Sequel, Prequel, In-quel: where does it end?

Hollywood is apparently not done with strip-mining J.R.R. Tolkien's literary legacy.  A new film is supposedly in the works based on the life of...Gollum.

Which we already know.  I mean, it's in Lord of the Rings, book the book and both the movies.

This is the state of modern filmmaking: tell the same story again and again.  

Presumably audiences will keep coming back to watch something vaguely familiar, thus assuring a reasonable return on investment.

This is largely enabled by the consolidation that has taken place among studios, which are probably more in lockstep than they ever were in the days of the moguls.  Indeed, the signature feature of the Studio System was its innovation - all of the moguls were self-made men who were creating an industry from scratch.  The current executives are third- or fourth-generation legacy hires.

The good news is that this creates an unprecedented opportunity for independent artists to make some huge scores, and we saw this with Godzilla Minus One.

The bad news is that all media has been consolidated, and there is a concerted (and blatant) effort to restrict access to new content precisely because of the danger it poses.

I'm not sure how this will play out, but as with so many other institutions, my sense is that Hollywood will ultimately fall.  Like a vast ship incapable of course correction, it will inevitably crash.  Nothing is too big to fail.

Watching a little classic Star Trek

One of the great things about having TV shows on DVD is that they are often the perfect choice for an early evening.  When you strip out the commercials, classic TV programs run about 46 minutes, allowing you to sneak in an episode just before bed.

Some years ago I acquired the first two seasons of Star Trek and plan on finally picking up the third.   The franchise, like the original cast, is all but dead, but the show has aged surprisingly well.

I'm sure a lot of Trekkies may regard the machismo of Kirk as cringe-worthy, but I think values of the time - women and men are different and should be used for different things - still holds up.

What hasn't aged well is the utopian belief that science and "bad beliefs" will have faded in the future.  Indeed, the best episodes are the ones that center on human (or Vulcan) nature.   "Amok Time," for example, is a wonderful display of passion, anger and treachery.

Yeah, there are continuity problems, the writers had trouble keeping their tech lore straight and - to repeat - I've not watched the third season, which had some true clunkers.

But for all that, the cast really was quite solid, mostly older, bit-part types who nevertheless threw everything they had into their roles.

It's kind of funny how much Star Trek has faded, both for me and the larger culture.  No, I never got into the weird cosplay aspect of the fandom, but I read many of the novels, watched the movies and for a while considered myself in the upper echelons of the fandom.  What really turned me off was The Next Generation, which I did not like, and I generally ignored the subsequent iterations of the show.  I guess that makes me something of a purist, and I'm fine with that.

The call to conversion

British comedian Russell Brand has announced his intention to be baptized this Sunday.  He is the latest in a series of celebrities to convert (or revert) to Christianity.  Apparently Hulk Hogan and his family have been baptized, along with a smattering of people I'm only vaguely aware of (but am assured are famous).  Shia LeBeouf has followed through with his pledge to enter the Catholic Church, and he has been joined by political commentator Candace Owens and Tammy Peterson, the wife of Dr. Jordan.

Is it opportunism or sincerity?  Perhaps it is a mixture of both.  One could argue that "finding religion" is a someone worn-out trope in American culture, typically the result of having destroyed all other career opportunities.  Everyone loves a redemption story.

However, the culture has never been more hostile to people of faith.  It's interesting that Kanye West has gone from church-like Sunday concerts to contemplating building a pornography empire.  Satanic imagery and overt denigration of Christ has never been more popular.

As Brand himself has observed, there's something deeply wrong with the world right now, with every institution crumbling into ineffectiveness if not a tool of downright oppression.  The Catholic Church is not immune to this, however the strange diktats coming out from the Vatican seem to be producing the opposite of the intended effect.  Both the laity and the clergy are becoming more stridently orthodox, decisively proving that the Church is more than its leadership.

I think people are realizing the reality of spiritual warfare.  Technology - once held as the solution to the mysteries of faith - has been exposed as a mindless recording of our follies, spitting nonsense back at us even as it tries to lock us into a virtual reality of endless depravity.

