Archives: Movies

Alchemical Storytelling

fmabAs my wife and son began re-watching this series today, I thought I’d repost this review here from its original appearance in 2012 over at Black Gate. I should add that since I wrote this article I’ve tried a number of well-recommended anime series and I’ve yet to find one that so fully fulfilled and exceeded its promise. After five years I still think of it quite highly and I think it may well be a masterpiece. Anyway, here’s what I wrote in 2012:

I haven’t watched much anime in my time. Frankly I haven’t gotten a lot out of the shows I’ve seen, many of which seem to consist of posing in the midst of fights and shouting at opponents. But I chanced upon something a few weeks back that began with potential and then delivered on it episode after episode. I found fabulous world building and strong character arcs.  I watched half hour after half hour the way I devour chapter after chapter in a great fantasy novel, poised on the edge of my seat wondering how things would resolve. 

Woman of Wonder

wonder womanWe finally slid away to catch Wonder Woman this weekend and it was far better than I expected. Some people talked about rough dialogue and others complained about special effects (I never understand that, really – how do those people get by when they’re seeing old movies, or attending the theatre?). Others said it wasn’t as good as the hype.

I figured I’d end up coming away in agreement with all three, because A.) most science fiction/fantasy shows end up with slavish devotees regardless of a show’s quality, and B.) people wanted to like it. But I found it an enjoyable and exhilarating and sometimes moving summer blockbuster. It achieved everything that the first Captain America managed occasionally to do (or, more fairly, throughout its first half and sporadically thereafter) and did it over the course of its entire run.


BridgeAtRemagenI think my absence last week was the longest I’ve had from the blog. I mean, even when I went to Europe with the family last year I had posts programmed to go up. Admittedly they were pretty dull and dealt mostly with choosing the perfect writing notebook, but at least something was happening here.

I didn’t post because I didn’t want to discuss the terrible events in Orlando. It was enough to read about the attack and talk about it with my family. I didn’t want to do that here. Yet talking about anything else at the time just seemed frivolous. So I simply walked away from the blog for a while.

The First Day

And so it begins. Arbitrary designation or not, it’s one noted by human society, and the New Year is a good chance to pause for personal reflection.

I spent the first day of the New Year with my wife and children. As usual, I woke early. I tried to watch the first episode of Spartacus on my computer (that’s where I’ll have to be watching it, owing to the fact it’s too edgy for the wife and kids) but discovered that it will only work on the Blu-Ray player, which will make watching it a little more challenging. I’m not sure how I’ll manage. I watched Justified on the computer with earphones while the rest of the family was watching an anime I didn’t care for, but the only time I’ll have access to the Blu-Ray by myself is during writing time. Maybe I’ll reward myself when I finish the rough draft of the next book.

After Spartacus failed, I shrugged my shoulders and did some writing until people woke, then we lazed about the house together, made some delicious food partly compiled from leftovers but bulked up by the “buy one get one free” lobster sale from the eve of New Year’s Eve, took the dogs for a walk, then watched a movie from Studio Ghibli that wasn’t by Hayao Miyazaki. I didn’t expect much of it, but The Cat Returns had us laughing aloud at numerous points along the way. It was just as weird as Miyazaki films usually are, but less trippy, and gentler. Fine for younger kids and older ones as well. Unlike, say, Miyazaki’s own Spirited Away, which my family loves, but I’m afraid might seriously creep out younger children.

New Treasures

Between the gift exchange with my in-laws and another with some old friends, I ended up with a grab-bag of books I’ve been wanting to read. You can see them pictured to the left.

Along the bottom row are the last four Parker novels in the matched set now available through the University of Chicago Press. There are actually three more novels about the master thief, but they aren’t yet in print through U. of Chicago. As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve read all these Parker books, but I enjoyed them so much I actually wanted a matched set, something I don’t usually bother with. My older set is getting sent off to some writer friends who I’m sure will find them as inspiring as I have.

