakthrough Performance: Jackie Chan in Drunken Master and Snake in the Eagle’s Shadow. Sure, he’d been around for a while and even had minor roles in movies like Enter the Dragon, but he wasn’t really allowed to be his goofy self until these two movies. His particular brand of slapstick comedy and underdog sensibilities really emerged here and would catapult him into stardom. Both Kevin Bacon and Jamie Lee Curtis are strong runners up and would go on to have big careers. If I were writing this in 1978 (or, more likely, 1979), the other nominees would probably have presented stronger because their performances were genuinely great.

Most Visually Stunning: Days of Heaven. Terrence Malick’s insane scheme to film most of the movie during the “magic hour” truly results in amazing pastoral photography, even if the story didn’t do a whole lot for me.

Days of Heaven

The runner up would probably Invasion of the Body Snatchers, which has a bunch of memorable shots and visual wizardry. Dawn of the Dead is less visually stunning than it is “best practical effects” or some such (hmm, I feel an arbitrary award brewing here). The other nominees are no slouches, though they’re mostly there for a handful of memorable shots rather than sustained visual prowess.

Best Sci-Fi or Horror Film: Halloween. It’s one of my favorite movies of all time, let alone 1978, and indeed, I watch it every year. The same can’t be said for many movies, and certainly not the other nominees. Which are a fine bunch, to be sure! Lots of great movies on the list and even the bad movies are memorably bad (ah, the The Manitou!) Of note here is the relative dearth of Science Fiction amongst the nominees. Even the ones that are there are arguably good demonstrations of the Intersection of Horror and SF. Anyway, I don’t know how I could even begin to justify something other than Halloween for this one.

Best Sequel/Reboot/Remake: Invasion of the Body Snatchers. I’m often very hard on sequels and remakes, so my first viewing of Philip Kaufman’s stylish remake of the classic was quite a surprise. I really love both versions of the film and would recommend both (as for the other two remakes in subsequent decades… not so much). Actually, the nominees are a pretty sharp bunch. I don’t love Dawn of the Dead nearly as much as a lot of horror folks, but I have a lot of respect for the way it follows up on the original. Death on the Nile and Flying Guillotine II are both solid extensions of their respective first films and worth checking out. The other nominees might not be quite as successful, but I have fond memories of both…

Biggest Disappointment: Foul Play. I don’t hate the movie by any stretch, it’s just that it had so much potential and I wanted to love it, to find that diamond in the rough, the neglected, underrated gem that simply got overshadowed by the stars’ later successes. Or something like that. It didn’t help that it took me a while to get my hands on a copy of the thing, so my anticipation kept building. As such, it scores poorly on Joe Posnanski’s Plus-Minus Scale. None of which is to say that the other nominees weren’t worthy, just that I’d always heard that The Lord of the Rings was a bit of a mess, and thus I didn’t expect it to be great. I watched Dracula’s Dog years ago on a whim because I thought it might be fun trash, but it turned out to be just trash. Long Weekend has a pretty good reputation amongst film geeks, but while I wanted to love it (as I do with everything I watch), I could tell that it might be pressing buttons that don’t really work for me. And so on.

Best Action Sequence: Drunken Master and Snake in the Eagle’s Shadow. I know, I know, I’m cheating, but seriously: these two movies share the same director/fight choreographer, most of the same cast and crew, and were probably made back to back in two weeks or something silly like that. And the action is just glorious. Something about Woo-Ping Yuen’s intricate style is just infinitely appealing (if you’re not familiar with his legendary Hong Kong work, I’m betting you are familiar with The Matrix, which he also worked on). And given the throngs of great Hong Kong martial arts flicks in 1978, I really needed to reward them here. The other nominees are certainly also worthy, though I struggled to find non-martial arts movies to compete. I think the two I managed to scrounge up are great though, and well worth checking out, but can’t really compete with the likes of Jackie Chan and Woo-Ping Yuen.

