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.


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


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


Conqueror: Fields of Victory, Revised Edition

Other Writings features


Risky Business is kind of a dark movie

The 80s nostalgia tour rolls on and this week's entry is Risky Business, something of a breakthrough film for Tom Cruise.

It's very much of its time, oozing 80s moral sensibilities and also poking fun at career-obsessed Boomer parents.

Some of that sentiment has aged well, but some of it hasn't.  The central point of the film is really an indictment of affluent entitlement as well as the notion that all guys really want is consequence-free sex.

There was a concerted effort during the 80s to promote this belief and to extend it to women as well.  Thus the "hook-up culture" was born, which some wag described as a situation where men get sex without commitment and women just get screwed.

I think the greatest gaslighting in history was convincing women that this was somehow good for them.  Indeed, the current hysteria over abortion access is pretty much the triumph of this effort to brainwash women into thinking that things like marriage and kids are oppressive and the highest good is to serve as a sex toy while giving the best years of your life to some faceless corporation.

Am I reading too much into this?  Perhaps, but the film also highlights the fact that young men also want to love and be loved.  If this can be combined with sex, a powerful bond is formed, one that used to be the foundation of a successful marriage.

Tom Cruise in this film is transitioning from teenager to confident fighter pilot, so he can still project innocence and vulnerability, which leaves him completely helpless against sexual manipulation.

I think that's the female side of the film's appeal, which is not unlike Pretty Woman - the notion that a desirable man can overlook your checkered past and still love you.

The other element of the film is of course the ugliness of prostitution, which it both highlights and obscures.  To the writers of Risky Business, the pimps are the problem, not the reduction of sex to a commodity.  Again, this was part of the 80s culture, which saw conventional morality as hypocritical and limiting.  Women selling themselves for money is okay so long as they do well in the deal, and the circumstances that drive them to doing this are best glossed over.  To its credit, the film explores this aspect of Rebecca De Mornay's character, but like her character, turns away from its unpleasantness.

Like so many films of the time, Risky Business also features a good deal of nudity and sex scenes.  At this time this was a sign of its sophistication and modernity.  Certainly I was one of those who thought this was a good thing.  I was part of the target audience to whom an 'R" rating for nudity was a feature rather than a bug.

Since then, I've come seeing only two reasons for women to do nude scenes: either they are coerced, or see nothing wrong with it.  The younger me would have absolutely had a problem with coercion, but if consent was freely given, what was the problem?

The older me knows that the question of "consent" is a lot more complicated.  How many starlets have accepted a Faustian bargain, trading virtue for wealth and fame?  How many have regretted it later on?

Of course, true consent is possible, and if you think about it that's even more depressing.  I don't think any human wants to be used that way, ever.  Something has to twist them, to warp them to make them think that taking off their clothes and simulating sex for money is morally acceptable.

It's interesting that the "Me Too" movement arose just as the late 80s/early 90s generation of women approached middle age.  They didn't feel 'empowered,' they felt used.

And yes, I get that taking ones clothes off for the camera is different than the casting couch but I'm also not naive enough to think the two are wholly separate.  Some men need to touch while others are content merely to see.

To put it another way, I don't think any man who had the power to make a beautiful women take her clothes off was robbed of pleasure merely because a camera was present.

Returning to Risky Business, I also found it interesting to consider the film's premise that young men losing their virginity to prostitutes is no big thing.  Indeed, it's a good thing, and funny to boot.

Yet in my not quite half-century of life on this earth, every man I've met who patronized a prostitute (and my sample size is more than 1) has been plagued by relationship problems.  Not a single one was able to get married and stay married.  Far from "getting it out of their system," I think it creates a deformity in their minds, warping the normal, healthy bond is created when love and sex operate in unison.

There is considerable evidence that men are better able to separate love and sex than women and that men with multiple sex partners seem less adversely impacted by this than women.

I think that's true, but taking "less damage" is still worse than avoiding damage altogether.

Risky Business is still a well-made and funny film, but it has a far darker edge now than when it was made.


Less than the sum of its parts: The Outsiders

The compilation disk approach to movie collection has some interesting aspects.  Hitherto, I've mostly gotten access to film I was interested in, but would never buy on their own.  However, I'm also getting exposed to films I didn't even know about.

