Greetings! Welcome to the Chateau!


Within its corridors you will find insight into the books I have written, the books I am writing and the books I am thinking about writing.

It is also a place where I can offer insights into my favorite authors and - in the case of my game Conqueror: Fields of Victory - I can explain my rules and offer new variants.

Scroll down or check the sidebar for my latest posts.

Nonfiction:

Long Live Death: The Keys to Victory in the Spanish Civil War

Fiction:

Three Weeks with the Coasties: A Tale of Disaster and also an Oil Spill

Battle Officer Wolf

Scorpion's Pass

The Vampires of Michigan

The Man of Destiny Series:

A Man of Destiny

Rise of the Alliance

Fall of the Commonwealth

The Imperial Rebellion

Wargaming:

Conqueror: Fields of Victory, Revised Edition

Other Writings

Bleedingfool.com features

 


Starman: a pedictable, trope-laden space alien slog

Working my way through my 10-DVD set of 80s movies, I decided to take a look at Starman.  All I knew about it was that Jeff Bridges was in it.  For those who don't know, he was one of the leaden men of that era, popping up in all manner of films, from Tron to Against All Odds

Anyway, I realized that Karen Allen was also in the film, and she was pretty much the archetypal Cute Girl Next Door of that era.  Alas, she doesn't really get to play to her type, and much of the film she's either lost in depression or struggling to control her mortal terror.  It's not a good look for her.

The plot is of course that Jeff Bridges is a space alien who comes to earth and assumes the form of Allen's recently departed husband.  Naturally there are language issues, cultural issues and all the other aspects of the Fish Out of Water trope that make it worth watching.  In this case, of course, we have to believe that a creature of pure energy and capable of god-like healing and destruction is completely clueless about basic social interaction because humans are weird or something.

Bridges' facial expressions, jerky motions and oddly-inflected voice are impressive, though.  It's a very different role for him, but he does it well.  The problem is that the story is weak sauce, since we've seen the "advanced race comes to earth and the government tries to kill/dissect it" several other times.

One element that really bugged me was the portrayal of the "common" humans the pair encounter.  These are terrible, completely unbelievable tropes.

For example, a pair of cops are given instructions merely to hang back and let "the feds" handle a situation, but they try to engineer an incident so they can get "their share of the headlines."

Yes, you have that right: they're going to try to create a confrontation rather than hang back because they somehow think this will result in favorable media coverage.  Sure.

Another truly awful portrayal is of a hunter who ties a dead doe to the front fender of his car without gutting it and - having done so - goes into a diner for a bite to eat.  You know, so the meat can get good an rancid or something.

A movie like this depends on the 'slice of life' scenes being good enough to carry you through the sci-fi elements and when you get served up garbage like this, the whole enterprise falls flat.

I'd rather watch Close Encounters of the Third Kind, which at least has a decent soundtrack.


White Nights: Another amazing 80s movie I somehow overlooked

Last week I got out yet another of the Big Box O' DVDs and this time it was 1985's White Nights.  I remember when the movie came out because I was an avid radio listener.

Funny to think of how common it was for movies to include hit pop tunes in their soundtrack.  Say You, Say Me and Separate Lives both got heavy airplay, though I wasn't sure how they related to the movie.

Anyhow, White Nights is an incredible film, one that has aged very well.  The physicality of Mikhail Baryshnikov and Gregory Hines is amazing.

That's something we've lost.  Time was, the expectation of a movie with dancing in it was that it would be not just professional but exemplary.  It didn't matter who was dancing, the key was that it was original and authentic.

All that's gone away.  The current age uses special effects and camera tricks for all of his physicality and this is one reason why today's movies feel so hollow.  They look gorgeous, but they have no soul, no animating spirit.

When you watch one of the dance sequences in White Nights, you're seeing a level of dedication that simply isn't valued any more. 

Dancing aside, the storyline is also timely, a necessary reminder of a time when half of the world was locked down under the Communist heel.  The Soviet Union offered free health care and guaranteed income, but only in exchange for absolute obedience.  It was not surprising that so many free spirits like Baryshnikov were compelled to flee.

There are few movies that I watch once and immediately want to rewatch.  This is one of them, and I'm looking forward to gaining a deeper appreciation for it.

 

 


Geek Guns ain't dead yet

While I don't normally do "link posts" to my work over at Bleedingfool.com, some of my readers might be interested to know that I added a new installment to the Geek Guns series, this one centering on Dirty Harry's .44 Magnum (Smith and Wesson Model 29).