Best Plot Twist/Surprise: The Great Train Robbery. Michael Crichton’s underseen Victorian heist flick is a really fun, twisty thriller. I very nearly gave this to Invasion of the Body Snatchers, but that movie already got an award and we like to spread things around at least a little, when we can. And I do think that The Great Train Robbery is an underrated gem that more people should check out. The other nominees are no slouches on this front, but we’re almost spoiling all this stuff just by talking about the fact that they have twists in the first place, so let’s just keep it at that…

Best High Concept Film: Heaven Can Wait. Its got a bit of a wacky premise, but Warren Beatty and Elaine May (adapting a play by Harry Segall) put it through its paces and end up in deeper water than you’d expect. The idea of this category is notoriously nebulous, so some of the nominees probably don’t fit much, and I feel like we see a lot more of this sort of thing these days than we did back in the day, but here we are.

Congrats to all the 1978 Kaedrin Movie Awards winners! Stay tuned for the Arbitrary Awards, coming next week…

The 1978 Project: Kaedrin Movie Awards Nominations

Welcome to the 1978 Project edition of the Kaedrin Movie Awards! The idea is to recognize films for various achievements that don’t always reflect well on top 10 lists or traditional awards. There are lots of formal award categories and nominees listed below, but once those are announced, we’ll also leave some room for Arbitrary Awards that are more goofy and freeform. Finally, we’ll post a traditional top 10 list. Because this is the 1978 Project, I’ll probably also have some other roundups/commentary about the year in film. But first up is the awards! [Other Movie Award Installments here: 2006 | 2007 | 2008 | 2009 | 2010 | 2011 | 2012 | 2013 | 2014 | 2015 | 2016 | 2017 | 2018 | 2019 | 2020]

Standard disclaimers apply: Nominees must be a 1978 movie. I usually include a caveat for movies that came out the previous year but weren’t available until the next year (in this case, 1977 movies not released until 1978), but since we’re doing this a few decades after the fact, that’s not really necessary. For the record, I mostly based this list off of Letterboxd, so if there’s some discrepancy between their date and some other website, I guess that’s too bad.

As of this writing, I’ve seen 87 movies released in 1978. I’m guessing this is a lot more than most folks, but it’s about par for the course for my usual annual roundups (maybe a hint less than recent years). Obviously this is a personal exercise that is entirely subjective in nature, but the world would be a boring place indeed if we all loved the same things for the same reasons, right? Right. Let’s get this party started:

Best Villain/Badass
A strange year for villainy here. On one hand, the pickings are a little slim. On the other hand, there’s a clear and obvious winner that would be competitive in almost any year. It’s funny, but despite one example in 1978, I suspect this category is often padded out by superhero movies. In theory, I could leverage the throngs of martial arts movies to pad out this category, but they’re not as memorable as their heroes and again, none will defeat the ultimate winner (which I hope you can pick out). In accordance with tradition, my picks in this category are limited to individuals, not groups (i.e. no vampires or zombies as a general menace, etc…) or ideas.

Best Hero/Badass
Also strange on the heroism front. Certainly more options to choose from, but no obvious standout (though I suspect I know who will win this one). Again limited to individuals and not groups.

Best Comedic Performance
Always a tricky award due to the prevalence of ensemble casts in comedies, and I cheated a bit by including a couple of duos in the nominees, but there’s a pretty clear winner here (even if he’ll end up representing a larger ensemble).

Breakthrough Performance
A difficult category to judge right now because it’s hard to to ignore the rest of someone’s career, so the whole predictive “I can’t wait to see what this person does next” aspect is lost. Also, while there’s lots of larval performances from famous folks, it’s often not their first big role, so it’s hard to tell if it really represents a “breakthrough”. That said, I think this is a pretty solid list!

Most Visually Stunning
Sometimes even bad movies can look really great… Weird to judge this category, since a lot of more modern nominees are driven by effects spectacles, but the good ol’ amazing photography will probably be pulling it out this year.

Invasion of the Body Snatchers, a nominee for Most Visually Stunning

Best Sci-Fi or Horror Film
A pretty great year for horror films. SF was dominated by low quality Star Wars clones, but at least a couple interesting efforts made the list. That said, there’s an obvious choice in my book…

Best Sequel/Reboot/Remake
1978 was clearly not as dominated by sequels and remakes as our current situation, there were still some examples to pull from, a few of which are surprisingly great.