At the same time, the allure of Yard Sign Calvinism is wearing off.  Oh, the signs are still up, the virtue signalling continues, but as the situation deteriorates, there are more pressing issues than asserting "love is love" or that "science is real."  The latter is actually becoming a problem because so much of science has been shown to be false, from the effectiveness of masks against Covid to treating gender dysphoria with medical mutilation. 

As is their wont, humans have erected new gods, which have predictably failed.  It should not be surprising that a number of them (perhaps a remnant?) should turn to the true God as a result.

Movie anti-review: Civil War

From the moment I saw the first trailer for Civil War, I knew I was not going to watch it.  Instead, I'm going to do an anti-review on it.

What is an anti-review?  It's where I explain why I refused to see a movie that should otherwise be very interesting to me.  This is a great example, because it seems to have many of the elements I like in a film.

For one thing, it's about conflict, and I love war movies.  It's also about civil war, revolution, and political collapse, themes I've used in my novels and of course I've written a book about the Spanish Civil War (Long Live Death) and my military history of China (Walls of Men), has lots of rebellions and civil wars in it.

So why am I skipping this film?  Because it is so incredibly stupid.

Some folks have picked on the setting, i.e. Texas and California teaming up.  I actually don't have a problem with that.  For one thing, there's ample precedent for rivals to join against a common enemy.  Heck, Catholic France rallied to the Protestant cause in the Thirty Years' War.

The scenario was purportedly made that way to focus on the characters' stories rather than the political side.   Which is fine.  If you want to just focus on how war affects people, you can pretty much block out the cause and just focus on people trying to get by.

I think one could make a great story about how civil war would affect hospital workers who are forced into treating casualties or conscript soldiers who are now fighting their countrymen and don't fully grasp why.

The problem is that the heroes are journalists, who are supposed to immerse themselves in these things.  Indeed, journalism is now the most political profession outside actual politics.  So to pretend they're "just following the story" is stupid.

The next layer of stupidity is the characters themselves.  There are no "war correspondents" anymore.  They vanished decades ago.  Martha Gellhorn died in 1998.  The notion that there is still some famous woman journalist documented war passed its expiration date 30 years ago.  The characters may as well be relying on chemical film and using phone booths to communicate.  It's stupid.

Similarly, the emphasis on still photography is stupid.  No one uses still photography in war zones, they stream video.  Writer/Director Alex Garland is lost in a world that no longer exists and died by the time he hit age 30.

His notion of how war works is similarly stupid, and clearly shaped by his work on zombie films.  Indeed, he can't get out of that frame of thinking, resorting to the usual trope of having abandoned vehicles on the highway.

But this isn't a zombie outbreak.  Highways are crucial to keeping people fed and clothed.  If a highway is bombed or strafed, people will fix it and scrap or strip the damaged vehicles.

Similarly, he has the whole order/chaos thing exactly backwards.  He shows that the closer one gets to the battlefront, the more organized things are, even down to neat little tent encampments.

No.  That is stupid.  The closer you get the front, the more chaotic things become, and no modern army builds camps like that.  This isn't 1860, it's a time when cheap drones can fly and bomb tidy little camps like that with almost no warning.

And this isn't secret knowledge, either.  Fighting in Ukraine has been going on for more than year.  Maybe he should leave his zombie bubble.

It is in the rear areas that you have order, as the new government is put in place, and people pick up and carry on as best they can.  Garland has the twisted Hollywood version of American in his mind, where everyone between the coasts is just a bunch of bloodthirsty rubes waiting to kill each other.  It's not like that at all, but he's too stupid to know it.

I'm actually losing interest in typing out all the stupidity because there is just so much of it, so I'm just going to finish with the example of the militia guy who shoots the journalist because he's not American.

This scene is stupidly stupid.  It is a towering monument of stupid, covered with a stupid gloss and shining under stupid clouds.  

Why?  Because no militia person would ever walk around with red shades and only a single magazine in his weapon.  Garland knows no actual gun owners, and has no idea how combat works.  Even people with zero military experience understand that you need a canteen, first aid kit, extra ammo and gear to carry it all.  The dweeb he has standing there is someone who literally cannot exist in gun culture. 