The feature ran for 23 straight weeks before I took a break, and while I don't have a follow-up series planned, I will continue to add new installments as the opportunities present themselves.

The primary challenge is of course access to iconic weapons.  For example, I'd love to do a feature on the Colonial Marine weapons from Aliens, but I don't know anyone with a Thompson submachinegun (which is what those were).  I guess I need to hang out with a wealthier crowd.

 


The spiritual desolation of The Big Chill

It's weird to say it, but I'm spending a lot of time these days catching up on movies that came out when I was younger that I never got around to seeing.  In large part this is because the cheapest way to buy movies that I did see - and want to see again - is as part of a DVD collection.

So it was that I finally got around to seeing The Big Chill, which came out when I was 10.  A slice-of-life ensemble cast film about the approach of middle age and the loss of youthful idealism would have made little impression on me, so it's just as well that I skipped it.  Besides, 1983 was the year Return of the Jedi came out and that pretty much held my attention.

This is the kind of movie Hollywood used to make fairly often but it is now beyond the movie industry's creative capacity.  For one thing, there aren't sufficient actors to carry the parts.  When the film came out, Tom Berenger, Glenn Close, Jeff Goldblum, William Hurt, Kevin Kline and Meg Tilly still had their greatest work before them, but their talent was mature.

The plot line is pretty simple: a group of college friends stage an unplanned reunion when one of their number commits suicide.  It is now more than a decade since they were bright, young things living at a co-op at the University of Michigan and over the course of a long weekend they confront the challenges and disappointments the years have brought them.

It's basically a Boomer "coming of middle age" story, and as well all know, Boomers assumed that they were the first people in world history to have issues with getting older.

To some extent, however, that was true.  Previous generations valued maturity, responsibility and above all tradition.  The Boomers threw all of that away, instead mocking tradition, lauding youth over experience and placing personal freedom (by which they meant short-term pleasure) over responsibility.  The Big Chill is their first realization that things aren't working out the way they planned.

The story is based on events and characters writer/director Lawrence Kasdan encountered during his time at Michigan.  As a Michigan State grad, I have to admit I bristled a bit when I realized these were all Wolverine alumni, but as the film progressed I was entirely satisfied to see U-M grads portrayed as a bunch of self-centered, drug-using, adulterous whiners.

Kasdan of course had already written The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi and would go on to pen a few more hit films in that decade, but he hasn't had much success since.  He put his name on both the disappointing Episode VII as well as the unwatchable Solo movie, so his best days are clearly behind him.

Still, there's no denying that The Big Chill is an excellent film.  The acting is first rate and the while the characters are less than admirable, they absolutely feel real.  I can personally attest that Ann Arbor produces vast numbers of people such as these.

That actually counts for a lot.  Today's writing emphasizes specialness if not perfection, and heroes (particularly women) are super-strong, super-smart and know neither doubt nor regret.  This makes personal stories impossible to tell.

Talking with some of my friends, I can't think of any comparable movie that has come out in the last 20 years.  For one thing, who would play the parts?  Hollywood is entirely populated by super-hero actors in skinny jeans leavened with overweight minority women who supply moral authority. 

No one in The Big Chill is remotely like that.   One of the friends is a TV star, another a reporter for People magazine.  The rest are typical professionals -  doctor, lawyer, business owner.  The standout is William Hurt's character, who is a Vietnam veteran who (in a nod to Hemingway) was rendered impotent by a war wound and therefore cannot consummate a relationship.  Rounding out the cast is Meg Tilly's Chloe, the younger, sex kitten girlfriend of Alex, whose death brought them all together.

Alex is only briefly glimpsed, a corpse being prepared for the funeral service.  He was played by Kevin Costner in flashback, but these scenes were cut and have never since been released.  Kasdan decided it was better to leave Alex entirely to the cast's recollections, and he was right.

By universal acclaim, Alex was the most gifted of the lot, described as a brilliant physicist who nevertheless abandoned a career in science and worked menial jobs, hopping from place to place.  He finally landed with Kline and Close (the married couple of the group), who supported his latest endeavor up to the moment of his suicide.  Alex also carried on an affair with Close, but this was supposedly resolved and in the past, which of course it wasn't.

Thus, we have a complex web of relationships that need to be worked out as well as existential problems that are all played out over a weekend.  It's a fall weekend, and being Michigan grads, the movie takes time out for them to watch the Michigan-Michigan State game, which is a marvelous detail to include.

Another nice touch is to borrow from George Lucas in American Graffiti and use a soundtrack comprised entirely of vintage music.  By watching the characters' reactions, one gets a sense that they too are going back in time and recalling their fading youth.