Biggest Disappointment
Always an awkward category to populate. I should note at this point that sometimes I actually enjoy these movies… but my expectations were just too high when I saw them. Related reading: Joe Posnanski’s Plus-Minus Scale (these movies scored especially poor on that scale).

Best Action Sequence
This award isn’t for individual action sequences, but rather an overall estimation of each film, and this year is a bit unfair because Hong Kong was in a martial arts boom at the time. There’s, like, 10 other Hong Kong martial arts flicks that could be on this list, but these were the standouts. I struggled to find non-Hong-Kong entries. Hollywood would get much better in the coming years…

The Avenging Eagle, a nominee for Best Action Sequence

Best Plot Twist/Surprise
I suppose even listing that there is a twist is a bit of a spoiler, so I guess we’ll just have to risk it.

Best High Concept Film
A bit of a nebulous concept for this one, but there’s a few good ones this year…

Normally at this point, I would do a category that’s something like “1978’s 1977 movie of the year” because I’m often catching up with movies from the previous year while watching the current year. In this case, there’s only one real nominee for this award, which is Rolling Thunder. I guess you could say that it wins by default, but it kicks major ass and is totally worth seeking out.

Anywho, there you have it. Winners to be announced soon! Halloween leads the way with 5 nominations, but more surprising is the runner up, Invasion of the Body Snatchers with four noms (a whole slew of movies garnered 3 noms, too).

Link Dump

The usual collection of links I found perusing the depths of ye olde internets:

Q: Jazz critic Ted Gioia recently lodged a complaint that “music criticism has degenerated into lifestyle reporting” because most most critics lack a musical background and theoretical tools. Do movie critics need filmmaking experience or an understanding of film theory to do their jobs?

Gioia’s piece, which was published at The Daily Beast, was the op-ed equivalent of a nun rapping inattentive students’ knuckles with a ruler. It’s mostly an argument in favor of music critics knowing a little bit about the actual process of writing and performing music, and finding a way to work that knowledge into their reviews. “Imagine, for a moment, football commentators who refuse to explain formations and plays. Or a TV cooking show that never mentions the ingredients,” he writes, “or an expert on cars who refuses to look under the hood of an automobile. These examples may sound implausible, perhaps ridiculous. But something comparable is happening in the field of music journalism. One can read through a stack of music magazines and never find any in-depth discussion of music.  Technical knowledge of the art form has disappeared from its discourse. In short, music criticism has turned into lifestyle reporting.”

It’s a good piece worth revisiting because the last four years have probably only exacerbated the issue. It’s funny, because I feel like one of the trends we saw in these last few years is a bunch of critics wanting to write about nothing but politics, while political reporters wanted to escape the partisan tribalism by writing about art, movies, tv, whatever. In any case, it’s definitely worth keeping in mind.

And that’s all for now. I was going to kick off the 1978 Project Kaedrin Movie Awards, but got bogged down with other stuff this week… but it’s coming soon!

Project Hail Mary

Andy Weir first rose to prominence with his self-published novel of an astronaut stranded on Mars, The Martian. It caught on with readers, eventually got picked up by a big publisher and even adapted into a pretty great Ridley Scott movie. He followed that book up with the moon-based Artemis, a novel that clearly didn’t hang together as well as The Martian, but had its moments I guess. Still, the Sophomore Slump felt real. Now we come to Project Hail Mary, Weir’s third book and I’m happy to report that it represents something of a return to form.

Earth’s sun is dimming and the cause is traced back to a microscopic life form (dubbed the Astrophage) that lives on the sun and uses its energy to migrate to Venus. The dimming effect is accelerating and will eventually cause catastrophic changes on earth and potentially wipe out humanity. What’s more, most of our neighboring stars are also dimming… except for Tau Ceti, a star that’s twelve light-years from earth. Project Hail Mary is quickly assembled to visit Tau Ceti, devise a solution to the Astrophage, and save all humankind. We learn all of this in flashback, as Ryland Grace, a middle-school science teacher wakes up with a nasty case of amnesia. He quickly deduces that he’s on a spaceship and his memories start to come back. Will Grace be able to find a solution in time to save Earth?