Such is the case with The Outsiders.  I had no idea there was a film that starred Mat Dillon, Patrick Swayze, Tom Cruise, Rob Lowe, Emilio Estevez,  C. Thomas Howell and Ralph Macchio.  Oh, and Diane Lane.

The reason why I'd never heard of it is that it's bad.  The story is some sort of neo-Marxist tale of class privilege between the underclass ("greasers") and the prep/college class ("socs" an abbreviation of social, so pronounced "sosch").

The tale comes from a story written in 1967, but the film feels like a rebuttal to the Happy Days/Grease nostalgia of the 1970s.  In this telling the poor and well-off are bitter enemies, fighting vicious brawls in parks and are finally driven to kill.  Adults are entirely absent, and while this is supposed to be a coming of age story, it feels completely forced.

The America of that period was one with remarkably low violent crime, and the notion that a small towns would permit organized brawls strains the imagination.  Again, it feels like late 1960s revisionism with a Marxist gloss translated into a 1980s indictment of American materialism and classism. 

For instance, the rich boys are the ones taking liberties with women, being boorish and drunk whilst the virtuous lower classes only ask to get ahead and are the truly sensitive ones.

The only value of the film is its ensemble cast, which will soon dominate the box office.

As such, it's something of a novelty act - you watch it because of who is in it, not because it's any good.


Eye of the Needle: vintage trope-ridden thriller

There's a whole genre of alternate history movies about WW II that started to crop up in the 1960s.  These seem to have based on novels and all of them dwelt on just how close the Nazis came to winning.

A bunch became movies and one of them is Eye of the Needle.  As far as thrillers go, the topic is limiting because we know the Germans didn't win.  However, we can get all worked up over who dies (and how they die) trying to stop it, can't we?

Sometimes.  Maybe this film was a sensation when it came out and its plot twists were new and fresh, but from this late date it seemed very much a paint-by-numbers affair.  There was only one genuine surprise in the whole film and a lot of eye-rolling.

To be fair, Donald Sutherland is great as "The Needle," a deep-cover German superspy.  He's got the psychotic nature of the guy down pat, and is a passable fake Englishman.  The 1970s were his decade in a lot of ways, and he displayed quite a bit of range in the roles he took.  The flaws in the film have nothing to do with him.

In fact, some people might not even notice them, but because I'm one of those people who pay attention to details, two moments in particular bothered me.  I won't be specific, but will deal only with generalities.

The first is that dead bodies - especially ones that have sat a while - are obviously dead.  In a cool climate they might have fly swarms, but of course there would be the weakening of bladder and bowel whose stink would announce that something was wrong.  Also, the temperature would be visibly off.  One wouldn't even need to shake them to know they were dead - the stink would give the first clue followed by the cold temperature.  When seconds count, this would save time. 

The second is that British service revolvers weigh quite a bit.  It's not like a match box or a coin that could fall from your pocket and not immediately be missed.  You'd know it the instant it left your possession.

Again, it's got some good moments, but it's one of those films only worth watching once.

Gorky Park: a superior Cold War thriller

I've seen Gorky Park a couple of times before, but after research on Spain and China, it seemed a good time to revisit it.

It's excellent.  Really a tight, well-crafted film that captures the sense of living under Communist rule.

The late William Hurt is brilliant, playing one of those roles that are well outside what one expects of certain actors.  I think his turn as a Soviet police ("militia") detective is arguably his best.  It's not just the mannerisms, but the way he inhabits the character.  His makeup and facial expressions are - to be blunt - unAmerican.

Which is a very good thing.

One of the difficulties in doing films set in foreign lands is giving a sense of the language differences.  Do you have everyone do an atrocious foreign accent, or just have them speak normally?

Gorky Park has the Russian characters use English accents and only the Americans (who play Americans) talk like, er, Americans. 

What this means is that Hurt plays a Russian but speaks with an English accent.  That sounds silly, but actually most Europeans learn British rather than American English, so it works.  Plus, the rest of the crew around him is British.  Without that, he'd stand out.  It may seem I'm making too much of it, but it is upon such details as these that films have foundered.

The 1980s are interesting because the Soviet Union was a far more pressing threat to us than Russia is today, yet the anti-Russian animus is much worse now than it was back then.