"Hey Bob, cover that road with only 20 rounds and be sure not to wear a hat so you can get sunstroke."

"What if I get thirsty?"

"It's only for this one scene."

Okay, I'm done now.  It's too stupid to go on.

Cameron and Ringwald epitomize Hollywood's cheap penance

One of the hallmarks of the ongoing Cultural Revolution in the United States is the desperate efforts of successful entertainers to try to stay relevant and ingratiate themselves to their new moral masters.

Exhibit One is James Cameron now repenting of his wildly successful Terminator franchise, which had two good movies and then a bunch of crappy ones.  I don't actually know how many there are at this point as I stopped watching.

There are a couple of things to unpack in this particular "confession," because what Cameron is doing is a clear case of Yard Sign Calvinism.  His alleged regret for "fetishizing" firearms is actually a pretty bold claim that Hollywood didn't push gun violence until he, James Cameron, entered the scene.  Death Wish and Dirty Harry would like to have a word with him.

This is of course the cheapest for of repentance, because he's not giving up anything, and actually trying to ingratiate himself with the current power brokers. 

"Gosh, I'm sorry I made a boatload of money and am now fabulously rich.  This apology relieves me of any obligation to donate to charities that benefit the victims of violent crime.  I'm going to go play with my submarine now."

Similarly Molly Ringwald has also announced that - after decades of affluence thanks to movies she merely acted in - she now thinks that they are wrong.

Again, her statement contains no pledge to spend the fruit of her ill-gotten gains on charities or in any way inconvenience herself, it's just about letting everyone know she's now a better person than she was, and also a better person than anyone who likes her previous work.

One of the worst abuses of Catholicism is when the Rite of Reconciliation is treated as something of a box-checking exercise.  You do the sin, go to the priest, confess, say some prayers, and then do it again.

No.  That's now how it works.  Without sincere remorse, the sins aren't forgiven.  Without sincere acts of penance, the sins aren't forgiven.

There is an increasing emphasis on this in the Church.  I'm noticing that penance is no longer an arbitrary number of prayers, but also requires some effort to heal the wound that sin has caused.

This is as it should be.  Simply telling God you're sorry is not enough; one must then go and make amends for the harm one has caused.

Because so much of Hollywood (and its elite wannabees) are immune from consequences, this is an alien concept to them.  (Heh)

One of the Enemy's most effective snares is the combination of pride and complacency, perhaps with a dollop of self-righteousness on top.  The signs of repentance are not directed toward God, but the popular culture.

Their goal is not to clear their conscience to to maintain (or regain) access to the decadence of their youth.

As scripture tells us, they shall have their reward.



Debating the 1990s

There's a bit of a back-and-forth going on at Bleeding Fool over the worth of the 1990s.

I think the perception of any period is heavily colored by one's personal experience of it - either having lived through it, or its art, politics, and entertainment.

It's hard to separate a time of personal misery from the larger zeitgeist.  Still, I think my take is an objective one.  The pre-9/11 world was a better one, and while I found myself frustrated and depressed during that period, I still had a lot of fun.  Indeed, I recognize that with better judgement, I'd have had a better decade.

The other issue with sitting in judgement is that culture and life don't simply flip with the page of a calendar.  The decades bleed into each other, and what one thinks of as the epitome of a particular era may have happened before or after the actual dates in question.

For example, the decay of Protestantism didn't start in the 1990s, it was merely revealed then.

One can't look at the cultural tides in music, art, entertainment and politics in isolation.

At the same time, it is easy to fall into the trap of overdeterminism - the notion that the out come of a recent event was inexorably set in motion by a distant one.  I see a lot of otherwise reasonable people insist that the Union victory in the Civil War is the direct, inevitable cause of all our contemporary problems.  Apparently the people living and ruling in intervening decades were denied any form of agency.  It's very much a Calvinist approach to history.

It is true that historical writers often were able to predict the future by examining contemporary trends.  C.S. Lewis, G.K. Chesterton and even J.R.R. Tolkien did this.  But as Tolkien in particular might admit, nothing was fixed - no one was forced to follow that path.  It's also true that many dangers fail to materialize, or that their impact is mitigated.