Some minor spoilers up there, I guess, but there’s lots more to this story that I will try not to spoil too much. As with The Martian this is a novel about a lone astronaut sciencing the shit out of things to save himself and in this case, humanity. The science is handled well and in detail. It’s not diamond hard science fiction that’s difficult to understand, it’s actually quite accessible and while sometimes tedious for the characters, mostly not for us readers. I suppose it could wear you down though, especially when you get towards the end of the story and you know where it’s going, but Weir puts Grace through the paces as he attempts to find a needle in a haystack. Still, it’s well drawn and clearly explained. All of which serves to keep the story grounded, even when Grace does some crazy stuff to, for example, snag a sample of a potential Astrophage solution.

The technology is mostly present-day stuff. Since Project Hail Mary is humanity’s last hope, the plan relies on old, well-established technology that’s pretty much guaranteed not to fail. Except, of course, for the new spin drive propulsion system that can help the ship traverse interstellar distances. But here Weir finds a clever solution.

Indeed, one of the impressive things about the book is that Weir takes one counterfactual, the Astrophage, and once established, he puts it through a whole battery of extrapolations that have far and wide implications. There’s lots of things in this book that are surprising, but at their core, they are explained by a relatively simple microorganism. It speaks to one of Science Fiction’s broad strengths. Establish something simple and relatively innocuous, then tease out the implications until things start to get weird. Weir also manages to weave this sort of thing into the plot too, which shows some storytelling chops.

It’s hard to get into the rest of the story without getting into spoiler territory, so I’ll leave it at that. Fans of The Martian will certainly enjoy this, though it may come off a bit samey. Weir is great at presenting complicated science in an accessible manner, but he’s not exactly a prose stylist. Characterization isn’t a strong suit either. Ryland Grace is your typical competent man SF hero (much like Mark Watney from The Martian). Weir does attempt to flesh him out a bit, especially with a late revelation that didn’t quite sit right with me, but he’s still a pretty familiar SF archetype. As with a lot of older SF, the ideas at the core of the story are the real hero. It does a great job evoking that vaunted sense of wonder that’s at the core of SF. That’s what makes a book like this work, and it’s the sort of thing that’s missing from a lot of modern SF.

Modern SF has a tendency towards extreme cynicism, dysfunction, angst, and oppression, and fans of that will likely see this book, with its optimism in the face of disaster, competence, and happy ending, as jejune and unsophisticated. I found it to be a breath of fresh air and ultimately loved the book, flaws and all. It’s a throwback SF vision that we could probably use more of these days.

The 1978 Project: Part IX

We’re finally in the endgame of the 1978 Project. For the past year and a half or so, I’ve been watching as many 1978 movies as possible. Because I felt like it, that’s why! When I started this project, I had seen about 30 movies made in that year. As of this moment, I’ve seen 87 movies made in 1978. It’s possible that I’ll catch up with something after this, but at this point, I’m going to start prepping the typical “year end” festivities like the movie awards and a top 10. Anywho, let’s take a look at the most recent 1978 project flicks that I’ve watched.

Straight Time – A career burglar is released from prison, tries and fails to go straight. It’s Recidivism: The Movie. To its credit, it spends a lot of time depicting the difficulties of reintegrating with a society that isn’t cutting you any slack. It’s also a tremendous acting showcase, particularly for Dustin Hoffman as the lead, but it’s got a strong roster of supporting actors, ranging from a seedy M. Emmet Walsh as the parole officer, the rare restrained Gary Busey performance as another former-con, the always great Harry Dean Stanton as a fellow burglar, young Kathy Bates, and Theresa Russell as the love interest (who isn’t given much to do, but is somehow still memorable thanks to her performance).

Straight Time - 1978 project

Unfortunately, this sort of character study and acting showcase often doesn’t strike a chord with me, and while this is a pretty good example of the style, it’s not enough to overcome my distaste for this sort of thing. I know we’re not supposed to strictly like Dustin Hoffman’s character, but the movie attempts to make him somewhat sympathetic when really, he’s just a scumbag. And not even a particularly competent scumbag. This is certainly a me problem – I can’t stand incompetent criminals. It’s not impossible to do a character study about an incompetent thief that I’ll like, it’s just a bar this movie couldn’t clear.