Of course, back then we wanted to know what our enemies were thinking.  We needed that so we could plan appropriately.  Today, a lot of "smart" people simply ignore their enemies, assuming they know them or that they are beneath knowing altogether.  Put simply, Hollywood is a lot more bigoted and stupid than it used to be.

It makes a nice companion to White Nights, which is of course brilliant.

The fake pro-lifers reveal themselves

For a long time, pro-life voters have been regarded by political operatives as essentially "cheap dates."  All one had to do was declare allegiance to the pro-life movement, make some meaningless votes (that would of course be struck down in court) and count the votes and the money.

The reversal of Roe v. Wade has revealed that many of these people were never truly pro-life. 

The first test was their immediate reaction to the decision.  Many people who had hitherto boasted of their dedication to the cause became uncharacteristically silent in the moment of victory.

Others began to echo pro-abortion talking points about the need to care for mothers and infants - as if this wasn't already a top priority of the movement.  While one expects a certain amount of dishonesty among politicians, this behavior is somewhat more shocking when coming from people who hitherto identified as devout Christians.

It will be interesting to see what consequences (if any) the Catholic clergy face - particularly when ballot issues regarding abortion are now pending in several states.

For the Protestants, I expect action to be much faster and more severe.  The traditional downfall of an influential pastor or preacher is some sort of sexual or financial scandal, but this is arguably more egregious, since it implies that their faith was never genuine.  Even the most devout believer may fall prey to temptation, but what is one to make of someone who never believed what they were preaching?

This seems to be an age of clarity.  We are finally seeing behind the curtains at what is really going on. 

Val Kilmer's documentary about himself is seriously depressing

I haven't looked at what's available on streaming content for a while, but last weekend I took a gander and saw Val, a documentary about Val Kilmer by himself.

Apparently Kilmer is quite the amateur filmmaker, and has been since childhood.  He has a warehouse filled with film reels and videotape that tell the story of his life.  Last year he had a bunch of it spliced together and - since he can barely talk after suffering from throat cancer - he had his son provide the narration.

His is a tale of woe.

No, he didn't grow up in a garbage dump or suffer daily beatings, but his home life was both idyllic and nightmarish at the same time.  He was born into affluence, and his father moved to California to make even more money.  He and his two brothers were encouraged to be creative and so made their own movies, often parodying contemporary films. 

All well and good, and he decided to pursue and acting career and managed to gain admittance to the Juilliard school in New York where he met other soon-to-be famous people.

At about the same time, his youngest brother drowned in a hot tub after suffering an epileptic seizure.  This was his first grief.  His parents also divorced and his father - who (perhaps justly) blamed himself for his son's death - suffered financial difficulties.

When Kilmer got his breakthrough roles, his father turned to him for money and lost it all through crooked dealing.  Kilmer married the woman of his dreams and she left him - again taking all his money.

The picture that emerges is not flattering.  Kilmer's penchant for filming everything make him seem oddly detached from life, as if everything going on around him is for show.  He seems a hollow man, only able to reach people by playing other people.  All of his life goals are centered around acting and the arts and he steadily grows resentful of roles that are beneath him.

In the end, of course, he's reduced to doing guest appearances at conventions and film festivals and Val deliberately showcases his mixture of humility at the love of his fans and his contempt for himself in humoring them.

Throughout the film, Kilmer stresses his faith, but it's never really in evidence.  His parents were Christian Scientists, but we only see him go to church once - and it's a virtual service during Covid.   After his mother's death, he declares that in a dream he saw her and his brother together and that both were at last at peace, yet (unless I'm mistaken) he goes everywhere wearing bits of her clothes and jewelry.

To be clear, I don't fault him for his weaknesses.  After all, who am I to judge?  I'm simply remarking on the obvious incongruity between claiming peacefulness and the lack of its evidence.

If nothing else, the film is an object lesson in how people can "have it all" but never find fulfillment.

Spies Like Us: try-hard, vanity comedy

Another day, another multi-film 80s collection.  Today's offering is a Chevy Chase/Dan Aykroyd vehicle Spies Like Us.

It's a Cold War send-up of spy films and from the get-go it's clearly a paint-by-numbers affair.  Both actors are playing their favorite idealized roles, which they originated in other, better movies.