It is an excellent film, but for all of the funny and tragic moments, there is a profound void in its structure, and that is its total lack of any kind of religious faith.  I do not think this was by design, rather it was simply a reflection of the world Kasdan experienced in college and subsequently lived in when he made the movie.

There are a couple of nods to faith, such as the funeral and a brief appearance of a crucifix, but it's otherwise absent, both in action and words.   Alex's funeral is at a local Baptist church, but no one goes to the Sunday service.  These are very much secular Hippies turned Yuppies.  They have their degrees, their jobs, marriages, children, houses and yet they feel hollow.  All that they thought they would do has vanished and what they have left is material comfort and spiritual desolation.

Just as Game of Thrones is an unintended apologetic for Christian culture, so The Big Chill is a cautionary tale for life without faith.  None of the marriages portrayed in this film are stable.  The great Boomer gift of no-fault divorce looms large, and adultery is explicitly described as a morally neutral act, to be condemned or condoned only by the conditions in which it takes place.

It would be interesting to extrapolate what happens to those families in the succeeding decades and the knowledge of the world we have now makes the film all the more poignant - and damning.

Normally, I'd condemn this movie as being something very similar to Carly Simon's early work, but there is something about it that transcends my moral outrage.  Instead, I feel nothing but sympathy for the broken, half-formed people portrayed in this story.

 

 

 

 

 


Our Lady of Victory

Today is the 450th anniversary of the Battle of Lepanto, one of the greatest sea battles in history.  Pope St. Pius V managed to cobble together an uneasy alliance of Catholic naval powers led by Spain and Venice to defeat the Ottoman fleet off the coast of Greece.

The battle was a decisive victory for the Catholic fleet, and Ottoman sea power never recovered.

At the start of the campaign, St. Pius requested all of Christendom pray the rosary and thereby obtain the personal intercession of the Virgin Mary on the outcome of the battle.  It is hard to imagine a more comprehensive fulfillment of this prayer.

Of course Protestants generally disdain Mary, and some show considerable contempt both for her and those who venerate her.  Some of the younger denominations even go so far as to claim that she did not remain a virgin after Christ's birth and that was of course what prompted Brant Pitre to write his book about her.

Setting aside Pitre's defense of Mary's place in scripture, it seems to me that if venerating Mary really is as offensive to God as some Protestants contend, one would think that the result would be a series of monumental disasters whenever she is invoked. 

It's one thing for atheists to claim that great events are utterly unaffected by prayer, but Protestants (particularly evangelicals) have to explain how God would crown such a misguided cult with so many victories.

All I can say is: Ave Maria!


The unified Battlestar Galactica compilation post

For a while it seemed that every other post over at Bleedingfool.com involved Battlestar Galactica, specifically its terrible "reboot."

In fact, I've pulled it apart in so many different ways, I think it would be useful to have a handy place to reference the collection, so here we are.

These are the ones at Bleedingfool.com:

Yes, Battlestar Galactica (2004) was the First Punitive Remake

Battlestar Galactica’s Reboot was the forerunner of SJW Hollywood

Battlestar Galactica ’78: The Original Space Western

At the time I was also in a habit of doing posts linking to stories when they posted and adding some addition commentary here at Chateau Lloyd, so here are those links:

My Battlestar Galactica piece is up

Battlestar Galactica revisited

 

 


The faith of Babylon 5

Over at Bleedingfool.com I've got an article up celebrating that lost gem of the 1990s, Babylon 5.

One of my challenges in writing it was keeping my admiration for the show in check, because there is so much about the show to like.

I watched the entire run when it was on live TV of course, and subsequently got the DVDs and binge-watched it twice more.  I'm thinking I might be due for another viewing.

One thing I touched on that's germane to my current Spirit World kick is the degree to which all of the characters on the show not only have some form of religion, but this actually directs their actions.

That's not very common these days as politics have replaced religion.  It's worth mentioning that none of the Star Trek versions ever bothered with a ship's chaplain.  Oh, they had empaths and therapists, but no one regularly participated in prayer services.  When it was shown, faith was always individual.

Babylon 5, by contrast, highlighted how even aliens had a belief system that touched on the supernatural.  It is considered a universal feature of sentient life.

Whether one looks at the near-Islamic Narn, Dionysian Centuri or mystic Minbari, religion was a core part of the group's identity and how each character expressed that was a key part of their personality.