Indeed, a big part of my issues with this is that I kept thinking of better movies while watching it. In particular, the Coen brothers have a more farcical take on a similar story with Raising Arizona, and that movie just has so much more going for it than this one, both visually and thematically. It’s also hard to watch a movie about the criminal underworld of heists and not think about Michael Mann’s epics of the genre, like Thief or Heat. It’s still a solid movie and totally in line with that dark 70s aesthetic that so many people love. That said, it’s not something that did a lot for me. **1/2

The Meetings of Anna – Speaking of plotless character studies and performance showcases, this movie is about a lonely woman who travels through Western Europe and meets a bunch of people who, for some reason, just unload their emotional problems on her. It appears to be a semi-autobiographical work from writer/director Chantal Akerman, and to be sure, the film is visually beautiful and she pulls great performances out of the actors. That said, as mentioned above, this is pretty emphatically not my sort of thing. It’s over two hours of just wallowing in angst and ennui, and while it’s a well done example of that sort of thing, there’s not much actual story to grasp onto here. Like most episodic stories, some of the segments are better and more affecting than others, but they don’t really add up to a whole lot. There’s absolutely an audience for movies like this, I’m just not part of it. That said, I’m glad that stuff like the 1978 project forces my hand in watching things like this. **

The Biggest Battle – Italian WWII epic with a pretty great cast that is nonetheless mostly dismissed… probably for good reason. The cast is pretty great, though. Stacy Keach, Henry Fonda, John Huston, Helmut Berger, Samantha Eggar, Giuliano Gemma, Ray Lovelock, and Edwige Fenech? Narration by Orson Welles? Sign me up. Unfortunately the whole thing is deeply mediocre and almost completely unmemorable. Director Umberto Lenzi has made some great, high-energy horror and poliziotteschi flicks, but falls a bit flat here. Clocking in at 104 minutes, it moves pretty quickly and there’s some decent action I guess, but there’s a lot of plot threads that never really get enough time to connect, resulting in a movie filled with underwhelming war vignettes that will probably remind you of better movies. Indeed, we covered a much better Italian WWII flick earlier in the 1978 Project with The Inglorious Bastards. It’s not bad enough to laugh at, but neither is it good enough to recommend. *

Long Weekend – Australian horror flick about a couple who go camping on a remote beach, only to find that nature isn’t in an accommodating mood. What seems like it might be a schlocky “animals run amok” story reveals itself to be more of a slow descent into madness in a world that’s out of balance. There’s a deep environmental concern here, as our bickering couple engage in all sorts of disrespectful behavior. They spray pesticides, shoot at animals, litter, and so on, and nature kinda fights back. It’s all a bit ham-fisted and of course the two characters at the center of the film are deeply unlikable, even to each other. It’s a hard movie to like, but I guess the math adds up, it’s got a sort of odd energy that’s interesting, and I suspect that a lot of modern audiences would get a lot out of it. Personally, I tend to prefer something a little more subtle or, I don’t know, Herzogian. This never quite reaches the heights I think it was going for and it didn’t especially work for me, but it’s got some interesting stuff going on. **

Oof, I’m not usually this grumpy when it comes to this sort of thing, so maybe I’ve come to the end of my 1978 project explorations here. Stay tuned for the traditional (and more fun!) Movie Awards, Arbitrary Awards, and Top 10 for 1978, coming soon!

Link Dump

Just the usual spin through interesting links from the depths of ye olde internets:

  • How I Beat Boris Becker – Andre Agassi talks about how he spotted Boris Becker’s tell. It’s got a nice Detachment 2702 twist to it as well…
  • Carbon monoxide theory – Your house isn’t haunted, it’s just carbon monoxide poisoning:

Many haunted houses have been investigated and found to contain high levels of carbon monoxide or other poisons, which can cause hallucinations. The carbon monoxide theory explains why haunted houses are mostly older houses, which are more likely to contain aging and defective appliances, and why more hauntings are reported in the colder months. Carbon monoxide poisoning explains many of the occurrences in haunted houses, such as feelings of being watched, hearing footsteps or voices, seeing “ghosts”, headaches, dizziness, and sudden death or illness of people or pets, and also strange behavior in pets such as excessive barking or meowing. The carbon monoxide theory also explains why some ghosts don’t show up on photographs or videos (photographs that do show “ghosts” are usually caused by dust, insects, fingers or camera strap in front of the lens, and multiple exposures).

