Bleeding Fool

Road House revisited

The news that Amazon has a new version of Road House has caused me to re-watch the film and I'm working on an article for Bleeding Fool.  It should run next week or perhaps the week after.

I don't want to tip my hand too much, but I think this kind of thing is becoming ubiquitous in Hollywood - and also embarrassing.

Time was, films only got remade if there was a clear upgrade to them - say the addition of sound or color.  Some stories were presented in a different cultural sensitivity - see the various movies centering on the mutiny on the Bounty.

Nowadays, though, it seems like nothing more than nostalgia bait.  "Hey middle-aged Gen X-er, check out this awesome new take on that movie you liked!"  The problem is it usually sucks.

The current generation of writers has no concept of joy or any willingness to take risks.  Original ideas are dangerous, so it's better to trash an existing property than create anything bold and new.  It's funny that Dune is getting a lot of attention because this is the third adaptation of it.

I guess the verdict of Sunset Boulevard is finally true - the movies are getting small.


Looking back on 2023: The Year of Tidying Up

Yesterday we hosted a modest gathering by historical standards, but it was a welcome change from the lingering isolation of the pandemic.

In addition to the benefit of companionship, I like having people over because it acts as a spur to clean up the place.  It's easy to get complacent about the state of one's home.  So long as the kitchen sink is clear and the toilets aren't covered in grime, it's all good, right?

No.  I think the accumulation of dust and disorderliness can be felt, even if it isn't consciously seen.  So much stuff get set down here or there and then forgotten and finally buried.  It's nice to clear all that out and replace year-old papers with a plate of snacks.

That's somewhat my feeling about 2023 - it wasn't so much about starting new things as much as clearing out old ones.  While my retirement date was set at the end of 2022, it was not until mid-April that the wrangling with the Air Force was completed.  Only then did I receive my packet, certificates and formal notification.

Similarly, June saw the end of two decades of having kids in school.  I'm finally off the district email list.

Of course, Walls of Men published earlier this year, and due to the current domestic situation, I haven't been able to start anything new.  Walls of Men was something of a commercial disappointment to me.  I figured China's military history was a much more compelling topic than the Spanish Civil War, but I was wrong.

With books being out of reach, I've cranked out quite a few columns for Bleeding Fool, and these are getting more engagement, no doubt a function of their frequency and topics.

While I try to be hopeful and optimistic, I look forward to the coming year with a certain sense of dread.  Politics hold no interest for me, and our electoral system is breaking down.  I've little confidence that it will hold up to the strain.

That being said, God is the prime mover in all of this, and I will continue to work in deepening my prayer life and giving all of my trust over to Him.


Godzilla: Minus One is an amazing movie

My resolve not to pay the big bucks to see Godzilla: Minus One in the theater could not withstand the combined power of my family.  So the bunch of us trooped off Saturday to catch the matinee.

I've got a review underway for Bleeding Fool, some I'm not going to repeat myself.  It should post this week.

Suffice to say that it's a superb film, the kind one rarely sees this days.  Everything just worked, and the rawness of the emotion reminded me of Akira Kurosawa's Ran, particularly the part where a character wondered if he was already dead, living in a personal hell.  That was very reminiscent of Lord Hidetori losing his mind.

In short, solid. 

Something that I didn't mention in my review was how the subtitles seemed an afterthought, and other than lead roles, the rest of the credits were in Japanese characters.  I'm assuming the DVD release will have a revised version, but it felt very much like the American audience was an afterthought. 

It has pulled in a descent amount of money, and the number of screens continue to expand.  There are about 4,000 screens in the US, and this has appeared on about half of them.   In fact, 300 more were added last week.  The American box office to date is $34 million, and there does not seem to be much of a falloff. 

To put that in perspective, last week it beat Disney's latest clunker, Wish, as well as Ridley Scott's bloated and ahistorical Napoleon.

Not bad for a foreign film with a $15 million budget.


Turning over a new leaf: Toxic Masculinity Tuesday

For a while I would note when various items posted over at bleedingfool.com, but I got out of the habit because they were becoming fairly common.

However, I'm making an exception because I've been invited to participate in a new features called Toxic Masculinity Tuesday.  The tongue-in-cheek title is a reference to the unabashed macho character of the films under discussion, and through a series of remarkable coincidences, I ended up penning this week's offering.

For those unwilling to take the click bait, I chose the 1991 Disney Beauty and the Beast, because it features multiple men who demonstrate strongly masculine traits, and these are taken as a matter of course.  Gaston is of course a bit over the top, but of all the Disney villains, he's probably the most liked by other people in the film.  He's actually a popular guy, he just takes things too far.