There are many currents in the stream of history, and some of them are hard to see.  It's also the case that there are other powers at work, the Unseen who most analysts completely ignore.

Combine a purely secular materialist frame with overdeterminism and the result will likely be devoid of any useful analysis.

Bad Gandalf: Ian McKellen's Richard III

Going through my various writings and reviews, it may seem to some that I'm implacably opposed to remakes.  That's not quite true - what I dislike are bad, deconstructionist remakes.  If someone has a different take on the subject, or wants to consider the story from a different perspective, I'm open to it.

The works of William Shakespeare are a great example of things that can be remade over and over again and still be decent entertainment.  They are so compelling, so full of emotion and thought that they have altered the course of the English language.

That's why I decided to get a copy of Ian McKellen's production of Richard III.  I was intrigued to see what he would do with such a gloriously outrageous role.  Indeed, Richard is so notorious that Monty Python did a sketch featuring a psych ward of patients who lost themselves in the role.

It's not only expansive, but villainous, and any actor will tell you that villains are always more fun to play than heroes.

So in addition to watching Sir Ian chew on scenery, I was also intrigued by the setting, which was the 1930s.  I'm fascinated by that period, and the combination of political instability as well as the Abdication Crisis in England makes it a great choice.

Overall, I enjoyed the film.  It fully met my aesthetic and dramatic expectations.  I particularly liked the fact that Richard's weapon of choice was a Mauser C96 "Broomhandle."  Yes, it's a very sinister looking weapon, perfect for a villain, but it was also famously the weapon of choice for Winston Churchill.  There are lots of nice touches like that.

In addition to the classic hunchback, McKellen's Richard also has a withered left arm, akin to Wilhelm II, which remains (mostly) tucked into a pocket.  What this does is force all sorts of gyrations to smoke a cigarette, sign papers, etc.  This in turn allows him more opportunities to express his character's traits.  It's great fun to watch.

The soundtrack is great as well, and the choice of using Americans to play the Woodvilles was a nice touch.

No, the biggest problem was the sound itself, which was all over the place.  The transition from stage to film means that one can whisper, sigh and mutter while remaining audible.  Well, sometimes.  Whoever did the sound mix on this should never work again, because I had to constantly dial it up and then race it back down again.  Admittedly, my hearing is not what it was, but I can usually find a satisfactory volume and leave it for the duration of the film.  Not here.

And that's a big deal because it's SHAKESPEARE.  The lines are super-important.  I'll probably watch it again at some point, and try to find a happy midpoint, because it is an enjoyable film, and some movies improve with the watching.  I think this is one of them.

The Remarkably Respectful Song of Bernadette

Being a convert, I'm still getting up to speed on what might call "modern" Catholic history.  For example, I assumed the famed healing waters at Lourdes was an ancient shrine, not something that came into existence less than two centuries ago.

Because I'm building out my religious film collection, I decided to grab a disc of The Song of Bernadette, starring Jennifer Jones.  Made in 1943, this film sets itself squarely on the side of the titular saint.  There are lots of "direct to video" films of that nature, but this was an Academy Award-winning mainstream film with an excellent cast.

Vincent Price is his usually brilliant self as a secular businessman who has no use for "superstition."  At first, the skeptics seem to have a point, because like many mystics, Bernadette speaks to persons unseen and sometimes seems completely lost in a world of her own.  To those who have closed themselves off from the spirit realm, there is nothing to see.  But the more I open myself to it, the more I feel its presence, often in strange and unexpected ways.

By strange coincidence (or was it?) I also recently attended a funeral one of my past employers, a good man with every mark of success who was well-loved.  The church was packed, and extra seating had to be set out in the hallways and into the lobby.

I mention this because it was a Baptist "celebration of life," and felt more like a variety show whose guest of honor was absent.  The church itself was typical of the type - utilitarian and sparsely decorated.  The main chamber (I hesitate to call it a sanctuary) had white walls, natural wood support beams and single austere wooden cross in the center.  The dais had four comfy, high-backed armchairs flanking a podium, which I assume was considered to be a pulpit.  To video screens flanks the cross, and offered photos and even a family video celebrating the deceased.