  • I’m Built Different – So there’s this tiktok where a ridiculously ripped guy says “I’m not going to say this again, I’m built different” and then he puts an egg in his elbow and cracks it by flexing his bicep (then, despite explicitly claiming he wouldn’t, he says he’s built different again). Anyway, it’s ridiculous, and there’ve been tons of parodies (I especially like the first one in the link above, where the girl does this whole Johnny Carson-esque gesture). That link is good, but there’s a couple of other great ones out there too.
  • A Brief History of ‘Looks Like Meat’s Back on the Menu, Boys!’ From ‘The Two Towers’ – It’s a line that has inspired an awful lot of discussion…

That line has confounded and delighted fans ever since the movie’s release, with a good number of tweets and Reddit comments centering on its seeming anachronisms. “Not only is it out of place, it doesn’t even make sense!” complained one confused commenter. “How do orcs even know what a menu is? Do they have fancy restaurants in Mordor? I guess they must.”

That’s all for now…

Weird Movie of the Week: The Astrologer

Last time on Weird Movie of the Week, we covered a tender tale of voluptuous androids and space cops. This time, we’re going to watch the Citizen Kane of Astrologer movies.

When I was in college, one of my roommates had discovered this list of the weirdest (or maybe grossest) movies of all time on the internet. The details are fuzzy and I have never been able to track down that original list, but we had great fun making our way through it. It’s where we discovered things like Alejandro Jodorowsky’s particular brand of insanity like El Topo or Peter Jackson’s early splatter flicks like Meet the Feebles and Bad Taste. Thinking back on it, we were exceedingly lucky to have found copies of these films at all (mostly thanks to the now defunct TLA Video Stores in the Philadelphia area), but there were many films on that list that we were never able to track down.

I might be imagining things, but I believe The Astrologer was one of them. Of course, any attempt to find a home video version was probably doomed to failure. This is one of those movies where people find a 35mm copy in a vault in Brazil, then do a limited tour of film festivals and art-houses with the print. For decades, this was basically the only way to see this film.

A few weeks ago, some hero uploaded the film to YouTube (and it’s of a surprisingly good quality). If trash cinema is your jam, get thee over there now before it gets pulled. Some assorted thoughts below:

  • A plot summary can’t really capture the film’s bonkers nature, but I guess I should give it a shot. A carnie specializing in astrology and putting on a small-scale psychic act on the carnival circuit gets embroiled in a scheme to smuggle rubies out of Kenya. He somehow becomes the sole survivor of that ordeal, and he parlays the ill-gotten earnings into an astrological empire. Once on top of the world, he begins to meltdown.
  • The plot doesn’t really capture how strangely paced the movie is. Each part of the film feels like a sudden digression that lasts way too long, but somehow adds up. The first twenty minutes or so feel awfully conventional, such that you might be wondering why this film has such a batshit reputation. Then a sudden, jarring jump-cut to Kenya knocks you off balance, and I suspect you’ll never recover. Huge emotional swings, every filmmaking gimmick in the book, ridiculous editing, and not an ounce of shame from the egomaniac who made the film.
  • In case you can’t tell, this film is not for the faint of heart. I have no idea how I’d characterize this movie’s politics, but if you’re of the woke persuasion, you will probably find it appalling. Then again, the appalling nature of the film is its primary draw.
  • The reason for this film’s rarity has to do with rights issues. Usually, this sort of thing traces back to contracts that didn’t include music rights for home video, or the movie was lost in the assets of a giant corporation who can’t be bothered with such a small scale release. However, in this case, it’s because the writer/director/star Craig Denney simply inserted a bunch of Moody Blues tracks (amongst others) into the film without any permission whatsoever. Weirdly, the music is so perfectly integral to the film that you can’t just take it out and replace it.
  • Speaking of writer/director/star Craig Denney, one of the other mysterious things about the guy is that he seemingly disappeared decades ago. Rumors abound about mob ties and faking his own death and whatnot. The story behind this film is almost as interesting and weird as the film itself. The movie is generally portrayed as the first work of egotistical mania, a sorta precursor to Tommy Wiseau’s The Room.
Craig Denney in The Astrologer
  • The comparison to The Room isn’t quite right, though. That movie is “so bad it’s good” and people love reveling in how bad it is. The Astrologer almost accidentally bumbles into genius territory.
  • As an example of the film’s accidental genius, take the dinner scene. It’s one of those scenes that’s completely driven by the stolen music, this time Procol Harum’s prog rock epic “Grand Hotel.” You can’t hear what anyone is saying, but you get that a couple is happy at the start and then start arguing until the sequence reaches a fever pitch. It incorporates slow motion, bizarre editing, and weirdly tracks with on-the-nose lyrics. It’s a bravura sequence that I’m pretty sure happened completely by accident, but does that really matter? There’s nothing this brilliant in The Room.