I intend to do deep dives in my entry, focusing on film noir and Golden Age movies.

Anyhow, it keeps me engaged in the absence of a new book project.


A few more words about lightsabers

Earlier this week I posted an article about the decline and fall of lightsabers in Star Wars over at bleedingfool.com.

Right on cue, one of the new Disney Star Wars shows has a character take would should have been a moral wound and essentially walk it off.  Fans are not amused.

As I point out in my piece, the increasing overuse of lightsabers is illustrative of poor writing and increasingly feeble efforts to produce dramatic tension by substituting action for plot and character development.

People who don't know how to write a loaded conversation or create a compelling story will simply resort to extended fight scenes, but the more they resort to this, the less any of them matter.

Having characters survive mortal wounds completely unscathed is part and parcel of this.  Once that happens, the reader (or viewer) ceases to take the story seriously.  This is why in all of my fiction, not a single character has returned from the dead.  I have had characters who people assumed were dead come back, but that's different device which leaves the consequence of death intact.

I have to say that seeing how awful entertainment is these days is really shocking.  I know that the political scene is a disaster area, which is why I avoid it, but entertainment seems to be even worse.  Who approves this stuff?  Is there any concept of quality control? 

This is the consequence of three generations of nepotistic promotion, I suppose.  The current generation of studio heads have no real knowledge of life, art, or their audience - and it shows.

 


The gage is thrown down on Underworld

A new author at Bleedingfool.com has thrown shade at Underworld, which is one of my favorite films. 

Naturally, I shall respond forcefully.  Strong column to follow.

This was the bit that really set me off:

Selene’s inexplicable, unearned combat prowess reveals her as a Mary Sue: a character whose flawless abilities leave so few genuine challenges as to make everyone else irrelevant.

What utter nonsense.  Selene is an interesting character precisely because of her vulnerabilities.  She's handy with a pistol, but while she does well in the initial encounter, she has to flee for her life, leaving her partner behind.  That's hardly "flawless."

Similarly, her attempt to secure Michael doesn't succeed because she thumps all the werewolves effortlessly, she barely manages to drag him into her car and even then Lucien gives her a vicious wound that causes her to lose consciousness and wreck her car.  Michael, who she treated like baggage, ends up saving her life.

Selene wins, but she takes damage and is clearly not invincible.

There is also the emotional aspect of her character.  She has grown up with a set of assumptions that she slowly realizes simply are not true.  She must therefore struggle to make sense of the lies she has been fed, and make her own way.  This includes recognizing the humanity in werewolves and even teaming up with Michael against her mentor.

A Mary Sue character, by contrast, has no real struggle other than to fully appreciate her own awesomeness. 

Naturally, I will have to link on my Geek Guns article on the film as well.

The larger point is that this fellow is striving for a hot take without apparently understanding the lingo or the genre.  Underworld is not a taught psychodrama, it is an action film set in the vampire genre, and it is very good at what it is trying to do.  The mood, the look, the music, it's all superb.

It's one thing to say "I don't like vampire films," or that the aesthetic didn't work.  But it is another to claim a certain flaw - in this case Mary Sue - where there is none.

 


A second look at the faith in Desperado

Over the weekend I decided to re-watch Desperado as something of a time-waster.  I have to say this is one of my favorite movies - it's not profound or anything, but it is great at what it strives to be: a fun, witty, sexy, Mexican shoot-'em-up film with a superlative soundtrack.

Everything just clicks and it's the kind of movie where you can just drop in and enjoy what's coming next.

However, as is my wont, I noticed that there's also a subtext of faith in the story.  This was there from the beginning, but given Hollywood's implacable hatred of Christianity, and stands out much more now than it did in 1995.  I'm planning on doing a writeup on this for Bleedingfool.com because it would also dovetail nicely with my Geek Guns column about it and my recent article on Robert Rodriguez's Spy Kids.

 


Many ratings, no reviews

Over the last couple of weeks I've notice that a bunch of my books are getting more ratings on Amazon.  Some are good, others not so much.  Indeed, I've been surprised to see the Man of Destiny series pick up a bunch of ratings, but some are the lowest they've ever gotten.

Conversely, both Long Live Death and Walls of Men seem to be improving in their reception.

Perhaps this is the result of me taking on a higher profile at Dakka as well as Bleedingfool.com.  The more people who read my stuff, the more there are who may not appreciate it.  It comes with the territory.

The curious part is the lack of reviews.  The early versions of Long Live Death got punished because of the typos and editing errors.  I think Walls of Men has been spared this because the much more exacting editing process.