Chase plays the clumsy yet suave con artist who has a way with the ladies while Aykroyd is the mega-nerd who talks in cluttered jargon and ultimately saves the world.  Essentially it's Caddyshack meets Ghostbusters, and since the characters are nothing more than tropes, there's no real investment in what happens. 

To be fair, there are a few legitimate belly laughs, but the film feels more like a series of related Saturday Night Live sketches than a cohesive story precisely because the characters are so familiar.

The sketches work because all we have is the one skit.  However, when you run a bunch together, it feels forced and is uneven.  One of the keys to comedy is timing - the jokes have to come in the proper sequence and with the proper spacing to have the full effect.  When it works, you reduce the audience to helpless laughter, because they have just enough time to recover before something new happens.

When it doesn't you get awkward silences, as if a rollercoaster has come to a sudden and unexpected stop.  That's the feeling of Spies Like Us - it gets rolling for a bit, stutters a bit, rolls more but never finds a consistent pace.

And yes, it has a fair amount of political preachiness about bloodthirsty generals trying to start WW III with Reagan's Strategic Defense Initiative.  You can mix politics and humor, but only if it has the right tone.  If you don't do that, you alienate a bunch of the audience. 

Meet "Catholic" warmonger George Weigel

Over the last couple of years I've really enjoyed my subscription to First Things.  It's a great magazine and reminds me of the great old magazines where you had deep, erudite essays and thoughtful disagreement.

It takes a least a week for me to reach each issue because it is not something to just flip through idly.  I have to contemplate - and sometimes savor - the various articles.  Often the ones that look least promising have something to say.

One of the marquee talents there is George Weigel, who needs no introduction in Catholic literary circles, but who was not particularly well-known to me.  I'd encountered him here and there, but never dug into his body of work.

In addition to the print edition, there is extensive digital content over at their web site, and Weigel has written the most bloodthirsty  call to carnage since the start of the Iraq War.

How else can you describe a screed that demands unending slaughter until the borders of Ukraine are fully restored?  Remember, the conflict is a borders dispute in Eastern Europe of all places, where there never have been fixed frontiers. 

Another jarring feature: this isn't about Russia's leaders, it's about Russians themselves.  Apparent Pope George has pronounced all of them anathema and demanded no peace without a bloody chastisement.

The bill of Russian crimes is ludicrous.  Here's a particularly egregious example:

We have learned that the Russian way of war includes the use of cluster munitions and unguided missiles specifically forbidden by international law.

This is simply false.  Unguided munitions are the norm across the world - guided ones are luxury items.  As for cluster munitions, the United States still has them and still plans on using them.

Talk about a plank in the eye.

Weigel reminds me of no one so much as a World War I jingoist, demanding to hang the Kaiser no matter the cost.  Meanwhile, millions were ground up in brutal fighting and millions more succumbed to disease and privation.  Is Weigel suggesting that a compromise peace is worse than no peace at all?

Conservatives like to imagine that liberals are intellectually a breed apart, but we are just as prone to falling prey to sinful ways.  For all his Catholic writings, Weigel is indistinguishable from a cancel culture zealot.

He should serious reconsider what he is advocating.  Prolonging the slaughter in the east and spreading further hunger must be carefully weighed against whatever supposed chastisement will result.  It is particularly unbecoming when used by an influential Christian.

The twin perils of "woke" and "nice" Christianity

Last month I stumbled upon this article about the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, which was subsequently been put behind a paywall.  The writer uses some clever turns of phrase to make it quite funny, but the core story is a great tragedy.

"Auntie ELCA has gone a bit mad," as my more orthodox Lutheran friends like to put it.  Yes, she has.

The article documents a clash between a white non-binary bishop and a Hispanic male pastor, and the resulting intervention by a white female archbishop.  The nature of the dispute is irrelevant because - as the story makes clear - identity politics rather than theology are all that count in the modern ELCA.

There's a bit of a digression later on about a sex-positive ELCA female pastor (should I put scare quotes around that?) who divorces her husband and then has hot sex with an ex-boyfriend which she claims brings her closer to God.