I could go on, but I think you get the idea. The Astrologer is one for the ages, and something fans of schlocky cinema need to check out. It’s bound to be pulled from YouTube at some point, but the genie’s out of the bottle. It’ll probably be available via less reputable methods indefinitely.

Hugo Awards Season 2021

The 2021 Hugo Awards finalists were announced earlier this week, so it’s time for the requisite grumbles and bellyaches. I’ve largely fallen off the Hugo bandwagon and I’m probably not going to play along this year, but I still find the process interesting. Congrats to all the nominees!

Best Novel

The Best Novel ballot is a pretty good illustration of why I’m not reading/voting this year. This isn’t to say they’re bad novels or anything, but there’s this tendency in the Hugo awards where certain authors catch on and get nominated year after year. One of the reasons I followed along with the Hugos (even before actively participating) was that they introduced me to new or different work. They got me out of my comfort zone. But they go in waves, and if a set of authors you don’t care for gets hot, then interest fades.

This year’s nominees have mostly been nominated recently, if they haven’t won recently. Four have had finalists in the last few years. One of the others (Network Effect by Martha Wells) is new to the Best Novel ballot, but it’s a sequel to a series of novellas which have entries that have been nominated and won. For the record, that’s the only one I’ve already read, and I really enjoy that series, so it’s a well deserved nomination in my book. The other is the second novel by an author whose first novel won the award in 2005. That’s also one that I might actually get to someday, award or no award. If you expand name recognition to the other categories, it gets even worse.

I suspect in a couple years I’ll take a look and see a bunch of new folks, at which point I might join in again. The genre is much larger these days, with much more volume than in the earlier days of fandom, so you’d think that the tendency for repeat names would be more limited now, but I guess the awards are more representative of the voters than the genre itself. For now, I’ll continue to follow the news, but not read along…

Short Fiction

Even here, I see a lot of familiar names, and it’s also kinda funny that every nominated novella is published by Is no one else publishing novellas? In theory, I like the idea of reading a bunch of short fiction – it’s could be like a sampler platter of what’s going on in SF. But I’m almost invariably disappointed in these categories. I’m sure there’s some good stuff in there, but the bevy of familiar names don’t interest me that much.

Best Series

This award continues to baffle. In theory, it could be used to recognize series that have built up a readership over time and become more than the sum of its parts. Or something like that. In practice, it seems to be dominated by authors and series that also get best novel nominations. For instance, two of this year’s best series nominees also have an entry on the best novel ballot. On the other hand, there are some series here that do seem to fit the bill. Of course, there’s also the logistical challenge of this award. How can anyone have enough time to read all these series? I know this year’s voting period is much longer than normal (thanks Pandemic!), but it’s still got to be impossible to vote for this, unless you’ve already read most of the nominees (or if you only give each series a cursory read).