I'm aware that the Man of Destiny books are not as clean as they could be.  One of my goals it to release a second edition (perhaps an all-in-one with new cover art and some extra content). 

However, I don't think people are throwing out two- or three-star ratings because of that.  And since there are no reviews, I'm not sure what they could be objecting to.


Those who cannot see

My column on Ben Hur at Bleedingfool.com kicked off a modest debate in the comments.  What started as a discussion of the film has now turned into a debate about faith itself.

I'm not interested in litigating my side over here, but the course of the conversation is worth a closer look.

I'm sure most people of faith at some point will encounter an "evangelical atheist."  These people don't believe in God and they don't want anyone else to, either.  Marx had a big hand in creating these creatures, and while they deserve compassion, history has shown they can also be very destructive.

While it is unlikely that we will encounter the next Pol Pot at the bookstore or in an online comment thread, I think it is important that we understand where they are coming from.

In my area, a great many were raised by strictly religious parents and their unbelief is a form of rebellion.  "I refused to be brainwashed into your cult!" is their battle cry.  Others had faith, but for some reason lost it.  Again, the stories tend to have many points in common, but each one is unique. 

Just as converts often tend to be the most fervent believers, apostates are often the Church's worst enemies.  On the psychological level, we can explain this by noting that the same strength of will that can sustain a voluntary life-change can also give it enormous power and zeal.

But if we look spiritually, we a different dynamic.  Converts to the faith are trying to share something wonderful and new to them, something that they had overlooked before. 

The evangelical atheist, by contrast, has nothing new to share, no gift other than envy and despair.

In the last couple of weeks I came across one who explained that there was no God, and that people should just enjoy life knowing that they were going to die and that would be that.  The person insisted that he was perfectly fulfilled, thank you, but that did not explain why he went on a religious forum to spread this message.

I have been seeing this all my adult life.  Again, the reasons vary, but the actions have the same dull similarity.  The most virulent form of this are the ones who want to outlaw all religious practice in the US military.  And that is what gives the game away.

The old secular materialist explanation was that misery loves company, and having had their faith shattered or never being able to find it, these folks seethe with envy and anger when they see smiling religious people find meaning and purpose in their lives.  It's especially obvious when they go out of their way to hinder them - like going to an online religious discussion to spread their message.

But if we use the Spiritual Warfare lens, what we see is something different.  These people have declared themselves against God and therefore any hint of His presence is a threat to them.  That is why they want churches closed, and seek to undermine the faith of others.  They are allied with demons, but too blind to see it.

Such creatures regularly appear in the writings of Evelyn Waugh, C.S. Lewis and G.K. Chesterton, which shows how far back this particular strain of Spiritual Warfare goes.  Indeed, one of the Enemy's most successful tactics has been creating an artificial tension between faith and science.  Yet there is none.  Faith without reason is merely foolish while science without faith is diabolical.

Perhaps the most poignant part of the Ben Hur exchange with the commenter's refusal to even accept the possibility of miracles.  Given that the oldest writings we have confirm their existence - indeed there is an evidentiary chain leading to the present day - this is perhaps the most irrational aspect of atheism.

There are no magic words to break through to such people, but my hope is that by giving counter-examples to their misery, people who of their own choice embraced faith and found contentment and joy, they may look about themselves with new eyes.

 

 


Comparing Ben Hur and The Ten Commandments

As is my wont, I've been watching classic Bible-themed movies over Holy Week.  I will likely conclude with Risen, one of my favorite new films, but for the first time ever, I decided to watch Ben Hur and The Ten Commandments back-to-back.

I should point out that this wasn't part of any plan on my part.  I thought it would be fun to watch Ben Hur (and maybe to a write up on it for Bleedingfool.com), and I enjoyed it so much, I thought I'd take in the other great Charleton Heston classic as well.

I'm going to come right out and say it: Ben Hur is the better movie.  The pacing is better, the story flows better and it feels like entertainment rather than a Sunday School lesson.

Don't get me wrong - The Ten Commandments has excellent drama and I love the rivalry between Heston and Yul Brynner, but between the narration and full-stop quotations of scripture, I can see the beginning of Christian film making at its worst - wooden, preachy, and painfully earnest.

I also think that in today's climate, Ben Hur is more accessible.  It's a revenge story that turns into a conversion narrative.  That was unusual at the time, and why the book it was based on was such a phenomenal best-seller.

I'll throw a link to my column once it runs, so that you can read more about Ben Hur and why I like it, but that's my quick and dirty comparison between the two.