At this point we've gone well beyond participation trophy Christianity into straight-up evil.  One would think that the whole point of having ordained ministers is that they can be held to account for not just their theology but their personal behavior.  The Catholic Church sounds dreadfully archaic when they use expressions like "causing scandal" but that exactly describes that woman's behavior: scandalous.

What moral example is being offered?  Obviously for ELCA, sodomy is now something celebrated rather than condemned, but now that dispensation has been extended to adultery as well.

Again, this is buried behind the paywall, but the description of this wicked priestess came via Rod Dreher, who I believe is one of the most useless Christian writers in the world today.  Dreher is Eastern Orthodox, which means he's opted out of the culture wars and prefers to claim moral superiority over the Catholics without actually standing in the trenches beside them.

Anyhow, amidst spreading this lamentable tale, Dreher has this wonderful piece of equivocation:

I read her book Pastrix five years ago, and liked her voice, even though I disagree strongly with her theology. [emphasis added]

What does "liking her voice" even mean?  Why can't the man take a stand?

Seriously, this woman gets off on melting down discarded 'purity rings' to create a fertility idol.

I find the purity ring thing silly - an unnecessary performative act of virtue - but this is the very definition of demonic activity.  This woman (who looks like you think she would) is all about celebrating the collapse of virtue.  It's a trophy whose sole purpose is to do celebrate the failure of virtue and the triumph of sin.

Her "voice" is one of evil, calling people to reject Christ and His Church.  She's infiltrated a fallen Protestant denomination and wears a Roman collar to blaspheme its symbolism.

As I've gotten older, I think I've steadily improved my ability to forgive.  Yet at the same time, I've lost patience with people who make a great show of standing up for virtue only to prevaricate by proclaiming an interest in hearing out what the devil has to say about it.

As Tolkien pointed out, the danger of studying the Enemy too closely is that one risks being seduced.  In this case, it's clear what is going on and no further examination is necessary.

Meanwhile, the circus at ELCA has proven that progressive tolerance is far more oppressive than the traditional Christianity it rails against.  Identity is all that matters, and there can be no forgiveness, only revenge.

Logan's Run: Prelude to hook-up culture

Continuing with the theme of dystopian sci-fi films, I watched Logan's Run for the first time in at least a decade. 

I'm not going to say it hasn't aged well because the quintessential 70s sci-fi feel is part of its charm.  It came out in 1976, and was such a hit that a spin-off TV series was put into production.

The central conceit of the film is that environmental degradation forced humanity to retreat into a climate-controlled domed city run by a central computer.  This was when overpopulation was a great fear, with books like The Population Bomb and movies like Soylent Green intimating that we'd soon be eating each other.

At any rate, to keep the population stable, births (and deaths) are highly regulated.  Each resident has a small crystal in the left hand and it changes color as they age.  Once it starts blinking red (which happens at the age of 30) time's up.  That generation goes to a thing called 'carousel' (spelled differently) and they spin and levitate until being blow to bits.  In theory, the worthy will be given a second life, but no one's positive about how that works.

Anyhow, some people want to keep living and try to evade the security force, known as Sandmen.  They are assigned to chase "runners" and kill them.

It's standard fare, with the usual heavy-handed culture references ("don't trust anyone over 30" was of course a hippie slogan) and the plot leans heavily on ruined landmarks being scary.

What I find interesting was that it prefigured the hook-up culture that started to emerge in the late 80s.  Because everyone is safe and fed and population is determined by computers, sex is entirely recreational.  Monogamy is unknown.  Thus each evening, one can go "on the circuit" and find a partner (or more than one).  There's even an orgy district.

The obvious message is that bodily pleasure without a relationship is ultimately empty.  Our society is learning the same lesson.  The 'freedom' provided by birth control and abortion comes at a significant cost.  Numerous studies and mountains of data demonstrate that quantity of sex partners is less important than the quality of them, and that a long-term monogamous relationship results in the best outcomes in health and emotional satisfaction.

This shouldn't be a surprise - countless generations embraced this structure before us, but the conceit of the 20 Century was that all those people were stupid and ignorant.  We're now learning the opposite.

Amidst the hysterical responses to the Dobbs decision is the claim that "hook-up culture is dead."  I think the prevalence of other methods of birth control says otherwise, but I'd be very happy if that is true.