Best Dramatic Presentation

This award is always very strange, and it features this year’s weirdest finalist: what the hell is Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga doing on this list? The list is otherwise pretty decent, though there’s obviously lots of smaller fare that the voters never seem to go for. Pour one out for the likes of: Possessor, The Vast of Night, Color Out of Space, Archive, and The Wolf of Snow Hollow (as usual, some of these may have eligibility issues due to weird distribution dates, but still). Also, how did The Invisible Man not garner a nom? It’s so squarely within the voter’s usual wheelhouse…

Other Thoughts on the 2021 Hugo Awards

I’m perhaps being overly grumpy in this post. Congrats to all the nominees. I would still encourage folks to play along with the Hugo Awards at some point (2021 or not), as I’ve always found it interesting, even when I don’t love the books. That said, I know enough about this year’s crop to know that I probably won’t enjoy a lot of them, so I’m opting out. I’ll still be curious to see who wins and what the awards look like next year though.

Master of the Revels

In the English royal household, the Master of the Revels was responsible for overseeing royal festivities (aka revels) and stage censorship. An important role in the time of William Shakespeare, which turns out to be a key DTAP (Destination Time And Place) in Nicole Galland’s follow-up to The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O., aptly titled Master of the Revels. Galland had collaborated with Neal Stephenson on the first book, but took this sequel on by herself. I’m always curious about how authors collaborate on books with shared authorship, but it seems like in the case of D.O.D.O., Galland had done the bulk of the writing, with Stephenson adding some technical flavor and overarching story bits. As such, this sequel retains the feel of the first book, while progressing the story forward.

Master of the Revels

The story picks up right where D.O.D.O. left off. Our small group of intrepid heros have set up a small operation to counter the nefarious Irish witch Gráinne, who intends to utilize D.O.D.O. time-travel resources to reverse the evolution of all modern technology (and thus allow magic to be more freely practiced in modern times). Her travels take us to Renaissance Italy, feudal Japan, and of course, Jacobean England. It’s kinda hard to talk about the plot here without giving some stuff away or explaining what was covered in the previous book, so I’ll just leave it at that.

The story is told in an epistolary format, with everything being after-action reports, chat transcripts, bureaucratic documentation with acronyms galore, and so on. Much of the sense of administrative humor is retained, and it’s basically just a lot of fun to be hanging out with these characters again. We also get a few new characters, including Robin Lyons, Tristan’s sister and noted Shakespeare nerd, who is naturally recruited to infiltrate the office of the Master of Revels. She fits right in, and makes good friends with the Shakespeare brothers (in particular Bill’s younger and less famous brother Ned, who is another great addition to the cast). Alas, some of the original characters, notably Tristan himself, are sidelined for the majority of the book, but it all works well enough.

As the title of the book indicates, this English bits comprises the bulk of the story, so any Shakespeare nerds would really enjoy this. Actually, history nerds in general will get a kick out of this series. Lots of historical figures are mentioned, including the actual Master of the Revels during Shakespeare’s time, Edmund Tilney, amongst other actors in the troupe. The other DTAPs are a little less detailed, though Leonardo Da Vinci is a key to one of them…

Gráinne makes for a fun villain, though I must admit that I don’t really get how her plan will work. The limitations of magic that have been set in the D.O.D.O. universe are such that her task seems impossible or at least, inadvisable. To be sure, the stakes are clear and our heroes’ actions to counter Gráinne make sense, it’s just the overarching strategy here that I’m not following. Such is the way with a lot of time-travel stories though, and this has the added complexity of quantum physics and multiverses too, which help make the hand-waving plot machinations successful (and which I maintain is a clever sort of explanation for the way magic works in this universe). To be sure, I’m still having a lot of fun with these books, even if they are a little too focused on more narrow episodes rather than any sorta grand plan.

As such, this story is resolved satisfactorily, but I don’t know that the series has progressed very much… and yet, I’m pretty excited to see where we go next, which is a good sign. As yet, I’m not sure if there actually will be a third book, but it seems likely and from interviews, the notion of a trilogy has been thrown out there, so I’m hoping we’ll get a third book at some point. In the meantime, if you enjoyed D.O.D.O., this will scratch that itch (and even though Stephenson’s involvement is minimal, it might tide you over until Termination Shock comes out).