A Prayer for Heroes

I sat down the other evening with my wife and son for my second viewing of The 13th Warrior. I hadn’t seen it for a long while, and I discovered I enjoyed it just as much or more than I had the first time.

I was surprised to learn that it had only a 33% fresh rating at Rotten Tomatoes and that it hadn’t done at all well in the cinema. It’s a very fine story of heroic adventure with comrades-in-arms, with some honest-to-goodness chills, thrills, and mystery. At least that’s my opinion. It’s one of the better heroic movies filmed in the last quarter century. God knows I’d rather watch it a few more times than, say, Conan the Destroyer. Apparently I’m out of step with the consensus. I flipped through the various negative reviews and shook my head at the comments and lack of appreciation. As an adventure story it does so many things right that many movies do wrong… but that’s not what makes it great. For all the in-your-face violence, much of what happens is understated, including character development and the themes of heroism.

Doing That Thing

Mostly that thing I’ve been doing is getting the house ready for two birthdays. Owing to my son’s immense high school homework load there was no real birthday gathering, so we’re readying for one shortly after my daughter’s, and both are taking place this weekend. Add that to the deadline run at the most recent Pathfinder book I finished and the mini-trip in the middle of the week, and I haven’t been able to get much done on other writing projects. That will change come Monday.

I did sit down and watch That Thing You Do with the family, and I liked it even more than I had the first time. What a fine little movie. And for all of us would-be 1960s rock stars, it provides just a little taste of what it might have been like to be a one-hit wonder.

I finished up Cugel’s Saga and then went straight into Rhialto the Marvelous, the fourth and final Dying Earth book. They were in an omnibus that’s been sitting on my shelf for 5 or 6 years, beside the two volumes of Jack Vance’s The Demon Princes. I’m now picking up the second volume of those, which I likewise set aside some years back after finishing volume 1. Who knew how excellent these treasures would be when I finally cracked them open? I suspected, but I didn’t know. I imagine I have some other treasures waiting to be opened on the shelves as well…

Manly Movie Week, Part 2

Last week, while my wife and daughter were out of town for seven days, my son and I sat down with a pile of movies I was pretty sure my wife would never be interested in. I already reported on the greatest number of them. After the weekend, our viewing slowed down quite a lot due to my son’s homework load. We just didn’t have time to watch all of those on my list, let alone all of those I managed to find at the library or via Netflix or Amazon Prime.

By the end of Friday night we’d managed five more, and some of them were very impressive.

Manly Movie Week

With my mother now in a rehab facility following her heart attack, I was less than comfortable with the idea of taking off on the scheduled family vacation. I encouraged my wife to go ahead and leave (she REALLY needed some time off from her stressful job) and take my daughter. Our tickets were non-refundable. My son had become increasingly reluctant to go because of the heavy homework load at his high school, so we two remained behind. Thus, early Saturday morning, my wife, my daughter, and my mother-in-law (who took my ticket) flew off to Orlando.

Ever since, my son and I have been watching manly movies. My wife, you see, has almost no patience for westerns (apart from The Magnificent Seven and Silverado). She is even less interested in WWII movies than westerns, and doesn’t much care for Clint Eastwood as well. As a result, on movie nights over the years there are a lot of manly movies my children haven’t seen.

I know my way around westerns fairly well, and I’ve shown both of my kids some of the greats over the years, including Sergio Leone’s/Eastwood’s “The Man with No Name” trilogy (you know, The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, etc.) but neither of them have seen any of the great WWII movies.

I have fond memories of watching some WWII movies with my father, but it’s been 30 or so years since then, so my actual memory of them is a little dim. I consulted with my friends Eric Knight and John Chris Hocking, both WWII history and movie buffs. I combined their suggestions with my memories of movies I’d seen with my own dad, what was available via the public library or Netflix instant streaming, and wasn’t in common circulation on television any more, and put a list together, leaning a little toward movies with Clint Eastwood. And here’s what we’ve seen so far.