Robert Wm. Gomez's

Basket Case (8/10)

Another cult movie which I've known about forever, but never bothered to watch. I didn't expect this to be as cheap as it was. Fortunately the story is just crazy enough to keep it very entertaining and the terrible monster effects add a lot of charm. This would make a good double feature with The Oily Maniac. There's an overly long expositional flashback in the middle of the movie and some cringey male nudity that leads up to the finale.

A Renegade History of the United States by Thaddeus Russell (6/10)

The premise here is that the outsiders and the misfits, by rejecting puritanism and pushing the limits of what is acceptable, are the real driving force behind the expansion of our freedoms. I agree with the argument up to a point. Ya know, a lot of renegades are just annoying self-important jerks whose art is dumb. Us normies will inherit the Earth. Anyhow, the history ranges from drunk patriots to drag queens. Thrown in for good measure are some provocative defenses of minstrel shows and money-grubbing cultish black ministers. Oh, and lists of things.

Against Empathy: The Case for Rational Compassion by Paul Bloom (7/10)

I think it's telling that throughout this book the author in constantly having to backtrack and clarify what he means by empathy. Compassion and caring are desirable close cousins to empathy, but the big E itself is overrated. He eventually makes his point that calm, reasoned thinking is a better approach to decision-making than feeling someone's pain. It's a hard pill to swallow, and I don't think I'm completely sold on the idea. But, for the most part, his case is solid, especially when talking about broader policy choices.

The Invincible Fist (8/10)

Lo Lieh plays the sword wielding bounty hunter in this Shaw Bros. film from 1969. The story is simple and the sets are limited to a few locations. I think the entire first quarter of this movie takes place in a field of reeds. But the whole thing is masterfully shot and felt a lot like Dirty Ho in terms of style. The story is very similar to Killer Constable in which a blind woman plays a key role in between the main characters. Overall, had a nice spaghetti western feel to it.

Shoot First, Die Later (6/10)

Italian police thriller in which the lead cop is as corrupt as they come and yet we are supposed to root for him? Has a bit of style and a nihilistic ending at least.

Shin Godzilla (4/10)

Jeez, this one felt like sitting through a two hour school board meeting. 95% of the movie is just politicians sitting in rooms talking amongst themselves about the political implications of fighting Godzilla. It's a technocrat's wet dream. The solution to any problem is to make elaborate top-down plans that send thousands of soldiers and civilians to their deaths, congratulate themselves, and then get back to the important stuff like worrying about the next election cycle. Don't be fooled by the impressive stills of a modernized Godzilla demolishing buildings. This one's a stinker.

The Sentimental Swordsman (7/10)

The plot of this one is a bit all over the place. A swordsman with a cough returns home to visit his long time friend and the girl who he had hope the friend would marry. Then he gets caught up in a plot to stop the Plum Blossom Bandit, a pink ninja who kills with flower darts. In the meantime he befriends a poor, wandering swordsman, but then gets accused of being a bandit himself and needs to be taken to a Shaolin Temple. It doesn't make much sense until the very end, and, even then, it's a bit of a stretch. Watch this one for the colorful costumes and the ridiculous enemies.

Mysteries of the Unknown: Witches and Witchcraft by Time Life Books (9/10)

I enjoyed this one a lot more than Phantom Encounters. The historical accounts are more fact-based rather than anecdotal and the modern accounts had more photos from the 1980s of witches LARPing while wearing blue-blockers. Apparently, there is no charm that provides strong eye-protection from the She-Goddess's caressing rays. Bonus points for the Barry Moser wood-engraved illustrations of the implements of torture.

The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (9/10)

This was a movie that we were told about in art history classes when talking about German expressionist painting. The art direction does make it feel like a cubist painting come to life. Unlike Nosforatu the story is still compelling to modern sensibilities. Just make sure you watch the restored 2016 version.

In the First Circle by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn (8/10)

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn brings us more thrilling tales from the gulag! This is his fictionalized account of life in the Marfino prison where the inmates engage in secret research for the Soviets. This is a huge book, but it is not that difficult a read if you can get your head wrapped around the lengthy list of characters, each of which can be referred sometimes two or three long Russian names. The themes are deep and meaningful and, at times, maybe a bit over my head but I enjoyed it nonetheless.