The whole thing seemed strangely sterile, and true to doctrine, the emphasis of the service was that all one had to do was believe in Christ in order to straight to heaven when death came.

There is no place in such a worldview for saints, relics, sacraments or mysticism.  No place for healing springs or sacred spaces.  It was very much "of this world," and the presiding pastor was the son-in-law of the recently departed.

One line the pastor said particularly struck me, which was how the success and prosperity, wonderful (and believing!) family showed God's favor.  Is there a space for someone like St. Bernadette in such a faith?  What would happen if a young Baptist girl dug a hole and clean, healing water came out of it?  Would it be witchcraft?  Would someone's brother-in-law bring a backhoe in to fill it?

Then again, God knows what He is going, and bestows signs on those who can understand them.

Which one of my books would fans of Patrick Swayze's Road House enjoy?

I've noticed a bunch of people are coming here via searches or links pertaining to Patrick Swayze's superlative Road House.

If you liked that film, you'll probably enjoy The Vampires of Michigan.  No, this isn't the usual 90s vintage tale of teen angst or social squabbling.  This is a driving, fast-paced tale that uses vampires to frame the action.  It's partly a meditation on what immortality would actually mean, and an extended chase where the each side in turn becomes the hunter and the hunted.

It was really fun to write, and when it came out, one of my friends (who is a fan) said it was the best writing I had yet done. 

One of the aspects I enjoyed was finally putting my firearms knowledge to narrative use.  Matching characters with weapons and showing them in action was fun.   (Only the bad guys use Glocks.)

The whole thing is written in a cinematic style, emphasizing showing rather than telling, and avoiding internal monologues.

Basically it's sexy, fun, high body-count action novel.   Check it out!

Why aren't there many Protestant-themed horror movies?

I'm not a fan of horror films, but being something of a movie nerd, I'm well aware of the genre, especially its standout entries.

I've seen The Exorcist a couple of times and it's unnerving.  Exorcists, demons, possessed people - all of these are staple of horror cinema, but there isn't much in the way of Protestant-centered films.

Why is that?

The obvious first take is that it's simply a matter of optics.  An ancient church filled with icons, gargoyles and all the trappings of the Catholic faith is simply more visually interesting than the traditional stripped-down Protestant aesthetic, let along a megachurch.  

Indeed, the only Protestant locales I recall tend to be decrepit Baptist churches or - even scarier! - Pentecostal ones.  In that case, though, the actual faith is secondary to the traditional urban fear of the wilderness.  The notion that those backwoods simpletons are actually holding Black Masses and summoning demons goes back to H.P. Lovecraft at least.

Catholic horror, by contrast, seems rooted in antipathy towards the faith itself, and Hollywood has long has both traditional Protestant and of course Jewish influences in its content creation.

At the same time, there seems to be an unspoken assumption even among Protestants that when it comes to the supernatural, the Catholics are the experts.

Indeed, much of modern Protestantism denies ghosts, demons, spirits and even to a certain extent angels.  Anything that reeks of polytheism or questions the singularity of God is suspect and likely satanic.  Some Protestants are so zealous in this regard that they flirt with heresy in regards to the Holy Trinity.

Catholics, on the other hand, are right at home with this sort of thing, and have rites and even relics to aid in the struggle against the Unseen.  Some readers may recall the visit of the relic of St Jude, which is styled to look like a forearm with fingers extended in a permanent blessing.

Such numinous objects naturally lend themselves to visual storytelling.

One area where Protestantism has historically accepted the supernatural is witches, and there are films in this line, but - at least in the United States - the existence of functional witchcraft is officially disavowed by most mainstream Protestants.  This is partly the legacy of the infamous Salem Witch Trials and partly the softening of mainline Protestant faith, which is more likely to ordain clergy that practice witchcraft than to condemn it.

The Baptists and Pentecostals will denounce it, but in practical terms, I'm unaware of any protocols to solve it on a purely spiritual level.

And, as mentioned above, zealous ministers of those faiths are more likely to be portrayed as villains than heroes.

This was not lost on me when I was younger.  In fact as well as fiction, everyone seems to turn to the Catholic Church when things get truly otherworldly. 

As they should.