Another element that stands out is that the humans are portrayed as every bit as reverent as the aliens.  This also cuts against the grain.  The classic rule in Hollywood is that only non-Christian cultures have sincere religious faith; Christians are either hypocrites or raving lunatics (often both).

Babylon 5 doesn't do that and as the years go by, I appreciate it more and more.


Dated history books

One of my little pleasures is going to estate sales.  I used to go to garage sales, but I generally find them disappointing.  Estate sales, on the other hand, are fascinating.  You get the run of someone's house and even if you don't buy anything, you learn a lot about how other people live.

Of course, you can get phenomenal deals on housewares - things people typically buy new at premium prices.  As my kids start looking at setting up on their own, estate sales are where I will go to get their cookware and minor appliances.

Books are also a great value, and last week I picked up a pair of history books with great illustrations and laughably dated information.  It's not just that the terminology changed, its that archeology has advanced by leaps and bounds over the last 40 years.  The ability to scan empty areas from space to identify otherwise impossible-to-find ruins is a game-changer.

Still they're enjoyable reads with pretty pictures.  I also enjoy the use of A.D. and B.C. in dating.  The stupid CE/BCE terminology is deeply dishonest.  It's an attempt to secularize the Christian reckoning, but all it does is declare all other systems "unscientific."  Just admit that you're using the Christian dating system.

Another advantage is the writing is better, less cluttered with jargon and important-sounding phrases.  The glut of credentialed-but-ignorant scholars was only just beginning, and the humanities still had rigorous standards.  It's worth noting that despite his incredible knowledge, J.R.R. Tolkien never actually completed a doctoral degree.  He didn't need to; his work spoke for itself.

Now any midwit can get one and fancy that they're his intellectual superior. 

Yet another sign of our culture's ongoing collapse, I suppose.


The Eerie Prescience of Tolkien's Palantir

Did Tolkien foresee the internet?

Before you object, consider that a key plot point in Lord of the Rings was the use (and misuse) of the legendary seeing-stones of Numenor, the Palantirs.

Their chief power was to allow communication at the speed of thought, allowing people leagues upon league apart to share visions and thoughts.  It also allowed long-range vision, a sort of pre-modern satellite photography.

Denethor, Ruling Steward of Gondor, possessed one.  Sauron, Dark Lord of Mordor possessed another.  Desperate to learn about his enemy, Denethor used the magic stone to spy on the Great Enemy and so was caught.

Looking at how the internet (and particularly social media) is driving people literally insane, I suddenly recalled how Denethor himself was driven to suicidal madness by what he saw in the Palantir.

His fortress city of Minas Tirith was defended by not just one or two, but seven concentric rings of walls, and built into a mountainside.  While his troops were outnumbered, they also had superior skill and higher quality weapons. 

Yet before the gate was even broken, Denethor's mind was overthrown.  Without the Ride of the Rohirrim and Aragon's decision to take the Paths of the Dead, the city would have been overrun in the first assault - because the Enemy was already inside the walls.

I'm increasingly wary of technology, and I don't go online much these days.  I used to avoid social media out of privacy concerns, but I now do so out of a desire for self-preservation.


Ghost hunting, psychics and spiritual warfare

Years ago (back when we had cable/dish service), my wife loved to watch those "reality shows" on ghosts.

I use the scare quotes because the shows were heavily edited, using spooky music, jump cuts and emphasizing reaction shots over actual footage.  Essentially, they were Scooby Doo in reverse, trying to assure the innkeeper that yes, your property does have ghosts so they can including it in their promotional materials.

At the time, I considered it nothing more than a low-rent TV version of The Blair Witch Project, but now I wonder if they were onto something.

Monsignor Stephen Rossetti - the titular exorcise in Diary of an American Exorcist - notes that these shows may be bogus, but they are based on the uncomfortable truth that the spirit realm is real.  He does not discount the existence of ghosts but says that what the low-light cameras and thermal lenses are likely tracking are demons, not the restless dead.

Similarly, the shows about psychics who can put people in touch with dead relatives are also powered not by a benign connection, but an infernal one.

As Father Rossetti notes, demons lie whenever it suits them.  It's perfectly consistent with them to tell someone what they want to hear to undermine Christian faith.  After all, if you can communicate with the dead, why bother praying or going to church?

There's also the secular angle - the notion of using technology to pierce the veil between the seen and unseen worlds.  It acknowledges the spirit realm, but remains faithful to the "science is real" religion by pretending that tools and curiosity can explain the secrets of the universe.

Assuming the hunters are in fact uncovering real phenomena, one wonders if the "work" ever follows them home.